Valentine’s Day = no celebration for me.
That’s when all the loonies come out to play. And St. Valentine was beaten to death and then beheaded. What’s to celebrate?
Plus, I’m 48, I’m single, unemployed and I don’t have a dog.* Pretty much rock bottom.
My rock bottom is comparatively pretty shiny. I live in the best city in the world. I have a rent-stabilized apartment, a membership to New York Sports Club (where I can watch 80s pop video) and I’m not going to go hungry any time soon. But once I realized I was deep in the dirt, I decided to slow on down and pick away at the nuggets for a while.
And when I took my foot off the pedal, I found Rusty again. It always happens just when I need it.
People die. I know they do. I don’t particularly like this fact of life, or fact of death, and I have some of the stranger reactions to death, becoming a veritable Shecky McTiZ, but it exists, and ain’t none of us gonna get out of this alive.
I have this friend named Rusty. I adore him. Adore him. Did I mention I adore him? He was a composer/lyricist and we met while I was at the Beastie show. He was one of the first people ever to let me know I was funny. Who woulda thunk it? And he knew funny.
He concocted some of the stranger rhymes I have ever come across, finding it appropriate to blend “seen to” with “lean-to.” This strange interior scheming was something that leapt up and caught you by the gullet. It was anarchistic yet controlled and whimsical. And musical jokes…usually difficult, needing to hit upon nerve endings and synapses in a subtle, underhanded way…his were effortless, leaving you laughing and never knowing quite why.
I wish you could hear them. God, he was good. Sweet, sweet sedition.
Like many of my friendships, we seldom saw one another but when we did it was gloriously heart to heart. Did I mention he was married? Oh yeah, to an amazing woman who scared the crap out of me.
But Rusty and I were Corazon Cronies. Ran into him at a difficult time in both our lives and careers and he just threw his arms around me and wept. It didn’t matter that we were surrounded by an audience of 500.
I ran into him at a much happier time in both of our lives and he just threw his arms
around me and laughed, and we celebrated at an old stomping ground of his. Stumbling upon friends (and I do mean stumbling), an evening of raucous joy commenced, filled with incredible intelligence, dark humor and “I really can’t remember quite what” because I became impossibly drunk and enamored with this entire New York night so full of possibility…shared with my friend Rusty. I umbrella-turned home with no sense of “Mother may I” but overflowing with “Screw you, I’m gonna.”
When I arrived home, there sat my ueber-boring boyfriend, unannounced and uninvited, using the key I had oh-so-unwisely given him. I could smell him before I saw him (due to unfortunately delicate skin, he couldn’t wear antiperspirant or deodorant), and I thought, “Screw you, I ain’t”…in all ways. The relationship was over within a week.
Soon after, Rusty helped me with the birth of my CD. I had unearthed a gorgeous Irish lullaby, and since his last name was “Magee,” I figured he could at least point me in the right direction. He not only pointed but gently shoved hesitant me, the me who was uncomfortable cold-calling his Gaelic gal pal.
He blustered a phrase that has stuck with me for a decade, “We’re all just humans, Tiz.”
That thought comes in mighty handy most days.
One of the last times I saw Rusty was at a benefit for his son’s school. He performed in his raucous and subversively brilliant Rusty way, and looked great…soooo svelte. I asked him his secret.
“I had intestinal cancer.”
“Well, that’s a way to do it. Oh, dear God, I’m an asshole. I’m so sorry. How are you?” I yelled.
His response was positive, not in the positive-for-cancer kinda way, but in that life-is-wonderful-and-we’re-all-just-humans kinda way, and we parted. And I wept. I wept for the hell he had been through and for my relief that he was alright.
Later, when I received no response from e-mails, my self-involved, little noggin thought, “Rusty must be mad at me about something.” But then I found out the truth: he had died.
I found Rusty again just when I needed him. I unexpectedly ran into his wife, Alison, in Central Park. She begged, “Come record Rusty’s music with us.” And I did. And there he was.
You can’t sing his music and words without evoking his generous, warped spirit. Whether I was doing my best animal sounds (which I usually suck at) or tongue-twisting patter songs (which I usually suck at) or singing of “the fragile feeling locked inside a heart that’s never had a chance to grow” (which I usually don’t suck at), Rusty pointed and gently shoved me in the right direction.
I stayed at the studio long after I finished recording my tracks just to prolong the feeling. Over drinks, Alison shared that Rusty had a crush on me. I retorted that he was the impetus of a break-up, and as I started to explain, she exclaimed —
“He did have an affair with you. I knew it. You know what? That’s okay…as long as he was happy.”
And that, humans, is love. That’s what Rusty left us.
The anniversary of Rusty’s passing is situated perilously close to the day of Valentine, so I hereby declare, “Happy St. Rusty’s Day.” Let the celebration commence.
A rock bottom where there’s love is indeed shiny.
* I just got a dog from The Humane Society. Yay Baxter. Yay me. We’re digging out, way out.
Please visit Rusty Magee Clinic of the Ackerman Institute for the Family @ www.Ackerman.org for more information.
Christianne Tisdale has done a lot of stuff. She’s performed on the Broadway stage, sung in some of the world’s most famous arenas and danced a lot in her living room. Forced to take remedial writing at Yale, she now likes to scribble in 0s and 1s from the comfort of her bed. Her critically acclaimed debut cd, Just a Map – A Lullaby to the World is available online. She’s also a reiki master who bakes an excellent chocolate chip cookie pie. Everything else you never needed to know at @backstagetalk on Twitter and www.ChristianneTisdale.com