Archive | Uncategorized RSS for this section

Subway Dance Party of One

The platform at the Flushing Main Street subway stop is usually packed with commuters trying to get on or off one of the subway trains. There’s not room for much else on the platforms there. The 7 line is one of the most crowded lines in the entire subway system and the one benefit of this is that it is usually devoid of crazies, panhandlers and performers who don’t have the sense to stay off of rush hour trains.

But yesterday as I got to the station and boarded a train, a solitary dancer was on the platform. He appeared to be either mentally ill or high on crack. Perhaps he was both.

The entire time I was there, the man danced to music that was playing only in his head. He danced with a collapsible cane or walking stick. He even gesticulated with this stick at one point, incorporating his vulgar motions into his crack head choreography.

I was inspired to take a short video of his performance. He is blissfully unaware of how he appears to others. He hasn’t a care in the world. He’s amused by his own motion as others strive to avoid him.

The dancing crack head is a reject, one of society’s ultimate outsiders. He is an object of ridicule in the minds of the other people on the subway platform, who were not dancing, but paying money to take a miserable, crowded journey so they can spend time away from their families and work. Perhaps our crack head dancer was the only sane one in the station.

Taking Care of Business

Labor Day is a day when most American workers have a day off and spend it being thankful that we have a job, if we have one. Any power the day once held to fire up a meaningful organized labor movement in the U.S. has long been stripped away. For the vast majority of us, work is something we do because we have to do something that makes money.

I’d love to be able to say that I’m an independently wealthy writer who can generate income through the genius of every creative whim, but the truth is I work in an office doing work that doesn’t really interest me. I like being good at my job because I refuse to be a lazy slug and need to make a living. But I’m working for The Man like everyone else.

I find it to be a benefit to have worked many different jobs over the last two decades. I have been a grocery bagger, house painter, video store assistant manager, immigration inspector, security guard, line cook, telemarketer, retail sales clerk and financial journalist.

By far the job I hated the most was as the assistant manager of a video store. This was in suburban Atlanta in the late 1990s when I was living a miserable, impoverished life among the relative wealth and ease of the Atlanta suburbs. Even though I love watching films and getting to rent movies for free was a chief perk of the job, having to answer to the entitled whims of overfed suburbanites grated on my nerves unmercifully. There were a few very nice customers there, but I hated that job so much that when I saw a bug skitter across the floor one night, I couldn’t bring myself to kill it. If a bug can find happiness in this miserable place, then good for him.

Having worked a large variety of jobs has given me a lot of different perspectives I otherwise would not have had. I like to think it shows in my daily interactions with people. I was that awkward teenager pushing his Dad’s lawnmower. I was the pimply kid behind the counter at McDonald’s on Labor Day. I was the unlucky immigration inspector stamping passports on Christmas and getting stuck working overtime.

Sometimes, even among very intelligent and good-natured friends, it becomes startlingly clear those who haven’t worked many of these jobs. The way someone treats a waitress or a bartender will tell you more about their life and attitude than any online profile or paper trail.

There’s a missing value that hasn’t been instilled in much of the population: that there is dignity in work, all work. Just because you don’t like your job or don’t like the people you work with or have to serve doesn’t mean you should feel comfortable behaving without dignity or purpose. All working people have dignity and deserve respect. Working for a living is beneath no one. And when you think about it, we are all a lot closer to the unemployment line than we like to think we are.

It’s a wisdom I’ve come to more recently and wish that I had had when I was bagging groceries and fielding the nonsensical complaints from entitled suburbanites. I felt the anger and resentment that comes with being treated like a servant. I let the opinion of others get to me, and it reflected a low opinion I had of myself. But dignity is not anything that anyone can grant you. If you’re in the right state of mind, you’ll have as much dignity shining shoes as you will being a movie star.

This Labor Day, resolve to take dignity in whatever job you do, and remember that no matter what the job is, everyone working for a living deserves your respect.

Happy Labor Day.

The Horror That Is The 7 Train

Speaking in 1999, Atlanta Braves pitcher John Rocker said the following about New York City:

“Imagine having to take the 7 Train to the ballpark looking like you’re riding through Beirut next to some kid with purple hair, next to some queer with AIDS, right next to some dude who just got out of jail for the fourth time, right next to some 20-year-old mom with four kids. It’s depressing…”

Saturday Night Live’s Colin Quinn, doing the weekly news spot, said this about Rocker: “He might be a bigot, but he’s definitely been on the 7 train.”

Despite all the romantic notions you may have in your head about New York, there are some traditional New York experiences that are never pleasant no matter how much you romanticize them. Being mugged is never fun; neither is stepping in dog shit or having to smell a homeless person.

Another old New York tradition that is no fun is the 7 train. The 7 train is a human cattle car of endless misery and inconvenience. It perfectly combines all the incompetence of New York’s Metropolitan Transit Authority with the rancid overpopulation of our city that makes New York the cultural calling card of the dying American empire.

I live in Flushing, Queens and work in lower Manhattan. I have an hour-and-15-minute commute each way when things go well, but things rarely go well. I take a bus to downtown Main Street Flushing, which has a crowd density similar to that of Times Square, and board a 7 train that takes me to Grand Central, where I take either the 4 or 5 train (also no joy) to the Bowling Green station near where I work.

Today I managed to get down the overcrowded stairs to the train platform only to miss the closing doors of a not-very-crowded 7 train by seconds. The next express train arrived soon but sat on the platform for 10 minutes and didn’t leave the station until it was wall-to-wall people.

Sometimes the 7 train likes to quit on you and dump all of its passengers out a random stop. “This train is out of service! No passengers!” the conductor will announce. Sometimes the express 7 train decides to go local, sometimes without telling its passengers until they’re at a stop they didn’t plan on making. On the weekends, the 7 train doesn’t run any express trains at all and often will have large service gaps that will leave its passengers scrambling to shuttle busses or trying to find alternate trains to take.

In September, when the U.S. Open is happening at the U.S. Tennis Center, the 7 train is flooded with tennis fans who are clueless as to where they are going and completely unschooled in subway etiquette. Sometimes a perfect storm of passenger clusterfuck will happen and you’ll have Mets fans and U.S. Open fans cramming the same trains heading to the Willets Point station.

The 7 train will often stop service entirely or delay service torturously or decided it doesn’t want to run express trains at the height of rush hour. Often the reason the MTA gives passengers for this is “signal problems.” One winter I asked an MTA worker on the platform why express service was abruptly canceled and he answered, “It’s cold outside, sir.”

I don’t bother trying to get a seat on the 7 train. Those are the dominion of sharp-elbowed Asian women who push their way onto the trains before the unfortunate souls who have to commute to Flushing can exit. I actually prefer to stand. I’ll actually have more room standing and the ride isn’t that long. Besides, I sit on my ass for eight hours at work. I usually try to position myself directly between two car doors in the center of the car, where the crush of passengers will be slightly less.

It is often standing-room only before the trains leave its first stop, but that doesn’t stop people from trying to cram themselves on to the train at later stops.

The 7 train is one of the oldest lines in the city, so its rails are close together and the cars that fit on the tracks are narrow and without as much room as other trains. It is also the only subway serving some of the most densely populated parts of the city and it terminates (for now) in Times Square.

And the 7 train is about to get worse. The geniuses who run our transit system decided it would be a good idea to cram 15 pounds of ham into this 5-pound bag instead of 10, so the 7 line is being expanded all the way to 34th Street and 11th Avenue. This means more crowding on a subway line that can barely handle what its current ridership. Joy.

There are some upsides to the 7 train. Most of it is above ground, so you can see some beautiful views of Queens and Manhattan that you won’t see from any other train line. Also, while it is regularly packed to the gills, most of the riders are working New Yorkers who are not there to cause problems; you don’t have the thug element of the A train or the hipster abominations of the L line. Because the trains are so crowded all the time, you have fewer homeless and crazies. I have never seen a “Showtime!” subway dance troupe try to ply their obnoxious trade on the 7 train.

For all its faults, the 7 line has stood the test of time, and if overcrowding doesn’t bring it crumbling to the ground this year, someone will be bitching and moaning about it 100 years from now.

Read Poetry, It Is Good For You

Impolite Literature photoSo there is a new poem on another blog you should read. I wrote the poem, but don’t let that discourage you. Read the new poem and then peruse the rest of the Impolite Literature blog.

The goal of the blog is to kick me in the ass to write more poetry and fiction, it’s also to declare a kind of populist war against the powers that be in the literary world. The literary world is in large part comprised of snooty academics that are too busy scratching each other’s backs to promote the cause of literature or even acknowledge much of the good writing that’s out there. A handful of professors judge poetry contests and award decisive publishing prizes to students, lovers, or other effete snobs they owe favors to. Impolite Literature says fuck all of that.

Enjoy the literature.

Dew the Manufactured Controversy

Mountain Dew GoatThe latest manufactured racial controversy involves a talking goat that drinks soda. Mountain Dew has pulled a commercial from the Internet that was supposedly “racist” because it featured black men in a criminal lineup along with a talking goat that loves Mountain Dew.

The brief clips that I’ve been able to watch of this “racist” commercial actually look funny. A crazy goat guzzles Mountain Dew and beats up a waitress. The waitress, cut, bruised, on crutches and wearing a neck brace, is viewing a lineup at a police station that features the brown goat and four black men. Even though her assailant is obvious in the lineup, she is too traumatized by the Dew-crazed goat to identify her attacker.

The men in the lineup are all members of the rap group Odd Future, and the video was directed by Odd Future member Tyler the Creator. Tyler the Creator is not that good a rapper—and he’s disrespected Yonkers to boot (watch this parody of his work by the much-better rapper Hopsin)—but he and other members of the group have a comedy show called Loiter Squad that has actually had some funny moments.

What seems to be lost on the legion of intelligentsia who’ve condemned the commercial as racist is that IT FEATURES A TALKING GOAT. Do we really need to explain any further than that? I’m sorry, but once you realize that the commercial centers around a goat that drinks soda and goes crazy, shouldn’t that be a clue?

If the fact that it is a Mountain Dew commercial didn’t tip you off not to take it seriously, the goat should have. Once you introduce livestock into the mix, you’re done trying to say anything serious. (I’m aware of George Orwell’s Animal Farm and the like, but it’s safe to say that Orwell would be above writing soda commercials if he were still with us).

The fact that the black rappers are there in the lineup doesn’t make it racist. The goat is brown in appearance like the rappers, but he is a goat and they are human beings, and the absurdity of the lineup is humorous. Maybe the black director was criticizing our country’s criminal justice system. Perhaps he was presenting a piece of racial realism and calling the corporate world’s bluff on it. But I’m willing to bet he was just trying to make a ridiculous commercial.

And maybe it’s not that funny; maybe it’s pretty dumb like just about every commercial on television. I have yet to sit through a Mountain Dew commercial that I found erudite, awe-inspiring or even tasteful. That’s OK though, Mountain Dew drinkers aren’t known for their good taste.

And someone please tell me that animal rights activists have complained that a goat was made to drink a large sugary beverage.

The entire “controversy” is most likely a work like New Coke: something that wasn’t meant to even be a real commercial but put out there just to generate press. It worked: I just spent 25 minutes trying to watch an admittedly asinine Mountain Dew commercial. 

Hell Just Got Louder; RIP Jeff Hanneman

JeffHanneman

The man who made thrash thrive and kept rock music’s Satanic side alive has passed. Jeff Hanneman, one of the founding guitar players of SLAYER, passed away May 2. He had been in bad health for the past few years after contracting a rare illness from a spider bite.

It is not only the state of heavy metal music that wouldn’t be what it is today without Jeff Hanneman. Anyone who listens to metal, punk, hardcore or any variation thereof owes a big debt of gratitude to Hanneman, who made thrash metal faster, harder and louder than it ever was before.

Slayer is the thrash metal band that never turned away from its roots, never wrote an embarrassing love song, never apologized for singing about evil, and never gave up. While the more popular heavy metal bands of the 1980s were wearing makeup and buying hair spray futures, Hanneman was writing amazing songs that were fast and furious from beginning to end. His songs’ subject matter included necrophilia, Nazi war criminals, Satanic blood sacrifices, and other things that were evil and a lot more interesting than weeping about girls.

You remember how every heavy metal band used to have at least one slow, sappy ballad on every record? Slayer has none of those. Remember in the 1990s how heavy metal bands cut their hair to try to fit into the alternative or grunge scenes? Not Slayer.

In the 1980s, the punk rock and heavy metal scenes often did not mix. A punk rocker would never go to a heavy metal show and metalheads were likewise required to hate punk. Slayer changed that, and Jeff Hanneman was leading the charge.

Hanneman was a punk rock fan first and gravitated to metal because he wanted to play more blistering guitar solos than the punk genre allowed at the time.

For Hanneman, the divisions that fenced in the various genres of aggressive music were arbitrary and false, and he shredded through them with gusto. When Slayer put out an album of cover songs, they weren’t classic rock songs or tribute to popular groups of the day; they were mostly hardcore punk covers from bands that were little known at the time.

You’d rarely see a metal musician wearing a punk rock t-shirt until Jeff Hanneman did. And if Hanneman did it, you couldn’t argue it wasn’t heavy metal. He opened up aggressive music in that way and helped popularize the many great crossover bands that tread the line between punk rock and heavy metal.

[Author’s Note: For the past decade, I have regularly brought deviled eggs to parties and family gatherings and they have become quite popular among family and friends. My deviled eggs are called Double Satanic Deviled Eggs, and every time I make them, I must at some point listen to SLAYER.]

%d bloggers like this: