[Today’s Halloween month installment only tangentially relates to music. Some of you will find the characters quite familiar]
The Man in the Long Black Coat walks into the open entryway of the Alligator Lounge on Metropolitan Avenue in Williamsburg. If the shaggy, heavyset white kid who’s working the door isn’t so immersed in his screen that he actually notices the man, he pays him no mind. Which the Man in the Long Black Coat takes as good omen: this is the kind of place that would card nonagenarian Jimmy Carter. These Republican kids from out of state come from a very repressive society. They’ve been so conditioned to obeying any rule, no matter how ridiculous, that they stopped questioning anything, if they ever did in the first place. But the Man in the Long Black Coat feels at home: he’s definitely invisible now.
As those who’ve followed the on-and-off tale of the Man in the Long Black Coat are aware, he’s become increasingly so. At first, being unseen terrified him, but he got used to it and then embraced it when it would happen. Invisibility has its perils, and it’s forced him to cut back on his jaywalking and give those in the realm of the visible a wide berth…unless they piss him off.
Like that tattooed girl in the subway who was standing on the stairs, texting, during rush hour. He’d goosed her: that brought her back to reality, wide-eyed and indignant. For a second he realized she might blame the little latino guy in the fauxhawk and motorcycle jacket who’d managed to squeeze around her seconds earlier. But she didn’t, and the quick pinch got her moving up the stairs again, opening up a lane for the growing line behind her.
The Man in the Long Black Coat hasn’t been able to figure out how to make himself invisible, although being around friends seems to work the other way. He’s been out with a small gathering of them: what a sinister bunch of archetypes they are! Maybe someday you’ll read more about them.
But they’re in for the night, and the Man in the Long Black Coat is wandering around Brooklyn at 3 AM, full of liquid courage, which has given him the munchies. The Alligator serves free pizza: you get a personal size pie with every drink. Obviously, trying to order drinks in the state he’s in would be problematic, so he heads straight for the pizza counter.
Most of the people in the bar at this hour are gathered in the back for karaoke, so he doesn’t have to worry about startling anyone who might accidentally bump into him or brush past. There are a couple of stacks of pies on aluminum pans, ready to go. The Man in the Long Black Coat waits til the pizza cook turns his back, then reaches over the counter and takes one.
As some of you know, small items that the Man in the Long Black Coat touches also become invisible when he is. Once, he even made a child invisible, but that ended up working out since the two of them returned to visible form shortly afterward without the kid noticing what had happened. Otherwise, invisibility never strikes where it would be most advantageous: in a jewelry store, a bank or the lumber yard, for example. He’s gone into all of those places, hoping for a temporary transformation, but no. He has walked into a few bodegas in that condition, but he’d never steal from one. He would steal from a 7-11, but he hasn’t been inside one in many years, and never in New York.
He doesn’t have any issues with helping himself to what a gentrifier bar might offer, either. They made too many pies tonight, he thinks. His is mostly crust, the sauce lacking in spice, the cheese a muddy yellow pool in the center. The pizza guy probably wouldn’t even want to take these things home.
The Man in the Long Black Coat goes in the back and sits down at an empty table. There are two crowds, one black and one white, taking turns singing, or at least attempting to sing. There’s no interaction between the two contingents, or between any black and white people here save for a haggard white guy in a suitjacket seated close to a beautiful black woman with striking cheekbones. She rolls her eyes at her companion: “I don’t know any of these songs. But my daughter knows all of them.” She offers her phone to show him a video the kid has made.
This music is children’s music, the Man in the Long Black Coat thinks. There’s no chord structure to speak of, just a melody and a drum machine. The verses are short and extremely simple, the choruses singsongey and cloying, the vocals robotically autotuned. Neither of the karaoke crowds has anyone who can sing the octaves of those choruses over and over in staccato quarter notes and nail each of them, not even close. Everybody’s having trouble remembering lyrics; nobody seems to be notice the teleprompter panning down the rear wall.
The girl running the karaoke machine looks to be in her mid thirties. She’s black, with dreads and a leather coat. Many of the black posse seem to be friends of hers. The white kids, in their khaki and pastels, ignore her except when their turn to sing comes up. Although each of them seems to have a drink, they all look about fifteen, their features soft and unlined, carefree and oblivious to everything except themselves. As each singer takes the mic, phones rise on the corresponding side of the room, then the crowds busy themselves with Gramming the footage.
A quasi hip-hop tune comes up; one of the white girls gets up to sing it and pauses, stumped. It’s a kiss-off to some hater or another, full of gratuitous product placements. “I think this is Lady Gag,” the man in the jacket says to the woman. “Your daughter played this for me once.”
She laughs: “I bet.” Heads lowered, the two periodically interrupt what’s obviously an intense conversation for lengthy embraces. They could be a couple, or old friends who’ve had too much to drink. Or maybe a little bit of both, the Man in the Long Black Coat considers. He gets up, manuevers gingerly around them and returns to the pizza counter for seconds. This stuff is awful, he admits to himself, but it soaks up the booze.