Posts Tagged ‘Superchunk’

One Month Later, more or less (not edited, sorrynotsorry)

October 28, 2017

A Month Later-2017

 

A little over a month later, the leaves are turning, millions every night go from green to red or orange,  some even straight to brown. Instant ghosts, dropping and floating their slow-motion dance to the ground. Autumn weather is an unpredictable guessing game, where one day the sun floats humidity down like moist blanket and the next day the October wind bites bare legs that were fooled into wearing shorts just the day before. On Friday nights, marching bands stand in lines, blowing on cold fingers, cracking jokes to split the awkwardness of teenage sexuality in half, they bleat out pop hits, odes to the gridiron and dream of life after high school. Meanwhile young men slip on shoulder pads, long socks, form fitting pants with laces to make help tie in this perfect American male package and slap each other in locker rooms, waiting to smack another kid across the grass as bright lights illuminate the field. In kitchens, onions are diced carefully, to be added to simmering pots of chili. Young women take to stores of all types, Macy’s, boutiques, thrift stores, buying sweaters, scarves, leggings all for the coming months. We all prepare our nesting in certain ways.

Jenny used to decorate the apartment with whatever season or holiday it was, at Halloween she would tack up pictures of jack-o-lanterns, sinister witches and tape up the crinkly fallen leaves. It was not uncommon to come home in the early evening and be welcomed with a spinning Halloween record on the stereo blaring the spooky sounds of Halloween.

Insomnia has settled in my bed, a thin invisible itch that pesters while trying to drift off to sleep, and when slumber finally arrives, the itch comes back I am shaken awake only to face the dread of not being able to sleep. In some ways, due to the long-term nature of Jenny’s death, the grief process has happened by degrees over the years. As her alcoholism and mental illness carved out small parts of me with every crisis or every worry stacked upon another as if they were made of a million tongue depressors stacked on top of one another over a twenty-year period. Her life spread out over the years like a sinkhole, swallowing everybody who ever loved her, and if the hole could talk it would have been screaming with every inch it widened. She had become invisible in her own life, an apparition at the end where those of us who could still muster the energy to care for her, would huddle together outside of hospital rooms or over the phone and repeat the same script we had honed for years. “If only she got away from _____(insert any man she was currently living with), she could quit drinking”, “if only she’d quit drinking, then she could be herself again”, “if she could just stay in the nursing home, she could walk again” or “I can’t understand why she drinks like she does if she knows she’s going to die.” Although she had always drank, the only sober times she experienced was when she was in the hospital, jail or nursing homes—the reality of her mind was too much to handle without numbing it. Towards the end, these conversations came with the resignation someone feels after their football team went down by four touchdowns with seven minutes left, it was all over but the time ticking off the clock.

Numbness isn’t a feeling but a state, as is the resignation of being helpless as an event happens, no matter how long the event may last, whether it is the eventual separation of California from the west coast as the San Andres Fault finally, cracks, shivers and splits in two, or as quick as a glass of milk being spilt. Age tends to temper the feeling of invincibility, logic reminds a person of the interconnects of everything comes the realization that despite this truth it is also truer that one has very little control over anything, including thoughts, emotions, and triggers that are made bolder, scarier and taller by addiction. It is as if anxiety were a giant looming over a city, swooping in and smacking cars and punching holes in the asphalt of the mind.

Some are born more sensitive than others, the ability to feel, to feel alive or sad or dead is amplified into something grotesque or even sterling beauty. Leaving all the other mere humans, left to be enthralled or disgusted with mouth agape. We would talk long into the night, as the morning light peaked through windows covered with sheets, towels and tee-shirts, “I’m going to go to Italy in the spring whether you go with me or not, then I’m going to Spain and drink on the beach. You can go if you want or you can stay here.” Staring at the ceiling, playing all the scenarios in my mind, “of course she’s going to go, and of course she’s going to fuck some guy(s) over there, and of course she needs someone to babysit her…. And I’m really fucking sick of this shit.” Eventually, she did leave, multiple times she saved her money purchased a ticket and left for Europe. She always called me to help bail her out, one night sometime around 1992 I answered the phone. “Bela, listen I just left Jeff in Germany, he doesn’t drink, and I can’t stand it. Fucking people need to lighten up anyway, I needed to get away. I was mean to him, you know how I get. I feel bad but not really because I HAD. TO. GET. AWAY.” Even though I was 3,000 miles away she knew I was shaking my head, “Don’t shake your head at me, if you are going to be an asshole then I will just hang up and I won’t talk to you.” Even though she had called me, the emotional pull of her predicament overrode all semblance of logic, ‘who will fucking help her then” went the thought in my head, it might have well been on a lite up billboard, “Who Will Fucking Help Her?” “What the fuck do you want me to do?” and just a few inches from me, a voice from the other side of the bed whispered, “Bela who is on the phone, is everything ok?” “yeah, it’s Jenny calling from Germany….” The resigned woman breathed out, “of course it is.” They never knew that they got her in the bargain when they dated me.

“Here’s the thing, I met this guy in the Netherlands, at the Vero, this awesome bar–you’dloveit.  We saw the Turks there, anyway he and I made out so I’m going to go stay with him. I met back up with the Mummies guys, they are really cool, and I’ll go with them to Belgium, then Peet will come and get me, his name is Peet, like Peter I always want to call him Uncle Peter and have to stop myself. Can you imagine if I said that shit while we were fucking?! Me screaming out “Fuck me Uncle Peter! Fuck Me! Hahahaha.” Her speech was rapid, one word sliding into another, almost lapping the word spoken before it, like they were racing one another  Some people can stand rock solid while the winds of the hurricane swirls around them, the waves of life crashing against them, trying in vain to pull them into the murky depths of their own depths (or should that read deaths?), they appear to be oblivious to the violence that pounds every aspect of their lives. This was Jenny in Germany, and later in Spain where she had went on a whim and quickly ran out of money until she charmed a wealthy Spanish woman who took care of her for nearly two months until the woman, undoubtedly, exhausted by this funny and outlandish American from Ohio purchased her a plane ticket back. My head was heavy in my hands, the sheets bunched up around my thighs, I stared outside the bedroom window as the streetlight glowed yellow against the row of dormant cars—patiently waiting to be driven in a few hours, and replied,

“what do you want me to do? I have no money, what the fuck Jenny, why do you do this shit?!”

“I didn’t call you to be judged by you, you are always fucking judging me! Your life isn’t fucking perfect Bela, quit acting like it is. I thought you would want to know where I was, plus I told the guys from the Mummies about you, I knew you like them. They are really fucking funny. I told them they should come to Columbus and you could make it happen. But they stink, that shit they put on to play, it smells like ass.” She was off on a tangent.

One moment vindictive, and defensive the next excited about something that gushed out of one neuropathways in her ever-moving brain, “oh, cool” thinking to myself, “why would she mention me to the Mummies, just cause I like them?” although I was excited about maybe bringing them to Columbus to play.

“So, you are going to the Pits to meet some guy named Peet?” The woman got up from the other side of the bed, and crossed the room, I followed her hips as she walked out of the room, she was beautiful, my next thought, “god-damnit Jenny, don’t ruin this for me.”

“No, the Pits is in Belgium, I’m going to the Vera—that’s in Holland, you’d like those guys—the Turks loved it and they know Jerry Wick, I asked them if he was an asshole to them as well.” She cackled.

Yawning, “ok, great—be careful, let me know if you need anything when you get there. When are you coming back?”

“I dunno, soon, maybe call my mom and tell her I’m ok. Poor Jeff, I’m an asshole.” She hung up.

Sitting at the end of the bed, I stood up and looked out the window, the glowing red numbers on the digital clock read 2:20 a.m., and the ache in my stomach grew around the rest of me and settled in my head. “What did she want?” said my friend with the perfect hips and she climbed back into bed, “Ah, she left Jeff and is hanging out with Supercharger and the Mummies, she met some guy in Holland, I guess she’s going to go stay with him….” “Why are you friends with her, it seems like all you do is bail her out of trouble?” I didn’t turn around but felt my neck grow red, this was hard to explain, impossible even—why do people care for others when there appears little in return?

Choosing the words carefully, “I dunno, she’s really a terrific person. Oh well, there is nothing to be done now” I slide under the sheets as she allowed me to intertwine my legs with her, I pulled her close and let me self be held.

When the gray sky spits the first cold rain of the fall, and the wind touches through skin into a body’s bones, I am always transformed backwards, to 1991 or so. Maybe 1992, at this point these are just numbers, signposts on a backward highway that really leads to the abyss, fading into the vanishing point on our own inner canvasses. The memory is New Year’s Day, the night before I spent with another woman named Jennifer, and our friend Haynes. A farmhouse on the edge of Athens County, Ohio, the house straddled a hill, with a small winding road that curved up and around the old farm the house sat on. An old fence, faded from years of neglect was broken in spots, the wood an almost gray-black as the white paint had long been rained and burnt out by time, a small pond with a dilapidated dock half submerged in the brown water gave one the thought of a once more prosperous and happy time. It wasn’t used to grow anything anymore, just memories and junk in the yard, the land gone fallow with weeds sprouting around abandoned tires, an old truck sat bare in tall grass that was holding tight to the carcass as if the metal hulk was a savoir in a sea of desperation. It had once been a proud farm, and now it was a backdrop built for my faded memory. The night before we had listened to music on a small boombox, shuffling cassettes as the mood suggested, “Nevermind” had come out in the fall, and I was infatuated with “Loveless’ by My Bloody Valentine and Superchunk’s “No Pocky  for Kitty” and as the new year turned over, I put on “Flyin’ Shoes” by Townes van Zandt whom they women had never heard. As we listened and relistend, I succumbed to the pressure of the wine bottle, having gone mostly four months without a drink the atmosphere of the evening called for it. At one point, I knew this would be my last night with Jennifer, I knew this was not going to work—we were too different, she was much more organic than me, more Athens county than I desired, she was a stark contrast to the cosmopolitan-New York Sharon, Jennifer wore poncho’s, sandals and oils—and while conversations went into the deepest part of the night, I felt no spark-I felt incapable of love in any sense. We made love that night, with me knowing this would be the last time and as we spoke in hushed tones afterwards, she confessed her love for me and my reply was silence, my skin getting hot as I knew I was incapable of the same. The next morning, I arose early, made coffee on the stove for all of us and ventured outside. It was New Year’s Day, and everything was fragile as I ventured across the road to a field that slopped down into a small thatch of woods. It was cold, with dried corn stalks crunching and snapping under leather boots, barren trees looking painted on against the forever gray sky. There was nothing there but thoughts and the wind, that was kept at bay by a thin brown jacket, a revelation happened as I walked along into the woods, listening to the crunch of my boots, that in the end I was destined to be alone regardless of what I had in my life, whether it was the bottle, friends or a lover. The thought wasn’t frightening, it was as if a riddle that had been clawing in the back of my mind had suddenly been solved—and it was ok.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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 & 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

Jerry Wick and Jenny Mae: Stuff Collected, Stuff Discarded

February 22, 2015

There are shelves and shelves of books along the bedroom, the hallway, the living room and almost as much bunched together in cardboard boxes, piled high with thousands upon thousands of unread pages, the mountains of thoughts that went into constructing these ideas and stories maybe never be climbed as the tomes sit unread. At some point, in some strange dimension, they call out to feel affirmed, wanting eyes and brains to soak them up, all in order to continue living. The thought of immortality, transcribed into the printed word. Along the wall of the bedroom, stands a six foot shelf packed with past and future memories, long-playing records, most of which have been listened to multiple times, etched in the mind of the listener as much as a childhood Christmas is branded into one’s consciousness. Collections breed dust, a finger tracing along covers and spines, marking time with bits of dirt, dried skin and sunlight, and as I wipe the memory on a blue pant leg, itself a document of age with faded denim declaring that these pants are older than half the people alive in the world, a thought bubble up, “why do I have this shit?”

Years ago when our world consisted of trading news and record reviews off of Xeroxed copies and crappy blurry black and white impressions of even crappier photos, Tuesday mornings were reason for weekly celebrations as boxes of new records arrived, bearing new and old sounds to fill all the cracks in our lives, the door to the record store would open inwards and right there in the path to enter the store was where a small batch of seven inch singles stacked against one another. There would be a fight to thumb through them between customers, as people would jockey for new releases to lift them, even for only two or four minutes tops, out of the inner squalor of their lives.

It was during these halcyon times where my roots set in, as the sound of needle to black (or white, red or clear, if you were lucky enough) vinyl was a mini-vacation from life, and the community that was built around small round plastic cylinders impacted me almost as much as the sound of the music itself. there were those who were audiophiles, the ones who needed to have first editions, or colored wax, who may purchase two copies of a record, one to play and the other to sit on the shelf, untouched by human hands and ears. Stillborn. There were others, like myself, whose sole purpose was to be transported by the sound, and if we were lucky enough to get a rare record or pressing then it was just the icing on top of the melody, so to speak. Most of us did manage to get first pressings as procuring these hidden treasures was a weekly if not daily affair, but in the end that was not the goal. Some were blessed enough to this sort of listening for a living, a mini-miracle in our lives that allowed to LISTEN TO MUSIC ALL FUCKING DAY, AND GET PAID FOR IT!!! Holy-fucking shit, even.

The hallway is stacked with books, boxes of CD’s (I recently unpacked nearly 30 boxes of CD’s and alphabetized them) and tubs of children’s clothes. The house I live in is old, built in the 1870’s, it’s tall and thin, as if it were an adolescent boy–all elbows and creaking voice but the voice comes from the old wooden floors, the thin walls that shudder when the wind smacks into it in the middle of the night. The Ohio cold winters give no respect to age, even old blue houses just a long-jump from High Street. As such, the house has little closet space, the ceilings are tall and there are plenty of window, which is one reason why it is a beautiful place to live, as the sun and shadows of the day make the various shades of light dance through the house. Sparking bits of action against the bone-white walls while I hold a cup of coffee, there is no need for television in a house like this. The house was purchased from friends, Jake had tore down the original garage, probably built in the 1940’s with his bare hands, carrying the burnished and battered wood into a trailer to be hauled away. He built a two-car garage with a studio on top where Moviola would craft timeless indie-rock sounds with the aid of Rolling Rock and gallons of wine, I was privy to some of these recordings as I made Moviola practice the starting point of my weekly Wednesday night adventures for a number of years. The outside of the house resembled the face of an old man, cracks, creases and the peeling paint showed the experience of a weather past, the house look stark, withered and lonely. Jake had moved out and wanted to sell it, with his help, we redid the floors and fixed painted the frayed exterior (which now resembles an old woman’s face, shrouded in pale blue make-up). There were no soft feet hitting the floor at that time, just my wife and I and when our daughter was born there was still plenty of space in the house. Soon, our son was born and I packed up half my music and 3/4 of the books that sat quietly in the little boy’s room. I had two yard sales, selling roughly 1,000 LP’s and ended up taking five boxes of books to the used book store place that gives a person less than Spotify does for a stream. And yet, space was still a commodity.

Children collect things, not out of any sense of greed but because of interest, every moment is a discovery a chance to step into another portal of the world, be it a comic book, the scribbling of bold markers on typewriter paper, blackened sparkled stones or a handful of acorns handed to a father on a walk through the park. These things stack up, in one corner of our house there sits several brown grocery bags, stuffed with homemade maps, sketches of houses, animals and super-heroes, homework assignments and glued school projects made out of wooden tongue depressors, plastic rhinestones and cut out magazine photos, the only thing missing are uncooked macaroni. There are several years of these, even the parents don’t want the arduous task of sorting them out, they sit in the corner collecting more dust and becoming forgotten memories.

My son has a collection of stuffed animals, although there is only one he uses to sleep with, a tiny 6″ bean-baggy bear that he calls “teddy” the rest are nestled together in several wooden storage bins on his shelves. The animals lay atop one another in the ultimate cuddle-fest but the boy never picks them up. At various points throughout the year we ask him to go through them and pick out some to donate, and suddenly the young child’s attachment to these multi-colored, plush animals grows with such ferocious intensity he will toss himself upon the floor, writhing in frustration that he can’t explain. His body grows rigid, feet flexed and his face contorted, “noooo, I need that one! it’s my favorite!!!” He says this for every single one, even the shitty anti-freeze colored Care-Bear that his sister got from a friend eight years ago. Soon, the boy wins, it isn’t worth it and truth be told, the line of records, books and other artifacts that I collect do not provide him with an example of less is best.

Several years ago, I went through boxes and boxes of old fanzines, photos, old flyers for concerts I promoted, leftover unsold homemade tickets for said concerts, poetry and paintings I had collected over the years. The vast majority of these stemmed from the early to mid-nineties, I had quit promoting shows by the late nineties, when my alcoholism and depression had grown to such a “I don’t even care about live music” stature that going to shows was a drag, and once I put a drink in me I didn’t want to stop—even to make it to the show. This is a ritual that has been performed again and again, mostly when moving but also, coincidently with life events such as the birth of our children, the moving of children’s rooms and, at other times when the weight of ownership gets too deep and the urgency to purge takes over. The garage is stacked high with boxes of these things, they are in no order, just piled on one another–haphazardly with nary a concern for order. Zines with long-forgotten names such as “Spank”, “Wiglet” and “Feminist Baseball” are getting friendly with flyers whose existence are a testament to events that actually happened, although with the vapor of time, alcohol and the slippage of the mind, it is difficult to trace the events that I hold in my hands to what transpired. They are in essence, just smoke in my mind as my hands collect the thin dust of age. These things happened, I can see it as I hold a flyer from 1993, “The Ex w/ Tom Cora, V-3 and Guided By Voices.” I remember painting flyers on newspapers, I did this for a while, unfolding the newspaper, painting the black rectangle and using white paint to announce the show. I would paint several of these, they were bold and easy to do, I usually added a small drawing of my dog drinking and smoking a cigarette at the bar or other times, a baseball cap, something, anything to keep it simple and noticeable.

There was one evening when I went to an afterhours party and there on the wall was a framed flyer I had done of a Sebadoh show, with Gaunt opening up, it was a simple flyer, with a wiener dog over the black frame. I was shocked, I sat there drunkenly and stared at the flyer, and one of the women who lived there asked me why I was staring at it and I told her that I had made it. An odd feeling, later that night, her roommate with whom I had a crushing crush on, asked me to stay the night, conflicted I went home as I was living with my wife. My alcoholism had not yet pushed me to the breaking point of crossing lines. Small things alter our lives forever. Inevitably when I hold that old flyer of Sebadoh in my hands, the yellow paper even more yellowed and crisp around the edges, the thoughts of Lou Barlow and company slaying a packed Staches house are not what cross my mind but of the missed opportunity of sleeping with that beautiful woman.

SEBADOH_n

The objects hold memories, some false, some faded and others that have shriveled and withered away as if they were the last brown leaves on a towering oak tree in the middle of February, cracked and frayed, not yet knowing that the time to burst loose for the moorings of its brittle stem passed months ago. Bruno can remember small tall-tales I told him at bedtime from three years ago, as I wrap my hands around his soft body he grins and buries his head into my neck, “daddy, can you tell finish that story about the boat and the daddy and the little boy fishing when the bad guys were after them?” Thoughts go in rewind, “what the fuck story is he talking about?” I think, “hey, I don’t know what story you are thinking of buddy,” I whisper in his ear. “You were telling it in bed one time, remember that little boy had the plans that the bad guy was going to take over the world? And then they fooled the bad guys by fishing, and the little boy caught a Red Snapper. Remember, Daddy?” This was a story I had made up some years ago to get him to sleep, it sprang back, “oh yes, the one with Mr. Terminus who was fooling everybody. That one?” “Yeah, that one. Can you finish it?”

In my own life, I recall very little of my childhood, it falls between the cracks of my mind, rolling in the ether of my mind like coins dropped on the ground—they are there but not, what is real and what isn’t? I don’t know, at times I believe they are true but then I pull a metaphorical sheet over the memory, did the babysitter really do that? Did I really paint a picture with my grandfather? The memories that I’m certain of are there, most are funny and some are painful, mostly the ones with separation from my parents—my dad especially, like a carving in my psyche. I can touch them, almost glide my fingers through the burnished memory of sitting in the backseat of my mother’s car as my father looked through the window, tears streaming down his cheeks as we drove away. And again later, when I was ten, how he glided down the aisle of the Piedmont propeller airplane to give me a final hug as I was flying back to Virginia. Fast forward to my early twenties, when after a long argument, I asked him to leave my apartment after not seeing him for nearly a year, he bounded back up the metal fire-escape and we hugged each other tight, tight enough to force more tears out of our hardened eyes. We would try harder, for maybe the ten minutes after he drove his white Volkswagen Golf away from my house, I’m guessing that’s the last hug I ever got from my old man.

When I was seven or eight my brother and I were at a gathering of Venezuelans held at a party hall somewhere in Columbus, it was loud and I can recall vividly talking with a Vietnam veteran who showed us the bullet that was still suck in his knee, he let me put my hands on top of the knee, and move my finger over the bump made the bullet, like a roly-poly bug of violence. Later that night there was dancing, swells of Latin-Americans gyrating and twirling, in the middle was a thin-tiny elderly man who was leading the throng of party-goers, shimming and swaying his hips, a smile as large as a Volkswagen Beetle stuck on his face. Wide-eyed we soaked it in, stealing sips of beer and daring ourselves to venture into other hallways and empty rooms, I can recall the sweat dripping down my back. Later that night my brother and I sat in the hallway, exhausted, our backs to the wall when suddenly the double doors from the dance-hall burst open. The elderly man staggered, put both hands on his knees, wobbled some more and started running towards us. He was at least twenty-feet away and then suddenly as he ran he vomited with such force that his dentures rocketed from his mouth and slid down the hallway. As if in slow motion, the fake teeth skidded past me, just a few feet from my lap, in a small flood of pink puke until they came to as stop between my brother and me. I eyed those teeth for a good ten minutes while the grandfather was escorted to the rest room until a long dark haired woman came with a brown napkin and picked up the poor man’s teeth.

Some people say that “the mirror doesn’t lie”, which is bullshit because one of the gyms I run in has one of those mirrors in front to the treadmill that makes a person look thinner a trick to make everybody running that our bodies are transforming in front of us, with the flicking of sweat as the MP3 player pulsates, the illusion is obvious but it’s easier to believe in the dream than the reality of the treadmill. There are lines of people stationing themselves atop curved metal machines, complete with book holders, flashing lights and with flat screen televisions perched above them to help distract the fact that each person is pretending that their body is that of a child. On the televisions are images to help propel the sweat from our bodies- sports shows, talk-news and action movies, all an effort to pre-occupy ourselves and to help inspire the declining athlete in all of us. On my headphones is a wealth of music, all slipping into my ears, transporting me back into my bedroom in high school with the pulsating clamor of the Jesus Lizard shaking through my legs, my balding sweaty head bobbing up and down. No longer a forty-six year old, perhaps I am twenty-five again, as David Yow gets hoisted above the crowd, his jeans more burnished than mine we hold him high and in a flash, as he leans into us, back arching towards dusty ceiling panels, this small gathering of music fanatics has won. We are one, spilling beer and yelling at each other, in unison as the din of guitar, bass, drum and yowl (yow–l) cover us as if we were all playing under a parachute in second grade, pulling our knees in tight, giggling as the fabric billowed above us. We are all grinning now. Suddenly the song switches, my head snaps up, neck waving side to side, I could be riding my bi-cycle with feet stretched straight out as I glide down Sunnyside Drive, seeing how far this yellow bike with coast or I could be standing next to the corner of a black, tarnished stage, singing at the top of my lungs for a sweetheart that only lives in between the notes I hear, “they seem to assume possession, change your expectation….you changed in…” and when the song ends everybody pulls a little into themselves and nod as if we all felt the universe giggle. When on the treadmill, I push the song backwards, to get as many giggles as I can. It’s always been easier to listen to a song than to listen to you, or anybody else.

When the last bubble of Natural Light popped up and then out of my glass, all those years ago it took quite a while to let wobbly feet find themselves, as I started drinking in earnest around the age of 15 or sixteen, stopped for a moment for my mind to catch its breath when I was 22 and didn’t let up until that last speck of a beer bubble shattered the ceiling I had been living under. Some six months of after-care, at least 300 12-step meetings and therapy found me in a bookstore, holding a gift certificate sent by my sister for my thirty-fourth birthday, I was counting time it was all many can do after trying to regain control of mind, body and the spiritual aspect of ourselves. Time meant a cushion from the last drop of turmoil that entered my bloodstream and for me that meant another day farther away from wanting to no longer breath as all the breaths I had taken before, fueled by risky behavior, loathsomeness and alcohol had finally ended up suffocating me. I pulled out a yellow book, “The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying” and after reading two pages, the realization that I perhaps there was something I was that I never knew I was. And that finally breathing was enough.

I once had a very nice girl-friend who said I always reminded her of this song, because she always smiled when she heard it, can’t get sweeter than that.

My very nice ex-wife once cried when listening to this because she said it reminded her of our lives together:

I have a wonderful phone video of my kids dancing their skinny little asses to this:

I have a very fond memory of Ron House singing this with Yo La Tengo at an in-store at Used Kids probably 1992 or so:

Recent memory of driving through New Jersey singing this at the top of my lungs:

Jenny Mae used to sing this all the time, like daily for about a year:

played constantly with my wife in summer of 1999 while we were in Italy/Germany/Netherlands

my daughter was born as we listened to Jacques Brel:

Jerry Wick and Jenny Mae: Love part one

March 23, 2014

Love:

With a certainty that only an adolescence can have, the thought of love was an idea that sat in the forefront of my mind as I slopped my way through high school. The arduous task of shaking my sleeping limbs from bed was enough to cover my morning with blurred anxiety that still pulses through my body today, and then thinking of communicating with a female let alone telling my own worrisome and conflicted thoughts to “simmer down, God-Damnit!” was something that would be tackled when I was off to college. Love mind you, not sex, as sex was the mystery that appeared to be as supernatural as the ark in “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” Sex was found in the underwear ads of the JC Penny catalog, the blond from “Night Court, the slithering sounds off of “Exile on Main Street” and Prince records, and of course found in the pages of Ms. June 1977 who slept quite comfortably underneath my mattress. Sex in those years meant only masturbation, and the mysterious thoughts of what a woman’s body would feel like to my trembling and unsure hands. For at fifteen, the hands of a boy are as hesitant as any toddler taking her first steps. I was a voracious reader at that time, at first it was the epic fantasy novels of JRR Tolkien and then I moved onto the fantasy novels of Michael Moorcock and Piers Anthony but soon, I moved onto the essential reading of every adolescence: Kurt Vonnegut, JD Salinger, music bios (“Up and Down with the Rolling Stones”, “No One Here Gets Out Alive” and “Hammer of the Gods”) but soon I picked up Phillip Roth’s “Portnoy’s Complaint” with its guilty bathroom descriptions of Jewish-boy masturbation while his mother pounded away at the door, screaming, “What are you doing in THERE?!!!” Although my mother wasn’t the one pounding at my door, it was my older brother who would casually say to his friends, while I silently ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich while watching Star Trek, “there’s Bela, all he does is jerk off, listen to music and read. Once in a while he’ll come out of his room to watch Star Trek or David Letterman.” His friends would call me worm, a nickname only they called me and one I hated. “I’ll show you fuckers,” I would think, “I’m gonna end up with the most beautiful woman you will ever meet.” Which is exactly what I did. Not by plan of course but most likely because my wife did something terribly wrong in her former life…..

At the time when this was going on, I had never tried that, masturbation, in fact all I did was read and listen to my records. Incessantly. On the weekends I would listen to the faint sounds of WUSO, the Wittenberg station hoping to hear the static sounds of the Replacements, Smiths or Dead Milkman. But one afternoon, half-way through “Portnoy’s Compliant” I wondered what all the fuss was about, why did this kid masturbate on what seemed like every other paragraph. Shortly thereafter, I was fitted for my first pair of glasses, coincidence, I think not.

But love was elusive and found only on the songs I listened to and the movies I saw. Perhaps the only movie I could relate to the had a love story was the “Wanderer’s” where one of the character’s falls for the folk-loving college co-ed played by the lovely Karen Allen as I saw myself in Ken Wahl’s character who bucks the pressure of the neighborhood to fall for the intelligent and candid Nina. Deep in my mind, I knew I would find my love either in Athens, Columbus or New York and only when I cast off the invisible ropes of rural Ohio. I counted the days until my liberation. Love found me on the front steps of my house on an early evening in mid-December 1985, as Jenny Mae and a collection of her friends bounded up the small steps of the parsonage to serenade me with Christmas carols. Zoltan, was visiting from Germany where he was stationed, and no-doubt his eighteen year old hands, were no longer unsure as he had plenty of experience with the fairer sex, turned his head towards me as he held the door open, “it’s ok Bela, I got it. They’re here to carol, you can go back upstairs.” I was just thankful that he didn’t add, “Bela just sits up there jerking off, reading and listening to records.” But, naturally to the both of us, we figured the girls were there to carol him. “Um, actually Z, we are here to sing to Bela.” “Oh, that’s cool” Zoltan replied, “Hey Bay, come back the wanna sing to you,” and as I passed him he had a wide grin and whispered out the side of his mouth, “fucking go for it, that Jenny is cute.”

As bits of swirling snow hovered around the small flock of girls, my heart heaved wide and large inside, I smiled at them, offered them to come in and when they made excuses that they had other people they needed to carol for, I closed the door and sighed deeply. “Hey, did you ask her out?” As I crammed a hot dog in my mouth, “no, why would I do that?” “Bela, you are fucking worthless, she came over here in the snow to sing for you, you should ask her out.” “I dunno, maybe.” Something in me always recoiled when Zoltan used the word “should.”

The next weekend after Chris Biester bought me a six-pack of Pabst’s Blue Ribbon, Jenny and I lay in my bed listening to the sounds of the first Cars record, and sure enough the coils that hold sex and love together grabbed us both and wrapped around our souls, bustling them together and shaking the ethereal wisps of ourselves to our very core. And as “Moving in Stereo” played loudly in the back ground, I felt her lips around me as her head bobbed to the beat of Ric Ocasek. Afterwards, I strode out of bed and said I was going to take a shower and invited her, figuring I might as well go for broker. She joined me, and later said, “I’ve never taken a shower with somebody before.”

Love had come suddenly, through songs, “Silent Night” and a few days later, “Let the Good Times Roll” as Ric Ocasek sang with moist lips and his oh-so-cool new wave voice. I was staggered, we spent every day together, soon finishing each other’s sentences. She used Gloria Vanderbilt perfume and smuggled it into my house so she could spray my pillow, which I snuggled and smelled after I drove her home. The world seemed brighter, crisper and more relaxed. At the end of our senior year, I was accepted into several colleges, Hiram, Otterbein, and Ohio University although my grades were not good enough to get into the journalism school at OU, I collapsed the lifelong dream of going to college in Athens and stuffed it deep inside to be replaced with a new hope, one that was born out of teenage blow-jobs, pillows that smelled pretty and having someone wanting you. I ended up at Otterbein College just north of Columbus in the dry town of Westerville, a most dumb-ass decision that can only be blamed on teenage blowjobs, pillows smelling pretty and having someone want you.

That summer after our senior year was difficult, I had fallen for Jenny’s best friend Kathy who reciprocated her desire for me, in the meantime, in what can only be described as a miniature Peyton Place, Jenny had been unfaithful during the summer. First with a tall, lanky goofy guy named Bob who worked at the drive-in theater with her. Bob was funny, I could see her attraction, he was older at least twenty and shaved his head.  I had also discovered some of the deep secrets that lovers share and my pain for Jenny’s past only confused and angered me, and my desire to leave the emptiness I felt of rural Ohio only intensified. It all came out one drunken evening as Jenny lay passed out in Kathy’s parents living room, Kathy and I were engaged in some heavy petting that could be more described as heavy lifting, when she asked if I had a condom and something snapped, the horrors of Jenny’s past and my own past swelled inside of me and soon I was heaving as great globs of tears sputtered from my eyes. Kathy spilled the beans of Jenny’s unfaithfulness and my wailing caused Jenny to wake up and sadly, because of teenage lust and confusion their friendship was at a standstill for several years.

If one isn’t shown how to love then the dance of love between lovers will be clumsy, performed in fits and starts, full of bliss followed by anger, pain and most likely confusion. Metaphorically, it’s like putting together largest jigsaw puzzle but without a picture to know what you are putting together. Some pieces will slid together, as if by greased by butter while others will struggle under the weight of a thick thumb trying in vain to make that “LITTLE-FUCKER-WORK, GOD-DAMNIT!!” But alas, they don’t and the pain of this confusion leads inevitably to more pain. We learn from our parents, and as I gaze back over the shoulder of my past, lined with globs of dirt bundled up in the road I have walked, at times there are no footprints only the squished plants and the indentation of my body in the trenches off the road, I get the sense that my parents and caregivers had not one idea how to navigate the surging tides of love and sex in their own lives. Truth be told, I am emotionally clumsy, a clumsiness built upon an every changing childhood and with a trepidation to truly give myself, for if that is a key ingredient of love then I have always held back. For to give that part of oneself, can be dangerous, should be dangerous, a risk worth the reward. But, if oneself being is built upon a foundation of worthlessness than how does on accept love in return?

The gray had settled like a robe over Ohio, it came creeping in early November, made itself comfortable in December and dug its thick rotund roots deep into the soil and the psyche of every inhabitant during the months of January and February. In March, when splatters of sunshine would give a shot of hope to those who suffered under the morass of depression that the sky layered upon us, the gray would cackle to itself and with a sudden wave of cruelty would slather its oppressive self with a thickness that stretched from the chilled ground, upwards into space that no doubt was the final bullet for many Midwesterners that blew the back of their skulls because, well, they. just. couldn’t. take. it. any longer.  My car was gray, a compact Ford Mustang whose front quarter panel was held to the rest of the car by durable duct tape, it was a dented as the emotional state of its owner, with a black radio shack cassette deck I had wired and fastened with even more duct tape to the bottom of the console. When the engine revved the pistons, who were no doubt choking and coughing by this point of the blue collar careers made a whirling sound through the sound system. A small whistle that reminded me of the precarious nature of my financial situation. All I really wanted was a sound system that played without sounding like there was a squirrel caught in the inner workings of my speakers.

My hangover was fat in my head, even twenty some years later I can remember it, it was as if someone had placed a large cinder block, ever so carefully, just below the skin that covered my forehead between the spaces of my ears. I was still a little drunk and it was early Easter morning, the road I was driving was familiar as I curved through the sharp bends of Baker Road in Athens county, Ohio. When I was 11 we had lived in an old farmhouse on Baker Road, just a few miles from where I had spent the night. An Appalachian trailer park lived next door, filling some of my childhood nights with de-muffled car engines, screaming and the sound of babies crying into the night. The night before I had spent the night with a woman whose name I can no longer remember, no doubt if I had a shovel to cut through gnarled neural pathways and enough coffee, I would unearth her name and her body which no doubt had danced above me earlier that morning. But the memory of driving from her house near Fox Lake into town is stuck with me, in the slow collapsing tape deck, Superchunk’s  “Foolish” a masterstroke of a decaying relationship, blared while I tried to shake the fermented cinder block in my forehead away. Burbling up inside was a small rope of guilt, meandering its way through my veins, as I had been seeing a woman for a few months in Columbus.

Choices are made based on far flung emotions, outliers they may be but these can tend to control the habits we develop and the woman I was seeing was based on these emotions. At the end of the day, we had little in common with the exception of a love of music and the desire we held for our bodies. In fact, over the course of the time we spent together I had set foot in her apartment only once and she had only spent the night only a handful of times in my apartment. Our meetings were brief, always sexual and then, as she had misgivings about the fuel that drove me in those days, we would part and I would hurdle myself deep into the night, to be with friends.

I had to drive to Cincinnati, to my mother’s that morning as the overcast sky was slowly being unhinged from its wintery mores, singing “Driveway to Driveway” at the top of my lungs, I would rewind it and start the song over, I felt liberated. I knew for certain that I would return to the relationship of the woman in Columbus, who was physically stunning but we were devoid of any other connection. In a moment that had continued to be as real today as it was the April morning, the sun poked through the clouds, breaking apart the hold that winter had gripped the entire state. The small white buds of wildflowers hushed a collective cheer and in a flash the yellowed, thin waving strands of weeds that lined the black asphalt slightly turned green and a part of me awakened even further. The two month relationship with the woman came to an end at that moment, and in some ways a part of me burped somewhat into maturity as the idea of sex over love shriveled just a tad but never disappeared.

Many of my lessons in love came through betrayal, either by what I witnessed growing up with parents who flung dirty details about one another through the mind of a child, to experiences of early love that was tangled with early sexual exploration to dishonesty that pervaded the actions and motivations I carried out. Love is epic, a path that is emotionally wide as the vastness of the sea, and like the sea able to well up in white crested waves that can come crashing down in violence, churning, bending and pulling in every direction. Today my son Bruno, all four feet of him took me from a moment of utter frustration (he peed on the dog), to the fragility of slowly cracking my heart as if it were a thin piece of ice on a parking lot. Careful or it will crack. As I explained to him the rudeness of peeing on something alive, he turned his head, his blue eyes downcast and shame filling his cheeks a small sigh peeping out of his lips. “sorry,” he muttered, quick as if he were an auctioneer. “Ok, don’t do that again. Peeing on things. Now give me a kiss.” He leaned his blond head forward and I gently kissed his forehead pulling him towards me, “hey, I want a kiss from you now” I said. He looked up and with the same delicate hesitation of a moth landing on a light bulb he kissed my cheek. Behind him, his sister said, “Daddy, I wanna give you a kiss but you give me one first.” I suppose, over the years a short dock has been constructed out into my internal sea.

Jerry Wick & Jenny Mae: Alcoholism (again?!) 2001-present

January 26, 2014

2001–present.
Cleveland lays at the end of I-71, like a large gray concrete cloud, full of billowing smoke stacks spewing flames and pollution into the air as the highway arches over factories and ethnic neighborhood, in the short distance lays the Terminal Tower, which is also the name of Pere Ubu’s greatest hits package. Cleveland actually starts nearly forty or fifty miles down the freeway when exit signs begin more numerous upon passing Lodi, Ohio and soon Akron, from here on out one finds oneself in the vast suburbs of what was once the crown jewel of the Mid-West. Cleveland, city of lights, the proud blue-collar town that built the steel that first made the first steamships and later the cars and buildings that made America what it was. The suburbs are famous by themselves, Parma, University Heights, Euclid, Lakewood and Bedford Heights, these were much more romantic than the suburbs of Columbus which have always had a more rural feel to them, not only from the inhabitants but also in their names: Grove City, Whitehall (need anymore be said), Dublin, Hilliard and Plain City. The names speak for themselves, the suburbs of Columbus are as white bread and the names themselves, whereas Parma, Bedford Heights all had a connotation of ethnic blending and big-city drama. Jerry was from Parma, his last name was shortened from the Polish Wickowski, dropping the last five letters gave him the last name of Wick. His father worked in a factory, and Jerry would spend his weekends in Cleveland or in his bedroom dreaming of becoming a rock star while listening to Kiss records along with a mix of Cleveland greats such as My Dad is Dead, the Dead Boys, Death of Samantha (Jesus, there IS a death-thread here?!).

Jerry’s funeral was in Parma Heights, his gravesite just a stone’s throw from the exit ramp off of I-71 and a few miles from the Cleveland International airport, as a huddled mass of outcasts, musicians and his bewildered family gazed on as the priest said a final prayer over the muddy hole that would soon envelope his casket one could hear the hiss of car wheels spinning over the asphalt of I-71. Roll on Cleveland, indeed. I was drunk that week, and when I went into the funeral home for the first time and saw Jerry’s body laying in his casket, I hurried out of the wood-paneled room and out into the cold air of January. Moving across the busy street, I bustled into the perfect Parma dive bar that sat just catty-corner from the funeral home. This was perfect civil planning. The bar still had Christmas decorations up and the bartender was sympathetic, “you here from across the street, the funeral home?” she asked as she put my Jim Beam shot and beer in front of me. I nodded as I downed the shot and motioned for another one, “a friend of yours?” “Yeah, he was from Parma, but lived in Columbus for a while now.” “Ohhh, was he that musician? That was in the paper up here.” “Yup,” and I downed the second shot and ordered one more. “Such a pity, did they ever catch that man who hit him?” “Not yet” as I took a pull from my beer.
The next few months were restless, I was trying to maintain my relationship with my soon-to-be-wife , get a handle of my drinking, deal with the death of Jerry all the while living with one-foot in dishonesty and the other in righteous anger, much of it from what I perceived to be great injustice in the world. I was thirty-one at the beginning of 2001 and I felt like fifty-when it ended.
My wife had graduated from Ohio State with a Masters in Fine Arts a few years before and was working at Denison University, she had won a National prize given to an outstanding MFA graduate, and while she was committed to staying in the United States, she was worried that her visa may expire. We had been together for nearly five years and been engaged for two years but I was gun-shy to marry again, the commitment to personal responsibility frightened me, and besides, I had already proven to myself that I was awful at marriage once before. Merijn came home one day as I sat on our blue couch, “my parents are coming next month and we are getting married.” Looking up from my New York Review of Books, “um, ok, what do I need to do?” She shook her head, smiled and said, “nothing, just be there.” She had been applying for teaching jobs, traveling to several conferences and in a short while she interviewed with UC Davis, The Cleveland Art Institute, Columbus School of Art and Design and the University of Florida. On our wedding day she accepted a job at the University of Florida. Gainesville was in our horizon. Soon we were staying at a hotel on the campus of the University of Florida, the area had been hit hard by fires and the smoke of the fires shrouded the campus, as I peered from our room window I had the sensation of living in a dream while gray clouds of smoke crawled across the green carpet of Alachua County.


My drinking was limited to several times a week, I drank very little in the house, maybe a beer or two with dinner and we usually had at least three bottles of hard liquor in the house. Maker’s Mark, some vodka, and maybe a bottle of gin. Merijn liked to drink wine and we bought several bottles a week. I shied away from wine as the hangovers were too much and once I had a glass, we would finish off whatever wine we had left in the house. We went out to eat several times a week, usually on Friday or Saturday we would go to a more expensive restaurant, usually downtown and our bar-tab was as much as the dinner. On the way home, I would ask her to drop me off at Larry’s, Little Brothers or somewhere else to continue my drinking and making up little lies to have her drop me off, saying so-and-so’s in town or that I would have to meet somebody to talk about a record. Slivers of truth became towering trees of lies and I would let the night swallow me up.
Alcoholism is a malady of feelings, one where the reality of life is processed through a perception of reality that is always shifting, like solid ground melting into liquid as if the soil that once held tight to your feet had slowly turned into a pool of alcohol. Believing for years that the only truth that existed was the certainty of feelings, the hurt from personal relationships and perceived slights pushed against the sanguine nature of every other person who entered my circle of self. Clutching onto fixed beliefs that were only enhanced by the world that I swam in, the derision I felt (feel) towards anything outside my comfort zone, slowly, over years painted me into a corner. Addiction, to be sure is a motherfuck. One that can render the ability to navigate through an hour at a time difficult, at once tying up feelings and then moving towards the brain and finally, fitfully into action and behaviors.
I had my first drink as a child, probably four or five, my grandmother would serve us tiny glasses of port wine mixed with sugar and every grandchild who wanted a small kid’s serving of beer would get one at her dinner table. My brother and I would try to convince our sister to take one so we could have hers. This was natural, and it only goes to reckon that it was quite normal in the old country. Grandma Isabel’s house was a museum of the Gundel and Koe-Krompecher families, the walls stuffed with artifacts of our history, a veritable dare to any guest to question the greatness of the family names. The Krompecher family dates to the 14th Century, and she had the family coat-of-arms on the wall, just above the entrance way to her kitchen. Diagonally, there was a photograph of the Hungarian government, and there in the circle of leading politicians was our great-great somebody, who was Chief Justice. On the wall above the brown vinyl couch hung a picture of my great-grandfather Karloy Gundel, one of the great chefs and restaurateurs of Hungary. My grandmother could barely utter a sentence without extolling the greatness of her father, he was empathetic, a larger-than-life figure whose shadow lorded over her house as if he were the sun itself. This made an indelible mark on the grandchildren, whose trips to her house were adventures and yet, at the same time I felt a mark was etched into my being that, I too had to achieve greatness to even be in the same breath as this history.
Unspoken in these rooms was anything that had to do with mental illness, depression, isolation or substance abuse. The drunken stories of my dear uncles Pablo and Peter were propulsive in fueling a sense of adventure, the lives they lived were epic and even today some elderly grandfather or grandmother will approach me and ask, “Koe-Krompecher? Wow, I haven’t heard that name in a while, are you related..” It is here where I cut them off, “Peter and Pablo?”. “Yes, how did you know?” their eyes sparkle and a mischievous smile crawls across their face, as if they can recall the first taste of adventure. “Oh, I know. Trust me.” “Man, they were some crazy guys, so much fun, I’d tell you but you probably shouldn’t know.” Oh, I know. Trust me. These yarns were slyly dug into my conscious as we ate egg and chicken soup, Hungarian paprikash, mashed potatoes with sour cream and a dessert made with copious amounts of rum. I got drunk the first time around the age of nine at my Uncle Peter’s house at Christmas, there is a wonderful picture of my brother Zoltan, tipsy as fuck holding a glass of champagne. He is eleven. That party was crazy and perhaps was the first inkling that there were some anger and mental health issues in my family, my father got into a fist fight with his younger brother outside in the winter cold and I remember vividly the spots of blood in the snow. My father left hastily that night and we stayed at my uncle’s. A few years later my father would exit my life, pretty much for good, leaving a void that years later had me contemplating having my children having my wife’s last name as if this would prevent the misery of depression, rage and substance abuse from their lives.
When I was 14, a goofy, nerdy smartass stuck in the middle of cornfields, pick-up trucks, John Deere hats and coveralls, a veritable intense scary version of Hee-Haw to my adolescent mind I got wasted for the first time in Jeanette George’s barn party. All of a sudden the farm boys who didn’t understand the dopey kid with the weird name was kinda cool as one-liners poured out of my mouth as if directed by God himself, and those girls who had been conditioned to fall for the stereotypical macho country boy smiled slyly at me. I had had several girlfriends when I lived in Athens, but the move to rural Ohio, burst whatever yearning hope I may have had in those budding teenage years. I was lonely. The cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon went down slowly and soon I found some good friends who were much like me, Chris Biester, Jon Baird, Mark Geiger and Jeff Entler were boys who loved music as I did and liked to drink beer on the weekend as we mocked everybody in our school, trying in vain to shake the awkwardness we all must have collectively felt.
It was brisk that night, one where the soft wind pulled the weakening hold of the leaves on the chilly trees, the breeze would blow up into the branches and slowly tug at one leaf and suddenly, like an invisible trap door a flutter of leaves would empty towards the ground. The changing fall season crept into our adolescence psyches, enveloping up with the social anxiety that dwells within children who are budding adults and fueling late night hopes of kisses, heavy petting and the wonderment of sexuality. I wore large wire-frame glasses, they were new to me as I was fitted with them upon complaining that I couldn’t see the blackboard in Mr. Chamberlin’s oh-so-boring Freshman English class, I suppose Mr. Chamberlin just thought I was another over-active dumb kid but I just couldn’t see his shitty sentence diagrams on the board. Sometime during my sophomore year, I got contacts which I wore until my alcoholism told me glasses were easier when you passed out. Glasses didn’t tend to stick to someone’s eyeballs.
The didn’t unfold as much as it burst forth as if rocketed from the barrel of a shotgun, the minutes flicked past as if they were motorized and as stars twinkled and winked from the deepest of space, I had collected a small audience as I bellowed jokes and asides. The warmth of smiles is something I cannot forget, while the thirty years that have passed since then have swept whatever funny words that tumbled forth from my lips, I realized then and there that a tiny bit of beer carried me a long way. Drinking happened on the weekends, mostly in the back seat of a car or at Mark’s house as his mother and stepfather went on trips to ride horses. It was sporadic, alcohol was easy to procure and the summer between my sophomore and junior years, I spent in Athens. It was there that drinking became easier, I looked old enough to get into bars and the hurried energy of bars excited me. Besides there were a lot of college women in Athens and this fueled my feelings of being older and a part of something much grander than a fifteen year old boy lost in the Ohio wilderness.
When I was child I would sit upon my grandfather’s knee in his cracked leather chair, he would hang his left leg over the side with a small wooden knob at the end of the arm chair being the last guard of his leg slipping off onto the floor, his foot dangling, pants leg pulled tight revealing his black socks collapsing around his ankles. He would welcome me up as he watched the news, rocking me on his knee and I could smell the Jim Beam in a glass that worked more like an extension of his hands as he nursed the smooth bourbon from late morning, to mid-afternoon to early evening before rising from the comfy chair and lumber off to bed. The smell of water and Jim Beam dug deep into my brain and when I started drinking liquor, I soon lost interest with the intense and feverish buzz that Jack Daniels gave for the smooth comfort of Jim Beam, somewhere buried into my essence was the memory of my grandfather holding me, murmuring in my ear and letting me eat salty Lay’s Potato Chips right from the bag as Walter Cronkite spoke from a black-and-white universe and for moments the world was safe. I would order a beer and a Beam and water and soon learned the fine are of cultivating a buzz. Giving up on shots after I smashed my ribs into the floor of Staches one night and after several summers of puking into an old brown bucket the lure of shots no longer enticed me, the art of drinking was about establishing a pace that could hold off the desperation of loneliness until deep into the night, and when cruising one did not want to get to sloppy as it would be easy to scare off any suitors who could take away the pangs of desperation.

Towards the end of my drinking I would loathe the night, a farce compared to just a few years prior when the twisting inside of me burned as if there were simmering coals alighting the innards of my body during the day while I pined for the night. For the comfort of cigarette smoke, music wafting overhead and through my body and the twinkle of a pretty woman, all to soothe an unsettled fragment of me. Conditioning takes years, whether it is the body or the mind, with alcoholism it is a combination of both, one feeds the other while the circumstances that compels a person may shift the symbiotic relationship remains strong. Desperation came in bursts, emotional upheavals the unraveled as the moon rose high above, pining for affirmation was a sick exercise one that still urges me to this day.

Undercurrents of discourse percolated through my mind and veins, as the excuses to drink piled on one another my behavior became dishonest, selfish and in the end extremely risky. Jerry had this at times during our friendship, where the haunting of his depression could sink him to tears or to futile anger at anyone around him. His look of utter frustration with his obsession of drinking stunned me, “Bela, I can’t fucking stop” he would utter as I clutched a handful of Black Label’s to disperse around the chunky wooden booths at Larry’s. “Aw Jerry, relax, come on. Everybody is having a good time.” He would then slide away, camping in his upstairs apartment surrounded by his best friends, that is his record collection. Jenny, on the other end approached her alcoholism with glee at that time, “I’m a fucking alcoholic, so fucking what” she would blurt out as she downed a whiskey, her life by then had not yet unraveled a horrific pace that would have her living in a mansion in Miami to the streets of Columbus in a matter of months. “Shit, I know what my problem is, and I frankly I don’t care” she would say, as we sat around her glass tabletop playing a game of quarters. Later, as a resident of Jackson County Hospital in Miami, when the apparitions that would sporadically spring from her mind grew too dangerous and the alcoholic tremors would grind her to the floor, she confessed, “I’m so fucking scared of being alone BELA,” her intensity almost breaking solid heavy plastic of my phone, “I don’t know how not to drink, it’s the ONLY THING THAT HAS EVER WORKED.” By then, I had gone through my own treatment for alcoholism and was sober. I believed her only answer was the same path I had chosen, which was twelve-step groups although I had little knowledge of the severity of her mental illness.

Sadness has cloaked me since childhood, at times burying me deep into my mind as is the sky were trying to shake the clouds free, I tore myself loose through alcohol, as a means to find companionship. At times, depression is a salve, especially when young as emotions are so strong, so immediate and encompassing, the uniqueness of heartbreak is by itself a shelter from the rest of world. Later, I would discover meditation and other acts of non-acts, so to speak but depression still pokes its head out, a goblin of sorts to trip up my day. Music has always been the consistent, more than the booze, and certainly more than the women. It was there when I was twelve and around still as I turn the page into middle age. Headphones yank me back from the precipice of the dark gloominess of my mind, of emotions that lie to me, over and over. Today, I don’t pick up a drink but many of the reasons for drinking are still there. Inside of me.

and I love THIS song now.

and THIS!!!

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.

http://lightbox.time.com/2013/11/26/flashback-to-the-timeless-malls-of-the-1980s/#1

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.

http://rumur.com/johnny

 

Jerry Wick and Jenny Mae “nothing in particular”

October 19, 2013

“nothing in particular” 1989–2013

The crackle of the needle would lift a sour mood into the upper regions of sesmatic joy, as the grooves of the black spinning  vinyl record would magically propel the music into the stylus, somehow by magic still to these ears I would be transported from the whatever displaced atmosphere was churling inside of me into somewhere brighter. It was the simplest escape I knew,  it didn’t involve medication, money or the awkwardness of feelings or sex. There were inherent aspects to hoarding and collecting records, some of which involved the sense of protection of security the music offered, the records subconsciously involving varying emotional states. Like a child who clutches his stuffed animals these round flattened globs of wax, provided more security than anything else I knew. Certainly more than the affection of others, who could be prone to discard my affections as if they were a Styrofoam cup.

The advantage of music and books over relationships was obvious, music didn’t hurt and there was no risk involved. During my teenage years, fraught with hours spent inside by bedroom reading Kurt Vonnegut, science fiction and heady literature, listening to R.E.M.’s “Murmur” and Lou Reed incessantly I burrowed deep into the past via my favorite companions, namely my stuff. I would daydream into the future, where I plotted my escape from oppressive small-town Ohio to the greater pastures of opportunity. Namely college, either in Athens or Columbus and maybe one, day New York. Reading Rolling Stone, Spin and music related biographies, fueled the idea that anything was possible. “for Christ-sakes,” I thought, “Lou Reed can’t sing a lick and look at him.” He had quickly become my hero, and when the Velvet Underground catalog was re-issued in the mid-eighties I gobbled them up. My senior year of high school, I traveled to Cleveland and saw Lou play the Music Hall and waited patiently with arms clutching half of his cut-out bin catalog for his signature. “Glad you’re a fan,” he mumbled as he scrawled his name across “Street Hassle” and “The Bells.”

Lou was much smaller in stature than I had thought, in my teenage mind he was taller, not only did I picture him as a taller, he had now had a larger-than life image in my mind. At that time, Lou was doing advertisements for Honda scooters and with his dark sunglasses he was the epitome of cool. He stood in front of me, shorter than me, peering over his sunglasses as beads of sweat poured down his face, and his hands slightly shook as he held my records. Looking back, he was in his mid-forties the same age as me and he was totally human. This made sense and did not diminish my attraction to him, it was the humanness of the Velvet Underground, and punk rock, in general that I found solace in. There was no fantasizing about the men and women who had provided me sanctuary, they were as real as my awkward seventeen year old feelings felt to me. Singing about everything but getting their dicks sucked and fucked as most of the bands on the radio sang about, I could relate to it.

Moving into the expansive city of Columbus, after settling in, moving around and enmeshing myself into the record store scene, the dreams of moving to New York or even attending college slipped away. The days were filled with records, and the nights were filled with live music. In between there was reading, writing, painting and long conversations about music and sometimes about music. Jerry thought politics were stupid and it didn’t take any prompting for him to offer this opinion. “It doesn’t fucking matter who is President, they are all fucking idiots. I think it’s stupid to even fucking vote.” When I offered that perhaps going to war was important as my brother was in the service, “not my fucking problem, dude.” Jerry would say and blow a long stream of smoke in my direction. “God-damnit Jerry, why do you have to be such an asshole?” I’d yell across the table at him, during the first Gulf War I had a good friend who was in one of the first battalions to have troops on the ground. Jon, called me several times from Kuwait, “shit man, I saw a bunch of burned bodies today. It was like something out of a movie, these people were just like charcoal. Some still had guns in their hands, they fucking never knew what was coming.” Jon would call me at Used Kids, and when I’d get off the phone I would pointedly look at Jerry, “that’s my buddy calling from Kuwait, he’s in the fucking war.” Jerry would look at me blankly, “not my problem dude, your buddy shouldn’t have joined the fucking Army!” and then he would turn tail and space out at the back counter.

Jenny would climb aboard whatever make believe spacecraft she had hovering in her head, usually fueled by abstract ideas that had a modicum of truth in them she would click out and disappear. “Hey Laz, check it out” and she would lead upstairs to a place that used to be our bedroom and was now either a green house or a recording studio. “Where the fuck is our bed?” I’d stammer. “Oh it’s in the closet, don’t you like my garden. I think I can grow some tomatoes up here. I bought some grow plants, we can grow weed as well, but I know you don’t care for it. I think you have to hang it out to dry or something,” she would mention, her voice trailing off.

“How the hell did you buy them? With what money?”

“I got paid, dumbass.”

“We have to pay fucking rent, what the hell are you thinking?”

“Relax, you get paid this week so we can use that.”

“What about food, utilities and car insurance, are you out of your fucking mind?” I would blurt out, “God-damnit Jenny, what fucking planet are you on?”

“You know, this is why you will never get fucking laid when I leave you Bela,       you are so fucking serious, a fucking drag. It’s always money this, politics this, bullshit. You are no fucking fun, here I thought you would love to have a garden          in the house and you just bitch.”

“This garden is in the mother-fucking attic! Who the fuck grows tomatoes in their fucking attic, in fucking March?! and doesn’t pay their rent?!”

“Fuck you Bela, I’m going to go have fun and YOU are not invited!”

With that she would go to my wallet, grab whatever cash I had and leave. Later, after listening to records and having a few drinks I would mosey down to Larry’s and meet up with her. She would be surrounded by men, and as I scooted in next to her, glaring at whatever philosophy student was trying to get in her pants, all was forgiven. “Thank God, you got here, that guy wouldn’t leave me alone” she would say. This was shoveled into me and was swallowed whole, only to ferment for years on end.

The world was small and we all felt big, which is much different from how the days tumble and run roughshod over one another now, as they jockey for leverage every compact twenty-four hours elbow out everything else so that even finding car keys becomes a shouting match. Ideas flashed across the thick chunks of wood that made up the booths of Larry’s, all were brilliant until the gushed from dense alcohol breath and then they would splatter against the force of laughter or blown up into plans if they managed to catch aflame. At times, I felt like Zelig, the Woody Allen character who somehow appeared magically in every substantial event in the early and mid 20th Century except I was a Zelig to the people who crafted my record collection or shaped my books.

Most people never get to share a dinner with those who are the soundtrack to their lives and the community I felt fostered this, everything was approachable and in some way probably help lay the groundwork for the ability to communicate through the internet. Based on the fact that those who hide beneath the surface need the reassurance of their peers, whether it is the solace in listening to Skip Spence or reading The Offense, Conflict, Wind-Up or Chickfactor, the knowing of familiarity bought you your entrance into a better and kinder world than what was outside of your record collection, comics and paperbacks.

Madness abounds in all areas, what was viewed as the eccentricities of youth are now viewed the clinical expertise of years of social work practice and a $100,000 education. Examining the past through the perspective of craggy years spent on multiple bar stools, at the foot of wooden stages only inches from the ground and the muttering absent minded father that I’ve evolved in, is dangerous and laughable at times. The toll of mental illness has been staggering in my personal life, from my own sullen bouts of depression and need for absolute and constant affirmation (usually given through laughter, formerly offered through sex—as only the touch and freedom of bodies could relieve the doubt in a man who traversed the thin path of mortality on a daily basis), to those of my closest friends and comrades. Jenny’s consistent upheaval is obvious, as her passage through life has lead into something akin to a Hieronymus Bosch painting with a soundtrack by Brian Wilson, to the dark despair of Jerry whom I can recall vividly clutching a Black Label while sitting at a barstool at Larry’s one night, globs of bulbous tears pouring down his face while he shook and said, “I can’t quit fucking drinking.” I see the wreckage it has hammered to some of my closest friends even today who, it appears flock to me because of my profession. I witness it daily in my line of work, as I process the staggering rates of childhood sexual abuse to dropping out of school and then untreated mental illness and addiction into criminal behavior.

At the end of nearly every day I climb aboard an exercise machine, put my headphones on, and run it all away. I’m still running.

 

 

this is amazing:

new favorite, thanks to Matt Sweeney

 

Jerry Wick and Jenny Mae: Crushes 1990-1992 (sort of)

September 21, 2013

Loneliness was marked one listen at a time. Three in the morning, shrouded in the dark front room, only the streetlight out front flicking light streaks through the window as infrequent cars, no doubt also filled with the near despondent with a night full of booze and nicotine like myself came through. The record would spin in circles until it reached the end, at times I would lift the needle to the beginning of a certain song, the song what would capture what I felt, maybe a chorus maybe a riff or maybe the sounds of  a bow on strings. I fell in love frequently, it was easy. It was needed. Nervousness was cloaked in laughter, in the foolish things that would tumble from my lips, I would say anything to garner a smile. Jerry would as well, and Jenny was an expert at burying her feelings under six feet of joke.

In a five month period I managed to fall for four woman named Jenny, it was comical almost as if there was a sitcom screenplay my life was following. Jenny number one was of course, Jenny Mae, whose fragile existence made me worry at night. The romantic love had burned bright for two years and then the love that is born of responsibility and loyalty took over, it has somehow continued for over twenty years since I walked out in the fall of 1991. Transformed from puppy-love to the concern of parental responsibility, she is symbol of how, as a society we take care of our own for me. A fountain of frustration and stubbornness that, is rarely tempered by blasts of laughter that somehow make up for the frustration of observing a twenty-one year car accident in progress.

I had begun to make bi-weekly and weekly visits to Athens, ducking out of work early on a Saturday night, loading up my pale blue Chevrolet Chevete, perhaps the saddest sack of a car this side of a Gremlin with cassettes and a six pack. Motoring down route 33, past the flat farms of lower Franklin County, towards Lancaster where the landscape would shift abruptly mid-town town. From the smooth as a quarter landscape of the north end of town into the staggered foothills of Appalachia on the other end, just a three mile distance. One could feel the molting of Columbus as the landscape shifted, a renewed energy boiled inside as I replaced “Daydream Nation” with Superchunk’s “Foolish” and what would become the soundtrack for my next three break-ups. The affinity I felt towards Athens was profound, even though I had made and found a home and finally a sense of community in Columbus, the roots of my childhood lay in Athens. In the college town atmosphere and liberal politics of the region, while Columbus was home, Athens felt like a refuge. Chris Biester was one of my best friends, perhaps the most talented musician I have ever come across, at once a storyteller but also one that could make his guitar to do anything he desired. A master word conjurer of sorts, that could spit out a lyric that could lay next to America’s greatest poets and then entertain with a way with the spoken word with the same wryness as Will Rogers.

Chris lived haphazardly, at certain points in his life, he resided in a tent in rural Meigs County and at other junctures he lived the shambling existence of most bohemians, that is a life filled with roommates, dogs and countless lovers all of them promising relief from the storms of life. Chris was well aware of my precarious mindset, and when I would greet him at the Union, he would enquire about my mental health with a quizzical look complete with a frozen raised eyebrow and ask again, “I mean how are you?” “Great” I would reply, as I was filled with at least six drinks from my way down, a few cups of coffee and the hope only a Saturday night can promise a young man of 23. Chris introduced me to Jenny number two, a thin woman with full lips who rolled her own cigarettes and eye lashes that could reach out and break a man. They had been a couple and Chris had moved on, he had no doubt counseled her on my recent mental health issues and the precarious nature of my own existence. She was devoted to Chris, not just a former lover but as a guidepost, one whom would see that the neurosis that climbed inside him was scrubbed out. One weekend, Jerry and I drove to Athens and saw Chris’s band Appalachian Death Ride at a sub-level bar called the Dugout. ADR, as they were called amongst their faithful had just received welcoming and positive press in the College Music Journal and  Your Flesh magazine. That night a sonic bomb went off in the underbelly of Court Street, as ADR ripped through a set that, 21 years later is still fresh in my mind. They ended their set, shirtless, with the walls sweating from the overabundance of hair and stickiness of the patrons, with covers of “Pale Blue Eyes” and Tom Petty’s “American Girl.” It was brilliant. That night I went back to Jenny’s apartment, just up the hill from Sunnyside Drive and across the street from a playground I had played at when I was a toddler. To uneasy to make love, I held her tight until the room quit spinning and woke up with a dog licking my face.

Jenny and I started to become a couple and by early December she made the drive to Columbus to spend the weekend with me. She was going to spend the month in San Francisco with an Aunt. That night we finally made love and the next morning I drove her the airport that New Years Eve we spent the weekend in her new apartment in rural Athens County with her best friend Haynes. I remember drinking one glass of wine, walking in the early morning through brown weeds and a gray morning sky while thinking to myself that I would have to end this relationship. A week later she called to tell me that she was pregnant. I had helped make arrangements for her to terminate the pregnancy, and while I was a practicing Catholic, I felt relief that she had decided to make this choice. She stayed at my apartment that weekend.  And soon after the relationship ended as quietly as a leaf landing in the forest.

Jenny number three was a librarian from Philadelphia, bookish, with large eyes and a wide smile that held perfect white teeth. She was committed to a man in Philly, who she missed like the wheat misses the wind. Jenny number two came in the store frequently and my crush was solidified when she bought a Nothing Painted Blue single.  The next time she came in she went to buy a ticket to see Unrest at Staches,

“hey, you wanna go?” I asked.

Smiling a smile that was more grimace than smile, “uh, yeah. That’s why                                         I’m buying a ticket. You know, because. I. Want. To. Go.”

“Yeah, I know that but I mean, if you don’t want to pay for it I could take                                                 you. Like, for free. We get in free” gesturing towards the entire store with                                      my hands.

She put her wallet back in her purse, tilted her head, thinking for a                                                  moment, “ok, sure. why not” she replied, more to herself than to me.

“We can meet at Dicks Den across the street? How about nine or ten?”

She looked at me strangely, “is that too late?”

“no, it won’t start until ten, Gaunt is opening up. That’s Jerry’s band.”

“oh, Gaunt, they are local right? Who is Jerry?”

Jerry sat at the back counter, smoking a cigarette, head tilted back, staring                                      at the flyers on the ceiling. “that’s Jerry.”

“He’s in Gaunt? I didn’t even know they were from here. I thought they                                         were from like Chicago or something.”

“Yeah, you’re not from here are you?

“No, I’m from Philadelphia but I went to school in D.C. We played Gaunt                          on the radio. That’s cool” she smiled back toward Jerry, her head nodding                                     in approval. Jerry waved to her, as if he were sitting in the back of a                            station wagon, and he was five. “Sure, ten at Dick’s Den then?”

“Yup, see you then.” I was already worried she was going to fall for Jerry.

He walked up to the counter, “Did you just ask that girl out?”

“Yeah, well sorta, I mean I offered to take her to the show tonight, I don’t                                                 think it’s a date though.”

“She’s cute.”

Jerry, at that time swore he was celibate, “I don’t need sex, it’s over-rated” he would say between swigs of beer and draws off his cigarette. It was an odd thing to say, but he was not seeing anybody at the time, and he hadn’t yet started seeing the woman who would compel him to write “Yeah, Me Too” and “Kryptonite” in quick succession. There was a bit of jealously between us, the competition for the affection of women was unspoken and while I thought Jerry was silly for stating he was celibate, he thought I was nuts for the want of women after the dangerous break-ups I had.

“You should just stay away from them, you can’t handle them” he would offer       without prompting.

Stung by his words, “shut up, Jerry. I never fucking asked you.”

“whatever dude.”

Jerry skipped out of work early that night, he was always anxious on the days Gaunt played, his nervousness combining with his over caffeinated and nicotine addled brain made him unbearable as if he were clawing the back of his eyeballs out. “Yeah, just leave–I can handle the last hour by myself” I said as he mentioned for the fourteenth-fucking-time that his band was playing.  A relief poured over him for a flash, “thanks dude, I’ll see you tonight. Good luck on your date!” he yowled as he left the store, I stammered back, “It’s not a fucking date!.” As I heard him reach the top of the stairs, no doubt blowing a stream of smoke from his lips, “Whatever duudddeee!”

Jennifer number three and I met at Dick’s Den, she was wearing a red skirt and black hose, with a tee-shirt. She was stunning and I was still dressed in the same grimy  shirt and jeans that I had worn all day, only now they smelled of cigarettes, booze and pizza. A winning combination unless you were meeting someone for a first date. I had bounced from Used Kids to Larry’s where I made conversation with the tall bartender Becky who was just hired from Buckeye Donuts. Running into Eric Davidson, singer for the New Bomb Turks, he plopped up next to me. “Going to the show tonight, Unrest, pretty cool. Jerry must be fucking stoked. That’s all he has been talking about all week at the house. It’s like we FUCKING know Jerry, it’s cool your punk-rock band is playing with Unrest but it’s not like you haven’t played a fucking show. They aren’t the Dead Boys for Christ sakes.” Eric popped a pretzel into his mouth. The man was always eating pretzels. “Yeah, he drove me nuts at work, always fidgeting, he would take a record off three songs in, then turn his back to counter while people were waiting to buy shit and then look at them like they were stupid. He’s the most neurotic person I’ve ever met,” shaking my head, I ordered another beer.

“You going as well?”

Eric said, “yeah, I hated but I had to ask Jerry to put me on the list, I’m fucking broke and he can be such a dick about it. It’s not like I wouldn’t put him on the list for one of our shows but you guys get into everything for free so why bother. He was like, ‘Jesus, Eric, I don’t even know how many people we get on the list?’, like I was asking him to wipe my ass or something, he can be such a douche.”

It was easy to pile on Jerry, he himself had a unique way of piling on everybody else unbeknownst to him.

“I know he’s excited, I remember when he brought them last year and interviewed                                     them    for Cornhole.” Cornhole was Jerry’s Kinko’s stapled fanzine, he published                          four or five issues.

I looked at the time behind the wall, “I gotta head up to Dick’s, you wanna walk                           up there with me?”

Eric shook his head, “no thanks, I’m meeting Majesky and a few other guys in a                             little bit, we’ll be up there soon.”

“Just don’t miss Gaunt, or Jerry will kill you, ‘I put Eric on the fucking guest list                             and he can’t even see our band.’ That’s what I’ll have to hear all day tomorrow at                                   work if you don’t make it in time” explaining as I swallowed half a beer in a                            single gulp.

Crossing High Street, ambling up the west side of the street, so as to walk in the long shadows of the trees that blanket that side of the street, I get my bearings. It’s early but I can feel the cool wind of an Ohio autumn, with the flecks of hope the change in the weather brings. The old feelings of new school are brought to life, stirring as if the wind was doing the stirring itself within me. Hands plunged deep into my pockets, keeping my head down and counting my steps. There are roughly five blocks to cover, and for a good chunk of it there are little to no commercial businesses on High Street. Just past Lane Avenue, the longest road in Columbus grows quiet for a moment as canopy of trees leaning over the sidewalk into the street it’s as if the city planners knew this area would be ripe for graduate students, professors and young families. I walk past Northwood and glance across the road and up the dark slight hill that Northwood disappears into, I think of my father. Sometime, many years ago, he and my mother brought me home from the hospital to a small white house sitting on a corner alley up the road. I think of the nervousness in his hands, wiping his hair out of his eyes and he breathed in deeply, almost holding his breath as my mother handed this tiny infant into his clumsy hands. Inside were my sister and brother, with my Aunt Cheryl and my mother’s parents. We lived on Northwood for six months before moving to Athens, and as I stroll by I wonder what my life would have been like if we stayed. “No doubt, I wouldn’t be working in a record store, getting drunk off my ass” I think as I quicken my pace.

Just past Patterson Avenue, just two blocks from home, I spy Dow’s on High, I need to pee. The campus area reeks of urine from too many drunken frat guys and out-of-campus visitors relieving themselves on the sidewalks, alleys and doorways of High Street and neighboring streets, it is unfathomable that these are the future leaders of the new world. I made a vow not to do this unless it was absolutely necessary, I do a slow motion backwards count of how many drinks I have had, “let’s see, at least four at work but I had pizza and I started at four.  Three beers and a shot at Larry’s, that’s only like um, seven and half over five hours. I’m fine.” The alcohol has settled in my knees and around my ears, I can feel it but I am thinking clearly. I don’t want to overshoot it, so, I manage the intake well. this has been done countless times before, I open the door to Dow’s, it isn’t very busy. “I’ll have a Bud, be back in a moment.” The bar is small, with a thin walking space next to the bar and a jukebox that almost hides the men’s room, just to the left of the men’s room is an underutilized room that has a haber-dash of beer signs and posters left over from the nineteen eighties, an old Cleveland Browns poster complete with a schedule from 1990 dangles from the far wall. The season is only half-filled out, by week nine, after a drubbing by the Buffalo Bills that left the morose team, 2-7, even the hardcore owner of Dow’s had given up. And he was an ex-Brown and played for Ohio State. The poster has started to curl at the end, a seldom used pool table sits under a thin hanging light with only three of the four bulbs working, there are stacks of beer protruding from behind an area that was once a kitchen. It would be easy to make off with several cases of beers out the back door which is at the end of a long hallway jutting off from the far wall. That would not happen in a place like Dow’s though, which is the loneliest dive/sports bar on this stretch of High Street. It’s a good place to drink, with polite bartenders who eye us carefully but after several visits accept us. The jukebox sucks, filled with the likes of Journey, Bon-Jovi and Heart, and most times when there isn’t a Brown’s game on it is playing, “Don’t Stop Believing” and “Barracuda” for the four thousandth time. I wait outside the men’s room, although there are only a handful of patrons in the bar, one of them is taking a leak. Behind me sits a small table, with a crock-pot filled with homemade Barb-queue, and a large spoon ready to fill up a thin white roll that is housed in a yellow and clear plastic bag. A stack of styrophom plates and a bag of rippled chips sits on the table. There is a football game flickering on the television but it is not the beloved Browns. While waiting to pee, I shake my head at the juke book, where Billy Idol is bellowing away.

Dick’s Den is one of the oldest bars around the campus area, with multiple nights of live jazz being played, although Dick’s was no piano bar, a tiny almost platform stage wedged between a the doorway to the most cramped area laid out for a pool table, just to the left of the doorway, shoved into a corner as if straddling a cliff sat a Terminator II pinball machine. If you played the game a bit rough, full with fits, bumps and lunges you may well make the jukebox, filled with Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington and Miles Davis, skip. Below the stage were a handful of tables, where the drinks would jockey for space much like the musicians on the stage. The bar staff was older than the staff at Larry’s, the Blue Danube and Staches, with many left over from the High Street debauchery of the 1960’s and 70’s. It was, in a way the post-doc equivalent of a bar compared to the graduate student manner of Larry’s. I was usually frustrated with doorman at Dick’s, due to the explosion of college clientele during their carnival/riotous nights of quarter beer nights during the early nineties. While, I’m sure the loved the business they made quick changes to the flood of frat types on the Wednesday nights of quarter beer nights, the first upping it to .50 beer nights and cracking down on carding people. I took some umbrage at being carded every time I went into Dick’s, mostly because I drank there at least once a week and also for the fact that I had assumed I had long-ago cemented my credentials as a High Street veteran.

Dick’s was busy that night because, sure enough, it was .50 beer night and as I stuck my ID back into my back pocket, I eyed Jenny sitting at the bar with a tall bottle of Rolling Rock in front of her. “Hey,” I said as I saddled up next to her, raising my finger to the bartender and mouthing the words, Budweiser to him. He was a Used Kids regular, prone to buying Lucinda Williams, Jimmie Dale Gilmore as well as jazz titles, he nodded and smiled, silently placing a beer in front of me he stuck his hand up, signaling I didn’t need to pay. I flipped him $2 for a tip and nodded my thanks. Jenny smirked at me, “you come here often I guess?” Looking sideways at her, as I lifted the bottle, now neck empty, “not too much, really, maybe once a week. He comes to the shop a lot, I usually give him a deal. The secret to successful drinking is to know how to treat your bartender, in or out of the bar. Smiling, and shaking her head, “I see that.”

After a few formalities she cut to the chase, “hey, I think it’s cool that you asked me to join you, I could have paid for  a ticket but you know, graduate school money doesn’t go very far. So, that was nice. But I need to let you know I have a boyfriend, Kevin, and he lives in Philadelphia. I just don’t want you to think that, um, I don’t know…..”, she looked skywards, “now, I feel stupid.” Thinking to myself, “only Jerry thought this was a date”, I smiled, “I didn’t think of anything more than just getting you in, really, I didn’t think this was a date or anything. I’m not good at that sort of thing anyway.” In some way I was relieved, shirking from any sort of romantic investment was easy for me, a great deal of the people I spent time with were woman, almost all on a platonic level. “Whew, I was worried you might be upset with me,” she replied, almost to herself, and it was obvious a burden was taken off her shoulders.  “nope, not at all.” I stuck my hand up for two more beers, pointing to her half empty bottle and my empty one. “Don’t you think we should go? It’s like 10:30 and I think the ticket said 9:30. I wanna see your friend’s band, Gaunt.” “it’s alright, shows here start late, and besides there is another band playing first, there are always three bands. I think their called Swivel-Arm Battlegrip, Gaunt will go on in about twenty minutes and they’ll play a short set because Jerry is nervous about playing with Unrest. He loves them so he won’t play too long.”

Staches was half-full, Unrest had just put out the finest record of their career, “Imperial F.f.r.r.” and chimy, ringing piece of guitar pop, the was one of the most catchy records of the year. They had played Staches the year before, again with Gaunt, and were lack-luster as was the turnout for the show. It was a decent crowd for a Wednesday night, and when we entered, I got three beers from the bar, two Budweiser’s for me and a Rolling Rock for Jenny. “you don’t have to buy me any drinks, in fact I probably shouldn’t drink very much more, I have class tomorrow.” “It’s ok, I don’t mind.” I motioned to the stage, where Jerry was just getting ready to plug his guitar in, Gaunt had jelled into quite a live band by this point, having released three records on Thrill Jockey (“Whitey the Man”, “I Can See Your Mom From Here” and “Sob Story”) and doing several tours. Jovan Karcic was a welcome addition to the band, of Serbian descent, Jovan had a startling resemble to a more handsome Frank Zappa and with his mop of curly hair hanging down the second guitar he supplied to Jerry’s fuzzy tone was at times humorous, with its startled burst of frenetic balls of feedback and sudden stops, Jovan fills bolstered Gaunt’s sound tremendously. That night, taking a cue from Jerry’s neurotic energy, they bulldozed their way through a short set, built mostly on the songs from “Sob Story” and a few new songs that came out as singles, “Good Bad, Happy Sad” and “Pop Song”, they were superb. In fact, a small crowd had gathered around the stage, I was in front, just to the right of Jerry. Jenny stood next to  the thin barrier that kept the customers at the bar from spilling into the area in front of the stage, where there were a few tables. I looked back and saw her bopping her head, smiling the entire time. Eric Davidson and Jim Weber stood next to me and as Gaunt launched into “Lies” we all yelled “Spirit of the Radio” to the feigned annoyance of Jerry, as “Lies” shared a close melody to the more known Rush song. It was absurd to think that Jerry had ever listened to Rush.

Unrest were pale in comparison, with both a male and female singer, their brand of indie-rock was almost sober following the sonic assault of Gaunt. They were decent, especially to those of us who knew all the words to their songs. Afterwards, I asked Jenny if she wanted to come by my house and listen to a few more records, it wasn’t too late I offered. Only 12:30 or so, plus we could have another beer. She thought about it, “how close do you live?” Pointing to the back of Staches, “Like two blocks from here, it is literally a stumble away.” Breathing deeply, she sighed, “O.k., but just for a little bit, I really have to go to school tomorrow.” I had no aspirations of anything from her that night, at that time of the evening my goal was to continue to listen to music and drink more beer. As I introduced her to Richard and Istvan, my two dogs, I opened the beers. Excitedly I started playing records, mostly 45’s of bands she may or not have heard of, The Puddle from New Zealand, Number One Cup from Chicago, Belreve from Columbus and the pure bliss of the Flatmates, a female fronted band from the UK who sounded somewhat like the Wedding Present. We were almost hugging the stereo, as if the giant piece of furniture and electronic wires were an Iron Lung for us, she grabbed my arm, “Listen, I need to leave. I’m sorry but there is way too much sexual energy for me right now, going on. I don’t know, I need to leave.” I was dumbfounded, at that moment, I had felt no sexual tension, I was like a five year old showing off his toy trucks. “Oh, don’t worry, I’m not thinking of that. You can stay.” I don’t think she believed me. “You aren’t? Well I am, and I need to leave.” Jenny walked home that night, I walked her partway. After this my crush became immense and over time nothing more became of our friendship, she became a late night voice for me, as I would tremble from the loneliness I felt after drinking until three am, I would call her and she would talk to me until I drifted off to sleep. She eventually broke up with Kevin, I went through a series of relationships and one failed marriage before we were ever romantic together. And these moments were few and rushed, heavy petting on a couch and a furtive brief front seat hand job that ended because, well we were on a residential street. “Listen,” she breathed towards me, “I have to teach tomorrow, but we can go out this Saturday ok?” “Are you sure you just don’t want to come up now, I get up early, I can wake you up,” I promised. “I can’t, I’d like to but I need to go, I can’t risk it.” Her responsibility to her job was very enticing, she was different from many of the women I knew. “Ok, I’m promoting the Grifters show on Saturday night, we can go to that, and get dinner before.” “Deal.” Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if she would have went upstairs with me to my bedroom that night, as the next day, my (current) wife came in the store and we scheduled our first date for Thursday. I had to call Jenny on Saturday and let her know that I had fallen for someone but would still put her on the guest list. She was very understanding.

Crushes came and crushes went, like the passing of the trees at the side of the road, if one pulled the car over, took a gander at the tree it would be easy to fall in love. To see the muscled roots burrowing into the ground, plowing deep into the soil, with the passage of time and branches stretching high into the sky with a billion leaves shaking forth in the wind, the site would be breathtaking. Currently, in between worrisome moments, where the future crushes any thoughts of the past as the phone bill winks as I rustle the keys from the front door. A child around my knees, spurting out ideas that have just been born form his young mind, I panic. “What the fuck, where I am?” I think to myself. The dog jumping high into the air, in my moment of worry I am annoyed. A flash of anger grabs my throat forcing out a stammer, “fucking stop! Hold the fuck on!” I am lost again. Other moments take flight of a mind that tries to placate the suffering the winds up in my office, the homeless woman with two kids living out of her car, the veteran trying to drive to work but can’t because his license is suspended, the woman who goes home to a house where her elderly father, in failing health waits for her to clean him even though he is the one that raped her when she was  four. The time for crushes appear to have fluttered to the earth, like the giant tree jarring it’s leaves free.

Jenny number four lived around the corner from me, her roommate who everybody called Kat was friends with Richie Violet (Jack Taylor), Kat later became a well known poet but at the time I associated her with hanging out with druggie Jack. Jenny had long red hair, she went to Ohio University and was good friends with Chris Biester, she was in a total sense an Athens woman and while we were attracted to one another the thing we did the best together. She had a wide smile, with white teeth sparkling with her blue eyes. And we cackled together frequently, the absurdity of life cast itself around us, from this hillbillies in Athens to the pretentious mob of art-fucks who sometimes infiltrated Larry’s. Jenny and I were never a couple, she would crash at my apartment when Jack and others were at her apartment. She had experimented with heroin and did not want to be tempted, she said, “I don’t need to be around it, it makes me do dumb shit. Weed is cool but all in all I’d rather get drunk with you. You’re funny.” We would listen to records, walk to bar, take in a show at Staches and eat at the Due. She was too strange for Jerry, “you hanging out with that Athens chick tonight?” he’d ask, with a skepticism in his voice. “I dunno, probably, I suppose.” “She’s got big tits, doesn’t she” he would grin, “I dunno, probably, I suppose.” I would answer.

Jenny worked as a stripper that summer, and after she left work she would drive to my house, climb in my bed and cry. “I fucking hate that shit, I hate it, this guy keeps trying to follow me home.” We never made love, that summer, she would resist when we got to that point, explaining, “I can’t do it, I want to but, I can’t.” I never pushed it, we were in a sense fuck-buddies without the fucking. More like blow-buddies.

She left for Athens that fall and during the course of the coming year, there were a few times we would fall into each other at the Union but soon she fell in love with a handsome be speckled guitar player named Brandon. The next summer, while she and Brandon had temporarily broken up she showed up at a Flat Duo Jets show at Staches. The Flat Due Jets were fronted by Dexter Romweber, a frantic front man, whose hyperkinetic energy onstage pulsated the duo’s sound. He cracked jokes and took his music seriously. During the course of the evening, it was decided that the after-hours party would be at my apartment as soon by three am, the apartment was filled with the lonely and the drunken crowd from Staches.  The house was filled with people I barely knew, it didn’t matter, just as long as I heard voices and could see people smiling. Playing a freewheeling trove of music to have bodies move was easy, the dancers may have expected rare rockabilly or art-punk damaged grimy 45’s but I kept things simple, always.

From James Brown to Pet Shop Boy remixes perhaps and Bloodstains Across (whatever) song would be thrown in but by the time four am rolled around, everybody was dispersing.

Jenny cooed in my ear as we swayed hips and spilled beer on the scuffed hardwood floors, “hey, can I stay here tonight”, “oh, yes” I mouthed back over the din of Prince’s “when you were mine”. As people left out the door, Jenny and I headed to my bedroom, sitting in the middle of my bed, we traded gulps of beer and kissed each other. the light was on and the door was cracked, in a moment Dexter strolled into the room eating a leg of fried chicken. He plopped himself down in the middle of the bed, climbing over my shoulder and leaning his head against the faded white wall. I looked at Jenny, “um, we were kinda making out.” I explained. Jenny giggled. Nodding his head and taking a bite out of the leg, “that’s cool.” Jenny and I looked at each other and laughed. Dexter was moving his head to the distant music, “so, Columbus is pretty neat. I like it, great afterhours by the way” he mumbled as a flake of chicken skin fell from his mouth, wiping if off, “sorry, I guess I shouldn’t eat this in your bed.”

After about five minutes of awkwardness I leaned over and said just above a whisper, “hey man, um I’m trying to get laid here.” Jenny blurted out, “yeah, and I think he just might!”  Dexter, nodded again, “oh? cool, that’s cool, I didn’t even realize that, I thought you both were just hanging.” And with that he left the room. That was the last night Jenny and I went out.

for Jenny # 2

for all Jenny’s

for Jenny number #4

for Jenny number #2

for Jenny number #1:

For Jerry Wick:

and

 

 

Jerry Wick & Jenny Mae: Freak Scene-Kisses Sweeter Than Wine-Welcoming to the Working Week

July 3, 2013

1972–1991–2013:

Sunnyside Drive was idyllic, even the name gave credence to the pure nature of childhood. Eighty-Seven Sunnyside Drive, “The Sunnyside Gang” is what we called ourselves, my sister, brother, the Miller’s just two houses next door and Moose Moorhead. There were other kids on the block, but this was “the gang.” East Elementary was just three blocks away, my sister and brother walked to school, came home for tomato soup and grilled cheese and then went back to school. I played underneath the front porch, crawling through a small hole and dug holes in the moist dirt, with only fragments of sun slicing through the wood slats that covered the sides of the porch. At times I would dig for treasures under that porch, usually an old Matchbox car or plastic green army man or if I was extra diligent I would come across a copper penny or nickel to put away and be able to buy a piece of one cent candy at Andy’s Confectionary.

My father taught architecture at Ohio University, my mother was active in some of the radical political activities that was common on college campuses during the late nineteen sixties and early seventies. Some days, my brother and I would be dropped off at Mrs. Dougan’s, an elderly lady who lived on a small farm with her husband, we would play Batman and Robin behind her chair, get to eat sliced colby cheese and crackers and throw stones at the daddy-longlegs spiders that stuck to the sun-bathed stone wall in the rear of the house.

Childhood memories poke in and out of our days as the children grow older around our knees, asking questions, wanting stories and as they wrestle with growing up, some of us wrestle with growing old. In the third grade, I brought a record home I had borrowed from a friend, “Great Hits of the 50’s” or something like that, the songs sounded dated to even my young ears, “Sha-Boom,” “Chantilly-Lace”  and “That’ll be the Day, ” my mother went crazy. “I haven’t heard these songs in years,” as she bopped around on the cream-colored carpet, smiling and giggling, telling us about Poodle skirts and sock-hops. “what kind of world was that,” I thought to myself, my favorite song at the time was “Fox on the Run” by Sweet and “Sir Duke” by Stevie Wonder, this music my mother was agog over appeared to be out of a world that long since collapsed. At the time, it had not even been twenty-years since my mother graduated high school in Columbus. My father had only been in the United States for fifteen years or so, his world had changed drastically since fleeing Europe as a child, relocating to Caracas and finally ending up in Columbus, alone, at the age of seventeen as a freshman at Ohio State.

In the car we listen to the MP3 player, and in the house its compact discs, although there are at least a hundred vinyl records littering the white IKEA cabinet that holds our twenty-year old television, X-Box game system, a stereo system circa 1995 and a turn table that has been destroyed by the sticky-fingers of a blond haired, blue-eyed boy of four. The CD’s are stacked high, in groups mostly scattered by my particular mood, one stack is full of melancholy, Adrian Crowley, Nina Simone and Townes van Zandt, while another almost has sparks shooting from it as it shows a propensity of sudden dance sessions with the kids, Superchunk,  Blondie, The Soft Boys, and Mudhoney. The largest stack is broken into smaller mounds of peacefulness, all classical, Beethoven String Quartets, a Jacqueline Dupree box set, choral music from the Harmonia Mundi label, Arvo Part and some 20th Century avant-garde. In the midst of this emotional path are stacks of CD’s without cases, some burned, many unlabeled and a few that have been sitting in the same spot for over five years. The music is everywhere, still the lifeboat that keeps a middle-aged man’s head on securely. The children have their favorites, and it’s all timeless, Woody Guthrie, Elvis Costello, The Ramones, Justin Townes Earle, anything with loud guitars, Saskia is prone to sentimental music, folk, story songs and classical. In the car she would rather listen to “This American Life” than anything else. At this moment her favorite song is “Kisses Sweeter Than Wine” as recorded by the Weavers, done up with so much sentimentality and hokeyness it would make Martha Stewart blush. Bruno’s favorite song at the moment is “Welcome to the Working Week” by Elvis Costelvis (his was of pronouncing it, which is the embodiment of little-kid genius). When singing in the house  he snarls  about, whilst walking around the house, his little lip curling upward almost spitting the words out. He has no idea what he is singing.

Climbing into the future is not an easy task when considering the weight of the past, in one sense the idea of immortality is the tether provides the motivation, and so the subconscious provides this through our children, our songs, writing and painting but the mundane of everyday life is set aside, the waiting at the traffic light, eating a crappy meal and using the restroom, these are forgotten as if Christ, Beethoven or Mark Twain never did such things. The fireworks of our lives are remembered after we go but what we remember are digging in the dirt, looking for pieces of treasure, a bottle cap, a bruised nickel or waiting for our older brother to get home to help us make a city of blocks and forts of Lincoln Logs.

As an adult I couch myself in humor, it bursts out of me, discharging out of my mouth with no safety gauge, a loose cannon in a inkwell of tie’s and decorum at the Franklin County Courthouse where I work. At times, I mutter to myself, letting the joke release in hushed tones or else my jaw may fall off. Humor is the weapon of choice for the over sensitive, for many, the prickly sharp edge of a witty barb deflects the blunt emotional force of being left behind and isolated. From childhood on, when discovering that making a person smile could actually improve the environment. Jerry Wick had the same loose cannon, his inner filter must have broken by the age of 14. He was emotionally obtuse at times, with a chasm of eloquence between his intention and his speech. This proved dangerous for him at times, on one occasion Pat McGann , the forceful drummer for Greenhorn chased him around Bernie’s Bagels one night. All because Jerry insulted Dan Spurgeon, Greenhorn’s excellent songwriter and on-time roommate of Jerry. As Pat chased Jerry around Formica tables and plastic chairs, spilling beer and knocking half eaten bagels to the ground with teeth grit and leveling more threats than a chained up pit-bull, Pat clutched air and Jerry gleefully cackled about the room.

The humor was self-depreciating, always was and always will be, I suppose, it is easier to point out one’s own shortcomings than having another do it for you. Jenny was quick to point out her sexual promiscuity, perhaps annoying some of the men on the music scene. On her first tour t-shirt instead of cities she wanted to list her sexual conquests on the back and with a nod to the Staches motto, “Staches….I Been There”, she wanted to write, “Jenny Mae, You Been There.” It is the things that tend to hurt us the most that we mold into the humor that defines us, using a weakness for a strength, I suppose other’s bury it with shades or dollops of stereotypical bravado, feminmity or decorum but it was easier for the average Sub-Pop fan to self define himself as a “loser” than to have the middle linebacker from the football do it to him first.

One night, after I had fallen in love with my first New York Girlfriend, I had planned on meeting her on High Street with her old roommate J. Mascis who had almost single handedly defined my existence with his blazing guitar solo on “Freak Scene”. I was nervous, aware of my own sense of awkward and clumsy body, of wire framed glasses that had been bent and bruised by too many late night stumbles and having Jenny toss them across the room to see me scurrying after them, “God-Damnit Jenny, these are my only fucking glasses, I can’t fucking see without them.” “ahh, but you are adorable looking for them, Nerdla.” Sharon was beautiful, with a sense of style and she loved the same hip-hop I did (Big Daddy Kane, De La Soul) and fortunately she was attracted to witty guys, with crooked teeth, bumbling hands and a deep sense of emotion that sunk into a passion for music. J was visiting Sharon with his girlfriend at the time, Maryann, and they wanted to see Soundgarden at the large boxy, concert venue the Newport. I had seen Soundgarden at Staches the year before and was non-pulsed by them, they sounded like a lumbering Led Zeppelin with a heavy bottom and yowling vocals, with nary a semblance of a melody the entire evening. I did not care, I was excited, I had drank a great deal of coffee and a shot of Jim Beam. The alcoholic drinking that would develop was kept at bay by the fear of being emotionally adrift again. As I walked back from Bernie’s in the cool autumn sun, smiling to myself  with the wide eyed excitement of meeting J and maybe holding hands with Sharon (sex was out of the question for me at that time, again the fear of emotional disappointment loomed large), a small group of teenagers approached me, a thin white male with close cropped hair and wiry eyes approached me, “Hey look at Urkle!” he yelled to his friends and punched me full on in the mouth.  Spitting half a tooth into my mouth, “You little fucker” I stammered, knowing the hopes of impressing Sharon and J had disappeared with the teen-ager’s perfectly placed fist, I grabbed him and wrestled him to the ground, my glasses hurtling into the other direction. During the next fleeting moments, as the skirmish ballooned with his posse of friends trying to kick me and him scrambling under my clutches, a few college kids pulled them away and yelled for someone to call the police. I sat on the ground, heat rising into my ears, heart beating fast and for a moment I was back in high school–the nerd. It last for only a moment, and I went looking for my glasses. They were gone. One of the ruffians must have taken them. I was angry, but did not feel humiliated, we were taught to fight if we needed to fight and the back-yard grapplings and living room punch outs with my older brother had prepared me well. I could take a beating but now , on the eve of the date of a lifetime and meeting my favorite musician, I sat toothless and blind on the High Street sidewalk. Soon, Sharon and J walked up, I used my humor to diffuse the situation. We saw Soundgarden, J shrugged them off as I had earlier in the year and we ended up back at Larry’s and I let myself pound Jim Beam as my tooth lay open to the sensations of the world. Later that night I slept at my friend Joe Moore’s house, in the bed of his roommate who clutched me tight in the night while I resisted her overtures as I had already fallen and in my mind been taken by Sharon. The next morning, I went to Lenscrafters and bought a new pair of glasses with all the money I had, $90. The frames I bought were on the bottom of their sale drawer, a pair of darkish-brown Buddy Holly type frames that I assumed would hold up well during drunken evenings and the dangers of bar-room drinking.

Saskia looked at an old picture of me and Jerry Wick the other morning, Jerry who had been practicing poses long before had ever thought about it, is staring into the camera, smoking a cigarette and holding a Busch beer. His attire is all black, “Rocket from the Crypt” t-shirt and black jeans, the confidence of having his photo taken, for all eternity. I am standing next to him, a bit anxious, too insecure to look into the camera, knowing my inherent goofiness carries well into photos, I look over at Jerry. I’m wearing torn jeans, and a fraternity t-shirt I had found at a thrift store. The absurdity of me wearing a frat shirt always tickled me and I have Walkman in my hand. I remember the day well, I had just got finished with a run and Jerry and I went to Jay Brown’s house for the photo, it was late afternoon in the spring. I had not yet plunged deep into drinking as of yet and was in fairly good shape, and my dark plastic frame glasses suited how I felt most days; hesitant yet a bit bold. Saskia stared at the picture, “daddy where are your tattoos?”

“I didn’t have any tattoos, I never really wanted them.”

“Oh, well you look like a guy who should have them.”

She looked more at it, “Daddy, is that your dead friend Jerry?”

“Yes dear, that’s him.”

“Where are his tattoos? He looks like he needs some also.”

Sighing, “well, he didn’t really like tattoos either, they were not as popular then although we knew a lot of people with them.”

“What are you guys doing?”

“just standing there, in a kitchen, getting our picture taken.”

“Daddy? Was he famous?

“Umm, not really, I mean he made records and people liked his music but he never was on television or anything. But he had a lot of friends, we loved him a lot.”

Saskia continued to look, “did he want to be famous?”

“I think so.”

“Daddy, I’m hungry.”

“ok, let’s eat.”

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VvdXEHlz-QgJErry and Megaunt 2