The Buffalo Years

Moving in with Gabe and Nick proved to be quite the experience. There were the 2 bedrooms that they occupied and a little cubbyhole off the kitchen that served as my bedroom. I remember one of the first days there.

“Do you guys mind if I clean this place up a bit?”

Gabe and Nick looked at each other quizzically.

“Uh, no not at all.” Was the hasty reply.

I spent the next couple of days shoveling out pizza boxes, bottles and cans; washing dishes, cleaning out the sink and bathroom and emptying garbage cans. I got it looking pretty decent. That’s when I began hanging out at Nietzsche’s.

Nietzsche’s is an Allentown landmark. Joe Rubino has been limping along with this bar for about 30 years. For the 15 years or so that I have known Joe he has always been just one step ahead of the wolves. There’s no jukebox, no vending machines, other than the 2 coin-operated cashew and peanut dispensers on the column. I believe he has burned every distributor who would come near him. That being said Joe can be a real charmer and seems to be able to get people to work for him for peanuts and free alcohol. He hates confrontations and would rather let his employees fight it out than have to deal with any problems.

I discovered Nietzsche’s one afternoon, shortly after Thanksgiving. I wandered in and found a Christmas tree set up on the stage. I asked the bartender, a very large woman, if she would like me to trim the tree. Eyes went up, “Sure.”

I took off my shirt to impress her (I had a dago tee under the shirt) and proceeded to trim out the tree, complete with tinsel. She gave me a free beer and I hung out for a while. I was going to wind up doing that a lot!

Nietzsche’s had 2 pot smoking areas; the attic and the basement. I’ve whiled away many hours in both places. Got high in the basement twice with Ani Difranco. Met my 3rd girlfriend, who became my 2nd wife, smoking in the basement. The place was quite a collection of characters. Mike Cousin, the woodcarver who used to make his crude carvings out in front of the bar. Mike Meldrum; world-class alcoholic with his long-running Monday Night Open Mic where I actually played and sang for the 1st time. Nancy Gabriel the aggressive lesbian bartender with the heart of gold. Bumper the costumed dog dressed as Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny. Emile Latimer; percussionist extraordinaire who played with Taj Mahal, among others. Mir Ali; world-class classical guitarist. All willing to sit and chat over a beer or 2 on a Sunday afternoon. It is what I imagine Greenwich Village of the 50s must’ve been like. We knew all of the club owners, all of the bartenders, which were the coke bars, the pickup bars and we all lived in the same neighborhood. It was quite a time for me, unlike anything I’d ever experienced.

I had been smoking pot in the basement when I met Annie. She was with a friend of hers and after passing a joint I decided to leave and let them chat. I was a bit disappointed. I went up and sat at the end of the bar on the radiator. A few minutes later Annie came up and sat next to me. She reached behind me and put her hand in my back pocket, just as I reached behind her and put my hand in her back pocket.

“Are we going to get into trouble?” I asked.

“I certainly hope so.” She replied.

It was a step off a cliff I would live to regret.

Annie wasn’t much to look at; rather androgynous I would say but, there was something appealing about her hippie lifestyle. Her features were very sharp and she was a smoker with bad teeth. Not very attractive I must admit. She had an apartment on Gill Alley, off of Breckenridge; a 1 bedroom walk-up where she lived with her 2 daughters. She and I slept in the living room, it was quite cozy. Having lived with boys all my life (I was about 55) it was a very strange environment. I learned more than I ever wanted to know about young women.

Why I ever thought marrying Annie was a good idea I’ll never know. The wedding was pretty cool, though. Annie was amongst a circle of friends who spent their summers at the Canadian beach house of a mutual friend of ours, Lobo.

Lobo was a burnt out Acid Freak only recently returned from San Francisco, where he had spent much of the 60s, 70s and 80s. Quite the drinker; he was one of those drunks who went from cheerful and smiling to blubbering incoherently without skipping a beat. Later on in our relationship, I would have to cut him loose. I didn’t want the responsibility of seeing him home. Night after night.

His parents had owned this beach house since the 50’s. It was up about 40 or 50 feet over the water on a rise of rock and sand. The raising and lowering of the heavy wooden stairway became an annual ritual. Annie and I rather quickly and impetuously decided to get married on the beach in Canada. It was the high point of our marriage. After that it was all downhill!

According to Annie’s astrologer we had to get married on a full moon in July. Hey, what did I give a shit? Annie was supposed to be planning the wedding but, when we reached the end of May and virtually nothing had been done, my project manager instincts kicked in. We designed the logo and a clever poem for the invitations and had them printed up, made arrangements for Annie’s sister and brother-in-law; Jeannie and Bob to cater the affair; Lobo was providing the place and the booze with miscellaneous other people kicking in various services. Just enough to balance everything out so that the $2000 that her father and my mother had kicked in, almost covered the miscellaneous expenses of the wedding. But a good time was had by all and I was glad mom could get down. Adrian made it up from Norfolk, where he was stationed at the time. It was very memorable. Not that memory was needed.

I had a very good friend who was an architect and an amateur, yet skilled, videographer. Using some of the best technology at the time (pre-digital), he captured the entire thing in a beautiful linear fashion, capturing all of the best moments of the night that lasted the entire weekend. There was even a sequence that was shot in night-vision format that we titled, “What the Neighbors Thought They Saw.” The Ceremony, the Sacred Circle, the Bonfire all captured and edited on-the-fly to make a 90 minute video that people would actually come over and ask to see; some on several occasions. Even I found it entertaining!

Annie disappeared immediately after the wedding ceremony and was gone for almost 2 hours. Apparently being served by the other members of the Band. When we reconnected I was really quite disappointed to realize that the 40 buttons on the back of her wedding dress which I had hoped to open, one at a time, had already been opened by the rest of the Evil Band. It was the first of what proved to be a protracted series of battles which would leave no man, or woman , unscathed.

On the plus side, Annie introduced me to Brushwood, a clothing optional, pagan-based campground founded and run by Frank and Darlene Barney, a couple of aging hippies, much like myself. I was a little put off when, as soon as we got to our campsite, Annie proceeded to rip off her top and began gathering firewood. I was egged a little further on, when I saw fellow come striding past our campsite with just a walking stick and a hat. But I still felt quite self-conscious as soon as I took my pants off. That is, until we turned the corner!

We heard some hammering and headed over to the main fire dome to see what was going on. As we turned the corner into the dome, we saw a rather hefty woman, topless, making massive swings of her hammer as her enormous breasts slopped ponderously from one side to the other. Suddenly, I didn’t feel so self-conscious.

I envisioned Annie and I spending summers between this place and Lobo’s beach house. We actually wound up going our separate ways. It seems Annie wasn’t near the freethinker she thought she was. Perhaps our purpose together was for her to lead me into a way of life that was so completely alien to me. Brushwood was, at its root, a hippie commune with sections for Druids, Goths, Wicca and us Hedonists; a spiritual mash up open to all sorts of possibilities.

Drug of choice in my neighborhood? Good old cannabis! Easy, cheap nonaddictive, smokable, never fatal, no hangover. For what more could one ask? We saved the Acid, the mushrooms and Ecstasy for special occasions such as; Starwood, the week long festival sponsored by A.C.E., The Association for Consciousness Expansion, immediately following our more local festival known as Sirius Rising. For us residents. It was a time of all-night drumming, crowded hot tubs and, at least one time, many hours of volunteering to offset the cost of admission. I found the all-night drumming quite soothing. The festivals also brought psychedelics around.

The first summer I bought 3 hits of acid which I took immediately prior to the final day’s bonfire. I recall it kicking in as the flames of the bonfire grew higher and higher. I remember a ceremony, sometime around midnight, by a voodoo priestess from New Orleans. I remember sitting in the hot tub with a 70-year-old hippie chick with leathery skin and dreads. I remember my friend from Hawaii with 2 titanium bone replacements in her legs teaching me how to swing Poi. We would become good friends over the course of the two summers. I never understood why Annie chose not to attend the festivals. Once again the opportunity to cheat presented itself, though I never took advantage.

One delightful morning, as several of us were lying around, Jackie perked up and asked, “Anybody wanna day trip? I have some acid!”

She didn’t have to ask twice. So, 4 of us dropped acid, around noon. We went to Naked Bob’s site to snag 4 truck inner tubes and hauled them up to the pond at the top of the Hill. There we spent the next 4 hours floating naked, on a pond, with lily pads, cattails and dragonflies. Memorable, to say the least! Even the people who were working that day came by for the contact high.

Early on, I had moved my pop-up camper to Brushwood and it provided the perfect primitive camp; no electricity, no water, sleeping 4 feet off the ground with screens on 3 sides down to the mattress. I loved it! The 2 summers I spent there were some of the greatest of my life. My to-do list had only one item: Keep Beer Cold! I would get up in the morning, at some point I would wander the quarter-mile to the office put some ice in the little red wagon and drag it back to the site. This might take several hours, depending on my mood. Such was life at Brushwood. In October I would return to city life.

Sometimes, this dual life made for some interesting events like the night I was at a small restaurant on Allen Street. As I was paying my check, I turned around and bumped into a young woman with dreads. We looked at each other in startled recognition.

“Umm… Where do I know you from?”

It took a few seconds.

“Brushwood?”

“Hot tub?”

Just 12 hours before we had both been naked in the hot tub, talk about a confusing context!

Nancy Gabriel and I had butted heads on a number of occasions, until one fateful night as we were listening to some music. I was sitting next to the phone booth at Nietzsche’s, when suddenly I saw a brilliant white flash. I picked my head up off the table, looked at Gabe and said, “What just happened?”

Apparently, the music had vibrated the telephone booth enough that the 12 inch speaker that was sitting on top of it fell off. The corner of the speaker cabinet hit me square on top of the head. I was dazed but, no apparent concussion. Two lawyers immediately handed me cards. One of them told me I could own the bar. I just wanted someone to pay the ambulance and emergency room bills. After that Nancy and I became close friends.

Both of my sons, and I, have worked for Joe on and off over the years, it’s been quite a journey. I think all three of us have quit, or been fired, several times. For some strange reason, Joe is not talking to either Adrian or Gabe. None of us knows why.

During this time I got divorced from Annie, dated for about a month, and then met Catherine online; disastrous relationship, number four.

I subbed for PJ, the legendary weekend doorman, once or twice. And, when he was diagnosed with cancer and needed time off, I worked the door for several months. Actually, I got all the shitty nights and PJ would get called in on the really crowded nights and big shows, the doorman got a cut of the night’s receipts.

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