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Uncle Mick, Labor Day and the House

The Coming of Fall

August 31, 2003

Woody Allen claimed 90% of success was showing up. But first you need somewhere to show. Had he reduced it to “waking up,” more of us would have it covered. I personally prefer Denis Munro’s definition, which involves “stepping into dead men’s shoes.”

I’ve chosen Manhattan – the city – as my “where,” and I try to show up most days. I’ve pushed a few resumes under noses and followed mild leads, but have gotten a lot of semi-shrugged shoulders and we’ll-keep-you-in-minds. In the process I’ve become mildly discouraged and reflected on how, for something the majority seems to harbor deep resentment toward, employment is a highly sought commodity.

My late Uncle Mick, a beloved family figure, could quote entire verses of prose and poetry from memory, was fond of the occasional libation, and had a refined distaste for hard labor. He harbored deep resentment toward my other uncle, Ned, an administrative type who did Mick a “favor” by getting him a job at the American Can Company. The gig lasted longer than Mick wanted, but he eventually returned to his normal routine of reading, sipping wine, and enjoying the day. Mick’s wife, my Aunt Alice, was the industrious type, so it all worked out.

***

In order to get your arms around something big, you must first put them around a lot that’s small.

I worried about being alone when I moved here, but found a good friend in the city itself. New York has both body and life: pulse, legs, arms, thick neck and wicked sense of humor. It sits stone silent at times and at others refuses to shut up. Some say it doesn’t sleep, but I’ve seen it nap, doze, and crash like a junkie. Despite its size, my friend has yet to leave me feeling insignificant. We have an understanding. I could bail tomorrow and it would continue, but be a different place. Only New York and I would know. This is what my friend offers- total detachment and a better sense of self.

New York has a voice, but you must listen selectively, then take it as one. It’s digested in snippets- never whole sentences or conversations. Later, it forms singular tone and personality.

-Two Rastas on a philosophical Prospect Park sojourn, as I jog in opposite direction: “..But a person who is there for you when you have nothing..”

-A pair of seasoned Bowery men in faded short-sleeves, stooped with cigarettes and urban years: “this fuckin’ city..” And then the other: “you gotta love it.”

The deal is always mid-conversation, mid-sentence. New York is too busy talking to ask me what I do.

***

Up the slight incline or slope of Carroll as it retreats from the park, a few doors down from my new digs, two refined Brownstoners lug boxes into a U-Haul, saving mover’s fees and getting a taste of vitality in the process. I’m sweating too, from a late morning run, and think about how many times I’ve moved in recent months. I emptied twelve year’s accumulation from a San Francisco flat and in the process discovered that very little is indispensable. After family, select friends and a particular Zippo lighter, I could probably replace most else. I would add relative youth and health to the essential list, but suspect this is to be neither held nor relinquished. You enjoy and weather it as you would the season, and hopefully don’t abuse.

I wake on a particular Sunday, the last in August, and it’s insanely beautiful out. Sun shines crisp, leaves blow in breeze but still hold green to branch, and temperature hovers in the seventies. Light of distinct quality flatters the street and pours in the apartment. Fall’s beauty eclipses the other three in willingness to face duality; it accepts death and celebrates life in same dance. Out here is no different, but the dance is bigger.

I’ve found a local – The Great Lakes – a bar down First Street at Fifth Avenue. I’d like to work there, but don’t want to rush and blow whatever chance I have. I scheme how best to allow my ample personality to compensate for lack of experience. It might be a gradual process, not unlike the change of season. As I walk past the place, again hoofing it through the Gowanus badlands, I chat with Dad on the cell. He sets me straight on the Uncle Mick facts, updates me on Bonds (the great non-Yankee) and fills me in on the advisability of removing the ground from a three-pronged plug. After, I speak less than briefly with my brother, having forgotten that college football season has returned, and Saturdays are reserved for satellite, over, under, and the House.

Out here, New York is House and can’t be beaten. It will allow you to play and even provide nominal stipend if you display relative charm and worth. But once you get cocky and imagine you’ve managed privilege, it puts you in place like Joe Pesci wielding a ballpoint pen in Casino. This applies equally to celebrity, politician and zealot. September is an appropriate time to keep this in mind, as I continue to try and find my place. Have to keep moving, be content with all as it comes, and enjoy my friend’s company. Sounds like a decent fall schedule.

2003 Rick Monaco All Rights

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