Apologies for the long delay in posting, but I needed some extensive time to myself. As with any period where I’m off the road (so… am I off-roading?), the attention toward taking care of myself and plotting my next move tends to put a significant dent in my time for blogging. That’s not to say that I haven’t been writing or doing interesting things, I just lack the discipline needed to persevere without the structure of long drives and a one-per-show goal. Since getting back to NYC and settling into some sort of life, I’ve had the added bonus of living in what is essentially a cave, so my friends have seen me with barely more consistency than this blog has. I can’t remember the last time I had a place to live with my very own door! So, I’ve made little notes and continued to chip away slowly at this post, yet it has evaded completion until now.
The question now – what in fact was I doing the first couple of weeks of March? Well, there was quite a bit of hiding in the dark basement in Bed-Stuy. While there was much catching up on sleep, I cobbled together a decent routine of fasting, yoga, and practicing the accordion. I’d get a tune stuck in my head the night before, look up the chords online, then begin learning it whenever I woke up. It was like an artistic retreat for my short attention span – no risk of distraction. When I would break out of my self-imposed exile, I mostly stayed local. A startling number of friends live in the neighborhood, not to mention the fact that Goodbye Blue Monday and Project Parlour are walking distance, as are Tiny Cup and Square Root Cafe. In spite of myself, I’m realizing I’ve missed the neighborhood. It became a time of good late night cabaret shows (including the weekly open mic nearby with its modern-day beatniks) and mid-afternoon brunches. Fortunately, despite the creeping gentrification of the neighborhood, nothing obnoxiously hip has reared its ugly head this side of Broadway – yet.
My living situation continued to work out quite well. Keeping the house relatively tidy wasn’t too difficult and I relished tasks like cleaning out the refrigerator. During one weekend, there was a houseguest from Toronto who insisted on doing the dishes, which made my role in the household even easier. She had come down from Toronto for a Burning Man camp party that weekend and it turned out that we had numerous friends in common. We got along quite well despite the 20ish year age gap. I was headed to Bryant Park for an Occupy action one morning and took her along with me on our way to respective destinations in NYC. Of course, by the time I got there, the people I knew had been arrested – one for riding his bicycle on the street and the other for dressing up as a clown and being cheerful. We ran into a friend of mine from the Rude Mechanical Orchestra, who was glowing from the peaceful direct action they had successfully executed earlier that morning. By the time we arrived, though, the event was dispersing and a light rain was falling. I met a charmingly shy violinist, though, and we made plans to go busking sometime soon.
The main point of my trip downtown was to meet up at Grand Central with one of the Broadway child actors for whom I sometimes nanny. He had an audition that day and I was responsible for keeping an eye on him until he headed back to Connecticut. Somehow I wound up with a large chunk of time to kill between the protest and work, so I sought shelter in the massive old public library. I had visited it a few times before, but each feels like the first; I tend to forget the majesty of the building. Our culture has become so conditioned by consumerism to think bookstores and coffee shops are the only public places fit for loitering over a book or on the internet. I was astonished by how few people were in the library despite the rain. I also think that most people, New Yorkers and tourists alike, tend to assume that nothing in Midtown is free. Somehow I had forgotten that the main library has exhibits as well. I lost myself for about an hour in a tiny room devoted to the life of Percy Shelley, making it only halfway across the room. I had a fun time looking after the kid again, he had a good audition, and he showed me an awesome little cafe in the back of an old church where the prices are good and you can loiter in their library undisturbed. Again, it was not terribly full. After I dropped him off at the train, I met up with my friend who had been arrested earlier in the day and dragged him back to the big library with me. We looked at activist relics in a huge exhibit which was closing that weekend, finished up the Shelley room (xo Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley), and took a lap around the building. Afterwards, we went looking for food and somehow wound up at a Moroccan hookah bar with live jazz.
My final destination in Manhattan that day was a late-night monthly open mic in the top floor of a place on restaurant row. My mother’s friend has been in the same Broadway show for about a decade and this small cabaret is where he and a handful of other stage professionals get a chance to try something a little different. The actors and musicians perform material unlike what they do at work, original pieces or not, while the tech crew try their hands at stand-up comedy and ballads. It felt like an honor to be there. The only people who hadn’t been invited were two Australian tourists who smiled broadly the entire time.
A highlight of my time back in NYC was an event at my friend’s DIY speakeasy space near the Brooklyn Navy Yards. I wasn’t sure what to expect from a New Wave sing along, but it was brilliant. It was led by a few folks who guided us through both protest songs and new wave classics. I had been working on a Nouvelle Vague version of a Clash song on the accordion, so I found the banjo-led renditions particularly interesting. I took note of more songs I should learn. Playing an instrument with chords has opened up a whole new world of possibilities to me. I began to emerge slightly from my basement and jam with friends, including at an exciting spot in a run-down old school beside a church.
I was rewarded for finally leaving my neighborhood by an exceptionally eccentric Saturday. I began the afternoon accompanying a friend to a monthly Baroque dancing class in downtown Brooklyn. It was actually a whole lot of fun and the music was provided by a live violin player, plus I can now say I have a vague idea how to dance a Minuet. Awesome! On the complete opposite end of the musical spectrum, I spent the evening helping out and partying at the annual Purim pageant and dance party. I’ve heard it is arguably the funnest annual party for anyone in the radical, brass band, klezmer, puppet, labor, queer, and/or trans scenes. It goes without saying that the RMO was there and played a fabulous set. The pageant was long and epic. One of my volunteer tasks was finding change for the bar – twenty dollars at a time, it turned out. This led me on an absurd adventure through a somewhat desolate part of Brooklyn, including a guy who claimed to be a famous Mexican singer and insisted on buying me old man brandy before his friends at the bar would buy me change. The party itself was far more fun.
The next morning, I explored an incredible warehouse co-op space and hit up the Brooklyn Flea Market in its historic indoor winter settings, found a feminist hardware store, and had a long sunset brunch at a friend’s place. Full of fresh energy, we hit up an Occupy meeting back in downtown Brooklyn and plugged the bicycle agenda, grabbed a little more nourishment at Grub, headed to the LES to sit in on the Time’s Up radio hour, then rode our respectively absurd big and little bikes back over the bridge to Brooklyn. It felt like old days when I was first sort of living in Brooklyn. I stopped in at Project Parlour to say hi to the DJ, but of course recognized a variety of folks and succumbed to the free and ready hot cider, flattery, and vintage cocktails. The next day I had the headache I deserved, plus the added pain of sleeping through a friend leaving town.
After a fairly useless day, I was back in downtown Brooklyn, a place I’ve found myself with increasing frequency this year. On a side note, one of my friends insists that my blog is not personal or travel but indeed a food blog. While I deny such claims, it is true that I talk about food quite a bit here. If you’ve been on tour, you probably understand. As I was saying, though, I went to two food spots in Brooklyn on the same unlikely strip near downtown which were pretty remarkable. A friend and I went out to a fantastic lunch at a bizarre vegan place that gives you funky, self-referential comic books at the door. After he took off on his outlandish bicycle, I decided to loiter a bit at a fantastically dirty bohemian cafe nearby. I was thrilled to find such an unlikely place in a neighborhood like that, which appeared to have gentrified around it. The sad word on the street was that the cafe was closing soon. I finally retired to my cave and got to back to productive hibernation which, along with some housecleaning, busied me until the weekend. I also got back to working at the same old venue, where I spent numerous hours sweeping up fake snow from their last theatre production. I doubt I will be able to appreciate a staged snow fall for quite some time. I was out of shape for manual labour, so it was a tiring day, but fortunately I finished out the night hanging out with friends who play accordion and banjo. Overall, New York was quite welcoming towards my slow return to its strange embrace.