3-14-2007 Open Letter to a Slumlord

When I started my restaurant career at Percy Brown’s circa 1972, it was customary as it is in most restaurants for the supremely important employees to torture the far less than important employees. In other words, the chefs would do their absolute best to make the lives of the downtrodden dishwashers and potwashers a living hell.

I started as a weekend “pot pig,” and I learned very quickly that the chefs really, really enjoyed burying me in burned pots and pans and suchlike, as evidenced by their constant verbal jabbing, and their propensity for laughing all the way back to the kitchen after delivering the latest pile of thoroughly carbonized cookware. Even though I was unimportant in the grand scheme of things, I was of the opinion that they were a bunch of dicks.

But I never took their love of piling burned pots and chuckling at my expense as an obstacle that could not be overcome. Rather, their constant ball-busting only to served to motivate me. And when you motivate a hyperactive kid with a chip on his shoulder, you’re either headed for a blood-soaked pogrom, or you’re going to have a caught-up pot pig leaning against the equipment in your kitchen and taunting you because he’s completely caught-up with nary a pot nor a problem in the world. You want some of this?

At first, this kid with the attitude brought mostly resistance and booby traps from said chefs, but over time they came to hesitantly respect my worth ethic, and even stopped heating pans in the broiler hoping only that I’d come along, grab it and burn my hands. And after enough of paying a potwasher to taunt the mighty chefs, I was invited to join that kitchen as a “kitchen man.” A kitchen man was basically a cleanup boy, an errand boy and a prep cook to some degree. You name it, I did it. But what this entry-level gopher position provided me with was the opportunity to work side-by-side with some of the best cooks in this entire area. In short, I was being provided with a free culinary education.

In time, I even started seeing these guys socially. Well, that is to say, we played pool at Guys ‘n’ Dolls five nights a week. A couple of these guys were in college. One was an assistant manager at a local Burger King. And then there was me, the long-haired kid without a care in the word other than where his next quart of Dr. Pepper was coming from. But the one guy and I had one thing in common: A love, almost a passion for what we thought was good music.

And while we would hang out at his house in Forty Fort and spin discs, our love of music was basically a long drawn-out version of agreeing to disagree. He liked that pretty piano and vocal-dominated melodic stuff. And I liked the stuff that more closely resembled a sonic boom being orchestrated by distortion pedals and bar chords. He liked Barbara Streisand, Billy Joel and things of that ilk. I liked KISS, Blue Oyster Cult and Mick Ronson’s guitar stylings that made David Bowie a star. And near as I could tell, his dad’s tastes were somewhere in the middle, but spinning my favorites on the turntable would get him to angrily stomping down the steps at one in the morning. Sorry, Fred.

He’d spin some new release of his, and I’d give it a listen and then a quick thumbs down. I’d spin something like “Dr. Love” and he’d turn green and pray for the song to end. And so it went. There was no band or artist that we could agree upon. It just wasn’t going to happen no matter what. But, out of the blue, a funny thing happened along the way to the Pomeroy’s record department.

He showed up with the new Billy Joel album begging me to not pre-judge it. I did, albeit reluctantly, but I had my thumb cocked and ready to spring downwards after the first song. Not! But, believe it or not, the Piano Man himself upped and produced a guitar-dominated album. Not guitar-dominated like rumbling the foundation loose or anything. But guitar-dominated just enough to make me go out and buy it. I liked it, but it did cause me some concern. Is this what getting old is like? Listening to guitars without distortion pedals, without phase shifters and without pyrotechnic-like technique? Maybe we could turn it up louder and skip the Geritol for now.

Unbeknownst to us, there was this new guitar pedal called a Rockman that was developed by some boy genius who, despite being a hopeless techno geek, couldn’t get his rock ‘n’ roll roots out of his system. This pedal produced a sound that was previously unheard of. It was unique. It produced a beautiful clarity as if the chords being played were arpeggios, yet, they were still chords. It was the most melodic-sounding guitar I had ever heard, but still it approached being that thunderous sonic boom that I preferred. For the very first time, Mark and I had found an album that could get the two of us to turning it up way, way too loud and bouncing all around the room like two linebackers pumped full of prescription-strength Black Beauties before the conference title game. If we had gotten to throwing things around the room and punching holes in the drywall, it wouldn’t have been our fault. If his dad came stomping on down those steps on that night, we would blame everything on that joyous and melodic sonic boom, and that powerful voice to match. This wasn’t rock ‘n’ roll, this was damn near perfection.

Well, we were just another band out of Boston
On the road to try to make ends meet
Playin' all the bars, sleepin' in our cars
And we practiced right on out in the street
No, we didn't have much money
We barely made enough to survive
But when we got up on stage and got ready to play
People came alive.

Rock and roll band
Everybody's waitin'
Gettin' crazy
Anticipating love and music
Play, play, play, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah

Yep, if there was only one thing in this life that Mark and I could agree upon, it was that Boston rocked, and did it like nobody else. Their rise was meteoric, but short-lived. As song-writing goes, their clear lack of being prolific did them in, but I’ve still bought and enjoyed their infrequent releases over the years. Sadly, singer Brad Delp passed away earlier this week, so I figure Boston’s on-again, off-again run has probably come to an abrupt end. As much as their sound was as distinctive as the Rockman made it, so was it distinctive because of Delp’s booming vocals. This dude could really bring it.

Every year at the block party, sooner or later, somebody approaches me and says, “Hey, play some Boston, man!” And as soon as I do, the forty and fifty-somethings lift their beer cups in agreement and get to tapping their toes, mouthing the lyrics, or dancing with their spouses, with some even bowing their heads for a nanosecond as if in deference to one of the undisputed gods of their bygone youth. “Boston, man!” You know it.

So, if I get to rumbling your foundation loose anytime soon, don’t overreact by calling the cops. Think of it as a temporary thing as the former potwasher all-out relives his youth in 3 minutes flat. Remember, if it ain’t loud, it ain’t worth a fu>k.

Sez me.

And Mark, too.

I knew it. I freaking knew it. As soon as Wilkes-Barre’s chief assassin deleted his libelous and slanderous internet tirades, I knew it would only be a matter of time before he’d resume with the unwarranted accusations elsewhere on the internet. I just knew he wouldn’t be able to control himself.

Honestly, I fail to understand why any webmaster would allow such irresponsible filth to be posted on their sites. Seriously, if you want to launch into scurrilous attacks on others without an inkling of substantive proof, do it on your own site or shut the funk up.

I direct you to a comment posted at another local political blog:

t.g. said…

Not crazy - dedicated. The run for council is a smart move - I can chip away at Shirley's support and still give Tom a run for his money. I am stronger than those two corrupt individuals combined.

March 12, 2007 1:28 PM

Wow! So, not only is Tom Leighton corrupt. Now we’re adding Shirley Vitasupernova to the official list of “corrupt individuals” as compiled by Wilkes-Barre’s self-appointed judge, jury and executioner…“t.g..”

And the proof? Who needs proof when you have the word of “t.g..” If he says you’re a criminal, you’re a criminal. Now confess and then report directly to the Luzerne County Corrections Facility. It’s life without parole and without appeals because “t.g.” has spoken. Done.

Here’s a prediction. Before this election cycle plays itself out, he and his not so shadowy legal counsel with be abandoning the offense in favor of a defensive posture. Somebody will sue him for the entire contents of his shopping cart.

Equal ballot access? Why not. While it might make a mockery of local elections, it promises to be very entertaining in a sick and twisted and very sad way.

Like I said, grandiosity.

Shirley, do not pass Go, do not collect $200. You have been convicted in the court of t.g’s opinion. Now report to the prison and don’t think for a minute we’re going to fall for that bed sheet stunt again.

Peace. (?)

Poverty is a disease that saps your zest for life, it eviscerates your self-esteem over time and it breeds resentment that quite often leads to criminality and, or violence. It’s debilitating for those stricken by it, but all too often touches the lives of those not constrained by it. That is, the police blotters prove that not only the poor are affected by abject poverty.

With that said, having once tried poverty and not liking it too much, poverty is no excuse for criminality or stupidity.

From the Times Leader:

UPDATE: Man arrested at soup kitchen connected to body found in Wilkes-Barre home

Once again, if you want to solve a high-profile crime, you need not look much further than our multitude of social service agencies, or do-gooder outfits. If idiots are what you seek, why look anywhere else but at the idiot magnets themselves?

While nobody wants to hear it, that soup kitchen is killing the once-thriving neighborhood that surrounds it. The police blotters prove as much, as does the police scanner. So, when you see a list of the well-heeled philanthropists that happen to support this idiot magnet, contact them and ask them if they’d subsidize the relocation of said idiot magnet to their neighborhoods.

I guarantee you they won’t be interested at all. And therein lies the proof that it is little more than an idiot magnet, and a sure-fire accelerator of reverse-gentrification. And if it continues to operate where it has, you can kiss off the southern edge of the Nord End as being completely inhabitable.

It’s an idiot magnet.

Nothing more, nothing less.

From the e-mail inbox A guy gets on a plane and finds himself seated next to a cute blonde..

He immediately turns to her and makes his move..

He says, I've heard that flights go quicker if you strike up a conversation with your fellow passenger.. So lets talk..

The blonde, who had just opened her book, closes it, and slowly says to the guy, what would you like to discuss..

Oh, I don't know says the guy, how about nuclear power ?..

O K says the blonde , that could be an interesting topic, but let me ask you a questions first. A horse, a deer and a cow all eat the same stuff..."Grass". Yet the deer excretes little pellets. the cow turns out a flat patty, and the horse produces muffins of dried poop...Why do you suppose that is..???

The guy is dumbfounded. Finally he replies, I haven't the slightest idea.

So tell me , says the blonde, "How is it that you feel so qualified to discuss nuclear power, when you don't know sh*t" ???

It seems to me that some of our electoral hopefuls should give that one some serious thought.

I ran across two photos yesterday that I had forgotten taking. The pictures are from when my uncle decided to demolish my grandmother’s house. Being that my mom was saddled with three kids and no income, my grandparents decided to move into the O’Karma Terrace high-rise and sell the home to my mom for a single dollar. It was an awesome gesture, providing a free home to their daughter and three of their grandkids. Problem is, it never happened.

It never happened because my uncle protested quite vigorously. I don’t remember the reason for it, but I never understood why he would object to our having a place of our own. I never understood why he would object to my mom having a mighty burden lifted from her. I never understood what his problem was, because after he took possession of the home, he split it into two apartments and played slumlord until the home deteriorated to the point of needing to be demolished. I just never understood.

After finding those forgotten photos again, the resentment, the contempt I feel for him came rushing back in spades. I used to be very close to him, but after he did what he did to my mom, I purposely stayed away from him from the very late seventies until his death almost two years ago. Many in my family begged me many times over to go and visit him, but I could not and I never did. The way I see it, my mom was screwed-over too many times throughout her abbreviated life and did not deserve to have her one and only break in that life to be undermined by a close family member. And undermined so that family member could make with the slumlord routine? I just never understood and I never will.

Needless to say, I’m still upset with my uncle. And I’m equally upset with the growing gaggle of absentee property owners, the outright slumlords, the many tenants who take no pride at all in their rental properties and the blithering political idiots who stupidly railed against the city’s rental ordinance. Combined, they are the destroyers of neighborhoods.

Times change and so do the faces of neighborhoods. All I know is, there’s an empty lot in the Nord End that is much more to me than an empty lot. It once was and forever shall be 638 N. Washington Street. When I was growing up in Connecticut, I always thought of it as being my home away from home. I always wanted it to be my home. And truth be told, it would have been my home if not for a man who valued a potential revenue source more than the needs of his immediate family. He was a precursor to the modern slumlords, but try as he may have, he couldn’t erase the memories.

Anyway, those pictures and those memories got me to cycling through the Nord End last night, taking more pictures and resulted in the following.