Some songs are the result of a story.
The new song in production right now, Pretzel Blues, is one of them. But in this case the song and the story have almost nothing to do with each other.
The song was written in the immediate aftermath of a highly surreal event in which a pretzel figured prominently. If I didn’t live this experience, I would be unconvinced that it was not all just a dream sequence.
Also, the story features my old, great friend from Brooklyn who died way too young, Bob. There are so many stories about Bob, that when I start a Bob story, the kids say, “Wait, which Bob? You mean Dead Bob?”. So now when I tell a Bob story, he is always Dead Bob. It may seem morbid, but it is so totally Bob. You had to know the guy…but I digress.
Dead Bob had narrowly escaped death some time around 1989 or 1990. That was a car wreck and not his fault at all. Nobody who saw the wreckage could believe that both he and the passenger (Rob, and not dead, by the way) walked away uninjured. The car was a Mercury Cougar and was bought for him by his parents.
Since his teens he’d been driving a series of giant American luxury cars that he either got from his parents or which they had bought for him. One was a Lincoln Continental and I recall being in it with at least four other kids as Bob drove it the wrong way up an exit ramp from the FDR Drive in NYC. That’s just one Dead Bob car story…but again, I digress.
Of course Bob’s parents were going to get him another car. That was a given. But this time it took longer and they told him it had to be a used car and he had to find it and do the transaction himself. So, Bob started looking for a nice used Cadillac. In our own neighborhood, but even more so, the adjacent neighborhood of Bensonhurst, it seemed almost half of all vehicles were Cadillacs so it wouldn’t be too hard to find one.
Bob quickly found the perfect Cadillac listed for sale in the paper and, predictably, it was in Bensonhurst. That made Dead Bob’s mission a whole lot riskier, but you’d need to know a little about Bensonhurst to understand why.
I studied the Italian language intensively in high school, and lived in an area of Brooklyn that had a very high concentration of Italian-Americans. I grew to really appreciate and then love the culture and the people. And, OMG, the FOOD! So, hey, I love Italians. But it is not untrue that, during a period of time in NYC, there were certain Italian families with great organizational skills, ethnic cohesiveness and, unheard-of loyalty and criminal intent. They were known by many names, but spoken of in hushed tones – especially in our neighborhood in Brooklyn. See, our neighborhood was where all the way-up-there crime family bosses lived. Bensonhurst was where the mid-level and more common street-level wiseguys lived.
As regards ethnic cohesiveness, you didn’t have to be black or Puerto Rican to get chased out of Bensonhurst by a bat-wielding mob. You just had to look non-Italian. It didn’t help that ever since the movie Saturday Night Fever (John Travolta) came out, all the Bensonhurst guys wore what amounted to the same “uniform” (Pumas, designer jeans, velour v-neck short sleeve shirt and whatever this thing is):
Well, neither Bob nor I wore “the uniform” and although Bob was much closer to a Bensonhurst guy at first glance, even he wouldn’t escape immediate suspicion of being non-Italian on closer inspection. As for me, I was an out-and-out hippie. So, why Bob called me to support him on this highly dangerous mission behind enemy lines I will never know.
Ordinarily a trip to Bensonhurst came with a reasonable expectation of survival. But that was when you went in a car: get in, get out, get the hell back to Bay Ridge, where hippies could roam free.
Of course Dead Bob knew all the angles, so his plan was to take the bus to right near where the car was, then call car service for a fast ride back after checking out the Cadillac. That way we wouldn’t have to spend all that time exposed while waiting for a bus back out. Car service could take five or ten minutes,, but the bus…that was anybody’s guess.
There were good indicators at first. The bus left us off at the corner of the street we needed and the way the street numbers ran, we both knew there was only a walk of half a block or less to get to The Cadillac. And there was a pay phone right on the corner, too…the better for calling car service fast when the time was at hand.
Oh…right…here’s what a pay phone used to look like:
But then Bob, perhaps wisely, realized that I should probably not join him in these Cadillac negotiations since I looked like such a hippie. So we agreed, perhaps unwisely, that I would stay near the payphone and wait for him. We bravely convinced ourselves that nobody would mess with me right there on the corner out in the open. Probably. So, I knew I was going to die that day.
Off Bob goes to check out the Cadillac and I just stand there by the phone trying to be invisible. Knowing situational awareness is key in this kind of circumstance, I surveyed the streetscape for potential threats. It wasn’t a busy street, but there was indeed one very obvious potential trouble source about a hundred feet down the avenue. It was one of hundreds of Bensonhurst “social cIubs” or “soccer clubs”.
These are small storefront private clubs whose members are all Italian and affiliated in some way with the same crime “Family” or branch of a Family. These “clubs” don’t attract a lot of attention…it is in their best interests to stay low-key. But there are tell-tale signs that serve as irrefutable evidence that you are seeing what you think you are seeing. I was in the know due to having spent a few years working for an Italian home improvements contractor. His “real” job was running a roulette wheel in a Family gambling operation…probably in one of these “social clubs”. There was always a lawn chair or two outside on the sidewalk. And there was always a wiseguy or two in the chairs keeping an eye out.
At the moment, my temporarily nearby social club had two spaghetti-stained, wife-beater-t-shirt-wearing wiseguys keeping an eye out. And they were keeping their eye out for me. As in staring. At me. I decided I would pretend to be making a phone call in order to look more inconspicuous. So there I was talking to myself with a payphone up to my face in an attempt to preserve my very life. Of course I realized right away that I was running the risk of having them think I was calling the cops or a rival Family. But I stuck with my strategy. Now was no time to panic.
Then I saw The Kid.
The Kid was a little boy about 7 years old. As kids that age will do, he came out of the social club and just kind of ambled aimlessly around the sidewalk in his own little world. He had one of those big, soft, really salty New York pretzels, but he wasn’t eating it. I was praying internally “Please kid, don’t come over here, stay away, don’t even look at me…”
The Kid and his pretzel (as approximated in the above photo) aimlessly ambled closer and closer to me. Admittedly, I could see that I was an anomaly in his daily life. A hippie! Something different, unusual. Something deserving closer inspection, something irresistible to his youthful curiosity. I believe it was the fake phone call that kept him from talking to me.
Finally, Dead Bob made it back. I quickly said goodbye to myself and ended the fake phone call so Bob could call car service. Bob asked who I had been talking to and I told him, “Nobody, I was faking a phone call so maybe those two wiseguys and their kid wouldn’t talk to me”. Naturally, this caused Bob to look right at The Kid. Right at him! I knew this would serve as a gilded invitation for this kid, who kept his curiosity pretty much in check for the whole duration of my fake phone call.
The Kid walks right up to Dead Bob, holds up his pretzel and says, “Pet my pretzel!”.
What the hell does one say to that? Bob and I look at each other and we’d have been laughing if we hadn’t both noticed the wiseguys. Formerly just staring, now there was Action! They were really leaning into the stare too…in the way one does just before getting up out of their sidewalk lawn chair.
The Kid repeats himself…and there is no mistaking that he wasn’t delivering a friendly invitation to pet the pretzel, but rather a command. The Kid sounded like he was used to getting what he demanded. Of course he was louder the second time. “We’re gonna die,” thought Bob and I in tight harmony.
The Kid had been primarily addressing himself to Bob, and so after a few very tense moments, Bob finally stammers something like, “Get outta here, kid…I’m not touching your pretzel…please just go away…” But this just got the kid agitated
He began getting louder and repeating “Pet My Pretzel” until it was a sort of Lord of the Flies War Chant. And if that wasn’t bad enough, he started actually kicking Bob in the shin in time with his yelling. Of course now, the taller, skinnier, younger of the two wiseguys up the street stands up and starts to approach. “Dead. We. Are. Dead. Here it comes…..”
“Vinnie! Geddohhva-heeeeah!” (<translation: Vinnie, get over here!>). “Leave dem guys alone, you don’t know doze guys!”
Just another kick in the shins or two and The Kid and his un-petted pretzel dutifully but slowly ambled back into the social club. Car service showed up and Dead Bob and I got out with our lives after all.
We probably laughed for an hour about “Pet My Pretzel!!” and it was – and remains to this day – truly the most bizarre and surreal thing ever. Oh, and Bob’s parents did wind up buying that very Cadillac for him, so all told, it was MISSION: ACCOMPLISHED.
Of course I thought I should write a song about it, but at the time all I could muster was a song with a vague pretzel reference. It wound up leaning more toward scathing socio-economic and political commentary, as is what appears to be the default result whenever I sit down to invent a song.
Well, now I’m having ideas about ways to work the actual story in. Its gonna take some deep-mad-scientist-level experimentation, but production has begun. One idea is the kind of brief, deep-voiced story-telling interval you’d hear in an Elvis song or an old country tear-jerker. Another idea might even approach something like a rap…rhymes and all. Imagine that: rap in a Merry Jaynz original song! We’ll see where it goes.
NOW is the time to consider whether you want to attend the long, grisly, painful birth process because it will become the next series of installments in “The Making Of…” series on our Patreon page. We already posted a Making of Long Been Sleeping as well as one for First Funk before that. We hope you’ll at least check out Patreon and see what its about. We made a helpful video for just that purpose!
We hope you enjoyed that little tale, and as always, we love it when you guys get in touch. Feel free to reply, ask us anything, speak your minds!
Peace and Love,
-Tom and Susan