Tuesday, September 05, 2023

A Sunday on Staten Island (8/28/23)

 Left to my own devices, as my girlfriend Liz was out of town visiting her parents,

I decided, egged on by a text message from Newbury Comics, to go to Staten Island

to buy some vinyl for 20% off (and since I usually just hit up the clearance bins, 

even greater savings would await me). Or so I thought.

I wasn't moving particularly fast after waking up at noon, and it was well after 3pm

by the time I had finished my lunch and got my ass in gear.

The Staten Island Mall, where the nearest Newbury Comics is located, 

is about a 30 minute drive from the apartment, and includes a toll bridge.

And of course, it being Sunday, the mall closes early at 6pm, 

so I was running against a clock to start with. 

Not my easiest struggle.

So, I pull into the parking lot and just found a space, having never been to this mall before.

And as soon as I'm getting out of my car, some dude in a golf shirt and flip flops

has pulled up in a Toyota minivan and has seen my big-ass dent in the driver's side rear door,

from when I got t-boned making a left turn form the straight lane en route to get my second

Pfizer COVID vaccine shot.

So immediately, he starts saying how he could fix it right there for me on the spot, 

and I'll admit that I'm curious to hear his sales pitch and see how much he expects

for this unexpected proposition. He starts off big, promising to pull out the dents,

buff it up and give it a small paint-job to cover up the rust, all for only $800!

In a mall parking lot, point blank, on Staten Island on a Sunday afternoon.

Now, I don't know about other people and how they conduct their finances, but I'm really 

wondering how many people they come across driving a 1999 Honda Accord

with two different colored doors and a giant dent in one of them, that they bought from a friend

for $500 five years ago when they were super desperate for a set of wheels while

living in an exurb with really terrible public transit who just happen to have $800 in their pocket.

So I start talking to Barry, because that's his name, and I talk him down to $200 to just

pop out the dent, touch up the paint a little, and get the door to open from the outside, as 

before this encounter, I realized that it did open from the inside, and for two years I didn't even 

know. Or I forgot immediately after discovering the fact.

Either way, I literally just cleaned out my car the previous week and tried to open it on a lark.

I also thought I could fix the door a little bit myself and managed to shatter the tiny window,

cracking all of the safety glass in the tiny triangle, which I then repaired with black duct tape and some cardboard.

I agree to the vague terms and of course, I have no idea what kind of process is actually involved, 

but I like the randomness and the happenstance of the situation, so I embrace it.

Barry gets out his tools (and his 3 year old son, who seems to like playing with Barry's tools)

and starts to work. At first, he asks if I'm going in to shop and he says he can work on it while I go inside and that he'll be done when I get back. I don't know how stupid I look, but there is no way in hell I'd leave my car with a stranger, even without the keys. A guy who knows how to fix cars most assuredly knows how to start a car without a key.

After several minutes of banging and whinging with a long crowbar and a rubber mallet, he asks 

if it's possible to move the car to a more open space and to follow him. This I do and we move to a shady spot not too far away, and then he calls another guy and we're waiting for him because he has more tools. I mean, obviously, I'm in too deep to leave now, but more time is elapsing and 4:30 has become 5pm, and the stores close at 6pm, so I'm starting to panic.

And while we wait for his friend (who turns out to be his father-in-law), that's when he asks me if I've accepted Jesus Christ as my lord and savior. Seriously. I couldn't make this up. 

I politely tell him that I'm Jewish and that I think Jesus was a good dude, but I was brought up in a religion that does not view him as the Messiah, and frankly, I feel like a lot of people who call themselves Christians don't follow their namesake's teaching, and I find that troubling. 

He keeps proselytizing and I keep respectfully rebuffing, and he explains that he means no disrespect to Jewish people, but that Jesus is lord and he must spread the good word, that the scriptures insist that Christians spread the gospel and talk about it and I explain that I'm not a joiner and that one of the few things I like about the Jewish faith is that proselytizing is frowned upon. I tell him about my born-again Christian grandma and how she tried converting me ever since I was a child, and how I get where she was coming from, but if someone doesn't share your beliefs, they don't view it as "I'm going to hell because I don't believe in Jesus as lord," they view it as someone not accepting no as an answer. I forget to use the actual words that Christianity is the religion of colonizers and that this lack of boundaries is exactly why this country is garbage right now. Perhaps that is just as well.

I tell him the story about the man in the van in Buffalo, whose Walkman fell off his roof as he drove away, and I picked it up and flagged him down to give it to him, and said to me "You must be a true Christian" and how I smiled and nodded because I knew the intent was pure. I tell him this to prove that I'm not offended, and I know it's coming from a good place, but that I really don't do organized religion because it's about control, and I am spiritual and have my own beliefs, and I also quote that chestnut from Groucho Marx that I would never join a club that would have me as a member. 

In fact, I was thinking about telling him that I even have a problem with the Satanic Temple being too "organized religiony" because when I watched the "Hail Satan?" documentary, once they became officially recognized as a non-profit religion they started cracking down on some of their more outré members, like the head of the Detroit chapter who they cut loose because she was acting too independent (to say there was a male hegemony present might be oversimplifying, but it's obvious if you watch it - they wanted to make sure this woman knew her place), but I digress.

Anyway, that's when he introduces me to his wife, who has been in the minivan THE WHOLE TIME with their younger child, while the 3 year old has been playing with a hammer (at one point, hitting my driver's side window with it) and yelling "BARRY, BARRY, BARRY!" 

I meet Barry's wife Corey, and she starts telling her own Jesus stories. She says that a year ago, the three-year old was non-verbal and that he was "diagnosed with stage three autism" (this is what she said, and since my car is not fixed, I have to smile and nod and say "oh wow") and so they turned to the power of prayer and now he's talking all the time and is "no longer autistic" and I don't know how to tell her that that's not how autism works and that there's nothing wrong with her son, but he's definitely still autistic (a fact I picked up on like immediately) and there isn't anything Jesus can do about it until he shows up in person. And then she tells me about their younger child having a 5 minute seizure last year that scared them so much and so they prayed and now she's ok (also not how seizures work - these people really need to listen to medical professionals).

Thankfully, Corey's father (Cory, I swear to their lord and savior) arrives with the much-needed tools to get this party moving forward (and to get us off the subject of Christ). Cory has a really cool tool that is like a drill-bit/screw attached to a pump that he uses to pull the dents out after making a slight hole in parts of the door. He then explains how in the 70s they would use the tip of this tool to pop off the ignition cover to hotwire cars. That makes me feel more comfortable about being alone with a bunch of Jesusy strangers in the middle of an empty section of parking lot. I just have to have faith that they're true Christians and aren't out to steal my chariot and strand me on Staten Island.

The good news is that Barry and Cory have pulled out most of the shock factor of the door's dents, dulling it down so it's not so dramatic when people see it, and they've sprayed some paint over some of the chips and rust. The bad news is that the clock is ticking and I still have to pay them. And of course, they don't have Venmo, and the wife says their Zelle isn't working, so then I ask where the nearest ATM is, and Cory tells me it's in the next shopping center over and to follow him, so I do - we weave in and out of traffic and I'm low-key panicking the entire time, hoping we get there already.

And we get there, and I hit up the drive-through ATM and Cory is patiently waiting for me in the parking lot and I give him $200 (Barry tried to get $300 at one point and I reiterated my original mission and how time was of the essence) and took his phone number and hustled back to the mall to try and get my record shopping on.

By the time I found Newbury Comics, it was like 5:50. I have never been inside this mall before, and there are no digital directories and the cardboard maps don't have Newbury listed on them. I managed to find it, and I was flipping through the clearance section super fast when then they announced 5 minutes to closing and last call for registers and I got flustered and brought my two records to the counter and paid, and realized later that I forgot about the 20% off because I had to use a coupon code. I paid $15 to cross a bridge to buy two records. And apparently "fix" my car door for $200 cash.

Is Staten Island always like this?

Fun post-script: when I was at work two days later, I was talking to a co-worker about what had happened, and the first thing he asks me is "Was it a white mini-van? Was his family with him? Did he have a bunch of tools in the back of the van?" and I say yes to all these things and then he tells me that he gave this guy $200 one time at the Menlo Park Mall for something similar, only he was a little less skeptical than I was (I've been mugged in early 1990s mid-town Manhattan, so I always listen to my Spidey-sense if something feels off) and never actually negotiated with him before the work started. But it was good to know that I'm not the only person this has happened to, although my co-worker didn't seem to get the Jesus treatment.

Monday, January 04, 2016

So This Is The New Year (written 1/1/13)

As he was still waking up to his new reality, sitting in her chair, staring out the front window, gazing at a rustic cross in plain view, he sipped the coffee, black, from a French press.  She had put on Band of Horses, the one artist on her iPod he intentionally skipped past, lest he start thinking of his other recent dalliance.  The one he started dating first.  The one who had hoped their second date would be to see Band of Horses.  There were still certain lines he wasn't willing to cross.  Other lines, however, could possibly be redrawn, redistricted, gerrymandered.  "This is how 'Maggie May' happened," he mused, singing along to "The Great Salt Lake," while secretly pondering the thought processes of Rod the Mod's young protagonist. 

The 16 year age difference didn't really phase him.  Sure, it was usually the other way around, but hypocrisy wasn't his Modus Operandi.  Keep an open mind.  Besides, her skin was taut, and smooth.  Her small breasts still had a perk to them.  At 2am, with a ceiling full of stars, this seemed to be the very place he wanted, neigh, needed to be.  At 5am, still unable to sleep in the most comfortable bed he'd been in for quite some time, he tried to toss and turn without tossing and turning noticeably.  Unless he had been dreaming that he wasn't sleeping.  Too much information to process about the events that had just unfolded.  He had just gone with the flow, said "what the fuck?" and went for what was presented to him.  The great effort to not overthink what was being handed to him on a silver-haired platter.

But now, in the half-light of a winter's day, he wasn't so sure.  Leading up to this possibility, a friend had asked him if he knew what he wanted.  He assured her he knew.  As the wheels were slowly turning in his mind while sipping his coffee, she was sketching his sneakers in her sheer robe.  She hadn't changed overnight.  But something inside him had.  He had gotten something he wanted.  What would he have to give up in return?  He wasn't ready to barter with her.  He had brought a mix cd last night.  Maybe that could tide her over for a while until he was sure of what should come next.  After the last four years of being single, he simply couldn't handle too much attention focused on him being the only other person in the room.  Why couldn't he have snuck out in the middle of the night?  If he didn't have to work today, he might have stayed forever.  What then?

He had finally just begun to focus on getting himself out of the seemingly bottomless pit he had been unable to escape, his inner light sucked into the ever-expanding blackness as if it were a metaphysical Sarlacc.  Whatever light she saw in him upon their introduction must have been the last gasp of a white dwarf blowing out, beaming from long ago and far, far away.  A ghostly flicker in the abandoned lighthouse.  He was currently in the throes of climbing the rickety spiral staircase to the top to find that switch, and hopefully a spare bulb.  He wasn't going to hold his breath, though.  The mere thought of letting someone in wracked him with panic and guilt.  All this time he thought he had been looking for someone, when he was merely hoping to find a bigger fuck-up than himself.  When presented with a reasonably together specimen of the female persuasion, he felt like that young man playing hooky from school, having abandoned his post in life, stalling his development and swapping it with someone else's achievements.  He wanted to simultaneously run as far and as fast as he could while staying here forever.  Feeling protected, wanted.  Cared for, and perhaps, god forbid, even needed.

He longed to be able to blurt all of this out to her and have it somehow make sense without wounding her.  Instead, she insisted he pick a Cowboy Junkies track to play next.  Thinking "Because Cheap Is How I Feel" would send the wrong message, or perhaps the right one, he went with "Misguided Angel."   Finally, when he had exhausted the second round of contents from the French press, he gathered his records and clothing, said his goodbyes and tried not to destroy his broken car on the steep-hilled pebble ash driveway.

On the drive home, the sun was shining as his mind was churning overtime.  He recalled the time he had told a woman that on paper she was perfect.  He had broken her heart and she ran out of the restaurant so nobody could see her cry.  He then realized that on paper, he was a trainwreck.  What was he to do now?  He took a deep breath and sang along to the mixtape as loud as he could.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Gazebo (first draft) 9/2/14

This is a first draft, no edits.  Typed directly into my iPhone as the words shot through my brain within 5 minutes and was gone...

Gazebo   9/2/14

And if we were a couple
A couple of what I don't know
We could sit in the gazebo
And imagine sgt pepper
Teaching the band to play.

But that was more than 20 years ago
And god knows where all that time did go
But we lost it forever and can
Never get it back.

And the moon is proudly shining
Over the water on the harbor
And I'm sitting in the gazebo
Waiting for my song to play.

And I don't know if I believe
In love or fate or destiny
Or if everything is entropy
Just spinning out towards the sun.

I just know I can't sit here forever
Forgetting about my passions
Silently waiting for my life
To just someday reappear 
on the event horizon 
Like this imaginary band

In the gazebo of the mind.

Sunday, January 19, 2014


So, I've been pre-meditating a poetry/essay chapbook for a few months now (the original target date was my 40th birthday, which has now come and gone), and I'm closing in on finishing up.  Obviously, I should keep some of the contents off the internet, so that there is a reason for folks to bring home a copy of the physical object.  Conversely, I should post something on the internet to drum up interest.  I'm going to try and post a few things to drum up interest, and this is the first of those things.  Try not to read too much into it.

Bottle 5/29/13

You looked for inspiration in a bottle
because it's hard to look inside yourself.
All you can see are the mistakes and failures
because it's hard to see much else.

You settled for mediocrity and comfort
because it's hard to reach for the stars
when all you can see are the mistakes and failures
from looking inside yourself so hard.

So you looked for salvation in a bottle,
because it's hard to take all the blame
for all the mistakes and the failures
that you can't seem to or want to transcend...

How much was the bottle and how much was you,
that got yourself stuck in the town you once fled
with no short-term plans for escape
from your newfound uncomfortable mediocrity?

And when the dust settled after the crash
all you could hear was shattering glass,
crystallizing your mistakes and failures
into a single moment you can't undo.

Maybe you shouldn't have texted the words
"BTW, I am awesome at life..."
from underneath an empty bottle.

Sunday, May 06, 2012

One Year After Leaving NY (9 months after returning)

38 Years and what have I to show for it?
Massive credit card debt and student loans for an education
I am currently unable to use for bills I am unable to pay --
Clearly my life has written checks my self-worth can't cash.
Nearly 40 and working a shit warehouse job
Meant for someone 20 years younger and in better shape than I

Wake up in the morning feeling like I got run over
By a truck, by life, the life passing me by?
I own mountains of other people's work --
books, records, movies --
But have released almost none of my own.
I get anxious, I get nervous, I get blocked.
I get distracted...
I medicate with alcohol, I sedate with TV.
I make grand plans and pronouncements
then make excuses and curl up in a ball.
I go out and party, I come home and hide.

If I don't finish it, I can't submit and get rejected.
Why do I care as long as it's out there?
Finally out of my head, maybe then I could sleep
Perchance to dream the unthinkable dream --
In which I wake up in a world where my talent gets recognized
Where my words get respect
Where my bills get paid merely by being me...

Or will I collapse before 40?
Under the weight of this debt ceiling?
Under the rubble of our crumbling Republic?
From the burden of mixing metaphors?
If there is a G-d out there, I am sure he is more Loki than Odin.


Thursday, January 12, 2012

Rock N' Roll Heaven

Rock N' Roll Heaven                                                 
I've been meaning to write this piece for several years, but now it seems I must, with Thurston and Kim splitting up after 30 years together.  It feels almost like my own parents splitting up, since Kim and my mom are the same age (!).  Sonic Youth was the first band on the indie scene that made me feel like it was okay to be adventurous, musically.  I mean, R.E.M. and U2 led me down the path, but SY blew the gates of my mind off the hinges.  I had always been trying weird things with guitars and pedals, but I had no clue.  To see that these ADULTS were doing it meant that it was okay.  And then, when I was 17, I saw the video for "Dirty Boots."

In the video, a guy who looked like my skater friends and dressed like me spots this cute brunette chick across the room, also decked out in flannel made before 1991 - and they lock eyes, in that magical way they do on the silver screen, as if the heavens themselves made it happen.  They spend several minutes making Goo eyes at each other while the band is playing "Dirty Boots," blissfully unaware of the young love blossoming like the multiple feedback squalls before our very eyes via Tamra Davis's camera.  Their burgeoning romance culminates in their shared stagedive, holding hands as they jump, only to get pulled apart by the crowd.

I've spent twenty years looking for my stagediving diva in flannel with eyes like stars.  I've even dated a girl or two with the same hairstyle.  Not her.  Nowhere have I found this grunge princess.  The amount of shows I've gone to since then is ridiclous.  Even more ridiculous is that at almost all of these shows, I scan the crowd trying to find her.  I've gotten a number exactly once.  We sort of dated for three months, but I was 28 and she was 18.  Was it a bad idea?  You betcha!  I excel at bad ideas.  Or at least, I'm better at executing the bad ideas than the good ones.  Good ideas take a lifetime to build into something.  Bad ideas manifest themselves before the little blue man in the closet can yell "MISTAAAAAAAAAAAAAAKE!"  Caitlin from Connecticut, however, might have been a better choice.  I met her at the Dismemberment Plan/John Vanderslice show.  She was a big JV fan but had never heard of Dismemberment Plan.  I was the reverse.  I think we would have been a good match.  Alas, I was too afraid to ask for her number.  Also, she didn't look the part.

They (those anonymous, insufferable They, who seem to always be saying something...problem is, these days it's all a blur as to what is a cliché and what is a sales pitch, although lately, everything seems to be a sales pitch) say that life is a journey (but yet a singer who has nothing to do with Journey sang "Life Is A Highway" - curious, isn't it?) and that getting there is half the fun -- so I guess that means I'm only having half the fun so far in my life.  So thank you, Sonic Youth, for sending me on this snipe hunt for love.

Monday, December 26, 2011


Christmastime 2008 was particularly rough for me, for some reason.  I suppose it was just the season itself.  They always say that it's the most depressing time of year for lonely souls, although I still haven't a clue as to who "they" are.  They never introduce themselves at parties.  Maybe those mysterious, amorphous they are right.  I was feeling particularly down in the dumps when the blizzard hit that December evening.  I blew off plans to see a show in Long Island because of the snow.  I didn't need that grief.  So I went off in search of some other, unknown, grief instead.

My buddy Chris was throwing a party.  There was mistletoe, food, egg nog and ladies were present.  I'd never been to a party with mistletoe as an adult and was infused with the holiday spirit, amongst other spirits, by night's end.  I had been going through some stuff emotionally, and hadn't really been touched voluntarily by another human being in longer than I'd cared to remember accurately.  At the end of the apartment part of the party, as we were clearing out to take the party elsewhere, I was feeling impish and impulsive (and drunk).  I smiled at B and  gestured to the mistletoe above our heads.  She smiled that smile that we know all too well (those among us who have been passed over for taller, thinner, or god forbid, better looking folks know it well, at any rate), and actually followed it up with the excuse.  You know the one.  The tried and true chestnut "You're awesome, but really, I'm just looking for a buddy right now."  A buddy.  Because that is what I'm best at - being a freaking buddy.

I tried to play it cool, letting the drunken bravura act as a shield.  "Thanks for not laughing, at least.  It was a stupid idea."  I tried to let go of the awkward taste in my mouth - the taste of an attempted light-hearted gesture stillborn.  We partied some more and I acted as normal as I could muster.  Later on, I made the mistake of attempting to explain myself, though it was more like shoveling shit on an open wound than it was applying salve.  I sent her a message via Facebook that read like this:
I'm sorry...i've been going through a ridiculous patch and the whole mistletoe thing (which I've never tried and only did on you because i figured you wouldn't laugh at me, and you didn't, so thank you) was just me being weird. It's been a particularly ridiculous year and I didn't mean to be too nuts. You're awesome and I meant it when I said that it was okay coming from you when you said I was "awesome...but."  Seriously, though, I've heard "you're awesome...but" from way too many people lately and most of them I don't believe, but you're not one of them.
Sometimes I can be such a toolbox.  I wasn't really trying to be more awkward.  Somehow I managed it.  I'm good like that.  So, the next time I saw her, at her birthday gathering, at a bar I don't particularly enjoy, I asked her if she got the message.  She said "Yeah, I got it.  Case closed.  You don't have to say anything else about it." And then she kissed me on the cheek.  Shortly thereafter, I made my way back to my apartment because I wasn't feeling like being out.  I just wanted to get some writing done and go to bed.  Of course, this was not to be the case.

I walk the fifteen minutes or so back to my apartment, all excited to salvage my night with some writerly productivity (some nights are exploring for material (drinking is research), some nights you write about these (mis)adventures).  After all, if I'm not in the mood to be out, I should capitalize on it as best I can.  So I go to turn the key in the wrought iron pre-door door, and - snap!  The key breaks in half and I can't get in.  I call up both roommates on my cell.  No answer.  I cannot reach the ladder for the fire escape.  In panic mode, I decide to do some crazy building climbing that would make Peter Parker, The Amazing Spider-Man himself, proud. 

The door to the adjacent building had this diamond-pattern metal grate to keep out trespassers, so i used it as a sort-of-ladder to then grab a hold of a piece of metal jutting out from my building's roof.  Despite everything being covered in ice and snow, I manage to get onto the roof and immediately wonder why i have done this.  My downstairs neighbor is not only not in her bedroom, but if she had been, would she not freak out when someone knocked on her bedroom window?  Instead of letting me in, she might have maced me.  Still nowhere near the fire escape, and about a story below my bathroom window, surrounded by drifts of snow and spots of ice, eight feet above the frozen sidewalk.  How the hell am I getting down?

I call my best friend, who is more than 50 miles away, and can clearly help me at this juncture.  I suppose this is the returned favor for the summer previous, when she called me while I was sitting on a bench in the park with a lady friend, to tell me that she has gotten her car stuck on the side of a pond.  Clearly I was in a position to help her from the other end of the phone on the other end of our barely shared sandbar.  But that was then, this is (s)now.  From the warm confines of her double-wide, she asks how I got up there in the first place.  "Sheer force of will and a recessive monkey gene" I say, feeling more akin to a cat up a tree than a gorilla in the mist.

Somehow I survived the climb back down without landing prone on my back, concussed, as I had pictured myself winding up moments earlier.  However, I still was no closer to entering my fortress of attitude.  I called my buddy Davecat, and he said I could camp out on his couch.  Of course, it meant trekking back from the way I came, since my car keys were in the apartment I couldn't get into.  Not that I was a stranger to walking to Greenpoint and back.

I went to sleep on the couch, watching "Zoolander" on DVD.  I think I absorbed some weirdness from the film, because I was dreaming I was dancing in a supermarket, drinking with a European pop duo of some sort.  It was kind of like those "Do you wanna Fanta" commercials, but with Eastern European ladies instead of tropical ones.  And the Fanta was most likely vodka in one hand and cranberry juice in the other.  The details are fuzzy, you know from all the dream partying.

So, i'm drinking with these two girls who are pop stars from Europe and I've got a beer in my left hand and a piña colada in the right when Davecat wakes me up.  Startled, I say "Davecat, there better be a REALLY good reason to wake me up -- I was dreaming about drinking and dancing with a hot European pop duo in the supermarket!"

This is when he says the weirdest sentence I've ever been told with a straight face -- "Wake up, we're going to Harrington's bar and surgery."

"...And surgery?" I inquire, and he says, "Yes, Jon '...and surgery.'  It's the hottest new place in town, according to Time Out..."

Just then Davecat wakes me up for real (apparently the previous wake-up was part of my "Zoolander" fever dream) and I get to tell him about the dream within a dream, where he woke me up to tell me about Harrington's Bar and Surgery.

"...And surgery?"  he asks.  And I said "Yes, Dave '...and surgery.'"