Sunday, August 31, 2014

I’m sitting in the part of the crowd that “Where’s” Waldo would be. Hiding in the middle of the street scene. Marcella said my name means “The Observer.” That explains the photography. But it sure doesn’t explain getting on a stage to sing for strangers. It is both terrifying and my deepest love. It’s getting easier over time, especially in groups. If I accidentally give myself too much time to think, I force myself to connect with a deeper fear - the fear of wasting my talent/life. That sobers me up. Then the music gets me drunk.
The coconut/pistachio/rum milkshake also helped.
It was the biggest crowd I’d ever played as a solo act. Except I wasn’t solo; my friend Jenny Cat (yes, check her birth certificate!) played along with me. The show, an outside show on a warm summer evening, was both our rehearsal and performance. I laughed to myself later about the way that I seem to go out of my way to be unrehearsed, changing everything show-to-show except my guitar and my hat. I didn’t even keep my name for the first few songs of this show. I played the first song as Raoul and the second song as Jeff Freud. Jenny played great and outdid every sly joke I told between songs. We pledged to perform more duo shows in the future. 
I noticed some little girls were dancing, so I altered my setlist to keep them entertained - The Everly Brothers’ “Gone Gone Gone” and “The Price Of Love” kept ‘em boogying. I flashed back to seeing the Everlys as a little kid and feeling the deep craving to perform rock & roll music like they were. Smaller stage, smaller crowd, but there I was doing it rather than sitting around my hometown talking about doing it! 
I was also happy to get a deluge of comments about the last song in the set, a recent composition entitled “The Mushroom Girl.” I’m behind on my songwriting, but then again I’m not. I see it as cyclical - breathe in life, breathe out art. I’ve had a lot of life to breathe in lately. 
I will travel to Kitty Hawk soon. I’ve gone to the Outer Banks most summers. Grandpa Bill moved down there in the ‘80s. Sometimes we would take the train to Newport News, Virginia and have him pick us up. This was considerably more expensive than driving and it was also an inconvenient four-hour drive for Grandpa. But I can remember falling in love with the travel and enjoying the escape from the alienation of my hometown. Looking at backwood scenes in the South, knowing much of it probably looked the same a hundred years earlier. The last time we did it, I was listening to Fables Of The Reconstruction. Old, Weird America in my ears and imagination as I watched remnants of it fly by on Amtrak. 
I was impressed by the thick accent of a black cab driver we met in Newport News as a kid. Looking back, there’s a chance he could’ve been born in the 1890s. My nephew might be similarly amazed by the oldness of people born in the 1950s. I’ll never forget the ease with which my mom opened up to the cab driver. She always seems to communicate with non-white people with more trust and openness. I’ve found the same thing through my life. I have a harder time relating to people who haven’t had a struggle. The people who have had a mean thing to say or a judgmental gaze were usually white people. I don’t notice that much anymore, though, either because it’s getting better or because I walk so damn fast.
I wish I could remember more about Aggie, the next-door neighbor who bought me a drum set around the age of five. People like her feel like ancient history now. Thanks, Aggie. Sorry, other neighbors.
I’m on the Delaware River in a tube. I’m low on drinking water and I haven’t used enough sunscreen. There’s basically no current so I have to paddle if I’m not floating over rapids. I’m technically with family but I haven’t seen them in a very long time. One of my family members had a nervous breakdown after about four minutes on the river, even going so far as to yell “you don’t care about me!” before slowly floating away. It was two cameras and one microphone away from being a scene in a hilariously dark comedy. I’ve been in a lot of scenes like that with family. That’s probably why I choose to hang out with kind, easy-going people. But you can bet yer ass I put the funniest quotes from such arguments on Twitter.
It’s the night before and I’m on a rickety bench with my Auntie Donna. We both have a beer and we’re sitting in front of a small lake at Camp Taylor Campground in the Delaware Water Gap area. We’re looking at the stars in an area with minimal light pollution. We’re contemplating the nature of existence. In what ways would life evolve on another planet with the same conditions as Earth? Would creatures with eyeballs develop there, too? She points to The Milky Way. 
It’s fun hanging out with intelligent people. I get tired of dumbing myself down for non-reader types. The good news is that, because they’re not reading this, I haven’t offended them.
I am on the screened-in back patio at Grandpa’s house. He’s on his laptop and I am on mine. I am facing the canal that runs behind his backyard. Most of the friends I’ve made or with whom I’ve become reacquainted are non-English-speakers - a blue heron, a baby fox, a herd of deer, a cat with big balls, a cat with big thumbs. The cat with thumbs is named Hemingway. 
I try to keep my expectations minimal while traveling. On this trip, I wanted good coffee, beautiful things to photograph, and some time alone with my guitar on Grandpa’s dock. 
My dad’s old Sigma guitar sounded transcendent out there in the dark. The notes hung in the air as if they were being amplified by the trees, the night air, the flowing water. One of the insects along the canal sounds like a digital echo being turned up to full feedback and then down again.
I love listening to Grandpa and his longtime wife Sly tell stories about their life on the island and of their earlier years, together and apart. I recorded some of the stories for posterity.
Connection is a recurring theme for me down here. The last few times I’ve visited, I’ve recently gotten into a new relationship and I’m missing the young lady. This time, I’m in a new and complicated phase of an existing relationship. This is one of those places where you trade digital connection for natural connection. I like that. But there is a loneliness, too. Everyone’s gone to sleep - early - and not only are you alone, but there is a chance that your love sent a message that got lost in the clouds. 
Time stands still. It’s as if it’s been the same year every time I’ve ever visited. We squeezed a lot into our brief stay and drove back up the coast with good vibes and a lot of nice photos. 
It hurt to read of Neil and Pegi Young’s split. I loved their love. My family has been fragmented since I was a toddler, so I find inspiration in couples that made it last a long time. Most don’t. I try to live both optimistically and realistically. Optimism tells me I am loved today and will be loved tomorrow. Realism tells me that I need to be a good caretaker of the parts of life I can nurture without anyone’s help.
Now it’s another day and I am on my porch in Historic Tullytown. Within the gorgeous smell of this summer morning is the faint smell of a landfill. I am drinking coffee and my cell phone is playing Marc Maron’s Bob Newhart interview. Wanda, the black-coated, white-socked cat is facing me from the other side of the window. Tater Tot, the orange tabby cat we adopted during the Clinton administration, is at my feet. Jamal and Nashaa are nearby, as well. Tater Tot, the elder feline, weighs a few less pounds every time I pick him up, so I’m spending extra time with him. He used to greet me at my car every time I came home. He still does, but it’s becoming more sporadic. He’s had a good, long run and I’ll miss him. Even those unprovoked scratches. A little.
He watched Breaking Bad with me last night. I think he was less interested in the plot twists than in the moments when a sound effect quickly moved from one speaker to the other. 
There’s a guy a few houses down playing polka music from a cheap-but-loud radio. He’s a nice guy who does lots of yard work for the old ladies in the neighborhood. I enjoy the quiet of this place in the early morning, but it gets noisy and claustrophobic once everyone and their dog wakes up. It’s where my things are and it’s where I park my car, but it’s not home. It’s helping me catch up on my bills, though, and I enjoy being in a new house with a spacious bedroom/studio. 
The towns I’ve visited that feel like home are Chapel Hill and Lambertville. I love Newtown, too, the town with my go-to coffee shops and record store, but the yuppie/arty ratio is off. Lambertville is a beautiful riverside town with a thriving nightlife scene, my favorite music shop, access to the 66-mile Delaware & Raritan Canal towpath, multiple top-notch coffee shops, more art galleries than gun stores, and gay people and antique stores as far as the you can see! It’s right across the bridge from New Hope, after all, a town featured in Andy Warhol’s diary. My friend Jenni has recently floated the idea of moving to Lambertville with me next year. To wake up near those big, old trees and the beautiful canal would be a dream come true.
There’s a wing dam that goes about halfway into the river, ending right at the theoretical NJ/PA border. Last summer, Marcella and I saw two middle-aged women sitting on the edge and drinking wine as the sun set. “They have won the night.”