B.G. Firmani: How I Married Philip Glass

Actually I was thinking that I probably shouldn’t write about how I married Phil, because he was married four times before I ever met him, which isn’t exactly what you’d call a model of single-mindedness, and what if I accidentally provide other women with a kind of instructional manual on the subject? But you know I’m in general a kind of live-in-the-moment person (years of Buddhist training), and besides I don’t think it’s fair of people to be stingy with their information. Thing is, actually, I wouldn’t even have had the idea at all except that my husband, Stanley, my husband before Phil this would be, turned to me in the street one day and said, “You know, you and Philip Glass could almost be cousins.” At first I was a little taken aback because, no disrespect to Phil, but a woman usually wants to be likened to, I don’t know, Anouk Aimée or Sophia Loren or Helen of Troy — Philip Glass, not so much. But I didn’t really take offense, actually, because I could kind of see what he meant. Phil and I both have somewhat melancholic faces, with big down-turning eyes, and we both appear to be forever Weltzschmertzing down the (usually rain-slicked) street, lost in our own troubled thoughts.

All this was said, just to provide some context, not long after Stanley and I moved into our third apartment in the East Village, and gone shopping around the corner at the Met Food. We had turned down the canned goods aisle, clutching our bags of root vegetables, and blam, there was Philip Glass smack in the middle of the aisle, shopping for groceries. Stanley’s the kind of person who generally respects people’s privacy, but something in me just had to know what Philip Glass would be eating for dinner that evening — so I cantered off down the aisle toward him and then slowed up just enough to take a gander at his basket. Imagine my surprise, then, to find nothing in his basket but a single loaf of Wonder Bread.

Philip Glass eats Wonder Bread? It just doesn’t compute, I thought. My goodness, I thought, he must not be feeling well. Thinking of this, Philip Glass and his Wonder Bread, a kind of untold tenderness for Mr. Glass blossomed inside of me. I thought, clearly the man is punishing himself for something.

So my friend Sarali, an old friend from Barnard, and I met up for dinner not that long afterward and turned out she had just seen a revival of “Einstein on the Beach” at Carnegie Hall. It was trimmed a bit but still, she said, it was “really nothing I ever need to see again.” I remember we were at a little French local up by her, and she was treating me to dinner and I was feeling kind of sad because I just didn’t have any money, which had pretty completely kept me from going out at all for the previous two or so years. I used all sorts of excuses and subterfuge to wriggle out of things rather than explain that Stanley and I were going through a dry spell and living on root vegetables, kale, and lentils cooked eight different ways — because I knew my friends would insist on treating me and this would only embarrass me. At any rate, Sarali had convinced me to let her take me out, and I tried to rally for the occasion. We had a delicious meal, gigot d’agneau à l’Anglaise, côtes de porc au oignons caramélisés — the food at Sarali’s French local really was exquisite. Afterward, we hugged goodbye and, after I watched her golden, light-filled figure get on the bus to go further uptown, I turned south and, for no reason I could think of except maybe that I hadn’t eaten animal flesh in twelve years, I suddenly let loose a fusillade of French local vomit all over the sidewalk. What grieved me most of all was not the publicness of it, not the embarrassment, but squandering all that good food and its attendant nutrients.

I went home to find Stanley sitting with his record collection spread out all around him, carefully brushing his copy of Pere Ubu’s Terminal Tower. So it’s come to this, I thought. He looked up at me with his sweet blue eyes and tried to put a brave face on, but I knew. I knew he would be carting off his records to Other Music or Gimme Gimme the next day so we could put the measly $605 he would make from thirty years of record collecting toward our miserably inflated rent.

What was weird was that one of the records that immediately caught my eye was a copy of Philip Glass’ The Photographer.

“What do you think of Philip Glass?” I asked my officemate Miguel the next day at work.

“Well, the usual niggles about repetition and all that, but ‘Einstein on the Beach’ is a seminal work.”

“No, I mean, do you think Philip Glass is nice?”

Miguel pondered this. It wasn’t as weird a question as it might seem — he had been friends with, or perhaps gone out with, a fellow who at some point had rented a room in Philip Glass’ townhouse, which was more or less right around the corner from Stanley and me in the East Village.

“I like that he was a plumber,” he said thoughtfully.

That’s right! He was a plumber! That could only be a good thing. I had an uncle, Pep, who was a plumber, and while Pep was kind of a terrifying old G with an extremely dismissive manner and various joints missing from both of his big, ’nduja-like fingers, it’s hard not to trust a man who knows how to make an honest living. Who has ready, recession-proof skills.

Around this time our air conditioner broke and Stanley and I took to going on marathon bus rides all over Manhattan. The idea was to catch some cool air, and look pleasantly out the window at the city we used to be able to afford. Look, we would say, that florist shop is now an Anthropologie. Look, that used bookstore is now a Starbucks. Look, that funeral parlor is now an Edible Arrangements.

One hot evening we were walking back from one of these bus rides, having been let off on the West Side, and we passed a beautiful jewel box of a place on Great Jones Street, in the building where Jean-Michel Basquiat had lived. It was a brightly lit white cube with stylish chandeliers. We turned and looked at each other and Stanley said, “Someone finally opened a museum for him!” We eagerly ran across the street and pressed our noses to the glass. Inside, in an elegant display case, we saw: meat.

It was a Japanese meat store with Washugyu-style beef for $60 a pound.

Something in me just broke, then. I mean, it wasn’t like I wanted to buy meat that cost $60 a pound. It wasn’t like I wanted a lacy scooter skirt from Anthropologie or a five-buck icy-cold blended beverage from Starbucks or even to send someone a Fruit Bouquet — this last not merely because of the fact that, as I think George Orwell has pointed out, the more you pay for food, chances are the more the person preparing it has touched it. No, it wasn’t that. It was just that I didn’t think life was going to be like this. I didn’t think New York City would turn out this way. I mean, when I came here for school in the ’80s it was a whole different city. Maybe because I got that big scholarship from Barnard and all but I thought New York was a meritocratic place, a place where you would be rewarded for your hard work and intelligence. But how could this be, I asked myself, when I hadn’t had a raise in three years, when our rent cost 72% of our income, and when my husband Stanley with his divinity school degree had to eke out a living working as a Freight Team Associate at a 99¢ store in Long Island City?

Then I got to thinking that, you know, B.G., it was probably those four years at Barnard that put all those inflated thoughts in your head in the first place. You know? I mean, back in Elkton I just didn’t know a lot of fancy people. I knew firemen and truck drivers, surveyors and priests and Mary Kay consultants — and none of these folks were what you call fancy. When I was in high school and had my summer job at the sub shop, people would talk about things like the Orioles, Joanie Loves Chachi, the parish roof fund, etc. — which bored me out of my flipping mind and which was what drove me to New York in the first place. Then in college we were forever having events with people like Ntozake Shange and Beverly Sills and Alfred Kazin, after which there would always be a lavish spread with crudité and white wine and plump strawberries and miniature lemon-poppy muffins. I realize only now that, after four years of this, I had just expected the rest of my life to be like this. I’d expected my life to be lemon-poppy muffins and Diana Trilling.

But it just didn’t play out that way.

To get back to the Phil story, I think the final thing that made up my mind was when, sometime after Stanley had hocked his records, we found ourselves in such dire straits that I had to sell off my favorite book. The shame of this was that I actually thought we were catching up financially, but one day Stanley bit into a Pfeffernuss that one of his co-workers, Jenny Platt, had thoughtfully brought to work, and cracked his tooth clean in half. It was hard to blame Jenny Platt because she’s really nice! But as a baker the woman is strictly amateur night. Anyway, long story short, I had already maxed out our dental benefit what with the purchase of my TMJ brace, and so we suddenly found ourselves with an out-of-pocket deductible of $1,200 to contend with.

Twelve hundred dollars — it seemed an impossible sum. It was with a heavy heart that I took my British first edition of Turn, Magic Wheel down from its special place on the bookshelf, wrapped it as carefully as I would a baby destined for the foundling hospital door, and brought it to the Strand’s rare books department. And old friend of Stanley’s from his bar scene days, Sir Theodor of the flowing white hair, happened to be working there that day, and as soon as he saw the book, tears leapt into his eyes. “Dame B.G.,” he said in a hushed whisper, “has it really come to this?” Of course what I didn’t tell him was that I had picked up this very book from the dollar cart at the Strand some years before, where some hapless newly hired yokel from Portzebie, New Hampshire had no doubt so cluelessly placed it. At any rate, I’d looked around online and found the going rate for a British first edition of Turn, Magic Wheel to be about $1,500, and so this was no time to be sentimental.

“We need the cash,” I quietly told Sir Theodor.

He turned it over in his hands, smelled it, looked at its slight foxing and, with a different kind of sadness, pointed out that it appeared to be an old library copy.

“Two hundred dollars,” he said, suddenly cool as a cucumber.

I sighed. Nothing turned out the way I needed it to.

“Deal,” I said, sticking out my hand for my thirty pieces of silver.

On the walk home I got to thinking about how just about everyone I knew somehow had figured out how to come out ahead, while I seemed to be perpetually running in place on my hamster wheel of oblivion. I was thinking about my ex-boyfriend, Serious Man, who I’d recently read had become a chief muckety-muck art director at a major architecture publication; of another ex-boyfriend who I’d recently seen, sigh, on the cover of Poets & Writers, looking all street and unsmiling; of a guy I’d had a brief and treacherous flirtation with who was raking in the cash as a scriptwriter in Hollywood by writing about his various and extensive booty calls. And I thought: B.G., friend, perhaps you just have to be more of an asshole.

I came home to find Stanley going through our plastic storage containers of healthy grains, assiduously picking out the mealy bugs.

“Honey,” I said, “we have to talk.”

I told him that the whole money thing just wasn’t working out. Wasn’t that clear by now? He told me he could take a third job — he had already taken a second, in the tourism industry for a beneficial $7.25 an hour — which had brought our rent/income percentage down to about 67%. I told him how could he feasibly take a third, short of recalibrating the Earth’s rotation to make it a 32-hour day? No, this needed serious action. Let me ask you something, I said to him, I may be forty-two, but…I’m still kind of a hot chick, right? Stanley nodded, kind as he is.

“So what I’m thinking is this,” I said, “why don’t I just marry Philip Glass?”

My husband seemed confused.

“Honey,” he said, “are you feeling all right?”

I told him I was feeling just fine. In fact I’d never felt better in my life! I finally had a concrete, feasible plan — none of this airy-fairy write the Great American Novel or imagine you can live in New York City for less than $70,000 a year or assume that a BA from Barnard and an MFA from a fancy grad school means you’ll never need an EBT card kind of foolish bullshit. No, sir! This was a solid, real plan.

Stanley asked me how I’d go about marrying Philip Glass, and I told him I’d just go up and talk to him next time I saw him at the Met Food. I mean, it wasn’t like I had any bad intentions — it’s not like I was planning any kind of reverse Double Indemnity sort of thing. I wasn’t going to be doing Phil any harm. I’m a pretty nice person and that’s just not the way I roll.

So Stanley and I got a quickie divorce based on mental cruelty, and within a few weeks, trucking up Second Avenue on my way home from work, who do I see but Philip Glass himself? He was elegantly dressed in a sort of Comme des Garçons-esque zoot suit kind of thing, and appeared to be hurrying toward the subway. I had to act quickly, so without even really thinking about it, I blocked his path and said to him:

“Thus have I heard: Philip Glass is really nice.”

Do I tell you just how cute he looked when he smiled at me? No, reader, I do not. Actually, I don’t think I’m going to provide the play-by-play after all. Not that it was a lot of work, not that I have any special sort of Wallis Simpson-like talents to reveal, but the more I think of it, the more I think, B.G., honey, you’ve earned this. This is your baby. If other women want to set their caps for someone, they can go for Method Man or Justin Bieber or someone like that. Though I should caution you, reader, that you might find yourself at times thinking of the husband you loved so much and so unceremoniously dumped in the pursuit of your goal. Especially when you see him weeping into a bag of kohlrabi at the Met Food, or standing in front of the men’s shelter down the street and looking at you, his sweet blue eyes all tearstained, as you breeze past him in your Tibetan silk Chupa dress. But stick to your guns, honey. Philip Glass and his townhouse, his royalties, his breathtakingly perfect retreat in Nova Scotia are all yours — and it’s time to just sit back, and enjoy.

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