11-10-04, 5:45 PM –

I’m working with a ghost.

I’ve never seen him, felt him, nor smelt him, but he speaks at least 10 times a day in the tiny fish tank where I’ve spent my 8-to-5’s this past three months.

It confused me at first, these detached strings of words emanating from the mouths of my officemates. Complete non-sequiturs, belching forth at the slightest hint of workplace silence.


“Well, ma’am, let me ashhhk you a queshhtion.”

“Bastard under the stairs.”

Just out of nowhere. And it wasn’t that those speaking the words didn’t recognize them. Indeed, they brought forth howls of laughter from the other workers, the more tenured ones particularly. Sure, I could’ve asked what the fuss was about, but given that most conversations in my workplace eventually devolve into recommendations for shit-ass movies or Mars/Venus regurgitations, I opted to let the mystery be.

But occasionally these punchlines without jokes would be followed by phrases like, “Fuckin’ Mark, man,” or “That Mark.” I began to deduce that the ghost had a name. Then one day, the leader of the ghost-speakers burst forth with a “Hello, MISS?” straight out of one of my favorite Monty Python skits. Holy shit, this place used to employ someone with a sense of humor. Someone named Mark.

It’s hard to gauge how long he’s been gone or what it was that he did there, but judging from the general turnover rate at our horrid little securities giant, he can’t have left any more than a year or two ago. But from what I can gather, it doesn’t much matter whether those aping him actually met the man before he became a wraith, a floating sense of humor with no suitable body to inhabit among those left behind. The newbies know only that to belong, they must know the punchlines, even if their meaning has been lost to time.

It happened in Europe after the fall of the Roman Empire. Customs survived long after those who brought them and knew their meanings had departed. So I salute you, Mark, wherever you are. Be careful where you drop your humor, it may mutate in your absence.



11-13-04, 11:57 PM –

Okay, so who the hell does their laundry at midnight on a Saturday? All the honky gentiles in the room raise your hand. My new laundromat is quite a change from the last two I’ve written from. It’s under the elevated subway stop, so every few minutes provides you with a rumbling reminder that you are indeed still in New York City.

I only say that because otherwise it’s remarkably quiet outside. Well, quiet for someone who’s just spent a year and a half living in Manhattan. At this hour, the multiple-street intersection on this corner shows few signs of life apart from the two Chinese restaurants closing shop right next to each other.

Borough Park is a neighborhood of regulars, & one of them is being shoved out unceremoniously from the China Garden. He’s always dressed in a dark three-piece suit, but his bearing is rather more that of a vagrant. I never see him begging, though, so perhaps he has a caretaker. To dip my pen in an old stereotype for a moment: This is not a good neighborhood for vagrancy.

I’m learning a lot about Hasidism, which is by far the predominant lifestyle in Borough Park. For one thing, one must NEVER forget to buy food before Friday night, for there is nary a shop to be found open after sunset on Shabbas. Well, except for the China Garden and the China Sea. Thank Pete that the Chinese don’t care about pissing God off.

I always run into people who have immense respect for piety of any sort. But I must say that before I extend such respect, I like to see what exactly it is that is being proffered to the deity or floating principle in question. And that being the case, I’ve found that from what I know thus far, I have no respect for Hasidism.

For one thing, it pisses my wife off when the Hasidic clerk at our local market won’t serve her, and instead has to call over a female clerk to save himself from contamination. The fact that both deanpence and I have been called inside a number of Hasidic homes to flip a light switch and thus prevent the occupants from working on Shabbas doesn’t really help their case either.

And don’t get me started on the sidecurls. Although they look better on the adult men than they do on the poor unfortunate little boys. The women have it no better, being required to cover their own hair with wigs so as not to arouse the desire of the menfolk or some such rot. Though at least the hairstyle they chose is flattering. In fact, I must say that from what I’ve seen thus far, most young Hasidic women are quite attractive. But given that I have a predilection for pale-skinned brunettes in dark clothes, that analysis is hardly News of the Weird.

(Hitler disclaimer here: Thinking something is stupid is not equivalent to demanding its destruction. If it were, I’d have been calling for the burning of football fields for most of my life. Open your hymnals if you must...)

All told, though, I’m enjoying my new neighborhood. Being on the ground floor is nice, as is having complete silence outside when you sleep. Since I haven’t had that since my stay with Mom & Dad before moving up here two years ago, I’m sleeping like a drunken cat lately.

I’m also enjoying the wonders of real cable. By Pete, I don’t know how I lived without Comedy Central. Oh yeah, I guess I actually DID STUFF. I do have to watch out for my escapist tendencies now that I’m in a comfortable space with a couch & all. A very sinister part of me is always lurking just backstage, whispering, “wouldn’t it be cool to watch the Star Wars trilogy back-to-back just ONE more time? And hey, what about that Lord of the Rings?” And now I’ve been placed in the unenviable position of being able to watch Law & Order 24 fucking 7. Will the madness never cease?

I’ve managed to stave off the establishment of a couch ass-groove by setting up my studio space in the third bedroom. Or at least I WAS doing that until I realized that the room has no electrical outlets. Zero. Not a one. So I’m waiting on the landlady to rectify the situation, even though her electrician is laid up in the hospital after a heart attack & she has no idea where to even begin to replace him. Oh well, I can wait, I guess. The Iron Giant is on again.

11-17-04, 8:07 AM –

On the morning M train. Odd. I spent my first year in Brooklyn decrying the uselessness of this train, going so far as to write half a letter about it, but now it’s MY train. The irony’s so thick you could spread it on a bagel. Strictly speaking, the D is my normal train, but during rush hours the M takes me exactly where I need to go down in Lower Manhattan. It’s good to be back on the old 4th Avenue line in Brooklyn, though. I know all the stops by heart, I even know what’s around most of ‘em, and everyone’s got that Brooklyn attitude: “Eh, whatever.”

In the year that we’ve been away, Brooklyn has developed a few conveniences it didn’t have before. Chief among these is a Target. Oh, my friends, bemoan the death of Mom & Pop if you must, but the moment I walked into that store last week, I praised Pete from the bottom of my heart for big box retail. Stuff where you could find it, no insane mark-up, no one following you around the store like you were an escaped serial killer…it was beautiful. Now just put a Borders out here & I’m set.

More difficult to find, strangely, are grocery stores. There are a billion delis, fruit stands, and corner bodegas in Borough Park, but so far not one full-service grocery store. I hear talk about one further south, which I shall check out soon. I gotta get some goddamn pork, jack.

But shoes…

Friends, if you ever need shoes or shoe repair, have I got a neighborhood for you. Never in my life have I seen more shoe-related businesses in one place than on my block. It’s AMAZING. How one community can have so many shoe needs is a bafflement to me, but it’s the friggin’ economic engine of Borough Park, I’ll tell you what.

6:00 PM –

Words for certain people at work:

Miss Edge of 39: You can’t simultaneously complain that men are shallow and then only go out with those who will buy you a gift first. You’re a stupid bitch.

Ladyfriend Black Mambazo: If you gripe for three hours about how stupid and rude your boyfriend is, and then announce that he proposed to you, you can’t be surprised when no one’s excited. You’re a stupid bitch.

The Unfuture Mrs. Usher: A story about how a heroin addict knifed his wife in the Bronx should not beget the statement, “Y’all, men are crazy.” Also, if your tastes are limited to those with a “thug walk”, your romantic fortunes are unlikely to improve. You’re a stupid bitch.

“Blessed are they who choose not to be stupid.” - Pete



11-22-04, 5:23 PM –

It’s now that time of year when getting off work means stepping out into Manhattan night. Streetlamps compete with illuminated company logos mounted on buildings outlined in murky relief by both.

This is when New York is at its most Londonesque, giving glimpses of shadows in forgotten passageways & echoes off disjointed paving stones. The atmosphere in my corner of Lower Manhattan is quiet, cold, and hurried. Those with the option have already left town for the holiday, & those without don’t stay any longer than they have to. The 18th-century facades of Pearl Street fly their committee-approved star mobiles from second floor windows in relative solitude, but for one honky and his grocery list (I found a grocery store).

I know the holiday is called Thanksgiving, but I’ve decided that this year I will celebrate Food Day. Call me sore, but I’m loath to get too excited about a holiday having anything to do with Puritans, whose ideological descendants have recently made me feel more like a foreigner in my own land than ever before. Which took some doing, I’ll tell you.

My somewhat-monthly missives are not the sort of place I’d ever drop my load of election day emotional leavings, so for those interested in the contents of my head for the last several weeks, I’ll direct you here.

Thankfully, the winter is as reliable as ever in filling me with a sense of chapter-turning, to promise that a fresh page is close at hand, if I’ll only finish this year’s workbook and turn it in.

One piece of familiar finality will be missing this year, however, as I’m skipping my usual holiday trip home to Texas. No, I haven’t started hating my family, and yes, I realize that my amazingly cute niece is not going to have any idea who I am when she grows up, but at present I’m on a new mission.

Phase I of this mission is already complete: Lower my rent & get my own studio space. Voila.

Phase II began last week: Get my honky ass out of debt. Oh, how good it feels to hurl bloody great wodges of cash at those I owe, particularly when that final check drops & I extend my FCC-verboten finger with great conviction.

Phase IIA is within a month of starting: Upgrade my studio. Og need more tracks. Og tired of beating VS-880 with jawbone. Og buy real computer with real working parts. Og smile.

Phase III: Record the new album.

So with these goals burning in my medulla every day now, I’m having a hard time justifying a massive payout on transportation southwards, plus lost wages. Nonetheless, I’m still bummed out about not being able to see my friends & family down there this year. But with any luck, my three-pronged plan will mean that soon, money will not be so much of an obstacle.

Had an interesting few days lately. On Friday, deanpence & I took in a remarkable show by my old favorites Las Rubias del Norte at BAM Café, which is a hell of a place. BAM (Brooklyn Academy of Music) is housed in an ornate building near all of that fabulous big box shopping I was talking about earlier, and the BAM Café is their second-floor space, which was so swanky it made me & my ratty Old Navy cargo pants feel downright white trash. However, two Pinot Grigios & a margherita pizza later, I was feeling quite at home as the Rubias paso dobled & cumbiad their way into the night. They really do keep getting better.

The room was perfect for the music, subdued blue & red lights suspended in high arches over a large ballroom, with immense windows leaking in the city’s natural nighttime glow. You know the joint is uptown when the urinals are filled with ice cubes. Very Queer Eye.

Not quite so swanky but every bit as fun was a night out with my much-missed friend & musical associate Paul, back in town for the eating of family turkey. I probably forgot to mention that he’s been off in the San Francisco area finding himself for the past three months. It’s easy to do. I found myself out there back in ’96, but I had to take myself back out against my will due to our old friend, lack of fundage. Probably for the best. I can’t eat granola anyway.

Paul & I like to drink and jabber at this nondescript smokeasy up in Harlem, and thus were four hours spent. His wife Maja showed up a bit later, & we went out for Mexican food, where I impressed myself by asking where the banos were. I’m picking up bits of Spanish from the Puerto Rican contingent at work. I’m still not sure what a pendeja is, but I know it isn’t good.

Had a nice evening of iced chai lattes & conversation with Radio Mike out in the East Village last week as well. His show is quite the haven for those who like to look in ClearChannel’s blind spot, so I encourage you to check it out.

11-24-04, 6:05 PM –

I just read an article in the john by Sanctuary Records’ Senior A&R guy, who said that technology ruined the music industry, and that no one will ever make albums again. Man, that guy can blow my asshole.

Trying to come up with an elegant wrap-up for this letter, but I find that disjointment is the theme this month, much as I’d prefer something more personable like bemused whimsy or maybe general misanthropy.

Instead I sit here on the M train, watching this little kid eat M&M’s. There’s something comforting about that. Regimes & moods may come & go, but a little kid and her M&M’s still equal happiness. Until some dumbass walks by & knocks them on the floor...ahh, there’s that misanthropy.

Well, if he does, I’ll beat his ass. That’s probably what I’m in the mood for. Too bad I fight like a mango with its skin removed. That doesn’t even make any sense. So it goes.



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the matthew show