Tag Archives: Arts

Kate Licata.

When I think of her, I think of the summer walks I would take from her apartment to the bus station. Hot streets and a warm wind. Elmwood Avenue or Main Street. Sometimes I tangentially drift off into the song “Sunday Morning Coming Down”…

On the Sunday morning sidewalk wishing Lord that I was stoned
Cause there’s something in a Sunday makes a body feel alone
There ain’t nothing short dying half as lonesome as the sound
Of the sleepin’ city sidewalk, Sunday morning coming down

My trips to Buffalo always follow a certain routine. I make appointments with the people with whom I have remained in contact. I talk to Mike Rizzo about staying at his place (he has a nice big house in Sloan, and generously  accommodates me). I look at all the things I need to bring with me and forget most of them. I fill out my schedule as best I can, leaving as little down time as possible, still left with too much when all is said and done.

And then I do a Google search for Kate Licata.

And I never find her.

Until this year. 

Kate and I met during a dinner theater production of Grease. We were instant friends. Outcasts who recognized each other as kindred drifting spirits. I was a musician trying to ingratiate myself with the cast, and she was an actress who felt more at home with the band. In short order, she was letting me stay at her apartment, even though she had a boyfriend. He would come in and out, looking askance at this unfamiliar presence on her couch. I was no threat. I never was a threat. I knew somehow instinctively that if we ever crossed that line that our good times would end, I guess. There was something about her. She made me do things I never did. She and I tried to buy pot from a dude in front of Reuben’s on Pearl Street after a show. He sold us tobacco.

She had this 2-album set of The Zombies’ Greatest Hits. And a little Casio keyboard. And we would take turns changing the lyrics to the songs we knew. “What’s your name, who’s your whorehouse?’ and on and on. We even wrote a song together. “I believe that there are flies, infiltrating all the dead dog’s eyes, and I never saw the spew until I drank the beast with you…” and we would go on and on deep into the morning just having fun.

I liked her right away. God, I loved her. She was wisp-thin, with short red hair. She was wild, and didn’t care what she said or to whom she said it. She was one of those people whose poverty made them free. She drank. She waited tables in the daytime hours to pay her rent. She lived about a half-mile from Reuben’s. So when Grease was over on a Saturday night, I would stay at her place.

Sleepy Sunday mornings. Drinking and laughing and scraping around for money. She came over to my house ONCE, and I think we played Frisbee.  I liked being in the city. The whole point was to escape my house, my surroundings. She let me.

We’d go to open-mike night at a local club and start singing our stupid songs—One lady was singing a song called “Tell Him What You Want”…

“If you want to be happy, tell Him what you want…”

Moreover, she’s have people come up on stage and sing along to this gospel favorite.  Kate and I, of course, were more than willing…

“If you want potato chips, tell him what you want…”

…this effectively ended the evening. We walked to Kate’s laughing hysterically.

She had me over to her family’s house in Lockport a few times. It was surprising to see that this girl, terminally scraping by, should come from such a wealthy home. Maybe my first clue to something deeper. Her father and I sat and watched Notre Dame vs. Michigan. He provided a satirical, barbed play by play not of the athletes or the action on the field, but of the socioeconomic and religious disparity between the two cultures. I thought he was hilarious and brilliant. They all were. Kate and I would sit at the piano and thumb through old music books and sing together. I loved that.  “Summer Me, Winter Me…”

I had, on the odd occasion or a visit from my mother, money. So I’d take her to dinner. We, on one occasion, went to some Indian Restaurant on Main St. and she told me I’d like Frangelico and I should order some.  She taught me the word “aperitif”. What she did not teach me was how fucking expensive that shit is in an Indian Restaurant.

And today I can hear her raspy, deep voice. Those thin, pale arms flailing as she described her philosophy to me. She was an excellent cook and made me dinners that I still recall as being spectacular in their taste and intricacy. We were exploring the idea of living together, even finding a place on Chenango St. with a Wilson Farms across the street. I demurred.

Toward the end of our salad days together, I took her to a wedding, but she was visibly and audibly and olfactorily smashed before she even got in the car. Even so, she got me to dance at the wedding. Did I mention she could make me dance? The song was “I Love You” by People, and just as I was getting over the shock that a wedding band included this in their set list (their FIRST set!) Kate’s swinging fist caught me good in the right eye. I hated weddings and I hated dancing and at that moment I hated her too, even though it was an accident.

Maybe a true friend would have staged an intervention of some sort. And I know it sounds silly, but when she got in the car that day, 12 noon, drunk and slurring, I felt myself letting her go. I came from alcoholic parents, an alcoholic neighborhood. It was hitting too close to home for me now.

I saw her a few times in the city after that, on return trips and whatnot. I bothered her sister a few times about her whereabouts, which I’m sure she appreciated.  I pictured her homeless, still struggling to make her jagged pieces fit into a perfectly circular but merciless society.

So I’m going back to Buffalo.  It was so long ago, but sure as eggs is eggs, I cannot eat a potato chip, drink Frangelico, hear the song “Summer Me Winter Me” or anything by the Zombies, go to an open mic night, listen to my first CD or Leonard Cohen without my mind snapping back to all those aimless evenings, all the laughter and all the freedom she shared with me.

2013-06-02 11.07.28

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Hey! Who took the gabbagoo?

The guys who wrote “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” also wrote “Shine On Harvest Moon”.

“Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic” by The Police, “Beth” by Kiss, “We Got The Beat” by The Go-Gos. “Dancing In The Moonlight” by King Harvest. All these songs have what in common?

Another sensitive female chord progression song is Bon Jovi’s “It’s My Life”, possibly the worst song ever to hit the top 10. A mawkish, thick-headed attempt to relive past glory days by writing basically the same feel-good shit. Yeah, just write some stupid lyrics, throw in some distorted pentatonic noodling, and keep playing it over and over, in different forms. Do an acoustic version! Do it as a waltz! Play it as a Slavic Folk song. Keep it in the public’s face until it becomes a sort of classic-by-association.

Any band that plays an acoustic set but cannot reinvent their accompaniment to facilitate this vastly different discipline is merely wanking to make more money. Nothing more.

Yesterday was the busiest day ever for this blog, and I thank you. I’m still finding my feet, but I do so love writing. Almost as much as I do singing.

The older I get, the more I am convinced that Led Zeppelin were just a group of cynical music thieves. Well-documented are the various complete and utterly fraudulent bastardizations of their betters, but I revisit it now and again to remind me.

I was thinking about the latest incident wherein I was disciplined or admonished by a manager. It was back in March, I think, and it was for singing in my cubicle. And I thought about how choppy a resume I’ve sort of slapped together, and all the stuff that isn’t on it because it’s either too old or not what I want to do any more. I suppose…ahem…you’ve all seen this?

I was a telemarketer for the Buffalo Philharmonic. This was back in 1987 or so. Our job was to solicit credit card donations over the phone. Later, we were asked to call former “subscribers” to the season and ask them to renew. Hot, relevant acts like The Lettermen, John Dankworth and Doc Severinsen were an easy sell. In the middle of our big oak table, strewn with ash trays and coke cans, a wicker basket held about 100 or so blue computer-printed donor cards with information on people who had donated/subscribed in the past season. We (the young, hip co-workers, some of whom I still speak with today) would grab a random sampling and go to town. Not me. I would grab more than my share of cards. Then I would find the women. The ones with “Miss” were the best. Then I would work the Neal Magic©.

“Hi, this is George Smith. I’m calling for the BPO, and I have this script in front of me, but I’ll spare you that if you would like to donate this year like you did last…” or something witty and urbane like that. Thus did I turn my $5.50/hr. base salary into about $6.75/hr via commissions. I actually kept a log of how well I did from week to week. Not just that, though! I actually met 13 women outside the office for dates thanks to my everyman jive. None of them were consummated (and more than one were humiliating) but it was a sport to me. One lady crocheted her own sweater. One wanted to go out dancing at the Playboy Club near the airport, a 40-year -old in stone washed jeans and high heels. One claimed she was a lesbian as soon as we met face to face. One shared her deepest sexual secrets with me over the phone, which was nice. But we had to go and spoil it all by meeting face to face. Who could live up to that?

My manager started to notice that I was eschewing all the male donors in favor of the fairer sex. I was gently admonished and sent back to my seat. It didn’t bother me too much, because I knew that I was starting a new job the next week at a large computer software/hardware distributor in Buffalo, NY. A bus ride from my apartment. Sales. I knew nothing about any of it, but it was exciting, and the money was much much better. But, like most of the things I had done to that point, I exerted the least possible effort, coasting on my gawd-given intellect instead of trying to improve myself.  Sometimes I would go days without showering, wearing the same dirty shirt days in a row. A small heap of ties in the middle of my bedroom to choose from. When I was doing well, it was fantastic. Sadly, eventually, the truth caught up to me. I knew next to nothing about software compatibility (back then it was a big deal) and when a customer would call with a yes or no question about what would work with what, I would just say “yes”. If need be, I would pretend to be on the line with customer service for a few moments, and inevitably come back on the line with an affirmative answer.  One day a savvy customer accepted my answer, called our tech support people HIMSELF, got the REAL answer, and then called my manager to express his disappointment.

This was the job where the owner of the company flew all 100 or so of us to Nashville, TN for some sales conference weekend. It was my first flight, and I have never known such terror. Not because of the bumpy flight, but because it was the first time I had experienced such claustrophobia in my life. Mercifully, we connected in Detroit, so the longest part of the flight was only 1.5 hours.It was a beautiful hotel, but I was in no shape to enjoy myself. You could say something snapped. For some reason, I brought my sad excuse for a boom-box to the hotel, perhaps so I could play my latest 4-track recordings to myself to help me sleep. However, there was a party down the hall, being hosted by a new guy whose name I won’t say here. He was one of those good-time fellas who always seemed to attract a party wherever he went. I wanted to be that. Why wasn’t I that? He wanted to borrow my tape player for his party, so he could enjoy the Grateful Dead while drinking and flirting. So I let him have it. Even though his presence made me sick. There was nothing fundamentally wrong with him. Maybe he was just someone who exemplified everything I was not.

Everyone liked him.

So I’m in my room, trying to get to sleep. But the thought wouldn’t let me go—Why wasn’t I invited? Why does HE have my boom box? Why is he so popular? Am I ever going to see that thing again? Is he, are they…laughing at me? Am I some kind of sucker? Is the tinny warbling of Jerry Garcia’s aimless jamming going to ruin my speakers?

They’re all laughing at me behind my back.

So I did the only thing I could do. I marched into the party, politely handed party boy his 75-minute version of Dark Star or whatever, and yanked that thing out of the wall socket. While the chorus of “Awww…” and “Jeesh..what a…” serenaded my twitching countenance, I ran out of the room, and quietly enjoyed my latest soon-to-be-forgotten 4-track incompetence, serenely satisfied that no one would forget me now.

That act changed people’s opinions about me for years to come, I discovered later. Where I was once just some dude who might have let his love affair with his own musk linger on a bit too long, I was now “that asshole”.

I worked for Harlequin Books in Depew, NY as a temp. It wasn’t as romantic as it sounds (haw haw). Our job was to collect all the mail correspondence, try to decipher what Gertrude Albrecht, age 87, was begging us to no longer send her because she didn’t ask for it and her arthritis kept her from opening our boxes, and click some computer buttons to ensure that we no longer send her that thing.  About 100 times an hour. Over and over. Our manager was Nicole. She was from France. I asked her what “Zoot Allures” meant, but she didn’t know, assuring me that no French person would ever say that. These piles of postcards and letters were called “batches” (every office has these little proprietary terms. I know so many that I sometimes dream in their terms) and when you were done, you would “batch back”, or, as non-sexy French woman Nicole would say, “botch bock”. As ever, one of the first things I learned how to do was a spot-on impression of my boss. I shared it with my co-workers in the break room and they loved it! Once they asked me to do it in front of Nicole herself. I did. She was like John McCain in front of a Wii. Mystified.

I would try to be very funny and open one day, and when I began resenting people’s reaction to that, dead serious. In a small break room, it’s pretty easy to affect other people’s moods with your own, especially when you run to two extremes and nothing in between, like I did. There was one devastating beauty working there, and when she asked me to go bowling, I thought “Boy oh boy!” But she had a boyfriend. Turns out the Harlequin Batchers were a bowling team and they needed a fourth. Cue Mr Hostility. I didn’t speak another word to this poor girl for the entire three months left on my contract. However, it’s still a handy conversation starter to be able to say “I worked at Harlequin Books” and be telling the truth. The stuff about me authoring an entire (rejected) series of books based on lovers who had Down Syndrome, books like “Strong Like Hulk” and “We’re All Winners” were falsehoods, and trying to describe the book cover illustrations becomes burdensome after a while.

I tell people I was a dancer just to see their reactions. You might not find that funny, but it is disarming, and that’s what I thought I was doing. But if people don’t know if you’re kidding or not, pretty soon they just assume you’re kidding. Who has the energy for that?

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