Posts Tagged ‘used kids’

Death and Almost Death

August 3, 2017

unedited because it just seems like a lot of work at this moment.

Death and Almost Death.

 

 

Ohio State University Hospital East, is an odd building for a hospital, it is 12 stories tall, with a round tower as the centerpiece, it has several buildings that have been attached to it over the years. Inside it is difficult to traverse, with connecting hallways between buildings, various mis-named floors and at the building furthest from the tower is Talbot Hall which is one of the busier detox units in Central Ohio. At one point, some years ago I would do a volunteer group amongst all the struggling addicts and alcoholics, and after that I did an internship there. OSU East is smack in the middle of the Near East Side, a high crime, extreme poverty and highly forgotten about area of Columbus. It’s an area, until recently, largely forgotten about by city planners, business outside the realm of convenient and check cashing stores. During the eighties and nineties, crack cocaine moved in like a cancer, decimating block after block, transferring many of the young African-American males from one corner or project into the various prisons that rose like wildflowers throughout rural Ohio. OSU East and Grant hospital just blocks away in the middle of downtown, are flashpoints for trauma and death in the city.

I walked the circular hallway, winding around, counting the numbers until I found hers, “Penn” was written in black sharpie on the small sign outside her door. Jenny’s mother came up and hugged me, I looked down at Jenny who was folded up in her bed, her unused legs jutting out from the bottom of crisp white sheets. She looked small, as if the past years of her life had not only sucked the life out of her but in doing so, made her limbs and torso shrivel. One arm was crossed over her chest and the other lay limp next to the remote control. It appeared as if she had tumbled down a canyon, as her head lay at the bottom of the raised part of the bed, her neck twisted downwards. The pillow lay mostly halfway up the slope and the rest under her face which was scrunched up as well. She was yellow, with a faint hint of green in her cheeks and neck, in her nose was a feeding tube, her eyes were closed. “Jenny, Jenny…..” I waited, “Jenny, it’s Bela.” Her eyes flickered, her mother spoke softly to her, “Jennifer…Nordy (her pet name from her mother), Bela’s here.” Leaning in, to her ear, “Jenny, hey, its me.” Her eyes opened and she peered sideways, too weak to lift her head towards me, she cast her look and made some grumbling noises. “mrrghmmbbghh”, her cracked lips creaked open like a rusted cellar door,  bits of dried blood were caked around the corner of her lips. “Do you hear me ok?” A soft nod and another stab at words, “urghhhe…berla..” She could hear us ok, but was unable to effectively communicate.

I walked over to the other side of the bed, “has she been like this all week?” Her mother stood next to me, “well, yeah mostly although the other day she was lucid and talking away, chattering about how she wants to move and how alone she is…but later she just sort of drifted into this.” Angling in again towards her ear, “Jenny I was just talking about some of the crazy stuff that we used to do, Bruno’s is really interested in all those stories.” A hint of a smile cracked her yellowed face, just a smidgen, her memory was still intact.

Years before, nearly ten miles down the street from this very hospital, my grandmother lay on her deathbed. One could say she took years to die, her body giving up in chunks over the years, a fall resulting in a broken hip, then breast cancer, then another fall resulting in another artificial hip, with the other one needing replaced as it had developed a crack. Another fall in the shower where she lay for fourteen hours on her 79th birthday. She always fought back, her appetite towards life was massive, it was a big as the sky swallowing up the clouds. Finally, after living in a nursing home for nearly a year, with a deep crack developing once again in one of the artificial hips, this time an operation was impossible, she was too old, too large and her heart too weak to sustain another operation. She lay in her bed for months as her body gasped away its core, small breaths counting down to the inevitable final exhale.

Her room was decorated in all the things she loved, pictures of her life, from her teenage years as a highly desired young woman, whom men nearly twice her age made their way to her father’s steps. Her wedding picture, surrounded by countless men and women, with a flowing white gown wrapped around her, a pool of silk. Next to her, my grandfather, with a handsome grin and a seriousness that his side of the family was known for. She could have been a princess in these photos, as the pageantry was that grand. Other photos of her and her three sons, black and white photos of the four of them on the streets of Caracas, others in Spain and Trinidad where she sent them to learn English which would be their path out of Venezuela. One could trace the progress of photography with these photos, later, faded color photos from the nine-teen sixties, with grandchildren wearing polyester striped pants, large collared shirts and bowl haircuts stood around her amidst a swamp of Christmas presents. And finally, newer photos of great-grandchildren taken with digital cameras and printed out at the local drug store.

On the dresser was a large television, sandwiched between stuffed animals and the ever-present vases of flowers, hundreds of dead flowers had passed through this room.

The final decline happened in spurts, and in the end, it was only her lungs that remained alive, it was as if they had not realized her mind had given up and took flight. Heavy breaths that gasped for air, her eye lids suddenly half opened. Her blue eyes, translucent and watery, the were like small blue pearls under the clearest water that has never existed, drifted towards her son and then to me, they closed softly as lungs strained against the force of nature. Finally, after nearly three minutes without a breath, we realized she was gone, she had wanted to see her parents and earlier that day she spoke quietly with a smile on her face. “I will see my daddy and my mommy soon,” proving that as we toddle towards quietus, we revert to childhood, she was almost ninety years old and pining to see her parents on the other side of whatever it is that is the other side.

Signs spring up everywhere, omens of the final doom everybody succumbs to, especially when people live skimming off the top of life as if it were the deepest most turbulent ocean that has ever existed. Some people can dance atop of life, barely touching it too deeply, not letting themselves sink but not yet being able to glide above the salty spray of existence. Others are pulled down by the ankles, they wade through life with their very essence held back by invisible cinder blocks holding them fast.

We were sleeping in a house I had never been in, a split level with green carpet and very little furniture, boxes placed against the walls, in the middle of the room and a small bed made of pillows and sleeping bags were made for my brother and myself. The house was somewhere in the middle of Newport News, a section I was unfamiliar that was not the house where I had lived in as recently as the beginning of the summer. It was Labor Day weekend, we were visiting our mother—spending the previous three months in Athens, Ohio with our father. Spending golden summer days, traipsing through barren fields, abandon houses and playing pickup football and baseball. It was a revelation after moving nearly every June since the age of five, Athens had provided an anchor that I had never experienced since living at the far end of Long Island where we lasted a year and half. Our father had driven us to Charleston, West Virginia where we boarded a smallish Piedmont Airlines prop plane. I always sat by the wing, marveling at the huge propellers that appeared to go backwards and forwards at the same time, a massive buzzing that shook the seat under me. We usually stopped in Roanoke, Virginia and then onto Richmond. Our mother picked us up, and instead of driving to the house I had called home the previous year we went to this other, strange Brady Bunch looking house. This was the home of her new boyfriend, a fellow named Bob Brushwood who looked uncannily like Andy Griffith.

Paneled wood walls, made to look like a forest cut in half, tree by tree with the innards sticking out, naked but, they were made of pressed wood, not one tree with its heartwood exposed but many crushed and pressed to make one facsimile of a real tree. Cheap, and an affront to all proud trees everywhere. In the 1970’s this was called fashionable. There was a dark green carpet in the living room and in what was the den, a few steps down from the living room and rough and thick multicolored shag carpet smelled of cat piss. My mother and Bob slept in the other room, nestled next to my brother, trying to understand the reasons why we were staying in this house that was a mystery to me, it was a foreign land on one I did not understand the language.

Shortly thereafter, as the shadows dipped and settled along the room, the trees outside providing a ballet against the walls, the sounds from the bedroom arose. Deep sounds, breathy sounds and unbeknownst to a child of nine they were the sounds of lovemaking. Leaning into my brother, whispering and asking questions, “shhh, just go to sleep” he advised but the sounds were relentless and frightening. My hair stood on end. Crying out, after a few minutes of unheeded bleating, my mother came into the room. She was followed by Bob, with broad shoulders, long sinewy arms, hairy chest and a cigarette dangling from his lips, he could have been summoned from a Marlboro ad. Patting my head she tried to explain what was happening but I was lost, submerged in my own mind, sinking like net into the sea, although this net was intended to release all my thoughts instead of gathering them like so many minnows.

A few years later, after they married, we were transplanted to Catawba, whose small-town secrets burbled like a percolator while everyone mowed lawns, hung American flags outside of their white washed houses, and proudly sang the “Star Spangled Banner” before every Friday night football game. The rumors were startling, and rubbed like sandpaper to the ears of whomever they tumbled into, alcoholic father, homosexuality, incest, adultery and rape. These were passed around like verbal talismans, bringing suspicion into the houses that on one level appeared so picture perfect. Bob was the minister of two small Methodist churches, one right in the middle of town and the other a few miles away, set down between two cornfields and winding country roads. He worked hard, trying to infuse the word of God to people who yearned for it but were adherently suspicious of outsiders. That he was a divorced to a woman who had teenage children didn’t seem to help, and perhaps when two of the boy stated they were proudly Catholic it just made his job worse.

It could not have been easy helping to raise two opinionated teenage boys who had been moved around the east coast as if they were swallows, migrating from season to season, year to year. We were baggage, plunked down in different schools every year, unpacking ourselves only to have to toss everything back into our emotional suitcases after the school year and finally, for me, I said “fuck-it” and decided that to be accepted would be on my terms. Using wit and humor with a very liberal background I challenged the norms of my small-town school, speaking out when the football coach used the term nigger in my sophomore biology class-resulting in a trip to the office where the principal asked me point blank, “why do you have a problem with the word nigger?” At home, my mother encouraged us to speak out, at one point she made her way to the very same principal’s office to challenge him on referring to the wrestling team as a bunch of “pussies.” After my freshman year, I quit going to church, another stain I had inadvertently flung on Bob’s aspiring career. Openly defiant at times, both my brother and I were headstrong, well-read but not frightened to speak our minds, in one sense I was a punk but I had a cause which was to speak out to injustice when I saw it. The oppression was thick, lathered on my life like a paint it dripped from me and in turn I resented my parents for plopping me down in the middle of what seemed like the corner of nowhere. I would have yearned for nowhere, from where I felt I was which as a vacuum. Zoltan, had it easier, much more affable than myself, he was bigger and handsome with a talent to blend in with the jocks and rednecks, we had a few nerds maybe five of which I was probably one. He played football, wrestled and was homecoming king while I planted verbal spitballs on my perceived enemies and pined to escape.

 

Bob would drink Natural Light, not much in hindsight but maybe a few every night but he was prone to darkness and the darkness lay upon him like a coat some weeks. After a year, our mother left, moving to Columbus where she got a job at a treatment center, and for a brief period she headed a treatment center in London, Ohio just down the road from us but the marriage was doomed even before they took their vows. They were different people, pulled together by who knows what but we bared the brunt of their mistake and while Bob tried to step into the role of a father it was an arduous task. Compassionate he, laced his sermons with stories of compassion and acceptance, he tried to balance the need for the community to be accepting with their ingrained suspicion of anything that was different from themselves. In the end it was for naught, as his depression gripped him like vines and pulled him into his darkness. Art helped, he went back to his first love, ceramics and drawing, making countless small bowls and religious drawings that soon covered our tables, mantle and desks.

At seventeen, I was living alone, my mother had left him and Bob struggled with a house that contained a disinterested teenager who had found his own escape in punk rock and underground music, and books with the rest of the house filled with unrealized memories that had never had the chance to hatch, smothered by a marriage that had no air to breath. Bob went to the state hospital in the fall of 1985, he stayed there on and off through the spring. I quit the wrestling team where I was named captain after the first practice, in favor of after school blow jobs and Pabst Blue Ribbon every weekend. It appeared, at the time a better trade off, in hindsight it still might have been. Bob was attending AA meetings where he met another woman, he would bring her home or stay at her house, a small bird-like lady who did not have the education neither he nor my mother had, but she was nice and tried to make small talk with me and Jenny. It is obvious now that he was planning his own escape from the ministry, some of the congregation were complaining to the Methodist church and he had several meetings about his future in the church. He was disillusioned by their lack of support, while I thought to myself this was the true nature of many of these people, the hypocrisy was obvious to my seventeen-year-old eyes.

In those between years, Bob was there, making dinner for my brother and I, driving us to wrestling practice, sitting through long tournaments and overlooking the drinking that went on over the weekend. He was encouraging to us, and with our passion for literature and finally over the summer of 1986, right after my high school graduation Bob left the church moving in with my maternal grandmother as he returned to school to get his Ohio teaching certificate. Separation made things easier although a resentment had made a stone in the middle of me, attending Otterbein College which at the time, mid-Ronald Reagan’s tenure was a fiercely conservative liberal art’s school. Not a good fit. I left after one quarter with my first real bout of depression, where I left school mid quarter and slept in Jenny Mae’s dorm room for two solid weeks, peeling a layer of parking tickets off the roof of my car and returning to school. My professors had thought I had left, my English professor pulled me aside telling me I had a future as a writer and suggesting counseling, she saw the signs. I dropped out in December and wanted to move in with my grandmother but Bob was living there, faced with the choice of living with my mother, going to a shelter or moving in with Jenny in her dorm room, I took everything I owned, records, tapes and clothing and moved into her dorm room for two months before I could get my own apartment.

Bob went and worked from Columbus public schools until he reached retirement, we stayed in periodic contact. The weight of adolescence was a lodestone on my relationship with him, I distanced myself from much of my family for several years and finally after many years he reached out to me via email. He had moved to North Carolina where he built a house with his own hands in the woods and made art, we spoke over the phone once, discussing his depression and he offered apologies for those years we were together. It was all ok, I was happy with who I was, and then there was nothing. At one point, I reached out to one of his sons, who wrote a curt email back and I never responded. Bob had suffered many losses in his life, two of his children passed, one from a drug overdose and another from cancer, while his own childhood was difficult as he had years of abuse by his grandparents, brutal abuse he told me about over coffee one day.

Recently while visiting my brother, he informed me that Bob passed away last year. His daughter had called my brother, he was 80. The last couple of years I had assumed he had died, but there was no way of finding out if he had. A google search revealed nothing. What does a person do when a past they have little connection to dies? In the end there is a space, like the space between two words on paper, that space is waiting for a meaning, an explanation that never comes. Wedged between black ink, it waits patiently forever.

 

 

Homeless and Flashlight Tag.

June 15, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Karl Hendricks 1970-2017.

January 21, 2017

Karl Hendricks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jerry and Jenny: Protection

August 4, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Jerry Wick and Jenny Mae Pt whatevah. Depression.

April 6, 2016

"JERRY WICK AND JIM WEBER" PHOTO JAY BROWN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 & Jenny Mae: Christmas 1991

December 24, 2014

Christmas Trees. 1989.

The bedroom was positioned over the backyard, supported by long planks of peeling wood with widows on all four walls. It was freezing in the winter and because it hung close in the tree branches, remained relatively cool in the summer. The room itself defied all building codes as it was obviously a balcony during its glory days and then one afternoon a greedy but innovative landlord secured walls and, adding windows, carpet and several coats of paint then-presto an instant extra bedroom. The landlord didn’t even bother to run electrical in the new bedroom, as we opened up the original window and fed an orange extension cord through the window and kept a small end table on the other side of the window that housed an aqua-green rotary phone that was rescued from my grandfather’s office. We picked through his belongings, as if we were excavating an anthropological site, carting off the phone, pictures, and for me a wide array of men’s nightgowns (just like Scrooge) shortly after he was shuttled to his final bedroom, the Whetstone Garden and Care Center which sounded more like a nursery than a center that sucked the shit and urine out of bedridden patients wobbling on their last breaths. Over the door hung a large poster of Morrissey, left over from previous tenants, it was a black and white photo of the singer’s face, he was looking forlornly over his shoulders and the photo itself could have been torn from the pages of Life magazine circa 1957 not from the bleached big hair, and torn jeans of the late 80’s. One night, in a burst of anger over infidelities, I smashed my drunken arms through the poster, withdrawing my left arm from the tattered poster and hunk of glass submerged deep into the back of my forearm, a cascade of blood pooling across the floor. Looking up, “well, that was stupid, Jenny get the car I gotta go to the hospital.” All scars have stories.

The July moon poked through the dark leaves, a soft wind blew through the open windows and a jazz record was playing, most likely Billie Holiday or Preservation Hall Jazz Band, as these were the favorites Jenny would play during the summer. The green phone rattled, “hello, oh hi grandma,” Jenny spoke into the receiver. “Now?” a pause and then, “But it’s July….no that sounds cool, we’ll be right over.” Tipping a can of Schaffer’s to my mouth, wiping my lip with my left hand, “what does grandma need?” Jenny was pulling on a yellow summer house dress that she seemed to wear daily, “oh, she wants us to come over and put up her Christmas tree.” At that time in our lives, nothing seemed out of sorts or to wild, “ok.”

Upon arrival my grandmother, with two canes and translucent blue eyes opened the door, “come in children, please. I am so happy to see you Geen-if-fer, Bela now go fix some drrrrinkss” her smiled widened, showing her perfect white teeth, her Hungarian accent was thick and she always had a knack of insulting me with every interaction. As I made my way to the kitchen feeling the comfort of her air conditioning as the summer heat in Ohio is as solid and sticky as tar-paper, I opened the refrigerator door. “Bela, you must wash your hands first, I know what you men do with your hands and its dis-gusting!” I hadn’t been in her house for three minutes and she was already making allusions to my propensity of masturbating.

Grandmother ordered a pizza from Pizzeria Uno, a large with everything and we had a few drinks and I went to pick it up, upon arriving back to her house both my grandmother and Jenny had made their way to the living room. There were several boxes of Christmas ornaments and upon entering the house and putting the pizza down I was instructed to go down to the basement and fetch the artificial Christmas tree. “Bela, it is under the stairs in de bazement, be careful, you are such a clumsy man and Pablo bought me that treeee, so be verrry careful. Don’t touch anything else vile you are down der.” A streak of paranoia has run through my family, the old woman was petrified that people were going through her belongings, taking note pads, pencils or even worse jewelry. She was a hoarder, with stacks of papers, egg cartons, small cut out pictures of animals, flowers and cartoon characters slipped between bills and letters, she coveted things as if she was in perpetual starvation for things. Anything. Her basement was stacked high with boxes, plastic laundry baskets bursting at the edges with more paper, photos and empty canisters of peanut jars, puffed cheese balls and fabric, unopened packages of sheets, tee-shirts and other clothing. To find anything was a chore and after three minutes the old woman would holler, “Bela, vat are you doing down der?!! Hurry up!” She was always thinking that I may be hiding things away for myself, while she never accused me of taking anything the thought that something may disappear was always present. It was not uncommon for her to call me after a maintenance man came to her house and have her think he took something from her, whether it be a bag of potato chips or a small elephant figurine. This paranoia was passed onto my father, whose bout with mental illness has left a chasm as wide as the expanding universe between himself and his children.

In the basement, there was luck to be found as the artificial tree was sitting right underneath the stairs, there was nothing else placed on top of it. My grandmother had a very difficult time going down the stairs at this point in her life, and while her memory was sharp, she could recall the precise location of her father’s cookbooks in the basement she would get anxious when she couldn’t see where a person was. Pablo had bought the tree in the year before, a thrifty man he would peruse catalogs and discount stores for the best deals and then purchase things in bulk. He had bought four of these trees the previous spring, two for him, one for my grandmother and another for a friend in Miami. We set the tree up, pushing her warped dining room table, that she bought at a fraction of the cost at Lazarus because well, you know, it was warped.

With boxes upon boxes of Christmas ornaments, many of them carried within the confines of a bruised and dented leather crate that help everything my grandparents owned. Traveling by foot, truck and train from Budapest, to Lake Balaton, into the mountains of Austria, then lugged onto a freighter chugging across the Atlantic to Caracas. Later, they would be packed again in boxes, carefully wrapped and folded into pink and white tissue paper, to be transported by bus, train and finally the trunk of my father’s car from Caracas to Columbus. These were the precious ones, the ones my grandmother would hold in her hand as if they were made of baby skin, softly eyeing them, her wide blue eyes sparkling as the candles and lights of the room shifted and shimmied off the golds, reds and silver of the ancient ornaments. She would hold them up to the light and smile to herself, they were treasures for her and as I eyed her removing them from these dimpled boxes, I understood why she wanted her Christmas tree hung up in July. The putting up of the tree took several weeks, all of the decorating done on a Thursday night after I got off of work, she would buy the pizza, I would wash my hands, make the rum and cokes and we would commence to decorating. Grandmother would sit in her plush E-Z-Boy recliner and bark out orders to me on where to place specific ornaments, she had what appeared to be thousands. Almost all of them laced and tied with green or brown thread that she had tied, so they all hung at the same length. Some branches would be holding up to ten ornaments, all stacked in a row: a drummer boy, a plastic cat, a snowman, a wooden cross, a plastic candy-cane, a fabric Santa, a miniature race car, a tiny hippopotamus and a toy soldier. These Christmas trinkets were ready for battle. In her perch, the old woman was in total control, and Jenny sat next to her talking about plants, food and gossiping all the while pointing her finger at a branch of the tree and having me hang one of these billions of tiny plastic ornaments, which, let’s face for the most part WERE NOT ornaments but tied junk that she called an ornament in certain places and when I failed to do so her dis-satisfaction would hurdle down upon me. “Beeeelaa, how can you be soo stooopid?! Look, my finger, put that little green Santa on dat branch, NOOO!!!! Not dat one, DAT one!!” Her chubby finger wagging in the air and turning to Jenny, “Genn-i-fer, how could you love such a stoopid man? Ok, yes that is ver you put it, very good Bela. You know in Hungary, we celebrated Christmas in the right way, it was none of the dumb tings you have here.”

Flashing back, I remembered sitting in my grandmother’s kitchen, we were playing Monopoly. Well, my sister, my brother and my grandmother were, little Bela was too young, placing all the hotels in a row on the table, driving the silver car to each of them, “brrurrriggrrrrrr, brrrecggghh, hey we are here for Christmas” my little voice would go to each hotel. “Stop it Bela! God, you are annoying!”my sister would stammer, “Mom, Bela doesn’t know how to play and he thinks he does!” On the television, a Sonny and Cher Christmas was flickering in black and white, the red bird feeder outside the kitchen window glowed with an several inches of snow piled high and the backyard was windswept with snow, tiny lines carved by the wind mimicked the waves of the sea. Above her red shed almost collapsing from the mountain of snow, a lone lamp bathed the backyard in yellow light that could have been a beacon from heaven showering this Christmas Eve night for the birth of the baby Jesus. “I do too know how to play” I would whisper, puttering the car all over the table. There was eggnog, pastries, the smell of chicken paprikash, duck and onions filling the air and a curtain separated the kitchen from the living room, where the adults along with the help of the boy Jesus and a host of angels would be decorating the tree.

On the other side of the curtain, the booming sounds of Spanish, Hungarian and English split through the curtain like miniature bombs, popping into our ears and we heard the laughter that followed. Latin music was blaring and my uncles would periodically shuffle in, yelling over their shoulder, eyes laughing, cheeks red and bobbing their head to the sounds of Angel Cusodio Loyola and Oscar D’Leon whose clopping and shifting beats and melodies would make even the most stubborn hips sway to the pitter-patter of the percussion. “When is Jesus coming?” I would ask, “oh, soon, the angels are already here but children can’t look or they will leave and Jesus won’t come” Uncle Pablo would answer slyly as if the decorating of the Christmas tree was an x-rated adult burden. There were in fact many woman who helped set the tree up as both uncles were charming men who loved to have the company of pretty women by their sides. The idea that Jesus Christ would be in the next room terrified me, I wanted to see the angels but Jesus was scary, more so than Santa Claus and soon, as the anticipation of the next morning grew too great, I collapsed in my mother’s arms. She carried me through the curtain and into the guest room, where our stuffed animals were piled high on the floor and around the bed, protection from the ghosts that danced through the hallways of my grandparents house. I stole a peek over her shoulder, and saw my Aunt Bellin twirling her short white pleated skirt and caught a glimpse of her pink panties, I thought I saw an angel but dropped my head on my mother’s shoulder. The next morning, the tree appeared to be miles away as presents stacked high and far from the tree, they almost reached all four corners of the room. They did indeed come and it seemed like we opened presents for hours, and all the toys we opened had to stay at my grandmothers, we were not allowed to take any home. Which was a relief to our mother, who was certain we had no room for all the toys we were given.

My grandmother’s Christmas tree stood in her living room for nearly five years, until she finally decided to take it down as she worried she would fall into it as she got older, and after seven years she was carried out of her house by five paramedics and spent the last few years of her life in various homes. She always had a several ornaments up in her room.

 

a longer version of this story will be broadcast on Jon Solomon’s 24-hour Christmas show on WPRB: http://wprb.com/

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wTjPEreVrmsIMG_5689 IMG_5688

Jerry and Jenny: The Goners 1989-2014

September 6, 2014

The Goners. 1989–2014

Counting steps kept the hangover from keeping my knees from buckling, one step after another as the sun poked through leaves that dotted the sky with waving shades of greens, oranges, yellows and purples a soft autumn breeze would hit me in the face and I would pick my step up. The yards of the campus houses were filled to crunched plastic beer cups, smashed Pabst Blue Ribbon cans and the discarded litter of fast food papers that had been quickly wrapped around various types of hamburgers, taco’s and burritos, an inglorious end of the line for any animal, even a fatted cow. Some of the houses were still family owned and one, an old woman whose white overweight collie looked surprisingly like her, with a weighted girth that caused the dog to do an awkward shuffle off the porch. Some mornings I thought both of them would topple over in her manicured yard, the woman had a well coifed bun of white hair, and hips that were level with her shoulders and wire framed glasses that sat on the bridge of her nose, and when I walked by she would raise her head backwards, lower her eyes and stare at me through the coke-bottle lenses and follow my counting steps and right when I got to the edge of the street as I stepped of the curb away from her house she would whisper a “hello there young man.” “hi,” I would breath back, thinking they looked like a panel from The Far Side. One day, after many years of plopping over the cracked sidewalk, I noticed a squad car in front of her house. Soon after the house was emptied and I noticed the dog standing alone in the front while a man in a gray tweed jacket and a hat straight out of 1955 standing on the porch clutching a cigarette and muttering, “shit, you damned dog, shit already.” I never saw the dog again. “well, that’s that” I thought to myself.

The neighborhood had changed over the years, I was born near downtown Columbus, in Mt. Carmel East Hospital and by the time I had returned nearly eighteen years after being packed into an orange Datson at the barely alive age of six months and being driven down Route 33 to Athens, Ohio, the neighborhood surrounding the hospital had fallen into hard times. The era of Reagan had been a disaster for the west-side of Columbus, many of the small manufacturing jobs that employed the blue-collar residents were mangled for tax breaks and the shipping of jobs out of the country, the streets near Mt. Carmel East swelled with crack addicts, poorly written graffiti and boarded up houses. It has never really recovered. My neighborhood, the one that I was born in and the one that I still live in never really suffered, being so close in proximity to Ohio State has kept the neighborhood insular even if the residents are fluid, camping out in the rental properties for four or five years, building life-long memories of fucking, studying and experiencing the troublesome nature of early adulthood, the units could breath stories if they were only alive.

The walk to the record store was roughly a mile and a half, when drunk it was three miles depending on the gait my body chose and it would take me about 25 minutes to half an hour and no matter what I would always be ten minutes late to work. If, by chance I arrived early, the expected ribbon accompanied by small feeling of superiority hung over me for a small portion of the day over my less responsible co-workers but this did not happen very often. Autumn and spring were the best times to walk, the summer heat in Ohio could be debilitating and it was not uncommon to arrive at work with a shirt that was spotted with sweat if walking was the preferred choice and later, the brutal Ohio winter would lay a thick chunk of ice that stretched from the steps of my house all the way to High Street and even further to the banks of the Ohio River. The south never had to deal with this shit. The south only had to deal with human bondage, nothing compared to an Ohio winter. When the gray hovered over the skyline like a heavy burlap rug, my eyes would face the icy sidewalk as the ground was brighter than the sky, never lifting their gaze skyward until early April.

Seasons begat behavior and when summer limbered up, gave up the thick drape of smoldering oppression for the refreshing whiffs of September, it was as if the insides of a body had been cleansed and turned outwards. House parties, claustrophobic night-clubs hidden under the bowels of High Street and the patter of singing rain droplets bursting like small grapes on shoulder and arms tethered together with sweaty hands became the rage during these months. We hung off the curbs of High Street, swaying into the thick of the night as if we were peering over a boat. Everything changed as cut-off jean shorts and withered tee-shirts tattooed with bands such as The Meat Puppets, The Fluid and The Leaving trains were traded for heel length black jeans, withered tee-shirts with band names such as The Meat Puppets, The Fluid and The Leaving Trains with either a sweater or a western styled pearl buttoned shirt overtop, and the dropping of summer infatuation was killed by the first frost. Love came crushing, it came quick and left us in mounds of tears and confusion that were easily gulped for giddiness of a heart beating faster and electric orgasms. Summer was built to hold our breath, fall was the exhale, winter froze us to the floor –choking under the gelid injustice of the season, and when spring came bounding out of the cursing month of March, we danced on air. Fucking and sucking hands, fingers, necks and other parts as we celebrated living through another winter.

Needing to be held was as powerful as any drug or drink, with anxiety fraught with apprehension and bold know-it-all statement that spurt from twenty-three year old lips, things happened clumsily and secrets were made and kept deep into the early morning. On mildewed couches, scattered floors, hidden hallways and uneven mattresses that some of us lugged from deceased grandparents, friends and just maybe from an alley. Playing it cool wasn’t hard to do, it came easy because being cool is easier with a soundtrack and we made our own as we sprouted out of our teenage years, stalking slowly first, and then dancing later to songs that inhibited our lives more than our families did at that time. The music met the experiences as if it were kerosene to a flame, burnt into my mind like a branding iron: being taken by a woman I barely knew, as she leaned into me as Godspeed You Black Emperor played off her broken stereo, the last song stuck until she finished the job, holding hands tightly as Jad Fair belted out “I’m living a charmed life!!” and we all giggled together and later, scrabbling to not be forgotten as the New Bomb Turks blasted their way through their final song at Bernie’s Bagels deep into a Sunday morning. Or sighing deeply as the Thinking Fellers, sung of the precarious nature of life and asked to be born again, either as a bug, bird or flower. Beauty indeed bounded around our cracked sidewalks and haggard clothing.

The love was easy, the heartbreak was harder and for some, it crushed our spirits as if we were constructed of Styrofoam. Jerry would say to me as he sucked on the very cheapest cigarette in the world, “fuck love, I don’t need it and you don’t need it either. You always get hurt by girls, Bela.” In retrospect, it would be fair to say, “no Jerry, I just always hurt.” Music just keeps it at bay. Music doesn’t hurt when it goes away, and it doesn’t make the longing for a touch seem like a five mile chasm in your belly and it never slips off into the night with someone else, bringing rejection into form with bulbous tears dropping onto the street, exploding onto the pavement as if it were filled with fire instead of salt.

Recently my wife gave me a tape of one of the students that work in the gallery she works at. “Here, honey, this is one of my students bands, I think you would like it.”I held the homemade tape in my hand, flipping it over and carefully pulling the soft folded paper out, every fold stuffed with words that suggested the immediacy of creative energy of the person who put this together. I slipped the tape into my wife’s fourteen year old tape deck and from the back seat my daughter yelled, “daddy, that is too loud, I can’t read.” Turning to my wife, “see if she can get you a CD for me.”

Then. I forgot about it until a friend sent me a message asking if I had heard of the band, called the Goners. “Yeah, my wife has a tape but I need a CD.” A few days later, my wife handed me a CD, with Goners scrawled across it. Putting into my 2009 Rabbit, I was immediately transported back twenty years ago, all the feelings that kept me glued to my friends, my scene and my music surged through me. Feeling the sweaty walls and the blurry shadows of combustible parties where fingers clutched bottles and lightly touched someone who caught our eye, wondering to ourselves, “did she feel that too?” Looking back, of course she did but in the prism of awakening to adulthood, perspectives are still too selfish to fully understand the feelings of others. The music of the Goners, is one splashed together with the desolation of climbing over bruised teenage years and plopping into one’s twenties, when the taste of disappointment is much stronger than the taste of success but the feeling of comfort is brought through friends, imagination coming to fruition (movies, books, writing, music—ART for fuck’s sake.) Sonically as strong as anything that disgorged itself from the early nineties on labels such as K, Homestead, Rip-Off or even Goner Records, mostly recorded on a combination of a Tascam and with assistance of laptop recordings, the songs a stretched tight by the emotional undertones of space and time that is plastered to being 22 but in the end the emotions are timeless. As are these songs. from “Ghost Bruise”: i don’t want to name you. i don’t want to get attached but if my bug bites dissolve back into flesh maybe i will let you touch my skin. my body is a valley and you’re sliding down to meet me and if my bangs grow long enough to cover my eyes you can use them to climb out any time. i learn so much every day, what do i do with it all? i couldn’t say. i learn so much every day but it just adds more weight, yeah that’s all. it’s all fighting to come out, i feel it pushing at my throat. how come all i can ever say is ‘this weather is so bad for my skin’? i wish i could wrap myself around it.” She sings, “I learn so much every day…,” and I think, “I forget so much every day….” This is about as perfect as it gets.

 

Re-Post of Jim Shepard and Ohio: I’ll be reading from these at Brothers Drake Meadery as Part of Word Church Tuesday @ 8:00

February 24, 2014

Jim Shepard

There were several people whom we bounced around with, the majority were people in our same age group who had the same interest, The New Bomb Turks, Greenhorn, Moviola and various bartenders and bar maids.  Outside of this group there was a core group of Columbus musicians and artists whom we all admired; these were for the most part the 80’s generation of the underground music scene: Dan Dow, Ron House, Mike “Rep” Hummel, Scrawl, Don Howland, Jeff Evans, Dan Dougan and Jim Shepard. We all had our walls, some built up by bandied down rumors, some by musical preference, some by the types of intoxicants people took and others by past and future romantic interests. For a while, Jerry, Jenny and I spent a great deal of time sitting in the wooden booths at Larry’s, standing by the stage at Staches or Apollo’s or manning the corner window at BW-3, drinking a vase of happy hour Budweiser.

Jim Shepard was an outsider in a land of outsiders; he had spent a great deal of his life in Florida, a veritable outpost of misfits and a state that was constructed for interlopers and floaters who would head down south in search of new beginnings and self-inventions. Jim was a short man, who wore his mat of greasy black hair as if it were a prop from a Harry Crews short-story. He walked with a slight lean as if the weight of the world pulled him forward, waiting to smother him in its own gravitational pull. He was constantly unshaven but never bearded; it was as if he had gotten a George Michael shaving kit from the liquor store. He was a constant ruffled sort, who spoke in a deep mumble as if he were sending himself coded messages. In a sense, even though I drank copious amounts of alcohol and spent hours on barstools next to Jim, I never really knew him but then again I’m not sure if I’ve never really known anybody.

Jim had Jerry’s and I respect from the get-go, he was semi-famous by our standards as a long-time home recorder who had been putting out records for well over a decade. He also had garnered a well versed fan base especially with the East Coast music tastemakers such as Thurston Moore, Johan Kugelberg and Byron Coley. He had been performing music for many years and his band Vertical Slit was a quiet, yet solid underground force in Columbus.

When I met Jim, I was working at Used Kids; he was working for a local jukebox repair shop and was good friends with Mike Hummel. Jim would drop in during lunch time and hang out, flip through records and chat. Once in a while he would sell us some of his records which were put out by out of town labels such as Ropeburn and Siltbreeze. He would huddle with Hummel next door at the Used Kids Annex and they would fuck with his tapes and bang out music deep into the night. On certain Monday evenings, Jerry and I would stroll down to Larry’s for our start on the evening and we would be disappointed by the weekly poetry night, we took offense to collegian artist’s types butting in on our time at Larry’s. On many of these Mondays both Jim and Mike would be there, reading and spontaneously spouting off their poetry. Jim’s being more of the science-fiction-cum-gutter-found prose influenced by Phillip K. Dick and William Burroughs. Jerry and I would crowd against one another, no doubt too chicken-shit to express our own poetry in such a stark setting, Jerry would couch his in between blasting guitars and punk-rock beats and I my own would lay dormant in dog-eared rumpled notebooks where they still sit, twenty years later.

V-3 came about after the breakup of Vertical Slit, it was an unsightly band with Jim’s paranoid dark blue-collar mystique, Rudy, a drummer of small demeanor and Nudge Squidfish a jovial wide-eyed gentleman who was prone to talk of UFO’s and conspiracy theories when prompted by a few drinks. Live they were freakish sight straight out of community access television but they carried a powerful force in Jim’s highly melodic art-ish squall that was one part early Fall, another part Joy Division and the rest filled with land-locked Florida bizarreness and mid-Western sludge.

Jim was funny, even if one could not always hear his almost inaudible comments that would slip out of his mouth like a small bump in the road. For a moment when he spoke you would think that a ghost passed through the room, moving a coffee cup or beer bottle across the table; you would think you heard him and then you didn’t. It wasn’t before long that Jim and Jenny Mae had developed a strong friendship, both of them had a fondness for the dive bars of North Campus and both of them enjoyed slurping a few drinks before the sun set down.

It would appear that musically that Jim and Jenny would have little in common musically as many of her pop songs where constructed out of a love of early sixties pop, The Beach Boys and the bounce of early eighties college rock whereas Jim’s music was as serious as a life pursuit. What they bonded over was a sense of melody and a meeting of the bohemian lifestyle, filled with creativity, late nights, cheap rent and the cultivation of laughter. Both suffered, more internally than physically, with Jim although it should be noted I did not know him well-he was too closed for that, you could feel the gravity of his darkness through sunken eyes, mused hair and the stubble around his chin. He wore his clothes as if they were an afterthought, articles for warmth-nothing else; they consisted of ragged blouses, jeans and old flannel. He carried himself as if he were Harvey Pekar, one with a distrust of the modern world and its complexities as a point of contention. His songs evolved around science-fiction, social commentary and the pursuit of a connection I think he never gained with the exception of his music.  Perhaps his greatest line was “negotiate nothing, tear it all down.”

Jenny and he started drinking together shortly before his death, they would both meet at either Walt’s or Bourbon Street in mid-afternoon passing the afternoon hours in a connected shadow world lit by bar lights and their own brilliant creativity. Jenny told me one day that she had been drinking with Jim for a while and that they had started recording together, mostly her adding keyboards and trumpet to some of his tracks. I joked that they should record a cover of the Dolly Parton and Kenny Rodgers duet “Islands in the Stream”, which Jenny used to play. She shocked me a week later and told me that Jim was up for it, I have no idea if it were ever recorded.

Our world was small but it opened up the universe where ideas bounced off of one another like bubbles in beer, we would have one ingenious idea flowing after another without a filter to identify the logical of said idea. Huddled around empty bottles and amplifiers the stage of the world was in the basements and living rooms of our lives. Fashioned out of four-track tapes, sticky homemade record covers and note books furnished out of loneliness and dreams that were one part illusion and another part delusion Jim, Jenny and Jerry bonded over the ideal that the world was what you carved out of it, one note at a time.

As much as Jim’s outsider manner defined his life and his being, he made strong connections with other like minded people, although many of us came from somewhat disparate backgrounds we all had (have) a passion of the transformative essence of music. The opportunity to escape the mundane of our lives through the process of electricity, sound and speakers. Jim made an impression on Bob Pollard and commented one drunken evening to Bob while marveling at Bob’s propensity to fashion melodies as if they were breathes of air, that he “was like a vampire on Titus, sucking songs out of the earth.” Titus was the street that Bob lived on at the time, next thing you know the next Guided by Voices album was named “Vampire on Titus.”

Jim, Ron House, Bob, Don Howland and Mike Rep were the elders in our world, wizened cynical “old” men who had been there-done that and were still plugging in and plugging away, making vital music deep into their (aghast!) thirties while most other people we knew of that age were watching Disney videos with diaper fitted children and listening to generic alt-rock pretending that one could be hip with a mortgage payment. That lifestyle was so far removed from what we were living it might have been in an alternative universe. Our own misgivings kept us  happily insolated and isolated.

Jim, Ron, Mike, Don and Tommy Jay somehow having the insight to recognize their own place in the small pond of the Columbus underground scene managed to tolerate one another long enough to record together under the guise of Ego Summit and released a terrific record titled “The Room Isn’t Big Enough” (now available digitally on Old 3-C Records). A smorgasbord of clashing but similar styles coalescing to carve a minor dent in the history of nineties home-tape underground. It contains one of the most disturbing songs in the Midwestern music cannons in Ron House’s “Half Off” about a prostitute who eats her leg off to get out of a trap. Sung/spoken by Don Howland it is as chilling as it is as shittily recorded, with a claustrophobic aura that chokes the listener almost as much as the smoke being exhaled by the musicians when recording the record. Therapy is recommended after every listen, it is that frightening.

In the failed experiment of nineties rock and roll perhaps the most elaborate but yet simple minded plan was for major labels to sign well respected but commercially limited bands and dropping then when sales didn’t match those of Seven Mary Three or Bush. Columbus was ripe for this idiotic take on major label experimentalism, and sadly this would have detrimental effects on most persons in this blog. It’s not as if signing to a major label was idiotic in itself it was that at that point in the business design of corporate music was one part fed off the ideals of the sixties and early seventies when artists as diverse as The Velvet Underground, Tom Waits, Moondog and Phil Ochs could be signed and allowed the freedom to be artists. Whereas the major label mindset professed this ideology it still worked (works) with the mind frame of the quick-cash turnover of the most blandest and cynical music of the nineteen-eighties, whereas the bottom line is sales and the exposure. Hence some of the oddest couplings of artists and money since the Hampton Grease Band signed to Columbia. Such was V-3 signing to American imprint Onion records.

Johan Kugelberg had left Matador Records to take a job working directly under Rick Rubin and was given his own vanity label which he titled Onion, a very tasty but yet smelly vegetable. He managed to sneak in four excellent releases before the label realized his venture would not bring in any money. These were: The Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartments “Bait and Switch”, The Monks re-issue, The Stiffs (whose uncanny New York streetwise-art-punk would predate the Strokes by several years) and V-3. Even by the non-startled place in our collective world the signing of Jim Shepard to American was stupefying basically because Jim’s music could be equally standoffish and abrasive, a challenge of sorts to the listener just like the man himself. “Photograph Burns” has some very warming songs on it, most notably “Bristol Girl” which ended up on countless mix tapes I constructed on my living room floor deep into the night. There was nothing odd about the conundrum of many of the underground artists signing to major labels, as Jerry once told me “I want to be famous”, what I think he really meant was that he wanted to be immortal. It is easier to be immortal if more people know who you are, so it only makes sense to hitch your song to a corporate machine like Warner Brothers whose Bugs Bunny may be more immortal that any human. Besides one could always return to the basement, although Jim never really returned to the basement after V-3 got dropped after Johan lost his job. He was dead within two years.

            I saw Jim huddled next to the video trivia game console on the end of the bar at Bourbon Street one Sunday night during an absolutely depressing bout of Karaoke sung by half awake hipsters who took pride in the fact that their jobs didn’t require them to be their early Monday morning. He eyes were flat and deep enough in his skull that they could be mined. He had a jar of beer sitting in front of him, I asked if he were ok and he said he was fine. He was a vacant as a vacuum. I said something to Jerry who loved Karaoke about Jim, “he’s just fucked up tonight.” A few days later at work, Ron hung up the phone and said “Jim Shepard hung himself last night.” Jim’s funeral was the first of several in a few years’ times for a small but close knit scene of outsiders, artists and music fans. A collection of dazed and rocked ex-girlfriends, musicians, bar-keeps and family gathered around a photo of a smiling (!) Jim and talked to pass the time as a sweaty undercurrent no doubt sent us all scurrying to various hidden parts of ourselves that we dare not try to touch.

 

Ohio

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We put stock in ourselves and to a large part, our friends. Friends who would carry the torch of loneliness offset by a burning desire to be heard and to hopefully lay next to another congenial soul by five am. Our hopes, crashed as theirs did when things did not quite pan out as we had planned. We were prepared for it, as it is in an Ohioan’s soul to step up to the plate and be called out by the proverbial sinker ball. Three strikes. The Trip. The Fumble. The Drive. Etcetera and so forth. Nobody got famous, nobody ever really made a dent in any product counting mechanism like Billboard, The College Music Journal or MTV but we loved and cherished one another as if our lives depended on it, night in and night out. What we discovered was the result wasn’t the prize; the prize was the friendship and the making of art for fuck’s sake. That is what an Ohioan does, not always stylish but always sincere.V-3 photo by Jay BrownJim+Shepard+jim+shep1

 

and please don’t forget the Ramones comic:

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/nixcomics/nix-comics-two-fisted-rock-n-roll-kickstarter/posts
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