The Talisman of Strummer
– Memoir by Red Barnes –
On November 24th I sat on the wooden floor of my Williamsburg apartment chanting Baba Hanuman with Krishna Dass. I was burning Frankincense and candles. The light was streaming in, and Strummer, my 17 year old dog, was looking deeply into my eyes. I believe she knew, and I believe she made the executive decision to leave this Earth plane. The more I chanted the calmer I became, and I remembered all the contentment I had for so many years at the Ashram in the middle of the Catskills Mountains. I had bought her flowers from my flower guy Tony, and he wrapped the coral tea roses with some raffia. I put oil on her from Amma’s Ashram so that she was protected and smelled like roses. Our old flower guy Jose used to call her California, as she smelled all his flowers and visited him everyday. He is in heaven, but she looked for him everyday in his flower station. Out of the Pasadena Shelter onto the streets of Manny Hanny and Brooklyn constantly seeking grass, trees and dirt. Just like me. She had made the decision three days before Thanksgiving not to go down the steps anymore. She had taken to not going for coffee for me in the morning choosing sleep instead. Border Collie-Golden-Lab-mix, the working dog was finally tired. At 3:00 PM I carried her down the steps, all 52 pounds of her, and placed her on the sidewalk. She walked directly to the leaves and the dirt and the earth to find her terroir which had made her happy all her life. My friend who owns the Dry Cleaner on Graham Avenue walked us to his Audi to drive us to the vet to put her down. He kept asking “Red, are you O.K.?” I said yes. I was trying to be brave and facilitate for my girl. No animal should suffer or stay here longer than they should to appease an owner’s attachment. I had my marching orders from the ethers: let her go when she wants to go. I had lost two brothers, but humans can negotiate their own scenario. Dog’s are innocent, and Strummer was the most innocent Buddha of all dogs–a soul encapsulated in a beautiful form. She always laid toward my Buddha statue of her own accord. I am not sure who sent her to me but as my constant companion, her eyes followed me everywhere and offset anxiety or panic attacks when they reared their ugly head. My Strummer in a room filled with my ex boyfriend Cinque, my friend Marsha and Albert all lined up like the military with their hands folded in a respectful manner as I stood at her head. Strummer Bird left this earth with one last breath, and she was off. I told her at the house to look for my brothers, and I used their full names–no reaction. I said look for Joe Strummer, and she winked her left eye at me. I prayed she was roaming through the stars and the moon and saying hello to all my loves including my father. I tumbled out onto the street and it was dark. The sun had set on a lifetime in one moment.
Winter was hard, as in brutal. Not regarding snow or cold. I grew up in the country where snow lasted until April. It was more of a malaise or fatigue both spiritual and physical. I was tired, working 56 hours a week on four floors off of Park Avenue. My body was breaking down and my knees were screaming for mercy as I ran for 10 hours a day with wine and dishes in my hands. When I did surface in my neighborhood people inquired, “Where have you been?” Second question, “Where is the dog?” I would point to heaven and my throat would close over. Their eyes got big and I had to manage my feelings and theirs in the span of one minute. I needed to go see my mother in Florida and be still. I had for the first time taken to moments of dizziness or feeling ethereal and disconnected. Born a Taurus and supremely connected to the Earth, I was now untethered. I ran into a friend with her dog on the street and as she was speaking to me I tipped slowly sideways and heard my self gasp out loud. She reached for my arm and said “Red!” I stared and confessed I felt myself tipping in slow motion to the right as if I was leaving my body. She implored me to go inside and drink some water. My house set up in a peaceful, country way was offering me no solace. The silence was as they say: deafening. Turning the lock on the door became a dreadful task as the otherside was empty.
I had not been out of New York City since August. I arrived to the Gulf of Mexico pale, and in severe mourning. My brother drove north up a road filled with turkey buzzards. I kept saying is that my hawk? Is that my hawk? He started laughing and replied, “You and your Hawks.” When our brother died from a car crash in 2001 a hawk came in the garage in Arcadia, California. It stayed all afternoon sitting on a rafter peering down. I knew my brother sent him. At 4 PM I asked my Mother if I should open the side door as it was hot in there. She replied “yes, he might leave if you do that.” I opened it and he flew out after giving his benediction and protection to us all. Hawks always show up for me.
Last summer In Montauk I was in a place I should not have been. Every day I would seek out nature, beaches, architectural masterpieces and every house or building associated with artists: Lee Radziwill, Warhol and Dick Cavett. l was interested in Montauk culture from the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. At night I was working and subject to too much dark energy. A kid who grew up there peered at the look on my face and remarked, “This place is a black hole.” I would wake up in the morning surrounded by birds, deer, nature and the lessons from the previous night’s dream. Protective dreams, eagle and hawk dreams, and Andy Warhol coming to me and staring intensely at me in complete silence. It was clear he wanted me to leave. I would make my coffee and walk out to the driveway and a hawk feather was on the ground. I looked closely and saw many grey feathers and thought oh man my boy took someone apart. I put the hawk feather in the car for protection and the reminder that grace is always with me. At night I would walk to the empty beach and wade under the full moon, and I took the most exquisite photo of the full yellow moon coming up over the waves. It looks like a painting, and I cannot believe I got it with an iphone. Seurat was working through me, I am certain. That was the last time I had been out of New York. 5 Months is too long with no fresh air or silence.
I was once again in nature, Florida nature, back with my beloved water. Blue, green, healing Gulf of Mexico water. I started to restore immediately. In the previous month on my way to work everyday on Park Avenue I would stop at the water fountain at The Seagrams Building and soak all the positive ions from the water. I would stand at the edge, peer down into the red granite below and ask to be healed from the fatigue. I would thank Mies Van der Rohe and Philip Johnson for creating this iconic building with so much space for the plaza in the middle of Park Avenue. Humans need space.
As I stood once again with my feet in the water marveling at the white sand that holds a million tiny wishes I began to feel like a human being. Not a walking bag of bones who was submerged under a heavy veil of sorrow. I realized that the sorrow and the mourning was so intense partly because it had so much history in my body. The muscle memory and the past had taken up residence once again, and it was stronger than it had been in the past when death came to visit me. I dunked my emerald calcite in the water, I collected divine tiny conch shells, and made a mandala in the pristine sand. I traveled to The Don CeSar Hotel in Saint Petersburg and rented myself an umbrella for the day, and drank champagne and stared at the blue-green and my pale face shifted to it’s freckle self and the corners of my lips started to slowly turn upward. Renting an umbrella was something I thought only rich people did. It was the best move I ever made as it allowed me to be in the sun and not take the sun. I read my Pablo and a book by Francoise Gilot and felt grateful for birds and seagulls. F. Scott Fitzgerald used to stay at The Don lovingly referred to as The Pink Palace. Once Upon a Time in America, directed by the Maestro Sergio Leone, filmed there in 1984. I was hosting my own homage to cinema and soaking in restoration and fresh air.
New Years Eve came and I was asleep before midnight with the screen door casting a hazy light on me and the damp sea air lulling me into sleep so that I could forget the day time ruminations. My mother, who is 92, and I had intense talks about death and letting go. My final words were “Do what you need to do. Go in your sleep, you are in charge, you can go whenever you want.” Her parting words were, “I worry about you.” I replied, “don’t worry about me Mommy, I will be fine.” When My Mother passes I will die a certain death as she was my best friend as a child. She returned to best friend category in my adulthood after trying times and navigating a large family which comes with love and loss. She most assuredly is my Consigliere in life and business. Who is to say who will pass away first. I don’t even think the next hour is guaranteed.
I left to catch a plane back to Manny Hanny strong, peaceful, and I made a commitment not to rush my steps or tap into any aggressive New York City behavior. My hawk hadn’t showed. Green parrots screaming and laughing, rain storms, but no hawk. I had however performed ritual and walked in sacred water. My face was carrying less pain. Rebirth due to the elements and the Gulf of Mexico. Gratitude had taken up residence in my body once again. Sleep and love facilitated that state.
On January 11th I returned from my morning espresso to sit down at the kitchen table and do some research and check the trades for film work and ideas. I saw something out of my peripheral vision outside my window. It was moving and large. I approached the window and saw the largest Red Tail Hawk I have ever seen on top of the telephone pole. He was flapping his wings and making a fuss. Interiorly I said no way, stood, stared and silently thought how is this possible. He (or she) had a pigeon underneath her feet and was ritualistically taking it apart. Pulling its feathers out and spitting them to the ground while his talons were holding the prey in place. Exact, machine-like and not wasting one move he took the bird down to 25% in 4 hours. He would stop to look around occasionally and then back to work. Ordinarily I would feel squeamish and feel faint at such a sight. Not this time. I knew Strummer sent him and I knew that she sent him to the house at the exact time she knew I would be in the kitchen. The hawk was huge. His stomach so large and his speckled cream and brown spots were stunning up close. I was mesmerized. In my dreams they are always so far above my head and here he was at my eye level. I spoke to him. I sang to him. He would stop and stare at me and cock his head. He would constantly check out above and below so that no one would come for his food. When I sang to him he stared at me and in that moment I felt closure. I had to go on. I had to get up. I had to try and live. I know Strummer was watching me go down under water with no will to live. What is life without your loved ones or the ones you hold dear? For me nothing. This Talisman came to a Williamsburg Brooklyn Street to remind me I had work to do. I had a calling. I had to dust myself off, heal my heart and participate in life or check out. He or She was beautiful, funny, daunting, precise, exquisite, transcendent and hanging with me for 5 hours on a brisk January day. I had to go to work. I bid my hawk adieu and thanked him for coming. He flew up to the balcony above me and decided to take in the view and digest. I walked to the subway all the while looking back at him in the glowing sun against the red brick building and counted my blessings. I called my Mother her response was, “You got your Hawk now you have to go on. You got your sign from Strummer.” My sorrow was so tangible and so heavy, I am sure she was relieved to see it lifted. I took photos of my hawk, and I was in awe of his or her beauty. I had never seen such exquisite features and his eyes fixated on me when I told him I loved him.
The next day I woke up around 8 AM, which is early for me as I work at night to maintain freedom for auditions. I walked to the kitchen to light a piece of Nag Champa and grab a glass of water. Outside the window was my beloved day 2 hawk visit. I smiled like a maniac and unlocked the window and pulled the screen up. I said “Good Morning, Good Morning” over and over. He stared, checked out the rest of his pigeon, and let me sing to him. He finished what was left and I smiled. I told him I loved him. I returned to bed knowing he was outside my window protecting me. I felt special, cared for, extraordinary and positive about my connection to Earth, the other side, and nature. That feeling drowned out all the unhealthy ego and the inner critic who always comes for me in the morning. I slipped back into slumber with my heart resurrected to see another day. I look to the sky where Magritte, Strummer and everyone I have ever loved dwells. I named him Talisman as a proper name but truly speaking he or she is My Hawk. He or She was seen all over Williamsburg and made The Daily News by hanging out above the BQE. Talisman had no care regarding that noise, he was too busy participating in life’s duties and dharma. When he was finished with his daily tasks he sat and soaked sun and the gloaming exactly like me.
Spring is finally here. The birds have been singing on my street at 6 AM. I don’t remember hearing them before. They sound happy and playful. The tulips have exploded and I bend down to take them in at eye level to let their orange beauty sear into my heart. I am rededicated to getting up on stage and singing or presenting my work. In February a talented writer looked into my face and said, “The World needs you.” I took it into my soul and asked myself to hang on to his words. April came as promised. The blue sky is ushering me into a new beginning where my heart must soar outward pouring sunshine, light and GOLD from my soul into this world. Time to get up Slick, time to get up.
Andrea Barnes known as “Red” in the Art and Restaurant world is a writer, actor and singer. She wrote The Rabbit Debacle after trying to hide the fact that she was an actor and a creative on a wine trip through Southern Italy. Andrea can be seen in The Humbling with Al Pacino and The Drowning with Josh Charles. A character Actor who has finally reached the proper age to play Doctors and Nurses. Red dreams of being on set full time while doling out the love through wine and food. Writing is a form of healing and the kitchen table is her Zen Garden. Sandra Seacat her acting teacher gave her the command to write her own work and ultimately it led to performances at Joe’s Pub and The Westbeth Theatre Center. She remembers the day she stood in The Whitney museum staring at Jack Kerouac’s manuscript for On the Road. Inside the glass case sat the key to her freedom to freestyle and ultimately find her own voice. God Bless the Beatniks.