Thursday, October 13, 2011

A Short South Bend Story

Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. You all have no idea who I am. Not for real. I know that.

Well, my last novel was published in 2007. Wow. Has it been that long? It has. Pathetic.

Anyway, the publisher booked me on a live morning television talk show. One of those Good Morning America types, without the ratings, or viewership.

I packed a bag. Went to the airport and and flew, first to Chicago, and then over to Indiana.

A limo met me at the tiny airport. And by limo, I mean black Lincoln Town car. The driver held up a sign.

It would have been really cool if more than three people were in the airport.

I stayed at a hotel not far from Notre Dame's campus. In fact, I was told it was walking distance from the hotel.

Seeing the campus would have been awesome, I imagine. But by the time I arrived at the hotel it was nearly 7:00 PM. It felt like it was ten below zero. Everything was frozen solid. I wasn't going to walk--I didn't have clothing for it. I had a leather coat and jeans, that I came in, and a suit for the show in the morning.

Instead, I found a Chinese place that delivered, and watched television in my room.

I did the show the next morning. It went all right. Was cool being on the set of a morning show. The background was just that, background. The set sat in the center of an almost black-wall warehouse. Camera's and cables all over the place.

This isn't a blog about the show, though. Not even a blog to promote my novel -- because you don't know who I am. But a blog about going home.

Ah yes, going home.

After my interview a taxi whisked me back to the airport. This was awful, actually. It was barely 9:00 AM, and my flight wasn't until noon.

But it didn't make sense to go back to the hotel.

I had a book with me. Figured I'd get some coffee, lunch, sit and read while I waited.

So I get back to this tiny airport -- which resembled the airport on the old TV show WINGS, more than a real airport. But I am not well traveled. Maybe the was the norm. Rochester International Airport is a good size, but it resembles a ghost town any time I've been in there ... But I digress.

I buy a sandwich at the ONLY open sandwich place -- and pay Airport prices for it, despite airport size -- and find a comfortable chair among the three in the lounge. Reading is going well. Eating, equally well. And then I look at the time. Still over three hours till my flight.

I think.

My plane tickets are my bookmark for the novel I'm reading.

I look at them.

Hmmm. Seems I am going to fly out of Indiana at 12:20. Won't get back to Rochester until almost 5:00 PM. Have a stop with another couple hours lay-over in Chicago.

I would arrive in Chicago at ... 12:05.

My stomach drops. My PR person at the publisher messed up my flight. Thank God I found the error!

I gather my things and wheel my suitcase up to the airline counter.

The woman behind the desk smiles. "How can I help you, sir?"

Maybe I am tired. I know I am upset with my publisher. Either way, I feel this entitles me to sarcasm.

With that entitlement, I ask, "Ah, yes. My ticket says my plane leaves here at 12:20 and will then land in Chicago fifteen minutes before it even takes off. I only have some college, but I am not sure how is that even possible?"

Without missing a beat, the woman -- still giving me that big smile -- says, "You fly through a time zone ... sir."

Hmmm. A little added emphasis on, sir?

Ah-yeah. I heard it. Deserved it.

It was the longest ten yard walk from the counter back to the chair I'd been sitting in.

Only now, I don't want to sit there. I want to hide. Sit someplace else.

Guess what? There is no where else. Think WINGS. One sofa. A few chairs. I'm waiting for Tony Shalhoub to walk in, partly as Monk, partly as a Taxi driver ... whatever.

So then, just as I sit. Just as I open my book and use it as a hand-held wall to block the woman at counter from seeing the red in my face ... I hear, "Sir? Excuse me, sir?"

I slowly lower the book. Eyes dart around. Trying to find out, One--is someone talking to me? Seems logical, since I'm the only one here. (Di Nero anyone? Anyone? No? Ok?)  And Two--if someone is talking to me, then who is it?

But I know, One, someone was talking to me, and Two, who it was.

I recognized the voice. Last thing it said to me was ... "sirrrrr".  Hard to forget.

"Ah, yes?" I say. Stand. Set my book down.

"We can get you on a flight to Chicago. Leaves in twenty minutes, and then a flight from Chicago to Rochester -- have you in Rochester by 2:00 PM, if you'd like?" Smile is still there. It might have been painted on. I am not sure I saw her lips move when she spoke.

"Um. Yes. Okay. Ah-yeah. That would be great." Then I became Jerry Lewis.

I went up to the counter.

"I need your tickets, sir."

I spin around. Hands pat my shirt. There is only a breast pocket. I pat my dress pants. Nothing.

I smile at the woman. And spin again. A One-Eighty. The tickets are sticking out of my book. I walk toward over, slide them out from between the pages. Head back, hand them over to the woman.

"And your suitcase?" She says.

I try to smile. "Of course."

For whatever reason -- maybe because I was too fucking stupid to recognize time zones -- I pat my shirt.

No suitcase in that breast pocket.

I go back and get my suitcase. Wheel it over. Smile.

I smile, not to be friendly. But because my book and suit coat are still over on the chair. I have to head back there a third time.

I will not spin, I think. I will not spin.

I wait until she tells me I am all set, hands me my new tickets with instructions to Gate 1, because best I can recall -- that was the only gate and I can see it from where I am -- but I sure as shit am not going to say anything sarcastic. No way!

That is when I return to the lounge for my book and suit coat, and I wave and thank the woman as I head to Gate 1, anxious to be home, but thankful to be out of Indiana's airport!

Hey you know what? That's the end of the blog!

Phillip Tomasso

Monday, October 10, 2011

Iron Maiden Is Waysted!

It was early March 1987, when I heard on the best local rock radio station that the infamous Iron Maiden would be doing a show at the War Memorial as part of their ‘86/’87 Somewhere On Tour, tour. Redundant, I know, know.
As a junior in high school, next to seeing Van Halen, Boston, Judas Priest or Rush – Iron Maiden would be a hot show. One you wouldn’t want to miss. One I know I did not want to miss. At the time I was a bass guitar player, and thought next to Geddy Lee, Steve Harris had the fastest fingers ever. I’d seen Rush. Several times. This would be an awesome opportunity to see Harris, the rest of the band, and listen to some fantastic heavy metal.
A group of bought tickets for the April 13th show. I’m going to be honest. Right now I remember that I went. My buddy Mike. And some tall skinny kid, possibly named Steve. Could have been Mark. But more than likely it was Steve. Definitely not Mark, though. Definitely not. There were more. Maybe three other guys. Possibly four. But definitely at least three. I’m thinking four, though.
We met at Mike’s house. Or I did. When I got there, everyone was already there. It had to be around 1:00 PM. They were drinking. Smoking. And doing whippets. I drank. Smoked some. But stayed away from the whippets. That was where they sucked nitrous oxide out of a whipped cream canister. The effects, or affects, were powerful, but short lived – and could seriously destroy brain cells. (And by the way this blog reads so far, you might think I did whippets-a-plenty. I did not. Ever. That I can recall).
The show was to start at like seven, or eight. More than likely seven. The opening band, Waysted, came on at seven, I think. Iron Maiden, the main bill for the night –the name in the big marque—wouldn’t start rocking until eight, maybe nine. Something like that. I’ll be honest. The time from is not important. It means nothing, and add little to the story. In fact. If anything, it takes away from the whole thing. Destroys my flow. Ruins my pace. My timing. My delivery.
Point is, I got to Mike’s early. We started partying early. And by the time we left for the concert, not a single one of us was in any condition to be headed to a concert. My best guess—yes, yes—I recall this, Steve was driving. Steve/Mark, that is. You know what? For fuck’s sake, let’s just call him, Steve. Steve works for me. How about you? You good? We good? Ok …
Steve drove. How, I have no clue. Why I ever got into a car with a guy I just watched pass out moments ago from doing whippet after whippet with full cans of beer as a chaser, I have no clue. Or actual recollection. I remember hooting and hollering in Mike’s house. Something like, “Yeah! Yeah, let’s go! Maiden! Iron Maiden! Ironnnnnnn Miadennnnnnn, Babbbbbbbby!”
Then the next thing I remember is pulling into an outdoor parking lot somewhere close to the War Memorial downtown. It was close to some vacant buildings. There were other cars. Lots of people. And a whole lot of pot smoking going on. We partook. Passed a joint. Downed several more beers.
I was very excited. Iron Maiden. Loved them. Loved them, man. I couldn’t believe I was hours from seeing a band I practically worshiped for their musical talent.
It was mid-fifties. Clear. There was a full fucking moon in a cloudless sky. I shit you not. That’s exactly how I remember it. But I thought my mind might be messed up some. So I researched it. And guess what? April 13, 1987 – mid-fifties, and a full moon on a cloudless night.
People swarmed the entrances. We all looked alike. Dark T-shirts, tight blue jeans, and Converse sneakers. Cigarette and pot smoke mingled and lingered and stoned anyone not stoned to begin with. We made it through the doors. The ice rink floor was not only covered in wood, it was covered in bodies. The seats around the rink were filling fast. I mean fast. Despite being early, my friends and I found a row together toward the back of the arena. It was the closest we could get, I kid you not.
We stood side by side. Rows of people behind and in front of us. Aside from the car ride to the stadium, this was the most standing still I’d done since we started partying. And it was hot. Very hot inside the War Memorial. Heat came off of everyone and everything. Had to be close to 12,000 people around me. All around me.
I thought I might be melting. Sweat dripped from my brow. Rolled over my face. Burned my eyes.
Some guy stood on stage. He held a microphone. He announced some upcoming concert dates. Roars erupted. I thought I might have been locked in a cage. Felt like I was. Arms shot up all around me. Arms with fists on the end. Looked like bars. Prison bars. Zoo bars.
I swallowed. Hard. My throat cracked. I was so dry.
Then, without warning, the lights in the place dimmed. The man on stage with the microphone—this I recall—asked, “Rochester, are you wasted?”
It was a play on words. Even I knew that. The opening band. They were named Waysted.
Concert lights sprayed the stage, played back and forth over the drum set, amplifiers, then rolled over the mass of people in the arena. Lit lighters. More pot smoke. Fisted raised arms. It all felt alive, like it was moving. Slithering. Quivering. The audience … shivered …
And I felt it.
Oh, it was there.
It wasn’t excitement. It wasn’t me thrilled to be here. Me getting to see Iron Maiden.
It was puke.
And there was no way, no way in hell, I was going to make it out of my row, down the hall and into a bathroom before ….
Ralllphhhhhh  ….
Oh yeah. I puked. All over the seats in front of me. Thank GOD the people in the row in front were on their feet. Because had they of been sitting – let’s just say shampoo might not have helped. And I would have been dead. Beaten to a bloody pulp for sure.
The threat of death was far from gone. At some point these guys in front of me would sit.
I wasn’t worried about it. I mean, I was. But not really. Because I was floating at that point.
My friends had me by the arms. They were pull/dragging me out of the row, into the hall.
“You were about to pass out,” one of them said. I have no idea who. They had my arms draped over their shoulders. Pretty sure the toes of my shoes dragged. I don’t recall my legs working at all.
There were no doors to enter a bathroom. Just a rounded corner. One of them, we’ll say Mike, kicked open a stall door. Timing was impeccable. They dropped me onto my knees just as the next wave of everything I’d drunk, and ate flew forth out of my throat and projected into the bowl. Chunks splashed back at me. Public toilet bowl water and my own vomit mixed with sweat coating my face.
“You gonna be all right, man? We don’t want to miss the show.”
That’s what I heard. Maybe I waved them away. Maybe I didn’t. Maybe I begged them to stay. Regardless, the next time I was aware of anything was when I opened my eyes.
I was no longer hunkered over a puke filled toilet. I was on my back, half in, half out of the stall. Some guy—a big guy in a black t-shirt hovered over me.
I thought, “Ah, shit. I’m gonna get raped in the bathroom at the War Memorial, and I’m too fucking sick to even scream for help.”
Everything about the situation pointed to that. Me getting ass-rammed by some muscle-meathead at an Iron Maiden concert.  I mean, he bent down, slid arms under me, and hoisted me into the air.
I’m sure I tried to fight him. Let’s say I threw limp punches and moaned out a few “No’s” if only in my defense against being a willing participant. Fair? Good. That’s what I did then. I fought him.
“Whoa. Whoa,” he said. “You’re okay. I’m with Heads On Straight. I’m going to take you somewhere to sleep this off.”
Sounded awesome. I wanted to sleep. I didn’t want to wake up.
But it also sounded like a kidnapping tactic. Like he stalked potheads, waited for them to pass out and then snuck them out some side Fire Exit and into the sliding side door of an unmarked, non-descript, windowless white cargo van. A perfect place for rape. Wonderful.
However. To some van in a back alley we did not go. Muscle man brought me into a room. I had to look like some damsel in distress, draped in his arms – my long hair cascading toward the floor …
I tried to look around the room. I saw a sea of cots. Occupied cots. People sprawled out all over the place. If I was right, this guy had been hauling bodies out of bathrooms all night!
“We don’t have any more cots,” he said. “I’m going to put you on this table.”
I don’t remember lying down – or being laid down. (No pun intended).
I do remember being woken up. Shaken. And me saying something like, “Leave me the fuck alone, I’m sleeping.” I remember sitting up then. Feeling much better. Legs off the table, I was ready to go. “I’m gonna go back into the show.”
“Show’s over, son.” It wasn’t Muscle man. It was a guy who looked like someone’s gray-haired grandfather. “It’s time to go home. Did you drive? We would prefer to call you a cab.”
“I didn’t drive. This other guy did. Tall, skinny guy. Steve, I think his name was,” I said. (See, even then I didn’t really know his name.
The old man pointed at a cot. “Him?”
There he was. “Yeah. Him.”
Some woman was in the process of shaking Steve awake.
The old man let me use a phone.
“Mom,” I said. “Would you be able to pick me up from the concert? The guy who drove, he had a couple of beers. I don’t feel safe riding home with him.”
Oh yeah. Threw Steve’s ass under the bus. I didn’t know Steve. Never met him before tonight. What did I care if my mother never wanted me hanging around with “Steve” again?
She came and picked me up outside the War Memorial. I have no clue what happened to the other guys I went to the concert with. I know they found a way home. At least, I know they found their way to school on Tuesday. Well, I am not sure any of us made it to school on Tuesday, I just know I saw Mike again. Maybe later that week. Maybe it was the following week. I really have no recollection other than the fact that, on the way home from the show, my mother stopped off at McDonald’s. Got myself a Big Mac meal. Nothing like two-all-beef-patties-specail-sauce-lettuce-cheese-pickles-onions-on a sesame seed bun, large fries and a Coke after puking my brains out … however, was only a mild consolation for missing both Waysted and Iron Maiden live!
You know what?

That's it for today ...

Phillip Tomasso

Monday, October 3, 2011

A Ghost Named Jenny

I remember after spending a year at SUNY Brockport, that I'd taken an English essay writing class at Monroe Community College. The professor gave an assignment: Write about something that affected your life in some way.

Not very specific. Actually, quite the opposite. It was a very general assignment.

I thrived in English and writing classes. While students asked for bare minimum guidelines, I asked if there was a page maximum. I knew what I'd write about, didn't have to think about it, and didn't want to be held back by word count or page limits.

Although we had a week to complete the assignment, I completed mine that night.

I wrote about Jenny.

I got the paper back the following week with a “D”. Under the grade it said: "Too much like King/Poe. This was not a fiction assignment."

Jenny affected my life forever. So, you tell me, whether I imagined the below tale or not, regardless of what you think, I believe it happened ... therefore, it affected me. Forever.

When my parents bought their second home in Gates (Rochester, NY), I was nearly two-years old. It is where they still live today. Three bedrooms upstairs, a living room and kitchen on the first level, and below, a family room, and under that a full basement.

If you stood in the living room and looked up the stairs, you'd see my sister's bedroom door, on the wall hung a painting. A young girl, in a white dress stood in a field of yellow flowers.

I always disliked the painting. We all know that when you walk by one, the eyes of the person depicted are said to follow you. The girl in this particular painting was no different. Her eyes followed me. Really followed me. I swore I’d seen them move on more than one occasion.

When I was fourteen years old I could stand it no longer. I took the painting down and put it out into the garage. I used a grilling fork--the ones with two long, sharp tines—and forked the eyes out of the canvas, and dropped the framed and ruined artwork into the Dumpster.

Two days later, when I went into the garage, I stopped short. Against the far wall leaned the painting. Eyeless, but somehow still staring at me.

I snatched up a hatchet and hacked the thing to pieces. I gathered the destruction in my arms and once again dropped it all into the Dumpster. My parents had claimed, and still claim, they took the painting out of the garbage that first time. Said they wanted to hang it back up.

But without eyes?

I don't think so.

This was when it all started. My nightmare.

Had my actions caused a stir in the spirit world? Perhaps.

In no particular order, I want to inform you that since that day I never slept in my bedroom again. I spent the next four years sleeping on the sofa in the living room until I moved away to college. And when I returned from school, I still slept on the sofa.


That first evening I fell asleep on my bed. I was on my back. My hands on my chest. I woke up. My right hand was numb. Under it, I felt another hand, a third hand. I lifted both my arms in the air. The other hand was still on my chest. I could not see it, but felt it. Cold. And now my chest, too, was numb.

I screamed. I called for my mom, and for my dad.

When my bedroom door banged open, the hand flew off my chest, and a cool wisp of wind blew by my face.

I fell out of bed and scrambled for my father, who told me I'd just had a nightmare.

I was prone to nightmares. Walking and talking in my sleep. My waking up screaming was nothing new. But this was different. I knew the difference.

Something of a slob, each morning I took my blankets off the sofa and rolled them up in my arms. I'd go up to the hall closet. Open the door, throw the blankets in and slam the door before the ball of fabric rolled back out. One day when I did this, a corner of blanket got caught in the door jamb. My sister was right beside me. Laughed at the fact I'd have to open the door, and try again. When I opened the door, we both gasped. Literally, gasped.

Every blanket in the hall closet was folded and neatly stacked. Including the ones I'd just tossed in. There was no corner of a blanket by the door jamb.

One night when my parents were out, some friends were over. It was winter. I was sixteen. They were headed to Blockbuster to rent a movie. I stayed home. In the living room I watched TV. Alone. I heard floorboards creak. (The house was carpeted. No hardwoods). Someone was behind me on the stairs. I was dressed in shorts and a T-shirt. No socks. No shoes. I needed to get out of the house. My legs didn't seem to work. I couldn't turn around. Wouldn't.

Instead, when I could finally stand, I stood. I kept my back to the stairs. I moved along the back of the couch slowly, and when I reached the door I booked out it. Into the snow. Feet cold, and ran for the street. Once in the street I turned back to the house. The front door slammed shut.

I waited outside for nearly twenty minutes, shivering, waiting for my friends to get back home. They all had a good laugh at my expense. I laughed along with them. Inside, my heart beat wildly against my ribcage.

It was on one night in particular that I learned Jenny's name.

I was asleep on the sofa. This may have been a dream. Felt like one. I'd opened my eyes, and seated on the chair across from me was a girl in a red robe. Her hair was wet, long, worn down over her face. (I wondered later if her hair covered her face because she had no eyes...)

She told me her name was Jenny. That she was not here to hurt me, but that she wanted a friend.

A friend.

One weekend when I was home for the weekend from Brockport, I'd brought a friend. She and I were in my room. We sat on my bed. She opened up to me, told me that she "saw" things no one else could see. I just politely nodded and listened as she counted off strange things she'd encountered. Know what? I didn't believe her. But I listened. Why not. I was just waiting for her to shut up, and take her shirt off. Figured I could stomach a few minutes of jibber-jabber.

And then she looked at me with wide eyes. She told me, we're not alone. I almost laughed. She wasn't joking. She asked me, "Who's Jenny."

My breath caught in my lungs. "What?" I asked.

"Jenny," she said. "Who's Jenny ... because she's not happy I'm here."

I grabbed the girl's hand. I got to my feet and ran for the bedroom door, pull/dragging her with me. As we stepped out of the bedroom, the bedroom door slammed shut. We practically flew down the stairs. Up in my room, things banged, and thumped and fell.

We ran out of the house ... breathless ...

Jenny might have wanted a friend, but she was jealous, it seemed. I don't think she liked me having a girl in the room. In fact, I think she was pissed.

Unfortunately, I never looked into Jenny, to try to figure out who she was, why she was haunting my parents' house, the way people do in movies, and in books ...

After getting married, and moving out of the house, I never saw signs of Jenny again. I've been back to my parents' house, have spent nights there, and nothing. Nothing.

I wonder if Jenny left; if she actually was a figment of my imagination, or . . . real?

To be honest, at this point -- I just don't know.

What I do know is, from the time I was 14, until I was 21, something kept me from sleeping in my room, kept me from ever getting a solid night's sleep. And, from the time I was 14 until I was 21, Jenny was as real as any ghost ... real. Whether she existed or not, whether you believe me or not, it happened.

That professor giving me a D was uncalled for. And I fought for a better grade, explaining all of this to the professor who, decidedly, changed my grade to a B.

Phillip Tomasso