My buddy and long-time Jubilant John Clabaugh is in love with my Battery Park neighbor and “soul friend” Diana Buchanan
– for good reason. Disguised in her overalls, her big hot toboggan hat, and her chain smoking out in front of our building, I have discovered – after initially wanting only to avoid her – that she is one of coolest people I’ve ever known: brilliant, empathic, funny & generous. She is a world class communicator: she is able and willing, as she comes to trust you, to share very deeply about herself, and also a fabulous listener – one of the best in my life (which includes people with much more education, several psychotherapists, and just a bunch of very cool, very psychologically sophisticated people). When she is listening to you, she is doing absolutely nothing but listening to you – and her responses are at least empathic and sometimes brilliant.
She has confided to me more trauma in her life than I would ever want anybody else to hear. I almost wish that I had not heard some of it – it’s a little hard to shake some of the gruesome images.
“If this woman needs cigarettes to cope with all this trauma and pain” (including a plethora of medical problems – some caused or exacerbated by the smoking) “I will never – ever – judge her for smoking.” I will still sometimes let myself say something gently challenging when she is doubled over with her smoker’s cough. But she teases me right back when I erupt in my smoker’s cough. (I picked the little cancer sticks up again, when I was dealing with so much chronic pain – still undiagnosed, but my constant companion for the last few months, and getting progressively worse. I do have plans to quit the smokes <and actually did on 10/7/19>).
Diana has been dog sitter and a huge lover of my two dogs, Toni and now Panchita. Diana – a Mexican who grew up in Mexico City, then Chicago and LA – refuses to call Panchita by my nickname Pancho. “Pancho is a boy’s name. She’s a girl – she needs a feminine name, ending in the letter ‘a’.”
With some amount of coaxing, I can sometimes get her to talk about what it is like to be Mexican in this country right now. She will describe her pain and her fear – for her and for “my people” – with never a trace of bitterness or victimhood.
John Clabaugh is having a lot of fun discovering her – as I did, when I got past my judgments of her. “I know she shouldn’t smoke. I hate her smoker’s cough. I fear that, at age 60, she will die younger than she should. But she actually smokes in a very regal way. One day, when I was observing how genuinely elegant she looked with her cigarette, I got it: ‘she’s royalty!’ I think I don’t believe in past lives, but have no other way to describe how she clearly channels that lineage.”
Having spent most of her adult life homeless – living with her husband under a bridge for a very long time – here she is: wounded, traumatized, vulnerable, haunted…and a genuinely huge human being. Those who take the time to get to know her have a wonderful experience – it’s a hugely funny process, she is a very funny person…sometimes with (for me) just enough of a dark edge.
Our new thing – Diana, John Clabaugh who lives on Church St., frequently his wife Ingrid Friesen (funny, strong, brilliant , and much beloved in this town for all the people she helped in her many years of practicing family law before recently retiring), me (a lot more fun since “reclaiming my integrity” at 3 a.m. on June 26), and a changing cast of Diana’s friends and admirers from the building, come out to smoke (or not smoke, like me after October 7, but just to be with her).
I have christened us Diana and the Merry Pranksters. We gather at 7 a.m. (or later – Diana is always there by 7) out in front of the Battery Park Apartments to swap stories from the previous day and earlier in our lives, to laugh and joke and sometimes challenge each other and often to affirm and love on each other – to make ourselves fully human before we go on to the rest of our day. When our schedule for the rest of the day allows it, we are often there until 9 – tomorrow I have to leave at 8 to get to Earth Fare for my 8:30 shift. (Call or text me at 828-582-9822 any morning to check if we are there – the more the “merrier”.)