Birthday Letter

Dear Ben,

I can't call you on your birthday so I have to write. Wherever you are now, I'm sure you're surfing the Web if at all possible.

I think about you all the time. I try to picture your face. Often we would be driving somewhere and I would turn and study the side of your face. You would wear that heavy grey polar fleece pullover and orange TiVo cap. You had a cute long nose and those rectangular glasses. I liked when your hair was longer and curling a little. You were getting a few silver hairs at your temples. I tried to picture what you would look like as you got more grey.

I try to remember our conversations. You would bring me up to speed on your friends and family -- their comings and goings -- and show me your old home movies. I already felt as if I knew everyone. Or at least, I knew their bar mitzvahs. You made that movie of your cat while you were home on break from college because you were pretty certain that was the last time you were going to see him. That was one long movie. You followed him around the yard when he wasn't doing very much, just loafing and poking around. And that turned out to be the last time you saw him.

Many people have noted with regret that we have so few photos and movies of you. You took reams of photos and hours of video, but you always were behind the camera. I don't even have a picture of the two of us. Everything that happened between us, with a few exceptions, was just us -- and now I'm carrying it alone. I have to talk/write/rant about you just to help bear it, even though I know you would be terribly embarrassed. But you knew what you were getting into with me. You read the whole blog before we even met.

You could dish pretty well yourself, though. When we first met you boasted about your colorful stories, and I remember a lot of them now. Generally your full-blown stories about people would fall into two categories -- People who Made Good Decisions and People who Made Bad Decisions. People who made good decisions, such as being the first to move to a particular up-and-coming town, often had been recipients of your advice. People who made bad decisions often had ignored advice from you -- buying a substandard appliance, for example -- and were punished with some kind of trouble, such as a defective unit, as a result.

Either way, you gave a lot of advice. When I was mad at you I theorized you saw everyone as projects that needed your improvements, and that you mostly related to people by criticizing them. In calmer moments I realized that you didn't criticize to be mean. You were just ridiculously informed about an insane number of things and were trying to help people out, freely dispensing your opinion whether it was welcome or not. And whatever it was, usually you were right.

I don't think I ever saw you mean. You could be smug; frosty; imperious; gracious; tender; passionate. But not mean.

I still haven't renovated my kitchen, but I'm holding on to the sketch you made. You sent it to me the first week we were dating. In my book, that's a no-money-back-you're-getting-laid guarantee.

You tried to give me music advice once. What a disaster. I had been having difficult gigs and you were videotaping them all. The night you tried to play a show back to me and make running commentary -- like "why don't you smile more at the audience?" -- I almost knocked your block off. It was the only time I told you to go fuck yourself and really meant it. But you seemed to like it when I got sassy.

You continued to try to be helpful. We even tried an album cover shoot in Central Park, scouting around to find the spot where Nina Simone sat for the cover of her first record. We climbed giant, icy "keep off" rocks and froze our asses sitting on them to get a good shot of me with the pond and bridge behind. Days later, you produced another pearl: "I think your record cover should be . . . the outline of your naked body." Good grief, Ben.

Last year on your birthday we met up at Columbus Circle. Your instructions from me were to wear a suit that fit. I spotted you from across the plaza -- you looked so tall and handsome in your suit and trenchcoat. You were taller than everybody. It was not too cold; holiday lights were up; the Salvation Army lady was there with her bell and kettle. When we kissed hello I felt so nervous.

Between our fancy dinner and jazz at Lincoln Center, we strolled through Borders in the Time Warner Center -- you pointed out Weird N.J. magazine. Why do I keep remembering that now? We spent the rest of the weekend watching Lord of the Rings and debauching. Afterward, you didn't call me for days. God I was furious -- but that did result in our setting up a schedule. And that worked.

I remember your signature touches. You would bring tea and cookies to me on the couch and plop your legs in my lap. Self-righteously, like a huge cat. As we rode the bus in the morning, you would plant your hand on my knee and squeeze. You would TiVo stuff for us to watch together. Weeknights were nice and slow with you. It shocks me now to realize how much of a steady presence you were.

Sometimes I get hysterical wondering where the hell you've disappeared to. I force myself to remember the night on the pier, as you were losing strength, and then later as your soul left your body. I tell myself this was the end of the story. Of course, that's impossible. Your story is carried on by everyone who cared about you. Ed wrote a beautiful remembrance of you.

It's really cold tonight so I'm pulling out your down comforter. Saro threw up on the green blanky and I need something warm.

I miss you, Ben. You are never far from my thoughts. Now go fuck yourself.

Love, Erica


All my boxes finally were packed and sealed for the office move. We had been packing for two days. My coworkers were quietly sifting through their own papers, drifting around socializing, or drifting out of the office. Russian moving men were hauling stuff away on handtrucks.

I beat it outta there. It was 11:41 am.

I went as far away from Soho as the train could reasonably carry me in thirty minutes. Midtown! MOMA!

MOMA! Where I'd never been before.

MOMA! Steel and glass and hardwood floors.

MOMA! Where the Pollock's as high as an elephant's eye.

I spent a lot of time on those Pollocks, esp. full Fathom Five, in which you can see the form of a cigarette and a paint tube cap sloshed in with the rest of the caked-on color. I like that. The artist and his crap.

Museums are so dizzying -- not to mention the art therein, in this case -- I had to take pee breaks often, just to unwind. The arch of my right foot is aching something fierce too these days, and the wood floors are killer.

There seem to be a lot of German tourists afoot for some reason.

If this were a romantic comedy, a dashing man would have approached me as I gazed at the Walker Evans subway candids. He would have commented on how vivid the unwitting subjects look. I would have explained how, upon seeing the larger Evans retrospective at the Met a few years ago, I saw a candid of a man I swore was my grandfather. It made sense: New York in the thirties and forties-- a very familar-looking Anglo-aristocratic guy in a fedora and topcoat -- square jaw -- light eyes -- baby on his lap. I couldn't positively I.D. either the man or the baby, though. The man's head is turned.

The portrait burned in my brain. I found it in the Evans book that accompanied the show. I called up my dad and asked him to scout for the book and find the photo. He and my mom did so over a latté at their local Barnes and Noble on Long Island.

"I'm sorry to report, I don't think it's him," my dad said. "That wasn't grandpa's nose."

And that would have been the end of the story I would have told to the dashing man who did not exist and did not approach me.

As if MOMA weren't exhausting enough -- with or without these imaginary dramas -- I headed next to Bendel's for some serious froufrou.

Bendel's! With a whole wing devoted to candles.

Bendel's! Pashmina my heart.

Bendel's! With lace thongs wrapped up tight like little bullets and stored in a jar.

I wanted some makeup but wasn't sure what. Finally I supplicated myself to the girl at the Benefit counter. She was so young and skinny her bra stood up of its own will.

"We'll do the smoky eye on you," she said gravely.

I left with smoky eyes and shiny candy apple lips. Bought 2 products. One is a yellow stick that knocks out an excess of rosiness in your complexion -- effective for when you paint your lips red and want to tone down your face in contrast. Fooling around with it today, I discovered it makes a very good under-eye concealer as well.

The second product is more controversial. It's luminescence. The dewey look. Huey, dewey, gooey. I still can't tell whether I glow, or I look clammy and schvitzy as if from food poisoning.

As soon as I hit the street I blotted out my lips. It was warm out, which felt comforting.

It wasn't even five o' clock yet. I'd ordinarily be at work for another hour or two!

Crossing in front of the Plaza, I looked up at Central Park East. The boughs of the trees were touched with yellow. Yellow cabs were passing by. The sun was low and gold in the sky.