| Book Excerpt:
New York Angst
Recalling the telephone conversations with my mother, expressing my hopefulness to her when I first lived alone in New York, brings back dark moments that led me to some hard truths about the world I was engaged in--show business in another country, so far away from home. Slowly, insidiously, the heady excitement of being in New York that first summer wore off to be replaced by loneliness and high-wired nervousness that extended into nightmares, echoing self-doubt over my musical career, my motherhood, and soon a fear of life itself. Every morning, despite New York's chronic heat wave, I'd wake up shivering, staring at the nicotine-stained ceiling, unable to move while waiting for the first wave of anxiety to finish its slide across my belly. Not ready to face the day upright, I would roll over, sink to my knees alongside the bed and start praying--head down, hands crumpled under my chin as when I was a little girl with Mama teaching me the prayer words in Ukrainian, those same words coming back
to me in between sobs. Finally, gaining temporary courage, I'd get ready to face the day.
First, I would run the tap to help shoo the silver bristletails down the drain before stepping into the stained tub, its shower spraying tepid water, rusty then clear, in the way of all Manhattan pipes not retrofitted with copper. After a cold uncomfortable shower, I'd wait for the small tea kettle to boil while holding bread over the other burner with a fork--the way Dido taught me years ago before we owned a toaster. All I ever ate for breakfast was tea and toast, and this morning, as a treat, I used up the last of my strawberry jam, hoping for a little sugar lift. By now I was quite thin, skimping on lunches to save money for that rainy day hiding around every corner--hopefully not today, I thought
Finally ready, in my lightest summer suit, I'd step out into the blazing midday heat and a deluge of standard New York sounds and smells: horns blowing, dogs barking, kids screaming while ethnic restaurants with open doors released pungent odors of lunchtime offerings to jar the senses and start the juices flowing. While I was striving to cross the busy street, wind currents would propel cigarette wrappers against my legs and trifle ominously with my new hairdo, teased high in the beehive style of the day, as soot-laden drafts smudged my careful makeup.
It's all too much, I thought. I can't stand this constant wind ... it's the tall buildings that do it. They create wind tunnels and all the sooty street stuff blows around. Now, here I am, half a morning getting dressed, my face already smeared, my hair looking messy and still so far from that manager's office. Never mind ... get a cab, you'll be late!
"Taxi" I shouted, optimistically holding my music high while anxiously checking my hair and makeup in a store window's reflection. Squinting through contacts lenses now burning with soot, I wonder why I should find all of this so hard. I try to relax in the cab, but I find I'm unable to shut out the clicking sound of the meter that resolutely carries on even at a dead stop while snarled in noonday traffic. Finally arriving at the manager's building, after paying the cabbie what was probably a fair price but felt exorbitant to me, I struggle against the lunchtime crowd while searching for the elevator. By now, exhausted from nerves and frustration, I'm ready to turn back.
Something's wrong, I think. I'm scared, nervous and annoyed-but why ... at whom? Ready to answer as usual, my critical voice, Sinc, jumps in. I'd finally named my inner critic/censor "Sinc" in keeping with his synchronicity and propensity for being painfully honest and succinct whenever he shows up--like now.
Smarten up, lady; this is your dream, remember? Representation by a manager in New York-someone who likes you, respects you, does not hit on you and gets you some great singing dates. This is what you want--go!
* * *
"No, my dear," coos the manager. "You don't have to sing for me. I've received your pictures from Maurice Seymour here in New York, and they're great. It doesn't really matter about the voice; I've seen your write-ups in the Canadian Variety, and I'm sure we'll be able to work together. I have a club in mind, not far from here, and if you agree, I'll take you there to check it out, and see how you like it. What about tomorrow night. Are you free?"
All of this took place with me facing him seated at a huge leather-inlaid desk. Wearing a grey silk shirt and dark glasses pitched high on his balding hairline, the manager smiled to himself while sifting through my pictures and write-ups--each fluttering down to join the mess of files and photos strewn across his cluttered desk. Meanwhile, the phone kept ringing, punctuated by short buzzes from the hassled middle-aged receptionist I met on the way in. Each time, he'd pick up the phone, bark "Later, Jean," and promptly bang down. He's either very rude, or I'm very important, I thought. Maybe he really does see something in me.
The next night, all dressed up, I was chatting with my friendly doorman, Lou, about my "date," when a shiny black coupe pulled up curbside. I couldn't see in, but assuming it was the manager, I started for the car, turning to wave at Lou just in time to hear his warning grunt to "Be careful." I nodded and smiled back. Just like my father, I thought--a worrier.
The evening started out pleasantly enough. I was excited. Maybe, just maybe, after all my hard work, this would be a real shot at the big time. All of a sudden, New York appeared to me as it did when I first arrived six months ago. The late August heat had cooled down to a balmy evening, and I was dressed just right: my pale green pongee silk suit flattered my hazel eyes and was understated enough for a chic supper club in downtown Manhattan. I felt that I looked reserved yet attractive enough to merit attention and approval from the club owner