Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Amtrak Ambling

ETA: I just now realized this is my FIVE YEAR anniversary of this blog! Holy crap! I'm so glad I'm still as aimless and rambling as always. If you read this or anything on here, I love you. I really do. Back to my regularly scheduled nonsense....

I took an Amtrak train to Albany last week and had the usual stream of consciousness vortex of thoughts as I sat and waited for my train. Most people call this thinking. But I have always had the impression that if I let it, my brain would just pull me under like a pernicious riptide and I’d be dragged away gasping, far from the sun drenched shore by degrees. So, I decided to write them down and share it here, hoping to come up with something worth reading. I’m not sure that I’ve done that. I’m only sure that I want to be able to take long train rides everyday because the movement of the train stills the vortex. Temporarily.

I left work that day smiling. Knowing I wouldn’t have to return to a place where I am not myself for hours at a time was relieving in the way taking a bra off at the end of the day is freedom in action and I felt loose and relaxed. I didn’t even mind that no one would return my eye contact on the subway, what with the Pokemon they were all hunting on their phones; I got to observe, unobserved. By the time I got to Penn Station, it was full blown rush hour and I coasted on a wave of worker drones, headed east or south or north to 3 bedroom ranch houses and smaller versions of themselves, to spouses or girlfriends/boyfriends and other things that seem to elude me. There were bewildered tourists with backpacks and high heeled ladies with charm bracelets and young masters of the universe shooting toward the sprawl in a strange serpentine rhythm through underground Penn Station.

I rarely take train rides longer than an hour. The last long train ride I took was in Belgium, traveling from Bruges to Ghent and from Ghent to Amsterdam. I had been hungover with a vengeance then and my brain was just looking for sleep. But my heart managed to do what it always does when a new landscape rolls out in front of me; it emitted a pinprick of hope that I'd find my own personal Jesse Wallace to take a European stroll with for hours. Christ. Films have ruined my life. I guess I enjoy train rides because they make me think of possibility, that great American fable. So, I was going to enjoy this one too (though the non-European-ness of the setting muted the Before Sunrise daydream).

Anyway, I arrived early for my train and got a seat in the waiting room. It struck me that the Amtrak wing of Penn Station is the only thing that retains its 60s mod-ish design. I don’t know how old exactly that room is but sitting there, waiting inspired a melancholy in me. I don’t know what it is about me and nostalgia for things and times I have never experienced. I feel irrational when I experience a longing for something I just missed out on but I can’t help it. Seated a few seats away was a young couple, two women who were so clearly new to each other… they seemed nervous to be together. They spoke to each other with self-consciousness, eager to learn whatever new information about each other they could. It made me lonely.

Maybe I had the 1960s on my brain because of the room but I started thinking of Mad Men. It isn’t unusual for me to think of it since I consider the show, without hyperbole, to be one of the greatest things I’ve ever seen. I thought about the episode when they address the demolition of the old Penn Station in favor of what we have today. It is my understanding that it used to be a beautiful space, on par with what Grand Central Station is now. In the episode, the character Paul Kinsey, rebellious, nearly fucks up the account. In the end, (spoiler alert), Don Draper is forced to fire the new Penn Station company from their list of clients due to lack of vision by his British overlords. I always wonder what midtown would look like now had we kept the beauty and ditched the grit.

I also started thinking about the actor who played Paul Kinsey, a man I knew in college. My college wasn’t very big and he had that mysterious Renaissance man personality to go with his looks so everyone kinda knew him. I, like virtually everyone else I knew, had a huge crush on him and we were friends towards my senior year there. He’d likely be bored to know that he's served as the archetype in many of my own stories. I’ve discovered over the years that his impression on me likely had very little to do with him; though we were friends who hung out some times, I can’t say I knew him very well. Still, I follow his career and his Twitter account and my sudden thought of him led me to just that. I discovered that he had recently proposed to his girlfriend. Good for him! I’m happy when people I used to know have happy middles (I don’t know endings yet). I also got melancholy because people move on and on and away from how I remember them and sometimes I just want things to stay as they are. The urgency of my age makes me lonely. There might be a theme here.

It wasn't long before the train was boarding and it was beautifully air conditioned and empty of hustling crowds, my first indication that I was bound for places away from the city. As I chose my seat, I remembered the last time I took an Amtrak up north to visit these same friends. On my way home from that trip, I arrived at the station to find my train, all trains headed anywhere had been cancelled due to a horrific derailment that resulted in fatalities. Going back to my thoughts about train travel, I always stupidly assumed it was the "safer" way to travel. I think for a few weeks after that incident, I read everything I could on train derailments and their frequency, mostly because that's how I face my fears...I read about them. As my thoughts veered toward catastrophe, the train blessedly pulled into the station and I released myself from the tangle of my neurons and into the hot July night air and the care of one of my oldest, dearest friends.

And there you have three hours worth of rambling, ambling thoughts. If anything, it allowed me to shut off the din of a Tuesday afternoon, one of the most ennui inspiring times of the week. So, there's always that.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Unsigned underwear

I saw The Cure recently at Madison Square Garden and it was easily one of the top 10 shows I've been fortunate enough to attend. It was my third time seeing them, the last time being literally 20 years ago on their 1996 tour. The Cure is what I like to think of as an "old friend band"... no matter how much time passes, or how many new bands or songs or albums come in between us, we just pick right back up where we left off. This most recent show was no exception.

It probably didn't hurt that the concert was at a venue where I spent a decent percentage of my teenage years and my 20s. I still remember when there used to be a bookstore right at the entrance of MSG and the time before there was a "Paramount Theater" on the second level. I have vivid memories of waiting for a Nine Inch Nails show there, decked out in the goth gear I was sporting in those days and browsing books in that store while waiting for my concert buddies. There was an older gentleman in a three piece suit who approached me then and said "I'm not being weird, but I love your look." And he just walked away and it wasn't weird. Unexpected, but not weird.
I always felt like the luckiest person alive when I was on my way to a show. I still do feel like the luckiest person alive when I'm doing that...lucky that my musical heroes are still alive and kicking and doing their thing. When I think of the afterlife, I imagine it as an outdoor concert at dusk on a perfect weather day.

The band was in top form. Robert Smith's voice hasn't changed in 30 years and I had a list of songs I wanted to hear that was 10 deep and he played all but one. The one I didn't hear was "Untitled" from Disintegration but I can't blame the band. That song is long and not the most popular from that stellar album. I love so hard that I have The Cure to make me feel like I felt a long time ago. I'm running out of things that can do that. Whenever I'm alone with you....etc. etc.

Speaking of feeling like a long time ago, it had been a few years since I saw a show at MSG. Some things remain unchanged, others are unrecognizable. I think the last time I was there was to see Arcade Fire in 2010 on my birthday and a lot has changed in six short years. Gone is the bookstore (btw, that's a good way to describe NYC in general these days: gone is the bookstore), though I suspect it left a long ass time ago. It has been replaced by some generic tourist trap called "The Pennsy" which is just a really stupid name. Gone is the film of dirt that used to cover the inside lobby of MSG...it is actually pretty clean and modern looking now. The concessions were always overpriced but they have now reached ridica levels. People still try to scam their way into seats that aren't theirs and it is pretty pathetic when they do and the seats aren't even that good. Like, if you are going to go through the trouble of lying about shit, at least make it worth everyone's while, not some perplexing lie about how you hold tickets for a pair of crappy seats. It makes me sad for you. It reminds me of this one girl I went to high school with who turned out to be a bit of a total liar. She came to school one day and told us how she had seen Stevie B perform the night before and claimed that he signed her underwear yet, when pressed, could not produce said underwear. And it just made me feel so sad for her because again, if you commit to lying, go all out. Mick Jagger signed my underwear or Bruce Springsteen did. Damn at the very least, Stevie B kissed me. Just not some freestyle singer signing your skivvies. That requires tangible proof.  You are going to have to prove you have ticket stubs for the seats you are in. Think your lies through, people. Or you know, just don't lie at all.

I was seated next to a young man who, at first, I assumed was The Cure's biggest superfan. I was wrong however and I strongly suspect he was just high on meth or its more subtle equivalent. We arrived in the middle of the opener's set, a band called the Twilight Sad (best. gothy. band. name. ever.) and they were good. The guy next to me seemed to be fiercely in to them because he was beating the shit out of his thigh in rhythm to every song they played. You really have to love something in order to beat the shit out of yourself to express it. The enthusiasm he was emitting was nothing compared to what was to come. When they finally took the stage, the band played Pictures of You and my seat neighbor fell into a paroxysm. With every new song he screamed "HOLY FUCKING SHIT" or an equivalent exaggerated exclamation. Don't get me wrong, I'm a fervent concert goer and I don't ever stand stock still or just stare at the stage with the impassive observational stare of a scientist, the band my test subject. I go to live shows to feel something and I feel it. But there is a fine line between being moved by the music and being...well, high on something. Homeboy was way over the line. My assertion was vindicated when, about 35 minutes into the three hour set, he was fast asleep in his chair like a post-tantrum toddler.

A couple arrived super late to the show and sat in the row in front of me and proceeded to check their phones every 20 seconds for the following apps: Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter, Their Own Selfie Collection. I definitely take photos at concerts. It is usually a maximum of two and it is always of the band. I don't want a photo of myself sitting in a chair at MSG DURING the show. That's just stupid. But these two...they were recording entire songs because they are clearly video archivists who will most certainly watch the video they took all the time as it takes up space on their phone; it was worth the sacrifice of missing the live performance in front of their faces. Again, my fellow concert goers just inspired a melancholy in me. Or maybe it was the music?

Aaaaanyway, I'll leave this entry with the two photos I took in between songs.

Also, Simon Gallup signed my underwear.