Sunday, April 29, 2007

Straight Time

Every once in a while when I’m feeling particularly misanthropic and trying to figure out what it is about me that might appear strange to other people, I think back to a comment a friend made to me once.

I can’t even remember how it came up, but at one point this friend (who had known me for quite a while at this point) said to me, “What’s the deal with your family? I mean, you’re all so…straight!”

And I sort of knew what they meant.

After all, we were not from the big city originally. We’d come here from coal country where my grandfathers worked most of their lives.

We didn’t place great stock in sophistication, but were plain-spoken, generous (I hope), and had a good sense of humor.

I don’t think any of us ever had any interest in being joiners, though, and we judged individuals and wished to be judged on their/our own merits. Take us as we are or don’t take us at all.

I remember once telling my mother, after a period of great contention between us, that I believed that most of the good qualities I possessed were things I’d learned from her and my father, which I think puzzled both of them as I was a test for my parents.

Compared to the rest of my siblings, I seemed to have arrived from another planet.

Every week brought with it another bizarre scheme designed to throw a monkey wrench into one of The Seven Lively Arts.

How they must have wondered.

And yet, here was someone looking in from the outside and accusing me of being too straight.

Which meant that, even with all of my bohemian behavior, there was still some strange intangible thing attached to me that marked me as “straight.”

Well, I didn't do drugs, or smoke. I tended to watch my language and never say anything to anyone that I’d be embarrassed to have anyone of any age hear me say. And I never tried to use a word for its own sake when a simpler one would do.

It was a wonderfully ironic thing to me that, although to my family’s eyes I seemed like I’d moved in from across the street, there were still some folks who regarded me as Beaver Cleaver.

It also meant that as dysfunctional as we were (and I hesitate to use the word as it makes us sound more organized than we actually were), I belonged in my family in ways that I hadn’t really begun to think about yet.

The arty thing paid off for my parents occasionally. Some visiting relatives happened to show up on a weekend when I was winning an award for drawing from the local school system, as well as appearing in a local theatre production, so they got to show me off.

It must have helped them to recall those moments when I was busy doing things like painting the opening titles for my new movie musical in giant letters on the street in front of the house.

Have I never mentioned that?

Next: Lullabye Of Oddway

Thursday, April 26, 2007

A Hitchhiker's Guide To Apoplexy, or: Thumb Enchanted Evening

It seems like a couple of lifetimes ago, but there was a time when hitchhiking was my main mode of transportation.

I came to driving rather late in life, so I was dependent on the kindness of strangers to get anywhere that public transportation didn’t go. At one point in the 1970’s when I was working in a factory outlet, I hitchhiked to and from work, a little dicey when you consider that I had to arrive at a prescribed time. But in those days it wasn’t much of a problem, unless you count those occasional longeurs when it seemed as if no one would ever stop for you again.

During such stretches, you found yourself bemoaning the little-mindedness and selfishness of one’s fellow man as you bravely trudged on down the shoulder of the highway. It wasn’t until I was behind the wheel myself that I got a feeling for how difficult it can be to pull over and allow a stranger into your car. I haven’t always repaid my good fortune through those years with the greatest of generosity.

Luckily for me, there were lots of drivers who were only too willing to stop and help me out. Now for someone as shy as me (and make no mistake, I am someone who has always taken great pains to avoid intercourse, social or otherwise, if it meant talking was involved), it sometimes took a little effort to start a conversation with a complete stranger. This was, however, the courtesy I felt I owed the driver for the favor he or she was performing.

And the great plus of hitchhiking turned out to be not merely the fact that one’s ride was free, but that I was being forced out of my shell and, by extension, my world was being expanded.

I met people from all walks of life and social strata. I was given lifts in junkheaps that were on their last legs and expensive automobiles that seemed a step away from being air-conditioned limos. And I heard all kinds of stories, stories that always left me feeling a little more part of the human race than I had before I’d gotten in, because none of these strangers turned out to be as strange as I’d expected. With the exception of owning a car, we were much more similar than not.

There was a great freedom to it, trusting everything to fate and throwing oneself into all these different lives.

It seems to me that I rarely see anyone doing it anymore, though. I imagine they probably chase you away from the turnpike tollbooths now, and I’ve seen the signs that forbid you to be there without a car.

In truth, it felt like it was a dying art then.

Now we have this new car, sleek and beautiful, that rides and glides down the road. It’s got every comfort you could want.

It makes me blink in disbelief.

I could never have imagined it when a friend and I were burning cardboard under an overpass in New Haven to keep warm after an all-night hitchhiking trip to visit this girl he liked.

We’d read our Kerouac and, what’s more, figured the young lady in question would be more than thrilled and impressed with our initiative and imagination.

When the sun finally came up, we made our way to her apartment and knocked on the door.

“You guys have to get out of here,” she said.

We just looked at each other. That wasn’t the way it worked in On The Road.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Evil! Dark Forces! Liberals!

Anybody see what the evil Brady Campaign and other anti-gun cults have created? I personally have zero tolerance for evil and denial. And America had best wake up real fast that the brain-dead celebration of unarmed helplessness will get you killed every time, and I've about had enough of it.
- Ted "Where Are They Now?" Nugent takes the meat in his head out for some exercise

If this Virginia Tech shooter had an ideology, what do you think it was? This guy had to be a liberal. You start railing against the rich and all this other -- this guy's a liberal. He was turned into a liberal somewhere along the line. So it's a liberal that committed this act.
- Rush "Where Am I Now?" Limbaugh struggles to find the level beneath self-parody

Glib, shallow explanations allow us to turn away from the one real lesson of these events: that evil exists, and that dark forces - forces believers would call demonic or diabolical - play a powerful role in our world … They must be confronted and destroyed - before they destroy more of the decent and the innocent.
- Former film critic Michael Medved begins to confuse real life with The Lord Of The Rings

In the three days that Americans have rightly been fixated on a horrifying act by a mentally disturbed person, well over 200 innocent people have been massacred in a country with less than one tenth the population of the United States, where the U.S. government has ultimate responsibility for security and where al Qaeda and Sunni mass-murderers roam with impunity.
- Andrew Sullivan

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Dum Dum Boys

It was one of the strangest ways that I’d ever found out that somebody died.

We were standing in the middle of the general admission crowd, jockeying for position in anticipation of the Stooges’ imminent arrival, when the wife pointed out the slide show going on over on the wall.

Up to now I’d only noticed ads for upcoming concerts and local eateries. But now there was a somewhat more somber black and white slide bearing the familiar face of a local punk rock promoter. In front of his name were the sad letters R.I.P.

It stopped me in my tracks as the fellow in question was someone I used to work alongside of at Endless Bore and Tedium, although not always happily. We did, however, share a mutual enthusiasm for punk rock, but our very different attitudes about it and, I think, life in general, meant that our friendship was always going to be a limited one.

Being 12 years his senior, there was a grudging respect on his part for the bands I had seen and the ones I could tell him about, many of which he’d never heard of. On the other hand, his dressed-in-black, nihilist, sarcastic take on what constituted anarchy and rebellion was something that was almost completely antithetical to the way I chose to see it. It was a pose that got tiresome quickly, but then again, there are probably one or two people still living who would tell you that they thought I was obnoxious at that age, if you can believe it.

Perhaps he grew out of it. I never had a chance to find out, as we had very little contact after he left EB&T.

Like me, he eventually forced them to fire him. He did it early on, though, while I hung on for years. I remembered thinking at the time, what on earth is he going to do? He’s got such a completely anti-social attitude, who in the world will hire him?

Turns out I had nothing to worry about.

Slowly at first, he began to build a reputation as a music promoter. He apparently did it very well, as it became more and more common to see him mentioned and quoted in the local weeklies.

I was a little puzzled, I’ll admit. Here he’d gotten canned from a secure job and been wildly successful, while I was still timidly hanging on. Was there a lesson here?

At the time of his death he’d become somewhat legendary and was well loved by many of the local bands that had gotten their first shot from him, if the service we attended the next day was any indication.

And despite my reservations about his behavior, I have some pleasant memories as well: like the time he let me know that Jon Spencer had a new band I should check out; and the time he showed me how the broadside I’d distributed about Public Enemy at the New Music Seminar became the focus of a Spin magazine article; and the one that makes me think of him most warmly, the time he played interference for the wife and I in the mosh pit of a Ramones show, after I’d stupidly antagonized the moshees (what, me make enemies at a rock show?) enough to make them single us out as targets. He stood there like an implacable tree and dared them to get past him.

All he really knew about me was I was old and nuts. He didn’t have to do it, but he did.

And he escaped from the living death of EB&T to do something he loved and be successful at it. I can’t say that.

The other day I googled an old acquaintance just to see what they were up to. I found a description that was filled with words like “marketing” and “professional development” and “project management.” I didn’t understand half of it, but it seemed like it paid well, even if it made me want to jump out a window.

I obviously was never going to amount to much in the hierarchy of Endless Bore and Tedium and neither was my late co-worker. But he got out early and followed a dream.

Whereas I hung in for the pleasure of irritating my enemies for as long as I possibly could.

One of these days, I’ll learn.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Cold, Dead Hands

We have to look at what happened here, but it doesn't change my views on the Second Amendment, except to make sure that these kinds of weapons don't fall into the hands of bad people.
- Senator John McCain

As far as policy, the President believes that there is a right for people to bear arms, but that all laws must be followed. And certainly bringing a gun into a school dormitory and shooting -- I don't want to say numbers because I know that they're still trying to figure out many people were wounded and possibly killed, but obviously that would be against the law and something that someone should be held accountable for.
- White House Press Secretary Dana Perino

The National Rifle Association joins the entire country in expressing our deepest condolences to the families of Virginia Tech University and everyone else affected by this horrible tragedy.
- Andrew Arulanandam, Director of Public Affairs, National Rifle Association

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Imus In The Gloaming

Our moment was taken away -- our moment to celebrate our success, our moment to realize how far we had come, both on and off the court, as young women. We were stripped of this moment by degrading comments made by Mr. Imus last Wednesday. What hurts the most about this situation is that Mr. Imus knows not one of us personally.
- Rutgers sophomore forward Heather Zurich

I would like to speak to him personally and ... ask him, after you've met me personally, do you still feel in this category that I'm still a 'ho' as a woman and as a black, African-American woman at that? I achieve a lot, and unless they have given this name of 'ho' a new definition, then that is not what I am.
- Rutgers sophomore center Kia Vaughn

Those women did not deserve those hateful and hurtful comments. I've been on the receiving end of his barbs, so I understand. I'm a public figure, but it just went way over the line.
- Democratic presidential candidate and New York Sen. Hillary Clinton

I would appear on his program again, sure.
- Republican presidential candidate and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani