(been a bit backed up; here comes the Liquid Plumr...)
7-14-04, 12:43 PM -
Crazy-ass day today. Remixing Dorian's EP, finishing its cover, doing laundry, working a two-hour proctoring assignment, then playing a gig tonight at the Lizard Lounge. Craziness, I tells ya.
The EP is something Dorian's putting out in lieu of a full album, which has been pushed back now that he's got a new drummer to record. A really great new drummer, by the way.
My bra job ended last Friday, and I've been using the time off to get caught up a bit. As caught up as I get.
I'm in the beginning stages of trying to switch from 9-to-5 to freelance writing work. Recent research I've done seems to suggest that it's more possible that I may have at first suspected. I'm lining up a couple of projects to get my foot in the door, which it sort of has been since I did that Six Day War book last year. But we shall see.
1:14 PM -
Someone flipped a switch in the last hour and reminded the weather that it was July. Since Monday it's been absolutely gorgeous, cloudy with occasional rain showers. I haven't had the air conditioner on in three days. But the sun came out a few minutes ago, and I can feel the beginnings of the sweaty film developing on my skin. Damn. Summer's back.
I get a good view of Hell's Kitchen Park from the laundromat. Couple of shirtless guys are working the handball court, reminding me how out of shape I am. Another guy in a baggy trenchcoat wolfs a donut and reminds me that it could be worse.
The Wifely's mentioned it several times, but it's particularly evident to me as I watch the passersby out the window: New York has the smallest women in the United States. I mean, they're REALLY tiny. They weigh 90 pounds dripping wet, & when you're as freakishly big as I am, you begin to tread carefully in crowded rooms for fear of squishing one.
Obviously this isn't ALL the women in New York. There are the six-foot-tall models, the waddling mamasitas and babushkas, and the occasional Middle American-sized honky lady. But I'd say that the tiny squishable women definitely comprise a good 50% of the female population. Walk with care.
3:45 PM -
So here I am: Proctoring.
It certainly should take a lot of balls to stand in front of a group of IT professionals, announce that you're a representative of Bigshit University and proceed to play professor while 30 people who've paid good money take their Service Manager certification tests.
In fact, it does take a lot of balls. But they have no reason to doubt me. They have no idea who I am, & here they are sitting in a chandelier-lit conference room within an incredibly swanky East Side hotel. Surely this 30-year-old man in an ill-fitting shirt at the front of the room is some eccentric University employee or graduate student, or a professional at some testing company.
Surely they wouldn't send a dumbass temp who hadn't worked in 3 days, couldn't be bothered to shave, and who was up late last night laughing at how many people somehow find his website by Googling gay porn stars. Surely he's not writing about us right now for his stupid online journal.
Yes. Yes, he is. Hi.
They did provide some little dessert quiches & bottles of Evian in the testing room, plus a cool little name badge that tells everyone I'm a proctor. Heh. Proctor. Sounds funny.
Truthfully, I'm not doing a whole lot here at all. I tell them the rules, I hand out the test materials (TWO Number 2 pencils...faaaancy), I say ready, set, go. And I walk around to keep 'em from copying each other's papers or using crib notes. Then they hand in the exams & I ship the suckers off to the University. Beats ditch-digging, I reckon.
This hotel, though...sheez. I've yet to see an unpolished mirror or unwaxed spot on the floor. Not a single piece of fraying carpet. Lots of oak paneling, gold trim & marble, with occasional display cases featuring golf clubs & watches that cost more than my life insurance policy's worth.
But really, the way to judge the ritziness of a hotel is not in its fixtures, nor its hired mint dispensers, nor its soft bathroom towels. If there are two supermodels behind the front desk, you know it's a damned expensive hotel. I mean, dang. And the bellboys are cut, too, so the rich ladies can have some eyefuls. I hesitate to ask what else the room rate will get you. Eh, wot?
7-20-04, 12:40 AM -
I have observed that when one is unemployed, one has far more opportunities for interesting things to happen to oneself than when one is employed.
For instance, I spent 45 minutes in front of the perpetual motion machine at the Port Authority Bus Terminal today. This may seem a bit sad to you, but in reality it was quite fascinating. The contraption is encased in a glass box about 7 feet cubed, and is made of thick wire and various hinges. It's kept in motion by about 20 pool balls, which clink into bells, xylophone blocks, gyros, and other items along their paths. The only motorized part is a conveyor chain that picks the balls up from the bottom of the contraption and delivers them back up to the top.
The thing is, the balls don't always follow the same pattern. It's a bit of chance as to which path the ball will take when it gets to the top. There are paths that it almost never takes, and of course these are the ones that I stood for 45 minutes waiting to see in action.
Mind you, I wasn't alone. Thousands of people make their way through the terminal every day, and a few hundred stop for at least a few minutes to watch the balls glide along and make things go boing. And at least a few are there for lack of better places to be. Today, I was one of them.
The one who held out the longest with me was Antonio, who didn't say anything to me for the first half hour we stood there. But when a chance bit of gravity pulled one of the balls onto a little-used pathway, he smacked the side of the machine and shouted triumphally. I smiled too, for I had been waiting for something interesting to happen as well. Then Antonio turned conspiratorially to me:
"You know, Papi, I have been watching this machine for many years, and I have never seen it do that."
"Wow," I replied. "I'm glad I was here, then."
"Aye, Senor. You are lucky."
But we continued to watch, for there was still one path we had not seen the ball go down. Apparently it DID go down there every now & then, because near the end of the path was a catch-basket holding three other balls that had happened to glide over that set of wire track. There was a more frequently used path which had a similar catch-basket, and we knew from experience that one more ball would tip the baskets over and all four balls would be sent down the remainder of the path, which appeared to trigger a bigass set of cranks and hinges that surely did something indescribably cool.
We watched and we wished. Each time a ball was brought to the top, we eyed it intently, willing it to fall just slightly to the right, to make that trek down the road less traveled and deliver to us some small justification for the wasting of a perfectly good half-hour. But each time, the gods that hold sway over such things were not in the mood for our fancy, and we turned once again to the conveyor, like a solitaire player reshuffling his deck and hoping for the best.
As we watched, I became aware of a rather fervent conversation taking place to my right. An Asian couple who had been standing a few feet beside me were pointing at the machine and arguing in a language that I recognized as one of the non-Chinese, non-Japanese Asian languages. Don't ask me how I can tell, I don't know either. It just sounds different.
Eventually the woman of the couple produced a plastic packet filled with what appeared to be immigration or naturalization papers. They looked official, anyway. She removed the papers, cocked her head to one side, and approached the machine. Antonio and I watched her intently.
The catch-basket was located near the outside of the casing, and was right next to the thin space between one plate of glass and another. Into this thin space the woman began to jam the plastic packet, working it in between the panes as best she could. Eventually her partner stepped up to cram it in with greater force. Antonio went crazy.
"Aye, Papi, do it!! NOW we will see something!!!!"
I couldn't help but agree. The machine was dangerously close to a donut stand, and the longer I stood there waiting for the machine gods to grant us a miracle, the more likely a breach in the calorie count was to occur. I stood back and let the man have some space for his interference.
Eventually he got the implement far enough through the crack that it now jutted out directly under the catch-basket. With a mighty jerk, he shoved the jimmy upwards and the balls were released. A cheer went up from the crowd that had gathered around us, which scared the bejeezus out of both Antonio and I. We had been so fixated on the machine that we no longer noticed human beings.
The balls careened down the final stretch of their fateful journey, banging melodic iron bars and setting arms swinging into motion, one of which held a gigantic piece of round tin for no explicable reason, but it waved around on its multi-jointed arm as if to say, "Congratulations, folks, you've finally done something useful with your day!"
And as quickly as it had started, it was over. The balls completed their run, ending up in the queue to be hauled back up to the top again, back to chance, back to the whim of chaos. Back to the donut-shaped universe. It was time to go.
"I gotta get out of here."
"Aye, Papi. Have a good one."
I left Antonio standing there, his eyes still transfixed by the thousands of possible futures within the glass box. But I think we both learned something: Though the universe will eventually get around to granting your wishes, it never hurts to jimmy it a little.
1:21 AM -
So as I said, I'm unemployed like a mofo. The bra job ended without fanfare two Fridays ago, just another case of me finishing all the work I'd been brought there to finish, and therefore having no reason to be kept on. My "in girl" at Jelly and the Temps has moved on to less sheep-dunged pastures, so I'm having to deal with the Jelly bureaucracy again.
"Hi, this is matthew, one of your temps. Just seeing if you've got any..."
"Nothing yet, but we'll call you if something comes up. Have a good..."
"Don't you want my contact number?"
"Oh. Right. What is it?"
"Okay, have a great day!" Click.
It doesn't help that it's Intern Season in NYC. Every summer the city is deluged by thousands of go-getting kids willing to do crap-ass work by the buttload for any firm smart enough to cash in on the rube bonanza.
Strange as it may sound, I had an intern once. I did. Her name was Stephanie, and she was sent by the local private school in Fort Worth when I worked at Bigass Books & Music. I was the events guy, and my predecessor had set up this internship program with the school the year before. The difference was that my predecessor was about 40. I was 22.
So after a brief phone conversation, they send me this gorgeous 17-year-old blonde, and tell me to give her the benefit of my experience. Which, needless to say, I was more than willing to do.
I didn't, in the end, give her the FULL benefit of my experience (yeah, suave dude that I am), but I certainly spent many nights thinking about it. Thankfully nothing but filing and stapling happened, so no one's going to show up on the eve of my election with a stained dress and a cigar.
I do recall the wrap-up meeting I held with the school after the internship had finished. I strode into the administrator's office, a 22-year-old musician with hair halfway down my back who had just spent two months holed up in a 10'x10' office with one of their precious rich-girl students. The expression on the administrator's face was quite something. The word "shock" comes to mind. As does "alarm". Though "sheer terror" might be more appropriate.
Nonetheless, I gave her a good grade. Eh, wot?
1:44 AM -
Just got back from doing one of those things unemployed people do. That is, walking to the corner in the middle of the night for a six-pack.
The bodega ("convenience store", for the un-Yankeed) on our corner carries a surprisingly large variety of beer, and I avail myself of their wares quite often, even in the face of steady employment. But tonight, it's an unemployment beer.
I've yet to determine whether the old orange cat who stalks the aisles of our bodega is in fact the same old orange cat who can often be seen resting in a window basket of our local copy center. It may be a neighborhood cat rather than a single-owner cat. In any case, he's very friendly.
Tonight as I stood mulling over my beer selection, the cat sat very purposefully down next to my foot, looked up at me and meowed reproachfully. I'm used to getting such treatment from my own cat, who sees my unemployment as a grave breach of the approved daily schedule, but I don't often get scolded by cats who don't live in my house.
I bent down and petted him, which seemed to go over well, and he stood right by me as I pulled out my anointed six-pack. As I walked back to the front of the store, the cat kept pace with me, like he was Lassie or R2-D2. He remained by my feet while I paid, and I was concerned that he might follow me out of the store and all the way home. I gave him a good-bye pat, which he seemed to recognize as such, for he turned and walked back towards the beer case. Maybe he likes beer. I pondered that, decided not to offer him any, and instead walked home.
It's beautiful out tonight, actually. Summer's back for daytimes, but the evenings are still temperate. Give it a couple of weeks and we'll be in Satan's armpit, all primed for this year's blackout.
The unemployment thing is a bitch, but it does give me time to explore some alternate employment options I've been working on for a while. Freelancing and the like. The music thing pays out about as much as it pays in, as usual, so the search for something to pay the bills and yet keep me out of gray cubicles goes on. There are a few nibbles, so I'm keeping things crossed that can be crossed, and all else I'm keeping clenched. That oughta do something.
7:30 PM -
Interesting the set pieces into which one can put oneself around here. Right now I'm sitting at a table outside a small Russian restaurant on the Brighton Beach boardwalk. The salty sea air flavors my plate of lamb ribs ever so slightly. A giant mug of Heineken stands guard over my copy of Orwell's Down & Out In Paris & London, keeping the wind from delivering it to the seagulls rasping a few feet away.
Brighton is the least glamorous of the New York area beaches, and that's why I like it. Coney Island has more freaks, Jones Beach has more money, and Fire Island has a wider variety of sexual preference. But Brighton is just ordinary people enjoying their beach.
And it is their beach. Many of the boardwalkers aren't walking too well these days, and one suspects they didn't make too big an effort to get out here. Most seem to know each other, and gather in clumps around benches & tiny dogs. It's like any old neighborhood. They just happen to have a beach outside.
Today was Brooklyn Day for me. Fed up with scouring the splintered Manhattan libraries for books, I made for the 2 train and moseyed on down to Grand Army Plaza, home of the main Brooklyn Public Library. I never really appreciated that library until I moved away from it. Manhattan libraries are claustrophobic & bustling, whereas you might actually find a spot to sit and hide in Brooklyn.
Sadly, though, this library was also bustling today, due to the fact that it's summer. Little kids by the truckload, scooting around like wind-up Tasmanian Devils while their parents slouch on benches, down for the count. Ostenbily I was there to research publishers, so I had to elbow my way through a knot of arms flailing at an altitude dangerously close to certain tender organs. Thankfully, once I got to the History section, it was all clear. Ah, the memories.
One rather productive hour later, I began to tire of the sound of tiny vocal cords testing their range and made for the door. The greatest thing about the Brooklyn library is that it's right next to Prospect Park. I've said it before and I'll belabor the point again: Prospect Park kicks ass. It kicks the ass of Central Park, and farts in the pudding of Battery Park. It's just a great park.
Frederick Law Olmsted, the designer of both Central and Prospect Parks, often said he thought the latter had come out best. I can hardly argue with him, mostly because he's dead, but also because he was right. I dare anyone to walk into the park through the Endale Arch on a clear day and not have to catch your breath. Rolling hills of grass, tall ridges of ancient trees, elegant paths lined with Victorian lampposts, and best of all, NOT SO MANY DAMN PEOPLE. If you wanted to find a secret place to pee, danged if you couldn't just do it.
Yearning for solitude though I was, I couldn't help but sit myself down in the shade near a family of kite-flying Caribbean folk. They were just having so much damned fun, I had to watch. Plus I like the accent. Can't reproduce it for shit, which makes me appreciate it more.
Out in the open field a Scottie dog chased a ball and wagged his stubby tail in wild abandon. A bird crapped a few feet to my left and a couple of ants found their way up the old trousers, but the day was too perfect for them to ruin.
I thought to myself: What sort of finish should a day like today have? The beach!
Which brings us up to date. Odd as it may sound, I went to work today. Or tried to, anyway. I got a midmorning call from the Jellies begging me to step in for a receptionist who hadn't shown up at a financial office. Reckoned I could do that, so I hoisted my petard out of bed & made for the razor.
I've been on a bit of an experimental kick lately, seeing if I can grow a full beard now. Though my upper lip & chin grow hair with great European vigor, my Native American blood still holds dominion over my cheeks, letting only the sparsest of patches take root. However, the krauts & kilts are gaining ground, because every year there's a little more going on than the year before.
But by this morning, two weeks after my last trim, it looked more like I'd forgotten to shave than it looked like a beard project, so I nixed it for the job.
Hopping into clothes, dipping into the Amish Market for an apple, & whisking down 49th Street, I was at Rockefeller Center within minutes, ready to work. Not that Security was interested. I wasn't on the visitor list yet, by gar, & they gave me more than a few "and what are you here for?"s before sending me up...only to meet the receptionist whose sorry ass I was there to fill in for.
The boss lady apologized profusely, offered to give me two hours pay since I'd taken the trouble to show up, & bammo, I'm off work. Thus the library.
9:30 PM -
Full day. Got an assignment starting tomorrow, so I'll eat for another little while at least.
On the long subway ride home on the Q train from Brighton Beach, I was chatted up by Ronaldo, a Colombian now living in Williamsburg. We jawed for a few minutes, leaning on the universal New York topics: rent & wages.
After a while, the conversation turned towards beaches, since we'd both just left one.
"Yeah," I droned, "I haven't been out to any of the farther Long Island beaches."
"Really?" he replied, "You know, there's a new beach out there."
"Oh, yeah? Haven't been there yet."
Now, I was pretty sure he'd said "new." But for some reason, I wasn't sure. He continued:
"Have you ever been to the one in Jersey?"
"No, not yet."
"Oh, they have a few new beaches there."
Is he saying "new"? Somehow it doesn't sound right. He kept going:
"You know, France has a lot of them."
Oh, FRANCE!! He's saying "NUDE"!!!
"Have you ever been to France?"
Oh, shit. I'd told him I hadn't been to any of the local nude beaches "yet". That implies that I WANT to go. Which seems to imply something else. I seem to have been mistaken for someone of a certain preference. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but...
"I like nude beaches," he went on. "Do you?"
"Oh. Umm...well, my wife doesn't really like to go..." Oh, yeah, THAT sure helps. Paint him THAT old picture, why don't you. Jesus H...
"Really? You're married, huh?" A skeptical look. I can do this...
"Yeah, yeah...I, um...we don't, um...we don't really go to those beaches. We, uh...we prefer staying at home." What the...?
"Oh. Well, you should try it."
"Yes..." Whew. "Yes, I suppose we should. Together. Me & my wife. You know, both of us..." Good lord, man, you're free! Change the subject! "So...how about that Mayor Bloomberg?"
Thankfully, the Q train is express in Manhattan, & my getaway came sooner than later.
7-29-04, 8:07 PM -
Through a confluence of wacky and destabilizing events, my friend deanpence is making his move up to NYC emergency-style, which seems to be the only way that anyone from Texas can do it. Anyone I know, at least.
What this means for me is being the boots on the ground, scouting prospective neighborhoods and spare rooms for the lad to stay in for his initial residency. This man-on-the-street scouting was a benefit we didn't have when we came up, so I feel rather magnanimous about the whole thing. Or would, if deanpence and Hippie hadn't housed and fed our cat for a year while we were getting established in NYC. And I'm like a Wookiee with the life-debts. Glaven.
Truth be told, I love the shit out of neighborhood-scouting. It's a fabulous excuse to explore the city, and often turns up some really great little nooks that I never would have spotted otherwise. Unfortunately, I've been here long enough now that it's harder to find a nook I haven't uncovered, or at least seen a close analog of somewhere. Still, I like to wander.
Wandered into a few different jobs in the last couple of weeks. Nothing seemed to last over 3 days, my nimble typing fingers being what they are, but finally I've landed a long-termer down around Wall Street.
Lower Manhattan often seems like an entirely different city from Midtown, where I spend the bulk of my time. Downtown, buildings are catty-cornered, streets are twisty, and as a result, the traffic is really next to nothing. Most of the time you can walk right in the middle of the road unmolested. I get to have lunch on a bench along the eastern shore, with a great view of Brooklyn Heights and Governor's Island. Ferries shuttle busily on one pier, and helicopters land & take off on another.
Today after eating my cart-purchased shishkebab, I thought it might be nice to share a chunk of my complimentary bread with a rather torn-up looking pigeon who'd been eyeing me from the railing. Big mistake. Within seconds of my bread hitting the ground, a gigantic swarm of the things descended upon my bench and very nearly onto my head. I threw another chunk towards the railing, and the swarm scuttled over in that direction. Immediately, two seagulls swooped down, scattering some pigeons and infuriating others, who flapped their wings in agitation at the interlopers.
I must point out that the distance from my bench to the railing was a mere 4 feet, so the prospect of seagull and pigeon feathers in my teeth and eyes was very real. That would be great: Death by pigeon. I hopped over the bench and backed away, tossing a few distractive chunks in disparate directions to keep them from following me like some pied pigeon piper. Greedy buggers. Don't they know this city's full of tasty garbage?
When walking in Lower Manhattan, one gets an idea of how conspiracy theories get started. The Financial District is lined with imposing old granite structures, many with no windows at ground level and with elaborate doorways framed by armed guards and symbols etched into worn stone. You want your secret societies, they could be in any one of these places and you'd never know it. They just look...cryptic, I guess. The lack of heavy car or foot traffic intensifies the impression of secrecy, and you find yourself standing there wondering what the hell could be going on behind those doors.
What I know of the moderately rich I could fill a bargain-priced encyclopedia with, but of the truly butt-ass rich I know next to nothing. And I'm not talking about celebrities here. I'm talking about people whose names you will never hear outside of financial institutions, but who spent more money on their shoes than most people spend on their houses. I see them on occasion, but never have cause to talk to them, nor they to me.
You can spot the truly rich quite easily. It's not until you see an expensive tailoring job that you realize how crappily most people's clothes fit. Here everything is in place, from the hair to the necktie. These are people who make George W. Bush look like a lawnmower salesman. (which, incidentally, isn't hard) They get out of their limos, they walk into these windowless stone buildings, the carved metal doors close behind them, and bammo, they're out of your universe and into whatever world it is that exists in there.
It's at this point that I start sounding like Tom Waits: What's he building in there? What the HELL is he building in there? We have a right to know...
I know that in the end, it's stuff that I don't give a damn about: The movement of liquid assets, changes in exchange rates, what china Francine's going to use at the Asian bankers' function, ad nauseum. Still, I'd kinda like to see it. They'd spot me in a heartbeat, though.
"Look at the break on those slacks! Release the hounds!!" Damned rich bastards.
Got some music news warming up, but I'll send that separately in a few days. This letter's long enough already.
Talk soon, and mind you don't squish the tiny ladies or little gay Colombians. They have powers.