Sunday, July 8, 2018

Joys of The Stone Pony’s Summer Stage

Sunday, July 8, 2018

If you like standing for hours in the hot sun to get through the gate, and several more hours waiting for the music to start, you’ll just love The Stone Pony’s Summer Stage.
While my experiences this week might not be the prime example of how the outdoor arena in Asbury Park is run, it certainly was the experience hundreds of us got to enjoy when we braved in-season traffic from Northern New Jersey to see South Side Johnny perform in historical home turf.
There are huge differences between the indoor and outdoor venues at the Stone Pony.
For one, the indoor performances generally start on time.

Gauging from the performance scheduled to start at 5 p.m., the Summer Stage clearly runs on what is sometimes called “Rock and Roll Time.” This means the music starts hours later than the ticket claims.
And this isn’t even the main act, but a cheesy immigration of the classic movie band, The Commitments, an egotistical, over the top, slopping band with too many members, all of questionable talent, pausing in Asbury Park on their national tour to torture other more remote parts of America.
The other significant difference between the indoor and outdoor venues is the access. The indoor concerts allow you to come and go. With the outdoor venue, you are largely trapped in what amounts to a large parking lot with seating for the handicapped only, a kind of tailgate party without the tailgate or the coolers.

This is part of the outdoor venue’s charm. You are trapped for hours sometimes with mothering more to do than drink overpriced alcohol and devour an unhealthy seaside menu – which is probably the intention of management and from which it derives its most significant profits. While some clever people waiting our line for hours prior to the 5 p.m. start time wisely sent friends or family off elsewhere to purchase liquid libations or finger food, most are not so wise and wait until the gate finally opens where an army of vendors bearing overpriced drink and food wait patiently for the participants, and since the music still won’t start for hours even after the gates open, many consume a lot of alcohol – which man be the best way to fully appreciate the experience since it numbs you against the fact that you are being taken to the cleaners.
Although most of those who come bear cellular telephones with which they can take photos as mementoes of the occasion, anyone bearing a legitimate camera (including a professional journalist) is either asked to leave or required to check their equipment with coat clerk to be picked up after the event is over (and charged a fee for the privilege.) Apparently, management has given exclusive photographic privileges to particular local photographers for its events.
Fire code limits the number of people who can attend both indoor and outdoor events. Since management can stuff in many more people in the outdoor arena than it can indoors, the tickets are somewhat significantly cheaper. But do not feel too sorry for management since they make up the difference by high priced foods and drink.
This standing around for hours on hot asphalt with almost nothing to do is nothing unique to the Pony’s summer stage. I enjoyed similar accommodations recently at the Fourth of July festivities in Jersey City recently where people were corralled into pens where they waited for hours for the main act to start, unable to come or go, or even get out to get something to drink.
This last was no the Pony’s problem and since so much booze was consumed during the long wait, the audience even seemed to enjoy the long interlude. But fear not, safety was utmost in the Pony’s mind as it provided an army of black-shirted security to make sure the drunken crowd behaved.
True, it has been an old adage that concert going is a young person’s game, allowing individuals with endurance to fully appreciate the hardships associated with going to see live music. In our time, Woodstock and Altamont were good examples, only in this event at the Pony’s summer stage event, the crowd was not young, most hoping to relive old glories of a classic Asbury band. Pony management, however, did not have to issue us Depends with each drink sold (instead of bar napkins,) there were plenty of portable johns within each reach, and these lines were far shorter than the ones we had to wait on to get refills on our drinks.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Early morning Rutherford

November 23, 1980

Rutherford sits before me like a naked corpse; everything is revealed, flaws exposed by the harsh sunlight I usually don’t see in rush of activity. The trees reach across the street like tentacles, craving light a few days of cloudy weather had denied.
Uncollected newspapers sit in the corner of the porch in which I take refuge. It is morning, and I’m still wearing after very few hours’ sleep. I should not be here; I am an intruder here amid the early morning quiet.
 A deep chill fills me despite the harsh sunlight, and I miss the electric blanket I usually sleep with at home, like a lover; I miss the warmth of the body that has lately taken its place, the soft caress before dreams possess me, and the gentle kiss when I wake.
I see her car parked at the curb down at the bottom of the stairs from where I sit, and I wonder what she will do when she finds me here – like a lost sheep she really doesn’t want to recover.
Up the street, someone rakes up old leaves, a Sunday morning ritual in this suburban-like world utterly different from the world in which I live, making me ache for that kind of life – something I suspect I may never have.
I struggle to recover all the fallen leaves of my life, each leaf a page upon which I have written chapters of my life, and which blow here and there with the will of a wind I cannot control.
Her cat, Christopher Robin, eyes me from another corner of the porch where he has dropped the remains of a squirrel he hunted down, and now offers to me proudly, a prize of his prowess.
Although this world seems peaceful with the Sunday morning air, it is not; everything is in conflict, even the birds that squawk in the near-barren limbs of trees over the street and the porch on which I sit, a squawking I’d not have noticed at any other time when the daylight weekday traffic from the nearby highway erases nature and its pains.
I’m scared that I have pushed things too far and caused too much damage to ever get back to the place where we were before all this started, the scars of petty conflicts left from a thousand small cuts inflicted, none looking too serious until you add them up and see the bleeding and realize that you can murder something with small wounds just as thoroughly as you can inflict death with one great stab in the heart.
I’m here long enough to hear this town stir, a waking beast that breathes in the new air and brings itself out of its nightly dreams to embrace the day.
Soon, she will come down from inside the house, and will discover me sitting here with her cats and her uncollected newspapers, and I will need to say something that I failed to say last night or even the night before, not just that I am sorry, but an explanation as to why I say or do what I say and do in the first place.
I keep staring at the corpse of the town and the corpse of the squirrel and wonder if this is as dead as they are.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

The overnighters

(from Noise in a Silent Room)

November 22, 1980

This is only still Saturday because I have not yet gone to sleep and so night spills over into early morning like a burglar, stealing something of value I will not miss until I wake up to daylight again.
The Central Diner – named after a theater that no longer exists except in the ghostly letters on tall brick side of the building behind it – glows out into the dark, harsh, blinding, a mean little island of civilization against the backdrop of decay.
I am here because I do not want to go home, although I feel as lonely here among the overnighters as I would in my own two rooms ten blocks down and three blocks over in the apartment complex where I live.
I keep thinking about my girlfriend and how I rolled the dice and lost in this high-stakes dice game called love.
And I hang out in heart break city, this night time downtown too-bright diner in Passaic with half-drunk miserable men hanging their heads over half-drunk cups of black coffee, too scared to stay stoned or sober up, while outside, the back beat from the black clubs spills out onto the street in a carnival of artificial joy nobody really feels, feeding quarters to jukeboxes filled with nostalgic songs we care barely remember, each of us staring down into our mugs at the mugs of people we thought we loved, and loved us, with me, thinking maybe the girl back home may be crying over what I said on the telephone, or worse, so enraged she might never want to see me again.
I’m always a little stupid this way, pushing people into a corner until they have little choice but to strike back at me, though like the others who stare into their coffee cups, I hope to read the coffee grounds on the bottom the way fortune tellers read tea leaves, desperate for some new and better fortune to emerge, when I already know it’s not possible.
I’m always boxing myself in, leaving myself no back window to climb out of when things get too hot, more the reason I’m hiding out in a light place like this rather than in some dark alley, where I know no one will look to find me.
She’s not my only worry; I am a black hole of misery, drawing everything into me, the vice grip of the universe gripping me, so I cannot move.
Kathy White from college is here, giggling in the booth in a booth near the window, but she does not see me, teasing her lover, playing the role of flirting waitress the way she plays similar roles up at the college – especially in the pub, where she holds court queen-like, staring at herself in the mirror as all the men – including me – stare her, just as many of the men here do, thinking how lucky the man is who happens to be with her tonight, and wondering if any of us might take his place tomorrow, though none know where she will scamper off to – in fact, I’m shocked she is here, at the same time I am, a strange bit of fate that only makes my self-loathing worse, me aching for her across this tiled purgatory while pitying myself for what I said or did with somebody else.
Kathy’s always talking trash even when she’s trying to seduce someone, perhaps seducing all of us at the same time, and I hear her laughing about all the lonely men she just met at the one of the bars she’s just come from, about how foolish guys are always looking in those dismal places for some quick fix, some even looking for love as they lust after underdressed women like she is, and she mocks the old men, the most desperate of the men who stare hardest at her, sizing up her body parts as if they might add up to something, never noticing me at that moment, just another dirty old man who isn’t yet so old not to be able to do something about it, lost in my own lust, drinking down the same miserable caffeinated brew as the more legitimate dirty old men who fill the stools along the counter to either side of me.
I keep thinking how an hour with Kathy might cure me of the ache I feel for somebody else and hear the old hippie song about loving the one I’m with, stung by the fact that Kathy – and maybe the girl I should be with – are with somebody else.
I stare at the swell of her breasts as they push out from the low-cut sweater she is wearing, and at the curve of her lips, and as the shine in her eyes as she stares across the booth table at a man I know she will go home with, sleep with, and then leave alone later when morning is really morning, and there is a new sun to prove it.
Then I notice she noticing me, across the bright room, the along the line of men hovering over half empty cups, her gaze sparkling with sudden surprise, as if she’s just thought of a new trick to play, and this time on me, knowing from classes we’ve had together just the kind of man I am and how attracted I’ve always been, and always savoring it, making the tension linger, her sharp red fingernails tapping on the table top as her eyes narrow, thoughtfully, recalling perhaps the phone number I once gave her in case she ever needed a ride, pondering perhaps a call later, to let me hear her moaning in the background from love making I’m not meant to have.
For some reason, I find this funny, finally getting the punch line to some old joke I could never get before, thinking how silly we both are ending up in the scalding place in the center of Passaic, both of us handing out with the overnighters, she pretending she isn’t one of them, when we both know better, her giggling as sour as the coffee we both ingest, all of us, too scared to get sober too quickly, and terrified to get stoned alone.

Friday, June 15, 2018


(written sometimes in the late 1990s)

My wife’s carsickness forces us to stop at a seaside resort we never intended to visit.
A big city kid, I have a horror of small towns.
I not only dread the chill reception residents tend to offer strangers, but I also need the hustle and bustle of city life
Crickets and howling dogs hardly satisfy me as much as the rumble of trains and the wail of sirens.
Even as we drive through the town, I get an odd feeling, and hear a whispered voice in my head saying, “Go away.”
Once settled into the hotel my wife feels good enough for us to wander a bit.
The rustic little village with its Victorian buildings and horse drawn carriages makes me nostalgic, not for my own past, but for a past I wish I had lived.
The people prove friendlier than I expected, wishing us thanks for purchases we made and telling us to come again soon as we eased out of their doors.
While still not comfortable with the crickets, I feel more at east.
Near dusk when we reach the hotel again, the clerk advises us not to wander out after dark.
“It’s very dangerous you not being from around here and all,” he says.
To complicate matters, my wife’s illness seems to have returned.
While I believe the clerk’s advise is sound, I see that the sun is still visible. So I figure I can make it to a drug store and back before darkness comes.
The minute I go out the door, I am struck by a feeling of intense evil, and I wonder how the quaint place I saw by daylight could seem so demonic by twilight.
I hurry to the store and back as fast as possible, only to discover the room empty and my wife gone.
I snatch up the phone and call the clerk, who tells me he didn’t see her but wants to know if he should call the police.
I say no and take off after her. Once outside, the fog has settled filling the courtyard with mist out of which strange sounds emerge.
Never before have I felt so vulnerable or so worried over my wife.
I brace myself for the worst and push on, hoping to find her before something terrible occurs.
No landscape seems so alien as this one does. Odd faces appear at windows and doors. I hear people calling. One of these is my wife, and I call back.
I am inside and outside myself at the same time, as if what is happening on the street is happening inside my head and somehow projected onto the world.
A voice talks to me, telling me to be at peace with myself.
I tell him, I can’t find my wife.
The voice says, “you never can. You have to learn to let her go.”
“But I love her and she loves me,” I argue.
“But you’re dead, Sam, she isn’t. Let her go.”
And the fog swirls me in thicker waves. I am sad and alone, crying my wife’s name, but she doesn’t hear me.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Is Anthony Bourdain a racist?

An idiot blogger on Instagram went after  Anthony Bourdain this week trying to claim that Bourdian is a racist. This was a white blogger who likes stirring up trouble -- and has lead attacks on me because he didn't like the way I questioned some of his activities as well as some of the antics of the radial left. I'm posting screen shots of my conversation with him, although most of the latter half of these is my lecturing him about what racism is.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Trek to Quik Check


A cold wind rips through this city in a gale, shaking the walls of my cold water flat and chilling me deep to the bones even as I sit right up against the Depression-era stove that supplies these two rooms with its only heat, and keeps the pipes from freezing.
Passaic is in a deep freeze, and forecasters predict it will get worse, long before we can expect a thaw.
The temperature has been so low for so long the river top a block away has frozen over into blocks of ice, as if some giant dumped his ice tray in it.
Naturally, Paul calls me to ask for a ride to the store.
Even in good weather, Pauly doesn’t walk to walk to the Quik Check, located across the river and down River Drive from where we live.
He perpetually manipulates a ride from one of us living in this complex of flats we have accidentally converted into an artist colony – Pauly is the painter, Garrick, a jeweler, Lewis, the photographer, with me desperately trying file the role as writer.            
When Garrick, Lewis and I are not around, Pauly will even convince Hank – living many miles away in Haledon – to drive all the way here just to drive Pauly the three blocks to the store.
Tonight, I am last on Pauly’s list since I’m still peeved about the trip to the library he made me take earlier this week when the frigid weather encased my car in ice; Pauly convincing me about his desperation to get to get up to the good side of Passaic. I scraped enough of the windshield clean, so I could see the street and not kill any fool stupid enough as we were to be out on such a day, only to find when we got to the library, none of Pauly’s books were overdue, and he didn’t find anything worthwhile to check out.
I haven’t talked to him since.
This time on the phone from the apartment upstairs in the building next to mine, Pauly really does sound desperate, starving even, since he rarely cooks, and relies on whatever sandwich the deli makes, usually turkey and swiss on rye.
“Garrick isn’t home,” he tells me, and we both suspect, Garrick is off visiting some relation elsewhere in the state, ice storm or not.
“What about Lewis?” I ask.
“He’s on vacation.”
“And Hank?”
“The little snot says he’s snug under his electric blanket in front of his father’s new color TV with his favorite shows coming on.”
“You mean he won’t come?”
“He says it’s too dangerous, but I know he’s lying.”
“And you want me to drive you to Quik Check?”
“I can’t.”
“Why not? You’re home. I’m calling you on your home phone, so I know you’re there.”
“My car is in the shop. I told you that.”
“I forgot,” Pauly mumbles. “I guess I’ll have to walk.”
This is such a shock, I can’t speak for a moment.
“So, do you want me to pick you up anything?” Pauly asks.
This sudden offer of generosity shocks me even more than his proposal to walk.
“Really?” I ask.
“Well, I figure I’m going to have to walk there anyway – alone.”
He emphasizes the word “alone” knowing perfectly well I will feel guilty and I do. I’m not snug under an electric blanket. I have a black and white TV I can’t see anything on but snow. So, I have no excuse other than to inform him about the temperature and how likely we might lose fingers or toes making the trek there and back.
I glance over at my coat, hanging on a hook near the door. 
I do not want to go out into the cold; but I hear his sniffle on the other end of the phone – crocodile sniffles rather than tears – as if to imply he might be coming down with something. At this point, I get his gambit.
“You really can’t expect me to go to the store for you?” I say.
“Did I say that?” he asks, his indignant tone as phony as his sniffles.
I glance at my coat again, and the gloves handing out of each pocket, so worn several fingers have holes in them, a pathetic defense against whatever chill I will encounter beyond the door.
“So, what do you want?” I ask.
“Maybe you can keep me company.”
“You want me to walk with you to the store and back?”
I am even more shocked at this than at any of his previous out-of-character remarks.
“Yes,” he says.
A minute passes, and then I hear myself sigh – it escapes me without intent – and I say, “All right.”
“Great!” Pauly yelps. I’ll meet you at the downstairs door in five minutes.”
I hang up the phone, telling myself I’m crazy. I’m not toasty the way Hank must be, but I’m not chilled to the bone yet. I’m tempted to call him back and tell him I’ve changed my mine. But I already know that if I do, a pathetic Pauly will end up knocking at my door. I can never refuse him when I have to stare at him eye to eye.
I grab my coat and gloves, feeling cold even before I open the door, and then make my way out into the alley.
Ten minutes later, Pauly stumbles out the door from the apartment upstairs.
“I really do appreciate this,” he says. “But I sure wish you’d picked a better night to get your car fixed.”
“Me, too,” I mumble, following him into the chilly night like explorers going to the north pole. “I just hope they’re not out of turkey or Swiss or rye.”


Friday, June 8, 2018

Just keep moving

The cops line the side of the road and tell us to keep moving.
There are hundreds in our group alone, some with babies, some very ill.
We have walked forty miles today over dusty roads and most of us so exhausted we might collapse at any moment.
A few do, and the cops dragged these people up and push them along.
Those who can’t get up get arrested.
I envy them the one day jail sentence since they get to stop and rest, even though some don’t live out the night or die a day or two later when they start marching again.
Billy, a young punk who joined us in St. Louis – eyes me as if he expects me to die soon, too.
He eyes most of the others that way, looking for the weakest of us so he can volunteer to bury us when we do kick off.
Local authorities give you a free meal for the service.
But I simply refused to die, if only to deny him.
I take pride in being one of the longest surviving members of a troop, a New Yorker driven out of my home town when people turned it into a theme park for tourists and a playground for the rich.
The local cops we encounter along the road are no match for the brutal bastards who set our feet onto the George Washington Bridge and said they’d shoot us if we even glanced back.
This was merciful.
Prior to this, they shut us up in shelters where we got murdered or rape, or generally made to feel useless.
If I could survive being put out an affordable hotel, living on the street and living in a homeless shelter, I can survive anything, even the road.
Walking the road is hard. But I’m always dreaming that I might find a place where people are kind and we don’t have to become slaves in order to pay rent and feed our families.
But after so many miles, I haven’t found any kind people.
No place wants us.
Each town – even the smallest run down places – has passed laws to keep us poor from settling there, as if any of us could actually afford the rents or cost of houses, even the most backward community charges.
They have their cops keep us moving, beating up those of us who don’t move fast enough, busting those of us who can’t move.
I don’t blame the cops. They’re angry and scared just like us, knowing that if they don’t do their job they might well join us on the road, becoming some of the perpetually unemployed.
I thought I was somebody once, a union man who saw my job move south, then out of the country.
I tried to retool and wound up in a non-union job where th3e bosses treated me as if he had recreated slavery just for my benefit.
I put up with it because I had a family to feed, a mortgage to pay and a growing debit in credit cards we used to keep up the front that we were as well-off as our neighbors.
Once the house of cards collapses, we couldn’t put the pieces back together.
We stayed with friends and family, and then on the street until the city decided we needed to become productive and told us to get jobs or get out, as if any jobs we could get would let us pay rent, medical builds or meals.
I never stopped being ill.
And now Billy waits for me to collapse so he can collect a bonus off my bones.
And he’s not the only one.
I half expect to get ripped to pieces the moment I’m too weak to stand, issuing a leg to this person and an arm to that.
Things do get a little better at night, when by law we get to stop and rest.
State and local authorities have set up official camps along the road where groups like ours stop each night.
We even get fed though the food is the cheapest shit you can imagine.
Mostly broth. We can’t get pasta with most of the wheat and corn hogged up by the fuel industry.
Billy is so busy gobbling up his own food and stealing food from the near blind elderly, he sometimes forgets to watch me.
Fed and exhausted, I finally sleep and  dream again of a place where I might find a real job and perhaps start another family.
But in the morning, the police shake us awake and tell us to move, clubbing those of us who moves to slow, hiring people like Billy to bury those who don’t move at all.
Sometimes, I am so weary and feel so worthless, I want to remain still and let them bury me alive.
That would make Billy happy, I’m sure.
I dread hearing the count of miles we need to make that day so as to reach the next camp by nightfall.
Then something in me snaps, and I bolt through the net of cops and into a field.
I can’t believe how much space there is or how big the sky looks.
There is no human vulture hovering over me waiting for me to die.
No cops telling me when to move and how fast.
The cops, of course, catch up with me as local residents point me out in the brush.
The cops throw me into a jail cell for the night.
No food. No water. Not even much light.
In the dark, I think about suicide, finding no more point in living if I have to go back on the road.
But strangely, I don’t do it, partly because I’d have no Billy to bury me, and for some reason, it seems important that I do.
In the morning, the cops wake up, but they are kinder than usual, as if our night together had created a relationship between us.
I am no longer one of the unwashed masses flowing through their town each day, but a man with a name and a police record.
So when they attach me to the next batch of poor marching through the town, I feel stronger and more capable of making my way through the world.
And perhaps because others in the ground see me as a new comer, none quiet yet stare at me the way Billy has, waiting for my imminent death.
And my life is a simple life. All I have to do is keep moving.