I went to New York this week to see the fabulous new play Hello Failure by Seattle’s own Kristen Kosmas at P.S. 122, and to take care of some business, get into some trouble, and check in on some friends. I’m reporting to you now from the exotic and glamorous Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn, which is not, apparently, the namesake of Houston rapper Bushwick Bill of the Geto Boys, but which is the latest Brooklyn neighborhood to be infested with the plague of conformist Williamsburg hipsters seeking cheap rent who are incrementally destroying New York in every direction. (No offense to the conformist Williamsburg hipsters who let me crash at their place and use their computer.)
Yes, it’s another glorious week in New York for your humble columnist, starting at JFK airport, where, in the process of helping a charming little old lady (probably a pickpocket) negotiate the proper series of shuttle and train transfers to Manhattan to visit her ailing sister-in-law, I groggily got on the E train with her, not on my train at all, and proceeded to spend the morning of my first day on a leisurely tour of many, many different subway stops across the boroughs of Queens, Brooklyn, and Manhattan. I was heading to a 9:30 meeting down on Wall Street, not because my indie-rock fortunes require that I personally monitor the stock exchange, but for altogether more tragic and hilarious reasons. In the aftermath of 9/11, most of the banks and investment brokerages started hightailing it out of the financial district and setting up shop in the relatively more bustling areas of Midtown, where they could kid themselves that they would be safer from terrorist attack at least until the terrorists got hard-ons for Radio City Music Hall. Unfortunately, that area was the traditional home of all the record labels and TV networks, and as the rents started rising and the suits started pouring into the neighborhood, the first people to be displaced were the smaller labels and publishing houses operating on the lower floors of Rockefeller Center. Those small labels and publishers went where the office rents were cheapest, down in the now half-deserted canyons of Wall Street. The juxtaposition of rock slouchers and financial district bluebloods is a treat for the eye.
After my high-powered showbiz meetings downtown, where it was agreed that we were all soon to realize fantastic riches from humping the bloated corpse of indie rock as long as I was assiduous in keeping my artistic integrity absolutely intact (damn!), I had the first of 13 meals I was to have that day. Ah, New York, you make such a delightful roast beef sandwich. I walked up from the Battery to 14th Street, through Chinatown and the East Village, shaking my moneymaker on Avenue A with the walking American Apparel ads in Ron Wood fright wigs who make up the downtown scene. Ten thousand Serpicos and not a single Annie Hall. Eventually I migrated to Park Slope, where I searched high and low for a jar of maraschino cherries to take as a gift to a dinner party later that night. My host, a popular comedian who plays the role of an unhip brand of computer in TV commercials for a hip brand of computer, had asked me to bring the cherries as some kind of test or as a private gag, for when I arrived at the dinner and presented him with the cherries, he simply nodded, smiled, and put them aside, using them in neither the dinner nor the drinks. I suspect it may have been the first of many Comic Guild initiation rituals I’ll be asked to perform before I’m finally trusted enough to be introduced to Jerry Stiller. One of the other guests at dinner was the guitarist Kaki King, who has a new record released this week called Dreaming of Revenge I can heartily recommend. Conversation around the table ranged from a discussion of Thomas Dolby’s performance at the recent TED Conference in Monterey, Calif., to a long story about an affair the actress Sean Young had with Patrick Stewart’s teenage son during the filming of Dune. Standard high-geek fare.
By 2 a.m. I was back at Little Frankie’s on First Avenue eating lasagna with a group of Seattle theater expats. A particular filmmaker sat at my right elbow while I ate, babbling with increasing hysteria about owls and Freemasonry, and seemed genuinely baffled when I made the suggestion that perhaps his habitual drunkenness and massive drug intake contributed to his perception that he was being watched by plastic birds. Let that be a lesson to anyone who tries to kick their drug habit by moving to Manhattan.
Seattleites are everywhere in New York, the product of a peculiar relationship between the two cities that strengthens over time. Obviously, New York could be said to have a special relationship with every other city in the world, since there are probably whole neighborhoods in the Bronx where they speak nothing but Etruscan or Thracian and all the people from Sarmizegetuza who make alternative theater end up moving there, too. Still, Seattle and New York have been eyeing each other for some time now, and judging just from the number of bartenders I know between Stanton and Broome streets, there’s a tremendous cross-pollination. I like the contrast between the two places; they’re like an antidote to each other. New York is massively larger than Seattle in every sense, yet everyone who lives in New York ends up struggling to create a small, livable world of their own within the big city, going to the same few bars and restaurants, and hanging with the same small group of friends. The overwhelming scale of the city becomes a backdrop, or worse, an obstacle, to their normally scaled lives. Seattle, in contrast, is already normally scaled. Within a month you can take in much of what the city has to offer, and that apprehensibility is a nice feature rather than a confining one. I’ve listened to countless grumpy Seattleites extoll the cultural virtues of New York while they packed their bags to move, and three years later, they had never ventured even to MoMA, let alone a Mafia wedding, and were meeting fellow Seattleites for drinks every night at a SoHo bar called the Space Needle.
Anyway, my first day in the city was followed by a week more of the same. Day two I saw a great new band, Misha, at Pianos, and had a fantastic dinner at the Little Giant with Death Cab bassist Nick Harmer, who was in town to deliver their new record to “the man.” The night ended at 5 a.m. in a DUMBO apartment at a party celebrating the best-documentary Oscar for the film Taxi to the Dark Side, where the host and I engaged in a lively discussion of the semiotics of aesthetics over a plate of artisan liverwurst made by a single family of Pennsylvania Mennonites. And so on. By the third day I finally saw Hello Failure, which was exceptional, and joined the cast for drinks afterward, somehow ending up waiting for a G train at 4 a.m. on an open platform in the freezing cold and finally doing a charcoal sketch of Robin Goldwasser’s cats as the sun came up over Williamsburg. I can’t live like this any more. I started longing for Seattle, where it’s next to impossible to find a restaurant open after 11 p.m. and everyone goes home quietly with a feeling of mild disappointment at the end of the night. Somehow, despite my complete aversion to both cocaine and fashion models, I invariably end up with my shoes on fire as a part of a Marxist/lesbian art project on a barge in the East River with Ukrainian sword-swallowers feeding M&Ms to an elephant when I just want to be sitting in the bathtub reading about it in The New Yorker. Ye gods.
I won’t bore you with the many celeb sightings and sex parties over the next few days. I spent a nice afternoon sitting in a Danish furniture store (where folding chairs cost $4,500) reading about Afghan war rugs and had a studiously off-the-wall time playing Bingo with my friend Ami at the Black Rabbit in Greenpoint, plus managed to catch some improv theater at the Pit in midtown, but my walking tour of the Green-Wood cemetery was a definite highlight. My cell phone died while I was there, and although I missed out on more than one festivity later that night as a result, the quiet respite was a welcome change.