Spinning Tables at the Frying Pan

by

08/10/2006

The Frying Pan, Pier 63, NY, NY, 10011

Neighborhood: Chelsea

I had never gone to the Frying Pan—the restored boat/event space docked beside the Chelsea Piers—before last week. It was one of those places that I’d almost been to a bunch of times, but never actually made it. I nearly didn’t go that night, either, but I’m glad I did, because I think I ended up there under perfect conditions, although I had no way of knowing it until later.

Two friends and I went in at about 1 am. There was no one at the door, and the place was nearly empty. The boat swayed slightly, dark and dank inside. I wandered around at a slower than usual pace, winding through the ship’s many rooms. There were only a handful of other people. They must have come aboard the same time we did, given that we, for a time, were all clustered by the bathroom. I lost track of my friends among huge rooms filled mainly with machinery, narrow passageways dotted by portholes, and then found them again and again, there, in other rooms and levels, and finally on the tin-floored bottom, smooth with wear over the years.

We followed the voices, lured down by the muted then louder sounds. At first I thought the night had yet to start, that more people would come, but I could feel the emptiness of the vessel, and knew something was somehow off.

We wound our way down, circled the floor. Idiotic voices repeated banalities, echoing what one would expect to hear on a flight, maybe tapered to a boat’s experience.

“So enjoy the cruise. Anything we can do for you…” a female’s voice bounced and landed dead in the metal.

“Welcome, welcome,” a male voice joined.

I gazed at the ground I was covering, saw “STAPLE” embossed there, and wondered how old the boat was. I temporarily lost track of what was occurring. When I noticed again, the female’s voice was repeating the same inane statement about the cruise.

I walked directly up to where they were gathered, seven or eight of them bunched together in the DJ area. “Does anyone have any music?” one of them asked over a mic.

I stepped up, and climbed around a pole. “I do.” I announced, and advanced.

Some kept intoning into microphones, pleased to hear the sound of their own voices.

“And do you know the third chorus to the Messiah?” one kid asked me.

“You guys are really asking for a lot, you know that?” I joked, as I eased the heave of my bag onto a nearby chair and began digging through it for my MP3 player. It took a while for me to figure out the wiring.

“Do you guys know this board?” I asked, flicking switches, pressing buttons.

Someone offered to help, and my two friends went off to get beer. I put on the first song, which eventually worked.

A blond, be-backpacked kid looked at me with recognition. “It’s The Cramps!” he noted, and I was glad he knew it.

Further glee came from the prototypical hip-hop kid intoning the chorus after it was sung: ‘I need a new kind of kick’, he repeated, facing offstage, although all of us were gathered upon it.

“Nice.” said the guy to my right, nodding. He perused through my collection of music, and selected Raw Power.

The scene began to loosen, we all realized we were in cahoots, it was alright, we shared a station and a source.

Below the sound board, there was a plastic container with a few stray LPs inside. I began to look through the records, slightly limp with river air, the covers extra heavy and humidity-filled. I settled on Judy Garland’s “Christmas Hits” and wondered if I could, on the fly, figure out how to transfer to the turntable. I eyed the switches and cords, and began to really consider about the implications.

This place was amazing. Was it really a sort of open, actual vessel for the taking? Could it be this easy to walk in, plug in, and begin a party? Even though, after my friends left to get beer, I knew no one there, there was still a sense of genuine camaraderie, of worthwhile collaboration. This held great promise. This was what this city should be, and, evidently, could be. Within minutes I was having wild visions of secret good times without a chaperone or supervisor.

Then we were busted.

A slightly nervous-looking guy came up to our little knot of revelry. “Did you rent this space out?” He asked us.

We were all quiet for a moment.

“No.” admitted one of the trendy Euro girls, who had previously been dancing in small circles to an Elvis song.

“You can’t just come on here. This is a rental-only space.”

“It is?” asked the blond kid.

“Yes. Only booked events are allowed in here.”

”Oh,” I spoke up. “I had no idea.”

“And you can’t smoke on the boat.” He said to me.

The group began to shift, disperse.

“Is this anyone’s record?” He asked, peering at Judy Garland on the turntable.

“Yours,” I said, approaching to retrieve my iPod. He seemed satisfied that we would vacate, and turned to leave.

“Don’t listen to him. You keep smoking.” One of the hip-hop guys said to me, nodding.

As we filed out of the boat, we thanked each other. It was, technically, as a matter of fact, Independence Day, and for a few minutes it had been true independence in action.

It was fun while it lasted. No, it was great while it lasted. Anarchy, pure and driven like hope. The idea that if you’re lucky enough to wander onto an equipped boat in the middle of Manhattan and savvy enough to figure out how to make it work, and can maintain good will, there a good time is for you. Even if only for three songs.

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