Boston brings a flurry of snapshots for me every time I go there - and I don't mean the ones I take. Nights at Kristin's BU dorm playing "You Don't Know Jack" and drinking, sidewalks where we sat to eat, the way the ground shifted under us that night we left some club, Fenway, Ray Lamontagne, The Decemberists, the Citgo sign. Kristin talking about Jump singing the National Anthem. Davis Square. On and on and on.
But I never attached it to the Wrens. A good National show, the Frames at the Paradise, yes, but not a Wrens gig. So far, the most stellar sets have been KEXP's Yule Benefit (two nights) and CMJ at 2 am in the city - well, actually, they've all been good. I guess I was heading up to Boston to get what I knew was coming, which was an incredible Wrens set, and maybe a quick hello from one of the guys. I was more preoccupied with how the place was going to be to shoot, to be honest, and whether or not Raf and Tommy would like the music.
I wound up totally and completely getting my socks knocked off. Seriously.
It had to be the best I've ever seen them play. A thousand degrees, about four people back (I know, I know, but we were out wandering around the streets) on Greg's side of the stage. And like always, it was non-stop goodness, but... like I put in the email to Greg: it was like you were already amazing, and then you took it to this place I didn't even know it needed to go to. It was sweaty and loud and perfect. And, they threw in Built-In Girls and Darlin, Darlin - the only strays from the Meadowlands I've seen have been Fire, Fire or I Guess We're Done or something. They played for like, an hour and a half. My calves got sore from jumping up and down so much, screaming my head off, twenty people on the stage for Boys, You Won't and mind numbing goodness. I like the Middle East, I thought it was going to be horrendous - I can't say it's my favorite venue, but it was alright.
So - I managed a quick hi to Greg and Other Charles, and we stumbled back to the car around 1 am (all high with show) only to find a message from one of my friends - it turns out he had extra make-up game tickets for the Sox / Yankees game in the Bronx for 8 pm on Sunday, and did we want to go? Oh, and for free? Totally.
On to big city number two (get it?) around 5 on Sunday after very little sleep and very little... anything. Not even laundry. I have to say, Yankees Stadium is pretty dirty and annoying to get to and from. And the fans are HORRENDOUS. Mean, spiteful, awful people. I mean, I can understand some healthy banter now and then, but sitting four seats down from someone screaming "Cocksuckers! Faggots! We're going to eat your kids!" was pretty dismantling. But besides that, and overpriced parking back in Stamford, the night was a full thumbs-up. And then it got... different.
Halfway into the sixth inning, the Sox went down by two runs and we decided to catch the early train. We walked back to the subway and headed towards the Harlem / 125th street station. The directions I had gotten online said that the 4 would stop running after 8, so to take the D train uptown and cut over back to where Metro North picked up. Easy, right?
We got off the D and were nowhere near where we had been before, and after one tired looking idiot cop sent us in the wrong direction, we came back and found out from one of the locals that we had to go five city-blocks down 125th to get back to Park (where the Metro North station picked up). So, Cop #1, wrong. Local, right on the money. Cop #2 tells us, well, you're going to want to take a cab, or a bus - so we run across the street for the bus only to find out it's change or Metro Cards. No dollars. So we're like, fuck it. Let's walk. We go about a block and we see The Apollo - like, THE Apollo, seriously - except there's literally twenty cops in a line across both sides of the street blocking the sidewalks, and Cop #3, who doesn't even understand where we're trying to go, tells us to go up a block to 126th and to cut back over on the next street.
Thank you, sir. Why don't YOU go walk in the alley behind The Apollo, and let us know when you're at the other side? At this point, I'm starting to think of Public Enemy and Flavor Flav singing "911 is a Joke" and how the police are - well, mostly white, bloated, useless men... and how they either didn't tell us the right direction, or didn't know where the station was at all - and my suburban, sometimes-in-not-so-great-parts-of-New-Haven upbringing is going, is this what it's really like? I mean, all this stuff, these separations, everything I always hear about, all these preconceived notions - are they not kidding? It really was a completely foreign world.
The next three or four long blocks (it was about a half mile altogether) were just poker face walking for Raf and I. I wanted to smoke so fucking bad, I've wanted to alot lately, and instead I just put my hair up and took the walk. We talked when we hit empty spots about how out of place I felt, and he said he was fine, but even with someone who could handle it - like him - there was still a huge feeling of being like Colojero in A Bronx Tale, where he goes to get his girl home towards the end, and the crowd is like, get the fuck out of here... and how he takes off and goes back to his own street, his own neighborhood, his own... world. We saw Malcolm X corner. And Martin Luther King corner. And African Way. Low riders, rims, trash everyplace, huge clumps of people outside of clubs - glamourized poverty, I want to say? I'm sure it's not poverty, but those words are what it felt like if I don't think too hard about it. I kept wondering about all the streets beyond, and the homes, and the tenement apartments, and the dollar stores, and the locked-up windows - if this was the populated area, what was it like twenty blocks in? What is home, what does that mean here? In this place so rich with energy and culture and history - to be strewn about with trash and carelessness, it just felt so... disrespectful. To them, or us, I'm not quite sure which... and an understanding started to settle in: this was it. Right in the middle of "it", actually. And there were tired old white irish cops who didn't do much of anything. And there was trash everyplace because the city didn't work too hard to pick it up, and then that starts to feed on itself after a while. It felt like these people were all clinging on to everything they could - because this was all they had. Poor, but defined. I don't know. I'll take poor and defined over rich and lost any day of the week.
The looming arch of the train station was like an oasis, a haven. We pushed through the double doors onto the shiny linoleum, up the stairs to track number three, and waited. Like we were safe in our post far above those dirty streets. I just sat there for a while and let it all run through me... I don't think I've ever been a minority. I mean, there's plenty of times where I felt like I didn't fit, be it a football game in high school or a party I wasn't invited to or an uber-hip bar in Brooklyn where a band was playing - varying degrees of mildly uncomfortable. This was severe levels of uncomfortable, stricken mildly with fear, a hyper-awareness, a sadness, and then a profound amount of respect - all at the same time.
I'm sitting here now in my two room apartment I share with Raf, my Cha Cha, and some houseplants. We pay $695 to exist in this space, we park safely on the street and can be downtown in fifteen minutes walking distance whenever we want, any time of the day or night. About sixty to seventy five percent of my neighbors are people who are paying more for an education than I will possibly earn in the next ten years, and half of them act like they're very aware of it. There's old ivy and bricks that were here long before me (and that will be here long after me), but there's a piece missing now and again when I'm taking those downtown walks. And Harlem has thatmissing thing. It was tangibly alive. Even with the time I spent there being a snapshot of predjudices, from the cops to the stupid drunk Yankee fans, to the trash and the blunts in the back alleys - Harlem had something to it. A spark, an electricity, a history, a power, its own light almost.
I think something is permanently different in my hardwiring as a result of that walk.
And as a result of all that rambling, this girl is exhausted. Shower, Koffee staff meeting, and rest. Still no laundry, but I got around to the stores I needed to today, coupons and all. I saved twenty dollars at the grocery store today. Aren't you proud? I'm so fucking cheap, it's ridiculous.
There must be something I can do for a living around all of this - stuff I've got in me now from that half-mile in Harlem. There just has to be.