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

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