Joe was born in 1933, which makes him 80 years old and aiming toward the next number of 81.
God willing, he’ll get there.
A man that age has some stories to tell and all it took was an opening for them to starting spilling out. It was like the dam that starts to leak in one spot, then another, and then you realized the flood was imminent.
Joe couldn’t finish his ribs, leaving half on his plate to be packaged up to take home. His girlfriend — the one who, in the end, had replaced his late wife — was still finishing up her meal, so Joe started talking to the stranger next to him.
“Now that’s music,” he said. “You know this song?”
Who wouldn’t have recognized Blue Swede’s “Hooked On A Feeling.” From the moment the “Ooga Ooga Ooga Chuka” came over the speaker, the song was instantly recognizable. You might not know Blue Swede was the band behind the song, but the lyrics and melody were instantly there.
Earlier, before the conversation started, Joe had been complaining about the previous song — “You Rascal You” by Hanni El Khatib, whoever the hell that is.
Eighty-year-old men don’t get El Khatib and that makes perfect sense. After all, Joe was raised on the east side of a Bridgeport during a time when residents of that side of the city stood tall and proud. These days, people in that neighborhood stand in the shadows waiting for the next drug deal or gun shot to ring out.
Joe was East Bridgeport while El Khatib was a skateboarder from Palestine who was also of Filipino descent. And, it appears, he makes music, too.
Forty-seven-year-old men don’t get El Khatib either and if it wasn’t for the Shazam Phone App and Wikipedia they might never have even known about him.
“I sing Elvis down at The Station House,” Joe said, since the topic of the moment was music.
The Station House was a tiny little restaurant located, aptly, next to the train station. Every Sunday, he said, he goes down and sings all the hits created by the King himself.
“I met him once, you know,” Joe continued. “I was getting out of the Army right as he was going in and we met in California. I shook his hand, told him I was a big fan.”
Elvis thanked him, or so the story went, and then went off to Germany where he served his country.
Joe would later wind up at Woodstock, where he even told his wife he was going to kiss Janis Joplin. Sure enough, he claimed to have done just that right by the stage after telling Janis how beautiful she was.
“That was something,” he said. “It was some concert. We rolled around in the mud. Babies were born at that concert, you know. Everybody even showered together, blacks, whites, we just walked up to people’s homes and they let us take showers.”
Music was in his heart and soul, so Joe kept singing Elvis and many other tunes, even starting a band that played all over the state he called home. One day, a young kid picked up one of his band mate’s guitars and began playing.
“He was like Hendrix,” Joe said. “Boy could he play. We asked him right there if we wanted to be a band and he kept showing up to all our shows after that, playing with us.”
Until one day, the kid didn’t show up.
Joe called New York City and spoke to his sister. The kid had overdosed on heroin, proving the drug could just as easily kill famous musicians as well as the no-name people who just have a gift from God to make beautiful music.
“I never would have known,” Joe said of the boy who died with a needle in his arm. “I didn’t know anything about that stuff.”
He does know about guns, though.
He teaches a gun safety class right on the outskirts of his hometown — $100 for the class on the second Sunday of each month. He even orders Subway sandwiches for his students.
After Newtown, he said, he got a phone call from Washington, D.C., asking him what he was teaching in his gun class.
“You know who it was?” he asked.
He reached into his wallet and pulled out a piece of paper with a telephone number. The area code was 202. Below the phone number was written a very powerful name.
Barack Obama. Mr. President, to you and me.
“He called back again and I told him I was interested in what he was selling,” Joe proudly said.
Joe talked more about Bridgeport, about having the longest Cadillac in the city — canary yellow, it was — and about the time he and one of his buddies gave a friend’s purple car a pinstripe.
“I think we invented the pinstripe,” he said, taking one more sip of his wine as his girlfriend smiled. She had heard the stories before, no doubt.
After 80 years, Joe deserved his stories. There is no doubt he’s got plenty more to tell.