Chains, guns, CBGB and
Studio 54 – just another night on the town for the erstwhile Mumps member, with
Howie Pyro, Jim Sclavunos and others in tow.
BY KRISTIAN HOFFMAN
In the fantastically noir bankruptcy that was crumbling
CBGBs-era Lower East Side Manhattan, daytime was a cacophony of Orchard Street
and Restaurant Supply gridlock, and the occasional blinking junkies nodding out
in Ukrainian Delis. But nighttime was a barren playground of damp and empty
streets where the vagrant youth, escaped from many a suburban rec room, came
out to play.
We were those
vagrants – and when I lived with my boyfriend, Bradly Field (the “drum”-er from
Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, since his kit was a single snare) at our loft on
240 Grand Street, over the Hang Sang Grocery Store, and across the street from
the grandiose Robber Baron-era Bowery Bank where the apple doll-faced homeless
lady on the steps would cry ,”Fuck me up the butt for money!” to random unfazed
passersby, those night streets were a beckoning siren of unpredictable
Usually we would wait until the Revillos had come to pick up
their equipment, or we had locked Sonic Youth out of our eight-foot square
sweating cinder block basement rehearsal space, and just walk up to CBGBs to
see what trouble we could get into. The admission and the drinks were always
free, and afterwards we would stumble out to close the Nite Birds, or our
fourteen-year-old Marymount Catholic School girlfriends would take us to Harlem
to hang out on a filthy mattress at the Pink Hearse.
But for a few days, the Dickies had left their decrepit,
rusting, seatless, once white Chevy tour van outside our house, with the modest
request that we please move it to safe parking spaces to prevent it from being
towed. Of course, unbeknownst to the trusting Dickies, that meant: “Free Rides
Freed by the magic of those bald tires from our ghettoized
existence in a quarter-mile square of the Bowery, we’d take a sort of Coney
Island approach to careening around the vacant night time avenues of Manhattan,
cajoling random pedestrians: “Hey whore, how much?”, the barely pubescent
squeal of one of the Vodka Sisters would startle many an elderly Lexington Avenue
Matron, or Christopher Street clone.
I had met the teenage Vodka Sisters when they were using
Bradly as a couch, since he happened to be conveniently passed out in the
gutter in front of CBGBs. It was better to stay away from the walls near the
awning in those early years, because the bums who inhabited the flop house on
the floor above would respond to the incessant punk racket by occasionally
throwing burning mattresses out of the windows onto the crowd always lingering
just outside the front door.
This particular evening, I pulled the creaking van up to the
curb in front of CBs at about 11:30 with Bradly in the death seat. We just
opened the door and asked, “Who wants to go make fun of the idiots waiting in
line at Studio 54?” The Vodka Sisters, Howie Pyro of the Blessed, Jim Sclavunos
(who would later grace Teenage Jesus, 8 Eyed Spy, the Cramps and the Bad Seeds
with his drumming), and maybe one other person (?) gamely got in. A joyride
around Manhattan for citizens usually condemned to the vagaries of public
transport was still exotic enough that you didn’t have to ask twice.
Off we went! As the van slalomed uncertainly through the
potholed streets, the usual brown bagged beers were hoisted in convivial
jollity, although Bradly insisted on his room temperature Clan McGregor ”
because that’s what Lou Reed drinks.”
Soon enough we arrived near the velvet ropes of the dreaded
disco, with the crush of lycra-clad hopefuls looking like a bunch of wrinkled
Nagel prints clamoring for the notice of the stone-faced door man. We drove by,
but the curb was too crowded with cabs and limos for an effective verbal
“punky” assault. Since we happened to find a parking spot nearby, we decided to
get out of the van and stroll over to gawk at that breed who seemed culturally
a stranger species to us than any nudibranch at the local aquarium.
But it was boring. Upon closer inspection they seemed about
as interesting as any bridge and tunnel invaders looking for a place to “bump”
the night away. So, dejected by our punkus
interruptus, we ambled back to the van, wondering, “Should we look and see
if the Student Teachers are at the Marlin?”
One of the vodka sisters saw a Coke can left on the
sidewalk, and gave it a little frustrated kick with her worn Converse.
Surprisingly, the can headed upward a couple of feet in a smooth arc and
happened to hit the ankle of some dark-haired woman walking slightly ahead of
us, whom we subsequently recognized by her white disco outfit as one of the
wannabes who had been turned away by Studio 54 security.
The Coke can turned out to be not quite empty, and maybe an
ounce of Coke trickled out onto the drape of her modestly flared slacks.
She instantly wheeled around, livid with rage: “Who do you
think you are? What was that?”
Ms. Vodka said timidly, “I’m sorry – I didn’t know there was
anything in it and didn’t mean to hit you.”
“Oh sure!” growled the lady, “Like I’m supposed to believe that!”
Almost as a body, we all kind of murmured listlessly, “Oh,
fuck you!” It just didn’t seem like that big a deal, and we’d already
By that point the woman’s stockily muscular date in the
brown bomber jacket was glaring at us with murderous intensity, the veins
bulging on his Italianate neck, as he thundered in Jersey patois: “Fuck huh? Fuck my lady? I’ll show you who’s fucked around here!” waving his fists at us threateningly.
We may have had the numbers advantage, but this seemed like
more trouble than it was worth. So we just said, “Oh calm the fuck down asshole
– we’re leaving, okay?” And walked quickly to the van which we had neared by
“This isn’t ovah!”
growled the thug. But I thought, “We’re already in the car and driving off –
what can he do?” It was unpleasant, and certainly made the skin bristle with a
slight tingle of fear. That could easily have ended up with someone getting
hit. But, as I tried to wriggle the van out of one of those bumper to bumper
NYC parking jobs, it seemed like it was just one more minor contretemps on the
way to our next destination.
Howie, who was looking out the back window of the van, said,
“They’ve got a car! It looks like
they’re pulling up alongside us!” I looked at my mirror, and sure enough a
sporty little convertible was pulling up next to us and I could clearly see the
guy’s seething pitbull glower and the Jersey plates! Eeek!
I quickly swung the van out into traffic and proceeded to
head up 8th Avenue at as rapid a clip as the wheezing engine would
allow. I was still thinking, “This is ridiculous! What can he possibly hope to
do against six people in a van?”
Howie said, “He’s right behind us!” And indeed he was
tailgating us so close that, if I had braked fast enough, he and his girlfriend
would both have been in the van with
The light turned red, and I stopped. “This is where it’s got
to end. He’s had his fun, and now we’ll both just go on.” But suddenly Howie
was screaming, “He’s got a gun!” “That’s not funny, Howie,” I blurted, while
everyone else was suddenly wailing, “But he does!
He does!” I turned around and saw him pointing a sawed-off shotgun directly
at the back of the van through his windshield.
Meanwhile his girlfriend, with amazing alacrity and
gymnastic aplomb, was somehow already at Bradly’s door on the passenger side,
and she was whipping the van with chains she had acquired as if from nowhere!
“Eat shit and die, bitch!” Bradly slurred at her helpfully
through his open window, apparently given quite a bit of misdirected courage by
Lou Reed’s favorite quaff.
As the girl tried to knock Bradly’s mirror off with the
chains, and was coming perilously close to Bradly’s face, everyone on the back
was screaming “Shut up Bradly! Shut up!” while Bradly just continued to
cackle maniacally, stick out his tongue, and call the girl a “fucking whore!”
Her face grew ever more contorted as she swung the chains
wildly and the light seemed like it was never going to change. I think someone
in back had already begun to cry, but Jim Sclavunos could be heard laughing
In the endless seconds waiting for the light to change, I
just thought, “This can’t go on!” and gunned the van right through the red
“They can’t want to risk following us and get a ticket…” I
ruminated uncertainly, while speeding up the Avenue around maddeningly slow
traffic, but the girl had leapt back into the convertible and they had skidded
through the red light, right on our tail.
I thought, “Here’s something they won’t do!” and slammed the
steering wheel to the right, forcing the teetering van down a narrow one way
street – the wrong way! “How badly
can they want that comeuppance? They can’t be as crazy as me!”
But they were upon us, and the girl had hefted her torso halfway
our of her passenger side window, swinging the chains like Wonder Woman’s
lariat and screaming indecipherable obscenities at us, while the guy glowered
over the steering wheel, the muzzle of the shot gun poised between his clenched
By this time Howie had started openly weeping, “We’re all
gonna die. We’re all gonna die!” as
involuntary murmurs and wails were coming out of the rest of the passengers,
who were being thrust from side to side across the corrugation of that bare
metal floor of the van with every sudden turn I tried to make. Only Bradly
continued laughing, leaning out of his window and giving our assailants the
finger, and screeching at them in a cheery fashion.
“Oh, shut up Howie – that’s really not helping me think,” I
said to his piercing bawling with a somewhat calm stentorian assertiveness the
source of which I still can’t fathom.
In the odd perceptual slowness of time that occurs in the
midst of many adrenaline catastrophes, I somehow had time to consider, “Well,
let’s see. I have no driver’s license with me. Even if I did, it says it’s
illegal for me to drive without glasses. And I don’t have my glasses. Which
means I’m actually not able to see clearly enough to drive. And this van has no
registration. And it has no license plates. That’s not so good.”
But I had formulated a plan in my mind. I would drive so
insanely that a policeman would have to stop us, or the Jersey fiends would give up the chase, or both. I thought
going to jail for a couple of weeks was likely a better choice than having one
of us get shot or mauled by chains.
So with newfound determination, I proceeded to drive
deliberately only against traffic
down one-way streets and through every red traffic signal, assuming there had
to be one of Manhattan’s finest somewhere along those streets who would take
All I can say is, from 58th Street and 8th Avenue, all the way to 2nd Avenue and 10th Street, driving
down one way streets the wrong way, and going through every single red light, I
heard a lot of horns honking, but we didn’t see a single police car or beat cop
anywhere. Not one!
And the Jersey couple had kept hot on our heels the entire
way, waving the shotgun, cursing us in various strange languages, as a Babel of
groans and whimpers from my passengers kept my ears abuzz. Finally, I spotted a
police cruiser parked outside of that corner deli across the street from St.
I slowed the van to a crawl, and drove over parallel to the
cruiser, and pulled to the stop in the middle of 2nd Avenue, ready
to turn myself in, and throw myself on the mercy of the officers of the law.
They weren’t in there. I guess it was a coffee stop and they were in the Deli.
But apparently the loving couple whose evening had been made by an innocent
blunder on the part of one of our youngest passengers either couldn’t see that,
or their thirst for terror was finally sated. They drove slowly past us on the
way to the tunnel of their choice.
When they were out of sight, I drove the van slowly down 2nd Avenue, catching my breath. Everyone was sort of spent, marveling silently at
our narrow escape. I’m not sure I actually asked, “Well, should we see if Lori
Reese is still on duty at the bar at CBGBs?” But I’m pretty certain someone
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