Sunday, May 18, 2008
In this great future, you can't forget your past.
I was standing at the 59th Street subway station the other night when a man near me took out a trumpet and began playing a jazzy rendition of “Amazing Grace.”
It was late and I was tired, but this guy was good.
We never used to have subway musicians in the Bay Ridge area train stations.
We had beggars, hobos, drunks or bums—we didn’t say “homeless” back then—but there were no street entertainers to speak of, none of the guitar players or singers or jugglers or other kinds of urban entertainment that you saw in “the city,” which is what people called Manhattan.
I guess now that Brooklyn is getting more gentrified, the subway performers are migrating along with the new outer borough residents.
Standing on that platform, I found it comforting to hear a song about being lost and then found, about being blind, and now able to see, especially in light of recent events in my life.
It started with the numbers, or least that’s my theory.
One recent Saturday I was doing my usual when I went to my local fruit stand and rang up a bill of $9.99.
“Hmm,” I thought, “how often does than happen?”
Funny I should ask. I left the fruit stand, walked three blocks to the drug store and rang up a bill of…$9.99. This was getting too weird.
Some people told me I should play that number—whatever that means-- but all I could see was 666 standing on its head.
I went to the butcher shop a few days later and the total came out to $7.77. Is the universe coming into some kind of strange alignment? Is this beginning of the Apocalypse, the End of Days?
And why do I keep hearing the theme song from the old TV show 77 Sunset Strip?
“You should play that number,” the cashier told me.
And then there’s the music. I was walking through the subway station at Grand Central on my way to a conference when I heard a woman singing “Top of the World” by—ugh!—The Carpenters, which I had not heard in decades. (And I’m not complaining at all.)
This song is so painfully saccharine it can make your cheeks suck in, and yet this woman was somehow doing a nice job with it. She had a fine voice and she slowed the tempo down and she was…good? I tossed her a buck and got a smile in return.
On the way back from the conference, a guy on a subway platform was singing “No Woman, No Cry.” I got a few bars before the doors closed and the train moved on.
I was in a local saloon the other night when I just had to get out of the house and away from the damn TV and heard “Wichita Lineman” by Glen Campbell. Hell, I hadn’t heard this song in…decades. What’s going on here?
On the D train yesterday, a group of Mexican musicians moved through my car doing a mariachi rendition of “Jambalaya.”
It was…different, but I still tossed a buck into one of band members’ outstretched Stetsons. However, one our fellow passengers who was yakking on his cell phone didn’t seem to be enjoying the show.
Speaking of cell phones, I was at the ATM at the bank near my office when I heard "In the Mood" playing. I turned and saw this older gentleman take out his cell phone. I wanted to tell him what a great ringer he had, but he was deep in conversation with someone who sounded like a defendant in a criminal trial.
And I may have Carpenters on the brain, but I’d swear I heard another woman singing “Top of the World” at the 36th R station the other night. This all feels like a soundtrack to a movie with no script and I'm the leading man.
You Still Here?
People are also giving me a pain in the past.
I was looking up a former co-worker on Google—I still haven’t learned my lesson with this yet—and I come to find out this person, who hasn’t returned any of my phone calls or emails, who was so clueless about reporting that he or she (cagey bastard, ain’t I?) would ask me how to interview people, is now an editor at a screaming, major honking media company.
So I bet you think I’m jealous or envious or both, don't you?
You’re goddamn right I am. I’m furious, I’m greener than a month old loaf of bed. How dare this person or any person for that matter have a better gig than me?
This is unmitigated bullshit and I demand satisfaction. Maybe I should play one of those numbers, strike it rich and then moon all of humanity from the backseat of my limo. Put this on the top of your world, you sons-of-bitches.
Now I should mention here that I work for a major media company, too, but, of course I’m not satisfied. What--I should be happy with what I have?
I got a call from a headhunter last week. Like all headhunters, she had this great job she wanted to tell me about and while I’m not complaining about my current gig—too much—I always like to hear what else is going out there.
We kicked around the idea of getting together and then she happens to let slip the name of my potential new employer.
“Boo Radley is looking for someone like you.”
“Boo Radley?” I asked in disbelief. “Boo Radley from WTF?”
“Why, yes. Is that a problem?”
Yes, lady, as a matter of fact it is. I know Boo Radley, having had the misfortune of working with him at WTF.
Of course his name really isn’t Boo Radley—though the physical resemblance is there—and our former company wasn’t called WTF. But everything else was all too bloody real.
I thought this clown was out of my life, but here he is turning up like a bad Carpenters’ tune. (Wait a minute--all the Carpenters’ tunes are bad.)
I pulled myself out of the running for this position and told the headhunter to have a nice day. I didn't want anything to do with Boo and I'm sure Boo would feel likewise, so let's put this puppy to rest.
I saw a man on the R train last night studiously fussing with the wire cap on an old beer bottle. He was huge, with a big mustache and wearing a pair of paint-stained black shorts.
Like a lot of people who ride the trains, he wanted to people to notice him so he sang as he worked on his beer bottles.
He wasn't singing any lyrics, just a lot of "dot-ta-dah, dot-ta-dah" stuff, but then I picked up on the tune. It was “Honeymoon Hotel,” a song from Footlight Parade, an old Busby Berkeley musical with Jimmy Cagney that my mother and I used to enjoy together.
We used to laugh at the elaborate sets and dance numbers, all of which were supposed to be taking place live on a stage some place even though there were fade outs and close ups and other sorts of cinematic techniques.
I hadn’t heard that song in…oh, well, you get the idea.
The same movie features the hit “Shanghai Lil,” but the bottle man got off the train before he reached that number.
I still don't know what all the numbers and songs mean, but I know I have to work on my attitude. All this anger, jealousy, or envy, it's not good for a wretch like me.
I have to change my tune.
I got a weather alert on my computer just now telling me the temperature in Brooklyn is 55.5 degrees...