Daffydills Who Entertain

I walk up to the subway, passing all the local Astoria haunts. The converted garage that’s now a coffee shop, the high-end consignment stores tucked in between cheap Chinese food and even cheaper Chinese backrubs, the dentist who’s awning is all in Cyrillic shelved next to a double-size fashion store that seems to sell only purses and belts. When I round the corner to the train, I finally have Starbucks and McDonald’s and CVS, but nussled between them are the Gaza Strip of competing glasses stores with Cohen’s Optical eyeing Odyssey Optical from across the street.

I’m riding in at 6:30, for a 7:30 reading, so everyone on the train with me is heading back into the city. Astoria, for all its multiculturalism, is mostly split into three groups – Older first generations immigrants from the countries circling the Mediterranean, parents of young kids who work in the city and mid-twenties transplants from all over the country. It’s this last group that I’m on the train with, going in to Manhattan for dinner and an 8 o’clock curtain, or a long dinner and an even longer night.

I get off at the 49th st. station right at 7 and start walking West. As I work my way through the crowd, I see all the gypsies heading into stage doors, and all the tourists taking pictures of the buildings. It’s amazing, because in an hour, the tourists will be utterly transported by the skinny boys and girls into rapturous applause, but right now, they’re staring at the jumbotron. The gypsies are walking among them, but they don’t know who they are, you can only recognize them if you’ve been among them. The area around Times Square at 7 PM is an incredible jumble, part backstage at an Abercrombie and Fitch ad shoot, and part waiting line at a Long Island Chinese Buffet.

I make my way through them, over to 52nd between 10th and 11th, where the yuppies are all in shorts, despite the weather, because they are headed to the gym. Always in couples. Probably so nobody has to deal with the homeless. I don’t deal with the homeless either.

When I get to the reading, the playwright is at the door. And when he sees me, he smiles and says “SEAN! I’m so glad you could make it!” I always get way more credit than I deserve because everyone knows I’m leaving a kid at home…

I talk to some people and then grab a seat. Behind me is a gay guy and his friend talking to two young women.

“Not MEN, honey. BOYS. None of us have problems with *MEN*, but we ALL have problems with BOYS. As soon as they’re *men*, they aren’t a problem any more… Listen, honey, let me tell you. *YEARS* ago, in the DARK AGES, I was dating the bartender at the best gay bar in Columbus, Ohio, and sure enough, that BOY gave me GONORRHEA. So, I went to the school nurse, whom I was WELL ACQUAINTED WITH, after faking a cold to get out of every damn gym class I could, and I told her what was wrong, and she was the sweetest woman, and she took me to the clinic, and I SHIT YOU NOT, the doctor in there gave me a TEN MINUTE LECTURE, the whole time *swinging* this prescription around in the air in front of me, a TEN MINUTE LECTURE on the difference between MEN and BOYS, and that *BOYS* are the ones who will give you diseases.

“The moral of the story? Don’t date *anyone* in food service. Okay? They’re all on coke and *COVERED* in gonorrhea. Oh, my name’s Michael, by the way…”

My favorite part is that the young woman knew he had gonorrhea before she knew his name.

The reading was a staggering success, and I walked away with that double sense of having spent two hours at a really well-constructed play, and that huge relief that comes from seeing a friend’s work and realizing they are actually an enormous talent.

I was leaving at 10, and I saw the same groups, the bridge and tunnel crowd streaming out the front door in dresses and suits, and the gypsies sneaking out the stage door in old canvas high-tops and brown sweaters. I always have this ache when I see these people, the ones who can afford to go to Broadway, and the ones who’ve given up so much of their lives so they can perform on Broadway. I’m sure the audience members would love to be able to write and produce the way I do, and a lot of the gypsies would love to be married and have kids, so it could be that we all pine for a chance to be one another, but I still get a low heart hurt when I walk among them, knowing I won’t ever be one of them.

On the train, I sat across from two unrelated people. All the way under the water and back into Queens, an Asian woman, maybe late 20s, sat with her portfolio next to her thigh, her jeans utterly unwashed and flecked with paint and clay. One of the most beautiful things about New York is that she might have grown up in Flushing and converted her parent’s basement into a studio, or she might have grown up in Memphis and gone to Sarah Laurence. It doesn’t matter now, all that matters is that she’s still making… *something*. And she can wear her work clothes on the subway, the same way the Wall Street guys do, the same way the construction workers do. We’re all holding on to the same pole.

The guy sitting next to her was a young, tall skinny black guy, who was practicing a piece of music in his head. He kept backing up his iPod and replaying the same phrases over and over again, and then humming and mouthing them, eyes shut. He might have been one of the gypsies from midtown, or he might be listening to something he wrote and recorded, and wants it to be a little better. Or maybe he’s just a fan, trying to own a little piece of whatever it is he loves.

I get off the train at the last stop and take off my headphones. When it isn’t too cold, I’d rather walk a little slower and not listen to music. I run into my neighbor who’s heading back in to the city at 10:30, which seems almost dangerously exciting to me. I walk back, past the converted coffee shop, where they’re having an open mic night that seems to be derailed by a bad sound system. Since I can imagine nothing better than having an open mic night derailed, I don’t offer to help.

I stand in front of my house for just a minute. My baby boy has been having trouble sleeping, and even as I stand there, I know that in three or four hours, he’s gonna wake up screaming and I’ll put him back to sleep. My wife is six months pregnant, and I know that she has managed to do yoga, but probably needs a back rub, or at the very least a foot rub.

The night is warmer than it’s been and, for just a minute, instead of feeling in-over-my-head, instead of feeling responsible for more than I can handle, instead of feeling like… the things I don’t try to fix fall apart immediately, and the things I do try to make better end up falling apart anyway… for a moment I stand outside my little boy’s window and I feel sublimely lucky.