Search This Blog

Wednesday, November 16, 2005


I have often asked myself why I blog and I have never really come up with a satisfactory expanation, but tonight I have found a partial answer while watching the new two-disc DVD of David Cronenberg's exquisite remake of THE FLY.

Cronenberg's THE FLY is one of my absolute favorite films, dripping with intelligence and the "body horror" that the director is known for, and one of the most touching and tragic love stories in film history despite its finger-down-the-throat visceral grue and disgustingness, and I treated myself to the new DVD release yesterday while out on one of my weekly day-off excursions into Manhattan for comic books, fish and chips, and whatever else I can get away with before I return to the kitchen. I initially went into the video store in search of another piece of biological sci-fi, namely FANTASTIC VOYAGE, but while searching fruitlessly for it in the "F" section I came across the new release of THE FLY and all bets were off.

Last night I watched the second disc, which is FUCKING LOADED with extras, including a two hour and forty-some-odd minute "making of" documentary and an exhaustive look at the effects, and it was utterly fascinating, whetting my appetite for the film itself, complete with Cronenberg's commentary throughout. So tonight I sat back, excellent slice of Quiche Lorraine from Night & Day ready to shovel down my gullet, beer at the ready, and got down to business. I've seen the movie many times so watching it with the commentary was sheer jiblet gravy, especially since Cronenberg has a vision and thematic viewpoint utterly unique in the world of film, and for that I will always love and appreciate him.

Anyway, while watching and listening to the movie, I reached the point when Cronenberg got to the moment in the film where we see the videotaped chronicle of the sheer, repugnant horror of watching Brundlefly winsomely talk about how he eats, and the director offered this observation about why people document their lives on videotape:

"Once again, that whole idea of documenting your life, no matter how hideous, in fact, the more hideous, the more you want to document it; in a way it takes you out of your life, it makes it a movie, it makes it not be real, and I think that's why people have the impulse to document their own lives, even their worst moments... ESPECIALLY their worst moments."

I have documented many happy moments and musings from my insignificant existence, but well said, David Cronenberg. Well said indeed.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005


Last week another of the barbecue joint's cast of characters joined the Choir Invisible, and here is his story.

One of the things that anyone who works in a bar/restaurant can tell you is that sooner or later you will encounter certain regulars/repeat customers who simply drive you right up the tree, and at the top of the list for me was L—. The guy was a fifty-something Puerto Rican local who loudly expressed his disdain for Mexicans and was stinking rich thanks to real estate investments made by himself and his wife, but prior to my first encounter with him he had been a long-time intravenous drug abuser and due to that aspect of his lifestyle he developed a virulent case of HIV.

Now I don’t know about you, but if I found out that I had the HIV and there was no cure in sight I would probably drink like a motherfucker from the moment I woke up until the second that my body finally could take no more and just shut itself down for a few hours, and that’s exactly what L— did every single day for years. During the nearly eight months that L— frequented the barbecue joint I never — and I do mean NEVER — saw the guy sober. He’d show up totally blasted and ramble incoherently, the only understandable words issuing from his mouth being, “STEVIE! I NEED A SAN’WICH!!!” or “HEY, BOO-BOO! I NEED A SAN’WICH!!!,” and it got to the point that if I or anyone else in the place saw him coming we’d have his sandwich and side of homemade sauce ready and in the bag within moments just so we could get him out of our hair. He was so plowed that he even once walked in, right past me who served him his brisket sandwiches every single day, found the only other black guy in the room (who looks NOTHING like me) and said to him, "STEVIE! I NEED A SAN'WICH!!!" Hell, it got to the point where we’d even bump his order to the top of the list on our busiest nights. I know that sounds unnecessarily mean but due to his rampaging drunkenness the guy was a danger to himself and others, occasionally coming in clothed in his pajamas and covered from head to toe in his own blood after taking an inebriated spill, even going so far as to try to enter the kitchen in that state of disarray.

Let’s get one thing perfectly clear right now: NO FUCKING WAY will I ever let such a major sanguinary biohazard into any kitchen I’m working in, and that’s that.

L— was allegedly kept on a short leash by his wife and given a limited allowance with which to buy various small items, including setting up a sandwich account with us, and he was eventually accompanied by a caretaker who guided him around the neighborhood and made sure that he didn’t spend his meager cash on some of the dirt-cheap horse to be found in some of the less savory establishments in the Greenwood Heights area. In recent months, provided his caretaker was elsewhere, he’d run up his tab and when he could no longer afford booze on his own he would attempt to borrow money from my boss, myself or any other staff member available and we’d all turn him down flat. After I finally put my foot down and told him in no uncertain terms that he would never get even one red cent from anyone in the barbecue joint, L— staggered out of the establishment, deeply hurt by my stern standpoint, and stood outside attempting to shake down locals and random passersby for beer money. Since that strategy was met with success on the same level as that of CAN'T STOP THE MUSIC (the Village People movie that unofficially marked the end of the disco era), L— moved on to other things.

Periodically, L— would be hospitalized for a week or two and forced to dry out under supervised conditions, but the minute he got out he’d hit the bottle hard once again, thereby rendering whatever prophylaxis he’d undergone thoroughly moot. Simply put, the guy was just too far gone to give a fuck.

During the past month and a half L— would come in and attempt to reminisce with my boss about various events that he was convinced that both of them had been involved in, events that my boss would flat out tell him he’d had no involvement in. The poor bastard was now totally delusional and we got to witness his swift descent into barely-functional madness.

Which brings this narrative to just over a week ago and a few details supplied by an unimpeachable source:

I was in the kitchen on the Sunday in question and I heard L— enter the joint and approach the bartender. He pulled out a $20 bill and informed the staffer that he was settling up his tab and that we should let our boss know that his account was now squared. He then left to wander down the block (at which point my source’s info kicks in) to the home of a local with whom he’d had a longstanding animosity. Upon arriving at the man’s apartment, L— made peace with his enemy of old and staggered to the bodega to purchase several forty-ouncers of either Budweiser of Colt 45. Upon obtaining his beers, L— went home and promptly began to vomit blood, so much so that he literally bled to death on his living room floor, in front of, some accounts say, his poor wife.

The guy may have been a fucking nuisance and a biohazard, but nobody should go by puking up blood all over the goddamned place.

The next couple of days following L—‘s demise witnessed many locals coming in and sharing their memories of his sad life, and his nearly-toothless brother coming in for a few before shipping L—‘s body back to Puerto Rico the next day. Handling his sibling’s passing with a sense of prepared inevitability, the brother was rather amiable throughout his time on the barstool and candidly answered the one question I had during all of it: if L— knew that by kicking booze and smack he could prolong his life for a few more years, then why not get help, especially if he was wealthy enough to afford it without even noticing a depletion in his bank account? His brother kicked down his Schaeffer tall-boy and simply said, “Hey, he liked to party a little too much, know what I mean?” Then some more relatives arrived and led the brother away, and with that L— was relegated to the lore of the barbecue joint.

Furthering my theory that by working at the barbecue joint I am living as part of the revolving cast of a soap opera/sitcom, shortly after the death of L— an old man who looked like one of the rummies who hang out at the local V.F.W. sat down at the bar and ordered a beer.

The old duffer launched into the well-worn spiel that the staff endured from many of the older, alky locals, namely about living in the area since the Cretaceous era, hating the way the neighborhood is changing (translation: young, educated people who have actually been somewhere else are ruining their provincial tribalism), blah blah blah, all while clearly settling in for hours of drinking and boring us with his droning/slurring nonsense.

Our beleaguered barkeep, Jeff, walked into the kitchen in an attempt to get a moment’s peace — it was early on Sunday and there was no one in the bar except two of the cool locals and the old guy — and I headed out behind the bar for a glass of milk (hey, it was early!). The old coot reached across the bar and grabbed my wrist, offering “Hey! My name’s D— and I was in here on da night youse guys opened! I forgot ta leave a tip fer da red-haired guy behind da bahr, so could youse give it ta him fer me? I wanna be a regular, so I wanna start widda fresh tab…”

I hurried back to sanctuary in the kitchen and watched as Jeff suffered through more of the coffin-dodger’s inane ramblings until the old man eventually staggered away, apparently displeased at Jeff not having heard his softly-slurred request for another beer. The old turd didn’t even leave a tip, a fairly common custom with some of the older locals. Hopefully he won’t return, but the whole scene felt like an audition for the role of our new irritating barfly.

Life goes on…

Tuesday, November 08, 2005


Here's another story from the barbecue joint trenches, and it sure as fuck ain't pretty.

On Friday night, "Cotton Ear," one of the joint's rotating cast of worthless douchebags came back in and asked to use the bathroom. The woman in question is the wife of "The Troll," some idiot who tried during the early days of the joint to become our live entertainment as a guitarist while trying to pass his wife off as a singer (who purportedly had a brief career crooning at vaious rest stops along the New Jersey Turnpike; no, seriously). My boss gave the guy the nay-no but he persistently tried to weasel his way in, ultimately to no avail.

This couple is hard to get across to the casual reader because they are a true horror that must be personally witnessed in order to be understood. They are obviously junkies, never sober, are redolent of who-knows-what, and worst of all they have a beautiful infant daughter whom I am convinced was kidnapped. The vaginally-equipped portion of the pair even came in one night and asked me if we threw out food each day and if we'd give it to her and her verminous mate.

Anyway, on Friday night Bride of Troll came in and asked our bartender if she could once again use our bathroom. After her lavoratorial visit, she promptly left and vanished into the night. Then our waitress attempted to use the facilities and recoiled as if avoiding the strike of King Cobra. "FUCK!" she cried, "It smells like the homeless!!!" Being the only staffer on duty at that time who was able to deal with the situation since the kitchen was closed and the bartender was otherwise engaged, your humble narrator girded his loins and opened the Ladies' Room door.

There are those who say that people who witness Cthulhu and other Lovecraftian horrors that man was not meant to experience go mad at the first exposure to such sheer, otherworldly evil, and I am here to say that I nearly gave up the last vestiges of my sanity upon crossing that threshold. I reeled as though physically assaulted by the horrific stench and, staggered though I was, I somehow managed to wobble into the kitchen and dig out the appropriate tools for handling such an olfactory Chernobyl, namely several rough bar rags and a surfeit of bleach in a spray bottle. With the theme from GHOSTBUSTERS playing in my head, I disconnected all emotion and got down to business. After pulling my shirt up over my nose and mouth to form a makeshift air filter, I entered the now-violated privy and sprayed bleach willy-nilly into the air, all while casting a critical eye over the entire room. The fetid miasma that cursed the atmosphere was without question the most powerful yeast infection waft in the history of pussy, and compounding that was the horror of that vile woman having somehow left her steaming, drippy feces on both sides of the toilet seat.

I had to clean that, folks.

After handling that douche-chill-inducing spectacle I hit every surface in the restroom with bleach and called in a friend of the bar who happens to be a seriously experienced nurse to verify that it was safe for women to use. Once I was given the all-clear I retired to the bar and sucked down shot after shot of tequila in an attempt to soothe my shattered nerves. The next day I explained all of this to my boss — minus the screaming and cursing that occurred once I was out of that vortex of pestilence — and stated flatly that the musical goon and his plague-disseminating spouse be permanently banned from ever setting foot in the joint ever again, a decision made by all of the staff in attendance that night, especially since they only ever come in to drop their toxic waste and never spend a fucking cent on anything.

My boss — who is already rather pallid, being the spawn of Russian-American coal miners from Pennsylvania — visibly turned chalk white upon hearing of my ordeal and flatly approved the 86ing of the two offenders. I can't wait to tell them that they are no longer welcome...

Tuesday, November 01, 2005


A few days ago I was offered a taste of some righteous Northern Lights bud; no joke, folks, I’m talking some serious Cheech & Chong shit, so I figured why the hell not? I sparked the joint with the well-practiced ease of the experienced stoner and waited for the effects to kick in as the illicit vapors filled my lungs. Soon enough the familiar frontal lobe wobble began and I gave in to other-than-nicotinal bliss. The odd thing about it was that while I was enjoying some primo smoke, I was in no way as wowed by the experience as I would have been during my heyday as a full-time, pot-smoking reprobate, an era that began twenty years ago and yet somehow seems like only yesterday.

During my formative years I self-righteously railed against “druggies,” firmly convinced that anyone who partook of even the most innocuous path to an altered state of consciousness was destined to die alone, wretched and scorned, most likely infested with all manner of vermin, residing in a discarded refrigerator box while wallowing in a pool of day-old piss. Such views were seeded by my know-nothing-of-the-outside-world parents —both products of a Depression-era deep Southern upbringing (translation: ignorance as culture) who both had teaching degrees, sheepskins that they felt granted them a superior and unimpeachable omniscience — and an endless rotation of televised public service announcements that came in the wake of the hippie era, a government-fueled attempt at sobering up the nation, which may not have been the best of ideas since we were still in Vietnam, being shocked by Watergate, and gearing up for the juggernaut of Disco.

I was one of the few kids where I grew up who never tried pot during junior and senior high school and my resistance held firm until the second semester of my sophomore year of college (Spring 1985), when a friend who I still hold dear to this day talked me into taking a few hits off of a bong crafted from an Agree shampoo bottle. I didn’t “freak out” and go on a Manson Family-style binge of murder and mutilation while shrieking the lyrics to Alice Cooper’s “Cold Ethyl,” and as a result I would occasionally smoke a bowl with friends at a party.

Then came my third year of college, or what may be more honestly referred to as my head-first, total immersion into 1980’s stoner culture. I lived in a single room in a basement suite of the dorms that was once the university's infirmary, and a budding stoner could scarcely have asked for a more secure toking space. I equipped my room with a multi-colored crazy quilt of movie posters, old photos and comic book promo ads, surrounding a large and comfortable bed festooned with comfy pillows, and the one item that no would-be opium den is complete without: the obligatory lava lamp. The icing on the psychedelic cake was my ever-growing record collection, and in no time my room became THE hangout spot for my friends.

Yer Bunche, circa Spring of 1986.

Our smoking implement of choice was a two-hosed glass hookah named “the Fusion Plasma Generator,” and it was the lightsaber of water pipes; perhaps it’s because of the impact that it made at the time, but I will swear in a court of law that I have never gotten a better hit out of any smoking apparatus since. The FPG was the first in what would become a long line of bongs and such, usually one those plastic $30 pull-tubes, and an infamous pipe that bore the moniker “the Claw,” so named because it was a regular stemmed pipe whose bowl rested firmly in the grip of a nauseating dried chicken's foot. But such horrid sights did not deter my friends and I from getting wasted as often as humanly possible, a tight fraternity of stoners united in our utopia of love, peace, incense and junk food munchies. And sometimes we even went to classes!

During that year I became consumed with getting as high as possible as often as possible, and it definitely had an effect on my schooling, but seeing that I was in an art school in the 1980’s it was pretty easy to do everything while baked and get away with such behavior being written off as standard hijinx that the creative are heir to. And despite the easy availability of much harder drugs on campus, I stayed true to my leafy love.

That romance intensified the following year during my tenure as a resident assistant — or R.A. in common parlance — and I have to say that I was the kind of example that parents dread when sending their little darlings off behind the ivy-covered walls of higher learning. By the fall of 1986 I looked like the long-lost melanin-infused member of the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers, complete with Death Star-sized Afro, black karate gi top and prescription Wayfarers to hide my perpetual case of red-eye. I actively encouraged my hall full of freshman charges to get stoned and drink constantly, and they were mostly all-too-willing to oblige, adding drunkenness and drug abuse to their away-from-home rampaging carnality with nameless partners. At the time I felt like I was encouraging freedom for those former-high-schoolers, but in retrospect I realize that I aided in the scholastic crash-and-burn of some of those kids. I know they had the choice to say “no,” but I have to admit my part in what went on, despite my attempts at cultivating the image of a post-modern, psychedelic Pied Piper. “Do what thou wilt,” indeed. Stupid, and wasteful. (Hell, I even got away with passing off an entire semester’s worth of intoxication and sordid sexual encounters by telling the dean to her face that I had skipped classes due to what I thought was the onset of a totally fictional case of “congenital blindness” that supposedly plagued my family, a performance that allowed me to continue my education for another year and finally graduate, but that’s a story for another day’s posting…)

My hall quickly became notorious on campus for its rampant stonerism, but if ever there were an example of “hide in plain sight” then I was it. Yet, as things are wont to happen, I was eventually found out by my boss — a clueless motherfucker to an absurd degree, who was a pitifully self-loathing Born Again Christian/closeted homosexual momma's boy — after being inadvertently ratted out by another hard-partying R.A. who gave me up while being reprimanded for his own peccadilloes, and I was quietly ejected from my position so as not to embarrass an administration that somehow never noticed — or cared — that such a shameless partier had been allowed to gallivant around unchecked for nearly the entire school year.

The following fall I ended up in the school’s apartments for a semester, an even more ideal setting for all manner of unchecked debauchery, and became host to several spectacular keg-and-weed shindigs that culminated with me being described in a student senate session as — and I quote — “a detriment to learning on campus,” a designation that still fills me with pride thanks to the person who dubbed me thus being a complete and total asshole who hadn't seen a trace of pussy since he slid out of his mother's. During this time a high school friend of mine joined the United States Marines and gave me a three-and-a-half-foot two-chambered bong that he christened “Nuke.” Unless you had arms long enough to make the reach, Nuke required another person to light it, and needless to say, the legend of the great beast made the rounds among the campus’ stoners and other riff-raff, attracting low-lives like flies, all of whom sought to get "nuked." By the time the Spring of 1988 rolled around, I only had one class left to complete before I graduated and could no longer reside on campus, so I left Nuke in the capable hands of the Beer Police (more on them in future postings) where it eventually had to be destroyed to end the growing tide of unsavory stoner pilgrims who sought to test their mettle against its mighty evil.

Spring of 1988: two of the Beer Police (Smoky and Senter) experiment to see if Nuke can be utilized rectally.

With college finally done I found myself back home for a little over a year, still smoking cheeba when I could, even hosting a now-legendary weekend-long “weed fest” during the summer of 1989 while my mother was out of town touring Greece. My Westport home became so vaporous — even with the windows and screen doors open — that it resembled the surface of Venus, and my college and high school friends in attendance littered the couches, beds, floor and lawn in a state of near-catatonia. For my own part, at one point I found myself upstairs away from the rest of the partygoers with a favorite college friend who had thoughtfully brought a bag of psychedelic mushrooms, a bag that she and I devoured and soon we were tripping our faces off. For all intents and purposes, I feel that weekend was the true and excellent coda to my youthful drug experiences, but my days of brain cell destruction were far from over.

I moved to New York in early 1990 and it was there that I found out the comics industry is a repository for drunks and drug abusers of all stripes, and discovered that my years of collegiate indulgence amounted to training for the much more hard core world of adult stonage. For years I smoked and drank with abandon, eventually seeing my much more expensive pot habit supplanted by much alcohol binging, a state that reached a self-destructive peak, or nadir if you prefer, about six years ago. I have reigned in my clearly addictive behavior considerably since then, sticking almost strictly to beer as intoxicant of choice, and not really giving much of a damn about pot anymore, kind of a “been there, done that” thing, and I marvel at the enthusiasm of the new generation of stoners, an enthusiasm I shared just as ardently during my misspent youth.

All of that crossed my mind the other day, my synapses ignited by that first familiar drag of a really good joint. Nostalgia sure is a motherfucker.