Indiana wants me

Looking out a dirty old window. Down below, the cars in the city go rushing by. I sit here alone and I wonder why . . . I don't move back to Bloomington.

Welcome to June in Brooklyn, where the mercury keeps inching closer to 100 degrees. I just paid $76 for a few tiny sacks of groceries. The fact that I devoted the previous week to crossing the country with the zeal of the Road Warrior baffles me. I should have quit halfway and set up shop in Hoosier country.

Some folks imagine Indiana to be terrifically dull. But these miscreants have never driven across the cornfields of Kansas or tried to order a sandwich that included neither lunchmeat nor mayonnaise in South Dakota. Contrasted with much of our great nation, Bloomington is a hotbed of culture. Even after you subtract John Mellencamp and the movie Breaking Away from the equation. So I returned for a quick visit, to seek a day of respite from the wasteland of Middle America.

Well, that and to make a desperate bid to recapture my youth. My four years at Indiana University may not have been my happiest, but they're colored by a naivet頉'll never recapture. I honestly believed my boyfriend was faithful. Even after he gave me crabs. And I could drink more low-grade booze than I can conceive of now. My stomach churns at the memory of the Mad Dog 20/20 and grape soda highballs we'd serve in summer, but back then they tasted like nectar.

Bloomington made me the savant I am today. My experiences at the esteemed IU School of Music may have been bittersweet—I lacked the requisite discipline and girth to sing opera seriously—but I wouldn't trade them. I know how to pronounce "timbre" correctly. Leonard Bernstein kissed me on public television. And once I looked out into an audience and saw Cher seated three rows deep; suddenly I didn't feel so rotten about my own shaky vibrato.

But my real education took shape outside the exams and master classes. Would that I'd foreseen that before slapping down the tuition. You learn about life quickly when you don full Tammy Wynette drag and screech M�y Cre's "Girls, Girls, Girls" for a bar packed with drunk frat boys (no, I wasn't being hazed). Especially when a budding Brnnhilde shredding "Rhiannon" like a kid at Christmas blows you off the stage.

So despite Bloomington being several hours out of the way, I made a detour en route to NYC to cruise through my alma mater. I'm a tad nervous. Since my last visit three years ago, the music industry suits have come calling. The Billboard cover story trumpeting this modest burg as the new boomtown hangs in the student union. An old friend of mine has watched his band, the Mysteries of Life, get screwed royally by a major label, and the fantastically average Old Pike have just released their ho-hum debut on a Sony imprint.

As I amble through my youthful stomping grounds—mercifully free of students—the pace of life feels slower. At a library book sale, I score armloads of cool wax: Les Baxter, Perez Prado, Antonio Carlos Jobim. Weird early electronic novelty LPs— Moog Plays the Beatles, Switched On Bacharach—are scooped up at 50 cents apiece. As penance for my addiction, I'll have to haul my bounty into the cool safety of a motel room each night for the rest of my trip, lest I hit the Big Apple with nothing but a pile of warped black plastic.

That afternoon, despite phobias of being perceived as a vampire, I track down the young men responsible for two of the eight indie labels based here and ask them out. Unlike the writer Rolling Stone sent a few months ago, I do not demand they direct me to "someplace good." I'm content to buy them beer and pizza. I just want to show my appreciation for their fine work.

One of the two labels, Secretly Canadian, has been responsible for some of the more intriguing titles to hit my mailbox last year, including the disturbing balladry of David Fischoff's Winston Park. The other, Jagjaguar, just released Grammar Bell and the All Fall Down by Manishevitz, a North Carolina quartet whose rambling ditty "Lonesome Cowboy Dave Thomas" has been in heavy rotation on my car stereo since I left Seattle.

Later, lying in bed, visions of a different summer take shape in my brew-fueled imagination. Pleasant people running superlative record labels, untapped stores of cheap vinyl, inexpensive first-rate pizza, a renter's market for apartments. I want to believe I could be happy here again. But landlocked Indiana isn't exactly the ideal location for a freelance magazine writer. And no amount of cheap wine could ever restore my faith in a boyfriend's fidelity.

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