I cashed in the box today. There was $65.88 in it. But no longer! It’s split between my IRA and my savings account. Starting over with a $3 thrift store bank, which has much more reuse and is much more hard to break into.
In which I discuss my struggles with mental illness and how I came out, if not on top, at least in a much better place than I was especially thanks to some good friends.
This chapbook is printed in an edition of 50.
Very pleased to let you know this project is now available for pre-order, with a shipping date of 1/5/2013. $5.00 price includes shipping, and is only meant to cover our printing costs.
Click through to purchase!
Hey y’all, I contributed to this and you should totally plunk money down on this awesome project.
My cousins were always annoyed by the same refrain when we played―that my name was Benny and I was six years old and once lived in a boxcar. None of which was true. They, being my cousins, very clearly knew my parents (who were in the next room over), but they also knew that I was annoying them again with my obsession with The Boxcar Children.
If you’ve never read the books, the basic plot is about four orphaned siblings who take refuge in a boxcar. They are on the “run” from a grandfather they believe to be cruel, sight unseen. But eventually the kindly grandfather takes them in―and puts the boxcar in the backyard at the end, as a sort of makeshift playhouse. In subsequent novels, the siblings would solve mysteries, often somewhere in the realm of Encyclopedia Brown but with occasional Scooby Doo overtones.
The book to hit me first was The Haunted Cabin Mystery. It had everything I wanted out of a book―namely, the word “haunted” in it, as, at the time, I would read anything even sort of ghost related. And the character Benny, youngest of the siblings, hit me more than the others. I had somebody a little annoying but also capable of holding his own. Which sometimes, around my cousins, that’s how I felt. In second grade, this is a Very Important Thing. I was, after all, not yet old enough to be a fourth-grade nothing like Peter in Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing. But here I had someone around my age who was having genuine adventures. It was an absolute delight to me, even if my cousins rolled their eyes every time it comes up.
It’s funny to think that the book that booked me wasn’t by the original writer, Gertrude Chandler Warner. The last one of those was book 19, Benny Solves a Mystery, another personal favorite in the series, for reasons obvious in the title. There was a fifteen year gap between Benny Solves a Mystery and The Haunted Cabin Mystery―the first was written in 1976, three years before Ms. Warner passed away, the second in 1991. As I delved deeper into the mysteries the siblings uncovered, I also learned a new ghost term―“ghost writer.”
Having a character my own age made the books more relevant to me than any other series of young mystery solvers―the Hardy Boys were just a bit older, and Nancy Drew just didn’t do it for me. Sometimes, that’s what’s important to a child. Superman and Batman may excite our imaginations, but we can’t possibly live up to those tales. I mean, I don’t know anybody rocketed from a dying planet. Do you? But to be able to unravel a mystery at such a young age, it makes you want to strive to be smarter.
Within a couple years, somewhere around book 30, the fascination had passed. The books were gathering dust in favor of Judy Blume and other authors. And of course, eventually, Goosebumps. But still, the tales of a bunch of orphans living in a railcar still stick with me to this day, and were a big part of my upbringing. And today, children who want to delve into those mysteries have 136 books to choose from. But maybe the original 19 (plus The Haunted Cabin!) would be the best place to start.
—John Wenz is, among many other things, a writer living in Philadelphia. He likes loud music, soft cats, bad movies and warm baked goods.
I woke up to a text from one of the small handful of friends I still have in my hometown of North Platte, NE.
“Henry Hill is dead,” it said. “I’ll never forget that time he called me a motherfucker.”
The Henry Hill story is a bit of a punchline in my hometown. Or a headache. Or a weird blip on the radar. It’s certainly … something.
Our list of hometown celebrities is small. There’s Buffalo Bill Cody, a circus magnate who held the first major rodeo in North Platte in 1882, and lived on the northern edges of North Platte. There’s New England Patriots running back Danny Woodhead, who did something or other in that Super Bowl I didn’t watch. Glenn Miller, a big band leader. Zane Smith, a former player for the Pittsburgh Pirates who had one of baseball’s best mullets and played Little League Baseball in North Platte, a very important fact if you were playing Little League Baseball in North Platte in the early 90s (as I was) but whose name is largely forgotten now.
And then there was the time that, after getting out of witness protection, Henry Hill became a “celebrity chef” at a restaurant inside a hotel that’s now been raised to make room for an oil change and tire shop.
If you’ve seen “Goodfellas,” where Ray Liotta played him, you probably know parts of the Henry Hill story. A man who idolized the mob in his youth gets hooked in with the mob early through the Vario Family. In 1967, Hill and some associates robbed $420,000 from an Air France flight out of JFK Airport. Two years later, Hill participated in the murder of William Devino, a made man in the Gambino Family, who was pistol whipped and bludgeoned to death. After beating an FBI employees brother, Hill was tried and found guilty of extortion.
Behind bars, he started up a profitable drug trade thanks to a prison filled with mob connections, both inside and outside the cells. Considered a “model prisoner” he was granted early parole. He continued his bookkeeping pursuits, with clients including former Newark Mayor Hugh Addonzio and some NBA refs. He participated in the Lufthansa Heist, plotted by the Lucchese Family. When the magnitude of the heist caught the attention of mob boss Jimmy Burke, Burke set about having those involved killed. Hill began to fear for his own life, but not so much that it prevented him from starting a narcotics ring. He also became addicted to his own products, and was arrested through a wiretap investigation in 1980 on trafficking charges. Through this he became an informant. His testimony led to multiple convictions of former associates, including Burke and a member of the Vario family.
For his help, Hill entered Witness Relocation, bouncing around in places such as Omaha and Seattle. In 1987, he was arrested on drug charges, and claimed to clean up his act. However, sometime in the 90s he was booted from witness protection for multiple instances of criminal mischief.
Then, sometime in the early 00s, he landed in North Platte.
The Firefly Restaurant was located inside the Royal Colonial Inn on Jeffers Street in North Platte. Hill played an integral part of designing the menu for the restaurant with the owners around the time of the restaurants inception in 2004. In an interview with the Associated Press in 2005, he said, “I adopted about half the town already.”
He was arrested in August 2004 at North Platte’s small regional airport for drug related charges after being found with four glass tubes with meth and cocaine residue and a syringe, among other items. Convicted later in 2005, he served six months in county jail for this. In March 2005, he was arrested for keying a car. When he was arrested again in 2007, the North Platte Bulletin described him as having worn out his welcome.
He also came out with his own line of marinara sauces.
The restaurant closed for good in 2007, according to the Nebraska Secretary of State’s website. Henry Hill would move out to California, where he would be arrested for failure to appear on public intoxication charges in 2009.
He died on June 12, 2012.
What makes someone a celebrity?
At some point, it seems that fame and notoriety have an intersection. And there’s always been a cultural fascination with the criminal and the narratives it creates.
Henry Hill didn’t bring with him the mystique of celebrity of a former athlete or movie star. Until his last days, Henry Hill sold not only himself, but the mystique of the mafia. On his affiliated site, GoodFellaHenry.com, this personality was sold as much in trade as was the fascination with the mob.
Hill wasn’t the first mob associate in North Platte, of course. Early on (1860s and 1870s) it was a main fixture on the railroad lines, and it was a town with “a motley crowd of laborers, business men, gamblers and ‘toughs.’” By the 1920s, bootlegging operations, mob hideouts, brothels and other such “businesses” gave it the nickname Little Chicago. By the 1950s, the town had mostly cleaned up its act, though local lore still refers to some of its more lawless days.
And maybe that’s what led to Henry Hill being brought to the Firefly as a celebrity chef.
I went to the Firefly once with my family. A relative worked there as a waitress. She asked if we wanted to meet Henry. He staggered over, slurring to the point of being nearly incomprehensible. He came to our table, a bottle of wine or two into the night. He offered my parents and I a bottle of wine. My dad demured.
“I didn’t want to owe him a favor,” my dad said after Hill had stumbled away from the table.
I’m still uncertain of how much my dad was joking that day.
At the heart of this all was a troubled man - continuously plagued by personal problems, unable to escape his past histories of criminal convictions and drug addictions. A man without a home who bounced between locations looking and hoping for a place he could settle in, but always finding that trouble wasn’t far behind. He would wear out his welcomes wherever he went - in the mob, in witness protection, in North Platte.
Hill would do guest appearances on Howard Stern, where he once attempted to sell videos of his own assault. His personal relationships were frequently turbulent, his temper short. During his time in North Platte, his cooking skills were often overshadowed by incidences of keyed cars and slashed tires.
Sometimes celebrity is as much public performance and public creation as it is spectacles, notoriety and meltdowns.
Henry Hill: Mobster, Murderer, Traficker, Chef. Local celebrity.
Convention contest: 2012 Republican National Convention, 2012 Democratic National Convention, 1998 Highlander Convention
Recently at a thrift store I chanced upon an irresistable offer: for a mere 95 cents, I could take home a video set to summarize the 1998 convention of fans of the Highlander franchise. For those unfamiliar, the Highlander franchise is a movie and TV series involving a group of immortals who like to cut each others heads off to gain more power because “there can be only one” for some reason that I’m currently too lazy to research. This find was of a unique providence, as it coincided (roughly) with the opening of the Democratic National Convention, an event I didn’t watch because I get bored easily. This came a week after the Republican National Convention, an event I didn’t watch because I think gays and women are people. However, I did watch some liveblogs of both conventions, with reactions ranging from “Clint Eastwood has lost its shit” to “I want to mount Joe Biden.” But I did watch all of the Highlander convention video, aside from fast forwarding through the last seven minutes. Here are my comparisons between the three. Like the Highlander platitude, in the end, there can be only one.
Highest Profile Musical Artist:
- RNC: Kid Rock
- DNC: Mary J. Blige
- Highlander: Roger Daltrey
Footage playing at festivals:
- RNC: Crying eagles or some shit
- DNC: America’s downtroden or some shit
- Highlander: Beheadings
- RNC: Clint Eastwood talking to a chair
- DNC: Kal Penn bro-fist pumping Joe Biden
- Highlander: TV Series Star Adrian Paul
Winner? RNC, for entertainment value.
Haircut era of attendees:
- RNC: 1980
- DNC: 2005
- Highlander: Immortal(ly terrible)
Quotes on work ethic:
- RNC: “America has a choice between Mitt Romney, who seeks to grow the economy, and Barack Obama who seeks to redistribute it. Which one do you think will liberate America’s entrepreneurial spirit?” - Sen. Rob Portman, (R-OH)
- DNC: ”Of course, we need a lot more new jobs. But there are already more than 3 million jobs open and unfilled in America, mostly because the people who apply for them don’t yet have the required skills to do them. So even as we get Americans more jobs, we have to prepare more Americans for the new jobs that are actually going to be created. The old economy is not coming back. We’ve got to build a new one and educate people to do those jobs.” - Former President Bill Clinton
- Highlander: "I wanted to be good. I don’t do anything half assed. I want to be good." - Actor Adrian Paul
Attendees reason for coming:
- RNC: Defeat Democrats, destroy safety net
- DNC: Maintain White House
- Highlander: “I think the Highlander movies, from the movies on through the series, has a lot to say to people. Especially to the fifth series final episodes, (which) speak to me spiritually.”
High Profile Factions
- RNC: Tea Party supporters, Ron Paul supporters, old white dudes
- DNC: centrist Democratic Leadership council, people who look the other way with NAFTA support, progressives who are tolerating their drunk uncle of a party
- Highlander: Something called “Clan McSlut” and something else called “Clan McNut”
Winner? DNC, despite the entertainment value provided by Ron Paul supporters
High Profile People Skipping the Convention:
- RNC: both Presidents Bush, former veep nominee Sarah Palin, embattled Representative Joe Walsh, pretty much any senate candidate in a toss-up seat
- DNC: SenatorsClaire McCaskill and Jon Tester, every Democrat from West Virginia save Jay Rockefeller
- Highlander: Christopher Lambert, Clancy Brown
- RNC: Artur Davis, former representative and gubernatorial candidate from Alabama
- DNC: Former Florida governor and senate Candidate Charlie Crist
- Highlander: N/t
- RNC: Angry white dudes
- DNC: Really, really hopeful people
- Highlander: Nerds
Looking to the future, from the de facto leader
- RNC: “f I am elected president of these United States I will work with all my energy and soul to restore that America, to lift our eyes to a better future. That future is our destiny. That future is out there. It is waiting for us. Our children deserve it. Our nation depends on it. The peace and freedom of the world require it. And with your help we will deliver it. Let us the begin that future for America tonight.” - Mitt Romney
- DNC: ” America, I never said this journey would be easy, and I won’t promise that now. Yes, our path is harder, but it leads to a better place. Yes our road is longer, but we travel it together. We don’t turn back. We leave no one behind. We pull each other up. We draw strength from our victories, and we learn from our mistakes, but we keep our eyes fixed on that distant horizon, knowing that Providence is with us, and that we are surely blessed to be citizens of the greatest nation on Earth.” - President Barack Obama
- Highlander: "We always thought that - wouldn’t it be great when you went to the theater to see Highlander that immortals could be sitting next to you and you wouldn’t know it?” - producer Peter S. Davis
Approaches to healthcare:
- RNC: “You would think that any president, whatever his party, would make job creation and nothing else his first order of economic business, but this president didn’t do that. Instead, we got a long, divisive, all or nothing attempt to put the federal government in charge of health care. Obama Care comes to more than 2,000 pages of rules, mandates, taxes, fees and fines that have no place in a free country.” - Vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan
- DNC: “And under Obamacare, insurance companies can no longer discriminate against women. Before, some wouldn’t cover women’s most basic needs, like contraception and maternity care, but would still charge us up to 50 percent more than men—for a worse plan. They said women who had C-sections or survived breast cancer or even domestic violence had “pre-existing conditions” and would deny them coverage. But this president made it illegal to discriminate against women and ended the practice of insurance companies charging women higher premiums than men for the same coverage. This president ensured women’s free access to preventive services like breast cancer screenings. Being a mother is no longer a liability, and being a woman is no longer a pre-existing condition! That’s what change looks like.” - HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebellius
- Highlander: "I enjoy the thought of immortality - what I could do for the world or what I could create or what would happen if I was immortal - would I be as good at it as Duncan is, or the other immortals?" - random convention goer
- RNC: None at convention, millions at wars
- DNC: None at convention, many members supported wars under GOP
- Highlander: 10,000, according to series villain Silas
Level of Discourse:
- RNC: According to this, Ann Romney’s speech was written at the educational level of a 5th grader
- DNC: According to that same source, Michelle Obama’s speech was written at the educational level of a 12th grader
- Highlander: According to a convention goer, “The discussions that take place on the newsgroup are often at the level of a graduate philosophy seminar. They dissect the motivations and the meaning of every episode, and almost every line in every episode.”
Speakers brought in by satellite:
- RNC: None
- DNC: None
- Highlander: Actress Elizabeth Gracen
- RNC: No, but a lot of dick wagging
- DNC: No
- Highlander: Oh yeah.
- RNC: Multi-billionaires
- DNC: Sympathetic millionaires
- Highlander: Prop motorcycle auctions
- RNC: Cardinal Dolan
- DNC: Cardinal Dolan
- Highlander: producer David Abramowitz
Winner? Tie between RNC / DNC. I guess. I don’t think Dolan sung his prayer in awkward Latin, unlike Abramowitz.
- RNC: How will presidential nominee overturn the healthcare law he himself implemented in Massachusetts, and what tact will he take in the general election, especially as he’s shown a willingness to change issue positions to win elections?
- DNC: Will the president deliver on his political points during a second term, or will he pay lip service to his party’s base while continuing domestic and foreign policies created under his reviled predecessor?
- Highlander: “What would happen if you tried to kill an immortal and split them in half? Would they grow back together? It’s been bugging me.” - Convention goer Christine, no last name given
Final Point Tally:
- RNC: 4
- DNC: 5
- Highlander: 10
Now if only we could get a comment from Nate Silver …
—My Body The Car
"My Body the Car" by Godley and Creme
A choose your own adventure post! Read one or the other of these vignettes. Or both.
A) It’s kind of amazing to me that, with latent interest in new wave sounds and rediscoveries, Godley and Creme hasn’t been among them. The duo were known mostly for the number 16 hit "Cry", which was their only charting US single. But in their native England, only four of their 16 singles charted, and one of those was a “Cry” remix. Compared to the success of their groups predecessor, 10cc, it barely made an impact.
But the group itself seems ripe for rediscovery, and Birds of Prey feels like a genuinely forgotten gem. Opening with “My Body the Car,” an unusual acapella number hewing close thematically to J.G. Ballard. It’s like a doo-wop “Warm Leatherette.” It’s a catchy pop song with some deeper pathos underlying it.
And the rest of the album is just as strange, catchy and experimental. The bridge between radio friendly new wave and more experimental and, at times, abrasive post-punk can be found here. For instance, the second track, “Worm and the Rattlesnake,” is a song that would fit somewhere in between early, tweaked out Scritti Politti paranoia-pop and their latter day successes with genuine pop hits like “Perfect Way.”
Each song on the album contains different textures, different moods, different effects - in essence, it’s their overlooked work, painfully out of print like much of the rest of their catalog. Had I not heard “Out in the Cold” on WPRB, I might never have discovered them as a group capable of great music beyond “Cry” - and that’s a shame.
B) It wasn’t until well into college that I met people who had never had a driver’s license. I knew plentyish of people without cars, but without the ability to so much as drive them? I think I knew more people previously who couldn’t ride a bike.
In Western Nebraska, driving was really the option. I still am shocked sometimes going back the short distances that are driven rather than walked or biked. A bike is relegated to almost strictly a recreational tool, not a serious intra-town travel option.
I recently got rid of my car. It was showing its 13 year age, and its make - Saturn - is at its core a cheap car option, mostly built with plastic and prone to cheap but weird breakdowns. For instance, there was the constant clutch problems which ended up being two pieces of plastic, no more than $10 a piece if you did the right eBay hunting. But there were also the terrifying times when that plastic replacement piece would pop out in the middle of something like, say, traffic and you’d have to list the center console and pop it back into place - leaving that in constant disarray as screwing it back in place wasn’t worth it in case something like that happened again.
I had owned the car since 2007, when I received it as a graduation gift after finding it on Facebook, of all places. I had sought it out for its fuel efficiency and comparatively low emissions to other GM models, which is a surprisingly thorough thought for someone just out of college. No real flash, aside from it being the Saturn “sports car” which usually led only to “cool car” compliments from 12-year-olds who think anything with a spoiler is the pinnacle of automotive engineering.
The car had a tape deck, and with that I accumulated a set of cassettes - music I wouldn’t have otherwise been enthused by, mix tapes created for their “drivability,” or tapes like The Grateful Dead, whose purpose seemed to be having relaxing music for my driving frustrations and anxieties.
There are plenty of frustrations and anxieties that go along with having a car. There’s the physical act of driving, something at that has a lot of x-factors beyond just your ability or inability to drive. It’s also how you respond to other people in traffic, how you work with outside events, whether your blood pressure can hack endless traffic jams or the maniacal driving of those on I-95.
But there are also the financial responsibilities. Depending on where you live, there might be state inspections - free in, say, New Jersey, but an expensive proposition in Pennsylvania. While checking around to get my car inspected, the quotes ranged anywhere from $50 to $150 to run some engine diagnostics and a tailpipe test.
It was this that “broke” the car. Throughout the winter, I had to use it for a job, scuttling back and forth across the Philadelphia area running volunteer tax sites. It put a lot of strain on the car - for instance, midway through tax season I had to replace the thermostat or else run the heater at all times as not to overheat the engine. And it’s been the joke in my family for a long time that I’ve never been much of a car mechanic, so when I thought such things as “I can do this myself” I ended up spraying freon in my face and having to get the thermostat replaced AND my AC recharged - and also ended up frantically Googling “freon poisoning” in the way we sometimes do in moments of panic.
But when I discovered a $41 ticket on my dash from Philadelphia’s wonderful parking authority that told me my tests were out of date, I figured I should probably go get that done or risk their wrath.
The car failed every test possible. The potential repair bills were wracking up - brakes, windshield repair, whatever untold bounties were hiding behind getting the emissions up to snuff and figuring out the root of the Check Engine Light which had just gone on that morning. It was sounding like a $1000 ordeal. My biannual insurance bill of around $350 was swiftly approaching. $1350. Gas. Accursed gasoline. Around $60-100 a month, depending. And this is after coming out of a period of unemployment at the tail end of an Americorps year - in other words, my income wasn’t exactly at its highest point, and this car was seeming more like a burden than a boon.
Or I could junk the car. Given that it’s a Saturn without much metal in the frame, the car would get $200. And I wouldn’t have a car that wasn’t a necessity in a city with decent public transportation infrastructure. The repair shop people joked that it was “good bike money” and my brain leaned toward agreement.
So I did it. So, for the first time since I was 15, I went carless. And I don’t regret it. And I don’t miss it. A gigantic financial burden was lifted from me, and my mobility wasn’t impaired - just the travel times to other neighborhoods stretched a bit more.
But here I am, one of those people rare to my hometown but oh so common on the east coast - someone without a car.