Friday, September 30, 2005

My Happiest Moment In The Subway, Part Two




When last we left our hero, he had just had his life saved by the Malden police. However, he was oblivious and ungrateful, as usual. Return with us now to those golden days of yesteryear... Red The Head rides again!

That's how I was known to most of my friends, by the way - Red The Head. Y'see, I had red hair? And I smoked dope? Yup. Usually, everybody just called me "Red", except for the ones calling me "That Asshole Over There".

And, before we go any farther, if you're completely lost and don't have the slightest idea what this has to do with subways? You should read Part One, which you can find a link to somewhere over on the left. You still won't know what this has to do with subways, but at least you'll only be as confused as the other folks who already read that part.

So, to pick up the story kind of where I left off, we played some other gigs. Most of them were unmemorable, except for their utter crapitude musically. I'll tell you about one more.

We had another high school dance to play. This one was at St. Francis's, which I think was in Everett. Now, Duane, whom you may remember as our "guitarist", was employed at Stuart's, which was a department store in Malden. It so happened that he was scheduled to work at Stuart's on the same evening as this dance. Naturally, one would assume (at least the rest of us in the band did) that Duane would ask for the night off so that he could play the dance. If you assumed that, then you don't know Duane. He decided that the money was better for working a four-hour shift as a stockboy than it would be for performing at this dance. Either that or his father told him to buckle the fuck down and do some real work instead of wasting his time seeing how many different ways he could make a Les Paul sound like an animal undergoing unneeded radical surgery. In any case, he wasn't going to make the gig. What to do? What to do?

Well, it was too late to cancel and it was too late to teach another guitarist our arrangements, such as they were, so the rest of us did what we figured was the best we could do under the circumstances. Our bass player at the time, Sean, was taking six-string guitar lessons, so he borrowed Duane's guitar and became our guitar player for the night. Since we had two drummers, one of them was more-or-less expendable, so Mark, who had taken about three weeks of piano, moved out from behind his kit and took over on keyboards. Chuck, being the good drummer, stayed where he was. This left me.

If you recall, I was the vocalist and keyboards player. Since Mark was taking over the keyboards, that freed me up to be the bass player. It's important at this point to know something about me. I had never played the bass before in my life. Some folks might have seen this as an insurmountable obstacle to the success of this endeavor, but not this boy! I was the guy who called entire auditoriums full of drunken louts "cocksuckers" and figured I could get away with it. What was this compared to that? I assumed I could fake it enough to get by. And, if I couldn't play, I could certainly chew on the scenery.

Which is what I did. After a few hurried lessons from Sean, I played on just the E string for most of the night and I climbed all over the furniture, making an ass of myself and distracting a goodly portion of the crowd from my abysmal failings as a musician. At one point, providence stepped in and gave me a hand. Well, actually providence stepped in and gave me a bloody nose.

I was standing on top of a cafeteria table, jumping up and down to the beat, when my nose started bleeding. I don't know why it did, but I made the most of it. Blood was steadily pouring from one nostril onto my shirt and onto Sean's bass. I kept on playing, knowing that this was about as cool as it could get. These were the days of Alice Cooper and Kiss and other practitioners of "glam" stage shows, a goodly part of which consisted of the use of stage blood. Hey, I just discovered I had a supply of the real thing at my disposal and I wasn't going to let it go to waste. I wiped my nose with one hand and smeared the blood all over my face and wiped the rest on my pants. The girls in the audience mostly gagged, but all of the guys were nodding their heads and mouthing, "Far out, man!"

(It helps if you read that as though either Cheech or Chong is saying it.)

The song ended and I had sense enough to sit down and throw my head back for a minute. Sean played a few power chords and leaned into the amp to produce some feedback, so that bought me some time while I snuffled up the yucky stuff in my nose. The bleeding stopped almost as quickly as it had begun. I probably popped a polyp or something; who knows? It was the highlight of the show, though.

As a coda to this episode (Notice how I slipped in an actual musical term here? Clever!) Duane actually showed up about 30 minutes from the end of our last set. Like a musical god from Olympus deigning to associate with some mere mortals, he strode in, grabbed the guitar from Sean and assumed his rightful place as ***THE GUITAR PLAYER***. The rest of us mere crustaceans scuttled back to our respective support positions while he assaulted the audience with his own particular brand of aural defoliant. Some of them probably never had kids as a result. I wanted to make my nose bleed again, but I couldn't quite will it to happen.

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I should mention here that a couple of us did go on to become actual decent musicians.

I took up the bass seriously soon after the nosebleed gig and I played in another 4 or 5 bands over the course of the late 70's and early 80's. Since the bass is much easier to transport than keyboards, I actually practiced daily. I still play, but just for fun. I haven't played an actual gig since 1989 or so.

Sean continued taking guitar lessons and today he is an extremely accomplished jazz player. He plays in Boston-based ensembles and occasionally tries to get the hard-core jazz guys to understand why he likes hard rock.

Bruce, who replaced Sean and was our bass player at the time of the "cocksuckers" incident, lives in New Hampshire and still plays. He is quite good.

Duane and Mark both became cops. Whether this was because they had their lives saved by cops in Malden or because their dad was a cop, I don't know. I suspect the latter.
I totally lost touch with them long ago. Or they totally lost touch with me on purpose, which is always a possibility. In any event, I don't know if they still play. And, Mark, if you're reading this? It's all in fun - you weren't a bad drummer. You just weren't the better of the two.

As I mentioned near the beginning of this story, the good drummer, Chuck, has been dead for many years. He was a backseat passenger in a car that was totaled when a drunk driver ran a red light. He was 17. I'm sure I speak for every member of World's End when I say we still miss him.

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So, what in the name of the Amazing Kreskin does any of the foregoing have to do with the subway? Well, not one hell of a lot, but now I'm going to tell you the subway story and you'll see that it's not much and I really had to pad things out, so I did.

Mark and Duane, as I may have mentioned, lived in Everett. We were good friends outside of the band, so I occasionally hung out at their house. On Saturday or Sunday, I sometimes watched TV with them and their dad until 10 or 10:30, and then I'd start heading home.

Well, one Sunday evening in early 1975, it was as bitter cold as I ever remember it being and it was snowing. In order to get home to Dorchester, I had to catch a bus from near their house and take it to the Sullivan Square station on the Orange Line of the T, which at that time was an elevated line. I then would make a connection with the Red Line to Ashmont and finally take the trolley from there. It was a fairly long trip, especially on Sunday evening when trains and busses ran about once every hour.

I stood outside in the vicious cold and snow, with winds blowing at 20 or 25 mph, waiting for the bus to Sullivan Square. I waited and waited and waited some more. I was out there for a good 30 minutes and I was not dressed warmly. I was chilled to the marrow by the time the bus came, shivering and shaking and with wet feet. My nose was frozen and my eyes were watering. My ears hurt like hell, even with my long hair of the time covering them somewhat.

The bus came and I got on, but I discovered to my dismay that it wasn't much warmer. There was no wind or snow inside the bus, of course, but the heater wasn't working, either. I didn't warm up much on the 15-minute ride to Sullivan Square.

The bus pulled into the station, which was basically a huge wood and cement barn open on both ends, so the wind whipped through it making me entirely as miserable as I had been at the bus stop before. I heard a train. I reached into my pocket with frozen fingers to get some coins, paid my fare, and ran upstairs to the elevated platform just as the train pulled out towards downtown.

This was even worse than the bus stop. The elevated platform was completely open and perhaps 20 feet in the air. It stood alongside a section of I-93, so while you waited for the train, cars would go by at eye level. It also was very close to the Mystic River and there wasn't much of anything near that platform to cut the wind. It was perhaps the coldest spot in the entire city that night.

I stood there on the platform with the wind whipping and the snow blowing and my nose frozen and my feet wet and feeling very sorry for myself. Then, something caught my attention.

If you're a veteran of public transit, and perhaps subways in particular, you know that at one time many subway and elevated railway stations had waiting rooms. These were places where someone could get out of the elements for at least a short while while they waited for a train. At the time of this story, these waiting rooms were already pretty much a thing of the past. Too many winos used them as urinals or bedrooms, and the liability risks had become such that the T always kept the doors to them locked. This night, though, out of the corner of my eye, I saw that the lights were actually on in the waiting room at Sullivan Square.

Could it be? Might the doors actually be unlocked and would I be able to go inside and get out of the wind? I pretty much ran over there to check it out.

YES! YES! YES!!! Not only were the doors unlocked, but when I stepped inside it was as warm as Miami in July. Some wonderful, blessed angel employed by the T had turned the heater on full blast. My face began to melt. My nose, as it defrosted, dripped both inside and out, but snot was a small price to pay for such relief.

I should mention that, in those days when dinosaurs roamed the earth, it was perfectly legal to smoke in train stations. Some people were still pissed about not being allowed to smoke in the cars themselves, as had been legal up until recently. So, to make my circle of happiness complete, I plopped down on a wooden bench and lit up a Kool, inhaling the menthol deeply. I had never been, nor have I ever been, more happy in the subway than I was at that moment. It smelled like piss, there were a few spiders crawling around, my clothes were still wet, and I had a post-nasal drip that wouldn't quit, but I was pretty much in heaven.

And that was my happiest moment in the subway. The End.

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(Note to aspiring writers: If you don't know what "allegory" is, you should. The weather and the bus and the subway are life, while that smelly dirty waiting room was the band. To an outsider, that waiting room was just a piss-ridden bug-infested pit. And the band was a catastrophe. But my happiness was immense, and very real, in both situations.)


2 comments:

Anonymous said...

I too was having troulbe bringing it up. I finally found it way at the bottom as you suggested. It was worth it. I nearly caught pnueumonia just reading the thing.

connie/mom said...

Thank the intelligent and charming Tara for me. I finally found where you had hidden the second half of your story.