Friday, August 15, 2008


A few weeks ago I got caught barefoot in Prospect Park with a pineapple, two Asian pears and a carving knife. It was pretty embarrassing. Luckily the cops didn't check the bag I was holding and I only got a summons for being in the park after closing.

Recently I got another summons for once again flouting society's conventions in a freewheeling yet laid-back fashion (think the Fonz with better hair), which brought to mind the first summons, causing me to realize I had missed the court date. I called the courts system. The woman there warned me SIR report to court right away THERE IS A WARRANT OUR FOR YOUR ARREST and I floated along the rest of the day on the kind of whimsical jetstream that only comes with being a fugitive from justice.

I was to report to the Red Hook Community Justice Center. Besides housing the Justice Center and some very large stores Red Hook is famous for :

a) existing as a total void of subway transportation
b) smelling kind of weird
c) being the last place murder victims stop before being dumped in the East River.

Also there's an IKEA there now if you're interested in buying a couch and carrying it on a special shuttle bus and then onto the subway and then back to your shitty apartment.

Since I don't clean bathrooms for a living I don't take the bus which means I had to walk a mile through Red Hook to the Red Hook Community Justice Center. Here I sat on a hard bench, commingling with the dregs of society and learning curse words in various inferior languages. You woulnd't believe some of the crimes these guys were here for. Trespassing in a park. Being in a park past closing time. Failure to show ID when asked by an officer (pretty sure this also happened in a park). Seriously, from what I glimpsed here about 90% of the city's crime is people hanging out in the park after dark, just havin' a time. The other 10% is traffic violations and Chinese women creating disturbances.
Eventually I had my five seconds with the judge where my summons was immediately dismissed and I realized that the real punishment was having to walk to the court. I hope they have realized this and put the court here (there's another court in Downtown Brooklyn which is a lot easier to get to, so I assume that one is reserved for actual crimes) as a tricky means of easily punishing people rather than another grand municipal failure (have you ever been to the Brooklyn Navy Yard? Sheesh).

Finally, on the way home I wrote a blues song about having to walk to court so in the end it was all kind of worth it. Here it is:


*sung to the tune of every other blues song ever written*

Oh lawd i've been cursed with unrest and strife
caught in tha park wit' a pineapple and a knife

Policeman said now what you doin' hea'
found myself a'trembalin' with fea'

The Parks Commission dey put me ahn trial
Gotta fold my slip and walk that lonely mile

I combed mah hair put on mah sunday shoes
Lawd you know me I got them po' boy blues.

The sun so hot, citations on mah mind
Ask mahself why this city so unkind

The judge he say "boy that park done close at nine"
He say 'you understand this now?' and I say fine

Oh no fines lawd and I'm free at last
Get into work at eleven and thirty past

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Last Guy on the Elevator

There is a man who stands with you on the elevator every so often. He's indistinguishable at first but it's not long before manages to show his true potential. When the elevator reaches the lobby he stays behind, making sure that everyone gets out safely, placing one steady arm in front of the doors to shield his fragile colleagues from these doors that may close like an alligator's jaws but it's ok, he would rather lose his arm than see anyone clipped on the shoulder by the door as they walk out. He treats getting off the elevator like he is evacuating a schoolbus that has just plunged into the ocean.

Last Guy on the Elevator makes a habit of doing this and of course everyone feels obligated to thank him for his kindness. He is, after all, doing a nice thing for everyone. Last Guy on the Elevator thrives on these thank-yous and probably feels a little sick in the morning when he rides the elevator and has to stand in the back like a normal person. Probably the same way Superman feels when he's at work.

But despite what he wants you think Last Guy on the Elevator is not a saint. He is not even doing a good deed. No, because his entire act of kindess is degraded by its awful, painfully artificial self-awareness. Last Guy on the Elevator is a pillar of the community that no one has asked for. He is about as useful and necessary as a series of Doric columns holding up your kitchen ceiling.

Today at my office there were two Last Guys on the Elevator, and as this sentence shows such a thing is a mathematical impossibillity. There can be only one Last Guy on the Elevator. I cannot imagine what went through the heads of either of these men when their supremacy was threatened, whether it was anger or fear or a teeth-gritting 'I always knew this day would come' scenario, but I really don't want to know. I prefer to think of this as a scene out of a nature documentary and when it comes down to it lions fighting for control of the pride don't think they just tear each other to pieces because that is the way of the world. So these two bastions of civic responsibility engaged in a grand battle of wills, one that although lasting only a little over three seconds had me stretching my neck around to an impossible angle to see who would be the victor. Imagine two guys trying to hold the door for each other. Imagine an automatic door trying to close on another automatic door. Imagine two warriors grappling atop Mount Olympus with the fate of the very world at stake.

I cannot tell you who won this battle because honestly I don't remember what either of these guys looked like, but I can tell you a little about the rest of the Last Guy on the Elevator's day. He will help an old lady across the street, even though she is only 65 and still very active. He will get on the subway and give a crisp dollar bill to the homeless man who forgets half the words to “Dream Weaver," holding it out long enough so this man looks him in the eye and remembers his unwavering generosity. He will go home to his aparment building where he will hold the door for an attractive young woman even though she's far away enough that it's inappropriate to do so and they share two or three awkward looks into each other's eyes where he keeps up a steady, satisfied smile and she keeps looking down at the floor realizing that this man is really taking this much pride in his measly accomplishment, like he is her father shielding her from the fact that Santa Claus does not exist and there is suffering in the world while beating off a pack of rabid wolves with a broken chair leg and his broad shoulder pressed against the cabin door. Then he will sleep. Enjoying the sleep of the Last Guy on the Elevator.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Ode: Intimations of Awesomeness

Living in a city I see some pretty amazing things on a day-to-day basis. I'm sure you do too - its endemic to a place so full of people that you will be constantly experiencing wonderful outbursts of wonderful human expression - but after a while it just becomes so much that you kind of become inured to the whole magic of it and when a group of 14-year-old break dancers on the F find their first performance quashed by a rush hour crowd you forget how exact and poignant of a moment this is and end up getting annoyed. What I'm trying to do here is take a step back and take a smaller view, to not get irritated when I'm in a rush and get held up getting down to the subway because some guy with a shopping cart is selling pinwheels at the bottom of the stairway. Because if you really think about it, being late to work is probably worth the experience.
And of course, I don't want to forget about this stuff. I want to remember sitting next to some girl on the subway bragging about being punched in the face by her thug boyfriend and feeling the air thicken with the collective disapproval of an entire subway car. Or seeing a serene looking Asian guy wearing a store-bought t-shirt that says "Hate Rock" in swirly yellow letters. This is the kind of stuff I want to keep tucked in my head forever. Also I don't think I have enough blogs.

The main impetus comes from this: about a month ago I'm sitting on a bench in the Delancey Street station, nursing an inevitable hangover and the realization that I've just played a dozen games of flip-cup with some bizarre quasi-athletic events league, where people wear matching t-shirts and apparently reminisce about the great times they had in college playing drinking games and reminiscing about being in high school, when something AMAZING happens. By some blessed convergence four hispanic youths decide to save my night by recreating West Side Story for a new generation.

This may sound like the typical story of wild kids making a pointless scene on a subway platform while everyone tries to ignore the whole situation by staring intensely into their folded New York Times and copies of the Kite Runner but it isn't. This is no less than an apocalpytic dance explosion wherin a gang of rowdy teens enter the station like their lives are a perpetual Michael Jackson video (probably Beat It in this case) and proceed to realize the dreams of every immigrant who has ever landed in this country. These guys appear out of nowhere; they are loud and energetic and fully intent on getting everyone's attention, which in most cases is annoying but here has magical results - judging by the size of their swagger they have just come from the world championships of walking around like you own the place.

To start, one of them clear LEAPS over a garbage can. How? I don't know, kid has ups. The rest of the gang immediately bursts into a chorus of OHHHHHs and its clear that these are the guys who hang outside of the bodega drinking those little jug juices, eating Cheetos and hitting on your little sister and you let it continue just because you're amazed by the suicidal tenacity of their game. On their own a group of guys like this would be nestled somewhere between mildly irritating and slightly amusing, but seeing as this is America they are soon met with competition, and this is where things get really beautiful. Across the platform a group of five or six black girls take issue with these guys presumed supremacy of the station and just start dancing. So there's no music? They make their own. They are beatboxing and swinging their arms around and basically matching these guys intensity step for step with a furious stampede of feet.

Of course these boys will not be outdone. They band together and are pulling coordinated moves and using the benches and beams as props and there's this spirit of friendly rivalry and it's great. They are taunting each other and laughing and behaving with that total sense of guileless, bold-faced flirting disguised as some boys versus girls contest and it would make you wish you were a kid again if that wasn't already some embarrassingly hackneyed notion. It feels like being at your friend's family reunion and the food is amazing and there's this beautiful sunset and then you find out their little cousins have memorized the words and dance steps to "My Girl" and they put on a show for everyone.

I'd like to go on describing this contest and the things these kids did and how it ended with one girl asking one of the guys "Yo, what's your name?" but at some point the whole thing became too epic to fully digest and I would end up either exaggerating or leaving out the small details that really matter.

Since I've digressed enough I'll wrap things up here. I remember hearing a story about Haruki Murakami and about he decided to become a writer after seeing a really well-hit double at a baseball game, just how the small, perfect beauty of this thing was enough to make him realize that he needed to tell stories and share this kind of feeling with other people. I felt the same way, especially because even this amazing burst of vivacious expression wasn't enough to stop the Bowery crowd from toying with their IPhones and somehow continuing their conversations about free-range eggs versus oganic or whatever. I, however, have faith that the world is full of people who can appreciate these moments where tiny fragments drip down to earth in the form of people doing completely inexplicable things, so I started this to keep these moments from slipping through the cracks. I will try to update as often as I see this kind of craziness and considering that I just witnessed a turf war between two ice cream trucks (more on this later) this shouldn't be a problem.

Some other recent sights that have inspired me:

Batman Boy: Batman Boy is just like a regular boy except a crippling sadness has piled itself so heavy on his back that he is walking like Charlie Brown after whatever it is that he always screws up. Also he is dressed as Batman. I saw this kid on Van Brunt street in Red Hook a few weeks ago. He was holding his mother's hand and wearing a denim jacket over his costume and I kind of wanted to crash my car just out of the hope that it might make him laugh. His sadness was some deep pool of grief that I cannot begin to comprehend although I imagine it may have something to do with an ice cream cone and a storm drain or a cancelled birthday party.

Earth Angel: This guy holds a sign that says Earth Angel and has what may be the worst hair on earth. Seriously, this hair could inspire a docotoral thesis with twenty-five pages of end notes but let me try to sum it up in two sentences. It begins like a pompadour, this wild mass of thick black hair, but while pompadours mercifully end at some point this thing just bursts backward from his forehead a couple of inches and then descends to his mid-back like a waterfall flowing with barber-shop floor residue. It may be a wig but if it is he must have made it himself.

Anyway, I don't know if he is searching for Earth Angel or is the Earth Angel himself but he holds the sign like he's waiting for someone at the airport. I saw him again outside my office recently and he was holding an orange sign with three crosses and some writing that I could not read, kind of tenatively lifting it above his head every so often like he lacked the confidence to really be totally crazy. This man is a mystery that I would rather not solve.

Gays : Waiting for the F train at 34th street on Memorial Day I saw two fagged-out black dudes with the deepest, lispiest voices I have ever heard. They sounded like Paul Robeson working at a shoppe in Chelsea that sells antique playbills from '50s musicals. This alone was enough to get me giggling to myself but then God smiled upon me and put a giant rat on the platform nearby, which caused these two to flee up the stairs screaming at the top of their lungs. I slept the whole train ride home with the feeling that everything was right with the world.