It’s been sort of busy in New York. Lots of moving the car so we avoid the street cleaners, lots of walking and figuring out the subway and avoiding the really good-smelling food that I want so much. I think when this trip is over, it will somehow have managed to ruin grilled cheese and nori soup for me. That’s been lunch for two days and will likely be lunch today as well. I can’t believe I’m obsessing this much about food.
We played Tobacco Road in Hell’s Kitchen the other night and might be able to get a gig there, which is pretty cool. Meanwhile I could do nothing but go, “Oh, my god, we’re in Hell’s Kitchen!!!! That’s where Sleepers takes place. This is a real Hell’s Kitchen bar! I want to run out and find that book again right now!!!!” Because, you know, with me, I can have the real bar right in front of me and it just makes me want to book more.
Oh, and with current New York law, it’s illegal to smoke at Tobacco Road. This cracked me up for some time.
Seeing and talking to Jayson again is great. He’s much more open now. We talk for hours, long after rob has gone to bed, about our undying love for journalism despite our alternate career choices, about old teachers. He signed his book contract this week and was inundated with phone calls, and then there were articles in Variety, the Post, etc the next day. I forget sometimes the notoriety of our host
But despite his pariah status, his apartment suggests irreverance, sarcasm, mixed with a concerted desire for self-betterment. I open a magazine and a bookmark falls out that reads: “Every exit is an entry somewhere. – Tom Stoppard.” As if posted by a proud parent like their child’s A paper, Jayson has placed, under a Care Bear magnet on his refrigerator, a recent clean drug test. I am amused when, flipping through his coffee table books I happen upon a truly arresting photo book from controversial, congressionally condemned artist Andres Cerrano with the post-scandal inscription: “To Jayson, from one good guy to another. AC.”
Today he cracked me up. I rounded a corner in Strand, a labrynthine book store that boasts 8 miles of books, to find Jayson, all five-foot-one of him, still atop a gray milk crate he’d used to pull a book from an upper rough-wood shelf, reading a volume about the New York Times and framed in the doorway of the little room under its red directory sign: JOURNALISM.
New rule, the third Heather rule of the trip by my count (rule one, established pre-departure, was no hot dogs. Rule 2, established after a very unpleasant morning-after in Philly, was no mushroom cheeseburgers):
“After rob goes to bed INDEED!!!” I lie awake for hours, waiting for Heather’s return. The cool weather of fall has arrived, making New York beautiful like Baltimore after a rain. Heather’s a creature of exceeding warmth and I lie huddled under flannel sheets, shivering, waiting for her return.
Today we wandered out to see a movie. Something out of a distant past, almost. We’re trying to be so careful about money, but Jayson dragged us out for lunch, a movie – and just to see the town. He’s an excellent guide, and we saw vegan cookies and steam vents and toy stores and book stores. I finally saw the new Oz series by McFarlane! Soo pleased. The Lion’s awesome! (removable entrails!)
Anywho, we went and saw the Order, which would make a great Episode I for some strange and distorted superhero series – but lacked a certain something as a movie in it’s own right. But it had all the important elements for a good flick: distorted Catholic imagery, a cult, good voices, a hot art-chick lead, blood and paint, and a pretty unexpected twist. Great idea, it just sort of floundered in it’s realization. In the same vein, I told Jayson to go check out Hyperion by Dan Simmons. Catholics and blood, man. All I need.
So – the return to the apartment. We sauteed ourselves up some lime shrimp, and made ourselves some couscous, and this, combined with English Muffins, made for an admirable feast. All made from the raiding of Jayson’s refrigerator (which I think I can’t spell…)
“This shot be just as sweet as pie”
Ah, Legend. Heather’s discovered the joy of watching DVDs in bed on her computer. If I get derailed, it’s cause the unicorns are all making weird whaley noises, and lil TImmy Cruise isn’t controlling his girlfriend enough.
Anywho, despite my initial fears, the infamous Jayson Blair has turned out to be a fantastic host. A friend of mine, also in New York, had offered us his floor just in case Jayson turned out to be “a classic new york shitgrinning partyboy fuckup leech”. I was initially really turned off by both Heather’s description of him and some of his New York Times exploits… lemme ‘splain.
First off, I couldn’t care less about plagiarism at a major newspaper. It seems to me that anyone who believes everything they’re being told from any particular source is either inexcusably naive or inexplicably stupid. Anyone who believes that the NY Times isn’t just another business out to move product, well, the same adjectives apply. (“A world turned to ICE!! It be goblin PARADISE!!!”) I was nervous because Heather described Jayson as a fantastic journalist, with an inquisitive nature and an unstoppable intellect. Heather’s opinions of people, I don’t usually trust them at first… (well, that goes for MOST people’s opinions of other people) and in this case, my take on what Heather felt was a fantastic journalist sounded like a nosy, parasitically curious person, who perhaps believes highly in the Truth, but only at the exclusion of morality.
[note that stuff like that – about making the pic bigger? EXACTLY one of the reasons I’ve started moving things over! It HAD been displayed like…
… so I think I’m making good choices! – rob 12/11/17]
Also, in finding out more about Jayson, I found that one of the stories he’d failed to show up at, but had still “reported on” was the Sniper Shootings. That was my neighbourhood – people died – I passed one of the victims and watched her bleeding out in front of a Shell Station. I didn’t even know it at the time, but I was watching a person die from absolutely senseless violence… AGAIN.
People died. Jayson treated it as a work assignment that he wouldn’t, or couldn’t face. That’s great when you’re covering a horse race, or something even more useless and prone to fabrication, like a presidential race – but these were genuine human Lives. They were not treated justly – I was up in arms about that.
But Jayson Blair the person? I think I understand why he’s done what he’s done, and he’s amazing to watch in action. Tonight he got a phone call – a possibly million dollar movie deal based on his upcoming book. He’s using all this as a platform to speak out on journalism and the culture eating away within the profession. I don’t like the way he handled his dissolution, but the revolution he’s planning in it’s wake is admirable.
Jayson Blair IN person? He’s dynamic. Hyped on coffee and purpose. He’s perhaps a little crazed, but that’s nothing new to me. The apartment is an education. Sparsely decorated. It’s mostly books. Tom Clancy and Roger Zelanzy, a dozen biographies, dozens of novels on conspiracy theories, the debunking thereof, CIA spy books, black ops and black history. Books on French made easy. The Smack’em Frog (Golden Grahams? something like that) lies deceased across a shelf, his verdant hand pointing to “The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order”.
His current obsession is Hitler. His girlfriend says he mentions him in his sleep – “Who killed the Jews honey?” “Hitler did.” A conversation held unconscious after a crazy marathon of writing… not a chain smoker, but a man who wishes perhaps that he could be mainlined into a coffeepot – minus the fact that he brews it six times over, turning it into a thick sludge of concentrated caffeine. There’s a crusade embedded in his head. Drive.
It’s strange, hearing the phone calls, then seeing the headlines the next day. It’s strange to see the press in action against its own – well, not really AGAINST, I suppose. They’ve been pretty fair recently. (though while going through today’s papers,k of which Jason bought about four on our tour of the city, one writer referred to Jayson as ‘Mr. Liar Liar Pants on Fire”). Mr. L.L. Pof takes all of this in stride.
It’s strange to realize that I genuinely like the guy. My taste in people tends to run immediately contrary to Heather’s, but Jayson – he’s relaxed, calm, confident. Oh, and twanging with excitement. Those two sentances should be mutually exlusive I suppose, but really it depends on the moment you catch him.
Recently, he’s taken to leaping on us while we lie unawares in bed. There’s that horrible moment when I wake up, Heather snuggled snoozing comfortably in the crook of one arm, and there’s a slowed down moment in time as drowsing eyes look upward – and Jayson Blair, of the cover of Newsweek, is involved in an incredible feat of hang-time above our bed, grinning maniacally. He has leapt from the door, and time rushes back in as he comes crashing down upon us. All sorts of affection.
It’s cause he hates people, I’m assured.
Dinner was an education in power consumption, like in Apollo 13. Slowly switching appliances on one by one, blowing the breaker, shutting everything down and starting over again. Eventually, we used the hotplate to cook the shrimp, the toaster oven for the muffins, and the microwave for… something. I don’t remember what we microwaved.
We had dinner steaming and then went about turning the coffee maker back on, the lights, plugging the refrigerator back in. New York plumbing and electrical wiring leave much to be desired.
And that’s all I’ve got to say. I want to catch Annabelle Lanyon’s last scene. Have never been able to decide whether she’s attractive or not.
Well, that’s a lie, the best part about Times Square was that we were truly allowed to be tourists there. People were filming themselves crossing the bloody streets. It sucked, cause we treated ourselves to our “last fine dining out experience” in Times Square at the Macaroni Grill there… I lie… the Garden whatchamacallit that WISHES it was Macaroni Grill. – anywho, I figured it would be… nicer, somehow, sitting in Times Square. But the bathrooms were SHIT. Literally.
Erf, enough of this… time for bed. Maybe. Maybe chocolate. Mmm, I wonder if Jayson has any chocolate in the house (raid raid raid).
This trip out just hasn’t been very nice. The accident on the drive up took a lot out of me, leaving me in shock in a way. I hate the senselessness of it, knowing that it’s all fun and games until someone drives their 18-wheeler through your passenger seat.
Heather and I have both been stressed out ever since leaving Maryland, and we take it out on one another. We both have been forgetting little things here and there, and we both feel stupid when we forget little things here and there.
Last night we’d almost recovered. An open mic at a spot called the Infra-red Lounge. It’d been hard to find – neon light covered by sheet metal, the front of the bar covered with a closed folding down security door – Heather had seen it, but I hadn’t (colourblind people just don’t respond to red neon sometimes, unless it’s shaped into letters), adding to our tension.
But the talent inside really helped the night. The stars of the evening included an amazing performance by a guy named Mike ____ (I’ll dig up the last name in a sec) who was a spectacular vocal cross of Chris Cornell in his prime and Jeff Buckley. He started beautiful and then struck out for those intense Seattle screams.
Another performer, Stu, was the epitome of aged rocker. Grizzled and yet youthful with a greying pony-tail, he played old rock style solos of guitar screaming agony up and down the fret-board. It’s people like that that keep me hoping I can do this for a while.
But conversations with Stu were sobering. “New York City’s saturated with musicians” – so we’re treated like shit. A dime-a-dozen commodity means you’re useless. And indeed, we’re seeing that. The first time we were in New York we saw that people were very willing to listen, but totally uninterested in buying CDs. We landed shows though… and we haven’t played those shows, so perhaps there is space for optimism.
But only if there’s a dramatic change in the headspace of people at actual shows. At the Orange Bear, we get 20% of the bar. And at Tobacco Road, our big deal is that all CDs have to be sold through their concession stand and we get to keep 90% of our CD sales. The more I think about that the more it pisses me off.
The gigs were easy to get, and maybe that says it all, but New York City – it costs us $8 round trip to get anywhere (subway fare), the subway is utterly bizarre and unnavigable.
(Jayson’s screaming “There IS no GOD!!! Wait… there IS a God but He’s an ASSHOLE!!” – wow, something dramatic must be going down)
Parking is some $20/hour in many garages, the whole city is a huge waist-high bar built for people to bend over. New York City is an anal rape station.
After the open mic, it took us 2 and a half hours to slowly make our way home because of construction. Christ, we were helped home by a guy from Georgia, Russia. Then we had to move the car (twice every 24 hours!) – which had been broken into.
The beautiful icing.
They left my amplifier… just too heavy to be bothered with, but they ripped apart the centre console to get the stereo out. Heather’s CDs, a small little tray of cassettes (MAN! Who steals CASSETTES!!?!) and my DC/AC power converter. We’ve got a lot of very quiet driving ahead of us now, and it just fills me with this helpless anger. There’s no way to direct it, and no-one you can be angry at, and nothing even to be really learned… except that maybe New York City has been just too expensive to be bothered with.
Can’t sleep. Can’t ever sleep, but tonight I’m particularly restless. New York City is where the Rat King Sleeps, far beneath the city, beneath the subways and the sewers.
Perhaps he sends scouts to the surface. Rooting around for cheeses and elderly cats, they are dragged to subterranean rat labyrinths to be tortured and beaten – information about the sunlit world is gleaned through such unscrupulous extractions.
It’s the Rat King who schedules the subway trains. It’s a sign of his unimaginably complete control over our every day Lives that he can reroute these troglodyte monstrosities. In DC the Metro runs swift and sure in everything but the worst conditions. A man has to jump on the tracks before they run amok.
But in New York, the subway trains are lead by breadcrumbs through their eternal night, and the Rat King’s minions wreak havoc with our human Lives by stealing and rearranging these morsels.
Tonight’s show went well. It was a shining moment in the darkness of this New York visit. The Orange Bear responded well to our presence, and we even sold a few CDs. Well below our quota, but it’s a start, I suppose. Despite unimaginable technical glitches (beyond the regular broken string, Heather’s guitar’s being truly capricious, the sound system distorted her tone beyond recognition, and we ended up running her through a bass amplifier instead). We made friends and were visited by old friends.
Zak Smith is an old face from Suitland High School – always the Anarchist’s anarchist, always the force of chaos, it was stupid how I rebelled against him rather than my parents. Somehow I fought his aesthetic every step of the way, and all through my Life, I’ve never been sure if we were best friends or arch-enemies.
And yet, seeing him again was really, really good. It seems the competition between us is finally over, and – well, he’s got a whole city to gift-wrap for me. I’m eager to see it.
In the meantime, I’m caught in the grip of New York insomnia, trying to work out the chords for “My Guitar Gently Weeps” in my head. Now THAT’s destined to be a fruitless task. Sigh.
Good thing I write things in the Journal, or I’d have forgotten that I’d downloaded all that tab. Went to China Town today – very cool stuff. Not really that much to say though, other than the Rat King REALLY fucked with us today. Jeezoflip. Met Shane (of Philly) for lunch, but it took us forever to hook up with him. Had some great tofu, found a great bakery… found MOON CAKES!!
They could’ve fit my old VW bus into a mailslot.
We waited for about fifteen minutes to see a car go up or down in that lil cage thing, but to no avail. Sigh. $12 an hour, too. I hate this city.
Sitting waiting out the digestive consequences of a McDonald’s burger and fries, Thai food and a shot of Bailey’s. Mix, stir lightly by walking a few blocks through Times Square, add a gig and simmer for a couple hours. Ugh. I don’t even think I need to make a rule against this concoction. I am CERTAIN I will never put all those things together ever again.
So I am productive while I wait and have decided to write my first journal entry in some time. I haven’t been writing lately for a lot of reasons. I think it started after the car accident we saw on our way to New York.
While we were driving, and rob was typing his journal entry – including my commentary and a chronological and detailed breakdown of events – I figured, why bother writing about MY perceptions of the same event when rob will do it better, more entertainingly, AND is including what amusing observations and semi-profound thoughts I had in the car while driving and unable to write them down myself? Besides, wouldn’t the repetition get boring for those reading up on the lives of their favorite traveling rock stars?
What’s funny is how I try to tell my own mother about things from the trip only to have this conversation repeated every time:
And then there are some other reasons for my silence … residual hang-ups that are coming alive anew hanging out with Jayson and being surrounded by talented writers all confined in one apartment.
I feel like I’m losing my touch.
I was a good journalistic writer. I am an observer. A collector of details. I can make connections. These are characteristics that served me well in my journalism career, in my songwriting, and in my life. But suddenly I’m struggling and while I struggle I get frustrated that I don’t write with rob’s humor and world-wonder, but I don’t want to emulate him.
However, if he is the more entertaining writer and I am the fact-checker, shouldn’t I just let him tell the story while I make sure he doesn’t stray too far into wonderland? Isn’t that my better-suited purpose? I don’t think I bring enough new to the table to repeat the same coverage of the same events. What is my role?
So while I ponder the future of my literary life in melodramatic and self-pitying fashion, I will do what I do (best?) and give you my observations from the week:
I found myself looking at an appallingly massive housing project in the distance. Its tiny windows and faded brown-gray exterior had the visual effect of thousands of cubicles. I looked at the structure and it was a “project,” otherwise faceless, nameless and meaningless in my life. I did not see its denizens in my mind’s eye any more clearly than a minority blur. I thought of dark skin, of children, of the dim elevators and hallways of the building …
Of the absolute anonymity that building stood for. My understanding of it as a “project” obliterated all humanity from it.
And I started wondering if that wasn’t some sort of sub-intent of the architecture, of putting all those people together in such a way. There is the architectural necessity of building up to conserve space in a city, so of course it’s going to be tall. You need to house a large number of economically suffering people … so why not together and why not in relatively small apartments? But I wonder if an architect or a politician who helped the project into being also knew, counted on even, how dehumanizing the building would be. How its size would discourage people thinking they could master the problem of poverty or even make a dent, maintaining a class in servitude. If they saw those people as a faceless mass and erected a building as a monument to convey the same thing to countless generations of inhabitants and better-off onlookers because it’s just more convenient to house people that way, or because they were just that racist and classist.
I love people – from a distance, when I can make up lives for them after a limited encounter and the clues yielded from a shared subway train ride. There were three older black men who got onto the subway the other day. One limped in slowly with the help of a cane, flanked by the others. They seemed so slow and so tired. Their movements made them old.
The man with a cane turned to his left and quietly said, “Ready on the left?” The man to his left responded affirmative. It went down the same with the man to his right.
And then, with a spontaneity that was shocking, the three burst into a barbershop trio. The cane became a kick drum on the train floor, and hands, snares. They were really very good. When they were done, the man with the cane graciously requested donations from the crowd, saying they had lost their jobs and were doing what they could to make ends meet. Rob and I each handed over a dollar. They blended their “thank yous” into their song, in perfect timing and harmony, never missing a beat every time someone handed them a bill.
I imagined them friends since grade school. They fought playfully over girls in their youth and now their wives are all friends. The trio had gone to work together in one of those city industry jobs that always seems to disappear when the economy gets tight – they had even been laid off together. They sang in church together, on street corners for fun – why not in the subways for money?
And then I think of the woman in the subway weeks ago who looked like the painting. I spend weeks trying to remember the name of the artist, but I never even say hello to the subway woman. Hmmm.
No real luck at Tobacco Road. Gig went well, good sound, and Dan as always, kicks ass. Unfortunately, Sharif got the flu and couldn’t make it. But Brennan came up with Dan, and that was excellent. We wandered Times square and got some excellent Thai food (unfortunately, it treated Heather poorly the next day).
We also got to hang out with my friend Zak for a couple of hours. His artwork has become spectacular – beautiful work. His floors are covered in clothes and discarded unidentifiable pieces of… stuff… there are photo lenses and art and stuffed animals duct taped to every flat surface. But his portfolio really is incredible, and he’s doing graphic novels… really cool stuff.
I need to start doing some really serious thinking on how to bring these artists together. Tomorrow I’ll prolly spend the day arting, and then maybe do some wandering of Providence (did I mention we’re in Providence? But I really need to find out what I do with all these things and people that I’m encountering. I feel like on top of everything else, I’d like to be DISTRIBUTING these things. Will’s little colouring books, Zak’s graphic novels, Shane’s wisdom, Sonny’s drawings… sigh. What to do, what to do?
Tonight finds us in Providence, RI – staying in the apartment of Sonny Roelle – one of my artist friends from college. The apartment is actually a small room on the upper floor of some sort of artist’s commune/co-op. It’s a really cool cafe/artist’s space/apartment building/gallery space/practice space/performance space/studio space. At the moment, there’s two different bands performing in different parts of the building. Filtering and bouncing off of brick walls. The only other noises are the tapping of our computers and the running water in the turtle tank. Yeah, it’s time for pictures, I guess.
I’m so very grateful that Heather likes driving. There was a time long ago when I really enjoyed the physical act of it – I think – but I guess it’d be more true to say that I’ve always Loved the freedom and possibility of it. My old Volkswagon certainly had a wonderful physicality to the shifting, the pushing, the hauling of the wheel. Climbing in and climbing out, feeling the jounce and bounce of the vehicle – but I don’t know that I’ve ever really felt the JOY of driving in any other car – and really it could be as simple as that having been my first car, my first exposure to the experience as a whole. I enjoyed sending my bus careening down tight alleys and over sharp hills, struggling up mountains and cautiously edging through rutted streets that she had no business traversing. She was my tank, she was my ticket outta here… briefly she was my home… but yeah, she was also my first – so who am I to say?
The Saturns I never LOVED that way. Heather’s Elantra? Nope. Kristen’s Hundai? No. They’re fine – but they’re not FUN. I Love my friend Sanfy’s Bronco II – but in the same ways I Loved my bus.
Anywho – Heather does almost ALL of the driving and I’m very very grateful. Long hauls, short hauls – and most especially today’s haul : New York City.
I hate the word “trigger” in today’s context. I grasp the concept, and trauma can result in pitfalls of persona that yes… provide very real psychological triggers – but I hate the ease with which we’ve thrown this into every day conversation to mean “I don’t like” something.
Driving in New York City? This TRIGGERS me. My heart has been racing all day, and didn’t cease till we got back on the Turnpike well into Jersey on the drive home. DC is similar. I spend the whole time in a near panic because I simply feel like there’s no way I can keep track of all that’s going on around me… the moment I turn my head one way I’m certain something’s coming at me from another direction. It’s absolutely terrifying.
Today was the first time where I didn’t try to navigate. I didn’t follow along on the map. I didn’t look over Heather’s shoulder. I just looked out at the passing landscape and this seemed to work a LOT better. Minus one minor moment when we were all glad I happened to be looking up at the right time, I managed to mostly give the world a thousand yard stare that had a LOT more to do with the scenery and almost NOTHING to do with where we were or where we were going.
I’ve decided this is a far superior approach. My heart raced but I didn’t sweat. I didn’t spend the whole time in a panic. That seems to be just about all I can ask for.
The show we drove up for was awesome. We were guests of Coco and Bruce for their First Acoustics house concert – the last of their 10th season – and with temperatures all day yesterday hovering in a very summery 80+ territory and most of tody being the same, we’d hoped the weather would hold for a picnic dinner – but it didn’t. Shortly after 6pm the temperature started plummeting and soon we were all regretting not having brought legit winter jackets.
The show was marvelous. Great audience, incredible house. My friend Kosi came out and while I was walking her to the train station afterwards I realized that though I despise being in a car in this city, this part of at least is Lovely to walk through. Music coming from different clubs, all the different smells – I know that I should mention at this point that I was in Brooklyn – and that will mean I wasn’t in any other part of New York City and I will be judged for enjoying it too much or not enjoying it more – the natives will say that that’s really New York or SOMETHING – but I don’t care. It was probably one of the first good experiences I’ve ever had in the city….
Even with about $40 in tolls each way we’ll have mae good money. Even with a little over 7 hours of driving it’s not an unmanageable day trip.
Of course – I was that NOW. It’s 1.07am, we have another hour and a half left ahead of us… and of course, Heather’s driving.
Note to self : driving at the speeds my Volkswagon could manage? It would’ve taken a LOT longer. Still… I miss that steed.