“This is the last worthless evening that you’ll have to spend.” Don Henley is crooning in that taunting way he has when you’re feeling low. I find him rather cruel on occasion.
I’m trying to ignore him because, Gentle Readers, this is NOT a worthless evening. Not all. I am here at my post. I am writing to you.
I spin the dial and Sinatra pops up. “And now the end is near and so I face the final curtain…”
My, my. At least Frank is kinder when he tells you the truth.
The first night I slept under this roof my kid was five years old and we used walkie-talkies to speak to each other from our respective bedrooms. The last night I will spend in this quirky beach cottage, my son is a grown man and we have cell phones to communicate across the miles.
You who know me well know this has been a frantic year. I have been dancing as fast I can – rushing toward what I finally understand to be this night.
After I write this tonight, I will go to bed among rows and rows of boxes that house our lives. Tomorrow evening I will go to bed among those same boxes, but we will all be under a different roof.
“My friends, I’ll say it clear. I’ll state my case of which I’m certain…”
Everything is connected, I guess. I never expected to feel compelled to write the obituary of a building. But when I leave here tomorrow, this small structure has only destruction in its future. I hope that during these final days, it will remember the past two decades fondly.
“I’ve lived a life that’s full
I traveled each and every highway
And more, much more than this, I did it my way.”
In the past twenty years, this joint has jumped and dipped, sighed and cried and held in its embrace family, friends, lovers and haters, cops, cons and celebrities. We’ve had birthday parties, baby showers, wakes and all night sleepovers for little kids and old people. The house welcomed it all.
Strangers from across the globe have walked through the front door on random holidays – occasionally with hilariously disastrous results – and dozens of young guys and dolls have snuck in and out of the back windows on school nights.
Teenage Nicole hid out here after she was almost arrested dancing in the fountain of The Jockey Club in the middle of the night with Johnny Depp. Fully clothed, I must add. They just thought out would be fun after a late night wrap. And Sissy has forgiven me for losing track of her daughter so many years ago.
“Regrets, I’ve had a few,
But then again, too few to mention.”
Baby L and Baby Sam, my son’s siblings and my godchildren, spent their first nights away from home as babies in this house. Baby J made the living room her own digs for the months when she left New Orleans and worked as a stunt double on Burn Notice.
Simi’s birthday party where we all wore glitter-encrusted sunglasses in the shapes of the constellations so she’d know she was a star was held here. Allison Millican and I spent solid December weekends watching vintage Christmas movies on AMC and munching on pizza.
“I did what I had to do and saw it through without exemption,
I planned each charted course, each careful step along the byway…”
I can still see Alison Troy running out the door on her way to the Los Angeles so we wouldn’t have a dramatic, tearful goodbye that is our Greek Boston-Irish birthright. Kellie, taking that leap of faith toward Hollywood, spent her last few minutes in Miami on the front step, leaving and coming back three times before she finally drove down the street. And returning every year to take over Baby J’s living room to flop in between jobs. The girls kept moving, but me? I stayed here at my post.
“Yes, there were times, I’m sure you knew,
When I bit off more than I could chew…”
Terry Miller and Larry Crenshaw delivering a Christmas tree to my porch. I lived in a house that was also an office. Back when we did mostly feature films, we always began each job prepping out of my house – with production people sprawled across every square foot. Printers, copies, cell phones and Teamsters. I used to make huge trays of lasagna for our lunches, served on leftover Easter Bunny paper plates and balanced on everyone’s knees. Terry, Simi and I always wondered if we could have actually made 2Fast, 2Furious based out of my living room.
A group of us huddled around a cow-sized pile of money and counting piles of cash back in the music video days; forcing my landlord having to explain to the mailman that she knew for a fact we were not drug dealers. “Just a bunch of movie people.”
Chick Bernhard driving his Harley up the front walk and using the front tire to knock. Dressing up as either Santa Claus or Hanukkah Harry in my bedroom for The Annual Jews Decorate The Christmas Tree Party and then sneaking out the back to bang on the front door announcing that St. Nick/Saul had finally arrived. And repainting my kitchen after I set it on fire.
Rosie and I doing the Ouija board and eating ice cream sundaes while we scared ourselves silly and plotted new adventures.
Artie Malesci taking time out from his Burn Notice stunt coordinating job (and trying to get more money out of me) to unclog the toilets and repair the broken furniture that my kid and Baby J insisted “someone must have come in while we were at work at broke it because we were NOT doing stunts inside the house!”
“I’ve loved, I’ve laughed and cried,
I’ve had my fill, my share of losing.
And now, as tears subside, I find it all so amusing.”
It wasn’t always just good times, but the walls stood strong, despite nails and glue and Magic Markers and food (who got the food on the wall? I know it was you, Baby J) and never wavered in protecting us – even during the afore-mentioned fire. And other kinds of matches. Love matches made and hearts broken, including mine, all from a leopard-skin print couch as old as my kid.
Dear Sissy and I camped out on that same sofa every single weekend during her law school days, watching movie marathons and surrounded by our own concoctions of complicated snacks and desserts. We called it our clubhouse. It is impossible to count the number of times we watched Jaws, Halloween and The Godfather – each time better than the last. On the very same piece of furniture she dreams on as every Thanksgiving turkey roasts overnight. Even before the years she lived in Miami and made that long car trek with two little kids just to share that yearly meal. Our home expanded and contracted to meet the needs of its denizens in that quiet, unassuming way that houses do.
That same couch, by the way, has been reupholstered again and again as each group of kids graduated from spitting up infant formula to successful potty training. I feel as if I should leave it here just to keep our house company as it waits, but I’m afraid it will end up on the trash heap.
“To think I did all that,
And may I say, not in a shy way,
“Oh, no, oh, no, not me, I did it my way.”
This Thanksgiving Sissy knew she would never stay here again and took special care to whisper her goodbyes to walls she and Rosie painted so carefully.
My parents, so delighted when I moved their grandchild from our hip, swinging South Beach pad they called a tenement, drove down to visit more times than I can recall. Mom was always laden with a new set of dinner plates (leopard-skin print), lava lamps (red) and a bag full of baked goods and spent hours going through my bookcases for new reading and – with my permission – my drawers stuffed with junk costume jewelry and the latest failed beauty trends. I can see her perched on my bed and happily trying out purple eyeshadow matched with freeze-dried collagen patches.
She forced my Dad to stay every weekend after Thanksgiving to help me pack away the fall decor and raise the Christmas roof with more decorations than one family should admit to owning. He always pretended to be annoyed but we knew he was enjoying himself more than he would admit. I never realized how much fun it was until we couldn’t do it any more.
“For what is a man, what has he got?
If not himself, then he has naught.”
You may remind me of the old saying “home is where the heart is” but there’s something to be said for your heart being that home. Our next encampment will never know my mother and perhaps even my father. Old friends who are no longer with us are part of a building that will be razed to make way for new families stacked one over another. The new roof will never get the chance to hide and hold the teenage girl from across the street kissing her boyfriend under the towering mango tree that started as a seed. The painted-over (yes, painted) bathtub will never again feel the joy of three to four little kids squirming naked in the bubbles after a messy Halloween pumpkin carve-fest. There’s nothing that I can do to change that.
“To say the things he truly feels and not the words of one who kneels…”
Last week, I had a visitor. Siobhan is a young mother and budding businesswoman, but not too long ago she went to school with my son and lived in the neighborhood. She popped by – all the way from Coconut Grove – to surprise me. Bubbly and friendly as always, she grabbed some newspaper, plopped down on that old couch and began wrapping glassware. We laughed as we talked about her toddler daughter, college, the years gone by and the hours and hours she had spent on that sofa.
Then suddenly her face began to crack. I know that look; I lived through all of her teenage break-ups. I saw it coming. She broke into tears. But it wasn’t about a boy.
“I don’t want you to move! I don’t want them to tear this place down! It’s just not fair. I want to always know that you will be here forever.” Siobhan cried as if her heart was breaking. It hasn’t been very long since she lost her own father. “I HATE when things change!”
Then she stomped her feet just as she did when she was little. We both burst into laughter.
I do too, Siobhan. I hate when things change. Both us want everything to stay the same.
But the world, like Don Henley, is often cruel and we have to keep moving to stay a step ahead of it. Anyway, as my mom would say, “Don’t you worry, Siobhan. I’m always here, no matter where here is.”
I’ll pack up my gypsy carnival and head on down the road. The new address will become home. I know that. All we need is one party to kick off some new memories. In the meantime I left our house a message, right on the wall. It has been a good place to live and love, to give and to grieve.
This is the Sinatra of homes. The record shows it took some blows over the years, but it did it its own way.
Goodbye, old friend.