I was thin as a kid and remained that way through my 20’s. Okay, I did have “thunder thighs” and always had “junk in my trunk” but never had a real problem with being overweight until I was diagnosed with cancer and had to receive radiation treatments that affected my thyroid – not enough to make me need medication, but enough to slow my metabolism to the point that I started gaining weight eating exactly the same amounts as I always had. Combine that with passing thirty years old (I was 33 years old when I was diagnosed with the big “C”), the time in most of our lives where we spend more time sitting at our jobs than playing handball in the park, plus the fact that I love to cook and eat – and the result was my ballooning from 142lbs, the weight that I always was as an adult, before my cancer, to a beached whale-like 183lbs! I knew I had to do something!
The problem that I faced was that I was basically a thin person my whole life, so I had no idea how to lose weight. I always had a big appetite and no matter what I ate, I never seemed to put on any weight. Suddenly, within a year of my last radiation treatment, I had not only re-gained the forty pounds that I had lost from the direct effects of the treatments themselves, but I had also “acquired” and additional ten pounds. I thought, okay, I’m not in my 20’s anymore; I can deal with being 152lbs. plus I was just glad for being alive and surviving my cancer, but then I got on the scale and I was 162lbs… then 172lbs… then 182lbs… YIKES! Even worse than the numbers, was looking in the mirror and seeing an ugly, fat stranger staring back at me… wait a minute, is that me… am I somewhere inside that ugly, fat stranger? It reminded me of Fat Bastard, “Get in my bel-ly!” Even scarier – had I become Fat Bastard?! I decided to do something – I couldn’t stand looking at that stranger in the mirror any longer.
It took me five years of experimenting with every diet method under the sun – pills (ephedrine), exercise methods designed to lose weight, low-carb diets, low-protein diets, etc… Each was moderately effective but ultimately unsustainable and some made me really sick. Then the idea came to me that the real answer to losing weight (for me) was very simple – CALORIES – when I eat more calories than I need to sustain my body weight, I gain weight… period! I read up on the subject and found that each person burns calories at a multiple of their body weight. For instance, a professional athlete in the prime of his life may burn 17 calories per pound of body weight or even more, but for a normal person, the multiple is around 14 calories per pound. The quant in me LOVED this solution! I could make an Excel worksheet that would track my weight and my calorie intake – I started it in 2001 and have tracked those two things – my weight and calorie intake – ever since! Tracking really allowed me to understand my body which allowed me to develop and refine a weight loss solution that works for me!
A couple of points:
- Yes, it is still painful for me to reduce my calorie intake! I’m half Italian, which means I love to eat!
- My multiple is right for me – everyone’s is different though!
- Exercise is NOT an efficient way to LOSE weight – for most of us, it is unsustainable and for some it can actually be dangerous. Exercise is the ONLY healthy way to boost your metabolism though. My advice to anyone attempting to lose 20lbs or more is not to begin an exercise regimen until you lose about 90% of your target weight – THEN definitely leverage your weight loss by starting a weekly exercise regimen that you can SUSTAIN!
The first thing I had to find was my multiple – that is the amount of calories that my body burns per pound of my body weight, per day. Like I said, for the average person it’s about 14 calories. So, if I weighed 183lbs X 14 calories = 2,562. That means that I could consume 2,562 calories per day and not gain or lose weight, I would remain 183lbs.
The next thing was to find out how many calories I had to reduce in my daily consumption in order to lose weight. I found, through trial and tracking that in order to lose 1lb per week, I had to consume 500 calories less than the 2,562 calories needed to maintain my weight. Losing one pound per week seemed too little for me, I always double that. So, I would have to consume no more than 1,562 calories per day, for seven straight days in order to lose 2lbs. when I weighed 183lbs. I did it and it worked!
Remember though, that as you lose weight, the amount of calories that you can consume also has to reduce. That’s one of the things my Excel worksheet does – it simply converts my daily weight into the amount of calories that I can consume to maintain that weight and then subtracts 1,000 from it. Since I started tracking in 2001, I have been able to lose and keep off an average of about 3 pounds per year! That may not sound like much but what that translates into is 27lbs that I have lost (on average) since then and never regained!
The new challenge for me is reducing the large variations in weight that I experience in a year. Again, after tracking my weight for the last 10 years, I see that my weight goes up and down an average of 18 pounds …that’s a lot for someone my size! I even know my cycle – I generally lose weight January to August, then gain weight September through December (I love THANKSGIVING).
There are lots of websites that can help you determine the proper weight range for your sex and age (and yes, it is a RANGE, not a specific weight – the range can vary as much as 15lbs, depending on aspects that are specific to each individual). For me, my target weight range is between 130 – 144lbs.
A couple of final points:
- I have found that a healthy weight-loss target is no more than 2-3lbs per week. That is an aggressive yet sustainable target.
- Track your daily weight BUT only evaluate your WEEKLY AVERAGE WEIGHT! There are so many things that can make a person’s daily weight fluctuate – water, metabolism cycle, etc. Too many people get bummed out when they diet, then step on the scale and see that they have gained weight the next day – trust your diet! You WILL lose weight if you intake less calories than your body burns over time!
Tomorrow, on April 01, I will begin another weight loss regimen. My objective is to lose 20lbs in 2months! I’m going to share my shame/pain/gain with everyone on Facebook. Every morning I will publish my weight, what I’m eating and how I feel. I hope it’s fun for everyone and maybe inspirational for some …and hey, everyone who is dieting can use all the support they can get, so keep your comments coming!
By my wife’s birthday at the end of May, I hope there will be 20lbs less of me for her to love. Then on June 01, I will start my exercise regimen – one that I hope to sustain. The exercise will boost my metabolism, which means my body will burn more calories per pound of body weight (it takes more calories to maintain muscle weight than it does fat). That means I should be able to eat a little more and not gain any weight!
60 days to a new me in the mirror… I’m psyched! Now if I could just find a way to be a foot taller! Haha!
When I think about my childhood growing up in Ridgewood, the differences between how I grew up and how my children are growing up become so apparent. The fact is that people of my generation (born in the late 50’s or early 60’s) have more in common with our parents’ generation than we do with our kids’ generations – and that is especially true if you come from an old neighborhood like Ridgewood. I thought about my normal day and my family’s lifestyle in general. For starters I grew up in an apartment – a total of 5 rooms (not counting one small bathroom and a room we called the “little room” because it was …little!). From the time I could sleep in a bed until I was 10, I slept in a bunk bed with my older brother Peter. From 10 until 16 we switched to a “couch-bed” which meant that I slept in the same bed as my brother for seven years! I remember thinking that when I grew up and had kids, I would make enough money so that they could each have their own beds. The irony is that my wife and I bought a nice-sized house with six bedrooms, just so our four boys could have their own bedrooms… but they all end up sleeping together in one bed! …go figure!
When I grew up in Ridgewood, our area code was still “212” and our zip code was 11237 – both of those changed. I can still remember our phone number, “Evergreen” 6-0978. How did we manage life with only one phone, NO cell phones; NO computers or email or internet for that matter; NO faxes… a world with no texting, no blogging, no tweeting! For a boy, if I wanted to see one of my friends, I had to do it the old fashioned way – I had to get off my keester and walk to their house and ring their bell – imagine that!
As I’m typing this, my 6y/o and my 8y/o are upstairs playing “HALO 3” on our Xbox 360 with their cousins in NEW YORK! What was I doing when I was their age at 3:15 in the afternoon - I was outside playing …something… stoop ball, box ball, ace-king-queen, off-the-wall, handball, etc. I just purposely named five games that a kid like me could play with just a 25-cent “spaldeen.” I could ride my bike (a circa 1950’s President, no speeds, weighed about 60lbs.), roller skate (with my skate key hanging from a shoelace around my neck), throw a football, play basketball (in my backyard or the parks), street hockey, street tops… there seemed to be no end to the sporting activities that a kid could do in Ridgewood and all for free. I point that out because it seems that nowadays every sport our kids play is organized into a league complete with uniforms that a pro could wear, gear, a bag for the gear (not a laundry bag like I used), fields that look like they should have press boxes …snacks (for after the game) …trophies (if a kid breaths, he/she gets a trophy nowadays) – and all that is charged back to the parents! I’m gonna tell you something – maybe it’s because I live out west now, but I can’t believe how today’s kids seem to have a hard time setting up “pick-up” games – you know ones where you just pick a few kids and play. They seemed confused and usually don’t even know how to set the rules and guidelines. In the old neighborhood, it was like the rules were inbred in us, handed down from our old siblings and parents and their parents, etc. “3-sewer stickball” and “we play from the “NO PARKING sign to the end of Mr. Datolo’s car 2-hand touch” were common rules on Stockholm St.
My brother is four years older than I am, so he had his own crew and I had mine. He grew up with guys like Bernard Rebecchi, Tommy De Luca, Steven Caputo, Detlev Vanderberg, Victor Martini (the list goes on) and those were just the kids he played with, not counting his friends from drum corps (an entirely different topic that I will cover in another series). My friends were predominantly Dominic Roggio, Anthony Moschitta, and Frank Barbarino (although he was 2 years older than we were and I really think he just suffered us when there was no one else to hang out with).
It’s funny what you remember people for – like Frank, I will always remember “Carnation Instant Breakfast,” an All-Star baseball game that he owned, that had these round cards and one of those pointers that you spun with your finger, and this underwater mask that he got in Sicily. It was the clearest, nicest mask any of us ever saw, so he had to constantly put up with us asking to borrow it. By the way, the Carnation Instant Breakfast stood out to me because I thought it was some kind of breakfast, like powdered eggs, instead he let me try it and it was like chocolate milk – I was pleasantly surprised! Tony Moschitta was the strongest kid my age that I knew. One time when we were kids we had a fight and in about three seconds he had picked me up and was spinning me over his head! I remember him saying to me as he held me aloft, “Say uncle and I’ll put you down!” I learned a whole lot from that incident about trying to negotiate from a weaker position and also how to say “uncle” while being suspended in mid-air!
I remember Tony used to tell us that his dad had $50,000 in the bank… and that was at a time when 50-large was …large! My dad was earning $13,000 a year at that time, so it got me to thinking – about what the word “successful” meant. Tony said that his dad was successful and I wondered if my dad was successful too. I also wondered if I would ever be successful. To me successful was a specific amount of money. I used to be a confused kid that way, when it came to things like that. So I went to my dad and asked him, “Hey Pop, how much money does a person need to make to be successful?” My dad smiled and like he often did, gave me an answer that frustrated me at the time, but later on I found to be profound. He replied, “Enough money to make you happy son. For your brother it’ll be one amount and for you it will be a different amount.”
A wise man my dad was…
In the next installment, I want to see how many of the neighborhood “characters” I can remember. I want to thank Jimmy Wellinghoff for reminding me of a few that I’ll mention in my next blog – but hey, if any of you remember any, leave a comment and tell me them – I’ll include them too! Peace, g
I was pleasantly surprised to find a whole lot of people from my old neighborhood, Ridgewood, New York on Facebook. It has been so much fun connecting with more and more friends and people from there – so I thought it would be fun to write a series of blogs on Ridgewood. I hope everyone that reads this series (and especially if from Ridgewood) leaves a comment about their own memories. I can’t remember it all myself, you know! So let’s have some fun!
It’s funny… whenever I beam back in my mind to my childhood growing up on Stockholm Street, between Seneca Avenue and Cypress Avenue; across from what we used to refer to as the “new” St. Aloysius Elementary School, I seem to remember the smells first! My older brother, dad and mom lived on the third floor of a 3-floor apartment building in what was called a “railroad” apartment because of the way the apartment was laid out – all in a row. The building was situated right next to a textile factory on the corner, so when the wind was blowing right, our apartment smelled like the chemicals of the factory. Trust me, more than once I pondered the possibility that I may have contracted the cancer with which I was diagnosed from inhaling those chemicals all those years. The suspicious thing was that in that one 3-apartment apartment building, my Grandmother lived there and died of breast cancer, my Aunt Rosie lived there and died of a rare blood cancer, my cousin Carmela developed breast cancer and I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma – that’s a whole lot of people to have been stricken with cancer from one little apartment building… but I digress. This series of articles that I wanted to write is about growing up in Ridgewood, not about cancer.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with Ridgewood, it’s what is referred to as an “immigrant neighborhood.” Ridgewood has been the first place for many immigrants to live, when they came to the U.S. The Germans and Irish were the first to live there, and then came the Italians. We were looked at with disdain especially by the old Germans as poor “ginnys” and by the old Irish as greasy “wops” (WithOut Papers). By the time I was born in 1963, Stockholm St., between Seneca and Cypress was pretty much split between Germans and Italians, with the vast majority of the Italians being Sicilian. We were Napolitano which meant that while the rest of my friends were ready to stab you in the back, we were stirring the gravy while singing “Vicino al Mare.” I think we Italians brought real color to the neighborhood. I can still remember the knife & scissors man coming up our street when I was a little boy with his cart to sharpen all the knives and scissors; the Bodese ice man delivering blocks of ice for the old ladies like my “Ziadalina” (translated is “Aunt Adeline”) who still owned “ice boxes” instead of refrigerators; and the “Biancalina” Man aka the man that delivered bleach in big glass jugs.
My brother and I are really only ½ Napolitano because my dad was not Italian at all, he was French and Spanish. There were hardly any French that we knew of in Ridgewood and although we were Spanish from Spain, it was better in those days NOT to make it known that my grandmother’s name was Carmen and that I had an Uncle Ramon and Uncle Jose. When referring to my dad’s mom, she was simply Grandma and the Uncles became Uncle Ray and Uncle Joe. Italians and Puerto Ricans (who were the next wave of immigrants into Ridgewood) did NOT get along and I didn’t want my young life to become the second coming of “West Side Story,” so we made sure everyone considered us Italian. That was pretty easy because my mom was 1st generation Americana and our last name “de Marigny” was always mispronounced as “de-mar-IG-knee,” so it sounded kind of Italian.
My memories of Ridgewood in the 60’s is hazy, partially because I was so young and partially because of all of the pot being smoked all over the neighborhood. I can still remember teenage boys going to Viet Nam and either not coming home at all or coming home “men in uniform.” The first thing most of them did upon being discharged was to grow their hair long, put on a tie-dye shirt and put beat-up sandals on their feet (that was how my young mind perceived it). I watched my elementary school, St. Aloysius being built across the street from our apartment building, when I was 4 years old. I also watched the World Trade Center being built from that same apartment window. We all referred to it as the “twin towers” …it was a doubly-sad event for me to see those towers fall, because I saw them built and because I lost a friend in the towers.
Over the next few blogs, I’m going to do my best to remember all I can about this very unique place, “Ridgewood” at a very unique time, the 1970’s. A time when the country changed a lot but our neighborhood didn’t change very much at all. In fact, when I look back now, the sixteen years that I lived in Ridgewood was the most stable time of my entire life, in terms of change …or more precisely, the lack of change.
I know, I started slow here, but it’s all starting to come back to me …like the sound of air conditioners in the windows, in the summer… the church bells ringing on Sunday followed closely by the procession of the old widows dressed in black walking up my street to go to church. The constant sound of the fire engine and police sirens echoing all over the neighborhood day and night …sometimes in the background and occasionally so close we ran to the window to see… the sound of the garbage truck stopping on my street and those metal cans being slammed to the ground… the sounds of kids… so many kids, playing all sorts of games from the girls jumping rope and playing hop scotch to the boys playing stickball and boys and girls both playing street tops, skelzie, ringolerio and johnny-on-the-pony. Nothing was better than hearing “Mike the ice cream man” coming up the street in his Good Humor truck, the one with the 4 bells that he would ring mounted over the windshield… or the sound of Mr. Freeze, you remember that song that stayed in your mind forever. Da-dum da da da da dum da da… The smell of barbecues going in everyone’s back yards in the summer and the smell of all the different ethnic cooking inside people’s homes… Italian food, German food, Polish food… buying and selling fireworks… carrying around two or three tow truck cards so we could call them if we saw an accident and get paid a commission… collecting hubcaps and then selling them to the car places down by Summerfield St. …which reminds me… Summerfield St. and the Italian restaurant that used to be there, “John’s of Summerfield St.” where you had to walk through the store to the back where there were a few tables and this nice Italian lady who would serve you (we used to order from there on Friday’s and the food would all come in these aluminum trays with the white lids ...mm-mmm, I can still taste the chicken cutlet parm! So many memories – most were fun, some were sad – but all was uniquely “Ridgewood!”
I’ll leave it there for now. I got myself hungry!
The Palm Bay was absolutely beautiful, a high-rise condominium tower complete with beautiful grounds located right on Biscayne Bay! We were a little embarrassed having the old, retired doctor-mobile valet parked, but we soon forgot about it as we walked into the dazzling lobby. Nicky confidently walked up to the front desk, gave some man’s name to the manager behind the desk and asked for the man’s condo key. The manager looked suspiciously at us, as he told us that he was not informed of our impending stay. Using all his Greek and record company bravado, Nicky impatiently assured the man that his not being informed was obviously an oversight. So, the man hesitatingly handed over the keys to this stranger’s beautiful 16th floor condominium …and it was fantastic!
As soon as we let ourselves into the room, we high-fived each other then went about checking the whole pad out. It had a full kitchen, 2 bedrooms, a beautiful bathroom, a living room and a full balcony that you could access from the master bedroom and the living room. We stepped out onto the balcony from the living room and saw the spectacular view of Biscayne Bay! Nicky turned to me and said, “My man, we have ARRIVED!” Famous last words, because after he said that, in true Nicky & g fashion, things got really weird, really quickly!
It started with the phone ringing. Interesting… I thought, a few people from New York knew we were heading down, but how did they know we just checked in? Nicky went inside and answered the phone; it was the condo’s owner. Nicky jumped right in telling the man that his condo was so cool, that we just took a full tour of it and that we were so grateful for being able to stay there. Then there was silence from Nicky… obviously the man was saying something to him… something long because the silence was long. I knew something was wrong when Nicky turned his back to me (he always did that when something was wrong or when someone was telling him bad news on the phone). I stepped inside so that I could hear what he was saying when someone knocked at our door. Now who could THAT be?
As I passed Nicky to answer the door, I heard him say into the phone, “You don’t know who I am?” Oh no… that can’t be good!
I opened the door to find a very well-dressed, middle-aged man standing there with a smile on his face.
This is how one of the oddest conversations that I EVER HAD went:
Well-dressed man: “Hi, my name is Bob… Bob Middleton!” <offering his hand to me… I warily shake it>. “My wife Trish and I are your neighbors!”
g: “Our neighbors?”
Bob: “Yes,” <inviting me to step out of our room and look at the door to the condo next to us> “we’re in 1619!”
Bob: <Begins to laugh out loud> “You will never believe… Trish and I were smoking some pot when we heard the sounds of someone in the hall – it was you guys. Say, you have long hair, are you in a famous rock band?”
g: (I’ve always found that question and odd one to ask and a stupid one to answer …apparently not that famous, since you don’t know the name of the band or whether I’m in it, I always wanted to reply) <instead of answering his question, I ask him one in return> “Is there… something I can do for you?”
Bob: <Laughing even more loudly as he stepped passed me heading into “our” condo, a condo, I’m not even sure we’re supposed to be in> “…as I was saying, Trish, that’s my wife, she is such an airhead when she smokes dope. I mean, it makes her a tigress… rrrr-rrrr… you know what I mean?”
g: <I found myself following him into “our” condo, seeing him wave to Nicky then look around, nod like he found what he was looking for, and then begin to head into the master bedroom>
As I followed this “neighbor” of ours into the condo, I heard Nicky saying something into the phone like, “No… not at all! No, there’s no need for you to call the police, we can just leave but are you sure someone didn’t tell you we were coming down here?” …that really can’t be good!
Nicky gave me the eye as if to say – who is he? – As he was apparently telling the owner of the condo NOT to call the police! All I could do was shrug – the symbol for “I dunno!”
Our neighbor Bob walked into the master bedroom and continued to talk to me:
Bob: <Walks over to the sliding glass door to the balcony and opens it – relentlessly laughing …it occurred to me at this point that this well-dressed, middle-aged man was totally stoned…. I mean rocked!> “Anyway, I stepped out into the hall to see what the commotion was and the door to our room closed behind me.”
<He takes off his silk suit jacket and lays it on the bed> “It was Trish’s first time smoking the really good stuff, you know?”
g: “What …are you doing?”
Bob: <Heads out onto the balcony and as he proceeds to tell me the rest… HE STEPS OVER THE RAILING!!!>
We’re on the 16th floor!!! At this point, I’m thinking, he’s a jumper! But why does he want to jump from our room?!
Bob: <hanging from the railing> “Trish” <he starts to laugh> “I think she must have passed out…” <he begins to reach for the balcony railing of his condo, next to ours> “…so I figured I don’t want to call downstairs and have the people here see her passed out…” <HE STARTS TO SWING HIS BODY BACK & FORTH AS IF HE’S GOING TO JUMP!>
Okay… my mind is trying desperately hard to compute all that had transpired in the last 5 MINUTES! Nicky and I went from, “My man, we’ve arrived!” to his pleading with the condo owner NOT to call the police on us, while I’m having a conversation with a stoner who is about to… JUMP OFF THE BALCONY!!!
My Brooklyn mind immediately clicked into “assess and cover-up” mode… as in, Okay… the police get here and… we’ve broken into someone’s condo (after almost stealing a car at the airport, let’s hope they don’t know about that) and… 5 minutes later a man jumps from our balcony… how do we explain that? Uhhh… yeah… uhhh… you see officer… uhhh… Bob’s wife Trish, Bob being the dead man who jumped… yeah… Bob’s wife… her name is Trish… well they were smoking dope and she apparently passed out…
This was NOT boding well for us!
I wanted badly to run to Nicky, but I didn’t want to leave Bob while he committed suicide. I wanted to call to Nicky but for some reason my voice didn’t work. I mouthed the words, but no sound came out. That’s when Bob said his final words to me!
Bob: <Now swinging wildly from our balcony railing> “So, I figured I could just….” <HE JUMPS FROM OUR RAILING, GRABS HOLD OF HIS RAILING but has NO FOOTHOLD! His legs are dangling precariously as his Italian leather shoes begin to SCRATCH the exterior stucco wall of the condo… 16 floors up!!! I WILL NEVER FORGET THE SOUND OF BOB’S ITALIAN LEATHER SHOES SCRATCHING THE STUCCO WALL!!!> “…jump over to our balcony and hopefully the balcony door is unlocked…”
I found myself reaching so far over the railing to grab Bob’s shirt and arm that I was about TO BE HANGING FROM BOB!! Bob began telling me to let go of him, because it was making him lose his grip! “OKAY… I’m letting you go BOB!”
It took him another few minutes to finally shoe-scratch his way onto his balcony, while my mind shut off completely. I stood there and watched him try his balcony door and when it opened he turned to me, waved and said, “Thanks man, Trish and I’ll invite you guys over to smoke some weed later… when she wakes up!”
I walked back into the living room sweating from sheer terror to find Nicky, on the phone still, but laughing now. Apparently Nicky finally explained who he was to the condo owner. The man remembered that he had gotten a voice mail from the person who was supposed to have told him that we were heading down there but, he didn’t listen to the message.
Nicky got off the phone happy but faux-wiping his brow, “Whew, that was weird,” Nicky said as he looked around, “where did that guy go …and who was he, anyway?”
I tried my best to explain to Nicky that his name was Bob and that he jumped off our balcony but Nicky would have none of it. He stood there saying, “No, really man, we can’t allow strangers in here. Where is he, for real?”
That’s when there was another knock on the door. It was Bob – he wanted his jacket back!
(This concludes the Tales of Two Knuckleheads …at least for now. I hope you enjoyed our exploits. If Nicky and I remember more and if you want to hear them, I’ll post more in the future. Thanks so much to my dear friend Nicky Kalliongis for allowing me to poke fun at him and me and share these memories with everyone! I look forward to making more memories with him in the future! God Bless broth! Next blog will be posted on Monday, March 22 – I’m not sure of the topic yet. Peace! G)
By the time we came home from Rio, Nicky and I were best of friends. We both enjoyed traveling so we wasted no time and decided the next place we would go would be Miami, Florida! In those days, MIAMI VICE was the hottest show on TV, which made us want to do a little undercover investigating of our own! Neither of us had ever been to Miami, so we weren’t sure what to expect but one thing was for sure - when Nicky and I were together, strange things happened!
We split up the details – Nicky handled the room arrangements and I handled the rental car. The craziness started right at the Hertz Car Rental at the Miami airport – the problem …neither of us spoke Cubamerican! The girl behind the counter was pleasant enough, she smiled a lot and was cheerful as she filled out all the rental paperwork, but the problem emerged when she said what sounded to us like, “Ju see 18.”
We both said, “What…” in unison.
She smiled, pointed her finger towards the parking lot this time and repeated, “Ju see 18!”
Slightly confused, Nicky and I thanked her and started walking out the door in the general direction of where she pointed. We were stoked when we looked down in the very first row of cars and saw numbers painted on the floor in front of each spot …16 …17 …18! Voila! That was easy …too easy, as it turned out!
The first thing that should have sent a red flag up was the fact that I ordered a sports car but the car in spot 18 was a Buick Le Sabre. Not only that, but it was dirty on the outside and the tires looked worn. I went back in and asked where my sports car was, but the girl just shrugged her shoulders without looking up from her computer monitor and said what sounded like, “We ran out.” There was a line of people in front of her by then, so that was all the answer I was going to get from her. I was peeved but not enough to put a damper on our first visit to Miami, so I went back out to the car only to find even more oddities. The driver window was slightly rolled down, the door was unlocked and there were ashes in the ashtray but the weirdest of all was that the keys were not sitting atop the driver-side sun visor, like the girl said they would be – they were in the ignition! Curious, I thought as I popped the trunk. As soon as I did, Nicky called me to the back of the car.
Nicky: “g, look at all this stuff!”
The trunk was filled with junk - someone’s things – including baby things! I thought about going back in to tell the girl, but the car rental line had gotten incredibly long, so instead Nicky and I thought we could reason a solution. We figured, the stuff was dirty and looked like junk to us, so it probably was left there on purpose! We thought about removing all of it but the boxes were heavy and there would’ve been no place to put it, so we decided to just leave the junk in the trunk and throw our bags in the back seat …which also had junk on it! We were focused on having a good time though, so we just jumped in the car and I took off while Nicky fiddled on the radio.
Right before we pulled up to the exit complete with a guard shack, Nicky found a heavy metal station with Van Halen playing on it, so he turned it up! We were head-banging to “And The Cradle Will Rock” for only about five seconds when we heard a super-loud POP and then …nothing! Apparently, we either blew the car’s speakers or we fried the radio. That’s when we finally lost it… what kind of non-sense was this! They give us this dirty, old Buick Le Sabre filled with junk, a dirty ashtray and now the radio doesn’t work …well, that last one was on us!
We paid no mind, at first, to the security guard – a very stern looking, large African-American lady who seemed to be less amused than we were. As I came to a stop, she seemed to stare at the car in disbelief. Nicky and I were thinking, alright, at least the security guard is on our side about the condition of this rent-a-wreck! As it turned out that wasn’t exactly the case…
Very agitated Security Guard lady: “Will you two gentlemen please step out of the car!”
We were a touch confused but we thought, okay, this security lady looks like she’s gonna straighten things out!
Nicky and I started to freak when we heard the security lady say the words, “stolen vehicle” into her walkie-talkie!
After about twenty very stressful minutes for everyone involved, we realized that the girl behind the counter speaking Cubamerican didn’t say, “Ju see 18,” she said, “Yours is in C-18!” We found out that the first row of spots (the only row WITHOUT a letter before the number of the spot) were for employees. Apparently we took off in one of the female employee’s car and in the process we blew her radio!
Needless to say, the Hertz people weren’t too thrilled with us after that. So, to repay us for almost stealing one of their own vehicles they thought it was only fair to rent us, what I still refer to as “an old retired doctor’s car” – a burgundy 1986 Buick Roadmaster.
So, while Crockett and Tubbs were stylin’ all over Southern Florida with their Ferrari Testarossa and Ferrari Daytona Spider, Nicky and I looked like two teenagers who got lend of their retired-to-Miami, Jewish Chiropractor dad’s burgundy Roadmaster. We figured we would try to minimize the humiliation by ducking down low in our seats until we arrived at the place Nicky hooked up for us – a beautiful 2-bedroom condo with wrap-around balcony, up on the 16th floor overlooking Biscayne Bay.
Smiles returned to our faces as we pulled into the Palm Bay club – it was everything Nicky said it would be and more! Besides, all the weirdness that happened at the rent-a-car place was all behind us now …or was it?
(Continued… Part VI, “Miami Vice Nicky & g style! Part II” will appear on Friday, March 19)
Day 2 passed and no Nicky! This normally wouldn’t have spooked us too much if we were back home, but being thousands of miles away from the U.S., on a different continent, in the middle of the biggest national orgy we had ever experienced …and considering the condition in which we last saw Nicky, Dominic and I became concerned. Of course, we became concerned while lying on the beach with ice-cold bottles of BRAHHHMMMAA CHOP in our hands. Here’s how our conversation went:
Dominic: g, you thing we should call the polícias?
Me: <chugging on my CHOP …then burp!> Why don’t we give him until after lunch, I’m starving, you?
Dominic: I’m starving too! Okay, if he ain’t back in our room after we eat lunch THEN we’ll call the polícias!
When we returned to our room, we found the door ajar. We walked in to find Nicky lying face down on one of the beds still wearing the clothes he was wearing from the first night! We were relieved! Once Nicky took a shower and changed his clothes, all he needed was to get something to eat and he’d be back in action. We decided to eat at a “churrascaria” which is a Brazilian steakhouse. In these places they serve “rodizio” style, which means they send waiter after waiter to your table with different dishes of meats - beef, filet mignon, lamb, chicken, duck, fish, etc. The three of us sat down and immediately started accepting servings from all these waiter’s plates and washed it all down with CHOP! On another note, the one drawback of Rio was that they only seemed to sell cheap booze – I’m looking for Kettle One vodka and they’re trying to serve me Smirnoff – so we mostly stuck to BRAAHHHMMMA CHOP and Dominic was a bartender, so he made us drink Campari. After coming home from Brazil I never wanted to drink that red swill again! Anyway, after thirty minutes of gorging ourselves, the three of us (all being knuckleheads from Brooklyn) started saying, “We better stop eating these hors d'œuvres and order our main meals before we can’t eat anymore!” The three of us all said, “I knew that” in unison when the head waiter explained to us that we JUST DID eat our main meals.
Once we ate, we were ready to dance the night away again, this time we wanted to go to this place called “ZOOM.” We heard it was more upscale and classy compared to HELP, so Dominic and I figured Nicky would be safe in there. We weren’t sure where it was located, so I decided to take the helm and ask this one pretty young lady for directions. First I tried my Italian on her. Brazilians speak Portuguese, so they can understand Spanish and Italian pretty well. It was like speaking Italian to a woman from Ireland! Okay, so my Italian isn’t that good, we were brought up by my mom to understand more than we could speak. So, I switched to what I like to call “English for aliens and the hard of hearing” – that’s because, for some reason, whenever Americans try to speak English to people from other countries, we talk v..e..r..y s..l..o..w..l..y and we shout! I don’t know why – I could hardly even understand what I was saying “EX..CUSE ME! DO …YOU …KNOW …WHERE …ZOOM …IS?” This pretty little lady crinkled her nose and replied in a thicker Brooklyn accent than I even have, “How should I know, I’m from Brooklyn!” …great …I travel 5,000 miles only to be made a fool of by another hot Italian from Brooklyn! I could have stayed home for that!
Before we left our hotel, we had asked the concierge for a bunch of do’s and don’ts (you think we would have asked him where ZOOM was, but we didn’t) and the one thing he told us NOT to do was make the “okay” sign with our hands – you know, index finger touching thumb – because it’s like giving someone the middle finger there. I don’t know why ...none of us did it BEFORE he told us not to, but it was like planting a subliminal message for the three of us to do it non-stop from then on! This was the three of us:
Me: Nicky, that restaurant was great, wasn’t it?
Nicky: It was killer! <Okay sign>
Dominic: So, you guys want to go to that place ZOOM now?
Me: Let’s do it! <Okay sign>
It was like a sickness. We were flipping the “Brazilian bird” in crowds of people! We couldn’t stop. I have no idea how we didn’t end up in a fist fight every ten minutes – it must have been the ORGY that was going on in the entire city – all the guys were too busy looking at the topless women inside the clubs and outside on the beach.
When we got to ZOOM, we ran into our mumbling-friends the three Tony Moneros from South Philly. All the tall one kept saying the ENTIRE NIGHT was, “I’m in serious love… serious love…” to every single chick that past him – and it’s like something you never can stop saying yourself, once you hear it repeated that many times – so I still say to my wife to this day, “I’m in serious love” every time she gets dressed up.
Once again, Dominic and I started dancing while Nicky disappeared, this time reappearing with a pretty Brazilian …and her mom?! Apparently Nicky’s inability to speak any Portuguese and their inability to speak any English got Nicky into another fine mess. I won’t go into details but I think mama thought that Nicky’s advances on her daughter would lead him to immediately propose marriage. I dunno… and I don’t want to know!
By day 5, the three of us were shot! Dominic and I were dark enough to be taken for natives (strangely enough, Nicky hardly had a tan). We also drank and sambaed enough for a month and by day 6; we were so tired of the food, we actually went and ate at a McDonalds (where we ran into every other American down there). Dominic ended up buying a cool-looking jacket down there. He kept raving to us about the deal he got. After he showed us how well it fit, he took it off for the cab ride to the airport. Nicky and I couldn’t hold back laughter when we saw the “Made in the U.S.A.” tag inside it!
Yeah, we were ready to come home …all of us except for Nicky that is …he really did still want to chuck his entire career in the music industry and just open a Banana Stand down there. The only way I was able to get him to get back on the plane was to promise to go with him to Miami when we got home …oh yeah …Miami Vice Nicky & g style!
(Continued… Part VI, “Miami Vice Nicky & g style!” will appear on Tuesday, March 16)
It wasn’t all fun and games with me and Nicky, we actually started making money together, but of course any money in our pocket had to immediately be spent – that was my department. It was nearly February and I had heard about Carnival in Rio de Janeiro. Nicky and I both had just made some extra money so we decided to go. This time I called my oldest friend Dominic Roggio to join us. Dominic and I grew up together in Ridgewood. He was making money too, so he was in!
The flight down there was horrendous – 8 ½ hours from JFK, you leave at night, sleep on the plane and when you wake up …you’re still not there – YUCK! We flew coach and we were packed into that plane like sardines. For 7 of the 8.5 hours Nicky warned Dominic and me that we didn't know how to travel internationally and so he gave us rules:
1- We don't touch the girls!
2- We ALWAYS stick together!
After grilling us and quizzing us for seven friggin' hours - Nicky immediately forgot both rules himself, the moment we landed!
What I remember first about arriving in Rio was, the moment we stepped out of the door of the plane it was like stepping into a sauna! It was summer in South America in February, so we left in 20-degree weather in New York and walked off the plane in RIO into 86-degrees with 86% humidity! My hair almost instantly curled into an afro and all I remember was Dominic started sweating buckets from his sideburns! Nicky, on the other hand …was home. At least, that’s what he kept telling me and Dominic, “Guys, I’m home!”
We checked into the Intercontinental Hotel at Gavia Beach, all 3 of us in a room with only two beds, which meant that 2 of us were supposed to end up sleeping together – but that never happened – as you will soon learn why. The moment we checked into the room, we opened the blinds and saw that we had a spectacular view of the beach. There was only one peculiar thing – we saw a dark sort of line leading from the city right into the water – we found out later it was SEWER WATER! What the, who the, why the?! These people had no CLUE about hygiene – even worse, the BUBONIC PLAGUE was spreading through the foothills surrounding the city – we could understand why! Seeing sewer water running into the beach water right next to our resort usually would have put a damper on our mood, but that didn’t happen. As soon as we turned on the TV, the three of us became hypnotized by what we saw on the tube – every channel – nudity – partying – and beer commercials for BRAHMAAAAA CHOP!! Brahma Chop was a Portuguese Pilsner beer that was very popular in Rio. They sold it on every beach, ice cold and in quart-sized bottles. Needless to say, Dominic and I bathed ourselves in “The Chop” every day!
As soon as we could tear ourselves away from the nude partying on every TV channel, we made it down to the beach. We had heard stories about the topless bathing and g-string bikinis that were prevalent in Rio but one hears those stories when traveling abroad. This time though, those stories didn’t even “cover” it! The “girls of Ipanema” were beautiful, green eyed, topless, with buttocks that you could bounce coins off of …and the worst dental hygiene any of us had ever seen. The Brazilians made the British look like they had Donnie Osmond teeth! Did I mention bad teeth on the women? I don’t how I know that since I don’t think any heterosexual male noticed if Brazilian women even had teeth!
The three of us settled in to soak in some rays and drink some fine CHOP. Later in the afternoon, our blood-alcohol level was high enough to go parasailing and then we saw people hand-gliding, so we paid a cab driver to take us to the top of some mountain were we could do it too. It was insane, even by our drunken standards! Okay, first of all, we were so high up we were looking DOWN at the clouds. Then we saw how it’s done. There was this Brazilian version of Arnold Schwarzenegger dressed in Speedos that apparently strapped you to him and then you BOTH jumped off the side of the mountain together. Now, I was piped enough to strap myself to a very large man wearing very little and jump off a mountain INTO a cloud, but he lost all 3 of us when Nicky asked him if anyone ever died while doing it and after a moment he held up the number “1.” That was one too many in our books, so we got back in a cab and got ready for a night of P-A-R-T-Y-I-N-G Rio/Carnival style!
After a nice meal in a local place called, “Il Pescatore” where we ate appetizers, a main course, desert, and drank before, during and after each serving - and it only cost like $70 U.S. for the 3 of us – we headed to a place called “HELP” in the famous Copacabana beach area. You know what, coming from Brooklyn and partying in places like Manhattan, Las Vegas and Amsterdam, I thought I had seen it all – until HELP! We knew we were in for it when we walked in and saw a line leading to what we assumed was the coat check. I was curious because it was 85-degrees 24-hours-a-day there, so who would wear a coat? What we found out was that the women (there were all women on the line) weren’t checking their coats – they were checking THEIR DRESSES! Apparently, the local women didn’t want to sweat through their nice dresses, so they’d check them and dance the night away in their underwear! Did I mention that Brazilian women never wear bras! Okay …alright, so this was going to be a touch more …exotic …than say, the Palladium in Manhattan on a Monday night – but we’re from New York, so we can deal with it …right?
Dominic and I hit the dance floor where we found ourselves standing next to 3 guys that looked like they had just stepped out of “Saturday Night Fever,” complete with white suits and enough gold jewelry to make Mr. T proud. We approached them thinking they were from New York too but other than understanding that they were from “South Philly,” we didn’t understand another word these guys said. We were accused of mumbling from where Dom and I grew up in Ridgewood, but these 3 guys turned mumbling into an entirely different language. You know what – the funny thing about guys – when we have a few drinks in us and there are topless women dancing 2 feet away from us – we have no problem NOT understanding what we’re saying to each other. This is what our conversation sounded like:
Me: So you guys are from South Philly?
Them: Yeah, yeah, serious mo biddy Tony ROMEO!
Dominic: We just got here today, when did you guys get here?
Them: Haha! Frankie One-eye diddled P-doody!
What he say?! I dunno!
Okay… alright …no problem-o! While Dominic, me and the 3 Stooges from South Philly took in the sights, Nicky was nowhere to be found… By about 5am, Dominic and I decided we were going to go back to the hotel, but before we did, we looked for Nicky. We found him upstairs with some of the local ladies and surrounded by, it looked like members of at least 3 different navies! He was just hanging, telling stories, laughing… and did I mention completely shot, wrecked, saturated drunk! Now, you may say, you guys were AWEFUL leaving him there – but Dominic and I didn’t just leave him there – we asked him to come with us – then we told him to come with us – then we practically dragged him away from his new friends …but it was too late …Nicky started yelling at us that he was quitting his job and never going back to the States. When I asked him what he was going to do, he told us that he was going to open a BANANA STAND and just live on the beach.
Dom and I were wrecked from our flight, the beach and sun and eight straight hours of samba, so we gave up and just told Nicky to make sure to meet us for breakfast. Well breakfast passed and then lunch passed and no Nicky! Dom and I knew something was wrong!
(Continued… Part V, “RIO for Carnival and the disappearance of Nicky! - Part 2” will appear on Saturdayday, March 1)
As we drove out to the Hamptons Nicky, we learned a little about each other’s backgrounds. For instance, I learned that Nicky and Bobby-G worked together at the legendary Media Sound Recording Studios in Manhattan. Back in the day, the three top studios in NYC were Media Sound, The Record Plant and Electric Ladyland – my brother and I recorded at the Record Plant so we built up immediate respect for each other …plus we just hit it off. Nicky took a liking to me because I was “living large” after my band AMERICADE broke up and my fiancé at the time left me. I liked Nicky because …well quite frankly because he was one of the oddest human beings I had ever met, and I met a few in my day …my dad called us both “knuckleheads.”
As we headed out to a house that a few friends of mine (6 girls) rented in Hampton Bays aka “Brooklyn East” Nicky asked me why we shouldn’t go out to Fire Island instead. Yeah… I told him the closest I go to Fire Island is on a boat fishing about ¼ mile off the shore. He told me he knew a few people (I asked him …yep… all guys) that go out there on weekends and said it was great. It was at this point I learned the real reason why Nicky almost bought an expensive orange sports car that he couldn’t afford – while Nicky was a very talented professional in music …the boy was NAÏVE! I’m talkin’ ….a proverbial Huckleberry Finn living in New York City. After gently explaining to him that – for lack of a better way to put it – “real” men do NOT weekend on Fire Island, I saw the very slow and gradual realization and then horror creep into his mind. It actually made me feel good to hear him explain all his hetero-sexual ways for the rest of the journey. By the time we arrived at the girls rented house in Hampton Bays, Nicky was walking around like he was Hercules meets John Wayne… whew ...okay!
I introduced Nicky to six fine looking ladies and Nicky immediately does two things – he falls in love with each and every one of them and …he immediately tells me he wants to BUY something out there! What is it with this guy, I’m thinking, maybe he has some mental illness that compels him to spend lots of money. Well, to this day, I’m still not sure about the mental illness part but one thing I found out the next weekend – while he had some savings, he wasn’t super rich – although like every Greek I know, he kept referring to his “dad’s island” and his “mom’s island” in Greece!
Nicky spent the next week investigating on his own, using his music company contacts and friends to tell him the BEST place to weekend on Long Island. I mentioned before that Nicky Kalliongis ran the studio and was an A&R man for ARISTA RECORDS, so of course, the suggestions he was given were things like, “Ya know, MICK and BIANCA like to holiday out in Montauk…” So with no regard to where Montauk Point is (let’s put it this way, from Brooklyn I think it’s slightly closer to drive to DISNEY WORLD in ORLANDO!) or how much is costs, Nicky asks me to take him to a place called Gurney’s Inn in Montauk Point!
I spent the entire 2-day trip (okay, it was probably only 5 hours but I felt like I was driving to Scotland) trying to explain to Nicky that 1-IT’S TOO FRIGGIN’ FAR (I don’t like to cuss, but I wanted to be accurate here); 2-Gurney’s was known to be one of the most EXPENSIVE places on our planet to vacation; 3-There were 6,000 beautiful women back in the Hamptons that we could be hanging with …that we passed back about 3 hours ago!!!
…it was like I was talking another language …Nicky smiled, joked and turned up the radio. As all Greeks like to remind the rest of us, they invented culture …well I think they also invented OBSTINENCE!
So we finally ….finally …FINALLY get to Gurney’s and it was like we arrived at the Queen of England’s summer retreat! The whole resort was ritzy and beautiful – the valet was parking nothing but Rolls, Bentleys, Ferrari’s, etc. - and the whole place looked like it was built out of hundred dollar bills! I found out that “we” had an appointment with some lady that looked like she came from four generations of money (and she just worked there). When we sat down, the lady noticed our long hair, looked at Nicky’s business card with ARISTA RECORDS printed on it and immediately her mouth began to salivate! All of a sudden she started dropping names and innuendos faster than I could disseminate them! “Ya know Mick and Keith are out back …having a barbeque with …Mr. Crowley,” and “Your being Greek, Mr. Kalliongis, I SO MUST introduce you to Jackie and Aristotle… the place I want to show the …two of you …is right next to their hideaway!” It was the next innuendo that made me grab Nicky by the back of his neck and try to lead him out of there, “…oh and by the way, you two don’t have to worry about …privacy!”
WE TWO …WHAT?! Yo, Nicky, this lady thinks we’re two finochios! (translation: finochio=Elton John) Does that deter Nicky …not a chance! This lady shows us this beautiful villa right smack on the beach. WOW! At my age and hormone level, all I was thinking was – a blind, one-legged man with leprosy could even have a harem with this place! We got back to the lady’s desk and after sipping champagne and eating crackers with beluga caviar for about 20-minutes, the lady finally puts the rental contract in front of Nicky.
…I will never forget the look on his face! Haha… finally something gets to him! All of a sudden, he’s looking at his watch, “OH… look at the time,” he says and then turns to me, acting annoyed, ”g! Why didn’t you tell me the time, you KNOW we have to get back to the studio, we can’t keep WHITNEY waiting!”
Uh-huh… yeah… as we shake this poor confused aristocrat-lady’s hand, I gaze at the contract …it said $38,000 A WEEK!
Nicky got back in my car a broken man. As we started the 2-day journey back to civilization, Nicky didn’t utter a word until we past Amagansett, this sleepy little town in the middle of nowhere. Nicky told me to pull over – as we do, Nicky starts saying, “This looks like a nice place.” I finally had it – I explained to Nicky that we were two single young men – there were certain rules …certain conventions of the day that we had to follow. For instance, two single young men DO NOT spend weekends on Fire Island, rent beachfront villas in Montauk, or lease homes in Amagansett! They shack up with 6 beautiful girls (for free – just have to chip in for booze and burgers) in HAMPTON BAYS!
I thought I had him …I really did. The next week we headed straight out to Hampton Bays and as soon as we were greeted by the 6 beautiful female friends of mine in bikini tops, the light bulb turned on again over Nicky’s head, “g, I’m gonna BUY something here!”
What is it with European immigrants? Even my Italian grandmother who couldn’t scratch two nickels together got off “the boat” and immediately went to the bank, got a loan and bought the apartment building in which I was raised. I’m not completely knocking it – most of those immigrants made money on their real estate investments – but Nicky wanted to BUY in the Hamptons! Okay, let’s look at our options, forget about South Hampton – I explain to him that anywhere where Billy Joel owns, he can’t own. Then there’s Hampton Bays, which is basically a bunch of homes that rich people buy and rent out to people like us! The only thing left was West Hampton. Situated between the splendor of South Hampton and the “party-hearty” of Hampton Bays lies a strip of rickety motels that were converted into WAY-overpriced co-ops.
Of course, Nicky immediately fell in love with one of these short-stay rooms turned co-ops. The price tag for this motel room …$87,000 (that’s THOUSAND)! Alright, so I didn’t mind having a place we could call our own out in West Hampton, on the beach – the plan was supposed to be that we make friends and influence people down at NEPTUNE’s on the beach (NEPTUNE’s was a beachfront bar that packed out and got crazy) and then drop the line that we have “a beach house in West Hampton.” The plan went wrong when we almost immediately began getting in trouble by “the co-op board” for just about everything! Apparently Nicky didn’t read the fine print that spelled out – No frolicking (I love frolicking), No barbequing with more than 2 people or 3 burgers, no drinking on premises, no more than two people allowed to stay in the room, no loud music, no soft music, no one under the age of 70 was allowed to use the recreation room …and the ice machine is locked at 10pm!
I seem to recall the local police becoming acquainted with Nicky’s room and his door being chained and bolted. We all did have a good time there though …breaking the rules!
…and you would be surprised at just how many drunk young people can actually fit into a one room, glorified motel room …I think we set the record!
(Continued… Part V, “RIO for Carnival and the disappearance of Nicky!” will appear on Wednesday, March 10)
So, this guy Nicky Kalliongis, whom I only just met that day starts off our “friendship” by telling me I was late picking him up in a blizzard, then when we get to his parents’ house where the studio was, strips down to his underwear and socks and tells me off AGAIN, this time to keep the volume down (something that is NEVER said in a studio, especially when you are paying for the use of it), and then ends one of the weirdest days of my life by announcing that he and I were going to be good friends. He even goes one step further and calls me when I arrived home to ask me to come with him that weekend while he buys a car.
Now to most guys I knew, including me, buying a car is kind of a personal thing. If you do go with someone, it’s usually someone you’re close with like your parents or brother or maybe your best friend. I have never, before or since, been asked by pretty much a complete stranger to accompany them while they went and made one of the biggest buying decisions of their life. I learned that weekend that Nicky Kalliongis was not most guys.
I show up at his parents’ house early that Saturday morning and Nicky was as nice as you can be, shaking my hand and already acting like we were friends from childhood. I thought there might have been twins involved and I just met the evil, insane one the first time, but no, there was only one Nicky! He gave me an address to some used car lot on Queens Blvd. (in Queens, NY) but as I took off heading for it, he completely changed the subject! In fact, we really didn’t talk much about cars at all up until a minute before we reached our destination.
I was thinking to myself, any guy would’ve been talking my ear off about the car he was going to look at, telling me details and specs, etc., but this guy, nada!
I was actually impressed with his cool demeanor until right before we parked, when he asked me if I would mind taking the car he was interested in buying, out for a test drive!
I said, “Nicky, let me get this straight …you want …me …to take the car you want to buy for a test drive? Do you mean …after YOU take it out for one?!”
He calmly replied, “No, that’s why I asked you to come with me. I don’t know how to drive a stick and besides, I haven’t driven a car in awhile.”
Right! So this guy wants me to take some car out for a test drive because I can drive a stick and he can’t. Which means what? If I like it, he buys it and learns how to drive a stick …and by the way, WHO CARES if I like it?! Doesn’t everybody have their own personal taste in cars?! I asked him these things as quickly as I could because I saw some very shady character approaching my car, but Nicky just shrugged off everything I said. As we stepped out of my car this shady character asks me (naturally, because I was DRIVING),
“No, he’s Nicky.”
Nicky jumped in, “I’m Nicky, and he’s my friend. He’s going to take the car out for a test drive with us.”
This twenty-something year-old, tough-looking oriental guy looks at Nicky and then at me and simply says, if a bit condescendingly, “It’s a 2-seater.”
Nicky shrugs him off just like he did to me, replying, “So I’ll just squeeze in between you two!”
Squeeze in between me and this member of the TONG in a 2-seat car, with a stick no less - which made me also think, what does Nicky do, sit on the shift? Never mind that I would have to REACH BETWEEN HIS LEGS to shift!
The TONG member walks us past a bunch of old clunkers and I start figuring that Nicky is probably gonna lay down a few hundred for a beat up Opel but my jaw hit the ground when the guy stops in front of a 1973 ORANGE MASERATI MERAK! What?! Who-the-what-the-where-the!
Before I can even say anything, the TONG member opens the driver’s door and invites me to get in, then he opens the passenger door and first Nicky squeezes in and then he gets in and hands me the keys. Just like I feared, Nicky’s groin was perched dangerously close to the shift! Not only that, but the whole shift and gear box seemed to be on a slant!
I figured I could either tell him I was outta there or else, I could “man” through it, while gingerly trying to shift without knowing Nicky intimately! I decided on the latter, with the one caveat that I would bring the car to a screeching halt if my hand came into even the slightest contact with Nicky’s crown jewels!
So I start the car, it gurgles and grunts and snorts like a pig in heat. I release the parking brake and off we go! I start down this long street and actually got the car into 3rd gear before attempting to slow down. Meanwhile Nicky is talking to the guy like he knows HIM forever too – again, about everything except the car! The TONG member just stared out the windshield and remained quiet.
Back to slowing down - I touched the brakes …and nothing happens. I step on the brake pedal a little harder …and we’re still not slowing down one iota! I had to swerve and downshift as fast as I could without coming in contact with Nicky’s dingle-berry and then pull the parking brake to get the “orange pig” to stop completely!
As I’m trying hard to avert a heart attack, Nicky proceeds to ask me in front of the TONG member, “So what do you think?”
I’m like, “Nicky, how ‘bout we talk in private?”
Nicky replies, “Why, we’re all friends here!”
Yeah, right, none of us know each other more than a day, the TONG member looks like he’s “packing” and I’m not even sure he WORKS in this used car lot …but we’re all friends!
My nerves were shredded and I had it, so I answered in a bit of a holler, “Okay, you want to know what I really think… this car is old, ugly, snorts like a pig, is uncomfortable, the transmission feels loose and it looks like it’s cocked on an angle and oh yeah …THE CAR HAS NO BRAKES!
The TONG member didn’t lose a beat, stoically replying, “Yeah, well your car can’t do 180 miles-an-hour!”
To which I answered with no regard for my personal safety,
“Yeah, but my car CAN STOP!”
Believe it or not, I still had to talk Nicky out of the car! We stood there arguing for a few minutes while the TONG member decided whether he was gonna allow us to leave that used car lot alive!
Nicky finally confessed, “g, you don’t understand, I just broke up with my girlfriend and I’ve been living like a miser, never going out or doing anything. So I saved up some money and now, after meeting you I want to spend it!”
So that’s why you were going to buy … a 1973 orange Maserati Merak with no brakes …because you want to spend money?
As I started driving him back to his parents’ house he asked me, “So what are you doing later?”
I told him I always go out to the Hamptons on the weekends to hang out with friends of mine. I saw Nicky’s face light up, “MY MAN,” he said, “Can I go with you?”
I took a deep breath and said, “Okay.”
Nicky acted overjoyed. As we turned around and got on the highway, I just shook my head in defeat as he asked me, “By the way, what’s the Hamptons?”
(Continued… Part IV, “Gurney’s & Nicky buys an $87,000 motel room” will appear on Sunday, March 07)
Okay, so now you get the picture, my brother and I are setting up our equipment in Ben’s new studio over at the Kaufmann-Astoria movie studios (yes, we have a movie studio in New York) and as I’m plugging in my guitar amp, one of Ben’s assistant engineer’s whispers in my ear, “You guys are NUTS recording demos here!” That assistant was none other than the legendary “Bobby G!” Bobby was a talented engineer who had worked at the famed “Media Sound” recording studio in Manhattan. His recording credits included the ROLLING STONES and that hit single, “FLY ROBIN FLY.” For those of you who may not know Bobby Gordon, let me just say that - never more animated a human being ever breathed air. Bobby is a living-breathing caricature of himself! His movements are more animated than Bug Bunny’s and his inherent paranoia (Bobby is one of those “whisperers” – you know the type that covers his mouth with his hand and talks in whispers, even when there’s no one else in the room with you and him, and he’s only telling you about the movie he saw the night before). Brooklyn spawns a lot of “whisperers” …it’s a mob thing. Well, Bobby was from Flatbush!
When I asked Bobby why we were nuts, he whispered that we couldn’t talk there but that he could save me and my brother about $100 an hour if I met him in the city the next day. I decided that a c-note an hour was worth the price of the toll to Manhattan, so I agreed. I met Bobby at his home up on 64th St. and York Avenue the next day and he told me that he and his “partner” Nicky had just opened a small studio and that they only charged $50/hour instead of $150/hour, which was how much Ben’s studio cost.
The day I met Bobby it was a blizzard, like a foot of snow and still coming down! It took me about an hour to slide from 64th and York to someplace in Queens (thanks Nicky, for the correction), to pick up Nicky. Needless to say the drive was nerve-racking and stressful and what were Nicky’s very first words to me as he opened my car door? “YOU’RE LATE!” Not only did I pick him up in this blizzard, but Bobby wanted me to see their “studio” …that was out in HEMPSTEAD, LONG ISLAND! For those of you who are not familiar with New York, Hempstead, Long Island is about an hour from Manhattan on a nice sunny day – in a snow storm, it took me more than twice as long to get there! …and do you know where their studio was …in the basement of Nicky’s parents' home!
Now, two nicer people you cannot meet than Mr. & Mrs. Kalliongis – except of course for the vice-like handshake from his dad (my right hand is still deformed from our first handshake). Picture two of the nicest Greek people greeting you with reservation, in a house that smelled like the best Greek restaurant! I was starving about 2-minutes after I walked into the house – but I’m off topic – back to Nicky!
So, we go down into the basement and there it is - a small control room with all of the studio equipment and another room with a mic. Next to the mic was a cot – this apparently was Nicky’s bedroom! That assumption became fact, when, as Bobby was letting me listen to the sound system in the control room, Nicky proceeded to strip down to his underwear and socks and then walked into the control room and announced, “Keep it down, I have to get some sleep, that drive was BRUTAL!” Bobby almost had to restrain me from strangling Nicky in his underwear and socks!
The real weirdness began about an hour later though – and from then on, whenever Nicky and I were together – weird things happened! As I was trying my best to “quietly” test out their studio equipment, Nicky walked back into the control room, still in his underwear and socks! He went over to the drum machine and started showing me its capabilities. Then he started demonstrating the rest of the equipment. I almost thought it was his twin! What a surreal experience, having Nicky Kalliongis, A&R man for ARISTA RECORDS showing me how nice his DX-7 keyboard sounded, standing there in his underwear and black socks. If that all wasn’t weird enough, Nicky ended our first meeting with the fateful words, “You and I are going to be friends!” I just said, “Yeah …sure we are,” like you would to any escaped mental patient.
By the time I got home, I almost thought it was some odd, twisted, blizzard-induced hallucination, but then my phone rang …it was Nicky! He said, “g, it’s Nicky, come with me on Saturday, I’m going to buy a car!”
Come back next time to hear the legendary story of the “Orange Maserati Marek!”
You can’t make this stuff up!
(Continued… Part III will appear on Thursday, March 04)
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Dean Wesley Smith