Thursday, March 3, 2011

Waiting for Bruce Springsteen on the 4th of July.

The night before I flew to New Jersey to visit my grandparents in the summer of 1980, Sam and I scored a Thai stick from a neighborhood dealer and retrieved a 12 pack of Henry Weinhard’s from the dumpster behind Andy’s liquor store. Sam worked at Andy’s stocking shelves and always brought out a 6 pack or two to the dumpster with the evening trash. Rooting around in trash is well worth it if the end result is alcohol.

Before setting up shop in the park of our housing tract, we walked over Jason’s house to retrieve our communal pipe. It was buried in a plastic bag on the side of the house. Not wanting to include Jason in the night’s festivities, Sam quietly jumped over the fence, dug up the pipe and hopped back over, without out alerting Jason or his parents. We did this all the time and never got caught.

Leaning against a fence in the middle of our housing tract, Sam and I smoked pot and drank the stolen beer. Since I was leaving the next day, it should’ve been a memorable night of reflection and broken plans. It wasn’t. It was the typical teenager talk: who’s an asshole, fighting over bands we liked and didn’t like and girls – making fun of ugly girls. Our neighborhood friends joined us and it was an outdoor party. It was always an outdoor party.

On takeoff, I threw up in a barf bag. Knowing that this would probably happen, I position the bag within arm’s distance, next to the in-flight magazine. The Flight Attendant was nice enough to throw it away. I explained that I always threw-up on planes. She smiled, took the bag and walked away. No explanation needed.

For the rest of the flight, I tried to sleep and concentrate on not throwing up, repeating in my head: don’t throw, don’t throw up. This worked until we landed.

As the wheels of the planes touched down, I was busy filling up another barf bag. I was a mess. My over-sized mom shades had not left my head for the whole flight and I waved off any attempt at water or feeding me. I knew it would all come back up.

The plane stopped and passengers jostled to get their carry-ons and move toward the door. I had nowhere to put the barf bag so I placed it on the floor, leaning against the wall. On the lip of the bag, there was twisty-tie that I secured. I figured it would be ok and the cleaning crew would dispose of it.

Of course, I was wrong. The bag immediately toppled and started a river of barf that disappeared under the seat in front of me. I immediately distanced myself.

My grandparents met me at the gate. They reported to my parents that I was a little under the weather for the first few days of my trip. My parents knew the real story.

This would be a big year for me, a year of change. Aerosmith, Yes and Bruce Springsteen were quickly losing ground to the future: The Ramones, The Clash and The Jam. Before leaving, I went to my mom/s beautician and said I wanted to look like Sting, handing her a picture from the Police’s Reggatta de Blanc record. It would only be a few months before I tossed my Pink Floyd records in the air and replaced them with Minor Threat.

Without a car, I went to the beach on warm days, crabbed in the bay on cold days and wandered Seaside Heights amusement park at night, winning rock swag from numerous vendors; I took the bus to my childhood home in Allendale and visited my cousin in Princeton. However, my main objective of the summer was to go to the Asbury Park on the 4th of July. I thought maybe, just maybe, Bruce Springsteen would be there, walking the boardwalk like in one of his songs.

Asbury Park was a ghost town, a resort that closed up shop years ago and abandoned all hope. It was like a Bruce Springsteen song. Most businesses except a few tourist shops had closed and moved south to Pt. Pleasant, Seaside Heights or Wildwood. Only a few people walked the large boardwalk, looking for something of the past that wasn’t there. I was one of them.

Not wanting to go back, I explored the abandoned buildings and walked through the t-shirt shops, leafing through multiple Springsteen shirts. I still held out hope that Bruce and the Big Man were there, somewhere. Where else would he be on the 4th of July?

Paging through my well-worn copy of Dave Marsh’s Bruce Springsteen biography that I brought with me, I sat on a bench, looking at the ocean. I knew the Atlantic well. It was high tide and dead sand dollar jelly fish littered the surf from the weekend storm. The summer was dragging on and I had 4 weeks left before I went home to attend an ultimate Frisbee tournament with my team the Pleasanton Rastafarians (yes, that was the name).

It was time to go, he wasn’t here. Past Madame Marie’s, 2 loud, very drunk men wearing over-sized foam cowboy hats were making their way down the boardwalk. Besides their attention grabbing hats, they didn’t look like anybody else. Their hair, their dress, shoes – everything was different. With their self-assured cockiness, locals immediately pegged them from New York City. I had no idea, but at least they were interesting.

I kept my head down as I passed them. One of them stopped, turned and yelled, “Hey Dave, this kid has your book.” Wearing a yellow foam cowboy, Dave Marsh, author of the Bruce Springsteen biography I was holding, walked out of a t-shirt shop, big smile across his face, drunk as his friends. I had no idea who he was.

In the time it took him to approach, his friends told me he wrote the book I was holding. Without being too mean, they poked fun that I was in Asbury Park on the 4th of July waiting for Bruce Springsteen. He signed my book, autographed an Asbury Park postcard that I had purchased and patiently answered every Springsteen question I threw at him. Apparently the other two in cowboy hats were somebody too.

The night before I flew home, I went to Seaside Heights and got my right ear pierced. Before placing the piercing gun to my ear lobe, the teenager behind the counter informed me that getting your right ear pierced meant you were gay. It was like a verbal waiver. I said I knew, acknowledging that I couldn’t try to get my money back at a later time.

The next morning while taking a piss in the airport bathroom, a man to my right looked at my ear and said: “Faggot.”

Summer was over and so was rock-n-roll.


  1. Thanks, Tom. This Monday, right? Chicken Stop?

  2. Thanks, Kent. I met Springsteen a few months later in an elevator in LA.

  3. that's a different Tom, however,yes for Monday. And, yes, I concur: Nice.

  4. Nice job, Greg... (I once did the same thing looking Syd Barrett...)