Weekend Update

It was a relatively quiet Memorial Day weekend, except for the part where the cop hinted that I might be a serial killer (or did he think I was a hitman?). My girlfriend and I were thinking of going to see David Byrne play on Saturday night, but I’d been reading some of his online tour-journal, and I was afraid that we’d get subjected to political ranting during his performance. We saw Zero 7 play a week or so before at Irving Plaza, and that was an awfully nice experience, so we elected to forego the David Byrne show.

During the 1990s, I think I only went to three shows (or “concerts,” if you insist): Joe Jackson (1990, Philadelphia), Bob Mould (1995, Georgetown), and Lori Carson (1998, NYC).

In the new century, I’ve been to a bunch more: Erykah Badu (a Valentine’s Day surprise for my old girlfriend, in 2002), Lori Carson (twice more in NYC), Springsteen (Shea Stadium, last October), Bob Mould again (South Street Seaport in NYC, July 2002), my old lovergirl Ari (she plays clubs in NYC), and the inimitable Tom Jones (Vegas, last January).

I was curious as to how a chill-out band like Zero 7 would fare in a live performance. For two years now, I’ve grooved on their sound, which chills me out without just being aural wallpaper (a tough terrain to negotiate). The gig at Irving Plaza was a good time, even though there was no seating and my girlfriend paid $9 for a drink (I stuck with water, which was $2 per smallish bottle). I was impressed that the band had all four of the vocalists who’ve sung lead on the two albums. In total, there were ten band-members, which seems like a lot of people to support on a North American tour. I mean, it’s not like they were playing Madison Square Garden or something. One fire hazard sign on the wall at Irving Plaza said the max was 340 people.

The show lasted about 100 minutes, showed off all four singers, and didn’t make the mistake of trying to use any of the female singers to back up the one male lead, Mozez; their voices would’ve conflicted WAY too much. Instead, the women sometimes backed each other up, or sang solo. The mix never got too loud, which I assume is key for an act like Zero 7. Drums and bass provided a solid beat, but never a thump-inside-your-chest pounding, which has always driven me nuts (or out of the venue, as it did during the Erykah Badu gig).

The highpoint of the show, besides Mozez’ bring-down-the-house rendition of Morning Song, was some fan who was dancing WAY too energetically to the music. For the most part, Zero 7 has a pretty sway-worthy sound, not funky-chicken-esque. But this Peter Brady-looking guy really got into it, I guess. As I said to my girl, “He’s got twice the beat, and half the rhythm.”

But that was almost two weeks ago. I felt bad about not writing it up immediately, and I’m sure there are plenty of impressions I had from the gig that would’ve made for neat reading. Instead, you get this mediated distance from the show.

There’s plenty that I don’t get around to writing about on these pages, unfortunately. I haven’t even gone into discussing the evening I met Ron Rosenbaum. I haven’t posted pix of the library I finished putting together in my house. And I never got around to writing about my new car, a Honda Element that I bought in January, after the maiming/near-death of my Saturn. Instead, you get tons about genocide in Sudan. Oh, well. (At least there’s some (relatively) good news on that front, with a barebones peace treaty in the 21-year civil war, but that doesn’t cover the Darfur region, unfortunately.)

So I bought a Honda Element at the end of January. Much to my chagrin, this makes me an SUV driver, albeit a wannabe-hipster one. But the car treats me well. It matches my utilitarian mindset pretty well: it’s got space, a strange external appearance, and no real luxuries inside (except for a booming stereo that has an external audio input, so I can plug my iPod in directly).

I nicknamed it “The Element of Surprise” shortly after I bought it, but my buddy Paul Di Filippo showed why he’s a writer and I’m just some schlub from NJ when I took him for a spin in it a few weeks ago. He said, “Why don’t you call it ‘The Element of Style’?” He’s so smart.

One of the good things about it is that you can remove the back seats for more space (or strap them up to the sides of the car). I took them out on Saturday, when I was heading over to my father’s place. I was going to help him with some computer stuff, some gardening and some furniture delivery, as well as take out a pair of chaises longue for the backyard.

Unfortunately, on the way to Dad’s place, I got busted for speeding. I was going 55 in a 35 (a REALLY tempting stretch of an office park). Given that it was a holiday weekend at the end of a month, there was no talking my way out of it. So I gathered my license, registration and insurance for the police officer, as he walked up to my car. It was the first moving violation I’ve had since 1990.

The crew-cutted young (mid-20s, I’m guessing) cop asked me for the three items. I handed them over, and he noticed that the insurance was for a different address than that of the driver’s license. I explained that mistake made by the DMV when I renewed my license in January. He asked me where I was going, and I explained. Then he looked at the back of my car through the window, and said, “These cars don’t have back seats?”

“They do,” I said, “but I took them out, so I could put these lawn chairs of my dad’s in back.”

He said, “You could put some bodies back there.”

This is exactly what he said: I swear to God. Completely straight face, no trace of a joke, no hint of a smile.

Not from HIM, anyway. I, on the other hand, burst out laughing in his face. “Well, sure! I guess you COULD!”, snorting and laughing away. I KNOW you’re not supposed to laugh at a cop, but I was so not expecting that comment from him. So I laughed at him. He walked back to his car, and I sat for 10 minutes. At one point, I thought, “Holy crap! I’m going to Gitmo! They’re going to ship me out as a terrorist because I took the seats out of my Element!”

He came back with a ticket for 20 miles over the speed limit, which hurts. He didn’t re-imply that I’m a serial killer or hitman, using my Gen X-mobile to haul bodies across northern NJ. Which is fortunate, because I’m pretty sure I’d have started laughing again, which wouldn’t have gone over well. Arrest averted, I took care of Dad’s various needs, then headed home, still marveling over the bizarro behavior of the cop.

Amy & I spent Sunday night and Monday morning watching both parts of The Godfather (because There Was No Godfather Part III), and otherwise relaxing by reading some old Calvin & Hobbes collections I picked up in the remainder section of an evil chain bookstore. It was great, rediscovering that strip. I’ve been racking my brains about it since Saturday afternoon, and I can’t think of another comic strip that comes near it, since Peanuts’ heyday. Amy & I goofed about various “competitors” to it (like Cathy, ha-ha), but it really is the best comic strip in the last 25 years.

I’m gonna stop now, because I’ve rambled enough.

The Geography of Nowhere

Ian Frazier writes about Route 3 in the new issue of the New Yorker:

On long walks through suburbs whose names I sometimes can’t keep straight — Glen Ridge, Bloomfield, Brookside, Nutley, Passaic, Garfield, Lodi, Hasbrouck Heights, Hackensack, Teaneck, Leonia — I’ve encountered the New Jersey miscellany up close. Giant oil tanks cluster below expensive houses surrounded by hedges not far from abandoned factories with high brick smokestacks; a Spanish-speaking store that sells live chickens is near a Polish night club off a teeming eight-lane highway; a Greek church on a festival day roasts goats in fifty-five-gallon drums in its parking lot down the road from tall white Presbyterian churches that were built when everything around was countryside. Neighborhoods go from fancy to industrial to shabby without apparent reason, and you can’t predict what the next corner will be.

Funny thing is, I had the same sensation of unpredictability when I was wandering Paris in October 2002.