Guido’s Corner

BY Mike Fiorito


Illustration by Pat Singer

The first time I saw Philip Glass at the Mission Café in the East Village, I noticed his big black workman boots.  They were the boots of a worker who toiled in the bowels of a factory; except his weren’t spoiled by actual factory work.  Naturally, after seeing his boots I sought out a pair myself, finally purchasing them at a store on St. Mark’s Place.  They weren’t exactly like Philip Glass’s boots, but they would do for now. 

My encounters with Philip Glass were always silent.  He never even nodded acknowledgement. We seemed to stare at each other.  Or was I just staring at him?  Of course, I knew who he was.  Perhaps he thought that I was a fanatic who wanted to take him hostage and make him compose music that didn’t repeat itself endlessly until I had a heart attack or went crazy.   Maybe he didn’t notice me.

He often stopped by the Mission Café.  Sometimes alone, sometimes with a friend.  I swear I never stationed myself there just to wait for him. 

One Friday night, he walked into the Mission Café at closing time.

“Coffee to go,” he said, his drooping puppy eyes so puffed he could store a bag of potatoes in their sacks.

“We’re closed,” said the young red-haired woman behind the counter.  I knew that she was an NYU student from Wisconsin and apparently had no idea who Philip Glass was.  The cafe was out of coffee, she said flatly, and that was that. 

            He left sullenly, his eye bags, like a St. Bernard’s, swayed back and forth, left to right, practically dragging on the ground, as he walked away.  

            Since I had recently purchased my pair of workman boots, I wanted to show them off to him.  I quickly jumped out of my seat to follow Philip Glass as he left.  I tossed five dollars on the counter and told the waitress that she’d just refused coffee to America’s most famous contemporary composer.  As she blushed, I considered the ignorance of young America.  She probably didn’t notice his boots either, I thought.  Or mine for that matter. 

            I slammed the door as I rushed out trailing him.  I shadowed him for a few blocks, going west on 4th Street.

            Philip Glass suddenly turned around on 4th Street and Lafayette.  I stopped in my tracks and began examining the sidewalk, waiting for him to resume walking.  Perhaps he thinks I am stalking him.  Well, I am stalking him.  Right?  But not to kill him, just to get a closer glimpse, see what kind of socks he wears, for instance.

            The summer night was quiet.  The East Village was lighted by the silver of the moon, blinking through thin white clouds.  As he crossed Lafayette, I ducked behind a car.

            He spun around.

            I crouched silently.

            He then took out his cell phone.  Was he calling the cops? Would I get arrested for following Philip Glass?  Perhaps I would have to kill him now, just to avoid complications.

            Talking softly on his cell phone, he then started walking again.

            He lingered before approaching Broadway, near Tower Records.  In the meantime, I had crept up the street, hiding behind garbage cans and parked cars.  One moment, he turned suddenly; I then quickly dove into the gutter, lying next to a homeless man, curling up under his blanket so I could take cover.

            I waited until Philip Glass proceeded into the Tower Records entrance.  Then I collected myself, dropping a dollar bill on the homeless man’s blanket and swiftly advancing into Tower Records.

            While we’re here, I thought I would check out the new CD releases section, which was near the store entrance.  This would also give me an opportunity to blend into the environment.  I can’t just dive on the floor in a Tower Records.  That would look crazy.  I’m not crazy. I’ll just keep an eye on the entrance.  Low key.

            Flipping through the CDs, I found new the Frankie Valli compilation.  The CD I had long been waiting for: Big Girls Don’t Cry, Cherry, Dawn.   And the cover promised a 25-page booklet of liner notes and photos.  I was in heaven.

            As I held the CD in my hand like it was an article of precious jewelry, turning it over and over, I lost my purpose, forgetting why I had come into the store.  The pink CD cover, decorated with red diamonds, dazzled my eyes. 

            In my reverie I was shocked when suddenly standing next to me was none other than Philip Glass.  Oh no, I thought, he thinks I’m a fool listening to Frankie Valli.  I began to talk out loud. “My brother will love this CD for his birthday,” I said, only so Philip Glass could hear me. 

“He likes this kind of silly nostalgic music.”

            I made sure to call the attention of the floor clerk and made it obvious that this was a gift.  Did Philip Glass believe my ruse?  I panicked.  I started whistling Vivaldi’s Four Seasons to seem more sophisticated.

            Meanwhile, I had beheld Philip Glass’s slack eyes a few times as we locked glances.  Did he realize I had followed him from the Mission Café?  Did he silently scoff at my imitation workman boots, thinking I was trying to be more like him?

            I grabbed the Frankie Valli CD and went to the check-out counter, thinking I had made an ass out of myself and probably worse.

            It then became my life’s goal to upgrade my boots in the next few weeks.  Not only for my benefit but for Philip Glass’s as well.  Perhaps he will notice my attention to detail.  Maybe he would write a symphony for me — East Village Stalker in B Minor.  I wouldn’t stop searching until I found exactly the boots he had.  The cost was irrelevant.  Working more hours every day, even weekends, at the frankfurter stand was worth it.

            I went to vintage stores in the East Village, even asking the salespeople if they knew who Philip Glass was.  Yeah, they knew who he was, their stares of contempt suggested.   We just don’t know what kind of boots he wears, they said.  What fools, I thought.  He elevates them by wearing their shoe brands and they don’t so much as give him recognition.    

            Finally, at a store called Stompers on Avenue A and 2nd Street, I found a pair of pure black workman boots.  They were flawless, reflecting the hard work of the common person, sturdy and minimal.  Except for one thing.  They had a goofy buckle on them.

            Can you remove the buckle?” I asked the floor clerk.

            “You can, if you’d like.  We don’t provide customizations,” the thin young clerk replied disinterestedly, as if he’d rather be practicing in his punk rock band.   He wore a tight black shirt and sported a double nostril nose ring.

            Then I noticed his black boots.  Holy Moley!  Perfect! They were slender, round at the tip and black as a Texas rattlesnake, just like Philip Glass’s.

            “Where can I get a pair of those?”

            “Sold out last season.  The company went out of business.”

            “Can I make you a proposition?”

            The clerk shifted uneasily.    

            “How much would you take for those?”

            “They are not for sale, weirdo.”

            “I’ll give you two hundred.”  This for a pair of $50 shoes.  I seemed to pierce through his disinterestedness, but he remained silent.

            “Two fifty.”

            No response.

            “Three hundred?”

            He couldn’t resist.

            Please take them off now, I pleaded, pointing to the shoes, motioning for him to hurry.  It looked a little strange, having him bag his own used shoes in a shoe store.  But I didn’t care.  I would have mud wrestled him to the death in the store for those shoes. 

            Three weeks later, I walked into the Mission Café on a Sunday afternoon.  I could hear Depeche Mode playing.  As I scanned the café, looking at the available tables, I saw Philip Glass talking to a woman.

            I walked down the aisle.  My giant black boots (perhaps two sizes too big) sounded like horse hooves.  I sat down across from Philip Glass.

            After taking my backpack off, I then walked up to the counter to order.  Philip Glass and I exchanged glances, but neither of us nodded.  Does he know who I am? Has he noticed my boots?  As I pondered these questions they seemed to rotate in my head, like a Philip Glass composition:

                         Does he know me?

                        Does he know me?

                        Does he see my shoes?

                        My shoes

                        My shoes

                        Does he see my shoes?

                        Know me know me?

                        See my shoes

                        Does he see my shoes?

                        Know me

                        See me

                        Know me

                        See me

            After I placed my order, lost in my Glasslike world of words put to minimalist music, walking back to my seat, my boots tripped on Philip Glass’s boots and I lost my balance.  Falling towards him, I knocked his coffee over and began to float further into him.  It was all happening slowly, my song still ringing in my head.

                        Does he know me?

                        Does he know me?

                        See my shoes

                        My shoes

The world spun around and around and around.  I was now in Philip Glass’s lap, his salad decorating my hair.  I looked like a Satyr. 

Appalled, his big eyes swam in their soggy sockets.  I saw how blue they were.  I even saw his nostril hair.  His head was gigantic – his eyes, lips and nose looked like Mr. Potato Head’s.

He opened his mouth. He’s going to yell at me, tell me that he knows I’ve been following him.  He’s going to have me arrested, of course.  I’m guilty.  He can prove it.

His lips began to move.  I am thinking, is he starting to sing?  Is he singing my song?

            My shoes

            My shoes

            Does he know me?

Then I realized what he was singing.  Like a moment of revelation – the moment the angel came to Mary to tell her of her destiny – the moment that Ronald McDonald invented the McNugget, I heard his voice ringing through my brain.  A chorus of angels singing:

            Big Girls, Don’t Cry

            Big Girls, Don’t Cry

As he sang out of key, I noticed a chipped front tooth.  He was so ugly, I thought, that it’s a sin.  I start to sing with him.

            Big Girls, Don’t Cry

            Big Girls, Don’t Cry

Then the whole café joined in.