Saturday, December 30, 2017

The Thing and the Ring

When I went back to Greenpoint in August, I visited The Thing, the local second-hand store run by several industrious gentlemen who create shifting assemblages of furniture, luggage, machines, books, records, and curios on the sidewalk every day. Sometime in 2017, those displays started to include new bikes, leftover stock from a cycling shop that closed. I had just moved into Washington Heights to be closer to work, and a cross bike that I thought might make a good commuter, marked down from $2060 to $480, had recently caught my eye. Twice, the guys had offered to take $30 off the price.

As I neared the store, I saw a former neighbor walk out. Tall and stout, with wispy, cornstalk-blond hair, Bruce was wearing a blue Obama/Biden t-shirt with the sunrise logo flecking off. A local record hound, Bruce once stood in front of me at the post office wearing a nylon Ramones jacket with their self-descriptive phrase "Cretin Hop" on the back, and in true Ramones style, the political tee just reached the bottom of his belly. It was neat to see such a rocker show love for Obama, whose enlightened pragmatism seemed, in the first summer of Trump, like a phenomenon that disappeared after a brief emergence.

Bruce was at The Thing to drop off copies of his band’s new album. Well, not so new: 14 tracks off Ring 13’s Nothing New, Nothing Learned were recorded in 1984, when Bruce and his friends lived in the Midwest. Five songs, including a cover of Billy Joel’s “You May Be Right,” were new recordings, and the album came out on 180-gram vinyl, Spotify, and iTunes. Bruce wanted the shop to charge $12 a copy, and he didn’t plan to leave any at Record Grouch, the trove of new and used vinyl across Manhattan Avenue, because he didn’t think they would sell.

I told Bruce I had moved to Inwood, a statement that felt like it whooshed upon emission. It was like all of a sudden I lived in Iowa, or I had become a ghost. But then I explained that I'm a teacher, I got a job in Harlem, and the morning commute is better from there. Like everyone else I'd told in Greenpoint, Bruce had my back. 

“Makes sense,” he said. “Can’t be late for the kids.”

We kept chatting. A store employee with long black hair who usually wears a Mets cap and a customer who looked like Sammy Hagar were outside, too, rappin’ about Bruce’s record and the various detritus the shop had for sale.

“I had a teacher named Angela Dust,” Bruce said.

“That’s like a punk rock girl’s name!” I replied.

“The kids called her Angel,” he said.

I wonder where Ms. Dust is today. Bruce also said that Beer City Records, Ring 13's label, pressed 1,000 copies of the album, and you had to buy the vinyl to hear the Joel cover, which the label feared would cause legal trouble if released online.

But if the album sold, he said, the label might change its mind. As of today, you still can't hear a Midwestern garage-rock take on one of Joel's peppier songs unless you visit Beer City's website, or, depending on inventory, bring 12 bucks to The Thing. If you wear a Mets cap, you'll fit right in.