I am not cool.
I am, in fact, the antithesis of cool, which some would counter makes me cool on the flip side, but I’m not even anti-cool enough to make it there.
Externally, I might be perceived as cool.I live in a cool neighborhood and I have a cool job and some of my clothes are cool some of the time, but by and large, I’m a product of an extremely white, sheltered, middle-class upbringing so my default cool setting tends to remain at 78-degrees Fahrenheit: comfortable and efficient, but hardly refreshing.
So when I got the invite to hear TNB’s own Rich Ferguson and his spoken-word performance at the NYC Fringe Festival, I thought, “How cool!” and I leapt at the chance to up my cool-status.
The space was in SoHo; one of the coolest neighborhoods in Manhattan.The kind of cool where you could, quite literally, bump into Robert DeNiro at any given moment of the day.The kind of cool where ripped, white t-shirts start at $125.00 and apartments cost ten times that per square foot.The kind of cool where people feign obliviousness to the fact that they know that you know that they are so damn cool.
I love this neighborhood.
I feel cool by association every time I walk its streets, even though it takes me the north end of an hour to dress properly. I never know what to wear, since my clothes usually come from discount department stores or various resale shops around the country.
I settled on a combo of vintage DVF and the Gap.
I totally felt the part.
I negotiated my way through the maddening crowds on Canal Street and cursed the guys clogging the sidewalk with their Hefty bags filled with faux Louis Vuitton handbags and the Midwestern mommies pulling fifties from fanny packs to buy them.
I weaved through the parking lot better known as the rush-hour entrance to the Holland Tunnel and found my way to Hudson Street.
I was early.
Here I was, doing something so cool: meeting a complete stranger for his opening night performance at the Fringe. A spoken-word piece.Performance art.Poetry.With music.
I was in a white, hot, panic:
I’m not cool enough for this.
I resisted the urge to drop into McGovern’s for a glass of nerve-soothing elixir.
I went up to the box office and gave them my name.There was no ticket for me.I mentioned that I was ‘a friend’ of Rich’s (never mind I had never met the dude) and she started to interrupt their rehearsal.
Having been brought up in the theatrical school of ‘Don’t-mess-with-the-actors/singers/dancers-during-half-hour’, I told her not to bother. I was happy to pay for art (which I am) but mostly, I was terrified to be so uncool as to cause a ruckus over the measly difference between a loosely promised free ticket and fifteen bucks, so I just whipped out a twenty.
Looking exactly – I mean EXACTLY, down to the bandana-and-floppy-straw-hat-exactly – like his TNB Gravatar (Gravatar!), Rich wandered up to the box office.
There are no more comps, so he offers to buy my ticket.I refuse.He demands.I refuse again.He heads back for his wallet and I quickly press my twenty into the attendant’s hand.
She takes it, tears the ticket and hands it to me with a five-spot.
I duck down the stairwell, park myself on the sidewalk and promptly hide behind my New Yorker, disguising myself as someone who is cooly immersed in The Talk of the Town.
Rich comes out and shoves 15 bucks into my hand.Clearly, I’m not paying for this show.
When the theatre opens, I take my seat and look around.Folks are in t-shirts, cheap ones, and jeans.The panic returns:
“I’m overdressed.I’m such a poser. What the hell am I doing here?”
Introductions were made, cell phones were turned off and the house lights were dimmed.
I had no idea what to expect.
The guitar was loud and the beat throbbed louder.
Rich took the microphone.
The next thirty minutes took me on a journey though Rich’s Los Angeles that was thick, disturbing, painful, hilarious, poignant and intense.
I had never experienced anything like it.I had started the show leaning far back in the chair; my arms crossed in front of me; distant, removed, cool.
By the end, I was clinging to the front of my seat, sweating emotional bullets and wishing that we had only reached an intermission.
I lost myself in his words, his voice, his dance, his music, his utter cool for welcoming us so openly into his cavernous soul.
There I was, looking down the barrel of a gun; there I was, lying to my parents; there I was, echoing the loss, the hopes, the dreams, the streets that are Rich’s (and now my) Los Angeles.
After the performance, as they were wrapping up, I stood to thank Rich.
My internal mercury skyrocketed back to that balmy 78.I didn’t know what to say.I just fumbled with my scrunched up New Yorker, mumbled a cursory thanks and let him get back to his posse.
But as I walked down the now vacant sidewalk along Canal street, my mind raced.
I went through the performance a million times over in my head.My ears were ringing with melodies and words and ideas, rocking in rhythm with the R train.
As I kicked off my shoes, changed into my jammies and plunked the bag of take-out Chinese onto the worn TV tray (all before 9:00pm), I thought to myself:
I am so cool.