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In 1985, I was working for MTV News.  We generated music news copy that was read, with relative degrees of competence or indifference, by Martha, Mark, JJ, Nina, and Alan.  There were five or six of us newswriters  in a medium-sized office/bullpen; we spent our days talking to managers and publicists and rapping out 60 word stories about upcoming Scorpion tours, occasionally slipping in items about Fela or Robyn Hitchcock to amuse ourselves. It was a small, convivial office which resembled the Mary Tyler Moore newsroom to a surprising degree (in case you don’t think newsrooms are actually like that, this one was).   It was a delightful place to work.  Merle Ginsberg, bless her heart, had landed me the job in late 1983, and by ’85 the cast of characters in the office were Michael Shore, Stu Cohn, Kathy Somach, Michael Azzerad (or did he come a little later?), and John Norris (who was not yet a VJ).  I was the youngest person in the office; the second youngest was  our boss, Doug Herzog.  Doug later became president of everything.  If you ever see him, tease him for the fact that (in a later job) he canceled Mystery Science Theatre 3000, the greatest TV show of all time.  Doug hates it when you do that.

The office was on 57th and Broadway — in the Colosseum Books building.
John Norris and I shared a desk, and we ended each day by watching Jeopardy at 7:30.  I miss this ritual; both John and I were excellent Jeopardy players.  For dinner,  I would often have pizza with anchovies from nearby Mariellas; although it goes without saying  that Mariellas was, at that time, the best non-Hoboken/Brooklyn slice in New York, I undertook this ritual largely just to annoy John, who somehow found the concept of anchovies spectacularly repugnant. With every bite, literally with every bite, he would sneer at me and say “How could you?  How could you?”

After Jeopardy was over, three or four nights a week I would strap my bass on my back and walk sixty blocks downtown, regardless of the weather, to rehearse with my band, Hugo Largo.  We rehearsed in a ground floor apartment on 9th street between 1st avenue and avenue A.  It was good exercise and allowed me plenty of time to congratulate myself on what a stunning young artist I was.

Doug, who ran the department, was extremely tolerant of my extracurricular interests, which involved not infrequent touring with the Glen Branca Ensemble (I was a permanent member of the group from late 1983 to mid 1986), and creating elaborate hoaxes that usually involved the office xerox machine and near-criminal abuse of the concept of the inter-office memo.  Hoaxes were a lot more fun before the computer era.

Now, by mid-1985, I already had a long-standing relationship with the Beastie Boys.  I may detail this elsewhere, but I was integrally involved in the beginning of their career four  years earlier, one of my best friends at the time was Rick Rubin, and around this time Rick, Mike Dugan and I were tossing around ideas for a Beastie Boys movie (it was a variation on the standard guys-who-need-to-stay-in-haunted-house-to-inherit-money plot; only it was going to be called The Beastie Boys are Scared Shitless, which would have made it instantly superior to all other films of that milieu).

In the middle of 1985, the Beastie were on the precipice of breaking big.  The “Rock Hard” single was getting a lot of attention, License to Ill was on the way out, and the band had just been invited by Madonna to be the opening act on her Like A Virgin tour.

One day, Rick Rubin asked me to meet him for dinner.  We saw each other fairly often, so this wasn’t that unusual.  We would usually discuss grandiose concepts to take over the music industry, sometimes involving an idea we had for a super-aggressive, super political  hardcore metal/punk band that was to be called The Jews.  Rick was reading a lot of Meir Kahane in those days, and around this time he solemnly presented me with a copy of Kahane’s Time To Go Home.

I think we met at a Chinese place he favored on University Place, where he always ordered the General Tso’s chicken. Rick told me that the Beasties had definitely decided to do the Madonna tour, and that this was a huge break for them.  He then patiently explained that the Beasties were still kids, and a little bit out of control, he was too busy to go on the road with them, and that Rick needed someone he could trust to keep an eye on them.

It did make a little sense that Rick would ask me to be a tour manager;  the Beasties liked me, and I had some experience with touring (both due to the time I had spent touring with Branca, and because I had spent a lot of time on the road with different bands when I was a journalist — I had worked actively as a journalist from 1978 to 1983).  Rick was also well aware of my connection to MTV News, and I am sure he thought that it would help to have an MTV employee actively involved with the Beasties.

However, what Rick asked me next surprised me.

“The band also needs a DJ,” he explained.  “So I want you to tour manage and be on stage with them as a DJ.”

Despite the fact that I had DJ’ed extensively at clubs in the early 1980s,  I had never done ‘artful’ scratchy and bumpy type DJ’ing before, so I told him I didn’t think I could do it.

“Not a problem,” Rick cheerfully answered. “I can teach you everything you need to know in an afternoon.”

I was definitely intrigued.  Every 23-year-old has to dream, at some point, of going on a big rock’n’roll tour (Hugo Largo, at that point, were just playing small-ish clubs and performance art spaces).  At rehearsal that evening, I told my band about it, and they seemed sufficiently amused by the whole idea, and didn’t think that the time away would hurt us too much.

I was inclined to take the gig, but didn’t know how it might effect my job.  Somehow, because Doug had allowed me a week or ten days off here and there to tour with Branca, I though he might be amenable to working something out, especially because it was Madonna.

The next day, I spoke to Doug.  Doug’s office was attached, via glass wall, to the main newsroom.

Doug patiently listened to me.  He then courteously but firmly explained that he didn’t think he could hold my job for me for the six or eight weeks I would be away.  Now, I was making about 25 grand a year at MTV News — a LOT of money for a musician living in Hoboken who paid $475 for a railroad flat — and I quite liked my job there.  Doug, sensing my confusion, then told me “Look… it will almost certainly cost you your job here, and what will you get in return?  Okay, maybe you’ll get to see Madonna’s tits, and you’ll probably have a good time, but Tim, remember…there are no xerox machines on a tour bus.”

Then, with exquisite timing, Doug held up my most recent artfully honed piece of hoaxery:  A picture of a baseball team, each face carefully replaced by the face of grotesque child star  Mason Reese, along with an accompanying fake memo asking people to join the MTV softball team.  This has appeared in the mailbox of every employee.

I agreed to stay, and didn’t leave MTV news until I went full time with Hugo Largo about a year and a half later (I had a later stint with MTV after Hugo Largo’s defenestration in mid 1989, but that’s another story).

The next day I snuck off to xerox machine and created about a thousand one dollar bills, each with Doug’s face on it.  For years thereafter, at opportune moments I would pull out one of the Doug dollars.

So I didn’t become a temporary Beastie Boy, though I am happy to say I made one significant contribution to the tour:  when the band played Radio City Music Hall, before the show I fed Adam Yauch a line that a journalist colleague of mine, Dave Schulps, had once told me he had heard 70s rock monstrosity The Godz say on stage:  “New York, you have the best cheeseburgers and the best pussy.”  Adam ended the show with it.

Joachim Von Vestern-Tuning was strolling down the steep and narrow streets of Wien’s Judenstrasse, all the while thinking  about his greatest invention, Western Tuning. 

He was also looking for his wife, Imre, who had left the house earlier that afternoon to buy a bushel of leeks and a spring onion to throw at some Hungarian separatists.  But Von Vestern-Tuning had little time to consider his spouses’s distaste for the brave Magyars, as he was distracted by the remarkable news that composers in the New World were being greatly influenced by his work.

Stepping into a coffee house run by a particularly amiable Son Of Moses named Sam Yedel, Von Vestern-Tuning plunged his hands into both of his pockets.  From the left one he pulled a pipe, which he soon stuffed full of acrid Turkish tobacco (which Imre claimed smelled like a cross between burning rubber and the menstrual hut in her native village of Ludovic); from the right pocket, he pulled a letter…a letter from America. 

Those magical words…a letter from America.  Where the streets were paved with string, except in Utica, New York, where the streets were paved with bits of Yiddish newspaper that had once been wrapped around Herring.  

Von Vestern-Tuning had read and re-read this letter many times — so many times, in fact, that it was taking on the peculiar smell of violin rosin, lilac oil, and cheese-sausage that was always on his hands — but standing in the doorway of Yedel’s cafe, he read it yet again. 

The letter was from a gentleman named Lincoln ‘Free Lunch’ Freeman.  He was writing from Dothan, Alabama, where he was on tour with the Greely’s Muscle Tonic Spirit’n’Smiles Show.  Free Lunch was what they called a “specialty” act; he played the Hallelujah Chorus on a 9-foot length of pipe that had originally served as the drain spout for a one-room schoolhouse in Siler City, North Carolina.  Free Lunch also had the added ability of being able to roll his eyes remarkably fast at crucial junctures of the song; usually he was accompanied by a legless violinist named Hadacol Pete, but Pete had recently been whisked off to Europe, and he was currently performing in the court of Tsar Alexandra III.

Von Vestern-Tuning was momentarily distracted by the bustle of traffic on the street; the sabbath was approaching, and an argument had broken out over the relative merits of having a clapper who was less or more feeble minded than a dray horse.  A rabbi was consulted, who cited something Eleazar ben Azraiah had once told a stranger about dental hygiene, but this led to a further disagreement over what precisely a dray horse was.  Meanwhile, a tertiary argument had erupted regarding what was the best kind of macaroni to use when constructing a poster illustrating the life-cycle of a dray horse made out of macaroni, glue, glitter and poster board, and a small but wise child burst into hysterics about her inability to obtain poster board in the shtetl.   

Attempting to disregard the shrieking of the poor Hebrew child, Von Vestern-Tuning concentrated on the letter.  

“I shore did njoy your riting in Die Oesterreiche Journal Fur Kunst Und Musik Volume LXXVI,” Lincoln “Free Lunch” Freeman wrote. “Must konfess my dootch haz bin a liddle rusty since i have not been over to yore parts since i perticipayted in the liszt simposium nine yeers ago.  shure did njoy those lippazaner stalyons. so ANYway my duutch is rusty but i got the gist of it yor artikul yassir i unnerstan yir artikal good.  After reeding yir article, yes, I punched 12 holes (no more no lass) per yer instrukshuns in my Famous Pipe each one corresponding to this ‘wastern skale’ you rote about. Now not only can I play the halluyulaah song ol’ Free Lunch is so famous for but i have learned meny new songs such as and inkludeing the oboe koncerto of Johann Heinrich Luft the overchure from Bizet’s Karmen and of course a new krowd pleezer ‘That Ol’ Coon Stole My Horse.’” Ah since its tym for my nex show and the uke player died yassturday so i now play twice as long i must run but thank u sir for your mighty fine vention”

Von Vestern-Tuning had read this letter many times, yet he smiled on each and every occasion.  After all, this was remarkable news, and Von Vestern-Tuning pondered its meaning while drawing on his pipe.  When he finished drawing on his pipe (he drew a primitive but recognizable portrait of Kaiserein Elisabeth having tea with her famous pet monkey, Otto der Unglücklicher Affe), he lit it.  Puffing away, he contemplated the strange course of events that had led him to the discovery which was now inspiring creativity an ocean away.

Three years earlier, Von Vestern-Tuning had attended a concert of bawdy music in a little dance hall in nearby Heitzing.  He noted (in an account of the event that he had given in a letter written to his friend, the famous Viennese paper-maker, Josef Liegal-Pad) that “…all of the music sounded like it was made by Chinamen.”  

Von Vestern-Tuning resolved to create a system that somehow combatted the cacophony that he had heard that evening in Heitzing.

 

 

For the third time in five years, I found myself traveling to  The Festival Of Cardboard Dioramas and Other Gleeful Things Involving Glue and Sometimes String.  This year’s event was held in Alamogordo, New Mexico.  

Due to a generous donation from Congregatio pro condita sulum narro Latin vel sententia ut quidam quaedam quedam quidam insolitus (The Society for Making Everyone Speak Latin, Even Though That’s Kind Of Bizarre), for the second year in a row all official notices regarding the event were in Latin;  so for the sake of appeasing the kind people who gave me my free press pass, I shall refer to the festivities as Solemnitas Of Cardboard Dioramas Quod Alius Gleeful Res Involving Gluten Quod Interdum Ligamen (or “The Interdum Ligamen,” as they called it for short; the full name didn’t quite fit on the truckers’ hat that was handed out with the press material).  

The economic downturn affecting most of the country cast a somber mood over the usually jovial event; in fact, the work of some entrants was as cheerful as a group of downs syndrome children being taken on a tour of a Holocaust museum.

One such example of this darker tone was a diorama titled “Devia Nex Walter Mondale , ut Somnium per Uxor Of Voluntarius Burroughs ut Is Iacio Crudus” (The Lonely Death Of Walter Mondale, as Dreamt by the Wife Of William Burroughs as She Lay Bleeding).  Equally as downcast was a sculpture of the beating and live burial of Civil Rights workers Goodman, Chaney and Schwerner made entirely out of Popsicle sticks.  But the crafting and execution of both of these pieces were extraordinary, and almost made one forget that the only snacks available at the place where the event was held were fruit roll-ups and avocados (in the future, I might advise the organizers of the Interdum Ligamen to seek out a more accommodating venue than the Li’l Boo Boo rec hall of the  Alamogorodo Yogi Bear and L’il Boo Boo RV Park).

I rather enjoyed the welcoming address by Rosalyn Kind, the sister of Barbra Streisand and a notable shoebox diorama enthusiast (the address was entirely in Latin, of course), though I was perplexed by Ms. Kind’s own dioramatic contribution to the event, a shoebox featuring twistie-ties shaped into a depiction of the trial of Leon Czolgosz, the anarchist who killed President William McKinley.  It wasn’t the concept that I disapproved of — in fact, the assassination of McKinley was a running theme throughout the event, with no less than four different dioramas and one construction paper mobile dedicated to sundry aspects of the tragedy — but her execution was sloppy and riddled with historical inaccuracies (every school child knows that Emma Goldman did not attend the trial).

The much coveted Gold Ribbon went to a diorama — actually a series of dioramas — featuring Dr. Mengele performing experiments on the Olsen Twins.  The final diorama in this series (housed, cleverly, in an Adidas shoebox!) speculated on what the scene would have looked like if The Olsen Twins mother had to watch one of her newborns taken away from her to be a part of an experiment regarding newborns and exposure to the elements.  

Second Prize (and the winner in the ‘Macaroni, Elmers Glue, and Construction Paper catagory’) was a very elaborate depiction of the Turks leaving the gates of Vienna, their siege having failed, in the autumn of 1683.  Very remarkable use of perspective!  

The Bronze Medal was a courageous choice, and boded well for the creative future of the artform: a nearly empty shoebox, containing only a single lug nut that was free-floating within the environment, titled “Even Max Baer Jr. Has Dreams.”

All in all, despite the somewhat dour creative tone of the dioramas to be found in the L’il Boo Boo Rec Hall, I feel that the Interdum Ligamen was a great success; the only acidus nota (sour note) was sounded by the rather abrasive tone taken by an upstart ‘rival’ event, the Slam Ligamen, which took place in the Morris Udall Room of the nearby  Sleep’n’Sip Inn and Cafe.

This group seemed to believe that the future of shoebox diorama lay in taking the medium to purely theoretical extremes (a mode hinted at by the Max Baer diorama, but that piece still retained the familiar  and, to my mind, requisite, frame); one of the Slam Ligamen’s featured dioramas (“Jefferson Davis and Judah P. Benjamin Bravely Suggest the Idea of Emancipation to the Confederate Congress”) was housed in the backseat of a 1991 Corolla, and there wasn’t a shoebox in sight; another entry, “Bruno Ganz, Drinking, Studying His Lines” was situated on a card table, with an empty shoebox barely visible underneath the table.  Yet another controversial piece, “In Which We Explain Why The Hapsburgs Buried the Heads Of Their Emperors in One Place and Their Hearts In Another,”  contained no material substance whatsoever, and existed purely conceptually, its existence only acknowledged by a a title card and a line in the official program.  

I may admire the artistic reach and aesthetic sensibility of these rebels, but I can’t help but feel that their efforts risk creating potentially mortal division in the ranks of a medium already battling with obscurity.

I have an idea for a television show.  It’s a lot like Cheers, only it takes place in The Museum of James Buchanan’s Tongue, a little storefront on East 61st street in Manhattan.

 The centerpiece of the museum is a bell jar containing most — but not all — of President James Buchanan’s tongue.  The jar is etched with the phrase “Somnus est non piaculum , iam commodo addo mihi a ham quod a tepidus , madidus washcloth” (which, of course, means “Sleep is not a sin, now bring me a ham and a warm, wet washcloth”).  

A number of characters — eccentric and mundane — wander in and out of the museum, postulating on Buchanan’s role in American history, specifically how his inaction contributed to the tragedy of American secession.  Buchanan’s sexuality  – he is often speculated to be America’s most verfiiably gay President — is also frequently discussed.

The curious cast of characters who mosey in and out of the storefront include Happy von Lemberg, the batty dowager who is heir to the Handy Soup fortune (“Handy Soup — The soup you eat with your hands!”); Walt McReckless, a former Canadian Football superstar who works as a bartender at a NYC strip club; Rebecca Flaxmore, the uptight propreitor of the Museum gift shop, who is studying at Columbia and working on her thesis on the evolution of the Latin mass; Betsy The Talking Kangaroo, a character loosely based on the author/comedian Michael O’Donghue; and Barry D’Abruzze, the dim but big-hearted pretzel salesman who sells his wares on nearby 2nd Avenue.  

In the pilot episode I have sketched out, Betsy The Kangaroo enters the museum and makes a comment about how no one eats Chiclets anymore; she then reminsices about an evening she had at Max’s Kansas City in 1979 that culminated with her performing oral sex on a member of Wayne County’s band.  Barry, confused, thinks she is talking about a story he had read earlier that day on gun control in the NY Post.  Happy, who usually speaks directly to the camera (she is the only character who does so), notes that her late husband’s family were the exclusive sellers of dried fish to the Tsar.  

Guest star Harry Anderson then enters and does a long magic trick that doesn’t work.  He then breaks down weeping.  

Rebecca chastises Harry Anderson for his weakness, and compares Harry Anderson’s emotional vulnerability to the noted stoicism of James Buchanan.

Walt then lopes in, dressed as Vaclav Havel.  He explains that he hopes that someone at the club that night says “Check, please,” and that he will then broadly smile and say that he’s a Czech.  Betsy tells Walt that this is an awful joke, and then proceeds to kick Walt nearly to death.  Walt crumples to the floor, where he falls on top of Harry Anderson, who is still weeping.  

Betsy then says she is going to hop half a dozen blocks west to the Subway Inn, on Lexington and 60th, because she needs to get new material for some ‘Kangaroo walks into a bar’ jokes.  

Happy then looks into the camera and tells a long story about her older brother dying in the battle of Ypres.  It was a peculiarly gruesome death, involving a suppurating wound and her brother begging an orderly to shoot him and put him out of his misery.  The orderly finally agreed to do so, and he was later executed for this deed.  Apparently this doomed orderly was related, in some fashion, to the jazz-age superstar Eddie Cantor.  Happy then wanders into an anecdote involving a kiddie matinee at a movie theatre in Rochester, New York in 1933 — Happy was distressed after she spilled a NeHi Grape Soda on her new dress — and it all appears to be a pointless diversion, until she links it back to the moral dilemmas surrounding the Buchanan presidency, and Happy ties it up neatly by giving romantic advice to Rebecca.  

Harry Anderson continues to weep, and the show closes as he claims, in a muffled voice between choked sobs, that he is having trouble breathing underneath Walt’s nearly-lifeless carcass.

See, it’s just like Cheers.

…Researchers at Duke University have determined that 8 out of 10 people will become sleepy if they stare a dog in the eye?  

...Ashton Kutcher is a direct descendent of Presidential assassin John Wilkes Booth?

…In the Netherlands, it is considered exceedingly rude to touch someone’s bicycle tire?  

…the reason we call a prostitute’s client a “John” is because of a very public scandal involving Indianapolis mayor John O’Dwyer in 1904?  

…Joyce Kilmer’s famous poem “Trees” was originally called “Steve”?  (“I think that I shall never see/A poem lovely as Steve./Steve whose hungry mouth is prest/Against the sweet earth’s flowing breast…)

…In 1958, the RCA company attempted to market a product specifically aimed at the African American marketplace called “Colored Television”?  


…the original name of the superstar band Coldplay was A Pint Glass Full Of Cold Sick?

…when President Lyndon Johnson was depressed, he would have aides roll him inside of a carpet and throw him down a flight of stairs?

…Jared Fogle — whom the world knows as Jared The Subway Guy — is the grandson of Atomic Spies Julius and Ethel Rosenberg?

…before Merv Griffin created Jeopardy, he developed a game show called That’s No Lady, That’s My Chimp!

…the ‘Black And Tan,’ a libacious staple of every Irish pub, was invented in 1916 by a Dublin-based terrorist group working for Irish independence, The Blacken Ten?

...the actual inventor of the recording process later known as The Edison Disk was Leon Czolgosz?  And after Edison stole Czolgosz’s idea, the inventor descended into madness, culminating with his assassination of President William McKinley in 1901?

…due to the fact that he was born in England, funnyman Bob Hope was briefly interred as a Suspicious Alien by the U.S. Government during the 1938 Cordell Hull Poisoning Crisis?

…a small section of Rosemary Kennedy’s prefrontal cortex, extracted during her catastrophic 1941 lobotomy, is on display at the Mutter Medical Museum in Philadelphia?

The woman who raised me, my great Aunt Shussie (whom others called ‘Tante,’ but I called her Tex Antoine), had three arms.

Mind you, the third arm was a mostly useless little thing — a vestigial appendage about the size of the leg of a premature baby, and she usually kept it tucked out of sight  inside the folds of her voluminous mu-mu — but the sad little limb did have just enough strength and mobility to allow her to steer a car with it.

One of Shussie’s favorite things to do was to use her third arm to drive while she wildly gesticulated with her two ‘normal’ arms.  To anyone driving alongside or behind us, this gave the rather convincing impression that she was going mad, and had no hands on the steering wheel at all.

Oh how this made me laugh.  Oh I laughed all the way to Yeshiva.  Oh I laughed all the way past Yeshiva to the Quaker Friends school Shussie and her faux-gentleman friend, Henryk, sent me to when they found Rabbi Ben Yudel placing matzoh brei down the front of my bathing suit when I was nine.

“The Tsar will never find it here!” he would mutter, cramming more and more Matzo Brei in the tight, damp space between the fabric and my moist little boy-turtle.  When he was in a particularly frightened and paranoid mood, he would ladle entire jars of apple sauce and molasses down the front of my swim trunks.

On our drives, Shussie would tell me stories about James Joyce, who had been her lover over one delicious summer in Zurich, when she was just 16.

“His notebooks always stank of whiskey,” she remembered, only she remembered in Yiddish, which was odd, since she spoke mostly in a form of Quebecois French.  “I mean, literally stank of whiskey.  Do you get it?  Do you understand what I mean? I am trying to get accross the point that the paper and the covers of his notebooks reeked of whiskey.  See, he would spill whiskey on them, and the liquor would dry — hence, his notbooks literally stank of whiskey.  I mean literally.”

“You know,” she continued, a little tear coming to the corner of her right eye, which she wiped away with a corner of her mu-mu which she held aloft with her third arm, “he would always cry after he came.  He said this was because he felt so inadequate.  Well, he didn’t actually come out and say it, but I could sense it in the way he handed me the money. Well, it wasn’t actually money, it was string. But it was good string! But in any event,  I have no idea why that silly man felt inadequate!  Oh, if only your father could have been such a wonderful lover!”

I then felt compelled to remind Shussie that she was my Great Aunt, and not, in fact, my mother, and that my father (who had died during a historical re-enactment of the fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Company) was her nephew.

Shussie was quiet for a second, and then said “I will take you to Carvel every day for the rest of the month if you forget I ever told you that story.”

Many of you have been asking for further details and anecdotes regarding my childhood in Zurich.

Perhaps you are picturing sepia-toned memories of long strolls along the leafy Waidmattweg (“Way of Waders”), or innocent bites of a cinnamon and sugar dusted Kugelchurrenmek (Churlishly-Made Dumpling) while watching the famous Kristmasmekmonopyed Cirkussen (One-Legged Mac’s Christmas Week Circus)  in front of the Chittihallen (City Hall).

But alas, I must dissapoint you.  Before I was barely knee-high to a bucket of scallops, my parents whisked me off to Vienna, and this is where the most vivid and bittersweet memories of my childhood are staged.

(Well, it wasn’t really my parents who took me to Vienna, but my grandparents; and they weren’t actually my grandparents, who I have been told perished rather gruesomely and without ceremony in a ditch about 9 kilometers east of Lemberg, in the Ukraine, but in fact my Great Aunt Shussie and her gentleman friend Henkry Die Otter; and in actuality dear faux Grandpa Henryk was not technically a gentleman, though after 16 years of pursuing his claim in the sundry courts of Switzerland, he did get the government to recognize that he could seek employment and file insurance claims as if he had been born a man.)

Ah, Wien, the sparkling, shimmering, sepia-toned beating heart of Europe!

I remember pushing a barrel-hoop with a stick down the steep, narrow, sepia-toned streets of the  Judenstrasse on a crisp, late Autumn day; and it was here that I first encountered a shy, pale, sepia-toned young girl, hiding in the shadows of the doorway of her father’s salt-curing shop.  She claimed to be hiding from Gustav Klimt, who was pestering her to remove her shirt-dress and pose for some sketches; I found this statement extraordinarily peculiar, as Klimt had been dead for over sixty years.

The little girl’s name was Mayim Bialik.  You, of course, know her as Miyam Bialik.

Miyam explained that her father was a man of great status, since he  provided cured meats to Emperor Charles The Sudden, the final quasi-doomed Hapsburg ruler.  I told Mayim an amusing, sepia-toned historical anecdote regarding the origin of the Emperor’s peculiar moniker; she showed me a rather exquisite carved glass Unicorn that had been a gift from the Emperor to her family; and instantly we were great friends.

(I refrained from informing her that the carved glass she was so proud of was almost certainly not a unicorn,  but a slope-shouldered Rabbi with a horn sticking out from under his carefully-rendered fur hat.)

As the afternoon’s light morphed into the lazy and haunted sepia-toned glow of early evening, we walked hand in hand to the Innerstadt.  There, we huddled in the rich sepia-toned shadows of Mozart’s doorway and Mayim provided me with a not inadequate form of manual relief.  I compensated her by explaining the sad and fascinating history of the DuMont Network.

Later, after unsuccessfully searching for a wet-nap, we crossed the square and sought a kind of regretful solace in the cool, reverberating sepia-toned stones of Stehpansdom, one of Europe’s great cathedrals; but our meditative regret was interrupted by a group of Franciscans who chased us away because we were Jews.

“If I had a pfenning for every time someone shouted at me ‘Juden, Juden! Aus! Aus!,’ I would be able to buy a ticket to Hollywood!” Mayim commented, presciently (of course, we recall that Mayim’s ‘big break’ in Tinsletown came when she played little Sharon Lieberman in the After School Special “Run, Jew, Run,” in which a poor Rabbi’s daughter in antebellum Richmond, Virgina forms a world-famous Vaudeville Team with a sightless slave, played by Levon Helm).

After we were chased from the great Cathedral, we went to a nearby cafe tucked behind Die Operhaus (the Opera house), where we shared a Tartemitmochafleisch (a pastry stuffed with meat pickled in chocolate-infused chicken-broth) and a KaffeSchwarze (a coffee made by schwarzes).  We told each other of our dreams:  hers, to be a great actress; mine, that I was standing naked on line in my school cafeteria, that my lunch tray was a shellacked copy of the French edition of Vogue, and that George McGovern and Tommy Tune were serving me lunch while Sirhan Sirhan asked me if he could have my apple sauce, but that apple sauce on my tray wasn’t actually apple sauce, but an 8-Track tape of the second Boston album.

Mayim explained that by ‘dreams,’ she meant our goals and ambitions, not literally the dreams we had while we were sleeping.

“Oh,” I said.

I then told her that I wanted to be a great force in the history of pop music; either that, or I wanted to be a TV weatherman, “sort of like Tex Antoine, but with less of a smarmy demeanour.”

Mayim asked me why I favoured the British spelling of “demeanour”…and I knew I was falling for her.

I leaned over the little table — the tables were quite small, as were were in the section of the cafe reserved for Jews and Serbians (who smoked their awful little cigars, made of tea and horseflesh) — and kissed her.

To this day I remember that their was a tiny fleck of powdered sugar in the right corner of her mouth.

Little did I know that I would never see her again.

When I returned that evening to our tiny, crowded, sepia-toneded flat above the bicycle repair shop (they empolyed Henryk to grease bicycle chains), Grossemutter Shussie informed me that we were going to be moving to New York, where, she had been told, the streets were paved with string.  Shussie had a thing for string, you see.

Shortly after arriving in New York, I began working as an office boy for Trouser Press magazine, and the rest, as they say, is The Story Of String.

To this day, I have a minor fetish for woman covered in powdered sugar; in the larger scheme of things, this is harmless, at least compared to another one of my fetishes, which involves duct-tape, a mezzuzah,  and a photograph of Karen Black.

…the original name of IHOP (The International House Of Pancakes) was IHOPWESOOT (The International House Of People Who Eat Spaghetti Out Of Troughs)?  In 1955, brothers Jerry and Al Lapin opened two IHOPWESOOT’s  – one in Siler City, North Carolina, the other in Greeneville, South Carolina.  These eateries were great sucesses, so the brothers opened a third IHOPWESOOT in 1956 in Greensboro, North Carolina Problems with the North Carolina health department forced the two N.C. IHOPWESOOT’s to close in 1957, so, in 1958, Jerry and Al reconfigured these two locations around a breakfast and pancake friendly concept, shortened the name, and the rest is history! Oh, the South Carolina IHOPWESOOT changed it’s name to Ye Olde Spaghetti Feedbag, and remains open to this day!

…Western tuning (the common system whereby the scale of written and performed music is organized into 12 unvarying semitones) was invented in 1709 by an Austrian scientist and composer, Joachim Von Vestern-Tuening?

…the origin of the ‘ear-tug’ that funny lady Carol Burnett made famous at the conclusion of her much loved television comedy show?  Well, in 1968 a Mexican drug gang based in East Los Angeles kidnapped Carol’s much-beloved Grandmother; when Carol refused to pay the ransom, they cut off the outer (small) toes on each of her feet, and they threatened to cut off her ears…unless the ransom was paid.  That week on her show, Carol ‘tugged’ at her right ear as a ‘sign’ to the kidnappers that the ransom payment was on its way. Even after her Grandmother’s release, Carol then retained the ear tug at the end of each show, as an omen to protect her Grandmother’s safety.

...the name ‘Pit Bull’ originated with legendary English Prime Minister Winston Churchill?  Churchill, who was notoriously cruel to animals, owned four Staffordshire Bull Terriers, whom he kept chained in a small cage behind his quarters in the War Office.  The Prime Minister took to feeding the dogs only peach pits, which he claimed kept them “hungry, healthy, and regular as soldier,” further citing that while he had been a prisoner of war in a Boer prison camp, his captors had fed him only on peach pits, and he had “turned out fine.”  Soon, due to their simple and constant diet, people around the War Office began to refer to Churchill’s dogs simply as ‘Pit Bulls.”

*  I want to go to Chock Full o’ Nuts and then stand on the sidewalk and stare up at the Chrysler Building and make up a story about Zacharias Zabeti, the Emperor Of Manhattan. 

*  I want to watch a TV commercial for Expo ’67.

*  I want to get a letter in the mail from Tex Antoine. 

*  I want to see Tommy Tune on TV and know that there is something a little different about him, but not be entirely sure what it is. 

*  I want to care about Quisp and Quake. 

*  I want to hum “Pan Am Makes The Going Great!” really loudly during lunch and hope that someone notices me. 

*  I want to laugh at a joke on TV about Wilbur Mills

*  I want Lipton Soup to play a really big role in my life.

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