Frank Dancing

When I was in eighth grade, probably fourteen, I had this pretty nice room in the house in Port Washington that I think I’ve told you about. It was a brick mansion with two white pillars out front, a swimming pool, a pool table, and an indoor squash court. It overlooked the Long Island Sound. My mother and stepfather moved into that house fighting, and he, not long after, left her there. I would say that the atmosphere of the place was dominated by anger and tears, and eventually it was overrun by deep, deep sadness and fog.

The kids, though, we had some fun. Many famous lines from my childhood came from that time: “Make me spaghetti.” (Ian, at two in the morning, while watching “Reel Camp.”) “You’ve got all the shit to put on shit, but none of the shit to put it on.” (Ian’s friend Joe Teitler, while peering into the refrigerator, stoned, also in the middle of the night.) “Who’s going to be my teddy bear tonight?” (Another of Ian’s friends, talking to me and my bestfriend Rhona. We thought he was a jerk.)

Anyway, I liked this room, on one of the walls of which I hung a large American flag. One day, I was lying on my bed listening to Jimi Hendrix’s song “Freedom,” when Ian’s friend Frank Malatino, probably sixteen at the time, appeared. Needless to say, Frank was Italian, and overweight, but he was smooth: he wore tinted aviator glasses, sported a shag and a little mustache, and often wore paisley and fringe. He was gregarious and funny, and was nice to me, even though, for another year or so, I would still be the little sister (despite my potential as a teddy bear).

So on this day, Frank came in and, without saying a word, started to dance in the middle of the room. (You gotta hit the play button on this video to really get this.) It was flat out: Hands, arms, legs, feet, hair, head, all flying in all directions. Half the time he wasn’t even on the ground. The floors were wood, and as Frank danced they bent and sunk and sprang back. Nothing like that had ever happened in my room: it came alive. It shook, for God’s sake. Frank’s dancing wasn’t a performance; it was an experience of complete abandon. He couldn’t know that it was a gift I would carry with me for all these years.


Memoir: Within You, Without You

I’ve been putting this post off since I started blogging, for a variety of reasons which will become obvious. It’s about a pivotal experience in my life, though, and the holding back of it is junking up the works. So I’m going to proceed.

When I was sixteen, I got a hold of some organic chocolate mescalin, and took it one afternoon, with my friend Merry, at the garden apartment in Port Washington where I lived with my mother and younger brother Peter. (Ian had moved out already, and was living at the old whorehouse run by the male nurse with the snake named Barbara.) Anyway, Merry was not a particularly good friend, but we were doing a little bit of hanging out that summer; she took the mescalin with me—mixed into a glass of water, I believe, though it could have been milk—but left shortly after, to go have dinner with her parents (a strange, nerdy couple who I don’t think I ever saw not cuddling and kissing and flirting with each other). I don’t remember asking her how that worked out, that dinner, though I can’t imagine having had a conversation with a grown-up that night, let alone my P.D.A.rents.

What I do remember is sitting on the dock outside my apartment by myself after it had gone dark, watching the water (the apartment complex was on the Sound). It was black, and not rough, but roiling. No, not roiling—it was dancing. That’s the point: the water was dancing. Soon I started to notice that the leaves in the trees around me were shaking. No, not shaking—they were dancing. In fact, they were dancing the same dance as the water (and the night clouds and the night wind). And then I started to notice that I was breathing. No! Not breathing—I was dancing! Every cell in my body was dancing, the same dance as the water and the trees and the clouds and the wind. The night birds were dancing, the candy wrapper skipping by, the stars were dancing that same dance.

Now you surely think that I was on drugs, and was imagining this. But I have known ever since that night decades ago, that the thing that I perceived then was the way that things are: That we are all made of the same thing (call it atoms, call it space, I don’t know), and that there is something (I’ll get to that) that hinders us from seeing this.

Around the time that I was having this experience, Ian dropped by. He was seventeen at the time, or maybe just eighteen. I told him what was happening, and he got all excited. He did not do drugs like this at all, having too fragile a mind, but he was, and still is, a philosophy nut, and was pretty sure that I was having the kind of mystical experience he’d read about in some of his books.

I don’t remember if I got to this by myself, or if Ian led me here, but I saw very clearly that night (by now in my room where I was playing the Beatles’ “Within You, Without You” over and over again) that the thing that was in the way of this feeling of being one with everything—this dance—was wanting things.

I hadn’t realized how much I wanted up until then: I wanted to be happy, I wanted a boyfriend, I wanted to be on my own already, I wanted to get into a good college, I wanted to be successful—I’m sure I wanted a few more pairs of jeans and another pair of Cons (I had blue ones—maybe I wanted black or white). I wanted so many things for my mother. I wanted to not be in so much pain.

On this night, my wanting had ceased. I checked it out—I didn’t want anything. Except I wanted this experience to go on forever. I remember Ian saying that I would never have the experience again—not, that is, until I died. At the time of my death I would stop wanting again. I cried about that, there in my room with my big brother beside me.

There you go. When I think of my life, I put the experience I had the day after my father died together with this one. In my mind they are two beads, side by side, on the rosary that is my life so far.

Three years later, some months after Ian had had his first breakdown, I started to see the therapist I’d see for the next thirteen years. I remember telling her about this experience with the chocolate mescalin, and I remember her response. She said, “It sounds to me like you’re closer to death than to life.” I was nineteen at the time, and her words sent a terrifying shock through me. That did not sound good. So right then and there, sitting in her office, I took that mystical experience and I shoved it so deep inside me, that for many years I barely thought about it. And then, one day, I realized that my therapist had been wrong.

(Artwork: Kaz Tanahashi)