Posts Tagged ‘gaunt’

Homeless and Flashlight Tag.

June 15, 2017

Walking down High Street in the spring feels like liberation, when the bleak chilly overhead carpet of clouds slip into their summer hibernation, the bluest sky awakens while people peel away the dreariness of winter by wearing cut-off shorts, tee-shirts, and glide down the sidewalks on skateboards that were shuttered for the winter months. Along the Olentangy River, small pockets of fabric appear amidst the overnight greenery of woods that line a fifteen mile bike path. It is here that many of the homeless camps sprout just like the green buds and purple flowers that awaken in the spring. A stroll through the various parks along the way brings many passerby’s next to men with rumpled men, whose breath wheezes alcohol and whose shoes are cracked and frayed from years to pounding asphalt.

At some point, usually in the middle of July or August within the woods of the bike path the heavy humidity of Ohio is fertile ground for millions of mosquitos to breed, it is not uncommon for a person to resemble a welted corkboard of mosquito bites when strolling through the trees and bushes. The homeless carve out tiny homes within the thicket of bushes and the muddy shoreline, these homes are big enough for a body and not much more and some may consist of walls of pallets, thin slabs of sheet metal and discarded plastic while other may be as simple as a one-person tent or sadly, a sleeping bag and backpack. Bikers, joggers and mothers pushing baby strollers may well be unaware that within the small bushes of the path they are using a person maybe sleeping, brushing their teeth, taking a shit or drinking a tall 40 bottle of malt liquor.

From the explosion on youth culture in the nineteen sixties, where the campus area became a magnet and a beacon for some, a five mile stretch that disaffected kids, drug users, college students and dropouts flocked to. The sidewalk across from the University was a bustle of energy, where pamphlets were handed out, kids with frayed jeans and threadbare tee-shirts smoked cigarettes while playing guitar with a small coffee can on the side to catch silver coins, and later a contingent of homeless African-American men spouted poetry, shaking plastic coffee cups, plying their vocal gymnastics trying to get by on a daily basis as the mined white college students for the change in their pockets. “Help is on the way” one fellow bellowed for nearly twelve years before the heavens took his ghost away. Help indeed. Later, when the wrecking balls bullied their way onto the campus area, smashing memories and campus landmark to bits all in the name of retail progress many along High Street gave up their hawkish ways, it is just a wisp of what it used to be.

After a while, the panhandlers, street crawlers and even many of the students have left, scattered to other parts of the city. Mid-town suburbs, former working-class neighborhoods and, the woods. Each crack in the sidewalk has a story to tell, but as the years sigh by they get forgotten, small bits of an image that dissipates like smoke. From a small-town boy’s point of view the rising mountains of steel and concrete of big-time cities spun tales of bustling people, elbowing one another while scrambling for space and for others in the small towns of Ohio, the cities were to be avoided lest one wanted to get robbed. But for many it was a potential escape from lives that were told that high school was the best time of a person’s life when for many it was the worst time of a person’s life. The idea that this would be the pinnacle of existence felt like suffocating under the weight of the sky. “Your fucking kidding me, right?” is what I would think when my high school teachers told me to enjoy those oppressive days.

We moved apartments as if we were hunters and gathers; a new one nearly every year—from one broken-down, roach filled apartment to another. As if one patchwork wall with faded paint was a step up from another one, but in our minds, as we carried boxes of books and records, Hefty trash bags bulging with clothes from dilapidated cars to the newest old apartment a small pillow of pride burst out from our shoes with every step towards the new home. Each place birthed new experiences and stories, the tales piling on top of one another as our existence and lifestyles invited characters that could have sprouted from thin paper-back novels, some of the characters with stereotypical nicknames, Dan “the man” From CleveLAND, Barefoot Jeff, Crazy Jim, and more that have been replaced by fresher memories.

Working three jobs at the age of twenty was difficult although two of them were at record stores and one was the overnight shift at a Ohio version of 7-11, but with a right-wing religious streak that had the chain refusing to sell condoms, porn or rolling papers—alcohol and Mountain Dew were ok by their strict standards but not the prevention of disease and pregnancy. I walked off the job one night after confronting a drunk frat kid who was harassing a homeless man, “shut the fuck up man, and get out!” I shouted in his slobbery fatty face, “ohh, who are you to tell me, overnight UDF guy?” From there a verbal admonishing to his friends for having such an asshole as a friend, he staggered out screaming “I’m going to tell your manager!” After checking on the homeless guy, not charging him for his food, I undid my apron and said to the co-worker, “I really don’t need this bullshit for $4 an hour.”

Jenny was usually in an elevated mood during her twenties, with a mind twirling as fast as a window fan, thoughts and ideas would spin out of her as if her mouth was shuffling cards. As much as she could spit energy into a room she could also ingest the energy and suck it dry, leaving the inhabitants sweaty and uncomfortable. Oblivious to the fact the propulsive interjection of her far-fetched and usually hilarious words would continue unabated. It was transfixing. She gathered men in her wake like sex infused pied piper, all the while many of us would sit and watch. For some there is a well of sadness that stirs underneath the essence of a person, like the deepest darkest sea under lurking under miles and miles of ice. The rustling of life that tramples above, stirs the sadness is quiet waves, a slight turn of a phrase by a friend or the leaving of a lover turns into a slow ache that upsets the balance of living, spiraling out in waves. The darkness expands in small shadows the crawl over the soul by miniature degrees, a Chinese water-torture of the psyche. A rustling would build inside her, stirring softly and then exploding into reckless behavior that was galvanic, with shards of emotions dripping from every aspect of the persons involved. Some of these escapades caused deep wounds, and dug into the skin of whatever emotionally frailty I had at that age, for Jenny, she would take for whatever hurt was no fault of her own but of my own stupid expectations about her actions. “you know what you were getting into and I can’t help it if you are always so serious” as she tugged a mouthful of smoke from her cigarette, other hand peeling back the wet label from her Natural Light. After a few years of sleepless nights, and anxiety, there was a point where a person gets used to this sort of treatment and it would be addressed with a gallows humor, an emotional brawniness had formed within me. Built with chips of disappointment that had calcified around my core. Nothing was shocking.

Rubbing his sweaty hands against his filthy jeans, which were so soiled that they could have caused his palms to turn even more grimy. On the table in front of him was a flashlight, gloves, his wallet, a pair of cheap women’s pantyhose, a ring of car keys with a plastic blue tag that read “Ricart Ford”, his cracked black wallet and half a can of Busch beer. His patchy beard twitched as he gathered them all up, stuffing them into his pockets, they were soon bulging with the tools for his evening adventure. It was summer, in Ohio the summer was constructed of sticky sweat and mosquitos but the Ohio State campus area was devoid of students apart from graduate students and young people whose lives revolved around the campus.

Jenny was working at the Travel Agency, an odd name for a campus bar the didn’t know if it wanted to cater to the Greek crowd, be a dance bar or even cater to the burgeoning underground music scene (Royal Trux and Urge Overkill both played the odd little bar.) She worked as a bartender, which was akin to having largest man on the block working the buffet table at Ponderosa. These were easy times in her life, where responsibilities meant how late to stay out, when to do laundry; job choices were dependent on lifestyle choices and not the other way around. Nights merged into mornings while eyes were wide awake, and the turntable was in a constant motion. Everything a person needed was within walking distance, record stores, bars, carry-outs and grocery stores made the life of burgeoning alcoholics easy, it was as if there was an invisible sheet being pulled over our collective lives by Anheuser-Busch and Jim Beam. The secret would be revealed years later with devastating consequences but the twirling dances of trembling nights of those days brushed aside any thought of the future.

I wore Dockers to two of my jobs, cheap imitations of professionalism that spoke to the truth of low wage management and sales job, “just who are they fooling” was my thought every time I put the stiff pleated blue or tan pants on, the mild annoyance of the fabric streamed up into my mind blossoming into an infrequent rage when the poverty of hope tripped up any semblance of aspiration. Casual business attire was code for supposed professionalism, collective bullshit by men who had never scrapped quarters from couch cushions to buy a hamburger. A soft seething blistered inside of me on a daily basis. Home life didn’t help, trying to piece together fragments of what domestic life was supposed to be, culled from prime-time television, after-school specials and Sunday morning services, to the reality that every person brings every experience that has ever occurred in their life to each moment. Every. Single. Time. Blending expectations with reality is fiction without practice. Jenny worked several jobs, one at the bar and the other at the Ohio State Faculty Club, her quick wit saved her from getting fired many times. The bar gig allowing her to stay out later, be the center of attention and of course, have access to an almost endless supply of alcohol.

Walking through the alley, stepping over shards of broken glass, empty fast food bags, pieces of broken furniture and massive green dumpsters filled with rotting garbage and piles of empty liquor bottles, he was deliberate in where he chose to go. He started off on high street, and within a few steps he was in the alleys, lurking behind apartment buildings and campus duplexes. After a long day of working two jobs, one selling cassette tapes to young college students, at one point that year I sold a new Kids on the Block tape to a young Chris Jent who later became Lebron James shooting coach, and the other job selling Twin-Tone and SST records to young men who lives almost depended on the sounds being sucked up and through the small needle cruising across the spinning vinyl. Jenny wasn’t home, which wasn’t expected-it was a Friday night—even though summer had come and settled over the city like a moist shawl, campus on the weekends still blossomed the young in need of dancing and sex. I sat on the floor, legs outstretched, with the sounds of High Street floating through the open window while the television flickered a semi-forgotten Steve McQueen movie, with the sound off the record player blared out the sounds of The Rolling Stones “Beggars Banquet.”

Drinking alone was becoming a habit, although listening to music can make the exercise an almost spiritual experience, I brought a six pack into the living room. Three cans in, flipping the record over, looking at the small plastic clock that ticked past two am, a small fear clutched my chest, it was hard to breath as I contemplated the fact that she may just not come home until five am again. Sleeping alone, even briefly-for the initial slumber was frightening, the drink could help put the mind into the warmness of rest, as if the mind was sinking into a steamy bath. The motivation to enter the bedroom alone has hidden in the murkiness of myself, it would need to be cajoled as thoughts went to the scary unreal, the imagination that pictured my partner giving head to someone else or moaning in pleasure while, I sat alone with a six pack of Milwaukee’s Best, an old Steve McQueen movie and Mick Jagger warbling. With every late night excursion she had a small part of me would harden, a kernel of steel would form around my chest, never to be dislodged for years. The cicadas had landed that year, digging out of their seventeen year slumber, with only a days to find a partner before death swept over the mass of them, they sang songs of courtship that filled the air with a lovelorn chatter.

The Travel Agency was roughly two blocks from our apartment, as the ache built in my heart, of Jenny not coming home after close I debated walking over and fetching her as if she were grammar school aged and staying out too late with her friends. “Jenny you are missing your supper.” But that was a trip I had made before, walking in while she stood in a circle of people, performing her jokes and dropping her wit as if she was a firework of laughter. I would enter unsteadily, unsure of my role only knowing that I wanted her next to me, the surety that she made my other half whole and I felt naked without her. Every time as I approached, I felt the eyeroll, the invisible needling of an elbow in my ribs, to my heart, “uh, Jenny it looks like your boyfriend is here” some drunk would mutter and turn away, another would raise eyebrows high and her boss, Randy, the balding former wrestling coach who had repeatedly professed her love to her many times in my presence or on our doorstep would rush from behind the bar and yell, “she’s still working, she has to help clean up. You can leave now.” Turning, she would offer a shrug, “well, Bela, yet again you arrived too late at the party, just go home and wait for me.” On some occasions, she might be weirded out by some creep and ask me to stick around. Oddly, it would take me years to realize the waiting I held fast in my chest, the anxious energy that built up within me, the wondering, the visions of awful deeds that would dance in my mind as I waited for her would be the same behaviors and fears that I would cause my future partners as the hold of alcohol gripped me tightly, holding my feet fast to the bottom of the bar stool long after the doors had closed. Tonight, I opened another beer, found another record, Tim Hardin “II”, and listened as Tim sung about the deepest loneliness a person can feel. Outside, the car horns beeped, drunken students screamed at each other in the streets, bumping into one another as they bleated whatever ideas that sprung into their minds and the cicadas sang away, wrestling with their own doomsday heartache.

The front door opened, footsteps landed on the creaky linoleum kitchen floor, “Bela, I’m home. I brought a few drinks with me, aren’t you glad I’m home on time.” She wasn’t but it was better than four a.m… Plopping down on the floor, “why are you watching the television without sound?” “because, it’s stupid” I did not turn her way, the enjoyment of drinking alone had elbowed everything else out. After a few moments of silence, she moved to the couch, speaking into the air, her words landed around me, as if they were discarded plastic army men left for on the imaginary battlefield of childhood.

Outside on the street below, he had found a window with a light on, with enough space to remain almost safely hidden from passerby’s but enough in the light to be dangerous, to push the envelope just enough out of his pants. He placed the pantyhose around his head, mashing his black greasy hair over his forehead, splashing his beard across his cheeks, putting the large silver flashlight, the kind the police use to club someone over the head on the ground in front of him he fumbled with his zipper. Anxiety climbed up his ankles as the anticipation almost swallowed him whole. With one hand he tossed small rocks against out window. High Street was roughly a few hundred feet away, as he stood in a small empty parking lot, just off the curb of Chittenden Avenue. “what the fuck is that?” I asked Jenny. “I dunno, someone is throwing rocks at the window.” Nobody had knocked on the front door but since we lived on the second floor it could have been somebody who wasn’t sure this was our apartment. After a few more rocks had smacked against the window, I roused myself up and walked to the window. Twenty feet below a small bearded man with pantyhose pulled firmly over his head, a cap and dark clothes held a long silver flashlight (the kind that cops use to beat people) in his right hand, pointing it carefully on his midsection. In his left hand, which was working furiously, was his penis. The whites of his eyes shined through the woman’s undergarment mask as he worked away. He was truly a man on a mission. Pulling away from the window and sat back on the floor. “Who was it?” Jenny asked. Deadpanning, “I think it’s one of your boyfriends, go have a look.” I took a sip of beer. Peering at the window she laughed, “what should we do?!” “I suppose call the police.”  She handed me the bulky plastic phone and I dialed 911 explaining the circumstances, “so there is this guy masturbating outside our window, he has a flashlight and panty hose on his head.” “Sir can you describe him more accurately?” Pausing, I replied, “well, he has a penis in one hand and the flash light in the other. Its aimed at his penis, really illuminating what he’s doing…. if you don’t hurry up he’s going to finish up.” A deep sigh on the other end then the reply, “A squad is on their way, your comments are just going to hold them up.”

Slipping my bare feet into my shoes, pulling on some pants I rose to go outside and wait for the police, “I don’t think it’s safe to go out there, Bela” Jenny said behind me. “What is he going to dick-slap me to death?” “No, but he has a flashlight.” “Oh yeah, although he might be too tired to use it, I’ll wait on the staircase just in case.” Walking half way down the metal staircase, I sat down and took a sip of my beer. The man was gone and I took in the smell of the alley, rotting food and urine hovered in the backyard, the alley and small parking lots that lined the back ally were flecked with small tiny pieces of glass, sprinkled around the black asphalt. They made it look like miniature stars were imbedded in the blacktop, and when the lights of passing headlights shone upon them, they resembled rhinestones. The apartment building just to the north of us housed a George Cooper a giant of a running back who played for Ohio State, and next to him a gay man who was prone to wearing dresses, lipstick. The gay man was one of the first openly gay men I had met, he was quiet and kept to himself but would wave at us, and Jenny would talk to him quite a bit. ‘You should talk to him, Bela, he has some good taste in music.” I was hesitant, as I was still trying to shed the homophobia that going to high school in Springfield, Ohio had tried to instill in me amongst other bigoted ideas. The apartment below us was empty for the summer as were most of the apartments in the building just to the south of us, campus got fairly quiet-the exception being the drunkenness that occurred on High Street every weekend. Soon, a police cruiser pulled up, I walked down and explained to the officers what had transpired. “He was holding his penis and a flashlight? That’s a new one for me” said one the officers. “Yeah, he was quite ambidextrous” I chimed in. They set out looking for him, Jenny came and sat down next to me—we drank some more beer, the feelings of betrayal had left me, replaced by a closeness to her brought about by the absurdity of the situation. We always had laughter to pull us towards one another while our actions pulled us apart.

After ten minutes or so the cruiser pulled up, with a small bearded man in the back. “We saw him walking in another alley a few blocks from here, he had a flashlight and some pantyhose in his pocket. Can you ID him for us.” Wanting to make a crack about needing to see his dick, I refrained. They pulled him out of the back of the cruiser, he was short, with greasy black hair, a scraggly beard that was a pockmarked as a fourteen-year-old boy. He had on a pair of worn out black tennis shoes, his pants were about three inches to short, exposing his hairy legs; he wore no socks. Hunched over, he resembled Charles Manson, when the police asked him to look up at me he sneered, “I didn’t do any to you man!” His teeth were yellowed. Asking one of the officers to come and talk to me, I whispered, “what will happen to him if I ID him?” “well, we will take him to jail.” Thinking I walked towards him, “I don’t know if this is him, so I guess maybe let him go.” The officers told him to stay away from our house and he sauntered off into the night. In the darkness, while pale light from the streetlights made his small frame glow he turned, scowled back over his shoulder and kept walking.

It would take some time, years in fact for an understanding of the mentally ill and the homeless to swell within me. Of course, seeing the slow-motion avalanche of Jenny over the years proved a valuable albeit painful lesson in perceiving the far extremities of not only mental illness but also addiction. Issues that have swarmed inside of my own life and mind throughout the years, depression can suck a person dry from the inside as if the soul is being slowly burned by an inner sun, where the result is a deadened feeling. A feeling of desperation that acts like a tranquilizer in a person’s life, unless a person has felt this, it is very difficult and, exhausting to explain. Akin to describing a color that doesn’t exist or an apparition that dances only at night whilst a person sinks into slumber. For many, the task of this explanation proves to be too difficult, the already awkwardness of being different tends to push a person away for help, the inner recoil which may have proved to be a safety valve is the method that may save them but alas, many times it is never used. Jenny always embraced the absurd, as did Jerry and in my own way, I have tried.

Mike Rep.

April 30, 2017

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The back room of Used Kids was cramped, a musty claustrophobic din of shelves, boxes of records, large bundles of brown paper bags that were as thin as dust, that would tear if someone slid a record in even half crooked and Dan’s desk. His desk was shoved into a tower of peach crates, stacked sideways to form a make-shift shelf where all the receipts, tax paper, and unsold cassettes of Cordia’s Dad and the Wolverton Brothers held down the leaning tower of almost splintering wood. In the middle sat a furnace that had seen better days, whose piping was in fact rusting while in the far corner lay a darkness that only the High Street rats would venture too. Crammed in the rear of the room was the bathroom, itself a frightening hazard as one was not sure if one of the rodents the dodged around the clutter may suddenly appear behind the toilet while someone had dick in hand. There was a period when a series of Chinese restaurants were housed above us, the last one that somehow miraculously dodged the health department despite leaving uncovered tubs of slimy chicken meat by their backdoor and a grease trap that attracted all types of animal life, even in daylight hours. At one point, the rats were dying within our cinder block walls at an alarming rate, and the Chinaman who operated the restaurant would suddenly forget his English when I addressed him, scowling at me, “no rat here!” to which I usually replied, “yeah, cause they all fucking died in our walls!” Finally, one day, he was gone, his shop turned black but he had left all the food and soon enough after repeated calls to the landlord, some poor fuckers came and loaded out all the spoiled food. A heavy blanket of rotten stench coated the record shop for nearly a month before this happened, the heavy summer heat only poured gasoline on the problem. The rat problem slowed to a trickle after that.

Some of the boxes in the back where marked for our Goldmine auctions, Goldmine was a record collector magazine that ran nostalgia interviews with everybody from Mike Nesmith, Nancy Sinatra to Captian Beefheart’s guitarist, Gary Lucas. The back of the magazine was chock full of various record auctions, set sales that small shops across the country would advertise whatever collectable records that they came across. Many of these were of the “bootleg” variety or the always sought after radio shows. These radio shows were really a goldmine to independent shops, mostly put out by Westwood One these multiple LP sets were pristine recordings of FM radio bands. Some were much more famous than others, Fleetwood Mac, Heart, and Bob Seger but there were other, lesser known bands—fly by night artists that barely made a flicker on the charts or even rock radio, bands such as Frankie and the Knockouts, Greg Kihn, Quarterflash and John Cafferty. These smaller bands fetched very little, $5-$20 but the superstars, Bruce Springsteen, The Eagles or even R.E.M. could fetch hundreds of dollars. A needed influx of easy cash for us, but a pain in the ass to assemble as all the auctions had to be done via mail or phone. Record keeping and knowledge of what was more collectable were essential, when CD’s came out the shows and programs expanded, In the Studio, Hot Wax and others came on the market and the CD’s were much easier for various DJ’s and radio station employees to smuggle out and sell to us. Besides the radio shows the auctions would also be made up of other collectables, garage singles from the 60’s, rare art and jazz LP’s would sell well. The task for keeping track of these sales fell to two of the most colorful characters on High Street during the past forty years.

Mike Hummel was one of the first people along High Street to record his own music, and then press it to vinyl, his “Rocket To Nowhere” (Moxie) came out in 1977 a blistering blow-out-speaker of a song that at once seemed to capture the sonic waves burping out of Cleveland but infused with Mike’s love of all things Alex Harvey. Mike was able to straddle a fine line of the freedom of punk rock but with a keen eye of the art-y flamboyant sounds of the aforementioned Alex Harvey, early Alice Cooper, and glam-era Lou Reed. Initially he was a shaggy haired figure who would drop by the store, carrying loads of white record boxes to the and from the furnace of the back room, to his car, and later that night it wasn’t uncommon to see him manning the pool table at Larry’s with large leather hat and long leather coat casting a shadow over the table, a large glass of whiskey nearby. He was usually with Jim Shepard or Ron House, frequently one would find them by the back door of Larry’s smoking a joint and talking in hushed tones, probably exactly like they did in high school.  Dan had a contentious relationship with Mike at that time, and if there were any mistakes in the auctions or record show sales, he would berate Ron, “Well, he’s YOUR best friend” as if Mike was responsible for every fuck-up that went on in a store full of fuck-ups.

For Jerry Wick and I, Mike was somewhat of a mysterious shadow, he would slip in on Friday’s picking up a few of the white cardboard LP boxes, huddle in the back with Dan and return the next Monday with a manila envelope holding the winners of that months auction. That night, we would spy him and Shepard at Larry’s poetry night, grumbling that we were constantly shooshed while various nervous types, wearing berets, scarves and inky mascara stood before a bar full of people and read poems and prose from tattered notebooks. “Jesus, I forgot it was poetry night, let’s to go BW’s at least we can drink in peace and play trivia”, Jerry would say as we slumbered to the still local BW-3, that hosted trivia amidst a juke-box the poisoned one’s ears with the latest Jock Jams. Peace indeed.

Soon enough, we discovered the genius of Mike as he was soon working part-time in the Used Kids Annex smiling a broad smile, with his ruffled hair and white teeth he was handsome enough to have been a model for a hybrid of Creem and Playgirl, if such a thing existed. It was easy for us to find fault with Mike, as in our curmungendy-wary twenties, we tended to dismiss a great deal with a thought that would leave our mouth before being properly matured, as Mike was prone to listen to the Doors with the same ease that one of us would put the Stooges or MC5 on. What we didn’t fully realize was Mike came of age when rock and roll turned suddenly more dangerous, when the infuse of psychedelics, marijuana and Quaaludes were stuffed into tight jean pockets to be consumed in Detroit made cars as long as speedboats while the click-click-click of eight-track players boomed out the sounds of “L.A. Woman”, the Bob Seger System and T. Rex. Ron House once remarked that he had felt as if one had to make a choice in high school between Alice Cooper or the New York Dolls, Mike Rep defying both sides would proudly choose both. We all realized that like Jim Shepard, Mike had been making a mix of punk-infused art rock since high school. For the first Datapanik single, label head Craig Regala asked the Boys from Nowhere (themselves a mishmash of punk and 70’s hard rock, that never achieved the success of east coast counter-parts such as the Lyres) to cover “Rocket to Nowhere” while the b-side featured future Greenhorn brothers, the Spurgeons blasting through Peter Laughner’s “Dear Richard.”

“Rocket from Nowhere” is now a highly sought after single, an almost sinister and gleeful three minute announcement of boastful destruction of which Columbus had not quite seen; the Datapanik single was our first introduction to the capabilities of Mike Rep and the Quotas. When the Used Kids Annex opened up, Dan Dow recruited Dave Diemer from Capital City Records down the block to run the shop, Mike came on board full time and usually worked in the afternoons and evenings. There was a large concrete supporting wall that separated the two stores, one tip off that Mike had arrived was the musky scent of marijuana that would seep through the back-room wall. Mike would flip the “Back in Five Minutes” sign up and go to the back of the Annex and fire up, when Lamont Thomas (Bim) worked for us, he would also slip next door for a five-minute escape. Almost like a high-school kid trying to cover up his tracks, Mike would gargle some Scope, and light some incense to cover the smell—it was comical but the fear of drug busts, even for marijuana was still a possibility twenty-five years ago.

One day as I brought over a stack of records to the Annex, Mike was busy pricing 45” records in his shaky chicken-scrawl and singing loudly along to Phil Ochs, in his smooth tenor Mike sang along “I’d like a one-way ticket home, ticket home….” Records can be used a silent code, opening the possibilities of connection almost like nothing else, and for many it is a bigger escape than alcohol, drugs or most anything else. My own fascination with folk music and singer-songwriters started early, an affinity for Richard Thompson whom I saw open for R.E.M. when I was 17, and I had been fed an endless supply for Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger and Leadbelly as a host of Folkways records as a very young child. Discovering used records stores along High Street when I was 18 was akin to getting into a doctorate program at an Ivy League school, swallowing the songs of Tim Hardin, Townes Van Zandt, Butch Hancock, Gene Clark and, of course, Phil Ochs had an incredible impact on me. To find others who held some of these songwriters as close to their hearts was inspiring, the songs and artists were small fireflies of light in a life drenched in darkness. In the eighties and early nineties most of these acts were still obscure, Ron, Dan, Captain, Mike and I had all seen Townes Van Zandt at a small nightclub/eatery called The Dell in the early 90’s there were only eleven people there and Townes got so drunk during his brief intermission he ended the second part of the show basically telling stories while strumming laconically on his guitar.

 

Phil Ochs was an inspiration, not only because he grew up in Columbus and used to drink at Larry’s but because he was a man who appeared to hold his principals above all else, whose sensitivity to the world around him would eventually lead to his death by suicide. Looking back, it is easy to see that he as many other artists we admired suffered from Bi-Polar Disorder (Mark Eliot’s “Death of a Rebel” is essential reading on art, alcoholism and mental illness), but as young man who himself battled oppressive bouts of depression, including a suicide attempt, Phil was a revelation. When Mike sang along with “One Way Ticket Home”, I stopped in my tracks, and although we had known each other for several years we immediately connected  about Phil and records.

Later that year, a small band of excitable men from Dayton were coming up to the shop to hang out in the Annex, I knew one of them as Bob Pollard who would come up sporadically to go record shopping. Mike had helped mix one of the first New Bomb Turks and Gaunt singles as well as record some of the early Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartment singles, gutting the almost smooth farfisa college rock sounds of Ron House’s Great Plains for a big rock via muffled cardboard 4-track  recordings of the Slave Apartments.

At one point the valley of Ohio was the furthest west the country could have imagined, beyond the mountains of Western Pennsylvania and Kentucky, with the Ohio River holding an almost mythical hold that the Ohio Valley held on the forefathers of America were epic, a land of dangerous promises that appeared almost laughable 200 years later as mid-west promises collapsed under the girth of rust-belt nightmares. The fertile soil in Ohio was bathed in the blood of British, French, American and sadly, Native Americans who were massacred by degrees during the 17th and 18th centuries. Frontiersmen such as Daniel Boone and Simon Kenton, trudged through the swamps of Southeastern, Ohio marking claims with rifles, knives and gunpowder leaving a trail of destruction from Marietta to Toledo. The fables that grew out of the carving up of Ohio by these men were the tales that little boys would play throughout vacant fields and the patches of woods that dotted small town Ohio. Even today, supposedly, there is some buried treasure hidden by Simon Kenton somewhere near Springfield.

The ancient history of Ohio goes back thousands of years, the earthworks of Fort Ancient, specifically the curling 1,300 foot Serpent Mound dates anywhere to 400 BC to the 11th Century, other earthworks dot Southern and Central, Ohio and in a sad commentary on 20th Century capitalism, one in Newark has a private golf course sitting on top of it. One can imagine the ghosts of Native Americans dodging errant golf shots whilst crying paranormal tears. One wonders if the people who grow up in the proximity of the Grand Canyon or the white tipped waves peaking off the coast of Maine realize the beauty and wonderment of the world they live in, or does one just accept these everyday astonishments as melting into the background of their existence, to finally, with just the shadow of a shudder, turn into the mundane? Serpent Mound is one of the great American treasures, as mystical as Stonehenge but with nary a speck of explanation left the builders. Serpent Mound is hidden in the deep Southern portion of the state, at least 100 miles away from Columbus, 250 miles from Cleveland and 80 miles from Cincinnati, the region used to be filled with coal miners and poverty cuts a deep wound into this region of Ohio. Nonetheless, the fascination with Serpent Mound has been relegated to mostly outliers in Ohio, pagans, Native American groups and those who tend to lose themselves in dog eared books, long hikes and the passing of pipes.

Mike Rep was transfixed with Ohio lore and more specially the history of Native American spiritual sites, the importance of locale has been steadfast in Mike’s world, a walking internet of facts about the region, Mike was the first person who told me about the Mothman. It was easy to dismiss Mikes fascination with the buried myths of the past, not only with the historical aspects of the Native culture but, in a shock for Jerry and I the self-myth making of musicians such as Jim Morrison and Donovan, musicians we had dismissed as we climbed out of mid-adolescence to our late-DIY-infused teenage years.

It was somewhere around this time, 91 or 92 that we were introduced to Tom Lax, who runs the fantastically spot-on Siltbreeze records from Philiadelphia. Ron and Mike introduced Jerry and I to TJ (as we called him), most likely at Larry’s or at Ron’s House. I knew Siltbreeze as the label that put out a V-3, Gibson Brothers and Sebadoh singles; Jerry and I were a bit in awe of Tom and Mac Sutherland’s ability to put out quality music from around the world, all hinged on music that was unsurprisingly artistic but full of attitude.

Even though, as a glance over the weighted shoulders of time, Tom, Ron, Mike and Bob Pollard were only a few years older than us, that space between someone who is 19, 20 or 21 to someone who is in their early thirties can appear vast, which turns the space horizontal, making an invisible pedestal in our minds. Siltbreeze mined Franklin County as if the sewers below High Street flowed with music instead of shit, and the avalanche of damaged esoteric music that Tom and Mac championed out of Columbus should have made them both honorary citizens of the city. The list is as long as a some of the tales that would bellow from Mike Rep’s drunken dialogues: Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartments, Creeper: Ohio, Times New Viking, Sam Esh (whose warbling most resembled a washing machine playing a one stringed guitar), the Yips, the Gibson Brothers, Psychedelic Horseshit, V-3 and of course, Mike Rep and the Quotas. Tom, understood the musical acumen of Mike, whose taste in music has been unapologetic as well as trendsetting (see Guided By Voices, Times New Viking, Gaunt, New Bomb Turks, Strapping Field Hands…).

 

Mike walked through the main side of Used Kids one late afternoon to fetch a Black Label beer from the small and overworked dormitory refrigerator that kept us all sane during our salad days and he stopped at the side of the counter and sang along with me as I sang in my off-key quaver to Spirit’s “Animal Zoo.” It was shortly thereafter, that Siltbreeze put together a compilation of Mike’s hard to find and unreleased records stretching back into the 70’s. “Stuper Hiatus Vol. 2”. It’s a retrospective that runs the gamut of the punk-fueled deadism of  “Rocket to Nowhere” to the b-movie-whipit inspired “War of the Worlds” with a great dollop of Mike’s love of Roky Erickson smothering the homemade 4-track recordings. It also showcased Mike’s unusual taste in album cover art, utilizing the cover of a French-easy-listening record with Mike’s name on the cover.

Meanwhile, Mike was working hard on several projects, many of which he (kinda) cloaked in secrecy, per his intentional shrouded self-made persona, “I’m working on something that is pretty interesting, when you close up shop come over and give it as listen” he would tell us through his wide grin as he took a couple beers next door to the Used Kids Annex. After work, Jerry and I would stop in the Annex, with all the lights out except the dangling white Christmas lights that hung from the low ceiling, Mike would be blaring whatever he was working on. It could have been Guided by Voices “Propellor”, Prisonshake’s “Roaring Third” or the Strapping Field Hands “In the Piney’s”  or even a four-track recording of Donovan that Johan Kugelberg had asked him to remix (this is another story) but whatever it was it was always ear-splittingly loud. The smell of marijuana drenched the air like a green wave of humidity, a palpable smell that stuck in your nostrils like cat hair on a sweater. This night Mike was mixing something different, a bouncing effect laden song, it sounded as if the vocals were being channeled through a wading pool of water and ectoplasm, shimmering over fuzzy guitars and a small choir singing, “there’s aliens in our midst.” I stopped dead in my tracks, I had assumed it was a V-3 song although the lighthearted nature of the song, with a glint in the song’s eye suppling an aspect of care-free bizarreness that Jim Shepard would have been too self-conscious to lay down on tape. “Who is this?” I asked. Smiling broadly, Mike replied with wide eyes, “it’s the Quota’s but it’s a Twinkeyz cover.” Not knowing who the Twinkeyz were but assuming I should, I mumbled something like, “this is a great cover”.

The next time I worked with Mike he handed me a Maxell cassette  with his chicken-scratch pointy scrawl, “this is everything we’ve been recording.” The tape might as well have been stuck in the Pioneer tape deck in my 82 Ford Mustang for as much as I listened to it over the next month, the songs covered a gamut of sounds that spanned Mike’s fondness of music. From Roky Erickson to the Phil Ochs-cum-ragtime “America’s Newest Hero” and experimental Flying Saucer Attack inspired “One Thirty-Five.” Speaking with Mike over beers one night at Larry’s, “maybe I can put the tape out?” Soon enough, Gary Held from Revolver listened to it and loved it, he and Mike had spent some time together when Gary visited, perhaps they had even visited Serpent Mound together? After a few months of putting the cover, itself another in a long-line of bizarre record cover art from Mike, “A Tree Stump Named Desire” came out on CD. Mike wanted the record to come out on LP but due to the length of the record, a proper single LP pressing did not work, although it was cut to lacquer twice, Mike was never happy with how it sounded so there are only a handful of test pressings of the record.

Some people live on an island, not to the extent that it is a conscious choice but in the end the pursuit of art and creation tosses the irons of mainstream life that can fetter and clog the desire some have to pout what is inside their minds and lives onto paper, canvas and at times, into small recording devices, these are the people many of us are attracted to in our lives. Some may create to achieve adulation, to live forever in a moment of song while many do for the moment of the moment, the ones who can capture a singular feeling that transcends all the seconds, hours and days that follow it. The repercussions of the creation are just a bi-product of what needed to be produced. Most likely these are people who may tend to their gardens in self-imposed isolation, write silently in coffee shops or paint alone in their garages or tiny studios. For many they are tethered to small machines that capture sounds to be digested later, fueled by experience, alcohol, drugs and yes even whip-its. Mike Rep Hummel is one of these people, a man who holds no pretenses and who has managed to help discover and guide an unlikely assortment of talent that has helped inspired and influence the lives of many people who find their greatest solace in music. Guided by Voices, Times New Viking, V-3 and the New Bomb Turks all are indebted to Mike, who continues to do what he has always done, which is to cram what is inside of his shaggy head and cut it into tape without a fear of what the outcome will be. Fearless.

 

http://hozacrecords.com/

http://www.siltbreezerecords.com/

https://midheaven.com/search/?search=mike+rep

https://www.prairieghosts.com/moth.html

 

Jerry and Jenny: Holding

October 2, 2016

Desperation filled the room like a bomb, overhead lights flickered on, stuttering for a moment as if they were rubbing their florescent eyes and then illuminating the quiet loneliness with a shimmering pale glow. Women eyed nervous men, whose boldness was powered by Pabst Blue Ribbon, Jack Daniels and Rolling Rock, the upper hand danced upon arched eye-brows and the hesitation of whatever the next moments would unfurl, the anticipation danced as if on the tips of floating curtains through the window of minor death that comes from walking home alone. For many in the bar, home was filled with roommates who crowded spaces with loud voices, broken cigarettes they balanced on moist lips as words hurried out of manic-y mouths, all competing for a chance to share their bed, to keep the emptiness away, in this context the bar was more home than the cramped and messy student housing was. Dating was difficult when trying to be heard over a room-mate’s stereo, television or the constant interruptions of political or personal discourse. The bar was easier, with a wiggle into the wooden booth two people could wall off the world around them, the invisible barriers that shot up from the dark stained brown of the back of the booth shot to the ceiling, with the wooden table making the perfect meeting point for early forming crushes. Beneath the table, legs and feet could get intertwined sending an immediate message that one may not muster the courage to voice out loud.

The floor was ruddy, with cigarette butts flicked away in detached mannerisms, as if the calm they just supplied for an anxious fellow had never existed. The black and brown bits of tobacco soaked up spilled beer and dashed late night dreams like a sponge of rejection. The music blared from the speakers as bartenders, tired from a night of mixing cocktails, pouring doubles and opening endless bottles of beer shouted above the panicked din, “Last call!! This is your last fucking call! Turn them in, it’s time to get the hell out of here!!!” Just twenty minutes ago these bartenders were the masters of wisdom, able to parse small bricks of knowledge as they slid a drink across the counter or keeping fainter hopes alive with a wink and the sashaying of hips. The exposed brick walls wore a fine film of cigarette phlegm that grew in insignificant degrees as ladies and men stuffed inward anxiety by deeply inhaling from thousands, if not millions of these thin paper-y tubes of mental health supplicants, exhaling with a passion, the smoke leaving their bodies after digging deep inside their nervous souls it would settle on the walls, ceiling and light fixtures. Turning everything a bit yellow, as if the innards of the bar were in fact an alcoholic slowly beating his liver to death, one icy beverage at a time.

Outside, the autumn wind flew down from the black sky, making the leaves dance their dances of death before being torn from chilly almost naked branches, the wind gathered its strength to bring in rushes of cold air near the top of the sky and although we were huddled inside, amidst the noise of guitars and rickety cymbals, the clanking of bottles and deep sighs of anticipation we could just feel the cold outside, it was understood that when we exited the building, pulling ourselves in, cuddling ourselves or grabbing a hold of another nervous hand the chill would remind each one of us of how the fragility of our lives were.

Her bedroom was cluttered, small piles of clothes dotted the floor like musty landmines, an unmade mattress stacked upon a pitiful box-spring mattress was shoved against the wall. The walls were covered in art, placed in uneven rows as if a bird had decided to decorate the room, here was a painting of a nude woman and ten inches to the left, and five inches lower hung a poster of a shirtless Iggy Pop, his pubic hair tempting the viewer as if someone could mount Iggy right there on the wall. On another wall were a line of post-it notes, each one marked by day-glow ink that listed a person and date, no other explanation. The far window was covered with a wooly blanket, thinned in the middle by one to many bodies digging in deep with the passion that only the mid-twenties could bring, the splotch of meager fabric was almost as see-through as a bowl of broth. Books were stacked against the make-shift bed, Anis Nin, Kafka, Betty Friedman, Ken Kesey and hardcover copy of Susan Faludi’s “Backlash” informed any visitor that the woman who slept here was smart, concise, funny and suffered no fools. Inviting a person to her bed was not something that was given lightly.

We were drunk, leaning against one another as we entered the room, she grabbed my elbow with one hand, the other in the small of my back, pulling my shirt up. Skin on skin and the ceiling twirled as if it were made up of helicopter blades. The night started early, at least for me with the 75-mile drive from Columbus to Athens fueled by a six pack of Natural Light before arriving at the Union Bar and Grill at nine p.m. There was no plan that evening, stopping at my brother’s and finding his house empty except for a pack of dogs that climbed over one another while trying in vain to run out the front door. No lock was needed and I barked at them louder than they barked at me, “Get back! Get Back, it’s just me”, squirming some of them were so large my knees almost buckled, “God-damnit, get the fuck back!” Putting a brown shopping bag with a change of clothes and one of Robert Caro’s books on Lynden Johnson (as if I would get any reading accomplished), in my brother’s room and I drove back uptown.

That night as former art students plugged in black amplifiers, sat behind a drum kit whose kick drum had a painting of a laughing clownish man whose crooked eyes followed the audience as the thump-ba-thump pulsated across the floor, we smiled at one another while melodic feedback brought us closer than any word could ever do. The music extinguished the anxiety the bubbled up between us, the past or future didn’t matter while heads bobbed back and forth, nobody had to speak and if they did nobody could hear anyway, in fact nothing could be said while the music blasted all internal fears like a coal mining company blowing the top off a mountain. Her black hair rolled down past her eyes, small languid curls the bent and bounced while light glinted from the various wisps that fell under her quilted hat, she smiled broadly, displaying perfect white teeth that fell into order almost in a regimented fashion. During the course of the next fifty minutes we stood closer and closer, and by the end of the last three songs our legs were in unison, and as the last notes rang in humming ears she grabbed my hand.

One of the last things Jenny had said to me as I walked out the two story house on Norwich was “go ahead and leave, your life is going to be miserable and you’ll never get laid again besides you suck in bed.” She continued yelling through the screen door and the large black walnut tree casted even darker shadows that then cloud filled night was already doing, as I trudged across the lawn, these small pockets of inky blackness would swallow me whole for an instant, a reverse strob-light as I bounded away from the insults. A part of me yearned to turn around, as the words nicked the insides of me like a small pen-knife, that section of my being wholeheartedly believed her, that in the end being defective was what I was in essence while another part did not believe her and continuing the way we existed was a life that was doomed to eventual death by my own hand. Alcohol had risen around our ankles and although I was only twenty-two, life had become quicksand, the vomit looking quicksand found in nineteen-sixties B-Movies and there wasn’t much left to do except exist with no hope for happiness. It was October just a few years prior to the experience described at the beginning of this entry, the ground was muddy, there was very little that would grow on the slight slope of the front lawn. Wet leaves had already started rotting into the soil, a slight breeze swept from the west with a tablet of cold attached just to make sure that a person felt small against Mother Nature. Against the backdrop of the stone church that bordered the yard, I glanced up, a few small tears trickled down my face, feeling nothing except for the hope for a God that I wasn’t really sure about I said a prayer and climbed into the car. I would spend that first night in Athens, the hour and a half drive providing thoughtful calmness and solidifying, what was perhaps, up to that point in my 22 years, the most terrifying decision I had ever made. It felt as if my entire life was one melodramatic scene from a shitty movie when all that was wanted was a slap-stick comedy.

A small, damp and disorganized apartment in the basement of the James’s house, they were lifelong family friends, the eldest child, Lisa was my sister’s best friend in high school. While the middle son Ian was a tall blond haired, intellectual rabble-rouser bonded with Zoltan, both of them made well-worn paths in plenty of the townie bars. The apartment had a side entrance, from a brick constructed alley that climbed up from State Street to the toppermost street in the county. In the winter one could easily slip near the top of the hill and slide straight into State street in a whoosh. The apartment was small, hardly an apartment at all, a bedroom, a hallway and the stairs led up into the kitchen, itself cramped with dishes, grocery bags and a coffee pot that had almost fossilized bits of burned coffee grounds molded into its base. Arriving in the middle of the evening, sitting on the edge of the bed holding a Rolling Rock, it had seemed that the future was but a panic attack away.

I stayed in Athens for the weekend, keeping to myself as I nursed the broken bits of ego and raw self-esteem, and drove back to work at Used Kids early Monday morning. The start of a pin-ball styled existence that would ricochet my life from bed to bed, bar to bar and of course, record to record had, unbeknownst to me, commenced and would continue for the next decade. As my Monday evening shift ended at Used Kids ended, the thought of driving to Athens and sleeping in the musty, sad apartment, itself a veritable crumpled brown paper bag of a room, almost staggered me. I called my friend Joe Moore, whom I had met while living in the Ohio State dorms, Joe and his friend Frank Peters had won my friendship by plastering their dorm room walls with posters of the Rolling Stones, Husker Du and the Replacements. “Joe, what are you up to?” Without flinching, “you need a place to stay tonight? I heard about you and Jenny.” That night after a few drinks, and listening to records, lying next to a woman with long red hair in the back bedroom, telling her stories of a broken heart and how it had been laid-way by the jabs of Jenny.

Her bed was cramped, almost glued to the wall as the room pressed in upon us, it could have been a large closet instead of a bedroom. Joe had mentioned to me earlier in the year that he had been sleeping with her for a while, but now, the hallway between their rooms might as well been the Atlantic. Her hair lay around her head in bunches, we were like eighth graders, talking to the ceiling as we talked to each other, unloading the worst experiences of our lives while never looking at one another. After a while, the words lost all fuel and the room was filled with separate breaths trying to play catch up with the other. A soft nervous panic rose from the middle of my bones, cut through soft skin and hovered just centimeters from my body, it was soon punctured as she placed her left hand on my thigh. And soon, we rolled to each other, sharing soft kisses while the hands roamed and fumbled and finally I pulled away. The thought of Joe sleeping in the other room, the pain of Jenny and finally, and most loudly the doubt that this was a real thing. “I can’t do this, can we just sleep?” “yes, if that’s what you want,” she murmured, gripping my uncertain hand.

Larry’s was emptying out, as wounded egos shuffled out with a six-pack in hand, the lights flickered on and some of us, with the hope that glistens like a bronze bell during the noonday sun inside of us giggled into the street. Bouncing with drunken giddiness I held her elbow as she cupped her hand into mine, my other hand holding fast to the cardboard handle that held the beer that would take us deeper into the night like a beacon sitting in a far off hill. She laughed freely, and smiled against my shoulder, we had not yet kissed but at this point it was a formality. Sauntering up High Street as a fistful of cars passed slowly by, on the lookout for the police we soon headed to Pearl Alley as it provided more privacy amongst its bits of broken glass, crumpled up fast food bags and the smell of alcohol and piss. Roughly was block down, we stopped as she backed me into the cold brick of a building long torn down, and kissed me full on the lips, flitting herself into my mouth she held me with eyes wide open and felt me against her. Cheeks flushed, kissing while street light hummed above us we walked some more, cutting up to another, more residential street, the large maple and oak trees swayed above us, mimicking my drunken gait, the soft shadows of the leaves making small splashes of darkness against our bodies as if nature had constructed an organic strobe light to frame our slow dance of loneliness deferred. In her bed, we kissed and giggled some more, as we lay naked in her bed, candles stacked like small wax trees around her windowsill, her dresser and her floor. “I need to tell you something before we do this, ok?” lifting her head as she looked me in the eye. Her smile disappeared in that moment, “what? Is something wrong?” I whispered, waiting for the other shoe not to just drop but splinter like a raindrop on hot cement. “I’ve been sleeping with Jerry on and off for about six months.” Bubble thought burst in my head. “I don’t care; I won’t tell him if you won’t.” leaning back into the her bed. “I won’t” she smiled as we grew closer. That night, it wasn’t guilt that closed the evening as if it were made of soft doors shutting it was too much beer and whisky as after some struggles we decided to sleep as birds yawned their early morning songs.

Saskia takes her time dressing every morning, and after we go to the gym together she says,

“dad, wait for me I will be out in 20 minutes. I have to get ready.”

“Honey, no you don’t we just worked out for an hour and your mother is waiting. Hurry up” I sigh annoyingly.

“I just have to put on my makeup.”

“Nobody puts on make up after leaving the gym, not even Taylor Swift” looking for someone she can relate to.

“Ok, give me five minutes” she shouts from across the lobby of the gym.

She is eleven, experimenting with her looks, her discovery of fashion and now, with sparkling whispers she tells her mother of boys and happenings at middle school that her father, no doubt could ever relate to. Offsetting everything with humor, I make her laugh, she tosses the sarcasm back at me, and shakes her head. “Dad, you are not cool, you have no idea.” She wears her mother’s clothes, and balances her growing tall body on skinny shoes, as I stand in the kitchen nursing another cup of black coffee, hoping that while she walks into adolescence and young adulthood she is spared the self-doubt and ache of solitude that has hung around her father as an invisible cape since the third grade. “Dad, seriously you don’t understand what I’m even talking about as she dances clumsily on high heel shoes while holding her phone to her ear. I suppose not.

Jerry and Jenny: Protection

August 4, 2016

School was a drag, from the earliest years of kindergarten to last frayed edges of my psyche as my high school years petered to a shambling halt, all the while my innards groaned every morning I drove the 1978 Corolla to the school. It was as if I had to nail myself upon a cross made of bricks, racism and corn every morning, my stomach swaying as I bounded over the soft rolling hills, past epic farms of corn and soybeans. Just like a John Cougar Mellencamp record. The first awakening to the unfairness of childhood, stabbed my brain as if I were shrouded in an invisible cloak that covered all the innocence of a blond-haired, blue-eyed boy of five. Standing outside Ms. K’s doorway as children ran to waiting yellow school buses, metal tubes of laughter, nausea and the sweet pungent scent of childhood who would roll through the nearby neighborhoods, dropping children off as if they were bits of fleshy, noisy mail, I turned slowly when Ralph Scarmack called my name. I knew him, sort of anyway, as much as a kindergartener could know another little kid, his father worked with my father, this much I knew. “Maybe we can be friends?” I thought, as I smiled at him. As my brother stayed in school all day, he was a first grader, I spent the afternoons waiting for him to walk down Sunnyside Drive. I’d sit on the porch, or set up various bulky green Army men under the porch and pretend the Daddy-Long Legs would attack them, perhaps I’d ride my Big-Wheel down to the corner and spy out for him. Big black plastic wheels flicking bits of gravel behind me, I was a blur tearing up the sidewalk.

“Hi Ralph” I looked at him with the hope that I had a new friend. Eyeing me up and down, he snarled, “I’m going to kick you in the shins!” Looking down, I noticed he wore brown socks underneath brown leather shoes, complete with brown stiff laces. Looking back up, I tilted my head, much like a puppy and wondered what he just said. Biting his bottom lip, he raised his foot backwards and with all his little-boy force struck my right shin as hard as he could. Collapsing on the sidewalk, he stood over me, “don’t tell anybody or I’ll do it again tomorrow!” Water filled my eyes, while a lump the size of a loaf of bread rose in my throat, choking on shame and confusion, I was not going to cry. I turned heel and limped away, trying hard not to but he had managed to peel away a small layer skin on the bottom of my leg, small creases of blood dripped down my leg. Maplewood Avenue had never appeared so long, the cut hurt to the touch and I soon made it home. Crawling under the porch, I stacked the Army men in rows, they would wage battle against the ants and other insects. The feeling of being an outsider was literally hammered into me that fall day.

Every year, autumn would slump from childhood summers like a slow moving fog, rising around skinny ankles, winding its promise of long hot school days, sweating while August afternoons mocked us through thick glass windows, and chalk-scented air soon it would choke the fun out of our lives. From the dreamland of summer afternoons, staying up watching Double-Chiller theater, to the drudgery of turning yellowed paper, with artwork from the 1950’s still in our textbooks, it all seemed desperate. Even to an elementary school child. School was like a carousal, attending over six schools by the time fourth grade arrived, I would stand in line while waiting for another multi-colored wooden horse to arrive. Picking me up and taking me on the same old trip. By the time fourth grade arrived, I was in a state of motion sickness when it came to school.

Shy at a young age, but warming up when feeling comfortable, the husk that had accumulated from bracing new schools, new friends and the awkwardness of saying my name, and having to repeat it over and over to disbelieving little kids was burnished by these successive years of change. But when the trust came, I would open from the inside, folding out in a tumble of words that could cause other to be startled into dizziness. Bruno, is the same, and I can see in him the trepidation of my past. Bruno, makes things, big things, out of discarded wood, string, and found objects in our garage. His favorite store is Lowe’s and he bounds up and down the aisles as if he were in an amusement park. June would seduce slowly, with the promise of unending days filled with imagination brought to life, fort-making, back-yard cookouts and late night episodes of kick-the-can and then July would clutch and hold onto childhood like a metal vise, everything was frozen, days spilling into nights the summer would never end, and finally August thumped into consciousness with humid footprints reminding us that school was ticking ever closer. As the sweat dripped like melting ice-popsicles down our backs, August brought along dread that soon, so very soon, afternoons would be spent in steamy classrooms while swaying trees and bleating insects mocked the children through open windows.

A sense of distrust for school manifested itself in me from an early age, from Mrs. Amamuil in first grade who admonished me in front of my new classroom for wetting the floor, I went home in tears, never trusting this older hardened woman who was there to bring out the splendor of discovery in children, but instead struck with an invisible shaming stick to the little ones in her charge. And next, just two years later, a brunette teacher, with her hair pulled tight in a careful bun, long skirts and red-lollipop lipstick who stated to the only black kid in our class (in Newport News, Virginia), “Why can’t you just read Otis, what are you? Stupid?” This was my first experience in racism, as she spoke a portion of my gut tightened, as a child knows inherently when something is amiss and while I could not put my finger on it, I realized what she did was so very, very wrong. Later, in fifth grade, with an already strong sense of right and wrong, the spring sunshine was blanketing the baseball field of East Elementary school. The gym teacher, Mr. Swartz was a stereotypical gym teacher, tight thigh length athletic shorts worn at all times, black baseball cap, whistle dangling from a black cord that reached his tight polo shirt and spotless tennis shoes. He coulda been cast for a Hollywood movie, an intense man, prone to barking out instructions as if all the children were standing 40 yards away and not the five feet from him as we were, and at times he could splice in small insults to players that were not doing well, “Jimbo, you are kind of wussying out there now, you’re going to let Eric run right by you? Eric’s a little on the chunky side.” I didn’t like him, I had the sense he was a bully, plus he played his favorites, Mike Quacktri, a toothy kid who seemed to have a different baseball hat for every day of the week, was prone to bragging, was a kid who you could tell held his favor. Being a small boy, I was often overlooked but also had a competitive spirit and was fast and agile, who played backyard football with a glee that felt as if I were on a ride at an amusement park. We were playing tee-ball, and as I stood on third base, the score tied and Mr. Swartz bellowing that this was the final play and that it looked like it would be a tie game, when the ball was struck I ran home, determined to prove him wrong and I slide into home plate, striking my knee into the tee-ball stand. The base shattered and my knee bled, my classmates huddled around me as I fought off tears and I heard the teacher tell them, “let him be, he’s being a little pussy.” From the ground, my cheeks covered in the fine powered dirt of the batter’s box and fingers bloodied by my knee, I yelled out, “Shut up!!”Suddenly, my small body was flung against the chain linked fence, my head cracking on the steel railing, bouncing off, Mr. Swartz grabbed me by my collar, “you little punk, you broke my tee ball plate, who taught you to talk like that?!”He tossed my to the ground, scooped me back up and pushed me towards the office, tears strained to poured off my face and I fought hard to keep them at bay. I limped to the edge of the playground, “pick it up!” he barked, grasping my left arm tightly, he lifted me a few inches off the ground, the tips of my tennis shoes dragging in the dirt. Certain to get paddled, knee bleeding and the shame of being tossed about in front of my classmates, I swallowed hard, making certain I would not cry in front of this man. As we walked into the office, Mr. Swartz yammered for the principal, “this kid needs a paddling and his mouth washed out!”

Sitting in the principal’s chair, knowing soon he would pull the thick wooden paddle complete with three large holes in the middle for maximum pain, I almost choked on the lump in my throat which had started formed after being tossed against the metal fence as if I were constructed of burlap bags and straw. Sitting in a hard plastic chair as the Principal furrowed his brow and looked across his grey metal desk, his back bathed in the bright spring sunshine, outside birds hopped along the power-lines. “What happened?” he asked his face a mask of concern. “I was running to home plate and I slid, hitting the tee-ball stand with my knee and Mr. Schwartz was telling kids not to help me, I told him to shut up. I was bleeding….then he threw me against the fence.” I had started rubbing the red rings from the rigid grip of the teacher, his hand had enveloped my thin biceps and left his imprint soon bruises would form. The principal called my father and asked him to come pick me up, hot tears were now dripping from my eyes, as if they had become swollen candles, embarrassment crawled up my neck and into my ears. A few minutes passed and I looked up, hands still trying in a pathetic futile attempt to wipe away the red scars of the gym teacher’s hands, “are you going to paddle me now?” A voice as small as a reed bending in the wind, the fear was almost alive. Standing up, the principal folded open in front of me, he was a tall man, nearly six foot three inches. With a dollop of black mussed hair that sat like a woven crown up his head, he walked around the desk in what appeared to be like a giant step. I still remember his hands, they were large, thick like fleshy boards of wood, almost planks and they reached for me, wanting to recoil but holding fast and I looked up at him. He placed his hands on both my shoulders, bent down and looked me in the eye, “no, I’m not going to paddle you, you’ve had a bad enough day.” He gave me a small hug, “don’t tell anybody that I didn’t paddle you though. I have a reputation to think of” he said with a wink. Relief, escaped from my quivering mouth. He asked the secretary to fetch me a glass of water. Time slunk by as I waited for my father, it was as if it were beaten about by the shoulders with its back broken in half, the clock ticked in a booming fashion, I was slumbering towards punishment. I waited in another hard plastic chair in the waiting area of the office, staring straight ahead as children walked past, my brother slid by the door waving his hand in a gesture of solidarity and I wanted him to save me once again. My father picked me up soon after, he held me tight as sobs escaped from my chest as if they were pigeons being freed from rooftop pen, he stroked my hair. We drove to his office, stopping at McDonalds along the way.

A few years later, sitting in the carnivorous school auditorium as countless seventh and eighth graders polished up the last few detention hours of the year, ordered to sit every other seat apart as if this would dissuade 12 and 13-year-old boys and girls from communicating, Mr. Davis a bearded bear of a man bellowed from the stage. “You are all here because you have misbehaved during the course of the year, as-such you have had ample time to fulfill your requirements of after-school detention which you have been too lazy to do. Hence you are here with me, there will be no talking, no looking around and if you didn’t bring anything to keep busy, then tough. If you communicate with your neighbor you will not get credit for being here and will have to redo detention this week, or finish it in summer school.” He was large man, who had a reputation among the children as being a mean-spirited, cruel and violent. The year prior he had snapped up a youngster, by his shoulders, twirled him in the air and slammed the child against a locker rendering his wrist inoperable for the next month. He was a man to be feared, a veritable Javert whose presence at the end of the long lacquered hallways would send children scurrying like rats into the nearest sewers, on top of that, he was a lousy teacher.

Zoltan was getting ready to graduate the 8th grade, he towered above me on so many levels, popular with the boys, girls and teachers, his charming ways had made his transition to various schools and neighborhoods as easy as warm butter on toast. He sat in the row in front of my, grinning as the last minutes of middle school ticked away, he eyed our friend Eric Zudak who meandered his way down the same aisle as Zoltan and listening to Mr. Davis scream from the stage, “Mr. Zudak, why are you late?! And if you have a good excuse you can sit five seats away from Mr. Koe-Krompecher!” Replying with a wide grin, Eric explained, “I was helping Ms. Houska pack up her car, she said you could check with her.” He plopped in the thin folding wooden seat, his backside feeling the crackling wood starting to splinter after so many bottoms had sat through innumerable hours of choirs, plays and graduations over the years. Sitting between the both of them, one row back, I noticed Zoltan making eye contact with Eric, nod his head and mouth, “hey man.” No sounds emitted from his mouth. A bomb went off from the stage, a giant sound that filled the high spacious room, Mr. Davis croaked from his perch, “Mr. Koe-Krompecher, get up here right NOW!!” The anger of his voice eating the air out of theater, it resonated long after the spittle had left his hairy mouth. Zoltan moved towards the front, slipping by Eric, everybody’s eyes moved from him to the authoritative teacher. Zoltan was still smiling as he approached Mr. Davis, in his mind he had nothing to worry about, it was the conclusion of a long three years of middle school, his time in Athens had been rewarding, this young brave man had worked extremely hard and disciplined himself to shake off the dire predictions of professionals who had painted him as a troubled kid, a boy whose frustrations just a few years prior would erupt in volcanic episodes of violence had been tempered by incisive intelligent, slicing humor and the ability to form friendships out of the smoky passage of seconds. He had found his home. Standing in front of Mr. Davis, “yes sir?” Lunging at the boy, Mr. Davis plucked my 13-year-old brother up, and proceeded to shake him as if he were a chicken leg, secured in a zip-lock baggie, a human Shake-n-Bake on the stage. Through gritted teeth Mr. Davis, snarled, “I told you to not make any contact with anybody.” With that he pushed Zoltan away like a king to a servant who had just dropped his golden chalice. “Now go sit down and shut your mouth.” Gathering himself, Zoltan walked proudly back to his seat, with bated breath, the collective gasps of the children were focused on the inevitable tears that would flow from his cheeks. Alas they never came, Zoltan sat down, his eyes reddened, but no water escaped from his eyes. His face sweltering beat red from fear, shame and astonishment at what transpired he nodded towards me; he was ok. Anger filled me, it was like the room had been filled with water, submerged in anger at the unjust treatment of a child, my brother and trembled inside but could do nothing. Weighing maybe seventy-five pounds, arms as thin as red and white stripped straws, I struggled to keep my ass in my seat, wanting to flee but realizing I had to stand fast. “Mr. Zudak, what is your problem? Did you not bring anything to detention?!” Mr. Davis obviously wasn’t satisfied with assaulting one child today, “Get your butt up here!” Eric moved slowly towards the front, taking the side steps up to the stage he stopped well short of the big man, “Well, it’s the last day of school so I turned all my books in so I don’t have anything…sir.” Mr. Davis stepped towards Eric, his boat-like leather shoes echoing across the stage, the wooden floorboards wheezing under his weight, even these planks of dead trees were fearful of this man. Eric took as step back with every step Mr. Davis took towards him, an odd, almost graceful dance of mimicry. Eric was a bright boy. Finally, the bearded giant stopped, “well get a piece of paper from one of your classmates who actually came prepared for detention and write about what got you here.” With that, Mr. Davis turned in disgust and returned to his afternoon newspaper. Eric, hopped off the stage, waited as a classmate handed him a single page of notebook, the left side riddled with the tiny flaps of paper that had once held it fast to the small metal rings. The last day of school indeed.

Summer came and went, soft sounds of adolescent burbled through our veins, things were changing fast, the nineteen seventies were over and the eighties were now unfolding in our lives fueled by teenage hormones that would dictate our collective lives for the remainder of the decade. The sounds coming from the uptown record shops were changing, chugging and whirling sounds of electrical guitars popped through the air of Haffa’s and the newly opened School Kids Records, punk rock had settled in firmly in the small college town, and mixed with the early sounds of hip-hop, the cold disco beats of a disintegrating club scene in NYC and England, the air was electric and from a thirteen-year old’s perspective as wide open as the universe. Reagan had not yet launched his assault on defunding every government program to help the poor and middle class, AIDS had not been named, therefore it was mostly a hidden scourge the was quickly burying homosexual men on the coasts—it had not yet torched the gay community in the Midwest. The school year of 81-82, was a step towards adulthood, albeit in the clumsiest manner a boy of thirteen could muck his way into. Sex was a mystery, one that was witnessed through the eyes of R rated movies like Porky’s, Animal House and The Rocky Horror Picture show, funny and confusing situations that played out on giant canvas screens in our tiny town. Snickering in the back row, the boys were brave, puffing out meager chests, pretending we weren’t virgins while wondering what a vagina actually felt like let alone an orgasm. Acne popped out of faces like dandelions overnight and the fear of being discovered was played out every morning in choosing out the most looking casual outfit that was planned with early-morning anxiety that produced buckets of tears in many households. Eighth grade. A big step and at the time, there were kids in Athens County, whose parents never finished the eighth grade, as the importance of a college education was not yet baked into the national consciousness.

Pro-Ked sneakers grew smooth as I slummed all over the town, bouncing from record store to record store, arcade to arcade and people in town started to know my name, stepping from beneath my older brother’s shadow, finally gaining confidence as the year went by. Classwork wasn’t too difficult with the exception of math, where an undiagnosed learning disability started trickling in fear and self-doubt about my academic abilities, and many of the teachers were receptive to my dark and sarcastic humor with the exception of the curly haired science teacher, who hung a large smooth wooden paddle on the wall behind the aquarium. A silent statement about who was in charge. And Mr. Davis, who taught math, a double-whammy for a kid who played Dungeons and Dragons, couldn’t sit still and had trouble keeping his mouth shut. Sitting in the middle of the class for most of the year, staring out the window as cars rolled by, birds sang songs that mocked the children sweltering in the broiling classroom, there was no air conditioner in the building, until finally the last day of school arrived. I had made it, not one issue in Mr. Davis’s class, the plan for the entire year was not to talk. Ever. And on that last day of school, I thought that this girthy foul man did not even know my name, I was proud and excited, the eighth grade dance would be that night and I had a date.

I sat in my chair, it was the first class after lunch, mid-May and the sun baked the grass outside, cicadas were escaping from their fifteen-year slumber, their chirping sounds of lust filled the air. An insect choir singing for all the children, a cacophony of sexual urges by bugs stuck to the sides of trees, trembling against the rough bark for all of adolescences on the final day of school. The hallways were polished, set for a summer of sleep where no small feat could rub the sheen away, rubber soles upon the floor would instead be traded for thin flip-flops and bikinis at the local pool, where small gestures of kindness could propel a teenager into roiling states of awkwardness. Crumpled bits of paper, lined the corners of the hallway as lockers were cleaned out in hurried rushes, as if the process of tossing old assignments out as quickly as possible would rid our lives of all the anxiety they once inspired. “Fuck ya’all”, went the thought as notebooks were emptied out into circular metal trash bins. Going years without a diagnosis, living with ADHD is at once thrilling and at other times a jumbled mess of panicked moments and feelings of inadequacy, at times the shame and self-loathing are as heavy as trying to pull a tireless semi-truck. Filled with boulders. As big as the trucks hauling them. Massive. Big. Large. Thick.

Mr. Davis was my math teacher in 8th grade, leaning nothing in the class except to realize that I sucked at math (again, the learning disorder that wasn’t diagnosed until I was in my mid-thirties). But it was the final day of school, it had passed without once being a target for his brutal teaching methods, his classroom was built upon fear with him pulling out that wooden paddle and tapping it on his large cracked leather feet. His personal life must have been one of misery. Mr. Davis did very little to educate the children under his responsibility and his lack of concern for the education of the children in his classroom was palatable even to the young eyes of early teenagers. If we were flies, he would have pulled off our wings.  As the students would enter his classroom, the large man would peer at each one, dark eyes half shut would scan every child up and down—needing no practice for intimidation as the small folds of skin above his eyes would strike fear in every child who entered his classroom. It was a talent he no doubt relished. But on this, the final step of a long journey of middle school had reached its apex with nary an issue, somehow despite a proclivity to draw attention to myself I had made myself small the entire year in this behemoth’s classroom. This trait of staring down young children, I have learned, is quite common among intimidating teachers. A trait that some regard as a talent while others feel it no room in a place of learning.

The desks were small, with a small plank of wood used for the top, it was connected by a green metal arm to the chair, itself another hardened piece of wood that had caused great unrest to little narrow butts over the past forty years. Underneath the chair was a small cubby where a student could stash books, notebooks or a miniature backpack, but on this day, the final day of school there were no books, papers or backpacks to stash. It was the second to last class of the day, a trembling sigh of relief hung over the hallways and classrooms from the 400 students. Usually, I sat towards the back of the classroom, it was more ubiquitous and for a small kid like myself it was easy to huddle behind all of the bigger boys in the class and at this point in my life all the boys were bigger than me. Alas, all the chairs were taken when I danced into the room, just under two hours to go and we had the 8th grade dance that evening. Perhaps the burgeoning awaking within my body played even a larger role in the giddy anxiety I felt, as I had a date with a very pretty brunette girl who no doubt was as nervous as I was. Even in the days, it was hard to believe that any female would be nervous around a boy, working hard to maintain whatever sliver of cool I had and usually plugged my hands into my pocket and cracked wise. As I skidded towards the lone remaining seat I apologized to Mr. Davis as I was a few minutes late after helping to set up the cafeteria for the dance.

“You’re still late BKK, and if it wasn’t the last day of school, that would earn you a detention. Now just sit there and shut up until the end of the period.”

“But Mr. Davis, I was with Ms. Anderson helping  to set up the dance.”

“I said SHUT UP and put your head down!”

Placing my head down and looking sideways, I saw my friend Danny Abdella sitting next to me, he made a wide eyed face, his eyebrows arched high, staring at me as if to tell me that this was no time to act up. Smiling, I pointed my finger at Danny, making like a gun with my fist, I pulled the trigger. Suddenly I was lifted out my chair, in one fell swoop Mr. Davis flipped me into the air, all 80 pounds of me, hitting the floor he kicked me over the smooth wood towards the far corner, “I told you not to move, not to talk, not to do anything! Now get up and stand in the corner!” his voice lurched above my fear. A pitch black shadow covering my emotions. Hunkering in the corner, fat tears crawling down my soft boyish face, I eyed the window. It was half-way open, “it’s what maybe six feet to the ground, I can jump out and run to mom’s office, he would never catch me.” The soft green grass beckoned, a six-foot jump was safer than being in the room with the bearded brute. Bees flew from soft white flowers while the wind made tempting waves upon the green carpet. Cars drove by, and college students walked the sidewalk, feeling a kinship with them I suddenly yearned to be old, to be strong and to be big enough to fight back. In the end, I wept softly in the back of the classroom, all the children’s eyes upon me and after the bell rang, I hurried out of class away from the hesitations of my friends, as if approaching me would put themselves in harm’s way.

Making my way to the cafeteria was a blur, wanting to run as far as away from the school, exiting the wide glass doors, up the concrete steps towards the gymnasium I felt sick. Nausea had replaced the fear that had choked the breath from my throat, confusion bounced around my head as feet didn’t need a command to take me towards safety. Behind me I heard my name, “Bela, Bela, wait up!” Turning my brother stood in front of me, “we gotta call mom, if you leave then nothing will get done and she can meet you out here.” If anything, he was usually right, “O.K., but I’m not going back in there unless mom is with me.” Zoltan called our mother from the payphone in the cafeteria doorway, I slinking his head between the door and the corner of the black and silver metal phone, it was fastened into the wall as if someone may try to steal it and every teenage secret it no doubt stored amongst it green, red and white wires. The spiral metal cord wrapped around his finger, the phone call took a least two weeks to finish. A few moments later, he hung up, taking me by the elbow he guided me outside. “She’s on her way, she is going to meet up by the gym. I told her you were too scared to go back into the school.”

There is nothing like seeing a mother come to the rescue, her short red hair and confident walk comforted me but in the end I was ashamed, and it wasn’t until she pulled me in tight to her waist and kissed the top of my mussed hair did I let myself feel again. More droplets of water escaped my eyes as I described what happened, “We are going to talk to Mr. Smith about this.” Mr. Smith, was the principal, a short stocky man with a full Grizzly Adams gray beard, his daughter was in my grade and they went to the same church as us. Entering the office my mother asked to see him and he ushered us in, closing the door his first words were, “why didn’t you come straight to me?” “I was scared. I wanted to go home.” I meekly replied. Looking down the barrel of the past 35 years, it makes sense, as the school did nothing when Mr. John Davis manhandled my brother the year before and broke the arm of another kid. “Well, I want an investigation Donald!” my mother was angry, “and I’m taking Bela home now, we can talk next week.” The short fat man, held his hands together, parsing his words he was careful, “Susan, if Bela leaves now he will only be counted a half day and he can’t attend the dance tonight.” He stared across the desk from me, “that is the rule of the school and I can’t override it but if you want to stay you don’t have to go to your last class you can stay in my office until the end of the school. There is only about 45 minutes’ left.” With a small voice I pleaded with my mother, “that’s not fair, he beat me up, and now I have to stay. I already have my ticket to the dance and I’m taking Coleen.” “Sorry, rules are rules” Mr. Smith replied. “This does not seem to be fair, he is upset and there is no reason he shouldn’t be able to return for the dance.” “If he leaves school now, he can’t return tonight.” In the end, full of weary fear, and stress I stayed, I returned to school that night for the final dance of the year. Less than two weeks later we moved from Athens to Catawba, Ohio. There was no investigation.

Northeastern High School basically consisted of five hallways, one story, a cafeteria, and gymnasium. It was a small school, surrounded by cornfields and a pockmarked gravel lot for the handful of beat up cars and pick-up trucks. The majority of teachers in the school had been there for years, and many had been born in the area, attended nearby colleges and returned. Besides a handful of excellent teachers such as my freshman and sophomore English teacher, Jon Barber it was safe to say that many of them did not encourage intellectual curiosity. The guidance counselors were lacking in skills having told both Zoltan and I were not “college material” and we should think about trade schools. Walking through the doors for the first time felt like a prison sentence, as I overheard hushed voices whispering “did you see that new kid, with the funny name, is he even old enough to be in high school?” or “I bet that kids a fag with a name like that.” Climbing into books helped, fantasy stories, history books and Kurt Vonnegut provided the relief that was a life outside the gold and red cinder block walls of Northeastern High School. Retreating into the shyness of my younger adulthood, I kept my head down but being an adolescence with Attention Deficit Disorder was an obstacle as it one-liners fell forth out of my mouth without nary a thought to hold it back, a quick quip is worth every ounce of punishment. The freshman science teacher, Mr. Stevens was a younger man, he looked a bit like a boyish Mr. Keaton from “Family Ties” with parted wispy hair and sometimes he caught hold of one my jokes and half smiled, giving me the impression that he actually liked me. Other times, he asked me to sit in the front or to wait outside of the classroom to gather myself if I was too excited and bouncy. One day we were working with some sort of acid, using thin eyedroppers we were to put dab of the acid on various organic and inorganic items such as a hardboiled egg, the skin of a dried lizard, and wood. We worked in teams, two or three of us, each placing the acid on the item and the others recording the results. Very pedestrian stuff unless the student has a difficult time following directions because he can’t focus. Jeff Entler had the luxury of testing the frog skin, a small billow of smoke rose out of the dried reptile, he handed me the small glass container, carefully I put the eyedropper in, mindful of the oversized plastic gloves and how they made a clumsy boy more clumsy and squeezed the small black rubber top on the white springy egg. I had misjudged as I placed the end of the eyedropper directly onto the egg, a small amount of acid shot out from the sides, like a cherry tomato popping in an open mouth. It squirted into my face, and my eyes, luckily the protective goggles protected my forehead and black curly hair as I had forgotten to pull them over my eyes. Importunely for my eyes, a small amount landed right on my below my eyes, “shit!” I yelled, as Jeff called for the teacher, who rushed over and with astute thinking lead me to a small sink and rinsed out my eyes and face. Remarkably, it did not hurt too much and it all happened in a matter of seconds. “Thank you” I said, being a little nervous, grabbing me by my wrist he hustled me into the hallway. “What that hell are you doing to my classroom?! You could go blind fooling around with that stuff!” Clutching my collar, he threw me against the lockers, “If I could kick your ass right now, I would you little shit! I didn’t like you the minute you walked in my classroom and if I could get you out of my class I would!” Mr. Stevens then shoved me against the locker a second time. “Not again” I thought. Being a little older, I defended myself, “Mr. Stevens I was not fooling around, you can ask everybody at the table, I was doing what you said to do.” Wrestling the goggles off my forehead, yanking my hair in the process, “Bullshit, because if you did you would have these on your face! Listen, I want you to stay out in the hallway for the rest of the class and to shut your little mouth for the rest of the year.” “yes, sir.” Learning from my previous encounters from angry aggressive teachers, I never said a thing. Why would I?

Tucked in the corner, beneath a hand-drawn map of the world, and next to a wooden shelf that was exclusively built for LP records, with the top shelf constructed to hold roughly 100 7” singles, cover’s facing out for easy flipping but now holding one shelf devoted to Star Wars, Pokémon and the original dog-eared Charlie Brown paperbacks that Zoltan and I learned to read with sits two small guitars. One is an acoustic purchased with love by an adoring grandfather and the other, a small red Fender Stratocaster, which is housed in a stainless steel stand, and when the light hits just right, both the guitar and red guitar twinkle like specks of glitter on a girl’s face. There are actually three of those shelves lined together, all stuffed with tiny cubbies, books, baseball cards, guitar picks, stuffed animals that provide comfort when the maple tree branches thump against the green colored garage, reminding the neighborhood throughout a stormy blackened night that, yes, nature is still in charge and is something to rile the fear out of a small boy tucked under a mountain of blankets. On the other wall, a framed Spider-Man puzzle given away by a musician friend and tacked up around the room are a bevy of silk-screened rock posters, all hand made with the names of the everyman musicians that dot my record collection: Karl Hendricks Trio, The Whiles and Dinosaur Jr. At first impression the room looks just like a youngster’s room, the Pokémon shelf, the Charlie Brown, the hand-drawn pictures of mom and dad, sister too, even the lines drawn against the far wall marking age with lead pencil lines as the children in the house climb higher and higher over the years, an inch here and another inch there. Then the other items, the rock posters, the guitar, the line of Christmas lights, hung carefully along the walls, and some tools scattered on the floor. These are not little kid tools, but the adult flavor, heavy made of metal and heavy plastic and Bruno knows how to use them. He can spend hours outside making ladders, stages for his drums and guitars, a fort that never quite makes it past floor level, for his seventh birthday he wanted a toolshed. Every day when our friend Mike came out and built it, Bruno was outside helping, watching, carrying wood, holding the sides up and in the end helping to paint it. The kid has more tools than his father.

Children bring the world into a perspective that is never imagined, it’s as if a person lived their entire life living underwater. In the dark. And suddenly they are thrust of above the waves, into the shimmering sun, pulled from a cold and blurry life into one of brilliant colors and yes, choppy waves. One may not know one has ever been drowning until they can suck in the air, that is what life can be like for an alcoholic who discovers sobriety, and children. Some of the elements we look for as adults are the ones that we felt we had to find as teenagers, sex, intimacy, and the feeling of not being alone, and for a while, they come easy and at other times they come desperately, a three am desperation with trembling fingers and awkward pauses that break through the brittle darkness like darts aimed at the moon. Usually falling short, but at times, charming in their feeble attempt. My children did this for me, and slow process of time management, sacrifices, with the mundane being the gravity that holds they family together. Such as the yearning for a crying child to finally fall asleep, transforming from a screaming, shrieking animal caught in the bear-trap of its mind, into the soft salve for a violent universe. Bruno, cracks wise, he has a sense of humor that stands wise and cutting that makes one think he is a very old soul, like his sister who reads books that aren’t always age-appropriate and listens to the Mountain Goats alongside Taylor Swift. When he runs across the soccer field a determined look across his face, his blond curls dangling past his shoulders, it’s as if I was there with him, living a childhood I never had. The joy that dances from his cheeks is as infectious as lighting dotting the dark summer sky, brilliant flickers of white energy that booms across the landscape. Bruno has arrived.

One never thinks that a child’s life can be broken by the inner violence of an adult, unless you are the child that is licked by the adult or at times a parent that feels the hidden experience of abuse sideways, when it erupts in small earthquakes. What I understand as a parent is that it is my job allow that child to be a child for as long as he can be, no matter what and by doing so, he will always be a child on the inside.IMG_2905.JPGIMG_2896.JPGIMG_0198.JPGcanvas.pnghttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JcCXUzZWWpY&list=PLFBEA5C8D8536B1F0&index=13STAGE KIDS.JPGIMG_0263.JPGsaskiacharilebrown.JPGPUMMLE.JPG

he can play this on his guitar: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tsadA1n-V9Q

Above photo: Randy Newman signing autographs for my children at The Nelsonville Music Festival.

 

Ohio, (repost from 2010, for Cleveland)

June 21, 2016

I wrote this in 2010 about what it means to grow up in Ohio, being an underdog, perhaps more of a wet underdog at that. I think it’s pertinent today after the Cavaliers win.

Ohio

Growing up in Ohio is different for all Ohioans, most because, like so much of the United States, Ohio is both vastly rural and also contains some of the largest and best known cities in the country. Everybody has heard of Cleveland and Cincinnati two large cities with history and reputations. Cleveland was populated by a large ethnic population from Eastern Europe, with massive Serbian, Hungarian and Czech immigrants who traveled west-ward to boil away their lives in the steel mills and manufacturing jobs of Northeastern Ohio. Cincinnati is nestled in the southwestern part of the state, just across from Kentucky; it is metaphorically across the invisible mason-Dixon line of Ohio. Hamilton and Clermont counties are two of the most conservative counties in Ohio, and while much of the state has overcome many of the racial tensions, Cincinnati with several large riots in the past two decades appears, at times mired in the early 1960’s.

Columbus would be that invisible Mason-Dixon Line, most people have heard of Columbus, the largest in terms of population of all the cities in Ohio it is mostly known as the largest college town in the country. A city that lives and breathes Ohio State football, which was mired in a multi-decade hangover after repeated defeats in the Rose Bowl that costs the saintly Buckeyes numerous National Championships. Even the smaller cities of Ohio are known, Toledo, Dayton, Canton and Akron have all garnered space in the minds of national citizenry, even if it is for such pop-culture phenomena as Corporal Klinger, the Wright brothers, the Pro Football Hall of Fame and rubber tires.

Then there is small town Ohio, with images of Sherwood Anderson, unlocked doors, county fairs filled with cotton candy and first kisses. An idealistic concept that feeds into the basic American dream that a small-town anybody can arise from corn-fields and hidden glens to climb into space like Neil Armstrong or John Glenn, the Presidency (seven of them-all mediocre hail from Ohio, or the silver screen such as Paul Newman and Clark Gable.

Because of its history and rich tradition, Ohio ranks fifth in colleges and universities which logically lead one to believe this is the reason it is home to so many artistic and inventive people. In spite of all of this, when one grows up in Ohio, one has the feeling of being the underdog, of someone who always just comes up short.

Ohio is known and felt as an also-ran, an area known for what it almost has but never had, and in fact never will. For an ocean we have a large lake, for mountains we have foothills and we are forever defined by our collective losses. Our sports teams are known for despair, in Cleveland it is brought out in such slogans as The Fumble, The Drive and losing the World Series with one out to go. Cincinnati is tethered to a football team better known as the Bungles and Ohio State Football went thirty years between National Championships and is better known now for losing two in the past five years. We are in our hearts cynical but lovable malcontents.

Musically, Ohio is rich, especially when it comes to punk rock, with an abrasive arty sound that helped birth the movement. Helped by the ample liberal arts colleges that dot the state, such as Oberlin, Kenyon and Antioch and huge state universities such as The Ohio State University, Ohio University, Kent State and Bowling Green. The arts scenes have always burped out terrific and idiosyncratic fare such as Pere Ubu, Devo, the Wolverton Brothers, the Dead Boys, and Guided by Voices. In the late eighties each town had its own brand that helped define and nurture the other bands and artists. Cleveland had the most excellent and under-appreciated Prisonshake, the Mice, Death of Samantha, My Dad is Dead and Cruel, Cruel Moon. Dayton had Guided by Voices. Cincinnati had the aforementioned Wolverton Brothers whose shambling country-art punk is as twisted as anything from a David Lynch movie, the Ass Ponys and the Afghan Whigs. Athens birthed Appalachian Death Ride and Geraldine, two sinister bands that would be at least marginally famous if they resided anywhere but Athens, Ohio.

In Columbus, we first had Jim Shepard (Vertical Slit/V-3), Scrawl, the Great Plains, the Gibson Brothers, Royal Crescent Mob, Boys From Nowhere and Mike Rep all made up of various odd-balls and characters who would play a huge role in the development of what is somewhat now being regarded as a high point in the Columbus underground scene. The specialness of that time was mostly due to the large and fanatical friendships and respect we had for not only one another but also for those bands that set the stage. Jerry Wick and Jenny Mae would both be besides themselves to share the stage with any Ron House fronted band and the same would be said for the New Bomb Turks who would open for any band they deeply respected, whether it be the Fastbacks (from Seattle) or Prisonshake.

We put stock in ourselves and to a large part, our friends. Friends who would carry the torch of loneliness offset by a burning desire to be heard and to hopefully lay next to another congenial soul by five am. Our hopes, crashed as theirs did when things did not quite pan out as we had planned. We were prepared for it, as it is in an Ohioan’s soul to step up to the plate and be called out by the proverbial sinker ball. Three strikes. The Trip. The Fumble. The Drive. Etcetera and so forth. Nobody got famous, nobody ever really made a dent in any product counting mechanism like Billboard, The College Music Journal or MTV but we loved and cherished one another as if our lives depended on it, night in and night out. What we discovered was the result wasn’t the prize; the prize was the friendship and the making of art for fuck’s sake. That is what an Ohioan does, not always stylish but always sincere.

Jerry Wick and Jenny Mae Pt whatevah. Depression.

April 6, 2016

"JERRY WICK AND JIM WEBER" PHOTO JAY BROWN

Small, poorly lite buildings dotted the neighborhoods around campus and the Short North, places that served as extra homes where the lonesome and social anxious moored themselves to thick cut planks of polished wood, brown bottles and tall stools where one had to be careful if he sat on it too long, getting sloppy, wavering legs stuck in the small metal rings at the base of each stool. On the walls of some were posters of former gridiron dreams, moments of spectacular (for the winners, that is) athletic feats seized by the camera and now bronzed for ever more on the walls of these establishments. Reminders about the smoky din that, yes, there was winners along High Street at one time, for many of the inhabitants of these spots we went not be a winner or a loser, although most of us related to the semi-ironic motto of Sub-Pop records “Loser”, but because we wanted to be felt and to feel even if it was just the cold touch of a beer bottle or that small moment as the hushed regulars all erupted in unison to Merle Haggard’s “Mama Tried.” I had my favorites, all on the convenient way home but more likely I chose my resting place to be near to my other homes, as I was wary of drunk driving and enjoyed the stumbly-walks or even, on occasion crawls home with jeans burnished from the tumbles and falls, hands bloodied by gravel and specs of green, brown and white glass scattered among the alleyways of North Campus.

Court Street was a smorgasbord of bars, from townie bars like the Crystal to the one-night-stand fanfare of the Nickelodeon, I had my first Chili-Dog at the Union Bar and Grill at the age of 11. At the time it was mostly a biker/hippie bar, this was 1979 or so, around the time that punk and new-wave were splitting the halcyon days of weed soaked turntables that had been spinning over-produced dreck like Yes, ELP and REO Speedwagon, into the speedy-blasts of two minutes of guitar and the savvy technical dance music of the Ramones, Talking Heads as well as the pronged attack of English bands such as Wire and David Bowie’s Berlin records. Colleges across the country were undergoing mini-revolutions in cramped dorm rooms and in the various nightclubs that co-eds bounced off one another in, in just ten years the Union would become a mainstay for traveling punk and indie artists traipsing through tiny college towns.

The drinking age in 1982 was 18, and shortly thereafter it changed to 19 where is stayed until the summer of 1986 when it was elevated to 21. I was fifteen, in Athens for Spring Break, where my best Athens friends, Eric Zudak and Rick Winland and I got a cabin at Lake Hope. The first day we managed to drink through the weeks’ worth of alcohol, several cases of beer and a bottle of Jack Daniels. It was a revelation for me, as I managed to go to bed with a girl who was year older, performing fellatio on me while a TDK cassette looped Bowie’s “Ziggy Stardust” and Jimi Hendrix’s “Smash Hits.” Outside, wind forced trees to bend in yoga poses, rain smacked against the wooden walls and thin windows, and in the other room a frantic game of quarters was being played, “..there’s a Starman waiting in the sky, he’d like to come and meet us…..” Clumsy hands mimicked a slug trying to drive and the world unpeeled itself note-by-Bowie-note as the room turned itself inside out in those foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. Later in the week we drove into Athens not only were we out of beer it became apparent that there were not too many teenage girls wandering the banks of Lake Hope during the early spring of 1984. There were two bars that were easy to get into, the Greenery which sat on the far end of Court Street, just small downhill walk from the rest of uptown, it had a wooden balcony the drooped over the side walk, a minor miracle every weekend that the balcony didn’t collapse into the pavement from one too many lusting, drunken co-eds. At the other end of town on Union Street, a few store fronts from the Union Bar was the Nickelodeon, otherwise known as The Nick. Its motto should have been “getting high school kids drunk for the past fifteen years” and sitting down near the door, Rick came back with a handful of beers. My face was a smooth as the bottle of Pabst Blue Ribbon Rick handed me, I asked if I needed to go show the ID I didn’t have, “no, shut up. Don’t make them notice you.” Rick was already 18, getting ready to graduate and had purchased all the beers. The room was relatively empty, the smell of bleach and beer still permeated from the floors, shiny with the fresh glow of mopping, and on the walls were beer lights and a giant disco ball twirled tiredly in the middle of the empty dance floor. A Thursday night during spring break in a small college town meant the bar scene was propped up by townies. Drinking a few beers at the Nickelodeon planted a seed of confidence, one that sprouted the idea that with a few drinks, anything socially was possible. By the end of the evening, inside the more crowded Greenery, we found ourselves contorting our bodies to the sounds of Blondie and Adam Ant as bodies stretched and silently begged for the kind of attention none of them had ever encountered.

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Living with depression is akin to licking a flame, engulfing the senses it is as if the moroseness of breathing has slowly strangled every other part of the person other than the breath. While the lungs keep working the rest of the body and mind chokes on concrete blocks of sadness and apathy, in the end, for many the chunks of sadness overpower everything else. Jerry came by the store, shortly after Gaunt got dropped from Warner Brothers, he was still living above Larry’s getting ready to move into his new house. His mood vacillating from being optimistic about renewing his relationship with his father to utter despair at being dropped from Warner Brothers; his lifelong hope of being famous, in his eyes being shuttered during the Great Purge by major labels in the latter part of the 1990’s, it was obvious by the broken dreams of many musicians across the country that the “modern-rock” era of major labels was a ferocious bust. In Columbus, the finest bands of the 90’s had been guinea pigs in this experiment, Scrawl, The Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartments, V-3, Watershed and of course, Gaunt had all been signed, and spit out after failing to make a dent in record sales. For some, like Ron House and the women of Scrawl, they had been through the experience of being on small independent labels and were used to little support as well as minimal paychecks. Jerry had wanted to be famous and on his own terms, for a kid growing up in Parma, Ohio, listening to Kiss records over and over before discovering the sheer beauty of the DIY scene through the near-by sounds of Death of Samantha, The Mice and Prisonshake the idea of affirmation and financial stability was made more real with the affirmation by being on a major label. It was analogous to having the blessing of a father who was never there, a nice idea maybe but totally unfounded by experience. Certainly the community at large felt that being on a larger label validated the music, the one independent “modern-rock” radio station, CD101 only played Gaunt, and the New Bomb Turks when they were on larger labels, ignoring their combustible earlier indie records and the station never played many of the other superb true independent bands such as Jenny Mae, Moviola or Greenhorn. One afternoon in 1998 I ventured into Discount Records, a store I used to run and sold a large amount of classical records. I went in to purchase the newest Spin which had a review of a new Jenny Mae single, they also sold Paper magazine and she was also in that edition. As I paid, the young man behind the counter, himself in a band, his attire was the “set-piece” of the current bands vying to be radio playlists. A soul-patch, a ring of bracelets, a chain of necklaces dangling from his neck and a primitive tattoo crisscrossing his well-manicured arms. “Wow, somehow you get your bands in all these magazines, you must have some secret cause we can’t even get the local paper to write about us.” Feeling peevish, I mumbled, “I don’t know, I just send them stuff. The bands work hard, and are good, so….” “They can’t work harder than my band does. I listened to her record, I don’t know what the big deal is.” “Thanks, have a great day” I mumbled as I walked out. This was the context of Jerry coming to me that one spring day in 1999, on one hand he was very successful and on the other there was a need for validation from his parents, and the community at large for his music and more so for himself. Many had this need.

Wearing a white polka-dotted, short sleeve buttoned up shirt with a collar stretching from Columbus to Bloomington, black jeans and Chuck Taylors, Jerry walked in the store, went to the dollar bin and flipped through the records, pausing he eyed me while he lit a cigarette. The spring sunshine danced through the cast-iron barred windows, making the job of eyeing vinyl more difficult as the sheen from the rays made every blemish on the wax more pronounced. A stack of crappy seventies and eighties rock records sat next to me, I was almost blindly putting the waxy stickers in the right corner of each record jacket and making them a dollar. “Hold on Jerry, let me get this stack out and we can go for a walk. You want a beer or something?” He shook his head, waving the offer away with some slight disgust from his eyebrows. It was mid-afternoon, I was in the midst of some poorly executed self-control with my own alcohol consumption. A large black coffee from Buckeye Donuts sat next to me. Bim was manning the turntable, at the time he was infatuated with the Cheater Slicks, “Forgive Thee” and the entire Unsane catalog the latter which could empty the store faster than a fire at a movie house. “I got this, go see your man”, Bim lit a cigarette. “cool, thanks. Let’s go Jerry.” Nodding at Bim on the way out as a way of appreciation, Jerry and I headed up the stairs onto the hot sidewalk that was drowning in sunlight, “what’s up man?” We headed south down High Street towards Bernie’s, “I don’t know man, I’m just kinda going crazy. I sleep half the day, I’m trying to stay out of Larry’s because when I go there, I just drink all night, I’m thinking of buying a house. Honestly, I need to get a fucking job. I wish I could have my job back at Used Kids.” I had mentioned this to Dan and Ron, Dan was against it as Jerry had become undependable as Gaunt had heavier commitments due to the signing to Warner Brothers as well as Jerry not having a phone for many years. He tended to use the store phone to do all his business, at times setting up recording time, European and National tours via the Used Kids phone. To focused on what he needed to do than realize our credit card machine went through said phone line, “O.k., Jerry get off the phone we have a credit card” Ron would say. Jerry tossing an incredulous look at Ron, “I’m fucking talking to our booking agent in France, hold on” He would turn his back, “sorry about that” Ron spoke to a bewildered customer. Thirty second pause……… “O.k., Jerry get off the phone we have a credit card” Ron repeated. Jerry huddled in the with his back to us, he turned down the volume of the stereo. “Jesus Christ Jerry, you aren’t even working today, get off the phone we need to do this credit card!” I yelled. Jerry hung up, glaring at both of us, “Well if our European tour falls through it’s your fucking fault!” Marching up the stairs, we could see Jerry lighting one of his ever present cigarettes. “I don’t think you’ll get your job back. Let’s go to Brennen’s and get a coffee, I don’t want a drink yet, besides it’s too nice to be in Bernie’s.”

Brennen’s was on the corner of 15th and High, a well-spring of memories for thousands of Ohio State graduates, a spot marked by history from the giant Long’s Bookstore sign that hung over High Street like a beacon for the best and brightest of Ohio, to the grand entrance to the Oval just a half block away, it was a spot where Governor Rhoades called the National Guard against protesting students, who teargassed them to hell and back, at one time Jeffrey Dahmer probably tripped over the curb in a drunken haze, with one death behind him and many more to come and marker of future dreams that spread from Ohio State into the world. Brennen’s had a curious spot in my heart, walking in, I glanced around. The small table to the left upon entering bore into me as if it were a six-inch nail and I was a rotting board. A few years prior, I had been seeing a lovely young woman on the side, and one day over coffee she looked at me and said, “we can’t do this. Sorry, I think you are terrific but this isn’t right. Good luck.” And with that she left, leaving another pin-prick in a chest full of holes. She had already shaken Columbus out of her life when Jerry and I walked in, went to the counter and ordered two black coffees.

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Some people never learn to talk about their insides, all the while the insides bleed into the outside, via behavior, fashion and the interesting manners of interacting. Alcohol helped, it split the unease in half, buffing off inner anxiety into something round around the edges, a small filter from the rest of the world. Sensitive hounded Jerry, who could recoil at the smallest slight and push back with switchblade of words that could slice a hole into the nearest victim. Depression works in odd ways, and when married to mood swings, no matter how severe the upswing or downswing can make for haphazard interactions leaving all parties bewildered. Humor helps, defusing the inner tension as well as allowing someone to see a more human side of the inner battle of self-depreciating thoughts that move through the brain, a slow lava of despair that clogs all perception. Jerry, was at the least, hysterical as is Jenny.

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We crossed High Street, a bevy of cars with competing radios blasted the music of spring around us, competing heavy bass flavored songs, mimicking the thrust of passion bullied out the lesser sounds of top 40 hits as we caressed coffee cups trying not to spill them as we dodged the metal love-making machines. Finding a bench that provided a panoramic view of the Midwest’s largest campus in full seasonal bloom, young women with shorts hugging tight to polished thighs, skateboarders weaving through couples holding hands, a bountiful mix of frat-boy-baseball-hat-on-backwards crowding the sidewalks with broad shoulders that belied their already entitled attitudes. We were oblivious, focused on tying to connect with our splintered emotional systems, transformed and frayed from lonely childhoods, drinking and an inherent feeling unease around others. Jerry furrowed his brow, his pointy incisors sucked against his lips, and his hands shook. Small trembles that I was very familiar with after my own bouts of heavy drinking, at first when I encounter these tremors, I laughed it off as I joked I was turning into so many of the people I admired, the first tremors appeared in my early twenties after laborious successive nights of drinking. They came and went, infrequent as if they were your favorite song being played on the radio. Jerry spilled his coffee, is splattered onto his grimy jeans. He still never did his laundry. He rubbed the coffee into the black crusty cloth, maybe a Genie would appear and lift the black curtain of depression from him. “Jesus, look at me. I can’t quit shaking, every fucking morning.” His eyes gazed across the street, to Buckeye Donuts and farther afield, “I don’t know what is happening to me. I can’t leave my apartment, I think I want to be a cook, maybe go to culinary school.” Isolation already a problem had gripped him hard, his muse Anna had moved away, he was quiet about the loves of his life, maybe if they were made public he would be discovered. Jerry constantly chided me for falling in love as easy as a leaf falling from a tree, “love is for suckers” he would giggle at me, taking long pulls from his cigarette.

“I don’t know Jerry, you know I have my own history of depression and I’m not drinking as much as I used to.” Jerry had pulled me from the ledge of suicide some year’s prior, my shifting emotional state teetering with every moment. “Have you thought about not drinking?” “All the time, but I don’t really know how to stop, my band is done, I lost my job at the store. Ron had a kid, he never goes out, you never go out. Brett fucked my girlfriend. I don’t even want to play my guitar.” He wiped his pant leg again, a soft breeze filtered in, bringing goose bumps to my forearms, I watched the hair raise and felt Jerry’s depression. I could relate.

We were as sensitive as water, reacting to every outside stimulus as if we were made of liquid, a gaze sent us to heavenly heights of love or to the utter rejection of the cheese-stands-alone. We both loved based on the idea of romance, which was genetically implanted in both of us, whether it was Russian literature or the transporting sounds of a crackling record. There was no division between lust and love, a tangled yarn of emotions that dictated evenings, words and dreams. The list of lovers unrolled through my mind on a daily basis, four Jennifers, Sharon, Nora, Robin, Dawn, Sara, a couple of Beths, and the list went on and yet the feeling of total acceptance was something I never felt, a small piece kept behind somewhere in the bottom of my brain, hidden next to frayed Spider-Man comic books, Lincoln Logs, and the baby sitter who took my clothes off. In thoughts and words, I would sculpt my lover’s bodies with words, trying in vain to tack what I felt through the sluggish sounds of a clunky typewriter and cups of black coffee followed by the watery Maker’s Mark that was sipped ever so carefully.

“What about college, have you thought about that?” Jerry shook his head, “nah, I went to Kent for a while, it’s not for me, a bunch of phonies.” Somebody was carrying a large stack of records down the stairs into the record store, “I gotta go Jerry, Bim is there by himself. I’ll hang out later if you want, I just need to let Merijn know that I’m going out.” “Thanks, buddy, I think I’ll go look for a job.” There were no hugs, no handshakes, just a few sparse words between us, but we understood. Shortly thereafter, Jerry got a job as a line-cook at a Short North diner, he excelled at it his food was tasty and spicy, he bought a house with the help of his parents just across the highway from Clintonville.

Hearts are sometimes made of Paper-Mache, tender yet with a ruffled shell, they are set above us on thin strings, emotional wind chimes that are tethered to memories, ideas and for some of us minds that are as jumpy as a cowering mouse. In the end, the one thing that has never failed is music. It’s as if there really is a strum of all existence that ticks from the bottom of a perfect melody, it mirrors our insides, speaking for words that don’t exist for the way we feel. For me, still, it is the one anti-depressant that still works, and it is the secret code that many of us use. In the end we have the sounds that keep us grounded, furtive bits of sound that we trade and experience together that pull some of us together if just for a two and half minutes of understanding. Then the song ends and we wait in awkwardness for the next song to begin. When the music doesn’t work anymore I don’t know what happens.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Statis: Written around 1999 or so, unsure

January 16, 2016

Explanation: I began writing around 1991 or so, my first attempt was a story based on a woman I went out with who worked in the sex trade industry, was a heroin addict and was sexually abused by her father for many years. I can’t recall her name, and I believe she is dead now. We only went out on a few dates, one of which resulted in a very funny story involving my dog Istvan. Sadly, I have nothing left of this story–but it was pretty long, all hand typed, etc…. I then wrote a short story for my ex-wife called “Napoleon Trees”, I think this is gone as well, it was about love, an old house and trees talking to each other. I also wrote a story about a little boy based on Jenny Mae’s little brother finding a candy wrapper and it containing the history of the world. I think this is gone as well.  Oh, well. I wrote a lot of poetry in the 90’s hardly any since 2005. The following is a story I attempted to write as I was wrestling with my alcoholism, I think I started it around 1999, I continued it off and on until I couldn’t really write any longer due to depression and drinking. This is a fairly long story, here is the first chapter. Currently I am writing a children’s story for my daughter.

Statis: Chapter One,

PART ONE:

 

To the left of him sat five nights of drinking, sitting still in their half filled glasses the oldest glasses were just collecting dust. To the right of him sat nothing really, just the blankets and sheets. He could hear the news jammering away across the room, something about the Saudis, something else about the prime minister of England and a lengthy discussion about sports by someone who didn’t care very much about sports. He rolled over and stared at the ceiling. Sighing deeply he felt the regret that had slowly seeped into his brain this morning. Another wasted evening that turned today into a soon to be wasted day. The hangovers stayed with him now like a stink that won’t wash off, he found himself forgetting things, easy things like phone numbers- bits of information he had always known-like the capitol of Maine. He realized all this, but still when eight or nine o’clock (or earlier as has been the pattern more recently) rolled around those facts just disappeared–poof and out came the drinks. Not too many to start with, he now tried to limit his beginnings to also include the endings but after two or three it didn’t matter. Everybody was an old friend, even the ones who he had barely gotten to know in the past fourteen years. And so it went. He imagined not how much money he had spent on booze that never bothered him- money that is. He wasn’t materialistic he would have spent it on something else. No, he was thinking how big the hole in the ground would have be to fill up all the bottles of booze he had drank in his adult life. It would be big; He figured he had drunk at least 40 drinks a week for eleven years that totaled at least twenty-eight thousand bottles of booze. That was giving and taking the weeks where he binged averaging ten to twenty drinks a night for a week or two at a time to those days where he just had one or when he was sick. That’s a big hole he thought as he counted the spider webs on the ceiling. “God, I need to vacuum the ceiling.”

He could hear her downstairs, getting ready for work, now she was in the living room putting on her shoes then back to the kitchen to finish her coffee. She didn’t even try to get him out of bed lately; she just arose and quietly did her business. Fed the dog, making the coffee-enough for both of them and quietly eating her breakfast by herself. He knew she hated that worst of all. She enjoyed his company while she ate it took her mind off the fact that she was eating. It was nice. She was now gathering up her briefcase, her purse and boom-she was gone.   “Fuck” he thought. He was now rubbing his face trying in some half stoned way to wipe away the guilt, the carelessness but it didn’t work, the Pabst had made a nice comfortable home for itself inside his head. It was on a ski vacation within’ his brains, sliding down one end then taking the shuttle back into his skull, then sitting by the campfire of his ears. He slung his feet over the side of the bed as stared at the pile of clothes besides the bed. They were lying on top of a singular shoe; he sat there for a moment staring down.

Even his penis was still drunk, lying between his legs like a wrinkly caterpillar. He lay back down looked at the ceiling again. “Oh man,” he thought. The spider webs were still there. The sun was coming through the window making sure he couldn’t fall back asleep, “get up lazy man” it was saying with it’s fifteen billion rays of light, “get the fuck up.” He yawned, pushed himself out of bed, and bent down to put on his shorts and made his way towards the bathroom. After a pee he put on some old orange shorts covered with cartoon dogs and went downstairs and the rumble pounded inside his head with every step. He made his way towards the kitchen all the while telling the dog to “settle down, settle down, and please for Christ’s sake settle down.” The dog needed to piss like a racehorse after drinking a six pack of Coke. “Gotta pee. Gotta pee. Gotta pee” thought the dog in his small doggie mind. He could see she left him some coffee and had left him some cut melon for breakfast. Slightly smiling he poured himself some coffee and sat down.

The newspaper was lying on the table neatly folded in half, with part of a headline shouting out into the world. “P ACROSS MIDWEST” is all he could read. He turned it over and read the other half “TORNADOS RI.” “More like Tornadoes Rip Through Hungover Man’s Mind” he said to himself. Underneath there was half a picture of a wrecked grocery store, it was so wrecked it looked more like an unkempt ten year old’s bedroom. The photo was taken in Indiana. He rubbed his head and sat down. He immediately went to the sports pages, he never really competed in sports, never cared for the macho sensibility all the athletes seemed to need when they were around one another, but he loved sports anyway. He enjoyed the fact that nothing was planned out, nobody was acting they were just going, just like the Romans did. It was fun-a very affordable way to escape. He yawned. It was still early, not on everybody’s terms but on his. Eight thirty, he knew he most of his friends would still be asleep, at least for several hours more, he also knew a few folks who would already be at work. He thought how much better they were feeling now compared to the way he felt. They would be laughing in their cubicles or answering e-mail with a studious face. Perhaps they would have the easy healthy buzz that comes after a five-mile jog. These thoughts didn’t make him feel any better in fact he felt a bit worse.   He knew he had to do something but he wasn’t sure what or how but it needed to be soon. He felt the coffee slide down his throat, felt the heat rise in his head. He cheeks felt heavy as if they were swollen. He was trying to remember how he got home last night, if he ate something when he arrived because he wasn’t hungry at the moment although he never really was on most hangover mornings. He turned towards the wastebasket. Sure nuff, Taco Bell. “That’s right ” he thought, he drove to Taco Bell and then drove home. It must have been 2:30 or so.

He picked up his cup of coffee and walked to the window, gazing outside at a lone rose perched above a billion pieces of dirt his face looked grim, almost gray. It was late summer early fall depending on the evening temperature at night which could dip to the low forties only to bounce up to eighty-five the next afternoon if it so desired, the roses were supposed to be already going to sleep for the coming winter, their once proud stretching green limbs now turning into a knarled brown twisting shell, but not this guy it had one more oomph left in him. Now atop a fairly lonely bush it waved in the morning sun like a school flag over a country school. Below the rose bush there was nothing just those billion specks of dirt, she had been weeding and preparing the soil for the next spring, it was quite a beautiful sight. The rose was looking for it’s friends but they had long since passed and it hadn’t even realized it. It had decided to wait for them. Every morning it thought to itself “they’ll be here any minute,” but they weren’t. He smiled at the rose in its singular glory and he looked at all the hard work that went on underneath it all. He shook his head at the thought of his hours wasted during the night, the hours wasted on the day after. He thought of time as a light that one can only turn on in special circumstances and one must choose carefully before their light blows out. He was wasting his light and the power to keep it burning was gonna go somewhere else. He knew that because patience runs the same way as time. In fact, they went to engineering school together, way back when even gases and cosmic dust were just distant thoughts in the grand scheme of things. He needed to gather his time together and put it in it’s proper outlet, he needed to get his priorities straight, he needed to quit drinking, he needed to get some more coffee and maybe an aspirin.

His headache was now forming a life of it’s own, without him knowing it the headache had appointed itself chief-of-staff of his very being. Its main objective was to make every waking moment a moment of thud-thud-thud, regret and slow moving action. It was giving directions to all the figures who helped develop these traits, even the throat was ordered to keep dry, to send a shudder to the forehead every time he swallowed. He got some more coffee to help against these movements but it only did so much, the smell of the coffee seemed to provide as much help as the liquid itself. Funny how those tiny beans from ten thousand miles away could provide relief from just their scent. As he made his way to the table the phone rang causing him to spill his coffee, not too much just enough to cause him to utter “shit.” He hurried to the phone muttering under his breath; his body thinking this was hard work but his mind knowing better seems like his body always knew better. “Yellow” he spoke into the receiver. “Hi…are you up?” came the sweet voice over the line. “Yeah, uh I’ve been up for a little while” he spoke slowly into the phone, adding, “sorry I didn’t make it up to join you for breakfast.” She paused on the other line then in a voice as sweet as the towering rose outside answered “that’s all right I knew you were tired; how do you feel?” She must know he felt like shit but she knew hangovers liked to pick their spots, sometimes they would only present themselves as a casual headache while other times they would appear as massive body quake affecting every thought and move. “Oh, I feel fine.” This was only a mild lie. She then asked him what was on his agenda for the coming day knowing he didn’t have to go to work for at least three and a half hours yet. “I suppose I’ll read maybe putter around the house.” That’s about all he was capable of doing at this point. There was another pause at the other end of the phone, and then she told him she would be home at seven o’clock and she was planning on making them dinner. “That sounds fine” he replied and then he added that he had to go not really to do anything but there was a certain degree of guilt clouding his being, “should have woken up”, “shouldn’t have drank so much last, better yet should have come home when I said I would” and so on and so forth. These thoughts hovered in and out of his thudding brain as mist on a mountain. What could he say? His mind as slow as it was moving had been diverted to the first time they had met, over seven years ago when all his annoyances now were at that time somewhat charming. She said “Goodbye, Nicholas, please be careful today.” Be careful.

That first memory of their meeting had now grown up around in his head and was all he could see. She was beautiful he remembered, and at the same time he remarked to himself “she still is.” Although he slightly noticed that she had lost some of the mysterious strength he had thought she carried so well to be replaced by an unassuming nervous calm that sometimes pervaded her every movement. He on the other hand had drifted somewhat towards some liquid edge since then. She smiled at him that afternoon, she must have known he was staring at her with every speck of sight his eyeballs could summon up out of themselves. He never realized that he himself could be handsome, and even more charming than he thought. It still amazed him that any woman, let alone a beautiful gentle creature like herself could take anything more than casual interest in him. Maybe for a laugh, a curious smile but really nothing more. It made him a bit nervous, but for some reason that nervous energy never came off as such it appeared more like an innocent comment that made the room a bit lighter. She walked towards him then, her perfect hips swaying just oh so softly and her mouth was in a half flirtatious smile, his eyes were immovable. In his mind he was thinking, “Holy shit, she’s coming over…here.” Wanted to check behind him but that would be too much, it would show too much vulnerability-he had been around enough to read the faces of women even if he thought there was no way in hell they were communicating with him. Men are guided by the unspoken rules that there are in fact different levels of league play in regards to the fairer sex, never paying too much attention these invisible masculine games still he knew when his charm could only work so far and for sure his other limitations: education, looks and money were lacking. She was out of his reach when he first saw her.   “Hi,” he spoke without a bit of hesitation but his head was thinking Super Bowl Sunday, winning the Lottery, a huge cash settlement and all the good things that happen to people that don’t deserve them. “Hi” was all she said back as she raised her perfectly formed hands up to her cheek. He had no idea that she could be as nervous as him, none, but she was. He thought to himself “not only is she beautiful but she’s smart.” For when her hand touched her cheek she looked very intelligent, it was as if she had just put on glasses. She was still smiling that half sexy half world-stopping smile. He was in love; it was like the first time the earth had drank from the sky. “What’s goin on” was all he heard himself say, in a somewhat deeper voice than he normally spoke. “Nothing much, how about you?” she replied and as she spoke her eyes did the whole ballet “Swan Lake” in a moment. How could two people fall in love over such simple words, of course they weren’t hearing each other. That would be like the centerfielder trying to listen to the guy selling beer nineteen aisles up. They traded idle chitchat as nervous people are prone to do, and finally they decided they needed to get past the silly words and make plans to spend time together.

That in itself is quite a step in any relationship, in fact it’s the first step, the one where you plan and realize you actually enjoy someone enough to spend time with them. For some people it’s harder to do those things because they value their time more than anything else. Sometimes they get paid a lot of money to spend their time somewhere. But these two young people decided to spend some time over dinner together. It made sense everybody needs to eat, and eating in itself is a very intimate procedure. People do it because they have to, because they enjoy it and best of all they use their mouths. Chewy chewy. For any beginning relationship the mouth is of course a central part of communication. It involves voice, smiles, frowns, eating and most obviously kisses.

She picked him up on that first date he hadn’t a car at the time, which was probably good, he most likely wound have wrecked it or getting it towed or something like that. He thought she would have a very practical car for she seemed very practical, not like a teacher but more like someone who just thought out all the important details. That is very important when purchasing a car. His experiences in buying cars were very impractical when obtaining some of his former cars, that’s why they were broken all the time. Some were almost missing floors, some had engine parts that were nine hundred and fifty years old in car time and others simply gave up the ghost hours after he bought them. Other times when he did have possession of an automobile he would lose it between three and ten am. It was as if the car had driven them home and dropped him off while it parked itself. It would only realize the dilemma of this when was struck dumb on the street with the fact that it had to way of informing him where it had parked itself. This would result in lost hours the next day as he muttered to himself while he walked down the street looking for the wayward car. Yes, it was better he didn’t have a car. She drove up on a faded blue VW Rabbit. It had a bit of rust around the hood-near the headlights, like lines around a middle-aged woman’s eyes. She was smiling at him, the same smile she had flashed him just days before, he grew excited not just sexually but in his mind. It would be a good night. He could tell.

She circled the block, when she drove by leaving him sitting on his porch with his shiny green shirt built in Nineteen Sixty-Five, she must have noticed what a wreck his life was, somehow she could just tell-and left him sitting on the stoop. The daylight revealed all his scars. He felt naked sitting on the steps, even the three drinks he had didn’t help, when her car passed in slow motion his heart quickened. When she passed and turned the corner he knew for certain that every broken dream that sat in his life was laid bare before her. The fears he wore inside his funny laugh must have been doing rabbit ears when she drove past. His knowing heart sank as she drove out of view. But when she appeared again in a few minutes his heart went from south to north and he flashed her a smile that could launch a whole advertising campaign for Oreo cookies. She climbed out of her car, well not really climbed more like floated out of her car he thought, she was a graceful as a branch bending ever so slightly in the summer breeze, moving not because of the wind but for the wind. A dance of gratitude. She was wearing a sort of weird jumpsuit that only a certain type of woman can pull off (well maybe a very happy fellow in a Rodgers and Hammerstein musical), and a tight gray shirt underneath that proudly displayed a very beautiful pair of breasts that caused an immediate reaction on his body. “Holy fuck” he thought as he said “hey, how ya doin thought you were going to just drive on by.” He was smiling as he spoke to her, he couldn’t help it, even if he had just had a root canal he’d be doing the same thing albeit with chipmunk cheeks, and the words he had just spoke would have came out like this: “ray, throw your doing taught youth wrr juth doing to dwith by”. But he didn’t just have a root canal he had just had a few beers. That was six years ago. On a Friday evening. Somewhere around six thirty or so. Six forty-one. And seventeen seconds. P.M.

Jerry Wick and Jenny Mae: Mudhoney part one.

October 7, 2015

Mudhoney part one.

 

High Street in the mid to late 1980’s probably resembled most college town strips, rows and rows of bars serving pitchers or even plastic buckets of beer, beers for a quarter, tacky named drinks like “Sex on the Beach”, “Flaming Dr. Pepper”, $.50 shots of bubblegum flavored schnapps and Jell-O shots because who wouldn’t want to have a nice slimy sickly sweet mound of rubberized alcohol with luc-warm keg beer in a plastic cup? As the moon settled over the brightly lit destination, it would become overflowing with every type of stereotype of American, as young tie-dyed women with long flowing hair bounced off the curbs, twirling Eddi Brickell curly long hair into the night, vying for their attention were thick-necked and thicker-skulled frat boys arms bulging from weight sets next to dorm refrigerators fueled by twelve-packs of Old Milwaukee, they were here to score pussy damnit!, trying to be innocuous were the punks and burgeoning Goths, silently blending into the fabric of the concrete street with darkened mascara eyes, fishnet stockings and towering mohawks, and on the further outskirts were the other misfits, the soon to be called Gen-Xerox indie-rockers, we with jeans and rock concert tee-shirts, clothing picked fresh from the plentiful thrift stores, where the 1950’s and 60’s were not so long in passing. There would be rows and rows of shiny button up shirts for men, pill-box hats for women and even rows of formal dresses that would make Jackie Onassis proud. Bars after bars vied for all of this attention, with the vast majority catering to the white middle-class students, there was one bar on the strip that catered to the African-American students and of course, Crazy Mama’s that was the cauldron of Goth-punk-indie STD stew, where punk rock guys really did go out with new wave girls.

College radio was the invisible string the tied the huddled pockets of punks, new-wavers and the black mascara crowd together across campuses around the country. Meager, tiny sounds emanating from silver metal radio towers, perching high on libraries, gymnasiums and English buildings provided small budding scenes with a fuel and energy that encouraged the sharing of music, ideas and romance. Major labels would devote entire departments to market records to this small crowd of passionate fans, although none of them appeared to care to much to bringing many of these bands to a wider audience as mainstream radio was rife with payola and the white-bread sounds of Phil Collins, Lionel Richie, Hall and Oates and on the hard-rock stations, it was Def Leppard, RATT and genteel versions of ZZ Top and Van Halen (i.e. “Velcro Fly” and “Jump.”) It wasn’t until the overwhelming success of R.E.M. that was built town by town, show by show, record by record over seven years that the major labels decided to spend a bit more even then the popularity of “college” rock was relegated to university campuses, record stores and the midnight 120 minutes show on MTV. Unknown at the time was the importance of struggling but essential gateways to this music, which was the independent record label. It would be difficult to think of music today without the heavy stone foundation laid by bands such as Black Flag, Sonic Youth, Nick Cave, the Replacements, Scrawl, Husker Du and the Bad Brains, all of which sprung from the indie-label scene.

It was upon this stage that many of us sowed our oats, filling our young pockets with the vibrant echoes of music that could transform a day of idleness to one of pure creative output, with fingers clutching onto the cardboard sleeve of our favorite record at the moment, transportation came the moment the needle struck the grooves. The secret handshakes were the concert tee-shirts we wore, the rolled up fanzines we stuck in our back pockets and the glee of live music, as the notes invaded our ears, we caromed off one another, bouncing to and fro from the bars, dance floors and into our beds. The smell of sweat, alcohol and sex pressed against our faces and loins the next morning, it was a far world from stuffy and the conservative communities many of us had sprung from.

Drinking was as present as air, a bottle clutched in my hand as sure as I wanted a hand to hold onto my heart, it was the next best thing–a solid glass method of fending off loneliness while at the same time energizing everything I did, a record simply sounded better with a drink and a woman was easier to humor with a wry smile and a the floating bubbles of beer. Talent is a young person’s urge, stepping out of adolescence, kicking off the insecurities of early and awkward sexual experiences, leaving behind pimples, oily skin and bodies that were never quite what one wanted–I stalked away from my teenage years with no regrets and an acute sense of relief all the while finding out that my passion play with music, painting, and writing. A body couldn’t walk down High Street without bumping into someone who was busy recording, making and breathing art, wearing the passion the burned inside fully on the outside, carrying canvases, guitar cases, bundles of notebooks, and knapsacks stuffed with methods of creating and collecting thoughts, ideas that were day-glow in nature, screaming from clothing, hair and even the make-up we wore.

Pacing my walk, counting my steps while I read the paper in one hand, a bulky Sony Walkman in the other, it was a minor miracle I never knocked anybody’s teeth out nothing could hold my attention. Music helped focusing, notes to lead the way as I shuffled through life, barely lifting clumsy feet through days filled with the afterthoughts of nights that never turned off, even now they are like streets lights made of wax paper, filtering into nothingness, pulling around the edges as if roasted in an oven. My walks were the same, from whatever apartment/house I lived in to the store, then to Larry’s, to Bernie’s, the corner carryout near 15th, Buckeye Donuts and then to Staches. Repeat, sleep, repeat. There were some weeks when I never drove, there wasn’t a need, opening the car door, a small blast of stale hot air would billow out and engulf me, wavering from the slight stench, plopping in the front seat making sure the correct tape was in the player, turning the key and the sweaty vessel was transformed into an instant feeling machine, never mind the dry air, the empty beer bottles on the backseat floor or the scrunched up McDonalds bag on the passenger side. Nodding to myself as “Flat out Fucked” blared into the late morning sun, the car was another home, a clubhouse of my own.

Slipping from my corporate record store job everyday day around three, with my best rumpled dress shirt, brownish off the rack pleated pants and a bulky name tag stuck to my chest I would venture to Used Kids, and soon after Dan and Ron would offer me a Black Label, and feeling like one of the crowd I was soon talking records with them. Gerald Moss, worked there, par laying his own passion for music to rise up in the Koch Distribution corporation, he and I would discuss Phil Ochs, Richard Thompson and classical music. A full-blown passion for records had exploded when I got to High Street, living in small town Ohio, record stores consisted of the clean lines of chain stores, where posters and cassette tapes lined the walls. Getting underground music was a chore, where as a fifteen year old I would peruse the racks and buy records depending on their labels or even by their album covers. It was as if a fat man walked into an ice cream shop that sold more than vanilla or chocolate, I didn’t want to leave and I wanted to try everything. The dollar bins were bulky, stuffed with an assortment of titles, based not just on the redundancy of previous year’s sales (Bad Company, Peter Frampton, Heart, easy listening) but also by condition or cut-out bin titles, one could easily find semi-beat Replacements, Soul Asylum, Breaking Circus, or Salem 66 records in the cut-out bin, I bought my first Guided By Voices record, “Self-Arial Nostalgia” record for a $1, sealed. The music that the Ron and Dan played was always good, making an impression on ears that gobbled up music like the desert does rain. Sucking the notes out of air, an appetite for melody that was as much as an addiction as the alcohol I was consuming at daily and afternoon intervals.

Summer was bleeding Ohio dry in the summer of 1988, the pavement was so hot that the soles of tennis shoes stuck to the sidewalk, waves of heat shuddered in the thick air and if one did not have the luxury of an air conditioner, nights were spent with a fan blasting away on naked sweaty bodies, cooking on top of damp sheets. Discount Records, since it was a corporate store, complete with carpet that was replaced every few years had air conditioning, but we also couldn’t play a lot of the music I wanted to. The manager didn’t approve, we played mostly jazz, classical and non-offensive pop music such as Tracy Chapman, James Taylor, and soft R&B, when he agreed to play 10,000 Maniacs or the Rolling Stones he was being adventurous but for me, it was better than working at Sears, United Dairy Farmers or lawn-work. Used Kids had no air conditioner, the best way to cool off was to grab a beer from one of the always laughing men, and hope that it wasn’t too crowded, propping open the door the store felt damp, sticky and with the scent of sweaty men and hippie oils in the air, I would thumb through the records. Suddenly Ron put on a single, eyeing him from the corner of the dollar bin, he held a bottle to his mouth, nodded and smiled as he put the bottle on the counter, his left hand wheeling the volume knob, the sound came blurting out of the speaker above my head, a fat-squishy and ragged blast of noise that asserted itself as not just new but primordial in the best sense of the word and the singer’s voice cackled out as if where a comic-book burp, “blarrghhhhh!!!!” and when the chorus hit, something had transformed me, the sloppy and crusty sound, bellowed out like an lion, albeit a drunken, soiled and rabid lion, but a lion nevertheless.

“Touch Me I’m Sick” was the first single by Mudhoney a soiled diamond of a song that for many of us, changed everything. It was one of the few songs that I remember where I was the first time I heard it, along with “Everything Flows” by Teenage Fanclub and “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, but it was another revelation that music was ugly, beautiful and comical all at the same time. Lyrically it was brilliant, nobody was singing songs like this—at least to my young 20 year old ears—a stab against the clean bullshit of hair rock, the pastel sounds of Whitney Houston and Huey Lewis, the soft-light videos of dancing candles that framed the clean cut faces of Phil Collins, the Police and that ilk.

There are moments in life where perspective switches, an inner shift where the world changes, for some it maybe discarding matchbox cars, putting the doll in a box, or taking a last drink of alcohol. At other times, the shift is subtle, a slow movement, wading into the ocean as the waves crawl up around chilly thighs, small pushes against a body not quite ready to change—these changes happen in slow motion. Punk rock hit me like my first orgasm, it made total sense and a part of me asked myself, “why didn’t I know about this before?” The world changed, there was no longer a hierarchy to art, no longer a manner in which someone had to dress a certain way or for music to be used to sell anything other than pure emotional, either frustration, anger, joy or confessional sloppy love (sex).

At one point around this time, I started going out with Sharon, her quiet mysterious manners, her steely beauty and the fact that she was as big of a fan of loud guitars and spitting, sputtering, saliva spewing vocals only helped to make an up-to-that-time world a bit more clear. Sharon, who had lived with J Mascis, hung out with Sonic Youth and lived in Alphabet City, had eyes for me and the punk-outcast-arrogant me felt a “I fuckin-told-you-so” to the small town Ohio, that I had thrown off my shoulders just a few years prior. Sharon went to art school in NYC, although she was from Columbus she too, had shed her own upbringing and made herself anew-the person she was. Astute, coy and with a wise eye for detail, Sharon loved fashion, at one point we argued about the idea that I had a great sense of fashion, which I found absurd as I usually wore tee-shirts, jeans and thrift store button-ups. Many of the latter were from the 60’s and early 70’s as those decades were not so much in the distant past, were now, as I stand on the verge of 50, those decades appear to be faint wisps of smoke disenagrating in my mind. Fa-la-la-man. Sharon took me to Barney’s and other stores that would bludgeon my eyes with their price tags. Later when I met my wife, herself fashionably acute, and also an artist I gleaned some idea of fashion and style although it was more about how these lovers had used them. My style was comfort and easiness, and the idea of punk while married to fashion was more about being creative, of being confident to make and live life as you could carve it out, perhaps by plucking a guitar or bass, transforming a body that was at one time abused into a walking, breathing canvass or painting your hair purple, or green or cutting off the entire fucking mop.

Mudhoney contacted Jerry one day, asking Gaunt to open up a few shows for them, Steve Turner was/is one of the most passionate music fanatics I have ever met, and he had heard Gaunt and loved them, soon he convinced the rest of the band to allow Gaunt to play some shows with them. Another by-product of this wonderful indie-world was constructed around the idea of creative and no hierarchy it was common for well known bands to pick and choose local bands to open for them or to tour, Pavement had the Ass Ponys open for them several times in Ohio, Superchunk toured with Gaunt a few times, Billy Childish asked the New Bomb Turks to play with him in Columbus and the list goes on. The only requirement I needed to go to a show was to be loaded, which was a pretty easy task.

I drove with Gaunt to Bogart’s in Cincinnati, it was on the edge of the University of Cincinnati and the Over-the-Rhine, a mixed neighborhood that had been kicking and screaming into the idea of gentrification. It was a hotspot for racial tensions, poverty and drug use—and it was not uncommon to read about police shootings and high crime. We drove a small mini-van, Jerry, Brett Lewis and I drinking the entire way, it was as if we were ten year olds driving to Kings Island Amusement Park instead of our twenty-something selves on our way to a punk-rock show. Jerry was loose, cracking jokes and bahawing all the way on the 100 mile car ride, we giggled uncontrollably and right before we got there Jerry got his serious face on, one where he felt the need to wear the weight of the free-world on his shoulders, pumping cigarette after cigarette into his lips he would suck one up and start another. Brett said, “relax Jerry, we’ll have a good show.” Nodding Jerry stammered, “I am fucking relaxed dude!” Eyeing one another, Brett and I laughed again.

ps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=02Uuufjw9qY

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/12/04/shopping-malls-1989_n_6269304.html

this is pretty great:

 

Jerry Wick and Jenny Mae: Now

July 10, 2015

Now.

           Cleveland Avenue splits the ghetto in half, starting in downtown Columbus, traveling at a slight angle northeastward to the cotton white suburb of Westerville, it holds a squeamish history of poverty, classism and crushing desolation. Jenny has moved in and out of abject neighborhoods since getting plucked out of the homeless camp that was carved into the small wooded ravine that cuts North Campus from the liberal Ohio State infused neighborhood of Clintonville, nearly seven years ago. Her story of shuffling in and out of housing is a tale of how dysfunction is an everyday occurrence for people who fall on the wrong side of the money.

            After surviving living as one of only two women in a homeless camp, living for nearly two months in the Ohio State School of Music and finally, at another west side camp, she and her (now deceased boyfriend) were given Section Eight Housing through a program designed to provide Housing First options for people on the street. While at the same time, they were both linked to mental health services.

            For a number of years, Jenny complained of pain in her legs, her once sliver of a body–reed-thin underneath her flower patterned sun dresses had difficulty moving from the couch to the refrigerator and the months living outside in the elements didn’t help. She can be a living manifestation of the worst type of alcoholic, one who wakes up throughout the night, to take a pull off a plastic bottle of Smirnoff or Aristocrat Vodka just to make it to the morning without seizing up, at various times she would hide her booze throughout the house, at first to hide her shame and addiction from the men around her until finally it was more to ease the annoyance of carrying a bottle or having to travel to another room to fix a drink. Her life had turned into the troubled aspects of Bukowski without the poetry, a life lead by breathing from one drink to the next while trying to scrap the last vestiges of memories of happier times from a brain that had stuffed itself more with life than any brain should be allowed. Weeks were played out with multiple runs to the convenience store, which she had for a short time referred to as the package store, a term she picked up living in Miami, flying road side signs asking for money off the closest freeway ramp from their first Section Eight House, located on the far southeastern side of Columbus. The ramp they held their sign was roughly three miles from the depleted apartment. She had tried to get a job at the convenience store just on the other side of the parking lot that split the apartment complex from the store that plied its customers with lottery tickets, cheap liquor and dusty tins of canned meat but shortly after she applied she was taken via stretcher out of her apartment and the owner told her that he thought she would be a health risk. Jenny and Dale would arise early, walk the three miles to the ramp and “fly the sign” they worked as a team, with an older friend who also had lived in the homeless camp with them, one of the twins. She would pack a lunch of cheese sandwiches, chips and a tumbler of vodka and Hawaiian Punch and two of them would sit in the woods, passing the time telling stories, listening to music on a boombox they had found dumpster diving and trying not to drink too much. “The drivers don’t wanna give you any money if they smell alcohol, plus it’s so hot out there most days, you just get dehydrated that you kind of just have to hold out.” She said they would average about $11 a day and more when she could hold the sign, “they like me to hold the sign because I’m the white girl, people don’t expect to see that in the hood, but I’m always appreciative of what they give,” but her legs were increasingly failing her. Many had assumed that it had to do with her alcoholism, and during a period of a year and a half in around 2009 she was hospitalized countless times. She would be discharged, get herself together and cut down on her drinking. At one point she started playing music, the prospect of playing again terrified her but also provided much needed hope, and she was asked to play Comfest, an annual event held smack dab in the middle of Columbus where thousands attend.

            Comfest of 2010 was a disaster for Jenny, although she put on a brave effort is was difficult for her to get back into performing shape, she was recently off the streets and her apartment was smack dab in the middle of a rouges gallery of gang warfare and crack cocaine dealing, plus she was nearly two miles from the bus line. Her biggest supporter, Sean Woosley, who had made a small career of his own making prickly-pop in the vein of Bob Pollard and Elvis Costello. Sean, whom Jenny had bestowed the nickname “Robin” many years ago, had played with Jenny nearly from the outset dating all the way back to the late 80’s. Sean worked hard to get the band together, and the practices were difficult, as Jenny had not played piano since living in the music building and her drinking was nearly 24-7. The revolving door of hospitalizations had not yet started, partly due to the fact that for the poor and homeless, access to services has been historically limited. Prior to the Affordable Health Care Act, with the access to Medicaid, the homeless were at a loss to access services, most was done in emergency rooms where treatment consists of M.A.S.H. like services, where putting out fires and getting the person out of crises is the number one prerogative.

            Jenny played Comfest in the late afternoon, I wasn’t there but had heard that she fell down, no doubt because of heavy drinking and her once deeply emotional voice, rang hollow like a raggedy flag beaten into submission. This was her first time in front of a Columbus audience in nearly ten years, and afterwards a mean-spirited emcee poked more holes into her effort by cruelly and clumsily deriding her as she was carried off the back of the stage. The legs that once bounded across the fields of corn and soybeans in western Ohio, as she flourished on the high school cross country team, with the orange sun sucking beads of sweat out of her taunt legs, were crumbling around her feet. These legs that had walked through rain and baked parking lots on the Ohio State campus as she practiced hour after hour to get the routines of the Best Damn Band In The Land, and soon after across football fields around the United States had finally given up. Talking to her afterwards, she was crestfallen, not only for not being able to play well but for the embarrassment of falling, “Bela, I couldn’t feel my fucking legs—they just quit working, I was scared,” I heard take a pull from a bottle, wiping her mouth, “I fell in front of everybody, I’ve never been so embarrassed.” “Even more embarrassing than going out with me,” I joked. “No, you were the worst embarrassment, you nerd” she laughed. Growing serious,”Were you drunk?” I asked, as if alcohol was the root of every problem she had. “I had a little, but that had nothing to do without feeling my legs, god-damnit! Jesus Bela, is that all you care about, in all your drinking did you ever NOT FEEL YOUR LEGS!!! And then Paul, who used to be so nice to me made fun of me, that was really shitty. I’m not going to play again, I can’t go through the disappointment.”

            The call came from Dale, it was late, three a.m., in the background I heard the rain pelting down against him, small bombshells of water thumping-thumping-thumping against his large green withered Army coat. “Bela, it’s Dale, they just took Jenny away in the ambulance–they wouldn’t let me go with them because I’m drunk and I’m not her husband.” Yawning and clawing for my glasses, “where are they taking her?” “I’m guessing OSU East or Grant, she wasn’t doing good, she had a seizure and blacked out. She wasn’t making any sense, talking about these little silver men who were in the couch. Bela, I looked there were no little silver men in the couch.” “no, fucking shit” I thought. She was emaciated, except for her face and stomach which was starting to bulge out a little, the years of drink had started to hang deep in her face, while her arms grew thinner, her legs were dead weight at the end of the bed, tired eyes lined with red blinked at me, “Bela-baby, I can’t feel my legs anymore—I don’t know what’s wrong and then I had that seizure, Dale said I was hallucinating again. I don’t remember any of it, but I’m scared I’m gonna be in a wheelchair and I won’t be able to get down the stairs to my apartment. Then what?” She was in the ICU for nearly three weeks, and it was discovered that she had a heart condition, similar to her mother that went undetected through the years through neglect by Jenny and to a lesser degree by physicians who were too concerned with her drinking and seizures, they simply missed it as she would get stabilized and then discharged. Since she didn’t have insurance or Medicaid at the time the hospitals would to the minimum necessary and discharged, in hindsight, if they caught her heart condition earlier it may have saved hundreds if not millions in more lengthy hospital stays. It took nearly a month in ICU for the hospital to trace the loss of her legs on poor circulation due to a weak heart. She would eventually play two more shows over the next four years, both which were much more successful—but she arrived at both in a wheelchair.

            Driving north on High Street as I leave the late 19th Century house my family and I live in, the streets are lined with flowering trees, even the white clouds lay as if plucked from a white pillow and pined into the sky for a prop of idyllic life. Azalea, Rhododendron, Vinurum bushes form a pathway of whites, reds and purples from my doorstep to the unending cups of coffee, poured into shell-white porcelain cups at the wooden designed coffee shop where I spend my Saturday mornings. Just two miles away on Cleveland Avenue, which runs parallel with High Street, the flowering bushes are disguised as bus benches, with black and red advertisements for check cashing and bankruptcy help, the green foliage that provides a canopy of shade for sparkly metallic fuel-efficient sport cars that makes High Street a destination spot sits in sharp contrast on Cleveland Avenue as the thick gray of concrete and gravel spill off the streets into the multitude of parking lots, semi-vacant strip malls and the uniform architecture of fast-food buildings. They are two of the longest roads in Columbus, just two miles apart in distance but seemingly countries apart in lifestyles and income. Cleveland Avenue is desolate, and the desperation in brought to life by the number of abandoned storefronts and empty building, even the McDonalds on the middle section of Cleveland Avenue is abandoned. It is just past a dilapidated strip club, whose rotting rood wavers with every boner in the club where Jenny now lives. After extensive looking, calling and asking for favors it was the only handicapped accessible Section Eight unit we could find her off the bus-line. Recently, Jenny was again in the ICU for a number of weeks. Hug those you love.

live in 2012: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fQCwSNzhDb4

she used to play these on the piano quite a bit:

Jerry Wick & Jenny Mae: Pokemon

April 12, 2015

Pokemon:

His hair is a soft blonde, shaggy-it is starting to hang in his eyes, long curls twisting just above his sea blue eyes, and the room brightens when he smiles, giggles worth a lifetime of pleasure. Bouncing up to me a few weeks ago, “Daddy, can I have Pokémon cards?!” Sighing deeply, “Pokémon? They still make them?” Bruno shoves a muddied yellowed card in my face, “yeah, look—I found this on the playground. My friends play it, they are really cool. See dad?” and he shoves the bent card, complete with little kid footprint in my face. He grins, and somewhere a chunk of the universe’s ceiling becomes unhinged. “Sure, we can get you Pokémon cards.” He thrusts his hands up high in the sky, as if he just scored a World Cup goal, “YES!!! Pokémon!!!”

Growing up in the 1970’s was almost surreal as I look at faded blurred photos, it can as if even the memories are as bleached out as the pictures of a young me, wearing a long-sleeve yellow turtle neck, looking crookedly at the camera, a mischievous smile (the same that my Bruno holds the world captive with) anchored towards my brother who is laughing as the camera clicks. Behind us a hazy Christmas tree stands, a prop for our childhood and my father wearing black plastic framed glasses, a moustache and his arm around my mother, her long red hair reaching just below her shoulders. She eyes him nervously, no doubt wondering just how soon she can jettison herself from his madness. I collected comic books with my brother, my step-father David had let us read his, a large collection of early to late sixties Marvel titles, that no doubt would pay for my kids college education if we still had them. Early “Spider Man”, a nice run from the early twenties to the late 90’s, “The Incredible Hulk” most the early ones from #102 onward, “Fantastic Four, “Sub-Mariner”, “Thor” and “Silver Surfer.” We kept them in a small cardboard box, David was very kind and patience with us and we were told not to let them leave our rooms, be careful how we handled them and he would later buy us comics. This was 1975/76, a rough period in our lives, lots of movement both in the relationships my mother was involved in and geographically. From 1973 to 1976, we moved five times, after divorcing my father my mother moved us to an apartment in Athens, soon she married David and we moved to Youngstown where he got a job working in a steel-mill, not the quite the job a future PhD. professor at MIT had envisioned for himself. Soon though, David procured a job in Springs, New York where he worked as a scientist near Montauk–we lived just a skip from the ocean. From New York we moved to Newport News, Virginia and in Newport News we moved a few times.        The commotion of moving was difficult to say the least especially for my older brother, who had a difficult time adjusting, we relied on each other. With our plastic green army men, Lincoln Logs, and especially comic books. We dug in deep with them, losing ourselves in the adventures of Peter Parker, who always seemed to doubt himself and for me, the Hulk as misunderstood anti-hero whom I identified with at that early age. Completely bewildered, Bruce Banner yearned for acceptance yet, because of his emotions and the state of the world, he could not. This was me, even as an eight year old.

Coming home, I was latch-key before there was a latch key from second grade onwards, if the sun wasn’t shining I would get a plate of cookies and a tall glass of Kool-Aid and head to my room. Pulling the box from the closet, sitting in front of the closet door–not even making it to the bed, sprawling out I would read the comics over and over. The slightly mildewed smell of the pages, a bit musty even the ink had its own smell. This was comfort. After moving to Athens with my father and my brother at the end of the 3rd grade, my brother started coming home with other comics with the same vintage as the ones we had in Virginia. He and Mark Schazenbach, would come home and lay them out, teasing me by locking me out of his room while they read the comic books. Eventually, the lead me to Haffa’s, a literally underground store in Athens that not only sold comics from $1 on up, but also just as importantly sold records. Soon, I would make Haffa’s my destination point, hanging out – and saving my weekly quarter allowance to buy both records and comics. Soon though, the competition for our affections increased as we discovered football and baseball cards, they were cheaper than comics and we bought and traded these constantly. This was the hey-day of rough and tumble football our favorite teams were the Pittsburgh Steelers and Minnesota Vikings, and soon we would have multiple cards of Terry Bradshaw, Lynn Swan, Fran Tarkington, Sammie White and Chuck Foreman. Taping them to our desk tops and carrying them in our back pockets, with nary a care that someday, people would collect these cards, handle them with gloves and diapering them in small plastic sleeves. This past summer, my brother stopped by my house on his way to Alabama and we finally divvied up the cards, passing them down to our own sons. Oddly, Bruno has no care for football as he has never played the game nor has he watched one on television, so the cards still sit in a box.

During my fourth grade year, “Star Wars” came out and soon the world was transformed especially for a ten year old. My mother would not allow us to see Star Wars as it was PG, but I was able to watch the movie by buying and trading Star Wars cards, soon stacks appeared all over the house. They came out in colored series, blue, then red and finally yellow, if you flipped them over and connected them it made a giant poster. Finally towards the end of the summer, my father took my brother and I to see it. The next summer, Jaws II & Battlestar Gallectica came out, and soon there were more stacks of cards cluttering the already cluttered house. Clutter upon clutter. A cluttering mess. All the while, we still bought comic books, but soon as I entered fifth and sixth grade my interest was more laser-sharp on music, all I wanted was records and soon I was hanging out after-school at Side-One Records which was above Haffa’s, on a daily basis.

The nineteen seventies was now coming to a close, the decade was birthed with bell-bottom pants, the blossoming of soft-rock, tinged with the optimism of the baby-boomer coming into their own, just below the surface though the snarling cauldron of greed, cynicism and the darkness of Nixon, Vietnam and racism boiled. For the most part, the children of the 70’s were protected by the innocence of PBS television: Sesame Street, The Electric Company, Mr. Rogers, then Saturday Morning Cartoons and whimsical movies starring a talking Volkswagen Beetle, or small dogs and as the decade wound down, the story of a coming of age man saving the universe with the help of a princess and smuggler. In small town Athens, before milk-carton kids and the immediate fear mongering of the internet, we chased each other around the neighborhood, our weapons of choice were nerf footballs, wiffle ball and vicious games of kick-the-can. Nobody locked their front doors, while parents only saw their offspring at dinner time. Cable television barely existed, late night Friday and Saturday nights were crammed with Double Chiller Theater’s or Fritz the Night Owl, my brother and I would make a fort of blankets and shovel sugar cereal into gaping mouths as Bela Lugosi and Vincent Price cracked open our minds with sinister cackles and tales of murder. Music had changed dramatically from those early feel-good am radio days of the early seventies to the closing racket of punk rock. The Boss Guitars, a pub-y rock garage band formed by Ohio University students played my eighth grade dance, they not only played originals but also covers and it was here that I witnessed the seed of punk rock in a live setting. Sporting slicked back hair, wore leather jackets, torn jeans and mutton-chops, they played the Clash as well as sixties soul, a small pit of stinky adolescence boys careened off each other while the band smiled at one another. John Denver and David Gates were miles away. Later members of band would form Cleveland’s Bongo’s Jungle Party, and write an ode to Prisonshake’s Doug Enkler, there is no way these men, who seemed so old to me then, would have an inkling the impact they would have on a smallish curly brown haired boy with crooked teeth and an imagination that could muster an entire world out of clods of dirt and a plastic water pistol

During that same time period, a new way of playing games began to gain traction, gone were the luck of the dice roles of Risk and Monopoly, and new way to play had infiltrated the minds of awkward young men around the county. “Dungeon’s and Dragons” invaded Athens Middle School in a swarm, transforming the be speckled kids of University staff from brainy analytical kids who sat passively on the sidelines of the gravel encrusted playground into Necromancers, wizards and battling elves with the role of multi-sided dice and stacks of hardcover books whose artwork appeared to be drawn by an 8th grader sitting in Geometry class. Soon D&D took over, even some of the jocks were playing but it was mostly played by a small group of us, I played with my best friend Eric and a few other kids, during lunch and over the weekends where we would settle into a spare study room at the University library. The entire day would float by as we battled our way through orcs, disgruntled kings and heaven forbid a snarling smoking dragon. My mother was poor, at the time we lived in cramped University housing, four of us pinched into a small two bedroom apartment on Mill Street. My sister slept on the couch or with my mother, my brother and I had metallic bunk-beds that was cold to the touch, only slightly more freezing in the winter months than the brown speckled linoleum floors; I couldn’t afford any of the books but in between drawing pictures of Cheap Trick, Rush record covers and action shots of Lynn Swann or Chuck Foreman I would draw the plans for a castle that our band of made-up warriors would investigate the coming weekend. This infatuation lasted two years, by the end of my eighth grade year, hormones had taken over as well as a growing desire to read as much as I possibly could all the while saving whatever coins and I could slap together to buy dollar records at Haffa’s. The wanting to lose myself in the imaginary world of dice had faded against the fantasy of unhooking lacey brassieres, guitars and in the printed word of Michael Moorcock, JRR Tolkien, and soon, Kurt Vonnegut and outrageous musical biographies with names like “No One Here Gets Out Alive”, “Up and Down with the Rolling Stones”” and “Hammer of the Gods.” Video games consisted of Pong or Tank, and while the early Atari systems came out, the covers of those early games were much more imaginative than the blocky, cumbersome graphics–there was no bother in playing these games as they looked nothing like the games in the arcade. By the time Nintendo came out, I was seventeen, getting blowjobs, sneaking into bars and seeing some of my favorite bands such as R.E.M., The Replacements and Lou Reed—I had no time for television games. At some point during this time period as many of us found our footing amid our later high school years, getting lost in the musical underground of the time, though the sharing of fanzines, college radio and of course, the center of the collective universe of music fans everywhere, the local record store, a new generation that was being raised on the much improved computer graphics of Nintendo tended to stay indoors and made the jump from video games into the expanding world of cards played with gaming cards. Magic and Pokémon spread their wings, while at the same time relegating Dungeon and Dragon’s to an afterthought, the teenagers who had spent countless hours rolling dice and pleading with an often-cruel and power-hungry dungeon master had now become adults. We were off to college, or jobs or yet into other subterranean worlds filled with like minded outcasts, shaking our collective asses to the spinning sounds of black vinyl records and holding the backside of the be-speckled blond haired girl who manned the counter at Kinko’s while screaming along with the Jad Fair, Steve Malkmous, Marcy Mays or the Lazy Cowgirls was much more fun than pretending you were a 16th level Neurotic Ranger. The pleasure was now fucking a real neurotic person, than being an imaginary one with a cape, sword, amulet or pouch with secret potions.

Several years ago I took my kids to the Laughing Ogre, the large comic book shop in Columbus, just up the road from our house. I had not been in comic book shop since buying Hate!, Cherry Pop-Tart and Eightball at Monkey’s Retreat the essential underground bookstore that operated next to Staches for nearly twenty years. Monkey’s not only sold comics but also adult magazines, underground publications like ReSearch, Forced Exposure and lots of paperbacks, it was one of those places that attracted not only the underside of High Street but also the certain type of person who has no problem crouching down on bended knees, rifling through dusty and musty old boxes for hours at a time, the sort of place which required a shower upon getting home. These stores were akin to flea markets or antique stores except the pursuits was intellectual curiosity, some brief present or future titillation, and perhaps the greatest motivator of all, escape. For many along High Street, Monkey’s Retreat was the person’s first introduction to Charles Bukowski, Robert Crumb, Lydia Lunch or the fascinating black and white photos of S&M, latex or homosexual literature. These were things that were not easily found in the local Little Professor bookstore. Laughing Ogre is a different sort of store, family and kid friendly with clean shelves, pristine book spines, large open tables to display the imaginative world of graphic novels and comic books. The days of sitting on a mucky floor, getting red eyes and blackened hands looking for the one Spider-Man comic that is has interrupted a run for twenty-seven in a row has disappeared as the underground has turned itself inside out-now my daughters favorite show is Comic Book Men, a reality show starring Kevin Smith and his side-kick staff who gently insult one another and customers, for many of us this was the sort of life we had lived for year, albeit not the shiny clean version on television.

The comic book shop is a destination for us, especially for my daughter who has an active imagination, relishes good story telling and can lose herself in a book for hours. She has met famous graphic novelists and I encourage her to ask questions, read as much as she can and to express herself as much as she can. Standing in the middle of life stepping forward while glancing back is a bizarre excursion, as the past can be brittle, cracked around the edges with the rush of minutes, hours, days weeks and years pouring over tangible memories that appear so real they can bring a gulp in the throat or a hearty chuckle, but in the end they are nothing—simple thoughts dissipating into the next moment, all the while I see the future for my children the wonderment they have, sudden rushes of emotions at the simple acts of holding a book, staring at Luke Skywalker with a light-saber in hand, overcome by the special effects that are cemented in my own head, the sound of a song transforms them, still as it transforms me.

“Daddy, when can we get Pokémon cards?” Bruno asks, as he leaps from one couch to another, curls flopping, arms swinging while the stereo blasts Superchunk’s “Crossed Wires.”

“We can go today, after soccer and guitar practice, I’m sure the Laughing Ogre             has some.”

“Saskia, daddy said we could get Pokémon cards!!”

“Bruno, I don’t care about Pokémon, daddy can I get a new book–Raina Telgemeier has a new book,” replies Saskia dancing on the table, her slim body twisting and contorting, she appears to be having a seizure when she dances, she is that clumsy.

After guitar lesson we drive to the Laughing Ogre, the sun has managed to splash through the dullish Ohio sky, a veritable sidewalk of gray and bleakness that has tortured millions through the years, outside the traffic is bottled up as people try to escape into the sun, our neighborhood is filled with coffee shops, craft stores and restaurants. Bruno is jabbering non-stop, he spits out words as fast as a auctioneer, completely focused on one subject: Pokémon. The shop is filled with other families and their children, books and graphic novels are displayed on clean even shelves, the comic books are stacked side-by-side along the walls, glossy covers, signs announcing new releases. There are grown men and woman holding stacks of new comics in their hands, children bustle about and Saskia heads towards the Archie comics and grabs a copy of “Sisters”. Bruno sighs deeply, pulls on my shirt, “daaaad, ask about Pokémon!” “Do you want a comic book buddy?” He enjoys Popeye and Peanuts but has no interest today.

A small wisp of a woman sits behind the counter, she has a nose rings, a thin brown tee-shirt and a collection of silver brackets that rattle around her left wrist. She also self publishes her own comics, small press real-life sketches of the mundane and slow moving actions of the day, she smiles at us, “can I help you?” Bruno, fingers gripping the counter, “do you have Pokémon?!”

“yes, we have some Pokémon Manga’s over on the wall.”

“I’m sorry, he wants Pokémon cards, not the books.”

“Oh….I see….well, we don’t sell those” her voice now reduced a whisper, “I think the Soldiery in the back of the building has those, but I don’t know, I’ve never been in there.” Her nose wrinkles a bit, her eyes grow big, suddenly I get the feeling that I’m involved in a drug deal. “Oh, is that the gaming store?” I ask. “Yeah, I think they should have what you are looking for but, like I said I’ve never been there.”

Bruno, eyes exploding, as if they were replaced with resplendent blue crystal bowling balls, “can we go?!!” As I pay for Saskia’s book, the clerk winks and says, “good luck.”

Exiting we walk towards the back of the building, the entrance to the gaming store is basically off an alley, an almost dweebish speakeasy, against the brick wall outside the store we shuffle past a rouges gallery of misfits and techie types, one man is stuffing an oversized submarine sandwich into his mouth, his black tee-shirt with a bleached out image of a space-invader icon barely containing his girth, his beard filled with crumbs and droplets of mayonnaise, there are a few men holding tightly onto two-liter bottles of soda and tall energy drinks. Entering the store, the smell of awkwardness is palatable, with tables upon table of gamers, ranging in age from high school far into adult hood, the oil of acne pervades the air. I feel out of sorts. Saskia looks at me, and I return her smile, the walls are covered with fantasy posters and shelves are stacked high with role-playing, war, and fantasy games. One the counter is a stand of multi-sided dice, bringing back memories of D&D and my own long weekend afternoons stretched out as I battled made up dragons and evil forces in the library at Ohio University. We take a small walk around the shop, mostly the clientele are boys and men, layers of cards cover the tables, some of the players also appears to be playing video games while playing these other games. Games within games. I show Saskia a row of games she may like, there is a small section of historical games, the one I show her takes place in Victorian England, she looks at it, “I can ask my teacher at the gaming club if he comes here.” She is enjoying looking around, Bruno is transfixed, and we make our way to the counter.

Bruno, shy to a fault, his hands on my backside, sticking his fingers in my back pockets, he is suddenly my living shadow. Two young women are at the counter, timid and self-conscious, no doubt they would feel more comfortable if the counter was a drive through, “hey, do you have Pokémon cards?” I motion to Bruno, “he is really interested in Pokémon and he doesn’t have any.” The blonde girl, with brown framed glasses, small splotches of acne climbing her cheeks, quivers her lip, “ummm, you want Pokémon cards?” “Yeah, do you have those?” Biting her top lip, fiddles her fingers, “oh….do you know what kind you want?” I look at Bruno, “hey buddy, what kind do you want?” “daddy, I want Pokémon cards” speaks the shadow behind me. “He wants Pokémon.” She glances to her co-worker, her eyes shifting sideways, “hhmmmm, we have all kinds of Pokémon cards. Which ones do you want?” My mind throws up a little and quickly swallows it, “see, he’s never played before so I suppose the basic cards? Are there beginning cards?” The poor girl appears to faint inside, sighing, she explains, “here, we have these, there are all kinds” She places a small display box of shiny cards with bright colors and fanciful Japanese cartoon characters on it, “this is the newest series.” Bruno thumbs through them, pulls a pack out and we choose two. “Are there directions to these?” I ask and my questions goes unanswered, behind us, gamers are queuing up to purchase their own cards and candy bars. We pay and leave.

This becomes a weekly pattern, Bruno can’t read that well yet but he looks at the cards, carries them and talks about them incessantly. People move clumsily through life, protecting oneself from the world at large, building identities brick by brick, layers upon layers of ideas, wearing passions on tee-shirts, pins, decals, tattoos, music and even magical games played on thin cardboard cards. We bump in our own fragilities on a daily basis, for some even ordering a cup of coffee brings on brief seconds of anxiety, the internal mechanism of calm has never been calibrated correctly, at other times we joke through the waiting of the hours trying to find relief for our inner shakiness by making the world around us laugh. We escape, through fantasy, losing touch with the present through digital and imaginary avatars, standing alone is a frightening experience. Many years ago in a former life I was known for my propensity to drink, the logo of Anyway was “buy me a beer” and at one time, while I was on an episode of Al Franken’s Air America, somebody had written in on the feed, “hey, I only know one Bela in Columbus, and that has to be in” and later in the thread someone wrote, “if it was that Bela he was probably drunk.” That was my identify, I created it, through looking for something to help with whatever unease I had, it was created drink by drink, through years of practice until finally the disquiet within me had eaten me from the inside out. While I am closer to the terms of this lonely echo in my guts, I laugh continuously, making disparaging remarks about myself to melt the inner friction of others, and at the end of the day, I still rely on music to calm the white tipped waves of thought that never seem to settle. Hoping my kids find the same relief.

 

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vL22CIEWJgc

http://www.amctv.com/shows/comic-book-men

http://www.truelifecomix.com/

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vy9A2PSjVxc

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q3pCgxowNN4

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BaC0sXzH9o8

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4dD9_9giZm4