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the long way around

The living room is a forest of mic stands and cables. A cup of coffee, a large glass of water and a shallow shot of whiskey sit on the tiny white table. I alternate between them, making sure the guitar is in tune, trying to understand if the chair will creak when I lean my head back on the second chorus.  There is a hush in the room. I can hear my own heartbeat. The lyrics are printed out on a fresh piece of paper, large and thick so I can read them easily even though I sing with my eyes closed and will surely forget a handful of words no matter what I do.

The guitar sounds dry, perfect - even honest. I can play a simple D chord with a long strum, or the side of my thumb and it sounds so different. I record a few takes, barefoot in the bright room. I am going too fast in some parts, and my fingers are already sore from the chord changes.

And then all at once, I am thinking of a show I played in an old factory in Brooklyn, way back when I had just started writing songs almost twenty y…

лица жизни (the street of life)

There is a street that runs through the heart of Moscow that is often called улица жизни (the street of life). At one end of Peregovskaya, there is a cluster of maternity wards, and at the other – hospitals for the elderly, morgues and funeral homes. In between these two points, all of life takes place according to Muscovites.

In truth, a great deal of traffic takes place between these two points.

Sitting in Peregovskaya probka (traffic) it is impossible to just listen to the radio. You feel a sort of responsibility to examine life. The teenagers with guitars strapped to their backs. The old man curled into some kind of snail shape, leaning against his cane. The pretty girls that travel in threes, smoking cigarettes and tucking magazines into their purses on their lunch break.

I see workers pulling white pansies from the earth, and replacing them with purple and pink ones. The white ones are perfectly beautiful. They are far from dead.

I had a tenor saxophone when I was in high school, and I painted it purple and pink one strange afternoon.

Playing ska in a bar band was a real escape for me. The rest of the group were college guys. We didn’t make much money, but we met a hell of a lot of girls. The keyboard player liked to perform in white face, like Peter Gabriel. Well, we did practice in his family restaurant’s basement, and we did drink Genny Cream Ale for free there.

Trying to get past the obvious ska covers, we attempted a punk version of “Hungry Like the Wolf”, but people just thought we played it really bad. One night, we got to open up for The Reducers. “Let’s Go” - their biggest hit, was already part of our setlist, so we were on obvious first act for these minor punk legends. That night, my horn literally started falling into pieces during the show. A support for the neckpiece popped off during my part of “Save it for Later.” Next, everything that let me play F# stopped working entirely. The Reducers were impressed that I kept going.

My horn did get repaired ok with an acetelyne torch in the basement. A vintage Buescher is a sort of tank that just happens to make sounds.

The pink and purple horn saw a good amount of action in college, even some charming recordings on originals like “Spot, My Dog”. The horn played at student protests, and above the dining hall two nights a week. If you play the saxophone, it’s how people identify you. You’re not the guy who plays the sax. You are the sax, with a guy around it. Of course, I enjoyed this and took a lot of liberties. Sax players can get away with murder.

After college, the Buescher sat in a case for years. I lived in Greenpoint, Brooklyn then the East Village, then in Williamsburg - all in the early 90’s, when you couldn’t buy a cappuccino to save your life in Williamsburg, and when the only language spoken in Greenpoint was Polish.

I had a beautiful, cosmic girlfriend. We had a smart dog, and rented a floor of a brownstone for $650. There were great views from all of the windows, and we decorated the place with furniture we found on the street. I spent months sanding the floors down, with plastic draped over everything. The dust got everywhere, and we lived like this for 9 months I think.

We were both young, sort of like two kids playing house. She bartended at a trendy outpost in Tribeca. I was her long-haired blue collar fellow, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the celebrities who dropped in every night. Whenever we started arguing about something, she had a habit of stripping naked and posing on our red velvet couch that had three legs. Lopsided, like her smile I felt pretty silly arguing with her. We had some dinner parties, and ate a lot of garlic. We took a vacation in Greece for a month.

I bought us a used car for $500, and it got stolen the very same night. She lost her job, and I supported us. Some months went by. We weren’t having fun anymore. She smoked a lot of pot, and painted flowers in the corners of the pages in my books all day long. The house was still covered in sawdust and the damn floors were still half-exposed. I knew I had finish them.

I stayed up for three days, sanding some parts by hand in the middle of the night so she and the dog could sleep.

I woke up on a rainy fall morning, and took the purple and pink sax out of the case. I played it for the first time in that apartment, with the windows open and a stiff breeze flipping the curtains around. The dog came and rested her chin on my knee.

In one single motion, I took the horn out to the East River. It was really starting to rain. I played the horn for a few minutes - - tried to remember some Mingus I liked a lot. I threw the horn high up into the air, and watched it flying above the water. It went down with a tiny splash.

I moved my stuff out later that day.

I found out she had the floors painted, the same color as they had been when we moved in.

I still don’t understand why those workers are ripping those white flowers out of the dirt. They’re perfectly fine.


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