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(This is a very short ode to the infamous Troggs Tapes. Neither this post, nor The Troggs Tapes, are even remotely safe for work. Cheerie-o!)

“No, it’s all wrong!” Sir David Sebastian was spraying hot spittle in the main room of Studio B at Twickenshire Sound. “The decay on the delay is too quick! This guitar passage is supposed to sound like a swan gently gliding onto the surface of a pond, NOT a swan gently gliding and doing a fucking face-plant into a rock! Add another four tenths of a second of decay!”

The second engineer, Arthur Nevins, was sufficiently chuffed at his restraint over the course of the session. He dealt with Sir David’s tantrums and constant demands. He put up with Sir David’s barrage of insults and drug deliveries. And he suffered all with jolly good humor. But after three hours of knicker-soiling over milliseconds of echo, Arthur Nevin’s patience was about to run out.

“Look, David,” he said. “Are you fucking deaf, or are you a fucking blind rotter?!? If we add another four tenths of a second, the fucking listener is going to wonder when the fucking swan is going to land! We’ve been back and forth over this for fucking hours, and we ain’t getting anywhere! Cause you want your fucking swan to keep circling over the pond like it’s waiting for fucking permission to land from the control tower!”

“Who the fuck do you think you’re talking to?!?” Sir David said. “Do you have any idea how many quid we have invested in the fucking record? And you, a ten pence errand boy, are trying to crash my fucking swan! Add another four tenths of a second of decay, you wanker!”

“Why do you hate your swan, David?” Arthur said. “Why do you want to see your swan never landing, never coming home to roost? It’s just going to fucking stay up there, yeah? You swan is just going to glide for-fucking-ever, never seeing its fucking swan family again! Because you won’t let your fucking swan land!”

“Why do you want to kill my swan, you heartless bastard?” Sir David said. “Why do you want to see my swan fucking die in a fiery crash? Do I need to call fucking animal control?”

The argument went on, until the first engineer suggested two tenths of a second.

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MBTA: Arlington St. - Signs of the Past
Image Source: rnolan187

It seemed like a good idea at the time.

It’s a Sunday in late August, 1999, in a North Shore suburb of Boston: the first Sunday that screams football rather than dog days. Aside from grocery shopping, I am looking forward to a day of leisure close to home.

The major grocery store is less than a mile away and on a bus route. But I’m suddenly craving a latte from Curious Liquids, across from the State House on Beacon Hill. There is another major grocery store in the lobby of the Prudential Building, which is only a few subway stops beyond the coffee shop. I can get my latte and take a Sunday stroll through the Public Garden. Well, hell, why not.

I take the bus to the train. Because grocery shopping is limited to my at-the-time non-existent cooking skills, I don’t need to worry about perishables, so my plan is to go shopping, then walk back across the Garden and Boston Common to get my latte.

The train is fairly crowded, so I’m standing and holding the bar. In front of me is a pair of giggling girls in full-on Tokyo street style gear. Behind me is a Korean couple seated with their baby in a stroller in the aisle.

We pull into Arlington, quickly. We pull out of Arlington, quickly: a little too quickly for the crazy-sharp corner beyond the station. Suddenly gravity is in play!

The jerk of the train sends me flying backwards, and I land with a thud. Upon landing, I turn on my knees to pick myself up, and it occurs to me that my fall has been broken.

Then it occurs to me that my fall has been broken by the baby in the stroller.

Baby looks up at me. He looks a little sad, but nothing major. But the realization that I have just CRUSHED A BABY hits, and I start screaming “OHMYGODIKILLEDHIM!!!” So now baby starts screaming along with me.

Dad picks baby up out of the stroller, holds him up to the light for inspection and shakes him a few times. Upon passing inspection, dad smiles at me, holds baby up for my inspection and says, “No no, baby fine! Baby fine!”

Meanwhile the Tokyo street girls are in a panic, and the eyes of the rest of the train are staring at anything but me. An air of “glad I’m not HIM” permeates the train.

And what do I say here? “Sorry I almost killed your baby, here’s a quarter?”

No, there’s nothing I can say. All I can do is get off the train and cross over to the other side and back home. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but no latte or box of mac & cheese could compete with a crushed baby.

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Photo Source: MLive

I got hit in the nuts with soccer balls a lot as a kid. I don’t know if that’s a skill, exactly, but if it is I had some serious game. My soccer career only lasted for one season of Brunswick, Maine rec-league, but it was enough to do some physical and psychological damage. I suffered the pain of not winning a single game, not scoring a single goal or steal and not escaping without a few good whacks to the manhood.

Also, wearing shin guards seems to have killed off all my follicles. My legs below my knees would not be miscast in a Nair commercial. I remember pulling sweat-soaked foam and plastic guards out of my sweat-soaked socks, and now I’ve got bald legs. It may be a spurious connection, but I can’t find a better one.

I played one year of tee-ball, on a team that also went completely defeated. I played right field very badly, and I had a penchant for swinging and missing spectacularly. Swinging and missing a ball on a tee. Yet another nonexistent skill that I was extremely skilled at.

Throughout my “career” in Brunswick, I was able to just play with my friends, and nobody cared. When I moved to Florida, at age nine, the teasing began. My chums said I ran like I had a brick shoved up my ass sideways, and much more, so by the time we moved back to Maine, at age fourteen, I was a wee bit sensitive and traumatized.

Attending the same high school as Stephen King, and running laps in the same gym that inspired Carrie, didn’t exactly help matters.

NOTHing in my life ever filled me with terror more than gym class my freshman and sophomore years at Lisbon High School. The fear of running, making an idiot of myself, being exposed, was all-consuming, like taking a walk to the chair. One was allowed to skip five gym classes per semester with impunity, and after that, it was laps in the gym after school. I may have cashed in my five skips my first week.

I preferred doing laps and walking the four miles home. It was easier, less terrifying and even comforting, running my penance in the company of other degenerates. And walking home, I often took the train tracks through the woods and along the river, just like that King guy, and I saw first-hand how Lisbon became Castle Rock and the Androscoggin River became the Royal.

I love watching sports, but I learned early on that I was not going to be the Maine boy that beat the odds to start for the Sox in Fenway. Not a chance. Take enough soccer balls in the junk and you just know.

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State Street, Portland
State St. Church

We were NOT prepared for life as car owners.

On moving to Portland in 2002, after nine months without a car in Boston, we were gifted a slightly worn white 1996 Hyundai Elantra from my parents. At 100,000 miles plus, our new car was an elderly Maine gentleman, so we named him Chester, because that sounded like the name of an elderly Maine gentleman. Parking for our new ride was not included in our rent, but we were so excited to be home, we figured we’d make due as meter slaves.

State Street is a one-way heading east. Both sides have meters, but for every three meters on the north side, the south side only has one. Often, trying to snag a meter was like trying to get on the last chopper out of Saigon. Many nights we would literally drive in a square for upwards of half an hour, spying for abandoned meters, cars that looked like they might be backing out or people walking in the general direction of a meter.

Wednesday nights meant street-sweeping on the south side, and this meant a mad scramble for north side meters between 4:00 PM – 6:00 PM. This is how we ended up getting towed on our first week in residence. I guess we should have been a bit surprised at landing such a prime meter almost in front of the apartment on the south side. We were even more surprised in the morning when Chester was gone, and we had to take a bus and walk a few miles through some godforsaken industrial park to pay $50 to get him sprung. We thought he looked scared, and he hiccupped a bit when we started him up.

But the height of our virgin-car-ownership brilliance came on Christmas 2002. The day was clear, but overnight brought 12 ½” of fresh snow. Because the City of Portland did not call a Snow Ban, nobody was forced to park in a city garage. We parked on the street as usual. In the morning, poor Chester was buried up to his windows in snow.

Did we have a shovel inside? Nope. We spent three hours of the day after Christmas 2002 digging our car out of four feet of packed snow with a cookie sheet and two expired debit cards.

I choose to look back at this experience and see my native Yankee ingenuity kicking into gear, but it was really my big-city ignorance putting us in a hole of unpreparedness. And now, needless to say, we have a shovel, along with expired debit cards, in the house and in the trunk at all times.

I miss the apartment somewhat, and I greatly miss the neighborhood, the wisteria vine and the proximity to everything that comes with living in town. But I don’t miss the parking situation at all. No man is an island, and this man is no meter slave.

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Photo Source: William Eggleston

I was a nervous kid, thus I was a goner every Sunday I punched in under Red Langfield. Nobody I ever worked for made me feel so utterly intimidated. Probably because he wasn’t an obvious sadist. Oh, he was a sadist, alright. But more of a subliminal sadist. Red Langfield never chewed you out, but he didn’t have to: he was in your head every nanosecond of every shift.

The dread would begin every Sunday as I drove to work at the Dilly Dairy. And when I pulled into the parking lot and saw his car, I nearly fainted with terror. Langfield was a full-speed-ahead Naval Academy guy, and his mission every Sunday was to get his platoon of shit-birds wired and ready to take back Omaha Beach. He would get out of his Benz, Wall Street Journal folded smartly under his arm, Rolex flashing in the sun, and assume his position at the door to let us in: ramrod straight, head like a pink bowling ball, prison-issue glasses, every inch of clothes and self perfectly polished, pressed and creased. He would offer a curt, almost-pleasant “good morning” and open the door, and the sweat circles under my arm would start their march for the day.

Langfield never raised his voice, but his tone could peel paint and make the flecks cower. His delivery was pleasant, but extremely cold. Withering cold. I worked register, and just hearing him standing behind me saying, “more FRIES please, thank YOU!” toward the kitchen reduced me to a trembling wreck. A trembling wreck in charge of a cash till. I have no idea how he pulled off such subtle intimidation, but he did, and I wasn’t the only ashen basket case at the end of the day.

The closest I ever got to a full-on reaming came once after the noon rush. I was standing at the register collecting myself, when Red came up to me and said, “DON’T you have some cleaning to do, young MAN?” in that warm-as-permafrost tone of his. Why, yes I did have some cleaning to do, SIR! And so I did, and I subliminally cleaned my room several times a day for a week after that.

Langfield was like a human incarnation of Chinese water torture. One flash of that steely “smile”, one turn of phrase, and the paranoia knocked you to the canvas for a three-count. In retrospect, it seems odd that we would all cower under the gaze of a man who was flush enough to drive a Benz and wear a Rolex, yet was reduced to commanding a shift of degenerate punk teens at a grease-pit called the Dilly Dairy. But that certainly didn’t occur to us at the time.

The restaurant went under years ago, but I still feel my butt-cheeks clench every time I drive by. I’ve heard that they’re going to tear it down and build a bank or something on the spot. Personally, I think they should open a trauma clinic. I’m tempted to learn how to run a bulldozer so I can be the first to have at the destruction. Take THAT, Langfield! BASH!!!

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Image Source: Bridge and Tunnel Club

The first summer-feeling weekend of the year had arrived, and seemingly all of Brooklyn was out soaking it in. The lawns of Prospect Park were filled with picnickers, flying Frisbees and sun worshipers, and the paths of the Botanical Gardens were mobbed with promenaders spilling out to the farmers market on Grand Army Plaza. It was a glorious weekend to be alive in any corner of the borough.

On that Sunday, as always, the line outside Tom’s Restaurant snaked around the corner. The owner, as always, walked the line, handing out cookies and greeting his customers-to-be.

“My friends!” he said to Ray and Clem. “Thank you so much for coming on this beeuteeful day!” He handed them both cookies, clasped their hands and forearms and moved along the line. Ray gnawed off a cookie in one bite, adjusted his shades against the blinding sun and pointed up to the sign above the window.

“This isn’t it,” Ray said. “You know that, right?” He stood back a little, lit an American Spirit and waited for Clem to ask what he meant.

“What do you mean?” Clem asked.

“This isn’t the Tom’s Diner from the Suzanne Vega song,” Ray said. “Most people think it is, but nope. I know a guy knows someone that used to do publicity for her, and he got the real story. Her Tom’s Diner is the one on Broadway in Morningside Heights, by Columbia.”

Ray actually read that in an article somewhere, but close enough. Finally seated, he ordered a Chocolate Egg Cream and Clem ordered a Cherry Lime Rickey, both of which were the best in the world.

“Oh yeah, I know that one!” Clem said. “They used the exterior for the café on Seinfeld!

Ray was slightly taken aback at having his command of the conversation breached, but he handled it deftly by changing the subject.

“Oh, have you seen the ‘Hipster Trap’ poster?” he said. “It was on Laughing Squid, I think. Hilarious. It’s a bear trap, with a PBR, a pair of Ray-Bans and a pack of American Spirits. Friggin’ riot.”

“That’s a scream,” Clem said. “Tools of the trade for tools, right?”

“Damn straight,” Ray said. “Buncha wankers. ‘Oh, look at me! I’m ever so hip and ironic!’”

“’Yeah, look at my seventy-five-dollar Pabst tee!’” Clem said. “It looks original!”

“Damn, that reminds me: we’re out of beer!” Ray said. “Let’s pick up some Brooklyn. And some PBRs, in case we score!”

They sippedd their drinks, ordered BLTs, got beer and smokes at the bodega and headed back out into a beautiful Sunday.

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Image Source: Brian Ulrich

The autopsy reports never made it into the paper, so nobody knew exactly how a 5 ½ ft. tall, insanely heavy bucket of KFC came to rest on a weed-strewn sidewalk far from its sign pole. But since there weren’t any jobs in or under the bucket, nobody cared much, either. It was a curiosity for a while; something to speculate about while walking quickly to somewhere else. After a while it became a non-sequitur part of the landscape: Pop-art without the art, or the pop.

For Judd and Sonia, it was a place to make out on their way to or from drinking until her parents got home from work. And on the Valentine’s Day of their junior year, it became the spot where they officially became a couple.

Judd was a nervous wreck all day as he held the promise ring he swiped from Spencer’s in his sweaty palm. He knew everything would go well, but he just wanted to get the romance out of the way so they could get back to messing around, as a for-real couple. He practiced his lines internally all day during class. Finally school let out.

Judd and Sonia met up and started along the path to her house. When they got to the bucket, he pulled them over.

“Um…uh, Sonia?” Judd said. “Uh…there’s something I’ve wa..wanted to ask you.”

Sonia gasped, feeling the air rush out of her stomach. Judd got down on his right knee and pulled out the ring.

“I was wondering if…if you’d….y’know…go out with m-me?” Judd said, sliding the ring on with his shaking, boiling hand.

“Of course!” Sonia said. She pulled Judd up off the sidewalk, shoved him against the old rotating chicken bucket and planted a kiss on her new man that shook rust flakes off the lid. After she let Judd surface for air, Sonia gave Judd her class ring, which he put on his necklace. He then pulled out a slightly melted Hershey’s Kiss and gave it to his new girl. Formalities out of the way, they continued to her house, stopping off at Durgin’s Market first to swipe a few 40s.

Romantic? Not really. But romance is what you make of it, and the KFC bucket proved to be just romantic enough. It was not in the city plan, and it wasn’t around long enough to be a permanent installment. But for a few weeks one winter, a fallen piece of fast food advertising became a landmark along the path to young love.

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Image Source: MSNBC

So, are you all happy now? I saw my shadow! Wheeee, six more weeks of winter! Like you couldn’t have figured that out already. It’s the BEGINNING OF FEBRUARY! Do you honestly think that had I NOT seen my shadow the world would have shifted instantly to summer, like flipping channels? Really? You all must be dumber than I already think, and trust me, that’s saying a LOT.

And believe me when I say that I’m not pooh-poohing fun and games and tradition and all, no matter
how dumb-ass it all gets. I still get a bang out of all that stuff too. But come on. I mean, I’m sleeping
peacefully in my nice, warm, winter hidey-hole, and then I’m yanked out by some daft, elderly wanker in a top hat and held up in front of a mob of screaming kids and noise and flashy things. That shit is scary! You know that feeling of being yanked out of sleep by a phone call or a knock at the door? Well, imagine going from that to being carted onto a stage and expected to tap dance for the world! Try it sometime! You think I enJOY that action? I do not! Hell, I almost gave old top hat a nice little shower today! And I wouldn’t have been one bit sorry if I had…

Look, all I’m saying is …hey, can I get another Guinness? This is on your expense account, right? Anyway, all I’m saying is that I ain’t no freak show. I mean, I’m just Phil. Don’t even call me Punxsutawney, okay? I hate that. Like I want to be associated with this nowheresville. Hanging a damn circus name on me doesn’t help anything. Okay? So don’t. I’m glad you had your fun, and now you can take your little recorders and your little notepads and just piss off for another year, okay? Seriously, I’m done. No I’m NOT trying to be a crank, but I think you’ve gotten what you need for the year, right? So I’m done! Good night, sleep tight and kiss my ass, too…


Photo Source: Lisette Model

I had never seen Tom so worked up, an’ if you’ve ever spent any time around him, you’d know that that’s saying a lot. He’s the kind got something to say about everything from the sun rising to the sun setting, an’ once he starts, you can forget about getting a word in edgewise, if you had planned to do so. Lot of people walking by see the little guy getting all worked up making a point, pointing and flailing, they think he oughta be sent down to Bellevue. But those of us who know Tom know that that’s just how he is. He ain’t got a hurtful bone in him. He’s just got strong opinions, an’ he ain’t afraid to speak ‘em, is all.

It was one of them terrific cold mornings, the kind where the wind come howling across 44th an’ makes lighting a smoke or even holding on to a cup of coffee murder. I had started selling papers to the morning commuters heading to an’ fro Grand Central when Tom come strolling up Lexington Ave. Just seeing him I could tell that he had probably walked the 40-odd blocks from one of his favorite flop dives on the Bowery, an’ he was hot as a pistol.

For the obvious reasons, we call him “Tiny Tom.” On a good day he comes up to my hip. But what he don’t have in size he makes up for in heart an’ Moxie. I heard Tiny from across 44th. “can’tbelieveitcan’tbelieveitcan’tbeLIEVEitCAN’TBELIEVEIT!” he kept muttering, flailing his arms an’ almost jumping every few steps. He almost slipped on a patch of ice on one of his little leaps, in fact. I knew I was in for a little what-for as soon as Tiny got across the street, an’ I wasn’t disappointed.

“You ain’t goin’ beLIEVE what happened at Slim’s!” Tiny yelped as he leaned in on a fire hydrant next to my stand and picked up a Herald Tribune. “The Sub tried to turn the joint into a cabaret lounge!”

Now, like I said about Tiny, he ain’t got a hurtful bone in him. He’ll talk to anyone anytime, an’ he likes finding out what the other guy knows. In fact, one of the reasons he likes Slim’s so much is the clientele. It’s on the Bowery, so they get all kinds’a people what would be called bums an’ couldn’t get in a lot of places in other parts of town. Negroes, Chinese, guys that dress up like dames…Slim’s got ‘em all, an’ Tiny will talk ‘em all up. Like I said, Tiny may look like he’s got a screw loose, but if you know him, you know him, an’ you know he likes everything an’ everyone an’ wouldn’t hurt a flea.

What Tiny DON’T like is having things change so much so’s he’s caught off guard. When that happens, an’ esPECIALLY when it disrupts his routine at the bar, if you catch my meaning, he ain’t very happy. Slim is there most nights, but sometimes he takes a night off to dry out. On those nights The Sub – he’s Slim’s cousin, in case you don’t know – runs the joint, an’ The Sub has some crazy ideas.

“So I’m sittin’ there at the bar,” Tiny went on as the morning rush started to pick up. “The Sub is pourin’ drinks an’ slingin’ hash, an’ I’m talkin’ up The Tudor, an’ we’re all havin’ a grand time. An’ you know what that crazy son of a buck Sub does next?!?”

“Go on,” I says.

“You ain’t goin’ beLIEVE what that crazy Sub does next. He steps outside, an’ before we know what’s goin’ on he an’ another fella are rolling in a piano!”

“A piano?!?” I ask.

“A piano!” Tiny says. “All of us regulars, we’re sittin’ at the bar an’ our jaws drop. An’ The Sub, he goes ‘Surprise! I thought the joint could use a little livening!’ An’ I’m thinkin’ to myself, ‘livening?!? THIS place needs livening?!?’ An’, as if on cue, y’know Freddy, guy dolls himself up and calls himself Frieda? Well, he’s there, an’ he gets up an’ yells ‘Oh, what a GRAND idea!’ An’ he sets himself down at the piano, an’ he starts singin’ an’ playin’ them old Tin Pan Alley songs like ‘Down by the Old Mill Stream’ an’ ‘Swanee!’”

The sun was fully up, an’ foot traffic was getting heavier, an’ Tiny was on a roll. “An’ that piano didn’t do too damn much ‘livening’ in the joint, since Frieda was the only one listenin’ to it, an’ he was PLAYin’ it! I managed to hold on for about an hour, an’ then I couldn’t take it no more an’ I left an’ went o’er to McGirk’s. Imagine that! ‘Livening!’ An’ you know me. I really like Slim’s. It’s a good, honest, respectable joint, an’ you get all kinds here. People is people, an’ I like people a lot.” Tiny paused for the first time, just for a moment. “But I don’t want alla THEM kinds – the kinds that make all that racket ‘livening’ up the joint!”

Tiny stayed around ‘till I was done selling my papers, an’ then he and I went our separate ways. I went down to get a drink on Bleecker later, an’ passed by Slim’s on the way. Slim was back at the bar, an’ so was Tiny. An’ the piano was on the sidewalk collecting snow an’ garbage.