Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Don't You Ever Leave Off?

Before the Sex Pistols, before Joy Division, before Gary Numan, there was Drimble Wedge and the Vegetations...

Would-be rock star Dudley Moore has wowed the crowd and the girl of his dreams (Eleanor Bron) with the histrionic "Love Me!", but along comes Peter Cook to prove that the opposite tack would be even more devastating.

And yes, someone did cover it (Bongwater).

From Bedazzled (1967).

Monday, March 24, 2008

Deadly Is The Gun Crazy Night! or: Out Of The Pabst

The question hung in the air accusingly.

“What made you think you could get away with smoking that in there?”

The that in question obviously being the sher bidi herbal cigarette I had been smoking in the snug of the Ye Olde Ale House mere moments before.

Our accusers were two young men, apparently undercover cops, who’d had their eyes on us and followed us out to our car to make the pinch. From the looks on their faces, you would have thought they’d just found the weapons of mass destruction in Al Capone’s vault.

Everything about their speech and demeanor suggested that they’d spent hours preening in the mirror while practicing lines like “Freeze, scumbag!” or “You talkin’ to me?” They certainly seemed to fancy themselves some latter-day Starsky and Hutch or perhaps, judging from their bad 70’s coifs, a couple of Charlie’s Angels.

On the other hand, they’d probably never run into three more unlikely criminal masterminds than the odd squad before them: Fred, who would have been happy to argue some point of Catholic orthodoxy with them; M., who could make a pair of panties drop at 50 paces by merely gazing in their direction; and, of course, caught between the sacred and the profane once again, yours truly, trapped in a world he never made.

The same terrible trio would once again get themselves in dutch with the authorities during a cross-country trip in a U-Haul, during which Fred would attempt to turn onto the ramp of a rest stop at too high a speed on a snowy day. The truck came to an abrupt stop when a tree confronted it, the strong upper branches of which had peeled the top of the U-Haul back as if it were a sardine can.

What was it about us that seemed to bring out law enforcement?

Back at the Ale House, we were made to stand with our palms against the car and our legs apart as we were searched for more of the deadly herbs.

“Where’d you get the stuff, man?” asked the one with a moustache.

“Yeah, where’d you get the stuff?” said the other, clearly the sidekick.

“It’s an herbal cigarette,” I protested. “I bought them at a tobacco shop.”

“Oh, yeah?” said Moustache as he started to search me, “What tobacco shop? What tobacco shop sells that?

“Any,” I said helpfully.

“What’s your name, smart guy?”


“Well, Bob,” said Moustache, “looks like you could use some new pockets here, huh?” He’d discovered my coat’s hole-filled pockets and from the tone of his voice, I could guess that he thought that I kept them that way intentionally so as to quickly dispose of any evidence, should a situation like the one before us arise.

Meanwhile, Hutch was actually going though the car, searching for incriminating evidence but coming up with nothing. Slowly, it was beginning to dawn on Philip Marlowe and Sam Spade here that it was possible they had made an error.

The funny thing was, it didn’t make them any less belligerent. They kept up the same blustery patter as they turned to leave, attempting to save face with such sentence fragments as “Well, you just better not…” and “If we catch you with that again…” It was all nonsense, but the last thing in the world they could do was admit they’d been wrong. There would be no apology or further discussion.

It was as if it hadn’t happened.

We all got in the car feeling a little shell-shocked. M. reached into the glove compartment for something and gasped.

“What is it?” Fred and I asked in unison.

“Oh my god,” he said, sounding a little shaky. “I had dope in the glove compartment!”

And the stars shone down on the pitiless Boulevard D’Morte, cuisinart of the carless, as they lent some of their brilliance to the electric magnificence of the drive-in signs, and demonstrated that mercy was not obsolete as we pulled out of the parking lot and savored the vagaries of fate and life and what was to come.

Maybe it was the last break we’d ever get. Maybe it was a going-away present.

But this, all of this, was years and years and years ago.

I sit here, now, in a future that doesn’t exist yet and figure they’re all going to catch up to me eventually. And in another one I’m looking at me writing this and wondering if he ever suspected what was to come.

All of it has been lived, all of it, everyone’s breaths suspended in the air, the air that ends at the edge of space.

Beyond that, all is forgiven.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Don't Fear The Reefer

The Ye Olde Ale House had one of those old and marvelous neon signs with colored letters on a marquee, the end result resembling candies sitting atop a luscious ice cream bar. I would get hungry just looking at it.

In fact in those days, there were wonderful examples of this art up and down the Boulevard D’Morte, so nicknamed because of its lethal effect on any pedestrian who attempted to cross it. Trying to walk across the 16 lanes of this monstrous human bowling alley was like taking your life in your hands. The motorists who traveled it looked at it as the final frontier, a grand and unconquered prairie where a man could ride the range unencumbered by rules and regulations.

To cross in front of any one of these dreaming masses, slumped and bewitched behind the steering wheel, was foolishness.

Just a little further up the road sat a couple of drive-ins with massive, gaudy signs that were masterpieces of overkill. In my unreliable memory, there seems to be a river of lights like white corpuscles swimming through a narrow piping all along its brightly lit body, while a pool of glitter seems to explode from a fountain serving as a mast to a ship with a multicolored hull.

I tend to romanticize these things.

But they were beauts and there was always a shiver and thrill when as kids we’d be going past it in the car and manage to catch a furtive glance of what was happening on the screen. Eventually they went all-porno and then disappeared, which is basically how most of show business works.

The Boulevard D’Morte (or Carnival of Souls as some called it) was the mighty rope that bound the lush, green Philadelphia suburbs to its more nervous and neurotic cousin, the Center City. On a whim, I once traversed its length on a bicycle in the middle of the night with a box of cereal in its wire basket. During some stretches there was hardly any room for a bike at all, and it felt like a battle trying to not become roadkill.

Up and down, up and down. How many times had I wandered it, looking for a cure for the dream?

But on the night in question, this night, we find Fred, M., and myself exiting the doors of the Ye Olde Ale House, perhaps a little worse for the wear but nothing you’d notice.

M. was driving and he had this great, sporty car that was red and white like a candy cane. I was always the passenger as I wasn’t to get a driver’s license until about the age of 30, so I was eternally being chauffeured about by this one and that one. The irony was that driving would turn out to be one of my great pleasures and, in fact, I proved to be quite good at it.

But all that was years away.

This was the last gasp of that time when everyone you know still lived within a 3-block radius, before adulthood beguiled you with silver and gold and slowly and inexorably pried your world apart with unstoppable force.

So, a moment for our heroes, then.

Let them enjoy their youth, their time, their freedom. Let them explore this new world, with its chilled mugs of ale and its herbal cigarettes.

Let them come up to the edge of the Boulevard D’Morte, but go no further.

Now I was the first one into the car, clambering into the back seat of M.’s 2-door. Then came Fred who was riding in the passenger side.

We were talking as we waited for M. to take his place when, suddenly and without warning, Fred was no longer talking or, indeed, even in his seat.

As this was sinking in, a voice was asking me to step out of the car.

So close, I thought. We had been so close to escaping.

Conclusion: Deadly Is The Gun Crazy Night! or: Out Of The Pabst

Wednesday, March 19, 2008


Eliot Spitzer by Barbara Kruger for New York Magazine.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

What's The New Mary Jane?

I should say a few words about the House of Fred.

The House of Fred lay 5 or 6 houses down from mine on the other side of the street. Fred’s family were an advanced and overachieving group gifted with above-average intelligence who sometimes seemed bred from a different strain of DNA than most of us. Reading, studying, difficult math problems and foreign languages were commonplace and effortless here. Arts high and low mingled freely and the latest albums and comics were always in copious supply.

They also had this thing called an FM radio.

This thing just amazed me. It played music in stereo, for cryin’ out loud, and the music that the FM stations played was like nothing I’d ever heard before. And the DJ’s just talked normally, like you would talk to a friend or something. It certainly wasn’t the rapid fire patter I was used to from the AM dial.

There was Fred, his two older brothers (who brought much of this interesting stuff to our attention), and his sister George. They had moved to Philadelphia from Detroit where they had been neighbors with the Nugent family. The story went that Fred’s dad actually brought the infant Ted Nugent home from the hospital. If the child killed, skinned, and ate anything during the trip, Fred’s dad never mentioned it.

Everything I knew about what was going on musically came from the House of Fred. I routinely borrowed huge stacks of LP’s to take home. It was Fred’s brother who (a curse on his head) introduced me to Finnegans Wake and it was George who gave me the boxed set of Stravinsky ballets.

So it would not be an exaggeration to say that I received a sort of secondary education at the House of Fred. I’m not sure exactly how Fred and I first got together, but I can recall an early conversation about what the girl members of the Legion of Super-Heroes would look like naked. From that moment on it was a fast friendship that lasted all the way through high school.

Now as we approached the college years we saw less and less of each other as everyone’s lives began to change. I think it was George who first introduced me to M. (they had a mutual interest in recreational…stuff) and we slowly but surely became partners-in-crime, eventually ending up in Grand Rapids, Michigan, along with the OG and the less said about that frozen wasteland the better.

Which is not to say that M. replaced Fred, but there was the sense of a torch being passed.

It was a relationship that lasted until M. turned to me one day and said, “I’m sick of this poverty shit!” and became interested in a popular human potential movement, at which point any friend who was not also interested in it was cut loose. You couldn’t really talk to him anymore as he now spoke a different language that consisted of new age bromides and fortune cookie messages.

But this was years away still.

At this moment, however, you find the three of us, myself and two of the closest friends I was ever likely to have and representing between them two halves of my life, hunkered over our frosty mugs at the Ye Olde Ale House as I decide to light up a herbal cigarette.

I actually still have the box. I’m holding it now.

From India, the top of the box reads. A True Herbal Treasure For Your Smoking Pleasure.

It felt much cooler smoking this than a cigarette. It looked cooler, it smelled cooler, and it gave me the exotic and worldly air of someone who could think outside the crush-proof box.

In fact, in the dark, I suppose someone unfamiliar with what an actual joint looked and smelled like could be forgiven for thinking that I might have just lit one up. Certainly I could tell the difference. Its leafy exterior looked nothing like a joint and the strangely sweetish odor you identify with them was completely absent.

So, like, maybe a 10-year old kid might jump to that conclusion, or your dear sainted grandmother who’d read about them in the paper. Sure.

But not a cop. That would never happen because they have too much experience with that sort of thing. They deal with it all the time.

I mean, they train them, right?

Next: Don't Fear The Reefer

Thursday, March 13, 2008

To Sher Bidi With Love

Somewhere in my young adulthood lives a slice of time in which, having recently discovered the charms of alcoholic beverages, I could be found lifting a beer or ale to my lips with the consummate ease and polish of a professional.

This was often done in tandem with M., the friend I have mentioned previously who was catnip to the ladies. I suppose he was good looking in a John Cusack/Richard Gere sort of way, if you like that kind of thing. It seems to me there were a few years where all we did was drive around and go to parties, imagining ourselves living some lost chapter of On The Road. I think we did everything but yell “Go! Go! Go!” out the window as we cruised the endless asphalt ribbons that lay glittering under the street lamps of the American Night.

We went to Lowell with the OG in tow and visited Kerouac’s grave, in fact, and spent some time at the nearby bar that his brother-in-law still ran. I can remember him taking a photo album out from under the bar to show us some family pictures and it all felt a little eerie and lonely.

But that’s not the bar story I want to tell.

Right where our local road emptied out onto the main boulevard, there stood a world of wonder that called itself Ye Olde Ale House and its specialty was providing customers with freshly chilled glass mugs from which to sip their favorite tipple.

My friend and I would go once in a while and purchase Ballantine Pale Ale in these frosted mugs and, by god, they really did taste better that way.

Some sad news from Wikipedia, however:

“It is fairly obvious that the formula and brewing process have both changed quite considerably over the years (multiple times) and that the present day Ballantine bears only a very slight resemblance to the original brew. This is most notably evident in the lack of hop character that was present in the original (which was a direct result of the generous addition of house-distilled aromatic hop oils).”

I don’t suppose I can complain too much about this as I, too, have lost much of my original flavor over the years.

At any rate, I remember this one evening when we were both sitting around with one of my oldest friends in the neighborhood, a tall kid named Fred, when we got it into our heads to pay the old (or, rather, olde) Ale House a visit.

Now sometime shortly before this, I had made the acquaintance of those herbal Indian cigarettes known as sher bidis.

Colored dark green, the one end was almost flat as if it were a whistle, but it concluded in a small flare shape at the other. They looked as though someone had taken a leaf and wound it up very tightly until it resembled those long trumpets you saw in movies that always seemed to announce the arrival of someone important.

It must have been cold as I remember wearing my winter coat with the pockets that had developed so many holes that you could not reasonably expect to find anything you actually put in them ever again. I was always hard pressed to abandon any favorite piece of clothing, however, and that coat had a long and lusty run, even if it was completely impractical.

We drove over and wandered into the dimly lit confines of the Ale House, finding a vacant table and ordering some frosty mugs.

As the drinking commenced, it seemed to me that the perfect complement to this chilly beverage would be one of these sher bidis, a box of which was sitting precariously in one of my coat pockets.

I got one out and lit up the flared end, enjoying the somewhat forestal aroma of burning leaves that, basically, is what it was.

It certainly smelled more pleasant than a cigarette.

Perhaps, as it turned out, too much so.

Next: What's The New Mary Jane?

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Popcorn! Popcorn! Music! Music!

You never know when the drummer might have to leave to make a house call...

The documentary Girls Rock! opened in a handful of cities last Friday. Check out the trailer here, visit with 7-year old Palace here, read some reviews, or check out the official site.


Friday, March 07, 2008

That Was Then, This Is Ow!

I have been informed by people in a position to know that there was once a time in the history of this forum when you could read about something other than my kvetching about various health problems.

For instance, I apparently would go on about the occasional writer or musician, perhaps a notable film.

I will take this on faith. On the other hand, why listen to my opinions on today’s cultural climate when I’ll assume you’re perfectly capable of doing that yourself? I refuse to insult you further by imposing my artistic prejudices upon you.

Having said that, I found this new thing after taking a shower.

It was not only new to me, but I’d never even heard of anything like it before. (Ladies, start your engines!)

Actually, it did remind me of one thing, so it was off to the Internet for self-diagnosis.

Now most of the time this sort of search just results in no answers and increased hypochondria. But lo and behold, I found the thing. I mean, there was absolutely no doubt: every aspect of it had been captured online in words and pictures.

I'll leave the details to your warm imaginations but suffice it to say that it had a name that would have fit neatly into one of the Star Wars pictures, somewhere between Lorth Needa and Salacious Crumb.

So I called up my doctor and told him I seemed to have this G***h***l W*n*t. He tells me that I should see a surgeon about it and the surgeon takes a look at it and says, “Yeah, that’s what that is, all right.”

Well, you know, after paying him 25 bucks I didn’t like feeling that I’d already done most of the work.

Something about Life has definitely changed when I can develop some strange and exotic condition and then, without having spent a single day in medical school, be able to march into the waiting room knowing exactly what it is, thanks to my friends at Wikipedia.

There’s something quite empowering about that, of course, but now that we have the answers in the back of the book, it may be making the doctors a little more anxious to close the deal.

The next thing I knew he was scheduling me for surgery. Was this absolutely necessary? I asked. Well, it’s the best thing because it’s the only way to really blah blah blah, but –

It could come back anyway.

Then he showed me what kind of incision was involved and how I’d be knocked out or they could decide to give me a spinal…

Spinal is one of those words that’s kind of like a red flag for me which, roughly translated, means GO NO FURTHER.

I kept asking if I really had to do this and I kept feeling like I wasn’t getting an answer, other than “It’s really the best and most efficient way to, etc.”

It started to remind me of those times when I’d had to buy a car, only this time the guy was saying, “What do I have to do to get you into one of these hospital gowns today?”

In all fairness, he may well be right – this may be the most sensible way to go. But right now, for me, the things that would be involved in this particular exorcism are enough to make me take a wait-and-see stance.

You know, I bet there’s probably some site online where you could teach yourself surgery…

Thursday, March 06, 2008

King Of Plain

You will never see me sporting a single black fingernail.

You will not suddenly notice one day that I have a large tattoo on my back depicting Marilyn Manson or “The Day The Music Died.”

You will not usually see me in a shirt or a pair of pants that cost more than 20 bucks.

You will not find me at one of the finer eateries ordering a meal that I cannot pronounce.

You will never see my hair undergo anything more complex than a “haircut.”

I wore white socks in grade school. I wore white socks in high school. I wear white socks now.

I would rather watch an hour of cartoons than do the New York Times crossword puzzle.

I will not ask for substitutions on the menu.

You can’t go wrong buying me a cone of vanilla ice cream.

Cloth napkins make me nervous.

Chances are that my burial plot will probably be within two hours of the place where I was born.

I could quite happily while away the afternoon listening to the same music I enjoyed 30 years ago.

Having a tuna salad sandwich for lunch one day does not automatically cancel out the possibility of having one the next day.

I don’t see why the word “man” is in “manicure.”

The whole CD thing still throws me.

I think I would find being anything other than heterosexual simply too complicated.

You will not find me rhapsodizing about the salient qualities of a particular wine.

I look “up.”

I do not look “out.”

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Conservatism: Always Three Steps Ahead!

William F. Buckley, the conservative figurehead who began to resemble something like a melted wax candle the older he got, recently passed on and we thought it would be appropriate to revisit some of the erudition and prescience he was celebrated for, with some help from the folks at Radar Magazine:

"Now listen, you queer. Stop calling me a crypto Nazi, or I'll sock you in your goddamn face and you'll stay plastered." — To Gore Vidal, 1968

"New York should undertake to quarantine all addicts, even as smallpox carriers would be quarantined during a plague." — 1965

"The Beatles are not merely awful.... They are so unbelievably horrible, so appallingly unmusical, so dogmatically insensitive to the magic of the art, that they qualify as crowned heads of antimusic." — September 8, 1964

"But whatever the exact net result in the restricted field of school desegregation, what a price we are paying for Brown! It would be ridiculous to hold the Supreme Court solely to blame for the ludicrously named 'civil rights movement' — that is, the Negro revolt.... But the Court carries its share of the blame." — National Review, June 2, 1964

"The central question that emerges . . . is whether the White community in the South is entitled to take such measures as are necessary to prevail, politically and culturally, in areas in which it does not prevail numerically? The sobering answer is Yes — the White community is so entitled because, for the time being, it is the advanced race. It is not easy, and it is unpleasant, to adduce statistics evidencing the cultural superiority of White over Negro: but it is a fact that obtrudes, one that cannot be hidden by ever-so-busy egalitarians and anthropologists."

Monday, March 03, 2008

The Roomatizz And How To Get It, or: One Thousand Unnatural Shocks

It was sort of surreal being in the front row at a Chris Rock show.

More so than being at a concert because watching one person onstage talking feels much more intimate. There feels like a lot of eye contact going on even when it isn’t and, at the very least, you know your reactions are on display much more than if you were in the balcony.

Thank goodness audience banter isn’t a part of Rock’s act or I surely would have been made sport of.

I attract them like a magnet.

There was a pre-Tonight Show Jay Leno tripping me up about my gas station job, and Richard Belzer razzing me about the pen in my shirt pocket (“Big date tonight, thought you’d dress up?”)

They would always assiduously avoid taking on the wife at these shows, however. Frankly, I don’t blame them. You don’t want to engage her in a battle of wits if you can help it.

So they would light upon me, an obvious punk that you could push around.

But the wheel will turn, gentlemen, it shall turn. The great mandala of the universe will revolve and my revenge will be sweet as you cower in the face of my witty and truculent barbs.

And all things, indeed, do turn.

Before the show we ate at a lovely little Italian restaurant that served marvelous food at reasonable prices. They were geared to the theater crowd and, as such, the clientele tended to be on the older side.

Even the few younger people there sounded old, going on about one of the latest American Idol contestants. “You really want him to be part of your world!” one exclaimed with enthusiasm.

I made a mental note to steer clear of her world, if at all possible.

Still, when I find myself in the midst of older, middle-aged crowds, I have to remind myself that I’m with my peer group or close to it. It makes me feel very unsettled.

When we were kids, we’d make fun of the way the older folks would go on about their aches and pains and talk about how they knew a storm was coming because their "roomatizz" was acting up. All that complaining all the time! It was easy to mock them because we didn’t live in that place. That was where the old people lived and we were never going to go there.

All those immortal days, I can feel them still. Slipping like golden sap through the autumn gloaming.

There is no staying The Roomatizz, though, that whole package of human weakness and infirmity that is our mortal birthright. It will find you and break you down until the kids start to laugh at you.

Which is only fair. Their turn will come.

And now The Roomatizz is here for me, at last.

After feeling for years that I could never really feel comfortable anymore, this eventually escalated into chronic pain and discomfort that I recently decided I could no longer live with.

The diagnosis seems to be Osteoarthritis (blood work having ruled out the Rheumatoid variety) for which we’re taking an anti-inflammatory and a twice-daily regimen of Tylenol.

It’s managed to take the edge off but it’s still not as controlled as I’d like, especially one hip which doesn’t seem to be responding as well as I’d hoped.

Still there is some relief, which I am grateful for.

I think it was Gertrude Stein who pointed out that human beings understand intellectually that they must eventually disappear to make room for the new people who will appear to replace them, but that emotionally we feel as if the world began when we began. All that stuff they say happened before we got here can’t really have happened, can it?

Because then we’d merely be another tick on a calendar that started long before we did and which will no doubt continue long after we’ve gone.

How can that be true?

As I scan the restaurant it starts to sink in that, at some point, I’m going to get escorted down some corridor to oblivion.

Who knew The Roomatizz was real?

Who knew the world was?