Last weekend, I visited Baltimore to check out a street art festival. By pure providence I happened to catch a show by Grandmaster Flash. It was bizarre and uncomfortable, as is often the case when visionaries pass their prime. He took a condescending tone with the crowd, splitting his set about 50/50 between spinning records and lecturing about the roots of hip-hop. It was a free show and the crowd wasn't especially invested in his uninvited didacticism. At one point, Flash began to project images from each of New York City's boroughs, playing clips from songs emblematic of that borough, and rattling off the names of the O.G.s with roots there.
As a recovering Long Islander (I take it one day at a time), I immediately felt the chip on my shoulder begin to itch, and self-righteously began listing all of the seminal hip-hop acts from Long Island, confident that they would be ignored. No sooner had I said "De La Soul," than I saw the words "LONG ISLAND" appear on the screen and the first beats of "Me Myself and I" vibrated beneath me. The images Flash chose to illustrate my ancestral homeland, unsurprisingly, were street signs. Without warning, I was confronted with one of the great hates of my life: Nicolls fucking Road.
I was immediately reminded of a poem I composed in 2011, during a summer spent largely in traffic on Nicolls Road, traveling between my neurosurgeon's office, the insurance agency where I worked, the university where I took a summer course in French, and the illegal basement apartment I'd prefer to forget. In the quintessential American suburb, an island defined by traffic, it is easy to think of everything in terms of roads. Nicolls Road meant a standard of living so high it can only be explained by a Billy Joel song. It meant brain surgery after brain surgery. It meant treading water until the next setback. It meant nothing out the window worth looking at.
Here in its entirety is the Ginsberg ripoff I crafted in its honor.
Nicolls Road: A Hate Song
O Nicolls Road, sisyphean circle jerk of exhaust fumes and ennui
stretching eternally northward through vast expanses of withering deciduom
and blaring car horn silences
toward the promise of gentle-wave-lapping-against-pebbled-shore-SOUND,
why must you toy with me so?
Paumanok Path of horror,
plunging deluges of people people people into perfect ordinariness on all sides,
did you know that my car radio was stolen in Albany the day before my birthday?
And now each arduous three ton step in rush hour on your sad arboreal thoroughfare –
the battered white mass of the car a pregnant dog trudging panting in summertime –
is taken in ear-shattering silence, and the sheer mundanity of it all
forces unwanted introspection and extrospection:
what were you before all of this? (Whitman stirs in his shopping mall mausoleum)
what am I?
WHERE ARE WE GOING, NICOLLS ROAD?
But that’s for a different poem.
The one about the big questions.
I don’t have time for that now, Nicolls Road, I’ve got to get somewhere.
And so I hydroplane
suspended in the center lane, between suburban sedation and bestial fury,
all the way to my little slice of arrested development (where to grow is to immediately be mowed)
thinking that in the future this will all become nature
and plastic pink flamingos will have to be neutered and spayed to control the populations of strays.
And highways and sidestreets will debate microeconomics and the growing social problem of lawn gnome migrant workers
and be free to toy with the emotions of the young.
You read my blog.