Tops Never Stops

Before we discovered the gloriousness that is Wegmans we frequented Tops. It has been well noted already that during the Princeton Era Mike and I made at least a daily trek to Tops since it was so close. Another beacon to the hospital white walls of Tops was Matt’s long-time employ at Tops on Delaware.

Matt was one of the first employees to this branch of the Tops franchise. He had an interview in the trailer on the lot while the building was still being constructed. Some relative of Matt was involved so it was an easy position to acquire, not that cart-boy is an excessively hard job to get. Matt started work in Spring. His plan was to work until the first day of snow, and then quit. “Matt doesn’t work in the snow” was his mantra.

Months later the Matt was pushing carts when he was called into the office. The Tops lords had vision enough to see that Matt was more than a cart-boy. He was immediately reassigned to an inside position in the Butcher’s Block. At the close of his shift that day Matt stepped outside and gazed up into the sky. The first snowflakes of the season gently fell upon his brow. The gods had smiled upon our hero. He was not longer a cart boy. But you must pay the gods a price; Matt was still employed at Tops, or in an indirect way Ahol (the parent, and appropriately named, company of Tops).

Speaking of Ahol, the scuttlebutt is that the local mafia allowed Ahol to purchase Tops as long as they maintained control of the Tops Union. This is all hearsay, so if I wake up with the horse head in my dead tomorrow you will know the arm of the Buffalo mafia extends to the West Coast.

On our way to Comstock to waste time, we took great joy in visiting Matt during his work hours. This was particularly true when he was a lowly cart boy. On one of the rare occasions we had Sean with us we made such a trip for supplies. Sean was known for his fearless driving and his habit of stopping at Noco to “fill er up” with whatever change he had in his pocket. I was once a first-hand witness to his purchase of 32 cents worth of fuel. Today that is not enough for them to let you lift the nozzle.

We spoke to Matt on the way into Tops. He had just spent a considerable amount of time in the classic “stack a fuck-load of carts together from all across the parking lot” so he could push them all back at once. His cart-stack lot was near the Tops entrance, and when we returned from purchase of our supplies (Mountain Dew, pretzels, frozen burritos, etc.) we found Matt no where to be found. As we left Sean took the opportunity to drive his car into the cart-stack Matt had painstakingly constructed. He pushed the cart-stack to the far corner of the parking lot. At first he drove at a slow pack, until we saw Matt running at us, at which time Sean sped up. The exceedingly heavy cart-stack was left in the farthest corner. We sped of laughing. At least we gave Matt something to do for the last hour of his shift.

Once inside, Matt quickly rose to the rank of 95% Butcher. What is 95% Butcher? After a year of working primarily in the Butcher’s Block Matt observed that the only difference between an official Butcher and an experienced meat man, like himself, was knowing how to properly cut 5 specific meats. As there 5 meats are expensive, they did not let anyone slice them, nor were they purchased frequently enough for Matt to get enough practice. We all spurred him on to complete his training and have a viable skill. Eventually Matt was able to get in enough practice in two of these elusive meats, so he settled at 97% Butcher. As I conclude this section it strikes me that this post will burn a few of Matt’s bridges.

Matt was a valuable Tops associate for nearly seven years. He quit before hitting the seven year point because that would be when a part-time associate would be granted a 401k. While the rest of us saw this as an obvious fruit to grab, Matt saw this as a sign he had been defeated by the preverbal Man.

Continuing this HR showcase of Tops benefits we come to the period when Tops began selling Tops branded apparel. Tops management required employees to wear this apparel initially, no doubt to spur on the awaiting masses who couldn’t possibly hold back from spending thousands on Tops sweatshirts. The slap in the face was that associates were required to pay for these required textiles. What a joke.

Tops exposed us to several characters, and once again showcased the intelligence of the average person. The most memorable example of this was when Matt related some story of some random activity of our crew. “What does phallic mean?” interjected one of typical Tops zombies. Matt was befuddled that he did not know what phallic was? He now had is shift project. He left the blob with no better knowledge and spent the rest of him shift polling all his co-workers as the meaning of phallic. To his astonishment one one other employee knew the word. During his polling he even received commentary that phallic was not a common word many people would know. Matt left his shift to relate this happenstance to the rest of us. Until this incident we did not know it was possible to NOT know what phallic meant.

Matt mined a number of girlfriends out of seven year stint. I recall one who became a vegetarian because she was fat. Success! She lost weight. Unfortunately she was still not satisfied, so she pushed the envelope even more, and became vegan. This relationship did not last long.

Matt also met the same girl that absconded with Matt and James in the infamous “I’ll never set foot in a gay bar” story that was the first post on this blog.

An experienced Matt sat in the Tops atrium enjoying his mandatory earned break. A frantic woman ran up, “There is a used condom over there!” “Really? Where?” The woman took Matt half-way across the parking lot to what was absolutely confirmed as a under condom, still filled with a “rush of excess fluids.”

Matt concluded his inspection and headed back, but to the dismay of the woman, he did not return with any cleaning equipment. Matt, instead, plopped himself back on the atrium bench. “Aren’t you going to clean that us?” she explained. “Lady, I’m on my break.”

The bulk of Matt’s time at Tops had him stationed in the Butcher’s Block, or as we more affectionately referred to it – the Meat department. Matt divulged two secrets of the Meat department. One; they kept a small Igloo cooler ready to go at someone, ironically usually one of the professional butchers, cut off a finger and was rushed to the hospital, finger piece encased in the Igloo cooler, to have it sewn back on. The success rate was quite high. Two; the Meat department kept an open bowl into which they threw any scraps, be they on the floor or wherever, into this bowl. When the bowl was full, then they ground up the scraps and sold it under the label of “meat”. Funnily enough, years before, during the Goodyear era, I had spied one of these and bought it for the label humor.

Matt enjoyed a time where he was double employed. His second job, the more prestigious one, was the all powerful Mighty Taco on Sheridan and NFB. Mighty Taco gives you a week to study the menu before taking a test. You have to know all menu items, and their component’s with amounts from memory. Matt passed and became a Mighty Taco employee. We gave him a goal of finding out what the beef was, as he felt Mighty Taco was superior to Taco Bell in every aspect, except the beef. Since this was sacrilege we was to solve the mystery now that he had access.

Matt soon grew to dislike the manager. She ruled with an iron fist, holding weekly meetings that Matt was 2 minutes late for once. She fired him for this. Matt suspects that he was really fired because he was telling the other employees how the manager had terrible skills, and was a bitch to boot. He did not notice until too late that she was in the building, and overheard, walking in on his conversation just at the end of Matt’s tirade. He never solved the “Riddle of Beef.”

Like the recent rash of professional athletes that pretend to retire, Matt too had an encore tour at Tops. I made a visit to him once during this tour. He was working the night shift stocking the frozen foods isles. Like the athlete that plays one more season when he should have walked away, it was sad to see Matt, the once lord of part-time associates, reduced to a zero visibility position.

Another of our crowd spent some time employed at Tops, Chester. He gleefully gave us reports as to his rapid rise to the “Express Lane”, giving us tips as to how he became one of these best of the best. He switched sides from making bewildered fun of the Tops cashiers who wore rubber thimbles to wearing one himself.

Having been a Tops associate for such a long time, Matt was well versed with the employee handbook. There was a statute of limitations on anything you did of five years. The exact day the limit was us, he spilled the beans of what he had done to his co-worked in the back of the store, as he was leaving for his shift. It took Matt 2 minutes to walk our the front of the store, and by then the news had traveled faster than his ironically unmeaty legs could carry him. An example of just how efficient the Tops grapevine is.

What was Matt’s hidden crime? Back when he was still a cart-boy he abandoned his post, walked across the street, and saw a movie at the old Super Saver Cinema. When the movie was over he walked back across the street and took his break.

Saving You More?


Ten Fore Good Buddy!

            I met Carrie Pierce at one of the famous parties held in the courtyard between the dorms and we quickly found several things in common. Perhaps not all things, but the differences are what truly make for a good story. As at college parties where the ubiquitous line is ‘what’s your major?’, at military functions the equivalent is ‘where you from?’ or in the south, ‘where y’alls from?” I asked Carrie where she’alls from and by one of those funny little coincidences, it turned out she was from Buffalo – I think East Otto to be exact.

            Much like childhood where existing in the same neighborhood was a strong basis for friendship, coming from the same neck of the woods was such in the Air Force. In addition, she was a cute female and I had just broken things off with Susan, had a somewhat healed shoulder, and my friends were still deployed to Saudi. One evening not long after the party I bumped into her and she invited me up to her room to watch movies, which to my disappointment meant just that. Sometimes coffee is just coffee, at least for guys like me.

            As it turned out, her initial intention was to pump me for information about a cad she knew worked in my own shop who will only be known as ‘Ski’ who used his resemblance to a popular ‘Better Off Dead’ actor to score tail at every opportunity. He had apparently paid a visit and as letches like him are prone to do, never made the promised next day courtesy call. She claimed to loath him thereafter and was constantly looking for ways to seek revenge and I quickly became her half-assed conspirator. The problem of course was maintaining the expected level of apparent outrage while gently defusing her more dangerous and legally questionable plots. She obtained some book by a revenge expert named Heyduke and we would spend long hours sifting though it seeking just the right plan.

            I become more motivated not long after what I felt was an egregious violation of male protocol when it comes to the pursuit of the fairer sex. While fair competition in a limited market can be brutal, and cockblocking other suitors is expected, the same rules don’t apply if you have already sprayed and the other cat is someone you drink with. I was in Carrie’s room, on her bed hanging out when randy old Ski came to the door as he “was in the neighborhood” and just happened to wander by. Mind you Ski was several ranks above me, lived off base, and had no real business in the Supply dorms. In any case, he saw me there and left. Nothing wrong with that; except of course for the fact that he waited in the parking lot until I left and then came back up and propositioned her.

            She came by my room directly after and let me know, which infuriated me to some degree. While it was true I had no formal claim on the territory, I had clearly called dibs to pursue and didn’t need some Cusack clone sniffing about trying to undermine any efforts I may have been making. There was nothing of course that I could do about it, though I did take every opportunity to advertise the complete lack of shop and brotherly loyalty and sneaky conduct. His nature as a man-whore though was already well known and those who knew him longest were wise enough to keep their wives and daughters distant from this tactless prick.

            Competition for any female Airman was rarely limited to just one dude on account of the heinous 10:1 ratio and Ski soon became of little worry as she hated him anyway. Instead I suddenly had an unbearable skinny fellow named Ian skulking about whom she found amusing for some reason. We all worked the same shift at that point – days – and Ian and I would race over to her room immediately after work in order to establish prominence. I have no doubt that she enjoyed the jousting match for her attention and each day the results of whom seemed to capture her momentary favor changed.

            I hate competing in such arenas and found the whole thing powerfully irritating and would have simply walked away had I really anything else to do. The base was on a skeleton crew and there was just no one else to hang out with. I employed my usual and highly effective cockblocking technique of assigning him a seemingly innocuous nickname that unconsciously introduces negative images in the female head; “Is Shortcake (he was tall) coming by today?” I did the same thing with a rival of mine when I first met my wife and drubbed ‘Prickly Pete’ quite handily. You know it’s working when they begin using the nickname as well and that the thought process of whether they see themselves with a ‘Shortcake’, ‘Prickly Pete’, or ‘Boscoe’ in the long run has already reared its ugly head. I was much more relaxed once she started referring to him that way, especially in person. He knew he had lost, yet persisted anyway.

            I give Shortcake credit for employing a highly effective counter technique soon after. One day after work when Carrie was involved in some other activity, Ian came to my door and invited me to take a ride, which I did. Despite the obvious competition and undermining, we had maintained the veneer of a jovial yet farcical friendship and I was determined not to let that crack as it would only work against me. We got into his car and drove off base and I inquired as to where we were going. He said he had an activity he thought I would find fun and that it relaxed him when stressed. We pulled into the parking lot of a gun club and he removed a metal case from his trunk that I found contained a handgun and bullets. Make no mistake, I was significantly alarmed but determined to play it cool and pray his military training would prevent him from shooting me outright.

            I’ve never been much for guns but wasn’t about to let on. It was obvious that at the very least this was a show of force and I was in no way ready to concede superior firepower. Shooting at targets taking turns we came out about even in expertise. His experience matched my superior eyesight and I managed to maintain an air of indifference throughout. Talk of Carrie was conspicuously absent and afterward I thanked him for the experience and hoped my stoic dismissal of his toy was enough to both discourage him without inspiring some need to prove the point further. Soon after he was deployed on a 2 month mission and it was the last I really had to deal with him.

            The oddness I found in common with Carrie began to manifest soon after in our many excursions here and there. Each of us had the benefit of having our own room and entered into an exercise of putting up the most outlandish décor possible while still staying within regulation with the purpose of shocking the monthly dorm inspectors who came by to ensure the premises didn’t look lived in. The efforts included your standard Spencer Gifts fare of black lights, strange posters, creepy action figures with word balloons and whatnot. My favorite piece was an action figure of Thanos perched on the back of the toilet, pointing upward, with a word balloon warning users not to piss on the seat. Carrie one upped me by removing all the contents of her fridge and setting up a whole diorama with Spawn type characters inside. A year or so later one of the inspectors, MSgt Missy Wood, became our shop chief and recalled both the outlandish displays as well as my arm incident.

            Aside from the affinity for kitschy décor, we also had a taste for exploration carrie-pierce-vietnam-memorialand resolved to go somewhere different every weekend after a payday. In anticipation of this, she bought a large floppy hat that she dubbed her ‘adventure hat’ and stuck knickknacks into the band as if to accentuate this fact. Our first jaunt was local to Virginia Beach where we enjoyed the funhouses, wax museums, seafood and chanced upon a free concert of Little Richard. The next trip was to DC and is still now the only time I have been there seeing all the usual sites and whatnot. The adventure club didn’t last much longer after that due to pursuit of other activities and my grave doubts that my car, which sheme-and-carrie-pierce-capitol named ‘Dr Doom’ for me, would make it anywhere out of the immediate area.

            Aside from the comfortable level of weirdness we shared (my cousin Ann actually used to accuse me of being a weirdness magnet), we had between us a strong love for the Buffalo area. When she discovered I had John Fogerty classic “Rock and Roll Girl” on tape, she had me rewind and replay ad nauseum just to bask in the notion of shuffling off to Buffalo and sitting by the lake. We entertained the notion of opening a restaurant called ‘Old Lake Erie’s’ that would exclusively serve authentic Buffalo fare. As a business idea, it didn’t carry a lot of merit given that we planned the location to be right on the shores of its namesake where exotic delicacies like wings didn’t raise many eyebrows.

            Carrie began, or probably continued, a tradition I noted of young female airmen and Thies of purchasing standard transmission vehicles without ever having been in one prior. It is still beyond me how one can commit to purchasing a vehicle without even test driving it first, but she did and I became tasked with teaching her how to drive the thing. Well before she could even coax the thing into first, she had already decked it out with classic redneck accoutrements including a fox tail on the antenna, fuzzy dice on the rear view, and a CB. I had not known they even made the things anymore, but she managed to procure one and it became her greatest hobby and my biggest worry.

            She had a perverse pride in being ‘country folk’ adapted any and all symbols of said status with a vigorous embrace; the CB radio being the holy grail of trailertude. I got pulled into installing it for her and thereafter had to endure endless hours of sitting in her green truck as she perused the bands and found interesting people to talk to who felt the ham radio set was too hoity toity. This in itself was bad enough, but a few weeks into it she felt she was developing some bona-fide friendships with these citified hillbillies and wanted to meet them. I expressed very adamantly that meeting anyone with a handle like ‘Chainsaw’ was just a truly bad idea, especially at night in a parking lot of Denny’s. I thus found myself standing in the parking lot of Denny’s on a cold October evening with Carrie, waiting for Chainsaw and his ‘ol’ lady’ to join us and either enter the restaurant or kill us and drag away the corpses for further use.

            I never thought I would say that I had dinner with anyone I considered to be too low class for Denny’s but by the end of that meal I certainly could. I cannot recall a more awkwardly uncomfortable meal, even dressed as an evil clown and having been kicked full force in the tuckus by Monkey-jaw. Chainsaw was exactly as I pictured him – a large Hells Angel biker type, heavyset, bearded, and perched in the cab of a rusted out pickup. I don’t remember what the woman’s name was but she didn’t say much and neither did I, content to allow him and Carrie jaw on about their mutual hobby.

            When it came time to order, Chainsaw gave very precise and adamant instructions regarding the preparation of his steak to the waitress, the likes of which could probably not be successfully implemented in a 5 star establishment much less the Denny’s on the bad side of Hampton. It arrived, he took one bite, and then called the poor waitress back and administered a long and blistering criticism of the quality of meat and cooking, reducing her almost to tears before he tossed her aside and demanded the manager. Another steak was brought and also failed to meet his lofty expectations, and this time the waitress did actually cry. The rest of us simply sat in uncomfortable silence. A third steak was brought and was apparently fit to eat so long as the entire cost of his dinner was stricken from the bill, which it was. He somehow managed to gobble down the other two as they were left at the table. When leaving he threw down a contemptuous one penny tip, which I supplemented with a twenty when he wasn’t looking. I urged Carrie not to meet this fellow again and she reluctantly agreed. Unfortunately, old Chainsaw was not the worst of the lot.

            We decided that October to actually come up with costumes and trick or treat around the dorms. We went with an obvious choice of Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf. I was to be the latter and simply bought a wolf man kit from Spencer’s. She wanted something better for herself and had been in contact with a CB couple where the woman liked to sew. I was subjected to a yet worse time that made me long for old Chainsaw and his erudite conversation.

            I had a bad first impression entering single story shack this couple dwelt in. She seemed nice enough but he appeared a real class act sitting perched on the edge of the ratty couch, shirtless, with a liter of cheap vodka and shot glass in front of him. The place reeked of liquor and smoke and I was loath to touch anything. By the nature of design I was relegated to keeping this fool company while Carrie and the woman disappeared into the back to speak of sewing and other niceties. I can’t remember this idiot’s name, but he looked like a real Cletus, so that’s what I’ll call him. Cletus in a burst of hospitality bustled out to the kitchen to get me my own shot glass; an item they were well stocked in if not much else. I tried to decline but he would hear none of it. The idea of drinking with this spittoon of genetic material sent alarm bells loud enough that I resisted the urge to drown the pain of his presence.

            Led Zeppelin cranked well above speaking volume, old Cletus poured shot after shot, clanked glasses with me and downed them as I dumped mine onto the floor behind the couch. I felt I was in no way causing damage that wasn’t already done and thus justified in my vandalous act. Once or twice I had to take a real one when under scrutiny, but otherwise avoided imbibing. Cletus, already well gone by the time I got there, seemed to be of a mercurial temperament that bordered on the psychotically rageful and I felt I would need my wits about me if I wished to walk away unscathed. I was very happy when the bottle neared completion and hoped it meant he would slink off to bed and allow me to escape with Carrie.

            I’ve done a lot of stupid things in my time and getting myself talked into the passenger seat of Cletus’s ride was near the top. My suggestion that we had enough was met with bitter disparaging accusations and not so veiled threats. Carrie of course was in the back room and heard none of this. Off to the liquor store we went, Cletus burning rubber down side streets as I prayed for a convenient cop or blown tire. Fortunately, the store was just a few blocks away. Despite his obvious intoxication beyond even the most redneck of statutes, they sold him another bottle of cheap stuff in clear violation of the posted signs admonishing the staff not to do such silly things. I was dismayed about being in for yet another round of faking shots and punishing the rug with alcohol abuse.

            Shortly after we returned, he finally had to hit the head and disappeared to make room for more rotgut. I sought out Carrie and made it abundantly clear we were leaving right then and there as “an emergency” came up and we were needed back at base ASAP. Cletus came out of the bathroom and looked crushed at seeing us pack up as he was under the impression that he and I were going to greet the dawn or finish the bottle, whichever came first. We gave hasty explanation and got the hell out. Moments after getting in her truck, Cletus came barreling out the back door onto his front lawn howling, spun about and mooned us while smacking his heinous buttocks with his hands. We pulled quickly away and could see him gesturing in the rear view mirror.

            On the way back to base we flipped on the CB only to hear Cletus on the band drunkenly shouting out the egregious wrong we had done to his hospitality. He followed this up with vile disgusting insults to the both of us as well as treating us to the tearing sound of fabric which he described as Carrie’s costume. She was in tears by the time we got back and I made her swear never to go back there again. Naturally she disregarded me completely and returned on her own to retrieve the costume later that week. Cletus wife or girlfriend wisely hid the costume when he started his tantrum, so it was apparently something else he tore up. His childish behavior was attributed to his feelings being hurt by our leaving; always the sign of a well bred man. I enacted an unbreakable boycott of meeting any further CB personnel.

            Soon after I moved off base and Carrie and I rapidly began to drift apart as I lived a good 45 minutes away. My friends had also come back from Saudi and didn’t end up appreciating her eclectic qualities as much as I did, forcing me to go though the burden of making separate plans which I found considerably annoying. We would get together occasionally to chat about Buffalo and “old times” and she ended up brokering a deal to have someone buy Dr Doom from me; a story for another day. Last I heard she got heavily into Wicca, a development of no surprise, and was engaged. Hopefully she threw that radio deep into the Chesapeake where it would be well at home with the rest of the bottom feeders.

Squaring Off

Given the recent storm of posts calling me out, begging for some drops of wisdom from my bald, bifurcated skull, I feel it is necessary to start with some lesser-known, untold, and perhaps humorous short stories before tackling the true classics.

The story of how Dan convinced Sue (the “Boot”) that the moon was square has been repeated often, achieving near-legendary status. What is less known is the hilarity that ensued. We uncovered Dan’s deception while discussing the matter with Sue in Dan’s basement; for some reason the subject came up in one of our limited conversations with Sue (limited conversations were the only kind possible, given her use of 1 and 2 syllable words only). She spoke up and told us how amazed she was to discover that the moon was square, and the round shape was only due to the reflection of the sun upon it “just like a flashlight on the wall”. After quite a bit of trying to explain why Dan was wrong, she seemed convinced that the moon was indeed round, but I sensed that some skepticism would linger in her mind forever more.

Shortly after this incident, we were pulling out of the Putt-Putt parking lot, having rendevoused there with Matt (surprise surprise). Dan was in the passenger seat and I was behind, when he randomly questioned “I wonder how they get the water to be so blue??”. Sensing opportunity, I immediately spoke up and said “It is quite simple Dan, they use 2000 Flushes.” Dan, not realizing that he had wandered into a trap, and obviously believing this to be true, said earnestly “Are you SERIOUS??” Upon which I took great pleasure in stating “Of course not, FOOL! (*handslap*) It is just as true as the square moon.” Dan was quite put out by this and responded with some phrase that clearly included the word “Bastard”.

This was the inevitable foundation of what was to follow. One day, Aaron and I came to Dan’s house for some nefarious purpose or other (probably a game of Talisman). Dan volunteered that Sue now believed that my head was square. In those days, you must understand, I did have somewhat flat-topped hair; today you would never mistake my head for anything other than a Charlie Brown sphere. But, Dan persisted in pointing out that Sue was sure I had a square head, and the instigator of this belief was none other than Mr. Schultz himself. In order to prove this, Dan volunteered to call Sue and prove this. We proceeded skeptically up to Dan’s bedroom; for some reason Dan’s phone was a speaker phone (fairly uncommon in those days) – no doubt useful for many pranks. In any case, Dan was “friendly” with Sue despite whatever back-and-forth had occurred with Matt, Dan, and Sue at this point. He called her up and started some idle chatter, then got down to business:

Dan: “I saw Louis and Matt yesterday. You know, I’m not sure whether his head is round or square. What did Matt say?”

Sue: “I was talking with Matt and he told me, you know that Louis, his head is kind of square, don’t you think? I thought it was really funny.”

Now at this point, Aaron and I are dying in the back of the room. She hears something and says:

Sue: “Wait, he isn’t there with you now is he?”

Dan: “Of course he isn’t here in my ROOM. It would be INCREDIBLY RUDE if he were IN THE ROOM!!!”

At this point, Aaron and I had to basically retreat due to the fact that we were laughing until we cried. The way in which Dan basically shouted “IN THE ROOM” was almost enough to induce convulsions. I made sure to give Matt a good ribbing at the next opportunity; it was probably in the form of a Tarot card reading “proving” that he had incredibly low Wisdom.

The final chapter to this came in the form of Dan’s “Unspeakably Violent Jack” cartoons. Dan included two minor characters in one of his strips: “Cubicaly Rubix Louis” and “Insufferably Arrogant Aaron”. Considering that Cubically Rubix Louis survived (Insufferably Arrogant Aaron was impaled through the eyeball after he proclaimed that he “made the Pope the Pope”), I got the best of the deal.

I will also note, on the “moon” theme, that during my first year of grad school, Dan sent me a postcard consisting of nothing other than four women’s butts in bathing suits, with the opening line of his note stating “HOW ABOUT THEM ASSES?”.

Cold and Lonely In the Deep Dark Night

       The tales told herein this post, unlike most things on God’s green earth, have nothing whatsoever to do with Meatloaf and his big swinging bitch tits. Nor do they really have anything to do with each other than serve convenience. Dissimilar in nature, yet stuck together like a baboon duct taped to the back of a bucking naked Angela Landsbury, I hereby present the tales of some things that I happened to remember while thinking unkind thoughts of Comstock.           

       The first of these events is one that has been brought up time and time again, yet remains an untold story; or in fact may have been told but I forgot and cannot be bothered to look it up, so am beating you with the details unnecessarily. I speak of the memorable night when I held captive and furious several poor youths against their will under tortuous circumstances. This, mind you, was long before I entered the rarified echelons of the military industrial conspiracy where such doings are not just tolerated, but expected. No ill intention went into the planning, yet the results could not have been more perfect, as the impression left upon the collective psyche such that 14 years of schooling, Mountain Dew, and prodigious amounts of fantasy role play gaming were not enough to remove the destructive influence. Louis, this story is for you; a kindness in sparing you the pain of bringing these words to paper.           

       It was 1993 and I had signed up to take a modern culture class with the great Satan of the English department, Professor Fred See. He was known amongst average circles as Prof See Minus given his fondness for his namesake letter grade, with just a touch of panache added on to the end. I had taken one of his classes before, and despite being a first hand recipient of his unkind homonym inspired curve, decided to buck the odds and give him another go. The rotund man with walrus moustache and abrasive Santanic humor (the jolly old elf), was captivating and I was determined to follow in his path, inspiring enmity and grudging awe in those unfortunate enough to fall under my spell. See was free and wild with his recommendations regarding movies, and had a particular fetish for the escapades of grandfather punk band The Sex Pistols; notably bad boy bassist Sid Vicious.           

       Fred felt that the epic story of old Sid and his wretched skank of a girlfriend Nancy was best summed up in aptly titled biog “Sid and Nancy”. To hear old See describe it, the plot was a towering romance between noble star crossed lovers set in the grimy streets of London and Vegas, with liberal doses of whiskey and heroin thrown in to provide a little color. It sounded great, and I looked forward to the life changing event I knew watching it would be. Lacking the minimum requirements needed to obtain a Blockbuster card, however, I was forced to play the waiting game. The game was a short one, as I found that day upon arriving home on a sweaty August afternoon that Knaus owned a copy that for some reason was not in with the rest of his stash. Perhaps it was that the title screamed ‘chick flick’ to me and I so overlooked it. I was determined to watch at the earliest available opportunity.           

       The late summer of ’93 was hotter and sweatier than an overweight runners swamp crotch. Add Jason in the house and smell was considerably worse than the analogy. During such times there was always a careful choice to be made: do we bear the oppressive heat and stank of the living room and bask in the calming light of our enormous entertainment center, or do we forego the comedy stylings of the Fox network and instead engage in witty beer fueled conversation in the night breezes? The minions of the zoo crew were barking toward the latter. My overwhelming desire to see the cinematic masterpiece described earlier inspired genius that night. Why can’t we have our cake and eat it too? (a value I still espouse as I see no point in having one without the other). I demonstrated though simple diagrams how this could be done. The crew hooted and clapped and jumped grinning about the furniture.           

       Atop our Florida room stood a roof of angular pitch such that a person perched upon stood only small chance off accidentally rolling off into the driveway. The access to this heavenly veranda existed only in my bedroom, though the one window of the three that had been sufficiently freed of paint to open. The environs were a favorite stomping ground of the cat, even in winter, and it was not long before we humans, inspired by her intrepid bravery, set forth on the same journey. By some miracle the aged timbers held strong, and on such warm nights we would sit and gawk at the shady undertakings of the Mailbox Gang. In this instance, an impressive addition was made to the plan. Aaron, Louis and Matt each filed out the window with pillows and chose seats of best comfort on the shingles. I balanced the TV/ VCR on the radiator and exited myself, pulling the TV into the open window frame. Thus secure, I popped in ‘Sid and Nancy’ and let it play.           

       I don’t especially recall much after that. It had been a long day, as I had worked, and then consumed some number of beers thereafter. The movie proved to be less captivating than I had been led to believe by that fat boisterous liar, and in all honesty, I found their very voices to be wholly offensive to my eardrums. Quickly losing interest, I lay my head down on the pillow most in front of the TV and closed my eyes for but a moment to the dulcet sounds of, “Naaaaanncy! I wont some piiiiizzzza!” Blackness followed and I only have second hand accounts of what transpired thereafter.           

       For those who have never been exposed to my odious sleeping habits, I will lay aside all defenses and take for granted that my snoring would put a misaligned McDonnell-Douglas jet engine to shame. Further compounding the problem is the condition I enjoy that prevents any purposeful effort, reasonable or otherwise, from waking me. The roof contingent became rapidly aware of the predicament they were in being subject not only to my subhuman nighttime noises, but the hideous screeching of the actors in the film. Unable to converse and otherwise pass the time due to the din, watching this three hour train wreck was the only viable entertainment option.            

       Plan A of course was to simply turn off the TV and make an exit, happily leaving me to sleep or roll off the roof in good time. Given the seating configuration and a cold logistic analysis, it became rapidly apparent that not only did my offensive sleeping form block all exit, but also access to the TV. There would be no relief thus from the sensory assault. A vigorous attempt to wake me was thus employed with no success whatsoever. Had someone of the malicious caliber of Knaus or Dan been present, I have no doubt that I would have been set on fire and subsequently rolled off the edge if need be, but this contingent was too soft and thus suffered the ritual ass pounding of the weak. The suffering grew as time progressed and the liberal amounts of beverage taken to stave off the heat made their way though the process and begged relief. I don’t know if any of them decided to brave it, but a previous close brush with death led me to believe that relieving oneself off the precarious edge was the errand of a fool soon to become Darwin’s bitch.            

       It is my understanding that Louis suffered the most that night. His senses gouged rough by the horrendous acting, bladder near bursting, and cordoned off by a sleeping flatulent man from his beloved sugar, he edged a little closer to the insane. Aaron and Matt, more used to my penchant for providing frequent undesirable circumstances surrendered themselves to fate. Academics and students of human behavior study to find that moment when a Hitler or Ted Bundy transforms from a painter or salesman to a homicidal monster. Had things progressed any much further, Louis would have been able to tell them, masked, strapped down to a dolly and thinking dark thoughts of lambs. Lucky for me, the movie ended and a Sex Pistols song of such heinous quality played during the credits to thwart even my vaunted sleeping ability. I awoke with a start.           

       “Oh my god, finally! Get out of the way!” Before me and pushing with great urgency was a highly agitated Louis sporting a look of such venom that I was quick to comply with the request. Little care was taken into consideration as to the delicacy of Knaus’s valued machine as Louis punched the stop button and shoved it out of the way on to my bed. Aaron and Matt each looked at me with some degree of trepidation that I might suddenly fall asleep again. Both knew, but would never tell how close I came to having Louis, driven beyond what the human mind can take; puncture my scrotum with a rusty roofing nail. I learned a valuable lesson that night and vowed to never again watch ‘Sid and Nancy’ atop a roof with an irritable chemist present.            

       The second night time story has nothing whatsoever to do with the first, other than it takes place at night and involves no small amount of discomfort. I shiver to this day thinking about it; the night the furnace went out. It was our first winter at Comstock and a hoary one at that. From the start of January on, Buffalo experienced one of the longest below zero spells it had ever had. Moving away from home into a house in a shit neighborhood involves many challenges and adjustments such as buying toilet paper, feeding oneself, doing laundry and whatnot; obvious things. There are then the less obvious things, such as learning to subsist in substandard housing with old plumbing, malfunctioning bathroom door handles, and little to no insulation. It is the last of these that caused much discomfort that particular winter.           

       No two ways about it, when the weather gets down below zero, we were uncomfortably cold. Lacking any type of ‘do it yourself’ type knowledge that may have mitigated the problem, we resorted to the remedy of convenience – turning the thermostat as high as it would go and leaving it there constantly. It occurs to me now that Dave probably knew of such things as putting plastic over the windows, sealing doors and whatnot. I can only imagine that he took some sort of perverse pleasure knowing we were freezing our buns off and paying a hefty $400 a month to do so. We groaned at the weight of Knauses quarterly statements with teeth a chatter. I was the fortunate one, having the longest length of radiator in my room, and was often quite toasty even when the rest shivered in their chilly hideaways. On many nights I would abscond with Knauses TV into my room and watch movies (more often than not, porn) in relative comfort, caring little for the suffering of Jason, who was usually the only other one there in such times.           

       One night, however, my winter refuge was lost to fate. It was a Saturday night and I arrived home and took a shower after my shift at Collector’s Inn, which I often did after dealing with the subhuman creatures who rented his horror movies. I settled down to watch SNL and could not help but notice it was even chillier than normal in the living room. As time went on the comedy stylings of the great Tim Meadows even failed to warm me and I then noticed that I could see my breath. Foolish Knaus! Always turning the thermostat down before he left. I went to adjust it and froze; it was up at the highest setting. In a burst of panic I bolted over to the radiator and felt it. Ice cold! The water gurgled though it, pushed forward by the arcane pumping mechanism, but it was frostier than the blood of a yeti and began to actually serve as a cooling mechanism, pulling the little remaining warmth from the rooms. Panic began to settle in as the night was expected to break records and the harsh winds pounded our windows. It was time to call Don, our intrepid landlord.           

       In the mean time, Jason and Aaron arrived home. Knaus, either preternaturally aware of the situation though the reporting of his dark familiar or having been the one to break the furnace to begin with, remained conspicuously absent that night.  We stood nervously about, donning progressively heavier layers of clothing, and like complete fools, thinned our blood though the intake of beer. Don finally arrived and made a harsh diagnosis. Yup, the furnace was busted. He called around, but at 1:00 AM, was not able to find a repairman until the following day. He advised we turn on the water to keep the pipes from bursting and hunker down for a long cold night. With a wink and a nod, he bade up adieu, hopping in his nice warm truck and speeding back to Lancaster and the embrace of a well heated home.            

       We looked at each other worriedly. We had not even the means to build a fire for warmth, and must make due with what little provisioning we had. I had known from scouts that staving off hypothermia could be done by clustering naked bodies together and sharing warmth, and knew Aaron knew this as well having been an Eagle Scout. We eyed Jason warily; this would never happen. I didn’t say it, and neither did he, but we simultaneously calculated that given Jason’s body mass compared to our own, we stood a substantially better chance of surviving the night then he. True, our collective survival chances improved substantially if we decided to take the homoerotic route, but we were willing to forego this given the potential that this smelly silica slinger would freeze his nuts off and bother us no more. The decrease in my own survival margin was acceptable risk. We all parted ways and retreated to our respective rooms. I coaxed Malice into mine, risking her wrath for the promise of fur.           

       I had read somewhere that a multitude of layers is the key to survival in Antarctic conditions, and as such donned as many as possible; my whole collection of sweatpants and sweatshirts, stretched to the limit over my padded frame. The hoodie was decades away from popularity, but my anticipation of the trend served me well and allowed good coverage for my ears. I dove under the comforter and winter weight sleeping bag atop. Nestled in the cold, yet comfortably warm, I found sleep.            

       My alarm woke me early the next morning. I rose, shuddering and shaking, the cold having permeated every layer through the still of the night. The cat of course seemed nonplussed and I could not help but wonder if she had stolen the heat of my breath overnight, leaving me soulless and frozen. I had to work at Collectors that day; a condition that would force me to get dressed. How I cursed the fates, shivering beyond control to don a simple pair of blue jeans, legs so frozen as to rip into my exposed skin. Fortunately, I had arranged a ride that day, as I would have been absolutely unable to make my customary walk. “My god, you are blue!”, my father exclaimed seeing me. Unable to speak through the chattering, I rode in silence, only moving to crank the heat. When I arrived at work, I took the space heater behind the counter, turned it to full, and placed it directly next to me. By the end of the 6 hour shift, I had finally gotten to the point where I was no longer shaking. I have never been that cold before or since and the memory haunts me to this day.           

       How Jason and Aaron fared and survived, I still do not know. I could speculate that they found warmth in the aforementioned manner, deep in the night knowing no one would know, so I will, no doubt inspiring furious protest. The furnace, however, was fixed and life went on without further consequence.

Origins of the Madisons

Many moons ago. White Men come to Dennys…

It was the halcyon days of youth (over 11 years ago). We were 23 and spending too much time at Dennys and other unreputable spots; smoking, laughing, drinking coffee, and talking lots and lots of shit. An entire night’s entertainment for only $1.25 plus tip.

Those were the days when we were passionate and argued loudly about shit that:

A. Doesn’t matter, and

B. Was completely out of our control.

Still the energy was there. The pumping explosion of adrenaline that coursed through you and gave a soaring high. As we spoke and yelled and laughed, the elation was sustained by every drop of coffee and puff of smoke. The mind was razor tight, and words tumbled from the lips without thought or hesitation. You became a vehicle for the divine, an inspired object, and it was beautiful. It was so euphoric that you could barely remember what was said, and later some person would come up and say,

“Hey Dan. Remember when last week when you pissed off that Southern Girl; you asked if her parents met through mail order?”

And all that remained was the dimmest of recollections. Still the longing for the next night of bullshit and laughter never ceased. This was all done without the use of drugs or alcohol.

There were many circling through our cabal then. Many who were only half seen at Comstock, many who weren’t seen at all. The Dashwood Society was in full swing, and we were legion: Myself “The Reverend”, Big Brian, Jeff Death, Mahatma Nick, Dr. I, Gay Bill, Dr. Harkey, Ensign Raiff “Flying Armadillo Boy“, Nurse Pam, Eric the Martyr, Lint, Withy, Counter Frank, Big Chief Strait-Jacket, Mr. Craik, The Mystery Man, Beldar Boy, Furher Frank, Crazy Lisa, Porno Lisa, Monkey Head, Some Pregnant Blonde, Ranji, Mattress Boy, Loudmouth Dan, Fat Frank, Shark Man, Disco Dan “The Dancing Man”, The Greatful Head, Coffee John, Saigon, Crazy Cooney (Whose ex-wife apparently started Sesame Street), Psycho Carrie, Amy, etc.. (This is excluding Comstock regulars, Rocky members, gaming guys, and the Frank Clan.)

And out of all of them, I know the whereabouts of, perhaps, 5. I’ve got anecdotes and stories of what happened to them, but nothing within the last 5 years.

With all of this talent, we had very little achieved to our credit. The Burroughs Show, which I wasn’t involved in, Big Brian put together, and used many Dashwood regulars, the possession of some animal pornography tapes, plus piss and shit eating films, (This was in the days before you could find it so easily on the internet) and that was all. The Madison-Felix Awards were our longest lasting and crowning achievement, and it came by accident.

The year was 1994. The Academy Awards were over, and we were pissed. The Best Actor category was of particular interest to us. We were rooting for Nigel Hawthorne in “The Madness of King George.” We loved the movie, every second of it. “If there’s any justice in the world,” We cried,” he should win!”

He lost.

Best Actor went to Tom Hanks for “Forest Gump.” A film about a retard who sits on a bench and harasses strangers. We were shocked, appalled, livid, and carried on like, in the long run, it really mattered, or would affect our lives. Which it did.

The night was waxing on, as we were, occupying a booth at Dennys. Three that night: Myself, Big Brian, and Saigon. Big Brian (for those outside the know) looks like a big hippy Woody Allen. He perpetually wears black on black over his massive frame, a tilted beret on his head, full of curling locks. The smell of nicotine and stale tar constantly wafts about him. A consummate smoke hound, he used to keep a metal bowl full of his butts and when he was low on cash, would root through it looking for any scrap of unburnt tobacco, and assemble a make shift cigarette. One of those bizarre geniuses that bottomed out in High School, and only his natural Irish perverseness kept him from achieving later academic success. He’s the only person that I’ve met that actually learned to speak French in a High School French class, yet he failed the class. 6’4” with a size 15 shoe, and a boxing trainer, he was definitely a person who could intimidate. Yet short skinny guys with toothpick arms always seemed confident that they could beat him up. Eric the Martyr was one, Schultz another.

Saigon was a mad scientist in the making. A walking encyclopedia and had a natural intelligence that could give Louis a run for his money. He was studying genetic engineering at the time, and in his odd reserved-yet-gleeful manner, showed off his strain of flies-without-wings that he had developed. He was extremely skinny with a shaved head, and an intense emaciated look with large eyes that just stared. He looked like a death camp survivor who had fattened himself up to 92 pounds a few weeks after Auschwitz.

The diner was packed that night. Pat Travers had been playing the town, and the place was full of every drunken mullet in North Tonawanda. We ignored this, concentrating on our bitching and whining. Oh the humanity!

We reached a crescendo, when finally an illiterate from the next booth turned his boil laden neck and yelled, “Shut the fuck up. You don’t like it, do your own fucking show.” Then erupted into laughter with the rest of the car wash attendants, with whom he was sharing his dining experience.

Inspiration! That was it! We would do our own show. How hard could it be? We would show this person, whom we never saw again. And Toothless Jim, if you can read this, my hat is off to you sir! Without your wit and candor we may have wallowed in obscurity until our nether days. Yea beyond even.

We were The Eggmen! The world was our walrus! We descended on the task with fevered impulses. What would we call it? “The Felixes.” Our Felix Unger to Hollywood’s Oscar Madison. And we created categories that people actually cared about, like “Best Key grip”, “Best Best Boy”, “Best Gaffer”, “Most Annoying Use of a Child in a Film”, “The William Shatner Award for Acting Excellence”, “The Alan Ormsby Award for Over Acting Achievement”, “Best Unintentional Cameo”, “ Most Predictable Plot”, “Pretty Boy Actor You’d Most Like to Whack”, “Ditzy Actress you Most Like to Strangle”, “Best Comedic Performance in a Non-Comedic Role” (Which turned into our nastiest category, The Miracle Worker anyone? When she learns to say “Waaaater“), and the list goes on. Plus our Lifetime Achievement Awards given to people everyone knew, but were never recognized by the industry. You’re welcome, George Peppard.

And we needed an award, a symbol for our step into the limelight. We always said that the Madisons had an operating budget of five dollars, but we went all out for the award. A faux marble base was obtained from some downtown shack. We took a Kodak VHS cassette (the fancy kind) and liberally decorated it with glittering golden spray paint. Using the finest store bought Krazy Glue, we affixed our golden symbol to it’s base, and viola; history was born.

We assembled our tapes and, using the magic of two VCRs hooked up to each other, we created the master tape (which has since been lost to the ages). The first year was held in the back of a bar. I forget the name, but it had a TV arraigned around a few tables. Brian and myself presented it, but kept tripping over each other’s feet, so it was decided that Brian should handle it after that. The first show was a mild success. People came, ate and had a few chuckles. The highlight, to me, was Fat Frank, giving away the award for, “Best Plot for an Ernest Film”, standing at the podium, waxing philosophical about how wonderful and inspiring the Ernest films were to him.

To be honest, Big Brian and I had initially considered the show a one time joke. We would do it, have a few laughs, and then move on. Then something happened. I’m not sure about Brian, but I was unsatisfied with the the way it turned out. I wanted something bigger. Brian, I figured, thought that the joke could last as well. One day we looked at each other and said, “You know that awards show was fun. We should do it again.” And it turned from a one time joke into an annual event.

We pressed on and found our home for the next decade, The Screening Room. A place of wonder and enjoyment. The screen filled an entire side of a wall. The tables were café style, with candles on them. Beer and wine was served. Smoking was allowed (Always a prerequisite for Brian). It could be had cheap, and the owner was a film buff. It was perfect. We rented it for a night, and made ourselves at home.

Then disaster struck. I discovered that there was another awards show called The Felixes. Imagine the horror to know someone had ripped off your idea 5 years before you had even thought of it. Brian was informed and we deliberated. The natural solution was presented and pounced upon. We changed the name.

We were now The Madisons. A crisp alluring name, for the discriminating executive. All was right with the world, except for the bad taste in my mouth, I had really liked the name Felix. Another year passed and we discovered that the Felixes had folded. HA! Brian and I deliberated again, this time in confidence, and decided not to drop the name Madison. After all they were both the show. Flip sides of the same coin. So we created an amalgamation, so we were dubbed, and remained, “The Madison-Felix Awards.”

There is no room here to describe all of the stories surrounding “The Madison-Felix Awards,” but I will tell some in the future. We lasted for 10 years (9 longer than we thought we would). We went through rejection letters from the stars, cease-and desist letters from lawyers, a potential lawsuit from the Academy Awards (how they found out about us, I don’t know), and almost had an honest-to-God celebrity show up.

The show was more than a show. As we all grew and drifted apart, it was the one time when people who normally didn’t see each other would come together and enjoy themselves. People I wouldn’t see for another year. I miss it. Good bye old friend, and rest in peace.

231 Comstock

231 Comstock

Originally uploaded by athies

Thanks to Wolf we finally have a picture of the infamous 231 Comstock. It looks the same sans the tree in the front-yard and the spray snow in the front window.

I am surprised how clear the picture is considering the neighborhood. Wolf must have had a high-speed camera. Kudos to Wolf for taking his life in his hands and unlike so many of our adventures at this time, coming back successful and in one piece.

It is always with job and trepidation I look back upon those times.

We All Have our Crosses to Bear

I can’t quite remember which year this occurred, but I am fairly certain it would have been 1993 or 1994. Matt was driving his father’s pickup truck and agreed to take a few of my family members up to the Brighton Field Days. Brighton Field Days was a local event in our neighborhood in which the volunteer fire company sold a lot of beer to drunks in a beer tent, for fundraising purposes. In any case, Matt was driving, I was in the middle of the seat, and my father was in the passenger seat (not exactly sober already). My sister and her friend were in the bed of the pickup truck.

It turns out that Matt was not very proficient at driving the truck, and made a lane switch to the right side without looking. Lower than the pickup truck, and cruising near the truck’s blind spot anyhow, was some kind of low-rider car. It had to slam on its brakes and go off the road, tires squealing and bumping as it jumped the curb in front of the Dairy Queen. Matt was planning to drop us off there anyhow, and I have no idea whether he pulled over because of the near catastrophe or just because he was in a fog (as usual), but we stopped and got out of the car. Naturally, the two guys in the car that we almost steamrolled got out too, and they were none too happy.

“HOW MANY FUCKING LANES DO YOU PEOPLE TAKE UP!?!?!” the guy shouted as he got out of the driver’s seat and moved forward. At this point, Matt cowered in the driver’s seat and my dad exited out of the right hand side. In his slow, semi-drunken way, my father responded:

“Apparently, a few more than you were willing to give.”

This was not the response that the hostile driver was expecting. He began to sputter as he blurted out:

“But you almost ran us off the god damn road!”

My dad shuffled forward a bit further and stated, nonchalantly: “We all have our crosses to bear, son.”

Now this guy, who had gotten out of the car full of anger and ready to kick Matt’s ass, was completely dumbfounded. I honestly think he had no clue what the hell to say to that. In any case, he was at the front of his car and his passenger was just giving us a completely blank look (in shock). The driver tried one more time, stuttering as he said:

“But.. but… I had to go up on the curb to get out of your way! You almost ran into my car!”

My dad responded by thrusting out his hand and grabbing the driver’s hand in a firm handshake. He loudly said, with no hesitation whatsoever:

“Great move! You just avoided an accident!”

With this congratulations, he literally put the guy back into his car by the shoulder (and, I should note, into the wrong side of the vehicle) – then walked away, as did the rest of us. Matt took off before anything else could occur and I looked back to see the driver shaking his head in disbelief as he returned to the driver’s side of the car. Since that day, I will always remember Matt’s obliviousness, which was only eclipsed by the driver’s blank look and inability to respond to my dad’s incongruous, almost shockingly calm, responses.