How To Change The World

May 26th, 2010

nyc.jpgIf, as my former bandmate, once sang “World’s change in the belly of an insect,” then universes transform in a matter of years.

Little wonder, then, that I should comment to Abbi this weekend that I can’t remember a period of transformation as radical as the last five years.

Five years ago, I was an Executive Producer. I lived on the Upper West Side. I played rock shows on the regular, smoked, drank, caroused, and regularly hailed cabs as dawn broke. Five years ago, I was single. Don’t take my word for it, though; the archives are just a click away.

Five years ago, I started my Saturday night with a performance by Dough, a band long-since broken up (in fact, Chris Abad, my dear friend and musical partner-in-crime, released his second solo record, “No Glory,” tonight; you should pick up a copy). The evening went on to include four more three more drinking establishments, a handful of potential paramours and many, many more drinks.

The low point came at once-hot dance scene, Misshapes, where a woman I’d been pursuing who was in from San Francisco and had met up with a mutual acquaintance who was friends with one of my exes began making out with another woman on the dance floor. I remember losing them in the crowd, realizing I was alone in a sea of strange, young people throbbing to Madonna’s “Material Girl,” and stumbling out the door. I woke up fully-clothed on my living room floor as the brutal, morning light streaked across the shag carpet, walked upstairs, and wrote “Dark Blue.”

Wake up to discover you’re everything that you abhor
You failed to see yourself before the artificial skin
Wake up to a masquerade, the night has fallen
The city makes you dizzy from the height that break you
Depths that make you pray

And you’ve fallen into something dark blue
And it’s getting so much darker every day
You’re awake and you don’t know what it means
Wide awake, you just want to go to sleep

A few weeks later, I played a collection of new songs, including “Dark Blue,” for Nadas front man Jason Walsmith. “I like that ‘Blue’ one,” he said. “Sounds like you’re onto something different there.”

Today, I am a Senior Vice President. I live on the Upper East Side. I am married, and expecting a son or daughter any day.

By way of illustration, this weekend began with a Vegan double-date with Chris and his wife, Meg. Saturday morning, I jogged to and from yoga, then spent three hours in a Real Birth infant care class at the 14th Street Y. Afterwards, Abbi and I picked up (I swear to God) five pounds of trail mix and a bottle of wine a Trader Joe’s, before repairing to Babies R Us and then Buy Buy Baby. We ended the evening early with a frozen pizza and “Invictus” on-demand.

I’ve never been happier.

Today, I am wide awake. And I think I know what it means.

“Mister Rogers & Me” Update

May 20th, 2010

sitesm.jpgIn the event you haven’t checked in on my other website, “Mister Rogers & Me,” lately, there’s a quite a bit going on. For starters, we’ve relaunched it.

Of course, the site’s relaunch was timed to coincide with today’s publication of the Nantucket Film Festival schedule.

“Mister Rogers & Me” has two official screenings: Friday, June 19 at 6:30 p.m. at Nantucket High School, and again Saturday, June 20 at 6 p.m. at Coffin School.

It fairly overwhelming but completely exciting to see our film in the NFF Ticket Guide alongside heavy-hitting filmmakers like Barry Levinson, David Guggenheim, and Stanley Nelson. It’s an incredible lineup of films, including features starring Robert Duvall, Bill Murray, and Katie Holmes, and events featuring Ben Stiller, Sarah Silverman, Zack Galifianakis, and more.

Of course, Abbi’s due just one week prior to the film’s premiere. Which is perfect. I was just about to release “Crash Site” when I met Mister Rogers there on Nantucket. I played him “Summer’s Gone,” a song rife with loss. He asked about my parent’s divorce, a wound he sensed was still seeping. Nine years later, thanks in no small to Mister Rogers and the journey that came of our conversations, that wound is significantly healed, and here I am not just married, but expecting. One might think he knew it all, all along.

So if I make it, terrific. If not, the film’s premiere is in good hands with my brother. And anyway, life’s all about process, not outcome, right?

Building A Mystery

May 16th, 2010

screwdriver.jpgFor a second there, the juxtaposition of my ragged, fourteen-foot UHaul barrelling up the well-coiffed upper reaches of Park Avenue was kind of awesome. Traffic was light. The gas pedal was heavy. Midtown was in the rear-view. And there was funk on the radio.

What’s more, my heart was full of freshly-minted confidence. Overnight, I’d transformed our box-strewn, bare-windowed second bedroom into something pretty closely resembling a nursery. In some six hours of construction, I’d assembled a crib and dresser, hung a pair of blinds, and unpacked (“stuffing,” my wife calls it) dozens of rogue, homeless boxes.

The dresser was an especially immense undertaking. Ikea’s Hemnes comes with 162 nails, screws and pegs; 20 individual pieces of wood, and a 16-page, 52-step instruction booklet to explain it all. I lost track in the wee hours in the morning, but there must have been at least 400 distinct steps to the process of building that dresser. But I pulled it off, with minutes to spare before Abbi’s baby shower.

The nursery called on all sorts of skills either long-dormant or non-present. I understand why boys are encouraged to build model airplanes; it helps us learn to follow directions. Likewise comics; symbolic interpretation. Both of which sets a guy up to understand Ikea’s Bible-length assembly instructions. Complicated stuff. Not half as complicated, though, as driving a 1/18″ titanium drillbit though an aluminum-reinforced sheetrock window frame. Ends up finesse doesn’t always outdo force; sometimes, you need a drill.

I turned the last screw just as Abbi’s sisters pulled up in the UHaul, apparent to me the the bellowing horns of impatient Long Islanders endeavoring to squeeze by her on what might be the narrowest street in all of New York. I dashed downstairs, rushed my air-kiss greetings, and threw open the back. My new brother-in-law, Pedro, and I quickly moved two chairs, two rugs, and a sleeper sofa (that insisted on opening itself like a suicidal Jack-in-the-box) upstairs.

“Honey,” Abbi asked, “Will you please drive the UHaul to the drop off?”

“Sure,” I said failing to mask my truck-driving-in-the-city anxiety, “Where?”

“I don’t know,” she said rushing to prepare for her shower. “You’ll have to Google it.”

I raced out the door, heart-beating, hands-unsteady, and mounted the great, white whale. I’ve never driven a truck. And I rarely drive in the city. Years prior, I would have passed the buck, shirked my responsibility. I’ve been stealing myself for these sorts of situations, though, moments where previous experience prove insufficient, where blind faith, dumb luck and a straight face carry the day. It was simple: I had to do it.

Which may have had something to do with my levity there soaring along on Park Avenue. Once my funk-on-the-radio moment past, though, I found myself at 104th & Lexington with nary an orange-striped white van in sight. I circled the block once, then again, then double parked in front of a church, turned on my blinkers, and dialed UHaul. A kindly, old gentlemen who was surely answering from somewhere deep in South Dakota greeted me.

“Are you anywhere near Bushwick Avenue,” he asked.

“No sir, I’m in Harlem.”

“Oh,” he said, alarmed. “We’d better hurry then!”

Less than a block after dropping the UHaul, my brother called.

“Would you mind swinging by to pick up the stroller and car seat?”

By the time I got back to the apartment, it was filled with young mothers chirping in a high-pitched, dolphin-like tone. There were sundresses and cupcakes and many, many onesies. I kissed my wife, and ran for the door. Moments later, my pal Chris picked me up.

“You’ll never believe my morning,” I said, regaling him in my morning of newfound daddy duties.

“Wow,” he said. “How’s it going to end?”

“It’s only just begun,” I replied. “But I’m pretty sure this one ends with a pint.”

City Island

May 10th, 2010

triboro.jpgIt took me less than an hour back in the city to spot a dead body.

I opted to shake of my sixteen-hour commute from Yemassee, SC, to New York, NY, on Amtrak’s Silver Meteor last week with a bike ride (inspired secondarily by a rapidly approaching triathlon in July).

I pedaled my Cannondale north to 103d Street, then east across the pedestrian bridge connecting Harlem to Ward’s Island. Ward’s and the adjacent (and connected) Randall’s Islands are home to huge tracts of grassa and athletic fields, as well as several public facilities, including Manhattan Psychiatric Center, Kirby Forensic Psychiatric Center (which serves the criminally insane), a New York City Department of Environmental Protection wastewater treatment plant, and even a Cirque du Soleil production called “Ovo.” The Triborough and Hell’s Gate Bridges soar overhead, connecting the twin islands to Queens. It is ringed by miles a freshly-paved and nearly-empty bike path, all with spectacular views of the city across the swirling East River.

I banked right off the Ward’s Island Bridge, pointing myself downtown across an especially-turbulent stretch of the East River above Roosevelt Island called Hells Gate.

The sky was clear. The sun was bright. The river was sparkling, as was the city below. Which is when I noticed the yellow police tape stretched out across the path just a few hundred feet beyond me, and the four policemen standing over a body. I slowed, and rode up onto a grassy hill just above the path — there, at the southernmost tip of Ward’s Island with a sweeping, panoramic view of New York City like Oz across the poppy fields — an elderly African-American man had apparently tumbled face first off of the bend and onto the pavement. His eyes were closed. A white blanked was draped across his back. He was dead.

At one time, I’ve come to learn, that point at the southeastern tip of the island was officially designated “Negro Point”, based on the unofficial usage of riverboat workers. In 2001, though, Parks Commissioner Henry Stern renamed it Scylla Point and paired it with Charybdis Playground in Astoria Park; the two features are on opposite sides of Hell Gate, just as the mythological monsters of Scylla and Charybdis were on opposite sides of the Strait of Messina.

And so it was on this beautiful, almost-Heavenly day when I broke free of my tiny sleeper car and rocketed out of the city’s punishing grid that I saw a dead, black man at face down between two monsters facing Hell Gate.

Troubling stuff.

More troubling, perhaps, were I less accustomed to shocking city scenery like men sleeping in pools of vomit, or women defecating on a curb. Listen, there are eight million people in the Five Boroughs. Sometimes, it gets ugly. One develops a thick skin.

I pressed on, passing beneath the massive foundations of the island’s two bridges and it vast complex of baseball fields beyond. I paused at its northernmost point to make out Riker’s Island and LaGuardia Airport across the white-capped bay. I turned back towards Midtown looming small in the distance byond the bridges, and marveled how far north I’d pushed. I rode further, leaving the pavement behind to trace the edges of the Bronx Kill, a tiny, narrow creek separating Randall’s Island from The Bronx. A startled gaggle of ducks paddled away towards the rail yard and warehouses beyond.

Back on the East River, a tug boat pushed a crane toward the Willis Avenue Bridge. A patrol boat departed NYPD’s Harbor Patrol. Vehicles of every shape a size buzzed around me: jets, helicopters, trains, and miles upon miles of cars and trucks on Robert Moses’ massive, neighborhood-destroying, suburb-building highways.

I pedaled southward, pausing beneath a willow tree to gaze a while at the cityscape below. Eight million individual lives were pulsing around me, swirling like electrons: bouncing and breaking, colliding and connecting. I couldn’t shake the image of the dead man, face down at the city’s feet. It struck me there so many miles above Simon & Garfunkle’s 59th Street Bridge (“Feeling groovy!”) that maybe we are all rocks. Maybe we are all islands, all six billion of us: alone. It’s the highways and rivers valence that connects us. Those sometimes-tenuous sometimes-iron clad links make us an archipelago, though, a planet of city island nations.

It was then that the road of the traffic became a whirl, like crickets or wind, and I realized that a moment of zen is wherever you make it.

The Silver Meteor

May 5th, 2010

abbiontrain.jpgFor 1600 miles and thirty hours this week, Abbi and I sat reading, writing, and resting as Amtrak’s Silver Meteor ushered us roundtrip from New York City to Yemassee, South Carolina.

It was an experience.

Our 6′ x 4′ sleeper room was pure, NASA-age innovation. The sink folds down. The toilet folds up. The top bunk descends from the ceiling, and is narrow enough to require a web of seat belt-like webbing. Cup holder, light switches, vents, hooks, hangers and storage are tucked into every nook and cranny.

Leg room is scarce, but windows are ample: double-decker and double-wide. You see the backsides of things from here: backyards, back streets, vacant lots and unspoiled woods.

It’s all comfortable enough, though only not as romantic as one might wish. True, the car pitches and rolls along with a soothing forward momentum to it all. But the creaking and rattling of the plastic-molded interior is louder than the soothing clickity-clack of the rails or distant horn.

Oddly enough, if a flight half was bumpy, I’d need to triple down on Xanax. Makes no matter here, though, even when another train whizzed by in the opposite direction with an ear-popping thud.

Amtrak leases the rails from CSX. Their massive freight trains (I counted five engines and 113 cars on one last night) take precedent, then, leaving passengers at a distinct disadvantage to products, which may have accounted for our hour delay upon return.

Gliding through the inky black Virginia night, though, or soaring across a placid Susquahanna, it was a travelling oasis of calm and a tiny home away from home that just happened to be buzzing along at sixty-some miles an hour.