Friday, September 28, 2007

Blood In The Suds, 3

(If you’ve missed parts one and two, you can read them HERE and HERE.)

I finished my smoke and went back into the steamy, stinky kitchen. Forgetting for a moment that the tile floor was greasy, I slipped and slid a bit on my way back to the dishwashing station. Thankfully, I kept my balance and didn’t end up on my backside again, as I had on my initial entrance.

I surveyed the situation and immediately became disheartened. There were pretty much as many bus tubs full of dirty stuff now as there had been when I came to work that morning. It was becoming increasingly clear to me that dishwashing wasn’t going to be as easy a gig as I had imagined.

Well, there was nothing to it but to get down to work, so I grabbed a plate and prepared to swab it. When I looked at it, though, I was amazed. There were little bits of fat, trimmed from a steak or chop, and that wasn’t unusual, but in the middle of the plate was a wad of mashed potato, and in the middle of that, a cigarette butt. Some dickweed had used his plate as an ashtray.

(I encountered a few more instances of this as the day wore on into night. Apparently, some people felt that using an actual ashtray for their ashes was gauche. I also encountered toothpicks and their wrappers, foil from after dinner mints, an assortment of variegated spit, and one button. I fed it all to the pig, and no complaints from it as it swallowed – well, maybe just a little when it had to digest the button, but I figured it couldn’t have been that much worse than the bones I had been shoveling into it.)

Although the water in my washing trough was going into the disposal, and much of the leftovers with it, there was still a good deal of filth left in the trough itself, so the smell never abated. Every so often I’d run my hand through the murky depths and kind of push some of the accumulated crap towards the pig, making sure to never get my fingers close enough to it to risk injury.

The afternoon wore on, with me washing dishes; loading those, silverware and glassware into the big dishwashing machine; unloading the machine when it finished a cycle; and trying to somehow get to the end of it all. Even though lunch was long past, bus tubs kept coming in filled with more stuff to wash. I was gaining a bit on them, since the hours between lunch and dinner were slower, but with dinner service coming soon, I knew there was no way I’d be able to finish everything that day. I would definitely have a load of work waiting for me again the next morning.

In the meantime, I was becoming increasingly hungrier. I hadn’t eaten since breakfast at home that morning. I had been told that a free meal was included as a perquisite of the job, but I hadn’t been told when I’d be getting it. The bits of trash I was scraping into the pig began to look tastier and tastier.

(No, I didn’t eat any of it. I can shift into low-life gear pretty fast on occasion, but after seeing some of the things people were putting onto their plates, including loogies and lungers, the temptation to ingest any of the leftovers was not very high.)

I scraped and scrubbed, sponged and sweated, stacked and sorted, and slipped outside, as often as I could manage, to smoke. The overall pace in the kitchen was slowing, so I knew that the restaurant would be emptying. Where was my meal?

Finally, one of the bus boys came into my area and motioned for me to follow him. I did, with him explaining that the kitchen manager had told him to come and get me for the evening meal for staff. We walked a short distance to another room, what appeared to be another kitchen area, though smaller and cooler than the one I had come from. There was a large wooden table, with ten or twelve folding chairs, in the center of the room. Some bus boys were already seated around it and I found an empty seat for myself. It was the first time I had been off of my feet in almost eleven hours, and I could have slept right there and then.

Before I had a chance to doze off, plates of food were being brought in by another bus boy. Apparently, this was the dinner for bus boys and dishwashers. I didn’t see a waiter, waitress, chef, or any other type of personnel present. I didn’t care, though. This was something I had been looking forward to with great anticipation. The Pillar House was a high-end restaurant. I figured the excellent meal I could expect would make up for the sore legs, burnt hands, sweat, putrid smell of the kitchen, and other hardships of the day.

I looked down at the plate that had been put in front of me. There was a middling glob of mashed potatoes (no gravy), a heaping helping of creamed cauliflower, and two lamb chops that had no more than a dime-size piece of meat on either one of them. I looked around the table at the other plates, thinking that perhaps, as the new guy, I was being played a practical joke. Nope. Everybody had pretty much the same as I did, and they appeared to be eating with no complaints or regrets.

Well, I hate cauliflower, so that portion of the meal – and it was a good 50% of it – was out. I tried to cut the meat from the lamb chops, but it was such a small bit of it that I finally took the things in my hands and gnawed as much fat and gristle as I could stand. The potatoes were good, but hardly enough to satisfy my hunger. The next time I would be this disappointed by the outcome of an eagerly-awaited event would be the 1986 World Series. Now, I felt like hucking a lunger onto my plate and putting a cigarette out in the middle of the cauliflower. I might have done so, too, except I knew that I’d be the one having to wash the plate later on. Instead, I just sat there a few minutes until the kitchen manager came in and said that break was over.

Back to the kitchen I went, followed by the bus boy that had summoned me to the meal. He was carrying a bus tub full of the meal’s dishes, another load for me to clean. I resumed my position at the trough and started plunging more dishes into the gray water.

The kitchen was emptying quickly. Wait staff, bus boys, chefs – their day was done. The kitchen manager came by to tell me he was leaving for the night. He told me that the only ones left would be the cleaning staff and me. He told me that I could knock off as soon as I had started the pots and pans soaking, and that the cleaning staff would lock up for the night. He showed me where the pots and pans were – another small inlet off of the main kitchen - and instructed me on how to fill them with hot water and detergent. They would soak overnight, loosening some of the baked on crud, but would need to be scrubbed in the morning.

I had completely forgotten that there would be pots and pans needing cleaning as well as the piles of other utensils and plates. I now knew that I would have twice as much work awaiting my return in the morning.

The manager said good-bye, walked out the back door, got into his car, and drove off. I started filling the pots and pans with water and soap. As I was doing so, one of the cleaners came by with a mop in his hand. He waved to me. I waved back.

I finished filling the pots. I was ready to leave when it occurred to me that I had no earthly idea how to get to the train station. I had been driven to the interview and I had been driven to the restaurant that morning.

I went looking for the mop guy I had waved to. I found him in the main part of the kitchen, swabbing the greasy tile floor. I said, “Hi! Excuse me, but it's my first day here, and I’m not familiar with Newton. Can you tell me how to get to the Green Line?”

He said, “Que?”

(Next: Newton Is A Very Big Place In The Dark, Especially When You're Trying To Follow Directions In Another Language)

Blood In The Suds, II

(My apologies to those of you who breathlessly awaited this second part of the story. You're probably dead now, of course, going without breath for so long as you did.

I was sick the past two days, thus out of work, thus unable to post since I'm a neanderthal and live in a cave without computer access. As a special bonus, I'll be publishing Part Three later on this same day. So, if you're reading this on the morning of Friday, September 28th, come back around 4pm Eastern Time for the next installment. And thanks for your patience.)


So, my friend, Joey, had driven me to The Pillar House restaurant in Newton, for a job interview, and – despite the initial misgivings of the kitchen manager - I had been hired as a dishwasher. Now it was the next morning, and I was due in to my first shift at 10am.

My Dad was employed by Singapore Airlines at that time. He was in charge of the entire New England region, which meant that all Singapore Airlines personnel in the area had to report to him and follow his orders.

Well, he was the ONLY Singapore Airlines employee in New England. And his orders to himself more often than not included going to Suffolk Downs and hanging out in the press box. Through the years, he had become friends with many of the writers on the horseracing beat in the six-state region – Sam McCracken, Bob Kinsley, Eddie Duckworth, and others – and they had welcomed my Dad into their fraternity with open arms. He loved the sport, he loved the action, and he loved the camaraderie. He was a marvelous handicapper, and he won a number of informal contests involving himself and these professional prognosticators. He did his job with Singapore quite well – he didn’t screw them over – but he set his own hours, and they frequently included mornings (as well as afternoons and evenings) off.

Anyway, this was one of the days when he intended to go to the track. Since he had nothing else to do this early in the morning, he offered to drive me to my first day on the job. I accepted.

We pulled into the parking lot of the restaurant a few minutes before 10. I thanked my Dad for the ride and went inside, reporting to the kitchen manager’s office. He was there, still unshaven and still wearing soiled whites. He had me fill out a couple of tax forms and such, and then brought me to the kitchen proper.

I had never before been inside a working restaurant kitchen, so had no idea what went on in one. I stood in the doorway and saw people chopping vegetables, people setting up salads and other cold dishes that could be stored until needed, folks filling salt shakers and pepper mills and condiment containers, still more people working with tablecloths and candle holders and the other niceties of a fine eating establishment. Cooks were cooking, and waiters were waiting. The only thing missing was a dishwasher.

I mean that quite literally. There was no other dishwasher in sight. As I was soon to find out, I was it. I was the one-man dish crew. The kitchen manager confided to me that he was pressed into service doing the dishes when there wasn’t anyone else on the payroll. And that’s why he had been so anxious to hire me, even though he wasn’t sure I was the right man for the job. I was a body, and that got his hands out of the water.

He walked into the kitchen and I followed him – but not for long. I took one step and fell backwards on my ass. I felt wetness on the back of my shirt and the seat of my pants. There were a few laughs from the rest of the staff. I went to boost myself up and my hands felt what my boot-clad feet hadn’t. The floor was slippery with grease and water. Great start.

“Oops!” said the kitchen manager, as he helped me to an upright position. “You have to watch your step. You’ll get used to it. Hazard of the trade.”

I followed him, gingerly now, to the dishwashing station I was to man. It consisted of a sort-of trough, perhaps a foot wide from front to back and four feet long, filled with constantly replenished water from a pipe at the left side. Closer on the left, bus tubs full of dirty dishes were on a counter, waiting to be cleaned. To the right, there was an area to stack dishes that had been scraped clean and rinsed. In the middle of the trough was “the pig” – the garbage disposal - constantly running and eagerly awaiting a chance to suck down whatever was scraped from the dishes, as well as the dirtied water.

There was a stench to the entire area. The combination of leftover food bits, grease, sweat, and the other various kitchen odors, added up to a smell not entirely unlike vomit. In particular, grease seemed to hang in the air, and I felt like I was breathing in fatty particles. It was hot as all get out, too, it being late summer and a working kitchen. I felt a bit queasy, and I hoped that the smell and the heat were something I’d get used to as my time in the kitchen went on.

I was instructed to stand in front of the pig, on a black rubber mat that allowed better footing than the wet, greasy floor. I was shown a scrubbing brush, a sponge, and a bottle of pink liquid. The manager instructed me on how I was to take a dish from a bus tub, sponge it off in the flowing water, and then stack the dish to my right. If there was anything particularly nasty stuck to the plate, I was to apply some of the pink liquid – dishwashing detergent – and then scrub off the detritus as best I could with the brush. The same went for silverware and glasses, although there were separate trays to place these items in once I had finished with them. I was told that there would be pots and pans later, but that there was a separate station for scrubbing them. The manager would give me some instruction on those when the time came.

Once I had given the dishes and other items their initial cleaning, they were then to be loaded into a huge dishwashing machine that sat to the left of my station. This machine gave everything a thorough wash and sterilization. After the machine was done running its cycle, I was to unload it and place the clean items on a counter to the far left. A bus boy or chef or other worker on the front end of the eating process would then pick them up for a new round of dirtying.

The kitchen manager, satisfied that I knew what needed to be done, started to leave. He then turned, and said, “Oh, yeah. Be careful of the pig. If you drop anything down there, don’t reach for it. It’ll take your hand off before you even have time to think about it.”

Well, I hadn’t counted on dismemberment being one of the job perks. I decided that I’d be VERY careful around the pig.

I grabbed the sponge and took a plate from the nearest bus tub. It wasn’t too dirty; just a bit of ketchup and parsley on it. I plunged the plate into the water.

I immediately withdrew my hand, leaving the plate behind, and swearing accompanied the action. The water was scalding hot. It’s dumb, I know, but I hadn’t counted on that. My hand was red.

Well, there were no two ways about it. I had to get used to the hot water. I reached back into the trough for the plate, willing myself to keep my hand in the water for as long as I could stand it. After three or four seconds, I had to take my hand out again. However, I persevered and, after doing about fifteen or twenty plates, I had more-or-less become inured to the heat.

I continued working on the bus tubs full of dishes for about two hours. I cleaned a bunch, along with silverware and glasses, and then loaded the big machine. While it ran, I went back and washed more stuff. I was making a serious dent in the accumulated dirty items, and I figured another half-hour or so of work might clear the decks. I had decided that I’d go full-tilt and impress the boss, finishing everything that needed to be done, then breaking for a smoke, for which I would have to go out the back door of the kitchen.

I was just finishing loading the last of the stuff into the dishwashing machine, when more bus tubs started arriving. It was almost 1 o’clock, and lunch had been served in the restaurant starting at approximately 11:30. I now realized that any breaks I took would not come during a time when I had nothing to do; there would always be something to do. If I took any breaks, the work would just back up.

I ducked out the back door and lit up.

While I was standing there having my smoke, I realized once again how much of a fetid stench there was in the kitchen. The fresh air outside – aside from my smoke, of course – was pure and sweet. It was also a good twenty degrees cooler outside. I had been working up a mighty fine sweat, and the change in temperature was tremendously refreshing. I dreaded having to go back in again.

(Next: Back In Again)

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Blood In The Suds

So, there I was in a position with which I was quite familiar – between jobs. It was a Tuesday, somewhat late in the morning, and I was reading the paper. After going through the sports and the funny pages, I decided to look in the “help wanted” listings.

Looking in the “help wanted” was an easy chore for me. The only skills I had were dealing cards and playing the bass guitar. As you might imagine, there weren't too many employers looking for that combination. Therefore, I skipped everything except the “general” section.

I tried to imagine myself in each of the amazingly unskilled labor positions advertised. Cab driver? Deliveryman? Courier? No, I didn’t have a driver’s license. Security guard? Who the heck would hire a skinny 18-year-old with hair halfway down his back to guard anything? Porter? What the hell is that? Isn’t that someone who carries luggage? Medical study participant? Shoot. I put enough drugs into my body on my own, never mind having someone else fill me full of God only knows what. The combination of my drugs and their drugs might make me grow feathers on my dick.

(I would hold all of these jobs in the near future. No feathers, thank God.)

Then I saw one that seemed like something I could do and that might not be too hard - dishwasher. Well, hell, anybody can wash dishes, right? You muck some plates around in some water, rinse them off, then put them in a rack to dry. Then you have a smoke and a coke while you wait for the next bunch of dishes. Easy money!

It seemed to me that the hardest part of the job would be getting to the place for an interview. I lived in Dorchester, the restaurant that advertised the position was in Newton, and I had no car. I called the number listed in the ad and asked if there was a bus or trolley stop nearby. The person on the other end assured me that the Green Line of the T (Boston’s public transportation system) was within a ten-minute walk.

Swell! I set up an interview for 3pm that afternoon.

I took a shower, shaved, and dressed in nice clean clothes. I put on a gray suit, white shirt, regimental striped tie, and black shoes. I have never gone on an interview in anything other than a suit, and I think that’s why I’ve rarely been turned down for any position. As it turned out, it wasn't much of a help in this instance, but I'm getting ahead of myself. I left my house and started walking to the trolley stop. It was about 1 o’clock. I wanted to be sure I’d have plenty of time to make the interview. Then, on Sturbridge Street, I ran into Joey.

Joey was a friend, a fellow Boston Latin dropout.

(Boston Latin was one of two exam schools in Boston. It was the hardest school to get into in the city. However, in our neighborhood, four of us - out of a group of ten - had passed the exam. It was an amazingly high percentage. We were an unusually bright bunch. Not too much to crow about, though, as not a single one of us graduated from there. As a matter of fact, I was the only one of the four to graduate high school AT ALL. Another story, another time.)

Joey asked me where I was going in a suit and tie. I told him it was a job interview. He offered to drive me. He was also looking for someone to go in with him on a nickel bag.

(Damn. It occurs to me that some of you may have no idea what a nickel bag is. Or, was, really, since there's no such thing anymore, so far as I know. OK. A nickel bag was a five-dollar bag of marijuana.

These days, five bucks might buy you one joint – maybe not even that. I haven’t been in the market for a while, so I’m not sure of the price scales. What I do know is that you certainly can’t buy a nickel bag like those we used to get in my neighborhood back in the day.

Generally, a nickel might contain enough grass for four or five joints. Sometimes, you got much more. I recall once rolling thirteen decent-sized bones from one nickel, and that was a neighborhood record for some time.

Excuse me. I've digressed quite a bit. The explanation was needed, but not the wistfulness. Back to the story.)

Joey suggested that, since I was getting the ride and saving on carfare, I go in with him on the nickel. Well, what could I say? Since he was doing me the favor of driving me to the interview, it was just the gentlemanly thing to do. I agreed.

Since I was getting a ride, there was now plenty of time. We decided we’d pick up the nickel bag first. That way, when I got the job, we could celebrate immediately afterwards. Heck, if we got the munchies, maybe we’d just go into the place that hired me and grab a quick bite. We set out to score the weed.

We struck out at three or four different locales. No buzz for us that afternoon. The fact that I was wearing a suit and tie probably didn’t help. Even though I stayed in the car, anybody taking a peek out the window would have thought I was a narc.

(I mention all of this side action because this lack of ability in being able to secure some dope was the impetus behind Joey and me dealing the stuff [along with another friend] in the very near future. We were tired of depending upon the kindness of strangers. I'll tell you all about that soon enough; probably the next story in this series. However, I’ve digressed, again, and we’ll now get back on the road trip to the land of hot water and suds.)

After the fruitless search for weed, Joey drove me to the interview via Route 128, a road that basically circles the outskirts of Greater Boston. I’m much more familiar with that road now than I was then. At the time, it seemed like we’d never get there. Maybe Joey took the long way around on it. I don’t know. Anyway, we arrived at The Pillar House restaurant at about 5 minutes past my scheduled interview time of 3 o’clock. Joey parked and I hustled inside.

I told the first person I met - a waiter, I think - that I was there to apply for a dishwashing job. He looked at me as though I had three eyes and two noses. Then he brought me downstairs to an office located just outside of the kitchen. He told the person in that office that I was there to be a dishwasher. I was greeted by a similarly incredulous look from the kitchen manager, who was dressed in filthy industrial whites and who apparently hadn't shaved in at least two or three days.

(I didn't realize it at the time, but I've since become aware that I may have been the only person in the history of the world to apply for a position as dishwasher while wearing a full suit, tie, and wing tips.)

I was given an application to fill out, which I did. I handed it back to the unshaven manager. He barely looked at it. He said that he needed someone to start right away, but that I wasn't even remotely dressed for the job. He also said he wasn't sure if I was the right person. I asked him why.

He said, "It's hard work, you know. No offense, but you don't look like the type. You look like you might walk out after ten minutes. Do you always dress like that?"

I said, "I dress like this for interviews. Look, I'm not afraid to work hard. You need someone, right? Give me a shot at it. You don't have anyone else right now, right? If I don't work out, what have you lost?"

He thought about it for a few seconds, then told me to report at 10am the next morning. He told me to wear something besides a suit. He suggested jeans and a t-shirt. He reached out to shake my hand.

I had officially become a dishwasher.

I went outside and told Joey I had gotten the job. Since we hadn't been able to procure any smoke, we didn't have any munchies, and thus weren't even tempted to go inside the place and eat. That was just as well. It was an extremely high-end restaurant - white tablecloths, chandeliers, dark wood - so we couldn't have afforded it, anyway. Joey drove us back to Dorchester.

I went home and told my Dad that I was the new dishwasher at The Pillar House. While he congratulated me on getting a job, he, too, seemed a bit less than sure that I was the right man for the job.

What the hell? It was just dishwashing, right? What was so tough about that?

(NEXT - What Was So Tough About It.)

Monday, September 24, 2007

Family Reunion

(Thanksgiving 1967 - My grandfather, Pa Sullivan, holding my cousins Joey, David & Joan; Me in the suit.)

So, there I was eating some breakfast on Saturday morning when the phone rang. MY WIFE answered it. From the other room, I heard, “Yes, he’s here. Who’s calling please?”

I was slightly perturbed that she had told someone I was here before she found out who it was. We generally screen each other’s calls for telemarketers, politicians, bill collectors, fundraisers, IRS agents, and other potential scumbags. However, surprise soon replaced budding anger. It was my Cousin David.

I hadn’t spoken to or seen my cousin in close to forty years.

(Well, OK - that’s the truth, but still a slight exaggeration. We’d seen pictures of each other, exchanged e-mails, and – most important – been reading each other’s blogs. We’d had a chance to “meet” electronically. I just hadn’t actually heard his voice, or seen him in the flesh, in four decades.)

To set the scene more fully, I need to give you a bit of background.

Last weekend, Boston College had defeated Georgia Tech in a football game. I’m a BC fan, so I enjoyed that. My cousin is also a fan of BC, so he had made a bet upon the outcome of that game. He bet another blogger – Plez – that BC would win. The loser had to display the other school’s logo on his blog for a week. BC, and thus my cousin, won.

Plez, being an honorable alum of GT, made good on the bet. He displayed the logo all of last week. My cousin, being the winner, couldn’t be blamed for wanting to publicize his victory. He wrote about it on his blog. You can read about it, if you want. I made four or five different comments, since I enjoyed the victory so much myself. Anyway, as you'll see if you peruse the comments, I decided to go to BC’s next game, vs. Army.

I went to a website that re-sells season ticket holder’s tickets when they aren’t able to make it to a game. I was able to score an excellent seat in the first row of the upper deck, on the 30-yard line.

(On the left, my Cousin David, with his redheaded son. On the right, my Dad, with his redheaded son.)

And now, we return to my breakfast table, MY WIFE handing me the telephone, my cousin on the other end. Rather than recount the entire conversation, I’ll give you highlights.

It seems David had been playing in a golf tournament on Friday. Part of the tournament was a long-drive competition, and in that, he had won tickets to the BC game. He wanted to know if we might get together before the game.

I was up for it. From everything David had written on his blog, as well as from correspondence, he seemed like a good guy. He’s blood, of course, but he also appeared to be someone I’d like hanging with even if he wasn’t. He was driving to the game from his home in western Massachusetts (about an hour’s drive) while I planned on parking at my place of business and then taking public transportation. We arranged to meet in front of a movie theater in Cleveland Circle, about a 15-minute leisurely walk from the stadium.

(On the left, my Dad as a toddler. Compare to my Cousin David's boy above. On the right, my Dad. Compare to my Cousin David above.)

I arrived at the theater 10 minutes in front of our arranged meeting time. While I was waiting, I wondered what it would be like to see David in person. In pictures I had seen of him, he had a great resemblance to my Dad. Since my Dad has been dead for 13 years now, I wondered if seeing David might be a bit more emotional than a general reunion with another family member. Would it be like seeing my Dad walking towards me?

David pulled his car into the parking lot and got out. He was immediately recognizable to me, of course. He DID look a lot like my Dad, and if he had been wearing a suit and tie, I might have freaked. However, David is a casual dresser, as I am, and that tempered the effect. My Dad almost never wore shorts, a baseball cap, and a jersey.

(In my usual self-absorbed fashion, I never considered that I might resemble someone David knew. As he later told me, I bear a bit of a resemblance to his brother.)

We shook hands, and then hugged. We started walking towards the stadium. We passed a ballfield that I had mentioned in my blog. He asked me if that was where I played my games. I said yes, telling him a couple of small peculiarities about the field. We made small talk about sports, but easily fell into conversation about my Cousin Joey (deceased in the past year, from a drug overdose) and that led into deeper family subjects, such as about how David’s father, my Uncle David, had abandoned him and his mother at an early age.

David told me about the spotty meetings they had through the years; a few minutes before school here, a bit of conversation someplace else. He related to me how he wished his father had done things differently. He said that he had pretty much reached a stage of forgiveness – or at least acceptance – and if his father had made a little bit of extra effort at that point, they might have had some sort of real relationship. Uncle David never did, though. One of my cousin's big regrets is that he had never really had a chance to know the Sullivan side of his family. His memories of family members – people I knew well, spent lots of time with, and loved deeply – were just shreds and shadows.

(I don’t want to paint David as some sort of pathetic character. He’s far from that. He seems to have his shit together like very few people I’ve known. He’s successful in his field. He’s happily married with lovely kids. He’s self-assured, confident, outgoing, a real nice guy, and I can’t imagine him backing down from much. He wasn’t crying while he told me these things, so I want to make sure that in no way I leave you with that impression concerning him. More than anything else – even during the talks about things that might have hurt – we were both smiling.)


We reached Alumni Stadium and went inside. It was still about a half-hour before game time, so we just walked around the inside perimeter of the place, first searching for a beer stand (it turns out they don’t sell beer at Alumni Stadium – Horrors!) and then for a hot dog/sausage stand. Finding a place that sold sausages, I bought one with peppers and onions. David opted for a hot dog. We stopped our walking, ate, and talked some more.

Sometimes the son of an alcoholic becomes a teetotaler, a response to the sadness caused by his father's addiction. Similarly, David has become a devoted family man, in response to his own father's abandonment. He is as much of a good father and husband as his own dad generally wasn't to him and his mother.


The conversation reverted back to sports for a while. Talk of my arthroscopic knee operation led into David relating a painful story about an injury in high school football (which I won’t go into detail about, but it concerned a bruised testicle, which should be enough said) and we easily fell into casual conversation about a variety of subjects - family, youthful indiscretions, life in general. I wasn’t looking forward to us splitting up when David went to his seat in the end zone and I went to mine on the sidelines. I suggested that he accompany me to my seat and that he join me, if there was an empty seat next to mine.

As it turned out, there were a few empty seats in the front row and we were able to sit together throughout the entire game. As we watched BC defeat Army, 37 – 17, we talked about family, the Red Sox, illegal drug usage common to both of our pasts, politics, whether Matt Ryan has a shot at actually winning the Heisman Trophy (we think yes, but definitely a longshot), more family, more drugs, the Patriots, the Celtics, our respective jobs, gambling, and that we both share a similar fear of heights, therefore making our seats in the first row of the second deck a source of slight recurring vertigo for both of us. The conversation flowed effortlessly, and I had a very enjoyable afternoon. To me, it seemed as though we had been friends for forty years, rather than not having seen each other in that long a time.

After the game, we hugged again, and I said that we’d have to do something else soon, maybe with OUR WIVES along. I headed to the Chestnut Hill train station, to ride back to Newton and my car, while David walked back to Cleveland Circle to retrieve his car. I hope we DO get together again fairly soon. It was a fun day.

I bought a ticket to a football game, but what I got was an excellent family reunion. Way cool.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Sleeveless Sox

You’re a nice person, aren’t you? You’re willing to cut me some slack, right?

I’m having some trouble getting this writing thing together, write at the moment. I want to tell you all about the time I spent as a dishwasher, but I just plain do not feel like writing much write now.

(OK, I’ll stop misspelling “right”. Sorry.)

I don’t want to half-ass it. I want to give you enjoyable, well-written stuff. So, I have to beg your indulgence and ask you to come back on Monday for the dishwashing story I've been promising you. I’m hoping that I find a whole slew of inspiration over the weekend, and that my job – you know, the thing that pays the rent – evens out a bit and doesn’t leave me mostly exhausted each night, as I have been for most of this week.

(That’s why all the reprints this week, you know. I’m exhausted. Lazy, too, of course, but mostly exhausted.)

So, Monday = Dishwashing Story. I semi-promise!


In the meantime, I need to talk about the Red Sox.

(I've picked up a whole slew of new readers from places like Australia and England and Austria. This will mean just about nothing to most of them. Oh, well. They can feel free to tell me all about the Geelong Cats or Aston Villa or whatever they watch in Austria aside from the German border.)

(By the way, I actually own an Aston Villa scarf. I got it when I was in England around 1971. I'm not a huge soccer ["football", to everybody in the world aside from Americans] fan, but I do follow them as I'm able. Results are spotty to come by over here, and the only time I can watch the team is if they're on a Pay-Per-View, so I don't, but I own the scarf!)

Anyway, the Red Sox are now leading the Yankees by a game-and-a-half. They led them by as many as 14 games earlier in the year. Panic is setting in. Some Sox fans are reserving spots on the Tobin Bridge for jumping at a later date.

There's a lot of blame to go around for this sad state of affairs.

For one thing, Manny Ramirez has been missing from the line-up for 21 games now. His bat is integral to the success of this team. Take him out of the spot between Ortiz and Lowell? Not good. Jacoby Ellsbury has been a nice surprise, no doubt, and his glove is better than Manny's, but he doesn't have half Manny's power and - this is most important - Manny is one of the all-time great RBI guys. Show Manny some runners in scoring position and his average goes up something like 50 points.

(Should Manny be sucking it up and playing, despite being hurt? You never can tell with Manny. He might just be enjoying an extended vacation of sorts or he might really be so hurt he can't play. That's part of the deal when you have Manny on your ball club. It's sort of like being a Catholic. You have to accept everything on faith.)

The team is also missing Coco Crisp (THE best name in all of baseball) and Kevin Youkilis. Who do you have replacing them? Folks like Brandon Moss and Eric Hinske. Personally, I don't think Hinske should even be on a major league roster yet, let alone in your line-up during a heated pennant race. Moss? Another triple-A player. It's as though the Sox have decided that it wasn't challenge enough to beat the Yankees with their regulars, so they're seeing if the PawSox can do it.

Then, there's Eric Gagne.

Gagne came to the team with impressive credentials. He was lights out for the Dodgers a few years back. He was having a decent season for the Rangers. We gave up Kason Gabbard, a fine young starter, for what was hoped to be the absolute clincher in the bullpen. It has not turned out that way. As a matter of fact, it hasn't even come close. Gagne is a complete bust.

Take the four games Gagne has blown since coming to the team, transfer them from the loss column to the win column, and not a single fan would be looking to add arsenic to his meals come October. If there is any one reason why Red Sox fans are considering laying themselves down in front of a Red Line train, it is Gagne.

Well, I'm here to tell you that I have the answer to Gagne's problems. Here it is. Get the man a shirt that fits.

I'm as serious as a heart attack. Have you seen the way this guy fidgets and squirms on the mound before delivering a pitch? He pulls on his shirt, tugs at his pants, and then, before EVERY PITCH, he throws his arm up into the air above his head to adjust his damn baggy uniform. Well, of course, he has to bring his arm back down before throwing the ball and then his uniform is in the way again.

I'm NOT joking.

I say cut his sleeve off entirely so he doesn't have to fuck with it. There's precedent for such a thing. Look at Ted Kluszewski.

Big Klu played many outstanding years for the Cincinnati Reds. As you might imagine, he was a power hitter. Early on, he decided to cut off the sleeves of his uniform in order to give his massive guns more freedom of movement.

I say that Gagne needs to do the same thing, at least for the one arm he uses.

Bottom line for the Sox? They make the playoffs and we'll see what happens after that. I still say they win the division, but only if Gagne gets a new shirt.

See you Monday with a dishwashing story.

Thursday, September 13, 2007


I had left World's End. I was still dealing blackjack a couple of nights a month, and I would soon begin a new job with Prudential Insurance, working in a warehouse of theirs in Allston. I’d seriously take up the bass guitar in a little while, giving myself a real shot at being a paid musician. I’d be spending one summer driving a cab and another summer working for the City of Boston, supplementing those incomes via gambling (legally and profitably) and by dealing drugs (also profitable, though certainly not as legal.)

A busy time was ahead for me after leaving that band. In the midst of this, though, I had one more gig to play. I would have rather not had to play it.


There are some dates you never forget because they were the time of tragedy shared by millions of people - 9/11, for example, or for an earlier generation, December 7th, 1941. Then there are those dates that were a time of personal tragedy. The world doesn’t know them, but you never forget them. We all have them. May 24th, 1976, is one of mine.

That was the day Chuck Marotta died.


Chuck was my bandmate in World’s End. He was a drummer, and one heck of a good drummer he was, too. A real sweet... kid. He was just a kid. We all were. The rest of us got to become men. Chuck didn’t.

He was a backseat passenger in a car that was totaled when a drunk driver ran a red light. Chuck died instantly. He never knew what hit him.

(At least, if there’s a God in Heaven he didn’t.)

He was 17. His high school graduation was one month away.


I had left the band, as I say, and the remaining members gave it a go for a short while and then drifted off into other pursuits. Chuck, as well as Wayne Shockley (another member of World’s End, who joined them after I had left) had formed a new band, Destination. Chuck was on drums, of course. Wayne played the bass, and there were two guitarists. Chuck was also the singer.

I was in touch with the guys from World’s End, off and on, but with all of my other pursuits of the time, not nearly as much as I would have liked. I hadn’t spoken to any of them in over a month when, while watching the news at 11pm with my Dad, a report similar to the following aired.

“...and in Malden tonight, two are dead in a traffic accident. The two were teenagers, passengers in a car hit when another car ran a red light. Killed were Charles Marotta of Malden, and...”

I didn’t hear anything else. My stomach went hot and my head swam. I said, “Holy shit, no, oh, fuck.”

My Dad said, “What? What’s the matter?”

“I think... shit... I think it was Chuck, from the band... in that accident. Oh, fuck! Damn it! GODDAMN IT!”

I was coming unglued quickly. My Dad tried to keep me calm.

“Well, find out for sure first. Don’t get so upset until you know.”

He was right. I called Duane, our guitarist. The line was busy. I hung up and immediately my phone rang. It was Duane.

He said, “Red, did you see the news on Channel 7?”

“Yeah. The accident?”


“Was that Chuck? Our Chuck?”

“I don’t know for sure. I’ll try to find out and I’ll give you a call back.”

He called me back. He had found out. It was our Chuck.


I had had other people in my life die. My grandmother - my Dad’s mother - died when I was 9. She was the first person I had known who died, and it took me a couple of days to really wrap my head around the fact that someone I knew and loved was gone forever. Aunts and uncles had died, as well as my grandfather from my Mom’s side of the family. This was a totally different feeling.

This was the first person from my own age group who had died. This was the first friend whom I’d never see again. It wasn’t right, not at all. He was more than a year younger than I was. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I had kept a thought of Chuck being the drummer in another band with me. That would never happen.

I called one of our bass players, my good friend, Sean. I broke the news to him. He took it very hard, sobbing loudly. He had stayed in touch with Chuck more than I had recently. Duane had talked to his brother, Mark, our other drummer, and then he called the other folks who had played with the band at one time or another. There was nothing else for me to do, no one else for me to call. I went to bed.

I always listened to the radio when going to bed, usually music or a ballgame. This time I listened to the news station. I heard about it again, and then again twenty minutes or so later. It was still unreal, no matter how many times I heard his name.


As with some of the other unhappy events from this period in my life, I have trouble recalling some of the exact details. I have very vivid snapshots of certain parts, but blanks for others. As to the exact details of the funeral, I have only bits and pieces of it - all extremely sad.

I have no recollection of the church service, or of how I got to the cemetery. I assume that I got a ride from Duane and Mark. I recall – God forgive me for my selfishness – I recall being upset that I wasn’t asked to be one of Chuck’s pallbearers. I had assumed that all of us from the band would be asked. Well, of course, Chuck had many friends and family. I hadn’t considered his life outside of our group.

At the cemetery, prayers were said and tears flowed. There were perhaps a hundred of his classmates and friends there, as well as his immediate family. As the casket was about to be lowered, Chuck’s poor mother collapsed on her knees towards the grave, crying loudly and saying, “My baby, my baby...”

He was her only child.

The Priest tried to gently clear us from the scene, while Chuck’s Dad helped Mrs. Marotta to her feet. We were all in shock, and the tears flowed without embarrassment.

We walked back to our cars. I grabbed Duane in a hug, saying through my own sobs, “We’ll always be together, right?”

He hugged me back and said, “Yeah, Red, of course.”

Mark and the other band members joined us in the embrace.

After Duane gave me a ride to the train station at Sullivan Square, I rode back to Dorchester in my black suit, eyes red and puffy. Duane and I saw each other again perhaps two or three times after that embrace. That's the way it goes. We all decide on different paths to travel. Duane's and mine just stopped intersecting.


Destination had been booked to play a concert on July 4th. It was the Bicentennial year, so it was a huge deal. With Chuck dead, the remaining members of the band looked to replace him on drums and vocals for this gig. The plan was that they would play the concert and then surprise Chuck’s Mom and Dad, donating all of their pay to put towards the funeral costs.

They asked Mark and me if we’d fill Chuck’s spot, with Mark on drums and me singing. We were honored, of course, and said yes.

We were able to get together for three or four rehearsals prior to the gig, enough time for the two of us to learn our parts passably. The other band members were nice guys. They pretty much had to be; Chuck wouldn’t have been with them if they weren’t. Although it was a somber time overall, it was still fun being active in a band again.


The concert took place as scheduled, on July 4th, at Trafton Park in Malden. There was a very large crowd, easily the largest I had ever performed in front of to that point. I’d estimate perhaps a couple thousand were there, both for the band and for the fireworks. The show went off without any major glitches. I growled, shook, screamed, gyrated, climbed on the furniture, and did all of the other stuff that passed for singing on my part. The band was hot. I had a blast, and the crowd dug it.

I hope Chuck liked it.

The day after, we collected our money and rode over to The Marotta’s house. We gave the cash, in a white envelope, to Chuck’s Mom and Dad. They were extremely touched by our gesture, but didn’t want to accept the cash. However, we insisted and they relented.

(I’m not positive of this, but I think they might have used the money to fund a small scholarship to Chuck’s high school.)


I have no idea if the driver who killed Chuck is still living. As I understand it, he received a suspended sentence for manslaughter. He did no time. He may still be out there driving.

Chuck has now been dead for close to twice as long as he was alive.

Yesterday, I googled Chuck. Nothing.

Now, at least there’s something.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

World's End

So, now we’re into the period of my life wherein I tried - many times – to become a rock musician. Actually, I was quite successful in my attempts to become a rock musician. It was getting paid enough to make it a living that was the tough part.

I'm going to write a bit about each of my bands, in rough chronological order.

My first band, World’s End, was truly a bad band. However, we had a decent following in the towns of Everett and Malden and, because we knew a lot of girls from there, Brookline. We were all high school kids and we played high school dances. I’ve already told you a few stories concerning some of the more memorable gigs.

(If you’re late to this party, go HERE to read about them - and don't be put off by the title. It IS about being in the band.)


You might be wondering how I joined the band. Even if you aren’t, I’m going to tell you. I started my “career” as a rock musician in the same way I’ve started just about everything else in my life. I faked my way through it until I actually knew a little bit about what I was doing.

I had been going to church in downtown Boston at a place called The Paulist Center. I became friends with another guy who went there and who played electric guitar in the contemporary mass each weekend. His name was Duane Sullivan. We both liked the same kind of music - Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, that sort of stuff. I had never been in a band before, but I figured I could scream and growl as well as the next guy; maybe even better. So, I lied to Duane and told him that I had been the singer in a band from my neighborhood in Dorchester.

To see how well I could sing, Duane strummed “Smoke On The Water” on his guitar and I sang along. As it turns out, I really could sing decently enough. I had always noodled around on every piano or keyboard I saw, so I told Duane I could play some keyboards, too. He bought it.

Duane’s brother, Mark, was a drummer. The three of us got together a couple of times in the church basement, had some fun, and the band was born. Mark and Duane went to Malden Catholic, and they knew another kid from there, Chuck Marotta, a drummer who wanted to join a band. We happily invited him in.

(We figured The Allman Brothers Band had set the precedent for two drummers in rock, so why not a metal band like us?)

We got our first bass player from among the kids who hung out at the Paulist Center. Oddly enough, his name was Kenny Sullivan. So, in the first incarnation of the band, there were four guys named Sullivan, with only Duane and Mark related in any way. The only non-Sullivan was Chuck. We briefly toyed with calling our group The Sullivan Brothers Band, but we decided it sounded too much like we might play Irish folk music. We opted for World’s End, from the title of a lyric I had written. There would be little chance of mistaking a name like that for anything but metal.


As the singer, I was the de facto lyricist. Duane wrote most of the riffs, but everybody was expected to pitch in with ideas. All of us had an unwritten agreement that, if we ever got a recording contract, all of our originals would be listed as group compositions.

I somehow talked my Dad into going halves with me on a keyboard. We chose a Farfisa. It really had too cheesy a sound for metal, but I hooked up a few toys - wah-wah, fuzz, etc. - and gave it some beastliness. I knew very little about actually playing the thing. I quickly taught myself how to make major and minor triads, and learned a couple of scales in some of the simpler keys. Mostly, I stuck to playing rhythm, with Duane taking 95% of the leads. The few leads I took pretty much followed the vocal melodies. I hadn’t really learned enough to improvise beyond that.

We were able to wrangle free rehearsal spaces at Malden Catholic High School; in the basement of one of our bass players; and even in an actual garage. That was Grande’s Garage, so-called because John Grande, a friend of ours who acted as our manager for a while, was able to talk his father into letting us use his company’s workplace to set up in on some Sunday mornings. Grande’s dad owned a construction company, so we set up amongst the tractors, forklifts, and backhoes. It was a fitting place for us, as our music in many ways resembled the noises made by heavy equipment.

(John was an interesting guy. He was one of those fellows who grew a full thick moustache by the age of 15. By the time he managed us, he looked like he was in his mid-20’s, so he was able to negotiate better deals for us than he would have if the bookers knew he was only 17.)


Before we ever played an actual gig, Kenny Sullivan left the band. My friend from Boston Tech, Sean Flaherty, was recruited to play bass. Sean was taking six-string lessons, but he bought Kenny's bass for something like 10 bucks and joined us.

(I own that bass today. It's a Kimberley, I believe. There's no marking indicating the maker, but I seem to remember it being called that. I played it in almost every other band I was in following World's End.)

Sean was with us for our very first gig, played at Brookline High School - see ticket above.

Sean was a weird one.

(Well, he's still a weird one. I love him dearly, and I still get together with him quite often, but he'd be the first one to tell you he's not Mister Normal.)

While the rest of us were living out rock and roll fantasies, and dressing the part - requisite tight pants, leather, spandex, show off whatever muscles you had, make your bulge look as big as possible, long hair, attitude - Sean was in love with baggy hockey jerseys. He always wore a hockey jersey on stage. And while the rest of us fought for the spotlight, Sean sometimes stood BEHIND his amp.

(Some of that retiscense was no doubt caused by Sean's acne. When I met him, in the cafeteria at Boston Tech, he had THE absolute worst case of acne I had ever seen. There was hardly a spot on his face that wasn't covered with some sort of pus-filled blemish. I used to marvel at his face. I always wondered how he shaved without cutting himself to ribbons. By the time he played in the band, he had been through many dermatologic treatments and was much better looking, but I'm sure he still carried some psychic scars.)

The first moment when we hit the stage - with Duane playing the opening chords of our original tune, "Feed Your Head" - remains one of the highlights of my life. It was an extremely powerful feeling. Duane chugged out the power chords, Sean laid down the steady bottom, Mark and Chuck pounded out the rhythm, and I stood there with a mic in my hand, feeling like I ruled the universe. It's definitely the highest I've ever felt without aid of chemicals. That feeling is why I continued trying to be a musician, off and on, for some 15 years.


A few months later, Sean decided that he'd had enough of standing behind the amps. He decided to leave the band and get serious with his six-string lessons. He still hung with us at many of our rehearsals because we were friends, but we had to find another bass player. Bruce Jarvis filled the bill.

Bruce was a very funny guy and probably the best bass player we had. I'm not quite sure how we hooked up with him - probably a schoolmate of Duane's or Mark's - but he was a welcome addition. Not only could he play, he also had a basement we could rehearse in and parents who didn't mind (too much) that we were making such noise.

The rehearsals in Bruce's basement were the most fun of any of our rehearsals. This was because, by that time, we had a whole bunch of females coming to every rehearsal. In the end, that's what most guys gets into rock for, anyway. They might love the music, but they all expect to impress the chicks. The grodiest guy in the world thinks his sex appeal has been raised seven notches when he joins a rock band. And, to a certain extent, it's true. The confidence you gain comes through in every other thing you do, and confidence is sexy.

Anyway, we spent equal parts rehearsing and posing for the girls. I enjoyed both, immensely.


In retrospect, we were horrible, but at the time we were doing it, we thought we were swell. We had enough other people fooled to make a few bucks at it. We were your basic garage band, but we wrote and played enough original material to kid ourselves into thinking we might graduate to bigger things.

I just sort of drifted away from the band a few months after graduating from high school. There didn't seem the urgency about it that there previously was. I still liked the guys, and I didn't have any immediate plans, but somehow it just became a back burner sort of thing. Bruce also left at around the same time, for reasons of his own. Duane, Mark and Chuck recruited a bass player and singer by the name of Wayne Shockley, who I actually ended up playing with within a couple of months time (that will be in the next story) but World's End never played another gig after I left.

Meanwhile, I bought a bass and started truly practicing in earnest. I wanted to be a REAL musician.

Next: May 24th, 1976 - R.I.P. Chuck Marotta

Monday, September 10, 2007

More (reprinted) Stories Concerning Rock

Tomorrow, I'll have some fresh stuff about being in bands. In the meantime, some of you might not have read this before.

(Notice how I automatically assume that you want to read it now.)

(Some of this was published here before is what I'm trying to say, and, of course, if I was any sort of a decent writer, I'd have found a way to say it without all of this gibberish and nonsense, which are pretty much the same thing, right, so if it seems familiar to you, I thank you for your continued patronage.)

(Really, if you want to get down to the nub of it all, just about everything I write has appeared here before in some form or another. I pretty much have three types of pieces - reminiscences, rants, and unclassifiable scribblings mostly caused by flashbacks. Within each of those genres, I keep recycling the same jokes - or, at least, structures of the jokes - and I'm fairly amazed that so many of you have been fooled into thinking that anything I write is actually "new", no matter what date is put on it.)

(For instance, self-deprecating "humor" enclosed in parentheses. Been there, done that, will do it again, get used to it.)


So, now I've related a couple of tales concerning my days as a rock singer and general all-around dope. However, following those ridiculous days, I took up the bass guitar, became quite proficient at it, and spent some time in a couple of bands that were actually decent.

One of those bands was called Soldier. It was a "power trio", consisting of myself on bass and vocals, Bobby (I'll forego last names here, so as to save anyone embarrassment they may not want at this late date in their lives) on guitar, and Artie on drums. Basic metal, nothing too complicated - especially since I was doubling on vocals. I can sing and play at the same time only while keeping the most rudimentary of bass lines. I cut loose during the instrumental passages, but pretty much played one-note lines during the singing.

This band did not play a whole bunch of gigs. It was mostly just Bobby and me practicing in my basement for a month or so, getting the songwriting and arrangements tight before auditioning drummers and renting out a real rehearsal space. Once we had leased the space and decided on Artie as our choice for drums, Bobby and I had a disagreement and the band split. Nothing major, but we just wanted to head in different directions and that was that. We remained friends.

(I remained friends with Artie, also, and I actually ended up doing some work for his father, driving a delivery truck for his produce company. Another story for another time. As usual, I've digressed.)

Getting back to what little story there is here, I wrote all of the lyrics for this band. I think a couple of them were particularly good, as heavy metal lyrics go. Actually, as heavy metal lyrics go, mine were pretty much the equivalent of Shakespeare, if you graded on a curve; not a whole lot of Ira Gershwins working in that field.

Anyway, here's a song (or two, depending upon how you count) from my halcyon days. If you have a band and want to hear the music, I'll see what I can do for you. It would be an enormous kick for me, if someone actually played one of my songs again.

HALFWAY TO HELL (Pt. 1 - Accusation)

We all remember your pretty face
The warmth of your smile and the innocence in your eyes
We all remember how it used to be
Sunshine and playtime and nobody told any lies

But now it's all changed and
The innocence in your eyes has turned to cold steel
The smile's still there, but it's hollow and fake
You say the right things, but it's obvious you don't feel

We all remember the days of our youth
The sun overhead and nothing to do but just play
We all remember how it used to be
You were like us then - Why couldn't those days have stayed?

It seems so long since there's been a day
With cloudless skies and the sun shining bright
You used to be someone to be looked up to
But now your soul is dead and black as night

You sit all alone in your cold little room watching TV all day and all night
Something has happened to turn you around; Something that isn't quite right
The highs aren't as high as they used to be and the lows are much lower as well
The lights are on, but is anyone home?
You're Halfway to Hell...

HALFWAY TO HELL (Pt. 2 - Answer)

I've been burned out
Dusted for death
Over the clouds in the city
Insides turned out
Standing on streets
That never were meant to be pretty
I've seen it all now
I can't be shocked
By anything that you show me
Listen why now
I don't feel a thing
By these sad words, you shall know me

I've seen life in the afterlife
I've seen death for today
I've seen the days of wine and roses
I've seen them all fade away
And though I still live, I've got nothing more to give
I'm Halfway to Hell

In a pure thing
I have seen lies
Waiting to spread and take over
There's no sure thing
There's only hope
Too often, it dies when you're sober
We've all been sucked in
Fools all the way
The suckers are born every minute
The shit is trucked in
Until it's so deep
We cannot help but stand in it

I've seen you all down on your knees
Praying for salvation
You can get fucked, in that position,
But getting fucked is the beginning of creation
And though I still live, I've got nothing more to give
I'm Halfway to Hell

Can you still care? Can you still Cry?
Are you still as you were before?
I've been somewhere past all that
I'm back... But I want to see more
In the graveyards, dead men tell tales about the way their lives died out
Amidst the shouting, I could hear tears, but I didn't care as they cried out
And though I still live, I've got nothing more to give
I'm Halfway to Hell...

A couple of semi-interesting notes on this song.

(Hah! Notes! Song! I thank you!)

One day, I was walking across the Mass. Ave. Bridge, which crosses the Charles River, connecting Cambridge and Boston. As I reached the middle of the bridge, I saw that some grafitti had been spray-painted on the sidewalk. It said, "Halfway To Hell". There was no indication whether the person considered Boston to be Hell and Cambridge to be Heaven, or vice-versa. It could be taken either way, of course. Genius!

When I wrote the song, the first thing I thought of was the common conception of Heaven being above and Hell being below. If you visualize things that way, then everyone on Earth is Halfway To Hell (as well as Halfway To Heaven, but that's not nearly as cool a title for a heavy metal song.)

See you soon.

Friday, September 07, 2007

No One Came

The statement of fact that I’m about to share probably won’t come as a surprise to you. Here it is: I’m wired differently than most of the human race.

You might have already gathered that, from some of the off-center beliefs I hold. For instance, I’m a Libertarian. I’ve never voted for a winning presidential candidate. I expect that my streak will continue through 2008, making it nine straight occupants of The Oval Office who owe me absolutely nothing for their occupancy of that room.

I have also had a number of weird and colorful employments, none of which I feel any regret for having done. These include dealing cards, working as a carnie, being a legitimate professional gambler, dealing drugs, and hiring myself out as a professional guinea pig. So far as I know, I caused no harm to anyone other than myself while carrying out of the duties of these employments.

All of the references above provide circumstantial evidence in the case against me being average. I will now tell you - with scientific proofs included - why I am certifiably abnormal.

I love public speaking and I get a great kick from being on stage. The bigger the crowd I have in front of me, the better I like it.

There you have it. Most people are exactly the opposite. There is little doubt that the most common fear in the world is that of public speaking. As a matter of fact, it heads just about every list of phobias you can reference. See, for instance, especially this, or this, or maybe this. Most people have less of a fear of death than they do of public speaking.

Me? I love it. Put a microphone in my hand, and a crowd in front of me, and I become just about the bravest man on the planet. On the other hand, I’m still pretty much as shy in a one-on-one context as I have been all of my life. It takes me a long time to open up and truly be myself. And I am one of the reigning kings of blushing; the slightest embarrassment turns my face red.

So, here’s all of it summed up: I can do jobs that involve yelling at faceless crowds - such as BARKING - decently, but I generally fail miserably in pursuits - such as SHOE SALESMAN - where more intimate contact is needed. In my current position as a voice-over professional, I have no trouble at all reading commercials that might reach hundreds of thousands on a given night, but I can’t network to save my soul.

Crowd In Front Of Me = Recklessly Brave.

Talking To One Person = Painfully Shy.

And, with that psychobabble background in your hands, I now give you the opening 16 bars of the blues that is my career in music.

(That’s a pretty good line, but it’s not altogether true. I’ve always had a blast in whatever bands I’ve been in, no matter how much lack of success we’ve shared. So, instead of a blues, let’s call it an unfinished boogie.)

The piece (or two pieces, really, depending upon how you look at it) linked below has previously been published in this space. It has also been referenced in my Greatest Hits section.

(And there's a conceit of humongous proportions that I can only get away with while imagining an amalgamation as my audience, but nothing I’d try if I knew my audience consisted of only YOU - even though I know you’re a sweetheart.)

Anyway, it details some of the more memorable moments from the history of World’s End, my very first band. I’ll let you feel the noise over the weekend, and I’ll be back on Monday or Tuesday to pick up the pieces.

(By the way, don’t worry about the title. It does, indeed, have a subway story in it, but music is much the greater part.)

(As for the title of this piece, it references my favorite lyric concerning being a member of a rock band. It was written by Ian Gillan of Deep Purple, and it pretty much sums up the feelings of a fellow, not unlike myself, who never quite made it.)

Maybe it's because I'm only starting
That I think it won't take too long
Maybe it's because I can see you laughing
That I think you've got it wrong

Maybe I could be like Robin Hood
Like an outlaw dressed all in green
Someone said, "What's he gonna turn out like?"
Someone else said, "Never mind..."

Well, I was big and bold and more than twice as old
As all the cats I'd ever seen
I grew my hair and bought a suit
Of shiny white (or was it cream?)
I shook and shivered, danced and quivered,
And stood on a mountain top!

No one came from miles around and said,
"Man, your music is really hot!"

Well, I knew what they meant because I was a freak
My throat was tired and worn
My pretty face just looked out of place
As they poured on the scorn

I wrote on yellow paper from a man who was the king
He said, "My boy, we'll have some crazy scenes!"
There weren't any scenes at all like he was talkin' about
He must've been the king of queens

Well, I could write a million songs about the things I've done
But I could never sing them so they'd never get sung
There's a law for the rich and one for the poor and there's another one for singers
It's die young and live much longer
Spend your money and sit and wonder

No one came from miles around and said,
"Man, your music is really funky!"

I believe that I must tell the truth
And say things as they really are
But if I told the truth and nothing but the truth
Will I ever be a star?

Nobody knows who's real and who's faking
Everyone's shouting out loud
It's only the glitter and shine that gets through
Where's my Robin Hood outfit?

Well, I've come and I've gone before you wink an eye
No one even cared enought to say goodbye
The money's good and the times you have
Fun and games galore
But you spend your money and lie in bed forgotten
And wonder what you did it for

No one came from miles around and said,
"Man, who's he?"


Thursday, September 06, 2007

Ladies Shoes

So far, I’ve given you some fairly decent stories about my times as a PAPERBOY, a BLACKJACK DEALER, and as a BARKER ON A WALKING CHARLIE. I’ve still got some good stories to tell you about being a musician, a security guard, a dishwasher, a cab driver, and a – horrors! - drug dealer. I’ll be reprinting some wonderful stories concerning my stints as a gas station attendant and as a garage cleaner – if you haven’t read them already, you’ll enjoy them, and if you have read them already, I’ll ask you to pretend that you’re enjoying them again. Today, however, I’m going to regale you with stories concerning my history as an employee of a shoe store.

Believe me when I tell you, there is almost nothing interesting about working in a shoe store. Feel free to skip down to the end and leave some sort of generic comment that lets me know you care about me even if you didn’t read the whole thing. I’ll appreciate the sentiment and you won’t have missed much.

I began my first “real” job (the first one wherein the government took taxes out of my paycheck, while promising to give part of them back to me if and when I retire) just prior to my senior year in high school. I was 16, it was August of 1973, and for some reason or another I decided that loafing around was NOT preferable to working. If I knew then what I know now, I would have kept loafing. My entire life since that time has been spent in a fruitless effort to recapture the indolence of my youth.

You know what? I can’t even remember how I came to be employed in the shoe store. That’s how boring a story it is. I don’t know if I answered a want ad, or someone told me about the job, or even if I might have been shanghaied by footwear pirates. All I know is that I ended up in the stockroom of Wilbar’s Shoes on Tremont Street in Boston, receiving the princely sum of… Well, I’ll be damned if I can figure out, from looking at this pay stub, how much I was making an hour. Let’s call it $2.38.

For that money, I pretty much hung out in the stockroom drinking iced coffee, smoking Kools, eating donuts and cinnamon rolls, and listening to Brother Louie by The Stories on the radio, which seemed to be in rotation on WRKO once every fifteen minutes. Occasionally, a shipment of shoes would arrive and I’d unpack them and place them on the shelves. Once a month, I took a sloppy inventory. If the store was very busy – which it rarely was – one of the sales clerks might ask me to check stock for something a customer was requesting.

I worked – if you can call it that - on Tuesday and Thursday after school, and on Saturday mornings. I held this job for about eight months.

It was a decent enough way to earn a few bucks, I suppose, but I had my heart set on becoming a musician. I had joined a band around the same time I started the job at the shoe store. I also still worked the odd night as a blackjack dealer and got as much for four hours of doing that as I made for the three days combined at Wilbar’s, so that didn’t contribute to making me grateful for the opportunity to stack shoes.

After about six months of putzing around in the stockroom, I was given a part-time “promotion” to the sales floor. Despite my experiences dealing cards and barking, I was still pretty shy. I much preferred staying in the stockroom ALL of the time and reading The Real Paper. I truly didn’t relish the idea of feeling up a bunch of strange women’s feet while fitting them for shoes. In addition, I would have to wear a tie and not smoke. There was no raise in pay, although there was a vague promise of some commission. That wouldn’t kick in until after I had made something like $500 worth of sales in a week and I had my doubts about selling ANYTHING, let alone that lofty amount of pedal pushers and pumps in two nights and one Saturday morning per week.

The picture below – God help us all – was taken for my senior yearbook at Boston Tech, but it’s a fine representation of what I looked like while on the sales floor. That vacant expression was pretty much my regular look.

(And, yes, I liked that shirt. It was my favorite. I wish I still had it, no matter what cruel jokes you’re at this very moment formulating concerning it.)

My supervisor was a nice fellow by the name of Rick. He was probably 24 or 25 years old, although he seemed much older to me at the time. Rick would see me standing off to the side, waiting for someone to approach me and ask for help. He’d sidle up to me and say, “Jim, you're supposed to offer the customers some help, not stand there waiting for them to talk to you. Walk around the floor a bit instead of standing there like you’ve got a Popsicle stick up your ass.” He said it with a smile.

I don’t think I made more than five or six sales in the month or so I was on the floor. They never had to worry about figuring my commission.


In recognition of his having done such a stunning job of making a salesman out of me, Rick was promoted to the main office, situated on the floor above the store itself. A man named Jonathan replaced him as sales supervisor. He was not promoted from our sales force, but was hired from the outside. As a result, there was a bit of resentment among the sales force towards him. He put me back in the stockroom full-time. The sales folk thought I should be pissed about this, so they commiserated with me about it and I played along with them, but I was secretly relieved - at least until I found out what Jonathan had planned for the stockroom.

He intended to reorganize the whole shebang and he hired another person to work with me while doing so. His name was Seth and he was a couple of years older than I was. Thus, by dint of my shyness and youth, I was not only demoted back to the stockroom, but I was also now more-or-less under Seth, too. And doing a job I found absolutely no need for doing.

I had been working the stockroom for about seven months. I knew where everything was. I had my systems for getting the work done quickly. And now Jonathan wanted to tear it all down and rebuild it from scratch under an entirely new system.

I tried. I really did. I worked with Seth for about a week, taking every damned box off of the shelves, moving the shelves, and then putting the boxes back onto different shelves than they were originally on and in different aisles. I sweated and Seth sweated, but Seth seemed to enjoy sweating a bit more than I did.

Finally, I just got fed up with the whole thing. I went up to the office and complained to Rick.

“Rick, this guy is tearing down everything for no good reason. I just can’t take it anymore. It’s pointless work.”

Rick asked me if I had tried discussing this with Jonathan.

I said, “Sure, but he can’t give me a good reason for doing it. He actually said he didn’t need to give me a good reason. I could give him a few good reasons for not doing it.”

Rick said, “Well, he’s the boss now, Jim. There’s nothing I can do about it. About the only choice you have is to do the job or quit.”

I said, “In that case, I quit.”

And that was that. I thanked Rick for his time, walked downstairs, and told Jonathan I was leaving.

I probably wouldn’t have lasted much longer, anyway, even if things had stayed as I liked them. My first band – World’s End – was just about to play its first gig. I thought it was only a matter of time before I would be touring and have a recording contract and be making humongous amounts of money.

Next time: No touring, no recording contract, and no humongous amounts of money.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Back To Work, But NOT Back To Writing About Work

Those of you whose lives revolve around me will have noticed that I just took four days off from writing. This was pretty much the result of my having taken four days off from my job. Since I have no internet access at home, I don’t post to this blog on my days off. Anyway, I asked for - and received - last Friday off. Combined with the three-day Labor Day weekend, this gave me four days off, if you’ve been paying attention - and even if you haven’t.

I have come to the realization that it doesn’t matter how many days I have off. If I had seventy-seven days off, I would still dread the morning of the seventy-eighth. The only way I will ever be happy with my work situation is if I can retire completely. I know that you like me, otherwise you wouldn’t be here reading this crap. So, if you’d like me to be happy, please send whatever you can afford to:

The Suldog Slugabed Fund
93 Winsor Avenue
Watertown, MA, USA 02472

I’m hoping for 5 million dollars. If I get donations totaling LESS than 5 million dollars, I’ll invest the funds appropriately in an effort to get to that amount. Everything that doesn’t go towards covering overhead expenses (pizza, Deep Purple CDs) will be put towards the purchase of lottery tickets. Every penny earned beyond the original goal of 5 million dollars will be returned to you, my benefactor. However, every nickel, dime, quarter, and dollar will go straight into my pocket, so don’t set your hopes too high.

I thank you in advance for your generosity.

(You might ask why I wouldn’t wait until I actually get some donations before I thank you. There’s probably a very good reason for that. When I come up with it, you’ll be the first to know, except for me.)


In other developments, I saw a Charlie Chaplin film on Friday. MY WIFE and I went to see a screening of CITY LIGHTS. Of course, giving a review of a film that is almost 80 years old and unlikely to be coming to your local cinema would be a waste of both my time and yours.

It is a marvelous film, and Chaplin still amazes me every time I see him, which isn’t as often as it should be because he’s dead for about thirty years now. The only complaint I have about the film is that the dialogue wasn’t quite up to snuff. Well, that and the colors were rather drab. Other than that? I enjoyed it tremendously.

Well, OK, I suppose Mr. Chaplin deserved a better wardrobe. He was the star, after all, and his pants had holes in them. His shoes were at least three sizes too big. And what exactly was the point of that cane? I mean, HE wasn’t the blind one – it was his leading lady, and I do have to commend the studio for giving work to the disabled, although I suppose they might have had to, considering the ADA and all. And what’s up with that moustache? Doesn’t he realize that Hitler had a moustache like that? Does he want to be seen as some kind of anti-Semite? Oh, what the heck – the rest of the movie was just swell and I’m sure these things were only oversights.

Moving right along, on Saturday I watched the first Batman movie, starring Jack Nicholson as The Joker. No, actually I watched Clay Buchholz throw a no-hitter for the Red Sox. There is a resemblance, though.

What a wonderful game that was to watch. I don’t think there are any moments in sport more fraught with tension than those leading up to the completion of a no-hitter in baseball. And that’s what makes the watching of sports such an enjoyable pastime, that amazing sense of drama.

Well, that and the fact that I have a bet with Barbara on the Red Sox beating out the Yankees, and the loser will have to display the logo of their hated enemy on their blog. And on Sunday, the Sox won and the Yankees lost. And, as I write this on Monday, the Yankees have already lost again. Life is good.


Continuing with this mish-mash of nothing in particular, on Sunday I visited with some of my in-laws. And I have to tell you about what sort of cruel people they are.

My in-laws, as my own family (my outlaws?), place a great deal of worth upon words and wordplay. They love to read, and to tell jokes and formulate puns. They are intelligent, and try to instill this love of words in their children, but sometimes it is done in a way that is less-than-benign. I will cite an example from this Sunday.

We were all asking my youngest niece, Ava-Marie, to replicate the sounds that animals make. She is two. We said, for instance, “Ava-Marie, what sound does a dog make?”

Ava-Marie smiled and said, “Woof Woof!”

We asked, “What sound does a cat make?”

Ava-Marie smiled and said, “Meow!”

We asked, “What sound does a bunny make?”

Ava-Marie smiled and then stopped dead in her tracks, a bewildered look replacing the smile on her face. And then my in-laws all laughed like hell.

(Oh, OK, so did I. It was hilarious.)

The thing is, we tried to pull this same stunt on my niece, Alyssa, who is now in her late teens. Anyway, when she was two, we asked her what sound a bunny makes. Well, if you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit. Alyssa didn’t hesitate a single moment. She said, “Bun, bun, bun, bun, bun.”

(Alyssa doesn’t remember this and she gets slightly embarrassed when we tell her about it. I wouldn’t. In this family, it was the quickest reaction ever displayed to that question. She should be proud.)


Finally, since I’m supposed to have been in the middle of a series of reminiscences concerning my various and sundry jobs, I have a note of correction concerning the very start of that series. I forgot to include two jobs in the original list. They are Gas Station Attendant and Garage Cleaner. Since I had previously written about both of those professions, you’d think I might remember them more readily. Nah. Anyway, that brings my total of jobs in my life to 27 rather than the previously-stated 25.

Does the above make any difference in the grand scheme of things? Not in the least. And so, I leave you, having gained nothing from the ten minutes you’ve spent reading me other than possibly a headache. Don’t forget to send in those donations. The quicker you do, the quicker I’ll stop bothering you.

Tomorrow (or maybe the next day – who knows?): Stories About Selling Women’s Shoes. Your excitement is palpable, even from here, and I thank you.