Tuesday, March 31, 2009

LIFE 2 - CHAPTER 4; Laurelton Living - The Move, The Music, The Jorge

Laurelton is a urban neighborhood in the New York City borough of Queens. It is now a largely African American and West Indian middle class neighborhood. It is mostly made up of single-family homes. As I learned years later on the internet, the town got its name from the Long Island Railroad Station that is in the area along side laurels that grew there over 100 years ago.

It is also the place where Carmen found a “value”. A value for which I think all of us paid a dear price in the end.

The disillusionment of having been abandoned by my mother was just setting in as the decision to move out of Rego Park was cast in stone. And yes, when your mother ships you off to live with your father, without your permission, or even without your knowledge, you are being abandoned.

I had grown up in an African American neighorhood before. I was 3 years old, and largely sheltered by the confines of my own home and back yard. It would be much different this time around. Gone is the shelter of my home, for as a teenager I was expected to be outside of the home a lot more often. And just like I was sent without regard to live with my father, again, I felt as if though I’ve been sent, perhaps banished to a neighborhood whose culture was radically different than mine. A neighborhood where I would be in the complete minority. Where I would fear for my life every day I had to walk the two-and-a-half blocks to the Q5 on 228th and Merrick, and later again at the bus depot at Jamaica station. In short, I felt like E.T. after the mothership took off without him. Alone.

I will never know whether or not there was an ulterior-motive for Carmen’s choosing and eventual convincing of my father, to move to Laurelton. If I wanted to speculate, perhaps this was Carmen’s response to my father, when he summarily picked up stakes and bought a house 3 hours away in Ridge, NY, with little or no initial input from Carmen back in ’74.

Like I said above, she mentioned, that the home she found in Laurelton was a “value”. Surely any piece of property right in the middle of a high-crime area, like South Jamaica, Queens will be a “value”. It was a beautiful tudor home, no doubt. Attached home, but beautiful. I wished that my father had put his foot down and told her no. But he never did any such thing. When Carmen spoke he listened, or at least that was the impression that he gave me. In my mind, he was wimping out. That would be the first of many times, where he would let Carmen do whatever she wanted. Carmen is a great person, but at 29 years young, she still had to be na├»ve back then, and was never corrected for any of her ideas regardless of how insane they might have been.

The move out did not come long after my finishing up at Martyrs. We got a big truck, and along with the help from Alfonso, we moved everything down the stairs and onto the truck.

Our new address was 130-38 229th Street. Connie Vickers, a fair skinned greek woman, worked at Iberia Reservations with Carmen, and lived across the street from where we would live. Connie and her husband Manny, are like the salt of the earth. Two of the nicest people anyone could ever be proud to meet. During my years in Laurelton, they would come to realize my plight, and even openly criticize my parents for their apparent favoritism of my half-sisters over me.

As we drove away from Rego Park, I felt as if I was being led to an exciting place. I had no idea what I was in store for. All I kept thinking was that I would finally have my own bedroom, my own privacy. No more sleeping on a sofa. No more waking up and seeing a three-inch long cockaroach, that I had to take a beer stein and place it upside down over it, because I was too disgusted to smash something that big.

A few highways later, we got off and headed down Merrick Boulevard. The realization of where we were had not hit me yet. As we turned down 229th Street, I must admit I was impressed by the neat and clean look of the attached brick tudor homes. They all looked alike.

They all looked alike to my father too.

Connie, who was on her porch, looked at us as we drove the truck right past the house. It took nearly a half-a-block before my father realized, stopped and threw the gear into reverse, backing up the truck.

“There goes the neighborhood”, Connie joked.

As like most moves in my life, and there have been quite a few, the operation was grueling and never-ending. By the time we finished, I was barely even hungry for the pizza that my dad got. That oughta tell you something.

Carmen followed us in our family car, which at the time was a light blue Toyota Tercel. Good car. Tiny but dependable.

I don’t really think my father, or even Carmen for that matter, knew what they had gotten into. There is no racism in my family, but it is quite natural to feel out of place when you are in the minority. Outside of Manny & Connie, and the neighbors on the connected house to our left, Jack & Reba, there were no signs of any other caucasians at all.

I wanted to explore for myself, and I went walking down to Merrick Boulevard. It was a pretty frightening experience. And I suddenly realized to myself that this was not a good place to live. Of course, that was me talking as a 14 year old, but even today I would feel the same way. If I had to do it over again. I would not. Ever.

As for the commerce on Merrick Boulevard, it comprised of many family-owned shops. Besides that there were a lot of bodegas, check-cashing places, liquor stores, clinics (ie. planned parenthood), beauty salons (mostly by and for African-Americans) and many Popeye and Kennedy Fried Chicken stores. The pinnacle of commerce was the tiny West Indian restaurant right around the corner from 229th Street. It was called, “The Phenix Restaurant”, and no that is not a misspelling on my part. Education obviously was not a priority to all apparently.

What I was pleasantly surprised is that we were welcomed with open arms. And no not by Jack & Reba, or any of the other few light bulbs in the neighborhood, but rather by the little old black lady that lived to our right. She came over and gave us a home-made cake. We invited her in for coffee, which Gloria made of course.

Up until now, I really haven’t mentioned much about Gloria so here it is. Gloria Romero, is a dark-skinned Honduran, who came here legally, to support the 8 children that she had back home. Not much is known about her private life, except that she lived in East New York, Brooklyn. That, which arguably was and probably still the toughest neighborhood in all of New York City. I never really appreciated her strife and/or her commute when she lived with us in Rego Park. But she came to live with us permanently once we moved to Laurelton. Gloria was a saving grace to my sisters and I. As well as to my parents, for sure.

About the only time she got hot with my parents was with my dad. It was the following year, in 1980. My parents had been away on vacation. Over the course of the week, Gloria, had it in her mind to hang up the pictures in the living room. I was glad to help her, though I would take no responsibility later on for it.

By the time we were done, every single picture was hung up. I think it looked great, actually. But what did I know. I was just a teenager.

When my father walked through the door, he said in his heavy accent,
“What is this? I look like I just walked into a museum!”

“David, did you do this?” he yelled. As always, I was the first for him to blame.
“No Dad.” I responded disappointingly at him.

Gloria responded right away it was her, and a battle ensued. All in Spanish, of course, because Gloria could not speak a lick of English. She vowed from that day forward that she would never do anything to the house again. And she never did.

With her, Carmen was able to make herself entirely expendable as a mother and did so quite often. This is not so much a knock on Carmen, as it should be a compliment for Gloria. She did such a good job with us, that we really felt provided for.

Unfortunately, I saw through this, and wound up condemming my stepmother for her lack of involvement. Something for which I typically did all too often. While most kids yearned to be left alone by their parents, I actually wanted them to be more involved. Strange, right? Perhaps this was how I felt because of the lack of love I felt I had received from my mother. Pretty unfair to make my stepmother, who was all of 28 when I was dumped on their doorstep in 1978, to have to fill shoes for. At least Carmen tried.

But there would be a lot of fights, some classic, between my step-mother and I while I lived (or rather died) in Laurelton.

If there is one thing that I am eternally grateful to Carmen for is that she single-handedly made me a better speaker. I can’t imagine how many times I must have irritated her with my inaccurate talking. “Jimmy and Me want to go to the park”, or “I ain’t going to do it”. But eventually, she broke through. I listened. I learned. And hopefully, you won’t see too many blunders from me here to in the hopes that I have mastered the art of writing too.

And speaking of Jimmy..

As I had mentioned before, the neighborhood was 99.4% African American at the time.
The .6% comprised of our family, our next door neighbor, and Manny & Connie. That was until about a weekend later where the doorbell rang. Carmen went to answer it, and came upstairs looking for me.

Carmen:”David. David”
Alex: “What is it, Carmen.” I said from behind my closed door.
Carmen: “There’s a boy who lives in the neighborhood, who wanted to stop by and said hello.”
Alex: “Oh Brother.”
I was not amused.
Carmen: “Go on, David” she said as she opened my door.

I was laying down on my bed staring at my wallpaper of FLOWERS (would my torture have no end?) and listening to half of my Led Zeppelin – Physical Grafitti album. I say half because Robert Sjoberg stole it from the Record Joint on Austin Street, and lent me one of the discs. Fortunately for me, the one he did lend me had Kashmir on it. When I moved to Laurelton, it moved with me. Hey? What can I say? He stole it. I was only further liberating it from a thief!

Carmen: “He’s downstairs. You should go out. This is the summer. You shouldn’t be cooped up in here all the time.”

Alex: “But I don’t want to go out.” I said dreading the result of being OUT THERE again.

Carmen: “Young man. Get up!”

I could tell now she was getting angry.

So I did. And I went downstairs. We introduced one another. He came in and hung out in my house. I made a lot of excuses about how the wallpaper in my room was not my choice. He laughed, but that’s okay. In his shoes, I probably would have done worse.

James Quinn, Jimmy, as he like to be called was 100% Irish catholic. His father and mother had divorced a few years earlier. So he too came from a broken background. His father, John, continued living in the Woodlawn section of the Bronx, which to this day is still a hardcore Irish community. He did not remarry, as I learned, but was living with another woman, who might have been Irish, but never did find out.

Ann, on the other hand, did remarry, and I am sure there may have been some talk about that one. Ann was skinny, with blonde hair and blue eyes, just like her sons. Her husband’s name was Walter. And he was African-American. He was also about one of the nicest people I came across at that time too. I don’t know what Walter did for a living, but this was clearly his house, and not because of the color of his skin, but because it appeared he was the one who came home dressed in a suit and tie.

Walter never gave the kids a hard time, but he generally had no control over either of his stepsons either.

I can still vividly remember to this day the first thing he said to me when he came upstairs to my bedroom.

“Thank God you are white.”

Apparently, he was feeling even more desperate than I was.

In the end, the whole perception of color was pretty stupid. Although Jimmy and Joe had more of a bias than I did (funny since their stepfather was black), I actually started forming friendships with people from the block. Still, I had a lot of hazing to contend with on the Q5, and many times walking home too.

The house in Laurelton consisted of two floors and a basement. To go in from the sidewalk you had to walk up a few steps and onto a porch. The front door was in the shape of an arch, made of a 2 inch thick, heavy wood. When you walk inside there’s a little mud room with a closet off to the right. Beyond that is a French glass-door. Open it and now you are in the living room which sprawls off to the left. The living room boasted a 10-foot ceiling, a fireplace, and stained glass windows lined with lead. They opened like narrow doors. The windows opened to the red colored cement porch out front.

As you walk past the living room, you take two steps up which puts you in the hallway, which is an injustice to call it a hallway. The open floor plan of this house allowed you to see the living room, and the dining room which is now to the left of the hallway. The dining room is separated not only by the two step height but also a wrought iron gate dividing the two rooms. Very pretty indeed. The kitchen was accessible through either the door at then end of the ‘hallway’ or, if you entered the dining room then made another quick right there was another door there too. The kitchen was nothing special. The appliances looked old. But it did have a window and doorway which led to the backyard, and a small bathroom just before it.

If you were in the hallway and decided not to go into the kitchen, you could open the basement door on your right which was directly underneath the staircase, whose base is another few feet ahead. Going upstairs, there was a small bedroom leading in from the top of the stairs. The girls had their bedroom, which is where Gloria slept as well. It was the largest bedroom. Further down the upstairs hallway was another bedroom on the left, which is where my parents slept, and at the end of the hallway, a fairly nice sized bathroom.

It wasn’t a bad house at all. It had a nice layout overall. I just wasn’t too keen on where it was located, that’s all.

Not long after moving to Laurelton. Lizzie’s parents had contacted my father. His son was coming in from Argentina to attend college in New York, and needed a place to stay for a few weeks, until he found himself a place where he could live on his own. Despite the fact that they were pretty well off financially, I’m sure that his father figured that Jorge would get himself at least a part-time job to help pay for the rent.

Well, Jorge did start going to Queens Community College immediately that September. But he never got a job. And his stay lasted until June of 1980, some 8 months longer than what my parents had anticipated. But that was my father. He was extremely generous (still is) and would go out of his way to help others in need.

For his entire stay, Jorge would sleep in my bedroom. My bed had another bed underneath that rolled out and popped up. Hi twin mattress was of equal quality of mine which was pretty good.

It was very strange having him stay in my bedroom. It was as if I suddenly inherited an older brother. Four years my senior, his interests laid in well pressed jeans, shirts, lots of cologne….and Hustler magazines that he kept in the suitcase and would share with me whenever I became curious enough, provided I did it discreetly outside of my parent’s knowledge. When I think back, I can’t imagine how anyone could live out of their suitcase for such a long time. Me? I would have already been jumping out of my skin to gain my freedom. Jorge did this for 9 months.

My parents never gave him any rules (at least none that I was aware of) but he seemed respectful enough of my parents good graces and never really did anything egregrious to upset them (except once).

Back home in Argentina, Jorge had excelled in playing tennis. He would tell me that he had hoped he could make the tennis team here in Queens Community. While I never saw him actually play, we did have a ping pong table downstairs in the basement. I wanted to play every day, and he obliged me every time. And why wouldn’t he? The beatings I got from him are still legendary to this day. He was merciless, routing me 21-0, 21-2, 21-1. Sometimes if I got lucky I’d either make it to 3 points, or we’d be interrupted by Gloria to come upstairs to eat dinner. It didn’t matter though. I was a masochist. Right after chowing down, we’d go back downstairs to finish my Dante’s Infernal matches with him. Why did I keep playing him if I kept getting beaten, you might ask?

It was a simple case of obsessive hopefulness on my part. I figured that if I played him enough times, that I might be lucky and pick up a thing or two along the way. One topspin here, one backhand smash there, and who knows? I might actually be a contender someday.

The whole concept of beating someone that beats you down continuously is wonderfully romantic when you think about it. Anyone would want to engage themselves if they knew that they were the David who would someday have a chance at overthrowing the Goliath of Table Tennis.

I even enrolled to be on the ping pong team at Prep. I figured that in addition to hopefully homing in on some of Jorge’s talents, that I might be able to do the same at Prep, to later use against Jorge. But I was someone mistaken. The kids at Prep were lousy compared to Jorge, and were of little match to me. Of course by then I had a couple of months worth of being intensely ass-whooped by my artificial brother, and it was at Prep when I started to realize how good I was becoming.

The confidence that I was getting at Prep, translated into an amazing transformation. Now folks, nobody probably gives a whoop about a teenage kid and his abilities on a ping pong table. But for me it was revolutionary because I had never won at anything in my life leading up to then.

Prep had standings based on points for winning matches. We were subdivided into leagues and everything. Pretty cool when you consider what “sport” this was.
The season did have an end. And then the playoffs came about. Suddenly, the caliber of play at my school started to rise significantly, as some of my matches were with those of people older than me. This meant nothing to me as Jorge was already in college, so I was used to the disparity in age/experience.

To make a long story about something as boring as Ping-Pong a bit shorter, I will simply tell you this: Not only did I win the championship in a single-loss elimination tournament, but I beat the defending champ from the previous year, an American-asian, who was now a senior, by the score of 21-10. A route if you ask me.

Long after Ping Pong was over at Prep, I still continued to play against Jorge at home. And I began to notice something somewhat ugly not just in Jorge but also in my Dad as well. They hated to lose. I had lost hundreds of games against Jorge, and I learned to be humble and not let it bother me. Over the course of time as I improved, the margin of victory for my opponents decreased. Those 21-1 scores, suddenly were 21-8, 21-12, 21-16, and finally 21-18 where I would be the one with 21. Suddenly, Jorge was no longer interested in playing me as much, and neither was I. I mean, what else is left after one climbs the summit of Mt. Everest right? My father could not believe how good I had become and we suddenly were arguing over borderline calls that were in my favor.

Ping Pong wasn’t the only activity I participated at while at Prep. And no, I did not join the chess club either.

When it came to Track and Field, I was in my infancy.

Ever since I was a little boy, I used to run. Like Springsteen’s greatest song from some years earlier, I was born to run.

The nice thing about him staying with us, is that I was left alone for most of that time. My chores were not being scrutinized, and I still was a good kid overall.

What could I say about Laurelton though that did not somehow involve music?
For those years where I felt imprisoned, isolated, misunderstood, unloved, trouble, etal, music became my true girlfriend. It was my escape route, my source of instant salvation. Whenver I wanted it, I go and get it, either at home, at my friend’s home, or any where where I could find it. I was a music junkie (and as I write this 30 years later, I still am)

My stepfather, George had a tremendous musical influence on me. I already had an affinity towards music with my love for the Beatles, and as I’ve mentioned in my first life, he built upon that in a big way.

Now as a teenager, I would start to expand upon my own musical horizons, discovering rock music new and old. With all the rock music already out there, it was an exciting time for me.

Once I decided to no longer go to my father’s office, but rather home directly from school, I began to take the Q76 bus that stopped right in front of my school. The bus would head south on Francis Lewis until it finally made a right on Hillside Avenue, towards Jamaica, and to where my connecting bus (the Q5) would come every 15 minutes or so.

The first time that I took the bus, I immediately recognized the area at the intersection of Francis Lewis Blvd. and Hillside Avenue. Queens Village, as you already know was where my parents last lived together until the separation. And that house 208-08 100th Avenue, was less than a ¼ mile from this intersection.

That intersection, featured (and still does) the same shopping center where I first remembered eating pizza for .25 cents a slice. And I noticed that there was a record store too. Back then, a record store to me was like a candy store. So, it wouldn’t be long before I would venture to prematurely get off the bus, to see the place.

It was like a palace of music, a Taj-Mahal of sounds.

I still recall purchasing my first Rolling Stones album here, “Made in the Shade”. It’s nice to have a school bus pass, too, because I could get on and off as often as I wanted to without having to pay any additional fees.

Before the disruption of the music industry from music files (ie. MP3), and before CDs, the vinyl record was king. People cherished albums equally to the way they did books.
Every week in the TV Guides, there were always promotional inserts from either the RCA or Columbia House Records music club. The deal was that if you were willing to buy 6 more records over the next 3 years, that they would send you 10 records right now for free. (Free until you received the records and realized that it came along with an invoice for the shipping charges, that is). RCA only required you to buy 8 more, to get 5 free, but their selection was not as good, unless you loved Elvis Presley or Slim Whitman.

I never would have joined these clubs, except for the fact that I was very mad about my parents throwing out my record albums. I had already built up a small empire of music, over 200 albums in all. And now they were gone. Didn’t they realize that I tried to run away because I hated them? What kind of insane logic could they possibly have used to rationalize that by throwing away my true love, that it would make me hate them less?

And then I saw the offer for the free records from Columbia House.

And so I thought to myself,

“This is war.”

Over the course of the next couple of years, I would be one of the most prolific subscribers that Columbia House Records probably would ever have. There is only supposed to be one membership per household, but Columbia either had bad record keeping, or realized that this was a good thing for them too. After all, when one signs up for nearly 100 memberships, legitimately completing and paying for all of them, you’d probably turn your head the other way too. Best part of it all was that I was a minor. Get busted? No big deal. I’m a minor.

I had a $10 dollar per week allowance, but it was my part-time jobs and such that paid for this entire scam. Still, I was not rich by any means, so in order to be able to recoup all of my lost music, I would have to be frugal about the way that I would acquire.

It all boiled down to the average cost per album. The first 10 albums came with a shipping invoice of around $4 dollars. Then, the next 6 albums cost me close to $15 each including the shipping. If you do the math, that’s $94 dollars for 16 albums, roughly $5.87 per record, and much cheaper than what I could get at a record store. But better still, was the offer Columbia gave to their active members. Sign up a friend, and get 4 albums for free without shipping costs. Now, were looking at 20 albums at a cost of less than $5 per album.

Columbia’s dirty little secret was that you would actually be punished for continuing to be a member. Even after you fulfilled your required minimum, they still charged you $15 or so per album, which would raise the average cost of your albums obtained. So I would sign up, get my free records, sign someone else up, get my free records, buy the remaining records, and immediately cancel the membership. I did this for over 2 years. Non-stop.

Of course, all of this had to be done “under-the-radar”. For over 2 years, I pulled the wool over my parents unsuspecting eyes. How did I do this? By using their failure against them. For all the times that I had condemned my parents for never being home, and never paying attention to me, unless it was to complain, yell and ground me, now I would cherish their absence.

I had at least a 2-hour head start on them when it came to the mail. It almost seemed like a daily affair, where I would come home around 3pm or 4pm (if I hung at Jimmy’s first) in the afternoon. I would know right away if there was a package for me. Either it would propped up to the left against the wall next to the French glass foyer door, on the table in the foyer, or Gloria would hand deliver it to me. Day after Day, Week after Week, all that kept coming were album shaped cartons bearing the blue Columbia House insignia at the upper-left hand corner.
Every package of music I received felt like I was receiving a Christmas present for sure. It was one of the few things that made me want to come home, one of the few things that made me happy in that house.

Several months after the run-away attempt, I made a remarkable discovery in the laundry room in the basement. You see, part of me believed that no matter how bad I thought my parents were, that they could not have been that heinous to actually throw away my music. So I searched. And I searched.

Finally, within full length make-shift closets insde the laundry room, I saw a couple of my father’s old Samsonite suitcases. Of course, I had seen these before, but as I moved them out of the way to look at what was on the floor beneath it, I realized what a struggle it was to move these cases. They weighed a ton! The suitcase was locked. Instinctively, and without even thinking of how wrong it was to do this, I didn’t even give it a moment’s thought. I raced upstairs to my parents’ room, and in my father’s night table I began to search for keys. Anything, that would match the lock of a Samsonite. There were so many keys, that I just grabbed them all in my hand, and ran back downstairs. I had a good instinct about this, which is why with my excitement I nearly fell down the basement stairs.

It took a few different keys, but I finally found the right one, and when I opened it, I let out such a sigh of relief that it was probably heard over in neighboring Cambria Heights.


To make sure that they didn’t know. I locked the suitcase, returning the keys to its rightful place. Over the next year, I would get a little bit more lax about covering my tracks. It went from no longer locking the suitcase, to the playing my albums and returning it to the suitcase.

Eventually, my parents returned my albums to me. I was indignant at the affair and made sure that those 200 hundred or so albums no longer meant anything to me. After all, I had just gotten about 800 albums since then. Mostly through Columbia House Records.

Several month had ever had. After I had realized that I not only was grounded for trying to run away, but that my records were thrown out

Jimmy and I had more than one reason to visit the Green Acres shopping center, which we would walk to all the way from our house. It wasn't just for the movies. There was a Sam Goody music store. And I hated Sam Goody, because their record collection sucked ass. Or at least this is the interpretation of what I had probably been thinking of at the time.

I had about $100 dollars, from various monies. I think it was from Christmas. I had gone to Sam Goody to cash in. First on the list? The Rolling Stones - Tattoo You. There were plenty of other records that I had picked up, but when I added them all up, I figured that I would be left with nothing. And just then, the thought came clear to me. Could these records be lifted?
I looked around. No alarms. No cameras (at least none that I could see). I was with Jimmy, and even Jimmy thought I was crazy. And normally, he was the crazy one. I don't know what it was that possessed me to do this. I am obviously not proud. Not proud for two reasons. One, because it is a sin to steal (Hey? Didn't your mother teach you that? Oh sorry, I was abandoned by mine) and second......because i was CAUGHT.

As I started to make my way out the door, with all the records under my oversized parka, the alarms went off instantly. They were loud, proud, and they morally shrunk me down to the size of a pea.

Jimmy, who didn't even want to know who I was, just stood, away from me, looking at me, as other strangers began to congregate around me.

Store Manager or some other mukety-muk: "Excuse me! Excuse me! What do you think you are doing?!!!"


David: "Oh My God, I can't believe it? How did this happen? I was in a rush to leave because I have to be somewhere in the next 10 minutes, and I totally forgot that I had these records."


At this point, I even didn't believe myself. Damage control was not working. This was going to get ugly, and fast.

Mr. Mukety: "Young Man, Do You Know What the meaning of the word "POLICE" is?"

At this point I did a 180 degree and basically pleaded at this middle-aged stranger with his bad toupe.

David: "I am sorry. I really didn't mean it. Look!" and at that moment I pulled out over $100 dollars in my pocket. "I have the money. I have the money! I will pay for it."

I guess the guy didn't really have a legally ground to prosecute. I mean I never crossed the plane. In other words, I never fully exited the store, so technically I never stole. While you know and I know that I was a bad seed that day, this was something that probably would never have made to juvee court. The guy knew it, I knew it. And when his facial expression changed from that of pitbull to resigned, I knew I had just gotten out by the skin of my teeth.

David: "Thank you, sir. Thank you!"

What a dope I was. To think that I was that stupid to think I was going to get away with such stupid shit was unbelievable. I had loved music back then to the point of committing a petty theft.

Did I say I was a dope? More like an idiot.

Jimmy just held his head in his hands and just shrugged.

Jimmy: "That (lol) was not cool Dave (lol) not cool at all......I will pay! I will pay!... You are ridiculous bro!"

That was the last time I ever attempted to single-handedly steal anything again.

With all the love of music that I had accumulated over my first 15 years, I had never been to a concert. And then came July 23, 1981.

Knowing how to hype something into a frenzy, Jimmy, and in his usual fashion, was all my ass the moment I got to his house.

Jimmy: “Yo Dave, You’re never gonna believe who we are getting tickets to see?”

Alex: “See?”

Jimmy: “Dude. I don’t care what you parents do or say. You are coming and that’s final!”

At this point I was cracking up, because I didn’t even know who or even what he was talking about.

Alex (Dave): “Coming? I don’t even know if I’m going?”

Jimmy: “Oh you are going alright! Ooooh!!!!! Damn Dave, this is going to be the greatest concert of all time. You’ll never guess in a million years who it is!”

The funny thing was that I guessed and guessed correctly. First try. After all, we had only played his Iron Maiden – Killers album over and over until the grooves wore down. This, one of the inherited benefits of being able to hang at your friends house for at least 2-3 hours before your own parents came home.

Alex: “Iron Maiden?”

Jimmy: “Iron Fucking Maiden, dude! Iron Fucking Mai-ay-ay-ay-dennn!!!!”

I swear, when Fast Times at Ridgemont High came out in ’82, I truly believe that someone saw us at a party. We were deadringers for Spicoli and Rat in every way; looks, mannerisms, and vocabufuckinlary.

Alex: “That is awesome, dude!”

Truth was, it was only so-so awesome. I did love Iron Maiden, but not as much as Jimmy. While he probably listened to Wrathchild about 751 times, I probably heard it only about 542 times. See what a big difference that makes?

But then the next thing he said shocked the shit out of me.

Jimmy: “It ain’t ovah, Dave. There’s more!”

Alex: “What do you mean there’s more?”

Jimmy: “Maiden is only opening the show. GUESS…..who the headliner is?”

The moment he said that, it sunk into me as to who he was referring to. I mean, who else could it have been, right? I went from a person who had never been at a concert his whole life, to acting like I was a regular concert critic connoisseur. And at that very moment, he finally got me going, going, gone.

Alex: “Holy shit! Holy mother-fuckin-shit!! It’s….”

And then we both yelled it out… “JUDAS FUCKIN’ PRIEST!!!! Y-A-A-R-R-H!!!!!”

I swear to you when I tell you that I don’t make this up. If my parents had seen the way that I acted when I was not around them, they would have had me committed.

Once the whole mania ended, then so did the fantasy. After all, how the hell were my parents going to allow me to go all the way into Manhattan, to the Palladium on 14th street to see a rock concert, no less?

Answer? Jimmy’s mother Ann had agreed to drive us there and pick us up.

What a lifesafer! By telling my parents that his parents were taking us and bringing us back, there would be no way that they would refuse me. Plus, they didn’t know what kind of rock groups they were anyway. This was a lock!

Later that evening:

Dad: “Wh-a-a-h-h-t? Judas Priest? What the hell is that?! Some kind of devil worshipping music, David???”

I guess it was not a lock. It took some convincing. I played up the part about Jimmy’s parents taking us over and over until they finally relented.

And so, that Thursday evening, July 23, 1981 my dream finally came true. It’s amazing what a dream consists of to a teenager. Most people dream of becoming rich, or owning a very large house in Port Washington. Others like philanthropists, dream of ending world hunger, or making sure that are no homeless people on our streets.

Me? I wanted to hear K.K. Downing’s chords from “Grinder” to destroy my Eustachian canal. And believe me it almost did.

Before it became a nightclub, the Palladium was a concert venue. Located on 14th and Irving, it was the home to many hard rocking venues passing through the late 70’s and early 80’s. It was a very large hall. Perhaps as many as 5000 people were at that show that night, but it was not stadium-styled seating at all like you see nowadays. That meant that if you were in the back of the hall then good luck seeing the show unless everybody was sitting down properly.
Properly? Are you kidding me??? You had to see the “clientel” at the concert. The chicks and the dudes all wore leather. The girls had studded chokers, and piercings. The guys looked like they were about 2 seconds away from cracking your head open – and that was just for looking at their women (which, trust me, it was an everlasting vision of beauty that I will never forget). Leather mini-skirts, high spiked boots, tight blouses. I wasn’t sure whether I was attending a rock concert or a Frederick’s-Of-Hollywood convention.

The show got underway. And almost immediately the front section of the audience needlessly stood. That meant that the section behind them, had to stand on their metal folding chairs to be able to see the artists. And that meant we had to do the same, just to get a mere glimpse from time to time. Jimmy, Joe, a friend of his, and I sometimes he piled on top of one another just to see the insanity up ahead.

The music was wild and wonderful, exactly as I had expected it. Killers was only Iron Maiden’s third album released in the US. Their first album was barely a year old. “Eddie the monster” mascot stood about 10 feet high walking around stage. The crowd was loving that.

For me it was Judas Preist that stole the show, naturally. For as many times as Iron Maiden spun around Jimmy’s turntable at 130-68, so did Priest’s Unleashed In The East and British Steel spin on mine at 130-38. We were the only two white teenagers on the block, and perhaps in all of Laurelton, that actually listened to what we did.

When the show finally ended to thunderous cheers, the show never really ended.
My ears were ringing, a new dimension to me. They rang all the way while Walter, Jimmy’s stepfather drove us home, and even in bed. The next day when I got up, my ears no longer rang but felt like it feels when you put your head underwater for awhile.

All in all however, it was a wonderful experience. One that I will never forget.

Although my parents refused to get cable TV, I used to go over Jimmy’s to watch MTV. In fact, in a totally unrelated event, I was sleeping over his house Friday night, July 31st. And unlike my parents, things were much more lax at his house.

It was around midnight, we had the TV on, and as he flipped through the channels in the dark, we stumbled across something that I had never seen on TV before. Music video. So, despite not having even WHT (Wometco Home Theatre) I did get to see the first ever music video that MTV ever launched, “Video Killed The Radio Star” by the Buggles. The song was “ehhh” (though I like it a lot now), but it led the way to many mindless hours where we would watch music videos, while we ate, or drank booze, or did joints.
At least back then MTV was really music all the time.

One of the things that I was able to do when we moved to Laurelton was to be able to get my bedroom furniture, and such, from my mother’s apartment. To me the most important piece was my record center and the stereo within. It was made of wood, cheaply made and looked like the letter ;H; if you tilted your head. The stereo system was largely junkie, but I played the heck out of my music with it. One day though, as I was walking home from Merrick Boulevard, someone had thrown out a record player with speakers. I took it home, and gerry-rigged it to my stereo and played it. The record player looked like it was built in the 1960s’ but it was a solid piece of engineering, not the compact stereo center that I was quickly growing out of.

Now, and in addition to my room already being a mess, I had wires everywhere. And yes, I was yelled for this too.

As you wish, my master.

It wouldn’t take long in my house before my parents, especially my father, would barge into my room, and yell at me for having the music turned up too loud. Hey, I couldn’t help myself. I love it loud. I remember one time I even reasoned with him about this, explaining that Heavy Metal music has to be listened to as loud as possible so that all of the instruments can be heard. “Otherwise”, I added, “it will sound like noise”. His classic response was “Well, if you turn it up, the noise will only get louder!”

Whatever you say, Lord Vader.

Sometimes the worst thing about getting high all the time, was not being able to know when you are having a good time. Never is the case as much as when I would go and party with the Quinn’s and with their friends. Mark had his infamous VW van, and I barely remembered all of the events that took place in that van. I can attest to one permeating fact however. That van had more smoke in it then London had fog.

One night I remembered all of us riding in his van to go to some outdoor concert in Long Island. Was it Freeport Stadium? Eisenhower State Park? Or somewhere else? Who knows. I was so stoned, I couldn’t tell you. It was my second concert ever, I do remember that much. I also remember running out of the van like flower children from the sixties, and onto a small grassy hill overlooking the stage fairly close by. I know that the music being played was country rock. I also know that we got there at almost the end of the show too. Pretty amazing back then was the fact that security did nothing about your unabashedly and brazen use of pot. The field looked like the van, full of smoke, and full of real dopey people wearing real dopey smiles.

I remembered that the It was straight out of a Cheech & Chong movie, and if you know who Cheech & Chong were, then you’re just as old as me.

When it came to listening to music at defeaning levels, I would go to Jimmy’s house. His house was laid out exactly like mine, except that he had the house on the corner, so it was a little bit larger and had property all the way around. The best house on the block if you ask me. I had to pass his home on my way to mine, so more often than not, I’d stop by there first. Often, Jimmy and I would listen to records together, and talk about girls. Other times we’d trade baseball cards, watch baseball on TV, or do stupid shit like playing football with his Nerf ball before his mother came home. That was if we weren’t outside playing catch, or whiffle ball.

I don’t remember exactly, but I think his mother was a teacher. Still, that was not a guarantee that she’d be home early, as I remember plenty of times where we’d get away with murder.

The funny thing was that Ann, his mother, didn’t mind having me over. She was always very open minded, and whle she might not always have been trusting of Jimmy, she thought that I was a good influence to him. Funny thing is that she was right. Despite how much of a punk I thought I was back then nowadays, I was usually an angel compared to him. Anne was very cool in my book. She was nothing like my parents, for whom I felt I had to lie about everything. Again, just one of the many misconceptions that I had making me believe my parents were less-than-that.

Every so often Joe would grace us with his presence too. He would come home, tune his guitar, talk about how good he was at it, and then either go to their basement to practice, cause trouble with his brother, or just leave (with guitar in hand). Joe was a year older than me and two years older than Jimmy. There were plenty of times where they would fight one another. Joe usually got the best of him early on in 1979-1980, but by the end of 1981, Joe had mellowed significantly, as Jimmy and I were now the troublemakers.

There were so many bands that we used to listen to. Typically, the harder the better. I was a little more eccentric, as I had a wider range of taste, whereas the Quinn’s only knew one brand of music. Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Edgar Winter, Molly Hatchet, Led Zeppelin, Scorpions, Michael Schenker Group, and of course the big five, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Def Leppard, Van Halen, and Jimmy’s favorite, AC/DC. We played his albums so much, that I didn’t even need a Sony Walkman to hear it when I’d lay down to go to bed.

What did I listen to? Everything above and more. Talking Heads, B-52’s, Devo, The Cars, Cheap Trick, Pink Floyd, The Who, The Stones, Blondie, Pat Benatar, The Beatles, John Lennon, Blue Oyster Cult, Thin Lizzy, Pat Travers, Jethro Tull, The Doors, Rush. The list just went on and on.