Sunday, August 29, 2010


It takes all types to make the theater go round.

One day the GM came up to me with a bemused smirk on his face. Actually, he wasn't clever enough to be bemused. It was more of a devilish grin. He said that he had a new hire who was perfect for the kitchen. "Perfect for the kitchen" was code for "too weird or incompetent to be seen by customers." Great. This was my boss' version of Punk'd, but without celebrities, cameras, or a point. It was basically just a cruel prank to make my life hell. I couldn't wait to meet this new guy.

MK was a nice guy, but he definitely had some issues. He was very cheerful but had a tough time following instructions or staying focused. We put him to work portioning french fries since he couldn't really handle preparing orders. He was a hard worker, and he did his best, but he was just a few beers short of a six pack. The elevator didn't go to the top floor. The lights were on, but nobody.......ahh, you get the idea. I don't want to be mean because I really like MK. The world could use more people like him. He was certainly more reliable than most of the other employees, and his endless discussions about video games and Transformers were rather endearing. He was also obsessed with 80's music, which was odd because he was barely born in the 80's.

Time went by, the old Earth kept spinning around the sun, and the seasons changed. MK was doing pretty well and we started giving him more responsibility. Everything was going as well as could be expected until one fateful night. I wasn't working, thank god. MK was closing the first floor kitchen when Rob heard a piteous shriek. It was a cross between the high pitched wail of a small child and the intense screech of a cornered hyena. Rob said he had never heard anything like it before, and hoped to never hear it again. He rushed into the kitchen to find MK standing in the corner as a huge puddle of grease was spreading on the floor. The fabled deep fat fryer accident was actually coming to pass. The event that every chef, cook, kitchen manager, and janitor dreads. MK hadn't closed the valve while changing the fryers, and over 15 gallons of hot grease was seeping all over the floor. It crept under the fridges, under the prep table, and into every corner of the little kitchen. It was pretty much a worst case scenario. A total meltdown in many ways.

Rob tried to calm the distraught and sobbing MK down. He took him out of the kitchen before getting as many employees as he could to start the horrible and futile process of trying to clean up the mess. The kitchen always had the muggy stench of dirty grease after that. The floor was always a little sticky and dirty. The poorly ventilated little corner of the theater was extra gross and depressing after that. MK should never have been in charge of changing the automated fryers, but what could we do? Nice hire, boss.

That was the last shift that MK worked in the kitchen. We moved him to ticket taker, and he recovered well from the trauma of the incident. In fact, I think he completely forgot about the whole thing. Ignorance is bliss as he really took to his new position ripping tickets. He did have the bad habit of seeing which movie people were going to, and then ruining the movie for them by talking about important details. He was a walking, talking, high functioning spoiler. People were pretty forgiving because he was clearly a little off, but I did my best to get him to stop doing that. Then there was the other thing.

Imagine, if you will, this picture: You're walking down a long hallway. At the end of the hallway stands an usher with his hand, ney, his arm, down the front of his pants working away. Scratching or adjusting, it's tough to tell what's going on. As you get closer, he removes his hand from his pants and reaches out to take your ticket. A lot of complaints are bullshit, but sometimes the customer really is right. Telling an employee that he has to keep his hands out of his crotch is an awkward and horrifying experience. My old boss was right. MK was "perfect for the kitchen." Except for the whole handling food thing I suppose. Ughh.

One day I was sitting in the office with Van D putting together an abnormally large deposit, when an amusing vision flashed through my mind. What if MK's act was just a ruse? An elaborate and clever ploy to get us to let our guard down. I imagined that as we handled the thousands of dollars of cash in front of the open safe, there is a knock at the door. I check through the security peephole, but it's just MK, so I open the door. He asks for a band-aid, and after we let him into the office, he pulls out a nickel plated Glock and says in the most crisp English accent: "Hallo chaps. I'll be taking that cash and all the movie passes too. It would behoove you to not call the bobbies for at least five minutes whilst I make my escape, otherwise I might be back with an itchy trigger finger. Understood lads?" He then mockingly sticks his hand down his pants one last time before laughing sardonically and disappearing out the door with the cash. Maybe I've seen the movie The Score one too many times (some people would say that once is one time too many, but Edward Norton is great in it).

Whenever I go back to the theater, I'm always glad to see MK. He's a lifer at the theater if there ever was one. It's actually the perfect job for him. Last time I was there, it looked like he was basically running the box office! I don't know if that's more of a statement about how far he's come, or how far the theater has fallen. I recently became facebook friends with MK, and his status updates are absolutely priceless. There should be a show called "S*** My Friend MK Says." I'll leave you with a few gems:

"just relaxing after work, got some new songs to "Under Pressure (live)" by Queen, if you listen you can bet were villina Ice got the idea for Ice Ice Baby...."

" I feel like I'm the the only one at work that is half sian there. That include the guest!"

"Well good night everyone, shampain wishes and cavear dreams. Why people want that I got no idea, but that's the saying so who am I to complain right?"

"Just finished WALL*E, boy that robot was a gluttion for punishment all for a femmbot. I guess that's love or something?"

"ok, I was walking into FYE today after work after getting a new case for my Itouch I was looking on the 4th floor were the soundtracks are at with 8 mins left to cloes there I found the ghostbusters 2 soundtrack it was used but I got it for $5.99. I have been looking for this CD for years! now I can say: I ani't frade of no ghost!"

"well had a good day off now it back to the colded theaters and *shutter* sex and the city 2. why people shell out money for it is beyond me, never mind I do the same for video games and Transformers."

" I saw the A-Team movie yesterday, I thought it was a good story, plunty of action and a few well place jokes in it. but what I like to know is why the newpapers down the movie so much? what were they thinking when going in? titanic? some arty movie that would bore the living piss out of a guy off the street? well it's ...not, it a action movie a good old action movie, thank god! final words, go see it."

Thursday, August 26, 2010


My friend Henri just visited me. He's moving to California, so it was great to see him before he takes off. Here's a picture of Henri and me (I'm the one on the right).

While he was here, we ate clam chowder, blueberry pie, lobster, organic free range chicken, blueberry muffins, and delicious chocolate chip cookies that my friends Rob and Ama sent up, as well as phenomenal granola from my friend Van D. I also got cigars, DVD's, Mexican candy, and books including Inbound #4: A Comic Book History of Boston that my friend Steve is in. Support indy art!

Notice the Mexican cereal. "Zucaritas: They'rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrre estupendo!!!!!"

While Henri was here, we went on a whale watch on this boat:

It's an 84 foot, 100 year-old schooner named the Sylvania W. Beal. It's a beautiful wooden sailboat, and we had a great cruise. We saw eagles, porpoises, seals, Minke whales, and even a 50 foot Finback Whale! It breached just a few feet off the bow of the boat, and it was gigantic! We saw it's double blow hole as it sprayed water before slipping under the water again leaving an eerily still patch of water called a "footprint." Words cannot describe the feeling of seeing a majestic creature like that up close. The cruise itself was beautiful, and would have been fun even if we didn't see a whale. I hate it when people get bogged down in a sort of trophy hunting, touristy mindset of "I have to see this, or do this, and check it off the list" without relaxing and enjoying the journey. That being said........I'm glad we saw a whale! Henri also spotted a fellow Jew (much rarer than whales in Maine). Even though it was totally overcast, I managed to get sunburned. Of course, I got sunburned indoors once, so that's not surprising.

This is the painting of Master Billy Quizboy from The Venture Brothers that I did for Henri. We are both huge fans of that show as well as Jeopardy!, so it was an obvious choice.

It was great to see Penny the bulldog (and her chauffeur too, I suppose).

Have fun in California Henri!

Saturday, August 21, 2010


As The Socalled Movie opens, we meet a young musician in Paris. We see snippets of him performing at shows, and then doing some interviews in French. His English is surprisingly good also, as he uses isolated phrases here and there. He is clearly Jewish, and his music is a mix of hip-hop and Klezmer. As the movie unfolds, we find out that he is actually Canadian and was just touring in France. It is the first of many misdirections and twists as the movie peels back layer after layer of the fascinating and complex musician known as Socalled.

Socalled grew up outside Montreal, and he is truly a renaissance man. One of his many hobbies is discovering old and obscure masters, and reworking them into his music via samples and collaborations. At a young age, Socalled discovered his love for Hasidic music, although he claims to hate religion. After buying some mixing equipment with money made from selling drugs, Socalled began scouring thrift stores and yard sales for old albums that he could sample. He discovered many great Yiddish and Klezmer artists that he incorporated into his music, and eventually went on to track down and work on projects with some of them. He collaborates with Fred Wesley, the greatest funk trombonist of all time (and Socalled's childhood idol). The scenes with him and Wesley meeting and working together are some of the most amazing and poignant in the movie.

As the movie goes on, we learn more and more about Socalled, and he becomes more fascinating and complicated. He is the coolest musician you've never heard of. He is the kid with the best taste and the coolest collection of toys and obscure memorabilia. He is the nerds' hip-hop star. He is a walking contradiction of old and new. He is a silly, trivial guy, accomplishing incredible, serious things. He breaks down barriers of race, religion, class, and age, all with a smile on his face.

I don't want to give too much away about the movie, so check out The Socalled Movie for yourself over at through the end of August. If you don't have time for the whole flick, check out this wacky, cool video by Socalled.
I always like to end with a laugh, so here's something I found while doing research for this review(smoking weed and getting lost in Youtube is what I call "research"). Remember that stupid video that went viral about a year ago of the people in a wedding dancing down the aisle? The one that showed up on every morning talk show and most middle aged women's facebook page? Well, watch this Soul Train clip of people dancing to the incredible Fred Wesley and the J.B.'s, and you'll see how it is motherfucking done!


Tuesday, August 17, 2010


Just a quick follow up to my last post:
This article just popped up today. Teresa Giudice (pronounced like an Israeli craps game) is still out blowing money, right after filing bankruptcy. She claims it was money earned from a book deal after they filed so it's ok. Should you really be out spending $60,000 on furniture after you had to auction everything including your wedding rings because you are over $10 million in debt??? And who the hell gave that hose beast a book deal?? It's one thing to watch the show and mock her, but to shell out money for a book she "wrote?" Come on! She couldn't fucking spell book. The library in her McMansion only has three books, and two of them are already colored in. Well, I'm just glad the Ho Wives of NJ are finally getting a little media attention (sarcasm font).
If you haven't seen the show, or if you are an avid viewer, here's a funny animated clip that pretty accurately sums up the show. It is definitely NSFW.

Monday, August 16, 2010


Sometimes I disgust myself.

"Reality" shows are the worst thing to happen to TV, and possibly society, in the past 20 years. Then why.....can't ......I stop......watching them??? The Real World was my gateway drug. Who didn't love to hate Puck?!? And then Survivor was cool for about five minutes. Now I watch shows like Top Shot, Last Comic Standing, Tool Academy, and (shudder) Hell's Kitchen. It doesn't really have anything to do with cooking, but I like Chef Ramsey's fake little rants, and in each of the past two seasons there has been a chef from Boston that I've met.

But these shows are not the reason I've called you here today.

I've hit rock bottom. I'm addicted to....(am I really about to admit this publicly?)…..The Real Housewives of New Jersey. Ugh, it's so embarrassing, but it feels good to just get it out there. TRHONJ stands for everything I despise. Shallow materialism, catty backstabbing, narcissistic self-centeredness, redundant repetitiveness, and achieving celebrity for all the wrong reasons. But I can't look away. It's like a wonderful car wreck between two Land Rovers, with Gucci knock offs, hair extensions, and fake body parts flying everywhere.

It takes a lot to embarrass New Jersey. I'm not a Jersist either. Heck, some of my best friends are from Jersey. I was born in Jersey for Christ's sake, but even the most diehard turnpike resident must be cringing at the Garden State's PR lately. First, Jersey Shore broke on the scene. Save your letters- I know only a couple of the cast members are from Jersey, but it takes place in Jersey, celebrates the Jersey attitude, and, well, it's called JERSEY Shore, so you're stuck with it. The nutbags on that show are more disgusting than the froth floating in their STDcuzzi hot tub. You've heard of "speedballs." Well, I suspect that the guys are all shooting "Gorilla-balls" (half steroids, half coke) and the chicks are shooting "Anna Nicole-balls" (half silicone, half roofies). Maybe that's why there are so many hypodermic needles washing up on Jersey beaches. Now TRHONJ is here to take the crown for cringe inducing bad behavior. The Jersey anti-defamation league must be looking back at the Sopranos with a wistful longing. At least that show portrayed people from Jersey as hard working families who whacked people in their spare time, but minded their own business for the most part. They may have been gangsters, but at least it's an ethos.

Now, with TRHONJ, all bets are off. The more you act like a spoiled douchebag, the more popular you are. The more horribly you act towards others, the more screen time you get. Unfair, foul-mouthed beratings equals better ratings.

And I love to hate every minute of it.

Have you seen the show? It revolves around a gossipy little clique of middle-aged, suburban housewives with nothing better to do than shop, bitch, moan, and crank out horrid little children. They all live in these ridiculously tacky McMansions, drive Land Rovers, and have a minimum of three little brats orbiting them at any time. How the fuck can they afford this lifestyle? Not a one of them works, and their husbands can't all be making enough money to pay for this decadent bullshit, especially in the current economy.

Let's look at the cast of characters. There is Carolyn, who seemed like a nosy, domineering, bully at first, but she is clearly the most level headed person on the show. Her grown children are polite and hard working. Nothing to really hate there. Carolyn's sister Dina is really into new age, positivity, whatever Oprah told her to be into, psychic, go to the light, Chopra-babble, and it is quite amusing. She also has one fluffy, sour faced cat, and one hairless cat. I've said it before, and I'll say it again, there is nothing funnier than a hairless cat. Dina also dropped out of the show this season when it got too ridiculous even for her. That seems like a normal human response to the insanity of the show. Not a lot to hate there. There's Jacqueline, who seems like a sweet, naïve mother, but she raised an 18 year old waste of oxygen for a daughter. Ashley seems to think airing dirty laundry on facebook, pulling out a forty-something woman's hair extensions, and being an ingrate leech is cool. Good luck with that. Maybe that's why Jacqueline popped out another couple diaper fillers. Do over. Try again.

Then there is the supposed villain of the show. Danielle looks like an anorexic Cruella DeVille, with worse hair and no cigarette holder. She is the poster child for what can go wrong with plastic surgery: caved in sideways nose, collagen infused lips that look like Stonehenge, and a perpetually startled look on her Botox riddled, stretched-eyebrow face. She was a whore (both recreationally and professionally) and was arrested in her 20's for some kidnapping scheme her drug dealer boyfriend at the time was mixed up in. Danielle has two teenage daughters, and Christine, the older daughter, is a model. She is gorgeous. She looks exactly like Muriel Hemmingway, only, you know.....good looking. Jillian is the younger daughter and she is absolutely my favorite character on the show. She seems to realize that the whole three ring circus is bullshit, and her snide remarks are hilarious. Danielle consorts with two guys who are the Laurel and Hardy of Jersey ex-cons. She supposedly needs them for protection and advice, but all they provide is great comic relief. I don't think too many genuine wiseguys go on a Bravo TV show and brag about it.

But I've saved the true villain for last. The one who put me over the edge. The one who drives me so crazy that I couldn't take it anymore and had to vent here. I'm talking about Teresa. She is so fucking dumb, she doesn't even know how to spell Theresa. She is the most vapid, greedy, ignorant, self centered, cartoon of a negative stereotype to come down the pike. She reeks of fake. Fake hair, fake tits, fake soul. She talks on national TV about how much she likes sex while she is eight months pregnant. She refers to her husband as an entrepreneur, but she can't pronounce it and doesn't really know what it means ("Is that the one when you own a business? Then yeah, that's what he is then"). She instigates a slap fight at a country club, and then in the same breath talks about what "a lady" she is. Oh yeah, you're a class act all the way honey. All the while, her hen-pecked husband sits there sullenly agreeing with everything she says. He's one of those guys who thinks he's tough, but he's just a wet noodle wrapped in steroids with a Jersey accent. You can't help but feel a little sorry for him though. They've cranked out four atrocious little girls who will undoubtedly carry on their mother's proud tradition of ignorance, entitlement, and rampant breeding. Teresa is always an hour late to everything because she is applying a trowel of make-up to her face, or putting glitter fingernail polish on her three year old, or picking out which Luis Vuitton bag matches her eight year old's outfit, the whole time bragging about what "little divas" they are becoming. Bravo indeed, you pathetic guttersnipe. That is exactly what you should be proud of. Creating a small army of useless, spoiled, high maintenance, trophies to nag their future general contractor husbands that they don't go on vacation enough. The little hellions even have weird light colored eyes that glow with unearned self-love when they aren't throwing one of their seemingly never ending tantrums. But they're just innocent children you say? That's why I hate their mother even more for turning them into contemptible clones of herself. Her name is Teresa, and she is a mother, but she's no Mother Theresa. (Too corny? Yeah- I couldn't come up with a really clever joke, besides, I really don't think Mother Theresa was all that great. She was vehemently against birth control in a region that was devastated by overpopulation. That's not cool, but it's like people make her out to be a saint or something. I'm just saying......)

The straw that broke the camel's back for me was the crazy, over the top christening party that Teresa had for her latest infant spawn. She had a professional photographer and videographer, Gucci booties that probably cost more than your entire wardrobe (and that the baby had probably outgrown by the end of the ceremony), top shelf open bar, two huge ice sculptures, champagne, full sit down dinner, a string quartet and a DJ. Prince Charles and Lady Di's wedding looked like a wake at a VFW post compared to this thing.

Just when I had reached my boiling point, I saw some amusing news the other day. Teresa and her husband have filed for bankruptcy. (In my best Nelson voice) Haw-hah. They are having an auction at their crappy McMansion to pay off creditors. Bye-bye Sub Zero fridge. Bye-bye antique pool table. Bye-bye professional (but untouched) gym. Bye-bye fully stocked wine cellar you pretentious, glorified trailer trash, high society poseurs. Maybe they shouldn't have had the most expensive christening party of all time if they were having money problems? I hope they all end up in designer burlap sacks. They represent everything that is wrong with America's consumer feedbag, debt riddled, me me me me attitude. I guess sometimes bad things do happen to bad people. I wish them nothing but the worst.

Maybe I'm being too harsh. In the opening credits of TRHONJ, Teresa says "Everybody makes fun of Jersey girls, but I think they're just jealous." Yeah, that's probably it. I'm just jealous. I'm jealous of your air-headed, grating, nasal voiced, consumer driven, keeping up with the Jones, dumber than a box of rocks, money grubbing, pathetic, self-centered, lazy-ass, financially and morally bankrupt existence you cum belching excuse for a human.

Then again, what does that make me for watching it?

Sometimes I disgust myself.

Saturday, August 14, 2010


Firing somebody who is in a wheelchair is never easy.

Actually, I don't know that. It might get easy by the third or fourth time, but I wouldn't know because I've only done it once. I can tell you that the first time is definitely a bitch. It helped that I had caught him stealing red-handed. There was no grey area.

Let me give you a quick Theater Scams 101. The number one scam is returning ticket stubs for a refund. A lot of scammers gave it a shot since the theater had a no questions asked return policy up to half an hour after the movie started, and very minimal questions asked after that. Loud people in the theater? Here's your money back. Bad projection? Here's your money back. You got thrown out of the theater? Here's your money back. Yeah, that last one always boggled my mind, but Loews was so afraid of legal action, that they insisted on refunding troublemakers, that way they were no longer a paying customer, and could be issued trespassing notices. On the other hand, ticket scams were a major problem, so the theater wanted us to be very suspicious of all refunds. One of the many fun contradictions we had to deal with everyday at the theater.

Fortunately there were some security measures in place to catch scammers. Every ticket was marked with a small "C" for credit card or a "$" for cash purchases. When somebody came to the box office to return a ticket, we'd ask them if they bought the ticket with a credit card or cash. The rookie scammers would say cash when they had a stub with "C" on it. Pretty easy to catch that. Some crooks would steal a credit card, come into the theater, buy 20 tickets from the lobby machines, and then try to return the tickets for cash. Also, when a shady person bought a ticket, the teller could flag the ticket as suspicious. This was mostly for people buying R rated tickets for other people. If an employee found a young person in an R movie, or if somebody tried refunding a ticket stub with a little "F" on it, we could easily check with the employee who sold it to find out why they had flagged it. When the usher ripped the tickets there was a specific half for the customer, and half for the theater's records. Some enterprising scammers would rip their own ticket and try to return both halves. At the end of the night we would collect all the stubs from the usher boxes, and store them in marked boxes for 30 days. When the Loews auditor would come, they would pick a couple random days and count the stubs. If the number of stubs was not within 20 of the number of tickets sold that day, or if some of the tickets were from the wrong date, or if the usher had kept the wrong half of the ticket, then the theater would fail that section of the audit.

God I'm glad I don't work there any more.

While we were trying to catch cheating customers, we were always under suspicion ourselves. Inside stealing was a huge problem. Some employees would try to process refunds on found tickets. Every once and awhile you'd see a box office teller on break walking around the hallways scouring the floor for dropped ticket stubs they could process. Another scam was an usher would keep the whole ticket, or give back the wrong half, and then get a friend to go refund them. That's what I caught P doing. He was collecting tickets on the second floor, and when he saw a "$" on a ticket he would just fold the ticket over and point the people towards their theater. I'm a nut about keeping my stub, so that wouldn't have flown with me, but who's going to argue with a guy in a wheelchair? Once he got 4-6 tickets from the same show time, he'd give them to his nephew to take to guest services for a refund.

I was coming out of the bathroom when I saw P hand his nephew some tickets, so I followed him around the corner to guest services. When he tried to get a refund I stepped in. All the tickets were bought at different times, so it would have been suspicious anyway, but we had the kid dead to rights. Once the detail cop got involved the kid was scared shitless and quickly admitted that his uncle had put him up to it. My boss and I called P into the office and asked him what was going on. He denied everything. Even after I said I had seen the whole thing, he denied it. Even after we bluffed and said his nephew was going to jail unless he fessed up, he denied everything. My boss stepped in and asked P if I was lying, and P said yes. What a lowlife. Not only was he trying to make my boss think I was framing him for some reason, but he was willing to throw his 13 year old nephew under the bus.

That made canning him a lot easier.

A month or two later, P came back to the theater and apologized to me. He was living in the shelter around the corner, and even though technically he wasn't allowed in the theater, everyone started letting him use the handicapped bathroom on the first floor. No good deed goes unpunished. It turns out he was selling crack out of the bathroom. He would meet someone on the street and then go into the theater bathroom with them to make a deal away from the watchful eyes of the cops, who were all over the notorious crack bazaar of Boston's Theater District. That plan didn't work out for P, as he was arrested coming out of the bathroom one day by undercover cops right in the lobby. They cuffed his hands behind his back and propped them up on the back of his chair so that he was forced to lean all the way forward. They just kept him doubled over like that for a good ten minutes on display while they called a paddy wagon. They had been watching him for days. Fired and arrested at different times in the same building. Wow. The reason P was in a wheelchair was because he had been shot during a drug deal gone bad years ago. I guess some people are slow learners.

The guilt I had for firing a guy in a wheelchair had completely evaporated by now, but it was replaced by a sadness as I watched them wheel P away. Sadness for what P's life must be like. He was a charming guy when he wasn't, you know, lying and stealing. Anger that I was caught in the middle of this never-ending, petty, cat and mouse bullshit. And self loathing that part of me felt like a cripple guy was getting what he deserved.

I stood in the lobby watching them load P into the paddy wagon until my walkie-talkie crackled. Time to get back to work. Somebody needed a refund at the box office.

Thursday, August 12, 2010


And now, the exciting conclusion.....

Thank god I caught them by surprise. I don’t think Sarge had pulled his gun for at least ten years, so he was still fumbling with it when I hit the window. To anyone who has never jumped through a window and then crashed into a little wrought iron balcony of a fire escape, let me just say….AaaahOwwwww! That shit hurts! I thought I broke my spleen. I had no time for self pity though, and I rolled over the railing and dropped three stories to the garden below. Fortunately, there had been lots of snow that week and I landed on a bush, but it still hurt like a motherlover. I managed to get to my feet and stumbled towards the garage. Just as I got to the door, the light over it exploded. That’s odd, I thought. Then it occurred to me that I was running from guys with guns. I ducked into the garage and ran through to the other side and burst out onto snow covered Chestnut Street.
I had a head start, but I’m not the fastest gazelle in the herd. “Like molasses in January” was the phrase my old baseball teammates used to use. Plus, I was limping from the fall. By the time I made it to Charles Street, Sarge and Strangeman were right behind me. Yelling “help” seemed to be failing admirably so I hobbled into the only place I had any friends; the wine shop. When I burst through the door, he might not have known the details, but Dino picked up pretty quickly that I was in trouble, so when Sarge came barreling in right behind me he was greeted by a thunderous right to the jaw. That punch made a horrific noise. Something between a bat hitting a ball and an industrial garbage disposal. Dino always said; if you’re a former boxer and you’ve broken your hand many times, you better make the first punch count. And he most certainly did. Sarge was lying on the ground dreaming about lollipops and bribes, while Dino was holding his shattered hand. That’s when Strangeman walked through the door pointing his gun alternately at Dino and myself. Well, this is going to be it for me. I just felt bad for roping Dino into this mess. Then I heard one of the most beautiful sounds on the planet. The heavy chic-Chunk of a twelve gauge shotgun. Nicholas was standing behind the counter, pointing the big steel diuretic at Strangeman’s head. The standoff was shorter than Warwick Davis. Strangeman dropped his gun and it bounced off Sarge’s comatose head. Ten to fifteen in Walpole Prison is bad, but dead is forever. The store cat Bordeaux, who didn’t seem to be bothered by any of this, came over to me where I had collapsed, and sniffed my hand where it was cut. Ahhh, what is a liquor store without a cat, and a shotgun behind the counter!
I’m sure you’ve read all about the aftermath in the papers. It was a pretty big deal out here. Needless to say, the Hobfields didn’t get too far in their Range Rover (they probably stopped to pack before fleeing), and for all I know, they are sharing a four-person suite at Walpole with Sarge and Strangeman (who turned out to be a former cop, and the other man in the museum that fateful night in 1990).
The paintings have been returned to their rightful places with a bit of collateral damage, and I got to be the guest of honor at the ceremony. The reward money all went to clear up a little discrepancy I had with the IRS from a few years back, but I got a great new job at a little wine shop on Beacon Hill. You should come visit us sometime; I’ve got some great deals on a few cheap South American whites I’d love to show you…….

Wednesday, August 11, 2010


When I came to, I was tied to a chair. It was the kind of chair you see on Antique Roadshow with some smarmy guy from Skinner Ltd. in Philadelphia hovering over it saying:
“This is a wonderful specimen, it was built at the blah factory by master craftsman blah in the late 18blah’s and is a perfect example of the blah style. It would fetch at auction, conservatively, blah thousand. Now, unfortunately this item has a hostage tied to it, but without the hostage it could bring in as much as blah BLAH thousand!”
I must have giggled, because the strange man standing over me frowned. This time I had seen him before, but he was still strange. Damn! I had forgotten about him. Had he been hiding on the third floor for days now, like an extremely unadventurous stowaway? None of that mattered compared to the throbbing in my head. I had hoped for a Big Lebowski-like knock out hallucination, but no. Just black and now pain. Behind the thug I saw Mr. and Mrs. Hobfield. and the cop from the other day, but he was in plainclothes now.
“The gang’s all here,” I mumbled. Sorry, I know that’s not very good, but it’s all I could come up with. Cut me some slack for Christ’s sake, I had just been knocked out!
“I knew we kept this one around too long, the nosy prick,” Mrs. Hobfield’s voice echoed a little in my cloudy head.
“What the fuck are we going to do with him?” Mr. Hobfield asked. Now it was just bad cop/bad cop. Then the real bad cop spoke up.
“You’ve got to get rid of him. He’s seen us all.”
“Well how are we going to do that?” Whined Mr. Hobfield.
“I don’t know, dump some whiskey on him, throw him in the Charles River, say you last saw him drunk. I don’t care, he’s your problem.” Sarge wasn’t very nice.
“So they weren’t dressed as cops, they really were cops!” I half gurgled.
“You’re pretty smart for a dead guy.” Did he ad-lib that?! Not bad for a cop who probably didn’t have any professional improv training.
“You didn’t take a Sargent while you were in the museum, Sergeant?” (Sargent was a great portrait artist….personal friend of Gardner’s…beautiful selection of….it’s another clever joke, trust me).
All four of them moved into the other room to speak in the obligatory “hushed tones.”
This was going to be my one chance. The ropes weren’t tied very tightly as they were probably worried about scratching the chair. I wasn’t, as I hurriedly worked them loose. This was another instance when duct tape would have been the better choice for them to have used (isn’t it always). Once free, I slowly lifted the plexiglass lid and gently rolled the paintings up and wrapped them in the cloth that had been covering the case. I wasn’t about to leave them behind. I gathered myself behind the back of the bookshelf and prepared for a charge. The window over the courtyard was my best bet. I took a deep, but quiet, breath, and bolted.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010


As the bookcase swung open it revealed a compact,, neat little room, barely seven feet deep and lined with plush material. I half expected a spider web covered stone staircase with torches lit along the walls! Against the back of the room was a table with a cloth over it. As I approached the table I could hear my heart hammering away and the blood pumping through my ears. I slid the cloth off and there they were. On one, the tumultuous ocean, the crashing waves and wind tossed boat, and the other, a quiet Dutch sitting room with a black and white checkered floor and three figures playing music. Two of the missing paintings from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum! When you are in the presence of genius it is palpable. It grabs your soul and punches you in your lungs. Rembrandt and Vermeer most certainly did that to me.
The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is one of the most beautiful museums in the world, as far as I know. It was built in the style of a 15th century Venetian palace, with a stunning five story courtyard in the middle complete with gardens and skylights. The building is a work of art itself, and houses the incredible private collection of one woman (Isabella Stewart Gardner if you hadn’t already guessed). Opened in 1903, the museum has works of Titian, Rembrandt, Manet, Sargent, and Degas among others. Gardner was known for her wealth and incredible taste in art. She was also a free spirit, causing a stir at the stuffy, formal Boston Symphony Hall in 1912 (the year Fenway Park was built) when she showed up wearing a headband emblazoned with “Oh you Red Sox!” Eat your heart out Jim McMahon. On March 18, 1990, two men dressed as Boston police officers broke into the museum, tied up the security guards, and stole numerous works, the two most valuable being Rembrandt’s The Sea of Galilee (his only known seascape) and Vermeer’s The Concert (one of only thirty or so Vermeer paintings left in existence). No fancy security system? Yeah, I can’t believe they didn’t have one either, but they didn’t. It remains one of the most famous unsolved art heists in history. Until now, that is. Now I was staring at the incredible works that people have been searching for relentlessly these past nineteen years.
Everything started clicking like a bad 80’s movie montage in my head. The fascination with The Thomas Crown Affair, the rare Degas sketches locked in the library and only shown to certain guests, the cop from a couple weeks ago, the storage unit in New Hampshire, the uber secretive third floor…..
My head was reeling. The paintings were under a plexiglass shield and hadn’t been reframed yet. In her will, Gardner demanded that no paintings be added or moved in the museum, so everything is exactly as she wanted it for eternity. However, it means that there are two ghostly, empty frames that the Rembrandt and Vermeer paintings were cut out of. Here I was, staring at the missing pieces that would make the museum whole again.
What the hell should I do? Who should I call? Was Mr. Hobfield going to sell the paintings? Should I just grab them now? Why was the alarm off tonight when I got to the house? All these thought were arguing with each other, blocking out my other senses. That’s when the back of my head exploded and everything went black

Monday, August 9, 2010


Tommy sounded just as dumb sober as he did drunk. He had moved up in the ranks, but I think he was still bitter that his entire profession was being replaced by small pieces of plastic stuck to the insides of windshields.
“Hey Robert. I tracked the car this morning. Looks like your friend went to Laconia, New Hampshire yesterday and is heading back today.”
“What?” I mumbled.
“Your friend…..he went to New Hampshire and he’s headed back to Massachusetts right now. Movin’ pretty fast judging by the times between tolls. Better tell him not to speed in your boss’s car.”
“Wake up sunshine! New Hampshire. It’s a state. North of here. It’s where he went. Anything else? I gotta get back to work.” Yeah right, replace gotta with “want to”, and work with “eating more Dunkin’ Donuts.”
“No, no. Thanks Tommy. I owe you.”
“Not a problem, just buy me a beer sometime.” Click.
Laconia? The only two things in Laconia that I knew of were a motorcycle rally and the best vintage pinball arcade on the east coast. Neither of them in November, and neither of them remotely interesting to the Hobfields. This was getting stranger by the minute. And coming back today? The Hobfields weren’t due back until tomorrow. I had the day off because they were presumably out of town, so my investigation would have to wait.
When I got to the house the next day, it seemed empty without Pima. Wait, where the hell was Pima?! Turns out the Hobfields had given her an overnight spa and relaxation package at the Four Seasons on the Common. OK, shit was definitely afoot, and I was more determined than ever to get to the bottom of it!
I was going about my duties, mind in the clouds when I practically bumped into the strange man in the drawing room. I say strange man because I had never seen him before, but he was also strange. You could tell he didn’t travel in the same circles as the Hobfields, shit Johannes Kepler couldn’t figure out what circles this guy traveled in, they were so far from the Hobfields (Kepler was an astronomer… discovered the elliptical orbits of the planets…’s a clever reference, trust me). This guy was definitely blue collar to put it diplomatically. Christ, he probably couldn’t even tell an escargot fork from a caviar spoon! Can you imagine! He grumbled hello, set the book he was holding down, and headed to the elevator. That was the last I saw of him for days, and he was never mentioned by anyone. He was like a ghost.
Three days later I had my chance to get to the bottom of this whole mystery. The Hobfields were going to Symphony Hall, and Pima was celebrating her friend’s birthday downtown. The house would be mine. Of course I would have to sneak back in during the evening, but I had keys and knew the alarm code, so it wasn’t going to be like the beginning of a Pink Panther movie or anything. Breaking into a house that I was already working in for fifty plus hours a week did strike me as a bit anti-karmatic. Hey! I just invented a word! The perfect blend of anti-climactic and bad karma. And it happens to be perfect for this situation…..
I let myself in the front door. The neighbors wouldn’t think anything of it even if they did see me. They all knew me and wouldn’t suspect a thing. The alarm wasn’t on which was extremely out of the ordinary. Then again, nothing surprised me anymore after the past two weeks. I went straight to the third floor, and made a beeline for the desk Mr. Hobfield used for a makeshift office. A few old newspaper clippings from twenty years ago, a couple checkbooks which confirmed that those accounts were damn near empty, and a recent self storage receipt from U-Store of Laconia, NH. Aha. The Laconia connection. But what would they need to store in New Hampshire that they couldn’t store in the basement or garage? As I pondered this, my eyes wandered around the room admiring the priceless collection. My eyes stopped at a leather bound copy of Moby Dick. I love that book. But that’s not why my eyes rested on it. All the books were dusty (even Pima wasn’t allowed in here to clean) …except Moby Dick. I walked over and reached for the volume. As I started to slide it out I heard a click, and the whole bookcase gently swayed out. There it was in front of me. A living breathing cliché made out of mahogany and cherry wood…. The Hidden Bookcase Door. I grabbed the side and gently swung it open.

Sunday, August 8, 2010


When I got to work Tuesday morning, I was worried about what would happen. My fears were unfounded. In fact, quite the opposite. When I finally ran into Mr. Hobfield around eleven, he seemed almost apologetic. He even gave me a raise out of the blue! Gotta love rich people, whenever there’s a problem, their first instinct is to throw money at it. Not that there was a problem, or at least I didn’t think there was a problem at the time, but I’m getting ahead of myself. The next week was fairly normal, but something still seemed a little bit off.
It was election day, and Obama had just won. The whole hill was buzzing with Massachusetts liberal delight, but there was a small undercurrent of distress from the old-timers. Maybe a twinge of racism buried under that coat of white guilt. I know Mrs. Hobfield was as racist as the day is long. She was always railing about every race being inferior, except the Guatemalans and the Irish, at least not in front of Pima and me. She made me cringe with some of the slurs that she used, some of which I hadn’t heard in years. And all within two blocks of the church where the abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison had railed against slavery a hundred and fifty years ago. Boston was funny like that.
A few days later, after things had settled down and everyone’s Hope hangovers had passed, Mr. Hobfield announced that they were taking a two day trip to the Berkshires in western Massachusetts. This immediately struck me as odd. For one thing, they usually went the other direction when they traveled, and besides, it was winter. From what I gathered, once winter set in they rarely left the house. After I loaded the Range Rover up with their stuff (since it was a two day trip they only needed the smaller, fifteen piece luggage set), they rolled out of the garage down Chestnut Street with Mr. Hobfield at the wheel, and I just had a weird feeling. First of all, why wasn’t Chet, their gardener and part time chauffeur driving? Maybe they just wanted to get away alone. When I got back inside, Pima looked worried.
“Eets not like theem to travel in theese snows.” She said. “Thee other night I heerd them talking. Monees trouble.” I bet she had heard a lot through that vent that was either lost in translation or that she erased from her memory intentionally.
The economy had tanked big time, and I assumed that the Hobfields must have had too much tied up in real estate. Hell, Harvard was even in trouble. They had frozen all their construction projects, and were talking about raising tuition, the blood suckers. I knew the Hobfields had tons of assets, but they were almost definitely having cash flow problems. Maybe it was from reading one too many Elmore Leonard novels, but my natural curiosity took over. Something was up and I had to find out what was going on.
When I got back to Southie that evening I headed down to the Cork House where I used to work. I didn’t know any barfly brokers or bankers, so I couldn’t spy on the Hobfields finances, but I did know a barfly toll worker, so I could get some info on where they were going, that is if they took the turnpike to the Berkshires like they were supposed to. Tommy was in his usual chair, bitching about the Bruins, or whatever local team happened to be in season at the time. I bought him a Coors light, the poster beer for pussies and pseudo drunks, and asked about his hideous wife. Well, I asked about his wife, the hideous part was just a side note for you. After buying him another Coors light, I gave him the Hobfield’s FastPass number, and made up a story about lending the boss’s car to a friend and I wanted to see where he went, bla bla bla. The beers had succeeded in convincing him, and he said he’d look into it. On my walk home, I already felt guilty about snooping, and I hoped nothing came of it. Shit, Tommy had probably already lost the slip of paper. That’s why I was surprised when the phone rang first thing the next morning.

Saturday, August 7, 2010


About five months into my employment at the Hobfield house, things started to get a little weird. Mrs. Hobfield disappeared almost entirely (but thank the lord my “to do” lists kept materializing every morning complete with intricate hand drawn maps of where the furniture should be that day), and whenever I saw Mr. Hobfield, he seemed nervous, but overcompensated by being very jocular with me. He knew that I had taken a few art history classes in college, and was also a big movie buff, so he would brag that parts of the original Thomas Crown Affair had been filmed in his family’s house on Louisburg Square. That’s how it was on Beacon Hill. They weren’t satisfied to have one multi-million dollar home, they had to have three or four, like an inbred game of monopoly. He would tell me the story of meeting Steve McQueen over and over again, never varying any of the details. I liked it the first twenty times or so. Even Pima seemed out of sorts lately. When I asked her about it one day during lunch, she just dismissed my concerns.
“You relax keeeler, and focus on moving theese couches, huh?” She had called me “killer” ever since my first day of work for some reason, but with her accent it always sounded like she was calling me the guy from NPR who talks about Lake Woebegon. Keeeeler.
The next time I was in the wine shop I asked about the Hobfields. Dean was the owner, but everyone called him Dino. They said it with respect, much more like Dean Martin’s nickname than the Flintstone’s pet. You see, Dean used to be a boxer, and nobody fucks with him.
“Don’t know much about the Hobfields. We used to deliver up there, but nobody ever got past the front door.” Dino never says a bad word about anybody though, except the New York Jets. God, he hates the Jets, but that’s a story for another time. “You must know more than us. Shit, nobody else has lasted this long working for them!”
“Except Pima.” I said.
“Who?” He responded
“The maid.”
“Oh yeah. Pink dress, never tips.” Dino didn’t care, he never accepted tips anyway.
The fake Rockefeller case had just broken, and Dino’s younger brother Nicholas was talking about the times “Clark Rockefeller” had come in the store.
“You could tell that guy was a bullshit ahtist the minute he opened his mouth. Ahlways droppin’ names, and the guy was queeya as a football bat too! With that pink sweata tied around his neck over a yellow polo sheart, I don’t know who he thinks he was foolin’. I guess that woman he mahried!” Nicholas always laughed after everything he said, whether it was funny or not. “All these Beacon Hill types are the same; they all got skeletons in tha closet just like that Rockefella guy.” At this point, a woman with a stroller came in the shop so Nick laughed quickly, then stopped talking.
I took it as my cue, and headed up the hill with my cases of wine and Gordon’s gin (why do the rich ones always buy the cheap shit?). When I got to the house, I loaded all the stuff in the elevator and headed upstairs. I must have hit the wrong button, because the next time the doors opened I was on the third floor, and the first thing I saw was Mr. Hobfield hunched over an antique desk with a uniformed Sergeant from the Boston police. ‘Oh shit, the place has been robbed’ was my first thought, but there is a sophisticated alarm system, and besides, I would have heard about it that morning if it happened last night. Before I could apologize, Mr. Hobfield spun around and hissed at me.
“What are you doing up here?” His eyes glowed like a cat that’s pissed off at you, only bigger, and wearing a bow tie.
“Sorry Mr. Hobfield. Wrong floor. Sorry.” I said.
The elevator doors closed and I exhaled. I had never seen the old man that pissed. The cop never budged. Not even a flicker. He didn’t turn around, but the back of his neck looked like it meant business. I was glad it was Saturday and I had the next two days off. It ended up being forty-eight hours of stewing and wondering what the hell was going on at the Hobfield residence……

Friday, August 6, 2010


Thursday morning brought the typical, and predictable, nightmarish experience on the T. What the hell are people lugging around that they need those gigantic bags? Damage to my ribs and kidneys not withstanding, I arrived at the Hobfield residence already aggravated. The T does that to me.
Pima let me in, and led me upstairs to the kitchen counter, where Mrs. Hobfield had left a long list of “to do” items. This was my routine for the next half year or so. Show up at the house in the morning and get my list, then do my list. Most of it was hauling things to or from the basement, small painting jobs, and rearranging the furniture. Holy crap, was there a lot of furniture to arrange! Apparently Mrs. Hobfield had a disorder that I haven’t seen on 60 Minutes or 20/20 yet, in which the victim has a compulsion to rearrange the furniture relentlessly. When you’re rich, you just hire someone to act out your disorders, and that’s where I came in. They say money can’t buy happiness, but it can buy a shitload of people to do all the unhappy stuff for you. There were couches to move, Georgian chairs, granite topped foyer tables, rugs of Asian and Persian persuasions, not to mention the dining room set that sat twenty-four people comfortably. Thank God I wasn’t allowed to touch anything on the third floor, that’s where the real antiques were kept. Roll top desks, revolutionary rockers, and anything with Louis in front of it. It was also where they kept the bulk of their extensive art collection. I might as well give you the layout of the house while I’m at it. The first floor has a grand entryway with two sweeping stairways on either side leading upstairs. Through the archway between the stairs is the main drawing room with a library and pantry/wet bar attached. There are glass French doors leading to the small garden and courtyard behind the house. Beyond that is the garage which empties out onto Chestnut Street. The second floor has the kitchen, dining room, and parlor to entertain guests and whatnot. The third floor is for antiques and the Hobfield’s master bedroom, while Pima lives on the fourth floor/attic. Don’t feel bad for her though, that attic is nicer than any place I have ever lived in my entire life. There are bathrooms on every floor, and a beautifully concealed elevator that goes from the first floor to the attic. Unfortunately not to the basement, but again, that’s where I come in handy.
When I wasn’t pushing or pulling heavy expensive wooden things, I was running errands. The one chore I didn’t mind was picking up the Hobfields wine and booze. Mrs. Hobfield was partial to cheap, South American whites, and lots of ‘em. I got to be pretty good friends with the guys at the wine shop. They always let me borrow their two wheel dolly to haul wine up the hill. We could have had them deliver it, but I enjoyed getting out of the house and talking to some of the only people on the hill who weren’t stuck up snobs.
I rarely saw the Hobfields, as I avoided the third floor, and was long gone by the time they started entertaining around martini-thirty (or is it wine-o-clock?). When I did see them, it was usually the good cop/ bad cop routine, with Mrs. Hobfield playing the bad cop. Mr. Hobfield would be the one to pat me on the back after an incident, tuck a crumpled ten dollar bill in my shirt pocket, and tell me to forget about it. He seemed nice enough although he wouldn’t look at me for the first two months, then one day he muttered something about “turnover”, and “not bothering to learn the names until at least nine weeks” before properly introducing himself. There was one thing that bugged me about him. He wore those old style blue shirts with the white collars (picture Michael Douglas in Wall Street) and always with a bow tie. My dad told me when I was younger to never trust a man in a bow tie, and I hadn’t yet come across an exception to that rule. They were either creepy, pompous, hiding a secret, or maybe all three. Mr. Hobfield seemed ok for an old dude, maybe he would be the exception. Anyway, that’s how I spent my first few months at the Hobfield house, until a few weeks ago when some odd things started happening.

Thursday, August 5, 2010


As a kid, I used to love listening to old radio shows. I'd check out tons of shows from the library, and copy them at home (remember cassettes?). I liked comedies like The Jack Benny Show, The Great Gildersleeve, and yes, even Amos 'n Andy. I also loved the action/suspense shows like Have Gun Will Travel, The Lone Ranger, and Mystery Theater hosted by EG Marshall. I was particularly enamored with the cliffhangers. Many of Mark Twain's best work was originally serialized for magazines and newspapers. As these mediums fade, I don't want to see this genre die, so I'm doing my part here. I originally wrote this story for a friend, emailing a chapter a day. I'll publish it here one day at a time, so my loyal readers will have something to read with their morning coffee, or you can wait until Chapter 8 and read it all at once. There are no rules here! I don't have a title for it, so feel free to leave suggestions in a comment....

Boston is a negative town. Negative roads. Negative smells. Negative humans. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a beautiful place. If you like history and architecture, Beantown is the place for you. If you like people, well, Boston can cure that too. When I moved here about a year ago, I thought all the negativity was a problem, something that needed fixing. Now I’ve come to realize it’s a badge of honor that Bostonians wear with pride. They revel in abrasive animosity. I wasn’t here for it, but when the Red Sox broke their eighty-six year drought and won the World Series in ’04, it must have been a horrible blow for the New England fans to lose the crown jewel in their scepter of bitterness. Perhaps my view was a little biased as well, since I was broke and angry when I got here. The latter was for many reasons and the former had a woman attached to it. I moved in with my cousin in Southie, and got a job cooking at a neighborhood bar, but my heart wasn’t in it, so I quit. I needed a change of scenery from kitchens……
That’s how I found myself at the Hobfield residence one Monday afternoon, interviewing for a job I didn’t really want, but needed. What a shitty predicament. Didn’t want to work in the field I have experience, and no experience in anything else. But then, if I hadn’t needed the job so badly, I wouldn’t have this story I’m about to unfold for you here. Since I referred to it as a “residence,” you’ve probably guessed that the Hobfields are rich. Filthy rich as the people say. More money than God, they say. Mr. and Mrs. Hobfield live in a beautifully restored brownstone on Acorn Street (the most photographed street in America according to the tour books). It’s a lovely little one block cobblestone alley of a street on Beacon Hill, with no cars, and a minimum of four window boxes of flowers per house. By law, I think. I was greeted at the door by a maid dressed in one of those 1950’s get ups; a pink dress with a white lace apron sewn over it. You know the one. Her name was Pima, and I found out later she was from Guatemala. It was very progressive of them to have a Guatemalan maid. Almost all the other maids on Beacon Hill were from El Salvador. At least they were that year, you know how these trendy things have a way of changing so quickly. Pima led me into the first floor sitting room where I met Mrs. Hobfield for the first time. She had to be in her late fifties, but she looked like she was seventy. Years of anorexia and plastic surgery had ravaged her. She must have been a looker back in the day, or she couldn’t have landed an old money trophy like Mr. Hobfield.
“You must be Robert. I’m Agnes Hobfield, but please, call me Mrs. Hobfield.” Her lips cracked a little around the edges. She knew she was being funny but didn’t want to, or couldn’t, smile.
Agnes Dougherty had grown up in Dorchester near St. Margaret’s church. She was “lace curtain” Irish, just enough that it didn’t cause too much of a stir when young Russell Hobfield met (and soon married) her at the Dorchester Yacht Club. One day she served him iced tea, and that was it. He whisked her away to Beacon Hill and she never mentioned her Irish roots again. I’m sure she even had a speech coach to teach her the proper, waspy way of saying “down Nantucket for the summa,” and “ahr family has beeen on the hill for sixty yeas noww.”
“Pleasure to meet you Mrs. Hobfield.” She had a strict policy of referring to the help by their first name, as it showed her overwhelming humanity to the less fortunate who hadn’t had the chance to marry into money. This policy was not a two-way street.
I could bore you with the details of the interview, but I won’t. Needless to say it was a handyman/delivery/errand boy/what have you position, and it was clear I was going to be Mrs. Hobfield’s bitch. But at least it paid poorly. After listening to a long list of house rules, I was offered the job I guess, but I wasn’t really listening. The rows of Mark Twain and Hawthorne first editions, the Waterford crystal, and what I assumed was an original Degas had distracted me. Anyway, she told me to come back Thursday morning. As Pima escorted me out, she gave me a “welcome to the club” look as she shut the heavy red door behind me.

Monday, August 2, 2010


I had a great experience last Saturday night.
But let me start at the beginning of the story.
It's 1992 in Madison, WI. My friend Green River tells me about a band that's playing at the Chamber bar on a Friday night. We go to the show and I was blown away. The lead singer had a huge mop of dirty dreadlocks and he wailed on the guitar when he wasn't growling into the microphone. Sometimes both. The bass player had a huge fu-manchu, and the drummer was beating his drums like they owed him money. Oh, and the band had a flute/conga player. They sounded a little like Tad or The Melvins, with lyrics by Ween. The name of the band was Camel Toe, and I was a devoted fan from the first second I heard them.
Over the next year, Green River and I never missed a Toe show, and became friends with the whole band. I ran into TB, the bass player, at the legendary watering hole Genna's on University Ave, and then a couple weeks after that we happened to be on the same Greyhound heading home to Minneapolis. We got high behind the Hardee's in Tomah on a dinner stop, and became fast friends. Back in Madison, I met the lead singer, Anchovie D-lux, and found out that the dreadlocks were just a wig that he broke out for shows. I ended up getting a job at the bar where TB and Chovie worked thanks to them putting in a good word. The Pickney Street Hideaway was the coolest job ever. The guy from the jukebox company let TB put in whatever CD's he wanted, so it was the coolest jukebox in town. We got hammered every night we worked. My drink was jack and coke, so Chovie invented "The Ernie." You fill a pint glass to the rim with ice and jack, and then lean over and whisper "coke" across the top. It was an incredible time. The Hideaway will always be "my bar." The bar that I look back fondly on and compare all other bars to. None have ever measured up. It was that perfect combination of time, place, age, and people that can never be duplicated.
But back to the story.
The summer of '93 I would wake up hungover everyday. Chovie lived three houses away at Toe Headquarters. He'd come over at 11am and we would watch Grizzly Adams and smoke from my five foot bong called The Earthshaker. After Grizzly we'd head to the Plaza Bar and Tavern for Plaza burgers and pinball. The Plaza burger was a thin patty cooked on the flatop and served on a plain soft bun with special Plaza sauce (ranch dressing). They were fucking delicious, and mixed with bong hits, they were a perfect hangover cure. The pinball games we played were Twilight Zone, Cyclone, Earthshaker (a game that actually vibrated violently during multiball, and the namesake of my bong), and our favorite, Funhouse. In Funhouse, you tried to shoot the ball into the mouth of an obnoxious ventiliquist dummy as he hurled insults at you. After that I'd go home, shower, go to work, party after work, crash, and then repeat. Best summer ever.
That fall, Chovie moved to Albany for art grad school. A few years later, he and TB moved to NYC and formed the band Kung Pao. Denim nation forever! We visited them for some of the greatest road trips of my life, which I will tell you all about when you're older. I sort of lost track of Chovie after that (this was pre cell phone or internet).
Last fall I saw a familiar name pop up on my mutual friend The Manager's facebook page. Ben Jones. That's what the squares call Anchovy D-lux. After over a decade we had reconnected! Chovie was out in Seattle, still rocking. There were so many things I had wanted to tell or show him over the years. He was a great friend, and I felt like he understood me, and I understood him. All of facebook's bullshit was worth it just to find this one lost friend.
And now it is Saturday, present time. I was excited to see that Chovie's band Low Land High was playing live on KEXP radio that night. KEXP is a super cool radio station in Seattle that has a free stream, so Saturday night around 11pm EST, I smoked a couple one-hitters of Sweet Island, put my headphones on, and listened to the show. Low Land High kicked ass. Chovie can still wail, but now he is also playing pedal steel guitar, and very well too. It was so incredible to sit 3,000 miles away and hear my old friend tearin' it up live. Back in the day, I never could have imagined that something like this would be possible, but through the magic of the techno age we live in, it happened.
Low Land High is a great folksy rock band. I hate reviews that compare bands to other bands (not really- I already did it earlier in this piece) but if I had to choose, I would say they sound a little like Townes Van Zandt with a dash of Tod A thrown in, wrapped in a honkytonk vibe. I know I'm not doing them justice. Listen to their KEXP set yourself, and become a fan here. My favorite song that they played was Mess You Made, and their performance had a vibrant grit to it. Hopefully I will get to see them in person some day.
Until then I'll have the twang of Chovie's guitar running through my mind as I think about modern miracles, old friends, and great music.
It was a good Saturday night.