WFMU. Everything is static for miles on left of the dial, but I’m moving into the sun (I’m not the only one). Pull down the visor from softball at Pfizer. In my machine reading Mad Magazine, and people still say I’m no fun! I’m the Stuart pretender, an energy spender, and on my back fender it reads “salvation comes from deeds”. I showed her the new me, but she saw right through me. Dear savior, deliver this Indian giver, and all for a handful of beads. Twenty-seven miles from Water Gap, doing 65 without a map, until the chassis falls apart. Back to the place I left my other heart. And crosshatched for hours, these broadcasting towers spill signals of guilt and détente (this message from DuPont). Still miles from the Turnpike and stations that I like – the radio’s damnable when it’s programmable. This thing never stops where you want. She’s giving me the finger just for laughs, for dressy shoes and other gaffes, at her cousin’s bar mitzvah. Now I doubt my reasoning requesting “Roundabout”. I dropped her in New Hope – I don’t think I could cope with someone who’s rising so fast (I’d say you’re just outclassed). Her do-good ambition aroused my suspicion. She answered me cutely, but still resolutely, “some fires were not set to last”. As Trenton makes, the world takes. Rock and roll! Never flet so good to pay the toll. Past expectations & Seton Hall & One Of These Bottles Should Happen To Fall.
The Throwaway. Born in the turning lane of U.S. 22. Raised on the specials at the Echo Queen. Bright lights and convenience stores were everything that I knew. Cut my neck and I bleed gasoline. I’ll take you anywhere you want – you and me, we could make our life happen anywhere. But did you think you’d ever see the day when we would take everything that we loved about this place and threw it away? Stoned on the turnaround, we speak through traffic cones. When did I become unwelcome here? C’mon, you emo kids, accept me as one of your own – I’m just like you, I stupidly persevere.
The Ballad Of Frank Vinieri. It all started when I wowed them with my rhetoric and spark at the Thomas Ryan Social Club on Seventeenth & Park with a scrupulous proposal for waste treatment in the Central Ward. But it was my handsome face and turns of phrase that brought attention toward a set of possibilities that I had not previously planned. Before I knew what happened I was ringing bells and shaking hands in the Marcus Garvey projects with my registration polls. I brought seven hundred new voters to the Democratic rolls. Leafleting the C-Town in the cold November rain. Late nights down at headquarters, drafting papers to explain positions. And when Column A swept Central Ward, Thomas Ryan himself assured me my efforts had not been spent in vain. I was named the Parks Commissioner, the youngest in the state! I threw myself into my work, drafting plans to explicate my vision for the waterfront, developers be damned. I planned a grassroots effort for preservation of our public land. Sing while you can, Frank Vinieri, you’re the man. You have been weighed in the balance and found wanting. All that energy and promise made so manifest at Thomas Ryan Social Club. You’re champion, for sure. All this and more could have been yours. I never saw it coming, but when old Pat Flynn vacated his Assembly seat, it was logical that I’d be nominated. At first I was ecstatic, and then I got that sinking feeling when I thought of a few personal details I wasn’t keen on revealing. They obtained sworn affidavits about psychedelics that I’d used. Several girlfriends and several boyfriends made the cover of the News. When they found my dirty pictures, I just broke down in tears, and the district went Republican for the first time in 37 years. The state house or bust looks pretty good until your eyes adjust. Stand clear of the closing doors. A megastore will open on the waterfront this year. I tried to raise my voice against it, but my platform has disappeared. At the Thomas Ryan Social Club, where I was once adored, they said “Go home, Frank Vinieri, you’re not welcome anymore”. They called me a degenerate, a criminal, a whore. I ask you people, what’s a Democratic Party for? Now I work in software development writing copy for Oracle. The thought that I could be fired for my private vices – that’s just laughable. Now I’m wealthy beyond reason and bored out of my skull. In this precipitous rise and fall, there’s a message for us all, but I can’t put it in words and now I’m done. Lord help us, everyone.
Battleships. You should really learn how to kiss if you persist in acting like this. I’m on my back in Brother’s bed – the hardball trophies overhead – and I wish I heard what you just said. We play the game of battleships, and I’m not cheating, but I can read your lips. You burn through your electricity. That works for you, but not for me for sure. I squandered my advantages in this world, so now I’m taking yours. I’m not going to duke it out with the lightweight clowns you keep around. It’s bad enough you don’t follow my advice. It’s much too late for hide and seek. Hey, I didn’t mean it. Exit 30 on the Garden State and the family manor in downtown Margate. Cheetos on a silver plate and hours of croquet with the neighbors – and those party favors. Sometime you spark so hard you’re going to hurt yourself, but I won’t be the safety net. We were built as battleships: we spark and flash and make a racket. So don’t call me didactic – you’ve got better tactics. I’m not going to duke it out with the lightweight clowns you keep around. It’s bad enough you don’t respect your elders. It just gets worse no matter what you tell her! So I abdicated.
Sugar Nobody Wants. I know a way into the Staples in Newport Center. There’s a loading gate you don’t need to pry. Bobby’s spending his nights in the basement there, getting drunk and stealing office supplies. Let’s spend the evening in the Staples in Newport Center. We could hide behind the Epson display. In the morning we’ll walk out with our arms full of envelopes and floppy discs and white out. There’s so much stuff around that nobody’s using! There’s so much stuff that nobody will miss. Let’s cross the highway to the old sugar factory. Nobody looks, so nobody will notice. Let’s con our way into the old Shackamaxon and scribble on the portraits in the Grandfathers Hall. These candy-assed forms of civil disobedience will surely be the end of us all.
Let The Night Fall. What nations build, we must expect will stand; at least for a minute. Janie bangs out “This Land Is Your Land” on Madison’s spinet. We walk the streets our fathers walked before – past banners and pendants. What morning steals, the evening will restore. We chase independence. This three hundredth birthday seems uncouth to mod Europeans. We tore down every remnant of our youth and trade magazines. These meeting halls and public houses rise up over the Schuylkill where minutemen jump back and feign surprise when they get the tax bill. They said “you sing so well you could mend the Liberty Bell!” But if you’re tired of this old one, we could start a new nation, you and me, just like they did in 1783.
First World, Third Rate. This is the place where I wasted my life. Here is the room where I waited for you. (Not that I knew what I was waiting for.) Here is a pad where I wrote down your name. Here is a stain where the mattress used to lie. And all this remembering – this painful reverie – makes a man hungry for burger and fries. So I will cross the mighty parking lot – the concrete divider by the retail shops – to the old shopping plaza where nobody goes. By the Bowl-O-Rama, the Hit Or Miss, the Florsheim, Payless, and the moral kiosk. Concrete windows and ancient grease, cinderblocks, space for lease. Walking through the drive-thru, the manager says “Hi”. Before this was a Burger Express this was an Arthur Treacher’s, and before that, this place was the Lucky Wong’s. Eighty square foot working kitchen with functional features, doomed to be the home of third-rate fast food restaurants. I like the system here, I like the yellow and white. I like the stupid crown they give you when you purchase your Sprite. If I could, you know that I would stay here all night. Kicking back in the plastic booth makes me feel all right. Before this was the Lucky Wong’s, this was a Nathan’s Famous. For about six months, they tried this baby as a Jack In The Box. They tried giveaways, promotions, and generally acting shameless, and blameless as us nameless patrons of fast-food restaurants. Not too many in here now except for me and the flies and a little brat who’s crying ‘cause he got mustard in his eyes. His dad is scraping it off the back of the bun with a butter knife. It’s all so deeply horrible, it’s great to be alive. Before this was a jack In The Box, this was a Ponderosa. Before that, it gets sketchy, but I remember a frightening Lums. The bathrooms were impeccable but the tables could not be grosser. They serve “delicious irony” in fast-food restaurants. Oh, did I tell you I got a job? Yeah, I’ve been working in the transport trade. I don’t know what it is or what the hell I do, but I do get paid. Why don’t you meet me at the Burger Express? I could buy you the Whammer, or the Slammer, or the Hammer. Please say yes! But I suppose you wouldn’t like that. You’d prefer something natural. One more instantiation of how you couldn’t care less about the mighty parking lot or the concrete divider by the shops by the old retail plaza that used to be hopping when I was a kid and my momma took me shopping! I remember sitting at the counter at Schnackenberg’s and counting my pennies for a shot at the brass ring. “This box does not contain instant winner – please try again!” Before I was Napoleon, I think I was Cleopatra. In a past life, don’t you think I was Genghis Khan? But now I’m me, and I’m duty-free like a truck dispatcher doomed to spend my life in third-rate fast food restaurants. Nobody looks at anybody – we’re all nothing to see. There’s no one within miles who could stir feelings of jealousy. This really is the perfect place for a loser like me – scarfing double cheeseburgers and letting beings be. Before this was a strip-mall, this was a colonial wheat field. Before that, this land was Lenape burial ground. And me, I take my stand by the salad bar with the plastic spit shield, filling little ketchup cups and hanging around. But I’m not going down. I don’t care – I’m not going down.
You’re Dead After School. I’m dusty in Springfield and I’m practicing my backhand in the Newberry parking lot. You used to live down the block. I remember we used to walk back from school like we’d just been shot. So what’s left of you now? You’re a wrinkle in my brow. Or perhaps that’s just the sun. Like everything else, you’ve come undone. My role model spoke to me: he said “take any girl you see”, and returned to the lesson plan. I didn’t want to hear anymore. He taught to the test for sure, and he made me a thinking man. So baby, what’s the deal? Feel a cop or cop a feel. We could criticize all night, but the homework still won’t come out right. My role models are either dead or in jail. My coke-bottle glasses show my eyesight fails. You and me still get hung when calculation’s extinguished. But I won’t go – everybody knows that girls do well in English. Scales on the violin, bookmarking Hester Prynne, thirty pages about your thighs. We kissed in the locker room, my role model watching you. Now we won’t go unsupervised. Yes, a cheap public display. They say our English teacher’s gay. In the bushes by the grout, the soccer coach showed you all about. My role models are either dead or in jail. I’m living on fantasy and e-mail. My homeroom homeroom angel got her face rearranged to suit the crowd that she was in with. And these halls soaking with sweat from the test, but it’s the whispers in the staffroom we’ll never forget. Lust and calculators, cigarettes, and gel, and the girls know things that they’ll never ever tell, and they’re not talking. My role model was arrested for molesting a retard. He had him tied up in the backyard. He was fingerprinted and arraigned. The substitute did not explain. My role model played the organ at the Temple Beth Israel. He used to make my life miserable. He taught me how to make chords and what to say to girls. And my lessons were incomplete and that took some getting used to – I never learned how to seduce you. I guess I’m still a dimwit.
Midnight (Now Approaching). The Staten Island Ferry docked and made a big joke of boats in the harbor. We crept up to the upper deck and kissed until we passed out. I almost thought that she would throw her shoes overboard for life during wartime. They’re closing Lincoln outbound now – two rivers now to cross. Hey! Lights in the harbor. Stay tender and candid. I’m carrying a heavy load and carrying it one-handed. The spies are out at Caven Point stopping pharmaceutical transports. I pinned her hands behind her head – a helicopter kiss. She was always perfect blue: electric sparks shot out of her eyelids. The dizziness of knowing you! At times, too hot to touch. Hey! LaGuardia alcoves and abandoned storefronts. I’ll meet you at midnight – someplace hidden from the searchlights. Back in her room, stories to share, the scrawl of her handwriting, the sting of her hair. She’s a scientist with unmarked wrists. Go on, take me anywhere, it’s “acceptable risk”. The enemy is always the same. Falling glass can’t cleave us, baby. Wheels roll off the transport and fires burn in HSBC halls. I pinned her hands behind her head to watch her eyelids flutter. This passion smoked Manhattan.
Mountainside. If you leave Mountainside with ambition as your guide to find better things to do, just know I’ll be missing you. When I’m walking down the flagstones, when they light the Christmas tree, when I’m sitting in our little bookstore, won’t you think of me? But if you leave, I won’t cry. I’ll understand the reason why. Here, to you, makes no sense, and one heart is of no consequence. All the houses on the highway, all the lines on 22, all your friends who knew this day would come – we’ll be here supporting you. So sing it long, sing it loud, go on and make your hometown proud. And if you stumble, chariots of chrome will come to bear your body home.
We Could Be The Killers. The bees won’t be here for long. These trees won’t be here for long. And me, I won’t be here for long. Ironbound won’t be here for long. Solid ground won’t be here for long. This whole town won’t be here for long. (They’re in the backroom cooking up some action.) Amazed how they smile through the bars of the cage! Hand in hand through the aerosol haze. Stutter and wheeze while we’re taking the wage. These firs won’t be bringing on. These birds won’t be singing on. My words won’t be ringing on. That day won’t be here for long. Your own way won’t be clear for long. USA won’t be here for long. (We go on managing like it isn’t vanishing.) It’s a craze from the pulse of low-frequency waves. Pat the head of the good little slave. Until the end of days, it’s the phrase that pays. In a daze for days on your knees before emperor disease. I can’t believe this is what we’ve chosen to be. It’s a craze from the pulse of low-frequency waves. Pull the thread and we breathe in the spray until the day we set it ablaze.
Sunrise, Rte. 7. Born too late or born to run, after all is said and done. After a night under the gun there’s nothing like the sunrise on the Turnpike. Here it comes all thick and pink and it’s so weird it makes you think. Red trails reflecting off the drink – there’s nothing like a sunrise on the highway. They say it’s because of pollution. I’m pollution, too. I’m the chemicals up there weaving patterns in the air: I’m what the light passes through. Just before the curtain drops – just before the party stops – tomorrow slashes across the rooftops. There is nothing like a sunrise in the city.