Jerry Wick and Jenny Mae: Love part one

March 23, 2014

Love:

With a certainty that only an adolescence can have, the thought of love was an idea that sat in the forefront of my mind as I slopped my way through high school. The arduous task of shaking my sleeping limbs from bed was enough to cover my morning with blurred anxiety that still pulses through my body today, and then thinking of communicating with a female let alone telling my own worrisome and conflicted thoughts to “simmer down, God-Damnit!” was something that would be tackled when I was off to college. Love mind you, not sex, as sex was the mystery that appeared to be as supernatural as the ark in “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” Sex was found in the underwear ads of the JC Penny catalog, the blond from “Night Court, the slithering sounds off of “Exile on Main Street” and Prince records, and of course found in the pages of Ms. June 1977 who slept quite comfortably underneath my mattress. Sex in those years meant only masturbation, and the mysterious thoughts of what a woman’s body would feel like to my trembling and unsure hands. For at fifteen, the hands of a boy are as hesitant as any toddler taking her first steps. I was a voracious reader at that time, at first it was the epic fantasy novels of JRR Tolkien and then I moved onto the fantasy novels of Michael Moorcock and Piers Anthony but soon, I moved onto the essential reading of every adolescence: Kurt Vonnegut, JD Salinger, music bios (“Up and Down with the Rolling Stones”, “No One Here Gets Out Alive” and “Hammer of the Gods”) but soon I picked up Phillip Roth’s “Portnoy’s Complaint” with its guilty bathroom descriptions of Jewish-boy masturbation while his mother pounded away at the door, screaming, “What are you doing in THERE?!!!” Although my mother wasn’t the one pounding at my door, it was my older brother who would casually say to his friends, while I silently ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich while watching Star Trek, “there’s Bela, all he does is jerk off, listen to music and read. Once in a while he’ll come out of his room to watch Star Trek or David Letterman.” His friends would call me worm, a nickname only they called me and one I hated. “I’ll show you fuckers,” I would think, “I’m gonna end up with the most beautiful woman you will ever meet.” Which is exactly what I did. Not by plan of course but most likely because my wife did something terribly wrong in her former life…..

At the time when this was going on, I had never tried that, masturbation, in fact all I did was read and listen to my records. Incessantly. On the weekends I would listen to the faint sounds of WUSO, the Wittenberg station hoping to hear the static sounds of the Replacements, Smiths or Dead Milkman. But one afternoon, half-way through “Portnoy’s Compliant” I wondered what all the fuss was about, why did this kid masturbate on what seemed like every other paragraph. Shortly thereafter, I was fitted for my first pair of glasses, coincidence, I think not.

But love was elusive and found only on the songs I listened to and the movies I saw. Perhaps the only movie I could relate to the had a love story was the “Wanderer’s” where one of the character’s falls for the folk-loving college co-ed played by the lovely Karen Allen as I saw myself in Ken Wahl’s character who bucks the pressure of the neighborhood to fall for the intelligent and candid Nina. Deep in my mind, I knew I would find my love either in Athens, Columbus or New York and only when I cast off the invisible ropes of rural Ohio. I counted the days until my liberation. Love found me on the front steps of my house on an early evening in mid-December 1985, as Jenny Mae and a collection of her friends bounded up the small steps of the parsonage to serenade me with Christmas carols. Zoltan, was visiting from Germany where he was stationed, and no-doubt his eighteen year old hands, were no longer unsure as he had plenty of experience with the fairer sex, turned his head towards me as he held the door open, “it’s ok Bela, I got it. They’re here to carol, you can go back upstairs.” I was just thankful that he didn’t add, “Bela just sits up there jerking off, reading and listening to records.” But, naturally to the both of us, we figured the girls were there to carol him. “Um, actually Z, we are here to sing to Bela.” “Oh, that’s cool” Zoltan replied, “Hey Bay, come back the wanna sing to you,” and as I passed him he had a wide grin and whispered out the side of his mouth, “fucking go for it, that Jenny is cute.”

As bits of swirling snow hovered around the small flock of girls, my heart heaved wide and large inside, I smiled at them, offered them to come in and when they made excuses that they had other people they needed to carol for, I closed the door and sighed deeply. “Hey, did you ask her out?” As I crammed a hot dog in my mouth, “no, why would I do that?” “Bela, you are fucking worthless, she came over here in the snow to sing for you, you should ask her out.” “I dunno, maybe.” Something in me always recoiled when Zoltan used the word “should.”

The next weekend after Chris Biester bought me a six-pack of Pabst’s Blue Ribbon, Jenny and I lay in my bed listening to the sounds of the first Cars record, and sure enough the coils that hold sex and love together grabbed us both and wrapped around our souls, bustling them together and shaking the ethereal wisps of ourselves to our very core. And as “Moving in Stereo” played loudly in the back ground, I felt her lips around me as her head bobbed to the beat of Ric Ocasek. Afterwards, I strode out of bed and said I was going to take a shower and invited her, figuring I might as well go for broker. She joined me, and later said, “I’ve never taken a shower with somebody before.”

Love had come suddenly, through songs, “Silent Night” and a few days later, “Let the Good Times Roll” as Ric Ocasek sang with moist lips and his oh-so-cool new wave voice. I was staggered, we spent every day together, soon finishing each other’s sentences. She used Gloria Vanderbilt perfume and smuggled it into my house so she could spray my pillow, which I snuggled and smelled after I drove her home. The world seemed brighter, crisper and more relaxed. At the end of our senior year, I was accepted into several colleges, Hiram, Otterbein, and Ohio University although my grades were not good enough to get into the journalism school at OU, I collapsed the lifelong dream of going to college in Athens and stuffed it deep inside to be replaced with a new hope, one that was born out of teenage blow-jobs, pillows that smelled pretty and having someone wanting you. I ended up at Otterbein College just north of Columbus in the dry town of Westerville, a most dumb-ass decision that can only be blamed on teenage blowjobs, pillows smelling pretty and having someone want you.

That summer after our senior year was difficult, I had fallen for Jenny’s best friend Kathy who reciprocated her desire for me, in the meantime, in what can only be described as a miniature Peyton Place, Jenny had been unfaithful during the summer. First with a tall, lanky goofy guy named Bob who worked at the drive-in theater with her. Bob was funny, I could see her attraction, he was older at least twenty and shaved his head.  I had also discovered some of the deep secrets that lovers share and my pain for Jenny’s past only confused and angered me, and my desire to leave the emptiness I felt of rural Ohio only intensified. It all came out one drunken evening as Jenny lay passed out in Kathy’s parents living room, Kathy and I were engaged in some heavy petting that could be more described as heavy lifting, when she asked if I had a condom and something snapped, the horrors of Jenny’s past and my own past swelled inside of me and soon I was heaving as great globs of tears sputtered from my eyes. Kathy spilled the beans of Jenny’s unfaithfulness and my wailing caused Jenny to wake up and sadly, because of teenage lust and confusion their friendship was at a standstill for several years.

If one isn’t shown how to love then the dance of love between lovers will be clumsy, performed in fits and starts, full of bliss followed by anger, pain and most likely confusion. Metaphorically, it’s like putting together largest jigsaw puzzle but without a picture to know what you are putting together. Some pieces will slid together, as if by greased by butter while others will struggle under the weight of a thick thumb trying in vain to make that “LITTLE-FUCKER-WORK, GOD-DAMNIT!!” But alas, they don’t and the pain of this confusion leads inevitably to more pain. We learn from our parents, and as I gaze back over the shoulder of my past, lined with globs of dirt bundled up in the road I have walked, at times there are no footprints only the squished plants and the indentation of my body in the trenches off the road, I get the sense that my parents and caregivers had not one idea how to navigate the surging tides of love and sex in their own lives. Truth be told, I am emotionally clumsy, a clumsiness built upon an every changing childhood and with a trepidation to truly give myself, for if that is a key ingredient of love then I have always held back. For to give that part of oneself, can be dangerous, should be dangerous, a risk worth the reward. But, if oneself being is built upon a foundation of worthlessness than how does on accept love in return?

The gray had settled like a robe over Ohio, it came creeping in early November, made itself comfortable in December and dug its thick rotund roots deep into the soil and the psyche of every inhabitant during the months of January and February. In March, when splatters of sunshine would give a shot of hope to those who suffered under the morass of depression that the sky layered upon us, the gray would cackle to itself and with a sudden wave of cruelty would slather its oppressive self with a thickness that stretched from the chilled ground, upwards into space that no doubt was the final bullet for many Midwesterners that blew the back of their skulls because, well, they. just. couldn’t. take. it. any longer.  My car was gray, a compact Ford Mustang whose front quarter panel was held to the rest of the car by durable duct tape, it was a dented as the emotional state of its owner, with a black radio shack cassette deck I had wired and fastened with even more duct tape to the bottom of the console. When the engine revved the pistons, who were no doubt choking and coughing by this point of the blue collar careers made a whirling sound through the sound system. A small whistle that reminded me of the precarious nature of my financial situation. All I really wanted was a sound system that played without sounding like there was a squirrel caught in the inner workings of my speakers.

My hangover was fat in my head, even twenty some years later I can remember it, it was as if someone had placed a large cinder block, ever so carefully, just below the skin that covered my forehead between the spaces of my ears. I was still a little drunk and it was early Easter morning, the road I was driving was familiar as I curved through the sharp bends of Baker Road in Athens county, Ohio. When I was 11 we had lived in an old farmhouse on Baker Road, just a few miles from where I had spent the night. An Appalachian trailer park lived next door, filling some of my childhood nights with de-muffled car engines, screaming and the sound of babies crying into the night. The night before I had spent the night with a woman whose name I can no longer remember, no doubt if I had a shovel to cut through gnarled neural pathways and enough coffee, I would unearth her name and her body which no doubt had danced above me earlier that morning. But the memory of driving from her house near Fox Lake into town is stuck with me, in the slow collapsing tape deck, Superchunk’s  “Foolish” a masterstroke of a decaying relationship, blared while I tried to shake the fermented cinder block in my forehead away. Burbling up inside was a small rope of guilt, meandering its way through my veins, as I had been seeing a woman for a few months in Columbus.

Choices are made based on far flung emotions, outliers they may be but these can tend to control the habits we develop and the woman I was seeing was based on these emotions. At the end of the day, we had little in common with the exception of a love of music and the desire we held for our bodies. In fact, over the course of the time we spent together I had set foot in her apartment only once and she had only spent the night only a handful of times in my apartment. Our meetings were brief, always sexual and then, as she had misgivings about the fuel that drove me in those days, we would part and I would hurdle myself deep into the night, to be with friends.

I had to drive to Cincinnati, to my mother’s that morning as the overcast sky was slowly being unhinged from its wintery mores, singing “Driveway to Driveway” at the top of my lungs, I would rewind it and start the song over, I felt liberated. I knew for certain that I would return to the relationship of the woman in Columbus, who was physically stunning but we were devoid of any other connection. In a moment that had continued to be as real today as it was the April morning, the sun poked through the clouds, breaking apart the hold that winter had gripped the entire state. The small white buds of wildflowers hushed a collective cheer and in a flash the yellowed, thin waving strands of weeds that lined the black asphalt slightly turned green and a part of me awakened even further. The two month relationship with the woman came to an end at that moment, and in some ways a part of me burped somewhat into maturity as the idea of sex over love shriveled just a tad but never disappeared.

Many of my lessons in love came through betrayal, either by what I witnessed growing up with parents who flung dirty details about one another through the mind of a child, to experiences of early love that was tangled with early sexual exploration to dishonesty that pervaded the actions and motivations I carried out. Love is epic, a path that is emotionally wide as the vastness of the sea, and like the sea able to well up in white crested waves that can come crashing down in violence, churning, bending and pulling in every direction. Today my son Bruno, all four feet of him took me from a moment of utter frustration (he peed on the dog), to the fragility of slowly cracking my heart as if it were a thin piece of ice on a parking lot. Careful or it will crack. As I explained to him the rudeness of peeing on something alive, he turned his head, his blue eyes downcast and shame filling his cheeks a small sigh peeping out of his lips. “sorry,” he muttered, quick as if he were an auctioneer. “Ok, don’t do that again. Peeing on things. Now give me a kiss.” He leaned his blond head forward and I gently kissed his forehead pulling him towards me, “hey, I want a kiss from you now” I said. He looked up and with the same delicate hesitation of a moth landing on a light bulb he kissed my cheek. Behind him, his sister said, “Daddy, I wanna give you a kiss but you give me one first.” I suppose, over the years a short dock has been constructed out into my internal sea.

Re-Post of Jim Shepard and Ohio: I’ll be reading from these at Brothers Drake Meadery as Part of Word Church Tuesday @ 8:00

February 24, 2014

Jim Shepard

There were several people whom we bounced around with, the majority were people in our same age group who had the same interest, The New Bomb Turks, Greenhorn, Moviola and various bartenders and bar maids.  Outside of this group there was a core group of Columbus musicians and artists whom we all admired; these were for the most part the 80’s generation of the underground music scene: Dan Dow, Ron House, Mike “Rep” Hummel, Scrawl, Don Howland, Jeff Evans, Dan Dougan and Jim Shepard. We all had our walls, some built up by bandied down rumors, some by musical preference, some by the types of intoxicants people took and others by past and future romantic interests. For a while, Jerry, Jenny and I spent a great deal of time sitting in the wooden booths at Larry’s, standing by the stage at Staches or Apollo’s or manning the corner window at BW-3, drinking a vase of happy hour Budweiser.

Jim Shepard was an outsider in a land of outsiders; he had spent a great deal of his life in Florida, a veritable outpost of misfits and a state that was constructed for interlopers and floaters who would head down south in search of new beginnings and self-inventions. Jim was a short man, who wore his mat of greasy black hair as if it were a prop from a Harry Crews short-story. He walked with a slight lean as if the weight of the world pulled him forward, waiting to smother him in its own gravitational pull. He was constantly unshaven but never bearded; it was as if he had gotten a George Michael shaving kit from the liquor store. He was a constant ruffled sort, who spoke in a deep mumble as if he were sending himself coded messages. In a sense, even though I drank copious amounts of alcohol and spent hours on barstools next to Jim, I never really knew him but then again I’m not sure if I’ve never really known anybody.

Jim had Jerry’s and I respect from the get-go, he was semi-famous by our standards as a long-time home recorder who had been putting out records for well over a decade. He also had garnered a well versed fan base especially with the East Coast music tastemakers such as Thurston Moore, Johan Kugelberg and Byron Coley. He had been performing music for many years and his band Vertical Slit was a quiet, yet solid underground force in Columbus.

When I met Jim, I was working at Used Kids; he was working for a local jukebox repair shop and was good friends with Mike Hummel. Jim would drop in during lunch time and hang out, flip through records and chat. Once in a while he would sell us some of his records which were put out by out of town labels such as Ropeburn and Siltbreeze. He would huddle with Hummel next door at the Used Kids Annex and they would fuck with his tapes and bang out music deep into the night. On certain Monday evenings, Jerry and I would stroll down to Larry’s for our start on the evening and we would be disappointed by the weekly poetry night, we took offense to collegian artist’s types butting in on our time at Larry’s. On many of these Mondays both Jim and Mike would be there, reading and spontaneously spouting off their poetry. Jim’s being more of the science-fiction-cum-gutter-found prose influenced by Phillip K. Dick and William Burroughs. Jerry and I would crowd against one another, no doubt too chicken-shit to express our own poetry in such a stark setting, Jerry would couch his in between blasting guitars and punk-rock beats and I my own would lay dormant in dog-eared rumpled notebooks where they still sit, twenty years later.

V-3 came about after the breakup of Vertical Slit, it was an unsightly band with Jim’s paranoid dark blue-collar mystique, Rudy, a drummer of small demeanor and Nudge Squidfish a jovial wide-eyed gentleman who was prone to talk of UFO’s and conspiracy theories when prompted by a few drinks. Live they were freakish sight straight out of community access television but they carried a powerful force in Jim’s highly melodic art-ish squall that was one part early Fall, another part Joy Division and the rest filled with land-locked Florida bizarreness and mid-Western sludge.

Jim was funny, even if one could not always hear his almost inaudible comments that would slip out of his mouth like a small bump in the road. For a moment when he spoke you would think that a ghost passed through the room, moving a coffee cup or beer bottle across the table; you would think you heard him and then you didn’t. It wasn’t before long that Jim and Jenny Mae had developed a strong friendship, both of them had a fondness for the dive bars of North Campus and both of them enjoyed slurping a few drinks before the sun set down.

It would appear that musically that Jim and Jenny would have little in common musically as many of her pop songs where constructed out of a love of early sixties pop, The Beach Boys and the bounce of early eighties college rock whereas Jim’s music was as serious as a life pursuit. What they bonded over was a sense of melody and a meeting of the bohemian lifestyle, filled with creativity, late nights, cheap rent and the cultivation of laughter. Both suffered, more internally than physically, with Jim although it should be noted I did not know him well-he was too closed for that, you could feel the gravity of his darkness through sunken eyes, mused hair and the stubble around his chin. He wore his clothes as if they were an afterthought, articles for warmth-nothing else; they consisted of ragged blouses, jeans and old flannel. He carried himself as if he were Harvey Pekar, one with a distrust of the modern world and its complexities as a point of contention. His songs evolved around science-fiction, social commentary and the pursuit of a connection I think he never gained with the exception of his music.  Perhaps his greatest line was “negotiate nothing, tear it all down.”

Jenny and he started drinking together shortly before his death, they would both meet at either Walt’s or Bourbon Street in mid-afternoon passing the afternoon hours in a connected shadow world lit by bar lights and their own brilliant creativity. Jenny told me one day that she had been drinking with Jim for a while and that they had started recording together, mostly her adding keyboards and trumpet to some of his tracks. I joked that they should record a cover of the Dolly Parton and Kenny Rodgers duet “Islands in the Stream”, which Jenny used to play. She shocked me a week later and told me that Jim was up for it, I have no idea if it were ever recorded.

Our world was small but it opened up the universe where ideas bounced off of one another like bubbles in beer, we would have one ingenious idea flowing after another without a filter to identify the logical of said idea. Huddled around empty bottles and amplifiers the stage of the world was in the basements and living rooms of our lives. Fashioned out of four-track tapes, sticky homemade record covers and note books furnished out of loneliness and dreams that were one part illusion and another part delusion Jim, Jenny and Jerry bonded over the ideal that the world was what you carved out of it, one note at a time.

As much as Jim’s outsider manner defined his life and his being, he made strong connections with other like minded people, although many of us came from somewhat disparate backgrounds we all had (have) a passion of the transformative essence of music. The opportunity to escape the mundane of our lives through the process of electricity, sound and speakers. Jim made an impression on Bob Pollard and commented one drunken evening to Bob while marveling at Bob’s propensity to fashion melodies as if they were breathes of air, that he “was like a vampire on Titus, sucking songs out of the earth.” Titus was the street that Bob lived on at the time, next thing you know the next Guided by Voices album was named “Vampire on Titus.”

Jim, Ron House, Bob, Don Howland and Mike Rep were the elders in our world, wizened cynical “old” men who had been there-done that and were still plugging in and plugging away, making vital music deep into their (aghast!) thirties while most other people we knew of that age were watching Disney videos with diaper fitted children and listening to generic alt-rock pretending that one could be hip with a mortgage payment. That lifestyle was so far removed from what we were living it might have been in an alternative universe. Our own misgivings kept us  happily insolated and isolated.

Jim, Ron, Mike, Don and Tommy Jay somehow having the insight to recognize their own place in the small pond of the Columbus underground scene managed to tolerate one another long enough to record together under the guise of Ego Summit and released a terrific record titled “The Room Isn’t Big Enough” (now available digitally on Old 3-C Records). A smorgasbord of clashing but similar styles coalescing to carve a minor dent in the history of nineties home-tape underground. It contains one of the most disturbing songs in the Midwestern music cannons in Ron House’s “Half Off” about a prostitute who eats her leg off to get out of a trap. Sung/spoken by Don Howland it is as chilling as it is as shittily recorded, with a claustrophobic aura that chokes the listener almost as much as the smoke being exhaled by the musicians when recording the record. Therapy is recommended after every listen, it is that frightening.

In the failed experiment of nineties rock and roll perhaps the most elaborate but yet simple minded plan was for major labels to sign well respected but commercially limited bands and dropping then when sales didn’t match those of Seven Mary Three or Bush. Columbus was ripe for this idiotic take on major label experimentalism, and sadly this would have detrimental effects on most persons in this blog. It’s not as if signing to a major label was idiotic in itself it was that at that point in the business design of corporate music was one part fed off the ideals of the sixties and early seventies when artists as diverse as The Velvet Underground, Tom Waits, Moondog and Phil Ochs could be signed and allowed the freedom to be artists. Whereas the major label mindset professed this ideology it still worked (works) with the mind frame of the quick-cash turnover of the most blandest and cynical music of the nineteen-eighties, whereas the bottom line is sales and the exposure. Hence some of the oddest couplings of artists and money since the Hampton Grease Band signed to Columbia. Such was V-3 signing to American imprint Onion records.

Johan Kugelberg had left Matador Records to take a job working directly under Rick Rubin and was given his own vanity label which he titled Onion, a very tasty but yet smelly vegetable. He managed to sneak in four excellent releases before the label realized his venture would not bring in any money. These were: The Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartments “Bait and Switch”, The Monks re-issue, The Stiffs (whose uncanny New York streetwise-art-punk would predate the Strokes by several years) and V-3. Even by the non-startled place in our collective world the signing of Jim Shepard to American was stupefying basically because Jim’s music could be equally standoffish and abrasive, a challenge of sorts to the listener just like the man himself. “Photograph Burns” has some very warming songs on it, most notably “Bristol Girl” which ended up on countless mix tapes I constructed on my living room floor deep into the night. There was nothing odd about the conundrum of many of the underground artists signing to major labels, as Jerry once told me “I want to be famous”, what I think he really meant was that he wanted to be immortal. It is easier to be immortal if more people know who you are, so it only makes sense to hitch your song to a corporate machine like Warner Brothers whose Bugs Bunny may be more immortal that any human. Besides one could always return to the basement, although Jim never really returned to the basement after V-3 got dropped after Johan lost his job. He was dead within two years.

            I saw Jim huddled next to the video trivia game console on the end of the bar at Bourbon Street one Sunday night during an absolutely depressing bout of Karaoke sung by half awake hipsters who took pride in the fact that their jobs didn’t require them to be their early Monday morning. He eyes were flat and deep enough in his skull that they could be mined. He had a jar of beer sitting in front of him, I asked if he were ok and he said he was fine. He was a vacant as a vacuum. I said something to Jerry who loved Karaoke about Jim, “he’s just fucked up tonight.” A few days later at work, Ron hung up the phone and said “Jim Shepard hung himself last night.” Jim’s funeral was the first of several in a few years’ times for a small but close knit scene of outsiders, artists and music fans. A collection of dazed and rocked ex-girlfriends, musicians, bar-keeps and family gathered around a photo of a smiling (!) Jim and talked to pass the time as a sweaty undercurrent no doubt sent us all scurrying to various hidden parts of ourselves that we dare not try to touch.

 

Ohio

Growing up in Ohio is different for all Ohioans, most because, like so much of the United States, Ohio is both vastly rural and also contains some of the largest and best known cities in the country. Everybody has heard of Cleveland and Cincinnati two large cities with history and reputations. Cleveland was populated by a large ethnic population from Eastern Europe, with massive Serbian, Hungarian and Czech immigrants who traveled west-ward to boil away their lives in the steel mills and manufacturing jobs of Northeastern Ohio. Cincinnati is nestled in the southwestern part of the state, just across from Kentucky; it is metaphorically across the invisible mason-Dixon line of Ohio. Hamilton and Clermont counties are two of the most conservative counties in Ohio, and while much of the state has overcome many of the racial tensions, Cincinnati with several large riots in the past two decades appears, at times mired in the early 1960’s.

Columbus would be that invisible Mason-Dixon Line, most people have heard of Columbus, the largest in terms of population of all the cities in Ohio it is mostly known as the largest college town in the country. A city that lives and breathes Ohio State football, which was mired in a multi-decade hangover after repeated defeats in the Rose Bowl that costs the saintly Buckeyes numerous National Championships. Even the smaller cities of Ohio are known, Toledo, Dayton, Canton and Akron have all garnered space in the minds of national citizenry, even if it is for such pop-culture phenomena as Corporal Klinger, the Wright brothers, the Pro Football Hall of Fame and rubber tires.

Then there is small town Ohio, with images of Sherwood Anderson, unlocked doors, county fairs filled with cotton candy and first kisses. An idealistic concept that feeds into the basic American dream that a small-town anybody can arise from corn-fields and hidden glens to climb into space like Neil Armstrong or John Glenn, the Presidency (seven of them-all mediocre hail from Ohio, or the silver screen such as Paul Newman and Clark Gable.

Because of its history and rich tradition, Ohio ranks fifth in colleges and universities which logically lead one to believe this is the reason it is home to so many artistic and inventive people. In spite of all of this, when one grows up in Ohio, one has the feeling of being the underdog, of someone who always just comes up short.

Ohio is known and felt as an also-ran, an area known for what it almost has but never had, and in fact never will. For an ocean we have a large lake, for mountains we have foothills and we are forever defined by our collective losses. Our sports teams are known for despair, in Cleveland it is brought out in such slogans as The Fumble, The Drive and losing the World Series with one out to go. Cincinnati is tethered to a football team better known as the Bungles and Ohio State Football went thirty years between National Championships and is better known now for losing two in the past five years. We are in our hearts cynical but lovable malcontents.

Musically, Ohio is rich, especially when it comes to punk rock, with an abrasive arty sound that helped birth the movement. Helped by the ample liberal arts colleges that dot the state, such as Oberlin, Kenyon and Antioch and huge state universities such as The Ohio State University, Ohio University, Kent State and Bowling Green. The arts scenes have always burped out terrific and idiosyncratic fare such as Pere Ubu, Devo, the Wolverton Brothers, the Dead Boys, and Guided by Voices. In the late eighties each town had its own brand that helped define and nurture the other bands and artists. Cleveland had the most excellent and under-appreciated Prisonshake, the Mice, Death of Samantha, My Dad is Dead and Cruel, Cruel Moon. Dayton had Guided by Voices. Cincinnati had the aforementioned Wolverton Brothers whose shambling country-art punk is as twisted as anything from a David Lynch movie, the Ass Ponys and the Afghan Whigs. Athens birthed Appalachian Death Ride and Geraldine, two sinister bands that would be at least marginally famous if they resided anywhere but Athens, Ohio.

In Columbus, we first had Jim Shepard (Vertical Slit/V-3), Scrawl, the Great Plains, the Gibson Brothers, Royal Crescent Mob, Boys From Nowhere and Mike Rep all made up of various odd-balls and characters who would play a huge role in the development of what is somewhat now being regarded as a high point in the Columbus underground scene. The specialness of that time was mostly due to the large and fanatical friendships and respect we had for not only one another but also for those bands that set the stage. Jerry Wick and Jenny Mae would both be besides themselves to share the stage with any Ron House fronted band and the same would be said for the New Bomb Turks who would open for any band they deeply respected, whether it be the Fastbacks (from Seattle) or Prisonshake.

We put stock in ourselves and to a large part, our friends. Friends who would carry the torch of loneliness offset by a burning desire to be heard and to hopefully lay next to another congenial soul by five am. Our hopes, crashed as theirs did when things did not quite pan out as we had planned. We were prepared for it, as it is in an Ohioan’s soul to step up to the plate and be called out by the proverbial sinker ball. Three strikes. The Trip. The Fumble. The Drive. Etcetera and so forth. Nobody got famous, nobody ever really made a dent in any product counting mechanism like Billboard, The College Music Journal or MTV but we loved and cherished one another as if our lives depended on it, night in and night out. What we discovered was the result wasn’t the prize; the prize was the friendship and the making of art for fuck’s sake. That is what an Ohioan does, not always stylish but always sincere.V-3 photo by Jay BrownJim+Shepard+jim+shep1

 

and please don’t forget the Ramones comic:

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/nixcomics/nix-comics-two-fisted-rock-n-roll-kickstarter/posts

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Ramones comic book? Full entries and information

February 15, 2014

Ramones

The following entries were written over a two year period, mostly between study sessions while I plowed through graduate school, guzzling coffee and listening to music. The second entry was edited by Matt Ogborn, who edited the blog up until last year when his work life was to busy to volunteer to muddle through my vast punctual and grammatical errors; so it probably reads the smoothest (thanks, Matt). These entries are set to be published by Nix Comics who have moved their 2014 schedule up to have the comic book out by Record Store Day, several distributors have agreed to carry the comic book. You can basically pre-order or order and get some other nice gifts including artwork, comic books and even my autographed copy of “End of the Century” through the Nix Kickstarter campaign. I am not real good at asking for things but if you have enjoyed the blog and want at least a physical copy of part of it, please consider contributing–if it works out, I will pursue other publishing opportunities.

The Ramones:
Saturday’s at Used Kids was an event, at times I may have been nursing a hangover and would have stopped at Bernie’s before opening up the store and have gotten a Bloody Mary to go in a styrofoam cup, complete with straw to help me over the ten am hump or I would have sent Jerry down to Larry’s to get a cold six pack of Black Label at two pm to get an early start on a long evening. By early afternoon the CD side of the store would be crammed with people, shuffling around one another, jockeying for an advantageous view of the racks of used CDs and vinyl records. By 1994, we had opened up the Used Kids Annex, which was the “collector’s” side, although the philosophy of the establishment was not to ever have collector prices. Dan Dow’s motto was “get the music to the people” which translated into an almost idealistic socialist idea of music; it should always be affordable. Music may have been a commodity but we felt that it should be an inherent right first and foremost, of course, later as the burned timbers of the music industry crashed around our bewildered, frightened heads we had no choice but to embrace e-bay and other “collectable” venues. But the early nineties were the salad days of music buying, the proverbial party before the dawn.
The Annex was run by a gentle soul, Dave “Captain” Diemer, a large man who had a striking resemblance to Richard Brautigan. Cap at one time worked at Moles Record Exchange with Dan and later ran Capital City Records, the collector’s offshoot of Singing Dog. Dan loved Cap with all of his heart and soul, and Captain was as kindhearted as he was large, a tall man with a bushy white mustache, slightly stooped he lived a life that had captured the essence of the sixties but was cynical enough to embrace the sounds of punk rock and heavy metal. He loved the sweet melancholy sounds of Phil Ochs as well as the death sirens of “War Pigs” of which he could air drum every drum fill. Captain had the most stable family life of us all, an affectionate wife and a young son all living in a small tiny farmhouse in rural Delaware County. Captain was the wise man in our world, one who presented an island of calm in the general neurotic filled days of our lives as we all crashed against the chaos and calm the sundered around us. He was always lending a bent ear to our tales, most mornings when I would bring him a large coffee with cream from Buckeye Donuts, he would beat me to my own punch, lean against me, slowly shaking his head he would mutter “I got so fucking drunk last night.” I never knew Captain to drink but he certainly was accustomed to my proclivities.
The compact disc changed everything from the staid familiarity of the vinyl record, not so much because it sounded better (which it didn’t) but because it was much more convenient. The format duped the listener into thinking the sound was better, just because it had a cleaner sound but the CD lacked depth and the affable inviting sounds of vinyl. The CD did make music exciting again for people and for some years people rushed to replace their old scratched records with shiny new compact discs and Tuesdays (which is the national release day for records) meant something. Used Kids, as with hundreds of other small mom and pop stores across the county, became a destination point.
By nineteen-ninety-three, some bands had achieved legendary status in our lives, maybe not necessarily across mainstream America, we had yet to see the self-congratulating cynicism of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame or the make believe idiocy of Guitar Hero and for those of us who hid our lives deep inside our record collections we relished the moment to bump shoulders with some these legends. For all intents and purposes, punk rock was not yet thirty years old and for the most part the musicians we adored in high school were still making music. Because of the good easy access of Staches and the Newport, it was quite easy to chat up John Cale, Maureen Tucker, Pere Ubu, and Alex Chilton, whose early work helped shape our comfy world. The Ramones, had turned into a punk-rock version of the Grateful Dead at this point, not in any way to insult either band but they made their money by touring, releasing semi-pedestrian records every so often that was a facsimile to their braver, younger selves. The Ramones were giants in our eyes, pillars of our musical and philosophical foundation. I had first heard the Ramones from the movie “Rock and Roll High School” which I saw in 1981. By the time I was fifteen I owned their first four records.
The Ramones played Columbus yearly, an annual stop at the Newport and at the Used Kids Annex to see Captain. Johnny and Joey never came in together but both would come in and see Captain and peruse the shelves for hours. Johnny was the bigger collector and he would be escorted to the dingy, damp back room to rifle through boxes of hard-to-find sixties garage and surf records. Truly, still a boy at heart.
We had two English gents working at Used Kids at that time, Colin Harris and Keith Hayward (who is now a semi-famous scholar) but quite English and charming in the old world ways. Keith was blond, handsome with a winsome personality that was skilled enough to entice any barmaid in town. Colin wore the dark morbidity of centuries old island living under the guise of his quick wit and eager thirst for draught beer. As I was standing up, slurping down a cold Black Label beer one Saturday afternoon, Keith came barging in the front door of Used Kids.
“Mate, you won’t fuckin’ believe it” he excitedly exclaimed, “but Joey FUCKING Ramone” just walked in the Annex!”
In my knowing, been-there, seen-that voice, I replied “yeah, he comes in every year to see Captain.”
“Holy shite!” Keith shook his head “ I had no idea” he muttered to himself.
I asked him in anybody was manning the counter next door, “um, no but give me a beer.” I handed him a beer and he disappeared. A few hours later he appeared, “you won’t fucking believe this mate but fucking Johnny just walked in.” I told him to show him the stuff in the back and gave him a few more beers to settle his nerves.
I went over during a lull in the action, Johnny asked about Captain, who left early on Saturdays and chatted up Keith, by this time I had met so many of my idols that I was mostly concerned with how I was going to drink for the night and who I would meet. I was already past the hill on disenchantment and while it could appear that I was aloof perhaps even haughty, the feeling I felt was more insular and I realized that people are the same everywhere. Some of us were too narcissistic to bother. Johnny bought a stack of records including a “Wild Angels” soundtrack which he accidently left on the counter. He of course, got tax off. He told Keith and me to come around the back of the Newport that night and he would have some passes for us, as it was already seven o’clock and would be too late to put us on their guest list. After closing up shop Keith and I ambled up to Larry’s to procure a few more drinks so the buzz wouldn’t peter out.

Ramones, part two
Bruno, my blond-haired, blue-eyed, energy-at-11 boy but age at 4, loves punk rock. We get in the car and he asks, “Daddy, can we listen to punk rock?” His sister, who has a remarkable fondness for opera and classical music, is under his shrieking assault as to what is played on our morning drive to school. “No! Saskia, we have to listen to PUNK ROCK!” Something about guitars tends to move our joined hearts.
The other day I walked out of the courtroom where I work and noticed a young woman, sitting in the blue felt and partially stained chairs in the hallway as she casually tried to look cool with a tint of blue hair hanging like a dropped flower over heavily mascara eyes, her legs pulled tight under her with a snippet of torn fishnet stocking poking from under frazzled blue jeans. To top off her ensemble she was wearing a faded, black Ramones T-shirt, the one with the Ramones Presidential seal. As I took her back to my office to conduct her assessment, I wanted to tell her of my personal Ramones experience, as if this would help bridge the therapeutic relationship between a 19-year-old, mentally-ill heroin addict and a graying 44-year-old man wearing a wrinkled dress-shirt and a tie with a dollop of jelly. I decided not to.

After Keith and I drank our fill at Larry’s, we decided to head down to the Newport, the large concert hall on High Street. My own experiences at the Newport were tenuous, as I had had a difficult experience with several bouncers at a dynamic triple bill of Th’ Faith Healers, The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, and the Breeders. I had ended up losing my temper and clocking a man several times my weight, after which his coworkers dragged me out by my neck, my feet dangling under me like a chicken carried across the barnyard, with me clutching my dark-rimmed glasses that were not built for barroom skirmishes. Bob Pollard was in line while I was on my way to being flung out the front door. He said, “Hey Bela, do you need help?” and then, upon noticing the thick-necked, beefy men escorting me out, “Uh, never mind!”
I had also managed to criticize the Newport management in one of the weekly papers for their lack of support of local and underground music in their pursuit of money, which was not the wisest move. At times, my own sideline hobby of promoting music was hindered by this “Fuck you” attitude toward the local corporate rock scene, as many of the bands that I had booked into Columbus who had risen to the status of playing a room the size of the Newport left me out in the dark when I could have had a nice payday for my earlier efforts. I had explained a part of this to Johnny Ramone, and he instructed Keith and me to come to the rear of the Newport to pick up some backstage passes after I assured him that my name would be crossed off the guest list for my past behavior.
Keith was excited, repeating, “The fucking Ramones, wow, can you believe it? The fucking Ramones, they know my name.” I was excited, but more so because I was to meet a woman at Larry’s after the show. We were to meet around midnight, which meant we were really just meeting to have sex.
The back of the Newport bordered Pearl Alley, and a large tour bus with a Western sunset motif painted along the side was parked next to the club. There was a small line of young women standing outside the back stage door that sat atop a small fire escape. With beer and whisky breath we stood on the crunchy gravel, keeping our distance from the chattering, nervous young punk rock women waiting to meet the elder statesmen of American punk rock. Suddenly, the Ramones tour manager, a dark-haired man wearing mandatory Ray-Ban sunglasses and chewing gum, appeared to be arguing with several staff members of the Newport. Another man in a brown suit appeared, clean-cut and holding a walkie-talkie, and yelled above the burgeoning din, “You guys have been selling your passes to all these girls all night. The show is sold out and none of your passes are good anymore!”
Mr. Ray-Ban yelled back, “That’s bullshit, you can’t do that! Show me the proof!” Keith and I looked at each other. How odd this all seemed.
Abruptly, Joey was on the scene, with his thin, angular frame and wearing a T-shirt. He pointed towards Keith and me, standing in the parking lot, giggling to ourselves. “Hey, I don’t know about all these girls, but those two guys get passes.”
Mr. Brown-Suit looked down at us, “I don’t care who it is, nobody else is getting in!”
Joey scoffed, “They don’t get in, we don’t play!”
I looked over at Keith, “This is fucking crazy.”
“Yup,” he said with a nod. It went back and forth for a few minutes.
Finally, Joey came down the stairs with Mr. Ray-Ban. “Hey, someone in our crew was selling our back-stage passes and they won’t let us. Why don’t you guys come up to Detroit tomorrow and we’ll get you in then?”
The next day was a Sunday. “I can’t, I have some family stuff going on,” in reality knowing a full-on hangover would impede driving the three hours to Detroit, getting drunk again, and driving back.
“How about Cincy, we’ll be there in two days?” This worked and we agreed to see them in Cincinnati.
Keith and I looked at each other as if we were being filmed for a sitcom. “Did Joey Ramone just say they wouldn’t play unless we were will allowed in?” I asked Keith.
Keith nodded, “Yeah, he said, if the two record store guys don’t get in, we don’t play.” I had a feeling it could have stemmed from my being banned from the venue for that idiotic move of slugging the bouncer. “Well, now what?” Keith asked.
“Well shit, we’re already on South Campus, so let’s go to Crazy Mama’s.”
Nodding, “Yup, sounds cool, might was well dance.”
As we started walking away, a bespectacled man with a beard right out of a King Crimson gatefold record cover, complete with pot seeds in the bent spine, yelled after us. “Hey guys, hold up. The fellas feel terrible and are embarrassed you couldn’t see the show, so I wanna help you out a little.” He explained that he was one of the roadies and drove their bus, the huge concert bus with a Western motif airbrushed on the side—a perfect cover for one of the most essential punk rock bands in history. He led us to the bus, telling us he was from Poland, Ohio, and had been with the Ramones for nearly ten years. “The best band you could hope to work for, even if they don’t talk to each other much. Total class guys. Salt of the earth.” As he was talking he pulled a baggie out of a worn, green satchel that was filled with marijuana. “Hey, this is for you guys, for your trouble,” and he tossed it to me.
I explained to him, “Man, we don’t need this, I don’t even smoke—I only drink.”
He smiled, “Hey, it’ll come in handy sometime.”
Keith grabbed it, “Shit, I know some girls who smoke,” and he tucked it into his pants. We thanked the bus driver from Poland, Ohio, assured him we would be in Cincinnati in a few days, and trudged off to get our dancing shoes on.
The night was strange, with an eerie energy that was fueled by our intake of Jim Beam and Black Label throughout the afternoon and evening. But South Campus in 1994 was much different than the sparkling new buildings and movie theater of the Ohio State University campus today. At the time, it was lined with bar after bar that made money selling an abundance of alcohol at a cut-rate, served in plastic pitchers and wash-buckets of beer, all with a fine film of grease floating on top. One could get shots of peach or peppermint schnapps for a mere dollar, and before stumbling home at the end of the evening, clutching hard against the person who would quiet one’s loneliness for a few hours, a person could grab a gyro for only a dollar—a perfect mint to share kisses with at 3 am. The street would be lined with cops on the weekend, some on horseback trotting over to break up fights and to help guide the lines into the packed, smudgy bars, pulsating with sounds of Bananarama, The Cure, Ah-Ha, and if one were lucky enough, New Order or The Clash. One bar even made a Sunday evening of playing mostly AC/DC and The Cult, a choice that was popular at the time but in hindsight was about as short-sighted sonically as Ian Asbury singing for The Doors. Columbus’s finest would line thin wires around the telephone poles so no future politicians, doctors, engineers, or teachers would drunkenly slip off the curb into an oncoming giant pick-up truck from one of the nearby rural burgs that dotted the adjacent counties.
I had shed South Campus several years prior. My drinking tastes no longer required me to search for the cheapest beer around, and the clientele of these establishments only pushed my buttons as I was just as likely to lose my temper with frat-boy lunk-heads or what I assumed were silly coeds. Besides, I had moved up north, closer to the store, near Larry’s and Stache’s——a convenient walk from any of these hangouts with little to no danger of getting into a row.
“Let’s take the alleyway, that way we don’t have to deal with the bullshit of High Street,” I suggested to Keith.
“Good call, man, that shit gotten even crazier, didn’t it?” I was drunk. We stopped at UDF to share a 40 ounce in the alley as we needed to feed the buzz lest it be too diminished before we completed the three-block walk to Crazy Mama’s.
“To be honest Keith, that was some really weird shit. I mean, it was like they were honored to know us, not vice-versa.” We hustled to the alley, pulling swallows from the bottle, and had finished it by the time we got to Crazy Mama’s. Dumping the empty bottle in a dumpster, I remarked to Keith, “It’s amazing that these dumbasses can’t seem to do this. Here we are drunker than shit and we know enough to throw our bottle away.”
Crazy Mama’s had steep stairs and as we climbed them we could feel the sweat inside the room. Bauhaus was playing. “I dunno Keith, they’re playing gothic shit tonight, maybe we should just go back to Larry’s.”
“We’re already here, besides some gothic chicks are sexy.”
Rolling my eyes, I said, “Whatever.” It was packed, with a whole slew of folks we hadn’t seen and a lot of punks from out of town, including a group of skinheads that lurked on one side of the dance floor on the opposite of the bar. “I don’t have a good feeling about this,” I murmured to Keith. I hated crowds. Especially drunk crowds. With skinheads. Suddenly “Beat on the Brat” exploded over the bar, and I said, “Cool, we’ll stay” as I grabbed three beers, two for me and one for Keith.

The Ramones: Part Three
Crazy Mama’s was cut in half by a steep stairwell. On the north end of the room there was the bar and a tiny area filled with Formica tables and hard plastic chairs that were most often found in elementary school cafeterias, the easier to wipe them down. To the left of the bar was another tiny room with a pinball machine and one of those machines you could blow into to see if you were too drunk to drive. To the right of the bar was the dance area, small, sticky, and packed to the gills with sweaty bodies dotted by black dyed spiky hair, pierced lips, leather jackets, and more borderline disorders than a community mental health center. A huge mirror ball hung down and splashed white-light reflections over the herky-jerky and morose bodies, and the reflections went on into eternity as all the walls were covered with mirrors. There was a doorway that sat on the other side of the stairwell that connected the dance floor to the sitting area. It was used by those who wanted to avoid the rush of the bar, and it was here that the skinheads were congregating, apparently spoiling for a fight with anyone who dared venture into their territory.
I sat at a table with my two beers, milking the bubbles spiraling from the dark bottles for the courage to twist myself about on the dance floor. I just need to collect my wits. Between the sparkles of the bursting white lights that flecked the pulsating bodies in a projection of phosphorescence the made every person quiver in the haze of smoke and the discomposure amplified by the guitars blaring from the speakers, the room shook with the energy of stripling sexuality fueled by the eagerness that alcohol imbues. I gazed at my shoes, cracked black leather with heels burnished raw—a fantastical thrift store find that were discarded once and needed to be again. My jeans were frayed, a hairy knee poking out as if it were a rodent looking for a moment to cut free. I swallowed the last of my beer and walked towards the dance floor. Spinning onto it in swirl of fluid movements, I skirted across the floor, the worn leather soles gliding in the spilt beer as the moment where guitar combines with dance shut the rest of the world out.
The next song, “One Last Caress” by the Misfits, was the most beautiful ode to murder and rape ever written. Part macho bombast, part crooning Jim Morrison, and all Ramones derivative. That little muscle bound dwarf Glenn Danzig rode a spark of glory for one set of anthem evil demos before morphing into a farcical cartoon of himself. Barely over a minute and a half, enough time to dig into the subconscious isolation that the best punk rock brings to live action. In a moment the DJ blended into “Bring on the Dancing Horses,” perhaps sensing that the tension in the room was now palpable. Echo and the Bunnymen penned a few outright hymns of geeky cockiness for the mascara drenched and lovelorn who brandished tattoos under fishnet stockings, spiky hair, and black lipstick. The whole room swayed to the words of disintegrating love. Wrought over the unfulfilled passions of their twenties, couples collapsed into one another.
As the song petered out I headed to the bar to fetch another drink or two. I stepped around two of the skinheads who were discussing the sudden change to “fuckin’ pussy music.” As I listened to the DJ playing the heartstrings of the mirror people, and Julian Cope instructed the world to shut its mouth, Keith came upon me and said, “Mate, those fuckin’ skinheads are fuckin’ with me.” He gestured over his shoulder towards several glaring skinheads who wore their uniforms of intimidation as if they had picked them from the rack at the local JC Penney’s: ankle high boots with white shoelaces pulled tight, white t-shirts, and gray suspenders making a perfect “X” across their broad backs. They looked menacing, but that was half the battle they were waging. There were roughly seven of them, but through the lens of drunken history and the perturbation of the moment, I can’t recall with certainty. They smiled at us,
“Um, those skinheads over there?” I asked, as if there were skinheads in every pocket of the club.
“Yeah, especially the big fucker.” Keith was short in stature and handsome, with long curly golden locks that had seduced many a beautiful girl. He oozed easy charm and in our own personal battles of seduction he clearly had the battle won before even engaging in conversation. The big fucker was a big fucking skinhead. He was nearly a head taller than me, with a crooked grin and his big fucking shaved head, the baldness speaking volumes of fear.. We walked over, feeling braver than I ever should have, with guts full of alcohol and a temperament that was as shaky as North Korean foreign policy. I put my beers down on table next to the doorway.
Keith stood next to me. He was smiling. Perhaps the friction of violence energized him or perhaps he didn’t really think there would be violence. With a history of barroom brawls and some frequent ass beatings by my older brother while growing up, I wasn’t scared to take a punch. I also knew when to quit. One skirmish I got in off of Chittenden Avenue lasted one gigantic swing and a miss. If it would have connected, perhaps I would have been like the great home-run/strike-out champion, Dave Kingman for a day, but if I missed I was still Dave Kingman. On Chittenden, the gentleman smiled and punched me square in the front teeth. I yelled out, “Owww!, Ohhh, that hurt! Okay, you win,” and walked over to pick up my pizza, wiggling my front teeth all the way home as the big galoot hollered at me, “Hey, you can’t quit after one punch.” Turning I explained, “Listen, I gave you my best shot, you hit me in my teeth. I It hurts, so you win. I’m going home and eating pizza.”
Knowledge carries a lot in any experience. I don’t believe that Keith had ever taken a punch let alone thrown one. I knew that most bar or street fights ended quickly, in fact mostly in a matter of seconds after three or four punches, the majority never connecting. Take two drunken men, place them in a smoke-filled room with loud music and other people and ask them to try to hit one another and most likely you’ll end up with a PG-13 version of America’s Funniest Home Videos. I leaned up into the big skinhead’s face, stared into his eyes and said, “Hey, are you fucking with my friend here?”
Noticing that several of the smaller skinheads had gathered around him, as if they were the stink on his shit, he smiled and said, “What the fuck is it to you.” As he glanced at his skinhead buddies for support, I hit him right in the chest and he toppled over like a drunken man is prone to do. Immediately, regret rained over me as several of his team plowed into me as if I were a tackling dummy. I was clutching my thick plastic brown glasses in my hand. Flipping over a table with our momentum, I yelled to Keith as I felt big- leather skinhead boots kicking my ribs
I thought, “Oh yeah, these guys kick, I forgot about that. They fight in packs.” I felt a boot against the back of my head, and got scared. Being a twisty sort, I had perfected the practice of escaping from years of fleeing my brother. I held onto one guy’s leg and turned into it. When he fell over I scrambled away and headed towards the stairs. Keith was nowhere to be found.
I ran into Pearl Alley, which runs parallel with High Street, cut through another small alley, and was back on High Street. I ran all the way to Larry’s, where I knew I would be safe. Nothing felt like comfort than being part of something where everybody knew your name, your choice of drink and easily submerged themselves into your drama. I ran like a fat kid from school. I felt some blood dripping down my neck, but it did not seem too bad.
Bursting through the doors of Larry’s I went up to the bar and asked, “has Keith shown up?”
Becky, the tall bartender, looked aghast and said, “No, what happened? Your head is bleeding a little,” as she handed me a drink. There is nothing better for a concussion than a few alcoholic beverages.
“We got jumped by some fucking skinheads at Crazy Mama’s. I didn’t see Keith.” I retold the story to others and the woman I was supposed to meet seemed to enjoy it. “This may work in my favor,” I thought.
Roughly an hour later, Keith sauntered into the bar, flashing his white teeth and grinning. “Oh, thank God you’re okay, mate. As soon as you were flung over that table, I ran. They chased me all the way to 15th Avenue. I didn’t know where to go, so I ran into a party and they were going to kick me out until…I pulled out that bag of weed! It fuckin’ did come in handy!
Two days later we arrived in Cincinnati to meet up with the Ramones. We had backstage passes and saw the show from the wings of the stage, drinking the backstage Heineken’s. Joey said that they waited until five because they wanted to take us out to eat but couldn’t wait any longer. Johnny asked if I had brought his copy of the Wild Angels soundtrack. I had forgotten it, so he said, “Well, next year I’ll pick it up.” At the end of the show, Keith pulled out his camera. I suggested he take a photo of the costume cabinets—those huge black leather cabinets found backstage at Broadway shows. Written in white spray paint on the side was “Ramones” and inside there were four leather jackets on hangers. The band had changed into normal, casual t-shirts, and I don’t recall them drinking any alcohol. They were truly salt of the earth. There never was a next year. They never returned to Columbus and broke up about a year and a half later. I still have Johnny’s copy of Wild Angels. If anybody knows his widow, I would love to return it to her.

turning part of the blog into a comic, to read in the john, or at work, or under the blankets, or to your kids

February 8, 2014

turning part of the blog into a comic, to read in the john, or at work, or under the blankets, or to your kids

over the course of the past four years, many of you have supported my blog and other endeavors (the blog has reached more than 63,000 readers) and i have been working on trying to complete (two) books. In the meantime, I spoke with Ken Epstein who runs NIX comics about turning the Ramones entries into a comic book, he was so excited he has moved it to the forefront of his schedule but needs money to get it out. Hence this Kickstarter campaign. The art is drawn by Andy Bennett who has drawn for Marvel & DC comics as well as other known entities. Ken did a wonderful job of turning my words into a comic/graphic novel. For $8 you get the comic and get to help. Plus Bruno is really excited to see his dad in a comic, please contribute if you can. The other comic in the Kickstarter is a long out of print repress of a NYC underground comic with such then unknowns as Bob Camp, Peter Kuper, Mort Todd, J.B. Bonivert and others.

Jerry Wick & Jenny Mae: Alcoholism (again?!) 2001-present

January 26, 2014

2001–present.
Cleveland lays at the end of I-71, like a large gray concrete cloud, full of billowing smoke stacks spewing flames and pollution into the air as the highway arches over factories and ethnic neighborhood, in the short distance lays the Terminal Tower, which is also the name of Pere Ubu’s greatest hits package. Cleveland actually starts nearly forty or fifty miles down the freeway when exit signs begin more numerous upon passing Lodi, Ohio and soon Akron, from here on out one finds oneself in the vast suburbs of what was once the crown jewel of the Mid-West. Cleveland, city of lights, the proud blue-collar town that built the steel that first made the first steamships and later the cars and buildings that made America what it was. The suburbs are famous by themselves, Parma, University Heights, Euclid, Lakewood and Bedford Heights, these were much more romantic than the suburbs of Columbus which have always had a more rural feel to them, not only from the inhabitants but also in their names: Grove City, Whitehall (need anymore be said), Dublin, Hilliard and Plain City. The names speak for themselves, the suburbs of Columbus are as white bread and the names themselves, whereas Parma, Bedford Heights all had a connotation of ethnic blending and big-city drama. Jerry was from Parma, his last name was shortened from the Polish Wickowski, dropping the last five letters gave him the last name of Wick. His father worked in a factory, and Jerry would spend his weekends in Cleveland or in his bedroom dreaming of becoming a rock star while listening to Kiss records along with a mix of Cleveland greats such as My Dad is Dead, the Dead Boys, Death of Samantha (Jesus, there IS a death-thread here?!).

Jerry’s funeral was in Parma Heights, his gravesite just a stone’s throw from the exit ramp off of I-71 and a few miles from the Cleveland International airport, as a huddled mass of outcasts, musicians and his bewildered family gazed on as the priest said a final prayer over the muddy hole that would soon envelope his casket one could hear the hiss of car wheels spinning over the asphalt of I-71. Roll on Cleveland, indeed. I was drunk that week, and when I went into the funeral home for the first time and saw Jerry’s body laying in his casket, I hurried out of the wood-paneled room and out into the cold air of January. Moving across the busy street, I bustled into the perfect Parma dive bar that sat just catty-corner from the funeral home. This was perfect civil planning. The bar still had Christmas decorations up and the bartender was sympathetic, “you here from across the street, the funeral home?” she asked as she put my Jim Beam shot and beer in front of me. I nodded as I downed the shot and motioned for another one, “a friend of yours?” “Yeah, he was from Parma, but lived in Columbus for a while now.” “Ohhh, was he that musician? That was in the paper up here.” “Yup,” and I downed the second shot and ordered one more. “Such a pity, did they ever catch that man who hit him?” “Not yet” as I took a pull from my beer.
The next few months were restless, I was trying to maintain my relationship with my soon-to-be-wife , get a handle of my drinking, deal with the death of Jerry all the while living with one-foot in dishonesty and the other in righteous anger, much of it from what I perceived to be great injustice in the world. I was thirty-one at the beginning of 2001 and I felt like fifty-when it ended.
My wife had graduated from Ohio State with a Masters in Fine Arts a few years before and was working at Denison University, she had won a National prize given to an outstanding MFA graduate, and while she was committed to staying in the United States, she was worried that her visa may expire. We had been together for nearly five years and been engaged for two years but I was gun-shy to marry again, the commitment to personal responsibility frightened me, and besides, I had already proven to myself that I was awful at marriage once before. Merijn came home one day as I sat on our blue couch, “my parents are coming next month and we are getting married.” Looking up from my New York Review of Books, “um, ok, what do I need to do?” She shook her head, smiled and said, “nothing, just be there.” She had been applying for teaching jobs, traveling to several conferences and in a short while she interviewed with UC Davis, The Cleveland Art Institute, Columbus School of Art and Design and the University of Florida. On our wedding day she accepted a job at the University of Florida. Gainesville was in our horizon. Soon we were staying at a hotel on the campus of the University of Florida, the area had been hit hard by fires and the smoke of the fires shrouded the campus, as I peered from our room window I had the sensation of living in a dream while gray clouds of smoke crawled across the green carpet of Alachua County.

My drinking was limited to several times a week, I drank very little in the house, maybe a beer or two with dinner and we usually had at least three bottles of hard liquor in the house. Maker’s Mark, some vodka, and maybe a bottle of gin. Merijn liked to drink wine and we bought several bottles a week. I shied away from wine as the hangovers were too much and once I had a glass, we would finish off whatever wine we had left in the house. We went out to eat several times a week, usually on Friday or Saturday we would go to a more expensive restaurant, usually downtown and our bar-tab was as much as the dinner. On the way home, I would ask her to drop me off at Larry’s, Little Brothers or somewhere else to continue my drinking and making up little lies to have her drop me off, saying so-and-so’s in town or that I would have to meet somebody to talk about a record. Slivers of truth became towering trees of lies and I would let the night swallow me up.
Alcoholism is a malady of feelings, one where the reality of life is processed through a perception of reality that is always shifting, like solid ground melting into liquid as if the soil that once held tight to your feet had slowly turned into a pool of alcohol. Believing for years that the only truth that existed was the certainty of feelings, the hurt from personal relationships and perceived slights pushed against the sanguine nature of every other person who entered my circle of self. Clutching onto fixed beliefs that were only enhanced by the world that I swam in, the derision I felt (feel) towards anything outside my comfort zone, slowly, over years painted me into a corner. Addiction, to be sure is a motherfuck. One that can render the ability to navigate through an hour at a time difficult, at once tying up feelings and then moving towards the brain and finally, fitfully into action and behaviors.
I had my first drink as a child, probably four or five, my grandmother would serve us tiny glasses of port wine mixed with sugar and every grandchild who wanted a small kid’s serving of beer would get one at her dinner table. My brother and I would try to convince our sister to take one so we could have hers. This was natural, and it only goes to reckon that it was quite normal in the old country. Grandma Isabel’s house was a museum of the Gundel and Koe-Krompecher families, the walls stuffed with artifacts of our history, a veritable dare to any guest to question the greatness of the family names. The Krompecher family dates to the 14th Century, and she had the family coat-of-arms on the wall, just above the entrance way to her kitchen. Diagonally, there was a photograph of the Hungarian government, and there in the circle of leading politicians was our great-great somebody, who was Chief Justice. On the wall above the brown vinyl couch hung a picture of my great-grandfather Karloy Gundel, one of the great chefs and restaurateurs of Hungary. My grandmother could barely utter a sentence without extolling the greatness of her father, he was empathetic, a larger-than-life figure whose shadow lorded over her house as if he were the sun itself. This made an indelible mark on the grandchildren, whose trips to her house were adventures and yet, at the same time I felt a mark was etched into my being that, I too had to achieve greatness to even be in the same breath as this history.
Unspoken in these rooms was anything that had to do with mental illness, depression, isolation or substance abuse. The drunken stories of my dear uncles Pablo and Peter were propulsive in fueling a sense of adventure, the lives they lived were epic and even today some elderly grandfather or grandmother will approach me and ask, “Koe-Krompecher? Wow, I haven’t heard that name in a while, are you related..” It is here where I cut them off, “Peter and Pablo?”. “Yes, how did you know?” their eyes sparkle and a mischievous smile crawls across their face, as if they can recall the first taste of adventure. “Oh, I know. Trust me.” “Man, they were some crazy guys, so much fun, I’d tell you but you probably shouldn’t know.” Oh, I know. Trust me. These yarns were slyly dug into my conscious as we ate egg and chicken soup, Hungarian paprikash, mashed potatoes with sour cream and a dessert made with copious amounts of rum. I got drunk the first time around the age of nine at my Uncle Peter’s house at Christmas, there is a wonderful picture of my brother Zoltan, tipsy as fuck holding a glass of champagne. He is eleven. That party was crazy and perhaps was the first inkling that there were some anger and mental health issues in my family, my father got into a fist fight with his younger brother outside in the winter cold and I remember vividly the spots of blood in the snow. My father left hastily that night and we stayed at my uncle’s. A few years later my father would exit my life, pretty much for good, leaving a void that years later had me contemplating having my children having my wife’s last name as if this would prevent the misery of depression, rage and substance abuse from their lives.
When I was 14, a goofy, nerdy smartass stuck in the middle of cornfields, pick-up trucks, John Deere hats and coveralls, a veritable intense scary version of Hee-Haw to my adolescent mind I got wasted for the first time in Jeanette George’s barn party. All of a sudden the farm boys who didn’t understand the dopey kid with the weird name was kinda cool as one-liners poured out of my mouth as if directed by God himself, and those girls who had been conditioned to fall for the stereotypical macho country boy smiled slyly at me. I had had several girlfriends when I lived in Athens, but the move to rural Ohio, burst whatever yearning hope I may have had in those budding teenage years. I was lonely. The cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon went down slowly and soon I found some good friends who were much like me, Chris Biester, Jon Baird, Mark Geiger and Jeff Entler were boys who loved music as I did and liked to drink beer on the weekend as we mocked everybody in our school, trying in vain to shake the awkwardness we all must have collectively felt.
It was brisk that night, one where the soft wind pulled the weakening hold of the leaves on the chilly trees, the breeze would blow up into the branches and slowly tug at one leaf and suddenly, like an invisible trap door a flutter of leaves would empty towards the ground. The changing fall season crept into our adolescence psyches, enveloping up with the social anxiety that dwells within children who are budding adults and fueling late night hopes of kisses, heavy petting and the wonderment of sexuality. I wore large wire-frame glasses, they were new to me as I was fitted with them upon complaining that I couldn’t see the blackboard in Mr. Chamberlin’s oh-so-boring Freshman English class, I suppose Mr. Chamberlin just thought I was another over-active dumb kid but I just couldn’t see his shitty sentence diagrams on the board. Sometime during my sophomore year, I got contacts which I wore until my alcoholism told me glasses were easier when you passed out. Glasses didn’t tend to stick to someone’s eyeballs.
The didn’t unfold as much as it burst forth as if rocketed from the barrel of a shotgun, the minutes flicked past as if they were motorized and as stars twinkled and winked from the deepest of space, I had collected a small audience as I bellowed jokes and asides. The warmth of smiles is something I cannot forget, while the thirty years that have passed since then have swept whatever funny words that tumbled forth from my lips, I realized then and there that a tiny bit of beer carried me a long way. Drinking happened on the weekends, mostly in the back seat of a car or at Mark’s house as his mother and stepfather went on trips to ride horses. It was sporadic, alcohol was easy to procure and the summer between my sophomore and junior years, I spent in Athens. It was there that drinking became easier, I looked old enough to get into bars and the hurried energy of bars excited me. Besides there were a lot of college women in Athens and this fueled my feelings of being older and a part of something much grander than a fifteen year old boy lost in the Ohio wilderness.
When I was child I would sit upon my grandfather’s knee in his cracked leather chair, he would hang his left leg over the side with a small wooden knob at the end of the arm chair being the last guard of his leg slipping off onto the floor, his foot dangling, pants leg pulled tight revealing his black socks collapsing around his ankles. He would welcome me up as he watched the news, rocking me on his knee and I could smell the Jim Beam in a glass that worked more like an extension of his hands as he nursed the smooth bourbon from late morning, to mid-afternoon to early evening before rising from the comfy chair and lumber off to bed. The smell of water and Jim Beam dug deep into my brain and when I started drinking liquor, I soon lost interest with the intense and feverish buzz that Jack Daniels gave for the smooth comfort of Jim Beam, somewhere buried into my essence was the memory of my grandfather holding me, murmuring in my ear and letting me eat salty Lay’s Potato Chips right from the bag as Walter Cronkite spoke from a black-and-white universe and for moments the world was safe. I would order a beer and a Beam and water and soon learned the fine are of cultivating a buzz. Giving up on shots after I smashed my ribs into the floor of Staches one night and after several summers of puking into an old brown bucket the lure of shots no longer enticed me, the art of drinking was about establishing a pace that could hold off the desperation of loneliness until deep into the night, and when cruising one did not want to get to sloppy as it would be easy to scare off any suitors who could take away the pangs of desperation.

Towards the end of my drinking I would loathe the night, a farce compared to just a few years prior when the twisting inside of me burned as if there were simmering coals alighting the innards of my body during the day while I pined for the night. For the comfort of cigarette smoke, music wafting overhead and through my body and the twinkle of a pretty woman, all to soothe an unsettled fragment of me. Conditioning takes years, whether it is the body or the mind, with alcoholism it is a combination of both, one feeds the other while the circumstances that compels a person may shift the symbiotic relationship remains strong. Desperation came in bursts, emotional upheavals the unraveled as the moon rose high above, pining for affirmation was a sick exercise one that still urges me to this day.

Undercurrents of discourse percolated through my mind and veins, as the excuses to drink piled on one another my behavior became dishonest, selfish and in the end extremely risky. Jerry had this at times during our friendship, where the haunting of his depression could sink him to tears or to futile anger at anyone around him. His look of utter frustration with his obsession of drinking stunned me, “Bela, I can’t fucking stop” he would utter as I clutched a handful of Black Label’s to disperse around the chunky wooden booths at Larry’s. “Aw Jerry, relax, come on. Everybody is having a good time.” He would then slide away, camping in his upstairs apartment surrounded by his best friends, that is his record collection. Jenny, on the other end approached her alcoholism with glee at that time, “I’m a fucking alcoholic, so fucking what” she would blurt out as she downed a whiskey, her life by then had not yet unraveled a horrific pace that would have her living in a mansion in Miami to the streets of Columbus in a matter of months. “Shit, I know what my problem is, and I frankly I don’t care” she would say, as we sat around her glass tabletop playing a game of quarters. Later, as a resident of Jackson County Hospital in Miami, when the apparitions that would sporadically spring from her mind grew too dangerous and the alcoholic tremors would grind her to the floor, she confessed, “I’m so fucking scared of being alone BELA,” her intensity almost breaking solid heavy plastic of my phone, “I don’t know how not to drink, it’s the ONLY THING THAT HAS EVER WORKED.” By then, I had gone through my own treatment for alcoholism and was sober. I believed her only answer was the same path I had chosen, which was twelve-step groups although I had little knowledge of the severity of her mental illness.

Sadness has cloaked me since childhood, at times burying me deep into my mind as is the sky were trying to shake the clouds free, I tore myself loose through alcohol, as a means to find companionship. At times, depression is a salve, especially when young as emotions are so strong, so immediate and encompassing, the uniqueness of heartbreak is by itself a shelter from the rest of world. Later, I would discover meditation and other acts of non-acts, so to speak but depression still pokes its head out, a goblin of sorts to trip up my day. Music has always been the consistent, more than the booze, and certainly more than the women. It was there when I was twelve and around still as I turn the page into middle age. Headphones yank me back from the precipice of the dark gloominess of my mind, of emotions that lie to me, over and over. Today, I don’t pick up a drink but many of the reasons for drinking are still there. Inside of me.

and I love THIS song now.

and THIS!!!

2013 in review: Thanks for reading, cool things coming in 2014 (hopefully a comic book about the Ramones entries!)

January 6, 2014

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 7,000 times in 2013. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 6 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Jerry Wick and Jenny Mae: Michael Galinsky & Suki Hawley

January 4, 2014

(not edited)

I first met Mike Galinsky in 1991 or 92, I had stumbled across his band, Sleepyhead, via a Shimmy-Disc compilation titled “Chinny Chin Chin” which consisted of four NYC bands. Perhaps the best known was Kicking Giant. I gravitated towards Sleepyhead, that sounded like a fast Superchunk, if something like that was even possible. Somewhere along the line I got a hold of Michael, and his two band mates, Chris O’Rourke and his then girlfriend (now wife?) Rachel. I have a vague recollection of maybe Bettina Richards or her Pier Platters cohort, Otis Ball giving me Michael’s phone number.

Anyway, soon enough, I had booked Sleepyhead to play a weeknight show at Staches with Gaunt. Nobody came to the show but they didn’t care, they were happy to be playing with a decent rock band, and besides, they were impressed that Gaunt was going to be on Bettina’s fledgling Thrill Jockey Record. Michael was tall, and very thin with one of those skinny man Adam’s apple that made his neck and face even more pronounced. I, on the other hand had a triple chin to look forward too as I grew older (not yet though) thanks to the fat Hungarians in my family. Michael wore red cut off jean-shorts and talked a mile a minute, I was intrigued by Rachel as she drummed and I only knew of few female drummers at that time, Georgia from Yo La Tengo, and Janet from 11th Dream Day both of who also shared singing duties along with their significant others.

The next time Sleepyhead came to town they had just signed with Slumber land Records and came with an opening band. The art-slop damaged Dung Beetle who made a racket of a noise at Bernie’s, fronted by the novelist and writer Sam Lipsyte, Dung Beetle was more of an beer fueled art experiment than the fast-paced guitar sounds of Sleepyhead. Again, no one came to the show but we all got smashed, my alcoholism at this time was only a murmur, blanketed by my outsized humor and a yearning to please. Every time that Sleepyhead came to town, I had a different woman and the carousel of sweethearts would be as constant as the Jim Beam, Makers Mark and Budweiser that I clutched tightly to. Michael and the band grew very fond of my two small dogs, Richard and Istvan. Richard was incredibly lovable and Istvan was a dick, he ate everybody’s food was prone to biting if someone tried to say, get a loaf of bread from him or just as easy piss of the floor after eating the “g” section out of my record collection (all my Giant Sand and Gibson Brothers have Istvan scars.)

 

 

 

The third time Sleepyhead came to down was in support of Half Japanese (and maybe Moe Tucker?), there is a very nice photo the Mike took of Jad Fair and Istvan having a stare-down near my grill that appeared in Option Magazine. Thinking Fellers Union Local 282, loved Richard so much they had her photographed taped above their van’s rear-view mirror next to the Queen of England and thanked her on one of their records, for “inspiration.” Mike took more photos this trip and my favorite picture of the dogs is one he took of them, side by side after they devoured an entire bag of Sleepyhead’s cough drops. On this trip, their van was in a crazy accident, as Chris opened the driver’s side door and car drove by and tore it off. Kept on driving, as is the Columbus tradition for night-time drivers (i.e. see the death of Jerry Wick). There was a mad scramble the next day to get the door back on.

 

There were several more trips to Columbus by Sleepyhead, on one Mike filmed the only known Gaunt video. Soon, as the nineties came to a lurching and (for me) wasted in, Mike had married Suki Hawley who I believe had played or toured with Ruby Falls another NYC band I had booked at Bernie’s. They had made a mad-dash of a film, called Half Cocked which involved members and cast-abouts of the Louisville and Memphis music scenes, it was a burst of black and white along with improvised dialogue and a nugget from that era of indie-rock. Mike brought the film to Columbus and we showed in on a screen while Tim from Two-Dollar Guitar and Sleepyhead opened it up.

A few years later, I was in NYC with my soon to be wife staying in Brooklyn and Mike had just gotten married, and he invited us over for the celebration. I remember sitting on the phone and wanting to go but my wife had a big art opening and I knew I could not trust myself to go to a party and maintain my wits for my wife. I would get too loaded so I quietly demurred.

Mike and I remained in contact, and when I lived in Gainesville he sent me a package of his films on DVD, “Half Cocked” and “Horns and Halos” a documentary involving President George W. Bush, and a man, JH Hatfield who wrote a biography on President Bush that claimed that Bush was arrested for cocaine. Hatfield later committed suicide, in 2001. I terms of what Mike was doing in NYC, I felt left behind, as I picked up the shards of my life that I had not just figuratively but also quite literally smashed upon the hard wood floors in one sad epic afternoon, the anger, frustration and stupidity of my life was slammed into the walls and floor, splintering into a million cracked, pointy specs of things I held dear. I felt adrift, or perhaps I was adrift and had come crashing into the rocky beach? Mike and Suki had taken the ideals of the indie/underground movement, the true ethos of DIY that had given me and so many others the propulsion to exit our tired, and at times, a hopeless grey future and gave us permission to carve and whittle our own lives through our art. We had taken whatever talent we had musically, artistically, and romantically and fed it into the festering creative engine that burbled inside of us and forged an identity. Burnishing ourselves with the confines of notes, paint and typewriters and effervescence conversations, that spilled out of our collective mouths like coffee percolating we forged ourselves with the parameters of nothing except ourselves. As I galloped into my early thirties, so many of my friends, dead, or left for dead as addiction and mental illness chewed not only their talent but also their souls alive, I knew I had lost my way.

Mike and Suki were an inspiration, casting aside the music that had propelled him in his early twenties he rediscovered or more appropriately turned his attention to the visual world. The making of “Half Cocked” must have been liberating and soon they were making award winning documentaries, and as of this past fall releasing several books of photography. Mike’s first book of photography, titled “Scraps” is a black and white time capsule of east coast indie rock, mostly concentrating on New York and the Simple Machine crowd, the book is cover to cover with young kids piecemealing a life on the road, living in conversion bands while banging out three chord stutters of love and longing to a roomful of twenty people at best most nights. Bands such as Versus, The Grifters (who I have written extensively about), and 1/2 Japanese, who would all in some way touch my life as well as my couch stare and smile slyly as Mike borrows a small piece of their essence to be stained onto a white page.

Mike and I connected on Facebook, an avenue of connection that I make no apologies for, it is exciting to be able to touch someone whom I always held an affinity for whether it was only through a shared passion for Paul K., Joel Phelps, Daniel Clowes or the passion of helping those less fortunate than ourselves. Mike updated me on his life, he had just finished a documentary called, “Battle for Brooklyn” which was made over an eight year period documents the struggle over the Atlantic Yards and the Barclay Center where the New Jersey Nets now stake as their home. It was a revelation in terms of rank unrestricted capitalism and how in even a liberal bastion like Brooklyn, politicians and those with money can snuff out the small guy. The same issues are being repeated across the country, most notably in Atlanta where the baseball Braves will shrug off a publically built stadium less than seventeen years after the public paid for it, in Columbus during the 1990′s the citizens voted several times stating collectively and unequivocally that the public would not pay for a hockey arena on the spot of the historic Ohio Penitentiary (that once housed O. Henry, David Allen Coe and Johnny Paycheck). The city and the powerful Wolfe family teamed with Nationwide Insurance and just last year the city gave the arena to the Columbus Blue Jackets (owned by the…….Wolfe Family and Nationwide.) It should be noted that the Wolfe’s are archly conservative, and the editor of their newspaper, The Columbus Dispatch, has almost tea-party beliefs, have been against most public services such as affordable health care, higher funding for financing um, wars but are quite alright for the taxpayers to pay and then give them an shiny new revenue generating arena.

“Battle for Brooklyn” won a litany of awards and ended up on Roger Ebert’s best of 2011 and was shortlisted for an Oscar. Mike’s films have been screened all over the world, on various network stations (Showtime, PBS, Sundance Channel and more) and his audience has found him, not vice-versa. Several years ago, Mike started a Kickstarter campaign for a book he was assembling. It was a book of photographs he took as he drove across the country in the late eighties and early nineties, all the photographs were taken in various shopping malls across the country, each one not surprisingly no different than any of the other ones. The book, titled “Malls Across America” (the title makes me think of Hands Across America, the charity driven failure that imploded when people realized not that many people live in rural America) was soon picked up by the Steidl publishing house after some of the photo’s Mike posted went viral. Mike had asked several writers, including myself to contribute essays to the book and I readily agreed. Mike has been a huge supporter of my writing and we have discussed another book of photography to accompany essays on some of the clients I have meet over the years.  A few of these essays are in rough form within this blog, “Ron the Surfer” and “Pearl Williams”. “Malls Across America” came out in the fall of 2013, and quickly sold out, it has garnered positive press in USA Today, The Week, and New York Times as well as being named one of the books of the year by Time magazine. And in the back there are two essays by contributing writers, and yes, one of them is mine.

http://lightbox.time.com/2013/11/26/flashback-to-the-timeless-malls-of-the-1980s/#1

Mike has a new film out soon, “Who Took Johnny” about the 1982 abduction of Johnny Gosch, a twelve year old paper boy from Des Moines, Iowa. My wife and I watched it last week and she was in tears throughout, it is a gripping and unsettling movie that closely observes the fears of any parent. And yes, many of those fears, sadly come true in some instances. Mike is launching another Kickstarter to help with distribution of the film, whose subject matter is not one film companies flock to. Please follow the link for more information, and to Mike and Suki, you have made a brilliant film. Thanks.

http://rumur.com/johnny

 

Jerry Wick and Jenny Mae: Cars, New York and Alcohol 1991-2003

December 14, 2013

Cars, New York and Alcohol 1991-2003

The great American fascination of the automobile fell upon deaf ears to most of us, unless it was tied up in a song (ala, “Born to Run”), books (“On the Road”) or film (as a metaphor for escape), the insular world that we inhabited was confined to walking distances or to the touring van. In rural Ohio, a car is a necessity, a way to get from here to there, which covered miles not city blocks. Springfield Northeastern High School was nearly eight miles from my house, a fifteen minute car ride or a nauseating school bus ride over rolling hills, sudden stops and a rollicking-rolling trip spent upon spent shocks that lasted nearly an hour from school to home. It is impossible to ride a bicycle on these rural roads where the average speed of cars rocketing over the sudden mounds of earth and slopping quick valleys, that if timed with the right amount of acceleration could lift a small car over the peak of the hill. The roads, even the state routes are all two lanes and for even the most accomplished cyclist this method of transportation would be inviting trouble.

In high school we drove when we could, and upon reaching the age of sixteen procuring a car was the highest sense of order no matter how poor the family was. For a car provided an escape, from the boredom of the humid summer days that cracked upon the sweaty backs of angst-ridden teenage boys, from the isolation of playing Atari video games while Pink Floyd sang about adolescent rebellion masking as claustrophobic stardom and as the pangs of burgeoning sexuality cause near madness. Our family was poor, we lived off of Bob’s sole paycheck which hovered just over $12,000 for a family of four. Zoltan was given a car by a friend and I relied on the broken-up and often broken-down Corolla that Bob drove. Eventually, Zoltan gave me his pale gray Mustang that had never driven correctly since he tried to plow through a creek only to have the car get stuck in the mud and slowly fill up with rising creek water. Smoke billowing out above the cool water that rose above the bumper, I crawled in and yanked out the Radio Shack tape player–the player someone forming a perfect union with the engine for as one pressed the gas pedal the whining of the engine would play through the speakers. “Bela, get the hell out of there! The car might blow up!” yelled Z from the bank of Mud Creek. “It can’t blow up, it’s buried in water!” I screamed under my breath as I wrestled with the wires, my knees getting soaked in the brown water. Eventually we got a kind farmer to pull the car out with a tractor and after a few days of airing out, it ran again but never quite like the $400 car it was. More like a $350 car.

In Columbus not everyone had a car, Jerry Wick never had a license as far as I knew although I had offered to let him use any of the litany of the small compact cars I had over the years. He walked everywhere and eventually got a bicycle and this was this mount that he riding on when he was tragically killed. Sadly, Jerry a punk till the end didn’t think he needed a light, reflectors or a helmet (although a helmet would not have prevented his neck from being snapped like a twig when he was hit that night twelve years ago.) Road trips were common, mostly to Cleveland to see bands, either at the old Euclid Tavern, the Grog Shop or sometimes Public Hall. Other times to Cincinnati to Sudsy Malone’s a Laundromat bar that hosted bands as well or to Bogart’s, Cincinnati’s answer to the Newport but more of a shoebox than the ornate Newport with its high oval ceiling and elaborate wooden balcony. Most of my trips were to Athens, where the hour and fifteen minute drive, fueled by a six pack and a handful of cigarettes would fix my racing mind.

Other times, I would drive to New York, my first drive in the 1967 Dodge Valiant, which I bought for $500 from Matt Newman a guitarist for High Sheriff Ricky Barnes who was the first in Columbus to start playing old country standards among a handful of, at times brilliant originals. Soon, the Gibson Brothers, Hank McCoy and others followed suit. Matt was moving to California to seek more lucrative professional possibilities than playing for a handful of regulars at Staches, while wearing thrift-store western attire. I got his light blue Valiant, a standard “3 on the tree” that had a warming system that just worked on the passenger side and left a small pools of ice on the floor when parked overnight during the winter. My first drive to New York was to see Sharon, who lived with Herbert Hunke. Herbert lived in the same apartment he had lived in since the mid-seventies, and he was still on daily methadone and would rise early, write and walk the five blocks or so to the methadone clinic. Sharon said he would venture out with a young Puerto-Rican man who she wasn’t sure was Herbert’s boyfriend or not. I made that first trip with Jack Taylor (Richie Violet) who was going to see his friends in New York. He was pals with Judah Bauer from The Blues Explosion, the men in Railroad Jerk and Charlie from Surgery and the band Unsane. He was close to Sharon and would razz her in front of me about her relationship with me, partly due to his own crush on Sharon and partly because he did not feel I had enough rock “acumen” to go out with such a beautiful woman. Perhaps I didn’t but I was head-over-heels for Sharon who was not only stunning beautiful but also carved out a life in NYC.

The drive was good for both Richie and me, he was trying to stay clean, and while we did not discuss his heroin habit we bonded over “Exile on Main Street”, The Blues Explosion and our love of Great Plains and country music. He was funny and poked fun at me for my unabashed love of alcohol which he derided as “unnecessary, you don’t need that to laugh do you?” he would ask me. As we pulled into view of the Manhattan skyline, the tape deck blasting the Silos my heart beat faster, “Good Lord” I thought, it’s the biggest fucking thing I’ve seen. As a child I lived on Long Island, in Springs NY, just an echo from East Hampton and my memories of the city were vague as if looking through a pool of water. We went through the Holland Tunnel, and came out upon a sea of graffiti and garbage piled high, I was lost in a storm of streets as I tried to navigate traffic and Richie pointed where to turn. Soon we were driving towards Alphabet City where Sharon and Herbert lived.

The apartment was between Avenues C & D on 8th, just below the sidewalk, and the apartment was filled with books, magazines and old furniture. Sharon blushed when she saw me, we kissed and she introduced me to Herbert who saw small and hunched over. He shook my hand, his grip was strong and his hands seemed to be constructed of leather, rough and covered with the experience of hustling and scrapping. He had bright blue eyes and a shock of gray hair the sprouted from the top of his head. He did not appear to be a man in his eighties. “Bela! Glad to meet you, Sharon has told me all about you. Bela, like Bartok? Right? She tells me you love to read, I’ll be curious to find out what you like to read. Did you know that I’m a writer?”  I had known who Herbert was, not only from what Sharon had told me but I had read some of the Beats, although I was not the outrageous fan of so many in the underground. In fact, I was never a big fan of William Burroughs whom I regarded as somewhat anti-women but I enjoyed the beat poetry and the movement itself.  Hunke’s own influence on the Beat movement was massive, from the coining of the term Beat to being a major influence on both Burroughs and Ginsberg, He was portrayed in both Junkie by Burroughs and also in Kerouac’s “On the Road” and when he asked me what I read and what I wrote about he appeared pleased.

I felt at home in New York, although this partly came from ingesting the music from New York since the age of fifteen, I had devoured the Ramones, Lou Reed, Garland Jefferies and Springsteen as a teenager. The grim of the lower east side was burned into my consciousness and as I walked the streets, the busyness of the sidewalks were already tattooed to my synapses. I had picked up Garland Jeffrey’s “American Boy and Girl” at Woolworths for a $1, his entire solo catalog, like that of his sometime collaborator, Lou Reed was easily had for a buck a record. Although Garland had never had the amount of press or even credit he deserved he made a couple of seminal NYC albums that rank near the top of all music NY. Perhaps he is best known as writing “Wild in the Streets” which catapulted The Circle Jerks to their punk-rock fame but from the mid-seventies until the early 1980′s he constructed a trio of albums that hold up quite well.

In a teenager’s mind, New York was built of asphalt and steel, with bustling sidewalks that mimicked the opening scene of Cagney & Lacey or of Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voight huddled next to one another, it was not constructed of clumps of dry cornstalks, gravel roads and flat ranch houses. The music from New York filled my ears, especially Lou Reed and The Velvet Underground. I had never heard as anything as grotesquely inviting as “Street Hassle” from the mid-west and it would be a few years before the frantic noise of Pere Ubu and the Dead Boys, Cleveland punk bands that would echo the realistic poetry of Lou and other New Yorkers.

On later trips to the city, which came in bunches over the next few years as I visited Sharon whenever I could and would make the nine hour trek to various rock and roll shows at Under ACME, CBGB’s, and the Knitting Factory all of who were open enough to book Columbus bands. The shows themselves are a blur, as are the years and the trips. Through the memory is a faded as the soft light in a 1970′s soap opera, it is burnished at times through the recollections of friends who were there at that time. One such trip when Gaunt played with Prisonshake and a few other Ohio bands at CBGB’s whose restroom was designed after the open sewer systems of Calcutta. I drove on my own and got to the club early, Gaunt was already there, mid-afternoon and as I walked in, sunlight bathing the sidewalk outside the bar was long and smelled like any other bar; with a scent of bleach and stale beer, I ordered a Budweiser and was alarmed at the $7 cost. How in the hell anybody could afford to drink in New York was beside me, Jerry grabbed me in the dressing room, “Dude, don’t drink here” he said as he grabbed my shoulder and steered me out of the bar. We strolled across the street to a small carryout, complete with guy-with-unwashed-clothes-and-defeated-look sprawled out on the sidewalk, brown paper bag clutched firmly in his hand as his head leaned on the brick wall and directly to his left a metal garbage can. One half expected Oscar the Grouch’s head to pop out or a needle laying next to the man, or a needle hanging out of Oscar the Grouch’s neck. Jerry walked right to the good stuff, which was 24 ounce bottles of Crazy Horse a malt liquor that had recently been discontinued in Columbus and next to that rows of green bottled Balintine, another malt liquor that was guaranteed to fuck-you-up. They were about $2.50 each and I bought one of both. “Were the hell do we drink it?” I asked. Jerry scoffed at me, “on the street you dumbshit! They don’t fuckin’ care, it’s fuckin’ New York!” After this lesson these malt liquors and well hidden bottles of Jim Beam were my preferred choices.

New York made me feel big, as if the soles of my feet made an indentation into the sidewalks, my mother had briefly flirted with New York in her late teens. Living in the Bowery District before heading back to Columbus, for reasons she never explained. There was an energy that fed into the boyhood dreams of a Midwest outcast, of the idea that I could shake the inner turmoil and isolation I felt in high school, by smelling the smells, tasting the food, blending into the scenery of the city–as if feeling small in the smaller town of Catawba propelled the perception of being gigantically alive in the city. I had become friends and acquaintances in the city through the record shop, indie-rock was a very small world and it was common to have coffee, lunch or drinks with many of the folks who the store did business with. The community I felt a part of was much more comforting in New York than whatever I felt in Catawba.

Even still the feelings of unease hung onto the tails of my shirt and enveloped me no matter where I was, whether in the living room of my father and his wife as they foisted homemade Hungarian cookies into me, lecturing me on the dangers of homosexuality, God’s retribution and my indeterminist failures, or the talking to Sharon while we laid in her bed, waiting for her to end the magic I felt between us. Later, the unease would be swallowed by gallons of alcohol, as brown and green bottles were turned upside down, the unease would melt into a carefree carelessness that could quickly break down the walls of trepidation between me and another. I pined for attention, yet like a bug trying to land on a light bulb, I would scamper away when the emotions were too much. In my mind, I had already been defeated.

Some ten or twelve years after that first trip to New York, so long before it had appeared to be only a fleeting appiriation in my mind, for the world had changed so much in a decade. I arrived in New York with my wife, as we drove north to Vermont to see our old friends Dave Sweetapple and Ron Schniderman in Brattleboro. My wife had some business to do in the city with her job, she and I had suffered through a precarious spell in the preceding years and many of the old haunts I had know were now left to the faded pages of punk rock books and time-stained saved flyers of music collectors. CBGB’s, Under ACME and Brownie’s had been shuttered, the move out of  lower Manhattan had already begun, with the bearded and ironic hipsters moving into Brooklyn where rents were still low enough. The dive bar that our friend Paul Lukas had taken us to a few years prior in Red Hook had now become a destination point and anyway, I had decided just a year prior that a bar was a dangerous place to be. We stayed with our friend Matt Majesky, a man of unblemished taste in books and music, who suffered no fools and had a stinging sense of humor. I went into the city and while my wife attended her conference I headed to the lower east side, this time not in search of a bar but instead a twelve-step meeting. There was a clubhouse on 14th near Avenue C that was open 24 hours a day, that week I went to three or four meetings there. Upon entering the first meetings, I grabbed a small cup of coffee, holding the tiny Styrofoam cup in my hand I took a seat in the third row. I glanced around the small room, there were roughly sixteen or seventeen plastic chairs in the room, a few people ducked in and out, one man, with black greasy hair, matted to his forehead, jumped down the three stairs that emptied into the room. Look nervously around, he clasped his hands together, his tattoo’s covering his forearms, a biographical inking for all the world to see, as if his arms were issuing a challenge for anyone who looked in his direction. An image of Lucifer snaking up his arms, with flames, nude women and  a pair of dice camouflaged in the middle of the bursting reds, yellows and blues that careened off of his forearms, there was no room for hair or his pale skin. It was if he had gargled an entire tattoo magazine and they magically appeared on his body. He bounced on the balls of his feet, shook his head and bounded back up the stairs. The air was charged, as if someone had taken the tops of the electrical sockets and the air was being pumped full of invisible sparks. To my rear a man with a dark suit and a briefcase sat back, whistling softly to himself, was he whistling a John Denver song? I looked back, he appeared tired, fatigued, glancing at his watch he too was bobbing his head, nobody was relaxed. In the front of the room, two men whispered to one another, and one pointed to me. Raising my eyebrows I asked if they needed something, “well yes, we do. I think you have the most sobriety in the room and we need someone to qualify for us.” Luckily, after absorbing many Lawrence Block books about an alcoholic private detective named Matthew Scudder, I knew that qualifying on the east coast meant giving a lead in the Ohio. That is, I had to tell my story. I had only nine or ten months sober but I had been instructed by my own AA sponsor that when AA asks something of you, you are compelled to give back. I accepted.

Alcoholics Anonymous was an entity that I had heard about during my twenties, I had even visited one through a family member when I was seventeen, not for my own concern but for support. I had thought nothing of it, it was a place for old people to hide out, I supposed. The charms of the alcohol had provided were too great, too strong and too fun to ever think about, but the charms were constructed of liquid and while the laughter, belonging and sex the bottle brought into my wife also rolled out on my life like piss down my leg and eventually rolled down to the floor. The puddle would take years to grow around me, taking a bit of myself one drop at a time until eventually, there was nothing left except confusion, anger and bewilderment. Attending a meeting in a Lower East Side AA clubhouse was startling, considering where I was just 24 month prior, contemplating suicide and being unable to trust myself in front of a bottle any bottle.

Sauntering up to the plywood podium, that was cracked around the edges, with the plastic wood veneer pulling itself up from particle board, it appeared as if it were hoisted from the gutter as many of the alcoholics who stood before me appeared. Eyes opened wide, with an emotional shakiness brought alive as the hourly obsession of a fix either by needle, pipe or bottle throttled from inside some of them, it was expected that I would bring some salve to their pining obsession. Shaking myself I took a deep breath, this would be the first time I stood in front of a group and tell my story. One man, nodding to himself, stood up and paced the small room, the yellowed walls, tanned by years for cigarette smoke provided a backdrop to his skittish walk, his hands petting his legs, smoothing out crinkles that just weren’t there.

Speaking for 25 minutes, I took questions afterwards, this was a bit different than the meetings I was used to in Gainesville and Columbus. Afterwards, a balding, toothless man from Iran approached me. “Hello Mr. Bela, thank you so much for qualifying, you helped me so much today. I live on the streets here, it is hard to not drink. I am from Iran, and it is so hard to be an alcoholic in Iran as you are not allowed to drink. It was easier here, always drink. Always good times. Always. But I lost everything, my wife, my child even my uncle will not help. I have eleven days today, and thanks to you, I will have 12 tomorrow.” With a flat smile I thanked him, I was never good with compliments. As I stood in front of the clubhouse, the sun splashed against the concrete, and my shadow stretched from the curb into the street. An elderly man approached me, “Hey, that was a nice qualification. My name is Ed” he said as he extended his hand, “would you like a cup of coffee?”  We walked down the street to Avenue C, and entered a polish bakery. Telling me his story, he was a playwright and had gotten sober in the early 1970′s, “I come here nearly every day, especially since my partner passed away a few years ago.” I was encouraged, “I still write, every day a little bit of something, the alcohol was important back then but it staggered me, I lost my job as an editor and my contacts but I found AA or as they say, it found me. And here I am, nearly thirty years later, happy.”1967plymouthvaliantcoupe04

Later that week, I met my friend Lyle, we talked and had a coffee. Lyle had gotten married, and had several small young children. The last time I had seen Lyle was when his band had played an Anyway Fest, and the night they played I had inadvertently walked into his room while in a brownout. The guest room was halfway between our bedroom and the bathroom and it was not uncommon of me to me to fall into the guest bed upon relieving myself as I was too drunk to manage to stumble the ten more paces into our bedroom. I was in a brown-out that night, and ended up spooning Lyle waking up to his shrill, “Duudeee, you are fucking naked!!” and then having him hand me off to my wife, “I believe he is your responsibility” he said as he passed me off in the night. Sitting on a bench in New York, Lyle said, “Bela, you seem happy now.”

Jerry Wick and Jenny Mae “nothing in particular”

October 19, 2013

“nothing in particular” 1989–2013

The crackle of the needle would lift a sour mood into the upper regions of sesmatic joy, as the grooves of the black spinning  vinyl record would magically propel the music into the stylus, somehow by magic still to these ears I would be transported from the whatever displaced atmosphere was churling inside of me into somewhere brighter. It was the simplest escape I knew,  it didn’t involve medication, money or the awkwardness of feelings or sex. There were inherent aspects to hoarding and collecting records, some of which involved the sense of protection of security the music offered, the records subconsciously involving varying emotional states. Like a child who clutches his stuffed animals these round flattened globs of wax, provided more security than anything else I knew. Certainly more than the affection of others, who could be prone to discard my affections as if they were a Styrofoam cup.

The advantage of music and books over relationships was obvious, music didn’t hurt and there was no risk involved. During my teenage years, fraught with hours spent inside by bedroom reading Kurt Vonnegut, science fiction and heady literature, listening to R.E.M.’s “Murmur” and Lou Reed incessantly I burrowed deep into the past via my favorite companions, namely my stuff. I would daydream into the future, where I plotted my escape from oppressive small-town Ohio to the greater pastures of opportunity. Namely college, either in Athens or Columbus and maybe one, day New York. Reading Rolling Stone, Spin and music related biographies, fueled the idea that anything was possible. “for Christ-sakes,” I thought, “Lou Reed can’t sing a lick and look at him.” He had quickly become my hero, and when the Velvet Underground catalog was re-issued in the mid-eighties I gobbled them up. My senior year of high school, I traveled to Cleveland and saw Lou play the Music Hall and waited patiently with arms clutching half of his cut-out bin catalog for his signature. “Glad you’re a fan,” he mumbled as he scrawled his name across “Street Hassle” and “The Bells.”

Lou was much smaller in stature than I had thought, in my teenage mind he was taller, not only did I picture him as a taller, he had now had a larger-than life image in my mind. At that time, Lou was doing advertisements for Honda scooters and with his dark sunglasses he was the epitome of cool. He stood in front of me, shorter than me, peering over his sunglasses as beads of sweat poured down his face, and his hands slightly shook as he held my records. Looking back, he was in his mid-forties the same age as me and he was totally human. This made sense and did not diminish my attraction to him, it was the humanness of the Velvet Underground, and punk rock, in general that I found solace in. There was no fantasizing about the men and women who had provided me sanctuary, they were as real as my awkward seventeen year old feelings felt to me. Singing about everything but getting their dicks sucked and fucked as most of the bands on the radio sang about, I could relate to it.

Moving into the expansive city of Columbus, after settling in, moving around and enmeshing myself into the record store scene, the dreams of moving to New York or even attending college slipped away. The days were filled with records, and the nights were filled with live music. In between there was reading, writing, painting and long conversations about music and sometimes about music. Jerry thought politics were stupid and it didn’t take any prompting for him to offer this opinion. “It doesn’t fucking matter who is President, they are all fucking idiots. I think it’s stupid to even fucking vote.” When I offered that perhaps going to war was important as my brother was in the service, “not my fucking problem, dude.” Jerry would say and blow a long stream of smoke in my direction. “God-damnit Jerry, why do you have to be such an asshole?” I’d yell across the table at him, during the first Gulf War I had a good friend who was in one of the first battalions to have troops on the ground. Jon, called me several times from Kuwait, “shit man, I saw a bunch of burned bodies today. It was like something out of a movie, these people were just like charcoal. Some still had guns in their hands, they fucking never knew what was coming.” Jon would call me at Used Kids, and when I’d get off the phone I would pointedly look at Jerry, “that’s my buddy calling from Kuwait, he’s in the fucking war.” Jerry would look at me blankly, “not my problem dude, your buddy shouldn’t have joined the fucking Army!” and then he would turn tail and space out at the back counter.

Jenny would climb aboard whatever make believe spacecraft she had hovering in her head, usually fueled by abstract ideas that had a modicum of truth in them she would click out and disappear. “Hey Laz, check it out” and she would lead upstairs to a place that used to be our bedroom and was now either a green house or a recording studio. “Where the fuck is our bed?” I’d stammer. “Oh it’s in the closet, don’t you like my garden. I think I can grow some tomatoes up here. I bought some grow plants, we can grow weed as well, but I know you don’t care for it. I think you have to hang it out to dry or something,” she would mention, her voice trailing off.

“How the hell did you buy them? With what money?”

“I got paid, dumbass.”

“We have to pay fucking rent, what the hell are you thinking?”

“Relax, you get paid this week so we can use that.”

“What about food, utilities and car insurance, are you out of your fucking mind?” I would blurt out, “God-damnit Jenny, what fucking planet are you on?”

“You know, this is why you will never get fucking laid when I leave you Bela,       you are so fucking serious, a fucking drag. It’s always money this, politics this, bullshit. You are no fucking fun, here I thought you would love to have a garden          in the house and you just bitch.”

“This garden is in the mother-fucking attic! Who the fuck grows tomatoes in their fucking attic, in fucking March?! and doesn’t pay their rent?!”

“Fuck you Bela, I’m going to go have fun and YOU are not invited!”

With that she would go to my wallet, grab whatever cash I had and leave. Later, after listening to records and having a few drinks I would mosey down to Larry’s and meet up with her. She would be surrounded by men, and as I scooted in next to her, glaring at whatever philosophy student was trying to get in her pants, all was forgiven. “Thank God, you got here, that guy wouldn’t leave me alone” she would say. This was shoveled into me and was swallowed whole, only to ferment for years on end.

The world was small and we all felt big, which is much different from how the days tumble and run roughshod over one another now, as they jockey for leverage every compact twenty-four hours elbow out everything else so that even finding car keys becomes a shouting match. Ideas flashed across the thick chunks of wood that made up the booths of Larry’s, all were brilliant until the gushed from dense alcohol breath and then they would splatter against the force of laughter or blown up into plans if they managed to catch aflame. At times, I felt like Zelig, the Woody Allen character who somehow appeared magically in every substantial event in the early and mid 20th Century except I was a Zelig to the people who crafted my record collection or shaped my books.

Most people never get to share a dinner with those who are the soundtrack to their lives and the community I felt fostered this, everything was approachable and in some way probably help lay the groundwork for the ability to communicate through the internet. Based on the fact that those who hide beneath the surface need the reassurance of their peers, whether it is the solace in listening to Skip Spence or reading The Offense, Conflict, Wind-Up or Chickfactor, the knowing of familiarity bought you your entrance into a better and kinder world than what was outside of your record collection, comics and paperbacks.

Madness abounds in all areas, what was viewed as the eccentricities of youth are now viewed the clinical expertise of years of social work practice and a $100,000 education. Examining the past through the perspective of craggy years spent on multiple bar stools, at the foot of wooden stages only inches from the ground and the muttering absent minded father that I’ve evolved in, is dangerous and laughable at times. The toll of mental illness has been staggering in my personal life, from my own sullen bouts of depression and need for absolute and constant affirmation (usually given through laughter, formerly offered through sex—as only the touch and freedom of bodies could relieve the doubt in a man who traversed the thin path of mortality on a daily basis), to those of my closest friends and comrades. Jenny’s consistent upheaval is obvious, as her passage through life has lead into something akin to a Hieronymus Bosch painting with a soundtrack by Brian Wilson, to the dark despair of Jerry whom I can recall vividly clutching a Black Label while sitting at a barstool at Larry’s one night, globs of bulbous tears pouring down his face while he shook and said, “I can’t quit fucking drinking.” I see the wreckage it has hammered to some of my closest friends even today who, it appears flock to me because of my profession. I witness it daily in my line of work, as I process the staggering rates of childhood sexual abuse to dropping out of school and then untreated mental illness and addiction into criminal behavior.

At the end of nearly every day I climb aboard an exercise machine, put my headphones on, and run it all away. I’m still running.

 

 

this is amazing:

new favorite, thanks to Matt Sweeney

 

Jerry Wick and Jenny Mae: Crushes 1990-1992 (sort of)

September 21, 2013

Loneliness was marked one listen at a time. Three in the morning, shrouded in the dark front room, only the streetlight out front flicking light streaks through the window as infrequent cars, no doubt also filled with the near despondent with a night full of booze and nicotine like myself came through. The record would spin in circles until it reached the end, at times I would lift the needle to the beginning of a certain song, the song what would capture what I felt, maybe a chorus maybe a riff or maybe the sounds of  a bow on strings. I fell in love frequently, it was easy. It was needed. Nervousness was cloaked in laughter, in the foolish things that would tumble from my lips, I would say anything to garner a smile. Jerry would as well, and Jenny was an expert at burying her feelings under six feet of joke.

In a five month period I managed to fall for four woman named Jenny, it was comical almost as if there was a sitcom screenplay my life was following. Jenny number one was of course, Jenny Mae, whose fragile existence made me worry at night. The romantic love had burned bright for two years and then the love that is born of responsibility and loyalty took over, it has somehow continued for over twenty years since I walked out in the fall of 1991. Transformed from puppy-love to the concern of parental responsibility, she is symbol of how, as a society we take care of our own for me. A fountain of frustration and stubbornness that, is rarely tempered by blasts of laughter that somehow make up for the frustration of observing a twenty-one year car accident in progress.

I had begun to make bi-weekly and weekly visits to Athens, ducking out of work early on a Saturday night, loading up my pale blue Chevrolet Chevete, perhaps the saddest sack of a car this side of a Gremlin with cassettes and a six pack. Motoring down route 33, past the flat farms of lower Franklin County, towards Lancaster where the landscape would shift abruptly mid-town town. From the smooth as a quarter landscape of the north end of town into the staggered foothills of Appalachia on the other end, just a three mile distance. One could feel the molting of Columbus as the landscape shifted, a renewed energy boiled inside as I replaced “Daydream Nation” with Superchunk’s “Foolish” and what would become the soundtrack for my next three break-ups. The affinity I felt towards Athens was profound, even though I had made and found a home and finally a sense of community in Columbus, the roots of my childhood lay in Athens. In the college town atmosphere and liberal politics of the region, while Columbus was home, Athens felt like a refuge. Chris Biester was one of my best friends, perhaps the most talented musician I have ever come across, at once a storyteller but also one that could make his guitar to do anything he desired. A master word conjurer of sorts, that could spit out a lyric that could lay next to America’s greatest poets and then entertain with a way with the spoken word with the same wryness as Will Rogers.

Chris lived haphazardly, at certain points in his life, he resided in a tent in rural Meigs County and at other junctures he lived the shambling existence of most bohemians, that is a life filled with roommates, dogs and countless lovers all of them promising relief from the storms of life. Chris was well aware of my precarious mindset, and when I would greet him at the Union, he would enquire about my mental health with a quizzical look complete with a frozen raised eyebrow and ask again, “I mean how are you?” “Great” I would reply, as I was filled with at least six drinks from my way down, a few cups of coffee and the hope only a Saturday night can promise a young man of 23. Chris introduced me to Jenny number two, a thin woman with full lips who rolled her own cigarettes and eye lashes that could reach out and break a man. They had been a couple and Chris had moved on, he had no doubt counseled her on my recent mental health issues and the precarious nature of my own existence. She was devoted to Chris, not just a former lover but as a guidepost, one whom would see that the neurosis that climbed inside him was scrubbed out. One weekend, Jerry and I drove to Athens and saw Chris’s band Appalachian Death Ride at a sub-level bar called the Dugout. ADR, as they were called amongst their faithful had just received welcoming and positive press in the College Music Journal and  Your Flesh magazine. That night a sonic bomb went off in the underbelly of Court Street, as ADR ripped through a set that, 21 years later is still fresh in my mind. They ended their set, shirtless, with the walls sweating from the overabundance of hair and stickiness of the patrons, with covers of “Pale Blue Eyes” and Tom Petty’s “American Girl.” It was brilliant. That night I went back to Jenny’s apartment, just up the hill from Sunnyside Drive and across the street from a playground I had played at when I was a toddler. To uneasy to make love, I held her tight until the room quit spinning and woke up with a dog licking my face.

Jenny and I started to become a couple and by early December she made the drive to Columbus to spend the weekend with me. She was going to spend the month in San Francisco with an Aunt. That night we finally made love and the next morning I drove her the airport that New Years Eve we spent the weekend in her new apartment in rural Athens County with her best friend Haynes. I remember drinking one glass of wine, walking in the early morning through brown weeds and a gray morning sky while thinking to myself that I would have to end this relationship. A week later she called to tell me that she was pregnant. I had helped make arrangements for her to terminate the pregnancy, and while I was a practicing Catholic, I felt relief that she had decided to make this choice. She stayed at my apartment that weekend.  And soon after the relationship ended as quietly as a leaf landing in the forest.

Jenny number three was a librarian from Philadelphia, bookish, with large eyes and a wide smile that held perfect white teeth. She was committed to a man in Philly, who she missed like the wheat misses the wind. Jenny number two came in the store frequently and my crush was solidified when she bought a Nothing Painted Blue single.  The next time she came in she went to buy a ticket to see Unrest at Staches,

“hey, you wanna go?” I asked.

Smiling a smile that was more grimace than smile, “uh, yeah. That’s why                                         I’m buying a ticket. You know, because. I. Want. To. Go.”

“Yeah, I know that but I mean, if you don’t want to pay for it I could take                                                 you. Like, for free. We get in free” gesturing towards the entire store with                                      my hands.

She put her wallet back in her purse, tilted her head, thinking for a                                                  moment, “ok, sure. why not” she replied, more to herself than to me.

“We can meet at Dicks Den across the street? How about nine or ten?”

She looked at me strangely, “is that too late?”

“no, it won’t start until ten, Gaunt is opening up. That’s Jerry’s band.”

“oh, Gaunt, they are local right? Who is Jerry?”

Jerry sat at the back counter, smoking a cigarette, head tilted back, staring                                      at the flyers on the ceiling. “that’s Jerry.”

“He’s in Gaunt? I didn’t even know they were from here. I thought they                                         were from like Chicago or something.”

“Yeah, you’re not from here are you?

“No, I’m from Philadelphia but I went to school in D.C. We played Gaunt                          on the radio. That’s cool” she smiled back toward Jerry, her head nodding                                     in approval. Jerry waved to her, as if he were sitting in the back of a                            station wagon, and he was five. “Sure, ten at Dick’s Den then?”

“Yup, see you then.” I was already worried she was going to fall for Jerry.

He walked up to the counter, “Did you just ask that girl out?”

“Yeah, well sorta, I mean I offered to take her to the show tonight, I don’t                                                 think it’s a date though.”

“She’s cute.”

Jerry, at that time swore he was celibate, “I don’t need sex, it’s over-rated” he would say between swigs of beer and draws off his cigarette. It was an odd thing to say, but he was not seeing anybody at the time, and he hadn’t yet started seeing the woman who would compel him to write “Yeah, Me Too” and “Kryptonite” in quick succession. There was a bit of jealously between us, the competition for the affection of women was unspoken and while I thought Jerry was silly for stating he was celibate, he thought I was nuts for the want of women after the dangerous break-ups I had.

“You should just stay away from them, you can’t handle them” he would offer       without prompting.

Stung by his words, “shut up, Jerry. I never fucking asked you.”

“whatever dude.”

Jerry skipped out of work early that night, he was always anxious on the days Gaunt played, his nervousness combining with his over caffeinated and nicotine addled brain made him unbearable as if he were clawing the back of his eyeballs out. “Yeah, just leave–I can handle the last hour by myself” I said as he mentioned for the fourteenth-fucking-time that his band was playing.  A relief poured over him for a flash, “thanks dude, I’ll see you tonight. Good luck on your date!” he yowled as he left the store, I stammered back, “It’s not a fucking date!.” As I heard him reach the top of the stairs, no doubt blowing a stream of smoke from his lips, “Whatever duudddeee!”

Jennifer number three and I met at Dick’s Den, she was wearing a red skirt and black hose, with a tee-shirt. She was stunning and I was still dressed in the same grimy  shirt and jeans that I had worn all day, only now they smelled of cigarettes, booze and pizza. A winning combination unless you were meeting someone for a first date. I had bounced from Used Kids to Larry’s where I made conversation with the tall bartender Becky who was just hired from Buckeye Donuts. Running into Eric Davidson, singer for the New Bomb Turks, he plopped up next to me. “Going to the show tonight, Unrest, pretty cool. Jerry must be fucking stoked. That’s all he has been talking about all week at the house. It’s like we FUCKING know Jerry, it’s cool your punk-rock band is playing with Unrest but it’s not like you haven’t played a fucking show. They aren’t the Dead Boys for Christ sakes.” Eric popped a pretzel into his mouth. The man was always eating pretzels. “Yeah, he drove me nuts at work, always fidgeting, he would take a record off three songs in, then turn his back to counter while people were waiting to buy shit and then look at them like they were stupid. He’s the most neurotic person I’ve ever met,” shaking my head, I ordered another beer.

“You going as well?”

Eric said, “yeah, I hated but I had to ask Jerry to put me on the list, I’m fucking broke and he can be such a dick about it. It’s not like I wouldn’t put him on the list for one of our shows but you guys get into everything for free so why bother. He was like, ‘Jesus, Eric, I don’t even know how many people we get on the list?’, like I was asking him to wipe my ass or something, he can be such a douche.”

It was easy to pile on Jerry, he himself had a unique way of piling on everybody else unbeknownst to him.

“I know he’s excited, I remember when he brought them last year and interviewed                                     them    for Cornhole.” Cornhole was Jerry’s Kinko’s stapled fanzine, he published                          four or five issues.

I looked at the time behind the wall, “I gotta head up to Dick’s, you wanna walk                           up there with me?”

Eric shook his head, “no thanks, I’m meeting Majesky and a few other guys in a                             little bit, we’ll be up there soon.”

“Just don’t miss Gaunt, or Jerry will kill you, ‘I put Eric on the fucking guest list                             and he can’t even see our band.’ That’s what I’ll have to hear all day tomorrow at                                   work if you don’t make it in time” explaining as I swallowed half a beer in a                            single gulp.

Crossing High Street, ambling up the west side of the street, so as to walk in the long shadows of the trees that blanket that side of the street, I get my bearings. It’s early but I can feel the cool wind of an Ohio autumn, with the flecks of hope the change in the weather brings. The old feelings of new school are brought to life, stirring as if the wind was doing the stirring itself within me. Hands plunged deep into my pockets, keeping my head down and counting my steps. There are roughly five blocks to cover, and for a good chunk of it there are little to no commercial businesses on High Street. Just past Lane Avenue, the longest road in Columbus grows quiet for a moment as canopy of trees leaning over the sidewalk into the street it’s as if the city planners knew this area would be ripe for graduate students, professors and young families. I walk past Northwood and glance across the road and up the dark slight hill that Northwood disappears into, I think of my father. Sometime, many years ago, he and my mother brought me home from the hospital to a small white house sitting on a corner alley up the road. I think of the nervousness in his hands, wiping his hair out of his eyes and he breathed in deeply, almost holding his breath as my mother handed this tiny infant into his clumsy hands. Inside were my sister and brother, with my Aunt Cheryl and my mother’s parents. We lived on Northwood for six months before moving to Athens, and as I stroll by I wonder what my life would have been like if we stayed. “No doubt, I wouldn’t be working in a record store, getting drunk off my ass” I think as I quicken my pace.

Just past Patterson Avenue, just two blocks from home, I spy Dow’s on High, I need to pee. The campus area reeks of urine from too many drunken frat guys and out-of-campus visitors relieving themselves on the sidewalks, alleys and doorways of High Street and neighboring streets, it is unfathomable that these are the future leaders of the new world. I made a vow not to do this unless it was absolutely necessary, I do a slow motion backwards count of how many drinks I have had, “let’s see, at least four at work but I had pizza and I started at four.  Three beers and a shot at Larry’s, that’s only like um, seven and half over five hours. I’m fine.” The alcohol has settled in my knees and around my ears, I can feel it but I am thinking clearly. I don’t want to overshoot it, so, I manage the intake well. this has been done countless times before, I open the door to Dow’s, it isn’t very busy. “I’ll have a Bud, be back in a moment.” The bar is small, with a thin walking space next to the bar and a jukebox that almost hides the men’s room, just to the left of the men’s room is an underutilized room that has a haber-dash of beer signs and posters left over from the nineteen eighties, an old Cleveland Browns poster complete with a schedule from 1990 dangles from the far wall. The season is only half-filled out, by week nine, after a drubbing by the Buffalo Bills that left the morose team, 2-7, even the hardcore owner of Dow’s had given up. And he was an ex-Brown and played for Ohio State. The poster has started to curl at the end, a seldom used pool table sits under a thin hanging light with only three of the four bulbs working, there are stacks of beer protruding from behind an area that was once a kitchen. It would be easy to make off with several cases of beers out the back door which is at the end of a long hallway jutting off from the far wall. That would not happen in a place like Dow’s though, which is the loneliest dive/sports bar on this stretch of High Street. It’s a good place to drink, with polite bartenders who eye us carefully but after several visits accept us. The jukebox sucks, filled with the likes of Journey, Bon-Jovi and Heart, and most times when there isn’t a Brown’s game on it is playing, “Don’t Stop Believing” and “Barracuda” for the four thousandth time. I wait outside the men’s room, although there are only a handful of patrons in the bar, one of them is taking a leak. Behind me sits a small table, with a crock-pot filled with homemade Barb-queue, and a large spoon ready to fill up a thin white roll that is housed in a yellow and clear plastic bag. A stack of styrophom plates and a bag of rippled chips sits on the table. There is a football game flickering on the television but it is not the beloved Browns. While waiting to pee, I shake my head at the juke book, where Billy Idol is bellowing away.

Dick’s Den is one of the oldest bars around the campus area, with multiple nights of live jazz being played, although Dick’s was no piano bar, a tiny almost platform stage wedged between a the doorway to the most cramped area laid out for a pool table, just to the left of the doorway, shoved into a corner as if straddling a cliff sat a Terminator II pinball machine. If you played the game a bit rough, full with fits, bumps and lunges you may well make the jukebox, filled with Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington and Miles Davis, skip. Below the stage were a handful of tables, where the drinks would jockey for space much like the musicians on the stage. The bar staff was older than the staff at Larry’s, the Blue Danube and Staches, with many left over from the High Street debauchery of the 1960′s and 70′s. It was, in a way the post-doc equivalent of a bar compared to the graduate student manner of Larry’s. I was usually frustrated with doorman at Dick’s, due to the explosion of college clientele during their carnival/riotous nights of quarter beer nights during the early nineties. While, I’m sure the loved the business they made quick changes to the flood of frat types on the Wednesday nights of quarter beer nights, the first upping it to .50 beer nights and cracking down on carding people. I took some umbrage at being carded every time I went into Dick’s, mostly because I drank there at least once a week and also for the fact that I had assumed I had long-ago cemented my credentials as a High Street veteran.

Dick’s was busy that night because, sure enough, it was .50 beer night and as I stuck my ID back into my back pocket, I eyed Jenny sitting at the bar with a tall bottle of Rolling Rock in front of her. “Hey,” I said as I saddled up next to her, raising my finger to the bartender and mouthing the words, Budweiser to him. He was a Used Kids regular, prone to buying Lucinda Williams, Jimmie Dale Gilmore as well as jazz titles, he nodded and smiled, silently placing a beer in front of me he stuck his hand up, signaling I didn’t need to pay. I flipped him $2 for a tip and nodded my thanks. Jenny smirked at me, “you come here often I guess?” Looking sideways at her, as I lifted the bottle, now neck empty, “not too much, really, maybe once a week. He comes to the shop a lot, I usually give him a deal. The secret to successful drinking is to know how to treat your bartender, in or out of the bar. Smiling, and shaking her head, “I see that.”

After a few formalities she cut to the chase, “hey, I think it’s cool that you asked me to join you, I could have paid for  a ticket but you know, graduate school money doesn’t go very far. So, that was nice. But I need to let you know I have a boyfriend, Kevin, and he lives in Philadelphia. I just don’t want you to think that, um, I don’t know…..”, she looked skywards, “now, I feel stupid.” Thinking to myself, “only Jerry thought this was a date”, I smiled, “I didn’t think of anything more than just getting you in, really, I didn’t think this was a date or anything. I’m not good at that sort of thing anyway.” In some way I was relieved, shirking from any sort of romantic investment was easy for me, a great deal of the people I spent time with were woman, almost all on a platonic level. “Whew, I was worried you might be upset with me,” she replied, almost to herself, and it was obvious a burden was taken off her shoulders.  “nope, not at all.” I stuck my hand up for two more beers, pointing to her half empty bottle and my empty one. “Don’t you think we should go? It’s like 10:30 and I think the ticket said 9:30. I wanna see your friend’s band, Gaunt.” “it’s alright, shows here start late, and besides there is another band playing first, there are always three bands. I think their called Swivel-Arm Battlegrip, Gaunt will go on in about twenty minutes and they’ll play a short set because Jerry is nervous about playing with Unrest. He loves them so he won’t play too long.”

Staches was half-full, Unrest had just put out the finest record of their career, “Imperial F.f.r.r.” and chimy, ringing piece of guitar pop, the was one of the most catchy records of the year. They had played Staches the year before, again with Gaunt, and were lack-luster as was the turnout for the show. It was a decent crowd for a Wednesday night, and when we entered, I got three beers from the bar, two Budweiser’s for me and a Rolling Rock for Jenny. “you don’t have to buy me any drinks, in fact I probably shouldn’t drink very much more, I have class tomorrow.” “It’s ok, I don’t mind.” I motioned to the stage, where Jerry was just getting ready to plug his guitar in, Gaunt had jelled into quite a live band by this point, having released three records on Thrill Jockey (“Whitey the Man”, “I Can See Your Mom From Here” and “Sob Story”) and doing several tours. Jovan Karcic was a welcome addition to the band, of Serbian descent, Jovan had a startling resemble to a more handsome Frank Zappa and with his mop of curly hair hanging down the second guitar he supplied to Jerry’s fuzzy tone was at times humorous, with its startled burst of frenetic balls of feedback and sudden stops, Jovan fills bolstered Gaunt’s sound tremendously. That night, taking a cue from Jerry’s neurotic energy, they bulldozed their way through a short set, built mostly on the songs from “Sob Story” and a few new songs that came out as singles, “Good Bad, Happy Sad” and “Pop Song”, they were superb. In fact, a small crowd had gathered around the stage, I was in front, just to the right of Jerry. Jenny stood next to  the thin barrier that kept the customers at the bar from spilling into the area in front of the stage, where there were a few tables. I looked back and saw her bopping her head, smiling the entire time. Eric Davidson and Jim Weber stood next to me and as Gaunt launched into “Lies” we all yelled “Spirit of the Radio” to the feigned annoyance of Jerry, as “Lies” shared a close melody to the more known Rush song. It was absurd to think that Jerry had ever listened to Rush.

Unrest were pale in comparison, with both a male and female singer, their brand of indie-rock was almost sober following the sonic assault of Gaunt. They were decent, especially to those of us who knew all the words to their songs. Afterwards, I asked Jenny if she wanted to come by my house and listen to a few more records, it wasn’t too late I offered. Only 12:30 or so, plus we could have another beer. She thought about it, “how close do you live?” Pointing to the back of Staches, “Like two blocks from here, it is literally a stumble away.” Breathing deeply, she sighed, “O.k., but just for a little bit, I really have to go to school tomorrow.” I had no aspirations of anything from her that night, at that time of the evening my goal was to continue to listen to music and drink more beer. As I introduced her to Richard and Istvan, my two dogs, I opened the beers. Excitedly I started playing records, mostly 45′s of bands she may or not have heard of, The Puddle from New Zealand, Number One Cup from Chicago, Belreve from Columbus and the pure bliss of the Flatmates, a female fronted band from the UK who sounded somewhat like the Wedding Present. We were almost hugging the stereo, as if the giant piece of furniture and electronic wires were an Iron Lung for us, she grabbed my arm, “Listen, I need to leave. I’m sorry but there is way too much sexual energy for me right now, going on. I don’t know, I need to leave.” I was dumbfounded, at that moment, I had felt no sexual tension, I was like a five year old showing off his toy trucks. “Oh, don’t worry, I’m not thinking of that. You can stay.” I don’t think she believed me. “You aren’t? Well I am, and I need to leave.” Jenny walked home that night, I walked her partway. After this my crush became immense and over time nothing more became of our friendship, she became a late night voice for me, as I would tremble from the loneliness I felt after drinking until three am, I would call her and she would talk to me until I drifted off to sleep. She eventually broke up with Kevin, I went through a series of relationships and one failed marriage before we were ever romantic together. And these moments were few and rushed, heavy petting on a couch and a furtive brief front seat hand job that ended because, well we were on a residential street. “Listen,” she breathed towards me, “I have to teach tomorrow, but we can go out this Saturday ok?” “Are you sure you just don’t want to come up now, I get up early, I can wake you up,” I promised. “I can’t, I’d like to but I need to go, I can’t risk it.” Her responsibility to her job was very enticing, she was different from many of the women I knew. “Ok, I’m promoting the Grifters show on Saturday night, we can go to that, and get dinner before.” “Deal.” Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if she would have went upstairs with me to my bedroom that night, as the next day, my (current) wife came in the store and we scheduled our first date for Thursday. I had to call Jenny on Saturday and let her know that I had fallen for someone but would still put her on the guest list. She was very understanding.

Crushes came and crushes went, like the passing of the trees at the side of the road, if one pulled the car over, took a gander at the tree it would be easy to fall in love. To see the muscled roots burrowing into the ground, plowing deep into the soil, with the passage of time and branches stretching high into the sky with a billion leaves shaking forth in the wind, the site would be breathtaking. Currently, in between worrisome moments, where the future crushes any thoughts of the past as the phone bill winks as I rustle the keys from the front door. A child around my knees, spurting out ideas that have just been born form his young mind, I panic. “What the fuck, where I am?” I think to myself. The dog jumping high into the air, in my moment of worry I am annoyed. A flash of anger grabs my throat forcing out a stammer, “fucking stop! Hold the fuck on!” I am lost again. Other moments take flight of a mind that tries to placate the suffering the winds up in my office, the homeless woman with two kids living out of her car, the veteran trying to drive to work but can’t because his license is suspended, the woman who goes home to a house where her elderly father, in failing health waits for her to clean him even though he is the one that raped her when she was  four. The time for crushes appear to have fluttered to the earth, like the giant tree jarring it’s leaves free.

Jenny number four lived around the corner from me, her roommate who everybody called Kat was friends with Richie Violet (Jack Taylor), Kat later became a well known poet but at the time I associated her with hanging out with druggie Jack. Jenny had long red hair, she went to Ohio University and was good friends with Chris Biester, she was in a total sense an Athens woman and while we were attracted to one another the thing we did the best together. She had a wide smile, with white teeth sparkling with her blue eyes. And we cackled together frequently, the absurdity of life cast itself around us, from this hillbillies in Athens to the pretentious mob of art-fucks who sometimes infiltrated Larry’s. Jenny and I were never a couple, she would crash at my apartment when Jack and others were at her apartment. She had experimented with heroin and did not want to be tempted, she said, “I don’t need to be around it, it makes me do dumb shit. Weed is cool but all in all I’d rather get drunk with you. You’re funny.” We would listen to records, walk to bar, take in a show at Staches and eat at the Due. She was too strange for Jerry, “you hanging out with that Athens chick tonight?” he’d ask, with a skepticism in his voice. “I dunno, probably, I suppose.” “She’s got big tits, doesn’t she” he would grin, “I dunno, probably, I suppose.” I would answer.

Jenny worked as a stripper that summer, and after she left work she would drive to my house, climb in my bed and cry. “I fucking hate that shit, I hate it, this guy keeps trying to follow me home.” We never made love, that summer, she would resist when we got to that point, explaining, “I can’t do it, I want to but, I can’t.” I never pushed it, we were in a sense fuck-buddies without the fucking. More like blow-buddies.

She left for Athens that fall and during the course of the coming year, there were a few times we would fall into each other at the Union but soon she fell in love with a handsome be speckled guitar player named Brandon. The next summer, while she and Brandon had temporarily broken up she showed up at a Flat Duo Jets show at Staches. The Flat Due Jets were fronted by Dexter Romweber, a frantic front man, whose hyperkinetic energy onstage pulsated the duo’s sound. He cracked jokes and took his music seriously. During the course of the evening, it was decided that the after-hours party would be at my apartment as soon by three am, the apartment was filled with the lonely and the drunken crowd from Staches.  The house was filled with people I barely knew, it didn’t matter, just as long as I heard voices and could see people smiling. Playing a freewheeling trove of music to have bodies move was easy, the dancers may have expected rare rockabilly or art-punk damaged grimy 45′s but I kept things simple, always.

From James Brown to Pet Shop Boy remixes perhaps and Bloodstains Across (whatever) song would be thrown in but by the time four am rolled around, everybody was dispersing.

Jenny cooed in my ear as we swayed hips and spilled beer on the scuffed hardwood floors, “hey, can I stay here tonight”, “oh, yes” I mouthed back over the din of Prince’s “when you were mine”. As people left out the door, Jenny and I headed to my bedroom, sitting in the middle of my bed, we traded gulps of beer and kissed each other. the light was on and the door was cracked, in a moment Dexter strolled into the room eating a leg of fried chicken. He plopped himself down in the middle of the bed, climbing over my shoulder and leaning his head against the faded white wall. I looked at Jenny, “um, we were kinda making out.” I explained. Jenny giggled. Nodding his head and taking a bite out of the leg, “that’s cool.” Jenny and I looked at each other and laughed. Dexter was moving his head to the distant music, “so, Columbus is pretty neat. I like it, great afterhours by the way” he mumbled as a flake of chicken skin fell from his mouth, wiping if off, “sorry, I guess I shouldn’t eat this in your bed.”

After about five minutes of awkwardness I leaned over and said just above a whisper, “hey man, um I’m trying to get laid here.” Jenny blurted out, “yeah, and I think he just might!”  Dexter, nodded again, “oh? cool, that’s cool, I didn’t even realize that, I thought you both were just hanging.” And with that he left the room. That was the last night Jenny and I went out.

for Jenny # 2

for all Jenny’s

for Jenny number #4

for Jenny number #2

for Jenny number #1:

For Jerry Wick:

and

 

 


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