I am no longer intimidated by Manhattan. I was for the majority of my life, thinking it was just too big and crowded and scary. Since moving to Queens I've been operating on the basic (and Noodles please forgive the cliche) "fake it 'till you make it" principle. The surprising thing: it worked. I haven't made it in Manhattan (in any sense of the phrase "made it") but I am comfortable figuring out how to get around and even confident that if I get lost I can still find my way home. Granted this is only for walking and taking the subway. Driving on the Isle of Manhattan is an altogether different issue.
This sudden growth of character occurred yesterday as I made my way from the butt end of Queens to the Starbucks at 31st and 7th for a Starbucks training class. First I awoke to the horrid sound of the telephone, my manager called to remind me that I did in fact have a class in Manhattan that day (a fact I knew and was hoping to sleep in a bit as I worked 'till closing the night previous). I was supposed to be dressed up to Starbucks standards (black or light khaki pants, white or black shirt, black shoes). As I wasn't going to be working behind a bar or waiting on customers, I decided they don't get to tell me what to wear, thus I wore my new semi-hipster looking brown checked pants (only six bucks on sale and the first article of clothing I've ever purchased from the Gap) and my blue sneakers (I was gonna wear my red converse high tops to really flesh out the hipster look, but it had snowed and canvas converse sneakers are the exact opposite thing one should wear in the snow). As a compromise I wore a black turtle neck, because it was in fact cold and a turtleneck was a good idea.
The class: boring, boring, boring. Five hours that could have been one, tops. Most of it was learning all about Starbucks corporate (who cares) and proper customer service. The meaningless phrases "enthusiastically satisfied customers" and "legendary customer care" were tossed at us as frequent as McCarthy would discuss supposed members of the red menace. I don't know how legendary I can be without removing a sword from a stone and then being crowned king of England (though I would make a good king). And how enthusiastic can a caffeine addict be before taking that first sip of coffee in the morning, and is the enthusiasm really because of my service or because they are addicted to caffeine? Though I think I finally got the hang of the coffee tasting thing.
After five and a half hours I left the Starbucks and made my way up to Midtown Comics to meet my brother Hillel who just got out of work. We decided (rather I decided and he was gracious to accompany me) to go to the Cake Shop in the lower east side to see the punk band The Vandervoorts. They were up with two other bands, the Ottomen and Paper Fleet. We had little interest in the other two and were hoping the Vandervoots would be up first so we can leave early. But the show wasn't until nine and it was barely six o'clock. We called our youngest brother Asaf (a freshman at NYU) and headed downtown to Chickpea - a falafel and Shwarma joint, to meet him for dinner. We ate, hung out, got a call from Lily - Hillel's girlfriend - to let us know she'd meet us at the Cake Shop, retired briefly to Asaf's dorm, then leaving Asaf behind (the show as 21+ and he’s only 18) hopped on the F train to Delancy Street to make it to the show on time.
We got there exactly at nine. No one started playing until around ten. Cake Shop itself is quite possibly my new favorite place in Manhattan. Upstairs (ground level) it's like a bakery/coffee shop in the front - selling pastries, coffee and such. In the back they sell cd's - lots of independent music I've never heard of, some of it really cheap. Downstairs in the basement is a bar and small area for the musicians to perform. It isn't very big, maybe 60-70 feet long and only about 15-20 feet wide. It's dark, lit solely by a few recessed bulbs in the back and over the bar, and Christmas lights over the "stage". It's small, cozy, and so eclectic you could plotz (hooray Yiddish! the ultimate dorkifier). Apparently they have a good beer I've never heard of but my brother likes for only three bucks a bottle - which is a really good price for a beer I've never heard of and have already forgotten, or so he says.
Why, you may ask, did I venture all the way to the lower east side, to this small underground (by which I mean literally beneath street level) bar for three bands no one (two of them, even I) has ever heard of? The answer is simple. If you check out my previous post, the first name on the list is Doroth Gambrell. Dorothy, author/aritst of my favorite web comic Cat and Girl is also the guitarist of the band (you guessed it) the Vandervoorts.
The place was anything but packed. I think Hillel, Lily, and I were the only people there who weren't friends with any of the bands. If I were to say there were 25 people there total (including the bands themselves) that would be me being generous.
So we sat, talking, Hillel, Lily, and I, waiting for an hour before the Ottomans got on (the Vandervoots were to play second). I was hoping it'd be a quick set because I didn't want to stay in the city so late, I still had to take the LIRR back to my place in Queens. What I thought would be a cheesy indie rock trio turned out to be very enjoyable. The Ottomen in my opinion sound a bit like early Weezer, but much more light hearted, happy. All their songs, save "lonely surfer girl" were fun, upbeat, some funny, and most tongue in cheek. Their songs ranged from a short bit about Dandelions, a bizarre slapstick song about bloody red socks and how they got that way, and a song about King Kong sung from his perspective on the whole affair. The acoustics weren't the best, and they sounded a bit like a garage band, with the playfulness of people still playing in their garage for their friends. I wouldn't call it amateur, just kids my age having fun playing rock star but not taking it seriously.
Next, the Vandervoorts. A punk rock quartet. All their songs were short, probably no more than a minute, and each ended very abruptly. It was very punk, in the more old school idea of punk. Not in the poppy perfectly mixed and harmonized young punks (Sum 41 I'm looking at you) you see on MTV who wear spiky green hair and some chains "punk." This was very much the unmixed, raw punk sound, played by people into the music, who dressed just the way they liked, not to make a "statement". But just like the band before them they played a bit tongue in cheek, never taking themselves too seriously. The bassist in particular made the most adorable faces when she played. Maybe not something one looks for in a punk rock band, but for these guys in this setting, it just worked.
They finished their set a little after eleven. We were itching to go (both Hillel and Lily needed to wake up early today, and I wanted to get home at a reasonable hour). Now here is the big news. After the set, after they cleaned up but before Paper Fleet went on, I walked over to the band. I shall repeat. I walked over to the band. Granted there was barely anyone else there but this was a big step for me. I am generally the shy and awkward guy who hides in corners during social gatherings. But I walked over to the band - well really just the bassist and guitarist as the other two members disappeared into a back room.
This is how it went down.
"Hi, I don't want to bother you, but I'm going to be a bit of a geek for a second, as I generally am a geek, which is neither here nor there really," I ramble when I'm nervous, obviously, "and I wanted to say I really liked your set tonight."
"Thanks." They both said and smiled, real friendly like.
"It was really good. Er... one of you makes Cat and Girl?"
The bassist pointed to the guitarist, smiled, then walked to the back room.
"I just wanted to say I'm a big fan of the comic. It's my favorite web comic. I like it a lot."
"Thanks." Dorothy said as if trying to hide in her beer. She was very quiet, and seemingly very shy (or she just wanted to get the hell away from me). "What's your name?" And she put out her hand.
Again, I ramble when I'm nervous. "Ami, Amichai, really but no one can really pronounce Amichai. Ami. I'm Ami. Dorothy, right?" She nodded and we shook hands. "It’s how I learned about your band and this show. I can’t stay to hear the next band, I gotta get back to Queens." I’m master of the more information than necessary school of conversation. "But I'm glad I came, and just wanted to say I really like your comic, and the band was really good."
I don't generally get star struck. Big names most often don't phase me. If, say I bumped into John Malkovitch on the street - and I have, literally on the crowded streets of Harvard Square in Cambridge, a bit embarrassing really - I wouldn't get all tongue tied (I wasn't in fact; I apologized and we both went on our merry ways). For some reason however, when I meet minor celebrities (or those who are only famous in my head) I am a loss for words. When I met Scott Mccloud at his book signing I couldn't come up with a thing to say. And now, shaking hands with a girl who lives in Brooklyn, draws a web comic, and is in punk band no one has heard of, I giggle with nervousness. The best part, was that she seemed so shy and embarrassed, demurely shaking my hand, quietly thanking me while seemingly wishing she could hide inside her beer bottle. Had I more money and more guts I would have offered to buy her a drink. Not due to any romantic inclination, just because I really admire her work. But I did not have more money, and I certainly am a coward so I excused myself saying I had to get back to Queens.
"Thanks for coming." Was the last thing she said as I smiled equally shy, and walked back to Hillel and Lily and the three of us walked back to the subway, not bothering to wait around to hear Paper Fleet play.
I took the F train to 32cnd and 6th, then walked up to Penn station, took the 12:21 train back to Queens, and walked from the station, about a mile home in the snow. Over all I'd say it was a very good day.
5 days ago