20 May 2007

A Damp And Chilly Night On The Town

Once again summer has gone away, replaced by a nagging rain and London/San Francisco-type temperatures, but rather than huddling in my apartment trying to keep warm by using the oven as a sort of fireplace, I was propelled out into the night in search of fellowship and culture.

Met up with friends in Chelsea in the early evening and as always happens when I visit that neighborhood, found myself marveling at how I once intended or at least hoped to live there. About six years ago, I was seriously considering leasing a studio apartment in the Chelsea Hotel for a year, which I figured would be sufficient time to create an unspecified work of art or literature that would be successful enough to justify the exorbitant amount of money I'd have blown on rent.

Never mind pointing out that even in 2001 my clich├ęd fantasy was already a decade or two out of date; I've since managed to figure that out on my own and frequently use it as evidence in the arguments with myself that flare up whenever I come up with another crackpot scheme to transform my life, which averages out to several times a day. At any rate, Chelsea the district as well as Chelsea the hotel have long since been beyond my means, unless of course I manage to produce that still unspecified yet highly profitable work of art.

But I had little time to linger in Chelsea's genteel precincts, as I was due in Brooklyn for a launch party at one of the city's best-loved comics shops, Rocketship. The book in question was Stuck In the Middle: 17 Comics From An Unpleasant Age, featuring work by among others, Ariel Schrag (who also edited it) and my fabulous Eisner-nominated niece, Gabrielle Bell.

Gabrielle's contribution was especially meaningful for me above and beyond the usual reasons of her being a brilliant artist and storyteller (okay, and being related to me), because it hearkened back to her childhood on Spy Rock/Iron Peak, where of course I also lived for many years. It was such a unique and bizarre environment that I've long suspected words or pictures alone could never adequately capture its essence, but by combining the two, Gabrielle brought memories - and not particularly pretty ones, either - to life with a vividness that had me shivering and breaking out in goose bumps while trying to maintain the appearance of being just another guy reading the book in the midst of the party because he was too cheap to buy it.

I stuck around longer than I'd planned because Ariel, Lauren Weinstein, and Gabrielle's really cool and funny friend Karen whose last name I can't remember did a slide show reading, i.e., selections from the comic were projected on the wall and they did the voices. It was top-notch entertainment, and I ended up staying until it was over, even though it meant being an hour late for my next stop. Oh, also ran into my old friend Josh Neuman of Heeb magazine, who said he'd been "dragged" there by his comics editor, but in the end seemed impressed by the work on show and quite happy to have been so shanghaied.

Then came a quick dash back to the city, where a whole slew of bands including the Steinways and For Science were holding forth in the Lit Lounge basement. It's a bit of dive, I guess, but by East Village standards, it's actually almost classy. The show was a sloppy, good-natured affair (translation: almost everybody was drunk) where the camaraderie overshadowed the music. Which was fine by me, the only annoying part being the way the club blasted recorded music in between the bands at a volume even higher than the bands themselves. P Smith, JoeIII and I were huddled in a corner having a semi-profound conversation, nearly oblivious to the band playing some 30 feet away, but the minute the band stopped, the canned music emanating from the speaker above our heads made further discussion impossible.

Sartorial highlight: big Chris Grivet, striding off stage after his set with the Steinways, his sleeves rolled up to make his t-shirt look like a muscle shirt, comes face to face with our little crowd, whereupon JoeIII, whose own musculature could be charitably described as sparse if not downright slight, rolled up his own sleeves to create an instant caricature. Suddenly, perhaps in a gesture of Jersey solidarity, P Smith had done the same, and while P possesses a more or less normal physique, the spectacle of this normally reserved gentleman (Clark Kent would look like a raving loony alongside the ever-demure Mr. Smith) voluntarily displaying that much usually unseen flesh was the stuff of which comedy gold is made. That was all it took to get the more amply proportioned Chadd Derkins into the act, and not content to simply stand there Costanza-like while all around him cracked up, he slithered and writhed into what ubiquitous photog Bob "Rusty" James later dubbed a "homoerotic batdance."

Rusty never stopped snapping the entire time, and no doubt photo sequences will be dogging the internet by now. I, feeling no desire to show off my upper arms (ironically, since I'm one of the few in the crowd who's been known to wear genuine "muscle" shirts), cowered behind someone so I wouldn't end up in any of the pictures, and I may have been successful. At least none have turned up yet. I haven't been feeling so photogenic lately, which is why, for all of you who persist in asking, there's no photo of me here or on my Myspace (which I never update and which contains no information, so don't bother looking).

The night ended, as it generally does when I remain in Manhattan past midnight, in an unseemly scrum of drunks, hustlers and hipsters on the Union Square L train platform, waiting to be ferried back to Brooklyn on the criminally inadequate and dangerously overcrowded late night service. You think the L train gets bad at commute hours? At least during the day there's a train every few minutes, so if one is too crowded, you can wait for the next one without making yourself too late. After midnight you're lucky if it comes every 20 minutes, while the crowds waiting to ride it are every bit as dense (sometimes in both senses of the word) as they are at normal rush hours. Whoever decides how often trains need to run on the L line obviously doesn't get out much at night.

Never mind, though; by holding my breath I was able to slither into a corner of the last car and by continuing to hold it, able to survive the journey home, a journey made considerably longer by people trying to cram themselves into uncrammable places at the next couple stops. A couple blocks walk in the ever-so-slight drizzle, and I was safely home, curled up in front of the warmth of my oven, and thence to bed. All in all, not too shabby a night's outgoings.

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