Has anyone taken the train at 4 AM lately? The population is a pretty accurate socio-economic profile of New York. There are the few Mexican restaurant workers brown-bagging it on the way uptown from their below-minimum-wage restaurant jobs; one or two homeless black men monologuing away; the token Untouchable shrouded in hefty bags with various carts chock full of cans, bottles, rags, newspaper and garbage asleep in the safe florescent warmth of an MTA semi-private-- several square meters space around him for the stench. Next but not least, there are the straggling, drunk, xanaxed club girls--- Balenciaga shoes, Prada bags-- slumming it on the 1 or the 6 train up from ecstasy to their parental-sponsored apartments on the Upper East..cellphones misplaced, wallets lost. Loud they are, these girls… either from the habit of talking on cellphones over the music, or just drunk. Some of them have jumped turnstiles--- the cops will just smile…because their credit cards are scattered on some dance floor like a post-modern collage. The train is an adventure. They are bold and unafraid. They have been date-raped and live to tell.
Oh— of course there is yours truly, the observer-- diligently dragging my guitar and whatever the chef could spoon into an aluminum take-out container for late-night sustenance— protecting the girls, representing the disappearing working class-- entertaining myself with the homeless mime-acts which are at least original compared to whatever is waiting at home on late-night cable. I prefer my reality MTA-TV. Last night this guy was actually sticking a toothpick all the way into his ear… and then checking it for… God knows. Much itching and scratching and hair-picking, shoe and sock removal and muttering about B.B. King. How could he have known? The random psychic synchronicities at 4 AM. Trains stop at this hour for long minutes; no one seems to complain; the girls twist their hair and remove their Balenciagas. Between 59th and 96th no one boards. We ride on; the toothpick man applauds each stop...has learned not to take motion for granted.
The rest of the regular New Yorkers are home passing their Ambien-laced troubled hours dreaming about collection agents and looming mortgage debt. About how to get their kids a reasonable education, about bedbugs, their dwindling pensions-- the consequences of corporate takeovers for the mere padding of these club girls’ family fortunes. About the looming comfort of suicide when middle age is lowering their earning capacity like Bear Stearns share-values. About getting through the next day.
So here we are in New Year’s Eve. I’m off tonight while New York parties on. I’ve asked a few casually what their plans are….of course the parents of these Prada girls are off in St. Barts’ so the apartments will be well-stocked with stumbling young adults. The upscale restaurants are full, the tourists are having a last hurrah. The cute kid with dreadlocks who works at my gym is thinking about his new baby, and how he can move from cleaning bathrooms to getting enough schooling to learn how to use a computer. The Africans who work at my neighborhood thrift store… they’re doing the overnight, taking inventory and re-plastering the leaking ceiling. Smiling. The doormen on Park Avenue… they’ll be reaping. They compete for these nights. It’s warm… I should take advantage and go see the ball drop —one more time. That phrase gets me.
I miss the old East Village. I miss the artistic psychos and the trend-setters and dirty brilliance. Edgy film-makers were not red-carpet-ready but wearing smelly jeans and scuffed motorcycle boots. Drugs came in rolling papers and needles… alcohol in brown bags and barely-washed glasses. People were painting and singing things. Using coins to call their boyfriends from phonebooths and slamming heavy receivers in emotional pain.
My son is out--- his first legal-drinking New Year’s Eve. He is in that small window where suddenly he is old enough to screw the Victoria’s Secret models and his future is like a department store free-for-all. Where he doesn’t realize one post-partying day he’ll wake up and this year’s model will look young and maybe his own face looks a little puffy and his hair is losing that teenage shine.
Four hours to go in this year. I feel like sitting it out and feeling time. Watched the eclipse last week in the cold air… took a while, but that old moon came through unscathed. Like nothing. No scars, no memories. For us here it’s all running together now… the acceleration of the future, the boulder getting bigger, rolling downhill breakneck and you can’t stop it--- you can maybe only comment, yell Happy New Year out of the rear window as the 2011 train comes speeding by and almost takes your breath away heading for 3000, 4000…no brakes on the present-- only you and I —we are already relics of the new year, ruins of the old… our photos on pathetic Facebook while those assholes bank our loneliness, our pasts trying to reconcile with the present, losing the future, eclipsed.
To all those who died at 27: you fooled no one. Still, we salute you, we the sad scanners of our own obsolescence. We wouldn’t have it any other way. Or would we?
Auld Lang Syne.