Americaphiles

The Story Of My Fucking Life

Archive for January, 2009

Forty-three

Posted by ilbebe on January 27, 2009

On Casey’s twenty-first birthday, our friend Jeremy met him at his house around seven in the morning with two large bottles of a concoction he used to be very fond of; a mixture of fruit juice and some sort of flavored vodka. Roughly six hours later, Casey was told he could leave the car show in Pleasanton they had gone to in one of two fashions: in a police car or an ambulance. It seems he’d be spotted by security wandering around semi-coherently asking people where a bathroom was. Being a rational fellow, Casey opted to leave in the ambulance, and after unsuccessfully trying to bribe the ambulance men with In n’ Out to just drop him off somewhere, he found working through the titanic drunkenness he’d gotten himself into with a saline drip at the same hospital where twenty-one years earlier he had been born. Four days later, it was time to go to a rockabilly weekender in Vegas.

Casey, Jeremy, Shawn, Joe, Vic and I left Byron around midnight in Casey and Joe’s old Bronco, which we called the OJ in honor of our favorite Heisman Trophy winner. On a side note, in case anyone is unaware, the Brentwood I hail from is in eastern Contra Costa County, about fifty miles east of Oakland. Around the time knife catalogs started showing up at our post office in 1994 addressed to OJ, since his Brentwood doesn’t have it’s own zip code for idiot hicks to look up, I highly doubt there were any millionaires in my Brentwood, and there certainly weren’t any mansions. ANYWAY, we drove all night and stopped only once so that Vic could get food poisoning from a Tina Turner Tuna Sandwich at some fifties-themed diner in the desert. Casey ate the Richie Valens fries, but avoided a similar fate. We rotated through the back storage area of the Bronco for short attempts at sleep, and mine cam up just as our driver Joe started listening to the Howard Stern show really fucking loud to keep himself awake. Thus I entered Vegas for the first time around ten in the morning having already been awake for nearly twenty-four hours.

We checked into our room at the Orleans on Tropicana and Joe immediately bought the twenty-four hours of continuous porn on our TV package for twenty bucks. I complained that we didn’t vote on it, to which Joe responded It Had To Be Done. This became the first component in my Unified Theory of Vegas, which would later be expanded to include Why The Fuck Not? and finally Because We Can. After an hour-long wild goose chase trying to track down some beer, drinking commenced shortly before noon. We surveyed the Orleans and discovered to our delight that it had a bowling alley and an auditorium where they would having a boxing match that night, so we bought tickets to the match and walked outside with our beers held proudly in hands to catch a shuttle over to the Gold Coast and see what was going on with the car show.

Delirious from being up all night and now the booze, I got frustrated as the shuttle took us through a row of warehouses on a street parallel to the strip, which I hadn’t actually set foot on yet and was keen to explore. I would soon learn that with the congestion on the strip, taking the less-scenic back way on Industrial Road was the prudent course of action, and furthermore there was really no quick way to get anywhere in Vegas. Except when in the company of one man…

We dicked around at the Gold Coast for a while, then walked back to the Orleans, where I almost passed out face-down in a plate of nachos but was held back by Joe. The time that elapsed between the nachos and the boxing match are a blur, and I finally caught an hour of sleep during the main event of the match, two tired-looking heavyweights who didn’t throw many punches, then awakening to hear Casey screaming “Break his mind!”
 
After the fight, we went out to walk up the strip and discovered a two-floor porn emporium just a few lots down from the Orleans. After an hour of browsing, we made it to the strip, and eventually to the Barbary Coast, the third hotel affiliated with the rockabilly weekender. I sat down to play roulette for the first time and had my first taste of the highs and lows gambling had to offer when a hot girl won two hundred bucks on double zero and then got surly in a hurry as it evaporated away in ten minutes. I politely lost ten bucks and walked away nursing my free Heineken. We soon discovered that one of the greatest things about not having a ban on public consumption of alcohol makes it a lot easier to walk out of a place you aren’t digging. There’s no leash on your drink, nor on your sense of human decency…

We staggered into a small place called the Wild Wild West around two in the morning to inquire about a 99-cent breakfast that was advertised on a huge billboard that loomed over the building like a UFO. Indeed, breakfast was 99 cents, and our waiter Bru informed us that for only a dollar more you have either a burger or the spaghetti dinner. Vic made his second questionable meal decision of the day by opting for the spaghetti, while the Jew got the breakfast and everyone got burgers. When I started complaining about the bill, saying we needed to split it six ways instead of the five Joe seemed to be insisting on, Vic reminded me that Jeremy had turned in after the boxing match and hadn’t been with us for more than four hours. “Oh.” We went back to the Orleans and bowled for a while, then I stayed up gambling for another hour after everyone else went back and turned in and finally got to bed around five.

I was awoken around eight because Shawn, Vic, and Casey were adamant about getting over to the car show and seeing some bands play. We caught the shuttle to the Gold Coast again, and Joe suggested that we get the lunch buffet at the nearby Rio, which highly appealed to me because I had heard many tales of extravagant Vegas buffets whose prices hovered around the gallon-of-milk level. Thus I was flabbergasted when, after waiting in line for almost an hour and nearly losing my mind from hunger and anticipation, I was fleeced for twenty bucks. I became psychotically determined to eat my money’s worth, and was able to do so only by staying for an hour, taking a massive crap to get a second wind, and putting ten cheeseburgers in a backpack for later. This was the genesis of an in-joke that’s still around with our gang, that of having a locked briefcase handcuffed to your wrist that’s full of cheeseburgers. “Cheeseburger, Shawn.”

We bought a bunch of beer and wandered around the car show for a while, then went to the ballroom at the Gold Coast to see a band play. They were all right, and ended with a song about how you can’t be rockabilly if you drive a Honda, a moment that I would reflect on a few months later in Wendover when a guy referred to the Vegas event as “a fuckin’ fashion show.” We went back to the Orleans for some rest and showers before the main concert of the evening, then caught what remains the coolest cab of my life. The driver was Russian, and when we told him we wanted to go to the Gold Coast, he said You Know There Is Free Shuttle. We said Yeah But We Don’t Feel Like Waiting. He said You Can Walk You Know. We said We Don’t Feel Like Walking. He made an angry noise and said Then Get In.

The ride was incredible, he blew stoplights, honked incessantly, and when caught behind a driver at the red light on Flamingo who was exercising too much caution in turning right, he augmented his horn by muttering Must Be Asian. Or Old. Or Woman. He pronounced the word woman with an amount of disgust not often heard outside of racial slurs, and as he blew one final light to turn left into the parking lot of the Gold Coast, the meter read a little less than seven dollars. The mile and a half journey had taken about five minutes. This man was constant source of inspiration when I was doing pizza delivery.

The rest of the night was more drinking, the breaking of bottles, another visit with Bru at the Wild Wild West which saw Victor falling in line with the group and getting a hamburger, and me and Casey staying up hours later than everyone else so I could play more two-dollar blackjack and he could smoke more Swisher Sweets indoors. After my eyes started to cross, we walked outside and were shocked to discover it was broad daylight. We reflected on the surreality of it all, and went straight back to the room, announcing ourselves by throwing on the light and screaming PANTY RAID!

I was again awoken after three hours sleep because we had to be out by eleven. I struggled to stay awake and upright during my shower, and as I packed my bag, I found four cherry-flavored Swisher Sweets I had brought along for novelty smoking. We went to a bar on the first floor to redeem our boxing match tickets for a complimentary drink, and in a request that has never otherwise been granted when getting a drink on the house, the bartender served up five Long Islands and one screwdriver, for me, who was trying to take it easy. My goose was re-cooked when everyone gave up on their Iced Tea Death Bombs about halfway through and I finished them and started chain smoking my Swishers.
 
This led to me falling out of the Bronco as we parked outside of Fatburger about an hour later to get breakfast, a gaff that Casey gracefully covered up by picking my drunk ass up and saying Right This Way, Mr. President. I ordered chili at Fatburger because a)it was cheap and I was almost out of funds, and b)it seemed like a good idea to pave the way to some awful gas for the nine-hour drive home. We ditched the idea of visiting Hoover Dam, bought a shitload of bottled water, and headed south on I-15.

There are many awful sights and smells to be encountered in Vegas, but perhaps none so miserable as six men emptying out of a 1988 Ford Bronco at a gas station in Mojave, CA, desperately fleeing the scent of a near-death young Jew’s Vegas cocktail of flatulence.

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Forty-two

Posted by ilbebe on January 18, 2009

Stephanie visited me in Oakland at the end of September, 2005, just as I was finally climbing out of the shell I’d put myself in over the past nine months. I was still living in the basement room I was subletting, but I had been working for a few months and my vocabulary, which had noticeably shrunken from months of disuse, was returning. Steph and I went to The Alley and listened to people sing old songs around the piano, and she bought a round of drinks with seven bucks in half-dollars her mom’s boyfriend had given her. The bartender seemed strangely indifferent, but maybe it pissed her off because I remember that particular greyhound was pretty weak. We stumbled back to my place, split a bottle of champagne, and had a two-person dance party in the basement at three in the morning. When she suggested I visit Seattle soon, I took her advice. It was good to be able to have fun with friends again, it had been a while.

I flew up for Columbus Day weekend, cashing in a flight voucher that took me to Seattle via Phoenix, which unfortunately gave me seven hours to drink from the handle of vodka I’d brought. I always used to bring liquor with me when visiting Oregon or Washington in protest of their arcane laws, and also because it’s always fun to violate interstate commerce laws. Anyhow, my arrival was good excuse for all of my old friends who lived in Seattle to get together for a party, and it was one of the best feelings I’ve ever had showing up to a party that was more or less in my honor. Sadly, though, within twenty minutes I was projectile vomiting off of the front porch of Kaydee and Cesar’s house, and that segued ungracefully into an hour-long nap on the porch couch. I awoke briefly to puke some more and call Garrett an asshole for reasons I can’t remember. Sixty to zero in the span of an evening.

The next day I roamed around town with various assemblages of friends having the time of my life. It was a glorious Indian summer day, I was back in a city that I had blamed for a disproportionate amount of the unraveling of my mind less than a year earlier, and I was using the first paid vacation time I’d ever earned. I was on top of the world, and also well on my way to puking for the second night in a row. That particular vomit would come in the alley behind the Blue Moon in the U-District, and did I let it stop me from drinking more? The careful reader knows the answer to that.

I continued my streak on Monday when I put a punctuation mark on the end of a great evening out at Stephanie and Phil’s place in Ballard by puking into a strategically (i.e. hurriedly) placed metal pot while rolling around on the kitchen floor and singing It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding). My suspicion is that the people who witnessed this spectacle were unnerved, because without the context, lying on the ground with your eyes closed and mumbling “It’s alright, Ma, I’m only dying” could be seen as a cry for help. Far from it, though, and I wish I’d been able to bounce back and explain myself that night- I was just excited about heading down to the Experience Music Project the following morning to check their Dylan exhibit. As it was, I awoke in the morning well rested and caught a bus towards Seattle Center.

The exhibit went so far beyond my expectations I found myself crying several times. There were listening stations dedicated to each of the first seven albums, and each had alternate takes of album tracks and unreleased songs to get lost in. I had heard Talkin’ John Birch Society Blues once before, but standing alone in a booth with headphones on, looking at a huge photo of a clear-eyed, twenty-two year-old Dylan made it something much more. The most unique thing in the exhibit was an absurd three-page letter he’d written to Joan Baez’s mother which he’d asked Joan Baez to say was from her. She did in fact send the letter, but with a cover of her own explaining the circumstance. She mentions in her letter that she wants her mother to meet Dylan, she says “you’d love him.” It was a funny thing to make me recall my friend Joe’s comment “The only thing Joan Baez was good at was sucking Bob Dylan’s dick.”

A comment as prescient as that could have been the most quotable thing to come out of the day, but later that day I was walking across Teletubby park in Capitol Hill with my friend Kaydee and her asking “What’s that Journey song that goes like ‘Don’t stop believing’?”

I didn’t puke that night, and flew home the following day just in time to get out to Antioch for Yom Kippur services with my mother. Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is the culmination of the High Holy Days, the first ten days of the Jewish year. It’s a day you’re supposed to reflect on transgressions you’ve committed against others and yourself and the Lord in the past year, apologize and ask forgiveness for them, and think about how you’ll prevent yourself from letting similar mistakes come to pass in the year ahead. I’m glad I saw that day, considering all the nights I’d spent in February, and March, and April, and May, drinking malt liquor and trying to work up the courage to walk into the bay off of the south edge of Alameda. I realized the greatest transgression I’d made that year was getting fixated on the past instead of looking forward. I had great friends, my mother loved me, I was alive and I was young, and there was a lot of life left to live.

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Forty-one

Posted by ilbebe on January 14, 2009

I’ve talked about my on-again/off-again relationship with the sport of baseball already, but special consideration is due to the three times I went to Arizona with my father to watch Spring Training games. The first time we went was when I was eleven, and the San Diego Padres still help camp in Yuma, Arizona. We flew into San Diego and rented a car to drive I-8 across the desert to Yuma, stopping along the way to visit a small park populated by numerous intriguing rock outcroppings that I found only modestly amusing until I was told years later that it was a place that my mother and father had spent a transcendent few hours shortly after meeting.

Yuma was hotter than I had any idea any place could be in the beginning of March, and I clearly remember going for breakfast in the motel restaurant the first morning; the heat that the legion of rotary ceiling fans were powerless against, the predominantly white-haired crowd, the lukewarm pancakes that still seemed too hot to consider eating. On either the first or second day, the drive train in our rented Ford Tempo completely disengaged from the transmission, leading to an alternately tense and mind-numbingly boring few hours in a parking lot while we waited for a new car to be brought out. I remember doing my algebra homework laying on my bed at the motel and skimming over how to divide fractions, a deficiency in my arithmetic education that would remain uncorrected for years. We went to the Yuma Territorial Prison State Historical Park, and I was unimpressed by both how escapable the crumbling structures seemed and the inches-deep Colorado River that flowed past the decaying not-even-hulks of a supposedly worth-remembering past.

But the games, the games made it the best trip in the world. In spring training, the established players start the game but only play a few innings to allow management the opportunity to try out the new guys. Thus, the results of any individual game and indeed even any given player’s statistics over the whole spring season must be taken with a grain of salt, but to an eleven year-old madly in love with baseball and on a special trip with his father, it meant more than wars. I would try to keep score longhand, on cheap sheets where the printed ink smeared at the slightest press of sweat from my small hands, in pencil, to allow for changes in the official scoring, but my efforts were confounded by the simple facts that the pre-printed scorecards didn’t allow for twenty-five players to cycle through a single nine innings.

Then there was the flavor of the crowd, a certain flavor that rarely interacts with pro sports for perhaps the simple fact that as of 1992, rare was the professional sporting contest that could be a)walked to, and b)admitted to for less than five bucks, with c)really cheap food and beer. We went to a couple of games while we were there, and one of them fell on my birthday. My Dad went up to the announcer’s booth before the game and asked him to wish me a happy birthday between innings, which he did. I felt like a prince, and in retrospect, perhaps even cooler was how mature I felt when my Dad scratched the surface of the scope of adult misbehavior when he explained how strongly he’d had to plead with the announcer for my recognition, based on pranks the announcer had been on the receiving end of in springs past.

OH MAN, and then there was the fucking greatest salesman on the face of the earth, a fat red-headed kid whose line was HOT DOGS, Get Your HOT DOGS, GONNA DIE ANYWAY So Might As Well Get Your HOT DOGS! People treated him like he was the mayor, and holy shit did that kid sell a LOT of HOT DOGS. (He was also there the second year we went back, and I might be making this up, but I remember him walking around barefoot. The third year the Padres moved their camp to Peoria, AZ, God knows what that kid’s doing now…)

I remember playing blackjack over the center console on the long straight drive back to San Diego, my Dad steering with his knees and the occasional hand to correct, and watching an old movie called Kill The Umpire at his old friend Bob’s house where we stayed a night before flying home. I remember waking up that night in Bob’s guest room and for the first time feeling the worry of not having any idea where you are. There was a large mirror directly opposite the head of the bed, and a fair amount of moonlight, and I sat straight up in bed looking at my own reflection and feeling absolutely disconnected from space and time. I remember quickly coming to, and falling back asleep recounting the grand and wholly unprecedented events of the preceding days…

There was a series of notable killings that occurred in Oakland in 2002 and 2003 that were attributed to a small gang that called themselves the Nut Cases. The killings were noteworthy primarily for the fact that they were committed upon victims who were complete strangers to the killers with no motive of robbery. Essentially, as testimony unfolded in court, it seemed to be the deeds of a group of angry young men who killing people just to cause mayhem, and, in my armchair psychologist’s opinion, draw attention to and respond to the brutal and seemingly meaningless lives they had led up until that point. The testimony of one of the killers, who was seventeen at the time he pulled the trigger, included the biographical information that he had always been mercilessly teased at school for not knowing who his father was.

I have felt and may some to degree always a certain amount of pain about certain things that have passed between my father and I, but I know his name and I know who he is. I know that he loves me, because he acts that way most of the time, and he’s told me so thousands of time. Most importantly, when I tell him that I love him, and I mean it, he tells me I Know, Son, I Know.

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Forty

Posted by ilbebe on January 10, 2009

Things in Humboldt County can be maddeningly more difficult to accomplish than they would be in the real world, but in general, they’re easier. When I was looking for my first off-campus apartment in the spring of 2001, I consulted the list that the housing department compiled and found a place that fit all of my criteria; close to campus, on-site laundry, cheap. I got the landlord Tiffany’s home answering machine when I called the number listed, and she returned my call later that day to set up a visit.

Tom and I thought the place was great and filled out an incredibly simple one-page application on the spot. A week later, when I hadn’t heard back from Tiffany, I called to ask what the status of the place was. She said, “Well, I gave the place to somebody else. I was concerned about your income, four hundred bucks a month doesn’t seem like enough to cover the rent.” When I explained that my parents would be paying my rent for the coming year, she said “Oh, you should have said so. I’ve got another apartment if you want that one.” The following day when Tom and I gave the new, larger (and same price) apartment a cursory inspection and immediately agreed to take it, I asked Tiffany if she had any other apartments, as my girlfriend was looking for a place as well. She said Yeah, That One Over There’s Available Next Month. Have Her Give Me A Call. And so the galvanization of the Carriage House crew began.

I lived at that apartment for three and a half years. On the eighteenth (!!??) of one month, after we’d been there for more than year, Tiffany came to the door asking where my rent was. I said I’d dropped in the slot on the fourth, and she said Oh, Okay, Sometimes Checks Fall Behind Things In There. (In a charmingly insecure system, rent was put through a mail slot in the door of the maintenance shed) I wrote her a new check for rent minus the cost of canceling the first check, and I thought the matter was concluded. However, I found the first check torn neatly in half sticking out of my mailbox the following afternoon, and when I asked Tiffany about it later, she just said Yeah, I Found It. Sorry About That.

One day we crossed paths in the parking lot and she said Hey, I Heard That The Cops Have Been Called A Few Times For Loud Parties. I said Oh Yeah, But It Shouldn’t Happen Again, and that answer was enough for her. Towards the end of my residency Tiffany asked if I wanted to do the gardening for a discount on the rent. I gave her some stuttering excuse about having no attention to detail, and she just shrugged and said all right, whatever. When I moved out, my friend Jenny moved in with her cat. Tiffany was very anti-pet, but gave Jenny a pass since by that point Tom and I had been at the apartment far longer than the standard one year that pervades the college rental scene.

Perhaps the oddest moment in my relationship with Tiffany was when we ran into each other at the San Diego Zoo in February of 2007. I asked what brought her down to southern California and she said she was on her way to Baja to do some sort of extreme kayaking. This did not raise my eyebrows. We talked for twenty minutes or so and wished each other well. That was the last time I talked to her, but I may have called and left her a Happy Thanksgiving message this past year. I was pretty drunk, and if I didn’t, well, I was thinking about it.

You can see why I find property management agencies that want credit checks and co-signers criminally unnecessary.

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Thirty-nine

Posted by ilbebe on January 9, 2009

Playing sports as a kid didn’t teach me quite the same life lessons that many people glean from their experiences. I’m not saying that my experiences with youth sports were wholly unique, everyone has their share of ups and downs and run-ins with unfairness, but I do feel that I got a uniquely nuanced sense of how quitting can often give you more strength than competing, particularly if you suck.

I was actually okay at my first sport, soccer. When I was in fourth grade in New Hampshire, my team was undefeated in the regular season, 4-0, and I was a pretty damn good fullback. A mixture of actual skill and simply having longer legs than most kids made me pretty effective at stopping the ball before it reached the goalie. Lunchtime soccer was a different story, however, and I remember one of my more standout moments there being when I ran full speed into the goal post and knocked myself out. I awoke to a scene from a movie; everyone peering down at me, one kid yelling out “He’s okay!”, people helping me up and telling me I was awesome. But then there was the day where I stopped two or three goals by a star fifth-grader and was jumped and beaten up by group of his friends after the bell rang to end recess. I didn’t cry, I don’t think there was enough air in my lungs to allow it, I just laid there satisfied in my defeat. The sky had never looked more blue than when I stood up afterwards, and I felt like I was in control of something as I walked across the empty playgrounds back to the school building.

A similar sense of control would excite me a few years later while playing lunchtime basketball at my middle school in California. This was in the midst of puberty, where any semblance of balance I had checked out for about five years and I was always falling down. I was pushed, fouled, and I hit the ground and just decided not to get up. I lay on the ground and listened as the other kids’ jeers quickly turned to pleas for me to get up so that the game could continue. I didn’t move until a teacher came over and told me to a few minutes later. As I stood up feeling good about the disruption I’d caused and the fact that I was several inches taller than the teacher berating me, she asked What’s The Matter With You? Nothing, I replied. I gave a shit-eating grin and the game continued.

I was “good” at basketball until puberty ended and it was revealed that other people had actual talent, whereas I was simply big. There were countless times in middle school when I would get my own rebound two or three times before I could make a simple lay-up, but that changed as other kids gained the ability fake me out and get me to fall down in one direction while they moved past me in the other. The middle school teams I played on were pretty successful, so one game, an away game at Oak Grove in Concord, stands out for the dramatic way that a combination of forces made us beat ourselves.

It was pouring rain, so my near-shoulder-length hair was soaked before the game began. The gym was packed with students and parents from both sides of the contest, and the air was tense and humid. The game was well played and very close until the fourth quarter, when a few questionable foul calls in the opposing team’s favor incensed a parent of one of our guys, and led to him being kicked out of the building. His son told a ref to eat shit, and so he was thrown out of the game and a technical foul was assessed on our team. A rare Double T was called on both teams for further foul language while the free throws were being shot, and that led to the ref calling time to instruct the coaches to get their players under control, which of course was a fool’s errand by that point.

We lost by something like fifteen points, but I felt like I won something because with a few minutes left I pushed a kid a full foot shorter than me into the second row of the stands while he was jumping to shoot a three. The refs had stopped calling anything at that point, and so as I ran down the court on our fast break, I flipped off a whole section of Oak Grove parents in the stands. How can you say that doesn’t spell victory? It was the same logic I used while playing a golf match my Freshman year of high school when I started trying to take the biggest divot possible on every swing, since I couldn’t move the ball more than fifty yards at a time anyway. I sure fucked that course up, or at least I did until a coach told me my round was over and to go wait by the cars. I think that was on the sixth hole.

Was it these experiences that made me unplug my phone and no-call/no-show to quit my job at the Red Lion Hotel in Eureka in January 2004? In the preceding December, I’d turned down a job at the post office that I’d been trying to get for months when they asked me to start immediately, because I felt that I couldn’t screw the hotel over by leaving with no notice. After that I’d turned down a so-called promotion to assistant desk manager when I’d found out that it involved no raise.

“How much would the raise be?” I asked the human resources manager.
She consulted a file. “Looks like you’d go up to seven-fifty an hour.”
“That’s what I make now.”
“Oh.”

So when a four-day weekend I had scheduled so that I could hang out with a friend coming to visit was cancelled when my boss fired someone for a petty personality conflict, it infuriated me, and I thought of the helpless look of that little kid I shoved into the bleachers. The incident got sort of ugly when the hotel called my emergency contact, my Mom, after three days of not being able to contact me, and it certainly didn’t feel good as my broke, jobless ass contemplated suicide well into the spring, but until the “Are you alive?” call from my Mom came, I felt certain that giving up was the way to go.

However, in the massive depression of the winter of ‘04-‘05 a year later, I realized that letting go was much better than giving up and running away. I attempted to outline the feeling in a song I wrote later that year called Ghost of a Good Time. These are the first lines:

Take a view of a life as a still from a film and study the body language
Is it tense, is it chilled, is it strained and filled with an unmistakable anguish
Can you imagine feeling all right?
Take the drink in your hand, think about where you stand on going into that good night

Let go of the anger you have known
Let go.

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Thirty-eight

Posted by ilbebe on January 6, 2009

On Easter weekend, 2003, Danny, Steph, Travis, D, and I traveled out to the Shasta/Lassen County border to spend some time lounging around Danny’s parent’s house. It started with ham and cheese sandwiches, and ended with Danny, Travis and I going on for hours about an action hero whose adventures we were making up off the cuff, an inane riff that was intended to distract from the awkward break-up Travis and D had suffered over the weekend. There was an unauthorized journal-reading at the root of it all…

I was in a band in Arcata called the Sleeze that had two distinct period of activity. The first period lasted about four months and ended with our drummer Danny going to China for a semester abroad. The second period picked up about a year later, after I was out of school and unemployed. Our weekly practices were just about the only thing that gave any sort of structure to my week, and I treasured them for that. Standard operating procedure was to stop by the Round Table Pizza where our singer Travis worked to get as much free beer as possible (bounty ranged from none to two thirty-two ounce cups of Alaskan Amber), then cross the parking lot and buy a few cases of five-dollar Pabst at the Longs, then finally head to the practice space on South G. Practice consisted of about forty percent playing music, ten percent fixing broken gear, and fifty percent describing recent sexual activities and talking shit to each other. One night Travis and our guitarist Jeff crossed some kind of line with each other and got into a fistfight in the parking lot that me and Danny watched with nearly total indifference. I believe that occurred during the time when it was hard to get through a conversation with Travis without him mentioning that he could go for a hamburger.

An interesting element of the second period of Sleeze vitality was that Travis had finally legitimately started a girl named D who he’d been after to one degree or another for four years. D had been Danny’s girlfriend Stephanie’s freshman roommate in the dorms, and that’s where I’d actually first met Travis, since Steph was a high-school friend of mine. (My first memory of Jeff was of him in my freshman orientation group the week before school started drinking something red out of a cup stolen from the dorm cafeteria and thinking “Man, that guy didn’t waste any time breaking some rules…) The fate of Travis and D’s relationship was of no small interest to the rest of us, because beyond the fact that their history was spotted with several almost-made-its that ended badly, D was incredibly hot.

On the Easter weekend in question, the five of us cruised out in one car and arrived shortly after nightfall. The first night I remember as uneventful. On the second day, as I was filled in later, Danny’s dad got up before dawn to drive two hours round-trip to a meat market and buy a side of beef so that he could get it marinating in a pan before he had to be at the course to play in a golf tournament. I myself rose closer to noon, and our first excursion of the day was to go into town and get a flint to repair Danny’s long-dormant potato gun. The afternoon was whiled away shooting first the potato gun and then a shotgun. Our shotgun targets were a mattress and a deflated basketball propped on top of a broom, and Danny’s dad didn’t laugh when I suggested shooting at their propane tank to make things interesting.

The dinner was amazing; there were three courses, the beef came out perfectly, and between the nine of us at the table (The five of us, Danny’s parents, his older brother, and his Dad’s golf buddy) we downed ten bottles of wine. I elicited another sideways look from Danny’s dad when I suggested that since wine bottles are also 750 ml, we should refer to them as fifths as well. D was as quiet at dinner as she had been the whole day, so none of us were surprised when she excused herself after dessert to go lie down for a while. Travis and I excused ourselves to the den to watch a movie, and everyone else stayed at the table and kept talking.

Danny and Steph came in to join us with the movie about halfway through it, and it wasn’t soon afterwards that D came to the precipice of the den to ask Travis if she could talk to him about something. After the movie ended, Danny and Steph went off to bed, and I was left alone to keep drinking wine and brandy and trying to read The Razor’s Edge, which Travis had loaned me. Not a particularly easy book to get into when you’re starting to get cross-eyed, by the way…

I got up to go the bathroom at one point and got turned around. The first level of the house unfolded in a somewhat circular pattern, that is, you could walk from room to room around a central fulcrum, and I couldn’t find the room that was hiding the hallway that went to the bathroom, or any light switches that might aid my quest. I had just doubled back for the second time when Danny came down the stairs throwing his hands in the air and muttering under his breath and walked out the front door. I heard someone puking upstairs, then I turned around and was startled by Steph’s outstretched hand.

“Skittles?”

“Eh, sure…you know what’s going on around here?”

“Danny’s brother’s puking upstairs. Think Travis and D are fighting. Danny’s frustrated.” “Whaddya think we should do?”

“I don’t know, I came down here for skittles and brandy.”

I think I passed out on the couch that night. We left after breakfast the next morning and there was a definite tension in the car on the five-hour ride home. I couldn’t wait for Sleeze practice the following night when I could get the story about what the hell had happened between Travis and D. It was explained it as such in the car ride to practice:

“So what happened”

“Well, let’s just say the central characters in this tale are myself, D, and a yellow notebook.”

“NO! She read your journal?”

“Yep.”

“Eh…what did she see that she didn’t like?”

“Well, you know that girl I work with that I was telling you about?”

“Yeah?”

“Well, I wrote a short story about banging her on the pool table.”

I think Travis said he hooked up with D once more after that weekend, and then that was that. The Sleeze broke up again six weeks later when Jeff graduated and moved away. We played a reunion show a year later that ended when I fell backwards over the drums and bent Danny’s hi-hat in half and the cops came to break up the party while I was telling the panda joke to kill time while he tried to fix it. I’ve been to Danny’s parents house once more since that Easter weekend, and I brought a bottle of Orange Jubilee Mad Dog as a gift for the hosts, for which I received the most sideways look yet from Danny’s dad. Danny’s mom cracked it, took a sip, and said “Oooh, that’s good!”

Advantage: Sleeze!!

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Thirty-seven

Posted by ilbebe on January 5, 2009

About ten days after I’d been fired from the law office, I flew to San Diego for my twin sisters’ twenty-third birthday. I had recently gotten to know my sister’s Lee’s extended gang of friends during two visits in February and March, and I was excited to be spending some more time with them, plus it was good to be getting out of the city I’d recently lost my job in. All three of my sisters plus a friend of Rae’s were in Tate’s car when they picked me up at the airport, and the first thing I did was ash the cherry of a cigarette out of the window that immediately flew back into the car and burned Rae’s friend in the eye. Would it prove to be a harbinger? With the binge-drinking crew assembled for the evening’s revelry, it seemed probable…

Lee and Rae had rented a party bus to take about thirty of us downtown to a whomp-whomp dance club, not my usual plan of attack, but I’ve always been open to new and unusual places to get drunk, cost allowing. The pre-party went swimmingly, and we convinced the driver of the bus to circle the block outside of Lee’s apartment a few times so we could take full advantage of being well on our way to shitfaced on a bus with two stripper poles. I felt like a serious baller as our group cut to the front of the line at the club, and I discovered it was in an old bank where half of the dance floors were downstairs, one of them in the vault! I was appalled as I bought myself and Lee a cocktail for the rock-bottom price of eleven bucks apiece and resolved to stick to beer for the rest of the evening. A large chunk of the group coalesced in the corner of one room where the DJ was playing eighties hits and a square-looking stone-cold dancing machine was holding court at the corner of the floor.

About an hour into it, I stepped out for the first of many, many smokes and on my way back through the main level I decided it would be financially prudent to start downing half-finished cocktails that were abandoned on tables. The rest of the evening adhered pretty strictly to that pattern: dance, smoke like four cigs in twenty minutes, down three or four fruity orphaned drinks, repeat. There was quite a commotion getting everyone back on the bus at the end of the night; my friend Sean had flown the coop in search of a burrito, a few people had apparently left earlier without saying goodbye, and several more simply couldn’t be accounted for. At the final moment, Lee’s best friend jumped off the bus to go look for a missing soldier, who if I’m not mistaken was located wandering around a gas station a half-mile away..

A strange feeling came over me as the party continued back at the apartment, and I tried to paper over my declining conversation skills by chain smoking and eavesdropping. My favorite overheard conversation of the evening was between C and M, and consisted of C grilling M on what precisely had transpired between M and C’s cousin a few weeks earlier. Never before have I heard WHAT WAS IT LIKE TO FUCK MY COUSIN?? yelled so many times in a single evening. I finally hit the floor around four, and awoke the next morning in the midst of a sea of bodies in the living room. Bryan had taken the broken armchair in the corner to nest in, and was leaning hard to starboard, there seemed to be four or five people stacked on the love sack, and someone had managed to sleep perilously close to my rancid feet with the rest of her body tucked under the gnarled burl coffee table. C and M had apparently stayed up all night and were arguing loudly on the front lawn about what a utopia would be like. I was glad their argument had taken a more meaningful direction, but then it abruptly shifted when C yelled WAIT, SERIOUSLY, YOU FUCKED MY COUSIN!! WHAT WAS IT LIKE??

The puking came on in very predictable fashion, and once or twice as I lay sweating on the cold tile of the bathroom, I thought I was having a heart attack. On a side note, this was the same bathroom floor I’d be passing out and pissing myself on six weeks later on the occasion of Lee’s college graduation party. By nightfall, I was feeling well enough to go over to the house in Kensington where some of my new friends were conducting a spirited game of beer pong. I meekly sipped my way through a beer which made me all woozy again and choked C halfway out at one point when he wouldn’t stop screaming WOOOOOOOO!! After a pointless (for me at least) excursion to the neighborhood bar, one of the fellows graciously offered my feverish ass his bed for the evening, and I went back to the house and crashed.

The next morning I awoke in a positively swamp-like environment caused by my uncontrollable sweating and got a ride to the airport for my flight home to Oakland, where I had no job and no girlfriend. I’d been to that place where every young face was an invitation to vagary, and sitting there in my unsafe Oakland home, I wanted to go back there again.

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Thirty-six

Posted by ilbebe on January 1, 2009

My time with my ex-girlfriend Jenny is fraught with instances where it should have died a quiet, natural death but soldiered on towards the Big Suck it eventually ended in. We were neighbors when we first started dating, and the first night I made any advance on her was a week before Thanksgiving, 2001. She was having a party at her apartment to bid a mentally unstable friend who was moving back to West Hollywood to live with her grandmother farewell, and I figured Jenny’s emotional state would be ideal for taking advantage of. I got ridiculously drunk before I showed up at the party, and thus when I found Jenny and I alone in her room admiring a bag of her hair she intended to donate to an organization that made wigs for kids with cancer, I freaked out and went to the bathroom to get my head straight. This involved washing my face and repeating What The Fuck Are You Doing into the mirror for several minutes. When I came out, she asked Were you talking to somebody in there?, a valid question in this era of cell phones, but a the time a polite way of saying I’m On To You, You Nutcase. I mumbled some excuse and left the party, making some poorly timed uses of the phrase “gay” in a derogatory sense on my way out.

Feeling re-emboldened a few days later, I knocked on her door around three in the morning, drunk and holding a bag of tortilla chips. She let me in, we talked for an hour, and I left. The Saturday after Thanksgiving, my roommate Tom and I were watching American Pie II when she knocked on our door, and an entire evening of confused flirting ensued. A few days after that, she came over to formally ask for a date which I agreed to, baffled that she was still talking to me. For our date, I put on the only sweatshirt I owner that wasn’t fraying at the edges and took her to the bowling alley to play air hockey, then to a party where my band The Sleeze was giving our debut performance. We slogged through three full songs of our own composition and ended with an aborted cover of Molly’s Lips. No one in attendance was particularly amused, but oddly enough, the date continued, and Jenny and I wound up making out on her couch late that night while watching The Wedding Singer.

I was unable to make it to her parent’s house the day after Christmas because my car broke down. On my twenty-first birthday, I was dragged back from the bars only to get in an argument with my shoe, forgive Hitler, and puke my life away and pass out in the bathroom with no shirt on. I recall coming to in the bathroom with no lights on, sandwiched between the toilet and the wall, and thinking I had been put in a straitjacket. Her account of what happened in the middle of the night is waking up and hearing me moan, then say “A horse! They turned me into a horse!” On my friend (and ex-girlfriend) Kaydee’s twenty-first a week later, I ditched Jenny to roll around with Kaydee in a parking lot. Seriously, we were rolling around in a parking lot. This did not help Jenny’s suspicions that I was still in love with Kaydee, a suspicion that had started when I called her Kaydee the first time we had sex. On another night at the bars, she accused me of hiding from her when I’d actually been on a back patio whose existence she was unaware of, and my retort was that she had no instinct for boozing. I don’t recall having sex that night.

But there was beauty, so much beauty. She got me a delicious bottle of lambic for Christmas after we’d been together for only a few weeks, saying “Well, if there’s one thing I’ve determined, it’s that you love drinking.” One night we got in an argument that we worked out by making out in an alcove during a downpour, a teenage dream of mine. I loaned her money to cover the deposit on her new apartment while I was on a road trip, and came back two days early to help her move. She got grease stains out of my favorite pair of brown pants which I had thought were a lost cause, convincing me she was a fabric sorceress. I sang karaoke for the first time, Livin’ On A Prayer, a few days after her twenty-first birthday during the summer, and she sang back-up, and massaged my knees and my ego after I bruised them both during the performance.

Then I broke up with her over the phone about nine months into the relationship, a few weeks after her cat had been run over and a day after she’d dropped a class because she felt overwhelmed and depressed. To this day, I can’t fully explain my rationale for breaking up with her. I wrote a sarcastic song of apology about our break-up and played it for her, but before I could get to the apology part, the sarcastic mean part made her cry and she left the party. I shouldn’t have been surprised when she completely stopped talking to me a few weeks after she started seeing someone new, and from what I hear, she’s still with that guy six-plus years later, so maybe we just weren’t meant to be. The only time I’ve seen her in the past two years was when she made an unexpected appearance at a New Year’s Eve get-together at a mutual friend’s apartment in Alameda last year, and when I went to say hello, nothing came out.

Hopefully next time, if there is one, we’ll have the chance to catch up, but for now, wherever you are, Jenny, I wish you well. It’s taken me years, but now I mainly think about the good times. In the fog of our youth, that’s generally impossible, but I suppose it takes those growing pains to recognize when you’ve got it good. I’m looking back at 2008 and there’s a fuckload of things to think about, but what’s right in front of me are thirty-six chapters and an introduction that I’m proud of. I have no idea where this will end, and maybe I won’t finish this writing in 2009, but come what may, I’m excited. I hope you are too. Happy New Year, each and everyone, to you all and all of yours. Peace.

5:48PM, 12/31/08

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