This bank should have been the Frank Sinatra Museum
next to the red awning of Shaffers in Hoboken.
The grand granite columns grin insincerely at the train station
As two pickup trucks and a motorcycle slide over cobblestones towards the waterfront.
People filter out from the PATH tubes in ones and twos
whispering, laughing, shouting. Girls with long blond hair
coming for free drinks at happy hour and
ladies night, horny men figuring their score.
Upscale men with white shirts, men bragging about their jobs
as if they were part of their sex appeal.
Plenty of money, no-conscience men
calculating the total expenditures needed to get these girls.
But they laugh at the details
As if it were all one big inside joke
and nobody’s allowed to mention the punchline.
The girls play a precarious game of hit and run,
wondering if they can get their drinks without paying the price.
The most successful players wear expressions of steel
Mechanical stares drip poison as they parade away,
none looking at Shaffers’ awning or the grin of the bank
which should have been Frank Sinatra’s.
It’s jockey time at the PATH station tube-top in Hoboken.
The Friday night cars roll in for short drinks at the bar, the lines
extend around the block. Tall men, short men, men with suits and mustaches,
wearing the same grim expression you get from a string of machine photographs.
All the faces are the same, only the shirt colors vary.
Little things like shape of head or face
have been erased by clever marketing techniques.
In the 1960s, people used to strive to be different.
Here, they gun you down with stares if you are-their eyes, your eyes, my eyes
as empty as the beer mugs at closing.
They sing rock tunes in their Broncos as they pull up to the curb,
four grim men with four grim crewcuts,
their accents from places like Carlstadt, Garfield, East Rutherford and Clifton.
Each of them know some of the words to some of the songs,
but never all of the words to any one song,
each sings his part, each picks up where the last one left off,
Grateful Dead, Charlie Daniels, Elton John, or Lynard Skynard,
each wearing the same twisted expression they see on the faces of MTV lead singers.
As if it hurt to sing, as if they couldn’t possibly make the words sound as bad as they do,
unless they wore expressions equally as sour.
Their voices die with the engine as the CD stops,
memories of singing vanish with the shuddering engine.
Each man looks a little uncomfortable in Hoboken,
like cowboys straight from the trail, looking sheepishly at the flashing lights, fancy women, and
bars full of drinking men just like them.
All of them without the vaguest idea of what to do next.
The last commuter comes home
in the middle of Friday-nite happy hour,
Walkman headphones pasted to her ears,
Ann Taylor shopping bag flapping to the beat
of James Taylor 1972 memories
she’s too young to remember,
thumbing up the volume to kill the bar sound of Nirvana.
Walking fast, then faster
as the drunk men gawk, her sharp step matching the beat of the bar.
A black male Yuppie in the middle of a white double-date
Hearty laugh, pals with his companions,
pin-stripe, button-down collar, off-color shirt straight from some
midtown Manhattan haberdashery, not one word of his joking sounds remotely real.
Calls the man “Mike,” the woman “Peg,” his own date, “Dawn,” all four too drunk
to pass any sobriety test. But hey, the other three laugh, who cares,
the black guy’s paying, isn’t he?
He can pay the traffic ticket, he can pay the bail, he can pay the motel bill
if they ever get that far.
That one goes home with her chest tight,
under tiger-striped spandex blouse, brown hair
streaming from her head strung out with static,
her step clicking over the cobblestones like the tap of a hammer,
each one nailing something shut inside of her,
something she says she’s through with forever
Something or someone, perhaps herself, walking alone,
talking to herself, saying, “Never, never, never again, that son of a bitch
dragged me down here
then he goes home with...
Never, never again.”
Bottle blonde glows in the street lights,
putting money in a meter she need not feed after six,
checking the pastel club affixed to her steering wheel,
checking her purse for change,
putting her Walkman in the glove compartment,
Adjusting her car alarm till it ticks with her breathing,
going round and round and round the car
till all the locks are locked, all the windows tight
examining her hair in the reflection
Smoothing it with her hand as she smiles at herself,
then walks nonchalantly towards the nearest bar.
Party, Party, Party!
Male driver asks woman on the street if she knows
where there are any parties.
“I got these directions,” he says. “I got them from this girl,
I can’t remember her name, just the street and the town.
Hell, I can barely remember my own name right now
But if there’s a party, I don’t want to miss it.
You know where it is, maybe?”
The woman laughs,
points up Hudson Street towards the string
of frat houses on the hill.
“Pick one,” she says.
The men never stopped pissing in the street,
they just do it better,
sneaking into deeper shadows. Does a bear shit in the woods?
The sound of it echoes from stone doorways, their faces averted
as if troubled by the possibility of a backsplash or whiplash,
insulted by the indignity of holding it at all, then blank-faced
when back in the bar, their dates ask
how their shoes got wet.
Big man shows off his motorcycle in front of a crowded bar,
rumbling, rasping motor that won’t quite catch,
kickstarting again and again, till he kicks it in disgust,
sitting on that damned machine for one whole hour, hoping and praying
the women will notice him-those smug-faced, over-made-up women
who wouldn’t turn their heads for anything less than a Jag, a Mercedes, a Beemer
or maybe a trip to Europe.
Hands in his pocket,
he walks with his whole foot, one sole striking the pavement
before the other lifts, his stare down to the ground
as if looking for spare change, although his suit
is expensive and his mannerisms those of success.
At age 42, way, way too old
for this scene, and he knows it.