Friday, July 22, 2011

Winter 1996 - Will you please stay with me?

The light drizzle in the dark evening made the cold of winter all the more miserable.  Working the night shift I was lucky to be paired with P, an experienced EMT who also taught martial arts and as best I can recall had a young son at the time.  The first couple jobs that night included a young woman having contractions at a movie theatre, a guy with chest pain and the usual assortment of asthmatics and non-specific complainers in search of a ride across the city.  

Approaching midnight we get called to this high-rise near 280 for a domestic.  We roll up and outside the building are a couple of firetrucks, two other ambulances that beat us there and three NPD cruisers.  We grab our bags and carefully walk across the slick open area between the street and the building.  The lobby is huge with tall glass windows on all four sides.  As we enter our attention is drawn to the right where one cop is questioning a clearly agitated guy while the other cops form a semi-circle to cut off all escape paths.  I for one appreciate their effort to protect us from crazy guy.  

In the corner we see a young girl, around 6 years old being tended to by two of the firefighters.  One of the cops breaks away and tell us how this guy beat the crap out of his wife while she was trying to protect her daughter from him.  She's upstairs in the apartment, apparently unconscious and being worked on by the other two EMS crews.  The firefighters seemed really concerned and this girl looked shaken, understandable given the situation.  Well P hears this and sort of goes off, ready to kick this guys ass.  So as the firefighters now work to calm P down the cops finally decide to take the handcuffed guy out removing the distraction.  

Now to put this in perspective, I was 25 at the time and had no experience with kids.  They terrified me.  P is still a little too worked up to deal with the girl so I do a quick assessment, take her by the hand and walk her out to the ambulance.  P drives, lights and sirens off.  I can't remember if I said much to her on the way to the hospital.  I only remember holding her hand and trying to understand how one little girl could handle this.  What do you do if your dad beats your mom unconscious in front of you?  What do you do when the one person who was always there to protect you is not?  And then what if that person is really gone, and your dad is arrested by the cops and you don't have any other family?  

We brought her to the pediatric ER at UMDNJ.  The triage nurse saw her for a second and gave me the room number to bring her to.  As I'm walking her down the hall, holding her hand, she starts to cry.  The hallway is dim and quiet.  No one else is there and the silence is just too big a metaphor for the moment.  She hugs me, holds on to me and whispers, "Will you please stay with me?"

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Summer 2011 - Are you from around here?

My father and I share a compulsion, one that seems to both annoy and entertain the people with us at any given moment.  We talk to people we don't know.  Here is a quick recap of the people I have met the past few days in NYC:

Outside the Murray Hill Diner (3rd & 33rd) - 7/15 @ 12:30pm
A old jewish women commented on my 5 well behaved kids.  Nice opener on her part.  She grew up on the upper west side but has been living in Murray Hill for 50 years.  She tells me how the neighborhood has changed in that way that older people love to remember the past.  I shared with her how I worked around the corner (Madison & 25th) in the early 90's, that my favorite deli is now closed (roast beef and slaw sandwiches for lunch) and that indeed the neighborhood has changed, as neighborhoods do.  We talked about Leiby Kletzky, the boy in Brooklyn who was murdered and how sad it is that he was killed in one of the safest neighborhoods in NY and how he was his parents only son (he had 5 sisters).  I don't think we would have been less sad had it been a girl who was killed, yet the cultural focus on sons is one we won't have around for much longer.  She asked me if I sent my kids to private school in Manhattan.  Her son pays $900 a week for a nanny plus the private school tuition.  

Cab ride to Jekyl and Hyde - 7/15 @ 5:15pm
There are 5 of us for the cab ride to dinner so I sit in front with the young driver.  He is from Bangladesh and moved here 3 years ago by himself.  No family or friends waiting for him.  He's been driving a taxi for the past two years and lives in Queens.  We talked about the Tamil Tigers and the military leader I met in Paris 2 years ago who talked about defeating the Tamil Tigers with unmanned systems.  I was hoping he knew my friend Razab who I worked with at BBN in the mid-90's.  Razab and his wife were kind enough to invite Jenn and I to their wedding and the cab driver seemed to enjoy my knowledge of Bangladeshi weddings and family customs.  

Ess-a-Bagel (3rd & 51st) - 7/16 @ 8:45am
Guy in line behind me drew up in Merrick Long Island and has lived in NJ (near the Meadowlands), in Scarsdale (just outside NYC) and retired to Sudbury, Massachusetts (not too far from where we live).  He always comes to Ess-a-Bagel for 2 dozen bagels to bring home.  I love Ess-a-Bagel for their bagel with cream cheese and lox where the lox is piled high and perfectly matched with the right amount of cream cheese.  I know I enjoy food more than I should.  

Hershey Store (Times Square) - 7/16 @ 12:00pm
Kids are off playing with some machine that fills up buckets with candy that you can buy for like $20 a pound or something.  Samantha is grinding out her day.  I ask her if this is her full time gig and she laughs at me like I've said something hilarious.  I think she said she was a student working there part time, but between the kids bothering me about the candy I don't remember her exact details.  She's never been to Hershey Park but is thinking of taking her nephew there this summer.  Eric and I recommend she take him to Sesame Place along the way as it is very good for kids his age.  Eric also recommends the zoo at Hershey Park.  She could have at least given us a free chocolate.

Cab ride to South Street Seaport - 7/16 @ 4:00pm
Back in the front seat again we are cruising down the FDR with my new friend from India who looked like the father from Bend it Like Beckham.  He is Pashtun and has been living in NY since the 1990's.  He was working for a technology placement firm until 9/11 and the tech industry crashed.  He started driving a cab shortly thereafter.  The schools in Brooklyn where he was living weren't very good so he moved his family to Carteret NJ a few years ago.  We spoke about the 20 different dialects of Indian he can speak and how people of different dialects end up sharing common words and phrases that allow them to communicate.  I found it funny how when he gets home from work in the middle of the night he quietly puts the TV on to watch some cricket before falling asleep.

Crazy big-hair guy from SuperDry Store - 7/16 @ 4:30pm
I had not been in a Superdry Store before.  It's a UK brand that makes you think they are Japanese.  As we walked in the store these four teenage girls were taking a picture with one of the guys who worked there.  His hair was just crazy - like a massive afro - and he was model good looking.  After the girls left I asked him how much he charged them for the picture.  Turns out he used to work at the nearby Gap and when SuperDry opened he moved there.  Trying to launch himself into a career in fashion, he and talked about the fashion experience in Tokyo and how the styles make their way between asia, europe and then finally the US.  He said he would love to go to Tokyo but was really interested in getting into the UK modeling scene.  I should have taken a picture with him too.

Cab ride back to the Marriott - 7/16 @ 9:30pm
We walked back to West Broadway with Jenn's cousin so she could catch the A train.  We grabbed a cab pretty easily and as we made our way back up the FDR I learned that our new cab driver was also from India, living in Brooklyn and working the late shift.  In 7 years of driving a cab he has only had three people not pay their fare.  That's a pretty remarkable number.  The first one was a drunk man who gave him an address in the Bronx and once there couldn't remember where he lived.  The guy drove him around for 30 minutes and finally dropped him off at the local police station.  Another intoxicated male had him drive a few blocks away to a building near Central park before he said, "I have no money" get out of the taxi and walk into an apartment building.  The last time he was cheated out of a fare a group of 20-somethings purposely gave him an address near a wall and fence that they sprinted and jumped over as soon as the cab arrived.  Not too bad for 7 years in the business.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Summer 1996 - How Melissa Etheridge scored me a lap dance

I moved from New Jersey back to Boston in the Spring of 1996.  By summer I had a steady stream of friends coming up to hang with me and tour Beantown.  That summer Melissa Etheridge was touring the US on her Your Little Secret tour and playing in Boston and then NJ on consecutive weeks.  I became a fan of Melissa in 1993 when her Yes I Am album was released and included so many of her songs in my workout mix tapes.  Bring Me Some Water from her debut album, with its fierce intensity was perfect for working through sets of dumbbell chest presses and squats.  A friend of mine from NJ was a mega-fan following Melissa around the country from city to city, so she got us tickets for the Boston and NJ shows.

AH and another friend of ours (whose name escapes me right now, but I remember that her husband had a pierced nipple) drove up from NJ and after changing at my place we headed into the newly opened Fleet Center for the show.  AH netted us amazing floor seats, I think row 8 or 9.  So not only was it awesome to be seeing one of my favorite artists, I'm with two of my favorite girlfriends and am pretty sure was one of only 20 guys in the place that night.  After a quick dinner we head into the arena, the place is pulsing with excitement.  The lights were dim and as we approach show time I look down the aisle to see a familiar face.

One of the things I suck at in life is recognizing people.  Just two weeks ago on a flight home from Germany I sat next to someone I had an hour long conversation with a few months ago, but didn't recognize him until about 5 hours into the flight.  Two years ago I ran into a guy coming out of the airline bathroom, someone I have known for 10 years, but I didn't recognize him until after we had landed in Boston.  Maybe I just suck at recognizing people on airplanes.

So I look down the row and I think I see my cousin.  I hadn't seen her for a long time since no families members had died and our paths didn't cross while visiting my grandmother at the nursing home.  She was with two other women including her most awesome partner who I've been so happy to get to know over the years.  Of course I keep looking down the row and she keeps looking at me and we both say nothing.  The concert starts, the awkwardness continues and then the three of them take off for the crush at the front of the stage and that's the last I see of her until my grandmother's funeral a year or two later.

The Boston concert was a great mix of her current album and past hits.  Since I knew buying a Melissa Etheridge shirt would really be nothing more than another reason for my friends to lovingly tool on me, I opted for a nice white baseball cap with this cool purple Melissa Etheridge logo.  After the concert we went to Club Cafe on Columbus which I think was called something else back then, because we heard that Melissa might be coming there to party after the show.  We met up with some other people from the show, had some more drinks and waited for her to show up.  At one point a stretch limo pulled up outside and sat there for 20 minutes but no one ever got out.  AH went to the restroom and came back with this huge smile on her face telling us about the extra special after-party in the restroom with many women making out amongst other things.  Not much else happened that night, we headed back to my place and the next day or the day after they took off for NJ.

The following Friday I drove down to Secaucus for the NJ show.  AH and I went alone (I think) and the show was just as good.  At one point Melissa gets into it with her guitarist John Shanks on this platform that extended out into the crowd.  They are jamming away, two guitarists rocking out and she grabs this bandana out of his back pocket, uses it to wipe away her sweat and throws it back to him, just hot show theatrics.  I only tell you this because it becomes important in a few minutes.

So the next day my friend Steve invites me out to this new club he just joined, Hott 22 in Union NJ.  I had been making my way around the strip club circuit in Northern NJ for years mostly with my EMS buds going for legs and eggs after our night shifts or an afternoon burger at Uncle Charlie's II.  Hott 22 required you to pay a membership fee which just seemed silly to me, I mean who pays a cover to get into a strip club in NJ?  We show up around 8 and I survey the place.  Most clubs in NJ are pretty much what you see on the Soprano's when they show you the Bada Bing, girls dancing on a big stage separated from the bar area by a walkway where the bartenders and managers work.  This club was different in that the stage was much lower to the floor and all of the seats were right around the stage, making it possible to directly interact with the dancers.

Steve and I are relaxing when this girl comes up to me, dressed in jeans and a t-shirt.  She sees my hat and asks me, "Did you go to the Melissa Etheridge show last night?"  I'm like, yeah, I was there, were you?  And we have this long conversation about the show last night and I told her about the Boston concert and she starts to share with me about how Melissa grabbed John Shanks bandana and we have this moment bonding over what had happened.  It was nice to meet someone else who was not only at the concert but also a huge Etheridge fan.  She told me she had to go but would probably see me later.

The other thing to know about NJ strip clubs are that the girls generally work in shifts.  Girls start on the stage and after their 2/3/4 song sets they start working the bar or room while the next set of girls take the stage.  So Steve and I are a few sets in and the DJ is about to announce the next set of girls coming out onto the stage.  I recognize Bring Me Some Water pumping through the sound system and I hear the DJ say, ".... now coming onto the main stage, Britney, Amber and Tiffany who requested this song for her new friend Chris sitting in the front row."

Looking over at the stage entrance across the club I see Britney and Amber walk up onto the stage followed by Tiffany in this oversized Melissa Etheridge concert t-shirt.  She starts swinging around the pole closest to me before ripping off her t-shirt and revealing her very nice stripper attire, high heels and what is appropriate for a BYOB club in NJ (you can look that one up yourself).  After the first chorus she hopped off the stage and finished the rest of the song dancing on my lap.