Excerpt number 3 from Radio Activity Kills, by bart plantenga & paloma jet
DJ Kees flees Amsterdam under mysterious circumstances with teen daughter, Alouette. A new life in the USA leads to an obligatory hitchhiking road trip that finds them stuck in Iowa, where they meet the flamboyant Meridel before heading back to Brooklyn and a series of hallucinatory, hilarious and harrowing adventures in the DJ & post-hipster slumlord underworld. The story is told from 16-year old Alouette’s point of view.
Papa was robbed at knife point in the Brooklyn Navy Yard while hunting down the legendary discophile named Red Alert, who had a nest in this almost abandoned area, where the peace of nothing happening is undermined by it being a notoriously criminal activity magnet – dumped bodies, torched stolen Audis, tons of bottles tossed against a wall – with it all splintery blending into the landscape. That he exposed Red Alert – no photos – as a “high yellow” woman with an Angela Davis poster and a warehouse full of priceless vinyl rather than the askew baseball cap, mirror-shade DJ was so unbelievable that everyone decided to not believe him. Nobody asked me. Are you asking?
Well, papa was right but so were they: Red Alert is a woman and a great DJ who cross-dressed as a man and who many mistook for Kool DJ Red Alert. It gets confusing because not only did both Alerts have a connection to DJ Mark The 45 King but I think papa may have quickly fallen for her and her big hair, big warehouse, big lips, big collection, big smile. Mention her now even a year later and he always exhales this warm, what-coulda-been sigh.
They might have originally met at a Fiasco gig at the Mustard Factory when both claimed to premiere Deejay Punk Roc’s new single “Busta Speaka Vibrationa” with Sensation on vocals … Papa performed, squeezed between DJ Olive Green, Fried Radio [he recorded himself “playing” and composing the city], Gen Ken on kitchen appliances and Hope Less-lee from Dee Lite.
Papa has a crazy hair-trigger switch that clicks from total chill to maniac. It gets him in trouble but it has also saved him. He can disarm an enemy with this sunny, not-totally-explainable trust in humankind, which to others comes across as fuck-ass weird. Why does this hippie trust thing bug me more than anything about him!?
Naive is stoopid is victim. Does he lack the perspective necessary to gauge the true gravity of danger and guile? Is it a latent effect of MDMA, which “enhances emotional empathy.”
He also forgets where he’s parked his bike on a regular basis, so we have to go searching for it. Me with big ribbon in hair, standing on one pedal, floating down the street, looking this way and that, as papa walks but ends up in Earshot to talk to owner and WOOF DJ, Jim Sharpe, to hang and toss rare and virgin vinyl on the turntable. OK, I’ll find it.
Sharpe and papa are plotting some kind of consciousness-raising drive to make people aware of the hidden adverse effects of undesired noise pollution that can take many forms including the invasion of bad songs into dream and consciousness. I’ve heard the grand blabla before.
“I have a bad time of it with restaurants and bars that spend millions on interior decoration, original artsy work, silverware, vases, a wine list and then two seconds and two cents on their background music. Nothing like loud classic 70s rock while your eating coq au vin.”
“… or light 80s rock at Balthazar or arena rock at Delmonico’s or 90s indy rock at Dojo’s. At Two Boots Are A Pair I heard a whole set of computer-curated playlists of awful ‘unlikely-to-offend’ soft-rock classics like Jimmy Buffet, Billy Joel [3x], Orleans, Little River Band, Air Supply, Bryan Adams, Diana Ross, Kenny Rogers, fake soul … I can go on, but my stomach … anyway, I wrote it all down waiting for our white cheese pizzas to prevent from going insane.”
“We have to save the world from itself. NY Restaurants have the worst music piped in – THE WORST –inappropriate stuff in the oddest places – it’s like war crimes, no really.”
“The worst is Two Left Boots, their other restaurant, on Saturday afternoons when the buggy mafia come in and they play kids songs written by ridiculous adults and the mothers and fathers sing along, miming like its their children doing the singing!”
“Sharpe, I do not know where to go when you go to talk in a bar and the music is so loud you cannot hear yourself or the three televisions on sports channels because the manager is piping in hardass music to distract himself from the fact of a really long evening.”
“And then people call us old farts closed to music and we’re the ones playing styles from a hundred countries! GRRR. I was in a fancy pants jewelry shop buying an anniversary gift for my parents in Soho. Every single track on the sound system was classic rock from 60s through 80s – so ironically ordinary, so typical, lazy and manipulative. It’s the Muzak of this generation!”
I walk into Earshot and papa is looking very comfortably enraged. I listen to their gripes and how bad music is as dangerous as global warming, worse than the Taliban.
Jim: “Soon-to-be mothers singing along to kid-enabling songs sung by choirs of kids who are all so bent on satisfying these gloating parents… Kids songs about sleep, not hitting each other, being polite, using a fork, counting songs… I know now when to avoid Two Boots Are A Pair – hey if elephants can be taught to avoid land mines then I can be taught to avoid noise pollution.”
“The wheels on the bus go round and round in this small world after all …” Papa.
“Yea, and my listeners wanna know why I don’t have kids. Ugh. These pregnant women who come to do seated prenatal yoga and sing kids songs to each other’s swelling bellies with the volume turned up to drown out the outdoors are my Taliban. No really, why if we know kids remember songs they heard in the womb, why would you sing ‘Row Row Your Boat’ or ‘Barney is a Dinosaur?’ Wouldn’t you expose them to Nico or Eartha Kitt or Scott Walker or …”
“I found your bike, paps.”
“Front of Dizzy Quizzy’s.”
“You don’t patronize that place do you?” Jim Sharpe had a pained look.
“Only thinking of entering the Triviatomy competitions with Jeff Albertson. You would be good too.”
“I love trivia as much as the next man, but I hate Quizzy’s. The worst music rotation in the Burgh. Plus it’s just Disney in another costume.”
“I hope to earn the pot, which can be a pretty good take on a busy night. I should go. Let’s think about the noise pollution thing.”
“There are so many sad people. It makes you wonder about life. Annoying criminal types, trying to out -maneuver boredom – they do not have the talent to keep boredom outside of their heart, where it howls and drives them crazy so they need to jump off buildings and go hang-gliding or put their heads in side a shark’s mouth.”
“We must see them as people you used to sit next to in biologie class, hiding how lost and miffed they were as they tried to cheat on tests without getting caught, falling away from society, nobody notices them missing at the graduation ceremony in the big aud.”
“See yuh. And don’t take threats of a WOOF suspension too seriously. Management’s just on edge about censorship. You know like even ‘peepee kaakaa’ in a kid’s song could offend someone … Anyway, good gnawin’ the chicken wing with yuh.” Jim.
I am playing with my braids, bored and hungry. I usually draw stuff when I’m hemmed in by boredom. I draw LP covers, spinning discs, fashions on other planets, solutions to hunger just to kill time. Basquiat drew halos but mostly crowns over the things he liked. Well, for me it is a 45 spindle. I started melting reject LPs into shapes, gave them wild names like “the head won’t move until it walks” or “Laughing-stock of European” or “Stone Blast Screw It Up” and I try to sell them in Sam’s Fine Art Commission and also cassettes and CDRs of papa’s mixes [I do the covers].
We dodge a million people careening along the streets toting major 72-oz. liquids and swollen pocket breads oozing creamy spreads, walking determinedly with little styrofoam trays of shredded piglet ears sprinkled over stressed radicchio and escarole that they grab with plastic tweezers as they slalom through pedestrian obstacles. I feel like my look is no longer expressive of how I hate conformity: mismatching socks, spray-painted fake cowboy boots, a double breasted cardigan with the solar system on it, earrings made of old Delmore guitar picks, homemade bracelets made out of old brass plumbing, burnished and finished nicely. I feel like I need to dress like a clown that I saw in the Bindlestiff Circus – part Mad Max, part Dali painting …
It’s weird being seen as a tomboy or a clothes hanger [since I spend $0 on clothes]: the effeminate guys at school want to bond while certain closet lesbos may think you want to join their club. I don’t join clubs. I don’t like dress codes. It’s not like I want to look like a boy, my hair’s not even as short as Jean Seberg’s or Emma Watson’s and are they called tomboys? People flip out if they can’t figure you out, like your pulling their chain by being who you are.
Sometimes papa’s aesthetic snobbery plus beer-punk-socialist need to identify with the downtrodden was irritating and potentially hazardous to our health and well-being – getting into shoving matches about whether Weezer is a boring band or not! It is worse than brawls involving voetbal clubs. I want to ask him why it’s OK for him to play really bad music to upset listeners and why it is different from a bar playing annoying music. He will say it is all about style and purpose. So I don’t even bother to try to understand the distinctions. Did I not recently have to push this guy, this loyal WOOF listener, away from papa who attacked him on Driggs; he wanted it out with papa, fists bared because Dutch C, as new “foreign” DJ was ruining the reputation of WOOF by playing infuriating mixes that seemed to defy meaning.
“YOUR ARAB EQUALS JEW SHOW WAS OFFENSIVE; MIXING MUSLIMGAUZE WITH THE BEASTIE BOYS AND MC PAUL BARMAN WITH MASTER MUSICIANS OF JOUJOUKA, MEL BROOKS SAMPLED INTO AEH – IT’S IT’S OFFENSIVE AND INSENSITIVE!!!”
‘YEA, FUCKIN’ ARAB ELECTRO HOUSE FROM FUCKIN’ DAMASCUS. FUCK IT.” He wanted to fight but I pushed him away and led papa to his bike and there you have it: me as peace negotiator in the Middle East. Send in 12 of me, 12 high school gals and we can solve the thing.
I remember him confronting this young perp a week back who demands all of our money and LPs and shit near the Brooklyn Navy Yard: “If I give you all my money I want you to promise me you’ll invest it in your kid or buy something useful, like tools, or Pampers or medicine or clothes you can wear to a job interview. Promise!?”
The young perp peers into the plastic bag and doesn’t see any LPs that look familiar or impressive.
“Buncha shit LPs. Whatchu you doin’ with these? You lookin’ for duh gah-bitch?”
“There’s some great roots stuff in here like …” As he reaches into the bag I kick papa in the heel.
Like papa was in any position to make demands or offer reassessments on historical LPs. But sometimes that is exactly what you need – oblivious audacity – because suddenly this menacing doomsday dirtbag is looking down, eyes surfing the gutter and it’s like he’s disarmed, like the Pope’s just kissed his grungy feet and he doesn’t know which way to look and there he is, this little, hurt, tail-between-his-legs puppy who never had nobody to hug him or send him to tennis camp or teach him to wear condoms and now his life is fucked with two kids and he’s still one himself.
“No cigs, no crack!” My father aiming that cheery-but-reproving, Dutch-uncle forefinger right under his nose – like his forefinger is the equal of this guy’s junk gun, a crummy .25-caliber semi-automatic [researched later: manufactured by the “Ring of Fire” Raven corp. in Southern Cal, gun of choice of petty criminals]. This happened on the north side of the Navy Yard in an area thick with tractor trailer fumes, needles, discarded mattresses and black plastic bags that may contain snuffed kittens, a dumped hit or just refuse that stinks worst than the hellest hell and there would be no eye witnesses – except me.
“I’ll come with you,” papa says, adding hope to insult and injury. “We’ll get you something that fits. Or maybe you wan’ a healthy snack, a smoothie. What do you like?”
“French-Fried pussy lip.”
“Oh really? One that ain’t been washed all day’ll give you a rash across your face. I mean, I do not even think you know; do you know how to ring her bell? So, OK, mister meat-eater, so it’s labia tartare then.” I could be so like Thelma & Louise Part 2.
“Get the fuck outa my face. Or I mess it up bad an’ yo crotch fruit too.” [I think he meant me. Need to write “crotch fruit” down.]
Papa couldn’ leave well enough alone to just save our lives … Sometimes it gets him bruised bad, other times he wins friends; was once invited to a perp’s family gathering where the kid introduces my papa as a friend and me too. That is pretty fabulous but it doesn’t lead to much peace.
The outcome: The guy eventually gets bored, frustrated, shoes coming off, pants falling down, his eyes dense as a bolt on a rusty lock on a rusty gate, preventing you from crossing that bridge to where you want to be. The story of how old some teenagers get overnight goes untold … He had had more than enough of our weird hippie shit. And he was homing in on me, but sometimes if you ignore them like your eyes are two cinderblocks, they don’t lunge at you. And that was what happened. These guys like weird on their own terms, but do it to them and they are kittens – or grenades with the pin pulled, a suicide bomber.
“You foreign; you ain’t even American!” As if this explained everything like man and girl who fell to earth from whatever planet.
The guy was by now way miffed, looking around, nothing but pit bulls, Hasidim hurrying off to somewhere, projects with hundreds of mangled air conditioners squeezed into bedroom windows, uneasily balanced on dingy window sills. Papa befriends these guys like soldiers dismantle land mines. But just as it appears this guy is dashing off to Roberto Clemente Field, he leaps into papa’s face, takes a broadside swing at him like he’s the Tasmanian Devil. Perp misses by like a tennis court. Like he was not put on this earth to be a fighter and should figure out something else for himself. Me leaping out from behind the fender of a parked car, hitting him with my rucksack didn’t really help. Papa, however, was good, fast-witted, nerves of supple, warm steel, hot-wired to challenging the presumptions of what is necessary for survival. Doing a kung-fu routine from some comedy everyone’s supposed to have seen didn’t hurt his diplomatic skills: make everything comedy, everything laughable because life’s ridiculous. And my papa is a pacifist and I swear, he apologized before – BAM! – he put the boy down.
I look at my phone. The perp pulls a swayze. I take some photos but a blurry pic of a piece of sidewalk and fence plus a blurry shoulder and arm reaching to nowhere are not going to do us any good if we go to the cops. We’d have less than no case at the 90th Precinct.
Meanwhile, what does this kid-guy-perp do? He goes to the cops [something one in a thousand of him would ever do, which makes some think he’s maybe a plant, a narc or something] and suddenly papa is involved in a “racially motivated” altercation.
The guy tossed the pistol into the bay and so there goes the evidence. Believe you me, my papa is on the wacked edge of creativity sometimes – no really. A week later, with a message left on the answering machine of LA mystery woman and in the presence of some hack journalists gunning for the police chief and seeing incriminating evidence in this case, fully document my papa taking a dive and – YES! – retrieving the gun in one deep, held-breath dive into Walabout Bay. But it never makes it to the news.
I’m not kidding; he had been a diver and “Ik was een vrij goede duiker in mijn tijd.” [I was a pretty good diver in my time.] Plus he has good peripheral vision and memorized where he saw the gun go in. The water was so rancid it was percolating with fecal matter and motor oil leaked from WWII warships. And, yes, he was sick for weeks after [dysentery, e. coli, and a few other illnesses I don’t remember the names of]. He only went to a doctor after LA mystery woman arranged for an appointment with her Lexington Avenue personal physician who recommended liquids [beer!], rehydration tablets, and Humatin.
Meanwhile, one of the so-called witnesses [btw: there was nobody around on that grey afternoon] had had a falling out with the perp and recanted … To make a long non-story short, the authorities dropped all charges as in it never happened, which was great and probably convenient as well for them that my papa distrusted lawyers as much as cops and didn’t counter-sue.
One day, he got six tee shirts in the mail from his mystery benefactor emblazoned with the NY POST headline: DUTCHIE KNOCKS HOODIE, which since there were six he could wear to his gigs for quite some time.
One day papa went over with me to the scene of the crime to see if place, like if you stand there long enough, it will whisper an answer that will offer closure. So, there we are on Railroad and Assembly in the middle of a large nowhere of garbage trucks, idling tractor trailers, warehouses, when he sees something spooky: on a wall of a cinderblock* building where the Hygienix Deli used to be, across from NYC sanitation truck parking, someone had superglued the 99 records ESG cover to the wall like it was a plaque or a peace sign … In fact, it was the very cover of the only LP he had dropped the day he was mugged that he had not recovered. And here it is superglued to a wall. He looks spooked, but just as suddenly could see the humor in it. He tells me that ESG represented the best of crossover, a super-dynamic, un-hip-seeming-super-hip group that combined sharp hypnotic beats, hiphop, punk, disco and Latin polyrhythms of great joy and served as a sampling scavenger’s treasure chest for Tricky, the Beastie Boys, Gang Starr and many, many others.
His new prime-time radio show [he’d done six midnight shifts] took off after the mugging incident. Jail time and martyrdom at the booted foot of the man was almost as good as being a great guitarist, master chef, flower arranger or DJ. Lesson: Notoriety is a kind of fame that might just go your way some day …
–bart plantenga & paloma jet