Goodbye, then.

I got the news a few days ago. I still find myself crying about it. Sinuses and eyes burning. Cold, crackling fist around my heart squeezing. My mind unable to reconcile that it’s real.

Zaine is dead. He’s gone.

How the fuck is this possible? It’s a joke, right? Inconceivable.

There was too much energy in him. Too much light, too intense of a presence.. Too much a part of my life, too much of an influence on who I am. It’s almost like a part of me dying.

Inconceivable.

We met in high school. Initially, we didn’t like each other much. A mutual love of Rush and Jethro Tull got us past that, made us realize how much we were alike. We bonded over theatre and art and music and humor and life.. When shit went sideways with his dad and he needed a place to stay, my mom welcomed him in, and he lived with us for over a year. We’d smoke and drink and laugh and talk of plans for the future. How we’d escape our shitty environment. Rebellious Bastards United. He got an apartment in Lewiston, and it became the hub for my Senior Year in High School. We’d go over there and drink and smoke and get high and talk about girls and life and art and how we wanted to change the world. And escape, god.. Always… How we wanted to escape.

The night before I left for California, the girl I was dating at the time let him drive her car against my protests. He was drunk. The car got into a minor scrape, he ran drunkenly down the street, blaming himself, saying “I should fucking die, I can’t do anything right”. I needed stitches in my chin, blood covering my chest like I’d had my throat slit, and yet I told my mom “We need to go after him. Make sure he’s OK.” My mom kept insisting on the hospital, I insisted we find him first. I prevailed and we found him. Made sure he was OK. Let him know that what mattered was HIM. Not a stupid car, or a stupid girl that (let’s face facts) I would never see past that night ever again.

Then I moved to LA.

Six months later he moved to San Jose.

We spent Thanksgiving together, eating TV dinners out of the metal foil trays. Both of us poor as fuck. Both of us scared as fuck. Both of us happy as fuck. We’d escaped. Sure, we had no idea what the future would bring, but the first step was made. We were no longer trapped.

Over the next five years, I saw him ever 6 months or so. I’d stay with him and his roommates Amie Sue and Eric, who became as much family to me as Zaine was. Any excuse to go to the bay area for “a short trip” became a multi-week camp out at their place. Shows and espresso and cigarettes and music and art and heated passionate discussions. And laughter. So much laughter.

My memory has gotten hazy and flawed over the years on a lot of things. I can remember incidents, but I can’t SEE them. My memories of Zaine are crystalline. I can see his face go from quiet contemplation to a wide grin. The way he twisted his head when he laughed… The way he’d give himself over to the laughter. Embracing it fully.  I can see him dancing in my living room to 80s Christian New Wave music. I can see his head cock and raised eyebrow when I’d say something particularly absurd. I can see all of these things like a movie playing out before me.

We got our first tattoos together. I designed his. An Ankh made of green chrome with pieces pulled away, revealing the broken circuits underneath. We went to an old Korean tattoo artist who did a very poor job, the needle set way too deep… Scarification over tattooing… And blood pouring in sheets down our arms. Rebellious Bastards United.  Later we saw NIN at the Cactus Club. Down In It had just been released as a single, but the show cemented both of our love for the band. I’d send him tapes of the band in the NW before they broke. He’d send me obscure industrial and darkwave stuff. We’d see each other as frequently as possible.

Tori wanted me to come down to Taos NM to hang while they recorded Under the Pink. I called Zaine and told him we were making a road trip. We headed out at night, driving… Driving… In the heat of the August evening. We reached Lake Havasu AZ in the early am. Deciding to see London Bridge we wandered around the park… Unsure if we should enter, not wanting to trespass. Two cop cars came screaming in to the parking lot. The cops had us up against the car, asking what we were doing, us trying to explain “we wanted to see the bridge”, Zaine thinking this was time to pull out the comedy of imitating the Zeppelin “Take us to the bridge” riff.

The cops let us go, after deciding these two long haired scruffy fucks weren’t a threat, and we drove on… Through the desert, the scent of sage heavy in the air, leaving our skin sticky from the pollen. Singing as we drove, writing songs on a beat up acoustic guitar. Finally getting to Taos.  Watching meteor showers in the desert after the day’s recording. Listening to early mixes, stomping across the studio floors in Doc Martens. Having Eric sample the sound for the rhythm track for Space Dog. Driving back…. Not just to San Jose, but all the way to WA. Not wanting the trip to end.. Saying “THIS should be a MTV show. Not that Real World thing. Actual friends trying to deal with life on the road” Tori getting concerned when we’d “fight”… Both of us laughing, telling her “this is just how we are. We’re brothers. We fight and go at it, and we might not talk for ages… Even years, but we ALWAYS come back for each other. We love each other.”

Right before I got married, he crossed a line, said something that I felt went “too far”. I cut him off, told him “You can’t take that back”. And that was it. We didn’t talk. Years went by and ego and pride kept me from reaching out. In recent times, when I talked to Amie Sue, I had mentioned how much I missed him. When she talked to Zaine, she told him “You should talk to Rantz”

But he didn’t. And I didn’t.

I don’t have many regrets in life, but goddammit… This is the big one.

I read the post on Jennie’s FB wall… That he was gone. I knew it wasn’t a car accident or a robbery gone bad. I prayed… I prayed it was, but I knew it wasn’t.  It’s been days. I thought I was immune to being affected by death. I thought nothing could get through. And yet, every hour part of me aches and hurts and wishes for a time machine. Some way that I could drive to San Jose and tell him “You dumb fucker, you KNOW I love you man, let’s cut the dumb ass bullshit. Let me be there for you.”

But I can’t.

I’m sorry Zaine.

I will always miss you.
You will always be my brother.

05

07 2014

The Homecoming Game – Part 24

It has been a fucking CRAAAAZY 2 months. In the midst of feature script writing. Sorry, so sorry for the delays.

…..     …..     …..     …..     …..

I got into Michael’s new car, an electric blue Camaro with a sound system that we unequivocally determined to be “Badass”.  As Metallica grinds through “Orion”, the heavy bass notes causing our hearts to palpitate, I filled him in on my Mom’s out-of-character concern. “Ah, man… whatta you expect?” he shouts to me over the blasting music “You’re her only child… she knows you’re leaving and you ain’t comin’ back.  That’s gotta be hard on her.”  I nod in agreement, then scowl when Michael waved a prohibitive finger in my direction as I’m about to light a cig, making it very clear that the new vehicle must remain ‘smoke-free’.  Keeping his eyes on the road, he nodded towards the back seat and the large brown paper grocery bag resting there.  I twisted and squirmed and managed to maneuver my upper body back within reaching distance, grinning at what I see.  Three fifths… one vodka, one tequila, and one of gin… on top of a sixer of Heineken. I looked over at Michael and he grinned, his eyes shooting over to me for a second before returning to the road. “Can’t have you drinking Schaefer or Lucky Lager on your last night here, man!”  I punched his shoulder in thanks, and settled back in the plush bucket seat for the rest of the drive to Vince’s house.

Vince lived in a boxy condo on 5th Street, just a block up from Main Street, halfway up the hill to Pioneer Park. The location provided for easy access to the bars that were less-than-diligent in their adherence to checking IDs, as well as multiple venues of escape in case one of the neighbors decided that the racket or teenagers pissing on their lawn had gone on quite long enough, thank you very much.  Vince hadn’t graduated from either Lewiston nor Clarkston High School… as far as anyone knew, he hadn’t graduated at all. Michael and I had discussed on more than one drunken occasion that his habit of hanging out with, and buying booze for, High School kids likely reflected the fact that since he had never finished High School, his mind was still ‘stuck’ in that stage.  He’d never had any sense of closure or completion, and hence kept partying with kids 4-5 years younger than he was.

We preferred to think that this was the logical explanation with the combined variable that, since we often partied at his condo, there would frequently be girls… ones we were dating, ones we were interested in, ones we couldn’t stand but had a magnificent ass, as well as their friends… that likewise would show up to party when we were there. Choosing to attribute Vince’s behavior to this was preferable to the alternatives… The possibility that he ‘liked’ teen-aged boys in a way that the citizens of the Valley would definitely frown upon. That he was mentally unbalanced and could only deal with minds that were not-quite-fully-logical or formed. That he was happy to supply us a location for partying since he made a tidy profit from our activities, being our main supplier of booze (with a “service charge” added), speed, and pot.  The fact that, three years later, he died from injuries sustained during one of these parties… injuries inflicted with a baseball bat and the butcher knife from his own kitchen… lends credence to the hypothesis that Michael’s and my “happy and harmless” assessment of Vince was, at the very least, flawed or incomplete.

Our small group of friends, which we had dubbed “The Motley Sleaze Patrol” during the summer following our Sophomore year, was already gathered at Vince’s place and had gone out of their way to “send me off” in glorious and tasteful style.

GET THE FUCK OUT ALREADY” Read one of the homemade banners, a testament to friendship rendered in splotchy tempra-paint lettering on rough-edged butcher paper. “ARE YOU STILL HERE?” read another

The final banner, a obscenely long tapestry of black-humored good will, was draped across the back wall of the living room. Adorned with cartoon tombstones on either end, the brush stroke lettering spelled out “JACK-OFF SAREN, R.I.P. – HE SURE COULD DRINK A LOT FOR A FAG.” The icing on the finely crafted cake that my friends called party decorations were the dozens of condoms that had been inflated with helium, and hung floating in bunches tied with black ribbons over the entire room. As I entered, taking in this scene, someone shouted “He’s here!” and the dozen or so people in attendance turned toward the door cheering in a big whooping cry native only to redneck parties and rodeos.

I noticed that, miraculously, magically, the membership of the Sleaze Patrol had expanded by 400%.  This would have annoyed me more if not for the fact that over half of the attendees were female. None of them vengeful or bitter ex’s. I did a slow head-roll to the side, cocking an eyebrow at Michael. “So… this is a ‘small get together’ with just a few friends?”  Michael just crossed his arms and shot me a Cheshire Cat grin that said, very eloquently, silently, “deal with it, fucker.”

And so, I did.

The other two members of the MSP-proper kicked things off with a game of quarters, played with a shot glass filled to the brim with Tequila. One of my highly valuable life-skills is that my lack of eye-hand coordination in sports does not extend to drinking games involving the bouncing of hard currency into glasses. Even when the glasses are very small.  Within 30 minutes, I had managed to inflict five or six shots on each of the four girls at the table, and had blessed the male participants with a couple shots to boot.  This all went down to looks of disbelief as I sat with a Heineken in one hand, and a small ceramic pipe in the other, switching back and forth as I took hits from the two intoxicants in my hands, but remained “dry” in regards to having to take any shots of tequila.

Quarter after quarter left my thumb and forefinger, spinning in a controlled arc before hitting the table, bouncing in a shallow trajectory, before landing with a neat “plop!” in the filled shot glass.  Soon enough, the fifth of tequila was gone. The group clustered around the table were getting very… very drunk, and I was experiencing a very pleasant buzz.  A high brought on by the combination of my unrivaled dominance at the drinking game, the half of a beer I’d drank, and the unexpectedly potent weed that Vince had scored.  Usually with the pot Vince had, you’d find yourself smoking an entire 8th just to get a decent buzz, so I was smoking in that pattern… big, looooong hits that were held in until the smoke almost entirely dissipated within the lungs, leaving little to exhale.  By the third or fourth hit I could tell… this wasn’t Vince’s usual batch of backwoods dirt weed. Time slowed and my skin began to glow with a warmth that suffused my entire sense of self, while deep inside I felt the urge to MOVE… to make, to create, to drive, to laugh, to sing, to rock out, to run around, to fuck like I had just discovered my cock.

To quote Bettie Davis, ‘Fasten your seat belts, it’s going to be a bumpy night’

With hindsight being what it is… 20/20, with crystalline perspective and clarity… it’s entirely possible, even quite likely, that Vince “supplemented and supercharged” his normal dirt weed (usually acquired from the wilds of fields hidden in amongst the smaller farmer’s crops of corn around Walla Walla or Sandpoint), with something to make it into the smokable form of green rocket fuel on hand that night.  Over the years, over many states and countries, I’ve… partaken… of crops homegrown, as well as crops cultivated, bred, and developed with a surgeon’s touch.  I have never… ever… had an experience smoking pot like I had on that night.  The logical conclusion is that, given the number of experiments conducted in the field, and a careful analysis of the data acquired during said experiments, it had been ‘dipped’… in speed, in coke, in ecstasy, hell… maybe even heroin.

Like the number of licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop, the world may never know.

My immediate reaction to the onset of feeling like this was simple.

MORE.

I slammed what remained of my beer, and grabbed a blue, plastic cup, pouring gin into it until it was half-full.  I refilled the bowl of the ceramic pipe from the contents of the flimsy cellophane bag on the table, where drops and splashes of tequila lay like a thousand micro lakes of defeat.  Craters left in the wake of the Great Quarters War. Someone had put Led Zeppelin on Vince’s stereo, and Robert Plant began moaning… summoning the type of time-space event synchronization that only occurs when one is well and truly high… “We ask no quarter… we give no quarter”  I started giggling like a hyena and said to one of the girls “If they have no quarters, they should’ve used nickels… you can still bounce ‘em into the glass…” which got a polite, if confused, smile and nod.  The juniper Pine-sol scent of gin clears my sinuses, and ignites a burning river that travels down my throat before becoming a flower in my belly that blooms and grows, and sends it’s flaming tendrils outward… burning through the cold, active focus I had felt in the center of myself until it met with the crackling, luminous exterior.  Green flame meeting warm red. Complementary colors. Oppositional colors.  Maintaining their own space, they emphasize each other. Make the other “pop” in direct spatial comparison. Hence the nature of Christmas decorations, traditional colors… Red and Green… Fire and Forest… Burning Immolation vs Growing Life.  The Devil(death) + The Godhead(life) = please solve the previous equation in essay form. Show your work.

“Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuccccccckkkkk” I wasn’t sure if I was drawing the word out that long, or if it was my perception of a slight slippage in the Wheel of Time. (Get a mechanic to look at that.  It’s always a problem with these older models)  Billy, a member of the MSP-proper, slugged me in the shoulder with a laugh and said “Dude…Is that what you want to do, a question, or are you reeeeeeallly high?”

The impact of his fist, as light and joking as it was, hit me off balance… threw me back, in exaggerated waves rippling outward from the point of contact… film shutter snaps and clatters, dim the lights and I’m watching educational films from the last four years in slow motion, This film may contain sex bias material stickers on the metal can. Noise filling the dark classroom, choppy and chattering as the celluloid keeps slipping the sprockets… damn it Billy, how many times do I have to show you how to thread the leader into the starting mechanism… my motion echoes  recorded footage of Crash Test Dummies. Slow-mo snap back, then whip forward in the recoil…The iconic Yellow and Black pie-divided circles on the side of the head. Creating a black widow, red-on-black hourglass in the afterimage when you closed your eyes. Life and death contrast again. Color as symbol. The government uses these colors to send us messages… transmitted in shape and color.  If only I could see… see what… see my… my head feels so heavy… It feels so light… This is your head… as it slams into the dashboard without the protection of a seatbelt… it contains the human brain with more computing power than the most powerful computer man can create… you should make sure that it’s well covered against the cold and elements… 73% of body heat escapes through it… was examined in the 17-1800s for bumps and ridges which Doctors believed could indicate everything from mental disorders to indications of disease… on drugs.

Any questions?

From there, Shit Got Weird.

The remainder of the night… the events that unfolded over the course of 8 hours… is incomplete to my recollection. There are “moments” of clarity.  Things That Happened within a short capsule of time, caught, illuminated, frozen, as some mental strobe or square disposable flashcube went off. A momentary POP of chemical glare. Keeping it as a mental treasure for later admiration or regret within a faux-leather binder embossed with faded golden script reading “My Memories”. Time erodes the sticky nature of the contact sheets that kept the pictures and cellophane covering in place on each page. Prone to randomly drop out onto the floor if you’re not careful in handling, or carrying it.

POP

Standing on the (almost) flat roof of Vince’s condo. Screaming, shirtless… at the stars as I felt the starlight and the cosmic rays from far off galaxies pour down from the night sky, filling me with power. I cried out to the heavens that destiny awaited. That I would accept the great power the universe had seen fit to bestow upon me. That one day these puny ants below would rue the day they had mocked me. I began to unbutton my Levis, as I shouted that the girls of the valley should now commence their weeping at my loss, for they would never have the ecstasy and joy to be found within my arms. Billy and Vince and Michael having made it to the roof, desperately, foolishly, tried to stop me as I reached the bottom buttons, howling the important and critical addendum that “Oh, and by the way girls… I’ve got a cock the size of Texas!”.  The leather heels of my boots scraping across the asphalt shingles, as the boys drug me backwards… arms looped under mine in tag-team fashion… across the very slight incline of the roof towards the adjoining patio cover, which stood 2 feet lower than the roof.

POP

Vince arguing with one of the “non-MSP-posse” guys about the music playing… so very loudly… on the stereo. Vince was determined to keep the current album, Def Leppard’s Pyromania, in its 33 and 1/3rd RPM. His opponent was slamming the current musical selection with verve, and held up a cassette that he demanded be played by a band called the Cult.  He promised that the starting track on side 2 would “blow us away” and that the guitar on it “Totally rocks, dude”.  I watched this verbal volleyball, back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, neither giving and inch. When I saw Vince’s fists ball up, his face red and shaking with rage, I knew the swing was coming. I could see it happening before the moment. Slow motion prediction of variables and vectors and outcomes.  I examined them all, while watching the slow ‘blip’ of movement across the various highlighted arcs and potential paths… like the giant screen seen in images of NASA’s Mission Control, as they tracked the returning vector of men who’ve gone into space… before finally speaking. “Vince…” my voice sounded booming. Chuck Heston in the Ten Commandments. A Jack Kirby-rendered God, seated in all-powerful judgment on his genuine vinyl recliner throne from the future. “Let him put the tape in. Let us hear if the guitar on the song does indeed, rock.  If it does, then we will rock as well. If it doesn’t…” My chin dropped and I looked out from under hooded brows, a wicked smile pulling at the corners of my mouth, stretching it up and back to my ears. A trickster Deity. “If it doesn’t… there will be punishment and consequences.”  The guy with the tape gave a nervous laugh, trying to figure out what the sweet fuck was going on, and handed the cassette over the Vince who snatched it away, scowling and pissed.  He jammed it in to the player roughly, a passive aggressive gesture… perhaps hoping it would break or rip the tape, thus initiating the “punishment” upon this interloper who’d dared to mock Def Leppard.  The tape remained intact. Billy Duffy’s undulating waves of guitar became a sea… roaring and engulfing and dangerous and wonderful… and just as you were getting your footing, Ian Astbury’s first vocal line for “The Phoenix” came crashing in, washing you away, pulling you deeper, the currents swirling around you twisting and tugging you out far past safety.  Vince stood by the stereo slack-jawed and his hand fell away from the “off” button on the cassette player… a cartoon villain shown that he has no hope of victory. It was undeniable, even to him. It did indeed, rock.

POP

Sharpie Marker in hand, standing on the back of Vince’s stained and ratty couch, the better to reach the heights of the wall it rested against. The better to ensure that the words I was writing would remain untouched long after my exodus. I was writing brilliance and prophecy. Observations and commandments from the mind of god, channeled through my hands. Well, my right hand.  My left attempted to brace myself against the wall while holding on to the smouldering pipe in the crook between my thumb and finger.  Most of the group were gathered below me… standing on the floor, sitting on the furniture that had seen many better days. Bill and Tim were in the kitchen, attempting to live up to the name of our group as they poured on the charm in an attempt to get the girl standing there with them to accompany the two of them into the sole bedroom of the condo.  Vince stood at the edge of the couch, his head clutched in a death-grip between his hands, as he yelled at me to stop. That I was crazy. I couldn’t do this, he’d never get his deposit back.  With black, acrid, acetone-scented strokes, my hand kept moving across the wall, rendering line after line.  The words kept coming…

POP

The girl was coming… or pretending to come… for the third time. She was straddling me on the floor of Vince’s over-sized closet. The thin sliver of light let in through the cracked door rendered the curves of her skin in a chiaroscuro that was almost painfully erotic. Her name was Becky… or Betty (Beth, maybe?). I hadn’t met her prior to that night. She had arrived with the group from Lewiston that I didn’t know. Her hair was long and auburn, and it windmilled and whipped back and forth as she tossed her head from side to side. She’d led me in to Vince’s bedroom, and finding the bed occupied by Billy and one of her friends, she opened the closet door and pulled me in after her. Telling me “No” when I started to close it behind us. “Leave it open… at least a little bit.  I want to see.”  Her tongue tasted like watermelon bubble gum and alcohol, and was quick and agile as it darted in and out of my mouth, seeking to taste every part of me. Her breasts were small and firm, and she revealed them to me with a flourish as she pulled her shirt and bra off, raising them over head head… together… in one fluid motion that had to have been practiced in front of her bedroom mirror at least a hundred times. While I stood  mesmerized, staring at the serpentine curve running from her ribs to her belly, to the slope of her hips, she lunged forward, pulling my Levi’s open with a brutal tug that threatened to snap the metal buttons from their bases. Her free hand dove into my underwear with a ferocity that was frightening, as if she were a starving wild animal, scrabbling hungrily for meat.  When her fingers wrapped themselves around my hard cock, she stopped momentarily… a look of confusion followed by slight disappointment racing across her face. Brief, but still clearly apparent in the shadows and patchy light as she murmured “oh…” before looking up at me. She stared at me, as if expected explanation, her hand still gripping my member. I had a moment of insecurity which got overridden by the ego-maniacal effects of the high I was on, and by the single-minded urge to get off. I cupped one of her tits, teasing her erect nipple with my thumb as I said to her “You didn’t really think my cock was the size of Texas?!  How the fuck would it fit in the city limits, much less my pants?!?” She raised an eyebrow at me, as if to accuse me of false advertising before shrugging as if to say ‘oh well, while I’m here…’ and dropped to her knees. Later, as she straddled me, begging me to come already, someone puts on “The End” by the Doors, and once again I’m left wondering if this is all-too coincidental… too many moments of synchronicity piling up, one after the other, overlapping, building upon each other. Surely the structure of the universe can’t bear the weight. Something will have to give.  She begging me. Her skin is slick with sweat. She’s wet to the point where I can feel it spreading out from the base of my cock, until it leaves rivulets running down the sides of my hips. I want to come. I want this moments to last forever. I want it to end and be done.  As the dead singer exhorts from the crackling black vinyl “Can you picture what will be, So limitless and free. Desperately in need…” I finally erupt. Spraying and shooting and coming into her, so completely unsafe and unprotected. Thinking… hoping… praying… as my hips bucked and spasmed and my fingers dug into the flesh of her ass… that she was on the pill.

POP

There was a moment of calm. So cliched… So expected… So predictable… before the storm. Michael and I standing on the concrete front porch of the condo. Both of us leaning over, forearms resting on the wrought iron railing as we looked down on the incline of 5th Street below.  I smoked cigarette after cigarette. Michael nursed a beer. We stood there, in silence. Both of us well aware that my leaving Changed Things. That neither of us knew when we would see each other again. Both of us saddened by the possibility. Neither one of us willing to say anything that would allow those thoughts to gain a hold on us, or overtake us.  We stood, and we smoked and we drank. Silently thinking. Enjoying just being there, in that moment, before everything changed. Watching the night drivers pass us as their cars made the slow, steady, climb up the hill.

POP

We were standing in the parking lot on the hill behind Vince’s condo.  A flat circle of black asphalt overlooking 5th Street below. Standing there, talking, under the yellow sodium beam of the streetlights. Standing, four of us… Myself, Michael, the girl who had fucked me in the closet… Becky/Betty/Beth/whoknows, and her friend.  The friend-of-the-girl-I-fucked wanted to drive Michael’s new car. His prized possession.  The girl was cute with long, curly blonde hair, and Michael was smitten.  He was reaching for the keys. I was telling him… for the love of god, don’t do it man… but he was grinning and telling me “You already got laid man, she wants to drive me and her over to her apartment. Don’t worry…” I was worried.  I was coming down, sobering up, getting tired… but I could still see the future. All the variables lay spread out before me, and I could examine their trajectories and predict the outcome with precision. I told him that it would end badly. I pleaded for him to not do it. I failed to give him details. I didn’t tell him she would crash. I didn’t give him the fact that I could see so clearly… that there was the emergency room involved. I didn’t tell him I saw tears.  I just said “Man, we don’t need this tonight, just chill out… she’ll prob’ly give you a beej here if she’s anything like her friend.”  Michael laughed, and threw the blonde his keys. She caught them mid-flight, her fingers closing around them in a fist of upraised victory. The silver of the keys glittering and sparking against the night sky as the streetlights bounced off the metal.  Michael laughed, and I kept saying “No… don’t.”

POP

The chain-link fence was twisted and ruptured like flimsy tissue paper. It splayed outward. Two deep ruts in the grassy dirt beyond it marked the path of the car.  Vectors, positions, variables, probable outcomes. Becky/Betty/Beth/whatever was on her knees next to me. Mouth open wide again. Not to receive, but to expel.  Howling. Screaming. Animal fear and terror translated into pure, guttural sound. Vince and Tim and Billy and the others were flooding out of the condo in confusion. Some looked over the railing to the street below, some were rushing up the concrete stairs to the parking lot.  Vince stood on the porch, his eyes shooting back and forth between the two locations, saying the same word over and over… his voice rising and falling, changing pitch and octave, altering intensity and volume, as if he was a student actor, trying out all of the possible ways that he could deliver a given line. “Fuck… fuck… fuckkk. Fuck… FUCK… fuck…”  I stood in the parking lot, aware of all that was happening around me, not averting my gaze from the hole in the fence.  The exact point where the car had shot through the metallic links as the girl gunned the car. Thinking it was in Drive, when instead the car was in reverse, it had sped backward with terrifying velocity before parting the flimsy metal barrier as it flew straight out into empty space. A female Evel Kenevil daredevil performing an unintended stunt that got a shocking amount of flight time before disappearing from sight as it dropped downward to the street, scores of feet below. I stood there. Movement everywhere, as some rushed to the spot below where the car landed, blocked from my view by the edge of the hill, while Tim ran to me, asking if I was OK… was I hurt.

I stood there.

 

07

01 2014

Here’s the Thing – Sexism, Women, & the Comic Biz

Today brought another round of discussion on Twitter about “the issues women have in comics.” Because I have four daughters who love comics and have attended SDCC since they were five, and because they want to be comic creators, I lamented…

“I’ve always been vexed & annoyed about the treatment of women in the comic biz, but now… having 4 daughters, it flat out pisses me off…”

This set off a chain discussion on how bad it really is in comics for women and girls compared to other industries.

Which lead to this post.  Now, in case you haven’t put 2 and 2 together, I’m a straight white American male. While my life has been a roller coaster of ups and downs, I’ve always been acutely aware of the advantages that are present and available to me because of genetics and geolocation.  I don’t feel guilty about this fact, but I’ve always felt distinctly uncomfortable when I’ve been in situations where “guys talk shit”.  This was true in high school in the 80s when guys would insult other guys by calling them “fag”. It was true when I was in college in the 90s and guys would call a female co-worker a “slutty whore”.  It’s still true today.

I’ve been working in comics professionally since 1989.  On the positive side, there are more visible female comic creators in this business than anyone thought likely or possible “back in the day”.  On the negative side, many still have to put up with the kind of crap that was part and parcel of being one of the scant female creators in comics back in the 80’s.

The other thing I’ve seen over the last 25 years? The thing that remains as true today as it was back then?

You cannot make surface assumptions on who’s “safe” or trustworthy, because it’s frequently not who you’d expect.

Example I:

In the early 90s, I went to a fairly well known comic creator’s place for a week to join a group of “rookies” in doing a marathon session to help pencil, ink, and color 24 pages in 5 days.  The mix was 3 guys and 2 girls (in addition to the aforementioned comic creator).

Said comic creator was “known” for having “progressive” ideas about female creators… that they were just as good as men, that there needed to be more of them in comics, that they needed to not put up with shit from men… and the fact that there were 2 women on the team seemed to reinforce that.  As someone who had looked up to this creator for years, it was inspiring to see someone bucking the trend, putting his money (he paid all of us) where his mouth was.  As a group, we stayed up making comics most of the 5 days, catnapping for a couple hours, coffee on constantly, loud music, laughter. It made me think, at multiple points, “this is awesome!”  The book got done, and the Comic Creator took us to a sauna/spa for drinks and “to unwind”.

I can’t speak for the two women, but I was certainly a bit uncomfortable when we got there and I realized “Oh, we’re all going to be in this hot tub… together… naked?!”  Everyone else stripped down without hesitation, hopped in, started drinking and BSing.  I convinced myself I was being “uptight”, and stripped down hopped in, grabbed a beer and tried to not feel too self-conscious.

That ended when said comic creator lifted himself out of the hot tub with an erection, and looked back and forth between the two women before asking “OK, who’s gonna help daddy out?

My reaction was a simple and loud “What the fuck?!? Dude… what the?!?” as I scrambled out of the tub, grabbing at my clothes, determined to get away from this situation as fast as possible.  The Comic Creator lowered himself back into the tub, laughing it off saying “it’s a joke, kid lighten up!” insisting I mellow out and get back in the tub.  I didn’t.  I was too freaked out… I kept feeling like “I’m an idiot, I thought we were a team, that we were all ‘bonding’ over comics, but…

It was a January in Seattle, I had pulled my clothes on over my wet skin, not even stopping to dry off, and I walked to the bus station (a good 3+ miles) and went home, cold and wet and freaked as hell.  The entire 8 hour ride back I beat myself up… “The women didn’t seem bothered by it, why did you get freaked out?  You overreacted, you’ll never get another chance to work on…” Those feelings got reinforced when I didn’t get paid for the work. Further compounding the self loathing and confusion was the moment I ran into one of the women a couple years later and her first question was “why did you freak out and run off?

Example II:

Dave Sim.

Now, immediately, I know a huge number of people reading this are thinking “Oh HO! What did Dave do?!” Expecting the worst.

In ’92 Dave was doing a US Tour for Cerebus, and my friend Randy and I were helping him organize the Seattle stop.  There ended up being a scheduling conflict, and the majority of the retailers at what was supposed to be a “one day con” bailed in order to go to Vancouver or Olympia for some event where a couple of the newly launched Image creators were appearing.  Dave responded by telling us “Let every creator in the area know that they have a table for free, get the word out, fuck having 20 guys selling back issues, let’s just make it about the creators” Dave did that even though it meant he’d eat most of the cost of the ballroom that was being rented for the show.

So the show goes off with a number of local indie creators in attendance.  There’s maybe 100-200 people that show up to check it out at most. Not completely a ghost town, but not bustling either.  The end result was that Dave and every creator there ended up spending a LOT of time with each person who had something to sign. A lot of original sketches got done. No one was making money, but it was genuinely enjoyable.  I was sitting next to Dave when this girl approached with a portfolio under one arm. She was in her early 20s, blonde, and looked like a model. It’s no exaggeration to say that she was stunning.  She walked up, and asked Dave, glancing occasionally to me and Randy, “I want to be a comic artist… I love comics, can you tell me what I should do?”  Dave and I looked at each other for a moment, expressions blank… knowing all too well what a dozen comic editors would say at that moment… before Dave said to me “Tell her what NOT to do, and I’ll look at her art”  She looked puzzled for a minute until I started talking…

Don’t go to a ‘meeting’ alone in an editor, writer or artist’s hotel room, don’t go out ‘for drinks’ with the just the two of you so you can ‘discuss opportunities’, don’t go over to his house alone so he can ‘show you the proper technique’…” I kept going on, and on, and on as Dave flipped through her portfolio, chiming in with the occasional addition, such as, “Remember it is ‘not the way it gets done’ no matter what any dirty old man tells you.

After I’d gone on for a while, Dave started critiquing her work.  It was OK, definitely in the “beginner” category.  The classic stage of “Keep at it for two years and do these kinds of things, and maybe you’ll be ready.”  He wasn’t mean about it, he gave very specific, helpful advice, and told her before she left “If you want to make comics, make sure you’re doing it your way.”  I don’t know her name, I don’t know if she followed through and stuck with it.

Driving back the next day, Randy… one of the few people who knows about the hot tub story… said to me “You know, everyone thinks that one Comic Creator is such a nice-guy feminist, and Dave is such a sexist misogynist, but…” and I said something like…

Yeah, but fucking actions tell all.

 

The Homecoming Game – Part 23

Sorry for the long delay in updates. Been travelling a LOT for work, and also… working… so, here we go:
….. ….. ….. ….. …..

“We’re running out of alibis
From the second of May
Reminds me of the summer time
On this winter’s day”

- The Bitter End, Placebo

XV- ETHER

I arrive at the Hospital around 4pm. Einstein’s theory of relativity has been proven without ever needing to leave the planet. I’ve been back here less than 48 hours. I’ve been here for an unending, eternal lifetime. I sit in the car for a while. The car stopped in the Visitors parking lot, engine still running. Headphones blasting. Marilyn Manson is howling the lyrics to Irresponsible Hate Anthem at volumes that would induce bleeding in a lesser man. “Hey VICTIM should I black your eyes again? Hey VICTIM! You were the one who put the stick in my hand…” I’m sitting there. I’m listening. Trying to clear my head. Trying to wake up. Trying to blast away the emotions and that fucking internal voice that keeps chiming in. Trying to breathe. Trying to have just one more cig.

Trying.

And Brian Warner…Mr. Marilyn Manson… another one of us borne of redneck, middle-America. One who escaped, but still found himself haunted and fucked. Soul tainted and scarred by what he lived through as a child, he sings/screams out a possible answer. A baptism.

(Something to think about, at the very least.)

FUCK IT…FUCK IT! Fuck, fuck, FUCK!

I turn the car off. The ping… ping… ping… rings out.

Reminding me that my keys are in the ignition.

Reminding me of a heart monitor when someone is on life support.

Reminding me that I still need to call Elispeth and the kids.

Reminding me of sonar as it warns of something dark and unknown and wrong moving through the water, approaching with ill intent.

I grab the keys, and cigs, and make sure the headphones are in the glovebox, along with the remaining Red Bull I brought with me when I started out this morning. I check my jacket and jean pockets three times, making sure my phone and lighter and wallet and cigs are all on me and where I expect them to be. I haven’t had issues with this for years… the compulsive double-checking, the irrational, overwhelming fear that I’m forgetting something… but God or the Devil or whatever machinery causes the wheels of the universe to turn, thinks I don’t have enough currently on my plate, and really what is missing from this whole experience is a good old-fashioned bout of OCD panic. It’s been so long since this has been an issue that I don’t even have a prescription for Paxil anymore. I lock the car, even though it’s unlikely that I need to. I don’t even think about it… habits of protection and safety on autopilot.

The sun’s going down, the temperature’s dropping. I make a note to myself that if I stay here another day, I’m going to have to get another coat. My leather blazer is too thin. Ineffectual and useless in terms of keeping out the chill as the wind picks up and drives icy knives through the black cowhide into my skin. I start towards the main entrance, passing the glowing red sign that points out the way to the Emergency Room as I walk.

…..

I know this Emergency Room well. I spent my last night in town here. An unexpected, unplanned and melodramatic goodbye present from the town that had already inflicted a non-trivial amount of pain and discomfort on me over the course of 18 years.

It had started out with a simple enough plan. Michael and a handful of friends, gathered at the house of a slightly-older acquaintance (One who at the age of 20, was old enough to by alcohol in Idaho.) for a “farewell party”, at which my friends and I would drink. They’d toast and/or mock me, and thus we would spend the last hours of my life in the Valley in a drunken reverie.

That was the plan.

In theory.

I’m sure you’re well aware of the cliche regarding God’s opinion towards his silly little monkeys making plans. That night was a perfect example. Michael picked me up in the new car he had just been given by his parents in recognition of his recent graduation from High School. He, being the ‘responsible one” between the two of us… and likely in some small part because he wanted to show off his new car to our assembled cohorts… decided that he would serve the role as “designated driver” for the night. The term, circa 1987, meant only having a couple of beers during a party. The idea of completely abstaining from booze at a going away party? That was just crazy talk. Kid’s stuff. Silly babbling by uptight prudes who desperately needed to get laid. We were experienced partiers. We weren’t some “weekend dabbler”, who’d have a couple of wine coolers at a kegger and then spend the entire next week talking about how we got “sooooo wasted last weekend.” We’d done extensive testing. Experiments had been conducted with every possible variable under precise and carefully controlled conditions. All of us attending that night Knew Our Limits. Michael pulled up, and for some reason… even though she had never done so at any time prior during the previous 4 years during which I had done these laborious tests into the realm of alcohol, Pot and Speed… my Mom cautioned me, stopping me as I was on my way out the door.

Be careful” She said, her face creased with worry “I need you to promise me that you’ll be careful, Jack. Promise me.

I was confused and perplexed by her concern. While other kids got into trouble with the law, got caught drinking, having sex in public parks, got thrown in jail for being an intoxicated minor, or for drinking and driving, or… on occasion… ended up dead… that just wasn’t me.

I drank like a fish, smoked as much pot as I could get my hands on, and popped or snorted any bit of speed that showed up in town, but I was very, very, careful. I’d curl up next to a bush in a yard and sleep for a couple hours at 3am if I had even the slightest feeling that I was in a “state” that might lead to trouble. I was careful. I was cautious. I Did Not Get Caught. While Mom probably had a good idea that her son was no angel, I had given her no cause for concern over the four years in High School. I got straight A’s and B’s. I was involved in the Theatre and Art and Photography clubs. I was an editor for the school Newspaper. I had been voted in as a Student Body “Class Representative” for the graduating Seniors.

I was, by all outward appearances, A Good Boy.

I told her not to worry. That I would be safe. That I would probably just crash at Michael’s, and then come by in the morning to shower and pick up my stuff before heading to the train station in Spokane. I gave her a hug. I kissed her cheek. I told her that I loved her, and that I was glad that she was my Mother. She got teary-eyed, and I told her jokingly to “cut out the waterworks, sister” in my best Humphrey Bogart voice (which was, as we’ve already established in regards to my impersonations, pretty awful, sounding more like W. C. Fields) and told her not to worry, her Son would be coming home.

Safe.

Sound.

Whole.

12

11 2013

Outtake – “Alt”

So…

for the last 2 months, I’ve been buried in the world of script writing. One script for a TV pilot, the other for a feature film. I’ll hopefully be able to talk publicly about those two projects very soon, but that’s the main reason there have been so few updates on The Homecoming Game recently. The “final” draft of the pilot got sent out today. It’s been an amazing process… one that’s lead to me working on another TV pitch for a series called “ALT”. Here’s a sneak peak at the opening (which will give you “flavor”, but none of the specifics)

EXT. DARKNESS – UNKNOWN

Descending Bass notes RING OUT, two at a time, the next pair beginning just as the previous notes begin to FADE AWAY.

In SLOW MOTION we see the CLOSE UP FLARE of a match being struck. The guttering flame touches the end of a cigarette, smoke billows and swirls as tobacco transforms to ember.

FOLLOW THE MATCH as it is FLICKED AWAY... tumbling... a cartwheeling comet that is SNUFFED as it LANDS IN THE STREET.

The last Bass note of the intro lingers, fading for a moment. It’s barely an echo as the FULL ASSAULT of the song kicks in, explosively transforming the scene with LIGHT AND MOTION.

04

11 2013

Magnolias ’90

A brief break from the Homecoming Game to present this poemy-thing. Enjoy.

—–     —–     —–     —–     —–

Come with me as I drive
In summer, ‘91
At night, only night
With the sweet, sweet scent
Of magnolia in bloom
Intoxicating imagination
Stirring dreams

 

Days unbearably hot
“It’s a real scorcher”
Says the man
With the impossible
Geological
Meteorological
Pseudonym
Not a hair out of place
That fucker has AC
In his studio
With his shiny
Glittering
Teeth

 

While me
I lay prostrate
Spread eagle and sweating
In supplication
Subjugated
On the bathroom’s chipped tile floor
The coolest surface to be found
Behind the towering church
At Franklin and Highland
In the heart of Hollywood
(before it “sold out”)
Naked and sweltering
Not moving
But melting
Slowly
With each hour.

 

Like desert reptiles we lived
Drugging ourselves
Into comas by day
With pills
or booze
or weed
So we could sleep in the shadow
(or at the very least, not move)
Until the sun went down
and the moon rose
with the cricket song
and nighttime noise
That spoke of cooler air
Of the hour and time
To drive.

 

Whispering wordless
That the workingmen had left
The arctic frost offices
Exempt from restrictions
Placed on when
and where
and how
AC could be used
In reluctant exodus they drove
Slick with sweat
and muttered profanities
Along Sepulveda Boulevard
Inchworms beating them
In their race
To stucco ovens
Their valley homes

 

While those poor bastards
(and bastardettes)
Tossed and turned in Van Nuys
Waterbeds of sweat
We’d slowly emerge
Uncoiling at night
Desert snakes
Time to live
To work, hunt and play
3am
The 101
Empty and open
At speeds far from legal
As the air cooled
On a magnolia breeze

 

“Up the Beach” on the Stereo
Avery’s bass ringing out
Long throbbing notes
With windows rolled down
We’d speed and we’d chatter
Humming along
With gulps of espresso
Bringing fire to the hands
Toothy grins to the face
Wheels spinning, minds racing
Down Alvarado
To Wilshire
In the Bryson
We’d meet.

 

Black ink
Marks on paper
Dry the instant they flow
From brush or from pen
In gestures indelible
Under a canopy of Christmas Lights
Strung from trees in the back
It’s Linseed and canvas and pigment and paint
Color flies
Runs rivers and pools
To the ad-hoc percussion
Staccato beat hammered out
On welded pipe constructs
Punctuated by steam hiss
“Espresso Remix”
Pencils scribble and travel
On notebooks from pockets
Capturing it all
Trying to freeze
Struggling to hold
These moments
So fleeting.

 

Jerry puts on a tape
Of Jane’s new song
It’s not out yet
(But Perry’s a friend)
and we listen while working
Creating and laughing
A soundtrack with resonance
For what’s happening here
The artists and writers
Musicians and fools
All gathered together
In the wee morning hours
With cigarettes
and music
and magnolia
In the air.

 

And Jabberjaw on Pico
Is like Paris
Or Berlin
Or New York
In the 20’s
Except that it’s here
and “at this moment…”
(Now twenty years gone)
Each minute sang
and things inexorably changed
For good
and for bad
But never the same
As those nights
When we’d drive
Creating
The future

 

03

10 2013

The Homecoming Game – Part 22

I have a few free minutes, and god only knows when I’ll have another, so here’s another installment in the ongoing serialization…

….     …..     …..     …..     …..

Grab the smokes, the headphones, walk down the hill… past the theatre to the park. A park only by the loosest of definitions.  100 years ago, when the theatre served as a church, this grassy hill was likely the yard and gathering area for church socials.  Pot-luck dinners. Outdoor come-to-Jesus meetings. Perhaps the occasional choir performance or sunrise service held on Easter with a glorious, unobstructed view of the Valley below.  For decades now, it’s served as a simple park. No benches, no play equipment, no sandbox, no fountain. Just a grassy hill, ringed by dark, aging oak trees. A little larger than a “good-sized” back yard.

I shuffle up the slope, being cautious to not slip on the wet grass, or the patchy, slushy remains of last night’s snow that has survived thanks to the deep shade provided by the perimeter of trees, even in their leafless, skeletal, winter state.   I make my way across the grass to the edge of the park, the line of trees marking the boundary, past which the ground falls away in a steep, sandy cliff spotted with stones and broken glass.  On the edge, looking down at the glittering shards, I wonder to myself if any of those pieces of glass… fragments of sharp, curving brown or green… are “mine”.  If… even though it’s been almost two decades… I am the one who determined that they would find their final resting place here. On a sandy hill. In this town. After being hurled into the void by a drunken teenager who thought he had all of the answers.

Michael and I, along with the few classmates we considered to be our “posse”, called this “Paisley Park”… having discovered its existence shortly after the release of Prince’s “Around the World in a Day” album which had a track by the same name.  To be more precise… we knew of the Park’s existence, but it wasn’t until High School… when we spent many weekend nights in search of a place where we could safely drink and smoke pot without being caught by parents, or well-meaning busybodies, or police… that we discovered that, past the ring of trees that surrounded the park, there was a small, grassy ledge. A perfect place for surreptitious teenage experiments in the alteration of one’s brain chemistry.   We’d have long discussions, intense and earnest, about life and our place in it. Destiny and escape. The future and what was to come.

And girls. There were many, many, many discussions about girls. Getting laid. Not getting laid. What was the correct protocol and technique for bringing up the prospect of a blowjob when a girl you were “seeing” told you that she was determined to remain a virgin until her wedding night. Whether or not a certain girl was “into” you or not… a careful, group think-tank of analysis that was inaccurate, and cloudy, and myopic due to hormones and inexperience… If a girl was indeed “into you”, how serious would you have to get with her before you’d see any action.  The pros and cons of eating pussy, and techniques for executing said activity. Vague information and data gleaned from the “letters to the editor” in porn magazines we had filched from hidden parental stashes.  The pros and cons of different types of lingerie on women and the firm belief that, if a girl wore cotton “granny panties”, then you shouldn’t even waste your time.

There’s a reason I tell my daughter… even though she’s only in third grade… that all boys are assholes who only think about sex.  That reason, in part, has its roots firmly planted in the sloped surface of drunken and stoned discussions held on this hill.

At the end of the night, we’d take our empty Olde English 800 40 ounce bottles… which we called torpedoes because of their curved, cylindrical shape… and hurl them out into the night. Discovering quickly that, no matter how hard we threw them, we couldn’t clear the horizontal distance of the base of the cliff, and our boozy missiles would invariably shatter on the rocky dirt far, far below.

The ledge is no longer there. The dirt and rock outcropping has been swept away. Whether it met its demise due to natural erosion and time, or because someone in the houses below the cliff got wise to the teenage hooligans using it to launch drunken projectiles towards their lovely homes… remains unknown to me.  Either option is equally viable and possible.  What matters is its absence.  Another part of this place that… I didn’t hate. Swept away.

Gone.

 

27

09 2013

The Homecoming Game – Part 21

Things are going to be VERY busy over the next two weeks, and… while I’ll do my best to post an update during that time, Fair Warning that there may be an absence of updates for a bit. Thanks for your continued patience and interest in this rambling story.

…..     …..     …..     …..     …..

“Angel, angel what have I done?

I’ve faced the quakes, the wind, the fire

I’ve conquered country, crown, and throne

Why can’t I cross this river”

-The Humbling River, Puscifer

 

XIV – BURROWS

 

I take the “back way” to the Hospital, driving through downtown Lewiston down main street to 8th Street, up the sloping curve towards the Lewiston Civic Theatre and “Paisley Park”.  I have to admit, it’s impressive the strides forward that the downtown area has taken in ‘cleaning up’ and becoming “modern’, while still maintaining much of the character of the original mouldings and brownstone structures.  It looks very friendly and inviting, with the wider streets, lined with dogwood trees that no doubt explode with pink blossoms and hay fever-inducing pollens in the spring.  The bricks have all been sandblasted into a ruddy shade of burnt sienna. The panels and mouldings have all been painted in an intricate style that highlights each successive line and curve, giving the “painted ladies” of San Francisco’s Nob Hill a run for the money.

While it no doubt is better for the economy here, and allows for more community gatherings, events and activities, I find it unbelievably depressing.  As a kid, we’d ride our bikes over here, gliding past the darkened, dirt-smeared windows of abandoned tobacconists, and Woolworth’s and J J Newberry and Floresheim Shoes for the Family. Even the stores that remained had the feel of being some sort of survivalist encampment.  As if they’d taken their few meager belongings and hidden themselves away in these man-made caves of stone and brick and wood.  Lighting was almost uniformly poor. Counters always has a thin coating of dust. The clerks and store owners were indifferent or surly. Finding what you wanted, or something that unexpectedly caught your eye was an all-day adventure… a valiant and noble quest. You had to commit yourself to the search, knowing full well that no one would help you, and that there were many times you’d spent an entire day hunting… only to return empty handed.  No “service with a smile”, no sense… not even in an ignored implication… that the “Customer is always right.”

But on the days you found what you were looking for… or better yet… the days you found something that you didn’t know existed, but instantly filled you with indescribable joy at the moment of discovery… like finding the lost city of Atlantis, or the Ark of the Covenant, or the remains of a crashed alien spaceship buried in your backyard… those moments, those finds… they were priceless treasure. Items prized with a worth far beyond the physical value and the money exchanged.  Because of the simple fact that you had to hunt for them. Because they were unexpected and unknown and hence, wonderful surprises.

Moments like that are only possible on main streets and areas of once-thriving business that are slowly sliding into a state of decay. Hovering on the edge of life with the existence of a disease-not-yet-declared fatal. In can’t happen in places like this. Another opportunity for the unknown and the possibilities of imagination and magic, eliminated in the cleaning and scouring and improving of everything.

Driving up 8th, I turn left on 6th Avenue, parking on the street under the impressive awning of trees that line the street surrounding the imposing castle of limestone… a former methodist church that would seem better suited for the climes of England with its towering, rough stone walls … that serves as the local civic theatre.  It’s been here for decades, and growing up I thought that the theatre and the luxurious homes that surrounded it represented “High Society”. A world of F. Scott Fitzgerald-style cocktail parties attended by beautiful and wealthy people in formal wear and cigarettes smoked from the end of long, ebony holders. This area represented the “High Life”… a life I’d never be able to experience, much less have.  It’s likely that this perception was, in part, summoned by the rumor that the “mansion” on the corner of the hill, with it’s neo-Roman pillars and stonework that surrounded a rolling green estate, had been built for Walt Disney, who wanted to have a home with the luxury he was accustomed to when he and his wife visited her hometown relatives.  The rumor held sway on almost everyone… a concrete example of the grand world of Hollywood gracing the valley with its presence. For me, the rumor served a very different purpose. It gave me evidence… or at the very least… reinforced the hope… that someone who was born here could escape. Could find a better life outside of the confines of the two towns that lay side by side.

That things could be better.

…..

25

09 2013

The Homecoming Game – Part 20

Twenty Installments! Dear god, and we’re only a third of the way through… buckle up buttercup!

…..     …..     …..     …..     …..

I will break you into pieces

Hold you up for all the world to see

Yeah, what makes you think

You are better than me”

- Like a California King, Everclear.

 

XIII – RINGING

 

In the fall of 1988, I had been in LA for almost two years.  My “career” was dragging ass.  The entertainment world had not bowed before me when I entered LA. I was learning the cold hard truth on a daily basis that becoming a writer in Hollywood… even on the shittiest, low budget, forgettable projects, was made up of a lot of very long hours, and an immense amount of very hard work.

It also entailed… at the time… waiting for the phone to ring.  In this era, pre-email, you’d spend days on end at times… staring at the goddamn phone… just willing that fucker to ring. For the call to come in that would be from “this producer” or “that director” leading to actual work on a project that paid cold, hard cash.  Because of this fact, I… unlike my current disposition towards telephones… would answer whenever it rang. Usually before the first ring had finished.

This place and state of mind was the backdrop when I got an unexpected phone call from a cousin of mine. The two of us weren’t particularly close… in fact I only tolerated him when forced to by my mother at family gatherings… so it was completely out of the normal functioning order of the universe for him to call.  The sense that something “wasn’t quite right” by him calling me only increased in breadth and intensity over the course of the call.

“Mayhem, Incorporated. If you’ve got trouble spots in your life, we can rub ‘em out.”

There was a long pause. A pause that stretched out for so long, I’d almost wondered if anyone was on the other side of the line. Finally, the puzzled, confused voice of my cousin came out of the receiver. “Jaaaack?”

His inbred twang was instantly recognizable, and I instantly found myself wishing I had let the machine get it.  Both in order that I could avoid talking to him, and in order that I would have the taped amusement of his befuddled, backward-ass dialogue to play for the amusement of my friends the next time they came over to get stoned.

“Yes, Rick, it’s Jack. You called me… the question all of America now awaits with tense, baited breath is… why

More silence. Obviously the receiver on his end was not strong enough to pick up the hollow whistling of the air rushing through the vacant space in his cranium where a brain would normally reside. Finally, some response “Ummm, what?”

“Dude… you called. I answered. Tell me why you called. That’s usually basic phone protocol.”

Using short, simple words, I’d evidentially jogged loose whatever idea or reasoning had lead to the call in the first place “Um, so hey Jack… how’s it going, man?”

“Rick… no offense, but really, the last thing in the world I have time for is playing ‘catch up’ with you.  I have a lot going on right now, and I’m really busy, so…” He jumped in… interrupted me, actually… and began his spiel. “THAT is what I want to talk to you about, Jack… I’ve been hearing things…”

Despite myself, the interruption and the direction of the conversation had me intrigued and, against my better judgement… like knowing you really shouldn’t poke at a tiger in a cage at the zoo… I took the bait  “Hearing things? What, like voices? You do know that they have a whole slew of medications that you can take for that these days. Just like most forms of VD.”

(I figured he’d be more receptive if I put it in terms he was familiar with and could easily understand.)

“Naw, man… not ‘hearin thing’ hearin things… People’ve been talking. Saying stuff.”

There were a million clever counters to that, but I let them lay on the shelf, dusty and unused. I waited. Waited. Finally, I couldn’t wait any longer. “They’ve ‘been talkin’… and?”

He hemmed and hawed, as if he had something akin to manners and decorum. As if he didn’t quite know how to broach some terrible subject with me.  “Well, there’s a lot of talk… people have been saying you’re… well… you’re getting into some weird stuff. That you been doin’ some weird shit, man.”

Now…

I wasn’t quite sure how to respond to this. I had indeed been getting ‘into some weird shit’ in my first two years in LA.  Stuff that would be considered ‘crazy’ by even the more adventurous inhabitants of the valley.  The problem I faced was… without more information from my backwoods cousin… I had no idea precisely what the ‘weird shit’ I’d gotten into that he was talking about.  He could have been referring to:

A.) My introduction to, and excessive consumption of, LSD. Having taken 50 hits of acid over a 18 month span would qualify as “weird shit”

B.) My introduction to, and significant consumption of, cocaine. Having become friends with a dealer who, by reputation had the ‘cleanest, purest coke in LA’, and who frequently gave me free 8-balls because I “rocked” would perhaps qualify.

C.) My introduction to, and participation in, the Los Angeles Underground Club scene.  Attending places like Scream (on the “tame” end of the scale), and Club Fuck (on the oh-dear-sweet-baby-jesus-what-are-those-five-people-doing end of the scale) would… even on the most pedestrian and placid of nights… definitely qualify.

D.) My introduction to, and hanging around with (but not participating in) the world of hardcore body modification. Full body tattooing, Genital piercing, subcutaneous implants, scarification, suspension, bloodletting? Yeah, definitely qualifies.

Or

E.) The recent job I had taken to supplement my patchy TV and Film-related income as a copywriter at a gay male porn magazine. (As the only straight male employee) That factoid would, without a shadow of a doubt, qualify as ‘weird shit’ that I’d gotten involved in.

So…

The dilemma I faced, was… how do I address the “issue” my redneck cousin is raising without revealing other sordid details of my life that I would prefer not be making the rounds in the gossip circles of Lewiston and Clarkston.  I had no idea which “sin” he was referring to, and I was cautious enough… cagey enough… even at a few months shy of 20 years of age… to not just go blabbing information or confessions unless it was dragged, kicking, screaming, and having expended a full clip of bullets, from me.

“Rick… dude, I have no idea what you’re talking about. ‘Weird’ to the residents of the Valley is the fact that I moved here in the first place. You’re going to have to be a little more specific than that.”

I knew whatever he was getting at had to be bad by the sheer level of uncomfortable coughing, stalling, and clearing of throat that Rick was engaging in.  I was now morbidly curious… what the hell could I have done that was so appalling… so completely wrong… that it would make my cousin… a man-boy known more for his prowess at power-belching than his skills at proper post-labor day fashion ettique… so completely, obviously, unsettled.  More to the point, I was wondering what information had leaked back to the Valley that now had me labeled as a Southern California bogeyman on a level with Richard Ramirez and Charles Manson. “Well… ummm, it’s… that you’re… you know… hanging around with some… umm… some… uh… weird people.”

I gritted my teeth. Counted to ten. Lit a cig. Sucked in deep. Exhaled. Spoke. “Rick… Specifics. What. “Weird”. People.  What the fuck are you talking about?!?”

I heard him across the line taking in a massive lung-full of air, breathing in like he was expected to blow out all of the candles burning on the world’s biggest birthday cake. He holds it for the briefest of moments, before unleashing the specifics in a torrent of words so crammed together one could easily mistake it for German. “Man the rumorgoingaround is that you’reinLA studyingtobe a SatanistHighPriest.”

I sat there for a moment, trying to mentally decipher what he had just said. Trying to detangle the rush of words into a comprehensible sentence. Then, after I had managed to do just that, spending another few minutes being sure that what I thought I heard couldn’t possibly be what I actually heard. “Rick… did… did… you just ask me… if I was a Satanist?!”

The relief of having gotten the words out evidentially blew any concerns about manners and propriety my cousin might have had in the line of questioning right out of the water. “Well… studying to be a Satanist High Priest, actually. You know… like a devil-master-in training?”

My cousin kept trying to interrupt my hysterical laughter. To this day I couldn’t tell you whether I was laughing more at the idea of me being a devil worshiper, or at my cousin’s colorful description of the strata and levels of power and hierarchy within the Satanic ranks. It took a good ten minutes before my laughter was overtaken by a hellish bout of smoker’s cough, giving my cousin his opportunity to interject. “Wait… so… so… you’re not a Satanist? It’s not true?”  Only the continuing grasp of the coughing fit kept me from launching into a new round of laughter.  I managed to hack out that he needed wait for a moment, and he waited. Coughing and laughing, I got a glass of water, and returned to the phone.  “Rick… thanks for the mid-day comedy. No, I’m not a Satanist… you have to believe in God in order to believe in the devil, much less worship him. Jesus Christ…”

His relief was blindly obvious. “You’re not?! Oh mannn, I can’t tell you how glad I am to hear that. I’ll be sure and tell everyone that you’re not…” It was my turn to interrupt. “No. No, don’t.”

Relief rapidly changed and transformed into confusion. “Wait… what?!? You don’t want me to say anything? I… Man, why?!?”

I lit another cig. Sucked the smoke in deep. Exhaled. “Don’t say anything to anyone about this. Let them think I’m a Satanist High Priest… hell man, if they ask, just nod your head.”

His confusion ran even deeper “But… why, man?!”

“Because, if they think that… if I have to come back there for any reason… then the fucker’s will be afraid of me, and they’ll stay the hell out of my way.”

…..

All of this flashes, unexpected,  like mercury running fast and toxic towards the storm drain, in the second that I pass the street where he used to live. The place he might still live. I don’t know.

My Mom is dead.

There’s no one left living to make me feel guilty about not finding out.

These flashes pull my lips into a sick, sad smile, and I drive down Riverside Drive. Heading towards the bridge and Lewiston and the Hospital and my dying father.

Flick of the thumb, flint struck by spinning wheel, fire and air inhaled once again.

Breathing in.

Breathing death.

 

20

09 2013

The Homecoming Game – Part 19

Concluding Chapter 12 of the Homecoming Game. Shit Gets Nuts from here on out…

…..

I don’t know how long I’ve been standing there in the doorway of the bedroom that was mine in another lifetime.

Remembering.

Trying not to remember.

Trying to pull the memories and incidents out in an organized, systematic, item by item basis, only to find them spilling out of the overstuff closet of my mind… tumbling down, engulfing me.

It’s obviously been long enough that June has grown a little concerned… perhaps having second thoughts about allowing this stranger into her house.  She knocks me out of the vortex of remembering by clearing her throat and asking me… gently but with a pointed undertone, if I’m “OK.”

I shake my head. I smile at her. Act reassuring. Hit all the right notes so she won’t think I’m some nutjob who’s wormed his way in to the comfort and safety of her home. I do this with the hollow ringing droning on in my head. I do this with the surge of nausea that’s threatening to overtake me. I smile and nod and tell her I am “fine”.  I’m well versed in pretending everything’s ok.  I’ve had a lifetime of learning to conceal my reactions.

There’s nothing that would indicate this was every my room.  The bed with the jerry-rigged hiding place is long gone. The stained, flat, olive green carpeting has been torn up and replaced with warm maple flooring, laid in an intricate saw-toothed pattern.  The window to the back yard is no longer a plain sheet of glass… instead it’s become a stained glass tableau of the ocean. Gentle waves and sailing ships with a lighthouse casting multi-hued beams of illumination, rendered in faceted glass across the image.  The weak winter sunlight is transformed as it passes through this window, becoming pools of blue and green and amber and rose that lay across the room in a dappled pattern. It is a warm and inviting and comforting and cozy place. The type of environment that urges you to curl up in the overstuffed rocking chair in the corner, under the antique brass lamp with the ivory pettipoint lampshade and read a good book.  Even the walls have been altered… the base, painted plaster has been superimposed with long vertical paneling, made of a lighter maple finish that highlights and accents the complex hatching of the flooring.

It is not… by any stretch of the imagination… my room.

And yet, it is.

Standing in the doorway, looking in, I feel… somehow.. Wrong.  As if, by my very presence, I’m casting a shadow on this transformed place. That I’m contaminating it with old memories and traumas.  That… just by standing there… I’m summoning something black and dark and morbid and horrid.  By being here, I’m ruining it.

I thank June for her hospitality, and tell her… with all sincerity… that she has done wonderful things to the house.  I tell her she should be proud of the transformation she’s acheived.  She beams at these compliments and more as I make my way towards the door… wanting to leave as quickly as possible before I further contaminate the environment. As I reach the door, she stops me, bustling off to the kitchen momentarily, before returning… moving with such speed that the ties of her apron are flapping behind her… to hand me a still-warm jar of Huckleberry preserves.  The content glisten and gleam, and promise delicious ectasy to be had.  The berries hang thick and plump like jewels of indigo and violet, and I can’t help but think that if she can render such incredible acts of transformation with the dark place where I grew up, the magic she can summon from those tiny berries promises to be something spectacular and potentially life-changing.

We stand for a moment at the door, exchanging final pleasantries.  She makes sure I have a copy of her card, and tells me to not hesitate to contact her… either via phone or email… if any of my Hollywood friends ever need a real interior decorator.  She makes sure to assure me that I am welcome to drop by any time. To bring my family by the next time I come up to visit.  I don’t tell her there won’t be a next time. I’ve already darkened this place too much.  Let it have a new life. A better one, I hope.  I wave to her standing on the porch as I leave.  Smiling, I manage to just fit the jar of preserves in my jacket pocket, as I start the walk back… up the streets to the dirt lane, to the school, to the car.

Moments later, as I sit in the car, my hand on the keys, ready to turn the ignition.

I realize I don’t remember walking back.