Monday, May 31, 2010

Make Up

Gary and I were standing outside the department store sitting at one end of the mall.

“Dude! You know that these make-up chicks are hot!” Gary affirmed as he slapped me on the shoulder.

“I really don’t know man. Besides, I think I’m allergic to all of that toxic shit. My eyes always start burning whenever I’m near that section,” I responded, looking for excuses not to give this a try.

“We gotta do it. Who else has tapped this market? Just think of all those lovely ladies, who have been lonely all these years, because only other ladies talk with them. No dudes in their right mind would ever trudge in there!” Gary shouted as he grabbed my hand to encourage me. “I’m telling you, this is cash!”

We locked our fists and I accepted this sinister logic as gospel before we turned toward the store’s entrance.

The department store was a generic one in a generic mall. It was built in the 70s, remodeled in the 80s and retouched in the 90s. The mall’s lighting was a combination of soft fluorescents and giant distant skylights. The image of actual daylight, along with the faux little stick trees in pots lining the walkways attempted to give the image that maybe this is as close we may come to nature sometime in the future. The smell of cinnamon rolls, caramel corn and an overwhelming feeling of sterility attacked my senses. Inside the store, the illusion of daylight was snuffed out by strategically directed spotlights and phony wood walkways that split into two directions, framing the make-up counters. Behind this mysterious unknown land were the dual escalators, women’s shoes and purses. Gary and I stood agape, taking in the densely packed silver and glass counters that formed a daunting maze for us to maneuver.

“Let’s do this,” I grunted through my clenched teeth. We each headed into the maze, uncertain of what we would find, or how we might deal with it. He went to the left side and me to the right. Our goal, apparently, was to spot hot women working in the section and find a way to communicate with them.

My mind raced as I navigated my way aimlessly around the pathways. I didn’t know if I should pretend to be shopping for a girlfriend, or, NO! Not a girlfriend. Need to be on the market. I don’t care what Gary says, women are not more attracted to taken men (or are they?). I didn’t know what to do. I decided I was shopping for a sister’s graduation. Now that that issue was settled, I simply needed the nerve. The smells of thousands of perfumes, lotions, soaps and war paints dominated the stifling atmosphere of the store. The odors had choked the air out of my lungs and I began to wonder how women could breathe in such an environment. Estee Lauder, Avon, Obsession…so many names…with posters hinting at nudity and yet, everything looked the same. The only signs of life I could make out were employees wearing white lab coats, along with a quiet indecipherable chatter floating amongst the waves of powerful smells. My eyes were beginning to itch and sting and water. My nostrils were flooded with congestion, so I began gasping for air through my mouth. I staggered close to a young woman who was having blush applied to her cheeks by one of the white coats. They spoke to each other simultaneously using some form of advanced communication. My eyes glazed over, so my vision was like a camera lens completely covered with Vaseline. I started to think of what I had always heard about near-death experiences. Maybe this foggy light was what everyone was reaching for. I stumbled and swerved with my hands over my burning eyes, listening for voices to avoid. The conversations that I passed by continued unbroken, telling me that they were oblivious to my ragged presence. The tile floor beneath my feet felt slippery due to the constant misting of sample bottles of nasal nuances glazing the smooth surface. I removed the hands from my eyes and looked ahead through the haze to find an escape route. I spotted a hint of darkness beyond the gleaming and sparkling glares in the foreground. I lunged forward with no regard to any potential bystanders hoping to reach the other side of the make-up section. Sweat was running down my face and my back as my body temperature reached unbearable levels. I could hear the faint tickle of piano keys tempt my ears. I knew this was the piano on the other side. I was almost free! As I approached to exit of this strange hell, my eyes cleared for a moment. Beside the piano was a wooden bench and some potted plastic shrub and what looked like real dried out lichen wrapped around its base. I fell to my knees and stretched out to the bench, sitting at the base of the escalator, in a failed attempt at a dive. I cried out in agony due to the unforgiving surface on the floor crushing my knees. The piano continued its soothing tones. Already on the bench, breathing heavily, was Gary. His gasps split each word he said, as I dragged myself up onto the seat next to him: “How…did…you…fair?” I couldn’t answer. Tears were striping my cheeks as they tried to cleanse my scorched eyes. “Now that we’ve scouted out what we’re up against, we can go in with a set plan of action,” Gary blurted with renewed intent.

My back slid down the slats of the bench and I exhaled and began coughing out the toxins. This was not happening again.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Lose Your Illusion

“Would you ever hurt me?” she asked me.

Her eyes burned into mine. They were serious and vulnerable like I had never seen them before. Moments before, she was laughing hysterically and uncontrollably, so much so that she blurted out her adorable snort; I froze from the sudden seriousness of her intent.

I did not know what to say. Obviously, I would never hurt her. I worshipped her. She was the highlight of my day. When I asked her out nearly a year prior, I did so hoping that it would be the moment that would lead to the pathway to my fulfilled future. That may be overstating it, but what did it matter? She turned me down.

Her question, though straightforward, felt like a complicated puzzle that most likely did not have a solution.

“No, I would never hurt you. Of course not; not intentionally. I really like you,” I stammered quietly, while staring into the beer glass on the table in front of me.

She was blocking her question to me from the couple sitting across the table from us in the booth by turning her shoulders toward me and speaking very quietly. We were sitting next to each other when that couple approached and asked if they could join us at the table. It was a busy Friday night on a nice summer evening at a bar downtown and we were there with a big group of people from work saying goodbye to a long time co-worker.

“Yes! Please!” she’d excitedly told the strangers. It turns out the couple were out celebrating a first wedding anniversary that upcoming weekend and wanted to get an early start. Our work group had taken over the group of tables in front of the bar and was getting louder and louder as the evening wore on. Inexplicably, she and I wound up sitting next to each other in a booth adjacent to our gang, but not directly involved. Originally I sat there, because I am good at sidelining myself and was not in a great mood. Somehow, this pretty young woman, who I had a massive crush on for nearly two years, joined me. There were so many times when I would try and place myself in her midst in an effort to worm my way into her heart. This time, I had purposely stepped aside, and now here she was. Occasionally, we would be visited by a carouser from our scene, but mostly we talked about what was happening around us and simply watched the activity from off to the side. When the couple asked if they could share our table, they made it clear from their words that they assumed that we were a couple. I got up and ordered another round of drinks for us and our guests from the barkeep and watched the three of them chat with her. I desperately wanted to know what they were talking about, but at the same time I really didn’t. I decided that she was probably informing them about my past overture toward her and maybe how she enjoyed toying with me by alternately giving me signs of hope and then stomping on that hope ever since I asked her out. That would explain the laughter they were all engaging in during my absence. When I returned to the table, she quickly stood up and allowed me back into my corner on the inside of the booth. Then she handed the man across the table her camera and asked him if he would take a picture. Lost in my thoughts, I did not realize that she wanted him to take a picture of the two of us. This event took awhile as he goofed around with the ‘cheese’-type photography gimmick like we were little children. This extended our posing time for what seemed like an eternity. She leaned in closer as the seconds drifted away. I could feel her velvety hair dangling against my arm and shoulder. My senses were overwhelmed by her enticing aroma. The smooth skin of her arm was placed on top of mine, so that our hands were touching. Chills were racing up and down my spine. Eventually the picture was snapped, but our pose lingered few a few moments more. It could’ve lasted forever as far as I was concerned. Then she jolted back upright and retrieved her camera. The woman across the table asked us for the same favor. She handed me the camera and I snapped a quick picture wordlessly and set it back onto the table. This is when she asked me her question. After my response, she sat quietly and mulled over my words, then, suddenly this beautiful girl stood up and excused herself.

As she walked deliberately towards the restroom, we all watched her. My heart sank as she disappeared, because I assumed that she would return to the big group and leave me alone with these two. I turned my attention to my beer and drank a big swig, wondering how I messed this one up.

“You two make a cute couple,” the woman said to me. “How long have you been together?”

“I’ve known her now for almost two years, I think,” I replied, trying to keep beer from spraying out of my mouth from surprise. This was the first time in my life that I was associated as being a part of something ‘cute.’ I scratched the back of my neck uncomfortably, knowing that somehow this misleading answer would come back to kick me in the ass.

The bartender stopped by with a tray holding our four beverages and left with my empty pint. I immediately drank from the fresh beverage, ignoring the couple’s intent of sharing a toast. The beer was terrible. They should offer something other than their own brew at this place. The couple began talking amongst themselves, sensing my silence and intent on the beer in my hand.

The girl came back and stood at the end of the table. She picked up her new full drink and raised the glass to toast the anniversary of the pair with us. I held up my half empty drink and leaned my face into my other hand. I was drifting off; losing steam. I couldn’t stop thinking about her question. What was her motivation? Why would she think I would hurt her? What did she mean? It was mysterious. Did it mean she was finally showing some signs of maybe giving me a shot after all this time? Did it mean that she was wary of me, like I could be some sort of threat to her? I didn’t get it and wanted to explore it further, but I did not know how. This was a party and she was rejoining the group. I could feel energy tumble out of my body which slumped like a deflating balloon. My mind started to gather together pictures of moments that she and I had shared over our time together up to that point. The couple was carrying on a conversation, which may or may not have included me, because I was oblivious to them, though I may have been responding. I could not be sure. I was lost, thinking about all of those times that she and I had shared laughter by slinging verbal jabs back and forth about each other and our workmates; or the times when she was flustered and came to me in confidence; or those early mornings when she and I were the first ones in the office and the only two who would show up hung over. Though I was older than her, we were still the two youngest in the office. In some ways we had the most commonality amongst everyone we worked with. But she did turn me down. I took that to heart. She said she didn’t date co-workers; understandable. And that was the end of my one overture. After that event, she became distant; again, understandable. I treaded lightly for a long time and tried my best to be upbeat and leave the whole thing behind – at least that’s what I wanted her to believe. I didn’t want her to hate me or leave. I liked her too much and I liked having her around. This was the problem. The more she relaxed around me, the more I continued to fall for her. It was a trap that I could not get out of. Over time, the shared laughter and outrage at our surroundings gained a new momentum. Things were comfortable again between us - until this particular evening. What was happening?

Instead of lingering, I had told Jeff and Steph I would meet them after this thing, so I decided to bail. I said a goodbye and good luck to the couple, went to the restroom, paid my tab at the bar, sought out T and gave her a farewell hug and ran the gamut of fellow employees who shouted various things out as I made clear my intention of an early exit. The evening’s sunset was just beginning to paint the sky with a pink splash. I hurriedly stepped outside, still with scrambled thoughts and more questions with no answers. Normally, I would stay to the bitter end to find out if any of these signs meant anything for us, but nothing felt right.

I waited for the Max right outside the bar and enjoyed the warmth of the air on my air-condition-chilled arms.

“Wait up!” There she was. She was leaving with me. “I need to catch the Max too.”

“Where are you headed?” I asked her, genuinely curious if her answer would involve me in any way.

“Meeting up with some friends,” she said with a smile.

“Yeah, me too,” I mumbled as the train approached and I tossed a piece of gum into my sour mouth. The doors of the train flapped open and revealed a roar of recycled air and a loud intercom voice espousing the wonders of this downtown corner. People shuffled by us either leaving or boarding the train. I looked over at the trash cylinder on the sidewalk to toss the gum wrapper into as I stepped aboard the train behind her. The lid’s opening, which deflected my shot and knocked it to the ground, had squiggly handwriting on it that stated: Life is a hole. “I couldn’t agree more trash can,” I sighed under my breath.

“What?” she asked, looking at me from across the aisle.

“Nothing. I hope you have a good weekend.”

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Road to Nowhere

This afternoon I was sorting through a bunch of notebooks and papers I have packed away in boxes. I really wonder why I do this stuff. For a few years at a time, I store every loose piece of paper that comes my way and throw it into different piles, which then eventually make it into a box, which then gets stuck into a closet. Eventually I decide I need to clean stuff up and I sort through it. Inevitably, I throw most of it away. There are always the dreaded exceptions. I run into stuff I’ve written over the years. I have never kept it in any kind of order. Most of what I’ve written, be it so-called journal entries, music reviews, short stories, whatever, finds itself unfinished on random bits of paper, or in the middle of mostly empty notebooks and for some unknown reason, I keep it. I always run into something that makes me think that maybe I can finish, or improve upon, and there’s also the stuff that catches my attention because it is so damn pathetic and because it reflects something written exactly ten years ago. What was I doing ten years ago? Let’s find out:

“May 23rd, 2000

What the hell am I doing? Someone gives me a tiny little notebook with tiny paper and I start writing a bunch of embarrassing and humiliating crap about how damn lonely I feel and what girl I have a crush on at that particular moment. Luckily, I haven’t done this much over the years. Just to get it over with, the crush is on *name withheld*. She’s way younger than me, we have essentially nothing in common (it’s debatable if I have anything in common with any woman I find attractive) and real bad for me. She’s real bad for me, because I am so damn crazy for her. I do not need to be sent over the edge with crazy, but damn she’s got me.

This tiny book is too small to write in. It’s absurd. Why would anyone buy such a thing?

Currently, I am listening to a Czech band named The Ecstasy of Saint Theresa. My hope right now is to inspire myself to write. Not write this nonsense, but to be creative and write. I need to find a way to pull myself out of this nosedive I’ve been on since like 1979. This Friday I get to go in and find out how my kidneys are doing. Can’t wait for that! I wonder when this tenuous streak of 7 years of no surgeries will end. The docs never sound encouraging, but they’ve let me go this far. I’m also wondering about this headache I’ve had for like a week now. I’m pretty used to headaches, but this one has not wavered in its intensity. That doesn’t seem right. Maybe I’m stressing out about the check up. I have always been right in my (giant) gut about when the news will be bad with these things and it is screaming this time. But, hey, after the check-up, Ryan and I are driving off to Black Butte to play golf for the holiday weekend. Could this be the last time I have a golf weekend? I really need to enjoy it. Treat it like it could be my last. Take in everything like a breath of fresh air, instead of getting so damn angry at my continual bad play. I really should give golf up. I should give up most things. I’d be better off.

Maybe I’ll write some music reviews tonight. I’ve been considering starting up the ‘zine again; Wil and I have been talking about putting it online. If I start writing something, then maybe the motivation to find an audience will increase. I should give him a call. That’s a good way to feel like I’m making progress without actually writing. That is solid stuff there.

There is so much in the air right now. I can sense something big on the horizon, but it is elusively just out of reach. I don’t know what it is, nor can I tell if it’s good or bad, it’s just there. It’s almost tangible. It’s been teasing me with its tempting draw of major change, but not giving me any clues. Maybe it’s the upcoming useless work trip to Vegas, I think *name withheld* is going too. At any rate, I cannot wait to find out what this big thing is! Strange things are definitely afoot. I mean I had that weird Laker fan girl making moves on me at the Blazer game last week. At least Ryan said she was picking up on me. I cannot read women at all. But, boy, oh, boy, something needs to happen! The sad truth is that nothing has really changed in my life since like ’88. I’m just more scared and somehow more jaded. Life is so funny, isn’t it?”

Looks like nothing has really changed. Nice. I was right about one thing though. There was big change ahead, I was just dreading the wrong thing going wrong. That headache was being caused by a cyst the size of a navel orange sitting smack dab in the middle of my brain stem. Life sure is funny.

Saturday, May 22, 2010


Two new CDs that I have recently picked up have transported me to a different time. The first one is from the great UK label LTM’s most recent release in their continuing Auteur Labels series. The series has featured some fantastic UK labels who released some of the most influential music of post-punk in the late 70s and early 80s. This release features the fantastic US label Independent Project Records founded in Los Angeles in 1980 by Savage Republic co-founder Bruce Licher. This 23 track compilation spans the history entirely (notice the clear gap from ’96-’08) showcasing its varied assortment of artists and their amazing groundbreaking sounds. I first ran across this label in the mid-to-late 80s when I picked up Camper Van Beethoven’s landmark debut Telephone Free Landslide Victory (1985), featuring, of course, their quirky single “Take the Skinheads Bowling” (included here). The next time I ran into the label was when I found the debut LP from Nebraska’s For Against’s Echelons (1987). It wasn’t until late 1990, while away at college that I encountered a For Against release on the label which absolutely changed my life. The first in IPR’s series of 10” colored vinyl only releases featured some unreleased and experimental tracks from this amazing band. This “Archive Series” debuted with the promise of a new installment every other month which could be had via subscription. These records were interesting, thought provoking, and most importantly, entertaining, but the bonus was the fantastic artwork that made up these special records. The records were numbered and pressed in an old fashioned letterpress printer and looked otherworldly. They provoked the imagination and upon arrival would send me off to stereo to absorb every nuance of these incredible products. These records expanded my horizons and exposed me to what felt like a special secret world. I started my subscription (my number was 0340) shortly after having to return home from college due to a lot of strife with my family. My mom was going through the early stages of a battle with cancer that she would eventually lose, while I was due for some serious surgery myself. These records were an oasis for me; a chance to escape from the horrors of hospital visits full of bad news and be transported to a world full of potential and discovery. Listening to this compilation reminded me of how amazing this music really was with the added bonus of hearing some of the artists from the label’s earliest releases for the first time! It is essential.

This was when my addiction to music went from bad to worse. I began to delve further into this new secret world of music that I was quickly discovering by uncovering layer after layer of how to track these things down while stuck in a small Oregon town. I started to read small regional music fanzines voraciously, mostly for the record reviews and the tiny little ads provided by tiny little record labels. I started writing letters to the bands and labels directly and mail ordering from them for the smallest of costs. Soon enough I was receiving records in my mailbox more than a few times a week! Wil and I even started putting together a little ‘zine of our own in the early 90s named, not surprisingly, “This Wreckage.” It was fun and exciting to feel involved even in the remotest of ways.

This brings me to the other new CD that’s been gracing my player constantly: Black Tambourine. This band was only around for two years at the end of the 80s and all but one of their (few) songs were released posthumously. This CD follows 1999’s Complete Recordings and tacks on six more tracks. Two are simply demos of prior tracks, while four more are new recordings of old songs from their few live sets from back in the day. Hearing this rough and tumble music with sugary sweet melodies buried beneath walls of guitar fuzz reminded me how fun and invigorating the music was and is and how clearly it inspired and drove me through such hard times. It makes me want to dig out my old records again as well as my old holey Black Tambourine T-Shirt showing the girl with the bob-haircut pointing a gun, which once led Archie Moore in 1994 (then member of Velocity Girl, former member of BT) to stop during a set at La Luna and approach me at my familiar perch with friends near the front, stage left, and ask me where the hell I got that shirt. I was speechless and the show continued, but the answer was simple. I got it when I bought Black Tambourine’s first full 7” EP via mail order from Slumberland Records for like $4 postpaid. I’m sure it included a note of thanks from label honcho Mike Schulman (also a member of BT) on the backside of a piece of scrap paper with their small discography Xeroxed on the back. This CD release is number 111 twenty-some odd years later. I recommended these guys to everyone back then. I still do.