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 whose industrious staff create assemblages of furniture, luggage, old machines, books, records, and curios on the sidewalk every day. Sometime in 2017, those miniature bazaars started to include leftover stock from a cycling shop that had closed. I had just moved to Washington Heights to be closer to work, and a high-end Fuji, 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 blond hair, Bruce was wearing a blue Obama/Biden t-shirt with the sunrise logo flecking off. I had once seen Bruce in front of me at the post office wearing a Ramones jacket with their self-descriptive term "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 bandmates 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 there.

I told Bruce I had moved to Inwood, a statement that felt like it whooshed out of my mouth. 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 up there. Like everyone else I had 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 blue 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.

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