At The End Of The Day

In nearly fifteen years of living in New York City, I’ve never seen anything like it.

I swiped my Metrocard, passed through the turnstile, waved off Robert (“We’ll do a creative in the morning,” he said in jest), and turned for the Broadway line. I wasn’t halfway down the stairs when the traffic jam started. And then I saw it: The subway platform was gridlocked with an actual sea of humanity. A few steps below me, people were packed twenty feet across, and as far as I could see into the station. I reached the base of the stairwell, turned on my heels, and headed out of the station.

42d Street too was teeming with pedestrians: slowpoke tourists, hyper-manic hucksters, and impatient locals. It was dusk. The sky was beautifully brushed with pinks and oranges. Still, something felt sinister.

Perhaps it was “Transformers.”

My boss popped had into my office around noon.

“Paramount’s screening a half-hour of footage tonight at six o’clock. Can you go?”

So there we were — Robert, Jonathan, Rachel and I — waiting a half an hour (some woman from the Today Show was running late) to watch an hour of footage.

Can you say, “Bombast?”

You know the premise, right? Warring alien factions use Earth as a battleground? Chaos (and some light, self-deprecating Shia Lebuff humor) ensues?

Liste, I’m down with bombast to some degree. And Michael Bay films aren’t exactly known for their subtlety. But Sweet Fancy Moses on a Triscuit, this shit was way over the top. We’re talking bone-rattling, skull-shaking, eye-popping action. Helicopters tossed like Tonka trucks. Pulse grenades that level entire tarmacs of airplanes. And explosions — People! Can I get an “Amen?” Can I get a “Hell in a hand basket?”

But here’s the thing. I’m down with Hollywood (I mean, kinda’). I get it: Blockbusters, popcorn, that whole thing. But there’s something about these giant, mechanized robots wrecking havoc on a desert military base (identified as “Qatar – Middle East,” as if we didn’t know where Qatar is) while an actual Rebel Alliance (“Star Wars” reference intended) wrecks havoc on entire Middle Eastern populations that just feels… wrong. There’s something about spending a few hundred million dollars on distraction like “Transformers” when, yunno, Iraq, Somalia, Zimbabwe, and Darfur’s goin’ on. It all feels oddly, well, alienating. We’re entertaining ourselves to death.

And so, when a dozen fire tricks noisily locked up Eighth Avenue, and when I realized I was surrounded by towering, smoked-glass high rises, and when I noticed that my fellow pedestrians with their iPods and BlueTooth headsets had themselves become robotic, well, I started to feel funny inside. All of the signage aroujd me — the faux-heroic posturing of “Spider-Man 3,” the “Fantastic Four” “Rise” campaign — felt shallow, threatening, and ominous. REM’s “Losing My Religion” on my iPod didn’t help much.

By the time I reached 57th & Eighth and found myself log jammed behind a small group of Dutch tourists staring up at the Hearst building — a steely, Erector set-like mass of geometry jutting skyward from its art deco base — I thought, “The future is now. America is ‘Blade Runner’ and ‘1984’ and ‘Brazil.’ Dystopia doesn’t happen all at once, like some alien invasion from outer space. It creeps up on you.”

And then I thought about work. Where has all the audience gone? It’s a frequent conversation in Big media these days. In this age of time shifting, nich-ification, blurb-ification, Twitter, Blogger, and special interest, what constitutes a blockbuster? Moreover, where has all the community gone? If not the Superbowl, then what? With broader, narrower audiences, plus an expanding universe of options — Blackberries, cell phones, gaming consoles, cable, Tivo, DVR, etc etc etc — where do find consensus? What are our shared experiences? How do we rally around a cause without someone belittling it as “a focus group?” How do affect change? Where do we even begin to connect with one another?

There was a point in Sunday night’s Rockwood Music Hall performance that I really felt something, where I really began to know what it’s like to be a part of something. I was between songs, surveying the room, seeking some witty banter, when I just blurted out, “Yunno, I gotta’ say, you’re a pretty excellent cast of characters, and it means a whole lot to me that you’re all here.” Whether Leigh or Rachel or Bex or Michael or Chris or Megan or Sarah or whomever else was there for me, for Abbi, for the music, or just left standing after the previous band had exited stage left, I didn’t care. We were together. We were connected. We were sharing something. It made me feel… something.

I kept my sunglasses on well after the sun set tonight, until I passed the outsized and overwhelming Time-Warner Center. I took long strides in time with my music, bobbing and weaving through the crowds and ticking off the blocks without stopping (traffic be damned). I ran through my usual script of inner dialogue:

“Capitalism is killing me.”

“Hey, at least you have a job.”

“Yeah, but I can’t stay in the town forever. It’s soul crushing.”

“Ok, where else are you going to go?”

In the middle of it all, as Midtown’s skyscrapers gave way to Uptown’s brownstones, I settled a bit. And I thought back to the end of last night show.

“Exactly two years ago tonight beneath that light right there, a woman turned to me and said ‘Nice show’ and offered to buy me a beer,” I said. “Those are the two keys to this kingdom here,” I finished, pointing at my heart.

“Less than a month ago,” I continued, “Running through Central Park, I asked her to marry me. So and this place and this night and two years ago tonight are pretty cool. And Ken and Tommy and the gang have my life-long gratitude. So do you guys. Thanks for coming out on this special night.”

Maybe that’s it. Maybe that’s all we get. Maybe that’s all we can do. Say hello to the guy at the deli. Thank the bus driver. And remember that being there for each other is all that counts. And saying so. In person. Before the sky falls down and its too late to say anything at all.

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