I had started to take road trips to Athens, Ohio where I spent the majority of my childhood. Even though I had found a community in Columbus, a sense of belonging there was still a part of me that felt that only a part of me was accepted (or was that accepting) of the scene I was with in Columbus. Even though I was burnished with a sense of growing confidence inside of the insular world of the underground rock scene in Columbus I still yearned for something else, I wasn’t sure if it were to be found in the form of a woman, of music or another collective community. In a sense I wanted to merge all of these together although I could not seem to blend even one of these with the other in my own life. I had been trying unsuccessfully ever since I was a teenager. My busted up and fractured relationship with Jenny Mae had taught me several things, one was that trust was something that stabs like a cactus and the more you rub the needles the more imbedded they become and that putting all of your hope in one person was not a real bright idea. In the mid-nineties I was still figuring this out.
I had always loved Athens; it was the most physical place that ever reminded me of home. A small mid-western town, with a large courthouse the rose off the top of Court Street like so many other small-town courthouses that dotted the landscape of Ohio, Athens was different from the confining invisible walls of such similar tiny towns in Ohio like Findley, Urbana and Xenia, and this difference was solely due to the Ohio University. The first land-grant University west of the Appalachians. Ohio U. is a big college with over 20,000 students but is dwarfed next to its colossus cousin to the north in Columbus, The Ohio State University. While OSU was known for football, its law school and farming, Ohio U. was known for partying and its counter-culture way of life. Jerry always referred to Athens as “that hippie town” which I thought was odd since he attended Kent State which I also considered a “hippie town.” The big difference for me was that the scene in Athens appeared tighter, more organic in a sense and the music was reflective of this.
Appalachian Death Ride was the biggest band in Athens during the nineties, led by my childhood friend Chris Biester they could be devastating live, especially in the cozy confines of the Athens club scene for which they ruled the roost. They were basically the house band of the Union, an old biker bar in the nineteen seventies that was now how to the counter-culture scene in Athens. A diverse scene made up of film-makers, artists, drop-outs and hate rock purveyors with names such as Torque and God and Texas (who moved down from Columbus around 1991.) Thing moved slower in Athens, shows didn’t start until almost eleven or later and didn’t end until three am. Even out of town bands that frequented the town appeared bothered by the late start times, I remember speaking with Chuck Cleaver from the Ass Ponys and Bob Pollard from Guided by Voices who both were frustrated by late starting times. It all worked for a relaxed scene that did not appear to have some of the competitive mannerisms of Columbus. It was not uncommon to see a crowd dancing in Athens no matter the type of music whereas in Columbus it was more common to see the more standard hands-folded-across-the-chest pose of so many self conscious independent rockers.
I loved my drives to Columbus; I would leave work at Used Kids usually a few hours early on a Saturday, and stop and get a six-pack or a few forty ounce beers for the hour and a half drive down. Even though I brimmed over with self-confidence during this time in my life, I realize in hindsight how uncomfortable I really was with myself as I reconsider my reasons for needing to drink so much by myself for these drives. By the time I would arrive in Athens, I would be half drunk, the sun would usually still be shining and I would head over to my brother’s house. My brother, Zoltan is a year older than myself and has spent a lifetime in the military, at that time he was pursuing his undergraduate degree at Ohio U. and was still active in the Army. He was a green beret and lived in a house that had a revolving cast of characters that included redneck townies, conservative college republicans and died-in-the-wool hippie bong loaders. At any given time there were at least four dogs living in the house. In the middle of this was my brother, who worked and played well with others for most of his entire life.
Next door to his dog infested home was another small cape cod with an assortment of characters, three women and Pat Humphries who was the tall bearded bass player of Monster Truck 005. Pat was a fixture of High Street, the complete opposite of his brother John who fronted the animalistic but precise hate machine known as God and Texas. Both were giant, over six-two with lanky but muscular frames, while John would not look out of place in the polished sheen of “A Few Good Men”, Pat, on the other hand looked like an extra from Jeremiah Johnson. He had times a ratted flowing beard and hidden within all that hair was a disarming smile, a grin that no doubt flowed from a well thought of concoction of intoxicants. Pat drove a truck that resembled a crossbreed of a huge Army Jeep, Hummer and an ancient semi-truck. It was quite literally a Monster Truck. Pat was reserved but goofy, he had a gentle voice but when drunk and dark he could appear spooky due to his unmannered looks.
The early nineties was a time of hair, so to speak when the sounds more echoed the ghosts of The Stooges and the demons of Altamont there appeared to be an indirect correlation to the non-fashion sense the late sixties/early seventies. We wore thrift store clothing because we were broke, and avoided combing our hair because it was a drag. Flannel was in because it was cold in Ohio, or Chicago and Seattle. In Ohio it is not uncommon for the weather to change like the moods of a drunken step father, at one point breathing warm air and the next day to be frigid and chilling. Pat was a perfect example of this. My last sight of Pat was him driving that beast of a car of his, turning wildly onto High Street, yelling my name and holding a whiskey bottle out of his window. It was noon on a weekday. That was most likely 1995.
It was not uncommon to see Pat and my brother sitting on the couch watching the Cleveland Browns or Pittsburgh Steelers with beers in their laps, a stark contrast of styles breaking bread, as it were to the great American religion of professional football. I had been seeing a woman who lived in the house that Pat dwelled in, she was like many of the women I knew, more of a comfort than a relationship. One who, if her room was not already occupied when I arrived would let me curl up next to her and feel accepted. She was nice, pretty with long black curly hair and like so many of the women I have known had her share of demons that one may never have guessed by her forgiving accepting demeanor.
Jenny Mae understood my longing for Athens, which no doubt drew for the long lost feeling of home and safety that I had as a child growing up there. In an era where people in small towns did not have to lock their doors and instead of video football we scrapped together every kid in a three block area and played football in muddy grass with stained knees and torn t-shirts, each one of us a miniature model of our own gridiron hero—Terry Bradshaw, Sammie White or Brian Sipe. She would travel down with me when we were a couple and later when she was married her and her husband would accompany me on a few trips. She wrote the song “leprechaun” off of her first album from a time she went to Athens on Halloween and took a hit of LSD. She had witnessed a custom-goer getting squished in the Court Street mob and wrote the song in her head.
Jerry too, would accompany me on several of these trips although he liked to say at times he loathed Athens, he always enjoyed the trips away from Columbus. Athens, reminded him of Kent and he also had an old girlfriend there whom he would hook up with. Although he wasn’t the biggest fan of the Athens music scene or of Appalachian Death Ride, we saw them play the Dugout on one of these trips and after they had burned through several nuclear versions of “Pale Blue Eyes” and “American Girl” he turned to me and said “they are fucking amazing.” Jerry couldn’t drive; he never had a license so it was always me who did the reckless drive to Athens. We would smoke cigarettes and drink cheap beer and talk about girls and music. It was a magical time when one could leave behind any responsibilities for twenty-four hours and not be frightened of the consequences.
It is a ramshackle of an evening, filled with at least three clubs in Athens and weird afterhours that is winding down. I am past stumbling and into slow motion land swimming, the afterhour has been declared over and people are hustling to grab the last few drinks and free hands that they can scrounge up. The desperation is palatable. The evening lottery from loneliness is ticking away; I clumsily open a beer with a lighter in the dark. I manage to get the cap off the imported beer but also the tip my right index finger. I laugh at the blood and drink the beer. Jenny and her ex-husband Dave laugh alongside of me; we are oblivious to pain at this point. A small blonde woman winds her way through the dissipating crowd, she is older than me, most likely in her late thirties even in the dark I can see the wrinkles forming around her eyes. She says nothing to me but grabs my right hand and sucks the blood out of my finger. Feeling alarmed, horrified and weirdly turned on I stare back at her. I can see Jenny and Dave off to the side, the whites of their eyes almost illuminating the room. Their heads are shaking.
The woman takes my finger out of her mouth and asks me if I am Bela. Shocked that she knows me, for I have never seen her at the Union or any other club in Athens I affirm her answer. She tells me her name and says “you used to work at Case Que Pasa in the eighties with a bunch of high school guys didn’t you?” My first job was cleaning chickens at the hippie-Mexican restaurant when I was fifteen, looking older than I was I would drink St. Pauli’s beer and listen to Lou Reed’s “New Sensations” and The Talking Heads and pull boiled chicken off of the bones. “Yes, that was my first job.” The woman then goes on to tell me that she worked there and that the women there had a bet as to which one of them could get me and my two friends in bed first. All I can think of is “I spent my fifteenth year summer trying to lose my virginity to no avail and now you tell me this.” We talk some more and I my curiosity is peaked. Eventually she offers me a ride to her house and I explain that I have Jenny and Dave with me. She offers her couch to them. We follow her home in my car, Jenny incredulous says “You can’t fuck her; she sucked your blood without even knowing who you are.” By this time, I had gathered enough information from the woman to know that I couldn’t sleep with her in a carnal manner. She had divulged to me that her divorce was finalized that week, this lead me to the conclusion that as much as I would like to believe that it was my own charisma that had reached back ten years to 1985 that had silently seduced this woman in actuality it was her own broken heart and desperation that prompted her to try to heal the bloody index finger of a drunken boob.
When we arrived at her house, Jenny eyed me and mouthed “you have to fuck her.” I shook my head; I had enough hang-ups with intimacy that I promised myself that I wouldn’t take advantage of this woman. She made a bed for Jenny and Dave and we went to her room. She approached me and we kissed but I informed her I couldn’t sleep with her. We crawled in her bed and held one another and kissed a few times. Finally she asked me if I thought she was attractive, she was in fact, quite lovely. With a small frame, slim and a bob haircut. “Of course” I replied, “but I can’t sleep with you tonight.” I looked skyward, perplexed and noticed that the bedroom door was slightly ajar. I looked past the woman and noticed Jenny and Dave crawling across the floor. After about five minutes of silence, with my back turned to the woman and my head facing the wall the woman nudged against me and offered “can I at least suck you off?” Giggles emanated from the far side of the room. “No, but we can hold each other” I offered. The next morning on the way back to Columbus and for the next several months Jenny and Dave would ask me “can I suck you off?” and release the giggles again. A few months later, I saw the woman eating lunch by herself in a bar in Athens; she was reading the paper and looked right past me. I thought to myself, “That is loneliness in action.”