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Candy From Strangers

O wad some Pow’r the giftie gie us .. – Burns

January 13, 2004

My hands sting in the cold of a Prospect Park morning jog and I pull them inside the sleeves of my hooded sweatshirt for insulation. The puddles are iced-over, the trees bare and the dirt by the side of the pavement hard and chilled. My breath can be measured visibly as I make this last uphill rush past familiar markers – a traffic light, small meadow and Grand Army Plaza. A cheap, portable MP3 player fires off the same set of tunes from August, and I gear my time by how far I’ve made it into “Hey Hey My My” by run’s end. The road levels and I slow my pace heading over to Eighth Avenue, coming down from this final push. My heart pounds and I switch to walking. For the next twenty minutes, I feel OK.

Back at the apartment the heat is on full and I strip out from under layers of damp clothing and thermal underwear, draping them over the radiator to dry. Outside it’s ten degrees, calm, sunny and still. Inside it’s at least eighty, a result of poor temperature control in this spooky, converted mansion. I open the window, a seemingly ridiculous gesture given the winter conditions. But the yin-yang mix works well, and I’m able to regulate. I get some water boiling in the kitchen for my sixth pasta meal in a row. It’s amazing what you’ll eat when you’re both hungry and supermarket phobic.

A guy who works for our company back home emailed me recently in response to a column I had written. He felt the need to tell me that I knew neither how good I have it nor what real trouble is. After calling and having him fired, I re-read the piece in question, finding it mildly entertaining if not uplifting. With few exceptions, writers write to be read. Interpretation and understanding are gray areas, and always open to debate. Ronnie Van Zandt, discussing his classic metaphorical ballad “Freebird” said the following: “Well, I got to thinkin’ about it one day, and there ain’t too much freer than a bird.” Sometimes, nothing more need be said.

***

It’s the F-Train again, returning from midtown, and I catch the conversation behind me, between two Wall Streeters who have wandered north of the Exchange: “So Sam’s talking about Average Joe,” one of them says, “you know- that TV show. And he claims that these guys are actually all below average. He says guys like us are average – you know, guys on the Exchange.” There’s a pause before his buddy responds with a knowing chuckle. “Sam’s been on the floor too long,” the second guy assures. “Take a look around you if you want average. Average doesn’t cut it for our job. The ugly and stupid need not apply.”

I scan the inside of the car for a moment before realizing that I’m not included in this conversation. In fact, I’m the first thing either of these guys will see if they “take a look around.” I turn casually, feeling the need to take stock of these two exceptional specimens. The one putting things in perspective is tall, about six three, and resembles a Morgan Freeman-Johnny Winter hybrid. An obscure but more accurate reference would be Sonny Parker, the ex Texas A & M great and Warrior forward. His buddy is no less striking, and stares blankly out the train door, pondering this latest bit of bestowed wisdom. I get off at Bergen, considering a future in pork bellies.

A block down from Bergen I stop at the Roxie, where Sarah sets me up with a Stella draft. I put my money down, but she ignores it for the first few rounds and our conversation continues on this theme of perspective. We question who is more fortunate, the beautiful woman convinced she is ugly and that life is meaningless, or her monstrously fat but content girlfriend, wearing a tight belly shirt. Perhaps there is no definitive answer. The Stellas are light, but do the trick in quantity. Of late, they’ve sufficed for occasional relief along with exercise, writing and potential. Tuning my acoustic guitar to open-G, putting a capo on the fourth fret, and playing the intro to Keith Richards’ “Happy” also seems to work.

***

It sounds like a decent sublet from the email- good Brooklyn location and if I can tolerate a roommate it will definitely save some cash. Then I catch the Born Again reference in the return address and decide to keep looking. I’ve still got a few weeks, and there might be a studio out there I can afford. Europe, too, remains a distant option. I scan my apartment and notice the accumulated belongings and clothes I’ve gathered since trying this coast. It isn’t as much as I once had, but I can’t claim to be traveling light anymore either. Outside it’s warmed a bit, and snow begins to fall. These days I’m getting used to contradictions.

2004 Rick Monaco All Rights

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