Lifeblood under Sunset Park

Blood spurted from my ring finger.

A chunk of flesh was missing, scooped clean off by a shard of glass. I had been washing the inside of a single serving French press, my hand twisting inside the glass with a sponge, when the top of the glass broke, taking a piece of my finger with it.

I was alone in the apartment. My hosts, Paula and Jack, were staying in their second home upstate, while I looked after the place in Sunset Park, Brooklyn.

Technicolor red blobs freckled the sink, the floor, my clothes. I rinsed my finger out, then wrapped it in paper towel. The blood immediately soaked through. I ran to the bathroom to get bandages, still leaving flecks of my morbid breadcrumb trail. I used my left hand to rummage through the medicine cabinet, while my right, deprived of pressure, sullenly drained onto the toilet seat.

I didn’t find any gauze, but I did find some medical tape, so I wrapped my finger in fresh paper towel, and wrapped that with some tape. That was enough pressure to staunch the bleeding. Mostly.

Then, I joined a work call.

I go back with Paula and Jack to when I was a teenager. I was friends with their son, Zach. They had him very young, and they were always hip, so they seemed more like a peer than a parent.

Both are artists; Paula a sculptor and painter, Jack a writer and musician. They’re both old-school punks, coming up in early eighties runaway stumble-street survival, now presenting as gentle, eccentric intellectuals.

When Zach was studying abroad in college, and I was taking my first improv class at UCB after graduating, I would stay with them a couple nights a week instead of making the trek from my parents place in New Jersey. They joked that I was their substitute son, which I leaned into. I don’t think Zach loved that.

I was staying at their apartment in this fashion when I got the call that would result in my cancer diagnosis.

Much later, I happened to have a dinner date with them the night after I learned Laurie wanted a divorce. That’s how my itinerant year started; before I knew I wouldn’t be able to afford an apartment for some time, when I just didn’t want to live in the same space as my ex, Paula and Jack offered to let me stay for a while until I got back on my feet.

That while turned into various stays over the year, some with them there, some cat sitting Ashley, their gray kitty who mostly keeps to herself, and sometimes just by my lonesome. As long as there wasn’t family staying or other complicating factors, they graciously offered me a room.

We talked a lot about the particulars of the divorce process, the ups and largely downs there, of art, music, books, the internet. We joked around. We ate sushi at Industry City. Jack had come to many of my improv shows the previous year, so we caught up on how that was going, and what the other people in the scene he knew were doing. Paula would cook savory oat meal, with pine nuts and Umeboshi plums for breakfast, or rice, steamed vegetables, and pan-fried sardines for dinner. It was stable, intellectually stimulating, and safe amidst the chaos.

Staying with Paula and Jack, I felt I could glean meaning from my experience, some deeper insight about myself specifically and life in general, if I just paid enough attention. I kept my eyes wide open and my mind loose and available.

The apartment is well kept, warm, and old. Curios, conceptual art, and books line the walls. The furniture is odd, wooden, and cozy. The shower hangs over an ornate tub, in the middle of it’s length, instead of at the head. The shower curtain drapes around the shower head in a circle, so you stand in the middle of the tub with water coming directly down on your head, ringed by a plastic sheet. This takes some getting used to.

One time, we took the Q train to Coney Island to see a collection of live performance art curated by some of Paula’s friends. Coney Island in the off season is interesting; there’s still people around, and some of the rides were running, but it gives off a haunted quality, even more than normal.

The performance took place where they do the freak show during the on season. We were lead past the warped paintings and strange baubles in the lobby/bar into a black box theater with wooden tiered benches for seats. I am well known as having a bony ass, so I was not optimistic about my butt comfort.

Each performer did some form of abstract dance, largely with a weird aquatic theme, on brand for Coney Island. There was some interesting, gooey sets in one, some more narrative character pieces, some Butoh. The main unifying theme seemed to be that everyone performed in writhing anguish.

The final act was a queer, Satanic dance off. My interpretation is that it was a sort of taking back the demonization of LGBTQ+ peoples, but also just a simple provocation. The costumes were elaborate, with Satan sitting on a fancy demon throne wearing a goat horn headdress. Satan was surrounded by their courtiers, frozen in place, each in various states of ornate, burlesque undress. There was a bearded lady, a trans man, and all sorts of others, who would individually peel off and do their dance, usually shedding some clothing in the process.

As a provocation it wasn’t that effective, given that it was well trod territory being performed to a friendly audience, but as spectacle it was pretty good. It ended with a big fire show thing, but the (probably) unintended peak was the blood dance.

I didn’t know how severe the bleeding was; sometimes you get a real gusher up top that clots pretty quickly. With all the running around and wrapping and washing, I hadn’t really clocked how much of my finger was gone. I figured if the thing was still bleeding by the time I was done with the call in an hour or so, I should seek medical attention.

And wouldn’t you know it, after that hour my finger was still squirting blood at the same rate as before? I had to take it slow and drink some water, because it turns out losing that amount of blood is woozy business, but I walked myself the fifteen minutes down the street to the nearest urgent care. I’ve had cancer, and am very calm in emergencies. This sometimes plays to my disadvantage.

“Hello, I cut my finger, and I’m looking to see the doctor,” I said to the receptionist.

She nodded, placid. “Sure thing. And were you looking to see the doctor today?”


“Okay, great. Um, how long ago did the cut occur?”

“Uhh, about…an hour and a half, two hours ago?”



“Is…is it still bleeding?”

“Oh, yeah,” and here I held up my makeshift bandaged finger, shot through with eye popping red.

“Oh. Okay, yeah, go right in. We’ll get your insurance on the way out.”

Turns out, enough of my finger was missing, that they had to glue it back together.

“We’ll have to glue it,” the doctor said.

“What does that mean?” I asked.

“Well, there’s not enough there to stitch, so we need something to bridge the gap in your skin and prevent infection while the skin regrows.”

“No, but what does that mean?” I asked, searching.

It turns out, it meant that they took a chunk of medical glue that looked like a brown sugar cube, they strapped it to my finger and applied pressure for fifteen minutes, and it melted into my hand. After two weeks, it naturally dissolved, and the thing was completely healed. Now, I have trouble remembering which finger it was. I think it was the ring finger.

Every queer Satanic dancer up until that point had been fairly nude; topless, skimpy underwear, tassels, and the like. The woman who now moved out from behind the shadow of the throne was totally and completely naked.

If the other dancers had writhed in anguish, she spasmed and cried and twisted and convulsed and thrashed in horrible agony. At the peak, she violently rubbed her vulva, and after a moment, an enormous gush of blood cascaded from her vagina, streaking bright and angry down her legs and splattering the flood. I was shocked, even after logic kicked in and I figured out that the rubbing had been to break a blood pouch hidden inside her. After the deluge, she dripped for quite a while.

At the end of the performance, everyone smiled with unreserved elation—we did it!—enthusiastically greeting their friends in their thrown–on robes. Human, grounded, now devoid of pretense and art. Pedestrian, even.

I kept my eyes wide open and my mind loose and available.

My ass was numb.

It was time to move to Queens. Tune in soon that one.