We were nursing beers, me and Staashu, in a dank basement punker bar with some kind of Vietnamese name, over in Kensington Market. He’d been dragging me to dive bars around the city looking for musicians for this crazy polka band he was putting together. I was sure this time he’d lost his mind.
I was the oldest guy in the bar by a longshot and I felt plenty out of place with my slicked back hair and flannel shirt. By that point Staash had taken to wearing suspenders, and he had this pencil moustache happening and the two of us were gathering snickers from the Mohawk crowd.
The Strip was already on stage when we got there, hammering their way through a cover of Too Drunk to Fuck. Somebody in the back hurled a beer bottle across the club. The drummer ducked his head out of the way without missing a beat. The bottle smashed against the wall, and the band carried on like this happened all the time.
These the guys?
That’s them. The singer there calls himself The Razor. He’s out on bail. They got him cold for sticking up a Beckers store. He’ll be out of the picture pretty soon. Bass player is Ndidi Nigeria and the drummer is her boyfriend, goes by Johnny Boomboom.
What’s with the names?
I figure the punk scene is a lot like pro wrestling. You got to have a nickname.
What makes you think these people want to be in a polka band, Staashu? They’re punkers for God’s sake.
It don’t hurt to ask, Lazy.
Ndidi Nigeria and Johnny Boomboom laid down the rhythm like the evening train while Mr. Razor did his anti-dance bad-ass rebel routine across the stage, spitting out the lyrics with as much venom as he could muster up. Hardcore, they called it. Straight ahead, 4/4, loud and aggressive. Not my thing but they were good.
You must be the polka boys.
Boomboom was staring at Staashu.
I seen you somewhere before.
I been around.
Yeah, I remember now. Didn’t you used to play B3 in West King’s outfit?
I’ll be damned, that was a while back now, but yeah I did.
I used to listen to you guys at the Palace. Old school R&B, I loved that stuff.
I was pretty young, you know. I had this bad fake ID but it got me in.
We had a helluva band back then.
What happened? You guys played that gig for a long time.
West finally retired and him and his wife packed up and moved down to Miami to be close to their daughter.
What you been doing since?
Haven’t been playing much. Working for a living for a while. Hey this is Lazy Allen.
Good to meet you.
Lazy used to play in some of the best polka bands around. He’s been out of it for a while too.
So, polka’s dead man. What are you trying to do?
I don’t know. We want to take the music somewhere different I guess.
I thought you two might be bored. Heard your singer there is going away. Thought maybe we could do something interesting.
This ain’t our only gig. We got some studio work going on.
That’s cool with me. Listen, we got some rehearsal space at the old Polish Hall out in Long Branch. We’re going to do a late rehearsal Thursday night. Come on out, play some music with us, then let’s talk.
We got a gig Thursday. One set at 11.
That’s no problem, me and Lazy are working until 11, then heading over to Ruby’s pub for a few. Meet us there after.
Ndidi finally spoke, to Boomboom.
You want to, B?
What the Hell. Why not?
We got to get back on stage. We’ll see you guys then.
Halfway through the next set, a cop walked into the club, in full blues. He walked straight up to the front and shook hands with the Vietnamese dude who owned the joint, who looked about as out of place as us. They talked for a minute and I could see the guy was pointing over at us.
Sure enough, the cop paid us a visit.
You boys here to cause trouble? I don’t want to see no trouble here.
No trouble boss. We’re just here to take in some tunes from the band over there.
You think I’m a fucking idiot? I don’t know what you’re doing here but I can smell trouble cooking. Time you two moved along.
We’re not causing no trouble.
I’m going to tell you one more time. Move along. The Silver Dollar’s more your speed. Why don’t you head over there. Go now and you’ll be in time for last call.
He had that tough-guy cop look about him that said he meant business. I looked over at Staashu. I really didn’t feel like getting beat up.
We were just leaving sir. We don’t want no trouble.
Ndidi and Boomboom watched from the stage as we were escorted out.