CMJ is enormous, with scores of shows scattered across the city, and I knew that the likelihood that I would get to see anything on purpose was low. It is better not to fixate and be disappointed; I enjoy myself more when I have no expectations.
Years of performing forced me to develop a basic strategy for surviving festivals: I decided not to care.
However, the payment for performers is an all-access pass so, in between frolics with friends and meetings with my publisher, I dropped into whichever random array of sets happened to be nearby.
The only full showcase I made it to was the K records session. This seemed rather redundant since I go to K shows all the time, but on the other hand, I was feeling awfully homesick (for what, who can say).
When I walked in the the door a boy in a pilot’s cap shouted Bee! It was Kenneth, last seen on an Oregon beach.
My panel went well, although I’m sure I said many disturbing and controversial things – but there is no recording so who cares!
At some point I went to a private CMJ party and hung out with an assortment of writers and musicians until closing. When it was time to leave the bouncer stood with his arms crossed, barring my exit from the venue. He said the price to pass was a kiss.
He was perhaps a foot taller and a hundred pounds heavier than me but you know what? Nobody. Ever. Does. That. To. Me.
I’ve taken down scarier men in my time. Not quite as large as this one, but definitely more dangerous.
One strategy would have been to break his fingers, but I reckoned that was not strictly necessary.
Since we were at a fun happy party and he didn’t know that he had just violated a huge Bee rule I gave him the benefit of the doubt.
I reached out with both hands, grasped him under the arms, and… moved him out of my way. Like you might move a fractious toddler.
The big scary bouncer was completely shocked. He stumbled back, then stood, mouth open, staring after me as I stomped down the street.
I met Richard for the first time at the Soft Skull offices and he was surprisingly enthusiastic; he even hugged me. It is a good thing I took lessons in the subject because the trip would involve many more friendly embraces.
Later I was hanging out with Justin in Brooklyn. We lounged around his apartment, converted from a warehouse, where he lives with other Colorado expatriates. The apartment is the only residence I’ve visited in the city that actually looks like my juvenile fantasy of a NYC life.
We talked about the books we are doing for Soft Skull (how strange is it that so many of my friends sold books to the same press, when none of us ever discussed our plans? Very strange is the answer). On the way out the door I passed Jon (last seen at the naked snow party in Colorado) coming in – and we goggled and smiled and then said goodbye.
Another night I had dinner with KTS. His ex-wife Max showed up unexpectedly and we had been chatting for all of two minutes when it came out that she is roommates with Tennessee from Soft Skull.
I know these dinner companions from the NW in general and Olympia in particular. Not from shows, or the fact that we went to the same college, or indeed anything fun or youthful. Instead, I press-ganged a teenage KTS into my plans to start a nonprofit. During my incarnation as a government employee I once hired Max to do temp office work.
We caught up on news about mutual acquaintances, intricately connected groups of people who have been on the periphery of my life since the mid-eighties. I never thought I had much in common with them but now that we are grown up this appears to have been more about fashion than facts.
During a long subway ride to a borrowed apartment I lamented the fate of my cancer book. AEM (another Soft Skull writer) pointed out that if I publish it I will become the patron saint of all pariahs.
She didn’t seem to think that would be the best career move.
I always pack with fiendish precision and take more stuff than anyone could possibly need – and always find myself stranded without something necessary to deal with the weather.
Ayun advised me to bring my fuzzy hat (she says that it looks like a knitted toilet seat cover) but I couldn’t find it.
The wind kept picking up my crispy hair and whipping it straight up and across my head, where it decided to stick to my lips and then drag bright red lipstick lines across my face.
So: most important stop of the day – buying a black hat and gloves at Filene’s Basement, which is actually upstairs in a mall sort of building and looks nothing like my 1964 era daydreams. Anne claimed that my new hat was cute but it gave me a sort of exiled-to-Siberia look for the rest of the trip.
The Utne showed up on newsstands and I opened it to see a picture of myself. Then I spent the better part of a day fighting off a panic attack that was hard to trace in origin but has to do with the notion of identity.
I grew up mutilated, ugly. The fact that I have learned to manipulate my public image is a political choice. I’m not attractive by mainstream standards, but I photograph well – and it seems important to cultivate that dichotomy.
Though I could be wrong.
I am both pragmatic and idealistic and when people do favors for me I reciprocate, even if I’m not inclined to do whatever they would like. Byron will be watching the kids while I go to New York. He also has a research paper due while I’m gone.
This means that I am sitting here reading a Latex document with tiny script, squinting at terms like Boolean function and Cartesian approximation. I don’t have a vague clue what I’m reading, which isn’t a huge problem since I like to read esoteric things.
Phrases like automatic iterative abstraction refinement do not scare me.
But I’m reading for word choice. And you know what? Computer scientists do not share a common language – the people Byron works with grew up speaking a dozen human languages and they program in scores of other mechanical languages.
If they don’t know how to describe something, they don’t go to a thesaurus. They just make stuff up. Need a new word? Add a prefix! Still not clear? Add a suffix, or maybe two!
I spend most of my time red-lining words that I am later informed are common usage even though they do not exist in any other academic field.
Son (age six): What is a lackey?
Daughter (age thirteen): Kind of like a minion.
Son nods and goes back to playing with chopsticks.
Have been missing Rome. Must be the fall. Missing both Rome and that feeling of visiting different places. I enjoyed the light as much as the food, coffee, and company. Yes, the paintings, architecture, and history were lovely as well. Miss Palestrina’s wicked butterfly. The narrow darkness inside the buildings offset by the light stone stairways.
Last year as we settled in this new home I also missed the quality of light in Italy and wondered when I would be able to go back. I have not been able to plan another trip; it seems that I am always too busy these days.
Gabriel also wondered about Thanksgiving plans. It looks like we will have a full house again; I’ll have to turn the zine laboratory back into a kitchen.
Yesterday Byron spilled a tasty beverage on my keyboard. We unplugged it and cleaned it up but now the keys are sticky. I may never be able to type a parentheses again.
A couple of hours later he was innocently working on his laptop when it flashed the blue screen of death.
Obviously not his night for technology.
I was sitting in the living room working. My son, dressed in a red cowboy duster and red cowboy hat, rollerskated over and said:
Look at me, I’m so tall. When I was a little I was like a plate of lettuce!
Then he skated away.
I’ve lived across the water from my hometown for over a year without ever running across someone I knew growing up. When I go out I often run into college friends or people I know from the tech world. But I never see anyone from my reckless teen years.
Yesterday I was walking down Broadway with AEM and glanced in a store. I found myself staring right at one of my friends from back home, the only queer punk skateboarder in that dismal junior high school. He was looking back at me.
I kept walking.
This was a kid I really liked. When it was too dangerous for me to ride the bus home he invited me to hide at his house after school.
There were only about six freaky kids in that institution, and no more than a few dozen in the consolidated high school. Whatever solidarity we enjoyed was based mostly on the principle of safety in numbers. We were friends until graduation, when the crew of misfits split up and went off to have real lives.
I would have liked to say hello to my old friend, but I just didn’t know how.
Al is curating this and my daughter will be introducing acts:
Bands Against Bush
Friday October 3rd, 2003
Sylvester Park Gazebo
8-10 pm Free
Dub Narcotic Sound System
speaking: Phan Nguyen