First Person | A Hangover from CMJ

Pianos at Ludlow and StantonClint Rainey Pianos, 158 Ludlow Street.

As I was making my way down Avenue A last week, a young girl in combat boots asked me for a light. I stared at her, confused. It was obvious to me that before she left the house that morning, she had remembered to smear her eyes with liquid liner, wrap her hips in enough metal belts to refurbish a John Deere machine, and carefully paint each of her nails a different shade of black – but she forgot her lighter?

“Here,” I gave her a neon pink Zippo I’d had since the last time I was hounded by Marlboro promoters at ACE bar.

“Thanks,” she said, and after using it threw the lighter into the dark depths of Tompkins Square Park, provoking the muffled sounds of an annoyed rat. Maybe she thought it was a large, cold, match.

“Yo, do you know where Pianos Bar is?”

Oh right, it’s CMJ: The biggest music festival in New York. Every year on a random Monday in October I’ll look out my window to find even more people in combat boots and keys on their belt loops outside my bars, more underage kids pushing amps down Ludlow, more pigeons feasting on abandoned pizza crusts and taco shells in the early mornings. The entire neighborhood becomes a hub for music journalists and the bands that they drool over, though it is very hard to say who is working and who is playing.

A year ago, as I’d sat on my roommate’s bed in our 11th Street, the phone rang. It was Tucker, my friend from back home in California.

“We’re in big trouble.” He said. “Who’s we?” I asked.

“Me and the band,” said Tucker. I could hear the faint whir of driving on the I-95 South in the background of his phone call. “We’re on our way to New York for CMJ.”

Tucker and his two friends were in a band based in San Francisco. They were moderately successful, but in the way that they all had to have day jobs and make music videos with FlipCams. I was impressed that they’d landed a gig at CMJ.

Whoever was next to Tucker coughed. “We’re on a bus right now from Boston and we have nowhere to stay.”

I don’t like visitors, but Tucker sounded desperate, and saying no to poor artists made me a bad person, and even worse, a bad New Yorker. I looked around. Maybe three grown men could sleep in the dishwasher in our kitchen. The machine was unnecessary considering we didn’t have cabinets to put dishes in.

“Please?” said Tucker. “It’s only for one night. We have no where else to stay.”

The three of them – clad in tight jeans and pit-stained plaid – arrived with guitars, wind instruments, and amps. We fit cymbals and sticks into sinks and behind toilets, leaving just enough room for each of us to sleep in the shape of our best cannonball dive. The boys also brought whiskey. It was the night before the festival began. The energy and excitement of the crowds matched those of NYU freshman in the first week of September, except there were fewer drunk girls crying outside of bars and more drunk girls head-banging inside of bars. It was awesome.

When I awoke the next morning, the band had gone to retrieve their badges for the festival. “We’re playing at so many venues right by your place!” squealed Tucker when I called him. I could hear him put out his cigarette on the side of his Ninth Street Espresso cup. “It’s so convenient! Thank you so much for letting us stay there, you’re the best!”

Now might be a good time to mention that Tucker isn’t really my “friend from home.” He was a friend of an ex-boyfriend whom I was desperately trying to win back. I had to remain cool, relaxed, chill even. “Awesome,” I said. “See you at home!”

Tuesday came and went. The band played to a bored crowd of four at The Cake Shop. We went to a party that you had to be on a list for. Everyone’s makeup looked really well done. More whiskey was consumed.

On Wednesday morning I opened my eyes, hungover from more whiskey, and saw a mouse gnawing on a pink slab of lox while his friend snacked on a bagel left over from the band’s breakfast. I told Tucker they had to be out of my apartment by that evening. I immediately decided no boyfriend was worth the torture of having to get rid of mice. “But we have a show,” Tucker whined. “Not my problem,” I said, then I stuffed their bagels in their suitcases in hopes a mouse would make one its home.

On Wednesday night, when I got home from the bar, the string section of my houseguests’ symphony was still gathering dust in my conservatory. Tucker said they were drinking with some girl band, a band that had a name that sounded like the name of a coloring book, and that he’d be back at 4 a.m. to pick it all up.

I sat in front of my dishwasher, now housing a banjo, and buried my head in my hands.

After Tucker retrieved the rest of his keyboards and synthesizers, I went out of town for the weekend. When I returned, the cigarette butts were swept out of the gutter, the brown bags of Sparx had long since been recycled, and all band members that had participated in CMJ had gone back to their parents’ houses in Jersey.

This year, at my new job, I received an email from my co-worker about a showcase we would be putting on for CMJ. We had a lot of work to do, she said. We had to book bands and find a venue. No time for drinking whiskey or attending parties with guest lists. It was going to be a lot of work.

I told her I knew of a band we could book for free. They owed me a favor.