Waving, Not Drowning

Waving, Not Drowning

When I first started considering moving to the East Coast of America, the weather was  certainly something I considered.  I was mainly concerned whether, after 40 years spent in California and England, I was ready to face the rigors of a full-on Northern Hemisphere winter.  I could still remember that wretched February day in February 1967, when I struggled across the Diag in Ann Arbor into the teeth of an Arctic gale, cursing every step of the way.

In the spirit of Scarlett O’Hara at the end of Gone With The Wind, I declared then and there, with as firm a resolve as I’d ever applied to anything in my then relatively young life, that I would never, ever be that cold again.  And with a few notable exceptions, like getting stranded in blizzards atop Spy Rock, I pretty much lived up to that ambition.

But times change, and so did I.  Besides, New York City, surrounded by the moderating influence of the sea, doesn’t get as cold as Detroit, and the worst part of its winters is maybe a month shorter.  Now that I’ve spent six years there, I have to admit it’s really not bad.  I’ve even come to appreciate all four of the seasons in a way I never imagined possible.

One factor I didn’t give a lot of thought to, though, was hurricanes.  I was familiar enough with history and climatology to know that they occasionally strike New York, but given that the last major one was in 1938, I didn’t feel I had to spend a lot of time scanning the horizon for the next one.

There’s a part of me, a very childish part, obviously, that revels in disaster, that secretly hopes the tornado or the hurricane or the blizzard will come our way, just for the excitement.  It’s shameful to admit, especially when you consider that this “excitement” often comes at the cost of lives lost or drastically upended, and I guess what I really hope for is that I’ll get to experience the drama without any damage to myself or others.

And, I’ve found, when the weather map shows that disaster is actually headed my way, I quickly change my tune, as I did last year when it briefly looked like Hurricane Irene might make a direct hit on Brooklyn.  I barricaded myself in my house, filled the requisite bottles, pans and bathtub with fresh water, and put in a stock of candles and canned food.

When I woke the following morning with the power still on, my house still intact, and little harm done to my block apart from a potted palm blown over across the street, I was greatly relieved, but also slightly disappointed.  I mean, it could have been a little worse without really hurting anyone, couldn’t it?

Maybe I’m finally growing up a little, because this year I didn’t for a minute hope that Hurricane Sandy would come our way.  In fact, I actively cheered for it to turn out to sea as northbound hurricanes normally do.  Irene had provided enough of a scare, and a graphic illustration of how much suffering even a hurricane downgraded to a tropical storm can cause, as illustrated by the havoc wreaked on the people of New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Vermont.

Besides—and wouldn’t you know I had a selfish motive as well—I was hoping to get out of town to attend the annual convention of the Guang Ping Yang T’ai Chi Association and to visit my mom in California.  In the end, I made the decision, call it cowardly or call it prudent, to beat it out of town just ahead of Sandy.  I caught one of the last NJ Transit trains out of Penn Station and one of the last planes out of Newark, and followed the unfolding disaster mostly via Twitter.

On board the California Zephyr en route to the Sierra Nevada.

Phone service was patchy to nonexistent, so I couldn’t check in with friends I’d left behind, and though they’re now all accounted for, quite a few are still without power or heat, and some are struggling to deal with major damage to their homes or workplaces.  Seeing the ruins of places like the Rockaways, Long Beach, Asbury Park, and the eastern shore of Staten Island, where only months ago I was strolling in the sunshine, is absolutely heartbreaking.

At the GPYTCA conference.

So yeah, I feel guilty for not being there, guilty that my own neighborhood was once again spared any significant problems, and most guilty that I’m not there to join the thousands of New Yorkers who are heroically pitching in to help the afflicted and clean up the wreckage.

It’s also kind of embarrassing to have to tell the many people who combined birthday wishes (I spent my b-day making my escape from New York) with anxious inquiries about my well-being that I’ve been safely holed up in the Sierra Nevada doing t’ai chi and basking in the (admittedly slightly chilly) California sunshine.

Speaking of embarrassing, it’s also a little awkward having to explain to people why they haven’t seen an update to my blog in, oh, I don’t know, half a year or so.  I’ll try to explain as best as I can what I’ve been up to, but I still can’t help feeling I’ve fallen down on the job, even if it’s a job I don’t get paid for except by the occasional “well done” or “Livermore, you’re an idiot.”

This past year has been mostly consumed by two projects that you may or may not have heard about.  The first, which should have been done long ago, but still isn’t quite, is preparing the manuscript of Spy Rock Memories for publication.  I’m working with a real solid editor, and the process has been thoroughly enjoyable, but also painfully slow, in large part because I decided that whole sections of the book needed to be completely rewritten.

Where I spent the hurricane.

But I’m through with the hardest part (I hope), and right now we’re just giving the text a final going-over.  With any luck, the book should be out next spring, only a year late.  Which also leaves me a year behind on starting my next book, the subject of which will have to remain secret for now, but which I’m very excited about.

Oh, and among the other details to be worked out: a decision on whether to change the title.  I’d be happy to hear from any of my readers on this question: do you think it should be Spy Rock Memories or Spy Rock Road?

My other project was a compilation record that Billie Joe Armstrong asked me to put together for his Adeline Records label.  Billie’s often expressed an interest in the pop punk and punk rock bands I’ve told him about, especially those who’ve been part of the scene centered around the annual Insubordination Fest and the infamous Pop Punk Message Board.

I hadn’t planned to get back into the record business, and probably won’t on any kind of permanent basis, but it was fun to do it once.  Although it was time-consuming, it turned out to be surprisingly easy and enjoyable.  Either bands these days are more together and dependable, or I’ve matured and learned a more about how to work with people.  Most likely a bit of both.

The Thing That Ate Larry Livermore, artwork by Patrick Hynes.

Even more enjoyable was the chance to work with Patrick Hynes again.  Patrick, as many of you will know, was one of my partners in Lookout Records, and was responsible for some of the iconic art by which people remember Lookout’s heyday.  I got him to reprise a 1991 Lookout magazine cover and update it for the 2010s; in tribute to The Thing That Ate Floyd, the 1988 compilation that David Hayes and I assembled, the new record was called The Thing That Ate Larry Livermore.

Nine months of work culminated with a series of record release parties in Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Brooklyn, and then, after being constantly immersed in overseeing every aspect of production, everything went eerily quiet.  The reviews were great, the music was great, the shows were packed and amazing, and then the record slipped off into the ether.  I’d like to think it will go on to be a classic—many of the bands contributed what I consider among their best songs ever, and all the songs were original and exclusive to the comp—but who knows these days?  The record business, while still exciting and rewarding in its way, is nothing like it used to be, for better or worse.

Which reminds me, I still have a few copies of both the record and the CD, as well as some t-shirts featuring the Patrick Hynes artwork.  I’ve been meaning to set up a web store to offer them to the public, but that’s just one more thing that’s gone by the board during these months of staying indoors writing and editing and producing.

I missed most of the summer and, with the cold weather starting to settle in now, most of the fall as well.  No doubt it will all pay off in the end, though in what form, it remains to be seen.  I’m at a stage in life where work seems to have become more important than it ever was before—though given my long career of procrastination and job-dodging, that wouldn’t be hard—and sometimes that makes me very tired.

But I console myself with the thought that I spent much of my earlier life goofing off, and that I should have expected the work would catch up with me sooner or later.  Besides, I always thought it was kind of backward to expect young people to work like dogs to save up enough so they could retire at an age when they no longer had the energy or ability to do many of the things they most wanted to.  So who knows, maybe I blundered into doing it the right way after all?

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