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Adam Gnade's love song for San Diego

Introduction and scene from After Tonight, Everything Will Be Different

“I want New York pizza!” drunk-shouted while driving to a party means I want a life I am not living. We’re not cool, tough New York kids in leather jackets and black sunglasses. We are restless Californians.
“I want New York pizza!” drunk-shouted while driving to a party means I want a life I am not living. We’re not cool, tough New York kids in leather jackets and black sunglasses. We are restless Californians.

Editor’s Note: Aphorisms be damned, we judged Adam Gnade’s book by its cover, which was designed to look like something you’d find in the dollar paperback box in a used bookstore, complete with water stains at the edge and a crease near the spine indicating repeated reads. Something that was once loved, and that might be worth loving again. Then we read this blurb from San Diegan Julia Dixon Evans, author of How to Set Yourself on Fire: “Adam Gnade deftly captures the starkness of wading through life on the crux of happiness or despair, never fully falling in to either, and he does so with the same dreamy, exquisite detail by which he serves up meal after meal. It’s a love song for San Diego food (reading while hungry is a specific torture). It’s also a love song for an entire city and a love song for the people who call it home — and those who once did, and those who refuse to. Gnade’s restless, melancholy storytelling had me grieving characters even when they were right there in front of me. And sometimes there’s joy: a sincere, engulfing hope. After Tonight, Everything Will Be Different is memory, it’s honesty, it’s survival, it’s hunger, it’s home.” Then we read the introduction and its invocation of the final scene from the film Big Night, and here we are.

Author’s Note: Ernest Hemingway wrote that sometimes you need to leave a place before you can write about it. I left San Diego half a lifetime ago, but I’ve been writing about it ever since. Which is to say, part of me never left. I’m also back a lot — back “home.” It’s worth mentioning that I still refer to San Diego as “home” all these years later. (So let that stand as further proof of how deep the city has left its stamp on me.) When I lived in San Diego (first in Pacific Beach, where I grew up, then Golden Hill as a young adult) I worked in local media. My first published piece (at 18) was in the Reader. A few years later, I was hired at the online version of the Union-Tribune; after that, Wireless Flash News and then the weekly Fahrenheit San Diego. My journalism days are behind me now. I write fiction for a living and have been for a very long time; most of it set here in town (I say “here” because I’m back in San Diego again as I type this). My latest book, After Tonight, Everything Will Be Different, was published as a collaborative release by Justin Pearson Three One G and Jessie Duke’s Bread & Roses Press. (Jessie was the managing editor of Fahrenheit, so at every level this book is tied to San Diego. Also, the cover photo is by local photographer Becky DiGiglio and the design and the many pages of interior art are from Oceanside’s Bran Black Moon.) After Tonight is a love letter to San Diego and to eating food in San Diego. Most of my novels are in a sense a love letter to my hometown, but this one loves the hardest.

New York Pizza

In the 1982 film Conan the Barbarian, a Mongol warlord asks Conan what is best in life and Conan answers, “Crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and hear the lamentation of their women.” If that warlord were to ask Chente and Joey and me the same question, we would answer, “1970s New York rock ‘n’ roll.” Chente is the Mexican Johnny Thunders. Tough, earnest Joey wants to be Richard Hell, who was famous for wearing a torn shirt with “Please Kill Me” written across the front and playing songs that were like a vampire Jerry Lee Lewis. I pretend I’m Patti Smith and go off by myself and stare at the sea or kick a wall of glass windows in because Jesus died for somebody’s sins but not mine. We listen to the Velvets on cassette in Joey’s truck as we drive three to a cab down the 5 to Tijuana and Joey rolls his window down and smokes and Chente tells him he’s gross for smoking and Joey laughs and flicks his cigarette into the night (the butt end skipping through the darkness, sparks bouncing up from it). We carry switchblades and Joey’s got brass knuckles he bought in TJ. We drive, brakes smearing red and the lights of the freeway at night blurring, and maybe we’re half-drunk or Joey’s high from wrapping little bits of crystal in Wonder Bread and eating it on the sly so Chente doesn’t see, and we listen to Lou Reed singing,

  • If I could make the world as pure
  • And strange as what I see
  • I’d put you in the mirror
  • I put in front of me
  • I put in front of me
  • Linger on
  • Your pale blue eyes

— and we consider the authority in his words and say nothing during the quiet, gentle, aching guitar solo over the barest hit of a tambourine because maybe if you’re respectful enough, quiet enough, open enough to the possibilities, you can live inside a song.

Richard Hell sings, “But I rip up my shirt/watch the mirror it flirt,” and we’re right there with him in the rock ‘n’ roll club.

Johnny Thunders sings about how you can’t put your arms around a memory, and we think we know just what he means. (We don’t. Not yet. But we will.)

Joey is Chente’s best friend and he’s further in than me. I like to hide indoors because my anxiety eats me these days like a pile of maggots on a dead seagull. I am a flightless pile of bones and feathers on the sand. I am a piece of shit covered in a pile of shit covered in a mountain of it covered in a light, drifting snowdrift of shit on such a winter’s day.

Adam Gnade left San Diego half a lifetime ago, but he’s been writing about it ever since.

Drunk Joey shouts, “I want New York pizza!” one night as we drive around City Heights looking for a party we don’t have the address for, and we know he wants New York pizza because he’s a romantic and because he’s in love with the Italy in his blood. He wants to live some Blank Generation, White Light/White Heat life none of us will ever know because that time has passed. Joey Carr is a poser and I’m a poser too. Chente’s not a poser because he lives it. But me and Joey? Ugh, we’re the worst people in the world. We’re babies, dumb-asses, fakes, wannabes, dead birds, shit upon shit upon shit upon shit.

“I want New York pizza!” drunk-shouted while driving to a party means “I want a life I am not living.” We’re not cool, tough New York kids in leather jackets and black sunglasses. We are restless Californians. Chente from the wastelands of the Imperial Valley with its car mechanics, cholos, desert stripmalls, crabgrass lawns, and rabbits raised in backyards for food. Joey and I are P.B. boys, beach kids, Pacific Beach nobodies. We eat Mexican food, Americanized spaghetti shop Italian, and seafood. That is the cuisine of our hometown, but New York pizza is Tom Verlaine, Marty Rev, and Alan Vega. It’s living on a Chinese Rock, the plaster’s falling off the wall, your girlfriend crying in the shower stall. New York pizza means the Dolls posing in front of the Gem Spa. It means Warhol, Candy Darling, Edie Sedgwick, Jayne County singing “Stuck on You.” It’s Robert Quine’s slashing guitar notes. It’s Nico, the Ramones, Harry Smith, the Chelsea Hotel, Robert Mapplethorpe, El Quijote, Max’s Kansas City, CBGB, and the Mercer Arts. We know about that from books like Please Kill Me and From the Velvets to the Voidoids. What we really know is Belmont Park with the clacking rollercoaster and red balloons and waffle cones. We know the Live Wire, the Lamplighter, the Casbah, the yellow-lit O.B. pier at night with hustlers waiting for johns and shitty white hippies playing “Redemption Song” on acoustic guitar and getting the words wrong. We know Pacific Eyes and T’s, Mossy Nissan moves youuuu, Fashion Valley, the Crowbar, Balboa Park, Vinyl Communications, Antioch Arrow, People’s, Eyton Shalom, Tourettes Lautrec, the Claw and the Crypt, Tredair UK in Hillcrest, Deadbolt, KUSI, 91X, Tony McCune of McCune Chrysler-Plymouth and his dog called “Honest,” Swindle’s bad hair on the Jones Soda bottle, King Stahlman’s Bail Bonds, the P.B. Block Party, Crash Worship, the Sports Arena Tower Records, SOMA, the Unarius Academy of Science, “Shotgun Tom” Kelly, Jeff and Jer, John Reis, Flashbacks, and Kobey’s Swap Meet. We know the Santee drive-in full of rednecks with lift-kit trucks and a pistol under the seat. We know the Ken Club and a line to do coke in the bathroom and everyone’s got that San Diego mod Spock pixie hairdo including me and they’re talking a mile a minute and it’s so dumb I want to find someone with a stick to hit me so I burst like a piñata and spill all my candy out. We know the best places to have sex in a car where the cops won’t bother you. We know the Hillcrest Landmark and many people who have worked there as projectionists. We know Tecolote Canyon, Green Valley Falls, Off the Record, Robb Field, Gelato Vero, and famous Ken “the Flash” Hellingson who rollerskates the boardwalk wearing nothing but a thong and holiday-appropriate head gear — a Santa Claus hat and beard on Christmas or his body painted red, white, and blue for the 4th, an Uncle Sam hat on his head, and a blazing sparkler tucked into the strap of his g-string. We know “Dead” Alan, whom you will see at bars and shows carrying his wizard’s staff with fake heads tied to it. We know Lou’s, the Shake Rag, Faque Burger, the 163, the 8, the 5, the 805, and the 15. We know the Golden Dragon. We know Mandarin Dynasty and how if you’re a punk or any sort of weirdo and you show up with a big group you will get a random assortment of free sodas as some sort of bohemian solidarity hookup. We don’t care about any of that because we want a thing we cannot have.

Chente has plans to move to New York City and none of our friends believe he’ll do it. They think he’s just a dead-end Chicano boy from El Centro, but I know him well enough that I have no doubt he’ll do it and be good at it and we won’t see him again unless we visit. Anyone who underestimates Chente Ramirez is in for a shock.

Aphorisms be damned, we judged Adam Gnade’s book by its cover, which was designed to look like something you’d find in the dollar paperback box in a used bookstore.

Joey shouts, “I want New York pizza!” but we never get New York pizza. We eat sopes and we eat shredded beef rolled tacos and endless burritos but New York pizza? I remember machaca, carnitas, chicken burritos from Adalberto’s down on Market and 25th with all the finest drug dealers, tostadas at El Zarape on Park, fish tacos at Rubio’s in P.B., lobster bisque in Ocean Beach when we had the money, shrimp and chips with a sourdough roll at Point Loma Seafoods, but New York pizza? No. When we do get pizza it’s just pizza. Domino’s. Shakey’s. Godfather’s. Nothing special.

Joey picks fights with bigger guys at bars and nine times out of ten he’s beat to hell. I sit alone at parties and stare out at the world from inside my shell and I feel ugly. I think, Fuck everything, fuck this whole fucking place. I reconsider my choices. I’d rather hide in a dark cave like the fishermen pray in. I spend my spare time at the used bookstore, and when I bring books to the counter, the old, scraggly, hippie troll sitting in his chair says snide shit about my choices. I want to be a kind, gentle, moral person, but I kill him with my thoughts. I tear his shitty head off and I rip his crooked backbone out and cook it over a fire to feed a bunch of hungry animals, but really I do nothing. I’m a quiet kid. I’m nice. I’m fragile. I don’t want violence or wild nights. I want to read books in safe, warm places and listen to records and see my friends when I want (but only when I want). I want to set my limits with friendship.

“Real healthy,” you say, your voice downright gory with sarcasm.

You’re right, though. You’re right.

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San Diego Reader Best Of Party, Wu-Tang Clan & Nas, OB Oktoberfest

Events October 6-October 7, 2022
“I want New York pizza!” drunk-shouted while driving to a party means I want a life I am not living. We’re not cool, tough New York kids in leather jackets and black sunglasses. We are restless Californians.
“I want New York pizza!” drunk-shouted while driving to a party means I want a life I am not living. We’re not cool, tough New York kids in leather jackets and black sunglasses. We are restless Californians.

Editor’s Note: Aphorisms be damned, we judged Adam Gnade’s book by its cover, which was designed to look like something you’d find in the dollar paperback box in a used bookstore, complete with water stains at the edge and a crease near the spine indicating repeated reads. Something that was once loved, and that might be worth loving again. Then we read this blurb from San Diegan Julia Dixon Evans, author of How to Set Yourself on Fire: “Adam Gnade deftly captures the starkness of wading through life on the crux of happiness or despair, never fully falling in to either, and he does so with the same dreamy, exquisite detail by which he serves up meal after meal. It’s a love song for San Diego food (reading while hungry is a specific torture). It’s also a love song for an entire city and a love song for the people who call it home — and those who once did, and those who refuse to. Gnade’s restless, melancholy storytelling had me grieving characters even when they were right there in front of me. And sometimes there’s joy: a sincere, engulfing hope. After Tonight, Everything Will Be Different is memory, it’s honesty, it’s survival, it’s hunger, it’s home.” Then we read the introduction and its invocation of the final scene from the film Big Night, and here we are.

Author’s Note: Ernest Hemingway wrote that sometimes you need to leave a place before you can write about it. I left San Diego half a lifetime ago, but I’ve been writing about it ever since. Which is to say, part of me never left. I’m also back a lot — back “home.” It’s worth mentioning that I still refer to San Diego as “home” all these years later. (So let that stand as further proof of how deep the city has left its stamp on me.) When I lived in San Diego (first in Pacific Beach, where I grew up, then Golden Hill as a young adult) I worked in local media. My first published piece (at 18) was in the Reader. A few years later, I was hired at the online version of the Union-Tribune; after that, Wireless Flash News and then the weekly Fahrenheit San Diego. My journalism days are behind me now. I write fiction for a living and have been for a very long time; most of it set here in town (I say “here” because I’m back in San Diego again as I type this). My latest book, After Tonight, Everything Will Be Different, was published as a collaborative release by Justin Pearson Three One G and Jessie Duke’s Bread & Roses Press. (Jessie was the managing editor of Fahrenheit, so at every level this book is tied to San Diego. Also, the cover photo is by local photographer Becky DiGiglio and the design and the many pages of interior art are from Oceanside’s Bran Black Moon.) After Tonight is a love letter to San Diego and to eating food in San Diego. Most of my novels are in a sense a love letter to my hometown, but this one loves the hardest.

New York Pizza

In the 1982 film Conan the Barbarian, a Mongol warlord asks Conan what is best in life and Conan answers, “Crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and hear the lamentation of their women.” If that warlord were to ask Chente and Joey and me the same question, we would answer, “1970s New York rock ‘n’ roll.” Chente is the Mexican Johnny Thunders. Tough, earnest Joey wants to be Richard Hell, who was famous for wearing a torn shirt with “Please Kill Me” written across the front and playing songs that were like a vampire Jerry Lee Lewis. I pretend I’m Patti Smith and go off by myself and stare at the sea or kick a wall of glass windows in because Jesus died for somebody’s sins but not mine. We listen to the Velvets on cassette in Joey’s truck as we drive three to a cab down the 5 to Tijuana and Joey rolls his window down and smokes and Chente tells him he’s gross for smoking and Joey laughs and flicks his cigarette into the night (the butt end skipping through the darkness, sparks bouncing up from it). We carry switchblades and Joey’s got brass knuckles he bought in TJ. We drive, brakes smearing red and the lights of the freeway at night blurring, and maybe we’re half-drunk or Joey’s high from wrapping little bits of crystal in Wonder Bread and eating it on the sly so Chente doesn’t see, and we listen to Lou Reed singing,

  • If I could make the world as pure
  • And strange as what I see
  • I’d put you in the mirror
  • I put in front of me
  • I put in front of me
  • Linger on
  • Your pale blue eyes

— and we consider the authority in his words and say nothing during the quiet, gentle, aching guitar solo over the barest hit of a tambourine because maybe if you’re respectful enough, quiet enough, open enough to the possibilities, you can live inside a song.

Richard Hell sings, “But I rip up my shirt/watch the mirror it flirt,” and we’re right there with him in the rock ‘n’ roll club.

Johnny Thunders sings about how you can’t put your arms around a memory, and we think we know just what he means. (We don’t. Not yet. But we will.)

Joey is Chente’s best friend and he’s further in than me. I like to hide indoors because my anxiety eats me these days like a pile of maggots on a dead seagull. I am a flightless pile of bones and feathers on the sand. I am a piece of shit covered in a pile of shit covered in a mountain of it covered in a light, drifting snowdrift of shit on such a winter’s day.

Adam Gnade left San Diego half a lifetime ago, but he’s been writing about it ever since.

Drunk Joey shouts, “I want New York pizza!” one night as we drive around City Heights looking for a party we don’t have the address for, and we know he wants New York pizza because he’s a romantic and because he’s in love with the Italy in his blood. He wants to live some Blank Generation, White Light/White Heat life none of us will ever know because that time has passed. Joey Carr is a poser and I’m a poser too. Chente’s not a poser because he lives it. But me and Joey? Ugh, we’re the worst people in the world. We’re babies, dumb-asses, fakes, wannabes, dead birds, shit upon shit upon shit upon shit.

“I want New York pizza!” drunk-shouted while driving to a party means “I want a life I am not living.” We’re not cool, tough New York kids in leather jackets and black sunglasses. We are restless Californians. Chente from the wastelands of the Imperial Valley with its car mechanics, cholos, desert stripmalls, crabgrass lawns, and rabbits raised in backyards for food. Joey and I are P.B. boys, beach kids, Pacific Beach nobodies. We eat Mexican food, Americanized spaghetti shop Italian, and seafood. That is the cuisine of our hometown, but New York pizza is Tom Verlaine, Marty Rev, and Alan Vega. It’s living on a Chinese Rock, the plaster’s falling off the wall, your girlfriend crying in the shower stall. New York pizza means the Dolls posing in front of the Gem Spa. It means Warhol, Candy Darling, Edie Sedgwick, Jayne County singing “Stuck on You.” It’s Robert Quine’s slashing guitar notes. It’s Nico, the Ramones, Harry Smith, the Chelsea Hotel, Robert Mapplethorpe, El Quijote, Max’s Kansas City, CBGB, and the Mercer Arts. We know about that from books like Please Kill Me and From the Velvets to the Voidoids. What we really know is Belmont Park with the clacking rollercoaster and red balloons and waffle cones. We know the Live Wire, the Lamplighter, the Casbah, the yellow-lit O.B. pier at night with hustlers waiting for johns and shitty white hippies playing “Redemption Song” on acoustic guitar and getting the words wrong. We know Pacific Eyes and T’s, Mossy Nissan moves youuuu, Fashion Valley, the Crowbar, Balboa Park, Vinyl Communications, Antioch Arrow, People’s, Eyton Shalom, Tourettes Lautrec, the Claw and the Crypt, Tredair UK in Hillcrest, Deadbolt, KUSI, 91X, Tony McCune of McCune Chrysler-Plymouth and his dog called “Honest,” Swindle’s bad hair on the Jones Soda bottle, King Stahlman’s Bail Bonds, the P.B. Block Party, Crash Worship, the Sports Arena Tower Records, SOMA, the Unarius Academy of Science, “Shotgun Tom” Kelly, Jeff and Jer, John Reis, Flashbacks, and Kobey’s Swap Meet. We know the Santee drive-in full of rednecks with lift-kit trucks and a pistol under the seat. We know the Ken Club and a line to do coke in the bathroom and everyone’s got that San Diego mod Spock pixie hairdo including me and they’re talking a mile a minute and it’s so dumb I want to find someone with a stick to hit me so I burst like a piñata and spill all my candy out. We know the best places to have sex in a car where the cops won’t bother you. We know the Hillcrest Landmark and many people who have worked there as projectionists. We know Tecolote Canyon, Green Valley Falls, Off the Record, Robb Field, Gelato Vero, and famous Ken “the Flash” Hellingson who rollerskates the boardwalk wearing nothing but a thong and holiday-appropriate head gear — a Santa Claus hat and beard on Christmas or his body painted red, white, and blue for the 4th, an Uncle Sam hat on his head, and a blazing sparkler tucked into the strap of his g-string. We know “Dead” Alan, whom you will see at bars and shows carrying his wizard’s staff with fake heads tied to it. We know Lou’s, the Shake Rag, Faque Burger, the 163, the 8, the 5, the 805, and the 15. We know the Golden Dragon. We know Mandarin Dynasty and how if you’re a punk or any sort of weirdo and you show up with a big group you will get a random assortment of free sodas as some sort of bohemian solidarity hookup. We don’t care about any of that because we want a thing we cannot have.

Chente has plans to move to New York City and none of our friends believe he’ll do it. They think he’s just a dead-end Chicano boy from El Centro, but I know him well enough that I have no doubt he’ll do it and be good at it and we won’t see him again unless we visit. Anyone who underestimates Chente Ramirez is in for a shock.

Aphorisms be damned, we judged Adam Gnade’s book by its cover, which was designed to look like something you’d find in the dollar paperback box in a used bookstore.

Joey shouts, “I want New York pizza!” but we never get New York pizza. We eat sopes and we eat shredded beef rolled tacos and endless burritos but New York pizza? I remember machaca, carnitas, chicken burritos from Adalberto’s down on Market and 25th with all the finest drug dealers, tostadas at El Zarape on Park, fish tacos at Rubio’s in P.B., lobster bisque in Ocean Beach when we had the money, shrimp and chips with a sourdough roll at Point Loma Seafoods, but New York pizza? No. When we do get pizza it’s just pizza. Domino’s. Shakey’s. Godfather’s. Nothing special.

Joey picks fights with bigger guys at bars and nine times out of ten he’s beat to hell. I sit alone at parties and stare out at the world from inside my shell and I feel ugly. I think, Fuck everything, fuck this whole fucking place. I reconsider my choices. I’d rather hide in a dark cave like the fishermen pray in. I spend my spare time at the used bookstore, and when I bring books to the counter, the old, scraggly, hippie troll sitting in his chair says snide shit about my choices. I want to be a kind, gentle, moral person, but I kill him with my thoughts. I tear his shitty head off and I rip his crooked backbone out and cook it over a fire to feed a bunch of hungry animals, but really I do nothing. I’m a quiet kid. I’m nice. I’m fragile. I don’t want violence or wild nights. I want to read books in safe, warm places and listen to records and see my friends when I want (but only when I want). I want to set my limits with friendship.

“Real healthy,” you say, your voice downright gory with sarcasm.

You’re right, though. You’re right.

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