Tag Archives: Whitestone

Throwback Thursday: the 1992 Ford Taurus

I mentioned this ride in a Throwback Thursday blog post a couple of weeks ago — the plum-colored 1992 Ford Taurus.

Yes, mine was purple.  No, I did not pick the color.  This was a gift of a used car from my generous mother.  Writers in their early 30’s couldn’t easily buy the new sports utility vehicles that their classmates loved so much.  My friends called my Taurus “The Barney Car,” and that was not an appellation of which I was fond.  (It means I was inside “Barney.”  Did the purple dinosaur eat me?  Does he eat a lot of adults so that their children are left unprotected from him?  The implications are troubling.)

I myself gave it a girl’s name, because I am weird like that, but I’ve now forgotten what it was, because I am old like that.  (“Maris?”  “Amanda?”)

I also liked to think of it as “The X-Files Car,” because early-1990’s Ford Tauruses made frequent appearances on that show.  Seriously!  Mulder and Scully used them, along with nameless pursuing bad guys.  And there is a truly kick-ass scene in which the Alien Bounty Hunter rolls up in one at night at a factory in his lethal pursuit of Jeremiah Smith — Mulder only manages to slow him down with a sucker-punch stab (sucker-stab?) to the base of his skull, with that weird, whooshing, alien-technology ice-pick.

The Taurus was a good car for a very long time.  It needed either minimal or zero repairs.  Then, one day in the mid-2000’s, there was a sea change in its general mechanics.

Everything started breaking down at once.  Things just broke on it in rapid succession over a period of several weeks, as though it were affected by the spell of a vengeful witch.

The first thing to malfunction was the dashboard’s electrical system.  Then it was the alternator.  Then a tail-light went out.  Then the brakes stopped working (which was a little scary).  Then, something went wrong with the steering column, and the car’s path started leaning heavily, clumsily, dangerously to the right, like those “low information voters” in today’s Republican Party.  (Make America Great Again.) And as soon as I had one problem repaired (and glumly paid for), the car would break down in another way.

One night, the heat suddenly failed.  That wasn’t fun.  It happened on an otherwise lovely evening during a freezing February.  My girlfriend and I had gone out for an amazing night of dinner and dancing, at some opulent restaurant at the top floor of a building in Queens — it actually had a great view of the site of the 1964 World’s Fair.  We were traveling north on the Clearview Expressway, returning to my apartment in Whitestone, when the heat simply ceased.

February nights in New York are not mild.  They suck.  And we were racing north on a downward slope on an open highway that terminated at the Little Neck Bay.  My feet got so cold that I shiver a little even at the memory.  She fared far worse in her dress and high heels; I still remember her fairly twitching in the cold, cold air.  I couldn’t even find it in myself to get mad at the situation — I was too busy praying that nothing else on the car would break, so that we could arrive home and … not die of hypothermia.

Postscript: if you’re a millennial reading this, and you don’t know who “Barney” was, that’s a good thing.  You are far richer person spiritually, and happier too.



Throwback Thursday: The Beastie Boys’ “Licensed to Ill”

A couple of Facebook posts last night cheerfully proclaimed the 30th Anniversary of The Beastie Boys’ “Licensed to Ill.”  That’s mostly right, I guess … the album was released in 1986, although it came out on November 15, not the end of February.

I remember “Licensed to Ill” being a phenomenon when I was a freshman at Longwood High School — reverence for it transcended a lot of high school subcultures.  (And at Longwood, I think those subcultures overlapped considerably more than your typical John Hughes film would suggest.)  The preppie kids loved the album, the jocks loved it, and a lot of the honors kids were into it too — not to mention just mainstream kids and random weirdos like me.  My favorite song was “Brass Monkey;” I was thrilled whenever it was played at parties.  (I can’t feature it here, as there are no authorized videos of it online.)

This album had what I remember as a unique vibe to it in 1986.  People online call the Beastie Boys “the first white rappers.”  I don’t know if that’s true.  (Some people said the same thing about Vanilla Ice only four years later).  And I’m guessing such a distinction shouldn’t be important.  But the Beastie Boys were different.

Previously, rap was perceived only as a kind of counterculture art form for disaffected, young, urban African-Americans.  The Beastie Boys were a rap group specifically with which suburban white kids could identify.  I hope I’m not saying anything politically incorrect here — of course we all realize that any music can be appreciated by anyone, according to their tastes.  (People are occasionally surprised when I myself can recite the Geto Boys as easily as  W. H. Auden’s poetry.)  And all sorts of kids in the mid-80’s liked Run-D.M.C. and The Fat Boys — they just didn’t have the huge, visible mainstream appeal that the Beastie Boys had.

The Beastie Boys had a wider appeal.  Their music was irreverent — they sang about “Girls,” liquor, and the “Right to Party,” in a manner suggesting that they’d probably never been altar boys.  They were drunken, pot-smoking malcontents, and expressed some not terribly progressive attitudes toward women.  Yet it was perfectly natural, or culturally expected, to hear them blasted at a parentally approved, non-alcoholic party for young teenagers at a suburban, middle class home.  The same preps who wore “Ocean Pacific” and played with hacky sacks also played the Beastie Boys.  So did some kids in Key Club and the honors classes.  A couple of cheerleaders I knew had crushes on Mike D.  And it never seemed unusual or ironic, like that time when a nearly all white, suburban crowd chanted along to Boogie Down Productions’ “South Bronx” at a Longwood Junior High School dance.

For some reason, the Beastie Boys’ broad fan base was never really evident among the student body at Mary Washington College — although The Jerky Boys and the Geto Boys both had their share of fans there.  I don’t remember them being played once.  I think maybe it was because that small southern college subculture leaned so heavily on classic rock and the new “alternative,” with new wave and punk having strong, visible minorities of fans.  (Man … if I had a dime for every time time I heard The Allman Brothers in college, I could have paid off my student loans a day after graduation.)

Strangely, I wound up listening to “Licensed to lll” the most often about two decades later, when I was in my mid-30’s.  I was going through two weird phases in my life.  The first was a newfound love of hip-hop and rap, because I am a weird guy, and I’m always late to the party with these things.  The second was a bizarre, temporary sense of financial responsibility.  I was constantly saving money.  (I think maybe I wasn’t eating right or something.  It didn’t last.)  But I was constantly listening to old or cheap secondhand CD’s, instead of buying new ones or one of those newfangled mp3 players.  (At the time, the iPod’s antecedents seemed just too high-tech and opulent to me.)   So there was always a leather case of 80’s and 90’s music CD’s riding shotgun with me in my 1992 Ford Taurus.

I was driving frequently between Whitestone, Queens and my girlfriend’s apartment in Park Slope, Brooklyn, rocketing up and down “the 278,” the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway.  The Beastie Boys were my miscreant co-pilots; “No Sleep till Brooklyn” was both a kick-ass song and situationally apropos.  I played the album constantly, along with L.L. Cool J.’s “Mama Said Knock You Out,” and the “MTV Party To Go Volume 2.”  Then I’d swap those out with Toad the Wet Sprocket’s more mellow, sensitive “Fear,” just to remind myself that I really was just a softspoken college boy who’d grown into a nerdy thirtysomething (“nerdysomething?”).

I found out recently that Adam Yauch (the Beastie Boys’ member “MCA”) died of cancer.  This happened four years ago, I just hadn’t heard.  For some reason, it was especially unsettling to learn that a rebellious entertainment figure from my teen years had died from an illness that I usually associate with people older than me.  I never loved the Beastie Boys as much as I loved U2, Depeche Mode or Tori Amos, but I found it more troubling than I would have expected.  I’m not sure why, but I’ve decided not to dwell on it.

At any rate, if you still love Ad-Rock, Mike D. and MCA, you can play the embedded videos below.  But you absolutely should pull up “Brass Monkey” on Youtube to get your full 80’s vibe on.








“Within, the wealthy lament/ The traffic at the Whitestone Bridge.”

Here’s a particularly nice shot of the Whitestone Bridge, connecting Queens, New York, with the Bronx (and Connecticut beyond).  My Longwood High School Alumnus James Dentel shot this recently, and he was kind enough to let me use it.

This is the bridge referenced in my poem, “Amanda,” which was featured by Dagda Publishing and by Dead Snakes.

I used live not far from here.  Yes, New York can be a rough place, but Whitestone, Queens and adjacent Beechurst were two of the greatest neighborhoods I ever inhabited.