by Rey Martinez
([email]maxinquaye [at] aol [dot] com[/email])
Whenever I thought of such a thing, only warbled service announcements pulled into my mind. Attention wddwndkjwebwejbdjw or The next train leaving the station is on Track 52738dbbe. Nothing against the MTA PA operators, but they wouldn’t be playing Vegas anytime soon.
I’d probably never even have put the two words together if it weren’t for my poorly trained Jamaican auto mechanic. See, he’d promised my car fixed by Friday, but come Friday, there I stood on the 34th Street platform waiting for the R train to take me home. Hector (don’t ask me how a Jamaican gets that name) ruined my date with a precision I could only hope would eventually benefit my car.
Although as suave as any struggling DJ in his mid-thirties, I needed more than my Metrocard that night. It was my first date with Marisol, a 22 year old go-go dancer I met while playing the Limelight last week, and I still didn’t know if she was high when she slipped me her number.
At my age, anonymous sex with hard bodies was losing its appeal, both for me and whoever was involved. But as many times as my benevolent soul of a sister explained that I would never meet anyone decent in a club, I wanted to prove her wrong.
That’s what motivated me to invite all 105 lbs. of Marisol to an outdoor bistro near Madison Square Park. This was my new method of quality controlling the possible life partners I met at various gigs.
Fortunately, Marisol remembered our date, somewhat remembered me, and didn’t expect to be picked up. I arrived early, having caught the express, and waited outside the overpriced faux country club entrance to the place. I wore my best outfit–all black, hoping the trend of black making fat look fine was still in effect.
I chain-smoked three-quarters of my Merit Ultra Slims before she arrived, and we couldn’t have been more wrong for each other. Worse than mixing classic rock with jungle, or death metal with two-step garage.
Her outfit served two purposes–gaining the attention of any living creature with an ounce of testosterone and creating a painful embarrassment that lodged itself onto my stomach, continually designing new species of fart throughout the evening.
I hope she couldn’t read my discomfort. I tried my best to look pleased even though I had no car, little money, little hair in the light, and even less confidence outside my DJ booth.
Normally this bistro would have never allowed anyone dressed/undressed in such a fashion to dine in their fine establishment, but the curves on Marisol’s petite frame put the brakes on any of their moral codes.
She still wore the piercings, the tattoos, even the body glitter I remembered. A shame that’s all she offered, like a great album cover with little more than liner notes inside.
My sister’s laughing at me somewhere, that bitch.
After a meal, where the most interesting exchanges occurred between our waiter Mike and myself, we left. I was glad I couldn’t offer Marisol a ride home. It’s not like I could lose any more points. I’d already quit playing somewhere between the first and tenth time she managed to get her tongue ring caught on her fetuccini alfredo.
The street was empty. A light summer breeze carried the sounds of a lone trumpeter from his terrace down to our ears. I tried hard to figure out what tune was playing. Miles? Count?
Marisol’s bubble gum popping broke my trance. I had to get rid of her before someone called the cops. In the harsh street lamp light, she couldn’t have been more than 17, though her body was pushing a healthy 24.
I offered her a cigarette, and nothing more. She was accustomed to much more ? drugs, sex, and the kitchen sink, maybe both on the kitchen sink for all I knew. She walked south, I walked north, and the go-go dancers and pimps of the world joined my sister in mocking me all the way to the subway.
Before that night, I hadn’t taken the subway for over 5 years or so. I continued to be surprised at how things had changed. No graffiti, new tokens, newer Metrocards, and few panhandlers. In a strange way, I missed the old subway. This new and improved cousin didn’t feel New York the same way current hip-hop jived with its New York rap roots.
My luck, the only thing constant were the delays. Waiting on the platform, I heard a strange sound. It couldn’t have been a train. It had a soothing quality trains couldn’t afford. I walked towards the sound. It was followed by another and another. Then it changed just as quickly. The pitch rose then dropped as beats flew through the hot air.
Someone was playing music or playing with my head. I studied the people sitting on the benches I passed. They either didn’t notice the music or didn’t care. I continued down the platform. Finally, I came across the culprit. A pastel green fixture attached to the space reserved for the subway directional signs.
Two kids jockeyed for positions and raised their skinny arms to touch the spaces on the fixture. Just as they touched, lights came on and sounds were played. I’d seen many things in the city, but none as bizarre or sweet.
I smiled at the kids and joined in the rhythm, touching the bar and releasing some beats. The three of us played something Africaa Bambaataa, George Clinton, and Parliament would be proud of. The music we made served no purpose, but man were we happy.
Our concert came to an abrupt end as the subway pulled into the station. People got off, some carrying packages, others emotional baggage. And as they passed us we played a few notes on the guitar of the future. A few of the people smiled in bewilderment. It must have also been their first time experiencing this odd creation.
I boarded the subway with a smile on my face, despite the lack of air-conditioning or spare seats. The two boys boarded, exchanged looks, and quickly ran off the train. Through the scratched plexiglass, I spied them tuning up for another show. My subway pulled away and the last thing I heard were the beeps and hums of the strange green instrument which seemed to me a gift from the stars.
I need to ride the subway more often. I’d have never guessed the city would have paid for something so wonderful. What’s next, 2 turntables and a microphone for ratracers to scratch and relieve stress?
The ride was smooth, or maybe I just gave it the benefit of the doubt. I had seen a little of myself in those kids. During my own childhood, I had played with spoons, drums, even my calculator to make sounds that awakened things in people. I’d figured, why play the one millionth rendition of something tired, when you can create something new.
And at the Queens Plaza station, something new boarded the subway. A pair of Mexican mariachi wielding exquisite acoustic guitars began their serenade through the subway car. These guys were amazing. They pulled off harmonies and solos as the subway jarred its way through the tunnels. Nothing fazed them. Not the Asian woman hawking trinkets. Not the Spanish guy selling dead batteries. They even did a 2 step dance in their snakeskin boots. Fellow commuters with their noses in books or their headphones blaring suddenly forgot their distractions, transfixed by a unique sound that would not be ignored.
Now, despite Ms. Farnsworth’s best efforts in grades 7-9, I still cannot utter, let alone understand, more than three syllables of Spanglish. But it didn’t matter. The music had passion. More passion than I’ve ever seen any globe-trotting DJ exhibit. As they ended their set, they thanked everyone and used their hats for collection.
I caught elderly folks giving them greenbacks; I was in shock. Almost everyone on the train contributed something. I gave them a $5 because it was all I carried.
When I made it home, I felt like a new man. The creative juices were flowing and I made some of the best mix tapes of my career. But more important was the idea that sprouted from that night on the subway.
It took a week of riding the R back and forth, but I finally managed to track Alfonso and Alejandro down. I pitched them my idea, which was difficult considering my broken Spanish and their shattered English.
But they agreed. I booked us some studio time, laid down tracks, and mixed the whole thing into something no one had ever heard before. Their mariachi stylings infused with my house breakbeats and electronica became known as Tex-Mex and Decks. That’s us on the cover of Rolling Stone.
Now, whenever I see someone playing music in the subway, I look for one thing–potential. Whether it’s the Asian guy with the cello-looking thing, the black guy playing sax, the family band, the twins on guitar, the doo-wop brothers–they’re all better than you think. You just need to look past the bullshit inside your head and listen. You just might hear the sweet sounds of something new. I did.
(c)2002 Rey Martinez
[b]Author’s Note:[/b] By day, Rey Martinez masquerades as an advertising copywriter in New York City. He also moonlights as a writer with some integrity. And to bring the cliche full-circle, he is currently working on the Great American You-Know-What.