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

SEEN, READ 2020

I really liked this idea by Steven Soderbergh, so I’ll be updating this post all year. I used to use GoodReads and NetFlix to keep track, but that’s not complete, and it can disappear at corporate whim. This can too, but less likely.

All caps, bold: MOVIE
bold: concert, show, other event
All caps: TV SERIES
Italics: Book or Comic Book
Quotation marks: “Play” / “Broadway Show” LOL what are those?
Italics, quotation marks: “Short Story” or “Poem”(all this shit stole from Steven Soderbergh)

1/1
SCHITT’S CREEK (S3 1-6)
Mr. Know-it-All: The Tarnished Wisdom of a Filth Elder, by John Waters.
1/2
Criminal #11
1/3
FAT GIRL
1/5
HUSTLERS
1/6
“Ride-Along”, Ron Riekki (Akashic: Mondays are Murder).
1/7
DARE ME 2
1/8
“Playing Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain”, Jamil Jan Kochai (The New Yorker).
1/9
“The Porcupine Method”, J. Danielle Dorn (Tough Crime).
THE MANDALORIAN (6 7 8)
1/10
HARRY AND THE HENDERSONS
MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE
1/12
READY OR NOT
1/13
DARE ME 3.
THE IN-LAWS (1979)
1/15
Sing, Unburied, Sing, by Jesmyn Ward.
1/16
“Found Wanting,” Douglas Stuart (The New Yorker)
“I Sexually Identify as an Attack Helicopter,” Isabel Fall (Clarkesworld)
SEIS MANOS S1 1-2
1/18
THE ULTIMATE WARRIOR (1975)
SCHITT’S CREEK S3 6-13, S4 1-2.
1/20
SCHITT’S CREEK S4 2-7.
1/21
“Visitor,” by Bryan Washington (The New Yorker)
TWIN PEAKS S1 PILOT.
1/22
“God,” by Ben Loory (BOMB Magazine)
TWIN PEAKS S1 2-3
1/23
“A Girlfriend’s Guide to Gods,” by Maria Dahvana Headley (TOR)
NO BLADE OF GRASS
1/26
SEIS MANOS (S1 3-8)
1/27
The Writing Life, by Annie Dillard.
1/28
LITTLE WOMEN (2019)
1/29
GEORGE CARLIN: IT’S BAD FOR YA
1/30
“Sussex, Essex, Wessex, Northumbria,” by Brandon Taylor (Oprah Magazine)
ONCE UPON A TIME… IN HOLLYWOOD
2/1
FORD V FERRARI. DARE ME 4.
2/2
THE MALTESE FALCON (1941)
1917
Criminal #12
2/3
The Way We Die Now, by Charles Willeford
2/4
“King of the Blue Rose,” by William R. Soldan (Tough Crime)
“Killer Roll,” by Naomi Hirahara (Discover Nikkei)
Goliath, by Tom Gauld
JOKER
2/5
“Things We Worried About When I Was Ten,” by David Rabe (New Yorker)
Islands Linked by Ocean, by Lisa Linn Kanae
SCHITT’S CREEK S4 3-10
2/6
THE JUNIPER TREE
I WALK ALONE (1947)
2/7
“Turistas,” by Hector Acosta (¡Pa’Que Tu Lo Sepas!)
“The Bones of Rio Rico,” by David Bowles (¡Pa’Que Tu Lo Sepas!)
2/8
Goliath, by Tom Gauld
2/9
HAIR LOVE
HARRIET
2/10
“Deportees,” by James Lee Burke (The Strand)
“Carnival,” by Laura Benedict (The Strand)
2/11
SCHITT’S CREEK S4 11-13, S5 1-2
2/12
THE LAST BLACK MAN IN SAN FRANCISCO
DARE ME 6
2/13
“The Lost Performance of the High Priestess of the Temple of Horror,” by Carmen Maria Machado (Granta)
2/14
BLINDED BY THE LIGHT
2/15
“Girls Without Their Faces On,” by Laird Barron
“Thin Cold Hands,” by Gemma Files
“Shit Happens,” by Michael Marshall Smith (The Best Horror of the Year Volume Eleven)
2/16
City of Margins, by William Boyle
I Kind of forgot for a few weeks so here’s a summation…
2/20
BAXTER
2/21
MEL BROOKS: UNWRAPPED
DARE ME 7
TWIN PEAKS S1 4 5
2/24
Briarpatch, by Ross Thomas
BETTER CALL SAUL S5 1 2
BRIARPATCH 1 2
THE NIGHTINGALE (did not finish)
DEATH OF A SALESMAN (did not finish)
“Sand People,” by Maria Lioutaia (One Story)
“Lethe,” by Leanna James Blackwell (True Story)
2/29
YELLA
3/2
CABARET (1972)
3/3
Agency, by William Gibson
BETTER CALL SAUL S5 3
DARE ME 8
BETTER THINGS S4 1 2 3
3/4
“With the Beatles,” by Haruki Murakami. (The New Yorker
3/6
PORTRAIT OF A LADY ON FIRE
And I Do Not Forgive You, by Amber Sparks
3/7
THE COLOUR OUT OF SPACE
3/8
The Lost Bayou Ramblers and Poguetry at Rough Trade NYC
3/9
“Allocthon,” by Livia Llewellyn (The Best of the Best of the Horror of the Year, ed. Ellen Datlow)
DARE ME 9 10
3/10
“Paper Menagerie,” by Ken Liu (Gizmodo/Magazine of Fantasy & SF)
3/12
Jack Waters, by Scott Adlerberg
3/13
You Will Not Be Forgotten,” by Mary South (The New Yorker)
JOHN WICK 3: PARABELLUM
3/14
BETTER CALL SAUL S5 E4
BETTER THINGS S4 4
3/15
SCHITT’S CREEK S5 8-12
Dreyer’s English, by Benjamin Dreyer.
3/16
SCHITT’S CREEK S6 1-4
3/17
VIDEODROME
SCHITT’S CREEK S6 5-7
3/18
IN A LONELY PLACE
3/19
TWIN PEAKS S1 6-7
3/20
“The Promised Hostel,” by Mary South (The Baffler)
TWIN PEAKS S1 8 (finale) S2 1
3/21
Fleishman is in Trouble, by Taffy Brodesser-Akner
THE ANDERSON TAPES
3/22
CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON
3/23
Broken, by Don Winslow
BETTER CALL SAUL S5 5
BETTER THINGS S4 5
3/24
VAGABOND
SCHITT’S CREEK S6 8-11
3/25
Ronald Rabbit is a Dirty Old Man, by Lawrence Block
3/26
HISTORY OF THE WORLD PART I
3/27
STUBER
3/28
THE TIGER KING 1
MANDY
3/29
THE RUNNING MAN
BETTER CALL SAUL S5 6
BETTER THINGS S4 6
THE TIGER KING 2 3
3/30
L’ATALANTE
BETTER CALL SAUL S5 7
THE TIGER KING 4 5 6
3/31
EATING RAOUL
THE TIGER KING 7
SCHITT’S CREEK S6 12
4/1
TWIN PEAKS S2 2 3
4/2
TWIN PEAKS S2 4
4/3
THE DECAMERON
PATHER PANCHALI
4/4
“Love Letter,” by George Saunders (The New Yorker)
“Bullet in the Brain,” by Tobias Wolff
BETTER THINGS S4 7
4/5
Cutting Edge: New Stories of Mystery and Crime by Women Writers, edited by Joyce Carol Oates
LOCAL HERO
4/6
GAS, FOOD, LODGING
4/7
THE LONG DAY CLOSES
QUEEN & SLIM
“The Everest Society,” by Shannon Sanders (OneStory)
4/8
SOLARIS (1972)
4/9
TEX AVERY’S SCREWBALL CLASSICS VOL.1
SCHITT’S CREEK S6 13-14
You Will Never Be Forgotten, by Mary South
4/10
The Burglar in Short Order, by Lawrence Block
Things from the Flood, by Simon Stålenhag
The Recently Deflowered Girl: The Right Thing to Say on Every Dubious Occasion, by Edward Gorey
4/11
UNCUT GEMS
Prisoner 489, by Joe R. Lansdale
4/12
THE LITTLE PRINCE (2015)
The Banks, by Roxane Gay, Ming Doyle.
4/13
TEKKONKINKREET
BETTER CALL SAUL S5 8
BETTER THINGS S4 8
4/15
TOM & JERRY SPOTLIGHT COLLECTION VOL.3
THE COOK, THE THIEF, HIS WIFE, AND HER LOVER
“Snakes in the Lobby,” by Amie Barrodale (Ploughshares)
4/16
FROM HELL IT CAME
NIGHTFALL
4/17
“I Happy Am,” by Jamel Brinkley (Ploughshares)
4/18
“How to Make a Monster,” by Nyssa Chow (Ploughshares)
THE SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW
4/19
SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK
CATS
4/20
BETTER CALL SAUL S5 9
BETTER THINGS S4 9
4/21
The Grand Dark, by Richard Kadrey
BETTER CALL SAUL S5 10
4/23
PALE FLOWER
Patience, by Daniel Clowes
BETTER THINGS S4 10
4/24
“The Smart House of Mrs. O,” by Lincoln Michel (Granta)
HARVEY
4/26
9 TO 5
SALESMAN
4/28
MOTHERLESS BROOKLYN
4/29
RAISING ARIZONA
4/30
HAROLD AND MAUDE
PARKS AND RECREATION QUARANTINE SPECIAL
5/1
BETTER THINGS S4 11
FLESH GORDON
CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND
5/2
STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER
5/3
Shuggie Bain, by Douglas Stuart
PHASE IV
5/4
MY LIFE AS A DOG
5/8
THE MUPPET MOVIE
The Darkling Halls of Ivy, edited by Lawrence Block
5/10
PASSION FISH
5/12
Dead Girl Blues, by Lawrence Block
BLOOD QUANTUM
5/13
THE STATION AGENT
5/15
LITTLE FUGITIVE
5/16
Have a Good Trip: Adventures in Psychedelics
5/17
RUBBER
5/18
The Giant’s House, by Elizabeth McCracken
5/22
DOWN IN THE DELTA
5/23
HISTORY IS MADE AT NIGHT
THE LOVEBIRDS
5/25
French Exit, by Patrick Dewitt
5/27
DOWN BY LAW
5/28
A HIDDEN LIFE
FLEABAG S1 1-6
5/29
FLEABAG S2 1-6
5/30
Blacktop Wasteland, by S.A. Cosby
6/1
THE PEANUT BUTTER FALCON
6/4
Worse Angels, by Laird Barron
6/5
WISE BLOOD
6/12
POLICE STORY
POLICE STORY 2
6/13
SMILEY FACE
6/14
WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS S1 1-4
6/16
City of Lost Fortunes, by Bryan Camp
“Of Mice and Manny,” by Todd Robinson (Beat to a Pulp)
6/18
“Confessions of a Shinagawa Monkey,” by Haruki Murakami (New Yorker)
6/19
WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS S1 5-10
“White Noise,” by Emma Cline (New Yorker)
6/23
SERIAL MOM (commentary with John Waters and Kathleen Turner)
6/26
THE NEW LOONEY TUNES S1-10
That Texas Blood #1, by Chris Condon and Jacob Phillips
6/27
GO FOR SISTERS
6/30
American Spy, by Lauren Wilkinson
7/2
Butcher’s Moon, by Richard Stark
ALL OF ME
7/3
HAMILTON: THE MUSICAL
7/4
XANADU
7/5
SUPERMAN: THE MOTION PICTURE
7/6
Weather, by Jenny Offill
7/8
TIGERS ARE NOT AFRAID
7/9
The Cabin at the End of the World, by Paul G. Tremblay
7/10
WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS S2 1-8
7/11
WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS S2 9-10
7/13
DIRTY DANCING
7/14
PLAYTIME
7/15
TIGERLAND
7/16
LOST HIGHWAY
7/17
THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS
7/18
M. HULOT’S HOLIDAY
MON ONCLE
EMPIRE RECORDS
7/19
Claire of the Sea Light, by Edwidge Danticat
7/20
TRESPASS AGAINST US
7/22
APOLLO 11
Gretchen, by Shannon Kirk
7/23
THE BLACK HOLE
7/25
Gun Street Girl, by Adrian McKinty
7/26
The Fuck-Up, by Arthur Nersesian
7/28
POLICE ACADEMY
7/30
ARTHUR (1981)
8/7
JUST MERCY
8/8
Bad Mother #1 by Christa Faust and Mike Deodato
DON’T WORRY, HE WON’T GET FAR ON FOOT
8/9
Night. Sleep. Death. The Stars, by Joyce Carol Oates
8/10
“Fate and Ruin,” by Mary Grimm. (One Story)
8/11
Pulp, by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips
8/16
LOVECRAFT COUNTRY E1
“The Whores Go Down With the Stars,” by Sarah Jilek (Tough Crime)
8/17
“Pulling,” by R. D. Sullivan (Tough Crime)
8/18
Lovecraft Country, by Matt Ruff
8/22
DRESSED TO KILL
8/23
LOVECRAFT COUNTRY E2
8/26
The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts, by Maxine Hong Kingston
8/28
BILL AND TED FACE THE MUSIC
8/29
Little Fox, by Edward van de Vendel and Marije Tolman
BLACK PANTHER
8/30
The Code of the Woosters, by P. G. Wodehouse
LOVECRAFT COUNTRY E3
9/1
Tricky, by Josh Stallings
9/2
JEEVES AND WOOSTER S1 1 2
9/3
“The Weddings,” by Alexander Chee (Kindle single)
9/4
BIRDS OF PREY
9/5
THUNDERPANTS
9/6
LOVECRAFT COUNTRY E4
9/7
The Decameron, by Giovanni Boccaccio
JEEVES AND WOOSTER S1 3 4 5
9/14
LOVECRAFT COUNTRY E5
9/15
THE MULE (2014)
9/18
CLASS ACTION PARK
9/19
Bad Mother #2, by Christa Faust and Mike Deodato
THE DEVIL ALL THE TIME
9/20
The Unexpected Universe, by Loren Eiseley
Beowulf: A New Translation, by Maria Dahvana Headley
“Evidence,” by Kaitlin Greenidge (Georgia Review)
That Texas Blood #2 #3, by Chris Condon and Jacob Phillips
9/22
LOVECRAFT COUNTRY E6
9/24
Frog and Toad: A Little Book of Big Thoughts, by Arnold Lobel
FREE SOLO
9/25
THE MAN WHO KILLED DON QUIXOTE
9/27
The Country of Ice Cream Star, by Sandra Newman
“The Rest of Us,” by Jenzo DuQue (One Story)
Griffin & Sabine, by Nick Bantock
9/28
LOVECRAFT COUNTRY E7
9/29
The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2019, edited by Sy Montgomery and Jaime Green
The Secret Lives of Color, by Kassia St. Clair
10/4
The Night Will Find Us, by Matthew Lyons
10/5
A Pocketful of Crows, by Joanne M. Harris
LOVECRAFT COUNTRY E8
10/11
The Fisherman, by John Langan
10/12
LOVECRAFT COUNTRY E9
10/13
Generally Speaking: All 33 columns, plus a few philatelic words from Keller, by Lawrence Block
WIN WIN

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!

-TP

PS:

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

 

SopranosCon!

(If you are looking for regular updates, you’ll want to subscribe to my newsletter, Goombah Gumbo)

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!

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:

img957685

Hap and Leonard, and Joe schooling me

I’ll be reviewing the new Sundance series based on Joe Lansdale’s books, Hap & Leonard, for Criminal Element. The first episode gets the tone and the characters just right. Hop on over to Criminal Element for my full review. I’ve been a fan of the disastrous duo since Savage Season, all the way to Vanilla Ride. I have some catching up to do, there’s a new one called Honky Tonk Samurai that just hit the stores.

Here’s Joe putting me in a fingerlock at Bouchercon in Albany, 2013.

wpid-IMG_20130920_114722.jpg

Sending Off a Soldier

My great-uncle Dominic, one of the inspirations for “Grandpa Butch” in Blade of Dishonor, and one of the men to whom I dedicated the book, passed away this month in his sleep. His son Richie, a Vietnam veteran, held a memorial to his departed father this Sunday. Family and friends filled the VFW hall in Nutley, where Uncle Butch sang karaoke, just a few weeks prior.

Uncle Butchie, as we called him, was an unforgettable character. Six feet tall, sporting a Stetson and a handlebar mustache that would make him the envy of every hipster this side of Portlandia, he also possessed a booming voice and a bottomless collection of jokes and yarns, usually just slightly off color. His favorite involved adultery, a refrigerator, and a Volkswagen.

He was a man of great heart. I still remember his New Year’s Eve parties. Dancing with Aunt Josie to Hank Williams. At his memorial this Sunday, two mellifluously voiced bikers sang “Your Cheatin’ Heart” in his honor. And shortly after, “Taps” was played, to send off the old soldier. Dominic served in World War II. Some of his training was done in the South. Maybe that’s where he picked up the hat he wore for years, and his manner of speech. He didn’t have a New Jersey accent. He was full-blood Italian, but always looked and sounded like he walked out of a John Wayne picture. Though he did roofing and plumbing, and drove a white Town Car a mile long, you wouldn’t have doubted it, if someone said he had a cattle ranch and had just roped a steer.

Much of the family gathered for the memorial, including his brother Jimmy. The last of his brother and sisters. As they say, these events are for the living. To set in our minds the man who left us, and remind us of those we still have. I was honored when my cousin Corey, Uncle Dominic’s granddaughter, asked to use my dedication for part of the photo memorial, including the photos of uncles Dominic and Jimmy at the book premiere. Here it is. You can read the full dedication here.

IMG_20141019_160849

He will not be forgotten. He touched so many lives, helped so many around him. He danced and sang until the week he died, well into his nineties. He was steadfast and loyal but always had time for a good laugh. A good example for all of us.

And here’s that joke. I wish I could tell it like he could.

Three men are in line at the Pearly Gates before St. Peter.
“Okay, I need to know how you died, to see if you can get into heaven.”
The first man says, “I was just taking my Volkswagen convertible out for a drive. I pull up to a stop sign, and boom! I woke up here. I don’t know what happened.”
The second man snaps, “He don’t belong here. Let me tell you how I died. I’m a hard working man. I work so hard, I forgot to bring my lunch bag today. So I go back home, and when I get to the door, I can hear my wife is in there with another man! By the time I get the door open, she’s pulling her clothes on, but I see his socks, by the open window! He’s out there in his convertible! I’m so enraged, I pick up the refrigerator, and throw it out the window on top of him!”
St. Peter goes “Hmm, well, stand over there, I need to think about you two.” He turns to the last guy. “What’s your story?”
The man shrugs. “Well, I was hiding in the refrigerator.”

Like I said… if Uncle Butchie told it, you’d be laughing.

I’ll miss you, Uncle Butchie. Thank you for being the man you were.

Here’s some of my family and me, at the memorial. Great Uncle Jimmy in front, my Uncle Paul to the right (he’s getting the next book dedicated to him!) and my cousins lined up behind. Richie, Butch’s son, is to the right of me.

10387043_10202910362149334_545032489979445121_o