Sunday, February 24, 2013

Piast Lounge (almost famous)

Sunday, February 24, 2013

I haven’t strolled through this part of the city in years and I’m always surprised to find the old hall when I stumble upon it again, that tiny slice of fame we got that winter when we all thought the band was on its way to the big time, when the guitarist from Blondie showed up and agreed to jam. Maybe I was the only one to notice the empty room agape before us, or hear the echo of our own ambition coming back at us instead of cheers.
After all, Tiny (who was not tiny) kept telling us we had Joey Ramone helping us, setting us up in a record studio so we can make our first demo -- all these years later, this place symbolic of the frustration all aging artists feel when fingers touch but can’t quite grasp the brass ring of fame.
Not all of us wanted that fame. Both Johns did, but for different reasons. One John wanted money and women and figured rock and roll would provide both in spades. The other was a rock star, then and later, successful or not, and wherever he went, whatever he did, he lived the life, rich or poor, popular or not.
Tiny needed to get close to fame, to be on the inside of things, to be able to look out at others and know he was somehow privileged – as did the other hangers-on he tired as assistant roadies.
I guess I wanted fame of a different kind, always in the corner with my notebooks trying to catch the reality of this world, trying to immortalize the people I saw, always figur4e that material success was a symptom and that at some point later someone would read what I wrote and realize I had captured the moment as well as anyone could.
And in this place, more than Electric Ladyland later, all these things collided and I decided I could not find here what I thought I could, quitting the band a month or so later, after the recording session I deliberately avoided (where Tiny said they all got treated like kings). But I made it to Mud Club and that coked-out video charade that sent me out to a bench on Broadway in order to find the real world again, and real people, instead of the desperate faces of my friends chasing fame I hoped they would catch, and would help them catch if I could, though for me, in the end, they mattered more in memory as they were, then they would ever have as super stars.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Knight of the Coach House Diner

 Saturday, February 23, 2013

I’m back to routine breakfast at the Coach House each Saturday morning, to collect the news, if not the same news as before, then the detailed accounts of some event that has somehow slipped through the cracks of my life, the day to day of the week, I would other wise have missed if I did not pause to breathe deep and read over coffee and eggs.
I flip through page after page to see what it is I’ve missed and how much better some else does what I do, often outdone over the last few years by people who have found hear in news that has become too routine for me, when I would rather spend my life expressing my feelings in poetry and saving the world in novels.
And this place, this historic stop over for old coaches from the farmers markets in Paterson to the shipping terminals in Weehawken still connects the pieces of my life, though my wheels roll over asphalt not plank boards as I steer my way into Hoboken each Tuesday, doing my bit to contribute to the ongoing news biz.
And here on this rainy Saturday in February, I turn the pages searching for bits of news I know I can no longer find there just as I miss the history of the ships that once graced the harbor where office buildings now stand, the mists hiding Manhattan the way they might have Avalon, although I am no King Arthur and bear no legendary sword, just this deeply flawed lesser warrior struggling with a fate I cannot clearly see.

Friday, February 22, 2013

I am a rock

"I am a rock, I am an island ... I have my books and my poetry to protect me." -- Paul Simon

January 17, 1981

I walked home from their house last night, the cold wind eating through my pants like acid. I wasn’t angry, just tired of wasting time, being the third wheel on a bicycle made for two, the odd man out around two love birds cooing.
Love has a language all its own, excluding anyone else, and all I wanted to do the whole time sitting in their kitchen was to go home and write.
I resented being pulled out of my loneliness at home only to feel even more alone sitting beside them, having at least my books to provide company I couldn’t get sitting alone with them.
She’s my friend but often doesn’t see the impact of things like this. She thought she was doing good by having me over. Had I known how alone it made me feel with them, I wouldn’t have gone.
I waited for them to settle in front of the record player, debating what to play next, then snuck out the back door and down the steps under the cover of the music – which hid the click of the door lock and my rapid, stumbling feet on the stairs.
The cold wind and the flecks of flakes off the dunes left from three days of snow kissed my face. But the sky was clear and stars looked particularly stark, making my walk seem less lonesome .
I like them – and her too much – but I have my own ways of dealing with isolation: I write, I read, I invent little games, fighting the boredom with what few talents I have – alone – without offending anyone, without imposing on anyone, bored in the company of people I care about because they spend their lives sharing things I cannot share in, pained at the fact that he is lucky enough to have her when I can’t or won’t, or shouldn’t, knowing if I did, I would ruin what actually exists – yet insanely jealous watching them together, as they drink their beer and smoke their pot, sing songs to the record player, dance in each other’s arm, sharing each other with each other, but leaving no room for anyone else, so tender it makes me ache to watch.
They say love is blind, and maybe it is for those engaged in it, but not those on the outside looking in, and there is kindness on the inside even when it isn’t true love, providing a temporary euphoria better than heroin at curing pain, and she being the utter romantic, somehow thinks my being around her and her love is somehow contagious, passionately blind to the pain it arouses when I ache to be the one on the inside looking out instead of the other way around.
So walking in the cold, under the stars, towards an empty apartment made me feel real again, stinging less in the cold wind than in the warm romantic haze of a threesome in which I have no part except as an observer.

Thursday, February 21, 2013


Toads became symbolic of who I was and for several years, I drew them in my journal, not as large as this one, but often doing things like reading a book or set in places where I had been. This eventually became the inspiration for a series of fairy tales I wrote

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Easter on Broadway

April 13, 1980

She tends weeds
Raises them like children
Opaque wild flowers,
Cuts them and prunes them
Sometimes, she finds tea
among their rickety strewn limbs
And for her, it’s a pleasant surprise
But not one totally unexpected,
She always picks good seed
From pastures of bad
Finds lost wind blow petals
Like me
Shadows on her doorstep
She just picks them up
And plants them
Knowing that they will grow
Into something beautiful
To love and hold.

Oh well, it’s Easter, and I sit here on Broadway and 62nd Street a block or so from the Mud Club where the band is filming their video, and I’m wondering what I’m doing here.
The band plays upstairs – well, the demo we made at Electric Lady Land plays and they pretend to be playing at the cameras roll, a weird partnership of dubious merit.
Me? I’d rather be here on this hard wood bench staring at strangers, rewriting the poem above I had originally written for Michelle – the woman I fell in love with at the cosmetic warehouse were I worked, unrequited love to which I have become a connoisseur always wanting women I can never have, giving heart and soul to someone who has given theirs to someone else.
We are weeds, my friend, stuck between the cracks of asphalt arms and concrete fingers, we grow with our heads bent, our hearts bruised, our bodies aching, vulnerable always.
The city stands around us, threatening to condemn us to a hopeless future and a forgotten past. A corrupt city, large and arrogant, mocking us pathetic weeds and our petty ambitions,
We don’t laugh, but it’s pointless to cry.
We just grow to spite them, trying to be as beautiful a weed as possible, hoping that somewhere our roots can crack open their stone hearts, we grow despite them, we defy them to destroy us, and if they do, what have they accomplished, destroying what, a mere weed?

Spring fever?

April is the cruelest month -- oh yeah!

 April 13, 1982

There’s a grayness about, a fog that flows out of me, a terrible, terrible fog which shrouds my thoughts and hints of uncertain tomorrows. And I don’t even know what it is that pulls at me, causes my depression to rise.
The depression always comes -- shocking, invincible, but as certain as the morning.
The hints come through the dreams, the whispers hissed.
Louise and Ruby are part the problem, my past spread out in front of me to reexamine.
But it isn’t just that.
I have looked at it already from a dozen different perspectives, from this way and that, from over my shoulder, from under my covers, from around the corner. It is always the same, covered with the same shocking failures
Outside, the geese sound, their weary hocking talking of  rebirth, their terrible sound reminding me of the permanent changes which always some this time of year. I’ll probably die in the spring, covered with the old mulch of autumn’s fallen wet leaves, covered with the brown dirt and thick roots of softening spring.
It feels like death now, with the oncoming cycle I must grin and bear. But it isn’t death. It is only a dream, not even a nightmare.
The nightmares are ages old and I no longer mind them. The nightmares are the uncompromising forces over which I have no control, and yet tear at my insides – the will with which I resist Louise is part of this. She is the most uncompromising force of all, and for years has been the stone around my neck, guilt of which drags me inch by inch into hell. My daughter is the chain that binds me to Louise, and the eagles – with their terrible claws – are the memories that pass, the what ifs unrealized, those years my daughter had to grow up without a father – or too many fathers none of which are really hers, or who have paid for the privilege of being so for an hour or a night.
Maybe I’m my own grayness, and the cause of the depression that settles on me as I search for someone else to blame, my own pain turned inward, telling on me, abusing myself with hope and self pity alternately.
I should be outraged, I should be thundering my commands to Louise,  a foolish gesture to make her change, when I have no right, and all such tactics used in my youth always failed, my shock, my outrage, my hypocritical morality only making her feel so much more threatened, so that I always made things worse by trying to make them better, a lesson I have since learned in learning to let things be as they must be, and how much I must be like my own father who ran away from me when confronted by the responsibilities of fatherhood, and how if I am to help Louise, I cannot judge her, if I am to help myself, I must choose what role in life I must play, and that love is a bigger thing than any of the other stuff that transpired before or since my knowing her, and that my daughter, knows who I am finally, and knows real love, and that she is not a chain, and memories do not have to be the eagles plucking at me, and that Louise isn’t a stone, but a free spirit, who I loved and still love and will always love, and that I am someone who needs understand that love means accepting things as they are, people as they are, and doing what I do to make the world better without imposing it on anyone.
And strangely, as I think these things, the geese honking turns to music inside of me, and the fog that I exhale becomes spiritual gift to the world, halos of a new heaven to which I might aspire.
Maybe I will die in spring, and find rebirth from the muck of my own foolish thinking, and my own foolish limitations.

Monday, February 18, 2013


Monday, February 18, 2013

I found her name again in an old notebook I was transcribing, the women I had met at a wedding of a classmate from college in early April, 1982. Doreen was the bridesmaid who caught my eye and who danced with me the whole night and scribbled her name in the back of my notebook with her phone number and address, later giving me directions to her apartment in Rahway to which I traveled several times a week for almost a year, not a ritual of love, but of something that felt good and right at the time.
So seeing the name again, in her own handwriting, all these years later, I wondered what had become of her, and with the internet as a tool, I soon learned she died two years ago as the particularly undesirable age of 56.
For some reason, this pained me even though we hadn’t talked much since we stopped dating, but like all people who come into my life, I wrote about her in my notebook trying to keep her essence alive.
“So Eliot wasn’t wrong,” I wrote on April 6, 1982. “There’s snow out and the spring which hung about with so much promise faded back into a cold miserable winter, casting the world as if through a wedding veil, a cold that makes me think of that time in Boulder, Colorado, when I lost my virginity – though I did not admit it to the woman at the time, she teaching me without knowing she was. In those days I was too proud to admit my virginity – just as the woman I was with two weeks ago was too proud to admit hers. Last night, things were different. Neither me nor Doreen were virgins – she with her diamond rings and her house full of cats and her 28 oz. She plays post office in the most traditional of ways, and she let me play with her. There’s something good about discovering myself again, something normal, real, even complete. For years I doubted myself, but now there is no doubt. This isn’t love, not with Doreen anyway. She and I are in this for good times – that’s all. Oh, there’s tenderness that makes it remarkable in it sown way, but not love, and she says she never wants it to be love. Then, there is Kathy – sweet newly wed Kathy – for whom Doreen says marriage is right. But Doreen sees herself as modern woman and has the life style such women must have, and tells me Kathy would not understand it. Doreen controls her life and wants to keep it like that, telling me Kathy has no control and it is good that she found a good man to help her … Doreen has already set limits and I’m glad. I’m not really interested in love right now either, that intense blinding condition which staggers rather than lifts. I need the sex, some laughs and someone to hold.”
In some ways, looking back, I realize I deceived myself – trying to maintain the fiction for Doreen’s behalf. She didn’t love me, but I loved her, and like nearly all the women I have made love to in my life, I always will – and only broke it off when someone else who I loved more came into my life

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Some things do last

Saturday, February 02, 2013

Almost from that first trip I took to Scranton in late April, 1971 when I went west for the last time with my ex-wife, my daughter, and my then best friend, Mike and his girl friend, Marie, I take the same roads when I visit there – traveling west along Route 80 into the Poconos Mountains, then along the mountain ridge to Route 307 west, coming into Scranton passed Lake Scranton, and then down a hill made famous by a Harry Chapin song, and since we were traveling in an overweight pick up truck on the back of which we had built a large wooden box, we expected the same demise as in Chapin’s song, ignoring as he had, the signs that said overweight vehicles should not go down that steep hill.
Route 307 is a classic blue highway, one of the few in the east that I know of that ripples like a ribbon the way highways often do in the far west, full of trees and fields on either side, and remote cars traveling head of mine and far behind so that when I drive it, I feel as if I am in a time warp – and traveling this road this week I felt again the way I did the first time, expecting almost anything to appear beyond the next ridge.
Nearly every trip through this landscape has meaning for me, although the moods have changed over the long years, from those days after my breakup with my ex-wife when I traveled this way in the hopes of a reunion only to have her vanish west beyond my reach, though later, a decade after our breakup, I rode this same road to reconnect, meeting my then-11 year old daughter and to bridge a friendship with my ex-wife I never thought possible, a life long bond more powerful than any marriage.
I often drove this road simply to heal, although this trip was a rare mid-week trip to simply have dinner with my daughter, and to get glimpses of the place for a possible permanent move here.
I am always in awe of woods, and so could not resist pausing at Lake Scranton for a walk through winter woods, with fast moving streams and the leaf-covered ground, trees rising around me like pillars. It was a cold walk and I was under dressed, and could not warm up despite the steady pace, so that when I returned to the car, I still shivered, and needed the car heat to get the chill out of my bones.
This did not stop me from pausing at the overlook to stare down at the city cupped in the river valley beyond, one of those breath-taking visions of a place that from a distance doesn’t ever seem to change. When I plunged down into it and parked, I took another walk, less chilled, but still cold, through the city square, passed its statutes and its monuments, passed places I remembered, but were no longer there.
For a few hours, I talked with my daughter and had dinner at one of the usual Chinese places in a mall from which many decades ago, I had helped her and her mother get boxes for a forced move from one house to another, part of their never ending legacy of shifting locations, something that has changed over the last decade or so since they lived on the same street I went to this time.
I started to get ill even before dinner was over, and decided to drive home and suffer in my own bed rather than in one of the local motels, thinking that it would not be too terrible a journey since the sky .looked clear and full of stars.
The snow started after I got back onto the mountain ridge, a white out so terrible that I had to get behind a tractor trailer with the hopes the driver was not as blind to the world as I was. But it was the lack of salt that scared me, two lanes of solid black ice cars could not melt fast enough to keep from refreezing.
It was a slow, dark and terrible hour’s journey that did not get better until we came down off the mountain to clear roads and star-filled skies, and even then, the chill had settled deep into me, making me remember that one other time when I had come west to collect my daughter for a visit east and the snow had come down so heavy that even the Delaware River valley provided no relief, and only passing through it and into New Jersey changed the weather pattern from snow to r..ain.
I was grateful this time for the lack of rain, and the dry roads into the east, feeling ill over the cold walk in the woods, but healed in a different way, after my talk with my daughter over dinner and her saying how much she loved her mother – unsaid in my mind that I did, too, since I never stop loving anyone I ever said I loved – and how much my daughter needed her mother.
“She’s my best friend,” my daughter said, and there was a look of great pride in her eyes, one of those life memories that clung to me even through the worst of the storm and the long ride home.
Some things do last, I thought, pulling finally into my driveway in Jersey City.