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[Writer’s Cove] “Westville, Subway and Flowerland” by Flowerland

Writer's Cove

Writer’s Cove “Westville, Subway and Flowerland”

As I began the Fall semester at Southern in late August 1991, there was no way to predict what was to come by December. It would be one of the most significant periods of my life, but as I started my last term at Southern, I didn’t have a clue. I had a light semester with only 4 classes, all of which were writing or literature classes which I enjoyed. In addition, I had an internship at McLaren Press in East Haven (now Connecticut Parent in Branford, CT) where I helped produce a paper, worked on articles and wrote a cover story on the first female pilot to fly out of Sikorski Airport in Bridgeport, CT. I started working at Chuckie’s Country Store and also cut lawns, raked leaves and did general yard work with Little Red Mower, my one man landscaping service.
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I had late morning and afternoon classes and one night class. Alternating with my morning classes was my internship in East Haven and alternating with my night class was my job at Chuckie’s. Chuckie’s was a convenience store that also sold fried chicken and Jojos, which were potato wedges. It was located right in the center of Westville and was always busy with 3 or 4 people working the store. My job was to fry the chicken and Jojos and stock the refrigerators and freezers. I would come in around 4 in the afternoon and work until 11pm. I’d empty the oil from the fryer into a metal container out back, fill the fryer with new oil and get going on the chicken and Jojos.
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The Jojos were frozen and easy to make – the chicken however, had to be dredged in seasoning and fried. There was a certain amount that had to be made every night and by 5:30pm the chicken and Jojos would be piled on metal trays lying beneath heat lamps behind a glass case. In between customers, I’d study or try to get my reading assignments done. There were many regulars that came into the store and one of them I knew from class, Jed Parish. He would buy the same thing every time, a half-gallon of orange juice. We had a class called Western Authors (or something like that) where we read authors like Louis L’Amour and Willa Cather. I would get to know Jed through class, but it was only later that I would find out that he was the singer of The Gravel Pit, one of New Haven’s best rock bands.
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On the weekends and sometimes during the week is when I’d cut lawns. Most of the houses in Westville had small lots and I could cut a lawn in about 20 minutes and make $25. In between school and work I played guitar and wrote songs. I had a blond Fender Telecaster with a chrome pick guard that I got from Brooks DuBois, a friend from Norwalk. Supposedly, the guitar was made in 1966, the year after CBS bought Fender. I played it through a Fender Super Champ that had been modified by Ray Ivers, a Merchant Marine who lived in New Canaan, CT. For such a small amp, it was fuckin’ loud with a great distortion tone.
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Over the Fall I spent most of my time in Westville; my whole routine revolved inside a couple of miles, with visits to East Haven twice a week. When I needed to take a break, I’d go over to The Moon, a club on Whalley Avenue not far from where I lived. I would go a lot on open mic night where classmates of mine would read poems and stories. One of my classmates, Alex, would pass out poems written on lined paper folded in small squares.
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“Here’s a poem I wrote” he’d say as he’d pass by, pulling out a square folded paper from his brown corduroy sport jacket.
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There were also many great shows at The Moon, both with national and local bands. Roger would come up from Norwalk and we’d work on songs and sometimes check out a band at The Moon afterwards. One time, Roger came up and I brought him to one of my classes. I forget the name of the class, but I’m pretty sure it was on the Romantic Poets – the teacher was Tony Rosso, whose classes were more like a sermon. I don’t think Roger had ever been to a college class before, never mind someone like Tony, and he was blown away, he actually thanked Tony afterwards.
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And so it went, classes, work, guitar, The Moon and, little by little, the search for a bass player and drummer. Not very long into my search I met Jon and took my first trip to Windsor, which was followed by several more trips to jam, along with grey or blue New England skies, the turning leaves and the ghosts of Windsor witches everywhere. Hidden away in the back room of Jon’s parent’s house, with drums and guitar, we quickly formed a musical bond as well as a friendship that would soon be like brothers. Not long after, Jef would join on bass and he and Jon would become a powerful rhythm section. From October through December the rehearsals gradually built up and by January 1992 they would become a regular schedule.
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Jon was working the 3rd shift managing the dairy/frozen foods section at Geisslers, a grocery store in Windsor, Jef was working at a gas station and Roger, well, Roger was doing “The Roger Dodger” which I’ll get to another time. In five months we’d be living together at 378 Crown Street in downtown New Haven, but no one knew that yet. When we’d get together, it was the beginning of the secret club, the first bunch of rehearsals where the music is loud and new and fun and all the joy is simply in the playing. Before the pressures and whirlwind of rock and roll life, the music was all we needed.
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In the meantime, I had left Chuckie’s and defected to Subway across the street, as far as a job is concerned, nothing would ever top my time at Subway. Amanda, a Subway employee, would close the shop at least twice in her shift and come over to Chuckie’s to get coffee. We got to know each other and she suggested I come work at the Subway, they paid slightly more she said, and they were hiring.
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The owner of the Subway was a guy named Jerry. I guess he was in his forties, with brown hair combed to the side and a medium sized mustache. He was a very easy going guy who loved to play chess. Sometimes we’d be in the back room playing chess and the small bell on the door would ring from someone walking in the shop. He’d put his finger over his lips and motion silence.
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“Hello…Hello…Hello?” the customer would call out while we sat motionless in the back. If it was Jerry’s turn, he’d be studying the board. Soon the customer would leave and Jerry would chuckle, “If you stay perfectly silent, they’ll go away.”
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After I had been working at the shop for a while, one day Jerry called me to the back where he was sitting at his desk.
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“Have a seat” he said motioning to the chair in front.
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I sat down.
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“I have a request of you, and remember, I’m speaking to you as your boss” he started.
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“Ok” I said, wondering what was going on.
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“You may not know, but every now and then I go to a strip club downtown. Now, I know you know that I’m married, but my wife knows. In fact, she likes when I go, or rather when I come home, if you know what I mean” Jerry’s voice trailed off into a low “he he he. Every now and then, it adds a little something” he finished with a wide smile. “So” Jerry’s voice assumed mock authority, “as your boss, I’m ordering you to come to the strip club with me. I will pay all expenses plus provide you with tipping money.”
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To say the least, I was caught by surprise. I didn’t know what to say. I wasn’t really a strip club kind of guy (although they would almost become part of our job later) and going with my boss just seemed weird. At the same time, my girlfriend just started working at the shop as well.
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“I’m gonna have to ask Maria” I said, “let me get back to you after that.”
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“OK fine” he said.
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Later on that day when I told Maria, well, she couldn’t stop laughing.
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“What am I gonna do?” I ask her.
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“You’ve got to go with him, he probably wants company” she said.
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A few days later we went to the strip club, someplace on the other side of State Street. As we got in the car, Jerry still had his subway shirt on. “Aren’t you going to change your shirt?” I asked him.
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“All the girls know I own the Westville Subway” he answered with pride.
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“I know, but Jerry…” my voice faded. “ What did I get myself into?” I wondered.
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“Steven, it will be fine, this is my regular place. Relax, have fun” he said. He was in a real good mood.
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When we got inside the club there was nobody there but us. Jerry handed me some dough and then sat up right in front of the stage. A few minutes later he had a bunch of girls around him like they were all best buddies. I couldn’t believe it. He was buying drinks and making all the girls laugh and really enjoying himself. I had no idea he was so smooth.
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“Thanks Steven” Jerry said later on as he dropped me off and I got out of the car. I closed the car door and leaned to the window “I had a good time tonight, and as you can imagine, I can’t wait to get home” he said as he drove off.
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There were a few characters that worked at Subway and one of them was Marco, who was also a student at Southern. I’d be working with Ase, a fellow employee, and Marco would come in late afternoon for a three man crew to handle dinner rush and close. Jane’s Addiction would be playing as Marco strolled by the counter. “How the fuck you guys gonna get any pussy with this shit on?” he’d ask, walking to the back room while sliding off his back pack. A few minutes later, Jane’s Addiction would come off and some type of smooth R&B music would start playing. Marco would come to the front, Subway shirt and visor on. “Can’t have none of that rock shit on while I’m on the shift” he’d say, “ain’t no ladies comin’ in seein’ me and hearin’ that.”
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Ase and I would just laugh. Marco would critique our sandwiches. “Can’t you see how I make mine?” he’d ask. No matter how busy it got, his sandwiches were always symmetrically perfect, the tomatoes in a straight row. In between customers, he’d go on about his clothes “I hate it when people brush up against my threads” he’d say, “that shit pisses me off. When I walk around Southern, I have to put my hands out so fools won’t brush up against me.” Even when Marco was trying to be serious you could never tell because of the Subway visor on his head which just looked funny.
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There was one time during the night however, when we knew Marco was serious. Every few days, around 9:30pm, a friend of his would stop in. “Watch the front for me” he’d say and head to the back with his friend. A few minutes later his friend would leave. “Come on back boys” he’d call out to us. I’d walk back with Ase and there’d be a ¼ pound of weed on the back counter. “Come check this out” he’d say, opening up the bag and letting me and Ase take a whiff. It smelled great. Then he’d start rolling a blunt and would give Ase and me a handful of weed each, and even though we tried, he would never take any money.
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After smoking the blunt we would be absolutely stoned in a very juvenile way, where almost everything was funny. It would be time to clean up and start closing which always took on a life of its own. Marco would walk by whoever was taking apart the slicer. “You better give that a spit shine” he’d say and spit on the slicer. The antics would go from there. Soon Marco would make his nightly announcement: “It’s time to lick the bread” he’d shout and then lick two or three of the frozen stick like bread rolls and put them in the proofer. Now, although I was not a participant in these antics, I was an observer and I will admit this whole routine was funny every single time. We would all be cracking up with that hilarious young laughter where you can’t stop laughing and it’s just pure good fun…that laughter would fade away with age – but at least we we’re lucky enough to have it then. We all ate from the slicer and we all ate the bread, it was a blast.
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Through Ase I began to meet some of the local musicians. Ase lived in Westville and was finishing high school and his friends would come by and visit. Greg Burns and Jamie Jasta (who would later form Dreadnought, Jasta 14 and Hatebreed) would come by and sometimes after closing we’d end up at Greg’s house (I believe) and before long there’d be a jam session. Vechel Jaynes was also there as well as bunch of other kids. From early on the talents of Vechel as a guitarist and Greg on bass were apparent.
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I don’t think I ever mentioned any of these jams to Jon, Jeff or Rog, but they were great basement jams… freeform jazz rock. As I began meeting musicians from New Haven and playing more and more I was also winding down my last semester. One day in late December, I walked out the door of my last class and finished 4 years of school. Graduation wasn’t until the following May so the end of my college days ended pretty quietly.
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I spent Christmas with Maria in West Haven. I remember coming in the from the snow, Christmas Eve night, to her sister Dorothy’s just baked apple pies filling the house with holiday spirit. After a short holiday break, Jon, Jeff and I started rehearsing on a regular basis. They would come down from Windsor three times a week and we began jamming and writing songs. Once we got some basic structures together, Roger would rehearse with us and before long we had written a bunch of songs.
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We were rehearsing in JoAnn’s basement which had concrete floors and rough stone walls. JoAnn never really used the basement and it soon became our rehearsal room, complete with a few rock posters including the Farrah Fawcett red swim suit poster. We’d get a case of beer, Piels, Black Label, Schafer, whatever was on sale, smoke some weed and play all afternoon. It was also at this time that I started smoking cigarettes. Jon and Jef were smokers and soon, I went from bumming a smoke here and there to buying my own packs. I would go on to smoke for the next 15 years. From time to time during rehearsals we’d take a break and go out to the back porch and have a cigarette and a beer. The basement was dark so we’d go up for some air and the sun would be shining bright on the snow and a slight wind would be blowing through the pine trees which stood tall in front of a big blue sky. Even though it was January, we’d be in short sleeves.
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“The Dog Song”, “Take Me Down”, “Frogs and Snakes”, “The Big Ugly Song”, “Fred (Here I Am), “49 (Farrah Fawcett Majors)” – poster inspiration – and “Biting Through” were some of our earliest songs. From late October of 1991 through February of 1992 the band and the music began to take shape in the basement of 44 Burton Street. Soon, we would be ready to play out and what began as a spontaneous idea several months before would quickly take root and continue on for the next seven years with a short reformation in 2002.
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But, before we could play out, we needed a name. After a week or two of trying to come up with something we all liked, one day Jef and Jon came to rehearsal and announced that they had come up with the perfect name. “I know you’re going to like this one” Jef said.
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On their way down to rehearsal that day, apparently Jef and Jon got really baked and kept getting off the wrong exit which lead them right to a flower shop called Flowerland. I forget where along the drive from Windsor to New Haven this happened, but they said they got off the wrong exit 3 or 4 times…must’ve been some good weed. After seeing the name Flowerland over and over they figured it was a sign and that it should be the band’s name.
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Jef was right. I thought the name was cool and so did Roger and we settled on “Flowerland”. We now had a name and bunch of songs, including two covers, “One Way Or Another” and “Holiday In The Sun”. Right from the first rehearsal the band was a natural fit and the music flowed easily. Even as late as 2002 when the band got back together for a brief time, when everything else was going wrong, the ability to play and write together was as strong as ever.
Even though the band was named Flowerland, things hardly came up smelling like roses. Our road would be a hard one with all sorts of twists and turns that no one could imagine at the time.
In 2009, I played a show with Jon Rogers from Mighty Purple and as we were talking he said to me, “You know, when we were recording in the early days, we always thought we would get a chance to record it better. But in the end, the music we made is all we have.” When he said that to me, it struck me as a horrible, beautiful truth. In the beginning, the music was all we needed, and in the end, it was all we were left with.
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But early in 1992, there were no burdens upon us. Jon, Roger, Jef and I, none of us older than 23, with a name and a bunch of songs, were ready to ride the magic bus…and at the time, it could never have been too much
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BandFlowerlandMusicRock.Short StorySubwayWestvilleWriter's Cove

brandonw • January 7, 2013


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