RE-ELECT THE EMPTY GATORADE BOTTLE

Aquarian Weekly
6/19/24
 
Reality Check
 
RE-ELECT THE EMPTY GATORADE BOTTLE
Does Less Harm Than Donald Trump

In 2020, with the world in a tailspin, locked down with people dying everywhere from Covid-19, hospitals jammed with too many patients to tend to and the economic fallout epic, someone had the gall to ask me for whom I was voting for president. There happened to be an empty Gatorade bottle sitting on the table next to us. I pointed to it, and said, “I would vote for this empty Gatorade bottle rather than put Donald Trump back in charge.” My reasoning was that the bottle would do less damage. And so, my answer was Joe Biden.

As it will be again.

Not because I adore the president or his presidency, but this narrative that he is a walking shell of a human at 82 is overblown. Agism at its worst – have you guys seen Mick and Keith on tour this Stones summer? I mean, this ain’t 1972, but shit, no one reading this can do what they’re pulling off in their 80s for nearly three hours over the course of months, no matter your age. Yeah, Biden’s old, and I considered that someone younger might be better, but then I thought, would they? Assuming he is shot, the numbers sure don’t indicate the “walking shell” is a problem. In fact, he’s killing it. 

There are issues (there are always issues) but things could be and should be waaaayy worse (not the least of which the recession that was predicted for three years as we’ve pulled out of the pandemic’s economic disaster – better than any nation in Europe – especially when you consider what catastrophic condition the Trump Administration left us in. People have amnesia about that mess. Like in the early aughts when it was chic to say, “George Bush kept us safe,” conveniently forgetting the first nine months of his administration that ended with the worst attack on this country since Pearl Harbor. Some people choose to remember pre-2020, which was one crazy fuck-up after the next anyway, ignoring that Trump’s “leadership” killed thousands of citizens and plunged us into the worst economic crisis in nearly a century in his final year in office.

So, let’s say Biden is a shell, or in my thinking, the empty Gatorade bottle; had that shell been president from 2017 through the Covid crisis, there would have been a National Security Council directorate for global health, security and bio-defense, which was in charge of preparing for the possible outcome of a national pandemic. But Trump dismantled it. The Gatorade bottle wouldn’t have. Better result.

Pushing my Gatorade bottle analogy further, right now, as stated, the United States has the most robustly powerful recovery and growth of any industrialized nation on the planet. Inflation is down from nine percent from its worst after the pandemic subsided two years ago to 3.3 percent, and that is without a predicted recession. Sure, the price of groceries and other goods remain high and will likely stay that way because that is how the blessed free market works. Once they raise prices, they’re not bringing them down – by a little, maybe (which they are). But if they did come down hard that would be what they call “market deflation,” and that is very, very bad, leading to rising unemployment and wages to plummet.

Prices of goods, of course, have zero to do with the executive branch of the government, as is the interest rate (the Fed handles that) and should. Like the stock market (record highs under the Gatorade bottle) and for the most part, gas prices (also down) are independent factors. This is called the free market. This is what people who are not Marxist dig, and in that paradigm this economy is fucking humming. 

The numbers sure don’t indicate the “walking shell” is a problem. In fact, he’s killing it. 

The leading indicator of this is the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the growth rate of which illustrates the general health of the economy. Assuming Biden is a shell and/or an empty Gatorade bottle, the U.S. is enjoying consumer spending growth of 2.3% in 2024, supported by solid early-year momentum, following a 2.2% advance in 2023. Residential investment surged 13.9% – its third consecutive quarterly gain and the third largest in a decade. A wild man like Trump would only screw this up with tariffs and mass deportations and personal vendettas against booming industries. The empty bottle is the safer bet.

Most importantly in all this boom, wages are up above the rate of inflation for the past calendar year. People make more money based on the cost of living, and according to the US Index of Consumer Sentiment, it was up to 77-percent last month, a tick-up of 17-percent from April. 

Going “up,” to be clear, is a sign of things are moving in the right direction. Travel is up. Recreational activity is up. Non-discretionary spending is up. When wages don’t match or exceed inflation we have Stagflation, which is not happening. The opposite is, and it is damn good. Better than at any time under Trump, in fact.

Unemployment too is down from when Trump left office from 6.3-percent to about four percent, which has risen slightly from the past two years where it hovered at 3.7-percent. In fact, for the past two years we have seen historic sustained job growth. Just last month the country produced 272,000 jobs, above expected 180,000.

Chock all this up to the Gatorade bottle or the “old man,” because if Trump, who is busy going around erroneously painting this country as a hellhole, gets back into the White House he is promising to flip the narrative, and the other side of all this good news will be bad news. Period. 

The Empty Gatorade Bottle (capitalizing it because it’s a thing now) has also managed to watch the national crime rate plummet 15-percent, especially violent crime, which is way down across the country. Why? Because the economy is cruising. I see it. Roads are packed with travelers and workers heading to their gigs. Cities are flourishing (I go to NYC every week and there are more people walking around, attending shows, concerts, shopping, filling parks and packing the bars, than I have seen in years). Under the noisy, sloppy goofball human who last held office, crime rates skyrocketed. His repeated violent rhetoric at rallies and from the bully (emphasis on bully) pulpit didn’t help matters. The Empty Bottle… well, you get it. 

Biden is too old? Considering these stellar economic numbers, (not to mention keeping NATO together – which Trump wants to eradicate – during the Russian invasion of Ukraine) and the fact that he is the only candidate standing between a national abortion ban and a religious take-over of the federal government, then maybe we need someone older! Did someone say centenarian?

Without getting too much into the weird hypocrisy of framing the president as an evil manipulator of the DOJ to weaponize against his enemies after stealing a national election at the same time they say he is a doddering old fool who can’t spell his name, let’s just say that whatever that creaky fella is doing is working on every indication of how we’ve measured presidents for the past two centuries. I didn’t come up with these parameters, but if you do the homework like I do, you come up with the truth: Things are good and getting better. Not worse. Anyone who doesn’t understand this is either misinformed or just wants to believe what they believe, like Trump won in 2020 or whatever propaganda the fascist media tells them. 

Assuming we have an Empty Gatorade Bottle in the White House, and things keep rocking, he has my vote.

Worked out fantastically last time.

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OPEN LETTER TO MY WIFE

Aquarian Weekly
6/12/24
 
Reality Check
 
OPEN LETTER TO MY WIFE
On the Occasion of our 25th Wedding Anniversary

I know you hate this.

My professing the joy of loving you in print is irresistible even in the face of your abhorrence. But to be fair, if after over a quarter-century of living with me and quite of few of these published missives (I lost count) on our seminal anniversaries, you should be used to it by now. I would say you should have already braced yourself, like I do when we enter a cat shelter and expect to leave with one. But for the sake of decorum and to alert readers of how much you are a painfully private person married to a pathetically loquacious public one, and someone who clearly has no problem using this space to express my ecstatic bliss and utter shock by our unbroken chain of civic monogamy, I decided it best to begin with this disclaimer.

With that out of the way, let’s start with the glaringly obvious: There should be a congratulatory citation for living with me. Maybe a trophy. At the very least a silver plaque (it is silver for 25, right?) with “For Outstanding Achievement in Dealing with a Lunatic” embossed on it. But, shit, words don’t matter. As much as I worship at the Literate Altar, they pale. There is zero chance I can capture what it has meant to be by your side these 25-plus years – counting the half-year of bunking and one trip around the sun in blissful if not harried engagement, and then the plunge on June 12, 1999 on the cusp of the millennium.

For those reading this space long enough and having endured these missives over the years, they know the tale of our nuptials, the poetry readings, song-singing, head-shaving madness. Married by a woman in a theater in Syracuse. That is how we rolled. Went west. Camped at the Grand Canyon, then cruised northwest to Joshua Tree and up the coast among the red woods into Big Sur. If I close my eyes right now, I am there. Try it. It’s cool. You and me, bald, grimy, and filled with wonder, sipping beer and gorging on left-over Indian food. Billiards with the barflies in North Beach. Coyotes. Giant flies. Tents. L.A. Solidarity. Arguably the best two weeks of my life.

Being with you, and now with our current triumvirate filled out by our daughter, who is a strange combination of us, has perhaps topped it. That girl. Sixteen. Wise ass. Funny. Creative. Way cooler by rights than should be allowed. She travels well. She likes to sleep like you and argue like me. Plus, she is a cat nut. That one is more on you than me, but we share it because we share the blood coursing through her veins – the crazy lust for life (mischief and revelry), and furious anger at all the other stuff – kind of blood. Music. Passion. Art. Feminism. Our Pagan Warrior. I am lucky to wake her up every day.

We did good, huh?

All those walks discussing our future, what we wanted to do, what we wanted to create. Your photography and painting and yoga, my writing and the other distractions. 

My main distraction, though, let’s face it, has always been you. 

I love being distracted by your beauty, your quiet grace and impenetrable strength. Your wit. Dark. Biting. Your smoldering calm and impassioned defiance of bullshit. I love being distracted by your voice when we sing together. Friday nights. Beer. Guitars. Songs. When we sing on stage, I am always distracted by sitting next to you, listening to your breath, your tone, your phrasing, your rumbling nerves, your unwavering courage. As I am distracted by wherever you are, right by me, in that place you should be, whether in a theater on Broadway, in the car traversing the miles, a beach in Mexico, a café in Paris, a pub in Dublin or London or Greenwich Village (okay, so we like bars), and lying next to you in our bed, no matter what country or city that bed might be in. We own it, you and me.

There is zero chance I can capture what it has meant to be by your side these 25-plus years

That is a nice distraction from the have-tos and sort-ofs and musts and everyday clamor that gets in the way of merely being in your presence.

Okay, so back to 25.

How the fuck did this happen? We were huddled in the Putnam Bunker – blessedly poor, hungry, confused, and hourly amorous, and then those glorious couple of years at Fort Vernon – alone, together, our embrace of independence, and then nearly two decades at the Clemens Estate. That was some fine distractions. Watching baseball. Hiking. Drinking. Dancing. Lounging. 

Fort Vernon is arguably my favorite two years. I mean, if I had to choose. Don’t make me choose. I cannot fathom a world before or after we met that doesn’t have our daughter in it. It’s like she’s always been here, but quietly waiting to invade the duo. She fits like a glove.

The girls. My family.

So damn intensely, supremely distracting.

Along the way we survived births and deaths, our growth as artists (you’re the artist, I’m a craftsman – writing is a craft, and art, well, we can go back to that argument about what art is) has been a fine journey. I write for you. I tell people this – interviewers, fellow scribes, friends and family, and it is true. Vonnegut wrote for his sister, Hemmingway for his first wife, Salinger for some kid he met on a beach, I write for you. I envision you reading my books and I hope you dig them, and when you don’t totally dig them or this column or any feature I crank out, you tell me, and I am better for it. 

And when you do like it, like those paragraphs in my first book, or something I wrote when Warren Zevon died, I am lifted. 

This is why merely holding your hand is a kind of resurrection for me. Strike that, “merely” connotes it is a banal gesture of intimacy, but for me it is a silent reminder of why in your presence, your distraction, I am invincible, and when you are not right here next to me, I can still feel it. It travels well, like our daughter. And it is also cooler than it has any right to be.

And so, happy anniversary to you and your incredible spirit and patience and vulgarity and resolve and humor and your force of feminine sexuality.

Take this as my gift.

Sorry it is not a trophy.

But I am sure a pub will do. 

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Mo – King of the Clemens Estate – 2009 – 2023

Aquarian Weekly
11/1/23
 
Reality Check
 

James Campion
 
 
Mo – King of the Clemens Estate – 2009 – 2023

Dignity. That is the word that keeps invading my thoughts as I comprehend the death of another of our beloved cats. I’ve penned five of these since 1997 when I embarked on this sojourn of expression, argument, and general mayhem. Each one of these eulogies becoming harder than the next. Getting older now myself, I appreciate the concept of death far more. Four years removed from saying goodbye to my dad, who’s birthday passed only from the final breaths of our latest ex-feline. James V loved Mo. I guess dignity knows dignity.

His given name was Rivera. We got him in 2009, only a few months old, as the Yankees were on the cusp of winning their fifth World Series title with the enormous contributions of one Mariano Rivera aka Mo. So, he was Rivera. But we called him Mo from the start and so did my daughter Scarlet, who was there when he was plucked from the shelter and subsequently became the first word she was able to write soon after. She couldn’t be prouder than to scrawl his name across a whiteboard or random scrap of paper, “MO.” Over and over. We realized the morning he passed that this was the first of the cats to go that she remembers from his arrival

And Scarlet knew Mo well. It is a fine tale of the toddler and the little girl and the tween and teen and her big, male cat. At his most robust, Mo was 21 pounds. He was long and grey and when she held him his body engulfed her. He looked like a lion. That was fitting. He had a regal countenance. A king. We once had a Queen around here. Mazzy. Mo was her grey successor. He had to “deal” with two black cats, deferring to their domain and acquiescing like a gentleman despite the fact that he could have killed them both within seconds. That is if he’d been as crazy as the cat he actually replaced. 

That would be Parker.

She was grey, lean, and extremely mean. She had the sniping disposition of her namesake, Ms. Dorothy Parker. She terrorized our other two cats, so she had to go. It was sad, but we had to send her back. Never thought the animal-crazed Vegan wife would go for it, but it became a matter of survival for the black ones cowering in the cellar. Yeah, Parker only lasted maybe a week, two? Back to the drawing board.

I KNOW what I will miss the most is the quiet times we had together on the couch.

And so here came Mo, big, bad, and serene as they come. It was if he knew his role. Calm things down. Get along to go along. From the moment we got him out from under the guest room bed he was a joy. Mostly quiet, very matter of fact in gate (which always included the requisite click-clacking of his incessantly growing claws) and comportment. He patiently waited his turn to eat and only swiped at cats that gave him shit, inside or out. One of the three black ones he had to endure (we kept bringing these damn black cats into the fray, but he sucked it up), Bukowski – who, once more lives up to his namesake. Jesus, he is a walking Hank: Likes to fight, annoy everyone around him, eat like a beast and lounge as if every minute is siesta. 

But Mo endured. Even when the two kittens came the summer before last. He just sighed and soldiered on. He was cool. As long as he could sit in his “Mo Patch” – a little spot out by our hot tub above the patio. Or he might lounge on the hill leading up to the barn or on the balcony outside our bedroom, looking up at the sun and feeling the breeze on his cheeks and brush past his whiskers. He would close his eyes and you can feel his damn smile. It was visceral. 

He was, in the end, a cat of simple pleasures. He didn’t hunt like the others, whine like the others (until towards the end when he was a cranky old man) or create useless drama. 

My mom took to him, and she pretty much despises almost every living creature on God’s green. But there was something Italian in Mo – he liked to eat, loved life, and got his rest. All these things are important to Phyllis Campion – relax and mangiare! Yeah, Mo could mangiare! He was the first down for breakfast and the last getting his calories in at night. He may have waited his turn, but when it was his turn, politely back the fuck up; the Great Rivera is dining.

But I think, nah, I KNOW what I will miss the most is the quiet times we had together on the couch. If I was sitting there, usually writing, sometimes reading, other times just watching TV, no matter where the hell Mo was, he’d find his way to lean on me, put his giant paws on my lap, and nuzzle his head into my hip. As I pounded out words on this infernal contraption, he would purr and give the other cats and anyone who might saunter by the side-eye. This was our time together. No sharing! He may have liked those times as much as eating, I tell myself, but then I realize I’m just being a melodramatic human idiot. Mo loved eating most of all. 

I am grateful that through that horrible pandemic I got to spend more time at home, the silver lining to the world collapsing. I was fortunate to be “stuck” inside and enjoy all that offered – being with family, including the four-legged ones. And Mo was the highlight because he just hung. No one around here hangs out with me, and I guess now no one will. And that’s okay, ‘cause ain’t no one hangin’ like Mo. He cannot be replaced. I made the words. He made the purring. Good partnership agreement. Yeah, gonna miss that.

And so we bid a hearty and melancholic ado to our King of the Clemens Estate. He was a benevolent and sympathetic ruler. He just needed quit time and a meal close at hand. There is never enough time to love that, I think. I should have loved it and him more. Life moves fast. Mo didn’t. He had his own clock. And that one stopped at 2:40 AM on Tuesday, October 24., 2023.

The king is dead, long live Mo. 

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SIX-OH

Aquarian Weekly
9/14/22
 
Reality Check
 

James Campion
 
 
SIX-OH
How Age Happens to The Worst of Us
 
The day I am writing this, which also happens to be the day it goes to press, I will turn sixty. That is six decades on this planet, which seems simultaneously to be perfectly acceptable to the time/space continuum and yet freakishly bizarre in the same framework. Like most of life, it’s all occurred incredibly fast and painfully slow at the same time. What I wrote in this space twenty years ago on the eve of turning forty, still stands. I have always seen the whole thing as if living several lives, not just one. None of us remain unchanged, unevolved, even though most of us fight like hell to avoid it. Then I went and had a daughter, who has been a whole bunch of people in just fourteen years, never mind sixty. She obliterated any quaint illusions of stasis for the purposes of slowing down time, subjectively explaining my own plight while objectively reviewing another with the same DNA. 

Wait, what was my point? 

Oh, right, in 2002 I pondered, “Aging, or should I say, experiencing life, is an odd process, seeing how most of what you really know is what is right in front of you and most of what you’ve already accumulated in the way of knowledge is ghostly, like a dream of some kind. And by the time you reference this crap it’s so completely meaningless in the realm of your current reality, you seem like a doddering factfinder trying to impress the congregation.”

But then a few weeks ago I surmised about how cool it was that Paul McCartney has lived to the ripe young age of eighty, despite, you know, the drugs and the rock star stuff – especially in the wake of two of the other four Beatles having died young, or younger. And I believe that too, because I having survived long enough to gather information and experience and having the honor to watch nieces and nephews and your daughter grow up and your dearest friends and family age long enough to bitch about the same stuff and get excited by the other stuff is very cool.

Am I saying here that I prefer to be alive at sixty than dead?

Yes, I am saying that… and more.

Then, yesterday, Queen Elizabeth II died. She’d been queen longer than I’ve been around. Damn. That is titanic perspective right there on the primacy of hanging in. Good for her.  

It’s good to be above ground and falling apart and turning a deep, dark crimson inside.

Having a bit of road behind you is a boon in England, but aging is something we do not prize in the U.S. There are billions of dollars spent in this country to retard the aging process or make us forget about it or to try and stay “relevant” or “hip” or at be least aware of things around us that people much younger than us in ages we used to be comprehend. I am lucky to have worked covering pop culture and specifically music these past thirty or so years, and twenty-five of them at the Aquarian Weekly. Because this paper is both history (we’re in the R&R Hall of Fame archives, bitches) and current events, I’ve enjoyed penning this column. It has kept me engaged in some strange and dangerous places, and I am better for it. I have been afforded the ability to write books on history and current events in music as well, and let’s face it, it is an advantage to be alive to do it. I have always been proud to be a post-Boomer writer. I like that I straddle the demon line between Boomer and X and know enough to opine on you Y and Z fuckers and millennials and now with this daughter of mine, whatever crazy crap you kids are cooking up.

I mean, it ain’t Queen Elizabeth II perspective, but it’s pretty good.

Hey, we’re all getting older, and for each of us it all comes down to perspective. When I was forty, I did not feel old or out of touch at all. In fact, it was the first time in my hell-bent life that I felt like a functioning human being, which I did not entertain in my thirties. Hell, my twenties were a blur, so let’s not belabor that nonsense. But after forty, and after fifty for that matter, I could see the finish line, making me less inclined to waste time and procrastinate on the things that make me happy personally, professionally and creatively. Getting to six-oh means I am getting closer to twenty-five years married to the best person I know, but I will keep her out of this, because she is much younger than me and keeps reminding me of it and should. But just having all those years behind us and the memories and the trust and the fortitude we built can only be achieved through the years. There is no substitute for time. You can’t cheat it, or it cheats you. And I must say having lived, and having lived with her, has taught me that it’s good to be above ground and falling apart and turning a deep, dark crimson inside. 

There was a time when I would mark my writing life and its remaining time by Hunter S. Thompson, who did all he could to end his life about fifty times in his sixty-plus years among us. Then Hunter said, “Fuck it, I’m done” in 2005 and put a bullet in his head. That bummed me out for so many reasons, but the crucial one is that the “Let’s see how long Hunter can keep this up?” measure clock stopped. In his suicide note he remarked, “It is 17 years past 50. 17 more than I needed or wanted. Boring.”

Hunter wasn’t wrong about much, but he was way off on that one. Or at least he was way off for me. I’ll keep this going as long as I can love and be loved, question and be questioned, write and read and listen to the blessed glorious sounds coming from my turntable. Watch baseball. Smoke cigars. Drink gin. Watch sun sets. Eat apples. Fuck. Fight. Have black cats. Be the guy who was born the same year as the Rolling Stones and Spider-Man and miss the things and the people who could not for one reason or another continue to move along with me. But I remember them fondly. It’s what you do with time. 

Six-oh.

Let’s keep going.

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SADIE – 2006 – 2/22/22

Aquarian Weekly
3/2/22

Reality Check

James Campion

SADIE – 2006 – 2/22/22

My thoughts recover
The days that are over,
And I weep.
        – Paul Verlaine

And though she be but little, she is fierce.
               – William Shakespeare


It was a day I have dreaded for years. You can say, even mentally and emotionally prepared for. It came. And none of that mattered. When my wife and I took our sixteen year-old feline lady of the house, Sadie to die at the West Milford Animal Hospital, it took pieces of me I don’t believe I’ll get back. I have never decided that something so dear, so seminal in the ecosystem of my family needed to die. She suffered these past few weeks, but even until the last moment I wrestled with this and thought how can any human do this, never mind willfully hunt and kill an animal? Because they don’t name her and live with her and cuddle her and sing songs to her and watch her capture the essence of your daughter from the moment she slept in the crib with her, and then on the day she dies, Scarlet, now thirteen, tearily says, “She was my first friend?” Then you can kill them? Well, good luck to you and your soul. It took everything in me not to grab her little, barely breathing body and run for cover. Let her die at home, naturally. But that is selfish and stupid and very human. She did not deserve another long night of pain. She deserved peace. She gave that to us for sixteen years. We had to give it back, in the most horrible of circumstances.

Sadie was, as I wrote when her brother, Salinger died six years ago, a “two-for-one deal that my wife, of course, talked me into – little black cats jammed into a box together, licking each other and snuggling and biting and fighting and being a classic duo.” They were our Little Pishers, who breathed new life into things around The Clemens Estate after the untimely and mysterious death of The Gueem. We were unsure even then that Sadie would make it through that first year, making so many days to an animal hospital up in Newton, that when Scarlet was born, in a “people hospital” up there, I got to know that run so well, it was a snap.    

Sadie led the way.

This made more sense, as very soon, she and Scarlet would be inseparable. Nothing made my daughter laugh or gave her such joy. These last few years Sadie roomed with her. She had to. The invasion of the once feral cat, now a member of the family, Bukowski terrorized her, and she found refuge there. Every morning when I would wake a grumpy Scarlet for school, Sadie would be at attention meowing, doing her thing. I would implore her, “Wake up your baby sister already!” She would look at me as if I were mad; “You know who this is lying here, right?” I could almost hear her say. “She hates school and loves sleeping; good luck to ya.”

Sadie always found a way to communicate to us. I know I have waxed poetic in this column over the past twenty-five years about the passing of our cats (the aforementioned Gueem, Salinger, and our beloved Queen of Vernon, Mazzy), but none of them had the communicative inter-species talents of Sadie. The second you were in her space, if you approached her, or you did not get that she needed water or maybe a treat, or the desire to sit by her cherished fireplace (man she liked it warm – watching her turn her face to the sun in summer was a transcendent experience) she’d let you know it. There was very little guessing with Sadie, there was within her, as Ernst Hemingway once mused in his cats, an “absolute emotional honesty.” Papa should know. He owned dozens of them.

Sadie was our constancy, our north star.

A key aspect of having a cat for sixteen years (a record around here) is that there is a pure lineage to it. For instance, Scarlet did not know a world without her, and just this morning my wife said,” When I lost Gueem, I had Mazzy, and when I lost her, I had Sadie, I feel like I don’t have any comfort now.” Of course, I argued for the boys, but Mo, our gray cat of thirteen years and the new guy, Bukowski do not make themselves available – they are in and out and all around, disappearing to do God know what. Unless food is in the offing, other than that, it’s freewheeling. Sadie was our constancy, our north star. When we went away, she would have that look that let you know you were leaving her and the home, and when we returned, she had that pissed countenance, like, “How dare you?” But she would be here waiting. Patiently. To be Sadie.

I was doing what I call “cat math” with my extended family this past weekend in Syracuse. And I have come to some harsh conclusions about how many of these felines I have left in me. If I get a kitten this year – and you can bet your ass it will be a black male that I have been waiting for since Salinger ditched me – and if the little bugger lives as long as Sadie, I’m looking at seventy-fucking-six. And if I’m still writing this column then you can drive me to the vet and let me go quietly. There won’t be any goddamn eulogy for him.

Okay, it’s getting late, and I have to end this. But I don’t want to. I want to keep writing about Sadie. Makes me feel less sad. It is, as my managing editor wrote me this morning, cathartic for writers to deal with grief. I’m reminded of what Charles Bukowski wrote about his cat, how “it walks with a surprising dignity” and think of how elegant Sadie was until the end, trying to be Sadie, as her body failed her. She never wavered from being her.

But I guess I’ll leave you guys now and keep writing and talking and celebrating the sixteen special years we had this magnificent creature.

And while I do that, hug your pet.

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NAVIGATING THE CAR DEALERSHIP GAMUT  

Aquarian Weekly
10/6/21
 
Reality Check
 

James Campion
 
 
NAVIGATING THE CAR DEALERSHIP GAMUT  
& Seeking an Auto in Wild Times of Mega Deception  
 
 
Editor’s Note: This column is dedicated to jc’s brother, P.J. Campion, whose guidance, and stellar recon work put him in a position to survive some crazy shit.
 
Author’s Note: If you have read this column for even a week, much less the last twenty-four years, you know what a cynical skeptic I am. I’ve purchased many cars and faced some bizarre behavior for decades, and hell, Southeast Toyota Finance would not take my late father’s lease after he exited the planet in 2019 without putting the car up for auction and our family having to pay the balance. I know how ruthless and dishonest this industry can be. So, make sure you keep this in mind when reading the following mayhem. 
 
Before the deluge of angst, I’m going to lead this one with a positive. After one solid week of searching for either a new car lease or a used car purchase in a time of computer chip shortages, shrinking inventory and underhanded car dealer bullshit I found the car I ultimately wanted: a Mitsubishi Outlander SE. Thanks in no small part to the honest and upstanding folks at Nielson Mitsubishi in Rockaway, N.J. Especially its manager Andrew Kamaris and salesman Ryan Bet. Those guys were an welcomed oasis in an arid landscape of abject prevarication. The Nielsen Group is the only dealership in a thirty-mile radius of my home that is not currently raising prices by anywhere from five to eight grand on automobiles and running bait and switch schemes to rival a congressional bill caucus. It is the wild west out there.

Boy, did I find this out the hard way.

My experience started about two weeks ago with a recon visit to Route 17 Mitsubishi in Ramsey, N.J. Spoke to a fast-talking lifer named Pete. He assured me what I was looking for was in stock at the advertised price – a base model Outlander. I was more interested in this level of what they call in the industry “trim” than the slightly more expensive SE that I ended up with, but more on that later. Because, you see, Pete did not care about any ad (Two grand down, three-year lease, at 10K miles a year for $334) that drove me to the dealership in the first place, nor that he assured me on the phone before I came in that he had “everything in stock.” He showed me the SE. We drove it. Throughout the test drive I was flabbergasted that the base model had heated and electric seats, climate control, etc. “Oh, yeah, and plus, we don’t have computer chips in these, so we never had a shortage.”

Pete, like his promise of “everything in stock”, was making all of this up. He then came back with well north of $450 a month with four-grand down and a four-year lease. (I did not want a four-year lease. He told me I could bolt on the lease after three. He did not mention that I would still have to pay for a car I was no longer driving.) None of which was in the ad. When I showed him the ad, he proceeded to lie badly that it was for a front-wheel drive vehicle. (Note: I have worked with truly agile liars in my time. Pete sucked at it.) It was not front-wheel drive in the ad. My bro, P.J confirmed this on the phone and sent me the link. I showed Pete the link. This put Pete on his heels, forcing him to blurt out that the car in the ad was the ES (base model), not what I drove. I reminded him that he assured me that what I drove was the base model. He started coming apart at this point in our Dali-esque illogic-speak. This rote character out of central casting of a slick, old-time car huckster was not holding it together. I told him and whatever suit came out pretending to be the manager that if they got the car I wanted, I would be back two days hence to buy it. Pete and the de facto “manager” said they would have it by then. They even sent me a text asking if I was still coming a day later. I never heard from them again.

P.J suggested the aforementioned Nielsen Group around this time and when I called the guy (whose name I do not recall, but this could have been my hero, Ryan) he did not blow smoke up my skirt. “We just do not have any ES models in the color you want, man. It’s tough to get or keep anything now.” To make matters more complicated I really wanted the car in dark gray. I understood and appreciated his honesty. It turns out I should have stayed with Nielsen. But…

I moved onto another dealer fairly close (like 45 minutes away close) in Goshen, N.Y. Mainly because my pal, Brock lives up there and he is a car guy, and he trusted his area to come through for me. But predictably, Healy Mitsubishi could not help but crank up the lie machine. When I called, they said they had the cars on their web site in their lot. I had not been completely felled by a phalanx of deceit yet, so I took the long trip to Goshen. (Cue the sinister music here) A lovely young woman greeted us and proceeded to say that not only did they not have any of those cars listed on their site, but the first woman I spoke to, who answered the Healy Mitsubishi phone and oozed confidence to this end, had no authority to promise any of this. She is merely the “web person.” I would confront this “web person” mystery before too long with another manufacturer.  

Fed up with Mitsubishi, my bro did some recon on a car my late dad was interested in back in the day, a Nissan Montero. Route 23 Nissan in Butler answered my queries about its availably and price this way: “My manager wants to know what you want to pay for the car?” I told him five-hundred bucks with a used moped trade-in. He did not get the joke. I wished to know what the professionals at Nissan wanted to charge for the car, since I had never even seen the fucking thing in person, just some photos on the Internet. They did not call me back for nearly the entire week, and when they did, they said that I had to put five-grand down and that it would be marked up six grand and the monthly payments were north of five bills. I wished them well and said I preferred my offer with the moped. He still did not get it.

As mentioned, once I drove Pete’s SE, the bastard had me hooked, so my bro sent me to Route 46 Mitsubishi, where comedy and tragedy reside comfortably to form a miserable cocktail of time-wasting crapolla. To their credit, these lunatics hid nothing. The manager, a corpulent smile-fiend with an open shirt revealing a giant crucifix laying on a tuft of chest hair sat me down and explained the current economic climate. “I’m going to be honest with you, ignore the MSRP, the way the industry is right now you can automatically add five grand to every sticker price,” he said, affecting an air of parental guidance. He may have even touched my knee sympathetically, but I probably conjured that due to lightheadedness. Yet, I still drove one of their ES series, and it was something like $498 a month with $5,500 down. (and by the way, I found out the ES’s hood undulates spastically if you get it over sixty MPH, something they failed to mention until I told them about my highway experience). “Oh, that’s a recall.” So, I’m woefully overpaying for a damaged car I must eventually take back in? Fantastic.

Before I left, I found a plaque with the president and vice president (I assume of the dealership), who wanted me to call if I was not 100% satisfied. You can imagine that I did this, because I did. At first I got something called the Sun Homes Sales Group in Florida. When I called again, the prompt sent me right to the VP. I left my message of hate and rage. He never returned my call for comment.

One last shot. A used Outlander. My bro found City Motor Group in Haskell that advertised a used 2016 SE. Looked clean, he said. $16,769.00. Forty-five thousand miles on it. Drove down there. Perfectly cordial bunch. Test drove it. Liked it. Then they sent me to the “finance guy” and things went sideways fast. After something called a “Multi-State Inspection” fee of $1,800.00 and other “hidden” fees added on – a list I had to wrest from the guy as if it were Trump’s tax returns – the final number was 21-grand, another five-thousand dollar mark-up. When I brought up the idea that making sure a car they were selling could pass inspection might be on them, like, say, if you buy a steak in a restaurant you assume that meant it was being cooked without a special fee, he said that because things are so crazy out there they can get away with it. “We used to pay for this, but now people are willing to pay for it.” He was right. When I checked on the car writing this, it was sold. (Cue the P.T. Barnum quote about suckers…)

Note: On the City Motor Group web site is a Code of Ethics under something called the National Independent Automotive Dealers Association that has as much integrity as the “multi-state inspection” charge, because if you go to their web site you get a 404 Web Page Not Found message. It reads (I added the italics for comedic emphasis): “Members of the NIADA and its state associations are independent auto dealers that abide by a strict Code of Ethics for membership that will give you additional peace of mind. Among other things, NIADA dealers commit to operating with integrity, honor and fair dealing toward the general public, comply with all city, county, state and federal laws, employ truth and accuracy in advertising and selling, and constantly strive to improve business methods to the end that the public is better served.”

When you’re done throwing up, it’s important to note the operative words found in that pile of steaming shit: “all city, county, state and federal laws.” There are no laws. It’s like OPEC without the third-century garb. That should frighten us the most, but I digress.

At this point I can tell you I tried to buy a car listed as a 2021 Chevy Trailblazer at Schumacher Chevrolet in Clifton that was not only on their web site, but I called first and spoke to another “mysterious web person,” who told me as I was six-minutes out they had the car on the lot. Ten or so minutes later the guy on the floor said it sold two days ago after he said it was a “service model” and some other stammering nonsense. But I won’t burden you any further.
    

Suffice to say, P.J.’s desperate last-minute plan of building the Outlander of my choice on their corporate web site the Sunday evening before the good people at Nielsen saved my ass was a winner. After only a couple of minutes with these guys I knew the difference between a preponderance of dealers out there that are using this crisis to gouge consumers and those who are riding it out with us and trying to do the right thing. And quite frankly, considering the vagaries of capitalism, who knows what the “right thing” is? They are selling these cars. People need them and dealerships need to stay solvent selling only a portion of their inventory. No one expects this computer chip shortage to subside until maybe the end of next year and who knows what a world looks like without Covid anymore?

But beware. There are sharks in the water now. And they have ramped up their image of charlatans a notch or two. Finding salesman like Andrew and Ryan in these waters is rare. But they are out there. Hang in there like P.J. and me. But don’t give into the “That’s the way it is now, eat it” mentality. They want you to give in, to get lazy. To accept their reality. It does not have to be. Love my car. Love even more that it took all of the above and more to get it at the proper price from honest sellers.

NEVER SURRENDER.

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THE DAY MY FATHER DIED

Aquarian Weekly
11/6/19

Reality Check

James Campion


THE DAY MY FATHER DIED

I will always remember. It was sunny. A Saturday. Crisp autumn temperatures. Three days after his eighty-first birthday. My brother called from North Carolina. The things we discussed when I was down there in and out of the ICU for a week had come to pass. It was time. We had to prepare to say goodbye. So, I excused myself from my immediate and extended family, who came to stay for the weekend, put on headphones to listen to songs from my childhood and took a walk. Had a cry. When that was done my brother called back. He kept me on the line as they took my dad off the heavy sedatives he’d been on for nearly two weeks. I took that opportunity to tell him that I would carry his name with as much dignity as can be expected from…well, you know…me, that my daughter and wife loved him as much as I did, and that I appreciated everything he did to make me the man I would become under his tutelage. They then removed all the stuff that was keeping him alive. Within the hour, as I listened to my brother describe the scene with my mom by his side, my father’s breath became shallow, his heart slowed down, and then he died. We both said we’d look to the sky and say one last so long.

My father is dead.

It is hard to explain how many times I had rolled that sentence around in my head. I had feared it for as long as I can remember. Not really sure why. Got worse when I got older and he got older and then endured a double-bleeding ulcer in the early nineties, survived prostate cancer later that decade, then had a series of small health scares that culminated during the last five years with the failing of his kidneys, followed by time on dialysis, a quadruple bypass surgery, a broken hip, femur and wrist last winter, and hip replacement surgery a month or so ago. He was languishing in a rehab center for the second time in less than a year when he contracted an infection that he fought for way longer than any doctor or nurse could fathom. He was helped by modern medicine, but man was my dad tough.

Yet, for me, there was a rare fragility to my dad. He was quiet, self-assured but never, and I mean, never a braggart. If anything, it was hard to understand his immense abilities until way after he’d accomplished the feat. He was never macho or confrontational. If anything, there was a cold, almost detached demeanor about him – all that Anglo-Saxon, Irish DNA. It always vexed me that he never talked about his childhood, his friends, crazy or brave shit he may have done in the Air Force. When he was stationed in Japan he coached a bunch of kids to a Little League baseball title; Japanese or American kids? Don’t know. And I only know this happened at all because there was a trophy sitting on a shelf. I had zero idea who the man’s parents were, when and how they died, what they did or what they meant to him. Tried to press, nothing. Tried my mom, who sent me back to my dad, and then more nothing. I thought when I had a kid of my own this would force him to say one of them was a serial killer or contracted some rare disease, so I would know what kind of lunacy may be coursing through my daughter’s veins. Nope.

So, I think, there was this sense that the mystery of my father would somehow unravel at some point, as long as we could keep him going. His life was like a precious historical artifact that I was, I guess, the result of.

I think maybe, without getting too dime-store psychological here, for most of my childhood my dad was kind of in absentia. Not the usual, “Cat’s in the Cradle” stuff, although there is always that in the old-fashioned nuclear family, of which my parents definitely were. Dad worked, and mom took care of us. Nah, if anything having a father who’d gone to college at night at Pace University in NYC while working at a Bronx department store called Newberry’s and later the Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in uptown Manhattan where I would be born, so he could get a better gig to help the family was cool. If it meant having an absent father who was exhausted on the weekends, that was okay. He took care of us. I truly understood this dynamic as a kid. Subconsciously, though, I did miss him and felt time with him was fleeting, and so I longed later in life for time I would not get back.

Good-bye, Pop. I’ll miss you…again.

The time I did have with my father as a kid and even as late as a few weeks ago was monumental. He said very few things, but they all stuck out. He imparted wisdom incrementally, but I still have not forgotten any of it. For a public service I shall share some of it with you.

I was maybe four years-old. We were climbing some giant city park rock and I insisted on doing it the hard way and pressed my father to do the same. He told me to use my brain and not my emotions to complete a task, find the most efficient way, that is the challenge, not killing yourself for some hollow man victory.

A little later, still pretty young, my pal, Stephen Ryan ditched me for some other kid. My dad hung out with me all day, referring to Ryan as a “flat-leaver”, a term I assume was all the rage when he was a kid, because I had never heard it uttered since. During the rest of the day he told me that I shouldn’t make someone else’s decision ruin my good time.

All I wanted when I was a kid was to play pro football. I was and am extremely small. I played pop warner and some pee wee football and even tried out for my Freshman High School team. After being beaten rather severely in one practice wherein a helmet a size too big for my head spun around so I was looking out its ear hole, my dad sat me down and said something to me that I have paraphrased in many cocktail parties and press events over my professional life: “Son, you need size, speed and strength to play football and you have none of those. You have to know your limitations in life and where your true talents lie. These things will reveal themselves to you and the opposite of this is true as well.”

In my second year of college, I was hired for the night shift of a radio station in Washington Crossing, NJ in this little raised hut of a building that overlooked where colonist troops crossed the Delaware with good ole George in the winter of 1776. The staff had gotten word that management was on the verge of selling the station and turning it into some other format and that everyone would be summarily sacked within the week. So, I invited friends up one evening to put on a Howard Stern type fun-loving campy show instead of running a feed for the NJ Nets basketball game, hoping to get a demo tape to pitch to other employers. Halfway through this “performance” the station manager showed up in his pajamas and fired me on the air. When I got home I regaled this story to my dad, who didn’t get mad or look disappointed. He just took a moment and said, “You know, they hired you to do a job and you did something else. Try and remember no matter what job you take, whether it’s digging a ditch or painting the Sistine Chapel, do it to the best of your ability.”

I wonder what he might have told me as he stopped being a part of this surreal thing we call life at 1:24 in the post meridian on the 26th day of October 2019. It dawned on me in his final minutes, as my brother described him as looking peaceful, no longer in distress and succumbing to the beyond, that James Vincent Campion’s heart had been beating ceaselessly since 1938. I mean, I understand this intellectually, but it is hard to even fathom such an achievement. It is even harder to realize how his body, our body, has worked and does work throughout our lifetimes, when you watch all the machines, medicines, tubes and monitors it takes to do what we take for granted every minute of every day.

I could use one of dad’s wisdoms to explain that better. But I’ll finish this by writing: Life is weird. Death is way weirder. James is gone, but the dad part I still carry. You can’t take that. But for the purposes of wrapping this up…

Good-bye, Pop. I’ll miss you…again.

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OPEN LETTER TO MY WIFE IV

Aquarian Weekly

6/12/19

Reality Check


James Campion

OPEN LETTER TO MY WIFE IV


My bride,

I can vividly remember the first time I decided to do this, the week of our nuptials in early June 1999, an unthinkable twenty years, one daughter, yoga instructor certification, six books, three houses, two-dozen or so weird and wonderful trips abroad, and a half-dozen cats ago. It made sense I would come here to make my witness. I had officially begun what would become this column the first night we spent alone together, on our way to see Sinead O’Connor at the Beacon Theater. It was the twenty-sixth day of August 1997. I sent my very first socio-political piece to the Aquarian that evening from the fax machine at the Roosevelt Hotel where my oldest and best friend of forty-five years now, Chris was working media. I began to fall in love with you that night. I did. Maybe I told you a few weeks later. Two months after that you moved into my hovel and transformed a boy into a man and a mostly directionless heart into one with a laser beam focus. And that is why I felt the need to write the first of these Open Letter pieces before we were to be married on June 12, 1999, twenty years ago today. I still had this fear that one day I could lose this thing we had that I shall never, ever take for less than what it is; the answer to the question (you know from which I speak) about the meaning of…well…everything.

I wrote then: “Let’s face it, who is going to pick me up and dust me off the way you do? Who is going to heal those wounds, the ones the doctors can’t see, or the tax man can’t heist, or the priest can’t bless with a few hollow words? I don’t deserve any of this. I should be banished to a remote island in the Pacific and left to dig for fallacies with a teaspoon.” – 5/26/99

And, of course, it is probably the darker side of maudlin and certainly the upper register of cheesy to do this in public, even for a writer. Most of us tend to change names and mask much of our emotions in subtext and metaphor, and for the most part I am rarely if ever truly honest in this space unless forced to be. I have too much fun with the form for it to actually mean something. I made that assessment on the twentieth anniversary of my first published book, Deep Tank Jersey three years ago in which I was sure that the emotions I expressed in it eventually turned into a muted narrative of disparate wordplay. I felt icky admitting this, but it’s the truth. But here, I come clean. And even that doesn’t matter all that much, not to us. We never use words to express what it is we embarked upon almost twenty-three years ago (the day you walked up to my door in your pajamas – November 4, 1997, and stayed, thank the universe). In fact, words are pathetically incapable of approaching what you mean and have meant to me.

Our story, in a very real way, is this reoccurring dream of a dance.

And because of these subpar expressions, I wish every day I could paint, and that I had your eye for visual artistry, the one Scarlet got in spades and displays on occasion when we least expect it. Maybe then I could actually illustrate this bond, this current of electricity that comes from knowing that you came and never left and then made it official – standing before all of our friends and family in an old theater in Syracuse – and married me in front of a woman judge, who butchered my middle name. I can hear my mom now, B-A-R-T-O-L-O-M-E-O. I also wish I still wrote songs, but love songs are a dime-a-dozen and none of it really does the trick. I think your connection to Dylan’s “Love Minus Zero/ No Limit” (she’s true like ice, like fire) makes more sense to me every day I get to be with you and argue with you and sleep with you and laugh with you and challenge you and be challenged by you and get to kiss your lips and your forehead and your cheeks and hold your hand and put my arm around your waist and worry about shit we will never really be able to do anything about and then avert our eyes for just a moment from all this us-us to see the kid we made but who now makes us.

You know when I am sure that words fail, because when I typed that last sentence my hands were shaking. They were. No joke. I almost lost control of them for the briefest of moments and couldn’t ride it out until I could and that is why I think I do this – get these thoughts down every five years we’ve been married – not for you, but for me. I need to do it. I do. I need to force it out in this space and out of my head and my soul what the hell being married to you has done to me and for me and why whether it is twenty years ago on a mostly overcast and sticky June day near where you grew up and we danced together like we loved to dance together and how I love how we could dance together, or ten minutes ago, it is eternal.

All the pain that you have known / All the violence in your soul / All the ‘wrong’ things you have done I will take from you when I come – Sinead O’Connor, “This is the Mother You” – our wedding song.

Our story, in a very real way, is this reoccurring dream of a dance. Our movements through this life together moves effortlessly even when it is messy and rocky and challenging and filled with the pressures and death and parenting and art. It will always be you and me in the swirl of that dance. The smell of you, the sight of you, the texture of you remains. That is what I remember today as we celebrate that particular day today and every day. The dance. Yeah, our dance. Together. Always.

All mistakes made in distress / All your unhappiness / I will take away with my kiss, yes /

I will give you tenderness

So, you know, we’ll start the next twenty or at least the next year as we have done all these others, embraced. This is how it makes sense to be around…with you. Because with you always made sense. Getting together – eleven years apart in age, some 180 miles distance, the visual and the literary, the caustic and the emotional – made zero sense. But the you-and-me always did. Always will. And that makes writing this, like the previous three (and that one a few days before we hitched) so difficult and so damned easy. A paradox. This love. A familiar and rhythmic paradox that I would not trade for anything anywhere, anyway.

Thank you for coming over that night. For that sticky June afternoon. Our Scarlet.

And the dance.

Our dance.

Twenty years.

Dance with me.

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CABLEVISION MONOPOLY & THE MORAL IMPERATIVE

Aquarian Weekly
3/27/19

Reality Check

James Campion

CABLEVISION MONOPOLY & THE MORAL IMPERATIVE 
Or…The Death of Choice in The Cyber Age

I live in a fortified compound in the mountains. It is my life choice, well, my wife’s and mine. I choose only to live an urban or rural existence. I want to be either lost in a sea of humanity or invisible in nature. Splendid, if I may, dear Warren, isolation. Suburbia is not for me…or us. As a consequence, we do not have broadband up here yet. Therefore, if we want access to the Internet – let that read, phones, web service, television, ANYTHING…we need to use Cablevision. If you are unfamiliar with this company, it’s because they choose to go by the “hideout” title of Optimum. Why? Mainly, because they suck, and their owner is a bleating troll of a man and his family is the vermin that have single-handedly destroyed the NY Knicks. But that is for another column. For now, we concentrate on this monopoly and how it is wholly unconstitutional. 

So, how come it exists?

Well, you say, there is plenty of unconstitutional shit that exists: income tax, health insurance monopolies, bullshit drug laws, the Patriot fucking Act, but that is not bothering me now. This is. So stick your “what abouts…” somewhere and follow along. 

Recently, I was mere days late with a payment to Cablevision. It was the first time since the 1980s and certainly for the first time since I have been at my current address here in the mountains that this has occurred. But I noticed a ten-dollar charge on my current bill as a consequence of this heinous faux paus. Now, I’m a big boy and I take what I have coming…mostly. I am willing to pay my due for tardiness or driving into a temporary police barrier or for the bizarre things I did in Freeport, Bahamas lo those many years ago. However, I did have a point here. 

You see, in the weeks after the Hurricane Sandy recovery, I entered a debate with the upper regions of management at Cablevision on how ten days of non-service should be deducted from my bill. They disagreed, claiming, perhaps quite rightly, that circumstances being as they are, a natural disaster dictated that they could not provide service. To refute this sidetracking, I actually used the example that would come to befall me this week: “Well, I bet, that if I were late ten days with my monthly payment, I would suffer the consequences.” They hemmed and hawed with that, never mentioning that for a late payment (one day or one month) there is a charge. 

And so, I went hard at Cablevision this week, who, predictably hid behind some poor woman from India, who answered my complaints with great aplomb. Although it was nearly impossible to understand her apologizing and saying she could do nothing about the charge due to her heavy accent. Despite this, I tried to explain that for three-plus decades I have been duly paying my bills promptly without fail, and shouldn’t there be a special dispensation for loyal, on-time late bill payers? “Sorry, sir…” was how each of her tack answers, clearly read from some sheet, began. 

You are still connected to an insidious anti-American plot to dominate your Internet service.

I asked, as is my wont, for several supervisors, but not surprisingly none came. What may have been surprising to the woman halfway across the globe was I patiently waited for nearly 45 minutes for one of these cowards to emerge and handle my growing recalcitrance. The hearty customer service woman even stayed on the phone with me and after a time too became a little miffed. 

You know who gets away with this shit? Companies that have a monopoly.

You know how I know Cablevision does not care if I am screwed around or to even give me an audience to my complaint?

Allow me to demonstrate…

I thanked the woman and offered my condolences for the unforgiving gig she had to perform and proceeded to check and see what other providers of the Internet I may procure.

Spoiler alert: There are none.

Actually, that is not entirely true. Verizon (after several and varied calls to them and enduring its rather cumbersome web site experience) finally offered my home a direct DSL line, only if I would commit to two years with them and accepted their TV package, which I do not need. I just want Internet, and quality Internet. I have two girls at home, helping me clog up four devices and three televisions, who would skin me alive if they had to suffer sub-par Internet speed. DSL would not cut it. So, really, it is partially true that I cannot find competition for high-speed Internet in the Jersey mountains, a mere 34 miles from the biggest city and largest media center on planet earth. Not to mention residing in a country that busted monopolies in the early 20th century.

My quandary, of which I stated to the overly bubbly representative from Verizon named Ethan, was “I would as soon as pay a homeless man to stand on my lawn with a rusty antennae than to hand over another dime to the veracious monstrosity that is Cablevision, however I cannot live for five minutes on DSL with my daughter’s Herculean tick-tock output and the constant stream of anti-Trump rhetoric blasting from every monitor in the house.” 

This was vexing to say the very least. The amount of hate and rage that filled my otherwise dormant heart over ten bucks may seem like abject craziness to you, but at that moment it was to be my Alamo.

So…?

I finally swallowed hard and manned up. Calling into Cablevision with the express purpose of ending my relationship with this demon corporation and begin extricating myself from the soul-crushing grid had become a moral imperative. This had transformed from a meager customer/company spat into Armageddon.

Strangely, but maybe not so much, the phone prompt wait is next to nothing when one chooses “Ceasing Service”. The voice on the other end sounds as if it were down the block and not in the Middle East. It is warming and congenial and did not ever respond to my whining with anything less than empathy. The name, blessedly, of this avenging angel was Jessica, who even echoed my sentiments with a positive, “Oh, yeah,” when I mentioned that in this day and age Internet service is as important as heat and electricity (well maybe not electricity, since you need electricity to get the WiFi going, but still). And this sweetly accommodating soul not only waved the wicked ten-dollar late fee, but duly discounted my bill the same tenner in perpetuity.

Suddenly, miraculously, my anger was assuaged, and I was $130 richer. 

Who cares? is how you would correctly respond if you read most of this piece. You are still connected to an insidious anti-American plot to dominate your Internet service, you might say. And you would be correct. But, come on, DSL? What year is this? And how can my girls handle an entire Sunday without adorable cat videos on YouTube or how can I get through a day without Tweeting something horrible?

So, I guess, let’s look into this appalling stain on our liberties at a later date and excuse me while I order something I definitely do not need on Amazon.  

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THIRTY-SIX HOURS

Aquarian Weekly
10/24/18

Reality Check

James Campion

THIRTY-SIX HOURS
The Nightmare of Legal Purgatory in the Island Tombs

Thirty-six hours.

No water. None. No place to sleep. Well, steel benches. Fifty degrees with blowing ceiling fans in a twenty by thirty-foot cinderblock room. Open, rusted, putrid, reeking toilet. Cold, wet cheese sandwiches and tepid pink milk every six hours. None of which I eat or drink. No answers. No assistance when needed. Twenty-plus men, of variant degrees of criminal activity and equal parts desperation – some understood, others duly ignored with a violent bravado borne of experience, social order and race. I start off standing in the corner, not making eye contact. Then I pace. For the first overnight stay, I paced. And pace. I do not sit. I do not talk, unless asked. “What are you in for?” Waiting.

Prison Cell Bars

My hands, I start to notice (not at first, because I choose to ignore it) begin to shake, ever so slightly, uncontrollably. Muscles begin to tighten. No one knows I’m here. That is what I think about – minute by minute with every slow-motion passing hour. My dear wife, Erin, my darling daughter, Scarlet. No one knows I’m here. And I will be here. Thirty-six hours. Cold. Hungry. Very tired. Or too wired and steely to be tired. Not frightened, but pensive, like being caught in a time warp. Time, like a suspended luxury concept for the free, stands still here, as my identity, which has left me for this enduring subsistence of a creature grappling with defense mechanisms I have not used since I was kid in a new neighborhood with the bullies lying in wait, as Dostoevsky wrote, “neither a rascal nor an honest man, neither a hero nor an insect,” I waver between defeat and defiance. Incarcerated; physically and emotionally.

At 11:20 PM or so on Tuesday evening, the ninth day of October, 2018, I left the Sony Hall on W46th street, hugged my friend, Eric Hutchinson, who had just completed a triumphant show with his band The Believers, the members of which I’d interviewed three hours earlier. I had stopped by a bar at five and had a beer. Had one during the interview in the six o’clock hour and another during the show around 9:30. I did not eat. This would be key to what eventually would be my plea, but none of it matters now.

What ended up mattering more than anything during the crucial hours that landed me here was that I made a wrong turn by the Lincoln Tunnel and found myself in what was described to me by a very angry and stressed-out NY police officer as a “temporary police barricade” while “a drug bust was in progress.” I had driven into a crime scene in the biggest city in America and passed the breath test for DWI but failed a lower demarcation by .02, (.072) just inching into what I would learn is a DUIA, a bunch of acronyms that only mean I was in handcuffs and soon sitting in a jammed van with very pissed off drug dealers and eventually a mid-town precinct.

The police who would eventually tend to me were professional and calming. It was chaos in that place. It was me, some guy in a candy apple red Camaro and a half-dozen to ten drug dealers. Hardcore. But kids. Just kids, man. “This guy isn’t fucked up,” opined one of the officers when I easily passed every physical test for sobriety. “Let’s work something out.” What we worked out is the charges for driving through the “barricade” – a mere hundred or so yards from the tunnel’s entrance – would be dropped for a plea deal on the DUIA. It would amount to an “infraction” with no bail, instead of a misdemeanor that would require trial; something akin to a speeding ticket with some additional penalties. But other than that, I felt that once I saw the judge and paid my fine, I would be home in time to not scare the shit out of my wife.

This was not to be.

“Your car is parked on forty-first and eleventh!” was the last thing the chubby, blonde, kind-faced officer said to me after we talked Yankees, our daughters, our favorite beer and weird songs from the 1960s. Before I passed through the metal detector he assured me that night court would take me in a few hours.

This was not to be.

I do not write the rest of this piece as some kind diatribe against the system or as a “wronged citizen”. I was guilty. Guilty and despondent and angry at myself and wondering what would have happened had I left two minutes later or two minutes earlier or if I had seen the officer in the corner of my vision waving wildly on the avenue or if I had seen the flashing lights coming from the other side of my peripheral vision or if I had just gunned the engine and blew through the damn thing and gotten into the tunnel or if I had two beers instead of three or that I was “lucky” to drink them because it gave the cops an out to drop misdemeanor charges and all those things you think about during the long hours of sleepless hunger in a freezing tank, but this is not why I write. I write because there is a voice in this place where we find ourselves, and that voice is there now and tomorrow and the day after that with no water and a refusal of medical care and an ignoring of violent retribution and an overcrowding that tumbles into cruel and unusual punishment.

And I do not write to bear witness or cry for cushy environs for lifers and drug dealers and women batterers and drug addicts and erratic drunks and damaged souls that saw fit to beat someone senseless with a bat to protect street cred or whether you hail from the top of the Sugar Hill steps in Harlem or if “I had just dumped the bags when I finished that fifth” and have “two bitches waiting to bail me out of this fucker.” I do not write for face tattoos or gang colors or borough rules or failing to respond to a warrant and spitting on the floor or throwing up on one’s self or whatever happened to the white kid who had caked blood all over his head and shirt and pants and some make-shift plastic bag in place of clothing.

I write because none of us are convicted. We await a “fair and speedy” trial as promised by the U.S Constitution and because this is the U.S.A. and the living conditions of this place is “worse than Guantanamo Bay!” or is filled with people in limbo with less rights than Rikers Island. “At least in Rikers you get three hot meals and a pillow, man!” I write because they cannot or will not and I have to. For them.

The “tombs” as they were once called, in the bowels of the Centre Street courthouse in Lower Manhattan have no laws. That’s for people on either side of this. We are in the in-between. We are not in jail nor are we free to go. The bars are the same. The smell. The despair. All the same. Everything is the same. No one cares here that I’m published, or come from a sound, middle class background and make a good living and own a beautiful home in the mountains and have a podcast and will be co-hosting a music festival by the weekend. The 18 year-old kid with three kids and four drug busts for selling meth and me. All the same now.

The Correction’s Officers are also in some kind of legal and moral vacuum. They have no affiliation with police or any political station. Many of them are ex-gang-bangers and some have done this job for far too long. They go beyond dismissive and actually verbally challenge and torture those who have legitimate concerns about why it’s 50 degrees here. “Roaches, body odor and disease, the cold takes care of all of that,” one says. When I implore several abut contacting my wife through texts, they make a veiled reference to the upstairs, in the court, where there is heat and water and workable phones and how one in my predicament shouldn’t have so many “concerns”. The phones in this holding pen, two of them, do not have receivers – ripped out of their sockets. “You maniacs did this, now deal with it,” comes another answer. And when I look into the eyes of the kid they brought in after me, Hispanic, handsome, dangerously troubled – maybe 18, perhaps 19 – he is shivering and scared and starving and we do not know why we’re not seeing a judge after a long night of pacing and then another day and another night.

I regret not making a phone call at 12:30 in the first minutes of Wednesday morning from the police station. The officers told my lawyer they offered it to me. They did not. I remember that clearly. I debated asking. But I’ll pay my fine and go my way, I thought. Stupidly. By mid-afternoon that day, a dozen hours since I was pulled from my car amidst the swirling lights and shouting and commands from everywhere, my wife and friends and lawyers and police tried to find out where I ended up. They did, eventually. It was all hands on deck for the Editor-in-Chief of the Desk. I was in the hole and the troops rallied. And I thank them for that – Johnny M, Vegas, Elizabeth esq, even Eric, and the rest.

We are in the in-between. We are not in jail nor are we free to go.

Later Wednesday it dawned on many who had been there – some for four or five days (one poor soul was told he was “re-arrested”, whatever the hell that means) – that the city could hold you here for up to 72 hours for anything from felony to infraction. And we would never drink any water and refused the cold, wet cheese sandwiches because needing to defecate in this dungeon on that toilet was never going to be an option, even for those who had served real time. “Let this man contact his family!” someone shouts. “I’ll pay off the guard,” a fairly well-dressed drug dealer intones to me. When the guard refused the $500 he flashes, he punches his chest and points to me. Then he turns his attention to the lunatic screaming in Spanish and kicking the phones until they have to take him away with a broken foot.

After one long day and two nights in this nightmare, they call my name. Each time they had called names with docket numbers, I stood like a dog awaiting a stick to be thrown. All of my humanity tucked inside – nothing resembling what I left in that car at 11:20 would make it here, not for this long, and not with these people; demons and miscreants and tender, misguided discarded street survivors. The ones who called my wife once they got outside and the others who tried to explain that for me there would be no long days and nights in real jail, “You’ll be all right, brother.” They understood my fear about the people who worry about me. I could not be worried about. Not in here. Just stay alive and do not get caught in the middle of the next fight, the next threat, the next desperate move.

And I go upstairs, finally, there is no phone. Of course. Just a public defender and a bemused judge and then my papers and my release into the pouring rain in Chinatown trying to flag down a cab in rush hour. I look up through the sheets to see 4:48 PM. Thursday. I’m free. And the cab takes me to my car, just as the cop said, forty-first and eleventh. No tickets. No impounding. A sign “Do not move, by order of the NYPD.” Some weird perk of having to nearly rot in legal purgatory.

I was arrested in NYC on Tuesday, October 9.

I emerged with a story to write on Thursday, October 11.

“There’s a place…” began one of the last men I spoke to, his eyes watery with tears, his future without family, without hope, without precious freedom in front of him. “…where they should know about what goes on down here.” He was ringing his hands and running them over his scalp like I did. He was… me. “It’s bullshit, man. This ain’t right. We should have heat and water and we should get care if we’re injured. We’re not convicted. We await our right to trial in this horrible place? How does this happen here? How does this happen?”

I write that now, as I lived it then.

How does this happen? Here? In America? In the greatest city in the world?

And it is happening now. I can feel it as if it is still happening… to me.

Thirty-six hours.

Changed me.

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