02 November 2007

Back To "Normal"

I didn't immediately blog about the end of the Fest because I was kind of exhausted, and had to get up very early the next morning to drive to Tampa, and also because for me (and I think for a lot of people), the Fest kind of petered out on the last day rather than wrapping up with a resounding bang.

It seemed as though there weren't nearly as many as shows on Sunday, and that those that were happening tended to conflict with each other or be on opposite sides of town, forcing people to make difficult and sometimes dispiriting choices. Also, a cold (at least by Florida standards) wind blew in along with some rain, and most of us weren't really dressed for it, and on top of that, people were pretty worn out from tramping all over town and (not in my case personally, but for many others) staying up all night drinking and/or trying to sleep on bathroom floors in hotel rooms with one bed and 17 occupants (the room, not the bed, that is, though I can't vouch for every situation).

Pretty much every representative of the PPMB and New York pop punk crew was on hand for the double-barreled finale of Short Attention and the Ergs. Non-PPMB Festgoers may not have known exactly what to make of Short Attention (though they seemed to like them), but went completely insane for the Ergs. My misguided masochism led me to stand right up front for them (perhaps it was some mad macho posturing attempt to prove that a 60 year old can still handle himself in the pit), and it proved to be a bit more challenging than the Avail pit, though the stage divers and crowd surfers tended to be a bit less beefy. I still took a moderate kick to the side of the head from one doofus, but also played a crucial role in sending several others crashing to the floor.

By the time the Ergs finished - around 8:30 pm - there wasn't much else going on in the other venues. There was a Small Brown Bike reunion, but I'd never got into them the first time around, and some band called Seaweed, whom I remembered as being vaguely big sometime back in the 80s or early 90s. I think they had long hair and were kind of in that Nirvana vein, but whatever it was, it had nothing to do with me, so I stood around with the rest of the Ergs crowd outside Common Grounds, renewing old acquaintances, making new ones, and trying to stay warm. Eventually I ended up in one of those 17-person hotel rooms for what was supposedly a "party," but looked more like a bunch of guys and on or two girls lounging around drinking beer while the last World Series game played silently on the TV.

It was still technically my birthday, remember, so I left on my own and got some Krispy Kreme donuts in lieu of a birthday cake (I seemed to have become immune to the smell, which was a bit worrying), and headed back to my hotel to sleep. In the morning I made it to Tampa in record time, caught a plane to Washington, and despite my aching feet, did some sightseeing, taking in the White House, the National Mall, the Washington Monument, and the Capitol. I'd seen the first three previously, albeit briefly, but this was the first time I'd ever got a good look at the Capitol. Pretty snazzy, I must say, though I'll have to go back another time to take the tour and see the inside.

In prior visits to Washington, I'd been mainly occupied in protesting (1967) or seeing an Avail show (1994 or 95), and hadn't really had more than a cursory look at anything. I did walk past the White House in 1967 - this was back when you could still get a lot closer than you can now - and imagined I saw President Johnson looking out an upstairs window with the weight of the world on his shoulders. It was later that same night when I met two teenyboppers from Baltimore down near the Jefferson Memorial, where we in turn were picked up and given a place to stay by a young man who worked for Senator Fulbright and had a picture of himself as a teenager shaking hands with John F. Kennedy. I may never be able to prove it with any certitude (unless I meet him again and ask him), but I'm about 99% certain that our host that night was a 21 year old Bill Clinton.

My sightseeing this time was cut short by my sore feet and temperatures that were way too chilly for the wardrobe I'd packed with Florida in mind. I ended up staying indoors after dark instead of investigating Washington's night life, assuming it has any (it certainly didn't in the neighborhood where I was staying, where everything, even the Subway and the Starbucks, seemed to close up by 7 pm). The following morning I caught the train back to New York and arrived just in time for the long-awaited Weakerthans show.

My friend and hero John K. Samson had grown a beard for the occasion, prompting me to ask him if he was honoring the spirit of Gainesville, though his beard would have been far too neat and kempt (I know that's not a word, but it should be) for the Fest crowd. Perhaps they in especially high spirits because of having the next day off, but for whatever reason, the Weakerthans played a full hour and forty-five minutes, something that would be unforgivable in most bands, but in this case was still barely enough. They did two encores which together added up to almost a show in themselves, and ran through nearly half of the songs from their new album, of which "Sun In An Empty Room" hit me with the most impact, especially followed as it was by "Left And Leaving."

As I explained to John afterward, the last three and a half years for me have been all about empty rooms and leaving places behind; first Spy Rock, then London, and finally Berkeley. I especially remembered the look of the Spy Rock house as I said my last goodbyes to it, with the sun spilling though the windows and splashing off the wood, looking so rich and warm and inviting and at the same time so desolate and forlorn.

And I guess I feel a bit desolate and forlorn myself at times, cut adrift from so much of what was familiar and waiting for my new life to take form. Part of my problem in the past was that while I was always ready to try new adventures in new places, I could never quite bring myself to let go of the old ones, so I'd find myself in the uncomfortable and untenable position of trying to live several places at once.

Now there's just one place, here in Brooklyn, and while my present living circumstances are not completely ideal, I can't think of anywhere else I want to be. It's still not quite home, but more and more it's beginning to feel that way. Tearing across Manhattan today on a series of errands, arguing with an intractable bank clerk who didn't want to let me open an account there because "you don't live or work in the neighborhood," zipping up my fleece and shivering slightly as another foretaste of winter blew in off the Hudson, I thought, yes, this is my life now, and you know, it's a pretty good one.

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