, February 2021

Thanksgiving dinner was good—but, after two days at home for the first time since late August, when he’d left for his freshman year of college upstate, Carl was already sick of hiding out in his room avoiding his family and felt about to explode if he didn’t get out of the house—

He called two of his new college buddies who lived on Long Island, Frank and Joe, and invited them to crash at the house overnight so they could hit the bars up near the Massapequa Park train station, which, during high school, he’d never had good enough ID to even try to get into, but now they all possessed freshly altered New York State driver’s licenses, thanks to a girl in their dorm who “chalked” them with pencils and Aqua Net and had changed the 3s in 1973 to 0s, making them all 22.

After Frank and Joe arrived, they piled into Carl’s ’81 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme—”The Green Car” for its shade of GM Forest Pine, which had belonged to his grandfather, who died of cancer less than a year after buying it—and made the two mile ride up to Massapequa Park, just north of Sunrise Highway, parking in the shadows at the far end of the holiday-deserted train station, behind one of the huge concrete supports holding up the elevated eastbound and westbound tracks of the L.I.R.R. Babylon branch.

* * *

They began the evening on Park Boulevard—the closest thing there was to a “Main Street” in the Greater Massapequas, which, otherwise, was mostly strip malls and mall-malls—and went into Kokomo’s.

It was the heart of Saturday night, yet the dive was nearly empty, save a couple of middle-aged men sitting separately down at the dark end of the bar, and a young red-haired guy passed out at one of the little circular tables in the back, near the restrooms.

The bartender—in her 40s or so, attractive, facial features a bit hardened, dyed blond hair, tight black jeans, raspy smoker’s voice, heavy local accent, black concert t-shirt from a 1984 Billy Joel show at Madison Square Garden—looked at their ID’s and could tell something wasn’t right, but shrugged it off and let them stay. She made them guess her name by pointing to her eye and then leaning against the bar—

“Eileen!” she said. “Get it? Eye, lean—I know, it’s corny. Please don’t leave. What’ll it be? The first round is on me! I’ll even throw in some hot wings!”

It wasn’t long before they realized why she was so anxious for them to stay, the place dead and the two guys down the bar totally creepy, staring straight ahead with several shots of whiskey lined up next to their beer glasses, waiting for it to be time to throw back the next one—

“How long has this place been here?” Carl asked, he and his friends smoking Marlboro “Reds”, Eileen smoking Marlboro Lights 100s.

“Since the sixties. This place used to be wild, rock stars would hang out here—Vanilla Fudge, the Good Rats, Blue Öyster Cult, Lou Reed, Candy Darling—she grew up a couple of blocks from here. And then in the late seventies and early eighties it was known as ‘Cocaine-amos’, which was fun for a while, but then it got really nasty and gross. The current owners took it over five years ago and cleaned it up, but, as you can see, it hasn’t really caught on—”

Pitcher after pitcher they drank for two hours and downed about a hundred wings, Eileen not charging them but accepting their tips, each throwing in a buck per pitcher.

In the back, the red-headed guy began to stir and rose from his table, then staggered towards the freshmen—

“I know you,” the guy said to Carl. “Your name is Carl. You used to be friends with that loser Eric.”

“Go back to sleep, Kenny,” Eileen said.

“Hey, Kenny,” Carl said, remembering Kenny Brill from eighth grade art class, a kid who bragged about how much weed he smoked, and by tenth grade was rumored to be snorting heroin and supposedly went crazy and broke all the windows in his house, then at some point stopped showing up at school. “It’s good to see you. I always wondered what happened to you.”

“I got hooked on the H-train, brother. Bad news, man, bad news. Can you spare a buck or two so I can buy a drink?”

“Kenny, I’ve warned you about harassing my customers,” Eileen said. “If you don’t leave them alone, I’m gonna throw you out.”

“Alright, alright,” he said, then staggered back to his table.

* * *

After bidding Eileen good night, they headed down to Front Street and into Gannon’s Station Café, where there was a crowd, but they were older, their parents’ age and above, and they must not have been used to young guys coming in because the old guy behind the bar didn’t even card them. They ordered a pitcher of Budweiser, then retreated to the CD jukebox towards the back, where Frank put in a dollar for five plays, making the first selection “Revolution 1” from the Beatles’ White Album, then the next four selections, “Revolution 9″—

“I think we’re in a cop bar,” Joe said. “A lot of mustaches in here.”

About two minutes into the first playing of the eight-plus minute “Revolution 9”, some guy with a bushy “street-sweeper” cop-stache and a really bad hairpiece came over, clad in Augusta green sharkskin suit and extra-wide brown-and-tan-striped tie with silver clip, holding a Rob Roy and an unfiltered Pall Mall—

“You punks think you’re funny playing this hippie garbage?” he asked, gravel-voiced.

“Pardon?” Frank asked.

“On the jukebox. This isn’t music. This is hippie garbage.”

“We just picked the first song,” Joe said. “Someone else came over and picked this one—”

“I know you’re lying, punk. I’ve had my eye on this jukebox all night. This punk over here—” pointing at Frank—”put in a dollar, and chose five songs. This is the second song. And I use the term loosely, because it’s not actually a ‘song’, but a piece of hippie garbage.”

* * *

After a hasty exit from Gannon’s, they headed back up the block towards the Front Street Pub, where about a hundred or so Harley-Davidsons were parked, many on the sidewalk and the rest on the street, some extending into Front Street’s westbound lane—

“Let’s go there,” Carl said.

Frank and Joe exchanged glances, then said, “Sure.”

There was a bouncer seated on a barstool outside the door, a large, bearded biker guy with the name “Barf” patched to his leather vest. A rockabilly band was playing inside. He didn’t ask for ID, but informed them of the $5.00 cover to get in.

“They sound like the Stray Cats,” Joe said.

“They are the Stray Cats,” Barf said.

Inside, the backs of their right hands now marked with giant black Xs from Barf’s Magic Marker, there they were, up on a small platform stage, Massapequa’s own Stray Cats—Brian Setzer picking his Gretsch, Lee Rocker slapping his standup, Slim Jim Phantom banging his drums. The floor was packed with biker guys, most clad in leather jackets and vests patched with Pagan cuts, dancing with their old ladies.

The freshmen drifted towards the floor until they were suddenly seized by three leather-clad women, who, like ninjas, swiftly slapped a handcuff onto each of their wrists, then attached the other cuff to the brass rail on the bar—

“This juke joint has a three-shot minimum,” said a woman with short black hair and a lot of makeup, tight leather pants, like Joan Jett, but a little off.

The bartender, who looked similar but different, like Pat Benatar, lined up nine shot glasses, filling each with Cuervo Gold and a little splash of Tabasco, a concoction known as a “Prairie Fire”—

“Finish three each and you can stay,” Joan Jett said.

The three freshmen exchanged glances and shrugged. With their free hands, they raised their first glasses for a toast, then threw them back. Seconds later, each vomited at their feet, the red splatter glowing from the Tabasco and the earlier hot wing sauce—

Pat Benatar screamed, surprisingly loud and high-pitched. The band, in the middle of “Rumble in Brighton”, brought the song to a stumbling halt. The bikers and their old ladies flashed angry looks towards the freshmen—

“Looks like we got a few lightweights over at the bar,” Setzer said into the microphone, his voice echoing loudly through the big amps, followed by feedback. Rocker and Phantom chuckled, but the bikers and their old ladies started yelling, and it looked like it was about to get ugly—

“Get them out of here!” Joan Jett ordered the leather-clad women, then turned to the Cats and yelled at them to “Start playing!” The band broke into “Rock This Town” and everyone on the floor started dancing again, while the lads were uncuffed and escorted out—

* * *

Minutes later, in the darkness at the far end of the train station, after retrieving from the Oldsmobile an eighth of weed and a little brass pipe purchased at the “gift store” on Main Street upstate, the freshmen smoked a bowl they far from needed, which made them not high but once more nauseous. Joe puked again, and at some point, Kenny Brill found them and they let him have a couple of hits, then gave him some money, and that was the last thing Carl would remember until they had somehow arrived back home and were trying to get into the house without making noise, and then Frank and Joe passed out on the floor in his room—

* * *

Carl opened his eyes. It was 6:47 and starting to get light. Frank and Joe were gone. The house was quiet. His head was throbbing, his tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth. He felt like he was going to puke. With great effort, he pushed himself up from his mattress on the floor and went out to the hallway window to see if their cars were still there. They were gone, but his Cutlass was parked at a near-45-degree angle in the driveway, one of the tires on the front lawn—

“Shit!” he whispered, tiptoeing out the door while trying to extract the keys from his pocket. Having no recollection of driving home, he checked the front bumper for blood, which, fortunately, there did not appear to be. He then got in and turned the ignition, backing out of the driveway and pulling it back in straight.

After cutting the engine, he remained motionless in the cold quiet of the car’s interior listening to himself breathe, until he slammed the steering wheel with the hand bearing the black X on its backside—

“Idiot!” he shouted, eyes stinging with tears, then whispered, “Never do this again.” ▪