IT’s a cold morning, two weeks before Christmas, and I’m walking across 57th street on my way to work when I noticed him up ahead, shuffling along the curb — silver hair, blue jacket and white sneakers – not dressed for the weather. I probably wouldn’t have given him a second thought, but he reminded me of someone I knew from the literary scene. As I pulled even, I realized I was mistaken…
Ron Kolm is an American original and Night Shift is a testament to a life lived in the margins which is where the real action has always been. Wise, ribald, human, unexpectedly soulful, these stories have the grit and rhythm of real live as filtered through a sensibility finely tuned to the absurd and comic.
Ron Kolm’s new collection of short stories, Duke and Jill, recounts the adventures of two woebegone, half countercultural, half drugstore-cowboy lowlifes, who shabbily inhabit the 1980s East Village, always one step ahead of eviction and the law. Duke ekes out a living by selling porno rags on the street, boosting and petty drug sales. Jill is a bit more upscale, doing phone sales and working in retail stores, ones that offer chances to pilfer on the sly.
All in all, Kolm gives a good-humored, excruciatingly accurate portrait of people surviving on the margins, recalling the good-old bad days on the not-yet-gentrified Lower East Side.
I met you
At the Grey Gallery
Across from Washington Square Park.
We were going to the opening
Of The Left Front: Radical
Art in the “Red Decade.”
We ate all the peanuts
And most of the chips
That were set out as snacks,
And drank way too much wine
Which seemed to annoy the NYU
Students who were serving us.
They gave us dirty looks
But didn’t actually
I left you and walked
Over to Broadway
To get an R Train home
Still pretty buzzed.
Inside the station
I went to the downtown end
Like I always do
To sit on the wooden bin
That’s been there for years.
But this time I couldn’t—
It was covered with trash
So I stood on the platform
And waited for a train.
A razor-thin tranny
Sporting a long blonde wig,
Nose ring and high-heeled boots
Walked over to the mess,
Glared at it, then furiously
Swept it away with her hands
Flinging Styrofoam cups
And sandwich wrappers
I didn’t mean to stare
But her sudden rage
Took me by surprise.
“Don’t look at me, bitch!” she screamed.
“Do you want to get pushed
In front of a train
She yanked a bottle
From her jacket pocket
And smashed it against the wall,
Just like in the movies,
Spraying glass everywhere
And dared me to attack her.
I looked in my bag
For my umbrella
Which I figured
I’d use as a weapon
If I had to.
Just then a train pulled into the station–
I got on, turned and shouted:
“I was on the wrestling team
In high school . . .”
But I couldn’t finish the sentence
Before the doors closed.
I looked out the window
As the train left the station
And saw her sitting
On the wooden bin
Lighting a cigarette.
— Ron Kolm
From Sensitive Skin, April 8, 2015.
We got off an R train
At Lexington Avenue
And went down the steps
To catch an express
To South Street Seaport
To hear some music.
Kids were breakdancing
On the 4, poorly,
So we bailed to a local
At Grand Central
And got on the last car.
There was a girl
Sitting to our right
Dressed all in black:
Black boots, black mini,
Black top, her hair Read More
Home for Christmas, 1975
By Ron Kolm
It’s starting to snow. Nothing is sticking to the highway, but tiny wind-driven drifts scatter back and forth in front of the pickup truck as I drive to work. A winter storm has been predicted all day, but it hadn’t started yet when I pulled out of the driveway. I probably should have called in sick. I hate the damn job — night-shift on an assembly-line — which seems to be killing me in some way or another, but I need the money so I keep showing up and punching in, waiting for something to happen, an accident, anything — looking for a sign that I should quit and move on but not finding any.
I worked in a bookstore in Reading, Pennsylvania, when I was in college. It was quite different from a New York City bookstore; we sold furniture, school supplies and an interesting assortment of snacks. I did my best to make the stock we carried respectable; I ordered Joyce, Beckett and Updike, who had lived in Shillington, a suburb of Reading, in his youth. Most of our customers just wanted a fast read. I sympathized, but pushed my favorite authors on them anyway. The owner would take me aside and tell me to cut it out. I’d shrug my shoulders and he’d hiss: “Only bums do that.”
I didn’t like him very much.
There was a lot of dead time; Reading was not a reading city; so I would flip through the art books and look at the color plates to get through the long afternoons. I discovered the Surrealists, and that’s when my life changed. I made up my mind that someday I would be part of a circle of writers and artists just like them. And then, by logical extension, I stumbled upon the Dadaists. Marcel Duchamp became my idol—I devoured his works: The Bride Stripped Bare, Nude Descending a Staircase and the Chocolate Grinder. I read that a number of his pieces were in the Philadelphia Museum of Art, in the Arensberg Collection, and that his final work, a mixed media assemblage consisting of a wooden door surrounded by bricks concealing something, was there, too. But I couldn’t find an illustration or description of what was behind it anywhere, so I knew I would have to go to the City of Brotherly Love and check it out in person.
My parents still lived outside of Philly in the house I’d grown up in. I went down to see them and made plans to visit the Museum.
Unfortunately, when I did manage to get there the wing of the Museum with the Arensberg Collection in it was closed to the public due to budget cuts. A fiscal crisis had swept across the nation, and it hit Philadelphia hard. The Museum of Art is like a large C; basically two wings jutting out from the main building, and they only had enough money to guard one wing at a time. I’d have to return when the side of the Museum I wanted to see was open. Deeply disappointed, I took the commuter train back up to Chestnut Hill and hitched a ride—you could do that back then—to where I was staying with my parents.
On a day I knew the wing of the Museum I wanted to see should be open, I headed back into center city. It was raining lightly when I left home, and I took an umbrella figuring that everything would work out okay. I’d take the train in, make my way over to the Benjamin Franklin Parkway; and then walk along the six lane highway a half mile or so to where it ends; at the ‘Rocky’ steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. No problem.
But there was a problem. By the time I got into the city, the rain had picked up, and turned into a gale. I could see the Parkway about half a block in front of me, but my umbrella blew inside out, and the rain was now gusting at me in horizontal torrents. I literally couldn’t move forward. So I stood in the lee of a large tree, totally deflated. My clothes were soaked, my shoes were covered with mud, and I couldn’t imagine how I was going to get home. I’d probably still be there but for a minor miracle.
From out of nowhere, a bus pulled up next to my tree, the doors swooshed open, and the driver waved me inside. I gratefully complied. Once I got in, I exhaled deeply, and examined my surroundings. Every seat on the bus was occupied by an elderly white haired lady.
“We told him to stop and pick you up,” a woman sitting in the front explained, giggling a little. “You seemed to be stuck!”
“Man,” I said, “I was! I am so grateful. Thank you, all of you!”
“Where were you going?” another Lady asked.
“Well, I was hoping to make it to the Art Museum, but that seems to be out of the question now…”
“No, it’s ok,” a third chimed in. “Driver, take him to the Museum, please. We have lots of time before we have to return to our residence.”
And he did.
He let me off at the rear entrance and I ducked inside. It was still raining, but not as hard. The Museum halls were deserted; the weather had taken its toll. I made my way to the nearest men’s room where I chucked my broken umbrella. This particular rest room had one of those old fashioned cloth towel dispensers to dry your hands on: the kind that seem to be an endless loop of clean white material. I simply kept pulling out portions of towel to dry my hair on, my shirt, my pants and my muddy shoes. I guess I felt kind of guilty when I got to the shoes, but no one came in to use the facilities, so I continued until I had used up the entire roll.
After I’d dried out a bit, I exited into the Museum, aiming towards the right wing, which was to my left, and which was, as I had hoped, open. I walked through the Arensberg Collection where Duchamp’s paintings and constructs were displayed, checking them out in a cursory fashion as my eyes were focused on the prize. The building was still empty; I passed only one or two guards, and finally reached a dead end. In this room there was a large wooden farm door, though in truth it was more like a castle gate. It was made of thick planks surrounded by a stone archway. When I walked up to it I noticed two tiny holes had been drilled in the middle. I looked through them. And saw the most wonderful sight.
It was a naked female mannequin, her face obscured by the broken bricks framing the scene, reclining in a field of fake grass, holding aloft a tiny gaslight, which was lit. Behind this tableau was a painted landscape depicting a waterfall.
It was obviously an appropriation of the Statue of Liberty—Duchamp’s cry for real freedom in the land of the not so free. It was not only a tremendous work of art; what he had done was truly funny! I cracked up: laughing out loud.
A guard rounded the corner with a stern look on his face and wondered what was up.
“I’ve just seen God,” I told him, and left the room.
I blew out the front tire of my bike, trying to hop it over the curb at 6th Street and Avenue C.
“Fucking shit,” I muttered, dismounting to check out the bent spokes and twisted rim. I’d have to walk my busted bike back to my apartment building, then carry it up the four flights to my cluttered railroad flat where I’d try to fix it.
“Freeze,” a guy with a brown bag over his forearm hissed. “I got a gun in here that says I now own some wheels. Take your hands off the bike and walk away and don’t look back or I’ll fucking kill you!”
I returned to my apartment to find the door kicked in and the lock smashed. All of my good stuff, such as it was, was gone.
I walked over to Avenue A and bought a new lock and a sandwich and then went back to my building. As I entered a voice called out from the darkness under the stairwell: “Stick ‘em up!”
“What the fuck!” I said, “I just got robbed! I got nothing left!”
“What’s in the bag?” the voice asked.
“A new lock and a sandwich,” I answered.
“Hand ‘em over,” the voice said.
“Can I at least keep the sandwich?” I asked.
“No,” the voice answered.
— Ron Kolm
A musical overview of Arklight, by Mark McCawley
Danny Kolm, Gregory Kolm and Max Kostaras are three twentysomethings who’ve lived their whole lives in Queens, NYC. Danny and Greg are brothers who started playing music together in 2003 under the name Arklight, releasing dozens of cassettes and Cdrs on small independent labels. Their early sound was a harsh mix of no wave noise, free jazz energy and punk psychedelia. Various friends filled in the lineup, with Danny playing guitar and Greg manning the drums, until 2013 when Max, a childhood friend and sometimes collaborator, became a permanent member on lead guitar. It was then that their sound shifted to reflect a burgeoning interest in songwriting, structure and improved musicianship. For inspiration, Arklight looked to the music they grew up on and loved, including Neil Young, Nirvana, Sonic Youth, Velvet Underground, Nick Cave and Beat Happening. They hope to continue their development and follow the muse wherever it may lead them.