bay ridge dispatch 4.14.14

i drop off my car at the service station and go up the block to get a haircut while i’m waiting. i can see the big red ‘open’ sign in the corner of the window from across the street but i don’t see joe. maybe he forgot to turn the sign around yesterday when he went home. i start to cross the street and then i see him in the back. and then i see a guy with a baseball cap sitting in one of the waiting chairs. i get a little closer and see that the guy is bald so maybe he’s not waiting at all. i get to the door and go in.

my barber shop is called, shore road hairstylists. the painted sign over the storefront stretches the length of the shop, ‘shore road’ in red on a yellow backdrop and ‘hairstylists’ underneath in much larger letters. the storefront window on the right has some plants that aren’t doing too bad but the left window is bare except for a small black marquis leaning up against the far wall. some of the plastic letters are missing and the prices are incorrect. i take my coat off and lay it down in this area instead of hanging it in the back on the coat rack which i usually do. i don’t want to go near the bar. joe has a little set up with a couple of bottles, an ice bucket and some glasses spread out on a white linen napkin. it’s early but joe always offers me a drink and has one himself. he motions me to the front of three seats giving the seat a crack with his towel. there are three red leather barber chairs, the arms of which are curved, white porcelain. the foot rest is a dull chrome and there is chrome detailing around the bottom of the seat cushion. more than once i have come into the shop and joe was napping in one of the chairs in the fully reclined position. it let’s out a breathy ‘hiss’ as i sit down.

‘i guess you’re just hanging out, seeing as your bald under there,’ i say to the guy sitting in one of the folding chairs on the opposite wall.
‘yeah, i’m moving to florida for good tomorrow so i stopped in to say goodbye to joe. i been coming here for years.’ he’s wearing a black korean war veteran hat that says, ‘l950-53 25th infantry division.’ he has a puffy blue flight jacket on and a pair of new looking acid wash jeans. his sneakers are white new balance.
‘what part of florida?’ i ask.
‘we rented an apartment in sarasota but we’re looking to buy something once we get the lay of the land.’
‘my parents lived in ft. myers for 25 years.’
‘oh! so you know the area.’
‘yeah. quite well.’
joe asks me, ‘what’ll it be’ and i say the same thing i say every time,
‘1 1/2 all over, please.’
‘we were looking at cape coral. that’s near ft. myers.’
‘i’d say it IS ft. myers but you don’t want to buy there. that’s right in the flood plain.’
‘oh, really?’
‘yeah. the insurance must be astronomical if you can even get it.’
‘what do you think of ft. myers, in general.’
‘i like it a lot. it’s like a normal town. people actually live there and are from there. it’s not lousy with snowbirds and the snowbirds that come seem a little more middle class - not like the redneck riviera up in the panhandle or the crazy, glitzy neon of miami or the rich enclaves of naples or lauderdale - just normal people, which in florida is fairly unusual.’
‘huh. well, we’ll have to investigate that more. what about punta gorda?’
‘i don’t know. it was nice before charley nearly wiped it off the map. i hear it’s come back.’

joe has put the neck strip around my neck, fastened the hair cloth around me and removed my glasses. now he is untangling the clipper with some difficulty.

‘you picked a hell of a last winter,’ i say. this has been the worst winter in the 13 years i have lived in new york city.
‘yeah. i’ve had it. but it gets hot down there. ‘specially in the summer.’
‘oh, yeah. and the bugs. you’re going to meet some new critters.’
joe chuckles. he’s wearing a kerchief around his neck which i’ve never seen him do. maybe he’s had some medical procedure but i don’t bring it up.
‘the waterbugs don’t bother me. but i never wear flip-flops in the grass down there ‘cuz of the snakes.’
‘i’ve never actually seen any poisonous snakes down there,’ i say. i used to work in my mom’s garden all the time but all i saw was the garter snake she called her ‘little buddy’.
‘oh, i have! i fish a lot and you have to watch out for the water moccasins. they’ll crawl right up into your boat.’
‘really? they can climb up fiberglass or whatever?’
‘my boat’s really low to the water.’
i think about this. ‘climb’ isn’t really the right word. ‘crawl’? no. i guess what they do is, ‘slither’, but who goes around using the word, ‘slither’.
‘well, you can beat the heat fishing. isn’t most of the best fishing in the morning or the evening?’
‘depends what you’re going for. i love grouper and they love to hide out under bridges so there’s some shade there, at least.’
‘i hope you’re careful of the manatee.’
‘very much so. those are just amazing creatures and we always observe the no wake signs. there’s a lot of idiots down there that don’t.’
‘i know. my mom used to volunteer at the manatee park up the callosahatchee near the power plant.’
‘i’ve fished under the freeway bridge up there but the power plant makes the water too warm for grouper.’
‘it’s just right for manatee calving.’

we continue to discuss the wildness that is florida. i tell the story i always tell when the subject of mosquitoes comes up. the one where i’m playing golf in winnipeg and i go into the woods to pee and my dick gets beset by hundreds of mosquitoes being the only place on my body i hadn’t thought to cover in bug spray. this elicits another chuckle from joe. i feel the clipper skip up the back of my head. joe misses spots and i usually have to have my wife touch up the cut. one time i just shaved my head after i saw him.

i go on, ‘you know, it took the u.s. army three wars to get the seminoles out of florida. can you imagine being one of those soldiers? they basically had to form a human chain all the way to the everglades and the indians just picked them off and ran into the swamp. and they were probably so delirious from malaria and heat stroke, it was easy.’
nobody says anything. joe hasn’t said anything so i’m not surprised when he doesn’t but the other guy is thinking.
‘yes, it was terrible what we did to the indians,’ he finally says.
we. it’s interesting how certain people will take responsibility for things they had no part in. i’ve never been involved in genocide against indians or owned slaves but there is a part of me as an american that feels guilty about it. i pegged this guy for a gung-ho type american, the kind that makes no apologies. i’m glad to be wrong.

‘where did you live here?’ i change the subject.
‘just down the street there on 94th near marine.’
‘this is a great neighborhood. i’ve just been here a year-and-a-half but i love it.’
‘it’s changed a lot. it’s not like it used to be.’
‘what is?’
‘yeah, but it’s different now.’
‘i don’t know how it was. i mean, i saw ‘saturday night fever’ and everything. i just like living on the water - around all this history - i love imagining what happened right here. the footsteps that i’m stepping in.’
‘what do you mean?’
‘you know, like some revolutionary soldier was hauling ass up the ridge here to get away from the british who were landing where the bridge now is.’
‘i never thought of it like that.’
‘and you know how every ship that’s ever come into new york harbor had to pass right by my window. that means every immigrant that came through ellis island and so much more. it’s kind of mind boggling.’
and then he says something kind of unexpected,
‘i’ve only been talking to you a short time but you sound like a very spiritual person.’
noone has ever said this to me before.
‘i’m not religious,’ i say.
‘no, that’s not what i mean. the way your imagination works. the way you see all the people through history that have passed before you. it’s spiritual.’
‘i guess it is.’
joe has finished with my neck and has unsnapped the hair cloth.
‘nice and clean.’ the same thing he always says.
‘thanks, joe.’
it’s a $10 haircut. i give joe $20 and ask for $5 back.
‘nice talking to you, sir, and good luck with your new life.’
‘you too, pal. you, too.’
we shake hands and i leave them to pick up my car.

1 note

nyc dispatch 9.6.12

new york city…walking down 6th ave right around 10th st and i stop to listen to this guy playing solo jazz guitar on a hollow body. he is smooth. it’s beautiful and it reminds me of joe pass. he stops and asks me if i’m a musician. we talk. his name is solomon and he’s 57. when he was young he studied the guitar with a good teacher ‘like every musician does’. but when he got married he quit playing and two years ago he picked it back up. so he doesn’t know what’s happening on the scene. i tell him all the clubs he used to know are gone except the vanguard and that he should go to the smalls afternoon session because he sounds great and it’s low pressure and he can get back to his wife who doesn’t let him out past 10pm. he seems to lack confidence so i tell him again how much i dug his playing. how i like how he doesn’t seem to be in a hurry. 

'well, i can't be in a hurry. i need time to think,' he says, laughing. 
we shake hands. his hand is enormous and wraps completely around mine. 
'nice to meet you solomon,' i say. 
'oh, i'll see you again, dred,' he says smiling.

the end of an era

my mom died and she was 90.  i didn’t think an open casket was appropriate.  she’s been old for so long, i kind of wanted to remember her in her more active days, like when she was in her 70’s.  one of my nieces, though, wanted to have a ‘viewing’ to see her one more time.  i think that part of the ritual is maudlin - especially the way they call it a ‘viewing.’  it seems so impersonal, like going to a movie, a ‘screening.’  and it gets me thinking about things i don’t want to think about:  

can she hear me?  

she doesn’t look dead.

god, that’s a lot of make up.  she’s had those liver spots on her face a long time.  why cover them up now?

she’s never done her hair like that, ever.

how are they going to get those rings off her hopelessly gnarled, arthritic fingers?

this last thing puzzled my sister and i.  she was dealing with the funeral director and he told her,

‘i’m not sure how the girls get them off but they always do.’

we thusly posited, naturally, that they were going to cut my mother’s fingers off to get the rings - a wedding band, an engagement ring and her wedding ring.  we agreed not to share this information with the rest of the family.  since my mother was a member of the cremation society, the open casket thing was a done deal, anyway.  i didn’t know that there was a club for this.  i wonder what they talk about at their monthly meetings.  

my mom lived life on her own terms and she died on her own terms.  12 years ago, she went to the doctor after passing a white stool - pancreatic cancer.  parts of her stomach, liver, pancreas, gall bladder and intestines were removed and then resected in a procedure strangely known as, the whipple, by a sports-car-driving, hot-shot surgeon apparently world renowned for performing hundreds of these.  at the time, my father was just showing the effects of the cruel alzheimer’s disease that would take him down some years later and he was very worried.  what would become of him if my mom didn’t make it?  a couple of days after the surgery, he and i were standing over my still (basically) unconscious mother and he was stroking her hair very affectionately.  i wonder what he must’ve been thinking.  he was not one for sharing his feelings.  my mother without opening her eyes, cleared her throat and said,

‘don’t pet me.  i’m not a dog.’

my father could not hide the relief that i saw wash over his face as we laughed and just knew my mom was going to be ok.  and that she was.  she didn’t even do oncology.  

you’d think that might change a person profoundly, beating a cancer with a maximum survival rate of 5 years.  but she became more difficult as the elderly often do.  she did take care of my dad as he declined but would often scold him for not being able to remember where the cereal went.  and she made the poor man play bridge as long as he could.

‘if you don’t use it, you lose it,’ she would say.  ‘your father never had good card sense, anyway.’

she lived alone for a few years after my dad died.  she was a master gardner and her garden kept her going, for sure.  but the responsibilities of managing the upkeep of a home in florida where nature poises at the edge of every property ready to envelope and reclaim it became too much and it was agreed she would gradually move in with my sister in syracuse.  

she had just spent a month-and-a-half in her house for what was to be the last time.  she said good-bye to the few friends she had that were still alive and itemized her belongings making sure the silver would go to my one niece, the china to another niece and that my one sister-in-law would never get her mary hadley collection.  i had been down with my new family for a little vacation a month earlier before she came down and had said good-bye to the place i’d called home for the last 25 years.  it was all winding down.  when she returned to syracuse, she called me.  she rarely called me.  i always called her.  we talked all the time but it was unusual for her to call me.  i would ask her why she never called me and she always said, 

‘the phone goes both ways.  if you need me, you know where i am.’

our last conversation went something like this:



‘what’s happening?’

‘oh, carolyn’s at work and that damn cat is trying to get in.  i’m just bored, i guess.  there’s nothing to do around here but watch tv.’

‘why don’t you go for a walk?’

‘my back is bothering me and i’m afraid i might fall.’

‘how was your trip back?’


‘how was everything in florida?’

‘oh, they’re not running the tennis team right.  they’re in the finals of the county for the first time in years and they won’t win because they play all the girls and not just the best ones.’

‘it sounds like they’re doing something right if they’re in the finals.’

‘oh, that’s just dumb luck.’

‘but isn’t it like, for fun?’

‘of course it is but you want to win, don’t you?’

‘i guess.’

there are often awkward silences during our conversations while i figure out what to change the subject to.

‘how’s carolyn’s garden shaping up?’

‘oh, it’s always nice.  i can’t get down on the ground and work like i want so it’s frustrating for me.  and i get tired so quickly.  but carolyn lets me dig around where i want.  not like at julie’s.’

‘hmm.  so what’s on the agenda for later?’

‘ohhh.  i don’t know.  carolyn is making the costumes for a play at school so she’ll be home late.  i’m on my own.’

‘no, you’re not.’

‘yes, i am.’

‘hey mom, i’m at my gig.  i got to go.’

‘ok, sweetheart.  i’ll talk to you again.’

‘love you.’

‘oh, i love you too, joseph.’

she died two days later in her sleep.  so the family mustered and were all but one gathered together to say goodbye to the force that kept 6 siblings and their 14 children connected.  my wife and daughter and i arrived the day before the service and stayed at my sister’s house in my mom’s bedroom.  we had wanted to save money on a hotel and my sister suggested we stay in mom’s room and i thought that would be weird, at first.  she did die right in that bed.  but my sister said it wasn’t a big mess and that she changed the sheets so i figured, why not?  i’m not superstitious.  that night there were no bumps or voices or dreams and my daughter slept fine next to us in her crib.  my wife used to work for john edward, the psychic medium who talks to the dead, and we thought there might be some activity but there was nothing.  or was it nothingness?

we went to the funeral service where it was expected that i was to say a few things being the most connected of my siblings to my mom and also kind of assuming the mantle of the family scribe that until now i was not fully recognized as.  i am the baby and that dynamic has always kind of been there between me and my older siblings but recently i have felt it receding and now with my mom gone i find that distinction gone.  i always wondered what it would be like to think of myself as an adult and if i would know when it happened.  in just a few years i’ve been divorced, remarried, had a baby girl and lost both my parents.  i feel my youth slipping away.  but i don’t miss it.  it’s just different.  i can’t have it back, anyway.  i welcome the change.  i wasn’t sure it was going to happen.

my brother-in-law got up and delivered an extemporaneous, heart-felt tribute that had sadness and laughter, the latter occurring when he recounted the story of when my mom saw the engagement ring he was to give me sister in 1971 and said it looked like a ‘deveined shrimp.’  i, on the other hand, had 4 pieces of paper i had scratched out notes on and had to stop several times to regain my composure.  there just seemed so much to say.  she was such a thing, an energy ball that just can’t dissipate into thin air and be gone for good.  she had lived an epic life in an epochal time.  when i think about 1922 compared to now, i don’t believe it possible that i will see and hear and taste all the things that occurred in that near century.  it is not disputed that the last 75 years have seen more inventions than in the previous thousands.  my mother’s house was the last one on her block to have indoor plumbing in minneapolis, a good size city even then.  it boggles the mind slightly the things i take for granted every day that just didn’t even exist when she was growing up.  it’s a strange coincidence that after seeing the studs terkel book, ‘my american century’, on my ‘to read’ cart for two years i picked it up and had just finished it when my mother died.  it’s really her story, as well.  the tales of hardship and misfortune coupled with stories of great loyalty and love for one’s family had a familiar sound to me, like i was talking to my mom.  

and she had a lot of stories.  the one about her brother-in-law who was an ambulance driver in the war and was so slow she was sure a lot of good men died on the way to the hospital.  when that sister died her family didn’t want my mom at the funeral.  they knew what she thought of their father and how she thought she was better than they were.  so they told her not to come.  and of course the stories everyone had heard a thousand times about how our father was never around during the week and still played golf on saturdays.  about how when my brother wanted piano lessons, my father would allow her to get a part-time job as a bank teller only if she still got her work around the house done.  about how my father didn’t want my sisters to go to college and my mom wouldn’t stand for it.  about how when they retired, she retired, too.  my dad can make his own sandwiches.

after the service we went to an after party at a friend of my sister’s house whose house is a little bigger than my sister’s and offered to have it there so we wouldn’t have to clean up a big party.  it was a terrific scene with everyone catching up and eating and drinking and taking pictures.  it was like my mom was there.  after awhile, my baby girl wanted to split so we went back to my sister’s and put her to bed up in my sister’s room away from the ensuing after, after party.  my wife and i then found ourselves in my mom’s room changing our clothes and well, i was grief stricken and times like these people tend to come together.  so one thing lead to another, as these things do, and there we were going at it in the bed my mom died in just two days ago and i started thinking, sure my mom’s not going to catch us but what if one of my nieces of nephews comes back and we’re either in here or just finishing up.  either way, they would know and it would be awkward.  i have a child now.  both my parents are dead.  i have to step up and set an example.  i got up with my wife clawing at my trousers as i put them on.

‘i can’t do this.’

‘wait.  just a little more.’

‘no.  it’s too weird.’

‘well, let’s get on the floor then.’

‘no.  it’s not the bed.  it’s my family.  they might come back any minute and i just can’t concentrate.’

‘want me to blow you?’

‘no, thanks.  i’m going to get dressed and go out there.’

‘i’ll be out in a minute.’

and i closed the door to the whirr of a pocket rocket.

i made myself a drink from the bar i put together from the party and brought over.  my mom and dad both drank dewar’s so that’s what i was having, with water and a twist of lemon.  i walked into the living room and flipped on the tube.  r. kelly was singing over whitney houston’s casket - wailing and whimpering might more accurately describe it.  i changed the channel, same thing.  i changed the channel again, same thing.  really?  i sat down to watch the spectacle.  he didn’t look well.  he looked like he was trying to take a shit.  and then that thing happened to me that happens at wakes where i start thinking about stuff i don’t want to think about and my mind started imagining it’s own sequence of events where whitney sat up in her casket with this look like, ‘what the fuck are doing, r. kelly?’  and then he whips it out and pees all over her and she melts back down in the casket like the wicked witch of the west, crying, 

‘why, r. kelly?  why?  what a world.  what a world.’  

one of my nephews walks in.  i switch off the television.

‘whatcha watching?’


and the after, after party ensued.  it’s all a blur.  songs sung around the piano.  friendly and heated ping-pong matches.  babies playing, melting down and going to bed.  smoking weed in the driveway.  forgetting for awhile why we were all together.  and being the last one awake, drunk on the back deck, crying alone, realizing i can never call up my mom again. 

the hooker story

my hangover is terrible.  i broke my rule of no straight, hard booze and was drinking the powers after the gig last nite.  it was fun.  there were a couple of young girls interested in talking to me.  i was flattered and let the good times roll.  we drove over and closed small’s.  they were from out of town.  they were staying close by in the same hotel room.  they were very young and it all seemed too impossible.  i left with my dignity in tact - not hitting on them and playing the gracious gentleman.

now i can’t remember where i parked my car.  i have a dry erase board right on the fridge but i forget to use it sometimes.  i got home at 5 but at 11 i’m up and done sleeping.  i pad around my tiny apartment in a daze.  bananas, strawberries, yogurt, blender and i’m getting a pulse.  i do some dreary business on the computer, smoke a couple of bonghits and consider going back to bed.  i take a shower instead.  my roommate likes to smoke in the shower and that sounds real good.  but i don’t have any cigarettes, thankfully.  i only think it would make me feel better, more awake.  but it would make me feel shittier, like the greasy chinese food i always crave after i’ve polluted my body in this manner.  why?  i dry off and step into my sandals.  my roommate likes to dry off outside the shower.  we tried a rug but that just got damp and disgusting, moldy.  same thing with a towel, except you could wash it, which i always ended up doing.  i’ve learned that just because i like to dry off inside the shower and step into a pair of sandals doesn’t mean everybody else should.  so i went online and found this bathmat/platform made out of japanese hinoki cypress the resin of which is bacteria resistant and prevents mildew.  i’m not surprised.  i’ve been to japan a few times and it is the most fastidious place i have ever been.  they would not be having water on the floor of the bathroom after every shower.  it’s worked well for us. 

i go into my bedroom which is really a walk-in closet.  it’s funny in new york what they classify as a bedroom.  if it fits a bed, it’s a bedroom.  never mind if that’s all it will fit.  so i sleep in the living room on a fold-up couch. i’m getting dressed and i catch a glimpse of myself in the nice full length mirror i bought after my divorce.  the frame is walnut and curves gracefully from top to bottom.  a beautiful piece of craftsmanship, it’s a little like a fun house mirror without the visual distortion.  my gut sticks out but if i suck it in, i don’t look too bad.  i finish getting dressed and go into the living room and fold up the bed.  it’s a couch now.  i  get my bag together - extra pair of socks and underwear and tomorrow’s meds - my girlfriend is apartment sitting in hell’s kitchen and i might stay there tonite.  almost forgot the phone charger.  can’t forget the phone charger.  i have a class at long island university at 3 and i have to find my car and maybe move it so i leave a little early.  turns out the car’s right outside in a monday spot.  cool.  sometimes all you need is that first thing to go right when you leave the house to make the whole day turn out good.

the class goes fine.  the piano, a decent yamaha.  i know the teacher from years ago when i used to play there but the department was so badly managed i had to quit.  her name is donna and she is now the head of the department.  i always liked her.  when i ask her how her summer was, she tells me,

'shitty.  i got a hip replacement.'

damn.  she is young, too, for a hip replacement.  the life of a dancer.  i never got ballet, really - the foot binding pointe shoes, the mostly demeaning pedagogy of never being able to do it exactly perfect. and the women look so thin.  but donna has a sarcastic teaching manner that keeps it not too serious.  and she laughs easily when i play the theme from star wars for battement. 

i leave liu and take the subway to union square where i transfer to the L and go to williamsburgh to pick up the hard drive my new record is on.  i need to eat.  i feel like shit.  i stop outside this tiki bar.  looks good.  dark.  empty.  i tell myself a glass of fernet wouldn’t be drinking.  it’s medicinal.  it doesn’t look like the kind of place that would even have fernet so i keep walking.  ever since i learned that chef’s drink fernet to get back in the game when they have a bad hangover, i only drink fernet when hungover.  or i won’t drink at all.  not because i should give my body a break and not drink but because there is no fernet available.  i am smart and retarded at the same time.  i get a chicken taco from a truck and stand on the corner of bedford and north 7th eating it.  all kinds of people pass me by - not just the messy headed, tattooed, pierced and bearded i associate with this part of williamsburgh.  i finish my taco and go across the street to a liquor store telling myself if they have fernet minis, i’ll get one.  they do.  so i buy one to wash down the taco.  what am i doing?  i’m meeting cha at small’s to give him the hard drive and pay him for last nite’s gig.  but i have an hour to kill so i get back on the subway and go back to union square.

on the train, there is an old mexican dude playing accordion and singing.  i’m not really listening but i notice a few riders exchanging glances and smiling.  the guy’s singing is awful and everybody seems to be realizing it simultaneously.  two black guys are sitting across from each other and they start trash-talking the guy.

'damn.  that is some sad shit,'  one guy says.

'oh man….'  the other one says laughing and shaking his head.  we are all laughing now.  the mexican dude has his eyes closed and is belting it out, loud and proud.  it's really astonishing how bad it is.  is he tone deaf?  the second black guy says,

'hey!  come here old man.'  and he takes a dollar out of his wallet. 'i'll give you a dollar to stop.'

and the first guy takes out a dollar, too.  ‘yeah, me, too,’  he adds.

and three other people are taking out dollars to give the guy.

he collects the money, smiling, ‘muchas gracias.’ 

my stop comes and i get off.  i’m not giving a dollar for that shit.

it’s going to storm and i’m dressed up for my gig tomorrow.  it was too warm for a rain coat so i need to buy an umbrella.  i want a nice one.  one that won’t break after i use it twice.  i go by filene’s and consider going in but there are too many people.  i can’t handle it.  so i keep walking.  on university i come to a housewares store that looks pretty empty, so i go in.  there is a collection of umbrellas and i find one with a lifetime warranty for only 20 bucks.  i ask the cashier if this umbrella really has a lifetime warranty.  he takes it from me and examines the tag and without looking up tells me,

'that's what it says.'

i go outside and continue down  university toward the park, opening and closing the umbrella.  seems like a well designed item.  i head west on 10th st and pause at the corner to wave to fazio mohammed.  or is it mohammed fazio?  he is the super in the building the joffrey school is in.  his name is on the directory next to the elevator, but it’s hard to tell which name is his first and which is his last the way they are arranged on the board - ’SUPERINTENDANT’ on one line then ‘FAZIO’ on the next line and then after the ‘FAZIO’, ‘mohammed’ in smaller case letters. europeans capitalize all the letters in the last name when addressing an envelope, but the first name still comes first.  the directory is not an envelope and this is new york.  nonetheless, i’ve never been sure in the last couple of years that the joffrey school has started hiring me again.  i suppose i could’ve asked him any time but i don’t want to disrupt our little routine.  see, fazio or mohammed looks like elvis - the hair, the sideburns, those gold glasses with the holes on the sides.  most days when i arrive at the building for my shift, fazio mohammed is standing outside opening the door for all who enter.  i imagine it gives him a chance to smile and be friendly with the pretty, young ballerinas.  every time he opens the door for me i pause, look at him directly, make my lip snarl and say in that low elvis voice, 


 and without seeming to get my joke he says,

'you are welcome,'  in a broken english reminiscent of andy kaufman except that mohammed fazio is brown complected.

filipino or indonesian?  i don’t know.  dozens and dozens of times we have played out this routine, he always seeming to never get that he looks like elvis and i’m imitating elvis - a brilliant straight-man or a dumb-ass.  he isn’t usually at the door when i finish my shift, but one time recently he was.  he opened the door for me.  i stepped outside, raised my lip, popped my collar up and pointed at him,


and mohammed fazio said in his high-pitched heavily accented voice,

'you are leaving the building!'

as i cross 6th avenue he sees me waving and waves back.  i continue down 10th and decide to sit down on a bench outside a little cafe.  i pull out my glass one-hitter that cha thinks looks like a crack pipe.

'have you ever smoked crack?'  i asked him.


'well, i have.  once.  and while that doesn't make me a crack smoking expert, i do know a crack pipe when i see one and this is no crack pipe.'


as i’m putting a pinch of herb into the end, i notice this guy coming toward me.  i notice him because he’s wearing these enormous, black, horn-rimmed glasses, the kind artsy types often wear.  as he passes i get a good look at him.  his hair is short on the sides but grey-streaked and wild and thinning on top.  he’s got grey stubble that makes him look haggard and older than the 60 or so years i’m guessing he has lived.  holy shit!  it’s f. murray abraham!

'f. murray!'  i yell after him.  he looks up from his phone.  'you are great!  thanks for all the great work.'

he puts his phone in his pocket and takes a couple steps back toward me.  he is smiling the perfect teeth of an actor.

'thank you…..thank you very much.'  

refined.  articulate.  i reach into my bag and pull out the cd i always have with me.

'i've enjoyed your performances.  maybe you'd like to enjoy one of mine.'

he takes the disc in his left hand, extending the other and we shake.

'my name's dred.  nice to meet you.  can i call you f.?'

he laughs and says, ‘murray.  everyone calls me murray.’

'right on.  so murray, i was just about to smoke a little weed.' and i motion to the space on the bench beside me, 'care to join me?'

he laughs again.  ‘i have a rehearsal later.  i better not.’

'right on.  what are you doing?'

'oh, it's nothing.'  and i can tell he wants to move along.

'well, if it's nothing, it probably pays pretty good.'

he laughs again.  what a friendly guy.

'it's not bad.'

'well, put an eye out, then,'  i say.

he looks at me quizzically.

'i prefer that to break a leg.'

'oh,' he says, 'that's hilarious,  i've never heard that one.'

'you can use it if you want.'

'thanks, i will,' he says turning to go.

'have a good one, murray.'

he turns and smiles, ‘you, too,’ and holding up the record, ‘and thanks for the cd.’

'my pleasure,'  i say.  and he walks on.

i try to hit the one-hitter but it is hopelessly clogged.  again.  i just cleaned it a couple of days ago.  i hold the flame up to the end and suck hard.  nothing.  maybe it is a crack pipe.  i get up and cross the street and go into a head shop.  i buy a little glass pipe, tossing the crack pipe into the garbage on the way out.

i put some weed in the bowl, duck into a doorway and have a hit and feel my hangover start to finally recede.  i continue down 10th, looking over my shoulder for the pigs and duck into another doorway for another hit.  i’m not too paranoid.  it’s been a long time since i heard of anyone getting busted for smoking weed on the streets - not like when i first got here 10 years ago.  dude would go out to smoke weed on the break at the gig and never come back.  

i cross 7th and approach small’s.  mitch is sitting outside on a chair playing the violin, as usual.  i step to the curb facing him and tap my umbrella to the ground, bringing the orchestra to order.  i raise it like a baton and mitch stands up.  i conduct him ceremoniously, cuing imaginary sections and quieting others.  i cut the orchestra off with a furious wave of my umbrella/baton and point to mitch.

'cadenza!'  and mitch saws furiously on his fiddle.  i cut him off after awhile and bring the orchestra back in, singing the coda,

'5-1…….5-1………..5-1-5-1-5-1-5-1-5-1….5….1…..5…..1 and a 1, and a 1……and….a….onnnnnnnnnnnnnne.  one!'  thank you mozart for showing us all how to wind up an audience at the end of a tune.

i turn to the street and bow.  i turn to mitch and extend my arm.  he bows.  two people on the sidewalk across the street are applauding.

'thank  you.  thank you,' i say.  'we're here all week.'

'nice playing,' i say to mitch.

'people say the conductor is a figure head, a vassal with no real power.  but a good conductor can really shape a performance if the orchestra is receptive to guidance.'

'yeah, man.  totally.  i'm meeting ben at 6.'

'nobody down there but the tuner.'

'oh, ok.'  and then i say like the terminator, 'i'll be back.'  and i walk away.

i go over to the 55 bar against my better judgement.  last time i went to see brian mitchell there, some chick was at the door outside.

‘i’m dred.  i play here with jay collins and frank sellman.  i used to play with sweet georgia brown and the wollesens, too, back in the day.’

‘oh, nice to meet you dred.  c’mon in.’

i almost said, ‘and what’s your name?’  but somehow didn’t.  it bugs me when you introduce yourself to someone and they don’t tell you their name.   i go in and kirby is at the door inside.

‘hey, dred.  it’s 20 bucks.’

i was with a friend so i said, ‘how about i just pay for my friend?’

‘can’t.  we’re charging the musicians these days.’

‘that’s like charging the bus driver to ride the fucking bus!’

‘i just work here,’ kirby says and shrugs.

‘fuck that,’ i said and left.

the 55 bar has not been the same since cueva took it over and turned if from a dive bar into a faux-dive bar.  just after buying the bar, she hired some british makeover chick to refashion the place.  the first time i played there after the big change (which so far had involved firing my favorite bartender, sheila and cleaning the mirror behind the bar) this woman jumped into my car after i had brought my keyboards into the club.

‘i’ll just ride with you while you find a park place.’  i look at her.  she is severe looking but cute.  i am attracted to her.  she gets right down to business.

‘dred, as you may notice we’ve made some changes and we’re going to make more.’

‘i noticed you fired sheila.’

‘sheila was not going to conform to our way of doing things.’

‘oh?  and what’s that?’

‘we want to make a place that’s brighter, cheerier - a place where women feel comfortable going.’

‘well, you might want to start by not having so many fusion guitar players.  girls hate that shit.’  

i see a spot halfway up the block of a one way street.  there are no cars coming so i roll past the street and back up.

‘is this legal, what you’re doing?’

‘did cueva hire you to give me driving lessons, too?’

‘oh, no.  just to straighten up the bar.’

she straightened things out all right.  that was the last time i played there with my spooky funk band i named groovula, after dracula.  maybe my support of sheila put me on the wrong side, a trouble maker, an insurgent.  in the coming years, the 55 bar came to signify the number of times one needed to call to get cueva to call you back about a prospective date - 55 times.  i finally gave up.  and then she died.  and then her son took over.  he seems like a nice guy, but owning a bar does not seem to be his dream.  he’s asked me to bring my band back in a couple of times but i don’t know.  so far i haven’t taken him up on it.  i still play there with jay and frank and it’s ok.  the staff is all real nice.  but i miss the cookies sheila would bring the musician’s every nite and the way cecil taylor would show up around 1 or 2 in the morning, holding court at the end of the bar till it got light out.  most things once they’re gone, they’re gone forever.  that’s all it is.  i don’t hold much of a grudge because here i am, the only one in the place except kirby and a young kid setting up the drums.  i am writing in my notebook and having a scotch.  they are having a conversation about the current state of jazz.  the kid says,

'yeah, man.  i think jazz is going to make a comeback.'

'really?'  kirby says.

'yeah.  my generation is the most marketed to generation in history and we are fed up.  we want something real.  something we can touch.  like an lp.'

'wow.  that would be great.'  i know kirby is a big music fan.  i like him but he's acting kind of aloof toward me, probably remembering our last encounter.  he shouts down from the other end of the bar,

'dred, you need another drink?'

'sure.  why not?'  and i go back to my notebook.  when i look up, he is standing in front of me with my cocktail.  i notice his gut and notice his t-shirt has some sort of family gathering commemorated on it.  the kirby-somebody family reunion.  i never knew 'kirby' was his last name.  i ask him about it and he tells me a fascinating story of how his family came over as slaves and he can trace his ancestry back to the place in africa where his family came from, how they got here, where they went and what happened to them.

'yeah, we have to wear these shirts cause there's like 300 of us at these things.' he tells me.  

'wow,' is all i can say.  my mind is racing with all the stories of the lives lived out along his family tree.  i don't feel like a spiritual person but hearing about kirby's family makes me feel there is some kind of imprint we make that if connected to other imprints makes a spiritual resonance of some kind that ripples through time.  my phone vibrates and it's cha.  he has arrived at small's.  so i pay for my drinks leaving an extra big tip and thank kirby for sharing his family history with me.

'it's not as interesting when it's your family,'  he jokes and we laugh.

'catch you later.'

inside small’s, erin is slicing lime’s and benny cha cha and jimmy katz are busy running mics around the stage.

'you want something, dred?'  erin looks up from her cutting board, smiling.

'you open?'

'for you, i am.'

erin is a no-nonsense blonde, with a pony tail and a flannel shirt.  she looks like somebody’s sister, wholesome and pretty.  i have a drink and then realize it’s 7 and my girlfriend is off work.

'got to run, everybody.  thanks.'

i say goodbye to mitch on the way out and walk over to sheridan square where the 1/9 is and take it up to times square.

my girlfriend works as a producer for the new newlywed game show and the office is at times square on 49th so we had agreed to meet at sofia’s in the edison hotel on 46th.  she was house-sitting in hell’s kitchen and they have a t.v. so the plan was to meet for a couple of drinks and then go watch t.v. 

we have a few instead.  all the regulars are here - guy-who’s-always-here guy, the downtrodden, entertainment lawyer guy, the gay guy has a very gay white sweater with pastel stripes around the shoulders and nick the metal-head bartender is setting us all up.  matt ray’s trio sounds great and one hour turns into three.  when we leave, we are feeling pretty good.

we are walking up 8th avenue and the subject of cunnilingus comes up.  my girlfriend thinks that while i am skilled in this particular love art, the frequency with which i go down on her could definitely increase.

'you should eat my pussy more,'  was how she put it.

you know how when you pass someone on the street you sometimes hear little soundbites of their conversation?  like one time i passed a guy talking on his cellphone,

'yeah, but you didn't tell me she was going to look like art garfunkel…..'  was all i heard and he was gone.  and another time right after i moved to new york i was walking by this guy talking in a phone booth and i heard him scream,

'i'll put his head under a fucking tire!!'  i kept walking.

so this girl walking the other direction must’ve heard that one thing,

'you should eat my pussy more,' because she stops dead in her tracks and calls back to us,

'i love to eat pussy!'

we turn around to face her.  she is short and brown.  puerto rican.  her bangs cover her eyebrows like a helmet.  the rest of her hair is long and brown and straight down to the middle of her back.  she has big, full lips and she’s smacking her gum and smiling a very toothy smile.  she wears a tight t-shirt tucked into too tight jeans and i think she is probably a hooker.

part 2

'what's your name, honey?'  my girlfriend asks.

she responds, ‘heyyy, i like your tattoos.  got any more?’

my girlfriend has tattoos up an down both arms.

'yeah,'  she says, 'a couple more on my back.'

'lemme see 'em,'  the hooker says.

my girlfriend turns around and pulls down the top of her t-shirt revealing the paw pads tattooed on her back.

'oh my god, i don't believe it!!' and she has her hand over her mouth and is pointing at my girlfriend.

'WHAT??!!'  we both say.

'i have a paw pad right here!'

and she unbuttons the top three buttons of her jeans and with some effort pulls one side down to the top of her thigh.  and there it is, a single paw pad.

'wow.'  we both say.

'what animal is that?'  my girlfriend asks.

'i don't know.  what's yours?'


'got any more?'  i interrupt. 

'no.  but i got a nipple ring.'  and she pulls her t-shirt up over her left tit revealing a torpedo shaped breast with a very large, oval-shaped areola and at the end, a stud in the nipple.

'you're coming with us,'  my girlfriend says.

'ok,'  she says, smiling.  'i just got to go down the street and pick up some more trees.  i'm all out.'

'oh, we have weed,'  i say.  'really good weed.'

'-and we'll pick up some beer,'  my girlfriend interjects.

'nah.  i don't smoke it.  i just SELL it.'

'oh, that's good,'  i say.  'never get high on your own supply.'

she doesn’t get it.

'you know….tony montana?'

'so how about i call you in a little while.  where will you be?'  she asks.

'we are staying around the corner on 54th,'  my girlfriend says.

they exchange numbers.  she splits.  we go buy beer and go back to the apartment - a dingy, dark floor-thru filled with kitschy tchotkes -  a lamp the base of which is the bust of elvis, a velvet elvis painting,  little dr. evil and austin powers figurines,  a spoon collection, more figurines of kiss, aunt jemima salt and pepper shakers, a naugahyde sofa and white shag carpeting.  the back window is always open to accommodate a giant black cat who despite his massiveness can jump from the kitchen floor onto the top of the refrigerator where he likes to perch and take in the action, which at the moment consists of me trying to pick the right music - something a hooker might like.  i suggest goldfrapp - kind of ambient, but there are beats.

'fuck that gay british crap,'  my girlfriend says.  'put on some coltrane.'

'i think i have a love supreme in here,'  i reply.

i shuffle through my ipod.  hank jones, no.  bobby timmons, no.  schoenberg string quartets, no.  high voltage, hmm, maybe later.  there’s the coltrane…oh…

bebel gilberto.

'how's bebel gilberto?'

'that's cool.'

'do you think you should call?'  i ask.

'jesus.  chill out, man.  she'll call after she's made her delivery.'

and her phone lights up and rings.

'it's her!'  she picks it up.  'hi!  where are you?….outside?….we'll be right down.'

and i’m already out the door going down the short flight of steps to the building entrance.  i slow my pace to a nonchalant saunter and enter the foyer.  there she is, her back to me.  i open the door and some guy is just getting a bag of weed from her.

'ok,'  she says to him, 'see you later.'  and she turns to face me.  she does have a nice smile.


'hi,' i say.  'want to come in?'


i hold the door open for her and she walks in front of me up the steps.  i can see the top of her thong sticking out of her jeans.  she has a beautiful round ass and it’s right in my face. 

'you have a nice ass,'  i say.

'thanks,'  giggling as she hops up the remaining few steps.

'do you guys live here?'  she asks as we reach the doorway.

'no, we are house-sitting for a friend.'  and my girlfriend opens the door.

'hi!'  she says putting her arms around our guest.  'c'mon in.  can i get you a beer?'

'i'd do a shot,'  she answers.

'all we have is beer,'  i say.  'but i could go get a bottle of something.  what do you like?'


i grab the house keys off the counter.

'i'll be right back.'

my girlfriend follows me to the door and whispers to me,

'take your time.'

the door closes behind me and i take a moment.  i can’t believe it.  when i get back there are going to be two naked chicks getting it on in there.  i fly down the the steps and out the door and i’m on the corner.  the liquor store is just two blocks up 10th ave. 

twice on the way there i force myself to walk slower.  i’m a fast walker naturally, so i feel weird walking like i have no place to be and not a care in the world.  i go into the liquor store and grab a fifth of powers from the shelf but put it back.  i’d like to remember every detail of this so i instead select a pint of jameson’s.  powers doesn’t make pints.  as i’m waiting in line i notice the selection of mini’s.  i always notice the selection of mini’s.  it’s like trying to get out of a grocery store without going through a gauntlet of candy bars around the cash register.  these guys have a standard collection - $2 bottles of sky and smirnoff, $2 bottles of old crow, some fruity shit and a few decent bottles of scotch.  when it’s my turn, i ask for the johnny walker black mini figuring it’s the nicest one and i’m celebrating.  bukowski said it best,

'when something good happens, i drink to celebrate.  when something bad happens, i drink to forget.  and when nothing's happening, i drink to make something happen.'

the clerk puts the pint in the bag and i take the mini from him and put it in my pocket.  i go out onto the sidewalk and pause a second.  i may need a couple of hundred bucks depending on what’s going down or about to go down back there.  i don’t think the hooker is that hot but i’ll probably be into fucking her once we’re all naked.  $300 should do it.  i see a chase a couple of blocks up and i am again glad i switched banks to one with a lot of atm machines.  i hate paying that convenience surcharge when i can’t find my bank.  almost as much as i hate calling the bank every time i leave town to let them know i’m going to be spending my money across state lines so they don’t freeze my bank card for my security. 

i’m walking back to the apartment and up ahead in the next block i notice a commotion in the middle of the street.  there is a lot of honking and the cars all seem to be avoiding a spot in the center of the street.  like con edison has a manhole cover open and is redirecting traffic to either side - the mass of headlights coming up 10th ave together, dividing and then coming back together again.  but the honking….what the-?

as i get to the center of the block i see i am now keeping pace with a woman pushing a shopping cart in the middle lane against traffic.  she doesn’t look that crazy - except she’s wearing a house coat and a pair of slippers.  she acts like this is the most normal thing in the world - just taking a little shortcut home from the grocery store.  down the middle of 10th ave….against traffic.  but i guess that’s what crazy is - when crazy seems normal to you.  i think maybe i should do something to help her before she gets run over, but she seems to be doing all right.  anyway, i’ve got to get back to the apartment.  no telling what’s going on by now and i don’t want to miss too much.

i arrive at the corner of 54th and wait for the light to change.  the woman with the shopping cart continues down 10th ave out of sight.  i pull the scotch mini out of my pocket, down it in one gulp, close my eyes and savor the burn and toss the empty into an overflowing garbage can where it bounces off the top and into the street.  i can’t stand littering and it pisses me off when i see other people do it.  my nephew who is somewhat new to new york city swears he is going to fight the next person he sees throw something on the ground or on the floor of a subway car, but 10 years here have left me jaded in this regard.  people are ignorant and i’ll never change that.  still, i look around to see if anyone saw me.  nobody cares.

i cross the street and go up 54th st. a few doors to the building entrance.  there is a squinty, little dude with his shoulders hunched up nervously waiting outside the door.  he’s shifting his weight from side to side like he has to pee, but i suspect he is jonesing.  or just underdressed for the chilly weather.  ‘the clevelander’ is what my mom calls it - when someone walks down the street, their hands stuffed in their pockets and their shoulders hunched up against the wind.

'don't be a clevelander!'  she would tell us.  ‘put on a coat.’

i put the key in the door and the guy tries to follow me in.

'where you going?'  i demand, stopping and blocking him from getting through the door.

'oh…uh.  i locked myself out.'

'really.  what's your apartment number?'

'uh…..4.'  and he looks at the mailboxes and sees it's one of those buildings that has 'front' or 'rear' attached to each number.  i follow his gaze.

'4 R!'  he exclaims, smiling.

'nice try.'  and i push the door hard and it slams loudly and we are face to face through the glass.  i get a real good look at him.

'say something now, you dumb prick,'  i think, but he doesn't say anything.  he knows i've made him and he backs up, turns away and shuffles off down the street.

i bound up the little staircase recalling the hooker’s ass in my face and smiling to myself, put the key in the door to the apartment.  i don’t go in, deciding instead to put my ear against the door.  i hear nothing.  maybe they are in the back bedroom.  i turn the key and push the door open.  it hits something and i can’t open it all the way.  something is blocking it.  i poke my head in and can’t believe my eyes. i see the hooker face down on the floor, her matted and bloody hair covering her face, the elvis lamp busted all around her head.  i push the door open and realize it is her legs blocking the door so i give the door a good shove and she groans.  my girlfriend steps over her and brings her knee down hard  on the middle of the hookers upper back.

'shut up, bitch!'  and the girl loses consciousness.

i enter the room and close the door, surveying the scene.  the room is trashed.  the shelving with all the tchotchkes has been ripped off the wall.  austin powers is in the cat dish and dr. evil’s head is in an ashtray that was knocked off the counter, spilling cigarette butts everywhere but somehow landing upright on the floor next to the hooker’s arm which is bent in an unnatural looking way.  the white shag rug is spotted with blood and there is glass all over the floor from the shattered t.v.   i look up at the cat who is on top of the refrigerator nonchalantly cleaning himself and look back at my girlfriend sitting in her bra and panties on the naugahyde couch, smoking a cigarette.

'what the hell happened?'  i ask.  noticing my girlfriend has a bloody dishtowel wrapped around her bicep.

'are you o.k.?'

'fucking bitch tried to buzz her pimp in and when i tried to stop her she pulled a knife on me.'

i notice the knife on the couch; a very girly looking stiletto with a two inch blade and a pearly handle.

'she fucking cut me, but i took care of her.'

'let me see that,'  i say walking over to her.  but she's on her feet moving toward the hooker.  she pushes me aside and stands over her.

'BITCH!!'  slamming her heel down on the side of the girl's face.

'you better put some shoe's on.  you're feet are getting all cut up,'  i suggest.

'get her clothes on,'  my girlfriend orders and disappears to the back of the apartment.  i look around.  i don't see any clothes.  just a big fucking mess.  something hits me and wraps around my head.  jeans and a t-shirt.

'here they are,'  my girlfriend says.  'if she wakes up, punch her in the face.'

i turn her over.  what face?  she’s just a bloody mess.  her right cheekbone is crushed and her eyelids are fluttering.

'man, you really fucked her up,'  i say.  

my girlfriend can’t hear me.  she’s in the bathroom and i hear water running.  probably cleaning that cut.  i get the hooker’s shirt over her head and with some difficulty get her twisted arms through the sleeves.  she’s not coming around.  i get both her legs into her jeans but there’s no way i’m going to be able to pull them up myself.

'hey.  i need a hand here.'

my girlfriend comes out of the bathroom.  she has a proper looking bandage around her arm.  there is some blood forming on the outside of the bandage and she has some nicks on the backs of her hands, but she doesn’t look too bad considering.

'you o.k.?'

'yeah.  i don't think i'm gong to need stitches.  pick her up.'

i comply, getting my arms under her armpits and pulling her to her feet.  my girlfriend reaches down around the hooker’s ankles and pulls up her jeans to just below her panty line.

'jesus, these fuckers are tight!'  and she pulls them up one side at a time while standing on the hooker's feet.  she can't get them buttoned.

'fuck it.  find her coat.  i think it's in the bedroom.'

i go into the bedroom and see the coat on a chair.   i pick it up and go through the pockets - four little sacks of weed, a lighter, a phone.  i put them in my pocket.  free weed.  cool.  come to think of it, i could use a bonghit.  i see the bong on the night stand.  i sit on the bed, take the weed out of my pocket, pinch a little hit and put it in the bowl.  i pull out the lighter and pause to examine it.  a nice zippo, it is engraved on one side, ‘lizzington.’  i flip it open and light the bong.  exhaling i notice the weed in not that good, but under the circumstances, i can’t complain.

'what the fuck are you doing??!'  i hear from the other room.

'coming.'  i pick up the jacket and walk back into the living room.

'here you go.'

'get it on her.  we have to dump her and get out of here.  i'll come back later this week and clean up.'  she goes over to the cat dish, extracts austin powers and tosses him in the sink.  'i'll just fill up the cat bowl and he'll be fine.'

'i think i ran into the pimp outside the building,'  i say.

'really?  that's why we should get out of here.'

'he took off.  he's a little dude.  he won't be any trouble.'  i'm acting tough.

'unless he went for help…….or his gun,'  my girlfriend says.

good point.

'yeah, maybe we should get out of here,'  i suggest.

my girlfriend looks at me.  ‘i just said that,’  her eyes say.

we get the jacket on her.  she’s not waking up.

'i think she might really be hurt,'  i say.

'like i give a fuck,'  and i think my girlfriend's going to hit her again but she doesn't.  'we'll drag her across the street into that playground and go back to your place.’

'cool,'  i say.

'i'll go outside and make sure noone's coming.'

i sit down on the couch next to the hooker.  her head is lolled to one side like a puerto rican pieta.  my girlfriend bursts through the door.

'i think we can do this.  pick her up.'

she’s light.  small.  we’re about to go through the door into the hallway when my

girlfriend says,

'wait!'  and goes back in, grabbing the hooker's purse and snatching the pint of jameson's still in the paper bag off the counter.  good idea.  i could use a drink.

i pause in the vestibule.  the hooker should be heavier.  my lower back should be protesting.  but i am probably pumped with adrenaline.

'wait here.'  and my girlfriend goes out on the sidewalk, scanning the block.

'it's cool.  let's go.'

we run across the street to the little park and unbelievably the gate is not locked.

'put her on that bench over there.'

i bend over and gently lay her down.  my girlfriend takes the jameson out of the bag and opens it up, taking a swig.  she hands it to me and i take a good pull off it.

'don't drink it all!'

like i could.  my eyes are watering from the hit i just took as she grabs it back from me and pours the rest of it all over the hooker.

'what are you going to light her on fire now?'

'no.  when the cop's find her, they'll just think she got wasted and got into trouble.'

'have you done this before?'

'not exactly.'

i don’t ask what that means.  we stand there for a second looking at her.  i don’t know why.

'let's get out of here,'  my girlfriend says.

we walk up 54th towards times square going through the hooker’s purse.  more sacks of weed,  eye liner, lip gloss,  a small vile of white powder that i sprinkle onto my fingernail and taste - meth - no thanks.  we toss these things one by one under parked cars and i don’t think about littering.  except the weed.  i put the weed in my pocket.  the last thing we pull out is a bill fold.  we take out the cash and my girlfriend pockets it.  hell, she earned it.  we are about to toss the billfold but i say,

'lemme see her i.d.'

”what for?’

'just curious.'

it reads ‘elizabeth maria ocasio.’  we toss the rest into a garbage can that is not overflowing and i think i might keep the i.d. for a souvenir but replay a dozen law and order episodes at once in my head and think better of it.  i flip it into the street like a playing card and it makes it all the way across 7th ave before disappearing in a graceful arc down a sewer grate.

'let's take a cab back to your place.  my treat.'  my girlfriend smiles that smile i like.  the one where i know i'm about to get laid.

we make out all the way back to brooklyn and my girlfriend wants to blow me in the cab but i put her off till we get back to my place.  i don’t know why.  i’ve let her blow me in cabs before.  i guess i’m a little distracted.  i can’t stop thinking about that poor hooker thinking she could take us like a couple of tourists and then getting a stone cold beat-down.  i guess it serves her right.  we get to my place and have crazy sex all over my apartment and finally pass out.  i am exhausted.  it’s been quite an evening.

the scarab speaks

jazz is dred
america is dred
low-fat is a lie
you cover dead people with lye

i don’t play the piano
i play a box with a big metal board in it
upon which a series of strings is stretched
and made to resonate individually or collectively
by means of a felt-tipped hammer strike
piano is such a confining label

nature is not nurture
almond butter is very expensive
the world will never stop turning
i’m getting a fixed gear bicycle

some say jazz
some say the rent’s too damn high
some say mares eat oats
and some say hi

2 notes

nyc dispatch 10.11.11

i’m standing on the f train heading into manhattan.  i call it ‘chasing after that 50 bucks.’  one dance class.  one hour, twenty minutes.  and a 45 minute commute to the ailey school each way.  i don’t know why i do it.  i like the teacher.  it’s easy.  $50 can add up, especially when i can string them together.  but that doesn’t always happen.  i like having the time alone on the subway. right now i’m going through the michel thomas spanish language app i put on my iphone.  it’s great.  i feel like i am making progress.  and there are many people in my neighborhood to practice with.  when i go to baja and mexico city and oaxaca next month, i hope to be ready.

the train stops at carroll st. and people get on.  the train is standing room only but not packed.  a recorded announcement comes on - something about the mta reserves the right to inspect your bags at anytime.  thank you for riding the mta.  i used to just give the announcement the finger but i’m busy on my flashcards.  some guy stands up and says loudly and articulately,

'excuse me, but in response to that announcement you should as citizens of this country know that the 4th amendment has not been repealed and no law enforcement agency has the right to search you or your belongings without your consent unless you are being arrested or there is probable cause and refusing to give you consent does not constitute probable cause.'

and then he just sat down.  i put my iphone in my pocket and applauded.  others joined in and some people were shouting, ‘power to the people.’  still others were completely stone faced, unaffected.  i put my fist in the air and felt my blood.  could the times be a-changin’….back?

ode to sofia’s

there’s the down-trodden guy.  he always has on a black t-shirt under a gray suit.  he looks rumpled.  he looks tired.  his black hair is greasy.  he doesn’t smile much or get involved in the discussions between the other regulars.  he’s more of a watcher.  i’ve run into him once or twice around times square.  each time he was just standing there on the sidewalk not doing anything.  he recognized me as that piano player guy and gave me an awkward head nod as i walked by.   one time i asked roger, the biker bartender with the 200 i.q., what the guy did.  told me he was an entertainment lawyer.
there’s the guy-who’s-always-here guy and he is always here.  or will be arriving shortly.  he’s a tall, indian guy of about 50.   a little salt and pepper at the temples.  his eyes are deep set and the dark circles around them give him a slight raccoonish appearance.  he is always dressed well. like a gentleman.  a nice, open-collared shirt (with a sweater in the winter) and a sport coat with slacks.  never a suit.  no tie.  simple brown loafers for shoes. without the tassels. he drinks white wine.  he always claps for the band.  if there is a single woman sitting at the bar, he will be on her.  he chatted up my girlfriend once and she found out he played basketball,
‘back in india where i’m from,’ as he put it.
one time he came in and sat down next to me at the bar so i asked him,
‘damn, dude.  what do you live upstairs or something?  you’re like the guy-who’s-always-here guy.’
he picked up his sports section and snapped it open and with out looking at me said,
‘leave me alone.’
there’s the loud guy.  thin.  wiry.  the way his close-cropped hair exposes his forehead and his taut, tan skin stretches across his face and with his hooked nose, when he cocks his head up and laughs that high staccato laugh whenever he tells a joke makes him resemble a baby eagle.  he’s the kind of guy who puts his arm around you when he’s talking to you.  and will interrupt himself to yell across the bar,
waving the friend over with a sharp hand gesture and then going back to his conversation,
‘what was i saying??…..oh yeah.  so donny says to joey and get this…’re not going to believe this……….’
he seems like he could be a coke dealer.  but i overheard him talking about some golf rules dispute in last week’s weekend foursome.  golf and blow.  i don’t see it.  maybe he’s a stage manager.
there’s the stage hand i occasionally smoke weed with.  shoulder length red hair parted down the middle.  a wispy mustache and goatee and a gap in his teeth that shows when he crinkles up his face and laughs that burn-out laugh,
i think he’s a friend of roger’s.  he seems a little out of place here.  he always seems distracted. like he’s thinking about something.  or nothing.
there’s the cop who moonlights at the sheraton across the street. he comes in to eat the free bar munchies.  he looks like a cop. he has to wear a suit for his after hours gig in security but he always looks uncomfortable.  like the suit doesn’t fit quite right. i asked mike, the maitre d’ where the cop was.  hadn’t seen him in awhile and mike told me he retired and lives on his boat in florida. he couldn’t have been more than 45.
there’s the gay guy.  that might not seem like much of a distinction  and he might not even be the only gay regular - sofia’s is not a gay bar, per se- but he is the most flamboyantly gay, gay guy.  he is always impeccably dressed and perfectly coiffed.  he extends his pinky when he sips his fruity blender drink revealing a beautiful star sapphire pinky ring.  my dad had one like it that i wear on my index finger sometimes.  we had a conversation about it once and he is very nice but i never got his name.
there’s nick the metal-head bartender.  he is a stocky guy with a modest mullet.  he has a boat and loves to fish and lives in jersey.  one time i got it wrong and asked him where out on long island  he lived.  (jersey….long island…it’s easy to mix them up.)  he made a face and said,
‘i don’t live on long island.  fuck long island.’
he has a kid who’s the most important thing in his life.  i’ve heard him talking to her on his cell phone during his shift.  he is a good father - reassuring and encouraging and full of love.  one time after he hung up with her i asked him if that was his daughter.  he said,
‘yeah.’  and then looked past me and smiled to himself,
‘she’s a good kid.’
he split with the mother a few years ago.
‘she’s a little crazy,’ he told me once.
nick is understated but becomes animated when we talk about metal bands we like or have seen.
we agree on most things:
sabbath isn’t sabbath without ozzy no matter how much we liked the mob rules with dio.
that the guy after bon in ac/dc is good but bon was the shit.
that michael schenker’s solo stuff wasn’t as good as the scorpions.
that def leppard didn’t rock as hard after the drummer lost his arm in a car wreck.
and we were both surprised when rob halford came out.  d’uh.  hell bent for leather?
but we disagree on metallica.  i think they sound better since they changed producers and cut their hair off.  he likes the old stuff and was appalled by the some kind of monster documentary.  that documentary was pretty ridiculous.
there’s the kitchen.  to get fed on your gig at sofia’s it is necessary to go into the kitchen, order it and get it yourself.  i love to cook and i love kitchens but i am afraid to go back there.  it’s like a pirate ship.  after going through the unmarked, swinging double doors that servers will go in or out of either way,  the first thing you see is the dishwasher to the left.  a blast of steamy, soapy air hits your face and you see through the mist behind the stacks of dirty dishes a sad figure leg ironed to the base of the dishwasher.  a constant reminder to all who pass that one fuck up could land you here.  across from the dishwasher, the bread steamer.  here is where they turn old bread into perfectly presentable and possibly edible fresher bread.  just past the bread machine there are three treacherous steps always slick with i don’t know what leading back to the line and the salad guy.  the last time i went back there went something like this:
i order my salad without dressing and the guy never looks up. i have come to know he has heard me because my salad always appears wordlessly and without recognition.
‘thank you,’  i say anyway.
i turn around and bend down so i can see the cook through the stainless steel window where the food comes out.  i tell him, 

‘spaghetti and meatballs, please.’
and he squints at me, replying,  ‘you got it, boss.’
he smiles or picks something out of his gold tooth with the inside of his cheek. he has a mustache that has exactly 12 hairs.  he is fat and sweating profusely.  he wipes his brow with the sleeve of his shirt. i look around.  across the room, two guys are doing some prep work at a table  and there are two other guys sitting on chairs peeling potatoes and watching a soccer game with the sound off. there is only the sound of sizzling or boiling or dishes, pots or pans clattering.  no music.  little talking.  after just a few minutes, i see the cook combining the pasta with the sauce and putting it over the stove.  he whips around to plate the dish, deftly sliding the contents of the pan onto a plate just as another cook passes behind him slapping him on the back and saying,
the cook shoves my food through the opening and he seems to be winking at me. i do a double take and realize he’s not winking, his left eye socket is missing its eye.  he must notice the horrified look on my face because he reaches up to his face, fingering the empty socket and furrowing his brow which he nervously wipes with his sleeve as he looks down at the floor, searching for something. i have the plate in my hand and am pulling it through the service window when he grabs the plate back from me and holds it up a couple of inches from his face while he digs through my pasta with his other hand. his eyebrows raise and he smiles and i catch a glimpse of the gold tooth again.  he pulls the eyeball dripping with tomato sauce out of my dish and pops it into his mouth, swirling it around while wiping his hands on the front of his apron.  he spits it out into his palm and in one motion, pops it back into the whole in his head.  he pushes the plate back through the window, giving me a satisfied look, but i just say,
‘no thanks.  i’m not hungry now.’
and i scramble out of there, slipping on the steps but catching myself to a chorus of laughter behind me.  i never went back there again.  now i just eat the free bar food which if it’s meatballs or the baked ziti, is good.  and if it’s the pizza or sausage and peppers, is not.
there’s mike the maitre d’. mike loves teddy wilson and is an avid sports fan favoring tennis.  he is disgusted by just about everything else.  one time roger got me drunk and talked me into playing some hendrix tunes.  mike didn’t call me for five years.  now i play in a style that doesn’t go past the 1950’s and he hires me all the time.  we have had many discussions about tennis - an old passion of mine. he thinks i am a character but tolerates me anyway.  if i am dressed in a way that is not to his liking, he’ll smile and shake his head when he sees me,
‘hullo, dred.’
i just recently found out he plays the saxophone.  one time i asked roger where mike lived.  and if he lived alone.  he seems like he’s alone.
‘how the fuck should i know?’  was what he said.
in 8 years of bar tending there, roger told me he never had one personal conversation with mike.
‘he’s kind of a strange guy,’ he added.
but i like the strange people.  the loners.  the wounded. it makes me feel good to make mike laugh - seems to me his life could use more humor.  new york city can wear you down to a nub.
there’s roger the biker bartender with the 200 i.q.   he does the saturday times crossword puzzle like nothing.  speaks five languages, including latin. has a nice harley.  roger is 6’3 and about 210 but he gracefully vaults over the  bar to go outside and smoke. i would not want to piss him off.  one time i forgot to pay my bar tab and the next time i saw  him he flashed on me pretty hard.  but he got over it.  some musicians can’t stand him.  he has told many drummers to play softer in no uncertain terms,
‘this ain’t fucking carnegie hall!!’
but i think roger is one of the most interesting people i’ve ever known.  he’s a biker with a 200 i.q.  one day roger bought a bar in ft. myers and now he lives down there.  he runs the place with his son.  my mother and her old lady friends go there for lunch all the time.  they love the truffled mac and cheese.  the burgers are good, too. she’s having her 89
th birthday party there.  she knows if he’s not in when she stops by how to find him. if the bike’s in the foyer of the bar he’s around the corner at the cigar bar smoking.  if it isn’t, he’s riding around.

3 notes

cannes 2010

‘oh, my god.  i am so out of my element.  i don’t have a t.v., i don’t speak french and i don’t know who any of these people are…’

we are standing outside our dressing room, which is next to the stage, talking to a young, straight-haired, blonde, american girl from indiana who is guarding the door.  she is confident in a way that only young girls are.  she prattles on without pause or regard or question.  we stare at her and listen because she is very cute.  as i drift in and out of what she is saying, i notice the way the artificial light of the deck we are standing on outside the tent shadows her arms, sleeveless in her black cocktail dress.  there is a peachy fuzz covering the length of her arms and i wonder if her entire body is lichen-like as well.

‘so can i go in and get my bag, at least?’ i ask.

‘yeah, my glass of champagne is in there, too,’ ben adds.

she crosses her fuzzy arms and says,

‘they told me not to let anyone in there.’

audrey bursts through the other door that leads into the main room.

‘we need you guys onstage, NOW!’

shit, my music is in there.  they told us to prepare songs for grace jones, joss stone, mick, bono, jay z, lionel ritchie (who didn’t show) and marc anthony and jlo (who just left together out the back where we were standing – marc anthony pausing to say goodbye to us, ‘take care guys, sorry we didn’t get a chance to play together.  next time.’  and as he passed, looked back over his shoulder and nodded towards jlo and shrugged his shoulders as if to say, ‘she’s the boss, right?’).  so i’m not sure whom they are calling us to back up, but if it’s one of those people i’m going to need the music.  i go around to the other door and go in.  i see my bag against the wall and grab it.  she doesn’t look up.  she’s just sitting there alone with her head down, drinking the belvedere and cranberry they brought in for her while we were still in the dressing room.  i get to the side of the stage and am introduced to chris tucker.

‘what’s up, you guys?  i’m going to need some frank, uh, best is yet to come??…..and………what a wonderful world.  and what michael you know?’

ben and i look at each other and say simultaneously,

‘billie jean?’

‘yeah.  that’s great…..let’s go.’

 ben hands me his iphone with the changes to ‘the best is yet to come’ and i’m thinking, man that was weird.  he didn’t sound like chris tucker, the chris tucker from the movies with the squeeky, high-pitched voice.   he just sounded like, i don’t know, normal.  like does gilbert godfrey always talk that way he talks?  shouting and squinting,

‘honey, would you please get out and move megan’s tricycle so i can back up?’ or

‘just take a little off the top, billy and not too short in the back this time.’

i remember the first time is saw you bet your life, grouchos’ game show.  i couldn’t believe he sounded just like the groucho from the movies.  toned down, of course, and with his own moustache, but that unmistakable groucho sarcasm and smart ass.  that way of talking that barbra streisand and alan alda have imitated in their comic acting.  i read some of groucho’s personal letters and he writes the way he talks.  in one postscript he writes,

‘by the way, did you know peter o’toole is a double phallic name?’

 ‘where’s my french people at? y’all got a beautiful country but why you always got to be like, eet eez not possible?’

chris tucker is being the chris tucker from his movies.  he leads us through the tunes,

‘here’s a song i wrote.  i think you’ll recognize it.’

and he does some bits.

‘where’s my english people at?  y’all ain’t better than everybody else so just relax. ok?’

he’s a good singer and his michael is dead on.  he does the moonwalk.  woo-hoo.  shamona.  and we’re off.


backstage chris tucker finds us.

‘thanks, guys.  nice job.  that was fun.’

and he’s regular voice guy again.  i told him i loved that french bit.  that i’d been on about it since we got here.  ‘le pays de non,’  i kept saying.



‘excusez-moi, monsieur, mais ou se trouve le sunset jazz club, s’il vous plait?’

‘hmm. je ne sais pas.’

it sounds like ‘jeune sais pas,’ and i think of correcting him.  the ultimate insult.

‘man, these mother fuckers know where it is,’ tony says as we’re walking away.

we have stopped at literally a dozen places along the rue denis.  the cab driver did not know where the club was and took us in a big circle to where rue denis begins.  i said i thought it was much farther down towards the seine but he pointed to the pedestrian mall that is rue denis and said,

‘ce n’est pas possible.’

so we got out. 


i looked at where the club was on the map before we left the hotel and it seemed so easy, i didn’t bother to get the address.  we’ve asked ten merchants, two cops, two very nice guys who were opening up their bar – we sat and had a coffee and chatted with them.  they didn’t know where it was.  i went to another bar and asked these two guys.  one of the guys says he works there and sends us down the wrong street in the wrong direction.

‘man, this doesn’t look right.’  tony’s been there before. ‘that dude was fucking with us.’

we see a guy with an iphone.  he can’t find it.  we go back to rue denis.  there are a lot of sex shops.  good place for a jazz club.  i ask two more guys in a clothing store.  non.  my phone i just fucking bought for the express purpose of popping a sim card into it and using it here in a situation exactly like this one isn’t working.  i will find out later when i try to return it to the shop in my neighborhood, that the phone i bought IS unlocked.

‘i only sell unlocked phones.  i’m not lying.’

‘well i’m not lying either.  that phone is locked in europe.  and it’s not the sim card because it worked on my friend’s phone.’

‘look.’  he has taken my phone apart, replaced the french sim card with a local sim card.

‘see, it’s working.  it’s not locked.’

‘you told me the phone would work in france.’

‘france?  i don’t know what kind of system they have over there, but it’s working.  see?’

‘dude, you TOLD me this phone-‘

‘hey! don’t dude me!! don’t you fucking dude me!!’  and the dude turns into a chubby, spikey-haired rosie perez.  ‘i don’t have to take this shit from you!’  pointing his finger at me and i know this is going to go nowhere.  i thought maybe he’d give me the 15 bucks i spent on the sim card and give me a different phone.  that is not going to happen.

‘just give me the phone.’  and he tosses my phone in pieces across the counter and folds his arms.  i put it back together and consider my options:

throw the phone at him as hard as i can,

throw the phone against the wall behind him,

come back at nite and throw the phone through the store window.

good thing that weed’s working and i don’t do anything.  i hate to think what would’ve happened if i hadn’t smoked those two bong hits before i left the house.

‘man, if that’s how you roll,’ i say and start walking out.

‘yeah, that’s how i roll, papi.  get the fuck out of here.  you yuppiemother….’  and the door closes behind me.



‘non. si vous fumez sans tabac, vous avez le mal a la tete.’

‘i know what’ll happen if i smoke that shit without the tobacco,’ i whisper to tony, ‘i’ll fucking get high.’

i take a hit off the hash/tobacco joint anyway.  it’s after the paris gig at the sunside and the bartender is smoking us out.  i’m getting a headache alright -  from smoking tobacco without a filter.

we found the club and had some decent thai food around the corner.  played two sets to a decent size crowd (for a monday nite).  one couple left because of tony’s ‘drumming style’ (a french reviewer told me he heard them muttering about it as they walked out) but the rest of the crowd was very attentive and appreciative.  one woman came alone and laughed at all the jokes.  i found out she was the wife of a pianist friend of mine who just happened to be in paris.  i thought my patter was dying, but she explained to me that the french are kind of a stoic audience and that it takes a lot to get them to laugh.  like jerry lewis.  that explains it.  the piano bench was on it’s own box not connected to the stage and a couple of times i nearly fell off.  big laughs.


in the morning, i poke some holes in an orangina can and smoke the little chunk of hash the bartender laid on me.  it seems like it’s been days since i got high, but it’s only been a little more than 24 hours since the cookie i ate on the plane.  we muster in the lobby and go out to the boulevard to find a taxi.  it’s an extra 15 euro to call one that will show up at the hotel so we go to the corner and catch one right away.  right away after the first cab stopped, asked where we were going, saw our luggage and sped off.

the taxi driver is a big african dude.  nigerian?  his neck is a ring of bulges and his sportcoat is too small.  we put the luggage in the trunk and ben and i sit in the back seat.  tony’s opening the door to the front seat and the driver says,

‘non.  ce n’est pas possible,’  sticking his thumb out and without looking at him, motioning tony to the back seat.

‘non!  il n’y a pas l’espace ici,’  and i motion to the tiny space between ben and i.  he pauses for a second, staring me down.  before he can say anything else i sternly say,


i can see ben trying not to laugh out of the corner of my eye.

‘non!’  i say again motioning again to the space between us.

the driver exhales dramatically and removes his personal items from the front seat so tony can sit down.   and we’re off.



'i'm going to say hello to lenny kaye.  he comes down to banjo jim's to hear adam's band all the time.  he'll remember me.'  

tony stands up from his seat in the ultra-modern wating area outside our gate in charles de gaulle.  he slips his cymbal bag around one shoulder, stops, takes the bag off his shoulder and sits back down.

'man, fuck that.  i'm not doing that.'


we board the plane and my seat is just two seats behind her.  the person in front of me is having trouble with the overhead bin - trying to stuff a suitcase in there he should’ve checked - and i’m standing over patti smith.  she’s flipping through a magazine.

'ms. smith, thanks for rocking,' i say.

'oh?  yeah…..sure.'

and i introduce myself to her and lenny saying we are the house band at the amfar event and that if she wants us to back them up on a tune to just say the word.

'ember?'  she squints up at me.

'amfar,' lenny says.

'oh…cool,’ she says. ‘it's only one song, but if they ask us to do more, yeah, sure, that would be great.'

and i sit down next to melissa, married to bill, the older gentleman across the aisle.  they are from new orleans.  he was in textiles and is now retired.  her family business takes used concrete and turns it into roadbed.  we talk about new orleans.  i ask her to name her favorite restaurants and all the ones she names, i know.  and her favorite of all is mine as well, jacque-imo’s.  we go on for awhile about the alligator cheesecake and the fried roast beef po’ boy.  and how the maple leaf bar is right next door.  about how jack tried one on the upper west side which i did patronize often but that didn’t make it.  we agree he’s no emeril. and for that we are thankful.  

 it is a beautiful spring day as we fly over the french countryside.  it’s a short flight and soon we are out over the med and landing in nice.  we collect our bags and make our way over to the the car rental where i expect to encounter obstacles.  my credit card is the wrong kind. we can’t find your reservation.  my driver’s license is not something.  i am uninsurable.  but to my surprise and delight, there is no line and we get the car without  incident and are zipping away in a sweet audi a3 in no time.  i want to see how fast it will go but for the moment am content to whip around the roundabouts and downshift into turns.  

'you're having fun, aren't you, dred?'  tony says from the back seat.  i smile and meet his eyes in the rear view mirror.

'suck the cock and lick the ba-ha-halllls,'  i sing to the tune of la marseillaise.


i click on my inbox and see there is a message from ben.  he sent it at 4am.  the subject line reads, 

'i need your help in the morning.'

cryptic.  he’s just in the room downstairs and i’m thinking what the fuck as i open it up.

'dude.  some guy came through the window into my room last nite and stole my wallet.  i have to go to the cop station this morning before noon and file a report.  can you drive me?'

i look at the clock in the top right corner of my mac - 10am.  i run downstairs to ben’s room and knock on the door.

'who is it?'

'inspector clouseau!”

ben opens the door.  he’s laughing.  good sign.  i go in and see a room in disarray.

'what the hell happened?'

ben tells me how he woke up at 3am to see some dude coming through his window.  he jumped out of bed.  there was a struggle.  he was able to shove the guy into the mirror (i notice a clump of curly, black hair stuck in some broken cracks) and get in a couple of body shots, but the dude dove out the window where an accomplice was waiting.  being barefoot and there now being two of them, ben wisely did not give chase.  it was only after that he realized the guy got his wallet off the table.

'well, at least he didn't get your iphone.'

'no shit.  that would've sucked way worse.  it's just a little cash and my credit cards which i cancelled immediately.'

'did you call les cochons?'

'yeah, they came and met me outside.'

'they didn't even come in?  what about the dna evidence?'  i point to the cracked mirror.  'and there's got to be some prints on the window sill.'

'nah, they just said come in the morning and fill out a report.'

'what about down there?'  i say pointing to the gravel below the window.  'maybe there's a shoe print they can make a plaster cast of.'


we got to the cop station.  they tell us to wait.  we wait.  they tell us to come back in the afternoon.  this, we do not do.  instead, we wander around the old city of antibes.  we come across an open air market where i find some corsican sausage.  i did not know the corsicans were famous for their sausage.  i tried some that the pigs were only fed day old baguette and chestnuts.  best ever.  we come across a guy selling lp’s and i buy a nino rota record.  we walk back to the car along the sea atop the walled city and it is just beautiful.



'all right.  who's gonna bid 50 grand to hear patti smith sing my favorite song, because the nite?'  harvey weinstein sounds a little like harvey fierstein.  earlier at the soundcheck he brought marc anthony in to hear us.  we played the montuno from his hit song, i need to know.  harvey stopped us and said,

'guys, meet marc anthony.'

we all waved from the stage.

'no, guys. come down here and meet marc anthony.'

and so we jumped down from the stage and met marc anthony.

'hey guys.  how you doing?'

'great.  great.  how about you?'

'awe, man,  i'm fried.  you know….kids.  and i have a big kid to take care of too, you know?'

and we all laughed like we knew what it must be like to be married to jlo.

'so where you guys from?'

'we all live in brooklyn.'

'brooklyn?!!  get the fuck out of here!  brooklyn?  all right!!'   and he started giving us the cool bro hand shake with the half hug.  wow.  super nice cat.  

'you guys read?'  he asks us.

'yeah, yeah.  sure.  no problem.'

'cool.  i'll have them fax you the arrangement.  there's not much to it, so those little parts are important, you know?'

'yeah.  totally.  cool.'

'i got to play that one, you know?….it's like my suit.'

'hell yeah,' i say.  'if i had a suit that shot money out of it like that one, i'd never take it off.'

'exactly,'  marc anthony says. 'we'll see you guys later.  thanks, harvey.'

'yeah.  nice to meet you.  thanks harvey,'  we say.


patti smith steps up to the mic. 

‘if it was a man who bid the 50,000 euro, i’ll see you in the men’s room later.  and if it was a woman, i’ll see you in the ladies’ room later.’

and patti and lenny launch into because the nite.  it ‘s awesome.  the first song they played, the people have the power moved me to tears.  no shit.  i spent some years being involved in marxist, collective theater in san francisco ( and the power of the people has always been an awe inspiring thing to me.  i couldn’t believe the intensity of their performance.  raw, visceral and political.  a dramatic song may be the most powerful medium of expression.  it had a sense of truth that was undeniable to me.  it blew me away.  just her and lenny.  i told him so after they came off.

‘man. that was unbelievably moving.’

he noticed my teary eye.

‘man, thanks a lot.  wow.  that’s really nice of you to say.’

‘i’m not bullshitting you!  i was totally blind sided by the emotion you guys put out.’

‘oh man, i’m just trying to rock, you know?’

‘yeah, well, mission accomplished.’

‘haha.  thanks.  now i can drink.  where’s the bar?’

and off he went.  he would later tell us this is the fanciest party he’s ever been to and that he couldn’t wait to get back to the lower east side -  to something he could understand.  i hope i run into lenny again.  he is the coolest. 


the nite winds down.  mary k. bilge comes out of our dressing room and sings two numbers to tracks.  her first words on stage,

‘i know you’d get on your feet if bono was here, so get on your feet for me.’

yeah, bono – rock ‘n’ roll legend and world famous humanitarian……and her.  i think the comparison is apt.


during her first song i am entertained by watching grace jones at a nearby table grind her ass into the crotch of her young white boy date (she looks amazing – what is she like 60?) and by my close proximity to jean luc goddard who sat with them with his wife looking non-plussed all evening. 


russel crowe auctions off a fighter jet flight that he jokingly says will be armed with missiles that the winner can use to blow up anyone they like and some model auctions off a photo shoot with karl lagerfeld that goes for 600,000 euro.  and michell phillips is really cute. 

there’s some buzzing at the side of the stage.  it looks like the guy they are calling the fastest violinist in the world might go up and play to some tracks he brought with him.  we met him earlier in the first dressing room we were assigned.  one with patti and lenny and david.  he gave us all a little concert and he is amazing.  fast and clean and his playing sings in that way that the profoundly gifted just take for granted.  he and patti got into a conversation about pagganini.  i interrupted and asked him,

‘do you know the devil went down to georgia?’

‘everybody always asks me that!’ he exclaims.  ‘that’s like charlie daniels, right?  man it’s crazy how often i get that.’

a perfect comedic beat goes by and ben says,

‘so… you know it?’

and i feel a special pride.  ben would not have said something so sarcastic when i met him some 15 years ago and i can’t help but feeling my smart ass ways have rubbed off on him.  everyone laughed and david said, laughing as well,

‘no.  but i’m going to learn it tomorrow!’

it doesn’t look like david is going to get to play.  turns out we know all the guys in his stateside band and he tells us he would’ve preferred to play with us live, but that he didn’t know we would be here.

‘so, it looks like you’re not going to get to play,’ i say. ‘bummer.’

‘oh man, it’s cool.  i just want to do my part and support the cause and if that means not playing, that’s fine.’

wow.  very talented dude wih his head on straight.  andy comes up to us.

‘so, harvey wants you guys to do another song with patti.  cool?’’

‘yeah!  that would be awesome.’  and we go up to the stage.  someone has bid 200,000 euro to hear patti do a song with the band.  she grabs the mic and bellows,

‘sure for another 200,000 euro we’ll do another fucking song!’ and the crowd goes wild.

lenny gets on the guitar and leads us through gloria.  i forgot there was so much to it.  it starts slow. gets faster.  ha a bunch of hits.  lenny tells us before hand,

‘it’s e to d for a really long time.  then e-a-d.  just watch me.’

and we do and we kill.  unbelievable.  top ten highlights of my life.  unbelievable.

after, we are hugging each other as we walk off the stage and here comes mary k. bilge.    earlier, andy had asked me if i knew stairway to heaven and i said of course, but i didn’t imagine it would be with her.  it’s cool.  i’ve got steve elliot.  we can deal.

the battle of the bilge.

she begins,’there’s a lady who’s sure…’  and it’s not in the original key.  she says into the mic, ‘i need it in this key.’  and steve is right there.  d minor.  it could’ve been worse.  he’s backing her up nicely when she turns and cuts him off.  next verse we sneak back in and she cuts us off again.  we get to the next part,’and it makes me wonder’ and we creep in again.  and again she cuts us off.  this time saying into the mic,

‘i’m sorry, but i just can’t do this with the band.’

and she continues a capella, turning the song into a melismatic ocean of filigree.  i look to the side of the stage and her husband/manager catches my eye.  he’s yelling at me to play.

‘you play!! just you and nobody else!!’  he’s jabbing his finger at me and sweating profusely. he has a bright red sport jacket on and a bowler hat.  mr. bilge.

i look at him, point at her and shrug my shoulders, folding my arms across my chest.

he is still screaming but i ignore him.  the guitar solo heading into the last section (‘and as we wind on down the road…’) comes up.  i look at tony and nod my head.  he plays a great fill and we are all in playing those last three chords that are the last section.  she stops us again. it’s a joke.  she does a long,

‘woo-woo-woo-ooo and she’s b;uy-i-i-i-i-i-i-ing……..a…..staaaaaaaaaaaaaarrway-ay-ay-ay-ooo-oo-yeah whoah oh no yeah stairway-oh-way-oh-way-no………….heavennnnnnnnnnn.’

there is a smattering of applause.  the guests had begun to leave after the patti smith number, making their way down the hill to the after party at the eden roc.  mary k. bilge says into the mic,

‘if these people were not my friends i would’ve never put myself through that!

and we’re off.


after, i’m talking to andy over a drink.  he works very hard to put all this together.  i feel bad the last tune was a train wreck.

‘what could i have done differently?’  i ask him and myself.

‘i don’t know but that patti smith shit was killing!’  he says raising his glass.

oh man.  it sure was.









swimming in the coloosahatchee

i’ve passed this spot hundreds of times since my mom moved down here 20 years ago. at the north end of the bridge there is a small park.  room for maybe 5 or 6 cars.  and there is a tiny strip of sand leading into the river which at this point is more of a bay. i’ve wondered what it would be like to swim there.  the water is so often like glass, the way it is tonite.  i’m coming back over from downtown where i was hanging out with roger at the cigar bar around the corner from the bar he just bought.  i just had a couple of drinks and smoked some herb with one of the bartenders, so i don’t feel that fucked up as i make it to the north side of the bridge where i see the little park.  it is empty and the water is perfectly still.  fuck it.  this time i’m doing it and i go to the next intersection, turn around and pull into the park, leaving the car in the spot least visible from the road.  i switch off the lights and get out. 

the lights of ft. myers are far off across the river but it is dark and still here.  i open the trunk and find the towel i figured my mom would have in there.  i strip down to my briefs and go to the water’s edge.  the water is not that cold but i want to get it over with so once i’m up to my knees, i dive in headlong.  i break the surface and roll over onto my back, floating as i kick away from the shore.  the sky is clear and there are stars.  the hulking bridge is a little unnerving and i tell myslef to relax.  there are no boats out here.  i am alone.

after what seemed like a long time but probably wasn’t, i decided to swim for shore. the beach is dark, so i kept the car in sight and i couldn’t be more than 50 yards off shore.  i’m just to where i can stand up when a police car pulls into the lot. great.  instinctively, i push off the bottom and start kicking away from the beach.  too late, the cop light on the driver’s side door has found me.  i can feel the light on my face and it is blinding me, as well.  there are two of them and they’ve come down to the shore, their silhouettes shouting and waving,
yeah, no shit……………cops.

i breast stroke in and my heart is racing.  i’ll be spending the nite in jail because i’m not calling my 88 year old mother to come and bail me out at one in the morning.  just great.  i hope they let me put my clothes on.
'c'mon out of there,'  the fat one says.
'are you o.k.” says the other one.
'yeah.  i just wanted to go for a swim.  the water looked so nice.’
they exchange glances.  i thought they would be more agro.  it seems they are not sure what to do.
'uh, do you guys mind if i dry off?' and i reach for the pink beach towel i left in the grass where the sand stops.  the towel.  stupid.  that’s how they knew i was in the water.  
'dry off?'  the fat one says. ‘you’re going to need to hose off!’ 
the other one says.  ’how long were you in there?’
'i don't know…….15 minutes?'
'shit.  did you swallow any?'  the fat one asks.
i am wondering what the fuck these guys are talking about and i look down at the towel i’ve just dried my face on and there’s a smudgy, imprint of my face looking back at me, like the shroud of turin.  i look up at the cops and then down at my arms and legs.  they are completely black with oil.  my whole body is covered with oil and now i can smell it and even taste it.  and i realize what has happened.  i try to wipe my arms with the towel but it just kind of rubs the oil into my skin.  i look at the cops, then back at the blackened beach towel.
'my mom is going to be pissed i ruined her towel.'

san fransicso dispatch 3-15-10 

the jet blue terminal at jfk is insanely crowded and chaotic but i make my flight.  i try to sleep but i am mesmerized by the television.  it’s been 7 months since i got rid of my t.v. and anytime a t.v. is even on i can’t take my eyes of it.  i watch two law and order episodes simultaneously, twice.  i watch the in flight movie - a not so bad picture about a guy who flies ten million miles.  appropriate.  i watch sportscenter not really giving a shit.  i watch the news till i can’t stand it anymore.  the cartoons nowadays suck so i skip those three channels.  i watch a show about the loch ness monster i have already seen three times, one about a super flaming, asshole dude trying to flip some property and one about juveniles in detention.  and before i know it, i am there.

i collect my golf clubs, meet ben who was on another flight and get my rental easily.  first stop - a corner store were i can buy some papers or a pipe to smoke the weed i brought with me.  i don’t know why i brought it.  everyone i see will probably give me weed.  i just wanted to make sure i could get high the second i left the airport.  not that it matters.  we go straight over to jeff’s who has strangely just called me.  i didn’t know he knew when i was coming.  but i’m sitting in the rental thinking we should go visit him when he up and calls me.  weird.  anyway, he lives in south city so we are there in minutes.  

we hang for awhile, talk and smoke and have a beer.  then we head out.  from jeff’s it’s just a short ride around the hill, up bayshore, then through the sunnydale projects to the holy grail of san francisco golf, glen eagles.

we have a beer at the bar overlooking the bay.  the weather is perfect.  it is a cloudless, spring day.
'i can see why you like it here,' ben says.
ben and golf are two.  but while we are there a half-dozen guys walk up and say ‘hi-how’ve-you-been’s’ and ‘where you playing?’ and ‘let’s play while you’re here’ and inevitably, ‘want to smoke some weed?’  the golf course is awesome enough but the community of golfers who hang out there is truly unique.  and you don’t need to play golf to appreciate that.

we smoke some weed in the parking lot.  pinkie’s always got that little bong in his golf bag, so we use that, each person insisting on filling the bowl for the next.  i mention i have some weed i brought from new york and everyone is curious to try it.  except dickie.  he doesn’t think it is as good as the weed we are smoking so what’s the point.  he’s right.  it’s not.

i call graham.  he will be home in an hour, so we go down the hill to mission street and get a burrito at el farolito.  i miss burritos.  when i lived here i would stop here on the way to the golf course and one burrito would last me all day.  ben gets a veggie.  i get carnitas.

we go to graham’s.  it’s the shortest drive yet.  he lives in a store front and after saying hello i sit down at the piano to ask him about a tune i’m learning which he of course knows and has totally cool changes to.  a bass player drops by to pick up some music.  i know her from a jazz camp i taught at in la honda some years back.  shit.  a lot of years back.  over ten.  that’s a lot.  not some.  some is more like five.  because a few is like three, maybe four.  

i see a nord electro in the corner and remember i need a keyboard for two of my gigs this week.  graham graciously offers to let me use it.  he will be in baja all week and won’t be needing it. 

after awhile, we split.  ben is borrowing a bass from this cool symphony cat named larry we’ve known on the scene for years.  ben is also staying with him for a couple of days so we go over to his pad.  he lives in bernal heights and we are there in five minutes.  larry is the coolest.  mahler.  miles.  it’s all music.  we hang out and talk about the symphony.  where they are going next and what they are playing.  he puts on this record by this french bass player.  it was on ecm.  totally vibey and cool.  we leave larry and head over to my housing.

i’ve traded apartments with some friends for the week and am staying on 16th at dolores.  it’s a fourth floor walk-up railroad; kitchen in the back, bedroom, bathroom, then the bedroom i will use and the living room in front.  my friends are in theater.  he a director and she an actor and their apartment reflects a life in the arts in posters and books and lps.  they have a roommate that apparently keeps strange hours.  he’s gay and i am intrigued and wonder what he does at strange hours in this town that shuts at 2am.  but during the few days i am there i never run into him.

it’s monday nite and that means jojo’s cooking in the bus.  it’s past 6pm so i’m thinking it’s safe to try the bay bridge.  the traffic isn’t lite, but it isn’t too heavy either and we get over to the 5th avenue marina in half an hour.  dinner is excellent, as usual.  he was doing an irish nite - corned beef and cabbage.  he’s got some split pea soup, too, because it’s green.  jojo is one of my oldest friends and we figure during dinner that he has lived in the caboose next to the bus for 21 years.  it seems like no time has passed since i dropped him off after our last gig together the nite before i left for new york.  we got drunk on the bus and played music all night and i cried when i left.  it also seems so long ago at the same time.

we have to eat up and get out to make room for the next seating and i tell jojo i’ll see him again while i’m in town.
'yeah, dredly,' he says. 'i'll see you.'
in 10 minutes we are getting off the bay bridge and heading up to north beach.

ben has never been to specs so we start there.  i see vesuvio’s across the street.  i never liked it much in there.  maybe because kerouac used to drink there.  after a round at specs we go up the street and i run across to city lights to see if my friend, scott, is working.  he’s not there so i leave him a message.  scott introduced me to the grimy pulp of james ellroy and is a huge cecil taylor fan.  i cross back over columbus and meet ben on the corner across from big al’s.  we decide to go over to enrico’s but at the next corner i suggest we go down to the lusty lady and check out the talent.  ben is not interested in looking at naked women and says,
'meet me at enrico's in five minutes.'
 that’s a line from the steve mcqueen movie, bullitt.  i laugh and say.
'i'm sure it won't even take me that long.'  
dick jokes.  the gold standard of comedy.

he doesn’t miss much.  unless you like chicks that look like they’ve been competing on survivor for two weeks.  they were all very hairy, heavily tattooed, pierced (everywhere) and favored the banshee hairstyle.  maybe it was modern primitive nite and i missed that.  i’m not much turned on so i head up to enrico’s where my old friends, lavey and chris are playing with san francisco saxophone legend, jules brussard.  i played a gig with jules once and the bread was not right at the end.  i overheard him complaining to the band leader,
'man, this is bullshit!  i could've been home fucking my wife!'

the first time i ever met jules, i had been in san francisco for just a few weeks.  he was hosting a jam session and i and the other guys i moved to san francisco with (jojo being one of them) went to check it out.  jules played a one note solo over some tune that blew us away.  one note held through 2 or 3 choruses.  it was awesome.  till he did it again the very next set.  we thought he was still cool, though, the way he sat down when he played.  he had a very blase attitude like he didn’t give a fuck about anything.

he doesn’t remember any of that.  ben and i sit in.  lavey sounds great and so does jules.  i am very nostalgic about enrico’s.  less so now that the old timers are gone and ward is no longer behind the bar.  and i am no longer married to the girl i met there.  and the piano that bill cosby gave enrico back in the day has been replaced by some piece of shit that won’t stay in tune or that the new mangement won’t tune. like the song says, you can’t go back.  i guess it’s true.  i like it here anyway and we stay for awhile and have a bite.  the food is also not what it was.  there is barely a menu.  but it is great talking to chris and lavey.  they have the same two swing dancers i remember seeing years ago still dancing around the room while they play.  it’s a little surreal.  they are very good dancers.

there is a session happening over at the grant and green so we go over there.  we pass the saloon, an old blues bar that i peek into and see is exactly the same.  i’d rather go in there, i think, but there are a lot of new players on the scene and i want to hear them and meet them.  some of them i met last time i was here at this same session.

and it’s fun.  good players all of them.  except the crazy dude who was actually pretty swinging on the drums.  you know the guy who always comes and stays the whole time and you have to let him play a tune at some point but he’s just missing something. like he’s crazy.  everyone’s nice and i am flattered dudes know who i am.  i guess if you hang around long enough….ben and i play a couple of tunes and it’s a good time.

 before long the bar shuts and we are walking back to the car.  ben decides to walk thinking it safer on the streets of san francisco than the drive in my car.
'well then you drive.'  i offer.
'but i'm drunk, too.'  he says laughing.
'oh yeah.  and you're not a very good driver in the first place.'
it’s a nice nite.  he’ll be fine walking.  and i’m not that drunk.i get back to the mission in five minutes.  park.  climb the stairs and crash.

2 notes

lawyers, guns and money

my friend tells me about this divorce lawyer.  she’s good.  she’s expensive, but she’s good. 
'cost me two grand and i was divorced in a few months,' he tells me. 
that’s great, because new york is the only state where there is no such thing as no-fault divorce.  meaning two adults can’t decide they want to part ways and commence doing so.  they have to file for separation and wait a year.  then they can file for divorce.  so how did this friend of mine get divorced so fast?  a little known loophole called ‘constructive abandonment.’  one spouse sues the other for not fulfilling the basic obligations arising from the marriage contract.  read:  sexual relations.  so spouses agree they have not screwed for a year and then they may proceed.

enter the lawyer
she is a fast talking, coffee-wired spitfire with long straight hair and big eyes.  she wears a smart business suit.  she escorts me into a conference room.  she tells me she is going to need a $4000 retainer plus a $400 filing fee to get started.  i tell her that’s a lot of money and that’s not how much it cost my friend and she tells me that was years ago (it was) and that her fees have gone up.  she also explains to me the amount of drafting, emailing, faxing, phoning and filing that will be required and that at $400/hour it will add up quickly.  BUT, that because our divorce is uncontested (my ex didn’t even hire a lawyer), there are no kids, no property, no spousal support requested and no depositions to take, the bill should come in at around four grand.  i ask her how she can be sure and she tells me,
'dred, i've been doing this for fifteen years.  look it if it goes over a little, i'll throw that in.'
so i give her a check.
when i get home i call the real estate lawyer we used to sell our house and he tells me $400/hr ain’t cheap. but it’s not expensive, either.  somewhere in the middle.  so i figure, fuck it, that’s the way it is.

a few weeks go by and it’s time to assemble in the conference room again, this time with my ex to sign all the documents.  which we do.
'dred, the next step is, you're divorced.  it will be two or three months.  see, wasn't that easy?'

a few more weeks go by and i get a letter with an invoice attached.  the invoice lists services in one column - draft doc, draft doc, draft doc, review email, finalize doc, finalize doc, finalize doc, assemble docs, email to cl, review email, conferce/mtg - and the corresponding hours, dates of service and amounts.  there is a balance of $1,433.33.  there is also a letter.

after some introductory pleasantries - ‘dear dred, enclosed please find a copy of your most recent invoice…..’  she gets down to business.  the business of lawyering.  or is it extortion?
'of course, i acknowledge recept of the initial retainer payment in the amoung of $4000.  kindly be advised that i have extended you a very special courtesy (her itlaics) discount in the sum of $833.33 reducing you balance to $600 only if (her underline, too) full payment is received in my office on or by monday, march 8; otherwise the entire sum of $1,433.33 (without discount) is due.  in addition to the above discount, i removed many items off your bill.’    she goes on to write that she has made my case a ‘high priority’ (she likes italics) and that she will ‘make every effort to bring this matter to a close.’
i receive this letter on a thursday.  i have till monday to get her the money.  i call her up friday and leave a message that i have a couple of questions about the invoice.  she gets back to me around 7pm friday evening but i can’t pick up.  monday i call her several times and around 3pm she gets back to me.  i ask her if i can just send her the $600 today in the mail without having to make a special trip to her office in midtown and she says that’s fine.  i’m ready to let the whole thing go just to be done (my ex does not want a lawyer pissed at us and neither do i) when she asks me what other questions i had about the bill.   ’you know, ms. delgado, when i first came to your office and gave you the retainer, you gave me the distinct impression that i would not be owing you any more money.  you said you had been doing this fifteen years and you knew what you were doing and that our divorce was uncomplicated and not acrimonious and that even if you went over an hour or two that you would throw that in.  furthermore, the wording of your letter suggests that you think if you present me with a large bill then cut it more than in half that i will be only too happy to pay it.  which i am, by the way.’  i’m also curious about why our little, nothing divorce case was a ‘high priority’ but i decide to let that go.  that is obviously some lawyer bullshit.  
she talks.  and she talks.  and she talks.i can’t get a word in and i wish i could have recorded her i because it was really an insight into how the lawyer thinks. maybe not so insightful, but you can’t believe it when you hear it.  she says things like,’dred, i like you.  that’s why i gave you the discount.’and later,’dred, once a month i give someone a discount and this month you are it.’and still later,’you know, i just feel like rewarding you two because you are being civil to each other and handling this so well.’all the while describing all the work she has done in minute detail.she says at one point,’dred, i don’t want any ill feelings, here.’  and i want to make sure she doesn’t get pissed, too and do i don’t know what.  so i  finally get in that all i wanted to say was that the impression you gave me was that it would not take more than ten hours based on your lengthy experience. she replies,’yes dred, but things come up.  it usually takes one hour to file at the courthouse and it took me two because they were backed up.  and i didn’t charge for that extra hour and i could have.  in fact, i can charge you for everything, which i didn’t.  and i could charge you for this phone call, which i won’t.”so you’re saying that the bill could be a whole lot more than what you professionally estimated to me when i gave you the retainer.”exactly.  i am extending you a very special courtesy by doing this.’during the course of our conversation she says, ‘very special courtesy’ at least a half a dozen times.she starts to sound like a broken record so i interrupt her and ask her if this is the last money we are going to have to pay her. she then tells me about how the papers had to picked up and assembled and mailed to us and that she could extend us a very special courtesy and not charge us but she couldn’t tell me for sure.her exact words were,’it depends on how i feel that day.’  i hope to christ she’s not pms-ing that day.then she says to me,’we can go around and around about this all day till we’re blue in the face.’i wasn’t aware we were going around and around.  she was doing all the talking.’not me,’ i reply. ‘i’m not going any rounds with you.  you’re a lawyer.”well, i just don’t want there to be any bad feelings, ok?”no bad feelings here.  i just put the stamp on the envelope.”that’s fine. you can put it in the mail today or tomorrow. that will be fine.  and you’ll hear from me in a month or two when the judgement is final.’i’ll start saving my money.

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the best bass player in canada

it is a friday nite in the village.  i don’t need to worry about parking because i rode in with the drummer who also lives in my brooklyn neighborhood.  he’s a chatty fellow and on the way he told me all about the new bass player.  how he’s the best bass player in canada and has won canadian national music awards and plays in this mahavishnu cover band.  this doesn’t impress me because i also know this new bass player has been helping the drummer with his computer and said drummer is trying to do him a solid by getting him in this band – a roots, americana, blues band in the style of mose alison or taj mahal.  so i’m also thinking the mahvishnu experience might actually be a liability.

i’m setting up the electric piano and i look over to see the bass player pull out a nine string bass.

‘what are you going to do with that?’  i ask him.

‘eh?’  he says.

‘i said, is that the bass you’re going to use on this gig?’

‘um, yeah.’

‘well if that low string’s a b, you can just forget about that and there’s no bass soloing so you’re not going to need those top strings either.’

and that was the first time i met chris tarry.

‘goddammit!!  stay on the one chord!’  the band leader screamed back at us.

we were playing a tune that for the sax solo the band just vamps on the one chord but chris couldn’t have known that.  it wasn’t in the chart.

‘what the fuck!  help the greenhorn out you mother fuckers!’  this particular bandleader communicates his intentions by yelling them in a condescending tone back at his sidemen.

‘aye aye, cap’n!’  i shout.  ‘she’s taking on water but we’ll be able to fire another volley when we come about!’

i reach into my bag, pull out a wire cutter, lean over and cut through 5 of chris’ strings.

‘that should keep us afloat till the end of the set, sir!’

‘well allright, then!’  the captain replies.

on the set break i buy chris a drink and try to get him to tell me about his roommate who is there and is a dead ringer for my wife.  i ask him if he’s heard her getting it on with anyone and if she’s loud about it.

‘we’re just friends,’  he says.

‘i didn’t ask if you were fucking her.  i just want to hear some salacious details.  get a cheap vicarious thrill.  you know?’

‘well, i couldn’t really….uh….’

‘fine.  you’re no help.’  and my voyeuristic fantasy gets shot down like a migrating canadian goose.

‘i don’t think my bass is going to play in tune without those strings you cut off.’

‘just stay in first position.  you’ll be fine.’  and we get ready to play the second set.

‘goddammit!!  now let’s stop fucking everything up!’  the band leader gives us a pre set pep talk.

i pull chris aside.

‘dude, do you have a pick?’

‘what for?’

‘it’s hard to play too much bass with a pick.  you might try that.’

‘well i know geddy lee used to use a quarter sometimes.’

‘never mind.’

chris lasted a few more gigs with that band and even showed up with a proper four string bass after that.  but he just didn’t have the grease you need for that style of music.  it takes years of getting  inside a particular way of playing.  just like it takes years to feel comfortable playing mahavishnu time signatures and playing lightning fast fusion lines.  and it’s experiences like this that make all of us musicians who we are and if there’s a musician who doesn’t have stories like this one with him in the role of chris, i guarantee they suck and don’t even know it.  and chris doesn’t suck.  he’s a damn fine musician.

3 notes

cruise ship

it was the end of my third year of college and i needed some work for the summer.  you couldn’t really call it my junior year because i was kind of making it up as i went along.  the second i left high school in st. louis i moved to cleveland to play bass in my brother’s trio six nites a week at a holiday inn in eastlake.  i went half a semester at john carroll that fall and might’ve continued but my parents pulled the plug on the tuition when i wouldn’t drop the music thing.   there was a lost year teaching tennis by day in bourgie beechwood (i gave some lessons to conductor, yoel levi) and playing bass on the weekend in a neil diamond cover band at the sherwood lounge in northfield.  by the time i had myself enrolled in a proper music school i was nearly 21.  i thought i might study both the piano and the bass until i realized that meant acoustic bass and so at the time of this story i hadn’t really picked up my bass in a couple of years, dedicating all my time to the study of the piano.  then the phone rang.


a guy that sounded like cheech but meaner was on the other end.

‘hey this is al esquivel.  is wilbur there?’

‘no.  he moved out.’

‘oh man.  i need a bass player right away down here in miami for this cruise ship gig.  do you have his new number?’

‘uh…no….i don’t.  but…….i play bass.’

‘you do?  oh man.  can you do the gig?’

‘when is it?’

‘next week.  you need to meet the ship in miami next tuesday.’

‘yeah.  i have a car.  i can drive down.’

‘ok.  one thing.  you have to be able to read.  can you read, man?’

‘oh yeah.  sure.  no problem.’

‘great.  i’ll have the cruise line contact you with the details.’

and he hung up.


al had ducked behind his fender rhodes to yell at me and his face was completely red.  it was dark in the pit except for our stand lites, but i could see veins bulging out of his forehead and neck.  and i was afraid.

‘oh man…….oh man!!!’  he was now shaking his head back and forth in disbelief.

the act was still going on.  the song we were playing was still going on.  smooth operator.  it was the first nite of the gig.  bass in the show band aboard the dolphin.  a ship that went out of miami to the bahamas and back once a week.  we were in the middle of the ocean (which to me at the time meant you couldn’t see land) and the act on the first nite was a magician.  a smooth operator.   so that’s his theme song and we’re playing it and i’ve never heard it, though it has been on the radio for the last couple of years non-stop.  i don’t listen to the radio.  all i do is practice the piano.  i had looked ahead on the chart and was shocked to see a section marked ‘solo’ with all these notes way above the printed staff paper.  in g flat.  there were so many extra ledger lines on the staff i had no idea what the first note was so when we got there i just kind of played something in g flat and al went ballistic.

‘what the fuck am i gonna do?’  he continued to mutter as we all flipped our music to the next number.  some kind of funky number with a syncopated bass line.  the kind of line the second you hear it you got it but looks much harder on paper.  i was so nervous i was fucking up all over the place and al would not let up.

‘what the fuck did you think?  you could just come down here and play this gig without being able to read??!’  he is keeping his voice down but he’s still yelling somehow.  more like growling at me.

‘oh man….oh man.’  he keeps shaking his head.

we come to a spot where there is writing all over the music and i can’t tell whether we are cutting that section or what but i keep playing right through this tacit section where the magician finishes some trick with an unaccompanied cymbal crash.  people are clapping.

‘what the fuck are you doing?’  al hisses back at me.

‘there’s writing all over the chart.’ i protest.

‘then don’t fucking play it!!  what are you stupid?’

a couple of songs later i make a mistake because al has ‘corrected’ the chart.  later i learn he does this a lot and it pisses off the acts who pay good money for the arrangements al will just rewrite parts of on occasion, ‘fixing them,’ he would say.  so there are other magic marker bass notes next to the printed chart bass notes.  and they sometimes take up a line and a space so you have to pick which one it is.  i pick wrong.  al just turns around and glares.

‘man, it looked like a b,’  i say.

al very quiet and measured,

‘how could it be a b when we…are….in….the key of g minor……..’  then shouting,  ‘USE YOUR FUCKING EAR!!! oh man…oh man….’

after the gig, al just gets up and walks off without saying anything.  i look over at the drummer who will become a friend i still keep in touch with and he says,

‘don’t worry, man.  he does this to everybody.  he can’t put you off till we get back to miami so…’  the trumpet player has butted into our conversation.  the rest of the band has a nickname for him – brain damage, or b.d.  he interrupts,

‘except for that time he got into a fist fight with that one bass player, remember?  that guy got off and flew back from nassau.’

‘man, shut up, b.d.’  the drummer says and turns back to me.

‘you just have to get your reading up.  just spend the days shedding the music. let’s go get a drink.’  and we do and i feel better.  nicky gimigliano is a tough italian guy from pittsburgh.  he’s older than me and he’s going to take me under his wing.  sometimes he and i will get together and jam during the day and he will teach me how to play a funky bass line simply by not playing half the shit that i first come up with.

‘take a couple notes out.’  he would say all the time.

so i stay in my cabin.  26 feet below the water line.  all day for the first week.  turning the metronome on and turning the page.  al has this other book of arrangements that is about 400 tunes thick from which in the four months i will do the gig we will play about 20 of.  but i just keep turning the pages and sight-reading the charts.  taking a break to smoke some weed or go up on the deck and look at the girls.  the rest of the week doesn’t go too badly, i think.  but al still isn’t talking to me.  he just shows up right before each show and we do the gig.  twice a night.  i don’t fuck up as bad as the first nite again and al isn’t screaming at me, but he is not so much as looking at me either.   he doesn’t hang out with the band much so i learn this is not unusual behavior.

a couple of weeks go by and i start having some fun.  a lot of fun.  the photographers are these three brits and they are hilarious.  not that throwing deck chairs into the sea at 4 in the morning is all that funny.  but i have never met brits really and these guys are my kind of irreverent.   the ship’s officers are all greek and they hate the photographers.  they hate the musicians, too, but they really hate the photographers.

‘yes sir.  right away sir.  aye, aye cap’n and all that.’  they say while saluting and bowing.  they call all the officers ‘cap’n’ no matter what their job is.  and then when they get just out of earshot mutter something like,


we  sit out on the deck smoking cigarettes and drinking orangeboom.  exchanging ship gossip and stories.  what passengers we would like to get with.   and so on.

about three weeks into the gig the saxophone player who is my roommate on the ship gets my roommate back at school who also plays sax to come down and sub for him for a week while he takes some time off  to go to a friend’s wedding.  the cruises start on tuesday and there are shows each nite but every wednesday the show band plays a nite in the lounge to give the lounge band a nite off.  it’s a regular gig.  the kind of gig i had already done hundreds of.  playing tunes.  whatever.  the nite before this particular wednesday my friend had arrived and we were out till all hours running around the ship and just got completely wrecked.  so when the time came for the gig at 8pm the next nite, we were napping.  now the thing about sleeping in a cabin is it’s dark.  pitch black.  all the time.  unless you turn on a light.  so time can be a strange thing down there.  there is a loud banging on the door.  it’s b.d.

‘you guys, it’s 8 o’clock and al’s pissed!  you better get up there right now!’

and i get up and see the digital clock flashing 00:23 and realize the clock has reset itself.

shit.  i’m really fucked now.  the gig is exactly six decks above where i live and i’m late for it.

al doesn’t look at me.  he’s pissed i can tell.  his face is red.  he’s trying to remain calm.  but i think any minute he is going to unload on me.  we play the set.  my buddy from school is a great player and we actually have fun playing the set.  nicky and i are starting to find our groove and having my friend in the band makes me feel comfortable and for the first time since i’ve been on, this ship band makes a little music.  al sings his sinatra songs and we are actually swinging.  i can see he digs it.  but after the set he comes up to us at the bar points his finger at both of us  and sternly says,

‘you two in my office.  right now.’  and he walks out and we follow.  down and down.

another hallway.  another staircase.  he storms ahead and we follow exchanging we-are-so-fucked glances.  we arrive finally at his cabin and he puts the key in and shoves open the door motioning for us to go in ahead of him.  we do.  he closes the door behind him and pauses for dramatic effect.

‘allright you guys.  a couple of things.  first of all.   you need to get a wind-up alarm clock.  because those digital alarm clocks go back to zero when there is a power surge in the ship’s electrical system.  secondly…’  and he stands back and eyes me up and down.

‘YOU’RE GOOD, MAN!!!  you just need to relax and play.  you are swinging.  that shit sounds good.  and you play good solos, too!!’  and he puts his arm around me and gives me a sideways hug.   laughing.  the he suddenly gets serious and stern again.

‘and the third thing……….YOU GUYS NEED TO WAKE UP!!!’  and with that he reaches into a recessed lighting fixture where there is no bulb and pulls out the biggest bag of blow i have ever seen (before or since) plopping it down on to a table where it lets out a ‘poof.’

and al and i were friends.  he was a good ping-pong player and we had many late nite drunken battles on the deck of the dolphin.  he had this thing where if he bought you a drink and you tried to get the next round he would say,

‘hey man.  don’t by me a drink.  if you buy me a drink it’s not like i bought you a drink.’

so we determined that 24 hours had to elapse before you could buy al a drink after he bought you a drink.  we were on a cruise ship after all.  with nowhere else to go.

1 note

for your security

can anyone tell me whatever happened to ‘crazy’?  dude tries to light his shoe on fire….crazy.   dude burns himself up in his seat…..crazy.  al qeada  claiming responsibility for sending self-immolating crazy guy……crazy.   c’mon.  nine years since 9/11 and that’s all they’ve got?  and the entire media picks it up and broadcasts it 24/7?  well that’s a special blend of crazy and retarded.  if john lennon were still with us he wouldn’t be saying, ‘violence begets violence, you know.’  he’d be saying, ‘stupidity begets stupidity, you know.’  it’s like an exponentially increasing vortex of dumb-dumb.  example.  i’ve been traveling with the same nail clipper in the same see-through plastic bag since the tsa decided that toiletries were a threat to security.  my shoes were off.  my jacket off.  my hat was off.  my toiletry bag was in the bin next to my laptop.  i don’t carry change in my pocket and i leave my cellphone in my carry-on bag where i had also previously placed my belt.

‘do you have any change or metallic objects on your person?’
i shake my head no.
‘what about your cellphone?’
‘what about it?’
‘is it in your pocket?’
i point to my backpack rolling through the xray machine.
‘and your belt?’
i lift up my shirt to show i’m not wearing it. 

i go through the metal detector and am waiting for my my bag and my bin to come through.

‘is this your toiletry bag, sir?’
‘yes it is.’
‘i need to look through it.  i’ll wait for you down here.’

i put my shoes on.  i put my hat on.  and my jacket.  i pick up my laptop and put it in my backpack and walk over to the waiting security specialist.

‘what’s this?’  he’s holding up my nail clipper.
‘umm…….a fingernail clipper?’ i reply.
he takes out a pen and pushes the cuticle cleaner out.
‘it’s a knife!’
‘really.  since when?’
‘since always.’
‘well, you are the first of dozens of security experts in a half dozen years of thousands of miles of flying to say so.’
‘sir, you can go back to the ticket counter and check it with your checked baggage or you can surrender it.’
i hold both my hands up.
‘you got me.  i surrender.’

ignorance is bliss

i got up from the kitchen table and opened the cupboards looking for something sweet.  nothing much but cans of stuff from the old place that noone ever used but i that i couldn’t bear to throw away.  or bother to take to a shelter or something.  there was a can of mushrooms, a couple of tins of sardines (one with the label long gone), chicken broth, stewed tomotoes, a bag of farro and a bag of israeli couscous, a can of whole berry cranberries and an unopened plastic container of spring roll skin that i took over to the trashcan and tossed in.  sounds like fun making spring rolls but i doubt i will get to it.  this new kitchen is nice but small and i can’t have fantastical foodstuffs taking up space.anyway, the cupboard was void of sugary snacks as i knew it would be.  same with the fridge but i opened it just to look inside and there in the back tucked behind the tupperware containers of edamame and sweet potato, next to the bag of carrots was a very crumpled up dunkin’ donuts bag.  i pulled it out and with some effort was able to open it up.  i was, however, unable to extract the boston creme donut from the bottom of the bag without leaving all the icing behind.  as i was scraping the bottom of the bag to get the chocolate icing back onto the donut it occurred to me that i didn’t recall going to the dunkin’ donuts.  it was on my shelf in the fridge so it must be mine.  and dunkin’ donuts is just a block from my new place.  and i do recall parking the car down there.  it’s a thursday spot.  but i’ll be damned if i can remember going in and getting the donuts (i’m assuming there were two.  why would i buy one and just bring it home and not eat it?).  i ate my donut and i thought about it for awhile trying to retrace my steps.  but then i just forgot about it.