CONTENTS | LR

Short Cuts
Frequent references to Jersey City mark me as a resident. My status is both pre-MB (mad bomber) and pre-RM (Republican Mayor); I go back to Cucci. This should by all rights confer on me the same respected seniority as buying a book before the movie tie-in.

People often forget my first name and call me Chris instead. I allowed the entire staff of a Newark Avenue establishment to string this out for two years before tiring of it. Perhaps I'm too accommodating. I don't even look like a Chris. There's no link.

One time an aggressively kind but drunk man offered to help me move my couch up a flight of stairs, wouldn't take "No" for an answer, fell under the couch, and later died of complications everyone assured me were unrelated to the accident. The lesson: don't make "No" a question. I don't have the couch anymore, either.

I carried a pink reclining chair – it's a nice shade, actually – from Manhattan's Upper East Side to my apartment via PATH. I finally got a seat. My wife hugged the ottoman and tripped. She appeared to fly down a flight of subway stairs...

Before buying my car I rolled all of my possessions down Montgomery Street in a laundry cart; bought antique chairs at the Salvation Army thrift store and marched them across town; flagged a taxi at Journal Square and filled it to overflowing ("Just one more lamp") for yet another move.

I've been kicked out of my apartment by one landlord to make room for his unlucky-in-love daughter, had my security deposit brazenly stolen by another, and inhabited what a classified ad failed to describe as a dungeon which flooded so often that boots were de rigueur for treks to the bathroom. Incidentally, my wife and I feel more comfortable around deaf people for reasons having to do with personal artistic expression and commitment, so we try to live next door to them. Deaf people, not artists. And we do.

I enjoy showers in the dark.

My wife, normally so proper during business hours that casual Fridays give her the hives, slipped under a police line and avoided a police gut by inches at a Brennan Courthouse rally for soon-to-be-president Clinton. The spirit moved her; she later told me all about it.

I accidentally insulted our city's current mayor (don't ask) before he was elected and went on to fame, Rush Limbaugh, and a broader base from which to be admired. I seem to have a talent, in fact, for alienating some people before we're properly introduced. A kind of radar, perhaps.

I've sat all the way through a city council meeting to the end, forever and amen. I have new respect for city clerk and council referee Robert Byrne, whom I once saw gifted with a troll doll from an audience member for reasons unknown.

A man once tried to sell me a flowerpot at 2 am on Prescott Street. It wasn't his, which made him all the more persistent. It is an Urban Enterprise Zone.

There was a brief warrant for my arrest by the Newark Police Department. It concerned a parking violation committed by my car a few years ago. Yes, they will arrest you for this kind of thing, if you ignore them like the gnats they are. At least they say they will. Newark later lifted the warrant and sent an apology because there were inconsitencies in the record. Then they sent a reminder.

Several years ago I abandoned a Volkswagon in Ohio, so I'm no innocent.

Remember the blizzard of '93? My car was ticketed, oddly enough at 2am, for double parking next to a snowbank. Somebody explain to me:
1) How this is significantly different from being mugged.
2) Why the rest of city government doesn't keep these hours.

I bought my newest car with blood money: my own. It was chiefly financed with an insurance settlement awarded me when somebody with a Lincoln Towncar tossed me around in my Toyota Tercel like a surprised Democrat. Is this like getting shot than buying a gun? RIP, you "car for the common man."

This was my second such tango, my first involving temporary employment in Fort Lee as a crash-test dummy, pedestrian division, hired to place a severe stress test on the front bumper of a Chevrolet. It passed. I didn't.

My auto insurance wasn't renewed. I'm one of those 2 percenters. You'll know what I'm talking about if you belong to the club. Thanks, Hanover. And thank you, former Governor Florio, for teaching me how politics involves loopholes and retrograde amnesia.

I've driven across the country in two days and hitchhiked much of it in three. Who needs Continental? The trick to hitching is to keep walking, sdrawkcab if necessary, and watch out for people driving stolen pickup trucks in Kansas. They can stop being friendly faster than you can say "Let me out."

One night in the fall of 1984 I walked halfway across the country of Luxembourg. This is not difficult. I don't even want to discuss what happened in Amsterdam. It was a misunderstanding not aided or abetted by the fact that I was a teenager and he was a psychopathic lunatic, which I think is the technical classification.

I asked a woman for a date after helping her to evict a naked man from her doorstep. This was when I lived in Manhattan, and before I got married.

For five years my television remained dark while I came to terms with my addiction. Attention Alan Bloom: please redefine cultural illiteracy. I'm so out of it I only saw the Great White Bronco Chase by merest coincidence. I was in San Francisco at the time, along with OJ's mother; not a connection I could sell to A Current Affair. I only let myself watch TV while on vacation, which makes a kind of sense.

My new VCR and I rented 14 movies our first week together. It felt good.

I'm a firm believer in a limited but tasteful wardrobe, and have a repertoire of five white shirts and one red shirt for when I'm feeling REALLY special. Ties just don't sound nice. Why wear one?

It can be documented that I worked 19 jobs, some simultaneously, in a ten year period, but was never fired. Look in Social Security's files under 'Bookstore clerk' (10+ entries); see also 'Parking Lot attendant'. Happiness, I've since discovered, comes in finding the right context.

As one so often trapped in the endless cycle of employment – it isn't hard to find a bad job – allow me to assert that unemployment benefits are often misallocated. Hey, I know you paid for it. But it's insurance, remember? Mencken said the government is a cow with 125 millions teats, which still holds true except for the math.

My mother collects refrigerator magnets in the shape of those United States she has visited. She includes states she's flown over. Is that legal? Dad lets her.

I've had a rolled-up newspaper hurled at me from a moving car that I wasn't even chasing. Hint: I'm not a dog. This was on Kennedy Boulevard, near Lincoln Park. It may have been the Jersey Journal.

I've met Journal Editor-in-Chief Stephen Newhouse. He's short, at least in my memory, but probably pleasant enough. To be fair, I'm not much taller in the scheme of things. I sort of like Peter Weiss, but is he really as short as his headshot suggests? I have nightmares in which columnist Sally Deering is chasing me in curlers (both of us), singing: "You and me, 'twas meant to be / Come back from 'round that big ol' tree / SEE YOU NEXT WEEK! SEE YOU NEXT WEEK! SEE YOU NEXT WEEK!"

Speaking of the local press, I was an admirer of Andy Newman in his Hudson County Reporter days. Then, he bicycled around the state and wrote fascinating stories about it; then, he disrobed with naturists to sketch in some recessary details about them; now, in a not-even-lateral move to the Journal, he stretches his wings no longer. Was it the money, Andy? Why didn't you just ask?

Don't Confuse Andy Newman with Randy Newman, who is a singer/songwriter perhaps best known for his composition 'Short People' and less known for 'Pants', a cut on his album Born Again. Refrain: "Gonna take off my PANTS."

Just for fun I like to watch the bylines of Reporter staff come and go. What is it with that place, asbestos? Joseph Barry?

I live by referrals, and am cultivating a 'Nice Guy Network'. The NGN disintegrates about two friend-of-a-friends deep, and is subject to change without notice.

I think I have gallstones rolling around in me but I'm unable to find a doctor who has earned his medical degree without practicing on dead people, the point being that cadavers don't complain.

I harbor violent tendencies towards people who, perhaps taken with the notion that streets are public property, relocate litter from their cars. Survey question: should abusers of car horns be compelled to undergo a non-elective surgical procedure?

My little family recently visited the United Kingdom, exchanged lots of $ for like good tourists, and didn't spend all of it. While we were off enjoying ourselves the exchange rate plummeted in retaliation. To avoid the loss of dozens of $s we're saving our leftover until the rate rebounds, we revist, or I get a return call from this guy I met at a bar on Ocean Avenue.

I didn't satisfy my college student loan expeditiously. OK, I was waiting for the statue of limitations. You know, the one in the courthouse square. I didn't even graduate from college, but loan officers don't find that pertinent. But I'm all paid up now.

I don't favor my surname because of its abrupt nasalization. Read Leon/Leo's lament in Sue Miller's 'The Good Mother'. Problem is, they all sound better. My wife prefers it to her original issue, though, because it has 20 or 30 fewer letters. [10 years after writing this I changed it... but my wife kept the new one. I know. It's confusing.]

Why does everybody ask me for my social security number? Are they all concerned about my benefits?

A high school teacher once told me I'd either end up rich or on the street. I'm still suspended between these two worlds. Just another illusion fostered by a public education.

Please explain again the difference between an analogy, a metaphor, and a simile. It doesn't matter how often I read up on the matter. Maybe some high school kid can help me out. Is Kenneth Miles, the Journal's Teen Scene correspondent, available?

I'm a little anxious about an article in the September '94 issue of Scientific American entitled 'Sick, Sick, Sick'. The guidelines in the most recent edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders IV (DSM-IV) lists under Code 315.2 an ominous-sounding condition called the "Disorder of Written Expression" which, if properly diagnosed, means that poor grammar, spelling, punctuation and penmanship are a condition, not an excuse. Does this include doctors?

I often discover and have meaningless affairs with tawdry and unnecessary forms of punctuation. I had a relationship with a semicolon for the better part of a year; what was worse, I could barely distinguish it from its sister the colon, and so mis-used them both. I probably still do: I wouldn't know.

I'm presently enamored with parenthesis. The comedian Steven Wright has a great line. (If sometimes you don't hear me it's because sometimes I'm in parenthesis.)

I supect I've been avoided by nuns on the sidewalk. It's nothing religious. Just personal.

I started writing this in a notebook about a year ago while wandering amongst the seagulls at Newport Mall. It's not supposed to go in any particular order. It's stream of consciousness. You know, like Faulkner. I'm almost ashamed to admit that I like the seagulls. The chronology was a bitch.

One dog year ago I interned at the Village Voice. Writing poppycock for insertion in their education supplements is worse than getting hit by two cars, but doesn't pay as well. I left because I wasn't hip enough to join in any reindeer games, probably didn't wear enough black, and because I just couldn't get with the program, you know? [Postscript: and I wasn't exactly Cool Hand Luke. I fled the scene after panicking over a deadline.]

These days I fly solo, and construct elaborate castles with my bare hands using fanciful facts mortared with fiction. That's right, Jack: I mix and build metaphors, or whatever, 9-5. It's piece-work.

It's doubtful I could compose news copy, which is often factual material, even if someone held a gun to my head and read me the lead. I've never been a reporter, but this isn't for lack of trying. As a fresh immigrant to the Jersey shore, feeling that a local education might be best, I applied to The Jersey Journal school of journalism only to be told by some unstatuesque personnel that today's professional copyboy needs a fully realized college diploma. Zoology or journalism, it's the sheepskin that counts.

So I made the trek to the Jersey City Reporter's offices in Hoboken, where I thought such trifling details might be overlooked, and spoke to a strangely tight-lipped executive who informed me that she'd feed my 'dateline: college' clippings to a large dog if I came around again.

Found wanting by the only two games in town should I have laughed, cried, or self-published? And so it goes. (Being turned down by the Journal was particularly humiliating. I'm still considering therapy.)

Alas, for years I couldn't get anyone to buy my byline, even if I led with "Call me Ishmael." Logically enough I began to think: they don't like my name. That must be it. So I sent two pieces which were kissing cousins to another NY weekly, still in existence, which can't be named (the New York Press) on advice from my lawyer. To one of the stories I attached a pseudonym, a marriage of my middle and my mother's maiden name. It was an honest enough edit. The other piece was brutally attributed.

The story sent with my real, boring name made its I'm-in-no-hurry way back to me a month later paired with a not-exactly-Jersey-fresh rejection slip. But the manuscript with my new, unimproved name came back in a week with an encouraging letter, which led to several acceptances and a cover story. Well, it was thrilling at the time.

So you tell me. Was I wrong about the abrupt nasalization? Or for letting people call me Chris?

I'm lucky. I've managed to stay alive, mostly uncheated and unmolested, sane, whole, under 30.

I'd prefer not to relocate just yet.

Now vee may perhaps to begin. Yes?

Jersey City, 1994

THE JERSEY CITY PAGES