Tuesday, October 24, 2006

This Sporting Life

"Intensely caring ... More like my long-lost home every day"? Yecch. Who wrote that crap -- Mitch Albom? Sappy crappy way to end a post. The worst thing about leaving this screed stagnant for more than a week is that everyone who stumbles upon that slice -- and for some reason, a lot of people did -- assumes it reflects all I am; in this case, a flibbertigibbet who gads about every night and gives not a thought to the serious issues besetting our poor tired planet.

Is that so wrong?

I'll leave those judgments for posterior.

(A seat-of-the-pants decision.)

Miss Langston Regrets

This just happened tonight:

"You don't care about this, do you? How can you live like that?" Miss Langston, a stately, slender woman of middle years with mahogany skin and a determined chin, is astonished. She is standing behind the front desk in my building's lobby, where she works. When we first met, one night last month when I had a package to retrieve, she called me Mister _____. I asked her to use my first name, but she refused, condemning such casualness as "unprofessional." "My name is Miss Langston ... like Langston Hughes," she said levelly.

Then she softened and wanted to talk about the Mets. Or was it the Giants? Though happy to see her so engaged, I neither weighed in -- I can't -- nor conveyed my raging disinterest in any way other than a slight glazing of the eyes. We'd repeated the mismatch a couple times since. The only time she smiles is when she's talking sports, so I haven't had the heart to tell her I don't know what she's talking about. Tonight, however, she is acknowledging my apathy. I have to come clean.

"I don't know anything about sports."

"No sports at all? None?"

"You figured me out."

"You like soccer, right?" She tilts her head, sure that I'm at least one of those effete soccer fans.

"No, no sports."

"None? Do you play tennis?" Now she's giving me even more effete points.

"No. I ride my bike."

"You don't know what you're missing." Miss Langston just shakes her head, saddened and amazed.

"Could be."

"Man, I don't know what I'd do without my Shea Stadium, without my Giants Stadium.... How do you spend your time?"

"I find ways."

My Ways

When last we saw our benighted hero, he was still smarting from a swastika-shaped contusion on his nose. That has since healed, and the nifty green Band-aid is, despite its striking effect on members of the opposite sex, gone. No swastika scar mars my semi-semitic nose. Sic transit gloria rhino.

Papa's got a brand new bike. The bike trouble mentioned in passing just a few weeks ago led me to the East Village, where I wandered into Busy Bee Bikes, a tiny second-hand store presided over by a man anointed, he asserts, by the NY Times as the city's leading expert on English three-speeds. And there I was, having wanted an English three-speed for nigh on twenty years. When I said I wanted a Rudge, a Humber, or a Raleigh, he started paying attention. "You know your bikes. Those are the three top brands." He said if I came back to buy one, he'd pull out a few choice choices. He wanted to make sure I was serious before he committed resources to excavating inventory. The tiny storefront offers little room for humans to stand; most of its floor and walls bristle with bikes of all styles, colors, ages, and values, united only by NYC grime and a complicated stacking algorithm. I went away and had my Peugeot's crank replaced elsewhere (it's a looong story you can thank me for omitting), and a week later, finding time to burn in the East Village on a drizzly evening, decided to see what he had.

I was lucky, and what he had is now mine: an unrestored Raleigh "Sports" with a leather Brooks "saddle" (that's Pretentious for "seat") and original black paint, made in September 1970. A "Gene's Bicycle Shop, 417 Greenwich Ave., Greenwich, CT" decal still adorns the downtube. It's perfect. Not the fastest bike on the macadam, but among the more historic. And it's faster and more comfortable than the old Peugeot, which I traded in and he sold a week later. This bike feels stately. And solid. And sexy, in a weird way. Maybe because I've wanted one like it for so long.

Madame Tussaud's House of Rock

I was lucky again last Saturday, when I attended a superrich person's Upper East Side birthday party. My old pal's sister married into a third-generation real estate fortune, affording my friend a speculum into the lap of luxury. (He's the opposite of upscale: "We have rent-control in our blood," he e-mailed me last week.) The food and drinks were just right, but the older, well-dressed crowd wasn't very engaging, and the Art Nouveau décor, though impressive from a Sotheby's perspective, left me cold. So why was I there? Tray-passed lobster canapés? Bottomless flutes of bubbly? Strained conversation with robber barons? No. I was there because Elvis Costello performed a two-hour set in the living room.

Playing a variety of guitars over a breathtaking sound system, he noisily yet carefully knocked out 25 songs from his rock years for the amusement of 150 docile guests. Predictably, the thirty- and fortysomethings were his loudest fans, while most of those outside the target demo tuned out and looked politely bored after the initial novelty had worn off. This seemed to me both funny and depressing.

Nothing seemed to depress Elvis. He bantered just enough, served up two requests, and mugged with the same wry, bemused look he trains on everything that appears to compromise his legendary integrity. He even amended the name in "Alison" to the birthday girl's own. Afterward, he posed for snapshots with the hosts and then vanished.

How do you get Elvis to play at your house? By paying him a lot of money. Anyone can well afford to look wry and bemused when making $1,000.00 a minute. (This preposterous figure is merely my estimate, and it doesn't reflect anything anyone told me -- except one guest, a former music biz guy who'd heard such gigs can fetch $200K.)

Elvis's deal forbade photos and recordings of any kind, but dozens of phones captured fuzzy images of the formerly angry young man.



It's hard to process an event like this. On the one hand, it's undeniably exciting to stand ten feet from a guy whose first album dominated my ears for several months in 1977, watching and hearing him play songs that used to mean a lot to me. (I was stuck on three of his subsequent records too.) And of course I was happy to have been invited, to have been there for such a weird scene. But if any of Manhattan's energy still derives from the unusual proximity of high and low culture (the way it used to before the rise of the freakish, isolated ultrarich class), that juxtaposition is an awkward place ... like the grinding edge of the San Andreas Fault. Caught between, no place to stand as the ledge shears away, and ever mindful of the hot magma future incinerating loose ends. Nothing evokes youth and its discontents like the music of long-gone malcontents, and few things cast one's accomplishments into a harsher light than exposure to the achievements or inheritances of others. Though I know comparison is not merely odious but idiotic, knowing isn't quite doing.

Oh, boo-hoo. I got to drink champagne and ride my sexy antique bike home through Central Park.

3 comments:

ElvisWiki said...

Very interesting! Aside from "Alison," do you know which other songs he did? (When you say he did "25 songs," it makes me wonder if you kept a list.)

Lord Zim said...

I didn't want to clutter up the post with evidence of my trainspotting, but this is a good place to list the songs:

Accidents Will Happen
Red Shoes
Down in the Blue Chair
I Hear a Melody (1975, unrecorded)
Blue Minute (unrecorded)
Veronica
White Lies
I Don't Wanna Go to Chelsea
Green Shirt
New Amsterdam - You've Got to Hide Your Love Away
Take It or Leave It (Rolling Stones cover)
Watching the Detectives
Almost Blue
Less than Zero
Indoor Fireworks
Radio Sweetheart
God's Comic
(What's so Funny 'Bout) Peace Love and Understanding?
Oliver's Army
Mystery Dance
Monkey to a Man
Pump it Up
Alison - encore 1
Every Day I Write - encore 2

OK, that's 24, but I was counting the New Amsterdam - You've Got to Hide Your Love Away medley as two, which is a debatable point.

ElvisWiki said...

Thanks!