Photo Album Link to illustrations: http://tinyurl.com/npeldus
Hello again, everyone. I’ve been working on this one since the second week in September, so I’m running behind. But, the photos are interesting and high-def; with luck the story will be too.
[Now I can go back to forming my new band, and I can’t wait to get it going. Experimental music, totally improvisational, with guidelines, and it’s going to be fun. I’ll blog again when it’s a reality.]
I went on my first vacation in 5 years. Last time I went out West. I’ve been here in Vermont, wanting to visit my friends in New York City but not doing so because I was poor. [Things are better now!] I saw an opportunity coming up – my apartment, in fact the entire building, 65 apartments, was being renovated this summer – new bathroom fixtures, thermostat, heating system and valves, new windows, and a new exhaust fan with a motion detector in the bathroom which produces a tiny alien-green glowspot when I enter without turning on the light (which is now glaringly bright).
They said mine would be done early in the month of September, so on the 4th, I drove away. For a week, all had been covered in plastic tarps, which made it difficult to put anything away, or to find anything. To redo the windows, they needed 3 feet of clearance around each. In a pretty small apartment, that means everything gets pushed or carried to the middle of the room, which is where I usually move around and LIVE. I had to work around all that, and cover whatever I could, since they’d be smashing sheetrock and creating lots of dust.
They told me they’d be in here that first week, so I drove down and spent a few days in Croton-on-Hudson, 50 miles above NYC, visiting my old buddy Steve from the Cool Jerks (our Soul band), and then went into the city itself, visiting a half dozen of my best friends from long ago. [I moved out in the mid -1980s.] I had a great time, and I got a “DeArmand Jetstar” - go to Google, search Images, and you’ll see. Yes, it’s bright red – solid mahogany as seen through a thin candy apple red lacquer.
On Tuesday, September 2nd, I drove down to Steve’s. Many miles and it was over 80 degrees. No AC, just a radio and a cassette deck through lousy speakers. Open windows…not too much – kind of noisy out there.
Down I-89, down I-91, hundreds of miles flew by. On into Connecticut, where I-84 can play with your mind. Driving through Connecticut is to kill yourself for. By the time you cross into New York, the going, and the signs, get simpler.
My faithful Mapquest itinerary screwed me up twice – once on I-84, when I found out the printout had its columns out of alignment, ho ho. I said to a citizen, “Where did I miss 284,” and he replied, “That’s not for another 60 miles.” We chuckled at the naivety of my Mapquest printout. Back to I-84 went I. Much later, a block or two from Steve’s, in Croton, my Mapquest information steered me wrongly. To put it simply, I spent five puzzled minutes and called Steve, who was puzzled at my puzzlement (until he saw what I meant), and then went to his house no problem. Mapquest just didn’t think it necessary to tell me that his road intersected mine twice. First I’d pass one end, then a block or two later I pass the actual corner to turn at, where he lives. Like a fool, I turned at the correct street. Ahem.
It was great to see Steve, and we talked of many things. Unfortunately, he was stressed about a family issue which was a distraction, but was okay. I mean, he was sort of “on call”. I came down on a Tuesday, and we were up a bit late that evening. We spent Wednesday and Thursday together, taking a break for a trip to the library computer both days, to break into my email. (On his home computer, it was a pain for him to sign off and back on, so anything I did there was as Him.) He showed me around the neighborhood, and showed me a lot of his great stuff. He collects books, music, and amazing historical ephemera. That’s his job.
On Friday he had to start his weekend routines, and I was off to the city. The train was only an hour, and round-trip for an old codger was $19.50. In the city, I arranged to meet my cousin Caren for the first time. I’d talked with her online because my cousin Paul had been in touch, so now We were in touch, and met at Times Square, right after I had coffee at a strange “we have the best ingredients and everyone is in a hurry” breakfast place off Bryant Park. I just had coffee because I was meeting Caren.
Caren is great. We had a funny paper-plate breakfast in a narrow tiled breakfast place (probably lunch too), also with good ingredients. I became #382, and when I picked up my order, I put down the number. Caren’s a singer, her
boyfriend/husband is feeling better, and we had a nice chat/meeting. Then she went to work and I went down to the Village to meet Fran, an old friend of mine from over 30 years ago. We’d been a couple (a pickled one, but still). It was wonderful to see her too. Now we’re both sober. She’s a therapist, and really good. Not that she struts – far from it. But we had a great time, and I even got to see her apartment, where I’d stayed the night long ago and was located across the street from the apartment I did not keep, when I moved to Vermont in 1984. She had to walk the dog, and then she went off to the movies (she’s an avid movie freak, as am I, though with mostly different tastes) to see “Frank,” about a guy who wears a giant puppet-head all the time.
I didn’t join her; I went back up 2nd Avenue in the hot sun. My bag, with four changes of clothing, seemed to weigh a ton. The shoulder strap was starting to rip the bag on one side, so I used the handle. First one hand for a block, then the other for a block. Set down. Pick up. I looked forward to storing it.
I trudged up the avenue unaware that in the center of the broad sidewalk, at the junction of two concrete slabs, the one on the left was an inch and a half higher. I hit it with my left foot, and down I went, catching myself with my right hand. A half dozen voices asked, “Are you okay?” and a man with a strong arm helped me up. He lifted me back to my feet like a man who carries heavy objects all day, with a grip that could hold your entire weight if you were in the movies dangling off a building. “Yes…thank you,” I replied, and the man who helped me backed up when he heard I was okay. Everyone resumed what they were doing. I walked on, starting to consider just what shape I was in.
I carried my bag down the length of St. Marks Place, marveling at the ridiculously exaggerated tourist trap stores that lined the street. I crossed 3rd Avenue and sat down on a bench by the corner of Cooper Union to take stock. I looked at my right palm: it was red. My rib didn’t feel too good, my hand didn’t feel too bad and, most importantly, I had not sprained my foot (which is what happens usually in this type of incident). I sighed with relief, and took some pictures from my vantage point facing a lovely tree with a glass tower behind it. People poured by in all directions. To my right was the corner of St. Marks Place, down which I had just walked, and I saw a dozen new glass skyscrapers from my spot. My bag was too heavy. Fool that I’d been – I knew it now.
In Brooklyn, Desmond and Nancy were deciding if I could spend the night, as they too were having renovations and a chaotic time. Ordinarily, as I did years ago, they would freely offer their hospitality, but this time Des had been saying it was up in the air. As it was, I felt I had to ask – Peter’s place was having even more extreme renovations, and no one else was calling me back. I hadn’t researched hotels and airBnB – guess I wasn’t an efficient tourist.
Several phone calls later, I sat in what for me was a very unusual restaurant – totally salad-bar and vegetable juice, but all formica and brightly lit. I had a falafel, put ten things on it, got a big carrot juice. I sat at the window and ate. An endless stream of people passed by, most of them dressed conspicuously well. Then the phone rang, and they were okay, and I was invited to Brooklyn. I walked to the West 4th Street station and took the F train.
The trip was beautiful. When we left the tunnel and took to the air I was as impressed as ever. We rattled and soared above the beautiful though filthy Gowanus Canal, and I thought about the stories I’d read about it becoming gentrified, re-purposed and happening, and though I didn’t want to stand at the window and gape, the views were of blank walls and industrial nothings with parking lots, trucks and no one to be seen. Beautiful anyway. Got to the right station, asked which way to 10th Street, and off I went. I was glad to be approaching the time I could set my bag down. I was weary.
Des and Nancy and Tyler and Liam – great family, wonderful to see Nancy and of course Des, who is surely one of my gurus. (So are Steve, Peter, and Fran, really. After this trip, I can also add Caren.) I loved getting back to Brooklyn – changed as it is, it’s still home. I can relate to it and its people. My people. The walk several blocks to their house was pleasant. Brooklyn’s a nice place to live (if a bit crowded). The evening went by, the kids went out, I took a pill for my rib, and I got to sleep in a real bed! It was swell. I was offered dinner, but I’d already eaten at that space-age falafel shop.
The next day, I went back to the city, had a nice cappuccino at Rocco’s, an iced one in a tall glass, with enough ice but too much milk – I turned my head and she came up, “Too light?” she guessed, and I nodded, and she said, “I’ll get you a shot on the side,” and she did, and it was just great putting that last hot espresso into the big glass and watching it get perfect. And I got to add my sugar to the hot shot, much easier to dissolve. Superb, with one more sfogliatelle. I watched the day be beautiful, first from Rocco’s and then from the park across the street. Lovely little triangle park, everyone guarded, most on some phone or computer. Some old timers though – the great thing about New York City is that just when you think it’s been taken over by these hip youngsters in classic tribal garb, you see an old survivor, shuffling by, or running, or yelling, somehow telling you that Real New Yorkers are all over the place.
I strolled through the Village on Bleecker Street, then down West Broadway to Soho. I had known Soho in the 1960s when it was Little Italy, pretty dead at night, and you (a long-hair) better not be found by the local teenagers. Then came artists and other seekers of loft-space. Now it was a sort of Fifth Avenue (the Fifth Avenue of my youth, a wide street with fancy stores) and I just kept walking. It was crowded with people, dressed well, all going somewhere or buying something. I zig-zagged over to Peter’s block, walking up to his house just as he returned from walking his dog. We had a nice afternoon, talking about all sorts of things and then playing music. Proud to know him - hope we work together again someday!
Back to Brooklyn to take Des and his gang to dinner. I returned to the subway, and eventually arrived. Des is an actor these days, and had worked in a commercial which had taken a long time – a music video, I think, and he told us all about the craziness. He tells a wonderful story. It involved a microwaved honeydew melon, some of which he was still picking out of his hair, even after a shower. Amazing, and a great story.
We decided on Thai food, walked there, and it was pretty darn good. Nice to see the neighborhood, too. Of course, I didn’t bother to take my camera and do a lot of stopping and shooting, so you won’t see this place at all. But it was a nice evening.
We got back, and Des took me up to his music room. He demonstrated some of his guitars, and let me try them. I rarely talk to guitar guys about sounds and comparisons, so it was nice. The next day, he took me to a gigantic music store and we looked at myriad guitars. Rare guitar room. Whoa. Then we went off to Manhattan to meet David Godlis where once was CBGBs.
David is doing a book about the CBGB years – he’s one of the top photographers who took all the classic photos in the late 1970s of everyone on the scene there. I was at his wedding – guess that was almost as far back. Time has flown. Des and I floated around the astounding and ridiculous John Varvatos Store on the former site of CBs (“Why is this t-shirt $178,” said yours truly, the peasant, “is it bulletproof?”). Then we got a call from David, who said he was waiting across the street! He waved. We went across the street and met David for coffee at a place called “Think Coffee.” It was nice to bring them together – Des used to be partners with one of the other photographers on the scene back then, so they knew each other a bit, and had many mutual friends. Wouldst that I could say we sat for hours, but of course we couldn’t. We got up, and we all split up. David went off to accomplish something and Des went back to Brooklyn to do things.
I went to find the hotel I’d found online and booked a room for on my last night: The Hotel Larchmont on 11th just past Fifth Avenue, so I could put down my bags, which now included a guitar. (Nancy was nice enough to lend me a nice found backpack to help distribute the weight of my stuff.) Nice little hotel – a bit like a hotel fashioned from two brownstones, and just that size. With an elevator. The bathrooms were down the hall – two, one with a shower. We were to share the bathrooms; it seemed there were a half dozen rooms in the vicinity. I looked around, enjoyed not carrying my bag, looked forward to shopping for shoes and deciding on dinner.
Up to 14th Street, camera in hand, as it grew dark. Des said 14th Street was it for shoes now – used to be 8th Street, fifteen shoe stores in the course of five blocks. Towards Union Square, I found “Journeys,” which thankfully wasn’t blasting hip-hop, and the guys were really nice, if preoccupied. Their friends wandered in and out, one with a tall colored Mohawk. I bought some nice shoes – grey – skateboard shoes, he said. I bought them, after trying a few sizes. They say “DC” and usually I don’t like writing on my clothes, but they were so sober for a hip shoe that there’s a real charm to them anyway.
After taking a few shots of the store, I sought supper. I found a funny sort of delicatessen/grocery/take-out place with both hot and cold salad bars, each with plenty of food. It happened that I was there in the last hour, when the entire salad bar buffet became half-price. Whoa. I got two plastic boxes. And there were plenty of vegetables, both hot and cold. Took it back to the hotel room, tried to find something on TV worth watching. Nope. Whatever.
Took a final walk around after dinner. Quiet. I noticed that a lot of derelicts seemed to be hanging around Fifth Avenue…more than I’d remembered - though in fairness, my hotel was just down the block from a big church which may help to shelter the homeless, and so has become a beacon for the local hopeless. But I returned to my little room without incident.
To be concise: the next morning I briskly walked the ten blocks to my old location at 338 E 11th Street, where I’d lived from 1966 to 1968 (a great time). A little apartment in a rear building, with no right angles, with DC current, and neither shower nor bath. It had been $25 a month. Next door to it was a gigantic and successful Italian pastry bakery, Veniero’s. They supplied hundreds of cafes. (Okay, maybe 50, who knows.) But I got 3 Sfogliatelle (pronounced “sfoyadell”) to take back to Vermont. I spoke to the espresso man about the characters with gravel-voices who’d hung out there – the place was now twice as big – and he pointed to a painting on the wall – “Our Founder,” the original owner, with a slick moustache, and I think it said “Since 1852”…whoa.
I got back, cleaned up, packed up, tipped up, pepped up, and took the subway to Grand Central, and soon I was on the Hudson Line train back to Steve’s. Steve and I hung out a while, and then I was off to Vermont. [Next time I bring an air mattress! I’m getting one from Amazon for my son’s visit next month.] I headed off to the insanity of Connecticut’s I-84. At a rest stop, I communed with a pair of fellow tourists. “Is it my imagination, or are the signs on that road really hard to follow?” They smiled, nodded, agreed. They too were passing through, and it was just a part of the trip they’d come to accept.
The road became nicer and nicer as I headed toward Vermont, and at one point I realized I was zoning out…I needed coffee, so I got some. Then I was okay. More soothing than going the other way. Miles and miles to go, though.
At home, no workmen had entered since I left. I was glad to be home, in my house covered in plastic and such, but flustered a bit. I had a nice dinner, who knows what, and went to bed. Early the next morning, in came the workmen to tear out my windows. Welcome home.
It was a great trip, and the renovations are actually really good. Nicely done.
Thanks to everyone involved in this adventure, and you for reading – hope you had no trouble getting to the photo-album. As a matter of fact, I’m probably talking to about half the total audience – the other half just started this, said “right, right,” went to the photos and that was it. The pictures – who said they say a thousand words? Interesting idea.
"One timely deed is worth ten thousand words" - James Thomson, 1802.
From a talk given by the newspaper editor Arthur Brisbane to the Syracuse Advertising Men's Club, in March 1911: "Use a picture. It's worth a thousand words."
I had a wonderful vacation. Here’s to you, who made it to the end.
Once again: the illustration Link: http://tinyurl.com/npeldus