madden football, tequila, and serendipity with frank.

Frank got John Madden Football.  I don’t even remember the game console he got it for – I wasn’t a video game guy.  It was 1992, though, so I’m thinking maybe it was the Sega.  But one night – it was a Thursday – he brought it over and we played it until pretty late.  Late enough that we got the great idea to blow off work the following day, drink all day, and play Madden Football.

The next day, Frank came over early, with some beer and a bottle of tequila.  I called in sick, and we camped out in front of our television, playing Madden all day.  All day.  We stopped for lunch, and then kept playing til dinner.  We stopped for dinner, and then played for a while longer.

Sandy came home from work in the middle of all this, watched us for a while, had a beer or two, and then went to bed.  

At some point during the evening, we broke out the tequila.  I told Frank a story about how one night, in college, Sandy drank 17 shots of tequila, right in front of me.  I counted them.  As a 40-year-old man today, if Sandy told me she was going to drink half that many shots, I’d be worried she was going to die of alcohol poisoning.  But when you’re 20, you’re invincible.  Doesn’t even cross your mind.

Anyway, Frank and I decided we were going to take a shot at the title.  So we retired to the kitchen and began to pour shots.

Shot after shot, we sat there – no music playing, nothing.  Just the two of us, in the kitchen, getting more and more drunk and laughing harder and harder.  At one point Gail knocked on our bedroom wall from the apartment next door, and so we had to lower our voices a bit.  I remember that Frank didn’t do tequila shots with salt and lemon – he just sucked ’em down.  I think he would have eaten the shotglass if it wouldn’t have meant he couldn’t have any more shots.

Eventually, as all conversations did, we started talking about Elizabeth.  And I mentioned to Frank that we still didn’t know what to put on the back cover of the record.

“It’s got to be something that’s representative of the seedier, ugly side of New Jersey.  We took the cover shot in Montclair, and I’m worried that it’s not industrial enough.  It’s not shitty enough.  I want something that’s really nasty.”

“What about Kearney?” he asked “Kearney is nasty.”

“I don’t know,” I said.  “What’s in Kearney?”

Now, sometimes in life, things happen that we can’t explain.  Throughout the course of human history, mankind has searched for answers to these things.  And they’ve blamed everything from divine intervention, to ghosts, to weather balloons.  It seems that for these types of things, there’s never really a plausible explanation – but it seems that in everyone’s life, at some time or another, there’s some sort of weird, coincidental burst of mind-bending serendipity that simply cannot.  Be.  Explained.

This particular night was mine.

We had spent an entire day in the apartment, playing video games and drinking.  There was no reason either of us should still have been coherent at that hour, having spent nearly all the daylight hours and a good portion of the night indulging in the grape, zombified in front of the television, with commentary from John Madden.  We retired to the kitchen as the night got late and Sandy went to sleep, and began discussing ideas for that photo that would perfectly represent the toxic, industrial reputation that the State of New Jersey had so carefully cultivated over years of stories of Superfund sites, hospital waste washing up on the shore, and underworld body disposal that had become the stuff of legend.  

And as we sat there brainstorming about the perfect location for such a photo shoot:


Suddenly there was a giant explosion, right outside our kitchen window.  Literally, right as we sat there.  I looked out the window, and the dumpster right outside our apartment had exploded, and burst into flames.

“You’ve got to be fucking kidding me,” I said.

“No way,” Frank replied.

We both burst into hysterical laughter.  Frank was actually on the floor, laughing.  Frank’s laugh was contagious, and so I wound up nearly breathless with laughter.  Then I began running around the apartment. 

“What are you doing?” Frank asked.

“The camera.  The camera.  Where’s the damn camera?”

I tore apart the kitchen, looking for the camera.

“What the hell are you guys doing?” Sandy yelled from the bedroom.

“Where’s the camera?” I yelled.  “Where’s the fucking camera?!”

Gail next door began pounding on the wall.  Sandy was shushing me.  Frank was still doubled over with laughter.  

I found the camera and ran down the steps, flung open the door, and ran around the back of the apartment.  I hadn’t taken the time to put on shoes, and I literally ran through our next-door neighbor’s dinner that was laid out on the lawn for Fluffy.  I raced to the dumpster and tried to find the best angle to take a picture.  Frank came stumbling up behind me, still laughing.

What could be nastier than a flaming garbage dumpster in the back of the most disgusting residential neighborhood in town?  It would be perfect.  As I was sitting there – drunk, and barefoot, taking pictures – I didn’t even notice the police cruisers that had pulled into the parking lot.  I continued snapping away.

It took a lot of talking to convince the police officers that, despite the fact that I was standing in front of it, laughing, barefoot, taking pictures, I did not have anything to do with the flaming dumpster.  I explained that I was in my apartment, entertaining my friend.  I explained about the record label – I figured all the police officers must know about Dromedary Records due to Officer Friendly’s recent visit, but that was an incorrect assumption.

The police bought my story, though.  It was too ridiculous to be able to make up.  

Two days later I picked up the pictures from the one-hour photo place.  To my dismay, only one of them came out – and it was way too dark to use in the CD art.  Among other things I am not, I am not a photographer.




The following weekend, after briefly considering starting another dumpster fire, Frank and I drove to Kearney and took a bunch of pictures.  We wound up using a shot we took of the Pulaski Skyway, running through a run-down industrial development.  It just wasn’t the same.

~ by Al on January 20, 2009.

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