Things were unusually quiet in the city which was odd especially for the Bowery. We lucked out that someone was leaving from a spot on East 2nd street right around the corner from the venue. Martin squeezed the Malibu into the parking spot, barely, not without a few love taps to the cars sandwiching us. CBGB’s opened up in 1973. A favorite haunt for us and thousands of others. A place of such significance should be preserved for the ages. Viggo waited in front of 315 Bowery for over thirty minutes while we made our way to Manhattan from Queens. Viggo Barnaby, was the same age as Ozzy and myself, we had become close friends during our days in Junior High School 185. Viggo came from a good family, his parents were still together, not like the rest of us. He was sharp and tough, ready to throw a punch, down for a drink, and always on the prowl.
I walked to the corner and signaled for Viggo to come to us. When he reached the car, Ozzy and Philip were still in the midst of debating the existence of a God and what were the reasons that allow a person to identify the differences between right and wrong, good and evil. I guess it really comes down to perception. Some things are universally right or wrong but there is a whole grey area of actions that we pass judgement on regularly, that contradict the way in which we conduct ourselves, or the ways we think we conduct ourselves. I think it might be more about universal law than anything else. Cause and effect over good versus evil.
I’ve found a number of religious people to be peculiar, baffling at times, and humorous at other times. I have encountered people in my life who claimed to be practitioners of various organized religions and although admittedly pious in word, they were repugnant in action. To say these are flawed human beings is a cop out, we are all flawed. It makes us interesting. I don’t know if it was simply a tool to use and mask immoral behavior or to have shitty behavior forgiven. The shittiest people in the world will make the sign of the cross while driving by a church, they will observe Shabbat on friday evenings or spend their sunday mornings at mass receiving the eucharist, or fast for a month. All the while, they are not individualistically good natured, kind or decent. While religions usually center on the act of forgiveness, some who use religion as a crutch are incapable of forgiveness, instead they behave petty and spiteful. Their hypocrisy is only half of what has always made religion off-putting to me, personally. Some of the most judgemental people I’ve had the displeasure of knowing were sanctimonious. How many disgusting people alive in the world right now have a tattoo of Christ’s head, or praying hands with rosary beads, how many? There are also good people who have these tats but we all know at least one despicable mortal who has it. These are the culprits who pass themselves off as honorable, only it is a deception to hide behind a fake belief, a phony love in something imaginary, don’t be fooled they are indecent. These individuals I speak of have no allegiance to anything, no respect for anybody, no concern for anyone but themselves. They are the ones with proclivities for unfaithfulness or racist and sexist tendencies, the tip of the iceberg for these sociopaths. For the egomaniacal have inherited the earth, and they have thanked God profusely for it. You can believe in whatever you want, just don’t talk to me about your righteousness when I know first hand how you actually behave. I suppose my hatred is less about religion than it is rooted in my intolerance of humanity.
Regardless of who may be responsible for the weather, my face felt colder that night. My hands felt strange, stuffed into my jean pockets, my right hand played with my keys. A few methadone zombies dragged their feet across the pavement, they were walking towards 2nd avenue, either they had just copped or they were still in search of a fix. I understand the hypocrisy of passing judgement on these degenerates for doing drugs while I myself were high on drugs but there would be no record breaking deaths or a sky rocket in home invasions because of a mushroom dependency. That was the hard truth. There was a real life zombie apocalypse happening, only then we would have no idea how real the heroin epidemic would become in Queens and the rest of America in the years to follow.
“Do you know what pisses me off more than anything?” asked Ozzy, giving Viggo a hug.
“No, I don’t, but you’re going to tell me,” said Philip.
“Pious athletes. They are one step above pious actors.”
“Yeah. Nothing is more infuriating to me than to see these assholes, well, that is not entirely true but it is definitely up there on the top ten list of infuriating things, but yeah, it’s there. Hear me out. So picture a baseball player who just hits an ill walk off home run to win the game, a regular season game, and when he stomps his feet across home plate, he immediately kisses his fingers and points up above him to the sky, of course, pointing directly to God himself. Thanks bud. I can’t fucking stand it. These fucking morons are thanking him for beating out a throw to first now. For getting walked. What the fuck? Don’t you think it’s incredibly arrogant?”
“Anyway, Soilent Green goes on at 11:00,” said Viggo, pulling out brown bagged bottles out of plastic bags and handing one to each of us. “I got us forties.” Olde English, malt liquor.
“Thanks,” said Martin. “I got you a beer when we get inside.”
“Thank you,” said Ozzy.
“God bless you,” said Philip, shooting Ozzy with a sharp glance.
I said slainte.
We twisted the caps, cracking the seals of the bottles. Olde English 800 was first introduced in 1964, and I wondered when the day would come when it would cease to be in production. I wondered when the day would come when I would stop drinking that garbage. I mean we loved it but I don’t think any of us would say it was good. We said cheers and put it down anyway. Toasting was a thing for us. We always raised our drinks in honor of something, in approbation of something. We raised our drinks to the departed, to women, to the Mets in the hopes of winning a pennant, to the prospect of becoming good men one day. Tonight was to the band. The five of us stood in a circle, unintentionally we were similarly dressed, hooded sweatshirts and Levi’s, clinking and thudding forty ounce bottles together. Glass to recycled brown paper. The backdrop was a pull down gate to some store that was covered in tags. I noticed some room on the bottom right hand corner, if I remembered later I might leave a tag.
“Ok, so what? Why is that arrogant? Why can’t a baseball player thank his lord and savior for a little help with his bat? I don’t see anything wrong with that at all.” Philip was hell bent, forgive the expression, on keeping the disagreement going.
“Figures. Suppose you’re right, and there is a God, you don’t think there are more important things that he or she could be doing.”
“It’s a he.”
“Shut the fuck up,” Philip laughed. “I support the females.”
“So God could be doing something of great importance but instead he is intervening with the outcome of a fucking Baseball game. This is what is happening? He could be willing his power to cure diseases or feed all the people who are starving or put an end to all the wars. With the snap of his fingers God could really be helping people who are in need, truly in need but instead he chooses to help some fucking overpaid athlete. I’m not buying it. Fuck that. If we are, as you believe, god’s children, then why the fuck would he choose one over another?”
“So God can’t play favorites? I mean your own dad favors Martin over you.”
“He does,” said Martin, smirking.
“Parents play favorites because they are weak humans. Imperfect. If God is as you say he is, then he would never, should never do that. Yo, Phil. How come God never helps out the Mets, bro? What’s the story with that? All Met fans should be atheists. I have to piss so badly.” Ozzy relieved himself on a tree just as a young couple walked by, hand in hand. “Hey. What song do you think they’ll open with? It Was Just An Accident, I hope.”
An unmarked police car slowly turned right off of Bowery and made us. They spotted Ozzy urinating immediately and floored it. They hit us with the siren, a quick and authoritative woop woop, the sound of the police. Ozzy tossed his beer, zipped up and walked briskly away. The cop car was pretty beat up, it had seen better days with tinted windows that were unlawfully dark. The tints definitely blocked more than thirty percent of incoming light, warranting a ticket. The shitbox skidded to a stop. Two cops hopped out on us fast, with their hands on their guns, ready. Both cops were barking orders and pointing to the roll down gates with their free hands. Hands up. Hands up. Hands where I can see them. Up against the wall. It was all predictable commands, something you would hear on some terrible procedural cop show on Tuesdays at ten, just waiting to be cancelled.
“You there. Over here, up against the wall,” said the first detective, his bulky teflon bullet proof vest was conspicuous under an oversized gray crewneck sweatshirt. “I said up against the wall. Now. Don’t make me repeat myself. ” The gun was a dead giveaway but the vest and the stainless steel ball chain which their badges hung from were tell tale signs. They weren’t fooling anyone.
“Where did you throw the drugs? I saw you toss them,” said the second detective, who looked like a slightly larger version of the first detective, only this one was the driver and he wore a blue sweatshirt with the Yankee logo embroidered on the chest. “You guys doing a little partying? Where’s the drugs?”
Some cops have a look, it’s the militaristic haircut and build, the same cadence in which they speak but the worst part of cops was most of them seemed to be fucking Yankees fans. Fuck that. We were from Queens, born and raised, and if you’re not a Mets fans, well then, fuck you. Only real assholes come from Queens and root for a Bronx team. They will lie and say they always did, and maybe a few did, but most are lying and jumped ship when the Yankees started to dominate baseball again in the mid 90s. Truth be told, I only despised the Yankees because of how obnoxious some of our own friends became, the hate was grown.
“We ate them,” said Ozzy, under his breath.
“What was that? Are you trying to be cute? Want to go to the clink?” The detective didn’t hear what he said, but found no humor in Ozzy being a wise ass.
“I’m sorry. Are your questions rhetorical or are we supposed to answer?” asked Ozzy. I felt like laughing, but not because anything was even humorous, but because everything was humorous on hallucinogens. It was hard to keep composure, let alone my attention.
“Shut the fuck up, Ozzy.” Martin attempted to take the reins, trying to talk some sense into his brother.
“You really want to go to jail tonight, Ozzy. Keep fucking with me.” The first detective was not interested. “What are you guys doing here tonight? Scoring? If you boys have anything on you tell us now. Don’t let me find something or catch you lying. I have a pet peeve when it comes to liars. Now, am I going to find anything I’m not going to like?”
We all said no but there may have been a lack of confidence in the tone of some voices. We were frisked, in those days it was a normal occurrence, the police were always harassing us in the park, not necessarily without good reason. We were trouble makers, undeniable. The detective checked the pouch of our hooded sweatshirts, the pockets of our jeans, our waists and up and down our pant legs. Fortunately for us, we ingested the remainder of the mushrooms in the car. I knew I was clean. I had nothing on me. No weed or coke, no knives or box cutters. I left a silver pilot marker in the back seat. If they searched the car then that would certainly pose a problem but they didn’t know if we had a car or not. I couldn’t speak for the others and so far no one incriminated themselves. I thought we were good. The cops most likely thought we were just drunk. We would probably get a desk appearance for open container or drinking in public, or both, depending if they really wanted to be dicks. There was a good chance we were getting two tickets.
“No drugs here, officer,” said Ozzy.
We stood a hundred feet away from a methadone clinic. The 5th precinct locked up tons of junkies and skells regularly. Crime was still an issue in New York City. It was some years away from major gentrification and bullshit boutiques. The moment Ozzy spoke again, I had a feeling that we were going to get locked up. It would not be the first time, but if we did, I wouldn’t have thought it to be the last either.
“It’s detective, Detective Sullivan. Let’s be respectful. And my partner is Detective Jansson. Use the proper rank.”
“I apologize, Detective. I meant no disrespect. We were just having a beer before heading into the show. Around the corner, you know, CB’s. Other music for uplifting gormandizers.”
“Who’s playing tonight?”
“Soilent Green. Do you like sludgy, bluesy, grindy death metal?”
“Can’t say that I do. Isn’t that a movie, no?”
“Yeah, probably not your cup of tea. But still, they are fucking awesome.”
A cup of tea, I thought, with some whiskey and honey would have hit the spot, something to warm up my body and stabilize my shaky gut. “It is a movie, with Charlton Heston, only it is spelled differently.”
“Nothing,” said Detective Jansson, shaking his head, visibly bummed he didn’t find anything dirty on our persons. “The creeps are clean.”
“Ok, here is how things are going to work for you boys this evening. It’s fairly simple. My partner and I will be running your names just to make sure everyone is on the level. I like to play it safe, you know, by the book.” Detective Sullivan removed his right hand from his firearm and raised it as if swearing an oath in court. He laughed to himself and pointed to Viggo. “For all I know this guy could be a serial rapist. If everyone is good, then the five of you will be the recipients of open container summonses. Not the end of the world by any means, and then you are all off to see Mr. Heston.”
Not the end of the world at all, but maybe I secretly wanted the world to end. The detective was right in a sense, a desk appearance in the grand scheme of things was but a small inconvenience. That is not to say that these minor offenses don’t hold the possibility of tarnishing one’s record, these annoyances could fuck you up later in life when trying to get certain jobs. None of us needed to worry about that, except maybe Viggo, there was a chance it could cause a problem for him since he was on probation with the Fire Department. For the rest of us it was nothing to cry about, we were caught red handed, so it’s only fitting that we take our medicine. We should have been more aware of our surroundings when misbehaving.
We dug into our back pockets and took out our licenses from our wallets and handed them over to Detective Sullivan, as he shined his flashlight into our faces, he read our names aloud and checked to see if the pictures matched our faces. The ground rocked under my boots. The light felt incredibly bright, blinding and painful, my pupils swirled and dilated. The detectives walked back to their car, Sullivan had to slam the passenger door a few times for the door to close properly. It annoyed him. We watched them talking, and they seemed very happy in their work. They had to fill out the tickets by hand so I knew this was going to be time consuming.
“This fucking sucks,” said Martin. “Now we’ll have to miss a day’s work to go to the fucking courthouse to pay this fucking thing.”
“Yeah man, and I spilled some of my forty.” Philip complained, but there was always something for him to complain about. He wasn’t one to waste a drop of beer, he loved drinking, we all did, but he loved bitching just as much.
I just wanted to get inside the show. I definitely did not want to miss any of Soilent Green’s set. Not that I thought this was my last chance to see them but you never know, bands didn’t always make it, they break up or vans break down, internal turmoil. They could’ve gotten into a car crash or something. The probability of getting into an accident for a touring musician is greater. Life on the road is not an easy one. I was ready to hit the road. Shows get cancelled sometimes also. Anything can happen, the show could have started earlier than expected. I felt like we were standing there for hours but I acknowledged my concept of time was not to be trusted. I just really wanted to see this band play again.
“I hope they hurry up, I want to get inside already,” said Viggo. He had read my mind.
“Me too, I just hope inside does mean inside of the Tombs,” said Ozzy.
“You think this will affect my probation?” Viggo asked.
It might, Martin said.
“Fuck,” said Viggo, sucking his teeth.
We waited forever. We waited and tripped, talking and giggling all the while fidgeting in place. Hoods went on and off, hands went in and out of pockets, arms folded and unfolded. The detectives were in their car looking at us and down at the dashboard and at the tickets they filled out with dull pencils, their wolfish faces illuminated by computer light. They hunted and pecked and scribbled and passed judgement, judgements on who they thought we were as people, punk kids with poor taste in music. Maybe we made that up and they really didn’t give a shit at all about us or our meager crimes, maybe they were talking about baseball or complaining about their wives or their kids, or their jacked up interest rate on their mortgages. It is completely possible they were simply discussing where they were going to eat after they let us go, or some other trivial bullshit. At the end of the day it’s just a job, maybe tonight they were not trying to do any more or any less. The doors opened. I thought to myself, finally. They got out of the car and marched toward us with an heir of victory in their stride. They reminded me of every other cop who locked me up or broke my balls before, a lot of them seemed to be replicas.
“Change of plans. Tonight, well tonight, is going to be somewhat lucky for most and a little unlucky for one. The lucky ones will not receive a summons. So who is the unlucky guy? Are you ready for it? This is exciting, no? Can we all give our attention to a Spalla, Philip Spalla. Which one is Phil?”
“That’s me. I’m Philip. What the fuck? Why am I the only one getting a ticket?”
“Negative. You’re not getting a ticket. No summons for you.” Detective Sullivan said as he made his way toward Philip.
“Oh, great. Thank God.” Philip looked at Ozzy.
“Don’t thank him just yet. Turn around and put your hands behind your back. You’re under arrest. Everything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. That’s good enough. You poor fool. Philip, did you know that you had an outstanding warrant for your arrest for failing to appear at a desk appearance at the Queens County Courthouse? Why would you not go? You need to follow up on your shit, bro. On the account of Mr. Spalla here, graciously bestowing some overtime on Detective Jansson and Myself we passed the good fortune forward and decided against issuing those summonses that you so deserve. So thank Philip for that. Now you go and enjoy your show within the confines of the law. Be safe. Behave. Kindly dispose of this disgusting malt liquor in the trash. Drink better beer.” Detective Sullivan shooed us away with his hand, as if it was a puppet talking.
Philip was in disbelief, looking at us as the bracelets were locked around his wrists. We all had enormous smiles across our melting faces. We were ready to explode with laughter. It was only partially because of his doomed fate.
“It’s God’s will, Philip. God’s will,” said Ozzy, as he made the sign of the cross and sprinkled imaginary holy water in Philip’s direction.
“Fuck you,” chirped Philip, as he was assisted into the back seat of the unmarked car.
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