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Monthly Archives: December 2011

Via Flickr:
los angeles, august 1958 “incognito” part of an archival project, featuring the photographs of nick dewolf

“Well, if your goal for the evening was to look like a doper, then, mission accomplished!” Melinda said, with the knowing smile of one who was hepped up herself. She and Bernie had smoked some reefer and popped a few bennies…maybe a little more…and had moved on to the highballs at the Lighthouse Café in Hermosa Beach in anticipation of 1959. The new year had already arrived in New York, but in LA the night was young.

Bernie smirked and adjusted his Ray-Bans. “Whatever do you mean, lamb chop?” he asked. “Why, I’ve never looked so debonair!”

Melinda lit a smoke and ran a hand across Bernie’s crew-cut. “Yes, I suppose you do look too sharp to be a dope fiend. Say, I know! You look like a narc!”

They both cracked up, and Bernie hailed their waitress for another round. What a great night it was! The end of a lousy year, Gerry Mulligan about to blow the baritone sax at the Lighthouse, good friends and beautiful California. Bernie and Melinda had been going steady for a few months, and things were going well. They were both excited to start off a new year together.

They had the table to themselves momentarily, as the rest of their friends were outside on the beach, soaking in the warmth and the last rays of the year. “Well, dearest, Mr. Mulligan should start playing soon,” Bernie said, moving over next to Melinda and running a hand up her inner thigh under the table. “What say we get in a little necking first?”

Melinda grabbed Bernie’s face in both hands and said, “kiss me, you fool.” And he did.


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Image Source: Justinsomnia

“This is the strangest week of the year,” Hannah said.

Mick sat down next to her with another round of tea. They were in their apartment on Capitol Hill in Seattle, transfixed by the white and gold glow of a fake tree and recovering from a post-Christmas teriyaki orgy. An iTunes mix of Christmas music from Glen Miller, Benny Goodman, Ella, Frank and Bing played and all was right with the world.

“What do you mean?” Mick said, leaning into her shoulder.

“I mean, it’s just….weird!” Hannah said. “Christmas was yesterday! It’s over! But we still have all the decorations up, and the tree, and we’re still listening to Christmas songs and watching Christmas movies and everything. Doesn’t it feel kind of…I don’t know, sort of wrong, somehow?”

Mick stared at the tree. “Yeah, right?” he said. “It is kind of strange. Not bad, but strange. Maybe a little…anticlimactic?”

Hannah thought about Mick’s choice of phrase, and gave him a gentle sock on the arm. “Yes! That’s it! I mean, there’s nothing left! No more Christmas! But it’s still perfect to have the tree up and watch Rankin Bass Christmas movies and all. For another week, and then it’s totally all over.”

“And there really isn’t any corollary throughout the rest of the year,” Mick said. “It would be like blasting off fireworks every night until July 11th or something.”

“Exactly!” Hannah said. “And I’m not complaining, of course. I friggin’ LOVE Christmas and I never want it to end, so I’m going to live the hell out of it this week. But really….” She held up her hands in a what the hell? gesture. “It’s like a cancelled sitcom being brought back for another five episodes!”

It had been clear enough to see the Olympics to the northwest and Mt. Rainier and the Cascades to the southeast most of the day, but the gray murk had rolled back in over the afternoon. It wasn’t the leaden snow sky they were used to growing up in Montana and Boston respectively, but Hannah and Mick were both able to envision snow squalls and muted Christmas lights and candles as they sat by the tree, both silently holding on to Christmas as a day, as a concept and as a spectral presence from their childhoods. Christmas again. They had another week to keep Christmas, and they couldn’t wait.

North Pole, 12/24: Eighty Days? Hah! Try Around the World in 24 Hours, Jules Verne! You couldn’t handle that! The fat man has us lined up, and we’re ready to go. It’s a major grind, but it’s only once a year. Besides, have you ever been to the North Pole? Seriously, I haven’t seen the sun since September. Dragsville, babe. So we get to get out, plenty of fresh air and exercise, get to see the world…oh yeah, and peace on earth and presents and all that happy-dappy crap. It’s not a bad gig, really.

0 Longitude: Well, that was a rough takeoff! SOMEbody…and I’m not naming any names here…DANCER…put on a few pounds over the summer! Way to be a team player, chum…p.

Over the Urals: Somebody asked me recently if I resent Rudolph. Y’know, since we never let him join in our reindeer games before he got all the glory just for having the genetic quirk of a glowing red honk. They wanted to know if I get jealous because I used to be the first reindeer mentioned. What a dumbass question! Of COURSE I resent the little bastard! I couldn’t say that, of course, but you’re damn right! I mean, what the hell am I, other than second in command?

Middle East: Man, you really get a good look at the world at this reindeer eye view. It’s too dark to see much (even with Rudolph the Golden Boy guiding our sleigh tonight), but you don’t need to be on the ground to feel the geopolitical tilt ‘round here. Of course we’re bypassing most of Sunni/Shia land, but still: an interesting look at the other side…

Italy: Ground Zero of the Eurozone Debt Crisis, woo hoo! Nice job, Berlusconi. You’ll be buying your hookers in Lira again soon!

North Atlantic: Nice one, Rudolph. Jesus, what crawled up your ass and died? And it’s LINGERING! Balls!

Manhattan: Nice light haul through the Isle of Manahatta! Mostly envelopes with checks. Maybe next year it’ll be envelopes with indictments…

Appalachia: Well, that was easy. A 2 Liter of Mountain Dew and a pack of Slim Jims for all! And to all a good night!

Texas: Oops! Just made it “rain” on the plains. Oh well…they needed it.

Ontario: We’re getting a nice tailwind up here, which is good, because that hastens our exit from this godforsaken second world. Canadian Bacon? Please, it’s HAM!!! Maple-sucking hosers. (I KEEED, of course! We love you, Canada! Eh?)

Brazil: South Ahhhhhhmerica, baba-loo, baba-loo, baba-loo-ayyy-ayyy! Man, I love this stretch. Warm and festive! I could see myself retiring here.

South Pacific: “A star, a star, shining in the night with a tail as big as a kite.” Really? Do you have any idea how large a star is? Kites, in comparison, are actually quite small. Dumbass lyric, that.

Aleutian Islands: Finally on the home stretch. Sometimes even I’d rather be home watching It’s a Wonderful Life. Sure, I can fire it up on the Blue-Ray anytime, but it would be nice to just have a “normal” Christmas Eve, ya know? Maybe I’ll take early retirement. Or maybe I’ll just go Barry Bonds and take some ‘roids, see if it’ll make MY nose glow. Not that I’m bitter, or anything…

North Pole, 12/25: Home again, home again. Time for some 12-year-old single malt and a nap, gaddamnit. The sun will rise again in March. Seeya then…


Photo Source: stockimagine

A grand total of three people were in O’Malley’s on the Wednesday before Christmas: the bartender and two ladies, both wearing Santa hats, at the bar. A solitary string of Christmas lights, half of which were burnt out, hung over the bar, and Def Leppard and Whitesnake blasted from the juke.

Upon our entrance, the Santa hat on the left propped herself up a little on the bar and screamed, “LAAAAAAAAADIES NIIIGHT!!!!” in a voice that would shatter her glass if it wasn’t plastic. Clearly these two had been there for a while. We grabbed a table a seemingly good distance away and buried ourselves in the menu.

But Santa hat left was feeling friendly. She turned half-way around on her bar chair, leaned over the back and yelled over, “Happy LAAADIES NIGHT!!! Whas’your names?!?”

Shit.

My regular pub was unexpectedly closed, so we headed across the street to O’Malley’s as a Plan B. I was with three friends from high school, and our plans for a quiet evening of catch-up were rapidly being thwarted. I gave a fake name, and the rest of the table followed suit and returned to our menus.

But it was all over.

Santa hat left continued, “Thish ish …(chuckle)… Donna an’ I’m…(cackle) Vixen!”

Santa hat right piped up at this, “No you’re not! Member?!? Member what you was gonna say?!?”

Santa hat left, her memory suddenly restored, returned to her original plan. “NO! NO!!! I’m….(uncontrollable giggling)…MRS. CLAWS!!! REEAAWWWW!!!” she said, slicing the air with her “paw” and teetering a bit further over the back of her chair.

It was all over.

I buried my nose in my menu, wondering not if, but how long it would be, before they were at our table.

It wasn’t long. As soon as I looked up, Donna and Mrs. Vixen Claws were settled in, plastic tumblers and plastic pitcher of macro-swill in tow. Were it not for the extra weight and wrinkles, these two could have been in our Class of 1991 yearbook. Maybe they were. Our table suddenly carried a halo of cheap beer, CVS perfume and desperation.

We tried to ignore them, but it was all over. All we could do was try to get out of the vice grips Donna and Mrs. Vixen Claws had on our forearms and turn our eardrums away from their howling cackles.

It was almost too late when I noticed that Mrs. Vixen Claws was holding up a plastic sprig of mistletoe. As soon as I saw it she was leaning in, and she got me on the side of the lip with a hot, soaking wet kiss and a death-grip bear hug. I somehow managed to do a cut move out of it, like a receiver ducking a tackle, and backpedaled away from the table. With that distraction were all able to get up and walk out, coats in arms but otherwise unscathed.

Never got to see the Ladies Night specials on the menu, but judging by the condition of Donna and Mrs. Vixen Claws, I’m betting there was a good deal on domestic pitchers…

The furnace always kicked in with an F above middle C, with the undertones forming a Bb Major chord, and if you stood on the grate by the front door, you could feel the warm air wafting up. We were the third ring (also in Bb Major) on a three-party line, and the light left the sky by 4:00 PM in the most brilliant sunsets you could ever imagine.

These will always be the sound and feel of Christmas in Maine.

Throw in my grandfather’s cigar smoke and my grandmother’s donuts, freshly scooped from a vat of Crisco melted on the woodstove. Toss in football and tobogganing by the barn light on brutally cold nights and the lights of the Christmas tree by the front door guiding us back up the hill. Picture, in the piano room, the scrawniest tree ever, cut down with a hand saw and dragged out of our own woods by tractor (and remind me to tell you about the time I broke my collarbone by sticking my moon boot on the tire). And imagine going to sleep under layer upon layer of home-made blankets after a kiss from grandma.

This is what I waited for and dreamed of all during the years in Florida, from when I was nine to thirteen; the week of Christmas vacation and our return to Maine and the farm. Yes, it’s bargain-basement Currier and Ives in retrospect. But when you’re ten and missing home like crazy, it’s everything that matters in life.

And I’ll never have another Christmas like those again…


Photo Source: Saul Leiter

It was about four o’clock a few days before Christmas, an’ snowing like a bitch, if I may say so. I was getting slammed, on account of people sneakin’ out of their offices early to beat the snow, an’ my paper kiosk being set up right next to a bus stop. Of course, because of the snow the busses were all running late, but everybody was leaving the office early anyway, an’ they all wanted an evening edition for the commute. It was a lousy day any way you looked at it.

I had a fire going an’ I was moving around selling papers, so the cold wasn’t too bad. But with the wind and the wet of the snow, it was lousy, an’ not at all Christmas-like. I was feeling like a prize heel, to be honest with you. An’ then Robert the Sneak come running over.

Robert the Sneak is a regular at Mulroney’s. They call him Robert the Sneak ‘cause he always seemed to have some inside dope that none of the rest of us at the bar had, whether it was a tip on the horses or who was having a birthday or if someone was falling a bit behind an’ needed a little extra. He just knew these things somehow. So that’s why we called him Robert the Sneak.

I was just about to shut down when Robert the Sneak come running up to my kiosk, slipping in the snow an’ about to bust with excitement. He come over an’ yells at me, “The Grunt is in the hospital!”

The Grunt is another regular at Mulroney’s. We call him The Grunt because he does odd jobs around the bar for his drinks. Grunt work, you could say. The Grunt is old an’ frail, an’ prone to “fainting” spells, if you catch my drift. So occasionally he gets picked up an’ taken to Bellevue to dry out a bit.

So Robert the Sneak tells me that a few of the regulars are gonna go o’er to visit The Grunt at Bellevue an’ sing some Christmas songs to him. He figures if The Grunt can’t be at Mulroney’s for Christmas, we’ll bring Mulroney’s to The Grunt. Of course, I thought this was a grand idea, an’ I shut down my kiosk and headed downtown.

Five of us from the bar showed up an’ headed to The Grunt’s room. He was in his own room, lying in the dark an’ just staring out at the snow. He looked so sad an’ lonesome, it kind of tore at your heart seeing him in that condition. So I snapped on the light, an’ there we were.

You shoulda seen The Grunt light up when he saw us standin’ there! He was like a kid with a new toy. We barged into his room an’ spent probably a good hour there singin’ Christmas songs an’ making like we was all just sitting around the bar like always. An’ The Grunt, he’s the strong, silent type, but if I didn’t know any better, I’d say he was about to cry the whole time. What a scene that was!

Funny, just two hours earlier I was feeling lousy and not at all Christmas-like. An’ after we all left Bellevue an’ headed back to Mulroney’s, all we were feeling was Christmas. It didn’t take much an’ it didn’t cost a thing, an’ we made The Grunt’s night. Just goes to show you that Christmas ain’t about the getting, it’s about the giving. An’ after that night I ain’t had a day where I didn’t have that Christmas feeling.


Photo Source: Stephen Shore

Radio was everything to Billy Coonan. Rock n’ Roll and news and weather and traffic reports and commercials! He loved commercials, especially Hess Gas. He would read along in his radio voice holding up a fist in a black sock for a microphone.

Billy’s friends came into his room all day and night. Dan Ingram and Chuck Leonard on WABC and Vin Scelsa on WNEW and Jim Kerr on WPIX were his favorites. He loved the classical programs along with the hits. And he loved the talk about the issues, even if he couldn’t follow along very well.

But it was hockey that was Billy’s first love. New York Rangers hockey on WNBC, live from the Garden on Wednesday and Sunday nights, Marv Albert and Sal “Red Light” Messina with the call. Nick Fotiu and Rod Gilbert on the forward lines and Ron Greschner on defense and John Davidson in net. And Billy’s favorite, Walt Tkaczuk. Tkaczuk wasn’t a huge scoring threat, but Billy loved pronouncing “kah-CHUCK!” like a sneeze. He would crack up hysterically, and then return to a verbatim replay of Marv’s call seconds after.

Billy’s dad split when he learned his kid was going to be a vegetable. Twenty eight years Billy’s mom spent raising him all by her damn self. Sometimes she hated him as much as her no-good husband. Some life, stuck in a crummy walk-up in Hell’s Kitchen with leaks and a lousy radiator and tending bar and scrubbing floors…and all with a kid who didn’t know nothing but his goddamn radio. Some life. Sure.

She loved Billy, but Jesus Christ it was hard doing it alone. There sure as hell weren’t any lunches at Tavern on the Green for her. Where was hers? And where was his?

At least he was happy, listening to his shows and stories and games. Some life. Maybe he was even better off…


Photo Source: Joel Meyerowitz

Rick fell back into the couch, greatly enjoying the all-over buzzing and exhausted feeling that comes from a great lay. Being a conscientious renter, he had thrown a towel down on the velour couch before christening it. Afterward, he pulled the bottom of the towel between his legs, forming a hybrid diaper toga. He would get up, but not for a few minutes.

The windows were cracked, just enough to let in a slight breeze that flitted over Rick’s naked body. The smell of sand and fried seafood drifted in, along with the sound of a game show from a few doors away. And the sound of the breakers, rhythmic, mechanical, perpetual, filled the cottage.

It was the beginning. Beginning of the long weekend, beginning of a relationship, beginning of a whole new outlook. Brand new day. Rick was loving the solitude of the cottage, the white noise of the surf, the feel of the world ahead in infinite possibility, starting with the weekend. Relaxed, calm, untroubled. He lit a roach, took a deep pull, laid back and enjoyed the spreading warmth, from the beginning.

Daniel emerged from the bedroom, freshly showered and dressed for dinner. He shook his head at Rick in a tisk-tisk schoolmarm act, and said, “Well, look at this scene of degradation we have here! You’d better clean yourself up, boy. I believe our reservation was for Daniel and Rick, not Daniel and Dick.”

Rick stood up, let the towel drop, then picked it up and started an exaggerated wind-up and pitch. Daniel ducked out of the path of the towel – a curveball, low and outside – and got Rick in a bear hug.

They kissed again, and then just stood there in the living room, lingering for a few minutes, holding hands, enjoying the beginnings of it all together. No words, no sounds, no offices or deadlines or traffic or psychodrama, no appointments, no scrambling through take-out menus, no landlord pounding on the doors. No end to this beginning. Nobody else around, nothing but the gulls and the pounding surf and whatever was to come, that weekend and beyond.

Finally Daniel gave Rick a pat on the ass and said, “Better get to. Don’t want to be late.” As Rick slinked off toward the shower, Daniel picked up the towel, yelled, “And fachrissakes, will you cover yourself, you heathen?!?” and hurled the towel at his new friend. Rick stood there grinning for a nanosecond, thinking of all the possible comebacks he could unleash. But they both knew, without words, that Daniel had just won the first of many snark wars to come.

Rick picked up the pace on his shower in order to make their dinner reservation. That was the only bit of urgency to the long weekend away.


Photo Source: Meredith Kleiber

“Cold one today, ain’t it, Dolly!”

Buddy came in at the same time with the same greeting every day, except in the summer, when he changed it to “Hot one today, ain’t it, Dolly!” He always got the same table, back to the wall, facing the door, and settled in, paper spread out in front of him like the morning. Dolly always teased Buddy to take off his coat and stay a while, but Buddy always kept it on, even during the hottest summer days. “Don’t want to catch cold!” he would laugh and wink as he settled into the booth.

Dolly always had a hot cup and a paper ready. She mostly let him be, coming over just often enough to pour a top-off and ask, “So what do you know today?” But she always came over to Buddy’s table during her fifteen-minute break, and they exchanged small talk. Or sometimes they just sat there. Buddy wasn’t much for talking. Even still, he loved having a pretty lady to sit with.

It was the same routine daily, predictable as the clock on the wall. They never saw each other outside the coffee shop, and never on weekends. But they knew each other, just the same.

Dolly knew that Buddy was out of work, that he got lost in the numbers after twenty years when they brought the big machines in on the line. He was too ashamed to tell his wife, but Dolly knew that.

And Buddy knew every time Dolly’s husband went off and hit her or stepped off on her. He didn’t like that, not one bit. But her secret was as shameful as his, so there wasn’t anything they could do.

They both hurt, but for fifteen minutes now and then, they both hurt together and a little less.

They probably both noticed the sadness just below the surface. Maybe that’s what drew Buddy into the coffee shop in the first place, and what let him feel he could linger there a little bit. And maybe that’s why Dolly felt like she could talk a little extra to Buddy, even though he never said much. They were both married, mostly happily. But they hadn’t found their kindred spirits, or didn’t realize that they hadn’t. Maybe that’s what it was…

It wasn’t much, what they had. Just an hour or so daily at a coffee shop, customer and waitress. But for Buddy and Dolly, it was the best part of their days of silent hurt. And that was more than enough to let a little light through and carry a little bit of hope into the next day.

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