Winter Night Moth

Winter Night Moth etching

It is the time of year when the moths die; when, on window sills all over the world, the first chill has laid them, on their powdery sides.  A perfect mirror of each other.

This fall I’m performing  my play, Stations Lost in Brooklyn, New York.  We’re performing it in The Boiler, a performance and exhibition space in the Williamsburg section of North Brooklyn.  It is kind of a perfect room for this show.  A one-time actual boiler where citizens of this borough worked for 100 years.  It is a grimy and hard-scrabble reminder of the hard labor done in this great city back when our country actually MADE things.

There is also an odd juxtaposition in that the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations are occurring just across the East River.  I walked through the demonstration  on my first days in New York before we started our technical rehearsals.  My play is very much about the country we find ourselves in now, with its blighted economy and missed opportunity, greed, and unfocused bigotries.  As I walked through Occupy Wall Street, I was amazed that this was no ‘youth’ protest.  I saw all kinds of people; firemen, construction workers, teachers, mothers, veterans, and many, many more of the educated and unemployed new underclass created by the greed and mismanagement of our financial institutions. I feel, for maybe the first time, that I have a bit of skin in this argument.  I employ eight other artists.   I have a gallery and a printmaking shop in Chicago. My partner, Adam Seidel, and I have invested over six figures each to start a fine art company focused on  small edition etchings, as well as books and job creation.   My other partner, Stan Klein, and I have a theatrical production company and a publishing house.  After depositing 100,000 dollars in a business account we found out that even with this capitalization, we’d not be allowed to  borrow more money to expand our business and create more jobs.  In fact, this deposit did not even avail us to a line of credit.

I seem to recall the President telling the banks that in exchange for their TARP money–their bail-out–they were to lend money and stimulate the economy and, more importantly, create jobs.  These little etchings support eight people. And, truth be told?  They could support a whole hell of a lot more were we allowed to grow.

Performing this  show in Brooklyn has been a lot of fun.  Though our houses have been smaller we’ve had great audiences.  Last Saturday night while performing the first act, I noticed an elegantly dressed gentleman with white hair in the third row.  I took me a few moments to realize it was David Byrne, the true renaissance man of  New York–musician, visual artist, activist for biking and all around cultural catalyst.  It was cool to see him in the audience.

Our opening night we had the great Lou Reed, and the director of MoMA, Glenn Lowry, as well as a whole host of my fellow Brooklyn artists who’ve been amazingly supportive.

The Boiler is the performance and arts space fostered into existence by Pierogi Gallery, also of  Williamsburg.  They went through no small amount of bullshit getting this space up to code, so that we could perform this show and I appreciate it.  New York audiences are a little different than Chicago; a bit more reserved. . . quieter.  They really listen.

I’ve been staying with the painter, Greg Stone, the mordantly funny and exceptionally gifted visual artist who is the best roommate one could imagine.  He  is in possession of the dryest of wits and has a wise-ass, hard-boiled and no bullshit view of the world.  We’ve laughed our asses off.

One of the most lovely things is being in New York for autumn.  It is a season that loves this city.   Everything that seems timeless and classic about this city only seems more so, preserved in the amber of autumn light.  I went to a farmers market in McCarren Park in Brooklyn and the nip in the air, the changing colors of trees and the general goodwill were the ingredients of one of those perfect New York days that keeps people wanting to live here.

There is something to working as an actor in New York , that makes one feel more for real.  And that there is more at stake.  No matter what theater one works in, you are surrounded by the ghosts of giants.  This is one  of the places where people come to be measured against the best.

Published in: on October 26, 2011 at 10:54 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Angel of the Riptide Lounge

Angel of the Riptide Lounge

There are joints.
There are dumps.
There are gin mills.
Watering holes.
Saloons and dives.

Jilly’s was a joint; upscale full of well put-together cabaret goombas and big-haired girls with after market jugs and enough botox to seal the Liberty Bell.

The Mutiny is a dump.  It smells like piss from the front door and gets worse with every step with the Pine-Sol kicking in to try and cover the other aromas.

Stop and Drink was a gin milll; the kind of place where guys  knock back hard liquor drinks quickly to stave off the shakes.

The Billy Goat is a saloon; a no-nonsense place to hammer back a few shots and beers at lunchtime to maintain one’s sanity.  It has regulars and a sense of raucous camaraderie come payday.

Marie’s Riptide Lounge is a dive, in the best sense of the word.

The proprietor of this dive, the late, bouffant-crowned, Marie Wuczynski was ten days older than dirt when I met her in the late ’70s.   The Riptide was where you went if, at 2 in the morning, you just weren’t drunk enough yet or if you were still looking for “love.”  The Riptide is your bar of last chances.  Marie herself would pour you shots and have one with you.  She liked a jigger of Jaeger with a Pespi back.  Only old Polish ladies drink like this.  She was not above a bawdy joke.  In fact, she relished them.   To put a finer point on it, She was a dirty old broad.

The place was always big with my musician friends.  My pal, Buzz Kilman, years ago, answered the phone one Saturday morning, bleary of thought and speech and he told me , “Dude. . .I had a long night.  Whatever was supposed to happen today, will not happen today.  I ended the night at the Riptide.  .I feel like I’ve been shot at and missed and shit at and hit.”

There is a word for people who cannot get sufficiently stinko by 2 A.M.  A cynic might surmise that they just aren’t trying hard enough.

The front-door of the Riptide empties one right into the on-ramp from Armitage Avenue to the Kennedy.  Everything about the place warns you in advance, before you walk in, to go the fuck home.  Once you break the plane of the front door, it’s over.  You aren’t going anywhere, Sporty, unless it is to the bar for
another shot of Jaeger and to pet the light-up Spuds MacKenzie, because you’re hammered, Bucko, and you think it’s a real dog.

It always seems like it is a Twin Peaks version of Christmas in here.   You may not find the girl of your dreams, but you will find the 40-year old lass, who is, for probably very good reasons, still single, out for the night, and wants nothing more than to be pounded like a milk-fed veal chop; and only a drunken, miserable bastard like you will do.

It is a nice antidote to all of the dipshit bars that have opened in Bucktown over the last few years.  Every swinging dick in the Village has a bar you don’t want to drink in. You know the ones.  Twelve-dollar martinis with all manner of shit in them. Chocola-tini?  What kind of pussy shit is that?  Even saying word this can turn you into a Ken doll.  Apple-tini ? Dirty Martini?  I know, I know. . .these are for chicks; get them drunker, therefore more malleable,faster.   Still.  The pussification of a perfectly good bar?  this is some sad shit.

There is also the issue of 20-dollar beers.  Huh?

Now look.  I quit drinking 28 years ago.  Back then you could get a longneck Bud and a shot of Beam for three bucks and during “Happy Hour,” they’d back those bitches up with a two-for- one which served as a guarantee that you’d walk out of the joint hammered to the bone and trying to string noun and verb together.

Now there are these really primo Belgian ales and artisan beers.  I know guys who are brewers and they are VERY serious about making beer as an art form.
So I don’t doubt for a minute that their beers are worth every dime you pay for them.  Hell, if these brews were around when I drank, I’d have never been able to afford being an alcoholic.  It IS a substantial investment.

At Marie’s Riptide there are no “beer snobs;” just guys who want their Old Style or Bud and maybe a shot of something to stop the hands from trembling.  It is a last-chance kind of place.  Like I said before, the dive you choke down your last drink of the night in at 4 in the morning so you can maybe forget why you’re there.

This past February, Marie passed away.  Nobody is REALLY sure how old she was, I’m guessing 82 or so.  I’m also guessing she went with a with a shot of Jaeger in one hand, a Parliament dangling from her lips, under a new perm.   She was the best reason to find yourself on the ass end of Armitage at three in the morning.

Published in: on October 9, 2011 at 3:32 pm  Comments (1)  

My Pony Drugs

“If you’re snorting smack when you’re 21, you’re crazy. But if you’re 80 and you’re NOT snorting smack, well. . . then, you’re really out of your mind.”
– Alan Arkin’s character, Little Miss Sunshine–2006

Every year for the past 28 years October 5th rolls around, and I have a quiet thought about my sobriety.  It is the thing I am most grateful for in this life.  All else would not have been possible but for it.   On this date in 1983, I stopped drinking and doing drugs.  My last bender was an all out hurricane  involving whiskey, alcohol, cocaine, heroin, and what is now called “Ecstacy.”  We called it MDA, but it was your same basic happy-happy, warm and fuzzy fuck-drug that kids used to pop at raves.

There are some days I honestly miss the hell out of drugs.  There are also days when I tell myself I’m glad I did them.  Then come the days when I’m by myself and shake at the thought of how close I came to killing myself.  Drugs are like that–confusing and deceptive, wily and beyond discipline (at least, for me) or definition.

There are also people who are just better off stoned.  Reality is way too poisonous for them.  As cynical as this sounds, we all know someone like this; people for whom we are grateful there are Ddrugs to channel their unpleasantness into.  As sad as it is, there are those who are hungry for the grave , or the coma and do not care who they take with them.

Teachers, parents, nuns, and other authority figures would always tell me, “Drugs are for people who cannot handle reality.”  All of these years later, I realize they’re right.  It’s true.  Not in the way they suspect, but these mulch heads are absolutely correct.

In our own country, right now, “reality” sucks the big, blue vein.  The banks, the politicians, and our government have systematically fist-fucked the average citizen.  Whenever Joe Sixpack walks into a business office, or their former place of employment or the local chicken franchise and empties a clip into the inhabitants, am I surprised?  Truth be told? I’m surprised it doesn’t happen more often.

I think, sometimes, people make a choice:  “Go home, roll up a fatty , and try to put today behind me?” or “Go home, clean my guns, come back, and toe-tag as many of these mother-fuckers as humanly possible before the cops get here and park one in my brisket.”

I think this choice is considered WAY more often than we suspect.   I know perfectly normal, friendly, next-door neighbor-type, regular slobs who harbor annihilation fantasies that would curl your hair.  I have an acquaintance you’d swear is the sweetest guy in the world (and he is) who once, with a smile on his face , told me he’d wanted to pound a barb-b-que spit up his ex-wife’s ass and slowly turn her over a fire.

No shit.

I don’t want there to be any obstacles between this guy and whatever stash of chill pills he might need to put this thought out of his head.   Vicodin? Oxycontin?  Percocet?  Here you are,Bro. . .take two.  And have a cocktail.  Jesus.

However much crime drugs account for, I’d hate like hell to think of how much there would be without them.

If you want an example:  Prohibition.

It provided the venture capital for the rise of the most powerful criminal enterprises in the world.  Without Prohibition?  Al Capone would have been just another bartender in Brooklyn.  A great many in our country would like to legislate our morality for us; tell us what we can drink, smoke, snort. . .where we can live, who we can fuck.  These are the imbeciles who think the government should be your fucking mom.  There is NOTHING in the Constitution that says it is the job of government to protect you from yourself.  The founding fathers did a fairly good job of asshole-proofing our basic freedoms.

Were it up to me, drugs would be legal.  All of them.  You’d be able to walk into Walgreens and buy crack,  ten rocks for a buck.  Smack, ludes, acid, hash, shrooms, opium.  ALL of it, Bunky.  The whole shooting match would be as legal as Girl Scout cookies.

The war on Drugs has been a war on the poor. It has monetized a criminal empire that make the bootleggers of the 20′s and 30′s look like rag pickers.  Would a lot of people kill themselves with legal drugs?  Yeah.  the same ones who are practicing suicide on the installment plan now.  It is sad and it is true.  A certain and specific part of the population would not be able to handle this much freedom, just like now.

The alternative is to continue the fruitless , foolish, and racist “War on Drugs”and guarantee another generation of 15-year olds will be on corners spraying the rest of us with 9 millimeter rounds.  So either teach these fuckers how to shoot. . .or remove the need.  Legalize drugs and you break the back of a black market and reduce gun-related crime by at least half.  Prisons would be for violent criminals instead of unlucky potheads.

I suspect this won’t happen anytime soon.  There is WAY too much money in incarcerating people–mostly people of color  The next squeak-head politician you hear promising to get tough on drugs?  Know that guys hasn’t a clue.  In the early ’90s the Mayor of Baltimore, Curtis Schmoke, was run out of office
for suggesting legalization.  Mayor Schmoke, at the time, was presiding over a city with the most pernicious homicide rate in America.  He had tired of passing caskets containing teen-agers.  So he suggested something smart, bold, and brave.  In the American political theater, nothing gets you killed faster than this. The truth, in our political discourse, is still the most dangerous drug one can traffic in.

Published in: on October 6, 2011 at 10:54 pm  Comments (2)  

The Halloween Parade

The Halloween Parade  (For Lou Reed)“This Halloween is something to be sure
Especially to be here without you. . .”
– Lou Reed, Halloween Parade

The first time I ever went to New York –I was happily side-tracked by the Halloween Parade.  Woe be unto to he who tries to get from the West Village to the East Village that night.  It is almost the first memory I have of New York, and the one that made me fall in love with this city.  It was not different from Mardi Gras and had the ribald flavor of the Ensor painting of Jesus heading into Brussels.  The costumes, the color, the freedom and the sound of it were intoxicating.  I knew that in some way I had to be part of this city; these out-loud, square-pegs with an insatiable appetite for life.

The Halloween was a kind of wake up call to me, telling me to free my ass and my heart and mind would follow.  It was a huge event in the gay community, and these gay folks were not afraid or quiet of the retiring sort.  It was good for me to see.  At the time, I didn’t know a lot of gay people.  Back then, Chicago was still very conservative and buttoned down when it came to matters of sexuality.

The Halloween Parade was where people could be whoever and whatever the fuck they pleased, and this idea had more than a little appeal to me.  There were drag queens, giant puppets operated  with rods, harlequins, bikers with assless chaps, Village People imitators, walking penises, dogs with no leashes, people with leashes, fairies, wicked witches, angels, devils, Alice in Wonderland characters, red queens, princes, leather cowboys, guys in drag as nuns, Samurai warriors. . .you name it.  It sent the message to me loud and clear that New York City was about what was possible.  One’s hopes were as viable a currency as anything else.

“There’s a girl from Soho with a t-shirt saying,  “I blow,”
She’s with the “Jive five, 2 plus 3″
And the girls for pay dates
are giving cut rates

Or else doing it for free
The past keeps knock, knock, knocking on my door
and I don’t want to hear it anymore”

I’ve always loved the New York record by Lou Reed.  For me, it is one of those albums that reads like a great novel; a novel buoyed between the polarities of tragedy and hope.  On this record we hear Lou at his most bitterly angry, yet also at his most plaintively hopeful.  There is a feeling that at this point in history, New York, the city, could go either way and Lou read the tea leaves a little quicker than everyone else.  He is smack in the middle of the Go-Go eighties, “Greed is good,” stupid hair and Duran Duran.  But his attention is focused on the making and unmaking of his city, the reckless homicides of Elanor Bumpurs and Michael Stewart, two powerless people of color the police executed with impunity in the shadow of the Statue of Bigotry.  Here, Lou goes hard on his beloved city and its thoughtless cruelty.  Or in Dirty Boulevard, when the song’s subject, Pedro, is beaten because his father is Too Proud to Beg, Reed knows the impoverished spirit is intergenerational and will soon infect the son.

There is also the plague-like specter of AIDS which haunts the Halloween Parade and it’s ghostly revelers.  The New York record was one of those vital watershed moments in my life when I felt like another artist was talking directly to me, lending me a voice until I could cultivate one of my own.  It is amazing how often I return to this masterpiece for a little bit of the busload of faith.

There are many songs and books and musical tropes that hint at the subjects Lou writes about in deft, sure strokes, but they’ve always seemed watery to me.
Lou Reed’s New York is the raw ether of that city, as real as Algren’s Chicago, and Ellroy’s Los Angeles, and it is as indelible and dirty as tar.

Published in: on October 3, 2011 at 10:33 am  Leave a Comment  
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