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Shake Your Money Maker

Letter From Manhattan

Get Up – James Brown

March 24, 2004

I come back to Brooklyn now. It’s what I do, frequently. This isn’t to say Manhattan isn’t exciting or that the Upper West Side is without charm. But most weeks I find my way onto an express train and down to the borough and Fall Cafe. It’s been cold again and I enjoy sitting on the Fall’s frayed and clunky antique couch, near the front windows. There I catch the sun’s last warm rays before it slips behind the new Eckerd Pharmacy across the street. The pharmacy was barely under construction when I arrived last summer but now stands completed, almost open for business. You don’t have to stay long before you’re allowed to observe that things change.

I appreciate the Fall’s couch because I don’t have one of my own. One of the first things that registered about my current sublet in Manhattan is that it offers nowhere to sit comfortably. There is a small couch-like thing, but it isn’t a couch and I use it only for throwing clothes on when I get home. I’ve tried to stay out of the apartment as much as possible and to return late in the evening. Once back, I typically take half an Ambien and watch Elimidate before crashing hard. It’s a uniquely glamorous existence.

And now comes sublet number four. It isn’t even a sublet, except in the sense that I’ve committed only to a limited number of months. This time the previous tenant is vacating and I will be free from the psychological attachments of another’s stuff. I’ll also be free from pots, pans, curtains, beds, phones, couches.. more or less everything except clothes and a cell phone. If I hit on something solid between now and summer – a real job, a real sense of home, some drop-by friends – perhaps I’ll stay. This unique angle on denial has been a source for both victory and disappointment since arriving, so why stop now? I have little problem with commitment, except when it comes to apartments, relationships and jobs.

***

It’s about two a.m. Saturday and I’m underground at 42nd trying not to pay too much attention as a thoroughly inebriated young gentleman relieves himself publicly and pointedly on the subway tracks. Most of the large, waiting crowd choose tastefully to ignore him, but I’ve been observing his decline since 14th Street, where he made a monumental ass of himself, smoking a large cigar and harassing some Japanese tourists. He zips his pants back up and takes a few strong puffs, scanning the platform for his next victim. He resembles a younger, even more fresh-faced Ben Affleck and possesses the most distressing form of alcoholism: that which brings deeply buried neurosis to the surface and forces them relentlessly on others in a thinly veiled plea to be pulled from drowning. I myself repress a strong urge to see some uptown locals take him out of his misery, or at the very least for him to struggle elsewhere, silently and alone.

It’s been a long night anyway, and I’ve already missed my connection at Avenue B and Seventh Street. The crowd looked far too young when I got there, and a hammered bartender spilled half of my eight dollar Jameson’s before getting it to me. The remaining liquid was entirely insufficient for getting me through the long trek home in the driving, chilled March rain, but I left anyway. Perhaps it was all prearranged; a grand plan to put me on course with the subway urinator. Such is life in the big city, you welcome the muse when it comes and duck and cover when it doesn’t.

***

This city burns money like no other, and this too can mess with your muse. It isn’t a place to plan on being for the long term if you don’t have an equally effective plan for raising funds. It’s been a year since I purchased new clothes, save two pairs of black pants over Christmas. I don’t spend the way I once did in a supermarket and have consumed an inordinate amount of angel hair pasta and pizza slices over the winter. And still it goes. I don’t eat out much, no longer drive a car, and try to refrain from drinking during hours not designated “happy.” This all runs hand in hand with not having a regular gig. I was in a music store with a friend from San Francisco a few months back, and he took note that I wasn’t joining him in picking up a new CD from a mutually appreciated performer. “I’ll burn you a copy,” he suggested. I told him I didn’t have a stereo out here, but I wouldn’t have spent the money even if I did.

Boo-fucking-hoo though, really. It’s not as though I’m fashioning cups out of coconuts or stringing up a hammock for the Skipper. It’s just that changes for me over the past year haven’t been limited to the geographical. Financial adjustments may have been the easiest, actually, and at times a welcome distraction from the emotional. Anonymity has fueled some creativity and perhaps even growth, but you can’t put a price on not being around family or friends, and this town does put a big exclamation point on waking up alone.

That’s OK, my life needed a few exclamation points.

2004 Rick Monaco All Rights

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