TRUE STORY 002
Lifestyles of the Broke and Feckless.
J and I got in the car and headed out into the Los Angeles night.
It was a rare one in that we were actually getting along and being civil to one another. On a whim, we’d hastily moved 3000 miles together and had spent the first few months of our fraught relationship holed up in a 2nd floor dingbat apartment (look that one up) on the edge of Venice, scanning the papers for work, watching late morning reruns of Love Boat and Little House on the Prairie on a portable black & white TV, all the while trying to figure out if we’d made a mistake. The chance to associate with people other than ourselves was a welcome diversion.
Paul was an aspiring jazz musician and kindred upstate New York naif. He was also J’s cousin. By day he worked in the promotions department for a major record label offshoot. By night, he'd tag along with his co-workers, trying to keep pace with their non-stop party people regimen. To his credit, he’d usually choose to watch from the sidelines, bemused as they burned like roman candles. His boss, Brett, was no exception. We had to pick them both up on our way to a house party somewhere in Hollywood.
We got to Brett’s place. The door’s ajar, but still we knocked. “Come on in!” came the voice from somewhere in the belly of the townhouse. We entered. It was dimly lit save for the glow of the bathroom, the air thick with the sweet smell of hash. He and his model girlfriend Josie were both half undressed, but obviously getting ready, walking back and forth between the bedroom and bathroom, a new article of clothing added with each trip. As instructed, we made ourselves comfortable on the couch in the living room, unsure of what will happen next, the dope haze jazzbo vibe of the Happy Mondays’ “Bob’s Yer Uncle” playing for what would be the first of many times throughout the night.
Brett finally comes out to greet us, lank wet hair hanging in his face while he rolls up the cuffs on a crisp white shirt, skull rings on his fingers. Inviting us to share a “rail” (a new one for us at the time...”lines”, yes, “rails”, no), he proceeded to shovel a quarter of the Columbian GDP up his nose from a mirror laid on the dining room table. We hadn’t noticed it upon entering and we pretended not to notice his prodigious ingestion, politely declining. Josie ambled out, all 6 feet of her afroed, angelic self, ready to go. An unlikely misfit crew, but we all piled into my clown car and drove off to the first stop of the night, ready for anything.
It was a typical LA bungalow. Nothing special on the outside or the inside. People were standing about in the living room, in the hall, and of course, in the kitchen, “Bob’s Yer Uncle” in the air once again. Nearly all were record label types, some from Brett and Paul’s label, the rest from other labels. Introductions were made…smiles, handshakes and hugs all around. It was a quality bunch, and for J and me, it was a dose of therapy we both needed. While making the rounds through the house, we heard a distinct laugh coming from the kitchen. Loud and boisterous, the kind you know is coming from a life-of-the-party type. Once in the kitchen, we met Tommy. He was what I figured he’d be: big, bearded and burly…an overgrown stuffed animal of a human. Along with being the US promotions director for Jesus Jones, he was also a New York City wiseass of the highest caliber. Perfect.
Drinks were flowing, weed passed. Tommy and I were quickly joined at the hip. Aside from testing each other’s encyclopedic knowledge of music and discovering our shared ability to recite “Paul’s Boutique” from front to back, we dug deep into our love of late 70s/early 80s New York television. We’d both grown up on a steady diet of what was peddled on WOR (Channel 9) and WPIX (Channel 11). Sure, there were the cartoons, like Minute Mouse, Underdog, Wacky Racers and Popeye. There was “TVPIXXX”, where a kid would call the station and control a rudimentary video game by yelling “PIX” into the phone, all in hopes of winning a Carvel gift certificate. There were Mets games, Yankees games, the Yule Log, etc. But for us, the gold was in the commercials. Four in particular held sway.
The first was a promo commercial for the New York Mets. Over footage of games and of fans, the jingle told us to “Meet the Mets, meet the Mets. Step right up and greet the Mets”, sung by what I imagine to be a 60s glee club of Brylcreemed dads with short-sleeved dress shirts, action slacks and sensible shoes. The second probably came from the same jingle factory as that of the Mets, but this one was for crosstown nemeses, the Yankees. The Mets’ jingle was a long one, of which we only knew the words written above. But since we were both die hard Yankee fans, we knew their much shorter jingle by heart: “Y! A! N! K! E! E! S! / Here come the Yankees / Let’s get behind and cheer the Yankees / They’re gonna learn to fear the Yankees / Everyone knows they play to win, cause /they’re the new York Yankees”. Inane as shit, but we sang it that night with gusto. Drunkenly, and due to our respective states of mind, repeatedly.
Third on our list of greatest hits was an obscure one for the JFK Express, an extension of the NYC subway that shuttled people from the City to JFK airport. Yet another jingle, this one was even simpler with a jaunty tune that told us to “Take the train to the plane” The melody was sung multiple times at the beginning and end of the spot. Sandwiched in between were interviews with real New Yorkers, giving us the reasons why they do what the jingle stated.
The last entry was the crown jewel and the purest high-octane fuel for our evening’s stupidity. It didn’t have an ear worm jingle, but it didn’t need one. Only six words mattered: Phil. Rizzuto. For. The. Money. Store. For the sports history-challenged, Phil Rizzuto aka “The Scooter” was a pint-sized former shortstop for the Yankees from the 1940s through 1950s. After leaving the game, he became a Yankees play-by-play announcer, where a great play or towering home run would elicit his iconic exclamation of “HOLY COW”. Phil’s side hustle was as a pitchman for the Money Store, a shady mortgage lender with storefronts around New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Nearly every one of their commercials started with Phil’s vigorous, nasal announcement “PHIL RIZZUTO FOR THE MONEY STORE!”. Ask any New Yorker about the Money Store and they’ll recite that line. Tommy and I barked this out any chance we had, much to the chagrin of those around us. And the greater our intake of alcohol and amphetamines, the funnier it became. For us, anyway.
Armed with our greatest hits, the party moved on to Small’s, a hipster rock n roll bar on Melrose. Dark, smoky and loud, the place was packed. The right jab of “Bob’s Yer Uncle” our walk-in music, followed by the left hook of “Kinky Afro”. Throughout the night, Tommy and I would break into a “MEET THE METS”, “HERE COME THE…YANKEES” or “TAKE THE TRAIN TO THE PLANE” chant at top volume, throats raw and getting rawer. The Money Store gag still had legs and it had gotten to the point where, if we weren’t yelling it, we could see one another across the bar, give a simple nod of the chin, mouth the words and then fall apart. With a swirling head, I headed off to the bathroom to get my act together. It was tough to escape the din of the bar and the Cult’s “Love Removal Machine” on the PA. It was goddamned LOUD. As I stood at the urinal, trying to steady myself,
I heard it. Over all that noise and through the heavy bathroom door came “PHIL RIZZUTO FOR THE MONEY STORE”. I nearly wet myself. It wasn’t getting old and we were definitely not done.
After more rounds and a brief encounter with a balding and inebriated Nicholas Cage, we spilled out onto the street, headed for our next destination. Someone in our crew mentioned another house party up in the Hollywood Hills, so off we went. Wisely, we chose to walk it, with Phil Rizzuto, the Mets, the Yankees and the MTA as our guides. In an LA moment, a drunken James Fearnley, accordion player for the Pogues and his It Girl Patsy Kensit joined us on our trek, only to disappear into the ether when we weren’t paying attention.
The night was cool and breezy, stars bright. It felt as though nothing could possibly go wrong. We finally arrived at the party house, yet another Angeleno bungalow, packed to the rafters. We walk in. “Bob’s Yer Uncle”. Again. The front door opened to a living room, a couch in the middle, facing toward the back wall. I staked out my spot, leaning against the back of the couch, facing the front wall. “Way too many people in here”. My first clear thought in hours. Tommy puts yet another drink in my hand, turns and heads off into the crowd, “MEET THE METS! GREET THE METS!” I survey the room, looking for people I might remember in an effort to get my bearings. Across from me, standing next to the front door, back to the wall is a girl and I can’t take my eyes off her. She’s straight out L7: surf-dirty bleach blonde hair, biker jacket, Sabbath T shirt, cutoff shorts, ripped tights, boots, studded choker, Kohl eyes. I’d been staring too long because her eyes meet mine and her upper lip curled into a sneer. I turned my head to the left only to be confronted by a huge mop of curly hair, my nose right in it.
I pull back to assess and it’s a skinny dude wearing a Hawaiian shirt. The guy turns to see who’s got their face in his hair. What the fuh…it’s Weird Al Yankovic. “Shit. Hey Al.” was all I could sputter. I apologized, introduced myself and began some idle conversation. I don’t remember what was exchanged, for just as we started in, a shadowy male figure came through the front door and stood in front of L7 girl. They obviously didn’t care for one another. Voices getting louder, things are escalating, and fast. With Al and I watching, the guy grabs L7 by the face and rams the back of her head into a framed picture. It was violence on a level I’d not experienced up to that point. Glass, blood and screams all around. No sooner did the brute come through the door and leave his mark, he was gone. The place was a mess. Chaos. We stood inn stunned silence as some people helped L7 off the floor and into the back of the house. I scanned the room to find friends, Tommy, J…anyone familiar. I see J and grab her hand just as the order is shouted: “EVERYONE GET THE FUCK OUT OF HERE! COPS!”.
It turned the house into a roiling sea of sharks, everyone pushing for the front door.
Once outside and into the starry darkness, everyone started running downhill toward Hollywood Boulevard. Police cruisers raced in the opposite direction as we dodged and ran through yards. We had no idea where we were going, or how we were going to find our group again. But then, from somewhere way off in the darkness, we heard it one last time: “PHIL RIZZUTO FOR THE MONEY STORE!”. Somehow I knew everything was going to be OK.