I was sixteen years old, and I found myself playing in a band with guys who were considerably older than I (Hell, one of them was 25 and a Navy veteran, which seemed really old to me at the time). Up to that point, I had played with another band at various high school dances and things like birthday parties. No big deal.
At the next rehearsal, I was told that the band had been booked for a month of weekends in a place called “Joe Tann’s Rhythm Lounge” in Union City, a tough town in Jersey, just across the Hudson River from New York City. I don’t know what Union City is like now (It may have undergone a Hoboken-like Renaissance for all I know), but back then it was a bit more like a modern-day Deadwood in terms of its relative lawlessness and heavy-duty tackiness. The main drag in town was populated by a collection of bars, and the bars were populated by all sorts of characters, including some pretty nasty ones, as I would come to know. One of the major draws of Union City was that, unlike the bars in surrounding towns in Jersey, which closed at 2 A.M., the joints in Union City were open until 3 A.M.
It was quite an education for a kid not yet old enough to even have a driver’s license, much less buy a beer.
I think that it was the first night that we played there that I learned that the bar didn’t feature just booze, bar food and music, but it also was a place where you could make a private arrangement with “Rita,” who, in turn, presumably had some sort of arrangement with the owner of the place. Rita was a sexy-as-hell looking blond woman whose signature outfit was a white dress that plunged to her navel and was slit waaay up the side. She reminded me of Kim Novak. By today’s standards, I suppose the outfit would be tame, but back then, especially for a sixteen-year old boy, with volcanic hormones, it was a showstopper.
She would settle in on a target guy and get him to buy her drinks (I believe “champagne,” which was probably expensive as hell and was little more than ginger ale). Then, she would drag the guy onto the small dance floor in front of the band. She would almost always request “Night Train,” which. for the younger readers, is kind of a “bump and grind” number. Part way through the tune, and she swayed her hips, she would let one of the straps on her dress fall, exposing one of her very nice boobs. Those were the pre-silicon days.
Well, let me tell you, the first time this sixteen-year old kid saw her do that, I damned near fell off the drum stool. I was absolutely astonished. I turned to my left to the keyboard player, and said, “Holy shit!!! Did you see that??”
Charlie the piano player looked over at me and my dilated pupils and said, “See what?”
“One of her tits is showing!! Look, Charlie, look!!!”
Charlie, who by that time had played all over the place for years looked at Rita, then looked back at me and said, “Yeah, pretty cool.”
By this time, the guys playing on the front of the stage turned around to see if “the Kid” was catching Rita’s act, and they enjoyed watching me watch Rita more than they enjoyed watching Rita. Despite my state of emotional and hormonal disarray, I never lost the beat. To the contrary, I whacked out the bumps and grinds with particular, testosterone-fueled gusto.
Of course, there was never any thought of my approaching Rita. I never even could muster up the nerve to speak with her. She was probably in her thirties (which when your sixteen seems pretty damned old), and, besides, I was just the “Kid” in the band.
One night, a few weeks in, I was sitting at a table next to the stage during a break, drinking – yes – a Coke. The cook, who looked to be in his fifties, came out of the kitchen and sat down at the same table. He looked beat. He lit up a smoke and was telling me how much he liked the band, when Rita walked over to the table where we were sitting.
She said, in a sultry voice that would have buckled my knees had I been standing at the time, “Hi George (the cook, dammit). How’s it going?”
George responded, “I’m beat. I can’t wait to close.”
At that point, Rita placed her hands seductively on the inside of her thighs and swayed her hips as she purred, “Well, maybe you need some of this.”
I almost fell out of the chair.
George never missed a beat and answered, “Nah, Rita. I’m too old for that shit.”
My hormones were spiking as the voice inside my blushing head was screaming, “Ask me!! Ask me, dammit!!”
But Rita didn’t ask me. She continued looking at George, and that’s when she did and said something that I can still see and still hear to this day.
She spread her legs, while she ran her hands up and down her thighs, and said, “You may be too old to cut the mustard, but you can still lick the jar.”
George just laughed, and it was time for me to get back on stage and go to work. George and Rita went back to work too.
I knew then and there that my high-school dance days were over.
I was a musician in Union City.
Next. Part Two, The Bent-Nosed Guys.