Published on May 18th, 2016 | by Denise Borders1
Waiting In Line for the NOFX Book Signing (A Contributor Piece)
by: Scott Laudati
I left Portland, Maine at 9:30 a.m. and took a bus down the coast to New York City. I rarely see the morning. If I have to be somewhere early I usually stay up all night and drag through the next day completely useless, drinking coffee every 15 minutes for fuel. But all that caffeine really does is keep me sharp enough to constantly be on the lookout for a bathroom.
This Maine morning was about as terrible as I’d expected. Bright and sunny in all the wrong ways. I got to the bus station early and watched the terminal fill up. Nothing but children. Their parents flopped into chairs with deep graves under their eyes. They looked as tired as me, but luckily I didn’t have to keep anyone from getting kidnapped.
The day before I’d climbed a huge mountain on the western end of Maine called Pleasant Mountain. I saw my first porcupine on the way up. I’d always pictured them as hyper violent spear-cushions but this one seemed friendly as a puppy. I wanted to pet it but it crawled into a dark lair when I got close. And when I looked into the burrow I heard the growl of an animal that sounded much larger.
I climbed all day. Almost a straight vertical trail. I was sure that it would wear me out enough to get a good nights sleep. At the top, I looked west at New Hampshire. Smaller mountains rose like green pyramids to the horizon. Mt. Washington dwarfed them all, and looked like a Himalaya still snow capped in this late spring.
There was no early bed-time that night, though. I turned on the TV for some background noise and scrolled through the news channels. I noticed a black man on a stage with a Make America Great Again hat on. Given the blatant racism of Trump supporters I was curious enough to turn up the volume. Trump stood behind the man speaking, nodding in a way that crossed sympathy with approval. What is this con? I wondered.
It’s not a secret that Donald has to at least get some of the black vote. I don’t think His campaign is counting on high turnouts from Latinos (regardless of what he says). Race relations aren’t a taboo subject in America anymore. It’s an argument between the young and the old at every bowling alley and family reunion. Are cops targeting black kids? The young say ‘yes’. Is the institution racist? The old say ‘no’. And this is usually followed by The BIG question- How will Trump unite both whites and blacks?
That night I found my answer. The man in the Make America Great Again hat told a tale of family. His son, who had just called to say he’d be home soon, never made it. He was gunned down right after the phone call. Murdered for no reason by a Mexican man. And when the arrest was made, they found the gunmen had already been arrested three previous times… and he was an illegal.
And that was it. With the simplicity Trump has moved through every other deception, seeming misstep, campaign blunder, KKK endorsement, he had just achieved what every other politician in American history has attempted to do. He united both whites and blacks with the most basic tool- FEAR. A fear of the clandestine and always lurking illegal immigrant. Who, because of the “radical left”, will steal your job and eternally have the upper hand.
I couldn’t go to sleep after that scam. I spent the rest of the night You-tubing Trump insults and laughing like a moron. Why hadn’t any comedian tried this routine before? Andrew Dice Clay could’ve skipped all those midwest VFWs and just become president instead. Suddenly, it was morning. I took a shower, drove to the bus station and ate a green bar Xanax.
I was heading back to New York for a book signing. NOFX had just published an autobiography and that night they were hanging out at Strand. It was some sort of book pickup/meet and greet. But at 9:30 a.m. even hanging out with your favorite band seems like punishment. I thought about throwing in the towel. Finding a dumpster to sleep behind. But I’d already paid the $23 for the book preorder.
The bus was late leaving Maine. The kids were screaming and spilling food all over the floor. Luckily, the bus driver had more brains than any of the parents. He put on that stupid movie where Jimmy Fallon and Drew Barrymore fall in love because of the Red Sox. Or Jimmy Fallon has a Red Sox fetish. I couldn’t tell. I never plugged the headphones in. When I saw Jimmy Fallon’s face come on, I thought “no way, even kids have to hate this guy”. But they all shut up and zoned out.
I never actually fell asleep on the way to New York. I wanted to look at the scenery on the way home but it wasn’t pretty. Once we got south of Maine’s pine trees there wasn’t even any green. Somehow the Jimmy Fallon movie played on a continuous loop for six hours. I never saw the same scene twice and the movie seemed to run as one long, continuous nightmare that never ended.
As we parked in New York the bus driver’s voice came on the intercom. “Thank you for riding with us,” he said. “And go Sox!” The whole bus went berserk and sang Sweet Caroline. Clearly this was some sacred ritual because no one missed a word. After they calmed down a woman leaned over to me and asked “is New York City safe?”
“No,” I said. “Leave immediately.”
The trains in New York never run as advertised. They don’t even pretend to stick to any kind of schedule. On this day the E train was running on the A tracks but making local F stops. It’s tourist season in The City and foreigners were scratching their heads. A German lady with a sun visor and a fanny pack asked me about the trains.
“I have no idea,” I said. “I’ve lived here for years and I never know where the train is bringing me.”
I had about two hours to kill before the NOFX signing. I took an uptown train and got out at the north end of Central Park. No one ever visits the top of Central Park. It’s probably the last hidden gem of the whole city. The North Woods portion of the park is a deep forest, full of wildlife and slow moving brooks. The noise of the city disappears almost instantly, and even though you’re right in the middle of all the madness, you might as well be in Montana. I was on the lookout for migratory birds on their way back to Canada. I think it was too early in the season though, the only bird I saw of any note was an Oriel.
I was running low on time and it started raining so I took a train back downtown to Union Square. When I climbed above ground I got a text from my girlfriend: don’t forget we have an 8:30 dinner at Indochine.
I was already on almost thirty hours of no sleep and pretty stupid from the Xanax. The last thing I wanted was to make my poor girlfriend deal with my condition. But dinners at Indochine don’t come easy.
The restaurant was a New York icon in the 80’s. It was one of Warhol’s favorites. Madonna hung out there. Every socialite passed through it’s doors. And unlike everything else that was once cool, Indochine never lost it’s flavor. The waitresses were all six-foot supermodels with Russian accents. There was almost never an open table. My girlfriend got the reservation because she’s a concierge at the most infamous hotel in Manhattan.
The line outside of Strand was about one hundred people deep when I arrived. A Strand employee asked my name. I gave it to him and he said, “your wife was looking for you”.
“My wife?” I asked.
“Georgia. Is your wife’s name Georgia?”
“I don’t have a wife.”
He didn’t believe me. He repeated my last name to another employee.
“Yes”, he said. “A girl named Georgia said ‘when Laudati gets here tell him his wife is looking for him’.”
We both stared at each other.
“Do me a favor?” I asked. “Don’t tell her I’m here.”
He wrapped a wrist band around my arm and continued down the line. I was definitely curious but I’ve never met anyone named Georgia. Everything was becoming confusing so I decided to leave it alone.
I could only see two girls on the whole line. One in the front and the other right behind me. They were both too pretty for a line full of ugly men. And oddly, they both had the same blue hair.
Fat Mike (wearing a skirt) and Melvin suddenly stomped down the sidewalk. As they walked into Strand, Melvin yelled, “I am Eric Melvin!”
It was exciting for ten seconds, but then nothing happened. The line moved at a slow trickle for forty-five minutes. We were looping around the main entrance of Strand into the side door. On normal days this is where you enter to sell your used books.
There was a group of punk rockers from Queens in front of me. I heard one of the guys talking about the new Ramones exhibit that had just opened at the Queens Museum. He said Pearl Jam had been there for the opening ceremony. What a dumb band to have introduce The Ramones, I thought. He also said, “Simon and Garfunkel, the Ramones, and Run DMC, all went to the same high school.”
Two young guys wearing Make America Great Again hats walked by the line. They were both in expensive suits. One of the guys had a cellphone in each hand. The other said to him, loudly, “when are they going to stop letting white trash like this into our city.”
I thought about when I was young and the only thing my friends and I wanted to be were rockstars. Our biggest argument was whether Green Day or NOFX was the better band (time has made this obvious). But these Trump goons were almost my age, and it was clear they had never been kids. I always assumed that Fat Mike and Billie Joe Armstrong were everyones heroes, but the Patrick Bateman’s of the world skip all that. Rich guys are their rockstars. And here our two worlds collided, on this corner, where someday the poor and the artists would be barred from blocking their path.
It was getting close to my turn to walk into Strand. I was suddenly hit with massive anxiety. What the hell am I going to say, I thought. NOFX is my favorite band. I had brought a copy of my book to give them, but I didn’t know if that was lame, so I left it on the train. Other than that I hadn’t thought about our interaction. I tried to think of something that would make them laugh, but even on a full nights sleep no one thinks I’m funny.
Then it was my turn. I walked in and all four band members were sitting on a counter. There was a rope behind us that created a sort of conveyor belt. A book was sent down the line of NOFX guys and they signed them as weird fans yelled weird questions. The blue-haired girl from behind me somehow ended up in front of me. Fat Mike singled her out right away. Nice play, I thought.
Fat Mike looked up at someone’s shirt and said “Hey, I love that band.”
I couldn’t see what band it was. They had a few words about someone being gay. Then Fat Mike said to him, “you should see my asshole. My wife spreads it wide open and shoves huge shit in it.”
I kind of stumbled down the line and said “hi” to Melvin. He gave me a huge smile and said, “thanks dude!”. El Hefe and Smelly both gave a wave and said thanks as I walked by. Someone from Strand handed me a book at the end of the line. And then it was over. That was almost too efficient, I thought.
I had about an hour before Indochine so I walked to the St. Mark’s Hotel. Once upon a time it was the East Village’s Hotel Chelsea. And anyone who needed heroin money could go to the St. Mark’s Hotel and give a blowjob in the bathroom for a few bucks. In high school they would serve us beer without question. The downstairs bar still has a decent amount of grime. I sat down and ordered a pint.
An old burned-out drunk sat down next to me.
“What’s that?” He pointed at my book.
“It’s called The Hepatitis Bathtub.”
Trump was on the TV giving a speech. The old guy pointed at the screen.
“That’s what I’m talking about”, he said. “Trump’s the guy to get things done.”
I read about thirty pages before my girlfriend showed up. It was full of all the nasty shit I was hoping for. A whole expose on the lives of the men I’d looked up to for almost twenty years. If you’ve never been on tour you have a really romantic idea of the road. Unless you’re Maroon 5, tour is a pretty rotten experience. It’s a few filthy dudes in a tiny compartment who don’t sleep for months at a time. But it’s also the best adventure you’ll ever have. The NOFX book was capturing this perfectly.
My girlfriend is from Massachusetts so she had never seen St. Mark’s Street before it was whitewashed. I took her outside to show her Trash & Vaudeville but it was vacant.
“This was the last punk rock street”, I said. “It’s all over now.”
We walked further east to Search & Destroy.
“This store is the best”, I said. “Neighborhood people take shits on each other and they hang the pictures up around the store.”
My girlfriend looked a little disturbed. The front window of Search & Destroy has disfigured baby dolls stacked on top of each other. It looks like the mass grave of a genocide.
“This is definitely your scene”, she said.
“There’s all this weird Hitler memorabilia,” I said. “It’s a freak show.”
We went inside. All the Nazi shit was gone. So were the shit fetish photographs. I looked at the price tags on their clothes. A denim jacket was $400.
My girlfriend was doing her best to look enthused. But she was right, even Search & Destroy had been sanitized. We were going to do a loop around the store but there were so many Chinese tourists we couldn’t even move. How long will it be before they gut this place and put in a Dunkin’ Donuts, I wondered.
We headed back up St. Mark’s towards Indochine. It was a new New York and everything cool was dead. But the world keeps moving and at least on this night, it was pretty nice be able to walk hand in hand with my girlfriend down streets that not so far in the past would’ve been too dangerous to find any romance on. Even with the soul extinct the heart keeps beating.
At Indochine we ate $300 worth of vegetarian food served to us by a Russian model who liked like a James Bond villain. My girlfriend went to the bathroom and the guy sitting next to me asked if she was my girlfriend or my sister.
I don’t care where you’re from, a question like that only means one thing.
“Do you want a fight?” I asked. I pointed at his date. “Is that your sister or your girlfriend?”
“Well talk to her then,” I said. “I’m eating.”
Indochine comped our meal and on the way out we passed Nas eating with a hip guy in sunglasses. We went back to my girlfriends apartment in Harlem and didn’t say much. I collapsed onto her bed and read about NOFX and punk rock while fire engines and ambulances and car horns drifted through the open windows. Then I slept for two days and didn’t miss a thing.