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Taxi Driver — A Trip To 1970

“Taxi Driving Man: Hail and Farewell”

Ninth Avenue at 6 a. m. is a surrealistic study in flaming trash cans and steaming manhole covers. In the pre-dawn gloom, the streets are dimly lit by fruit and vegetable merchants preparing to display their wares on the sidewalk. From inside the cab, all is still, but unnaturally still, and since it is New York, the stillness only heightens your anticipation of an approaching cataclysm. It is an exceedingly ugly street, even for New York. But in its monumental ugliness it commands that special morbid fascination that all New Yorkers feel toward their city, despise it as they may. 

Driving down toward Port Authority, the feeling is more that of crossing the River Styx than one of Manhattan’s commercial arteries. You have the road practically to yourself, yet there is a restraining force which causes you to drive along slowly, at a steady pace. You are in a phantasmagorical place, and you better not disturb the unholy balance of things, lest you be spotted as an outsider. 

It was in that frame of mind that I decided my career as a cabby was to come to an end. It was a decision I turned over in my mind throughout the day, and although the circumstances hardly warranted it, toward turning-in time, I began feeling a little cheerful, mostly because I couldn’t see any footing beneath me to which to sink from here. There was, I thought, cause for optimism. Leave the job, I assured myself, something worthier is bound to come through. (It seems that one side effect of a middle-class adolescence is that in the pinch, you are taught to rely on everything and everybody but yourself. Just when you are at the peak of your desperation — if you have been weaned on Hollywood westerns — is when you most expect your salvation to come galloping across the plain and smash that redskin to smithereens before he detaches your scalp. What entirely eludes the realm of possibilities is his one day making off with it — consequently, you grow up totally unfit to face reality.)

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My last passenger of the day was a decrepit old woman with bony, heavily rouged cheeks, whose accent might have originated anywhere from the east bank of the Danube to the Urals. I mentally took a bet on Hungarian refugee and, as it turned out, I wasn’t far off the mark. We headed down Seventh Avenue. 

“You not have rrahdio?” she asked, rolling about four extra Rs onto each syllable. 

“No.” 

“Too bad. It must be lonely, young man like you, no rrahdio.” 

“It’s not too lonely.” To settle my mental bet, I asked her where she hailed from. 

“Oh, I have been born Rrussia, but now here 45 yearrs.” 

I supposed that if it had been 145 years her syntax would never have improved. After a spell, she tapped on the plastic divider the company throws into their cars as a bone to the driver’s peace of mind. 

“Tell me, this glass bullet-proof?” she asked. 

“No, I don’t think so.” 

“Ah, too bad. You better have bullet-proof, no?” 

“Yes.”

Another silence. Then, as we passed through Times Square: 

“You like pretty girls?” 

“Yes, they ‘re okay.” 

“Yes? You like young pretty girls?”

“Sure, young ones.” We waved our way between the hand trucks in the garment center. 

“Maybe you like meet young pretty girls? Yes?” 

We turned east on 15th Street to Sixth Avenue and got held up behind some trucks. I cursed at the trucks so as to avoid following the bait. She came at me again, this time in a more determined tone.

“No, I don’t think I want to meet any just now,” I answered. 

She feigned shock. 

“No? You not want meet pretty girls?” There was a brief pause. “You like meet young boys, maybe?” 

Her voice didn’t betray any sign of facetiousness; it was very routine. I pulled over at 16th Street and threw up the flag, trying to avoid her glance and remain aloof. She took the hint, I guess, and paid and got out. 

There was no reason to take her seriously, but when you drive a cab, you run such a daily gamut of these two-bit desperadoes that it soon ceases to be a laughing matter. I started back to the garage very pissed off. 

At 17th Street, I turned west and saw a car pulling in on my left. He had the right of way, so I went to slam on my brake to let him pass. I slammed on the accelerator instead. 

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It was over in about two seconds: I scraped the car, veered right to get loose, ran straight for a pedestrian sitting on a fire hydrant, he jumped up, I knocked him back down, jerked the car left to avoid the hydrant — not far enough — and came to rest half on the hydrant and half on the back of a parked truck. At last, just before pushing all of 17th Street in to the Hudson River, I remembered the brake pedal. 

“Shit!” I said aloud, disgustedly, and threw the car into Park. That was all. My victim knelt on the ground, nursing a battered leg. He moaned some, and coincidentally enough, also said “shit!” Good. At least there would be no manslaughter charge, I thought to myself. 

The only damage, aside from the leg, was a touch of shock, so with the help of a few bystanders, we stretched him out on the front seat of the cab. Suddenly, my thoughts turned to my brand new 60-cent cigar which I carried in my shirt pocket. As I looked down at my victim’s leg, I vaguely remember hoping that the cigar didn’t get smashed in the impact. All in all, my indifference to everything except the cigar should have appalled me, but it didn’t. 

There was one regrettable moment, when I realized that I had left the cab’s motor running and that in the collision I had inadvertently knocked down the flag. The meter was ticking away, and I dashed into the cab practically having to climb over my victim’s prostrate body, to turn off the ignition. This, just to save myself a few pennies. I admit it was a disgusting thing to haw done, but at the time it seemed quite logical and proper. 

The truth is, there was really nothing else to do. The driver of the other car got out and we chatted a bit and whiled away the time explaining to the bloodthirsty spectators that the fellow on the seat wasn’t dead. 

One woman shouted from the opposite corner to her friend. “Tell me if he’s dead. I can’t go over, I just can’t look.” 

“It’s all right,” she shouted back, “he’s alive,” and her friend crept over to join the crowd. 

The police came by too and had a look. They took everybody’s papers and went back to the patrol car to sort them out. By now, I began to feel like a fool. Every now and then I’d lean into the car to ask my victim how he was getting along. He mumbled that he didn’t know, he was very cold, and when would the ambulance arrive, please? The police called three times for the ambulance, meanwhile jotting down more important data. The spectators bunched up around the cab, three or four deep, to have a look. 

The ambulance eventually arrived, and after several attempts to jerk my victim off the seat, they decided to go through the bother of rolling out the stretcher. 

I quietly backed away from the crowd and called the garage. The police departed, then the ambulance. The driver of the other car stayed around for a while, hoping for a quick settlement with the company’s inspector. Finally, he too moved off with the rest of the crowd, and I waited alone with the cab, in the darkness, for the tow truck. 

After making out a preliminary report at the garage, I walked up West 46th Street toward the subway, counting my day’s take. It was a Friday, supposedly the best day for hacking. Forty-five dollars and 90 cents in bookings, half, or more correctly 51 per cent, of which belongs to the garage, and about $10 in tips. Thirty-two dollars for 10 hours’ work, and on the best day. 

Halfway up the block, I stopped to look at some new pushcarts standing outside a sort or garage-warehouse arrangement. They were the type you see in front of the Museum of Modern Art or up near Central Park, loaded down with pretzels and chestnuts. I stood for a minute, dumbly examining the crude workmanship, when an enormous hulk approached me from behind and dribbled out in old-time Newyorkese: “So, tell me sumpin’.”

I looked back, not sure of what the come-on required for an answer.

“You buying or selling?” he asked.

“Selling,” I said instinctively, since my situation wouldn’t have allowed me to take the other alternative much further. Then he wanted to know what I was doing now. I said nothing, but he insisted and playfully ran down a list of down-and-outer possibilities. We settled on part-time actor.

“Here you make 50 bucks a day. Fifty, 60, 70 — whatever you want. You lose nothing. I give you the pretzels at four cents apiece and the chestnuts for 20 cents a pound. You sell them for whatever you can get. You interested?”

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I was just desperate enough to get suckered in, so I let him hustle me into this dark cavernous hole on the West Side, and when my eyes became accustomed to the shadows and I had a look around all I could think of was Dickens. Off to one side was a group of old people (women, I believe) crouched over a mountain of chestnuts. Some were splitting the shells, others passed them on to still others who were doing the roasting. I say “women” hesitantly, because at about 10 yards and in the darkness , it was difficult to make out what those grubby specimens really were, wrapped in about six layers of tattered cloth. Some amateur carpenters were putting together new carts or patching up old ones. And some more of those ogres were off in a corner doing something to the pretzels I won’t describe (I will never eat another).

My friendly giant took me closer to them and said in a loud, obviously theatrical tone; “Here our motto is ‘Fuck the People!’ ” There were a few assenting grunts from the old men-women of “Yeah, fuck the people!” It warmed my heart to see that there are thieves left in New York who are still only after your money.

He went on to enumerate a few more highlights of the profession and wound up with a cheery “and remember, here you don’t pay taxes to no one.”

Again, the grizzly chorus: “Yeah, no taxes!” accompanied by a few chuckles. 

He told me to come in the following day, Saturday, which, along with Sunday is the most lucrative in this business, provided it’s good and cold. I left feeling like I had stepped out of a primitive picaresque novel, complete with beggars, harlots, and assorted outlaws and outcasts.

So I was to sell pretzels. That was something worth considering very carefully.

The train was delayed at the Times Square station. After that day’s experience, I had little desire to get on a subway, so I loafed around a hot dog counter, sipping an orangeade and looking at the hordes of commuters running every which way like animals trapped in a forest fire.

Above the tumult and the screeching of the trains, I slowly became aware of a sharp tapping on the pavement outside the lunch counter. It was as audible as tapping on a glass with a fork in a crowded restaurant and I don’t think I would have caught it had my nerves not been so keyed up. The tapping, I soon saw, came from the canes of two blind people — a man and a woman — slowly moving toward each other along the platform. Maybe you’ve seen them. They usually ride the Brighton line, though not together. They are beggars who play the accordion and, if I’m not mistaken, she sings. He is undistinguished, much like any other shabby, middle-aged beggar. She, on the other hand, has an enormous shock of frizzy red hair and resembles a relic from the worst days of the 1940s. Anyhow, I was impressed by their calm, steady manner, how they seemed to head for each other like homing pigeons, following the tapping of their canes, apparently oblivious to the shrieking and shoving of the other million or so blind beggars around them.

The tapping of the canes was enough for them to find each other, and when they finally did — my God — I have never seen such an embrace in my entire quarter century in this god-awful place. They flung their accordions over their shoulders and held on to one another — brilliantly smiling, mind you — with a passion that could only be observed with a trembling lip.

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For a moment, I was taken back to my senior year in college. I remembered standing in the hall one morning between classes, trying to recruit a friend for the NYU Fascist Club which I had formed out of sheer maliciousness or boredom or both. He said he hadn’t the time to hear about it, he was expecting his girl from Philadelphia whom he hadn’t seen in months. After a while she showed up, freshly scrubbed and in madras, and when he spotted her, my friend dropped his books on the ground next to him and they ran for each other. He gave her a big kiss and hug and threw her into the air and then, just for a second, out of the corner of his eye, I saw him look back at the books he had so heroically thrown to the ground. There was something in the look he gave those books, while holding his girl, that explained everything. At once, all the disgusting repressions, fears, anxieties, and miseries that have turned this country into the grandest shithouse on the face of the earth gushed in torrents out of my poor friend’s eyes. 

Back at the BMT station, I stood watching these two blind beggars. The longer I watched, the more I felt a strange sensation coming on: one of being totally washed out, limp from physical and nervous exhaustion, yet somehow cleansed, like after a day at the gym and steam room. And as I watched, gradually all the sentiments and pointless words made into mush and emptied of meaning by the hippie-flower-beautiful people crowd — sentiments like compassion for a pathetic humanity, words like happiness, charity, and love — began to come to life and, to my own amazement, acquire a freshness and meaning l had long given up for lost within myself. 

This, I thought, would be a good time to take the next train downtown. So I went home, thinking about pretzels and chestnuts and two blind lovers, and not feeling bad at all. 

[Editor’s note, January 1, 2020: This essay originally appeared in the Voice’s Personal Testament section, “a department open to contributions from our readers. They may write on any subject and in any style they choose, with the editors selecting manuscripts for publication on the basis of literacy and interest.”]

 

“THE SIXTIES: Remembrance of things past — and present”

January 1, 1970

IT BEGAN with the beats: Tuli Kupferberg, in front of the Gaslight on MacDougal Street (top left); at the end of the ’60s there were the militants: Jerry Rubin, Abbie Hoffman, and David Dellinger; in between, and throughout there was Allen Ginsberg and a school strike that ripped New York apart (left); and finally — nudity: its first intimation was brought to the big stage, at Hunter College, by the Anne Halprin dancers. (Photographs by Fred W. McDarrah)

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What If They Gave a New Year and Nobody Came?

Lately every time you turn around somebody’s saying: “The eighties are coming!” Like at the stroke of midnite on New Year’s it’s all gonna be different! And when you tell ’em, “Come on, you know everything’s just gonna keep on slowly sinking,” they get downright mad! Spoilsports! No sense of social duty! It’s true that I am antisocial! But so is my whole crowd. When our fave bar the Bells of Hell closed down a few months back we all stayed in our apartments instead of seeking out a new watering hole. (Perhaps suggesting that, like the buffalo, we are soon to disappear.) I told my shrink this and he said: “You’re all pathetic.”

Another time when I complained I was getting weirded out around other people because I never saw ’em because all I did was lay in bed with the covers over my head because I truly believed as the mighty Ramones quoth that there was “nothin’ to do and nowhere to go” so I just wanted to be sedated, my shrink suggested I call up all my friends in all their separate little cells and see if we couldn’t figure out some way to repatriate ourselves in the human race and enjoy it. So I conducted this plebiscite, and when I came back he said: “So what’s the consensus?” I said, “The consensus is, ‘Whaddaya wanna be around people for? Most of ’em suck anyway!'”

I suppose you think I’m being negative. All right, if I’m negative you go tell Mother there’s something wrong with the womb! Ha, gotcha! Besides which, as the eighties loom I suspect that my antisocial minority will soon be a majority, and we’ll have an antisociety! Imagine that! Will Rogers the ultimate outlaw! And what better time to inaugurate this ghost town than New Year’s Eve! Ring out the old, ring in the old! And older and older. I ask you, have you ever had a New Year’s Eve you enjoyed? Of course not! Why? Because you’ve persisted in this insane delusion that somehow things are supposed to keep getting better, or that the cyclical nature of the ying-yang means that the earth is supposed to replenish itself or some such horseshit! Horseshit doesn’t even replenish itself. Do these sidewalks? This peeling paint, crumbling plaster, backed-up plumbing? A replenishable landlord? Fuck no!

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There are two directions in which extants can go: (a) stasis or (b) decay. And New Year’s Eve is the biggest bummer yet, because we all go out with these expectations and get totally soused just so we can stand to be around each other because we’ve spent the late fall and winter’s first blush sinking deeper into TV Guide, and now we’re expected to positively revel in proximity to these globs of hideous humanity. So OF COURSE horrible scenes ensue.

The first New Year’s I have a clear memory of was probably the first one I was old enough to get drunk for: I got stoned on nutmeg instead. All my friends did get drunk tho and exiting this teenclub full of depressed zit-lumpen reduced to flat colas we drove aimlessly around El Cajon, inevitably ending in the line at Jack in the Box where, as people vomited all over the inside of my car, I said “Welcome to 1967.” We shoulda known right away Hippie wouldn’t work.

1968: I went to a party where everybody drank too much vodka too fast and pawed each other or tried to while Donovan trilled of fat angels. Only saw one person vomit: my girlfriend, all over her brand-new white hiphuggers. (Earlier in the evening I had told her, re said fem-trousers: “You look like a Tijuana whore.” A downy lad I was and twee.) I was on Marezine and kept seeing little men with axes and hammers chopping naked gabbling pigmy demons to death in other people’s lapels. When I got home I hallucinated all kinds of people coming into my room and reached out to them screaming, “Don’t dissolve! Don’t dissolve!” But sure enough they did. Then I thought I saw a friend of mine silhouetted behind the windowshade whispering from the garden: “Lester! Lester!” I leaped out of bed and yanked up the shade, pathetically grateful for some human companionship. There was nothing there but the empty street with leaves blowing.

I went into the bathroom to take a piss and hallucinated that my mother was ogling my dick with one huge roc eyeball through a crack in the door. Then I went back to bed and dreamed that narcs in steelgrey suits were stationed at strategic points all over my school watching me through slowly swiveling Silva-Thin shades. For the first two months of 1968 I couldn’t look anybody in the eye.

1969: Me ‘n’ a buncha buddies went cruisin’ in some dude’s jalopy. We beered awhile to no avail. One pal who later joined the navy where he majored in underwater demolition (exhorting me to enlist by his bonded side: “It’s real fun blowin’ up stuff!”) said, “Let’s go out ‘n’ git us sum scrunt.” Nobody else said anything. Eventually we all went home too depressed even to feel drunk and fell asleep. The whole evening shoulda been written by (or inflicted on) Robbe-Grillet.

1970: New Year’s Eve I spent getting drunk on beer watching TV at my girlfriend’s parents’ house, periodically ducking out to drive by the motel bungalow of some needle-freak friends because I wanted to buy some heroin, which I had never tried. Finally they were home and sold me some. When I got back to my girlfriend’s house I ran in the bathroom and tried to snort it. Not yet hep to rolled-up bills, I dumped the stuff onto a mirror held at a precarious angle over the sink, balanced it an inch from my nose, and honked amighty. Nothing happened except later I drank some Country Club Malt Liquor, went home, and wrote a review for Rolling Stone (which never got printed) of a Bob Dylan bootleg. Next day I bragged to all my friends: “I wrote a record review on heroin last night!” Being too lame to ingest the shit was the only time I ever got lucky on a New Year’s Eve.

1971: I stayed home and read the Bible. No, that’s a lie. What I did was go to the drive-in with my girlfriend — all hopped up (me, that is) on vodka and her mother’s thyroid pills, totally unable to concentrate on the double feature of I Drink Your Blood (starring Ronda Fultz, Jadine Wong, and somebody merely billed “Bhaskar”) and I Eat Your Skin (William Joyce, Heather Hewitt) which would have been impossible under any circumstances anyway, thinking all night how next morning I was gonna do like Jack Kerouac and just jump in my car eating speed with one hand while flicking the starter with the other and drive drive drive till I plashed through Blakean breakers of light on the golden prows of the Rocky Mountain Shield. Of course I didn’t, woke up with a muzzy hangover instead, which is probably just as well: I coulda ended up being John Denver.

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1972: New Year’s I spent dead drunk and gutpit-depressed at my mother’s house in California. Called up my friend Nick in NYC and miserably groaned through several leagues of whiskey, “I think I’m becoming an alcoholic.” He didn’t wanna hear that because he was just about to spend New Year’s Day making his way down Broadway from 99th Street having one drink in every bar along the way until he ended at Broadway and Third, the very last bar, St. Adrian Co., also known as the Broadway Central Bar, being an adjunct of the Broadway Central Hotel, a flophouse. He called back the next day: “Sorry Les, I’m too depressed to talk.”

1973: Went to a party with my ex-puppylove­-girlfriend (she of the greened hiphuggers) and her sis and brother-in-law. Most everybody else there was a swinging single, or trying to be. I danced dirty with the hostess. It was right out of Doctors’ Wives. My ex-galf’d got mad at me for rubbing up agin said hussy and huffed a bit. I bet Gore Vidal never came out with anything as deft as, “Whattayou care? You won’t fuck me!” She cried. Later in the car in savage ugly liquored sexual frustration I dug one of my nails into her wrist until it bled. She told me I was a sissy. I was.

1974: Back in California again, staying at my old girlfriend’s deserted tho furnished apartment, as, unbeknownst to Mom, she’s off livin’ with some forty-five-year-old businessman who when he stands next to ya drink-in’ at the bar always keeps a fistful of dollars taut-gripped so he can shoot ’em out as he snoots it up. That kinda guy. So there I am enjoying her empty apartment, lying around listening to Raw Power and Berlin all the time, when I get this bright idea: I’ll take all these sleaze-rock LPs to this night’s singles/married/whatever-they-think­-they-are party, and blast ’em. Ey-pa-TAY, MUTHAFUCKA! So I scoop up all the discs ‘n’ off we go ‘n’ all nite long I keep slipping ’em on the record player bumming everybody out tho they was also kinda fascinated, like this room got kinda quiet at times, waxen even, p’raps understandable this being California suburbs everybody’s dressed to the fillings in all kinda chains and whatnot, taco tanktopping it with frappe de la Yardley on the side, big hoop earrings, all the guys got sideburns so sharp they smoke, when Lou wafts thru: “Caroline says … as she gets up off the floor … ‘Why is it that you beat me? … It isn’t any fun … ‘ ”

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Meanwhile all these folks is loungin’ around ’bout to broach a dolce vita thru the looking glass. Frozen moments, all of them bad. Icy lips and frigid sunglasses.

“It’s not me that’s frigid it’s my Foster Grants!”

“It’s not me that’s impotent it’s my English Leather!”

“Well let’s swap!”

“Wow! Okay!”

“Hey, this decadence stuff up my butt is fun!”

Sadly, it never happened that way. I can’t remember this New Year’s Eve and hadda make something up. But the stories you make up the next day are always better than what actually happened.

1975: Sensible for once. I dropped some speed and Valium, went to the office, which was deserted, and stayed up all night writing a story for the February issue of Creem. Devotion to duty? No. Retreat from Gehenna.

1976: I had been going out with this girl for a couple of months kinda scene-makin photog­-lolligagin around Detroit. She’d decided I was a fag since one nite in Oct/Nov thereabouts at a Barry White concert when we’z sittin behind Ohio Players, the world’s worst opening act, and she sez, re the bass player, “He’s got a nice ass” and I sat up a bit to look and she gave me a weird stare and that was that. So anyway me and this snope-lobe keep a-datin’, but no sex. I was clumsy and shy and she, well, I guess her cameras woulda got in the way. Anyhow here come New Year’s Eve, the biggun, and lord if fuckin Creem magazine don’t rent a whole suite in this postrundowntown hotel just to, ah, entertain all the important folk’t might just happen to tum up like, say, local disc jockeys or Martin Mull who’d done his shtick downstairs and did it upstairs too. For some dumb reason I kinda liked this girl. I dunno, well actually I do know: in front she looked like somebody I used to love named Judy, and in back she looked like somebody I did love but wouldn’t see me at the time named Nancy. So MEA CULPA MUHFUH, etc. Anyhoo, come to find out that the only reason she even went to dis bash wid me was that I jus’ happenda work at the same magazine as this guy name Charlie Auringer who ALL the broads thereabouts were hot for cause’n he jes set back so indifferent all the time, eyeball-to­-snowboot, that kinda thing. When I saw her blatantly USING me to get to Charlie I got pissed. And did what any other righteously upstandin Rasta woulda done: slunk downstairs ‘n’ drunk muhsef tuh nullhood. But I was not alone in this endeavor, and long about midnite her ‘n’ me miraculously ended up side by side, right there stageside table in the lounge downstairs, balloons enuff to snuff Steve Martin agozzlin thru the air, treacle paper everywhere, Flo and Eddie runnin’ around grabbin’ all the asses they could JUST EXACTLY like in that Fugs song “Dirty Old Man,” confetti falling, and me and Lee Anne (for that was her name) both of us in li’l tinsel tophats, socute, herecum midnite, whammo, out go the lites.

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I sling my drunken arm around her shoulders and go to kiss her. She turns away tautlipped.

“Hey! I take you out all the time! I like you! We do things together! Boy and Girl! And you won’t even kiss me on New Year’s Eve!!!!!!??!!!!! What is this shit?”

”You’ve got bad breath,” she said.

It could only get better. Having finally won the heart of the aforementioned Nancy, we moved to New York where we starved Barefoot in the Park and huddled together against this city watching Donny and Marie every single Friday nite. New Year’s Eve we watched Jimmy and Rosalynn instead. Their preinaugural ball. We teardropped together when Loretta Lynn sang “One’s on the Way.” We felt hope for society. We were young and idealistic and in love. We were walking sugar comas too stunned to find our way to a diabetic ward should all that glop we ate back up into our lymph ducts. Six months later she left me to listen to the Sex Pistols in peace.

I went through a couple of minor affairs after that whilst mostly staying drunk and practically taking up residence at CBGB’s where I played the role of Bukowskian bohemian/artiste in ze big sitcom. It got me some real great women — the kind that sit crosslegged on your floor after you’ve both been up all night on bad drugs and won’t fuck you but are perfectly amenable to describing in linoleum detail their various suicide attempts and highly complex postexistential Weltanschauung derived from Richard Hell and countless auditions of dear Sidney warbling “My Way,” a philosophical stance reducible to Life is not worth living and everything stinks but killing yourself is too much effort so what the fuck you got anything else to drink?

It sooner or later became apparent that any women who shared my tastes in music might be predicted miles ahead as burnt-out hunchbacked mutes, half-retarded drug repositories given to heavy facial tic action. It was not that I sought something out of Fascinating Womanhood. I can whip up a Stouffer’s Spinach Soufflé deft as Régine herself, but I did feel there might be some slight possibility that something existed somewhere in between these two outposts of you’re-right-gimme-the-gun-I-wanna-blow-my-­brains-out-first. In fact I was ripe as Li’l Abner in full flushblush, and fell in love Xmas ’77 with the first of what would turn out to be a succession of women who, like myself, were gainfully employed in various aspects of media and were not about to end up aborting a broken vodka bottle on the steps of CBGB’s. These were to be women of refinement and urbane cachet. Some of them took cabs everywhere they went! I also noticed a propensity toward the employment of what they laughingly referred to as “my faggot houseboy,” making little jokes about how handy his imagined infantile-fixated compulsions were when it came to scrubbing the bathroom. The first one I engaged even had a doorman, who thought I was a hoodlum and hated my guts because no thirty-year-old man walks around jobless in a black leather jacket alla time, and who knows but what he may have been right.

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As for my new love, hardly had we finished giggling fantasies about “honeymooning” in that heartshaped bathtub in the Poconos when that bastard Reality (who oughta be terminated with extreme prejudice) set in. It took exactly one week for it to become clear though thick with silence that we had absolutely nothing in common, were in fact the mindlessly magnetic attraction of plupolar opposites. I was still into nothing but platters of shrieking anomic noise while her favorite form of leisuretime wowzow was watching endless made-for-TV movies about occultists bending sinister in obscure New England hamlets. It was nobody’s fault and nothing we could do about it but spend the next months torturing each other. Our New Year’s Eve: We awoke to find ourselves sitting on her couch in the deepening silence watching Guy Lombardo’s Royal Canadians play “Auld Lang Syne” without even a nod to Jimi’s revolutionary interpolations. And then the big ball dropped on all those cheering idiots slow as a senile meteorite. It was the only time in my life I have ever observed this I am told quite popular ritual (though I am a definite Yule Log fan), and it certainly will be the last, inasmuch as it was one of the possibly four or five dreariest experiences I have known. We didn’t even have any drinks, though we had money. Guess we were so gone we forgot to drink, marijuana would needless to say have been much more deadly than usual. I felt like an E string adrift somewhere in the nether gulfs of the second Dire Straits album.

Next day I went to a dinner party with five of my oldest and dearest friends where absolutely nobody could think of a single word to say. Best line of the afternoon: “Does anybody know any good jokes?” (Delivered at dinner table, quantifying silence to brink of catatonia.)

1979: New Year’s things seemed to be looking up. I had plenty of money, got wired up on beer and bennies and showed up at a friend’s party at the exact instant I’d been informed the jumpin punkins’d be lifting off. Only trouble was nobody else was there yet but the host and his girlfriend/roommate and a cousin from Buffalo or somewhere and we all sat nursing tepid beers, our massed alpha-waves bouncing off Randy Mantooth’s forehead on “Emergency One!” An hour or so of such terror and the bennies itched me right outa my chair and down to the since-shut fave bar the Bells of Hell where I made a pretty good job of picking up this woman I’d never met before till the bartender Phil walked over and said to me, “Do you realize that for the last half hour every other thing you’ve said has had something to do with homosexuality? What’s your problem, Lester?” She much less I hadn’t seemed to notice if such were fact but I was just drunk enough for liberal guilt so I blurted out this real vitreous solution about how I’d had a deadly relationship the previous summer with another media maiden who was a self-declared faghag so gee whiz I didn’t mean to be prejudiced against anybody but maybe I really did harbor some previously unsussed resentment … Naturally this had a real salutary effect on the nascent whoknows mebbe truelove beside me. I took her number and split.

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Later I went to a party where I met a British socialist-type girl who gave me her number as well as wrote at the bottom of the scrap “I liked you.” Of course I called her and we saw each other for about three months, earnestly discussing the Clash vs. The Guardian over Japanese dinners. The full extent of our physicals was a peck g’nite on the cheek as she departed at her subway stop headed for Iceland or Brooklyn I forget which. I soon grew to hate her, and we parted in ash-curdling acrimony. But later on that same New Year’s Eve nite I really lucked out by going back to the Bells where this totally comatose thirty-year-old stranger who worked for UPI hung all over me to my manifest indifference and the embarrassment of everyone else at our table. I could have told her to go foist her slumbrous blandishments elsewhere, but I was too much of a wimp. Finally I got up to leave. I was just a ways past the door when I heard these steps following me down the sidewalk.

“Wait … ”

I waited, stood gallantly propping the creep up till I could hail her a cab. Meanwhile I lectured her in my best Bill Cosby voice. “Listen: you are truly foolish. You don’t know me. I could be David Berkowitz, the Boston Strangler, Richard Speck with a new set of contacts. You really oughta be more careful.” I swear, sometimes I wonder if I’m not Jewish, and a Jewish mother at that.

When I went to put her in the cab, she asked, “Aren’t you going to take me home?”

All right, that’s it, I said to myself like Richard Burton looking at his paycheck for The Medusa Touch, and got into the cab. All the ride to her Upper East Side Laura Mars swankpad she kept prattling about the black leather jacket I was wearing.

“Are you a member of a motorcycle club or something?” I laughed.

“Hell no — I’m a media hack, just like you!”

She didn’t get the joke. When we got out at her corner (where believe me I had no thought in ten purgatories of paying), she kept up this leather routine, persisted at this spume of dogs till finally in a rage I tore the jacket off and flung it at her.

Here, take the damn thing if that’s all you’re interested in!”

“NO, no … ”

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Up in her digs the footlights was boss. She had Grand Marnier night-capwise while I opted for the more proletarian Pinch-with-water. I commenced the usual routine and she pushed me away, blubbering incoherently about some guy she loved who’s stationed with Reuters in Bangkok She tried to call him. He wasn’t home. We hung out in her kitchen awhile and somehow, suddenly, from the way she was acting towards me and my clothes I got the creepy feeling for the first time in my life that just maybe this one wanted me to slap her around a little bit or maybe a lot or who knows what beyond that. This was some time after having been flashed back to the scene in City of Night where the customer throws the hustler out of his house in a rage because this supposed steerhunk truck driver committed the unpardonable gaffe of letting drop that he too had read D. H. Lawrence. I’d had the feeling that something was expected of me, but up till now hadn’t a clue what and doubted she did either. She kept baiting me verbally, weird little zingers from the twilight zone bouncing off the fact that I was about as butch as a college professor who has been sedentary for thirty years. This talk alternated with zonkout google slurs.

It got boring in spite of all freak appeal after a while so I went over and looked through her record collection. The only album she owned that I could remotely relate to was Surrealistic Pillow. I put it on. It sounded nice. We ended up on the couch again where she recommenced to drool aloud. I seem to remember at one point telling her that it really didn’t make any difference to me whether we had sex or not, especially considering the deadening effects of all the speed and booze inside me. Later I grabbed her head between my palms and forced her waxen eyes to look straight into mine sorta and I said in measured dramatic tones, “Do you know what I see when I look into your eyes? Stark, naked terror.” What an asshole I was. A bit later I snapped, “You got any drugs?” By now I was actually beginning to enjoy playing the role. She brought out this vial of pain pills left over from previous misadventure, asked me what use I could possibly have for them. I said that when I had a real bad combination hangover this stuff was the only thing that eased it. Then she decided maybe she’d better hold on to them after because this supposed steerhunk truck driver committed the unpardonable gaffe of letting drop that he too had read D. H. Lawrence. I’d had the feeling that something was expected of me, but up till now hadn’t a clue what and doubted she did either. She kept baiting me verbally, weird little zingers from the twilight zone bouncing off the fact that I was about as butch as a college professor who has been sedentary for thirty years. This talk alternated with zonkout google slurs.

It got boring in spite of all freak appeal after a while so I went over and looked through her record collection. The only album she owned that I could remotely relate to was Surrealistic Pillow. I put it on. It sounded nice. We ended up on the couch again where she recommenced to drool aloud. I seem to remember at one point telling her that it really didn’t make any difference to me whether we had sex or not, especially considering the deadening effects of all the speed and booze inside me. Later I grabbed her head between my palms and forced her waxen eyes to look straight into mine sorta and I said in measured dramatic tones, “Do you know what I see when I look into your eyes? Stark, naked terror.” What an asshole I was. A bit later I snapped, “You got any drugs?” By now I was actually beginning to enjoy playing the role. She brought out this vial of pain pills left over from previous misadventure, asked me what use I could possibly have for them. I said that when I had a real bad combination hangover this stuff was the only thing that eased it. Then she decided maybe she’d better hold on to them after all, giving me two and stuffing the vial down her purse, which was interesting. About five minutes after that she passed out curled sitting up in a foetal ball on the couch as the sun came up through the curtains. What the fuck, I said, I’ll give the bitch the B production she wants: I robbed her. I dug in the purse for the vial, actually found myself looking for a moment at her wallet, either couldn’t go that far or realized how silly this whole charade was, grabbed the fifth of Pinch on the way out the door, stomping down just a little meaner in my badass Frye boots. Still as tough and mature obviously as the ’73 night of the famous fingernail-dig. I wished I could call up Dotson Rader for a Merit Badge. Out in the street I hailed a cab; the driver was a middle-aged black guy. I said, “Jesus, man, I’m so glad to be around another human being at last! Can I tell you a story?”

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Sure, he says, so I belched up the mess, capping it with the declaration that when I got home I was gonna call her and tell her that she was a sicko weirdo Goodbar so-‘n’ -so and yeh baby I stole your pills ‘n’ booze but you stole a li’l bit o’ my soul.

When I finished my story, the driver, who had laughed uproariously throughout, turned and said: “Aw, hell, man, why go to all that fuckin’ trouble? Look, here’s whatcha do. Wait till bout two o’clock in the afternoon when you know she’s up, then phone her and real calm and polite say, ‘I just called to see if you were all right.’ Then after she answers tell her to go fuck herself an’ hang up!”

I realized immediately that he was right and I was still halfway up a horse on some backlot in Hollywood. I thanked him profusely. When I got home I drank her Pinch, took more speed, listened to the Clash through headphones feeling the righteous wrath of all us boots-in-the-alley working class minorities. Then I dialed her number. She wasn’t home. When I told a friend of mine about it a couple days later he just laughed and said: “So you let some barfly take you home, so what?” So I got to be Rough Trade for a Night, something I can tell my apple-eyed grandchildren about around the hearth, so fuck you, you’re just jealous because you never got mistaken for Sonny Barger. I did learn one valuable lesson, though, which convinced me that what all those hippies called karma actually does exist. That very next New Year’s Night, twenty­four hours later, somebody stole my black leather jacket out of the cloakroom at the Bells.

So here I sit, contemplating a coming New Year’s Eve which is gonna usher in a whole new decade doubtless brimming with little surprises beyond the usual roster of economic/spiritual depression, romantic wrong-ways unto entropy, comforting lapses into autism, etc. I guess I could ring up one of those wayout punk philosopher girls and ask her if she wants to drop by with a couple razor blades, dutch treat. Or enlist in the New Army and ask to be stationed in upper Greenland. Or even move back to Detroit and ask Lee Anne to marry me while I returned to work at Creem, in the mailroom. The possibilities are endless. Don’t guess this piece is gonna help my standing with the ladies much New Year’s or any other night. But that’s cool too; I could marry my mother. If she would have me. Go ahead and feel distaste for my antics with the lush, call me misogynous, misanthrope, Mr. Rogers. Just don’t call me late for my Zoom ‘n’ Locker Room! Every single one of you has acted every bit as oafishly base some New Year’s or other or several or all of them. And you’re gonna do it again this year. The occasion just seems to bring out the worst in us: hatred of ourselves, probably deriving from repression of the clear knowledge that we’re another year older and deeper in debt but ain’t accomplished hackshit and in fact are likely backpedaling; hatred of the rest of the human race because they’ve got our number in this department, especially including women if you’re a man or vice-versa, ’cause that’s just like neighborhood gang war, “beating up the kids from Spain” every weekend like the Dictators said. Whoever’s on the other side of the wall gives you something to do in the form of mashing their skulls, don’t really matter a damn which special-interested group they belong to, all interchangeable when you get right down to it. There’s a lot of free-floating rage in the air these days and New Year’s Eve is just one better excuse to vent it. ‘Course that means you’re gonna wind up rendered a crawling slavering subhuman dog yourself, but that’s half the fun. The only alternatives re this “human dignity” stuff are that old saw about crossing the International Dateline, total isolation (always a good move anyway), or perhaps most sensibly JUST GIVING INTO THE THING AND ACTING LIKE TOTAL WRETCHED DISGUSTING BEASTS. And maybe if we all get drunk enough we’ll all have blackouts so trackless and remarkably sustained that we’ll never remember all the reprehensible things we said and did to each other, hence no guilt. Either that or we’ll all wind up killing each other at last. Though that may be the dream of a blind optimist. If so, an alternate experiment in participatory democracy might be arranged whereby we’d all agree to stockpile beforehand so when we wake up on New Year’s Day we’ve made sure there’s a thousand whiskey bottles around the bed, and then we can start over again immediately, quick as a Wheaties Olympian, before a single one o’ them ghastly memories sifts back in. And what’s more, don’t anybody get up, from sea to shining sea, don’t get up ever but just keep on like that under or over the covers, your option, en masse till New Year’s 1990. We’ve worked hard at wrecking after degrading everything we ever cared about, and deserve a good Puritan rest. Like Gore Vidal said when Tennessee Williams told him he’d slept through the sixties: “You didn’t miss a thing.”

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10 Places to Wine and Dine on New Year’s Eve (or recover on New Year’s Day)

Whether the final day of 2015 is used for remembering the good times or a tasty way to forget the bad, there’s plenty of reasons to consider checking out what the city has to offer. Here are 10 great excuses to get out of singing “Auld Lang Syne” at the in-laws:

For the Person Who Couldn’t Make it to New Orleans: Porchlight, 271 Eleventh Avenue

Starting at 9 p.m., guests can enjoy an open bar and Big Easy plates while watching various street performers and their entertaining moves – think tarot card readers and acrobats instead of “showtime”. Special cocktails, wine, and beer will be available to pair with frog legs, crawfish pies, and beignets. Tickets are $175 per person and are all-inclusive of all food and drink; secure them here.

For the Person Who Wanted to Celebrate New Year’s in the Caribbean but Dropped the Ball: Miss Lily’s and Miss Lily’s 7A, 132 W. Houston Street and 109 Avenue A

Dine on hot pepper lobster and jerk chicken at either of these Jamaican-inspired restaurants, which are offering a four-course prix fixe complete with champagne toast for $75 starting at 9 p.m. Executive chef Adam Schop is also offering his regular a la carte menu earlier in the evening as well as a $15 per hour unlimited cocktail brunch on New Year’s Day.

For the Person Who Forgets to Make Reservations: Maiden Lane, 162 Avenue B

Starting at 8 p.m., DJ duo “Call the Doctor” will begin their set to welcome in 2016 while the bar mixes up gin martinis and mezcal with sangria. Maiden Lane’s seafood focused menu featuring fish sandwiches and hot crab dip will also be available until late. Walk-ins are welcome — there’s no cover charge or reservations required.

For the Person Who Wants a Tasting Menu Followed by Tassles: Piora, 430 Hudson Street

Looking for dinner and a show all in one place? Piora is offering its tasting menu for $225 per person, followed by a blanc de blancs party starting at 10 p.m., when jazz and burlesque performers will invade the dining room to ensure the ball drops in style. The party includes large format bottles of champagne, passed hors d’oeuvres of oysters and truffles, and cocktails. Tickets for the blanc de blanc party – where guests are encouraged to don all white and black dress attire – are $175 and can be secured here.

For the Person Who Wants to Start Off 2016 With Whoo! Bottomless Brunch: Maya, 1191 First Avenue

Instead of spending New Year’s Day hungover, enjoy your first opportunity for day drinking at this $45 all you eat and drink Mexican themed brunch. From 11:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., guests can enjoy an assortment of small plates and brunch cocktails like mimosas, bloody marys, and micheladas.

For the Person Who Wants to Ring in 2016 with Funk: Minton’s, 206 West 118 Street

Feast on a four-course prix fixe highlighted by braised short ribs and pan roasted salmon while listening to an R & B singer, or kick off the new year in the early hours with funk. Guests can enjoy an early dinner for $100 per person from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. or a late seating starting at 9:30 p.m. for $175, with wine pairings available for an additional fee. Those guests who are interested in continuing the party can enjoy dancing, drinks, and small bites for an additional $99 by reserving a ticket here.

For the Person Who Wants Sushi and Singing: Sushi Roxx, 120 East 39 Street

Enjoy an entire album table side at this singing theatrical dinner show, which is offering a three-hour open bar and champagne toast at midnight. Dinner includes appetizers for the table along with an assortment of signature sushi rolls, an entree, and desserts for the table, followed by Roxxy and Big Mac signature rolls, a choice of entrée with choices like filet mignon, shiitake polenta and Atlantic salmon capped off with a selection of desserts for the table including mochi and molten sticky toffee cupcakes. Guests can score a table by contacting the restaurant directly.

For People who Celebrate New Year’s by Pretending to be from the Past: Beauty & Essex, 146 Essex Street

Beauty & Essex is hosting a Great Gatsby themed five hour open bar complete with food, a champagne toast, and live roaring twenties-style performances. Tickets are $250 per person and can be secured here.

For People Whose New Year’s Resolution is to Visit Bushwick: Maite, 159 Central Avenue, Brooklyn

If you want to start off 2016 in the know, Maite is debuting its first ever brunch on New Years Day. From 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. revelers can talk about the glory days of less than 24 hours ago over $4 beers, $7 cider, and a slew of brand new dishes like the Colombian hangover soup puchero. Bowls of the soup are paired with a foot-on chicken leg, a beef rib, and a slab of pork belly. Other dishes include a burger topped with mozzarella and a duck egg arepa.

For People Who Want to Relive Their Friend’s High School Basement: Treadwell Park, 1125 1st AvenueStarting at $20, adults can relive their high school New Year’s parties with pinball machines, ping pong, popcorn, and lots of beer. The Upper East Side beer hall offers twenty varieties of beers and ciders on tap and also offers a full smorgasbord of hearty German fare; reserve a ticket package of choice here.

 

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This Week in Food: Champagne Class, Pajama Party and New Year’s Eve Eating Competition


Do You Want to Make a Snowman?, Pink Canary, 13-11 Jackson Avenue, Queens, Monday and Tuesday, 1 to 2:30 p.m.

Give the gift of cupcake decoration at this baking class, where students will learn how to make fondant snowman and sugar cookies. Students will also learn how to use royal icing and other sweets for sculpting and decoration. Classes are $50 and include fresh baked treats to bring home. Reservations can be made by contacted Pink Canary at info@pinkcanarydesserts.com.

Last Meal at Costata, Costata, 206 Spring Street, Monday through December 31

Diners looking for a final steak dinner out on the town before hitting a January juice diet can say goodbye to Costata, which announced it will be closing its doors after service on December 31. The restaurant will also offer its final corkage free Monday night special for those guests interested in bringing in their own wine to pair with the pasta, seafood, and red meat heavy menu.

Champagne Showers, East Houston Wine and Liquor, 250 East Houston Street, Wednesday, 6 to 9 p.m.

Need a crash course in which Champagnes are worth your while?  Sample 15 different types of Champagne such as Veuve Clicquot and Moet Chandon at this free tasting. Guests who are throwing together a last minute party  can also take advantage of the store’s 10%-off deal for any in-store Champagne purchases.

Pajama Party, Loosie Rouge, 91 South 6th St, Brooklyn, Thursday, 9 p.m. to close

Party in your PJ’s at this super casual New Year’s party, where a $30 ticket gets you a glass of champagne (pajamas will not be provided). Guests can also enjoy a selection of New Orleans-style cocktails like the sazerac along with live music throughout the evening; score a reservation here.

New Year’s Eve Party and Eating Competition, Barn Joo, 893 Broadway, Thursday, 9:30 p.m. to close

Instead of a fancy tasting menu, consider signing up for a chicken wing and beer drinking contest to celebrate the close of 2015. For $5 per competition, guests attending Barn Joo’s New Year’s Eve party can attempt to eat as many chicken wings or polish off a pint of beer in order to receive a cash prize. The party includes an open bar and buffet along with a midnight champagne toast. Tickets are $99 in advance and can be reserved here.

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Five Hip-Hop Trends We Hope End in 2014

With hip-hop being such a vibrant youth culture, trends seem to come and go in the blink of an eye. Why, even today’s biggest singles could be shamelessly copied into a dozen knock-offs and become instantly passe in the time it takes for iTunes search results to load. As a result, these trends can come to define a fleeting moment in time, and with a new year upon us, here’s a few in particular that we hope go the way of the “Party Like a Rock Star” as soon as possible. Here’s Five Hip-Hop Trends We Hope End in 2014.

“You Know What Never Disappoints Audiences? Sequels!”

OK, I know, Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx II was one of the best rap albums of the past five years. But for every Only Built 4 Cuban Linx II, there’s every other rap album sequel that’s ever been made. With very, very few exceptions, the rap album sequel are more often promotional stunts than inspired successors, hoping to goad former fans into returning to the fold or a desperate attempt at inspiration. Busta Rhymes’s Extinction Level Event album was predicated upon the concept that the world was going to end at midnight on New Year’s Day 2000, so why is there a planned sequel 14 years after the world was supposed to end? Take note rappers: instead of trying to live-up to your artistic peaks, why not make sequels to your most critically derided albums? That way you might get the increasingly rare compliment “it’s better than the original!”

“I’m So Proud of This Song, Let’s Tack a Skit to the End of It!”

You would think being over a decade into the MP3 era would dead this relic of music’s past, but it’s sadly not the case. While I admittedly enjoy rap album skits more than most, in the CD era there was nothing worse than having to wait through 90 seconds of non-actors acting in order to get to the song we wanted to hear. Today, that irritant has morphed into the skit creeping up at the end of the track, awkwardly ruining playlists and shuffled listening sessions alike. N.O.R.E. landmark 2013 collaboration with Large Professor “Built Pyramids” was one of the most surprisingly stellar tracks of the year, but imagine our shock when the track’s conclusion on the album version included a full minute of Peter Rosenberg gushing over how great they are, putting a weird chunk in our year end playlist. Keep making skits, gents, but please keep the party in mind and give them their own track.

“Oh, and Here’s A Conspiracy Too! Anyway, Next Subject”

Remember in the mid-2000s during the Bush era when every rapper worth his weight in Rawkus slipmats would throw in a stray commentary line about how awful politics were? Well now that shoddily made YouTube conspiracy videos are easier to watch than ever, rappers have taken to not only dropping Info Wars-inspired punchlines, but keeping them vague and immediately moving on without even the courtesy of a Jesse Ventura-style explanation. LL Cool J had a new album last year, but waited until the closing track “We’re the Greatest” to utter “I got a lot of crazy crazy on my mind /
Like what’s the real reason that the pope resigned?” and then never return to it. It’s even hit the battle rap world where lines like Shotgun Suge’s “you both fake like the Boston bombings” are sadly not met with the response “you’re incapable of Googling Snopes.com !”


“…and did I mention I’m CRAZY?!”

Remember that day in your high school English class where your teacher stressed the important of “showing, NOT telling” in your writing? Evidentially, a lot of today’s rappers missed that one. There’s nothing wrong with being an unhinged eccentric in hip-hop, in fact, the most out-there artists like Kool Keith, Ol’ Dirty Bastard and Lil B have made some of the most memorable contributions in the genre’s history. The thing is, they never actually had to tell you that they were “insane,” it was something you just knew from what they talked about and how they talked about it. There’s few things as painfully uninteresting as a rapper constantly reminding you how crazy/insane/nuts/psychotic they are, and yet the most out-there thing they’ll do on a record is kill someone else or themselves, which are both fixtures of thousands of rap records since the late-80s. That also goes for songs like “I’m Not Crazy” where the implied twist (SPOILER ALERT!) is that the artist is crazy. And no, sampling a horror movie and shooting a music video at night doesn’t change that either.

“Rap Game Grandpa Simpson!”

In 2013, it seemed yesterday’s rap veterans (who a few sites have taken quite the liberal use of “legend”-status with) realized a way they could feel their insatiable desire to be looked at was, not by trying to reconnect with an audience by making the quality music they were once known for, but ranting about social issues with the perspective of a bitter out-of-touch shut-in whose spent less time in the past decade rapping and more time telling young whipper-snappers to get off their lawn. Just because a member or Brand Nubian is making headlines again doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good thing. Along with tarnishing their legacies by, whether you agree with them or not, whoring their perspectives, it’s potentially alienating the new hip-hop generation from understanding what made their original contributions to the culture so valuable.

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Celebrate the New Year With a Bright, Fizzy Cocktail

New Year’s has been celebrated for nearly, well, forever. Actually four millennia, according to historical records — it began as a Babylonian celebration in March before Julius Caesar commanded the date of January 1 in 46 B.C. Of course, during that vast length of time, various traditions have evolved around the world, but in the United States, one New Year’s tradition has become a requirement. No, not the ball drop or a kiss at midnight, but a toast of Champagne.

A slender stemmed glass with rising bubbles is the emblem of celebration, and as midnight rolls around it is customary to fill a flute, raise it high, and ring in the new year. But what do you drink when the Champagne flute has emptied?

The options truly are endless. But New Year’s Eve is not a time to refill your glass with any old cocktail; it’s a night to continue the millennia-old tradition of celebrating renewal, winter, and all you hope to have in store by drinking something special.

“In December there are all these sweet cocktails, but on New Year’s we should be drinking something citrusy and a little lighter, not heavy-handed,” says Patrick Benison, bartender at A Voce and former barback at The Beagle. “Fruit baskets are common gifts around the holidays, and they’re typically filled with oranges, grapefruits, and pineapples.” Using that citrus in drinks, he notes, speaks to the notion of cleansing for a new beginning. “There’s a great classic cocktail that The Beagle did perfectly called the Prince of Wales that makes good use of pineapple.” The cocktail requires muddling pine-apple with bitters, maraschino liqueur, and rye whiskey, a sweet and smoky way to begin 2014.

Sarah Morrissey, a bartender at Dutch Kills in Long Island City, recommends a fizz for your New Year’s celebration. “They look like snow,” she says, seeing the cocktail as representing the chilly, wintery New Year of the East Coast. “One really classic cocktail Dutch Kill makes is the Peach Blow Fizz, with egg whites, strawberries, cream, lemon, lime, simple syrup, and gin. Or if you want a more masculine fizz, there’s the Morning Glory Fizz, with scotch, lemon, simple syrup, egg white, and an absinthe rinse.”

The origins of drinking Champagne on New Year’s go back — no surprise — to France, and the custom is loosely associated with drinking something fine enough for the gods, a remnant of the holiday’s religious significance back in the Babylonian days. As the opulence and price of Champagne rose in the early 19th century, so did public reverence for the effervescent spirit. But we’ve come a long way since then, and there is surely more on cocktail menus and in home bars to create mixed drinks decadent enough for deities, and you.

“A new year should be about trying new things,” Benison says. “In terms of cocktails, a lot of new things are happening. For instance, more people are using amaros and sherry. This will be a big year for vermouth and fortified wine, too.” Many former cocktail fads are coming back into fashion.

“People are going back to grass roots,” says Jack McGarry of The Dead Rabbit. If out at a bar for New Year’s, McGarry recommends a throwback: a Turf Club Martini, the godfather of classic cocktails. “It’s a favorite of mine,” he says of the vermouth-heavy concoction. Ask any well-trained bartender around the city, he advises, and they should be able to make it for you.

As for New Year’s at home, McGarry has one simple suggestion: punch. “My biggest thing is punch, gathering in your home with friends. Punch is a big revelation of this year because people are starting to take it seriously. There are so many good recipes that are easy to make, and you can drink it throughout the course of the night. You don’t get too drunk too fast. Plus, there are very few bells and whistles involved. It’s not as complicated as cocktails. If I was throwing a New Year’s party, I would make it for everybody.”

Whether you’re out on the town or gathering with friends, try something new, fresh, or fizzy to refill your glass for the coming year.

Cocktail Recipes

Prince of Wales

from The Beagle

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1 dash Angostura bitters

1-inch fresh pineapple cube

1/4 ounce simple syrup

1 bar spoon maraschino liqueur

1 1/2 ounces rye whiskey

Champagne

Lemon peel

=====

Muddle all ingredients in a cocktail shaker. Shake vigorously, strain into a coupe glass, and top with Champagne; garnish with a lemon peel twist.

Peach Blow Fizz

by Sarah Morrissey at Dutch Kill

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1 or 2 strawberries

1 egg white

1/2 ounce cream

3/4 ounce simple syrup

3/4 ounce lemon juice

3/4 ounce lime juice

2 ounces gin

Club soda

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Muddle the strawberries, then add all ingredients except club soda into shaker. Shake without ice and then with ice, strain, and serve in a fizz glass. Wait one minute for the drink to settle, then top with club soda. Garnish with a strawberry.

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FOOD ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES

Happy New Year From Fork in the Road!

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FOOD ARCHIVES Living NYC ARCHIVES

Five Great Do-It-Yourself Things to Do for New Year’s, NYC

Really, standing and shivering in Times Square for eight hours without peeing or drinking any alcohol (!) is about the worst way to spend New Year’s that FiTR can think of. Here are five alternatives that will cause your friends to admire you and fill up the evening with good clean fun.

1. Make a tortilla hat with an indentation on top for salsa, then wear it to a New Year’s Party. Encourage your best friends to double dip!

2. Stage a possum drop at midnight in Central Park. The residents of Brasstown, North Carolina, show you how. This video, featuring a string band, a Honey Boo Boo look-alike, and drag queens with beards captures an event that occurs every New Year’s in Brasstown, where a possum is put in a box and dropped at midnight. Much better than a crystal ball in Times Square, and you can drink moonshine, too! (Unfortunately, a lawsuit by PETA has nixed the ceremony this year.)

3. Break dishes against the door of your neighbor’s house or apartment at midnight, the way they do it in Denmark.

4. In Ecuador, women do sexy dances in the street, holding up traffic, then burn effigies of their husbands at midnight on New Year’s [NSFW].

5. Have a New Year’s-resolution party, in which all the guests write their resolutions on little pieces of paper, read at midnight as toasts. The funnier the better, and here are some from the website I Love India:

Remember to brush teeth with bristly end of toothbrush.

Don’t eat medicine just because it looks like candy.

Always replace the gas nozzle before driving away from the pump.

I will always “check for paper” when leaving the restroom.

I will keep an extra safe distance when driving behind police cars.

I will not bore my boss with the same excuse for taking leaves. I will think of some more excuses.

I will do less laundry and use more deodorant.

I will avoid taking a bath whenever possible and conserve more water.

I will give up chocolates totally. 100%. Completely. Honestly!

I will try to figure out why I really need nine e-mail addresses.

I resolve to work with neglected children — my own.

I will spend less than one hour a day on the Internet. This, of course, will be hard to estimate since I’m not a clock watcher.

I will think of a password other than “password.”

Read fewer books. A little learning is a dangerous thing. Too much of it can really wreck your head.

Watch more TV. It’s very educational. Catch up on all those programs you missed down the years.

I will not wet the bed and blame it on my younger brother/sister.

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ART ARCHIVES CULTURE ARCHIVES Theater

Love Goes to Press: Old News Is Good News

Even at the Mint Theater, where rescuing forgotten plays is a routine as regular as breathing, rediscoveries rarely have the piquant charm of Love Goes to Press. First produced in 1946 at London’s Embassy Theatre—itself an off–West End venue, in the eccentrically named Swiss Cottage neighborhood, which specialized in discovering oddball works—this romantic comedy won enough Londoners’ approval for two novice producers to risk it on Broadway, where it opened on New Year’s Day 1947, to chilly reviews, and flopped ignominiously five days later. Epiphany’s three kings brought no presents to its American co-authors, the noted female war correspondents Martha Gellhorn and Virginia Cowles.

Thanks to their war experiences, though, both ladies were probably used to having it tough (especially Gellhorn, who had also briefly been famous as the third Mrs. Ernest Hemingway). Tinged teasingly with autobiography, their play merges two stock genres—newsroom comedy à la The Front Page and barracks-room shenanigans à la What Price Glory?—to narrate the adventures of two female newshounds in a man-heavy outpost on the Italian front toward war’s end.

An American detachment is trapped on a nearby mountain slope; Jane (Angela Pierce) has contrived to sneak up with the Red Cross, to be with our boys when the rescuers arrive. Annabelle (Heidi Armbruster) has to busy herself with a different rescue—detaching her ultra-competitive colleague and ex-husband (Rob Breckenridge) from the clutches of a warbly British ingenue (Margot White) whose plan to build a career on entertaining the troops requires maximum press coverage.

Thanks to the traditional Army confusion, both plans go comically awry. Annabelle gets rid of her rival but doesn’t quite get her man, while Jane nearly falls for but doesn’t end up with the stuffy English officer (Bradford Cover) running the press camp. (The comic high point is their scene of lovemaking under Nazi shell fire.) Director Jerry Ruiz deploys his acting troops with skillful briskness; Pierce and Armbruster both mix class with sass appealingly (if perhaps a little too similarly). In the generally solid supporting cast, a particular standout is Jay Patterson’s comically crusty turn as a cynical American correspondent whose gift for slacking off knows no bounds. Was this really so unfunny on New Year’s Day 1947? Probably the reviewers were just hung over—or else grumpy at having to work on a holiday. Today the show feels like one.

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Bars CULTURE ARCHIVES FOOD ARCHIVES MUSIC ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES

NYE Guide: Memories from Matt Johnson of Matt and Kim

Once you’ve been around for a little while, it gets harder and harder to get excited about things, especially New Year’s Eve. And when it comes to music, it’s easy to feel like you’re surrounded on all sides by mountains of dance trash you rummaged through as a teenager. But this is no time for cynics. A new day is here, and we want to rage on into its loving arms this December 31st. How does one round out a night on the town? We asked Matt Johnson of Matt & Kim, who will preform this New Year’s at Hammerstein Ballroom.

I like to open with a hard-hitting question, so get ready: What’s your favorite color? [Laughs.] Blue. Kim’s is definitely red.

Tell me about the worst New Year’s Eve you’ve ever had. All my friends came over and made me watch The Three Stooges marathon while . . . we all ate tons of shit . . . we ate all these cookies with chocolate stripes, and I just vomited so much that night. You would think I would have a better story from my drinking years, not when I was 10 years old, but I think it was the most vomiting I ever did . . . on New Year’s Eve.

That’s amazing. I have plenty of stories like that, mostly cookie-related. And your best New Year’s ever? Last year, we spent New Year’s in Las Vegas, and there was an opening of the Hotel Cosmopolitan that was happening all month or whatever, and we did this small show with Jay-Z and Kanye performing, and it was all very surreal.

Was that one of the nights where you felt like you made it? It was kinda like, what am I doing here? They’d invited us and all these actors I recognized from all these different things, and I was like, “What are we doing at this thing?”

Fantastic. Do you have any bad habits? I have a way of making a bad situation worse. Like, I’m very mild-mannered, and if someone messes with me, I just act myself. A lot of times, it comes down to security or bouncers: It’s at my own shows; they can’t kick me out, so I’m like this yapping little dog who overreacts. I always feel bad about it after, and I always apologize. But then sometimes, security will be my nemesis, like, you can’t treat people like cattle. People are coming to the shows. People don’t want that experience.

Any resolutions for Matt & Kim, or you separately? I haven’t thought about it yet. It’s hard for anyone these days to make a New Year’s resolution because there’s so much going on, there’s so much happening, and there are all these reasons to go against it, so you have to think about it carefully. I have to get back to you. I’ll have an answer to that question onstage.

It’s cool. I’ve never met any 30-year-old saints, and I don’t think they canonize anyone before 50, so don’t worry about it. What’s your favorite drink? You know, I’m thinking. Kim would say Budweiser without thinking about it. Kim’s Budweiser to the core. We’ll be in these countries that are known for their amazing beers, like Belgium or something like that, and Kim will ask for Budweiser.

Guess that makes Kim the all-American girl. Who do you guys listen to on the road? Kim and I are big fans of Top 40 hip-hop. I was listening to Kanye West on the plane ride today. We like music that we find fun. Anything from Tokyo Police Club. As long as it’s fun. There are a surprising amount of things that are stressful, so I gotta keep my music fun.

I’ve had some of your hooks in my head for days, and I have to say, I’m a little angry at you both for that. Thank you. We’re kinda dangerous like that. I know what you mean in the sense that I’m walking through the pharmacy, and I hear a Christmas song, and I get this hook stuck in my head—like a Christmas carol—and I’m like, “Goddammit, why can’t I get this out of my head?” That sometimes happens with some of our simpler tunes, like “Yea Yeah.”

Where is the coolest place to have sex on New Year’s Eve in New York City? Where, when, how, doesn’t matter. Well, I was thinking of the initial place I thought, but I don’t want to provoke. But again, if this place was empty, the life-size Barbie house in the Toys ‘R’ Us in Times Square. I’m saying if the whole place was empty, then it would be acceptable. I’d say hold off on there. I don’t know where one could find a rooftop pool, but it seems like . . . a heated rooftop pool on New Year’s Eve, on the top of a skyscraper in Manhattan, seems pretty epic. If you get the info, send it my way.

You had me at Barbie house. [Laughs.]

Matt, we look forward to seeing you back in the city. Thank you.