Saturday 8 September 2007

Competition Olympics, Leg 2

Do you remember the days when tayto crisp wrappers and teabag boxes had competitions on them? You'd answer some cryptic question about cheese and onion flavours and then you'd have to come up with a really good way to finish the sentence "I love Tayto Crisps because..." or "Lyons Blend is the only one for me because..." in less than ten words. Many of us tried, and just couldn't summon up the creative genius for the project. It was our Waterloo.

Some people were really good at it. They won cars and holidays in Majorca. Their children became copywriters.

Of course, at that time, there were no copywriters in Ireland. There were competitions for slogans on the back of Cornflake boxes. The whole country was full of amateur enthusiastic copywriters hoping to get a free car or holiday in a time when Ireland was not the fourth wealthiest country on the planet.

Others, and this flavour is definitely in the general air in Ireland, wrote any old shit in blue biro and saved their tokens, sending them in with the cheery expectation that "if you're not in, you can't win". I love this aspect of Irish consciousness. It really gives the country its character. It's the same kind of spirit that will see my parents donning their wings to go and swim in the hotel pool in Majorca later this month.

My mum is in her fifties and my dad is in his sixties and there they'll be, swimming around happy as larry in their wings. They're becoming stronger swimmers with each sun holiday they take, I think. And they didn't win their holiday from a teabag box. They paid good money to get out of the rainy Irish summer for a week or so. May it shine on the island of Majorca that week.

Clearly my opening competition was too much for you, because there has been only one guess posted in the tumbleweed zone that is my comments section. Well it's just a good job I'm not crippled by a need to be popular, is all I can say.

So here's another competition. It will be combined with the first and maybe further ones, and we're gonna have winners dammit! I repeat: there's going to be three plinths, one high one in the middle with the number ONE on it, and two lower down ones saying 2 and 3, like the trains that take me out of here. There will be flower garlands, medals and I may well don a bathing suit to present the thing, should such a need arise.

Drumroll drumroll drumroll drumroll

Complete the following sentence in ten words or less:

"Lucy Takes Off is the only blog for me at the end of a hard day, because..."

Bated breath. Arched toes.

The pipes, the pipes are calling

I've just scored a craigslist hook-up trade-off:

One ticket for tonight's penultimate performance of Joe's Pub's Shakespeare In The Park production of A Midsummer Night's Dream, in exchange for singing Danny Boy down the ticket-offerer's iPhone.


Friday 7 September 2007

My Rate

I won't get out of bed for less than fifty bucks an hour, but I think shortly I'll increase that to seventy five. I'm really confident about this.

Of course it means a lot of sleeping late mornings.

Thursday 6 September 2007

One block west of Bedford

Mummy, I heard flames.
Mmm hmm?
When we get some money, I shall buy two cars. Two cars. Two cars.
Two cars!

He is a young deeply conservative black man, aged six.

Toll the bell

I met Bob last weekend on avenue A, it was a nice surprise to see someone from the old days there. I haven't seen Greywolf since I got here.

Greywolf is an old Cherokee man, mixed with New York city blood and filth and piss and liquor. He lived in Alphabet city around Tompkins Square park for years, he was there back in the eighties, when everything was different around the neighbourhood.

I've heard stories of nightly gunshots, drug-gang snipers on the rooves of buildings, ready to pick off any cops who wandered past avenue A. Stories of fires being lit in storefronts, of fire on the streets, of transvestite prostitutes, of colour and of dilapidation. And cheap rent. And artists renting. A different time.

Greywolf had a flute he used to play on Avenue A. It was six hundred years old, he told me, passed down through the generations to him. He also told me of having composed the music for some Disney movie, and of having toured with Santana. I've heard some crazyassed stories on the streets of Manhattan, really nothing is unbelievable here.

Greywolf lived on the street in all weathers. I don't know what he did in the winter, but his home was avenue A, and Tompkins square park. And that's where he sat every night, half naked, and welcoming, and always up for a chat.

Greywolf has disappeared.

I've heard a story he's living in the projects on avenue d, but that was from Francis the Irish cowboy Texan, who may or may not know what the hell he's talking about.

Bob is a neighbourhood alphabet city photographer, been living there for thirty odd years, basically his whole adult life, used to have a storefront and just saw the neighbourhood get chipped away at gradually, over the years. There seem to be some mournful stories in Bob's face, all about gentrification and hard times and the neighbourhood changing.

He stands out there on Avenue A on mild evenings, hanging out and meeting people. It's like an elaborate mourning ritual, marking the passing of this incredibly colourful neighbourhood of New York city, the stomping ground of his youth. Mostly he's just hanging out, talking the talk of avenue A. It was good to see him again. I hope to see him this weekend, if I'm in alphabet city.

It's a popular topic in that part of NYC right now. Huge changes have happened in what is now called the East Village over the past 20 years since the Tompkins square riots, where the homeless derelicts and junkies and hippies and hangabouts on Tompkins square had their Stonewall moment and laid a tent over a part of the park and declared it their home in rebellion against the increased pressure from the police to up sticks and remove their filthy selves from the neighbourhood. There were riots for days. That was 20 years ago.

In the past year, a number of landmark Lower East Side clubs have closed. Sin-e is gone, Tonic is gone, CBGB's is gone, amazingly, a big hoarding all around it and a block of condos on the way up. It's really quite obnoxious what's happening to areas like the LES and Williamsburg/Greenpoint lately. The lower east side has become a kind of hip theme park, and the place the bankers pour into on the weekends, ordering $300 bottles of liquor and drinking until dawn.

The LES is so fucking over and it's a terrible pity. And in that sense, in that sort of Laurie Anderson or Velvet Underground or Blondie-CBGB's or Bowery or Washington Square Park or even MacDougal Street in the fifties and early sixties sort of way, in that downtown sort of way, New York IS over.

New York is brimming over with endless variations of life, and that reality is what I resonate to, what my body rhymes with every minute I'm here and feeling like a reservoir of devotion to her. It's the diversity of life, it's the living strangeness of it all, the endless opportunities, the thousands and thousands of strange strands of life happening and weaving across each other's paths with so little human warmth and kindness and yet a kind of white heat pulsing through it all every minute of every day.

But it's probably not a place to find a community of artists who couldn't be arsed with earning a living and don't have to care much about that, either, but work their arses off on their work, for the sheer love of it. There's a sense here that if you're not making a lot of money, that you're lazy. That if you're not selling what you do, that you're not successful. That's the set-up. It's pernicious. But very interesting.

I can't tell you how important the business of money is, here. Like nowhere else I have ever been or felt. Fortunes and potential fortunes are dealt in every day. Dreams, hopes and expectations are of dollars and fame and prestige and status. Wealth is the Shangri-la, the dance, the game, the hunt and the kill.

So the creative nutters and experimenters have been eased and kicked out, in large part. I mean the people who aren't just trying to create some sort of hip new underground market brand. It's a different place, you know those were different times. It is what it is, and what it is is thrilling and beautiful in its own peculiar condominiumized sort of way. Hail hail nyc, toll the bell for the changing neighbourhoods.

Greywolf is off the streets.

Wednesday 5 September 2007

Music from a farther room

There's a musician living a couple of blocks down my street. I've passed him in his ground floor practice room a couple of times now, once playing percussion in the dark, and just this evening he was practising piano with the light on. I'd love to call out to him to play with me, but he's practising and I don't want to disturb him. But you know, my route to the subway has changed. It's the same distance, but these days I go right down my street to get to it.

Last night at Times square 2 train uptown platform, a dude stood playing a keyboard that was strapped around him like a guitar, and singing his heart out. I was busy dancing with my iPod along the downtown platform, when I saw him. An announcement came that the next downtown 2 train was coming in 10 minutes, so I skipped across to the uptown platform and listened a bit, danced a bit. People were listening and getting all earnest and then dropping in small change. I used to get that in the street in Copenhagen, too. People standing and listening for a full song, then doin the jingle jangle with some loose coppers. This is New York city, folks! Give a dollar at least, for Christ's sake. Keep your quarters for the laundry machine.

I'm singing in a bar in Chinatown on Thursday, just a back-up spot, singing some three part harmonies.. but it should be some good rocknroll fun! The band's called The Mercenaries, and the gig's at 9.30 in Bar 169, at 169 East Broadway. That's the F to East Broadway. See you there!

Tuesday 4 September 2007

Prospect Heights News: free book offering riches unclaimed!

Book in cardboard box outside a Brooklyn brownstone:
"WEALTH, without risk, going out on a limb, or making any effort whatsoever"

It stuck around highly visible in the little box on the block for about sixteen hours yesterday.

The book was reported having disappeared finally, around 10. The nice bowling shoes are still there.


Monday 3 September 2007

Snake n Jake's Christmas Lounge

I just found a little smelly tealight on the shelf of this apartment I've been living in for nine days. It's the first I've seen of a candle in ages. I had forgotten all about candles. Denmark was all about candles. The whole country, all day, all night, everywhere, in the street, at least a hundred in every home, restaurants, my favourite dive bar and nightspot in Copenhagen: Kulkafeen (get there while you can, it's changing hands soon!) was lit ENTIRELY with candles.

Reminds me of Snake n Jake's Christmas Lounge up on Oak Street in Nola. Just down the road from the Maple Leaf, though you'd only know if you had been told about it. It was a little shed of a place lit only with Christmas tree lights, and was by a long way, the most fundamentally hip bar I have ever been in. I shudder to think of Snake n Jake's fate since the waters came. The last time I was in Snake n Jake's was an afternoon one August. Outside it was sweltering, hot, humid. Inside, a/c kept its clients cool, it was utterly dark but for the fairy lights, and two enormous greyhounds wrestled each other silently on the floor.

Snake n Jake's was a kind of a typical Nola place, in that it was open all the time. It wasn't 24 hours like a lot of the other St. Charles bars, but they basically stayed open until the last drinker stumbled out the door into hot sweltering daylight, grabbing a couple of hours shuteye, before opening again for the first thirsty customer of the day banging on the door again.

I was brought there one night by a wild drunken chef I met while having a quiet beer in the Avenue bar, across the street from the flophouse on Prytania street where I was staying. A quiet beer, I thought, I'll write for a couple of hours and go home. Yeah. But this is New Orleans. Instead I met a wild drunken chef who whisked me off to the St. Charles Tavern, where he challenged me to a game of darts (at that time I was as passionate about darts as I currently am about iPod).

There was to be a challenge. If the wild chef won our game of 301, then he got to lick my armpit. If I won, it was something inane like a beer. Nothing I could think of could beat his bounty. I hit a couple of twenties, he hit the wall, what can I say. I got the beer, he hit the street.

But he was fun, and as much a gentleman as a wild drunken armpit licking chef could be, which was surprisingly considerable. And I never saw him after that 9am-finishing game of darts. I have a photograph somewhere, he's trying to lick my cheek. Or actually licking my neck, and I'm wincing and laughing at the same time, and trying to hold the camera up and press click.

Anyway, that was how I got to hear about Snake n Jake's Christmas Lounge. He told me about it like it was the Shangri-La, like he was Cassandra about to usher me into the flame of immortal life. On wednesday nights, he says, if you take your top off and dance on the counter, you drink free for the night.

So one tuesday night after the Rebirth Brass Band's regular gig at the Maple Leaf, I met some ex-hippy couple out in the courtyard at the back, and I said

Hey! Lets go to Snake n Jakes! D'ya know it?


(said the wife)

I haven't been there in years! Lets go!

And we all piled into her car, she put her go-cup of wine into the cupholder in her driver's seat, and off we roared.

Within about ten minutes of getting to Snake n Jake's, the couple offered to have me come and live at their home. I think I accepted their kind offer in principle, and told them I would call on their sofa, if ever the need arose. Later that night, a friend of the couple's was about to drive me home, when I crossed the street and saw that there was a Luau happening in a garden. So in we went, and joined the party.

Grass skirts, hula garlands, cookout, hawaiian music. White college boy types. One older dude. Ginger, small, crosseyed. I got talking to him. Turns out he was NOPD. He was also very taken with the fact that I was Irish. His guard went down a little.

You from Ireland? he asked me. You got bad people in Irelan', like we got here? BAD people you know? BLACK people? Like we got here?

He had the ring of someone who knows he can fuck someone up and get away with it, no questions asked.

And out it all came. His stories. I stood there, in a hula garland, getting the gist of this cop's vibe, and said whatever I was there to say, and then I said goodbye, and we left. Something dark was brewing with a group of men further down the street and we got out of there.

Ah, Snake n Jake's.

Or the night I gave my credit card to the bartender and left it there when I left. I think there were two drinks on the tab at the time - big spender, me - and discovered the absence of the card when I got back to Prytania street at 9.30 am. Bollocks, I thought. Classic tourist moment.

I went back there, later that day.
They gave me back the card, had torn up the tab.
Snake n Jake's had honour.

I really have no sense whatsoever of what shape nola is in, these days.
Just can't fathom it.

What we do to trees

I just read this on a flyer advertising a protest downtown:

Catalogue retailers send out 20 billion catalogues a year, and almost none of the paper contains any recycled content. Instead, over 8 million tonnes of trees a year go into catalogues alone - which means 8 million tonnes of trees are going from forests to the landfill, with a short appearance as junk mail in between. By increasing recycled content, cataloguers could greatly decrease their negative environmental impact, cut air and water pollution, and decrease the amount of paper filling up landfills.

I don't know what anybody else is supposed to do though, except maybe gasp.

Sunday 2 September 2007

Labour Day

I think I understand what this whole Labour day thing is about here in America. It's because it's one of the incredibly few days off that people get in this country, especially the workers of New York city.

We're so used to bank holidays and holy days here there and everywhere in Ireland. The Danes have holidays all over the place. They even had to combine about ten individual prayer days into one, and call it Big Prayer Day. It is not uncommon for shops and restaurants even in Copenhagen, to close for two full months of the year, while the proprieters go to their summer houses.

Here, there are no such benefits, even though they exist on paper. Here, they work like huskies until they drop dead. And what employers don't squeeze out of you, the city will eagerly drain. In New York city, Labour day is good news indeed.

It's also bad news. It means the end of the summer, to the American consciousness. After Labour day, fall begins. The weather begins to turn. People begin to anticipate the winter.

But Labour day is a day off, and in NYC, that is quite an extraordinary thing. Tonight, New York is partying hard, or trying to stop its nervous twitch, as it sits at home in front of Netflix, trying very hard to not do anything.

I got new boots tonight

They rock.

A different kind of Apple ad

It wasn't until I held my iPod in my own hands for the very first time this evening that I understood. Now I do. I understand the iPod craze. It has reached my fingertips and I am truly grooving with the whole Apple concept of living.

It is a magnificent object. I rarely actually fall in love with inanimate objects. I can get turbo fond of clothes and shoes, and find it difficult to give them away. I have a kind of a serious thing about this pendant I wear around my neck. There's a gold cross my mum gave me, and if I were ever to find that I was parted with it, that would surely hurt. But the arrival of this MacBook and iPod three weeks ago has totally rocked my world.

I am Mac'd.

I have been using Macs for twelve years now. I started out on a lover's dad's Performa, which I typed away at in a cold tunnel-shaped Dublin dive while playing Koji the Frog until 4 or 5 in the morning. My first very own Mac was also a Performa, which was brought to me on the very last day of a very unpleasant gig I had been working on for three months.

The big event of that Mac was a nine month-long daily email courtship with a man who had recently become a father for the first time, in Nashville Tennessee, and led right up to the morning my flight was about to take off for my very first trip to America to meet him. More recently, I got a second hand g4 desktop which was my first introduction to the new apple interface.

You've got to love interfaces. They're our little protecting veils between the technology that is finding increasing intimacy with us, to us, in us, and they can make things smoother, at one with us, or they can really be a pain in the arse and will always make it unpleasant to operate this kiss-close part of the ever-expanding-it-seems human consciousness.

Take Nokia for instance. They made the mobile phone system that just makes sense like your first night on crack makes sense. It just makes sense. I can't explain why. It's not that I like it, not that it's great, it's that it just makes sense.

That's all. And now I can't use anything else without getting tetchy.

I suppose that's what it's all about, creating addicts. Everything shouting and looking shiny and hotlipped and fuckable. Come purchase me. You whip out your wad or your plastic honey c'mon, we'll go places you never dreamed.

Yeah, so this is me tonight, on a saturday night in New York city, sitting in a room with two whippets I didn't know ten days ago and have subsequently fallen a bit in love with, working on my MacBook and listening to Seal on my iPod.

This is my crack.

How's that, Apple?