The Brooklyn beats

There was an Arco Mini Mart on the northeast corner of Brooklyn and NE 41st in the University District that was owned by a man named Wayne Eddy, though he went by Ed. I worked there in my third year of college. Ed had inherited the place from his dad, who had had it as a “service station” while Ed was growing up. As a kid, he had hung around the greasy service bays, which were now gone, replaced by the cleanly lit shelves and mopped tiles of the Mini Mart’s interior. Ed did not hide his displeasure at having been stuck with the shop. He regarded it as a hindrance to the real business of his life, which was digging around in filled-in outhouses for colored glass medicine bottles and collecting used records and other goodies. Ed would get ahold of old maps that showed where outhouses had been at the turn of the last century, then go and ask the present landowners if he could turn a spadeful or two of earth there. Back before there was garbage collection people commonly threw bottles down the privy hole when they were done with them. The best ones, ones that had no seams and were richly colored in blue or green or amber, could fetch a pretty penny. Ed paid us well (for the mid-80s) to take care of the store and not bother him, while he ran around looking for his treasures.

The Mini Mart had a lot of regular customers. There were people who breezed through just to fill up their tanks, people who’d seen the sign from the I-5 bridge and found their way down from 45th, but in large part the customers were college kids from the neighborhood loading up on beer and chips and denizens, young and old, of the adjacent apartment buildings — such as the doughty old brick Levere directly across Brooklyn to the west — coming in to indulge a sweet tooth or grab the paper. Sometimes they came in just to talk with me. I was stuck there from 4pm to midnight three evenings a week and 6pm to 2 in the morning for two more.

There was Nancy S., a sad, worn woman (though not old enough to be as worn as she looked) who came in almost nightly for a big jug of wine and whose invitation to dinner at the restaurant of the nearby Meany Hotel I accepted because at that age I didn’t know a nice way to say, “Are you out of your mind? You’re scaring me.” When she was more drunk than usual, she came into the store and insisted something about JFK that I couldn’t interpret through her sobbing.

There was also the lawyer, or the man studying to be a lawyer. His name was Brooks, I think. He always came in wearing a dapper tan trench coat on his way home, never smiled, seemed distracted, but was polite and always bought one tall Budweiser. I got on a bus this past spring, nearly a quarter century later, and he was driving it. He didn’t recognize me. I didn’t ask what had happened to his law career. Another Budweiser customer was the whistler. He was a friendly, talkative, white-haired old guy who had a tooth missing such that his esses all whistled. He would stand at the counter telling me something, and I would not hear any of it because my ears were only hearing the shrill tweets of his voiceless alveolar fricatives.

There was the candyman, a giant, unwashed, unspeaking fellow with a tangle of grey beard who came in once in a blue moon and wandered around the store fetching candy and bringing it to the counter until it made a monstrous pile. It was frightening the first time he came in on my shift, but I got used to it. He never said anything, and he never hurt anyone. There was a strange kind of random thoroughness to his search. He could have just gone along the boxes of candy systematically and taken half of each box. But instead, he would look around as if trying to remember something, then his eye would fall upon the M&Ms, and he’d shuffle over and grab as many bags as his thick hand could hold, and dump them on the counter, then a look would come across his face as though the pile didn’t look quite right, and he’d look around again, grab a fistful of Twix or maybe a couple of Choco-Bliss cakes or Hostess fruit pies. Then he’d go back for the Clark bars and the Almond Joy, then more M&Ms. On and on, for about a quarter of an hour. He put a cramp in my style because I was so good at ringing up people’s orders in my head before they got to the counter that usually I had change ready in my hand before they ever pulled out a bill, and I also knew exactly what I’d switch out if they paid with some other bill. I knew the likelihoods and probabilities, and often I knew what a particular customer would pay with. The big bearded candyman, though, never responded to my question “is that everything for you?” except with a grunt. I learned to just sit back and wait. He would mumble and point at the pile when he was done, which was never a moment that I could anticipate because there was no sense in his purchase pattern. He always paid cash and walked out with two full-size grocery bags (this was before plastic, children) brimming over with dental ruination.

There was a young woman who lived in the Levere and brought me a plate of linguine once. And there were two women who lived in the apartments nextdoor to the north whose names elude me at the moment [later edit: Wendy was one of them]. They teased me a lot. There was Eddie B. who warrants a post of his own but suffice to say that he loitered around the store until he became a friend of mine, then swept off her feet a young woman I had a big crush on, then broke her heart. He played the pinball and video games with some skill. Once while he was playing the pinball machine my friend Holly Brown came in to kill some time sitting on a stool I had put out for just such occasions. I remember her idly watching Eddie across the store leaning on the flippers, and saying “wow, he really bonked it!”

Michael Snow, ca. 1984. Photo by Robert Antonelli

Michael Snow, ca. 1984. Photo by Robert Antonelli

And finally, there were the poets, Robert Antonelli and Michael Snow. Robert was a short, dark-haired hood in his twenties who wore black leather or green canvas army jackets, and was an incorrigible liar. He would tell people that he worked for the CIA and that he was packing heat (a gun). His conversation was on the uncouth side. Still, as his local clerk I was automatically entitled to his staunchest loyalties, and he more than once heckled customers whom he considered had been rude to me, and after they’d gone would shake his head and express regret that he was under strict orders not to use force against people if it could be helped. I liked Robert. He was full of crap, but I liked him. His sidekick Michael was an older guy who wore tee shirts and baggy jeans and the old-fashioned canvas sneakers — boat shoes, I think they were called — that actually are in fashion again now. Michael was soft-spoken, kind of wide-eyed in a way, sort of a big kid who hadn’t realized that he’d aged. A young guy named Todd hung out with them occasonally. Todd was what was called a punk in those days. He dressed completely in black, with heavy black boots, and a black leather jacket with hundreds of bright metal studs on it. He wore black eyeliner. The only thing that wasn’t black on Todd was his hair, which was spiked up in a mohawk of festive pink. Todd was smart and he was gentle as a lamb, though when he wasn’t hanging out with Robert and Michael he hung out with a tribe of similarly noirish young people who, over the course of the year or so that they loitered in front of it, managed to destroy the entire brick facade of a bank building on the Ave simply by idly picking at it with their fingers. The three of these fellows strolling into my store made the oddest company you ever saw.

Robert and Michael would bring me poems. I was a captive audience for them as for everyone else in the neighborhood. As the young woman in the Levere felt compelled to bring me pasta, so Robert and Michael brought me their own latest creations. I wasn’t really sure Robert wrote everything that he claimed he did, simply because I knew he lied compulsively. He once brought me a poem typed on nice thick bond paper, a poem that he said he’d written, which I thought was so good and so compelling, and so…I don’t know, articulate and literate…that I couldn’t believe he had written it. It seemed to employ subtleties of communication in a way this guy never would. Maybe I do him an injustice. I hope so. I have the page to this very day, and to this day I have my doubts that this hot-headed fabricator and show-off could have written it. It’s called:


The nieghborhood dogs have abandoned
the full moon which is lodged in the night
like a mottled old bone. Already

I’ve kept awake too late. Out front
the lawn’s frozen into a pane
of silver blades the paperboy will break

within the hour. And then the postman.
He’s just awake, thinking of his steamy kitchen
of butter and syrup. He’s unaware

of the letter he’s to deliver, how
you kept up all night composing
the last words I’ll ever hear from you.

–Robert Antonelli

Michael was more prolific. He would shuffle in just before closing on a Friday night at 1:30 a.m. — after a while I could tell my regulars by the sound their shoes made or the way their bodies moved in the doorway without even looking up from whatever magazine I was reading — and pull from his back pocket a folded piece of yellow legal paper on which he had copied down his latest work for me to read. One he brought me was about the wind rising after the last waltz at a country dance, knocking over a metal folding chair. In that poem he described a mandolin as “half a wooden pear”. I still have it somewhere. If I find it I’ll post it.

I don’t know what ever happened to any of those guys. I saved up my money and went to Europe the next year (1985) and when I came back to work at the Mini Mart they were gone, all three. But Michael wrote a little poem that I have never forgotten. It is one of my absolute favorite poems in all the world because of the way its pictures unfold in my mind, and because the title is almost longer than the poem itself, and because its last line is brilliant. Michael brought it to me on a postcard. It is one of the few poems he’d had printed, with a nice font and some colored background, and he wanted me to have one of these limited “editions”. The reason I have told you all of the above is because I wanted you to be as close to the mental state I was in when I first read this poem, because I’m going to share it with you now.


In your dream
you see a fat, white bee
striped, with stitched wings
crashing through a window
on the moon

–Michael Snow

26 Responses to “The Brooklyn beats”

  1. 1 Louis August 22, 2009 at 04:11

    I wonder if we ever crossed paths during the 1980’s. From ’81-’85 I worked first at Pacific Stereo and then at Peaches Records, both were located on NE 45th across from the Blue Moon and Rainbow taverns. I hung out alot in the U-district. I frequented Cellophane Square and Roxy Music. (I remember one could easily purchase bootleg records at those places) I ate at Pagliacci’s. And I used to see bands at the various clubs on the Ave…their names escape me. This is what I was talking about in my last comments to you. This is why I enjoy your writing. You place me right there. You trigger in me a lot of thoughts and remembrances. Although I didn’t know any of the people you mention, I knew and hung out with people like them. I often wonder what became of some of these folks. I can’t stop reading this poem. Thanks for this.

  2. 2 jstwndrng August 22, 2009 at 21:46

    That’s an interesting thought. In ’81-’82 I lived at home in Bellevue while attending the UW. In ’82-’83 I lived in Terry Hall dorm. From late ’83 to March ’85 I lived (with Kip and Jeff and some others) in a rented house off of Greek Row. I’ll be blogging about that soon. And in ’86 and ’87 I lived in another gang house, on Brooklyn, with another gang. I was all over the U-district, but my explorations were shallow. I never saw any bands there. But I did shop at Peaches Records. For many years I had several of the Peaches record crates. I knew a lot of people in a sort of casual way — there were always enough people around to get a game of ultimate frisbee going within an hour, and that was before cell phones. How did we do that? Did we send runners? Did we just KNOW to show up on Tuesday afternoons? I can’t even remember. I try not to dwell on regrets, but the ease with which I let quality people slip out of my life is a huge one. Yeah, who knows, I probably reached over to your table at Pagliacci’s and asked if you minded if I borrowed the shaker of parmesian. Or maybe you kicked in on one of our hackey sack sessions on Red Square. Or maybe I bought some albums from you at Peaches. It’s a strange world… Glad to know you now, though.

    Which poem?

  3. 3 Kip August 23, 2009 at 18:58

    I remember Peaches Records….never had any of the crates. And the Blue Moon. IF I recall correctly, we used to walk to the Moon on Sunday’s(?) to play cribbage. And I have fond memories of Arco Mini Marts. I don’t think I ever visited that particular one while you worked there, but I DO remember visiting the 7-11 in Bellevue when you worked there. I would have like to have met Michael Snow, especially in that setting. “For The Woman….” is magnificent, and it would be nice to have a personal reference.

  4. 4 Ben August 23, 2009 at 22:19

    Even your comments conjure memories. Not a part of the “Spoon” gang or any other in those days, I felt enormously grown up the day you and I went about the U district together. I was freshly shorn of hair, just back from Boot Camp and I remember how crazy it felt to be playing hacky sack with a bunch “dudes” on a grass lawn of the campus with my older brother. Hacky Sack has always remained a part of me, simply because of you I think. Havin’ a good “hack” takes me back (pun intended). Funny, when I occasionaly bring out the hack at the firehouse, invariably there is stunned silence as this forty something, flat-top haired, moustache adorned fireman challenges a nineteen year old to “spot of hacky”. You dear brother, taught me to look at people with deeper eyes, ..using a hacky sack.

  5. 5 Louis August 24, 2009 at 04:45

    “FOR THE WOMAN…” Each time I read it, I discover something new. I also like to imagine the scenario that lead to the poem being written…

    I had some of those Peaches crates..just the small 45-sized crates..Kip and Matt, is that the 7-11 on Main Street?

    Ben – are you “LePompier”??

  6. 6 jstwndrng August 24, 2009 at 09:22

    Kip, yes I think it was Sunday’s at the Moon because I remember they always had the radio on there for the Grateful D hours that KUOW played. The only other think I remember about the Blue Moon was that it contended with the Hurricane for the best place to inhale second-hand smoke.

    Ahhh, the 7-11. Thanks for blowing my cover… you know I was working for the CIA, then, right?

    Ben, I remember that day walking around the UW with you. I was and am really proud of you. I do recall wishing some thugs would jump out and try to steal my wallet, so that I could watch my brother the Marine delimb them…silly me, I forgot your gentle nature. I think I had a hackey sack in the pack that I still carry to work every day up until a year or so ago, when Mara found it and appropriated it. I hadn’t kicked it in years anyway. If I lifted foot to sack now you’d see my vertabrae splattering out all over the place.

    Louis, yes the one on Main. Wally Langeman proprietor.

    About the poem, I think you’ve hit what I love about it so much. It makes you imagine their conversation. The poem unfolds right from the title, where, in my mind, I see Michael at a party, lots of people around, and this woman laughing because he’s just told her how far his homer went. We don’t yet know exactly what he said, but next we see her asleep, still smiling a little, and in the bubble of her dream we see this bee, and we go…”right, it’s a baseball”. We even feel a little smug at this point, because we’re not fooled by the metaphor. Then we see it crashing through a window and we go “oh, wait a sec. A window. That must mean it went over the wall. That IS far”. And then with those last three words the picture suddenly widens out to include that long distance between the earth and the moon, and the absurdity of there being a window there, like in some little potting shed, or maybe a whole neighborhood of houses. And every time I get to that point, I start laughing, too.

    I doubt my brother is LePompier. He’s not French very much, you see.

  7. 7 Ben August 24, 2009 at 23:45

    Acutally dear brother, I am …LePompier. I suppose its a bit of a gag, what?

  8. 8 jstwndrng August 25, 2009 at 09:25

    Well, I’m gobsmacked. I never would have believed it. But the comment on Louis’ blog about the salmon spread at your uncle’s house was a dangerous giveaway.

  9. 9 Louis August 27, 2009 at 03:46

    (Think DC or Marvel Comics)

    “I am …LePompier.”

    Commotion. Hub-bub. Flash bulbs go off. Reporters run to the phone booths. Stop the presses! “I AM …LEPOMPIER” screams the headline on newspapers around the world: New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Le Monde, El Correio, London Evening Standard. Scrawling across the news ticker in Times Square: “I AM …LEPOMPIER – BEN”. On talk shows, at water coolers, in bars – everybody is talking about it.

    Meanwhile in South America, a man at a newsstand on a busy Salvadoran street, clutches a newspaper in one hand (“EU SOU …O BOMBEIRO”) and clenches a fist with the other. A broad smile etched across his face as he triumphantly declares:

    “I KNEW IT!”

  10. 10 Ben August 27, 2009 at 08:42

    Dark room (overhead view), a lightstand of deco decor shines on a male figure slumped in a lounge chair, a copy of the London Evening Standard across his lap. The nearby T.V. screen is blank as the broken VCR player struggles to rewind the copy of “101 Dalations”. A suttle, nasal snore eminates from the figure in the chair, the paper falls to the floor. Le Pompier is feeling his age.

    • 11 Ben August 27, 2009 at 08:43

      I miffed it, misspelling “Dalmations”, what a gaff!

      • 12 jstwndrng August 27, 2009 at 09:23

        I love this. It makes me want to draw several comic panels. I used to do that a lot, draw scenes from some snippet of story. In fact, one of the things I want to do is to draw some pictures of scenes from the stories Angela and I tell to Mara before bed each night, so that she might remember them later, or recreate her own stories around them. One that I am particularly eager to draw is a scene of Mara and her friend walking the plank (this in the left half of the picture), huddling near its end as a pirate crew pokes and prods them toward their doom with swords and pikes, while (to the right) Captain Jean Lefitte, pirate of pirates, is standing with one hand on his hip and the other arm raised up in a gesture willing his crew to desist for a moment in their harrassment of the children. The caption below the picture would say: “Pirate Jean LeFitte suddenly raised his hand and said ‘Wait!’ and his crew instantly quieted. ‘Did I hear you say cookies?'”

  11. 13 Louis August 27, 2009 at 10:11

    I’m on board! It makes me want to draw too. I see all these images – the media frenzy,the man clutching the newspaper, Le Pompier slumped in his chair, the pirates menacingly pushing the girls to the edge, Jean LeFitte restoring order – in perfect, colorful DC/Marvel detail.

    But, for the love of…I..I JUST CAN’T DRAW!

    • 14 jstwndrng August 27, 2009 at 10:16

      That’s the kicker panel right there. Louis bent in anguish over the tilty artists table, paper blank, and the jagged word bubble coming out of him — “UNNNHHHH!”

  12. 15 Ben August 27, 2009 at 11:43

    How amusing. I just read about that rascal pirate captain in an account of the Battle of New Orleans. As in just last night. Havent’ever read anything about him before. Hmmmmm….the man in the busy Salvadorian street. the way, was he wearing a Fadora?

  13. 16 Louis August 27, 2009 at 15:50

    Matt – Exactly! There’s also a vein popping in my neck.
    Ben – I think he was wearing a fedora. And his skinny black tie was loosened and flying…

  14. 17 Ben August 27, 2009 at 18:54

    That torn it! That’s the man from the Feinmann Barmitzpha!! Hello, …my pulse is racing! (sp?)

  15. 18 Danielle Bernier June 23, 2012 at 12:00

    My sister sent me this link! Ed is our Dad, haha. We miss the arco mini market and your memories are amazing!

    • 19 Matt June 23, 2012 at 12:36

      Hi Danielle,
      I’m so happy you and your sister found this. I became really fond of your dad over the year or two I worked there. Haven’t seen him in probably two decades. Hope he’s well. He may not remember me particularly, but give him my fond regards next time you see him. Thanks for commenting!

  16. 22 leatherhead109 June 24, 2012 at 07:56

    Glad this popped back up! What hilarious thread this was.

  17. 24 Sean October 14, 2013 at 05:03

    Great post…I knew Mike and Bob. In fact Bob was my roommate for awhile. We had a terminal falling out when he shot up the place with a pellet gun. Everything you say about him is true – compulsive liar, a precocious young poet (19 when I met him) who owned an enormous letterpress and produced those cards and broadsides. Mike was sweet, a bit of a doper, loved jazz. He pinched my coin collection. Alas, I believe Mike was killed one morning by a milk truck, if you can believe it. No idea what happened to Bob.

    • 25 Matt October 14, 2013 at 07:03

      You bring ill news on two counts, but I thank you for it anyway. I’m very saddened to hear of Mike being killed, and I’m sad to hear afresh that it’s not likely that Bob wrote that poem…I’ve always sort of hoped someone would prove me wrong about that. I wonder who wrote it. I think it’s brilliant. I had coffee last week on the Ave with one of my old professors whom I recently reconnected with and I felt that pang of loss because no one else I know is in the area anymore. Thanks for taking the time to write.

  1. 1 “A straight little car” Part II « Just Wondering Trackback on October 19, 2009 at 08:55

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