The Good Guy

Chris steps towards the doors of the 1/9 at 50th Street and says, “Have a good trip.” And I say, deadly serious, “Where am I going again? Oh yeah, thanks.”

We’ve just finished a matching set of beers and turkey burgers at Coffee Shop in Union Square. He invited me to a collegue’s film screening at NYU’s Cantor Film Center. The film, “Hospitality,” was part comedy, part thriller, and completely tedious. But I applaud the filmmaker’s efforts. I have great respect for those who do verses those who say they’re going to.

Which might explain some of my compulsion to record songs, release CDs, and write books. The other night, someone actually called me “the most productive, accomplished person” they know. I, of course, countered that they must not know many people. But I was shocked. And grateful. Another member of the conversation suggested that I border on manic, which might be more succinct.

Either way, it’s worthy of some inquiry. I often say that writing songs or running races beats getting stoned, and I think alot of it goes back to that. I spent a good balance of my twenties surrounded by a bunch of guys who were arm chair philospohers. They were all talk and no action, and that always made me kinda’ nuts. Life’s to short. There’s too much to see and do. Which may have been a contributing factor to my getting off the junk and feeling compelled to do something.

But I think it has a lot more to do with some sort of validation, as in, “I make, therefor I am.” If I make enough stuff — records, books, paintings — then maybe I’ll be remembered. Of course, I know better. History books will have room for Bob Dylan and The Beatles. The Pixies won’t even make the cut. And me? A few hundred self-distributed record? No chance.

Still, I feel fine. I’m ok with my little rock-n-roll cottage industry. God bless ya’, you make it possible. I’ve gotten more sweet emails in the last few weeks than I can shake a stick at. One even suggested that my live recording “took [her] breath away.” I mean, geez, thanks! Are you sure it wasn’t the walk up the stairs? Or the walk from the copy machine?

My parents divorced when I was in fifth grade. I was in something of a filmmaker stage on account of having found my father’s old Super 8mm camera (his brother had purchased it while on tour in Vietnam. Years later I’d watch long, slow-motion shots of helicopters circling the muddy hills). I made a “Grease” knock off, and wrote a screenplay about a jet pilot called “Mach Five” (this is well before the razor, people). But my finest hour was a four minute opus based on “The Greatest American Hero.”

I was set to perform the theme song to the classic William Kat vehicle for the Holmes Elementary talent show, so I thought, ‘Hey! How about I play a movie over my shoulder? I’ll be the hero!’ It starred the four Jennys: Rexroat, Ebert, Clarke, and De Lucia (all of whom also sang back up). And it starred Chris as The Bad Guy.

Chris often played The Bad Guy when we were kids. He’d tune in to Kung Fu Theater after school, get all worked up and suggest a few :30 melee rounds. He’d say, “Tell you what, I’ll be on my knees so you have the advantage.” Then he’d sweep my legs out from under me and pummel me.

But the truth is, Chris has long been my hero. I have three distinct memories to support this. In the first, my parents are fighting upstairs. I’m hiding beneath a bundle of winter coats in the basement, and Chris comes downstairs and wraps his arms around me. In the second, I’m drunk for the first time carrying on in the front yard of one of his friend’s (he was cool enough to bring me along, for starters) that I wanted to be more like him. “I wanna’ be a football player like you,” I wept. “Well, I wish I could sing like you,” he said. In the third, he is sitting across a pizza from me. “You wanna’ move to New York with me?” We moved three months later. I had $400 and a futon. For months, arguably years, Chris helped me get my legs. Despite my meager contribution towards our rent, he lobbied against my taking a coffee shop job. “It’ll just distract you from your main goal, which is to write for “Rolling Stone.” Less than a year later I was writing for “Rolling Stone.”

Tonight, I watched Chris disappear into the 50th Street station, turned on my iPod, and looked around the train. There was a woman in a gray suit and white sneakers closing her eyes. There was a man reading Hebrew scribbled in blue ink on white paper. There was an Asian boy staring out the window. And there was me, grinning. We were all there together, hurtling through space and time, alone. We were each lost in their own world of worry, regret, and hope. And I thought of you, and what I would say to you tonight, and how I am. And I thought, ‘I’m ok. I’ll be fine.’ Thanks, in no small part, to you. And thanks, in large part, to my big brother.

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