Imaginary Review

When my friends told me about this place, it was a no-brainer – alcohol and learning, my two go-tos, under one roof? Books (yes, I still read, either Kindle or good old-fashioned paper and ink and binding, got to have that tactile experience) and locally-sourced beverages - what’s not to love? Took the train to this cute little town midweek to check it all out.

We walked in and I was in heaven! The ceiling of this place is incredible, make sure to look up when you go and you should go, even though I did have a few problems, which I will get to. But first, the positives: the books, umm where do I start: every Murakami, the new Doris Kearns Goodwin, and all those Ottolenghi cookbooks I would love to line my kitchen counters with, I mean, hello? I was practically doing a happy dance. My BF sat at the bar and ordered a beer from the great selection, so he was in hop heaven, but my gluten sensitivity makes brew a no-go area for me, so I asked for a glass of wine. No prob! The older woman bartender was friendly, Neil Young’s Zuma was playing, the other bartender was the coolest, cutest hipster girl but super-nice – I thought I’d entered this weird alternative universe where everybody is laid back and nobody bad-vibes you like in Brooklyn – I was mentally booking a U-Haul to move here I loved it so much. Then the trouble started.

That wine I ordered? When was the last time you visited a bar and they couldn’t find a corkscrew? Like – never? Exactly! I sat and waited, my tongue hanging out from thirst, while the two aforementioned bartenders (still super-nice, but appearing more lame by the minute) rummaged around behind the bar looking for the proper implement to jettison a cork from a bottle of what looked like a drinkable sauvignon blanc.

Zuma was now on its second time around and they had to move the fridge out while the younger one climbed up with her phone as a flashlight to look behind it. Still no corkscrew? My BF was offering to go to a deli or something to buy a new one when they finally opened the bottle. All this commotion for a simple glass of cold wine was making me hungry, so I ordered one of the tamales they had listed on the board.

“Sorry, we ran out.” FAIL! Just then a lady came in with a box of steaming, fresh tamales. She was all out of breath, talking about how everyone was mad at her because her dog had roughed up a neighbor and she didn’t know what the fuss was. I was drooling for a tamale and eventually they got one out of the box and served it to me on a plate with some hot sauce – delish! You know how these things can either be too dry or the opposite, a total grease-bomb? Not these babies.

After that tasty snack, my BF tried several times to get the bartenders’ attention for another beer but they were too busy getting the tamale lady to talk to the roughed-up neighbor who’d just happened to walk in. I started to wonder if we had wandered into a community center.

Then a big guy came in with a lot of paintings under his arm. He was able to get a fresh pilsner, Zuma was starting a third time and my BF finally scored a porter while I ordered a cup of tea. A man came in looking a lot like Mr. Big from Sex and the City, my long-time-ago favorite show, sigh – yes I was that young and naive once. My BF nudged me – it was Mr. Big. He stood chatting with the girls behind the bar while I munched a to-die-for peanut butter cookie that had just been delivered by a cute Italian-looking man the bartenders referred to as Dolly The Drag Queen. So all was right with the world.

EXCEPT for when I went to the bathroom, back by the children’s book section. There were NO PAPER TOWELS! With dripping wet hands I went to the cash register area at the end of the bar and told the older woman. She apologized profusely and handed me a paper napkin, saying the towel delivery was on its way. She even offered to dry my hands for me, she felt that bad.

When we received our bill, which we had to strain to hear as Zuma was playing yet again, I couldn’t believe how reasonable the prices were. So all in all, a good place. I’d give it five stars except for the paper towel incident, I mean hello? Wet hands and books? Still, highly recommended.

But if Neil Young makes your skin crawl (luckily I’m not one of those people) stay away or bring earplugs. And if you’re one of the few people who don’t drink those fabulous craft beers,  remember to bring your own corkscrew.

Easy Being Green

I admit I’m a pushover. Soft-hearted and easily led. I feel it at closing time, when I’m working behind the bar.

How many times have you stood in a bar or club and heard a bartender yell out  “last call”? Dozens, even hundreds?  An aural cue to get ready to get ready to go. (Unless you’re a musician who just finished playing – then it’s a signal to a) think about starting to pack up; b) remember to get paid or c) carry right on having a heated conversation or hearing how wonderful you are)

At work, I find it impossible to screech, bellow or bark “Last call!” Those feel like the only options, so when I open my mouth near closing time – nothing comes out. It’s not really the style of this bookstore/bar anyway, one so civilized that Walt Whitman and Nabokov rub shoulders with the drinkers. A quiet word to customers would they like one more as we’re closing up should do it.

Except they’re busy talking, or look at me in disbelief, or start begging. So it’s back to opening my mouth to shout “Last Call!” and a strangled cry that no one heeds and so it’s back to a quiet word with the individual customers, who can’t believe what I’m telling them and on and on.

But yesterday was going to be different. I talked to my co-worker Nate and told him we were going to be tough and firm and get out of the place on time for once.

We did great! One girl looked as if I’d slapped her and said “You’re closing – ALREADY?” I nodded and her friend pointed out the early closing time on Sunday and I started relishing my new role – the tough commandant (I was going to say bossy bitch but we don’t use those words anymore).

So all closed up at a reasonable time for once and cleaning the bar when a guy comes through the door. Damn we should’ve locked it but were too busy congratulating ourselves for closing so well.

“Hey, you guys,” he says.

“Sorry, we’re closed.”

“Yeah, I see that. I was just wondering, you know it’s St. Patrick’s Day tomorrow – anything going on here?”

“No.” I’d noticed an instrument case on his back when he walked in but tried not to engage with it.

“You see, my gig last night got cancelled – I’m a fiddle player – and I was wondering if you’d want to do something tomorrow night?”

“No, that’s okay.”

“Really, it’s St. Patrick’s Day and everything and – you have music here right?”

“Yeah, but there’s a show on Thursday and later this week too…” It’s at this point that I should have said a cheery NO THANKS! NOT INTERESTED! HAVE A GREAT NIGHT!” But instead he keeps trying to wear me down. They can always spot a pushover.

We try suggesting some other places in town he could try, ones that would be more… fiddle-friendly?

“Isn’t there someone else you could ask? Because, you know – it’s St. Patrick’s Day! And music – for people”…Inside I’m screaming that this will be a safe haven from fiddle music and faux-Irishness and that his fiddle-scraping would actually drive people away from the bar but I keep discussing it with him and time is ticking by. Poor guy, he’s been let down by some bastard promoter and here he is with that heavy case on his back…Maybe the whole place would be cheering him and jigging in minutes time, Dan who does the meters and Earl the painter arm in arm and everyone would remember this St. Patrick’s Day as the best time they ever had. He’s gotten me where I’m almost agreeing to leave it to the owner, or the person who works tomorrow evening.

Then I remember Eve. She works Mondays. She listens to Robert Wyatt, Can. She would hate it. I picture her look of horror – there’s this guy and he’s going to be playing Irish fiddle music, here – tonight!

I pull myself together.  Say a cheery NO THANKS! NOT INTERESTED! HAVE A GREAT NIGHT!” Nate nods supportively. I even throw in a “Good luck” as the guy and his fiddle case retreat out the door.

Sweet Bird Of Youth

In the land of old things, I was turning into an old thing myself. In France, I thought if I’d been ready for retirement – to raise vegetables, grow roses, tend animals and sit under a tree with a book – it would have been perfect. But it wasn’t time for that yet.

Here in the new land, it follows that I’m getting younger. Only last week, at a New York City bar, I was asked for ID to prove I was over twenty-one.

It was only a formality of course. They card everyone at that place, with a special machine that scans the IDs, while the bartender scowls. Then she hustles back to making tropical drinks, one of which looks like a toilet bowl of flaming lava. I watched her working like I watch bands on stage, with a knowing eye: oh, so that’s where she puts her bar rag…their beer is extra foamy…those glasses sure are piling up…how long have those loud businessmen been in here drinking shots…no wonder she scowls…

My brother was celebrating his birthday, and his band plays at this place, Otto’s Shrunken Head, every last Thursday of the month. A gang of us were there and it was like being twenty-four again, hanging out with my daughter and her boyfriend, diving into the photo booth to take pictures. We ended up in Veselka Ukrainian Restaurant at two in the frozen morning, eating pierogi and borscht and stuffed cabbage. Then riding the L train back through Brooklyn, the night train full not of hipsters but workers looking exhausted, the walls of the train still covered with those ads for changing your life, Go Back To School, only now the courses were in Social Media, Event Planning and Home Care instead of X-ray technician. Funny, the ride into Manhattan always has cultural uplift like Poetry In Motion, the cars back out to the boroughs the practical stuff, it’s one of those mysteries I’ve never understood, cause don’t the same trains just run back and forth?

I was living on the edge by taking a day to go to the city, in the middle of trying to turn in a book proposal for the 33 1/3 series and the submission deadline was looming. There were pages of material due, I kept thinking I wasn’t going to make it but in the end I pulled together my ideas for a book on Carole King’s Tapestry (each book in the series is devoted entirely to one album) and sent it off minutes before the deadline. When they published the entire list online (410 submissions) there were two for Tapestry.

“I bet yours wasn’t the one in all caps,” a friend said on Facebook.

I remembered my triumphant moment, when as requested I typed the artist and album title in the subject line of the email with proposal attached as Word doc.


If my literary career never takes off, there’s still a chance with this new band we’ve got: The Schoemer Formation. Karen Schoemer’s poetry and Eric and I playing bass, guitar and keyboards behind her. We played our first “gig” at the Homemade Aeroplane back in January. Now we’re rehearsing and planning our outfits for a show at the Spotty Dog in Hudson tomorrow. I’ve never been in a band where I just sat and played instruments before. It’s scary and fun.

And it’s only the beginning. Next week we have another show. Like I said, I must be getting younger because when Karen told us she’d booked the show, I actually got excited. I found myself saying, in a voice filled with wonder:

“We’ve got a gig, in a club – in Albany?!”

schoemer formationThe Schoemer Formation

Sat Mar 8 Spotty Dog  Hudson NY

Thu Mar 13 The Low Beat  Albany NY

Walking Up That Hill

I never thought I’d say this, but I think I’m turning into my dad.

I saw myself on the treadmill at the gym the other day, in the mirror they have for guys who lift weights. I was pushing up a treadmill hill, walking not running, and all of a sudden, there was Dad. Bending slightly forward, determined. It threw me.

Sometimes I see him in my brothers. But I’m the girl! Aside from my fair skin and red in my hair, this is the first time I saw a physical resemblance to my dad.

He’s eighty seven and walks three miles a day. He’s always walked: to the post office, to the store. To the library. I’m the same – I have to walk. When I don’t walk, I can’t think.

That’s been one of the hardest things about the snow. It’s banked up along the sides of the road and walking has been dangerous – there’s nowhere to go when the trucks and cars come flying along. The sidewalks on Main Street are a patchwork of slush and ice and rock salt. I haven’t been able to move, except at the gym, or back and forth behind the bar, but that’s not the same.

Yesterday, finally, it started warming up. Eric and I took a walk in the sunshine. Then he left for a show in Cambridge. He took the van, and I walked again in a light rain. I felt my brain firing up again. I admit I was walking to the liquor store. I think my dad has done that once in a while, too. But like me, he’s a disciplined drinker.

I’m getting the house ready for another Homemade Aeroplane tomorrow. It looks like it’ll be a less than full flight, and we’re going to be a skeleton crew without an air hostess. But our special guests are arriving soon, all the way from east Tennessee, and I’m excited to play their cool songs, and look forward to playing and singing with Eric again. It’s another form of motion I miss when I don’t do it for a little while.

Got to start corralling the passenger seats. Maybe make a pot of chili. But first I have to walk to the post office, and the library.

Somewhere south of Pittsburgh, a man climbs a hill.

coat rack

Eric & Amy’s Homemade Aeroplane 

Snow Days

Winter just keeps coming. It’s boring to talk about snow and cold, I know, but it’s the major factor of our lives. I keep learning things, like February snow weighs twice as much as lighter, fluffier January snow. I found myself looking longingly at our neighbor in his bright orange jumpsuit walking a snowblower back and forth across the driveway, then came to my senses. Never! (well, maybe the jumpsuit?) Guys with snowplows are a real hazard around here  - this moment, where they get to wheel, reverse, dig in and hoist their plows high in the air, cheeks flaming, eyes set on a snowy point in the distance, is what keeps them going through the softer less challenging months and woe betide the person or vehicle who gets in their way.

After a few months of the cost and headache of filling an outdoor tank with oil and kerosense, you find yourself contemplating hooking up to town gas – it’s not really fracking, is it? I mean, they won’t do that around here, will they?

I’m seeing how cold breaks things – skin; plastic. Last night the handle of the passenger door snapped. Our 5-door vehicle now has 3 working handles. When a guy kept shouting at me for unknowingly pushing in front of him at the kerosene pump in the gas station and things threatened to turn ugly, I have to believe he was taking his anger at winter out on me. Only minutes before, with the broken door latch, I’d shaken a fist and screamed “Fuuuuccckkk yooooouuu!” at the sky.

The sky – it is so beautiful. Damn it, for all the irritation, the light through bare branches and pine trees and blue shadows on white, the ice in the Hudson and sun over the mountains almost makes up for it. Little animal tracks criss-crossing in the snow and the building debris we never had a chance to take to the dump blanketed out of sight by a pristine layer. So that’s a real plus.

I had my birthday. We went to the city and met up with the family for dinner. The high point of the day was walking into Housing Works Bookstore on Crosby Street and the clerk saying “Amy Rigby? I love you! I was just thinking about you, wondering if I would ever get to see you play again!” I wondered if Eric hadn’t put the guy up to it with a phone call (we’re coming in at 3…it’s the little lady’s birthday so, if you could make a fuss, act like you’re a fan) but while it was happening it felt great.

Back home, I finished the draft of my memoir. It’s not even the first draft, more like the second or third and is rough and overlong. But at least I’ve gotten this far. I sweated much of the past year over these pages. Even though there’s more work to do, it’s a satisfying feeling having gotten this far. It’s scary, but I’ve started showing it to a few people, even to force myself to believe I’m going to finish. I want to, so I can start writing something else.

Sometime in the fall, I crossed over from working sporadically to having four regular shifts a week at the bookstore/bar. I love working there – the characters, my co-workers; the books beer and art supplies. I like making the displays every month. Oh, and the money. It’s a relief to have something regular for a change.

But there’s a feeling of days speeding by. “I don’t know, it feels like I don’t have time for anything,” I said to my daughter.

“That’s what it’s like, having a job,” she said. Oh.

It’s odd, after almost seven years of playing together, to have Eric doing gigs without me. Fire Records is reissuing much of his great back catalogue and it’s exciting to see those records coming out in beautiful packages. He played in the UK and will do a solo show in Cambridge MA Feb 21. We played four songs together at Wes Stace’s Cabinet of Wonders in Mamaroneck a few weeks ago and it was like a reunion. I’ll always love playing with Eric and still feel amazed I get to stand next to that guy on stage – weird, since I see him all the time around the house. We have a show at Hillside Cafe in Nutley NJ next Saturday, and another Homemade Aeroplane at our house in Catskill on Sat Feb. 22.

I promise the driveway and path will be free of snow.



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