In the spirit of lightening things up here a bit, I figured I’d post something more cheerful. To quote Tom Hanks in That Thing You Do! (which is certainly one of the most underrated movies of all time), I thought I’d give you something happy, something poppy.
Because it’s a perfect day for a ride, ain’t it?
I should really just sell the damned thing. Manhattan just isn’t a place for such a beast, much less the Village. New York’s a walking town. A subway town. Sometimes a bus town, and some other times still a taxi town. It’s a bustling town and a jogging town, a drinking and dancing and staying-out-till-4-am town, and in fact it’s a different kind of town just about every minute for just about every person in it, but it’s not so much a driving town. There are too many cabs, too many long limousines with precious celebrity cargo, too many delivery trucks and big buses, too many Lincoln Town Cars shuttling CEOs to the office and back. The air is too bright and the sounds are too vibrant and the color is too loud to be shuttered away from the world by four windows and a growling engine, but still I keep the dilapidated duster.
I tell myself I keep it because I wouldn’t get much for it. The old lady who used to own it never did know much about anything she put a key into, and the engine’s hoarse in her memory. The duck tape on the torn cloth top; the old, nearly bald tires; the muffler that might as well not exist—selling it might cover a month’s rent or a fancy night on the City, but not much more.
That’s what I tell myself, anyway.
But I know the truth. I don’t keep it because selling it wouldn’t make enough; I keep it for days like this.
As soon as I woke up this morning, I knew you were going to call. You always do on the days when I wake to sunlight like glory streaming through my bedroom window. Golden hardwood floors, red brick walls. Sheets like eucalyptus. A good day to be alive. A good day for you to call.
And when my cell rings and it’s you, I answer it. We haven’t spoken in months, but we do so now like no time at all has passed.
“Good morning, sunshine,” you say.
“Indeed it is. I knew you’d call,” I tell you.
“Did you? And why is that?”
“Perfect day for a ride.”
You pause. As if you want me to believe you’re looking out your window. But I know otherwise. I know you’re fingering the knot on the checkered silk scarf already around your neck. The one you wear when we go for a ride. “It is, isn’t it? Do you want to go out?”
I know you use me for my car, but I don’t mind. You use all the boys, and none of us ever do. The supermodels who bicycle across town in the rain just to bring you chocolates and flowers, the schoolboys with deliriously fawning crushes, the older ad execs and producers and artistes who want to cast you and make you a “Stah, baby, make you a stah.”
But you and I both know you’re already a stah. A shooting supernova across all of Manhattan, and the entire city wishes on you when you streak on by.
You show up just like I knew you would. Giant, chunky, black shades. Your silk scarf over your short, smart, black hair. Your gingham farmers’-daughter shirt tied in the front and the daisy-dukes you painted across your hips and thighs. You look innocent, and that’s even more dangerous, isn’t it? You smile and greet me, throw your arms around me in an effusive hug I feel your chest in, and I’m sure you can feel me in it, as well, but if you do you don’t mention it.
And for that moment, just that one moment, I feel like the luckiest guy in the world. I’m certainly the luckiest guy on the lower East side.
“How’s the Baroness?” you ask as we walk down to the old yellow jalopy, even though you don’t need to. The Baroness is the same as she was the last time you rode in her. The same, in fact, as the first time you rode in her. The Baroness doesn’t change. And maybe that’s why you love her. And me. Us.
We fall right away into our familiar ritual. We put the top down. We drive to the first Starbucks we find, and you hold the two lattes because the Baronness is too old to have cupholders. We turn the radio up full blast, and the music cuts out twice as I attempt to start it. It’s an ugly old heap, but it gets us where we want to go, past Union Square and Saint Mark’s, past the NYU buildings where you teach beauty and truth. You may feel all grown up when you do so, all dressed up in your professional slacks and studied words, but you take off your scarf as we leave the City and the wind whips through your hair and you giggle like you’re six years old.
People watch as we leave the city, and I’m the envy of the entire city when you smile at the passers-by.
I know you use me for my car, but I don’t mind, because it’s mutual. I don’t mind because you remove your top as we drive farther into the green hills of the country outside the City, as we reach stretches of unoccupied highway that go for miles. And finally we are the only people in the world, and you climb atop me, and we ride, baby, we ride. It’s a perfect day for it.
Ever hear a song you just think there’s more to? That’s the story here: I heard the Magnetic Fields’ “Luckiest Guy on the Lower East Side,” and I was like, “Man, that’s a short story.”
So I wrote it.
Here’s a rad video of the song:
The Magnetic Fields are, by the way, one of the most spectacularly awesome bands I’ve ever heard. Stephin Merritt is up there with Roger Clyne and Elvis Costello in terms of how well the guy writes a song, and I don’t think there’s a bad Magnetic Fields CD out there. Merritt is, of course, the guy who composed 69 Love Songs, a three-CD box set everyone except Merritt titters about the title of because he seems to simply believe the joke is so damned obvious it ain’t worth acknowledging.
I like that. There’s always something to be said for eschewing subtlety.
And Claudia Gonson? Magnetic Fields bandmate? Seriously, seriously awesome. She introduced me to Neil Gaiman when I went into total fanboy catatonia. I’m not sure I would have been able to speak otherwise.
So I hope you’re having a wonderful weekend, and if you’re not, I hope that helps make it a little more sublime.
And again, “Perfect Day for a Ride” is one of the stories in my collection, all proceeds of which I’m donating to the United Way NYC in honor of those we lost on September 11th and in the days following. So if you ain’t picked it up yet, now’s a good time to. And if you already have: thanks!