Last Night at the Owl

I played a show last night. Well, a set, at the Owl Music Parlor, a quaint and cute listening room in Brooklyn, lovingly run by Oren Bloedow. Oren’s in a terrific dreamy band called Elysian Fields. I suppose every folk/rock listening room is run as a labor of love, but this one seems particularly love-infused. For instance, while the music’s going on they curtain off the music room and the people in the bar are shushed while the music is playing. They don’t serve drinks in the room where the music is playing. You can go get a drink and bring it back, but they won’t bring it to you. The whole night, Oren’s going back and forth, making drinks, washing dishes, running sound, passing the tip jar, and playing music with the performers. You can tell his soul is in it.

Larry Gallagher, who invited me to share the show with him, played after I did. I love Larry’s music. I’ll post one of his songs at the end. Larry’s as good a songwriter and musician as I have heard. He’s originally from NY but has lived in San Francisco for a long time.

I had a really good time last night and woke up in a haze of gratitude and longing: Gratitude for the warm community I experienced last night, and longing for more of it. I didn’t feel that I necessarily performed that well (although friends say I did), but I just felt. good. Good seeing people, being with people, being part of a community, no matter how tenuous that connection may be. Some college friends came I hadn’t seen in a while. I was part of a really special community of friends in college, and it brought back, good warm feelings seeing some of them again. It was good sitting at a bar talking with good people in a warm, well lit room, walking home in the crunching snow carrying my guitar. Just feeling grateful to be alive. Not because I played so well or wowed the crowd. I didn’t. I mean, I don’t think I did. But my fear and anxiety about how well I performed were subsumed in feelings of gratitude. It’s 10 to midnight and I have to finish this post quickly if I’m to stick to my plan of posting something every day. I’m very tempted to not post this because I like to edit stuff. But I’ll post this unedited. Good night! (whoops it’s 12:06 now because I had to go back and fix a couple of things. ah well. missed it by that much, chief).

Larry Gallagher at the Owl

Here’s a song in which Larry’s mordant wit is on full display. A song called “TV is Your Friend,” written from the perspective of TV.

“TV is Your Friend

Don’t think this I don’t see you eyeing me
After everyone has gone?
Behind that pout I know you’re dying
To cross the room and turn me on
Within an hour you’ll have fallen
Why do you sit there and pretend
That you have found some higher calling?
TV is your friend

It makes me sad to watch you churning
Still you treat me with disdain
Do I not take away the burning
Do I not numb you to the pain?
You know you love the way I flicker
My pull you’ll never comprehend
Not as strong as heroin, but quicker
TV is your friend

You’ve stopped your kicking and your screaming
I knew you’d tire of saying ‘”no”
Settle back into the evening
Settle back into the glow
It’s the gift that keeps on giving
It’s a love that never ends
If you are sick to death of living
TV is your friend”

Flatbush-Ditmas Park

I live in Brooklyn.  Ditmas Park, West Flatbush (or Midwood; more on that below), Brooklyn, to be more exact.  I’ve been in the greater NYC for over 8 years and have lived in Greenwich Village (in Manhattan), Williamsburg (Brooklyn), Greenpoint (Brooklyn), Chelsea (Manhattan), Middle Village (Queens), Jersey City (New Jersey), and now, for the past 2 years or so, Ditmas Park, a neighborhood noted for its high concentration of Victorian houses and towering London Plane trees (as I’ve mentioned on this blog before). A  New York Times article called it a “bustling area with a touch of country,” and indeed as I walk around looking at big houses with high turrets, wide porches with porch swings, elms, willows, magnolias, cherry trees, rhododendrons, and giant bushes-I-should-know-the-name-of-but-don’t which explode in the Spring into all kinds of bright colors, I can fool myself into thinking I’m not only back in my native North Carolina, but back in North Carolina 100 years ago.  I half-expect my grandmother to walk out of one of these front doors clutching a banjo on her way to a church dance. It’s that quaint and beautiful. But then I reach one of the bustling streets – Coney Island Ave or Ocean Parkway, for example, and I flash-forward to a world my grandmother would never have recognized, and which I barely recognize myself.  People from all different parts of the world bustle by me as if I don’t exist. I’m a stone they stream around on their way to somewhere else. There are multiple churches, synagogues, and mosques, and signs in Russian, Hebrew, Korean, Chinese, Spanish, Greek, Arabic, and Urdu.  The street itself is a deadly plain full of roaring cars blasting hip-hop or merengue or the latest pop music, which rush by deafeningly, then fade.  If you push the “walk” button to cross the street, you’d better be ready to run, because there is barely time to get across before the light changes and 4 lanes of traffic lurch forward.  I live less than 2 blocks from the BMT Brighton line of the NYC Subway. Since my windows are usually open, I can hear the faint rush of the B and Q trains clacking up down the tracks intermittently, all day and all night.

I like to go walking at night when things are a little less hectic.  This is my time to soak it all in, to explore.  And to eat. My go-to deli, the whimsically-named “Dream,” is owned by stone-faced Russians who either can’t or choose not to speak English or smile. I point to what I want and they dish it up stoically. Maybe a mass of soft pale bologna that tastes a lot better than it looks, and a bright purple cabbage-and walnut salad.  My favorite sit-down restaurant is a Pakistani place open 24 hours.  There, men in robes and taqiyahs crowd around a table and talk animatedly while a flat screened television above them plays pop music videos featuring young people doing elaborately choreographed dances in bright costumes. I stand in front of the hot pans.  What do I want?  I point again.  A little bit of this, a little bit of that. Curried chicken or goat, A dozen different kinds of spicy lentils, nan.  What do you recommend? I ask the man behind the counter. Please, sit, I make a plate, he says.   I go and read my book, trying not to be distracted by the talking men and the music videos, and he brings me a styrofoam plate full of steaming delicious dishes, and a pewter picture of water.  There’s also a salad of ice berg lettuce and chickpeas, which I don’t like because there’s too much dressing on it.  Sometimes they give me a little dessert on the way out the door.

When I first moved here, I got off the subway and asked an old-timer where we were.  “Flatbush,” he said.  I asked a younger person and he said “Ditmas Park.”  Still others said “Midwood.”  A realty company has the area listed as “Fiske Terrace.”   Google maps apparently thinks Flatbush and Ditmas Park are the same thing, and in fact uses the cumbersome designation “Flatbush-Ditmas Park.” If you do a Google Search for “Midwood or Flatbush” you can find different people calling the same neighborhoods different things for different reasons. There’s a lot of history here. Ebbets Field, where the Dodgers used to play, was close by (it was razed and replaced Apartment buildings). Edward Murrow was from here, and Mel Blanc used to say Bugs Bunny had a Flatbush accent (but I’m a little skeptical of this as Blanc was from San Francisco. Could he really distinguish the different accents of the different NY boroughs?), and indeed you might find an old-timer around who says “Dese” and “dose” and sounds like he’d be at home in a Jimmy Cagney gangster flick, but there aren’t too many of those accents to be heard day to day. Philip J. Fry of “Futurama” fame is from here (one of the writers on the show did grow up here and wrote his old neighborhood into the show). My landlady has been here for decades and has 4 sons. They all have dark curly hair, and occasionally an old timer out walking his dog will squint at me and say “now which one are you?” and I’ll smile and say “None of them. I’m Jason, I just rent a room.” “Ahh you fooled me,” the old-timer will say. “I thought you were Dimitri.” The sons tell of a time growing up in the 70s and 80s back when crime was high and it wasn’t as safe to be here. They speak of it with a certain nostalgia and pride. “You shoulda been here in the old days, back when shit was real,” they’ll say, drawing on a cigarette with a far away look in their eyes. This is common with my friends who grew up here. They exhibit a certain pride, an authority rooted in experience and mystique. They knew NYC when it was seedier, grittier, realer. Back before people like me moved in from other places. On the other hand, New York is of course is the story of people who moved here from other places. Some of them stay for awhile and settle in, most of them move on.



2017. It’s here.  “I can’t believe it’s 2017,” I’ve said to .. pretty much everyone, and almost everyone has concurred. No one has said, “It seems right and good that it’s 2017. Here it is, right on time.” 2017 seems pretty close to being a year in a Sci-Fi film in which something momentous and possibly devastating occurs. The older I get, the busier I get, and the faster the years fly by.  I guess that’s something an old person would say. I should watch that, ’cause I’m not old yet, though sometimes I feel like it.

Anyway, Happy New Year.  For last New Year’s Eve — that is, one year ago,  I went to the Hamptons with a group of people, most of whom I did not know. They were friends of my friend Sean’s new girlfriend Rachel (new at the time; they’re married now), and Sean invited me along so that he’d know somebody besides his girlfriend. It was a fun time. We ate a lot, played games, journalled (we were all Christians; Christians like to journal) and did the polar plunge — that is, we jumped into the freezing cold Atlantic with a couple of hundred locals. After we got home and warmed up we had a dance party and then watched the ball drop on Ryan Seacrest’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve. That was the weekend I developed an appreciation for Taylor Swift.

Usually I do want to see friends on New Years, and I want to stay up past midnight to make noise and celebrate. But this year, for the first time in a long time, I felt no inclination to be with people on New Year’s Eve, or to stay awake until midnight. I felt like spending a quiet evening alone and that’s what I did.   I was in the mood for some good old cheesy-but-not-terrible Sci-Fi  and searched this list of top 100 Sci-Fi films until I found  the 1956 classic “Forbidden Planet,” which fit the bill perfectly. It features a deadly serious Leslie Nielsen before he realized his true calling as the straight man in a dozen or so 80’s spy and cop spoofs. (I’ve also seen a more earnest Nielsen in a Columbo or two).

I haven’t posted here in the past two years, and I’m hoping to post more this year. I’ve written before about and marveled at how Seth Godin blogs every day.  How does he have the time?  How does he resist the urge to edit everything to death?  Well, I recently read an interview where he said something like, “If you have time to watch TV every day, then you have time to blog every day.”  And while I don’t watch TV every day, I take his point.  I certainly can take the time to post *something* each day, even if it’s not perfect or even that coherent.

So I’m going to try to post one thing each day in January, even if it’s just a photo (I take a picture of something almost every day).

(not sure why these photos are so small.  I’ll try to fix that tomorrow).

Here’s a picture I took yesterday just about dusk, of a lamp post emerging from a nest of London Plane tree roots.

According to this article, 15% of all NYC street trees are London Planes. I wouldn’t be surprised if the percentage is higher in Brooklyn. My neighborhood (Ditmas Park, sometimes called West Flatbush or Midwood) is full of them.

There are London Planes in this pic of my street from the first big snow we had in January of last year.

The New York City Department of Parks and Recreation logo features a London Plane tree leaf. Here’s a good example from sign at Coney Island. I think they were repairing the boardwalk.

Well, that’s all for tonight. If you’re reading this, thanks, and See you soon, I hope.



So I’ve been living in New York. Brooklyn, specifically, where life is lived on the street, as opposed to Manhattan, where life is lived in tall buildings. People hang out on stoops and talk and whistle and holler and jump rope and drink beer wrapped in brown paper bags and listen to music with thumping bass. Now that it’s February most folks have retreated inside, but there are still a few die-hards who stand or sit outside and blast their music into the cold, and who can blame them? When you’re really digging something sometimes you don’t wanna keep it to yourself.

Every few minutes you can hear and feel a train from the JMZ line rumble by on its way to the Marcy stop. The JMZ line was formerly known as the JZ and was supposedly the namesake of rapper Jay-Z (although Wikipedia puts the kibosh on this theory and says nope, his name is a permutation of the word “Jazzy,” which is decidedly less cool, partly because, well, DJ Jazzy Jeff kinda already used that). The city was briefly talking about eliminating the “Z” line as part of its terrifyingly-named “doomsday cuts,” but reconsidered and the Z remains. En route to Manhattan, the JMZ goes over the Williamsburg bridge and offers a stunning view of the skyline.

My neighborhood is comprised mostly of Dominican and Puerto Rican families, with a few Hasidim and “Hipsters” sprinkled in. I fall into this much-maligned latter category even though I am not hip. I mean, just look at my shoes.

My housemate/landlord, Bearden, says I walk too slow and look around too much. “You gotta keep moving, man” he says, and whenever we walk anywhere together I have to trot to keep up even though my legs are twice as long as his. He’s a hell-raising, Barry Hannah-reading, Rolling Stones-and-Bob Dylan-listening, Razorbacks-football-loving Arkansan with the loudest voice I’ve ever heard. Bearden is a writer and the front man for a band called “Sheriff,” of which I’m an adjunct member (I play lead guitar and sing harmonies). I don’t like Bob Dylan nearly as much as he thinks I should, but we connect on a mutual love for Bob’s one-time disciple Neil Young and the great pulp writer Elmore Leonard. Bearden and his wife, Laura, are two of the most passionate, creative, and generous people I’ve ever met.

Here’s a picture Laura took in front of their apartment.