Posts Tagged New York

Tragedy, and humor, brings us together

I don’t watch basketball and had no idea who Kobe Bryant was, but when his name popped up on a Ugandan newspaper that I read online, I knew this was a person of some prominence. I do know other people that might not be renowned slam-dunkers, people like Paul Tillich or Pablo Casals, but we all inhabit the worlds we carve out for ourselves. Yet tragedy, as Shakespeare knew, has the ability to bring us together, to unite humanity, as do stories and jokes. A well-tuned witticism is like a glass of cool, clear water, unless you are in the desert in which case water is better, and misplaced witticisms might upset fellow fatamorganists.

I was a middle child and, as any middle child will tell you, it’s a role suited only for individuals of utmost intelligence, grace, and modesty. The first child is arrogant, the last child is spoiled, we all know that, whereas the middle child is the glue that keeps the family, indeed society, together, even when faced with trial & tribulation (who, like Simon & Garfunkel, work best together). I told jokes in class when I was eight or ten, I continued in the Royal Life Guards, at the factory where I worked after school, welding plastic, breathing styrene and benzene vapors, like all healthy boys did, and the jokes continued at the university – Genghis Khan, but Immanuel Kant – and I never knew why or gave it much thought. It was just something that happened, like breathing, like jumping into a British racing green Triumph TR6 that someone had left idling at a gas station by a sign that said, “NO IDLING”. Someone had to do it, right?

The quipster is like a sheep-herding dog, keeping the flock together in times of peril and poor visibility, and when shepherds are mentioned more than 500 times in Scripture, it’s not because we should all invest in the Sheep Index and don sandals, but because they keep the flock together despite being exposed to the extremes of cold and heat, despite attacks of wild beasts, the equivalent of modern-day cable tv.

Tragedy is something we share, and any thirteen-year-old girl perishing is heartbreaking. The loss of a young life is a collective loss, as children are part of the global herd, even if you’ve never met them. One could argue, of course, that aging is a curse, too – unless you don’t experience it, then it’s a blessing. I state this to sum up a minuscule fragment of the complexities of life, and you’re welcome, don’t mention it. Aging happens incrementally, like air seeping out of a tire, like a crack in the windshield of existence that gains one sixteenth of an inch each time you slam the door. If aging happened instantly, it would be called an accident.

I flew from San Francisco to JFK on the morning of the helicopter crash in LA, and the only remotely eventful thing that happened was that I got up twice and each time I came back, someone had put my aisle seat in the upright position. A real whodunnit, the Airbus A321 equivalent of Murder on the Orient Express at 30.000 feet. Well, the guy next to me was sleeping. The person in front of me? Why on earth (so to speak) would he do that? Neither could it be the person on the other side as no one reaches across the aisle anymore. So it had to be the young lady behind me who, for the duration of the flight, did not look up from her smartphone.

As we waited on the tarmac, all 200 of us standing with our necks bent at an angle of approximately 35 degrees, the only non-fracture position worse than staying in the seat, I could have said something – “I know what you did over Utah and Nebraska, young lady,” – but I didn’t. I strive to be graceful and was worried she might say, “Get a life!” with that millennial tone of voice that implies, “As you lay dying, I’ll be ordering oysters and dance all night.” Besides, vengeance belongs to the Lord, though I doubt He preordained that I ended up walking behind her to Baggage Claim, but as she turned and saw me fifteen feet away, the look on her face indicated that her seat-back-adjusting days over fly-over-country are a thing of the past.

As we all too soon will be. For now, I’m back in New York, writing over coffee in the old kitchen, with the lines of an old Leonard Cohen tune humming in my head:

It’s four in the morning, the end of December
I’m writing you now just to see if you’re better
New York is cold, but I like where I’m living
There’s music on Clinton Street all through the evening

Well, by now it’s six in the morning, the end of January, Cohen has left the building, and the music on Clinton Street stopped years ago, as the Lower East Side was hijacked by independently wealthy kids in shoes that cost more than my car. But New York is still cold and I am indeed writing you now just to see if you’re better. Aging and accidents teach us to cherish each other more profoundly. And she can have her oysters. I already had mine, and they were delicious.

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L.I.C. Bar in Queens, May 22, 8 p.m.

Monday, May 22, 8 p.m.:

I will be returning to the L.I.C. Bar in Long Island City, Queens, to play a set of mainly original songs. I might throw in some Johnny Cash or Greg Brown, or even a Scandinavian folk tune.

Begins at 8 p.m. sharp.

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Fireplace Concert in New York City

Sunday, February 5:

I will be playing a set of original songs at the L.I.C. Bar in Long Island City, Queens.

The show starts at 5 pm with Pete Lanctot & Ginger Dolden.

I will be on at 6 pm, followed by Maya Sharpe at 7 pm.

Come and be warm by the fire and hear some tunes

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Small Poem Filled With Hope, Rain and Biblical References

In New York
It’s raining
Cats and dogs

But it could be
Exodus 8
And frogs.

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Spring in New York

I thank Thee, Lord, for spring in New York
And for sidewalks scattered with gloves
For three new construction sites down the block
And for strangers to piss me off

For neighbors smoking on fire escapes
At three o’clock in the morn’
Life in a city that never sleeps —
A life of kind-hearted ignoring

I thank Thee, Lord, for the BQE
For buses of tourists hoping to see
Authentic Brooklyn
Which it would be
Were it not for them
(not for me)

Oh, I thank Thee, Lord, for spring in New York
Where writers in their 30s write memories
Eating 30 dollar sustainable pork
And drink Pinot Noir out of Ball jars

I thank Thee for the kids in Underwood Park
Who cry, “Let’s play Barack Obama”
I wouldn’t have experienced that today
If my neighbor had been a dirt farmer

Oh, Lord, one more thing, before I forget
I thank Thee for aerodynamics
What New Yorkers need, time and again,
Is to fly off and assess the damage

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Another Old Christmas (Howard Walker’s Christmas Song)

I’d be such as terrific guest at your house
You don’t have to comb your hair
I’d bring a quart of Old Crow, chocolate for your kids
I’d even bring my own folding chair
And I’d sit by your table, no, I won’t stare at you
That tree sure is decked out in style
And if I don’t make it this time around
I might be there in a while.

I’d be such as terrific guest at your house
Say, who painted that painting over there?
I like what your husband did to the floors
Oh, that fire burns so warm and clear
The smell in this kitchen brings back memories
The apron my mother used to wear
Well, if I’m not there before darkness falls
I might have gotten hung up somewhere.

I’d be such a terrific guest at your house
My cousin has this old Chevrolet
That dress looks exactly the same on you
As it did at Half Moon Bay
No, I didn’t get your letter, no, Jack passed away
I see they’re building a new road through town
The shadows are long, we might see some snow
But you might not see me around.

I’d be such as terrific guest at your house
This Christmas I’ll bring you a book
And sit by the piano and hum a few tunes
If I cry, pretend not to look
Well, here comes the jailer, it’s time for lights out
I‘ll finish this letter some time soon
It’s another old Christmas for me without you
But at midnight, let’s both look at the moon.

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