At 7 p.m. last night I was walking, again, to Guitar Center, on a mission to buy yet another cord — The Cord, I so hoped, that would finally solve all my problems and let me hear the beautiful nothingness of a clean room tone. It was getting late, the day had been totally wacky, and I did not feel like persisting in problem-solving. What I really wanted was to just go to bed.
My cell phone was dying, so I couldn’t call my mama or any of my lovely friends to keep me entertained during the two-mile walk. I couldn’t ride my bike because I still have only a U-Lock, which is sufficient in Maine, but would be useless in the big, bad city (it takes fewer than 10 seconds to break a U-Lock and steal your best friend bike, Brooklyn bike shop owners assert), and a bad-ass New York bike lock costs $70. I had just tried to deposit $70, incidentally, but the ATM ate the check, made no record of my deposit, and then flashed an error message, “This ATM is out of service,” so a bike lock was not to be had immediately.
I was striding grimly and resolutely down the sidewalk, passing fast food holes in the wall, grimy-windowed laundromats, and cluttered, jam-packed convenience stores. The streets were crowded with teens walking and texting on iPhones, harried commuters emerging from the subways, clusters of cigarette-smoking men in doorways. Fourth Avenue was clogged with traffic, hot and dirty, the air filled with exhaust and the cacophony of cars, buses, and taxis blurring past.
I felt miserable, lonely, and discouraged, when I became aware that my forehead was furrowed, my mouth was in a tight frown, my eyes were cast down to the sidewalk. And then came the memory of David Taft, one of my wise and mystical physical theater teachers from Cornish College of the Arts, who daily reminded us to keep a cool face.
A cool face is a relaxed face, a countenance that is receptive and open to possibility. The expression of a cool face is neutral — non-judgmental and non-critical while remaining thoughtful and discerning. A cool face does not scrunch with deep lines of grouchiness, fatigue, and irritation. A cool face does not express that after fewer than two weeks in New York, the face-wearer is quickly becoming stained with the exasperation of a cynical, life-long city-dweller.
Remembering David’s warm smile and consistent invitation to wear a cool face was a gentle reminder that I was creating my experience, and that I could make a different decision, walk in the world with whatever attitude I chose — one that would serve me, or one that would not.
So I changed my face and my posture. I willed my hot face to relax, to soften, to smooth out the lines and creases until it became a cool face. I straightened my shoulders, relaxed my hands, brought my eyes up from the pavement to take in everything around me.
And then I saw a grinning, wide-eyed little girl wearing a pink helmet and riding a pink scooter, her father guiding her along a blocked-off side street with his hand protectively at her back. Fuschia and yellow flowers burst through the gate of a community garden tucked into a small, triangular lot at a screamingly loud intersection across from the Barclays Center. The intrepid policewoman directing traffic halted cars barreling down the street just by lifting her palm, and when she scoldingly wagged her finger at drivers trying to make a right-hand turn, she smiled and winked at them, too.
With my new commitment to keeping a cool face, the return home was much more cheerful than the first leg of my journey. There were so many things to notice and take pleasure in, so many things to be grateful for:
Paul McCartney was playing at the Barclays and the gay pride parade was in full swing, so Park Slope’s bars, restaurants, and sidewalks were crammed full of people in full drag — huge wigs and garish makeup — or wearing old Beatles t-Shirts that looked like they’d been worn and washed a thousand times.
I checked my dying phone and found a very kind and generous message from a narrator friend, who had read of my preamp plight and offered to ship overnight a spare preamp she had in her studio — such a supportive offer that it brought tears to my eyes.
I emailed her to tell her that her generosity was deeply appreciated, but would not be necessary, because earlier in the day, after locating a replacement preamp listed on eBay by a guy in Forest Hills, Queens, Dutra had driven me though industrial swaths of the city to pick it up, making sure I didn’t get murdered in a stranger’s house (Reuben was actually very nice and dryly funny, and probably wouldn’t have been murdery, but still, it was very gracious of Dutra to sacrifice his afternoon soccer game for my safety).
When we’d become hypoglycemically irritable and frenzied on the drive back home, we’d screeched to the side of the highway and had lunch at a little Columbian restaurant, where we’d talked to the beautiful woman who simultaneously served, hosted, bussed, and caressed her baby son’s toes and kissed the palms of his tiny hands.
We’d brought back with us a takeout carrier of bandeja paisa to reconstitute for future delicious meals made with fresh, organic vegetables from the local market we’d discovered a few blocks away the night before, the market where three heaping bags of produce cost only half as much as it would have from Whole Foods.
Although I didn’t know it on the walk home, the $50 cord from Guitar Center would, sadly, not prove to be the solution to my problems, but I would continue to be grateful that the ever-generous Charles would stay on the phone with me until 10:15 p.m., trying different setup configurations until proposing that still another cable might be the answer.
And I’d be thankful that a potential cat sitter had dropped by right after Charles and I hung up to introduce himself to the kitties and Dutra and me, so we could see what he really wanted — a place to party in Brooklyn for the summer — and confidently remove him from our list.
All this and more make me thankful. Things are not perfect. There are challenges ahead. The recording studio saga is ongoing. But I shall remind myself to keep a cool face, keep breathing, remain grateful for the enormous support and offers of resources and love that come to me minute by minute, from every direction, as long as I will see them.