Two Years Ago Today

March 20, 2012

We were:

  • On I-5 leaving San Diego with no permanent residence except the road
  • Jobless
  • Homeless
  • Embarking on a great adventure
  • Starry eyed musicians
  • Lunatics

Two years later we are:

  • Living in New York City
  • Employed
  • Parents
  • Embarking on new and very different great adventures
  • Starry eyed musicians
  • Lunatics

If you have a late-80’s Toyota Dolphin for sale, email thedukewantsmedead@gmail.com

Then and Now

February 20, 2012

Walking through the neighborhood we stumbled upon this…

 

Also there’s a new mega-post coming soon as I’m still in the process of writing it. We only need to catch you up on oh…. two years worth of experiences.

We’ve recorded a new song and put it up on our new Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/TheDukeWantsMeDead

I play drums on it as we’ve started recording again and are currently auditioning drummers for a new, improved and stronger than ever TDWMD.

Ad Astra Per Aspera!

-Joel

Broken Biscuits (A day in the life)

October 30, 2010


IT STARTS WITH

jeans on the tile floor

dusty knees like powdered sugar

ready to walk through the window

into the sunlight saturday

attached to hangover headache

past the polish faces antique faces

with a stunned look like they don’t understand the joke

the shopkeeper hosing off the sidewalk

Puerto Rican kids chasing each other past crossing guard cops

Drunks making paper bag morning prayers

then down to the subway

everyone pretending to sleep

or head in book gently swaying with the track

thinking about loneliness

and grocery list lips

under sickly fluorescent shine

stop and out with the herd

everyone flashes by too quickly

to count for anything

up syrup filth steps

to pancake mud street

I’m glad to mean nothing

another rat in the garbage

like all the others

money from jeans

phone into jeans

walk signals

disinterested foreigners

sitting in folding chairs on the street

wishing for younger women

or their father to be alive again

for just one more old country day

when things were cleaner than this

dont walk anymore

then back into tunnel like ants

home to the neighborhood

the old polish faces still waiting for the punchline

close the front door and my mailbox falls off the wall

jeans on the tile floor

ghosts haunt the hall

-Joel

“Born into this”

October 11, 2010
The weekend was one I was looking forward to. Our arrival in New York had the same effect the pilgrims landing at Plymouth Rock must have had. We had made it to the new world and all our loved ones were booking tickets to come stay in the promised land with us. The last 6 of the 8 weeks we’d been in New York we’d had some combination of Steph’s sister, mother, my sister and her fiancee and boon companion Adam staying with us, with no breaks between and Steph being pregnant through all of it. Although broke, a respite was in order. Steph told me early in the week to get a rental car and that she was surprising me with a weekend away. We didn’t have any money to go out of town with so I was pretty sure she was going to kill me in the woods and dump my body in the Hudson. The day we left I went into work for a few hours and told them I had to leave early to rent a car. “Where are you going?” “I don’t know. My girlfriend has a weekend lined up but won’t tell me what we’re doing so if I’m not here on Monday, call the police. She may be taking me out to the woods to murder me.” I left around 1 and took the subway then a cab to LaGuardia to pick up the rental car. Some kind of new Dodge with a decent American engine in it. It felt strange and exhilarating to be driving a car with real power to it after not having a car for so long. I always feel slightly drunk when I get behind the wheel for the first time in a while. It’s like a dream where you’re undressing your grade school teacher in line at the grocery store. Exciting and awkward all at the same time. I picked up Steph and we headed North through my first real taste of New York City traffic and the thrill of driving a car lost a bit of it’s lustre. We crawl through Queens, then the Bronx, with that great area around Yankee Stadium where the bridges look like Roman aquaducts and up through Jersey. The wildlife outside New York City is beautiful and hits you like a wall as soon as you get one bridge outside the city.
We stop at a gas station to use the bathroom and I get some shitty gas station coffee but as I’m standing in there I’m suddenly hit with a warm wave of nostalgia for our time spent on the road; having not been in a gas station for months. Back on the road we’re alternating between AC/DC and Gordon Lightfoot and Neil Young as we wind up through the Hudson river valley on our way to Saugertes. We get to the cabin she’s rented and it’s a great little loft style cabin on an acre of land complete with hammock and fireplace. She’s done well and I say “This place is perfect, the only thing it needs is wine.” “Look on the table.” There’s a bottle of red table wine sitting on it next to a corkscrew and two glasses. Life is good. I head back out to the car and drive up the road to a little market which is really just two racks of mac n cheese and pasta with a few bags of marshmallows and cookies next to a cooler full of beer and soda but all I came for was pasta and sauce so it’s a success. There’s a little deli counter and the friendly Asian lady ringing me up says “You want garlic bread tonight?” “Sure, sounds great” “I have some stale bread we just gonna make crumbs out of but you take for garlic bread” and I graciously accept. Damn, we’re definitely not in Brooklyn anymore. The next morning I wake up and sit outside with my coffee in the cool delicious mountain air. It’s really a treat to not smell trash and filth and smog and burned farts every time you breathe in. We play music and write a song, our first real practice in months and then head into town for lunch where we sit at the bar and eat some half-assed diner food and there’s one oafish looking cop walking the two main streets of town saying “Howdy” to all the people he passes and asking them how their son’s baseball game was and if their Uncle Ned’s tumor is still bothering him, while eyeing us with suspicion and contempt. I never feel easy around cops and hope I never do. We wander around the little town looking for cheap furniture but end up finding one of the greatest bookstores I’ve ever been in. Some guy’s house but it’s packed with great literature and all for $4 or less a copy. Even some 1st edition Henry Miller and Hunter Thompson stuff going for $10. We drop around $60 and the guy is looking at me like “Are you sure you want to buy all these books?” when I could have bought half the store and felt good about my purchase. The next day we head over to Woodstock, which I never thought of as anything more than a music festival or slang for acid. We got into the town and there’s a flea market going on with the usual trash and treasure and a hippie guy playing bad acoustic guitar and trying too hard to sound like some world-weary Bruce Springsteen. We passed some kind of psychedelic second-hand store and there’s two gray haired hippies in front playing guitar and talking very seriously about some guy who had sold some records earlier that day. They had a sign that said “Kariokee – Guitar Kariokee – $1 to make us stop playing!”  Naturally we went in and there were two parrots in a cage along with a whole clusterfuck of clothes, records, crystals, potions, dirty cds and posters. As we’re walking through the store we see a skeleton hanging in the corner with a rubber hand. Steph walked up to the lady who owned the store, a sunburned space cadet with pink hair of about 50 and asked if she’d sell the skeleton. “Oh, gee well he has been a good friend of ours and… you know, well I guess we could sell him, maybe for $40 we could sell him, we call him Doctor Bones although he’s missing a hand, just like my husband!” “Okay, great we’ll take him. Can we come back and pick him up on our way to the car so we don’t have to carry him around?” “Sure honey, sure.” As we walk out I notice a stack of business cards near the door with a homemade advertisement for her psychic services. “POPULAR IN GREAT BRITAIN AND THE UNITED STATES – ANIMAL PSYCHIC MEDIUM ANNA PETERSON – PSYCHIC READING / FORTUNE TELLING / SPIRITUAL GUIDANCE” and sure as shit there’s a photo of her with her two parrots. We walk around the town for a bit more and I like the place, and even though I’m not a fan of hippie culture I do love little mountain hippie towns like Arcata, CA and Woodstock. We find a store selling Catcher in the Rye shirts and Henry Miller shirts and Jack Kerouac tote bags and at first I’m thinking “Kudos” until we see the t-shirts are $30 each. What a strange culture we’re living in. We walk back to the animal psychic to pick up Dr. Bones but when we get in she’s flustered “Ooh yeah I talked to my husband and he doesn’t want to sell Doctor Bones, I’m so sorry you guys.” and so Steph wants to look around a little more and I dig through records. “If she’s psychic, wouldn’t she have known her husband would say no?” Steph says. But another hippie lady walks in and the two of them start talking loudly, the pink psychic saying “Yes, my husband lost all of his fingers and just got out of surgery two days ago. They attached his hand to his stomach until the skin grows back. He’ll grow new skin on his stomach and then they can detach it.” I guess giving up the one-handed skeleton would have left him without any company in his league and suddenly I didn’t feel so bad about the loss. We head back to the car and within 2 hours we’re descending back into the mouth of the beast and home.

The kick-off the shoes rest of being home didn’t last long though. About 10pm Steph starts feeling bad and is having stomach pains, which have been more or less common for the past few weeks and I start to doze off as we lay there only to wake up at 11:30 to her saying “This is really bad. This is bad. I think I need to go to the hospital.” I fly out of bed, call a car service to send a gypsy cab and start gathering our jackets and books. She’s on the ground shaking with pain and something is clearly not right. The gypsy cab finally shows up out front and rushes us up to Queens then over the Queensboro bridge to the hospital in Manhattan. I had been expecting an emergency room packed with gunshot victims and people vomiting blood; immigrants moaning and schizophrenics yelling about the government, maybe a few Jehovah’s Witnesses handing out copies of the Watchtower on those about to die in a sterile plastic chair under flourescent lights. But thankfully we get in and there’s only one person ahead of us and all is relatively quiet. An old man comes in on a stretcher with what appears to be his strange Indian lawyer. The strange Indian lawyer with bad comb-over, protruding front teeth, coke bottle glasses and strage hunch is talking to all of the paramedics, trying to get each ones badge number and name and scribbling it all down on a pad of paper. He shuffles back and forth in his sloppy polo shirt and baggy khaki pants. He looks like he should be sitting in a filthy apartment that smells of cat feces and old Chinese food, watching a small black and white TV with rabbit ear antennae. The paramedics eventually have had an ass full of him and walk back to the ambulance. They finally wheel the old guy out and let us in. Steph explains her symptoms and that she’s pregnant (which is a great card to be able to play in an ER) and we soon get our own room. Midnight becomes 1 AM becomes 5:30 AM and finally we’re released and in the freezing early morning Hudson River wind we stand on the corner or 10th Ave. and wait for a cab. I’ve got that thing where I start shivering and can’t stop again and I’m trying to pretend I’m back in San Diego with my hands on the hood of a car on a blistering hot day, a trick my mom told me to use when I was cold when I was young and which I still use. It kind of helped and finally a cab pulled up and we got in. I send an email to my boss explaining that after being in the hospital all night there’s a snowballs chance in Hell that I’m making it in to work. We get home and sleep for about three hours when I wake up for no good reason and can’t get back to bed. I get up, make coffee, usual stuff and as I’m crawling back into bed Stephanie screams “Oh shit!” I figure I’ve got some giant spider on my forehead or she’s going into labor or something but my nerves are so shattered I don’t even panic. “Today was my court date! I was supposed to be at the courthouse at 8:30 today! There’s going to be a bench warrant out for me!” So I throw on pants shirt shoes hat and walk to the subway thinking about how 4 hours earlier I was sleepless in an ER and now here I am on my way to court. She may not need expensive jewelry or a closet full of shoes, but that doesn’t mean every girl isn’t high maintenance. The courthouse goes smoothly since I’m a tall white guy that doesn’t have a shaved head or goatee, and I go into the courtroom with her documents and explain to the officer that she’s pregnant and we spent the night in the ER, and he says “OK, this case is dismissed and no further action is necessary, have a good day.” Say what you will about the facade of equality in this country but at the end of the day the System is a lot easier for a white guy. I’m pretty sure the Jesus look doesn’t hurt either and gets me a lot of unconscious associations with goodness and salvation. Since I haven’t heard back from my work I call my boss Alison. “Oh my God Joel, when you sent me that email it went to my junk mail folder, so we didn’t think we’d heard from you all morning! We all remembered you saying if you weren’t here Monday to call the police and we’ve actually been wondering if we shouldn’t call them and tell them to start looking for you!” and she broke out laughing. I assured them there was no need for any more law enforcement this morning, hung up and walked out of the courthouse. Pleased that I was spared a bunch of bullshit by the man I walk back through downtown Brooklyn and see girls practicing ballet in the bottom floor of a building and two old guys playing guitar next to the subway entrance and I’m thinking about how much I love being who I am where I am. Sitting on the subway back home there’s an old Hispanic guy reading a Spanish newspaper with the headline “PINATA HUMANA” and I have to laugh because sometimes things work out even when they don’t seem to be on paper. I’m about to get off the subway on a beautiful Monday and crawl in bed with my girl, and for now I’m not a human pinata, my hand isn’t attached to my stomach and I don’t have the cops looking for me. For now.
-Joel

Ground Zero

July 29, 2010

Day one of beginning over again. My own personal ground zero, New York. I’ve been stripped completely of every security, every comfort, every person save one, every part of myself that I thought made me myself. I’m naked in New York. Like some homogenous human that is not human and is every human. A blank canvas. A white wall. Standing at a starting line wondering if I am still able to move once that gun goes off. My reflection is New York. I no longer have any other mirrors. I have nothing. I am nothing. I began this journey thinking that I wanted to wash myself clean of all material and immaterial things. Here I am. Finally empty and full all at once.

New York CIty. No other city in my own country could make me feel so much like an alien and so completely exposed as an outsider. I’ve already been admonished for not recycling correctly by an asian man I could not understand. I’ve gotten on the subway going the wrong direction too many times to admit. I am living in a neighborhood where the language spoken and written on storefronts is not a language I understand. I have no car to hide in, I walk. I can’t go to Target to take care of all of my needs in a single trip. No, I have to walk to a grocery for food, a bakery for fresh bread, a liquor store for wine, a pharmacy for toothpaste and vitamins, a shoe store for shoes, a boutique for clothing, a bookstore for books, a convenience store for gum … you get the idea. It’s an adventure every single day. Every little shop is unique and different and they take pride in their little specialties, really doing it up right. I realize even more than I did before what the Costcos and Targets have done to our culture, herding us through warehouses of generic items that we pile into our oversized carts without considering where it came from, who made it, or if we truly need it. This sort of mom-and-pop shop community is being eaten up by an ugly insatiable beast. It is dying so fast that I feel lucky to finally be in a place where I can actually experience it before it disappears completely.

It’s been a while for me on this blog. I’ve been opening it up and staring at it, completely overwhelmed by where we were and where we are and what has transpired in the in-betweens. I want to write volumes this morning about Chicago and our final trek from Chicago to Washington DC, the sad goodbye to the The Good Ship Lolly, the back and forth between New York and DC and homelessness as we tried to find refuge in a city that does not exactly welcome outsiders with arms wide. But it’s so much. The thought overwhelms me. I’ve decided to offer a few important and not-so-important moments from my time so far in this magical city and hopefully catch up slowly from there. We’ll see. Meantime, here are some snapshots to thumb through …

There is one particular bar in this town, I don’t even know its name. It really has no distinction from the countless bars that line Manhattan Avenue, the main thoroughfare in Greenpoint, save one thing. This one has a very nice bench out front that is generally in the shade. Every time we walk past, day or night, two hearty old Polish ladies are sitting on this bench in full old lady regalia; skirts, slippers, blouses, powder and perfume, ruffles, jackets, wigs, hats, pearls. They sit there muttering in polish to each other, glancing often toward their suitcases, packed full of treasures that are treasured only by them, making sure they are still sitting nearby and haven’t been swiped by a street hoodlum. I keep thinking at some point the lights will come on and they will act out a scene from Mame complete with song and dance. It’s as if they are waiting every day for the sweet chariot to swing low and whisk them up to heaven. Certainly they are dressed appropriately for the ride, everything in its place, all the important things packed, face powdered and rouged, all ready to meet some spirit in the sky. Times like this I wish I spoke Polish so I could plop down cross-legged somewhere near them and make requests for story after story.

On a Sunday afternoon somewhere beneath the city of Brooklyn, while rain falls outside, a homeless woman in the middle of her age drops quickly to the ground and drags herself slowly along the floor, scooting under the subway turnstile. She doesn’t have money to pay the fair I assume to myself. No one moves to stop her. We slide our metrocards through the slots like New York pros, walk through the turnstile and find a seat on the G-train. I don’t see her again. People live in the subway tunnels Joel tells me. It’s times like this that I make note of the microscopicness of the indescribable unnameable thing that separates me from her and I wonder if someday I will be the one crawling under turnstiles.

In the town of Williamsburg, a town that has been taken over and gentrified by an army of New York hipsters, there lives an old leathery man who is perpetually in his yard or the equivalent of one. A yard assumes that there is a house attached to it, and there is no house. So I suppose it’s more of a plot of land where a house would, or used to, be. Incidentally a yard in New York, I have learned, is a small concrete slab behind an apartment building, often dirty and full of old faded makeshift chairs and tables, also usually shared by several neighbors. There is a high metal fence surrounding his grassy plot and many of the necessities that would be found in a house are scattered around. Tables, chairs, an old rusty automobile that has been there long enough for the grass and weeds to take over sits in one corner. He, old leatherman, is always there, sitting somewhere like he is more a piece of the inanimate furniture than a living thing. Sometimes all you see are two skinny brown legs propped up on the open car door. Sometimes he is in a chair near the fence where passers-by can view him like an animal in a zoo. The spectacle raises so many questions, most beginning with, “why … !?”. Someday I hope we will have a conversation with him, meanwhile we make guesses … a tragic fire … claustrophobia … a statement about his hatred for the hipsters … vitamin D deficiency … maybe he is a lonely agoraphobic and thought that putting himself closer to the rest of the world, without actually entering it, would make him feel better.

Upon entering the subway train one afternoon, I sit down across from a lady who looks like she’s spent the last five years underground. Literally…underground. She has this amazing dreadlocked hair, clearly a product of neglect – not a fashion statement. People are getting up to move away from the stench. This woman has crazy eyes. I can’t stop looking. She spits out colorful curse words like she needs an exorcist and slaps herself repeatedly for the length of our three-mile subway ride. By the time we approach our stop she has cleared the entire bench beside and across from her. I keep watching and wondering what will happen if she looks at me with her crazy eyes and catches me staring… will I be the next one to get a slap? As I continue to stare I consider that a slap from her would certainly make for an interesting story and even more, maybe that’s what the poor woman needs is just someone to finally look at her.  Knowing how my overactive imagination has a tendency to get me into sticky situations, I finally turn my eyes back toward my book and continue to eye her out of the corners while pretending to read.

We have had several weeks of record-breaking heat now. Relentless heat and humidity. One day in particular I have some small errands that require me to leave our little bedroom, the one room that has an AC unit in the window. I am out and I am attempting to move without actually moving. I feel as through I’m wrapped in wet melted cheese swimming through hot French Onion soup. I finish up and painfully make my way to a home that is not a home, a small temporary sublet on Huron street. A man in sweaty work clothes appears riding his bike at top speed down Manhattan Avenue. He is triumphant on his steed. Head high, elbows locked, arms straight gripping the handles, legs pumping mechanically. He is a machine. He flies past the old Catholic cathedral that towers above the small Greenpoint storefronts that huddle like impoverished subjects, clothed in faded american flags, hands outstretched. Straight out of a story book, I’m transported every time I walk past this monolithic sanctuary. A heavenly vision, it seems to be made of gingerbread and frosting with its red brick and white trimmings. As he approaches, his head bows slightly, he crosses himself on all four catholic corners and without slowing his speed, pedals on. I continue my slow walk home and ponder the powers of gingerbread and consider that maybe there’s some secret to living through this soupy inferno that I don’t know yet.

An evening on Huron street, the sun is setting and we are strolling past deserted warehouses covered in graffiti, concrete castles in the kingdom of Brooklyn. We follow discarded pieces of strewn litter like bread crumbs to the water’s edge where we wade through weeds and garbage to sit as close as we dare to the New York City skyline and watch it light up at the end of a day. My head is full. We pull out red wine in water bottles. Bare legs are offered up to the resident mosquitos. The heat and humidity have finally loosened their grip on the city and I’m pulling in the cool air like its pure gold. I feel like I’ve just won the lottery and I look at Joel and see he feels the same. The momentousness and clarity of the moment rests on both of us as we look from each other back over the water to the jagged city skyline. We are home.

– S

NYCares

June 27, 2010

Back in Brooklyn, this time for good. Tonight we go to see Les Savy Fav at the park by our house and Thursday we move into our two month sublet. I’ve been working the job angle and have a few interviews I’m lining up this week so like it or not, Brooklyn is stuck with us. It’s really amazing how living here, every day you can just walk out your front door with no intentions or plans and get caught up in a great adventure. Yesterday we got up late as usual and went out to get some lunch. G train south to Park Slope where we meet up with some friends then sit in Guitar Center trying to ignore the burnout employee next to me playing Steve Vai licks unnecessarily loud and then it’s the N train north to Manhattan, crossing over the Manhattan Bridge and descending into the city like Batman once across the river. Walk through Lower East Side and find street fair going on then Sri Lankan food and over to Williamsburg, where bands are playing Northside Festival and they’ve got 8 blocks of Bedford blocked off to cars, full of art installations we wander through before getting a bottle of wine and heading up to see the band Liars play. Then afterward we walk to a 19th century bar with saloon doors on every booth and a button you can push for service, and after wine we meet Tom and Tina at Papacito’s, a mexican spot with a patio where we sit at large table and talk until we wander back home and crash. Today it’s a free show in Central Park by Gil Scott-Heron followed by a ride on the carousel from the end of Catcher in the Rye, then off to and all you can eat and drink barbecue at a bar known for having hammocks as their primary form of seating, then Les Savy Fav concert in the park. There’s so much going on here at all times it’s impossible to keep a running log of all of our adventures. I’m working on a novel and making sketches and notes for the New York portion which I’ll post excerpts of from time to time on here. What follows is not anything from the novel but rather a rough and incomplete sketch of the first day we arrived here almost a month ago until I get a chance to share some of the high and low lites from this last leg of our trip so far:

6/3/10 6:18 PM
“All things flow according to the whims of the Great Magnet. What a fool I was to defy it.” – HST

Got in to NY Monday afternoon. Monday night we find an apt., Wednesday morning we’re homeless again and now, Thursday evening we have an apt. again. Monday morning we get up and I’m already giddy as a school girl at the thought I’ll soon be in NY. Take a cab to the parking lot in already-oppressive DC humid heat and stand on a long concourse of Astroturf, melting with everyone else waiting for the 10:30 bus. It comes early and all Steph’s fears of a crowded, sweaty Hell-box are extinguished when we hop up to the second floor and plop into air conditioned seats. I spend the 4.5 hour ride writing our DC blog and then we start watching Easy Rider, which leaves Steph unimpressed until Jack Nicholson’s character is introduced. Watching the film again for the first time in years (and not stoned out of my skull) I have to say I would wonder what all the fuss was about too if I wasn’t already initiated. But Dennis Hopper just died so it was only right. Then suddenly we can see the city sprouting up to the east yawning ever larger and I’m impatient to finally arrive, like a Christmas present waiting to be ripped open by my greedy hands. Under the Lincoln tunnel which is like going through a wormhole that twists the Jersey highway reality into the magnificent jeweled mouth of the wolf. We get off the bus and I feel like Axl Rose at the beginning of the “Welcome to the Jungle” video, completely disoriented. I had a strange feeling upon standing at the corner looking for the subway. Almost intimidation, which I’ve never felt in any large city before. I guess it’s more of a respect for this ultimate summation of our strange country. We hit Brooklyn and in the subway Steph voices my inner monologue that the city is a dirty one, a quality we both like in a metropolis. Reminds me of Berlin a lot (and later in the coffee shop reading an interview with some German DJs they talk about how they moved from Brooklyn to Manhattan because “Brooklyn is too much like Berlin.”), Brooklyn especially. Once in the subway I’m looking for a map and I’m overwhelmed by the different lines spidering in and out and how there are multiple letters and numbers next to each line. We’re trying to figure out how to get to Brooklyn and finally I ask the subway attendant “How do we get to Greenpoint?” and she crackles and booms through her broken microphone “CAN YOU HEAR ME?” “YES!” “SPEAK UP!” “How do we get to Greenpoint?!” “WHERE?!” “GREENPOINT!!!” She sighs and moves her Soap Opera Digest off of a free subway map and spends a good two minutes pouring over it before rapid firing a series of letters and numbers and stops at me. Finally I just ask if I can take a copy of the map and at last we’re on our way. Almost, because first we go through the turnstiles for a train going the wrong direction. Back up the stairs, cross the street and down into the correct subway tunnel. I was surprised at how unimpressive the tunnel and stations are. I’ve always imagined they’d be like the metro in Paris but even larger and more embellished, but the reality is they’re filthy, hard to spot on a street and plain. I’ve spotted two rats so far waiting for trains and the trains themselves vary in quality from hot plastic 70’s boxes with no apparent maps, to modern steel bullets with LED maps that change with each stop. So we take the L train over to Brooklyn and find that the G train which we need to take North to Nassau Ave. is closed and instead a “Shuttle” is running the line. One look at the bus and it looks like the last train to Auschwitz, packed with sorrowful, filthy faces. We decide to walk to the apartment and I’m still trying to understand my environment and the flavor of the place as we walk past filthy mid-day automotive repair shops, empty parks and a highway bridge. But soon we get near the Southern edge of McCarren park and there are throngs of Memorial Day people laid out on the grass, barbecuing and painting the air with enough rich food smells to drive my empty stomach insane with desire. Cut through the park and Greenpoint opens wide before us. Suddenly we’re in a real, vibrant neighborhood with flocks of people crossing streets and an infinite kaleidoscope of shops catering to every need; all the homogeny of the United States in this 21st century shattered into a million suns each evolved into their own specific place and purpose. It seems impossible to take in and catalogue and understand the vast array of shops so one-after-another as if compacted and hardened. This is the Polish neighborhood and the streets crash and recede again with Poles, Hipsters, Latinos. I’m wide-eyed that here I am, after all this time, in our country’s most absolute expression of the principles it was founded on. It has the feeling of a frontier, accepting everyone but excepting no one from having to fight to stake their claim. Finally we get to 745 Manhattan and call William, the French kid renting the place to us for 5 days. I see a hipster standing outside smoking a cigarette and looking around as if he’d just lost his dog so I hang up and figure this lanky kid must be the guy. He is and stomps out his cigarette taking us upstairs past the monoliths of pizza boxes in the hall since the ground floor is a pizza joint (although William recommends we go to one around the corner since it’s better). The apartment is a Railroad-style 1-bedroom that belongs to his girlfriend who’s in France at the moment. It’s sweltering and our hearts sink when we realize there’s no air conditioning. William leaves and we’re hot and starving so we go around the corner and get pizza. My first slice of NY pizza doesn’t disappoint and afterward we walk across Manhattan Ave. to Cup, a small coffee shop and get coffee since we have time to kill before meeting Damaras and Eric. There are two benches for seating and I read Time Out New York and revel at all of the opportunities in this city. Page after page of new restaurants, shows, bars; enough to fill a whole country. I look at my phone and realize we’ve got to go so we finish and walk up a few blocks to the apartment we may be subletting on Franklin and Java streets. We’re amazed that right next door to where we’ll be living is a wine shop and across the street is a huge restaurant and cafe. I call Damaris and she comes bounding down the stairs, gives us both handshakes and as we’re walking up the stairs we see her landlord, an old Polish lady. She tries to introduce us, but the old Polish lady doesn’t speak English so nothing is gained. Up the stairs to the third floor and Eric is in the place which is a small studio with a separate kitchen but some charming touches like a marble fireplace and a skylight in the bathroom with an inexplicable 12 ft. rubber handle hanging from it. I make note of the Rosy Crucifixion on his bookshelf and Damaris hands us each a glass of champagne. We chat for a bit; she’s a performance artist and he’s a TV editor. Good kids and we offer them half the rent as a deposit and get the keys. They accept, we down our champagne and suddenly we live in New York! As we’re walking out Steph realizes she’s left her umbrella upstairs so we ring them and this time Eric comes down, even though he had sprained his ankle the previous night which was his birthday. Steph goes up and he shows me the trick to open the door then goes rushing out, much like the guy we bought the Lolli from. Steph comes down the stairs and we walk home with stars in our eyes and high-five each other that we were able to become New Yorkers within two hours of being in the city. How naive we were. The plan was to meet Tom and Tony at a Polish home cooking restaurant that’s BYOB, but by the time he shows up it’s 8:45. Since we both had bottles of wine it didn’t matter that we wouldn’t make it to the restaurant which closed at 9. They came upstairs, we put on the Stooges Funhouse on the record player and started catching up. Tom has short hair now and is wearing a button up shirt which catches me off guard, since all I can think of is the last time we saw each other on the boardwalk in PB and as we sat at the table over mimosas he railed against my corporate life. “You sold out Joel. Just look at you, the preppie haircut, married, working 9 to 5…” and now years later here we are: I’m unemployed, tattooed, in a band with long hair and a beautiful girlfriend living the good life according to my beliefs. It’s bizarre how things work out as the years go by. We have a good time, if awkward since all of us are burned out (they being at the end of a long holiday weekend) and when they leave we’re both hungry from drinking our dinners, so Steph raids the French Fridge and finds eggs, bell pepper and cheese and when she says “I wish we had bread for toast” I consider it a challenge to New York City at 11:15 pm on a holiday night. So I put my shoes on, head downstairs and lo, the Polish market right across the street is glowing neon up and down Manhattan Ave. I go in and I’m hypnotized by all of the fresh artisinal wonders packed in this unassuming facade. Fresh coffee beans, glistening produce,polish wonders, dark wood, beers of every variety. I pick up kava tea (my favorite) and a loaf of bread labelled “Health Bread” and as I pay and walk out I start laughing like a maniac. I’m finally living in a real city and it’s everything I always imagined it would be! I bound back in and we scarf down our late night Brooklyn apartment meal, and after much cursing of the humid heat, finally fall asleep.

-J

Bite The Big Apple….

June 5, 2010

New York, day 5. Insanity. This is the great American frontier. A humid stew of every imaginable culture, where the world goes to fight for a supporting actor role in the American Dream and failure is ever-vigilant at your heels. I don’t have much time to write as we’re about to move into an unfinished Brooklyn storefront for a few days until we can move into the apartment we may or may not get, depending on how our interview with the landlord goes (whenever he decides to call us). We’ve gotten and lost or gave up 5 different apartments in the last 5 days, and again today we are shuffled along with the flux and flow. We’ve had enough amazing experiences in the 5 days we’ve spent here to fill 5 months anywhere else and we’re going to live here if it kills us (and it might, but it’ll be an interesting death at least). More to come!

Dancin’ With Mr. D(C)

June 1, 2010

Ye Gods it’s been a while. Trying to catch up the last three weeks is a little unreasonable for a man who’s on his first cup of coffee, but for the sake of keeping the blog some semblance of current I’ll put up some photos and give a Readers Digest version of the time since we last left you, dear reader.

In the 10 years I’ve been old enough to drink in bars, I’ve purveyed dives all over the Western hemisphere and found some excellent places filled with beautiful losers, cheap drinks, shabby decor, good conversations and even better jukeboxes. For example, I would highly recommend Lebowski Bar next time you’re in former Communist East Berlin. Yes, it’s actually a Big Lebowski themed dive bar, where you can get White Russians for about $3 and the only other people in the place when I was in there was a touring indie rock band from the US. If you’re in LA you can’t go wrong with The Smog Cutter, where Tom Waits, Charles Bukowski and Elliott Smith all used to sit and write at one time or another and Elliott even filmed a music video there (“Miss Misery”). The bartenders/owners are angry Thai women (it’s been rumored they’re prostitutes and while I can’t confirm this, they’re definitely tough as nails and know how to take a poor saps money) who will berate you and tell you to “GET THE **** OUT!” in no uncertain terms if you don’t appreciate their attitude which is a great way to separate the wheat from the chaff when it comes to douchey patrons. Add karaoke to the mix and you’ve got yourself a fine time. Vesuvio’s in San Francisco will probably always be my favorite bar, but I can finally say I’ve found a contender in Chicago’s The Green Mill. It’s Chicago’s oldest nightclub and opened in 1907 complete with outdoor walled gardens and dining room, meant to emulate the Moulin Rouge in Paris. Al Capone bought it in the 1920’s and had his henchman Jack McGurn manage it, who was responsible for the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. The place still has secret passageways that lead from behind the bar to secret tunnels running up and down the block. We showed up in time for a poetry slam complete with band playing a theme song to all the failed poets and each poet being ranked on a scale of minus infinity to ten. After the poets were done there was a break before the house band and I was standing outside when a van for people with disabilities pulled up out front, beeped its way back into a parallel parking job and out comes this guy with sunglasses on, old as dirt and gets led into the Green Mill looking like Ray Charles with a tapeworm. When I got back inside he was sitting behind the bar at an organ and I knew the night was about to get even better. He started plunking away on it and soon a guy in a suit took the bar stage with him playing jazz progressions on guitar and sprinkling little complimentary notes around the organ’s phrasings. We stayed for a while since Steph wanted to see the vocalist, who was alright until she started nervously carrying on a conversation with some dandy sitting at the bar instead of playing music so we braced ourselves for the cold and crackheads and wandered back to the deserted elevated night train platform and headed home.

Other Chicago highlights included my sisters graduation from Northwestern Law School (finally Shanna can now say “As your attorney, I advise you to rent a very fast car with no top…” with the credentials to back it up), an architecture cruise down the Chicago river (which doesn’t actually flow into Lake Michigan because Canada got angry that all of those Chicago hot dogs and green dye were polluting the lake so they dammed it up), seeing Kim Taylor play and talking with her afterward, discovering the nutty German board game Carcassonne, seeing my folks… Sweet pickles it was quite the extended sojourn and by the time the day came to pick up the Lolli from storage we were both itching to get back on the road. Before we got to Chicago we couldn’t wait to see civilization again, and then within two weeks we couldn’t wait to be free and on the road. The grass is always greener and wherever you go, there you are. Heady stuff. When I picked it up it was like being reunited with long-lost parents; I was so damn happy to see the thing I apologized to it for neglecting it like I did and running off to the big city. So back to Shanna’s apartment and pick up Steph and all our worldly belongings, say goodbyes and hit the road for Pioneer, OH once again.

We should have learned our lesson about Pioneer, OH the first time we were there and stayed and Loveberry’s Funny Farm where the water smelled so bad like Chlorine it stunk up the whole rv for a week and the broken showers had ladybugs covering the fluorescent light fixtures (I thought they ate aphids, not fluorescent lights but I’m no entomologist). Obviously, we didn’t because I found a different campsite a few miles away from the funny farm and decided to give it a try. We pulled in late and had to camp in the late check-in campsite, which was a soggy grass patch about 20 yards by 20 yards with an electrical outlet and faucet. I filled up the water jug in the darkness and when I brought it into the light of the Lolli, it looked like chocolate milk. I figured maybe the pipes needed to be flushed out a bit so I let the water run as we walked to the bathrooms, which were inexplicably locked for the night. It didn’t matter though because the next morning when they let us in to use them, I thought a troop of boyscouts with dysentery had stormed the place and left cackling until I realized that all that brown everywhere was from the water. I’m no Mr. Clean but a toilet shouldn’t look used after you flush it because the water supply is so filthy. Cereal for dinner with boiled water to drink and the next morning we’re on our way to the Cleveland KOA in desperate need of showers and clean water. The KOA delivered and it was a perfect sunny day as we make pasta, drink wine and lay on a bench listening to the snap crackle and pop of the mud drying around us in the sun. The next day we’re heading into Pennsylvania and I’m glad to be marking another state off my list, especially one as wooded and beautiful as PA. We stay in a town called Bedford that had an amazing little downtown built in the mid-18th century where George Washington had his headquarters when he crushed the Whisky Rebellion and effectively established the government’s authority to collect taxes by pointing a gun in your face. America! Went to a little market and then headed to our campsite which was having a “Yard Sale” meaning all of the campers had their stuff sprawled out next to their campers which was pretty awesome and we had a Mennonite couple pull up next to us in a minivan and camp in a tent then set up their homemade candle shop the next day. “Impress your wife!” the husband told one potential candle customer. Apparently Mennonite wives are easily impressed. It was a bittersweet night in the Lolli as we knew it might be the last night in it since the plan was to hole up in DC for a while and then look for apartments in New York. We were still up in the air though as to whether we wanted to give up the nomadic life so we didn’t spend a lot of time crying about it. Plus I hate goodbyes so it was better to leave it unceremonious anyway. The next day we pack up the Lolli one last time, then head out past Gettysburg and into Maryland. I’d had the shotgun with us the whole trip but DC and NYC both have insane regulations on transporting and possession of firearms without registering them so I figure it’s probably time to bid it farewell and sell it at a pawn shop for $100 then we’re on our way in much traffic to our nation’s capital. I look at the directions on my iPhone and although we’re only 12 miles away, it says we’ve got an hour and 20 minutes. My morale drops as the temperature rises. We hit dead stop traffic and the Lolli is now overheating so we turn on the heater and help keep warm since it’s only 94 degrees outside with 80% humidity. Then just to make things complete I duct tape a space heater to my crotch and wrap myself in blankets and tinfoil.  As we’re sitting there losing our minds a guy in a BMW pulls up next to us and yells “Hey you wanna sell that thing?” And yes, actually we do so I tell him to check out the Craigslist ad. We get into DC and to Megan and Ben’s house and when I say house, I mean HOUSE. They live in a great part of DC (a block away from Ian Mackaye of Fugazi, Minor Threat and Dischord Records fame) and in a huge 2 story 1920’s rowhouse with a huge basement converted into an apartment where we get to stay. Unbelievably kind and the nicest digs of our whole trip. Plus we get to set up the equipment in the basement and get a song recorded which will be mixed and put up next week. I call up my good friend Nick who comes over with wine and the 5 of us sit on the humid porch of evening heat and drink and shoot the bull before walking to a cool spot for dinner, meeting up with his friend and then Nick takes us on the grand tour of DC. We head to his friend’s birthday party at a bar in DuPont Circle drinking and eating birthday cake at a table in the back, then we’re off to the Black Cat club which is a cool indie rock venue where they’re having a dance party and wail and grab lapels and reminisce, then we head to his friend’s place and hang out on the roof with the orange effervescent glow of DC stretching out before us as the rain falls. Finally it’s time to head home so Steph and I lock arms and charge through ghetto and gourmet a mile and a half back to our basement nest. The next day we walk to the zoo with Ben, Megan and their kids and have a mosquito picnic near a stream with caprese and pasta with asparagus and wine. Next day it’s down to the National Mall for a stroll through the halls of government and I’m really impressed with our country for creating such a beautiful collection of government buildings. I’m a cynical curmudgeon when it comes to our fair country and government but I have to say great job America. It felt like being in a European city and totally gave me a new respect for the city. Not our government, but just a rosy glow on the city. So we walk through all the government stuff then it’s up to DuPont circle where we hit up the lobby restaurant of an old hotel. Victorian style dark wood with dark velvet couches and dim lighting we sit and drink good Tempranillo and watch the place fill up with grey hairs and can’t afford more than a glass of wine each so we take off and start walking now that the evening has cooled and dig all of DuPont circle, ending at Bistro Du Coin. We notice it walking by with all the tables up front and the place is a huge cavernous hall all open and every inch filled with tables. We wait for a bit and then get seated in the back. Our waiter hardly speaks english and has a bulbous nose with bristly grey mustache and sweat pouring from every pore on his head like an exorcism of all the orders for wine and mussels he’s frantically recorded and rushed out to hungry socializers this evening. The meal is great and in the right light and if you squint hard enough you can almost imagine you’re in Paris again. High and fine we talk each others ears off and then head off into the night, this time catching a cab back to the basement. The next day I’m sitting on the couch playing guitar unwilling to go outside in the heat and my phone rings with a guy who’s standing outside looking at the Lolli. So I stagger outside and spend over two hours with the guy as he rambles on about needing to call his dad, how he’s going to kinda go “off the grid for a while” and after two hours of sweating profusely from standing in the humid sun staring at our sweet Lolli we’re finally walking into the bank so he can get me my money when his dad calls him back. “So my pops says that if there’s no generator the A/C won’t work” “Right, none of the Toyota motorhomes have generators so you’d need to be plugged in to use the roof A/C. Any park or campground you go to is going to have an electrical hookup.” “Well he says I’ll need to buy one and that they’re about $500 so can you knock it off the price for me?” “No.” So we start walking back and the whole time he’s talking about how he’ll bring me cash the second I say yes if I’ll go down on the price so that he can buy a generator. That’s like me going to buy a house and being upset that there’s no Thai masseuse living there. “Waaaaaaait a second…if I want a Thai Massage I’ll need to call one and have them come over, sooooo can you come down on the price of the house for me to help cover this unexpected expense?” Rigoddamndiculous. But the next day we’re looking at the fact we need to go to NYC by Monday since someone is going to be staying in the basement for a few days and we need to sell the thing. So I email Tyrone to let him know he can have the Lolli, but luckily before he can get back to me a sweet couple and their baby come over and they’re ecstatic about the Lolli and buy it. Things always work out if you let them; sometimes good and sometimes bad but always as they should. Then two days ago we realize we’ve got to go to NY in 48 hours and don’t have a place to stay or any way to get there so we go online and find a sweet studio apartment in the hippest part of Brooklyn for a week for half the price of a hotel and get bus tickets. Satisfied we head out for dinner and wine in the hood. Now we’re on said bus headed toward NY and on the agenda tonight is getting our pad, then going to see a sublet for the month of June two blocks away that may end up being our permanent home in the city and after that it’s Polish food with my boon companion Tom from high school days whose lived in NY for the past 4 years and just moved into the neighborhood we’ll be staying in.

I had a strange realization last night that I don’t have a key chain because I don’t have a vehicle or a home and laughed out loud. Hopefully after tonight that will change.

-J

PHOTOFUNTIME:

One of our cabbies was a 78-year-old lady who was the first woman bus driver in DC and had a ton of great stories. Plus a sweet fanny pack:

Lincoln Memorial:

The Rooftops of DC:

Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night

May 30, 2010

So I’m still in the middle of a blog post of epic proportions catching up on the last ohhh month of not blogging, but wanted to let everyone know that as of yesterday…..the Lolli is gone. We sold her to a couple and their young son who have promised to keep her mast to the stars and her hull ever travelling. It was a difficult decision but we’re headed to Brooklyn tomorrow and needed the money to look for an apartment. Plus NYC is no home for a wild and free creature like the Lolli. Truly gone but not forgotten.

P.S. For those of you who know who Ian Mackaye is, I just walked past him and his wife and kid on the way back to the house (and yes it was actually him, he lives a half block away from us). He gave me a weird look since I was wearing a black Three Mile Pilot T-Shirt and a black beanie. Sunday = Made. Now to slap some The Duke Wants Me Dead stickers on his car and front door…..I’m definitely seeing a Dischord record deal in our future.

-J

My kind of town, Chicago is

May 8, 2010

Dispatch from the 16th floor somewhere downtown Chicago. Just got back from the sun deck on the 21st floor where I had my morning smoke and coffee and now sit listening to the brakes from the cars far below squeal by and that beautiful white noise of city life. Much needed after so long in the middle of nowhere with no noises save far-off trains.

We had to leave Cincinnati after a few days because the camp site was $35 a night, too rich for our blood so we headed West again into Indiana. As we’re on our way out battling driving rain and ominous thunder Steph suggests we stop and get groceries, but if we do we’ll have to run the fridge for the next 4 hours we’re driving, and I’m sure we can find a grocery store somewhere near our next campsite so we head into Indiana again. Fields, farms and nothing much worth mentioning as we stop off in the little town where the campsite is and go into the grocery store. After a few days without wine we both wanted a good $5 bottle for the night but lo, the wine section is about 6 bottles wide and 5 bottles tall, with top shelf stuff like Mad Dog 20/20 and Franzia. So instead we decide to get a bottle of vodka and some tonic water to keep around the lolli for times like this when there’s no decent wine to be found. But as the pale midwestern farm boy is checking us out he grabs the vodka bottle and says “I can’t sell this to you, it’s Sunday.” The wind is knocked out of me and then shock turns to rage. No liquor sales on Sunday? Really Indiana? What century are we living in? What kind of backwards hillbilly morality is this? Apparently you can buy it at restaurants and bars, and you can buy it any other day of the week, and you can drink it on Sunday but you can’t buy it at the store on Sunday. Great job guys. I’m not sure what you’re trying to accomplish, but when we were denied at the grocery store it’s not like I decided to change my ways and head to church instead. Even Jesus couldn’t live in Indiana. He certainly couldn’t break bread and turn water into wine on Sunday. Well, I guess he could turn water into wine, he just couldn’t sell it to a couple progressive travelers on their way to a campsite in the sticks. The campsite didn’t have laundry or decent bathrooms but did have a guy with a mullet, mustache and t-shirt tucked into acid-wash denim shorts on the playground. So after they denied us our half off discount we decide to leave and go to another park, but not before I showed the bumpkin who ran the place how to do a refund on a credit card machine (“I can’t give ya a refund, I don’t know how.”). So we drive North through farmlands and through “towns” which consist usually of a gas station, scrap metal yard and a someone doing tax services out of their house and I’m asking Steph how and why people would choose to live like this when all of a sudden we get to a stop light with a sushi restaurant. What? There are actual Japanese kids standing outside of it too. Then an Indian food restaurant with Indian guys hanging out waiting for tables. I’m thinking that the lack of wine and all the driving has finally snapped my fragile mind like so much kindling when we drive past Purdue University and it all makes sense. Then Lafayette, Axl Rose’s hometown. Finally we hit the Caboose Lake campground in Remington, Indiana and set up camp. Good spot with nice showers, laundry and a little lake so we stay for three nights and four days. On day two we walk over the freeway to the series of truck stops about 3/4 of a mile away figuring there has to be wine or beer or something there and as we walk into the largest one and scan the cold cases……nothing. So I ask the toothless lady sweeping up where the wine and beer is and she tells us the nearest drop of hooch is 4 miles away in town. So now it’s a matter of principle and I will not lose to Indiana’s backward ways. Back to the Lolli we pack everything up, drive the 4 miles to the liquor store where we buy two bottles of wine and a bottle of vodka like free people and head back triumphant and arrogant. Completely worth it. Hey Indiana, how about catching up to the 1940s with your liquor laws and if you’re really concerned about the well being of your citizens, start by getting rid of those KFC Buffets I see everywhere. Your pal, Joel.

After a few relaxing days in the boonies it’s time for the city and back to the flux and flow of life. As we get into Chicago the smells of the city smoke food spices all flood over the highway as we sit in traffic on a series of bridges and I know if I could just peel back the highway that under us would be a rich nougat center of kebabs, bodegas, cafes, bikes, bums, old neons, flowers, girls on phones, businessmen, crumbling brick, cigarette butts, antique theaters, skyscrapers praising Yahweh with angry spires, windows filled with goodies and people all waiting for us to arrive. We drive to my sisters apartment downtown and start unloading all of our worldly possessions that we don’t want stolen since we’re taking the Lolli to a storage unit for the foreseeable future. I put some miles on the freight elevator with instruments and clothes. We park it in a lot across the street for the night until the next day when we’re driving it 30 minutes outside the city to the storage lot. Starving, we head with Shanna down Michigan Ave. then West to a soup shop and with beef stew breadbowl sit on the street watching all the people pour past in the sun and 70 degree Chicago Spring afternoon. Stop at the Lavassa cafe for some Italian espresso then up to the roof deck for wine and sun. Wake up at daybreak with wrap around windows making the sun a home through the skyscrapers and then it’s off to move the Lolli to the ‘burbs for storage, train back to the city and 3 mile walk back to the pad past Top Chef event on the street and pasta lunch. Back home for a nap then it’s out again to Michigan Ave., back for vegan chili with Shanna’s law school chums who had just finished their finals and were all adequately smashed from being on a booze cruise but there’s a city waiting outside so we cab it to Wicker Park and end up at a speakeasy with no visible door or signs from outside, “Hidden in plain sight” the doorman across the street tells me. But we get inside and it’s all chandeliers and violet curtains and they’re playing The Kinks, Rolling Stones, John Lennon and other goodies, then on our way back we wander into a French Vietnamese place that actually has pho so the night ends on a great note. Then yesterday there’s much morning lounging and finally we get ourselves together and head to Lincoln Park for fireside Irish pub drinks, wander into a market and get a small bottle of vodka and tonic water, mix up bus juice and take the bus to the Empty Bottle to see the Annuals play. They put on a great show as always and we plaster the walls with The Duke Wants Me Dead stickers and get home around 1:30 in the morning. Today I get out the electric guitar for the first time in weeks and there’s much music and city wandering in our foreseeable future. As always, some photos:


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