Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Smoking Ban Goes Down In Flames 

Sorry about the headline. Couldn't resist. This is good news. You can almost feel the smell the nicotine breath exuding from Graydon Carter's smile:

Supreme Court Justice Paul J. Baisley Jr. ruled this month that the Clean Indoor Air Act (Public Health Law Art. 13-E), requires bar owners to post "no smoking" signs in their establishments and to admonish people who light up in defiance of those laws. The statute does not, however, require the bar owners to enforce the law by ordering patrons to stub out their cigarettes or otherwise refuse to serve them.

[NY Lawyer--NY Bars Defeat Smoking Ban - Sort Of]

ManhattanTransfer Is So Boring Ever Since He Quit Drinking 

I used to complain about Wednesdays. There was nothing to do. No-one went out on Wednesday nights. I could usually talk someone into having dinner with me but they always begged off the second or third after dinner drink.

Wednesdays always threatened dullness, and I was painfully aware of the threat because Wednesday was the limit of my sobriety. I could pretty much make it through Sunday night still high from too many cocktails at brunch. If necessary I could pop out at midnight for a drink at some dive in the east village where they let you smoke in the basement and kids sing along to popular songs. Monday nights were reserved for self-loathing and regrets about promises and hearts broken over the weekend.

There had been a time when Tuesday night was everything. It was theme night at the Village Idiot--that beer soaked barn-like bar at the edge of the meetpacking district that became each Tuesday the perfect place to make new barfly friends, down bourbon from dirty glasses, flirt with bartenders dressed like cops or schoolgirls or nurses and makeout with girls who smelled like bubblegum. But theme night had preceded the Idiot out of existence years ago, and Tuesday nights became a night to pay homage to normality. I would cook dinner at home, maybe entertain a visitor for a bit, maybe go to the theater or a movie, talk to friends on the phone, settle in to bed with a good book. For one night a week, I was a full-fledged member of humanity.

It was too much, obviously. By mid-day Wednesday I could feel the energy building up inside me. I craved fun, danger, drink and fraternizing with friend and foe alike. The order of life--with day following night, waking following sleeping, newspapers, Pat Kiernan, hellos, memos, coffee, sitting and standing, polished shoes and pressed shirts--cried out to be smashed. Chaos was calling, and I lived by the river.

Since no-one else would go out with me on Wednesdays it became a night to adventure alone. I made it a point to drink in unfamiliar bars and talk with strangers. I would bring a notepad out with me, and jot down my impressions of the city at night. Alone you can observe things that you pass over under the weight of social responsibility. You can linger in conversation or let your eyes remain fixed upon a scene for longer than a gaggle of friends or a lover would permit.

Some time this summer, Tuesday became my new Wednesday. Monday night at home was enough to press me out of doors on Tuesday night. In part, this might have been because I was spending each weekend out in East Egg, depriving myself of the special pleasures of New York City weekend nights. In any case, the quietness of Tuesday vanished altogether and was replaced by the noise of the city. This substitution felt good. It was as if I was closing a wound or bridging a trench that had been cut in my week.

Over the past two months, I built that bridge out a little further. It now stretches all the way to Monday, usually in the Cellar. What this means is that my weekend begins on Monday. It is a bit reassuring that there's nowhere left to push the weekend without actually pushing it back into the weekend, where it probably belongs in the first place. But it is disconcerting that I feel the need to destroy the order of the week even before it gets started.

It's more than disconcerting. It is tiring. I'm getting bored of anarchy, and starting to miss reality. So I'm getting off the drink for a while. Well, not getting off it, but laying it aside on Monday nights. Not that I won't be drinking at all on Mondays but I'm going to be drinking like the rest of you do rather than the imitation of Bacchus. I mean I'll still be palming a glass of Irish whiskey in the Cellar every Monday but I probably won't be flying off like a mad angel who has lost his pity for humanity.

Sunday, October 24, 2004

Deathwish City 

I don't spend a lot of time talking or writing about the New York City of my youth because it is too annoying to confront the skepticism of people who only know the city as the iridescent playland of Sex and City or the chummy coffeehouse world of Friends. The crime ridden city of Taxi Driver, Deathwish or Warriors strikes them as a dystopian fantasy past, and the mere fact of my survival counts as evidence against the story of my life.

In the City Section of today's New York Times, Steven Kurutz pulls The Age of the Mugger out of the memory hole. It's a necessary reminder of an awful age.

Friday, October 22, 2004

Trouble In The Eyes 

Someone I work with just said, "You must have something big planned for tonight."

"What makes you say that?"

"I know that look. You've got trouble in your eyes."

You Aren't As Smart as You Think You Are 

I had been told that everything was going on my permanent record. The classes I skipped, the tests I flunked, the fights I fought and my insubordinate attitude. None of that mattered because I was thirteen years old, it was New York City in the midst of the Crack-Era of the Cold War, and all I cared about was impressing girls, winning fights and avoiding boredom.

My junior high school had the look of an upstate correctional facility that had fallen into Chelsea. There were metal gates before the doors and narrow windows. Security guards patrolled the entrance. You weren't allowed to wear a coat indoors because it was too easy to conceal weapons. It was named for a famous New York City writer but known only by the bureaucratic designation "seventy."

The place was organized like a prison, with a violent hierarchy in which I found myself very near the bottom. Kids from the neighboring projects controlled the hallways, while those of us from farther down in the Village were faced with the choice: subordinate your dignity and tolerate a few years of getting yoked, robbed and humiliated--or adopt a stance of defiance and insubordination and tolerate a few years of violence.

I might have been happier if I had been able to hold my eyes a little lower but I was temperamentally unsuited to subordination. Besides I had younger brothers who were coming into the school and it had always been my role to protect them. So I fought back. The first fights were easy because no-one expected you to respond to their taunts or pushes with a knuckle to the chin. After that they jumped you, five or six throwing as many punches and kicks as they could.

The only way out of this conundrum that I could see when I was in the sixth and seventh grade was to assemble what we called "back-up"--a crew of people who would jump those who jumped you. This proved impossible among my classmates. They were thoroughly subordinate, unwilling to raise a clenched fist or join a proposed alliance of mutual protection.

I discovered the secret to my classmates' subordination. They were not surrendering their dignity. They maintained their self-respect by telling themselves that they were behaving civilized amidst savagery. They were convinced of their intellectual and moral superiority over their tormentors and took comfort in this. After three years of junior high school they would be culled from this dull, violent herd and sent to New York City's elite public schools, Bronx Science or Stuyvesant. Their passivity was a subtle form of snobbery.

It was a snobbery that "seventy" encouraged through its academic tracking system. Students were divided into three tracks. Track One was predominately kids from the Village, and everyone else was in Tracks Two and Three. It was never clear to the Track Ones who was in Track Two or Three because we never had occasion to see their classrooms and inquiring into which of the lesser Tracks someone had been sorted was a very certain way of provoking violence. There was rumored to be a track four but I never met with any evidence of this. Track One was the Victim Track and the others were the Dominator Track.

My willingness to fight back was generally taken by the Track One kids as a sign that I lacked intelligence. It was risky, it was unconventional and I was "stooping to their level." So my classmates not only regarded me as foolish but as most likely stupid. Probably I didn't belong in Track One at all.

I fought, and I got jumped, and I still fought. I quickly discovered that not only was I good at what we called “the knuckle game” but that I enjoyed it. I became deliberately provocative. In a school dominated by mid-eighties hip-hop fashion, I took to wearing outlandish punk-rock clothing. Sta-Press pants that wouldn't tear in a fight. Steal-capped Doc Martens that were brutal when used as weapons. Rings with spikes.

By eighth grade I didn't need to fight that often. I had acquired a reputation for being crazy--someone whose behavior was unpredictable and uncontrollable. Rumors circulated that I had thrown a kid named Angel out a second story window. Nobody bothered my younger brother when he arrived because he had me as his "back-up." Girls paid attention to me for the usual reasons.

And I got bored. School had always been unendingly dull to me but I had spent two years distracted by the constant possibility of violence. I began to hate schools and schooling. I suspected that it was just a way to warehouse children and press them into some model of conformity. And I was right.

There was no real way to fight off the boredom except to avoid school altogether by taking to the streets of Chelsea. This was when west Chelsea was Puerto Rican and not fashionably homosexual, when the Maritime was Pheonix House, and the now trendy streets to the south and west were populated only by trannie-hookers, older men cruising for younger men along the piers and junkies of every variety.

It was the perfect place to enact the anarchy that I craved. I found that after two years of subordination, some of my classmates were ready for a change even if they weren't ready to join my insurrection. They were ready not to mutiny but desert. We drank forties on loading docks, shared a bottle of Jack Daniels on a condemned pier, inhaled nitrous oxide and fell down on the streets giggling. I became good friends with Sully, a fellow rebel who hailed from deep in the East Village. Rachel put her tongue in my ear, and Joanie let me put my hand up her shirt.

Not all of my Track One classmates joined us. There were manywho kept their noses in their books, confident that their refusal to join our rebellion was a sign of their superior intelligence. I agreed with them. Let the brains keep to the brainy things, while the not-dim-but-not-that-bright rebels keep rebelling.

One day in Spring the school summoned the eighth grade class to the auditorium to inform us the results of the placement tests we had taken early that year. These were called Secondary School Aptitude Tests and were mini-SAT's with verbal and math sections. We had been told that our scores on the SSAT's would be evaluated along with our attendance and our class grades to determine which high school we went to. The best would go the Stuyvesant, the next to Bronx Science, and the rest to their "zoned" school, which meant four more years spent among a population very much like that of "seventy."

I didn't even open the envelope. My attendance was so bad that I had more or less dropped out. When I went to class it was mostly to sleep at a desk in the back. I wasn't even sure what my grades were because I had taken to burning my report cards before opening them. The envelope got thrown onto the ground.

What was the point anyway? I saw even some of the smartest of the subordinated snobs sob as they were rejected from the specialized high schools. I even took a secret joy in their pain--there was no escape for them. They would now have to choose continued subordination or join my rebellion. But if the bar for entrance to the best high schools prohibitted them, I didn't have a chance. I figured someone would find some way of telling me where I was supposed to report for classes next fall.

"Oh, fuck yeah. Eat this, nerds. Stuyvesant!" It was the voice of Sully. He was waving his envelope above his head. He had been accepted at Stuyvesant. Sully, my fellow punk-rock hero, was going to the best school in New York City. I felt betrayed and then I felt hopeful.

I picked up the envelope from where I had thrown it on the auditorium floor. Inside was a small note with my scores and my school. I was going to Stuyvesant. I wasn't supposed to care. School was for suckers. Fuck the teachers. But I was happy. Sully and I marched out of the auditorium and out of "seventy" to go drink in Tompkins Square park and celebrate this unlikely triumph over the system.

We drank and talked and pealed back the veil of deception that had governed our lives. A couple of things were plain. Our grades and attendance did not matter at all. The permanent record was bunk. All that mattered were our scores on that aptitude test and we had scored exceptionally well. What's more, we realized that the nerds weren't always smart. Their apparent braininess, their pose of intellectual superiority, was more often than not simply a cover for their social awkwardness and physical cowardice. And this made sense. While others had suffered countless indignities for the past three years, we had figured out how to liberate ourselves and have fun. How could we not have seen this as a sign of intelligence?

I know you are not supposed to write stories like this. The narrator of every story is the bookish kid who hangs around the tough, cool kid. But that wasn't the way it was with me, and I've never found the bookish kid to chronicle my life so that task has fallen to me. If it makes you feel comfortable, Sully was bigger than I and a better fighter. So maybe I was the bookish one after all.

Last night in the Cellar I found myself telling this story over my fifth glass of Jameson Irish Whisky to someone who was arguing that George Bush was obviously less intelligent than John Kerry. I said I wasn't sure. Sometimes the intelligent ones don't sound that way, and sometimes the smart sounding kids don't have as much smarts as they appear to. Bush probably has more raw smarts than Kerry, but I'd say he doesn't know as much because he isn't that interested in knowing things. I'm not sure any of this has anything to do with who should be President.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

I Wonder If John Kerry Knows the Secret 

How could anyone write this article without explaining what that 57 Varities business is all about?

Friday, October 15, 2004

Richard III 

Does anyone want to go see Richard III at the Public Theater with me? None of my friends do.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

As the Binge Turns 

The binge I've been on since, well, October 1st was finally interrupted last night so I have no excuse for not writing today. Or at least not my usual excuses.

I'm not writing anyway. With TMFTML gone legit, someone has got to hang around and not blog. Go read the latest IJC on the arrival of autumn instead.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Gawker Is So Over 

But we're having a Gawker revival party today over here. Wear your favorite stalker t-shirts and your older sister's arm-warmers.

Monday, October 11, 2004

We Got Another One 

Turbulent Priest has a blog. Fucking excellent.

Blood in the Streets 

I'm sorry I had to shut down the internets on Friday. I stopped by the Cellar to meet a filmmaker friend Thursday night, and things took an unexpected turn into chaos. The filmmaker is sober so it should have been an easy night. I'd sip a glass or two of whiskey while she drank whatever it is that people-who-don't-drink drink. We'd listen to the amazing Cellar jukebox and compete for who has the best stories from our recent adventures. I figured I'd be home in bed before midnight.

I didn't know that I was, like so many fallen warriors, about to be abducted by a flock of valkyries. The filmmaker retreated from the bar when it became apparent that we were all going to open the doors to valhalla with the whiskey we were inhaling.

The rest of the night is a blur of blood, broken bones and debauchery.

You can read about it here and check out the pictures here.

By the time Friday rolled around I just thought we'd all be better off if I shut down the internets for a few days.

Friday, October 08, 2004

The Internet Is Closed Today 

This message is brought to you by John Jameson and NITBC.

Update: The metaphysical hangover has kicked in. If I hurt anyone besides myself last night I'm very sorry. And if I did anything that was really embarrassing please have the decency never to mention it to me.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Guilty Pleasures 

This is definitely the most sexually embittered and offensive blog I've come across since Eurotrash got all sunny on us. So of course I'm completely fascinated.

Update: New IJC is up! Hurrah!

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Half and Half 

My friends were having this conversation last night in Cellar.

Him: I think we’ve made out like three times.

Her: We’ve made out way more than that. We’ve had sex three times.

Him: That’s right. Sorry. Only three?

Her: Yeah. Were we ever sober?

Him: I don’t think so.

Her: What about that time when I moved into my new apartment?

Him: Oh, right. You wanted to break the new place in or something. That was like Dare Sex. I think we were sober.

Her: And what about that time in the morning?

Him: I don’t know about you, but I was still drunk.

Her: Well, I was sober, so that’s one and half times.

Him: If I agree it is possible to have sex a half time can we have sex again?

Her: Depends. Drunk or sober?

Him: I’m drunk but you look sober enough, so that will be another halfsie.

Her: Fuck. I’m drunk too. I was hoping you were sober.

I Knew Her When 

I think that this means drinks are on Lindsay tonight.

Friday, October 01, 2004

Dorothy Parker Bathtub Gin Ball & Speakeasy Cruise 

It's one of those amazing autumn days, and promises to be a beautiful night. Maybe I should go on a cruise. And it's put on by the Dorthy Parker Society so it should count as literary. Right?

The problem is that you cannot get off until the end, and I'm completely phobic of being socially trapped. What if I get bored or Krucoff calls from the depths of Lindsay Lohan's cleavage looking for someone to hold off Tara Reid? Or I'm just too drunk and need to execute the Irish exit? I don't think they have a VIP shuttle to get me back to shore.

I Really Was Making An Effort to Be Literate, Like 

So I tonight I'm supposed to go to this talk or reading Jonathan Lethem is giving down on Norfolk Street as part of the New Yorker Festival. Lethem's most recent novel, The Fortress of Solitude, was a marvelous book that comes as close as anything I've read to capturing what it was like to grow up in New York City in the bad old years. Dalton Conley's Honky is the only other book that comes close. (Both writers, however, are significantly older than I am, and so their stories take place pre-Crack Era and all its attendant horrors.)

Unfortunately, the good folks at Ticketmaster have lost my tickets so now it looks like its back to the bottle rather than the books. Where are we drinking tonight?

Oh, and tomorrow is New York is Book Country, and they've moved it downtown from its usual lair along Fifth Avenue in midtown. Last year I ended up unintentionally stalking Vendela Vida and unintentionally seducing an NYU Irish Literature professor. Those book people are so funny.