Americaphiles

The Story Of My Fucking Life

Archive for July, 2012

One-thirty-one

Posted by ilbebe on July 31, 2012

The Mr T Experience was going to play at Bottom of the Hill on a Friday in late January. I was excited; MTX had been my favorite band in high school and I hadn’t seen them in a few years. The lead man, Dr. Frank, had shifted his focus to writing a few years earlier and put the band on the back burner, I can’t recall if they’d played any shows at all since 2005. But in the weeks leading up to the show, I had mixed feelings about it- was it going to be the same?

I was down on myself again. I’d been back at my pizza delivery job for five months, and I’d been living with my girlfriend and her roommates in a cold apartment that the landlord was trying to throw them out of. We had pulled the classic “move the boyfriend in without asking or telling anyone” move, and while I was grateful that none of the roommates gave much of a shit once they realized I was living there, it put me in the weird spot of feeling like I had no place to say anything about the place. One roommate had two adorable little kids that he was constantly yelling at, which dismayed me to no end. His erstwhile girlfriend, the kids’ mother, would come by every so often, and her visits almost always ended in a vicious trading of verbal cheap shots. The landlord served a rent increase on the apartment, an in response they filed for a court hearing and stopped paying rent. The other two roommates moved out in the months thereafter, leaving just me, the Dub, Arr and his kids, and the awful chill of 53rd Street.

I was happy to be back at work, and it felt good to be paying off the debt I’d incurred the previous summer, but I also felt trapped at the job. A friend’s band had asked me to go on a national tour with them as merch dude, and I said no. Going on the road to see the same band as a was the primary thrust of the trip that had recently bankrupted me, and following the crushing experience of winding up busted at my Mom’s house without a job or a cent in the world, I had built a minefield in my head around the notion of walking away from steady work to have fun. I was standing in the back of the pizza place with a heavy heart when I called my friend to tell him that I couldn’t tour with them because I didn’t want to quit my job. That MTX was playing the day after my friend’s band left for their tour was cold consolation, and I thus I had started building it up to be something much more than it deserved to be; in retrospect I realize that I expected the thrill of that one show to be equivalent to what I imagined the fun of a national tour would be. Seeing my favorite band from high school was supposed to be the same as a lifelong dream.

So I was really upset when my friend Josh couldn’t make it. When I spoke to him that evening before I left Oakland for the City, he said that his Dad hadn’t shown up for work that morning and had not been heard from. I didn’t know what to say to that, who does? I recall saying something along the lines of “Shit, that’s weird. Well, I’m sure everything’s OK. Sorry you can’t make the show. Talk to you soon.”

The show was fun. I saw an old pal I knew from Arcata days, still wearing that letterman’s jacket. ‘I Fell For You’ still made me smile.

The next day I thought about calling Josh a few times while I was at work, but I didn’t.

Sunday night I was standing around at work, waiting for an order to cook, when the usual happened: Victor asked if I could close for him. Victor was the driver who was scheduled for the closing shift on Wednesdays and Sundays, but in the preceding months it had become commonplace for him to ask me to cover him so he could knock off early and get some rest before beginning his other job at four in the morning. I never had any problem with this; I didn’t have to be up in the morning, and the longer I was at work meant less time at the dismal apartment, and thus less risk of hearing Arr yelling at his little angels like they were dogs.

The order was almost up when I got the call from Josh. His Dad had been found dead; suicide. I told him I had one more delivery to make and that I’d be over as soon as I could. Time started moving very slowly as I told Victor and my manager what was up, it seemed like hours before I was in my car heading towards Emeryville with the delivery. The address was a huge apartment complex that I’d only been to a few times, but those few times were enough to dislike the place. It was one of a handful of addresses where there was always some sort of nonsense that accompanied the delivery, so it was no surprise that it took three calls to get ahold of the person once I was waiting at the front and then another ten minutes waiting for them to come down and meet me.

I sat in the front lobby of the complex for ten minutes thinking about how helpless I was to make the person whose dinner I was delivering come claim it faster so I could jet out to Brentwood and be with Josh and his family. I thought about my friend’s band out on the road, somewhere in Montana. I wondered if there was any way the person on their way  to meet the pizza guy could know that their lackadaisical behavior was keeping me away from a friend in need, and furthermore, if they knew this, if they would tip accordingly.

I later heard that one of the foremost concerns on Josh’s Dad’s mind was money woes, and it’s sick that dough worry has the power to destroy people. As the year progressed, I got sorta tired of the job, and restless for adventure. I couldn’t stop thinking about Montana, so towards the end of summer I made an essentially stupid decision to quit my job so I could go out and have fun again. I took a train from Portland to Chicago, and woke up shortly before dawn the first day of the journey at the western edge of Glacier National Park. I recalled the photos from my friend’s band’s tour from back in January, four feet of snow around the van in Billings. Now there was nothing but green, and light, and if I’d been in Montana back in January, I wouldn’t have been around to be with Josh when his Dad died.

I recently read a great essay by Betty Smith, the author of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. The essay was entitled “Fall in Love with Life”, and these are the concluding lines:

“To live, to struggle, to be in love with life- in love with all life holds, joyful or sorrowful- is fulfillment. The fullness of life is open to all of us.”

It’s crushing, losing people. All you can ever do is make the most of what’s left, and there’s so much. I’ll meet you high up in your anger, of all that is waiting and hoping for you.*

Peace.

-3:15PM, 7/31/12, home, confused, ecstatic. Blind archer in the Olympics. Jeffrey Rhodes, four and half years gone, but not forgotten. Sun’s out, again. Lotsa sun this summer…

*Neutral Milk Hotel, Gardenhead/Leave Me Alone

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One-thirty

Posted by ilbebe on July 16, 2012

In October 2003, things were rolling along pretty well for me. I had realigned with K, who I’d dated briefly earlier in the year, and we were well into that illogical second-honeymoon period where since both of you are happy to be with somebody again, yr both totally oblivious to the reality that the problems that drove you apart the first time around are still there, lying dormant, waiting for the days to get shorter before they rear their ugly heads again. My desk clerk job at the hotel had yet to turn brutal; I was still getting enough hours, and recently I’d had the opportunity to dress up and greet people attending a chamber of commerce mixer at the front door. The story of the acquisition of the costume is good:

There was a costume rental shop, the only one in the county, just a few blocks away. My boss had called ahead and reserved their porter costume. The idea was to have me dress up in a vintage mid-century porter’s uniform to give the hotel an air of class that was completely unrepresentative and out of sync with the actual character of the hotel; it was general manager’s  keen awareness of the actual shabbiness the place that inspired this ridiculous greeter scheme in the first place. Anyhow, the day before the chamber mixer, my boss covered the desk while I walked over to the costume shop to get the uniform.

The shop was in a warehouse, and I stepped inside to find it filled quite literally to the ceiling with costumes. There was about six square feet of open space by the front door, other than that, every conceivable inch of space in the building seemed occupied by some costume or accessory. Ballerina’s gown’s hung from the ceiling in formation. It was fucking surreal.

I called out twice to see if there was anyone there. A minutes passed before a very short woman, like 4 foot 8 or so, emerged from the forest of costumes and said “Woah! You’re tall!”

I agreed, and explained why I was there.

“Oh no, that costume’s not going to fit you.”

“Huh?”

“I mean, that costume would be way too small on you.” (I’m 6’4″)

“Oh…”

“It’s okay though, we’ll find something else for you to wear. Let’s go look at tuxedos.”

The tuxedo section proved devoid of a tux in my size, and I was starting to get a little irritated fighting my way through the shop’s crowded “aisles” following the wood sprite when inspiration struck her.

“Ah! I know just what you need.” She directed me deeper into the morass of costumes, but the trek became worth it when we arrived at a costume I have always described as Indian Prince circa 1935. Stark white with red pinstripes down the pantlegs, it also featured a gold sash at the waist and elaborate red epaulets on the shoulders fringed with gold tassels. It was freakin’ comical. I happily accepted the costume and had one of the finer hours of my life the following evening as guest after guest walked into the hotel and laughed out loud, much to my boss’ chagrin. Later that night I wore the costume to a party at Garrett’s place by the Vets Hall, and returned it to the costume shop reeking of cigarette smoke and Steel Reserve.

Then Arnold Shwarzenegger won the gubernatorial recall election, and I began to completely lose my grip on reality.

Things had been showing signs of cracking. My hours at the hotel had been cut as the tourist season died down, the honeymoon phase of my second go-round with K was nearing an end, and me and my friends had been getting into painkillers more and more. I had bought a hundred somas in TJ the day after Halloween, taken four of them alongside two copa de nadas, and later been “arrested” by two cops driving an animal-control truck in Rosarita. They seemed somewhat unnerved by my willingness to submit to arrest and climb in the metal box in the back of their pick-up, and I’m sure my case was probably in the top-ten most time-consuming shakedowns of the month as they finally got frustrated and “took me away”. This is to say they finally drove off and around the corner, where my friends flagged them down and gave them sixty bucks for my release. I got in a half-serious argument with my friends over repaying the bribe money, saying I wouldn’t have minded spending the night in jail and finding my own way back. The argument continued all night as we lit off roman candles on the beach and blew open a water main to get our money’s worth of municipal Rosarita.

This sort of savage thinking carried on throughout November, as I woke up every day thinking “Pretty soon they’re going to swear in Kindergarten Cop as the governor of California”, taking a bong rip and a soma, and triple-checking what time I had to be at work, since my mind was sorta turning to mush. My friends made plans to record a Christmas album on Thanksgiving, so I showed up at Erin’s place as soon as I got off of work and took four car-bombs in a row to get the creative juices flowing. We hit record and began improvising a take of “All I Want For Christmas” that lasted fifteen minutes. This was followed by a stab at November Rain, and I was passed out within in the hour.

The level of brutality was upped the following week when three different close friends went through bad break-ups, so I decided to join the sadness gang and break-up with K, fully aware I was putting myself in a delicate position since she lived in the same apartment complex as me. Two jobs I thought I had a line on fell through, one with the post office and another with the County planning department, and I started to feel desperate and trapped with the ever-declining hours at my gig with the hotel. The beginning of the end was when the schedule for the last week of the year was posted. My boss walked up next to me while I was examining it with her usual obnoxious smile.

“Hey, I gave you New Year’s off!”

For whatever reason, the boss, who I did not respect whatsoever, had decided I was her favorite. However, why she thought that giving me New Year’s Eve off but scheduling me at 5AM on New Year’s Day would excite me is beyond normal reasoning.

“Yeah… thanks.”

That New Year’s Eve, I lay in bed staring at the ceiling and pondering the mess I had made of my life until a phone call informing me I officially did not get the job with the County finally jarred me upright. I screamed FUCK at the top of my lungs and sat down in the chair next to phone to brood. On cue, a few minutes later K knocked on my door to confront me about how I’d disappeared a few weeks earlier, and all I could tell her was sorry. She told me that was shitty and left unsatisfied. I went over to Kaydee and Ces’ place and started drinking rum around 2 in the afternoon.  They put on The Hours, which I was in too foul a mood to make it more than half an hour into. I passed out around eight in a terrible mood, the only ray of light being that I had successfully gone to be early enough to get a decent night’s sleep and make it to work in the morning.

The howling wind woke me up at 3AM, and I lay in bed listening to holiday revelers carousing outside my window. I tried to fight my way back to sleep despite the noise and my anger, which I should have known was pointless, and by the time I threw in the towel and went downstairs, no one was around. 2004 came in like a cloud of shit, and I found a strange mixture of comfort and disgust as I cruised down the highway in the pre-dawn fog that morning in knowing that our governor was a former movie strongman. I decided I would find strength in the illogical bend my life had taken and overcome the idiotic position I’d fallen into, which is why by the end of the January I’d no-called no-showed to my job and taken to sleeping on the living-room floor.

The tone for the year to come was set.

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One-twenty-eight

Posted by ilbebe on July 4, 2012

This will attempt to recount how my initial distaste for reggae landed me in a sticky,  racially-charged moment in a bar when I was twenty-seven.

I didn’t hear much reggae bumping out of cars in Brentwood  in my teen years. If I had to guess, I’d say I’d probably heard no more than a handful of reggae songs ever before I moved to Arcata to begin college. I don’t even remember anyone wearing Bob Marley shirts in high school, though there must have been a few mixed in there with the Tool, NIN, and Nirvana shirts. My stance on reggae upon entering HSU was pretty similar t0 my stance on any “world” music that I was mostly unfamiliar with; a stance best encapsulated by the timeless teenage shoulder shrug/ “Whatever” combo. However, it did not take me long to start hating reggae.

Those unfamiliar with the term ‘trustafarian’ must consider themselves lucky, as the people described by this term are really some of the most contemptible young people I’ve ever come across. The defining elements of trustafarianism are a wealthy and privileged background, the escape of which results in a deeply flawed understanding of the message of traditional rastafarianism that manifests itself in an enthusiasm for reggae music and tattered clothing much moreso than the belief in a universal spirit of love and self-empowerment. This misunderstanding is then combined with an obnoxious and heavy-handed proselytizing attitude used in dealing with people who don’t like reggae that is actually no different than the common contempt any stripe of rich kids feel towards anyone different than them. The insidious part of trustafarianism is that these fucking asshole rich kids that are dressed like paupers from a Dickens novel will give you no end of shit if you dare say anything crossways about reggae music, or wearing garbage, or blatantly smoking weed in public while waiting to get into a show at a venue that has very nicely asked you to keep the weed smoking low-profile.

Thus did I come to associate the tones of reggae music with people I loathed. There was also an element of oversaturation at work; reggae can at times be inescapable in Arcata, and hell, sometimes yr just not in the mood. Once I was eating lunch with a co-worker at the cafeteria and he audibly groaned when ‘One Love’ came on the sound system. What’s Up, I asked. I Can’t Take Much More Bob, Man, he said. He continued to explain that the only CD that lived in the sculpture lab where he spent almost half of his week was Legend, the Bob Marley greatest hits collection. It’s As If The Wheels Won’t Turn Unless It’s Playing he said, sadly.

It took years for my opinion on reggae to soften, but it did. Then my friend Shawn became obsessed with Joe Strummer’s version of ‘Redemption Song’, never my favorite Bob song to begin with. It became a running joke between us where he would put it on at every possible time, and I would sigh and pretend to hate it, then sing along with gusto at the brilliant line “emancipate yourself from the chains of mental slavery”. After numerous listens, I finally grew to like the song, and I now smile when I see the bumper sticker with that lyric on it. However, there was to be one last awkward moment between me and the ghost of Bob Marley, and it happened at McNally’s on a dead Thursday night in the summer of 2008.

Shawn and I were there with a few other people, and other than us, there weren’t many other people in the bar. The jukebox died, so Shawn went to put some money in. I called after him “Yeah, put on Redemption Song!” and laughed derisively. He laughed over his shoulder as he walked towards the far wall where the jukebox was mounted, but another guy at the bar didn’t think it was funny. “What’s so funny about Redemption Song?” he asked.

How could I explain the entire personal history that had led to this stupid inside joke to a very pissed-off looking black dude with dreds in a bar in Oakland on a Thursday? My mind got stuck, and all that came out of my mouth was “Uhhhhh…”

“I’m waiting for an answer,” he said, “What have you got against Bob Marley?”

Shawn walked back over from the jukebox and intervened on my behalf. “Oh, it’s just a joke we have.”

The dude was not amused. “I don’t see what’s so funny about that song. It’s a great song. I’d love to know why you don’t like it.”

Now Shawn was stuck. “Well I do like it, it’s just a, um, you know, a joke…me and him have…” He trailed off.

Unsatisfied, but apparently now willing to let the matter be, the dude shrugged and turned away.

What the fuck? Confusion reigned. Bob woulda been mad dissapointed, and Joe Strummer probably would have as well. Anyhow, now the tale has been told.

Happy Independence Day. Burn forth.

7/4/12, 2:20PM, home. Still confused about the true meaning of ‘One Love’…

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