Archive for July, 2010

Jerry Wick & Jenny Mae part 35: Songs part one-Now, back to the suffering.

July 31, 2010

Songs. Pt one: Back to the Suffering, thank you.

We collected songs the way some people collect comic books, baseball cards or shoes, holding each song close to our hearts-an immediate mood changer. Everything was about either setting the mood, matching the mood or of course changing it. Growing up, feeling separated the sounds of music provided an elixir to a sometimes utter feeling of isolation that helped many of us through the suffering afternoons and evenings of adolescence. An opportunity to escape in our bedrooms, or when we hit sixteen in our cars, feeling a sense of escape as bald tires lifted us from the mundane often cruel existence of high school, forming rapid distance from a parking lot of rusted junkers and peers that were only peers by age not interests. An album was like a vacation, a chance to step into the life of someone bigger than life, who told a story that we could relate to and at times only dream about.

At the end of my fifteenth year, as another Ohio summer slowly cranked the humid grind of days, I heard Lou Reed for the first time as I picked meat off of fifteen boiled chickens in the kitchen of a small hippie Mexican restaurant in Athens, Ohio. Within two weeks I had half his catalog and later that summer Polygram released the long out of print (only fifteen years or so at that time though) Velvet Underground records. Providing my achingly boring existence with colors I thought only capable by moving to New York City, which seemed a million miles and countless years away. From there, I discovered a mountain of underground sounds such a R.E.M., The Replacements, the Lyres and a host of other bands arising from the underbelly of the vapid clean sounds of commercial radio. I was hosting my own radio show at Wittenberg University by the end of the summer, where I was exposed to even more music such as the Minutemen, Black Flag and English pop like Echo and the Bunnymen, early Adam and the Ants and Joy Division. I was prone to like the more pop oriented stuff associated with the Paisley underground,  the Long Ryders, Beat Farmers, and Let’s Active, my punk-rock credentials have always been more of an attitude than a sound.

When Jenny and I began dating within a year and half of my musical revelation, I suppose I appeared exotic, at least as exotic as a lonely but confident seventeen year old can appear in rural Clark county Ohio can appear. After school, the gravel parking lot of Northeastern high school would be filled with the canned sounds of Def Lepard, Hank Williams Jr., and early bland banal sounds of early hair metal which in one fell swoop took any danger left in rock and roll and bottled it for the safety of every Spencer Gift shop in every mall in suburban America. It was the bane of my existence, and I took it seriously. Jenny climbed the stairs up to my bedroom on our first date, as I had no job, no money and nobody at home to watch what I did. We carried a six pack of Pabst Blue label and I opened her eyes to the sounds of early R.E.M., Lou Reed and early Bowie which she had never heard. I had about seventy records at that time, and 100 cassettes, she had never seen so much music. Perhaps it was the sound of the unknown that propelled her to fall in love with me. She had never heard any Rolling Stones besides the hits off of “Tattoo You” and “Satisfaction”, so hearing “Some Girls” and “Sticky Fingers” helped lay the ground for me to present myself as someone who I wasn’t quite sure who I was to the funny, eccentric girl of seventeen.

All most of us wanted to ever do was to listen to music, to have temporary deliverance from the reality of our surroundings, an atmosphere that at times inflicted tiny pointed darts of pain in all of our lives. Witnesses to the bruised and at times, bludgeoned emotional lives of our parents, music was (and is) the balm that allowed a mind to turn off and get lost in the wonder of being. It helped that our parents were either unavailable or scattered in the morasses of their own lives and insanity that they couldn’t pick up on the comical dangers of the Ramones or tender loss of the Smiths, it was our own secret. At times, this was the equivalent of hugging a building for redemption.

As the door to the bedroom or car shut, the stereo turned to ten, head bouncing, cracking-out-of-tune voice bellowing out the words to “Bring on the Dancing Horses”, I was fortified for moment. And when the song ended, it was back to the suffering.

Jerry and I met, we immediately found the kindred spirit of songs, of a hook that could flinch you away from now and fling you to there. There being, the space between emotion and dreams, of feeling pleasantly lost while three chords matched whatever feeling you had. For Jerry, his musical upbringing was graduate school compared to mine, by growing up in Parma, at the metaphorical foothills of the Terminal Tower in Cleveland, he had the luxury of hearing first hand (while in high school) such wonderful sounds as the Mice, Death of Samantha and Spike in Vain and was only a few short years removed from The Dead Boys, Pere Ubu and the Pagans. Jerry was a romantic at heart, whose hope for a life that only existed among the sung and written word would always tragically disappoint him. This romantic ideal would always show when he played solo under the moniker of “The Cocaine Sniffing Triumphs” (itself a homage to The Modern Lovers), as he always covered The Ramones “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend” and Johnny Thunders’ “You Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory.”


Jerry Wick & Jenny Mae part 34: A Sense of Right and Wrong

July 5, 2010

A Sense of Right and Wrong

No matter how splintered life had become, there are those among us who never fail to acknowledge the suffering of others. This could be that there is a part of every person that realizes that as long as breath escapes one’s lips, there is always someone worse off, and in the gesture of recognition we somehow alleviate our own suffering no matter how intense it may be. For some this comes easy, for others they may need to find the darkened stained-glass environments of a church or the corners of bookstores and libraries learning how to trap compassion into words.

Jenny’s mother was one of these people, a woman who would offer the food off of her plate to feed a troubled high-school kid. With a shortened sixties bee-hive this thin woman would startle a room by her misgivings of various television shows, one time she exclaimed that Freddy Kruger was “the trashiest man I have ever see”, and another time stated in reference to “Revenge of the Nerds”, shaking her head, “my heavens, well nerds are people to!” I quickly nodded my approval.

My grandmother, due to untold suffering in the Second World War, was a hoarder, one who had a multi-colored collection of empty egg cartons stuffed under varying sizes of plastic bread bags filled with coupons, cut-out photos of flowers, teddy-bears and used stamps. For years, her living room consisted of varying paths leading to chairs and the television, rugs covered by thick plastic protectors that could have been used for industrial use. Magazines, stuffed animals and Kleenex boxes formed miniature mountains throughout her house, with Cheeto tubs and Triscett boxes strewn along the paths to offer fortitude for the weary traveler who dare traverse the house on Boxwood Drive. One time at an all-you-can-eat Ponderosa I witnessed her stabbing my uncle Peter in the backside of his hand as he tried to steal a spoonful of mayonnaise and cheese from her bowl of uh, mayonnaise and cheese. It wasn’t as if my family wasn’t kind it is that for some, empathy was something to look for, a search for betterment that needed constant feeding.

Jenny has always had a heart bigger than even her thirst for the drink. In the summer of 2005 rolled on, she was staying in the ravine. The ramshackle camp she lived in was fraught with fights and the seething discomfort that only a homeless camp combined with the thick acrid wave of humidity that only Central Ohio spews forth. At times, when I would go looking for her, the camp would consist of only two or three men, men for whom time and weather had turned their skin leathery and their faces taunt with alcoholic poverty and vacant stares. “She ain’t here, there was some trouble last night and they took off up the ravine or they went by the river” one of them would bellow, “She’s with some safe guys, she’s alright but someone got cut here last night.” Traipsing down into the ravine, careful not to come into contact with any poison ivy I never felt fear but was always hesitant about what I may find. “Christ, what the fuck happened the last ten years” I would think to myself as I try to spy empty forty ounce bottles or fast food bags. Jenny had told me once that if you went deep enough into the ravine and arrived at the tunnel that connected the Glen Ellen Park you had gone too far, because the crack heads tended to smoke around the tunnel. It could get dangerous back there.

I walked about 100 feet back and didn’t find anything, except empty cans, no signs of anybody sleeping in the bushes. When this happened my insides would curl for a moment, an edge would climb up into my head and settle for most of the day. Sometimes, my wife would pick up on it and ask me what was wrong, depending on how severe my concern was I would tell her or not. She worried about me going to the camp, even though it was just a stone’s throw from out front porch. Our lives had changed dramatically in the past few years; we were more domesticated than ever before. She was getting ready to give birth to our first child; I was contentedly working at Used Kids and had returned to college. I had taken my Buddhist vows earlier in the year and was meditating every day, trying hard to extinguish the fires of attachment that still burden me to this day.

There is a time when frustration unattended turns into acceptance, I had quit wrestling with trying to save my high school sweetheart, the times of being the white knight had passed and I wrestled with just not acting on whatever though went through my head. Jenny would always appear in a few days, when the violence would settle down in the camp and it was safe to reclaim their small patch of concrete behind the Goodwill. Some of the men were in fact dangerous, one in particular, a tall man with a striking resemblance to Snoop Dog could be frightening in the manner in which he could switch. At first he had tried to protect her, and they were lovers briefly until she realized he occasionally smoked crack, when she rebuffed him he could turn violent and he would show up at the camp intermittently to harass her and her boyfriend. His name was Butch, he was roughly forty-seven and had sinewy arms that a lanky athletic body that betrayed the hard life he had lived. There were stories that he had done time for murdering one man and had perhaps killed another. He was respectful of me as all of the “tramps” were. Jenny, in her most romantic Hollywood way, referred to all of them as tramps and the camp was filled with these blighted men and women (only a few). She would build up my exploits and kindness to these folks, so when I came down offering coffee, White Castle hamburgers or bottles of water they would change their tone of voice as if I had some authority that I didn’t have. I just wanted to get her out of there.

Butch knew I was sober and once in a while he would talk to me about some of the 12-Step meetings I went to, which were a lot back then. He had experienced small steps of sobriety over the years and we could talk about this and what his life was like. He would shake his head, look towards the pavement and say, “yeah, but that rock will get you every time.” I suppose it would but I always tried to squirm away from some of these conversations with the men. There is a maudlin stereotypical version to much of the speech used by homeless and criminal offenders, as if they had lost everything except a high school cliché of life that they desperately hung onto. I had tried most of my life to avoid clichés, not only verbally but especially living one.

When I would bring Jenny and her boyfriend food, she always first offered it to the other tramps, who would dig in with a gusto only found around dog shelters and kegs. She would wait until everybody ate. After living in the camp for roughly five months an outreach housing program helped get her and her boyfriend off the street. She had been housed since then, with two moves into better apartments during the past five years. It was not uncommon during the first several years to arrive at her apartment and find the floor littered with several tramps who knew they could count on the kind sympathy of Jenny. I would tell her, “You’ll get kicked out of the housing program if you let them stay here.” “Where are they supposed to go?” she would scowl back. “A shelter, they can go to a shelter.” With that one of the heads would rise up from the floor, the stench of stale alcohol spreading across the room in slow motion drift, “I ain’t stayin’ in no fuckin’ shelter!” For some of the tramps the shelters could be more dangerous than the woods, with more drug use than in the camps. For many of these mentally ill men and women, they were safer banding together with their bottles of booze and cans of soup.

Jenny was always like that, it was not uncommon for me to find some barfly, whose fingernails told the sure sign of homelessness on our couch with  a plate full of food and one of my Milwaukee’s Best ensconced in his hand. She would have had a happy hour pitcher with him or pulled him from the corner of Chittenden and High and brought him home to feed. I would let him finish, slip him a few bucks and send him on his way. Haranguing Jenny all the way back to our pitiful bedroom where she would hide under the blankets to get her verbal whipping. “One of these days, I’m gonna come home and find you dead and raped by one of these guys. Shit, you can’t save them all.”

Some years later as I sat talking to a friend and colleague who did a lot of work going into the homeless camps of Columbus, I had mentioned Jenny and inquired into whether he knew her. He did and replied, “Wow, what happened to her? Everybody knew her, at first we were like, is she a worker? But then we realized she wasn’t. I would think, how did she end up here?” I looked at him and said, “yeah, me too.”