, October 2023

“We already missed The Who,” Eric said to Carl. “We can’t miss the Stones.”

This was the day the Rolling Stones announced their Steel Wheels 1989 World Tour, the first time the band would be touring in eight years after Jagger and Richards spent most of the decade sniping at one another.

“I agree,” Carl said, “but The Who wasn’t our fault. We had no way to get to Giants Stadium from here.”

“We could have found a way.”

“Get over it already.”

“I can’t. The Who is never gonna come around again, they’re almost dead. I couldn’t live with myself if we missed the Stones too. And we better not miss Zeppelin when they finally come around.”

“Well, at least the stones are playing at Shea and we can get there by train. All we need now is to get tickets. And if Zeppelin does play Giants Stadium, I would walk to New Jersey if I had to.”

* * *

When Carl’s mother objected to her sixteen-year-old son taking a Long Island Rail Road train from the safe harbor of Massapequa to the scary borough of Queens and back at night without parental accompaniment, Carl was ready with his answer.

“I’m sure most of the people at the concert will be your age, so it’ll be like having lots of parents around,” he said, swallowing his own unpleasant visualization of being surrounded by tens of thousands of Baby Boomers. Yet his own generation had far worse taste in music, most of the other kids at school listening to Paula Abdul and Fine Young Cannibals on Z100 and WPLJ and passing off the Stones as an oldies act, much thanks to Cousin Brucie on WCBS-FM spinning “Satisfaction” ten times a weekend, ignorant of the greatness of such albums as Sticky Fingers, Exile on Main Street, Goats Head Soup, Tattoo You

“I guess it’s alright,” his mother finally said, lighting a cigarette, sipping her peach wine cooler.

* * *

Tickets went on sale a couple of weeks later. Carl, equipped with his mother’s MasterCard, spent that Saturday morning and afternoon hogging the family phone and pressing “REDIAL” to the TicketMaster number until, seven hours later, he finally got through. Somehow there were still a couple of tickets available for the October 28th show, a Saturday night, which meant his mother couldn’t object to it being a “school night”.

A week later when the TicketMaster envelope arrived in the mail, he carefully opened it and stared at the freshly inked lettering on the ducats:

SAT OCT 28, 1989 4:30 PM

Carl called Eric and he was there ten minutes later, both staring at the tickets on top of Carl’s dresser.

“It’s really gonna happen,” Carl said. “We’re gonna see the fuckin’ Stones.”

* * *

The day before the concert, Carl rode his Centurion Accordo Tour de France Limited Edition LXE 12-speed across the county border to the low-income part of Amityville near the DMV, where there was a liquor store with bars in the windows and thick glass in front of the cashier counter owned by a man who never asked for identification. He purchased a small bottle of Southern Comfort that fit perfectly in the inside pocket of his Levi’s denim jacket and, for Eric, a bottle of Hiram Walker blackberry brandy, which, along with flavored schnapps, he’d developed a taste for during raids of his parents’ liquor cabinet.

* * *

The next morning, they locked their bikes to the rack at the Massapequa Park train station and boarded the 11:55 am to Jamaica. They would be way early and have plenty of time to walk around the neighborhood looking for loose city girls who couldn’t resist white mid-upper-middle-class high school kids from the suburbs with bad haircuts, then go into the stadium for the opening act, Living Colour, whom Carl liked but Eric didn’t care for, and have plenty of time to walk the concourses looking at the different t-shirt concessions.

They also thought they would beat the crowds by heading in early, but the train was packed with Boomers drinking Bud Light, wine coolers, canned margaritas, and smoking Marlboro Lights.

“This is fucking gross,” Eric said.

Carl didn’t agree. These Boomers weren’t like his mother and stepfather’s cocktail-and-gossip friends from the beach club. They were like old high school kids and they were having fun, unlike the high school kids their own age who drank beer in parking lots and on playgrounds and the bike path woods complaining how much everything sucked and never having any fun.

In the seat ahead of theirs, a gray-haired guy with ponytail and beard turned around to face them.

“Fuckin’ Stones, man!” he exclaimed, and people in the surrounding seats cheered. Then he finally noticed how young they were and said, “Whoa, you guys are just fuckin’ kids! You like the Stones?”

“Yes,” Eric said, annoyed, looking out the window.

“Damn right, man!” Carl yelled, and the guy held up his hand for a high-five and Carl gave it to him. Then the guy held his hand up for Eric to high-five, and he reluctantly obliged.

At Jamaica, they changed trains to one even more crowded with rowdy Boomers. This train was headed to Penn Station but stopped at Woodside, where concertgoers had to change trains to get to Shea Stadium, a facility Robert Moses modeled after the Colosseum in Rome, which, at present, was in better condition than this dump in Flushing, home of the 1969 and 1986 World Champion New York Mets.

There were NYPD officers around the outside of the stadium and the show wasn’t going to start for hours, so they walked along Roosevelt Avenue sipping their bottles under the tracks of the elevated 7 subway line. After seeing no girls for two blocks, they headed back towards the stadium, at least they thought, but it seemed to be getting further away, until they were in a neighborhood of unpaved roads and third world auto-repair joints—Willets Point, the “Iron Triangle”, where most of the stolen cars in the New York City metropolitan area wound up.

“What the fuck?” Carl asked.

“I don’t like this,” Eric said and stopped walking.

“Dude, this is what Tijuana must be like.”

“And that would be a good reason to turn around and head back to the stadium.”

“Where all the fuckin’ cops are? Dude, don’t you know the kinds of shit you can get in Tijuana? And for fuckin’ cheap! I’ll bet there’s a bar around here somewhere that won’t even check for I.D.”

“Yeah, well, if it’s around here, that’s not a bar I want to go to.”

A block ahead, parked facing them next to the side of the road where a curb would normally be, was a teal and white ’57 Chevy with big fins on the back, the interior adorned with amber tassels along the tops of the windows.

The lights flashed and a musical horn started playing “Babalu”.

“This feels like something from The Warriors,” Carl said.

“Let’s get the fuck out of here,” Eric said.

The horn went on for another ten seconds or so, then the driver-side door opened and out stepped a woman about in her thirties with dark curly hair squeezed into a teal minidress the same color as the car, spiked red heels, and fishnet stockings.

“You boys looking for fun?” she asked, Cuban accent.

“Yes!” Carl said, enjoying his daylight buzz. Eric was shaking his head, but Carl ignored him and approached the car.

“What you mean ‘maybe’, Chachi? And what is his problem? He doesn’t look like someone looking for fun.”

“He doesn’t know how to have fun,” Carl said. “But I do.”

“Ha! I can tell already. But I can take you both. What is your name, Chachi? I am Flora Maria.”

“Eric,” Carl answered. “And that back there is ‘Dick’.”

“Are you here for the Rolling Stones?”

“Yep, but we’re a little early and have some time to kill.”

“I can help you kill time, Chachi. But your friend Dick is making me nervous.”

“He makes me nervous too.”

Flora Maria laughed.

“You are funny, Chachi. I like you.”

“I like you too, Flora Maria. Want some Southern Comfort?”

“Sure. We can have it in the car if you like. And you can invite Dick too.”

Carl looked back at Eric.

“Oh, Dickie Boy, would you like to have a drink in the car with Flora Maria?”

“Uh, I think we should go.”

“Go where?”

“To the stadium.”

“We still have like two hours before they’ll even let us in. And the stadium is right there.”

“And Flora Maria is right here, Dickie,” said Flora Maria, pouting at Eric. “She will show you how to have a good time.”

“No thanks.”

“Suit yourself,” Carl said, then turned to Flora Maria.

“Get in, Chachi,” she said.

He climbed into the back seat and she climbed in behind him and closed the door.

“Let’s see that Comodidad Sureña,” she said, “then we talk pavo.”

Carl reached into his jean jacket and pulled out the bottle, then uncapped it and handed it to Flora Maria. She took a big swig, far more than the nips he’d been taking, then handed it back. He took as large a swig as he could, but it was too much, and he started coughing.

Flora Maria laughed.

“I like you, Chachi,” she said. “But Flora Maria needs money. How much you have?”

“Twenty bucks,” Carl said, which is what he had in his neon green Body Glove wallet, not counting the sweaty bills stuffed inside his Hanes tube socks and beneath the tongues of his white Nike Air high-tops with orange swoosh. “But I was gonna use that to buy a t-shirt.”

“T-shirt? What size are you?”

“Extra large.”

“Extra large? Hold on, Chachi.”

She got out of the car and opened the trunk, then came back with an XL black t-shirt that had the Tattoo You album cover on the front, the Stones’ last great album and Carl’s favorite of the Ronnie Wood era, and, on the back, the Stones tongue logo licking Shea Stadium and the concert dates in blue and orange New York Mets lettering—by far the coolest Stones shirt he’d ever seen.

“You like?” she asked, holding it up for him, then turning it around to show him the back.

“It’s fuckin’ awesome,” Carl said.

“We sell them after the show, but it can be yours now with a Cuban blow job for twenty bucks.”

“Whoa,” Carl said. “What’s a Cuban blow job again?”

“I cannot describe, but it is the best blow job you will ever have, and you will also be the owner of the coolest Rolling Stones t-shirt ever, all for twenty dollars. It is the best deal you will be offered all day.”

There was no track record to speak of, but the Cuban blow job would remain the best ever for years to come. His guess as to what distinguished it from a “regular” blow job was a sweet-spicy tingle he felt just before it was over.

Eric was waiting where the pavement began again. Carl emerged from the Chevy wearing his new t-shirt over the old one and holding his denim jacket.

“I hope you didn’t pay more than two dollars for that fake fuckin’ shirt,” he said.

“I paid twenty.”

“Twenty? You fucking idiot! You probably could have bought one of those for five bucks after the show. Now you can’t even get a real one inside.”

“I like this one, and I don’t give a shit about the so-called ‘real ones’.”

Carl didn’t tell him about the blow job and Eric didn’t ask any more questions. They walked in silence towards the stadium and stopped to finish their bottles before heading into the security zone.

Despite most of the seats being empty, Living Colour rocked the massive stage under the golden October sun tinting amber the Flushing Meadows and Unisphere. During “Cult of Personality” and “Open Letter (To a Landlord)”, Carl danced in the aisle of the empty section high in the red seats of the upper deck, prompting Eric to move two sections over.

After the set, they headed into the concourse so Eric could buy his t-shirt. After visiting twenty different concession stands on all the different stadium levels only to find that every one of them had the exact same merchandise, he finally settled for the official Steel Wheels 1989 World Tour t-shirt that so many other people were already wearing.

Meanwhile, Carl successfully purchased a Budweiser from one of the concession stands using the “STUDENT IDENTIFICATION CARD” he ordered for five bucks from an ad in the back of Rolling Stone stating that he was born in 1967 and a student at the College of Aeronautics at LaGuardia Airport, which was right next door to the stadium and where a cousin of the girl selling the beer happened to be attending, which made her happy and Carl was hooked up with Buds for the rest of the night.

As the pleasant autumn evening settled upon the city, the World’s Greatest Rock & Roll Band took the stage and fired into “Start Me Up”. The show was as great as one would expect the Rolling Stones, now in their forties, to be on a beautiful night in New York City. Hits, rarities, tunes from the new album, others they never played live from albums released during their hiatus, old deep cuts like “Little Red Rooster” and “2000 Light Years from Home”, giant blow-up dolls flanking the stage for “Honky Tonk Women”, massive pyrotechnics during the “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” encore, the stadium upper deck shaking so violently against the shimmering Queens night it appeared about to crack off and topple onto everyone below—maybe it was only rock & roll, but it was the greatest thing ever.

After the show, on the train platform crowded with drunk, sweaty Boomers buzzing about the show and set list, they wound up waiting next to the gray-haired ponytail guy who high-fived them earlier.

“Whoa, cool fuckin’ shirt, dude!” the guy said to Carl. “Tattoo You, man, their last great album! I didn’t see that one anywhere in the stadium, and I looked all over, man. Where the fuck did you get it?”

“Outside the stadium,” Carl said. “Kind of way outside the stadium.”

“I had to settle for this one,” he said, wearing the same officially licensed Steel Wheels 1989 World Tour shirt as Eric. “Honestly, I haven’t even listened to this album yet. Damn, your shirt is way fuckin’ cooler!”

“Hey, you guys could be twins,” Carl said, showing the guy Eric’s shirt.

“Yeah, baby!” the guy exclaimed, holding up his hand for Eric to high-five, which he did, even more reluctantly than he had earlier. ▪