Saturday, June 27, 2015

Vacation in California

6/27/15 Indian Wells, California

We flew out of JFK on Thursday at 5 PM on Virgin America.  Maybe, I built up the airline too much to my family since they were not that impressed.  I wasn’t that impressed as well.  If you sit in the back, you will end up paying for the movies you thought you’d be able to watch…for free.  Food was an extra charge, each bag was $25.00 but I get it, this is the way most airlines make some money.  What ticked me off was the the flight attendants who barely cracked a smile.   Maybe they are based in New York?  Most of the flight was smooth, but we hit a little turbulence, as we crossed over Colorado.  The good news, we landed before the estimated time.  We checked into the Marriott Residence in near LAX which was about a five minute drive from Enterprise where we picked up a KIA minivan.  It’s a comfortable ride and there are three rows which is perfect for when we need to pick up Amanda who is flying in on Tuesday.   Although it was late in New York, it was early here and we bought some food at Burger King.   I thought we paid a lot, but when we came through the hotel lobby we saw another family who were coming back from the pool.  The father pointed at the bags we were holding.  “Did you also end up paying seventy dollars?”  “Nope, but it was more than $40.00.” He smiled and made a sour face. Our room was spacious and from the 11th floor it looked across toward the airport where we could see the white line of bright lights as other jets landed.  It turns out the hotel is only three months old and for the traveler who is in the area for business or pleasure it is very convenient.   Included with our rate was breakfast.  It’s not your typical bagel and cold cereal and juice dispenser; there was actually food, scrambled eggs, potato pancakes, hash browns and turkey sausage as well as the other items which are more common.  I don’t mean to sound like the world traveler but had to share. 
We journeyed into Los Angeles and the first stop was Randy’s Donuts.  This is the famous landmark which has been in movies and TV shows.  The jelly donut was incredible, soft and sweet with a mouthful of sugary jelly.  Ali wanted to go to the Griffith Observatory which is another LA landmark and has one of the best views to the Hollywood sign.  It is free for parking and free for the entrance.  But the main reason she wanted to go was to see where James Dean was as he filmed in Rebel Without a cause.  We slowly winded our way up the hill to the observatory; both sides of the road were lined with cars, trucks.  I dropped off the family and turned around and parked at the bottom of the hill and walked up.  The walk was not strenuous, the air was mild, and there was no humidity even a slight breeze made the walk more pleasant as it blew over the brown hills.  I passed some families who were taking their time and met Ali and the kids outside.  We walked around the perimeter and went inside to see some of the exhibits.  We bought some food, great selection there and priced very reasonably.  We ate and I walked down the hill to fetch the minivan.
We made our way over to Amoebe Music which is on Sunset Blvd.  It is another landmark for the music fan and after watching many YouTube videos of, “What’s in my bag,” I was eager to get in and get lost.  I could have spent hours in there, but we came out with a good share of REM and Replacements CD’s as well a Clash t-shirt I had to have.  And then it was tattoo time.  I’ve wanted this one for the past couple of years and we made it happen.  It’s the REM bicycle which they used for some of their 45’s when Reckoning was released.  We made our way over to Hollywood Tattoo Studio.  Joe had the image of the bicycle on this phone and we went in and asked how much.  $80.00.  I was not sure if that was a good rate.  Both Ali and Emma said it was and it was a done deal.  A sketch was made and it was traced on my skin on inside left arm.  The fun began.  Not really, it felt like someone was jamming their nails deep into my tender skin.  I was wincing, but grateful Ali and the kids could not see my face.  I looked up at the dingy ceiling and the dirty shelf's and hope I did not make a mistake.  I didn’t.  Jay has been there since 1977 and before that he was providing his artistic skills in Hong Kong.  After a half hour of enduring the pain, we left the city…in rush hour traffic.  I had my arm wrapped in plastic which felt as if it was burning and we slowly rolled down highway 10 EAST towards Palm Springs.  After a three hour drive we pulled up to the condo where we are staying.  We are surrounded by arid rocky mountains.  Last night as the sun was setting, the world in which we were standing… appeared mythical. 

Thank you for reading this.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Drinking and hanging out at the Garage like a good ole boy on a Saturday night

6/8/15 20:21

Ever have one of those nights when you look around at the new scenery and ask how did I end up here?  It happened to me last Saturday.  Let’s go back to the night before when I arrived back in Ronkonkoma , paid for parking my car in the parking garage for the previous three days and took the elevator to the top floor.   The car started and made a strange ripping metallic noise.  The car was not popping out of park.  Yes, it started I said since I called my mechanic and asked what he thought?  Could be the shifter cable.  Do you have a spare key?  You can jam it down the shaft and unlock it.  I didn’t have a spare key, but I had a long white plastic pen from Disney World.  It didn’t pop.  Do you have AAA?  Yes.  Give them a call and tow it here.  OK, I called AAA and explained what happened.   The rep tells me he can’t send out a mechanic.  We only fix flats and jump start or two.  That’s alright, I tell him.  I can send a tow truck, he says.  I explain I’m in a parking garage and this may be a problem.  Why?  He asked  The ceiling is low.  How low is the ceiling?  I take him with me while he’s on the phone back down to where I paid and asked the attendant, how low the ceiling was.  I don’t know, but if you walk out to the front of the building, there is a sign.  I walk out and see the sign and tell the representative it’s six foot nine.  That’s too short he tells me.  I call my mechanic back.  Well, we can go back in the morning and tow it out of there.  Do you have a ride home?  I do.  I called Ali and finally got home around eight.  My dinner was cold, but so was the beer.  But this story doesn’t end there.  Saturday morning my mechanic is busy, but later this afternoon, he should be free.  At three o’clock I’m driving back to the train station with his assistant, Nick who is quiet.   In the back seat is a large brown lab. Nick is quiet so I became the annoying customer, the crazy passenger he wished he’d never had next to him.  I ask him pointless questions, where did you go to high school?  How long have you been a mechanic?  If you have an annoying passenger, you put the radio on.  Nick did not put the radio on.  Maybe he enjoyed the attention?  I asked more questions until we made it to the station and barely make it under the low ceiling in the Suburban with a U-Haul car tow attached.  I start the car.  Nick opens the shift cover with a long screw driver and unlocks the shift and gets the car in reverse.  Do you want it towed?  No, thank you.  Did he want me next to him on the ride back?  I drive back to the garage and my mechanic goes to work.  He tells me, I’ll call you when it’s done.   An hour or so passes and I get the call.  Ali drives me to the bank where I get the cash.  He asks, want a beer?  It was a warm day and I could use a beer.  Sure.  I can drink one before dinner.  There’s a kid cleaning out the bay and I recall one of my first jobs when I was 14, cleaning out bays on a Saturday night back in Northport.  The scent of oil, slicked concrete and the kitty litter which I’d use to dry up the oil and grease. I left that place spotless.  The greasy little shit mechanic who did not clean up after himself had me fired since the owner thought I left the shop a mess.   The little shit came to school and told me I was fired.  I wanted to kick his ass.  Back to last Saturday; my mechanic has boats and motorcycles and an old truck which he converted into a hot rod.  After a few…many… Bud Lites, tossing the bottle caps and throwing the bottles in the trash, bull shitting about life and music and more beers, it was time to have a contest. What kind of contest?  Shoot the empty bottles with a pellet gun.  I have not shot a gun in a long time, but I had a BB gun.  I shot a 22 as well as a cop’s service pistol in the parking lot at Shea Stadium (making sure there were no jets approaching) Back to the contest…he tells me to use the scope, but don’t let it get too close to your eye, “it will smack ya.”  First shot was a miss.  The second shot splattered the brown glass bottle.  I felt pretty good.  Next we had a contest with actual paper bull’s eye with points for each circle. The paper was stabled onto a wooden board.  We put some money down.  I lost the first round, but grabbed the loot on the second and the sober Nick took the third.  Can I drive your truck?  Sure.  He’s leaning in the small cab and telling me not to fuck up his truck.  I was shivering, partly cause it was a cold night and I didn’t want to rip the ferocious truck into a gas pump.  I floored it and made it back in one piece.  It was after ten and I received a text?  Hello?  I’m hanging out I texted.  We sang out loud to The Doors, Roadhouse Blues, and whatever else came on.  You were in a band?  I was in a band.  It was a long time ago.  I hung out for almost four more hours and made my way back to my repaired car and bid my new friend a good night.  When I got in Ali was sleeping.  I thought I made it back and could tell her in the morning, it was a late night and leave it at that.  To my surprise I got up without a terrible hangover and came to the kitchen.  What time did you get in?  It was a late one, I said.  Emma said it was either after 12 or 2 AM.  Emma chimed in; I know there was a 2 when I looked at the clock.  The second one I said and left it at that.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

the Evolution of a Cro-Magnon by John Joseph


Last night, I finally finished John Joseph’s autobiography, The Evolution of a Cro-Magnum (2007 Punkhouse Publishing).   I say finally since I had a difficult time reading and finishing this 423 page book.  I felt it was full of exacerbation and to be blunt - I felt it was not authentic.  I am not suggesting Mr. McGowan (his birth name) did not have a rough childhood.  He and his brothers were raised in foster homes, abused by the foster families and suffered, emotionally and physically.  His depiction of one foster family, the Valenti’s, Italian immigrants was at times humorous and other times disturbing.  Mrs. Valenti would make the boys sandwiches, but not the sort you’d expect, perhaps a peanut butter and jelly, no and here’s an exaggeration she scooped the icing off Oreo cookies with her teeth and spat the contents on the slices of bread, really?   It seems the book was full of peaks and valleys one moment he is living with another foster family in Garden City with the same last name, McGowan.  The foster mother takes him clothes shopping, but John doesn’t want to wear the standard preppie clothes he sees everyone else wearing in the Garden City neighborhood, this is an opportunity for him and he brings her to a “black” neighborhood.  He is influenced by the clothes on Soul Train and buys platform shoes and silver pants and other shirts.  “These are my people.”  And he makes the impression when he walks through the halls in his new school.
Drugs are a dominant theme in the book.  A girlfriend who he loves overdoes on heroin – he finds her body and leaves her in a deserted house.  Really?  What kind of love is that?  He sells drugs and is very proficient at it; he learns how to skim off the drugs and even sells fake hits of acid to concert kids at Madison Square Garden.  He joins the Navy and then goes AWOL for fifteen years.  He gets involved with Bad Brains and it is their singer H.R. who opens his mind to spirituality.  But for each relationship there is the eventual demise.  He becomes deeply involved in the Hare Krishna movement and is one of their best “pushers” bringing in thousands of dollars as he lives on nothing.  But that relationship “cult” dissolves when he learns the leaders are hoarding the cash, living lives of luxury or has homosexual tendencies.

The book is written by a man who never really matures.  He manipulates anyone who comes across his path.   He is a misanthrope, homophobic, misogynist, and a xenophobe.  I found the book irritating.  You know when you listen to someone and you can’t get away from them? We’ve all been in situations like this, you at a party or on on board a flight and endure the pain of listening to their tales.  You’d like to question them, but that would create more stories. Throughout this book we see him trying to fit in with everyone.  He is always in the middle of some conflict and then magically bringing the opposing sides together to an understanding… that is ridiculous.  Drug pushers, gang members, cops, he is able to be the mediator.  Example, US Marines giving Hare Krishna’s a hard time in Hawaii, John Joseph is able to beat up three of the Marines in a parking lot and they in turn leave the Krishna’s alone… out of fear and respect for John.  Really?   
Throughout the book John only wants to be accepted.  There is a real emptiness that is filled with excessive drugs, alcohol, and people who can see and take advantage the real John (Joseph, Blood clot) McGowan who is “street smart” but clearly ignorant.

Currently, John is giving tours on the lower east side.  I took the tour last fall and recommend it for those interested in punk history.  He is a bit arrogant, since he is a rock star and he asked me three times if I read this book since I read his other book; Meat is for Pussies, which by the way is a very good read.  It also changed my diet.  He still sings and tours with the Cro Mags. 

Unfortunately for me, the Cro Mags history and demise is another part where perhaps John exaggerated.  He briefly touches on taking “some coke” during one of their last tours.  Not really accepting any responsibility.  But he decided to quit.  There is a contradiction here, since the band reported John was kicked out of the band and abused drugs and could not sing.   John explains the reason he quit was because their bassist Harley and an original member who always smoked pot and stole money from the band.  So, John leaves the band and becomes addicted to crack. Harley reaches out to him and gets John to rejoin the Cro- Mags and Harley once again steals money from the band.  Here is a classic John Joseph conflict why he rejoined the band, “I figured what the hell I could make some pretty decent money and I figured it would be a paid vacation.”  The next sentence, “For me music was never about the money.”

For some reason this book is very difficult to buy.  Try searching for a copy on Amazon or on EBay and you will be paying more than $50.00.  While on his 3 hour tour ($30.00) I asked John why it was so difficult to buy, and he said his manager bought all remaining copies since they are making a movie on the book.  After reading this book, I’d say there are a few pending law suits.  John Joseph wrote some very slanderous tales.  I’d like to see this movie, but I feel there is a defamation law suit pending.  

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Off to Boston!

4/10/15 Woburn, MA

The six of us are sleeping in a hotel room.  Initially the plan was Amanda would take either Emma or Amanda to spend two nights in her dorm room at Simmons.  Instead, she wanted to spend the night with us.  As we were checking in, I asked the front desk manager for a roll-a-bed, but there was none.  He offered a blow up mattress which we took, but that left one of us sleeping on the floor.  Off to Target to buy some snacks and… a blow up mattress.  Ali reasoned it is cheaper than paying for another room.  True.   These trips are hitting my wallet hard so I was up for the suggestion.  Today, we dropped off Amanda at the state house in Boston where she is working for a representative.   Seeing her dressed formally, like a professional was a surprise, our Mo Cheeks is growing up and she loves her job.   After dropping her off we drove out to the Kennedy Museum and made plans to visit the new Edward M Kennedy wing.   We have been to the JFK museum before and for the most part, the displays are the same.  I was not alive when JFK was President. Still, the Kennedy’s had a celebrity status for us, perhaps a near god realm for many Irish families.  But over the years and decades the myth has cracked and most of us have learned our heroes were fallible humans.   They were closer to all of us.   The JFK museum traces the career of JFK.  There is a short documentary which captures his career up to the 1960 Democratic Presidential nomination.   The museum has many displays which are distinct, for instance there is the Attorney General, Robert F Kennedy office, I wanted to sit in his chair yet decided it was best not to.  There is the oval office which has JFK’s favorite mementos, the rocking chair, and special trinkets from his desk.  There is a display of Jacqueline Kennedy and her impact on international relations. 

Next, we were off to the Edward Kennedy Institute for the US Senate.  This is a new facility and for its recent opening President Obama was there as well as Vice President Biden.   The museum is more interactive, after you check in you are provided a device which you will use throughout the museum.  You register yourself as a senator, pick a party and can be from any of the fifty states.  For those of us who are curious how the senate and of houses work, this museum will feed your passion.   What is different; you participate, you learn.  By the end I had more than a memory of displays but gained more insight into our government’s practices.  It’s unfortunate that Mo Cheeks could not join us.  

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Charles Lloyd graces the stage at the Vanguard

                  After dropping off Emma Tess and her college mate at the Guggenheim I drove down the village.   It was my first trip to the Village Vanguard.  For a fan of jazz the mere suggestion is an insult to the city as well as the national treasure. Yet, I have seen my share of jazz concerts and a few in the city stand out, Miles Davis at Indigo Blue, Betty Carter at the Bottom Line, and McCoy Tyner with Ravi Coltrane at Lincoln Center.  Let’s add the Ron Carter’s 80th birthday celebration at Carnegie Hall which included the living members of the Miles David Quintet Herbie Hancock and Carter and…Wayne Shorter on saxophone who I saw perform with his quartet, Brian Blade on drums at Lincoln Center.  Last point, saw Blade with Pharaoh Sanders at Birdland and had the honor of interviewing Mr. Sanders between sets.

                Last week, the Village Vanguard celebrated its 80th anniversary.  Before the show started Lorraine Gordon, Max Gordon’s widow (the original proprietor & no relation to me) sat in the back and spoke loudly, so loudly in fact most of the establishment was turning their heads to see who was making a scene.  “I wouldn’t recognize him if I saw him.  Oh, look everyone is looking at me, they can hear me.”  Who is that?  The owner.  The Vanguard as it is commonly known is an intimate club.  Anyone can hear anyone if they project their voice.  After waiting outside for a good twenty minutes in the frigid March wind, eventually the line moved which wrapped itself around the block, moved. I passed through a narrow and short red door and filed with the rest of the line down steep steps.  I could feel the rumbling of a subway under my feet.  I checked in and was taken to a seat where I would share a table and get to know who my neighbor was.  There is a one drink minimum and a good tip as per the web site is a dollar or two per a drink.  I felt sorry for the usher since he had to maneuver in the close quarters.  His buttocks brushed against elbows and his gentle excuse me… was whispered.  Before I go on, God bless Lorraine Gordon who is 92 was there and ready to see Charles Lloyd.  My sincere gratitude - for keeping the Vanguard open...  This is the place where most of the icons of jazz took the stage and she’s keeping more coming back…

              The lights dimmed, the sold out room clapped and cheered as Charles Lloyd, dressed in a long grey coat, wearing a small hat, darkened glasses and a scarf, took the stage.  He pressed his hands together and warmly bowed to the audience as well as to his band.  Jason Moran who coordinated six nights to celebrate the Vanguard’s anniversary, introduced Charles Lloyd and declared this was a dream to share the stage with Charles Lloyd at the Vanguard.  My seat was close to the stage.  Mr. Lloyd played his horn with a tilt and blew with precision, pushing the chords with sharp accuracy.  I was blown away.   I’m a late adoring fan of his music as well as the man.  I have asked if I can interview him for this blog and perhaps there will be a segment when/if provided I am given the opportunity.  His spirituality flows through his music, the tone, his style… resonates…he is a pure master displaying his unique form.  There is some semblance of free jazz and yet his music and style is distinct.  In addition to the sax, he played the flute as well as another instrument called the tarogato.  His band played the songs like a fluid machine.  Each distinct song flowed from one song to the next like a brook of water tumbling over smooth stones.  On bass, the accomplished Reuben Rogers and on drums the ever present stick of precision Eric Harland and of course the master Jason Moran on the piano.  Thank you Charles Lloyd for sharing the set of songs from the first gig: 1) Part 5 Rumination 2) Nu Blues, 3)Abide with me 4)Requiem 5) Little Peace 6) Ramanujan 7) Hymme to the Mother 8)Dance. 

              Charles Lloyd is playing at the NEA Jazz Masters at Lincoln Center on April 20.  His US premier of his composition Wild Man Dance Suite will be performed at the Metropolitan on Saturday April 18 and if you’re patient he plays in our area again next January at Lincoln Center. 

The picture in the Vanguard is copied from the NY Times article on the show...

            Thank you for reading this.     

Sunday, March 8, 2015

When Henry Rollins tells you to see Suicide YOU go and witness punk history


Driving into the city last night with the radio tuned to WNYC. Johnathan Schwartz's soothing voice as he described Bob Hope and how his name has faded from our fabled American history.   Bob Hope.  He was a celebrity who I’d watch on TV, especially when he was visiting the troops.  And then Schwartz played a Bob Hope song and it brought a smile.  This radio show is a gem.  Not that I want to spend my Saturday evenings lulled to the radio listening to old songs from an ancient age, but I knew what I was doing.  The ride was a solitary voyage into the city since my two likely suspects were not going in with me.  Here;s a secret, I didn’t want to go into the city.  I was ready to find an excuse not to go, but I drove on since I was committed to seeing Suicide in concert.

 Suicide is one of Henry Rollins’ favorite bands and I asked him in an email if he would see them, “Mike, if Suicide are playing, don't pass it up. I cannot vouch for the quality of the show but they are real history. If I was in town, I would be there. Henry.”  What kind of man am I that I would be influenced so much that I’d buy a ticket and see this band?  I have listened to their first album and can appreciate how influential they have been for electronic music, but I have not been a real fan of this genre.  Why go?  If I didn’t find a parking spot since I refuse to pay $30.00 for parking, I would head back home with the memory of the beauty of the Manhattan’s skyline.  I drove in from the LIE, taking the BQE and Manhattan Bridge, and found a spot on 3rd and Broadway and headed up to Webster Hall. I walked past the shops around NYC, passed clusters of students and a homeless man slowly pushing a stuffed shopping cart, with a little dog and Spanish music on the radio. 

I went into Webster Hall, had my ticket scanned and went up the stair case and entered the main hall.  I was hit with a wall of sound.  The Vacant Lots were on the stage.  It was close to a sellout.  I went up to the balcony and bought a beer.  I watched the duo and took a sip and was impressed with the eighties children with dyed blonde hair or jet black, pale faces and faded fatigues.  I was back. When I was a youth and the place was The Ritz.  The Vacant Lots were evicted and the stage was bare.  Within a few minutes the stage was set.  A folding chair was in ready.   Finally, Suicide came on the stage.  In a smoke screen, tunnels of lights and a sound which pounded my chest and screeched in my ears, through a series of howls, guttural screams which contained the ample evidence of a tormented and pained soul.  The thin Martin Rev on the keyboards, decked out in a black rubber or plastic outfit, wild permed hair came to the stage.  Alan Vega appeared frail.  He walked out to the stage very slowly, holding a cane, wore a black sweat shirt and a knit hat.  This band is credited as being the first to use the name punk.  And I took a step back from my critique, my feeble willingness to find an escape and appreciated these men for the art they created.  This is history.  Maybe it was not my style, but here they were playing perhaps their last live show in front of an adoring crowd who barely moved.  They were mesmerized.  Before leaving the stage Vega thanked the audience for coming out and he waved and kissed the crowd like a gracious king who was departing into the night of his distress.

Thank you for reading this.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Pema Chodron and the art of just thinking in a room


There is nothing like writing from a lonely hotel room on business.  I’m not your average traveler, I work into the night and I mean real work and then perhaps some reading.  I also have a daily goal, to either write or edit one page of my writing.  But there is the joy of reading which can pull me in all directions. For example, I finished Pema Chodon’s book Living Beautifully.  I can see some wincing in my friend’s eyes, beautifully, what kind of man are you?  Hey, this book was a needed reminder of how important meditation can be in my life.  I have seen an improvement in my concentration, for instance I begin this entry in my hotel room and end up writing about an inspiring book.  Just like our thoughts, mine have deliberate stream of conscientiousness.   But back to having the time in a room which can be a blessing our can bring on a wave of isolation or loneliness.  Let these thoughts come and let them pass, like the breath.  What am I trying to convey here?  Each of us has a certain amount of time on this earth and it’s vital for our welfare to use our time to increase our compassion and open up to new patterns of thinking.  For example getting out of the habitual damaging thoughts.  Discover your beauty.  In your time, you will be enabled to break free and experience… an awakening or satori which is a zen Buddhist term…

Thank you for reading this