Monday, October 10, 2011

Bill Graham by Tom Pitts

It was a Bill Graham event. They were all Bill Graham events. In the late Eighties in San Francisco, if you were somewhere that needed tickets, a place so big that you couldn’t go to the door and pay a cover charge, in other words, somewhere that wasn’t cool, then you were at a Bill Graham event. He’d cornered the market on rock and roll in the Bay Area since the Sixties. I’d been to his shows, eaten his famous free apples. Overripe and overrated, the both of them.

I’d never met him. I’d done deliveries to the underpaid employees at Bill Graham Productions on 5th Street. I’d seen the tired arrogance in their eyes. It was nice being that close to the rock legend, glancing quickly at old Fillmore posters and gold records on the walls as those same tired arrogant eyes watched me leave, making sure I’d didn’t linger in their hallowed halls. It was a different world from the promoters of the punk dives and shithole bars I was used to playing. Such a great divide that I never considered the possibility of being part of that world, Bill Graham’s world, the man that made rock and roll happen in the Bay Area for the last twenty years.

In fact, I never would have been at this show, at Shoreline Amphitheater sweating my ass off in the midday sun, had I not had a friend that knew someone in the band. Didn’t everybody have a friend that knew someone in the band? The show was Aerosmith and Guns and Roses. Guns and Roses were the band of the moment, the act that everyone wanted to see, to be a part of, to emulate, to know, and in Bill Graham’s case, have a piece of.

The excitement was in the air, billowing up like the plumes of pot and cigarette smoke that, mixed with the sun-kissed sweat, gave that certain stink that only a rock concert could give. Even though we had seats, everyone was on their feet, clapping and shouting out to and open and empty stage. It was well over an hour before the opening act, Guns and Roses, was slotted to begin and we were already being jostled and shoved by the throngs of rockers behind us.

It had been so long since I’d been to a big rock show, the chants and shouts were foreign to me. The styles were the same, but the people seemed drunker, sloppier, but happier. There was a harmonious mellow buzz building that was starting to make me feel like I was part of something bigger, a historic rock and roll moment.

That’s when I saw him. The Man, Bill Graham. He was only a few feet from me, walking up the isle, smiling and shaking hands like a politician. People were in awe, they treated him like a rock star. Sullen fans who’d been bitching about being gouged on ticket prices moments before were now reaching out, crying, “Bill, Bill!”

I was amazed; he was so close, so approachable, so accessible that I wondered was it was really him.

“Is that who I think it is?” I asked my friend standing beside of me.

“Yeah,” said Greg nonchalantly. He’d grown up in the Bay; he’d seen Bill do his diplomatic schtick many times before.

I was too cool to stick my hand out like a teenage girl who’d first laid eyes on the real Paul McCartney, but I was deeply impressed by Graham’s confidence and swagger. I watched him work his way up the isle before turning to Greg and making some snotty remark about Bill’s financial status.

It couldn’t have been a minute later when we were shoved forward. A violent jolt that broke the harmony. The cigarette hanging from my mouth singed some frizzy blonde hair right in front of me. There was a commotion behind us, shouting, we’d gone from Woodstock to Altamont in the matter of a few seconds. I turned my head, all heads turned; we all wanted to see the side show. I could see a cluster of yellow security jackets moving around like angry bees, pushing people back, barking orders. I could hear yelling, but all I could see was the backs of the people clustered ahead of me.

Then the crowd parted and I saw Bill. His face was red and he was shouting unintelligible profanities. I wondered if someone had hit him. Then I saw the head clamped under his arm. Bill was dragging some unruly full-price ticketholder out in a headlock. He marched down the isle with some denim cloaked longhair locked under his wing like it was no more than a sack of potatoes. With a gang of supposedly trained yellow-jacketed security thugs by his side, the legend, Bill Graham, had taken it upon himself to police his subjects personally. His eyes were wild with rage, but I could tell that he was in his element. This was the real business of rock and roll. He was doing what he did best. It was the: If you want something done right, do it yourself work ethic that had made the man who he was.

I looked back at Greg, stunned. Stunned by the violence, stunned by man. I was star struck.

“Now that,” smiled Greg, “was Bill Graham.”

Tom Pitts 9\28\11

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Chinese Line

The line extended to the end of the block and halfway up Jones Street. Orange cones, spaced in intervals, ran parallel to line, delineating where people stand and where the general public walks. It was a regular occurrence to the neighborhood so people knew the drill and very few complained, even though there was good reason to.

Dressed in shades of grey and black - some homeless, most transient – they stood, referred by Social Workers, friends or given a Free Eats Chart with instructions of how to get there. They were mostly black and white: high, crazy and fucked. With a hot meal and a seat guaranteed, the line was relatively drama free.

Large men in yellow jackets with the word SECURITY in block letters across the back policed the line. With a light hand, they roamed the area. Mostly, they stood out front and accepted food donations. Their presence was mandated by nearby businesses and neighbors. It was the least they could do for permanently fucking up a block.

The yellow jackets used to be participants in the line. It’s assumed that at some point they accepted help and switched sides. With their lives back on track, they got their AA in drug counseling at City College and eventually move inside the building, into a small room where they counseled people on drug addiction. This is a generalization.

Across the street is another line. This line is much shorter and everybody is holding some sort of shopping bag. And they’re Chinese. I don’t know much about the line, except they there’s a storefront that appears to be giving out groceries. The people in the line are much older, but have the same expression on their faces. I would bet most aren’t on drugs.

Never will the two lines meet.

I’m about 30 yards east of the Chinese line. I have no affiliation to the Chinese – I don’t prefer it over the black and white line – I just happen to have business on that side.

I’m training a new driver. Wearing Red Wings from the 70s, these boots have a Tom Mcan vibe that says the wearer has reached a level of working class status that requires him to hold a clipboard rather than drive a forklift. That’s what I imagine. I liked to be called a Foreman.

I tell the new driver this: “They don’t like me, that’s good.” I talk in short, abbreviated bursts. “The more they don’t like me, the more they’ll like you. Feel free to talk shit about me; it will bond you with them. Feel free to tell me if they talk shit about me. Stand by the door until someone lets you in. Alert the person that you’re here. He’ll come out with a cart and stand by the vehicle. He’s very particular about the way you give him the food. Work something out with him. I don’t care, whatever works but don’t let him abuse you. If he’s a dick, let me know and I’ll deal with him.”

The driver stands next to the door. They let him in and he comes out a minute later. I’m in the back of the vehicle staging the food.

“How did it go,” I ask.

“Fine, I think I gave it to the right guy.”

The new driver joins me in the back of the vehicle.

A young, dour, Goth woman in black rags appears at the side door and reaches into the vehicle. I immediately spring into action: “Get out, get out, GET THE FUCK OUT.” It was the verbal equivalent of poking her with a stick. She wandered off behind the vehicle.
I told him that people in the neighborhood may try to steal food.

Walking to the curb with a pan full of Tilapia, the Goth woman was standing next to the man next to the cart. I immediately thought: Volunteer! Fuck! I mistook the Goth woman for a homeless person.

I lowered my head and put the pan on the cart. I looked at her and said, “Sorry.” I wanted to explain that I thought she was homeless or a junkie but that would’ve made things worse.

The new driver had already picked up on my mistake. I stayed in the vehicle and let him pack out the rest of the food.

On the road, the new driver said, “That woman was pissed at you.” Having already overcome the embarrassment of making an ass out of myself, I replied, “She’ll get over it. People always assume I’m homeless or a bike messenger.”

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

A Representative From Costco is Visiting Today

Within 5 seconds of exiting the car, I felt something hit my left shoulder. Something big and heavy, I thought. I looked up and noticed him standing next to me, looking crazy. He was black, 5’ 10’, black cap, disheveled, high and mentally ill. This is how I described him to the BART police dispatcher. The dispatcher asked me to clarify the style of cap; if he was drunk and how I knew he was mentally ill. In order, I told her it was a baseball hat; he didn’t smell of alcohol and that I work worked with lots of mentally ill people. She didn’t question my credentials.

His eyes had that yellow glow of somebody who had a prolonged relationship with crack. He was sweaty and waiting for me to reply. They’re always waiting for a response. It helps justifying violence. Like an idiot, I gave it to him.

“What the fuck, dude.” This was a very white response.

I continued walking, taking out my keys and putting them in between my clinched right fist. I had done a quick check of his ability to kill me and deduced I could take him. I calmed and continued to the ticket machine, violent visions filling my thoughts. He followed, his yellow eyes egging me on. I pulled out my phone, my iPhone. Not a smart move.

“Dude, get the fuck out of here or I’m calling the police.” Once again, I included dude.

“I don’t care, call Allah. I’ll kill you,” As violent as this sounds, his demeanor remained the same – the yellow eyes looking at me while we moved forward. I should’ve known that the threat of police never worked. Last time I used this tactic, the response was: “I don’t care, I’m not afraid of going back to the penitentiary.” Don’t mess with anyone who calls prison the penitentiary.

As we entered the courtyard of BART, he derailed from my path, heading east to International Blvd. The influx of people defused the situation. I continued on, keeping a close eye on him as I walked with the commuters.

Bypassing the ticket machines, I went straight to the station agent and reported the incident. While explaining what happened to the attendant, I looked toward the turnstiles and the Director of Human Resources at my work was smiling at me, shaking her head. She had witnessed the incident. Her look was one of pity and amusement. I motioned her away. This was a woman who hears all the petty and nasty shit at work, she didn’t need to get involved in my problems.

The attendant handed me a phone and I gave the dispatcher the particulars. An officer appeared and talked to me in hush tones. Before we walked the courtyard, looking for the perp, I established my credentials: “I work in the Tenderloin, so I’m pretty used to this.” He didn’t respond. This was becoming more about me than the incident. He took my name and number and sent me on my way. I was a little embarrassed that I reported such a petty crime, but I justified it by thinking I was doing a public service. Once again, it was about me.

On the train to work, I sank into the dirty, blue bench seat and revisited the incident. Indian software engineers and office workers slept, their heads moving in rhythm of the train. As innocuous as the incident was, it was embarrassing and somewhat tested my manhood. I did right by ignoring the situation, but my heart was telling me to hit him, hit him hard. I believed that hitting him would alleviate the built up anger that followed me the past 2 years. The anger of being in the TL, seeing junkies, johns, prostitutes, druggies, scumbags, scammers, holey rollers, do-gooders, entitled white people and pathetic hotel desk clerks every day; and listening to staff tell me about botched suicide attempts.
But most of all I was sick of seeing poverty, crime and drugs. My optimism was gone, and unhappiness and bad endings was omnipresent. Everybody appeared to be doing poorly; nobody thriving.
By taking my anger out on some miscreant, I believed I would reset. It was a dangerous narrative and I knew it.

As I sat down at my desk, an all-call came across the phone system: “A representative from Costco is here today to talk about membership. He’ll be at the entrance of the lunchroom. Please stop by and say hi.”

Like a slap in the face, the poor salesman from Costco inadvertently added perspective to my morning and the last 2 years. I went upstairs and looked at the salesman. I still wanted to pummel some scumbag, but for now I was glad I wasn’t behind a foldup desk talking about the advantages of a Costco membership.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Cracks in the Sidewalk

On Thursday, a TL hooker and a john were going at it in the alley, across for our roll up door. Groups of staff watched. As the excitement grew, more came to join in the view. Unaware of the street performance, I approached the crowd, inquiring about what was going on. A familiar face pointed across the street. Instead of walking away, I closed the roll-up door. It was the adult thing to do. Some shuffled off, others dissected the spectacle and one or two said, “Officer Kim,” shaking their heads.

A few minutes later, I opened the roll-up. The hooker and john had finished and were zipping up. Without provocation or even a meeting of the eyes, the hooker made a beeline for the roll-up. It caught me off-guard. Usually they wander off, the john back to his car for more trolling and the hooker using the proceeds to buy drugs.

The hooker laboriously shimmied up on our dock and slowly rose to her feet. Having a 6th sense for alley ghouls, who try to breach the line between alley and business, my verbal assault started way before she reached the dock. “Get out, get out!”

I ran for my stick – a giant, discarded wooden soup stirrer (I’m sure there’s a proper name for this thing) - and poked the air in front of her, yelling, “Get out, get out.” Her eyes attempted to focus and her mouth moved but words were indiscernible. She was totally fucked up and had no idea what she was doing. I felt sadness, but I still wanted her to get the fuck out.

My voice calmed and I pleaded with her sanity. Regardless of her illness and inebriation, “Get the Fuck Out” is one directive every TL alley dweller knows. They’re told this countless times every day and react to it like a stern push. She left.

A few hours later, another crowd formed. I grabbed my wooden stirrer and peaked out the window. 2 marginally homeless guys were fighting, one shirtless. Nothing out of the ordinary. They yelled, came together, jumped back , came together and generally did very little damage. A typical TL fight.

Three young men in flat-brimmed baseball caps, budding homeless, a decade away from fulfilling their destiny, danced around the fighters, filming every move and taunting them: “Get’em, Nigga. Get’em.” All the players in the scene were white or of Middle Eastern descent.

I tighten the grip on the wooded stirrer. This was it, my swan song; the culmination of 15 years of bullshit; the day I would join the ranks of the dregs and be a youtube video of an old man beating 3 young guys. I was ready.

The next day I watched the video on youtube. I decided against beating the homeless in-training. As I watched, I touched the wooden stirrer. It gave me comfort.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

One Wall

Most corners of rooms are right angles.

The window on the west wall looks over the Jackson’s house. Miss Jackson’s son, Rocky, was the first person I met when we moved in 10 years ago. I haven’t seen him since. He drove a 70s Charger. I still reference him, if I need to show community spirit.

A mile past the Jackson’s house is Bishop O’Dowd. The east side of their football stadium is visible from the window. On Sundays in the fall, you can hear rumblings of football games. My son may attend O’Dowd, if I can get over the Catholic thing.

5 miles past O’Dowd is the Oakland airport. Planes are silhouettes when viewed from the window. A lot of drama happens between our window and the Oakland airport. We’re kind of drama free except for the yearly break-in.

Attached to the window is a grey wall. Karl, Alex’s brother, painted it. After 10 years, the upper half of the wall has developed a transparent quality, the white paint from its former self exposed. It’s either the result of bad paint or mold. Like a letter from the IRS, I don’t like looking at it. It represents trouble.

Below the window is a small book case that I got at Thrift Town in Fremont. I’m not a fan of most bookcases, but this one is ok. It’s packed with books, the overflow stacked on top and in front. Most of the books are of the non-fiction, contemporary history or sociology ilk. There’s some literature, but that’s not my thing. They’re there for pretention.

On the hardwood floors next to the window is a side table. I got it at a St. Vincent De Paul in Oakland on San Leandro Boulevard. Like lots of other thrift stores, it’s no longer there. I got it with another side table. Both are marked Made in Denmark. This is a good thing if I ever want to resell it. However, like everything I own, it’s a bit flawed.

On the face of the table is a 90s TV. Something is wrong with it. Any time you cough or move, horizontal lines appear. I’ve checked the cables and connections and they’re secure, so it must be the TV. It’s annoying, but I only watch baseball games on it, when my wife is monopolizing the good TV.

Next the TV is my dresser. I got it at Thrift Town in San Leandro. Like the side table, it’s Danish. But it’s from the 70s so it’s a piece of crap, but it’s big and can hold a lot of socks, underwear, t-shirts and jeans. I tried sprucing it up, filling in dents with putty and staining blemishes, but I failed miserably. When it leaves me, it will go for less than 10 dollars to another sucker who is enamored by the Danish mystique.

On top of the dresser is a pile of clothes that is waiting to be put away. Depending on many variables, they could be there for months. Behind them, leaning against the grey wall, is two pieces of art: the first is a painting on wood of a British bobby. Part of the painting is carved, accenting creases in the ears and facial lines. It’s a nice touch. The artist is names Marco Cibali – something like that. He’s from Toronto and pays the bills with commercial design. Lots of artists are pragmatic like that.

Next to Marco is a photograph by Loretta Lux, a German artist. Loretta was very popular back in 2002, when her first USA show at Yossi Milo in NYC sold out immediately. I was lucky enough get a small print of a not-so popular piece. The piece is of a young girl in vintage turquoise clothing, waving like David Bowie on the cover of Heroes. The subject I wanted went to people with connections.

The Lux was prominently hung in our living room for years. Not sure why it’s now leaning against a wall in the bedroom.

Hanging on the wall next to the Lux photograph is a photograph by Zoe Strauss, a punk ass, poorly dressed (more on this later) lesbian street photographer from Philly. This photo is of an abandoned hotel in post Katrina Louisiana. On the outer balcony of one of the upper floors, someone spray-painted “Mom. We’re OK.” Besides the message, it’s a very architectural photo. I like it a lot.

Zoe was featured in the 2002 Whitney Biennial in NYC. Before the event, she appeared on TV’s What Not to Wear. I guess she needed something to wear and had no idea of going about it. I suspect she’s back to her disheveled ways.

Also on the dresser is a ball the size of a hacky sack, pictures of our deceased animals, ashes of our deceased animals, strewn change and a jewelry box from my father. At the base of the dresser is launder clothes, stacked on a dining room chair. It’s almost like a piece of furniture,

This is just one wall in our room.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

No Parking by Tom Pitts

When Jerry pulled up to the apartment, there was already a car parked in the driveway. It was a new car, or at least a newer model, a re-worked throwback to the muscle cars of the 70’s. He knew it was none of the neighbors; they never parked in his spot. He’d bought a No Parking sign when they moved in, but it was never a problem, so he never hung it up. Jerry sat in his car wondering who could be so obnoxious. He waited for about a minute, when no one appeared, he pulled away to find somewhere else to park his car.

It had been a tough day, his mind was overworked and he’d forgotten to turn on the radio on the way home. He liked to listen to music on the way home. It was his own time, the only time he could really choose what was on the radio without his wife or kids complaining. They hated whatever station he tuned into and complained endlessly until he’d switch it. Now, circling the block for a second time, he felt like he’d cheated himself out of his only serenity. Like missing a meal, he was worried that his day’s rhythm would be thrown; that he was ill-prepared to deal with what the rest of the day was ready to serve. He reached out and turned up the volume just in time to hear a string of ads as he continued circling his block searching for a parking spot.

After finally finding a spot and squeezing in, Jerry climbed out of the car and walked toward the apartment building. As he got closer he saw the unfamiliar car still in the driveway. It looked out of place there. The oil stains on the sidewalk under the car looked like they didn’t belong there. The car was superior to the driveway. In fact, the small dirty six unit apartment building looked like it didn’t belong there either. The car was new. It was masculine, powerful, youthful, everything the commercial promised it would be. It was not a model that Jerry could afford, and if he could afford it, it was not one he would buy.

As he walked toward the door, Jerry couldn’t help but peek into the muscle car. Around the rearview mirror hung a palm tree air freshener, in the back seat there was a 12-pack of American beer and a suitcase. Otherwise, the car was spotless.

Jerry opened the heavy metal gate and began walking up the stairs. He could hear laugher. He still couldn’t tell if it was coming from his apartment. The walk up the stairs winded him, like it did every night.

The laughing voices, he could tell now, were coming from inside his apartment. With the key in his hand, Jerry stood in front of the door listening. The voices sounded comfortable and relaxed. The social sounds of people having a good time. These sounds were foreign to Jerry and hearing them come from inside his home filled him with a confusing dread. Laughter from his wife’s voice filled the air and he slid the key into the lock.

“Hello? Sarah?” he said, feeling a bit like stranger in his own home. The strong smell of cigarette smoke assaulted his nostrils. There was a warm and spicy note on top of the smoke, too. Had someone been baking?

“Hi honey,” his wife called out, “you remember Eric. He came by to see Karen.” Jerry didn’t respond so she added, “Isn’t that great?”

“Yeah …” said Jerry. There was a grin frozen on his face. He wondered if it looked as fake as it felt, if it had melted into a sneer when he reached out to shake Eric’s hand.

“Jerry, what’s up?” said Eric smiling, not getting up from his chair. Eric grabbed Jerry’s hand and squeezed it hard. Jerry winced.

“What … ah … what brings you up here?” Up here, down here, Jerry had no idea where Eric had come from, or for that matter where he had been the last eight years.

“I came by to see the kid. I thought Karen might like to get out to Six Flags or something. You know, a break from her life.” Eric was Karen’s natural father. Jerry came into Sarah and Karen’s life after Eric had abandoned them. Not long afterward either, Eric’s name was still haunting phone messages and the mailbox when Jerry moved into the tiny house in the Lakeview district. The house, long since re-rented, re-sold, and then torn down, had been a starting spot for Jerry and Sarah and an end for Sarah’s old life with Eric. The only history that Jerry knew was what Sarah had told him, an anguishing story of abuse and alcoholism.

“Her life?” Jerry was trying to understand what it was she needed “a break” from.

“Yeah,” Sarah interjected, “I was just telling Eric about Karen’s school and how she’s having a rough time there. We thought that a little break might be just what she needed.” Her words flowed fast and may have been slurred a little. Jerry noticed several beer cans piled atop the kitchen garbage. He also noticed Sarah’s use of the word “we”. A parental decision had been made without him. Another parent had voted in his place, a parent who had seniority in his family hierarchy.

Sarah went on, “Eric could take her, and maybe me too. Eric’s been working near town here and he thought he might be able to see her more often.” Work? In all her stories and complaints about Eric, Sarah had never mentioned him having a job. Quite the opposite. She always said that Eric would rather sit in a prison cell than work for a living. Jerry had never met Eric. He assumed that this was true. Seeing him close up, he began to question the picture Sarah had painted of him.

After all the years of having a tidy picture of Eric, having him pigeon-holed as a dead beat dad, here he was, live and in the flesh, sitting across from Jerry, destroying that picture. Eric was good looking and tanned. He seemed both relaxed and well rested, a look that Jerry could never cultivate. When Eric smiled, he showed off perfect white teeth. There was an undeniable charisma. His presence was the only thing in the room. It diminished Jerry, made him feel like a schoolboy again.

“Jerry, you wanna beer?” Eric said, pulling open the fridge door like it was his own. Jerry wanted to say “no”, he wanted to say “no” to everything that Eric was going to ask. He wanted badly to say “no” the very idea of Eric.

“Uh … sure,” said Jerry. Eric reached into the refrigerator and pulled out a can of American beer for Jerry. Jerry nodded thank you. He hated American beer. As soon as he cracked it, Eric lifted his half full beer and said, “Here’s to Karen.”

Jerry lifted up his beer, even though he thought his step daughter was a strange thing to toast to. Why would they toast to Karen? Jerry looked back down at the garbage and tried to count how many beer cans there were. How long had Eric been here?

“So, Jerry, how’s life down at the plant?”

“Plant? I don’t work at a plant, I work at a place that screens t-shirts.”

“Yeah, well, plant, factory, whatever. Splittin’ hairs when it comes to names, job’s a job, right?”

“Right,” said Jerry. He knew that Eric wasn’t listening to what he was saying. When he spoke, Eric looked Sarah in the eye, not Jerry. An uncomfortable silence filled polluted the air.

“So, Eric, what do you do for a living now days?” asked Jerry.

Eric gave Jerry a patronizing look and used a tone that was reserved for talking to someone who couldn’t grasp the answer.

“I’m doing some work with some fellas just down the peninsula. It’s going quite well.”

Before Jerry could ask him to clarify his answer, the dog began to yelp. There was the loud crash of the gate closing downstairs.

“That must be Karen, she’s gonna be so excited,” said Sarah.

They sat looking at each other, listening to Karen’s footsteps coming up the stairs. Sarah and Eric both had tight expectant grins on their faces. Jerry’s face was slack and pale. The front door creaked open.

“Hello-o?” said Karen. She was fifteen years old and had only recently begun taking the bus home from school. Karen usually beat Jerry home by a couple of hours.

“It’s a little late to be getting home isn’t it?” Jerry asked, but his question was downed out by greetings.

“Karen,” cried Sarah, “look who’s here. Eric. Do you recognize him? Of course you do.”

Eric took over. “Oh my god, what a beauty! My little girl is all grown up. You look beautiful, so mature.”

Jerry felt marginalized, invisible. He stood in the middle of the room wanting to disagree. No, she’s not grown up. No, she’s not mature, she’s only fifteen for Christ’s sakes, and, no, she does not remember this a-hole that was just referred to as her father. I’m her damn father. But he didn’t say anything; he just stood there with the same painful look on his face that he was trying to force into a smile.

“Hang on a sec, I brought you something.” Eric reached into his leather jacket and handed Karen a CD shrink wrapped in cellophane. “It’s the new Mirror Ball Tramps CD.”

“Oh my god,” Karen’s tone instantly changed, “this isn’t even out yet!”

“Their road manager is a good friend of mine, if you want to see ‘em we’re in.” Eric was smiling at her with those white teeth.

“Are you serious? Yes I wanna go. When?” Karen was smiling back at him now too. She had forgotten that one of these men was her father, Jerry wondered which one.

“Whenever, I’ll make some calls.” Eric’s answer was ambiguous, but apparently good enough for Karen, who grinned with excitement and retreated to her room with her new CD.

“That was easy,” said Eric, shooting a wink across the kitchen at Sarah. Was Jerry not supposed to see the wink? Was the wink meant for him to see? He was right beside them both. The beer was making his stomach feel empty.

The conversation returned to where it was before Jerry had come home. There was no talk of beatings or abandonment; there was no talk of missing child support. No complaints of missed birthdays, Christmases, report cards, anything. The only memories they were now sharing were good ones. They talked about friends they shared that Jerry didn’t know. They talked about places that Jerry had never been. They talked excitedly over top one another and Jerry never got a word in. He sat, acting like he was listening, but letting his mind drift as far away as possible.

After two more beers Eric got up to go to the bathroom. It was then Jerry saw how tall he was, much taller than Jerry, he seemed to fill the whole kitchen. It was as though he was too big for their tiny apartment. He was larger than life and couldn’t be contained by the hum-drum constraints of Jerry’s tiny apartment and life.

When they heard bathroom door shut, Jerry saw his chance to voice his opinion, to say, what the fuck is going on here?

“Sarah …” was as far as he got.

“Don’t start now, Jerry. You’ve been complaining for years how Eric was never here to help out, now he’s here and you’re ready to jump down his throat.”

“I’ve been complaining? You’re the one who’s painted this fucker as the devil. And what does ‘help out’ mean, anyway?”

Before she could answer him the bathroom door opened and Eric came out extolling a satisfied “Aahhh.”

Jerry tried to continue with the momentum he’d built up while Eric was in the bathroom.

“Eric, what kind of work did you say you were doing down the peninsula?”

“Work again, Jerr? Come on let’s talk about something a little less boring. I mean, work is work, am I right?”

Sarah shot Jerry a look that admonished him for slowing down the conversation and they moved on from there.

“Do you ever hear from little Ricky?” asked Sarah. Jerry tuned back out. He could hear the muffled sounds of the Mirror Ball Tramps coming from Karen’s room. Normally he would tell her to turn it down, but right now the steady thump helped drown out the sound of the conversation in the kitchen as his wife’s voice peaked and crested with excitement. Between Sarah’s giggles and Karen’s noise, Jerry felt a heavy pull on his chest. He tried to sigh, but the mere effort of drawing a breath was too much labor for him. He was exhausted and could not even bring himself to yawn. He took another sip of his beer, it was flat now. He set it down and didn’t say anything.

“Jerry. Jerry...Jerry.”

At first he didn’t even recognize his wife’s voice.

“Jerry, we’re gonna go for ice cream. Eric’s gonna take us in his new Charger.”

It wasn’t an invitation.

“Are you sure?” said Jerry, looking again at the empties piled high atop the kitchen garbage.

Sarah smirked. “Of course, he’s fine, he can handle it.” She didn’t say “unlike you,” she didn’t have to. She would never let him get behind the wheel even after one beer. Before he could ask Karen if she wanted to go, she was in the living room pulling on her jacket.

“Bye Daddy,” she said from across the room.

“Okay then, Jer,” said Eric as he held open the front door for Sarah.

“Bye, Hon. Love ya,” was all Sarah said. She didn’t wait for a response. Eric pulled the door shut. Jerry could hear them laugh and chuckle down the stairs until he heard the metal gate slam shut.

Jerry stood at the window and watched them get into the sleek new car. A memory floated up. Jerry thought about the time it used to take the three of them to get into that old white station wagon they used to have. Brown with mud and perpetually full of garbage, the car would burp blue smoke until they were safely out on the open road. What piece of shit that was. In a way, he missed the car that took them on so many camping trips and Sunday drives. Sarah always told him it wasn’t the car that made the man. She said the same thing about clothes, and money too. She always knew just what to say.

Jerry watched now as the car he could never afford, and would never buy if he could, pulled out of the driveway with his family. It was dark now and he stood like a sentinel and watched the taillights disappear down the street. All that was in front of his home now was an empty driveway with a large oil stain. His oil stain. He thought about it; he was a terrible procrastinator. He should have put up that No Parking sign weeks ago.

Tom Pitts 5\16\2011

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Young Guns

It was unfortunate that the monthly staff meeting fell 2 days after Toby decided to steal a vehicle and say fuck it to the last two years of employment. It was his choice, I knew that, but it was still depressing. Unfortunately, this mode of so-called resigning was common.

Everybody was aware that he wasn’t at work and that something happened. They asked me but I held the party line: “He called in sick.” It was all I was giving them; it was all I could give them. They knew it was bullshit. Rumors were swelling and everybody had opinions.

In private, with certain staff, I would reveal a little more information: “He’s not coming back. He’s ok, but he’s not coming back.” For somebody with a very big mouth, this was not easy.

At the staff meeting , the inevitable came early. I knew it would. Nobody cared about my reiteration of phone policy, cleaning vehicles after use and the proper way to fill-out an accident report. They wanted to know about Toby.

“Greg, so what happened to Toby?” a driver asked. I looked at him, smirked, raising my eyebrows and said, “I’m sorry. Really, I’m sorry, but I can’t tell you. All I can tell you that he’s not coming back.” Revealing that he wasn’t coming back – information that was private at this point, was too much information. I stopped and tried to retract what I said: “Well, he might be back, I’m not sure. It’s not up to me.” I like to use “It’s not up to me.” It implies that decisions are made upstairs and were out of my control.

Instead of moving on and talking about a required Sexual Harassment training, I told them this:

“Do you remember Young Guns II? You know, the one with Keifer, Estevez and Lou Diamond Phillips?” I paused. They were still paying attention, holding out hope that this would somehow lead to more information. I continued, “The producers of that movie wanted to use Bon Jovi’s Wanted: Dead or Alive for the closing credits.” With the mention of Bon Jovi, I immediately lost them. They knew me well, having attended these monthly meetings. They knew that I liked to deviate from the business at hand.

Last month, after seeing Crass (band), the king of all dogmatic, anarchist punk bands, I answered all questions at staff meetings with: “Well, what do you think Crass would do?” Most knew the band so it went over well. At least I felt it did.

The time before that the first words out of my mouth were: “I’m not in a good mood. I’ve been listening to Shania Twain all morning.” It was a lie – not the Shania part, but the being in a bad mood part. I was in a fine mood and it was because of Shania. Her feminist anthem That Don’t Impress Me Much sparked rich images of 90’s girl power, which I relished and drank from. But fantasy was not enough. Before the meeting, I snuck into the meeting room and wrote That Don’t Impress Me Much” on a whiteboard. I closed the doors to the whiteboard (oddly, it had doors). At the meeting, I baited staff to question what I was saying. When one of them took the bait, I slowly got up, walked over to the whiteboard and dramatically opened the doors. I pointed to the song title and in my best No Scrubs TLC affect, wagging my finger, said, “That Don’t Impress Me Much.” My look was sassy and I was very proud of myself.

I continued on about Jovi: “They approached Jovi about using Wanted: Dead or Alive and he came up with a better idea. At this time, remember, Jovi was very into the western/cowboy/native thing, wearing Native chest plates and donning cowboy hats.” I said this like Jovi history was common knowledge. Some were paying attention, wondering where this was going, and the others were staring at the table.

“Jovi had a better idea, though. He told them that he’d write a new song that sounded exactly like Wanted: Dead or Alive.” I waited to see if they knew the song I was talking about. The story was coming to an end and I was excited.

“And that song was…Blaze of Glory!” Like most of my stories, it was met with blank stares. They’d forgotten what the story pertained to. I had to remind them.

“And Toby went out in a Blaze of Glory.”

Monday, June 6, 2011

When He First Got Out by Tom Pitts

When he first got out he enjoyed the mundane. It was the little things, he told himself, that made every day worth living. He would walk slowly down the aisles of the grocery store, taking in the sounds and smells, the peaches in the produce, the bread in the bakery. He would hear the nostalgic music being pumped into the store and whistle out of key as he stared absentmindedly at sale prices on stuff he had no intention of buying.

He would take long walks along the beach. Listening to the surf hitting the beach, he’d wonder about God and the vastness of the universe, ponder the passage of time. He would try not to morn the loss of his own time by making little promises to himself. He promised to live in the moment and read more, eat more, see more, do more; to slow down, but to never stop living.

Reflection was his watchword. He was a quiet man now. When he did speak to people, it was with an apology or an “excuse me.” Mild mannered. Unassuming.

For a while it worked too. He could appreciate a cloudy day as much as a sunny one. He took in the bitter with the sweet. He would drink in all of his emotions, good and bad, like fine wine, savoring each individual flavor. His time without time had truly taught him to live.

Inside, monotony was all he knew. It was like a poison slowly killing him. On the outside, monotony was like a drug, keeping him stable, keeping his head straight. It was the little things, he told himself. That’s what he told himself inside too, that he’d never forget to appreciate the little things.

He worked his job, stocking giant shelves in a giant warehouse that shipped restaurant supplies. He learned a little Spanish from his co-workers, a little bit of Chinese from the customers. He already knew about patience, about drudgery. He practiced those each day like they were ancient arts.

He felt as though he’d found the secret. It was in a simple life, simple acts, simple needs, and simple dreams. Those barefooted Buddhists had nothing on him. Solitude was a reward, not a punishment. Silence was golden. Patience did have its own rewards.

It was almost two years after he got out before things began to unravel. It was on the number 14 bus, on his way home from work. He watched a young man tell an elderly lady to fuck off. The young man didn’t want to give up his seat on the bus. The kid just sat there, selfish, self-absorbed. He stood up and surrendered his own seat. It was further back in the bus. The elderly lady walked back, thanked him, and sat down. That was it. Problem solved.

The next day, he woke up late. He made it down to the restaurant supply store on time, but he was rushed, had no time for coffee. When he got on the bus, it was later than normal, the rush hour. The bus was full; he was forced to stand. The business people that closed in around him stank of colognes, perfumes, and hairspray. The air was claustrophobic and damp.

People on the bus looked at him, looked at him in the way that people looked at him after he got out, when they knew where he had been. They looked at him like he was different, wrong. His face felt hot and feverish; he got off the bus three stops early.

He was relieved to get off the bus into the morning air. Immediately his head began to cool as he strolled quietly toward his work. He reached the front door and slipped in without saying hello to anyone. He walked to the stockroom refrigerator and put away his lunch. Carlos told him Eduardo called in sick so he would have to do most of today’s inventory by himself. Semi-trucks would be in that afternoon to pick up orders that needed to be pulled and inventoried. It would have been a tough two-man job, but with only one, the task seemed insurmountable.

He knew that Eduardo wasn’t sick. He was hung-over. Eduardo drank like a fish. With his eyes bulging from a thyroid condition and his puffy lips hanging off his face, he thought Eduardo looked a bit like a fish too. They both knew today was going to be tough. Four Semi-trucks heading to the northern part of the state were to be packed and loaded before three p.m. Eduardo picked a hell of a time for another mid-week bender.

Dumb fucking Mexican.

Eduardo was from El Salvador. Or maybe it was Nicaragua. Carlos told him to do the best he could. He wondered where the fuck Carlos was from. No one ever asked him where he was from. They all assumed it was right here, that he’d been here all his life. He felt no need to tell them otherwise.

The day was long. The trucks were early, the shipments late. Carlos yelled at him in English, he yelled at him in Spanish. Every time he moved it seemed he crushed his thumb, smacked his knee, bumped his head.

The trucks were finally gone. His day was finally over. He felt older than he ever had his whole life. He nodded a goodnight to Carlos, who stood speaking Spanish to a small cluster of his co-workers. Carlos ignored him and kept on talking. It didn’t bother him. He wasn’t here to make friends.

It was later than usual when he left. The sweatshops had let out and the bus was full of loud-speaking Chinese ladies who were just as anxious to get home as he was. He sat in the back of the bus trying to rest his head against the window. He sat, staring out into the darkness, head bouncing against the glass, not thinking of anything.

To him, the Chinese ladies sounded as though they were fighting. Every few minutes he would open his eyes and check to see that they were still smiling. He was beginning to block out their volume when a young white girl sat down right in front of him. She had a toddler with her, a snot-nosed little boy who immediately pulled himself up on the seat back and began coughing in his face. The mother ignored the child. He wanted to say something. Cover your mouth. Turn around. Take that fucking whore of a mother of yours and get the fuck out of my face. But instead, he just sat silent. When the child upgraded the cough to a sneeze, he got off the bus.

He was six long blocks from home. Home was a residential hotel. Two years busting his ass and he still lived in that shithole. He was better off in the half-way house.

He unlocked the door to his room and sat down on the bed. He felt like a cigarette. It had been years since he smoked. He gave it up when he went away. It was easy to quit inside. A bottle of Kentucky whiskey sat unopened on the dresser, left over from a date that never happened. He wondered if it would make him feel better, or worse. Instead he lay back and closed his eyes. He fell fast asleep with all his clothes on.

He slept without dreaming and woke up feeling like he hadn’t slept at all. He sat up in bed, unfocused and bleary, staring into space. The first thing he thought of was a cigarette. The second thing he thought about what day it was. It was Saturday. This week had gone so sour; he thought he’d never see the weekend. He got up, pissed in the sink and went back to bed. The fucking roses can stop and sniff themselves today.

When he woke up it was almost four o’clock. He decided he was going to open that whiskey. He cracked the seal and spun open the cap. The burn in his chest was warm and familiar. For the first time in a week he felt good. He felt like he deserved a little more than this shithole room and his shithole job. He took another drink. He felt like he deserved some of the most basic comforts. A little bit of what everyone else was already getting. He felt like getting laid.

He could still feel the warmth in his chest when he hit the street. He was hungry, horny, and he had seventy dollars in his pocket. There was a diner just a few blocks away, the old fashioned kind, with mediocre food and high prices. He spent seven dollars on a burger that tasted like shit and another three on a beer that went flat before he finished the burger.

He looked down at the remains of his burger and felt unsatisfied. Maybe he should just go home. Getting laid suddenly seemed like a stupid and expensive idea. He didn’t have the time or the money, or, most of all, the energy to play at mating rituals in a bar somewhere. He was too old and too ugly for the singles’ scene; they could sense that he was not okay. He was creepy and he knew it. Whores were the way to go for him. He pushed his plate away, calculated his tip and threw down some cash.

The wind had picked up, blowing in the San Francisco night, making the air sting his face. He hiked through the Tenderloin, zig-zagging upward though the streets toward the track, the two or three blocks where the whores still had cunts. He passed liquor stores with small crowds of bums outside, each with his hand out asking for change. They asked for cigarettes while one dangled from their mouths. He stepped over unconscious bums on the sidewalk, quietly regretting not choosing that path in life. True freedom. From responsibility, from working, from the man, even from consciousness. What a quiet joy it must be not to have to think these thoughts, to maintain this body, to bother with the effort of life.

“Choo got a big dick?” a transvestite called out to him from a doorway. He stopped to look at her, squinting as though she were a mirage. Fake tits squeezed together in a leather bra, fishnet stockings pulled over her cartoonish wide hips. She wore no pants, but he dared not look at her crotch. He knew she was a man. He knew from where he was, what block he was on. He knew she was a man because, in this town, the whores without dicks never looked that good.

“Nah, I got a regular sized dick. Sorry, sweetheart.”

“Choo wanna date me? Choo ever fuck one of us?” she said and, without missing a beat, showed him two perfect breasts. Surgically altered perfection. He thought about the rest of the walk up Polk Street. He was tired. Those bitches up there were mean. They’d go through your pockets while they sucked your dick. Did he really need a pussy? Wouldn’t a blow job be enough?

She could see him hesitate. It had been a long dry spell tonight. Too much competition. There were more trannies on the street than Johns. She hadn’t turned one trick all night.

He was looking right into her eyes, past false eyelashes, gobs and gobs of mascara, into her eyes, into her soul. Trying to check the gender there. He kept his eyes leveled at hers and decided.

“Let’s go.”

She walked ahead of him. He watched her surgically enhanced fat ass shift from side to side as she led him down Ellis Street and up Larkin to her hotel. It was a shithole just like his. They passed the front desk and the East Indian gentleman with the sneer on his face.

“That’s another six dollars,” the man called out after them. “I’m counting you. I’m counting you.”

Just another statistic. He followed the fat ass up the stairs, his CDC inmate number rolling rhythmically through his head. J-58624. Jay dash five eight six two four. She led him into her room. The walls were covered with sheets like some cheap harem tent. Christmas lights added a soft red orange light. The smell of mildew, lube, and incense choked the air. She went right to the clock radio on the nightstand and turned up the volume on some anonymous disco and the beat throbbed into the air.

She turned to him and said, “What you want me to do, pappy?”

“You got a cigarette?” he asked.

“Choo nervous? It’s okay; I only bite you if you want to be bited.” She smiled revealing one immaculately shined gold tooth.

He sat down on the bed and watched her wiggle across the room, moving her hips to the tinny sound coming from the clock radio. He tried to let himself go. To forget where he was; the sheets pinned to the wall, the implants shaking at him, the thick pancake of make-up, it was the worst façade. He wanted that Kentucky whiskey.

“You like some party favors?” she said, pulling out a tiny square plastic baggie.

“No,” he said, and watched her pour just a little into a glass bowl no bigger than a grape on the end of a glass stem. He’d done meth in the old days, before he went away. A line here and there, punk rock nihilism, when losing a night of sleep felt like getting away with something. Industrial strength stuff that would keep you up way longer than you wanted to be. He’d never seen anyone smoke the stuff. It seemed half the new guys who were getting sent up said it was behind someone smoking meth. He watched her lips wrap around the glass stem. Her lips looked good. He liked her lipstick.

She stood still as she inhaled and then began to dance again as she exhaled and turned toward him.

“You wanna touch them?” she said, squeezing her breasts together. He shook his head, but kept looking at her tits, then at her eyes, and then at her tits. She danced a little closer and bent down and touched his knees. He fell back and let her do her job. She did her job well. He tried to focus on some fantasy that would take him out of that room, that situation, but couldn’t; the sucking was too intense, too focused. His mind wouldn’t let him think, it was all instinctual sexual reflex. He unloaded with ease. Long and satisfying.

Afterward he watched her go back to the pipe. He noticed for the first time the tiny whiskers on her lips, how the pancake-make up really didn’t cover her acne scarred face. He thought of those bitches in the joint. Kool-aid make-up, charcoal eyeliner, knotted shirts and no eyebrows. He felt a little sick.

She motioned for him to join her by holding out the glass pipe. He didn’t even think, he stood up, reached out and let her hold the Bic lighter under the glass bowl. He inhaled, held it in, and felt nothing. He exhaled and felt the euphoria rush up to his brain. He was instantly regretful. His mind began to race and he wanted to get out of that hotel room.

“What’s wrong, pappy? You no like the tina?” She smiled at him with those big metal teeth. He could feel his lip quiver. He wondered if she could notice it. He shouldn’t care. He needed to leave. “Do you have a cigarette?” The sound of his voice was far off and tinny, he wondered if he had said it out loud.

“Choo wanna stay? Choo wanna smoke this?” He noticed her thumb run lightly over a bulge in her panties. Her attitude had changed; she was bolder now, teasing him. He felt his teeth clamp together.

“Do you have a fucking cigarette or not?” He knew he said that out loud. The smile disappeared from her face. Slowly she pulled out a pack of Benson and Hedges Menthol. He might as well be sucking dick, he thought.

She glared right at him while he took out one of the long white-tipped cigarettes and, with the lighter she was using for the speed, lit it for him. He watched her. He could feel his heart beating. For one quick second, he saw himself on top of her, knees pinning her arms, holding her eye open with one hand and holding that cigarette against her eyeball with the other. He felt goose bumps all over his body. He could almost hear the sizzle of the cherry pressing up against the white of her eye.

He took a long drag off that cigarette. Menthol. He needed to buy some real smokes.

“Thanks,” he said. “I gotta go. I gotta be at work in the morning.” It wasn’t true. It was still Saturday night; he didn’t have to be in till Monday morning. He wasn’t sure if he’d ever go in again. But if he did go in Monday morning, that fucking Eduardo better not be hung-over.

The sights and sounds of the Tenderloin night assaulted him when he hit the sidewalk. He took a right on Larkin and walked through little Saigon. Homosexuals, hobos, fish markets, massage parlors. He stopped into a small market and bought more cigarettes.

“Matches, please.”

The clerk stared at him like he had no idea what matches were. There was strange music playing in the store. It was like having an insect buzzing inside your ear. He reached across the counter and grabbed two packs himself. The clerk recoiled and wrinkled his noise like he had smelled something bad.

Outside, he stood in a doorway and lit his cigarette. He stood looking out into the street, the night, and tried to separate himself from the person who was just in the room with that whore. He thought again about those freaks in prison, the blue shirts tied in a knot, the high-pitched whine of their voices. He shuttered. A car slowed down in front of him. Then it stopped. The tinted window did not roll down; the car sat in front of him.

“Fuck off,” he said to the window. He was staring right into his own reflection.

The car pulled away. They were cruising. They were cruising him. He had stopped too long in the wrong spot. Fucking freaks. He kept walking. He walked up Polk Street, up and away from the Tenderloin.

He was all the way to California Street when he saw her. She was beautiful. She was alone. He wondered what she was even doing out here. She didn’t belong. He saw her look up and down the street and watched the wind blow black her shoulder length blond hair. He knew she wasn’t lost. Was she working? Who was she looking for? Her pimp?

What was wrong with him? She wasn’t a whore. She was too good looking to be a whore. Too smart. She looked as though she would talk to him directly, speak her mind, be opinionated.

Suddenly she turned and walked up toward Van Ness. He looked across the intersection and saw a police cruiser. Is that why she is on the move? Or was it him, standing across the street, staring?

He started walking right after her. He didn’t even think about it. He wanted to know her. He wanted to talk to her. He wanted her to make him forget this day, his life up until this moment. He wanted her to be the one to invite him back in to world, into society, the one who would say, “He’s all right, he’s with me. He’ll be fine.”

He could hear his own footsteps. The rhythm quickening, coming up on hers, overtaking them.

He didn’t know what he would say. He wasn’t sure what he would do. He just wanted an opening. He reached in his pocket for his Marlboros.

“Excuse me. Do you have a light?”

She stopped, turned and looked directly into his eyes.

At first he thought that she’d recognized him. There was a glimmer of warmth. Perhaps they did know each other. That was why he saw her, connected with her. What did they call it? Serendipity? She was relieved that he’d finally spoke up.

But the warmth in her eyes cooled fast. She was smiling now. Laughing. She knew this approach, knew he has matches in his pocket. Heard this line before, heard them all before.

Is that all you got?

She was no whore. No whore would have laughed at him. She was a stranger, a bitch. He’d never seen her before in his life. There was no way she knew him. Yet she kept smiling right at him. She knew where he’d been and she wasn’t afraid. It made him feel like a child. She could never be with a man like him. Hardly a man at all.

“No,” she said. When he didn’t look away, she offered him a polite smile.

He reached into his pocket and felt his keys. He held them tight in his fist. He could feel a key between each of his fingers, the key to his mailbox, the key to the front gate, and the key to his room. He pulled his fist from his pocket and, with one quick motion, punched her on the side of the head as hard as he could. She went down instantly.

She looked up at him, confused; blood had started to flow from her hairline. He gave her no chance to respond. He got down on top of her, pinning her arms with his knees, and began to hit her, again and again. He hit her in the head, but his fingers began to hurt from the keys hitting the bone. He switched to her neck. There he could feel the keys puncture her skin. Her body was done fighting; she’d already lost consciousness. He could hear shouts and screaming. Now he could hear sirens. He kept punching her, keys fixed in his hand; no one was stopping him. There were no heroes tonight. His hands were hurting. Part of him was outside his body, wanting him to stop, pulling on his shirt, urging him to run.

It was too late. The sirens were now drowning everything out. He could hear the shouts of police commands, the crackle their radios. It was all over now.

Let’s see how that fucking Eduardo likes packing those trucks by himself.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

If You Leave Me Now

Exiting at Eden Canyon Road, the Driver’s Education instructor had her pull over in a dirt patch. She put it in park and got out of the car. The instructor looked at me and said, “You’re up.” I was in the middle of three students in the back of a Ford Granada. The car was outfitted with an additional break on the floorboard of the passenger side, for the sake of safety. The instructor used it liberally. I pushed way my way out and sat in the driver’s seat.

This was the last stop in obtaining our driver’s license. Our course work was over. We had already been scared straight with Red Asphalt; simulators taught us to watch out for old bag ladies who were prone to leaping into traffic and manuals explained the correct speed limit when approaching train tracks that were 40 yards from an elementary school. It was a long process, but it was worth it – the end result was a driver’s license.

It was winter of 1980, a dreary Sunday that leant more to depression than religion, a time when businesses still closed for the Sabbath and streets were relatively empty, due to a slower pace of life.

I turned left and followed the frontage road back into town. Driving under the speed limit, the instructor told me to speed up. At Foothill, a road that claimed at least one student a year, I made a right, passing my high school. Decades later, often on Sundays, I found myself driving this stretch of road, looking up at the familiar burnt East Bay hills and squat oak trees.

Knowing the history of the road, and being an inexperienced driver, I hugged the shoulder, wincing anytime a car would pass. When the sound of the tires went from pavement to gravel, the instructor would gently grab the steering wheel with his left hand and steer the car back on the road. With a ten and two death grip on the steering wheel, this road scared the shit out of me.

We drove around town, up near the church, then back to Foothill on our way to Sunol, the adjacent town where the cowboy kids at our school lived. I always liked Sunol and knew the streets were relatively free of cars. This was good for a new driver. I’d had enough passing cars on a two-lane road.

Clipboard in hand and writing God knows what about my driving, the instructor told me to make a left onto a dead end street. I figured I would be tested on a three-point turn. Instead, he said to pull over. This was not uncommon. There lots of starts and stopping, and changing of the drivers. I figured my driving time was up.

I sat in the driver’s seat waiting for instructions. The instructor glanced longingly out the passenger side window at a country house that was parallel to the car. The A.M. radio played “If You Leave Me Now” by Chicago.

If you leave me now, you'll take away the biggest part of me
No baby please don't go
If you leave me now, you'll take away the very heart of me
No baby please don't go

Without taking his eyes of the house, he broke the silence by dramatically turning off the radio and saying: “I hate songs like this.” Not knowing what to say, all of us sat stone faced and silent.

Seeing the looks on our faces, he attempted to explain why were parked, looking at a farm house in Sunol: “My ex-wife lives there.”

Even at 15, I knew this wasn’t right. He was a stalker, a man in a pain over bad love. It was moments like this that I started to put together that my charmed life could easily turn to shit and that it could be me driving by the ex’s house.

He turned around and looked at a girl with glasses in the backseat: “You’re up, Four Eyes.” His attempt at humor diffused the situation. Four Eyes took over and I moved to the back.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Friend of Skinhead or Not

Izzy and Trevor were an odd pair, a Texan and a Filipino German. Only in a work environment could they exist. What they lacked in common ground, they made up in fast food. Both loved Taco Bell, McDonald’s and Burger King, but KFC was their favorite.

At the corner of Ellis and Polk, KFC shares a space with Taco Bell. Next door is Brenda’s, a fancy Cajun place that TL hipsters and tourists from the Phoenix and other mid-to-low level hotels in the neighborhood frequent.

Izzy and Trevor, by my observations, dined at KFC every day. The 3 piece plated chicken was their favorite; however, if the Pot Pie was fresh, they would get that. Only if it was fresh.

Like a sales associate at Neiman Marcus calling to inform you that they just received new shoes from Marc Jacobs’ resort wear line, Izzy and Trevor built a similar relationship with the employees at KFC. Instead of shoes, they would call them when Pot Pies came out of the oven.

One day around lunch time, after morning duties, I heard Izzy’s phone ring. He answered and quickly left through the back door, yelling at Trevor: “Let’s go, Trevor. Fantasia called and said the Pot Pies just came out of the oven.” And off they went.

Izzy asked Fantasia out. Years of seeing her everyday bolstered his confidence. She agreed and he bought tickets to the Halloween cruise around the bay. Before the date arrived, he learned that Fantasia had a night job: hooker. Of course, he shared this with us. Since it had been a long, long time since he had a date, let alone sex, we counseled him to continue on with the date, as long as he didn’t pay for it at the end of the night.

Izzy didn’t take our advice and went stag to the cruise.

On this day, Trevor went to the KFC alone. While in line, a local crackhead entered from the street and started yelling at Trevor. As much as he wanted to tell her to fuck off, he ignored her, as this wasn’t an uncommon occurrence. He was versed in the Tenderloin and knew engaging her would be pointless.

Sitting at a corner booth, a skinhead sporting the uniform - bomber jacket, Fred Perry and 18 eyelet Docs with white laces – stood up and yelled, “Get the fuck out of here, bitch.” The room froze, preparing for drama. The crackhead acquiesced and left quietly through the same doors she entered. The room breathed a sigh of relief and turned to the skinhead, who was still standing. The anger in his face had not subsided.

Trevor made the mistake of looking at him. The skinhead looked back, saluted and yelled, “Sieg Heil.” He calmly sat down and went back to eating with his skin chick girlfriend. With the skinhead out of the way, eyes now turned to Trevor, whose own eyes showed fear, knowing that the customers assumed he was associated with the skinhead.

Whether he knew it or not, the “Sieg Heil” was thrown his way. If it were a bullet, it would’ve hit him in the chest. Like a scene from a Woody Allen, Trevor looked around with a half-smile, silently attempting to convey to the predominately African American customer base that he was not with the skinhead. He appreciated that he got the crackhead to leave, but he didn’t agree with the his politics or supported his tactics. He knew this was futile, though.

Instead of following the crackhead out the door, he stayed in line, feeling the derision and stares encircling him. But he was hungry and this was his place. The Pot Pies were fresh. He’d earned his place in line and wasn’t moving – friend of skinhead or not.

Friday, May 6, 2011

The Evolution of the Douchebag Tattoo

Chris’ mom claimed that anyone with 3 or more tattoos was a sexual deviant. By definition, Chris and her husband were sexual deviants. According to my observations, anyone with one tattoo is a douchebag. By definition, I’m a douchebag.

While wading in the extensive pool at the Grand Hyatt in Maui last week, I had lots of time to observe women and men in various stages of undress, with various tattoos. It was a moneyed bunch and tended to skew on the “older” side - 35 to 55 - so most tattoos were run of the mill tramp stamps for women and bicep tattoos for the fellas. A few hipster women and men – the new yuppies – were covered, branding them as members of the creative class, the ruling class. In this scenario, the tattoo becomes “work,” a digestible euphemism.

In my UV protection swim shirt, Target floppy hat and white sunglasses, it was clear that the first wave of douchebag tattoos for women – the tramp stamp – had not evolved. Generation of women were still adorning butterflies, angels and various winged entities on their lower back and as long as alcohol is served and tattoo shops stay open on the weekend until 2 am, the tramp stamp will survive.

However, I’m not comfortable commenting on tattoo trends among women because I tend to consider myself a women sympathizer, who knows at least 3 alternative spellings of the word women – womyn, wimmin and wymyn - and probably wrote a paper at the age of 21 that used the word herstory over the traditional history. I’m way more comfortable being a dick to men. You know, men on men. It’s easier and I very knowledgeable of the breed.

As I waded in the pool, I realized that my tattoo – a large carrot on the outer calf of my left leg - was the first douchebag spot of tattoos for men. I looked around and men in the general vicinity of my age, who showed a propensity for tattoos, sported some elongated symbol/object that stretched up their outer calf. It became clear - it was the tramp stamp equivalent of guys. This wasn’t a huge revelation because I was a trendsetter in the arena of douchebaggery. Remember, I was wearing a swim shirt.

Once I eliminated the older set and their calf tattoos, I looked at the younger guys, with their muscles, pretty girlfriends/old ladies and good looks. In envy and jealousy, I was harder on them, meticulously scouring their tanned bodies for a trend. I didn’t have to look long.

Like the late 80s/early 90s tattoo trend of tribal bands, barbwire, dragons, suns and graphic designs, the local and haole men of Hawaii adorned some sort of tribal tattoo pattern that ran from their shoulder to their forearm. Since we were in Hawaii, it was assumed that every one of these patterns had some sort of historical meaning. Meaning or not, they were everywhere, given the fact that these fellas preferred tank tops over elbow length polos.

Treading water in the deep end, I crowned the one arm tribal tattoo as the new douchebag tattoo. I was a bit sad that my carrot on the outer calf was no longer relevant, but I found solace that I was douchebag when douchebag was cool.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Commuter Habits

The relatives needed the minivan to go to Santa Cruz, so I was stuck with the clown car, the VW Jetta. Bought in 2003, it is the first car that I (we) ever owned.

The pride of ownership never took hold. It always needs a wash, a vacuum and is continually a few thousand miles behind an oil change. What it has going for it is a birthdate in the 2000s (not the late ‘80s or early 90s) and reliability. It’s my wife’s car, not mine. I only drive it when I’m forced to.

Paid off in 2008, it has heavy-ass doors and a trunk that requires all your weight to close. On the freeway, when I drive it, I find myself in the fast lane going as fast as I can, longing for driving gloves with holes in the knuckles. Because of this midlife crisis behavior, I prefer the low-and-slow of the minivan, taking corners in a leisurely manner, and pissing off Sammy Hager types in the slow lane. On this day, I didn’t have a choice. I was in the VW with the Old Lady, commuting to San Francisco.

The commute is mine, a time when I’m by myself, listening to sports talk (during baseball season), thinking about stories to write and drinking Diet Pepsi. I should be on BART, but like others who prefer traffic to a crowded train, sometimes driving vs. the train isn’t a decision, it’s about addiction, habit.

Keeping me in the daily commute is a nasty Diet Habit; for most it’s coffee and cigarettes. Boredom while commuting has led to this assertion. 10 years of incessantly looking into the cars of commuters leads to me to believe that this is true. Anything to break up the monotony.

Because the relatives were using my vehicle and I’m using the wife’s vehicle, she’s with me the whole week, copiloting the commute. I’m not happy about it. She’s pushy with the radio, preferring pop stations and she’s chatty. I remind her that I’m the Captain of the ship - ruler of the radio and purveyor of conversation.

After dropping her off at work, I run a few errands, ridding myself of $600 dollars in cash to shady work vendors who refuse to bill. Shady is always a cash transaction.

Once I finish outside business, I return to work and park in the alley, dropping off some crap before moving the car to a paid lot. One the space is available, next to a junkie on the sidewalk, hiding in a recessed doorway.

While putting a quarter in the meter, I hear what appears to be a question. I turn and look at the young woman in the doorway. She’s sitting down with her left pant leg rolled up to her knee and her shoe off. Her exposed leg is swollen, bruised and littered with open sores. A needle in her right hand hovers over her foot.

“Excuse me,” I reply, looking confused.

She repeats the same indiscernible question, accenting the last word.

“Excuse me,” I say again.

She lifts the needle from her foot and focuses on articulation.

“You don’t have a problem with what I’m doing, do ya?”

I chuckle, not expecting this.

I looked at her in disbelief and reply, “Of course I have a problem with what you’re doing - anybody would, but I’m used to it.”

“Oh, ok,” She replied, going back to sweeping her leg for signs of flowing blood.

As I crossed the street, I decided to give her some advice.

“Hey,” I screamed, looking back. She met my eyes like a scared raccoon, still trying to be polite, selling me on her plight.

“Why don’t you just jam it into your thigh,” my right hand pantomiming jamming a needle into my thigh.

While walking away, she muttered something. I assume she was educating me on the difference between a muscle high and vein high.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

White Dope on Punk: Epilogue. Get With The Military Of Ideas

I’m walking down College Avenue with my sister, her new girlfriend Anita, my wife Alex and our little boy. We had just finished eating at Shen Hua and the ladies wanted to enhance their post dinner stroll with a little coffee.

As we crossed Ashby and headed toward the coffee house, I spy a young woman approaching us with a clipboard and stack of political flyers. We successfully avoid eye-contact, so she turns her attention to a couple walking in the opposite direction—though not before shouting at us, “Get with the Military...the Military of Ideas!” Nice.

I’m intrigued, so while the ladies stood in line for lattes, the boy and I strolled over to her literature-strewn table and check out what she was pushing.

As I walked over I realized that she wasn’t alone, there were three more just like her on adjacent corners of the intersection. All of them were extremely aggressive, following people up and down the street belligerently and verbally accosting them. It was obvious the locals were not happy about their presence, but the Berkeley liberals were too passive-aggressive to confront them. They’d rather call the police on them for a “quality of life” issue than for being assholes.

A banner on their table identified them as the LaRouche Youth Movement, supporters of Lyndon LaRouche, the old conspiracy theorist who was prone to running for President. I knew nothing of his real politics and solely judged him by the actions of his “good street soldiers.” I approached with caution.

“Military of Ideas” was sitting at the table, taking a break from the action. Feeling feisty, I put the stroller in park, pulled down the canopy to block the boy’s view—just in case things got nasty—and smiled, hoping to elicit another catchy slogan. Thinking she had a live one, she blurted out in a pissy voice, “What are you doing to stop the war?” Prepared for a question like this, I responded in an affected voice, “Well, what are you doing to stop the war?” I could have easily said, “I know you are but what am I?” “Voting for LaRouche!” she sassed back. Without missing a beat, I responded, “Voting is stupid.” My old anarchist days were resurfacing and I was ready for a fight. Circle the “A” motherfuckers, I’m back!

This response usually elicits looks of astonishment and bewilderment. “You don’t vote?” she asked, more perplexed than angry. “No, do you?” acting like I was the one that should be astonished that she does vote. Her astonishment bubbled to anger and she unleashed a diatribe of hate. Not wanting to subject the boy to this, I grab the stroller and turned away. But not before getting in one last jab: “Voting is for pussies. Go back to Pleasanton!” I reverted to the taunt of my youth: still a classic!

Returning to the café, I found my sister and wife out front enjoying the late October evening, oblivious to the verbal sass match that had just ensued. We wanted to continue our leisurely stroll, but of course to get back to the car, we had to once again cross Ashby, where two new LaRouche youth waited for us in front of Wells Fargo. Feeling a little paranoid that Military of Ideas had tipped them off that an enemy of the voting revolution was heading their way, I gave Alex the stroller and lagged behind, running through my witty come-backs and clenching my fists, just in case.

As we approached, they launched into their spiel. I tried to ignore them, but they were being too rude and aggressive.

I turned around and demanded, “Are you RCP [Revolutionary Communist Party]? With your catchy slogans and fancy paper, somebody must be funding you.”

A little perplexed by the RCP comment, and definitely appalled that I would question who was paying for their literature, he continued talking about the war, ignoring my question, or possibly not understanding it.
I continued, “What are you peddling and what do you want from me?”

He said he was voting for Lyndon LaRouche and also asked me what I was doing about the war. At that moment I hated these kids, and I wanted a little piece of this guy. But I had learned some restraint over the years, and it wasn’t worth getting angry.

As I reluctantly walked away, he said, “Your silence is culpable for the war!”

I whipped around and quickly walked back, staring directly into his eyes. “What the fuck did you say?”

He instantly shrank back, but threw out a defiant, “Well, what are you doing against the war?”

My restraint went out the window. I said, “How dare you assume? You don’t know me. Fuck you, I’ve worked the last 12 years in non-profit, feeding people with HIV. And you? You’re just a privileged white boy with a trust fund attending Berkeley. Trust me, I know you’re driving back home in your mom’s diesel Mercedes to the Berkeley Hills, after being rude and annoying the fuck out of everybody on this street. Why don’t you peddle this shit at 98th and International, you fuckin’ douche bag?”

I was lost in myself. It was like looking at me 20 years earlier. He was like a mirror image of me back in the day: dogmatic, righteous and running far away from his homogenous upbringing. I pushed every button I could think of; called him every term he thought he was farthest from. It was so easy to attack him because I had been him.

Finally, he broke down and said, “What are you gonna do, hit me?”

Still very worked up, I said, “No, but I’m gonna throw you into traffic, you fucking idiot.”

A woman getting money at an ATM five feet from us chimed in, “Fuck you, get out of here!” referring to the LaRouche kid. She looked at me and said, “Fuck you, too.” I softly laughed. Her candor defused the situation.

I left and returned to my family. My wife looked scared and annoyed. As with all interactions that may or may not lead to violence, I felt like shit afterwards. I didn’t feel vindicated, I felt...stupid.

My sister looked at me, laughing, “Little brother, you looked like you were going to beat the shit out of that kid."

“No, I was just going to throw him into traffic,” I mumbled.

Lisa was about to respond, but I stopped her. I knew she was going to make the correlation between me as a young man and this kid.

“Fuck off, Lisa. I know what you’re thinking,” Lisa and I laughed. Alex and Anita exchanged a glance, understandably questioning their involvement with our family.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

White Dope On Punk: Chapter 19. You Guys Think You’re Led Zeppelin

I awoke to Mel screaming: “Where are we gonna stay? You guys are such fuckin’ losers!” Tom and George were fully passed out on the floor of the van and I was quickly on my way to joining them. With little control of my body and speech, I probably said the most inappropriate thing at the time, given that 1) we had no place to sleep, 2) didn’t know where we were, 3) it was 4am in Chicago, 4) we had a show the next night in Madison, and 5) three-quarters of the band was wasted and relying on Mel to deal with the situation.

“Mel, why are you being so selfish?” I wasn't making any sense. She was taking care of us—driving, looking for a place to stay—and I called her selfish. I just wanted her to stop yelling. This comment only made it worse. Mel took her right hand off the steering wheel and used to it to take a few good whacks at my back. I was lying down next to George and Tom and covered for the blows. “Fuck you, Foot! Fuck you guys, you think you’re Led Zeppelin.” That was the last thing I heard. I eagerly joined Tom and George in their black dreams.

Three hours earlier we were having a good time in a bar that we would never go to in our hometown. Lights from the ceiling spun in circles, unfamiliar music blasted from the speakers and weird looking people danced. We didn’t care. Our new friends, who we met at the show we played, took us there and, despite the loud music and straight crowd, we bellied up to the bar and treated it like our own. Crème de Menthe was on special, so we bought that. Lots of it.

A little before 2 am, desperate to get as many drinks in us as possible, we all ordered shots, thinking this was the end of the night. At 2am we asked a local what time the bars closed in Chicago and he said 4 am. So, we continued drinking, pouring drinks on our heads and making plans with our new friends (“You’ve gotta come visit us in San Francisco.”).

At 4 am the lights flashed twice and like good soldiers we moved to the door. Mel continued talking to our new friends at the bar. We found the van on the street, near the club, and piled into the back. The next thing I remember was Mel yelling at me.

I awoke the next morning next to George. Tom and Mel were gone and the van wasn’t moving. I peeked between the buckets seats and saw the van was parked facing a two-story 60s-style motel. I moved closer to the front, looking out the side windows. It looked like we were out of the city and just off the freeway. Mel must have driven toward Madison, pulling off the freeway at the first motel.

It was hot and I needed water, but I was in no condition to move. Leaving the van or drinking water would warrant vomiting.

I went back to sleep.

We were halfway to Madison by the time George and I stirred. George awoke with his usually growl: “Fuuuuuuck!” We called him the bear because of this and his lumbering ways.

Slowly remembering the night before and how I called Mel selfish, I exhibited caution before raising my head.

Like George, I expressed the same sentiment: “Fuuuuuck!” It was a morning to swear off alcohol for at least a day, or at least consider the idea. My hair was clumped together like dried sap from too many shots of crème de menthe being poured on my head. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

It had been a rough night, one that with time is either looked back upon as a really good time or the start of bad times. It came back in blocks of bright color and in fast motion, the only clear thought being my asshole behavior with Mel at the end of the night.

I feigned illness in an attempt to get pity. I knew what I had said to Mel, but there was a good chance I had said something mean to Tom and/or George, too. Not knowing the proper greeting for this situation, I fell back on a tried and true opening:

“Hey.” I spoke softly, testing the water. It seemed like the best approach.

“Hey Foot,” Mel pleasantly replied, smoking and driving. By the tone of her voice, I knew everything was ok. Tom was in the passenger seat, sucking on licorice root. He had heard that licorice root was good for the throat, so he had a never-ending supply and was always chewing on it like a cigar. It was customary for Tom not to speak after a tough night of drinking and playing. His voice was hoarse and he wanted to save what was left of it. He had a harmonica for situations like these, when a question warranted some kind of response: one toot on the harmonica meant yes and two toots meant no.

“Hey Tom,” I said, desperately wanting to rehash the night before, even though I knew doing so would bring up the end of the night. “How are you doing?” Tom grabbed his harmonica and tooted once. I took it as a positive affirmation that he was doing well. But I knew he was as hung-over as I was and that he was probably extremely worried about his voice for the Madison show.

Halfway up interstate 94, we stopped at Wendy’s for lunch. I was still lying on the dirty floor of the van and, no matter how much I wanted to join them, the thought of food repulsed me. All my energy was focused on not throwing up. Despite the allure of a baked potato with sour cream and chives, I knew just the sight of it would send me running to the bathroom or an empty bag.

“Foot, you coming?” Tom questioned, while Mel and George looked on. I waved them off, knowing that they’d understand my absence.

Hanging from the lock of the side door of the van was a plastic bag that we used for garbage. I moved closer to it, knowing that it was just a matter of seconds before I threw up. As my eyes passed over the lip of the bag, I saw what was in it: discarded cigarettes, mixed with scraps of food in a broth of dregs from an orange soda can. It smelled and looked disgusting. I threw up immediately, gagging, half in the bag and the rest on my arm. I threw open the door and chucked the bag, relieving what was left in my stomach on the blacktop.

I kept the side door open. It was hot, the heat exacerbating my misery. I wasn’t the type to throw up and be immediately normal afterwards. The parking lot glistened from the high temperatures and the freeway hummed in a low key. With my head bent down, I waited for them to return and anticipated throwing up again. It never came.

“I’m never drinking Peppermint Schnapps again. What the fuck is that shit anyway?” I said as Mel, Tom and George approached the van, sated from Wendy’s. They brought me back some fries. I shook my head.

“Come on, Foot, you've got to eat something,” Mel said, playing the role of caretaker to her three man-children.

“No, thanks. I just threw up,” pointing to the bag lying on the ground, the throw-up leaking onto the concrete. They were all empathetic, having been there before.

Ten hours later were on stage in a cafe-like bar in Madison. I was still feeling ill, having eaten very little. Tom’s voice was shot. All the licorice root and not talking in the van couldn’t erase the abuse incurred from the night before. Four songs into the set he turned to us and said he couldn’t sing. It was obvious. He was constantly pulling away from the microphone and his voice was so weak that it was barely audible. The look on his face said it all: fear. Not knowing what to do, I asked for a pitcher of beer and took over the singing duties. My singing career opened with an instrumental: "Sparks" by The Who.

Mel quit the band in Minneapolis, the next stop. Tom’s voice was better, and our health was back in full form, but Mel was in a funk. The tour was badly booked. Instead of booking it herself—which she usually did—she entrusted two unknowns. The result was a spotty tour of lots of driving back and forth and way too much time in between shows to get in trouble. The tour had the feeling that it would be our last. We seemed to enjoy drinking before and after the show much more than the actual playing, which was almost a chore. Because of this and our general rock star behavior, Mel flew home and left the three of us to fend for ourselves.

We cancelled the rest of tour except for an acoustic show at a record store in Minneapolis. Except for Vancouver, where we played at least a dozen times a year—so much so that people thought we were local—Minneapolis was our home away from home. We loved Husker Du, The Replacements and Soul Asylum and wanted our third record to come out on the Minneapolis label Twin Tone. Since we cancelled our show at the 7th Street Entry, the Soul Asylum guys set up an in-store acoustic show at a local record store. We borrowed acoustic guitars, drank cheap vodka and did our best to tighten up our normally sloppy transitions. Acoustic guitars are not as relenting as loud, noisy electric guitars.

We asked the Soul Asylum guys to bring Paul Westerberg, the singer from the Replacements; they showed with Chris Mars, the drummer. That night we went to a party at Grant Hart’s apartment, the drummer from Husker Du. He had a cat that would fall over and play dead when you raised your hand and acted like you were shooting him. With all the drunks at the party, that poor cat played dead all night.

The next morning, Ellen, our friend and one-time booking agent, tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Greg, you guys better get up, it’s snowing out.” I rose quickly and looked out the window. The first snow of the season blanketed the ground and was vying for more space to fill. It was time to go, quickly. Being two Californians and one Louisianan, we were afraid of snow. We thanked Ellen and told her to put in a good word for us at Twin Tone, then we hurried out the door, groggy and hung-over, and got in the van and drove south to I-80.

The road out of town was littered with cars and trucks slowly sliding off the road. I was driving, Tom in the passenger seat and George perched between us. In silence, we putted down the interstate as slow as we could get away with. Locals sped by and mouthed, “Fuckin' Californians.” Our plates gave us away.

Wide eyed, it was like we were trying to will the van to stay on the road. By the amount of cars on the side of the road, the norm was to slowly spin out and land in a ditch, stuck.

The farther south we traveled the better it got. The snow turned to rain and we ramped it up to 65 mph, free of the looming snowbound ditches. For the trip home, we had packed six cases of Pfeiffer beer, the new Soul Asylum EP and very little warm clothing. We certainly weren't prepared for snow.

As we turned west on I-80, a straight shot to Bay Bridge of San Francisco, we made some rules about drinking. We never talked about what we doing with the six cases of beer in the back, but one might assume we were bringing the unknown Minneapolis beer back home to share with our friends. This wasn’t the case.

The first rule was that we would only drink after we had stopped driving. When it became evident that we didn’t plan to stop at night, we quickly amended the rule. We agreed that that the non-drivers could drink after 5pm. As we passed into Nebraska this was changed to anyone could drink anytime, except the driver. This was quickly broken. The final rule was that the driver could drink but they had to be cool, whatever that meant. The rolling bar was officially open 24 hours. We only stopped to get gas and go to the bathroom (an empty gallon plastic milk container handled #1; #2 needed a real bathroom).

Crossing the Sierras outside of Reno, it started to snow again. At the peak near Truckee, in a heavy snowfall, we quickly amended the final rule: You couldn’t drink and drive, if it was snowing. It was a good rule and we planned on adhering to it. Still, careening down the west side of the Sierras, I opened a beer and passed it to Tom, who was driving. So be it. George was in the front seat, discreetly taking swigs off his beer. I was perched between the two, intently staring out the window, once again hoping that my intense concentration would will us from ending up in a ditch. We had broken every drinking rule. The snow turned to rain and we relaxed, celebrating with more beer and peeing into our well-used gallon milk container.

Descending the span section of the Bay Bridge, we coasted into San Francisco with the morning commute—drunk, dirty and bewildered from the trip.

They dropped me off at my flat on McAllister Street and they returned to where they were staying on Haight Street. At 5 pm Tom called and said to meet them at the Chatterbox. You would think we had seen enough of each other; however, we were determined to waste no time finding a new bass player. And for the past two months, 5 o’clock was the time we usually cracked our first beer at sound check. A little business while filling our bellies with alcohol sounded like a good time.

With friends and roommates in tow, to celebrate our homecoming, we headed out to the Chatterbox. We made a list of potential bass players and characteristics they would need to possess. Way down the list was musicianship. Loud and proud at number one was the ability to handle their alcohol. Freshly off a cross country drinking binge, we were cocky about our ability handle our booze and in our deluded, alcohol soaked brains, we really thought being an alcoholic was a good quality for a bass player.

We found a bass player in a very long haired guy that hung around the Chatterbox. We overlooked his 5-string bass (not good) and his questionable earrings (two studs with his initials in his left ear and a dangly music note in his right). We played one show with him and then begged Mel to come back.

She returned, but it was over: Rough Trade, our record label, dropped us for poor sales and for stealing hundreds of our own records. (Before leaving on tour, we stopped by their retail store to say hello. Tom asked if he could use the bathroom in the back warehouse. While he was back there he grabbed as many cases of our records that he could carry. I distracted the clerk and we left quickly.) Also, someone had stolen the front two bucket seats of our band van. Instead of replacing them, we seriously considered bolting wood dining room chairs in their place. Things weren't going well; and, with idle time on his hands, Tom rekindled his heroin habit and George soon joined him in the throes of addiction. In the basement of the Chatterbox, I quit the band. And that was it.

As I walked out of the Chatterbox, I knew this stage of my life was over. This was my personality. When I left Pleasanton; when I left anarchy and now leaving Short Dogs, I closed the door and left, never to return - leaving friendships and aspirations with those who stayed. It was a breakup, a death, getting fired; it wasn’t a conscious thing, just a dysfunctional way of dealing with loss.

I had only known punk, anarchy, rock, clubs, warehouses, shitty apartments, shitty cars and lots of burritos. For most, it was no life, but for me, and the circle of friends who followed the same path, we created a bubble that insulated us from the real world. It allowed us to pursue our rock/punk/political dreams without scrutiny, reflection and live in state of suspended adolescence. The future was abstract and we lived, like most young people, in the moment, believing we were the only thing in town and we would always be.

At 25 years old I felt the pang of adult life knocking. This played a part in me quitting the band. The dalliances of the past 9 years had robbed me of my self-esteem and bestowed upon me an identity I was uncomfortable with. Every 3 years it uprooted me and left me to start over. However, it had given a head start into a drinking problem, which would grow and mature for many years to come.

As I walked down Valencia Street, I craved stability, a healthy relationship and a steady job, but I wasn’t willing to work for it. Too much of my suburban upbringing, where I watched my dad get up every morning and go to work, pay bills and enjoy the fruits of his labor, kept me from fully embracing this lifestyle. It’s almost impossible to run away from your past and I was learning this, but I wasn’t willing to embrace it either.

In the back of mind, while I dabbled in anarchy, punk and rock, I secretly equated money and a respectable job with success. Messenger jobs, fledgling bands and a foray into driving a cab robbed me of my self-esteem. I came to realize I wasn’t a lifer like some of my friends who had passion for music or politics and saw this as a way of life, something that gave them identity and defined them. I admired them for this. But who was I? Where was my passion?

This is the question I still ask today? Sadly, the cruel joke of life is that there’s no expiration date and gauge on identity and bad decisions. There’s not an age where you magically get it or you just don’t care. I needed to find middle ground, taking the passion of punk, optimism of anarchy and the creativity of music and find somewhere in between that I could call my own. It would take a few extra pounds, a lot less hair, age and many years until I landed in something that resembled this.