Monday, February 28, 2011

5 Films That Sucked The Second Time Around

In honor of the Oscars, I give you 5 films I liked the first time around and hated the second time:

The Doors Movie:
Pitts and I saw this movie twice when it came out. The second time we brought in a bottle of Jim Beam and drank every time Jim drank. It wasn’t pretty cuz Kilmer’s character was drunk throughout the movie. For a month after this movie, I wanted to be Jim Morrison. I developed a unique stride, sauntered instead of walked and did my best to get kicked out of clubs. All Jim behavior.

Upon second viewing, Kilmer appeared retarted. Seriously, I think he was retarded in this film. I didn’t last a minute.

Worst moment: 1] Anytime that damn naked Indian appeared. 2] When he sang Light My Fire to keyboardist guy on the beach. Cringe worthy.

Garden State:
When it came out, it had a Singles feel to it. The mellow, hipster soundtrack was good and appealed to the indie generation. People talked about it and everybody loved it. So did I.

On second viewing, the Scrubs character was unappealing, self-loathing and had no redeeming qualities. He was annoying - how did I sit through it the first time?

Worst moment: When Scrubs and Portman were in the waiting room and she was listening to The Shins on headphones. She gave the phones to Scrubs and said, “This will change your life (something like that).” Yeah right.


I really liked Juno the first time around. Even though it I almost turned it off after the first 10 minutes (the guy from the office’s hipster responses was nauseating), I got used to the vernacular and it became a backdrop to the story. Michael Cera and the Juno woman were cute. Cera is always cute.

I caught a few minutes of it on cable the other night, and I quickly changed the channel. It felt like every line was witty and snarky. I just wanted to say: “We get it, Diablo Cody, you were a stripper-turned-writer and you want everyone to know that you’re still relevant and in-touch with 17 year olds.”

Worst moment: 1] When Jason Bateman’s character said his old band toured with The Melvins. 2] When Juno listed her favorite bands as The Stooges, Patti Smith and The Runaways (maybe The Dolls or Television). Give me a fuckin break. This is the equivalent a married couple dancing to Motown while making dinner. Gross!!

High Fidelity:
Another movie that I really like. Like Juno and Garden State, it pandered to hipster music, drawing a line in the sand between good music and bad music. Like so many other idiots, I was in on the joke and got the indie music reference.

Jack Black was still great, but Cusack’s character was like the Scrubs’ character: whiney, self-loathing and no appealing attributes. NO wonder your girlfriend broke up within you – you were an idiot. Grab some balls and move on.

Worst moment: I vaguely remember the last scene. Burned into my head is Cusack getting back together with his ex-old lady, Jack Black’s band playing a Marvin Gaye song in a club and Cusack and the old lady swaying back and forth. That’s enough, isn’t it?

Leaving Las Vegas:
In the vein of Barfly (didn’t make the list), I found this movie…uh, good (?). Didn’t he or it win an Oscar? I somehow bought his drank-ass and the heart of gold hooker story the first time around.

Not the second time around, buddy. Cage’s overacting and whiney alcoholic embellishments were excruciating. But, of course, he played the drunk as some Bukowski character, to give it credibility. Why can’t drunks just be drunks?

Worst moment: Everything.

Honorable Mention:
Singles: I’m sure it’s horrible, really horrible.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Mahalo and the Trash Can

I agreed to go. I didn’t want to go, I never want to go, but sometimes there are weddings, funerals and sick friends to visit in hospitals. For those, you’ve gotta rise above, put away your so-called anxiety and get your ass out of the house. But I couldn’t go by myself, so I enlisted 2 friends.

As the day grew near, I secretly hoped he would be released or forget to tell us he had a dialysis appointment. I wanted to see him, support him, but it wasn’t about him, it was about me. Since I involved others, I couldn’t get out of it. But we needed a game plan.

Before entering the care facility where Matt was convalescing, I went over the game plan with the others: Annemarie would run point, taking the lead and be in charge of starting conversation. We were warned there would be crying, so her female presence would handle any hugging, if needed. She had a natural, nervous energy and a gift for gab - she was perfect for this situation. I would handle jokes and, if needed, making fun of Annemarie’s animated character. Dave, the third person, would help me with comic relief.

Matt was from Philly. His first band opened for KISS in ’76 at the shore, the Jersey shore. He joined the Navy in the late 70s, was shipped to Hawaii and, on his first day on the island, got a tattoo of a devil on his right bicep. The outline of the tattoo hurt so much that he didn’t stick around to get it colored in. It cost him $25.

New to the island, Matt observed the Hawaiian word mahalo written in large letters on the side of public trash cans. He assumed mahalo meant trash. When someone greeted him with mahalo, he took offense and said, “Fuck you.” He later learned its true meaning.

Spending 6 months of the year underwater, Matt was the head chef on various submarines for 10 years. Despite the stench of dirty men and occasionally having to store a corpse in a meat freezer, he enjoyed the long hours and routine.

When he left the island and the Navy, he took with him a wife and a tattoo. That’s it. He landed in San Francisco, got a job at the Salvation Army for a decade and then found us, where he was head chef for 13 years.

First to arrive and last to leave, Matt’s work ethic from his submarine days (work/sleep/work/sleep) never left him. Even though he was the highest paid staff in the kitchen and basically never went home, Matt took on various second jobs. One of these jobs was taking tickets and serving popcorn at a movie theatre. After a few of these types of jobs, you got the feeling that he didn’t want to go home.

Before entering his room, I brush past Annemarie. My confidence was back and I was ready to perform. Slumped in a wheelchair, dressed in a robe, Matt vacantly stared at the wall. His eyes were milky, the skin of his gaunt face clung to his skull like dripping wax and 60lbs appeared to have left his body. I cheerily greeted him: “Hey Matt, it’s Greg.” He replied, “Oh, hi,” his heading moving toward where the sound came from.

Once a virile man, the initial image of seeing him staring at the wall, hollow eyed, was hard to shake. I only knew him as a mule, a stubborn man that was constantly on the move. The Matt I was looking at was a shell of himself, an image that looked more familiar in a VA ward or from the movie One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. It was jarring.

Annemarie and Dave entered, Annemarie taking center seat and Dave and I flanking her. Forgetting about the pre-visit rules, I opened with a story about visiting another coworker at SF General. There was a cop stationed outside his room, which I thought was for him. It turned out he was for his roommate who was handcuffed to the bed. That got a few laughs (Paraphrasing, man. Much better in person) and broke the ice. It’s hard to get to me to the party, but once I’m there, the jokes will flow. Move over, Annemarie.

After 20 minutes or so, Matt’s inflections and mannerisms seemed normal and hope flowed through me. Even though his sight was severely compromised, I felt like he was going to be ok. His world would never be the same, he would never drive, possibly not walk; however; once he regained his strength, he could begin to rebuild his life.

Near the end of our visit, they rolled in a new roommate. Before the nurse closed the curtain between the beds, deep thuds resonated throughout the room. Even though we couldn’t see what was going on, it was easy to imagine the new roommate flailing around his bed, while two orderlies and nurse attempted to restrain him.

Matt’s voiced softened and Dave and I moved closer. All four of us were more interested in the melee on the other side of the curtain. Up until then, it was just sounds of struggle and an occasional yelp.. Eventually, the story came out:

“Ice cream,” he yelled.

“I’m sorry, sir, but we don’t have ice cream. I can get you some water,” said the attractive Filipino nurse.

Changing his order, his true intentions came out: “I want cigarettes and beer!”

“I’m sorry, sir, but there’s no smoking in this facility and we don’t serve beer. I can get you some water,” she repeated.

“I want cigarettes and beer!” he demanded.

This went on and on until the roommate’s wife arrived

In hushed tones, the nurse explained to the wife of his desire for beer and cigarettes. As clear as day, the wife replied, “Aw, when he says he wants beer, he means he wants soda.”

Yeah right.

This was our cue to leave. Conversation was exhausted and Matt was fading. Annemarie rose and hugged Matt; Dave and I held out our hands. I looked back at Matt as I hurried past the roommate. He returned to his initial pose: slouched and staring at the wall.

In the parking lot, Annemarie said the roommate winked at her as she scurried past his bed.

Get well, Matt.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

All for a Ring with a Marijuana Leaf on it

I walked out of the Chatterbox, leaned on a parking meter and looked down at the sidewalk and thought: “Hey, that looks comfy.” I was drunk—really drunk—and making bad decisions. I stumbled back to the wall and laid down, content to stay there for the night. I had never slept on a sidewalk, but it was good rock-guy behavior—behavior that was talked about the next night by friends and acquaintances and could elevate your status in the scene. Being a fuck-up was something to brag about. It wasn’t really a choice for me; I was in no condition to get home. For the minute I was on the ground, I was content.

Sara was my new girlfriend. A bike messenger friend of a friend, she was tall, pale, and boyish, with red hair. She had a quirk where she would blink her eyes at the same time, in a dramatic fashion. It was disconcerting at first, but like a scar or crooked teeth, after a while you didn’t notice it.

Thirty seconds later Sara followed me out the door of the Chatterbox, in way better shape than I was. She found me, her new boyfriend, settling down for a night of rest on Valencia Street. She gently kicked me a few times and helped me to my feet, where we walked eight blocks east to catch the 9 San Bruno bus to her house. At this point in the game, she was happy to take care of me; possibly she even found it endearing.

I awoke and Sara and I were on an empty bus, my head leaning against her shoulder. I looked up and caught the bus driver’s eye in the rearview window. His face was stoic and disapproving. I was just one of many drunks that he had taken home that night. He wouldn’t be the first bus driver who disapproved of my behavior.

Sara rang the bell, indicating we needed to get off at the next stop. She rented a small house in Visitation Valley, which I thought was weird. I knew no one who lived in Vis Val and no one who lived in a house.

She unlocked the front door and I went straight to her room and fell asleep. It was late and I knew that I couldn’t stay at her house when she went to work. Sara was a bike messenger and had to be at work by 9 am. I went to bed dreading how I would feel in a few short hours.

At some point in the night, I woke to us having sex. She was on top, but it wasn’t Sara, it was my friend Janet, who had at least 100 pounds on skinny Sara. I couldn’t figure out why I was having sex with Janet and how she got into Sara’s house. I mumbled, “Janet, what are you doing here?” Almost immediately, Janet jumped off me and revealed herself as Sara—a very pissed Sara. I was either dreaming, in a blackout or just plum crazy. Like in a romantic comedy, she pushed me off the bed onto the floor. I hit the ground hard, adjusted and quickly fell asleep. The floor was carpeted.

The next morning was what you’d expect. I was hung-over, almost to the vomit stage, and there was the little problem of last night’s sex incident. Sara spewed, “Get up, let’s go,” throwing my jacket at me. We silently walked back to the 9 San Bruno bus stop.

The bus was crowded, but we got a seat. At 23rd street, in front of SF General, I said, “I‘m getting off here, I gotta throw up.” With no sympathy for me, she barked back, “We’ve gotta talk.” I quickly exited through the backdoor and vomited in between the vertical metal pickets of the fence, while the morning commuters on the bus watched. It was over with Sara, but all I could think about was my shitty Carlos acoustic guitar that I left at her house. It was good as gone; I knew I would never go back and get it.

That night we had loose plans to see the Sea Hags at the Nightbreak in the Haight. We talked that day and agreed to meet in the panhandle, a sliver of green space that leads into Golden Gate Park, to talk about our relationship issues before the show.

Sara was waiting for me when I got there. I was just starting to feel better from the previous night’s indulgence. The repulsive beer thoughts from the morning were gone and I was considering a pint or two of Red Hook at the show.

Instead of sitting on a bench, we chose to stand in the middle of a grassy patch near Oak Street. Like future girlfriends to come, she insinuated that I had a drinking problem and that it wasn’t working out. In an attempt to garner sympathy and pity, most of my responses were consistent with your typical rock-guy, bad self-image problem behavior: “Yeah, I know, I suck. I hate myself.” It never worked and usually made things worse.

While emphatically making a point, I gestured with my right hand, like I was throwing a Frisbee. An ill-fitting ring flew off my hand and landed about 15 yards in the grass behind Sara’s left shoulder. I made a quick note of where the ring landed and committed it to memory.
She didn’t notice the flying jewelry. There was plenty of gaudy jewelry still left on me: shitty DIY nose and ear piercings, shoelaces and other found stuff around my neck and wrists and as many thrift store rings as my fingers could handle. (It wasn't until I watched Tim Robbins’ repulsive ponytailed character in High Fidelity that I was finally convinced to get rid of the garish accessories.)

This wasn’t any ring, though, it was the piece de resistance of rings: large, orange and black, with a mosaic marijuana leaf on the face. It was a constant source of conversation. I didn’t smoke pot—never really did. It was kitsch…it was ironic…it was funny?

After the ring flew off, I couldn’t concentrate—nor did I want to—on our “talk.” I didn’t want to be rude and say, “I need to look for my marijuana leaf ring. Hold that thought.” She already despised me; I didn’t want to make it worse, so I quickly wrapped it up: “You’re right, let’s be friends.”

We walked up to Cole Street together, under the pretense of starting our friendship immediately at the Sea Hags show. At Haight Street I stopped and feigned sadness: “I’m too depressed, I’m gonna go home.” I don’t think she really cared. She went right, toward the club, and I went left, looking over my shoulder back at her. I waited until she crossed the street and then I ran back to get my ring. I didn’t want it to be another casualty of this relationship.

That was the last time I saw Sara and my guitar, but I found the ring.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Porn Palace

I repeat myself: all pretty women in my work neighborhood started their lives as men. The one exception is women who dress in velour or terrycloth Juicy Couture tracksuits – the kind with Juicy across the ass – and carry roller luggage. If you followed them, they’d lead you past scaffolding on Polk Street to Bread and Butter liquors. There, they’d either buy water, an energy drink or juice, before walking across the street to the Mitchell Brothers Theatre, a porn palace in the Tenderloin.

Yesterday, while walking to my parking lot, I looked at the scaffolding that traverses the west wall of the porn palace. It has been there for almost 4 months. In the past week they encased the lower half in plywood, blocking what little light filtered to the sidewalk. It is so dark they added lighting. Since the plywood, the sidewalk has become a hiding spot for drunks, junkies and opportunists. It pissed me off and taints my relationship with porn.

My experience with porn is little. In Vancouver, we (band) ate lunch at the No. #5 strip club. It was more like Hooters. Business people – men and women – dined next to us, while topless, innocuous strippers were ignored on a rather large stage. It wasn’t what I expected. We went there because the rumor around town was that Jon Bon Jovi contracted HIV at the club. This has yet to confirmed.

I’ve been to a few bachelor parties where porn played in the background on a TV and enjoyed pay preview porn with my old lady at hotels, early in our relationship. Basically, I’m a prude or repressed or both or something else. I blame this on late masturbation, LM for short. Let me clarify: I never masturbated until after I had sex. This is not bullshit. As much as it fucked me up (I think, maybe not…not really), it helped me get through high school without obsessing on girls. Who knew?

My biggest porn achievement happened on the Bay Bridge. On my way to work, while listening to morning radio, one of the DJs mentioned a site called youporn, a play on youtube.

Up until then I occasionally visited porn sites (back when ubiquitous popup ads advertised porn websites)but never paid for anything. I just looked at the front page and then quickly closed the window, fearful that the law would be knocking on my door and seizing my computer.

Youporn opened up a whole new door into the world of porn. And it was free. Like everything new, I was fascinated at first, but I mainly used it as a tool before going asleep. And lets face it, isn’t porn just a tool to masturbate? Am I right? And when you’re done, your interest drops to zero? God, I hope this is true because watching a half hour of porn would be excruciating.

What intrigues me most about youporn is the lack of pubic hair on everybody. The fetish fatties, trendy MILFs, bears, bikers, frat boys and fake lesbians - everybody!! Everybody is shaved. Don’t they itch? I’ve had crabs enough times to know that when you shave down there it itches like hell.

Today at work, I was bitching about the scaffolding at the porn palace. There was nothing to talk about and I was hoping someone could shed some light on why it has been up for 4 months. Nobody knew but they did shed some light on the porn palace, which I encouraged:

Richard, a good looking man in his 40s, blessed with a body of a fit 20 year old, said that he visited the porn palace a few days after arriving in SF. He claims that he thought it was an aquarium because of the aquarium mural on 2 sides of the building.

When he entered, thinking it was an aquarium, a man (barker) led him to the main stage, where strippers were honing their skills. I asked him if he thought the “man” was a docent. The story is complete bullshit but what wonderful bullshit it is.

Of course, Richard met a stripper that day and began dating her. Richard could get a date at the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival.

Another co-worker described two fantasy rooms in the porn palace. One room was called the shower room where women showered together and the other – the more interesting of the two – was called the Copenhagen Room. Before entering the pitch-black Copenhagen Room, they give you a flashlight. As you explore the room with your flashlight, you encounter girl-on-girl action hiding in the corners and standing in the middle of the room. I assume this room is very popular. Add adventure and a sexual scavenger hunt and you’ve got a hit.

The last co-worker anteed up a story about having sex with a prostitute at the Bunny Ranch in Nevada. It was an unremarkable story except that the prostitute he was having sex with kept stopping to check his pupils. As the act went on longer and longer, she kept stopping and checking his pupils, accusing him of being on speed. He wasn’t on drugs, just a very controlled man. And she didn’t like that. She liked her sex fast.

Friday, February 18, 2011

The Little Counting Crows or the Richie Sambora Tribute Couple (Part 4, Final)

(Parts 1 and 2 were posted on 1/5 and 1/6; part 3 was yesterday)
When it was time for sound check, Bill led us to another larger conference room where we were playing. Furnished in rental CB2 furniture, a few of the Counting Crows were fiddling with their amps, getting tones. We knew the drill -- hurry up and wait. We took a seat on a molded plastic settee and observed.

Having almost forgotten about Adam’s (Singer of Counting Crows) weight gain, I was instantly thrown back into fray when I saw a roadie of theirs on stage who must‘ve been 300 lbs. plus. He was tuning guitars and arranging them into a very large guitar closet. From our vantage point it looked like they brought at least 10 guitars, a few mandolins, a standup bass and various other stringed instruments. They were definitely not phoning in this gig. I was impressed.

Three guitar players and the bass player were getting tones at full volume. They played a few chords, walked back to their amps, fiddled with the knobs and played a few more bars. They all shared a look of confusion and fatigue. They continued this ritual until their sound was right. With modified vintage guitars and well maintained vintage amps, their sound was impeccable. I was jealous.

The drummer appeared and checked each drum, prompted by the soundman. When all the players were ready, Adam appeared from the left side of the stage, wearing a black Joy Division shirt, dirty jeans, old sneakers and holding a notebook. He was not obese or fat -- just carrying an extra few pounds from decades of touring. It became clear that the chauffeur, who insinuated that he was obese, mistook him for the rather large roadie.

Most of the band carried an extra few pounds too except the drummer, who appeared to be new and 15 years younger than the rest of the band; one of the guitar players was gifted with a naturally svelte body.

They checked with a radio hit. All of them looked at their feet and shuffled around their instruments, except for the over-enthusiastic drummer, who spent his time playing the hell out of his drums and trying to catch the eye of Adam. He had to be new. No jaded, road-weary musician could feign this much interest in playing a corporate gig at a hotel/conference center.

Eventually the drummer caught Adam’s eye, giving him a big smile, eyebrows arched, as if to say, “Isn’t this the best!” Adam looked up from his slouch, held up his hand as if to say “stop” and turned away. This didn’t detract from the drummer’s enthusiasm.

They played another song about Omaha, which had a clever twist of phrase in the chorus. While listening to them, their success was obvious. They wrote catchy songs, played them well and Adam added his quirky lyrics and unique delivery. However, their appeared to be a disconnect between the music they produced and the band members. I imagine, at some point, they decided to write more songs like Mr. Jones, despite wanting to write what they wanted to write. I’m sure one of the members – the one that wasn’t writing the songs – spoke up at a band meeting and said, “Listen, I know we’re all into different things, but we’re good at making adult contemporary rock-n-roll. Middle-age women love us. Why should we deny them? If you guys want to make solo records that sound like Joy Division, feel free. This is our bread and butter, my bread and butter.” They would all shrug, knowing their deal with the devil was unavoidable.

As slowly as they appeared, their departure was just the opposite. Once “Omaha” was over, they quickly disappeared backstage. It was our turn.

In front of the right side of the stage, our rental equipment sat on the carpet. Bill introduced us to the stage manager, an innocuous woman in her late 30s that had that stressed look that only people who produce special events possess.

While we got sounds, she explained the order of the songs we were to play and any special requests from the singers. Since the advent of American Idol, our shows were more scripted and less Karaoke. Essentially, we were a bad backing band for really bad singers, but it paid well and required very little effort. That’s why we were here.

Drums, guitar, bass and keyboards worked. That was our sound check. It was fine with us, as the sound would totally change when we started.

With a half hour to kill before we played, we went back to our room. An open cot was in the corner for Lev. They held good to their promise.

Jim and I feverishly practiced the given songs, while Lev lied down on the cot. Lev was extremely talented and oblivious to preshow stress and anxiety so he didn’t need to practice.

Bill entered the room like he hadn’t seen us in a few days: “Hey, I’d much rather be hanging with the Embarrassonic,” his arms extended like he was giving the whole band a hug. It was obvious the Counting Crows or their people wouldn’t let him backstage. Jim and I continued to practice and Lev slept.

10 minutes later we were on stage, or in front of the stage. We were like a pit orchestra. The stage manager explained that there were changes to the first song. Jim and I eagerly listened while Lev played around with sounds on the keyboards. The first group was singing Don’t Fear the Reaper by Blue Oyster Cult. Easy song, hard to screw up. But there was a familiar twist that the singers wanted to do. Yes, they wanted to do the Will Ferrell “More Cowbell” skit from Saturday Night Live.

We said fine – just tell us what to do. Years of live Karaoke has beaten us down. She explained: “So, they want to do the Will Ferrell skit, you know. You know what I’m talking about?” Jim and I nodded. Everybody by now knows the More Cowbell skit.” She continued, “So, you’ll play the opening notes for about 8 seconds and then stop. Wait awhile, then play again and stop.” Since we were in front of the singers, far to the right of the stage and not facing them, and there was a pretty good chance that we wouldn’t be able to hear them, we suggested: “Why don’t you direct us? Let us know when to stop and start.” She said ok. Lev was still working on the keyboard, trying to get a synth tone for a Human League song we were playing.

We took our places for Don’t Fear the Reaper: Lev on guitar, me on bass and Jim on drums. There was a teleprompter with scrolling lyrics on stage and one in front of us. The stage manager crouched down, ready to direct.

On stage walked a handful of middle-aged men in ‘70s garb, cheap wigs and mustaches, holding blowup guitars. Jim and I intently eyed the stage manager, her stare franticly darting back and forth between us and the singers on stage. The music started and she gave the cue to start. In a whispered scream, Jim and I yelled at Lev. He was looking away and missed the cue. A few seconds later we yelled again for him to stop. He was about 2 seconds off. This was a normal beginning to a live Karaoke show.

Despite our missed cues, the crowd loved them. They were their coworkers, their drunk co-workers: David in Sales; Brigit in Marketing and Martin in R&D. It didn’t matter what they looked like, it mattered that they weren’t in workshops or team building seminars…they were drinking.

After the song, we struggled to adjust volume and complained to the stage manager that we couldn’t hear the singers.

To our left, the American Idol portion of the show was taking place. At a large desk, covered in linen, higher-ups from the pharmaceutical company, if not the CEO, were imitating and dressed like Paula, Randy and Simon from American Idol. Their criticism of the singers mirrored the characters they were playing: Randy (“Yo, Dog), Simon (“Dreadful”) and Paula (“Uh”). They would eventually crown a winner, but we’d be long gone before that happened.

White Wedding was next. A little more prepared, we navigated the intro and let out a collective sigh (Jim and I), knowing the bits were over and it would be a little less stressful from here on out.

10 women in various wedding dresses lined the stage, facing the audience. Like the previous singers, they were holding blowup guitars – a few with blowup saxophones. Directly in the middle of them was supposed to be Billy Idol. In reality, the singer looked more like a weekend Harley rider: leather jacket, biker boots and a bit of a belly. A middle manager.

Treating the microphone like a pariah, Idol and women in wedding dresses danced around the stage, barely attempting to sing, let alone sing into the mic. Not knowing what to do, we looked over our left shoulders, trying to get a glimpse of what they were doing. The person working the teleprompter was lost too. The lyrics sped up, slowed down and then went black. The singers were more interested in dancing and mugging for the audience. We ended the song early, dramatically sustaining the last chord.

Next was a similar group in size except the wedding dresses were replaced by fly girl, hoochie-mama wear and the main singer was dressed like Rick James: knee-high boots, jheri curl wig and a space age looking blazer. He appeared to be the only black man in the room. This wasn’t uncommon.

Like the singers before them, they really had no interest in singing. The teleprompter stopped and we employed the same tactic, ending the song early in a dramatic fashion.

The night ended with 4 guys in Tommy Bahama gear – cargo shorts, leather sandals and Hawaiian shirts – singing Margaritaville. Only 45 minutes into the gig, and it was over.

Within 30 seconds of the last chord, we had packed our guitars in their cases and grabbed our cords. It was a quick turnaround and they encouraged us not to stay and watch the Counting Crows. We had no problem with that.

After retrieving our personal belongings from our room, we moved toward the van, which would take us back to the hotel. The Counting Crows were on and Mr. Jones reverberated through the hallways. It was still early and we planned on sitting by the pool.

A new driver assisted us with our gear. As we pulled off toward the hotel, he said, “You guys in the band? I play a little guitar.” Jesus.

The End

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Little Counting Crows or the Richie Sambora Tribute Couple. Part 3

(Part 1 and 2 are posted on 1/5 and 1/6)
Before the guitars and the gig bag were loaded in the back of the van, the driver said, “You guys in the band? I just drove some of the other guys to the gig. I used to play in the 60s.” Having experience in rock talk with strangers, I knew where this was leading or could lead. Instead of inviting conversation, I just said, “Yes, we’re in the band.” I was too busy thinking about the girth of the Counting Crows singer’s waistline (from here on out, we will call the singer Adam) to talk about Jimi Hendrix, which, if it was about the 60s, it would eventually come to.

A retired science teacher from New Jersey, the driver and his wife – also a teacher – moved to the Tucson area to pursue their passion – rock jewelry. They were in the right place. The southwest had lots of rocks and tons of holistic types talking about their healing power. I assume they were dealing in that kind of rock.

There was a brief lapse in conversation. We stared out the window, lost in the brownness of it all, a bit tired from an early flight. I was still thinking about Adam’s weight gain.

“I met my wife in Tucson in the 60s. We got married and eventually moved to New Jersey,” he continued. That explained why he was out here.” It was a lot different back then.” This phrase is common amongst anybody over 35 years old, but the boomers love to use it most. The implication being that it was a lot better back then. Every generation tends to romanticize their wonder years, regardless if they sucked or not. “We used to go out into the desert and smoke a little weed, pop a few cross-tops, mescaline, LSD…” He stopped before saying they shot up heroin. He now had our attention. “You know, you guys are musicians, you know what I’m talking about.” We looked at each other and shrugged. We were pretty used to the musician buddy-up, where strangers assume you’re a stereotype and take liberties in their assumptions. We were no angels, but responding with “yeah, we like to do drugs,“ could open an invitation to do drugs or him asking us if we could get drugs. We were a Karaoke a band, after all. Karaoke bands are not known for their drug habits or connections. Didn’t he know this?

We were met curbside by Bill, a representative of the production company that hired us. He would be our handler, showing us our dressing room, making sure we were prompt and accommodating our meager requests.

With expensive jeans, a Paul Smith button-up shirt, wool blazer and fashion boots, Bill was confident, good looking and sported a Billy goat haircut that screamed hair plugs. Being a man that’s losing his hair, I’m more apt than the average being at spotting hair plugs or hair loss. Hair loss is a club that’s always accepting applications. The more bald men the better.

Upon further inspection, Bill was au natural. No signs of plugs or a toupee, just a cut that naturally looked like Travolta’s hair.

Bill showed us our dressing room - a large empty conference room with one round table and a few chairs. There was a bucket of ice with sodas and water on a table in the corner. With an hour to kill before sound check, we settled in. Lev lay down on the floor and promptly went to sleep. Since opening his own restaurant, Lev took all downtime as an opportunity to sleep, regardless where he was at.

While Lev slept, Bill went over the details of the gig and established his connection to rock-n-roll.

Bill lived in New York. He paused before attaching “City” to the end of New York. We questioned the dalliance: “You live in New York City?” He was vague and then admitted that he used to live in NYC. Like everybody, he told us that he played guitar, used to be in bands (before getting married and having kids) and implied that he knew Clem Burke from Blondie. He obviously didn’t get the reaction he wanted, so he sweetened the story: “I still play. I need to rock every once in a while.” This guy had been watching way too many movies about bands because I had never heard anybody say with a straight face, “I need to rock every once in a while.” I was starting to like this guy.

Since he was from New York, we asked him about another live Karaoke band that was based in New York. There are not a lot of us and we like to keep tabs on each other. Jim knew a lot about the band, viewing them as competition, not just another band that lived 3000 miles from us.

Bill, once again, acted like he knew them, filling in his ignorance with bits and pieces that Jim fed him. Out of nowhere Bill said, “Yeah, they handle live Karaoke on the east coast and you guys handle the west. But I’ve got a show I want you to play in Miami. It will help you break into the east coast.”

Unaware that we handled all live Karaoke in the west, Jim questioned the delineation between east and west: “How far east does our territory expand?” Bill pondered the question, running through Midwest cities and geographical markers in his mind: “I would say Missouri. No, probably St. Louis.” This was too good to keep quiet. I chimed in, “So, the Mississippi, right?” “Yeah, that’s about right,” he confirmed.

This was all news to us. We were like the Lewis and Clark of live Karaoke, exploring and gigging west of the Mississippi. And with all territorial issues, if we crossed the Mississippi, there would be hell to pay with this east coast Karaoke band. This was very exciting news, if not complete bullshit.

The door to the conference room opened and 2 people walked in, one in an Elvis costume, the other with a headset and rectangular name tag. The latter looked at Lev sleeping on the floor and said to a subordinate that was trailing her, “Get him a cot.” As quickly as they entered, they both turned and exited. It was becoming obvious that some people had never seen the Counting Crows and thought we part of the band. We were enjoying the perk.

Bill introduced us to Elvis. He was singing I Can’t Help Falling in Love and inquired about the key. It wasn’t unusual for singers to seek us out before singing and ask us questions. This was Jim’s song, meaning he introduced it to the band and it was his responsibility to know it and lead the band. However, I knew that he always screwed it up. Jim looked to the ceiling, as he does when he’s thinking, trying to remember the chords.

Seeing that nobody was offering up the key to the song, Bill pulled out his cell phone and searched for the key. All of followed suit, searching guitar tab sites for I Can’t Help Falling in Love. Bill won the race:

“It’s in A,” he blurted, beaming from the win, “A major.” I whispered to Jim, “Idiot. It’s generally assumed that A means A major.” Being nicer than me, Jim didn’t respond.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Utilitarian Clothing

Seeing the King’s Speech on Valentine’s Day was easy. It was mature, adult and didn’t require a lot of planning. We got a babysitter for the kid, I purchased the tickets beforehand and the obligatory flowers were picked up the day before at the farmer’s market.

Given 15 years of sharing the same bed, this wasn’t so bad and in the smallest form I could find ways to justify it as romantic. Because the babysitter expired at 9 pm, there would be no talk of after movie drinks or walking around Lake Merritt holding hands. This was good.

The King’s Speech was playing at the Piedmont theatre in Oakland, an art-house cinema where the employees dressed like waiters, read books in-between films and always asked you, “Do you want butter or Brewer’s Yeast on your popcorn.” Brewer’s Yeast is ok and I used to put it on everything when I was dirty and dogmatic, but I prefer my popcorn au natural, nowadays. Even though I’m picking on Brewer’s Yeast and the faux sophisticated atmosphere of the art house, it offers one thing that I can’t live without: No Fucking Teenagers. If teenagers are there, it’s North Oakland/Berkeley types that attend Head Royce, list The Beatles as their favorite band and dabble in veganism. The innocuous kind.

We were first to arrive. We got popcorn, a large soda and found aisle seats. Slowly, couples trickled in. As the theatre filled up, it became painfully aware that all the couples (no singles) had a lot in common. All appeared to be in their mid-50s, been married or together for 15 plus years and were dressed in utilitarian clothing: Patagonia, REI and North Face. With little to talk about, they patiently waited for the previews to begin. Going out on Valentines was a chore and even though they wanted to see the movie, they were put off by the obligation. In my striped socks and age inappropriate skinny cords, I was damn near subversive in this crowd.

A younger couple in the thirties took the seats in front of us. Even though the two aisle seats were open, they chose to scoot one in, sitting next to another couple. It’s always odd at the movies when someone chooses to sit next to you, even though they don’t have to.

The couple didn’t last long. They quickly moved over to the aisle seats and then down 2 rows and 3 seats in to the right and then back to the original seats, finally settling with the aisle seats again. Watching their indecision was exhausting and humorous. The guy saw me chuckling at them, but he was so intent on making Valentine’s Day works that he didn’t care. I felt empathy for him. Being a guy, I felt that she was calling the shots.

On the ride home, Alex and I talked about the movie. After exhausting how great Geoffrey Rush, Colin Firth and Helena Bohman Carter were, we talked about the audience. I said to Alex, “The audience was so bland that I yearned for a few teenagers talking loudly on their cell phones.”

Like all things, I will forget the movie but remember how I felt about the audience.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

On Bullshit

It had been a few days since I returned to the scene of the crime, the crime where I kicked out 2 crack heads from Subway. In my eyes, it was pretty simple: crack heads sit down, take out glass pipes, inhale, I yell “Get the fuck out,” they leave and follow close behind. This was the story I’ve told 10 plus times since the incident. In my story, I’m the hero, the person that did what everybody wanted to do. However, is it the truth? Most people in Subway only heard the incident, not seeing the crack smoking. As far as they knew, a big, white guy kicked out 2 black kids while eating lunch. This easily could’ve been the story that the patrons and sandwich makers told.

Like all stories, there’s an element of bullshit that goes with telling it. My old boss Gene used to say, “There’s his side, her side and the truth.” But Gene would scare the shit out of volunteers by telling them that if they gave the wrong product to a client the client would die. I used to love watching him give orientations. Also, he once tried to beat the shit out of somebody at 44 McAllister, but by the time he removed his rings, necklaces, bracelets and earrings, the situation had defused. When I called him on his shit, he was fond of saying, “Fuck you, Gregory!”

If you’re me, there’s a large element of bullshit with everything I do. My friend Tim is amazed when people believe me and even more amazed when people tell me secrets. In my defense, I always tell the secret givers that I can’t guarantee I won’t blab. Most ponder this and tell me anyway.

So, I have a vivid fantasy life and alter ego that I tap into when telling stories. What’s the harm? For example: I was on the 14 Mission sitting behind a man with dreads. They hung over the seat and swayed with the motion of the bus. As I watched them move back and forth, they lulled me out of my bus existence and into a dream/fantasy state. Not really, but I started to daydream, letting down my bus guard.

As my stop approached, my hand raised. Instead pulling the bus cord, my hand moved toward his dreads. I really wanted pull one of them like a 5 o’clock whistle, but I didn’t. I stopped, knowing this wouldn’t be a good thing. My hand kept moving upward and pulled the cord, like it was supposed to.

When I think about this story, I think about pulling his dreads. That’s the only thing I think about. Eventually, as the story evolves and I find ways to work it into conversation, I will eventually pull the dreads. It hasn’t happened yet, but it will, trust me.

As I entered Subway - 3 days after the crack smoking incident - I was a little apprehensive. One of three scenarios ran through my head:

1. I would be vilified and kicked out immediately.
2. I would be anointed king of Subway and they would retire my booth in the back
3. I would get my sandwich and nobody would say a thing.

Of course, it was number three. I was relieved but a little drama would’ve been nice. However, there was already drama happening. Standing next to a 4 person booth, a gangly, speeded out, young man with dirty, oily, blond hair was rifling through his pockets and attempting to zip his jacket while wandering aimlessly around the counter area. And he stunk like shit. Everybody was eyeing him and as the clerk made my sandwich, she nervously glanced at him over my shoulder, hoping he’d quietly leave. No chance.

I took up residence in the back 2-person booth and dug into Sudoku, looking away every now and then to observe the scene. As I ate, he continued to zip his jacket. When the teeth caught, he’d zip it up halfway, then unzip it, take it off, put it back on and start all over. Next to him was a Lucite chessboard (odd) resting on a fold-up stool; the obligatory skateboard was nearby. His lunch table was strewn with various shreds of paper that had come from his pockets and the wrapping from a Subway sandwich lay open, covering a quarter of table. I have no idea how he ordered a sandwich.

Even though the employees didn’t mention the incident from the other day, I decided to lie low – a cooling off period, if you will. As much as I wanted to shut him down, I knew it wasn’t the time. It was too soon.

Playing Sudoku was pointless, I couldn’t concentrate. He was making everybody uncomfortable and it was obvious the Subway employees were not going to stop him. I decided to act. But before getting up, I ran over a few scenarios in my head. Yelling at him to “get the fuck out” was dangerous and stupid. I knew that, so I silently roll played a few civil ways to deal with the problem:

1. The Buddy-Up: Walking up to him, I would play on his paranoia and his need for friendship: “Dude,” whispering into his ear, “They called the cops. You better get out of here. I’ll try to distract them, but I can’t guarantee anything. Do you have any warrants?”

Given his state, it probably would’ve taken him a half hour to gather his crap before leaving.

2. The Undercover Cop: Like the Buddy-Up, I would saunter over, except I would be staring at him in the eyes. I’d lean in and say, “Ok, buddy. Your time is up. Pack your shit and get out of here.” I would allude to being on the force.

3. The Social Worker: Like the other two, I would quietly approach, but my stance would be friendly. I’d smile and talk in soft tones: “Hey, my friend, how are you? You’re making some people uncomfortable. Why don’t we go outside and talk. You’re safe, don’t worry.”

I preferred the undercover cop. In the end, I chose to do nothing. It killed me to sit there and watch, but I was maturing. At the age of 47, I was mellowing. I didn’t have to throw the junkie out, nor did I need to help the blind person across the street. I just needed to stay put.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Yellow Ribbon

The drive from Whiskeytown to SF is basically a straight shot -- south on I-5 to 505 to I-80 and across the bridge. I planned on planting my face on the passenger side window and sleeping the whole way.

The ride home was riddled with stops to put more oil in the car. The oil light would come on, Vanessa would pull over to the side of the road and more oil would go into the car. On the third time she pulled over, I mumbled, lips pressed against the window, “You shouldn’t have bought this car, it’s a piece of shit.” It was possibly the worst, most insensitive comment I could’ve made. She was more than cognizant that her car was a piece of shit, and, with this comment, it became clear that I was a piece of shit too. She slammed her hands across the steering wheel and began to cry: “That’s it, that’s it, that’s it.” I didn’t look up from the window.

We arrived home late. The Richmond District was fogged in. We put most the camping gear in the communal garage and walked her personal belongings up to her second floor flat. She had to get up early the next morning; I planned on sleeping in.

It wasn’t even an issue that I was going to stay. We hadn’t spoken a word since I told her the car sucked. Even if we were getting along, I still wouldn’t have stayed. I planned on picking up a 12-pack and drinking myself to sleep.

Walking to her door, I said, “See ya later.” I didn’t turn around. She said, “Greg, stop.” I knew right away that this was it. Even though she hated my guts at this very moment, she addressed me by my name, in a gentle tone. This was the moment I forced her to make. I’ve been pushing for this moment for months. It would confirm what I already knew: I was a worthless piece of shit, incapable of being loved. Of course this was all self-loathing and I knew it.

“I can’t do this anymore,” she continued. “We don’t even see each other anymore and all we do is fight.” All across the world 100s of people, if not 1000s, were expressing the same sentiments to their partners. As much as it was a cliché, it was concise and true. It should’ve been simple: we hug, express that we had some good times, vow to stay friends and move on. But I’m a guy and guys don’t work like that. Instead of checking this off my list of things to do to reach rock bottom, I suddenly wanted to change, work things out. In a way it was one of my first rational thoughts in a long time. Vanessa was the only constant in my life. My parents liked her and knew that I was safe in her hands, and, without her, I would dive faller into depression and my drinking would only get worse. This wasn’t her problem, though.

Like most guys, I pleaded I would change. When I realized we were way past a second chance, I turned inward and said attractive things like, “I suck,” “I hate myself” and the old “I should just kill myself.” The whole suicide guilt trip usually garnered sympathy. It didn’t. Her sympathetic tone stop; instead, she conjured up the frustration of our relationship in a controlled scream, like screaming into a mattress. It got my attention. She stopped short of saying, “Go ahead, Loser!” Most people don’t encourage suicide, just in case. If I were in her shoes, I probably would’ve verbalized the sentiment.

I turned and went home, picking up a 12-pack.

Instead of actually making positive steps to win her back like quitting drinking, seeking therapy and getting a job, I chose more creative/tongue and cheek methods: I bought a large yellow ribbon from a fabric shop on Haight Street and placed an ad in the SF Weekly that said: “Vanessa, I miss you, I’ll change. I’ll quit drinking and get a job. Meet me in the park on Sunday (you know where). I’ll tie a yellow ribbon around a tree. Greg” It was all so very Boys 2 Men. And, in my own little performance art way, I knew this was a vain attempt but would make a great story about failing...once again. Another notch in my failure cap, I used to say.

The week prior, I told everybody of my intentions. I knew it was crazy and it wouldn’t work; however, there was some part of my brain that thought, “Just maybe, just maybe this might work.” I envisioned a story to tell our kids. It would be the greatest, grandiose love story of all time. The other half of brain, the 99.9% part, knew it was bound to fail and had already started preparing for it.

A ¼ mile path runs on the west side of Marx Meadow in Golden Gate Park. It starts on Fulton and ends on JFK. I tied the ribbon on a tree along the path, and then waited in a patch of trees on the other side of the meadow. Knowing she probably wouldn’t show (mutual friends alerted her of the ad), I braced myself for rejection. I waited for an hour then walked home, ribbon in hand. I later found out that she was dating her upstairs neighbor.

I didn’t see Vanessa again until mutual friends got married. As luck would have it, I was the best man and she was maid of honor. She looked great and I had ballooned to 200 plus pounds. I looked like stuffed salami in my Tux. We were cordial; however, the yellow ribbon incident loomed large. I fought the urge to talk to her, knowing I would bring up yellow ribbon day. The night ended with me crying in the hallway. The 17 Vodka and Cranberries had taken control and put my life in perspective.

The next morning I woke up on a cot in the Valley. I was in my tux. Not good.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Subway Chronicles #2: Big, Angry, White Guy Kicks Out Crack Heads

Sitting in the back booth of Subway, I could observe all the comings and goings of the lunch crowd. It wasn’t your typical business crowd. Missing were the women in professional suits and young businessmen in groups of twos and threes. Instead, a mixture of non-profits schleps, city workers in orange vests and homeless junkie types from 1001 Polk, with their EBT cards and Subway vouchers, jammed the doorway, while the staff frantically yelled “Welcome to Subway” at each customer. If you have no history with this Subway, ordering and atmosphere could be overwhelming. I was pretty used to it.

Next to me was a door that led to the kitchen or backstage or whatever Subway hid from the public’s view. Once in a while the door would open, after a prompt in Tagalog was yelled. Mostly, the door was mistaken as a bathroom. For the veterans of establishments in the Tenderloin, we knew there was no such thing as a public bathroom, but every day, while I played Sudoku on my iPhone or incessantly check Craigslist for musical equipment, at least five people would come off the street, bypass the lunch line and move quickly to the door. Some would crab the handle and shake, while others would stop a few feet and turn around, not before stealing napkins, plastic forks and other useless shit on their way out.

Yesterday, 2 crack heads sat in front of me in a booth, out of view of the counter. As I discreetly added numbers to my Sudoku game, preempting the eventual “smash and grab” of my iPhone, I secretly eyed them. I knew they trouble.

Both were in their early 20s, male and female, and appeared to be living on the streets or doing an SRO tour. They were rummaging through their bags, looking for something. I assumed they were taking a break from the streets. He complained that his feet hurt.

In unison, both them crouched over and took quick hits off crack pipes. Without thinking, I quickly rose and yelled at the top of my lungs, “Get the fuck out of here,” with the emphasis on fuck.

When you do these types of things, you have to be prepared for the consequences. Within the second that they inhaled the billowy white smoke through glass pipes, I assessed that I could take them, if it came to violence.

As a guy and predator in these situations, it’s important to know your limitation. My friend Tim, who used to manage The Elbo Room, broke it down like this: “Don’t jump over the bar unless you can win the fight.” And this is a motto that a lot of us guys adopt in confrontation. I jumped over the bar, in this case. However, if they would’ve been large, thuggish looking guys, I would’ve left in an indignant storm, carrying the shame of my inaction. It’s not easy being a guy.

Both crack heads shuffled off in a huff. As I slowly followed them, she said, “Fuck you.” I quickly replied, “Fuck you.” And they were gone.

Unbeknownst to all of us, the restaurant had stopped and was watching us. As I slowly walked out the door, I looked over at the staff and they gave me a look that I interpreted as: “Thank you, big, angry, white guy for kicking out the crack heads.”

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Go Back to Russia

The transition from big-fish-in-a-small-pond of Pleasanton, California to the little-fish-in-a-big-pond of San Francisco was not easy. In Pleasanton, I was a big fish, a spectacle turning heads on Main Street. In 1983 San Francisco, where it seemed like everybody under 25 was punk, I was nothing special. Because of this very reason, the move was not easy?

It had been building for quite some time. I knew I had to leave and so did my parents. I just needed a push and that push came in the form of the Pleasanton Police.

Around 11 pm on a Saturday night I decided to walk down the block to my friend Bob’s party. Bob was one of my oldest friends, but since my conversion from burn-out to punk our friendship had soured. It wasn’t a conscious thing; however, when you’re 18 and your favorite band was Minor Threat and his favorite band was The Doors, there wasn’t much you could do to salvage your relationship. Music was identity and was everything, so if your friend was into the wrong kind of music, it was over.

Humanitarian that I was, I walked the short block just to make an appearance and say hi, hoping that his younger brother Brian was not around

Ever since my punk rock coming out, Brian was always aggressive towards me. Even though he was a skinny kid, he was mean and had disapproving eyes, and was fond of calling me faggot. I had witnessed many Bob and Craig all out brother fights, where Craig would get pummeled, but he never quit. I figured if he came at me he would act the same way.

By the time I got there, the cops were breaking up the party. There was one police car out front and one pulling up.

The front door of the house was open, the bright hallway light spilling onto their front lawn. Streams of people were coming out of the house in an orderly manner, walking to their cars. This wasn’t how Hollywood depicted these kinds of high school parties – no jumping over fences or running out of every door of the house.

I walked past the stream of people into the house. I just wanted Bobby to see me. I knew the house well and searched, but he wasn’t around so I left, making my way past the flowing stream leaving of adolescence. It must’ve been a big party because the front yard was filling up with Lollygaggers.

Leaning against the side of their car in front of the house, 2 Pleasanton Policemen watched me as I descended the steps attached to the concrete path that lead to the sidewalk. I kept my head down, but I knew they were watching.

“Hey, Comrade,” one of them said as I approached.

Not sure how to respond to such a stupid statement, I said the equivalent of a grunt,”“Huh, what?” looking perplexed.

In an angrier tone, he finished his thought: “It because of people like you…parties get busted. Go back to Russia.” His words followed me as I walked by.

I turned and indignantly replied, “Dude, I just got here.” I would learn that cops didn’t like to be called dude or homes. A few years later, my friend Josh and I were skateboarding down San Pablo Street in Emeryville, coming back from a Soul Asylum show at the Berkley Square. We were about a quarter mile from our warehouse, carefully crossing train tracks, when we heard a voice to our left: “Hey, get off the sidewalk!” We looked and a cop across the street, walking to his parked car, was gesturing toward us and seemed mad. It looked like he had just gone to a store and was on his way back.

I replied, “We’re not on the sidewalk, Homes!” He either didn’t like my righteous tone or use of the word “homes” because he moved quickly to his car, got in and flipped a u-turn. Josh and I didn’t wait around. We skated as fast as we could to the entrance of our warehouse. We knew that if we could make it inside, the cop would not come in. They knew who were and routinely were called to break up our warehouse’s parties and shows and knew that the space was a very dark maze of hallways and doors with no doorknobs.

I made it inside but Josh didn’t. I told my roommates what was going on and we ran to the roof to see if Josh got caught. Lying on the roof, we saw a silhouette of what we assumed was Josh slumped down in the back seat of the cop car. He was released early the next morning and came straight over, feigning being pissed at me. I was, however, the one that threw out the “Homes” comment.

Walking back to my house, looking over my shoulder, I knew this verbal exchange between the Pleasanton Police and I was not over. As expected, they leisurely got in their car and slowly followed me. It was like an excruciatingly slow chase. They never moved in front of me, careful to loom in the background like a storm cloud. If paranoia was not option, it now was.

The thought of running was an idea, but I knew how it would end and I had nowhere to go except to my house, which would be bad. So, I slowed the pace, looking back at them, shaking my head. I knew this would piss them off.

Walking across the lawn of my house, I picked up the pace, making a run for my door. Seeing that this was the end of the slow chase, they hit the gas and screeched to a halt in front of my house. Key in my hand, I quickly opened the door and slammed it shut, running to the den window to peak out the window.

They were halfway up the lawn and moving toward the door. The door bell rang. My parents were out for the evening, but my sister was home. I ran out of the den and to the bathroom, where she had just taken a shower.

“Get the door. What’s going on?” She could tell by the look of fear and excitement on my face that whoever was ringing the bell was there because of something I did. I quickly explained what was going on: “Bob was having a party. When I got there it was getting busted. I went in to say hi, but he wasn’t around, so I left. As I was leaving, these 2 fucking cops told me to ‘go back to Russia.’ And they followed me home.”

Not one to think things through, Lisa moved to the door, wearing a lush, white robe and towel around her hair, hiding her hennaed hair.

“Yes, what?” she said, opening the door a crack, exposing her turbaned head. The entry way was dark and I assume they thought they disturbed my mother while taking a shower.

“Well, uh.” They stuttered not expecting this and not sure really what to say.

“Leave him alone, he did nothing. You’re harassing him because his hair.” And she shut the door

I ran back to the window in the den and watched them get back in their car.

3 weeks later, I moved. I had outgrown my hometown of Pleasanton.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Dad, I’m a Lesbian

Her name was Sara Lee. I couldn’t get over the fact that she shared the same name as my favorite cake. She was our family counselor, paid to deal with the lesbian problem my sister was having. Like all counselors and therapists, she had a peaceful way about her. Dressed in loose clothing, she closed her eyes and gently nodded her head up and down when the conversation turned combative. Her empathy rating was off the charts. Once when it was raining, she looked out the window, nodded and said, “Rain cleanses the earth and the soul.” It was intended to be a metaphor for our situation, but it fell flat and no response was made. Even my sister, who was open to that get-in-touch-with-your-feelings crap, was dumbfounded. This hippie introspective talk kinda freaked me out and was the antithesis of my feral suburban upbringing.

To me, at the age of 17, Sara Lee looked like some old hippie I would see on Telegraph writing poetry in a clothbound book when I shopped for records at Rasputin’s. It would be some time before I utilized the services of therapists. I was still a well-adjusted suburban punk, void of guilt, self-reflection and culture. I was ignorant and life was good.

My sister Lisa called me at home and left a message with my mom to call her back. She was in her first year of college at San Francisco State, majoring in Women’s Studies and living in the dorms. I figured the call had something to do with who was playing the Mab or the On-Broadway, as most of my weekends were spent going to punk shows with her friends and sleeping on the floor of her dorm.

I called back and Lisa said, “You know I love you, Greg.” This sort of declaration was not unusual for her. She was young, expressive and enjoyed playing the role of mentor to me. Knowing my sister and her propensity for extremes, I prepared for information about a pregnancy or perhaps a pre-operation procedure to become a man. Either possibility was conceivable with my sister. She continued, “I wanted you to be the first to know…I’m a lesbian.” I knew that it was extremely hard and frightening for her to tell me this, but I was 17 and had known she was gay for a long time or at least fluid in her sexuality like so many Women's Studies majors across the planet. My response reflected this: “Duh, Lisa.” She laughed and said, “You knew?” I said, “Well, of course I did. I didn’t figure all those bull-daggers you were hanging around with were married and living in Pleasanton.” I embraced the situation as it gave me the oppressed credentials that I so desperately needed: “Dude, don’t fuck me with me, my sister’s gay.” Without it all I had was, “Dude, fuck off, I’m from Pleasanton.”

In fine Lisa fashion, she came out to my Mom on Christmas Eve. We were standing in the kitchen cooking dinner and talking:
“Mom, I want to tell you something.” By the tone of her voice, my mother stopped what she was doing and looked at Lisa.

“Ah Jesus, Lisa. What is it?” Bracing for bad news, her face was blank, almost like she flipped a switch and turned herself off.

“I’m a lesbian, Mom.” It was the second time I heard this and her delivery was exactly the same. I assumed that Lisa had consulted some of her “professional” lesbian friends for advice in this matter.

Mom’s response was quick: “Jesus, Lisa. Did Scott turn you gay?" Scott was my sister’s last boyfriend. They had recently broken up. When they were together they were very affectionate—always sitting on each other’s lap and inappropriately touching each other, even when performing mundane tasks, like going to the supermarket. Because of this, I wasn’t fond of being around them as a couple.

Laughing at the absurdity of the response, Lisa replied, “No, Scott didn’t turn me gay, Mom. I’ve always been this way.” She was as gentle as one could be in this situation. I reveled in the fact that my mom said “turn you gay.”

My mother continued on, processing this new information on the fly and reacting without thinking. “How are you gay, you’ve had tons of boyfriends? Why would you choose to be gay? It’s not an easy life.” It was like she was referring to a handbook on why people are gay.
She saved the best one for last, turning her attention to me: “Well, I guess Greg is gay, too.” This took me by surprise. I was happy being a spectator, but not a participant. I gave my sister a look that said, “Deal with this.”

My sister sassed back, enjoying the brief diversion of attention away from herself, “Well, why don’t you ask him?”

I preempted her question: “Yeah, I’m gay.” Even though it wasn’t true, it was the obvious answer in this situation.

Lisa stepped in, seeing that this admission could lead to a regrettable medical emergency: “Mom, calm down. Greg’s not gay.” My poor mother. Lisa and I laughed. “But I have one other thing,” she continued. The mood quickly soured. Without a pause, Lisa continued, “I’m in a relationship with a black woman!”

“Oh Jesus, Lisa. You always take things to the extreme, you always have.” My mother was right. Lisa was not one for temperance.

True to her nature, when my sister came out, she exploded. This was typical in my family. Lisa and I had a family motto: “If things don’t get better, make ’em worse.” Many times we made things horrible. Lisa took this motto into her first year of Gaydom. She, of course, embraced separatism. It was the logical stepping stone from hetero to gay. It was the 80s and all the lesbians were doing it. She proudly strapped on penises and wasn’t afraid to talk about it. When we were out at punk shows, she would get in fights that I almost always unwillingly got involved in. She was a big bull-dagger separatist pain-in-the-ass that took no shit.

On a smaller scale, I understood this extremist behavior. When I first got into punk rock, I gathered my Pink Floyd and Police records and purged them from my collection. Instead of selling them at the used record store, I threw them like Frisbees from our front patio, watching them shatter into hundreds of pieces when they hit the street. It was a cathartic act.

During the year of her coming out, we started seeing Sara Lee. I’m not sure whose idea it was, but once a week for a month or so we made the trip to Sara’s practice. Sara arranged the chairs in a circle, where everyone was equal. We dutifully took our places each session, staring at our feet or staring straight ahead, stone-faced. For a very normal family that was loving but not used to sharing their feelings, this was as hard as it got. I was the only one that appeared to be enjoying the theater of it all. Essentially, I was there because the therapist’s title had “family” in it, and I was, well, family.

Sara Lee did her best to broker middle ground between the two factions. Both sides argued history and nature: my parents used my sister’s promiscuous past and her desire to be marginalized; Lisa argued this was how she was born and that her heterosexual beginnings were due to repression. I sat between the two, siding with my sister, knowing it would be blasphemous to side with my parents. Lisa and I were alike in that we were both looking for some sort of self-imposed marginalization, which we found in the opposite of everything that was around us and our upbringing. This is very common in white suburban kids. If being gay and black was a choice, we would have both willing changed. And, looking back on it, my sister’s desire for significance probably swayed her fluid sexuality from one side to the other.

When negotiations stalled, Sara Lee asked my sister to address my dad. Sara said to my sister, “Lisa, do you want to say something to your father?” Lisa confidently looked at my father and said, “Dad, I’m a lesbian.” Silence permeated the room. Even I, the good son with a pink Mohawk, stared at my feet, feeling sorry for everybody in the room. The cat was out of the bag and a new chapter in our family’s history had begun. It was final.

We rode home in silence. It was a beautiful sunny day, but it might as well been a dreary winter day in Cleveland. The coldness was palatable and it wasn’t leaving.

My parents’ relationship with my sister was tumultuous. Mom joined PFLAG, walked in the pride parade and then had a falling out when Lisa and her girlfriend adopted two children. My dad, on the other hand, quietly missed his first born.

Last week I got a call from my sister pertaining to her sexuality. I let it go to my voicemail. The strain of being the good brother and good son, took its toll on our relationship. I was sick of being in the middle and hearing both parties bitch about each other.

I retrieved the voicemail: “Little brother, hey, I wanted you to know that I decided to start dating men. I’m dating a guy that looks a lot like you.” I couldn’t believe it. I wanted to call her back and say, “What the fuck, Lisa? Please don’t tell Mom and Dad!”

My mom called the next day and said, “Did you hear the good news?”

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Pussy Galore

My first apartment in San Francisco was a three-room flat in the Haight Ashbury district. I lived in the only bedroom—a small, dark 15-by-12-foot room with the only closet and one window looking into the wall of the adjacent building. Henry and Jessica, my roommates, lived in the den and living room, which was divided by a sliding door. This was a normal layout for most SF apartments. The kitchen was a small sliver off the living room that dumped into the hallway leading to the front door.

Henry and Jessica were my sister’s friends, a little older and wiser to the City’s ways. They took me in and were patient with my transition from big suburban ranch house to small city apartment. When I didn’t do the dishes—a symptom of living on your own for the first time—they would gently remind me that my mom didn’t live with us. They also taught me how to bake a potato, so I wouldn’t starve.

Even though Jessica and Henry were first-generation SF punks, when punk was a little artier, gayer and people still pogoed, they tolerated my enthusiasm for hardcore punk. While they drank beer in the back of the club while seeing the Circle Jerks or Flipper, I would be in the front thrashing and stage diving. Every few songs I’d take a break, to catch my breath and see what they were doing. I would be bloody and beat to hell. They’d laugh. I got lucky with them.

Henry was a dispatcher at a bike messenger company and sold pot on the side. He had gone to school in the central valley of California and lived in the dorms. When his first dorm roommate moved out, he littered the floor of the room with garbage until it was about 18 inches thick. Everybody that the school sent to live with him refused, so eventually they gave up and he was able to live by himself until he graduated. I never asked if he cleaned the room, once the threat of a roommate was over. I would assume not. Henry was a shit stirrer before I knew him, but I only knew him as the smart, soft-spoken guy down the hall.

Jessica worked with Henry as an order taker at the same messenger company. She had flaming, red, curly hair, bunched up on the top of her head, falling in her eyes like a long pompadour. Despite it being a nuisance, it was part of her like her eyes and nose and her vanity prevented her from cutting it. For some odd reason, we called it her “poo-tang" (not poontang). Jessica had no problems with the name and adopted it.

Jessica was fond of saying, “Gregory, my poo-tang is bugging me,” blowing the hair from her face. I knew that she meant her hair was bugging her, not her crotch. This inside joke would backfire on her.

Jessica met a suave black man named Marvin at San Francisco State University. He convinced her to go on date with her with the line: “Come on, Jessica. A little wine, a little women, it’ll be nice.” She fell for it and Marvin came to our apartment the following weekend with a single red rose and leather loafers, reeking of cologne.

While Jessica fiddled about her room looking for a black cardigan to go with her black outfit, she nervously brushed away her “poo-tang” from her face. Marvin patiently waited. As she fluttered about the room, she absentmindedly said to Marvin, “Man, my poo-tang is bothering me,” pushing her hair off her forehead. Jessica saw Marvin’s reaction to the comment, and feebly tried to explain that poo-tang was the tuft of hair dangling in her face and poon-tang was between her legs. She tried but irony is impossible to explain. They still went out and I think Jessica gave Marvin a little wine, a little women and I’m sure it was nice because every once in a while I saw Marvin being led past my room late at night.

Since both my roommates worked at the same messenger company, it only made sense that I worked there, too, as a bike messenger. Henry got me the job and we would ride our bikes to and from work like a little family. At first I didn’t have a bike, so the company lent me a heavy one-speed with a basket in front, which was status quo for messengers back then.

Through being a bike messenger and Henry’s dealing, I met a fellow messenger and pot smoker named Tom. He would come over to the house to buy pot and would usually stay and hang out. Eventually he and I were going out all the time.

One Tuesday, Tom, Jessica and Henry and I went to see Tales of Terror and White Flag at the Mab. We crowded into my small car, picked up my sister in the Mission, got burritos and headed to the show. On the way, we pulled over and got a 12-pack for the road. It was customary to either drink beer in the car before the show or take it up to the club and find an alley to drink it. This time we chose the car.

Lisa had been drinking before we picked her up, so she was quite drunk by the time we got into the show. Lisa wasn't a mellow drunk—she was feisty, loudmouthed and opinionated. I wasn’t looking forward to babysitting her and keeping her from fighting, which was usually with guys. In situations like these, the only thing she had going for her was sexism: most guys wouldn’t hit girls.
Lisa, Jessica and Henry went to the bar and Tom and I went to the front of the stage. There weren’t many people there and we were able to get close enough to avoid the few punks thrashing about in the pit. Tales of Terror were playing, led by their singer Rat’s Ass, who was a notorious SF punk. He was notorious for two reasons: one, because of his name, and two, because it was reputed, by his own admission, that he had a tattoo of Elvis on his dick. This begged many questions: Was the tattoo on the head of his dick? On the shaft of his dick? Was he erect when the tattoo was inked? I was oddly curious.

After a song, Rat’s Ass unzipped his pants and announced: “I’ve got a tattoo of Elvis on my dick.” I pushed toward the front—finally, the question was going to be answered. He stopped halfway, then zipped it back up. Tease. Switching gears, he taunted the crowd: “Someone hurt me. Come on you fucking pussies, someone hurt me.” A guy in front of us grabbed the microphone stand and slammed it into Rat’s Ass’ face, the microphone careening into his front teeth. Stunned, Rat’s Ass stepped back, leaning over with his hands pressed against his mouth. He regained his composure, approached the microphone and said, “That did it, that fuckin' hurt!” His eyes were glassy, watering.

Tom and I retreated to the back and found my sister, who was having problems with a longhaired guy. “What the fuck is that?” my sister yelled at us, looking over our shoulders. The guy had tan, muscular arms and longish blond hair, and was wearing a sleeveless shirt that said Pussy Galore in large colorful letters. "What the fuck does Pussy Galore mean? I’m gonna rip that fuckin’ shirt right off him.” Luckily, the band was playing, drowning out her screams. The object of my sister’s hatred had no idea that a crazy woman was about to attack.

“Lisa, calm the fuck down, Pussy Galore is a band. It’s just a fucking band.” I pleaded. There was no stopping her, I had seen this behavior before and it was pointless trying to rationalize with her. Plus, she was wasted, having spent most of her time at the bar. Between the alcohol and years of Women’s Studies classes and yearly subscriptions to On Our Backs, I knew there was nothing I could do to stop her from attacking this guy. “Jesus Christ, Lisa, calm down!” I pleaded with her.

Tom and I watched as she walked toward the guy, his back turned to her. She immediately grabbed the top of his shirt and yanked downward as hard as she could, ripping it from the collar to the pit and then some. He turned around and yelled, “What the fuck?” He was pissed and rather confused. He could’ve kicked all three of our asses.

Tom and I grabbed Lisa and pulled her out of the club, leaving Jessica and Henry at the bar, who were oblivious to what was going on. She went reluctantly, screaming, “Fuck you, dude. Fuck you, you dick.” He returned the insults with, “Fuck you, bitch. What the fuck?” not sure why this crazy woman was trying to rip his shirt off him. But he stayed put, not following us. Just in case, we dragged Lisa halfway down Broadway, past Montgomery and down the hill until we couldn’t see the club.

When the coast was clear, we let go of her. She shook her arms, looked at us with a smile, thinking she had done something good, and said, “Fuck that guy, what the fuck did he think he was doing?” Before she could finish, I pushed back, “Fuck you, Lisa. That guy was gonna kill you. And probably me.” Tom chimed in, “And me too.”

Just then, a large truck drove by. A cowboy looking dude in the driver’s seat yelled, “Devo, B-52s!” It was something that straight people yelled at us all the time.

Lisa flipped him off and yelled, “Fuck your mother.” The wheels on his trucks screeched, throwing it into a skid. We grabbed Lisa and ran down the hill, making a left on Sansome and darting into the two-tiered free garage where we always parked.

“Lisa, you’re a fucking idiot. I’m sick of you doing this.” She was drunk and moving from feisty to apologetic and pathetic.

“I’m sorry, little brother.” At the end of the night, my name usually changed from Greg to Little Brother. “Fuck, I know, I know, but that guy was a fuckin' idiot.” She wasn’t giving up but she was fading quickly, slumping in the back seat. I failed to respond. “Come on, Little Brother. Don’t be mad at me.” We rode home in silence—me stewing in the front seat and Lisa slumped down in the backseat.

Driving down Market, past Van Ness, Lisa’s head popped up: “Pull over, I gotta throw up. Pull over.” I jerked the car to the right and turned off the lights, keeping the engine running. It was midweek and late, so there wasn’t much traffic. Lisa lurched out the back door and walked in front of the car, bending over where we couldn’t see her.

Tom and I sat motionless in the front seat, waiting for Lisa to reappear. Even though I was drunk too—drunk enough to get a DUI—and drawing attention to the situation could lead to all of us going to jail and the car getting impounded, I decided to pull back on the high beams while simultaneously laying hard on the horn. Lisa was really bugging me and I felt the need to get back at her.

There weren’t many people on the street, but the ones who were near us noticed the drunken woman crouched down, throwing up in front of a car. Tom and I laughed hysterically. After a few seconds, we figured she would appear, stumble back in the car and tell us to fuck off. No, this wasn’t my sister’s style. A lone finger—the middle one—slowly rose beyond the hood like the sun in the east. I stopped honking. Her middle finger stood stone like, pointing toward the sky. It was followed with a mumbled, barely discernible:

“Fuuuuuuck Oooooofff!” That's my sister. Defiant to the end.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Turk and Taylor (Guest Post by Tom Pitts)

(Sit Down, Casper is pleased to have Tom Pitts handling the post today. Tom is a friend and ex-band mate of Short Dogs Grow. I saw him read this story at Lip Service West and he was great. Enjoy.)

The problem was finding a place to shoot up. I’d tried everything. Public buses, public bathrooms, people’s front stoops, in the parks, in parking lots where needles were hidden safely under the bumper of an immobilized car, it was a constant problem that needed constant solving.

One of the safest, most private places I could think of was the video arcade porno booths. The kind of joint that a guy went into with a roll of quarters in one hand and a hard-on in the other.

I’d done it before. There was a XXX porno shop beside the methadone clinic with the pay by the minute video booths hidden in back. I’d gone in and cooked up, and hit up by the light of thirty-six channels of endless sex.

It was maybe my third visit to the video arcade. I went into the booth, and started to set up shop. This included grabbing some newspaper from my bag and stuffing the glory hole to ensure complete privacy.

This time the paper popped back out. I stuffed it right back in. Again, it popped back out.


There was someone on the other side pushing it out. I was so focused on finally having solitude that it didn’t even occur to me that that was what the fucking glory hole was there for in the first place. I had a needle in one hand, a spoon in the other. It was worse than being caught masturbating.

“No thanks!” I said, replacing the paper. Loudly, I thought, but I guess not loudly enough, because the newspaper popped right back out. Goddamn it. I was pissed, I didn’t have all day. They made you buy a minimum three dollars in tokens and each of the tokens lasted only seconds it seemed. I had only so much light to unpack this shit, cook it up, and trickiest of all: find a vein.

At any moment I feared a big hard cock being shoved though the hole. Or a terrified voice shouting, “Hey what are you doing in there? That’s not beating off!”

I leaned over and shouted at the hole.

“Try another fuckin’ booth.” I shoved the paper back at the hole, and added, “Not interested.” An unnecessary appeasement in case I’d hurt the pervert’s feelings. I think he had figured out I’d be doing something other that what he was doing.

I went about my business quick. My tiny bottle of water, the little rat-shit sized piece of black tar heroin, a shed of filter from my cigarette to draw it up through, and the reason for my urgency, a quarter gram of cocaine, ready to slide in once the junk was heated and dissolved.

I’d pump a few more tokens into the machine and look around for some fucking going on in a white room. When I thought the light was the best, I’d take the spoon and twist it up into my sleeve, creating a tourniquet, and start poking around till I got something.

Afterward I’d try to stay in there, use up my tokens, check out the movies, but I never could. I’d flip around the channels, rubbing myself a little, but I had no interest, I was already satisfied. Then, the paranoia would set in, and I’d have to move on the next place, the next comfort zone.

It took a month or so before I felt like I had to go back to the booths again. It was late, the public pay toilets on Market Street were being serviced and it was too dangerous in the Tenderloin to just plunk down in a doorway and start fixing. The place beside the methadone clinic was too far away. It would only take a few minutes by bus, but that would require waiting for a bus, something I was not prepared to do. The closest places were the seediest joints in town. At Turk and Taylor. The corner was widely known as the place you could buy any drug you could think of. I’d never think of buying there. It was a sure fire burn. It was crack dealers and people selling heavy duty meds. It’s where the homeless went to shop when they needed to self-medicate. My presence down there was an exercise in self-denial. But I wasn’t gonna linger, I was gonna get this hit and then a bus ride wouldn’t seem so agonizing. After all, I’d hoped the next bus ride would take all night long.

The shop I picked was at 45 Taylor. It was next door to a halfway house a friend of mine stayed at when he got out of the pen. I walked in and browsed a few moments. It was the same stuff as the other joint. Dildos and DVDs. Same shit, different hole. I walked up to the counter and asked for tokens for the booths in back.

“Minimum three dollars,” said the clerk. Same as the other place. I didn’t say a word; I just forked over the three dollars and made my way toward the back. Once inside, I went through the same ritual as before. Only this time I noticed that the tokens didn’t give me as much time.

I was tearing cellophane with my teeth and drawing up water when I heard a knock. I froze. Fearful like a dear. Who would knock? Is that management? What do they want? They’d have to assume I was jerking off and want privacy so I decided to ignore them and keep moving.

The red digits on the seconds counter fell as I hurried to assemble the hit. Dope, water, flame, coke, cotton.

Knock, knock, knock.

I had just drawn up the hit, I couldn’t have somebody pounding on the door when I had a needle in my vein, I had to answer.

“Fuck off.” I called out. No sense in beating around the bush.

The knock came again, a little lighter this time.

“Fuck off.” I repeated. A little louder this time.

But the knock came back, this time with a voice.

“Open up.” It was tough to make out, but it was a voice.

“Busy.” I answered. I wanted to kick the door open and scream What the fuck!, but I wanted that hit.

“Come on, man. Open up.” The voice was barely above a whisper. I knew it wasn’t management or the cops. It was almost pleading.

“What?” I said, as sharply as possible. I still didn’t want to open that door. Then I heard the voice say something I couldn’t’ make out. It was a question, I could tell, but who knew what?

The voice repeated the question.

Jesus Christ, I wasn’t gonna get rid of this guy. I didn’t know if he needed a light or if he was hitting me up for change, but I was going to have to open up that door. I held the needle behind my back and cracked it open just a bit.

There was no one there.

Then, the voice repeated the question. Even with the door cracked, I still couldn’t understand the question. I open the door further to see where the person owning that voice went.

It was then I saw something move in the blackness in front of me. I looked down and saw two yellowy eyes and a set of grinning teeth looking up. I recognized him immediately; it was as though I’d already seen him in my nightmares. He was a tiny black man, only about 4 and a half feet tall. I’d seen him many times on Market Street handing out photocopied poetry to uninterested commuters. He was dreadlocked and dirty. His head was too big for his body and his yellow glassy eyes bulged out of that enormous head.

“What?” I repeated, in shock from seeing him there in the first place.

He asked the question again. “Can you what?” It still made no sense to me.

He slowed down.

“When you are done … can I eat your wad?”

I blinked, astonished. This is what he wanted? This stranger? Is this what this guy did all night? I was nauseated, disgusted, but most of all pissed off that he interrupted me for … this.

I held up the needle in front of his face.

“I’m trying to fix. Fuck off.”

But he just stood there expecting me to change my mind. Grinning, waiting.

After a pause he said, “I mean, after.”

“I’m fixing, I don’t have any … wads,” I said and slammed the door.

I went back to work. Wham. Slam. Pack up and get out. I was trying not to think about that little troll at the door, about what kind of death wish one must have to go and beg to gulp stranger’s semen in a porno booth in the Tenderloin.

As soon as I opened the door, there he was. Still hoping I was going to change my mind, or maybe waiting for the next guy. I thought to bitch to the clerk, but decided that next time, I’d take the bus down to the train station and take my chances with the hobos in the public restrooms there.

Tom Pitts 8/31/08

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Play Some Manilow

This morning on the way to work, my memory was jarred back to a bar at Harrah’s in Lake Tahoe. It was the late 80s and I was there with friends, drunk and looking for authentic, unaware kitschy entertainment. At this time there were still leftover entertainers from the late 60s and 70s, peddling hipster Vegas schlock for the old people who appreciated “quality entertainment.” I was looking for someone who closed their eyes while singing Manilow.

In the corner of the casino, a half-sphere bar formed a moat around a stage. On stage, an attractive woman in her 30s, with an ankle length evening gown and shoulder length feathered hair was singing a Phil Collins song. A few feet behind her and to the right, an on older guy with a mustache played bass. Behind him was a stack of rack mount effects that covered all of the other instrumentation. Their roles in the band were obvious: singer and the guy that did everything else. If I were really drunk, they could’ve been The Captain and Tennille.

We sat down at the bar and ordered beers. We were already drunk and acting a little braver and louder than normal. Since it was a casino, nobody seemed to notice or we weren’t at the point where guys in solid colored blazers and ear pieces looked our way.

My demise started when the singer politely asked, “What do you want to hear?” My eyes widened like saucers and I screamed, “Manilow! Play some Manilow!” It didn’t stop there. Nearly jumping out of my seat, I listed every Manilow song I knew: “Mandy, Weekend in New England, I Write the Songs.” That was all I knew and I kept on repeating them until she acknowledged me. Everybody sitting around the bar, about 10 of us were aware that I wanted to hear some Manilow…in a bad way!!

Without looking at me, she politely addressed my suggestions:

“Wow, I thought the kids were into Guns and Roses these days.” Her hand gently caressed the mic. She glanced over my way and smiled. I was sassed.

I exploded, throwing my hands up, indignant that she thought I/we liked Guns and Roses. By our dress, I figured it was obvious that we were into indie rock, or college rock as it used to be called. They launched into Sailing by Christopher Cross. I closed my eyes and mouthed the words. My indignation calmed with the first chorus. Order was restored. I looked around and there were no blazers near.

We settled in and the music became secondary to our drunken conversations. As with most drunks, we made plans that wouldn’t happen and enjoyed the moment, aware of only ourselves.

During an instrumental interlude, the singer sashayed toward the center of the bar. I ended our conversation, concentrating on what was taking place. Out of my peripheral vision, I saw a man hand the bartender a folded note. The bartender gave it to the singer; she looked at it and nodded, acknowledging the guy. This was all too much for me to handle. I exploded again, screaming, “What does it say? What does it say?” I turned to my friends, who didn’t witness the transaction and said, “Man, that dude gave her his hotel key,” knowing quite well that he handed her a slip of paper. I continued screaming, “What does it say? What does it say?,” interspersed with looks of astonishment to who would look my way – as if to say, “Can you believe what is happening?” Of course, this innocuous transaction - he probably was friend – was all fabricated in my drunken state.

Eventually, she had to recognize me and my concerns. She turned, and in her ever-so polite manner said, “It says that the young man at the bar with long hair and black clothing (me) is an ex-convict.” The 10 people or so at the bar, and the bartender broke into laughter, along with my friends. Once again, she sassed me. Touché. Being mostly a friendly drunk and one who enjoys a fair amount of ribbing, I climbed on the bar and waved to the crowd, bowing in respect - my dirty, size 11 leopard print converse leaving prints where they balanced on the wet bar top.

After everyone had some sort of verbal shot at me, I climbed back down, expecting to resume my night. From behind, 2 men in blazers approached and said, “That’s it, Buddy.” I’d been looking at them all night and now they were right behind me grabbing my shoulders.

As they led me away, my friends laughed along with the handful of drinkers. I waved and smirked at the singer. She nodded and said, “Back to prison.”