Saturday, December 30, 2017

The Thing and the Ring

When I went back to my old neighborhood of Greenpoint in August 2017, I visited The Thing, the local second-hand store whose industrious staff makes an arrangement of furniture, luggage, old machines, books, records, and clothing outside the front door every day. Earlier that year, those arrangements started to include new bikes from a cycling shop that had closed. I had just moved up near Inwood to be closer to my new school in Harlem, and a high-end Fuji, marked down from $2060 to $480, had recently caught my eye as a potential commuter. Seeing my interest, two in the crew had already offered to take $30 off the new 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 him at the post office wearing a Ramones jacket with the band's self-referential song title, "Cretin Hop," printed on the back, and in true Ramones style, his campaign tee just reached the bottom of his belly. It was neat to see such a rocker show love for Obama, who seemed, in that first summer of Trump, like a phenomenon that emerged from the ocean, hovered in the sunlight, and fell back into the waves.

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 he and his bandmates lived in the Midwest. The record included five more songs from a 2013 EP, and it came out on 180-gram vinyl, Spotify, and iTunes. Bruce wanted the shop to charge $12 a copy, and in a testament to his belief in The Thing's peculiar pull, he didn’t plan to leave any at Record Grouch, the trove of new and used wax 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, and the morning commute to Harlem is better from there. Like everyone else in Greenpoint, Bruce had my back. 

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

We kept chatting. An 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 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 told me that Beer City, Ring 13’s label, pressed 1,000 copies of the album, and you had to buy the vinyl to hear the band’s cover of Billy Joel’s “You May Be Right,” which the label feared would cause legal trouble if released online.

But if the album sold well, 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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