Matt Domino returns from his own All-Star break with a post that explains what Billy Joel, Jeremy Lin, the Knicks, Long Island and moving in New York City all have in common. Trust him.
New York is a basketball town until I see otherwise. The Yankees may have won 27 World Series Championships, but New York isn’t New York unless the Knicks are playing well. The Yankees are the older brother who is beyond reproach: he’s done so well for so many years, received so many awards that there is a certain level of excitement, romance and charm missing. The Knicks are all charisma, passion and charm. They are loved not because of their lack of achievement—the city has seen them at their best—but because New Yorkers know that things are simply different when the Knicks matter.
New Yorkers also love Billy Joel; and Long Islanders love Billy Joel even more. Through his saccharine ballads and over-the-top rockers, somehow Billy Joel has been able to capture the imagination of New Yorkers over the years. Maybe it's the song titles; maybe it's the way the tunes are used in movies; maybe it's the fact that Billy played a legendary run of shows at the Garden even when he was way past his prime; maybe its because he was such a drunk; or maybe its because his songs get so maudlin that you just feel drunk. No matter the reasoning, there is some appeal New Yorkers seem to find in the music. Springsteen is the state symbol for New Jersey and Springsteen is far better than Billy Joel; but Springsteen isn’t “New Jersey” in the way that Billy Joel is “Long Island” and “New York.” Springsteen transcends his roots, while Billy Joel, or his music, seems to roll and revel in even the worst parts of the place he came from.
I don’t like Billy Joel, but I’ve been known to listen to some of his hits. Sometimes, because I live in Brooklyn, I listen to them ironically; and other times, because I am a sap, I listen to them with sincere appreciation. I don’t like living in the past, but I have written about Youth and my Youth plenty of times. I’ve treated it with irony and I’ve treated it with sincerity and I’m about to address it once again.
I just moved apartments. For the past four years, I have been living in Williamsburg watching my friends play in bands, work on food trucks and in cafes and chase rock n’ roll artsy chicks while I worked in unfulfilling offices and sought true love with a longtime college flame and then with a co-worker I put on a pedestal. I first arrived to Brooklyn seeing myself as a 1966 Dylan or a 1946 Kerouac—a whirlwind of artistic ambition and trendsetting. Instead, I have come to see myself as a poor-man’s Levin: simultaneously part of the modern world, yet terribly out of touch with it and all the time looking for spiritual understanding. Now, with this move, like Levin, I am taking to the country, or as New Yorkers might call it, Carroll Gardens. I’m living in a studio now. I’m 26, and as you get older in New York, if you’re creative, you move further south in Brooklyn. You move neighborhood by neighborhood as each life phase rises and passes until there is nowhere else to go but out of the city. But that kind of large-scale generalization is not for me. I just wanted to live alone. I do well for myself that way.
My friend Rich just moved up to Westchester, but he never lived in New York. He lives alone in the basement of a house owned by an old Italian couple. Rich and I grew up together on Long Island and we knew guys who would play the piano break from “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant” at parties; and our friends would buy pot and beer with those guys.
The weekend before I moved out of my apartment, I went up to visit Rich in Rye Brook. I had a nice beer on the Metro North and tried to flirt with a girl who was riding home from work in the city. The flirting didn’t take and the ride was short and soon enough I got off in Rye after less than an hour. Rich was at the station.
“Time for the tour,” he said in the car.
We drove through quiet Rye and then along the old, windy roads. We passed a gothic apartment building that reminded me of Rosemary’s Baby. We passed a high school that looked like an Ivy League college. I saw the light in the school’s gymnasium and wanted to play basketball badly. I wanted to be in the gym, in basketball shorts on the wood floor, running and shooting. I wanted it so much that I felt I could cry. Instead, I thought about beer.
Rich showed me a closed road and told me that he used to be able to go straight to his grandparents’ home up that road before a giant tree fell and ruined it. He tried to show me how he’d walk through the woods to the road and then get into downtown Rye. I couldn’t see anything in the dark, but I believed him and we kept driving. We spun through Rye Brook, past his office, into Portchester where vague Spanish music played and then back up to Rich’s apartment. His apartment was neat, which is what I expected. He had paintings on the wall that we had hauled in the middle of the night from Washington D.C. to Brooklyn three years ago. There were clean, shiny wood sculptures next to his TV, which was 3D. The kitchen was spotless.
“Time for the bourbon tasting,” Rich said.
He pulled out three bottles of bourbon of varying qualities from a little, antique wood cabinet. We drank the premium bourbon followed by the grade above that. When those had been dispatched, he poured the good one in.
“Let’s sit on the recliners. You need to see where you’re sleeping.”
We sat on the comfortable leather couch and placed the seats in recline.
“Don’t let anyone take your spot,” he said.
We sat, sipped the bourbon and put on the 3D glasses. We turned on the Knicks game. They were losing to New Orleans at the Garden. Linsanity was hitting its first bump in the road, even though Jeremy himself was having a fairly impressive game once again. While we watched, Rich told me about his work and about living he alone. I was feeling drunk and warm and liked listening to him talk about things relating to business and money.
“Oh,” Rich said suddenly.” Have a guarana pill. And some ginseng too. That’ll give you more energy for tonight.”
All I could do was trust him, so I took the vitamins. We broke into beers and then our other childhood friends arrive too, so we started on more beers. Then the vodka came out and our voices began to rise; the jokes tumbled out easier. All of a sudden I was funny in the moment—my New York brooding had come undone. I was making jokes to the cap dispatcher as we called in a taxi to take us to White Plains.
It was a cold night and the cab dropped us on Mamaroneck Avenue. We went to a bad bar and played darts. We left that bar and I needed food, so we stopped in for some bad pizza. As I chewed through the doughy crust, I felt like a college sophomore and tried to quickly get over that sensation. We continued on, looking for the next place to drink. My friend decided to go into a bar that was adjoined to the bar next-door by a large, heated tent at the back of the building. The bars were connected under this canopy as though it were a wedding or a bah mitzvah. We got drinks and then more drinks. My one friend started picking up girls by pretending it was Rich’s birthday. They were dumb, the music was loud and I was drunk and feeling distant from everything that was happening around me, from people who enjoyed this kind of life—which was two steps removed from The Jersey Shore—and even from myself, who I was as a 26 year old in the prime of his life. I take things too seriously and being drunk at that moment was no different. I slogged through a never-ending vodka tonic and all of a sudden it was 3:00 AM and I was in a cab with my friends.
Then it was 10:00 AM and the landlord was knocking on Rich’s door. After a few stubborn rings of the doorbell, he finally left us alone. We slept until noon when Rich stirred and started cleaning his kitchen. One of my friends was really feeling his hangover, so Rich set him up with tea and herbal vitamins while we all cleaned, showered and opened the windows.
While our friend recuperated, we went to Rich’s office to take a tour. We drove across a moat to approach the large, white building—almost like a fortress—where Rich worked. We parked and rode the elevator up. There were vacant looking desks with computers.
“One guy here just shares the office space to get away from his wife. He just shows up and watches TV.”
Rich pointed to another office.
“I don’t even know what the guy who uses that office does.”
We made a few cups of coffee in the Keurig before finally heading out down into Portchester for lunch.
After lunch, where tried to decide if a young girl and an older man were either father and daughter or lovers, we were tired. Rich drove us to a nature preserve that his grandparents’ home had backed up against. While we drove, Rich popped in a CD version of Billy Joel’s 52nd Street album for some inexplicable reason. We sped through the streets of Rye and Rye Brook listening to “Stiletto” and “Zanzibar.” Something about Billy Joel’s voice, the drums that sounded lighter than air, and the passing homes of the town, felt comforting to me. It was a grey day and we pulled up into the nature preserve. As we walked, I kept singing the opening lines from “Stiletto”
She cuts ya once,
She cuts ya twice-ah
I sang the lines and mocked Billy Joel’s delivery. I even called Billy Joel, “B.J.” But we walked along in the quiet of the preserve, looking at old homes.
“Shit,” Rich said. “These are our childhood memories.”
“You mean your memories,” I said.
Rich laughed. “Well, now they’re all of ours.”
I couldn’t tell if he were joking or not, but I supposed that what he said would be fine either way. The sky hung low and grey and the homes stood proud and I forgot where I was for a moment.
The path eventually circled back to where we had parked and we walked over to the playground where there was a spider web built out of rubber tubing. We climbed on it and acted out high-risk wrestling maneuvers.
“Imagine the kids that fall through this thing,” Rich said.
We all laughed, paused, gained our balance on the tubes and decided to leave. We got back in the car and the smooth, late-70’s sounds of “This Is My Life,” played on the stereo.
Later, Rich and I drank the last of the good bourbon and watched Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Everyone else had already left and I was catching the 9:24 train back to New York. We finished the bourbon and I had another beer and decided to catch the next train. Rich told me more about his work and I was happy to listen. He told me living in Rye wasn’t for him, but that he’d give it some more time. I told him that he’d probably like the setup of my new neighborhood in Brooklyn.
As he drove me to the station, he told me the story of his uncle who dropped out of college and started successful farm in Oregon. He told me how his uncle had turned his farm into a thriving business and how he had always been supportive of Rich and his life decisions, even though they hardly saw each other.
“It’s a good example,” Rich said. “He lives a good life. So many people don’t give a shit or they are overachieving yuppies like you and me.”
I took offense. “Hey man, I’m trying to do my best.”
“You know what I mean.”
“It’s just for now.”
We were at the station and the night was misty. I immediately felt bad about leaving him to go back to New York, but I couldn’t stay. I said goodbye to Rich, listened to him pull away and walked in the refreshing mist along the platform. Though I had had a good amount to drink, I wasn’t drunk. I caught the eye of a girl who was waiting for the train as well and we stole glimpses in the dim light. It was quiet and my heart raced because of the night. The train arrived and I got on. I looked at the girl and she wasn’t as attractive as I had thought outside in the night, so I sat and listened to my music, fooled again by romance and vanity.
When I got back to New York, I met up with one of my college-New York friends and we drank bourbon and talked about the virtues or performance; about the dynamics of playing in a band; we talked about the NBA and Jeremy Lin; we talked about what it takes to retain artistic integrity as well as basketball integrity. I still wasn’t drunk and before I knew it, it was 3:00 AM. I treated myself to a cab and as I crossed the bridge into Williamsburg, I looked out at the water and the buildings and wished it all were something else. The image of the girl I still loved was in my head, but I didn’t really remember her and all I could see were the flashing lights from the tall, new condos and the shine of dark, endless water. I got home to my apartment and looked at all of my belongings, which were stacked in an attempt to stay out of my roommate’s day-to-day life. I walked into my room and tired, but not drunk, I went to sleep immediately, looking forward to doing some work the next day.
The next afternoon, in the café, I finished the novel I was reading, but the coffee wasn’t taking. I was feeling groggy and distracted by the NBA games that would be on TV in a few hours. Finally, I mustered up enough concentration to rewrite the beginning of a story from a different perspective. When I was satisfied, I closed up and headed over to the sports bar to watch the game.
At the bar, the Knicks were just about to beat the Mavericks. The bar was crowded and everyone was wearing Knicks jerseys. As the seconds ticked down, the people at the bar cheered. Jeremy Lin was onscreen and they showed his fantastic line from the game. I moved through the crowd and set my bag down at a small open table. “It’s Still Rock n’ Roll to Me” came on the stereo. People started clapping and stomping their feet in their Knicks jerseys. Jeremy Lin was on the TV and I was in a bar and basketball mattered in New York. Billy Joel was on and the song sounded triumphant as the crowd moved along to its beat. My heart felt like it was going to explode for whatever reason. It was Sunday in New York. I was moving out.