03JUN2010 – On the train to NYC, slowed to a near-predatory crawl beneath a railroad overpass somewhere south of Pennsylvania. If this train had a long furry tail and a thing for yarn, we could expect to come bursting from this tunnel within seconds in hot pursuit of fuck only knows.
Speaking of improbability, if you’d told me six months ago that I’d be moving to New York City and furthermore, that I’d be excited about it, I’d have recommended you for a straight jacket and a cameo in a Quiet Riot video. And yet, here I am; packed, racked and rolling north on a true blue summer morning. Our ETA is approximately 1040, and I plan to be in my new apartment by noon.
The movers came yesterday; it felt rather strange being on the other side of the paperwork. I saw myself as a fresh out of high-school kid in a bland grey t-shirt with a truck on the front, the sweat wrung from my body by the gallons and the doomed feeling of being completely spent before discovering the pool table in the basement, which won’t fit on the truck. I think being a mover was what drove me to a life of minimalism. I mean, who needs all this shit?! Just ‘cos they sell it doesn’t mean you gotta buy it.
Time passes, and I sit watching the scenery rush past. My thoughts are an indistinguishable roar. I feel like a blind man at a cocktail party, unable to draw one voice from the multitude. Sometimes words fail me. I could live for a thousand years and still never reach the mastery of language that life and experience deserve. “Sometimes,” it has been written, “a hundred thousand volumes of knowledge aren’t enough, and sometimes one word is too much.” Yeah, I get that. Holding the cosmic unfathomable in one hand, and the Oxford English dictionary in the other doesn’t quite weigh out. It’s a like hunting for fireflies with a bear trap. I stare out the window some more, watching the graffiti evolve as we near the cradle of Krylon.
LT: Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds “Abattoir Blues”. Sudden hunger and a craving for caffeine propel me from my seat and I hum a little tune as I amble toward the cafeteria car. “I went to bed last night and my moral code got jammed/ I woke up this morning with a frappuccino in my hand.” The lurching and bumping of the train reminds me of being at sea; taking three weeks to cross the Atlantic Ocean on a three-masted barque. You’ve not properly lived until you’ve spent hours vomiting over the side of a confiscated war prize in heaving seas; strapped into a safety harness and clutching the rail for dear life, shivering uncontrollably in the freezing wind with the salty taste of ocean water on your lips. Eventually I got my sea legs (and some rather strong medication), but like the man said: “The future’s uncertain, and the end is always near.” He also said, “Never vomit into the wind.” That’s good advice, too.
Moving forward along the train now, counting up the number of doors as they spring open like the jaws of a hungry thing until I arrive at the dining car. One Alexander Hamilton later, I’m the proud owner of a breakfast sandwich, a can of Red Bull and, ha ha, a frappuccino; this in addition to the large cup of black coffee purchased at Union Station about an hour ago. A writer’s mind must remain limber. It’s not my fault that Amtrak doesn’t offer quality speed at a fair market price. I work to maintain balance with a flimsy cardboard tray in my hands, contemplating the rushing ground and churning steel going clickety-clack just beneath my feet as I move between cars. Headed aft and aware of the math, I make way back to my seat with my precious breakfast treasure, counting back down the doors and checking off the human landmarks as I pass them by: Sleeping Girl in Bright Blue… check. Grown Man Watching “Garfield” On His Laptop… check.
Fresh off the train, I was following the herd across the platform, thinking that very soon this city would become second nature and muscle memory, when my leg experienced a mild earthquake. I fished my vibrating phone from the thigh pocket of my cargo shorts and read the message; a rather random text from my old friend Katie Orlando welcoming me – sort of – to NYC: You’ve got to go to Au Bon Pain! she insists.
Me: Why? (I text back) Are you there?
Katie: No. They have the best food. Seriously.
Me: (stunned.) You so crazy. I just rolled into town, and you want me to try out a chain restaurant??
Katie: See if that contortionist guy is down at South Street Seaport. He performs daily in a neon tiger print outfit, ha, ha.
Forty-five minutes later, I’ve picked up my keys and turned them in the lock for the first time. I put my bags down in the middle of the room and wander through the apartment, turning on the lights, turning on the water, opening cabinets. Time to work: I set up shop on the granite countertop. Open my laptop (free signal from somewhere!), take out a pad of paper and find a pen. I call the electric company, the gas company, the internet company, and set up new accounts with each. I play “Simon Says” with FedEx and my bank; they blame each other during my attempt to locate a certified check for $1,000 I’d sent to my broker several days earlier.
Simon Says I sent the check from the bank’s website. Simon Says FedEx neglected to give the bank a tracking number. Simon Says someone at FedEx couldn’t find the very visible Madison Avenue address it was intended to be delivered to. It’s being sent back to me and then back to my broker. Oops! You didn’t say, “Simon Says!”
Next, I empty my backpack and head out the door. Objective: Find a local coffee house (check), a deli (check), a proper grocery store (check). A shopkeeper with one leg, glittering eyes and a grip like cast iron gives me a free pint of Manhattan espresso coffee cola because I had no cash — only plastic — and his ATM is down. I’m about to put the bottle back in the reefer when he smiles, bags the bottle, and hands it over. “I’m Timmy,” he says with a thick Brooklyn accent while pumping my hand vigorously. “You look like a decent guy. Just come back some other time.” True story! At this point, I’d been in New York exactly three hours. I think I’m gonna dig this place.
SATURDAY – Boneshakers for breakfast; coffee, and a vegan sandwich named after a bicycle. (Stopped off at the deli and gave Timmy the three bucks I owed him, promising to return for my butcher needs.) The day is getting sticky and the streets are full of trucks. Some of them are bringing new things, and some are hauling the spent remains of other things away. A cool breeze flutters down from the ceiling fan and sits on my shoulder like a small bird as I sip my coffee. My apartment is bone empty at present; a wooden wasteland populated only by what I carried in on my back. I’ve been sleeping on the hardwood floor, eating on the floor, pacing and washing the floor, dusting the counter tops, polishing the chrome…
Went into the office yesterday to see what all the fuss was about. It’s strange to see my name outside the door. (Just means they’ll know who to throw against the wall first when the revolution comes to town!) My desk looks out over a quiet park of oak trees, a colorful playground and beyond that, the towering fingers of the financial district. I can hear the mournful bellow of the Staten Island ferry as it departs the pier, and there’s a place less than a block away that serves ethnic food and strong coffee. Slowly, the pieces come together…
Seated now at a weathered wooden table, looking at the bicycling paraphernalia that lines the walls, and an outdated exhibit flier affixed to the window with loops of yellowed tape. Good sandwich! I chew slowly, gazing out the window at the ink-saturated street urchins passing by. Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. I’m not on vacation, and this isn’t another travel gig. I live here now. For the moment, this is everything. On the plus side, Boneshakers has tons of electrical outlets and strong, cheap coffee. I’m told it’s important to establish ones haunts early on.
Observations and eavesdropping: I read somewhere recently that 90 percent of conversation is gossip, the passing of memes and the transmission of vital information which affects ones social status and therefore their ability to survive and provide.
I wander the streets of Planet Will-burg for several hours, taking lefts and rights as they seem relevant and scouring the walls, doorways and other vertical surface areas for stencils and graffiti. It’s powerful fucking hot. I’m glad I chose a neighborhood with shade trees! By accident, I happen to meet one of Boneshakers’ owners. She was sitting alone on the wide steps of a church a few blocks away from the café with an empty drink cup at her feet, taking a break from a challenging morning. Turns out the refrigerator had come unplugged in the night, and all the milk had spoiled. Apparently this Yelp-approved café was originally designed as a bike repair shop that served coffee, but customers wanted a place to sit down and surf the internet. Same as they do anywhere else, I guess. We shake hands, and she goes back to work.
Will-burg appears to be putting on a city-wide production of some sort, which calls for the cast of thousands to be adorned in old school tattoo flash, facial piercings, thrift store clothes and ironic t-shirts as they crisscross Brooklyn astride their duct-taped ten-speed bicycles. The only other explanation would mean such items were a prerequisite for citizenship, and that’s too just silly to be true.
Later, I sit on a random bench with a bag full of coconut juice and fresh oranges, jotting observations in my notebook and getting a feel for my neighborhood. Makes me wish I could draw. “Well, why don’t you start?” No thanks. That’s why photography was invented. Took a ton of pictures today, although all of them have been with my cell phone as I’m leery of waving my G-10 around. Maybe later. I look forward to cracking open my camera like an oyster on the rocks and prizing the treats from within.
Birds sing. Trees sway. I sit, I look, and I write. I think about the places I’ve been and the sights I’ve seen. I think about the here and now. When I get tired of sitting, looking, writing, and thinking, I find my way to Barcade. Fifteen dollars and several stouts later, I feel nicely disjointed from the present tense. It’s a nice place. Well lit, cheap drinks, and two long walls of my childhood friends, although none of the ones I was really good at.
Apparently the world record holder on Donkey Kong hangs out here on the regular. Dr. Hank Chien, 35, is a Queens-based plastic surgeon who, on February 27, after a 2 ½ hour marathon session, racked up a score of 1,061, 700 on the classic arcade game, besting the previous record by 10,000 points. I plan to make it a point to meet the legend.
At this moment, I can’t see very far. I’m butted hard against the plate glass of the Now, with no idea of what the future will bring. This is it. This is as far ahead as I’d planned ahead for. I feel a piece of machinery vibrating somewhere below my feet, and I take another sip of my stout. I should go soon, since I don’t have the funds to make this an all-nighter, but I don’t want to go back to my empty apartment. (No internet after the first few hours. The Wi-fi well’s run dry, boys…) The situation is hopeless, but not serious. At least I have the job needed to generate the dollars to fill my pockets to allow me to sit on this torn-to-shit barstool in a refurbished warehouse space in Brooklyn getting ripped to the tits on powerful stout. And yet, the voice of financial responsibility nags at me from the back of my mind. I really wish it would shut the fuck up. I’ve paid all the bills, I’ve drafted to-do lists, I got a haircut, I set up the utilities, and I’m TCOB as the King used to say. I’m taking care of me and mine. “Would it spoil some vast eternal plan/ if I were a drunken man?”
I wrestle with new ways to describe the silvery ping of quarters striking the polished steel diaphragm of the change machine. They make a scraping rasp as they’re scooped out and forced between the narrow red lips of the nearest game just a few feet away by a barrel-bodied man of an indeterminate age dressed in – wait for it – an ironic t-shirt. (Don’t get me wrong, I really like this bar.)
I can’t wait to get back to some serious writing! I’m way overdue for a maniacal burst of pure genius, a go-to-hell story cranked out in the darkest hours of the night; my eyes redder than the Communist threat and my brain fueled by hot water and xanthine alkaloids (see also: C8H10N402.)
MONDAY – Woke up. Turned on laptop to write while I waited for the movers to show. Found that I had just enough signal strength to post this! It’s not quite done, but it’s better than nothing. Gonna rush up the block and grab an Americano. Can’t wait for my stuff. At last, something to sit down on!
Down to my last $500,