If all is ephemera, how can there be artifact?
So. On Monday, your author turns 60.

This led me to consider the ways I have celebrated birthdays of significant number in the past. On my 21st birthday, I took a final exam for my art history class and then packed my dorm room as that was the end of my college career. I was (trigger warning: Politically Incorrect Phrase Ahead) free, white, 21 and a college graduate. The universe got a good horse laugh at me and booted me off to go be an adult. I spent the next nine years having a two-year attention span and lots of adventures. Then I turned 30 and felt I needed to Get Serious.

I straightened up and married a criminal defense attorney, proving that clean and sober was a bad lifestyle choice for me. I remedied that and dumped the lawyer, quit graduate school and several jobs in quick succession and took up with the Renowned Local Artist, moved to New Mexico and back to Miami (another set of 2-year attention spans, I guess) and dug in at the next job, lasting through my 40s and all the way to 50. For my 40th birthday, a friend built me a giant 4-0 out of straw and we burned it in effigy. It was brilliant. We were pulling ashes out of the pool filter for years.

My fiftieth year was rather horrid: lost my cat, lost my father, lost my mother to Alzheimer's, my sister-in-law lost her mother, George Bush "won" a second term, I lost my job, I had to move my mother to a facility near me, and I turned 50. There was only one thing to do: I went to White Party in full mermaid drag. Take that, universe. And I bought myself a puppy.

This year, I am taking the day off from packing the pod (not a euphemism for anything) and heading over to the day spa for a four-handed massage (ooh, just like a three-way, but with no sex! I said to the booker), a facial and a mani-pedi. I mentioned that this was a birthday present to myself for turning the big digits, and she asked if I wanted a little color touch up. I explained that my hair, on its best days, looks like Roger Daltry/Isle of Wight/1971 and she told me that she had to Google that. Then I told her that the color I wanted was a full ombre in turquoise or purple or something, as the combination of magenta and that hair would make me look like an escapee from clown college. The booker told me that she was very sorry that she would be off Monday, as she expressed an interest in meeting me, but swore that they would take before and after photos. I'm sure they will.

Or, more accurately, in the hamster treadmill of yours truly's mind. I started with the bathroom, packing up stuff I won't need in the next 2 months, probably less, but who knows for date certain when we will relocate hearth and home to points north. Sitting on the floor, looking at the stuff in the little storage cabinet, not the medicine cabinet over the sink. You know, the place where you put stuff you don't need or only need once and a great while, but yet often enough to keep on hand, just not something that has to be easily reachable, either. THAT cabinet. There is all sorts of interesting stuff in there. Out of date sun screen, a flea comb for the cat, last used two cats ago, and a broken brass incense burner.

If this were a drinking game, here's where you'd take a drink because it is me alone in my head, and here's where I go off on a tangent. This particular burner has been a part of my life since I was capable of being aware of it. In its first incarnation, it was my mother's: it was black and it sat in her sewing room on the bookshelf over the daybed in the old house. This is important. It will be on the test. It is small, round and sits on little foo dog feet, and has a pierced lid with another fierce dragon dog reclining upon it as a handle. By the mid-sixties it was living in my bedroom in the new house and went off to college with me. At some point I stripped it of its black paint, the reclining dragon came loose and there is a side piece broken off and living somewhere in my studio where I see it regularly enough to remember what it is and not to incorporate it into a piece of found object art before I find someone who can weld brass, or bronze, whatever this is. The point is, it is both older than me and been a part of my life since I can remember. It has moved from my mother's girlish possession, into her married life, whence I claimed it for my childhood bedroom, through I cannot remember how many dorm rooms; it has moved with me from Miami to NYC, to Miami and back north to Woodstock back to Miami and off to New Mexico and back again to Miami (and that's leaving out the dozen or so apartments I had and my divorce where I lost so many personal belongings) and now it is going back to what was my childhood bedroom, but is now the second guest bedroom, claimed jointly by Paulie and My Cousin Judy. I barely know how I am still here and in mostly one piece after all that, but how did this little thing make it through all those years and all those moves? What spirit is holding us together?

In retrospect, as I have uncovered so much of my mother's life before us (her years in NYC in the late 30s), that I presume this is a souvenir of her time there from some shop on Mott Street, perhaps, or maybe from Newport. In the event, seeing it was enough to bring back all of that and more, including the notion that it would be a good thing to take to the new house (our New House, which from 1966 until we bought it, was also my parents' New House, as opposed to the Old House--you see, it was on the test) this weekend when The Person Dressed in Black and I go to Stuart and sleep overnight.

Which brings us back full circle to why I was sitting on the floor and packing stuff from THAT cabinet to go to the guest bath in the New House which has generous built-in cabinets and a built-in laundry hamper...thank you MCM and efficient living. We are now about 6 weeks out from the move. It's just that THIS weekend is Halloween. And Mummy passed away two years ago on Halloween night, with yours truly and The Person Dressed in Black at her side. That makes it important to me to be there then (as opposed to being here now) this year and lay a path of marigolds to the front door and ask her spirit to come back and be honored. At least figuratively. I don't know where the hell I'd get marigold petals if I didn't grow my own. It isn't like there is a botanica in the neighborhood or anything....wait. I'm still here in Miami, I probably CAN get fresh marigolds.

But I digress.

incense burner foo dog

The One That Got Away

Anyone who has known me since I moved away from NYC (the Second Stupidest Thing I Ever Did) knows the story of the one that got away. Shortly before I left the city, I was shopping at the Fiorucci's around the corner from Bloomingdale's. Not that I could afford anything, but that wasn't the point. I found this shirt. There had never been a shirt more expressive of my personal sense of style. I coveted it, and when I tried it on, it was as though it had been cut and sewn for me. It was real chamois, in a buttery palomino color. The neck was scooped and the collar, hem and cuffs were all raw edges of the hide. It closed with silver conchos. There were only two seams and they went along the sides and up and under the sleeves all the way to the ends, which were mid-finger tip. The shirt itself was hip-length. It was also as much as two months rent on my studio apartment in the Village (as I recall, $400 a month or there abouts, but we are talking 1977.) They had to throw me out of the dressing room to close the store. I wept bitter tears over that shirt, and have drawn it in sketchbooks and on cocktail napkins ever since.

That's right, thirty-seven years of lusting after that damn thing.

Two weeks ago, when we were in Jackson Hole for the Big Ass Year of Turning Sixty Extended Pub Crawl and Party, I saw a leather shop's ad in the art guide, and said, I have a feeling if I'm ever going to find that shirt... And so we all went. And there it was. White, not palomino, made of elk hide instead of chamois, and with elk horn buttons instead of conchos, but it fit like a glove and I no longer pay rent.

The one that got away is now in my closet. If a piece of clothing could be a spirit animal, it would be this shirt.

the one that didn't get away

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