I had such a vivid dream last night. It involved, of all people, Art Tatum. Yes, back from the dead. He was one of the world’s finest jazz piano players who, at one time, the classical composer Antonin Dvorak considered to be the finest piano player in any musical genre. The fact that he was nearly blind was even more remarkable.
I was in some park and there was lots of grass and trees, green all around. Two or three people were sitting in chairs next to me. There was someone I knew, but I couldn’t quite place who they were. Art Tatum was sitting behind a piano out in the open, but I don’t remember any music. Just a big black jolly man in his youth with his fingers on the black and white keys. The whole time during this dream, I’m thinking, my God, it’s Art Tatum. Then I was walking with him and it was all so real and true and warm and beautiful. He grabbed on to my hand, not to hold it, but just feeling it. He said I had rough hands although I don’t think I do. We were somewhere walking across a bridge and then some curtain came crashing down. Everything faded. There was a lot more somewhere in there and I wanted to get up from the bed, grab a pen and paper, write it down, but I just laid there and soon fell back asleep.
If only we could lose memories of all the bad thoughts and keep our dreams. I’ve never been too into over-analyzing much of what goes on in the subconscious mind. I think a lot of it escapes the world of science and reason. I’ve read Freud and Jung, but have always taken their studies with a grain of salt. Still, after I woke up I couldn’t help but think of the meaning behind the dream.
I see a lot of blind people when I get off the F train at 23rd and 6th Avenue There’s a school for the blind somewhere around there and I see about three or four people walking around with canes. I think about them a lot and what their life is like. They tap their canes against the steps as they walk up the stairs and I wonder if they’re counting the steps, if a lot of their life revolves in numbers…steps to the light, steps across the street. I was talking to my mom the night before. I asked questions about my grandfather who died when I was thirteen. I wanted to know what he had done in the military, where he worked afterward, where he was born. Then, today I remembered that the Art Tatum records I have were my grandfather’s. I found them in a closet in my grandmother’s house years after he died. I’m also in the process of dictating an interview I did with a friend about living in the Bywater neighborhood of New Orleans. My grandfather’s favorite music to play on the piano just happened to be Dixie. I decided to put on my Tatum records as a sort of homage to the old man and wondered if he was somewhere listening. I’m not really sure if I believe in a heaven or a hell. Maybe the dead just spend eternity in the land of dreams.
* * *
I ride the subway often late at night. Restaurant life is a world of odd hours and usually I don’t get out of work until one or two in the morning. The majority of the people on the train are drunk or asleep or sometimes just really tired and getting off of work like me. Then there’s the really sad and lonely. I came across one tonight.
The train slowed down for a little bit. The computer-automated voice on the speaker said, “Due to traffic ahead we are being held momentarily. Please be patient.”
Down the bench my attention was diverted from the book I was reading.
“If I wanted to be patient I’d move to New Mexico! Let’s go! Let’s go!”
I looked over to find a middle-aged man, partially bald with a comb-over. He had a bunch of bags all around him and was pouting, a full-scale scowl painted on his face. He looked like a child that had just been told he couldn’t have any more chocolate. He had headphones on, but I had the feeling there wasn’t any music coming out of them. His pants were high up to the middle of his protruding belly. He looked so lonely and upset with the world and was continually moving in his seat. Just couldn’t get comfortable. Even with all of this, I couldn’t help but laugh at what he said. Yes, I suppose the Southwest is a place for patience. Beautiful sunsets across open space and lots of time for meditative thoughts and solitude.
When I got off at Smith and 9th I looked back at the man. He was still scowling and I noticed then he also had a violin case. I walked towards the stairs trying to remember if I’d ever seen such an angry violinist and realized I probably hadn’t. I wondered where life had gone wrong for him.
* * *
I spent most of my Saturday afternoon in Coney Island. I checked out the Circus Sideshow, an old time ten-act freak show. Human blockheads; sexy, large-breasted sword-swallowers; tattoo-covered fire breathers; and Donnie Vomit providing much of the humor. It was a good time.
I visited the small museum that sits on the second floor of the same building and walked among the antique remains of the old Coney Island (an old board with ride names like the Silver Streak, Shngrila Ha Ha, Roto Jet, Tilt a Whirl) which conjured up visions in my own imagination. There was also a really interesting exhibit about Freud who had once visited Coney Island, and one man in particular, Albert Grass, who ran what was called "The Amateur Psychoanalytical Society." He and his colleagues were avid followers of Sigmund Freud. What was interesting was the story of how this man had a vision to reopen the DreamlandAmusement Park, which had burned down in 1911. This time though, Grass wanted to make the amusement park a real living and subconscious playland of the dreams of a child, rides with ids and egos. He had all kinds of drawings that depicted the concept. Throughout the park would be a miniature railroad called "Train of Thought." I came across another beautiful quote of his in a letter in which he was proposing his concept to an investor. "We will open our darkest dreams to the bright light of reason." Unfortunately, it never came to be, but I found myself engrossed in the various letters and drawings of his that they had on display.
When I got outside the barker on the small wooden stage was shoving a screwdriver into his nose. A small crowd looked on as he went into his spiel he repeats for most of the day.
"They're here. They're real, and let me tell you what I'm going to do folks for the kid in all of us, and really, we're all kids. I'm going to make you this special offer. That's right. For the next two minutes, yes, two minutes, anyone that comes in will be charged the price of a child's ticket. Yes, two minutes. Step right in. We have blockheads, we have Heather Holiday, the sword-swallowing sensation from Salt Lake City, Serpentine, the Mad Twister, Ezactamora. That's right. Ten acts in one, a real-life sideshow. All ten, incredible live acts. Bring mom, bring dad, bring the whole smorgasbord. If you're under three feet tall and you're an adult not only will you get in free, we'll give you a job. Last call! Last call!"
I left the barker and then walked around the boardwalk and out to the Steeplechase pier. I saw an enormous, tough-looking guy: gold chains, 300 pounds, bad tattoos, with a crew of others that looked like they just got out of Rikers. There were no children around and what was he doing? Flying a kite. I saw a Puerto Rican man dressed in a Harvard jumpsuit catch a stingray. He explained to another Spanish speaking person how he was going to cook it like carne asada and showed them the proper way to cut it. Next to him an old lady found no need for a fishing pole or gear. She had an empty plastic coke bottle, some string, and a hook. Watching her cast her line into the ocean was classic and I was pleased to find that the couple standing next to me also saw the beauty in it.
On the way back I decided to go check out the VerrazanoBridge. I always see it from a distance around various parts of Brooklyn, but didn’t realize how massive it was until I stood underneath it. Architecturally, I’d guess it was fashioned after the Golden GateBridge in San Francisco. I stood there for a while, stared out at the water and the barge ships and Staten Island which sits on the other side.
I walked thirty blocks back through the Irish and Italian and Middle Eastern sections along 5th Avenue. The bars were filled with Yankee fans watching the game. I looked into the Arab restaurants and saw the men far in the back smoking hookahs and probably talking of the old country.
I had to take a piss and for the life of me couldn’t seem to find a place to take care of my business. I wasn't even hungry, but I stopped in for a Sicilian slice at Original Pizza somewhere around 65th in front of the R train stop. Behind me at one booth was an Arabic woman in full shawl with her young boy. In the next booth was an older Italian man. The boy was leaning over his mother’s shoulder, some pizza in his mouth, curiously staring at the man.
The old man smiled and said to him, “How ya’ doin’? Yeah, you like Frank Sinatra. You like Frankie boy?”
The mother smiled back, kind of shyly, but didn’t say anything.
It’s funny how women look at young children and talk in strange baby-like voices. I guess old Italian men talk to children as if they were another one of the fellas' sitting across from them at the card table of the local social club.
* * *
I woke up around eleven today and walked over to the bodega for some coffee and an egg on a roll. Anytime I go in there I usually end up in a rather lengthy discussion with Moussa, the owner. He’s Palestinian by way of Chicago and Louisiana and has a rather interesting accent mixed with intermittent Arabic. He’s very animated and talkative and has a cast of interesting regulars coming in from the neighborhood: construction workers, drug addicts, young kids, old, Puerto Ricans, black, white, Italian, Arab; a wild colorful amalgamation of Brooklynites.
Today I notice he’s added a small counter/table outside. He needs a permit from the city for any real patio-type tables, so he made this one. Of course his only customer is Crystal, a rather large red-haired woman with a thick Brooklyn accent. She walks in and I get a closer look at her face and hands and then I realize she is a he. Later on I learn from Moussa’s wife, who spends a lot of her time at the bodega working, that Crystal has had the surgery for down there and often tells her of her sexual exploits. One involves a man that likes to pee on her. Ah, yes, I say to her, the golden shower.
“Fuckin faggot!” Moussa says to me.
Crystal is standing in the doorway. “Oh, lookie heah, wings and fries. Five dollas. Wow Moussa, I never soaw that. And burger and fries too. Dat’s a good deal. I always look in one direction. You know as a kid I oohalways fell into holes because I never looked down. I only look straight ahead and den you know one day I look up and say, wow, look at all of deese buildings, I didn’t know dey were heah.”
“Hey Crystal, don’t you got somewhere to go? And put your food in the trash.”
Moussa rolls his eyes and says to me, “She been here since seven this morning.”
I get the feeling he’s starting to think this outside table might not be a good idea. Then again, it might be since now he’s at least got Crystal outside. I just laugh as Crystal stays put, talking about her cell phone’s poor reception as neither of us is really listening.
A guy from the barber shop next door comes in asking Moussa for change. Moussa yells at him, “What, I look like a fuckin bank? I got no change. Get outta’ here! How you have a barber shop and have no change? I tell you, go to the fuckin’ bank!”
I part ways with my big coffee and Crystal says, “Have a nooice day.”
A block away, I stop in the triangle park. Well, it’s not really a park. It’s just a triangle underneath the imposing and industrial view of the Brooklyn Queens Expressway with some benches where a lot of homeless and shifty-eyed people (most of them from the clinic across from my place) camp out during the day. I notice a man that I’ve seen a few times with a journal on the ground with handwritten words. This time around he’s reading a book called “23 Ways to Hell.” In his other hand is a bible in which he’s highlighting passages. I want to stop and ask him which way he’s leaning, but I think better of it. Seems like everywhere you look, there’s the humor, the irony, and the sadness of life. Always shaking hands, mingling aside one another. I take a little bit of each in and then I go on my way.