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The Ghosts of Monmouth County

Bruce

By Peter Ames Carlin
Touchstone, 2012

About a year ago, my buddy Greg almost killed Bruce Springsteen. He was pulling out of a parallel parking space in Little Silver, NJ, when Bruce and his wife Patti stepped out into the street. They jumped back. Greg motioned them on. They motioned him on. He motioned them on. They motioned him on. Finally, he turned off the car, showed his keys to Bruce and Patti, and let them drop to the passenger seat, indicating that there was no friggin’ way in hell that he was going to jeopardize their safety and subsequently become the most hated person in New Jersey since Bruno Hauptmann.

The courtesy standoff over, Bruce and Patti crossed the street. But schadenfreude being one of my vices, especially when it concerns my closest friends, it’s perversely fun to imagine what would have happened to Greg if he’d killed Springsteen, in Monmouth County, no less. My guess is some sort of extended lynching, and that killing would only be a start – New Jerseyans would probably do to Springsteen’s killer what the partisans did to Mussolini.

This incident was left out of Peter James Carlin’s new biography, Bruce, so, as a guy who grew up in Monmouth County, I can hardly consider it comprehensive. But to be fair, it wouldn’t be possible for any book to include every Bruce anecdote from my home county. We all have a couple.

Here’s one of mine: I used to hang out with a guy named Danny Stanton, a singer who used to record demos at a studio owned by Garry Tallent, Springsteen’s bass player. One day I went to the studio to pick Danny up. He introduced me to Garry, and in the course of our chat, mention was made of Springsteen living close by in the town of Rumson. I asked Garry if he thought Bruce was home, as Danny and I would swing by and take him to lunch. He laughed, then stopped, and said it wasn’t such a crazy idea; Springsteen had once gone to Graceland and hopped the fence in an attempt to meet Elvis, so Garry figured Bruce had no right to be angry if we decided to knock on his door.

Danny went pale. He knew that I was only a casual fan, could be flippant, and had my own passionate tastes, which could result in my saying something to Springsteen like, ‘You guys are good, but you’re no Butthole Surfers.’ But with Garry’s sort-of blessing and even the remotest possibility of Bruce saying yes, he was too numb to object.

We made it to Rumson, then had no idea where to go. Some kids got off a school bus and I called to them, “Where’s Bruce live?” Their arms raised simultaneously and I followed the general direction to which they’d pointed.

Springsteen’s house was large, a lot of brick, with a big lawn, set back a ways from the street. I parked directly in front, and turned off the ignition. I undid my seat belt, got out of the car, and stood there, alone.

Danny was gazing out the window, offering a look of dread usually reserved for convicts arriving at a state penitentiary. I knocked on his window. He rolled it down. “I’m going up there,” I said slowly, motioning towards the house, “and if he’s home, I’m not coming back to get you.” Danny dawdled, stared at the house in his last indecisive moments, then got out and joined me on the walk to the front door.

I didn’t think we’d actually get there. I assumed some security measure would kick in – alarm, guard, dog, or some combination thereof – but no, we just crossed the empty lawn, and then I knocked. Danny hissed, “Just don’t mention Garry!” and stood erect, as if preparing to be inspected. I knocked again. Nothing. I turned to the video camera in the corner of the porch, introduced the two of us, assured Bruce that we weren’t insane, and asked if he’d like to join us for pizza. We waited a few minutes, then I offered to pay. We waited a few more minutes, gave up, and trod back over the grass.

Flush with relief and disappointment, Danny finally relaxed. He put his hand on my shoulder as if we had just emerged from scaling Everest. I looked at him and sighed, grateful that I hadn’t instigated a full coronary.

We reached the car, and found that there was to be some compensation after all. A guy from around town that we knew and hated, Eric Krantz, was in his car, idling parallel to mine. Eric was rich, shallow, obtuse, and humorless, but he did have an impossibly beautiful girl in the car with him. He leaned across her when he saw us coming down the lawn, and said out the passenger window, “Were you guys just up there?” Sarcastically, I said, “No.” Danny laughed. The girl wrinkled her lips, trying not to smile. Eric looked angry, but just said, “Can you take us up there?” And I said, “Eric. We were just there.” Defeated, looking at the house, he nodded sadly. I looked at the girl and said, “Do you want to meet Springsteen?” Eric pulled away so fast, he left skids.

“Danny,” I said, “we just became legends.”

Of course, we didn’t. Eric never told anyone his assumption, and I couldn’t get much mileage out of the story, since I wasn’t going to lie about dining with Bruce, and it wasn’t really so much a story about him as about his doorknob. It was no big deal. Like I said, everyone had stories.

And for a while, there was no escaping them. After college, I lived in Freehold for a few years. I used to get my hair cut down the block from 68 South Street, the two-family house next to a gas station, with the window on the side looking out over the pumps, where Springsteen lived when he was a teenager. The barber shop guys, many of whom had lived in town their entire lives and knew Bruce as a boy, would tell Bruce stories, usually variations of, “He was a weird kid. First time I heard him play, at the Elk’s Lodge, I couldn’t believe it was him.” Every time I came in and waited my turn, they would ask if I was a fan. I would say, “Sure.” They’d say, “He was a weird kid…”

From there, the stories continued. Things he’d done for the fire department, local food banks. Bruce spotted on the boardwalk, in a supermarket, at the vet’s office. Each time accosted by someone, and in every story, he was kind, gracious. He never wavered.

These stories are, my friend Keith puts it, “mostly non-stupendous things, just little elements in aggregate which support the reasoning behind why Springsteen is the real deal in a bullshit business. He is the Patron Saint of Monmouth County, and he embodies the ethos of the area locals, which can summed up as, ‘Enjoy yourself, relax, look at some seagulls, have some fun, and don’t bother people.” Once, Keith saw Bruce and his family walking in Red Bank, and they stopped to pet his dog.

It took years, but I finally heard a negative story. I dated someone who bartended at a restaurant on East Main Street. One day, Bruce and his family came by for lunch. I asked what he was like. “I didn’t talk to him,” she said. “But, I saw him take fries off his kid’s plate.”

In the flood of memory that reading Carlin’s expansive and entertaining (if occasionally overwrought) Bruce has instigated, Greg’s incident has been foremost in my mind. If you’ve never associated death with Bruce Springsteen, this is a great time to start. The passing of the E Street Band’s beloved saxophonist Clarence Clemons last year, coupled with the realization that Springsteen, despite appearances, is sixty-three, has inspired a series of frequently embarrassing proclamations of middle-aged hero-worship, casting Springsteen not so much as a continuously vibrant musical force, but as an offset to aging fans’ creeping sense of mortality. My favorite of the bunch, both in terms of wince-inducement and genuine insight, was Jeffrey Goldberg’s cover story in The Atlantic, “Jersey Boys”, which featured Governor Chris Christie unnerving fellow skyboxers at a Springsteen concert with assaultive karaoke, and offering a stunning bit of candor that puts so much Bruce worship into perspective:

Clemons’s death, Christie says, crushed him. “I felt like all the energy was drained out of my body. I just lay there silent on the bed, and [my wife] said to me, ‘I just want to understand what you’re feeling,’ and I said, ‘My youth is over. He’s dead and anything that is left of me being young is over.’”

As a middle aged guy who’s been hearing Springsteen stories from friends and neighbors for most of his life, it’s difficult not for me to read Bruce as a litany of loss. It starts with the death of the little girl, Virginia, that would have been Springsteen’s aunt, and is followed by, among many other events, the death of Springsteen’s grandfather, Fred, Springsteen’s troubled father Doug’s withdrawal into a depressive fog, the once-vibrant seaside resort Asbury Park ravaged by violence and drug abuse, the firing of bandmate Vini Lopez, who becomes a kind of Pete Best of the Jersey shore, the end of Bruce’s first marriage to Julianne Phillips, the distancing between Bruce and the E Street Band following his monumental success, and the deaths of Danny Federici and Clarence Clemons. But of course, there’s quite a bit of triumph as well, and those not inclined towards melancholy will find just as much to laugh over as to mourn.

Born in Long Branch, New Jersey, raised in Freehold, Springsteen lived in a family that never recovered from losing Virginia, in a home “clotted with loss, memory, and regret”, where “death was a regular presence.” His first home was one of “eccentric rhythms” and bizarre leniency, where the unmonitored infant could stay up all night playing with toys or watching television. His grandmother “sensed the presence of Satan in lightning and thunder” and would huddle with the children, clutching bottles of holy water. His grandfather took Bruce “troll[ing] for cast-off radios and electronic parts in neighborhood trash cans.” Both grandparents “abandoned clocks altogether”, and felt that “Bruce…didn’t have to go to school at all if he didn’t want to,” reasoning that, “Fred hadn’t spent much time in school, and neither had Doug. So why make such a fuss getting an education Bruce wouldn’t need?” As things turned out, they were kind of right. But Bruce’s mother, Adele, insisted, so Bruce and his parents moved to a new home, where Bruce was soon to confront the two great adversaries of his young life: his father’s inscrutability, and nuns.

Springsteen attended the St. Rose of Lima parochial school, and suddenly being in a place with rules and work requirements “first confused, then enraged the boy.” He was utterly unprepared for a world built on regularity and responsibility, and the strict dictates resulted in a painful shyness and inability to adjust. There’s a heartbreaking anecdote of Adele spying on her son during recess and seeing him “against the fence, all by himself, not playing with anybody,” but Springsteen had more to contend with than shyness on the playground. Despite Carlin noting later that Springsteen “had been singing about the school, one way or another for his entire adult life,” he doesn’t offer much elaboration, which is odd, considering the possibilities; an oft-told example has a nun stuffing Bruce into a garbage can, and supposedly, John Hammond’s first comments to Springsteen after his Columbia Records audition were a somber, “You went to Catholic school, didn’t you?” Bruce’s time at St. Rose of Lima was not of minor significance – “traumatic” seems like an apt word to sum up the experience – and Carlin’s sparse treatment creates a strange void in an otherwise inclusive biography.

However, his descriptions of Doug make Kafka’s father seem like Mike Brady. Doug drifted between menial jobs – factory work, prison guard, bus driver – and retreated nightly into his kitchen, where he would sit for hours in the dark drinking beer, smoking cigarettes, and staring off into nothing. His main involvement with his son was chastising him for having long hair and wasting his life playing music, and the stories of their non-communication are pitiful, even when tainted by Carlin’s occasional penchant for melodrama:

For [Doug] to see his son come up the back-door steps, guitar in hand, his long hair so unkempt, his clothes so fancy, and his youthful face so untroubled, whispering ‘Hey, Pop,’ on his way up to his room grated against the open wounds in his psyche. Needing to prepare his son to confront the bleak grind that had claimed him, Doug stiffened in his chair and asked Bruce to come back and chat for a bit. The music and applause fast fading from his ears, Bruce would lay down his guitar, grit his teeth, and walk dutifully back into his father’s charred and ruined vision of life and the world.

…Doug’s gruff demeanor was the thinnest veneer over his own sense of torment. And while he was ashamed of his weakness and desperate to keep his oldest child from suffering the fate he’d been dealt, it was all but impossible for Doug to connect with Bruce in a meaningful way. So it wasn’t the lectures, criticism, and occasionally heated arguments that cut into Bruce’s kin. It was the vacancy that swam into his father’s eyes whenever he came into the room. When Bruce turned toward his father hoping to see something – a spark of affection, pride, a glimmer of love, a nod of recognition, even – only emptiness stared back.

Bruce knew his own life was going to exist somewhere other than in a room with the lights turned off. He had seen Elvis Presley on The Ed Sullivan Show, taken up guitar, and almost immediately had begun a practically unimpeded ascent to fame. But even years into his success, he would,

[C]limb into his car and drive the streets of Freehold, visiting the empty space on Randolph Street, where he had once lived with his grandparents; the duplex on Institute Street, where he had been a schoolboy; and then the duplex on South Street, next to the gas station, where he’d lived as a teenager. He had no idea what he was looking for… But that didn’t stop him from going back. No matter where he was, memories of the Randolph Street house and the shattered remnants of the life his grandparents had lost when their daughter died, fell over him.

Returning to Freehold – physically, emotionally, spiritually – is the leitmotif of Springsteen’s life, and while Bruce relates the events vividly, much of this material will already be familiar. Springsteen’s never been shy about telling the stories of his life, and I don’t know how many more times fans will need to hear about the usual markers on his road to rock godhood. But readers new to the story will find it fascinating, and if, like me, you’ve heard it all so many times that it’s lost all the romance, there’s pleasure to be found in Carlin’s attention to detail and often refreshing irreverence.

This is particularly true in regards to the well-worn touchstones: the notorious contract with first manager Mike Appel (“Unable to parse the legalese on his own, he sat on the floor of his unfurnished apartment with Robin Nash, a friend from the Jersey Shore music circles, reading the vital document by candlelight, because he couldn’t afford to pay his electric bill”), his shaky start as a recording artist (record shop owner Victor Wasylczenko: “I sold more Partridge Family albums than I did of Bruce that first day. I had record-breaking numbers on the Partridges, in Bruce’s hometown, the day his first record came out”), his self-torturing perfectionism (after listening to the Born to Run master recording, “[b]eard abristle, [Springsteen] jumped to his feet, snatched the acetate from the turntable, and stalked out to the hotel courtyard, where he flung it into the swimming pool”), the new image brought about with the Born in the U.S.A. success (“Dancing to the opening bars of the single, he came into view as a popcorn movie version of himself, shiny to the point of being premoistened, with a silly grin on his face”) and his confused attempts to reconcile his status as both One Percenter and Everyman (Springsteen: “You end up creating this sort of icon, and eventually it oppresses you… The whole image that had been created-and I’m sure I promoted-it really always felt like, ‘Hey, that’s not me.’ It was never me.” Though, as he admitted in his next breath, that wasn’t quite true, either. “It might be a little more of me than I think”).

And, as it happens, there’s still much for the over-informed to learn. For instance, there’s little in Bruce to dispel Springsteen’s rep as an eminently decent guy, but you might come away with second thoughts about introducing him to your sister. Carlin describes the young Bruce as, “Something other than an early adopter of feminist principles, [who] expected his girlfriend to tend to his (and sometimes his bandmates’) laundry, and then sat impatiently while she produced the burgers, roasted chicken, and spaghetti-and-meatball dinners he required.” After cheating on girlfriend Pam Bracken, “[she] reacted so heatedly to Bruce’s news that their argument escalated into a screaming match that ended when Bruce slapped her hard, across the face. Hurt and outraged, Bracken tore open the front door and took off down the street. She soon had Bruce running at her heels, wailing that he was sorry and had smacked her only because he feared she might become ‘hysterical’.” And as former girlfriend Joyce Hyser puts it, “His whole thing in those days was, ‘When I want to see you, you need to be here, and when I don’t, you need to be gone.’”

Who knew that Bruce had so much in common with Mötley Crüe? Or that his abstinence from drugs somehow kept him from realizing that other musicians might be partaking? During “an unexpected visit to the band’s dressing room just before a show at Boston’s Music Hall”, road manager Bobby Chirmside recalls, “we walked in, [and] one member of the band was holding a cocaine spoon up to the nose of another member of the band. And they got caught. And it was like time froze.” Leaving the room, Springsteen said, “If. I. Ever. See. This. Again…I don’t care who it is. They’re gone. On the spot. I’ll fire them.” Was it really that surprising? They are musicians, after all. And how did he think his band managed to keep up with him for four hours on stage? Or put up with his obsessiveness in the studio? During the interminable Born to Run sessions, Clemons, who had to endure days like the one where he “spent sixteen nonstop hours playing and replaying every note of his ‘Jungleland’ solo in order to satisfy Bruce’s bat-eared attention to sonic detail and emotional nuance,” noted that, “All we could do was hold on. Smoke a lot of pot and stay calm.” Evidently, much of the E Street Band’s legendary chemistry came from chemistry.

And if I knew Bruce was going to eventually write odes to oral sex, I would have been more inclined to keep up with his output. Springsteen returned to St. Rose of Lima in 1996 for a benefit show, perhaps leading the school administration to assume that bygones were bygone. But after a few songs accompanied by tender dedications to family and lost friends, he said,

“I’m gonna move on now, to a great song about a great subject…Cunny-lingus.” He let that hang in the air for a beat. “I know, I know. You’re sayin’, ‘Bruce, how can you stand up in your Catholic school and sing a song about cunny-lingus?’ But I talked to Father McCarron, and I said, ‘Father, can I sing a song about cunny-lingus in your school?’ He said [speaking stonily], ‘I’m not sure.’ So I took that for a yes.’”

Springsteen sang “Red Headed Woman” and Father McCarron left, perhaps to find the garbage can they had stuffed Bruce into forty years previously.

Bruce is rife with such anecdotes, and it’s no backhanded compliment, especially given the relentlessly solemn fervor blighting most Springsteen biographies, to praise Carlin’s style for its readability. While sometimes lost in the Springsteen myth, Carlin is also frank about Springteen’s less admirable traits, avoids explaining what it all ‘means’, and shows the career as a triumph of passion and pragmatism. Springsteen is a natural musician with preternatural charisma, and his life reads like rock ‘n roll’s perfect storm, an amalgam of stardom’s usual prerequisites – talent, luck, discipline, determination, and fruitful collaborations – uninfected with the usual self-destructive causes of rock star ruin – drugs, profligate spending, drugs, financial mismanagement, drugs, hubris, complacency, a desire for an acting career, drugs. His greatest self-indulgence seems to be his habit of offering “public service announcements” of dubious political insight during his marathon shows, which I’m told are welcomed by fans, as it gives them a chance to go to the restroom. His shtick is often corny, but anyone who complains about this doesn’t understand Bruce’s audience. From the beginning of his career, he realized how devoted his fans were, and he respected them. He had issues with his love life, he went to therapy, and he got past them. He treats his neighbors with respect, and he’s respected in turn. If Bruce Springsteen was a character in a work of fiction, the sheer reasonableness of his career would seem implausible. The great mystery of his life is how it can be so devoid of mystery, and Carlin, in his matter-of-fact recountings, serves the material well.

But after 500 pages of expansive biography, what I can’t get over are the names.

Carlin has mined the early years, and seems to have put in the name of every person or place he could find with even a peripheral connection to Springsteen – Barney DiBenedetto, Caizzo’s Music, the Karagheusian Rug Mill, Triangle Chevron, Hullabaloo Club, Le Teendezvous, Vinny Maniello, Michael “Mickey” Shave, the Upstage, Fran Duffy, Rick Spachner, the Ink Well, Wendell John, Margaret Potter, Big Bad Bobby Williams, the Pandemonium Club, the Student Prince, Doug “Goph” Albitz, the Clearwater Swim Club, Big Danny Gallagher, Black Tiny, the Green Mermaid, the incomparably monikered couple Louie Longo and Dorothea “Fifi Vavavoom” Killian – and for those of us with a certain mindset, the list reads like a memorial to a lost world.

Which brings me back to Governor Christie’s comments in “Jersey Boys.” I cringed when I read that essay, and wondered at the grown men still living vicariously through their heroes, the ones who saw in Springsteen a dream of transcendence in their twenties and now see a dream of potency in their advancing years, and wondered what point it was, exactly, when the music of your life is no longer tied to the dreams you had for your future, but nostalgia for the time when you had dreams for your future. And I’m sure I cringed because after reading Bruce, I’m feeling nostalgic too – not for Bruce and what he meant to me, but for all my old friends, and all he meant to them.

At the time we stepped away from Bruce’s front door, I thought Danny was nuts, but I was soon to see that he was pretty tame for a Springsteen obsessive. Once, he suggested we go hang out with a couple of friends of his. We went to a basement apartment. Some guy let us in, then sat down next to another guy on a couch. There was a Springsteen bootleg playing in the tape deck. There were Bruce posters on the wall, a long line of albums and stacks of cassettes that Danny later told me were all Bruce bootlegs. The room was unlit, like a medieval cathedral, as if they feared luminous energy would damage the artwork. And we all just sat there listening, the two guys slumped in the couch, Danny looking at the ground, me wondering when we could leave. It was like the classic rock version of an opium den.

I experienced variations of this several times, and the strangest thing to me was that none of these guys seemed to be enjoying the music. No one danced, or sang, or even tapped their feet. They just listened, very intently, as if waiting for buried messages to emerge. They did this to all of Bruce’s records, to bootlegs, to Bruce’s backing vocals on Graham Parker’s “Endless Night”, or his spoken lines on the third part of Lou Reed’s “Street Hassle”, or the part on Reed’s live Take No Prisoners when Reed says hello to Bruce, who was sitting in the audience, straining to make out what Springsteen says back. They did this over and over. I still don’t know what they were hoping to hear.

This is all these guys did with their time. They chased Bruce rumors, and wherever they were, they craned their heads continuously, checking to see if maybe Bruce was walking in. One time, Stevie Ray Vaughn played a show at Monmouth College. Max Weinberg was in the audience. Guys started looking around for Bruce. When he didn’t show, some of us watched the concert, and the rest spent the couple of hours staring at the back of Max’s head. I thought they were insane, and I was immensely grateful that the Clash lived in England, so I wouldn’t have any similar opportunities to act like a lunatic.

Once, when I getting my hair cut on South Street, one of the older men in the barbershop said, “There’s another one.” We all turned and looked out the window. It was a guy in his early twenties, carrying a camera, walking up and down the block, gazing at house numbers. He was looking for 68. And every time after, when I was waiting my turn, I’d kill the time looking out the storefront, trying to spot pilgrims. Sometimes they’d come into the shop and ask where the house was, where the high school was, or the Elk’s Lodge, or the old rug factory, or any of the other Freehold landmarks. The barbershop guys would give directions or tell Bruce stories (“Weird kid. The first time I heard him play…”), then the pilgrim would be off, walking from point to point as if they were the stations of the cross. There were times I’d see them on the side of Route 33, just staring into the distance, maybe imagining the young Bruce carrying his guitar, hitchhiking his way to the beach.

All the deaths I see in Bruce are really my own, the memories of old friendships and all those silly anecdotes – the time Bruce was spotted by Greg’s wife at the Rumson Pharmacy browsing the magazine rack, the time Greg’s wife saw him buying a singing fish at Toys ‘R Us (she’s an admitted stalker), the time Dan Berlin saw him having a hot dog in the Windmill in Long Branch and asked if Bruce had a chance to pick up the new Aerosmith album and Bruce didn’t subsequently call him an idiot, and most notably, to me, anyway, the time Danny urinated next to Bruce in the Stone Pony men’s room, and allegedly didn’t take a peek.

I’d love to add some names to Carlin’s list, but all my old friends have asked that I change theirs for this essay. So instead I think about those guys whose names are lost to memory, about how most of us didn’t wind up like Bruce, how many of us wound up like Doug, and of all the young men of Monmouth County who sat in dark rooms, and of all the dreams that died there.

I don’t know. Maybe all of this is because it’s the first time I’ve ever agreed with a Republican, and I’m feeling disoriented. Still, with all of this in mind, I’d like to offer my one other Springsteen story:

I used to go with Danny to the Stone Pony every weekend, and if there was even the most implausible rumor that Bruce might show up, we went then too. And of course, we never saw the guy.

One night, it must have been 1986, some friends were in a play at Monmouth College, so I went with my girlfriend Shari, and afterwards, I took her to the Stone Pony. As we were driving, I said, teasingly, ‘You know, Bruce is known to show up on occasion,’ with, perhaps for the only time in my life, no expectation of him showing up. Being a jerk, I kept repeating the possibility, and Shari, who was given to the usual non-passionate responses specific to those in the accounting profession, just politely abided me.

The Pony was spacious, with two large bars, plenty of seating, and a dance floor in front of the stage. Aside from the two of us, there might have been a dozen people in the entire place. We were sitting at a table chatting, when Shari looked past me and said, “Oh, there he is.”

“Who?” I said.

“Bruce.” I turned around, and there he was. I can’t remember if it was summer, but it was very warm out, and he was wearing a leather jacket that was zipped up to the chin – that and him walking with his arms stiff at his side made him look like a little boy that had been overdressed by his mother. Shari went over while I sat at the table feigning aloofness. When she came back, I asked what she’d said. She had just said hi, while all the other girls kept asking him, ‘Aren’t you hot like that?’

Word got out, and the bar started filling up. Danny showed up, and the three of us took a spot on the dance floor. Bruce eventually got on stage. We cheered, he greeted us, said some jokes, and started playing with the house band, Cats on a Smooth Surface. At one point, they played Chuck Berry’s “Nadine”, and Bruce, obviously in the cups, kept repeating the same lines (“Come into my machine so we can cruise on out/I know a swinging little joint where we can jump and shout”). After the second time, the Cats guitarist standing behind Bruce gave him a quizzical look, and after the third time, he nudged him, as if to ease forward the needle on a skipping record. Bruce played a few songs, and at one point gave a rousing speech, whose coherent parts were “Ladies, you gotta stand by your guys. ‘Cause it’s hard out there!” and minor variations thereof. He was funny, charming, kind of crazy in a good way, we were ten feet from Bruce Springsteen, and we cheered every silly word that came out of his mouth.

In the parking lot, Shari said, “Well, that was kind of an amazing night.”

I shrugged and said, “I told you,” as if it happened to me all the time.

It never happened again. Shari, always the smarter half of the couple, eventually ended the relationship, and wound up marrying a fellow accountant. For a while, I kept going back to the Pony with Danny, then our paths started to split, and we lost touch. But that night in Asbury Park, being twenty-one, with my beautiful girlfriend, and my good friend, with Bruce Springsteen singing to us, and me believing that life could still turn out the way I’d dreamed… That night, I felt like I would live forever.

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Steve Danziger is managing editor of Fiction magazine, teacher at City College, member of the Terranova Theater Collective, volunteer at the Housing Works Bookstore, and loiterer at the Hungarian Pastry Shop. His fiction has appeared most recently in The Coffin Factory, and will be in upcoming editions of Locust and Anemone Sidecar.