Mike Jahn

 

I was thinking about the Kardashians. Thinking about this family of orange grifters is a feat not normally accomplished without several applications of Ol’ Red Eye followed by a plump couch to sleep it off on. The Kardashians are, Mom would have said, a perfect example of the rule “you are the company you keep,” in their family’s case, O.J. Simpson. They do nothing, nothing at all, are boring as all get out, and are paid for it. They are like my ancestor on the Yankee side, Obediah, and the seven or eight generations following.

Obediah and his household came from Stratford-on-Avon, England, via Lynn, Massachusetts, staying in the Boston area just long enough to relieve themselves but not long enough to be tarred by the feather of living in the proximity of future Red Sox and Kennedys. They did not come from the place where loiter orange grifters and double murderers.

My ancestors left the place where, if lucky, you might have dug up the sod around Shakespeare’s begonias. They wound up in Southampton, New York, in 1641, becoming one of the first English settlers of the Empire State, which otherwise was chock full of stubbornly prideful Dutchmen and increasingly worried Indians. 

What did they do when they got there? They dug clams. For 10 generations they dug clams and, I imagine, grew potatoes and carved up the dead whales that washed up on the beaches upon which the celebrities who now overpopulate the place turn themselves orange. There were lots of whales to die and wash up on the Hamptons beaches. There were no celebrity sunbathers because, if you think about it, it has not socially acceptable to walk around half or entirely naked until quite recently. There were lots of whales and clams but a decreasing number of, as my newspaperman  father put it, “durn angry Indians whose land was stole.”

After finishing with clams, Obediah’s descendants moved to Sag Harbor and began going to sea and actively slaughtering whales, one of them, my great-great grandfather, acquiring the title “Captain.” That part of the Empire State having become largely rid of Dutchmen, prideful or otherwise, they finally moved west to the town on the Great South Bay that I call Sodom-by-the-Sea. I do not call it that because it’s the place to catch the ferry to the gay parts of Fire Island, but because before the gays came it was notorious for swinging. You can keep yourself quite busy on or near beaches these days.

As for the durn angry Indians, they moved to Upstate New York and opened casinos, which is substantially better than turning yourself orange in Hollywood. So is digging clams, come to think of it.

 


Editorial
UserpicSeptember 11, 2001: A Letter From the Front
Posted by Mike Jahn
07.09.11
 

It rained Monday night and early Tuesday morning, hard enough to flood the West Village apartment of my son, Evan, and his wife, Denise. The flood was bad enough to keep them up half the night sopping up the water with towels. The task was so exhausting that Denise decided to skip her 9 a.m. meeting at the World Trade Center. Instead, she was out on the terrace and was putting the towels out to dry when a mob of amateur butchers flew two jetliners into the landmark buildings where she otherwise would be sitting. It was line-of-sight from their terrace to America's future. She watched, transfixed, as flames and smoke rose and the buildings came down. 

Praise the Lord for rain

I was in a New Jersey Transit bus pulling into the Port Authority Bus Terminal at 8:42 a.m., about three minutes before it happened. I was there as result of a last-minute decision made because I was too tired for the ten-minute walk to the train station. (But the bus stop is outside my door.) The bus goes straight to midtown. En route to midtown, the train goes under the World Trade Center. 

Praise the Lord for tired feet and impetuosity

Still unaware that the skyline was being redone, I walked across 42nd Street hell-bent for my own 9 a.m. appointment. I walked by the corner of 43rd and Seventh, and paused long enough to reflect on the fact that 43rd Street in front of The New York Times headquarters looked exactly like it did 35 years ago (not counting the demise of Gough's Bar, where the guys from the press room used to drink drafts, wearing hats fashioned from pages of newspaper). Everything else about Times Square had changed, considering what has been called the "Disneyfication" of the square over the past decade. When I started uptown again I found my path blocked by a large group of people looking up at the news ticker and giant screen TV on the facade of One Times Square, formerly called the Times Tower and, later, Allied Chemical Tower. It's the triangular building atop which the ball falls on New Year's Eve. "Tourists," I thought, and stepped out into traffic to walk around them. Two blocks further uptown I had been slowed by two more corner crowds, all looking up, many with mouths agape. Then I heard a hardhat yell to another that "a fuckin' plane crashed into the World Trade Center." I stopped, turned, and watched along with everyone else. 

It was eleven hours before I would get home. The homeward trek would take place via feet, boat, feet, train, and car, in that order, and the feet component would add up to about five miles--more than enough to put me into the recliner with the remote and a six-pack of Buckler (The Afghans who run my local convenience store having run out of Kaliber, the nonalcoholic beer that I drank in those days.

My early morning wish to avoid walking didn't exactly work out.

Here's what it was like in the City that Never Sleeps on the day that the Daily News described as with the simple words "It's War." It was long, and draining, and strange in that sort of way poets are called for to describe. It reminded me of scenes from Independence Day, Armageddon, M*A*S*H (the movie, not the sitcom), Godzilla, and, oh hell, I don't know, The Mouse that Roared, in which invaders land in Manhattan only to find it deserted. Very shortly after the attack, authorities (the famous "they"), closed the island. No one in, no one out. Whoever stood in the streets on Tuesday morning was staying a while. After my 9 a.m. appointment grew into three hours--much of it talking about what happened downtown--followed by lunch with a pal at an Irish joint in Times Square dominated, that day, by gigantic TVs, infuriated patrons, and at least one very nervous looking busboy who appeared to be of middle Eastern descent, I set off on two quests.

The first was to get my hands on a couple of pills I would need before midnight in case I couldn't get home. I will confess to having reached the age where I need that sort of thing nightly and, sadly, not for the entertainment value. I talked a local doctor into giving me a prescription only to find out that a Rite Aid pharmacist was more than willing to hand over a night's supply, no questions asked, no money accepted. It was only the first instance in which I found it impossible to pay for something. The pills turned out to be easy to get. But a cheap AM radio was not to be found anywhere. Normally, you can buy them from sidewalk vendors for a couple of bucks each.

The second goal was to get home. For the time being, that was impossible. The island remained closed, although as the day dragged on an increasing number of bridges (but none in the direction I was going) were opened to foot traffic.

According to the Daily News's Corky Siemaszko, "... New York resembled a Third World capital after a particularly explosive coup"

No subways or buses were running. Taxis had entirely disappeared. There were, in fact, almost no civilian vehicles about. Instead, the streets were empty and strangely quiet save for official vehicles and the occasional convoy of police-escorted buses carrying victims to hospitals. Phone service, especially cellular phone service, was on and off, and highly erratic when it was on. A woman calling from Connecticut got my cell phone, which has a New Jersey area code, and when we sorted out who she was trying to reach determined that the circuits got every single digit wrong. The number she dialed bore absolutely no resemblance to mine, despite the fact she swore she dialed correctly. Twice.

I set out on foot for Evan and Denise's apartment, a distance of 40 blocks (two miles). We hung out on the terrace for a while, watching the smoke rise, then watched the news on the big-screen TV back where it was air conditioned and shook our heads. The sun failing to do a good enough job drying the towels, Denise took them down to the basement and put them in the dryer. Occasional forays out onto the terrace showed billows of smoke still rising from what remained of the World Trade Center. The smoke shared the clear blue sky with press helicopters and fighter jets, which roared over Manhattan and the outer boroughs. The normal, 24-hour buzz of Manhattan traffic and the blaring of horns was gone, replaced by silence broken every minute or so by the wail of sirens. Slowly and silently, stunned survivors walked uptown, a sooty and morose procession. Some spoke quietly on cell phones ... or jabbed in frustration at them. Most just walked, alone in their thoughts. They passed each block's neighborhood hangabouts--the usual suspects one finds on every corner or in every local hash house countrywide, the janitors, delivery men, small storeowners, and borderline ne'er-do-wells--who debated loudly the mechanisms of building collapse, international terrorism, and carpet bombing. Doctors also walked around, and quickly one came to accept as normal the sight of a doctor in blue scrubs standing in line for coffee or candy at a local shop.

If you were in a suit and looked tired, you got used to strangers walking up to you and asking, "you okay?"

Toward late afternoon, the view from the terrace showed ferries operating out on the Hudson. So we headed off for the waterfront, where poking around turned up a couple of piers where I was likely to hitch a ride. Our feet clattered on the cobblestones of the wholesale meat district, which also is home to gay bars and the sorts of nightclubs that Puffy, Jennifer, and others of that crowd periodically shoot holes in. Now, Manhattan has a beltway of sorts. Starting near the mound of smoking debris on the southernmost tip of the island and proceeding clockwise, there is West Street, the West Side Highway, the Henry Hudson Parkway, the Harlem River Drive, and the Franklin D. Roosevelt Drive, the latter known simply as the FDR. West Street is a wide boulevard connecting Manhattan's West Side piers. Normally it's clogged with traffic, with the center lanes zipping along fast enough to qualify for a grand prix. But on that day it was almost empty. The few vehicles were official, principally ambulances on their way to the medical staging area set up at the Chelsea Piers sports and entertainment complex. 

Ambulances and EMS units from all over the New York metropolitan area were parked for blocks around what resembled a gigantic MASH unit. Doctors and nurses wandered around or drank coffee, wearing scrubs and masks upon which someone had placed large labels made from surgical tape. Most of the labels read either "ALS" or "BLS," for advanced or basic life support. Such labels also decorated the windshields of ambulances. Many of the medical professionals seemed at a loss for something to do; so many bodies ... up to 50,000 people normally work in the World Trade Center ... presumably remained buried in the 12-story-high pile of debris that were was a shortage of patients to work on. Yet amidst the disaster-movie look of the West Side waterfront were clear reminders that this was, after all, New York--mixing among the docs and rescue guys were dog walkers, couples in arms, and the occasional half-naked roller blader. Imagine Roller Girl in Boogie Nights slipping silently through the set of M*A*S*H.

The West Side piers had become a contemporary Dunkirk. It seemed that everything that could float had been pressed into service ferrying people from Manhattan to New Jersey. I saw the Amberjack V, a luxury dinner cruise ship, taking on refugees, as was the entire fleet of Spirit of New York Cruises. Further up the harbor, Circle Line cruise boats joined Weehawken ferries in making the evacuation. A line snaked around the pier to get into the Spirit of New Jersey. I joined the line ... becoming number 280 to step onto that yacht, and stood aft as the majestic white ship pulled out into the Hudson. The interior of the ship was a full-service restaurant designed to take maximum advantage of a New York City skyline view that had forever been changed. Tables were set for the lunch cruise, but now offered only free water for the refugees who, I learned, could get free water just about everywhere. Eager young people handed cups of the stuff to you as you trudged here and there looking increasingly lost, much as they did for marathon runners. 

The Spirit of New Jersey crossed the Hudson, slipping between two battered brown Army Corps of Engineers tugboats that were chugging downtown. The setting sun lit up the smoke and dust cloud over the financial capital of America, making it glow and, for a moment, radiate. 

A fighter jet flew overhead, flying east. A young man, pale skinned with a small mustache, said, "nuke Mecca" 

A thirtyish woman looked at him without expression, then made a cell phone call during which she described the view from the river to the folks at home. When the ship docked in Weehawken, site of the famous duel between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr, the sun was dipping toward the horizon. Another single-file line took me through another M*A*S*H-type scene, past portable tables covered with yet more free water, and to a staging area where dozens of buses were ready to shuttle the weary to the train terminal in Hoboken for the duration of the trip home. The wait for the buses was two hours, I was told. Despite the amount of walking I had done already, I decided to walk the mile and three quarters. I joined another line of refugees, and what seemed like an hour later got a seat in an ancient train car that New Jersey Transit found somewhere, most likely in a museum. Trains were running on a load-and-go basis, of course for free. Forty-five minutes later I debarked, weary and sullen, in the pretty little suburban town, twenty minutes from the still-closed George Washington Bridge and noble, battered Manhattan, where I have lived in recent years.

A kid had erected a seven-foot flagpole in the back of his black pickup and from it flew a large American flag. He was driving around, looking pleased with himself.

Ellen drove me to the convenience store, the one in which I had joined the owner in considerable Taliban-bashing over the past few years. He was watching TV like everyone else, but looking edgy. After waiting for all other American-born customers to leave, I said, "you know who's going to get blamed for this, don't you?" He jumped into a rant more excited that the ones the subject of the Taliban gets him into, and said, "bin Laden is a madman! You cannot blame Afghanistan! This is not the fault of the people of Afghanistan!"

"Nonetheless," I said.

He was so excited that his English began to fade, and I lost track of what he was saying.

"Take care," I said, and went home to put my feet up.

 

"Michael Jahn's New York City Mysteries: Murder in Coney Island" has been published  as an eBook to be read in Kindle and related devices. The price is $2.99. It's available for download now. It's the first of the ten books in my series of hardcover mysteries, published between 1982 and 2008, that I intend to publish as  Kindle editions. 

It's a year after the destruction of the World Trade Center. Captain Bill Donovan, the  NYPD's legendarily brilliant, famously eccentric detective -- he’s been called “the ‘House’ of homicide” -- has managed to piss off the Feds so badly they won't let him near the case. So there he is in the basement of an ancient mom and pop candy store in Coney Island wondering why a prominent housing developer lays in a pool of blood at the foot of the World's Most Complete Collection of Brooklyn Dodgers Baseball Cards, beaten to death with a bronze statue of Ebbetts Field. 

And then ...

http://www.amazon.com/Michael-Jahns-York-Mysteries-ebook/dp/B005GSS314/ref=ntt_at_ep_dpt_1

I forgot to mention that Donovan listens to techno on headphones.

(And if it isn't obvious, I don't know how to format text in this software. The type should not be that small. I promise to keep working on it.)


 

A few years back ... well, 29 years back ... the New York Times printed my last bylined article, allowing me to make the accurate if somewhat misleading claim that my career at the paper spanned three decades (first 1968, last 1982). It was about how I hatched 13 snapping turtle eggs in a galvanized iron bucket in my New York apartment. It was my intention to reintroduce snapping turtles to the brook from which the boy me helped extinguish them years earlier, thereby fucking up the food chain. Go to my blog post “OMG, There’s Life Down There!” to get a sense of how it turned out.

 

The Voices of the Turtles are Heard -- at Home

by Michael Jahn

The New York Times Op Ed Page

September 11, 1982

 

For the last few days, 15 snapping turtles have been hatching in a bucket in the living room of my Manhattan apartment. This may require some explanation.

I grew up in a small town on the south shore of eastern Long Island. Our house was adjacent to a small brook in which could be found what is called, in current lingo, a balanced "ecosystem," which included a number of ducks and snapping turtles. The turtles ate enough ducks to prevent the fowls from fouling up the water with their excrement, as ducks are inclined to do if left unchecked.

Then about 30 years ago, a local zealot with a shotgun, with the connivance of neighborhood youngsters (including, I must admit, myself), systematically wiped out the population of snapping turtles. He liked to feed the ducks on the banks of the stream.

Though they pale in comparison with their cousins, the alligator snapping turtles that inhabit Southern waters, the creatures that once swam behind my childhood home were formidable enough. Given the chance, they grew to be the size of bushel baskets, had ridged shells with sawtoothed edges that made them resemble dinosaurs and were rumored to be capable of biting through a broom handle.

Without snapping-turtle predation, the ducks overpopulated and polluted the stream. There has not been significant housing construction along the stream during the past three decades. so leaching of pollutants from cesspools probably was not much of a factor. We are, in 1982, stuck with a largely stagnant stream choked by plants, pollutant-fed algae and a whole lot of hungry ducks. It has become virtually impossible to approach the brook without being surrounded by dozens of ducks, all begging for bits of stale bread dispensed by a new generation of children who have no idea of the crime committed before they (and, in some cases. their parents) were born.

On the other side of town is another stream, a rather larger one, in the fork of which sits on old estate managed by my aunt and an elderly cousin. 

That stream has a balanced ecosystem, including a thriving population of snapping turtles. It is a closed estate, and zealots with shotguns are frowned upon. 

Every year, on the first rainy dawn following Memorial Day, the female

snapping turtles come out to lay their eggs. The turtles are great, hulking, gray-black creatures, some two or three feet across. not counting appendages. The sight or them lumbering out of the salt marsh, itself shrouded in ground fog, is enough to make the latest Hollywood horror epic seem less frightening than “Annie.” They move slowly across the grounds until they find a soft, sandy spot. There, they dig a hole and deposit in it several dozen eggs. The eggs are round, about an inch in diameter, and their mothers carefully bury them before lumbering back to the water to resume keeping the wildfowl population (and, with it, the ecosystem) in balance.

Last Memorial Day weekend, one especially big old turtle, her biological clock perhaps thrown oft by senility, came out rather late, after the crows were awake. She laid her eggs and left. The crows were about to dig up the nest and eat the eggs when my elderly cousin, who arises even before the crows, chased off the birds, dug up the nest and left it in the bucket that now sits midway between the radiator and my stereo components.

Snapping-turtle eggs typically hatch on a rainy dawn following Labor Day. This summer, 1 faithfully tended the bucket according to the schedule of the rainfall outside the windows. My intention is to reintroduce a dozen or so snapping turtles into the stream from which they were so long ago eliminated, in the hope that one day things will be as they were. I have consulted with several specialists in fresh-water ecology and the general consensus is that I will probably be doing some good, but at least I will be doing no harm.

Upon hearing this tale, a friend commented, “Ha, so you're playing God!" Perhaps so, but I'm also paying the price. The critters, who have for millions of years hatched on schedule, began to hatch early. I imagine the warmer and less-variable temperatures between my radiator and stereo components had something to with it. I was planning to leave for a week's vacation. during which was scheduled the final seaside party of the season. I couldn't just leave the bucket behind, could I? Not with the hungry little things hatching at the rate of one or two a day (11 so far). The bucket had to be brought with me, so I could nursemaid the newborn while listening to the roar of the surf.

A conversation I imagined: “What will you have with your pina colada, sir?"

“Unh ... duck a l’orange for my snapping turtles?"

In my case at least, that is the price of being able to play God.

 

UserpicThe New York Times Writes About Me
Posted by Mike Jahn
03.01.11

December 8, 2010, 8:00 AM

Unguarded Moments: John Lennon in the Studio

By ALLAN KOZINN

In February, 1972, John Lennon, Yoko Ono and Elephant’s Memory -- a downtown band with good connections in the antiwar movement -- set up at the Record Plant to begin recording the overtly political “Some Time in New York City” album. The sessions lasted just over a month: Lennon’s idea, at that time, was that recordings should be a form of journalism -- that once he had an idea, he should pop into the studio, record it quickly and with few production flourishes, and get it out.

It was also a fraught time for the Lennons. The FBI had been following them for months, and had informed the Nixon administration that they had been participating in antiwar demonstrations, were spending time with radicals like Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin, and were planning (however vaguely) a tour with an antiwar message. About a week before the sessions began, the government began proceedings to try to have Lennon deported, on the pretext of a 1968 drug conviction in England.

Just before the sessions began, Mike Jahn — then a pop music reviewer for The New York Times (and the first to hold that position), now a novelist and blogger — wrangled an invitation to attend one of the early sessions. (He believes the date was Feb. 22.)

“One of the Elephant’s Memory guys — the drummer, I think — called and said that Lennon was doing his first recording work in this country and did I want to drop in,” Mr. Jahn said in an email. “I had reviewed one of their shows and we shared antiwar politics . I was more political than most of the counterculture reporters of the time, and probably knew a lot of the same people. I presume from what he said that the sessions had already begun. Although there was a lot of getting-acquainted going on in that studio. It just may be that this was the first day. No tracks were laid down while I was there (an hour or two).”

At the studio, Mr. Jahn interviewed Lennon for a short column that did not appear in the paper but was syndicated by Times Special Features. He also shot a roll of film. One picture ran with his column; another was published in the rock magazine Creem. The rest have never been seen, until now. They show Lennon talking with members of Elephant’s Memory, and several shots catch him rehearsing, with the group’s bassist, Gary Van Seyoc, just behind him.

After Mr. Jahn’s column was published, Lennon thought better about having granted the interview and allowing the photographs. He was in the United States, after all, on a visitor’s visa, and was not legally allowed to work — as the photos clearly show him doing. “Lennon freaked out and accused me of playing into the hands of the C.I.A.,” Mr. Jahn said. His own theory, though is that Lennon was upset with him because “after talking to him and taking pictures I went back to the control room and flirted shamelessly with Yoko. I was smitten with her. What do you expect, she was a New York artist. My crowd. She was also very cute and absolutely magnetic. I had the same reaction to her that John did.”

Mr. Jahn is currently working on a memoir. We offer the photos as a commemoration of the 30th anniversary of Lennon’s murder outside the Dakota, on Dec. 8, 1980.

 

 

 


UserpicMy Dad, Bert's Flivver and Dutch Schultz
Posted by Mike Jahn
07.07.10

As I’ve said to the point of exhaustion earlier in this narrative, I learned the ink-flinger’s trade by imitating my respectable and honored newspaperman father. Well, I was going through his papers over the weekend and found the story below. He wrote it for the Long Island Press, in the 1970s the nation’s fourth largest afternoon daily.  As the last act of his career he was editorial page editor. 



The Press was the  third daily newspaper for which he worked that went belly up. The Brooklyn Eagle flatlined in 1956 (there’s a new, smaller version publishing now). The Suffolk Sun kicked the bucket in 1970. After the Long Island Press bought the ranch in 1976, legend has it that my father dropped in on Newsday to meet someone for lunch and the entire city desk rose as one and yelled “get out!”

As for his Dutch Schultz story, I heard it many times while growing up. But I didn’t see the actual print version when it was published in 1974. Those years I  was busy slaughtering trees so as to print “The Six Million Dollar Man” books, which unaccountably were deemed worthy of slaughtering trees for. It recounts an event that occurred during the 1930s, a decade that was to him what the 1960s were to me. It was “storied.” Here’s one.

 

Dutch Schultz Remembered

by Joseph C. Jahn

During the Prohibition era, my town on Long Island was a port of call for rum runners, foreign and domestic. We also had a doctor without portfolio who patched up wounded gangsters.

So it is no wonder that one evening I went to Mike’s Soda Shoppe on Main Street and unexpectedly found myself sitting on a stool next to Dutch Schultz, the gangster, who, history should record, was sipping a chocolate malted.

So was his burly bodyguard, one stool removed, who had a bulge in his right hip pocket that was not caused by a hankie.

Although this was very early in my journalistic career, and my beat was sports, I was sufficiently aware of front page news to know that Dutch was on the lam because a rival thug, Legs Diamond, wished to rub him out.

Also, the Feds, who couldn’t shoot straight on a bet, were looking for Dutch, not because he didn’t keep up with protection payments — a city problem — but because he didn’t pay his Federal income tax.

Therefore, a stool next to Dutch Schultz at that point in time was no place for a clean-cut, well-bred, God-fearing and nervous country boy. So I concluded that I needed a haircut.

From the barbershop I phoned Bert Carey, local reporter and photographer for our mutual employer, the Brooklyn Eagle. Bert joined me almost before I hung up. There followed a stakeout of Mike’s Soda Shoppe, then a cautious tailing of Dutch and his companion to a hideout in an unoccupied mansion in darkest Oakdale

They were in a sleek, high-speed bulletproof Lincoln, we in Bert’s well-ventilated old flivver. Fifteen minutes later they were seated in a darkened room on a sofa facing burning logs in a fireplace, and we were peering through a partly opened window. Bert’s flivver was down the road, it’s motor running, which was a good thing.

“When I nudge you, rap on the window, and then run like hell,” Bert whispered, aiming his camera’s lens toward the shadowy figures. He nudged, I rapped, a flashbulb went off, and I took off for the car, one step ahead of Bert. Moments later we were westbound on Montauk Highway, throttle to the floor. Moments after that we heard the deep-throated roar of a high-powered motor far behind us, but gaining.

Well, I said to myself, this is a fine fix. And it would have been if Bert hadn’t known back roads that led to Bloody Mary’s speakeasy. He drove the flivver in her barn, and we burst into Mary’s kitchen.

“I’ll have a hamburger and a shot of rye,” an unflustered Bert said to a flustered Mary. He had several of both. So did I. Hours later we resumed our journey, taking back roads to Brooklyn, where Bert’s film was processed while he wrote the story.

So it came to pass that the next day the Eagle reported exclusively that Dutch Schultz had been found and had a photo to prove it. Admittedly, the photo was fuzzy, but who wouldn’t have taken a fuzzy picture under those circumstances?

I do not recall that Bert won any prize for that scoop. He certainly didn’t get a raise; just having a job was a triumph in those days. But Dutch Schultz didn’t win anything either. He had paid a good buck to a God-fearing local realtor to rent an old mansion he had to abandon. More important, within a month Dutch was completely deceased, having been rubbed out in a beer joint in New Jersey.

My reward for riding shotgun with Bert? Mike put a gold star on the stool I occupied so briefly that fateful evening. But that too was rubbed out. In fact, it didn’t last as long as Dutch.

 

 

[this story is copyrighted]

 


So there I was working on a bottle of vodka with Paladin, who was wearing a purple muu muu and who was trying to get Liberty Valence on the phone so we all could go shark fishing in Hawaii.

I wrote a syndicated column that the New York Times distributed to every major market except Washington, D.C., which apparently didn’t like me, which was fine with me. Richard Boone was in New York for one reason or another, and a bright-eyed young publicist called me to come meet him in his room at the New York Hilton.

Boone famously played Paladin, the educated, sophisticated and cultured Old West mercenary who hired out to settle disputes, often with a sidearm, in the 1950s series “Have Gun -- Will Travel.” You’ll know the theme:

“’Have Gun -- Will Travel’ reads the card of a man
A knight without armor in a savage land.
It’s fast gun for hire he’s the calling wind
A soldier of fortune is the man called Paladin.”

The lyric ignores the fact that Paladin’s home base was a posh San Francisco hotel, where he had a Chinese lackey named Hey Boy and who was sometimes seen as being a dandy. Not that many gunfighters lectured villains on their “rough way of talking” and left calling cards with the chess knight on them and the legend “Have Gun -- Will travel. Wire Paladin, San Francisco.”

I don’t remember why Boone’s young PR man invited me to meet him. I only remember the man looking terrified when he opened the door to let me in.

He sat me on the couch. After a few minutes of rustling around in the other room, Boone appeared. He was wearing a floor-length purple muu muu and looked like he had just spent three days in a San Francisco hotel, this one in the Tenderloin.

He said hello and faced me, squinting through a haze, the famous lines on his face looking like trenches. He asked, “Are you a drinking man?”

Those days I was and said so. He trudged back into the other room, and after bit of rustling around, he appeared carrying a bottle of vodka. He slammed it down atop one of those shoulder-height dressers that hotels must buy by the trainload. He stared at the bottle for a minute, then turned back to me and raised an index finger and flashed the “help me out here” look.

I said, “Glasses?”

He said, “Glasses,” and went back into the other room.

After more rustling around he reappeared carrying two glasses. He slammed them down atop the dresser next to the bottle and turned me again. Again came the index finger and the look.

“Ice?” I said.

“Ice,” he replied and went back into the other room. More rustling around. Then he reappeared. He said, “No fucking ice” and poured two glasses of room-temperature vodka.  He downed his, a half glass of it, in one blast. I did the same. I could do that in those days.

Over the lips and past the gums, look out stomach, here it comes.

The PR man went into stage three cardiac arrest.

Anyway, most of the afternoon and most of the bottle later Paladin and I were the best of friends and we were talking about fishing, which I hadn’t done since moving to New York but remembered well enough from having grown up by the sea.

Boone lived on Oahu, explaining both the muu muu and the fishing. He had bonded so closely to his island Pandora that he was offered the role of McGarrett in “Hawaii 5-0.” He turned it down and Jack Lord got the part.

I don’t know why Boone turned it down. Maybe because he would really suck in a pompadour.

Back to fishing. One of his fishing friends was Lee Marvin, who among many roles played the villain in “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence,” with James Stewart and John Wayne. Not too shabby. Marvin was so fond of fishing that he was offered the role of Quint in “Jaws.” He turned it down, and Robert Ryan got the part.

We know why Marvin turned it down. He said "What would I tell my fishing friends who'd see me come off a hero against a dummy shark?"

Well, there’s Paladin on the phone trying to reach his fishing buddy Liberty Valence to introduce him to his new friend Mike Jahn so we all could get on his boat, docked in Oahu, and go shark fishing.

I saw myself adrift in shark-filled waters with the two biggest drunks in Hollywood. I don’t remember the rest of the Richard Boone episode except that I went home to write it up for my column. I didn’t wind up eaten by a shark and neither did Lee Marvin. What happened to Paladin I don’t recall.

I hope he found ice.

 

 

 


Editorial
UserpicThis story about Leonard Cohen has sex in it.
Posted by Mike Jahn
22.09.09
 

I remember Leonard Cohen well from the Chelsea Hotel. This story has sex in it.

Not between me and him. Between him and a woman friend of mine who I’ll call S. To be honest, though, there was no sex in that there was no happy ending in the traditional sense. She was hardly a blushing flower and in fact had the terrible habit of picking up guys in the subway. She picked up him in the Spanish restaurant that I believe still sits downstairs. They went up to his room, but she wasn’t equipped to deal with the prodigious size of Cohen’s member. She couldn’t complete the act.

No wonder his songs are so bitter.

If the act was completed by the usual other means, she didn’t say. All I know is that the blow job described in his song “Chelsea Hotel #2” was delivered by Janis Joplin.


In the early 1990s he did an interview in which this Q & A occurred:

“Who are your best male friend and your best female friend?”

“My 12-inch dick.”

According to S, that was no exaggeration.

Now, how does that take us to me? In the early 1970s, probably 1972, I interviewed  him at the Chelsea Hotel, which is famous as the place where rock stars stayed while playing New York as well as for being the hostelry where hip New York guys scurried off to while escaping wives and girlfriends. Or to murder them, as in Sid and Nancy.

And a host of literary figures too, something that is easily found on Google.

Cohen didn’t give interviews those days, but he gave one to me, probably because I wrote a good review of one of his concerts either that year or the one before in the New York Times. I met him in his room, the same room he took S. The Chelsea rented out a large proportion on a semi-permanent basis to artists.

They rented one to me for a summer, but I didn’t stay longer than that. I left after making a mistake while lighting the gas oven and blowing myself across the room and burning all the hair off the front of my body. Luckily I had pants on.

When I took the room I had the choice of either an air conditioner or a set of the famous French doors opening on the famous wrought iron balcony. Of course I took the doors. It was wretched hot in the summer of 1971 and I slept with the doors open. The guy next door, also a long-term renter, had two golden retrievers who had the run of the balcony and used to visit me with their wet noses in the middle of the night.

Fortunately, I grew up on a farm and was accustomed to wet noses.

So, Leonard Cohen. I went up to his room, which was on the opposite side of the building from me, the south side. He had one of the artists’ (artists as in painters) rooms into which amazing light poured through large windows.

The room was single and large. The only furniture was a small kitchen table with two straight-backed chairs, and a bed, which was unmade. There was smoke and dust in the room, and a vertical shaft of brilliant light bisected the room, making the smoke and dust glow like a light saber. Leonard took the two chairs and arranged them facing one another, looking across the shaft of light.

Tell me about theater.

That was how we talked. We talked about his habit of using real peoples’ names in his songs. There was a Suzanne. There was a Marianne. And we talked about a song he had just written, “Chelsea Hotel #2.” As you recall, the first verse goes

“I remember you well in the Chelsea Hotel,
you were talking so brave and so sweet,
giving me head on the unmade bed,
while the limousines wait in the street.

“Those were the reasons and that was New York,
we were running for the money and the flesh.
And that was called love for the workers in song
probably still is for those of them left.”

He recited the verse to me, adding emphasis at two points. When the line came about the unmade bed, he nodded in the direction of the unmade bed. And when he recited “that was called love for the workers in song, probably still is for those of them left,” he gave me a little smile and a knowing look.

There were few workers in song left in the early 1970s, few good lyricists. He sensed that I knew. New York Times rock critics are expected to know these things. The disappearance of them was one reason I gave up the rock beat a few years later to write mystery and suspense novels. What workers in song were there? Give me a good literary analysis of “YMCA.”

The complaint thought stuck with him. Much later, in the song “The Future,” he mentioned “the lousy little poets comin' round tryin' to sound like Charlie Manson."

So Leonard Cohen of the enormous talent and even bigger dick was really ticked off about how few if any others could match him, at least in the first.

We hit it off, and when we were done talking he locked up the room and, without luggage which I presume he sent ahead, he got into a cab for Kennedy Airport. He was on his way to the Aegean, where he either had a place or stayed with someone and doubtless there was a Suzanne or somebody else to write songs about. I took his picture in the back seat and he dropped me off in Midtown, where I worked.

I never saw him again. I never saw S again either. I have picture of both. But not together, which would have been priceless.

 

Today we had a sumptious lunch for two at a Pakistani restaurant ($27), bought seven scarfs and four dresses from an Indian shop ($5 and $8, respectively, and picked up a wheelie cart from a Bangla Deshi across the street ($18). Satisfied that we weren't American undercover cops, he steered us to a guy from Guinea in West Africa. He took us a couple of blocks away and to the top floor of an office building. He led us into his inventory room and sold us two Dolce & Gabana bags for $25 each. All this in two hours in the Murray Hill section of Manhattan, specifically Broadway and 30th, aka Blade Runner East. Do I love New York or what?

And the Republicans say that immigrants are bad for the American economy! These were the best bargains since Wall Street sold millions of bargain mortgages.


UserpicThe Kennedy Family and Me
Posted by Mike Jahn
28.08.09

I took a picture of JFK when I was 17 and working as a photographer for the Suffolk County News. That's Suffolk County in New York and not the one in Boston, though the latter might be more appropriate.

It was the end of the 1960 campaign when he flew into McArthur Airport and addressed a small rally by climbing atop a car. You could climb atop cars in 1960. You also could be an unknown teenage photographer with no press credentials and walk up to the future President carrying a large metal box, specifically a Crown Graphic camera of the sort stereotypically associated with the press photographers of the time.

Crown Graphics and their larger brethren, Speed Graphics, were on their way out, being replaced by single lens reflexes. But not entirely replaced. My fellow photographer Carl used one to get through crowds and police lines at murders, using the thing to bully people out of the way. He did this shouting "press!" And when he got to the scene of the crime he would put down the Graphic and whip a Leica out of his shirt pocket and get the shot of the corpse.

I couldn't afford a Leica or a SLR, but I had a hand-me-down Graphic. I climbed onto the car next to JFK's, and all of seven or eight feet away from him took that shot. Soon after, I processed it in the darkroom I had built into my bedroom closet and brought the print to my dad, who was editor of the Suffolk County News. He paid me $2. That's about the equivalent of $20 today.

I could have killed Kennedy. Three years later someone else did just that, and from much further away. I didn't even shake his hand, though he thrust it in my direction later on when we both were down off our car roofs and he was walking down a reception line of sorts. "Shake his hand, shake his hand," my father yelled. But I was working. And carrying a Graphic, which wasn't easily put down in the middle of a crowd. I was afraid that someone would trip over it. My father shook JFK's hand. He was accustomed to presidential familiarity. Four years earlier he drank bourbon with Harry Truman See "Jimi, Harry, and Me"

Thus developed my special bond with the Kennedy dynasty. In 1967 and in my first year in Manhattan I became press guy for a tiny organization called Citizens for Kennedy and Fulbright. We entered Bobby's name in the 1968 New Hampshire, starting the full-tilt phase of his presidential campaign. Six months later he was dead, shot by a disaffected nobody as was his brother. 

You know, maybe if I had kicked JFK off that Ford instead of just taking his picture he would have broken a leg and had to drop out if the presidential race and would still be alive. Lee Harvey Oswald would have shot Njxon instead, saving the world a lot of aggravation. If I dad skipped politics and spent 1967 smoking weed and listening to Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band with my friends Bobby would still  be here. 

I am a terrorist.

I just now shed a tear over Teddy. He was special, he outlived the rest by decades. 

 

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