Man: I filed four pieces today. One of those 16-tons-and-what-do-you-get days. Of course, the only thing worse than filing four pieces is not filing four pieces. I also talked with my publicist about the new book – which is a complete and total abstraction at this point; I don’t know why – and apparently I’m going to have a RADIO BLITZ of 20 shows in a morning, or something. O joy. If only I could remember what the book is about.
Ah well. The only thing worse, etc.
Gnat had classes all day – it’s summer, you know – so I worked and worked. Just so you know, and not that you care, but I always read the pieces out loud, while standing at the kitchen island, before I send them in. If I can’t make them sing when spoken there’s something missing. Nothing, and I mean NOTHING beats the elation of noon, after I’ve sent two pieces to various editors. It means I am done for the day, at least in the professional sense. But this will change.
Everything is going to change.
OH STOP BEING SO FARGIN’ OBLIQUE.
Wish I could. Due time. I’ll just say this: the Variety section in which I am privileged to appear is undergoing massive renovation. It’s like hitting a patch of ice at 75 MPH while driving into a tsunami. The effect will be rather severe, and will probably affect the Bleat in subtle or gross ways; we’ll see. But don’t worry. At worst you’ll have to register for something. At best you get twice the daily material.
New York has given the go-ahead for the new Penn Station. This is excellent news. The sin of the demolition of the old Penn Station was never erased, and the wretched piss-soaked warren they put in its place was a constant reminder of the Original Sin of post-war urbanists. That unholy combo of bottom-liners and utopians took away one of the most magnificent spaces in urban American and replaced it with something that seemed lifted en masse from a claustrophobic dream. To modern eyes it makes no sense: the era where social divisions were keenly felt gave us a space so vast that all distinctions dissolved in its great stone heaven; the egalitarians, by contrast, gave us a space whose equalizing impulse was best expressed as the desire to oppress everyone’s spirit. I usually cooled my heels in the Amtrak First Class club, which was a parody of a sham of a travesty of First Class, at least in the 90s. You got a scratchy seat and a battered magazine and translucent coffee. If I didn’t have a first class ticket I went to the bar on the north side of the room, where you could smoke. It stank. Aside from rush hour, it was empty, and had a sad battered quality that made you feel like a rude sack of meat slumped over a ration of intoxicants. And I never knew which track I should take. It never seemed clear. Even though they had signs and names it always seemed as though they were leaving out some key detail. Like your destination. No, I hate Penn Station. I’d like to go back in time, drag the architects into the present, and ask them: what, you thought we would all be wearing George Jetson jumpsuits, queuing patiently for the Atomic Express? The reality is a waiting room with insufficient signage, a great hall that isn’t, and a Hudson News thronged with balding guys, ties askew, furtively paging through battered porn mags.
What to do with Penn Station after the new one’s done? Roll up the concrete trucks, boys. Lower the chutes. Open the sluice gates. Fill it in.
That said, Penn Station had one thing going for it. Trains. Nothing compares to arriving by train; you’re not dropped off in a climate-controlled center on the edge of town, but dropped in the humid middle, surrounded by machinery and steam and shouts and clangs. You don’t slide up the jetway – you schlep yourself along the platform to the stairs, you jostle and maneuver and find your place in the throng; you thread through the station, head outside – and oh, my, GOD, there it is, loud and wide and high and alive, the city.
When you leave you leave with the nudge. Planes waddle to the runway then throw themselves in the air with theatrical fury. Trains nudge you out. You’re sitting in your seat; you’re still. The strange orange subterranean light fills the car; again the shouts, the clangs, the whistles, the whirr of electric carts. The doors huff shut. Conductors walk around listening to crackly voices on the walkie-talkie. You wait. Then the nudge. The train lurches forward, the wheels clank, the rhythm begins, and you’re on your way. In a few minutes you’ll clear the tunnels and see the city from below, indifferent to your departure. Clank clank clank clank clank clank clank clank. On the plane you seem to approach New York like a nest of hornets – you’re wary, circling, then you bore in. When you leave by train you simply move along, move down, move out. Old tunnels, old concrete, rusted remains, barrels, trash, then light. Then the tunnel that takes you away. Standing in Times Square it seems a hard place to leave; it seems like you’d have to fight your way past the lights and noise and commotion and crowds. You’re almost surprised when you leave with such ease, such lack of contention. There should have been a brass band, or a mob.
Manhattan seems like a dream by the time you’re 30 minute down the rails. Maybe that’s why I keep going back. You’re kidding me. This is real? Gowan.
Posting, I fear, will be light for the remainder of the week; I have a 63 inch piece I have to write tomorrow. Thursday isn’t just a column night - it’s my wife’s Bunco thing, which means I head to Chuck E’s with Gnat. Since the party is at Jasperwood this time, that also means we have to stay away for a long while so my wife can have a few moments of fun. But I’ll be back tomorrow with something. Always something! It may bite toad nads, but it’s something.
(Perm link here.)