March 7, 2005

Cutting My Musician’s Teeth, Part Two.

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jim @ 8:50 pm

gangsterThe following is a continuation of this post, which contains the necessary background information.

The Bent-Nosed Guys

A Matter of Protection.
It was our first or second night in the place, and we were about two songs away from finishing the first set, when I noticed three rather unfriendly looking guys standing at the end of the bar closest to the stage. Unfriendly looking guys were not unusual in this place, but these guys looked like they could have just come from a casting call for a movie like “Goodfellas.” What’s more, they were not paying attention to Rita or to one another, but rather their attention was fixed solely on the band. Seeing as how they did not appear to be tapping their feet or otherwise “grooving” to the tunes, I figured that they had something else in mind.

As soon as we struck the last note in the set, the “Goodfellas” swaggered up to the stage and wanted to know who the “leader” was. At this point, being “the Kid” had its advantages, as I clearly was not the leader. The leader told them that they could speak to all of us, who by this time had assembled to the front of the stage to hear with these guys had to say.

The “spokesman” for this trio of thugs informed us that they were from the Musician’s Union and that they wanted to check our cards. The leader of the band informed them that we were not members of the Musician’s Union. Then, it went something like this:

Bent-Nosed Guy No. 1: “You gotta be in the union to work here.”
Band Leader: “The owner of the place hired us, and he didn’t say anything about having to be in the union.”
Bent-Nosed Guy No. 1: “I don’t give a fuck what the owner said. I’m sayin’ you gotta be in the union to work here.”
Other Band Member: “This is bullshit. I’ve played all over Jersey for years, and I’ve never been a member of the Musicians’ Union.”
Bent-Nosed Guy No. 2: (Addressing the Other Band Member) “You got a big fuckin’ mouth. You guys lookin’ for trouble?”

Of course, by this time, “the Kid” was thinking that maybe high-school dances weren’t such bad gigs after all.

After a bit more unsettling discussion between the Band Leader and the Three Goons, it was apparent that this was not a Musician’s Union Recruitment Drive, but rather it was a shakedown, plain and simple.

The Head Goon told us that we could continue to work in the place, even if we didn’t join the union, but it would require a “Temporary Work Permit,” which could be obtained directly from him for the price of $50.00 per week in cash (which amounted to about ten percent of what we were being paid). One of the guys in the band asked what would happen if we didn’t buy a “Temporary Work Permit,” expecting to be told that we would have to pack up and leave. However, the Head Goon replied, “Hey, anything can happen. You know what I mean?”

So, after a brief band meeting off to the side, we chipped in to buy a “Temporary Work Permit.” One of the guys in the band must have had a brain fart, because he actually asked the Chief Goon for a written Work Permit. In response, the Goon laughed and said, “Don’t worry about it. I know you paid.” With that, the three apes left, cash in hand, most likely to shake down the musicians in the next saloon down the block.

Welcome to Union City, New Jersey.

Closing Time.
It was a Saturday night, and, as we had been instructed, we wrapped up the last set at quarter to three. The owner needed those fifteen minutes to clear the patrons out of the place by 3:00. On this night, the place was empty by about five minutes to three. We were in the process of packing up our equipment when five or six guys walked in the place and asked for a drink. For a mental picture of these guys, think Tony Soprano’s Crew.

Even though they may have looked frightening, they politely asked the bartender if he could pour them each a quick shot. The bartender, a big, loud-mouthed Irish guy (We’ll call him “Frank”), barked, “Whattsa matter with you guys? Can’t you see WE’RE CLOSED!”

The head guy looked at his watch and said, “You still got about five minutes before closing. Why don’t you just pour the drinks, and we’ll be outta here by three.”

Frank, barked again, “No! I told ya, we’re closed. Get the hell out.”

With that, the owner emerged from the back room and wanted to know what was going on. Frank bitched, “I’m tryin’ to close up here and these fuckin’ guys come in here at ‘five of’ and start demanding drinks.”

The head guy replied to the owner, “Your guy here is being a real asshole. We came in before three, and asked real nice to be served and this prick starts running his fuckin’ mouth.”

The owner, sensing that something bad might well erupt, said, “Frank, we still have five minutes. Pour the gentlemen the drinks, and I’m sure they’ll be outta here by three – just like they said.” The head bad guy thanked the owner, and the owner returned to the back room.

Frank obviously was not happy with the owner’s instructions, because he began slamming shot glasses down in front of each of the bad guys and shouting, all the while, “Here! Here’s your fuckin’ drinks!! You guinea pricks think you can come in here at closing time and fuck with me? Fuck you guys!!” It is important to note that the shot glasses Frank was slamming on the bar were the kind that were very, very thick and heavy so as to create the impression that the customer was getting more than a standard shot. Each glass weighed about the same as a cue ball.

None of the bad guys said anything or changed their expressions as Frank ranted, but the head guy, now standing directly opposite Frank, without any warning sign whatsoever, in a flash, picked up one of the monster shot glasses and wailed it across Frank’s head. The thing shattered into a zillion pieces and Frank dropped to the floor behind the bar like a sack of shit.

Then all hell broke loose.

All of the bad guys grabbed their glasses, bottles and whatever else then could get their hands on and began flinging it at the semi-conscious Frank on the floor behind the bar and everywhere else in the bar. I took cover under one of the tables, and I still can “see” my mental snapshot of bottles crashing against a picture that was on the wall opposite from where I was hiding. It was like an old Western Movie. The incident lasted probably only about ten seconds, but it seemed to last much longer.

When it was over, I had assumed that the bad guys would run out of the place, but that didn’t happen. What did happen was the head bad guy reached into his pocket and pulled out a wad of cash. He counted out three or four twenties and threw them at Frank on the floor – “Here, cocksucker. Go get yourself sewed up!” Then, they left.

On the way home in the car that night, I remarked that maybe we shouldn’t be playing in such an awful place. The other guys laughed at me. They thought the whole episode was a pisser. They reminded me that this was real life, and it was, after all, Union City.

Indeed it was – on both counts.

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