Rock and Roll Angels
Poetry and journals 1978-1980
The club air breathes cigarettes
as you sit alone
the mistaken victim of wire haired
dressed in harp notes and smiles,
playing dual tunes
and riding that edge that keeps
separate but equal
You smile and retreat,
leaving a trail of thin fragrance
that such men define as feminine
your flattered smile
your only reply,
amid the decaying echoes
and empty promises.
At the Red Baron 4/23/78
They could die tomorrow,
cast-iron barfly faces
cluttering the planks
of this Rock & Roll venue
with bared breasts
six bands weekly
spilling blood for sex,
lonely eyes hooked to them
as if they were stars;
rat-trap box office tickets
two free drinks with price
of admission, the fuck
is your game if lucky,
they supply the swaying hips
coughing fits, and
broken string delays;
It's a tight-rope walk
over net-less music canyon,
women falling into rocking
with drunken drummers,
tits pressing through
their groping fingers
they hop on the floor boards,
thumping feet to old `stones' tunes,
each note gift-wrapped in wine,
but they never die, wraiths
to the social fabric haunting
buildings like this,
their Polaroid portraits
signed with their passing,
marking them the `Pancho Sanchez'
to every brand new band.
Notes on the scene: 1978
The whole scene stinks, from garage band to glorious arena,
twisted minds of musicians playing for power, the wink at passing thighs, blanked, damaged eyes, girl-women left back stage with fist full of pills and noses caked in powder, looking for status among the bright guitars, or polished bars, drinks dulling their wits, making them accessories to the crime, the band stand, music man, consenting for a night to remedy pain, music-doctors with cold hands, laying among the rugs, bugs, ribs and bras, hip-digger jeans peeled off like layers of skin, and me, my fingers bleeding, insisting upon something I cannot believe.
The Red Baron: 1978-79
No one ever called the Red Baron club in Cedar Grove respectable.
Like many places of its kind around the state, it was a hold-over from the speak easy era, when perfectly respectable people snuck over from the jazz clubs elsewhere to take a nip or two between sets. The Red Baron saw many of the suit and tie people who attended the Meadowbrook just up Route 23 in Singac.
By the time Erik Lemon came to the place in 1970, the place had long become an eyesore of in a community that didn't even allow people to eat fast food in their cars, let alone make love, and the gravel parking lot outside the one time barn saw more cars rocking at night than patrons to the bar bands it featured inside.
Though noise complaints plagued the place for years, no one actually took any action to close it down, despite the fact that local bikers used it as a hang out, and drugs frequently changed hands inside. Construction workers, girls from the local beauty school, kids of both sexes from the college, and many others came to cop some dope, pick up a girl, and take in a few tunes at the same time.
Of the hundred of more bands that played the place from 1970 when I first visited the place to 1985 when I ceased going, variations of the Erik Lemon Milk Band were the best, and the favorite of the crotchety old man who in his hey day had served as a minor hoodlum for the local mob. When I came as the roadie for Erik Lemon, the old man had retired to a room above the bar, making his displeasure known to Tom, the bartender, via the telephone. We would see Tom wave his hand at us if the music was too loud, or we hit a particularly bad streak of sour notes over which the old man upstairs disapproved. Over time, however, the old man's complaints grew less as he grew deaf.
Transforming the bar into a rock club was not the old man's idea, but his son's, to whom the old man had left operations. In those early days, before the Capital Theater in Passaic began putting legal pressure on all local live music venues in an effort to eliminate competition, rock music seemed a guarantee to fortune. Even a place with beamed ceilings and rickety wooden floors seemed promising investments. The son never thought music would change and that the real money in the 1970s would go to those places which turned back the clock to 1950s disco.
The son was too cheap even to install lights, let alone make the serious investment of creating the kind of atmosphere to bring in the dancing crowd. The plenty of atmosphere, something our band seemed to bring out, a down-and-dirty kind of backwater feeling that drew those kind of people, horny men and horny women with snoots full of cocaine, lonely men and women, too, with nothing but desperation. After work men and women who came here because they couldn't stand the artificial glitter the 1970s meant, seeing our band as a hold out to that old era, a kind of old style Rolling Stones who fit the place and people perfectly.
When I first went to the Red Baron, I was told to meet the band there.
"It's right behind the Friar Tuck," I was told, no one telling me what the Friar Tuck was or where I would find it, except to say I would see if I drove straight down Route 23 into Cedar Grove.
I was surprised to find one of those artificially eloquent restaurants for which New Jersey is famous, part of the marriage/graduation circuit that gives families such a treat at appropriate, predictable points in their lives, complete with phony facade and valet service.
"This can't be it," I thought. "Pauly wouldn't be caught dead in such a place as this."
I was right, and remembered then that John or Jack or Garrick had said "behind" the Friar Tuck, and thus, taking the first left after the restaurant, I came upon the road that swung back through the dark section of Little Falls, with the Red Baron tucked into a lowered section of land just invisible from Route 23. The first of its two driveways led to the building itself, though the whole barn-like structure looked still much like a barn, despite the flood lights and the gravel lot around it.
The front door faced Friar Tuck's rear, wooden, splintered, with a light above it and a sign at eye level warning people they had to be 21 years old and prove it to enter. Two years later, someone scratched out the 21 and replaced it with a scribbled 18. Then, still later, someone would scratch out the 18 and replace it with 21 again. Usually, a warm nights, the bouncer -- in a red shirt that said "Red Baron" over the left breast pocket stood outside, greeting everyone, picking out those people who looked too young to be getting in, making them sort through their wallets to produce some kind of identification that protected the bar from prosecution in spies from the Alcoholic Beverage Commission invaded. Some girls, who were obviously too young, got in despite lack of identification, offering something in the way of bribes, one door keeper calling out another to take his place as he escorted the girl to the back room to talk over the matter more closely, both returning to the main room later, faces flushed, clothing ruffled. Many more underage girls got in with much less, handing over their sister's or their older girlfriend's identification, against which an honest inspection would not fair favorably. But girls, old or young, were the heart of the business, part of the reason for Ladies night, for every girl who passed through these doors, two dozen men followed, dragging their tongues behind.
In cool or rainy weather, the door keep stayed in the space between the two doors, where a similar sign posted said "ID required." Just passed this door was the bar proper, a place not much different from the combination barn and stable it had been before. You could almost picture the stalls, and almost smell the manure. The old man had never bothered to remove the original posts, and left one wall up separating the table area from the bar area. Standing at the door facing in, one bar with stools ran along the left wall. Another ran along the far wall perpendicular to this. The stall wall ran from near the door about three feet from the bar to the left, and ended about a dozen feet short of the other bar, or rather, turned abruptly right, and headed towards the right wall, stopping about three feet short of this, leaving a dance floor near the second bar, and a clutter of wooden tables and chairs in the area surrounded by the wall.
The Red Baron had two other smaller sections, a room directly left once in through the door which went through several alterations over the years, before disappearing entirely during the final renovation in the early 1980s. This room, however, served the same general purpose, as a pool room, later an electronic game room, and then still later a pool room again.
The other room -- if you dare call it that -- was really another horse stall, left standing with an large open side facing towards the bar from the right wall. It opened immediately onto the table area and served the bands as stage. Bob, the base player from a later installment of the Erik Lemon, then called Sleeper, could not stand up straight, his six feet six inch height one inch too tall for the space. The beam across the top served the band as place for play lists and in Pauly's case, a place where he pinned the lyrics of songs since he had remarkable trouble remembering them. Another door opened into this wall on the dance floor side of the stage, through which we roadies dragged in and out the band's equipment.
The Red Baron became the unofficial home of Eric Lemon, who played here every Thursday night and two weekends a month. During the earliest days, the band played Beatles, Stones, Buffalo Springfield and Byrds music. This changed as the 1970s progressed, and the Red Baron soon drew audiences for one of the best David Bowie-Stones-Led Zepellin-Mott-the-hoople bands ever. During this phase, the band changed its name to Pynch, a named derived from the high quality English alcohol. Still later, after a break up and change of personnel, the band reemerged as Sleeper, playing a host of things from Jackson Browne to the Sex Pistols, and the whole time the Red Baron audience lapping it up.
In 1980, the former members of the original Erik Lemon split into two bands, one, a punk band called the Shayds, second, a pop band that changed personnel and names for a while going from Winter to the Stolen Rolls and finally ending up as the Sophisticatoes. While at first, both bands played the Red Baron -- as well as a place in Montclair called the Suburban, Shayds found a home here and the Sophisticatoes a home in the Suburban. Then, later, after the final renovation, the Red Baron gave up on punk and brought in the Sophisticatoes as its permanent house band, the place having now taken on airs.
While the place looked exactly the same from the outside, the interior had undergone a remarkable change. Fortunately, they had avoided the whole disco mistake many of the other clubs had suffered during changeovers earlier in the 1970s. They had no flashing lights, huge mirrored ball or extensive dance floor. What they had was one huge circular bar in the room's center, with the former stage holding a game room. A few booths occupied the wall to the right of the door. A few more the area where the tables had formerly been. The band -- only the sophisticatos now, not the Shayds, played in the far corner where the second bar had once stood. The wooden floors were now tiled. The bar itself was like cool, grey marble, with bubbling kinds of lights behind it, highlighting the selection of higher quality drinks.
There were the high days, when the band changed names weekly in order to fool people into thinking they had a wider selection of music than they did. Tommy, the bartender, had gone on to become a semi-successful music agent. In the older version of the Red Baron, Tommy had suffered indignity after indignity with a quiet sense of good humor. Pauly picked on him from the stage, sometimes telling the girls he was a virgin, sometimes including him in various rock and roll tunes. When he wasn't there any more, the place seemed empty for me, as if it had lost its heart. Even though the music was better in the new version (at least to Pauly's thinking) I missed the old place. During one incarnation of the Erik Lemon, the band played a version of the Stones' Sympathy for the Devil" that was positively Satanic, people stomping until the building shook and the wooden floor threatened to collapse under them. At another time, our fans played games from the audience, shouting and laughing, teasing the band as the band teased back. Bikers loved us. Glitter kids came to hear our music. Even the disco mavens came if only out of jealousy.
The new place lost all those memories, turning itself into something that could no longer contain their magic. Even as Pauly continued to play there, making better and better music, the institution we knew was fading, just another memory of what once was. The last time I drove passed the property, I found the building gone and the site with parking lot filled with condos, something more conducive to the Friar Tuck restaurant, something which could whole no memories at all, just hollow people living hollow lives, listening to the inevitable countdown of their heart beats towards an ignoble end.
New Years Eve, 1979‑80
The door to the club is always open, open for the strange and the stranger-- to walk in, sit down, order a drink. She smiles from the bar when she sees me at the door, not knowing that I've come with the bands, not knowing that I leave alone in the early hours of the morning.
There are dozens just like her around the bar and I gingerly avoid their eyes as I face the doorman. Behind me, there is a guy wearing a mask, holding a reel and fishing pole just for me. Who is he? I don't know.
I just shiver with the wind at my back, waiting like other men wait, their hands clutching the knob, fingering the keyhole "I'm with the band," I tell the bouncer and he laughs.
"That's what they all say!"
"But I AM with the band," I persist and perhaps it is the tone of voice that convinces him.
"What do you do?" he asks.
I laugh. "That's a good question. All the wrong things, I
suppose. Everything a good roadie shouldn't."
He grins and lets me pass. At the bar, the girl smiles again. Not for me in particular, but for the crowd of fresh men blowing through the door.
They come alone
tattered winged angels
in search of time,
love or cure,
and they leave in pain.
Their lipstick shimmers with the changing lights as I walk towards the stage. The band isn't here yet. They are rarely on time, coming when the lights go up and the crowd moans with impatience-- these angels moaning the loudest and with the most desperation.
Thorn infested paws
dripping red tears
to the cruel red carpet
whose edges have been lifted
to receive more sweepings.
I buy a drink at regular price because the bartender doesn't believe I'm with the band.
You bastard, I think. I saw you here yesterday, that girl
hovering over the bar at you. They found her this morning in a motel bathroom with an empty bottle of pills in her hand.
Oh, they come alone
and they leave
arm in arm
whose sparkling charms
and glistening tongue
promises the crust
but delivers the grave
It is almost time for the band to come. The lights are already up. The amps are on. The crowd shuffles up to the front of the stage like animals, eyes empty from booze. They are drunk and noisy and sway, lit like the fuse to a bomb.
Go home, Angel,
The feeling is pain. The relationship is one between planet and star. We, on the side lines, watch the angels dance, looking to attract the star's attention. Even their eyes sweat.
Like steamed clams. Waiting to be opened up and eaten.
Not Dead Yet
Nothing's wrong with the Goddamn amp, only John seems to think so.
The sharp vibrations of repair man's guitar wind their way through the coils and tubes.
This is Washington Street, Belleville. This is the best repair place in the state, so the man should know what he's talking about it. But I don't want to go back to John and have him yell at me, too, telling me it cuts off at inconvenient times, like when he's ready to take a solo.
Just turn the damned amp off and I'll take it back to him, I tell the repairman, as he and the rest of the instrument junkies laugh me out the door, the little club of know-it-alls I've seen in every venue from Star Trek experts to Acid heads, each thinking they have the inside track on truth.
The salesman at Robbies in Little Falls laughed, too, when I told him what John told me to say, shaking his head saying he couldn't fix it even if the amp needed fixing.
"We don't do repairs here," he said, looking at me the way store keepers used to look at my crazy mother when she tried to buy out their stock of garlic to keep the witches out of our kitchen when I was five.
And here I was wheeling this amp from place to place, searching for the holy grail, rolling is from car trunk to store, then back, over the tiny square chunks of glass that result from colliding cars.
"How much do I owe you?" I ask the man in Belleville.
He shakes his head, "Nothing," he says.
I say "Thanks," and roll the amp out again.
"A girl got hit right on this spot," a man on the street tells me as the wheels of the amp kick up the bits of glass. "The car pushed her right into the doorway. You should have seen the guy trying to come out of the store when it all happened. Blood splattered all over the glass. I thought his jaw would fall off."
"That's nice," I said, and pushed the amp toward the car, wondering about the girl, and the clash of cars, and whether or not the amp would work when I got it back to John's.
Jan 18, 1980
It is hard to say what day this is: early in the morning of one day or late in the night of another. All the ghosts have gone now, haunting other dreams, other souls, other heavy eyes. The Johns and those like him bear the brunt of their cause. For ghosts have causes, too. John is an ass, an animal with a guitar upon which he works black magic, with girls in the front rows leaning in, accepting the invitation in his eyes.
I feel like an ornament on the lawn of a haunted house, holding up the lantern the illuminates the walk, my stiff ritual allowing for his, aching from my inability to ease my pain, a poet of silence locked in stone dreams and hard self-deception, flicking stones against broken windows to draw attention to myself, they inside the house with him, mistaking the pebbles for product of wind.
In day light, I am a twenty-nine year old college student, stuck fast behind a desk, staring out at the mountain, the house, the life of ghosts as the teacher clamors for my attention.
Is there something wrong? Do you have a problem?
I could give it a name and a shape. A girl haunting me the way John haunts her, a subtle twist of lip in my mind that I seek to kiss in my dream, smearing myself with her odor, pressing myself against her flesh, her mocking voice laughing in the back of my head long after the dreams are over and daylight begun, twitting, chirping laughter destroying whatever illusions I might have had.
``She was with him again last night,'' I tell Tiny.
``Yeah, but he'll get sick of her,'' he tells me. ``Then you can pick up the pieces.''
``I don't want pieces,'' I said, recalling how he nearly accused me of stealing his jacket two night earlier, John's blond hair hanging down in his eyes. He swipes it away with his free hand as he other grips the neck of his guitar.
``Where is it? Are you trying to get even with me or what?'' he asks.
``Even with you? For what?''
I didn't know then about his entrapment, his stealing her from under my nose.
Is there something wrong? Do you have a problem?
I stare up into the teacher's face, her stern jaw twisting from side to side like a snake ready to devour a mouse.
``Just some trouble at home,'' I say, glancing around, wondering if John's ghost had heard, finding the blank faces of my class mates staring back like grave stones, each set of eyes carved with a date of birth, waiting for the second date to be filled in, pretending that it isn't part of their future.
At eighteen it is easy to believe oneself immortal. At twenty-nine less so.
``He'll get sick of her,'' Tiny says. ``Then you can pick up the pieces.''
``I don't want pieces,'' I say, seeing her in my head, her firm breasts pressing out through a thin leather top, a shimmering black whip in her hand as she vanishes into the house with John, her pink smeared lips smiling back at me on the lawn, telling me with her eyes this won't take long.
Is there something wrong? Do you have a problem?
I shake my head and open my book, and wait for the night again, and my post standing on the lawn of John's haunted mansion, pretending that my light does more than merely provides him with victims.
Rock & Roll Weary
Jan. 20, 1980
The phone rings, but I refuse to answer.
I'm rock & roll weary, and the apartment's poor heat makes me shiver again and again.
I have to go back to work again tonight, and dread to face the wondering eyes of my friends, and the cold calculating stare of the woman who visited here only a day or so ago.
Joy, a groupie, got a glimpse into my life that few outsiders ever had, sticking her nose into my closed closets like a curious detective.
I fear the news she will report back to those who know me less well, about my overflowing laundry, or the dishes I've not yet washed, or the general sense of loneliness that pervades this world, cat and hamster aside.
The Superbowl roars behind me like white noise, the anxious announcers restrained only by the lowered volume control.
Someone stole John Ritchie's leather jacket two nights, one more rock & roll souvenir, or perhaps just a straight theft from someone who happens to play lead guitar. As it is, he eyes each of us as if we are all thieves, even me, when I was sitting right beside him on a bar stool when the theft occurred.
The theft dampened his excitement about the superbowl, for which he looked forward for over a week, talking about his previous Pittsburg Steelers as if he owned the team, while I've busted his chops a little by saying I liked LA.
Perhaps Joy has tainted that, too, he, taking her home to bed after the last few gigs as if to say his team always wins, when mine can't.
Outside my apartment, the wind stir, making the cold feel worse. I have the heat up as high as it will go, but I'm never warm, and soon I'll have to make my way out into the wind, fighting my way to through the cold, thinking of Joy's laughing eyes when she made the same trip after her visit, me, trailing behind her in my embarrassment.
LA scores. And I see the black and yellow shirts of Pittsburg mope around the sidelines, heads hanging down as the time ticks away, and I know, exactly how they feel.
She has to press her mouth to my ear to have me hear her over the sharp electric melodies of John's guitar, sentences broken into fragments as she speaks, talking non-stop about two men who have violated her, but in different ways. One had stolen her
birthright, the other her heart.
Both men were named John.
One job wanted her to be a quiet, retiring angel to greet him at the door each night, carrying slippers and pipe, an angel blind to the smudged red on his shirt collars that looked less like blood from shaving than lipstick. He had remarkably late
She smiles even now like a dreamer who eventually woke up to the truth, not sure how she feels about her previous foolishness. Now, she looks at the stage and her second John, a new dream vision which she has yet to wake from, a man, who seduces other women right in front of her every night from the stage, without her catching on.
She says she wants to marry him.
Her first John used to beat her for not being everything he wanted, this John ignores her when he's gotten from her all he wants.
She tells me she actually nearly had her first John's baby, but aborted it herself when she caught on about him.
"I'm not sure I can have another for this John," she tells me. "I sort of did damage to myself up there."
Stitches of my heart
It doesn't take much, just a smile and a wink and it's all over, and the tattered stitches of my hear are left on the floor for the sweeper.
You step through the crowd, casting your smiles aside like confetti, ending up in his arms, not mine.
I am the frayed cuff that showed from under a new suit jacket, the tattered sleeve disguised, learning to bow out gracefully as your attention wanders elsewhere after days of making me promises. Outside, winter howls, the wind whipping at the windows like a beast.
I walk with an imaginary limp, a movie monster condemned to a bell tower, with affections unrealized, beating out my revenge at the sound board, as if I was creating the music with my fingers on the buttons, not the amplified musicians.
I want her to turn, to look at me, but I know I am history to her, a season passed, a place now thickly lost under ice, as she skates on, looking for new realities, and new men with whom she can make love.
Date: ?? 1980
He's the image and portrait of me. Oh not so much a I am now, but how I was.
I watch him at the bar, a cool match scratching out in pencil what his eyes see.
The band is a playing a bar in Hillside.
"Sometimes," he says later to me after the barstool model is gone and the picture is locked away in his cardboard vault with the rest of his drawings, "I see better with my fingers than I do with my eyes."
This is, of course, an exaggeration, since he is constantly looking at things, gauging form and feature as people stumble in and out of the bar.
While beautiful girls tend to seek him out to have him draw them, most of the time he sits alone, scared like I'm scared, shivering inside with the impact of his own desire.
He lives with the same fantasy as I do.
"The less sex you have the more you think about it," he tells me.
A blonde bombshell barmaid streams up past the line of men at the bar, each man's head turning to take her in, each head but his.
"She doesn't pay attention to me," he whispers. "She thinks she's looking for a good man, but she wants some jerk who will tell her lies, and make her feel good tonight. She goes through them like candy, one jerk a night, complaining about them the next day as if somebody else was responsible. But all those men are ghosts. They're so two dimensional I can't even draw them, and yet when I'm home in bed, I think of what they're doing, and curse them. And the women I dream about them. I see them as museum statues coming to life to wrap their arms around me. Only in the dream, they never let me go. I find myself waking up in the morning, holding my own pillow over my face."
Then, while we're talking, another pretty girl comes over, stops before him at the bar, grins a little shyly and asks: "Are you really an artists?"
And when he says, "Yes," the girl asks, "Would you draw me?"
And with a glance at me and a deep sigh, he grabs his notebook again and his pens, and nods for the girl to take a seat.
Some people call him a lady killer, a slick dude with wide open collars and the scent of heavy cologne trailing behind him. I see him smile and stare around the club each time he comes in, as if trying to choose which woman will be his next victim.
Once decided, he doesn't give them a chance to tell him no, sweeping up on them from behind, encircling their shoulders with his arms, his limbs as thin as a snake's.
"Hello there, honey," he says. "That's a really nice blouse you have on."
His fingers twitch an inch from the tip of her hardening nipple, his gaze so intense he seems to look straight through at flesh. But tonight, I catch him with his usual face down, as if he had left the zipper undone so as to allow the general public a look behind the mask. He sits alone at the table, his expression so bland he seems like someone else, he staring off into space, scratching behind his ear from time to time with a forefinger, pulling on the tip of his nose as if it itched, sitting, staring, talking to no one, not even studying the room. In the dime bar lights, he looks like the lonely men I see slumped around the go-go bar after the beers have kicked in and the men have run out of cash for tips.
I ask what's going on, he looks at me, blinks, and takes a sip of his whisky.
"I turned 30 yesterday," he says.
"Don't you get it. I'm a fucking old man."
"Thirty is not old."
"Not to you, maybe," he says, giving me that down the nose look that he's always issued to me like me, who he thinks can't
compete in the same meat market, men like me who don't get laid every night, sometimes not even every week, who suffering not from lack of looks, but from too much conscience. He has not conscience, only an urge.
"I still don't see it," I say.
He lets out an exasperated sigh. "I'm old. I'm going to lose my looks next. I won't be able to keep up."
"Just because you turned 30?"
"no, well, not exactly. It's me and how I think about things. I sat all day yesterday staring at space, thinking of all the women I've had, and how none of them seem like much to me now,
especially when I imagine them looking at me, and thinking me as an old man."
"That doesn't happen over night," I said.
"But it happens," he said and took another, deeper swing on his beer. "It happens."
Eating their Fish Cold
They stand with the lights flicking off the chrome of their instruments, barflies and drunks in the audience squinting to make
out the faces of the band, star‑fuckers grinning with their own sense of fame.
When the music starts they move with it, like the swaying branches of a tree caught in the ripping winds of a storm, sometimes furious, sometimes calm.
I think of the river along which I run each morning, of the gurgling brown water running between weed and litter encrusted banks, and the wind that rips at me as I run, bringing the smell of motor oil and fish instead of perfume and alcohol.
This bar is filled with fishermen tonight, men with their long lines stretching out into the pools and eddies, hooks loaded with free drinks and clever talk, each fisherman wishing he was on stage, too, from which the best fish get caught.
But this crew is getting old, all of them over thirty now.
Yesterday, Rick complained about his age, and now I understand him, the brief stint rock stars and go‑go girls share, and how hard it is to live a life living off each night's catch, relying more to lure in suckers on lies and promises than on performance.
They grow old! They grow old! They eat their fish cold.
St. Elizabeth Girls College
Tiny doesn't like this catholic college stuff, grumbling ahead of me as we unload the equipment from the van.
"I don't understand why we got to play here," he said. "I mean, what do we get for our trouble?"
"I think we're getting double our usual pay," I said.
"But no sex," Tiny said. "What's a gig without a quick trip out to the van with one of the girls."
"I don't see what's to stop you," I said. "The girls all look pretty enough."
"Pretty, hell, they're all gorgeous," Tiny said. "But they're here. In a Goddamn catholic college."
"So they might be studying to become nuns," Tiny said.
"So do you think I want to go to hell because I let a future nun give me a blow job?"
"I don't think it matters if the girl isn't a nun yet," I said. "Maybe not to you, it doesn't. But I don't want to be struck dead or have live with the idea that I screwed some poor sister of mercy."
"Tiny," I said. "I think you're carrying all this a little too far. They're not all going to be nuns."
"But some of them might me and I do I know which one's which." "You could ask."
"And what if the girl says yes and still wants it anyway?" "Then, I suspect it would be her look out, not yours."
"So you say. You don't look like no priest to me."
"I thought about it once."
"You?" Tiny said, sounding very surprised.
"Yes, me. I went to Catholic grammar school."
"See! See! I told you some go into religious life. How would you have felt if some older woman came along and made you fuck her." "I would have welcomed it."
"You're a pervert," Tiny said.
"And you're being silly," I said. "Religious schools tend to be more sexual than public schools."
"No, I mean it," I said. "We were terrible for dirty jokes, many of which we got from the priests. Do you want to hear some. I'm sure I can remember a few."
"No way!" Tiny said, grunting as he put down the amp and rolled it across the floor to the stage.
"But the jokes are funny," I said. "Try this one: What do you get when you cross a penguin and a ruler."
"I told you!" Tiny wailed.
"Hey, I'd like to know," said Rick, the light man who was
apparently listening to part of our conversation. "What do you get when you cross a penguin with a ruler."
"A short nun."
"That doesn't sound dirty to me," Rick said, sounding
"Not all the jokes are dirty. I was trying to prove a point with Tiny."
"I don't want you to prove no points with me. I don't want you to tell me no more religious jokes either, cause I don't want no bolt of lightning coming down out of the sky to make a French Fry out of me."
Joe, the sound man, heard Tiny's wail and marched over, looking annoyed.
"Will you three stop gabbing and get to work. We got here late and those girls won't want to hear any excuses as to why the band can't go on."
"Then, you tell him to watch his mouth. He's going to get us struck by lightning."
Joe looked puzzled; Rick explained.
"Al's been telling him religious jokes."
"And God's gonna get pissed."
Joe moaned and rolled his eyes. "Just shut up, Tiny. We don't need the nuns thinking we have a dying buffalo over here."
"Did you hear the one about the..." I said.
"Joe! You shut Al up, too, okay?"
"But I think the jokes are funny," Rick said.
"Then wait until we're set up and then go outside where both of you can get fried without me."
"You should see the book I have in my bag," I told him. "It's called 'Beyond God the Father."
This time Tiny frowned.
"That doesn't sound funny"
"It isn't exactly," I said. "It's a book I'm studying in school, talking about Castrating God."
Tiny blinked, his whole pink mouth open as if it had lost a hinge.
"You'd better leave off him," Rick whispered to me. "Because he flips out. He might not mean to hurt you, but he's an emotional fool."
"Will you three quit gabbing and get to work!" Joe yelled, now beyond hearing near the sound board.
Just then, members of the band arrived, making their usual appearances as stars, each making a stop at the group of giggling girls who had been watching us set up, each frowning deeply as they approached us, clearly not getting the reaction they wanted from the girls.
"I don't understand it," John said.
"What's the matter?" Joe asked, moving back to the stage with a string of wires.
"None of those girls wanted to come out to the car with me." "I'll come," Rick said hurriedly.
"I don't want you, I want a girl."
"Maybe the girls were raised right," I suggested.
"Who the hell cares about politics. I just want one of them to suck my dick."
"Oh my God!" Tiny moaned. "We're all going to hell!"
"What's the matter with him?"
"He thinks the girls are protected," I said.
"I should hope so. I wouldn't want to get any of them pregnant." Tiny's moan grew louder.
"I mean by God," I said.
This time Joe moaned, then asked for a joint. "This talk is a little too thick for my blood."
"God?" John said, looking even more confused.
"I was telling him Nun jokes. Do you want to hear one."
"No, he doesn't!" Joe snapped. "None of us do."
"That's a good one."
Joe stopped, frowned, and then when he realized his
unintentional frown, grew even more annoyed.
"I don't care about the jokes," John said. "I just care about the girls. I usually get a little something before I go on stage. It helps me get ready to perform."
"And you usually get a little something during the breaks, too," Rick noted with a knowing wink at me.
"That's more involved," John said, missing Rick's joke. "I don't want any of them to pull down their pants just yet, just open their mouths."
By this time, Tiny's wails formed a solid, painful note, as if one of the amps was feeding back.
Bob, the bass player came over from the refreshment stand, wiping his mouth.
"They've got free beer over at that table," he said.
"It's free," I said. "But it isn't real."
"Of course it's real, I just had some."
"I mean it doesn't have any alcohol."
Bob blinked. "What would be the point in that?"
"So that no one gets drunk," I said.
"That's outrageous!" Bob growled. "That's sacrilegious, like cutting the balls off a bull."
"Look," Joe said. "I don't care if they've castrated the beer, just as long as someone has a joint. I can't get through the first set without something to smooth out my head."
But everyone shook their heads.
"No girls, no booze, no drugs?" Rick said, staring out at the hall and the parade of girls coming into it. "This isn't rock and roll."
"Did I ever tell you how I always wanted to get a nun when I was a kid, but I never got none."
All moaned this time. Tiny threw a screw driver at my head, but missed. One of the nuns waved at us, indicating it was time for the band to go on.
Something to bleed for
They stand tonight in competition, two aging rockers ready to re-engage, like rusted Arthurian knights looking to joust for the heart of their one-time lady, rivals forever, gauging each other with cold stares on the stage.
How she came to be here tonight after so many years away, I do not
know. Rumor said she was married and living in Europe now. I last saw her in 1976, when she was already too old to be picking up strangers in bars, her hard breasts growing soft and flabby, her bottle-treated hair, brittle.
Perhaps she returned because no two other men on earth would duel
each other for her attention like these two would, and now other two would choose to bleed as readily to win her heart.
But then, as aging rockers, they don't have much else to bleed for
Not what I wanted
I didn't mean to hurt her, or even knew I did until someone told me. I guess I'm becoming just like the rest of the band, taking chicks to my car to fuck then leaving them, forgetting them, thinking they don't exist, that one night stand mentality that we
think they like when they want more.
We were lucky the cops didn't see the steamed windshield and tap on the glass to find out what we were up to. Perhaps they passed and thought the temperature too cool to bother, or in passing the Gold Star in Orange, presumed no one would care since so many people do this here on weekends, rocking the shocks of their car without starting their engines.
This woman wanted more.
She wanted to come home with me and clean my house, have my children, bear my name.
I wanted no such thing, and thought I had made myself clear. But in the effort to make the windshield foggy, I might have said too much or things I hadn't meant, and now, people tell me the woman is hurt, and dangerous.
"You'd better stay out of the Gold Star," they told me. "She might go for your eyes."
One night stand?
The Mountainside Inn is full of horror stories for me, and now it has one more.
I went over the edge last night, too many bouts with the go‑go bar in Passaic, and dancers who liked to tease me.
When the bar fly here smiled, I smiled back.
Tiny thought I was crazy, telling me she's just another skanky girl from whom I'm going to catch something dreadful.
But I was tired of playing the role of priest, walking through a campus loaded with pretty women, diverting my gaze to keep from staring too hard at their breasts or their lips. I made a point of avoiding interaction on campus where some girls gave their hearts away too easily, and where some, not at all, and some like Sue Merchant or Teri Mates were positively dangerous.
And perhaps this girl on this night at Mountainside Inn was just as dangerous. At least here smile was, drawing me in, making me ache to my bones to have her.
I bought her a drink, and then, later, when the band finished, took her home to Passaic, she and I moaning and groaning until dawn, me releasing all I had saved from the previous months alone, uninspired, desperate.
I just wanted this one night stand and for the girl to go away, cringing in the morning when I drove her back to East Rutherford where she lived with her parents, cringing when she looked at me and said "I love you."
Kidnapped to Kenilworth
We were in the club, just after the second set with the usual weekend squabbles ongoing, groupies arguing among themselves as to which one of them would take which band member home after the show, and whether work the next morning was more important. Some wanted to go home, others wanted to stay, but those wishing to go home did not trust those who wanted to stay, so wanted everyone to go home, and those who opted to stay, refused to leave, seeing their chances of scoring increased by the reduction in competition.
Janet asked me for a favor, making me cringe. She was on the hunt for the drummer, and he didn't want her. Last week, she had come in decked out and ready to take him outside, when he conveniently said his wife wanted him home.
Normally, Jack's not so shy, but something about Janet disturbed him. Maybe she wanted more than the usual one-night stand. Usually, Jack promised to leave his wife as an edge to getting a girl in bed, with Janet, he said his wife would never let him go.
She wanted to stay until the last set, in order to spin yet another web in which to ensnare Jack, but most of her friends were leaving, and she needed me to drive her hope if her plans failed again.
I shrugged and told her I didn't care, as long as she didn't mind riding with the equipment.
Hours later, she stood alone as I packed the last of the band's equipment into the van and closed the door, motioning her to climb up into the passenger seat. When seated, she stared straight out the windshield. It had drizzled, leaving dots of moisture on the glass. The shadow of these showed on her face, making her look at if she had cried. But her jaw was set, telling me she was angry. I didn't want to disturb her except I needed to know where she lived, in order to drop her off before I took the van back to the garage.
"Head for the Parkway," she told me finally.
"North or south?"
She paused for a moment, took a deep breath, and then said, "South."
Four exits later, I began to suspect something.
"Where exactly do you live?" I asked.
"I'll tell you when we get there," she said.
"Look, I don't mind doing you a favor," I said. "But it is late, and I really don't have time for any kind of games..."
She looked at me for the first time, and for the first time I noticed the veil of indifference had lifted from her eyes. Her anger and pain shook me.
"All right," I said. "Let me know when you want me to get off the parkway."
Ten minutes later, she pointed me to an exit and we rolled off, the van struggling under the weight of its $25,000 worth of equipment.
"There," she said, suddenly, "pull in there."
I turned the van sharply into the driveway she'd indicated. It led to a Holiday Inn.
"You can't tell me you live here," I said, when the van had stopped.
"Get us a room," she said, her voice low, and cold.
Perhaps I was a little slow, but I was beginning to get the idea. "I can't just leave the equipment out here like this," I said.
"Get us a room," she said, this time more sharply.
The desk clerk asked no questions, just handed me a key, yawned and returned to reading his Time Magazine. Once inside the room, I turned to Janet and demanded she tell me what was going on.
She smiled -- still coldly -- then removed her jacket, letting it slide from her shoulders to the floor. She struggled a little to undo the zipper of her dress, then frowned when she saw me heading away from her to the bathroom. "Hey! Where are you going?"
"I'll be out in a little while," I said.
Two hours later, when I poked my nose out of the slightly opened door, I found her lying on the bed, still half dressed, quite asleep, clearly having cried, but not over me.
The Saving Light
Even with the wedding band on her finger and the name of her husband fresh on her tongue, she called me her saving light. No one saw us in the corner of the bar, tucked behind the
covered pool tables, me writing, she talking, and the band
playing on and one.
I didn't know what she wanted. She didn't fit into my private reality. I wanted to be cold to her, yet maintaining some hope of warmth. I didn't want her to dislike me, just for her to find someone else to bed down with for the night.
She kept asking the same questions over and over again. I didn't know I had the answers inside of me. I couldn't see the
loneliness dripping from her eyes, me sparkling in each prepared tear, her hand rising and falling from the bared swell of her breasts, dragging my gaze with each movement. I didn't know until her arms hung around me like some wreath of pleasant smelling flowers that she saw me as the winner of some horse race I hadn't know I had entered.
"I'm sorry," I said, removing her arms from around me. "I'm not a player."
"But you're here in the club?"
I wanted to tell her that I only worked here, that I didn't want to get mixed up with the hard-on heart-breaks I'd seen all around me for months, men and women in a dance of doom and loneliness. "I'm trying to be an island," I said.
"You know, like what Donne said?"
Her frown deepened.
"Never mind," I said, knowing I could not explain without her getting confused or insulted.
She had showed me the picture of her son, the child's face looking up at me from the bar, his edges seeped in beer. How could I tell that kid that her mother had seduced me in a cheap bar in Wayne, a place the cops called slimy for the kind of characters that hung out here.
"Look," I said, and stood, and stared down at her. "I know you're lonely, and horny. So am I. But you're married, too." "But my husband understands," she said.
"I'm sure he does," I said. "But I'm the one I'm worried about here."
Then -- like the horny fool I've always been -- I walked away.
Not of this world
He talks more with his eyes than his mouth, and his eyes speak loudly of loneliness.
Yet despite this quiet screaming, no one hears.
He sits sipping a borrowed beer, talking of army life.
He whispers at times about the cool German Septembers, autumns in which he dressed in kaki and grey, the rain pouring down with crisp fingers, biting at his flesh and his soul.
"God," he says, "It's good to be home."
Yet without his uniform, he seems lost, taking with it a life of predictability, of when to rise in the morning, when to go to sleep at night, when he could eat, when he could sit and think. Since leaving, he hasn't found like kind of friends he had when still in uniform, lacking the day to day rubbing of shoulders army life brought, or the predictable interaction men share when forced to deal with the same situation.
Now he has no friends, despite his coming to this same bar every night. He doesn't know the rules of this place, not just our alcoholic society, but the wide world where anything goes, where people in big cars and tough cars, boss over people who have no cars at all, no rank distinction other than money, no reasonable means of being promoted other than cleverness and greed.
People slap him on the back all the time, calling him "hero" or "general" but they do not know him or care about him or want to hear anything about what goes on inside of him. He is to them like the wooden Indian outside a cigar store, something predictable, something they can point to as part of the social attractions, but nothing they take too seriously. Whatever real importance he had was lost with his stripes.
He stares at women who pass along the bar, his mouth slightly open like a hungry dog's, perhaps shaken by how taunting American women can be, one constant promise for sex that rarely gets delivered, each dressed like a German prostitute, but without a reasonable price tag attached, all chattering, all laughing, all eyeing him like he is an alien life form beyond human feelings or urges, he to these women, little more than a throbbing penis who they should avoid, someone too ignorant of local customs to keep from grabbing them and raping them, when everyone else here knows a man must gravel first before any of these women will even consider him for bed.
It is his empty eyes that make him appear dangerous, too full of undisguised desire in a setting where men and women pretend they don't have desires, nor show the least bit loneliness.
Only the desperate and the drunks show any emotion.
"I've been out two whole days," the former soldier tells me, "And I've been drunk almost since I got back. I just can't get a grip on anything out here. Nothing seems to make sense to me. People don't stop for traffic lights. They don't say hello to you when you say hello. They just stare at you as if you didn't exist, or if they can't help noticing you exist, wishing you were dead so you don't get in their way."
I nod to it all, aware of my own ill-fitting place in this world, ashamed for my having become numb to it, clearly as much a stranger to him as the others.
They gather around, punk rockers swaying to the thunder of the band, bending and shaking as if in some epileptic fit.
One girl sits along, hovering over her drink with her hair like a curtain, guaranteeing her privacy, four dollars in assorted bills and change scattered in front of her on the bar.
From time to time, she glances up and stares at her reflection, imprisoned in the mirror behind the bottles, cringing each time as if in pain. From time to time, her head turns, staring at faces on either side of her along the bar, seeming to know them, seeming to cringe over them as well.
She seems old, but she is not, merely an appearance brought on by her weariness, as if she has put up with much, struggling through some great crisis or adventure unusual for someone her age.
A long scar stretches from her left ear to her throat, something only seen when she turns her head abruptly and lets her long blonde hair shift.
Like the rockers around her, she dresses down, jeans and loose t-shirt rather than the starchy or silky disco stuff usual for this bar.
I watch her the whole night, from when we first set up the band, to when the music stops and we move to break down the equipment again, she, hovering, drinking, cringing, talking to no one, looking up when the bar lights rise as if surprised at the last call for drinks, buying two more which she drinks quickly, before rising and staggering out, one more wraith lost in the dark night.
Terms of Entrapment
She came again tonight to sit and stare at me, drumming her fingers on the table while pretending I'm unimportant to her.
I told her several times I could never love her, but she doesn't believe me. She wants something from me I cannot give, images of house and home and family that are not in me.
Each time I meet her, I tell her less and less gently how I feel, but she persists, following me from club to club, calling me at home, leaving me notes on my car.
Tonight, I came to understand she will not give up, badgering me into accepting her when love won't work.
So I walked up to her table, stared down into her face and told her, "Go away."
And she, hurt more deeply than any I've hurt before, told me I led her one.
"How? By refusing to take you to bed?" I asked.
And then, she staring straight into my eyes said: "How big an ego you must have."
I had no answer for that, nor could calculate the new angle at which she came at me.
So the rest of the night, she still stared, but instead of gaze full of love, it is full of hate.
She doesn't understand my need to survive alone, free of distractions, of too easy attractions, of the temporary satisfactions, of something I will be sorry I got involved in later, the doors of a trap from which I will expend time and energy seeking to escape.
She never will understand.
It is not the end of the world. It is just one man passing out of the picture as new men make their way in, an endless stream of character actors taking their place on this stage.
Rock and Roll. The Shayds. Jack Shyway.
These are the three things written on three sides of a pen one of the groupies gave me tonight, she telling me I needed a pen since I write all the time.
She had brought 100 pens in an attempt to express her love for the drummer of the band, and now finds few people to whom she can give them.
Yesterday, the band fired him and she doesn't know what to do. Perhaps tomorrow I'll be writing with yet another new pen, once she has figured out which one of the other band members to love. Perhaps the new drummer will strike her fancy.
Maybe tomorrow I'll write with a pen bearing her name.
Jack, of course, had no time to look at the pen when she held it out to him today, brushing her aside as if she ceased to exist. I sat up with him late into the night, he drinking three drinks to everyone of mine, moaning about how much he'll miss the band, groaning over my telling him about the girl's love.
He doesn't want to hear about her, and growls at me before I can tell him the rest, she planning to give him something more next time, something crying and wet which he can hold in his arms.
A Dirty Little Secret
Last night we played with another band, an old group of friends from months ago at the Englander Club.
I had looked forward to this moment for a while, with some smug satisfaction that I knew something about them they didn't know I knew. I had met one of their victims since our last encounter, and now saw each member of the band differently, less
complementary, beginning to hate them for their cruelty.
As I set up their equipment, I stared at their faces, trying to figure out which one of these bastards had committed the crime. Perhaps I was prejudiced by the beauty of their victim, a sweet, pretty, small-boned blonde who refilled my glass with hard amber during our talk earlier. Perhaps my view was colored by the drink. But I heard the pain in her voice that no alcohol could make better, she matching me drink for drink the whole night and seeming less drunk than me at the end of the ritual.
She had played her part in the crime, adopting the little rich bitch role that spoiled middle class girls like her do in the bars the band plays in, doing her best to ignore the stares of admiration that routinely came her way from the lines of lonely men. She liked the attention, and though she did not aim her smile at any one of them to give them too much to hope for, she smiled a lot as if to herself.
Before the crime, I got to know her pretty well, since she said I was different from the other men she met at the bar. Maybe she thought she could get the attention of the band members through me, but such an idea quickly faded as well became friends.
She liked my jokes, which said something slightly ill about her tastes, though during those first conversations, we mostly talked about the weather and how spring was turning ever so slowly into summer, and how each of us liked to do something different during the hot weather, me, loving the high winds of the mountain, she loving the near nakedness of the beach. Later, we talked about the more serious things, such as love, love of men and woman, love of rock and roll.
But I was struck by how foolish she sometimes acted when it came to certain members of the band, and how she would go off with one or another on a wild weekend, believing their lines of bullshit, or at least, pretending to.
Then, one day, she stopped smiling.
She didn't say why. She didn't even acknowledge me when I sat down on the stool beside hers and told her one of my stupid jokes. She just stared into space.
"What's wrong?" I asked.
She didn't answer. But her gaze gave her away as she glanced painfully towards the band on the stage, the men standing among the glittering chrome of their equipment.
"Is it one of them?" I asked.
She nodded, her face flushing with what might have been pain, shame or rage, revealing something I had not seen before due to the low lights.
"Come here," I said and made her lean closer to where the beam from the ceiling light fell over her, revealing the bruises she had cleverly covered with makeup, dark blotches on her ivory skin. I also noticed her clutching her chest with her other hand. "What's wrong with your chest?" I asked.
"I don't know," she said. "Maybe a broken rib."
"One of them did this to you?"
"Why?" I asked.
She stared down at the floor.
"Tell me," I said.
"You can't say anything to anybody," she said, looking up at me. "All right, I won't," I said. "Now what happened?"
"I cheated on him," she said.
"He found out about it?"
"I told him."
"I felt too dirty not to," she said.
"Then why did he hit you?"
"Because I wouldn't tell him who I did it with," she said. "When he hit me, I was stunned. I never thought he could do such a thing, and then, he wouldn't stop. He just hit and hit and hit, even when I cried for him to stop, even when I fell on the floor holding my ribs, he just started to kick me. Like a madman." I tried to hug her, but she pulled back.
"I'm sorry," she said. "I just don't want to be touched, by anybody."
That was months ago. I hadn't seen her since that night. Neither did the bartenders. And now, I see the band again, all of them laughing, slapping each other's backs, none knowing that I know their dirty little secret.
I knew something was wrong when I walked in.
The Red Baron in Cedar Grove had a nasty reputation for being rowdy, even at the worst of times.
Though well before I snuck in for drinks at 16, people here tripped their glasses through the end of the Great Depression, World War Two, the Korean Conflict, the Richard Nixon Checkers speech, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the assassinations of JFK, Martin Luther King, and RFK without blinking.
Yet tonight the place was so silent I thought the owner might have finally lived up to his threat and turned the place into a church. People's heads were bowed at the bar with no one in any particular hurry to lift their drink. Even the jukebox remained silent, its face glowing from the corner like a sting of candles.
"What happened here?" I asked when I settled into my usual seat at the bar, one of the high stools at the second bar on the far side of the dance floor. A good location as long as no bands played. On band night a man could get trampled in the crowd between songs, as people jockeyed to get a quick sip before the music re-started.
Tommy, a tall, blond, Nordic type, frowned, as he moodily wiped a spot on the bar.
"You mean you ain't heard?" he asked.
"Heard what?" I said. "I've been working overtime for four days, haven't had time to stop in, even for a quick drink."
No drink in the Red Baron was quick, no matter how fast you rushed in. People were always grabbing at your arm, filling your ear with news about this or that, mostly about other people who came to the bar.
That was an endless stream of gossip, part of the soap opera of ordinary lives that went on over alcohol, this babe making her way from virginity to divorce as the rest of us watched, or that dude, from ignorant fool to arrogant ass. Everyone had a story, everyone got talked about. You didn't generally hear your own tale until you really screwed up, and then everybody was handing you a different version, trying to clue you into the truth.
Since I'd never pushed thing so far and was mostly one of the irregular regulars, I never heard much about myself, mostly guesses as to who I was, and which sex I preferred. I rarely talked about myself, leaving people to wonder, and eventually forget about me for the more up front and interesting characters.
On some nights, I didn't talk to anybody at all, or at most, a couple of words to Tommy, who knew something about me from my time with one of the bands. But I listened a lot, and got wind of enough stories to keep up the thread of their lives, shaking my head over the tragedies, nodding over the rest of the silliness.
But tonight, no thread seemed to flow since only grumbling served for conversation, even among the hipper element that put on airs to get sex.
"Animal's dead," Tommy said.
"What?" I said, the shock of my voice like a sharp shot across the silent bar. "How the hell did that happen?"
Of all the characters that came and went, Animal was one of the more popular, part of that society of strangers that sometimes seemed to find stardom in the tiniest of universes. Bars thrived on stereotypes and caricatures. Those who did not define themselves, found themselves defined by others, who issued you a name by predominant characteristic.
Animal, a bear of a man in size and manner, got his name from the way he gobbled down his food at the bar, and everyone used it, even though he grumbled at the designation for a long time, accepting it only after he realized it would not go away.
"I can tell you, but you won't like it," Tommy said, apparently having gone through similar conversations previously with other comet-like irregulars like me, whose orbits brought them in too late to hear the breaking news.
Some people came to the bar to forget the real world, always insisting the conversations maintain their lightness, even in gossip. They wanted to hear only the funny stuff or talk only sports or weather.
I wasn't one of those. I wanted the truth.
"Then I won't like it," I said. "What happened?"
Tommy dragged out a piece of paper from near the cash register and slid it across the bar for me to read.
Local man rapes woman a knife point, kills self
The story went onto talk about how Animal took some woman a mountain cabin in the Poconos where he raped her repeatedly and left her for dead. The police later found her, and pursued him to his parents’ house in Montclair where he was found in his parents’ garage, dead of fumes, the car engine still running when the police arrived.
I wanted to dismiss the report as hogwash, and would have six months earlier. But something nagged in the back of my head, some less well-published report I had received from Cathy a few weeks ago. Of all of us, Cathy knew Animal best, they having lived in the same town and gone to the same school.
"Animal's changed," she told me one day when I had found her at the bar, looking a little glum.
Cathy was not a glum person. Even the term bubbly didn't completely describe her remarkable optimism, someone who could look down into a pit of snakes and still find something positive to say about them.
"What do you mean he's changed?" I asked.
"I don't know," she mumbled, smoke curling out of her bright red lips. "I saw him the other night with Donna. He didn't see me. But he was loud, and she was loud, but no one noticed because the band was playing. I watched them for a long time. Donna kept trying to get up. He kept pushing her back into her seat, telling her she wasn't going anywhere, and that she had to listen to him.
"I don't know what the argument was about. But I never saw Animal act like that, not even when the jocks used to pick on him at school. He was always so calm about everything, but he wasn't calm with Donna, and she started crying, and he told her to stop, and when she wouldn't, he put his hand over her mouth, and said shouted for her to stop.
"When she wouldn't stop, he hit her," Cathy said. "He didn't slap her. He hit her straight in the face with his fist."
If Cathy ever told anyone else any of this, I never heard of it ?, which was apparently why most of the other people seemed so freaked out by the newspaper report.
I pushed the news clipping back towards Tommy and ordered myself a shot and a beer, and told him to keep them coming until I told him to stop. He nodded, and moved off. Several hours later, Cathy came in, stopped short when she saw me. I was quite drunk by that time, but I could still see the pain and doubt in her eyes, and that one single question I had been asking myself most of the night: Why hadn't we said something sooner to stop Animal?
Cathy only shook her head, then fled the way she'd come, leaving me to struggle through that question by myself, we, two sharing a secret we could tell no one else.
Locking Me In
The other band warned us what to expect from the manager of the club.
"He's a real bastard," their sound man told us. "Likes to lord over people, telling you how to set up and when, and getting pissed off enough to beat the shit out of you if you don't do things his way."
Perhaps the warning set off something inside of me, that old 1960s sensibility, of not allowing anyone to treat anyone so badly as that.
The bastard started shooting orders at us the moment we walked through the door so I needed no introduction to know this was the man the other band meant.
He is exactly the kind of fellow I least get along with, with his slave-master mentality that grinds on me until I explode. I kept my tongue for most of the night, Tinny glaring at me as if he knew what I longed to do and warned me against it. But when he locked the back door and told us that we couldn't even start to pack up until every patron had left the parking lot, I went off.
We had lives to live beyond his rules, and a job to do that he seemed not to care about. So I went and kicked open the door, shattering the lock. He saw it. His face went red. I pretended I didn't notice and started loading equipment into the van. Then he charged across the club and leaped at me as I climbed into the van, with only Tiny holding him back.
"I'll kill you, you little mother fucker!" he shouted, but was unable to break Tiny's monstrous grip, the two of them seemingly locked in a love embrace, both faces red. Behind them, his bouncers crowded, trying to get their shot at Tiny and then their shot at me.
"You shouldn't have locked me in," I told him. "I don't like people locking me in when I haven't committed a crime."
"Lock you in, I'll bury you, if I ever get loose from this ape," he growled and tried to free himself from Tiny again, but Tiny tightened his grip.
"Who's an Ape?" Tiny asked. "You want me to break your chest for you?"
"I want you and your band to get the fuck out and never come back, that's what I want," the man shouted, "But leave your little friend, I want to take him apart myself."
"We ain't leaving without him," Tiny said. "And if you're going to take people apart, you'd better start with me."
Tiny gave another squeeze, and the man yelped. The bouncers stirred, but did not charge, with Joe and Rick standing behind tiny, holding microphone stands with the heavy ends up.
"Let him at me," I told Tiny. "The bastard scares me, but if he thinks he can take me apart without a fight, let him try. I'm not going to take shit from him."
"You'll take what I give you," the man said again, but losing his rage, as if he already knew he had lost this round, and was scratching around to find something else to get at me with, something that we couldn't fight.
Then, when the man was calm, Tiny let him loose. The man smoothed down his silk shirt, glaring at me and at Tiny.
"This band is through," he said. "I got influence on the circuit. You guys messed with the wrong fellow when you messed with me."
"Nobody would have messed with you if you had been reasonable," I said. "It's two o'clock. I have school in the morning. I don't need you fucking around and keeping me here all night, just because you've got a bug up your ass. You didn't have to lock the door. You could have let us pack up the van."
"I could have done a lot of things like hand you my wallet or send out invitations for people to walk out with half the stuff in my club, too," the man said, still glaring at me, looking as if he might try to leap again, but I had my hand on the lug iron for the spare tire and he wanted a piece of that, all he had to do was leap.
"You're a trusting bastard," I said, "thinking everybody's out to rip you off."
"They are," the man said.
"So you say."
"Are you calling me a thief?"
"If that's what you are."
"Well, I'm not," I said. "And I don't have to prove it to you or anybody. You locked the door, I kicked it down, and there's not a lot you can do about it."
"Not to you," the man said. "But to them." He pointed to the band gathered with shocked looks, staring at me, then at the door now flat on the ground as if they couldn't believe I actually did it, they knowing very little about the days when I was a violent man. "They won't work as long as you're working for them. They won't work anywhere, believe me."
And then, the son of a bitch, turned on his heals and walked back through the space where the door had been, turning to his bouncers. "Fix the fucking door as soon as these assholes are gone."
"You want us to take care of them, boss?" one of the bouncers asked.
"No," the man said, staring straight into the van at me. "I've already done that."
Notes on the scene: April 6, 1980
We came in at night, or early morning, the stragglers still seated around the place like the living dead, some of them hanging around to be cool, others with no place else to go.
This was the famous Mud Club I had heard so much talk about, so hip most people didn't get in without providing some service to the bouncers. They let us in because the film crew said we'd cut our video here.
Not me, so much, as the band I work for, a pack of aging rock & rollers for whom this was their last shot at success. We played too many cheap gigs with too sparse audiences. Money wasn't flowing in the way John predicted when he broke up the old band and headed on his own, and the road crew (me, Rich, Tiny and Joe) took a big chunk of the nightly cash. No band on this level had a road crew this large, and if anyone decided to count the trainees, we were all in trouble.
But coming to this club gave us a distinct our music did not deserve. Even our richer groupies followed us across the Hudson, eyeing us with such admiration I had to leave or bust. No one else in the club thought much of us: just one more band from New Jersey trying to make it in New York. That was the point of every rock & roll career these days. Those bands that didn't break into the New York market, perished.
Yet for months I'd already felt the shuddering spasms of death. And this was Holy Saturday. And we had wandered here to our grave.
People wandered out as we carried our equipment in. For the first time, I glimpsed the way New York City ran its clubs: thick carpet and dark lighting, a far cry from the overly lit former discos in which we regularly played. Hell, we even played roller rinks, if management could afford us. We'd even sunk as low as to play the wedding of some friend, out of tune for most of the traditional songs we did managed to get right, booed for those we didn't. Who wanted to hear music from The Rocky Horror Picture Show as the priest waited for the groom to say "I do?"
I felt lower than low, as if I could already see us sinking deeper and deeper, playing children's birthday parties next, or worse, finding ourselves back in the garage playing for anyone who cared to stop. We weren't seventeen any more. We didn't have the energy to climb back up, even if our faces could have competed with the sweet young faces of this eras new icons. We did not attract the young the way any healthy band should have, all our groupies nearly as old was we were, dying off through marriage so that even their numbers shrank. I just didn't want to be around to witness the bitter end, when John or Marylyn realized this wouldn't work.
And I was so tired!
The rock and roll life just didn't fit in well with being a serious student, and after nearly seven months of book learning by day and doing lights by night, I had just about used up what energy I had in reserve. All I really wanted to do most nights was sleep. I certainly didn't write as much as I wanted.
Perhaps I was the only member of the band who saw the decline for what it was, and perhaps only I felt depressed when we came into the club, John, and Bob, Marylyn and our new drummer, Paul, looking and acting as if they had already made it, as if they had finally reached the top of their career, glowing at the people who slunk out at the end of the night. Even the rest of the road crew acted as if we had every right to be here, and that people should have stopped and stared (none did, except to shake their heads at our audacity).
Bob had a new lover. (His old lover a shattered wreck of a woman, who clutched my arm in the games aisle at Toys R Us when I worked there, begging me to tell her where she went wrong, as if I could). This new woman belonged her, a shark from the top of the New York jet set, who mistakenly assumed some truth to Bob's boasts, thinking perhaps a video (no matter how bad) was a sign of success. I knew she would vanish the moment the band faltered, when record producers refused to consider us for anything but a not-so-golden oldies rack.
I think maybe the slumming crew of ABC's 20/20 gave us more creditability than we deserved, doing somebody a favor with this one time gig, angling shots, playing the recording John hoped would climb the charts to number one when released.
"We've got to get this right in as few takes as possible," one of the crew members said. "We didn't bring a whole lot of film."
But almost from the start, the film crew had problems. The new drummer just couldn't play as badly as the old drummer had when making the recording. He just couldn't imitate the mistakes, and had to redo the video scene by scene whenever one of these mistakes showed up.
It wore on me.
One of the rich groupies noticed me yawning and took pity on me, and approached me with a snort of coke to keep me awake, her tiny silver spoon glittering in the film lights as she stuck it under my nose.
"Here," she said. "This'll keep you awake."
Her eyes laughed, and I felt humiliated. I was always a joke among these people, who saw me nightly clutching books in the breaks, attempting to finish reading for the morning class. They did not think my method would lead me to success. They did not think much of my seeking a career as writer. They just felt sorry for me, and on this occasion, the scene, the coke or their delusion, made me need escape. I had no part in the making of their dream, only setting it up, and tearing it down later when they were done. So I wandered out to the street into the dawn, only vaguely aware that this was Easter. I found a park bench on the center island on Broadway and sat there, watching traffic loll in, watching the mad race of hurried taxis making their way downtown.
I desired coffee and sleep and got neither. I suddenly wanted to spend the rest of my life sitting where I was, doing what I was doing, copying down the impression of the light. I did not want to go back into the Mud Club. I did not want to face the false hope of fools who thought themselves so superior.
Easter on Broadway
April 6, 1980
"Oh well, it's Easter, and I sit here on Broadway and 62nd Street, wondering why I'm here. The band has yet to arrive, although, their tape plays in anticipation of their lip-singing later, they going through the motions for playing the song they think will make them famous, a weird partnership of dubious merit. I'd rather sit here on this hard bench, staring at strangers and the listening to the cooing of pigeons as they peck for Sunday breakfast from the cracks in the sidewalk.
The American Bible Society displays its Easter message from the ground floor window of their building. Somehow, I find the peace of the early morning as abstract as the sign, as if this isn't earth at all, but some alien planet to which I have been transported during our crossing of the George Washington Bridge, with the homeless around me more alien than any creature I could conceive of in Science Fiction. The sun, rising over the tips of the buildings, catches on the windows of the buildings and the cars.
As with everything they do lately, the band is late for its own film debut, only Wiggy and I came on time, we wrestling the doorman to allow us in. Then, we rolled the equipment straight through the front door, over the find crimson carpet upon which the patrons had puked, and over the polished wood floors upon which they had spilled their drinks, the wheels of our cart leaving permanent marks in both as we passed. We knew the band would hear the complaints later, and we didn't care. We were too tired to care.
Now as I write in the sun, the bass player and his new girlfriend arrive, squinting to make me out as I sit on the park bench writing, me squat in the middle of the island at the center of Broadway, looking every much like a candidate for a street person as they do rock stars, me in a wrinkled t-shirt and stained jeans, they in the high fashion of the local night club scene.
Some black guy with thick wrap-around shades gives me the thumbs up and wishes me a Happy Easter. I nod and laugh and lean back to let the sun warm my face, the silence of Broadway thrilling me, making me realize how much I love New York and wish I had never left it years ago when I worked her as a messenger. I am thrilled with a world with some many ledges, where pigeons can roost in peace, where a salty air swirls around at me from the river, where eventually, the flood of metal will consume me with their fumes.
Easter is rising above me and the night is passing, and I am alive to see both, perched on my park bench at 62nd and Broadway.
Underage and set for slaughter
Only the drunks think a barroom pretty, or find any logic its mirrors and glass. To me, it is a place of mysterious reason and undefined action, where even noble causes find pause.
She stands at the phone and smiles, and we, like bowling pins at the bar, grin back, she seeming like such an innocent thing to us.
Tiny says hello, and she reaches out.
I make some dubiously clever remark and she slaps me lightly across my cheek. I mockingly fall off my stool.
And just as surprisingly, she suddenly falls into Tiny's arms. He does not struggle.
"It wasn't that kind of situation," he tells me later.
The barmaid leans over the drinks to whisper in my hear.
"She's a little underage," she says. "She's also a nymph."
Tiny grins like a hog dressed for a slaughter he is yet unaware of, having heard nothing of what the barmaid said.
"What is she doing here?" I ask the barmaid.
"The owner has a thing for her," the barmaid says, looking over her shoulder for some sign of that beared face. "He takes her upstairs when no one else is around."
I watch the girl in Tiny's arms as she squiggles and squeals, slithering like a snake joyous in its mud. Tiny clearly intends to take her home.
I tap his shoulder, and he shakes me off, as if a fly. I tap again and tilt my head towards the men's room, mouthing off the words, "We have to talk."
"Okay," he says, "I'll meet you there."
I stagger off my stool, too many beers settling into my legs as I slosh my way towards the door marked men. I wait, and wait, and when he doesn't come, I empty my blatter and return to find him gone, his space empty of its glass, the bar already wiped clean, with only the ghostly rings to say he had been there.
The barmaid looks up, smiles sadly, shakes her head.
"Give me another beer," I say.
A Sampling of women
They go now, the bleary-eyed returning to their dens like vampires, too frightened to face the dawn or the morning mirror, a gentle rain of dust falling over the trail of their retreat, marks on the ground where their weary heels have struck.
I sit and stare at the sound board, its metered eyes registering only background noise, one small blip of its weak needle responding to the bartender's clattered gathering of bottles for the dumpster outside.
The rock and roll has ended, the dance floor sagging with the weight of feet that had pounded it. No tape record can remake the mood of the room at that moment, the primitive beat of people finding their savage roots. I can not flick a switch and make it all come back, so disbelieve it ever happened.
I am not the creator of the sound, but someone who helps shape it, one more tool in this larger instrument made of microphones, speakers and wires, turning a knob here or there to enhance what they do on the stage.
But few of those who come and go ever make the distinction, and most sound men take their toll on the drunk little girls who come to stare and drool over the rock and roll magic. Women, young and old, press their breasts into my back as I fine tune the sound, seeing me as a wizard in this instance oz.
Sometimes, I struggle to keep myself from falling into that trap, of taking home to sample these foolish girls, my role their role lost in the haze of alcohol.
I am corruptible. I can seek to take as easily as the next man when offered so easily, becoming a creature who thinks with his crotch instead of his heart, and waking years later wondering why I cannot find love.
It is too easy to be like the other members of the band, testing each woman's ability in the back seat of my car, or testing how long it might take me to wrestle their shoulders flat.
I keep thinking of Michael Alexander at school who thinks to seduce women with a poem, and wondering why he isn't on a stage, too, with such a mentality, when all his words seem dedicated to making pain.
I struggle with my own conscience, understanding that his love of lust lacks fundamental ingredients, savagery making poetry meaningless. There is no love in a rock and roll hall, or in the street of Paterson where the prostitutes stroll, only fear and desperation, and a music made of lies and deception, layers of an onion pealing down to nothing at its core.
Resigned to fate
Well, I quit the band.
That is until they come to me with their problems.
"You know we need someone to be there, Al," they'll said.
What they mean is that they need someone to care when the world crumbles beneath their feet, someone who will hold everything together for them so they can keep on acting as irresponsibly as they have been.
But what can a poor fool like me do when I get caught up in the fever, too, when after all this time, after all those gigs, I lose control?
I've worked as sound man, light man, roadie and band psychologist for a decade or more and now need someone to tell my troubles, too, about the women I've met and gone off with, and how cheap I feel for the experience.
Lust doesn't last.