Jun 09, 2023, 06:29AM

Panic in Union Square Park

Paul and Meredith trudge through Union Square trying to find the right train, January 1996.

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“What time is it?”

Paul and Meredith were so absorbed in their conversation that minutes melted away and suddenly the store’s intercom announced the time: “SEVEN-THIR-TEE… THE STORE WILL BE CLOSING IN THIR-TEE MINUTES… THANK YOU FOR SHOPPING AT VIRGIN MEGASTORE…” They were on the best kind of first date: the one you don’t realize you’re on. They both lost time talking about Lamberto Bava, Umberto Lenzi, and Enzo B. Bucci in the infinite aisles of Virgin while the Smashing Pumpkins were getting ready in their dressing rooms and Enzo was bitching about the size of his hotel room. Paul had tried to get Meredith hooked on Billy just liked she hooked him on Enzo, a director he’d never heard of before but would investigate immediately the next day in New Jersey. But he never thought Meredith would ever buy a copy of Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, and if he got it for her as a gift, she’d never listen to it.

She didn’t think Billy Corgan was annoying, she just didn’t care. The Smashing Pumpkins were at the height of their popularity in early-1996, and 16-year-old Meredith had moved on, more interested in the local and independent acts she could afford to see up close. “But the Pumpkins love their fans! My ticket was $10! They’re even opening for themselves tonight!” Meredith squinted. “And where are you going to be? In the back, by the bar? Behind a pole? Hasn’t the show already started? You’ll never be able to see them.” She could tell he was hurt, but there was no time. She grabbed his hand and vaulted up the escalator.

They burst out of the Megastore and onto 14th St., looking for a train that could take them in the same direction. “Where’s Academy?” Paul couldn’t believe it, but he was blanking on the cross street, until he blurted out, “East 63rd.” Meredith shrugged. “I’m going to the Javits Center.” Paul looked at her, unmoved. “…On the West Side.” Paul sank in his steps. “Oh.” A moment passed—no horns, no trains, nobody rushing by. “Isn’t there a train we can take together.” Meredith smiled and kept leading him through Union Square. “We’ll find something.”

On the other side of the street, by the Toys ‘R’ Us, Peter the Wolf was leaning against a wall and trying to light a cigarette but failing, wasting every match in his matchbook, bringing him to the brink of tears. Sheer frustration from this chic wolf in a suit, following his children, unaware why he was ever sent to monitor them in the first place. Paul? Meredith? Enzo? Nicky? Booker? Why was he here? Still he continued listening to Paul and his new friend, one night in New York City, January 1996. Into the park, their conversation continued… “I can’t come. I can’t. This is my favorite band. My favorite band in the world. I’ve loved them since I was nine.” Paul shrugged and Meredith deadpanned, “Maybe it’s time to give up.” He walked away, aimless. Meredith lit a cigarette and sat down on someone else’s snowy bench.

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