XXII. "View of a Pigeon atop a Television, with Bonnie Raitt"
Once upon this past Saturday I was standing in the lobby area of New York's Penn Station, waiting for the departing gate of my train to be announced on the television screens hanging from the ceiling. Each screen, identical to one not twenty feet behind it, displayed the train lines (Northeast), the eventual destination of the trains (Trenton), but neither of what I considered to be the most pertinent details – (1) Does the train stop at New Brunswick? and (2) From which gate might I catch this train which hopefully will go to my destination?
It had been an odd morning. I had woken up on the upper west side, across town from my apartment, after a long night. The radio alarm clock I had borrowed and set up next to the couch on the floor had awakened me to the sound of Bonnie Raitt and Bruce Hornsby performing, "I Can't Make You Love Me," a song I had ironically listened to quite a bit one summer while working in a coffee shop.
- Back Story: A customer had left a CD on one of the counter tops, a double-disc "Live at…." endeavor meant to assuage the ever-intense appetites of Bonnie Raitt fans. We would listen to the CD whenever we couldn't get the reception for NPR. (This coffee shop was on Orcas Island, the western side, and occasionally the wind/tide/weather/mating-orca-whales would block perfect reception, despite the Sharpie-d mark on the dial to remind us of where exactly to turn the knob in order to get adequate reception. This was, naturally, two or three units off the actual frequency.)
So, after having woken to the sound of Bonnie playing alongside Bruce Hornsby (wonderful pianist from Williamsburg, VA) I wandered up 96th street towards Broadway, where I bought a bagel and coffee at Dunkin Donuts and then took the subway to Penn Station. Getting off the subway I stumbled, trying to put my book back in my knapsack while simultaneously balancing the precarious — and always too hot, always, at Dunkin Donuts — cup of coffee, and rather than fall I let the coffee fall instead. The Styrofoam corpse bled hot black mud across the footpaths of New Yorkers, whom, by their nature, didn't notice a thing.
Coffeeless and hungry for my bagel…
- Back Story: I have a weird thing where I have to have coffee if I am going to eat a bagel. It's not a preference, like how one might prefer a certain type of bagel to another (I prefer Everything bagels, but the rest fall into a second-place tie, not far behind) but rather it is a necessity. A cruder person than myself would say that a bagel without coffee is like life without sex, whereas a more poetic person than myself would say that a bagel without coffee is like life without Love. (note the capital "L").
Anyways, coffeeless, and hungry for my bagel I headed for the New Jersey Transit machines to buy my ticket when I came across a Au Bon Pain coffee/bakery/deli type place like they tend to have in train stations and airports to seem a little bit more like the street corner you just left. I entered, two one-dollar bills in hand. As I pulled my headphones out of my ears (I was listening to Medeski, Martin and Wood's first acoustic record, after having decided that I had been listening to the Velvet Underground much too much, and that it simply had gotten to an unhealthy level and even I was starting to think myself pretentious just by thinking about how much I like "Venus in Furs"…can a song with only a couple of chords really be as good as I think it is?)…So I pulled my headphones out of my ears, ordered the coffee from a very bad actress (she was the worst at fake friendliness I've ever seen, frankly I prefer honest bitchiness to fake friendliness) and from the muzak speakers somewhere within the faux-francais simulacrum of a bakery I heard Bonnie Raitt singing, unmistakably "I Can't Make You Love Me." No, not the live version, but the album version. "Fucking weird," I muttered to myself, the Bad Actress thinking I cursed at her giving me a very evil (yet honest) glare, my 16 cents of change (which I put enthusiastically into the — near empty — tip jar) and left.
So now, once upon a time, I am standing, coffee in hand, bagel in another, appreciating the sweet mixture of bread and coffee in my mouth, and watching a pigeon appear from down what I know to be a rather long hallway from the entrance to the station. It flies in, thereby separating the New Yorkers from the tourists. (The tourists gasp at the marvel of a bird indoors, the New Yorkers shove the awestruck tourists out of the way, muttering into Blackberrys or at their ever-disobedient children.) I, somewhere in between a New Yorker and a tourist, was amused by the bird enough to keep watching it. After walking about the floor for a bit, following the throng of people towards the staircase (which was really quite hilarious, to watch a pigeon bob bob bob its head in line with travelers) it flew up onto the very television set I had been watching for my gate to be announced. I wondered if perhaps it was trying to get a better view of the screen, trying to catch a train to Florida and thus skip the difficult migration. However, perched as it was, i could observe it and the screen at the same time, which was quite nice. At just about the same time that my gate was announced, the pigeon left the television and flew towards a different tunnel in the station, perhaps looking for a different way out, or for that Southbound train. I left for my gate, taking my half full coffee and tossing away my bagel wrapper, while now (safely, with only the coffee to hold) changing my iPod to play "More Yellow Birds" by Sparklehorse.
When I returned from New Jersey, I had a terrible stomach flu, or perhaps food poisoning, but whatever it was it kept me perched to my bathroom floor like a pigeon on a television set, vomiting ferociously into the toilet. I pictured that Bad Actress' face in the circle of water every time. I just know she gave me something. (Indirectly, of course, that makes it really all Bonnie Raitt's fault. She can try, but she can't make me love her.)