I fell down the stairs. My teeth are falling out. I want a glass of red wine.
Ask me why I’m here in Tivoli. Everyone asks. They never asked how I made Malibu my home. It never occurs to ask why they are here… or there. People wash up where they wash up. They stick where they get stuck. I’ll tell you again, when I drove over the little bridge, I saw the Bard students on their stoops playing guitars and smoking. When we sat in the sun on the terrace at The Hotel Tivoli that first afternoon eating almond cookies and cappuccino, I thought… I could live here. It’s a long way from Malibu.
My neighbours invite me into their homes. I’m not shy, I know all of my neighbours on North Road. Some of them are difficult, most of them are not. There’s the cantankerous woman with the Indian husband who said she would never allow me to build my house. She lives in an elegant, converted church with a pretty campanile and an obelisk dedicated to those who lost their lives during the slave holders rebellion. Her gang of Mexican gardeners work all year maintaining the blue stone paths, an avenue of oak trees and perfect lawns. Number 14, to my right, the considerate garden designer and her good husband, they were first… inviting me to crawl into their Japanese tea house for a formal Japanese tea ceremony. She whisks the hot green tea. We admire the satsuma ware.
An older gay couple live opposite my ramshackle house. They collect classic cars. Last summer one of them told me quietly and sadly about his lover of many years who died in his arms just here on the drive. We looked silently into the inky black tar as he remembered his dearly beloved. The neighbours don’t know the gay men who live opposite my house or what tragedy happened there. They were very discreet… until the Trump/Pence yard sign appeared.
Lydia and the ex-mayor Tom, shortly after I moved to the village, invited me to walk the coppice, to a brook at the end of the property. Tom must be 80 years old but climbs all over his painted lady like a monkey. They spend the winter in Florida. Their dog Charlie escapes every night to ransack my trash. Tom and Lydia share Charlie with Marion, a friendly Tivolian who lives immediately to my right. She smokes as much as I want to and calls me Pumpkin, she tends 20 house cats and an elderly relative.
Bob the artist, whose work I’ve never seen, cycles two blocks into the village to buy beer. His slim wife looks overwhelmed, fragile. One house North. Occasionally I hear her delicate laugh drifting over the lawn. The cook, the thief his wife and their lover, the grumpy deaf man who valiantly scoops his disabled girlfriend in and out of their car.
Then, in the last of the Victorian houses on our side of the street, there’s Phyllis and Lee. She paints huge canvases of naked men and women. We went to Rhinecliff library on Saturday night and she told us the story of her life. She’s not scared of desire or her sexuality. She celebrates love and lust.
The current mayor, Joel wonders what I’m doing in Phyllis’s house eating noodles. He wonders why I’m here in Tivoli. I bake Phyllis and Lee a banana loaf. Joel looks at me suspiciously, we have no reason to be friends. I see him often at the pub, he hugged me there the night Trump was elected. He sat with us briefly at the Tivoli summer party and ate the free hot dogs. He and the Deputy Mayor Emily have a plan for Tivoli that won’t include Bard students or noisy pubs or late night buses. Even though Joel was a Bard student… once.
There are sober people in the village. I mean… AA people. The disgraced doctor, the chef and the celebrity bar man. There’s the obese sex pest who I see at AA meetings but never admits he drinks every day. He poked me in the chest outside The Lost Sock laundromat and told me I was the devil.
There are people in Tivoli who should be sober: the newly married couple with rosy cheeks and big breasts who excel at the pub quiz. They aren’t dangerous. The woman who knocked over the fire hydrant is very dangerous, the same woman… the same night, she took the wing off another car before driving into the side of the pub… escaping without charge and boasting about it the following day.
There are a couple of women in the village who might do well to forgo alcohol. Swollen faces, bruised and bloodied. Small town drunks.
I’ve devoted 20 years of my life to AA. I am writing about the quasi-religious cult I’ve devoted my life to, again. The people I’ve met there are, on the whole, totally insane. I’m very attracted in an Almodovar kind of way to the crazy house wives, the heroin addicted aristocrats, the failed pop stars and grateful accountants who kneel every morning and thank God for another day. I love their stories, listening to the moment when they were born again.
Tonight as I sit nursing my damaged ankle I thought I might write about how much I would like a large glass of red wine. Montepulciano. I wonder what it would do to me or who I would become. I wonder if I could forget sobriety for just one goddamned moment, take a day off. Will everything I learned in AA just vanish the moment I drink? Will God forsake me? Of course not. Why do I have to be an expert in abstinence? What’s that all about? Why is my success, my only real success measured in days sober?
A woman I know just drowned herself in a bottle of wine. She’d been lying to everyone about not drinking and I thought to myself… so what. Have a drink. Have a fucking drink. And then I listened to Sade and she was singing ‘Sweetest Taboo’ and I remember laying on Whitstable beach with Matt and we were in love and drinking white wine. I felt nostalgic for something I had given up and replaced in equal measure with a bunch of crazy… sad people and their sad and crazy stories all because I thought I was going to die.
I have things to tell you, but those stories can wait. Tales of obsession and ordinary madness. Tales of greed and random cruelty. I could tell you about the interior decorator who visited last weekend and his dull, rich white friend I endured lunch with. I could tell you more about the woman who fell in love with me and couldn’t and wouldn’t take no for an answer. I could tell you about rotting jaws, falling down the stairs and handcuffs.
I’ll tell you next time.