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