Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Record Fair Part II: Normal Vital Signs

I AM HAPPY TO report that I did not die in my sleep Saturday night. Far from it. I in fact woke up on time, at 5:00 a.m. for my second round of volunteer shifts at the WFMU Record and CD Fair. The extra hour of slumber did a lot of good in helping my feet, which were sore from the miles of walking I did around the Metropolitan Pavilion. Those miles and the aches were both for a good cause, one I was sad to have cut short when I left Saturday with a racing heartbeat and a couple of other frightening symptoms that hit out of the blue.

Said symptoms were absent as I got myself cleaned up and out the door Sunday morning. My pulse was still as unremarkable as it was when I had gone to bed the night before. With the thought that caffeine overdose actually was the cause of the palpitations, I started the day with a simple can of Diet Coke and a bagel with cream cheese, and I resolved not to repeat my cholesterol-bomb of a breakfast when I got to the venue. I knew I'd be sampling the Two Boots Pizza later that day anyway, as well as a few Oreos from the A/V Lounge, so the junk food would come in its own time. No sense in pushing things.

Sunday proved to be a full day, if my heart didn't start driving me nuts again. Another security shift until 10 or so, then working the ticket booth for the opening rush through lunch. From there, I actually didn't recall what I had scheduled next. All I knew is that I was eager to put in a full day of helping out my favorite radio station and make up the couple of hours I had lost by leaving early Saturday. I had flirted with sticking around Sunday night to help the station staff with breaking down and loading out their gear. I figured I'd play it by ear.

One thing I love about volunteering for WFMU is that no matter whom you work with on various station tasks, you've got something in common: a love for fine radio. I've nearly always found this was a gateway to finding interesting folks with whom to chat on topics in addition to the freeform station of the nation. My partner at the ticket both on Sunday was a man who'd recently completed computer science schooling and was now doing layout on a local Ukrainian newspaper. This sparked a discussion of Quark, InDesign, the idiosyncracies of editors, and the like. I shared a good conversation, if not a similar design background, with the guy with whom I worked at the flexi-disc museum.

An additional aspect of working a public venue like this was the chance to meet listeners, collectors, and flat-out fans of hawt rekkids. Many folks who examined the stunning collection of flexi-discs commented on their own interest in the format, the records they'd had either as children or collectors, and the specifics of some of the rarer or stranger finds hanging on the wall. Two people actually came by to offer their own discs to the curator, MAC, who hosts WFMU's Antique Phonograph Hour. MAC himself came by late in the day to begin disassembling the discs and to not only thank me and the other volunteer for keeping watch, but to offer us a beer from the concession stand! This is typical of the FMU staff and DJs who work the fair: They are tremendously grateful for the work the volunteers put in to make this a success. I can report that we volunteers are in turn grateful for the staff for giving us a chance to help keep the station we love on the air.

From the ticket booth, I moved to the A/V Lounge, to make free coffee for the slow-awakening record fair attendees and to screen films for folks who might want to take a break from the rush of having so many wonderful opportunities to trade greenbacks for vinyl. I've worked the Lounge before, and it's been a real education for me, as I've mentioned before. This time around, we had You're Gonna Miss Me, a chilling documentary about stricken psych-rock genius Roky Erickson, which was produced by the same company that released the beautiful and heartbreaking Nomi Song. I caught part of a Neil Young documentary as well before I had to start my next shift. I only got as far as the early 80s, when Young released Trans, a Krautrock/Kraftwerk-inspired disc that was about as far from something like Freedom or Harvest as you can imagine. (FMU used to run a compilation disc of videos between feature films in the Lounge, which contained a blistering rendition of "Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)" done about 50% faster than usual with Devo on backing instros and vocals. One of the most fiery performances I've ever seen.) I would have liked to hear "Keep On Rockin' in the Free World," a sonic boot in the balls of the Reagan/Bush era that has lost none of its nutcrunching impact since its release.

Throughout the day, from the uneventful drive in, across my shifts, I had no physical problems at all. Even my feet were hanging in there after my security shift and a couple of hours sitting on a stool while selling tickets. The previous day's symptoms seemed like an extended, overlaid dream. So when DJ and volunteer director Scott asked if I could help out with load-out, I said yes, as long as I could grab a half hour beforehand to get some food to pull my Popeye act and refuel.

This I did. At 6:30, I slid out to Sixth Avenue for a Chicago Burger at New York Burger Co. (another side benefit, in addition to the Chipotle next door, of attending SVA). The first "early" night of Standard Time was falling, the air was cool, a vendor was clearing his tables of paperbacks at the end of his workday, and the streets were alive with New Yorkers heading to a thousand different errands. I felt a strong pang of longing. I hadn't been in the city since my classes wrapped up, and even then, not at night, as I had occasionally been while still working there. I looked up at the old architecture, the office buildings that had seen a multitude of thriving and dying businesses over their lifetimes; the brownstones and apartment blocks perched over bodegas and bars; folks walking dogs, heading to dinner or delivering it via cycle; or just enjoying a mid-autumn night before the work week began. As much trouble as it sometimes was to get in and out of Manhattan, as much as I love my current commute, and as little as that job held for me even the day before I was told I'd have to leave, losing daily access to NYC remains my only lasting regret of the layoff. But at least I have events like the WFMU Record Fair to pull me back in for a day with Big Apple sidewalks under my feet.

Re-energized as much by the city as the food, I returned to the Pavilion. Some kind volunteer, or perhaps the station's staff, had bought several pies for those who made the show run, and I grabbed a sweet, drippy slice of blueberry. I then spent the last hour of my day there disassembling, removing, and packing FMU's gear as best I could. Not being as practiced a hand at the ritual, I put myself at the disposal of anyone who seemed to need a second pair of hands.

By 8:00, I was finally feeling tired. I bade everyone a fond farewell and motored home, still sound of heart, if feeling a little heartache for leaving behind the night-cloaked streets of the city. They're only a train ride away, especially now that the line I used to take during the week has begun weekend service.

Aside from wearing sneakers on Monday to give my feet an easier return to office footwear, I suffered no ill effects the next day. I still stand by my too-much-caffeine theory for Saturday's odd cardiac hilarity. Should it recur, I'll take off for the doc like a shot. For now, I'm looking forward to this and the next few weeks, when FMU DJs begin playing their Record Fair finds, and weird and wonderful music will waft from my speakers and headphones like the rich scent of fertile, freshly turned earth.

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