i paid little attention when i first saw him. as winter 1985–86 wound down, i’d driven past him once or twice. it wasn’t until springtime did i cross paths with him, literally. it was april and scrap bar was about to open. the changing season was offering sunny days and this was one of them. he looked a little older than middle-age as he crossed in front of me as i walked north on sullivan street in the direction of washington square park. he shuffled slowly in a faded bathrobe and house slippers, moving from my right toward the the curb on the left, about halfway up the block from bleecker street. as i approached, his gaze was downward. i was past him a second later. nothing to see. crazy old guy. yup.
a few days earlier, allen ginsberg appeared through the opened-basement door of the bar while i was sitting on the tile floor, spray-painting six-foot florescent light tubes and excitedly told me the history of the space we were opening. “this was the original village gaslight,” he said, but that’s another story (you can look it up. 116 macdougal street). i can still see the krylon-day-glo-cerise spray-paint marks left on the tile from that day. i mention this to underscore the casualness of greenwich village history as it existed, but had yet to understand the importance of the “bathrobed” one.
a day or so later, over lunch with a bunch of the people involved in opening the bar, i mentioned crossing paths with him and learned that it was vincent “the chin” gigante and that he was an old wiseguy who was out of his head and wandered around the neighborhood like that. i let it go. after all, we were opening a bar where the village gaslight once stood.
over the next few months, the bar opened and was quickly gaining a following. seeing “the bathrobed-one” was fairly commonplace and one time our eyes met for a fraction of a second, but this meant nothing.
then, the guy from little italy appeared – a cologne scented harbinger of things to come. he was a round-faced, big eyed individual in a black tailored sport jacket and slacks, white shirt, with dark hair, combed and parted close to the scalp and groomed to the shiniest of fingernails. he was clear-voiced and aggressive in a menacingly-friendly way. he introduced himself (a name i forget) and said he was from little italy. he made a point of telling me this and proceeded to explain what would be happening starting next week. this involved giving him money without the word being said. it was all very simple. like the alphabet. “this-is-how-it’s-gonna-be…,” or “a-b-c-d-e-f-g…”
i knew gangsters. i grew up around them, but that’s another story.
he gently pushed me around verbally, before reaching across and pressing two fingers to my chest, maybe implying, “these are just my fingers,” with a starkness of veiled threat; extortion, up-front and personal without mentioning it in words is an art. while this was happening, i thought, “he looks younger than me. i’m thirty-three. he’s, like, maybe twenty-nine.” this line of thinking kept me out of the moment. i had no business in that moment. i regarded him calmly, my brain now asking, “what the fuck do i do with this,” while playing the “respect” game. (i learned the respect game participating in “sit-downs” when i managed a discotheque in the 1970s that was crawling with wise-guys and their sons and daughters from little italy, brooklyn, queens and new jersey.) i remained non-committal regarding his demand, telling him that i could not make that decision without talking to my partners and hinted that we might “know someone,” too.
by the way; every italian, “knows someone,” and if you involve the wiseguy you know, you end up paying two wiseguys instead of one.
that’s how it works, but that’s another story from another lesson about other gangsters.
the “cologned and polished-one” said, “i’ll be back in a week,” and firmly slapped my shoulder saying, “think about what i said,” adding a quick pinch to the back of my neck with his thumb and forefinger. he had a degree in casual intimidation. most extortionists do.
i brought this incident up to my partners. we discussed it and resolved that there was nothing that could be done until he came back the next week, adding this terrific anxiety to the current mix of cocaine, weed, vodka and campari that was my daily diet. wow. what a rush.
he returned three days earlier than expected. i didn’t know what to think. it was early evening. he didn’t have that crisp, coiffed-and-polished look to him like the first time. he looked furious, scared or both. i was afraid he was going to start wailing on me, but asked if we could have a talk. seated at a booth across from the bar, he began, “listen,” he said, “i didn’t know.” i was speechless. he was stumbling over his words. i remember phrases like, “i meant no disrespect,” and “why didn’t you say something,” and “i have to go now,” then he quickly rose, bowed his head as in nodding goodbye and left. i sat, thoroughly confused and eventually, relieved. i never saw him again.
with that weight off the bar’s shoulders, life went on, though in my mind, i wondered about that day. on closer examination in my walks around the neighborhood, i noticed this storefront on sullivan street;
not until a few years later, when “the teflon don,” john gotti, was arrested and going to trial, would i learn that this was, “the triangle club,” an italian social club where members of organized crime frequented and stories began to surface about the next head of the new york crime syndicate, this guy —
— and that he successfully masqueraded as insane for a few decades.
it would later come to light that, some years earlier, he became the head of the Genovese crime family. FBI surveillance photos like this belied the popular narrative that “he was just a retired boxer who took one-too-many-to-the-head,” and was actually one of the most powerful mobsters in new york.
i stopped wondering if the “bathrobed-one” stopped the “cologned-and-polished one,” after learning that the only thing that separated scrap bar from the triangle club was six feet of cyclone fence. you see, scrap bar and the triangle club shared the same back yard, and for years, no one noticed.
we were neighbors.
…and he was being a good neighbor. right?
it’s the best answer i could come up with regarding that guy and our problem.
picking through the remaining whoozits and whatzits from a box of memories, i came across the ring.
the first time he walked into scrap bar in late 1986, he was wearing a huge scimitar, sheathed and belted at the waist. up, by the entrance, he drew it out and commenced threatening everyone in the place with it. because the ceiling was so low (six and a half feet at this point), he had to hold it out in front and not up, cutting the room in half before him, alarming everyone in the already crowded bar. Tarzan announced, “i come to keeel everybody.”
he was owner/partner in a middle-eastern cafe down the block, closer to bleecker street, on the same side as my place. he was arab-turkish or turkish-arab?—?it wasn’t an issue then. the soviet union was still the mortal enemy. it was around the time that ronald reagan said, “we start bombing in five minutes.” you can look it up.
he was pretty drunk, but in good spirits and i felt reasonably confident i wasn’t going to get killed, but was concerned with what an accidental swing of the sword could cause. i slowed him down, fed him beers and talked about business on the street while reminding him that, “if you kill everybody, i’d go out of business and then we couldn’t have these nice talks.” he sulked and became sadly apologetic. “ok, i keel nobody today,” he said. “thank you,” i replied.
for a few months, Tarzan became a fixture in the bar, hoping to catch the attention of a young woman, or outright propositioning them, depending on how drunk he was.
the ninth precinct considered scrap bar a haven for drug-dealing and prostitution. i was told this by the neighborhood beat-cop who helped screw our corrugated-tin ceiling into place. his name was officer lou and he did this while in full uniform. the police and their relationship to its neighbors was a lot different then. he’s also the one who told me we were on the “list.” when i asked him what to do about it, he said, “nothing. everyone else is on the list, too.”
some months later, Tarzan made live TV news when it was reported he was holding his wife hostage in the apartment above his store, after emptying six chambers of a handgun into the sky, (something fairly common in the middle-east), forcing a police standoff that would close macdougal street for hours. i would learn about this from greg, my friend who was tending bar that day, when he called to tell me about it while i watched it on the news. pretty surreal. the police instructed him to close and lock the bar doors and stay inside. greg worked a long shift that day.
around midnight, officer lou acted as negotiator and calmed Tarzan down with a chicken salad sandwich. he released his wife, who we found out volunteered to be his hostage, explaining it was all a cultural misunderstanding and didn’t want the police to storm the place and get anyone killed.
a week or so later, Tarzan returned to Scrap Bar and apologized. as a neighboring business, he probably did this with all of the places he inconvenienced. he seemed sad. for no reason i can imagine, he handed me a ring and insisted that i accept it as a token of apology and friendship.
i would never see him again.
a couple of months later, word would come that he was murdered on a street corner in the lower-east side.
i was told that he never saw it coming. he was executed gangland-style with a bullet to the head.
“tarzan became a kennedy,” was all i could say.
in the end, it’s all doo-wop.
if the book “please kill me, The Uncensored Oral History of Punk,” by Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain holds sway regarding the history of the punk (whatever it was), then the last chapter, which had a story chronicling the seeming “end,” rhetorically speaking, was played out in scrap bar.
it might have played out in a dozen other places too, but i was only here for this one.
i read the book when it first came out and do not recall what perception, if any, the author’s interview was meant to exhibit and when i spoke to legs macneil a few years later about it, he acknowledged he wasn’t there and had no context to add. by then, it was 2009 and he’d be looking for “the green room” in goodbye blue monday.
talk about a disconnect….”you’re standing in it,” was my reply.
anyway, this is my story about that story.
it involved an incident between dee-dee ramone and johnny thunders; had the drama and desperation you’d expect when junkies collide and could only be described using words like “cartoon-violence-in-hazed-slow-motion.”
i know this because i was there, in-between them.
the punk-glow had already gone out on the musical candle some years back, replaced with metal-big-hair-glam-stripper-guns and roses-rock and they were all in scrap bar whenever they were in town.
it was their time to strut. sebastian bach vs. axl rose was what mattered now.
the same thing would happen a few years later when nirvana hit.
imagine watching the nirvana, “teen spirit” video standing next to a guy with big black hair bushing-out from a flat-brimmed leather hat, decked in black shirt, pants and studded MC jacket, silver and chrome chains, black snakeskin boots and armloads of black gasket rings up his wrist, who at the video’s conclusion, turns and says, “that’s not gonna last.”
i busted out laughing, “whaaat?….say goodbye, guy! it’s over for you. you’re done. maybe it’s time to go country.”
we’ve been witnessing this since….., well for me, doo wop, elvis and the beatles.
it happens to almost everybody. ask david lee roth or warrant.
of course, some bands and performers transcend “their time” and remain vital, whether by reinvention or just being who they are; dylan, lennon, iggy, bowie, david byrne, patti smith, debbie harry, joey ramone (who felt the heat of anonymity, but got past it),
when a word like, “legend,” is thrown around, not everyone makes the cut.
over the years at scrap bar, i had gotten to know johnny thunders. a sweetheart with a truckload of demons all wearing “heroin” union-labels. i would continually watch him kick, only to go back.
because of this, whenever he’d ask to play an acoustic set here, i’d tell him, “i’d love you to, but you’re gonna nod halfway through the second song,” and he’d tell me, “no, i’m good now…” and so on, until one day, i said, “ok, we’ll set you at the front corner of the bar tomorrow night, eleven o’clock,” and he showed-up, acoustic guitar in hand. we had a slightly-full house because word got out about johnny’s set.
he appeared from the office hall at the bar’s back, carrying his guitar, walked to the front of the bar, sat down and began to play.
he lasted through the first song. that was it. heather, a tall, beautiful redhead who worked as our female security/bouncer, kicked dope seven years earlier and was one of johnny’s best friends, helped him down from the bartop and shuttled him to a bench-corner up front, put his guitar in the office and let him nod off.
i blamed myself for letting him use the office to get ready.
that was that.
regarding dee dee; we knew each other, but he always seemed “otherwise-engaged,” whether too high, uncomfortably in search of drugs, money or both.
the night of the junkie showdown, the bar was crowded.
johnny and i were walking toward the back. it may have been during one of his pleas to perform or an apology following the time explained earlier. i don’t remember.
i bought him a beer, knowing he was already buzzed on the other shit, but what the hell?
at the end of the bar, in an area a few feet before the restrooms and videogames on the right, stood dee dee, also heavily-pinned.
as johnny moved toward him, he raised his beer mug. i wondered if he was trying to keep it above the crowd or was going to spill it on dee dee. i was not privy to their drama, so if they were at odds, it was news to me.
what unfolded happened in slow motion, not because of “the perception of violence,” that makes it seem that way, but because it was two stoned-junkies about to go at it. johnny’s plan, i think, was to bust the beer mug on dee dee’s head, but he failed horribly. i got in between them, but johnny’s outstretched arm reached its mark, with the beer mug meeting the left side of dee dee’s head, above the temple and ear. this wasn’t a crash. it was a kiss.
upon contact, like a 45 rpm on 33, heard a long, slow-motion “ouwwww” come from dee dee, as he stepped/fell-back, the weed-smoking bikers in the back moved up to buffer him in the event he was going to hit the ground. johnny tried to move toward him, but i moved him away asking, “what the fuck is this?” and continued moving him toward the front of the bar.
the actual event was over in a matter of seconds. the drama following….a while longer with dee dee holding the side of his head keeping the “owwwww,” going.
friends and fans gathered around to be part of the moment.
johnny stayed up front and after a few minutes, he left.
i guess testosterone trumped heroin that night.
returning to the back, i looked in on dee dee.
he still had his left hand covering that side of his head. i walked to the nearest bartender and said, “quick. give me fifty dollars from the register,” and returned.
“you ok?” i asked.
“my head….my head,” in a pained, dope slur.
“listen, he’s gone and i’m sure you don’t want the cops in on this,” casually handing him the folded cash into his other hand, i said, “take this and do yourself a favor.”
i looked at his head where his “injury” was. there wasn’t even a bump. i don’t think johnny’s assault could have bruised a grape, but that’s just my opinion.
for the following two or three weeks, i would be visited by dee dee, complaining of complications from his injury.
each of these visits required another fifty dollars in “medical” fees.
johnny returned and promised never to do what he did again.
a while later, johnny got clean, or at least onto a methadone program, and came to scrap bar to say goodbye. he was moving to new orleans.
he looked happy and full of the kind of hope that precipitates a new adventure.
it’d be the last time any of us would see him.
he’d be dead a very short time after moving there and from what everyone heard back then, his last hours on earth were not good ones.
dee dee would eventually get clean, too and stay that way for a while, but would OD about a year or so after joey ramone’s death from cancer,
but you already know that.
about a year into scrap bar’s life, they arrived.
tall, handsome, high-cheeked, exact-twin brothers with huge manes of black, beaded hair that fell from their shoulders to the small of their backs. they were african-american but i remember one of them telling me they were also part american-indian. i said ok.
they came to new york as a two-piece pop/dance-band that, until this point, were working the times-square sex circuit; tim was the “fluffer” and dave was the “feature” in sex-on-stage shows that, even now, are shrouded in pre-giuliani-regime legend.
they didn’t drink or take drugs and were driven to be the stars they believed they can be. they had clear, pleasant, high-pitched kentucky drawls when they spoke and a singular sense of fashion; e.g.- their bodies greased, head-to-toe, wearing nothing but loincloths and sneakers, walking along macdougal street on a summer day-fashion, for instance.
or sensible rock/dance gods as seen in the background of this pic from a scrap bar/MTV shoot. they were obviously not the subject;
MTV’s Kevin Seal and Zodiac Mindwarp in the foreground. Tim and Dave behind them.
they came for the porter/maintenance position available at scrap bar and they got it.
the meticulousness of their appearance (when clothed) was translated in the way they took after the bar. they were highly organized and incredibly neat. it was an easy gig. scrap bar had a commercial-tile and cement floor, polyurethaned-granite foundation walls, found-metal, welded-furniture and a crane-boom bar-frame with half-inch wire-glass on top and a corrugated tin ceiling. you could literally hose the place down if you wanted to, but they used mops, sponges, bleach and windex.
their arrival on the music scene had coincided with that of Milli-Vanilli and a west german recording-industry scandal that branded them as frauds. i don’t know if or how much this impacted the jones twins, but i’m sure it didn’t help.
they stopped working the sex shows and also stopped paying rent on their apartment. their earnings were spent on career-related items — keyboards, synthesizers, recording devices, costumes and dance classes. this became evident when they asked if they could sleep, live and practice in the bar. they reasoned that their YMCA memberships offered everything else they would need. besides, this would be a temporary situation.
that’s when “the wall” came into play.
in the above photo, to the right of the recessed bench in the center of the picture, is a door. in the middle, there’s a gray-steel pressbar that opens it. behind it is a small hallway, and to the right, another door that leads to a 4′ x 12′ room. it was the old meter and electrical room. now it was now theirs. you know, a temporary situation.
almost three years later, dave, the more assertive of the brothers, announced that he was going to germany. he secured a meeting with a music producer.
now, almost 30 years later, i can’t help but wonder if it was the same producer who milli vanilli got involved with, but it’s academic at this point.
tim remained at scrap bar working and living in “the wall,” until the call came to join his brother in germany. on the answering machine message that dave left, he said that he got a record deal. as the message went on, the anger and frustration of these years came out, announcing, “victory over my oppressors” and used our name in the same sentence with the nazis and other murderers. the only way i could look at this was, it’s what happens when “a temporary situation” spills into years.
the “room behind the wall,” became a prison, whorehouse (oh yes!) and everything else he hated about new york, his employers and probably this country.
black AND openly gay in the ‘80’s? whoa….,
tim maintained his pleasant demeanor till the end, when the airline ticket arrived. the day he left, we wished him well and gave him a goodbye envelope. he thanked us and apologized for his brother’s outburst(we played him the tape). a few days later, we went into the room behind the wall. it was horribly infested with what seemed to be fleas or some other kind of “dine on your blood,” insects and had to immediately bomb the hell out of the place, throw everything into plastic bags and call the exterminator to fog the entire bar, just to be safe.
in preparing this story, i spoke to john favorite, an artist and friend who used to work security for me and became friendly with them. he told me that much of their music was composed on a small keyboard/synthesizer with a four or eight-track recorder that they mixed themselves and was popular in the NYC underground/gay/after-hours clubs. they produced a poster, shot at Governor’s Island, with them standing atop “Castle Williams,” glistening in their loincloths at an old historic military outpost in new york harbor that was selling well in the christopher street novelty stores of the day. i say “fabled,” because they gave me one. it was nothing short of amazing, as were they.
castle williams on governor’s island, facing lower manhattan
john told me that tim and dave had gotten “thisclose,” but couldn’t get a US record deal or a financial situation that would extricate them from the room in “the wall.” he also related a story they told him about when they were living in central park, and sleeping beside a NYC sidewalk heat exhaust grate and had to repel a dawn robbery-attack. that’s when i found out they carried knives and were not to be taken lightly.
well, they were gone. it wasn’t until then, that i realized they were hardly as entertaining to us as we probably were to them. here’s an example;
every couple of months in the first year or two of business, there were spontaneous painting parties. some planned, some not-so-planned. one night, both myself and John Favorite had gotten blotter acid. he had something like five or ten hits, i had gotten ten or twenty. it didn’t matter. we ate a bunch before last call at 3:45am. this meant we’d be coming up by the time we had everyone out the door and the room prepped to paint. we decided we’d start at the back, where the bathrooms were, and work our way to the front. john had picked up a power painter and this was going to be the first time we used something like this here. we figured we’d be finished in two?—?three hours at the most. as we started, the acid was kicking-in and of course, this meant we were required to eat more of the blotters, in keeping with my drug-taking lessons having come from hunter s. thompson. after that, it didn’t matter anymore. i don’t know how much acid we both ate, but all of it was gone. we were trapped in the bathrooms; blithering acid-laughter, switching off paint-gun for paintbrush, howling uncontrollably until we heard tim and dave begin cleaning the bar area. time ceased. painting ceased. the two scrap bar bathrooms sure were bright! all i remember is that when they offered us “chips and dip,” which were placed neatly in the bar, we didn’t eat any but we carried that phrase for the next 12 hours, meaning we were certifiable maniacs when the bar opened at noon the next day, up until that evening when we were finally thrown out, still laughing.
the jones clones walked out from the room behind the wall some one-thousand-times-plus, into after-hour parties with the biggest names in music at the time, during a period of drug and alcohol abuse in a bar that had a reputation for excesses. oh, yes. even now, when i speak to people who frequented scrap bar, they invariably had periods of hazy to no-memory of episodes there. it was a blackout bar of high incidence.
well, tim and dave were gone and so were their memories of whatever madness they might have witnessed. one other thing; they never openly judged anyone.
i always thought that was pretty classy. that’s all i’m going to say about that.
around eight months after tim boarded his flight to germany, my partner and i were sitting in the office in back of the bar. there was a phone call from someone in the US state department. my partner pressed the “speaker” button on the phone base. the official notified us that tim and dave jones had drown in the tiber river outside of rome. the story he told us was that they were working as models in a fashion shoot that was on a narrow walkway or platform suspended over the river. he mentioned that there might have been people watching who were racist, anti-gay or both, that prompted an episode that caused one of the brothers to fall from the platform into the river.
“some italians are pretty hateful to homosexuals,” he said, then went on, “according to witnesses, it was tim who fell in first. he couldn’t swim, panicked and screamed, calling out for his brother, who immediately dove in after him. apparently the weight of their hairpieces when wet dragged both men under, drowning them.”
it sounded almost funny. like, horrible-funny, but funny nonetheless.
“why did you contact us?”
“according to information supplied on their passports and at customs, you were their last employers and this was the contact number in case of emergency. apparently, they have no family. we were wondering if you would claim the bodies. you’re not required to, but we’re required to ask.”
there was silence all around.
“we wouldn’t know what to do with them.”
“i understand,” said the official.
a week later, there was a story in, “the national star” or, “the enquirer,” that someone brought into the bar with a photo of madonna, weeping over the death of her friends, tim and dave jones. “they used to take dance classes together when she was starting out,” the story said.
the weeping madonna photo may have been a stock photo. who knows?
i thought, maybe she claimed their bodies and gave them a final resting place. by now, she was a big star.
i’ve been looking for that story ever since “google.”
that and the poster.
at last year’s scrap bar reunion in 2014 i saw fran, an old friend and someone who may have been joey ramone’s girlfriend back in the day. i was never sure.
it was…25 years since we saw each other?……at least.
the reunion was fun and at one point, she recounted something that happened in late 1987/early ‘88, between joey and me at around five-thirty in the morning at a long-running after-hours called, “save the robots,” located around avenue B and second street.
it operated as an “art and performance gallery,” by day and an after hours at night, doling out vodka from canada dry ginger-ale bottles and canned beer.
to put it simply, we had words and i told him to fuck off and walked away.
he grabbed me by the neck and began choking me.
i spun around and saw his chin almost a foot above me and hit it.
he is a tall man. it was all chin. simple.
immediately unconscious, he fell flat on his back, his head dully hitting the floor.
i don’t know how drunk he might have been, but i was sober because of an alcohol-poisoned stomach-lining.
drinking would land me in the hospital.
there was sand?—?“Robots,” had a beach motif at this time, with copious amounts of beach sand, three to six inches in spots?—?that cushioned the fall, but no one could rouse him. i was alarmed. a group of people had to pick him up and carry him out.
i held my breath until the next night at the bar when i got word he was ok.
there’s a lot more to the story and i’m writing it somewhere else.
that night was a small part of a larger story.
as is this;
i need to move back in order to move forward, so please bear with me;
scrap bar opened on april 19th, 1986.
in june, i think, i got a phone call from my friend mary, manager of electric lady studios on eighth street.
she was one of my daytime customers at the be bop cafe on 8th street and macdougal, a half-block from the studio.
she came in for lunch regularly and ate at the bar. we became friends.
when i moved to the night shift, she moved with me and when i opened scrap bar, i made sure she knew about it.
anyway, she called me around three in the afternoon and asked me how i felt about having a record-release party.
“when?” i asked.
“in about two hours,” was her reply.
“yes. the ramones. you heard of them, right?” she mocked. “word’ll get out fast,” she added.
“what do i have to do?”
“i don’t know. buy pizza. they like pizza. beer and pizza,” she said.
it was june, but it was hot as july?—?steaming.
among the things scrap bar didn’t yet was air-conditioning.
we did, however, have a really big fan, the kind found in sweatshops.
it had metal blades with a 24-inch-wingspan, encased in steel-wire housing where you can lose fingers.
you can almost reach your entire hand through the fan-housing. scary.
it was mounted atop a six-foot, stainless-steel pole on a cast-iron base.
when switched-on, it sounded like an airplane was preparing for takeoff in the bar.
the record release party was scheduled for five pm.
streams of skinny, tattooed, pasty-skinned kids in black jeans, crossed the rubicon that was fifth avenue and milled in front of this basement space in the west village with the day-glo scrap-metal sculpture and no name, which brought in even more people.
it was a curiously bright and sunny, east-village-sight in the heart of the west village.
around six, members of the band walked in, one of them brandishing the newly-completed, “animal boy” album on cassette tape.
by seven, the place was jam-packed with strains of, “bonzo goes to bittburg,” running through it, the album on auto reverse and the only music that night.
the big, humming fan up front moved sweat and cigarette smoke through the room and out the opened-back door.
boxes and boxes of pizza from “ben by frank’s,” up on the corner of west 3rd street, were being delivered and devoured on aluminum slaughterhouse slabs that served as tables.
suddenly, everything stopped.
the room stood dark and silent, except at the front and rear doorways where the days’ light continued to stream and ongoing conversations continued.
then, it became apparent there was a problem.
all at once, people mobilized; some running out to get candles, others to grab a boombox and batteries.
tap beer doesn’t need electricity to flow, so we were fine.
it was already a hundred-twenty degrees inside. what difference were candles going to make, anyway?
after a few minutes, with tall, glass religious candles on the bar and tables, hundred-fifty-plus people resumed talking and a minute later, the animal boy cassette came back to life on the boom box.
the crowd roared.
the building’s super came to the door and said it was a “house fuse”, an old-style fuse about the size of a can of red bull and headed out to get one, but it didn’t matter anymore?—?the party was ON and so was scrap bar.
this was almost a year before MTV “discovered” us.
i always tried to show deference to the bands and musicians, but as was happening to a lot of punks at this time, age and uncertainty was rearing-up in a lot of drug and alcohol-abused bodies and minds. these guys were my age and i knew what was happening to ME.
change was, among other things.
elsewhere, i’ll dissect the last pages of legs mcneil’s “please kill me,” and the story of the fight that occurred between dee dee ramone and johnny thunders. i was literally in the middle of that.
but i digress….
for months, joey stopped coming to scrap bar.
in the spring of ‘88, Limelight’s Sunday “Rock’n’Roll Church” featured Joey Ramone’s Mother’s Day Show, starring Joey Ramone’s Mom.
i can’t recall who led me to the area at stage left, (maybe it was Fran again?), but i found myself in a small area with Joey, his mother Charlotte and a small crowd of friends, common to both of us.
i thought i had been set-up and maybe i was, but with two grown men (pretty-much) and one mom, we behaved after a few choppy words and a threat from his mom who pick-up on us, immediately.
“behave, you two,” she ordered and we did.
i introduced myself and wished her a happy mother’s day and wished them luck with the show.
joey and i had let it go. it felt good. it felt right.
a year later, some time in 1989, scrap bar got involved in the first Sting-inspired/promoted, “Save the Rain Forest Fundraiser” that got us caught up with a celebrity pool tournament at a chic restaurant/pool-parlor on broadway around 20th street and a concert at a new venue called KAOS that had just opened on the west side, also in the 20’s. i would end up beaten unconscious in front of that place, for any “karma” fans out there. that’s another story as well.
during this time, one of the organizers asked me if i could ask any music people who frequented scrap to help out with the album.
all i did was aim debbie harry at joey or vice/versa and they did something wonderful.
we hung out for an extended period only one more time. it was at his apartment on third avenue. a small group?—?maybe myself and another friend or two went to his place instead of after-hours. our conversation that night involved old music?—?standards, louis jordan, billie, louis armstrong and bing crosby. i remember this because i dialed a crosby maniac i knew and put joey on with him and they had a pleasant conversation. their chief topic may have been joe franklin. they were both friendly with him.
we were cordial. hellos at ritz shows (uptown), acknowledging one another on the street. that sort of thing.
i moved to georgia to build another scrap bar, was gone for two years and when i returned it was over, for the most part.
so was my drinking. my last bottle (stoli) was in scrap bar and yes, that’s another story.
a year or so later, i moved a block and a half from him, but at best, “hello,” was a nod or wave.
i didn’t go out much and was starting a new warehouse business, first in hoboken, NJ, then bushwick, brooklyn.
on april 15th, 2001 i was driving in manhattan’s upper east side when i heard of his passing.
i do not know why, but i began to cry, which is fine, but was unable to stop for hours.
i cancelled the appointment i had and just drove; through to brooklyn, then across the verrazano bridge to staten island and still, i could not stop crying, so i just kept on driving. i don’t know.
maybe mortality punched me in the head that day and joey delivered it. maybe now, we’re even.
it took about fourteen years to say it….or is it 29?
me and scrap bar thank you.
a couple of days ago, i observed one of those “anniversaries.”
you know, the “life-altering” ones. i’ve had a few.
they caused things like scrap bar and goodbye blue monday to happen.
i’m writing a book about it.
it was two years ago in the holding cell behind the brooklyn criminal courts building, my head resting on the black wool cap i’m wearing right now, when i had the detroit dream that propelled me from New York, the town of my birth, to the great upper-midwest and this moment.
granted, it took a few months to get out of town, what with court appearances and court-appointed work details in maria hernandez park, but in my heart and mind, i was gone while awaiting the dawn, a lawyer and arraignment that morning.
in that dream, i was told to move to detroit, write a book and make pasta fagioli.
i have done and am doing these things.
as a matter of fact, just before i sat down to write this, i delivered four portions of “edie’s gourmet spicy-sausage pasta fagioli.”
this isn’t about money or business. it’s about dreams and direction, or at least, that’s what i choose to believe.
but that’s another story.
i’m chock-full of those things. stories.
on this anniversary, i received a text message.
in january, a young woman named kelley contacted me through the website, writing this as a comment posted about the closing of the store. it’s still there;
“Hey, I’m planning to move to Detroit next month and think Goodbye Blue Monday should move with me. Please contact me…..”
i answered her and a series of IM’s went on, with me telling her i was the creator of the goodbye blue monday, and such.
she went on, the gist being…
“when i saw GBM closed, i was unhappy. things are changing way too fast in brooklyn. i don’t like it here anymore and i’ve decided to move to detroit. would you mind if i tried to open a goodbye blue monday there?”
“ha,” i replied, “i’ve been living in detroit for a year and a half and if you want to open a goodbye blue monday here, i’ll help you!”
we exchanged numbers and had a long conversation the following day.
she said her plan was to leave new york at the end of february.
early into this chat, i let her know that i had nothing to invest and was finished with this part of my life.
i think the red-stripe-beer-bottle to the cheekbone, three weeks before the arrest, made that decision for me. that, plus this dream-book-thing.
(a drunk guy i lured away from the counter and possible bartender assault, threw it in my face from five feet away. severe black eye and almost broken cheekbone.)
“hey, kelley,” i said, before signing off, “contact me a week before you leave and let me know if you have room to bring the store’s airplane and sign with you.”
i explained that my friend tito cut down the sign for me and was storing it until i could get it.
she said that she’d make room and she did.
so, on the two-year anniversary, i got this text;
“got the sign. see you tomorrow,” and the next day, there she was.
is there gonna be a goodbye blue monday here in detroit?
i don’t know, but when i met kelley as she got out of her pickup truck, her cat sitting on a high pile of whatever on the passenger seat, i peered at the tarped mountain rising from the back of the truck and thought….”she can do anything.”
i believe this.
and if she opens up a goodbye blue monday here and wants the airplane and sign, i’ll mount it in front of her store.
that universe was the cranium (mine – the one that was shattered on january 22nd, 1962 by a 1953 chevy) that bore it in 1984 and has been whirring, clicking and sizzling ever since.
the store, which hasn’t been mine for some years now, is closing sunday, november 30th and this website will spring back to life as i return to write stuff, sorta-like what’s happening this very moment.
the little junk store that could was mentioned in a story about where to find the next big thing.
that’s what Goodbye Blue Monday was ten years ago, before it sold coffee, beer and had live performance.
but we digress….
OK, Qantas airlines targets a demographic about 13,000 miles away, bit still….
i’ve flown there in one of those big, giant planes that are eight-stories tall (at their highest point) and loved perth and sydney and actually had dinner with “the voice of qantas,” who welcomes you onboard and tells you how wonderful everything’s gonna be.
i would later find out that she’s in the new “mad max” series of films.
so read about us here, in their magazine!.
this is why we fought to keep GBM’s doors open and if we said thanks and you didn’t hear it, we’re saying it again.
and thanks Qantas Airlines!
posting this on january 22nd in some odd way, makes perfect sense.
you see, i was run over by a car 51 years ago on this date.
i was supposed to either be dead, a vegetable or paralyzed from the neck down (i guess this covers about everything).
just by chance, the first black U.S.neurosurgeon was visiting coney island hospital that day and changed the odds, markedly.
probably, because of this man – doctor thomas matthew – i survived quite extraordinarily.
there have also been examples of luck spun in an entirely different direction.
with this in mind, please read;
a few days ago, i was walking on broadway, here in bushwick, bk.
it was around 3:30 in the afternoon.
approaching, about twenty-five feet in front of me, was a man walking with who i assumed was his daughter.
she looked to be about four or five years old. like most kids, she was filled with “kid energy,” or sugar, chattering away, looking up at her father who was slowing his “dad” steps to even up with his daughter’s little-kid steps, while engaged in conversation with her.
i heard none of the words but assumed it was what dads and daughters must speak about after the school day.
the sprightly girl’s steps were switching between walking normally, then sideways, sliding her feet side-to-side, then returning to stepping forward.
this was what? three? five seconds?
somewhere, as i watched them draw closer, then pass by, i remember asking myself – almost out loud – “how could he do it? how do you shoot one of those little things? these kids?”
it was almost as if i forgot that a child is a human being.
i couldn’t connect a person with a gun even aiming a gun at a child.
i did my best to conjure up a mental picture of a little kid being blown away by a guy with an assault rifle and couldn’t do it.
by the time we passed each other, i was a wreck.
i opened the door to my loftspace and ran upstairs.
the photo that circulated in the press, the one of those policemen huddled together weeping, appeared behind my eyes.
i can’t imagine walking into a room like this. a room of slaughtered little kids.
those poor guys; what a day’s work.
i do not envy their gig.
a wave of horror caused a shiver to run up my back. i had to shake it off, literally.
“a room of slaughtered little kids” – that should be carved in stone somewhere, preferably nearby the NRA’s main office.
with the newtown slaughter over a week old, the well-worn procedure followed by the likes of the NRA, now burrowing out of their nickle-plated corporate trenches, began their defense of guns argument, this time pointing at everything and everyone except the item itself – guns.
it pitched the need for more guns, as if we didn’t see that coming.
it pitched the need for more cops with more guns, everywhere.
you know what guns are; they kill firemen battling blazes set by monsters who want to play arcade games, like what happened a few days later, on christmas eve.
i can’t recall what their (the NRA’s) approach was in defending themselves after the colorado movie theater slaughter, the wisconsin temple slaughter or the gabby giffords assassination attempt and massacre.
they said either the same thing or nothing at all.
i could almost see them sitting at a table somewhere, speaking in hushed tones, “maybe we should lay low on this one, right wayne?”
that’s about what you get with the likes of these people.
add to that, how the press cycle winds down the horror with replacement fodder after selling the crime, the tragedy, the memorial services and the future.
the press walks on eggs after trumpeting bombastic headline news waiting for the signal from either side that it’s safe to lurch forward.
it’s a well-worn dance. it, like so much of america’s politics, is a brain-numbing exercise in circular behavior that relies on memory lapses, other drama, more memory lapses, the marketing of panic, political spin and bullshit.
more of the latter than the former.
dial up the other noise – any other noise, quick.
there IS no future here.
if presidents and five year olds are in the bullseye for fifty years, nothing will change.
that’s a guarantee.
take it from “a kennedy.”
if common-sense gun owners agree that assault rifles, insanely large gun clips and magazines aren’t a good idea, yet the NRA and the gun lobby stymie any change to this insanity, rest assured that whatever deal that’s made will be cosmetic at best.
all we have is faith in our collective jesuses, buddhas, krishnas, flying spaghetti monsters and a rabbit’s foot to protect us.
oh, or a gun if all other options won’t work.
in march, 1990, i got a remarkable phone call informing me that my brother was murdered.
he was executed with a bullet to the brain, just as i so vividly remembered november 22nd, 1963.
i became “a kennedy,” that moment.
the next morning, we headed across the country to claim my brother’s body.
triple murder-suicide in cody, wyoming.
the killer was a convicted felon who was able to procure a gun from a pawnshop in town without a background check;
a simple background check would have made his purchase impossible, but i understood – we were in the wild west, the land of mountain men, cowboys and rugged individualism.
while in town, as we made arrangements for the memorial, i ate enough valium and drank enough beer to float through the ordeal.
besides, when a murderer turns the gun on himself, it becomes a package deal; his suicide being the bright, red bow that ties it all together.
no muss, no fuss. no judge, no jury.
in-between the tears, i thought about how lucky we were. another kind of luck – a winding-double-gainer kind of luck.
unfortunately, this luck did not work well for my mother.
on march 3rd, 1990, i lost not only my brother, but the person who bore and raised me.
i mean, she was on this planet for another sixteen years, but the glaze was in the eyes till she made her way to halleluja boulevard and eternity avenue about six years ago.
one day, she confided to my sister that she starts her day – everyday – making a promise to not commit suicide.
for her, a successful day is a day you can fall asleep with the possibility of waking up seven hours later and rest assured the paxil and valium became the math for a couple of thousand days and nights.
plus, the no-suicide pledge was so she won’t be condemned to the firey depths of hell promised to her by the catholic church that glowered over her like a gangster, making sure she did the “right thing” while dangling the “heaven carrot.”
that, like so many other subjects that spring-up here, is a discussion for another time.
a couple of days before she traveled to the eight-electro-plasma-ocean of the ninth dimension, my mom asked, “would you be upset if i told you that every night before i close my eyes to sleep, i pray for god to take me?”
“upset? me? if that’s what you want, i’ll pray for that, too,” was my reply.
i prayed and prayed.
she died a few days later.
it wasn’t my prayers that freed her. maybe it was god. maybe it was her broken heart, but regardless – i was the happiest guy at the wake.
“so sorry for your loss.”
“don’t be – there was no loss, just a glorious release to the great beyond. i’ve never been happier for my mother.”
a note to all you smart men out there;
no man on this planet will ever know what it is to lose a child.
no way, no how.
for this reason, more than anything, men need to shut the hell up about “women things,” but that’s another story.
men haven’t got a clue.
that, too, is another conversation for another time.
when the connecticut massacre occurred, my heart sank.
the feeling of helplessness assaulted me on so many levels, but most particularly on the “mother level.”
i see twenty mothers who will stare blankly for moments at a time at a point beyond everything, for the rest of their lives;
an awkward, minute-clumsiness will possess the air around these women at molecular levels in ways i can’t even imagine.
i won’t pretend that i’d know what these mothers are thinking.
i didn’t pretend to know what my own mother was thinking, but when i saw her standing alone, looking beyond, i knew she swam alone in a pool of atomic-level confusion and i knew that i’d never comprehend her moment.
i can only guess.
i could assume it was something like how i felt sitting in the back seat of the jeep as it brought my family from the airport in billings, montana to cody, wyoming. we were driven there by my brother’s best friend who had to identify the body after the crime was discovered.
kind greetings and minimal conversation melded with engine sounds and the hum of tire to blacktop.
i sat huddled in a wordless questionmark inside a dark void.
my only guess would be that a mother’s questionmark would be a lot bigger in an ever-darkening void.
so, in thinking about connecticut, i multiplied my mother’s sadness by twenty.
and after i did that, i factored moms all over this country and all over the world who had to (and will have to) summon the strength to bury who they had to push through their birth canal and into the light and air, into a world of promise and betrayal; joy and disappointment, winning and losing, famine and thirst, abundance and fortune…..and drones.
can’t forget the drones.
i had to mention the drones.
apparently mothers the world over feel like the mothers of newtown about the loss of their child.
the question whether any of this matters, for me, is answered when i awaken and mistake the sheet and quilt on which i lay for the green-felt, stretched everywhere, beneath everything, something the grifting lizard-guy (who sounds like eduardo ciannelli and looks like omar sharif) may have told me or simply dropped in my feeble little human hard drive.
as much as one might believe in miracles, there are others who might believe that the same amazingness could be attributed to fate, self-will or glorious-diamond-encrusted-tuxedo and tails-wearing luck.
i’m a firm believer in the latter.
i can change this opinion at will, but i’ve noticed that as i move toward my reunion with the oldest atoms in the universe, these notions gain strength.
besides, it’s only tuesday here.