The Bushwick Book Club meets monthly at Goodbye Blue Monday, a bar filled to bursting with transistor radios, mannequins, old televisions and tightly packed bookshelves. All of it for sale. Each month the club chooses a book to read and then write songs about it. Just my luck, this month was Darwin’s Origin of the Species. So as I sit with my date Grazia, a lovely Italian scientist, we giggle at a show tune about deviation in pigeons and a singalong with the chorus “Darwin doesn’t give a shit about your band.”
As I ride around the city, I forget that I’m not a messenger as I shoot the gaps and push like hell. I focus on the rush and miss the scenery. I stop outside St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral, a sedate dragon of red granite with services in Chinese, Spanish and English. I try to enter for a look around but find the door locked. The caretaker lets me into the basement to see the show of sacred art: gold plated saints and virgins, engrossing carvings of cherubic faces. The artist converses with a hawkish old man dressed in black, slight but straight backed and proud, who says, “We’ll take those devils tonight. God help us, the Phillies don’t stand a chance!”
The artist replies, “Yes Father.”
I’ve liked Peculiar Works theater company ever since I volunteered for their tribute to the beginning of Off-Off-Broadway: a walking show through the Village with classic vignettes performed on the bustling city streets. I end up standing next to a bed on the sidewalk along 8th Avenue. The audience walks up following the narrator as the gay couple on the bed wakes up after a night of partying. As they begin to fight, I use a rope to slowly pull the rolling bed down the sidewalk as the scene progresses. At the end of the block, the couple quiets and goes back to sleep. The narrator leads the audience to the next piece. Once gone, the actors jump out of bed and change wildly for their next scene a few blocks away. I pull the bed back to position and pop around the corner to a warm old bottle store with a jolly fat man who always recommends a good beer. I lay in my bed under the streetlight savoring the beer and watching the people go by. Nobody notices me. It takes more then a bed to get their attention.
I helped again at their latest production: At This Site – ten short pieces performed at the Whole Foods on Bowery by drama students from Trinity College. Despite a song and dance number in the candy department, a bombastic preacher delivering an elegy to strawberry preserves with baptisms in jelly and a sultry flapper dancing on the stairs above the store, barely a handful of the lower east siders gave any attention to the performance in their midst. A year away from the city made me forget the difficulty of capturing the notice of these aloof urban dwellers. One girl finally got them. She stripped to her bikini in the middle of the store, donned a pair of black angel wings and started singing to the audience above her about the cursed deliciousness of fattening oreos. That’s what it took to finally get some attention: a half-naked girl singing about cookies.
Assorted money quotes (unsourced to protect the innocent):
“do you know what it’s like to not be able to control your shit while working as a go-go dancer?”
“And that’s how you apply the Heisenberg uncertainty principle to nipples.”