50/50

I was home one day and decided to see if I could find a movie on Netflix. It seemed to be a better choice than watching CNN or any of the twenty four hour news networks. Unless I know ahead of time just what I want to watch.  It can take up to an hour to find something that I feel can hold my interest for more than it’s entirety. Within a matter of seconds, I found a Seth Rogen film I had not seen or even heard of. It was even under the ‘Critically Acclaimed’ category. So, how can I refuse? Now don’t get me wrong, Seth is pretty one dimensional in his work. Throughout his career, he’s pretty much cornered the market as far as lovable losers are concerned. Still, I love his work,  and in many ways, identify with his characters.

Going in, there were two other factors that drew me to the movie. One; It’s filmed in my then current city of Seattle and much like my years as a New Yorker, where I would be able to name most of the streets and locations featured in the various franchises of Law & Order. I easily recognized many of the Seattle streets where the film was created. What I did not expect and did not bargain for was the reaction I had to Jordan-Gordon-Levitt’s character Adam being diagnosed and struggling with cancer. As someone who watched a beautiful soul succumb to leukemia and die when I was only eight and was told I had month to live due to a brain tumor when I was twelve, it fucking wrecked me.

I was seven or eight years old when my Father started dating Angie. She was like no other person I had met before and maybe until I met the woman who would eventually become my wife. Angie was born in Taiwan and lived with her very strict, traditional and educated family in Queens. I’m not sure how the two met, but with Angie being was a teller at a local bank and my father still driving a bus for the city. The chances of them crossing paths was pretty high. On the nights we’d pick her up from the apartment where she lived with her parents. I’d have to hide in the back seat until they emerged and I got the signal that the coast was clear. She, along with her family had immigrated looking for a better life and like many, the chance to work towards the American dream. A recently divorced bus driver with a son was more of a nightmare than a dream.

Angie and my dad were polar opposites in almost every way. While my father stood 6’4 with a booming voice. Angie was tiny in comparison, always speaking softly in what often seemed like whispers. Her jet black hair often hung down below her knees. Often causing her peers to ask how she kept it looking so manageable and beautiful. Though my Dad was always a heavy drinker and an occasional drug user. Unlike my Father, Angie never acquired a taste for alcohol, drugs, or gambling. Such distractions or deviances never interested her. 

Her generosity and penchant for spoiling me were undeniable. However, introducing me to New York City’s Chinatown and adventures on Mott Street would impact and influence me the most. She would read the Chinese comic books I’d buy each time, teaching me a new word, phrase, or Chinese slang term. As a kid who hated the Wringling Brothers, Barnum & Bailey Circus, my Uncle Ray and Aunt Mary would take me to each year. Angie’s taking me to the Taiwanese Circus left my mouth gaping in amazement and adoration. The experience blew my mind.

By the age of seven, I had already witnessed a friend fall to his death and been to a funeral, but seeing Angie fall to Leukemia was the hardest thing I’d witnessed  before or since. Seeing her lay in a hospital bed connected to tubes. Experiencing the process of her flowing black hair become stubble, only compared to what I saw in war movies depicting prison or concentration camps. The treatment, drastic, yet unsuccessful only seemed to make things worse. Eventually, after often brutal chemotherapy treatment that only seemed to worsen her condition, she would come home with my Dad , but it was short lived, as she would soon return to the hospital where she would pass.

Even now, when I bring her up in conversation, my Dad easily recalls detailed memories of her kindness, their time together, and what it was like sitting by her bedside at the hospital. As I write this, I try to focus on all the good and kindness that she brought us. The positive imprint she left in her twenty seven years on this planet. Maybe, writing about the suffering will help me heal enough to focus on the good things.

As for her family. I didn’t meet any of them until the day of the funeral. Like I said, they would have never let their daughter date a man who was divorced with a kid. When I think back to those days; and I often do. I didn’t like it, but I kind of understood. Looking back, I can’t help but think, that experience had a lot to do with my drive in volunteering on so many cancer related fundraisers. To think that something good came out of that tragedy is as rewarding as it is hard to believe. In the end, Angie may have been the greatest, most positive influence on my early childhood. Her presence and overall impact certainly influenced me as an adult and effected the way I’ll always want to treat people. I will always love her and appreciate the short, yet impactful life she lived. Till this day. I still have the Chinatown shirt she bought me on a trip to Mott Street. I had to be eight at the time. Though it hasn’t fit in more than forty years, I keep it as a token of her kindness and the last physical item representing our time together. Thanks Angie, you will always hold a place in my heart.

Dear Dad

My Mom once (Okay, more than once.) told me to watch what I said in public and especially to be mindful of what I write. While being free to express ones self. We must also be mindful of what we say and share with others. A lesson I’ve tried to apply, and suffered from when not practicing. Yet there I was trying to write my Father a letter or email that will potentially mend fences in regards to a recent blowout between us.

And while I’ve spent a lifetime looking and often finding closure to many early traumas. I can’t help but open new wounds every now and then. In the days and weeks that followed. I searched and replayed the moments before the blow out. Could I have instigated the argument, said anything to bring on his storm of anger and hate. Or brought on his ire by perhaps seeming uninterested in his reasoning that Trump was a great president and world leader. “No”, “No”, and “No” I was assured by my step mother and wife.

Considering he read it (I confirmed this with my step mom.) and he never bothered to return or acknowledge my olive branch. I’m guessing we’re done. After a lifetime of trauma, anxiety, stress, panic attacks, and a whole lot of fun. I’m ready to move on. As bad as that night was, I did my best to reach out with no hate, anger, or blame. I’m sharing the email i sent because I wanted to prove to myself and anyone reading this, that I tried. I tried and I did it by taking the high road. Over and Out.

“Dad, how are you. More than a week has gone by since Kay and Me visited and we had our blowout. The arguments only show our beliefs have grown stronger with showing how different we are politically and socially. We always have been. However, the times have changed and I guess we have to. I just wanted to reach out and say, our beliefs should never overcome the fact that you’re my father and I’m your son. After a week of unpacking I’m finally enjoying going to the gym every day and enjoying the deck and the common areas. Also, after all this time, it feels good to sleep in our own bed.”

Best,
– James

Rack ’em Up; One Last Trip Up to the Roof Deck

As I gazed upon the pool table located within the spacious rooftop sky retreat, I was taken aback by my childhood. Thinking back to a time when going to bars and pool halls with my Father was a constant. Watching my Dad win game after game while I reveled in my cheeseburger and fries. Going over every title on the jukebox. The many nights when he’d leave the bar with me in one hand and a fist full of cash in the other. Often leaving with a fist full of cash from his night of sharking. Much like the poker games and betting halls, I became familiar with a young, wide-eyed shorty.
There was always a game, and always players lined up to get a taste.

While some have found it shocking that a kid not old enough to see over the bar was exposed to an adult world. I look back on those days fondly. Intended or not, they provided education as to what I wanted to be and what I certainly didn’t want to be. Though I was taught to keep a tight lip at the time. Over the decades that have passed, much of what we experienced has become conversation and reason for laughter at family get-togethers. Over the years, I’ve learned that the perfect childhood, often detailed in movies and sitcoms, is a rare beast. Though I can admit to being one of mankind’s worst pool players and has rarely ever placed a bet or even played the lottery. I can’t help but think of and admire my Dad for his skill with the pool cue.

Remembering Glen

The other night I had a dream involving a very close childhood friend who was both a victim of child abuse throughout his youth and murdered before becoming an adult, regardless of the dream involving us partaking in a crime. Considering the thirty plus nightmares that had me revisiting his blood-soaked body or the blackened eyes or bruised back, this was the brightest and overtly positive dream I’ve had regarding my best friend. A gift of sorts, rewarding me for finding closure after more than thirty years.

Even as a kid, I often felt helpless and afraid to say or do anything to improve the situation.
Being aware of and even witnessing some of the beatings or the following results were terrifying to me. I can only imagine what it might have been for my friend. Choosing between who was more abusive, the oversized nonfunctional alcoholic father, and his quick fisted bartender mom is hard enough. The two of them inflicted enough physical and emotional damage to last two lifetimes. While everyone on the block and my parents were aware of the abuse. Perhaps due to the times or their fears of what might happen if they got involved. Not one of us picked up the phone or visited the local precinct to file a report. The thought of being a rat or pushing into a foster home both played a part. However, in the end, the fear of possibly making things worse formed the most significant cloud over our wanting to protect him.

Considering it took me close to twenty-five years to put his murder and the mental scars of his abuse to appreciate what a special and unique friendship we shared. To get over the nightmares and thoughts that focused solely on the darkness. It feels rewarding to look back at all the good times we shared and the many adventures we embarked on.

Glen loved baseball and, more specifically, the Yankees, for which he knew the history of just about every player wearing pinstripes. As pre-teens, we shared a love for comic books, baseball, the original star wars saga, and slasher films. There were countless sleepovers where we’d avoid sleeping to get a jump start on the next day’s adventure. We did everything in our power to see every horror flick that was released during that time, whether it meant finding a way to break into the theatres’ back door or convincing an adult to pose as our parents or guardian. It seems as if at least ninety minutes of each Saturday dedicated itself to catching a flick. These days I can’t help but think those slasher films were an escape from his own nightmarish life.

I’m not sure, and I don’t remember when or how we met. Though living just a few houses apart most likely initiated our first meeting, my first memories involve being curious about why some neighborhood kids attended pre-school. To think we were already exploring an environment outside of our front yards and parents’ protective eyes is somewhat of a head-scratcher. For sanity’s sake, I’ll say the times were very different.

Glen’s thirst for adventure and nose for trouble led us on countless adventures. Some of which, I find it hard to believe we managed to survive or, at the very least, evade the police and a possible stay in juvenile detention. Whether it be trespassing, shoplifting, vandalism, arson, or worse, Glen had a particular taste for trouble that only seemed to grow over time. Perhaps being the smarter or at least, more analytical of the two. I often served as the moral compass that kept us from getting in too much trouble or, to an extent, getting killed. Funny how in looking back. I never looked too far into the future. Whether a life of crime, prison, or following his parents as both alcoholics and abusers. And though we spoke about juvenile hall as sort of a badge of honor. I’m grateful to add; it never came to that.

Regardless of our differences and perhaps due to our similarities, we were inseparable. There were a few fistfights over the years, but no bloodied nose or black eyes kept us apart for more than a few days. From the age of four to thirteen and beyond that, we were brothers, even taking a blood oath when we were eleven.

For better or worse, his father’s attempt at sobriety took them to Las Vegas when we were thirteen. His father, a long time nonfunctional alcoholic, was finally looking to turn his and Glen’s life around. Returning to his gift for cooking, he took a job as a line cook in Vegas. During the two years apart, we kept in touch through letters and occasional phone calls, conversations about girls, music, and, most importantly, girls. A couple of months before my sixteen birthday, he wrote a letter announcing his plan to take a bus back east. A lengthy bus trip from Las Vegas to New York Cities port authority was undoubtedly a better idea than hitchhiking. Sure, what could go wrong?

Upon his arrival, it was easy to see that the sense of brotherhood we shared was still intact. Though we had grown in different directions, our bond seemed more vital than ever. In the days, weeks, and months that followed, there was talk about my mother adopting him. However, Glen never lived by a set of rules or curfews. His not coming home for days and even weeks proved to be too much for us to handle. While I often wished he would adapt and accept the boundaries of a new life. Part of me fully understood why he couldn’t.

Weeks later, his bloated, beaten, and bloodied body found blocks from where the bus dropped him off to start a new life. There amongst the trash on the side alley of a midtown late-night food joint. Though I never really followed the case, investigated what he got into or why he ended up. Both I and those who knew him all have their theories.

However, with years behind me and somewhat of a sense of closure, I wanted to look back on the best friend I ever had and let him know how much his friendship still means to me. Through closure and a sense of acceptance, I’ve finally opened the doors to remembering all the good times we shared, the adventures we embarked on, and the many discoveries we made along the way.

United By… (The Doughboys)

The first time I traveled to Maxwells to see Canada’s The Doughboys, I had a full-blown seizure outside the club and missed the entire show. The second time, which, if memory serves, wasn’t that far apart. I returned to Maxwells and thoroughly enjoyed watching the Doughboys leave their mark on Hoboken and everyone that came to see them that night. Adding to the excitement, I even cornered Kastner long enough to answer some questions for a fanzine I was working one at the time. Enormous thanks go to my old friend Tim.  For if it wasn’t for hanging out with him, I might have never gotten the chance to enjoy those early Doughboys classics.The images below were taken by yours truly, at that second appearance at Maxwells, If you gt a chance, head over to discogs where you can find more information about the band and their releases.

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United By… Name that Band… Christie Front Drive?

Unknown (1 of 1)Having gone to so many shows in the ’90s and perhaps not having a way to file all the negatives and prints I had adequately. I would sometimes lose track of what band was featured in some of the images I had. And though I’m convinced the picture posted is of Christie Front Drive frontman Eric Richter. Though I exhausted numerous channels to confirm that, yes, it was indeed the band you mentioned, my inquiries were often answered with, “I don’t know. I never saw them live.” or “I don’t know. We never played a show with them.” Still, I always loved this image and the ones I had taken that day at ABC No Rio. So until someone says otherwise, denies or confirms, I will continue to believe this is none other than Christie Front Drive.

United By… (Superchunk)

Bystander-46Plain and simple, Superchunk changed my life while leading me into an exciting  and rewarding musical direction that still inspires me while eating up most of my time and disposable cash. After a few years of worshiping the band and picking up everything I could find from Merge records, I finally got to see the band live at the intimate settings of my favorite music venue, Maxwells. ‘Till this day, 1991’s “No Pocky for Kitty'”and 1993’s “On the Mouth” still get regular spins and remain as two of my desert island discs. If I can recommend anything. It would be to visit Merge records and get to know each and every band and record on the site. Merge Records

 

United By… (Jon Procopio)

Joe P. (1 of 1)One of the earlier shots taken during my photographic journey. One I look back on with a sense of pride. This one of Jon Procopio playing guitar with Dahlia Seed at what I believe to be Maxwells. Jon, also known as Dapper Jon to some, played guitar with both Dahlia Seed and Dune Buggy. Two bands I loved and still love. Jon is, without a doubt, one of the nicer people I’ve met along the way. Long after the band’s breakup, I’d look forward to seeing him friends BBQ’s, parties and social gatherings. Being that Dahlia Seed were and still are a very special band to me, this will be only one of many posts featuring the band. For now though, I just wanted to give Jon and this image their propers.

 

United By… (Lady Luck)

The ’90s were often a strange time for New York Hardcore and what was, for the most part, post-core. While bands like Quicksand, Into Another, Burn, and Orange 9mm each thrived to some extent. There were many more that seemed to flicker, yet quickly burn out before making much of a name for themselves. I got to see many of these acts at places like CBGB’s, The Wetlands, Brownies, and The Continental, to name a few. Lady Luck (pictured below) was one of those bands. Featuring a cleaned up looking Roger Miret (Agnostic Front) on bass and his wife Denise on vocals. They recorded a ‘7-inch ep for Mendit in ’97. A split LP in ‘ with another promising band named Fully the same year and a full length ‘Life in Between’ in 2000. I only saw them this one time at what was pretty much a hippie club in the Tribeca area of Manhattan. I remember Denise having a beautiful voice and, if memory serves, they delivered an excellent set, but as someone who was used to seeing Miret work the stage covered in sweat, tattoos, and screaming into the mic with a sense of primal rage. Seeing a subdued version with slicked-back hair and a velour shirt was just a little too surreal for me.

United By… (Candy Snatchers)

Though some of my negatives haven’t stood the test of time, my memories have remarkably held up pretty well. At the time this image of New York City’s The Candy Snatchers was taken at 3rd avenues The Continental. I had just begun dating my future wife and working nights at a record store a few doors down.     The Candy Snatchers I (1 of 1)The Candy Snatchers (1 of 1)   At the time, the Continental was hosting a lot of great bands that seemed to fit into the cities punk rock revival. During a relatively short time, I got to see bands with names like The Deviators, The Turbo AC’s, The Suicide King (Featuring Nick Marden of the legendary Stimulators, The Snake Charmers and (pictured here) the Candy Snatchers.    The Continental was tiny with the bar on the left and the stage in the back. Like most of Manhattan, the Continental and the adjacent St. Marks Street bare little or no resemblance to the once edgy character it was once known. The last time I visited the area, The Continental was a yuppie bar, and St. Marks was lined with trendy restaurants and frozen yogurt chains. What I liked most about this particular band was that element of danger tthey always seemed to carry. That kind of Stooges vibe. Being in my twenties at the time. I liked the element of anything can happen at any time. A stark contrast to today, where so many people at shows are more engaged with their phones and social media, than the actual event.

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