Archive for January, 2017

The Chair, part one.

January 28, 2017

I started writing a story about the life of a chair, over Thanksgiving. This is a work in progress, and I’m not sure where I’m going with it. Thoughts would be appreciated.

 

part one.

Sunlight jabbed through the dust filled curtains, in windmill fashion as the large gray cloud battled the sun for space. Bright waves of white almost appeared to peel off sheets of brown from the large mahogany chair. As the wave dispersed, a sheer glean would slip into the wood, a momentary slickness the dissolved into the thick wooden chair. If the chair could, it would have sighed or groaned under the waiting and crushing memories of its past. The front legs rested atop a frayed rug, worn thin with pacing feet, intermediate dancing and of nervous feet digging deep into its woolen fabric, while the back legs rested on a pine floor, whose stain was just an echo of what it once was. The polyurethane had been rubbed down by years of neglect not only of the apartment but also of the various in habitants. The scars of dropped cigarettes pocked the rug, almost perfect black round holes that sizzled for a moment and extinguished by the yellowed fingers of its owner, while the pine floor had black stains that could easily be mistaken for knots in the wood instead of the carelessness of a shaky hand.

Dust fluttered through the air, small bits of shed skin, hair, grime, and cat hair from a generation ago, swirling in haphazard motions the sunlight acting as a silent traffic cop to the flecks of the past. The air was parched, as faded as the room itself, almost a relic of itself if the room were full people would be breathing it in, coughing against the heavy stagnant air as if they were coal miners. Along the far wall, opposite the widows and beaten formerly red but now faded pink couch sat like a rock carved over years by trickling water although instead of water it was the stoic loneliness that would have created this sad piece of furniture. If it were an animal, it would be shot to be put out of its misery. The bottom buckled from the past weight of bodies clinging tight to flickering television screens, to the slight anticipation of the next card played and always, always the next cigarette to be smoked. The cushions were so imbedded with the stench of cigarettes one could think that the fabric itself was created from the ashes of spent yellowed cigarette butts.

Above the couch, hanging bent but in proud defiance, as if it were saying “the room is bent not me” a small painted picture of a rural landscape made a muffled announcement that the room once held hope. A field of swaying grass running up a small hill with a white farmhouse sitting atop, a group of grouse flew in the blue sky, the watercolor was discolored from the years of cigarettes and the small film of dust that blanketed it with so much oversight of the years. An end table was at one end of the couch, a single shade-less lamp stood proudly with its naked bulb a literal beacon for the past inhabitants of the apartment.

Staring into his glass, as if the center of the universe dwelled at the bottom of the brownish liquid, it would attach itself to his insides like oil, slowly sucking the power of his liver, his stomach and throat. “Jesus Christ, fuck…I almost out. Fer fuck’s sake,” ashes flicked off the end of the cigarette that dangled from his cracked lips. Squinting, he peered closer in as if eyeballing it would make another splash of whisky appear, “somabitch, that cunt drank it all!” he murmured and looked down at the bottom of the chair. A gallon bottle of Jim Beam was at his feet,  not a nary of drop of the corn mash was left in the bottle, with a nudge he toppled the bottle, “damn!” Pulling himself up, his green custodial pants crackling with every movement he made, he stood up, stretched his arms wide, which was going to be the most exercise he would do today he turned and moved towards the kitchen. With every step he mumbled, small curse words tumbling out of his grizzled gob, his amber teeth biting down hard on every word, the frustration being taken out through his jaw. Pulling his a brown coat from hook in the kitchen, itself almost rent useless with holes within holes the pockets emptied into the nether regions of the coat itself, he felt in his back pocket for his wallet, it too was worn thin not from overuse but from neglect as he never had more than $50 at a time. A reminder of the bleakness of his life erupted every time he opened it, like a flutter of wings but these of despair would shudder out when he opened it up. “yup, I got it.’ Already thinking he only had $20 left for the weekend, he breathed deeply, a small but discernable wheeze sprung from lungs that, unbeknownst to him was being feasted upon by cancer. He turned to check the light and on the counter a small pint of whiskey sat unopened with a small note. “Roy, sorry I got lost in your drink. I hope this helps, Love, Pauline.”  A small cracked smile spread across his face, his yellowed teeth peeking behind cracked gray lops as he slapped his thighs in relief. “That wonderful little bitch, I owe you Paulie!” he stretched his head back and cackled to the ceiling.

Placing withered hands on the cracked Formica counter top, whose split endings had started rolling up their own ghosts some past inhabitants ago, Roy bent his head down, thinking hard, a small sliver of saliva covered the cracked lips, his right hand, unsteady as it was took its time and he wiped his mouth clean and opened up faded white cabinet above the counter. The cabinet was flecked with small bits of coffee grounds, teeny dots of tomato sauce that boiled unattended below it, and smudged with grubby hands. It, like the rest of the kitchen had been neglected for years. He pulled out a tin of tuna and a red box of saltines, placing them on the counter he gathered up a plate, knife and several packets of mayonnaise he had slipped into his pocket from the deli downstairs he then opened the freezer, cracked the half full tray of ice cubes and made himself a drink.

Roy sat down hard in the chair, his lower back sent a few grumblings up his spine into the base of his neck, “god-damn back” he winced as he centered the sea-green food tray in front of him. He had moved the chair over to the dilapidated brown card table, itself so worn from age, slightly bowing in the middle, appeared that it was unable to hold a deck of cards let alone a tray of tuna fish and crackers. Roy bent his head and mumbled a short prayer of thanks, more of grunt of air than anything, he made a quick dash of the cross, sipped his Jim Beam and water and shoveled a cracker in his mouth. Crumbs tumbled down his chest and stuck to the stubble on his chin, which he brushed off with his sleeve.  Eating slowly, Roy blinked with each bite, he swiveled to his right, leaned down and picked up the small transistor radio that sat on the floor. Picking it up, he turned it over in his hand, the hard plastic was still sturdy nearly forty-five years after he bought it as a teenager from the proceeds of selling Grit newspapers. A faded “Big Red Machine” on the back still intact, so many years after Joe Morgan splashed a single to center field to rob the Red Sox of a the World Series crown. Turning the knob, the small radio burst into static life, the soft sounds of Bread, Gary Puckett and the Union Gap combined with the soft stroll of Bent Fabric, Paul Mauriat and Harper’s Bizarre would flood the room for the remainder of the day, lost songs that gave life to Roy’s pock-marked memories. A fascinating juxtaposition of this hardened man with a soundtrack of a lightness that never existed for him.

The whiskey burned his throat, while calming his nerves as he cleaned his plate whistling to the songs coming from the other room, songs that he had heard hundreds if not thousands of times before. The sun danced off the greasy kitchen windows, casting sidelong shadows across his brow, he smiled to himself, poured another drink and sat down again. The afternoons drifted by like this, one after another a succession of emptiness that fell far short of what he had dreamed of when he was a young boy in the small town picket fences of Ohio, the secrets that stacked up like firewood along such innocent street names like Maplewood, Prairie View and Meadowlark Lane were buried deep as if they were smoldering dry leaves that had tried to burn for half a century. There are memories that can’t be excavated, that are so ingrained, buried so long and so deep that they have deconstructed into the soil and dirt of consciousness. He blinked twice as the sounds of “Wedding Bell Blues” brought his mind into focus, for a moment the feeling of unease that grappled him so many years ago felt as real and present as the fading stench of the tuna fish.

The woods were just off the end of Brushberry Street, a small cut-through a patch of tall fern bushes , that hedged against Mr. Studer’s ivy covered brick house, and one was already in the woods, with most of the light blotted out by the far-reaching branches of maple and oak trees. They stood against a small wooden fort built with cast aside lumber from the newly constructed housing complex that had replaced a swath of former train yards where blackened train cars transported coal that had laid dormant for millions of years just fifty miles south of here, but now the mines were shuttered up, a testament to science and that in the end billowing blasts of smoke did indeed cause the environment to choke and wheeze in its own natural way. “Well, now what?” Roger looked directly into Roy’s eyes. Roger was four years older, his cousin by Roy’s father’s side. Standing a full six inches taller than Roy with thick sideburns that made his sixteen-year-old frame appear much older, he was a menacing site, even for a younger cousin who looked up to him. “I dunno” uttered Roy, looking away from Roger’s eyes and into the dirt. A small black spider was slowly wrapping a paralyzed insect in it’s soft, sticky web. Roger inhaled deeply off his cigarette, “you better decide if you are gonna be a man or a pussy, now is the time.” Roy, looked at Roger, his eyes filing with tears—“I don’t know, I’m not sure about this. I think I need to go home.” Roger spit on the ground, tossing the cigarette butt at Roger’s feet, “prolly you’ll  just be a pussy then.” Looking into the small doorway of the fort, Roy could see the large hollow shell of snapping turtle that Roy had dragged from the creek. Flopped over backwards, the head of the turtle, hung upside down, the large sharp hook about its mouth pointing skyward, its golden eyes staring into nothing, it smelled, a pinching stench of rot came covered the area. “I dunno, I’m going home.” Roger suddenly appeared in front of Roy, glaring into Roy’s eyes, Roger stuffed his hands down Roy’s pants pinching his penis and testicles hard enough to make Roy wince out in pain, “yup, just what I thought a pussy!” he seethed through clinched teeth. Roy could smell the nicotine and beer on his cousin’s breath. “I bet if I yanked hard enough, I could turn this pussy into a prick!” Roger snarled loudly into his younger cousin’s face, he tugged again and Roy broke free, “I’m going home!” his tongue stuck in his throat, slashing his arms into his older relative, he darted into the small path and ran as hard as he could. “run you little faggot, run!” he heard behind him.

Stumbling into the path, not thirty feet away he bumped into Jessica Lynn Brumfield, a dark haired girl of fifteen who lived on the other side of the woods, she had moved into the new complex just a few months prior. “hey Roy, what are you doing here?” she stepped back from him, “I’m on my way home, I didn’t know you lived near here?” She was dressed in the red and white colors of the school, the sweater emblazoned with the word, “Knights” across the top left breast. “Nuthin’, see you later Jessica” is what he wanted to say but instead he hesitated, turned around  and looked into the thick thistles then suddenly ran past her, as he heard her behind her lightly singing the “am I ever going to see my wedding day…”

All these years later, even with his cousin long dead from a gun-shot wound to the head, as he climbed out of an office window the song still stung like it did so many years before. He carefully collected the remnants of so many cigarettes he had smoked the days before, piled them in soft brown mounds, and discarded the cottony butts into a spent coffee can, and proceeded to roll the next couple of cigarettes that would carry him into the evening.  On the radio, Maryilnn McCoo continued to coo to her lover, her so far away words being sung into the mist of memory, Roy sniffed and lite a half made cigarette.  Outside the sun had dipped below the apartment buildings across the street, the sky had turned into a smudged watercolor that was left in the rain, smears of purple, pink and blue stretched across the sky, smoldering colors hell-bent on making their last moments of life memorable ones. Roy leaned his head against the small kitchen window, he placed his two hands firmly on the edge of window sill, and pushed hard. The window caught and then gave way, thrusting small curls of yellow paint upwards, “lazy assholes painting the windows shut, what do they want people to die of heat stroke” he muttered and more bits of ash flicked on his soiled shirt. By now, after hours of day-drinking, his head danced a little bit, thoughts swimming as if they were in a draining tub, filled with clouds and gray water. There was no clarity to be found tonight. Roy, poked his head through the window, the thick air of daytime had been sliced into by the cool air of the evening. Squinting into the coming darkness and streetlights flickered on, a small choreographed dance of white lights chasing the shadows away over the concrete and asphalt carpet of the city. Closing his eyes, sucking in the deepest breath his ravaged gray lungs could hold he let out a yell, a holler that almost stopped the traffic below. His voices bellowed high and low, filling the street as if a massive gust of wind had climbed over mountains and oceans. A few passerby’s stopped in their footsteps and looked skyward at the old man whose gnarled face with the tuft of gray and white hair, literally howled at the moon.

 

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Karl Hendricks 1970-2017.

January 21, 2017

Karl Hendricks.

Sometimes when the weather started to break old man winter’s crooked back, a large cement brick would be used to prop open the basement door of the record shop that tended to get steamy with a little more than ten people in it. The dampness of the store was always present, due to being underground and High Street having a sewer system that was only a step above New Orleans and the first subtle blasts of warm air in late March was cause enough to allow the inside to come into the tiny shop. The thick counter was burnished over the years by armloads of records that people would haul in, plopping them down on top of newspapers or, God forbid, spilling a beer. Every stack could contain a gem that would be shown off to the other staff members, either to be played later in the day and filed away in someone’s take home stack or to be auctioned off in Goldmine magazine. It could be a copy of Skip Spence’s “OAR”, a David Blue, Elliott Murphy or the proto-punk feminism of the Au Pairs. Throughout the week, orders would arrive from the small distributors that carried a variety of records from bands just like the ones in Columbus, many times Ron or I would base our order off the recommendations of the person who handled these mostly, one-person companies. A few are long faded from memory, the guy who ran “Better Than Some” (from Western Pennsylvania) comes to mind, but we usually relied on three of these smaller distributors whose sole-proprietors made our jobs easier. One could say they were the ingredients that helped bake the goods for the record store tastemakers who dotted the landscape during the 80-90’s. Tim Adams at AJAX (Chicago), Ron Schniederman/Dave Sweetapple from Surefire (Boston/Brattleboro) and Robert Griffin who ran Scat (Cleveland).

Tim Adams was a big factor in promoting music from New Zealand not only by carrying Flying Nun records but also putting our records by Graeme Jefferies, the Cannanes and This Kind of Punishment, he also was an early proponent of the (at the time) Shrimper label from California and was instrumental in getting early Shrimper bands into indie stores (The Mountain Goats, Refrigerator and Nothing Painted Blue). Robert Griffin was personally responsible for championing a little known band from Dayton called Guided by Voices by investing his own meager earnings into the band as well as the shared Shrimper band Nothing Painted Blue.

Walking into the store late one morning, Ron had already priced the Scat order, a small stack of records, CD’s and fanzines waited for me to put away, “you know Ron, we might sell some of these quicker if you just put them away yourself before I got here” I grumbled as I placed a small stack of 7” singles into the a small wooden bin. Without looking up from his paper, Ron sipped his Diet Coke, “Nah, that’s your job.” His nasal voice stretching out the “nah” into a “naaaaahhhhhh” like a piece of bubble gum. There was a pecking order in the store, or at least in Ron’s mind. Overhead, the last strains of The Rolling Stones “She Was Hot” was coming to an end, “Who’s this covering the Stones?” I asked. “That’s a Rolling Stones song, it’s the only song on this record I don’t like” Ron shuffled to the stereo, “Yeah, it’s from the Undercover record,” I was now peering over the counter at the jacket of the record Ron had just played. “Well, that’s why I don’t know it, they haven’t made a listenable record since 1972. But this record is great, it might be the best record of the year.” He handed me the simple black and white cover of Karl Hendricks’s debut album, “Buick Electra”, the cover a cartoon of a band driving down Main Street America through the lens of Danial Clowes. “Karl Hendricks? They kinda sound like Prisonshake, can you play it again?” Ron nodded, chewing on the end of his straw, “well Robert Griffin recommended it, I should have ordered more.” Robert was also a member of Prisonshake. The fact that Karl took a liking to a late period Rolling Stones song was enough for me, as the eighties poked its hair blown styled head from the cracked shell of the 70’s, those of us who went to high school in the early mid-eighties were first exposed to some of the 60’s and 70’s greats via their morphed over produced eighties records, whether it be Lou Reed’s “New Sensations”, Alex Chilton’s “No Sex”, John Lennon’s “Double Fantasy” or the Rolling Stones “Undercover” and “Tattoo You” albums.

By the end of the afternoon, I had tracked down Karl’s phone number and called him at his home in Pittsburgh. Within a few months, the Karl Hendricks Rock-Band, was playing a fairly unattended show with Gaunt and Jerry Wick’s solo creation at Bernie’s. When Karl walked in the door, he didn’t match the man on the record, or at least what I had been picturing which was someone older than me, with the black greasy shag of hair so many indie-punk rockers tended to have, in a way I suppose I pictured him to look like a blue collar worker gone off-grid from Pittsburgh, not the tall boy-ish man with a near buzz-cut and glasses. “Hi, I’m Karl Hendricks, you must be Bela?” he held out his hand across the counter that mid-afternoon day. “Yeah, hey, wow, you are here, um want a beer?” We shook hands, “Maybe I’ll wait until the rest of the band shows up, they are trying to park the van. Is the club near here?” Jerry walked up, cigarette dangling on the end of his crack lips as if were just getting the courage to jump from his mouth, “hey, who’s this?” Jerry asked, nodding to Karl. Ignoring Karl’s eyes, never one to make best first impressions, Jerry grabbed a stack of records to put away, turned and walked away. “This is Karl Hendricks.” Jerry stopped mid track, placing the records on the $1 bins, “Oh man, I love your record, do you wanna a beer.” Us record store guys usually had a very limited vocabulary in social settings. “I was just telling Bela, that I should wait until the band gets here and we know where the club is,” Jerry handing him one anyways, ‘ah, it’s right down the street. You’re ok to drink up. My band is playing with you tonight, I’m going to do my solo thing first, The Cocaine Sniffing Triumphs.” This was the first I had heard Jerry give his solo project a name, “Like the Johnathan Richman line?” Karl asked. “Exactly,” nodded Jerry, spilling ashes on the floor.

Karl appeared normal, almost boy-scoutish, always polite with a veneer of humility that was as authentic as the personal songs he wrote, which tended to touch on broken hearts, figuring out how to figure out women, alcohol and cigarettes. “Buick Electra” is a stunningly beautiful record about self-doubt, love that tends to hang around people in their early twenties like a long dress, always present, and always a little in the way. Karl was the inverse of Jerry, wearing his heart on his buttoned up sleeve but only through his songs, as he could only show his anger or betrayal through plugged in amps. As wry as any Midwesterner could be, with song and album titles such as “The Jerks Win Again,” “I Think I Forgot Something…My Pants” and “The Smile That Made You Give Up,” he wrote about the clumsy awkwardness of love, with the sense of always feeling alone at the party. As he got older, Karl’s songs became louder—as if he were wringing the frustration of age one note at a time, his last few records are nod to the guitar blasts of Dinosaur Jr.

Life sometimes is akin to living in a large revolving door, one where only the visitors get too exit, a person shares a space with them and then they are gone, as the door sucks another person on the next go round. At a time, the door moved faster, building points of contacts into a continuum that spans a lifetime. Where passion trumped everything else, negating a person’s upbringing, beliefs and future, where the passion foisted many of us together into a world built on the love and passion of music to transform the feeling inside into meaning. Sound bubbles bursting the pangs of isolation, one note at a time, exploding in our ears—for a three minutes everything melted together but then the music would stop. We would shuffle to the bar, repeating the stories of the day, feeling the space with words or silence depending on the level of anxiety a person felt until the next song, band or record was played.

Karl died yesterday, surrounded by his wife and his two teenage daughters, at one point in his life he achieved his dream of owning his own record store as well as making records for a variety of labels including Merge, Fire, and Comedy Minus One. Although I spent hours with Karl over the years, in bars and clubs, over eggs and pancakes on weekend mornings after he played in Columbus, I didn’t know him like I would know others who have passed through my life but he made an impression.  I had not seen him in a number of years, and knew he had health issues for a while. The last time we spoke was shortly after he found out he had cancer, we communicated a bit via social media, discussing our children, owning a business and the possible release of a record by his. But, with the happenstance of life that burbles up unexpectedly, we of course lost track—as age made it harder to make the drive from Pittsburgh to Columbus for a small club show, and babies making it more difficult to stay out past ten pm,  and eventually information came from mutual friends. “How is Karl doing” I would ask shared friends Eli or Kyle, but knowing that all I could do was send good thoughts his way. Bruno has a small hand-screened poster of Karl on his wall, a small benefit show for him that members of SCRAWL, Silkworm, and Kyle Sowash put together a few years ago. I don’t really know what I believe in terms of an afterlife although it would be nice to see Jerry and Karl smoking a cigarette talking about the brilliance of Johnny Thunders. I spent the day listening to Karl’s records, remembering how he touched my life, I think about trying to pin down a moment but it always moves.