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Diggin’ up Bones

I’m back ..” – Ace Frehley

It temporarily wipes the slate clean. Makes you forget old regrets like backing down to Bill Shubin in eighth grade or letting Dave Rios call you ‘fuckface’ in front of Michelle Giacchino at high school scheduling. Erases the times you should have pulled the trigger but didn’t, opens that fistful of cowardly instincts to the wind. Gone are events over which you’ve died a thousand deaths. More substantive missteps vanish too; wasted potential, relationships taking bad left turns and jumping the rail with mangled front axle. Replaces “old” with “upright,” “shy” with “what?” Jackhammers the surrounding cement from your old man’s “place of love” observations and blows the hardened dust helplessly down Seventh Avenue on a cold December day. All bullshit conjured in your fat head salt-grained like instructions whispered from some wannabe county fair hypnotist. This is returning to New York City after a four year absence. This is being thrust into the present.

It’s Friday morning and I’ve gotten here, which is four-fifths the battle. Inertia’s grip clamps down like an Iron Sheik choke-hold when you toss in funerals, pandemics, lockdowns and not having to move. But it goes in both directions, inertia, as a West Village shrink once told me. And then it’s like that pop on a frozen pickle jar right when you think your wrist is going to snap. Pushing past airports and people and $130 Uber rides from JFK, to check-ins and tricky elevator key cards and some trendy Chelsea hotel called “Motto.” Mine’s “it’s like riding a bike,” or maybe falling off one, this city. But, (and this one’s bigger than Adele’s on a super chunky Jif bender) there’s no other like it. So I take the subway to Brooklyn this first morning for breakfast. Because I used to live here and I can, which should cover all things going forward.

Local, Express, Uptown, Downtown. “Any retard can melt cheese,” to quote the great Hank Kingsley. This is all one needs to know about the Metro, about how to navigate a world class city. I depart at Court Street Station, take the elevator up and exit to Montague Street, where Bob Dylan once sensed “revolution in the air.” It’s corned beef hash and eggs over easy I’m sensing at the Grand Canyon Diner, an establishment with menu so large it carries footnotes and citations. A functional diner with booths and competent waiters, something so seemingly simple yet increasingly difficult to find in places outside Brooklyn. Somewhere an early seventies man of modest means can sit for a spell without being hurried and pick up the tab for his older friend if so inclined. Two women past child-bearing years huddle and discuss the conflict in Israel over coffee and toasted bagels. “My niece is Palestinian .. they sent her home from school Wednesday.” Their tone grows hushed and the waiter knows to increase the time between refills. All so extraordinarily ordinary; wouldn’t raise an eyebrow unless you’d lived anywhere else.  I drop my wallet in the gents room on the way out but return to find it laying conspicuously on the mopped floor. I flash it to the owner who’s asked with concern, both of us relieved, and I place my hand on his shoulder before leaving. I used to live here. I belong.

Saturday night and the flashbacks grow stronger, more pronounced. I’m with Mark Street — my original Brooklyn connection and ex San Francisco coworker — at Peter McManus pub, a storied joint conspicuously devoid of morons in red outfits on SantaCon night. We’re talking kids and brothers and drinking and agoraphobia .. hitting on all the highlights. Then it’s a short trot uptown to an actual Saturday night Christmas party, Street joining me despite aforementioned subject matter. More of my past crashing back in living color. But it’s good, festive even, and good to be remembered. Alli and Nicole karaoking “Let’s Give Them Something to Talk About.” “When are you girls going to grow up?” I ask to bursts of ironic laughter. I slip back to the Motto before things get out of hand, a stately older gentleman who knows how to get when the getting’s good. You can bask in the middle of New York’s electric charge or just sit with it all playing out thirty-nine stories below the hotel glass, as my dad loved to do, coming here. It’s all good; all New York.

A kind of heavy sadness overtakes me leaving here. This is the price you pay, shaking inertia’s tree. The ride to JFK departing always feels different than arriving when you no longer live here. Back home it’s suburban-dead and quiet, too. “Wherever You Go, There You Are.” So read the bumper sticker on George Stratton’s Volvo, a stern junior high teacher who liked to warn about the evils of dope, of not growing up. He’s dead now too, I’m guessing. Just like Greenbrae, California on a Monday night. But New York City most certainly is not, and that’s a good thing to know.

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