Posts Tagged ‘high school in Catawba’

Jerry Wick and Jenny Mae: Michael Galinsky & Suki Hawley

January 4, 2014

(not edited)

I first met Mike Galinsky in 1991 or 92, I had stumbled across his band, Sleepyhead, via a Shimmy-Disc compilation titled “Chinny Chin Chin” which consisted of four NYC bands. Perhaps the best known was Kicking Giant. I gravitated towards Sleepyhead, that sounded like a fast Superchunk, if something like that was even possible. Somewhere along the line I got a hold of Michael, and his two band mates, Chris O’Rourke and his then girlfriend (now wife?) Rachel. I have a vague recollection of maybe Bettina Richards or her Pier Platters cohort, Otis Ball giving me Michael’s phone number.

Anyway, soon enough, I had booked Sleepyhead to play a weeknight show at Staches with Gaunt. Nobody came to the show but they didn’t care, they were happy to be playing with a decent rock band, and besides, they were impressed that Gaunt was going to be on Bettina’s fledgling Thrill Jockey Record. Michael was tall, and very thin with one of those skinny man Adam’s apple that made his neck and face even more pronounced. I, on the other hand had a triple chin to look forward too as I grew older (not yet though) thanks to the fat Hungarians in my family. Michael wore red cut off jean-shorts and talked a mile a minute, I was intrigued by Rachel as she drummed and I only knew of few female drummers at that time, Georgia from Yo La Tengo, and Janet from 11th Dream Day both of who also shared singing duties along with their significant others.

The next time Sleepyhead came to town they had just signed with Slumber land Records and came with an opening band. The art-slop damaged Dung Beetle who made a racket of a noise at Bernie’s, fronted by the novelist and writer Sam Lipsyte, Dung Beetle was more of an beer fueled art experiment than the fast-paced guitar sounds of Sleepyhead. Again, no one came to the show but we all got smashed, my alcoholism at this time was only a murmur, blanketed by my outsized humor and a yearning to please. Every time that Sleepyhead came to town, I had a different woman and the carousel of sweethearts would be as constant as the Jim Beam, Makers Mark and Budweiser that I clutched tightly to. Michael and the band grew very fond of my two small dogs, Richard and Istvan. Richard was incredibly lovable and Istvan was a dick, he ate everybody’s food was prone to biting if someone tried to say, get a loaf of bread from him or just as easy piss of the floor after eating the “g” section out of my record collection (all my Giant Sand and Gibson Brothers have Istvan scars.)




The third time Sleepyhead came to down was in support of Half Japanese (and maybe Moe Tucker?), there is a very nice photo the Mike took of Jad Fair and Istvan having a stare-down near my grill that appeared in Option Magazine. Thinking Fellers Union Local 282, loved Richard so much they had her photographed taped above their van’s rear-view mirror next to the Queen of England and thanked her on one of their records, for “inspiration.” Mike took more photos this trip and my favorite picture of the dogs is one he took of them, side by side after they devoured an entire bag of Sleepyhead’s cough drops. On this trip, their van was in a crazy accident, as Chris opened the driver’s side door and car drove by and tore it off. Kept on driving, as is the Columbus tradition for night-time drivers (i.e. see the death of Jerry Wick). There was a mad scramble the next day to get the door back on.


There were several more trips to Columbus by Sleepyhead, on one Mike filmed the only known Gaunt video. Soon, as the nineties came to a lurching and (for me) wasted in, Mike had married Suki Hawley who I believe had played or toured with Ruby Falls another NYC band I had booked at Bernie’s. They had made a mad-dash of a film, called Half Cocked which involved members and cast-abouts of the Louisville and Memphis music scenes, it was a burst of black and white along with improvised dialogue and a nugget from that era of indie-rock. Mike brought the film to Columbus and we showed in on a screen while Tim from Two-Dollar Guitar and Sleepyhead opened it up.

A few years later, I was in NYC with my soon to be wife staying in Brooklyn and Mike had just gotten married, and he invited us over for the celebration. I remember sitting on the phone and wanting to go but my wife had a big art opening and I knew I could not trust myself to go to a party and maintain my wits for my wife. I would get too loaded so I quietly demurred.

Mike and I remained in contact, and when I lived in Gainesville he sent me a package of his films on DVD, “Half Cocked” and “Horns and Halos” a documentary involving President George W. Bush, and a man, JH Hatfield who wrote a biography on President Bush that claimed that Bush was arrested for cocaine. Hatfield later committed suicide, in 2001. I terms of what Mike was doing in NYC, I felt left behind, as I picked up the shards of my life that I had not just figuratively but also quite literally smashed upon the hard wood floors in one sad epic afternoon, the anger, frustration and stupidity of my life was slammed into the walls and floor, splintering into a million cracked, pointy specs of things I held dear. I felt adrift, or perhaps I was adrift and had come crashing into the rocky beach? Mike and Suki had taken the ideals of the indie/underground movement, the true ethos of DIY that had given me and so many others the propulsion to exit our tired, and at times, a hopeless grey future and gave us permission to carve and whittle our own lives through our art. We had taken whatever talent we had musically, artistically, and romantically and fed it into the festering creative engine that burbled inside of us and forged an identity. Burnishing ourselves with the confines of notes, paint and typewriters and effervescence conversations, that spilled out of our collective mouths like coffee percolating we forged ourselves with the parameters of nothing except ourselves. As I galloped into my early thirties, so many of my friends, dead, or left for dead as addiction and mental illness chewed not only their talent but also their souls alive, I knew I had lost my way.

Mike and Suki were an inspiration, casting aside the music that had propelled him in his early twenties he rediscovered or more appropriately turned his attention to the visual world. The making of “Half Cocked” must have been liberating and soon they were making award winning documentaries, and as of this past fall releasing several books of photography. Mike’s first book of photography, titled “Scraps” is a black and white time capsule of east coast indie rock, mostly concentrating on New York and the Simple Machine crowd, the book is cover to cover with young kids piecemealing a life on the road, living in conversion bands while banging out three chord stutters of love and longing to a roomful of twenty people at best most nights. Bands such as Versus, The Grifters (who I have written extensively about), and 1/2 Japanese, who would all in some way touch my life as well as my couch stare and smile slyly as Mike borrows a small piece of their essence to be stained onto a white page.

Mike and I connected on Facebook, an avenue of connection that I make no apologies for, it is exciting to be able to touch someone whom I always held an affinity for whether it was only through a shared passion for Paul K., Joel Phelps, Daniel Clowes or the passion of helping those less fortunate than ourselves. Mike updated me on his life, he had just finished a documentary called, “Battle for Brooklyn” which was made over an eight year period documents the struggle over the Atlantic Yards and the Barclay Center where the New Jersey Nets now stake as their home. It was a revelation in terms of rank unrestricted capitalism and how in even a liberal bastion like Brooklyn, politicians and those with money can snuff out the small guy. The same issues are being repeated across the country, most notably in Atlanta where the baseball Braves will shrug off a publically built stadium less than seventeen years after the public paid for it, in Columbus during the 1990’s the citizens voted several times stating collectively and unequivocally that the public would not pay for a hockey arena on the spot of the historic Ohio Penitentiary (that once housed O. Henry, David Allen Coe and Johnny Paycheck). The city and the powerful Wolfe family teamed with Nationwide Insurance and just last year the city gave the arena to the Columbus Blue Jackets (owned by the…….Wolfe Family and Nationwide.) It should be noted that the Wolfe’s are archly conservative, and the editor of their newspaper, The Columbus Dispatch, has almost tea-party beliefs, have been against most public services such as affordable health care, higher funding for financing um, wars but are quite alright for the taxpayers to pay and then give them an shiny new revenue generating arena.

“Battle for Brooklyn” won a litany of awards and ended up on Roger Ebert’s best of 2011 and was shortlisted for an Oscar. Mike’s films have been screened all over the world, on various network stations (Showtime, PBS, Sundance Channel and more) and his audience has found him, not vice-versa. Several years ago, Mike started a Kickstarter campaign for a book he was assembling. It was a book of photographs he took as he drove across the country in the late eighties and early nineties, all the photographs were taken in various shopping malls across the country, each one not surprisingly no different than any of the other ones. The book, titled “Malls Across America” (the title makes me think of Hands Across America, the charity driven failure that imploded when people realized not that many people live in rural America) was soon picked up by the Steidl publishing house after some of the photo’s Mike posted went viral. Mike had asked several writers, including myself to contribute essays to the book and I readily agreed. Mike has been a huge supporter of my writing and we have discussed another book of photography to accompany essays on some of the clients I have meet over the years.  A few of these essays are in rough form within this blog, “Ron the Surfer” and “Pearl Williams”. “Malls Across America” came out in the fall of 2013, and quickly sold out, it has garnered positive press in USA Today, The Week, and New York Times as well as being named one of the books of the year by Time magazine. And in the back there are two essays by contributing writers, and yes, one of them is mine.

Mike has a new film out soon, “Who Took Johnny” about the 1982 abduction of Johnny Gosch, a twelve year old paper boy from Des Moines, Iowa. My wife and I watched it last week and she was in tears throughout, it is a gripping and unsettling movie that closely observes the fears of any parent. And yes, many of those fears, sadly come true in some instances. Mike is launching another Kickstarter to help with distribution of the film, whose subject matter is not one film companies flock to. Please follow the link for more information, and to Mike and Suki, you have made a brilliant film. Thanks.


Jerry Wick and Jenny Mae part 45: Gay

November 13, 2011


Steve was interesting; unlike anyone I had never met, especially in Springfield. He was somewhat short, with wispy blond hair that was cut in layered steps, and he was lean but athletic, with veiny forearms and biceps that bulged slightly under his Little Caesar’s pizza shirt. He had a trimmed mustache, which wasn’t odd in 1986, when Magnum P.I. mustaches weren’t yet ironic. The only suspicious thing was that he had multiple gold hoops in both ears. I couldn’t remember if it was a right or left earring that meant a person was gay, as nobody at Northeastern High School would come out of the closet for years. He was funny, hysterically funny in fact; cracking jokes while he plied the dough, rolling his eyes at the serious assistant manager who wanted every pizza pie to contain the exact amount of cheese, sauce, and pepperoni—deviating from the scale meant a loss of revenue! This couldn’t happen if Little Caesar’s were to ever usurp Dominoes. The fact that the pizza tasted like the cardboard it was served in didn’t seem to matter.

Steve had recently left the Navy and was working at the pizza place to get enough money to return to San Diego. It was obvious that he was worldlier than all of Livingstone Avenue in Springfield, Ohio. I awkwardly kneaded the dough, weighed the cheese, and constructed pizza boxes, never ending pallets of pizza boxes. I was shy, so I kept to myself, singing my favorite songs and hiding in my car during my breaks so I could listen to WOSU, finding the strength to make a hundred more pizza boxes with college radio.

He asked me what music I listened to and it turned out that he was familiar with the same bands. He had also seen R.E.M. a few years ago at the Wittenberg Field House and he said he saw Husker Du in San Diego. He asked me to go party with him and his friends after work the next time we worked together.

That night, I told Jenny that there was one island of sanity in the Little Caesar’s Pizza shop, one person who didn’t talk about his truck, niggers, or pussy. There was a sense of loathing when it came to the pizza shop, not just due to the awkward anxiety that presented as laziness, the co-workers with their constant hate filled masculine chattering. Jenny said I should go out with him and his friends the coming Friday. She would be working at the drive-in theater, and I could pick her up afterwards.

Friday rolled around and I went to work, flush with my first paycheck, all $85 of it. I was ready to hit the bars. I looked old enough and had a smudged up I.D.; the drinking age was only nineteen at the time. He asked if I wanted to go out after work and I said, “Sure, but I need to leave at midnight to get my girlfriend.”

His eyebrows rose. “Oh, you have a girlfriend? I would have never guessed.”

That’s odd, I thought, replying with, “Why not?”

He laughed and said, “Oh, I just assumed you were gay like me, that’s all.”

For a moment, the world flipped-flopped. Gay, he thinks I’m gay, and furthermore, he’s gay. Nauseated, every assumption I held true was under attack, Maybe I’m gay and don’t know it, I thought. I made excuses and left early, telling him that I would catch him next week.

What now? If I’m gay, then I can’t be in love with Jenny. Is this why I want to move to Columbus? I had been told that Columbus was a “smorgasbord of homos”. Two years prior my father had tried to convince me that Lucifer walked the earth, and that he would try to tempt me, most likely in the guise of a gay man. I paid no heed to this—even as a fifteen year old I knew the absurdity of it, but it may have watered the seed of homophobia that was the norm for any high schooler in rural Ohio.

I picked Jenny up and we went back to the parsonage, where I confessed my fear to her that maybe, just maybe, I was queer. I couldn’t remember ever being attracted to a man before, though, and I had a stack of Playboy magazine’s next to my bed. That had to mean something. “It’s okay if you’re gay,” she said, stroking my head, “although I don’t think you are.” She put a soft hand on my lap. Afterwards, I couldn’t shake the feeling that maybe I was gay. Steve had no gay behaviors, no lisp. He was built like a running back and he liked the same music as me. And I liked him—he made me laugh, made me feel welcome in the shit-hole fast food pizza place where I worked.

I ran to the toilet, barreling through doors, and crouched on the floor to empty my guts into the toilet bowl. “I want to go to my mom’s,” I said, tears streaming down my cheeks. The world was asunder.

My mother drove me to Galion, where she lived with her boyfriend, and I spent a day there contemplating what being a gay man might be. Everything would be different, my relationships, my family, and the way I socialized, and, most importantly, sex would change.  Where I grew up, kids were fed hate and ignorance about gay people. We weren’t taught that there are many kinds of relationships. Instead, people who were frightened, who wore their racism, homophobia, and sexism as badges of honor, told us the world was black and white.

While I tried to reject this worldview, it could be difficult, especially the homophobia aspect. Bewildered, I didn’t understand that a person could have relationships with gay men without having gay sex. I came to the realization that in order to be truly gay, one must want to have gay sex, which I didn’t.

On the bookcase in the living room of my in-laws house, thousands of miles from the Franklin County Courthouse, there is a small photo of me and my wife standing across the street from the courthouse, a small bouquet of flowers in her hand and an expectant smile on her red, flushed face. I’m standing next to her with a freshly pressed powder-blue shirt with a crooked grin that seems to say, “This time I will get it right.” We married just four years and two days after the end of my previous marriage in the same courthouse where both that marriage and the subsequent divorce took place.

The courthouse is huge in Franklin County, three towering buildings that mete out justice between marble and drop ceilings. They are a trifecta of fear, loathing, and, in some rare cases, joy, with the Justice of the Peace sandwiched between Adult Probation and the Public Defender’s office. Dizzyingly busy at times, they are filled with pleated skirts, blue suits, leather-bound briefcases, and lawyers carrying piles of documents in the hope that the sheer magnitude of paperwork will turn a judge or jury in their favor. By contrast the other inhabitants of the court house, are the poor and economically malnourished, many of the men brandishing neck tattoos, and women pulling along toddlers, at times picking up the child by the arm, the frustration of the day being put into action. Parking is a chore, with few parking meters available. If you’re unfamiliar with how the courthouse works, then understanding how long a marriage or divorce takes is a puzzle.

Today, one of the responsibilities of my job is to appear in court with mentally ill clients, who approach the courthouse with a very real sense of trepidation or fear, not knowing if they will be leaving the courthouse in a bus with corrugated fencing over the windows via the basement entrance. The fear I once had of the courthouse is a far cry from the fear of my clients.


Me and Robin, my soon-to-be-ex wife drove to the courthouse in the same car, a white Metro that I had bought with money borrowed from Dan Dow (a sum that he would largely forgive a few years later). I was going to give the car to her as part of the divorce—that and temporary custody of Istvan, my beagle-collie mix who liked to eat records and shit on the floor. I would have given anything to rid myself of the pangs of guilt caused by yet another failed relationship.


We drove to the courthouse together to untie the knot that we had just months prior banded together, hoping that this dreadful day would never come. We were nervous and somehow on this particular morning this energy somehow brought us together when we were publically tearing ourselves apart. I had arranged for our mutual acquaintance Mark Fisher to handle the dissolution. Mark is known as the “rock and roll lawyer” in Columbus circles. He helped organize the annual Community Festival, a somewhat self-congratulatory endeavor of the bohemian, left-minded wing of Franklin County that celebrates local music, liberal ideals, and lots of alcohol. I have never cared for the festival, although it tends to be the one gathering that brings the Columbus music and arts scenes together for one mud-filled and alcohol-soaked weekend a year.  Mark did the dissolution for the low sum of $500, and, since we owned very little, it was easy. We appeared in the courtroom, signed some paperwork, and our marriage was dissolved.

An emptiness came with our failure, a type of vacancy that blended the present moment with the past, muddled together to wipe out any sense of body or emotion. For a moment, when the realization hit, I couldn’t feel the outside, as if I were a flag, shifting with the wind, the skin like bare thread bouncing but not feeling anything expect the lack of feeling. Stepping to the curb, Robin and I looked at one another, nervous smiles across our faces. We had a permanent public scar on our history; the brunt of our deteriorated relationship would be in the newspaper tomorrow. We looked at one another, trying to figure out the next step. On the car ride back to her apartment we stopped for a drink, and then another drink, before finally succumbing to one another. We got a twelve-pack and drove to her house, with nervous energy bouncing off of one another like invisible emotional darts. Did we feel sadness, anger, relief, or shame?

Heading to her room, we undressed to engage in the one activity that lifted all oppressive emotions for at least a moment. Afterwards, she laid her head on my chest. Feeling as if I were standing too close to a campfire, my eyebrows singeing, I bolted upright. “I gotta go, now,” I stammered.

Scowling, she replied, “That’s just like you, you are such a fucking asshole. God, I hate your fucking guts. You’ve RUINED my fucking life!” I listened to her screaming while I wrestled a pair of jeans on in the other room. My little dog Istvan stared up at me, wondering where I was going.

Lurching home, I picked up a 12-pack of Milwaukee’s Best Light and, with drama in every step, plodded up Ted Hattemer’s wooden porch steps. The dazzling sun was in stark contrast to the grayness that filled me. Plopping down in front of the stereo, I listened to “Dear You” by Jawbreaker, a favorite of both me and Jerry Wick. And looked back at the drama I had set up for myself as if it was something straight out of a John Hughes movie. In reality, everything about me that week was a wreck. That night, after a quick drunken nap, I decided to go out. I went to Larry’s and quickly started a conversation with a dark-haired woman who had tattoos stretching up one arm and down the other. A few hours later I found myself in her bed. After sloppy and guilt ridden sex, I laid on my back, trying to see if the ceiling in her room really had a tapestry pinned to it. I wanted an inner shower.

The next day, sauntering in to work with a large black Buckeye Donuts coffee to purge my sweaty hangover, my colleagues were kind enough not to mention the day before. The drinking started early again that day, as it would for the majority of the next year. It usually began at five p.m., but sometimes it started earlier, at around three. A quick double shot of vodka and lime juice at Larry’s followed by a six pack of Black Label to get me through the last few hours of Used Kids and I was ready to stumble into the coming night.

That night I went to Staches and ended up at The Blue Danube, where I ran into Jerry and two women drinking at the bar. Jerry cracked to the women that I just gotten a divorce, which somehow impressed them. Either they were amazed that someone would marry a schlep like me or that I had lived long enough to be married and divorced. Nobody in our scene actually married. We eventually ended up downtown, the four of us, dancing at the Garage, better known to wizened souls as the Gay-Rage. Our bodies twisted and we flicked our sweat onto all the gay men hurtling themselves to the heavy techno beats of the time. Feeling lost, I went home with one of the two women. I urgently needed to be held, smelled, and felled. Waking up the next morning, in another strange house, was unnerving. She was gone, and she had left a note on her dinner table that directed me to the still-warm coffee and gave me her phone number and name. Walking home, I was overcome with an even heavier sense of loss than I’d had the day before.

Rinse and repeat. The next night I found myself at Dow’s on High and then at Dick’s Den, two havens for drunken outsiders who were fond of classic country music and jazz. I ran into Eric Davidson’s girlfriend, Heather, and a female bartender from Bernie’s named Jen. Jen and I had been flirting for several years, trading gazes across the bar that implied we both wanted more than drinks. She was short, with solid blonde hair that wasn’t dyed, and she had a quick wit that works well when serving drinks to the cynical crowd. At Dick’s Den, under the influence of a mixture of Maker’s Mark and Pabst Blue Ribbon, she said “Good” when I told her I had gotten divorced three days ago. Later, on groggy, loose legs, I asked her if she wanted to go back to my house to listen to records. This was the indie version of asking a woman if she wanted to have sex. Although on this night, as the effects of the PBR and Maker’s Mark went from pleasing to drudging up more guilt, listening to records was actually what I wanted to do.

The attic of Ted’s house had been reconstructed to handle me post divorce. I had asked Ted if I could move in with him some months earlier, and he had converted the attic into a two room area with a half bath for me. It was lined with records, CDs, books, and a few barely alive plants. The floor was littered with t-shirts and most of the free areas on shelves and the dresser were filled with empty beer bottles stuffed with cigarette butts.

I had my grandmother and grandfather’s huge bed, which was nearly an acre across in order to hold my grandmother’s enormous girth and the dying body of my grandfather. The bed filled the room, with sheets twisted across it as if they had been lifted by a tornado and deposited at the other end. The dog hair was thick on both the bed and the carpet beside the bed, but I kept it as clean as I could. I had slept in enough strangers’ beds to be aware of how it feels to lay back naked on a filthy mattress. I explained all of this to Jen in a drunken, laughing dialect that only alcohol can create. “It’s clean,” I said as I pointed to the bed, “except for all that dog hair. I mean, the dogs are also clean. I bathe them, you know? Those beer bottles are new. Smell them. They don’t smell like Bernie’s or anything. I drank them in the past few days—same with the clothes. I mean, I didn’t drink the clothes…I wore them, but just the past few days…I’m not dirty.” At this point, I started to move my hips ever so slightly to the rapturous sounds of Les Thugs. She smiled. “I mean,” I said, casting a mischievous smile her way, “I’m dirty but not like dirt dirty.” I thought that this sounded wiser than “I’m horny.” I leaned in to her and we kissed, but suddenly I wasn’t feeling so dirty any longer, just sad.

I stopped kissing Jen and sat on the edge of the bed until “I Love You So” faded into the next song, which wasn’t nearly as epic. Putting on the first Bee Gees’ record, I left to take a piss. When I came back, talking to myself about the greatness of the Bee Gees, there she stood, completely naked but for her earrings. Shit, I thought, I can’t do this—three nights in a row with different women. I had plenty of hang-ups about sex, even without considering the divorce I had gotten a few days ago. I hugged her and then perched myself back on the corner of the bed. She kissed my neck, placing a hand on my chest. I said, “I can’t do this now.”

“Why? You know we didn’t come to your house to listen to records.”

I looked down, not knowing what to say; even though this scene was something out of a fifteen year old’s fantasy. “Well, I just got my divorce,” I stumbled over words as she pulled my shirt up. I was listless both inside and out.

“Yeah….” She purred. I waited a few moments, taking some breaths, thinking as the moments ticked by. What do I say? I thought, as my mood was quickly changing. “Ummm, I got my divorce because I’m gay,” I stammered.

She waited, thinking, and then turned my head. Before kissing me fully on the lips she said, “you ARE NOT gay.” And we completed the task.

Jerry Wick and Jenny Mae part 44: Meeting-1986

September 18, 2011

Meeting. 1985.


The hallway was cluttered with back-packs, books with torn homemade paper-bag covers littered with hearts and the numerals of a favorite football player, who would try in desperation to capture the heart of the book owner on a chilly autumn evening, frayed twigs of swirled notebook paper scattered over the floor, and the invisible angst of teenage years filled the hall with the nervous oppression of puberty, giddy chatter and nervous glances before the bell rang. I slunk, as I always did, to my locker, carrying a paperback and one notebook, I had no use for the textbooks that the teachers were obliged to teach from. Some of these were already old, dating to the late sixties, oblivious to the history that had redrawn the world but in some instances, I felt that nothing had changed here in decades. In front of my locker, I stood staring at the calendar where I marked my potential escape.  A handmade, numeric docket that empowered me to make it through another day; there was only six months left of high school.

I was known as the wise-ass, the one who would say and challenge everything, I read voluminous amounts, demolishing books and magazines at a quick pace as if the knowledge I poured into my head would undermine the apathetic distaste of what I perceived from my instructors. I doubted them and their skinny world view, as my family had seen the world outside of the huddled burg of South Vienna and Catawba, Ohio. The memories of childhood tales spoken from my grandmother, the wall of degrees on my grandfather’s office and the importance of education fortified me. Looking back, from the vantage of twenty-five years, I was too harsh on my surroundings, surely as harsh to it as I felt it was to me. But the anger I felt towards the school still smolders at times, as several guidance counselors and teachers tried in vain to steer both my brother and I away from college, we were not the chosen ones in the small insular world of Northeastern High School. In the mid-eighties, before cable had cracked the shell of information wide open, before the internet allowed people to live as if they were part of some science fiction novel I read, nobody had heard of the term “global village.”

The locker was crammed with disjointed books, a frazzled green army jacket, with strands of thread parsing out from the collar, and an old sandwich that I dared not touch at the bottom, a continuous active biology experiment. The bell had just rang, I didn’t mind being late, it was a talent that I had been fortifying for years, building it class by class, day by day only to manifest itself as an adult fear that I would be late to work. Everyday.  She ran next to me, a bundle of wild energy, wearing a black and white stripped pant-suit that showed off her seventeen year old breasts quite well. I tried not to notice her, although our lockers were next to each other. It was the last day of school before Christmas break, and she had to be a National Honor Society function five minutes ago. She was carrying a box of chocolates and as she grappled with her locker, it spilled to the floor. Small chunks of circular and square confections rolling on this god-awful floor, “Shit! now I am late!” she stammered. I shelved the paperback at the top of the locker, and gently bent down and helped her pick them up. In that moment, I suppose was when the flickering of first love bellowed up from the spilled contents of a chocolate box. “She must have a boyfriend” I thought, but I said, “Here put the spilled ones on this side of the box and give that part to your friends, they’ll never know.”  “Good idea, a bit of dirt never hurt anyone.” As we crouched down placing them into the box, with bit of flaky, drug-store bought candy, we managed to laugh and look at one another. She stopped my being for a moment when she gushed, “You have to most beautiful eyes I have ever seen.” “er, ahh, thank you. I’m late for Mr. Wasserman’s class.” “Just tell him that you were helping Jenny Mae, he loves me.” It worked; he didn’t count me tardy that day as he usually did, as I was an outspoken thorn in his side. Everybody loved Jenny Mae.

Jerry Wick & Jenny Mae part 42: Outsider

April 8, 2011


Ohio lays flat in places. Just west of Columbus it has a skyline the size of the Pacific Ocean, blanketed with fields of soybeans, corn, and wheat. There are a few larger towns in western Ohio, most notably Dayton and, of course, Toledo. The rest of the wide, smooth land is mottled with small towns. These towns are glorified as small town heartland America. They have large brick courthouses at their centers, several ice cream shops, and hardware stores that have every widget known to man, complete with kindly old gents who know the names of every kid in town. A homegrown sense of Americana sprouts in western Ohio like the farms that once helped feed the steelworkers in Youngstown and Cleveland and the academics and policy-makers in Columbus. There among the one-traffic-light towns there is a sense of nostalgia that for most of them, has only existed in a vacant dream-state, one that is hazy and filled with apathy and a strangulated sense of loyalty of something, like diminishing smoke, that has only vaguely existed. Most of the residents no longer feel. The belief in the American Dream that was long ago crushed by the greed of capitalism still stands proud every Memorial Day and Fourth of July, but a cursory weekend drive through any of these towns reveals the deflated dream of Middle America, from the empty store fronts to the lack of children playing baseball, football, or kick-the-can. When I arrived in the tiny burg of Catawba at the age of fourteen, my cynicism about romantic fantasies like the American Dream had already been ripened by my experiences of broken homes and the reality of attending over eight schools by the age of fourteen; I had an ingrained mistrust of platitudes.

We moved to Catawba in the summer of 1982. I had discovered Adam Ant, the Clash, and the Ramones during my eighth grade year, before we moved to Catawba. New wave was the only thing that MTV was showing, aside from Quarterflash, and it had just started on cable in Athens, Ohio. Catawba did not have cable television, and some of the kids hadn’t even heard of MTV, let alone Adam Ant, Elvis Costello, or the Clash. I was pegged, and rightfully so, as a nerd of the highest degree. A wave of nausea washed over me as we drove through the Ohio hinterlands, a sick feeling that would not leave my stomach for the next four years.

I missed the colors of the hills of southeastern Ohio as well as the excitement of the college town, where a stroll through the streets that sunk down below the uptown shops and the greenery of the campus exposed the passerby to music playing on lawns where college students played Frisbee in shorts, laughed, and drank beer. I went to late-night movies as a middle-school student in Athens: Rock and Roll High School, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and An American Werewolf in London. My older sister Erica, a high school senior who was dating a “townie” who was a freshman at Ohio University, took me to many of these. Being exposed to this atmosphere provided me with experiences that I soon discovered that my classmates at my new high school did not have. In the truest sense, among the fields and the slow everyday movement in Catawba, it was easy to imagine that the both land and the people who lived in this rural community had grown fallow and dormant, perhaps proudly so. My first day of school, I heard the hushed tones of my fellow school bus riders as they eyed me as if I were foreigner.

“Wow, look at that new kid. He’s so small.”

“Bela?! What the hell kind of name is that?”

“Are you even American?”

“Isn’t that a girl’s name? Are you sure you’re not a girl?”.

I felt isolated even before I arrived at school. The dread I felt was so thick that I could have balled it up and stuck it in my pocket.

Living parts of my childhood years near a college campus gave me opportunities that most of my classmates at tiny Springfield Northeastern High School never had. I was used to seeing a cross section of different cultural backgrounds. My mother was friends with many Nigerian students, and we had many students in my grade school who were the sons and daughters of foreign exchange students. At Northeastern, I was shocked to learn that there were no African-American students. It wasn’t until later, when I met Jenny Mae’s mother, that I learned that there had not been an African-American student at the high school for over twenty years. On my first day of school, I felt as if I would never fit in. The school was rampant with racism, although there were no African-American kids in the school, one could hear the word nigger throughout the day, on kid of Mexican descent was referred to as a “sand nigger”, I wanted to shout at some of the kids who said these things that the slang word for Mexican’s was “spick” but I didn’t thought they would miss my point and take me seriously. It wasn’t just the students who espoused racist attitudes on several occasions I heard both our principle (Donald Smith-thankfully retired) and football coach (Mr.Wasserman) tell racist jokes to our wrestling team and biology classes respectfully.  I felt as if I were in a time warp. Growing up, we were taught under any circumstance to never use the word nigger or any other type of derogatory slang. Whenever my brother and I would use the word redneck, my mother would remind us that our grandparents were from Appalachia, we would roll our eyes at her political correctness but we took the slandering of other races to heart.

I have a photograph of myself, circa 1976, standing in the backyard of our new house in Newport News, Virginia. It was our second house in Newport News, and in reality it wasn’t a house. It was a new sort of condo that is now prevalent, with a “brick” façade hiding the particle board innards, as if this apparition of strength could hide the fragile, cheap-as-hell construction of the building. We had moved from another part of Newport News because of concerns about the urban grade school I was attending, where I didn’t have a single friend. The condo community we moved into was filled with the families of Navy personnel and working class families. I had a small room that I shared with my brother, my sister had a room just next to ours, and the bathroom connected to the hallway to the master bedroom. The yard was roughly ten feet by ten feet, big enough to catch a lizard in and that was about it.

In the photograph, I am wearing a red and white Washington Redskins t-shirt, although I was already a Steelers fan like my big brother. Perhaps I was trying to find my own identity as an eight year old, or perhaps others were trying to find it for me.  The photo is faded like so many photos from the seventies; instantly dated, as if the picture was taken behind marbled glass. It gives the impression that the whole world was slightly askew and blurred. When looking at photographs from the nineteen thirties and forties, it feels as if the poverty that gripped the thin, weathered faces of those who managed to survive the Great Depression was more severe in black and white—as if the world had never been in color. Blurred and fuzzy, I stood in the backyard in that picture from the seventies, knowing that even if this was yet another new house, new school, and new friends; I would forever be tethered to the feelings of isolation that I felt at that moment.

In the spring of 2004, I had received a message from Jenny. She was back in Columbus, at least temporarily, and she was drunk, incoherent, and lost, as if the map to her inner soul had been doused in gasoline and burned. Over the phone, her voice sounded as if it were being wired through the ages from a time that had long since passed. It was broken, brittle, and frayed. If her message had been a photograph, it would have been faded, black and white, with eyes staring towards the lens with all of the effort of a dustbowl victim.  Jenny sounded small, huddled into herself; the message spoke of desolation and the crazed chaos of alcoholism, mental illness, and the misfortune of loneliness that is only magnified by alcohol.  “I don’t know what to do. I’m borrowing some girl’s phone. She must think I’m nuts.  What can I do without him? I need help.” Click.

I had no idea what time Jenny had called and I sure where she was. I had been rebuilding myself for a few years at this point, living back in Columbus, working at Used Kids, and plunging headlong into various kinds of volunteer work to help other drinkers. I was ill prepared to offer solace to Jenny. With furrowed brow, I took to the stairs of Used Kids, passing the timeline of flyers that line the walls of the stairwell, a cornucopia of brazen and hectic nights of my life. Pavement, New Bomb Turks, Thinking Fellers Union, Love Battery, All-Male Mowdown, All-Girl Hoedown, Dinosaur Jr., Sonic Youth, The Great Plains, Scrawl—a virtual testament to my twenties that marked my trajectory from young, feisty indie-punk to cynical record-store drunk to grizzled befuddled optimist, the walls captured and dismissed me at the same time.

I headed to Bernie’s, where Jenny had struck up several romances since returning to town. I assumed that she had borrowed a phone from some future barfly there who had not yet dipped her life into the inkwell of wretchedness that years of bar sitting can bring, but Bernie’s in the daytime was a good as any place to start. Poking my head into the bar, the bartender glanced at me and said, “She left about three hours ago, and she was a mess, yelling at Nate about some craziness. She is off her fucking rocker. I told her not to come back for a while. She is scaring some of the customers.”

I glanced at a bearded man with bits of egg in his beard and four inches of stretched belly hanging out over a belt that longed to be put to sleep. His t-shirt was blanched and threadbare, with dollops of pizza stains and pocketed with small stretchy holes that barely contained his daily-beer-drinker’s girth. He raised one eyebrow, hoisted a Pabst Blue Ribbon tallboy, and slowly nodded his head in agreement. I gazed at another man sitting two seats down, decked in a faded leather jacket with a chain wallet dangling against his bar stool as if he were tethered to it like a dog. He looked up from his tallboy and said, “Bela, that chick is nuts.” In the background, Homer Simpson mirrored this same scene at Moe’s Tavern.

Crossing High Street, I entered the OSU Music Building and climbed the stairs to the top floor, where the university kept the practice pianos. I crept quietly and listened. I heard the vague plinking of the Beach Boys’ “Surfer Girl.”  Opening the door, I found Jenny, hair matted, filthy and clinging to her skull and shoulders, and a thin dress drenched in sweat sticking to her arms and back as if it wallpapered onto her. She was braless, with the contours of her breasts exposed revealing not sexiness but total sadness. She gazed up at me, tears streaming down her cheeks, with a bottle of vodka stashed between her legs and the overwhelming odor of sweat, booze, and depression blanketing the air. “Oh Bela, what am I gonna do?” She turned and tried to play “Lady Madonna”, but only made it through the first several lines before switching course and attempting “Maybe I’m Amazed.”  Gurgling, she croaked, “That was his favorite. He loved Paul McCartney. I would play that over and over.”  Of this, I had no doubt, as she once told me that they had spent $275 playing David Bowie’s “Major Tom” over and over in a hotel while on a two-day-long coke binge.  The other half of the “they” was Jim Williams, her boyfriend who had passed away only a few months ago. “You know,” she slurred, “we saw Paul McCartney five times. We flew across the county to see him. Jim was like that, once he became obsessed with something he did it to death.”

My first thought, which I managed to keep in my mouth, was “like cocaine.”

Taking a pull off the warm vodka bottle, she said, almost to no one in particular, “You know, they threw out all my stuff when he died. His brother and that bitch sister-in-law, they went to the boat I lived on and dumped it all. Even my pink records.” The pink records were the Guided By Voices split she did, the one that had been reviewed in Spin magazine only seven years prior, where Charles Aaron called her “astonishing and one of the best bohemian song-writers alive.”

Frozen, I simply said, “I’m sorry.” Inside I was angry, upset that anybody would discard somebody’s possessions with such impudence. Although Jenny could be difficult, she didn’t deserve that. Peeking under the cover of madness takes skill, an unwavering sense of determination, and a smidgeon of courage, all of which I lacked at that time. My skin felt like science fiction, sweat dripping down my back. The room was an oven—don’t they have air conditioning here?  “Jenny, why don’t you go somewhere and get some help?”

Plinking on the piano, she whispered, “You can’t help, you never wanted to help. You just want to tell me what to do. Leave me alone.”  Not wanting to fight, I left, a hole inside of me shuddering as if another shovel of dirt had been lifted out and dumped onto the pile of unhappy memories that littered my life. I thought of that picture of me, taken so many years ago, feeling like an outsider at the age of seven, and I realized that there is nothing sadder than being an outsider in your own life.

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

July 31, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Jerry Wick and Jenny Mae part 11: first songs and a come-on

September 11, 2009


I started writing poetry and short stories in high school although I had never taken a poetry class or a decent writing class while in high school.  Needless to say that rural high schools in Western Ohio, whose student population were encouraged to apply for jobs at the local International Harvester/Navistar factory  upon graduation displayed little credence to the arts. This caught me off guard upon moving to the tiny burg of Catawba Ohio from what (in comparison) appeared to be the cultural giant of Athens, Ohio. As an eighth grader in Athens besides wanting to work in a record store I dreamed of being an artist or an art teacher (which most artists have to be anyway to pay the bills). When we visited Springfield Northeastern just prior to enrollment in the summer of 1982, I was shut out of the four art courses they offered and had to settle for Industrial Arts.  Back then the boys took Industrial Arts and the girls took Home Economics, I was encouraged to take Industrial Arts over Home Economics my freshmen year for I was told I would be the only male in Home Ec.  I followed the guidance counselor’s advice even though I have always had a deep seated fear of any sort of tool, especially one that has volts of electricity running through it. I barely passed Industrial Arts and to this day I would rather wash dishes, cook dinner and scrub a toilet than hold a screwdriver or even open a tool box.

I started writing my poetry my sophomore year, the same year that I discovered masturbation. Imagine that. At times I would transcribe some of this truly sophomoric poetry to the rudimentary song arrangements of my friends Jon Baird and Chris Biester.  Chris is one of the people who can play anything, from any stringed instrument to any found object. He can coax a melody or a beat out of thin air. Chris would later form Appalachian Death Ride, one of the most under-rated bands to come from Ohio.  He, like Jenny Mae, Jerry Wick and I would wrestle with the same monsters as we did. I didn’t have anyone to show my writings to until I met Jenny Mae.

One afternoon as Jenny and I finished up with what was no doubt clumsy, probing awkward teenage sex, she looked in the cubby at the top of my bed and found a stack of notebooks.  These contained the writings of a young man who was trying to make sense out of sex, government, love and abandonment, pretty much what I still struggle with today.  She read them and was amazed, looking back it probably had more to do with the fact that she actually met a boy who wrote alone in his room, among books by Vonnegut and Salinger and records by Lou Reed and the Kinks. A great deal of the poetry was about her, I’m sure I wrote in the stunted language of clichés, trying to make some sort of sense of the avalanche of feelings I had.  Shortly thereafter I wrote my first short story for her little brother Tony; it was about a boy who could see back into the time of the dinosaurs through the ingredients in a candy bar wrapper.  It is long forgotten to the trash bag of candy bar wrappers.

I would continue to write, mostly in fits and starts depending on my mood the next several years. The creative juices usually flowed depending on my emotional state, if things were rough with Jenny then I tended to write more, when they were easy, we laughed most days and nights and this took the place of putting my heart on paper.

In 1989 we were living in a duplex on Summit Street in Columbus, we lived with a man named Dan Miller who was a buddy of my brother and took great pride in his occupation as a carpenter.  Dan was beautiful in his simplicity, at times hilariously so. He worked hard, harder than I ever had and he enjoyed coming home caked in mud and pride and would drink a six pack and laugh along with the laugh-track of the television. He would open a can of Campbell’s Beef Soup with his key ring and eat the soup cold. Then he would pass out. He was never the cleanliest man and it wasn’t uncommon for him to wear part of the mountain of clothing I had at the corner of my room after his clothes had become too immobile from grim.  One time he came home from work, my eyes grew wide when I eyed his shirt. I glanced toward Jenny, “Look what Dan’s wearing.”  Her  mouth dropped and she excused herself from the living room.  I quickly followed her into the bed room where we both slowly dived into a mass on the floor. We were laughing so hard we weren’t making any noise, kinda like when a baby falls, opens her mouth to cry but nothing comes out but you know the howl is brewing. “Oh fuck, we have to tell him” she said. “O.k. you do it,” I stammered.  Just then Dan appeared at the doorway.  “Tell me what?”  Jenny pointed at me, “Bela has something to tell you about that shirt you’re wearing.”  Dan, looking apologetic said “hey, you said I could wear your clothes if I needed.”  I took a deep breath, “Dan, hate to break this to you but you’re wearing our cum rag.” Dan’s face twisted into a slow motion earthquake, his eyes literally filled with tears, “Oh fuck!!!???” he yelled, this too was also oddly in slow motion. It came out as “O-o-o-o-h-h-h-h-r-a-a-a-g-g-g-g-h-h-h f-f-u-u-a-u-g-h-h-k-k-k-k!!!?” As a question. His disbelief at the realization that he had been wearing this article of spent love for an entire day was too much for him. He attacked the shirt from every angle, wanting to tear it off but not wanting to touch it at all, it was if he were smothered in centipedes. Frustration was flying off of him as if he were a living algebra problem. We laughed harder, there was nothing we could do. Finally he wrenched the shirt free, making animalistic noises by this time. “You guys are assholes” he stammered and stalked out of the room. “What could we do?” we asked ourselves. We laughed for a good two weeks on that one, Dan gave us the silent treatment for at least that long.

The Summit house was pretty insane at times, I was the house dad, and we had a number of revolving roommates, each one with a distinctive odd trait about them. One got drunk a pooped in the heating vent, even we thought that was a bit much by our lengthy standards. Another one, a woman’s whose name I can’t remember was a compulsive liar, who has probably now been diagnosed as a border-line personality disorder. She once asked me to have a threesome with her and Monica, I literally ran from the house.

Summit was where we were living when we met Jerry Wick, with his and Jon Stickly’s (who would form Boy Scout Love Triangle, a midwestern’s take on the U.K. Paperclip record label) encouragement I bought a small Casio for Jenny to write her songs on. Soon she was taking bits of my poetry and adding some of them to her incredibly catchy melodies.  The first time she played me one I didn’t even recognize my words, she had used words from several different poems.

I always thought that some of Jenny’s best songs were the ones where she wrote the words and I think she used my words somewhat because she was lazy with lyrics. I also think that as I grew older I made a concerted effort to shed the clichés of my earliest writing. This provided Jenny with an opportunity to avoid the standard love-struck simplistic pop song, which was her forte and come up with something a bit different but the same. When I left Jenny she had a nice storehouse of excellent songs, most of which would appear on her first record “There’s a Bar around the Corner” and some would never appear on record. She would write songs in the same manner as I would construct my poetry and stories, in brief manic efforts. She may write ten songs in three days and then not anything for several months.

Jerry was very supportive of her songs; soon she caught the ear of Craig Dunson who was the guitarist for one of Columbus’s most popular live bands, Pica Huss. Craig was an interesting guy, an ex-marine who wore Roy Orbison styled glasses and who had a great knack for melody and whose guitar playing was always sophisticated but not showy. One may miss the carefulness of his playing during a Pica Huss show which was usually one part Butthole Surfers, one part heroin or cocaine and one part orgy.  They were the freak central. Craig took a direct shining to Jenny’s songs, and soon he started recording her on his portable studio which was a step above sonic-wise, to Jerry’s self described Cornhole studios. Jerry was a bit miffed when this happened. I think Jerry wanted Jenny to be his discovery, but she had a knack for attracting some of the most gifted musicians to help her despite her living demons.

Jenny took no mind to whom I wrote my poetry about, she would stop by my apartment sometimes and take one of my little notebooks.  At one point she wrote a song with a poem I had written for Nora from the Slave Apartments, what was meant as declaration of immediate love was transfigured into a dark paranoid paean to love that she called “Blazing Saddles.” I always hoped Nora would never hear it because it had never been my intention for it to wind up like that.

Jerry Wick and Jenny Mae part 8

August 30, 2009


I am standing at my locker, there is no one there for I am late to class which is normal for me, having already accrued enough credits to graduate I spend my time shuffling to and from class at my own leisurely pace, quite certain of the fact that the educators are as excited to see me leave as I am. Ducking out of class whenever possible and failing to show up on time many mornings as there is no-one at home to rouse me out of bed.  Inside my locker there is a calendar marking the end of days, only one-hundred and twelve days left of school. The relief will be comparable to the first flight of a gosling. Jenny’s locker was next to mine, we were seniors and even though our last names were only one letter apart we never really spoke to one another, I was comfortable launching my pot shots in the back of the classroom to humor myself, and she was more than comfortable to be the center of attention. She was also in all of the college-prep courses while I fled for the safety in regular education classes where the only expectation was that you were supposed to breath. Today, she is wearing a pin-strip jumpsuit; she explains that she had a presentation for the National Honor Society. She glances at the calendar, nods towards me and states “you really hate this place don’t you.” Smiling I reply, “Yup.” Just then a box of chocolates comes crashing down out of her locker, “Shit, now I really going to be late.” I help her pick them up; she must have a boyfriend I think to myself. I arrive late to English class and offer the explanation that I’m late because of Jenny Leffel. The instructor smiles and says “I understand.”

Within a week we are dating, my car breaks down the first night of our date after I had coaxed her into the shower and dropped her off. Her father must have been suspicious because of her wet hair; he had to drive me home. I am sure he was impressed. He was skeptical of methat first day, not just because I brought his daughter home with wet hair just days before Christmas but for the fact that I was so very different from most of the other boyfriends she had brought home. I didn’t care two licks about farming, the Clark County Fair or what was on television.  I was interested in books, music and being a wise-ass, I showed little respect for people whom I had little respect for in essence I was somewhat of a punk. I had a funny name, wore big glasses and thought that I was more clever than anyone I knew.  I could drink a lot of beer though and this was the only bond her father and I ever had, we both loved beer.

I had always thought that I would attend Ohio University in Athens, where I spend the majority of my childhood, my father had taught architecture at OU early in his career. Jenny had her sights on Ohio State University in Columbus; she was going to be the first person in her family to graduate from college. She had a fantastic academic career in high school, National Honor Society, she placed and won several distinguished awards for Future Farmers of America and had scored high on her college entrance exams. She played first trumpet in the marching band since her sophomore year but drove the band director nuts because she couldn’t read music. He said that she was the most talented musician he had ever taught; he would frequently contribute trumpets to her cause many of which would be dinged and left behind in the various houses and boats she lived. She has also planned to march for the Ohio State Marching Band. By the spring of our senior year, after many showers together I had decided to switch from attending Ohio University to attending Otterbein College, located just north of Columbus. My dependence on Jenny was in full bloom in just a few short months together.

My home life was a mess my senior year, my brother joined the US Army and was living in Germany, my sister was living in Pensacola, Florida and my mother had left the Methodist minister that fall. She was living in Columbus and the minister had a nervous breakdown and was hospitalized for some time; I was pretty much on my own. I spent my afternoons reading and listening to music. Music was my savior, I had a cassette of R.E.M. “murmur” on one side and “recokoning” on the other.  I discovered Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground when I was fifteen and had purchased half of Lou’s entire 70’s catalog in a few days mostly in the cut-out bin at Woolworths and at School Kids records in Athens. “Street Hassle” and “Berlin” were particular favorites as well as the newly released “New Sensations.”  I could easily spend hours by myself with music. I would read and jerk-off.  That was pretty much my days. When Jenny entered my life, she was completely flabbergasted by the amount of music I had and the wide range of tastes I had developed at that early age. I suppose when you have little else you just tend to immerse yourself in what gives you release. She had never heard of Lou Reed, Elvis Costello, R.E.M., The Smiths or even that the Beatles had released a ton of albums.

We would spend our afternoons going to my house, fooling around, listening to music and laughing. We laughed like crazy, I suppose we were both heading towards the deep end already at that point in our lives. I totally regarded myself at the edge of the social scene in high school, I had a few really good friends (one of which was Chris Biester who would years later form Appalachian Death Ride) and was known as the pretty much the eccentric class clown in high school. By the end of our senior year Jenny and I were voted “best couple” and she was voted “funniest female”. Gas was only $1 a gallon.

One afternoon, shortly after we started dating she was showing me some of her photographs in her parents basement and I noticed an old organ, I asked her who played and she told me she did. She then proceeded to play several songs that she had written to help sing her young brother Tony to sleep. I was impressed. Looking back the songs were not too unlike some of the songs that Daniel Johnston wrote on his parent’s organ, the melodies were buried within the claustrophobic chords of the machine, muffled and blunted but strong nevertheless. I encouraged her to keep writing them.

We went back to her bed and she giggled, and said that she had something to show me, immediately I had the over-sexed thoughts of a seventeen year old boy as she reached under the bed. She then produced a giant burr-penis.  It was giant, made by her and her sister Rachel with about a hundred round prickly burrs found on their farmland. They had constructed a giant penis complete with balls. It measured roughly nine inches not including the nuts. I laughed, more at the brilliance of making a giant dick out of burrs then the creation itself. Rachel bounded down the stairs, laughed and said “no, you aren’t showing him the burr-dick are you?”  We all laughed and then Jenny’s mother Ginger walked in.  Ginger was as straight as straight is, a woman for whom the phrase “gosh-darn-it” was an offense. Ginger was horrified and immediately offered me an apology, saying “Bela, I’m so sorry you have to see that fifth, I told her to get rid of it.” Just then Jenny laughed and said “Oh, mom you know you always loved it!” with that she flipped the sticky burr-dick towards Ginger, where it immediately latched onto her chest.  She was horrified and as she tried in vain to flick it off, the burr-dick just seemed to become more entrenched in her blouse.  “Oh, Jenny you are horrible!” and then the absurdity of the situation hit her and Ginger had to laugh soon, “Just don’t let your dad know you still have this piece of trash.”

Jenny always had a knack for making light out of any situation, her wit was quicker than Hawkeye Pierce and because her delivery was so fast and fun loving she could get away with it. There would come a time when the wit didn’t work anymore, it seems that charm and brilliance can shrivel with age if it is not cared for, when a person’s circumstances and tragedies can engulf them and leave little trace of flash that burned so bright within them


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