Until it Sleeps

When Metallica finally recorded and released the follow-up to Metallica (aka “the black album”), it was deemed a disappointment by many. Some cried sell-out and it’s almost easy to understand why when you hear the finished result.

The Metallica of Master of Puppets, one of — if not the — best metal albums ever, had taken their leave. In their wake they left slower songs, discernible lyrics, not to mention a beefed-up production and a cry went out into the land and it was that producer Bob Rock hath made Metallica sound like ye olde Bon Jovi! Far from it. But as the opening riff pounds you to the wall and Hetfield shrieks “Outta my way!”, you find that you’ll do well to obey.

The runaway success of Metallica must have left the band in a quandary. Many long-time fans felt they had sold out when they streamlined their sound; some of us, newer to the scene, welcomed the advent of heavier music to the mainstream. But when the dust settled, it’s difficult to see Metallica as the pinnacle of the second part of their career. Yes, it’s a good metal record overall, containing a few classic tracks, ie. the singles Enter SandmanThe Unforgiven and the balls-out monster track Wherever I may roam.

Load is the album Metallica could have been. It’s a logical progression. It must have been a difficult choice for them: what direction to pursue? The trash metal that made their name or the slower grind that broke them to the masses? I for one can’t help but be pleased that they decided to go for broke and try on a new sound.

The simple fact is that while Load doesn’t measure up to the brutal, velocity-crazed brilliance of Master of Puppets, it really shouldn’t have to: They are two entirely different kinds of beasts. Make no mistake about it: Load is a gem. It is the sound of a band growing up; Metallica are in fact facing middle age; is it such a surprise that their outlook on things would change or that their sound would mellow somewhat with the advent of children and families?

Image-wise, they took the make-over too far; the Anton Korbijn Gen X photos that adorn the cover grate. Especially since the music contained on the disc is far removed from designer angst in vogue then as now. (Still, Lars Ulrich getting a haircut was surely not so bad: It looked pretty thin on top.)

Load shows a more melodic Metallica than before: Slower, and even “groove-oriented”, many simply felt this was an excuse for the band to play sloppily. They’re wrong. Load is the sound of a tight, confident band open to change. They even introduce pedal steel guitar, for the love of Gawd. This momentary lapse of heaviosity aside, I dare you not to be blown away by the rest: The riffs to Ain’t my bitch and 2×4 are gleefully malevolent and überheavy. Hetfield’s growl has never contained more malice, nor more authority, than here; He sounds more confident than ever, barking and spitting forth the lyrics with the confident swagger of a man on top of the world.

Like most albums these days, Load outstays its welcome, being simply too long. It could easily be trimmed by a few tracks with no major loss of quality. Some songs don’t really gel either: Poor Twisted Me feels more like a parody of Metallica than the real thing. But whatever…

Looking back, now given the perspective of a few more years, it’s far easier to look at Load as its own entity and simply listen to the music. In short, Load rocks like a motherfucker. And it’s certainly the only album of theirs that can be described as “groovy”. The Bon Jovi charges sound particularly groundless when Metallica even in mellower moments sound as if they could rip the New Jerseyites in half with little effort.

By way of a final complaint, or perhaps lament, I must admit I find it unfortunate that opening track of the following year’s Reload, Fuel, was not included here: It certainly would have done a bit to silence the album’s detractors. It is classic Metallica, balls, attitude and muscles: the sound of a 747 landing right on your nose.

They should have called it Loaded

12.10.2003 • Permalink

Autumn Sonata

The Creative Process
He sat with his journals in front of him, trying to find the opening line, trying to find the elusive words that would somehow catapult him into story. But nothing manifested itself. It seemed the pages laughed at him. What’s the matter? they would say, in their smug and complacent voices, Cat got your tongue? It went on for days. Then weeks. Every day a new sequence of letters, words, none that moved him, none that made him smile or frown or anything. The hell with it, he finally thought and snapped the journal shut. It’s just not time yet, he thought glumly. I suppose, he told himself, that one could use the brewing of beer as a metaphor, the fermenting process that needs to take place before the product is ready. (He also supposed that it might be too apt a metaphor, but shushed himself.) He went out for coffee. He had the street mostly to himself: Other people worked.

Religion
That evening found him screaming. He hadn’t meant to, but now it was necessary, had in fact gone beyond necessary, to simply primal. They were not screams of pain. They were screams of frustration, and powerlessness. Screams of despair. They were the screams of a man watching his brother drown. His retarded brother, true, but his brother nonetheless. But it was useless, like trying to stop an approaching tidal wave by pissing at it. What the fuck were they thinking? Playing 4-5-1 against Luxembourg? Playing Luxembourg with only a sole striker? The referee’s whistle sounded and the game was over. The room was hushed and funereal. Another round? said someone. Hell, yeah! muttered another. It was two beers before the hush left the room. After a few more, it was more like a wake.

Contemplation
After he went to bed, he tossed and turned. At long last, he closed his eyes and drifted off to sleep, carried on wings of sighs. He woke with a start, something he thought only happened in movies. He’d been awakened by a familiar voice, his bleary eyes making out a face in the dark. Happy, and not yet rid of the dream logic that told him the impossible was not only possible but highly probable, he reached out for her, waking himself up completely in the process. The remnants of the dream went the same way as his whispered I’ve missed you; into night and silence. Falling asleep the second time was even harder.

The Passing of Time
One morning, he peeked outside. There was ice on the ground. Ice! It was only mid-October. But the sun set early and the nights were longer than days and had been for weeks already. Where had time gone? Wasn’t he supposed to move somewhere? No, he had moved already. And returned. Time had passed. A whole year. Jesus, he thought, as the magnitude of it hit him. (Too dramatic, wasn’t it, to think of mortality over something as simple as frozen water and some dead leaves, but then again, wasn’t that just like him? And hell, it was the season for it. Who was he to deny his cultural heritage?) Jesus, he thought again. Fucking ice.

01.10.2003 • Permalink

The Sugarland Express

Nevermind Duel; The Sugarland Express is Steven Spielberg’s actual cinematic debut. (Duel was a TV movie, remember?) It was released in 1974 and was well received, although I don’t know about box offic performance. Later, I read in Empire how one critic commented that “watching (Malick’s) Badlands vs. Sugarland Express was seeing the difference between the artist and the smartass” or words to that effect. But Terence Malick has made three movies in 25 years (he’s currently working on a new project; its estimated opening should be no later than autumn of 2017) and Steven Spielberg is…well, Steven Spielberg.

Interestingly, few people I know have ever seen Sugarland Express, or are at all aware that it exists. A shame, as it’s quite a little corker. But then, it did well upon its release, I understand, so what do I know? I wasn’t even born then!

Goldie Hawn stars as Luann and Willam Atherton as her hubby, Clovis; Clovis is in jail. Luann has just been in jail (we don’t know what for) but has been released. The movie opens with her visiting Clovis in prison to tell him that she considers their marriage over. Unless he’s willing to escape with her; Their baby has been placed in a foster home and custody’s about to become permanent. Luann wants Clovis to come with and convince the foster parents to let them keep the baby. They escape (it’s a very minimum security prison, it seems) and catch a ride with a fellow inmate’s parents. At first Clovis doesn’t want to – quite reasonably, too: he only has four months left to serve; he only comes along because of Luann. As we learn throughout the movie, he is willing to let the baby go, as long as he can be with Luann. They get pulled over and before you can say “Hal Needham”, a chase ensues, cars are wrecked and they have kidnapped officer Slide, a highway patrolman. The race is on.

I’ve been interested in seeing this movie for a long time, and I wasn’t disapppointed, even if my roomate said “blah” after it was over. Like Badlands, the movie also looks at the American cult of outlaws; as they get closer to Sugarland, more and more people show up to cheer them on; one town even has a parade for them, and the fugitives find themselves as heroes, almost. Spielberg is, no matter what one says, not a stupid director. Yes, he’s fucked up along the way, and he’s boringly PC these days (although Minority Report, for all its obvious flaws, was the best future noir since Blade Runner, in my humble opinion), but when he’s on, he’s on. Sugarland Express is obviously a smaller movie than what we’re used to from him now: He was just a hungry young director then, Jaws and superstardom yet to happen. But his trademwarks are there: The sheer technical skill and the obvious confidence on display, the swift direction and expert pacing. And, like in so many of Spielberg’s movies, the protagonists are not really adults. They are (both are 25), but they are cut from the same cloth as Richard Dreyfuss in Close Encounters. Luann is somewhat child-like and doesn’t quite fathom that jailbreak and kidnapping probably won’t be points in their favour to get their baby back. Clovis knows this, but can’t quite bring himself to stop Luann either; he loves her. The point is rammed home by the captain himself: “Dammit, they’re just kids”, he says at one point. I have a thought that Luann’s child-mind might be further caused from the stress of having lost her baby –that in fact, she’s on the border of LaLa-land the whole time. It would explain some things about her behaviour and somewhat tenuous grip on reality.

The tentative friendship they strike up with their hostage, officer Slide, is handled very believingly. Moments such as when Clovis asks Slide if he could get a job as a patrolman and Slide stutters “With a record, you can’t. I think it’s againt the law” are genuine and often moving. In another scene, for example, Slide is handcuffed in the back seat of the car while they sleep: listening to the police radio, he hears Luann’s father (he’s been brought in to try and talk her out of it) putting her down and calling her names. When Luann returns, Slide asks her if she could turn off the radio, in order to spare her feelings. Their friendship, such as it is, is driven part by getting to know each other, part from pitying them. These are fine moments that show Spielberg is, in fact, not just a smartass hack, but a fine director fully capable of real emotion, rather than ersatz ones. Seen opposite Malick’s Badlands, its immediate parallel, I frankly like the characters in Sugarland Express better. Martin Sheen was a psycho, pure and simple, and it’s difficult to sympathise with that, no matter is he has a James Dean fixation or no. I’m not saying Badlands isn’t a terrific movie which everyone should run and see pronto, because it is. It’s just that Clovis and Luann are a lot more likable.

I also like the fact that the police for once are sympathetic: They do their damndest to stop the fugitives, but also don’t really want to hurt them. (“I’ve been on the force for 18 years, and I haven’t killed anyone yet…I aim to keep it that way” says the captain) This is one of the things that give the movies its emotional impact: we like all the main players and we want them to just get along; to sit down and have a drink in the end. The fact that we know there must be the inevitable showdown makes it all the more tense. And isn’t it weird that once upon a time, policemen were portrayed as dedicated and honest, you know, as good guys? In the end, Clovis has his gun returned to him by his captain: “I expect you’ll want this back” says the captain and walks away. Slide calls after him “They weren’t ever going to use it” but gets no reply. It’s a sad moment, and we all know that nobody really won. I dowish the media/fame aspect had been developed a bit more, but at the same time, I see why it wasn’t. This is a character study, not a media satire, so it’s wisely kept in the background.

Goldie Hawn liked the script enough to break her sabbatical following her Academy Award nomination. It was based on a real event, though I don’t know how much of it has been altered. Still, in real life, Luann served 15 months, but convinced the state that she was a fit mother and was granted custody after she was released. William Atherton, probably most known as the creep who tried to shut down Ghostbusters and the smarmy reporter in the first two Die Hard movies, plays Clovis very well; he’s the perfect mix of nervous and reckless. Kudos also to John Williams (of course) for a different musical score: no huge symphonic movements, just some twangy and dusty harmonica tones with some oddly modern-sounding backbeats; a bit like Ry Cooder, but not as familiarly dull, if that makes sense.

Spielberg went on to make Jaws after this; nothing else needs to be said about his career, except that it would be wonderful to see him do another movie like this, where people are the special effects. Barring his two amazing war movies, this (and I guess Jaws) might just be his most human movie. There are none of the overwrought and often misplaced histrionics that mars even his best work, such as Schindler’s List. (Partly, I think, because he doesn’t quite trust the audience to be moved sufficiently on their own –strange, given his skill, but perhaps stemming from the belated artistic recognition.) It’s not perfect, but it’s the sort of movie rarely seen these days; an action drama with actual heart and real characters. It’s also very ’70s American auteur, kissing cousins with Badlands and Bonnie and Clyde et al. So give it a spin.


  • Director: Steven Spielberg
  • Cast: Goldie Hawn, William Atherton,
22.09.2003 • Permalink

New Jersey Moments

The Salon
I pop my head into the salon; a fey-looking guy wielding a pair of scissors turns around. “Do you do guys?” I ask, innocently. He looks at me, shock and some embarrassment in his eyes. Perhaps I phrased it badly; this is New Jersey, after all, not San Francisco. “I need a trim” I hasten to add. Relief on his face? “Sure, my friend” he says, motioning to the chair; “sit down, sit down.” I explain how I want it, in very simple terms. It’s a cut I’ve had many, many times before. He nods briskly, as if I insult him by explaining, and gets to work. Cutters used liberally, buzzing in my ears like angry bees, I realize it all went wrong from the beginning. After he’s done, he says “Take a look. Handsome guy, eh?” It’s awful. Buzzcut on the sides, with just a bit left on top; nowhere enough to style, plus, it’s cut too close to the middle, accentuating the roundness of my head even more. My ears stick out like Dumbo’s, seemingly trying to flee this embarrassment. My God, I gasp inside as I realize; I have a reverse mullet! Fearing further follicular damage, I pay up and leave. Seems I was correct after all. He did do guys.

The Laundromat
“I need to make a phone call” he says, “can you help me with a quarter?” The laundromat is empty, save for an Asian guy at the back, folding his sheets with the care of someone a few of the same to the wind ; I have a couple of quarters in my pocket.”“Sorry” I reply. “I need to make a phone call” he repeats, as if that would sway me. I shrug and return to my book. He looks at me with anger, as if I owed him a quarter, for some reason. He moves on to the other guy, who gives him a quarter to make him leave. As he heads for the door, he glowers at me, accusation written all over him. “He helped” he says, before he exits. I suppose I could point out that he tried getting money from me the day before, but what’s the point? At least he didn’t yell at me this time. I see him begging from other people; they all give him something. All of a sudden, I feel like a hard man. Perversely appealing it is, too.


The Office

“How do you measure things?”
“What do you mean?” I ‘m confused; the two look at me with anticipation.
“Well, how do you measure stuff?” Oh, I get it. Something slithers across the dirtier crevices of my brain and it blurts out, though with the slightly hesistant air of a question, lacking somewhat in conviction and authority: “With my dick!”
They look at me, uncertain of what to say, what to do. Laughter lurks somewhere beneath those faces, but shock too; well, perhaps not shock, merely distaste.
“Where you’re from…in feet…or in metric?” he finally says, holding up a ruler to illustrate his point, but it’s too late by far; the words are out there, irretrievable.
“Jesus, it’s been a long week.” he mumbles, sounding tired and somewhat despondent. She just leaves, laughing, of sorts, without much mirth. New fucking Jersey.

Meteorology
Today marks three straight weeks of rain, a near-constant downpour, relentless and utterly unsympathetic to the plight of the sun-starved soul. Today is officially the first day of summer. Somebody fucked up somewhere.

09.06.2003 • Permalink

And never the twain…

My trip to California was a marvel: I spent three full days on the train, from coast to coast, Boston to Emeryville, MA to CA, seeing some of what lies between. The rails lay across the country like tiny sketch marks on a piece a paper, through valleys and over peaks and there was such a solidity to the emptiness, a vastness so crushing and humbling as to make me feel tinier than ever. There were scenes of weathered decay, like the sad-eyed hunching cowboys of legend staring at the passing train with the moribund melancholy of an ant stuck on glue paper; windswept hamlets where prairie dust ghosted the air and the only whispers were those of the wind through deserted shacks. Especially one sight I remember so clearly in its bizarreness: a field of rusting yellow school buses, some covered by sand, as if being reclaimed by the earth, so to speak, most of them without wheels, their windows and lights broken; eyes bereft of life and soul. It was like a graveyard for elephants, a bone-dry beach covered with metallic beached whales. I saw it, as did everyone else who on the train who peeked out the window at that time, so it was certainly not an experience I can smugly call my own, but still…there it was. Closing in on the final destination, the train came in over the Sierras and even though the sun was setting and much was lost, I still saw enough to whet my appetite for a return; another journey for another year. That is how it must be.

The trip, though smooth, was not entirely without incident: Halfway between Chicago and Emeryville, the train had to stop and was delayed for hours, thanks to a mudslide that required the tracks to be cleared. It was during the night, and most of us were asleep, but I woke up, as is my wont, just in time to catch a glimpse of the thunderstorm outside. A bolt of lightning lit up the horizon and it was like staring into a nightmare, indecipherable shapes and forms reaching out for us, moving threateningly in the wind, with the rain whipping the windows, as if in a terrified frenzy to get inside. The moment passed and I went back to sleep, but the moment lingered, even if the next day was all sun and light. The second occurred when we were almost in Emeryville. The train took off from a station and the conductor apologized again for the delays. “But at the very least, nothing else can happen to make us later. The nest stop is the second to last, and we should be in Emeryville in about 45 minutes.” she said cheerfully. The train rolled into Emeryville about an hour and a half later, having spent about an hour at the second to last stop; it took time getting the dead guy off the train.

The point is: It was a bit of a journey, a journey that itself was a destination. I spoke to some people, watched the scenery, wrote some notes, read my book and stood cramped in the “bar” while Morris, the very entertaining bartender-cum-chef, failed to notice the smokers exhaling forcefully out the window, cradling their cigarettes close to their chest as inconspicuously as they could. Then again, I suppose the smoke from Morris’ unfiltered Lucky Strikes got in his eyes and blinded him temporarily. I felt fulfilled after it, replenished, as if I had done something worthwhile. One more thing to cross off the to-do-list. And one more to add: The return trip from LA goes through the deep south. And that, y’all, was my plan for the return trip.

Alas, it was not to be. I am writing this on the floor of my summer abode in New Jersey; Apart from an inflatable mattress and an armoire that I am convinced will topple and fall on me one night, killing me instantly, leaving me to be found by whatever new tenant in a few months. I do have a computer, though. An odd combination, but hey, we’re all post-modern people here, so we can deal.

My trip to Jersey was sudden, to say the least. I got a job and had about one month to get prepared, wrap up at the Rep, pack and move. As always, there was so much going on and it simply snuck up on me. I cleaned out my desk on Thursday, an oddly emotional experience (a week and a day after seeing “The Guys”, an oddly unemotional experience), then flew from Oakland to JFK the next day. Saturday would be spent looking for housing; two sublets had at that point fallen through my fingers, the second one just the day before, causing me no small grief. You can put the boy in California, but you can’t put California in the boy: “Chill out” never figured in my vocabulary too much, as my friends and acquaintances can attest to. In my view, the glass is often half full…draining away, drop by drop, just as the well of life inorexably moves towards that final emptiness… Erm…life as a pint glass, anyone? But hey: Resurrection in a refill! (If I’d only drink slower, eh?) That said, I had a brief period after experiencing Australia when I existed in a blissful state and “no worries”, the Aussie national motto, became my personal mantra as well. It lasted for a while, longer than I expected it to, but ultimately, I sobered up. To get around to the point: I arrived at JFK without the usual serenity this tends to instill in me: Weirdly enough, I go to New York to relax. Put me in an aggressive crowd of people, nasty bag ladies and profligate cabbies and I’m a happy guy. If I have problems, New York solves them; I walk down the streets, skyscrapers surrounding me, looking down the avenues, those corridor of steel and glass and reflected light, feeling dwarfed by the immensity of it all. Here, I am insignificant, a tiny speck of no importance, and consequently my problems are as insignificant as I am, even less so. It’s a fairly simple process, but it works. Plus, New York is a fun place to be. Good pizza, fashionable ladies and Coyote Ugly over on 1st Ave…hey, if it ain’t broke…

But now I found myself with no place to stay after the first two nights at the hotel, my job to start on Monday. I sighed, dragged my luggage onto the bus and set off for Grand Central Station. Once there, I collected my stuff from the milling people, waved off the hustlers, and waited for the hotel shuttle to arrive. It didn’t, so I hailed a cab instead. At the hotel, I was going to pay the cabbie: I had no money, I found. The 50 dollars that had until recently been in my pocket was gone. The bustle and scuffing of retrieving the luggage outside the bus was where it happened. It had to be. Great: I’d been in New York for about half an hour and my pocket got picked. For the first time. Luckily, my wallet and passport were still in my inner pocket, it was just the loose cash in my pocket. I travel with a large wallet and sometimes keep my cash in my pocket, so I don’t have to drag the thing out. Thank God. The cabbie was nice enough to believe me; after all, I had rather a lot to carry, so I couldn’t run off in the first place. The receptionist paid the cabbie with no fuzz and charged it to my bill. I was there, at least.

I could barely fit my stuff in my room, but I did, somehow, and sat there wondering what to do. I had planned a nice steak and a beer or two with my money. Fuck it, I thought, and went out anyway; the beer flowed, not too much of it, as I was tired and it hit me right away, but enough. The bartender, seeing me unable to concentrate on my book and generally looking miserable, leaned over and asked in a soft Irish accent if there was anythin’ wrong, like. It was a slow night and I was a long way from home and frustrated and somewhat lonely and I was suitably lubricated, so I started speaking, veering off the immediate problems at hand almost instantly. Having made some insightful and, for a serving establishment, original points about people (we’re idiots) and the world at large (it’s all fucked), I left with another beer, this one on the house, under my belt.

The day after, I went out to New Jersey, having but a tiny hope and a guy to see about a sublet. It worked out, as simple as that. I could collect the keys the next day in Manhattan, as the guy was moving to the city so nice they named it twice for the summer months. I subsequently spent a day meandering about Manhattan, which is always nice, but I was still antsy; I rented a car to get my stuff to New Brunswick, as there was no way in hell I was getting on the train with all of it. It would have been a nightmare, no doubt about it. So my driving debut on a Sunday on the East Coast of the United States of America took place in Manhattan; it was a grey day, the sidewalks filled with joyless faces trudging away like a thousand lonely funeral processions while the cabbies’ plaintive cries of “fuck you” and car horns ghosted the muggy air. It was grand. I went through the Holland tunnel and then I was in New Jersey, on that famous turnpike; the metal frames of the industrial plants all around me, smokestacks rising from the ground like parodies of flower stems, clouds of acrid smoke the petals to crown them; bony, arthritic fingers pointing skywards. I happily missed my exit and turned a 50-minute drive into a three-hour long adventure. I’m not sure, but I think I swung by Philadelphia: I have flashbacks of cheese steak and cracked bells. As I said, it was grand. The return trip the next day was even better, as I got to ride in genuine Manhattan rush traffic, but I digress.

New Brunswick is not much on first sight, nor on second, nor indeed, the third: Somebody said I’d love it, after all, I enjoyed Providence. New Brunswick is not Providence; for all its flaws, Providence has an actual city scene, you just have to get used to it. I guess the same goes for here, but I was hoping there would be something that leapt at me right away. But the sunset was lovely today, perhaps from all the smog, who knows? I wandered around, hoping to find some pub not milling with drunken fratboys. I was not successful. It’s out there somewhere, but the search goes on for the time being. There is something unsettling about streets full of young people and nothing but: It’s somewhat like walking into your own personal Stepford or something. Not a wrinkle in sight, nor a grey hair, just surrounded by one large, singular demographic. And yet, as I rounded a corner, glumly thinking about already missing Berkeley (if not the bums), which I’d sworn not to, at least not at first, I came upon something that made me giggle like an idiot. Rising from the ground, tall as two men, stood a silver tuning-fork. Did it hum to the vibrations of Mother Earth? Fuck knows. But there it was, some sort of sign.

I’ve only been here one week and a day now. My head is still reeling and will be for quite some time; I need to sit down and breathe, methinks. The other day, I woke up, thinking I was still in Berkeley; what the hell happened to my bed? I thought, before realizing where I was: New Brunswick, New Jersey. Alleged Armpit of America (the shaved part, thankfully) A most strange sensation, I must say. I can’t quite escape feeling somehow like a conqueror vanquished, or at the very least like an unsuccessful explorer; wasn’t I supposed to have left more of a mark or come across some profound, life-altering insight or something? Is it enough to simply say “I made some friends; I laughed and I cried. I rolled a strike and a spare and I sang a sad song and maybe, traveling through those months, I learned something on the way.” Is it really enough? Of course it is.

The itinerant soul has a nasty habit of constantly running after that greener grass, never quite stopping to compare the local greens with those in the Pantone book. Then you stop and look back over your shoulder and think “Hey, what’s that emerald sheen back there?” Hey…the show must go on, as they say in theatre and thus begins another chapter. There will be more, as always.

07.06.2003 • Permalink

The Grosse Apfel

The bustle of Grand Central Station a blur of yellow taxis and scissoring legs like always; I retrieve my luggage as well as I can amidst the tourists and the penny hustlers: Need a hand? No! And there’s a throng of bodies and sombody bumps into me on one side and again on the other and when at last I am at the hotel, I reach into my pocket to pay the cabbie and my cash is gone. I’m in New York for less than a minute and I’m out 50 bucks. Pickpockets; never happened to me before, and there’s always going to be a first. New York: The City so nice they named it twice.

In the hotel room, my luggage eats up the tiny space and I feel claustrophobia approaching; there is nothing outside but a brick wall and dark windows. I can hear the noise somewhere around the corner, far below. All my belongings in the room. I only lost cash, not my credit cards or anything, so I’m fine, but it still stings. I have no place to stay next week; I have two days to find a sublet and be at work as a happy new employee. I feel lonely and a thousand miles removed from everywhere; the TV offers a sort of companionship, but it’s not enough. I need closeness of some sort, a proximity to warm and breathing bodies, to conversation and laughter. But the money is gone, most of what I had for the week-end at least. I lock up and go out on the streets.

I wander aimlessly around midtown; everywhere, people pass by, laughing and talking, others beg for pennies, empty-eyed, while others yet have given up, collapsed on the street in a bundle of rags and themselves, the sharp stench of urine blending too easily with the passing Gucci and Armani. New York, the city I love and have loved since I first came here, is a crual place and I can’t escape that. I remeber the first time: A taxi bringing me from the airport and the legendary skyline moving steadily closer. And then, the many visits after that, approaching Manhattan from the north, always that same giddy feeling. The Empire State building…the icon of dated modern marvel. But like most, I now prefer the Chrysler building by far, though of course, the view of the city can only be enjoyed from the Empire State.

There was always solace here: Perhaps in the massive canyons of steel and concrete and glass, I can lose myself easily. I feel insignificant here, a mote among the giants and whatever ails me pales into the same kind of insignificance; also, the life, the vibrancy of a place that never quite settles down is a godsend. People getting on with it: It can be such a beautiful thing. The lights…the lights.

And yet, tonight, I can’t quite relax…there is an unease in me, an unhappiness that even a bite of the big apple can’t negate. I feel cast adrift, restless, hungry. This was to be an escape, but how can you escape yourself and your missteps? I stand on the top of Times Square and head back east…I walk up 3rd Avenue and am bemused to find myself amongst such a collection of Irish pubs that I might as well be on the Emerald Isle…it’s almost funny and they’re all too clean, too polished. I go over on 1st, look down toward the UN and walk further up to check out the bridge. It strikes me that I have never been this way and I am childishly curious. It’s massive, what can I say? Too tired to appreciate it fully, I decide to pack it in for the night, get some rest and save some cash, but I go to a bar anyway; it’s quiet in there, away from the genreal public that we are. I have brought a book and try reading, but I can’t concentrate, there’s too much going on in my head, anger and darkness and loneliness and regret and I sit here, right here, in the heart of this city, this country, this world, this universe, among all these people and still I’m alone and what am I doing wrong? and then the bartender comes over and asks, in his Irish accent, if there’s anythin’ wrong, like?

no home/pocket picked/nervous/new job/new life/alone

I put my book down, lifting my glass as he looks at me with, for whatever reason, some mild interest, and hey, it’s just a slow night in here anyway and my mouth opens and these words come spilling out like beer from the tap and stop me if you’ve heard this one before:

“Well, there was this girl…”

15.05.2003 • Permalink

November

November

Damn the rear view mirror!

Drive on, Orpheus,
Don’t make that old mistake
of looking back;
You know there’ll be trouble.

They say
we learn from our mistakes.
But Orpheus, you of all people
Should know: It’s about trust.

Don’t look back.
You already know
the bridges are burned.

You say: “I know, but
There’s this voice…”

01.05.2003 • Permalink