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Monthly Archives: September 2012


Image Source: Untappd

March 2004: my wife and I are visiting her mom and step-dad in suburban Seattle and greatly enjoying a weekday on the town in the early-blooming Emerald City. We’ve spent the morning at the Seattle Art Museum and have just had lunch and a few rounds in Pioneer Square. On the way back, we start talking about stopping off for a round.

We head for Kelly’s, a long-gone dive in their suburban town. It’s exactly what you would picture a dive bar to be: neon, paneled walls, AC unit precariously wedged into a window, duct-tape on the padding around the bar. The special is Miller Genuine Draft, and we’re feeling special. My in-laws order up and we settle in for an early-afternoon toast.

My step-mom and I start playing pull-tabs, and as usual she is cleaning house. The juke is loaded with AM nostalgia: Seals & Crofts, Heart, Dan Fogelberg, et al. Everything is mellow in a Midnight Special kind of way, and I’m having the time of my life.

At the corner of the bar is a guy who looks like Hunter S. Thompson on a deer hunt: black & red plaid mackinaw, blaze-orange pork pie, prison issue glasses. He catches my eye because he looks like any of my relatives back in Maine, and because of his prodigious intake of MGD.

Eventually he makes his way to our table, and apparently – I don’t remember – introductions are made. It turns out he’s a casual acquaintance of my in-laws and conversation turns to the ins and outs of their worlds and mutual friends.

The conversation carries on, and it comes out that he used to work at the Kenwood plant painting trucks. It then comes out that he used to work at the Kenwood plant painting trucks alongside Gary Ridgeway.

The Green River Killer.

The final kicker comes when it is revealed – and I swear I don’t remember how it comes out, and how do you weave this into casual conversation? – that he used to pick up prostitutes with Gary Ridgeway. I remember thinking to myself, “this happens all the time, right? Drinking an early afternoon away with a guy that used to cruise for hookers with one of the most notorious serial killers in the history of American Justice?”

I must have asked him something about this unique claim to fame, because he then delivers the line of a lifetime. In a cloud of beer-spittle and fury, along with a pinch of mirth, he tells the table, “yeah, the diff’rence a’tween us is I done mine, an’ he kilt his!”

I don’t remember any follow-up questions. I don’t remember the rest of the afternoon. I sure as hell remember being told by a guy that used to cruise for hookers with The Green River Killer that the biggest point of distinction between them was merely in the finish.

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Image Source: 23mag.com

My first bike in Jacksonville was a Huffy with a banana seat. I actually wanted it at the time, because the banana seat said HUFFY under my butt, and I thought that was pretty “rad.” It didn’t take long for me to realize that I was a lost bit of chum in the shark pool of kid-dom.

I was vaguely aware of BMX in Brunswick, but Florida was an entirely different world. As I casually rode my Huffy straight-up around my new neighborhood, all the other kids were riding track-approved bikes from GT and Mongoose. It was 1982: biker and gear impresario Bob Haro was a featured stunt-rider on the big screen in E.T., BMX Plus! was on every newsstand and my new home pulsed with the culture of bicycle motocross.

Right away I became obsessed. I somehow decided that my favorite rider was Greg Hill, who rode for Team GT. I wrote to Hill, asking for an autographed picture and stickers (because I was a ballsy, presumptuous kid), and he came through with all of the above! I was stoked! A fan for life!
In Jacksonville I was the new kid, and a hick from the sticks at that. I and my Huffy were surrounded by surf-and-skate rats on tricked-out bikes, like a slightly younger Daniel LaRusso surrounded by the Kobra Kai. Things would have to change.

Immediately I needed a new bike. Preferably a GT like Greg Hill. But I would also need to trick out the bike with Haro rims and number plate, Oakley handlebar and frame pads and those bitchin’ Oakley handlebar grips. Oh, and of course I would need a GT helmet and jersey and pants. What, those are unreasonable demands from a ten-year-old?!?

Ultimately I settled for a Mongoose, with the grips and pads and without the rims. And it was oh-by-the-way an entirely acceptable compromise. With my new bike in tow I would spend hours shredding the trails in the woods, practicing new jumps and loving the feeling of fitting in (or at least fitting in outside of school).

On my bike, with my friends, I was free. Free to catch air, free from the bullying and awkwardness that resided in the classrooms and halls. Free to be me. And free from having a HUFFY banana seat.

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Image Source: ESPN

Winter nights were always warm and cozy in our Brunswick, ME house, and hockey was integral.

By birth and geography I was a Boston Bruins fan, but I became a diehard thanks to the sheer brilliance of the era. I missed the Big Bad Bruins of the early 70s, with Bobby Orr, forward Phil Esposito and goalie Gerry “Cheesy” Cheevers, with his scars-and-stitches mask, but I fell in love with the Lunch Pail Bruins of the late 70s: hard-edged guys who played hard for 60 minutes like Cheevers, the ferocious enforcers Wayne Cashman and Terry “Taz” O’Reilly and the brilliant goal scorer Rick Middleton. This was hockey at its finest, and I caught it at an age when these things mean everything.

My dad was born in Bay Ridge Brooklyn in 1940. In addition to the Brooklyn Dodgers, he remains a passionate fan of the New York Mets and Rangers. By environment the Rangers became my second on-ice love, and I came to know them through radio and dad’s 1976-1977 yearbook. That team included Esposito (traded by Boston in a move that crushed all of New England, except my dad), the stately forward Rod Gilbert, defensemen Ron Greschner, goalie and future beloved TV fixture John “J.D.” Davidson and New York City’s own Nick Fotiu.

Dad had a silver GE transistor. The band and dials were on the front, and it had an army-fatigue green grill on top. On those magical Maine winter nights he would pull on his gray button-up sweater over his pajamas and tweak the dial until he got Marv Albert and Sal Messina in the Rangers booth on AM 1130, WNEW New York.

Bruins games were on TV38, WSBK Boston, with the great Fred Cusick on play-by-play and former Bruin Johnny Peirson on color. Home games were broadcast live from the old Boston Garden, home of the Bruins since 1928. They called it the Old Barn on Causeway Street, and it looked as cozy as grandma’s farmhouse. I would only catch one game at the old Garden before it closed in 1996, but it was as cozy and homey (and cramped and uncomfortable) as it looked on the tube.

These were the days before advertising permeated every available inch of surface, so the lines were clean and the pure white ice and boards really popped on our TV. And these were the days before helmets became mandatory, so you could really see the players in all their hockey mullet and walrus mustache glory. It was truly a magnificent time for the game, and for me to discover it.

Although I never learned to play (or skate, for that matter), my passion for hockey was born here. Things changed in the ‘90s, when the commissioner made a ridiculous push to bring the Canadian game to the Sun Belt: the Minnesota North Stars became the Dallas Stars; the Quebec Nordiques became the Colorado Avalanche; the Hartford Whalers became the Carolina Hurricane; the Winnipeg Jets became the Phoenix Coyotes. More teams were born in markets with no hockey passion (Atlanta, Nashville, Columbus, OH), and with the game diluted and spread so thin, my interest waned.

But the night of Tuesday, June 14, 1994, brought it all back and brought it all home. On that night my dad’s Rangers finally won the Stanley Cup for the first time since 1940. And we listened to it together.

I was 21 and pissed at the world, but nothing could get in the way of me and my dad and my radio. I tweaked the dial until I found Marv and Sal, those voices rising from deep in my DNA, together again. We listened together, and when Mark Messier held the puck in the corner for the final seconds and Madison Square Garden went ballistic on my boom box, we were together again for it. My dad stood up, stuck out his hand and said, “well, congratulations!” and went to bed. But I could see it all in his little smirk: the joy of finally winning in his lifetime and the perfection of our listening to it together on radio. I also saw those winter nights all those years earlier when he was tweaking the dial and I was happy just to have toys, a piece of toast and a hockey game with my dad.

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Image Source: Elliott Erwitt

Oh yeah, I seen it happen. Poor bastard landed right there onna sidewalk, right in front of Tony’s. Jumped from his own goddamn apartment onna fifth floor. Top left window, right in-line with the C inna Coca Cola sign. BLAM, SPLAT! Ain’t that a bitch?

I heard they was jackin’ up the rent inna buildin’ over there. Guess that may have had somethin’ to do with it? An’ I know he worked at one’a them transistor stores on Cortlandt St., down on Radio Row, an’ there’s all kinds’a rumors about how they’re gonna level that whole neighborhood to build the World Trade Center the Rockefellers keep talkin’ about. Maybe he was scared’a losin’ his job? Who the hell knows?

Y’know, it’s a funny damn thing: I seen the guy onna street every day, an’ I seen him in his window, lookin’ out. Ev’ry mornin’ I see this guy lookin’ out his window. Only this mornin’ I seen him leanin’ out an’ jumpin’, an’ that’s the last I’m gonna see of him. You see a guy like that every day, even if you don’t know him, he kinda becomes part of your life.

Kinda goes to show, you don’t ever really know nobody. I seen the guy every day, likesay, but no way I’d be able to tell you why the poor bastard done it to himself. Seemed like a nice guy, looked like he had it all together, an’ then one day the guy is dead onna sidewalk.

I guess you just don’t ever know, do you?

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Image Source: Andrew Bush

Aunt Ina loved that painting, even if it was a fake. A fake: like her flowers and her books and everything in her house and life.

I spent a lot of time at Aunt Ina’s house, partly because my middle school was across the street and partly because my own mother was such a louse. I never knew my father, because he split before I was born. No wonder my mother was such a loser. I guess I don’t blame her, but I still resent her.

I used to sit next to that book case, across the room from my Aunt, while she watched her soap operas every afternoon. She would serve me stale Danish cookies and warm Shur Fine soda on a rusted gold TV tray with a painting of a fruit bowl. Then she’d sit down on her plastic-covered recliner, pull on her afghan, drink her tall-boys of Schlitz and chain-smoke Kools. The taste of those cookies and soda and the smell of stale beer, body odor, smoke and gas from the stove is frozen in my memory forever as afternoons at Aunt Ina’s house.

Aunt Ina always said proudly that she had two tall-boys of Schlitz every afternoon at 2:00, and not a drop more. Like she was trying to vindicate herself. But the house reeked like Schlitz by the time I got there at 2:20, and every afternoon at 3:00, after she retired for her “nap”, I could hear her crack open more cans. It was all a fake, just like her soap operas.

A lot of days when she was “napping” she’d start muttering to herself in French. I don’t know much French, but I picked up on it. Always everything was c’est très mauvais and je suis vraiment désespéré. I learned later that those meant “it is very bad” and “I’m really hopeless.” When she really got going, she’d scream je vis dans le mensonge! over and over. That meant “I am living a lie!” And then she would start sobbing.

It sure did a number on me hearing all that from the next room. I was supposed to be doing homework, but instead I was watching re-runs on TV and turning up the volume to try and drown out Aunt Ina’s yelling. I tried to go into her bedroom once, to try to make her feel better. I knocked on the door softly, and as soon as I did she stopped sobbing and got real quiet. So I opened the door, and she yelled at me to get out and threw a shoe at me. It scared the hell out of me, and all I could do is go back to the TV and hope it would all be better when she woke up.

Uncle Emil was long dead, and by the time I got to my sophomore year in high school, so was Aunt Ina. My mother was always really vague when I asked what she died from, and her story changed once or twice. I guess she was continuing the lie that Ina started. They sold the house, and I graduated and got the hell away. But any time I pass by a display of Danish cookies or smell cigarette smoke, it all comes back and leaves me feeling just as helpless all over again.

I don’t mean to say Aunt Ina was all crazy. She always told me how much she loved me, and she was always bragging about her painting and her flowers and books and how beautiful they all were. I guess she convinced herself. I guess she had to.

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Image Source: Gary Winogrand

They used to say that my looks could stop traffic. Yeah, I’d stop traffic for any cheap hood waving a $20 in my face. Looks can only take you so far, and then it’s what you do with your looks. And when you’re young and dumb and desperate to make it…

I worked Avenue B a lot. Noon rush, usually. I’d get lots of executive types that would cut out for a little “exercise” on their lunch break, if you know what I mean. Alphabet City was a wasteland back then, so these big-wigs would come down from midtown or up from the financial district, ‘cause they didn’t want to be seen anywhere around their offices. Smart, right? But business was good. Lots of Jaguars and Mercedes and guys that had money to burn on cocaine and hookers. And there I was.

Like I said, I was young and dumb. Fresh from the sticks. I wanted to make it as an actress. Hell, who didn’t? I tried waitressing, but I was horrible at it. Tried working in a grocery store, but I was horrible at that, too. Tried working as a secretary, but I couldn’t pass all those tests. I was out of work, and one of my girl friends suggested I try it. Some friend, right?

I guess I got “lucky” on my first time. I went out with my girl friend, and my first was some middle-management guy in a cab. He was clean, and he was staying at the Sheraton on Seventh at 52nd. I gave him a blow and got a good tip out of it. First time out and I hit the jackpot.

If only the rest were like that. You wouldn’t believe what pigs some of them were. Guy in a Bentley pulls up, I jump in and the car reeks like the last toss he just had. Can you imagine going down on that? Sometimes we’d do business in the car on the sidewalk in broad daylight. And sometimes we’d check into the most disgusting flops you could imagine. Cockroaches, stains on the sheets…just sick. Lot of times after a job like that I had to take my shoes off in the street and shake out the bugs. And you can imagine what it felt like up my skirt.

It’s a hell of a thing to be servicing a guy whose wardrobe is worth more than your monthly rent in a dump like that. It really kind of makes you feel your place in life. But I felt my self-worth in a pile of bills in my hand at the end. And then I went out and felt even more self-worth.

Me and my looks, right? Jesus. Me, the Human Red Light.

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Image Source: Collectors Weekly

I never got bored during summer vacation, and I never wanted to go back to school. Those brilliant clear days at the end of August meant a return to regime and order and new teachers and hall passes, and I still feel that tug of apprehension this time of year. But there were perks, mainly of the material variety.

As the days of summer dwindled, we always got new clothes for school. I now realize that not all kids in my school had this luxury, and that it was probably a bit of a sacrifice for my parents. But we never went without.

We always got new pencils, erasers, paper, notebooks and the rest, of course. And my grandmother frequently got us new backpacks from L.L. Bean.

Best of all, though, was lunch-box shopping. These were the days when the lunch-box and thermos set was be-all end-all, and the options were seemingly limitless: metal or plastic; sports or TV; rock n’ roll or cartoon. My favorites from my collection over the years, in no particular order:

1. The Six Million Dollar Man (metal)
2. Snoopy as Joe Cool (plastic – I often had mac & cheese in this thermos, and I would pour it out whole so it looked like a nuclear yellow cylinder of brain
3. Emergency! (metal)
4. NFL (plastic with hologram sticker: lean it left for all AFC team helmets; lean it right for all NFC team helmets)

I always wanted a KISS lunch-box, but never got one. I guess my parents had their fill with all our KISS records and had to draw a line somewhere. (Or maybe they realized what a suck band KISS was and tried to subliminally push my ear in better directions. Fortunately, this worked.) Regardless, I always had a great lunch-box, and wish I still had them all, seeing how dramatically their value has risen over the years.

Once the bell rang for the year at Jordan Acers Elementary, in Brunswick, ME, my creative cup ran over.

I used to draw all the time, often just the shapes of my every-day life, like an Amoco sign. My mom told me a teacher said that one of my drawings was so good she “couldn’t get over it”, and I remember picturing my teacher trying to jump over the drawing and not being able to clear it.

During recess I would stick my ear to the support pipes on the swing-set to hear the squeak and echo of the chains. In my head this cacophony sounded like a party, and I evidently mentioned these swing-set-people soirees to a teacher, because I remember my parents being called in about it. Were they marveling at my creativity or questioning my mental state? Who the hell knows? But the party continued every recess, and to this day I still hear music in sources as mundane as an air-conditioner unit.

Jordan Acers was my educational and social world through third grade, when we moved to Florida. My friends included Anthony Favreau, Kris Kirker, Katie Goodwin and Ellen Domingos, all of whom I’m blessed to have reconnected with via the almighty Facebook. We played kick-ball at recess, went roller-skating at the Brunswick rec center after school and had Star Wars and Batman theme parties. And we all probably swapped around the contents of our lunch-boxes.

I never wanted to return to school when the summer ended. But when I did, I always had new threads, creative opportunities, great friends and awesome lunch-boxes. And that was more than I needed.

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