I woke up in the darkness. It was 4:30am and I was wide awake. I got up, made a cup of tea and grabbed my phone; started scrolling through photos from yesterday, reading the news from back home, maybe did a crossword puzzle or something. Around 5:30, as the sun just started to rise, my FaceTime rang. It was one of my oldest and dearest friends calling. We hadn’t spoken in a few months and he doesn’t do social media. In his mind, he thinks he’s caught me at 7:30 in the evening in California. He has no idea that I’m in Italy at the crack of dawn. He says, “Do you have time to talk?” I said, “Sure, but hang on a minute. Nickie’s sleeping. Let me go outside.”
I get outside and start walking as he tells me that he’s back in New York for his son’s college graduation. Congratulations are in order. As I keep the camera tight on my head and shoulders, we revel for a few minutes until I approach the completely empty Duomo plaza. At this point, he starts noticing the architecture behind me ain’t exactly Stockton and he says, “Where are you?’” I flip the camera around to reveal my surroundings.
For the next hour, we giddily strolled through empty Florence together, cutting across the Piazza della Signoria to the Palazzo Vecchio, past the Uffizi Plaza, down to the river, then turn around and wander through the abandoned alleys and cobblestoned streets right up to the Basilica of Santa Croce where a bunch of teens are congregated on the steps, still partying from last night…DOING THE MACARENA.
By this time, it was past midnight in New York and I could feel his eyelids starting to droop. We exchanged I love yous and said goodbye.
As I walked the last half mile back to the apartment, I felt such a huge glow. It was not lost on me that a few years back, we had done the exact same thing… in Paris!
My beautiful wife wrote a very heartfelt piece on our visit last week to the Sinagoga e Museo ebraico di Firenze (Jewish Synagogue and Museum of Florence). She framed it as her “Shiksa perspective”. As a companion piece to my companion’s piece (see what I did there?), I’d like to share my take on the experience.
The Synagogue was not on our agenda, nor had it been on my first visit to Florence many years ago. But this time, as the final day of our stay approached, I felt a growing compulsion to go there. It wasn’t far from our apartment and sort of on the way to yet another spectacular Florentine church (the Basilica of Santa Croce) where we were headed to pay our respects at the tomb of Michelangelo – and Machiavelli, Galileo, Rossini… it’s one hell of a church!
I told Nickie that I’d like to visit the Synagogue and she was supportive without hesitation. As we approached, and saw the magnificent dome loom closer and closer, we started to notice a few kosher restaurants and some Hebrew writing in the shop windows. I was a bit surprised – and happy. When we arrived at the site, the first thing that struck me was the armed guard out front, a soldier actually, standing in front of his Jeep, cradling an AR70 assault rifle. We’d been in Florence for four days, visiting some of the most beautiful, iconic, priceless treasures in the world, but this was the first time we’d seen a gun.
There was just one person in front of us at the glassed off ticket window, a small chokepoint of an entrance with lockers and an airport security X-ray tube. The sign on the ticket window said, “We speak Italian, English, French, Spanish and Hebrew”. I said, “Boker tov. Shnai cartisim b’vakasha” (Hebrew for “Good morning. Two tickets please’). The woman looked at me blankly and said, “I don’t speak that language”. But the sign says….
No matter. We took our tickets, put our belongings in a locker and, one by one, we entered the X-ray tube.
The grounds were lovely and the edifice was quite impressive. As we approached the entrance, there was a wall to our left in the garden. My Italian language skills are basically non-existent, but I could make out that this was a memorial to the six million Jewish victims of the Holocaust and the wall was inscribed with the names of the 248 Florentine Jews who were taken from their homes and sent to the death camps. Now, I’ve been to Auschwitz-Birkenau, and I’ve been to Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, so this “little memorial” barely caused more than a ripple in my hardened soul. I paid my respects and went into the Synagogue. It was a dark interior with very muted lightning, maybe a bit dusty and mildewed, not bright and polished like the Cathedrals and Basilicas we’d visited. But it was hauntingly beautiful. A little tour group of a dozen or so people noisily went by us. One thing we’ve learned on our travels is that more often than not, if a historical site is busy, you can just lay back for a few minutes until you find a brief lull in the crowd and you can have the place virtually to yourselves for a minute or two. We did.
The outer portions of the building, the tiny darkened rooms and staircases, contained a small museum, filled with precious artifacts and a handful of tourists. From certain vantage points, we could see downstairs into the shul itself and that became our focus. Once we entered the congregation, we found ourselves alone. It was absolutely breathtaking, as fine as any of the churches we’d visited. We wandered through the benches, the men’s and women’s sections separated. I noticed that the railing in front of each seat had a brass name plate, some old and tarnished, some newer and with a bit more luster. Beneath the railing, each seat had a small locked cabinet that I assumed held sidurim and talit (prayer books and shawls). A soiled tissue was on the floor. I frowned, then picked it up and put it in my pocket. From the back corner, we could hear loud talking in Italian and then giggling. I tried to ignore it but it persisted, growing into a crescendo. I couldn’t take it anymore and as I approached, I saw three people wearing name tags – they were employees! Using my handy language app, I said rather firmly (and maybe a bit contemptuously), “Silenzio prego. Questo è un luogo sacro. Per favore mostra un po’ di rispetto” – “Quiet please. This is a sacred place. please show some respect.” They looked at me with shock and what I perceived as disdain, but the look in my eye and the tone of my voice worked. They rolled their eyes, grumbled a little, and shuffled out of the sanctuary. I felt angry but, frankly, proud that I had stood up for myself, and for my people. From what I’d experienced these past several days, no church employee would dare exhibit such callous disrespect. None!
As our visit came to a close, we walked up to the gift shop where two other employees were chirping away as if they were in a cocktail lounge. Upon receiving my icy glare, the man hightailed it in one direction while the woman retreated into the shop behind the counter. I said to her, in Hebrew, “This is a place of quiet”. To my surprise, she apologized in heavily accented Hebrew and wished us a yom tov (good day). Upon exiting the building, Nickie went into the garden while I went around the building to take it all in. On one side, in the back corner, was a small blacktop basketball court/soccer pitch. Oh! So this place was actually an active Jewish community center. I walked around to the opposite back corner where I found a little children’s playground where I found myself picking up more trash. As I went back towards Nickie, I saw a window with a large child’s painting displayed in it. It was a Hebrew school!
That’s when I lost it.
After everything this community went through – a community dating back to the 1400s – annihilated by the Nazis, Jews still choose to live here, to raise their children here in the ancient traditions, under the shadow of one the greatest Synagogues in Europe. I walked back to the memorial, read all of the 248 names and shed a few more tears, tears for the people who died for one reason, and one reason alone – the senseless hatred of the blood that was in their veins – the same blood that is in my veins.
I blame both sides. Billionaires in a pissing contest with multi-millionaires. These poor players, having to scrape by on an insulting minimum wage of seven hundred grand a year (plus endorsements, hotel suites, per diems that are probably more than I make in a year, the best medical insurance on earth and a pension)
AND THEY GET TO PLAY BASEBALL FOR A LIVING!
…and be adored, worshipped, idolized… never have to pay for another goddamned cocktail in their lives!
Boo hoo, you have to wait five whole years to get that 30, 40, 50, 300 million dollar deal? Aw, poor baby. I feel so bad for you, to be treated like a piece of property like that. Must be fucking unbearable for you.
Why don’t you teach those owners a lesson and just walk away! I’m sure you can find plenty of other employment opportunities where you’ll find better working conditions and compensation.
Don’t even get me started on the owners
I hope the whole game goes bankrupt. I really do.
From Field of Dreams:
The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it’s a part of our past, Ray. It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again.
So, I’m not a food critic per se, it’s not my area of expertise, but every now and then, I’ll get on Yelp and share my opinion on a thing or two. Now, mind you, I’ve left more five star reviews than one star reviews, so I’m not, you know, out there just bitching about what I don’t like. I think that if someone does a good job, they deserve praise and I try to heap that praise on in as detailed and colorful a way as I can; give people a real idea of what I think makes the place great – not just the food, but all the little nuances.
And sure, I’ve given some one star reviews, but the new, kinder me now leaves three or four star reviews for places I don’t like so that I’m not doing any damage to their overall rating. But in my text I’ll say exactly that, “I would leave them two stars but I don’t want to hurt them; but here’s why I’ll never eat there again“.
And I don’t do this a lot, I’ve probably written like only fifteen or twenty Yelp reviews over the past ten years.
So we go to this Mexican joint tonight in Manteca, California that we’d eaten at once before. I thought it was really good – we had sat outdoors last time because of this COVID crap, and the waitress was really nice and the food was delicious, plus… inside, the walls are covered with these fantastic Dia de los Muertos paintings of guitar playing skeletons dressed to kill and another features a magnificently decked out charro wearing a huge sombrero (and even huger mustache) who is holding a chicken. And we said, “Hey, this could be our new go-to place”. It’s closer than the place we’d been going to, which has also turned into Super Spreader Central, so we go the new place tonight and the service was just unbelievably bad.
But that’s not what I want to talk about.
I mean, I wrote the review, I was honest, I gave ‘em three stars and said, you know, “Because the first time we ate there was five stars, and today was more like one, I’ll give ‘em three because I don’t want to beat them up too badly”. The old me would have given them one star and been vicious, but I don’t want to be that guy anymore because, frankly, I don’t want to die young because of all the unnecessary anxiety and stress and hatred in my heart, so… and by young, I mean anytime in the next fifteen years – that would be dying young for me at this point… and anything over fifteen years, I mean, that’s like soup and diapers and catheters so let’s not even go there.
Where was I?
I finished my Yelp review and Yelp says, ‘Hey, you’re really on a roll, why don’t you review something else”. So I found some other place – you know, they give you suggestions in your local area, and I’m scrolling through thinking, “Nah. I’ll be mean to them because they suck”, until I find a place or two that I’m like, “Oh yeah, they’re cool, I’ll give them a nice review”, sort of as a palate cleanser after what I just dumped on tonight’s disaster. And I write a couple of five star reviews, all fawning and glowing and feeling like I’m Mister Benevolent, and then I’m ready to wrap up. It’s like midnight, and I’m done, and then…
I see that they want me to review… I won’t name the place but it’s a, uh… it used to be a falafel truck and then they opened a brick and mortar where some Jordanian restaurant had gone out of business. And it’s a good location for them because people are used to getting shawarmas in this joint, so they opened there. And they call themselves “Greek food”. Fact of the matter is, they’re Lebanese, but if you say Lebanese or anything Middle Eastern Arabic, ignorant people are gonna call you terrorists, and these hard working immigrants are aware of these prejudices… and if they’re Israelis (and these people weren’t), then, you know, you’ve got that whole thing going with the anti-Semitism and “you’re oppressing the Palestinians” and “you’re as bad as the Nazis” and whatever truths or untruths the Israelis have to deal with…
But these guys are Lebanese. However, they called themselves “Greek food”. Because, who’s ever pissed off at a Greek guy? In fact, all Americans really know about Greece is like marble statues, ruins and that funny wedding movie with the Dad spraying the Windex.
Was it Windex? Yeah. Anyway… Where was I again?
So I start thinking about this restaurant, and I want to leave them an honest review, which is, “I’ll never eat there again” ‘coz, well, because I’m a Mediterranean food snob. I think it’s the best food in the world and, where I live, I’ve been to every hummus joint within 72 miles of here and I’ve only once or twice had a kabob or a falafel that I thought could pass for “authentic”.
And so, I’ve eaten at this “Greek” place a couple of times and they charge prices like it’s a restaurant with waiters, but you actually go to the counter and you order and then they bring you your food in a styrofoam clamshell with one of those cellophane wrapped packets like you get on a freakin’ airplane, with the plastic fork and knife and two tiny packets of salt and pepper and the world’s smallest napkin. But before you get to that point, you have to pay with one of those iPad things that they flip around and you’re supposed to fill in a tip and they give you suggestions for the tip amount so you’re intimidated into leaving them a minimum of 10% – which should be based on quality and service – when you haven’t even gotten the meal yet. So the place already has kind of a negative for me but…
When did a falafel become a wrap?
I mean, in the Middle East, more specifically in Israel where I’ve lived three times in my life, I’ve had better food in a crumbling hole in the wall in Tel Aviv than at this “best Middle Eastern restaurant” in my town which, again, they don’t even call it Middle Eastern, they call it “Greek”.
Now if I’m in a Greek place, I’m expecting saganaki and moussaka and taramasalata and spanakopita and dolmates and baklava and some fucking ouzo with waiters yelling “OPAH!” … This place has none of that! They’ve got falafels and shawarmas and gyros, maybe a bit of hummus and tzatziki. Okay, sure, there’s some overlap because Mediterranean food is Mediterranean food but, come on, the place advertises itself as Halal. Bro. That’s Arabic, not Greek.
And I’m wondering, HEY, if you can’t come up with a fresh, fluffy, pita pocket that can not only hold the meat or the falafel but can also stand up to those sauces without busting open after the second bite, so you’ve got to come up with some fake tortilla… Oh! It’s a “lafa wrap”.. Come on! What’s the point? It’s not authentic.
And you look on Yelp and everyone’s going, ‘Oh, this is the best food. I tried it and I couldn’t believe it. It’s so authentic!” And I’m thinking, “you don’t know authentic!”. That’s like me going to freakin’ El Torito and saying, “This is just like the food in southern Oaxaca, or some other Mexican region I’ve never been to, and I have no clue what their food is like ‘coz I only know what El Torito is like and, you know, my local two-item-combo-with-rice-and-beans place. I have no idea what authentic Mexican food is. Just like the people here don’t know what authentic Middle Eastern – or Greek – food is.
I’m talking about, you go to gas stations in Israel and they have these little food counters inside with some of the best food you’re ever going to eat. And that crumbling little hole in the wall a couple of blocks from my office in Tel Aviv? This place was literally two tables outside and enough room for about eight people to sit inside, with a counter that was maybe seven feet wide and behind it is this sweaty guy named Itzik who has about four square feet of space to work with and he’s got a deep fryer and a grill in there, plus he’s the waiter and the cashier, and I’d go in there and order “hummus and foul” (pronounced ‘fool’); it’s a big old plate of hummus with about four or five ounces of olive oil floating in a well that’s been hollowed out in the center of the hummus, with a hard boiled egg on top of the foul – it’s an Egyptian bean that’s called a fava bean over here, like what Hannibal Lecter laps up with the liver and Chianti – and it’s all topped off with a big red glop of this fiery hot pepper sauce that’ll singe your nose hairs, and it’s served with a basket full of steaming, freshly baked pitas – and the whole thing is like three and a half bucks (while the teenagers are spending $11.50 at the mall for a McDonald’s hamburger WITH NO CHEESE because of kosher laws).
Anyway… I don’t know.
I just started getting incensed about the whole damn thing and why am I even writing food reviews because that’s all I’ve got.
That’s my food review.
Photo: Roberto Blanco, Paris, France GIF: NBC Universal Media LLC
So, I’m in the shower, music blasting as usual, and Back in the USSR comes up on my random play. And I get a little ironic chuckle because poo-tin is invading Ukraine. Well, not much of a chuckle because this isn’t actually funny. At all.
I’ve been reading as much as I can, as fast as possible, about all the horrors the Ukrainians face and how it could spread throughout Europe and how this could encourage China to seize Taiwan and this could spread, at least in economic terms, to our border soon enough. Then I read how poo-tin could be threatening nukes and I feel my stress level starting to spike.
We’re fucking doomed. And what can I do? Other than fret.
And right when I decided that the sanest thing I can do is to simply tune it all out, the next song comes on and it’s George Harrison singing Just For Today:
If just for today I could try to live through this day only Not deal with all life’s problems Just for today
Thank you. George (and Happy Birthday, by the way).
And selfish as that may sound, it struck me as very sage advice. I’m working myself up over something that I have zero influence over. Sure, I can change my Facebook cover to a Ukrainian flag, or add a little frame to my profile picture proclaiming that I stand in solidarity with Ukraine. I can even send some money to a relief fund, and go the extra yard and research which ones might actually use my donation for the welfare of the Ukrainian people.
But to immerse myself breathlessly into the hour to hour, minute to minute of it… That’s madness. I’m just not going to do it. Not going to be frightened like when I was a schoolboy hiding under my desk because Russia was going to drop a bomb (which never happened). Or any of the other fear tactics the media loves to pump into our eyelids to keep us glued. Yes, I’ll follow the progress and root for the Ukrainian people, because this is tragic.
As is every ever other senseless loss of life and limb going on on this planet today. Like, for instance, the war going on in the U.S.A. today with everyone arming themselves because they’re scared to death of all the ‘other’ people who are arming their selves. And please don’t get me started on Syria. Not seeing a whole lot of, “I stand with Syria” proclamations on Facebook.
I’m just not going to turn on the television news. Not going to read one article about what “could’ happen. Hypotheticals don’t interest me.
And I’m definitely not going to flash some self serving “Look at me. I’m so compassionate” meme or “I stand with Ukraine” sign on my social media. Remember Je Suis Charlie? Seemed like everyone had that one plastered on their pages for about two days. Who among you sent actual aid to those victims or their families? Or followed their stories past the news cycle? Who?
And do you reallystand with Ukraine? How exactly? What are you doing beyond the meme? Talk is cheap. Twenty four hours of memes and banners are even cheaper.
Are you walking the walk?
I sincerely you hope you are.
Speaking of the Beatles, when I toweled off, I grabbed the t-shirt on the top of the pile and you know what it was? A shirt designed to look like an old-fashioned fruit crate label that says:
Nothing is real Living is easy with eyes closed Misunderstanding all you see It’s getting hard to be someone But it all works out Doesn’t matter much to me
For the record, and I’m not saying this to boast (just a statement of fact) but Nickie asked me if it was okay to take “a chunk of change” from our sacred, hard earned “vacation fund”. I said, “Sure, if it’s not more than twenty three dollars and fifty three cents”. She’s a better human than I am. Her response was, “Well… I was thinking…”.
And I know that “a lot” can mean different things to different people depending on their circumstances, but it was A LOT!
P.S. Lyrics are copyright (probably) Ganga Publishing B.V. and Sony/ATV I’m not digging too deep on that because this blog is not for commercial purposes. But I stand with them.
I was just thinking – this is probably the happiest I’ve ever been. It is certainly the most comfortable I’ve ever been in my own skin. My mind is totally blown that I am 65 years old. How can this be? I still feel, mentally anyway, like a 15 year old. Lol. But when I look in the mirror, I just see me, the 65 completed revolutions around the sun doing what they do to a human. But it’s still me. I can’t imagine anyone different in that mirror. I can look me in the eye and say, “You’re doing good”. I’ve never spent the night in a hospital bed, never had cancer or a stroke or a heart attack. I have the same number of teeth as I had last birthday; the only thing I’ve lost in the past 365 days is 20 pounds of fat. And some more hair, but I’m over that. The long, gorgeous curly hair of my youth is but a fond memory. I tried dying my hair 15 years ago and it looked comically absurd. I have gray hair. I love it. It’s simply a symbol of lessons learned, memories made, life lived. I can still walk four miles without falling down, still have a libido, and I spend most of my days doing what I love.
Speaking of love, I’ve been so blessed. At 65 I’m in the best relationship I’ve ever had, two souls completely intertwined, peas in a pod, soul mates, partners, best friends, lovers. When Nickie and I were first dating (yes, you can find love at 58 years old), one of her best friends warned me that “Nickie is clingy”. First of all, what a shit friend, but, more importantly, Nickie and I were inseparable from Day 1 and, seven years later, we still are. If she’s “clingy”, I’ll sign up for that again and again and again.
I’ve had two successful business careers. One was filled with fun and excitement and incredible perks. The other actually earns me money; enough so that I can own a nice house and be generous to my beloved children and beautiful grandson, and spoil my wife, have all the pretty guitars I want, and an incredible horse, and a bucket list that gets smaller and smaller. I’ve lived for three years in the Holy Land, travelled to England and Poland and France and Italy. If this damned pandemic ever chills the fuck out, I have money put aside to go to Spain and France (for the fifth time). In fact, the only real limitations I have are that I can’t go up on the roof anymore or climb trees.
Maybe most importantly of all, I’ve stop denying my major health issues. I’ve battled depression for decades, yet never really sought help – until a couple of months ago. Depression is a disease. If I had diabetes or cancer, would I keep it a secret? Of course not. I’d get help. And I have. The medication seems to be working. I’m not angry at everything anymore; I’ve stopped driving like an asshole, stopped picking fights with cashiers and waitresses, stopped getting into arguments on social media, stopped immersing myself in politics and fear of the future, fear of everything that could happen. There’s no time for those things. They are pure negativity.
And I’ll say something out loud that I’ve never ever said before, kept as a deep dark secret, locked away never to see the light of day. For the past 35 years, since 1987, I’ve had narcolepsy. I’ve denied it, fought through it, been held prisoner by it. It has informed nearly every aspect of my life. But it is part of who I am, part of what defines the way I live my life. I don’t know what caused it and it’ll never be cured, but it hasn’t prevented me from living this wonderful, incredible life. And you know what – after all these decades of living with this, I finally joined a support group just this week, and after reading dozens and dozens of stories, I realized just how blessed I’ve been. So many of “my people”, in fact pretty much everyone who has shared their stories in this group, have it much worse than I do. So many are crippled, and slaves to pharmaceuticals, trapped in their own bodies, unable to enjoy even little things. My symptoms are very mild in comparison. I have very few limitations. I’ve travelled the world, thrived in businesses, found my soul mate – someone who accepts me exactly as I am and truly loves me. Blessed indeed.
With age comes wisdom. I wouldn’t trade my birthdate for anything. I am who I am and I’m comfortable with me. In fact, really for the first time in my life, I truly love me. I’m a good egg. Lol.
A friend recently posed the question, “if you could restart your life at six years old or get ten million dollars in cash, which would you pick?” Shit, gimme the ten mil, bruh. First thing I’d do is give half of it away. No one needs that much money, especially when so many people I care about struggle from day to day. I’ve already been six, and every age between that and 65. I am shaped by all of the experiences I’ve had, and what an amazing journey it has been so far. I have zero regrets. NONE! Regrets are delusional. They imply that if I’d done something differently, I’d be in a better place. Well, that’s simply ridiculous. If I’d done things differently, I’d just as likely been in a worse place. If only I’d practiced harder, and become the rock star I dreamed of becoming, I could have been in the copter with Stevie Ray, or gotten AIDS or gotten robbed, ripped off, kidnapped. I’m right where I’m supposed to be.
And where am I at 65? I’ve been blessed to put myself in a position where I can do what I want to do every day. And what I want to do is love my Sweet Beautiful Nickie, and tell my family and cherished friends that I love them, and play the guitar and write stories and cuddle a big, beautiful 1,200 pound beast, and water my dozens of pretty plants, and go walk four miles and make plans for our next trip to Europe, or just sit on the couch and take a nap in the middle of the day. Life is good. Today is good.
Forty years ago today, only three days removed from New York City, I walked into Tower Records on Sunset Strip. I was looking for a job. I had just spent nearly a year working for a guy named Sam Goody at his flagship store in Rockefeller Center, but I was not prepared for the size and breadth of “Tower Sunset” – or the staff. At Sam Goody’s the staff wore shirt and tie, the managers wore suits. We were exceedingly attentive to our customers. We closed at 6pm.
I was awestruck by this enormous Hollywood record store and wandered gob struck in a straight line until I came to a wall, a wall of cassette tapes. An endless wall of cassette tapes. A bit disoriented, I looked up and there was a gent behind the counter, with long flowing hair and an astonishingly expansive mustache. He was absentmindedly drumming away on the counter with a Bic pen. He couldn’t be bothered to acknowledge me staring at him. Finally, I mustered the strength to say, “I’m here to see the manager”. Without looking up, or missing a beat, he said, “Back room”.
I found my way to the back room. I filled out a job application and was led into a tiny office where a rather tall, blonde, hippy-looking guy sat behind a desk wearing dark sunglasses, faded jeans and a raglan t-shirt. His sneakers were on the desk and he looked at me like I was a bill collector. I asked to see the manager. He said, “Yeah, I’m Bob” and reached for my application. As he glanced at the paper, I perused the dirty, cluttered, fluorescent lit, white walls. My eyes froze on a picture of this same guy standing with his arm around Bob Marley. Before I could finish my gasp, Bob said dismissively, “You worked in a record store for a month and you put it on your résumé? I arrogantly replied, “I worked there from January to December. That’s eleven months”. Bob grumbled something under his breath and said, “Okay. Thanks for coming in. Got any questions?”
I answered, “Just one. When do I start?”
Bob started to answer a couple of times, but couldn’t find words. Finally, he managed, “Come back tomorrow at 3:30. Ask for David. Shift ends at 12:30am”. A tiny woman materialized, escorted me out of the room, gave me some paperwork to fill out and wrote me out a schedule.
My 26 year journey with Tower Records had begun.
First day on the job? April Fool’s Day, 1980
Wow! How gratifying to see so many reactions. Thank you!
Right after I wrote this little piece, I realized that I forgot a great detail. During the interview, Delanoy asked me where I saw myself going with the company and I said, “I think I’d like to have your job”. Hahaha! True story.
Nine “short” years later, that little office was mine.
And here’s a picture of me and some random job applicant in that very room.
My favorite author is Kurt Vonnegut Jr. and my favorite novel of his, or anyone’s for that matter, is Sirens of Titan. I first read it in high school and my view of life itself was forever changed. Seriously. The … Continue reading →
40 years ago TODAY, I left my childhood home of New York City. NYC was a hovel in the late 70’s, broken down, filthy and hopeless. Son of Sam was reigning terror, the subways were a lawless no-man’s land and the South Bronx was on fire. I was a starving musician sleeping on a friend’s pull out couch. It was freezing outside, I was broke and my family had all moved to Beverly Hills. They had a swimming pool and lots of sunshine. Every winter, my folks would send me a round trip ticket to visit LA for my birthday. In February of 1980, Mom said, “No more round trips. If I gift you another ticket, it’s going to be one way”.
Our band was changing. We had been increasingly successful in ‘78 and into ‘79, getting lots of gigs all around NYC and Long Island, playing big clubs (and small) and the college circuit. We were reviewed in Variety and local papers. On a good night, we could draw 200-300 people, maybe more at the college lunch hour shows. We even played twice at the Central Park Bandshell and twice in Washington Square Park. But punk and disco and rap were all blowing up and suddenly we were questioning our direction. We stood in front of Great Gildersleeves and looked down the Bowery where one block down the lines in front of CBGB kept getting bigger as our crowds started getting smaller. We added more band members, tried to adjust our sound. We even played a gig at CBGB.
Arista Records Publishing was having meetings with our band leader. They started feeding him tunes from their catalog for us to arrange and demo up. The feedback that was slowly coming back to us was, “Great work. You’re getting close. You could be signed in a month”. I was unconvinced. I needed unfiltered info and demanded a meeting with this exec. My partner and I ventured to this guy’s Lower Manhattan loft for the meet up. I don’t remember anything about the place other than it was brick walled and the walls were covered with zithers. Rad! We “got comfy” and he played us some of the new music he was into. It was the first time I heard Squeeze, a real game changer for me.
Side note: the guy’s name was John Wonderling and he had a little girl named Allison. Yeah. His daughter’s name was Allison Wonderling. Hahaha. How cool is that?!
After hours of avoiding the elephant in the room, I finally gathered my chutzpah and said, “So, I hear we could be a month away from being signed”. John responded, “Yeah. Could be a month, a few months, a year, but I like what I’m hearing”. A year? Could be? I didn’t hear anything after that. My heart sank and my ears shut down. The next morning, I called my Mom and asked for that one way ticket.
I’ve been back to NYC at least 20 times since March 27, 1980. I just love that place. I’ll always consider myself a New Yorker and I am so eternally grateful to have grown up in the greatest city in the world. My thoughts are with all of my friends in NYC who are living through times that must make the 70s look like Disneyland in comparison. I cherish my 40+ year relationships and I love you all. I hope to see you all again after this storm passes.
I cried today. For the first time since this crisis started, I cried.
I woke up this morning to find my beloved sitting at her new “desk” (the kitchen table) all showered and made up and dressed for work. The 3-day pajama party had ended. She’s struggling to find normalcy in this epic shit storm. Her head is in her hands. Her young autistic son is stuck here at home and Nickie has to go to his school and pick up lesson plans. She worries that she’s not doing enough to keep Jason active and learning. She feels she is somehow failing him, that she’s a failure as a parent. She breaks down and sobs, completely overwhelmed by the weight of the moment. She pulls herself together and heads out, only to return empty handed. No one answering the door at the school. I console her as best I can, but hugs can only do so much.
It’s Thursday, just before 8am. I suit up to catch the last hour of “senior shopping”. The mask, the gloves, the hoodie pulled up over my baseball cap. Not my nice cap. An old skanky one. I get to the market and wipe down my cart. A young employee, a kid really, stands in front of the market looking shell shocked. He pulls out a rag, sprays some sort of clear liquid on it and wipes my cart down. Didn’t he just see me? No matter. I venture in. It’s not the same experience of just two days ago. People look forlorn. The smiles are more tired, the shoppers moving a little slower. Probably just a reflection of myself. I thank every clerk and shelf stocker for being there. I’m finding most of what I need, but still no paper products, no cleaning products, no eggs or ground beef. I don’t even want eggs or ground beef. We have all we need for the next week. And then it hits me. The novelty has worn off. I see my fellow shoppers, many old and frail, frightened and confused. This isn’t a fun little adventure anymore, this is literally life or death. How many of them won’t survive? And it’s still early days. This is only the beginning.
There is now a huge piece of plexiglass between the cashier and me. This massive sneeze guard wasn’t here two days ago. The clerk looks like he’s lost his will to live. I bag my own groceries and thank him. He grunts something in return.
I arrive home, with the groceries and all of the good advice I read in a doctor’s post that President Obama shared. I carefully remove my mask and cap and hoodie and put my keys aside. I take the tainted clothes to the laundry room and grab some Clorox wipes. I return to the front room and start removing all of the groceries from the bags, carefully wiping each package down. Nickie comes in to help and the absurdity of the moment, the REALITY of the moment, hits me. What if I did all the right things but in the wrong order? What if I brought one tiny, little nasty bug into our home? What if I’m getting my wife and children sick just by bringing home some frozen peas?
I looked at my partner and I just broke down and cried. Is this our lives now? This surreal sci-fi movie? Good Lord. Who could have imagined?
I know I’ll find the light and I’ll have many little victories today, reignite my spirit and regain my resolve. I know am more fortunate than so many, that my blessings are many, that my gratitude for what I have is greater than fear and sadness.