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An ode to the vanishing char-broiler

My love of burgers started in the womb. My mother used to send my father for grilled hot dogs, burgers, and fried clams at the Three Acre Grill in Lyndhurst, a grease pit lost to urban development. /The photo is from the ’40s, when dining and dancing were offered; by the late ’60s it was less fancy. Beef patties broiled crisp, frankfurters seared with grill marks, that blend of tantalizing char and rich fat melted under flame. Science has proven it is more addictive than cocaine, but at least it won’t make you look like these guys.
Growing up, we’d stop for a summer treat at one of Route 3’s many char-broil grills. The long-gone Red Chimney was my favorite, with its ridiculous ’50s-era smokestack and counter-top dining. When it was gone, the historically named Anthony Wayne, after Revolutionary War Brigadier General “Mad” Anthony Wayne, took its place. They seared their thin patties on what fry cooks would call a “salamander,” a brutally hot grill that finished burgers in minutes, then they slapped them on gummy white hamburger buns. You could get American or cheddar, but the hot burger relish was what made them memorable to me. They served orange whips and the usual deep-fryer fare, but the burgers with their crisp, carcinogenic broiled crust were the star.
The Anthony was in a horrible location in the armpit of where three major highways merged, and required dodging multiple lanes of traffic full of mall-seeking moms and teenagers headed for their driving tests at the Wayne DMV. You truly risked death to get one of their burgers, and it made them taste even better. You’d want one for the road, wrapped in wax paper. The little cozy restaurant was decorated log cabin style with pictures of the Mad General and his exploits. I bet in the old days they had fake flintlocks and Daniel Boone accessories festooning the rafters with the odd ratty stuffed raccoon. It too, has been relegated to Jersey grease stain history.
So when I was driving to High Point State Park for a hike with Firecracker and saw the garish brown and orange cabin decor of The Elias Cole, I knew I had to stop there for a bite. I’d seen the place years ago when I hiked there with Milky, but we were broke and they take CASH ONLY. Wow, they really take this retro thing seriously, don’t they? Inside, we grabbed a booth and were served by friendly waitresses wearing bunny ears, for the Easter holiday. It was like stepping back in time to my char-broil days of youth- I prefer that term to “salad days.” The menu was simple: burgers, franks, shrimp in a basket; the char-broil staples. This being Saturday, they had dinner specials of hot roast beef, chicken or pork with mashed potatoes and gravy, and several older couples were there to partake of the plates piled high with meat-stuffs. We of course, went for the cheeseburgers.
They come on a freshly baked French sandwich roll, and they make the burger shaped to fit it. It’s capsule shaped, and seared with a fine grill crust that brings memories of summer when you bite into it. Just juicy enough and full of classic beef flavor, topped with two slices of American cheese melted to the roll and optional lettuce, tomato, and pickle, this is a classic roadstand burger with great taste. The roll really helps, crisp on the outside and still soft enough to absorb juices and squish down to make the burger easily edible. They also make great fries, standard and sweet potato. In fact, the sweets are some of the best I’ve had, better than the Cloverleaf Tavern, my previous fave.
You owe it to yourself to visit the highest point in the state of New Jersey- 1800 feet above sea level, and home to the Veteran’s obelisk monument- and then drive on down to the Elias Cole on Route 23 for a burger. Who’s Elias Cole? I don’t know. It’s not the name of the current owners. But it’s a fitting name for a classic char-broiler joint like this. It rings of the ’50s era frontier revival that these roadside restaurants thrived in. Some googling suggests he lead an Ohio regiment of volunteers in the Civil War. Next time I’ll ask.
Some other char-broils I recall are St.Paul’s excellent St. Clare Broiler, where I used to get liver and onions with Deneen “The Neener” Gannon in my Twin Cities days; she loved a good diner and the St. Clare reminded me of Jersey. One I have yet to try is the Montclair Char-Coal Broil on Valley Road, which is newer but has the right style. They’re a dying breed, killed off by fast food chains that barely serve things that can be called meat anymore. Do your mouth a favor and visit one of these anachronisms while they remain, and remember what a burger was supposed to taste like.
But most importantly, if you visit High Point State Park, be on the watch for zombies and vampires, which infest the place:,+sussex+nj&sll=42.209587,-70.923657&sspn=0.04571,0.062656&ie=UTF8&hq=elias+cole,&hnear=Sussex,+NJ&z=12&iwloc=A&cid=733807904828223293&ll=41.305924,-74.631844&output=embed
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© 2010 Thomas Pluck.

Krug’s Tavern – still the best

Open since 1938, once owned by Raging Bull boxer Jake “The Bronx Bull” LaMotta and still owned by his family, Krug’s Tavern in Newark’s Ironbound neighborhood is housed in an unassuming and dilapidated building that could be mistaken for a run of the gin mill bar full of cranky old men drinking piss-yellow beer out of tiny glasses. Inside, it has that kind of feel. A few high top tables, a long mahogany bar with patched red vinyl stools. A poster of LaMotta behind the bar, amidst the bottles of Tullamore Dew.

But if you venture in the flimsy storm door and linger, you’ll find an energetic blue collar crowd stuffing the place at lunch hour, from electrical workers and hard hats in uniform, the boys from the docks in their tracksuits, and cop brass stretching their conservatively cut sport coats. The kind of place where crook and law alike will belly up to the bar. Behind which sits a glass case brimming with meatballs the size of grapefruit, which will soon become a legendary burger for those with king size appetites. Order one and they’ll flatten out that softball of fat speckled chuck on the griddle and sizzle it low and slow so it remains juicy even if you order it well done.

When I was a kid, there was a diner car named Nunzio’s, run by an eponymous, mustachioed fellow who could’ve jumped in a pair of overalls and white gloves to play Super Mario. He served a juicy burger on a Kaiser roll that remains the paragon of burgers to me. He wouldn’t serve me one on Friday during Lent, either. I had to get peppers and eggs on a roll. Krug’s burger hits that nostalgic memory in the bullseye. They serve theirs on a large sesame seed bun that is just barely up to the task. It stays together, but you eat your burger wondering if you’ll have to finish with a knife and fork, especially if you’re generous with the ketchup.

Places that manage a juicy griddle burger are uncommon these days. Ann’s Snack Bar in Atlanta makes an even bigger patty than Krug’s, their infamous Ghetto Burger- a full pound of well-seasoned beef topped with chili and cheese, the size of the paper plate it’s served on- and Jimmy’s in Harlem steams theirs under a steel ice cream cup. Both are worth visiting, but if you’re in New Jersey, only Krug’s will do. Oh, I love the burgers at the Cloverleaf Tavern. If you get them medium rare, those perfect chewy rolls handle any number of toppings, from their Cajun Crunch burger topped with house-made spicy potato chips, to the Fatburger with Monterey Jack cheese sticks and Taylor Ham pork roll. But Krug’s is all about the beef.

I’ve had bacon cheese burgers at Krug’s, and most recently, a Taylor Ham & cheese (pictured above). It is that rare burger that is not overwhelmed by a crisp and smoky slice of bacon, or two slices of fat and spicy pork roll. All you taste is good, juicy, ground beef. What a burger should be. They pack 3/4 of a pound into that bun for $6.50. Bacon or Taylor is a buck extra. Fries and battered onion rings- both excellent, crispy and always fried in fresh, tasteless oil- are extra. And enormous. Their mozzarella sticks are house made, never frozen, fried to bursting, crisp and gooey as they are meant to be. They have a good selection on tap, with Harpoon and Sam Adams available as well as the American trinity of Bud-Miller-Coors. They serve Cokes in the can, and your meal begins with a fresh sour pickle and two hot cherry vinegar peppers arranged in vulgar fashion.

I’ve written about Krug’s before for Serious Eats, and it is always a memorable experience. They are consistent, and I’ve never had a bad burger. Doing it since 1938 must help. The place ain’t pretty, but it’s got character. There’s a biscuit shaped elbow of pipe jutting through the tiles in the men’s room. A ’58 Thunderbird rusts on flat tires in the parking lot. Loud men lunch here, venting out the day’s woes. But it’s an original, and without pretense. My kind of place. Next, I’ll give you the rundown on my favorite seafood joint- not Legal Seafood, despite their excellent food- but a little hole in the wall in Garfield where a bowl of fried clams and a beer won’t set you back more than six bucks.

© 2012 Thomas Pluck

Noir at the Bar 10/1/2020

This Thursday, October 1st, I’ll be reading with a great lineup of writers for a virtual Noir at the Bar hosted by Dennis Tafoya.
Megan Abbott, Jordan Harper, Jen. Conley, Wallace Stroby, Nikki Dolson, and Alison Gaylin will be reading, and I’m thrilled be with them.
Join us, it’s free and here is the sign up link.
Noir at the Bar 10/1/2020

For Warren Zevon

Here’s a story I wrote in tribute to the songs of Warren Zevon, which have helped me understand the world since my friend Peter Dell’Orto lent me his LP of Bad Luck Streak in Dancing School back in the ’80s. It’s still one of my favorite albums.

But I like to consider his music its own universe, and this is my attempt to bring some of my favorite songs together in such a fashion. “The Hula Hula Boys” has always been a favorite, and who doesn’t love “Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner”? You’ll notice a few others from Bad Luck Streak, but no werewolves at Lee Ho Fook’s. You have to draw the line somewhere.

Beat to a Pulp if one of my favorite fiction sites, run by David Cranmer, who I collaborated with on for Blade of Dishonor. One of my first publications was “A Glutton for Punishment” at this great site dedicated to all things pulp. And “The Hula Hula Boys in: Headless Ticket to Hawai’i” is pure pulp, like so many of Zevon’s songs. I hope you enjoy it.

Tommy Salami’s Plucking Patreon

Forgive me, Dear Reader. I haven’t updated this blog regularly for a long time. Instead, I wrote the Goombah Gumbo Newsletter and a few articles on Medium, but I have finally settled on a Patreon to collect my writing for those who want to support me this endeavor. There will always be free stories, articles, and posts to read there. But I’m trying something new:

My previously published stories that are not available free online will be available there for patrons of the Foxy Donuts tier and higher, and I will write a Patreon-exclusive story or article each month for those patrons. You can also read regular posts for free, or chip in a buck if you want to buy me a coffee. The story-level tiers also get you a Harshly Worded Letter or a Fart Haiku postcard!

For those inclined, there are also tiers where you get monthly correspondence such as tiny stories and poems, and one where you get a book from my library of forbidden tomes and incunabula, aka pulp paperbacks and such.

Blogging is so 2000s. In fact, I missed the 10th anniversary of this one. I think there’s a place for communication between the flitting of social media and lengthy newsletters, and Patreon has a nice look to it. Please come visit, there are free snacks. As John Fogerty said, you don’t need a penny to hang around. But if you got a nickel, why don’t you lay your money down?

Click the image below to visit Tommy Salami’s Plucking Patreon.

2020-03-10 11_52_46-Window

A visit to a haunted masonic temple for a sybaritic delights


In my family, men didn’t go to spas. Not even the uncle who managed gay bars for the mob. His “spa” was falling asleep on the floral print couch at my grandma’s house after Sunday dinner, because he closed the bar at 4AM that morning. My father worked in construction, and while he smoked Capri cigarettes and loved Barbara Streisand—he was a complicated man—the closest he ever got to a manicure was when he nearly cut two fingers off with a circular saw and I had to change his bandages. I’m a third generation immigrant and the first on my mother’s side to go to college, and also the first of the men to go to a spa.

Note: not a massage parlor. A spa. Named after the town of Spa in Belgium, which was supposedly famous since Roman times for its healing waters. Now you don’t need a mineral spring to have a spa, just some some hot rocks and cucumber slices, and a bunch of people with too much money. Of which I am now one, to my enormous, ex-Catholic, blue collar guilt. After following my father’s command to make the hardest thing I do at work be pushing my chair away from my desk, I’ve become a bougie white collar dweeb. I may be built like a tank because I’ve been a gym rat since high school—after three coked-up Jersey-Shore douchebags from the wrestling team clobbered me—so I’m the guy they look for at work to help push 3500 pound IBM enterprise server racks, and in my family, I’m the amateur masseur. I have strong hands and a knack for finding the knotted tendon in the shoulders of someone tired from waitressing all day or carrying sacks of concrete. But no one is strong enough to return the favor. Sarah got tired of doing the cha-cha-cha on my back and told me to go to the spa down the street.

Church of Bangz! I saw their bus videos, bro!

We live near a spa built in a former 19th century Masonic Temple, which itself had taken over a Baptist Church. It is said to be haunted, and some think its existence is blasphemous. Why? The Pope washes people’s feet, so what if you go to a former house of God to get yours exfoliated? It’s not like the Limelight in New York, which put S&M acts in cages in a former sixth avenue church, though monks probably invented flagellation…. I haven’t seen any vengeful spirits, but most of the time I’ve been staring at the mirror from a barber’s chair high up in the loft where the secret rites must have been performed, or face down on a massage table, high on aromatherapy and hot stones stacked like Blair Witch cairns on my scoliotic spine. I asked my barber, and he said, “I haven’t seen anything, but others have.” Like what? Is a poltergeist throwing loofahs?

Because the building is a historic landmark, they had to leave the exterior untouched, so I imagine the brownstone church was once occupied by Knights Templar, before massage therapists and hair stylists took over in a bloody battle that left freemasons impaled on thinning shears and colorists disemboweled by halberds and Bohemian Earspoons. The co-owner IS a master mason, so I was on the lookout for hidden statues of Baphomet.There’s something that about strutting into a gutted church, the vaulted ceilings and stained glass intact, to have your body worshiped by a legion of trained, attractive, well-coiffed artisans that inflames the privilege something fierce. I use a back entrance that takes you right to the spa area, down half a floor in an elevator, which gives it all an Eyes Wide Shut meets Get Smart kind of vibe. “Would you believe, under this cloak, I have a schwantz the size of a kosher salami?” Once inside, it’s all dark wood and gleaming chrome, with the sound of a waterfall on river stones behind glass, more of a Rainforest Cafe designed by unimaginative, overmoneyed tech bros. The cheerful receptionist points me toward the men’s locker room, because few men come here, all of us dazed, slightly embarrassed, and afraid we’ll break some kind of spa code and be banished for life. I’ve only met another man in the locker room once or twice and they are either terrified into silence or unnecessarily garrulous: “They got granola,” they’ll announce, pointing to a pitcher of lemon water and the jar that dispenses oats and raisins like a gumball machine at the petting zoo.

Treat your body like a temple, in ours…
I like to make it as uncomfortable as possible, by grunting responses in my brashest of Jersey accents, the one reserved for talking to a longshoreman about a trucker who walked outside the safety lines and got cut in half by a mobile gantry. “What ya gonna do?” So if they think I’m hitting on them, they’ll at least assume I’m a bear. It is a locker room in name only. There are no benches for old men to lounge upon naked with their nutsacks* dangling to the slate floor like a fleshy perpetual motion desk toy. There is folding screen for shy customers to change behind. There is granola, as mentioned. And there are grooming products for you to freshen up with. They don’t have my favorite: Consort hairspray for men. Designed for prospective male concubines, and meant to compliment Hai Karate cologne. My father used a jar of minty fluorescent gloop called Dippity Doo, which sounds like a cartoon dog sidekick. Scrappy Doo’s dumber brother. I have the locker room to myself today, so I change into the provided rubber slippers and a white terrycloth robe as thick and plush as a litter of sleeping Samoyeds, partake of the lemon water, and wait on the faux cowskin sofa until Liz, my massage therapist, knocks on the door.
Proud to say I’ve broken all of these rules in one day.

I’ve been going to Liz for half a year, usually after a few hours of Krav Maga and boxing, so she can undo the damage. She’s from the Dominican Republic and has a house there, which survived the last storm, thank goodness, but needs fixing up. It will be her retirement home. She’s also the deep tissue specialist, and has the strength of a Terminator. When I strained my rotator cuff and could barely move my arm, she tortured me for twenty minutes, muttering quiet succor—”poor baby”—while she crushed my tangled tendons beneath the marble rolling pin of her forearm. I wanted to scream, but one glance at her pitiless gaze and I bit through my tongue and bored holes through the ceiling with my eyes instead. But she fixed me up like Mister Miyagi, so she is a goddess in my eyes. A curly-haired myrmidon of Themyscira, whose iron forearms can deflect bullets like Wonder Woman, though they be bronze flesh and not enchanted vambraces. Liz leads me past rooms labeled “Serenity” (also a brand of adult diaper) and “Haven,” which she opens and tells me to sit on the table and dunk my feet in a washtub of soapy water in which she has sprinkled blue crystals. She could be a witch making bone broth out of my metatarsals. I do not care. I am under the spa spell.The first time she washed my feet I had to pretend she was the Pope, so I didn’t feel like a rich asshole making someone wash my wide-ass Hulk feet. Liz distracts me with talk of New Year’s Day and I try not to laugh because I am ticklish and this is weird as fuck. I have a thirty-year relationship with my podiatrist—I told you I have sasquatch Hobbit feet—but this never feels not wrong. I don’t care how many triple negatives that is. Thankfully it’s over in a minute and Liz leaves me to shuffle off my robe and struggle under the heavy blanket. She knows I wear boxers, but there’s a ritual to this. I think it’s so you can squeeze out any stray farts in solitude. Which would get trapped under the blanket unless she released them like smoke signals.

Shyly changing behind the screen lest others see my no-nos

Which reminds me, don’t those weighted blankets make you dutch oven yourself? How does that soothe your anxiety? As soon as you lift a corner, you’re going to get a whiff of your last three farts, marinated in your own juices. I tried one once, and it felt like being buried up to your neck in a Care Bear’s ass. Speaking of, I roll under the blankie and plant my face in a plush cushion shaped like an ass donut pillow for hemorrhoid sufferers and try not to think it’s a padded toilet seat or a glory hole. I inhale the intoxicating minty beach breeze aromatherapy pumped into the room, so much better than cave-aged blanket farts, and absorb the mellow tones of the Sirius XM Spa channel piped through the speakers. I know the name because the announcer husks it every few minutes like Kathleen Turner on Quaaludes. This is Sirius XM Spaaaaaaa. There’s only one ‘a’ in spa, Kathy. But as I wait, I find myself extending it like a koan. Spaaaaa.Spaaaaaaaaaa.

The music varies from windchime-and-whale fart auditory sleeping pills to spacey lounge and white people appropriating indigenous choruses, and the occasional bored Gregorian monk chanting passages from Revelations with accompaniment on the pan flute. I wish you could bring your own mixtapes. I could dig Isao Tomita’s Snowflakes are Dancing, or the Vangelis soundtrack to Blade Runner. What I listen to relax is drone metal by Sunn O))), three guys in Satanic robes with Marshall stacks that emit the brown note of super subsonic bass that shakes loose RNA from your chromosomes. Sarah says it sounds like garbage trucks downshifting on the highway, but to me it’s like an ASMR channel on YouTube. I don’t even know what that means or how you pronounce it. I say it assmurr. So I’d want to be assmurred out by subwoofers thumping their doom songs like “Her Lips Were Wet With Venom” and “Cursed Realms of the Winterdemons” while Liz donned a black cloak and rubbed me down with 15W50 motor oil and hot stones made from basaltic rock stolen from the tombs of evil warlords whose names were so loathed that the peasantry gouged them from the lintels of their crypts. Then she couldn’t hear me whimper when she grinds her elbow into my lats.

My right lat is abnormally large because I broke my leg by jumping off the ticket booth at the baseball diamond built on a landfill behind my grandma’s house when I was six. What can I say? I thought I was The Hulk. One leg smashed, and grew longer than the other one. I didn’t wear corrective shoe inserts for about ten years when I didn’t have health insurance that covered them. So I used to tie together Dr. Scholl’s heel cushions with duct tape until I felt like I was standing straight, which I wasn’t, and they’d compress and I had serious back pain for years until I got a job with good insurance and could afford the orthotic inserts. I still stand on one leg at shows like some sort of Frankenstein monster sandhill crane hybrid, but years of my body compensating for the leg have left my back a scoliosis disaster, and Liz helps me with the pain by breaking up that tense muscle fiber without mercy.

Did I mention the CBD oil? These sessions are best if you take CBD oil, medical or recreational marijuana, Hawaiian kava root, or preferably all three. I took a massive dose of the first of these, which isn’t supposed to get you intoxicated, but I’m a cannabinoid lightweight and after five minutes of Liz working her shiatsu sorcery, I’m drooling through the terrycloth butt donut face hole and murmuring glossolalic imprecations that would surely summon Baphomet if there truly were ghosts of masonic Templars stalking the flower encrusted halls of this unholy hedonistic sepulchre. I was so mellowed out on the walk down here that I skipped along, pumping nickels into the expired parking meters like an overfed, poodle-haired giggling gnome. And that’s when I really have to fart.

No statues of Baphomet were found in the masonic temple.

You knew this would be a 2000 word fart joke, didn’t you? The problem with holding in a fart during a deep tissue massage is that you tense up, and the massage therapist thinks that means you are either in pain or that they’ve found “the spot,” and start grinding their elbow into your ass cheek like a frantic competitor over-kneading a particularly pasty, over-proofed white dough on the Great British Bake Off. I am the loaf, struggling not to release the gases the yeast has spewn into the glutenous matterhorns of my glutes, while Liz, earnest, professional, unflappable Liz, is rocking me back and forth on the table to loosen my tense muscles. And as I’m squeezing for dear life, I remember the first time Sarah bought me a massage with a Groupon at a little Vietnamese-owned place where we knew the receptionist, and the massage therapist—a taut, black-clad strapping young lad with elbows like daggers—went to work on me in a room so tiny that he climbed up the walls with his feet while his elbow was in my ass cheek, because that’s how much of a tight-ass I am. I gave him a good tip, because that was some parkour level massagery, and also in the hope he wouldn’t talk. “That guy’s ass? It was like hammering granite. I left footprints on the wall. I kept waiting for him to fart and blast me out the air vent.”I didn’t fart that time. But he wasn’t Liz.I can hold my ass kegels for a long time. But Liz is stronger. Assisted by my CBD haze and the new age nasal chorale on the stereo, she defeated me. I cringed as I released what would surely be the interminable, sad death song of a beached narwhal, but I squeaked out what could only be defined as a dry little popcorn fart. A mere blip on the flatulence radar. For someone of my orchestral tuba Le Petomaine concertos, it was barely a fart at all.

Liz laughed. “Good, you relax.” Then she went back at my spine like the bear in The Revenant and breathed in the whispery breeze of sage and butterfly armpits wafting from the aromatherapy machine, knowing the dwarf star death fart was trapped safely beneath the terrycloth, waiting for me when the the massage was over.

Happy new year!



*The things I do for my craft….Benjamin Dreyer is the copy chief for Random House, and the author of Dreyer’s English.



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I went to the first SopranosCon! Fittingly held in The Meadowlands, where so many mob victims fertilize the polluted muck, it exceeded all expectations. I met Dominic Chianese (Uncle Junior), Vincent Pastore (Big Pussy), Burt Young (Paulie from Rocky, and also Bobby Baccala’s father), Kathrinne Narducci (Charmaine Bucco, and Mrs Bufalino in The Irishman), and so many smaller players. Over 50 actors were there, including Drea De Matteo (Adriana) who I only saw on stage, and Tony Sirico, who was too ill to make it on Sunday. Paulie Walnuts, get well soon! Here are some photos from the event. As you can see, they made it look like an Italian festival, with the banners. And of course, they had fresh zeppole for sale.

SopranosCon banner
just like it’s the Feast of San Gennaro….

I also met critics Matthew Zoller Seitz and Alan Sepinwall, who co-wrote The Sopranos Sessions, the invaluable episode by episode dissection of the show. We talked for a while about the show, crime stories, and how great it was to see everyone together again.

Me and Alan Sepinwall and Matt Zoller Seitz
Three Writing Goons

Everyone there was happy! Who would have thought that a show about a killer seeing a psychiatrist would have such a positive vibe? Dominic Chianese sang Italian songs on stage, Tony Darrow did stand-up comedy, Bada Bing dancer Diana Lynn was in a family-friendly costume… The organizers did a great job. It looked professional (and was). Great local food in the food court, with a replica of the Holsten’s booth and a Tony impersonator if you wanted an onion ring. The entry looked like a Turnpike tollbooth:

SopranosCon TollBooth

They made a maze to look like the Pine Barrens, full of quotes and photos of Christopher and Paulie as they searched for the Russian, in the most famous episode. There was even a van, with an empty Nathan’s hotdogs bag, and some packets of relish and ketchup, scattered in the fake snow! It was brilliant.

SopranosCon Maze
“he’s a fuckin’ interior decorator” … “really? his place looked like shit!”

SopranosCon Van
“mix the ketchup with the relish, it’s better!”

me and Burt Young
“I put one kid through college, I put the other through a wall”

me and Vincent Pastore
Big Pussy and Bigger Pussy

me and Dominic Chianese
Uncle Junior

The SopranosCon gang on stage
Sofia Milos speaks, Johnny Sack and others….

They are organizing a “MobMovieCon” in Atlantic City next year, if you are interested. I might go, depending on the guests. It’s refreshing, now that ComiCons have gotten overly huge, that smaller, focused cons like this can flourish. I was just talking with a friend who lamented that Chiller Theater, a New Jersey institution, seems empty now that the cosplayers and stars go to New York ComiCon instead.

This was a great time. I hope they throw another one soon!

Goodbye, Harlan.

Dear Mr Ellison,

I cannot conceal my annoyance that you have gone.

We lost a giant.

That’s not meant as a joke, though Mr. Ellison bore the brunt of cruel nerds who mocked his stature at every turn. The only time I met him was at ICON, held in Stony Brook College, when fans were begging for Simon & Simon to be kept on the air, and demanding a sequel to The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension, when they weren’t mocking Harlan on stage for being short. I think that was the last science fiction convention I went to, and it will remain so. The fandom is venomous, like a snake. A small part will kill you, while the rest can be amazing and beautiful… but I digress. I saw how ugly people could be. He was generous and gracious to me, he signed every book and shirt and record that I bought, and I shook his hand, a hard and knobby workman’s hand, odd for a writer. A fighter’s hand.

And boy, could be fight.

And damn, could he write.

If you haven’t read him, Deathbird Stories is my favorite. That and I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream. You can get the collection The Top of the Volcano for a taste of his very best stories, too. Angry Candy is damn fine, as well.

We spoke on the phone briefly, when I asked him to contribute his stunning, award-winning story “Croatoan” as a reprint in Protectors 2: Heroes. He called me out of the blue, we had been corresponding by letters with the contracts, and he wanted to know who he was dealing with. We chatted for a while, he was 82 years old and sharp and snappy as always. “Hey, kiddo! It’s Harlan Ellison.”

To me, that was my “made it” moment, which most of us have, no matter how silly they are. Harlan Ellison called me.

In 1989, when I wrote Mr Ellison the infamous letter–which was showcased on Letters of Note, Flavorwire, and got me a gig writing an introduction to a Gerald Kersch collection, a writer whose work I was introduced to through Harlan–I must confess, I looked up his phone number and called it, after I mailed the letter. To apologize. He asked fans not to write, because he felt compelled to answer all correspondence–typed, by hand! imagine that now in a day when publishing professionals can’t be arsed to fire off form emails–and after I dropped my letter in the mailbox, I felt guilty. So why not bother him more, with a call?

I confess, he answered. And I was a coward, I hung up.

I prank called my literary hero. So I really deserved that letter, which makes me laugh to this day. He loved it. Being Harlan. Even stars burn out, and he had the energy of several. I’m glad I was alive to see his light, to shake his hand, to hear his voice. I’ll always be proud to have published his reprint. And yes, I put my story afterward. I didn’t want anyone else to have to follow him.

All a writer has is time and a portion of talent.

Thank you, Harlan, for sharing your time and talent with me. I’ll pay you tribute by using both my time and talent to the best of my ability.

Harlan Ellison letter

Joey Ramone on my Atari!

When I was thirteen, me and my friends Jeff and Lonnie started a software company. Not Apple, Microsoft… we were Eclipse Software Productions, and we wrote software for Atari personal computers (not the game consoles, the 800, 800XL, ST, etc). We started by creating images for Broderbund Software’s The Print Shop, which let you print greeting cards, flyers, and so on, on your noisy dot matrix printer. By the end we were writing primitive Word Processing and Check Balancing programs for cheap, selling them all on a floppy disk for $10 when the professional versions cost $49.99 each.

We made a few hundred bucks over a year or so, but we didn’t stick with it, and went our separate ways. As I dive into ’80s nostalgia for a book project, this all came back to me, and one of my favorite memories as a computer nerd in that time was when my hero Joey Ramone appeared in K-Power magazine, a rag for Apple, Atari, TRS-80, and Commodore 64 users and programmers. He gave them an unrecorded demo called “S.L.U.G.” and the staff wrote a BASIC program that would play the tune in all its 8-bit glory, while the lyrics blinked in time to the music. I keyed it in and was overjoyed! The Ramones! on my Atari 800XL! Totally awesome! (that’s ’80s speak for “OMG”). The song is hilariously silly, a love song about a slug, in the ’50s doo-wop vein. It would go really well with a viewing of Slither.

Here are the pages from the magazine with an interview with Joey. If you want the programs to try out on an emulator, the whole issue of K-Power is archived here. Click to embiggen:

Listen to the 8-bit version. But what did it sound like, really? When the Ramones released their “All the Stuff, and More” collections in the late ’90s, the original demo of “S.L.U.G.” was included:

And here’s a video of Joey singing it live in 1998, a few years before he died.

Joey was a hero of mine, a gangly goof who became a legendary rock star by being true to himself and singing about what he wanted, not what was expected of him. And he’s buried in the same cemetery as my grandmother: