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Departure Journal, Volume One

I have reason to reminisce. My tenure of living in New York City is ending, and in the weeks before I move, I’m starting to forget what I dislike about New York. More on that later. But how easily music conjures memories. I think I was turned on to the Flaming Lips around the same week the dot-com pyre was lit, which is around the time I moved to New York.

One summer night there was a party in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The sidewalks were still cooling off from the sun. This was back when cabdrivers didn’t know how to get there, when the streets were empty enough at night for football, back when young people from Oberlin or Texas living in storefronts was novel. Two or three in the morning. A cramped party without any lights or food. In the makeshift bathroom, sheet-rocked by amateurs, a girl had tied her handwashed bras and underwear to a hot-water pipe like so many deflated balloons.

Around that time I’d met an illustrator, Adam, in a theater workshop. He lived alone nearby in a converted industrial building that was large enough for him to build half of a basketball court in his apartment. He’d hung a backboard on ropes and pulleys, and had measured and painted out proper court lines. Otherwise he owned a chair and a desk, a few plants and the largest laptop you could buy from Apple at the time. He complained to me that he didn’t know anyone who liked to play basketball, so the court had never been used. What do you illustrate? I asked him while we sat on two swings he’d hung from the rafters. Not much anymore; during college, he said, he’d sold caricatures of imaginary pets to a board game company that still hadn’t used them. His parents in Denver paid the rent. Adam said he was thinking about pursuing comedy full-time.

I now see him regularly on VH1’s Best Week Ever, making fun of the news. Adam is not his real name because I’ve forgotten his real name.

At the party, the rumor was that the band Modest Mouse, friends of the host, had just gotten in at JFK on a late flight. It was about three in the morning, they were back from touring Germany and would be playing the party any moment. I went outside with the crowd drinking beer in the street and saw a girl I liked in a bodega. I tried to make time with her in the beans and mops aisle. It took about two minutes to flunk. The subway stop was one I haven’t used since.

» Listen to “Dashboard” by Modest Mouse at the Underrated Blog

* * *

Another night in abandoned Brooklyn's warehouse districts, two tall girls stood by the unmarked entrance wearing men’s blue oxford shirts unbuttoned with nothing on underneath. They were talking to a man wearing a beard, red face paint and heavy mascara. The big room, probably large enough for 200 people, was packed tight chest-to-back: talking, smoking, dancing. “Do you have a light?” a girl shouted at me. “What?” I yelled back, because the music was too loud to hear anything. She was a head shorter than me and wore a mesh hat turned to the side, a spray-painted wifebeater, and an enormous bull ring through her nose. “I said, do you have a light?” “What?” “Fuck you!” she yelled and shoved me, but the crowd was too dense for me to do more than stand there, still pressed against her.

I was leaving when it started to snow paper. Like paint chips you buy at the hardware store, strips of variegated color, mostly peach and auburn brown. On an I-beam stretching across the room, 20 feet off the ground, a young Japanese woman was lying on her back, a Depression-era builder on lunch break, her legs straddling the beam on either side while she tore a hardcore porn magazine into strips and dropped them on the crowd. Some of the pieces featured penises and vaginas, some just showed pleasant interiors. Turns out she was staying with a friend, visiting for the summer; as an artist she was conceptually taken with tearing up paper. That seemed as good a reason as any at the time to publish her photos.

» Listen to “Rolling Down the Hills” by Glass Candy at Gorilla vs. Bear

* * *

I met Steve Shelley, the drummer from Sonic Youth, at a bachelor party somewhere around the end of the millennium. We sat across from each other at Chumley’s, eating cheeseburgers. I was introduced as one of the editors of The Morning News. There was a look of recognition, I thought. He told me the band liked TMN, that they read it on tour, that they set up wireless networks on-stage or in the empty seats of an auditorium during sound-check lulls.

This is how I tell the story now, but truthfully, he might have just said that he preferred the Daily News to the Post, or that Thurston Moore owned a seismograph. I don’t think so—I’m 90 percent sure not—but it was a long time ago. A study I read recently said the older you get, the more likely you are to be wrong about your own memories while increasingly adamant that you’re right.

I wish I was the type to keep a journal. Forget simply putting closed-circuit video cameras in the subways—let’s put them everywhere and then let’s save the tapes, indexed by citizen, referenced to the barcodes city officials will staple to our earlobes. It should all be overseen by the Department of Motor Vehicles. Then anyone can review their individual footage—commuting, dining, trying on Helmut Lang pants—but only the dedicated narcissists will manage to get through the paperwork.

Two years ago I had the opportunity to go as a guest with Sonic Youth to Mexico City, to hang out for a few days while they played a soccer stadium. I turned it down.

I’m going to print out that paragraph and glue it to my office wall.

» Listen to “Baby Blues” by the Stills at Moistworks

* * *

Moving friends from one apartment in Brooklyn to another, I stumbled on a tribe I hadn’t seen before in New York—stranger than Brooklyn’s cricket leagues, more fascinating to watch than West Houston’s nouveau-riche Brazilians at Sunday brunch.

It was morning on a spring Saturday. The weather was beautiful, and the street in Fort Greene was lined with new sport cars: yellow Hondas and patent-black Lexus convertibles. The men in the driver’s seats were all topless, waxed and tan, and wearing brightly colored cargo shorts. No one had a calf muscle smaller than a football. When they talked they spoke quickly with strong accents. And no one could sit still. The women beside them wore bikinis, of which the bottoms cupped apples and the tops hugged Grizzly bear cubs. Faces were white turned orange from too much tanning. Everyone was straight and coupled up. When they kissed, it was lunch hour at the casino's buffet. Also, most of them carried Gatorade bottles, which was the final reason I suspected they were all on ecstasy and coke.

I loved them, these Staten Islanders who migrated to Brooklyn to do drugs and be fabulous early-morning weekend swingers. House music blared out from a ground-floor apartment. Everyone was deliriously participating. And I was hauling a couch up four flights of stairs, for the life of me dying to join the party, which is how living in New York has felt for eight years.

» Listen to “Early April, Still Cold (DJ Mix)” by Robert Blair at Music for Robots


Rosecrans Baldwin co-founded TMN with publisher Andrew Womack in 1999. His latest book is Everything Now: Lessons From the City-State of Los Angeles. More information can be found at rosecransbaldwin.com. More by Rosecrans Baldwin

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