March 9, 2005

Walking in the Garden State.

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jim @ 9:47 pm

It is widely recognized that regular walking is a good thing for one’s health, except maybe in New Jersey, where it turns out that more pedestrians are killed in traffic accidents than in any other state except for New York and, oddly enough, Hawaii. As a regular walker, this troubles me, but it does not surprise me in the least.

Unlike states like California (at least in Los Angeles) and, I presume in other states as well, where the rule is that a driver must stop if he sees a pedestrian at an intersection waiting to cross, in New Jersey pedestrians are fair game.

Stopping is out of the question. Indeed, drivers in this state routinely do the mental calculus necessary to determine whether it’s even necessary to slow down when a pedestrian is crossing the street in the driver’s path. ”Why show down? He’ll be outta da way by the time I get there.” Of course, if the computation of the relative speed of the pedestrian and vehicle is incorrect, the pedestrian who began walking across the street will have to break into a life-saving sprint to reach the other side. Similarly, if the driver miscalculates and the pedestrian is unable to do the emergency sprint or is unlucky enough to stumble, the pedestrian and vehicle collide, with “victory” always going to the vehicle.

Therefore, I would advise anyone who visits the Garden State and decides to take a stroll not presume that you have the right-of-way. Better to assume that you are in the crosshairs.

Jersey – Only the Strong Survive.


Filed under: Uncategorized — Jim @ 7:30 pm

I was flattered to see that, as part of a course entitled, “Understanding the World-Wide Web,” a Journalism Professor at SMU has included this tiny piece of the blogosphere in a list of “interesting” blogs, which was presumably assembled for his students. Several bloggers who will be attending the drunken brawl “Georgia Writers Workshop” on Jekyll Island were also included, causing me to wonder what the professor had in mind as constituting “interesting.”

Thank you, professor.

Oh, and there will not be a quiz.

March 8, 2005

Cutting My Musician’s Teeth, An Epilog.

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jim @ 6:10 pm

Several readers of the previous post (bless them) wondered, in comments and in e-mails, what the story was on “Frank,” and what would motivate a guy to openly defy the kind of characters everyone in Jersey knows should not be trifled with. The readers also asked how Frank fared as a result of being pummeled by a half-dozen big, thick shot glasses, bottles and Christ knows what else.

As often happens, the questions caused me to focus again on the incident, and I realized that I must have been mistaken when I said that the incident with Frank and the Bent-Nosed Guys occurred on a Saturday night, when it had to have occurred on a Friday night. I say this because I remember having to return to the place to play the night after the incident, and we did not play Sundays at the Rhythm Lounge.

Anyway, here’s what happened.

On the way to Union City the following night, we wondered whether Frank would be tending bar and how he would look and act after having gotten such a beating. Recalling him bloodied and staggering around the previous night, just before the owner drove him to the hospital, I was certain that Frank would not be “on the stick,” either because he was physically unable to work, or because he had been fired for having provoked the shitstorm.

I was wrong.

When we walked into the joint the following night, there was Frank, behind the bar, with two black eyes and bandages covering the dozen or so stitches that were necessary to reassemble his face.

The leader said, “Jesus, Frank. We didn’t expect to see you here tonight. How are you?”

I expected to hear the response of a man who had learned a valuable, albeit painful, lesson about “customer relations” and self-preservation.

I was wrong again.

Frank laughed out loud and said, “My head hurts a little, but I’m O.K.” He continued, “But I’ll be ready for those guinea bastards if they show up tonight!” And, with that, he reached around to his back pocket and pulled out a big-assed leather sap and smacked it against the bar.”

Needless to say, I spent the rest of the night hoping that the Bent-Nosed Guys would not re-appear, and, thankfully for Frank, they did not, nor did they show up for the remainder of our booking in the Rhythm Lounge. I suppose they weren’t pleased with the service in the place.

Frank was one crazy, Irish son-of-a-bitch. I figure he must have been a native of Union City.

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.

March 6, 2005

Sunday Stuff.

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jim @ 4:13 pm

I had planned on doing a bit of blogging (i.e. writing Part Two of the previous post) after my morning walk and the completion of a couple errands and before heading out to the Post to spend Sunday with the Usual Suspects. However, we received a surprise visit from TJ, so we ended up having lunch and shooting the breeze, which included, of course a bit of blogtalk, which, in turn, included some speculation about what might happen with Max Robichaux in the final chapter of Blog Noir.

I doubt that I’ll be doing much blogging later, because tonight HBO is featuring the first episode of the new season of Deadwood, which is being followed by the next episode of Carnivale, two of my favorite shows, each apparently vying for the title of “Television Show with the Greatest Number of Characters Desperately Needing a Bath.”

If I’m still awake and at all inspired after all that, I might be back. If not, talk amongst yourselves, and we’ll do Part Two tomorrow.

March 5, 2005

Cutting My Musician’s Teeth, Part One.

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jim @ 5:18 pm

bar-signI 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.

Dear Editor…..

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jim @ 11:21 am

If you are considering writing a letter full of dipshittery to the editor of the New York Times, please be aware that Sluggo is watching.

March 4, 2005


Filed under: Uncategorized — Jim @ 7:12 pm

I’ll be away from the keyboard this evening in order to go here to see “The Drawer Boy,” a play starring John Mahoney, the actor who played “Frasier’s” dad on TV.

An evening of theater – farookin’ civilized.

Blog Noir – Chapter Five.

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jim @ 6:23 pm

Liv’s Chapter Five is up, and it’s an ass-kicker –literally!

For those who need a catch-up, here are the previous chapters:

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

I do not envy Sadie at a Fistful of Fortnights, because she has the task of pulling it all together for the final chapter next week. Go Sadie!!

March 3, 2005

Umbrella Guy.

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jim @ 7:23 pm

Jackson unbrella.jpgAs hard as I try to avoid seeing any coverage of the Michael Jackson trial, it is impossible to completely avoid snippets of it, including the obligatory footage of Mr. Jackson’s entering and exiting the courthouse. I could not help but notice Mr. Jackson’s “Umbrella Guy,” the person on his payroll whose job it is to see that the minute Mr. Jackson leaves a place with a roof, he is protected by an umbrella held by the Umbrella Guy.

I got to wondering what it must be like to know that your job is to open an umbrella and hold it over someone’s head for the short walk between a building and a limousine. We, therefore, had one of our many PRS operatives track down the Umbrella Guy as he waited for Mr. Jackson to emerge from the courthouse the other day.

PRS: “Excuse me, sir, but are you Mr. Jackson’s Umbrella Guy?”

Umbrella Guy: “Yeah, what tipped you off?”

PRS: “Well, to tell you the truth, we have seen you on television, but we also could not help but notice that you’re standing here on a sunny day with an umbrella in your hand.”

Umbrella Guy: “So, what do you want?”

PRS: “We’d like to ask you a few questions, if you don’t mind.”

Umbrella Guy: “Can’t you see I’m working?”

PRS: “Well, at the moment, you’re just standing here with an umbrella in your hand.”

Umbrella Guy: “Shows what you know. I’m on call. In fact, I’m on call 24/7. I even have a beeper ‘n shit. But, OK, as long as it’s only a few questions, and I can’t talk about the case.”

PRS: “I understand. Thanks. I’m curious. Do you perform any other functions for Mr. Jackson?”

Umbrella Guy: “No, I’m a specialist. I only handle the umbrella work.”

PRS: “Do you at least open doors for Mr. Jackson?”

Umbrella Guy: “No, Mr. Jackson has a Door Guy.”

PRS: “The Door Guy’s a specialist too?”

Umbrella Guy: “Of course.”

PRS: “Does the ‘umbrella work’ you speak of require any training?”

Umbrella Guy: “Absolutely, I had to spend two months as an apprentice to the former Umbrella Guy.”

PRS: “What happened to the former Umbrella Guy?”

Umbrella Guy: “He was promoted.”

PRS: “Promoted? What does he do now?”

Umbrella Guy: “He’s the Door Guy.”

PRS: “I see. Had you been promoted into the position of Umbrella Guy, or were you hired into that position?”

Umbrella Guy: “Are you kidding? I don’t think anyone has ever been hired as an Umbrella Guy. It took me several years to be promoted to this job.”

PRS: “What was your job before you became the Umbrella Guy?”

Umbrella Guy: “I spent about seven years as the Napkin Guy.”

PRS: “Did you say, ‘Napkin Guy’?”

Umbrella Guy: “Yeah. Something wrong with your hearing?”

PRS: “No, no. I just wanted to make sure I heard you right. What were your duties as Mr. Jackson’s Napkin Guy?”

Umbrella Guy: “Pretty much what you’d expect. My job was to stand next to Mr. Jackson while he ate or drank anything and wipe his mouth as needed.”

PRS: “Wow, did you also have to feed him?”

Umbrella Guy: “No, he has …”

PRS: “Lemme guess … a Feeding Guy?”

Umbrella Guy: “Now you’re catching on.”

PRS: “Fascinating. Were you ever the Feeding Guy?”

Umbrella Guy: “No, I was promoted directly from Napkin Guy to Umbrella Guy.”

PRS: “You’ve been employed by Mr. Jackson for how long?”

Umbrella Guy: “Lemme think … Three years as the Umbrella Guy, seven years as the Napkin Guy, and five years at my first job with Mr. Jackson. That makes fifteen years. Yep, fifteen years.”

PRS: “What was your job for the first five years that you were employed by Mr. Jackson?”

Umbrella Guy: “I was the Toilet Paper Guy.”

PRS: “You were what?”

Umbrella Guy: “I was the Toilet Paper Guy. It was my job to …..”

PRS: “OK, thanks for your time.”

Umbrella Guy: “That’s it?”

PRS: “Have a nice day.”

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