Archive for August, 2010

Jenny Mae & Jerry Wick part 37: Families part one

August 28, 2010

Family part one:

Some family portraits are painted with lies constructed with bit of color that is meant to cover and explain the unexplainable, hidden secrets that are slowly uncovered with time, as if there it were discovered that Rembrandt painted over another painting. Details are present but clouded by mystery, and muted even when put under a microscope. Exiting the teenage years felt like we were being propelled by a gun, full of explosions, excitements and smoke we rocketed into our twenties not only with a desire to escape our families but also with the very real possibly of reinventing ourselves on our own terms. The world in which we revolved in was encased in the feasible ideas of rediscovery. The first person who I ever knew to do this was Jack Taylor, who grew up Richie Violet in the small Ohio town of Urbana. Why Richie chose the “John Doe-ish” name of Jack Taylor, whose simple pronunciation screams “average” is unknown to me. Jerry Wick recast himself for a short period as “Jheri Curl”, for the stylized wet-styled look of many African-Americans; he quickly shed that name along with his patchouli oil shortly after we met.

Jenny was in constant re-invention mode, for a quick minute she quickly embraced and the discarded a slight deviated version of a hippie. She listened to the Grateful Dead and dragged me down to the Southberg bar to see Akootisk Hookah and Local Colour for about a month in 1988 before I finally told her I could not stand to see another jammy cover band. I had never liked the Dead nor did I like marijuana and wasn’t all that big on empty statements and gesture such as “Peace”, “Love” and “Why Can’t We All Get Along”, for a while my inner motto  could be summed up as an answer to the latter, “Because I Hate All of You.”  Jenny was the first person I knew to frequent thrift stores, for the simple reason we were borderline desperate poor. Both of us living off my meager $11,000 a year salary as the assistant manager of Discount Records. In the late eighties and early nineties thrift stores in Ohio were packed with dollar shirts, dresses and shoes from the sixties and seventies. This was pre-irony and soon Jenny was proudly wearing prom-dresses from the sixties and seventies down High Street, sporting feather boas to Staches and fake pearl necklaces onstage. I found my fashion sense quick and have kept to it over the years, mostly consisting of t-shirts and jeans, for a brief spell I embraced western styled shirts and photo enhanced picture shirts from the mid-seventies but soon realized I might have kids one day.

The weight of family can be a lodestone around one’s invisible neck; my life was directed by ideals that were hefted upon my tiny shoulders from a very young age. My father’s family came from the well connected and well-educated old world of Budapest, with a pantheon of politicians, professors, physicians and scientists dating back hundreds of years on his father’s side. My grandmother, whose immense size was only eclipsed by her out-sized personality, came from a family of money. Her father, Karloy Gundel was featured in an extensive New Yorker article in the nineteen forties; he remains one of Hungary’s most famous chefs. Upon stepping into her house, one was quickly transported into another time and place, the was bedecked by seemingly thousands of black and white photographs of both sides of the family. Some of faded images were of well mustached and mutton-chopped men sporting fantastical uniforms of the late nineteenth century, men who were statesmen in Hungry. Other photos of my ever-present great-grandfather, whom I never met, and his hotel and restaurant. Even the menu of Gundel’s was on display. What space on the walls that was not covered by photographs was blanketed by my grandfather’s paintings, my grandfather was as humble as my grandmother was ostentatious. A quiet man, who quickly retreated to her office to draw, paint and read his beloved Nero Wolf novels. He had five degrees and PhD in law but never practiced, but nary one diploma was present on his walls, he wrote several technical books on engineering and I never learned of these until after he passed and I discovered them while cleaning up my grandmother’s basement.

The pressure to make a definite mark in life was unspoken but pronounced and while the expectations were there the tools to achieve such lofty standards was not always apparent. While childhood is magical and fresh, some are marked by disappointment, abandonment and the consequences of unchecked mental illness. From an early age, I felt as if I were an outsider and to this day, while I am happily married, I cherish my time alone yet a part of me still desires the gratification of recognition. My wife must remind me when I disappear into myself. This was true for many of us, as we ducked the consequences of the adverse blows of childhood into a world filled with excitement, alcohol, music, artistic expression and sex. My brother, father, grandfather and great-grandfather all taught on the University level and I was a three time college drop-out when I finally returned to college at the age of 35. Inner expectations were crippling at a time. Jerry’s family had no idea the impact he had neither on other’s lives nor of the fact that his dream of being nationally recognized for his music was realized. It took his death and the unearthing of boxes of magazines, fanzines and video for his parents to realize his musical impact on others. Jenny’s father never attended one of her shows or ever acknowledged that his little enchanting girl once graced the glossy pages of Entertainment Weekly.

Success was bound through the fabric of public recognition, from newspaper articles, to the grimy black and white print of Maximum Rock and Roll we searched for a ways of success that would eliminate the secrets of childhood that left inner holes of abandonment and disappointment in our souls. We filled up the cavities with music mostly, the secret ingredient that provided meaning and sense to nonsensical lives, and we also engaged in sex and of course the use of intoxicants to liquefy our feelings, believing they were more real when drunk. More alive.  At the time, just a few years removed from the turmoil of high school, escape was not escape it was the answer to all the unanswered and unspoken questions of childhood, of fabrications built upon fear and embarrassment. The fact that my father’s own severe mental illness was unspoken for years played an active role in what I took as my own shortcomings as a full-grown man who tried in vain to get the recognition every little boy craves but was never answered. Later, learning that the personal satisfaction can only come from within and those you trust. We were all afraid to address our demons, which shrouded themselves in alcohol, irony and caustic wit. For me, it took one too many times of crossing my own moral compass to address them, for Jerry, I believe it was something he wrestled with until he was tragically struck down on his bicycle. At the time of his death he was actively rebuilding his relationship with his parents and younger brother, only after the public recognition he so craved came crashing to a crumpled heap when Gaunt was dropped from Warner Brothers. Jenny fights her demons daily, at times they manifest themselves in the stark reality of flesh, vomit and mucus of daily alcoholism and on other days they are subsided long enough for her to play songs on her keyboard and to construct a humble painting on her coffee table.

Jerry Wick & Jenny Mae part 36: The Ramones part one

August 14, 2010

The Ramones:

Saturday’s at Used Kids was an event, at times I may have been nursing a hangover and would have stopped at Bernie’s before opening up the store and have gotten a Bloody Mary to go in a styrophone cup, complete with straw to help me over the ten am hump or I would have sent Jerry down to Larry’s to get a cold six pack of Black Label at two pm to get an early start on a long evening. By early afternoon the CD side of the store would be crammed with people, shuffling around one another, jockeying for an advantageous view of the racks of used cd’s and vinyl records. By 1994, we had opened up the Used Kids Annex, which was the “collector’s” side, although the philosophy of the establishment was not to ever have collector prices. Dan Dow’s motto was “get the music to the people” which translated into an almost idealistic socialist idea of music; it should always be affordable. Music may have been a commodity but we felt that it should be an inherent right first and foremost, of course, later as the burned timbers of the music industry crashed around our bewildered, frightened heads we had no choice but to embrace e-bay and other “collectable” venues. But the early nineties were the salad days of music buying, the proverbial party before the dawn.

The Annex was run by a gentle soul, Dave “Captain” Diemer, a large man who had a striking resemblance to Richard Brautigan. Cap at one time worked at Moles Record Exchange with Dan and later ran Capital City Records, the collector’s offshoot of Singing Dog. Dan loved Cap with all of his heart and soul, and Captain was as kindhearted as he was large, a tall man with a bushy white mustache, slightly stooped he lived a life that had captured the essence of the sixties but was cynical enough to embrace the sounds of punk rock and heavy metal. He loved the sweet melancholy sounds of Phil Ochs as well as the death sirens of “War Pigs” of which he could air drum every drum fill. Captain had the most stable family life of us all, an affectionate wife and a young son all living in a small tiny farmhouse in rural Delaware County.  Captain was the wise man in our world, one who presented an island of calm in the general neurotic filled days of our lives as we all crashed against the chaos and calm the sundered around us. He was always lending a bent ear to our tales, most mornings when I would bring him a large coffee with cream from Buckeye Donuts, he would beat me to my own punch, lean against me, slowly shaking his head he would mutter “I got so fucking drunk last night.” I never knew Captain to drink but he certainly was accustomed to my proclivities.

The compact disc changed everything from the staid familiarity of the vinyl record, not so much because it sounded better (which it didn’t) but because it was much more convenient. The format duped the listener into thinking the sound was better, just because it had a cleaner sound but the CD lacked depth and the affable inviting sounds of vinyl. The CD did make music exciting again for people and for some years people rushed to replace their old scratched records with shiny new compact discs and Tuesdays (which is the national release day for records) meant something. Used Kids, as with hundreds of other small mom and pop stores across the county, became a destination point.

By nineteen-ninety-three, some bands had achieved legendary status in our lives, maybe not necessarily across mainstream America, we had yet to see the self-congratulating cynicism of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame or the make believe idiocy of Guitar Hero and for those of us who hid our lives deep inside our record collections we relished the moment to bump shoulders with some these legends. For all intents and purposes, punk rock was not yet thirty years old and for the most part the musicians we adored in high school were still making music. Because of the good easy access of Staches and the Newport, it was quite easy to chat up John Cale, Maureen Tucker, Pere Ubu, and Alex Chilton, whose early work helped shape our comfy world. The Ramones, had turned into a punk-rock version of the Grateful Dead at this point, not in any way to insult either band but they made their money by touring, releasing semi-pedestrian records every so often that was a facsimile to their braver, younger selves. The Ramones were giants in our eyes, pillars of our musical and philosophical foundation.  I had first heard the Ramones from the movie “Rock and Roll High School” which I saw in 1981. By the time I was fifteen I owned their first four records.

The Ramones played Columbus yearly, an annual stop at the Newport and at the Used Kids Annex to see Captain. Johnny and Joey never came in together but both would come in and see Captain and peruse the shelves for hours. Johnny was the bigger collector and he would be escorted to the dingy, damp back room to rifle through boxes of hard-to-find sixties garage and surf records. Truly, still a boy at heart.

We had two English gents working at Used Kids at that time, Colin Harris and Keith Hayward (who is now a semi-famous scholar) but quite English and charming in the old world ways. Keith was blond, handsome with a winsome personality that was skilled enough to entice any barmaid in town. Colin wore the dark morbidity of centuries old island living under the guise of his quick wit and eager thirst for draught beer. As I was standing up, slurping down a cold Black  Label beer one Saturday afternoon, Keith came barging in the front door of Used Kids. “Mate, you won’t fuckin’ believe it” he excitedly exclaimed, “but Joey FUCKING Ramone” just walked in the Annex!” In my knowing, been-there, seen-that voice, I replied “yeah, he comes in every year to see Captain.” “Holy shite!” Keith shook his head “ I had no idea” he muttered to himself. I asked him in anybody was manning the counter next door, “um, no but give me a beer.” I handed him a beer and he disappeared. A few hours later he appeared, “you won’t fucking believe this mate but fucking Johnny just walked in.” I told him to show him the stuff in the back and gave him a few more beers to settle his nerves.

I went over during a lull in the action, Johnny asked about Captain, who left early on Saturdays and chatted up Keith, by this time I had met so many of my idols that I was mostly concerned with how I was going to drink for the night and who I would meet. I was already past the hill on disenchantment and while it could appear that I was aloof perhaps even haughty, the feeling I felt was more insular and I realized that people are the same everywhere. Some of us were too narcissistic to bother. Johnny bought a stack of records including a “Wild Angels” soundtrack which he accidently left on the counter. He of course, got tax off. He told Keith and me to come around the back of the Newport that night and he would have some passes for us, as it was already seven o’clock and would be too late to put us on their guest list. After closing up shop Keith and I ambled up to Larry’s to procure a few more drinks so the buzz would peter out.

Sasha the Mouse.

August 7, 2010

Over the past several years, my young daughter as asked me to tell her stories at bedtime, eschewing the stack of books that sit neatly piled next to her bed, I am usually reluctant to improvise at eight pm. I am mostly spent from a long day working at a sometimes mentally exacting job, and the thought of pulling a yarn out of my reeling head is at times difficult but she is my daughter and so I comply. There are a variety of different tales, lately she is fixated on my childhood, while some have her and her little brother as main characters along with a magical orange cat named Sherbert and then there is the following which I told her last year. This was a longer one and one we had to abandon as it got to frightful for her, but I hope to pick it back up.

Chapter One:

Sasha was a small mouse, smaller than most even, she wore glasses and a blue shirt with three buttons on the front with brown pants that were just a shade lighter than her fur. As far as mice go, Sasha was also more timid than all the other mice in the neighborhood not that she really knew this for Sasha never ventured far from her home. She was very frightened of leaving her yard. She lived underneath the red rose bush in the back yard, just a short walk to the back door where she went every morning to eat breakfast and gather her lunch and dinner.  She would get enough food to hold her over for the day and take it back to her house, in a small flowered basket and start reading her books.

Sasha loved to read, she read as much as she could, she liked to read about history and adventures.  She imagined herself as the heroine in all of the adventures she read but hse knew that she was just not as brave as the heroes in the stories she read.

One morning, Sasha got up early as usual, this was for safety for she did not want to get up after the sun came up for this is when the cat may find her or the birds may take notice of her as he moved hesitantly across the yard.  Anyway, Sasha woke up and left her house, crawled through the rose bush, scampered across the small flower garden, underneath the patio furniture to the cat bowl that sat outside the back door. She was very hungry this morning and could not wait to eat some breakfast.  She was shocked to discover that the bowl was completely empty when she peered down over the rim, “Why, there must be a mistake” Sasha thought, “this has never happened before.” She walked around the bowl to see if they had just poured the food next to it by accident. Nope, there was no food around the bowl.

Sasha then climbed a few of the vines that lined the back wall and onto the back windowsill, she nearly tumbled off the brick ledge when she saw what was inside. In fact there was nothing inside of the house. All of the furniture had disappeared, there were no chairs, no books, no shelves for the books, no television, no appliances.  And so sign of the fat orange cat the slept beyond in the bright sun beam. The house was completely empty. Now she was very worried. “Oh, my”she thought to himself, “what shall I do.” She was very hungry. Sasha realized the sun was coming up and decided to go back to her house,  climbing down the vines she  took one last longing look into the empty cat food bowl, scurried under the deserted patio furniture, ran across the small flower patch and into the rose bush. She went straight to bed because she was so upset. Before falling asleep Sasha thought “oh, what shall I do?”

Sasha woke with a start, an internal alarm clock called her stomach woke her up. It needed food, she had a terrible dream. Sasha  shook her head, trying to empty the remnants  of the dream from her drowsy head. She shuddered, “Oh, what a frightful dream I had” she muttered, thinking how she dreamed the people in the house had moved away and there was no food for her.  She climbed out of the narrow mouse hole that was covered by the rose bush, the sun was shining high in the air, “I must have been sleepy, it is very late for breakfast.”  She noticed some birds sitting on the roof of the garage and across the electric wires, as if painted against a deep blue canvas. She told herself these were not hawks or owls whom she had read about in her books, “there are no hawks in the city, and owls don’t come out at night” she told herself.

Sasha took a deep breath and darted out from under the roses , across the garden, under the patio furniture and to the cat food bowl. She was very hungry and she thought her stomach was grumbling so loud that any sleeping owls would be awakened by her hunger. She was flabbergasted to see that the bowl was still empty, “Oh my,  that wasn’t a dream.” She scurried over to the window, she almost danced up the vines, gazing into her reflection of the large picture window, she first saw the house was empty and then noticed the large singular tear drop from her large gray eyes. “What shall I do?” she said out loud. She scanned the backyard from her perch on top of the windowsill, it was much larger than she had ever known.

To her left was a small herb garden, dotted with bright red, yellow and white flowers that rose up amid the brown and greed herbs as if they were the brightest talent in the back yard. Spanning the length of the yard on the other  side of the herb garden was a long tall wooden fence with a variety of other flowers, mums, peonies  and a thatch of green bushes that rose above the corner of the farside of the fence. To her right she noticed another fence that ran most of the length of the back yard, stopping at the green painted garage. She spied her own rose bush, that had a few branches that touched the gutter of the garage. Alongside this fence were more bushes and sunflowers that towered higher the any of the bushes, their bright yellow petals fluttering in the soft breeze. In spite of her hunger pains, she smiled to herself at the beauty of the back yard. In between the two fences and flower beds was the vast green blanket of grass that was of barren of shelter as the ocean.

Her nose twitched, just ever –so-quietly, she caught the scent of something wonderful, a smell she had never smelled before. It caused her mouth to water, it was inviting and almost warm to her ever vigilant nose. She stuck her nose high into the air, “why yes, something smelled delicious” she said to her self. Sasha was curious, the smell was wafting over the back part of the fence on the far left hand side of the yard. Before she knew it she had scrambled off the ledge, past the cat food bowl, under the patio furniture, across the garden, under and then up the rose bush. She had already scaled a great portion of the gutter before she realized what she had done, not only had she ever been this high before but she knew birds enjoyed standing on the roof of garages. She had seen firsthand what a large black bird could do to an unsuspecting worm. She shuddered and in a moment she was filled with a series of shudders. Sasha was shaking. As she prepared to climb down the gutter she caught another wiff of the savory smells arising from over the fence and now the garage. She clamored the rest of the way up the gutter and jumping into the gutter, she ran the length of the garage in just a few moments. She had no idea she could run so fast.

She descended down the other side of the garage, using the gutter as a safety tunnel. At the base of the gutter she was confronted by roughly five feet of yard, she noticed one of the birds had flown from the top of the garage and was hovering directly about her, it’s tiny feet clutching the side of the gutter. “screech, screech” it’s feet scraped the white abrasive metal. Taking another deep breath, she plunged into the green carpet of grass and into the awaiting limbs of a bursting heart bush. Sasha’s heart was beating louder than her stomach was grumbling. The bird still stayed perched on the gutter, as if watching a play. Next to the burning bush was thicket of other branches from a line of other shrubs, a lilac bush whose scent nearly overpowered her, and then a hydrangea and finally another burning bush. Their foliage combined to make a sort of woody, flowery jungle. The sunlight was fractured in bits as the leaves , stems and flowers as if she in the midst of a hundred painted glass windows. She was breathless, with excitement, awe and fear at once. As she probed deeper into the bushes, the delectable smell became overwhelming. Soon she noticed her mouth was watering, small droplets of spit sagged from the corners of her mouth. She came to the back of the fence,  poked that incredible nose of hers into the air and got a great wiff of the enticing smell from a small hole that sat just ten inches above her, crowded by a variety of branches from deep into the bush. Quickly darting to the hole, she jabbed her pointy head out the hole without a thought. To her surprise there was a small filthy alley and on the other side she heard the faint sounds of music coming from a door that was half-way open. She glimpsed the back of a large man singing softly to himself, he wore an apron and a large white puffy hat sat firmly on his head. The smell was overpowering, flooding out of the door she could almost see it as it was so strong. A bakery!