My nom de plume in The Free Nameless News was J. Redmond Tardi, largely because I was late for work all the time. Part of the reason was that I took public (as opposed to rapid) transportation every day – specifically, the MBTA’s Arborway line, whose vehicles were one stop away from the Trolley Museum.
Then again – to be fair – mostly I was late just about every day because just about every night I was out writing jazz reviews for any second-rate music magazine that would have me. I knew virtually nothing about jazz at the time, which is why I concentrated on the second-rate magazines. But I got to see a lot of first-rate music. Being late for work was part of the system I developed in the summer of 1976.
It went like this: After work I’d go across the street to The Great Gatsby’s, wash the day away with three Wild Turkeys, go home, take a nap, then go out to see whoever was in town. I’d return home around one o’clock, do some writing, and eventually go to bed with a double album of Thelonius Monk on the stereo spindle.
And arrive late at work the next morning.
So I started going in on Saturdays, just to get within shouting distance of 40 hours a week. Saturdays were easy – no phones, no claimants, just paperwork and gossip. And there were donuts, except when there weren’t because I got in too late. Either way, I’d put in four or five hours of what had to be the least productive time in SSA history (which is saying a lot), and call it a week.
One Saturday afternoon, walking home with two bags of canned goods from the Hi-Lo, I saw my roommate’s car – The Fireball – headed the wrong way down our street. That didn’t strike me as unusual, since Jamaica Plain has long been famous for its two-way one-way streets (a sort of vigilante urban planning). Here’s what was unusual: it wasn’t my roommate driving the car, and the car had been stolen three days earlier.
The latter occurred despite the best efforts of my roommate, who chained together the steering wheel and the brake pedal every night, theoretically immobilizing the Fireball. That was standard practice on Sheridan street, where the cars sported more chains than Mr. T. The standard practice eventually led car thieves to carry small saws, so they could cut through the steering wheel and slip the chain off.
Which is what they must’ve done to the Fireball. I ran up the hill as best I could with two bags of canned goods, burst into the apartment, breathlessly told my roommate to call the cops, and fell to the floor. He made the call and ran down to the bottom of the hill, where, to his surprise, the thief had parked the car – legally, no less. The police, like Christmas, arrived eventually and asked me for a description of the driver, which I was generally unable to provide.
“It happened so quickly, I really didn’t get a good look at him, officers. I think he was wearing a red plaid jacket, though.”
“Well, let’s take a walk around and look for him, shall we?”
That was the last thing I wanted to do, since poking around with a policeman was no way to endear yourself to the fine patrons of the neighborhood establishments. Nonetheless I ventured several feet into the Hyde Square Bowl (“Nope, I don’t see him here”), Hyde Square Tavern (“Nope, not here”) and, most apprehensively, Los Villalinos (“Nope”). That night, my roommate parked the Fireball at a friend’s house in the suburbs.
The reason I didn’t want to parade around with the cops was simple: I walked through Hyde Square three or four nights a week right after closing time at the local watering holes, and I didn’t want anyone to have a wrong impression of me.