Archive for November, 2009

Jerry Wick & Jenny Mae Part 21: Thanksgiving 1988

November 27, 2009

Thanksgiving 1989

Jenny and I were living on Chittenden Avenue on Thanksgiving of 1989, we had moved from the downstairs apartment to the middle apartment right above. It was quite literally a move up, with the overwhelming stream of roaches that crawled in and out of the sink, walls and furniture mostly being confined to the downstairs apartment to be in closer proximity to scrounge through the trash littered alleys and sidewalks around the house. The whole surrounding area was a garden of concrete, blacktop, empty fast food bags and broken bottles. The second floor apartment was larger, and unlike the downstairs unit it ran the length of the house. We were student poor, except I wasn’t a student, just a poor schlep of a middling corporate record store manager trying to figure out how to sell cassingles and New Kids on The Block on the largest University campus in the country. It was a baffling proposition and if it wasn’t for Larry’s, Used Kids and Craig Regala I most likely would have blown my head off if I had the chance. Jenny was in and out of school at this point, majoring in Spanish and preparing for trying out for The Ohio State Marching Band. A nice dinner out for us was the all you could eat salad bar at Wendy’s where we would inevitably stuff some burritos into her purse for later consumption.

The house was large, three stories split into six apartments, we had moved in mid-ninety eighty seven. First moving into the tiny cramped first floor apartment, we had an ex-OSU football player who lived above us and spoke so slowly looking back he may have suffered a head injury playing ball. His speech was a cross between Rocky Balboa and a brick. Above him was an intense lunatic engineering student who once fired a gun in the air off his balcony when some tow-truck driver tried to tow his car from our lot. He once challenged my Green Beret brother to a fight at two a.m.; it was like a drunken Bay of Pigs. The two overtly masculine men staring down one another, contemplating who would make the first move against the others well known aggressive reputation; thankfully it ended in a few pointed “fuck-you’s” and “fuck-you too’s.” We had a steady flow of guests and couch floaters in the downstairs apartment. By the time we moved upstairs we learned our lesson for the most part when it came to letting people sleep in our house.

This was a period of timeless young insanity that masked itself as the gasoline of youth; when bravery made an appropriate substitute for foolishness. The apartment had a small bedroom and the living room appeared to sit on crooked stilts and the grime in the floor was  thick as cheap carpet. Moping the floor was about as appropriate as mopping a mud puddle but we loved having our own place. We decorated the walls with Jenny’s painted doileys, my father’s and grandfather’s art-work and lone photo I took of Randy Newman after waiting outside the Newport for three hours to meet him. Randy asked if he wanted me to get someone to take a picture of us together and I told him that was silly because it was foolish to pretend we knew one another. He smiled, later that night he dedicated  “Louisiana 1927” for me.

One of the first people we let crash occasionally was a south campus street musician named Dan Stock; he was from Cleveland and was roughly fifteen years older than us. Dan had matted dark black hair, a scar thatrang from side of his face  down to his adam’s apple and an immortal cigarette dangling from his mouth. He would sit on the corner of 11th and High and play shitty cover tunes of Pink Floyd and Eric Clapton. We got to know him over our vast love of the cheapest food and beer on campus which was a dugout pizza joint named Sandros. Sandro was a leftover from 1974, with a bushy mustache that enveloped his face and hid his cocaine eyes, he wore a beat up folded fedora that mimicked his hand-drawn signs that littered the place, pathetically proclaiming that his “1/2 lb. Slab of Pizza was a slice of Chicago.” One could eat a slice of “Chicago” and get a pitcher of oily beer for $5.

Dan eventually crashed on our couch, it was the first time I had ever seen somebody ever do cocaine; an episode that so horrified me that I forever had a fear of drugs. Dan was staying at our house for a few days and we walked in the living room and as he put down a small mirror a large chunk of his nose fell on the table. It was as big as a marble, a big bloody gob of meat that cut through the atmosphere like an overflowing toilet. Dan stared at us horrified as we did him; he had a small driblet of blood coming out of his right nostril. “Holy shit, Dan!” yelled Jenny. Dan, frozen in shame nodded his head back and forth. “Dan, what the hell are you doing in our house, shit man, are you o.k.?” I asked. Dan then picked the bloody marble up and stuffed it into his pocket, as if it was a wad of gum (instead of a piece of his nose) and he was just caught at school. He replied ‘wish you nice folks didn’t have to see that.”  Later, Jenny and I vowed never to use cocaine, a promise that she would sadly never keep.

The small apartment building next to use had three units that housed seven young women in all of them. The women appeared to be students who had decided to forgo their sorority house for their last years of school. Because we were so poor, Jenny and I would at time drink a twelve pack and stare out the living room window out into the small sidewalk that separated our house from the apartment building. We would hide behind the curtains and make quiet comments towards the passersby’s.  This was not at as boring as it seems, we were just steps off of High Street and South Campus bordered one of the most dangerous ghettos in Columbus so there were all sorts of people cutting through the alleys and sidewalks around our house. It was not uncommon to witness couples making out in the alley or between the house, drunken brawls and sheer idiocy. One time we witnessed one of the sorority girls leave her apartment, lock her door and fart. She reached in her purse, pulled out a small bottle of perfume and sprayed it on her ass. We burst out laughing as the woman looked hurriedly around her. A sight that has been burned into my mind like a prison tattoo.

The next year we moved upstairs. We decided we would travel to Cincinnati for Thanksgiving, Jenny’s parents had split up and her dad hated me anyways, it made sense to visit my mother. For many of our holidays we would travel with my Hungarian grandmother Isabel but I believe she was visiting Hungary during this period. Jenny and I loaded the large 1978 Ford LTD I owned with two months of laundry and set off for my mother’s house.  We feasted and spent a day doing laundry. We were always short on food and my mother made sure she packed extra leftovers for us. We re-loaded the car and drove back to Columbus, full of turkey and clean clothes.

A young African-American man moved into the old apartment below us. When he moved in we went down and welcomed him and met his parents who were both white and appeared wealthy. He was a nice kid who hung out with us a few times and seemed determined to make his way through college, leaving our apartment before too much alcohol absorbed the night away. After a month or so his behavior got more erratic and he would disappear for days at a time. Soon some shady looking fellows complete with sunglasses-at-night attire and stoic jaw line would be looking for him, pounding on his door with so much force it would rouse us out of our dream world and cause us to peer over the balcony and ask “what’s going on down there?” They would holler up “you seen this guy lately?” “MMMM, nope.” And we would slink back into our apartment and lock the door. Other times we could hear screaming in his apartment, violent terrifying screams that even seemed out of place for our shitty neighborhood. Our locale was better than the cable television we couldn’t afford.

We arrived home from Thanksgiving and hauled in the laundry, depositing it in the stairwell that connected all of the apartments but was usually never used. It made a deluxe closet. The next day I would have to work all day since it was the day after Thanksgiving. A month of Christmas music awaited me. Roughly two weeks later a stench started coming up through the floor. We had not seen the neighbor since before the holiday. We went upstairs and asked Kurt, the intense engineer if he had seen him. He hadn’t but remarked at how acrid the smell was from the stairwell. I knocked on his door and we gave it a few more days. Finally we decided to call the police, it was obvious he had either been killed or had over-dosed and died.

The police arrived and immediately agreed with us that somebody had died in the apartment below us, the smell was heavy and rancid. They knocked on his door and when no reply came they contacted the landlord and called for backup. This was exciting stuff. They entered his apartment and came up shortly thereafter saying that there was not a body to be found. The apartment was empty. They asked to check the basement and we let them in, soon a police officer was knocking on the door that led to the stairwell. The officer said “I have found your body” with that he pushed aside a bundle of laundry to reveal the Thanksgiving leftovers from two weeks prior. He shook his head at us and said “Maybe you guys should change your clothes.”

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Jerry Wick and Jenny Mae part 20 “Jim Williams part one”

November 15, 2009

2001-2005 Jim Williams Pt. One

Jim Williams was the other love of Jenny’s life besides me, probably even more so than her ex-husband David. Jim was some fifteen years or so older than Jenny, a semi-retired businessman who loved to sail, eat and get drunk. I met Jim several times, and spoke to him on an almost daily basis for several years as he tried in vain to subdue and harness Jenny’s alcoholism and mental illness. This was hard for Jim because of his vast wealth and his own issues with substance dependence and insanity.

The first time I met Jim was in a Double Tree hotel in downtown Columbus in 2002. I was living in Gainesville visiting Used Kids and trying to keep my wits about myself as I struggled with trying to reinvent myself with the same parts that I always had. Jim and Jenny were living in Miami, with his elderly mother, a cankerous woman who never thought her son had amounted to anything. She would take broad shots at him, causing the giant ape of a man to slump at times into a moldering mass of hic-huppy tears and panicked breaths. There would be times when I would be talking to Jim on the phone and I could hear his mother’s shrill voice in the background, sounding like a prop from an Alfred Hitchcock movie. She would berate him as he struggled through braced teeth and watery mind to vent his frustrations and ask for advice from me.

It was in the spring of 2002 when I met Jim; I had been warned by Tom Shannon who had met Jim at Used Kids that Jim was a character even by Jenny’s standards. Jim opened the door in his bathrobe, he had a thick thatch of black hair, combed over as if he were a police detective in some mid-seventies Roy Sheider movie. He was large, with broad shoulders and a wide face that looked pained and stiff even through his smile. He acted as if it were normal for a man to open his hotel door in a bathrobe at three pm.

He showed me in, and as he sat down in the large plush chair his penis poked its way out of the rob, just checking on the company. Jenny came bounding out of the bathroom, eyes wide and her mouth motoring away, she (thankfully) was dressed, and she gave me a big hug and said I looked good. I was in perhaps the best physical shape of my life, I was running anywhere from five to seven miles a day and had recently given up alcohol, I was getting plenty of sun in Gainesville. I was hesitant to be there, I had been speaking with Jim on the phone, and these mostly consisted of helpless angry phone calls from him or her with the subject matter pertaining to the other.

It was a large hotel room, actually a suite to be precise, a front room with a bedroom attached. It had a small table and several large comfortable chairs. There was a litany of prescription pill bottles hunkered around one another on the table, each one hoping to be the next pill popped. Jim, knowing I didn’t drink asked if I wanted a mineral water, I declined; I actually wanted to get out of there as quickly as I could. The room smelled of excess, a palatable feeling of uneasiness overtook me. Jenny and Jim glanced at one another, giving each other quiet cues that I was not supposed to understand. Jenny told me her little brother, Tony had spent the night and he was thinking of moving to Florida. Tony, lived in Columbus on and off, and I realized that if he stayed the night then this was still nighttime for them.

We made small talk, it was obvious there was more going on than I could place. Jenny grabbed a Heineken and pulled me into the restroom. Jim said he was going to get dressed. In the bathroom Jenny said “I don’t know what I’m going to do with Jim. He is going to kill himself, or me.” This was a repeat of all the phone conversations we had been having the past few months. I eyed her over, looking for any signs of physical abuse; Jenny had a propensity for getting the shit knocked out of her by men. Something to do with the mixture of alcohol, lack of sleep, cocaine (or lack of), jealously and unnecessary comments. “I’m fine” she said, following my eyes, “he hasn’t hit me.” She peaked through the doors, “no, it’s the coke and prostitutes combined with all those medicines he takes.”  Looking for a way to bolt through the door, I insted twisted my foot, perhaps I would be able to bore my way through the floor. “I think I love him but things get crazy sometimes” she went on, “I don’t really do the coke, he does almost all of it” she stated through blood shot eyes. I knew nothing about the drug and prostitute scene, I had kept my vices to the dive bars and night clubs, shying away from drugs and limiting my exposure to prostitutes to late night Showtime movies.

I was stuck dumb for a moment, I was roughly six months removed from my last drink, flailing around emotionally as if a toaster had been dropped into my inner bathtub, and I didn’t know what to say. I said “well, why don’t you get your shit together and move back to Columbus?” She regarded me with contempt, “there you go again, trying to run my life. You don’t even listen. You are no fun, Mr. High-Horse.” I was baffled, I certainly had no idea what had just happened, “was she asking me for help?” I asked my self. Jim opened the door, dressed in casual slacks and a collared short-sleeve shirt that had a gold anchor embroidered over his heart. “Everything, o.k. in here?” his voice was tight, and I noticed for the first time that he seemed to be speaking through clinched teeth. Jenny nodded. “Yeah, Bela was just saying he had to leave.” I was relieved, I had spent a life time trying to stay in the pressure cooker and now it took all an army full of uncertain actions to try to stay out of the heat. Jim shook his head, “We wanted to take you out for lunch, where ever you wanted to go. As a gesture for all the help you have given us.” Confused, I shook his clammy hand; I noticed he too had opened a beer. I always noticed this; I could spot a bottle of beer from 300 feet. Always have, most likely always will. Roughly five years ago my friend Chris and I drove to Cleveland to see Dinosaur Jr. at The House of Blues and I counted how many beers Murph drank. Four beers and he chugged the last one right before sitting down for the last encore. My friend Chris had three whiskey’s.

“Jim, nice meeting you in person. Perhaps we can drive down and see you guys in Miami?” I offered. Jim replied, “I’d love to take you guys out on the Lord Jim and out to dinner.” The Lord Jim was his yacht; Jim was a trophy winning sailor. Jenny flatly stated “bye.” I left, shaking with anger and frustration as the elevator took me down to the lobby. I wanted to call my support persons in Florida but they had all warned me that I wasn’t ready to go back to Columbus, let alone see Jenny. I pulled a pack of cigarettes from my glove box and proceeded to make the long drive back to Gainesville.

Between 2002 and 2005, Jenny and Jim would battle back and forth and the weirdness would get weirder and more bizarre. Jim felt an affinity towards me, he admired me because I had been able to quit drinking and stayed quit and for the fact that I cared deeply for Jenny and had spent an inordinate amount of time trying to keep her from dying to ending up on the street. Jim was a man of a vast wealth, his Aunt had helped develop South Beach and while he worked for many years as an engineer for airlines, at this point in his life he hadn’t worked for several years. His mother and he had a large house just outside of Coconut Grove and soon Jenny was living with him in the small apartment attached to the back.  Jenny and Jim traveled a great deal, to the Caribbean and to Colorado where they no doubt got hammered and skied.  Jim told me that he was mentally-ill which didn’t take very much convincing for me to believe that, although he denied that he ever had a substance abuse problem. He compared his use with Jenny’s which is like comparing a head cold to leukemia. Jenny, at this point would suffer extreme withdrawal symptoms with severe tremors , vomiting and pain in her back when she tried to quit drinking. Jim, on the other hand would suffer through a few days of headaches and crankiness when he quit for a week or so.

In the summer of 2003 I got a call from Jim, they had taken the Lord Jim out into the ocean where they planned to detox themselves. Jenny or Jim had smuggled some cocaine onto the boat, although it may be better to say that they had just brought it along for one last hurrah as they gave up the last hurrah. Jim was concerned about Jenny; his voice more bound and pressured than usual was a whisper. He made no sense. “Bela,” he slurred, “you gotta help us. We are out in the ocean and Jenny is claiming that there are people on the boat making her perform sex acts. Listen, I’ve searched the boat, we are the only people on here.” Dumbfounded, thinking “why would someone have to search the boat anyway if they were the only two who left Miami.”  “Um, why don’t you go back and take her to the hospital?” I offered. Jim, suspicious as a possum said “well, I’d like to but she says they’ll come and get us if we go back now. I think we should wait it out.” Taking several deep breaths, I tried to wrap my mind around the conversation, as the thoughts were trying to be corralled I asked “what the hell is going on Jim?” It appeared as if he wrapped himself small, “I dunno” he clinched, “but there isn’t anybody on this boat with us and she insists there is.” I heard Jenny in the background.

“Who are you talking to, is that Bela? Put him on.” Jenny’s voice was animated and manic. “Bela, you gotta call the Coast Guard or somebody, we are out on the boat trying to get clean and there are these…o.k., don’t laugh but I’m serious here, there are these miniature people here and they are making these pornos and making me participate.” I paused “Fuck,” I thought, “Jim is making her make midget porn. That fucker.” Incredulous, I asked “what the fuck is he making you do!” Jenny replied “nothing, Jim doesn’t know about it, they hide when Jim comes to the front of the boat. It’s crazy, they aren’t like midgets they are like normal proportioned people just real small. The bald guy is the leader. You gotta help, Jim doesn’t know what to do but they are real evil people. I don’t know why he can’t find them. They’re sneaky as hell.” Jim came back on the phone. “Jim,” I offered, “I think you need to take Jenny back to Jackson County Hospital. I don’t think there are any real people on the boat with you guys.” Jim’s response was measured and thoughtful, “I suppose you’re right. Maybe we should, huh? You think she could be imagining all of it?” Taking another deep breath, “maybe.”

Jerry Wick and Jenny Mae: Part 19 “There’s A Bar Around” & Cheater Slicks

November 3, 2009

1995-2001

Jenny had a great talent for ducking out when things were going well for her, some may say that she had a fear of success but I now believe that it had more to do with her mental illness and an inability to handle stress in any sort of proactive way. This was true for many of us, life came easy for us, the successes as well as the failures slipped in and out of our collective grasps as so much rain hurtling to the ground in November. Jenny split town shortly after her first record was made, she and her husband flew the coup to New Orleans where she always felt a kinship.

Jenny used to listen to New Orleans jazz and ragtime every Saturday night while living in rural western Ohio. The station was from Dayton or Indianapolis, was most likely a tiny AM band that seemed to flicker in and out of our beat up radios deep into the night. On a good clear night in rural Ohio one can quite easily listen to stations from Chicago, New York and even Canada. These far off locales adding more mystery to an antsy teenager than the music they play. She loved the sound of old jazz and very early on became a big fan of Louis Armstrong, Kid Ory and Billie Holliday. In 1989 she and Dan Dow conspired together and bought me a ticket to New Orleans. It was one of the sweetest presents anybody has ever given to me. Dan asked me to go to the airport to pick up one of his friends and when we got there, Jenny produced the tickets.

Jenny and I stayed in a bed and breakfast in the gay section of the French Quarter; it was there I went to my first gay bar with her. It was a giant, bigger than most bars in Columbus and they had a huge wall of videos playing the Pet Shop Boys version of “Where the Streets Have No Name”, it cemented my thoughts that The Pet Shop Boys are one of the finest bands of our time. Anyway, we stayed in the quarter, drank tons and saw a shit load of music. Jenny loved the Preservation Hall Jazz band and we went to the tiny jazz club and watched some of the oldest jazz musicians alive at the time practice their trade. I was glad to get home to the comfortable confines of Columbus but I suppose Jenny’s heart always thirsted for the romantic notions that New Orleans seems to produce from people who are always lost in the wonderment of place.

She moved there with her former husband David, both finding work as bartenders and soon they had a small apartment in the French quarter. I, on the other hand was becoming somewhat unglued as I tried to piece her debut record together. It was a mishmash of cassettes and digital tape, we didn’t know exactly who played on what and Jenny’s delicate finances made certain that her phone was frequently cut off. She sent me a box of photos and said that this was to be the cover. I never liked the cover of her first record and thought we should have used one black and white photo but it wasn’t my record. I had just gotten a production and distribution deal with Revolver USA, a conglomerate of people centered around Gary Held, one of the nicest gentlest men I’ve ever come across. What the deal entailed was that Revolver would manufacture and distribute any record I wanted to put out. Jenny Mae’s debut was the first record as part of this deal. Needless to say this was a bit nerve-wracking. I would get together with a twelve pack and go through the songs with Ted Hattemer and Steve Evans (who produced the record) and we would discuss the track listing, art work and credits while Jenny sat a thousand miles away, most likely on a humid barstool. We decided to call the record “There’s a Bar Around the Corner…Assholes” after Jenny flung open the door to one of the new coffee shops on campus one afternoon and shouted that to the bewildered customers. She was aghast that any sane person would spend an afternoon in a coffee shop instead of a bar.

When the record came out it got glowing reviews, it was featured in Entertainment Weekly, the College Music Journal and countless fanzines, she toured a little behind it. Some of these shows were opening for Will Oldham and Chris Knox in the south and East Coast. But she never got her shit together at this time to establish a permenant backing band, it was usually a hodge-podge of muscians who would practice a few days together and go. The basic line-up at this time was Jovan Karcic (drums), Wil Foster (bass), Sean Woosely (guitar) and Jenny but it could change nightly.

As was her nature she met an assortment of characters in New Orleans, some musicians, most notably Azalea Snail whom she recorded with. There was an elderly woman from Guatemala who used to be a well known stripper in the nineteen fifties and sixties. They called her “mama” and whenever Jenny’s phone was disconnected I could reach her through “mama”. I would call down and in broken-slurred English, mama would say “noooo, Jinny no here now. You sounda like-a sexy.” I was always taken aback that some old woman would hit up on me from five states away,
thinking to myself “where does she find these people?”  Mama claimed to have once had Bobby Kennedy as a lover. She would appear on the cover of Jenny’s single for “Runaway.” Jenny started doing cocaine with Mama and would tell me stories about this eccentric old woman (who must have been in her seventies) and her young twenty-something lover whom she called “tha dairee boy.” Jenny wrote a song about this relationship.

When Jenny finally moved back to Columbus in early 1997 she moved behind a pair of bars, one was an old lesbian bar called the Summit Station and the other was called Whisky Flats (both are now the Summit and Bourbon Street respectively). The house was small, just two bedrooms and lime green in color. The neighbors were two gravel parking lots, and she quickly constructed the house in her own style complete with a functioning waterfall that she found in a dumpster. Both her and Dave got jobs bartending at high end down-town hotels.

David Olds was a bright and handsome man who resembled a California surfer in looks and a wary on-looker in personality. He was devoted to Jenny, he quite simply adored her and at times he appeared to follow in her wake. He encouraged her and at times became so frustrated with her that he would try to move her to settle her down. As with New Orleans, one had to be careful where one moved in order to get away. David was wise, a man whose politeness was as asset as he was able to procure upper class service jobs as a bartender, playhouse manager and maitre d at various institutions where dinner cost more than their rent. David also liked to drink as much as Jenny did and both of them had no difficulty putting in long nights and being able to rouse them in the morning to catch the bus downtown.

We lived just several blocks from Jenny and Dave, some mornings I would jog over, rouse them from bed and lift weights on their universal weight set. In the evenings we may wander over and sit on their back patio, listening to jazz or the Beach Boys and drink till we were wobbly. She became fast friends with the Shannon brothers. Tom and Dave Shannon were 2/3 of the Cheater Slicks who had resettled to Columbus after rising rents and a Midwest fondness brought them back. I had met Tom and Dave some years earlier when I twice booked the Cheater Slicks. The first time I saw them was with the unsightly Kudgel, a noise rock outfit from Boston who consisted of four large but insanely funny men who wore dresses and shouted into the microphone. The Cheater Slicks made a noise that sounded as if the paint on their guitars was weeping. I was entranced. The second time they came back was in support of 68’ Comeback, an truly oddball assortment of under-ground rock fugitives like Jack Taylor and Darren Lin Wood, centered around Jeff Evans of the Gibson Brothers. Compared to 68’ Comeback, the Cheater Slicks looked like garage door salesmen.

Tom and Dave were sweethearts, in a way they fit right in with the distant romantic sensibilities of Jenny and her love of old jazz and vintage dresses. They trucked around vast quantities of 78” records and both had an encyclopedic mind for music and all things vintage. Although they did not overtly romanticize the past as many of the time whose idea of cool chic was a tattoo of a buxom gal, a girlfriend with a Betty Page hairdo and a wallet attached to a chain. The Shannon’s, despite the mournful squalor they could raise, have always been sophisticated in their taste whether it be literature or an affiliation with Lee Hazelwood. Both of them, instead of seeing the eccentricities of Jenny as outlandish behavior, had a respect and affinity towards her and her way of life and she did them. Years later, as I swam in the bottom of shit pile of my life, Tom did his best to pull me out and let me stay with him for several months, no doubt earning a highway of gold bricks in heaven.

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Cover for the first record