Arising swiftly from under the river, a pale rider approaches Manhattan. With his handful of bacon.

Off I go to this week's paid amusement. For the first time since moving up here, I'm working in Lower Manhattan. Wall Street, to be precise. Yes, it really exists. I know, I wasn't sure either. But I exited the subway on Thursday, and damned if I wasn't smack dab next to Trinity Church (a fine edifice, I must say). On my way to the job in question, I passed a serious mister with a very real-looking machine gun, and realized I was in front of the New York Stock Exchange. Little guys in colored jackets were filing towards the door, looking as if at any minute they might burst into "Oooh-eeee-oh, eoooooooo, um...". Not really the market for "Heigh Ho." With that thought, I surreptitiously gave them the bird.

Lower Manhattan is definitely a different Manhattan than Midtown, which has an upbeat energy, a sort of carbonated sparkle that bubbles out from the doorways. The energy in Lower Manhattan is more like an obsessive grandmother preparing the table before company comes over. Everyone's very tight-faced & intent on something. This could be because these are the people determining the entire world's financial future, but it may also owe something to the fact that a few blocks over, there's a GAPING HOLE where two very tall buildings once stood.

My knowledge of financial terminology is such that I have yet to make out what this company I'm working for actually DOES. I see files, I see numbers, I see accountantesque gobbledyflabbit, but by Pete, I'm not asking any questions. Because my job is to throw things away. Lots of things. Big piles of paper, very important-looking paper, all secreted away in locked cabinets that are subdivided according to some numerological system probably devised by the Freemasons during the Spanish Inquisition. And I'm throwing it all away. The name "Enron" mean anything to you? I don't know, it just creeps me out a little.

My suspicion isn't helped by the realization that I'm in an office full of Secret Tinklers. Though there are three urinals and only two actual toilet stalls, these guys will pick the stall every time. Well, you say, maybe boys don't want to see other boys' wee-wees in the bathroom. No, I'm afraid it's a bit late for that kind of talk. From an early age, Society tells us very clearly that it's okay if you see another boy's wee-wee. In fact, it's expected. Provided you look away quickly. But not so quickly that you make the other boys suspicious. And by God, if I had to see Jim Bob Guthrie bare his in the 8th grade locker room, it's only fair that everyone's gotta look at mine.

I don't know what these Secret Tinklers are hiding, but it ain't right. What, does accountancy warp your weener? Wouldn't surprise me.

I did get in good with Champale, an old Jamaican mother of three with a fabulous accent that I'm trying to master (I keep slipping into Scottish somehow). Not doing so well with Mr. California Old Dude. Longish hair, handlebar moustache, thinks he's quaint because he lived on a farm in Northern California. I got yer quaint right here, pal. Then yesterday he says, "Man, having a baby is amazing. I mean, who would've thought a woman could do that?" Ummm....EVERYBODY?

Champale and Mr. COD are in charge of the Intern Room, where most of my document-trashing took place. Mr. COD decided to wear his nasty old thrift-store jacket the other day, & cracked that no one in the room was alive when the old thing was in style. The room was quiet for a minute, then Champale says, "I see ya rollin' ya eye ova here, sonny boy..." Nothing's better than a comeback with a Jamaican accent.

It's non-sequitur time.

You never saw so much cheap Chinese food as in Lower Manhattan, I've found. $3.95 for a heapin' plate of Sesame Chicken (tasted like chicken, though you never know...). And if you're a big spender, you can throw down $4.25 per pound at the buffet. Man, we used to give up $8.00 at our favorite Chinese buffet in Arlington. Ah, don't get me started... Actually, it's the first real Chinese buffet I've found in New York. We'd only investigated the takeouts & sit-downs, which are nice, but it's hard to beat a big heated table of options, options, options.

Started out last week with a trip to our local polling place in Sunset Park. I've been voting for 10 years now, and I walked into this place expecting more of the same, either the old ScanTron fill-in jobs or perhaps the fancy new touch screens. Instead, I was directed through a curtain, wherein I came face to face with a replica of Charles Babbage's Difference Engine. This damn thing was HUGE. It was my height, and four times as wide, with rusty old knobs all across its yellowed face and a big red lever sticking out at groin level. I expected to see a billowing steam pipe and a whole crew of coaldusted miners stoking the goddamn boiler. If I didn't know why I was there, I would've thought it was for cracking Nazi command codes.

As I'm figuring this thing out (which is akin to an HTML programmer cranking up UNIVAC), it occurs to me: The old people in the 2000 election complained that they were confused by the butterfly ballots. If THIS machine is what they used before, I have no sympathy. This is New York Freakin' City, for cryin' out loud, one would think that voting technology would've advanced since the days of Teddy Roosevelt (though at least they've changed the names & such. I ain't votin' for no Panama Canal, nosiree).

But I'm beginning to see the way it is. Brooklyn isn't New York City, though it is. Or something. Did you know that the Brooklyn Public Library is not part of the New York Public Library system? That's like having a separate Como Public Library system in Fort Worth. Kinda fucky.

So anyway, back in the voting booth I finally figure out what's what, & I pull the lever decisively. My voice has been heard. Fat lot of good it did, though. Sigh.

We've been getting a bit antsy in our little squat, so we put our armchair broker on the case to find us a larger abode. She's the one who found our squat, & I've seen worse, so we were curious as to what she'd come up with. Not 48 hours later, she emails Wifely with the following description:

"Large studio near artist area, $1000/mo, bills paid, new floors, 3 ceiling fans, A/C, kitchen, bathroom, and only five blocks from transportation."

Well, hot damn. Surely this is our ticket to the world of Real New York Apartment Living. And not wondering whether the hair in the drain is ours or our dumbass neighbor's. So we examine the maps, and the thing appears to be at the north end of Red Hook, just south of the Gowanus Expressway. We live next to the Gowanus right now, so that doesn't scare us. And this part of Red Hook looks close to Cobble Hill, which is a groovy little neighborhood. The nearest subway stop is actually six blocks away, but there's a bus that gets us four blocks closer, so we hop it after work.

We're driving through Cobble Hill, not bad, not bad, we could live here, hey, wait, what just happened, is that the Gowanus, yes, it is, where the fuck are we, where did the streetlights go, is that the street we're looking for, yes, no, it can't be, yes, it is, okay, let's try it, BEEP, STOP REQUESTED. We exit the bus and find ourselves on the set of some post-apocalyptic film. The houses are not just empty, they're caving in and growing trees through the floors. The sidewalks are in the process of being reclaimed by the earth, and several manholes lie open in the street. We stand under the only streetlight, beyond which the bus has just disappeared. Wellllll, fuck.

Our first instinct is to stay right there and wait for the next bus to take us out of this Peteforsaken hellhole. But there is a bit of light in the direction our Dream Apartment is supposed to be, so we figure maybe the bus has dropped us in the ass end of the neighborhood. There are other people around, some alone and with purses, so I feel a bit silly about huddling in fear. We walk towards our prospective residence, keeping a careful eye on shadowy corners and those suspicious manholes.

Two minutes later we arrive at what is possibly the bleakest row of shopfronts in the entire nation. Weeds shoot up our pant legs as we stare at the flaking silver number on the rotten door in the otherwise vacant block before us. OUR door. Not twenty feet to our left is the source of all the light: The Gowanus toll plaza, stuffed to the brim with 18-wheelers & honking cabs. Now I'm pissed. Who the hell would rent this place?

We're both angry enough to decide we're not taking the bus, we wanna see what this commute to the subway is like. We first have to cross the expressway. The 800-lane expressway. No problem, says the paramedic we find parked near the toll plaza. Just walk up the highway two blocks IN THE WRONG DIRECTION, and there's a bridge. There is not, however, a pedestrian crossing to this bridge. No matter, as jaywalking is a time-honored New York tradition. So we cross this bridge, finding ourselves at last in the homey neighborhood of Cobble Hill. Funny the difference an expressway makes.

We managed to make it a nice walk through a pretty part of town and pretended we'd planned it that way. Or tried. Hard to quell the hatred once it starts brewing.

I've been feeling a bit on edge lately. A bit testy. A bit...how do the French say, "Not quite right." Example:

I snapped a little yesterday when Vanessa, my fellow temp, began to wail, "Oh, my feet are killing me! I wish men had to wear heels for just an hour, so they'd know what it was like."

To which I responded, without hesitation, "I wish women would stop wearing the damn things. Might fix the whole problem, huh?" She had no answer, just a bug-eyed stare.

Like I said, I was a bit on edge. But I was good. I DIDN'T say, "You know, if I'm in a shoe store and there's a pair of shoes that hurts my feet, I DON'T BUY THEM. What the hell's the matter with you, anyway? And don't give me the 'Men like it' bit. If a man expects you to be in pain in order to impress him, it should be taken as no less than an indication of how he will treat you for the rest of your damnable relationship. What the hell's the matter with you, anyway?" See? Testy. A bit on edge.

Even though I was right, I felt a little guilty about snapping at her. Until I saw her down the hall, pointing at her feet and getting empathetic pouts from the other women. So that's it, is it? Sympathy for your common bondage is the fuel that stokes the purpose-giving victim-fire. Fine. I'll wear thorns in my armpits tomorrow and walk around with my arms raised all day, moaning, "Owwww, owwww...." and plead for more break time to rest my weary limbs. When people ask, "Why do you have thorns in your armpits?", I'll give them the doe eyes and say, "(Sniff)...I don't KNOWWW......I DON'T KNOWWWW......WWWAAAAAHHHHHH!!!!!!"

What the hell's the matter with people, anyway?

And I can't even make a humorous piece out of it because Steve Martin already did The Cruel Shoes. Who knew he wasn't kidding? I sure the fuck didn't! I'm wearing my goddamn stilts around all day and begging somebody for sympathy. I mean, they hurt! And I wear them anyway!! WWWWAAAAAHHHHHH!!!!!!

Ah, fuck 'em.

I mean, I was a bit upset right then because I had just nabbed a complimentary sandwich from the breakroom that looked like roast beef, but turned out to be a Limberger Asshole Melt or Curdled Fart Burger or something of equal heinosity. Damned uppity sandwiches.

But mostly the edge I appear to be on is one of indecision. You know, that What's Next For Matthew/Have I Got Hold Of The Right End Of The Stick Or What/Am I Pretty Or Is She Just Saying That thing. I dunno, just a lot of crap floating around in the brain. This despite, or because of, the fact that my album is juuuuuuust this side of complete. I did a lot of good work with my friend Paul this weekend, & it's sounding like a real album to me. But "nearly there" has always been far more difficult for me than "is that it waaay over there?" I feel like I should be going faster, while also trying not to rush any decisions. Yeah, it's like that.

Don't worry, this happens from time to time, & I think it'll pass. Or I'll gnaw off my arm. And no, I'm not looking for sympathy. I have stilts for that.

Next stop, Rector Street. Gotta go to work. In the Trinity churchyard, there's a gravestone monument to Alexander Hamilton. I read somewhere that he's not actually buried there, though. No matter. I'll pretend he is, and flip the bird to his cold, dead corpse for inventing the Electoral College. What the hell's the matter with people, anyway?



© 2002-2006
the matthew show