Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Punk Rock Stories - My Days at Vinyl Fetish

I’ve had a lot of jobs over the last 38 years. I’ve worked at fast food places early in my life (Baskin Robbins, KFC, Der Wienerschnitzel); and I hope I don’t get forced to go back to those soulless places in my latter years. I’ve built computers and ran the shipping/receiving department of a major pneumatic tool distributor. I’ve also worked in two book stores. One was the Baruck College book store in New York, one of the only jobs I feel I was ever truly appreciated at. The other was a Crown Books retail book store in Pasadena, a job I enjoyed despite our drug addicted manager, who was the catalyst for my leaving. I spent a short time at Meltdown, a comic book store in Hollywood. As most people who read this blog know, I’ve also worked as both a business manager and tour manager for various bands, touring throughout the United States and into most of the Western European countries as well as a few of the Eastern ones.

Most of my working years have been spent in a variety of record stores throughout Southern California. I’ve worked at Licorice Pizza (Santa Ana, Riverside, North Hollywood and Pasadena), Music Plus (Sherman Oaks), Moby Disc (Sherman Oaks, Canoga Park and Pasadena), Texas Hotel in Santa Monica and Rhino in Westwood. There was also a year long stint a record store in Hollywood called Vinyl Fetish, although this store came close to being more of a lifestyle store than just a record store.

Before I go further, a disclaimer about what follows is called for. This all took place back in the early 80s (I believe it was late 1981 and into 1982). I was still in my 20s and was heavily into my alcohol and drug years, although those days would come to a close in just a few years. So what follows is how I remember it. That doesn’t mean it’s exactly what happened, it’s just how I remember it now, years later through a fog of time and past drug usage. These days are really hazy in my memory and I having a hard time remembering it all, including everyone who worked for the store while I was there. I suspect a number of people who also lived through this period will remember some of these events clearer than me and I welcome all feedback correcting me on facts and adding to the story.

Vinyl Fetish was a record store on Melrose Avenue in Hollywood that was owned and operated by two local scene-makers named Joseph Brooks and Henry Peck. They were well known in the Hollywood post-punk crowd for running several popular late-night dance clubs around town. Henry was also one of the hair-cutters of the stars. The store was one of the best and most trendy in town, carrying all the most obscure punk and post-punk recordings. At the time, the so-called New Romantic movement was heating up and Vinyl Fetish was the only place to find records by these mostly unknown bands. I was hanging out there one day talking to the two guys and mentioned that I needed a job. Before I knew it, I was hired on as a full time counter clerk.

At the time, I was living with Skip in a very small, one-bedroom apartment out in Arcadia, which is about 15 minutes east of Pasadena. My years at Licorice Pizza had finally ended on an extremely bad note and I was jobless and without a car, as my piece of shit Chevy Chevette had finally crapped out once and for all. I had to take the bus to work and this was way before the days of direct Rapid busses and Metro Subways. I hopped on a bus near my apartment, which headed to downtown LA. There, I had to change buses to get to Hollywood. I think in total, I had to change busses three times. The total trip took me close to 2 ½ hours. Skip was working even further east out in Monrovia, but sometimes when he could, he would drive to Hollywood to pick me up and we’d both drive back to Arcadia. That would happen most of the time, but there were many days that I found myself sitting on various busses for close to 5 hours a day. I didn’t mind so much because I loved to read and this gave me plenty of time to catch up on books I had stacked around the apartment. I also found that I was really enjoying working at Vinyl Fetish. Joseph and Henry were easy to work for and didn’t put me through the micromanaging bullshit I usually had to put up with. So it was worth the bus time, including dealing with the various crazies who haunted the bus line. (I remember one old woman in downtown LA falling to the ground and latching on to my ankle in a death-grip, begging me to take her home with me.)

Besides Henry, Joseph and myself, I also remember working with Marcy Blaustein, Lisa Fancher, Randy Kaye (RIP), Steven Schayer, and a guy named Billy, who I believe is also RIP and whose last name I unfortunately can’t quite pull out of the fog. I know there were others as well. We quickly became known as the meanest record store staff in Los Angeles. None of us had much patience, especially for the typical record store buyer who wanted something off the top ten Billboard charts, especially since it was so extremely obvious they weren’t going to find that kind of thing at this store. But I would also get belligerent with many of the so-called scenester music buyers as well. This period was during the beginning of the dark Goth scene, and while many of those people were embracing the current bands, like Sisters of Mercy, Death Cult and Sex Gang Children, they would come into the store and complain while I was playing my own current favorites, such as Virgin Prunes and Einsturzende Neubauten. The irony, of course, is that these same people would later champion these bands once they were told to do so by their peers in the bands they listened to that were more popular. We were a know-it-all, better-than-you bunch of record store employees, but despite the meanness, people seemed to accept it as part of the Vinyl Fetish experience.

(Of course, these days, I have little tolerance for that kind of record store employee and refuse to shop at any store I get that attitude from. More irony, I guess.)

This attitude stretch out to even visiting celebrities who either frequented the store as customers or were there doing an in-store appearance to promote an upcoming show or album. I think I was a tad more enthusiastic about putting the “stars” in their place than the other employees and there were a few times that Henry and/or Joseph asked me to tone it down, to no real effect. Following is a few incidences that I remember.

Depeche Mode did an in-store and brought their girlfriends with them. These girls were the loudest, most obnoxious group of females I can ever recall experiencing. My answer to them was the toss them out of the store. This didn’t sit well with these girls and before long I was facing the (road) manager and after a short talk, the girls were sent to the hotel. I expected all sorts of anger, but one of the band members told me after the in-store that they were embarrassed as well and planned to send their women back home the next day. I had lots of respect for that.

During a Duran Duran in-store for their first album, I did something I seldom do. I asked for the band’s autographs. I’m not star-struck enough to ask people for autographs, although I did make an exception for Ringo Starr year’s earlier. But my sister was a big fan and I wanted to surprise her with a signed photo. All the band members happily signed, until I got to Simon Le Bon. When I asked him to sign, he asked my name. I told him it was for my sister and her name is Rhonda. But he wanted to know my name. So I told him it was Jet, which was the name I was still going by at that time. He laughed and said that Jet didn’t sound like a legitimate name. I shot right back that Le Bon didn’t sound all that legitimate to me either. That made him mad. He threw the picture back and told me to “fuck off” and that his name was very legitimate. (It was. I just wanted to get under his skin. And I did.) I muttered a “whatever” or something back at him and left him alone. By the end of the day though, one of the other band members asked for the picture and came back a moment later with his signature on it. He still wouldn’t talk to me though. (My sister has lost that picture and I wish I had it. It would probably be worth good money these days.) By the way, I loved Duran Duran at the Roxy that night. They reminded me of Slade, a band I always had a soft spot for. I wish their albums could have sounded so powerful.

Siouxsie and the Banshees did an in-store and Siouxsie arrived in her usually state at the time, drunk. While drinking, Sioux spilt her wine and picked up a towel and threw in it my face. “Clean this up”, she demanded. I threw the towel right back at her and told her to clean it up herself, which caused a bit of tension between me and her lackey/drummer Budgie. Steve Severin and the wonderful late guitarist, John McGeoch, later apologized to me. (Siouxsie was later denied entry into Disneyland because she was wearing a leather miniskirt, although I suspect alcohol played a part in that as well. She mentioned the incident last year when I saw her show at House of Blues Anaheim, which is on Disney property. By the way, the show was really good.)

Billy Idol, who lived in town at the time, came in one evening while I was working alone. I loved his early punk band, Generation X, but had little time or patience for his solo material. He started the conversation with, “What’s this shit you’re playing? You need to listen to this”, handing me a cassette tape he wanted to me to play. He had immediately gotten on my bad side with that comment. I started the cassette only to be accosted by his new recording, a song called “White Wedding”. He was dancing around the store, singing the song loudly while it played. I was appalled. After the song was over, he said, “Isn’t that the greatest song you’ve ever heard?” I replied with, “No. It was about the biggest pile of shit I’ve ever been exposed to.” (I wasn’t just being mean, I was being truthful.) He sputtered a few times and then stormed out of the store, yelling an angry “Fuck You Mate!” to me as he left. Not too long later, the phone rang. Joseph was on the other end and asked me what had just happened. Billy Idol had called him and was mad as hell. I told him exactly what had happened and all I heard was a sigh. I don’t know how Joseph was so patient with me, but he once again explained that I needed to try to be nice to these people and I told him once again that I would try. And that’s the last I heard about that incident. (Billy Idol left town shortly after that when too many people started to realize that he was a sexist, racist drunk. I have no idea what he’s like these days. Nor do I care.)

But not every in-store was like those. Steve Strange, of Visage, did an in-store one day. I was dreading it, but he turned out to be one of the greatest, friendliest, most fun people who ever came into the store. We spent some fun time drinking with him at the One Bar, a gay bar across the street from the store that a pre-out Freddie Mercury (Queen) used to frequent.

One day, a large, black limousine pulled up outside and Billy Gibbons, from ZZ Top, came into the store to buy punk singles and leather wrist bands. He was a great guy and even gave us all tickets to their Forum show that evening (which I didn’t go to for reasons I no longer remember).

I became friends with New Music musician Harold Budd after he stopped in to talk and was amazed I knew who he was. (I always knew anyone who had worked with Brian Eno.) He came in a lot to talk and listen to records. (I still talk to him on and off these days, although with his illness, it’s been awhile.)

The same thing happened with John Belushi, who walked in one day just to check things out. We got in a long conversation about his movie “Neighbors” and the differences between it and the book it was based on. He started coming in once or twice a week when he was in town just to talk with me about things. We would also laugh about the fact that I was always wearing a black suit and tie at the time with a porkpie hat and I would always get “John Belushi” or “Blues Brothers” yelled at me. It turned out that he was walking around one day when someone yelled “Jet” at him. He thought that was pretty funny. I was on vacation when he died. We were at Bryce Canyon in Utah when I called home to make sure our cats were okay and a friend checking in told me that Henry was looking for me. So I called the store to find out what was going on. Henry said that some reporter had found out that Belushi enjoyed our conversations and he wanted to talk to me about the man. I didn’t want to talk to anyone and extended our vacation for a week. By the time I got back, the guy had stopped calling. To tell the truth, I saw no signs of the drug abuse that killed him, at least during the conversations we had at the store.

And Matt Groening, who was just a local cartoonist and music writer around town at the time, used to come in to talk often. He didn’t own a car and would frequently miss his bus, so Skip and I would give him a ride home. A few years later, “The Simpsons” was on the air and he didn’t have to worry about busses ever again. I still see him now and again, and we pleasantly exchange hellos, but I don’t really know him anymore.

There were two incidences I remember with Henry that still bring smiles to me whenever I think of them. One day, the two of us were working on a slow day. Not many customers had come in and Henry was not in the best of moods. We were getting bothered because two drag queens kept running by the store over and over again, causing a commotion out on the street. Henry finally got tired of it and said he was going to put a stop to it. He stormed out of the store and was gone for a fairly long time. When he finally returned, he was laughing. It turned out that the drag queens were actually actors filming an upcoming TV series. The series was called “Bosom Buddies”. Henry had gone out and yelled at future movie star, Tom Hanks, when the crew had intervened to explain the situation.

The other incident had to do with a local musician, Rick Wilder. He was a member of a group called the MauMaus. He was also a terrible junkie who was annoying as hell to talk to most of the time. One afternoon, Henry was looking out the window when he saw Rick approaching. He told me that he didn’t want to talk to him and asked me to get rid of him. With that, he hid behind the counter. When Rick stumbled in, he immediately asked for Henry. I told him he wasn’t there and that I didn’t know when he was going to be there. But Rick wasn’t to be deterred. He plopped down on the couch and slurred to me that he would wait. Henry was signaling to me from behind the counter to get rid of him, but I couldn’t convince the guy tom leave. No matter what I said to him, he persisted. Suddenly, Henry grabbed a brown paper bag. He drew a smiley face on it and put it over his head. With that, he stood up and walked past Rick and out the door. Rick never even seemed to notice. I think Rick stayed about an hour before giving up. Henry came back shortly after and all was right with the world once again.

Joseph and Henry were also running the Veil Club at Club Lingerie at the time. That was a New Romantic dance club and we would all fill the place. It was always a lot of fun, but I remember less about that then I do about the store.

I had a blast working at that store, but the time finally came for me to leave. A local band named Choir Invisible was going out on tour and had asked me to road manage for them. That was something I always wanted to do, so I put in my notice at Vinyl Fetish and hit the road with the band. The details of that tour can be found somewhere in the archives of this blog. My time at the store was great and left me with many fond memories. I just wish I could remember more of them. After the Choir Invisible tour, I went to work for another up-and-coming, trend setter record store called Texas Hotel, but that’s a story of its own. I’ll get to that some day.


Last blog, I gave a shout-out to Iowa for passing gay marriage rights. Now I want to do the same for Vermont, which made history by becoming the first state to pass gay marriage rights through its legislature instead of through the courts. The list of States I can move to is becoming larger and its looking like a few more States might be added to that list before the end of the year. It’s about time. Now all I can hope for is that my own State of California doesn’t become an embarrassment due to its own lack of progress. We’ll know in a month or so. I’m keeping my fingers crossed.


I’m leaving town again. First a week (actually 5 days) in Arizona visiting family and then a week (actually 4 days) in San Francisco to see Throbbing Gristle play live. That means there won’t be another blog until the end of April or the first of May. At that time, I hope to get back to my usual weekly schedule. I hope you enjoyed the stories above. Thanks for reading and take care of yourselves. -ML

Monday, April 6, 2009

The Third Trip – Rome, Italy

Before I get started today, I want to give props to the Iowan Supreme Court. It isn’t always easy to make the correct decision in the atmosphere this country has fostered the last decade or so, but these nine judges, from a very conservative state, did just that, ignoring the irrational and bigoted cries from the still powerful religious right. Let’s just hope that the California judges have to courage to do the same thing. This country needs more “activist” judges.

(For those who don’t know, the Iowan Supreme Court ruled that denying gays and lesbians the right to marriage was unconstitutional, specifically sighting the fact that dislike of homosexuals is based in religious teachings and government has no right to side with religious doctrine. All nine judges ruled this way. It wasn’t a split decision like it was in California.)

I’ve been looking for a good place to live that is easier and cheaper than California. I may have found it.


A while ago, I decided that I didn’t want to vacation in any place that I had already been to. There are so many places in the world I want to experience, so going back to a country I’ve spent time in seemed ridiculous to me. But about a year or so ago, I ran into an old friend from Italy on MySpace that I used to know back in the days that Thin White Rope used to tour Europe twice a year. In fact, Daniela started out as a fan and friend of the band’s, but eventually became our booking agent in Italy for the last couple of tours.

Daniela told me that she had done quite well in her life. She was now an artist. She was married and had two young children. And she spent her time between and apartment in central Rome and a villa out on the edge of the city. She invited Skip and me to visit and spend a relaxing vacation in her villa any time we wanted. Now, I didn’t think I would ever want to go back to Italy, despite the fact that I love the country tremendously. But Daniela’s offer was too much to pass up, so after a week or so of discussion, Skip and I decided to book the trip with some existing frequent flyer miles and let Daniela know we were taking her up on her generous offer.

Due to restrictions on using frequent flyer miles, we had to book the trip almost a year in advance. I thought it would seem like forever before we were able to leave, but as time seems to do, it went by fast and before we knew it, we were preparing to pack up and head to the airport. We hadn’t made any plans except for a possible trip to Naples and Pompeii. I had been to Pompeii twice before, but Skip had never been and I wanted him to see it. Not having the whole trip planned in advance is very unusual for me. When we vacation, I usually know every move we’re going to make and every day we’re going to make it. But I had been to Rome so many times in the past (Skip had also been there a couple of times), that I was just looking forward to settling in and relaxing out in the country. I really didn’t want to do anything at all.

Our flights were leaving very early in the morning and I have trouble sleeping on planes, so we decided to stay up all the night before we were to leave, hoping exhaustion would help us sleep on the trip over the Atlantic Ocean. Our friend Nate came down from Oregon to house sit for us and take care of our cats. He went to sleep, but we woke him up to drive us to the airport. Nate dropped us off at 5 AM on Monday in front of the American terminal and then took off for home, probably dreaming of the sleep we had interrupted. But much to our surprise, when we tried to check in for our flight, we were told that we weren’t leaving until 11 PM on Tuesday, a full day and a half later than we were originally scheduled. It seemed that there were some intense snowstorms on the East Coast and JFK Airport in New York was closed down, so we couldn’t leave until the airport reopened. This was a surprise to us. We knew about the storm, but had checked the American website just before leaving, only to be told that all flights were still on schedule. We weren’t happy that no one at American had thought to update their website. But there wasn’t much we could do, so we had to call Nate back (he was about half way home) and just go home and try to get back some of that sleep we missed the night before.

Tuesday night came fast though and before we knew it; we were checked in and on our way to New York. We were scheduled to arrive in Rome a full two days after we were originally supposed to arrive and we were very disappointed about missing those two days of our vacation. But an added bonus was having a nine hour layover in New York City. It had been almost twenty years since I had been to the city and I was anxious to spend even that short time seeing what had changed over those two decades.

We arrived at JFK, jumped on the subway and immediately headed to what used to be the World Trade Center. There we saw the beginnings of new construction. Then we just started walking uptown to see what we could see. There were some new buildings we saw along the way, but it mostly felt like the same city I knew back then. We walked within a block of where CBGB’s used to be, but I couldn’t bring myself to go look. I just thought it would depress me too much. We walked all the way up to 24th Street and then over to Madison Avenue, where we were scheduled to have lunch at 11 Madison Park (http://www.elevenmadisonpark.com/), a totally amazing restaurant opened by Danny Meyer of Union Square CafĂ©, an old favorite of ours from the days we used to visit New York a lot.

I had called 11 Madison Park a day before and made a reservation. I was worried because they listed their dress code as preferring a coat. I warned them that we were coming in from the airport with only travel clothes on our backs and they told me not to worry. That made me very happy. The room was a beautiful one and by the looks of the other diners, we were woefully underdressed, but the restaurant greeted us happily and seated us next to one of the high windows along the side for a great view of the park across the street.

We had plenty of time, so we decided on the five course prie fix meal pared with wines. It was probably the best, most elegant meal I’d ever had in New York. From the opening course of Atlantic Fluke Carpaccio with Seaweed and Sea Urchin, to the final savory course of Herb Crusted Colorado Lamb with Cumin, Panisse & Sheep’s Milk Yogurt, to the Mango Linzer Tart dessert, the meal was practically flawless. We struck up a conversation with a man sitting next to us who was dining alone. We talked about restaurants in New York and Los Angeles. He was going to visit LA in a few days and we recommended Bazaar and Providence as must visit places. They were already on his list. When he finished, he passed the remains of his bottle of wine to us, claiming he couldn’t drink any more. There was more than half left. It was a bottle of Louis Carillon, Puligny-Montrachet, Les Combettes, 1er Cru, Burgundy, 2000. Skip estimated that it was a $300 bottle of wine. It was wonderful and we were very grateful. In fact, we were grateful for the whole afternoon and the chance to once again have an amazing meal at a place we’d never been to before.

But all good things must come to an end and we thanked the restaurant staff and jumped back on a subway car to the airport. Before we knew it, we were once again in the air on our way to Italy.

We arrived in Italy early and gave Daniela’s husband, Tino, a call. He explained how to take the train into Rome and then find the right bus to get on to get to their apartment. A few hours later, he met us at the bus stop and after introductions; we walked the block to their apartment.

It was a fantastic place, right across the street from Saint Peter’s Cathedral in Vatican City. You could walk out on their balcony and see the Dome of the Cathedral rising in front of you. (In fact, the next day, after a visit to the Sistine Chapel, we walked to the top of the Dome and gave the family a call. They all came out on the balcony and we spent time waving at each other while laughing about it on the phone.) The apartment had a small dining/living room and kitchen, three large bedrooms and two full bathrooms. Five people lived there; Daniela, Tino, their two kids, Francesco and Norma, and their Romanian housekeeper, Basilica. The housekeeper slept with the kids in their room. The third bedroom was used as Tino’s office and it was in that room that we had been sat up with a futon so we could sleep.

Tino had picked up several books in English for us, including an extremely comprehensive book listing all the restaurants in Rome, giving short reviews and information about every one. This, in combination with my own tourist’s books, became very helpful. Within a few hours, Daniela arrived home. She had been in London with friends. Then the kids arrived from school and we were able to get to know the entire family.

From here, I’m going to resist the urge to tell you about this trip in my usual day-by-day way. It had been at least 18 years since I’d been to Rome, but I had been there probably a dozen times, including taking two vacations there after TWR tours had ended. I thought I had seen everything the city had to offer, but I quickly realized that there were still lots of sights in the city I hadn’t seen. Walking around Rome is a wonder. There is something new to see down every street and around every corner. For example, I had never seen the Pantheon, a Roman temple built in 27 B.C. before, despite it being in the middle of downtown Rome. I had also never seen the Piazza del Popolo despite how close it is to the Spanish Steps, which I had seen several times in the past. I had also never been to the top of Gianicolo Hill, and seen the magnificent Fontana dell’Acqua Felice, a beautiful fountain that is one of the few still fed from the ancient aqueducts. And I had never been in the Castel Sant’Angelo, although I had driven by it many times before. There was so much I hadn’t seen before, and I’m sure there’s plenty I still haven’t seen. In fact, we had to cancel plans to take day trips to Ostia Antica and Tivoli due to the loss of our two days due to the New York storms. And the last day we were there, we missed out on going to the top of the Victor Emmanuel Monument and seeing a couple of museums due to an accident Skip had that I’ll get to later. Missing all that just gives me more reason to go back some day.

But this all also led to our decision not to go out to the family’s villa at all. There was just too much to do in Rome. It all worked out in the long run. The family usually stays in Rome during the week so the kids can go to school and then retires to the country for the weekends. But this particular weekend was full of business for both the adults. As I said before, Daniela is an artist, but Tino (http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1445409/) makes his living as a film maker. He has made one award winning short called “Space Off” (www.spaceoff.it) and a series of short TV episodes called, “Italiani Nello Spazio“ (www.floptv.tv/series/italiani-nello-spazio/1x02-star-crash/98e99cc3-9ae5-475f-92df-ae9ac65eac09.aspx). These had been shown on Fox TV in Italy. (We saw all of his films and liked them tremendously. “Italiani Nello Spazio“ was in Italian and we still found the episodes funny.) If we wanted to go out to the villa, they would have to take us out there, go back to the city, and then come back out to pick us up again when we wanted to return. And there was no TV or internet hookup in the country. So we decided staying in Rome would be the best plan for everyone.

On Sunday, we walked over early to the Vatican and took part in the Pope’s Sunday Mass with several thousand other visitors. I’m not much on religion and I tend to think that the Pope is one of the World’s most evil men, but I was interested in seeing what it was all about. What I saw were crowds of Catholics cheering, crying and making the sign of the cross after every sentence the Pope spoke. It was all a bit crazy, but we grew bored fast and left. All we could see of the Pope was his small figure looking out a window a long ways away while he spoke to his admirers through a microphone. They can have him.

We spent the rest of that Sunday with the family celebrating Daniela’s birthday. We had a wonderful meal at her favorite pizza restaurant, Pizza Ciro (www.pizzaciro.it), which specializes in Naples style pizza, and then spent the rest of the afternoon strolling through the city and window shopping. It was very nice and relaxing and I appreciated being able to see Roman family life through a real Roman family’s eyes.

We found time to meet up with other friends, like Mario and Francesca, who both worked for the TWR’s original booking agent. It was great to see both of them again. It’s been way too long.

We spent a full day at Pompeii. We took the bullet train from Rome to Naples and then jumped on the subway for the half hour ride to Pompeii. Then we spent the next eight hours wandering around the beautiful ruins of the city. Much of the art and architecture of the city still remains in some form and seeing it is awe inspiring. There are also plaster casts of the bodies of people trapped in the magma that enveloped the city. It’s amazing and like nothing I’ve ever seen before.

Most of our time was spent walking around the city, or eating and drinking. We visited two wine bars, Enoteca Cul de Sac and Antica Enoteca (www.anticaenoteca.com), where we enjoyed some amazing glasses of wine with delicious little snacks of meat and cheese. We were on our way to a third wine bar, Trimani Il Winebar, which is supposed to be one of the city’s best, when Skip had his unfortunate accident. We also visited the bar at the Hotel Excelsior, where we were told we could get the perfect martini, and I’ll be damned, but it really was.

On the food front, we had really good meals at Ristorante al Piccolo Arancio, Ristorante Antico Arco (www.anticoarco.it), Ristorante Il Barroccio (www.ilbarroccio-erfaciolaro.com) and Trattoria Monti. I think it’s pretty hard to have a bad meal in Rome unless you frequent the tourist’s spots that cater to those with no love of food. We had two lovely meals prepared by Basilica, that were just delicious in their simplicity and flavors. We also woke every morning to breakfast, which usually consisted of blood orange juice, cappuccino and whatever baked goods Daniela had baked the night before. I’m not much for breakfast, but that was a perfect way to begin the day.

We had two great meals. The first was at Taverna Angelica (www.tavernaangelica.it), a restaurant near the Vatican that is frequented by priests and nuns. In fact, the night we were there, we were sitting next to a table of tipsy nuns who tittered and gossiped about the Pope, not realizing we were listening closely. My chicory risotto and grilled tuna steak were next to perfectly prepared. The restaurant is hard to find, but well worth the effort.

The best meal of all was at a restaurant called Ristorante Il Convivio (www.ilconviviotroiani.com). Amongst the wonderful courses we had there was a single sea snail cooked in its shell and served with a fried gnocchi; Rigatoni with fresh and dried mullet roe; White fish and clams in a sour cream sauce with Roman-style artichokes; and the best damned cannoli I’ve ever eaten. But nothing beat the Crudo. Crudo is an Italian take on Sashimi. It’s an Italian take on raw fish. My Sea Bream, Sepia, Oyster and Shrimp with Onion Sorbet and Bottarga (shaved tuna roe) were all so delicious I almost started crying. Wine was poured liberally for every course and a perfect grappa was served at the end of the meal. We were so enthusiastic about the meal that the chef came out to greet us. It was the perfect four-hour meal.

Our biggest adventure was on our last day there. We were a block from the wine bar we were headed to for lunch, when I large group of girls heading to or from school forced Skip to the side of the walkway. He hit something jutting up and fell face-first into a metal grate in a brick wall. He immediately started screaming. Not in pain, but out of frustration because he knew this meant the end of our vacation. His hands were stuck in his pockets and he couldn’t move. Blood was streaming everywhere and I noticed his sunglasses had shattered. It was probably the glass from them that had cut his eyelid.

The girls took off in a flash, but a group of older men immediately appeared to help me. We got Skip on his feet and put him in a chair one of the men had brought out to the street. They also brought out wet rags that I held to Skip’s head to stop the blood. It was shooting out of his cut like a fountain. One of the men got on his phone and in less than five minutes, an ambulance was right there. As the medical crew prepared him, I tried to clean up the mess that was left. The men told me not to worry about it, that they would take care of it and I should worry about getting Skip to the hospital. So I climbed into the ambulance after Skip was loaded in and off we went.

(Keep in mind that little English was spoken at all during this whole event and I don’t speak Italian. This was the case throughout most of our trip, but I’ve found that communication is easy if you really want to make it work.)

After a short trip to the hospital that was more frightening than any roller coaster ride I’ve ever taken, Skip was loaded off the ambulance and taken into the emergency room. He was immediately looked at and a large band-aid was put over his eyebrow to slow down the bleeding. The hospital staff started asking questions and also wanted to know details about Skip, including his passport information. I called Tino and told him what happened. He wanted to talk to the hospital staff and after a short conversation, came back to me. The first thing he told me was not to worry about cost; that it would all be covered. I was suspicious about that. Tino asked me to keep in touch and he would come pick us up when we were ready.

The doctors were worried about Skip’s injuries and wanted to take x-rays and a MRI to make sure he had no internal injuries. After that was done, they cleaned Skip’s cuts again and re-bandaged them again and then asked us to wait for awhile until they could get Skip’s results. In the meantime, they started seeing other patients who were waiting, some of them in much worse shape than Skip. (In fact, I watched one older man die despite the efforts of the medical team to keep him alive. It was a sobering experience and I felt so badly for the family members who were working through their grief right there.)

About half an hour later, Skip started bleeding again and I found a doctor to let him know about it. They immediately wheeled him into a room and 15 minutes later, he was out and on his feet, with three stitches in his eyebrow. A doctor who spoke English approached me to tell me that they wanted to keep Skip for 24 hours for observation, but he was refusing. We were leaving the country in less than 24 hours as it was. So they wanted me to watch him and if he grew dizzy or started having headaches, they wanted me to bring him back right away. And with that he was released, although another doctor checked him over once more and helped clean him up. His hair was matted with blood and blood was all over his clothes. This doctor also gave me a prescription for antibiotics and told me where to go to get it filled.

I called Tino and Daniela answered the phone, telling me that Tino was already there waiting for us. I looked over my shoulder and there he was. We packed Skip into his car and drove to the apothecary, who filled our prescription and charged us 20 Euros. And that was the total cost for the whole thing.

Tino took us back home and they fed us a nice meal. After a few hours of rest, Skip was antsy to get back out and see things, despite his bandaged and extremely bruised face. So we left again and took the bus to the center of town. But it was too late and everything was closed down. We spent the next couple hours walking around town, enjoying a drink here and there, and making our way to our dinner reservation at Trattoria Monti.

Our whole experience with socialized medicine left us wondering what the hell all these conservatives are talking about when they speak of the evils it brings and how ineffective it is. It may not be the best medicine available, if you can afford the best medicine, but it sure beats having nothing, which is what millions of people in America have. And it sure seemed to work fine for us. I suspect most of them are talking out of their assholes, as usual.

But that pretty much sums up our trip to Rome. I was happy to see that the feel of the city hadn’t changed since I was last there. Things are more efficient, the busses and trains run on time, for example. And I didn’t see the large numbers of beggars and their children that used to flood the streets preying on tourists. We had a shortened, but wonderful time. For that, we mostly have to thank the generosity and friendliness of Daniela, Tino and their family. Being with their family for that short time was wonderful way to experience life in that city. It’s a wonderful country and an amazing city. I sure hope we can make it back there again someday.

And I hope our friends can visit here someday so we can repay them in turn. (They are huge Disney fans and have been to Walt Disney World in Florida, but I’m trying to convince them they have to visit the original park. The one in Florida is fun, but it’s not the same or as good as the original.)

Skip's pictures of our trip can be found at: http://community.webshots.com/user/kingcompton


I’d also like to express my grief about the major earthquake that struck Italy this morning. I’ve already talked to Daniela and her family is okay, although they were woken up by the shaking. The earthquake was only 60 miles away from Rome. I’ve been in major earthquakes and they are frightening. My heart goes out to the victims.

And that’s it for this week. Next week, I hope to get to my stories about Vinyl Fetish, the record store I worked at in Hollywood in the early 80s. Thanks for reading and pay attention to those ads. -ML