I’m in a dimly lit, crowded bar in my trendy neighborhood in LA. Tonight is the first time I’ve stepped foot into a bar here alone, and without a stack of resumes and an appointment I made from an ad on Craigslist. I didn’t get jobs this way in New York, I never had to use that free-for-all, anonymous billboard. I knew people there. The few times I did try the site, the jobs weren’t great, to say the least – the very least. The music here is good. … It’s nice, being on this side of the bar, with a drink and a notebook. It’s the first time I’ve had the will to leave my apartment without any concrete plans. The people are friendly, and funny, and I haven’t spent a red cent, which is always good. It’s all good.
A few days ago I returned from a weekend visit to New York City – forever simply "the city" to me – with light luggage and a heavy heart. Three nights and two days were not nearly enough for a proper visit after a year, weren’t enough to see my friends, or to stop at my old bar, or pack up my keyboard and guitar, or Ben’s paintings, or spend the evening at my favorite BYOB jazz club that fills the Village with the wailing of saxophones ‘til 8 in the morning. Not nearly enough time to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge in the mist, or watch the leaves in Central Park slowly turn aflame.
I took subways and directed cabbies, I didn’t drive Blue, my beat-up old Chevy Cavalier, with his bumper dragging against the pavement and my hands white-knuckled on the steering wheel, confused by signs and gridlocked freeways. I know the city like the back of my hand. I had so many people I desperately wanted to see. I have so many friends there I desperately miss. I had no idea. It seemed like I’d only been gone a day, and when I returned to LAX, it seemed like I was arriving again for the first time, arriving empty-handed to this foreign city, with no plan, no foundation, no clue.
I had no idea. I had no idea that I’d really built a life there. But after five years, my entire adult existence, it was home. Home in a way that the snowy, rural town of 8,000 and only one lit street never was. I moved to New York in the wake of a personal tragedy, fueled by that "Carpe Diem" that sometimes follows a loss. I was fearless, maybe because I felt I had nothing to lose, maybe because I’d been hurting so much that I couldn’t imagine any danger could hurt any more, and the fresh air and new possibilities held only life and promises. In one day I found a room in an old woman’s small apartment, deep into Brooklyn, for $400 a month. I didn’t know the neighborhood at all, hell, I didn’t know Brooklyn. But it was pretty, and quiet, right near Greenwood Cemetery– where Basquiat is buried. I never figured out how to get into Greenwood Cemetery; it was always locked, so I never actually saw his grave.
I found my first job before moving in with old Pat. I went for an interview at a place I found online for a hostessing job. I hated it, it was so boring, I would chat to the customers to pass the time. They told me they were looking for someone more "refined" – see what I was saying about CL jobs? When I walked out of the place and it was raining, I decided to get on the nearest bus I saw, wherever it may have been going. I got on and paid my fifty cents and I got off at the next stop, and I saw some restaurants there. I didn’t even have my resume with me, but I went into the pub on the corner and asked if they needed any help. The owner, a funny charismatic man from the Rockaways, an Irish neighborhood in Queens, said, "Yeah, some waitressing, some bartending. …" All eyes in the place were on me, male eyes, Union workers, Puerto Rican, Black, Italian, Irish and Polish eyes, looking, but smiling, laughing. These guys were cool. This place was cool. He gave his number and when I called, he said, "Come by on Thursday around 6. We’ll see how it goes, and if it works out, great, and if not, we’ll wish each other the best!"
On Thursday I was taught to pour beers, and mix drinks, as I’d never even been in a bar, and it worked out. I made $320 that night. And I lived at that bar for a few months, and when I started to live my own life, to explore, take an acting class, start a band, start playing around town, all the bar’s regulars came to our band’s first show, at the Knitting Factory. It was my rock for three years. It is a rock, that bar. A regular used to remark often of the place, “I’m afraid it’s not going anywhere,” and thank god it’s gonna be there.
And right now, this bar I’m in, in my trendy neighborhood near Hollywood, right now this bar is here. And I like it. And maybe I came back with no clue, but with that still came the fresh air and the possibilities and the "Carpe Diem" that all make you fearless, and I don’t mind feeling fearless. Or having a neighborhood bar.