Jerry Wick and Jenny Mae: Mudhoney part one.

October 7, 2015

Mudhoney part one.


High Street in the mid to late 1980’s probably resembled most college town strips, rows and rows of bars serving pitchers or even plastic buckets of beer, beers for a quarter, tacky named drinks like “Sex on the Beach”, “Flaming Dr. Pepper”, $.50 shots of bubblegum flavored schnapps and Jell-O shots because who wouldn’t want to have a nice slimy sickly sweet mound of rubberized alcohol with luc-warm keg beer in a plastic cup? As the moon settled over the brightly lit destination, it would become overflowing with every type of stereotype of American, as young tie-dyed women with long flowing hair bounced off the curbs, twirling Eddi Brickell curly long hair into the night, vying for their attention were thick-necked and thicker-skulled frat boys arms bulging from weight sets next to dorm refrigerators fueled by twelve-packs of Old Milwaukee, they were here to score pussy damnit!, trying to be innocuous were the punks and burgeoning Goths, silently blending into the fabric of the concrete street with darkened mascara eyes, fishnet stockings and towering mohawks, and on the further outskirts were the other misfits, the soon to be called Gen-Xerox indie-rockers, we with jeans and rock concert tee-shirts, clothing picked fresh from the plentiful thrift stores, where the 1950’s and 60’s were not so long in passing. There would be rows and rows of shiny button up shirts for men, pill-box hats for women and even rows of formal dresses that would make Jackie Onassis proud. Bars after bars vied for all of this attention, with the vast majority catering to the white middle-class students, there was one bar on the strip that catered to the African-American students and of course, Crazy Mama’s that was the cauldron of Goth-punk-indie STD stew, where punk rock guys really did go out with new wave girls.

College radio was the invisible string the tied the huddled pockets of punks, new-wavers and the black mascara crowd together across campuses around the country. Meager, tiny sounds emanating from silver metal radio towers, perching high on libraries, gymnasiums and English buildings provided small budding scenes with a fuel and energy that encouraged the sharing of music, ideas and romance. Major labels would devote entire departments to market records to this small crowd of passionate fans, although none of them appeared to care to much to bringing many of these bands to a wider audience as mainstream radio was rife with payola and the white-bread sounds of Phil Collins, Lionel Richie, Hall and Oates and on the hard-rock stations, it was Def Leppard, RATT and genteel versions of ZZ Top and Van Halen (i.e. “Velcro Fly” and “Jump.”) It wasn’t until the overwhelming success of R.E.M. that was built town by town, show by show, record by record over seven years that the major labels decided to spend a bit more even then the popularity of “college” rock was relegated to university campuses, record stores and the midnight 120 minutes show on MTV. Unknown at the time was the importance of struggling but essential gateways to this music, which was the independent record label. It would be difficult to think of music today without the heavy stone foundation laid by bands such as Black Flag, Sonic Youth, Nick Cave, the Replacements, Scrawl, Husker Du and the Bad Brains, all of which sprung from the indie-label scene.

It was upon this stage that many of us sowed our oats, filling our young pockets with the vibrant echoes of music that could transform a day of idleness to one of pure creative output, with fingers clutching onto the cardboard sleeve of our favorite record at the moment, transportation came the moment the needle struck the grooves. The secret handshakes were the concert tee-shirts we wore, the rolled up fanzines we stuck in our back pockets and the glee of live music, as the notes invaded our ears, we caromed off one another, bouncing to and fro from the bars, dance floors and into our beds. The smell of sweat, alcohol and sex pressed against our faces and loins the next morning, it was a far world from stuffy and the conservative communities many of us had sprung from.

Drinking was as present as air, a bottle clutched in my hand as sure as I wanted a hand to hold onto my heart, it was the next best thing–a solid glass method of fending off loneliness while at the same time energizing everything I did, a record simply sounded better with a drink and a woman was easier to humor with a wry smile and a the floating bubbles of beer. Talent is a young person’s urge, stepping out of adolescence, kicking off the insecurities of early and awkward sexual experiences, leaving behind pimples, oily skin and bodies that were never quite what one wanted–I stalked away from my teenage years with no regrets and an acute sense of relief all the while finding out that my passion play with music, painting, and writing. A body couldn’t walk down High Street without bumping into someone who was busy recording, making and breathing art, wearing the passion the burned inside fully on the outside, carrying canvases, guitar cases, bundles of notebooks, and knapsacks stuffed with methods of creating and collecting thoughts, ideas that were day-glow in nature, screaming from clothing, hair and even the make-up we wore.

Pacing my walk, counting my steps while I read the paper in one hand, a bulky Sony Walkman in the other, it was a minor miracle I never knocked anybody’s teeth out nothing could hold my attention. Music helped focusing, notes to lead the way as I shuffled through life, barely lifting clumsy feet through days filled with the afterthoughts of nights that never turned off, even now they are like streets lights made of wax paper, filtering into nothingness, pulling around the edges as if roasted in an oven. My walks were the same, from whatever apartment/house I lived in to the store, then to Larry’s, to Bernie’s, the corner carryout near 15th, Buckeye Donuts and then to Staches. Repeat, sleep, repeat. There were some weeks when I never drove, there wasn’t a need, opening the car door, a small blast of stale hot air would billow out and engulf me, wavering from the slight stench, plopping in the front seat making sure the correct tape was in the player, turning the key and the sweaty vessel was transformed into an instant feeling machine, never mind the dry air, the empty beer bottles on the backseat floor or the scrunched up McDonalds bag on the passenger side. Nodding to myself as “Flat out Fucked” blared into the late morning sun, the car was another home, a clubhouse of my own.

Slipping from my corporate record store job everyday day around three, with my best rumpled dress shirt, brownish off the rack pleated pants and a bulky name tag stuck to my chest I would venture to Used Kids, and soon after Dan and Ron would offer me a Black Label, and feeling like one of the crowd I was soon talking records with them. Gerald Moss, worked there, par laying his own passion for music to rise up in the Koch Distribution corporation, he and I would discuss Phil Ochs, Richard Thompson and classical music. A full-blown passion for records had exploded when I got to High Street, living in small town Ohio, record stores consisted of the clean lines of chain stores, where posters and cassette tapes lined the walls. Getting underground music was a chore, where as a fifteen year old I would peruse the racks and buy records depending on their labels or even by their album covers. It was as if a fat man walked into an ice cream shop that sold more than vanilla or chocolate, I didn’t want to leave and I wanted to try everything. The dollar bins were bulky, stuffed with an assortment of titles, based not just on the redundancy of previous year’s sales (Bad Company, Peter Frampton, Heart, easy listening) but also by condition or cut-out bin titles, one could easily find semi-beat Replacements, Soul Asylum, Breaking Circus, or Salem 66 records in the cut-out bin, I bought my first Guided By Voices record, “Self-Arial Nostalgia” record for a $1, sealed. The music that the Ron and Dan played was always good, making an impression on ears that gobbled up music like the desert does rain. Sucking the notes out of air, an appetite for melody that was as much as an addiction as the alcohol I was consuming at daily and afternoon intervals.

Summer was bleeding Ohio dry in the summer of 1988, the pavement was so hot that the soles of tennis shoes stuck to the sidewalk, waves of heat shuddered in the thick air and if one did not have the luxury of an air conditioner, nights were spent with a fan blasting away on naked sweaty bodies, cooking on top of damp sheets. Discount Records, since it was a corporate store, complete with carpet that was replaced every few years had air conditioning, but we also couldn’t play a lot of the music I wanted to. The manager didn’t approve, we played mostly jazz, classical and non-offensive pop music such as Tracy Chapman, James Taylor, and soft R&B, when he agreed to play 10,000 Maniacs or the Rolling Stones he was being adventurous but for me, it was better than working at Sears, United Dairy Farmers or lawn-work. Used Kids had no air conditioner, the best way to cool off was to grab a beer from one of the always laughing men, and hope that it wasn’t too crowded, propping open the door the store felt damp, sticky and with the scent of sweaty men and hippie oils in the air, I would thumb through the records. Suddenly Ron put on a single, eyeing him from the corner of the dollar bin, he held a bottle to his mouth, nodded and smiled as he put the bottle on the counter, his left hand wheeling the volume knob, the sound came blurting out of the speaker above my head, a fat-squishy and ragged blast of noise that asserted itself as not just new but primordial in the best sense of the word and the singer’s voice cackled out as if where a comic-book burp, “blarrghhhhh!!!!” and when the chorus hit, something had transformed me, the sloppy and crusty sound, bellowed out like an lion, albeit a drunken, soiled and rabid lion, but a lion nevertheless.

“Touch Me I’m Sick” was the first single by Mudhoney a soiled diamond of a song that for many of us, changed everything. It was one of the few songs that I remember where I was the first time I heard it, along with “Everything Flows” by Teenage Fanclub and “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, but it was another revelation that music was ugly, beautiful and comical all at the same time. Lyrically it was brilliant, nobody was singing songs like this—at least to my young 20 year old ears—a stab against the clean bullshit of hair rock, the pastel sounds of Whitney Houston and Huey Lewis, the soft-light videos of dancing candles that framed the clean cut faces of Phil Collins, the Police and that ilk.

There are moments in life where perspective switches, an inner shift where the world changes, for some it maybe discarding matchbox cars, putting the doll in a box, or taking a last drink of alcohol. At other times, the shift is subtle, a slow movement, wading into the ocean as the waves crawl up around chilly thighs, small pushes against a body not quite ready to change—these changes happen in slow motion. Punk rock hit me like my first orgasm, it made total sense and a part of me asked myself, “why didn’t I know about this before?” The world changed, there was no longer a hierarchy to art, no longer a manner in which someone had to dress a certain way or for music to be used to sell anything other than pure emotional, either frustration, anger, joy or confessional sloppy love (sex).

At one point around this time, I started going out with Sharon, her quiet mysterious manners, her steely beauty and the fact that she was as big of a fan of loud guitars and spitting, sputtering, saliva spewing vocals only helped to make an up-to-that-time world a bit more clear. Sharon, who had lived with J Mascis, hung out with Sonic Youth and lived in Alphabet City, had eyes for me and the punk-outcast-arrogant me felt a “I fuckin-told-you-so” to the small town Ohio, that I had thrown off my shoulders just a few years prior. Sharon went to art school in NYC, although she was from Columbus she too, had shed her own upbringing and made herself anew-the person she was. Astute, coy and with a wise eye for detail, Sharon loved fashion, at one point we argued about the idea that I had a great sense of fashion, which I found absurd as I usually wore tee-shirts, jeans and thrift store button-ups. Many of the latter were from the 60’s and early 70’s as those decades were not so much in the distant past, were now, as I stand on the verge of 50, those decades appear to be faint wisps of smoke disenagrating in my mind. Fa-la-la-man. Sharon took me to Barney’s and other stores that would bludgeon my eyes with their price tags. Later when I met my wife, herself fashionably acute, and also an artist I gleaned some idea of fashion and style although it was more about how these lovers had used them. My style was comfort and easiness, and the idea of punk while married to fashion was more about being creative, of being confident to make and live life as you could carve it out, perhaps by plucking a guitar or bass, transforming a body that was at one time abused into a walking, breathing canvass or painting your hair purple, or green or cutting off the entire fucking mop.

Mudhoney contacted Jerry one day, asking Gaunt to open up a few shows for them, Steve Turner was/is one of the most passionate music fanatics I have ever met, and he had heard Gaunt and loved them, soon he convinced the rest of the band to allow Gaunt to play some shows with them. Another by-product of this wonderful indie-world was constructed around the idea of creative and no hierarchy it was common for well known bands to pick and choose local bands to open for them or to tour, Pavement had the Ass Ponys open for them several times in Ohio, Superchunk toured with Gaunt a few times, Billy Childish asked the New Bomb Turks to play with him in Columbus and the list goes on. The only requirement I needed to go to a show was to be loaded, which was a pretty easy task.

I drove with Gaunt to Bogart’s in Cincinnati, it was on the edge of the University of Cincinnati and the Over-the-Rhine, a mixed neighborhood that had been kicking and screaming into the idea of gentrification. It was a hotspot for racial tensions, poverty and drug use—and it was not uncommon to read about police shootings and high crime. We drove a small mini-van, Jerry, Brett Lewis and I drinking the entire way, it was as if we were ten year olds driving to Kings Island Amusement Park instead of our twenty-something selves on our way to a punk-rock show. Jerry was loose, cracking jokes and bahawing all the way on the 100 mile car ride, we giggled uncontrollably and right before we got there Jerry got his serious face on, one where he felt the need to wear the weight of the free-world on his shoulders, pumping cigarette after cigarette into his lips he would suck one up and start another. Brett said, “relax Jerry, we’ll have a good show.” Nodding Jerry stammered, “I am fucking relaxed dude!” Eyeing one another, Brett and I laughed again.


this is pretty great:


Jerry Wick and Jenny Mae: Now

July 10, 2015


           Cleveland Avenue splits the ghetto in half, starting in downtown Columbus, traveling at a slight angle northeastward to the cotton white suburb of Westerville, it holds a squeamish history of poverty, classism and crushing desolation. Jenny has moved in and out of abject neighborhoods since getting plucked out of the homeless camp that was carved into the small wooded ravine that cuts North Campus from the liberal Ohio State infused neighborhood of Clintonville, nearly seven years ago. Her story of shuffling in and out of housing is a tale of how dysfunction is an everyday occurrence for people who fall on the wrong side of the money.

            After surviving living as one of only two women in a homeless camp, living for nearly two months in the Ohio State School of Music and finally, at another west side camp, she and her (now deceased boyfriend) were given Section Eight Housing through a program designed to provide Housing First options for people on the street. While at the same time, they were both linked to mental health services.

            For a number of years, Jenny complained of pain in her legs, her once sliver of a body–reed-thin underneath her flower patterned sun dresses had difficulty moving from the couch to the refrigerator and the months living outside in the elements didn’t help. She can be a living manifestation of the worst type of alcoholic, one who wakes up throughout the night, to take a pull off a plastic bottle of Smirnoff or Aristocrat Vodka just to make it to the morning without seizing up, at various times she would hide her booze throughout the house, at first to hide her shame and addiction from the men around her until finally it was more to ease the annoyance of carrying a bottle or having to travel to another room to fix a drink. Her life had turned into the troubled aspects of Bukowski without the poetry, a life lead by breathing from one drink to the next while trying to scrap the last vestiges of memories of happier times from a brain that had stuffed itself more with life than any brain should be allowed. Weeks were played out with multiple runs to the convenience store, which she had for a short time referred to as the package store, a term she picked up living in Miami, flying road side signs asking for money off the closest freeway ramp from their first Section Eight House, located on the far southeastern side of Columbus. The ramp they held their sign was roughly three miles from the depleted apartment. She had tried to get a job at the convenience store just on the other side of the parking lot that split the apartment complex from the store that plied its customers with lottery tickets, cheap liquor and dusty tins of canned meat but shortly after she applied she was taken via stretcher out of her apartment and the owner told her that he thought she would be a health risk. Jenny and Dale would arise early, walk the three miles to the ramp and “fly the sign” they worked as a team, with an older friend who also had lived in the homeless camp with them, one of the twins. She would pack a lunch of cheese sandwiches, chips and a tumbler of vodka and Hawaiian Punch and two of them would sit in the woods, passing the time telling stories, listening to music on a boombox they had found dumpster diving and trying not to drink too much. “The drivers don’t wanna give you any money if they smell alcohol, plus it’s so hot out there most days, you just get dehydrated that you kind of just have to hold out.” She said they would average about $11 a day and more when she could hold the sign, “they like me to hold the sign because I’m the white girl, people don’t expect to see that in the hood, but I’m always appreciative of what they give,” but her legs were increasingly failing her. Many had assumed that it had to do with her alcoholism, and during a period of a year and a half in around 2009 she was hospitalized countless times. She would be discharged, get herself together and cut down on her drinking. At one point she started playing music, the prospect of playing again terrified her but also provided much needed hope, and she was asked to play Comfest, an annual event held smack dab in the middle of Columbus where thousands attend.

            Comfest of 2010 was a disaster for Jenny, although she put on a brave effort is was difficult for her to get back into performing shape, she was recently off the streets and her apartment was smack dab in the middle of a rouges gallery of gang warfare and crack cocaine dealing, plus she was nearly two miles from the bus line. Her biggest supporter, Sean Woosley, who had made a small career of his own making prickly-pop in the vein of Bob Pollard and Elvis Costello. Sean, whom Jenny had bestowed the nickname “Robin” many years ago, had played with Jenny nearly from the outset dating all the way back to the late 80’s. Sean worked hard to get the band together, and the practices were difficult, as Jenny had not played piano since living in the music building and her drinking was nearly 24-7. The revolving door of hospitalizations had not yet started, partly due to the fact that for the poor and homeless, access to services has been historically limited. Prior to the Affordable Health Care Act, with the access to Medicaid, the homeless were at a loss to access services, most was done in emergency rooms where treatment consists of M.A.S.H. like services, where putting out fires and getting the person out of crises is the number one prerogative.

            Jenny played Comfest in the late afternoon, I wasn’t there but had heard that she fell down, no doubt because of heavy drinking and her once deeply emotional voice, rang hollow like a raggedy flag beaten into submission. This was her first time in front of a Columbus audience in nearly ten years, and afterwards a mean-spirited emcee poked more holes into her effort by cruelly and clumsily deriding her as she was carried off the back of the stage. The legs that once bounded across the fields of corn and soybeans in western Ohio, as she flourished on the high school cross country team, with the orange sun sucking beads of sweat out of her taunt legs, were crumbling around her feet. These legs that had walked through rain and baked parking lots on the Ohio State campus as she practiced hour after hour to get the routines of the Best Damn Band In The Land, and soon after across football fields around the United States had finally given up. Talking to her afterwards, she was crestfallen, not only for not being able to play well but for the embarrassment of falling, “Bela, I couldn’t feel my fucking legs—they just quit working, I was scared,” I heard take a pull from a bottle, wiping her mouth, “I fell in front of everybody, I’ve never been so embarrassed.” “Even more embarrassing than going out with me,” I joked. “No, you were the worst embarrassment, you nerd” she laughed. Growing serious,”Were you drunk?” I asked, as if alcohol was the root of every problem she had. “I had a little, but that had nothing to do without feeling my legs, god-damnit! Jesus Bela, is that all you care about, in all your drinking did you ever NOT FEEL YOUR LEGS!!! And then Paul, who used to be so nice to me made fun of me, that was really shitty. I’m not going to play again, I can’t go through the disappointment.”

            The call came from Dale, it was late, three a.m., in the background I heard the rain pelting down against him, small bombshells of water thumping-thumping-thumping against his large green withered Army coat. “Bela, it’s Dale, they just took Jenny away in the ambulance–they wouldn’t let me go with them because I’m drunk and I’m not her husband.” Yawning and clawing for my glasses, “where are they taking her?” “I’m guessing OSU East or Grant, she wasn’t doing good, she had a seizure and blacked out. She wasn’t making any sense, talking about these little silver men who were in the couch. Bela, I looked there were no little silver men in the couch.” “no, fucking shit” I thought. She was emaciated, except for her face and stomach which was starting to bulge out a little, the years of drink had started to hang deep in her face, while her arms grew thinner, her legs were dead weight at the end of the bed, tired eyes lined with red blinked at me, “Bela-baby, I can’t feel my legs anymore—I don’t know what’s wrong and then I had that seizure, Dale said I was hallucinating again. I don’t remember any of it, but I’m scared I’m gonna be in a wheelchair and I won’t be able to get down the stairs to my apartment. Then what?” She was in the ICU for nearly three weeks, and it was discovered that she had a heart condition, similar to her mother that went undetected through the years through neglect by Jenny and to a lesser degree by physicians who were too concerned with her drinking and seizures, they simply missed it as she would get stabilized and then discharged. Since she didn’t have insurance or Medicaid at the time the hospitals would to the minimum necessary and discharged, in hindsight, if they caught her heart condition earlier it may have saved hundreds if not millions in more lengthy hospital stays. It took nearly a month in ICU for the hospital to trace the loss of her legs on poor circulation due to a weak heart. She would eventually play two more shows over the next four years, both which were much more successful—but she arrived at both in a wheelchair.

            Driving north on High Street as I leave the late 19th Century house my family and I live in, the streets are lined with flowering trees, even the white clouds lay as if plucked from a white pillow and pined into the sky for a prop of idyllic life. Azalea, Rhododendron, Vinurum bushes form a pathway of whites, reds and purples from my doorstep to the unending cups of coffee, poured into shell-white porcelain cups at the wooden designed coffee shop where I spend my Saturday mornings. Just two miles away on Cleveland Avenue, which runs parallel with High Street, the flowering bushes are disguised as bus benches, with black and red advertisements for check cashing and bankruptcy help, the green foliage that provides a canopy of shade for sparkly metallic fuel-efficient sport cars that makes High Street a destination spot sits in sharp contrast on Cleveland Avenue as the thick gray of concrete and gravel spill off the streets into the multitude of parking lots, semi-vacant strip malls and the uniform architecture of fast-food buildings. They are two of the longest roads in Columbus, just two miles apart in distance but seemingly countries apart in lifestyles and income. Cleveland Avenue is desolate, and the desperation in brought to life by the number of abandoned storefronts and empty building, even the McDonalds on the middle section of Cleveland Avenue is abandoned. It is just past a dilapidated strip club, whose rotting rood wavers with every boner in the club where Jenny now lives. After extensive looking, calling and asking for favors it was the only handicapped accessible Section Eight unit we could find her off the bus-line. Recently, Jenny was again in the ICU for a number of weeks. Hug those you love.

live in 2012:

she used to play these on the piano quite a bit:

Jerry Wick & Jenny Mae: Pokemon

April 12, 2015


His hair is a soft blonde, shaggy-it is starting to hang in his eyes, long curls twisting just above his sea blue eyes, and the room brightens when he smiles, giggles worth a lifetime of pleasure. Bouncing up to me a few weeks ago, “Daddy, can I have Pokémon cards?!” Sighing deeply, “Pokémon? They still make them?” Bruno shoves a muddied yellowed card in my face, “yeah, look—I found this on the playground. My friends play it, they are really cool. See dad?” and he shoves the bent card, complete with little kid footprint in my face. He grins, and somewhere a chunk of the universe’s ceiling becomes unhinged. “Sure, we can get you Pokémon cards.” He thrusts his hands up high in the sky, as if he just scored a World Cup goal, “YES!!! Pokémon!!!”

Growing up in the 1970’s was almost surreal as I look at faded blurred photos, it can as if even the memories are as bleached out as the pictures of a young me, wearing a long-sleeve yellow turtle neck, looking crookedly at the camera, a mischievous smile (the same that my Bruno holds the world captive with) anchored towards my brother who is laughing as the camera clicks. Behind us a hazy Christmas tree stands, a prop for our childhood and my father wearing black plastic framed glasses, a moustache and his arm around my mother, her long red hair reaching just below her shoulders. She eyes him nervously, no doubt wondering just how soon she can jettison herself from his madness. I collected comic books with my brother, my step-father David had let us read his, a large collection of early to late sixties Marvel titles, that no doubt would pay for my kids college education if we still had them. Early “Spider Man”, a nice run from the early twenties to the late 90’s, “The Incredible Hulk” most the early ones from #102 onward, “Fantastic Four, “Sub-Mariner”, “Thor” and “Silver Surfer.” We kept them in a small cardboard box, David was very kind and patience with us and we were told not to let them leave our rooms, be careful how we handled them and he would later buy us comics. This was 1975/76, a rough period in our lives, lots of movement both in the relationships my mother was involved in and geographically. From 1973 to 1976, we moved five times, after divorcing my father my mother moved us to an apartment in Athens, soon she married David and we moved to Youngstown where he got a job working in a steel-mill, not the quite the job a future PhD. professor at MIT had envisioned for himself. Soon though, David procured a job in Springs, New York where he worked as a scientist near Montauk–we lived just a skip from the ocean. From New York we moved to Newport News, Virginia and in Newport News we moved a few times.        The commotion of moving was difficult to say the least especially for my older brother, who had a difficult time adjusting, we relied on each other. With our plastic green army men, Lincoln Logs, and especially comic books. We dug in deep with them, losing ourselves in the adventures of Peter Parker, who always seemed to doubt himself and for me, the Hulk as misunderstood anti-hero whom I identified with at that early age. Completely bewildered, Bruce Banner yearned for acceptance yet, because of his emotions and the state of the world, he could not. This was me, even as an eight year old.

Coming home, I was latch-key before there was a latch key from second grade onwards, if the sun wasn’t shining I would get a plate of cookies and a tall glass of Kool-Aid and head to my room. Pulling the box from the closet, sitting in front of the closet door–not even making it to the bed, sprawling out I would read the comics over and over. The slightly mildewed smell of the pages, a bit musty even the ink had its own smell. This was comfort. After moving to Athens with my father and my brother at the end of the 3rd grade, my brother started coming home with other comics with the same vintage as the ones we had in Virginia. He and Mark Schazenbach, would come home and lay them out, teasing me by locking me out of his room while they read the comic books. Eventually, the lead me to Haffa’s, a literally underground store in Athens that not only sold comics from $1 on up, but also just as importantly sold records. Soon, I would make Haffa’s my destination point, hanging out – and saving my weekly quarter allowance to buy both records and comics. Soon though, the competition for our affections increased as we discovered football and baseball cards, they were cheaper than comics and we bought and traded these constantly. This was the hey-day of rough and tumble football our favorite teams were the Pittsburgh Steelers and Minnesota Vikings, and soon we would have multiple cards of Terry Bradshaw, Lynn Swan, Fran Tarkington, Sammie White and Chuck Foreman. Taping them to our desk tops and carrying them in our back pockets, with nary a care that someday, people would collect these cards, handle them with gloves and diapering them in small plastic sleeves. This past summer, my brother stopped by my house on his way to Alabama and we finally divvied up the cards, passing them down to our own sons. Oddly, Bruno has no care for football as he has never played the game nor has he watched one on television, so the cards still sit in a box.

During my fourth grade year, “Star Wars” came out and soon the world was transformed especially for a ten year old. My mother would not allow us to see Star Wars as it was PG, but I was able to watch the movie by buying and trading Star Wars cards, soon stacks appeared all over the house. They came out in colored series, blue, then red and finally yellow, if you flipped them over and connected them it made a giant poster. Finally towards the end of the summer, my father took my brother and I to see it. The next summer, Jaws II & Battlestar Gallectica came out, and soon there were more stacks of cards cluttering the already cluttered house. Clutter upon clutter. A cluttering mess. All the while, we still bought comic books, but soon as I entered fifth and sixth grade my interest was more laser-sharp on music, all I wanted was records and soon I was hanging out after-school at Side-One Records which was above Haffa’s, on a daily basis.

The nineteen seventies was now coming to a close, the decade was birthed with bell-bottom pants, the blossoming of soft-rock, tinged with the optimism of the baby-boomer coming into their own, just below the surface though the snarling cauldron of greed, cynicism and the darkness of Nixon, Vietnam and racism boiled. For the most part, the children of the 70’s were protected by the innocence of PBS television: Sesame Street, The Electric Company, Mr. Rogers, then Saturday Morning Cartoons and whimsical movies starring a talking Volkswagen Beetle, or small dogs and as the decade wound down, the story of a coming of age man saving the universe with the help of a princess and smuggler. In small town Athens, before milk-carton kids and the immediate fear mongering of the internet, we chased each other around the neighborhood, our weapons of choice were nerf footballs, wiffle ball and vicious games of kick-the-can. Nobody locked their front doors, while parents only saw their offspring at dinner time. Cable television barely existed, late night Friday and Saturday nights were crammed with Double Chiller Theater’s or Fritz the Night Owl, my brother and I would make a fort of blankets and shovel sugar cereal into gaping mouths as Bela Lugosi and Vincent Price cracked open our minds with sinister cackles and tales of murder. Music had changed dramatically from those early feel-good am radio days of the early seventies to the closing racket of punk rock. The Boss Guitars, a pub-y rock garage band formed by Ohio University students played my eighth grade dance, they not only played originals but also covers and it was here that I witnessed the seed of punk rock in a live setting. Sporting slicked back hair, wore leather jackets, torn jeans and mutton-chops, they played the Clash as well as sixties soul, a small pit of stinky adolescence boys careened off each other while the band smiled at one another. John Denver and David Gates were miles away. Later members of band would form Cleveland’s Bongo’s Jungle Party, and write an ode to Prisonshake’s Doug Enkler, there is no way these men, who seemed so old to me then, would have an inkling the impact they would have on a smallish curly brown haired boy with crooked teeth and an imagination that could muster an entire world out of clods of dirt and a plastic water pistol

During that same time period, a new way of playing games began to gain traction, gone were the luck of the dice roles of Risk and Monopoly, and new way to play had infiltrated the minds of awkward young men around the county. “Dungeon’s and Dragons” invaded Athens Middle School in a swarm, transforming the be speckled kids of University staff from brainy analytical kids who sat passively on the sidelines of the gravel encrusted playground into Necromancers, wizards and battling elves with the role of multi-sided dice and stacks of hardcover books whose artwork appeared to be drawn by an 8th grader sitting in Geometry class. Soon D&D took over, even some of the jocks were playing but it was mostly played by a small group of us, I played with my best friend Eric and a few other kids, during lunch and over the weekends where we would settle into a spare study room at the University library. The entire day would float by as we battled our way through orcs, disgruntled kings and heaven forbid a snarling smoking dragon. My mother was poor, at the time we lived in cramped University housing, four of us pinched into a small two bedroom apartment on Mill Street. My sister slept on the couch or with my mother, my brother and I had metallic bunk-beds that was cold to the touch, only slightly more freezing in the winter months than the brown speckled linoleum floors; I couldn’t afford any of the books but in between drawing pictures of Cheap Trick, Rush record covers and action shots of Lynn Swann or Chuck Foreman I would draw the plans for a castle that our band of made-up warriors would investigate the coming weekend. This infatuation lasted two years, by the end of my eighth grade year, hormones had taken over as well as a growing desire to read as much as I possibly could all the while saving whatever coins and I could slap together to buy dollar records at Haffa’s. The wanting to lose myself in the imaginary world of dice had faded against the fantasy of unhooking lacey brassieres, guitars and in the printed word of Michael Moorcock, JRR Tolkien, and soon, Kurt Vonnegut and outrageous musical biographies with names like “No One Here Gets Out Alive”, “Up and Down with the Rolling Stones”” and “Hammer of the Gods.” Video games consisted of Pong or Tank, and while the early Atari systems came out, the covers of those early games were much more imaginative than the blocky, cumbersome graphics–there was no bother in playing these games as they looked nothing like the games in the arcade. By the time Nintendo came out, I was seventeen, getting blowjobs, sneaking into bars and seeing some of my favorite bands such as R.E.M., The Replacements and Lou Reed—I had no time for television games. At some point during this time period as many of us found our footing amid our later high school years, getting lost in the musical underground of the time, though the sharing of fanzines, college radio and of course, the center of the collective universe of music fans everywhere, the local record store, a new generation that was being raised on the much improved computer graphics of Nintendo tended to stay indoors and made the jump from video games into the expanding world of cards played with gaming cards. Magic and Pokémon spread their wings, while at the same time relegating Dungeon and Dragon’s to an afterthought, the teenagers who had spent countless hours rolling dice and pleading with an often-cruel and power-hungry dungeon master had now become adults. We were off to college, or jobs or yet into other subterranean worlds filled with like minded outcasts, shaking our collective asses to the spinning sounds of black vinyl records and holding the backside of the be-speckled blond haired girl who manned the counter at Kinko’s while screaming along with the Jad Fair, Steve Malkmous, Marcy Mays or the Lazy Cowgirls was much more fun than pretending you were a 16th level Neurotic Ranger. The pleasure was now fucking a real neurotic person, than being an imaginary one with a cape, sword, amulet or pouch with secret potions.

Several years ago I took my kids to the Laughing Ogre, the large comic book shop in Columbus, just up the road from our house. I had not been in comic book shop since buying Hate!, Cherry Pop-Tart and Eightball at Monkey’s Retreat the essential underground bookstore that operated next to Staches for nearly twenty years. Monkey’s not only sold comics but also adult magazines, underground publications like ReSearch, Forced Exposure and lots of paperbacks, it was one of those places that attracted not only the underside of High Street but also the certain type of person who has no problem crouching down on bended knees, rifling through dusty and musty old boxes for hours at a time, the sort of place which required a shower upon getting home. These stores were akin to flea markets or antique stores except the pursuits was intellectual curiosity, some brief present or future titillation, and perhaps the greatest motivator of all, escape. For many along High Street, Monkey’s Retreat was the person’s first introduction to Charles Bukowski, Robert Crumb, Lydia Lunch or the fascinating black and white photos of S&M, latex or homosexual literature. These were things that were not easily found in the local Little Professor bookstore. Laughing Ogre is a different sort of store, family and kid friendly with clean shelves, pristine book spines, large open tables to display the imaginative world of graphic novels and comic books. The days of sitting on a mucky floor, getting red eyes and blackened hands looking for the one Spider-Man comic that is has interrupted a run for twenty-seven in a row has disappeared as the underground has turned itself inside out-now my daughters favorite show is Comic Book Men, a reality show starring Kevin Smith and his side-kick staff who gently insult one another and customers, for many of us this was the sort of life we had lived for year, albeit not the shiny clean version on television.

The comic book shop is a destination for us, especially for my daughter who has an active imagination, relishes good story telling and can lose herself in a book for hours. She has met famous graphic novelists and I encourage her to ask questions, read as much as she can and to express herself as much as she can. Standing in the middle of life stepping forward while glancing back is a bizarre excursion, as the past can be brittle, cracked around the edges with the rush of minutes, hours, days weeks and years pouring over tangible memories that appear so real they can bring a gulp in the throat or a hearty chuckle, but in the end they are nothing—simple thoughts dissipating into the next moment, all the while I see the future for my children the wonderment they have, sudden rushes of emotions at the simple acts of holding a book, staring at Luke Skywalker with a light-saber in hand, overcome by the special effects that are cemented in my own head, the sound of a song transforms them, still as it transforms me.

“Daddy, when can we get Pokémon cards?” Bruno asks, as he leaps from one couch to another, curls flopping, arms swinging while the stereo blasts Superchunk’s “Crossed Wires.”

“We can go today, after soccer and guitar practice, I’m sure the Laughing Ogre             has some.”

“Saskia, daddy said we could get Pokémon cards!!”

“Bruno, I don’t care about Pokémon, daddy can I get a new book–Raina Telgemeier has a new book,” replies Saskia dancing on the table, her slim body twisting and contorting, she appears to be having a seizure when she dances, she is that clumsy.

After guitar lesson we drive to the Laughing Ogre, the sun has managed to splash through the dullish Ohio sky, a veritable sidewalk of gray and bleakness that has tortured millions through the years, outside the traffic is bottled up as people try to escape into the sun, our neighborhood is filled with coffee shops, craft stores and restaurants. Bruno is jabbering non-stop, he spits out words as fast as a auctioneer, completely focused on one subject: Pokémon. The shop is filled with other families and their children, books and graphic novels are displayed on clean even shelves, the comic books are stacked side-by-side along the walls, glossy covers, signs announcing new releases. There are grown men and woman holding stacks of new comics in their hands, children bustle about and Saskia heads towards the Archie comics and grabs a copy of “Sisters”. Bruno sighs deeply, pulls on my shirt, “daaaad, ask about Pokémon!” “Do you want a comic book buddy?” He enjoys Popeye and Peanuts but has no interest today.

A small wisp of a woman sits behind the counter, she has a nose rings, a thin brown tee-shirt and a collection of silver brackets that rattle around her left wrist. She also self publishes her own comics, small press real-life sketches of the mundane and slow moving actions of the day, she smiles at us, “can I help you?” Bruno, fingers gripping the counter, “do you have Pokémon?!”

“yes, we have some Pokémon Manga’s over on the wall.”

“I’m sorry, he wants Pokémon cards, not the books.”

“Oh….I see….well, we don’t sell those” her voice now reduced a whisper, “I think the Soldiery in the back of the building has those, but I don’t know, I’ve never been in there.” Her nose wrinkles a bit, her eyes grow big, suddenly I get the feeling that I’m involved in a drug deal. “Oh, is that the gaming store?” I ask. “Yeah, I think they should have what you are looking for but, like I said I’ve never been there.”

Bruno, eyes exploding, as if they were replaced with resplendent blue crystal bowling balls, “can we go?!!” As I pay for Saskia’s book, the clerk winks and says, “good luck.”

Exiting we walk towards the back of the building, the entrance to the gaming store is basically off an alley, an almost dweebish speakeasy, against the brick wall outside the store we shuffle past a rouges gallery of misfits and techie types, one man is stuffing an oversized submarine sandwich into his mouth, his black tee-shirt with a bleached out image of a space-invader icon barely containing his girth, his beard filled with crumbs and droplets of mayonnaise, there are a few men holding tightly onto two-liter bottles of soda and tall energy drinks. Entering the store, the smell of awkwardness is palatable, with tables upon table of gamers, ranging in age from high school far into adult hood, the oil of acne pervades the air. I feel out of sorts. Saskia looks at me, and I return her smile, the walls are covered with fantasy posters and shelves are stacked high with role-playing, war, and fantasy games. One the counter is a stand of multi-sided dice, bringing back memories of D&D and my own long weekend afternoons stretched out as I battled made up dragons and evil forces in the library at Ohio University. We take a small walk around the shop, mostly the clientele are boys and men, layers of cards cover the tables, some of the players also appears to be playing video games while playing these other games. Games within games. I show Saskia a row of games she may like, there is a small section of historical games, the one I show her takes place in Victorian England, she looks at it, “I can ask my teacher at the gaming club if he comes here.” She is enjoying looking around, Bruno is transfixed, and we make our way to the counter.

Bruno, shy to a fault, his hands on my backside, sticking his fingers in my back pockets, he is suddenly my living shadow. Two young women are at the counter, timid and self-conscious, no doubt they would feel more comfortable if the counter was a drive through, “hey, do you have Pokémon cards?” I motion to Bruno, “he is really interested in Pokémon and he doesn’t have any.” The blonde girl, with brown framed glasses, small splotches of acne climbing her cheeks, quivers her lip, “ummm, you want Pokémon cards?” “Yeah, do you have those?” Biting her top lip, fiddles her fingers, “oh….do you know what kind you want?” I look at Bruno, “hey buddy, what kind do you want?” “daddy, I want Pokémon cards” speaks the shadow behind me. “He wants Pokémon.” She glances to her co-worker, her eyes shifting sideways, “hhmmmm, we have all kinds of Pokémon cards. Which ones do you want?” My mind throws up a little and quickly swallows it, “see, he’s never played before so I suppose the basic cards? Are there beginning cards?” The poor girl appears to faint inside, sighing, she explains, “here, we have these, there are all kinds” She places a small display box of shiny cards with bright colors and fanciful Japanese cartoon characters on it, “this is the newest series.” Bruno thumbs through them, pulls a pack out and we choose two. “Are there directions to these?” I ask and my questions goes unanswered, behind us, gamers are queuing up to purchase their own cards and candy bars. We pay and leave.

This becomes a weekly pattern, Bruno can’t read that well yet but he looks at the cards, carries them and talks about them incessantly. People move clumsily through life, protecting oneself from the world at large, building identities brick by brick, layers upon layers of ideas, wearing passions on tee-shirts, pins, decals, tattoos, music and even magical games played on thin cardboard cards. We bump in our own fragilities on a daily basis, for some even ordering a cup of coffee brings on brief seconds of anxiety, the internal mechanism of calm has never been calibrated correctly, at other times we joke through the waiting of the hours trying to find relief for our inner shakiness by making the world around us laugh. We escape, through fantasy, losing touch with the present through digital and imaginary avatars, standing alone is a frightening experience. Many years ago in a former life I was known for my propensity to drink, the logo of Anyway was “buy me a beer” and at one time, while I was on an episode of Al Franken’s Air America, somebody had written in on the feed, “hey, I only know one Bela in Columbus, and that has to be in” and later in the thread someone wrote, “if it was that Bela he was probably drunk.” That was my identify, I created it, through looking for something to help with whatever unease I had, it was created drink by drink, through years of practice until finally the disquiet within me had eaten me from the inside out. While I am closer to the terms of this lonely echo in my guts, I laugh continuously, making disparaging remarks about myself to melt the inner friction of others, and at the end of the day, I still rely on music to calm the white tipped waves of thought that never seem to settle. Hoping my kids find the same relief.




Jerry Wick and Jenny Mae: Stuff Collected, Stuff Discarded

February 22, 2015

There are shelves and shelves of books along the bedroom, the hallway, the living room and almost as much bunched together in cardboard boxes, piled high with thousands upon thousands of unread pages, the mountains of thoughts that went into constructing these ideas and stories maybe never be climbed as the tomes sit unread. At some point, in some strange dimension, they call out to feel affirmed, wanting eyes and brains to soak them up, all in order to continue living. The thought of immortality, transcribed into the printed word. Along the wall of the bedroom, stands a six foot shelf packed with past and future memories, long-playing records, most of which have been listened to multiple times, etched in the mind of the listener as much as a childhood Christmas is branded into one’s consciousness. Collections breed dust, a finger tracing along covers and spines, marking time with bits of dirt, dried skin and sunlight, and as I wipe the memory on a blue pant leg, itself a document of age with faded denim declaring that these pants are older than half the people alive in the world, a thought bubble up, “why do I have this shit?”

Years ago when our world consisted of trading news and record reviews off of Xeroxed copies and crappy blurry black and white impressions of even crappier photos, Tuesday mornings were reason for weekly celebrations as boxes of new records arrived, bearing new and old sounds to fill all the cracks in our lives, the door to the record store would open inwards and right there in the path to enter the store was where a small batch of seven inch singles stacked against one another. There would be a fight to thumb through them between customers, as people would jockey for new releases to lift them, even for only two or four minutes tops, out of the inner squalor of their lives.

It was during these halcyon times where my roots set in, as the sound of needle to black (or white, red or clear, if you were lucky enough) vinyl was a mini-vacation from life, and the community that was built around small round plastic cylinders impacted me almost as much as the sound of the music itself. there were those who were audiophiles, the ones who needed to have first editions, or colored wax, who may purchase two copies of a record, one to play and the other to sit on the shelf, untouched by human hands and ears. Stillborn. There were others, like myself, whose sole purpose was to be transported by the sound, and if we were lucky enough to get a rare record or pressing then it was just the icing on top of the melody, so to speak. Most of us did manage to get first pressings as procuring these hidden treasures was a weekly if not daily affair, but in the end that was not the goal. Some were blessed enough to this sort of listening for a living, a mini-miracle in our lives that allowed to LISTEN TO MUSIC ALL FUCKING DAY, AND GET PAID FOR IT!!! Holy-fucking shit, even.

The hallway is stacked with books, boxes of CD’s (I recently unpacked nearly 30 boxes of CD’s and alphabetized them) and tubs of children’s clothes. The house I live in is old, built in the 1870’s, it’s tall and thin, as if it were an adolescent boy–all elbows and creaking voice but the voice comes from the old wooden floors, the thin walls that shudder when the wind smacks into it in the middle of the night. The Ohio cold winters give no respect to age, even old blue houses just a long-jump from High Street. As such, the house has little closet space, the ceilings are tall and there are plenty of window, which is one reason why it is a beautiful place to live, as the sun and shadows of the day make the various shades of light dance through the house. Sparking bits of action against the bone-white walls while I hold a cup of coffee, there is no need for television in a house like this. The house was purchased from friends, Jake had tore down the original garage, probably built in the 1940’s with his bare hands, carrying the burnished and battered wood into a trailer to be hauled away. He built a two-car garage with a studio on top where Moviola would craft timeless indie-rock sounds with the aid of Rolling Rock and gallons of wine, I was privy to some of these recordings as I made Moviola practice the starting point of my weekly Wednesday night adventures for a number of years. The outside of the house resembled the face of an old man, cracks, creases and the peeling paint showed the experience of a weather past, the house look stark, withered and lonely. Jake had moved out and wanted to sell it, with his help, we redid the floors and fixed painted the frayed exterior (which now resembles an old woman’s face, shrouded in pale blue make-up). There were no soft feet hitting the floor at that time, just my wife and I and when our daughter was born there was still plenty of space in the house. Soon, our son was born and I packed up half my music and 3/4 of the books that sat quietly in the little boy’s room. I had two yard sales, selling roughly 1,000 LP’s and ended up taking five boxes of books to the used book store place that gives a person less than Spotify does for a stream. And yet, space was still a commodity.

Children collect things, not out of any sense of greed but because of interest, every moment is a discovery a chance to step into another portal of the world, be it a comic book, the scribbling of bold markers on typewriter paper, blackened sparkled stones or a handful of acorns handed to a father on a walk through the park. These things stack up, in one corner of our house there sits several brown grocery bags, stuffed with homemade maps, sketches of houses, animals and super-heroes, homework assignments and glued school projects made out of wooden tongue depressors, plastic rhinestones and cut out magazine photos, the only thing missing are uncooked macaroni. There are several years of these, even the parents don’t want the arduous task of sorting them out, they sit in the corner collecting more dust and becoming forgotten memories.

My son has a collection of stuffed animals, although there is only one he uses to sleep with, a tiny 6″ bean-baggy bear that he calls “teddy” the rest are nestled together in several wooden storage bins on his shelves. The animals lay atop one another in the ultimate cuddle-fest but the boy never picks them up. At various points throughout the year we ask him to go through them and pick out some to donate, and suddenly the young child’s attachment to these multi-colored, plush animals grows with such ferocious intensity he will toss himself upon the floor, writhing in frustration that he can’t explain. His body grows rigid, feet flexed and his face contorted, “noooo, I need that one! it’s my favorite!!!” He says this for every single one, even the shitty anti-freeze colored Care-Bear that his sister got from a friend eight years ago. Soon, the boy wins, it isn’t worth it and truth be told, the line of records, books and other artifacts that I collect do not provide him with an example of less is best.

Several years ago, I went through boxes and boxes of old fanzines, photos, old flyers for concerts I promoted, leftover unsold homemade tickets for said concerts, poetry and paintings I had collected over the years. The vast majority of these stemmed from the early to mid-nineties, I had quit promoting shows by the late nineties, when my alcoholism and depression had grown to such a “I don’t even care about live music” stature that going to shows was a drag, and once I put a drink in me I didn’t want to stop—even to make it to the show. This is a ritual that has been performed again and again, mostly when moving but also, coincidently with life events such as the birth of our children, the moving of children’s rooms and, at other times when the weight of ownership gets too deep and the urgency to purge takes over. The garage is stacked high with boxes of these things, they are in no order, just piled on one another–haphazardly with nary a concern for order. Zines with long-forgotten names such as “Spank”, “Wiglet” and “Feminist Baseball” are getting friendly with flyers whose existence are a testament to events that actually happened, although with the vapor of time, alcohol and the slippage of the mind, it is difficult to trace the events that I hold in my hands to what transpired. They are in essence, just smoke in my mind as my hands collect the thin dust of age. These things happened, I can see it as I hold a flyer from 1993, “The Ex w/ Tom Cora, V-3 and Guided By Voices.” I remember painting flyers on newspapers, I did this for a while, unfolding the newspaper, painting the black rectangle and using white paint to announce the show. I would paint several of these, they were bold and easy to do, I usually added a small drawing of my dog drinking and smoking a cigarette at the bar or other times, a baseball cap, something, anything to keep it simple and noticeable.

There was one evening when I went to an afterhours party and there on the wall was a framed flyer I had done of a Sebadoh show, with Gaunt opening up, it was a simple flyer, with a wiener dog over the black frame. I was shocked, I sat there drunkenly and stared at the flyer, and one of the women who lived there asked me why I was staring at it and I told her that I had made it. An odd feeling, later that night, her roommate with whom I had a crushing crush on, asked me to stay the night, conflicted I went home as I was living with my wife. My alcoholism had not yet pushed me to the breaking point of crossing lines. Small things alter our lives forever. Inevitably when I hold that old flyer of Sebadoh in my hands, the yellow paper even more yellowed and crisp around the edges, the thoughts of Lou Barlow and company slaying a packed Staches house are not what cross my mind but of the missed opportunity of sleeping with that beautiful woman.


The objects hold memories, some false, some faded and others that have shriveled and withered away as if they were the last brown leaves on a towering oak tree in the middle of February, cracked and frayed, not yet knowing that the time to burst loose for the moorings of its brittle stem passed months ago. Bruno can remember small tall-tales I told him at bedtime from three years ago, as I wrap my hands around his soft body he grins and buries his head into my neck, “daddy, can you tell finish that story about the boat and the daddy and the little boy fishing when the bad guys were after them?” Thoughts go in rewind, “what the fuck story is he talking about?” I think, “hey, I don’t know what story you are thinking of buddy,” I whisper in his ear. “You were telling it in bed one time, remember that little boy had the plans that the bad guy was going to take over the world? And then they fooled the bad guys by fishing, and the little boy caught a Red Snapper. Remember, Daddy?” This was a story I had made up some years ago to get him to sleep, it sprang back, “oh yes, the one with Mr. Terminus who was fooling everybody. That one?” “Yeah, that one. Can you finish it?”

In my own life, I recall very little of my childhood, it falls between the cracks of my mind, rolling in the ether of my mind like coins dropped on the ground—they are there but not, what is real and what isn’t? I don’t know, at times I believe they are true but then I pull a metaphorical sheet over the memory, did the babysitter really do that? Did I really paint a picture with my grandfather? The memories that I’m certain of are there, most are funny and some are painful, mostly the ones with separation from my parents—my dad especially, like a carving in my psyche. I can touch them, almost glide my fingers through the burnished memory of sitting in the backseat of my mother’s car as my father looked through the window, tears streaming down his cheeks as we drove away. And again later, when I was ten, how he glided down the aisle of the Piedmont propeller airplane to give me a final hug as I was flying back to Virginia. Fast forward to my early twenties, when after a long argument, I asked him to leave my apartment after not seeing him for nearly a year, he bounded back up the metal fire-escape and we hugged each other tight, tight enough to force more tears out of our hardened eyes. We would try harder, for maybe the ten minutes after he drove his white Volkswagen Golf away from my house, I’m guessing that’s the last hug I ever got from my old man.

When I was seven or eight my brother and I were at a gathering of Venezuelans held at a party hall somewhere in Columbus, it was loud and I can recall vividly talking with a Vietnam veteran who showed us the bullet that was still suck in his knee, he let me put my hands on top of the knee, and move my finger over the bump made the bullet, like a roly-poly bug of violence. Later that night there was dancing, swells of Latin-Americans gyrating and twirling, in the middle was a thin-tiny elderly man who was leading the throng of party-goers, shimming and swaying his hips, a smile as large as a Volkswagen Beetle stuck on his face. Wide-eyed we soaked it in, stealing sips of beer and daring ourselves to venture into other hallways and empty rooms, I can recall the sweat dripping down my back. Later that night my brother and I sat in the hallway, exhausted, our backs to the wall when suddenly the double doors from the dance-hall burst open. The elderly man staggered, put both hands on his knees, wobbled some more and started running towards us. He was at least twenty-feet away and then suddenly as he ran he vomited with such force that his dentures rocketed from his mouth and slid down the hallway. As if in slow motion, the fake teeth skidded past me, just a few feet from my lap, in a small flood of pink puke until they came to as stop between my brother and me. I eyed those teeth for a good ten minutes while the grandfather was escorted to the rest room until a long dark haired woman came with a brown napkin and picked up the poor man’s teeth.

Some people say that “the mirror doesn’t lie”, which is bullshit because one of the gyms I run in has one of those mirrors in front to the treadmill that makes a person look thinner a trick to make everybody running that our bodies are transforming in front of us, with the flicking of sweat as the MP3 player pulsates, the illusion is obvious but it’s easier to believe in the dream than the reality of the treadmill. There are lines of people stationing themselves atop curved metal machines, complete with book holders, flashing lights and with flat screen televisions perched above them to help distract the fact that each person is pretending that their body is that of a child. On the televisions are images to help propel the sweat from our bodies- sports shows, talk-news and action movies, all an effort to pre-occupy ourselves and to help inspire the declining athlete in all of us. On my headphones is a wealth of music, all slipping into my ears, transporting me back into my bedroom in high school with the pulsating clamor of the Jesus Lizard shaking through my legs, my balding sweaty head bobbing up and down. No longer a forty-six year old, perhaps I am twenty-five again, as David Yow gets hoisted above the crowd, his jeans more burnished than mine we hold him high and in a flash, as he leans into us, back arching towards dusty ceiling panels, this small gathering of music fanatics has won. We are one, spilling beer and yelling at each other, in unison as the din of guitar, bass, drum and yowl (yow–l) cover us as if we were all playing under a parachute in second grade, pulling our knees in tight, giggling as the fabric billowed above us. We are all grinning now. Suddenly the song switches, my head snaps up, neck waving side to side, I could be riding my bi-cycle with feet stretched straight out as I glide down Sunnyside Drive, seeing how far this yellow bike with coast or I could be standing next to the corner of a black, tarnished stage, singing at the top of my lungs for a sweetheart that only lives in between the notes I hear, “they seem to assume possession, change your expectation….you changed in…” and when the song ends everybody pulls a little into themselves and nod as if we all felt the universe giggle. When on the treadmill, I push the song backwards, to get as many giggles as I can. It’s always been easier to listen to a song than to listen to you, or anybody else.

When the last bubble of Natural Light popped up and then out of my glass, all those years ago it took quite a while to let wobbly feet find themselves, as I started drinking in earnest around the age of 15 or sixteen, stopped for a moment for my mind to catch its breath when I was 22 and didn’t let up until that last speck of a beer bubble shattered the ceiling I had been living under. Some six months of after-care, at least 300 12-step meetings and therapy found me in a bookstore, holding a gift certificate sent by my sister for my thirty-fourth birthday, I was counting time it was all many can do after trying to regain control of mind, body and the spiritual aspect of ourselves. Time meant a cushion from the last drop of turmoil that entered my bloodstream and for me that meant another day farther away from wanting to no longer breath as all the breaths I had taken before, fueled by risky behavior, loathsomeness and alcohol had finally ended up suffocating me. I pulled out a yellow book, “The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying” and after reading two pages, the realization that I perhaps there was something I was that I never knew I was. And that finally breathing was enough.

I once had a very nice girl-friend who said I always reminded her of this song, because she always smiled when she heard it, can’t get sweeter than that.

My very nice ex-wife once cried when listening to this because she said it reminded her of our lives together:

I have a wonderful phone video of my kids dancing their skinny little asses to this:

I have a very fond memory of Ron House singing this with Yo La Tengo at an in-store at Used Kids probably 1992 or so:

Recent memory of driving through New Jersey singing this at the top of my lungs:

Jenny Mae used to sing this all the time, like daily for about a year:

played constantly with my wife in summer of 1999 while we were in Italy/Germany/Netherlands

my daughter was born as we listened to Jacques Brel:

Jerry Wick & Jenny Mae: Christmas 1991

December 24, 2014

Christmas Trees. 1989.

The bedroom was positioned over the backyard, supported by long planks of peeling wood with widows on all four walls. It was freezing in the winter and because it hung close in the tree branches, remained relatively cool in the summer. The room itself defied all building codes as it was obviously a balcony during its glory days and then one afternoon a greedy but innovative landlord secured walls and, adding windows, carpet and several coats of paint then-presto an instant extra bedroom. The landlord didn’t even bother to run electrical in the new bedroom, as we opened up the original window and fed an orange extension cord through the window and kept a small end table on the other side of the window that housed an aqua-green rotary phone that was rescued from my grandfather’s office. We picked through his belongings, as if we were excavating an anthropological site, carting off the phone, pictures, and for me a wide array of men’s nightgowns (just like Scrooge) shortly after he was shuttled to his final bedroom, the Whetstone Garden and Care Center which sounded more like a nursery than a center that sucked the shit and urine out of bedridden patients wobbling on their last breaths. Over the door hung a large poster of Morrissey, left over from previous tenants, it was a black and white photo of the singer’s face, he was looking forlornly over his shoulders and the photo itself could have been torn from the pages of Life magazine circa 1957 not from the bleached big hair, and torn jeans of the late 80’s. One night, in a burst of anger over infidelities, I smashed my drunken arms through the poster, withdrawing my left arm from the tattered poster and hunk of glass submerged deep into the back of my forearm, a cascade of blood pooling across the floor. Looking up, “well, that was stupid, Jenny get the car I gotta go to the hospital.” All scars have stories.

The July moon poked through the dark leaves, a soft wind blew through the open windows and a jazz record was playing, most likely Billie Holiday or Preservation Hall Jazz Band, as these were the favorites Jenny would play during the summer. The green phone rattled, “hello, oh hi grandma,” Jenny spoke into the receiver. “Now?” a pause and then, “But it’s July….no that sounds cool, we’ll be right over.” Tipping a can of Schaffer’s to my mouth, wiping my lip with my left hand, “what does grandma need?” Jenny was pulling on a yellow summer house dress that she seemed to wear daily, “oh, she wants us to come over and put up her Christmas tree.” At that time in our lives, nothing seemed out of sorts or to wild, “ok.”

Upon arrival my grandmother, with two canes and translucent blue eyes opened the door, “come in children, please. I am so happy to see you Geen-if-fer, Bela now go fix some drrrrinkss” her smiled widened, showing her perfect white teeth, her Hungarian accent was thick and she always had a knack of insulting me with every interaction. As I made my way to the kitchen feeling the comfort of her air conditioning as the summer heat in Ohio is as solid and sticky as tar-paper, I opened the refrigerator door. “Bela, you must wash your hands first, I know what you men do with your hands and its dis-gusting!” I hadn’t been in her house for three minutes and she was already making allusions to my propensity of masturbating.

Grandmother ordered a pizza from Pizzeria Uno, a large with everything and we had a few drinks and I went to pick it up, upon arriving back to her house both my grandmother and Jenny had made their way to the living room. There were several boxes of Christmas ornaments and upon entering the house and putting the pizza down I was instructed to go down to the basement and fetch the artificial Christmas tree. “Bela, it is under the stairs in de bazement, be careful, you are such a clumsy man and Pablo bought me that treeee, so be verrry careful. Don’t touch anything else vile you are down der.” A streak of paranoia has run through my family, the old woman was petrified that people were going through her belongings, taking note pads, pencils or even worse jewelry. She was a hoarder, with stacks of papers, egg cartons, small cut out pictures of animals, flowers and cartoon characters slipped between bills and letters, she coveted things as if she was in perpetual starvation for things. Anything. Her basement was stacked high with boxes, plastic laundry baskets bursting at the edges with more paper, photos and empty canisters of peanut jars, puffed cheese balls and fabric, unopened packages of sheets, tee-shirts and other clothing. To find anything was a chore and after three minutes the old woman would holler, “Bela, vat are you doing down der?!! Hurry up!” She was always thinking that I may be hiding things away for myself, while she never accused me of taking anything the thought that something may disappear was always present. It was not uncommon for her to call me after a maintenance man came to her house and have her think he took something from her, whether it be a bag of potato chips or a small elephant figurine. This paranoia was passed onto my father, whose bout with mental illness has left a chasm as wide as the expanding universe between himself and his children.

In the basement, there was luck to be found as the artificial tree was sitting right underneath the stairs, there was nothing else placed on top of it. My grandmother had a very difficult time going down the stairs at this point in her life, and while her memory was sharp, she could recall the precise location of her father’s cookbooks in the basement she would get anxious when she couldn’t see where a person was. Pablo had bought the tree in the year before, a thrifty man he would peruse catalogs and discount stores for the best deals and then purchase things in bulk. He had bought four of these trees the previous spring, two for him, one for my grandmother and another for a friend in Miami. We set the tree up, pushing her warped dining room table, that she bought at a fraction of the cost at Lazarus because well, you know, it was warped.

With boxes upon boxes of Christmas ornaments, many of them carried within the confines of a bruised and dented leather crate that help everything my grandparents owned. Traveling by foot, truck and train from Budapest, to Lake Balaton, into the mountains of Austria, then lugged onto a freighter chugging across the Atlantic to Caracas. Later, they would be packed again in boxes, carefully wrapped and folded into pink and white tissue paper, to be transported by bus, train and finally the trunk of my father’s car from Caracas to Columbus. These were the precious ones, the ones my grandmother would hold in her hand as if they were made of baby skin, softly eyeing them, her wide blue eyes sparkling as the candles and lights of the room shifted and shimmied off the golds, reds and silver of the ancient ornaments. She would hold them up to the light and smile to herself, they were treasures for her and as I eyed her removing them from these dimpled boxes, I understood why she wanted her Christmas tree hung up in July. The putting up of the tree took several weeks, all of the decorating done on a Thursday night after I got off of work, she would buy the pizza, I would wash my hands, make the rum and cokes and we would commence to decorating. Grandmother would sit in her plush E-Z-Boy recliner and bark out orders to me on where to place specific ornaments, she had what appeared to be thousands. Almost all of them laced and tied with green or brown thread that she had tied, so they all hung at the same length. Some branches would be holding up to ten ornaments, all stacked in a row: a drummer boy, a plastic cat, a snowman, a wooden cross, a plastic candy-cane, a fabric Santa, a miniature race car, a tiny hippopotamus and a toy soldier. These Christmas trinkets were ready for battle. In her perch, the old woman was in total control, and Jenny sat next to her talking about plants, food and gossiping all the while pointing her finger at a branch of the tree and having me hang one of these billions of tiny plastic ornaments, which, let’s face for the most part WERE NOT ornaments but tied junk that she called an ornament in certain places and when I failed to do so her dis-satisfaction would hurdle down upon me. “Beeeelaa, how can you be soo stooopid?! Look, my finger, put that little green Santa on dat branch, NOOO!!!! Not dat one, DAT one!!” Her chubby finger wagging in the air and turning to Jenny, “Genn-i-fer, how could you love such a stoopid man? Ok, yes that is ver you put it, very good Bela. You know in Hungary, we celebrated Christmas in the right way, it was none of the dumb tings you have here.”

Flashing back, I remembered sitting in my grandmother’s kitchen, we were playing Monopoly. Well, my sister, my brother and my grandmother were, little Bela was too young, placing all the hotels in a row on the table, driving the silver car to each of them, “brrurrriggrrrrrr, brrrecggghh, hey we are here for Christmas” my little voice would go to each hotel. “Stop it Bela! God, you are annoying!”my sister would stammer, “Mom, Bela doesn’t know how to play and he thinks he does!” On the television, a Sonny and Cher Christmas was flickering in black and white, the red bird feeder outside the kitchen window glowed with an several inches of snow piled high and the backyard was windswept with snow, tiny lines carved by the wind mimicked the waves of the sea. Above her red shed almost collapsing from the mountain of snow, a lone lamp bathed the backyard in yellow light that could have been a beacon from heaven showering this Christmas Eve night for the birth of the baby Jesus. “I do too know how to play” I would whisper, puttering the car all over the table. There was eggnog, pastries, the smell of chicken paprikash, duck and onions filling the air and a curtain separated the kitchen from the living room, where the adults along with the help of the boy Jesus and a host of angels would be decorating the tree.

On the other side of the curtain, the booming sounds of Spanish, Hungarian and English split through the curtain like miniature bombs, popping into our ears and we heard the laughter that followed. Latin music was blaring and my uncles would periodically shuffle in, yelling over their shoulder, eyes laughing, cheeks red and bobbing their head to the sounds of Angel Cusodio Loyola and Oscar D’Leon whose clopping and shifting beats and melodies would make even the most stubborn hips sway to the pitter-patter of the percussion. “When is Jesus coming?” I would ask, “oh, soon, the angels are already here but children can’t look or they will leave and Jesus won’t come” Uncle Pablo would answer slyly as if the decorating of the Christmas tree was an x-rated adult burden. There were in fact many woman who helped set the tree up as both uncles were charming men who loved to have the company of pretty women by their sides. The idea that Jesus Christ would be in the next room terrified me, I wanted to see the angels but Jesus was scary, more so than Santa Claus and soon, as the anticipation of the next morning grew too great, I collapsed in my mother’s arms. She carried me through the curtain and into the guest room, where our stuffed animals were piled high on the floor and around the bed, protection from the ghosts that danced through the hallways of my grandparents house. I stole a peek over her shoulder, and saw my Aunt Bellin twirling her short white pleated skirt and caught a glimpse of her pink panties, I thought I saw an angel but dropped my head on my mother’s shoulder. The next morning, the tree appeared to be miles away as presents stacked high and far from the tree, they almost reached all four corners of the room. They did indeed come and it seemed like we opened presents for hours, and all the toys we opened had to stay at my grandmothers, we were not allowed to take any home. Which was a relief to our mother, who was certain we had no room for all the toys we were given.

My grandmother’s Christmas tree stood in her living room for nearly five years, until she finally decided to take it down as she worried she would fall into it as she got older, and after seven years she was carried out of her house by five paramedics and spent the last few years of her life in various homes. She always had a several ornaments up in her room.


a longer version of this story will be broadcast on Jon Solomon’s 24-hour Christmas show on WPRB: IMG_5688

Jerry and Jenny: The Goners 1989-2014

September 6, 2014

The Goners. 1989–2014

Counting steps kept the hangover from keeping my knees from buckling, one step after another as the sun poked through leaves that dotted the sky with waving shades of greens, oranges, yellows and purples a soft autumn breeze would hit me in the face and I would pick my step up. The yards of the campus houses were filled to crunched plastic beer cups, smashed Pabst Blue Ribbon cans and the discarded litter of fast food papers that had been quickly wrapped around various types of hamburgers, taco’s and burritos, an inglorious end of the line for any animal, even a fatted cow. Some of the houses were still family owned and one, an old woman whose white overweight collie looked surprisingly like her, with a weighted girth that caused the dog to do an awkward shuffle off the porch. Some mornings I thought both of them would topple over in her manicured yard, the woman had a well coifed bun of white hair, and hips that were level with her shoulders and wire framed glasses that sat on the bridge of her nose, and when I walked by she would raise her head backwards, lower her eyes and stare at me through the coke-bottle lenses and follow my counting steps and right when I got to the edge of the street as I stepped of the curb away from her house she would whisper a “hello there young man.” “hi,” I would breath back, thinking they looked like a panel from The Far Side. One day, after many years of plopping over the cracked sidewalk, I noticed a squad car in front of her house. Soon after the house was emptied and I noticed the dog standing alone in the front while a man in a gray tweed jacket and a hat straight out of 1955 standing on the porch clutching a cigarette and muttering, “shit, you damned dog, shit already.” I never saw the dog again. “well, that’s that” I thought to myself.

The neighborhood had changed over the years, I was born near downtown Columbus, in Mt. Carmel East Hospital and by the time I had returned nearly eighteen years after being packed into an orange Datson at the barely alive age of six months and being driven down Route 33 to Athens, Ohio, the neighborhood surrounding the hospital had fallen into hard times. The era of Reagan had been a disaster for the west-side of Columbus, many of the small manufacturing jobs that employed the blue-collar residents were mangled for tax breaks and the shipping of jobs out of the country, the streets near Mt. Carmel East swelled with crack addicts, poorly written graffiti and boarded up houses. It has never really recovered. My neighborhood, the one that I was born in and the one that I still live in never really suffered, being so close in proximity to Ohio State has kept the neighborhood insular even if the residents are fluid, camping out in the rental properties for four or five years, building life-long memories of fucking, studying and experiencing the troublesome nature of early adulthood, the units could breath stories if they were only alive.

The walk to the record store was roughly a mile and a half, when drunk it was three miles depending on the gait my body chose and it would take me about 25 minutes to half an hour and no matter what I would always be ten minutes late to work. If, by chance I arrived early, the expected ribbon accompanied by small feeling of superiority hung over me for a small portion of the day over my less responsible co-workers but this did not happen very often. Autumn and spring were the best times to walk, the summer heat in Ohio could be debilitating and it was not uncommon to arrive at work with a shirt that was spotted with sweat if walking was the preferred choice and later, the brutal Ohio winter would lay a thick chunk of ice that stretched from the steps of my house all the way to High Street and even further to the banks of the Ohio River. The south never had to deal with this shit. The south only had to deal with human bondage, nothing compared to an Ohio winter. When the gray hovered over the skyline like a heavy burlap rug, my eyes would face the icy sidewalk as the ground was brighter than the sky, never lifting their gaze skyward until early April.

Seasons begat behavior and when summer limbered up, gave up the thick drape of smoldering oppression for the refreshing whiffs of September, it was as if the insides of a body had been cleansed and turned outwards. House parties, claustrophobic night-clubs hidden under the bowels of High Street and the patter of singing rain droplets bursting like small grapes on shoulder and arms tethered together with sweaty hands became the rage during these months. We hung off the curbs of High Street, swaying into the thick of the night as if we were peering over a boat. Everything changed as cut-off jean shorts and withered tee-shirts tattooed with bands such as The Meat Puppets, The Fluid and The Leaving trains were traded for heel length black jeans, withered tee-shirts with band names such as The Meat Puppets, The Fluid and The Leaving Trains with either a sweater or a western styled pearl buttoned shirt overtop, and the dropping of summer infatuation was killed by the first frost. Love came crushing, it came quick and left us in mounds of tears and confusion that were easily gulped for giddiness of a heart beating faster and electric orgasms. Summer was built to hold our breath, fall was the exhale, winter froze us to the floor –choking under the gelid injustice of the season, and when spring came bounding out of the cursing month of March, we danced on air. Fucking and sucking hands, fingers, necks and other parts as we celebrated living through another winter.

Needing to be held was as powerful as any drug or drink, with anxiety fraught with apprehension and bold know-it-all statement that spurt from twenty-three year old lips, things happened clumsily and secrets were made and kept deep into the early morning. On mildewed couches, scattered floors, hidden hallways and uneven mattresses that some of us lugged from deceased grandparents, friends and just maybe from an alley. Playing it cool wasn’t hard to do, it came easy because being cool is easier with a soundtrack and we made our own as we sprouted out of our teenage years, stalking slowly first, and then dancing later to songs that inhibited our lives more than our families did at that time. The music met the experiences as if it were kerosene to a flame, burnt into my mind like a branding iron: being taken by a woman I barely knew, as she leaned into me as Godspeed You Black Emperor played off her broken stereo, the last song stuck until she finished the job, holding hands tightly as Jad Fair belted out “I’m living a charmed life!!” and we all giggled together and later, scrabbling to not be forgotten as the New Bomb Turks blasted their way through their final song at Bernie’s Bagels deep into a Sunday morning. Or sighing deeply as the Thinking Fellers, sung of the precarious nature of life and asked to be born again, either as a bug, bird or flower. Beauty indeed bounded around our cracked sidewalks and haggard clothing.

The love was easy, the heartbreak was harder and for some, it crushed our spirits as if we were constructed of Styrofoam. Jerry would say to me as he sucked on the very cheapest cigarette in the world, “fuck love, I don’t need it and you don’t need it either. You always get hurt by girls, Bela.” In retrospect, it would be fair to say, “no Jerry, I just always hurt.” Music just keeps it at bay. Music doesn’t hurt when it goes away, and it doesn’t make the longing for a touch seem like a five mile chasm in your belly and it never slips off into the night with someone else, bringing rejection into form with bulbous tears dropping onto the street, exploding onto the pavement as if it were filled with fire instead of salt.

Recently my wife gave me a tape of one of the students that work in the gallery she works at. “Here, honey, this is one of my students bands, I think you would like it.”I held the homemade tape in my hand, flipping it over and carefully pulling the soft folded paper out, every fold stuffed with words that suggested the immediacy of creative energy of the person who put this together. I slipped the tape into my wife’s fourteen year old tape deck and from the back seat my daughter yelled, “daddy, that is too loud, I can’t read.” Turning to my wife, “see if she can get you a CD for me.”

Then. I forgot about it until a friend sent me a message asking if I had heard of the band, called the Goners. “Yeah, my wife has a tape but I need a CD.” A few days later, my wife handed me a CD, with Goners scrawled across it. Putting into my 2009 Rabbit, I was immediately transported back twenty years ago, all the feelings that kept me glued to my friends, my scene and my music surged through me. Feeling the sweaty walls and the blurry shadows of combustible parties where fingers clutched bottles and lightly touched someone who caught our eye, wondering to ourselves, “did she feel that too?” Looking back, of course she did but in the prism of awakening to adulthood, perspectives are still too selfish to fully understand the feelings of others. The music of the Goners, is one splashed together with the desolation of climbing over bruised teenage years and plopping into one’s twenties, when the taste of disappointment is much stronger than the taste of success but the feeling of comfort is brought through friends, imagination coming to fruition (movies, books, writing, music—ART for fuck’s sake.) Sonically as strong as anything that disgorged itself from the early nineties on labels such as K, Homestead, Rip-Off or even Goner Records, mostly recorded on a combination of a Tascam and with assistance of laptop recordings, the songs a stretched tight by the emotional undertones of space and time that is plastered to being 22 but in the end the emotions are timeless. As are these songs. from “Ghost Bruise”: i don’t want to name you. i don’t want to get attached but if my bug bites dissolve back into flesh maybe i will let you touch my skin. my body is a valley and you’re sliding down to meet me and if my bangs grow long enough to cover my eyes you can use them to climb out any time. i learn so much every day, what do i do with it all? i couldn’t say. i learn so much every day but it just adds more weight, yeah that’s all. it’s all fighting to come out, i feel it pushing at my throat. how come all i can ever say is ‘this weather is so bad for my skin’? i wish i could wrap myself around it.” She sings, “I learn so much every day…,” and I think, “I forget so much every day….” This is about as perfect as it gets.


Sleaford Mods

July 20, 2014

I happened upon Sleaford Mods via Facebook, where someone had posted a link to a lackadaisical video of these two English curmudgeons sitting on a couch, rapping a song called “Fizzy” and aural blast equivalent of someone spitting a mouthful of chewed up cornflakes in your face. The intensity of Jason Williamson is profound, like lighter fluid combined with kerosene. Wiilliamson’s spasmodic movements a sharp contrast to Adrew Fearn who sits nonchalantly on the thread-bare couch, oblivious to the cinder burning vocals of his band-mate, at one point Fearn starts playing with his phone. Echoes of the Replacements “Bastards of Young” video hang over the setting.

Musically, Sleaford Mods are from the same branch as the Streets, perhaps the first well known solo English white rap act that achieved wide spread acclaim, but the beats are basic, more akin to Suicide but the vitriol and lyrics are much closer to the brutal frustration of Billy Childish, Crass, English punk. and the Dutch anarchists The Ex. Lyrically, Williamson pulls no punches, he is brutal with his pointed insults speak to the desperation of the unemployed and the growing lower class. Songs such as “Jolly Fucker” and “A Little Ditty” (off the new, and excellent “Divide and Exit”) combine the spitefulness of class warfare and aggression of Crass with The Headcoats.

The frustration of crap jobs and crap wages, is a focal point of Sleaford Mods and Williamson has no problem spewing his anger at the fallacy of hero-worship (“Who Killed Bambi”, sample lyric, “Steve Jones/eighties/didn’t work out/but at least you did a tour with Axel Rose/ ), shit work and shittier bosses (“Wage Don’t Fit”, sample lyric “when I said I didn’t like it/that’s because I really don’t”) and skewers pretentious indie-rockers (“Fizzy”, “fuck your rocker shit/fuck your progressive side sleeper towners/oompa-loopma blow me down with me a feather). This clearly one of the best bands going right now. The band has new record out, a single on Matador Europe and a soon-to-be released German LP of singles, but you can also purchase all of their music via their bandcamp and home pages where Mr. Williamson will send you the record himself.


May 25, 2014

“Tell me a story about when you were a little boy!”, Bruno crawls over my lap, his knees poking into my skin, “where has that baby fat gone?” I wonder as a grimace appears across my face. My memory comes in spurts and when it does, it is shaded as if it were hiding behind a soft white, almost transparent curtain. At night. This child has heard all the stories I can remember from my childhood, for the most part these number less than the number of digits on my hands. But the boy never tires of them, in his mind they are always fresh, always new but if I tell the story wrong he commands and corrects my telling, reminding me that I left a part out.

My brother lives across the country, practically in an entirely different country in fact, he lives in Texas and when we talk it is through the hic-cups of our days, mostly when I am driving in my car and he has a moment to spare. I see the other main partner of my childhood, my older sister Erica, more frequently as she just lives down the winding road of Interstate 71 in Southwestern Ohio, near my mother and my nieces. The stories have been bandied about, and if they were a piece of metal they would be burnished smooth by now, as they have traded hands, ears and tongues over the year only the rooms in which they have been told have changed. For the life of me I wish I could remember more, but a childhood spent moving from town to town and school to school (I attended seven by the sixth grade) did not exactly re-enforce memories. I struggled with making friends until the fourth grade, as my brother left my mother’s house in the third grade to end up at living with our father, Zoltan was my constant playmate so emptiness filled me much of my second and third grade years.

Long Island was uh, long, when we entered New York City for the first time, driving straight through from the soon-to-be burned out streets and houses of Youngstown, I was awoken by my mother and siblings, “wake up we are in New York!”, I crawled from the floor of the back seat, no doubt my face filled with the red lines from the plastic floor coverings. I rubbed my eyes and stared straight up out of the window, the highway twisted around high-rises that stood like sci-fi trees, with thousands of lights bursting into the sky I thought of all the people who lived in them. New York City was another world compared to Youngstown, where mornings smelled of rotten eggs from the burning and melding of steel just miles from our blue-collar house.

We lived on the far east end of Long Island, in a small town near East Hampton called Springs. It is best known for being the town where Jackson Pollock lived and William DeKooning lived a few houses down from us, but by that time in the mid-seventies, his mind must have been eaten up by dementia, although my mother remembers him talking to her about us, her children.

For some reason, my memories of Springs (which are very few) are idyllic although we barely spent more than a burp there. My step-father, at the time, David had gotten a job working as a scientist near Montauk which lies at the tip of the Island complete with a massive and brilliant lighthouse. His office, or laboratory (?!) was just down the road from the lighthouse, and I have vivid memories of walking the beach at Montauk as what appeared to be billions of mussel shells stretched over the sand in crunchy bunches that cracked and split under my shoes. The dense odor of salt and fish is still in my nose nearly forty years later. We lived in a small house that abutted a small thatch of woods to the rear of the house, with a quick shuttle through the woods, nary a spit from our back door we would be at a small harbor. We spent hours in those woods and on our small wooded street, where I taught myself to ride a bicycle, got bit by a dog and had a disastrous  first attempt at a sleep over.

There was a community picnic one evening, just off the beach, volleyball was set up and the older children had taken a group of us fishing. The sky was a whirl of clouds, twisting over the ocean, mimicking the breaking waves, filled with grays, whites and iridescence blues that appeared to be a cauldron that could come and swallow the ocean if the universe would only let it. I held an older boys hand, the rain would come, I was certain of that but for now, we were going fishing and my parents lay just beyond the lump of trees that provided a shimmering barrier between the beach and the grilling of chicken, hamburger, hotdogs and corn. In hindsight, this must have been the weekend of the fourth of July. There were piers constructed of hunks of blue and black rock that strode bravely into the sea, where one could fish and stare into the vastness of water while contemplating the smallness of oneself. These were slippery rocks and were instructed not to go to the end of the piers where the water was more dangerous and violent. Only the big kids could go there. A young fattish boy, with a yellow ball-cap helped me bait my hook, I had some experience fishing with my father and told him I could cast the line myself, which I dutifully did. Sitting quietly by myself as the bustle of ten and twelve years old, raged on further down the pier, no doubt engaged in primitive games of masculinity for girls who giggled at their antics, no doubt because they had no other idea of how to react. The fishing rod, pulled gently–a small tug and knowing instinctively to tug a little back and suddenly like shot from a gun, whatever was on the other end of the line swallowed hard and sensing immediately that the food it had just eaten was not a normal dinner as the hook dug deep in its throat, frantically tearing away from the thin line that twisted in its mouth, “good God! What the fuck is this?!” it may have thought, if it was possible for a sea creature to hold such a thought. It fled, and in doing so, my little-boy hands, soft from innocence and barely large enough to hold onto the fishing pole, wrapped themselves around the base of the pole, frantically trying to reel the fish in.

It was a struggle and I was shy, my brother was towards the forbidden end of the pier, no doubt throwing small chunks of rocks into the sea with the other boys, some shouted out behind my slight shoulders, “that kid’s got something!” By now my fishing pole was bending into an almost half moon and the sweat and excitement was now pouring from my brow. “I’m sweating!” I thought, “I never sweat.” Suddenly the fat boy with ball cap, cupped his hands over mine, “let me help you,” he whispered behind me, “wow, you got something big here.” A small group of children hovered around us, trying not to slip on the wet rocks, “be careful” somebody hushed to another. The line was taunt, and for every spin of the reel, the fish would take another foot of wire deeper into the sea. The struggle of the fish was apparent in the effort we were putting into bringing it ashore, with our feet and ankles wading into the sea. Careful not to slip. At one point, it became obvious that we were winning, as the pole almost dragged us into the water, and with a couple of yanks and pulls we managed to shore a long, slick black eel, its body twisting out of the water and the sharp teeth clutching tight against the fishing line. “what is that thing!” yelled yellow cap. “It’s an eel, they are delicious!” I spoke for the first time, “my dad eats smoked eel.” Someone behind me shouted, “that little kid caught an eel!” The realization that I had done something exhilarated me, “hold on!” I screamed and went yelling towards the picnic. Leaving the group of children with the frightened animal, whose entire world had just been transformed into nightmare absurdity, I ran across the sand, “I caught an eel! I caught an eel!” If I had died then, I knew in my heart that I had accomplished something extraordinary. My gravestone, tall and proud, scripted with the words: “He caught an eel.” My mother hearing my shrieks had thought my brother had fallen into the sea, “where is he? is he ok?” She must have thought I was screaming, “Z fell into the sea!” instead of “I caught an eel!” or something like that. Quickly settling things, my parents and others ran towards the pier, and upon arriving on the wet rocks, the wind picking up with thick pellets of rain striking our faces we were informed that the eel had slipped through the rocks and was back out at sea. “did you get the hook out?” I asked, not wanting it too suffer. “Yeah, I was taking it out when it squirmed away” yellow shirt replied, “you are a good fisherman kid,” and he rubbed my head. Zoltan told everybody what happened, how I was fishing by myself and off on my own, and then how I caught the fish, “it smelled real bad!” A part of me was disappointed that the eel had gotten away but I was also relieved.

Bruno loves to hear this story, as I sit on his bed, behind me a large framed Spider-Man puzzle given to him by a close friend and on the other wall a huge Avengers poster (the comic book, not the band), his room littered with Lego’s, Charlie Brown books and on top of his book shelf and Dinosaur Jr. poster. Some nights, as the wear and tear of trying to patch together people’s tattered emotional lives takes its toll on me, I climb in next to him and I tell him a continuous unending story of a father and son, alone of a dingy hiding the plans they had stolen from a mad scientist titled “How to Take Over the World.” His world is simple, easy and I can tell him stupid shit and he’s cool with it, as I tell him the story of the father and the little boy, how they avoid getting caught, I fall asleep. “Daddy, wake up, you’re falling asleep.” Of course I am I think.


and a few of Bruno’s favorites:

Pearl Williams part-two

May 13, 2014

Disclaimer: Pearl Williams is not a real person although she is based off of people I have worked with over the years in my job as social worker. A few years ago, I was talking with Micheal Galinsky about creating a book that included some of the clients I have worked with and having Mike take photo-graphs, but we have never gotten around too it. I created Pearl to give light to so many of the impoverished women I have worked with over the years, whose lives are sad reminders of those in society whom we don’t care to look at. I have always been amazed at the fortitude and resilience of these women. This is a work in progress.


Pearl stared at the white lady playing with her grandbaby, the child was smiling, big brown wet eyes that gathered in the room, and she breathed deeply and pointed to a black and white picture of a group of Native-Americans on the wall, their faces haggard, clothes constructed of leather and long feathers hanging from belts and it said, “Real Homeland Security.” The little girl poked a tiny brown finger up at the picture, “Who are do’s people?” The white woman smiled and said, “Oh, they are Indians, they used to live here but they had to move away.” Eyes growing bigger, “They lived in this office? All those men, lived here? Where did the sleep?” With laughter erupting, Pearl scooped up her grand-daughter, “Child, you causing trouble?” and kissed her on the cheek. “No mami, they have candy here. Right there in that drawer.” The white lady said, “she’s adorable, she’s fine. Are you done already?” Pearl grimaced, “no, ‘fraid not, still got some more to tell that man.” turning the little girl, “hey, grandma will be back soon, ok?” “Yes mame. It’s neat here.”

Pearl sauntered through the courtroom, she eyed the man she used to know as he sat with his felt hat on his lap, his carefully pleated black trousers, pressed dark shirt and white tie in stark contrast to the young man sitting next to him, who was playing with his tiny tight dread locks with one hand and bouncing the other hand off of his knee as if he were playing drums to some song in his head. Tap-tap, tappitty-tap. Tap-tap, tappitty-tap. It went across the entire courtroom, her old friend leaned over and whispered a loud, “son, you need to cut that out, you in big trouble here. This judge may not like that commotion in his courtroom, and why did you wear that ugly ole shirt?” Tap-tap, tappitty-tap. Pearl shook her head, was it at the boy or more at herself? The courtroom was full now, the Judge was on the bench, his gray haired pulled back, he was holding onto a croquet mallet, gesturing to an attorney in front of him he smirked and said, “now Kevin, I’m not afraid to use this.” There was an entire flock of attorney crowded around him, most of them smiling and joking, a stark contrast to the folks who were sitting in the chairs and the smooth wooden jury box that curved in front of the judge. Here were the great unwashed, a litany of the poor and impaired, some by mental illness, others by intoxicants and every one by unfortunate incidents, somewhere, somehow that lead to being in the courtroom today. Next to her old friend and his grandson, was a young scrawny white girl, her face so taunt that it looked as if it were pulled over her face with pliers. Her eyes hung low and dark, deep into their sockets they were tired. Not just from the dope , whose faint echo in her veins was turning into nausea but from what she they had witnessed. Rapes, countless backhands to her face, two screaming children and the grim of dope houses, sleeping on couches and eating cold Dinty Moore stew from a can.

The man appeared again, he was holding a bottle of water, extending it he offered, “you ready to start again?” “thank you, sure I am.”

Pearl wiped her mouth, looked up at all the certificates and diploma’s adorning his walls, “you sure is a smart man.”

“Aw, not really, these just prove if you pay someone enough money they will give you anything.” She liked his self-deprecation.

“That one there, you went to Case Western Reserve in Cleveland?” She pointed to a large framed diploma.

“Yes, I did. I got my Master’s degree there. I was expensive!”

“Well, I lived there. In Cleveland for a while after my first baby. My cousin lived there, just near the University, I moved up there when I was 18, my boyfriend had family up there so I figured, hell, why not?”

“When was that?”

“Oh, I don’t know, early 80’s or so. Right before that crack-cocaine blew the lid off everything. My boyfriend got caught up in that, I had no idea, I was naive. I mean they called it free-basing back then. That was just after Richard Pryor got his-self on fire doing that free-basing, well shit, they just figured out how to sell it to the ghetto.”

She shook her head at the memory, “yeah, that’s when shit hit the fan….” Her voice trailed off and she took another drink of water. Breathing deep she explained, “he’s the one who got me into it. I was mad, I had three babies by the time I was 21 and I was working as a maid in the Cleveland Clinic. He wasn’t really doing shit except not coming home. I told him one day, he had been gone for like a week. ‘What the hell are you doing all the time’?”

Nodding, he asked, “and what happened?”

Laughing and putting her bottle on the desk, “well, that son-of-a-bitch took me over to  93rd and Chester, or somewhere around there. Do you know where I’m talking about?            Anyway, he took me to a crack house. Although, I don’t even know if that was a term  back then, we just went to a party-house. That’s what we called it. So, I smoked it. I didn’t     leave that damn house for three days.” She shuddered a little, “I left my three babies at  home. I just forgot about them, my oldest must have been eight or nine and he got the       neighbor after we didn’t come home. She watched them. After that though, I was gone. I  mean, there wasn’t nothing that was going to stop me. Eventually, my Auntie took the kids, someone called Children’s Services on me and I told them I was sick, you know like  I had diabetes or something. I was a crazy person. I lost those kids inside of four months of using crack. My man got arrested for manslaughter, and went to prison. He done killed this man on the corner, over nuthin’ really. I think it was drugs but he was gone and then we lost the apartment and I was homeless. It just happened so fast, I wanted to die when they took my babies.”

“That must have been tough, working so hard and then losing your children?”

“Well, it was but you know what? It didn’t stop me from using drugs. Not a bit. I knew something was going on with my mind as well, it had been since I was a girl. I’d hear         things, just little things, like a whisper or someone murmuring but there wasn’t anyone shut it out, I didn’t mind being poor and black or what-have-you but I did not want to be   crazy.” She paused, sighed and looked at him straight in the eyes.

“I was good looking to, one thing I can tell you about crack, it takes the weight off of you. I had three babies and I still wasn’t big like I am now but I did that crack and the         pounds just melted off, I figured, why not use what the good-Lord-gave you and started walking the streets. I had a girl-friend who said I could earn good money doing it, so I  just started doing it, I thought nothing of it. But it got weird and scary real fast.”

He looked at her, his eyes casting over her, and he could not imagine this woman selling herself on the street. Her purple coat bunched up around her, enveloping her and her horrible memories that were burping out of her like pop-corn popping. There was no stopping her.

“It got real strange at that time, mid to late eighties. Hustling the streets, one time I was  out there, it was cold, there were icicles hanging from the gutters almost all the way to the ground, the wind would literally cut you. It felt like a knife, that wind did.. and this limo pulls up and the tinted window rolls down. I walk up to the car  and this man with glasses points at me and my girlfriend and we laugh and jump in. He  was with one of the sports teams, a general manager or something, a rich white guy. He didn’t say nothing but his body-guard or whoever the hell he was did.”

She grew quiet. “That was some fucked up shit” she took a drink from her cold coffee cup and stared a head.

“That fuckin weirdo took us back to one of the fancy hotels downtown, and ordered up all  this seafood, you know those black shell-fish, mussels they call them. He had ordered hundreds of them and he had me and my girlfriend take off all our clothes and he made us     put them things all around our coochies, and he just mumbled some shit about pussies       and mussels. He got us high alright, that made it better but we were there for hours, into  the next day with these fucking little fish that look like tiny pussies up around our legs. I can’t stand the smell of fish to this day, and he never even wanted to fuck us or nothing. I  cut my big toe going to the bathroom on one of the shells they were scattered all over the          floor like as if a big ole chunk of wind just gathered them up and set ’em down.  That crack put me in some weird spots.”



Jerry Wick and Jenny Mae: Love part one

March 23, 2014


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.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 27 other followers