Thursday, June 28, 2012

6-28-12 Survival Jobs for Writer-Musicians – Starter Job #136 (Starting Out Again. . .in the Big Apple with a new survival job at One U: New Beat-ginnings: Finally Naming the Washington Squares)

(sung to the tune of “Old Paint”) “I buy some old paint/Feel like an old man/Go back to my apartment to paint it up again/I work hard all my life just to make ends meet/One slip of the payment, and I’m out in the street (CHORUS) Drive around little tourists, drive around real slow/See the last of the village, it’s ready to go.”

So went one of our early traddie rewrites.  We’d make songs topical about what we were experiencing -- similar to the folk process that Woody Guthrie or any other self-respecting folk singer would do. It really sounded cool because it was rocked up with a hard beat, a throbbing R&B bassline, and jangly, loud guitar riffs.  Add the three part harmonies and ten thousand watts of folk and WHOOO!  Off we went.  I always smiled extra wide when we did “Old Paint”. . . .

Anyway.  The three of us “New Wave Refugees” sat together with our bar napkins to write on and our non-alcoholic bevs (the guys liked coca colas and I drank seltzer with a splash of cranberry) to brainstorm until the name -- so obvious it was genius -- came up: The Washington Squares.  Whose idea was it?  I say it was a harmonic convergence of all our brainpans, an amalgamation if you will of all of our ideas.  The fastball wit and back and forth punning (my forte IS puns) with those guys was like alternately witnessing -- and playing -- a pinball game.

We became the Washington Squares (not the Pinball Wizards) in an inspired act of communal wordplay.  Together we named the beast -- but of course, Tom or Bruce would say it was THEIR idea.  I’d expect that, wouldn’t you?  If you knew them, you’d know how territorial things got. . . but neither could agree on who was top dog, and I never challenged either.  They were like two different breeds of dog: a Labradoodle and a Jack Russell terrier.  But of course, I’m a furry medium hair mutt of a pussycat -- but no Josie, oh no.

In that band, I figured as long as I was the queen, so be it *-)  I was the only girl, and if I’d been more forceful or sexy, or if I worked with blander personalities I’d have been potentially more of a star, but it was work enough being a Washington Square -- part of three great harmony singers and rebels from the village. I just wanted equal attention -- and a chance to shine at being a songwriting musician.

As before mentioned, we had an image (neo beatnik), a mission (We just basically hated Ronald Reagan and everything he stood for). We had our Ray-Bans, berets, our turtlenecks. . .  

AND we had just acquired a great name. . . 

6-27-12 Survival Jobs for Writer-Musicians – Starter Job #135 (Starting Out Again. . .in the Big Apple with a new survival job at One U: New Beat-ginnings: Almost Naming the Washington Squares)

What’s in a name?  Just about everything.  In an age when there were band names like The Pretenders, Heaven 17, A Flock of Seagulls, Squeeze, REM, the Violent Femmes, Husker Du, and (my favorite name) Drivin’ and Cryin’, we knew we had to get something good.  This name had to be somehow redolent of the Beat Generation plus the Beatnik (a media took the cool but dangerously subversive Beats, mixing it up with sputnik to create: Beatnik!) with a slight homage to Maynard G. Krebs.

Finding a name was weighing heavily on us, and being a triad of hyper, type A personalities (yes, even the bass player wasn’t laid back!), we all wanted to come up with it.  But together we brainstormed: one late winter night in particular.  We’d been walking around the village, then we wound up at One U for a drink & whatever.  It was easy to stay skinny ‘cause we were all in our 20’s and didn’t have much cash.  I mean, it wasn’t in the budget to be eating out except for occasional slices of pizza and the heavenly Mamoun’s falafel (it was $1.50 at the time, I believe.  Started eating at Mamoun’s when the falafel was 75 cents. . . but that was in the seventies, when I’d skip school and take the train to the village, from Queens).

So, at One U that chilly night in March, Tom, Bruce and I sat at a table in the front of the place (at One U, you sat in the back if you were dining, most often) scrawling names on bar napkins.  The guys were joking around about the Hollywood Squares. . . with Charlie Weaver to block (get it -- the Weavers reference?).  Then we realized we were just steps away from Washington Square park, and that great monument. . . symbolizing bohemia and freedom and a life away from those “squares” uptown.

This was during the yuppie era, when the haves and the have nots were separated by what they did, what they wore, where they worked, and what they believed in.  Sure, we were from middle and upper-middle class homes, in the suburbs, but our hearts were into idealism, a true democracy, perhaps tinged with socialism. . . and living the artist’s life. 

If I had the ability to be somebody else (with a REAL job and respect in the world), believe me, I would have. .  . I really didn’t choose writing and music, they chose me -- and at the time, music also chose Tom and Bruce.  That was how it went back then, at least. . . 

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

6-24-12 Survival Jobs for Writer-Musicians – Starter Job #134 (Starting Out Again. . .in the Big Apple with a new survival job at One U: The Birth of the Washington Squares)

We didn’t have a name yet, but we definitely had direction -- and a few songs.  Bruce Jay Paskow had written a harmony-filled anthem called “New Generation”:  “. . . It’s time for direction, caring and trust (so) Be on the lookout/for a new generation/Comin’ down strong, filled with inspiration/Be on the lookout for a new-ew-ew-ew Generation.”

Tom Goodkind had written a tex-mex style ballad called “Gestures of Passion” (“Gestures of Passion/They’re all fake/when you kiss her/It’s a mistake”) with pretty harmonies & a descending chord structure.

I had written a folky ballad-anthem with a Joni Mitchell/Steve Stills D-chord shaped lick capoed up on the 3rd fret called “Charcoal” with a William Blake poem, “Riches,” in the middle. It, too, was harmony-laden (“Some do search for gold/what is the purpose?/Yellow smiles or warm souls/I’ll take the charcoal/melt down that gold”).

When we started rehearsing, we sang old Peter, Paul & Mary songs we remembered from summer camps and our childhoods, like “Cruel War” and “If I Had a Hammer.” We had a natural harmony blend that we just fell into -- although of course sometimes we actually had to work them out, our three-part harmonies worked naturally and well.

We went into an electric rehearsal studio the first time or two, but after that realized we sounded better acoustically, with our acoustic guitars. Our rehearsal space/hangout became Tom & Jill’s small one bedroom apartment in the Village, on 13th Street between University Place and 5th Avenue South. Just a few doors down, the Lone Star Café was poised on the corner, a huge Iguana lizard sculpture hanging on the sign and the side of the building.

And the Peppermint Lounge, where Tom worked, was right across the street from that, on 5th Avenue at 13th.  He held that job as long as the club was open (it had moved downtown from 45th - ? - street), but it had to close because of good ol' Rudy Giuliani who cracked down on clubs and money laundering operations (boo hiss -- we hated Rudy).

At any rate, we had a great sound, some cool original songs, and were amassing a repertoire (in our first year) of over a hundred covers, traddies, and originals.  We rehearsed a few times a week, and hung out around the village, kind of like musical terrorists. It was fun.

We had an image (neo beatnik), a mission (the violent overthrow of the U.S. government -- only kidding!  We just basically hated Ronald Reagan and everything he stood for). We had our Ray-Bans, berets, and boatneck shirts. . .

We just needed a great name. . . 

Monday, June 25, 2012

6-23-12 Survival Jobs for Writer-Musicians – Starter Job #133 (Starting Out Again. . .in the Big Apple with a new survival job at One U: New Beat-ginnings)

All right, so these two musician-contemporaries -- fellow new wavers -- come into the place, looking to talk to me. They weren’t, as it turned out, hungry & thirsty: they wanted to recruit me. And here I was, thinking they needed something tangible!

“You can be center stage -- you can be our Grace Slick!” Tom enthused, following me as I marched toward the kitchen to place a food order. He knew that it bugged me when I was relegated to the back and side of the stage when I was in Nervus Rex and Shawn needed more room in the middle. . . we started out sharing the stage, then as time went on we set up so that he was THE cynosure.

Do what you will with me but show some respect, OK? Because of stuff like that where I felt slighted, I felt bad about being in a group once Nervus Rex broke up, which is why I tried to go solo -- but it wasn’t such a happening thing. I get nervous as a solo, and I didn’t have the necessary confidence; it’s not natural to me.  ‘Cause, to me, building confidence is a mysterious process that takes years. I’m better now, but still. . . . Funny thing: I have a pretty big ego but not always the greatest self esteem. Now, how those two things can be contradictory is indeed interesting: a funny puzzle I’ll probably always puzzle over.

At any rate, when Tom Goodkind and Bruce Jay Paskow approached me to join them in a band that was a combination of The Weavers (they were huge fans of the documentary, “Wasn’t That a Time?”) and Peter, Paul & Mary (but hipper and more ironic), I was intrigued. The concept seemed to have more substance than just the usual ol’ sex, drugs, and Rock & Roll. Vocal harmonies were my pleasure and forte; folk music was pleasurable, albeit not real cool.

As is my wont with most new ventures and things that sound interesting, I said (in Curly Joe Three Stooges voice), “Why, SOI-tenly (certainly)!”  

Maybe Tom Goodkind also knew that I was a fan of Grace Slick’s. . . though that ended after I read her memoir years later, however. . .

6-22-12 Survival Jobs for Writer-Musicians – Starter Job #132 (Starting Out Again. . .in the Big Apple with a new survival job at One U: My Well Known Customers)

Besides the amusing characters I worked alongside, like Brenda ballerina, bartender Jimmy, Joe “Mama” in the kitchen, the Ruskin family, and Richard Sanders, I served many and various customers who were -- and are -- fairly well known.

The artists and their families, for one: John Chamberlain, his son, Jesse, and Jesse’s girlfriend, the drummer Jane Fire (from the Erasers); Lisa deKooning, who came by very regularly. She wasn’t much of a conversationalist, but she liked to drink.

Then there were the musicians: Paul Butterfield, Joni Mitchell.  Butterfield drank a good deal, but was quiet and kind of sad.  Joni Mitchell was upbeat and smiled at me kindly, ordering a Molson Golden beer while she practically chain-smoked her cigarettes and chatted with painter Nathan Josephson.

One night, at my large table in my server section, I waited on a very interesting eight-top of artsy folk who included William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg (and Peter Orlovsky, of course).  You best believe I was shakin’ in my boots that time. . . how could I not be nervous, waiting on such big legends and their entourage (or their hangers-on -- or is it hanger-ons)? 

I always looked like I kept my cool, though: I was working at One U, but most of all,  I was a New Yorker.  You never blew your cool.  Das wast verboten.  The song, “Broken English,” punctuated the air with Marianne’s sweet ragged voice clawing through the wreckage.

And then, one night in February, two young guys came up to me, dressed in black turtlenecks, with Ray-Bans (very Andy Warhol, I thought).  They knew me from the NY club scene: one guy was from the Invaders, and the other guy booked the Peppermint Lounge and had a band called U.S. Ape. 

I figured they must be hungry and broke, so I brought them sodas and bread and soup (all free).  I wondered why they weren’t that interested in eating. . . instead, they were into goofing around and trying to get my attention by talking about how great my old band was and how the guys used to line up to get in just to see Nervus Rex because a cute girl -- me -- was in the band.

Is there any wonder why I listened to them?  Compliments are the sweetest ambrosia. . . especially to one who was dying of thirst.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

6-21-12 Survival Jobs for Writer-Musicians – Starter Job #131 (Starting Out Again. . .in the Big Apple with a new survival job at One U: My Big Crush)

I mentioned in One U posts about how much flirtin’ and hurtin’ there was back then and there.  Well, it’s true -- and I was pretty silly at times, too.  However, my big crush shall remain nameless in order to preserve a shred of dignity.  One thing I’m not comfortable with writing or talking about is the kiss-and-tell.  I am sure this is one factor that might prove potential harm when it comes to getting read and published but hey -- as daddy said, that’s the way the cookie crumbles.  I tried just now to curse in print but that looked uncouth, too.  Oh well.  Badass I’m not.

I will say this much about my big crush: I melted every time I saw him, every time he walked in. He was a writer. . . not famous per se, but he did have a famous grandfather, a musician.  I dug this guy (he was maybe five, ten years older than me?) because he was smart, funny, kindhearted, wore glasses, and was cute -- in my mind.  He was part of a movable poker game where the guys all wrote out checks to cover their losses in the written amount of “One hundred hurts.”  I know I saw that. . . . I’ve always been observant of those kinds of amusing details.

One night, at closing time, a bunch of us went out to an afterhours club in Soho.  The expected occurred. . . without spelling it out, I’ll leave it to your imaginations (and if you were indeed around, out and about at the time, you know what probably transpired).  All in all, it was a most unhealthy and (ultimately) unhappy scene.  In my mind’s eye and memory, the song “Billie Jean” by Michael Jackson kept playing in the background, over and over.  Also Human League’s “Love Action”. . . and Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing.”

Toward the dawn hour, I wound up in a cab with the object of my crush, and one of the bartenders from One U. . . believe me, everything wound up being a blur but I do recall slow dancing to Patsy Cline singing “Seven Lonely Days.”  Recalling it all, I shudder to think how dangerous everything really was.  What if somebody had turned violent, or wound up the victim of a mugger, thief, etc?  How did we avoid breaking our necks or worse, doing all that crazy shit? 

I am at a loss; can’t explain. I’m just thankful I lived to tell the tale. 

Oh, and what happened to my crush?  He had already fallen in love with a beautiful young woman who worked at One Fifth (bar/restaurant), whom he courted, married, and settled down to have a family with.  I think they live(d) on Long Island. . . and I wish them well.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

6-20-12 Survival Jobs for Writer-Musicians – Starter Job #130 (Starting Out Again. . .in the Big Apple with a new survival job at One U: Brenda Ballerina’s Conquest)

So, Brenda ballerina had eyes for M.A. but didn’t have the wherewithal to pursue him.  He remained friendly, yet distant.  She did, however, find consolation by talking with Jimmy at the bar.  The funny, loose-limbed bartender with the rubbery face made Brenda laugh, and she took a shine to him.  Jimmy took a shine to whoever gave him a chance, so it was a perfect match, for a night.

It was kind of cute to see Brenda and Jimmy at the bar, flirting.  He acted extra silly and showed off for her benefit, juggling lemons and limes, shaking up cocktails in comical ways.  She had an extra sashay in her prim ballerina walk. . . actually kind of a pigeon-toed walk.  Brenda was so skinny, yet strong.  She could pick up those big hotel trays full of 6 - 8 dinners and move them across the floor, effortlessly and with grace.  The build up to a romantic encounter is always mesmerizing to witness, and I enjoyed seeing their sexually tinged repartee.

The day after spending the night (or a portion thereof) with Jimmy, Brenda reported back: “Oh, he’s so good!”  I don’t know if we were all just naturally horny or if it was the dictum of the day, what with the sexual revolution, Erica Jong’s zipless fucks and what-all.  This was just before AIDS became a terrible plague on so many talented and beautiful men. . . and eventually women too.

At any rate, one night stands did happen on occasion between coworkers and it might have been a little awkward to keep working together without a relationship but. . . those were the breaks. 

I’ll say it again: One U was a lawless place.  You had to be really tough on several levels to work as hard physically, mentally, and emotionally.  Once Brenda and Jimmy had their moment, it was back to work -- but not as much fun between them. 

M.A. continued being Brenda’s crush, but in a less frantic way on her part.  They became friends because she’d always linger around & talk with him. . . I don’t know if he cared one way or the other, as M.A. was as inscrutable as he was mysteriously employed -- or not.  Claudia with her eyes of awe giggled more after talking with him, so there was some competition going on.  What a lucky man he was, with all that young female attention; small wonder why M.A. and the like would come around and hang at One U.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

6-19-12 Survival Jobs for Writer-Musicians – Starter Job #129 (Starting Out Again. . .in the Big Apple with a new survival job at One U: Brenda Ballerina’s Big Crush)

In that world of atmosphere, the sexual tension was palpable and, well, kind of fun.  The combination of talent, wealth, fame, and animal magnetism on any given night filled the room as lingeringly as songs like “Moist Towelettes” or “Let’s Eat Breakfast!” (An ironic song to hear on the jukebox, considering many of the regulars would get up and have a boilermaker for breakfast at 5 p.m.). 

So.  Horny older guys plus cute waitresses a decade younger or more?  Lotsa flirtin’ and hurtin’ at One U.  The chips fell where they may have, but I tried to stay out of as much of the mishigas as I could ‘cause I knew my fragile psyche wasn’t as strong as my tough words.  I mostly would listen and look -- and laugh.

My co-worker, Brenda the ballerina, carried a torch for one of the regulars, “M.A.,” as did Claudia Awed-eyes.  M.A. was a manly fella, about 40 years old, with a trim & athletic physique (he looked kind of like Barbie’s Ken).  He had that ruggedly handsome face with chiseled features, a full head of carelessly coiffed dark brown hair that was neatly brushed up & back, and a penetrating hazel-eyed gaze.  M.A. was good friends with our boss, Richie, and seemed to be there so much he could have been on the payroll.

I figured he was from the Midwest or something, probably a latter-day Gatsby type.  His tight bluejeans looked so perfect they could have been ironed; his button-down shirts were always freshly laundered.  I wasn’t sure what else he did, but he sure as heck wasn’t an artist.

Although M.A. wasn’t my type and plain didn’t appeal to me, he wasn’t a jerk and he treated us “girls” just fine.  Brenda ballerina fell for him; whenever he was around, she changed from an efficient server to an excited little girl behind the swinging kitchen door: “Did you see what he just did?  Did he go off with Lisa?  Is he drinking coffee or tequila, yet?”  Brenda kept an excited monologue up in the back of the house whenever he was around during her shifts and she came to drop off a tray or pick up an order.

Objectively, I could see that he was a striking figure of a man and that most girls would find him irresistible.  I was glad that Brenda liked him and that I didn’t.  I let her carry on about M.A. and wondered if they were destined to consummate her passion.  He seemed to like everybody just about the same amount, but acted more distracted as the evening progressed. . . acted more distracted each time he ducked back into the office for a few minutes, then returned. . .

6-18-12 Survival Jobs for Writer-Musicians – Starter Job #128 (Starting Out Again. . .in the Big Apple with a new survival job at One U: No-No Nina)

In her no-nonsense clogs, Nina Ruskin clomp-clomped with a light foot, as she weighed a scant 100 pounds.  With purpose she clomped, with her bar tray of drinks held firmly in front of her: 3 Dos Equiss (“Double-X suds”), 3 shots of Jameson’s straight up, a tall screwdriver, and a bottle of coca cola (for dad, Mickey).

Drinks delivered to her dad and a table full of raucous older artists, with the younger-generation (by 15 years, maybe) artist, Nathan Josephson, regaling them all with jokes that kicked up the hilarity a notch, Nina’s mouth tightened as she turned heel.  Back at the bar, she paused and stretched up on tippytoes to survey the scene, her perhaps 20-60 eyes squinting.

A thin, sallow girl who looked remarkably like dad, Mickey, young Nina Ruskin took her job very seriously.  She kept a baleful eye out for misbehavior in general and rarely seemed to have fun.  In days of yore, she’d have been deigned of bilious temperament.  At One U -- an outpost of outlaws and reprobates, druggies and dealers, poets and painters -- Nina felt that she needed to keep things steady, on an even keel.  I, too, thought of how this was important, but I never envied her being the one to remind people of rules.  

I mean, One U was a notably lawless place.  Many of its artist patrons ate and drank on tabs that owner Mickey Ruskin bestowed in exchange for pieces of their art.  Many fine pieces hung on the crisp white walls.  Working at One U was kind of like working a constant downtown gallery opening -- with a kitchen, a great jukebox, and a bar that was open ‘till late o’ clock.

Drinks in those days were as fancy as a screwdriver or a margarita; a tequila sunrise, maybe some kirs (white wine with cassis) and kir royales (champagne with cassis) were served.  Martinis weren’t very popular.  Of course, mimosas were consumed along with bloody marys in the morning, but who got up early enough for such things?  Maybe the people who slept all day and got up at dark, the cocaine vampires. . . I for one could not understand how anybody could function at all, let alone for lengthy periods of time, high on anything, esp. coke (cocaine). 

I started working there in December of 1982, and by February of ’83 I knew what was going on in the back office, roughly. . . they weren’t exactly hawkin’ vichyssoise in bulk, or anything remotely calorific. . .  but very, very hush hush. . . dangerous.  Did Nina or Victoria, her little sister, know what was being cooked up in the back?  I really doubt it on one hand, but on the other hand I wonder how they couldn’t have known. . .

Even if not exactly likable, I thought Nina was so brave and strong and I admired her ability to keep her head in that zoo that her dad built.  She knew that few people liked her, but stuck to her guns and worked really hard -- probably with blinders on. 

Sunday, June 17, 2012

6-17-12 Survival Jobs for Writer-Musicians – Starter Job #127 (Starting Out Again. . .in the Big Apple with a new survival job at One U: And now, Father’s Day with Mickey Ruskin & My Dad)

(Well now, you know that saying that nobody’s perfect -- and that parents are people, after all.  Of course it’s true.  Many of you are now parents, and you finally realize that it’s a heavy job but that you’re human -- just like your own parents.  And on account of that, you forgave them, if possible, for any hurt you suffered at their neglect.  Right?  Moving on, right?  After all these years. . . you’re finally grown up enough to recognize that flaws are part of life and that you are flawed, your kids are flawed, your parents are flawed. . . but in spite and on top of it all, there is love.)

How are Mickey Ruskin and my dad similar?  They’re both:  dark haired men, who are dead.  They were both dyed-in-the-wool New Yorkers; both beloved by many, both mysterious men.  They probably did stuff that they weren’t totally proud of. . . but still, their kids loved and still love them.

Two pictures worth 1,000 words each?  This is one LONG blog post!  Happy Father’s Day to all applicable, with love.  

Mickey Ruskin by G. Malanga, 1982

Bernard F. Agnelli, circa mid 1950s

I still miss you, daddy. . .

Saturday, June 16, 2012

6-16-12 Survival Jobs for Writer-Musicians – Starter Job #126 (Starting Out Again. . .in the Big Apple with a new survival job at One U: And now, some history on our Grand High Poobah, Mickey Ruskin)

As interesting as were my co-workers at One U, the bosses were certainly megastars in the firmament of the NYC bar/restaurant scene, and their stock-in-trade was a hip clientele.

Most of this was no doubt on account of the legendary Mickey Ruskin, whose bio I will recount here with some help from the internet (and Wikipedia -- though there is no one entry for Mickey Ruskin per se, which is a crime, I tell ya!).

Originally a lawyer for a brief spell (attended Cornell Law School), Mickey Ruskin started his restaurant career in the early ‘60’s.  He opened The Tenth Street Coffeehouse in the Village, which featured nightly poetry readings.  Then on East Ninth Street, he opens Les Deux Magots.  That led to a bar called the Ninth Circle Steak House on West Tenth Street; it became a hangout for artists and musicians.  Then Mickey hits his stride in 1965 by opening a place called Max’s Kansas City, on Park Avenue South near 17th Street. 

Max’s became a hangout for the Andy Warhol Factory people, as well as a large following of The New York School sculptors and artists, poets, musicians, and celebrities -- including John Chamberlain, Robert Rauschenberg and Larry Rivers, whose presence attracted hip celebrities and the jet set.[1] Neil Williams, Larry Zox, Forrest (Frosty) Myers, Larry Poons, Brice Marden, Bob Neuwirth, Dan Christensen, Ronnie Landfield, Peter Reginato, Carl Andre, Dan Graham, Lawrence Weiner, Robert Smithson, Joseph Kosuth, Brigid Berlin, David R. Prentice, Roy Lichtenstein, Peter Forakis, Peter Young, Mark di Suvero, Larry Bell, Donald Judd, Dan Flavin, Richard Serra, Lee Lozano, Robert (Tex) Wray, Carlos Villa, Jack Whitten, Philip Glass, Max Neuhaus, Ray Johnson, Malcolm Morley, Marjorie Strider, Edward Avedisian, Carolee Schneemann, Dorothea Rockburne, David Budd, Norman Bluhm, Kenneth Showell, Tiger Morse, Colette Justine, Lenore Jaffee, William S. Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, and Marisol were just a few of the artists seen regularly at Max's. Willem de Kooning, Barnett Newman, art critics Lucy Lippard, Robert Hughes, Clement Greenberg, and Harold Rosenberg, art dealers Leo Castelli. . . .

Before opening the bar/restaurant Chinese Chance (a.k.a. One U) roundabouts 1980, in the late seventies Ruskin own and ran a club on Chambers street long before Tribeca was at all hip, called The Lower Manhattan Ocean Club. Many cool, avant garde musicians performed there while other cool people played and drank: John Cale, Talking Heads, Patti Smith, Dwight Twilley -- even jazz legends like Lester Young and David Murray.  (The rock press enjoyed the ambiance too, of course -- Trixie A. Balm and her friends enjoyed frequenting the Ocean Club.) Many of those same luminaries followed, eventually, to One U -- Mickey’s last earthly watering hole. 

6-15-12 Survival Jobs for Writer-Musicians – Starter Job #125 (Starting Out Again. . .in the Big Apple with a new survival job at One U: The hands behind bar who rocked the cocktails)

(Well, after doing six weeks of blogging about my crazy big brother Tom -- may be rest in peace, and I’ll be working on finishing a book-length version of that story, with his writings interspersed -- I said I’d return to the original blog’s purpose: my survival jobs through the years.  Along the way, many other interesting things happened. . . like living in NYC, being part of the CBGB music scene, moving to England, visiting Paris, etc.  It’s been QUITE the life -- and it’s not even half over yet!)

Although the serving staff tended to change with the four winds, the bartenders remained pretty much the same three easygoing, cleancut guys: nice heterosexual fellas who were both men’s men and happily flirtatious when it came to women.

Jimmy was the king: a tall, loose-boned guy about thirty-five years old, with a wiry frame and med-long curly dark hair.  He seemed to bounce on his feet and his features were kind of rubbery, His dark eyes sparkled with merriment.  He had a quick comeback when shuttling jokes and comments like ping pong balls back and forth with customers and waitresses alike.  He was into word play.  Jimmy was quick, steady, funny, and just a wee bit superficial.  I believe he’s still working behind a quieter bar this very day, in Soho. 

Greg had sandy, short hair and was quieter, but also steady.  He seemed to be around 30 years old.  Of average height and weight, he didn’t cut an imposing figure but commended and gave respect to one and all.  Greg’s smile was sincere, and he didn’t “flap his gums” incessantly: you could hear yourself think when Greg ran the bar.  I appreciated that. . . so much other noise went on all around, especially in that wild scene.  Greg turned out to be the most decent one there and was my favorite, ultimately.

The last guy, Mark, was another likable young man, around his late 20’s or maybe thirty.  He was built like a football player: tall and thick bodied.  Mark had those blue eyed, med. brown haired good looks of an Irish American firefighter or something -- you could just imagine him doing something other than slinging drinks down the bar to this one or that one.  He didn’t talk as much as Jimmy and his voice was a bit deeper and softer than Greg’s.  When there was trouble, you kind of had the feeling you wouldn’t want to deal with the brawn of a big guy like Mark.

As for whether they also drank up profits, I don’t recall.  Best thing about these bartenders: they looked out for each other and for the waitresses. . .

Thursday, June 14, 2012

6-14-12 Survival Jobs for Writer-Musicians – Starter Job #124 (Starting Out Again. . .in the Big Apple with a new survival job at One U: the good, the bad, and the super bitchy)

My co-workers at One U fell into a few categories.  Other than one older (around 40!), big boned earth momma type named Mary, there was another, even sweeter, waitress named Brenda.  In her twenties, Brenda was a ballet dancer: thin, kind of (enviably, to me) flat-chested, with beautiful thick, long, brown hair.  She was kindhearted and a little bit naïve, but nice to work with.  Brenda was from Ohio.

There was Claudia, a short blonde with thick, long hair and large, nearsighted eyes, who was at first suspicious of people, but when she relaxed and got to know them, her pupils dilated when she talked, she acted kind of in awe, and she spoke with a drawl.  Just adorable.  Claudia was from Texas; she was an actress.

Douglass was one of two “cool” bitchy girls.  She was very pretty, with green eyes and long straight blonde hair that she curled into glamour girl styles.  Of medium height, she had a tantalizing walk and usually wore a mild sneer on her face.  She was an actress/artist.

The other “cool bitch” was a tall, dirty blonde girl with short, straight, spikey punk hair named Nicole.  She also had that “je ne sais quoi” fuck-you attitude that some customers couldn’t get enough of.  I’m not sure what she did, but I’m sure she did it really cool, with flair.

I figured a fair amount of masochists inhabited the backrooms of One U and the art scene in general -- and not all customers craved or even required nice treatment.  Richard Sanders was quite perspicacious to realize that his staff needed to be memorable and extreme in all different ways.  The place gave new meaning to “performance” at work.

In this world of atmosphere, I reckon I had the rep of a nice waitress. . . playing a bitch wasn’t a natural for me, though for short bursts I’m sure I did & still can. . . 

One other character, a busboy named Jimmy (also an electric guitar player), worked there at One U.  He was dating Patty Donahue (of the Waitresses!) and was a very handsome, sweet guy.  He needed somewhere to crash for a few months, so I invited him to stay in my back room, an 8 by 9 foot space with a small window that looked out on an airshaft.  Claustrophobic wasn’t the half of it. . .

And I already mentioned Nina and Victoria Ruskin. . . next blog, I’ll try to describe the bartenders. . .

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

6-13-12 Survival Jobs for Writer-Musicians – Starter Job #123 (Starting Out Again. . .in the Big Apple with a new survival job at One U: one crazy place)

(Well, after doing six weeks of blogging about my crazy big brother Tom -- may be rest in peace, and I’ll be working on finishing a book-length version of that story, with his writings interspersed -- I said I’d return to the original blog’s purpose: my survival jobs through the years.  Along the way, many other interesting things happened. . . like living in NYC, being part of the CBGB music scene, moving to England, visiting Paris, etc.  It’s been QUITE the life -- and it’s not even half over yet!)

One of my fave things about the survival job at One U was how they handled the waitstaff.  We were a young, good looking bunch, all between 20 and 40 years old.  Girls only served; guys were either bartenders, kitchen staff, or busboys.  Mickey Ruskin’s two daughters, Victoria and Nina, worked as waitresses.  They were both very good at their jobs, and Nina especially took it seriously.  She was a thin, sallow girl who looked remarkably like her dad -- his baleful eyes, his lanky dark hair, his big teeth.  Nina didn’t have the best moods, in general, and she was head waitress for a while.  That meant, she knew more, had been around longer, and got to boss people around if she so chose.

Nina walked with purpose and she rarely smiled. She was the responsible sister.

Her sister, Victoria, was younger, curvier, and more cheerful.  Her dark hair was long and wavy, and she had a sweet face.  Mickey’s girls were, of course, off limits to the customers & staff.  No foolin’ around with those chickies, nosiree.

The rest of us “girls” were called to a waitresses’ meeting one day by bossman Richard “Richie” Sanders.  Skinny, dark, intense, with big eyes and nose and a haunted look about him. . . Richard was invariably kind and funny, or one gruff, tough asshole.  He was a Pisces (if that means anything to you).  Richie didn’t walk so much as “roll ‘n’ stroll” with this strange kind of loping, limping gait.  I figured it happened in Vietnam: war wound.  He had a tendency to self-medicate, if you catch my drift.

At any rate, he says at this waitress meeting, in his street-tough New York accent: “Okay, girls?  We don’t want any of this in-between shit from our staff, with customers getting all namby-pamby service that’s just okay, okay?  So girls, either be really really nice or be a real bitch, Okay?  Okay?”  Richard was a crazy, lopsided-smiling mess; his nose had perpetual sniffles; his body kept in constant, jangly motion, smoking cigarettes, drinking, never sitting still.  Still in all, he was charming and he seemed to genuinely like us -- for whatever that was worth.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

6-12-12 Survival Jobs for Writer-Musicians – Starter Job #122 (Starting Out Again. . .in the Big Apple with a new survival job at One U. . .)

Once I started at One U, the first challenge to overcome was attitude from the other waitresses. (BTW, I heard that Chris Butler, when he started his band, The Waitresses, was considering asking me to be the front person.  I must have been away, in London -- they got Patty Donahue instead.  She was, of course, brilliant -- and quite adorable.)

Anyway, one of the tasks for the 3rd shift was for us to make the whipped cream by hand, with a kitchen whisk.  I took one look at that situation, sized it up and did what my mother’s daughter would have to do: I brought in my electric hand mixer. 

Did those other girls laugh and make fun of me!  Definitely.  But did they start asking to borrow that hand mixer a few days later, once it proved a real time and arm-saver?  Definitely, again.  Soon enough, they stopped making fun of me and grudgingly accepted me as a waitress who didn’t take their shit. . . and who had a  good work ethic and sense of humor.

In the kitchen, two of the cooks I remembered were really sweet, and funny.  Prince was a black chef from the Caribbean, and he had a calm way of doing things, very deliberate.  His beautiful speaking voice was a pleasure to hear, and the way he said things made me smile. 

The other memorable cook was named Joe.  “Joe Mama,” we called him.  He was a short, large-headed, long-haired part Chicano gay man from Texas who had a wicked sense of humor and the very milk of human kindness flowing in his veins.  All the waitresses loved Joe.  He could get away with all kinds of nasty stuff with us, like asking “What’s the matter, honey, Uncle Red in town?”  That meant, are you feeling off because you’re having your period?  Somehow, it was cute when he said that. . .

They had a few things on the menu at One U that I thought were outstandingly delicious.  One was a cold vichyssoise (potato & leek) soup; the other was lightly fried zucchini sticks with parmesan cheese and lemon.  The bread was from Zito’s bakery on Bleecker Street, and it was deliciousness to the tenth power. 

Servers brought the bread, soup, and salad to the tables; they didn’t have to put on a slip and order any of that from the cooks and so, I was in my glory.  I could sneak food to people I knew who needed it. You see, I have this need to feed people, which is nice, really, and actually vital if you’re working in a restaurant. . .