Program Notes 14

Sounds simple, huh? Well, you have to drive all the way across Pennsylvania, the long way, horizontal. Which doesn't sound bad until you get to the border and find out that the speed limit in all of Pennsylvania is only 55. It rained and rained (throughout the entire 4500 mile journey, in fact) and in New Jersey at 10:00 or 11:00 p.m., after having had to pull off the highway three times, we tried to get a motel room, but they all cost, like, $50, for a dive, so we sat in an IHOP drinking coffee till the storm passed.

Just one storm, terrifyin', but I can count when it comes to blessings, count real high. Out the Lincoln Tunnel and into culture shock. We took a wrong turn and had to negotiate the broken-glass "streets" of Hell's Kitchen and environs before finding 42nd Street (which one of my high school teachers once called "the most perverted street in America"). From there it was easy to locate the East Village, where Chris Johnny Punk Rock Potash and Denise have an apartment. Walk outside at 3:00 a.m. and you can buy fresh veggies, cold beer, smoke and 'shrooms, you name it. The place never sleeps, and neither did we.

We went down to the Bowery and the Lowa Eas Sigh and visited former New Times publisher Julie Felden, later hooking up with former NT ad rats Ron Mann and Ana Jomolca. We met Ron and Ana at some blues bar where the four musicians were individually great, but as a unit were just noisy. Johnny Punk Rock ordered a round of beers and discovered that a Bud costs five dollars. We all bolted to some other bar that was much cooler and we drank until late. My wife and I had to wake up and leave by 9:00 the next morning, but at 4:00 a.m. I wasn't yet ready to let go of the most aggressive city in the world. (I swear to God a guy in a van at one intersection leaned out his window and screamed, "There's a frikkin pedal on the right. Use it, asshole!") We ate breakfast at a Ukrainian joint one day and at a Polish place the next (very real). So anyway, on that last night, at 4:00 a.m., Johnny and I decided to walk around Tompkins Square Park. When we got back I noticed my shoes -- those rubber-soled sandals with Velcro straps -- were covered with gunk. Nasty skunky gunk. So I set them outside the fourth-floor door of Johnny and D's secured walkup. Five hours later, when we were ready to leave, the shoes were gone. Pretty different from Muncie or Erie that someone -- likely a neighbor, considering it's a building you have to be buzzed into -- would steal a pair of shit-covered $15 sandals. That's what I get, I guess, for forgetting to take off my hat while standing in St. Pat's, freaking on the giant windows and papal icons.

Still I love New Yawk, feel much safer there than here. Johnny Punk has a theory I buy: "In New Yawk you have all these people, people from every ethnicity, every background, all of them thrown together. So each and every person is forced to deal with that." It's a level playing field, and as mean and aggressive as people are, and even though there are the same number of guns in New Yawk as automobiles (1.7 million), it's okay to yell and argue and beef with people. Everyone has a niche, from the shiny happy polka-dot demi-more woman at the blues bar and then at the ATM at 2:00 a.m. -- "Where is the joy?" she's saying, "What is joy?" -- to the big Mad-drawn guy outside the Italian joint, "Hey, Vinnie, Vinnie, I got a space for ya heah, Vinnie, hey, Vinnieeeeee" (and Vinnie treated him kindly) to tourists. Live with it. What I had a tough time living with was 42nd Street. They've gone and ruined it, the city has, closing down almost all of the thousands of porno/massage/et cetera parlors. It is no longer the most perverted street in America and it is no longer fun.

We got down a few bets at OTB, walked into CBGB and kicked the ugly dog, sat around the back of the Knitting Factory as people gathered for a gay-punk concert soon to begin upstairs. We drank in at least 25 neighborhood bars, the coolest being the Holiday, with this old white-haired bartender in a flowery shirt. This guy worked hard to be oblivious, spending a good five or ten minutes moving a bottle cap from the counter to the trash can. For some reason, I clicked with this ol' dude, the king of all he surveys, as Johnny put it, and received excellent (relatively speaking) service. On the way out I freaked the crowd of customers by saying to the old man: "See you later at home, Dad." Back in Miami, I got in the mail a flattering note from Johnny, thanking us for visiting and for bringing a bundle of New Times back issues. "Thanks for the papers. They're lucky to have you, man. You're sharp as a...a...Nine Inch Nail." That Johnny, whatta kidduh.

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