Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Gee in New York (New YoGrk)

In second-grade I slammed my head into a slide on the Mary Schumaker school playground, then spit out a front tooth and a liter of O negative. After years of intense endodontic, orthodontic, and periodontic care, trained specialists were able to craft something that looked similar to the chunk of myself I left on that playground, stain it just the right hue of coffee to go with the rest of my teeth, and plug it in the vacancy. All in all, this went well up until Thursday at Barnes and Nobel, when I was chewing some Doublemint, smashed it up against my incisors and tongued it away, and felt the thing shift in my head like an overtaxed tectonic plate.

So I bought a train ticket home. I used to drive home in my Mercury Cougar, but my Mercury Cougar has gone the way of... well, the way of my left incisor, now that I think about it. Only in the Cougar scenario, the part of the slide was played by a tractor trailer that had started in Vermont and had built up quite a head of momentum by the time it got to Carney's Point, New Jersey. At this location, it dumped some of that momentum into the metal shell that used to be my car, some more into the meals headed to hungry seniors that I was transporting in the trunk, and the remainder into my very own neck and torso, perhaps thus loosening my ersatz dentition just enough so that it would give away a few weeks later. This trade of kinetic energy was not voluntary, and so no Pareto improvement can be assumed---most indications suggest quite the opposite.

At home, I knows this guy who knows what to do when a tooth doesn't do what it's s'posed to do: apply some cement and yell at the patient for not flossing.

OK, let's be serious. I'm kidding. I floss. Dad found some other reason to yell at me. Probably eating five Butterfingers on the train ride up. That trick never gets old.

So that done, there's only one thing to do when you're in in New Jersey for the weekend: get out of New Jersey. I borrowed Mom's car, and high-tailed it to New York, where erstwhile music theory classmate Gee was performing the hallowed staple of the professional bassoonist's repertoire, the Mozart concerto in B-flat. The trip to the city took an hour and a half up the turnpike (an interesting Hovhaness concerto for two pianos on the radio). After emerging from the Lincoln tunnel, oncoming traffic assaulted me on all sides, as is customary. There was a brief moment of panic, as is customary, during which the survival instinct threw a whole array of switches down the old cerebellum, and within two minutes I was running reds and cursing at pedestrians, just like the natives. An hour later I'd moved four blocks and had no idea where to inch towards next. Then I remembered the lyrics to New York State of Mind, which didn't help at all, but then some guy pointed me to Broadway.

Betting that either the meters didn't run on the weekends or that New York cops were incompetent, I parked on 118th. Ah, the weather had turned cold, the sun was sinking: the world had the look of the afterimage that shows up after you stare at a picture for too long. I walked down to the riverside while waiting for the doors of the venue, a not-overly-large Presbyterian church, to open.

Later, in a pew, I was looking through the program (the other piece was Strauss's oboe concerto) when Clara, who I hadn't seen in a couple of (truly, oh so long) years, showed up next to me and, immediately, complained about the seats. Gee followed the conductor out in a crackle of glittering red dress, long blond hair braided and wrapped in a sort of circlet.

She gave a little nod and the orchestra started piping away. Early Mozart, and like all of his woodwind concerti (with the exception of the clarinet), sparkling and fun if somewhat lacking in depth. Gee and her bassoon, which stands slightly taller than her, melded into one: she played with eyes closed, with little smiles at witty parts (a ridiculously low note during the transitions, various syncopations that verge on the jazzy), fluid cadenzas (homegrown, I was later told, in the mind of Ms. Enegren), and all in all the spellbinding illusion that some tangible emotional humor was bubbling up through her lungs and pouring out in double-reedy sound.

Intermission came. Clara and I made to go outside, took a peek out of the ancient church doors, saw snow, retreated back into the foyer, turned on each other and unleashed a flurry of conversational topics like a rifle volley. The state of my smoking habits? Investigated (I quit in December, incidentally). My taste in poetry? Insulted. John Legend's star? On the rise, and soon to be described in topnotch prose.

The Strauss is of course some of his best work, and I'm a sucker for the oboe, though the soloist made such loud gasps and turned so crimson I spent the performance fearing for her health. Afterwards, after impressing Clara with my stature and exchanging phone numbers, I snuck through the crowd towards the back, looking for Gee. She hugged me tight, discarded me, and then hugged the person behind me, and so on down the line that had formed. Eventually I realized that all two dozen people in the room had come to see Gee. Gee took command of her retinue, went through the arduous task of complete introductions and taking pictures of every possible combination of friend and family, then led us to a nearby bar.

I ended up surrounded by bassoonists, which was just so friggin' awesome, because it has been years since I've had a decent classical music geek conversation, and that night's will suffice for some years to come. After a few hours and drinks there, we sloughed off Gee's family and found some Moroccan bar that was set up like catacombs (complete with working waterfall), crowded ten people around a table the size of a medium pizza, and drank some more. Of course, two hours and a few martinis later I loudly toasted Gee's breasts, such as they are.

We stumbled home. I gave Gee my jacket, which I kind of have to do since she's the closest thing I've ever had to a little sister, and I dig the chance to be protective. Crap, it was cold though.

GEE: (bundled in my suede jacket) Aren't you freezing?

SCOTT: ... Not at all.

So eventually it was just the two of us tiptoeing into her apartment. Gee's apartment, a cozy space to begin with, had every square foot covered with an air mattress topped with a sleeping member of the immediate family. We skipped over her sister, sidled by her mom, found another air mattress. The pump started up like an airplane and woke up everybody within two floors, which of course led to lots of yelling and giggling.

I ended up sleeping nestled between the kitchen and the front door, crammed next to the house Gee built for her cat out of a series of cardboard boxes--that's right, the feline managed more space than I did. We slept until eleven when--much like Jesus climbing out of the tomb--we emerged haggard and hungry and willing to kill for brunch.

Later we decided to drive to the Bodies Exhibit. I had a car but I didn't know the city. Gee didn't have a car, but she knew the city--or so we thought. Turns out walking in New York is vastly different than driving in New York, which--what with the tunnels and bridges and ramps (and actual distance traveled)--is closer to playing an arcade game than real transportation. Expertise in the one, of whatever level, does not translate into proficiency with the latter. We managed to see Manhattan from every conceivable angle but the one we were aiming for. It snowed.

Finally at quarter to three we pulled up where we were supposed to be. My passengers told me to pull into some allegedly free parking.

The Bodies Exhibit consists of real life bodies, skinned, or pulled apart, or split in half, and strung up in various poses (always with some sort of sporting accessory) in a gloomy series of cubicles. Teratomas and conjoined twins, glands and guts, plaque from every region of the body, goiters and bigger goiters. It was, in short, (do I know women, or what?) the kind of thing I knew Clara would love, so I invited her. Cobbling together what memories I've retained from high school anatomy and years of watching ER, I was generally impressive explaining what all these fleshy pipes carry and where they lead, seamlessly injecting lies where I had no idea what I was talking about. A couple hours later, we stumbled queasily out into a crowded street, where all the marvelous and beautiful inner workings of the body are thankfully covered up by a thick layer of skin, hair, and fabric, just as God intended it.

Speaking of God, Mom would be throwing Easter dinner on the table in a spell and I had to get home. I gave Clara a big hug, said goodbye to Gee over the phone (she'd already left to take her sister to the airport), and headed for my car.

There was a boot on the front tire which I had to bribe some guy to take off, but still, all in all, a great trip.

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