Saturday, 29 May 2010

The Pittsburgh Phantom and Me by, Shawn M. Cohen

The Story thus far...most of which I didn't know upon my arrival at The Encore and meeting Art Swiden.... Just click on the videos on the right, one by one for the music that Art loved. He wore his side burns like Elvis in 1976, and he loved Elvis, Sinatra and Jazz. There are no need for words, as the songs say it all. Scroll up or down as the videos play so you can see the slideshow of newspaper clippings. All newspaper clippings are copyright to their respected newspapers and journalists and authors and the music videos are also copyright to their respected artists, songwriters and performers. No copyright infringement intended.
The Pittsburgh Phantom and Me, by Shawn M. Cohen. Copyright 2010.

Sunday, 23 May 2010

Joni Mitchell - All I Want (Live) 1974

The Pittsburgh Phantom and Me by, Shawn M. Cohen

I worked my nights at the Encore, making more money and having a good time with the other waitresses. There was gossip about Art, as usual but I always found him helpful, funny and sweet to me, so I just ignored it and got on with my job. I went upstairs and worked the restaurant of the Encore in Shadyside, discovering that all the food was sent up by a dumbwaiter from the kitchen downstairs. This made for some hilarious episodes by the kitchen staff sending up joints instead of food, and all manor of goofing around! The girls laughed as we witnessed the series of funny things they would send up to us. Funny drawings, food that looked like body parts, you name it they did it in between the real food orders. I was enjoying the fun. People came upstairs to eat as an evening out, enjoying the quiet meals, mostly before the band came in. The upstairs bartender was one from downstairs. The bar was smaller and rectangular like the main one downstairs but half the size. Joni, Terry and I were working a Thursday evening when Art came upstairs to read the paper and smoke his cigar. It was mildly busy and he just seemed to want some space to chill out. I didn't think anything of this as I was busy serving my tables. I went to the service bar and asked John for my order. "2 Rolling Rocks and a Bud", I called to John as he came towards the waitresses' service bar. He nodded his head and went towards the small fridge to get them. Suddenly, the upstairs phone rang. John picked it up, saying, "Encore, Upstairs Bar, can I help you?" He looked over at Art and said in a low voice, "It's for you, Art." The phone cord reached over to where he was sitting at the end of the bar. I was still waiting on my 3 bottled beers for my customers when I heard Art's raised voice, "Leave me alone, I told you, we are divorcing now, don't call me at work!" He gave the phone back to John as if it was a snake and ruffled his paper as he sat down to read the Sports section. I was still waiting for my beers and John turned and said, with his hand on his head, "Oh, yeah, here's your beers, sorry, Shawn." I took them with their frosted glasses and put them on my waitress tray and said lowering my voice so Art couldn't hear me, "Is Art OK, what was all that about?" John said to me in another whisper, although the soft jazz music on the stereo sound system muffled our conversation, "Yeah, that's his wife, she torments him, he is getting a divorce but apparently she's a bit nuts and won't leave him alone." He rolled his eyes when he said this. "Oh, I didn't know that." was all I could say as I turned to serve my thirsty customers. The night went on. Art came back to the waitresses station in the back where the food came up from the dumbwaiter downstairs. Art had a playful grin on his face, seeing the marijuana joint left on the side, he said to Terry. "Where'd this baby come from?" He held it, smelt it as if it was a cigar. "The kitchen, where else?" Terry answered back laughing. Art looked at me, raised his eyebrows with a grin as I was taking off my food for my table. When the dumbwaiter was clear he winked at me and yelled down into the dumbwaiter using his lowered, gruff voice.."I better not find out who has been sending illegal substances up through this dumb waiter cos if I do, their fired!!" He turned to me and Joni, who was now back there and said, "Mmm, don't mind if I do!" and slipped it into the inside pocket of his suit jacket. We all laughed and so did he. "I'm coming down there right now, ya here me!!" He was giggling like a naughty boy to us but scaring the begeezus out of the kids in the kitchen. You could just imagine them all scrambling for a story of defence! Meanwhile, it was the mid 1970's, everyone was smoking pot. I mean everyone but no one did it out and about. The hippy days and all it's music, the counter culture and it's Baby Boom in the '50's leading to the "Me Generation" which was now still going strong. I know because I was part of that and grew up in that. When the Doors were playing at the Civic Arena, my friends went when we were in 8th grade. The famous story was that they had older sisters who took them, and they waited for Jim Morrison to come out from the stage door. They waited for an hour, diligently, and they would not be disappointed. He appeared with a brown suede fringe jacket on and one of my friends...was it Reva, Robbie, or Rae-Gayle, I can't remember, grabbed a bit of fringe and yanked till it was firmly in their hand! The many nights we all went to the Civic Arena and saw The Moody Blues, Jethro Tull, Black Sabbath, Yes, The Who, during those years were still fixed memories in my brain. But how when the whole arena was high on pot, was another story! When we were all Usherettes at The Syria Mosque, a smaller venue for concerts ,and got the grand sum of $4.00 to usher in the first act, we could then sit and watch the main act anywhere there was a seat. This was to us, the best job in the world. Judi got me that job, and I got the rest on board. That went on most of High School so in 4 years time, we got to see a heck of a lot of headliners. While the whole arena was filled with the whiff of pot, we saw, Joni Mitchell, Crosby, Stills and Nash, sometimes with Young, Van Morrison, Jim Croche, and Carly Simon and James Taylor, (before they married) and so many wonderful others. It was a music lover's dream. One night Anne and I went to work to see the Bee Gees. Saturday Night Fever hadn't come out yet. We saw two seats in the front row and grabbed them after we had Ushered in our black skirts and white top uniform. We had changed quickly into our jeans and got our pay and were up front watching them. I reached my hand up, like we all did and Robin Gibb shook my hand! Afterwards, we went to eat in a restaurant within the Hilton nearby and guess who walked in to eat themselves? Yep, the Bee Gees. We tried not to stare, but God knows we did. It was a lot of fun. That era was clearly leaving. Soft rock would still have it's day, and here I was now working in a Jazz Club. Afterwards I might go out to the Gaslight, or a Disco with my friend Robbie, or now some of the other waitresses. That was my life, thus far. Reva and I would catch up on the telephone, which was always expensive. And there was little news of Glen. Mike had seen him not long ago, she told me, and he was thinking of leaving L.A and moving to San Diego. That was it, sadly, no mention of me. I was wearing my 1940's suits like an actress playing a part. The part of a grown up, who somehow was leaving behind whatever dreams and childhood I had and one evening my mother came to me again and said, "Please go back and see Dr. Rivers." We had another argument about it. I wanted to say, "Why don't you go and leave me alone!" But children didn't speak to their parents like that then. There was a line to how much you could say and how much you could get away with saying. In fact, it dawned on me that people don't often say what they mean or maybe mean what they say. My older brother finally showed up to mow the lawn. He was out in the hot early July sun and I did feel sorry for him. He said my father was living with this woman now. He couldn't say any more, because I might tell our mother, and she could use it against him in court. I tried to argue that this was all crazy and it had somehow fallen on me to take care of her. "Your Problem!" was all he could say, aloof and not interested, as usual. My sister would also be coming home. Living with her again was not what I wanted to do. I never got along with her and this summer her now coming home was certainly no exception. She must have felt the same way because she told me over the phone she would be moving into her own apartment when she came home. "whew", I thought, although I wondered where the hell she got the money from to do that? Meanwhile, the day came where I was again sitting in front of Dr. Rivers, the Episcopalian Minister turned Psychotherapist. The threat of never being able to use my mother's car again put me there. I was furious when I went. I had worked the evening before, and we were so busy, I hadn't had enough sleep, so I was cranky as hell at 11:30am. Now that I was serving the public at the Encore, I really saw no sense in wasting his time. "I have nothing to say, and I am sorry that my appointment will probably be as before, my mother made me come here, and said if I don't I won't be able to use her car. I need it for work." He commented this way, "This is your space to say what you feel, what you want to say, or just say nothing, either way, I am here for you." I didn't know where to put my eyes so I just looked down at my shoes most of the time. The time went slow but eventually I noticed there was about 10 minutes left as I was also watching my wristwatch. He asked me where I was working and I answered, "The Encore, waitressing." He asked me if that was a job I enjoyed, and I answered "yes, for now." He asked me if I had gone to college or were thinking about it because I was so young. Something in me when he asked me that question snapped, my face felt like it would explode in tears but I fought them back. I don't cry easily and when I did I certainly wasn't going to do it in front of him! But I thought I would just give him the low down of my life, and then I could just get out of there, there were 5 minutes left. "Look," I began, "I was dragged back to Pittsburgh kicking and screaming, ok? My father ran off with his secretary, a real piece of work, too, he is, always a bully, never nice to us but I told my mother you are better off without him and yet my mother is paralysed by it and by the way he left my mother with nothing, no money, took it all. Now she is on food stamps. She has never worked, only as an actress in local playhouses, which pay zilch! And get this, the secretary isn't even much younger, and she is ugly, too. My mother at least is beautiful! But I was 19 years old, had a great apartment in West Hollywood with my best friend from here, she and I went to Santa Monica City College, I get a call from my mother in mid March, as I was approaching finals, that I had to stop everything and come home! And home to what??! My parents hate each other, my older brother is a head case who beat us all up when we were kids, spoiled by my father but crazy because he has some fucked up problem! He has to touch things, anything, all the time, back and forth, could be a 100 times, but if you tell him not to do it, he hits you, see? And my sister who is about to come home now, oh what joy! She is a year younger then me, dresses like a man, talks non stop about a load of bull shit, non stop, can't stop. Even when I walk out of the room, she is still blabbing away...another nut case, so you see, why I am here, is a fucking joke! And my younger brother, the only one who I think is normal, he is 17, trying to finish high school, what hope does he have now?!!" Dr. Rivers did something after my rant that I never saw before...never saw a man do...he bursts into tears! He whiped them off his face and blew his nose with the box of Kleenex nearby but he could not stop crying. I was so shocked by this all I could ask was, "Why are you crying?" He cleared his throat and tried to speak, still crying, "Because your story is so sad, so upsetting. I could not help myself." Now I did not know where to put myself, was this my fault? "I am sorry I made you cry." I hopelessly offered. "No, Shawn, you didn't make me cry, your story touched me deeply and it is I who wonders why when you tell such a sad and painful story, that you don't cry." he blew his nose again. "I guess because I have heard it a million times, and because I am so used to it, it doesn't affect me like that, I don't know why." I was wondering why now. "Your brother who "touches" things, this is a form of mental illness, and your sister who can't stop talking, this is another form of mental illness. I know you see this, and now I am going to tell you something." I listened with intent, because here was someone who actually realized what I had been screaming to my parents for years but to no avail. "You must be an awfully strong person to have got through all that. And now, with the responsibility of what's left of your family falling on such young shoulders, how will you go on?" I didn't know, I didn't like it but I didn't know, so I just said, "I don't know, working and giving my mother what I can?" I offered quietly. "Shawn, it is not your responsibility to take care of your family. You are a young woman, a woman who should be in college, not picking up the pieces from your parent's divorce and your siblings lives." I sighed. I guess it was relief, because he seemed to be on my side. He was the only one who ever said this to me. Everyone else seemed to think this was what I was suppose to do. My mother, my father, my siblings and my Aunt. As if he read my mind, he added, "What about what you want?"

see Joni Mitchell's Video, "ALL I WANT" taken from her 1974 album above. It is also on the link on the right of this excerpt. All copyright of music to the musicians, singers and performers.
The Pittsburgh Phantom and Me, by Shawn M. Cohen. Copyright 2010. Excerpts taken from a book of the same name I am currently writing, a non-fiction memoir. All events are true but some names have been changed for privacy.