I used to tell people I worked in the “social expression” industry. Their usual response…”so you work in porn.” “No”, I would respond, “I write those lovely sayings on the inside of greeting cards”. Not quite as interesting as porn, but much safer.
When the company laid me off there were no parting gifts, just lunch and a “Sorry to see you go” card signed by the gang I’d shared my living hell with over the past several years. To add insult to injury, the card was one I wrote.
It was Good Friday and I had nothing better to do than read the finance magazines stacked at the local coffee shop. While thumbing through a story about eBay and how they’d made $367 million last year, I figured it was time to check my garage for hidden treasure.
I was stunned by the sheer volume of old pizza boxes that had accumulated over a couple of winters (don’t judge me, you know you’re no better). I sifted through comic books, a “Get The Knack” skinny tie, a chia pet that doubles as a table lamp, a bust of Elvis. Then, I hit paydirt. A box of my old 45’s.
Amongst the requisite arena and/or glitter rock, I uncovered three dusty, overplayed singles: The Smithereens “A Girl Like You”, The Bangles’ “Manic Monday”, and The Records’ “Starry Eyes”, each a reminder of the rebellious, carefree spirit of my youth.
After careful deliberation (or about the time it takes to down two martinis) I decided to begin a quest to get each of these classic singles signed by the artists I so admired. With my wife’s blessing I gassed up the minivan, took my inhaler and some basic necessities, put my 45’s under my arm and hit the road for parts unknown. Okay, that may be an overstatement. I took my GPS.
First stop: Sterling, New Jersey
I am the cheapest man on the face of the earth and cheap, unemployed people do not buy GPS updates. To make matters worse, “Doris” (my wife insisted on giving our GPS a name) was the Russian mail order bride of the navigational world. She doesn’t really work and her English is limited to a single annoying phrase. “Please drive the highlighted route”.
With little help from Doris I had arrived at my destination, a little dive bar in the middle of nowhere. Pulling into the dirt parking lot I was more than a little anxious but, convincing myself that I was up to the task, I sauntered in like a fat, balding “The Situation”.
The place was full to capacity and then some. Had to be well above the fire code, I thought. Not long after my arrival a man dressed in black with a goatee and wearing a bicycle cap came out and plugged in his guitar.
While I was surprised at how large of man Pat DiNinzio had become (apparently needing to be on steroids for an illness had made him double his size from his early years), I was equally amazed at how little his voice had changed after 30 years. He transitioned effortlessly between songs, covering Smithereens hits as well as his solo material, all flawlessly. And he sang “A Girl Like You”. I was pleased.
By 3 am the bar was almost empty. Pat came out to pack up and call it a night. Time for me to do my thing. But what do you say to a man who is larger than life, a songwriting genius? I told myself that I would not start the conversation with “Gee, Mr. DiNizio, I’m such a big fan”. Way too cliche. But as I strode toward him through the smoke and haze of the bar, a strange force came over me and as if in a catatonic state or possessed by demons I blurted it out, “Pat, I’m a huge fan of yours.” DUH.
Over a couple of cheeseburgers (he stated that he hadn’t eaten in hours) we discussed everything from his prior senate run to the house concerts he performs from time to time. His attention began to wander and, sensing that I was loosing my audience, I veered the conversation toward my own interest in hosting a house concert. Not a very smart move for someone on the public dole. After glossing over some generalities, Pat asked me to email him with details so that we could resume discussion at a later date. On that note we parted, but not before he signed my single. Nice guy, I thought.
It was near daybreak and time to find the hotel, but not before “Doris” would chime in one last time with her biting commentary on my driving. It had been rumored for many years that Jimmy Hoffa was executed in these parts, his body buried beneath the end zone of Giant’s stadium. Doris, meet Jimmy.
After having disposed of “the body” I would get a good night’s sleep and start off again in the morning.
Stop Two: Carrboro, North Carolina.
I learned through a friend that Susanna Hoffs, lead singer of The Bangles, would be headed east…