Sunday, December 30, 2007

I'm gonna live forever

I'm going to admit something about myself that's not very flattering: I'm impressed by fame. I know. Shallow, isn't it? But that's not the worst of it: famous people turn me into a total neurotic.

Once, when I was in high school, I was shopping at Water Tower place with several friends. We were inside of one of those shops that carries weird crap (Sharper Image?) and John Cusack walks in. My friend Julie, who is one of those friends that I both loved and hated simultaneously, ran up to him and said, "Are you John Cusack?" He made a big production of looking surprised, checking his various body parts, and replying, "Last time I checked."

Me? I loved him from that day forward. As far as I'm concerned, he can do no wrong, even if he makes a movie as bad as "Must Love Dogs."

Of course, this might just be where I first developed my fear.

I've have other encounters with famous people. I once told a very bad joke to Danny Bonaduce. It was bad enough, in fact, that when my brother called his radio show months later, Danny put him on the air after he said that his sister told the monkey joke. The only problem with this story is: I only told the joke because I didn't know that he was standing behind me.

Then, there was the time I ran into Lili Taylor on the street in midtown Manhattan. I made something of a cake of myself, because I love her. I love everything she's ever done. Her film "Dogfight" with River Phoenix is in my top five movies of all time. And then, there's the fact that she was in that one movie with John Cusack.

Tim Curry passed me on the street more than once when I was living in Brooklyn. I got drunk at a bar with Jim Harbaugh. John Stossel was in line in front of me at LaGuardia airport. Oh! Steve Buscemi lived in my neighborhood. So did Paul Auster. I could go on and on, because when you've lived in New York, you run into just about anybody. And still, I never quite acquired the veneer that a New Yorker should have, the one that said, oh, famous guy? So what. I'm a New Yorker, I see famous people all the time. Sorry. I don't care what you think, seeing Steve Buscemi on the street is fucking cool.

What I'm unable to do is get over the neuroses that emerge the minute there's even a little bit of name recognition. I've even been known to make bad dating decisions when a little bit of fame is involved. There was the movie producer -- nobody you've ever heard of unless you know movies -- he was bicoastal, and every time he'd come to town to work on his latest film, he and I would get together. He would do this insane man-about-town thing, taking me to expensive restaurants and staying in fancy hotels just off Central Park. And he'd tell me that I was beautiful and I'd want to believe him. I never believed that I matched what he brought to the table, and in the end, that made anything truly developing between us impossible.

He wasn't even all that famous.

Fame is something I've considered over the years. What's that Andy Warhol said about everybody getting five minutes? Some of us get five hours, some five seconds. Shakespeare's about the only guy I know of who got five hundred years. Me, I've sought fame in my own small ways. I write. If you type my name into google, the first six pages that come up are actually me. I've acted. For a brief period of about two years, if you turned on the AMC movie channel, you couldn't miss the commercials I did for them. Once (you're never going to believe this, but it's true), somebody recognized me on the street as that Ginger Rogers girl.

For someone who's lived as I've lived and done the things that I've done, you'd think I'd be more nonchalant about this.

So now we come to my upstairs neighbor, the rock star. No, really. My upstairs neighbor is a rock star. When I first moved in, somebody told me that he was famous, but I'd never heard of him. As long as I'd never heard of him, I could coexist without doing anything stupid. This was fine for quite some time until one day when he put the name of his band up on his mailbox.


I have heard of him, and I even had one or two of his songs on my iPod. Crap. Do you know what I did when I figured it out? I took his songs off my playlists just in case he heard me playing them. Yes, I know. Crazy.

But this living-near-someone-famous thing is good for me. I can't be a freak all the time. I can't jump every time I hear someone's steps in the hallway. And when I run into him when I'm taking out the trash, I need to just say, Hey. Which is what I do. I'm very good at being cool. I even invite him to my parties.

So anyway, just after I joined MySpace, I started searching for everyone I ever knew. I sent emails to people I haven't spoken to in a decade. It was great fun, and I've been having a helluva good time reconnecting. And then one night, when I'm trying to think of someone else to look up, I think to myself: my neighbor. I should see what he's got to say for himself. So I do. I look him up, and because when I'm looking him up I convince myself that doing so is somewhat creepy, I send him an email. I'm not creepy. I'm neurotic, but not creepy. And hey, I'm funny. He gets the email, and he answers. Dear Cecilia, he responds, I hope my walking isn't keeping you up at night.

This is one of two things: it's either really funny or really nice. He's either thinks I clearly have too much time on my hands (I do -- I'm an insomniac) and is calling me on it with only the slightest irony, or he actually worries that his late-night walking is keeping me awake (it's not -- it's my own brain that's doing it).

Which makes him human.

Which I knew.

But hey: I told you I'm a neurotic freak.

Perhaps I should just blame John Cusack.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Aw, Cats

Early last month, my cat died. It wasn't easy, and I was a bit of a basketcase over it. The next day, I went to school, and I did a pretty good job of getting through the day until sixth period.

You see, sixth period is when I have my divas. There's Brianna, who always wants to comment on my shoes. Then there's Alician, who if she's not having a meltdown is looking for an excuse to have one. And then Patricia, who hates everything. Add to that Shamere who wants only to grandstand and Edgar who is only waiting out the months until he turns sixteen and you have some idea of what that class is like.

They picked that day to be difficult. I don't even know what we were doing that day. I think we had just started The Kite Runner, a great book if ever I read one, and they wanted to complain about the length. So I said that they needed to stop because I wasn't up for it today. My cat died.

"Aw," said Brianna. "Do you need to go to counseling to get over it?"

Thanks, I said. I really appreciate your understanding.

"I don't get why white people get all upset over their cats," said Shamere. "It's just a cat. My brother got shot last week. He's okay, though. Thanks for asking."

"You know what you should do?" said Edgar. "You should tell the biology teacher."

No, I said. I shouldn't tell anyone. I shouldn't have told you, because clearly you're all heartless.

This wasn't the end, of course. The next day, I got an email from the biology teacher:

A student told me yesterday that you just lost a young cat due to urinary blockage. If it will help, I can sometimes reach them right after they pass, and make sure they are okay.

It's easy to feel guilty about this particular issue, but cats who get this condition can go very quickly, and it's sometimes hard to spot - sometimes it happens in as little as 24 hours, especially to neutered males on a mainly dry food diet.

So, please don't think you were somehow responsible. Let me know if you want to try to find him, and see how he is doing. What usually happens is that animals are much more casual and matter-of-fact about leaving their bodies, and they think people are too afraid of that transition, so they are almost never sending anything negative back after they pass over.
Yes, you read that right: she said she'd be happy to talk with my dead cat if I liked.

Flabbergasted isn't the word for it. It took me a couple of days to respond, and then I finally sent her a note thanking her for her kind words and telling her that although it had been difficult, I was coming to terms with it. I attached a picture of my cat and told her what a good boy he'd been. If I want to be honest, the picture was a little bit of a dare. I wanted to see if she'd do it.

More than a week went by, and I was beginning to think that was the end of it. Then, the day before Christmas break, she came into my classroom.

She'd been talking with the Spanish teacher's bird, she said, and Bubby was so strong that he broke through. She handed me some paper and said that she was a little surprised by him. He had kind of an attitude and used bad words.

"That's because he's from Brooklyn," I said.

The paper was a two-page conversation she had with Bubby. He wanted me to know that he was happy, but hadn't liked death very much. It was very uncomfortable, but it's over. Then he said that I wasn't to blame for what happened to him, and he couldn't wait to see me again. I shouldn't worry, though, because that wouldn't be anytime soon.

Good god, I thought, I didn't know my cat would want me to confront my own mortality, too.

And what do you do in this situation? I thanked her, of course. She meant well.

Then, I brought it to my friends' party. Because this was too good not to be shared.

And this is why I should go straight to hell, because she really did mean well.

My friends thought that I should use this opportunity to ask my cat more questions about the future, because clearly, he knew when I was going to die.

I was just worried, I told them, that when he said it won't be for a long time that he meant in cat years.

So great hilarity ensues. What should we ask the cat? "When will the Cubs win the World Series?" "Will Cecilia ever get married?" (Thanks, assholes.) "Will it snow on Christmas?" It went on in that vein for some time.

Soon enough, we got bored with that and began tormenting Omar about his new girlfriend. So I'm sitting at the bar talking to Omar when Ramon sits down. He wanted to know what all the fracas was about. I hand the letter over and he starts to read it. And instead of laughing like everybody else, Ramon gets sensitive.

Now you need to understand: the last time I saw Ramon, he compared oral sex to eating prime rib. (Don't ask.) Every time I see him, I want to cross my legs.

So he's saying all these nice things about the biology teacher's motives and asking how I was doing and I'm guilt-stricken. Because it hits me that I've been using this as a coping mechanism, it wasn't nice of me to make fun of the letter, and Ramon totally called me on it.

Omar sat back down at the bar again and asked what we were talking about. I told him and he laughed. "Still?" he said.

"Shut up, man," said Ramon. "If she wants to talk about her dead cat, let her talk about her dead cat. This is the most I've gotten her to talk to me in the last two years. I'll talk to her about anything she damn wants."

And there you go -- prime rib guy is no longer sensitive. The world can go back on its axis.

The next day, however, when I was looking in my purse for Bubby's letter, I realized it was gone. At first I was disappointed, but then I thought: no. You deserved to lose it, just for being such a bitch.

I'm still a little worried about those cat years v. human years, though.