* It's always nice when I'm on my way to the gym and I get stopped in my tracks by some fine fine music. Couple weeks back, at this very spot at the west side of the Fulton Street Mall. I heard some very nice Bach played by a young music student on one of those public pianos placed all over the city recently (you can see that very same keyboard behind the drummer in the above shot). And last week it was the lovely blast of this quintet stretching out on Herbie Hancock's "Maiden Voyage." The first thing that hit me coming round the corner from Jay Street was the distortion on that electronic keyboard, a Casio Privia that seemed set to simulate electric piano rather than grand. Don't get me wrong, I completely loved the dirtiness of the sound, which I'm reasonably sure was an amplification artifact; it's a refreshing contrast to the pristine, crystalized effect most electric pianos aspire to. The second thing that hit me was the Roy-Haynes-style attack of the drummer. But most impressive of all, finally, was the leader, a tenor saxman named Jeff King; like the song says, he ain't no joke. An eloquent soloist with a very healthy tone and a penchant for Coltrane-esque sheets of sounds and Shorter-like voicings, someone I could listen to all day. I threw ten bucks in his basket for a copy of his CD, Live At Solomon's Porch, on which he leads a ten-man band that features, among others, the stalwart trombonist Curtis Folkes. The recording's maybe a bit more audio-verité than it need be—one hears the clatter or restaurant silverware under the beginning of one number—but it's better than solid stuff, and the repertoire, featuring King originals and good, not-particularly-obvious choices from Pharaoh Sanders, Chick Corea, McCoy Tyner, and Johnny Griffin, provides a concise précis of where the man is coming from. His website is a bit of a mess, but I'm gonna continue checking it out, as I wanna find out when/where he's playing next, so I can hear him again.
* In the subway the other day, I noticed that for some reason Foot Locker, or, more to the point, Foot Locker's ad agency, has become interested in marketing the wares it carries to pasty white Brooklyn hipsters. How else to explain this peculiar ad? The pasty white ostensible Brooklyn hipster in the ad itself is a representative of its target audience; his placement in the photo makes it obvious that the Asian fellow on the right is merely meant as his cohort. What I love is how the white model is fit, but not too fit; were he actually ripped rather than neutrally trim, he wouldn't be a hipster, then, would he? I also very much enjoy the "what the fuck ever, you're probably a corporate tool anyway" look on his kisser. Your facial expression is certainly writing checks your forearms can't cash there, son; good thing you're on that bike. By the way, the longitude/latitude coordinates place this charming couple somewhere in the vicinity of East Flatbush Ave. and King's Highway, which means they must be lost. I also enjoy the all-your-baseness of Under Armour's stupid fucking taglines: "Protect This House/I Will." Sold!
* Over at the Red Hook Recreation Center the other day, I thought I spied a perfect candidate for a submission to The Blog of "Unnecessary" Quotation Marks. But then I remembered that in Red Hook, nothing is unnecessary, and everything is there for a reason; and that in this case, what one may mistake for unnecessary quotation marks are actually tokens of the generosity of spirit and intent on the part of the managers of the Red Hook Recreation Center, telling its patrons that it doesn't have to be an actual towel that they bring into the weight room but some piece of fabric that can serve the function of a towel. This is very nice, don't you think?
* So. I bought a basketball a couple of weeks ago. Because I figured, aside from my gym regimen, my quest for heightened fitness might be enhanced by my taking part in something like actual sports activities in the outdoors. And basketball is really the only sport that I ever evinced anything like even any potential to maybe be borderline competent at. This was the result, indirectly, of a growth spurt that shot me up to about six feet four inches back when I was about thirteen. For me, the immediate advantage of my height was that it made me look old enough that I was never again asked to produce an "adult" guardian whenever I wanted to see an R-rated motion picture. For my father, my height represented a different opportunity. An opportunity to shape me up to the extent that maybe my peers would stop calling me "fag" all the time. So he taught me quite a few b-ball techniques. Although way shorter than me, he was a pretty fierce one-on-one player with an exceptional hook shot, and under his tutelage I became a pretty consistent, erm, swisher myself. His strategy worked to a certain extent: "Yeah, Kenny's still a fag, but he is tall, and he can sink it from the foul line pretty consistently," but, you know, it's all about the effort. But. Anyway.
So I bought a basketball and a pump and one Sunday a couple of weeks ago I put on my basketball shorts and a t-shirt and dribbled over to Carroll Park and on to a court and started shooting. And boy, was I coming up short. At the next court eight locals were playing a pretty furious four-on-four, nobody bothering anybody. And I'm shooting from the line, and missing, and running to retrieve the ball from where it bounces, and all of a sudden a middle-aged woman pushing a baby carriage slowly crosses, in a perfect diagonal, across the key of the court where I'm shooting, entirely oblivious to my presence and my activity. Ball newly in hand after chasing it behind the foul line, I said, "Excuse me, Ma'am. You might not want to cross directly in front of the basket while someone's using the court here."
She stopped, looked at me, and responded. She had a thick Caribbean accent. "This isn't your house. This is a public place. I can walk wherever I want."
"Okay." I'm now in my eye-rolling, why-are-you-being-an-idiot mode. "But, you know, what if the ball comes off the backboard and hits you? Or it busts up the stroller there? You see what I'm saying?"
"Are you calling me a bastard?"
At this point, one of the fellows involved in the four-on-four game, a shirtless wiry guy, a little older than the young adults he's playing with, comes over, dripping with sweat and looking irritated. He wants to know what's going on. He doesn't like my tone. He doesn't think I should talk to a lady like that. He wants me to go to the third court, the one all the way on the other side of the field. I sputter, I hem and haw, I fold, but I stay at the court where I'm at. The nanny and her infant charge are on their way to the playground.
The four-on-four game resumes, not before seven other guys glare at me a bit. I go back to shooting. But it's hard to concentrate. This is the first time I've had a basketball in my hands in about fifteen years. More to the point, it's the first time I've tried to shoot hoops in Carroll Park since I moved here almost twenty years ago. And within ten minutes, I have established myself in the eyes of the local regulars as King Asshole. This won't do.
There's a break in the game. The wiry shirtless guy's over by the water fountain smoking a cigarette. I approach him, he puts his hands up like he doesn't wanna hear it. I'm all like, look, I'm new to this court, I understand that any explanation I'm gonna try and feed you is gonna sound like a rationalization, but I don't wanna come here an be unwelcome just like that, so long story short, I just wanna make the situation right, tell me what to do to make the situation right. And so he launches into what seems like his stump speech on the sanctity of womanhood and motherhood ("You and I came out of her") and his position in the neighborhood ("I could whistle and have 800 guys down here"...you get the idea) and such, and he winds up with, "You go find that lady and you apologize to her, and then I will shake your hand."
Fine, then. I walk over to the kid's playground section of the park, and I find the nanny, among a slew of other nannies, and moms, and infants and toddlers. He charge on a swing, the woman's on a cell phone. I give her a meek little wave. She concludes her call and comes up to the fence—I can't quite figure out, let alone physically negotiate, the network of fences that actually leads into the swing set are of the playground proper, and it's likely just as well—and I say, "Ma'am, I wanted to apologize. I did not mean to offend you with my comments to you before. They were out of concern for your safety and the child's safety but I'm afraid I did not express them in the most responsible way. So I wanted to tell you I was sorry." She nodded, smiled, and we shook hands, and I turned and started walking back toward the court. Two young women carrying babies were walking beside me; they had heard the exchange. "That was really brave of you," one said.
I shrugged. "Seemed like it might have been the right thing to do."
"No, but that took a lot of courage," said the other woman. Sorry girls, he's married!
"So?" asked the wiry shirtless fellow as I returned.
"I found her—she's over there—I apologized, it's all good."
We shook hands and exchanged names. I have been back once since, without incident, well, without that kind of incident. Instead, I wound up helping two little boys, about two and four respectively, "make" baskets by lifting them up and doing rebound assists as their moms gladly watched. At one point, while I was helping the older of the two, the little one rifled through my bag nearby and pulled out my iPod. I'm wondering maybe if I should practice shooting very, very early in the morning.
What do you call the daughter of your niece? Your great-niece? Your grand-niece? Anyway, meet seven-month-old Annabella Lynne, the youngun of my niece Amanda and her mate Philip. And yes, I know at least one of you might wanna caption this shot "The man who loved children" so, there, I beat you to it.