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Every little thing is temporary – Vic Chesnutt

The late-thirty-something business chick at SFO’s International (and JetBlue’s Domestic) Terminal is holding court with two twenty-something, clean-cut, glad-to-be-employed underling dudes, all of them enjoying a responsible late-morning beverage at the Firewood Grill airport bistro. “The objective,” she asserts confidently, “is to get the team to collaborate on that strategy, and to be the owner of that strategy.” Something about the way she places great emphasis on the word “owner” reminds me of a quote from my buddy Tom Myers, regarding Gavin MacLeod of Love Boat fame and his performance as Captain Merrill Stubing: “I just want to put a spike through that guy’s bald head.” While the company-speak chick in question sports an adequate mane of Clairol-tinted locks, the sentiment remains firmly intact.

A few hours later and a thousand miles out of San Francisco, the cosmic interconnectivity of it all is called home when the very same Gavin MacLeod appears in an episode of The Andy Griffith Show playing on my JetBlue DIRECTV. Granted, he’s a gifted thespian – but how many times during an average day do I pause to make some circuitous mental connection to the man? And here he is, only hours later, on the small screen in front of me. It’s all too much to ponder and I quickly reach for the armrest button to flip over to Celebrity Rehab, where Dennis Rodman is offering very little in the first group meeting (to the apparent chagrin of a puff-lipped Heidi Fleiss and jarringly sincere Mackenzie Phillips) and explaining that he’s “way beyond this” and only there “for court.” It seems a fair enough assertion, and it occurs to me that the singer/songwriter Vic Chesnutt would have made a compelling guest on this program had he survived the Holiday Season.

A few mornings later, having ostensibly survived the above-mentioned season myself, I’m on a Manhattan-bound F Train, standing next to a tall fortyish fellow with a neatly trimmed gray goatee, stylishly creased blue jeans, and unmarked red sneakers. He proceeds to remove a straight-razor knife with decorative mother of pearl handle from a dark cloth pouch in his breast pocket, and touch its blade with his finger. His expression conveys calm satisfaction more than it does menace, and were it not for the context of his actions everything would be more or less cool. “Paranoid schizophrenic,” a more qualified interpreter explains to me later in the day, but in the moment things move too quickly to worry about such labels. I choose instead not to make eye contact, and he exits the train two stops later, the blade safely back in his coat pocket. He apologizes politely for bumping an oblivious passenger on his way out.

Still later in the afternoon, on the same line but now Brooklyn-bound, an amiable, middle-aged black dude with skull cap starts singing a semi-original composition that he’s preserved in neat cursive writing on a crumpled piece of binder paper. “Seen good times and bad times with fortunes untold / but I’d rather have Jesus than silver or gold.” This does not, however, stop him from requesting a donation after finishing his song. I don’t give him anything, but do consider asking if he’s checked the price of silver or gold lately, as they’ve shot up markedly. Instead I say nothing and offer a pleasant (if tight) grin. Off the train I stop at Esposito’s Pork Store on Court for turkey on a roll with mayo, and take some odd comfort in the way the huge deli guy with impressive guns, shaved head and ample tats refers to me repeatedly as “my brother.” I wonder what he would have done earlier on the train with Straight Razor Man. A framed, autographed photo of the establishment’s owner with Tony Soprano is nailed above the register: Best porkchop I ever had – James Gandolfini. Really says it all.

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