For real, true, honest-to-goodness New Yorkers, there is no other place to live. Which doesn't explain why I consider myself a lifelong New Yorker (well, New Yawker) even though I currently live in Virginia.
Ugh. It's hard to explain. I grew up on Long Island--spent my first 21 years there, in fact. I moved to Delaware to be a radio deejay, met my wife there, spent four years there, got married, moved back to New York for 10 years. Got sick of living in New York (Brooklyn, to be exact), got a job offer in VIrginia, packed up my wife and belongings and hit the 95 corridor for a new life. Been in that new life for almost 21 years and I'm still adjusting, still making peace with my decision.
I rarely go back to New York these says, but when I do I always feel like I never left. It's like putting on an old suit that fits like nobody's business. It just feels right.
I know that's barely an explanation, but I don't know how else to say it other than there's nothing like a pretzel and hot nuts from a vendor cart in New York City. There's nothing like a walk in Central Park. Or a Nathan's hot dog from a Nathan's establishment. And no, Nathan's hot dogs from the supermarket don't taste the same.
Come to think of it, there's a certain taste to New York. And a certain smell. Taste and smell that collectively rolls over any other location suitable for living in the United States. It's dripping from every 1 and 0 of Mark Bacino's melodically and culturally-rich Queens English, an album that explains everything I've just said in a more poetic way than I ever could. But I know where he's coming from, that's for sure.
It's all there in the gorgeous old-world style of "Bridge and Tunnel," a lucious ballad worthy of Sinatra and Nilsson and the whole lot of those crooner types. "Make Manhattan disappear/'Cause no one's really from here," Bacino sings, and it's the truth, just as it is in Washington, DC. No one's actually from New York City. People work there, sure; people sightsee there; people meet and greet there. In fact, '...the butt of all their jokes/Are the wheels and the spokes...of the city," meaning the people who live in city's five boroughs and on Long Island. It's the everybody else that makes the city, man, and Bacino sings it loud and clear.
In "Middle Town," Bacino sings of the hard day in the city town that inevitably leads to the vision of sitting on the stoops of the middle town that's not the city town but, rather, your town. Here, the focus is on a person who's "...never bothered, never cared/Never chased the fad, in that city town," where, in the middle town "...there's just some kids and they're running 'round/Chasing Softee down." Growing up, the sound of Mr. Softee's ice cream truck coming down our street was the sound of heaven opening up and the angels coming down to share a lick with us. A vanilla cone? You bet! Come here and let me sell you a swirl, son!
Bacino's magnificent album, with all of the characters who make up his middle town, proves that home is where the heart is, and this is the soundtrack to their lives.
"How noble it is to survive.../And hold your ground/In your middle town," Bacino sings, a place where all of the good things in life happen, like being happy, like having a "Muffin in the Oven," even though you're not sure you're ready for one or for the incessant song that accompanies life in "Camp Elmo," the realization of the truth of a rugrat in the house, changing everything. "Living here in Camp Elmo," Bacino sings, "Where hanging on means letting go/So trade in all your dreams/And sign up for the team/It's easier in Camp Elmo." It's easier because it's the real life one gives into when one realizes he can't go drinking at night or out about the town when the baby needs feeding and changing, when the spotlight is on the real residents of Camp Elmo.
In the middle town, the blue suit is king. It's worn at funerals, at weddings, at communions, at bar mitzvahs and along the way it gets frayed and tired, like a man working two jobs to pay the bills. In the middle town, as Bacino explains in "Blue Suit," the fabric of a man's life has "...seen my worst and better days/Probably wear it one last day/Say goodbye and go our way..." In the middle town, like any town, the blue can, and sometimes must, turn to grey.
"Who are yous?" Bacino asks during the bittersweet closing number, and in this case it's you and yous sitting on a couple of lawn chairs with a beer, listening to the game, when who comes along but the muffin now out of the oven and everything changes. But, at the same time, as the sound of a Mr. Softee truck plays out Queens English, sometimes nothing changes at all. Especially if you've been in your middle town long enough.
I realize that I have been in a middle town for the past 21 years--a middle town that is not really mine, so there is no sitting on the stoop with a beer listening to the game. That will come back to me soon enough. But for those of you and yous who are in your middle towns, towns that speak to you, that care for you, that heal your wounds, the bridge and the tunnel will deliver you to paradise. Bacino's magnificent album, with all of the characters who make up his middle town, proves that home is where the heart is, and this is the soundtrack to their lives.
March 5, 2011