Cracked Actor

“I do love the customers,” I told Eric the other day, after a busy night at the bookstore/bar. “I know I complain about working, and I really miss performing and can’t wait to start playing gigs again, but the customers are just great – I love helping people!”

But there’s something about Fridays.

First there was the guy with the ears. I’d seen him in there once or twice before, big gauges in his lobes. He looks too young to drink and is for sure a little off, but he’d been carded so I knew he could have a beer. As I passed him a pint, I noticed the gauges were out – huge loops of skin hung down almost to his shoulders. I had to look away.

The store is empty. A few minutes later he comes up with the Kama Sutra in his hand.

“I’ve never seen this book before. Is it good?” he asks.

“Yup,” I carry on with putting books in inventory and nod. “A classic.” He starts flipping the pages and I bustle over to the other end of the bar – don’t want to give him the opportunity to ask “and these people, in these drawings, what are they doing to each other?”

“So, are any of these books here for sale?” he asks.

I want to scream, but I smile and nod. “Yes, they are all for sale – this is a bookstore.”

“What does GB stand for?” Every ten minutes he comes up and asks a pointless question.

“How do you pronounce ‘docile’?” Don’t look at the lobes, don’t look at the lobes.

Thankfully my co-worker comes in. Emily is sweet and always nice to people. Before I have a chance to signal to her that Loopy has been in a while, is on his third pint and should not be encouraged, he comes up with more inane questions.

“I really wanted to write a book one time,” he drones. “Is it hard to write a book?” I try to pinch Emily. “Is there any book here that can tell me how to write one?” Emily mercifully tells him there are classes people take to teach them how to write.

My mood is sour now, I’m hungry and I hate people. A couple come in and sit at the bar. They’re jovial and fun. Emily and I have been playing Townes Van Zandt but it’s moving into Friday happy hour – Emily says “I think I’ll put on some Queen.”

I grit my teeth.

“Queen!” the lady of the couple crows. “I love Queen! You may have to stop me from jumping up and dancing on the bar. It could get real Coyote Ugly in here!”

“I may have to join you!” says Emily. “Who doesn’t love Queen!” She’s just about to push the play arrow.

“I’m sorry,” I say, feeling like a jerk. “I just don’t like Queen.” Their mouths all open. Their faces look so sad. But I’m afraid Queen will put me over the edge. “I acknowledge the brilliance of Freddy Mercury. Brian May too! But their music irritates me.” I feel like I’ve gone too far. A person behind the bar should not be a buzz killer.

But now I can’t stop myself. What flips the switch, from loving to help people to wanting to wipe the silly Queen-loving grins off their faces?

“It’s like Bowie,” I say, hating myself but unable to stop. I don’t even know or care what I’m saying anymore, but I’m lobe guy, here to fuck up your Friday. The bearded male half of the couple nods in excitement. I can see his eyes glowing, thinking he’s found a Bowie buddy. His coming to love Bowie has been a huge step in his development not just as a man, but as a human being. It feels so good to mow him down. “I know he’s wonderful, creative, brilliant, an artistic genius. But I’m just not a fan.”

“Them’s fighting words!” the guy shouts gruffly. He’s kind of joking but kind of not. He looks like he’s about to leap over the bar and throttle me. I see a customer down by the taps and leave Emily to console the couple. I hear Townes start up again through the speakers.

Shaneeka says “It’s my birthday today! I’m old.” She puts her head down, long lashes against round baby cheeks. “Twenty six.” She shakes her head.

The guy next to her says “Oh don’t worry, you got fifteen good years left,” and goes back to talking to his friend. I do the math, she’s twenty-six, plus fifteen that’s…that’s forty-one. Forty-one and then out to pasture.

I pass Shaneeka a birthday pint. “You’ve got way more good years than that!” I say, but I’ve disappeared behind the mists of time, of behind the bar; visible when I don’t want to be, invisible when I have something important to say.

I can’t wait to get back up on stage.

Amy Rigby solo residency – May 7, 14, 21 & 28 – HiFi Bar – New York, NY

We Were Never Promised Jetpacks

Twenty-five years ago, I was in a group called The Shams. We were three women singing and playing together. Richard Hell called us “beauty shop soul” and it fit: the sound of a couple friends sitting around a kitchen table talking in harmony, with guitars. We’d just released our first album on Matador and the label gave us a small budget to make a music video. In the early nineties everyone was doing them, and it was another chance to play dress up and escape from dirty dishes and day jobs (I had a three-year old and temped in an office; Sue painted fancy apartments; Amanda designed clothes). A filmmaker fresh out of college stopped by Sue’s tiny studio on 10th Street and Avenue D to give us his pitch for “Dark Angel”, an eerie song from our album Quilt.

“I see the three of you, in lingerie. You’re in a bathroom, posed around a tub. In the tub is a naked man – he’s dead, and you’re all caressing him.” Pause. “Sort of like the Pieta?”

The three of us nodded, trying to hide stunned expressions. “That sounds…interesting,” one of us managed. “We’ll, uh, let you know.”

As soon as he left, we laughed for an hour. “Never!” we shrieked. “That is the worst, most ridiculous idea EVER! Can you imagine us in lacy underwear, trying to keep a straight face while some guy lies there with no clothes on, pretending to be dead?”

“Nuh-uh,” said Sue.

“He’s got to be kidding,” said Amanda.

“When hell freezes over!” I said.

Still, we all agreed it was the funniest thing we’d heard in ages.

Two weeks later at The Shams video shoot, the tub was now a bed for practical reasons. The dead guy left for another engagement midway through, so a lighting man with a different configuration of chest hair stepped in and laid down to take his place. Other than that, it was pretty close to what the filmmaker described.

A stylist friend of Amanda’s worked a trio of Todd Oldham suits in there, in addition to the lingerie – there was no escaping Todd’s odd mix of loud patterns, quirky details and classic tailoring in 1991. Did it work with the aesthetic of the video? Who cared, it was free clothes! We looked like Mildred Pierce on LSD.

We’d moved on to the lingerie portion of the shoot, the three of us sitting around in satin and lace, bare legs, hair finally starting to droop from the two hours of curling irons and freeze spray we’d subjected ourselves to that morning. Silly as it all was, we were having a blast. We always did. “Stop laughing at yourselves!” my daughter screamed at us once, but why would we do that? Wasn’t this supposed to be fun?

Then Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth came strolling through the gallery space where the video shoot was set up, just as a makeup artist friend pumped up our lip gloss and adjusted the straps of our old-fashioned slips.

“I think they live in the building,” Sue said. They seemed to be heading our way. Maybe they’d say hello – after all, they were on Matador, we were on Matador.

In their t-shirts and unkempt hair they looked raggedly perfect. Like they were in the middle of doing laundry. Only they went on stage looking the same way. I went on stage to get away from doing laundry.

We were never afraid to make fools of ourselves – that was one of the perks of being in a band. Sonic Youth were serious. I suddenly felt like a complete dork. Like the cool neighbor kid next door just walked in my room while I was singing in a hairbrush in front of the mirror.

Kim and Thurston said hi to the camera guy. Then kept gliding across the gallery floor, right past us, like their grubby sneakers had jet packs.

“We’re cool, too – honest!” I wanted to shout. But the lip brush was in the way.

Time Capsule

The only thing missing was Geraldo.

They were opening the old serving cupboard, the one she’d carted from Brooklyn to Nashville to Cleveland, where it had rested several years in a storage space before making the trip to upstate New York, where it now stood, as a server should, near the dining table. But somewhere along the way the original key went missing. A series of skeleton keys, bobby pins, toothpicks, small screwdrivers – nothing worked. The server was locked tight as a tomb.

“What’s in there?” he asked.

She knew and she didn’t know. “Linens?” she said. “You know – tablecloths and place mats and…aprons. A whole lot of aprons.” Things she didn’t really need, things no one needed unless they were a housewife from 1952 or a flea market dealer low on stock.

The server held things on top: a lamp, CDs, guitar pics in a bowl. Bank statements. It bugged the practical him – a potential storage space gone to waste. We need to open those doors!

“Maybe there’s money?” they wondered. Maybe there’s something she’d been looking for for fifteen years. She wasn’t sure when the lock had jammed. She remembers the server sitting in a turn of the century house in Nashville – a room with tall, tall ceilings, an arts and crafts tiled fireplace, a gold sixties sofa from the West End Synagogue rummage sale. A screen door onto a front porch with an old-fashioned swing. She and her daughter age thirteen watching Seventh Heaven in smugness and envy, and a huge white cat named James.

A hand saw is out – the back’s coming off.

Where’s Geraldo? There are treasures here a little bit greater than the contents of Al Capone’s vault. Curtains, napkins and finger towels if such a thing ever existed, in homey prints pre-dating mid-century. It was the eighties when she compiled her trousseau without meaning to, for that’s what this is really – preceding independence and her own taste even. These were choices her mother made for her, cocktail napkins embroidered with drunken sailors, card table cloths with suits of cards threaded in pink and green; western motifs and a surplus of Mexican-themed fabric from back when Mexico was cartoon exotic, all unearthed at estate sales and swap meets south of Pittsburgh. She remembers wearing some of these aprons ironically but still almost blushes, thinking of first attempts at cornbread and dinner parties in an apartment with a tub in the kitchen.



atomic age

No money, but nothing scary either – no dead mouse or half-eaten seven-layer burrito from Taco Bell, from back when the novelty of middle American fast food appealed to her and her daughter. Nothing great, but nothing bad. Only a mound of Pittsburgh cast-offs covered with late twentieth century New York City grime and the white hairs of a deceased cat.

The doors don’t open from the inside either. They’ll have to call a locksmith.


Winter Of This Content

The pressure was off – the storm of the century barreling in and scheduled to hit right in time for my birthday. I was ready to embrace the nothingness, the world of white: roads closed, businesses closed. I’d already determined there are no restaurants north of Poughkeepsie open on Tuesday, so this solved the problem of what to do. We would hunker down. It would be fun, unless the power went out.

I felt like a kid waiting for snow day in the night. I kept peeking out the window expecting a dazzling snowglobe. Instead I kept seeing the same tire treads on the driveway. I’d treated myself to a new book from work, a bottle of bubbly, a chocolate bar. Eric had bought me a bottle too, and cooked a lamb casserole.

I would write, I would draw, I would play guitar. Watch movies. I went over the last several years of birthdays, and saw how I was often aimng high: there was Venice in 2008, Toulouse in 2009, back before I stopped having a credit card; the quest to find somewhere open to eat and the movie in an empty cinema in La Rochelle (2010). That awful gig in Angouleme where I had to argue with the owner to pay us what we’d agreed, she insisted we should have played three hours instead of two (doing gigs on your birthday can go a few different ways). Our first year in the US we were completely broke and stayed home eating pasta. The next year Eric’s daughter and granddaughter were visiting, we took them to the city and saw my daughter play when she still lived 1000 miles away. Last year it was bad coffee and getting recognized at Housing Works bookshop and a great Austrian meal on Ludlow Street – but we spent a fortune and I decided the next year we’d just have a great time somewhere up here.

I finally accept that having a birthday at the end of January sort of sucks, unless you live in Australia, because it’s always cold. Maybe that’s a major contributing factor to my personality – it is my birthright to be cranky!

I’m glad I’ve been keeping a blog for eight years now. As the years go faster and faster, because I’ve had so many of them, having it all written down helps me keep track of what happened.

Acceptance is a big part of adding another year to the pile. I see the anger and uncertainty in some of my older posts and think getting older is not a bad thing.


Time To Pour The Sake

They say a busy person gets more done – they do say that, right? I really hope so because this month for some reason I find myself working 4-5 shifts a week at the bookstore/bar. Why did I take on more shifts?

Maybe I was picturing the days of yore, two or was it three years ago when I first started working there, where I would drift around a peaceful store with a book in my hand, dreamily place it on a shelf.  I’d pour someone a beer, pick up another book. That was before Hudson became everyone’s favorite weekend and mid-week destination. We used to serve beer and two kinds of wine, red and white. Now there are ten wines, and even dreaded sake. Food to prepare and all the accompanying greasy dishes to wash. The tips are better but my cozy little slacker job feels like a full-time grind right now.

When I was driving to Hudson yesterday, a guy on a radio show was talking up his book about the good old days when artists like “Lucinda Williams…and, and Patti Smith!” worked in bookstores to get a foothold in the arts. “Quentin Tarantino worked in a video store!” How thanks to big corporations those days are gone, the little stores are gone, and artists are becoming hobbyists now because they’re not able to make a middle class wage publishing poetry or putting out records any more. I was clawing at the radio, practically driving the van off the Rip Van Winkle Bridge in exasperation – yes people don’t pay for music that much anymore and my quarterly BMI royalty check this week is half what my weekly bookstore paycheck is but I still have to believe I’m working for something greater. I wanted to grab the well-intentioned guy and say stop being a doomsayer and see individuals still coming up with new stuff and don’t equate having to do it in a different way than grandma or grandpa who had things like record deals, don’t equate that with failure. Can’t we see the job to make money part as the hobby and the work, the work goes on forever. same as it ever did?

And then I slung beer, wine and sake for eight hours and sold the occasional book. Talked about Hemingway with a customer. Wrote in my head. Came home with a wad of tip money. The warm cozy feeling has gone out of the place for me because my friend Karen isn’t there anymore. She lovingly ordered the books, rocked as a bartender, helped me get the job and we were compadres. Got to have someone to moan with – I miss her. At least we play music together now. There’s a Schoemer Formation show next week. It’s good to play again – even after all the touring my hand is out of condition for this stuff, it feels like a shriveled paw on the fretboard and keyboard. Must rehearse!

Got to keep up with the gym and yoga. I made a quick trip to the city last weekend and I hate to say, aside from the beautiful Matisse show the highlight was finding a pair of jeans at Uniqlo that fit me. Okay, maybe that was number one. Bette Midler in the elevator down from the Matisse exhibit, THEN the Matisse exhibit.

I have a goal to get to 100 pages for my draft revision by the end of February, I’m up to 40 so I still have a lot of work to do. How can I get anything done when I have to spend most of my waking hours hydrating my skin? Either moisturizing, drinking water, eating oily fish – this winter is killing me. And to think I didn’t go for living down south partly because of the humidity.

There’s an Eric & Amy show at our house at the end of this month, a Homemade Aeroplane January 31. We have a wonderful special guest coming over this weekend to work up a set with us, I am so excited – one of my favorite singers. Must rehearse!

The house looks like a tornado hit it and the laundry is piling up. Eric has been putting new cabinets and a counter in the kitchen, it’s beautiful but I swear everything we eat comes with a side of sawdust.

And before the end of the month, looking for that magic moment when the tire balance and check engine lights haven’t come on yet in the van so I can get it inspected. It can’t pass with the lights on. What repairs does it need? Maybe that’s why I’m working these extra shifts…

That’s enough of this list. Don’t you hate those “I’m so busy…” people? I’ve got to go open up the store.

Eric  & Amy’s Homemade Aeroplane Saturday January 31 Catskill, NY


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