Thursday night/Friday morning, 1:05 AM train from Newark, westbound for home. I had been in Manhattan doing some of the CMJ stuff, pretending to see a million bands in the span of one week, but really just seeing lots of people I usually don’t get to see. Of the who knows how many bands playing in the city this week, I really only wanted to see one or two and maybe three. The first was the Vague Angels. They don’t play out too much, and I’m seriously in love with the music, so when they do play, I go, no questions asked. The other one or two were inconsequential at the moment. I’m sure there’s a few more, but I like to treat live music as a special event; not a reason for engaging in bar crawls throughout the Lower East Side, so I didn’t go to much.
The Vague Angels played on Ludlow St. in a venue called the Cake Shop. It’s a bakery and a record store with a bar and performance space in the basement, with a “Welcome to CMJ 2005” banner hung by some strings and milk crates behind the haphazard stage. It tries really hard to be something special, but it’s just another bar at the end of the night, only it’s bathroom walls are adorned with the scribblings of pro skaters, not hoodrats or drunks with witty anti-Bush slogans. The two very-cute bartenders made it very clear that I was to be drinking vigorous amounts of cheap draft beer with them, and so I did, re-filling my pint glass with Busch 5 or 6 times. I’m not a chugger though, so drinking that many beers involved me sitting through two more bands. The first was called The Silent Type. They were from Richmond, VA and played ‘How It Feels To Be Something On’-era Sunny Day Real Estate inspired prog-emo. Yeah, that’s a lot to take in in one sentence, I know this. But they were good, and if it were 1997, I would’ve worshipped the ground The Silent Type walks on. I still can appreciate them, but I was also cross-referencing The Silent Type’s harmonics with Jeremy Enigk’s tension during my third pint of beer, and so the music kinda went over my head. I’m sure this will go over well with some 19 year-old kid that’s never going to hear ‘How It Feels To Be Something On,’ so if they serve their purpose and make music that inspires someone, I can’t complain.
Next up was someone named Ian Love. He was good, he was sincere, and today, I don’t remember anything about it. After what must’ve been five pints of Busch, I got my two new bartending friends a big tip and took off onto the streets, headed for the World Trade Center PATH. All was going well, I had enough time to catch my NJ Transit train home, I had just had a decent bike ride across town that took some of the beer-haze away, and I didn’t spend too much money all night. I arrived in Newark, got to Track 4, climbed the steps and jumped on the rear car with my bike. Traveling with a bike on the train is relatively easy. On the handicapped car, there’s a designated space for bikes to be stowed. If you’re familiar with the procedure, the conductors are usually cool about it and don’t give you any hell. If you’re a first timer though, they’re usually asses about explaining the process. I had ten minutes before the train was to leave, I entered the handicapped car and flipped my bike upside down in the designated area. Now usually, I take the seat directly in front of my bike, but last night, for some reason, I grabbed a seat close enough to still see my bike, but not the one directly next to it. I settle into my seat and uselessly attempt to read some song lyrics out of a book in my bag.
Two minutes before departure, a man in his mid-30s enters the train and takes the seat directly next to my bike. He’s wearing the after-hour remains of a three-piece suit and drunkenly shouting into his cell phone. I’m bored, the book’s not working on account of the five beers I had drank, and so I of course decide to listen. The man sitting next to my bike is drunk out of his mind, and seems to think he’s in the comfort of his own home as he drunkenly attempts to break up with the woman on the other end of the phone. There are actual quotes.
“You’re a trainwreck of a woman. Until you give up the drugs and put me first, I don’t want you in my life!”
“You lie to me, you treat me bad, and I don’t want you near me anymore!”
“Don’t you see. You’re gonna die. I’m gonna outlive you and you don’t even care you stupid bitch!”
“Don’t you even remember what happened tonight?…. Can’t you account for the half hour you disappeared?… Then tell me what you were doing!…. See you can’t, cause you were sticking needles in your arm!”
Ultimately, he ends with: “Look, you’re a trainwreck of a woman and I don’t want you in my life. Until you give up the drugs and decide that you want to be with me, I don’t want you in my life. I’m gonna hang up now and that’s it for us. Don’t call me, don’t come looking for me. Just leave me the fuck alone!”
I should also mention that we’ve been moving in the train now for approximately ten minutes. We’re near a stop called Cranford, about 15 miles from my house. Suddenly the lights on the train go out, the train stops dead and the air conditioning goes off. Then, there’s an announcement over the intercom from the conductor: “Folks, sorry to say, but it looks like we’ve had an electrical failure in the engine, so we’re gonna have to call in a new engine from Raritan to replace the existing engine car. We’ll open the doors if you’d like to step out and have a cigarette, but this might take a while. Again, we’re sorry for the delay.”
The drunken man that just broke up with his drug-addled girlfriend pulls his phone out and dials a number. The person picks up, and he says, “You’re not gonna believe this. You know how I just called you a trainwreck and that I never wanted to see you again. Well, just after I said that, our train died.”
She answers back, and he replies, “Yeah, it’s really strange, don’t you think?” (His voice calms now. It’s almost eerily soothing after being so aggressive for the past 15 minutes.)
Again, she says something to him, and he replies, “I don’t know how I’m getting home. Can you drive?”
She answers again, to which he replies, “OK, I’m gonna start walking to the next stop then and I’ll call you when I get there.”
They hang up, he stumbles out of the train, into the night, down a darkened path of loose rocks and railroad ties.
Part of me wanted to stop him, tell him that it would be OK and that’s he probably too drunk to be walking on railroad tracks in the middle of the night, but a bigger part of me said to let him go. He had obviously just been through some pretty traumatic shit (and that made my sympathize with him), and then made a decision to get away from it (and that made me proud of him in a rudimentary kinda way despite how rudely he was doing it), but then went back on his words because of a coincidence between a train dying and the words he used to describe his significant other (and that made me think he was probably getting laid later that night).
I’d like to think that the world is a better place than it is, but ultimately, I’ve been thinking lately that the world is made up entirely of dysfunction, from me riding a bike across Manhattan half-drunk after over-analyzing a band that exists now with a band that existed 8 years ago, to the drunken man on the train that forgoes the emotionally abusive drug habits of his girlfriend for a ride home from a broken down train. Maybe it’s not all bad and maybe I’m over-analyzing the fact that I over-analyzed to begin with, but I do feel sorry for the fucked up situations people seem to get themselves into. Yeah, I know it’s not my job to save them, and that we all stumble from time to time even after years of walking, but there’s got to be an easier way to get home when your proverbial train breaks down….
So when I got home at 3:10 AM, I made some popcorn and made plans to drive my car the next time I returned to the city.