Monday, March 28, 2011
Monday, March 14, 2011
After almost a year in Italy, it was about time for me to return to the states and commence my college education. I did not want to leave, but the fact is I was deported. Something about being over 18, not enrolled in school or working (obviously being a lead singer in a rock band did not count or help for that matter). My Step-Dad received a letter from an Italian Magistrate and we dutifully showed up for the hearing. I was given 3 weeks to leave the country and that was it. I stayed until the last possible second.
I had been accepted into the UT and flew directly from Milano Italy to Austin, TX. Now many of you may know Austin to be an uber-hip city, but in 1979? Not so much. Once again, I felt like I have been put in a time warp and sent back about 10 years into the past. But now I needed to get on with the job of going to school. My Mom and Step-Dad had sent me with $2000 to start off my school career. It seemed like a lot of money. And if I had spent it wisely, it probably would have lasted me much longer.
I bought a car. You are not going to believe this but I bought a dark green ’72 Vega. It was like bad karma, it was terrible, but for $500 it ran. The folks selling it must have put some magic elixir into it because if did not shake, rattle or demand more oil during the test drive. Even after I got it home it seemed to run okay for a few days. But suddenly the potion wore off and slowly (no come to think of it …quickly), it turned into the piece of crap I remembered from ’72 when my Mom originally test drove one of its evil siblings. During the fall freshman semester it seems like I dumped a lot of oil in this thing to keep it running. And it ran worse and worse, rattling and clanking, sometimes it seemed that the engine would shake apart. I dumped in more oil to quench its thirst.
I distinctly remember one day. I had to get my wisdom teeth pulled and a family friend set me up with a dentist he knew. He said the dentist would help me out on the cost since I was not earning too much money at my new job. I went to the dentist office, they numbed my mouth (no local anesthesia for me, no…that cost extra….), pulled the teeth and propped me up afterwards. The dentist gave me two Tylenol and pat on the back, saying that should do the trick. I asked him for something stronger as I was in pretty good pain and had to work that night. He told me that he did not believe in stronger pain medicine; that was all I was going to get. Funny, when I arrived I did not see the blinking sign saying this guy was also practicing sado masochism as well. Reaching into my back pocket for my check book, it was not there. I had forgotten to bring it with me. He demanded my license and held it, making me drive all the way home and back so I could pay him (thank God I was not stopped by the police). What a great guy, so compassionate! I was in so much pain, it was awful. He actually gave me some of his cards and told me to pass them out to my friends. Oh yes, the highest recommendation - avoid him at all costs (unless you were in the Aggie Crop that is…sorry gratuitous Texas A&M dig here…). I remember thanking our family friend profusely, telling him that he could skip giving me any more recommendations on doctors, dentists, restaurants or anything else…ever. Come to think of it, he was an Aggie too.
I continued pouring oil into the Vega, it continued to devour it at an alarming rate. Finally one day I was near college campus heading home from class and it died. I had owned in only four months. I called our family friend (yes the same one that recommended the dentist) and asked him what to do. He said he liked the car and would give me $400 for it. Deal. I took the $400 and added another $200 that I had scrimped together and bought an Austrian Puch Newport Moped. Talk about your basic transportation, but hey it was cheap! It started (if you pedaled it fast enough) and got great gas mileage.
I was so smart though, my job was on the north side of Austin and my apartment was on the south side of Austin. So I figured out this convoluted route along some major but mostly back streets and it took forever to get to and from work or school. It was a bit hairy at times having many cars piled up behind me all wanting to get around the slow moving moped. Come on! I was getting along at a pretty good clip of 28mph. It is amazing I did not die riding this thing at night. The headlight was sooooo bright and it dimmed when you were off the throttle or the motor idled at stop lights. The people at work took pity on me and I remember loading it the back of one gal’s car, it just fit in the trunk of her mid-70’s Mercury. I remember one night she gave me a lift somewhere and she asked me to be careful as I got it out of the trunk as she has just had the car repainted. SCRAPE…..as I took a huge gash of paint off the quarter panel. She just stared at me and hung her head shaking it slowly back and forth. She was a good sport and continued to give me rides; her Mercury with the moped sticking out of the trunk.
We did get stopped a couple of times by the local police. But we never got a ticket, or a warning. See this gal had a thing for cops and being a pretty decent looking gal herself, I think a lot of them had a thing for her…. Anyway…I remember one time we got stopped and the officer dutifully asked for her license. She took a look as his name badge and remembered meeting some place or another. So rather than getting a ticket, she ended up with a date that Friday night. Pretty good deal all around if you think about it. I got a ride home, no ticket was issued and she got a…well she got to go out with another police officer. Like I said, everybody won.
Our Mercury –Moped combination was a common sight at a couple of the clubs we frequently after work. We never feared it would be stolen, it looked just too ridiculous. There is nothing quite as sexy as trying to pick up a hot gal when riding a moped, especially a moped with one seat, especially when it was hanging out the back of a mid-70’s Mercury. It did not get any better than that.
I did not have many dates my freshman year. As a matter of fact…I had none.
Until next time.
Monday, March 7, 2011
As an American teenager, living in Europe, that magical year between high school and college and adulthood that was supposed to follow, it was a great year. I would never trade that experience for anything. I got to travel around a bit, discover Italy, Germany, Switzerland and Austria. But the main thing I did while living in Italy? Played in a rock band.
An American teenager living in Milano and a lead singer in a rock band? Well remember the part in my earlier post about checking out the chicks in Italy? When you are a lead singer in a rock band, they check you out. It was fun (I do not want to say how much fun; my wife may be reading this…). The band was called BTN as in Better Than Nothing. They needed a singer and I auditioned. We practiced a few songs feeling things out, trying to figure out if we all jived together or not and it went pretty well, until we played Dog Eat Dog by Ted Nugent, aka "The Nuge". We totally rocked as I knew all the lyrics by heart. I was in.
We played some strange and fun gigs. Some paid, some didn’t, some paid well. I remember playing at American military bases. We would play high school dances or the NCO club and what I recall was that they paid a lot, fed us, put us up for the night and got us into the base PX (Note. My Mom would send a shopping list with me with items like M&M’s, Raisin Bran, peanut butter and other things that we could not get in Europe). But the one that stands out in my mind the most was when we were on TV.
Now Italian TV was not like TV in the States (as we called America). For one thing, it was in Italian. And the second thing was that frequently it made no sense. There were a lot of independent channels and they made even less sense. I worked hard on my Italian and towards the end of my stay was fairly conversant in the language. But sometimes I could not figure out what was going on. Like watching the serious interview show and there was that moment when the host would drop his voice to a whisper and ask the fallen local magistrate why he stole all the Lira from the poor children’s funds, when suddenly Beepo the clown would come flying out and bounce a beach ball off the hosts head, pull a tiny monkey that played tiny cymbals from inside the sack tied around her waist and told the audience that she had been a very bad clown while squirting the camera from the purple flower in her lapel. I did not understand it at all, but the studio audience collectively wet their pants, they were laughing so hard.
One of the guys in the band had a connection (wink wink) with a friend of a friend of a friend that was opening a bar / art gallery. This bar owner had paid for one of the local channels to do a TV Show covering the first four weeks of partying (Oh I think there may have been a new artist launch each week, but the focus was on the owner and her friends partying very hard). And BTN was hired as the house band. It paid stupid money, and there was good reason for this, as we would find out.
One of the bonus’ of having me in the band was I had access to a car (as did one other member of our 5-man outfit). So we piled all our gear into every available centimeter of the 127 and (as I recall) an Alfa Romeo Alfetta and went across town to the bar, err…Art Gallery. We dutifully arrived mid-afternoon to set up our gear and do sound check. Parking right in front of the place, we got out of our cars and locked the doors. We were going to go for a quick look inside to get the lay of the land. Now in Milano (or anywhere in Italy for that matter) you always locked the door to your car and never left anything in sight as it would be boosted in seconds. There were no high-end radios in Italian cars, they would not make it two seconds before someone would come by and feel the need to liberate whatever you had. It was like a sport, although a sport that involved a lot of broken glass and tears.
We looked suspiciously around the street we were on and felt that maybe it was best to have someone stand guard outside to protect the valuable contents of our automobiles. As we tried to decide who would stay, we heard a soft chuckle come from the main entrance to the club. Turning we saw the large and dark figure of main door man / bouncer who had arrived early to let us in. He had the look of someone who had just got off the train from Naples or Sicily maybe….not someone to be trifled with.
“Why are you guys locking the doors to your cars?” he asked.
“Well, we don’t want our stuff stolen…” our lead guitarist answered.
Taking a drag on his cigarette he chuckled again. “Take a look around; what kind of neighborhood do you think we are in?” Motioning for us to look beyond the arc of his lit cigarette.
Looking around, the street seemed a bit ominous. People passing by averted their eyes, the stores were all spotlessly clean, there was no garbage on the street (Milano was terrible about garbage in the street and this place was pristine). And the vendors had that look…like they did not care one way or the other if you came in, bought or turned away. They were….protected. He answered his own question for us.
“This my friends is a protected neighborhood…” he said while using the nail of this thumb to pull down the skin below his eye.
“Ahh… a protected neighborhood.” Replied one of my band mates. Then turning to me put his hand beside his mouth so only I could see it and mouthed “Mafia”.
“And who do you think owns this place?” he asked.
We all collectively turned to the band mate who had set this gig up for us who suddenly found great interest in his shoe laces, preferring not look us in the eyes. He had neglected to tell us that the club belonged to the local Mafia Don’s mistress or girlfriend (one of many no doubt).
“Your cars are completely safe here. Nobody will even look or God forbid touch them. On this street, right now, they do not exist. Leave them unlocked, open even, your equipment is completely safe here.” Then finishing his thought, he turned back inside and said to himself…”and God help them if they do…”
We unloaded our gear, set it up, did sound check and preformed four shows over the next four weeks. They were crazy parties with lots of blue lighting, beautiful people gyrating to the groove we laid down or crowding around the bar…err..sorry…art gallery. And there was this one hot gal that wore next to nothing but danced holding a large bamboo bird cage with no bird inside (yeah I thought that was strange too). At the end of our show, our cars were still out front, untouched…and unlocked. A few weeks later the whole bizarre event was brought to the small screen in what could only be described as crazy Italian TV editing, with the camera zooming in and out, in and out, in and out….it gave me a headache watching it on TV. I did not even finish watching the first episode. But man did that gig pay well.