Saturday, September 29, 2012

NYC on a Thursday

Thursdays are tricky. They are a "normal" day workwise, but if I want to do anything Thursday nights, I must be mindful of the fact that Fridays are not "normal", they are in fact 13 hour days, from the time I leave home to the time I return.

A friend of mine asked if I wanted an extra ticket to see the Corin Tucker Band. I think he bought the tickets over the summer. September is the time when school starts, and we are often hit with unexpected changes of schedule. I did not know I'd be teaching a class. He did not know that his daughter would have an important event that evening. So, I ended up with two tickets, and no one else to go with at the last minute. On a Thursday. Which is tricky.

I am wide awake as I leave work on Thursday afternoon, and feel pretty sure that I am in for a good evening. I am reading Muriel Barbery's second novel on the train. It is short, so I want to save it, have some to read through dinner and on the way home. I put the book down, and I am immediately assailed by the snorting laughter of the idiot behind me on his cellphone, and the sounds of the couple in the seat in front of me kissing very loudly. To my right is a girl listening to her iPod, but has no awareness of volume, as I can very clearly hear the mass-produced excuse for soul music that she is listening to quite clearly from 3 seats over. The train stops for about 5 minutes--it is not late, but probably waiting for another train to pass before entering the tunnel under the Hudson River. Visions of Sartre's "No Exit" dance in my head, and I am grateful when the train lurches forward again.

Once in New York, I jump on the downtown E train. I must take the uptown train most of the time, because finding the downtown track within Penn Station proves to be far more difficult than it should be. Once on the train, a man gets on the train with a child in a stroller, around 23rd Street. He announces loudly that he has to get back to Boston, but has no money for the bus. People open their wallets to help him out, myself included. Across from me sits a homeless man, with very few teeth left. He pulls a couple of dollars out of his pocket and gives them to the man. He needs five more dollars, and someone finally gives it to him, and he is grateful. As I get up to get off the train at West 4th St., a Polish woman on the train walks over to the homeless man and gives him his 2 dollars back. "Here sir, I gave him more than enough to cover. You keep your money. That is the nicest thing I have ever seen." She looks at me and nods congenially, then looks back at the man. "You are a good person, sir--a very good person. So many people who have the money won't give anything." The homeless man is clearly touched, and smiles broadly with his crooked teeth. The woman and I step off the train, and I head over to the F train platform.

I head over to Lucien's on First and First. I was not sure that this is where I would end up. I just knew I wanted French food, and this was the first place I'd encountered. The waitstaff at the restaurant is very nice. I am seated near the window, where I can watch the people heading up and down First Avenue. I choose a Rhone Valley red, and order steak tartare. The waiter calls to me. "You know that tartare is rare, right sweetheart?" I assure him that I know that. "I don't want to insult your intelligence, but a lot of people order it who are just looking for regular steak with fries." I tell him that he's not insulted me--it's always better to ask. He asks about what I'm reading.

"It's Gourmet Rhapsody by Muriel Barbery. About a French food critic who is dying, and is trying to decide on the perfect flavor that he wants before he dies." The waiter then proceeds to tell me about "Jiro Dreams of Sushi", a documentary about an 85-year-old Japanese sushi chef. "It sounds boring, but it's really fascinating." He tells me that the man's restaurant only has 10 seats, and one has to reserve a month in advance. He also spoke about the fish auctions, and the incredible back and forth of the auctioneers and the buyers.

The steak tartare is done a bit differently from what I'm used to, but I do eat all of it. The flavors were interesting, but I would probably choose something else next time. The pommes frites, which are an old comfort food classic, were excellent. It's a place I'd definitely visit again.

I walk over to Mercury Lounge, which has opened up a few minutes earlier. I pass the merchandise counter, and make eye contact with Corin Tucker herself, who is helping out. I say hello, very surprised to see her there. Not that it's necessarily so unusual.

Surprisingly, I've never been to Mercury Lounge before. It's a small venue, like a lot of the little Brooklyn music places. I get a beer and take a seat. The opening band is called "Imperfect Forms", and they are pretty good. I don't really know how to describe their sound. As the time approaches for the main band to come onstage, the venue gets more and more crowded. Soon, I cannot see the stage at all, even though I am up front, and any pictures I take with my phone come out black. Corin Tucker comes onstage with her new band. I had not heard them previously, though I am familiar with her previous work, particularly Sleater Kinney, Heavens to Betsy, and Cadallaca. The songs were impressive, intricate, a mix of psychedelia and *almost* punk, without falling definitively into either label.

I did not stay for the whole gig, as Friday was a teaching day, and I was not willing to face my students with only 3 or 4 hours of sleep. I realize that I am also not a fan of packed crowds, and the wall-to-wall stuffiness of one of autumn's last humid evenings definitely affected my senses. I kept thinking that I probably missed something good, like Carrie Brownstein coming out for an encore, or something. (Reviews show me that I did not miss such an event.) I felt like the songs were a mix of her Cadallaca work (sans farfisa organ) and the Sleater Kinney stuff, but realizing that it is not really fair to compare the songs to either project. It's another animal entirely.

The train home was unusually quiet. I am not used to NJ Transit without loud cell phone conversations, obnoxious drunks, or giggling teenagers on their first New York excursion. I can see myself perfectly in the train windows, and it occurs to me that I cannot see myself when the light shines brightly; only when it is dark outside. I drive home, with no particular thoughts of anything, except my 10 am class.

My New York excursions have only been samples. To have a full experience of the city, I really need to have a hotel room for the night. NJ Transit hours are not the city hours. The real night life begins well after 9 pm, long after others have shut everything down.

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