Monthly Archives: July 2002

Guinness Floats & Velvet Elvis

Everyone remembers their first Deli Haus experience. And unfortunately, most people remember their last.

For me it was the morning my freshman year at BU that I discovered you could skip “The History of Print Journalism,” listen to the Ramones, and get scrambled eggs for $1.25. Diner coffee never tasted so good.

From that moment on, I ate at least one meal a day at Deli Haus.Lisa became a devotee her freshman year as well, when a 2:00 AM entrance attempt failed. “We tried to get in but there were way too many people in line. I couldn’t see anything through the haze of Parliament Light smoke. As mohawked, tattooed, leather-clad bodies turned to look at us, I thought, I sure ain’t in New Hampshire anymore.”

Kenmore Square in 1994 was still kicking and screaming its way through the punk rock and indie scene, trying desperately to sustain itself. The Rat still harbored its grungy locals and violently loud bands, and Deli Haus gave them a place to eat after the bars all closed. Open until 3:00 AM or later depending on when you ordered, the Deli was a roosting place for the Goths swooping home from Manray, bar hoppers in search of salt, insomniac indie rockers, and the handful of college kids who realized we mustn’t tell anybody else about the little gem we had discovered.

Deli Haus crouched unassumingly in a dug-out portion of the sidewalk on Commonwealth Avenue in Boston, a worn white and green sign declaring it “truly unique.” The tall green booths always seemed shifty, and as Lisa says, they stuck to your ass like glue. Graffiti-style art covered the place, and framed prints hung on the walls, interspersed with several velvet Elvises.

Always the unforgettable smell of clove cigarettes and burnt grill items permeated the place and filled your clothes when you left, making you smile fondly when you put them back on the next day.Sweet potato fries and white zinfandel. Scrambled eggs, potato knishe, peanut butter and banana sandwiches (the “Velvet Elvis”), and Guinness floats (true story — beer and ice cream).

As a matter of fact, Jared sites his favorite Deli Haus day as the moment he discovered they served Pabst Blue Ribbon, which he complimented with 2 eggs, over easy with bacon. I remember Ruby’s order like it was my own: cheddar burger cooked medium, toasted bun, side of mayo. My item of choice was the pastrami reuben, with half white rye and half dark rye — an ongoing joke between myself and the cook regarding our inter-racial love affair.

Everyone either regrets ordering the Guinness float, or is glad they never did. Those of us who attempted a re-enactment of this beverage in the dining hall came to the conclusion that it probably wasn’t any better when served with vanilla rather than coffee ice cream.

Lisa’s last menu choice was on August 17th, 2001, after the Radiohead show at Suffolk Downs. “I had been puking for 2 days so all I could eat were a few bites of mashed potatoes and sip ginger ale…my last supper.”

If I had known my last visit to Deli Haus was going to be my last, I would have gone about it differently. I certainly would have ordered something besides the pastrami Reuben.

Getting hired to wait tables at Deli Haus was like trying to get a job at the Pentagon. The staff was innately and effortlessly hip, and they dealt with us coming in drunk and indecisive at 2:30 in the morning. Not all of them were pleasant about it, mind you, but I never heard of anyone getting kicked out.We had our favorites. Some of them I’d even forgotten about until my friends reminded me.

One of my favorite employees was Toks, who I am biased toward because he was my boyfriend, but Lisa will back me up on his skills behind the grill. He worked it hot. My least favorite employee quickly became the skanky little indie bitch who draped all over him, glancing over at me and daring me to do something about it. I never bothered. I am not easily threatened.

Everyone loved the waiter referred to as “the Brad Pitt guy.” I’m pretty sure his name was Tim, but he looked like a perfect cross between Brad Pitt and Rob Lowe. He had the smirk and the swagger to go with it. Every man or woman there wanted to bed him.

Phyllis would be my favorite employee if it weren’t for Toks. Phyllis was a 20- year-old waitress when I first started hanging out at Deli. She had a wide, disarming smile, and she made me feel like I was eating breakfast in her kitchen. She was the most beautiful creature I have ever seen, undeniably feline, and she wore green tea perfume and crazy velvet pants. She spoke calmly and drank Crazy Horse. I was in love with her.

We also fancied Elijah, who I referred to as “Puck,” because he was spritely and looked like he should be wearing curly toed green slippers and a panflute around his neck. Ruby preferred “the spun honey blonde of the fit-to-be-in-a-Francesca-Lia-Block-story Elijah.”

Adam was the owner, always smiling, running around pouring coffee. We liked him because he always remembered us. Or he pretended he did.

The sound system in there was problematic and the jukebox was stocked with priceless CDs. We heard Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band at least twice a week all the way through, and it was always skewed between the confused speakers because of the mixing. When Pulp Fiction came out, the soundtrack stayed on for months.

No one there promised that you’d get to hear whatever song you put on the jukebox. The selection numbers were mixed up and the employees had veto privileges, which they exercised fairly and appropriately.

With the music, the food, the free refills and the stories, that place became our living room. We moved in. Ruby estimates that she smoked approximately 21,900 cigarettes in the tall dark booths. Jared and I shared several psychedelic adventures in the Deli, during which the undeniable incongruity of the glassware became apparent. The orange juice glasses were Alice-in-Wonderland-size, smaller than the melting salt and pepper shakers. We kept trying to keep the plates from sliding off the table. I surfed the dancing black and white checkerboard floor to the bathroom to splash cold water on my face and giggle at myself in the mirror.

When I asked a bunch of my friends to highlight their favorite times at Deli Haus, many of us shared the same story. The Night of the Brownie Orgasm was a hit. After a raucous night of dancing, we drooled in anticipation of the freshly-baked, filthy chocolate brownie — smothered with ice cream — which we were sure was the fountain of youth that night. We had to pin one friend down because she couldn’t take the suspense any longer.

A dozen of us ended up there boisterous and late, pulling tables together and ordering obscene amounts of food. At the end of the meal we cleaned up a bit out of pity for the waitress, stacking all the plates and glasses neatly on one table. Matt rose stumblingly from his chair knocked the table over, projecting a shower of destroyed Deli plates. That was one of many red-faced evenings.

I asked Ruby what she thought made the Deli unique. “Well, for starts, we kids accustomed to the lifestyle a reliable diner provided were in for a rude awakening upon arriving in Boston. No diners. So we starved and scrounged, eating cheese sandwiches, omelets and chocolate milk in the dining hall. Deli Haus had the diner atmosphere yet it catered directly to we kids who could sit for hours and drink cups of coffee. I think the owner Adam was a diner kid in his day, being also from somewhere in the tri-state area (Long Island?), understanding the plight of the diner kid, getting run out after two cups of mediocre coffee, nowhere to go except the local convenience store or mall. He gave us refuge, we diner kids… “Give us your Goth, your nocturnal, your lazy and broke.”

A few months before we found out Deli Haus closed, I went in to grab some lunch with a few friends, and Adam the owner came over to me looking slightly misty-eyed. He handed me one of the house mugs, two pounds of ceramic etched with their motto: “Sleep? We don’t need no stinkin’ sleep!”

He passed it to me reverently with a nod, and told me it was for seven years of dedicated patronage. Some of my friends who worked there said they couldn’t even get a mug out of Adam. Drinking coffee out of it now could never measure up.

The coolest thing about Deli Haus was that it never tried to be cool; it just couldn’t help it. It was always authentic, and we loved it for that.

Deli Haus closed its doors to business the first week of January 2002, after feeding Boston’s hungry for thirty or more years. That $1.25 egg special will blaze on in my memory forever.

Please join me in a moment of silence.

Honey, I’m Home…

Where the hell have you people been?

Oh wait — that’s me. I’ve been a busy, busy girl. Unfortunately not a road trip or concert-orgy in sight, but lots of good time sunshine.

I recently watched my favorite movie for the fourth time. Amelie was a gift from a particularly special friend in celebration of a particularly special milestone. After the movie, I sat down and wrote seven thousand pages, a traditional response to inspiration overload. You don’t understand — I need that kind of magic in my life. I am starved for it and emaciated from its chronic absence.

I’m concerned that I don’t drink enough caffeine. I’ll have to look into that. I’m not sure how I feel about the new Vanilla Coke. Their marketing campaign alone made my skin crawl in self-defense: “Quench your curiosity.” Honestly, I’m not that curious, and I don’t like being manipulated by soft drinks. When I worked at Friendly’s in Branford, Connecticut, we made our own vanilla Cokes with syrup used for the Fribbles. My friend Deana turned me on to that one, along with the god-given vanilla soda, which is made of seltzer, vanilla syrup, and cream. I think I would fully puke that this point if I ingested that concoction, but it was heaven at the time.

In honor of this early food-service career reverie, I added a touch of Vanilla Coke (now available on tap at 7.11) to my 64 ounces of bubbling saccharine goodness. Fountain soda makes me sing with joy; there is no better icy beverage on earth than one fresh from the Co2 pressurizer.

For all the hype, it tastes like Dr. Pepper.

Welcome back. There’s a lot of new stuff to play with. And there’s plenty more on the way.

Especially if I ingest all of this soda.

Jack Says

The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes. . . “awww!”

Starla and Joele

Lev was beating me at chess. Badly. He squinted wryly across the assembly of cream and chocolate horses, sizing me up. “Can I tell you where you went wrong?” he asked gently. “Can I show you?” I sighed and nodded. He tapped one finger on my dark Rook, tracing the line backward three squares. “Do you see it?” I nodded in surrender. He smiled smugly, setting up one of his favorite sly and sneaky moves — Castling. He raised an eyebrow and checked my face for a reaction. I was stony and silent, awaiting my fate.

Lev was four years old.

I didn’t take this babysitting job last summer for the money. Child care pays poorly these days, and Lev’s family lived a simple life that didn’t include daycare or cable TV. Besides, I already had a Real Corporate Job.I really just wanted someone to play with. I found the ad in the Somerville library next to a stop-smoking study and a Couch for Sale flier. “Creative, energetic boy. . .” Turns out his parents were taking a yoga class and they needed back up.

The day I showed up for the interview, I had been in my room in a flurry of creation; my jeans were covered with paint and my hands were dirty. I lost track of time so I bolted out the door onto my bike because I didn’t want to be late.Lev’s first words to me, with his enormous brown eyes full of hope, were: “You paint, too?” He then showed me his paintings which made mine look like nursery sketches to his Rembrandt. The dirty hands thing must have won Lev’s mom over.

I don’t know why, but as a non-practicing Pagan I am frequently employed by Orthodox and otherwise Jewish establishments. In college I worked at B’nai B’rith Dining Hall as cook, server and dishwasher for the tiny cafeteria that was attended voraciously by the same 50 kids each day. I was frowned at reproachfully several times by the Rabbi, until I was finally fired because I couldn’t get the whole “milk and meat” thing straight. Luckily, Lev’s family was vegetarian.

Lev was a brilliant child anyway, but he had the benefit of being raised in a family whose entire mission was to fill this little being with knowledge and feed his creativity — a rare thing in my experience. I had not seen anything like it since my own childhood. They had no television, but they went to the library once a week and brought home stacks of books and audio tapes of fairy tales and Jewish fables. Lev spoke both Hebrew and English. He always picked out the books heavy on the Hebrew side and asked me to read to him. I tackled the verbiage gracelessly, pausing for him to pronounce the foreign words. I massacred them once again, and he patiently reiterated the phrase, emphasizing sounds my throat could not make. I asked him questions about traditions and holidays and he shared his extensive knowledge of Judaism.

Aside from his book smarts, Lev was a sensitive and reckless artist, and it freed me to be with him. My first time caring for him, I showed up gripping a bucket of sidewalk chalk in one hand and a bag of Popsicle sticks and pipe cleaners in the other. “What are we going to do with those?” he asked, pointing to the bag excitedly, his eyes shining.

“I’m not sure yet.” The sidewalk chalk, however, we knew what to do with immediately. We spent hours on the pavement that afternoon, trading colors, getting all smudgy, me sprawling in the grass on my stomach, coloring in sea creatures of every make and model. Lev drew mostly animals in a tribal fashion, impaled by spears, blood spurting from every orifice.

The park where we played was on the bike path leading out of Davis Square, and there was always tons going on — kids playing in the sprinkler, riding bikes, rollerblading, shoving each other. But strangely, Lev was a lot like me; he would stand for hours and watch the action, but run away if someone approached him or tried to play with him. Unlike me, he was terrified of dogs. Belle, an exuberant Jack Russell terrier, stole the tennis ball that Lev and I were tossing back and forth. He screeched at the top of his lungs until his face was bright red, screaming fitfully, tears rolling down his cheeks. “Bad dog! Bad dog!” he yelled at her bitterly.

“She just wants to play, Lev. She wants you to chase her — try and get the ball from her.” Lev marched into the little patch of woods running along the bike path and emerged with a five foot long stick, holding it threateningly.

“Here Belle!” he called out.

I secured the ball before we quickly outwore our welcome on the playground.

~

“Hey Lev — what’s your secret name?” I asked him one day while he was practicing writing “Kristin” in Hebrew.

“I don’t have one.”

“Yes you do. Everyone has a secret name.”

“But I don’t know what it is.”

“Think about it.”

“What’s your secret name?”

“Do you promise not to tell anyone?” He nodded solemnly. “Starla.”

“Starla? Starla!” He ran around the kitchen yelling my secret name at the top of his little lungs. When he had tired himself out, he collapsed on his chair and looked thoughtful. “Where do you get a secret name?”

“Sometimes you just know it.”

“Where did you get your secret name?”

“It’s a Smashing Pumpkins song. Billy meets this girl at a party and she says her name is Starla, and he thinks it so wonderful that he writes a song about it, and he sees her a year later and is like, I wrote this song about you called Starla, and she says, My name is Darla.”

Lev looked at me quizzically for a moment. “Why would anyone smash pumpkins?”

Lev went upstairs to get some books to read and I heard him calling frantically down the stairs.

“Starla! Starla!” I ran into the living room in terror, imagining him mortally wounded by one of the dog-stabbing sticks he insisted on bringing in the house with him. “I know my secret name! It’s Joele!”

Tuesday was Tortellini night. Every Tuesday I made Tortellini and organic corn for little Lev, while he sat at the kitchen table acting out scenes of destruction with little wooden animals. He asked me a million questions. I gave him his plate of food, and made myself a bowl of the same, sitting down with him to eat. And one night it struck him that I always ate in the same fashion. “Starla?”

“Yes, Joele?”

“Why do you always eat out of a bowl?”

“I don’t know. I always have. I guess I’m not a big fan of plates.”

“Oh.” A few minutes passed while he pushed the offending Tortellini around on his plate with a sudden loss of appetite.

“Starla?”

“Yes, Joele?”

“Can I have a bowl, too?” So we sat, with matching bowls, and he copied my every move, particularly the one where I would open my eyes wide and raise my eyebrows in warning. He mirrored me back. It irritated the piss out of me.

But Lev and I rocked the basketball court. He was short, obviously, being four, but he loved to play ball. He dribbled like mad all over the court, and I went up against him, dodging and blocking him, and then he ran between my legs and I met him at the net where he passed off to me and I did a lay-up. We split the points.

Jenn came to meet us on the playground one day because I called and told her, “You gotta get a load of this kid. He’s too much.” I think Lev was in love with Jenn because she wore pretty little sundresses and had a brilliant bag full of fun and exciting things. Jenn was also closer to his size, which was to her advantage on the Lev scale of approval. He sat next to her on the bench cautiously at first, while she said, “Let’s see if I have anything fun in here.” He grew more and more excited as she dug through her bottomless purse. The first object she pulled out was a brightly colored mirror. Lev looked into it, making kiss faces with his lips, and tried to powder his nose. What pure magic lay within Jenn’s purse I have no idea, but she pulled out a small plastic cat, white with brown polka-dots, and handed it decadently to Lev, who jumped spastically to his feet.

Staring at the brown spots incredulously, he screamed, “He has little poops on him! He has little poops on him!” Lev danced around in a circle, singing this for all to hear. He glanced at me for my disapproval, but I burst out laughing. I couldn’t help it. “Poopie Cat! Poopie Cat!” Then he ran over to me and motioned for me to lean down. He held a hand to his face and whispered in my ear, “Starla. . . what’s Jenn’s secret name?” I peered over my shoulder warily to make sure the coast was clear.

“Ruby,” I told him.

And he turned to Jenn graciously and said, “Ruby, thank you for Poopie Cat.” And Joele and Poopie Cat raced around the playground, looking over occasionally to see if I would reprimand him for screaming “Poopie Cat!” at everyone who would listen. But I didn’t have it in me. A sense of humor should be nurtured in the young.

As the summer rolled on, Lev and I had many adventures together. One night he met me at the door, dancing excitedly in place. He threw his arms around my legs and yelled, “I have a surprise for you!” I climbed the stairs and he came rushing out of the living room, hiding something behind his back. After a tortured minute, he handed it over.

It was a full-spectrum box of theater-grade body paint. I made Lev into a tiger. I don’t think his parents had any idea what they were getting into giving me access to theatrical paint. Lev looked like the real thing. He snarled at me, grabbed one of his sticks, and ran out of the house to take on Belle at the playground.

Weeks later, after a particularly noteworthy day of sidewalk painting, I set the bucket of chalk down on the front steps. “Hey Lev — I’m going to leave the chalk here so you can play tomorrow when I’m not here.”

“Why? NO! No — take it. Take it with you.” I was surprised by his passionate protest.

“You don’t want me to leave it?”

“No. Then it won’t be a special treat just for you and me.”

Toward the end of our summer together, Lev found out he was leaving. His father got a long-awaited apprenticeship in Chicago. They sold the house. Lev was devastated, and his now five-year-old mind couldn’t comprehend moving — couldn’t understand that there was another city somewhere where little boys played with their babysitters and chased harmless dogs with big sticks.

You’d think he was going off to prison. He started getting angry with me all the time. He threw bowls of Tortellini in my face. “I want a plate!” He refused the Popsicle sticks and glue that had become our weekly ritual. He wasn’t even cheered by body paint. “I hate you! I hate you for leaving!” he yelled up at me, shaking defiant little fists.

“I’m not going anywhere, Joele.”

“My name is NOT Joele. It’s LEV.”He stormed out of the room and buried himself face down in the couch sobbing. I sat beside him, stroking his hair.

“You’ll have fun. There will be new people to play with, and I bet you’ll have a babysitter that likes sidewalk chalk, too.” He sat up, hopeful, eyes red and swollen yet shining with optimism.

“Starla — can I bring Poopie Cat?”

“Yeah, Joele — I think Ruby would like that.”

Can You Still Feel the Butterflies?

I left work early and came home unsure of whether I’d sleep or move my furniture. When I can’t figure out what to do with my insides, I change my outsides. Since I can’t possibly dye my hair one more time this month without going bald, I spent a few hours shoving bookshelves and stereos around. Now my back is in spasms and I probably won’t be able to walk tomorrow.

I haven’t been able to write anything meaningful in a week or so, which is frustrating, but part of the ebb and flow of creation.

My job was recently rescued just in time for me to avoid considering Microsoft PowerPoint Prostitute jobs in the financial district, digging out my interview suit which guaranteed does not fit anymore, and putting my resume up on my professional Web site.

In exchange for this newly-secured position, I’ve put in 130 hours in the past two weeks. I was sitting at my desk at 5:15 AM on Tuesday trying to figure out what the hell happened to my leisurely Dot Com Brat lifestyle.

All this work and general exhaustion has led to an uncreative Joy, which leads to an unhappy Joy. So I’m sitting here listening to “Good” and thinking about my goal of one day making love to all four of the original Morphine albums back to back.

I went to Tapeo on Newbury Street last night with my boss and a few of the former employees that were let go in the last round of lay-offs. I still haven’t figured out why. But I ate some things I’ve never had, and the food there is amazing. Ruby recommended the white anchovies, which I devoured with relish — not with pickled stuff, but with gusto.

Mon Frere and I went to see Jimmy Eat World night before last at the Worcester Palladium. The show was Really Good, but strange on several levels. I hadn’t been to the Palladium, and it’s like the buildings I dream about; enormous and crumbling, peeling plaster, antique and barely standing, broken fans on the ceiling, feeling deserted and even haunted, with echoes of memories from when it was a grand theatre and people were smaller and wore lots of velvet and petticoats.

The first thing about the Palladium was the indescribable heat. Wet heat. Not even humidity — wetness. My glasses fogged up the second we walked in the door, and I spent the whole show wiping them on my wet shirt. Everyone was wet. No one could breathe. The bartender was making a fountain with the soda nozzle, spraying people down with water. At first there was a pit and kids stage diving and then they stopped and bouncers just started pulling limp bodies out of the crowd by the dozens. People were dropping like flies. These huge men reaching into the crowd and removing unconscious little girls single-handedly like one of those metallic claws reaching for a pile of stuffed animals. (“The claw! The claw!”)

The sound in the Palladium is weird if you’re on the second level, which we were. The amps point below the balcony, and it ends up sounding like you’re listening to the show from another room. But the vocals were crystal clear, which was a gift, because one of my favorite parts about Jimmy Eat World is the harmonies.

Jimmy Eat World is an Efficient German Band in the purest sense. Okay, they’re from Arizona, but still. The Palladium has this gigantic hardwood stage which was completely bare except for the four of them. They each have one instrument and one guitar tech. There were no monitors at the front of the stage, only one wire per band member, and you could see their little shoes. Three individual spotlights. They walked out, plugged in, and began their assault of four minute pop-punk songs. 20 seconds of dead air is allowed between each song, which the drummer ticks off.

They are one tight establishment. No chatter, no banter. Not even “hello.” Just straight-up rock and roll.

Jim Adkins, the lead singer, spoke only twice; the first time was to recommend that the kids in front think about why they came to show if they had their backs to the stage. One diver nailed Jimmy’s mic stand with a huge boot. He hardly seemed upset, just characteristically serious. “Hey guys you might consider knocking it off cause I can’t really sing while you’re breaking my stuff.”

On the fourth song, the real lights came on, and I instantly understood why it had been so surreal up until that point. The back of the stage was a 40 foot curtain of blue stars, and the purple and green beams came on, and suddenly Jimmy Eat World was a real rock band playing a real club, and not four guys without equipment squatting in an abandoned building.

The performance was crisp and refreshing, but it’s strange to go to a show and feel like there is this wall between the performers and the audience, without even a hello or a thank you. I mean, they could have at least bought us dinner first.

Their last show at the Paradise was a bit different if I remember correctly, which, come to think of it, I don’t. It’s obviously a more intimate setting and maybe that’s why I paint it a more personable experience.

I found out recently that their song “In the Middle” is on the radio everywhere, which was an unsettling surprise to me when I heard it playing in the Gap. I haven’t listened to commercial radio in years since being upset with WFNX when the metal movement took over and the motto “there is no alternative” began to ring a little empty. And Nick Carter started thinking he was Howard Stern. Also the five minute songs followed by ten minutes of commercials got to be too much.
For a while I was on Jump, Little Children’s listserv, which is an ecstatic orgy of incest and conflict, and an excellent source of new music for me last year. Jimmy Eat World was one of the recommended bands, and I bought “Bleed American” last summer and have listened to it at least once a day since then. It’s sick, I know. But it’s one of only 3 tapes I have in my car, and it was also my Getting Ready for Work CD which has only recently been replaced by Davìd Garza.

Anyway, I keep getting into these bands that I have no idea are big on the charts, and it’s kind of funny when I see them in the top 10 in Newbury Comics. Like Jack Johnson, who I started listening to last year on recommendation by a friend. He was on the freakin WB last season, which blew my mind. Another Joy-lives-in-a-cave realization. “Tonight’s Felicity featured music by . . . all the bands you thought you had safely sequestered from the rest of the pop culture world.” Not that I mind — I mean, at least the guy gets to eat, unlike a lot of my favorite musicians.
The Howie Day explosion is also bowling me over; I received his newsletter today which informed me that he is playing on the Craig Kilborn show August 1st. I totally sweat Craig Kilborn. I remember when Semisonic, who I was very into at the time, played on Craig Kilborn Show, and they covered Neill Finn. That was one giant triple orgasm night right there.

Sigh.

So here we are. The end of the page. You can probably tell I’m feeling lackluster and not myself. My vigor and wit has been squelched by small business network security articles, head trips over a boy, and insufficient consumption of Dunkin Donuts iced hazelnut.

There you have it.