Friday, April 16, 2010

Get It While You Can

"You should live in Europe. You seem very European."

Sofie smiled under bright red bangs, sipping a microbrew.

"Naw. I'm as American as you'll get," I replied. "It's embarrassing how American I am."

Sofie's two companions giggled. We sat on the front steps of my friend's Chelsea art gallery, watching the older rich and younger hipsters stroll by. Sofie and her friends were visiting from Belgium. They saw me sitting alone, drinking a beer, and decided I was harmless enough to engage. We talked about art, politics, life. They were friendly and very cute. They refused to believe my age, which was flattering. Their soft young features warmed me, and it felt great to be alive in the city I love.

After bidding the women goodbye, my friend closed the gallery and we walked along High Line park, commenting on the new buildings reserved for the city's elite, the architecture stunning, the remoteness extreme. It was a clear Spring night, so beautiful to make you weep. The surrounding energy flowed through me, a rush akin to a psilocybin high, images, sounds and colors connected, whole. For a moment I was swallowed by the city, and I happily surrendered, dopey smile on my face.

I experienced tremendous anxiety before this current trip, sensing trouble or some potential hazard. But this was lingering fear of transition, happiness and success clawing at my mind, trying to keep me down. That motherfucker has had so much power over me that it believes it has sovereignty, but in reality its grip has weakened. The further along this path I go, the more that motherfucker fades. Good riddance.

This outing has been fantastic -- dare I say uplifting? I performed three sets in my first three nights, each a story in itself, which I'll get to in subsequent posts. I hope to squeeze in another set or two before returning to Michigan, but if not, that's fine. I'll soon return for more. I've caught glimpses of a potentially explosive future, and I like how it looks. As a part of my brain that's been caged for the better part of a decade recently told me, "It's about fucking time, dude." No shit.

Yesterday I traveled upstate to see Brian McConnachie, a writer for the original National Lampoon, SNL, and SCTV. Brian's also scored numerous character acting roles, from Caddyshack to several Woody Allen films. He's extremely intelligent, alert, funny and soft-spoken. We walked along the Hudson River and talked about various topics, comedy chief among them. It's always nice to make an influence laugh, and Brian was generous in that regard.

We stopped for lunch at a little cafe in a tiny town where the locals know Brian and waved hello. As we dined on chicken sandwiches and Blue Moon ale, Brian aired some recent concepts he's playing around with, spoke about his just-finished novel, and at my urging, told some great stories about working with the SCTV cast. They were as brilliant off-camera as they were on, though not above some competitive tussles, primarily over casting. Still, as Brian explained, the SCTV experience was much more fulfilling than his first stint on SNL, where cocaine, cruelty and pettiness were a daily experience. (Brian later returned to SNL for various stints with different casts.) He loved them all, but highlighted his work with Catherine O'Hara, Dave Thomas and Rick Moranis. I sat there like a kid, a very lucky kid, taking it in. It was the best lunch I'd had in some time.

We went back to Brian's rural house where he showed me pages from Rick Meyerowitz's forthcoming book, Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Writers and Artists Who Made the National Lampoon Insanely Great. It's filled with remembrances, appreciations, Lampoon pieces, and countless photos of the magazine's stars, a good number of which I'd never seen. There's a series of snapshots of Michael O'Donoghue dancing around the Lampoon offices, while a younger Brian sits nearby, straight-looking in white shirt and bow tie. "Wow" was all I could say. "You said it" was Brian's reply.

Then Brian turned to an appreciation of himself, told by Chris Kelly, son of Lampoon legend Sean Kelly and writer for Bill Maher. "Check it out" he said, and there at the top was my name, connected to O'Donoghue's. While it's been years since Mr. Mike was published, I still get a childlike thrill to see my name mentioned alongside these comedy greats. It's truly humbling. Thanks Chris (and if Bill needs some bizarro material for his monologues, you know where to find me).

Brian drove me to the train station early, and we sat in his car, waiting for the 3:09 to Manhattan. He asked about The Project. I explained what I have in mind and had already achieved. Brian smiled warmly, put his hand on my shoulder and offered genuine encouragement. It was a beautiful moment, among many I've experienced on this trip. We hugged, shook hands, and I boarded the train. I tried to read the Arts section of the Times, but the tears in my eyes blurred my vision. Instead I watched the Hudson River flow by, counting my blessings.