Friday, October 19, 2007

Central Booking


I figure if I'm going to live in the five-borough insane asylum that is New York City, I should get out there and enjoy all the cultural stuff that this town has to offer.

I've done the Mayberry routine for a decade, living in small towns and wondering why.

I met some great people, but it wasn't for me, at least not at this stage of my life.

Everybody grew up together and everybody is pretty much married to everybody else--several times over. A single guy from out of town doesn't have too much to do on the weekends in these places.

All right, so here I am, back in the New York groove for 10 years now, and I often find myself crashing in front of the DVD player instead of going out on the town.

The other night I ordered myself to go to the Barnes & Noble at Union Square and see Richard Russo, who was reading from his latest novel, Bridge of Sighs .

It was cultural, something that I couldn't do in the sticks and it was happening early enough that I could go out on the town and raise all kinds of hell until the sun came up.

This was highly unlikely, of course, but I like to keep my options open.

The place was packed and the bookstore staff had set up camera to tape the event for the company's Web site.

I found a seat far enough back so I wouldn't have to make eye contact with the author and at the end of the row so I could take my aging kidneys for a men's room run in case the need arose.

I'm sitting there waiting for this thing to star and I hear these voices behind me.

I never got a really good look at these people, but it sounded like an elderly woman and her middle-aged son kvetching--kvetching to beat the band, kvetching like there's no tomorrow, kvetching like it's going out of style, are we clear on the kvetching situation?

Every word between these two was cause for some kind of argument and I have to hear every syllable of this crap.

It's just like when I go to the movies and the biggest loudmouth butthole on the Eastern Seaboard has to, simply must sit directly behind me.

What is it--the bald head that draws them in?

Are they going to do this all night? I harumpfed.

I harumpf to myself a lot. I'm in a state of near constant harumpf-a-tude, just about anything and everything can get me harumphing. I should join Harumphers Anonymous, if it exists, and if it doesn't, I should start the first chapter and make myself president.

The problem is that I rarely (read "never") speak up when people behave like this. I fear creating a scene, getting punched in the nose or being beaten over the head with whiffle ball bats.

So instead I fume, I rage, and I harumph.

I was fantasying about turning around very slowly and giving these people an industrial strength stink-eye when Richard Russo walked into the room and stepped on to the stage.

He stood before us, a giant illustration from Gulliver's Travels on one side of the wall behind him and a scene from Moby Dick on the other.

As the applause subsided, I wandered what it would be like if I were up there on stage, if I had actually finished this novel that I've been half-heartedly been working on since birth--or so it feels.

Wouldn't it great to fill a room with people who want to hear your words, to share a stage, more or less, with Jonathan Swift and Herman Melville? Somewhere between Lilliput and the white whale, there's got to be a place for me.

After a few opening remarks, Richard Russo began his reading and two amazing things happened: the Kvetchers actually shut their respective pieholes.

And I fell sound asleep.

I still can't believe it. I am so interested in cultural experiences, I want to enjoy the benefits of the city that never sleeps, but I can't stay awake.

I was like some old man in the park, snoring away while pigeons perch all over him.

I'm so glad I didn't sit up front. I could just imagine Russo looking down from the podium and seeing me nodding off.

I don't think he'd settle for just harumpfing. He probably hurl the book at my glistening pate.

"Wake up, you bald-headed son-of-a-bitch! You think I spent years of my life working on this thing just so you catch up on your sleep? This ain't no bedtime story, numb nuts!"

The Harrods Experiment

I did manage to wake up for the Q&A and I told myself that this was the most important part of the evening. I can always read the book on my own. Listening to the author talk about the writing process is far more important.

I'd like to think that no one noticed my Rip Van Winkle act, though that hardly seems likely. I hope the camera crew didn't get any footage of my drooping head.

When the program ended, I got up quickly with my eyes cast down. I didn't look at the Kvetchers or anyone else.

I kept my head low, half-expecting an autographed copy of Bridge of Sighs to come streaking across the room and bounce off my skull, but I made it to the escalator unscathed.

I had a dream about another huge retailer, only this was Harrods in London. This dream intrigues me because not only have I never been to Harrods, I haven't even thought about the place.

There was no sign of Herrods in my life and yet I'm dreaming about the place. The only think of is that an e-mail exchange with a British friend recently. But Harrods never came up.

In this dream, I apparently screw up an order for a picnic lunch and I had to go there to get it all squared away.

My sister showed up and started berating me for being out to lunch and when I mentioned this to her the next day, she shrugged and said, "oh, just like real life?"

A very dapper, upper crusty type man with a nice suit and a large mustache appeared and told me to follow him. We left the ritzy store and began walking down this dark spiral staircase, and it felt more like a dungeon than a department store.

I sat down in the waiting room with a bunch of other people and at some point I gave my sister some money--six bucks comes to mind--and told her to give it to the powers that be.

She left and returned a short time later smiling broadly. She assured me that everything was okay and when I asked for my six bucks back, she had no idea what I was talking about.

Harumpf!

I woke up back in Brooklyn and vowed that if I ever did go to Harrods, I'd never shop there again.

After the Barnes & Noble incident I decided to spend Saturday night in Brooklyn. I went to a local bar where a former local guy was playing in a band. There was little chance I'd fall asleep during this gig.

I met up with some people I knew and we all enjoyed the music. As usual, when I'm in a bar, I start looking around for some female companionship and I make eye contact with a woman at the end of the bar.

She smiles at me and I smile back. Hmmm...so many times in the past I've gotten encouraging looks from a woman and I turn away; I fail to act out of fear of rejection or a feeling of unworthiness.

I'm getting too old for this kind of school boy psychosis and, frankly, I'm tired of being alone.

She just a few feet away, I harumpfed. Go over and talk to her.

And that's what I do. I walk right up to her and I'm so proud of myself begin so aggressive and getting what I want.

Not too long ago, I would have let that woman get away from me and then cursed myself for the rest of the night for being a wuss. Now I was taking charge of my life.

Well, early on in my conversation with this woman, I find out three important facts about her: she's married, drunk and insane.

The first two don't last forever, but that last one, that's a little tricky. I found out she lived on 73rd Street, the scene of a terrible fire earlier this year, and when I mention this, she starts ranting.

I had trouble understand her, given her intoxication and madness, but it seemed that every other word was "fuck" and she and her husband--who was close by--couldn't get to their car on the morning of the fire.

She sat there, squinting, twitching, and cursing like Long John Silver in drag. All she needed was a parrot and a peg leg, and while I saw no sign of parrot poop, I confess I didn't look down at her gams. By that time I had seen quite enough.

I was actually able to laugh at this situation. Here was proof positive that there are no guarantees in life. Just because you decide to change doesn't mean you're going to be instantly rewarded.

It just means you made a decision about yourself and opened a new door, which can be reward enough sometimes.

I had a sudden urge to hit the head--oh, thank you, aging kidneys--and I beat a hasty retreat to the gents. I hid there for a few minutes and then slunk (slinked?) back to my companions.

I peeked over at the Pirate Queen and her husband--Captain Crud?--and saw they were drinking and arguing with each other. Gee, I'd feel terrible if I broke up such a happy couple.

It was time to go, oh, God, was it ever. All right, so I haven't met the woman of my dreams. I didn't connect with a famous author, and I never get my six bucks back.

But I expanded my world a little. And I think I'll stop all that harumpfing; it's not good for me.

From now on, if anything bugs me, I'll just say, arrrrrr!

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