Monday, December 13, 2010

"The Elevator Ride"

Originally appeared in Blab! #8, Summer 1995

“Must be getting a little nippy out there,” announced Gus. His elevator car filled with ten elementary school kids, crowded past capacity. Gus was breathing heavy, huffing and puffing as usual. Not that this line of work required much physical effort. It was like being an astronaut; they didn’t need to drive their crafts, just vegetate inside. Gus was an elevator astronaut, perhaps, soaring, soaring through the 35-story heavens high above, driving his Otis car on its vertical route, o’er electrical cable and chain.

He closed the door and the golden gate, the kids squeezed in nice an’ snug. Gus was breathing heavy as he cranked the manual drive throttle, and some of the kids were giggling. He knew they were laughing at him again, because he breathed funny.

Suddenly, one of the high-pitched voices screamed, “Fuck the elevator man!” It sounded horrible to Gus, he’d heard it before. But he always remained stoic, having to open the gate and door for each little bastard.

“Fuck the elevator man!” shouted the prepubescent voice once more, too quick for Gus to see who it was when he turned around.

“The elevator man is your friend,” came one little girl, admonishing the group. “Be nice to him.” But Gus could hear the sarcasm in her voice. His breathing became worse. More giggling.

“Fuck the elevator man!” spat the little voice once again.

Then something broke inside of Gus.

“Fuck the elevator man?” said Gus, rhetorically, halting the elevator and whirling around. “Fuck the elevator man?” His lips contorted. “I’m a man, goddamnit! I have a wife and kid. I have a job. I go to woik every morning, and church every frickin’ Sunday.” And then his face flushed red. “But I’ll be damned if I’m gonna let anybody fuck me. I may drive an elevator, but I’m a man. A man!”

There was death silence among the kids, clutching their schoolbooks to their chests. The smiles were wiped off their faces. Gus’s respiration became that of a dragon exhaling, building steam. The elevator was stopped somewhere between the 22nd and 23rd floors. He crooked his finger menacingly at the whole bunch.

“Now… Who’s gonna fuck me? Who’s gonna fuck the elevator man?”

There was no answer.

Gus grabbed the first boy in front of him by the scruff of the neck, and lifted him off the ground. Gus’s head twisted within an inch of the boy’s face, cockeyed. “I must be talking Japanese. I said, who’s gonna fuck the elevator man?” He dropped the boy. The rest of the kids cowered against the rear, managing a small clearing before Gus. They were sons and daughters of psychiatrists, ambassadors, rich kids and their friends.

“Howsa ’bout you? You wanna fuck me?” Gus demanded, his inflamed face staring down another 6th grader. “Which one-a-youse wants to fuck me, speak up? I’m a man, I still boff my wife, I do my woik.”

The kids saw Gus’s nostrils flare with every breath. The red blood vessels in his nose became inflamed and agitated. None of the paralyzed kids spoke up to rat out the culprit among them.

“I spent t’ree years inna 77th Infantry Division, I was honored after the goddamned war. Honored!”

Gus took the elevator back down to the lobby. He slammed open the gate and door. The prisoners were released, all of them sighing with relief. The loudmouth was not caught. Who knows what Gus might have done had he caught him. Fats the Doorman came to Gus’s elevator. He was a heavy breathing fellow, too.

“I ain’t takin’ any of these little bastards up anymore,” said Gus, between tears and rage. “One of ’em says he’s gonna fuck me.”

“All right, Gus, calm down, calm down.” Fats called for Chappy, in the A-B line, to leave his post and drive the school children up. Gus caught his breath, Fats patting him on the back, telling him to take it easy. The kids streamed back in the elevator.

And then Gus heard the prepubescent voice come at him again, as the elevator doors closed:

“Fuck the elevator man!”

© 1995, 2010 Josh Alan Friedman

Monday, December 6, 2010


This holiday season, why not make it a Black Christmas for the crackers in your life? Signed copies of Josh's BLACK CRACKER are available NOW for immediate shipment! Click here to order.

You'll be in excellent company, as our Xmas book trailer attests...

click image above to view on YouTube, or below to watch on Vimeo

Sunday, November 21, 2010

"Thanksgiving at McDonald's in Times Square"

Josh Alan's first 45.

To purchase your digital copy of the original "Thanksgiving at McDonald's in Times Square" single, click here.

© 1988, 2010 Josh Alan Friedman

Video by Wyatt Doyle & Josh Alan Friedman, with artwork by Drew Friedman. Visit

Josh plays "Thanksgiving" live here.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Hear Josh on Sirius Radio TODAY!

Per Josh:

"Making my regular NY appearance on FreeWheelin' (Sirius Radio 147, or XM 171) Monday afternoon, starting at 12:15 EST. Our topic today: Girl Scouts."

Miss at your peril...


From the editor's desk:

Black Cracker takes the Barcelona Metro.

photo © 2010 Sandee Curry

Black Cracker is available NOW; signed copies are available here.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

"Bela Lugosi" from THE WORST!

From THE WORST! Josh Alan's original musical based on the life of Ed Wood.

THE WORST! is available on CD and digital download from CD Baby. Click here to purchase.

© 1994, 2010 Josh Alan Friedman
Video by Wyatt Doyle, with artwork by Drew Friedman (from WARTS AND ALL by Drew Friedman and Josh Alan Friedman). Visit

Monday, October 25, 2010

CRACKER Talk: News & Reviews

Here are nine posts on Black Cracker, the novel, of particular interest:

"In these peculiar times when "political correctness" fights it out with Ann Coulter, while the rest of us keep our heads down, try and pretend that none of it matters, and avoid the tough questions, I simply can not recommend this book highly enough."
— The Hound, The Hound Blog

"What Friedman offers the reader is more like a rich look at a vanished world that was vaporizing just as his memory recorded it."

"Friedman splits sides, breaks hearts and always remains ruthlessly honest about the real world, a place that doesn't conform to the politically correct wishes of liberals or conservatives."
— Michael Simmons, "White Like Me," L.A. Weekly

"Against the background of civil rights and the shifting mores of the decade Friedman dramatizes with cinematic relish not only his unique childhood but a cast of local characters (in all senses of the word) that has lived inside of him for decades."
— Joe Bonomo, "Coming of Age With Josh Alan Friedman," No Such Thing As Was

"I just finished reading Black Cracker. Wow, whew, and Holy Sh_t."
— Georgina Spelvin, Georgina's World

"It's the funniest thing I've ever read, bar none."
— J.D. King, Drawger

"He's the kind of guy whose books are so fucking good that I never have any on my shelves; I'm always giving them away!"

See also:

D Magazine

Luke Ford

...And click here to read ten 5-star reviews on

Black Cracker is, of course, available NOW; signed copies are available here.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Black Student Demands, 1970

Artifact from my high school in 1970 (long after Black Cracker):

(click to enlarge)

© 2010 Josh Alan Friedman

Thursday, October 14, 2010

WANTED! More Readers Like...

From the editor's desk:

Let 'er Rip! Mr. Taylor does the cover.

Visit the amazing Rip Taylor on his website here.

Black Cracker is available NOW; get it here.

photo © 2010 Wyatt Doyle

Monday, October 11, 2010

Josh Alan's "Thanksgiving at McDonald's..." in Los Angeles

Live at Alias Books in West L.A., July 2010. Part of New Texture Nights.

To purchase your digital copy of the original "Thanksgiving at McDonald's in Times Square" single, click here.

© 2010 Josh Alan, Wyatt Doyle

Thursday, October 7, 2010

WANTED! More Readers Like...

From the editor's desk:


The great Neil Innes—of The Rutles and The Bonzo Dog Band—does the cover.

Visit Neil online at the Innes Book of Records.

Black Cracker is available NOW; signed copies are available here.

photo © 2010 Wyatt Doyle

Monday, October 4, 2010

Josh's Lost New York: Don Normal of 42nd St. (Part 2)

Editor's note: Once more into the archives for another visit with Don Normal...
(Part 1 can be found here)

Photos by the great Regent Sound engineer, Vince McGarry

© 2010 Josh Alan Friedman, Vince McGarry

Josh's piece on Don Normal, "The Human Being of 42nd Street," can be found in his collection When Sex Was Dirty.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

WANTED! More Readers Like...

From the editor's desk:

Uncle Cracker: the staggeringly prolific actor Len Lesser, Seinfeld's "Uncle Leo" (one of many "Uncles" in Mr. Lesser's filmography) does the cover.

An overview of Mr. Lesser's credits from a truly remarkable career in film and television can be found here.

Black Cracker is available NOW; signed copies are available here.

photo © 2010 Wyatt Doyle

Monday, September 27, 2010

Josh's Lost New York: Don Normal of 42nd St. (Part 1)

A few folks, over the years, have requested more pictures of Don Normal. He lived on the 3rd to 7th floors of 115 W. 42nd Street, between Fun City Books and Holiday Hostesses, during the late 1970s. Several floors had caved in, from which Don was able to construct a cavernous habitat, complete with a full stage for our band to rehearse. We did a few gigs in the downtown punk clubs, a music scene I never related to.

He named the band Bitch, and then Don Normal and the Ear Regulars. The drummer, Don’s brother, looked exactly like Lurch of the Addams Family, if Lurch had been a midget. I remember quitting the band after Normal designed a space suit he wanted me to wear onstage. Similar requests were made of me through a succession of (what I refer to as) “Failure Rock” bands I played guitar for in the 1970s. Each provided a heartbreaking defeat in their quest for 1970s rock stardom.

Normal’s song, “Hot A Lot,” included here, actually had a good opening verse:

I’d like to say that
I like your shoes and
I like the way that they
Stick to the bottom of you

Don Normal was from a small town in Canada, where needless to say, he didn’t fit in. But he did fit in on 42nd Street, the only place where we both fit. Last I saw Don Normal, he was working at the Empire Diner on 9th Avenue in the early 1980s. I haven’t seen him since. So this is my message in a bottle—wishing him fond regards, wherever, if ever, he is.

Photos by the great Regent Sound engineer, Vince McGarry

© 2010 Josh Alan Friedman, Vince McGarry

Josh's piece on Don Normal, "The Human Being of 42nd Street," can be found in his collection When Sex Was Dirty.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

WANTED! More Readers Like...

From the editor's desk:

The incomparable John Waters.

John Waters' latest book is Role Models; pick up a copy here.

Black Cracker is available NOW; signed copies are available here.

photo © 2010 Wyatt Doyle

Monday, September 20, 2010

Sent Away (Part 4)

Technically, this is not a letter from someone who was “sent away”—unless summer camp counts as such. I’m running it because it’s one of two letters preserved from my girlfriend in 1970, when we were 14. I haven’t seen her since that time. A simply fantastic girl who resembled Joey Heatherton, one of the few shining memories of my teenage years. Web searches yield almost nothing, considering maiden names and the abyss of 40 years. But I heard at some point she lived in Atlanta.

(click pages to enlarge)

© 2010 Josh Alan Friedman

Thursday, September 16, 2010

WANTED! More Readers Like...

From the editor's desk:

Frank Black, aka Black Frank, aka Black Francis of the Pixies.

Visit Frank Black on his website here.

Black Cracker is available NOW; signed copies are available here.

photo © 2010 Wyatt Doyle

Monday, September 13, 2010

Sent Away (Part 3)

Last week we ran a drug-fueled letter by a "sent away" friend, from 1971. Though I thought he gave permission initially, he freaked a bit when he actually saw his teenage self displayed online. So we pulled it down. But he consented to rerun it without his name.

The author of this letter holds a special status in the personal mythology of my teenage years. For starters, he is a hero for standing his ground against all those forces that once condemned comic books. Marvel helped him survive childhood, which he did just barely, considering the entire school system seemed as if it were constructed, by design, to fuck him up and keep him down.

His own father, in a futile attempt to rouse him awake for school, would contemptuously gather up armfuls of his son's prized Marvel Comics and dump them in the gutter. My friend would robotically get out of bed, retrieve and wipe off his comics from the gutter, then return to slumber under the covers. His internal clock was set to go off for 3pm each day—the moment the school bells rang to go home.

My friend was sent away in 1971. It was a last-ditch effort to get him to shape up and “hit the books,” as his father put it. But the only books he ever hit were comic books—with time out for The Three Stooges and keeping immaculate baseball score ledgers. Well, guess who had the last laugh. As he ripened into manhood, he became a pioneer and leader in the exploding rare comic book market. A Wall Street-worthy enterprise. Those same publications his father had thrown into the gutter were now worth untold thousands. In an ironic twist of ideology, his father actually became an investor in comics, scratching his head in bewilderment over million-dollar estate sales his son would broker.

But before all this, I received this letter from Vermont in 1971:

(click pages to enlarge)

© 2010 Josh Alan Friedman

Thursday, September 9, 2010

WANTED! More Readers Like...

From the editor's desk:

Ed Begley, Jr. does the cover.

Visit the inspirational Mr. Begley on his website here.

Black Cracker is available NOW; signed copies are available here.

photo © 2010 Wyatt Doyle

Thursday, September 2, 2010

WANTED! More Readers Like...

From the editor's desk:

Is the expression on the face of the young Cracker a response to the ever-gorgeous Pam Grier's timeless beauty, or her timeless badassitude?

Pick up a copy of Pam Grier's autobiography, Foxy: My Life in Three Acts, here.

Black Cracker is available NOW; signed copies are available here.

photo © 2010 Wyatt Doyle

Monday, August 30, 2010

Sent Away (Part 2)

For me, entrance into 7th grade at Great Neck South Jr. High, in 1968, was a demoralizing, dehumanizing, soul-killing nightmare. There were almost a thousand kids per grade, each one a peon in this industrialized fascist institution. I collapsed in my room after the first day of school, facing a six-year prison sentence which I didn’t believe I could survive.

But, as I had discovered Bobo in first grade (see Black Cracker), after a few weeks, I made the acquaintance of Billy Bloom. Bloom was self-liberated from academic chores, breaking out in fits of existential laughter. I was the only other student who found this contagious. He molded a realistic clay figurine in art class. As with King Kong, showcasing genitalia was unacceptable. But Bloom molded on an enormous pecker, making it seem like an afterthought. Since the rest of the figure was done skillfully, in the style of Michelangelo’s David, the art teacher was perplexed as to whether to accept or destroy the sculpture. The teacher critiqued that it was excellent—but would Bloom, who kept a straight face throughout, perhaps consider making the offending protrusion a bit smaller. Which of course was Bloom’s whole point—to sculpt as big a dick as he could get away with.

Bloom and I were often reprimanded to the assistant principal for laughing. Biting our tongues before Mr. Lipari’s desk, the harder we tried to remain silent, the more the laughs would swell until we literally collapsed to the floor in hysterics, while Lipari called our mothers to have us suspended. At that point, our school careers, and thus our lives, were fucked, so we had nothing more to lose. Amazingly, the gym coach was the only faculty member to beat us up. But Billy Bloom kept me sane that year.

Before the start of 8th grade, Bloom was sent away. Every few weeks, I eagerly anticipated another envelope from Vermont. Vermont seemed to be the preferred destination for disturbed white teenagers from Long Island. His letters were like Zap comics, before Zap was even available. I planned to write comic strips for him to illustrate whenever he returned. When he finally emerged about two years later, he turned serene. As if he had been defanged, emasculated or lobotomized. He stopped drawing and doing schtick. Frustrated by mental images I couldn’t draw myself, I eventually opted to collaborate with my second choice—my younger brother, Drew. Yet I still wonder at what might have been, had Billy Bloom remained a lunatic.

From some tranquil Vermont facility for boys, in 1969:

click letters to enlarge

© 2010 Josh Alan Friedman

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

CRACKER Inspiration

from the editor's desk:

Spotted by New Texture's eagle-eyed Victoria Doyle—on the sidewalk in front of the L.A. County Museum of Art (LACMA), no less!

Street portraitist Sharon Artist displays her wares. There's Liza of course, Stevie Wonder, some animal portraiture, "actor/coach" Paul Rubio (??) and...who's that? Could it be...?

Indeed it is! Sharon's interpretation of the Black Cracker cover!

Los Angeles, ladies and gentlemen.

photos © 2010 Victoria Doyle

Monday, August 23, 2010

Sent Away (Part 1)

Every close friend I ever had throughout childhood (with the one exception of David Rosenberg) was at some point “sent away.” Meaning reform school, juvenile lockup, a mental institution or facility for wayward boys. I’m talking about a dozen or more of my best friends, from the entire 12-year prison sentence called school. Does this reflect something about me? I was never actually sent away myself, but there were some close calls. In some cases, I was crushed, losing a best friend who I would never see again. Like Joey V in fifth grade, a psychotic pyromaniac and arsonist. A male twin of The Bad Seed, I’m now most grateful he was sent somewhere for the criminally insane. But at the time I enjoyed his friendship immensely.

On the sweeter side were the Stember Brothers, Allan and Steven, both adopted by a World War II vet and his WAC wife. Both parents remained steadfast 1940s Americans, unable to yield to late ’60s youth culture. Their sons were hippies to the hilt. I haven’t had contact with either since 1972. Neither turn up anywhere in web searches, so I don’t know if they are dead or alive.

In the coming weeks, I will scan childhood letters from mental institutions, notes from girls in 1960s schoolrooms, and this, from Steven Stember in 1970:

click to enlarge

© 2010 Josh Alan Friedman

Thursday, August 19, 2010

WANTED! More Readers Like...

From the editor's desk:

Hef's got his...

Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist and Rebel is in theaters.

Black Cracker is available NOW; signed copies are available here.

photo © 2010 Wyatt Doyle

Monday, August 16, 2010

"Step by Step" (w/Rev. Raymond Branch)

To view on YouTube, click the above image. To watch on Vimeo, see below.

Josh Alan and the Reverend Raymond Branch improvise a new arrangement of "Step by Step" in the pews of the Heavenly Rainbow Baptist Church. (July 2010, Inglewood, CA)

Visit Reverend Branch online here.

© 2010 Rev. Raymond Branch, Josh Alan, Wyatt Doyle

Thursday, August 12, 2010

WANTED! More Readers Like...

From the editor's desk:

The unstoppable Ernest Borgnine does the cover.

Mr. Borgnine's book, Ernie: The Autobiography, is a great read; pick up a copy here.

Black Cracker is available NOW; signed copies are available here.

photo © 2010 Wyatt Doyle

Monday, August 9, 2010


Here is a 26-minute bloc of footage from Paul Stone's unfinished Tales of Times Square movie. It's his very own vision, certainly different from the book. I like the Al Kronish character most.

Click on the poster image to watch the film on Vimeo

Visit the film's website here:

Monday, August 2, 2010

"Assoc. Ed. Cites Anti-Sem in Stooges Censure at PIX"

From Screw, Dec. 15, 1980, #615:

cover art by John Mariano

(click to enlarge)

© 1980, 2010 Josh Alan Friedman

Monday, July 26, 2010

Josh Alan's "Crossroads," Live in Los Angeles

Live at Alias Books, West Los Angeles, July 2010. Part of New Texture Nights.

© 2010 Josh Alan, Wyatt Doyle

Monday, July 19, 2010

Jimmie Vaughan's Got No Blues At All

from the Dallas Observer, July 8, 2010:

Jimmie Vaughan is the blues guitarist who reinvented "less is more." On his website bio, younger brother Stevie is quoted as saying, "I play probably 80 [percent] of what I can play. Jimmie plays one percent of what he knows. He can play anything."

This may be a terrible question to ask a lifelong bluesman, but why only blues?

"I play blues and rock 'n' roll," he responds. "People call it different stuff. I just play what I like, what I want to hear myself."

The most profound original track of Vaughan's later career is "Six Strings Down" (that, and "Boom-Bapa-Boom"). Its refrain, "Heaven done called another blues stringer back home," from his 1995 album, Strange Pleasure, is a gospel eulogy to his lost brother, who people love even more as time marches on. But for Vaughan, like most blues musicians, the future is mainly about the glorious past.

"I listen to jazz records from 1959," he says. "You can't have jazz without the blues; they're all connected. Gene Ammons and Willis Jackson, that's who I like. I listen to old gypsy records, flamenco, Sabicas, Nino Ricardo. I listen to Segovia—don't try to play like that, but it inspires me. I also like country music—George Jones, Webb Pierce."

Personally, I'd like to hear Vaughan stretch out and do a doo-wop album, a gospel album along the lines of "Six Strings Down" or a country album of some kind. Take some bigger chances. But that's a selfish, unfair request. You can't argue with his own refrain: "I just don't feel 'country.' I play what I like."

Approaching 59, Vaughan still looks like a movie star, with a perfect black hairline, "a longtime avatar of retro cool." He has always dressed as a blues dignitary, right down to the way that fine fabric hangs down over his boot heels. No one dressed like that since the heyday of Chess Records in Chicago in the 1950s—until the Fabulous Thunderbirds brought the style back at the tail end of the 1970s. Since then, it has become the standard wardrobe for a thousand blues bands. Originally, it was the way former sharecroppers "dressed up the blues," so they wouldn't be thought of as raggedy winos.

So here comes a fourth CD under his name, Jimmie Vaughan Plays Blues, Ballads & Favorites, on Shout Factory, out this very week. Again, Vaughan is peerless in his taste and hasn't played a wrong note in 40 years. The album has lots of space and air between the instruments. It's dry, with little reverb, even on vocals, and has a short blues "conversation" with Lou Ann Barton. A Texas-shufflin' rhythm section with horns, cherry-picked from the Antone's fraternity—Austin-based musicians who let few into their tight professional clique. Except, of course, the members of Vaughan's touring band, which includes Providence-based Doug James. James is the best baritone sax player and arranger in the business.

A few years ago, Vaughan signed on to do a book with David Ritz, autobiographical collaborator of the R&B pioneers. But then he decided he didn't want to spill it. Or maybe his memories are just like his playing—heavy on groove and tone, but with dignified restraint. Why contribute to the endless junk heap of celebrity biographies? There are virtues to privacy, and you won't find him on Twitter.

"I just worked on it a little while," he says. "Didn't want to do it anymore. That's not what I do, is it? It's not that I have a bad or particularly weird or dark life. I mean, how would you like to have a book revealing everything about you?"

Actually, there have been a few. But Vaughan sums up his present as such: "I'm happily married. I've got twins. I really enjoy being with my family, playing guitar all the time, driving around in [classic custom] cars. I have a good life."

He's built five cars over the last 30 years. It takes at least five years for him to build one.

"It's not like transportation," he says. "It's art you can drive to the store. You nickel-and-dime it as you go along. They never get finished."

But Vaughan himself is working toward a happy ending.

"In the '80s," he says, "I was completely wild and out of my mind, running around the country. I'm not the same guy I used to be."

So now he'll raise his kids in Austin, and stay there, "unless they run me out of town."

Texas knighthood would be more likely.

"Thank goodness we don't have that," he says, democratically.

Well, we don't have knighthoods here, like they do in the land of King Arthur (Sir Mick, Dame Elton). But we do erect statues to musicians we've lost in air disasters—like Buddy Holly in Lubbock, and Jimmie's brother, Stevie, in Austin. There's plenty room in Texas for a few more, and I say put one honoring Jimmie Vaughan up now, in the State Capitol. (He already has Fender and Gretsch guitars named after him, and probably a car or two.) They should put up statues for the other founding Thunderbirds too, especially Keith Ferguson, and even one for drummer Mike Buck. Hell, they should rename Austin-Bergstrom International Airport for Keith Ferguson to make up for all the hell they gave him passing through customs, so that he finally couldn't tour outside of Texas. I'm going to start calling it Ferguson Airport from now on, until it catches on. And put up a statue of Lou Ann Barton while they're at it, somewhere near the Capitol.

There's plenty of reason: The Fab T-Birds spearheaded a blues revival 35 years ago that may only recently have started to wane. It's been debated as to whether blues is in some kind of a slump, like it was in the 1970s before the T-Birds. Most blues musicians are barely working, but then again, so goes the whole economy. If it is in a slump, Vaughan, with his robust touring schedule, is not aware of it.

"I totally ignore the whole music business," he says. "I don't even care what they do. If somebody puts out a record I like or I get excited about a musician, that's an exception."

Ignoring the music business concurs with every serious musician or person who loves music, for the past 30 years. But they do savor their Grammy nominations when they get them, and keep an eye on concert grosses in Pollstar.

Although we live in a space-time continuum that may be of one mind, Jimmie Vaughan might be considered a third-generation bluesman. He is now at the age that Muddy Waters or Gatemouth Brown, the second generation of blues icons, were when he first saw them during his youth in Dallas, or when he played with them at Antone's in Austin.

How might his life and career parallel with Muddy, Gatemouth or John Lee Hooker now that he's the same age they were then?

"Like Pee Wee Crayton said, 'We better get the gettin' while the gettin's good,'" he says. "I was fortunate enough to be on the tail end of that stuff, was able to see a lotta people play in Dallas that I hold up high. But they're still alive in my world."

Vaughan has no fear of having to face down the Disney channel and its attendant music: "My kids don't watch TV. We just keep it off." But inevitably, Vaughan's young kids may listen to Disney radio or something that clashes with everything he holds sacred about music. Then what?

"They have little guitars and they're starting to ask questions," he says. "I play all the time and if I get too loud, they go in the other room and close the door. If they ever want lessons, I would love to teach them."

Almost like a mantra these days, Jimmie Vaughan repeats that he loves the life he lives and he lives the life he loves. He supports Ron Paul, and posts the Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights on his website.

"When you get older, you start appreciating things," he says. "I'm a fan of the Constitution. I started reading about our country and remembered one old-lady school teacher in Dallas reading us The Bill of Rights. It made me feel good. I was proud. I enjoy freedom. I like liberty."

© 2010 Josh Alan Friedman

Monday, July 12, 2010

"Feel the Spirit (Blues)" (w/ Rev. Raymond Branch)

Josh Alan and the Reverend Raymond Branch "put some church words on it" in the pews of the Heavenly Rainbow Baptist Church. (July 2010, Inglewood, CA)

Visit Reverend Branch online here.
© 2010 Rev. Raymond Branch, Josh Alan, Wyatt Doyle

Monday, July 5, 2010

"In Search of Nan"

J.D. Salinger’s total rejection of the vulgarity, banality and dog-eat-dog commerce of American culture was legend. Heroically, he refused to sell the film rights to Catcher in the Rye. Reporters staked him out for decades, only to have doors slammed in their faces, filing stories that became a genre in itself—that of not getting the first Salinger interview.

But what if the reclusive literary giant had finally emerged, but only to appear on some wretched game show, like
Beat the Clock or Wink Martindale’s Tic-Tac-Dough? And what if he went apeshit over some porn bimbo?

Such was the premise of a short story attempt of mine, in Oui of Jan 1984. Little did I know—and was stunned to read in Salinger’s 2010 obit—that this nearly happened. Salinger had become infatuated with and pursued Elaine Joyce (a terrific B’way actress in her youth, now married to Neil Simon)—at that time host of The All-New Dating Game, and panelist on Match Game and I’ve Got a Secret. (And no matter how low-rent the strokebook mags were—see below—the hustlers who worked for them were still more honorable than the slime at mainstream media. And that’s no lie.)

Is that A Perfect Day for Bananafish in your pocket, or are you happy to see me?
J.D. Salinger pursuing Elaine Joyce, host of
The All-New Dating Game.

Reprinted from
Oui, Jan. 1984, in slightly altered form.

Nothing ticked off Ratsy Gold more than a terse refusal from some hack writer to appear in his magazine—though when such a flat No came from literary titan T.C. Gablinger to Ratsy’s desk, it fired him with the thrill of victory. People had stopped even trying to solicit output from the old man of letters years ago, because T.C. had never bothered to answer requests, much less refuse one—until now.

T.C. Gablinger, nearly 80, was known in his day as a sporting chap until he vanished into bitter seclusion after a brush with Hollywood. He published his swan song in 1958 (a sexual masterpiece), picked up a Nobel Prize and granted his final interview to Paris Match. Gablinger’s works had awakened the angst of an entire generation. But more legendary than his novels was his refusal to give interviews, answer his front door, and particularly his utter steadfastness in not releasing one written word, not with a cannon to his head. You might say he’d become more renowned for not writing. Yet Ratsy Gold, proud editor of Spud Plunker (“The mag of honest, loving sexuality”), examined the scrawled T.C. Gablinger rejection under his very nostrils. The first written word seen from the author since 1958. On a lark, Ratsy had dashed off an inquiry upon Spud letterhead requesting some new work. Or any “old, shitty ms. lying around.”

“No!” read Gablinger’s note.

“A Page Six in the Post,” Ratsy swore to his wide-eyed staff.

Ratsy Gold was considered by some a third-rate editor who couldn’t hold a job at any other magazine, giving the old shuck and jive to every model, writer and photographer who came to collect their due. Worse were his editorial skills with respect to language fundamentals, which couldn’t get him through a ghetto high school. “Let’s be hip, controversial,” he intoned to his staff, beaming at the thought. He was a freeloader who drove the company car, received free tickets, records and books with the promise of a Spud write-up, and wangled free dinners and women in similar fashion. Ratsy went unshaven for weeks on end, his hair tangled to the shoulder, wore T-shirts with trendy slogans (“A Million Dead Cops”), and was always on the roam for a free bar tab and long tits that resembled rippled water balloons, his favorites. He was a pear-shaped Romeo whose chief hangout was Big Wang’s in Chinatown. All the waiters there called him “Chee-chee” (penis in Mandaran vernacular). Give him a big-titted waitress and a bite off someone else’s dinner plate, he was in heaven.

Ratsy could also rip off a bar’s length of starving playwrights for stroke letters in the front of the mag. “Give me a JAP being gang raped by A-rabs up the ass while forced to watch the destruction of Tel Aviv from her hotel window,” he would bark, bouncing checks behind them. Ratsy also had a fondness for yarns concerning “oily blue Negroes” who came across white girls camping out in the woods, whom they would perform gross acts upon, then dismember. All of this in good humor, of course. “Stick in one of those oily blue Negroes,” he would whine contemptuously, to punch up stories.

Ratsy was foremost a champion deal maker, having penned six top-budget porn flicks. He was a brilliant schmoozer, to whom connections were sacred things. He was Editor-in-Chief of Spud Plunker.

After the amazing rejection arrived, the Rat, still glowing after a lunchtime schmooze with owner Irv of the Carny Deli, presented the document to Spud’s disbelieving staff.

“Does this count as new writing by Gablinger? Can we offer $500 to publish it?” Spud’s V.P. of finance, a six-footer named Gertel, protected the mag’s bankroll as though it were harbored in the canyon between her aging silicone marvels. Few dared for their life to reach in there.

“Over my dead body,” she gasped. Spud had never offered $500 for anything. Aside from her business acumen, Gertel ever so gently assisted in photo sessions of first-time models, posing them in “romantic positions.” Afterward, she would berate them mercilessly, calling them “disgusting sickos” for what they had done.

A letter postmarked from the same upstate town as Gablinger’s arrived the next day, in a shaky old man’s hand: “How about Nancy Shooter?” it read. “Co-starred with Johnny Wadd in Limo Girls. Fix me up with this angel and my next book will be delivered for installment in your publication. To be completed next month after 25 years of hell.”

Now, Ratsy Gold couldn’t give a rat’s ass for books or subjects beyond the oily blue rape genre, but he smelled history with a capital H. “I think he’s finally hit his home run,” said Ratsy to his staff. The letter, clearly the scrawl of a loon, contained no signature, but a quick handwriting analysis against an editorial colleague’s autographed copy of Death’s Innuendo proved it was T. C. Gablinger. Furthermore, embossed upon the stationery was the inscription “Hog on the Hudson,” which was known to be Gablinger’s houseboat hideaway, moored far up river all year round; it was never known to sail.

Publication of a new book by T.C. would create small international headlines; his decision to debut it in the pages of Spud Plunker would not only increase their print run into the millions, but Ratsy was sure to further his own personal splendor, perchance someday getting to deliver the mayor of New York to Big Wang’s in Chinatown for a photo op, inspiring a hundred free meals of gratitude from Wang himself. Big Wang’s brother and arch competitor, Little Wang across the street, already had a photo of the mayor dining there.

“Sounds like he’s hit the literary long ball,” said Ratsy, on the phone with agents all day. Surely there was some way to parlay the Spud installments into a subsidiary fortune. But no one believed it. The best response was hesitative, and even Page Six was reluctant to give credence to such a rumor. Nancy Shooter, on the other hand, was merely some porn bimbo, almost certainly used up in the biz by now, probably strung out on junk. Ratsy had met her three years ago on the set of “Two Nuns and a Donkey,” a 15-minute loop. Nevertheless, he dashed off the following on Spud letterhead:

“So, you go for Nan Shooter, eh? Promptly went through my Nan Shooter files and discovered the following two photo spreads, one from Snatch, Paps & ’Hind End mag (a disgrace to humanity), and the other, a hard-core book in which we also find our Nan in several foul and compromising activities. Hope this doesn’t rot your sweet tooth for Nan Shooter!”

This, the Rat figured, bumbling past any semblance of tact toward the Nobel Laureate, would really get him hot. Pix of the blonde actress when she was just over jailbait, each hole engulfed by oversized syphilitic dongs. These shots would have to hold Gablinger until the Rat could track down his gal, whose whereabouts he said in the note, he put a tracer on.

“And don’t worry,” continued the letter, “ol’ porn detective Ratsy here’ll have little Nan high on the Hog with you in no time. Name your photo, Ratsy tracks ’er down—though don’t hoist your sails yet. Meanwhile, how about the first chapter?”

It was two weeks before another feeble-pressured letter arrived to the Spud Plunker mailroom. There wasn’t a rat’s doubt in the Rat’s mind that the great T.C. Gablinger was about to emerge once again on the American literary landscape. It was “the last carnal love for a woman I will ever know,” he ranted, having fallen for her over his video machine, and he was sure he could conclude his book with her muse-like presence. It was now T.C.’s wish to assist in the hunt for Nancy Shooter, at least in spirit, with a suggestion: Had Ratsy checked with the photographers of both porn spreads? The fact was, he had. One lensman was dead, and the other spread was sold to Snatch, Paps & ’Hind End from a model agency, Twin Talent, in San Francisco, which didn’t recall the whereabouts of Miss Shooter since she stormed off a rainbow shower photo shoot, drenched in vomit, proclaiming she had “a classy image to protect.”

Wanting to hang on to the Biggest Book of the Decade for Spud, Ratsy waited for nightfall to plot his course at Big Wang’s crowded bar. “Always think better at crowded bars,” Ratsy advised his admiring staff. “The noise forces you to concentrate harder in order to block it out.” He dashed off the following:

“Making some progress in pursuit of the Nan. Seems she was off on some Third World porno tour, lead by Fran Trinkle last summer—photographed by that nomadic Love magazine group of folk pornographers. Seems our Nan contracted gastrointestinal diarrhea two days into Nigeria, and was whisked away in the vigilant care of some displaced American percussionists—ones who’ve become “Africanized,” found their roots in Black Classical Music. Thelonius Monkists, I think they’re called, terribly militant and oily blue. All this according to Miss Trinkle. Although La Trinkle sometimes suffers episodes of amphetamine psychosis. But no matter. Ol’ Det. Ratsy always gets his gal. Ace Spud reporters are also on the case. We’ll have lil’ Nan Shooter back in no time. . . though best not bank any spud on it just yet. (Would you consider Candy Pop or Trish Blacquelord instead?) How about those chapters?”

Gablinger’s next correspondence expressed a willingness to travel to Africa, gullible old genius that he was. Now truth be told, Ratsy couldn’t give a flying rat’s ass about the whereabouts of Miss Nancy Shooter. But he worshipped celebrityhood, which T.C. had in spades. Ratsy might finally collect his due in the Quality Lit world with this literary coup. His bewildered underlings at the mag were not quite connected enough to solicit useful information. For they knew it was the Rat, and only the Rat, who could come through with such privileged address. Yet all his leads fell short, directing him, via Spud correspondence, to San Diego housewives and cosmetics saleswomen, all with porn skeletons in the closet.

Obsessed with debuting T.C.’s comeback in the pages of Spud Plunker, while smashed on coke before his TV one night, Ratsy pondered sending the literary giant a one-way ticket to Lagos, Nigeria, in exchange for the book.

It was then that the very image of Nancy Shooter came over his screen—a model presenting a microwave someone had won on Cheat the Clock. This lookalike could surely fake out an old cadaver like T.C. She may have possessed a few more years and wrinkles than Nancy Shooter. But she fawned over kitchen appliances with the same ill-disguised contempt Nancy had shown for the largest peckers on screen. But then Ratsy stiffened in his shit-stained, baggy-assed boxers, hair a-frazzle, sleep-squinted eyes starting to widen.

It was the Nan!

Gablinger received the following telegram next morning:

“Hallelujah! Located our gal, back from Nigeria in good health. Says she’s ‘quit the life’ and gone legit, modeling toasters and luggage prizes on Cheat the Clock. Careful scrutiny reveals her ID as former Nan Shooter! But she’ll only boff Wink Hopperdale, the host. Best shot at stealing her from The Wink would be to make appearance on show. Each week, Cheat the Clock presents a celebrity guest, a $400 gig. Send book, prepare for show, and the fab Shooter snatch is yours. (Can you still plunk your spud?)”

Ratsy spent all day on the phone, pooling together his every TV resource, and then some. Spud Plunker had no media credibility whatsoever, but Ratsy himself had bounced around the dailies, leaving a marker here and there, which he called in. There wasn’t a connection left unturned in his Rolodex, and it took some doing before the straight press indeed speculated that T.C. Gablinger was about to surface for the first time in 25 years, perhaps even with a book. The tie-in with Cheat the Clock baffled some literary circles, but the show’s producers were delighted to have T.C. aboard. Ratsy, in his finest moment, acted as middleman, collecting 10 percent of T.C.’s $400. Maybe now they’d even honor the Rat by naming a sandwich after him at the Carny Deli, his most impassioned secret dream.

Wink Hopperdale, though a bit of a joke even amongst game show hoi polloi, was of the highest celebrity in hometown Kentucky, where he owned two Wink Hopperdale restaurants. He had once been a judge in the Miss America Pageant, and the local legislature debated renaming a boulevard after him, but decided not. El Winko, at 47, sported a Joseph Paris hairpiece and a freshly pressed tux for each segment. Though it seemed today, Wink was changing his shorts faster than his wardrobe could muster. It was to be one hot episode of Cheat the Clock!

Ratsy arrived at the morning press conference with a folksy smile and a cigar. “Am I a celebrity yet?” he wondered aloud, stumbling upon the dais to field reporters’ questions. There in the bleachers of Studio 17 was a buzzing audience of reporters, academics and Gablinger fans, some of them renowned men of letters themselves. Old English professors from New England, who’d flown in for the event, clutched tattered copies of Danny and Louie, Ten Fables and other Gablinger classics. Pressing on their minds was whether the Nobel Laureate would appear before the group for questioning. Ratsy apologized that T.C. wouldn’t, considering he was a budding octogenarian, and that he was off posing for the New York Post’s “Wingo” contest page.

“What does it all mean?” shot one of the Ivy League professors, followed by a colleague’s estimation that T.C. was driven into seclusion by the curse of the Nobel, and now chose to make some sort of statement by appearing in a vehicle representing the lowest common denominator of public vulgarity—a game show. “With this I can empathize,” he ventured. “But even so. . . why Cheat the Clock?”

“Have a T-shirt,” insisted Ratsy, the ever-dedicated editor-in-chief, handing out I’m a Spud Plunker! tops to the media at large. Representatives of The New Yorker were present, resentful that Spud Plunker was in the running over their own publication, where Gablinger had traditionally debuted his work. And a producer from Love Boat was there, hoping to wrangle Gablinger for a guest appearance. Wink was rather cranked up himself, trying to preserve the show’s meager dignity after wetting his trou.

“Will Gablinger abide by the rules?” shot some TV scribe. Wink was adamant that Cheat the Clock would be played in its purest, unadulterated form. The mere fact that T.C. was to appear in a slot usually occupied by down-on-their-luck lounge acts like Morty Gunty, Slappy White or Larry Storch was no reason to suspect otherwise.

Ratsy met the arrival of T.C. Gablinger backstage. The author was an old sea dog with wild, white hair and dry, parched lips. “Where is she?” he gasped, carrying a portable typewriter and a briefcase with him, which he said he’d hand over after things were squared with the Nan.

“She’s practically yours,” the Rat assured T.C., whisking him off into makeup, where two graduates of the Wilfred Academy of Beauty tried to cover a foul-looking conjunctivitis seeping from the old man’s eye.

A half-hour later, T.C. Gablinger emerged for his first public appearance in decades, the celebrity sub-host of Cheat the Clock. The Rat, waiting to be a contestant himself in the second half, with hopes of getting laid off of it, cheered him on from a side box. Ol’ T.C. looked to be a darn good prospect. He stood behind a podium with two fat housewives from Queens. El Winko had a morbid habit of threatening each female contestant with his cheek, which custom had them kiss. After this formality and a reflective pause to introduce the guest star (“What can I say, it’s an honor to have him, he needs no introduction”), Wink thrust his cheek menacingly toward Gablinger’s face. There seemed a deathly silence in the audience as T.C.’s twitching lips actually accepted the cheek with a bird-like peck. Wink Hopperdale then enthused, “Let’s cheat the clock, shall we!”

The ladies answered questions in the first category, Teenage Skin Problems. It was required that T.C. take a little hop around the game board in a potato sack, which the literary giant proceeded to do without a hitch. But T.C. really came to life in the bean bag toss, a healthy, old-salt shine coming over his face. Local news cameras whirred and the academic community seemed to be holding its peace commendably, albeit in a cold sweat. The fat housewives, finished at halftime, had with T.C.’s help won a year’s supply of baked clam breading.

At halftime, Ratsy weaseled his way into the models’ dressing room with his handy Daily News all-access press card, good for passing police barriers. Ratsy, whose wide, schmoozy smile always caught the gaze of women before his girth could get in the way, shot out with a resounding “Nancy, baby!” There stood the all-American porn starlet with the angelic face and the blonde curls, the only women to have deep-throated Johnny Wadd to the last inch, scrotum and all.

“Okay,” said the Rat, “let’s throw straight dice here, Nancy. T.C.’s next book is the hottest property in the world, and he’s willing to lay it on us over at Spud—if, that is, you’ll unretire some of that porn star pussy for a few hours.” He pulled out five crisp hundreds, the acquisition of which had been like obtaining blood from Gertel.

“I only fuck for love,” said the starlet, landing her eyes momentarily on the Rat’s black, baggy-jeaned crotch. Ratsy spied the dressing room for traces of soiled underthings he could slip in his pocket.

“What’s one more boff, after all those loops?” begged Ratsy. “He just surfaced from 25 years hiding underground.”

“Underground, schmunderground,” said the starlet. “I’ve got two kids, a house in Scarsdale. My husband would punch you out—”

“Just let him smell it!” Ratsy cried. “I need that book.”

“Ivory Soap wants me, goddamnit,” said Nancy. Then she reached for the bills.

In the second half of the show, Ratsy found himself behind the podium with an annoying red-haired male contestant whose face widened into an obscene grin whenever their eyes met. It was the Rat’s first TV exposure; he knew the eyes of Western Civilization were tuned into this historic broadcast of Cheat the Clock. Wink Hopperdale emerged to welcome both new players, then wave open Curtain Number One, which rose to the accompaniment of saccharine strings and a rapid-fire voiceover:

“Well, Wink, what do we have here? Why, it’s the long-awaited novel by T.C. Gablinger, coming down the stretch after decades of toil!”

Ratsy bolted upright in his seat, eyes focused upon ol’ T.C. banging away at his typewriter, a stack of finished pages on one side and Nancy on the other, striking perfect bimbo model poses, arm outstretched to present the grand prize.

“The Nobel Prize winner abdicates full North American serial and royalty rights for No!, a new book detailing the author’s day-to-day activities, like swabbing the deck, the mechanics of preparing toast, the permutations of solitary sex on the Hudson River. Yes, a fortune’s to be made for the next winner, who takes full legal possession of the work. The reader’s choice, more households prefer Gablinger. But don’t let that fool you, Wink, this prize contains more than a mere journal of senility—included is a carton of Rootin’ Tootin’ Root Beer.”

Gablinger, racing to cheat the clock, whipped the last page out of the typewriter simultaneously with the announcer’s finish, wiping his old brow with a well-earned “Whew!” The Nan reclined in a lounge chair, sipping root beer, pretending to enjoy the finished manuscript. Ratsy’s grinning, red-haired opponent quickly introduced himself.

“Lou Zucker, Spuzz Hole magazine,” he whispered, extending a hand. “The Gablinger book’s mine.” Ratsy instantly remembered Zucker as a Shakespearean scholar who became editor of the dreaded vagina publication so fiercely edging out Spud Plunker on newsstands.

“Gentlemen, you know the rules,” said El Winko. “The category: Shakespearean Sonnets. Let’s proceed to cheat the clock!”

© 1984, 2010 Josh Alan Friedman

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Why the Miss America Pageant Should Be Abolished

Originally appeared in High Times, Jan. 1983

At the Greyhound Gate to Atlantic City, three ticket-holding blind persons were swiftly refused entry by the bus driver. The seats were oversold; the door pumped shut and off he drove. One of them began to cry because she had been separated from a blind companion already on the bus. The two others were shaken up, their dreams of attending Miss America pretty much shattered. A dozen last-minute beauty-pageant freaks stood cursing on the Greyhound ticket line at Port Authority New York, in a desperate attempt to make the show. It was the final night of the 1982 Miss America Pageant.

I was able to make a 5:30 New Jersey Transit bus, hoping to land an interview with the First Runner-Up on the morning after. Who cared about Miss America? The First Runner-Up was a hotter subject; she’d be neglected, bitter, dying for an interview, suffering from the pain of the greatest almost in her life. She wouldn’t get her face on Kellogg’s Corn Flakes or see herself in Nestle ads. But what were the functions of First Runner-Up? Was she sort of the vice-president, ready to jump in should Miss America get impeached or assassinated? Furthermore, I’d get to blurt out great questions, like, “Do you believe in premarital sex?”

During the three-hour journey, we passed through eight toll booths, which many folks can’t afford on the way back. At the outskirts of Atlantic City was a mile-long stretch of makeshift parking lot, filled to capacity on the climactic night of the seven-day pageant. From the bus depot, I made a beeline to the stadium-sized Convention Center, adjacent to the Playboy Hotel. Only four contestants were put up at the Playboy, the least of any hotel. The other 46 girls were divvied up by the remaining eight casinos, who boasted their pictures in the lobbies.

Swarming over the boardwalk was a Halloween-like procession of Miss America freaks—clean-cut families with little girls decked out in Jr. Miss America gowns and crowns, sending little boys into breathless double takes—for a minute, by golly, you might mistake one for a real contestant.

I made it to the Press Hospitality Center in the nick of time. Here was a spread of ham and cheese sandwiches, sodas, TV monitors, and eight courtesy typewriters. A few hundred members of the straightest press I’d ever seen warmly greeted each other at this blessed event. They would spread the good news into every town and hamlet in the USA. Priority One Badges were given only to “wire service personnel,” reps of “area newspapers meeting deadlines,” official Miss America Pageant photogs, NBC News. These folks were given runway seats, and first privileges for interviews and pictures. I don’t recall what publications Priority Two encompassed, but they invented a brand new Priority Three for High Times. I picked up my press badge, with my name badly misspelled, and was directed to two wrong locations before being seated light-years from the stage in these sub-bleachers. An old, drunken photographer shared my location, hiccupping in a stupor. Above me was a thirty-foot-high monitor screen, the transparent backside of which I could see through if I craned my neck. From this I observed the pageant.

Rules, rules, rules. Not even Wink Martindale could crash the dressing rooms.

But no matter. Miss America was a good thing, not a negative thing, the most glamorous high-school graduation ceremony around. Hundreds of girls won fat scholarships through the bush leagues of the Miss America system, learned poise, dignity, the spirit of competition. These fifty angels had won local and state pageants, they were the pride and joy of their communities, an inspiration to millions of little lassies who dreamed of someday winning the coveted crown. The Miss America Pageant could also be a springboard to talk-show hostom, the most sought-after goal among contestants. These were Positive Girls, my favorite kind.

The show opened with a slapdash medley of pop songs that contained so many metaphorical references to prostitution, I gagged on my soda. “I’m a Working Girl,” they sang, leading into a chorus of “Les girls,” and some out-of-context lines from “I Am Woman.” Next, they introduced ten semifinalists in evening gowns to the tune of “Send in the Clowns.” Gary Collins was host—a second-rate sub for the out-to-pasture Bert Parks. His wife, Mary Ann Mobley, was among the parade of former Miss Americas who walked the runway before the show. Miss America 1933 got the largest applause on the 50th anniversary of her title, and there were many missing and/or dead Miss Americas who couldn’t make it.

Among the distinguished panel of seven judges were Foster Brooks, professional “drunk,” Rod McKuen, who recently saw fit to publicize himself as a victim of homosexual child-rape, and Wink Martindale, host of some atrocity called Tic-Tac-Dough. Now, here were fifty gals who had spent years training for this, the Olympics of beauty contests, and it all rode on the judgment of Foster, Rod and Wink. Or perhaps they were befitting judges for these slick, well-packaged, professional beauty contestants, carefully groomed by their town fathers to give two-sided answers and smile on cue, as they sought TV careers. But something about Wink irked the shit out of me.

The most bizarre “talent” of the evening was displayed by Miss Arizona. Although the program described it as “Free Form Gymnastics,” it was nothing short of contortion. She whipped her legs back over her spine into some grotesque spiderlike posture and crawled around the stage. Apparently, her sponsors felt this hideous contortion would cinch the crown, but who the hell needed a tarantula-woman for Miss America?

When the new Miss America took her celebrated walk down the runway, a brigade of eighteen New Jersey state troopers followed closely behind the TV camera, in case one of those Priority One press people made a lunatic lunge for the Miss.

The drunken photog awoke. “I’m gonna see what’s-iz-name, Brooks Foster,” he bragged, tripping past me. “And then I’ll say hello to my good pal, Wink.”

The big press conference for the Newly Crowned was held in the carnival tent Press Center. With her splendid-girl Court of Honor and a police escort, Miss America, having had an ample half-hour to wipe away the tears, and probably change panties, posed for ten minutes of pix (photogs only) in a sealed-off tent. Then, with cameras still whirring, she was escorted to the podium for questioning. Miss California she was, and just a tad slurry-looking compared to last year’s Elizabeth Ward, who was as wholesome as bleached Wonder Bread. Debra Sue Maffett, blond, twenty-five, former drum majorette, all-round Positive Girl, first defended her nose job as a “medical operation for a deviated septum”; all of her family had required nose jobs to correct this breathing problem (amyl poppers, coke abuse? Huffin’ glue? Lacquer heads? Bus-fume suckers?). Debra Sue dated several men (“No one seriously”), and was a member of the National Man Watcher’s Association, which led her to hand out Well Worth Watching cards to men at random.

It was later revealed that this winner, Miss California, had failed in three attempts to be crowned Miss Texas. After the third try at Texas, she had “extensive cosmetic surgery” before entering the California Pageant, according to the muckraking director of the Miss Texas Pageant. “Her nose, her chin, and I’m not sure what else.” (Debra Sue hailed from a small town actually called Cut and Shoot, Texas.)

Besides the twenty-grand pageant prize, Debra Sue would bring in over $100,000 during her Miss A. reign from public appearances and ads. “I’m still just Debbie and I’ll still be just Debbie when it’s over,” said the sweet thing. “I’d like to have a talk show, be a wife and mother, there’s so much I want to do—”

After the Saturday-night broadcast, at midnight, the pageant officially relinquished its supervision over all contestants, save for the new Miss America. The forty-nine losers were on their own, and most would skip town first thing in the morning. I had to act fast, and spent the following hour seeking the whereabouts of First Runner-Up, Desiree Denise Daniels, Miss Tennessee. She was on the sixth floor at the Tropicana. Only four messages awaited her at the front desk when I added mine—request for interview with High Times mag at her convenience on Sunday. I hit the blackjack tables till 4 a.m., checking the front desk every half-hour, but Miss Tennessee hadn’t answered her red message light. There was no answer each time the desk clerk phoned.

At 4 a.m. I discovered that every hotel on the boardwalk was booked solid. But I hadn’t counted on the flophouses being sold out, which they were during Miss America week. The next chapter of my Miss America nightmare unfolded with an endless series of NO VACANCY signs all the way to the back streets of the Monopoly board. Fleabag motel clerks found it laughable when I asked if they knew of any vacancies. I took to the streets, a loser at the casinos.

At 8 a.m., Room 217 at the Bull Shippers Plaza Motor Inn on Pennsylvania Avenue became available. I grabbed it. There was even a telephone, on which to make frantic backup calls for other contestant interviews. A Black hooker tried to bust into my room, but no dice, honey, I was here for the First Runner-Up. A dozen calls later, I broke through the incredible protective layers of hostesses and hometown security nets that surrounded Miss Tennessee. These girls were harder to reach than Bo Derek. Everything had to be cleared through some men in Room 4425 at Caesar’s—her “state traveling companions.” A fifteen-minute interlude could be arranged if I showed up at Caesar’s front desk by 11 a.m. Lying on a firm mattress at the Bull Shippers Inn, I nauseously refined my twenty Runner-Up questions.

Needless to say, some good old boys from Tennessee—tough-looking ones in their forties—showed up by noon. They explained something about “gals and schedules”; the women were still packing at the Tropicana, they apologized, and they’d have to catch a plane, so no interviews. I made a few more calls to sponsors of other contestants, but couldn’t even pin down Miss Alaska. The prettiest contestant of them all, Miss Georgia, was reportedly packing her last bags right there at Caesar’s, but her people also gave me the runaround. (Was it High Times? Should I have whipped out the Screw press pass?) Out in the streets, Miss America contestants and their entourages were leaving in unstoppable droves. But I had been a bad little reporter who came unconnected, and couldn’t even land whoever came in fiftieth. By this time, I would have even made a mad dash for Wink fuckin’ Martindale. But even he had skipped town.

© 1983, 2010, Josh Alan Friedman