Late Night Thoughts and Shit #1

A couple months ago, I took all the social media apps off my phone. Then I put the phone in a drawer. And I forgot about it for a while. It was really nice, not looking at the damn thing every fifteen minutes or so. I get on people for shit like that, but the truth is I’m no better myself.

Probably one of the best things I ever did was reject the smartphone for years. I had a Blackberry until 2013. It was great. I actually met my wife that way, having a Blackberry and all. At a party in Williamsburg, we were the only two people there who still had Blackberries. That was a thing worth talking about, so we did.

At our wedding last October, one friend gave a toast and said:

“May you forever be two Blackberries in a sea full of iPhones.”

That was really nice of her to say. She’s a television writer so it’s probably not surprising she had such a great line.

I think I was talking to someone recently who was very famous — or, maybe I was just reading about someone famous — and they had a Blackberry. They didn’t see what was wrong with it. I was kind of amazed that anyone could have Blackberry in 2016 and not feel a little left behind. Then again, maybe they just didn’t care. When you’re famous you can not give a shit and that’s alright.

The thing I probably look at the most on my phone is Wikipedia. I’m not addicted like some people — I don’t pull the phone out during conversations just to check on things. I’m slightly addicted but I’m not annoying. A certain kind of person does that. I’ve done it sometimes. I try not to these days. It’s not that I don’t want to know, it’s just that it’s ridiculous to know everything.

I used to go to sleep reading Wikipedia. A couple years, I did that. Now I usually read for an hour or so before bed. But not Wikipedia. I have a Kindle now, so it’s mostly books. I have trouble reading if I’m up making music late at night. Something about the activity that music triggers in the brain, it makes it hard to go back to reading. It’s like reading is too slow or something.

In fact, I’m usually very awake at night if I’m making music after midnight. That used to be most days, but now less often than that. It’s tough to make music when you live with someone else — music is noisy and it’s a late night activity. Not impossible to pull off, but difficult for sure. When you live alone, music kind of just comes naturally to you. Music is for lonely people.

I still make music at night but I live in Manhattan and another thing is, the city is very noisy. Compared to Staten Island, where I used to live, it’s pretty terrible. I mean, obviously, Staten Island is as awful as it gets. But here, there are so many cars and ambulances and shit I just don’t want to hear, ever. It’s distracting.

When you grow up in a bridge-and-tunnel situation, you look at Manhattan as kind of the promised land. I can say this much — it’s a little underwhelming. I love the fact that I live near a Whole Foods, but I hate the fact that there are people in it.

Most places like that are overrated anyway. I was with some friends last weekend and they said a bunch of condos in Gowanus were being built up around a Whole Foods. I thought, wow, that sounds pretty miserable. That anyone would move somewhere because there is a certain type of grocery store nearby is depressing.

I guess I am sort of an outlier, because I like pretty shitty things. I am usually interested in things that other people are not. I was in a sneaker store recently and tried to buy a pair of Sketcher’s. Not because they were Sketcher’s per se, but just because I thought they looked good.

But back to Manhattan, yeah see, when I think of my ideal place to live, it’s somewhere out in the fucking sticks, without very many people around. Of course one needs to be able to get to work and all, so it’s a little tough, a situation like that. I used to look at a lot of houses way up state, so cheap people were practically giving them away — because a sensible person would do anything to get out of the country. Ain’t no money up there.

I was reading a thing on the internet today about a job interview. A failed job interview. A kid — everyone’s a kid — said that he botched a job interview because he didn’t know how to be cool. That in interviews, most people are just trying to make sure that you’re not weird. That you’re an okay person. That you’re cool.

This was a creative job so I thought it was kind of ironic, this idea that a creative person would be cool — that they would, in other words, not be weird. In my mind, a person becomes creative precisely because they are not cool, and in fact, are very weird. Cool people go into sales and marketing, they high-five the shit out of each other and tell co-workers they’re totally crushing it. Those are cool people.

It almost struck me as too perfect, what he was saying. It kind of explained why so many creative industries are filled with people who are just carbon copies of other people. It’s like there was some plastic mold made for creative people in 1998 and we’ve been duplicating them ever since. Yeah yeah you’ve got the outfit, but are you really living the lifestyle?

I suppose maybe I’d feel differently about all this had I gone away to college. Then, I might have been around more people who were professionally stylized as creatives. But even that, who knows. Over the years I’ve met so many people who were super basic in college then got all indie and shit once they moved to Brooklyn. By 30, a lot of them are married, living in the suburbs and back to being boring as hell.

Not that there’s anything wrong with being boring, really. And not that there’s anything wrong with moving to Brooklyn to live out some bohemian fantasy. I mean, whatever the hell gets you going in the morning, I’m all for it. I rather someone do that then spend their life dreaming about all the things they could have done. Maybe they make it to 30 and keep going. Or, maybe they don’t. It’s the same shit either way. Brooklyn and the suburbs are basically the same thing at this point.

I’m obviously biased in all things because I grew up lower middle class. Maybe I’d go so far as to say blue collar. My parents worked for the city, back when that was something worth aspiring to. I don’t know how blue collar people survive in New York City. Where the hell do they live? No wonder my parents moved to bumblefuck Staten Island. They couldn’t afford anything else. And that was when New York was a shithole.

There are so many differences between people who grew up in outer boroughs and people who grew up in Manhattan or other nicer parts of New York City. In truth, it was kind of isolating, growing up that way. Especially if you were ambitious or even remotely intelligent.

I wasn’t very intelligent myself. I mean, I read books and stuff, but it wasn’t like I was a standout student. I was at one point, because I think my mother blew the principal or something to get me into a ‘gifted program,’ but no sooner did my parents split up then I flunked the hell out of that shit. I spent the rest of my school years in with the dumb kids.

I thought when I grew up maybe I’d be a mechanic or something. That seemed like a fun job. A hard job, but a fun one nonetheless.

I always wondered why mechanics didn’t make more money. I used to take my car to a mechanic and it was like he was speaking a whole nother language. For something that the average American can’t really live without, a guy should be well-compensated for knowing how to fix the damn thing.

Maybe mechanics were once well paid and I just didn’t know about it. Maybe if we went back a hundred years, back when the automobile was just becoming a thing to have, being a mechanic was like being a software engineer today. Learn to code! No, fuck that, learn to fix a goddamn 8-cylinder engine.

I’m pretty glad, looking back, that I didn’t become a mechanic. I mean, I can’t really see myself being a mechanic. I don’t mind getting dirty but getting to work at 8 AM, that might be a problem. Dealing with customers and their dumbass problems, jesus, how does anyone do that. People who work in client services deserve millions for the shit they put up with.

I think I also seriously considered going to Devry. I don’t even know what kind of curriculum Devry has these days, but it seemed like a good option. I’m around people now who, when they were young, were trying to pick between Harvard and Yale — I was trying to decide between being a mechanic and going to Devry.

How did I end up here? Sometimes I do have to pinch myself. Because I don’t really know. I guess I am an autodidact. When I graduated college, I wanted to go back and get my master’s degree. But the same day I took my GRE I went to Wu-Tang concert. Backstage with Ghostface and Rza, I decided — fuck school.

People always tell you to follow your dreams but what they fail to mention is how little that will do for you if, in five years time, that shit doesn’t work out. Following your dreams is only cool if you’re successful. If you’re not, you might as well fuck off pal, because your life is probably over.

I sometimes marvel at people who say they’re taking a year off to do this thing or that thing. What a luxury! I took a year off to do this thing or that thing — let me tell you, it was a fucking bad idea. But I was poor and went to a city college. Obviously, I got the wrong advice.

Going back to school, I wanted to do that. Except I couldn’t really justify it. I was 22 and I didn’t have any money — I thought, I’ll make it in music, or I’ll die trying. I almost died trying and I guess I made it, because I’m still here doing it today. Not like most of my friends, the ones I came up with, who seemed to let the dream die a little more as the years passed by.

Instead, I bought some of the books I might have read in a master’s program and I read them myself. Didn’t follow any sort of strict curriculum, just went at my own pace. Over the years, I knocked a lot of the books out. I guess I gave myself sort of an education. It doesn’t mean anything on paper, then again I know a lot of people with a piece of paper that says they’re smart who are actually dumb as shit.

I think the main thing that riles me up, more than anything, is the lack of opportunity certain people get. Either they don’t get it because they don’t look the part, or they don’t get it because they didn’t go to the right school, or they don’t get it because their parents don’t hobnob in the right circles — whatever the hell it is, they’re on the outside looking in.

I would put myself in that category. But some people are far more disadvantaged than I am, so I can’t complain too much. I mean, I am a white guy in America. Doesn’t matter how bad it gets for us, it’ll still be a little better than it is for most. A vocal majority seems to feel otherwise these days — I can see their point too. I try to see everyone’s point. I don’t have my head so far up my own ass that I can’t see the shit other people are talking about. Can’t say the same for everyone else.

When I was in college, a professor was taking attendance on the first day of class and when he called my name he said: “Oh, you’re Paul? That’s surprising. I was expecting you to look different.” He was a gay Asian man — a very nice guy, in fact — and I wondered what he meant by that. So after class, I asked him.

He said: “People in the department told me about you. That you were a very smart student. One of the smartest. And then I meet you and you’re this big guy, wearing baggy clothes and a football jersey. I mean, it’s fine — you’re just not what I expected.”

I would go on to get an A in that class, and every other class for the entire duration of college — wearing baggy clothes and football jerseys the whole time— but I don’t know why, even today, I still think about that conversation at least once a week.

And then I think, I really should have bought that pair of Sketcher’s.

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Wrote for the New York Times, New York Magazine, Esquire, Rolling Stone, Vice, Fader, Vibe, XXL, MTV News, many other places.

Wrote for the New York Times, New York Magazine, Esquire, Rolling Stone, Vice, Fader, Vibe, XXL, MTV News, many other places.