Hoboken Rhapsody






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...

and he...

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.


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