Punked-Out Punk: The Merciful Conclusion

Trey Oswald and Paul Bakija of Reagan Youth

Trey Oswald and Paul Bakija of Reagan Youth

Ugly scene at the punk show.  Gurz and I wound up going at it.  Savage exchange.  Dude fights dirtier than me.  Beat me to the salt shaker.  Then beat me with the salt shaker.  Right there on the dance floor.  While the band played on.  I thought I’d met my match, but remembered a move called Monkey Steals A Peach.  That took the proverbial wind out.  Cops showed up and arrested us both for felony assault.  Essington posted our bail.  We paid him back by stealing his car.

Hmm.  It’s a good start for this piece.  I mean I really like it.  Right away we’re up to our elbows in action.  The writing is snappy and scrappy.  Lean and tough.  I get to work in a salt shaker and Monkey Steals A Peach reference.  Getting busted is rich.  The evil burn there at the end, too.  The whole paragraph is so me.  We’re talking signature shit.

There’s only one little problem.  It’s a balls-out lie.

Personally, I don’t have a problem with that.  It’s just that Gurz or Essington might yap.  Then everybody will think/know I’m a liar.  Which would suck.  And oh yeah, I’m supposed to try to be as honest as possible, in order to help stay sober.

Fucking staying sober.  Always tripping up my game.  Saving me from humiliation.

You want the truth?  You think you can handle it?  Well handle this-

I went to the show and had an okay time.  Got along with Gurz and Essington.  Nothing crazy happened.  Was asleep in my motel bed by 2AM.  Had a nice breakfast with Brisa and Dennis the next morning.  Came home.  The end.

After all that build up, that’s all you get.  I’m sorry, but that’s the truth.  No drinking.  No drugging.  No fist-fights.  No stage-diving.  No strippers.  No hookers.  No cops.

Not so hot on the truth now, are you?  Yeah, it’s easy to pay it lip labor, but another thing to have to endure listening to it.  Or in this case, having to read it.  It could set you free, but the truth just might lull you to sleep.  Like a bellyful of antihistamine-fed turkey, cold hard facts can be quite soporific.  Plain old boring truth.

Here’s some more boring truth-  I hate writing music reviews.  Mostly because I suck.  I’ll write “they sound alright, like some band I can’t remember the name of, only more hoppy-boppy,” or “the chick playing bass looks like someone my buddy went out with, back in Santa Fe, during the 90’s.  A real clingy, emotionally needy, pain in the ass.  The girlfriend, not the bass player.  I don’t know what her story is.”

I’m no Lester Bangs.  And don’t want to be.  First off, he’s dead.  Second off, I recognize my limitations as a writer.

Add that to the fact that nothing amazing, funny, or insane happened at the show, and you’ll know why I dragged ass getting here.  This thing became a book report I couldn’t find the Cliff Notes for.  I kept putting off writing about the show with a Part One, Part Two, Part Three, hoping I’d find some angle to make it interesting.  Well, the angle never came.  That’s when I decided to try to lie my way out.  Like a cornered rat.

Sure, lot’s of uninteresting things happen to me, all the time, and it’s never stopped me from writing about them.  But there’s usually some internal component, some gleaned insight or entertaining thought process to report.  Not this time.  The only thing I remember thinking was, “this music is okay, but I’m ready for it to stop now.  It’s starting to hurt my ears.”

Not much to hang your hat on.  Even for Lester Bangs.

Reagan Youth

Thank God, Michael Essington was there.  He can write about music.  Or anything else.  He’s prolific.  Smart.  A natural writer.  Very readable.  In real life, a solid down-to-earth character.  No posturing or posing.  And that comes through in his work.  I wish we could have talked more that night, but the music was…too loud.

Anyway, while I hemmed and hawed, waiting for some God Machine to descend from the sky, he banged out a review of the show.  You can read it here.

Okay.  That gets me off that hook.  No need to review the show.  And that should be lesson to all you kids out there.  Sometimes procrastination pays off.  So don’t put it off.

I’ll will add that while Essington was jumping hurdles trying to get to the show, I saw the whole thing.  13 Scars and Reagan Youth managed to tap into the wellspring of youthful angst and delivered the notice.  Especially noteworthy, since both bands are made up of generally older dude types.  It was good to see middle-agehood could still shred shit up.  Good for morale.  A mighty hammer blow struck against the evils of ageism.

But like I said, at one point my ears just gave out.  It wasn’t the musicianship, or even some age-crisis induced introspection, but the physical discomfort of decibels relentlessly beating against the skull that made me ready to bail.  But I didn’t.  I clung on to the bitter end.

And am a better man because of it.

Michael Essington and David Gurz

Michael Essington and David Gurz

If you read part one of this saga (and my stats show that’s not likely) you’ll know that I went primarily for the book-signing, Essington and Gurz were doing for their joint effort,  Under a Broken Street Lamp.  It was good to finally meet Gurz.  A deeply troubled individual.  Dangerously deranged old punk.  Ex-con.  Ex-heroin junky.  Street survivor.  You’re just not going to find a more subterranean creature.  If I had a stick that night I would have poked at him, just to watch him claw and hiss, the madness and menace glinting in his eyes.  A fascinating specimen of Demonous Nocturnous.

And all that comes through in his work.  But lots of other stuff too.  Sinister resume aside, Dave is a sweetheart.  Intelligent, funny-as-fuck, and–oh, he’s gonna kill me–sensitive and caring.  That’s right.  He’s what is known in folklore as a Noble Scoundrel.  Standard archetype, really.  What the turn-of-the-century criminal, Jack Black, called “a good Yegg.”

Anyway, we’d been corresponding and talking on the phone for over a year before this, so it was great to actually meet in person.  And not be able to communicate.  But hang out anyway.

That’s what this whole odyssey was about.  Making the effort to connect with friends.  Going against my selfish inclination for the apparent comfort and safety of isolation, and coming out to the show.  Just to be there.  To hang out.  To talk loudly to somebody who can’t hear you, and then not hear them tell you that.  To build that bond that comes from nodding and shrugging at each other.  Clueless.  While droplets of blood roll from your ears.

I wouldn’t trade it for all the treasure in Timbuktu.

Okay.  That’s not true either.

Damn.

Anarchy Transformer

Punked-Out Punk: Part Three

Oh thank God, they're American-owned!

Oh thank God, they’re “American-owned”

I pulled into the motel parking lot carefully listening for the crunch of syringes and crack vials.  Didn’t hear any.  They must sweep the place.  Classy joint this Comfort Inn.  Can’t see why Expedia only gave it two stars.  Maybe at night it becomes a stable for hookers.  Better get the top floor.  Don’t want to be hearing a bed creak every thirty minutes.  Unless, of course, I’m in it.

I parked the car and went inside the office to register.

A gentleman with a southern Mumbai accent processed my reservation, then directed me to a room on the first floor.  I thanked him and went out to get my bag from the car.

Wow.  Plastic key card.  Free buffet breakfast and WiFi.  Dish TV.  Little refrigerator.  Coffee maker.  Call me the King of Siam.  I was ready to settle for windows without bullet-holes and free local calls.  And I get all this.  The gourmet shit.  The Creator is too good to me.  Spoils me rotten.

I went in.  Nice enough digs.  Didn’t smell too funky.  A dark room.  Always like that.  Especially after I make it darker.

I dragged the blackout curtain across the window.  Unpacked some rags.  Put away the soda and beans.  Checked out the bathroom.  Didn’t get the vibe anybody had ever died in it.  Cool.  That’s worth at least half a star.  I got some ice from the machine and filled the sink.

Still feels a little weird not sticking in a bunch of beers.  But not as weird as waking up in a Mexican jail.  Here, see if you can put in cans of soda instead of beer and somehow still survive.

I did.  And did.

Spent the next twenty minutes trying to figure out the remote for the bullshit Dish TV.  Got to the point where I just started pushing buttons randomly.  That’s what finally worked.  I don’t know why I didn’t just do that right off the bat.  Don’t try to figure it out.  Just keep pushing buttons, baby.  Let mathematical chance work for you.  If you’re not hung up on any particular number–every one is a winner.

Wound up tuning into some football.  Two teams I didn’t give a fuck about.  Perfect.  A stress-free sporting event to kill some time.  I can relax a little before getting my eardrums punctured with punk rock.  I leaned back into my stack of pillows and exhaled.  Exhaled everything.  My previous stress.  My present apprehensions.  My future concerns.  Just gassed them out.

I don’t know what particular meditation technique it is, or from which tradition, but I like to make myself disappear.  It’s easy.  Just let the boundary between self and surroundings blur a bit…and poof.   I cease to be.  At least for a little while.

Now and then, I need to dissolve into the arms of Nuit.  “Oh, holy Eternal Void, I fling myself into Your infinite potential.  My fate to You I trust.  Redeem me, if You must.  But I don’t mind being dust.  Amen.”

Sweet inky oblivion.  It’s very relaxing.  And I’ve learned how to obtain it without a motel bathtub filled with beer.

We're going to need more ice.

As if the TV would be there. I call bullshit.

I woke up– if not entirely redeemed–certainly more refreshed.  I decided to take a shower.  Already talked to Gurz and he said the bands were still on their way to the show.  That meant I had time to stand under the hot water and realize some things.

Like as long you don’t put any expectations on the evening, you can’t be disappointed.  Don’t feel bad if you don’t feel like you’re twenty years old again.  You didn’t feel so great then either.

And even if the music doesn’t somehow erase all your hard-earned wisdom, you can still make bad decisions.  It’s a choice.

And there’s nothing wrong with mellowing.  So what if you’re not the reckless monster you used to be?  Who cares if you don’t pull down the scenery around you in an operatic gotterdammerung anymore, or make a hobby out of endangering the safety of others?  In fact, everyone is pretty okay with it.  You’re really the only hold-out– the only one giving yourself grief.

Huh.  Fucking me.  It’s always something.

Well, that’s where you come in.  You’re going to take care of you.

Me?  Why me?

Since you already have an in with old boy.  You being him and all.  You can put in a good word.  Get you to call the dogs off you.  You know, cool it.

Hmm.  Maybe.  I’ll see what I can do.  But you know me.

I do.  And I know you know you.  And if you’re cool to you, I know you’ll totally be cool.

Yeah, I know.

So we’re cool?

Totally.

Good shower.

I got dressed.  Laced the Martens.  Ate my salami and beans.  And Brazil nuts.  Washed it all down with a can of diet ginger-ale.  Put a key card in my wallet.  One in my sock.  Left the TV on.  Closed the door.

Okay, let’s see if the kids have anything on this old dog.

(to be continued)

Only the Bible survived.

That’s more like it.

Punked-Out Punk: Part Two

Needing a fix.

“It’s a beautiful day.”

I pointed the Mercedes punkeast and smogward.  La Ciudad de Los Angeles.  The City of Angels.  Ha.  That’s rich.  The bitchy irony starts at the name, and doesn’t stop until the wino piss puddles around your Hollywood sidewalk star.  Always hated the place.  After 20 years of trying to make it work, you just know, Los Angeles, it’s not me.  It’s you.

Where else will you see a fifty-one year old man driving a Mercedes to a Reagan Youth show?  Like I said, always with the bitchy irony.  Just a nasty city.

Turned off the satellite radio.  Too many choices.  I’d rather listen to nothing.  Nothing but the sound of my mind grinding gears as it pushes boulders up steep inclines.  Only to have them roll back down.  Crushing and destroying everything in their path.  Including the equipment operator.

Deep in thought I was.  Too deep for tunes.  Dint want the distraction.  Twas a busy day at Monkey Mind Construction.

So what’s the deal here?  What’s the angle?  How do I approach this little outing?  What do I have to do?  More importantly, what should I not do?  How can I avoid having any regrets?  Am I too old for this?  Am I still “punk as fuck?”  Is eight car lengths safe enough?  Is it too late to invest in the Gerber Baby Grow-up Plan?  What if I have to fight a guy with an ax?  What do I have in the car that would give me a chance?  How about one of the dumbbells in the trunk?  Really?  Against an ax?  Why not one of the ten pounders wielded like a war-hammer?

Maybe.

Why am I planning on having to fight a guy with an ax?  When that almost never happens.

Just a lot of questions.  Few answers.  I didn’t need the Margaritaville or New Age Spa station to interfere with hearing any either.  Silence was golden.  Especially before tonight.  I had a sneaking hinky that I was in for an aural assault.  Reagan Youth, 13 Scars, Dust Angel, and a couple of other bands.  I estimated about at least five hours of music beaten into my skull before it was all over.

Yeah, we’ll keep the radio off.  Save the ear bones a little wear-and-tear.  Good chance to pay attention to my driving.  Hands at ten and two.  Ankle holding the pedal at a steady 70.  Check rear-view.  Side one.  Wup.  Brake light flashing 2.500 feet ahead.  Ease up on the gas.  Hover over brake.  Not required.  Continue to depress accelerator.

Only thirty-two more miles.  I just might make it.  Is that a cop?

Even with a valid license, current registration, proof of insurance, and not being drunk, I still drive like I could get pulled over and hauled off to jail.  Can’t help it.  Some groove I cut deep into the limbic part of my brain.  I remember getting a flat tire the first year I was sober.  I was by the side of the road changing it, when a CHP pulled up behind me.  Oh fuck.  Both my feet jerked hard left, ready to start running across the ice plant.

Hold on.  You haven’t done anything wrong.  Nothing is wrong with you.  And you don’t have anything wrong inside the car.  You are merely a motorist in distress.  And not over the fact that Xanax slows down your backwards ABCs.

Well, he had pulled over to see if he could help.  Even let me use his jack so I didn’t have to deal with the Japanese can-opener that came with my car.  We had some laughs over that.  He turned out to be a cool copper.  It felt strange waving good-bye to him as I drove off.

Good citizenshiphood is a trip alright.  And not too bad a deal.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got nothing against outlaw stuff.  I remember this one time I broke a law.  And it was deeply satisfying.  It’s just the constant tap-dancing required to maintain the life-style that gets tiring.  So does getting busted.  Being broke.  Hungry.  Hunted.  Haunted.

Trying to find the gun you hid while in a black-out.

“The last thing I remember is thinking ‘nobody will ever find it here,’ then the film breaks.  Please St. Anthony, help me find my gun.”

Having to thank Him after you find it in the microwave.  Feeling weird that you had to pray.  For that.

Yeah, all that shit pretty much blows.  I’ll put on my Mr. Rogers sweater instead.  The loafers too.  Did he change into loafers or sneakers?  I can’t remember.  As soon as I find a safe place to pull over I’ll Google it on my phone.  I watched enough of that show as a kid, you’d think I’d remember.

At night before going to sleep, I’d fantasize about lying down flat across Trolley, so I could ride it through the tunnel into the Neighborhood of Make Believe.  (There’s a Fellini image)  Once inside, I’d run amok and destroy the place.  Twist off King Friday’s head and proclaim myself the new Emperor.  Kid Caligula.  I’d imagine bashing in or burning down every cute little building.  One by one.  The castle.  The grandmother clock in the tree.  The rocking chair factory.  The platypus mound.  The Eiffel Tower.  That rotating columned cake thing that Lady Elaine lived at.  I think it was some museum or shit.  Doesn’t matter.  I would reduce it all to smoldering ruins.  Turn the Neighborhood of Make Believe into…Stalingrad.

Is that a normal fantasy for a seven-year-old boy?  Probably not normal for a normal one.  But normal for me.

Here's what I think of your 'hood.

Here’s what I think of your ‘hood.

Anyway, I turned out okay.  So I don’t think there was any lasting harm in it.  Okay, start signaling for your lane change.  Plenty of warning for everybody.  Thank you Mr. Pancho Villa Mustache Dude for letting me in.  Wave the thank you hand to him.  Did he see it?

“That’s right, bro.  You’re cool!”  Give him thumbs up.  Nod.  Mucho gratitudo, dude.

Okay then.

Did I mention I didn’t want to be driving to Hollywood to see a punk rock show?  No?  Well, truth be told, I’d rather be toasting my moccasins in front of a roaring fire tonight.  Watching some show about living in Alaska or prison.  My girlfriend snoring just enough to let me know she’s not dead.  My cats curled around me.  Both of them radiating their serenity, as my sister described “like two incense cones of coziness.”

Yeah, Mr. Destroy-Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood would rather be home with his woman and kitty cats.

Instead of a punk rock show.

Wow, that sounds really lame.  I need to make sure nobody finds out.  Vault that shit right now.  Right there with The Phone Sex Incident.  Bury it deep.

Fact is, I’m doing this as an act of contrary action.  Choosing to go out into the world and connect with friends.  Instead of continuing to isolate in my comfort zone.  I feel an obligation.  That it’s important to do.  Especially when I don’t feel like it.  It’s my small offering upon the altar of Faith Above Reason.  Connecting without fear of consequence.  It’s pretty insane.  Punk as fuck.  Actually.

Here we go.  This is beginning to feel more tawdry.  Must be getting close.  I need Sunset.  Three miles.  Signal.  Look over the left shoulder.  Right shoulder.  Rear-view.  Side-view.  Right shoulder again.  Begin merging.  Done.

It was sneakers not loafers. Well they were more like deck shoes.  That’s what he changed into after he put on his sweater.  But did he put his sweater on first?  Pretty sure.  Yeah.  He goes straight to the closet, takes off his sport coat, puts on the sweater, then sits down and changes his shoes.  That was the proper protocol.  For a beautiful day in the neighborhood.

Glad I straightened that out.  No Google either.

At least I was getting some answers.  Not to anything important.  Yet.  But I should keep listening.

I exited on Sunset and turned right.  My motel wasn’t too far.  Good.  I’ll have time to take a nap.

Before the big show.

(to be continued.)

Mindful motoring.

Mindful motoring.

Punked-Out Punk: Part One

Reagan Youth

Reagan Youth

Went to Hollywood last Sunday to see Reagan Youth and 13 Scars play at Los Globos.  Attached my portable oxygen tank to my walker.  Laced up the Martens and left the Miracle Ear at home.  Always dug Reagan Youth.  They were from Queens.  Aaayyyy! Fuckin’ Ay.  Woodhaven, yo!

However, the main reason was to meet up with Dave Gurz and Michael Essington.  They were going to be there signing copies of  Under A Broken Street Lamp.  Both cool dudes.  Real people.  Interesting thinkers.  I’ve enjoyed their writing.  This would be my first chance to get to hang out with either of them.  The next day, friends from Santa Fe were going to be in Hollywood.  Perfect.  I figured I’d rent a roach box to comfort in for the night, and then see Brisa and Dennis the next morning.

Okay. This was going to be fun.  I had a lot to look forward to.

You wouldn’t know it by the way I left the house.  You’d have thought I was going out to die for the last time.  I don’t know if it’s old age or being sober.  Probably the synergistic effect of both.  I have a hard time getting my lazy ass out the door these days.  There’s just so many irritating things that can go wrong “out there.”  And nothing that really seems worth it.

Not like here at home.

Sure, if I stayed at home I would probably wind up having to chase out dog-sized racoons from the kitchen, break up a cat-fight between Louie and Boris, poke-out a hissing possum with a mop handle, or swat at bats with a broom.

Actually, I make Lori do that last one.  I have to hold a blanket up by the stairway so the bats don’t fly up to the second floor.  She’s not tall enough to get a good seal.  So that leaves her with broom duty.  I’ll hear her swatting and swearing.  Knocking shit over.  But she always gets them out.  She’s pretty good at it.  That’s because she’s from hillbilly stock.  I’m better behind the blanket.  I’m from Queens. Aaay.

My point is that it can be sheer chaos here at the house, but it’s my own…cozy chaos.

Some might say I like to isolate.  I call it tactically withdrawing from an oppressive consensus reality.  Whatever Post-it note you want to attach.  I prefer desolate places.  Where I can sit hunched on a jagged rock.  Alone in the world.  My webbed wings beaten flat by the Broom of Life.  Now and then sighing deeply.  Beholding the sheer majesty of the Wasteland of Woe.  Bitter winds salting the desert with the dried tears of its victims.

Only friendship could coax to come out from the sorrowful sands of Bou-Saada.  And go to a punk rock show.

It wasn’t going to be cake walk.  Not for me.  Somewhere between February 1st  2004 and last night, I misplaced large portions of my edge.  I needed to prime myself.  But with what?  What was left for me? What could I safely use to torque myself into the proper state?

I bought a bag of Brazil nuts.  I read they naturally raise testosterone.  I think because of the Selenium.  I don’t care.  I just didn’t want to go to a punk show while suffering from low T-levels.  I wanted to get my Agro on.  And everyone knows that Agro is just thwarted horniness–from too much testosterone.  A rage few men over the age of fifty get to enjoy.

These Brazil nuts better work.

So I can want to rip somebody’s head off.

Because I really want to kiss a girl, instead.

Okay then.  That takes care of the head.  Now what about the gut?

I stocked up on salami and beans. Old-school fuel.  Liquor store war rations.  Protein.  Fat.  Salt.  A slow-burning carb.  Plus nitrates to add a toxic edge.  An army can march on a bellyful of that.  No wasting time preparing it.  Or waiting for somebody to bring it to you.  The preferred grab-n-go of go-getters around the globe, Plug.

Motel room service

Motel room service

Before I left, Lori insisted I take her Mercedes.  She was afraid my 2001 Suzuki Esteem wouldn’t make the 47 mile journey.  Well, it’s one of the many things that keeps us together as a couple– being afraid of the same things, so I agreed.  But reluctantly.  I hate to drive her car.

Of course it’s a thousand times better than my rattle trap.  That’s the problem.  I’m scared I’ll somehow wreck it.  I have to be extra careful driving, and Lori already laughs at me.  She says I drive as slow as an eighty-year-old woman stoned on medical brownies.

That’s not true.  I’m just cautious.  I’ve been in so many car wrecks, starting at age five, that the idea of getting into one no longer seems far-fetched.  Not like to the ass-holes weaving through lanes with inches to spare.  They are immortal gods playing a video game.  They don’t care about the sacks of meat hurtling through space in sharp metal boxes around them.

Well this time I wasn’t as concerned about wrapping it around a pole as I was about pulling up at a punk show in a Mercedes.

Besides the ironic social comment it would make, I didn’t want to park it near any roving gangs of anarchists.  I could just see one of them keying “Capitalist Pig” into the side of it.  I don’t know why I could picture it so clearly.  But it made me nervous-er.

One more thing that could go wrong in a scarey world gone mad–having to deal with people like me.  Oh God.

At that point I knew I needed to get a grip.  Stop the frettin’ and knuckle rubbin’ and man up.  Who is this worried little twat?  How did he get into me?

Truth is- that quivering worm was always in me.  Wiggling just under my sternum.  I used to beat it into submission with beer.  But eventually, it learned to beat back.  Now I have to lay the smack down differently.  Have to find a new way to connect with my inner Beasthood.  Then strangle The Worm.

I thought about how I could do that.  Perhaps drink once more from the fountain of Reagan Youth.  Regain the unrealistic ideals of my deformative years.  Recapture the rage.  Electro-paddle the passion back into arrhythmia.

I hit the signal.  Cautiously merged into the Sunday afternoon traffic on the 101.  Slowly dragged my Brazil nuts south for the night.

(To be continued)

Rage on.

Degenerated!

Creeped In Connecticut

Wants you to take her rollerskating.

Wants you to take her rollerskating.

Well, I hope everybody enjoyed the annual thinning of the veils.  Frankly, I’m Halloweened-out.  At least from the mainstream version of it.  Pumpkins.  Candy corn.  Miley Cyrus.  Even the hooky-spooky stuff gets old.  I guess it’s because we’re like the Addams family over here.  Ghosts, growlers, gremlins, and Greys don’t phase us.  Every day is Halloween.

The other night Lori and I were watching a paranormal show.   Some homeowners were dealing with a demon in their basement.  In Connecticut.  Of course.

Connecticut has got some bad mojo.  I’m no Nervous Nellie when it comes to the paranormal.  I’ve witnessed my fair share of the unexplained.  No joke.  I don’t know if it’s because I was always open to it, or this unique birthmark, but I’ve been followed around by some freaky shit my whole life.  And I’ve actually enjoyed it.  Seeing a candle light itself has a way of bringing a little mystery back into life.

But something about the Connecticut brand.  Really creeps.

We watched the priest performing the exorcism.  He gets his toupee tugged on.  Stuff starts to fly around.  He feels hot scratches along his back, then gets doubled-over with what appears to be gas pains.  Clutching at his guts, he keeps trying to send the demon back into the bowels of hell.

“Classic back-fire,” I explained, “Didn’t close up his circle and now the little bugger ricocheted into his bowels.”

“Listen to the arm-chair exorcist.”

“Hey, I might not be able to put up shelves, but I think I could perform a pretty damn good exorcism.  The key to successful mediation is to establish rapport.”

“No problem for you.”

“Exactly.  I think my way would work better than this old-school antagonistic approach.  Why piss the thing off?  Just thank it for whatever lesson it came to deliver then politely send it back to Hell to await reassignment.  Look at this poor priest.  He looks like he’s about to crap his pants.”

He kept at it though.  Making the sign of the cross with holy water with one hand while grabbing his cramping pelvis with the other.

“That’s a weird place, Connecticut.”

“Uh-huh.” She rearranged her pillow.  “You told me.”

“Did I tell you about the rollerskating rink?”

“Yes.”

I wished I hadn’t.  It’s a good story.  That’s the trouble with being in a long relationship.  You use up all your good stories.

Finally, in a tornado of dishes and drapes, Latin and lighting, the demon was gone.  Everyone’s relieved.  The terrorized family, the ghost hunters sent in to investigate, and the priest they called in–when they realized this was more that the ghost of Aunt Fanny on their hands– everybody hugging each other, rejoicing and so forth.

But I could have sworn I saw two glowing eyes looking in from the corner of the kitchen window.  Nice.

“I love a happy ending,”

I looked over at Lori.  She was out cold.  Exorcisms make her sleepy.

Hey.  I didn’t tell you guys about how creepy Connecticut is.  Especially the roller rinks.  Hold on let me turn the lights down…

Okay.  My family was close friends with another Lithuanian family back in New York.  They had four kids.  One boy was my age and the girl was my sister’s.  We basically grew up together, so we were sad when they moved to Connecticut, where they eventually built a house in the woods of Danbury, by Candlewood Lake.  You know Danbury, where the first US trial in which demonic possession was used as a defense for murder was held.

Cozy old Danbury.

Anyway, we used to love to go visit them.  They were my funnest friends and I have many happy memories.  But I remember other stuff, too.  Like the woods around their house.  Something really bad dwelled there.  I could feel it.  Something evil.

Keep in mind, I grew up traipsing in the woods and parks of New York and loved nature.  There was nothing creepy about quiet trees.  But walking around those Connecticut trees, I’d see things from the corner of my eye.  Get the feeling that somebody or some thing was watching.  My arm hair was always brush stiff while playing and exploring in those woods.

It didn’t help that they lived next door to a guy that had blown his brains out with a shot gun.  I also remember that we’d run across these abandoned homes.  Old-timey clapboard shacks with the windows busted out, but all the furniture still inside.  Pans still on the stove.  Clothes in the closet.  Even old boxes of cereal in the cupboards.  Where did the people go?

My buddy and I would try to vandalize these old shacks, more than they already were, but one of us would always wind up getting hurt.  On a nail or broken glass.  Something would always abruptly end our fun.  One time while bashing out an un-bashed window, he got stung by a bee as big as a fist.  Right on his thumb.  It swelled up really big.  Our parents debated taking him to the hospital.

One day, while we were standing outside the shot-gun suicide house, talking about what a mess it must have been, a bottle broke between us.  We were only a few feet apart, but neither of us could tell where it came from.  We looked around for any neighborhood kids, but never saw anyone.  We had a wide view through the woods, and never heard any leaves crunching either towards or away.  Besides, it didn’t skip like it had been thrown.  It just exploded.  On the leaves.

Another night, we were sent out to get firewood,  On our way back, I looked up and saw a hooded white face standing about fifty feet away.  Mother of God.  I dropped the wood and blurred through time and space getting to the front door.  My friend hadn’t even seen it and he was climbing on my back trying to get through the door.  So convincing was my panic.

I’ve scared myself with my imagination before.  This was different.  Too much time getting a good look at it.  My eyes actually focused and there it was–a hooded, white mask-like face.

Even remembering it today, gives me the jeebies.

Actual photo

Actual photo

Anyway, all that stuff, as bizarre as it was, didn’t hold a candlewood to the Danbury rollerskating rink.  That remains one of my creepiest memories.  Ever.  Not just mine.  It’s in my sister’s Hall of Fame too.  And there was nothing paranormal about it.  Normal can freak plenty good.

One Saturday afternoon, the parents decided to drop us kids off at the local roller-skating rink.  My sister and I had never been to a roller rink.  We always went ice-skating instead.  Okay, but this should still be fun.  Hooray!  We’re going rollerskating!

Yeah.  But in Connecticut.

As soon as we drove up to the joint I knew it was going to be memorable.

The place was decrepit and dusty.   Looked like it hadn’t been renovated since the forties or fifties.  The people too.  Everybody in the place was dressed like extras from an episode of Green Acres.  Old-fashioned rural clothes.  Coveralls.  Red-checked flannel.  Hats with flaps.  Girls with dresses made out of patterns.  Everybody slowly skating around with blank New England expressions.  Real time-warp vibe.

I remember there was even a gumball machine that dispensed stick pretzels.  How fucked-up is that?

Well, we get our skates and roll into the rink.  I’m looking around.  It’s really dark.  The light has a root-beer amber quality.  There’s just enough of it to avoid bumping into some Ed Gein skating the other way.   Instead of canned pop music, there was a live organ playing some kind of Hokey Pokey funeral dirge.

I skate over to the other end of the rink.  I see a sad pile of old toys arranged around a window.  They’re all the scariest kind.  Monkeys with cymbals.  Homemade dolls.  Ventriloquist dummies.  Crude wooden trains.  Mangy stuffed animals.

Clowns.

All set among sagging tinsel and dim Christmas lights.  And not moved or dusted in thirty years.

Then I looked up at the window.

And saw where the organ music was coming from.

Behind thick, nicotine-stained glass, a hunched man sat playing the organ.  I’ll never forget what the fucker looked like.  Instead of trying to describe him I’ll draw him-

Police sketch

Police sketch

Yeah.  I’ll take a hooded white face.  Any day.  My parents had spent a lot of time trying to convince me that Lurch was not real.  Now it looked like that was just more of their lying bullshit.

Something about him being behind thick glass.  It made it look like he was being kept in a room built especially to safely house him.  So he wouldn’t break out and start eating hillbillies.  Was he some sort of serial-killing musical savant?

The whole scene was disturbing enough, but seeing that ghoul behind glass was the crown jewel.

I skated over to my sister.

“I think you need to roll over to the organ grinder and get a good look.”

She did.  It’s something that stays with her to this day.

And I’m sure she’s grateful to me for it, too.

Anyway, it shows that something doesn’t have to be paranormal to scare.  There are plenty of terrifying things right here in the “real” world.

Like getting drunk and ruining your life.  Nice and normal-like.  And to be honest that scares me more.  More than some Enochian demon growling from under my bed.  Although, that still gives me a good jolt.  You know, when it wakes you out of a dead sleep.

It’s good though.  Reminds me to pray.  When in doubt, shout it out.

Over the years, I’ve experienced so much strangeness, both supernatural and organic, that when it came time to ask an invisible higher power to relieve me of my alcoholism, it didn’t seem so far-fetched.  I already believed there was all kinds of stuff out there.  Some of it good.  Some of it not so.  So unlike some alcoholics coming into recovery, I didn’t balk at praying to stay sober.

Cracks me up.  One guy told me that praying made him feel uncomfortable.  Said he felt stupid doing it.  The guy who pissed his pants at his sister’s wedding.  Drank eleven beers before his probation hearing.  You’d think he’d be comfortable with feeling stupid by now.  He’s not yet.  And still drinking.

No big deal.  That’s where demons come in.  Their main job is to scare everyone back to The Creator.  One way or another.  Everybody finds themselves praying.  They’ll make sure of it.  Turn up the heat until you do.  And the way things are popping off these days, it looks like they’ve brought their A game.

So I don’t think there’s any need to push prayer on anyone.  Suggest it sure, but to get a really sincere one out of somebody, there are experts out there.

And they are consummate professionals.

Boo.

Post-script:  While Googling “Demons in Connecticut” I came across this little tid-bit from the Fortean Times, “Across the state-line, in Fairfield County, Connecticut, an employee at a local radio station told me of druid-like gatherings, at night, in the woods surrounding Candlewood Lake, near Danbury.”

.

Product of my imagination

Product of my imagination

St. Valentine’s Day Massacre

I walked outside the Esplanade mall with my sandwich inside a Styrofoam container.  I took a few paces, stopped, carefully placed the container on the ground and proceeded to stomp the shit out of it.  Jumped up and down with both feet.  Many times.  Making sure to totally destroy my pricey and uneaten pastrami sandwich.

My girlfriend at the time watched this display of childishness by a twenty-year old man.  It didn’t phase her.  After all, she was my girlfriend.  She just smiled.

“Well, that fixed everything, ”

By italicizing the “that”, she was clearly implying that that didn’t.  Inferring that stomping on my sandwich didn’t  fix everything.

She was right of course.  She always was.  But fuck that.   What was right didn’t matter.  What mattered was that I was pissed-off.

And had to show the world.

“It did!” I told her, making sure to italicize my “did.”  Letting her know there were two sides to every story.  That sometimes different things are right.

She just nodded along in that “Okey-dokey, Pokey” way.  With overly-agreeing face.  The one caretakers make to indulge their lunatic charges–while waiting for them to swallow their pill.

“It totally fucking did.”

“Oh-kay!”

We had to leg it back to the movie theater where we worked.  She was the box office cashier and I was an usher.  We were late coming back from our lunch break, which was partially a factor in my decision to curb-crush my Pastrami.  And go hungry instead.

We’d always take our breaks together and go to the Mc Donalds next to the theater.  She’d get a chocolate chip cookie and a milk, and I’d get a Big Mac and a shake, That magic combination would guarantee me a time-released queasiness that quelled hunger.  Like clock work.  Big Mac.  Shake.  Nausea.

While I was by no means a fan of feeling sick to my stomach, the price was right, and it was close by,  Cheapness and convenience trumped well-being.

Anyway, this one Saturday afternoon, I decided I had enough feeling nauseous.  I would walk down the mall a little further to the deli restaurant and treat myself to some heartburn instead.  I would cough up the extra five dollars just to remind myself that I was worth it.  Sometimes you just have to be good to yourself.

Yeah.  That’ll be nice.  Get myself a nice pastrami on rye with wedge cut fries.

Because you never know which day will be your last.

Sue got her usual cookie and milk, then followed me to the deli where I put in my order and waited.

And waited.

I look around.  It’s slow.  Half of a half of a dozen people sitting around.  All of them with their food.  I can’t imagine what’s taking so long to make my sandwich.  I watch the minutes of our lunch break tick off of my wristwatch.  Nothing.  At seven minutes left, one of the cooks puts a Styrofoam container under the heat lamp.  But there’s no waitress to pull it down and give it to me.  It sat there for another agonizing five minutes before one finally appeared and responded to my wild flailing and pointing.

“My sandwich!  My sandwich!”

She lazed her ass over and handed it to me.

There was now two minutes left to eat my five dollars-extra sandwich.  What bullshit.  Instead of the special lunch I had anticipated, I’d now be lucky to cram half of it into my mouth before I had to be back.  Sure, I could have eaten half then put the rest in the employee fridge until later.  I could have stuck the sandwich into the pocket of my polyester suit and gnawed on it in a darkened theater.  There were plenty of alternatives.  But I was pissed.  I wasn’t going to get what I wanted.

So stomping was the only solution.

I would make the sandwich pay.  And subsequently myself.  But I didn’t care.  Somebody was going to suffer because of this.

It was old behavior by then.

When I was seven, I would play my dad in checkers.  If I saw he was playing too well, I’d get angry and slap the board up into the air.  Boof.

Well, my dad didn’t approve of these outbursts.  Poor sportsmanship wasn’t tolerated.  Neither were tantrums.  My folks were from The Old Country and didn’t put up with that kind of shit from their kids.  His belt would be slapping me across my ass before the checkers stopped raining.

“I’ll give you something to cry about!”

Good for him, really.  I had it coming.  Sorry enlightened, modern parents, but for me, only the threat of corporal punishment ever made me think twice about misbehaving.  And a lot of times, not even then.  Crown one of your checkers Daddy-O and it’s on.  “In your face old man!”  Boof.

Smack smack.

Couldn’t help myself.  Tantrum trumped everything.

When I was in Kindergarten I used to attend a Saturday school for Lithuanian-American kids.  For Valentine’s Day we had to cut out hearts from red construction paper that we had folded in half.  All we had to do was cut out one curve, then open up the paper to reveal a symmetrical heart shape.  We would paste that on a thing of paper doilies the teacher taped together for us.  In just a few easy steps everyone would have a nice Valentine to buy their mother’s love with.

Everyone, except the spaz who couldn’t cut right.  Couldn’t cut the curve.  I looked around.  Everyone was already pasting their hearts onto the doilies, and I kept opening my paper to find a butterfly or a bow-tie.  But never a heart.

Fucking horse-shit Valentine’s Day.  I hate you.

I decided if I couldn’t have a heart, nobody would.  Swear to God, I remember getting up and going from desk to desk tearing up the other kid’s hearts.  I distinctly made a conscious effort to be as calm about it as possible.  To maximize damage.  Before all their crying set off the alarm.

I’m sure that in itself would’ve set-off a child psychologist’s alarm.   But the way I conned the teacher, when she finally grabbed a hold of me, revealed the criminal prodigy I was.

Right away I turned on the water works.  Nevermind the shit-fit I just threw.   It’s time to feel sorry for me.

“I’m only a wittle kid (blubber blubber) and cutting hearts is too hard for me!”

Worked like a charm.  She melted.  The teacher cut out a heart for me while the other kids remade theirs.  In the meantime, a photographer from the local Lithuanian newspaper had come by and had us all display our work in a group shot.  This picture right here.  No down here.  I’m the demon seed in the front row.  Tantruminus Rex.

St. Valentine's Day Massacre, Lithuanian Saturday School NYC

You can see how pleased I am with myself.  Why shouldn’t I be?  I got what I wanted.  You never worry about how you’re coming off while in a pants-pissing rage.  All you want is someone to give into it.

God forbid they should, because then you really feel like an ass-hole.  Afterwards.  If you’re lucky.  If you don’t, you’re more apt to up your game.  Really start carpet-biting your way through life.  It can be an effective way to climb the rungs.  You may even get everything you want.  Except the one thing you really want.  The respect of your fellow humans.

Oh well.  Whatever.  Right?  I’ll sign up.  Respect is over-rated.  Besides, I’ll have the respect of other tantrum babies.  That right there explains Hitler.  The pissed-off baby man leading a nation of spoilsports and blamers.  Ready to punish the world (but mostly themselves) for losing the first war, by losing another one in an ultimate checkerboard toss.

If you get a powerful enough microscope, you might find the germ of this behavior in our current political situation.  We’ve got some Valentines tearers running amok in our classroom.  And I so get it.

Unfortunately.

I’ve been the underdog.  At my worst, I let my fear and frustration seize me.  Wound up fighting dirty just to win.  At my best, I realized I’d been  out-gunned and stood there quietly while the ref raised the other guy’s arm.  Went back to the gym and trained a little harder.

Instead of bringing my sandwich into the ring.  And stomping on it.

Then crying because I don’t have any Valentines.

Blogula Turns Two.

Birthdays blow.

Birthdays blow.

The blogodometer finally kicked over 25,000.  A minor triumph.  Time to put a shot-gun blast through the screen door.  Microwave a can of beans until it explodes.  Throw a bottle of high proof alcohol at the wood burning stove.  Bust up some wooden chairs to feed the bonfire.  Drop in the Mentors tape, and swan dive naked into an empty pool.

And get this party started.

As C.E.O. and acting Operations Manager of T.T.T.F., it warms my cockleshells to have this opportunity to self-congratulate myself.  Since nothing pleases me more than pleasing myself.  Except of course, pleasing others.  Which I would do more of, if it wasn’t so hard.  And I could remember to.

This month at T.T.T.F., we are not only celebrating another arbitrary milestone in spam-driven statistics, but a two-year anniversary, as well. -Pause to let polite applause die down- That’s right, Trudge turned two this September.  And I am proud to announce that the future of Trudging Through The Fire is going to continue hinging on the fickle decision-making process of an alcoholic in recovery.  Which means it’s future is not only uncertain, but as C.E.O. I can assure any stockholders that all their fears are warranted.

I have to go to the board meetings.  So I know.  The people at the top are fucking clueless.  Oracle reading ape-shit thrown against a wall would yield richer intellectual heft than some ideas being tossed around.  The best one being to kill the whole thing.  Just take Ol’ Yeller out to the barn and tap one into the T-Zone.

My God, look at the format.  It hasn’t changed or had an upgrade the whole time.  Why?  Because the people in our Creative Marketing department are playing Grand Theft Auto 5.  Instead of coming up with exciting new ideas, they’re running over hookers in an attempt to flee the police.

It’s criminal what goes on behind the scenes here.  You’ll find more work ethic in an opium den.  And corporate couldn’t care less.  Why should they?  They’ve got their parachutes and are ready to bail at the slightest turbulence.  I’ve never seen such craven, self-seeking leadership.  These dogs are swimming the Volga and Kiev hasn’t even fallen.  And that kind of cut-and-run cowardice runs from the top hat to the toes of this organization.

Only the fact that it is not a success-driven enterprise keeps it afloat.  The whole thing  survives…because it doesn’t need to.

How creepy is that?  It’s Un-American.  Pathogenic.

But you didn’t hear any of this from me.  As C.E.O. I’m supposed to wave the flag and rally the troops.  But then again, I’m supposed to do a lot of things.  Besides elbowing old ladies on my way to the life boat.

Anyway, let us not forget why we’re all gathered here– to celebrate something by now I am so totally over– our Turquoise Silver Jubilee. Twenty-five thousand hits in two years!

Clap…………………………….clap.

And yes, that’s less than the video of the girl having an attack of diarrhea at the hot tub party got in it’s first hour on Youtube.  But we’re not trying to compete with that.  Nothing could.  The fact remains, we now have over a quarter of a hundred thousand hits!

Clap.

Clap.

I’m sorry, but I can’t get excited either.  It all leaves me pretty empty.  And feeling like this project was a complete waste.  A waste of time.  And a bitter disappointment.  Let’s face it, this blog is not going anywhere.  And sometimes I hate doing it.  So to continue would be insane.

Good thing all that doesn’t phase me anymore.  I can eat that bullshit like bucket chicken.  So I’m good.  Good and ready to lead us on to our third year together.  If you will only continue to trust me, I promise to lead us to places more fantastic than any Byronic nightmare.  We will scale heights that leave Olympic gods dizzy, short of breath, and wondering which arm going numb is bad.  We will plumb depths darker than any ex-child actor, and then emerge, not only unrepentant, but cocky and streetwise.

Stories of our journey will be used to frighten children into obedience.

I can think of no greater honor.

And we’ve made some good friends along the way, haven’t we?  Met me some crazy mofos through this blog, friendships I will treasure to my dying days.  And that wasn’t in our Mission Statement.  If there had been one.  No, sometimes you just have to do things, like write a blog, or paint, or practice lap dancing on the couch in the garage, for no good reason at all.  Other than it’s something to do.  And as long as you chasten yourself against the lust of result, the disappointments will be few.  The happy surprises many.

I’m just glad to be writing again, for whatever lack of a reason.  Don’t think I would have had the chance if I kept going like I was.  So that’s reason enough to mark the milestone.  If you’re still hung up on reasons.

So now, I would like to raise a glass and make a toast.  To Reason.  May it be damned for a dog.  Okay, now those of you who can do so with apparent impunity, please drink yourselves into a joyous stupor, and do something insane.

Those of us who can’t drink anymore will be watching.  Maybe getting a little crazy on ourselves over by the coffee.

Just to show you we still got it.

Thanks for reading.  Trudge on.

Marius