Archive for October, 2009

Jerry Wick & Jenny Mae: Part 18 Walt’s Lounge and Dives

October 22, 2009

Walt’s Lounge was located roughly half-way between Jenny’s house and my house on Summit. My wife and I lived on Clinton Street, in a duplex that had a somewhat long history for various Columbus musicians and underground personalities. We lived on the east side of the duplex, taking over an apartment that Jim Weber lived in ever-so-briefly and Jerry Dannemiller and his wife-to-be lived on the other side. Before Jerry moved in Gretchen Zimmer who was one of the angel bartenders at Staches lived there with Jovan Karcic and before them lived Ron House and his fore-giving wife Trina. The house was like hundreds that flecked the campus area of Columbus. The floor-plan consisted of a front room, leading into a living room with stairs leading upstairs and in the back a fairly large kitchen. The upstairs consisted of three bed rooms of varying sizes and a bathroom with a claw bathtub. We were fortunate and had a washer and dryer in the leaky basement.  Jerry stole a winter coat from the dead man who once lived on our side, and he always liked to say he wore a dead-mans coat. Indeed. We paid $365.00 in rent.

The neighborhood was mixed, at the time the north campus area mostly consisted of graduate students and twenty and thirty something campus hanger-ons who came to Columbus for college and stayed for the cheap rent and effiecient lifestyle.  The house to the west of us (which is now condemned) housed an Appalachian family that somehow only consisted of men. There were two brothers, the eldest was a man who sat on the side steps with a twelve pack every day that must have gave him the courage to enter the house in the evening. The youngest brother was a blond haired man who was mostly blind, he would come into the record shop occasionally and purchase blue-grass records. He owned several little pug dogs, one of which was much braver than it should have been, its leash no doubt saving its puny life countless times. My wife stopped the man one day and asked what the dog’s name was and the man answered in a slow Appalachian drawl, “his name is pug, ‘cause he’s a pug dog.” Obviously. One evening when we were getting out of our car a giant bag of garbage was hurled out of the second story of their house, landing in their backyard where it lived for the winter. Across the street lived a woman who at first appeared to be a new graduated sorority girl, one could hear her blasting Journey out of her house one day. Then suddenly a few weeks after some man banged on her door screaming “you fucking lying bitch, you fuckin’ slut”, the Grateful Dead was blaring and she was wearing tie-dyed skirts and owned a big dog. Walt’s Lounge was just around the corner.

Walt’s basically consisted on one wide dark hallway, with two uneven tables and roughly seven bar stools, the television flickered in hazy color and the sound was turned down except in the afternoons when one could watch three hours of day-time soaps with cans of Budweiser. Even though I never trusted a bar that served beer in cans, I had a fondness for Walt’s. One reason was that nobody, with the exception of Jenny and Jerry ever went there. Initially anyway, soon after we discovered it various Columbus personalities would also hide out there. On a weekend towards the late nineties it was not too uncommon to find Tom or Dave Shannon from the Cheater Slicks or Jim Shepard, other than those three its dank confines would frighten off even the most hardened hipster.

Walt’s had a semi-mediocre jukebox, one half was pretty much garbage with Night Ranger being pumped alongside Faith Hill and Tim McGraw but the other half was pure dive-bar gold. Merle Haggard, Conway Twitty, Hank Williams Sr. & Jr., Tom Petty and George Jones.  We could always pump dollars into its never satisfied slot and pretend that we were real down-and-out country folk. Which for the exception of Jenny, we weren’t. Jerry and I were terrific slummers who fit all the criteria for Americana showmen with the exception that we were living just above the poverty line. At one point Jerry had given up black punk rock t-shirts with black jeans for mother-of-pearl Western styled shirts and um black jeans. I went through my George Jones western shirt phase in the late eighties and early nineties, and ended up giving him some of my shirts. I also went through a phase of wearing polyester picture shirts which would certainly fetch a few bucks on e-bay these days.

There was something that was romantic and liberating that we would find in the dive bars that dotted the north campus area around Ohio State. Walt’s was small but it provided an escape, even from the regular haunts we usually inhabited, by the time we started visiting Walt’s, Moriarity’s and The Ranch (all within a three block area of Summit) we were all well versed in escapism.

Walt’s was run by a tiny German woman who spoke with a pronounced lisp; she appeared to live in the bar for she was always present, no matter the time of day.  Her eyes were small, with lids that seemed half shut even when she was delighted, I never thought it was because of alcohol or drugs (although she was always nursing one of those cans of Budweiser); she was just built that way. She was kind to us even if some of the clientele were skeptical of us, they could tell we were former students at best and art-chic losers at worst but we didn’t give a fuck. I usually went to Walt’s once a week for a few years.

Jerry and I also inhabited Moriarty’s for a while; it was just north of Walt’s on the corner of Summit and Hudson, a block south of where Jerry would be killed in 2001. While Walt’s held a severely beaten down clientele, Moriarity’s could be a bit more dangerous, it was as if the folks that inhabited Moriarity’s were prison bound for sure while Walt’s consisted of either inept former criminals or just the average low-income wage earner who just bottomed out. During several instances I had to remind Jerry to shut his mouth at Moriarity’s. While Jerry barked big he had little experience in using his hands in a bar-room other than holding a cold beer, playing pool or lighting a cigarette. I, on the other hand was usually dumb and brave enough to duke it out and I knew the men in Moriarity’s were cut from a much different cloth than the campus lunkheads or indie-rockers I would occasionally tangle with. But after a while the bartender at Moriarity’s became familiar with our being there and when I started dating my ex-wife Robin (who was a regular pool hustler) he became quite fond of us.

A few years later I would take my second (and current) wife to Moriarty’s and to the Ranch (two doors down from Moriarty’s) on our first date where I introduced her to shots of whiskey chased by shots of Jagermiester. Pure fucking romance, man.  I once took a date to an even scarier bar just off the corner Hudson and Indianola called “Mac’s”, it was as if there were three cognitively challenged named Walt, Dan and Mac Moriarty opened up these bars and never understood why they never got rich at every family reunion. Mac’s was a frightening place even by my low give-a-shit standards, while my date and I chatted at the sticky cigarette charred bar a fellow approached her and tried to charm her away from me. We ended up leaving after he kept screaming “hey, Lens Crafters, come on over here and fight me for her!! Len’s Crafter, you hear me?!” Mac’s closed shortly after that after a man was shot to death there. It coulda been old Len’s Crafter screamer himself.

These establishments housed the absurd, which we were drawn to like a junkie to heroin. At times we would venture into them during the afternoon, and I have a vivid memory of singing “Outside This Bar” by American Music Club while sitting in Walt’s one afternoon.

Jenny went to Walt’s more than I did, and being the lure for nonsensical happenings Jenny was witness to bizarre behavior. There was a man who was wheelchair bound in the neighborhood, he had a large dog attached to his chair and  was missing most of his teeth. Tethered to the back of his chair was a large black Hefty bag that would hold the aluminum cans he would pick up around the numerous alleys.  One afternoon Jenny was nursing her drink watching the Guiding Light with the German barkeep and an older woman who lived above the Laundromat next to Walt’s. In wheeled the man in the wheelchair, and the older woman rolled her eyes towards Jenny and said “Party’s over, here he comes with that fuckin’ stinking dog of his.” The man ignored her and ordered a beer. During the next hour as more drinks were swallowed, the woman became more vocal, insisting that he take his dog outside. Jenny by this time had moved to the other end of the bar, while the German told her it would settle down. Finally the old woman shouted “Git yer fuckin’ stinking dog out of my face.” With that the man jumped out of his wheel chair leaped behind the bar and grabbed the phone and ran to the back room of the bar and dialed 9-1-1. Jenny was astonished, she didn’t know if it were more so because he could walk or because he actully called 9-1-1 because his dog was insulted. When the police arrived they asked him to leave, while he protested shouting “she made fun of my dog!” ,  most likely wondering just what in the hell the world was coming to.

A few months after this, my wife came running into Walt’s tears streaming down her face, while looking relieved at the same time. She konked me on the head with her fist and then kissed  and hugged me. She had just gotten home and a dead man was lying in the street with multiple stab wounds, apparently a man got out of his car after almost hitting him and stabbed him to death. The street was roped off and when she got home our front door was open and she assumed the dead man was me, when the police let her look at him she realized I must be at Walt’s. She was right, there I was sitting next to Jenny who had gotten into a fight with her husband. Jenny and I both thought this was funny, in hindsight it was horrifying. It would take me years to make up for this destructive attitude.

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Jerry Wick & Jenny Mae: Part 17 Bipolar Disorder/Alcohol

October 18, 2009

1986-1991

Jenny started wrestling with her mental illness after starting college, because of her ability to be clever and humorous I believe that she was able to hide much of the paranoia and mania that she went through. Her family was all drinkers and when she and I met in high school we both had a terrific gift for being able to pile away the beer in our guts. I myself had started drinking in earnest when I was fifteen, although I had been exposed to alcohol at a very early age through both sets of grandparents I did not discover the utter escapism of alcohol until Jeanette George’s barn party in 1984. This was a complete revelation for me, not only did some of the girls not think of me as literally a 98 pound weakling but some of the uber-macho farm boys noticed that I could be hysterically funny. This was all manifested through the intake of alcohol. I was taken away by its sublime powers that fall evening, and would not be able to quiet the seductive allure of it for nearly seventeen years.

Chris Biester, on winter break from Ohio University, purchased a six pack of Pabst Blue Ribbon for Jenny and me on our first date. At that time the drinking age in Ohio was nineteen and it was very easy to score booze whenever one wanted some. From that night forward Jenny and I would drink nearly every day that we spent together until I left her four years later. Even after that, with the exception of me going through one period of not drinking when we broke up and her being in the hospital or jail we both drank nearly every day.

Jenny and I quickly went off the scholastic road when we arrived in central Ohio in during the fall of 1986. She enrolled at Ohio State University and quickly made the marching band, I for some ungodly reason decided not to go to Ohio University in Athens and instead enrolled at the mostly conservative division III university of Otterbein located in Westerville, Ohio. Westerville was the birthplace of prohibition and I fit in there about even less so than I did in rural western Ohio. I could not have choose a more inappropriate college if I were blindfolded and asleep. At that time my mother was divorcing my step-father who was in and out of mental institutions; I was severely depressed and relied heavily on Jenny Mae. She was living in the high rise dormitories of Ohio State that were located roughly ¾ of a mile from High Street. Lincoln Tower was a revolving party from one suite to another, there was little if any supervision, marijuana, alcohol, LSD and were rampant and Jenny was in the midst of it all. It was not uncommon to locate a party on any given night within a few minutes of looking for one and if one was not to be found, High Street was just a ten minute walk away.

In the midst of an explosive depressive state, one October day I drove to her dorm room and slept there for nearly a week and a half, coming out of my shell and peeling the parking tickets that blanketed my windshield and drove back to Westerville. I somehow managed to pass all of my classes but knew I would drop out. When winter quarter arrived I moved into Jenny’s dorm room, fortunately none of the other women in the suite of sixteen appeared to mind my presence and I stayed there until the spring. Jenny and I drank nearly every on High Street, I had secured a few part time jobs and this supported our habit. At this juncture Jenny started displaying some of the signs of paranoia that would later envelope her life. She had covered the area around her bed in blankets and was nervous when we walked home at night. At times she would say half jokingly that “people are out to get me.”

Jenny Mae would not be diagnosed with Bipolar disorder until many years later when she was living in Miami, at this time in our lives we just rode her manias out and tried in earnest to keep my depression at bay. She was apt to compare our moods, she was usually in a mania state during that part of her life and when she went into a low she filled it with alcohol and would float on top of it out her morose valley. She was at times, hypersexual which is a symptom of bipolar disorder and I tended to take her promiscuity with a sense of acceptance and hesitant ignorance for we were young and in love. I also believed that I had nobody else to turn to in my life, my brother was living in Germany and I was somewhat estranged from the rest of my family. Jenny and her mother were basically it for support, or so I thought. It was a life that was filled with a great deal of laughter intermingled with stints of heavy laborious desolation for the both of us; we spent our spare time drinking, listening to music and playing euchre. School was ranked eleventh on the top ten things of importance in our lives. It was as annoying as a fly at a backyard barbeque.

A few years later when she had started writing songs with the encouragement of myself, Jerry Wick and Dan Dow she would stay up for days on end with only a few spot hours of sleep and write music, paint or throw herself into various other art projects such as making sculptures of found objects or writing short stories. She once created a huge garden in our bed room attic, our bed was in the closet to help stem her paranoia and the rest of the room had been made into a green house. During her down periods she would forget to do her laundry, clean the dishes and she would smoke pot and watch the Guiding Light soap opera for weeks on end. When this happened her keyboard would stay under the couch, pushed aside like a pair of old shoes waiting to collect dust and spider webs. She would discontinue school and have to beg her professors to let her back in when her depression lifted, still we would always drink and neither one of us felt as if anything was amiss.

When I left her in the fall of 1990, she was seeing a few different men and I quickly recovered from the break-up by meeting various women. She soon approached me about reconciliation but I had no interest, I cared for her and wanted her to be safe but I was not interested in a romantic relationship. Walking her back to the Norwich house from Bernie’s one night with her she suddenly clocked me in the head with her purse which was filled with beer bottles. We scuffled for a moment and I told her to stay away from me, that she was too scary for me. The next day she checked herself into the psychiatric unit at Ohio State University, I was told I could not visit her and our friend Joe Moore provided kept me up to date with her progress. She was in the hospital for over two weeks, I don’t think she told her parents. It would be the first of many hospitalizations for Jenny but the next hospitalization would not be for almost ten more years, years in which her illness and ways of treating it would slowly eat everything in her life that she had held of importance including her marriage, her pets, her house, cars, artwork and her one constant solace-her music.

Jerry Wick & Jenny Mae Part 16: Bettina Richards & Jack (Richie) Taylor (Violet)

October 9, 2009

1992. Bettina Richards and Jack (Richie) Taylor (Violet)

Jerry and I were working at Used Kids one early afternoon, no doubt talking about music and laughing. It was somewhat rare for Jerry to be working behind the counter, usually his job responsibility was to stay on the floor or sit at the back counter and smoke cigarettes while he eye-balled customers.

Used Kids was tiny, just a cramped shoe-box of a store, hidden below High Street with thousands of records crammed in every corner. The décor was made up of hundreds of flyers from various punk and indie shows and old LP covers. A great deal of the decorating was done on several spastic afternoons by Jack Taylor (birth name Richard Violet), who was fired and rehired by Dan Dow. Jack, like the décor of Used Kids was a living example of a life half finished, this is not just for the fact that Ritchie (as I first knew him as) died young in an unremarkable fashion. While giving up the lures of the city, Richie moved home to lonesome Urbana, Ohio and got a job at a local United Dairy Farmers convenient store. A long drop from the coolness of playing CBGB’s and getting name checked on an Unsane record. It was there in the vast flatness of western Ohio that Richie took a shot of dope too deep for his veins and died behind the UDF store, proving that heroin can be found everywhere.  Richie, was a cross between  Bluto from “Animal House” and a tarnished flannel shirt, he could be devastatingly charming and brilliant on one hand and on the other he could stab you with an insult that could bring the worst of high school back in a flutter of embarrassed red cheeks. He was the first member of Monster Truck 005 to die. I remember seeing his utterly great band Blood Family at a crappy High Street dive seemed to breathe “coke-front” from its walls. As I stood in front of the wall length urinal taking a leak I was surprised to see him drinking a beer, because I had only known him to use drugs. He was ridiculously drunk, as I pointed out my alarm at him drinking a beer he absentmindedly placed the long-neck smack dab in the middle of the urinal. To my astonishment as piss ricocheted around the bottle, he leaned into me and said “yeah, I can drink too sometimes.” And with that he lifted the bottle to his lips and took a long pull off the beer. Jenny wrote a song about Richie called “Jesus” on her first record.

Richie had plastered the walls and ceiling of Used Kids over two afternoons, using wheat paste and his half-hazard manner of symmetry, where one flyer would appear to push out the presence of its neighbor. It was as if Big Black were jostling for attention over Richard Thompson. Then inexplicitly he stopped and only 2/3 of the store was covered. Since I was the man who replaced Richie at Used Kids, I suppose I took it as part of my job responsibility to finish the job. When Richie ventured into the store he would comment that I should have used wheat paste on the 1/3 that I decorated. He was right.

The flyers and album sleeves gave the store even more of a sense of claustrophobia, the atmosphere of the store could be stifling if there were more than ten people in the shop. When I started there, this rarely happened, perhaps only on the weekends but with the advent of compact discs came a rise of an increased customer base. We resisted the digital revolution, it was something that some of us took to heart, the compact disc appeared to be a corporate plan to increase the profit of record companies and doubling the price of music. This was anthemia to those of us whom music was the tonic for not blowing our brains out. We were lucky, we worked in an environment where this elixir was pumped into our systems for hours every day. At the same time it vastly expanded the resources and profits of the store, shortly thereafter Dan would open up the Used Kids Annex and bringing in the saintly Dave “Captain” Deimer.

Jerry hated CD’s he regarded them as a symbol of everything that was evil, he resisted buying a compact disc player for years and poked fun at the mostly tinny sound that many of the early CD’s had. He referred to them as “the eight-track tape” of the nineties; in light of what has transpired over the past ten years his words were very prophetic.

This afternoon, Jerry and I were manning the shop by ourselves, and as I would implore him most days when we worked together that he would need to sit at the back he regarded this as unnecessary worrying. Dan had a propensity to drop by and check on us when Jerry was up front with me and we would be changing the record. The phone rang and Jerry picked it up. Talking for a while he hung up with that toothy grin of his. “That was just totally amazing” he said. He pulled out a cigarette and shook his head. “What?” I implored. “That was this woman who lives in New York and she bought ‘Jim Motherfucker’ last weekend and now she wants to put a whole record by Gaunt. She said she just broke up with this guy named Jim and it’s all she has played.” I was floored. “Really? Is she legit” I asked, as if we were legit. “Oh yeah, she works at Pier Platters.” This was like the word of God had spoken, anybody who knew their shit in records knew that Pier Platters in Hoboken was one of the best record stores in the country.

The woman was Bettina Richards, whose giddiness for music matched or surmounted our own. Bettina proved to be extremely patient with the varying mood swings and emotional instability of Jerry. She would hold true to her word and in short order Gaunt’s first full length record (actually an extended EP) would come out in 10” format within a few months. Bettina understood the unspoken geekiness-language that a ten inch record alluded to.She was not only patient but funny and kind, one who would garner my respect not just because she had an excellent taste in music (she had helped sign Eleventh Dream Day to Atlantic) but because of a steadfast belief in what she did as a trade.

Bettina lived in a small raisin box of an apartment on 8th and Avenue C in Hell’s Kitchen. She would always open her doors to traveling bands and the shaky emotional drunkard as myself. Shortly after meeting her, I developed a phone crush on her roommate but when I finally met her face to face I had already moved on. During one of my first visits to New York, after arriving with my friends Jerry Dannemiller and John Elsasser (who by sheer coincidence were staying just across the hall of Bettina’s apartment) with a pink of whisky that I had mostly downed on the cab ride over I spent the early morning half curled up in her bathroom with my legs poking out into her dining/living/guest bedroom vomiting out a night of four nightclubs. She always let me return.

Like everyone that Jerry came in contact with he would invariably try Bettina’s patience, one moment accusing her of not promoting Gaunt while at the next moment speaking of her as if she were the guardian angel we all coveted. We wrestled with our expectations of ourselves, a belief that at times these expectations were thrust upon us like a blanket over a hapless dog, wondering in confusion what the fuss was about but taking comfort in the attention. Jerry could bare his teeth as well as any threatened dog but his bite was harmless, his growl could be punishing and his love could be fulfilling. There were times when I wondered why Bettina put up with Jerry, but when like myself even when our friendship was at its most morose, like the gum on the underside of a shoe. In an instant Jerry could bring me back to sense of unaffected joy.

There was a sense of familiarity in all of our lives; it was not uncommon for us to have a sense of place with others whom we didn’t know, just through the process of collecting giant record collections. Anywhere we went we invariably ran amongst other like minded souls, who seemed to covet the same sense of escape that we had through music and the arts.  We consisted of a ruddy bunch whose worlds may be as far reaching as New York, Austin, Seattle and Groningen but who would collide over an almost religious devotion to feedback and catchy choruses. Where the innocent child-like mannerisms of Jad Fair could be the ultimate sexual tease but was devoid of danger, for a man who yearned to be spared the masculine stereotypes that the nineteen eighties and mass culture seemed to thrust upon us this was liberation. This was a world where outsiders were considered with distrust, where even the influence of technology was judged with suspicion (i.e. compact discs) and that belonging revolved around a short wooden stage. This is where Jerry and I thrived, in a place where we were free to explore (with apprehension) the world of our records and books. Hence, the community that we at one time strove to be a part of, would now nuture and welcome us. We thought that the joy we felt that afternoon would last forever, Jerry and Gaunt had arrived in our diminutive world. We would later discover that age and our own demons would swallow and consume that joy, leaving us, dead in a sense, alone behind the metaphysical convenient store.

Jack Taylor (Richie Violet) photo by Jay Brown