Thursday, March 26, 2009
I spent my formative years growing up in the kitchen of an Italian deli. My entire family worked there starting in 1975. My great-grandfather, grandfather, grandmother, mother, father, brother, aunt, uncle, and various cousins all did stints cooking, slicing salami, or delivering lunch at some point during the thirty years that the delicatessen remained operational. In its twilight the family establishment was kept going by my mother, grandfather, and grandmother. I would work there in between being on tour and unemployed.
I have fond memories of my grandfather’s reactions to certain songs played in heavy rotation on mainstream radio a few years after the turn of our current century. My grandfather once referred to a Weezer song as sounding African. He also assured me, upon asking his opinion of the song, “Would,” that if he ever met Alice In Chains’ front man, Layne Staley, he WOULD indeed greet him by hitting him in the face with a frozen mackerel. My grandfather and I saw eye to eye on the latter. The former always seemed a bit of a stretch to me.
A close friend and band mate of mine, D. Lee, once worked as a delivery person at my grandfather’s deli during the late 1990’s and received a complimentary yet accidental burn as a result of my grandfather mistaking D. Lee’s hand for a cup where scalding hot chicken soup should have been poured. With bubbles and puss emanating from his freshly wounded hand, D. Lee, still in shock, calmly suggested to my grandfather that he may need to leave to go the hospital, to which my grandfather replied, “Toughen up.” My grandfather’s remedy: to submerge D. Lee’s hand in the stagnant bleach laden water used for washing the day’s accumulated pots and pans, not exactly new age holistic practice.
There are countless tales attesting to my grandfather’s old world and colorful personality. For our purposes though I’ll refrain from delving too deep. Everyone who has ever met my grandfather knew him as a fiercely independent, passionately imaginative, and entrepreneurial-minded combination of Joe Pesci or Robert Dinero and Michael Landon, if Landon were Italian, of course. My grandfather loved his family more than anything on earth yet every other word that came out of his mouth was either “motherfucker” or “cocksucker.” As a result, I was allowed to utter curses as early as the third grade. And I’m not talking about the occasional, “Damn,” or, “Oh hell.” I was allowed to drop motherfuckin’ F bombs. And it ruled! I’ve always been thankful for that part of my childhood. But I digress. As much as I loved my grandfather when he was around, the method he employed for making tuna salad made me cringe.
The way my grandfather made tuna salad at the deli was the way I, in turn, learned to make tuna salad at the deli, which is the reason why I always urge close friends who reach for that tuna salad sandwich at the local Quick Check or 7 Eleven to strongly reconsider their choice for satiating afternoon hunger pangs. Keep in mind that the deli was established in 1975, the dawning of what I like to refer to as, “The No Consequences Era,” subsequently referred to as the NCE, during which most of my friends and I were raised. The NCE began sometime in the mid-seventies, hit its peak around 1987 with the release of Appetite For Destruction, and petered out around 1991 when everyone “got all grunge.”
The NCE is earmarked by a blissfully ignorant lack of foresight for any actions committed in the present as having negative effects in the future. For example, “If only one single tear is coming out of only one Indian’s eye then what the hell is so wrong with disposing of raw garbage in the middle of the street? Let’s litter away, celebrate with a hot plate of disco fries, and smoke a pack of Kool Kings to wash everything down with.” And of course there’s the typical, “These seat belts make it very difficult for me to drink while I’m driving. It’s bad enough that I have to slip these little plastic covers that have the Pepsi logo on them over my Budweiser can to now be able to drink while driving in the first place.” The late seventies were all about drinking while driving. In the nineteen-eighties, the focus shifted from drinking while driving to the calamities associated with drinking and then driving as seen with the formations of MADD and SADD. In other words, if you want to be down with Nancy Reagan then don’t drink before you get behind the wheel, just drink while you’re behind the wheel because the buzz won’t really kick in until you’re at your destination, so you’re good, but you might want to take a cab home and pick up your car in the morning. Thus is the logic of the NCE.
I believe that my grandfather’s method for making tuna salad precedes the NCE but becomes etched in stone as the preferred method throughout the NCE which is why it carries through as the paradigm for tuna salad preparation long after the NCE comes to an end and remains as such until the deli closes in 2005. The point here is that older generations can be set in their old world ways. More importantly, people lived through the late nineteen-seventies and the entirety of the nineteen-eighties without Purell anti-bacterial hand sanitizer.
Accordingly, when making tuna salad at my grandfather’s deli you went RAW DOG. You definitely didn’t wear a hairnet because your hair was too important to mess up just because some “banana” wanted a tuna salad sandwich, which was apparently a sandwich, along with turkey, that shouldn’t be ordered in an Italian deli anyway.
You washed your hands but you didn’t take your rings off. Did Liberace take his rings off whilst performing? Nope. Liberace put more rings on when tickling the ivories in order to provide himself with that extra strength that made his performances so breathtaking. Thus are the rings of the tuna salad artisan. When you pull that excess tuna from underneath the rings of each finger and throw it back into the salad batch you are infusing the flavor of the tuna, mayo, and celery with the power of the ore, all the trials and tribulations that those very gold bands, adorned with rubies and faux cat’s eyes, have withstood over the years.
Are you going to put that cigarette out just because you have to make a new batch of tuna salad? Why would you waste a smoke? As a garnish, ash easily passes for pepper. I’m not saying that pepper and ash are interchangeable. However, some existentialists believe that the universe is a random collection of accidents. So, if an ash from a Marlboro Light 100 accidentally made its way into the tuna salad it would surely be mistaken for pepper and the flavor of the batch would most certainly not suffer as a result.
When you’re at the bottom of an economy-sized vat of Hellman’s mayo how are you going to get to those last scoops when the spoon just won’t reach? You go elbow deep into that bitch because waste is a cardinal sin. So, when you throw that final mayo blast into the mix to get the right proportions, achieved by feel as opposed to actual measuring, you’ll then commence a final mixing of everything by the strength of your bare hands. Then, repeat the finger/ring cleaning ritual to avoid waste and lock maximum flavor into the newly married tuna. As one can ascertain here, making one serving of tuna salad for yourself in the comfort of your own home is an entirely different task than making tuna salad in bulk for sale in a delicatessen.
I recently purchased a couple of chicken cutlets from a local supermarket. This transaction occurred at the deli counter. I was simultaneously delighted and disgusted to witness a woman preparing tuna salad in plain view according to old world NCE regulations. Any tinges of nostalgia I felt for days spent with my grandfather in the kitchen of his deli quickly dissipated as a severe feeling of nausea washed over me.
The deli counter in the supermarket on that fateful day was understaffed. As a result, I was made to wait for the tuna salad artisan to complete her fresh batch before I could order the two cooked chicken cutlets. I intended to put the cutlets in a soup I had planned for dinner. As I’m waiting I come to realize exactly what the woman behind the counter is doing. Mixed emotions well up inside me and I begin to question whether or not I would be able go through with my intended purchase. The tuna salad artisan is indeed raw dog and elbow deep sans sanitary glove inside an economy sized vat of mayo getting ready to administer a final blast to her fishy mélange. As she is performing this task she is loudly making yummy noises, almost as if to taunt any onlookers, “MMM… MMMMM.” Then, shortly following the yummy taunts the tuna salad artisan lets loose two bellowing lumber jack sized sneezes, “BLAHCHOO…WHAGACHOO!.” She then turns around, wipes her nose with her non-mayo’d forearm, and walks over to the sink to clean the mayo off of her bare hand, tattooed forearm, and the tip of her elbow. While doing so she makes a few more quiet yummy noises.
I am utterly stunned at this point as I realize I’m in way too deep to abort my order because the tuna salad artisan has already addressed me saying, “I’ll be right with you hun.” It takes every ounce of strength I have left at this point to refrain from vomiting in my own mouth. “What can I getcha hun?”
“I’ll have two grilled chicken cutlets please,” I muttered reluctantly. The tuna salad artisan hastily weighs the cutlets, wraps them, and marks them with their respective total price. At this point, I am just itching to get the fuck out of there, not knowing yet if I will eventually be able to add these tainted cutlets to the soup I have planned for dinner. Moments before the tuna salad artisan is getting my order wrapped I notice in my peripheral a young pleasantly plump woman wearing blue nurse’s quarterlies waiting patiently holding a garden salad in a plastic to-go container. As I’m handed the cutlets I turn to walk away and hear the tuna salad artisan inquire, “What can I getcha hun?”
The pretty nurse raises the plastic casing containing the virgin garden salad and politely asks, “Can you make this a tuna salad?”
I scream wildly inside my mind, straighten my gait, and quicken my pace toward the door. So, even though cunnilingus is not adultery EAT’N can be CHEAT’N. In this case, the unknowing nurse would be CHEAT’N death if she lived to see another day after voluntarily EAT’N that modified salad of hers. Trying not to think about the blood on my hands for not stepping in after what I had witnessed I went home and added the cutlets to my soup pretending that there were no such things as sneezes while longing for the days of the NCE.
Friday, March 20, 2009
A good friend of mine once told me that rock critics are failed musicians and bloggers are failed rock-critics. Music is the joke that keeps us laughing. So, with the economy harshly wounded and the words “stimulus package” on the lips of every breathing bag of bones both sides of the Mississippi River, what better time to pack up, avoid responsibility, ignore all the world’s problems, and resume the “business” of being an American band prepared to “make it” at this year’s South By Southwest Festival? Ol’ Bluetooth got a severe makeover for the special occasion, new brakes, new tires, major front-end work, and a lube-job just so The Black Hollies could make the pilgrimage. When the repairs are all said and done I realize that if my mechanic was half as good at fixing vans as he was at method acting I wouldn’t feel so cheated. “You’re lucky I cut the rotors,” he says. “Those brakes disintegrated in my hands. If that would have happened on the highway you’d a had no brakes,” dramatically thrown in by the old time gear head to soften the blow of the bill being double the initial price he originally quoted for me. I don’t take the bait as I notice he can’t look me in the eyes.
With that being said, The Black Hollies have dubbed their current trek to Austin, “Cutthroat Greek Businessman Week.” For people such as the four members of The Black Hollies who have been taught that good manners are of utmost importance, “Excuse me,” “Sorry,” and “Thank you” go hand in hand as conditioned responses casually uttered with out even thinking, reflexes. You brush against someone in the street. You say, “Excuse me.” You accidentally step on an old lady’s toe in line at the local CVS. You say, “Sorry.” A waitress gives you the bill for food that you ordered and you say, “Thank you.” Why are you thanking her? You’re the one paying. We of good mannered stock are conditioned to mindlessly say, “Excuse me,” “Sorry,” and “Thank you,” so much so that these sacred phrases have been rendered meaningless empty gestures, especially amongst the members of The Black Hollies inside their van during a thirty hour trip.
As a result, Justin Angelo Morey recently instated a new game, albeit mandatory still considered a “game,” to be played amongst the members of The Black Hollies for the duration of the trip to and from Austin, TX. The game, which can be called either “No Thanks” or “Cutthroat Greek Businessman,” is to be played as follows. Any time a member of The Black Hollies says, “Excuse me,” “Sorry,” or, “Thank you,” to any of his fellow band mates, whether in English or a in foreign language, the recipient of said verbal nicety is granted carte blanche to punch the band mate thanking him in the arm with as much force as is deemed fit. In layman’s terms: he who is thanked administers hasty dead arm to he who thanks. It is important to note that the game is only played amongst band members and is by no means a license to exhibit bad manners against the general public. The Black Hollies truly value kindness, gratitude, and genuine good karma but for some unknown reason have grown tired of being polite to each other just for politeness’ sake. Also, certain discrepancies have been discussed and for the purpose of simplicity, “Thank you very little,” in place of “Thank you very much,” does not grant clemency to the thanker in breach.
So far, the best example of how to take “No Thanks” or “Cutthroat Greek Businessman” to its utmost limit is illustrated by a Morey/Wiley tag-team effort against Ferrante only a few hours after the game’s inception. On the road somewhere in Tennessee, Wiley asks Ferrante if there are any ballads on Zeppelin II. Morey feigns ignorance, and names The Lemon Song, casting the bait right in Ferrante’s vicinity. Wiley then dangles the bait, “The last song on side one I think. I can’t remember what it’s called.” Ferrante answers, “Livin’ Lovin’ Maid? Heartbreaker?” I notice Morey, who is driving, subtly clench his hand in the shape of a fist. Ferrante is deep in thought. Wiley goes in for the kill, “Yeah. I know those but I know there’s definitely a ballad on there. I can’t for the life of me remember what it’s called though. It’s killin’ me.” Ferrante eagerly cuts him off as if he just discovered a new equation modifying the theory of relativity, “Oh! Thank You.” Two punches immediately and simultaneously rain on each of Ferrante’s arms, one from Morey who is driving, and one from Wiley in shotgun. The entire band is in disbelief that the ploy is carried out to such length and that, in the end, Ferrante actually winds up taking the bait. Such is the justice of “No Thanks” or “Cutthroat Greek Businessman.” Two days after the game has been in full swing most members of The Black Hollis are having trouble lifting their arms. The Black Hollies highly recommend this game to be played amongst circles of friends everywhere as an experiment in weighing the qualitative value of “Thank yous” uttered against their quantitative value. After a dozen dead arms your friends will think twice about thanking you for passing the peas.
Lo and behold, karma can be stifling. After two entire days of continual driving and playing “No Thanks” or “Cutthroat Greek Businessman,” The Black Hollies arrive at their hotel. At the exact moment of inception Ol’ Bluetooth dies once again. It seems that either the van’s battery or alternator is on the fritz. The good news is that the band is playing its first 2009 SXSW showcase on Friday morning at 7:00 AM in the Sears Auto Center. WE PLAAAAYED. (To be read aloud in an exaggerated southern drawl.)
Thursday, March 5, 2009
Admitting sickness is a sign of weakness. I can’t count the number of times I’ve felt a hearty flu coming on only to have my admission be met with, “You know there’s something going around,” as if to say no matter how bad you think you may have it someone else is always more fucked, far out, and beyond repair than poor little you. A good friend of mine once shared a secret for continuous health; don’t stop to honor the symptoms. Carry on just AS IF. In other words, power through. Act like you’re not sick and don’t ever say you’re sick. It’s actually terrible advice but for some reason it makes me feel better sometimes. And keep in mind while at the upcoming “Dead Reunion” that no matter how much acid you take there will always be someone there who is more freaked out than you, someone who has taken more acid, and if I had to guess I’d say specifically, Jerry’s cousin, Terry Garcia. He’s the one who’s probably taken the most acid.
It’s not that easy to die. I proved this in the wee morning hours of March 2, 2009, as I foolishly yet reluctantly drove home from Scotch Plains while the worst snowstorm to hit NJ in two years was peaking. We timed it perfectly so as to be traversing the Bayonne Turnpike extension bridge running on fumes around 4AM during the height of the blizzard’s intensity. March can be a douche.
Jerry Garcia, pronounced GAR-SHUH, Kanye West, and an actual grizzly bear are standing at the gates of heaven. God says, “OK. So, I gotta ask you all, what’s with the bears? Bear, you’ve lived a life of hibernation and ferocity. Sometimes you bite through people’s skulls and rip their eyes out leaving them just enough strength to hang on with so they can later appear on television wearing cheap sunglasses only to remove them at the crucial moment revealing their face with eyes sewn shut. And sometimes you’re all cuddly resting up in caves. Kanye, first you were rapping with your jaw wired shut. Now, you’re wearing the wild scarves but the kid on the album cover dons a cartoon bear costume and he’s late for school but he still has time to register or change his glasses or something. Even though you’re always giving me mad shout outs in your jams I still haven’t understood why D. Lee believes you to be a genius. And Jerry… All of those cute little teddy bears and super savvy Grateful Dead merchandise items somehow got you into the ice cream business. The three of you are enigmas to me.”
The actual bear responds uttering a very bear-like growl.
Kanye quips, “Yo Peter, turn me up in the headphones. Yo, God, I give you shout outs ‘cuz you helped me power through. My obsession with cartoon bears in my artwork stems from a trip Jay Z and I took to Japan in 1993. We went to all these Japanese schools and we realized that all the little shorties were sportin’ these bags with all these lil’ green froggies on ‘em. Jay was like, ‘Yo, K, those lil’ motherfuckas are cute. Yo, do me a favor. Brush that frog’s shoulda off real quick. And check out that Hello Kitty gear all these little Beyonce’s are reppin’. Yeah, Jay, that shit is selling like hot cakes to boot. I think I’m gonna incorporate some of that in my packaging to help me sell more albums one day except I’ll use like a cute baby bear or something."
Jerry Garcia, in a southern accent not unlike one used by a member of Lynyrd Skynyrd, interjects, “Oh I get it God. This is a mash-up intervention, like healing through cross-pollinating the genres or something, right man? Very clever. Nice touch with the ice cream business comment too. I really appreciate that, man. I actually learned that the best way to smuggle the heroin I was doing all of those years on the road was in those little Grateful Dead teddy bears we’d sell for $19.95, pre-economic crisis, throughout the seventies and eighties, man. $19.95 then is the modern day equivalent of about $199.50. Do the math God. I think we honestly sold about two hundred and thirty-five million of those bears, man. That’s a lot of money for me to buy heroin with. We’d load those lil’ fuckers up, you know stuff the shit out of ‘em, and put them under our bus, man. Customs never had a prayer in detecting the truth. Hell, we had a dummy set of them too that our chief roadie, who’s name happened to be Cubby, would wind up offering to the customs agents as a token of gratitude. The customs agents of course thought they were so darned cute, and couldn’t resist bringing them home to their children. Ah, Canadians, so damn friendly sometimes. Bein’ a hippie was good for those kinds of things, man. You could literally get away with murder ‘cuz everyone always thought you were mellow. Contrary to popular belief, I didn’t really dabble in the lycergic though. I’d see freaky electric spider webs and shit. Heroin was MY champagne. After a nice laid back gig of taking way too much meth-amphetamine and making more noodles appear than a street vendor in Hong Kong, nothing was more relaxing than cookin’ up and tyin’ one off, man. You know I owe it all to those cute little tye-dyed teddy bears, man. I always thought we had a lot in common you and me, God. You’re omniscient and you allow people to feel comforted by letting them pray to you all the time. I was trying to channel that with my noodlin’ and sellin’ of ice creams.”
The overarching point here is not so much a punch line as it is a stark reality. Cute little animal characters sell millions upon millions of records and hippies get away with murder because everyone thinks they're laid back.
Eric Clapton: a hippie that got away with murder. How? The answer being the difference between an eight pound of cocaine and a baby. Thanks again D. Lee. How did they reward Clapton for writing shitty song upon shitty song during his sham of a solo career? With grammys and MTV Moonmen. Tears In Heaven, I would get so pissed when that video dominated MTV air play because it cut into Guns N' Roses' videos being played. Bad Love, nails on a chalkboard. Getdown Sally or Waydown Sally, whatever it's called, aurally offensive. After Midnight, terrible. I Shot The Sherrif, not only offensive, but celebrating the fact that hippies murder in it's very title, albeit a cover song from another laid back hippie's catalogue. Cocaine, nah-nah-nuh-nah... so-lame. Laila, co-written with a dude who bludgeoned his mother to death, the list goes on.
Barack Obama made history. There is certainly no question about that. But how did he do it? The Shepard Fairey “Hope” rendering of President Obama was a severely overlooked component to Obama’s Chester Cheeto-esque heist of power. By the way, the new Cheetos commercials, if anyone hasn’t noticed, are sinister. In one of the ads a person who has recently eaten an entire bag of Cheetos gets back at a foe by wiping her cheesy hand on the back of the unknowing recipient's white shirt. And in another, a gal uses Cheetos crumbs to lure a flock of pigeons to interrupt an annoying cell phone talker by swarming on her while she’s dining at a sidewalk cafe. The Cheetos commercials represent the dawning of eye for an eye renegade marketing which appeals to a base common denominator, revenge. The Cheetos commercials represent the 'reverse psychological companion' to the aforementioned fuzzy cute bears. The subliminal tactics of the Cheetos commercials serve the same purpose and can be just as effective for moving units. Case in point, whenever I'm rolling late night into a gas station there's no chance I can resist that huge three dollar and seventy nine cent bag of Puffy Cheetos. Is it the underlying promise of revenge that enables me to reach so freely for the orange bag or is it the craving for emulsified cheese powder? But I digress.
Evidence of the Shepard Fairey “Hope” poster’s efficacy recently came to light in speaking with my great-grandmother, a ninety-seven year old Italian-American. My great-grandmother confessed to me that the only reason she voted for our freshly elected president was because she believed McCain was running against none other than the Pope. Flabbergasted, I asked her what exactly she meant by that. John McCain clearly did not run against the pope. McCain clearly lost to Barack Hussein Obama. I assured her. I asked why she was re-writing history and attempting to pass it off as common irrefutable fact. My great-grandmother says, “Whadda ya talkin about? Everywhere I-a-look I see deez-a pretty posters that a-say “a-Pope-a” with a handsome guy on them. So I thought it was a bit strange that no one told me he was-a-finally a-running. But then he came to Yankee stadium and he went to talk-a to Bush so I just-a-figured, you know? But really those-a-posters looked so nice I thought nothing bad would come of it. I saw the real Depression. The only stimulus package the government offered then was a-steel-a-rod-a-home-a-Polio kit. I’ll be honest I was little bummed when I found out Obama wasn’t really the pope. I felt that Italian senior-senior citizens everywhere were cheated. But I read in a-Rolling Stone-a that he hangs out-a with-a Bruce Bon Jovi a lot and that he listens to the Grateful Dead so I think he’ll be a-pretty mellow. I’ll tell you what’s not mellow though, this a-toikey. It tastes a-like-a shoe leather.”