Sunday, February 14, 2016

V. D.

Or, in full, Valentine's Day.

I won't keep you too long. After the last post - the blogging equivalent of War & Peace - you don't need a whole bunch of blab from me. So I'll just send you to the Boston Herald for a short dose of blab.

My column today has to do with love and other such stuff. I think you'll enjoy it. If you do, feel free to leave a nice comment. If you hate it, feel free to make sweet love to yourself.

Thanks for reading. Even more so, thanks for reading ME.

Soon, with more better stuff.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Blood In The Suds

[Another job, another repeat of an old post, but you get all four original parts in ONE day, as opposed to the FOUR days in which I originally posted it, so you can print it out and have around 24 pages, which is basically 1/8 of a novel and maybe I’ll actually collect all of these job postings and make a book out of them, but you’re getting them now for FREE, so enjoy. What with the astounding length, this is probably enough to hold you until Sunday, at which time I’ll be back to point you to a love story of sorts in the Boston Herald for Valentine’s Day, and… well, I guess that’s enough prologue. See you Sunday!]

Part One – I Get a Real Job

So, there I was in a position with which I was quite familiar – between jobs. It was a Tuesday, somewhat late in the morning, I was 18 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 – wouldn’t get one for another two years. Security guard? Who the heck would hire a skinny teenager 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 he was giving me a ride and I was saving on carfare, I could 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?

Part Two – What Was So Tough About It

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 then he 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. 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 other various kitchen odors, added up to a smell not entirely unlike vomit. In particular, grease seemed to hang in the air. I felt like I was breathing in fatty particles. It was hot as hell, too, it being late summer and a working kitchen. I felt a bit queasy. I hoped 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, with cursing accompanying 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 had just finished loading the last of the stuff into the dishwashing machine when more bus tubs started arriving. It was almost 1 o’clock. 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, anyway, 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.

Part Three – Back in Again

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.

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 trudged 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 issued from it as it swallowed the crap – 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 garbage 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 dishes, as well as 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 to cop a smoke and some fresh air as often as I could manage. 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, 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 over eleven hours. 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. I guess they really liked creamed cauliflower.

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 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?”

Part Four – Newton is a Very Big Place in the Dark, Especially When You’re Trying to Follow Directions in Another Language

So, there I was in the kitchen of The Pillar House restaurant in Newton, Massachusetts, trying to get directions to the train station from a fellow who spoke about as much English as I did Spanish, which is to say mas poco.

It needn’t have been that way. I had taken three years of high school Spanish, so I should have been able at least to ask him which way it was to el tren verde. However, I had taken three years of first year high school Spanish, and flunked three times, because I have no facility for languages other than English.

(I have also taken two years of first year Latin, and a half-year of first year French. The sum total of my knowledge, to this day, is as follows:

French – Je mal a la tete. This means, “I have a headache.” The reason I remember it is because the literal translation is, “I’m sick in the head.” I thought this was pretty funny stuff and that I’d get to use it someday in a joke. This is it, I guess.

I also learned, from a song by The Pointer Sisters and not in French class, “Voulez vouz couchez avec moi?” which means, roughly, “Will you go to bed with me?” My use of this phrase has pretty much been a joke, too, although it was never meant to be.

Latin – De gustibus non est disputadum. This means, “There’s no disputing taste,” which fairly much sums up why I’ve never been successful with that “Voulez vouz…” line.

Spanish – Uno, dos, tres, quatro, cinco, seis, siete, ocho, nueve, diez. I have since learned, in my capacity as a recording engineer and producer [who often recorded Spanish voice talents for phone applications], “Lo siento, su tarjeta es invalido” and “Simplemente cuelge.” These two phrases mean, respectively, “I’m sorry, your credit card is no good” and “Simply hang up,” neither of which would have been helpful in the least, even if I DID know them 40 years ago in the restaurant kitchen, which is where we will now return.)

The cleaner listened intently while I asked, as simplemente as possible, how to get to the train station. I tried to do the same while he answered me. After a few minutes of painfully inarticulate interaction, I thought I had some sense of which direction to head in. He seemed to have indicated that I should take a left and a right. I exited the restaurant and took a left at the top of the driveway, followed by a right at the first intersection. I then continued forward, expecting the train station to come into view any moment.

(You KNOW I didn’t find the train station, right? Well, of course you do. Why else would I be writing this? There’s no humor in actually getting to your destination at a bit past midnight following a thirteen-hour workday spent entirely on your feet. Having to continue walking, in a fruitless effort to come upon any one person, place, or thing that just might help you orient yourself to your current surroundings and get you pointed in the right direction, is much funnier, so we’ll continue with that.)

I found myself in increasingly less-well-lit neighborhoods. Later in life, I would spend about nine hours every day in Newton. I can find my way anywhere there now, but at that time I knew absolutely nothing about the place.

Well, OK, that’s a lie. I knew that a lot of very well-off people lived in Newton, and I do have to say that some of the houses I passed were spectacular – at least what I could see of the joints, many of them being a football field’s length from the street – but there were none of these people out and about, and I mean not only foot traffic, but also automobiles. It was stunningly non-busy and eerily quiet.

Having come from Dorchester, I was used to a little bit of noise – the occasional street fight, domestic donnybrook, or armed hold-up, all of which added spice to life and provided me many enjoyable hours of imagining the participants dying hideously painful deaths so I could get some sleep – but Newton was just lifeless. The only sound was of a breeze through the leaves of the many splendid trees that lined the… tree-lined streets.

The lack of noise was important. I was desperately trying to catch the sound of a trolley coming down some tracks, or perhaps ringing its bell at a crossing, or SOMETHING. If I could hear one, I’d at least have known the general direction in which to walk. What I heard was - as so eloquently stated above, if I do say so myself - absolutely nothing.

Well, I could tell you about more of my walk to nowhere, but I’ve drained all of the life from it long ago now, haven’t I? Yes. So, I finally ended up at the intersection of Beacon and Walnut, where I spotted a clock in a storefront window. It said 12:45am. The trains in Boston stopped running at 12:40 then. Even if I now found the train station, it wouldn’t have done me any good.

I felt like crying, but I was just plain too tired. Instead, what I did was find a pay phone (lucky for me, with an intact Yellow Pages) and called a cab. I sat on the curb, in my greasy and smelly clothes, waiting for it to come. I knew that it would cost me close to whatever I had made in that miserable day just to get home now.

(By the way, as an interesting coda to this part of the tale, the cleaner wasn’t far off in his directions. If I had simplemente reversed them – taking a right, first, and then a left – I would have come to the Woodland station of the MBTA’s Riverside line in about ten minutes – and you would have been spared the last 9 paragraphs and 4 parenthetical interruptions. Instead, I made some Newton cabby’s night, and you've spent longer reading about the trip to the train station than it would have taken me to actually walk the damned thing. Ain’t life grand?)


I finally got home at about 1:30 in the morning. My Dad was still up, as he had been worrying about me for three or four hours, wondering where I could be. He was the type to start calling hospitals if someone was a half-hour later than expected.

I told him the story of my day, and he commiserated somewhat, but he was also mad that I hadn’t called him for a ride. God bless him, he would have happily given me one, but I was way too proud and self-reliant to have called someone I actually knew, at that ridiculous hour, and admitted my lack of sense.

While we talked, I made - and then quickly wolfed down - two cheese sandwiches. After that, I stripped off my nasty-smelling clothes and climbed into the shower. When I had finished, and was toweling off, it felt damned good to be clean again. However, no matter what I did – no matter how many times I blew my nose, or even with a healthy splash of after-shave – NOTHING could remove the stench of that damned kitchen from my nose. I went to sleep smelling the same hideous combination of grease, sweat, and half-chewed food that had made me feel like puking for much of the day.


I think any sort of sane person might well have slept in the next morning and then called the restaurant to say, “I quit!”

Make your own judgment concerning my sanity. I awoke at 7am, having set my alarm to give myself plenty of time to dress, eat a BIG breakfast (big enough to last until whatever inadequate meal they might give me around 9:30 pm) and then travel to the restaurant. The only thing setting my alarm for 7 am didn't give me time for was a decent night of sleep, of course. Between my late arrival home and my early wake-up-call to myself, I had gotten about 4 hours. And I was facing another 13-hour day, not including two hours or more of commuting.

When I awoke, I still smelled the kitchen. I took another shower, dressed in immaculately clean jeans and t-shirt, splashed on cologne, and still couldn’t rid myself of it completely.

I reported to the kitchen a few minutes before 10.

(I had taken the train – more correctly, a train and two trolleys – to get there, rather than accept another ride from my Dad. I had to find out where the damn station was, so that I could find it again that night after work.)

I entered via the kitchen door this time. Since I had been smelling the lovely fragrance of the place ever since I left it the night before, it didn’t hit me in the face like a sledgehammer when I walked in; more like a slight tap on the forehead by a ball peen.

The first thing I had to do was scrub out the pots and pans I had left soaking the night before. I did, using a steel bristle brush to get rid of the majority of the nastiness. I then placed the scrubbed vessels into the big dishwasher for a final ablution.

While they were being washed, I went back to the dish trough and resumed the position. Sweat poured, new bits of funk drifted into my nostrils, my hands quickly became red again, and the blisters I had acquired from my three or four-mile midnight hike in work boots started to tell my brain what an idiot I was to be here again. I kept my mind occupied with self-pity while I washed the first bus tub full of dishes, then I started on a second bus tub.

I looked down at the plate I had been sponging. It was clean except for a bit of some sort of bright red sauce, maybe claret of some sort. I applied a bit of detergent, worked up some suds with the scrubber, and then dunked it into the grimy water. It came out clean, but when I had placed it on top of the stack of finished work, the red sauce was there again. What the hell...?

I looked down at my hand. It was bleeding. My index finger had a slice in it about a half-inch long. I had no idea when this might have happened. For all I knew, I might have been soaking my cut finger in this filthy slop for an hour or so.

That did it. I wanted to be a musician, but here I was doing a job where I could slice open a finger, then not even be aware that I had done so until I saw it bleeding after pulling it out of some putrid muck containing other people’s garbage and spit.

I walked to the kitchen manager’s office and told him he had been right; I wasn’t the man for the job. He looked at me, let out a long sigh, and shook his head; nothing more, no words. I told him he could mail my check. He just sort of grunted, softly. I took that as assent that he would.

I went to the men’s room, washed my hands, wrapped my bleeding finger in a wad of paper towel, then walked out the kitchen door into the fresh air. I found the train station rather easily in the sunshine.

To this day, I sometimes empty out a dishwasher at home and get hit by a smell slightly reminiscent of that restaurant kitchen. When that happens, I vividly recall The Pillar House. Then I count my blessings and thank God that He has blessed me enough to never have worked a job like that again in my life, at least thus far.

(By the way, in case you’re interested: I worked the dishwashing job for less than a day-and-a-half. It took me about twice as long to write about it. There’s a lesson in there somewhere, but I’ll be damned if I can figure out what it is.)

Soon, with more better stuff.

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Faded Glory

[I've given you this story before, but the last time was almost six years ago. It's a fair bet some of you weren't coming here then, so in light of the stories I've been telling lately concerning my checkered work history and other attempts at making a living (I'd give you links, but I'm lazy; you can find them on the sidebar during the past couple of months) it seems like a decent time to inflict you with it again.]

Fame is fleeting. That’s the old saying, but sometimes it depends upon what your definition of fame is - and how well-made your bumper stickers were.

I lived in Dorchester, right on the border of Mattapan, for 37 years. I moved to Watertown 22 years ago. If you walked up to everybody living in Dorchester and Mattapan today, showed them a picture of me, and asked them if they knew who it was, you might find a double handful that could identify me. There are probably a few folks who remember me running for state rep, and another two or three who bought grass from me (NOT while I was running for state rep, by the way) and one or two of my old friends still live in the area.

On the other hand, if you were to ask every resident of those areas if they knew who Jimi LaRue was, I’d be willing to bet big money not a single one of them would have the slightest idea. That’s too bad, because there is actual physical evidence still extant concerning Mr. LaRue’s doings during the year of 1981. Before we get to that, though, here’s some necessary back-story.

In 1979, I was 22 years old, unemployed, and rapidly becoming a decent bass guitar player. I spent the better part of every day stoned and banging on the instrument. As a result of the many hours invested in those pastimes, I had become very good very fast.

I had been in a band already – and you could read about it here and here - but as a keyboard player/vocalist. If you don’t feel like going to the links, I’ll condense the story of that band thusly: The band sucked and so did I. It was fun, though. And while I was in that band, I did what I always did in every band I’ve ever been in. I played the instruments of all the other band members as often as possible. Whenever there was a break, I’d jump behind the drums, or pick up a guitar, and try to learn how to do something neat.

From the time I was a kid, I’d always been drawn to musical instruments. I could usually pick out a tune on anything with keys or strings. I was no idiot savant (well, not the savant part, anyway), but I had some innate talent for it. So, as I said, I fiddled (hah! fiddled!) with everybody’s instruments and got so I could at least fake my way on drums, bass, and guitar, as well as the keyboards, which I was already faking my way at.

After leaving that band, my girlfriend of the time told me about a friend of hers willing to sell a bass guitar for $10. I bought it. It was worth every penny of $10, too. It was a hideous instrument, and it was basically (BASSically! Hah!) strung with rusty cable. I didn’t really know any better, however, so I figured if I was really going to learn how to play it, I’d better just buckle down and get on with it. I played it and played it and made my fingers literally bleed. I built up mighty calluses on my fingertips. You can still light a match under them and all I’ll feel is a little bit of warmth.

Then, in 1980, I came into possession of a real bass guitar, which also happened to be a short scale. I was amazed at how easy it was to play. I had been used to stretching my fingers to reach notes on the long scale and pressing down hard on a fretboard that had frets I should have filed down. The strings, aside from having the texture of 16-grade sandpaper, were too tautly strung. This new thing in my hands was a bass? No. This new thing in my hands was HEAVEN! I came to the realization that I had given myself the equivalent of about 5 years training in the space of one year, simply because I had been teaching myself on such a hideous beast of an instrument.

Along about that time, a knock came on my door. It was opportunity, in the body of a fellow named Marty Murphy. I had never met Marty. He was the friend of a guy who lived across the street from me. He had been talking to this friend about how the bass player in his band was leaving to go to college. That friend told him about this guy across the street that constantly played the bass – loud enough for my neighbors to constantly hear it, apparently, and if any of them are reading this, I do apologize - and he said that this guy sounded decent. So, on the off chance that I actually WAS decent, and might be interested in playing with his band, Marty knocked.

I thought I was good enough to play in a band. As is usually the case with me in life, though, I didn’t really know where to take my talent to put it to use. I had vague notions about starting my own band, but no definite grasp of what to do to make it happen. About the only way I was going to truly get into a band was if someone knocked on my door and asked me to do it. Since Marty had done exactly that, I was thrilled.

Without so much as listening to me play a single note, Marty arranged that I’d meet the band the next night. I would go to where they were currently rehearsing, in the basement of the drummer’s parent’s home in Hyde Park. Their departing bass player would be there, playing a few numbers with them prior to leaving for college. Afterward, they’d run through the same numbers again, this time with me on bass. Then they’d decide if they wanted me. Fair enough.

That night, I dressed in my best black t-shirt, boots and jeans. My girlfriend and I drove to Hyde Park. When I got to the street, there was little chance of going to the wrong house. It sounded like someone was using the basement to land a squadron of F-15s, and not always right side up. It was loud, fast, immoral, and destructive. In other words, it was exactly the kind of stuff I liked to play.

I went inside and watched them perform. The name of the group was Live Wire. They were all 17 and 18 – four to five years younger than me – and they were all friends from high school and the neighborhood. It was obvious to me that I was a much better bass player than the guy I was being asked to replace. He wasn’t totally horrible, but he had made the right decision to go to school rather than try and make his fortune in music. I knew as soon as I got a chance to plug in and start playing, the gig was mine. And that’s what happened. They were all smiles while I played, and they offered me the spot immediately.

(I later found out they were worried that I wouldn’t want to play with a bunch of teenagers. They were afraid that I was going to tell them thanks, but no thanks. For my part, I was worried that they might think I was too old, and not want to play with a guy who was an ancient 23. When one of them asked me how old I was, I shaved my age and said 21. The girl who had accompanied me to the rehearsal, said, “Jim, what are you talking about? You’re 23!”

I shot her a look that said, “Do you have anything approaching a brain in your head?” but it didn't take. Not having any other choice, I then blushingly fessed up to being 23. Aside from looking like a right idiot to my new bandmates, it didn’t hurt. As I say, it turned out we were all worried about the same thing, for opposite reasons, so no harm. We all had a good laugh, except for the girlfriend. She still didn’t get it.)

Me, on stage (possibly the Nu Pixie Theater, Hyde Park)

This was about as perfect a band as I would have imagined forming on my own. They were fresh, totally unjaded, wrote decent pop hooks, had some actual talent, and were all truly nice guys on top of it. They played some covers, but wanted to play mostly originals. Since I wanted to play nothing but originals, I was OK with that. I figured we needed the covers to fill out sets in bars – true – and that we could concentrate solely on originals (including my own) as time went on.

The band members, aside from myself on bass, were Ronnie Bower and Ron Frattasio on guitars, Steve Giusti on drums, and Marty Murphy (the fellow who knocked on my door) as the singer. Marty didn’t have the greatest voice in the world - not the worst, either, sort of like Bon Scott, sometimes - but he was a hell of a showman. People really liked him. He was also something of a jack-of-all-trades instrumentally, playing a bit of sax, flute, guitar, and harmonica on various songs.

This being 1980, and somewhat the tail end of the original punk movement – Johnny Rotten, Sid Vicious, et al - Marty had decided to take the stage name “Marty Sucks.” He explained that this way, when the audience might say it, instead of insulting him, they’d just be advertising him. Made sense to me. As we became somewhat popular, people would often shout it out between songs – “Marty Sucks!” - always with a smile and some sincere love. It was pretty cool, actually.

Now, my given name is Jim Sullivan, and I’m glad I was given it, too. It’s a good solid name. No problems with it, really. However, at that time there were at least two other people named Jim Sullivan with some small measure of fame. There was a guitar player with Tom Jones’s band named Big Jim Sullivan. Of more import to me, there was a local writer in Boston, doing concert reviews and such, named Jim Sullivan. I didn’t want to be sharing a name, and since he had gotten it into the spotlight first, I decided to change mine. I went with Jimi LaRue. I thought that it came off of the tongue nicely, had a slightly ambivalent sexual feel to it (I grew up listening to Alice Cooper and other such androgynous freaks, so…) and I had a mistaken understanding of French, so I thought that it meant “The Street”, which was certainly a decent bit of cred to shoot for. The affectation of “Jimi,” as opposed to “Jimmy” or “Jim,” was a fairly obvious rip-off, but what the hell. So far as I knew, I was the first person to rip it off, so it was somewhat original in it’s non-originality.

I could go on for quite some time with stories about this band, and I’ll definitely tell more of them someday for sure, now that I’ve given you the background, but right now I want to eat dinner, so I’ll get to the point of this post and then start cooking my macaroni.

We were solid, we developed a loyal following in the neighborhoods we came from, and we played some semi-big venues around Boston - The Beachcomber in Wollaston, etc. We earned a small-but-steady check as the sort-of house band at a bar/club in Mattapan Square called McCarthy’s. It was a decent-sized joint, holding maybe 200 when filled to capacity, and we did fill it whenever we played there, which was pretty much two weekends a month.

As we gained some fans, we decided to do some self-promotion. We had t-shirts made, the possible only surviving example of which can be seen on this rather large and dirty white teddy bear.

In case you can’t quite make out the lettering, here’s a closer shot.

The tag line is “High-Voltage Rock ‘N Roll.”

We sold a few. After we had done so, however, there arose an argument in the band concerning our name. It seems that one of the guys – I forget who – had come across an album by another group named Live Wire. They were no longer in existence, but they HAD been popular enough to have actual recordings, so this led to an argument concerning whether or not we should change our name. I was of the belief that it didn’t really matter. These other guys weren’t around any more, so who cared? In the end, though, the opposite opinion – that we should be totally original - carried the day, so we discarded Live Wire. We wanted to have something similar, with which we could use the same tag, so we finally decided upon POWERLINE.

Once we changed the name, we had bumper stickers manufactured. We gave these away at our first couple of gigs at McCarthy’s following the name change.

McCarthy’s – now defunct, in case you’re wondering - was located almost directly across the street from Mattapan Station, a trolley and bus terminal. Many of our fans, after seeing our show on a Friday or Saturday evening, did the right thing and took public transportation home, rather than drive drunk. So, they’d roll themselves down to the station and wait for the bus or the trolley. As you might imagine, some folks taking a trolley won’t have any real use for a bumper sticker, or at least no car to put it on. So, not wanting to waste it completely, one of them did something that has turned out to be the only remaining public vestige of our former semi-stardom. He (or she) climbed a pole and put our bumper sticker on a street sign at the River Street bus ramp to the station.

For the past 35 years, it has remained on that sign. Rain has beaten it, snow has frozen it, sun has faded it, and thousands upon thousands of people have passed by it, some on foot, some on busses, some in cars. These days, most have no more clue concerning who the group was than I would if asked about a Taiwanese oompah band. The most amazing thing, to me, is that nobody from the T (the Boston transportation system, owners of the station and, of course, the sign) has ever seen fit to try and remove it, or to even replace the sign. There’s at least one person who’s glad they haven’t. I find it comforting to know it’s still there.

Hey, you take your glory where you can get it. That person could have scrawled “Black Sabbath Rules!” on the station wall with a magic marker, or perhaps spray-painted “Ramones!” Instead, there’s our bumper sticker.

God bless you, anonymous despoiler of public property! You’ve made my day, more than once, for 35 years now.

By the way, just as the original bass player had given me an opening by leaving for college, in 1982 the drummer decided to go to college and that's when the group disbanded. Higher education giveth, and higher education taketh away.

Soon, with more better stuff.

Saturday, February 06, 2016

Remember That Time I Ran For President?

If you said, "Why, yes, Jim, I do remember that time you ran for President!", then you're either insane or you're just being kind to me. But I did run for President once. Or, at least, I appeared on the presidential ballot in Massachusetts. Kind of.

That should probably be enough to get you to go read my column in today's Boston Herald.

Just in case it isn't, though, here's something else. In my column, I give you a bet you will almost positively win (unless you bet with a Libertarian, in which case you will positively lose. So don't make the bet with a Libertarian.)

If those two things aren't enough, I don't know what else I can do to intrigue you.

Oh, OK. There's a little bit about what could turn out to be the biggest political story of the past 200 years or so and probably bring about an absolute end to presidential elections as we now know them.

But, putting all of that aside, it's MY column, it was written by ME and you love ME, so quit wasting your time reading this drivel and go read that drivel. Thank you.

As always, letters to the editor and kind comments at the website are welcomed. Also, if you actually buy today's hard copy of the Boston Herald, and if the country we know and love is still a functioning entity when I win my Pulitzer in, say, 2046, bringing that hard copy to the party I'll throw will entitle you to a free burrito. The value is obvious, so I'd run out and buy about ten of them if I were you.

Are you still here?!? For goodness sakes, go read the Boston Herald and make yourself useful, please.

Soon, with more better stuff (probably).