Fear of Rich People.

July 5, 2008

I just came home to a comic tragedy. I opened my front door, and steam came billowing out of my apartment. The water was mysteriously off five days ago, before I left, and I was annoyed, because I wanted to take a shower before I went to the airport. Apparently, there being no water to indicate whether the spigot was open or closed, I left the hot water running for five days straight.
It’s 90 degrees in here, everything is damp. The place is covered with tiny, sooty dots of condensation. Some books have wavy pages. One guitar, my favorite Martin acoustic, seems to be calamitously warped. I haven’t looked at the rest of the instruments; I’m scared to find out.
There was a piece in the NYTimes about a place Scrap and I played at last week–the Surf Lodge, in Montauk, near but not exactly in the Hamptons. The piece, actually, was how the Hamptons’ ritzy essence was creeping East, into traditionally seedier Montauk. Non-NYers, the Hamptons are a quaint beachy area that has gotten extremely Sex-and-the-City-ized: rich people and celebrities own giant mansions on seaside land that was once predominantly potato farms, moneyed young Manhattanites party in expensive clubs.
The further East we drove, the more expensive the other cars in traffic got. Fog curled over the road at times, we drove from a sunny blue day into poofs of cloudy white-out, then out the other side–fog, blue sky, fog, blue sky–until it went permanently white in Montauk.
I knew it was going to be a wealthy scene, given the size of the check, but when we walked into the place, I was instantly intimidated. Valet parkers puzzle-piecing Maseratis and Bentleys in the tiny lot, Schrager-esque interior design, rich guys with women that looked to have been models when they were younger. Staff with walkie-talkies. They were incredibly nice to us, all the beautiful model-looking staff giving us smiling, Oh! You’re the band! enthusiasm. It was my impulse to radiate a counter-disdain, counter-snoot, be a snobby art guy, and I was suddenly ashamed of myself for hostility. Am I going to be mad at rich people for just being rich? Am I going to plan to be a jerk to people that I’m projecting hostility on?
I resolved then and there to be insanely nice to everybody.
They sat us at a table in the restaurant. Desperate for something to focus on, to distract myself from how intimidates I felt, I plucked The Game of Life from a bunch of board games under a coffee table in the lobby. But the pieces were missing. I looked at the blank board, missing the little plastic mansions and banks, and realized that the object of the game was to put enough colored plastic pegs in your little car game-piece that you got rich.
Seeing us, the sunny, buxom waitress brought all the pieces over in a velvet sack. Then she asked us if we wanted drinks. Diet cokes, we said. “You can get anything you want,” she said. No, that’s OK, diet Cokes. “Seriously, I’m saying you can get anything you want,” she said.
At the table next to us were a couple of graying dudes with their regal wives and gorgeous children. One held up his Blackberry to the other, showing a graph of a tanking stock, and they both laughed.
They fed us, put us in one of the hotel rooms at the lodge, another Schrager-esque affair, with a hammock on a porch looking out on fogbound water.
We played on a wooden deck out back., flanked by tiki torches There were maybe 20 or 25 people that had come in to see us, but the crowd were mostly swells and dames in heels chatting and drinking. I would’ve been annoyed to be playing cocktail hour, but then compensation was more than generous, and everybody in the house was ridiculously kind and respectful.
This is, after all, what I do for a living.
I did one scrappy-workin’-man move at the end; they had to cut us off and put on a DJ, so I motioned with my arm for the 25 die-hards to follow me off the deck, to the beach. I pulled them all in very close to me, so they could hear better, over the DJ music, and I played “27 Jennifers” out by the bonfire until I broke a string in the second chorus.
I’ve been doing these exercises from Lynda Barry’s What It Is, where you exhume memories of specific things–the memories of ten cars from childhood, ten dogs from your neighborhood–it’s a wonderful, profound book of exercises. On the fourth of July, I was in Pullman, WA, where my girlfriend’s parents live–way out in Eastern Washington, nearly in Idaho, with those weird, amazing rolling hills–sitting at a Starbucks in a Safeway supermarket, writing about Fourths of July past.
I was writing about July 4, 1974–I remember the exact date because my brother was a newborn. We were at West Point–the military academy; my Dad, an army officer, taught there–going to hear an army orchestra play the 1812 Overture to fireworks against the dramatic backdrop of the Hudson river. My dad accidentally dropped my infant brother on his head, and ran off to the hospital with him in his arms (he was fine).
Part of the exercise is never to disinclude any detail, no matter how minor, and so, along with the color of the sky and the gravel in the parking lot, I wrote down my father’s glasses, thick black army-issued circa 1974 frames. I realized that every adult male around me was wearing those glasses, and they all had short hair that marked them as military, and what did that mean in 1974? It was one year after we left Vietnam, a month before Nixon’s resignation. A lot of those guys, like my dad, had been in Vietnam very recently, probably still had its horrific images in their minds, not to mention their country’s tragic rejection of them as warriors. What did it mean to be in the army, at West Point, on the Fourth of July, with your profession held in scorn, the war for which you risked your life lost, the Presidency in disgrace?
I realized, as I was writing, that on that day we were closer to World War II than we are from July 4, 1974 now.
I fell in love with somebody. It’s new, but it’s been wonderful. She’s an artist, and her mind travels the same odd plane that mine does. She quit a career as an ascending star academic, threw it all in the trash, and began a creative life. Everybody in her life thought she was crazy. Now she’s successful. It’s an uncanny bond between us, because that’s what it was like for me to quit my old band and strike out on my own.
I broke up with my ex roughly eighteen months ago, instantly regretted it and tried to woo her back. That’s my pattern; a relationship dies, and I’m relieved at first, but then a little distance makes me panic, and I remember all the good stuff, and try and rekindle it. Invariably I realize that I was right the first time, and the relationship dies a protracted second death. She was smart enough to know that this was the case, and turned me down.
It’s a weird world to be in when you’re missing somebody; ten years ago, you couldn’t stalk somebody on their MySpace, parse their blog for clues, wonder if they’re reading and parsing yours.
A torturous technological quirk happened. Whenever I typed the m and it autofilled the rest of the URL, http://www.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=splash, the second autofill option would be the URL of her MySpace page. It became too easy to dial up her page; type an m, mouse down a centimeter. So I cleared out my browser history, and where I relied on Firefox to bring up Facebook with only an f, The New York Times with an n, and the weather with a w, I now had laboriously to type the whole thing.
So I’d go a month, and then loneliness or boredom would get to me, and I’d go look at her page again. And IMMEDIATELY, her MySpace would be the second option the autofill list. What the fuck? I thought it was done by frequency. So I would go to all my other friends’ MySpaces, one after another, tediously, to rejigger the stats, and I would only succeed in getting her knocked down a place or two in line. I had to clear the history again, go back to the laborious typing again, and then five weeks later the same impulse would seize me and I had to repeat the process.
Now I’m genuinely over it, and on to the next part of my life. But I’ve been meaning to talk to my ex again, maybe to be friends again, and I looked at her page to see what she was doing. Something distracted me, and I had to look again later; I typed the m, knowing from experience that it would autofill. But it didn’t show up in the list. ?!?!?! The next day, again, just to see if it was a fluke, I typed the m–and she wasn’t there.
Does my MacBook mirror my consciousness? Did Steve Jobs neglect to announce this, in the frenzy over the iPhone?
I heard a Sekou Sundiata interview over the weekend in which he pointed out that the Bronx is the only borough of New York City actually located on the mainland United States.
There’s a tattoo I’ve wanted to get for years; it’s the logo of a German gas company called D.E.A. I first saw it on tour in Yurp in the early 90s. It’s a triangle pointed down, with a woman’s sort of Statue-of-Liberty-esque face in the upper left corner, rays radiating out from her. I’m contemplating some troublingly blank space on my forearms, so I Googled it, with little luck. I combined and recombined words until finally I found something; a Google Maps image of a gigantic oil tank near the Frankfurt am Main airport, with a humongous rendition of the logo painted on top, for the benefit of people in landing airplanes.
I went to see W.A.L.L.-E., and it was great in the way everybody is saying it’s great. What fascinated me was the painstaking lengths the animators took in simulating camera effects. The “camera” pans past the sun, and a prismic ring shows up on the “lens”; there’s a “shot” of a character in the foreground, with the background blurry, then the “focus” changes, so the character in the background is clear and the foreground out of focus.
OK, so the sun-ring on the lens was definitely superfluous, but what about the foreground-background thing? Was the focus trick the most expedient way to advance the narrative? I thought about Orson Welles meticulously setting up those shots in Citizen Kane where everything in the frame was in focus; that’s basically the default setting in animation, right?
OK, it’s late, but let’s get our America on:

Happy Bastille Day in advance, everybody!