My Gremlins Were Acting Up, So I Hit Some Bars

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I've been struggling with my inner gremlin these past few weeks, and I don't always win. Schadenfreude seems to be the predominant theme of Summer 2001, and while I don't usually follow trends, this one is a natural fit. Lately I've taken to interrupting people I see walking down the street chatting on their cellphones to inform them that "it looks like somebody coughed up a big nasty loogie and popped it right on your back." I keep moving, because there really isn't anything there. I glance back and invariably my hapless victim is squirming around trying to check out the back of his shirt or jacket to investigate this alleged blob of phlegm. This infantile prank lifts my spirits whenever I do it and serves to tranquilize whatever anxieties may be floating around in my head.

The Saturday after the Fourth of July was a beautiful day, warm but not oppressively hot, bright blue and breezy with none of the syrupy humidity that so often plagues us here. I was broke, waiting for a bunch of overdue checks. I scooped up my date, I'll call her Jenny, and we headed downtown to hit some bars. We took the subway because we intended to get pretty wasted, and I avoid driving drunk. The New York City subway system offers more bang for your bucks in the way of entertainment value than anything else going, anywhere. On our way downtown on the A train, this great big lunkhead got on at 145th St. with a boombox, a bottle of booze and a huge pack of scratch-off lottery tickets. He had the severely pronounced occipital ridge usually associated with our Neanderthal cousins, and his boombox was blaring some godawful racket consisting of primitivo percussive noises and barely decipherable bloodthirsty chanting peppered with obscenities.

He sat down across from us, set his box on the floor of the car, took a couple of hits off his vodka and set to work on his lottery tickets, scratching them with the intensity of a slot machine addict or a chronic masturbator. Jenny and I looked at him, looked at each other, and started giggling. He must have noticed this, because he paused for a moment, and it looked like he actually had a flicker of cognition going, probably something like "Mongo not funny, Mongo confused." He took another pull off the vodka and turned up his boombox, then went back to his tickets, cursing like a savage trying to figure out a can opener with each losing ticket.

We got off at W. 4th, still giggling, and transferred to the F train, figuring we'd start off with the great open spaces of the East Village. We made our way to the Edge, a wonderful bar for a bright sunny day. They have a good selection of beers and the afternoon light through the huge windows spills over the exposed brick walls and the cozy furnishings in a way that makes me think of Aspen, CO, or Sandpoint, ID: the Edge has the feel of a bar in some mountain retreat. The weekend barkeep, a young fellow named Kris, has excellent musical tastes and is possessed of an easygoing erudition that one rarely sees in today's twentysomethings. In the course of our conversation, he mentioned that he'd spent a great deal of time in Key West, enough to have been 86'd from the Green Parrot a couple of times, so I assume that accounts in part for his nonchalant upbeat charm. I hear he's gone now.

I called a couple of friends of mine, ex-circus guys currently at loose ends here in the city, and suggested they meet up with us. They were recovering from some booze-soaked debauch the night before and apt to take a couple of hours getting it together, so Jenny and I ambled up to 7th and C, where we were stunned to discover an authentic German beer hall in the heart of the mainly Puerto Rican neighborhood. Zum Schneider is a real delight: long wooden tables on a rough stone floor, open at the front, high ceilings and a portrait of Mad Ludwig over the bar. It's been there for about a year, serving up an excellent selection of German beers and very reasonably priced German cuisine. We shared an excellent brotzeitteller, which is a platter of cold cuts and cheese consisting of liverwurst, salami, head cheese, ham, brie, swiss, tomato and pickles. The large platter, which is quite enough for two to snack on, is just $12. They also have a smaller platter for $6. The most expensive thing on the menu is the wienerschnitzel, at $14, and they also offer such rarities as pfannkuchensuppe, Bavarian pancake soup, for a mere $3, and a tempting sausage platter consisting of three types of sausage, potato salad and sauerkraut for just $12. We washed our tasty little snack down with a couple of Dinkel Ackers and then went back to the Edge to scoop up my pals.

Ole Roderick is an ex-skinhead from Boston who worked at some kind of youth culture joint up there called the Middle East until he decided to run away with the circus. Wes Hanson and I go back many years, we've worked a couple of shows together and he roomed with my ex-wife and me for as long as he could stand it back when we had that hideous dump of a loft in Dumbo. He just got back from Vegas. Carter Lee has the manners of a serial killer and might just be the best stand-up comic I've seen since Andy Kaufman. He lives on a diet of fried chicken and junk food and lives with Ole in an apartment over a modest crack emporium in an all-black section of Brooklyn. Ole is a shit magnet: he's about the size of Charles Manson and covered in tattoos. I struggle with my inner gremlin, but Ole actually is a gremlin. I once extracted a tooth from the palm of his right hand with my Leatherman tool after he got into a late-night altercation with some fratboys up in Walden. He can piss, puke and walk at the same time, and he's been known to dazzle audiences in dives from here to Chicago with his ability to wrap his cock around his wrist, a feat that he terms a "punk bracelet."

Jenny was understandably nervous about Ole's presence, especially in such close proximity to the Hells Angels. I didn't even want to entertain the possibility of an encounter between him and them, so I moved us out of the Edge and off that block as quickly as possible. We made a quick pit stop at the Mars Bar, which is, like the Edge, an East Village institution, but of a very different sort. The Edge is all mellow: nice comfy furniture scattered around and genuinely tasteful artwork hung on the walls, mellow jazz playing. The Mars Bar is Link Wray's "Rumble" blasting out of the jukebox and hardcore drunks throwing drinks at each other totally shitfaced by 4 in the afternoon, bizarre mutant paintings and horrific graffiti on the walls. My current favorite is an alteration of the health warning sign over the register. This is the sign that says "WARNING: Drinking alcoholic beverages during pregnancy can cause birth defects." Some wag (one of the bartenders, surely) wrote "LOOK AROUND" down at the bottom of that, and it just cracked me up.

The sun was going down, and so we headed for Nancy Whiskey in Tribeca. Nancy Whiskey is a real peculiarity: a friendly cop bar in a neighborhood where the blue-collar dive is all but extinct. They have a great jukebox and free shuffleboard if you don't keep score and the staff and the clientele are for the most part a pleasant bunch. We played some shuffleboard and Ole regaled us with an atrocious story about how he got rid of some awful woman who was stalking him by taking a shit in her purse while she was in the bathroom and then hustling her out of the house on the pretext of having to get ready for work.

Some weird guy in an NYPD t-shirt approached me as I was punching up some tunes on the jukebox and said, "They asked me to keep an eye on you." I said, "Who exactly is 'they'? I'll let you slide because you're wearing the right t-shirt, but let's not go anywhere with this, eh?"

We hung out for a while longer, but the bloom was off the rose for me, at least, with this drunk cop giving me the hairy eyeball from the end of the bar. By 10, we were all pretty plastered and decided to split. As I made my way to the door, this creep made a grab for me and said, "Do you know who I am?" I said, "No, but I'll let you know who I am: I'm the Son of Sam. Boogabooga!"

This gremlin tendency is something I've been working on, but some people just have it coming. All in all, it was a splendid Saturday bar crawl in New York. Nobody died, and Jenny checked her purse in the cab on our way uptown, just to be sure. It was clean.

The Edge, 95 E. 3rd St. (betw. 1st & 2nd Aves.), 477-2940.

Zum Schneider, 107 Ave. C (7th St.), 598-1098.

Mars Bar, 25 E. 1st St. (2nd Ave.), 473-9842.

Nancy Whiskey Pub, 1 Lispenard St. (W. B'way), 226-9943.

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