Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Gogol Bordello at Webster Hall

I can't be the only person whose sense of social snobbery is most finely attuned in the mosh pit. Because I don't mind getting sweaty and bruised and crushed... as long as it's in the right company. They don't have to be beautiful (though that helps, if we're going to be breast to shoulder blade for the duration) but they do have to be into it. And have the right sort of facial hair.

As the support act took up their drums I did a quick reconnaissance. Surprisingly, given the band's late nineties vintage, there were groups of boys who barely looked in their teens - at least that's how it seemed to my tired old eyes. There were overgrown hobbity types and overweight men in European sports shirts, groups of students and thin girls with wild hair and a certain way of dancing with their eyes squeezed shut. I suspected we might have been the only ones who'd finally got round to downloading their albums the night before.

Once the main act came on stage, the mustachioed front man slugging from a bottle of wine, our carefully calibrated positioning went all to shit in the surge of the crowd. At one point we're close enough to the stage to feel the reverberations of the cymbals, but as the lengthy encore frenzied the crowd again and again we're gradually pushed inwards and backwards. After a slow, acoustic start the music is one incalzando after another, and although my feet are still jumping to the beat inside I'm shamefully begging the band to stop, to release us all, before we dance ourselves to death like fairytale villains. Yet when they finally do stride off the stage, the music coming from the speakers feels as thin and unsatisfying as gruel.

In the queue for the cloakroom we get one last encounter to take away with us. Taking advantage of a chaotic system, two ripped Jersey boys try to push in.
A man with a beard and a beer-belly taps one on the shoulder.
"Hey, you know that's not the line, right?"
One of the guys mutters something, but his opponent is not going to let it ride.
"Yeah, obviously it's A line. But not THE line. We're all waiting here."
"We've been waiting too."
"Well, you'll have to wait a little longer. Like the rest of us."
The two Jersey boys look at each other, shrug, and join the back of the line.
Half an hour later they're still talking about it.
"We could have had him. He must have been shitting himself. We would have, well, but we didn't want to cause hassle with you ladies around."

Chivalry lives on in the East Village.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Let it Snow...

It's a heart-warming winter scene. We've been slugging back mimosas and bloody marys since one, and now we're huddled round a spliff in the darkness watching the snow bleach dirty old Alphabet City a virgin white. Someone - maybe me - starts with the Christmas carolling.

"Hark the herald angels si-ing..."

A week before Christmas, it's the first real cold-snap of the year, and the stretch of pavement outside Marie O's is ringed in adult-sized snow angels. Winter coats are soaked through to the party dresses below. Hair freezes in antic halos.

"Dashing through the snow..."

Later that night, ten hours into the party, we're trudging our way through the blizzard to a bar a few blocks south. Crossing Houston we lower are heads against the wind and wade through snow banks. We are the Scott, Oates, Wilson and Bowers of the Lower East Side.

"Well the weather outside is frightful..."

It's a Friday night in one of the most densely populated neighborhoods in the city, yet we have whole blocks to ourselves. We have stumbled into the Day After Tomorrow wearing six inch heels. We try to step in each other's footprints to avoid sinking up to our knees.

"A beautiful sight, we're happy tonight..."

And then we're finally at Schillers, and it's packed with other people sheltering from the storm, and with all the wood and facial hair and European beer it's like we've reached a hut in the Alps after a treacherous climb.

"So bring us some figgy pudding..."

I unwrap my scarf, order a glass of cheap red wine and try not to think about the journey back to Brooklyn.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Me and My Self-Harming Cat

"I can't believe you said that."
"Well... she's. I mean she's great She's friendly and everything, but she's not exactly attractive is she?"
"That's really mean."
"You said yourself, she's a bit gray..."
"I can't believe you're bitching about our cat."
"Well, all I'm saying is there's a reason why no-one wants to adopt her."

The following conversation came back to haunt me when I surprised my foster cat in the act of tearing out the fur on her head. The scratching was so fast tempo it sounded like the whir of a desk fan on the highest setting.
"Stop it puss. What are you doing to yourself?"
Small clumps of white hair polka-dotted the red blanket we'd laid over the bed to save the duvet from her claws and her cat litter footprints. She looked up at me, non-plussed. It wasn't feeding time, so she only kicked in the low-level purring when I put my hand to her face.

It was only when I got back from the theatre that night that I really saw the full extent of what she'd done. Her white head was slashed with red, where the ahir had been pulled up by the roots. She seemed to have forgotten all about it, whickering happily enough while I clumsily dabbed it clean with water and toilet paper.

I opened the bathroom cupboard, but the plasters and the antibiotic cream seemed all wrong. Wouldn't she just rip and lick off anything I tried to put on the wound, poisoning and chocking herself on my good intentions? I also thought about emailing the woman who had dropped her off. Did she need to go to the vet (and the selfish follow-up, and who would pay)?

With an internet connection like ours (purloined, unreliable) scouring is really the wrong verb for what we can do to the web, but I brushed up against a couple of cat behaviour sites and chatrooms looking for answers. The results were inconclusive, but one theme was repeated, in various hysterical and professional keys.

Our cat had low esteem. And it was all my fault.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A Friend in Jesus (I)

Now I went to a Methodist boarding school and I've done my share of pew-sitting and hymn-book bothering, but the Jesus I was peddled was a jolly good sport. He excelled on the rugby field, but was never a sore loser. He abhorred cheating, bullying and drinking to excess. And in order to give JC a hand with that last one, the vicar ran the sixth form bar, making sure us sixteen year olds never went over our two-can limit. Those, as I recall, were the Scrumpy Jack years.

The Jesus we were praisin' at the Brooklyn Tabernacle seemed like a different fellow altogether, someone charming and charismatic, with an exacting taste in music and spectacle. In school we prayed apologetically, with heads bowed and eyes closed; here palms were raised to the ornate, opera-house ceiling, as if to catch the Glory raining down, and no-one mumbled over their Aay-mens and Hallelujahs. Now I love a hymn as much as the next girl, but back at school the choir's major attraction had been the A-House boys who sung in it. Here the music was praise, both tithe to and manifest evidence of the Almighty. And we got to clap along.

It was the Tabernacle's Christmas show, and we showed up an hour early, like the website said, to find all the best seats already taken by canny folk saving seats for their people. The crowd was a mix of black, white, Hispanic and Asian; out-of-towners and locals; people, like us, soon sweating in their Sunday best and others (the tourists? the real Christians?) in jeans and soggy sneakers.

We'd all come for the music. After telling a friend from Alabama about our expedition to Harlem to hunt out Gospel, he'd pointed out we had one of the most famous choirs in the world a block and a half from our apartment. In fact we'd walked past the Sunday service queue before, without ever really stopping to wonder why all those women in powder blue suits and pillbox hats would bother to line up there every week when there were more churches than bodegas in this part of town.

But now we were joining them, politely scrimmaging for the last few decent seats, then flapping leaflets about, trying in vain to cut a breeze through the fug.
Just as we were getting restless, the light dimmed. Everyone sat up a little straighter and shushed their grandkids. Showtime.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Cut-Price Christmas

"Why didn't you stop me?"
"I tried. You were pretty adamant."
"But I shouldn't have been wielding a hammer. Not after that many whisky and cokes. I don't even really remember much after we got home."
"With the knobless toaster oven."
"I remember that much."
"Maybe we can prop it up so it looks less wonky?"
"I can probably get the nail out and start over."
"Won't that damage the trunk?"
"Well we can't leave it like that... it's like the leaning tower of Pisa."

Five minutes (and some grunting) later
"You're right. Let's just prop it up. Are you okay to get lights and stuff?"

In one of the budget stores in downtown Brooklyn I bought: 1 x string of Christmas lights, 6 x silvery baubles, 3 x kitsch, homemade snowmen, 2 x black feathered baubles, 1 x pack of tinsel threads ("no lead"). It came in under $10, including tax. I also watched an old woman stomp out of the store after being accused of shoplifting by an over-zealous till-girl, who shouted at her hunched back.
"Why she have no bag then? That's all I'm sayin. How she gonna prove she paid? She got paid stickers? Cos I don't see no paid sticker."
I made sure I got my paid stickers.

Back at home we dressed the wonky tree.
"Wow, you got enough lights then."
"A hundred for two bucks. And they're wired in parallel."
"Good GCSE knowledge, right there."

A few minutes later, we turned off the overhead light and pushed in the plug.
"Ummm... do you think we can make them stop? Is there a switch or something?"
"I doubt it. These are seriously old-school."
"There must be a button. They can't just flash like this all the time. They're making me feel sick."
"Maybe there was a reason why they were only two bucks."
"Look. Right here on the package. It says '5 Way Flash'"
"Yeah, and it's flashing in five sections."
"The tree's still wonky, you know."

Monday, December 7, 2009

A Brief Encounter with a Toaster Oven

You could tell we were in tony Brooklyn Heights because someone had taken the trouble to print out a notice in blue block capitals and stick down all the edges.
"Sounds like a haiku."
"Think it might be my new Facebook status."
Thanks to the opening night party we were already a couple of cocktails (or, in Chris' case, considerably more) to the wind, although it was barely half past eight. The party had taken place in a cavernous, empty duplex in a sprawling, fancy new building next to the freeway. As we pulled up in the coach we realise we'd actually walked past the building one nightmarish summer afternoon when we'd got stuck on the demon low road instead of the scenic boardwalk. We'd ended up walking for what felt like miles along the hard shoulder, as speeding cars and lorries whipped up clouds of dust from the disused industrial sites which boxed us in from the river. As it turned out, we got to relive that feeling of endless tramping as we followed sign after sign after sign round corners and through echoing corridors to get to the fabled suite 205. Once there, we got to take in the mind-blowing views of the Manhattan skyline, and the rather less awe-inspiring vistas of industrial decay. "Apparently there's going to be a park there soon," people kept on saying encouragingly.
We were so amply plied with premium liquor and lobster mac and cheese that we stayed until the average age of the guests had halved and the party was little more than us, the cast, their friends and the very amiable Brazilian barman. Stumbling home ("Look! This is how we escaped last time!") we came across a Black and Decker toaster oven balanced invitingly on a dustbin.
As we were examining it, a man walked up behind us and stopped to peer at it too.
"What have you got there?"
"Toaster oven."
"Ah, toaster oven. Very nice."
"Apparently the knob's gone, but it works fine."
"Always the knobs with toaster ovens."
"We're going to need some pliers."
"Well good luck with that. Best of luck in the world."
The man walked off, but Chris hardly seemed to notice. He was taking big sniffs of the inside of the toaster oven.
"Smell that?"
"Just smell it."
"Now answer me this," he said, slinging the oven under his arm, "why does our new toaster oven smell of weed?"
I checked to see if he was joking, then gestured to the guy who was sauntering away.
"I don't think it's the oven, sweetheart."
His face cracked into a relieved grin. "Ah, that makes more sense. Let's get this bad boy home."

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Mercury Lounge: Rebel (Rebel) Orchestra

The girl from Massachusetts, dark hair scraped back, cheekbones and elbows dangerously sharp, took the microphone. What came out was deeper, throatier and more studiedly English than Bowie himself could ever have tried for.
"Ground Control to Major Tom..."
"That was unexpected," we muttered beneath the cheers. But, to be honest, the whole thing was unexpected. We'd only rocked up because the Slavic party in Park Slope had seemed too far away and it was getting late. We had Plan B expectations, which were unexpectedly upgraded. It was unexpected that the orchestra would be so young, that the girls would be hot in body-con dresses and wet-look leggings, while the music-geek-boys let them take the spotlight. It was unexpected that the crowd of proud leather-clad parents and curious hipster waifs would work up such a sweat. And then there was that ball-clenching version of Under Pressure...
There were twenty-seven musicians on stage and the sound they created was thick and textured enough to feel on your skin. Our faces got blasted with trombone and viola; we had to drag our pints to our lips through thick bassoon and breathy backing vocals.
The lead singer, between conducting and flirting with little Ms. French Horn, gave shout-outs to his mother, who would be loyally flogging CDs after the show. Next he invited a cast of glorious misfits to take the microphone. Alongside the two gravelly and purringly glamorous female singers, there was a plaid-trousered rawk kid, a rangy opera singer and a spy, suited man with all the sinister charm of a child catcher.
When we thought it couldn't get any better, the leader singer's meandering intro took on a familiar flavour:
"You remind me of the babe."
"What babe?"
"The babe with the power of voodoo..."