Thursday, October 8, 2009

The Butch

My years in the fourth, fifth, and sixth grades of grammar school at St. Joseph's, were the worst years in my life, and I have spent at least thirty more years of independence trying to make up for those three formative years robbed of my youth. Ask anyone who knows me, and they will tell you that I have much of the preteen still embedded in me.

Sister Janet was our fourth grade teacher, and I have the mis-notion of what her age might have been, but, trying to uncloud what was my youthfully skewed mind as to the age of adults, I figure she could not have been over thirty. She was oppressive and sexist, and compared to few other students in our class of about 36, she truly had it in for me. She, however, picked on all the boys in our class in one mocking way or another, sometimes with truly good humor, more often with embarrassing sexual overtones. Carrying the rudimentary nuggets of what I know of womankind today, I have no doubt that she had her worst days when she was menstruating, and that what she really needed was a good, long, satisfying fuck.

She mostly ignored the girls in the class and almost daily set upon the boys. There were a few "cool" boys in our class, and she would rib them in a jocular tone; although, they too were subject to her front-and-center stabs at humiliation.

If a boy had his shirt untucked, she would pull him to the front of the class, unbuckle his belt, unsnap his pants, unzip his fly, tuck in his shirt, and do him back up again. The girls tittered, and the rest of us boys, you'd think, would have gotten the message, yet this process happened many times after recess.

During the winter, there were snowbanks to play in. She warned us that if we came back in from the schoolyard with wet, snowy pants, that they would come off and be hung on the radiator to dry. Pity the boy who sat red-faced, staring at the floor in his long-johns or, God-forbid, his underwear. Most of us wore two pairs of pants at a time, lest our recess shenanigans would have that terror befall us. Many boys, many a time were down to one pair; damn if the slush leaked through them both. Michael Malia, one of the "cool" boys, one winter morning, had his pants stripped off and sat, boots on, chin up, in his tighty whities, and Sister Janet fairly blushed and beamed at his unashamedness.

To this day, as back then, I keep a messy desk. Several times, this met Sister Janet's wrath. I clearly remember a few mornings walking into the classroom with the feeling that today was actually a good, new day and then seeing the contents of my desk in a pile on the floor, and my desk next to hers at the front of the class. Before the "Pledge of Allegiance," I was to pick up my books and papers, pens and pencils, ruler and eraser from the floor, neatly arrange them into my desk, and spend the rest of the day next to her, facing the class. Titters all around. That smartass bitch; I raised my hand all day and gave her every right answer that everybody in the class didn't know. I'm sure that didn't help my relationship with her. When the bell rang to let us out, I would carry my desk back to its spot, and, as I remember, Maria Taliento would help me, blushing.

At one point during that school year, there was some scandal or another about corporal punishment in public schools, and some ACLU people or parent group had it outlawed. Ours being a Catholic school, we were above the laws of mercy, tolerance, and compassion, so we were, all in our school, handed permission slips to be signed by our parents, to allow the nuns to continue to hit us. I brought mine home, sure that my mom wouldn't sign it. Surely, she didn't want them doing that. She and my dad had exclusive smacking rights. Her response, as she signed the slip of paper was, "I hope they sock it to ya!" A line from "Laugh-In." I carried that slip back to school and dutifully placed it on Sister Janet's desk. I felt all alone.

I had two very close friends in those terrible years, Patrick Keeley and Angelo Mazzone. Patrick, pale, freckled, and obviously Irish, was probably the smartest kid in the class (I was probably second among the boys.), and Angelo was squat and exuberant and wanted to be a policeman. We were imaginative and inseparable. They told me great stories of their summer vacations and adventures with older sisters and brothers, and I made up tall tales of speedboats and Corvettes that had no basis in reality, because my life seemed so dull in comparison. I guess they were good stories, and they were never questioned.

One day, after the recess bell rang, the three of us were being rambunctious, and Sister Frances Claire, the fifth grade teacher, grabbed me by the ear and pulled me up the stairs to Sister Janet's fourth grade room, Patrick and Angelo meekly following. She told Sister Janet that if we thought we were so smart, we'd spent the rest of the afternoon upstairs in the fifth grade class. Sister Janet curtly smirked at us and said that would be fine with her. The three of us were introduced to the class of older kids to a round of laughter, and we got seats in front of the class. It was time for English, and Sister Frances Claire asked what is a diphthong. Her class went silent. I looked around, and all of her students were trying to avoid her gaze. Time stopped. I hesitantly put up my hand. She cocked her head and said, "Michael?"
"It's when you have two vowels next to each other that make one sound together, like 'around.'"

Patrick and Angelo's eyes were like dinner plates.

"That's right", she said, "Anyone else?"

Their hands poking the air, the fifth grade class exploded with answers now that the convict had broken the ice. We had Sister Francis Claire the following year, and hard-assed as she could be, I think that bold move softened her attitude toward all three of us when we got there.

At the end of my fourth grade year, as the trees bud and bloom, wet, snowy pants become grass-stained, and the bugs come out, I did something stupid. My parents called it "bad" and"wrong," and I can't, for the life of me, remember what it was (breaking a window? playing with matches?). Whatever it was, it was to be punished with the final humiliation of that fourth grade. Instead of waiting for school to let out before they did it, my parents sent me to the barber to get "the Butch."

I believe that the term "the Butch" comes from "the butcher," and it is a crew cut with a waxed-up front. It was a rite of summer, and, because it was so embarrassing, especially as this was the beginning of the 1970s, the days of long hair, my parents would mercifully let me get the Butch after school let out. Not this year. Whatever I had done warranted getting my hair lopped off and spending the last week of school, downcast, among my classmates, all of them knowing that I was being punished.

I went to school on Monday of the final week, staring at the ground, and it was a beautiful Spring day. I remember the lilacs. Patrick Keeley and Angelo Mazzone met me and they said the buzz job was alright, and I said no, it wasn't. I felt like hell. I was the only bald kid in the class. And buck teeth besides. Sister Janet's eyes sparkled; it was punishment that she didn't even have to mete out. My parents agreed with what she thought I deserved. At the end of the day I skulked home.

I got to school on Tuesday morning and both Patrick and Angelo ran up to me, and I'll be God-damned if both of them hadn't each had their hair shorn off. They had both gotten a Butch! To this day, it mystifies me how two nine year-old boys would conspire to such solidarity for a friend. Their act - they must have each asked their parents to bring them to the barber after school - still, to me, defines friendship, to share a friend's humiliation in an act of unity and defiance of convention. If one of us was not going to be "cool," we would all not be cool together, and it did not matter what anyone thought. We were friends, and everyone could see it.

I wonder what Sister Janet thought of that.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Trilingual Pets

I speak very little French nowadays. I studied the language for about nine years in the Great State of Maine as a child and as a teenager. My accent got good, as I am a fair mimic, and my French grammar, as with my English, was learned as much through my knuckles as it was through my noggin. Given two weeks in France, people think that, partly because of my size XL nose, I am a native.

I do not speak French to Puck.

Puck, my dog, grew up in New York City, as I did not. I lived in Spain for a few years as Puck did not; however, having lived in Madrid and on the Island of Majorca, I returned to the USA, years before Puck was born, with but a rudimentary knowledge of the Spanish (less so, Majorquin) tongue. My friends overseas were either American or British, or they were Spaniards who wished to learn American vernacular. I studied the Spanish language while I lived there, but, in large part due to my own laziness, I lapsed. Hell, I taught English while I was there to people who insisted that I not speak Spanish during the lessons. There is another aspect that displaced Americans and foreign Europeans – Dutch, German, Irish, English, Belgian - found it a relief to speak English to somebody, anybody.
When I returned to the USA, I found that my fledgling knowledge of Spanish helped a true communication with the people who work in bodegas and elsewhere in the service industry. That I tried to communicate in Spanish made many daily acquaintances pleasurable and entertaining. I helped them out with their questions about English, and they were happy to oblige my grammatical queries. I would ask (and still do) a Dominican counter person or a Columbian waitress, for instance, what is the difference between a certain phrase in Castellano, versus the same in South American or Caribbean Spanish.

I do not speak Japanese, but, in a Pavlovian manner, I enjoy learning things which appeal to me. So does Puck.
The Raunch Hands played a short tour of Japan, again, long before Puck’s birth, and our entourage – and please do not diminish the exact meaning of that term – referred to me consistently as “gitchee guy.” “Tsandra-san” was another moniker, but I understood that one (“Chandler, sir”). I asked what is the meaning of the word “gitchee,” and I was told that it means “cool and crazy;” although, they said “clazy.” I translate the term to mean “nutty.” “Gitchee guy” also pairs up with “gitchee gar,” meaning, “gitchee girl,” so the idiom is not gender-exclusive. I selectively learned that term, and “arrigato,” as my only Japanese words.

Now back to little Puck, the eternal puppy.

Certainly, he is not little; however, I think of him as such, and that is a defining element in our man-to-dog relationship. In our early days, I gave him a ham bone, which he promptly took into his mom’s (my girlfriend’s) bed. I scolded him, and I tried to take that bone away, to bring it into a drool-proof environ. I know, now, what Siegfried and Roy dealt with daily. Puck bared his teeth and lashed out at me with same. I was frightened, but I realized that I had to put him in his place. I yelled at him in the way that I reserve for the microphone in a rhythm & blues performance, and my howl, though much out of fear, beat him down. I felt like a lion. He unequivocally understood what I meant, and not only did he drop the ham bone, but he perceived, in no uncertain terms, who was his master. That instance changed our relationship.
Certainly, Puck responds to the sound of my voice, as much as he recognizes my scent... umm, as, admittedly, I do his; however, we refer here to language. When I use the words, “walk,” “food," “treat,” “ball,” or “beach,”, Puck knows exactly to which I refer, and he is a ready dog. When I tell him, as his affirmed master, to “stay” or to “behave,” words which he very well knows, he makes a decision.
Puck is trilingual, and there are no three ways about it. Not only does he know the above English words, but he responds well to “enough,” and the phrase, “knock it off!” When we walk together, he knows the Spanish terms “vete” and “venga” and “basta,” and, I hope he finds endearing the term “idiota,” which he hears from time to time when he would, and does think he should, “walk,” when to a person who is lucidly aware of rapidly moving automobiles and who is not color blind and who, by the way, is holding the leash, knows better.
Happiest of all languages that little Puck understands, is my microscopic knowledge of Japanese. When I call him “gitchee guy,” he knows exactly what I mean. When I call him by his name, in whatever tone, to him, it could really mean anything, “Wanna Treat?” “Wanna ball?” “Wanna go to the veterinarian?” etc. When I call him “gitchee,” in any circumstance, will he follow proper direction, but he, under more comfortable, domestic conditions, happily, obediently, soundly, plunks his big, furry, black head on my chest. Those eyes, that sighing breath...

65-pound little Puck, indeed trilingual, is cool and crazy.

The rock 'n' roll element.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Near-Death Experiences Part ll

I have spoken of the railroad tracks and my fascination with them. I have always kept far from oncoming trains. To pedestrians, they are imminent death. Wanna do it? That is one way. From 1979 to 1980 I attended Fordham University in the Bronx, as long as they could stand to take my money, and I gave them a run for it. Running alongside our dormitories was the ConRail Westchester line. The easiest way over the tracks was a skinny, wooden pedestrian trestle. I think if you were to hang your legs over the side of the trestle, the tops of the diesel trains would have taken your feet off at the ankles. The trains came from Manhattan, at that spot, on an incline, and the triple engine locomotives roared to get out of town. I learned the schedules, and I would sit, cross-legged on that walking bridge, waiting for diesel locomotives to pass inches below. As they did, the enormous topside exhausts blew my hair and shirt up. I learned the feeling of being blown away by a train, and that feeling was liberating.

A year and a half later, I moved to New York City for good and true. I had just gotten my job at the ostensible “bookie joint,” and after a long day, got a fair wad of cash. I was walking across town to have a few beers with my new co-workers, and I was on a dark street. I heard running footsteps behind me, and I turned around. The man ran past me, and I thought everything was okay. Ten yards ahead of me, he stopped and turned, walking, back toward me. A hand plopped onto my shoulder, and there were three guys behind me. There was a handgun shoved into my back, and they told me to be quiet. They all four surrounded me, and two of them rifled my pockets. Of course they took my money, and they took my wallet, which contained nothing else of interest to them. They stole my phonebook, they stole half a pack of Kool non-filters. They stole my fucking matches. As they were about to run away, the one with the gun demanded, “Are you gonna yell when we leave?”
I trembled, “Oh, no. Oh, no, no sir.”
One of the other guys shouted in my ear, “Yes he is! Let’s kill him. Let’s just fuckin’ shoot him.” My knees went weak.
“Oh man, please don’t,” was my meek reply.
“Yeah, come on, fuckin’ shoot him!”
They looked at each other, dropped their shoulders, and all four darted off. I met my friends at the bar nearby, and I don’t know that I have ever needed a beer more than at that moment.

The second time I was mugged at gunpoint, I was walking home at about 4:30 AM with my short-time roommate, Carlo. We were sharing a sublet near Avenue C, and we were both finishing work at Club 57. The tips we had made that night didn’t stack up to more than seven dollars apiece. As we neared our tenement, two kids ran across the street towards us, one of them shamelessly brandishing what was either a .357 or a .44 blue/black Magnum. It was freezing outside, and the kid stuck it in Carlo’s neck. They shoved us into the ante way of what they didn’t know was our building. They thought we were in that desolate spot to buy drugs. I know that they wanted to get us off the street to cover the hold-up, but I am sure that half the reason they brought us into the building was that it was about ten degrees below zero outside, and they wanted to keep warm during the robbery. The barrel of that gun was nothing less than awesome. They took our meager cash, and Carlo and I kept our wallets, phonebooks, cigarettes, a bag of pot – and our matches.

When I am a drinker, I am a provider, and at the onset of the Raunch Hands, I had a good job at the “bookie joint,” so I would buy the beer for the band at our rehearsals. We rehearsed in Staten Island, and often, instead of taking the ferry, Mike Mariconda and I would meet our drummer, Vince, in Hoboken, and Vince would drive us over the Goethals Bridge to rehearsal. In those days, Vince would become either quite angry or quite silly when he drank. He had a few at rehearsal one night, and Mike and I got in the car with him. Drunk driving laws were not so stringent back then. It was snowing to become a blizzard. Vince was silly, and he drove that way. He was swishing fishtails across the Goethals and along into New Jersey. Both Mike and I nervously warned him to quit it, but Vince was in his cups, and he said he knew what he was doing, and he made more treacherous swerves in the heavy snow. There was very little traffic on the road, except for the bold or foolish.

Routes 1 and 9 arrive in Hoboken off the Pulaski Skyway, and it is a high approach. We were in Vince’s silver 1971 Chevy Nova, a fairly heavy automobile. Vince laughed heartily as he did another fishtail, coming down off the Skyway. He lost control of the swerve just as the car hit a patch of snowless pavement where the tires caught, sending us at a straight line across three traffic lanes toward the bridge abutment. When your life is in danger, everything slows down. That Nova did not. I looked at the speedometer; it read 45 miles per hour. I looked into the window of a sixth-floor apartment that was dead ahead of us. The abutment was about three feet tall, and I knew that if it collapsed under the weight of our car, we could not be saved. We bounced off the short wall, and the bumper sliced open one of the front tires. The radiator burst. Mike and I had to push it the rest of the way down the ramp, across some bare railroad tracks (a nightmare, in the snow) and into a parking lot. Vince was hardly even embarrassed. Mike and I walked to the Hotel Victor, soaked to the skin, and got hammered on 35-cent Schmidt’s draught beer with the old men.

A few years later, the Raunch Hands were on the road in London, Ontario, Canada. We were being driven by The Real Neil Meal Deal (Neil Vickers-Harris), and we were traveling with our buddy Rob, from Toronto, who habitually came along for our entire Canadian tours. We had heard of a party after the show and, of course, went to find it. We found the street, and the Raunch Hands galloped off to the house. I stayed in the van for several minutes to jaw with Neil and Rob. They went to find the party, and I lingered, I guess, smoking a hash joint and drinking an excellent Canadian beer, of which we used to buy cases – not to share with the hoi polloi. Well, I had the address of the party, but those screwy Canadians hadn’t done their streets like we do them here. There were even numbered and odd numbered homes on the same side of the street. Between houses, there were ten-digit skips. I looked all up and down that damn block, and no place exhibited a party. I was damn good at finding them too. There were lights on in the top apartment of a three-family home. I rang the bell and got no response. I walked to the backyard and there were porches on every floor, and I peered up, but I couldn’t tell if that was where the party was. I rang the front doorbell again, and received no response. I went around to the back, but there was no way up to the third floor. I went back to the front of the house, and there was a guy, about my age, standing on the porch. It looked like he had his hands in his back pockets. He asked me what I wanted, and I asked him if there was a party upstairs. I was astonished when he pulled a rifle from behind his back and leveled it between my eyes. I know my .22s from my Mossbergs, and I believe this was a Winchester. The barrel was about eight inches from my face, and the guy cocked the gun and asked me what the fuck I wanted. I told him that I was from America and that I was only looking for my friends and the party. He wasn’t buying. He told me I had better get out of there and poked me in the sternum with the barrel. I hastily obliged. I eventually found the “party,” and it was a madhouse. There was a nearly empty keg, the Raunch Hands, and maybe a dozen shitfaced Canadians. One guy had a flirty girlfriend, and he was being repeatedly pounded in the face by some guy she was coming on to. Both were very loaded, and when one would get weary of punching, the other would start pummeling back, until he had to stop. It was a ridiculous, lugubrious fight, and I watched for about ten minutes until one guy got his head smashed through the window of the storm door in front. The Raunch Hands left, and we never returned to London, Ontario.

I am sure there have been other near-death experiences in my past, but these posted are elemental. Although I am an alcohol and drug abuser, those incidents have not yet been caused, on my part, by alcohol or drugs; although, many times on them or afterward, I have wanted to die.

The rock 'n' roll element


Whenever I see someone smash a guitar, I see someone who does not love music. I was walking down LaGuardia Place one day, and I saw three men, in the demolition phase of an apartment renovation, and they were flipping a beautiful art deco piano down the brownstone stoop, in the process, destroying it. Further, they humped it into a garbage truck and crushed it. My jaw dropped, and I could not look away. It was preposterous. I felt as though I was watching an execution, a slaughter.

I have seen "fine art" painters who have slashed their own canvasses. Would one think that I, if I were to be a fine artist in the field of stained glass, would smash my own work? Do you think that either Little Richard or Jerry Lee Lewis would destroy his own piano. Have you ever seen Chuck Berry or Bo Diddley or Hound Dog Taylor or John Lennon smash a guitar on stage? They never needed to do that.

That is not rock 'n' roll.

Where I come from, musical instruments are regarded as sacred. We use them so that you, in the audience, may feel something. Maybe I wish to send you angry chords and angrier lyrics. I do not get on stage to send you shards of wood.

Very truly,

The rock 'n' roll element

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Near-Death Experiences Part l

As far as what I did or did not know about death, as a child, I experienced a few circumstances of what could have ultimately been. Since then, I have been in situations with handguns, rifles, drunken drivers, muggers, hard narcotics, and seemingly accidental circumstances which have brought me as close to my Maker as He will charitably allow.

Have you ever sniffed up a line of rat poison? How about a bag of Ajax that you just had to have? If so, would you admit this to your loved ones? When I was about four years old, I snorted up a whole salted Spanish peanut. It got way the hell up there, and I got an infection in my sinuses that made my nose and ears bleed profusely. As a four year-old, it was hard to admit, finally to my adults, what I had done up my nose... It required an operation, which, I suppose saved my life. I think I got off light. In my twenties, I experienced another, more harrowing, death-defying food experience from someone other than myself; a guy at a barbeque in Tennessee fell backwards, drunk, off an outdoor bench, onto a glass pickle jar; the jar smashed, a shard piercing one of his kidneys. You want to talk about ants or rain spoiling the picnic? How about Emergency Medical Services?

It wasn’t but a year or so after the peanut incident that I jumped into a swimming pool, for the heck of it, at a motel on a family vacation. To this day, as then, I swim like a pebble. I remember looking at the bottom of the pool and looking up through the water, which I was breathing, at the refracted rays of the sun. I was relaxed, and I suppose I felt confused, but not panicked. My uncle Bill Sitnik swam like a seal over me and plucked me out by my shoulders. I was not embarrassed by the worried response of my adults. It was one of those things I did.

When I was about seven, now in Portland, Maine, I was on my way to school, and I was not paying attention while crossing the street. I don’t suppose I had the light, and a car screeched to a halt, inches from clapping me to the pavement. The driver blasted his horn in guilty, frustrated fury. My wrist stung from where the car’s grille had rapped it, and I ran away, scared as hell, across the intersection. Quite an intersection it was. It was known (and still is, as far as I know) as Morrill’s Corner. It was home to The Brass Rail, a hard bar where I saw my very first bullet hole in a window. A few months after the personal bounce with the Ford Town & Country station wagon, I was walking home from school, regularly, crossing toward The Brass Rail; figure that this was about three-thirty in the afternoon. As soon as I crossed Forest Avenue and got onto the sidewalk in front of the bar, a man in a Fox Lumber uniform stumbled out. Fox Lumber was just the other side of the railroad tracks from there. The man was white-haired, balding, red-faced and short. He had to have been in his sixties. He was reeling drunk. He had a handsaw in his hand, and I caught his attention.

“I’m gonna saw your head off,” he slurred, and he stood so not to let me pass.
“Oh, no you’re not,” I gave him and went to take the circuitous route around him, streetside.
He blocked me, I, wearing a Catholic school tie and hauling my damn bookbag.

He growled, “I’m gonna saw your head off.”

Fear crept into my voice. “Oh no you’re not.”

“Oh yes I am! I’m gonna saw your head off!”

I darted one way and the other, but this drunken little man expected each move I made to get past. He laughed a hearty drunken laugh and said again, “I’m gonna saw your head off!”

What an adversary! I was trembling. I could not imagine, in any capacity (pun intended), what was going to happen to me in that moment. There was a grassy alleyway next to The Brass Rail, and I had never dared to explore it; it led to Hell. Would he drag me down there to kill me? To saw my head off?

“Oh no you’re not,” I quavered.

“Oh yes I am!”

From above my shoulders, in a deep voice, came the words, “Oh, no you’re not.”

I turned my chin straight up, and I saw a cop, a glimmering Police Officer. He was staring down the guy from Fox Lumber who had the saw. He told me to get home, and I did not look back. I have never, before or since, seen a cop walking a beat anywhere near Morrill’s corner. The only guys around there with guns – and saws - were always in The Brass Rail.

The rock 'n roll element

Thursday, July 16, 2009

First Date

I do not usually divulge people’s real names here, but in this case, I will, because there were no shenanigans. My first-ever girlfriend was L___ S___.

I attended St. Joseph School in Portland, Maine, from when I was admitted at age seven, until I finished their eighth and final grade. Our classes were small, less than thirty students, and you have no choice but to become familial with your classmates. Hell, you’re growing up with them. I had many crushes on girls throughout our childhood together, but those girls were like cousins to me, or they were unattainable. K___ G___ was like the Statue of Liberty; what a prize she must have become. She was an easy comparison to Maureen O’Hara. C___ S___ arrived in about the sixth grade, and she was a bad girl. She smoked cigarettes, and on “dress down day,” she wore overalls through which you could see her underwear. T___ K___ was one of the most fascinating and intelligent young girls one would ever want to meet. In boyhood, many of us are preoccupied with war, World War Two in particular. T___ K___, at age thirteen, upped all of us boys by submitting and reading aloud a biographical report she had written on Adolph Hitler. I believe she was looking through us boys, and her report was concise and honest, as much as any magazine article I read these days. She sure was pretty.

We had school dances at St. Joseph’s, reserved for seventh- and eighth-graders, and I danced with every girl in both of those classes, bar none; I held every single one in my arms.

When I was about thirteen years old, my dad yapped at me about “what was I doing with my life?” I got pissed off at him, and I picked up the wildly, negatively-life-changing paper route; I started running with a cross-country team, running, another futile endeavor; I was already an altar boy, and I competed in spelling bees, but significantly, I also joined the Sea Scouts (aka the Sea Explorers). In his youth, my dad had been one, and it made him proud to see me in the same place. I cannot say enough about having been in that organization. Boy Scouts had to carry packs on arduous hikes. I was thirteen and fourteen and fifteen, and I was allowed to pilot a six-ton 35-foot craft with twin diesel engines and get the crew home safely. I worked bow watch on that boat and plowed through swells that were about to break six feet over my teenaged head, and I am among the world’s worst swimmers. I beat Navy and Coast Guard crusties at the pool table. What a thrill! Ever swab a bilge? Experience it once.

There were girls in the Sea Scouts, and our crew was enlisted by Portland policeman, Officer Treffery. He was truly a recruiter, and many of the boys and girls he got to be in our crew were kids he wanted to get off the street corners and out of broken homes. I like the bad girls, the lonely girls, and, in the Sea Scouts, they pervaded. Although I thought we were aligned, the ones I liked were having little to do with my youthful attentions.

We were going to have a dance, of which we had several, and at age thirteen, I felt I ought to bring a date. I looked, subversively, for someone to ask, and she was not to be from my eighth-grade class. I surely could not ask an eleven year-old sixth-grader out on a date, so it was to be the female representation of the seventh grade. Here was L___ S___. She was blond-haired and brown-eyed, which is like the combination of opiates and alcohol to me. Her lips were full and very red, and they twisted up like you see in portraits of 18th Century French or Russian royalty. She lived directly across the street from the school where there was a chain link fence and a gate. Of a morning, when the gate was locked - and I can still see her breath in the winter days - she would hop that six-foot fence like it did not exist. She would land, poised, on her toes, and I wonder if she ever knew I was watching.

Well, I was, and it was she that I decided to ask out on my first date. About a week or so before the Sea Scout dance, I got up the damn nerve. It wasn’t going to happen if I didn’t ask, and I knew where to meet her as she cut through the schoolyard at the end of the day. We eighth-graders got out a few minutes before the rest of the school, and I waited and fretted. I was also waiting on my brother, Patrick, a first-grader and my charge for the walk home.

As much as I was a first-timer at asking a girl to go to a dance with me, L___ must have been at least as taken aback. Besides the cousinly dances, my hailing her that afternoon was maybe the first time we had really spoken. I looked her in the eye, and the bell rang for all the little kids to get out of school. Patrick ran out and said he wanted to go home. I told him, “in a minute,” and tried not to stammer to L___ S___. Patrick started, again and again, kicking me in the ass and smacking me with his lunchbox, and I put on a brave face and asked her out, repeatedly being kicked and smacked by my little brother...

She said yes.

The parents happened next. Of course, being a youngster, L___ told her mom and dad (proudly, I hope) that a boy had asked her out. Portland, Maine, at the time, was a town of only about 60,000 people, and my Catholic enclave was divided into about four parishes. Rarely could any family elude the grapevine. Our telephone number was in the book, and it wasn’t an hour and a half before Mrs. S___’s call came in, wondering what the hell was I doing, asking out her daughter? In one of the most stunning elements of my experience with adults, both my mom and L___’s decided that the dance would be alright. Young, too young, or not, it’s what people did. L___ and I went to that Sea Scout dance, and she really was my date, and I felt big, because everybody else, older teenagers, boys and girls alike, even the bosuns, arrived stag.

After some time at the dance, I walked with her out to the pier, to show her our boats. There was the aforementioned cabin cruiser (made of steel, constructed in Holland), a wildly heavy dory that actually held a state license number in spite of the fact that we only ever rowed it, and a Korean War surplus rubber raft with a kick-ass Mercury outboard motor. I wanted to kiss L___, and I didn’t know what to do. I wanted to hold her hand, and I was very unsure of that. My palms were sweaty, and my voice, although I remember confidence in what I was talking about, felt like it was coming from another person. I did not hold her hand, and I did not kiss her. It’s funny that I had no qualms about wrapping my arms around her waist when we danced later to those terrible 1970s slow numbers. During those, she laid her head on my shoulder, and at my young age, I felt like a real person.

Early in my rock ‘n’ roll career, I was much maligned for portraying a misogynistic attitude. I knew what I was doing. I was making cynical fun of rednecks and coarse country music. Some people were offended. I thought I was being cute and making a statement. The Sam Goody chain banned Raunch Hands records. I have since had several girlfriends who were raped by a boyfriend or a relative when they were in their teens – or younger.

I continue to look a girl or a woman in the eye when I would be so bold as to simply ask to hold her hand.

To innocence, L___,

The rock ‘n’ roll element

Tuesday, July 14, 2009


When I moved to New York City, I had no real idea about heroin and heroin abuse. I am an alcoholic, and seeking out drugs, except for pot, back then, never crossed my mind. I turned 21 years old here, and I don’t think I had ever tried cocaine. I certainly liked pills, and I took them whenever they were available and free of charge. They augmented drinking; they often made a nightly stint in a bar, like after having given blood, far less expensive.

A couple months after my twenty-first birthday, I went to “little Club 57,” at 57 St. Mark’s Place, in Manhattan, for a beer. The staff was painting the place, and they said the bar was closed. I asked if I could help them paint, and they told me to come back the following day, figuring I wouldn’t. I did, and I helped them finish their work over the next few days. They asked if I was able to be a bartender, and I told them if anyone knows anything about alcohol, it is I, what ought to be an enormous detriment in the bartending field. I began tending bar, playing records, and entertaining onstage shortly afterward, and I worked alongside a manager who I will call “Adam Lefkowitz.”

Adam would leave the bar, a bar very slimly attended on most nights, to go “get ice.” He would return several hours later with a story about being mugged, and, so distressed, his chin would soon hit his chest, and he would “fall asleep” in a chair. I swear that guy got mugged about three times a week. Naive as I was, it took a friend to tell me that what Adam was doing was going out to buy heroin, spending the bar’s till and lying about it before he nodded off. Before Adam would pass out, it was sure that he would give me a lecture about how I was drinking up the profits. “So that’s how they do it,” I thought. Adam’s habit led largely to the demise of Club 57, as we were constantly behind in the rent.

A few years later, a friend of mine from Rochester, NY (Rah-Cha-Cha), named King Farouk, was visiting The City, and he overdosed at a friend’s apartment. He was about 26 years old, and I thought of him as an “older” person. The Raunch Hands had visited Rochester many times, and Farouk had been involved with booking our shows, and he and his brothers had put us up in their home regularly. He had taken the whole band and an entourage out to some lakeside property his folks had bought, and we all took turns shooting a shotgun. I found out that I am a terrible shot. When Farouk died, I didn’t really know what to express. I have been around death for much of my life. When I was twelve and thirteen, an altar boy for the church that adjoined my school, I would check the obituaries the previous night to see whether it would be math or English from which I would be excused to serve a funeral. I could get out of doing a bunch of homework by doing five minutes of research in the newspaper. I had also attended many funerals of people far closer to me than of those in the papers I delivered. Irish as I am, I look for the after-party to be like a consolation prize to the human loss, but it rarely is. Farouk’s death seemed senseless and wasteful.

Over time, I learned about heroin and its effects and as a social phenomenon, and many of my questions about other people’s unusual behavior were answered.

The first time I ever had the drug was under false pretenses. The Raunch Hands were about to play a show at the Blue Rose, on the Upper West Side, and I was at the home of a friend, having a few before the set. Another guest, my Dubliner friend, Billy-O asked if I wanted a line. I figured he meant cocaine, and I said, “Sure.” He was playing a prank on me; it was dope, and I performed what I felt was one of my worst shows ever. No matter what you think of Johnny or of Sid or of Billie Holliday, opiates do not enhance a performance. I cried hot tears after that show.

I had a few more trials and errors with dope before I moved to Madrid in the early 1990s. There, one night, I was out and about, and I had some money in my pocket. My girlfriend was an airline stewardess, and she was out of town. I was just knocking around, and I came across someone the Raunch Hands had stayed with in northern Italy. I will call him “Carmello.” I saw Carmello on the street in MalasaƱa early in the evening, as I was on my way to eat in a delicious pizza restaurant, and I invited him along. We left the restaurant and went to a nearly empty nightclub, early, and I recognized a couple girls there. Carmello, married, took about 15 minutes to whisper into the ear of one of the two girls, a displaced French girl named Anna Maria. Shortly, we were on an easy quest for dope. Drug procured, we all went back to Anna Maria’s place. I was a nasal user, and I was taken aback when Anna Maria gave Carmello a spike of hers to use, which had clearly been used before.

We did up what we had bought, and we sat around, talking, drinking Mahou. After some hours, Carmello wanted more, about which, fundamentally and financially I spoke up, and they laughed me off. Copping is a fun and dangerous part of the process. I did not think it was a good idea, but I went with him and Anna Maria for another round from under the tongue of a Moroccan kid. We went back to her place, and they shot up again, somewhat deriding me for “wasting” the junk up my nose. It is a clear remembrance of mine not wanting to fall asleep, in case either of these two dropped off.

I did fall asleep, and at about 6:30 of that shining Sunday morning, I startled myself awake to find Anna Maria breathing and Carmello not. I slapped his wrists; I slapped his face; I lifted him up and shook him. I shook Anna Maria awake. I felt Carmello’s pulse, and it was waning. He was still warm, and he hadn’t had the courtesy to turn blue. Anna Maria lived in a pension, a place where she lived with many other women and from which she could, with overnight “gentlemen” guests, get kicked out. Almost nurse-like, she advised me to get Carmello down the stairs, and she would call an ambulance. True to Spanish form, the only phone was outside in the hallway.

Have you ever lifted a dead body? It does not matter the person’s height or weight. It is different from the person who is merely passed out. Gangly limbs go in all directions, and there is nothing but heft. I ratcheted Carmello’s body down the wide spiral staircase of Anna Maria’s pension, sweating, cursing. How could this fucker die on my watch? I made much noise coming down the stairs with him slung over my back. I didn’t care about Anna Maria’s station; I wanted as much help as I could get. I was staring up into the glinty, dusty, morning rays through the spiral staircase, a dead man in my arms, with my abysmal Spanish, yelling, “Dame alguien!” Three or four women appeared over the cylindrical railing, and one who spoke some English called, over and over, “He is only sleeping. He is only sleeping.” I got Carmello out onto the sidewalk in quiet, brilliant, Madrid Sunday sunshine. Anna Maria dressed and ran downstairs. I had no papers to be in Spain legally, so she told me I ought to get out of there, but I would not leave Carmello on the street; I waited for the ambulance with some element of hope. When the ambulance team arrived, they didn’t even try. They felt under his chin and then they looked at me and then they looked at the ground. Carmello was gone, and we all knew it. Anna Maria wasn’t coming back down, and I surely couldn’t stick around, so I left Carmello in the hands of the emergency crew; although, it was certainly no longer an emergency.

I wonder if, on that bright, Sunday summer morning, I have ever felt worse in my life.

Junk is not, and never will be,

The rock ‘n’ roll element

Thursday, July 9, 2009

"Meat Market"

I live on the cusp of the former “meat packing district” in New York City. No meat is packed around there anymore. Well that isn’t true; plenty of modeling agencies and discotheques and nightclubs where the “minimum” for a tabled bottle of Stolichnaya is $300, have replaced the wholesale butchers. The new establishments absolutely pack their share of meat. On the West Side Highway, the exits at 14th and 16th Streets read: “Meat Market,” an irony that I believe is intentional by the public works people.

In the 1970s, the meat packing district was home to empty semi-truck trailers, where the term “anonymous sex” among the homosexual community, outside the bath houses, really began. You could look it up or watch the movie, “Cruising.” The spread of AIDS took a wild toll there. The “Triangle Building” in the district, in the 1980s, was also home to the Hellfire Club, a later-period, infamous S&M and bondage joint, replete with an array of bathtubs used for “personal” defecation. They also had floor shows and floor shackles.

The debauchery continues today, with sex now being the undercard to money-worship. People come nightly from at least three states (New York environs, New Jersey, and Connecticut) to wait in lines to pay outrageous amounts of money for entry to these nightclubs and to, henceforth, fall down in or throw up on their Chanel dresses, Brooks Brothers suits, and my block. I guess that's what they call, "being noticed." Parking in my neighborhood is a nightmare every night of the week, and people fight over spaces. If your parked BMW, Mercedes, or Cadillac SUV needs constant attention, and its alarm and horn need to start loudly sounding every time a truck or a Harley Davidson motorcycle drives past it, then, please don’t leave it alone. Its alarm makes me as sick as you get when you are doing as the Romans did in their luxurious vomitoriums.

When I first came to the West Village of Manhattan in the early 1980s, I met people who had grown up there. They had played ball in the streets; they had met characters that you now see represented in cinema; they had opened businesses that then catered to their neighborhood’s needs. There were “mom & pop” stores and restaurants. I entertained a visitor from Atlanta, GA a few years back and, off the top of my head, remarked, “There used to be families around here, but now it’s just yuppies with babies.” There is a significant difference between the two elements.

As well as the yuppies, there is a preponderance of fashion models in my neighborhood. You notice them, because they are too skinny and coltish – they comport themselves on dietetically spindly legs – and, although beautiful and clad in state-of -the-fashion clothes, they are never smiling... ever. At night, there remain vestiges of the late 1970s and early 1980s. If you see, of a late night, a stunning young black woman in stilettos and a stole, you may be in for a big surprise when that individual accompanies you back to your overpriced “Meat Market” hotel room, of which there are plenty, for just such romps. Most of those black angels are men, and those men have a tendency to kick the actual female prostitutes off the block.

I might complain of the other residents of my purported “neighborhood,” but I am sure that they don’t like the looks of me either. I find myself to be one of the last remaining bohemians in New York City’s Greenwich Village, once regarded, and renown, for such outsiders. I see some others who were part of the Village in its heyday, long before I ever arrived, and they appear haggard and beaten down, not from their outsider’s lifestyle, but from what I would perceive, constantly swimming against the tide of money, from the true outsiders.

The rock 'n' roll element

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Punch Line: I've Got My Bag On!!

Whit has been my friend for many years. He has a semi-ex-wife and many grown children. He comes to New York City from his upstate town occasionally, and we find ourselves in one another's environs at some of his visits. When I see him at a nightclub, he is pleasant company, and he is about as polite a drunk as I ever have been. It's often too late for him to get a train back to his upstate home, so I am able, sometimes under duress, to put him up at my place.

One night, after a King Khan & BBQ show at Don Pedro, Whit was jolting around on his feet and asked if I would let him stay my place. I told him yes, if he would not keep calling out from the other room with drunken questions, which he has a habit, albeit forgivable, to do.

As it is with many drunk friends on many nights, it was very difficult to get him to say good-bye to everyone at the nightclub, and it was no easy task to get him into my car for the ride back to Manhattan. He got in and I started the car. He was wearing a bicycle messenger's shoulder bag, and he is, put charitably, portly, so he had to awkwardly wriggle into the bucket seat. I snapped on my seat belt and told him to do the same.

He squirmed about, trying several times, five, six, seven, to get the shoulder restraint across his body but could not. I told him we were not going anywhere until he put on the damn seat belt, and he tried again, fumbling with it over the messenger bag's strap across his chest. It's strap looked like it could have been the car's shoulder restraint.

Loaded and frustrated, he said, "Yeah, but I've got my bag on."

I said, "I know you got your 'bag on,' but you still have to wear your seat belt!"

Don't feed me a frickin' straight line.

the rock 'n' roll element

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Night and Day: "The Music of Your Life"

I don’t remember how I was introduced to Clammy, and I don’t think we hit it off immediately. We eventually did, and we developed a close, formative friendship in our late teens. It was not necessarily a productive friendship in the short run, and I must say that it was a destructive friendship on the part of other people’s property.

We were punk rockers at the turn of the decade into the 1980s, and, as far as Portland, Maine went, we had the run of the joint. There was the amazing Downtown Lounge, which presented Lou Miami & The Kozmetix, some of the first Lyres shows, Pastiche, The Neighborhoods, La Peste, Mission of Burma, The Outlets, and many non-Boston bands like the Slickee Boys and The Rattlers.

There was a community among the DTL (as it was known) patrons, but there were schisms as well. Clammy and I traveled freely among the various tribes, but we sincerely allied with none but ourselves. Tim Warren, future founder of Crypt Records is a person that I met there as he played deejay, another brotherly person in my life. The DTL, however, was only open a couple nights a week, and Clammy and I were, the rest of the time, starved for beer and our own live entertainment. We did quite well on both counts.

Kids, if you are too young to get served booze, go to the homosexual bars. They will be pleased to see you there and will be friendly. I was old enough to drink, and Clammy wasn’t, but Clammy, his girlfriend, Adrianna, and I could always get a beer or a devastating Kitty Carlisle at a bar or discotheque in the then-burgeoning Portland gay scene. We also, Clammy and I, spent much time playing pinball in the suburbs where we lived. Clammy went to vocational school and had a friend whose mom was an ambulance attendant, and that friend would provide us with scores of unidentified pills. Adrianna’s dad was a doctor, so she had a Physician’s Desk Reference, and she would find out what we had. If a pill was tagged not to take with alcohol, we knew it was a good one and, of course, drank on it. I remember our finding the last of some Abbott depressant and wondering how to split the capsule. I dumped some out on the pinball machine to snort and gave the re-closed cap back to Clammy to eat. I rolled up a dollar bill and sniffed my half. It was like putting molten lava up my nose. I thought my face was going to fall off.

When we were “visiting,” we weren’t simply satisfied with making beer and alcohol vanish. You, personally, did not want to invite us to your home; although, many people did. Their homes became our homes as well, and we took many liberties with petty cash, medicine cabinets, recreation rooms, laundry areas and teenaged daughters. Strangely, I guess, we were affable enough to be invited back, time and again, to places we had wrecked.

On the street, we were no better behaved. In the winter, in Maine, one has to keep busy to keep from getting too cold; once Clammy and I started to “keep busy,” we kept it up throughout the rest of the year as well. People often did not lock their cars back then, and their coins for tolls became abundant beer money. FM converters became literal “hot” items for us. I remember someone hurrying out of their house after me one night; I ran, and a few blocks away I smacked into a telephone pole’s guy wire. I had a red stripe across my chest for a week. It was about 2am, and, as usual, I was wearing sunglasses.

I was also wearing an earplug connected to a transistor radio. In those days, in Maine, radio was abysmal, and there was no such thing as a Walkman. Clammy and I took to listening to an AM radio format called “The Music of Your Life,” hits from the 1920s through the 1950s. At home, we listened to Black Flag, the Circle Jerks, the Dead Kennedys, 999, and others, but out and about, it would be Rudy Vallee, Nat Cole, Jo Stafford, Frankie Laine, Vaughan Monroe, et alia. Portlanders still don’t know that a large amount of their early-1980s graffiti was sprayed to the tune of pre-war Frank Sinatra.

The “music of our life” was never so evocative as late one night when we, Clammy, Adrianna and I, decided to go for a clandestine swim in the Kiwanis pool. The entrance was shut, and we climbed the 9-foot fence to get in, stripped to our underwear and splashed and swam around. After about a half an hour, a carload of drunken rednecks pulled up with the same idea, but they saw us in there, and they changed their plan. They wanted to kick the shit out of us. You want to be the fish in the bowl, staring at the cat? There was a nine-foot chain link fence; the only place to escape was to climb out to where those loaded jackasses already were, and we were in our underwear. We had a radio playing, I’ll never forget, “The Jones Girl,” by the Mills Brothers. I didn’t want to die to that song. That carload of morons were so drunk that they couldn’t get up the fence. Thinking about it, I don’t know that they tried to climb it like we had, but they tried to lift it up to crawl under. I thought we had had it until one kid, holding the bottom of the fence up for his drunken buddy, let it slip out, putting a gash in the guy’s neck. They all gave up, staggering back to their car, cursing us and giving us the finger.

We three got into our clothes and climbed back over the fence. At the time, we all lived in an apartment downtown, and I suggested we stop into the Miss Portland Diner, a landmark, stainless steel railroad car affair. We walked there, went in and sat down in a booth. We waited a few minutes, and I looked around for someone. There was an ashtray with a lipstick-smeared butt at the end of the counter and yesterday’s Portland Press Herald. I went into the kitchen, and there was no one. Obviously, someone had forgotten to turn out the lights and lock the place up. I turned on the grill and turned on the radio in the kitchen. It was the Chordettes playing “Mister Sandman.” I found a butcher’s knife and got a platter of ham from the refrigerator. I walked back out behind Clammy and Adrianna; I put on my best Looney Tunes face, wielded the knife and screamed, “WHAT’LL YA HAVE?” I must have taken three years off each of their lives.

We had ham and eggs and roast pork, orange juice and buttered toast. I didn’t feel like making a whole urn full of coffee.
When we were done, I shut off the grill, did our dishes, and we turned out the lights as we left, but I took that meat cleaver, and I told Clammy and Adrianna I’d use it on any subsequent car full of rednecks. On purpose, I left the radio on to “The Music of Your Life.” As we left, I think the song playing was “The Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe,” by Tex Beneke and the Modernaires.

I have not heard from Adrianna in almost a quarter of a century. Clammy and I are back in touch, and we have a chuckle about our delinquent past. It is startling to see how little either of us has changed since we were teenagers. In many ways, we have grown, but I feel we have never grown up. I guess it’s like a bottle of cognac; it tastes really good when it’s eighteen years old, but can you really tell the difference when it’s forty?

The rock “n” roll element

Monday, June 22, 2009

Bernard's Adoption Q&A

I thought about scanning this, but I am typing it out, editing some of the boring and embarrassing parts about baby food and stools formed...

In 1961, I was born and subsequently, immediately put up for adoption by Catholic Charities in western Massachusetts. Although those elements may have been distracting to my young life (no olfactory sense of a mom, adults in my life being there in "shifts"), this, I presume, woman kept notes on my behavior for potential adoptive parents. I have a record of my infancy.

It follows, with the name I was given, as an orphan, pre-Baptism, of Bernard. I was adopted at 4-1/2 months (born in late May, adopted in early October), so these descriptions refer truly to those of an infant.

It is definitely formative in the Rock 'n' Roll Element. See:

Time baby wakens:
Bernard sometimes awakens early in the morning and plays and talks to himself, but will invariably fall back to sleep. He wakes for the day about 7:00am.

Time baby naps:
Bernard is not fond of napping, and when he falls asleep during the day, it is usually for a short while.

In what position does baby sleep?
He chooses his own. Sometimes on his side, sometimes on his back. He moves freely.

Does baby sleep with toy or any other article in crib?
We leave his soft dog at the top of his crib so he can talk to him when he awakens.

Is baby a light or heavy sleeper?
I think Bernard is rather a light sleeper and is apt to be startled by noise other than the noise of other babies. This he can sleep thru (sic), once asleep, but crying will keep him awake and irritated when he is tired.

Time baby plays:
Continually. With his toys, with his hands, with his feet. Anything he can reach.

Where does baby play?
In his crib, on your lap, in his Teeter Chair. The last took some getting used to; he didn't like it and gets tired of it quickly.

(Here, I skip much about a baby's diet in 1961.)

Bed time:
Bernard likes to "stay up." Some evenings it is 7:00 - 7:30 before he falls off to sleep. We settle the nursery about 6:30 by lowering the venetians, lighting a dim night light, but Bernard travels all over his crib, and when he drops off, we cover him.

Foods baby dislikes:
Bernard hasn't formed any dislikes.

Does baby take water or orange juice?
We do not give orange juice. Bernard is not particularly fond of water, but he takes it occasionally.


Does baby suck thumb or use pacifier?
Bernard had the use of a pacifier when he was a little boy, but he won't have anything to do with it now. He likes his fingers, all four at once. And he is even enjoying his toes!

Does baby like to be rocked?
He loves it, as he loves whatever keeps his adults in view.

Is baby fussy, good-natured, etc.?
He is the best-natured boy in the world. On the rare occasions when he "cries," he can change a sob half way through into a laugh.

Any other habits that should be noted?
NOTE: Please try to be as careful as possible in making out the schedule or noting any other information that would be of help to the adoptive parents.

All Bernard's movements are quick. We have had to keep two eyes and hands on him during bath period especially. During feeding, he tries to help with the spoon. It takes stiff resistance sometimes to win. He does not like his food “soupy.”
He loves his bath, but he always acts startled when he gets into the tub unless you distract him with soft talk and slow motions.

He does not like a free-flowing nipple. We use Evenflo (silicone – twin air valve nipples). He is apt to play with the nipple at the beginning and end of his feeding. Just put a little pressure under his chin... this will stimulate him to suck.

If you are wearing glasses during playtime, watch him when you get close. He removes them with ease.

Don’t become alarmed if you hear him scream... he is enjoying himself. He makes a variety of sounds. He is trying to raise himself up, and given two fingers and a lot of encouragement, he feels like a hero when he reaches the upright sitting position, which he can maintain, with a lot of wriggling, for a period.

He likes having his hair brushed.

I think more than a thousand thoughts when I read this. I was told by a physician that the likelihood of my birth mother having been a teenager was great.
She also told me that my chances of not being born an alcoholic were a sucker bet (my term); she said a thousand to one.

On one side, I will never know my birth parents. On the other side, I have a dad and two moms, my adoptive mother, deceased when I was three years old, and my mother who put up with my emotionally erratic behavior for all the rest of my youth and adulthood, all of whom I love and who love me as there is to be familial love. It is not that of blood, but then I wonder about the (young?) woman who gave me such a glowing report when I was an infant. I have sold used cars, and it is clear that she was not just trying to get me off the lot.

I think she loved me too.

The son of many, yet none,

The rock ‘n’ roll element

The Tracks

When I was about six and a half years old, my folks moved to Portland, Maine. There, my father bought a house built in about 1910 but which, more importantly to him, had a fair chunk of land – about five acres – that came with it. There were neighborhood kids that I met and didn’t understand, and we played baseball on the cleared part of that triangular tract. There was also “the gush,” where water collected from runoff between the house's back yard slope and another mild slope that came down across our playing field. Aquatically, the gush was foul territory; afield, part of it was in fair territory, down the third base line. Rosie Asali, in her early teens, was a torrid hitter and “parked” many a ball into the gush. Often, when we’d lose a ball in straightaway center in the milkweed, we’d search the gush for a long-lost waterlogged ball, and, man, when you hit one of those, it would concuss from your wrists through your jaw and spine.

Behind the field, there were the woods, and they were significant. When I was very young, I was able, almost, to get lost in them. They were thick and dark; there were lady slippers, praying mantises, a twelve-foot cliff with a rope swing, and there was, buried, an old dump among the trees and undergrowth where you could actually dig up stuff like collectible bottles and tin ware, centipedes, and a million other things a kid could find. Once, I got a still-sealed Ball jar of mustard relish with a handwritten label from 1932.

Behind the woods were the tracks, the railroad tracks. I’m sure one of the subliminal reasons my dad bought that house was that his father was a railroad man. My grandfather is buried only about fifty yards from a set of rails, and I was surely and magnetically drawn to those behind our house. From the first day we moved in, in late winter when no leaves on the trees muffled the sound, freight trains rattled by four or five times a day. That became a sound of my life. It also became a place of my life. Walking up the tracks took me to Morrill School, St, Joseph’s School and a fair way to Cheverus High School, when I attended them. In the first grade, I played hooky one day, just because I wondered what it would be like (Miss Shock – her name, honest to God – never missed me.), and I had my lunch in a bag and fifteen cents "milk money," which I spent on penny candy. I sat around all day at the switching yard near Fox Lumber. (Parents, see if that wouldn't end you up in Family Court today.)

Rock-throwing was a big deal. From the track ballast, there was an infinite number of rocks. If you started to make a divot, you could just move down a few feet. A lot of high school kids used to drink around there, so bottles as targets were easy to come by. I could routinely take the top off a “bullet bottle” of Budweiser from 25 feet and have it toddle but remain on the rail. I left half-shattered bottles up to see the freight trains obliterate them. Many of my diversionary companions were stray dogs, squirrels and toads, butterflies and, in the evening, fireflies. There was also the occasional car full of teenagers partying on the dirt service road or the errant raccoon who each had the chance to scare the hell out of me. I had, however, plenty of ballast ammo, and, as stated, a fair arm.

The tracks went two ways; one way went north to Skowhegan and Bangor, and I sure didn’t want to go there. The other way went to, I suppose, Boston, but you couldn’t walk across the trestle over the Fore River into South Portland without the risk of violent, locomotive-driven death, and hey, the destinations of both South Portland and Boston are not so enticing either, but I used the tracks from age six to age nineteen as a pedestrian thoroughfare. I seldom saw another cross-tie walker, except for the occasional hobo, and, even as a child, I was never afraid. I believe we could see in one another's eyes that we were doing the same thing.

I had a few good friends when I was a boy and as a teenager, but none so sure and stable as the rails. They were always there, like a man-made river, calling, going somewhere and not telling the destination. There were no passenger trains back then, and there still aren’t now, only the conductors and the guys who rode in the caboose who would wave back to all the little boys and girls who hung out by the tracks, longing to go somewhere else.


The rock ‘n’ roll element

Saturday, June 20, 2009

The Rock 'n' Roll Element

This has to do with the kids today and how they seem to be in more trouble with the cops than when I was a young miscreant.

It is also "the rock 'n' roll element," sadly missing in our society.

I spent some time in jail in New Hampshire a few years back, at about age 40, and all of my suite mates (five cells, two men per) were young enough to be my son, if I had one. One inmate was one of the Dartmouth professors' killers, and the rest were perps, or victims, of what I would term as "youthful exuberance." One kid, 19 years old, I believe, was just a knucklehead who had tried to rob a general store with a pellet gun and was beaten up and subdued by the one-armed counterman. The kid took constant ribbing for this and, in the New England tradition, was held in the fairly high regard of a likable stupid ass. I think the guards even thought so. It was like gym class or being on the high school baseball team in there. These kids were comfortable in a highly controlled situation, busting each others' balls. When I was released, I wanted to keep the "G___ County Correctional Facility" t-shirt that I was issued, but the staff said no.

Now my story, which is the difference, I think, of what fun kids are not allowed today:

When I was in high school, I looked too young to drink, and at 17 years-old, I surely was. Frustratingly, I had two girl friends who were younger than me but looked far older. Don't get me wrong, almost any male bartender will up a girl's age in his mind. We'll call one of my friends "Katie Silver." We had a great and platonic relationship and we liked to drink and smoke and take pills. I could rarely drink at bars with her, so, with a flair for the dramatic, we took to wearing costumes to bars, and we slayed 'em. I would spray my hair gray and pencil my eyebrows in silver, and on our first couple sojourns, I wore a priest's collar. When I showed up in the collar the first time at Katie's kitchen door, she was wearing a frosted wig and full makeup; I remember the hot flush that went up my neck when I was sure she was her mother. At the bars, anytime the cocktail waitress would come by, we would talk about how I thought Katie should leave her husband for me, Father Whomever. We did the costume thing several more times and even pulled it off on fairly close friends (with me sans collar as a college professor).

Among those times, I had a cousin who worked at Old Orchard Beach, operating a ride that turned people upside down. Wallets would fall out of their pockets, and he would generally take a "tip" for finding them. Grateful, the rubes would often not check for their drivers' licenses, which, back then, had only a vague physical description and no photo - and were no longer in their wallets. I got one with the right statistics, eye color and everything; that's what the people who sold you alcohol looked for. Finding a paper license for a guy with green eyes, 5' 10" and brown hair, in his early 20s was no daily deal. I used it with shameless enthusiasm.

Katie's sister was a bank teller, who one day got the bright idea to steal four cashier's checks from the middle of the stack of another teller, so they wouldn't be missed for several days. She made them out for nominal amounts (a lot in the 1970s) and proposed to us that we cash them to split three ways. Katie was the signature forger, and I would use my purloined DL.

I had a pair of Foster Grants that I had found on the street that altered my appearance but through which I could still make eye contact. I had a military dress-uniform jacket from Germany that I didn't like, and I wore a red bandanna around my forehead and tousled my hair. I looked like the guy who brings Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper to the commune in "Easy Rider."

We hit four banks in about an hour and a half, and I cashed all the checks. I do not play poker as well as I handled the tellers that afternoon. We finished the last bank, split up the money, and I changed my clothes in the car. I put the costume in a brown paper bag and walked the few hundred yards to one of my jobs as a cashier in a French restaurant, casually tossing the bag into a public trash receptacle on the way. I got drunk with the owner during my shift and added up the guest checks by hand, as he wanted a drinking buddy and couldn't really cover my wage.

So that was that, until about six moths later; I was at work in the hospital parking booth, which was my primary high school job, and Katie called, as she often did. The FBI had been at her home, and briefly, they had duped her sister into signing a confession by telling them both that they knew she was the teller who had stolen the checks. The agents made Katie sign a witness statement, and she realized afterward that there was a big, identifiable "K" on the checks as well as in her statement signature. I guess the FBI's handwriting experts never got around to that one.

Katie told me over the phone that the agents had said that they would probably never find the (person's name) who had cashed the checks... umm, me. I am certain that they went to the guy's house and questioned him. I tore that driver's license into tiny pieces, threw some down the sewer, burned some and ate the rest.
I was scared to hell, but I had few more exciting moments in my 17-year life than to know that I was pursued by, and had fooled the FBI.

I look back at those young kids in jail, and I know that they are looking for somewhat of the same thrill. At the time, it was a game and a REALLY elaborate and fun one. It beats the shit out of what I've watched of people playing "Grand Theft Auto" or "Rock Hero."

Poor kids.

More, baby!

The rock 'n' roll element