Leaving Guatemala

(To the tune of Steve Martin in The Jerk…)

I don’t need anything from Guatemala or Mexico — just this alpaca wool blanket and that’s all I need. Just this alpaca blanket, this woven guitar strap and that’s it, that’s all I need! Just this alpaca blanket, guitar strap, a pottery mug and a blouse embroidered with roses and that’s it. Just this pottery mug, some flowy Guatemala pants, a necklace from Manuel down by the municipal beach and that’s all I need. Just these albums by artists I met at the Guitar Fest, this poem, the song I wrote in Mexico and a woven cotton blanket, the alpaca blanket and this pouch from Maria of San Marcos and that’s it — that’s all I need.

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Just these memories and photos of sunrises at Lake Atitlan, email addresses of the women I met at Joyce Maynard’s writing workshop, this book revision, and a beaded woven bag from that little stall next to the dock in San Marcos, and that’s all I need. A bright blue embroidered dress I can’t wear because the dye runs, twenty words of Spanish, a love for Mexico and Guatemala, memories of boat rides and lake swims and tuk tuks and sunset at La Ropa and that’s all, really — that’s all I need. This clip of me and Joyce singing her song the last night in Guatemala and the blister on my foot and the last boat ride across Lake Atitlan and that’s all I need…

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Amy Rigby on tour

  • Sun Mar 31   Woodstock NY    Colony Cafe tickets
  • Fri Apr 5        Brooklyn NY       El Cortez w/the John Sally Ride tix
  • Sat Apr 6        Baltimore MD     An Die Musik
  • Sun Apr 7      Reading PA          house concert email for info
  • Fri Apr 12      Delaware OH      Pat Cave @ Endangered Species info
  • Mon Apr 15   SiriusXM radio   Today show w/Hoda Kotb 1 – 2 pm
  • Fri May 10     Bordentown NJ  Randy Now’s info & tickets
  • Sat May 11     No Andover MA Crossroads Music Series tickets
  • Thu May 23   Brighton UK        Prince Albert tickets
  • Sun May 26   Malmo Sweden   Folk e Rock info
  • Fri Jun 7         Phila PA               Dawson St Pub
  • Sat Jun 8         Montclair NJ       Outpost in the Burbs 4:30 PM show! tickets

Postcard from Lake Atitlan

I wish I could write about Guatemala.

I’m up with the fishermen this morning. I’m up with the fishermen every morning in Guatemala. They sit on the silent lake, solo in their simple wooden boats. I smell weed, hear dogs barking in the hills, and birds sing just above my head, spread out in the branches of an ancient tree.

A boat, launchos they’re called, crosses the lake in the distance, carrying people to work or school in a larger town. Here on the shore, the water laps softly.

I’m staying in Casa de Lesly. I don’t know who Lesly is, but her house is cool. It’s circular, made of adobe and brick with a wooden ceiling and tiled roof. Not fancy – my bed sits on a base of brick, like a flower bed. But there are massive windows that open out towards the lake, and a beautiful tile floor that feels cool and smooth under my bare feet. Bright cushions, striped Guatemalan fabrics on chairs and day beds, and a big wooden table and benches with a coarse grain worn smooth by time, hands, legs, meals. In the corner (there really isn’t a corner, remember, it’s a round house) rather, at the edge of a day bed is a big stringed instrument, shaped almost like a boat. I pluck one of the nylon strings and can’t believe the depth and resonance of the note that rings out. I pluck the string next to it, which is more slack, and in a lower register I make out a note, the imperfect compliment to the full resonant one. I keep playing the two notes in rhythm. I’m not even sure if the second note IS a note – if it’s in tune, anything. I tighten the string but then the note is wrong, too high, so I loosen the string until that deep bass sound comes back, reminding me of a motel room in Bakersfield where I woke at 6 am to a similar sound. “Who’s playing bass this early in the morning?” I wondered. Over and over the note vibrated, until I realized it was – the sound of a man snoring.

I wish I could write about Guatemala.

There are so many things to say. Tuk tuk rides and boat rides, these intense physical excursions where your whole body is rattled and bounced up the side of a mountain on a rocky unpaved road, or projected across waves so the entire boatload of people are casually hanging on for dear life. Fuzzy hippie travelers contrast with the local women impeccably dressed in woven skirts, patterned belts, hair smooth and shiny. Ballet slippers on their feet. Miguel and Mateo, who work for my friend Joyce, sling my bag or a pile of firewood on their shoulders, moving gracefully up and down stone steps on the side of the mountain all day, fixing things, making things lovely, shaping bamboo and flowers, wood and stone. I try to speak Spanish and sometimes I’m trying so hard my arms start flapping and I feel like I’ll fly away. We laugh.

I talk to Eric on the phone. He’s in England cleaning out his mother’s house. “I hear Bexhill on Sea is very nice,” he says every time I tell him about some other wonder of Guatemala. We laugh. I’d love for him to see this place.

I wish I could write about Guatemala. I’d need to mention Joyce, how she brings women here from all over to work on their writing. They tell their stories and she coaches and helps guide them. Joyce can be tough with people, but there’s no “Is that the blue you’re using?” (see Hollywood’s Eve, a sort of exploration of Eve Babitz) or “You’ll never be an artist” (Old In Art School, Nell Painter) – the type of comments that can undermine confidence and stop people from even bothering to try and create. Why should there be those kind of snobby comments? Every other person you meet in Guatemala is an artist – a woman weaves fabric right on the sidewalk, a guy sews trousers and blouses to order in between putting people on and off the launchos, the dock a few feet away from his sewing machine.

I’ve been an admirer of Joyce Maynard’s for years, since her article an 18 Year Old Looks Back at Life appeared, and then her column Domestic Affairs. That column was a revelation to me. I’d grown up reading Erma Bombeck and Peg Bracken in my mother’s magazines Woman’s Day and Family Circle. Writing about doing housework and kids and being a mom was relegated to the rack next to the supermarket checkout, so it really struck me to read Joyce talk about cooking and craft projects and family in the mighty New York Times. It gave me freedom, along with songs by Loretta Lynn and Loudon Wainwright, to write about those domestic experiences of my own. I feel honored and grateful to be here in Guatemala thanks to Joyce, who I first corresponded with back in the early 2000’s and have been friends with for years now. I listen to the women’s stories here and share some of my own. I held hands with my housemates Bree and Emily this morning and waded into Lake Atitlan, when the fishermen had gone. We supported each other over the slippery paving stones, into the cool water, surrounded by beauty, talking about our lives.

I wish I could write about Guatemala. I guess I just did?

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shows coming up:

  • Sun Mar 31   Woodstock NY*   Colony Cafe  tix
  • Fri Apr 5     Brooklyn NY  El Cortez (w/The John Sally Ride) tix
  • Sat Apr 6     Baltimore MD  An Die Musik Folkal Point Concert
  • Sun Apr 7    Reading PA  house concert 3 PM email for info
  • Fri Apr 12   Delaware OH The Pat Cave info
  • Sat May 11  No. Andover MA Crossroads Music Series info
  • Thu May 23  Brighton UK   Prince Albert tickets
  • Sun May 26  Malmo Sweden Folk å Rock tix
  • Fri Jun 7    Philadelphia PA  Dawson St Pub*
  • Sat Jun 8    Montclair NJ   Outpost In The Burbs*

*w/Eric Goulden – bass, Doug Wygal – drums

Every Day I Wash The Dress

I probably shouldn’t have washed the dress in the first place. It was just – so blue.

I bought it because it was blue. I bought it because in the Zihuatanejo market, in the stall of Analillia, it made me look alive instead of the way I resembled an old winter coat every time I looked at myself in the mirror.

It’s one of those cotton Mexican dresses with the bright flowers embroidered down the front. It felt a little too much of a transition from my NY winter black wardrobe, but I wanted to buy something from this sweet person, I liked her taste, in amongst all the stalls in the market, and I’ve always wanted one of those dresses.

When I got it back to my simple little hotel room, with an ancient TV and a lawn chair for furniture, a room that I would resent horribly in the US but that feels quite homey and correct here in Mexico, I turned on the shower. I have yet to feel the“hot water” this place advertises, but it hasn’t mattered – any shower I’ve taken has been to cool off and rinse away sweat from walking around in the brilliant sun and eighty five degrees.

I love Zihuatanejo! I love Mexico. I’d never been here until three days ago and didn’t know what to expect. I was worried I’d built it up in my mind too much – this place I would get to when I reached a certain point in my life, a place I’d enjoy and call my own in a different way than those other places I love like New York and Los Angeles and London and Chicago and and – they’re all big cities. I don’t have any experience with different kinds of travel. It’s always seemed too daunting to me, I like my comfort. I’m not a snob but I’m not that tough either. I can’t camp. Not yet anyways. I hate to think we’re set in one way and can’t break out and have new experiences. But I like to fix my hair and put on makeup, I like hot showers, I like all cotton sheets.

I can’t really fix my hair in Zihuatanejo. There’s no hair dryer and even if there was, it would be curling and frizzing the minute I stepped outside. I don’t know who I am without fixing my hair but I’m aiming for Thelma or Louise. They’re my go to’s for that moment where you say fuck it and tie a wet rag around your neck.

Anyways, back to the dress. I thought it made sense to rinse it in the shower, to soften up the cotton a little and..just in case the blue dye ran. I didn’t want to walk out in the heat and end up covered in blue dye.

Thank god this bathroom tile is sort of putty colored. There’s been a lot of blue dye. If this were a black and white movie, it’d be a scene from a low-budget remake of Psycho here. Lots of dye running down the drain. Lots of dye.

A wet cotton dress weighs a lot as I stand there twisting and wringing to squeeze out the water and dye and get it on a hanger. Yes, maybe this was a mistake to wash the dress, but imagine if I’d gone out walking in it?

I washed it again today and hung it on a hanger to dry, near the window in the shower. The maid knocked on the door. No, es limpia, gracias, I kept her from coming in and accepted a clean towel. I couldn’t let her see the dress, thinking she’d either laugh or tell me how to wash it but I wouldn’t understand. She would be so lovely and kind, like everyone I’ve met here has been. But I have to take these things slowly.

It’s been really good arm exercise. And there was a little less dye today. Tomorrow I’ll wait until after the maid comes to wash the dress again. Now I’m going to the beach to try and get a little color on my skin. When I come back, I’ll put the dress away until tomorrow’s washing ritual.

Did I mention I came here to play music? I’ve done two gigs and written a song already. Had a wonderful Mexican guitarist Javier Rojas play on a song with me last night at a luxury resort in Ixtapa – we sat side by side on white chairs and it was surreal. I liked the sound of our guitars bouncing back to us across the grass and fancy cabanas. Javier plays with his foot on a stool in the classic style, in an immaculate white cotton shirt. The night before that I played in front of a thousand or so people with all the musicians from the festival doing short sets.

But that’s the world I know and roll with, the world of music.

It’s the cultural code I have to crack. That’s where I’m a neophyte. How to shop in the market. How to order a taco. When and how to wash a dress.

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Oh…Mexico

I played these two shows in Hudson and New York City, they made me feel so good. I felt lifted up and excited and ready for…Mexico.

I’ve wanted to visit Mexico forever – long been a fan of the handcrafts, the culture, the food, and pretty much any person from that country I’ve had the good fortune to work with. I finally got a gig there, a week in Zihuatanejo at the Zihua Guitar Fest. It suddenly occurred to me about three weeks ago, good lord, I’m going to Mexico! This snowy winter, I’d looked longingly at music folks I know having a blast at 30A Songwriters Fest in Florida, or the Outlaw Country Cruise or Cayamo and thought “aren’t I vacation-paradise worthy?” Then I remembered I was going to Mexico.

One of my brothers, who’s traveled to Cancun and even golfed at Hilton Head gave me pause: “Look, don’t be surprised if people start drinking on the 8 AM flight.” And “Do you know any Jimmy Buffett tunes…just in case?” I told him I didn’t think it was that kind of festival, but just in case, yes I have long played Margaritaville, in private at least. Buffett is cool, yes I said it. I guess you could say I’m even a closet Kenny Chesney fan. This attitude will serve me well, right, on the beach in Mexico?

Finally got my Gibson back from the repair guy. It had been almost four months. Such a long time, I’d forgotten what it felt like to love an acoustic guitar. I’d tried really hard with the sub I bought and had come to grips with it, but wow it was like a slow motion scene from a movie, when I lifted the renewed guitar out of its case and the two of us were reunited. Oh good, I thought – I’m going to play you – in Mexico.

Then I started worrying about flying with the guitar, and all the variables of international travel. I weighed whether to risk it or not…right now I’m leaning to taking the Gibson, in an indestructible case, just in case, I mean – how often do I get to play in…Mexico?

I had a super-stressful experience at the dentist the other day. First, they were playing Joe Cocker in the waiting room. Now I love Joe – but that is some emotional music and not what you need to de-stress before heading in to see the dentist. Things have gone awry at our dental practice and dentists have been coming and going at an alarming rate. My dear Dr. Smith is gone with no explanation. I’d been scheduled and rescheduled and this time, was greeted by an unfamilar dentist whose name I didn’t catch. An older Papa Hemingway type. “It says here you need fillings?”

I practically flew out of the chair. I’ve had one cavity in my life, the year I lived in England and ate Cadbury Fruit & Nut to add something healthy to my diet. “No, no fillings!” I shouted.”I just need…filling.” We went back and forth in a silly Who’s on First routine: “You don’t need fillings”, “I just need filling” (which sounded…weird. It’s a periodontal thing). I found myself saying “I don’t feel comfortable about this!” when he came at me, just to look, he promised. He told me I looked perfect, I ran out of the office and thought “I’m going to find Dr. Smith, she’s down in Westchester I just know it – I’ll find her, as soon as I get back from (you guessed it) Mexico.

Then there was a Saturday night bar shift I agreed to cover for somebody, and the big blowhard who was sitting in the center of the bar loudly ranking a list of female singer songwriters his lady friend was pulling up on her phone: “Joan Jett?” “Uh – no?” “Edie Brickell?” “Yeah, like twenty years ago maybe.” (Indecipherable) “No, face is below average. But-“ brightening – “she does have world class tits.” It turns out, according to Mr. Charisma, it’s important to respect the talent of these women FIRST AND FOREMOST, but at the same time, it is also necessary to want to DEVOUR THEM.  This a day after the New York Times story about Ryan Adams. Is it acceptable, in this type of circumstance, for a bartender to dump a pitcher of beer over the head of a customer? I slammed pint glasses into soapy water…and thought of Mexico.

More snow came on Monday and I shoveled and cursed the frozen picnic table out back, the dusty Weber grill in the breezeway. When I get to Me- oh wait, I started worrying. How am I getting to Mexico? I pulled up the info for a flight that leaves at some crazy early hour in the morning and returns in the middle of the night a week later. Wait, why did I want to go to Mexico?

Back at the bookstore/bar yesterday, I lost the key to the cash register drawer. Just – it disappeared.  “Sorry, sir, we can’t take your money, because…the drawer’s locked.” As I searched and searched for the key, a lady kept waving a children’s book at me, telling me she was a local author and had autographed it and shouldn’t it be displayed somewhere people could see it because “it’s autographed!” I tried to smile and be encouraging while I crawled on the floor with a flashlight, and when she asked me to please order her new book for the store and then barked at me that surely the public demanded that we order AT LEAST TWO, I gritted my teeth and…that’s right (insert sound of lapping waves, Spanish guitars here).

At home, Eric was nice and made me a cup of tea and I felt sad that he wasn’t going with me to Mexico.

In a few short weeks I’ll be back and there’ll be other things to endure and things to look forward to. I’ll find Dr. Smith, I’ll get a new used car, my book will be revised and edited, I’ll have more gigs. But life will have a certain flair to it, a vibe I never had access to before. I’ll be who I was but…I’ll have been to…and played music in…Mexico.

Dates and tickets available here

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My First Diary

Remember those green leatherette books with the little lock and key? I still have mine from when I was eight. And somewhere out on the internet, there still exists the first online diary I wrote back in January 1999, twenty years ago this week. It was Warren Zevon’s birthday yesterday. Can’t believe he’s been gone for years. Touring is easier now than it was back then, what with iphones and food and coffee culture that isn’t limited to the very big cities. I’m shocked at the amount of fast food I used to eat. At how much Oprah I used to watch. At how new it all felt to me, both the solo touring and the writing.

This is from the first part of the trip.

DIARY OF A ROAD HOUSEWIFE, PART 1

1999

What I’m driving: a red Ford Contour

What I’m listening to: Mott the Hoople, P.F. Sloan, Dan Hicks, Beth Orton, Dwight Yoakam, bad country radio, Replacements

What I’m eating: Cracker Barrel, McDonald’s, Warren’s deli tray when he’s onstage

What I’m reading: road atlas

What I’m wearing: the same damn thing every night – I miss all my shoes!

Notes:

You must remember, the midwest has the worst coffee in the country (this greatly affects my demeanor on the road). To make matters worse, in the heart of dairyland they lighten their coffee with a substance referred to as “cream”. We all know it as 100% synthetic, never-been-anywhere-near-a-cow non-dairy creamer. I find this practice to be reprehensible, and make it a point of filling the largest possible container of coffee, asking for the milk, and when I’m directed to the “cream”, slamming the coffee down on the counter and walking out. I know, a real rebel would fling the coffee in someone’s face but my idea of trashing a hotel room is throwing all the dirty towels on the floor, so I do what I can…

I’ve noticed that once a person’s reached a certain age, the art of grooming is all that separates the desireables from the undesireables. Well-parted hair can make the difference between a welcoming “Hello, may I help you” and the look that says “I’m one step away from calling security”. Sport clothes also separate the haves from the have-nots. Try taking a walk in any mid-sized American city or suburb wearing your usual coat, pants and boots. I assure you, the guys hanging out by the bus shelter will welcome you as one of their own, while “respectable citizens” will scurry to their cars and lock the doors audibly as you pass by. Try the same stroll in full workout regalia, preferably with headphones (don’t worry about attaching them to anything) and you’ll get appreciative nods all around and even an occasional thumbs up.

I’m sad to report that they’re doing away with the heat lamps in hotel and motel bathrooms. Could someone please explain this to me? They used to help a weary traveller in several ways: Having a large, exposed bulb a few feet away actually does keep you warmer; the ticking of the timer is a comforting , white-noise sound that helps you “come down” from the effects of prolonged driving; and most importantly, after several hours/days/weeks on the road, you can turn to face yourself in the mirror without being too frightened of what you’re about to see.

The proliferation of Cracker Barrels on this nation’s highways and byways is leading to a shocking phenomenon: they are running out of “old-time” junk to hang on the walls! Check it out next time you stop off at one of these reliable but irritating restaurants. Where once every available square inch of wall space was covered with rusted, splintering oxen yokes and metal advertising signs for brands of soda pop no one ever heard of, it’s now reaching the point where they’ll use a white paper doily with a red ribbon attached to give that country store feel. There just aren’t enough ancient class photographs to go around anymore.Diary 1999

My trip began on January 19 when I flew from New York to Minnesota to hook up with Warren Zevon, who’d played Governor Ventura’s inauguration a few days before. That date was not part of my itinerary!

January 20 Minneapolis

Spent the day switching back and forth between the impeachment proceedings and the porn channel (I swear this stuff is better scrambled, where you’re trying to figure out what the hell is going on). Met Warren himself very briefly at the soundcheck – he looked tanned and healthy and kindly extended his hand to me in greeting. They were having some sort of guitar problem, tho, so he appeared a little worried. A late show, so the crowd was well on their way to being inebriated by the time I got on stage. It was fun to play for such a rowdy bunch. A very male audience, sort of the anti-Lilith? Even Jesse Governor Ventura was there.

January 21 Milwaukee

Nobody ever says what a cool-looking town this is. The show was at Shank Hall – named for the legendary venue where Spinal Tap rocked Milwaukee. Again, a lot of guys, a lot of beer. The Zevon crowd is interesting – it’s mainly near-middle-aged men who appear to be exhausted by the quest for sensitivity and really savor the opportunity to let out a few he-man yells in a “safe” environment – I love it!

January 22 Madison

One of my favorite towns, and in winter the hotels are damn cheap! Banged myself in the head with my guitar (at soundcheck no less) so I knew it would be a good show. Such a sweet audience (more gals this time) and two university professors nearly came to blows in the lobby over my last CD. Had a great martini in the Tornado Room w/fellow mod housewife Norma Coates.

January 23 Chicago

Tried to walk down to the lake in Madison but had to literally hold onto the sides of the buildings to keep from sliding down the hill – so this is why the hotel’s so cheap…Got lost on the way to soundcheck in Chicago – why is it that nobody can giver proper directions in this town? Tip: Never ask 2-3 guys in a sport utility vehicle for directions. Ditto cops and gas station attendants. That leaves…who? The Park West has the nicest staff of just about any club. Too bad my dressing room was also the only entrance to the supply cellar. The staff at the Park West and I are on very familiar terms now. My friends Kit & Ted made the drive up from St. Louis. Kit swears she saw the guy from Dawson’s Creek in the audience. I broke a string in a very bad place on what was going to be the last song. Couldn’t break it off and couldn’t keep playing. Recovered, barely, to play one more song minus the low E. No CD’s to sell but enjoyed hanging out afterwards. Got a stupid parking ticket, though, which I plan to fight – they don’t know who they’re dealing with (I’m 3 for 5 in getting NYC parking tickets dismissed or reduced!)

January 24 Pontiac, MI

Checked out of the hotel to find the name “Jerry Springer” on my receipt. “What’s this all about?” I inquired. I guess the grooming habits and general demeanor of me and my pals had us pegged as guests of the Springer show! Rushing to find a quick breakfast place with parking (yet another racket Chicago has going) we somehow ended up in the hell that is Ed Debevic’s. Upon entering this “fun” place, we immediately dispatched Ted to the Hooters across the street to see if they had any eggs (besides the obvious ones). He came back shaking his head so we ended up choking down dry turkey sandwiches and praying that we wouldn’t be forced to wear balloon crowns. At the table behind us a whimpering child cowered before her birthday cupcake as a group of waitresses bellowed “Happy Birthday” and then moved on to the next victim.

Halfway to Pontiac I remembered the time change and realized I was going to be an hour late. I got completely lost just outside of town and winded up heading in the wrong direction on the interstate, tears streaming down my face as I berated myself for being too cheap to get a cell phone. A kindly old gent in a Burger King put his arm around me, drew me a map and sent me back out into the night. When I pulled up at the club, there was a line of people around the block. Turns out Warren had done the same thing and was just finishing his soundcheck! I gave just about everything I had left on stage and drove to a motel outside of town to recover from the day, dreaming of butch waitresses in cat-eye glasses and the Silverdome.

January 25 and 26 Pontiac/Columbus

Woke up to a perfect anonymous snow-covered landscape outside the window of my perfectly anonymous motel on a snow-covered road in You-Could-Be-Anywhere, U.S.A. No show tonight or tomorrow. All I had to look forward to was finding the nearest mall and watching Oprah, which was fine with me. The local mall provided me with all the necessities: Mailboxes, Etc., T.J. Maxx and what must be a local establishment, the Gander Factory (which I at first mistook for the Gender Factory but then remembered I was in Michigan, not Manhattan). Isn’t it wonderful how even the lamest strip mall now contains a Borders or Barnes & Noble superstore? I dined at McDonald’s, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut, consecutively, which I believe constitutes the triple-crown of fast-food eating if all items are consumed within one twelve-hour period.

Bored after a day of this, I decided to press on to Columbus, which seemed downright cosmopolitan in comparison. I took in a movie and looked forward to the next night’s show.

January 27 Columbus

My birthday. My 40th birthday. I felt pretty spry. Had lunch with the Koch sales rep, Gerald Moss, who’s always been a big help in figuring out where to go and what to avoid in Columbus. Went over to WCBE for a radio interview with Max Faulkner. We were chatting on the air when someone handed him a piece of paper that said (in black magic marker) “Warren is sick. Tonight’s show is cancelled.” And then in red marker, as an afterthought I guess “Amy does not know this.” I couldn’t conceal my disappointment. I couldn’t help but mention on the air that this was my birthday and I did not want to spend it alone in a motel room. The promoter called in and said she had organized a show for me at a smaller club, the Thirsty Ear. It was one of the weirdest, best nights of my life, with the club owner wheeling a cake onstage and 100 strangers singing happy birthday. I’d really wanted to spend my birthday playing a show and even with forces conspiring against me it happened. I downed two shots of Jack Daniels (it took me about 2 1/2 hours) and called it a day.

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I looked high and low for a picture from a show back in 1999 – that’s another thing that’s changed, everything is more documented now. So I’m posting the cover image for new single The President Can’t Read debuting on The Big Takeover site next Fri Feb 1 and available right around then too. I thought if I waited long enough this song would be obsolete, as I wrote it a month after the inauguration. I’ll be playing two shows for the release, Fri Feb 1 at Spotty Dog in Hudson NY & Tues Feb 5 at Mercury Lounge NYC. You can buy tickets for the Mercury here. Thank you for reading this online diary of mine – twenty years old this week!

Old In Bar Stools

“Hey, did you know this bar stool’s broken? Better not let anybody sit there!”

I’m having a deja vu moment at the bookstore/bar. I’ve been here so long I’ve seen it all before, at least twice. Who knew wooden stools were so…fragile? This crop is probably third generation since I started working at this place, was it seven years ago?

There was a period where I clocked coworkers, but as time moves on so do my fellow fellows behind the bar and the old team and the one after that and the next one starts to disappear into the mists of time like one of those scenes from an army movie where a photo fades out, fallen soldier by fallen soldier, til there’s just one bedraggled corporal standing, smiling hopefully like everybody is still there as they were back at the beginning.

Oh shit – that corporal is me.

“Are you the oldest one who works here?” Charles asked me last night. He didn’t mean any offense. He’s a customer who comes in to drink a soda and laugh at cartoons on his phone for a few hours. He knows more about television than any human I’ve ever met.

He’d started his evening across the bar with “Is Ethel still alive?”

From…I Love Lucy? I don’t think so…her real name was um…Vivian?

“Vance,” Charles didn’t even pause. “Was she the oldest of them, on the show? Or maybe Fred? He looked older, right. Is he still alive?”

He sat laughing at his phone and I served the customers and it was a nice night. I played this Marianne Faithfull album I love that will forever be the Spotty Dog to me. Is Marianne the oldest now I wondered? I know she has a new album out and it’s ballsy the way her cane is featured in the cover photo. Marianne makes canes cool but I don’t want one. God, not yet.

I’m kind of in a Charles mode myself lately. I can’t help it, I’m about to turn sixty. Sometimes I’m very much facing it head on, other times sneaking up to it sideways looking at other women my age or older to see what it’s like. So when Nicky came into the bar, I was all eyes and ears. She was dressed in a rust-colored suede sheepskin coat with a hood, fluffy fur mittens on her hands. Long blonde tresses, cheekbones like Joni Mitchell. She kind of looked like Joni Mitchell and I guessed was about the same age – mid-seventies.

When she spoke in a vaguely English accent, I had another deja vu moment: this other fabulous looking older woman some years back, blond hair, English accent, rich hippie clothes she wore so well you knew it was no affectation, she’d been to Morocco. Kind of posh and kind of mad in the English way ie crazy. Talked a girl she met at the bar into accompanying her to England to clear out a house and it all went so wrong I’ve been afraid of the day she walks back in. She was scary enough before.

Nicky talked some sense and some nonsense and asked for mayonaise for her empanada. She went outside to smoke a cigarette. These ladies all started to run together in my mind and somebody else mentioned broken bar stool and Marianne croaked “I found him by the stage last night, he was breathing his last breath…a bottle of wine and a cigarette was all that he had left” and I needed a flashlight to read the letters on a Caran d’Ache pencil to enter it into inventory. One of the beer taps splashed me in the face and I could see my eye makeup run in the bar mirror and for a second I felt very Sunset Boulevard.

“Do you have a pencil, love?” said Nicky.

When all the other customers were gone and I was sweeping the floor, Charles kept asking me about my age. “Are you older than…Amanda? Are you older than…Sara? The owners? Everybody?

Yes, yes, yes and yes.

“Are you older than…me?”

How old are you, Charles?

“Thirty-two.  How old are you?”

I said it: sixty, in less than two weeks.

“Why are you still working?”

He got me at a moment with beer on my shirt, a dustpan in my hand, picking somebody’s soggy tissue up off the floor. I wasn’t sure so I spoke it first and then knew it to be true: “Because I love it.”

 

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I’m playing The Spotty Dog Friday Feb 1, release date for The President Can’t Read single + Tuesday Feb 5 at Mercury Lounge NYC tickets

Turn Down Day

I’ve hardly worked a shift in three months at the bookstore/bar but I walk in feeling under the weather on the afternoon of Christmas eve like oh I’ve done this before, not a big deal. And it’s true I’ve worked many a day before the holiday at this place, for some reason my shifts always seem to fall on them. But maybe I have been away too long because lines of people are approaching the register with piles of books and socks and toys and I feel like an alien or a French peasant plucked out of the countryside and dropped into a teeming retail planet. The phone rings every two minutes with somebody asking for a) Salt Fat Acid Heat or b) that Lin-Manuel Miranda book or c) do we have the Frederick Douglass biography? No, yes and no I quickly learn.

Eric stops by and asks what I want to do for dinner and I’m too distracted to answer and anyway there’s this nagging, cloying sound overhead and I have to turn it off immediately – it’s some Spotify mix and I realize with satisfaction as I wrench the bluetooth away that it’s Ryan Adams dueting with somebody so I feel like I’ve done a public service when I shove a CD into the player and finger snaps and Roger Miller starts singing “Trailer for sale or rent, rooms to let fifty cents” and the whole place perks up immediately because Roger Miller fixes the air in a room.

But CDs don’t go on forever so at some point I put in the Tom Tom Club that’s laying there and that adds a faint touch of hysteria to the proceedings as people perch on barstools with their purchases and sip beers. I’m working with a new co-worker and we don’t have the ballet down yet, that effortless dip and twist you get in the trench with not enough room as you move up and back and spell each other, it takes a little practice or maybe I’m just out of practice, so every few feet we bump into each other and say “sorry!” and “oh excuse me” or “whoops!”  I’m wrapping another Lin-Manuel Miranda book and wait – is that pita burning in the toaster oven? I slide down to the other end of the bar, fling olives in a bowl and hummus on a plate, the Tom Tom Club is getting old so I rip that out of the player and grab a compilation CD which starts out brilliantly with an 80s country version of Tainted Love and all of a sudden the barstools are filling up with French peasants- I mean people from Quebec – they are puzzling over what to drink and what to eat (easy, that last pita was the last pita) as if they’ve never been outside of Quebec…maybe they haven’t?

“Did a bus from Canada break down?” a regular hanging in there at the end of the bar asks.

Then Maggot Brain comes on. Through ten and a half minutes of twisted, molting guitar the Quebecois drink their ciders and teas and beers like glassy-eyed children at a grownups’ party and I can’t help it, I speak French so I hear the anguished debate about how much to tip the bartender. I head back down to the register praying c’mon Funkadelic, do your stuff, and sure enough when the guitar notes fade out the busload is gone, down Warren Street with their confusion and solidarity.

And the sales wind down and the owner and I close the bar early as people head out searching, hoping there’ll be room at the inn-I mean any restaurant in town because word has gone out that only three remain open and if you didn’t book a reservation well tough luck – it’s the holidays!

The morning after Christmas I come into the bookstore/bar and turn on the lights and pop in a little music and for a minute it’s just me and the books and we’re all having a moment together, me and Jeff and Michelle and that angry Donald Trump and yep, ole Lin-Manuel Miranda and it’s bliss. But then I hear tapping on the front door glass –

“Hey, it’s eleven o’clock – are you guys open?”