Independent Worm Saloon, by The Butthole Surfers was the soundtrack of that summer. Very appropriate. It helped us choreograph the madness to a basic theme. Complete weirdification. I had some intrepid friends, and they were all on board. We were going to hijack this bus to Crazy Town, where we would park it in front of a fire hydrant, get out, and proceed to burn the entire place down to the ground. If pressed for a mission statement, that’s about as far as we could ever agree upon.
Slacker was the generation taking over the nation, and we had our couch and bong strategically positioned to see it all. I don’t know if we thought The American Dream failed us, or we failed it. But, the whole thing seemed like a drag that we didn’t feel like dealing with. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I didn’t feel spasms of activism and protest, but for the most part, I was resigned to head for hills and live my own freak ways with my own freak brothers and sisters, undiscovered and unmolested.
The basic survival plan was from Bukowski, get a bad job so you can be relieved when you party it away. In the meantime, be glad for the paycheck that will help you party the job away. That’s a win-win situation. Upward mobility seemed over-rated, and changing the world was okay, once you got just the right buzz on. And that takes time. Rome didn’t fall in a day, and it fell to the Barbarians. You had to first get Barbarian Brain.
Taking dangerous risks develops the muscles in that type of brain. And since the only thing a barbarian brain is really good at is taking dangerous risks, it’s important those muscles are fit and strong.
Besides, the real revolution starts between your own ears, and only later spills out into a motel pool or children’s birthday party. Or at least that’s the trajectory I’ve plotted over the years. Nobody I knew was trying to overthrow the system. Just the couch over the balcony.
There was Keller, Marko, T-Bone, Bindler, Garth, Shultzie, Dez, and Doug in Santa Fe then, and on the West Coast, Spike, Mike, Timmy, Tommy O, Mike Flynn and, of course, Mad Dog. At least the main mayhem-makers for that summer. Each one was troubled and deranged in his own unique way and each added his vital ingredient to my insanity stew. I only mourned the loss of Emmitt and Spudman to sobriety and semi-sanity.
(I just know I’m leaving out a bunch of important players, and if you’re one of those dudes, forgive me for forgetting, but you of all people know what my brain has been through. I probably forgot you when making amends too, so drop me a dime if you think your due one.)
My comrades were handpicked by The Universe to facilitate this insurrection with no direction. “Just not this!” was our rallying cry.
A successful beer run was enough of a victory to stoke our joy red-hot.
Leaving a half-burned taxidermy owl in the oven of an evicting landlord’s kitchen was cause enough to celebrate wildly for days. You’d think we won the end of the world.
Successfully abandoning a vehicle or dumping off a piss-stained mattress, made me absolutely heady with the vapors of victory. Simple things like being able to karate kick a paper plate of smokey links and mustard out of someone’s hand and then still manage to catch their beer for them before it drops makes you feel amazing, like you are fully operational, but also a living work of art.
Fuck performance art. We were living this shit 24/7. It was a constant commitment, which explains why we rarely bothered to capture any of it on camera. It was so normal. It would be like video taping the toaster pop up. But we did capture a few precious moments, like the video of Timmy falling on the barbecue when he tried to jump over it. As far as we were concerned one of the most important moments in cinema.
The boys had a barbecue at the Carson house. They’re all drunk and they start building the fire too big. At this point it will be six in the morning before it’s down to coals you could cook on. No matter, food is a buzz-kill. A big fire is not.
They’re just throwing on wood and just squeezing out the fluid. This thing is licking flame sometimes roof high, and everyone’s just laughing and drinking around it. Spike is video taping some of it. At one point he gently suggests to Timmy that he could probably jump over this huge structure fire on flimsy aluminum legs.
“I bet you could do it.”
Timmy pacing back and forth, not really wanting to, but you know now the idea was sown. He’s thinking about it. We called that “a successful seed.” Now it was time to see if Spike could bring in the harvest.
“I bet you could do it.”
“You’d be like Jack the Candlestick.”
Okay, who doesn’t want to be Jack the Candlestick? That really did it. That’s what turned Timmy. That and spying a five gallon plastic bucket against the wall. As your watching and re-watching this moment, you can enjoy the nuanced delight you see him trying to contain from figuring out a good plan. By Jove, he’s got the solution. And here it comes…
He sets the bucket upside down. He’s going to use it to launch. He’s going to springboard from it over the gas-soaked pile of pallets they were using as charcoal starter. Like I said, intrepid. Spike, of course, is very encouraging. He thinks this is Timmy’s best idea ever and that he would be a fool not to take advantage of his natural genius.
All the other guys start to also encourage our friend. We want everyone to strive for personal excellence. To achieve the impossible.
He balks slightly, then starts his vault run. He bunny hops on to the bucket and it collapses. It’s been sitting out in the So.Cal sun for like three years and the bottom just punched out, leaving a collar of plastic around his ankles to cuff his legs as he falls belly flat onto the inferno.
The whole thing collapses under his weight into a giant furnace patty…one that he seemed to grill on top of for quite a while before finally rolling off.
You watch him rolling around on the ground with hot coals stuck to his abs, screaming “I’m still on fire, I’m still burning!” A little in-camera edit later, he’s on the couch, drinking a beer, pointing out the third degree grill marks as Spike conducts the post-event interview. The best anybody could do for him was hand him some ancient bottle of Coppertone, in the hopes that it might contain aloe.
They didn’t put aloe in that Coppertone SPF 4 from back in 1973. We all pretty much knew that. We all knew that shit wasn’t going to help and would howl as we watched him apply and re-apply it in our repeated viewings. Our half-assed attempt to help him. The thoo-thoo flimsy aid of giving him suntan lotion after he roasted the flesh from his bones. Just the emptiness of the gesture. Priceless in its utter brutality. Add to it, Timmy sitting there, not giving a fuck, perfectly resigned to Irish through it. It’s mythic, heroic. Joseph Campbell stuff.
And makes for good video.
At least it seemed back then. Now, it kind of smacks a little of being mean. Maybe. Ah, we were young and ate pain for breakfast back then. It’s not like now, when I crab about not being able to get comfortable on an airplane. “One more fucking inch back! That’s all I ask.” Pushing back against the seat, trying to get it to somehow stick. One more inch would make the difference between reclining comfortably and having my whole kinetic chain collapse on itself like a Twin Tower. Try one more time. Push the button and lean back again. This time it will go farther.
I never complained about not being comfortable on a plane when I was young and drunk. What gives?
That summer though, I was in my prime. It turned out to be the zenith of my super powers of indestructibleness. I could drink, create chaos and mayhem around me, and be just fine. Now and then there was some lost time, some shaking hands and morning anxiety, perhaps a brush with the law, but nothing like what was awaiting me. No, now it was unthinkable to cease and be sober, or even slow down. Why?
You’re finally living the lifestyle you were meant for. You’re a rampaging young beast, and there’s even some chicks that like you this way. Crazy bitches who guarantee an even bigger train wreck. The ones that fling your entire CD collection at you like ninja stars while you try to protect yourself with a trash can lid on the other side of the room. Kooky, colorful ones. With distinct personalities.
One chick got so pissed one night she started chopping at me with the Scrabble board we were playing. “Here’s something you can relate to,” I said and laid down a very bad word. I don’t know if it was the C across the triple word score that did it, but she just blew. She flung the board up it the air, sending tiles everywhere. When she saw me laughing, she picked up the board, folded it in half and just started hacking.
I curled up into a ball and tried to cover up as best as I could, but kept laughing.
“Ha-ha-ha! Motherfucker!” she kept screaming and chopping, “Ha-ha-ha!”
I don’t know if anybody out there has been chopped with a family board game, but let me assure you, that shit hurts like hell, but I couldn’t stop laughing, and that just made her angrier, and subsequently really put more zing into her swing. It was only after she started raising welts that I stopped laughing and begged her, did she finally stop.
Having things like that happen, especially while Dust Devil blasts from the stereo, really makes you feel like you are living in a music video. A crazy fucked up one, but at least one with a driving back-beat. A real toe-tapper.
Running wild, with little or no regard for anything, expect maybe a good laugh is admittedly a terrible way to live, unless all you want out of life is a good laugh, which I am told, is not what life is all about. I know today that life is also about doing lots of things you hate so that other people around you don’t resent you for only doing whatever you feel like.
It’s important not to be too free. Not sure why, but it is.
Looking back now, when I try to deconstruct the madness, it’s difficult. Anytime you try to get into an insane person’s head to try to figure out what they were thinking, for example, when they wiped their ass on the guest towels, is going to be a challenge. I guess I figured rather than anxiously drumming my fingers waiting for the Apocalypse, I could make the world end right now by pulling it down around me in a defiant act. My gotterdammerung would preempt the one we were heading for as a society.
At least that was the plan. It kind of worked. My gods twilighted alright.
As my magic powers began to wane, and more and more pain crept up into my guts and stayed there, I was at a loss for any alternative. This was the way life was for me, and I felt like I was signed on for the bitter end. It’s a scary feeling. One that you need to try to drink away.
I started drinking to take the edge off of life, but eventually the consequences of my drinking turned everything into one big edge, one that I could only take off with total oblivion. The consequences of that kind of drinking aren’t very funny. There’s a difference between waving your freak flag high, and being a painful embarrassment.
I wasn’t quite there that summer. That summer I watched Gibby discharge the shot-gun he had propped on his sun-burned pink beer belly and thought, “Someone else might be from the same planet. Maybe we can achieve complete weirdification across the nation. Maybe we can turn a few squares in the the process.”
I just wanted total release, regardless of the cost. I was getting chopped with the game board, and still laughing.