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The Pluses and Minuses of a Rainy Sunday, January 18th 2015

“-” means “minus,” aka not-so-cool, kind of a drag, a disappointment, a setback, an obstacle to health, wealth or happiness.

“+” means “plus,” aka kinda cool, enjoyable, a relief, positive, signifying progress, something that makes one feel alive.

They all kind-of balance out in the end.

–    I awake in the dark rainy gloom by my alarm. This is not supposed to happen on a Sunday.

+    The boys are still asleep, the paper has arrived at my doorstep (yeah, we go old-school on weekends). I have a quiet, solitary breakfast, always the highlight of the day.

–    The papa is away so the babysitter comes and I leave a little after 8. I take a few steps out the door, realize the sidewalk is coated with a thin film of ice, and then fall down hard on my butt. I go home to change into snow boots with better grip.

+    The subway is efficient on the journey to Penn Station and even with the setback I get my tickets and make the train with minutes to spare.

–    Finding a free double seat, I take my guitar case off my back and partially unzip it to see a big ugly crack. My fears at hitting the sidewalk are realized. It’s probably not playable but I can’t turn back now.

+    I text Flip Scipio, guitar restorer and craftsman extraordinaire. He replies reassuringly that he is in the workshop this week and I can bring my guitar in asap — maybe it can be fixed by my shows next weekend?

–    After a long ride and a quick connection, I arrive in Asbury Park, New Jersey. The venue is less than a mile from the station, so city girl that I am, I walk in the rain, carrying umbrella, injured guitar, and two bags.

+    I walk in the light rain, past iconic old and strikingly new sights downtown, down to the boardwalk on the grey and gorgeous Atlantic Ocean.

–    I arrive at my venue, “The Watermark”, and fully unzip my guitar case for the first time since I fell 3+ hours ago. Gasp. Several cracks have opened on the guitar’s cedar top, fully and violently separating portions of it from the back.

+    The stage is in front of the huge window to the ocean, and people are so nice and happy to be there, even amid many reported hangovers. It’s “Songwriters By The Sea” the 15th annual Light of Day Winterfest weekend-long benefit for Parkinsons disease research, with many musicians of good will (aren’t they all? My tribe) donating their time and now getting ready to play. I meet Lisa Biancho, who kindly offers to lend me her guitar for my set which follows hers.

–    I’m hungry. The menu looks tempting but there’s no time to eat before I am due on stage.

+    The full-house crowd is attentive and enthusiastic, and I share four songs (“Let it Show,” “Go Away,” Bruce Springsteen’s “41 Shots (American Skin),” and “Gospel”, in the round, with the lovely gentleman Anthony D’Amato, Hans Ludvigsson and Johnny Duk.

–    I’m hungry. There’s no time to eat before I have to leave for my train home.

+    This time, I get a ride, from my friend Joe D’Urso who has largely spearheaded and organized the festival. It’s raining harder now.

–    At the airy station house, there are many people milling about, none of whom seems to be waiting to board a train. Seems it never came, or I somehow missed it and will have to wait an hour (or more?) to the next one. It also seems that the many people milling about, mostly middle-aged white and black men, have no where else to go. I am stranded here, at Asbury Park’s homeless hangout.

+    I am stranded here, at Asbury Park’s homeless hangout. Everyone is good-natured, relaxed, and trying to be helpful in response to my futile inquiries about the train to NYC.

–    Still hoping that a train might come at any moment, I’m too restless to sit down. Aside from my broken guitar and the umbrella I’ve managed to hold onto against all odds, I’m carrying a handbag, and a canvas tote back with: heavy-heeled shoes and makeup for the stage, my guitar stand, tuner and some cords and cables; 10 of my CDs, 3 of my custom stainless-steel water bottles, and 2 of my vinyl records, all wrapped for sale and untouched since Brooklyn (hey, one can dream), the Sunday New York Times, and a notebook. It’s all rather heavy, but I keep wandering, mostly into an alcoholic, diabetic homeless man named John Bernard.

+    I keep running into John Bernard, whose face is open and pleasant despite the lack of his front teeth. When I first met him in a small gathering outside at my hopeful arrival, he asked me if I knew a song that with lyrics like, and he sang: “Some people are made of plastic.. Some people — are made of wood..” Yes! I know that song! I told him how I had first heard and loved it when it played over the opening credits of the legendary 1973 concert movie WattStax. I had been meaning to find the song and learn it but forgot until his singing the lines to me. “It’s by “The Main Ingredient” he said, “You can find it.” I thanked him.

–    I’m really hungry. Notably absent from my loaded tote bag are snacks. Notably absent from the large train station are any vending machines.

+    Some charitable food provisions arrive and set up outside, as seems to be the weekly or perhaps daily routine. John Bernard appears with a bowl of vegan vegetable stew over rice in one hand and a pear in the other. I mention that I might go try to get a pear and he says he got the last one, and to take his. A minor stand-off ensues, with me finally winning when I authoritatively state: “I am NOT taking your pear from you.” I head over and end up with a banana, donating a dollar. I can’t quite get myself to take any stew with the train perhaps arriving any minute.

–     Still no train. I continue to wander around, inside and out of the station, determined that the train will not come and go without me. John and I have fallen into a pattern — we run into each other, talk about his life and its challenges, he reminds me about The Main Ingredient, and I glance up to see that once again, I am holding an open umbrella indoors, and we laugh as I close it only to head outside again. And the cycle repeats.

+    The kindly janitor, who seems to know everyone as he loosely supervises what must be a daily routine of non-traveling visitors to the station, announces the last call for the bathroom as the station will be closing in 5 minutes. Then, the train! I wish John well and say goodbye. It’s 2 hours to Penn Station.

–    At a newsstand at Penn, I grab some veggie chips and a granola bar, the kinds of processed snacks that try to appear wholesome but ultimately are neither nourishing nor delicious. Sunday subway routes are off-kilter, so I need to go uptown one stop on the 1 before I can head downtown on the N, then transfer to the L towards the Bushwick guitar workshop of Flip Scipio, working late. I scribble some of these meaningless events in my notebook.

+    Flip is sympathetic and charming as always, but while solemnly examining my guitar repeats several times that he “can’t guarantee” it can be fixed. If he can’t, no one can. But I’m grateful that the process, even if ultimately it may be futile, has begun.

–    My last task of the day completed, I finally deflate. It’s 7 pm. I still have a two more subway trains between Flip’s workshop and home, and I sit on the first train and reach into my bag for my notebook, which has disappeared. My notebook, which I refuse to call a journal, is full of banal ramblings, lame self-affirmations, and earnest pledges towards self-improvement (the idea is that poetic lines worthy of a song lyric might emerge here and there), and the book itself is the high school kind, old and missing a back cover yet re-purposed since many pages remained from the late 80s when its cover was neatly labeled with my name as well as the address my mother moved from ten years earlier. I hope the person who finds it declines to  peruse and just tosses it in the trash. I shudder at the idea that this person might be responsible and mail it to the nice family living at my childhood home. That would be embarrassing.

+    Home. Husband returned from tour. Boys settled. Feeding frenzy commences.

–    Feeding frenzy. Though back in my cozy kitchen full of healthy and tasty meal options, I stand and carelessly grab at whatever. I’m reminded why poverty and/or a hectic schedule and/or physical and emotional exhaustion often contribute to obesity. It’s hard to make rational choices when hours or days are spent with food out of reach or out of range of the pocketbook.

+    Home.

Postscript. The next day, I look up “The Main Ingredient”. Seems they had a hit in 1975 with “Rolling Down a Mountainside” which was performed by Isaac Hayes in the Wattstax concert and film. The “some people are made of plastic..” song in the Wattstax opening credits was actually by The Dramatics — “Whatcha See is Whatcha Get” Post Postscript. My guitar is kinda trashed. Luckily I have a beautiful back-up instrument and can take my time considering (and budgeting for) next steps. And it seems I did manage to earn a handful of new fans playing Laura’s borrowed one. It’ll be ok.

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