It was a sunny afternoon day, listening to Lucinda William’s “Car Wheels on Gravel Road” at the record store and Jerry popped in. It was one of those afternoons that tasted like perfection, with enough breeze to take the bite out of the sunshine and keep the sweat off the back of one’s ankles. I was nursing a Black Label that was stashed under the counter and drinking a black coffee. I always referred to this as my poor man’s speedball, which was so much like me to make a reference to something I had never done (cocaine or heroin). Business was lagging behind the few clouds in the sky, drifting across the afternoon, marking an invisible chalk outline around the deadened time between lunch and the busy early evening hours.
Jerry lived just a few footfalls from the store, he was still living above Larry’s and his job at Used Kids was tenuous at that juncture. He was pursuing Gaunt full-time but the money the band was making wasn’t enough to support him quitting. Although Gaunt had a briefcase full of positive press clippings, toured Europe, done multiple cross country US tours and had four full-length records out; none of these managed to put any money in anybody’s pocket. Jerry loved the store, it was the nails that held our collective clubhouse together, while the music was the glue and store put a physical place to meet, share and feel a part of something more tangible than just the sound of three chords and Rolling Rock.
Jerry had somewhat of a contentious relationship with Ron House at this time, while both Jerry and I had tremendous respect for Ron as an artist and an intellectual we both sometimes bristled over Ron’s management style. This is not entirely fair to Ron, as we all had such strong personalities we tended to bristle under the sheer force of our own personalities. Ron loved the store, even more so than Jerry and I and he wanted it to do well, as it was the one stable entity in our collective lives. Jerry being in a touring rock band was not the easiest antecedent for this. His hours were cut.
Jerry came down that afternoon and asked me to take a walk with him, finishing my beer I asked Lamont “Bim” Thomas to man the fort for half an hour. I told him to call Larry’s if I was needed. Jerry and I walked down the street and got another coffee and then turned heel and walked past the record store, carrying our two black coffee’s we entered Larry’s and ordered a couple of beers. It was three pm or so. Along the way Jerry told me of some of the friction in Gaunt, there were a few personality issues with one of the members and rumors of infidelity of his girlfriend. As we carried the coffee, Jerry’s lower lip fluttered and he wept for a few moments. Flabbergasted, I turned to him with some concern as he only cried when he was very drunk. When this happened it was not unusual for a small funk to hover over the area of the bar he was nestled in, his personality so strong that he could change the air pressure. His energy was that epic in scope.
Peeling the label off my beer as I was accustomed to do, forming a small minor art project with the dark bottle and the gluey underside of the bottle’s logo I waited to listen to what else Jerry had to say. We had grown apart the past few years, the cord of our friendship had grown tattered and faded as we both pursued women, art and a lifestyle that had at one time brought us so close together but had almost at this point left it completely asunder. I knew this was serious as he hadn’t confided with me in some time, he thought my closeness to my future wife was a betrayal to my safety. He must have envisioned me as a life-long bachelor. Jerry looked at me after taking a pull of his beer, “I can’t quit drinking” was all he said. I was shocked, “what do mean.” I held a belief that stated “why would anyone want to stop.” Jerry was serious though, I felt it in his speech and his look. He looked straight ahead and said “now, that I’ve had this one I’ll be here, BW-3 and in my room all night.” He went further explaining that he had gotten hooked on five o-clock trivia at BW-3; the hot wings franchise served enormous glasses of beer at happy hour and few in an hour was comparable to a six-pack. He said this combined with living above Larry’s and High Street had him out all the time. He was scared. I had no idea what to say.
My own drinking had actually settled down, after some contentious arguments with my girlfriend, I had basically given up doing any sort of shots. I usually settled on one type of drink during the course of the night (Maker’s Mark, beer or vodka-cranberry). I had also stopped promoting as many rock and roll shows so I was only drinking about three nights a week. On off nights, I usually wouldn’t drink at all. I asked Jerry if he tried this and he said he had but something had always come up, someone was in town or someone asked him to go for a happy hour drink. This I could relate to, as being known as a drinker it was easy to be found out by some other lonely soul looking for someone to share an hour with as the sun hid from the stars. I was fortunate to live with my girlfriend a mile from campus. Jerry did not have this luxury.
After our drinks, I left him there at the bar, walked back to the store and continued my own thirsty travel into the night. I am sure Jerry walked his own soaked road that night.
In late August of 2001, I got a call from my friend Jim. My wife and I were separated, she was teaching at a large state University in Florida. I was busy completely deconstructing my life, one drink at a time. I had left the store travelled to Larry’s and Dick’s Den and made it home by midnight. The minute I walked in the door, the phone rang. “Dude, Jim Stone is having a hot-tub party behind his house.” Jim Stone was a campus figure, manning the bar at Bernie’s and Dow’s on High, Jim’s girth was superseded by his easy going nature; a permanent grin on his face. “I’m there” I slurred into the phone.
The hot-tub sat behind the North Campus Taco Bell on the edge of a sordid alley, I arrived and quickly peeled off my clothes. Somehow the hot tub wasn’t just as bubbly as it should have been. Apparently the party was on its fourth day as the hot tub was rented for the Friday night. It was a cool evening, almost frigid in fact and I quickly ignored the thin layer of human grease and grim that shrouded the surface of the muddied water.
As I slipped into the tub I took a gander at my bath mates, Jim Stone was next to me; naked with the exception of a cowboy hat, next to him were a few female bartenders who had defiantly seen the better part of the extended weekend. To my right was a nice enough fellow who was the lead singer for an operatic-inspired rock band. I had never seen him without a hat, he had a startling resemblance to Riff-Raff from “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” as his long hair drooped past his shoulders and his completely bald head acted like a shimmering dance floor for the moonbeams that sauntered around it. There was another, younger man whom I didn’t know. I felt completely pathetic.
After a few beers, the water was feeling cooler and the shame within me rose higher. I contemplated my wife waiting for me in the suffocating sun of Gainesville and the fact that here I was naked in an alley behind Taco Bell. I left the tub, shaking the water off of me, got in my car and drove home. “What the fuck am I doing” I thought as I drove home, the shame was deep enough to peel my skin. I resigned to do something different. As I put the key in my front door I looked down to notice that I was only wearing a white tee-shirt. Just a poof of pubic hair jutting out from the edges of shirt as the August temperature dipped into the forties. “Fuck,” I thought. I climbed back into the car and drove back to the party to retrieve my clothes. Failing to run inside and put some shorts or pants on. Life was a complete mess. Arriving back, I listened to the cat-calls from the tub “Bela, you idiot, you forgot to put your clothes on.” Shaking my head, “I know I muttered to the ground. I know.” It would be another few months before I would end this sort of behavior