Julia the Talented Ad Man and Biola the Gorgeous Movie Star

Julia’s an ad man now*, at Eileen Fisher, and she and her partners in green and groovy corporate crime made this video about our friend Biola, who owns the Pillow Cafe in Fort Greene with her partner, Robin. If you don’t shop the EF site, you might never see this, and you might like to, so check it out.

Robin cooks like your mom would, if your mom was an amazing cook, and showed you how much she loved you in that way. She’s Julia’s twin (or so they say). Biola used to be a journalist, and she’s my twin (well, no—Don Draper is my twin). For awhile, Pillow had a d.j. one night a week, and Julia and I (we lived up the street) would go hang with Robin and Biola, and pretty much no one else came. So we’d get drunk and dance alone, the four of us, on Myrtle Avenue. I miss that. (Damn you, scrawny hipsters! Why did you have to ruin our Utopian paradise?)

Here’s a picture of Biola, seen through the window of the cafe, from my own personal collection. A different look.

*Speaking of Ad men, I don’t have anyone to talk about the new season of Mad Men with—Julia refuses to watch it, even though she knows that I identify with both Don Draper and his daughter, Sally, in a way that makes my heart ache. How can people be so sad and broken and yet get up every morning and look so good? And, p.s., Joanie?

Hello Out There

I get all excited about blogging, and then I get distracted. Mostly I get distracted by work. Sigh. And, you know, since I just moved into a new place, I’ve got a to-do list a foot long, and the little piles of things with no places keep catching my eye. Here’s an example. (That black thing in the distance is Scout.)

Anyway, as you probably know, Buddhism has this Sanskrit word, samsara, which is the endless cycle of suffering that we’re trapped in, not realizing that we can end it like that. [She snaps.] It’s a point-of-view thing.

This morning, Scout was doing his usual circling—tight and fast, like he was chasing his tail, but he wasn’t—it was more like he’s trying to listen to the sea in his butt. Anyway, he circled his way over to the doorway of my bedroom and only stopped when he clunked his head on the doorjamb.

After that, one thought led to another, and I started thinking about some of my friends in unenviable relationships. I was thinking about how those relationships are not unlike Scout’s circling. You try to hear the sound of the sea in your own butt, and then, one day, you hit your head on a doorjamb, and you remember: Wait, hello!—why am I living my life in little circles with my nose up my ass? There’s more to life than this. (You could be, for instance, sitting in your shack in East Marion, thinking about the melon in your fridge and blogging about your dog.) And suddenly you want to break up.

It’s all samsara—the dog, the relationships, the thinking about the relationships, the writing about thinking about relationships. This blog is samsara. You reading it is samsara. Then, you get off the computer, and what you read here leads you to do something, or say something, and that’s samsara. And karma.

Anyway, we can get depressed about it, or we can realize that this is fantastic. We’re alive and it’s amazing. Yay! (I think.)


I signed a lease, which still amazes me, considering how groundless I feel. I rented a two-bedroom place over an artist’s studio in East Marion, New York, which is out near the tip of Long Island, on the North Fork (a five-minute drive from L.B.’s). Mark Rothko is buried in East Marion, and my post office box is #73, which gives you an idea of the population. In that post office, on the plaque that tells you who, from East Marion, served in the Vietnam War, there are ten names, including three pairs of brothers.

My place, designed by Tony Smith, an abstract expressionist who lived out here in the seventies, has a cedar ceiling, and when you come down from the deck (which is on stilts) in the middle of the night with an old black dog in your arms, chances are you’ll find a bunny in your flashlight beam, or a deer the size of a horse. It is extremely nice.

I was trying to figure out why living out on Long Island makes me so happy (besides the vineyards and the beach and the the fact that there were blueberries at the farm stands last week, and this week there are pumpkins). I grew up on Long Island, though just outside the city, in two suburban towns that were mostly populated by wealthy white people. Pretty much everyone I knew couldn’t wait to grow up and leave Long Island, but I loved it even then.

There was the fat white lady who sold penny candy out of her house on Steamboat Road (the main road in the so-called black section of Great Neck) when I was really little, who sat in a folding chair without her underpants.

There were black guys waiting outside the train station in their Cadillac cabs, with the backseats covered in that bubbled plastic. Their hair was combed back in ridges, and they smelled perfumed. I spent a lot of time in the back of those caddies as a little girl, being driven around, don’t ask me why (because I don’t know).

And there was Mike Thompson. I could go on, but suffice it to say that I’d had a crush on him from afar, starting in the summer between eighth and ninth grade. I saw him. That was it. I didn’t meet him, or talk to him. For a good part of ninth grade, I’d walk several miles out of my way after school to pass by his house. No joke. He was a year older than me, tall and lanky, with curly, shoulder-length hair. He had pointy features, like a fox, and blue, glow-in-the-dark eyes. Picture Robert Plant in his youth, and multiply by a hundred.

He played the guitar. Later, when he grew up, he played for Earth, Wind and Fire, so, really, he played the guitar. When I got into high school, where he already was, I’d see him standing in a corner with his friends, playing air guitar and throwing his hair around. I’d overhear him talking about Rod Stewart or chord changes. He wasn’t like that, but that’s what he did. He had a girlfriend who had already graduated. So through the fall of tenth grade, I continued my anonymous crush.

Then our gym class went skiiing for a day. We took buses somewhere where there were hills, the freaks and the jocks and the nerds all together. I didn’t know anyone on the trip, so I skied alone, which was fine by me.

Anyway, somewhere in the late morning, I was waiting in the line for the chairlift, minding my own business, being angry at, and in love with, the world in equal measures. It was a long line. I could wait. And then—bam!—I was flat on my ass with one of my poles and someone’s leg bent between my legs.

Of course, it was Mike Thompson. He’d come flying down the hill, made the left turn toward the lift line without slowing down, and crashed into me, hard. What luck! We untangled ourselves, and dusted ourselves off, him apologizing nonstop, and laughing, his face red and frozen, his eyes the color of ice. He introduced himself. We laughed some more, and checked for tears and bruises on each others’ butts and legs, arms and backs.

Then he asked if I wanted to ride with him in the chairlift, and maybe do a little solitary high-school skiing together. There you go—that’s why I love Long Island. We sat together in the bus on the home, me a pig in shit, he a prince at the circus.

He had a car, and we drove around after that, during school hours. He taught me how to play a couple of songs on my bed in my room, while my stepfather packed up his stuff and left. His girlfriend even called me one afternoon, and told me to stay away from him.

Now, when I drive around the North Fork, I’m back there, too, living a life where everything bad happens, and all your dreams come true.

The Bottom Line

This is not about the depth of grief in general, which pretty much everyone can relate to. It’s more about how confounding it is, how gone someone is after they die.

And maybe that’s not even it. Maybe it has more to do with the way the world just fills in the space that they used to hold, like water or sand or air. And it doesn’t matter how you try to memorialize them: a stone in the ground, a photograph in a frame, an obituary in the New York Times, a blog post—those things just occupy the space they themselves are in, but they don’t move through the world, making jokes and drinking wine, getting pissed off, doing good work, wagging their tail when you come in. Those things don’t know that you love them, and take that love on their travels throughout the world, which is so much of what makes living…good/worth it/something other than miserable. (I don’t know; take your pick or add your own.)

Every death brings up all the other deaths (blah, blah, blah). I stopped talking to my childhood bestfriend, Rhona, and years went by, and then she died without saying goodbye. I did not say, “I love you. I have always loved you. Don’t think I won’t miss you every day.” So far, in this life, that is my biggest regret. (Please don’t be fooled by the size and flatness of that word, “regret”: imagine one’s own private, self-directed torture chamber.)

I think this is why we practice recognizing that the ordinary is the sacred—because it gives right here, right now, this unbearable sadness, it’s glorious due.