May 2, 2017
(This is best read while listening to the song “America”. You might have to play it twice. Apologies to Simon and Garfunkel. Actual lyrics in BOLD.)
Let us be lovers, we’ll marry our fortunes together
It was twenty years ago, today — May 2, 1997.
I’ve got some real estate here in my bag
I hopped on the cheapest flight from Los Angeles, California to New York City, New York. I arrived with my Walkman, Simon and Garfunkel tapes, one suitcase, an old Apple computer tower, about $1,500 in cash, a place to crash, and a pocket full of promises and recommendations. All I needed.
So we bought a pack of cigarettes and Mrs. Wagner’s pies
I moved into the a very cheap, and very steep, six floor walk up apartment on 4th Street and Avenue D (D for danger) in the East Village. Stepping over junkies and gently nudging aside drunken NYU kids on the stoop became routine. No judgements… just don’t poke me bro.
And we walked off to look for America
I set up camp in the freshly vacated corner of Shelly S. and Martin G.’s East Village place. Dennis M. had recently moved out. Moved to Queens. (Why anyone would move to Queens to 1997 was completely beyond me. I know it’s cool now (side-eye)… but in 1997 — it might as well have been Siberia. Siberia with Pierogies. Siberia with a two hour subway ride. Siberia with a $23 taxi fare.
Cathy, I said as we boarded a Greyhound in Pittsburgh
The Avenue D apartment was fantastic. Two large bedrooms, a sunny living room and a view of the World Trade Center twin towers — plus, the empty lot across the street was a prime NYPD Blue and Law and Order remote filming location. (Some folks would say that I copped my short sleeve button-up and tie “look” directly from the Law and Order character, Andy Sipowics. Some folks might be 100% correct. “Sipowics!”) We also had access to the roof… the best roof in the East Village… and that made the exactly 108 steps, from the entry door to apartment door… one way, well worth it — most days. (Just don’t poke me kid.)
Michigan seems like a dream to me now
I was soooo young then. Much younger than my actual age. (I thought I was so worldly.) I had toured with several theatre productions for the previous five years and at the ripe old age of 28 decided that THAT was a “young mans game” — and tossed out my touring shoes! I would give this Big Apple joint two years… then move to Paris, France — and become the new James Baldwin. (That’s still my plan by the way. I just need to convince the wife and kid to change our names to Baldwin and let me write all day! Sigh. Probably… not going to happen.)
It took me four days to hitchhike from Saginaw
A few years earlier a friend (Becky T.) told me that I had a childlike outlook on life. (See: Move to Paris, become James Baldwin) I didn’t know exactly what she meant then… but she assured me that it was a good thing and in time I would come to appreciate that insight! And I did. Thanks Becky.
I’ve gone to look for America
New York City was a walking town for me. I walked everywhere. Visited old taverns with my rubber-band bound notebooks and colorful pens. Sat in the same booths as Hemingway, Baldwin, Bukowski, O. Henry and Poe. Soaking up those old dead writer vibes and energy!
Laughing on the bus, playing games with the faces
After a few weeks of walking, drinking, writing, tom-catting and plain old tom-foolery — it was time to either go back to college or find a job. Martin G. went and got himself engaged to his girlfriend, Amy W., and split. I now had half the rent responsibility, my own room, a lofted bed and a view of downtown through an aged, security-gated, fire escapey bedroom window. Perfection.
She said the man in the gabardine suit was a spy
I started freelancing as a theatrical electrician around town. I worked on several shows at Theatre For A New City, House of Candles and met a lot of great NYC theatre folks. One such folk was a gal named Stephanie B. who told me she could get me an interview with Grayson and Tiffani (very Cali sounding names… not very Cali ladies!) for the Master Electrician job on “Blue Man Group”. I had never seen the show but was excited as many friends told me that the show was fantastic. And it was!
I said, be careful, his bowtie is really a camera
I had to decide quick (like that night quick!) as there had already been a couple of folks interviewed. I was set up with a seat that evening (next to a fellow odd-ball interviewee, Mike K. Who also had never seen the show) and had a formal interview the next day. I got the gig and stayed there for nearly five action-packed and paint-splattered years. What a welcome into the NYC theatre scene! Thanks Stephanie and thanks Chris, Matt and Phil for creating such a cool collaborative experience!
Toss me a cigarette, I think there’s one in my raincoat
I would walk, write and observe. I took a LOT of pictures. Photos of New Yorkers… with invisible scars and thousand yard stares. Photos of found things… and battered signs… photos of ‘lost’ people… and sometimes photos of the enormous, gigantic, NYC soul-crushing weight! Pressure.
We smoked the last one an hour ago
NYC also had secrets. New York City was a lot tougher than I had imagined. New York City was heavy, man. Like a strung out jazz musician, with rent due tomorrow, no prospects and no way to find any. The weight!
So I looked at the scenery
I lost myself a little in the nightlife that year. Metaphorically and… a little “actually”. I (now) firmly believe that everyone should lose themselves, at least once. Go off the rails (a bit). Be young and dumb (a bit). I didn’t realize that I HAD lost myself, until I found the clues. I left myself clues along the way. Enter tortured writer mode.
She read her magazine
I kept a notebook (long lost) that I would make one hash mark in, for every drink I had that summer and another hash mark for every time I realized I was being a jerk. I filled two pages before the end of that summer. I was a nice guy. A drinking, casually jerky, nice guy — that simply wasn’t motivated enough to change. 1,000 yard stare? I really did not know the meaning of that phrase… until I found it, smack dab in the middle of my face.
And the moon rose over an open field
So… I “stopped”. I stopped being an idiot and I stopped drinking so much. Unfortunately, one of my side effects of “stopping” was that I also stopped writing. For a very long, LONG time. Exit tortured writer mode.
Cathy, I’m lost, I said though I knew she was sleeping
I caught a mean case of the Winter Blues. New York City was (and still is) really good for that. Catching the Winter Blues. But you know what’s great? Spring. Spring in New York is great! 19 Springs (first solo album!?) here in NYC, so far, and they have all been great!
And I’m empty and aching and I don’t know why
Someone once told me: “Move to San Francisco for two years — but leave before you get too soft. Move to NYC for two years — but leave before you get too hard.”
Counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike
That’s a very Los Angeles thing to say. That and “Move to Seattle… it’s wet but you can become a rock star!” Most New Yorkers just say, “MOVE!” (You would get it, if you lived here.)
They’ve all come to look for America
Written on the restroom wall at the Ludlow Bar (Thanks Chris, Marc, Michael, Nicole, Ryan and Pam), “Breathe it all in. Love it all out”. That’s important, people. That’s mantra level important. That’s the secret we New Yorkers all know. Write that down and pass it along. Seriously.
All come to look for America
It was twenty years ago, today. I’m a New Yorker now. I’m a husband now. I’m a father now. I am still the most wonderful of bores, with bad, very, very bad Dad jokes… and I would not want it any other way. Maybe more naps! I should have taken more naps.
All come to look for America