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My History with the Blues

Pants, smaller

I took a music course on the blues during my sophomore year at Brown. It was called The Blues. My friend Chris was enthusiastic about it. For my part, I thought I could already play serious blues for a 19-year-old from Leonia, NJ. It had been covered in my private guitar lessons. I thought to myself, What’s this course really going to show me?

But Chris talked me into it. He said, “This is just gonna be cool. Trust me. Plus, it’s an easy A.” So I went to the first class, and the professor said, “Don’t take this course if you think it’s an easy A.” As we walked home afterward, I said to Chris that maybe this class isn’t so easy.

Chris said, “No, it’s definitely easy.”

“But the professor said that thing.”

“That’s how you know it’s easy. Do you think they say anything like that in Jeff’s engineering courses?”

Jeff was our roommate, who took hard courses. That was enough to convince me. I signed up for The Blues, with 2 dangerous assumptions: 1) I already understood the blues because I could play it to my own satisfaction, and 2) This would be an easy course, and the crucial piece of evidence was that the professor said it would not be an easy course.

Your grade in The Blues was based on 1 midterm and 1 final. That was it. Musical ability was not tested whatsoever; the tests were the old-school kind, which is to say they were tests of knowledge.

The midterm was surprising in the classic nightmarish way: as the professor handed out the exams, the students looked down, shook their heads, and laughed. When I got mine, I saw why. We were all doomed. The first question was “What’s Howling Wolf’s real name?” No one knew that. Was that from class notes? Was that in the reading? No one knew if there even was reading. We just came to class and listened to the professor play blues records and rhapsodize about the meaning of the blues. Sometimes he would demonstrate stuff on an acoustic guitar. He wasn’t that good. We thought the whole class was just a vibe. No one knew what Howling Wolf’s real name was.

The second question was “What year was Bessie Smith born?” I had no idea. I was about to flunk a midterm at an Ivy League school that I had worked really hard to get into. Did that count as having the blues?

Then the midterm had a listening section. The professor played an archival recording of Blind Lemon Jefferson playing a one-string guitar and muttering incoherently. We were supposed to transcribe the lyrics. In the world of impossible tests, this was some next-level shit. I said to myself, “This is what it feels like to fail a test completely.”

I guess not everyone blew off studying, though. When the midterms were handed back, the professor looked at one kid and nodded and said “Good job.” That must have been the kid who knew who Sonny Terry was. I looked at him with awe and resentment.

After that, the rest of the semester was less fun. I frantically took notes on everything in class—wait, could you repeat the date of W. C. Handy’s first transcription of black folk music? It was that, constantly.

I studied for the final, but I had a not-great attitude. It was impossible to get a B, probably. I didn’t have the Honors Student–pride that was usually at my back. The goal was simply not to fail; it was “See if you can crash land and break your own legs so that you’re not instantly killed.” I studied in that spirit. I got a C for the course.

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EPILOGUE TO THE ECONOLODGE

Image by Marie Fade.

Image by Marie Fade.

On the way back from my Econolodge, I stopped at the Pez Visitor Center in Orange, CT. It’s a giant gift shop, but it has the affectations of a museum. It’s got a bunch of old Pez dispensers in display cases and a mural depicting the 90-year history of Pez. In the beginning, Pez dispensers were nondescript. They didn’t have character heads. The first character head was Halloween Witch, sometime in the 30s. The most popular Pez dispenser of all time is Santa Claus.

Some of the super-rare collectors’ Pez pieces that were on display were remarkable for looking like the worst Pez dispensers you’ve ever seen in your life. There was a brokenish hippopotamus, for instance, that is the jackpot of all jackpots, but when you look at it, it’s hard to understand that it’s not completely worthless.

Admission to the Pez Visitor Center is $6—that’s $6 to enter a building that is basically a store. But who was I to say no? Admission comes with $2 of store credit and a Pez lanyard. The lanyard was a minor issue. Even as Alone Guy, I find lanyards problematic for my vision of myself. They’re like fanny packs or Merrells sandal-sneakers. I can’t wear lanyards. Problem is, the Pez lanyard serves as your ticket to the visitor center, and in order to walk around, the lanyard has to be visible. So I bunched mine up and carried it in my hand.

Another thing I learned is that a big part of Pez’s business today is licensed characters: Batman, Harry Potter, Spongebob. I was opinionated about this. Soon enough, everything in the world will be something to do with a blockbuster movie. Enough with that. I found myself reevaluating the decrepit Pez hippo forgotten by time—I guess it’s cool now that the most valuable Pez dispenser in the world is a shitty hippo that looks like shit. OK, yes.

For my part, I used my $2 of store credit to buy a vampire bat Pez dispenser. I took some pride in the choice; Halloween is a high holy day for me, and I made sure that the bat was not some licensed Twilight bullshit. It was just a Pez bat designed by Pez.

Now that I had a dispenser, the really cool thing I could do was go flavor shopping. They had these huge sealed tubs of all the different Pez flavors, and you could pull a lever and a bunch of Pez tablets would come tumbling out. You could fill a bucket with all the flavors you wanted for 5 bucks. I sprung for that. The last time I had any real consumer awareness of Pez was in elementary school, when there were only 4 flavors: strawberry, grape, orange, lemon. As I recall, lemon was pretty bad, except that it was hard to find, so it was kind of interesting for being rare. Today, Pez is onto some next-level shit when it comes to flavors. The Visitor Center had something like 20 to choose from—not all of them were good, but some of them deserve respect as experiments in jazz. There was a teenage employee standing near the wall of tubs, and she saw me looking at them will full-bore intensity, taking it all in with my little bucket and my Pez bat and my bunched up lanyard. She said, “If you want to try a flavor, just let me know.”

I said, “Yeah, OK, thanks.” So she put on rubber gloves and then very conscientiously tried to pull one of the levers just a teeny bit so that exactly one Pez tablet fell onto her glove-hand. Then she held her glove-hand out, and I tried raspberry-lemon, which I decided was too sour. “OK, thanks,” I said. “Can I try sour watermelon?”

I had a feeling that Pez sour watermelon would be really good, the way gummy sour watermelons from CVS are really good. So, again, Class of 2013 hunched over and masterfully extracted only one sour watermelon Pez tablet from the huge thing. And again I ate it off her hand. It was better than raspberry-lemon but worse than gummy sour watermelons. I wondered then if gummy sour watermelons are just better than all Pez, and if there was a gummy sour watermelon Visitor Center in the world, and if so, how long would it take to get there from here? But then I noticed that my teenage attendant was still standing there, waiting to see if I was going to request another flavor test. I was curious to try all 20, but something about the whole production of having her get each one and then eating it off her hand—after 2 it already felt like an unnecessary power thing. “OK, thanks,” I said. I would go it alone at this point. I would fill my bucket with flavors, making decisions based on my memory of the primordial 4 and my brief encounters with 2 of the new. I don’t know how this is going to go, I said to my Pez bat. But let’s try it.

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TRIP TO THE ECONOLODGE

Notebook + overdrive pedal

Notebook + overdrive pedal

I decided to get away for the weekend. Wanted to go somewhere and write lyrics. My girlfriend Erica was in Italy, and my roommate Frank was bartending at the Belmont Stakes. I decided to finish some songs in a motel room by myself.

Part of the plan was to find a motel room near a weird cool place, so that I could write all weekend and make one trip if I needed to clear my head. What’s a weird cool place? My first choice was the Boxing Hall of Fame, which is in upstate New York. When I looked it up, I was shocked to see that this very weekend was their induction ceremony. What luck! Marvelous Marvin Hagler was going to be there. Wait, Rosie Perez was going to be there! She was even going to be the Parade Marshal on Sunday. I didn’t know what Parade Marhsal means, but Frank reminded me that Rosie Perez has, from time to time, made appearances on the Ivan Anderson Top 5.

Until 4 days ago, I never really understood how big upstate New York is. When I looked up the driving directions, I learned that the Boxing Hall of Fame is a 6-hour drive away. I’m gonna spend the whole weekend driving, I thought. That would normally be an attractive idea, but I’d recently lost the car I most love in the world. I cannot get into the details of this now, but since I lost that car, driving has been an altogether different experience for me. Going to the Boxing Hall of Fame would put me back in mourning—it was too far away, too adventurous, too perfect. I knew somewhere over the course of those 6 hours I would look at the odometer of Erica’s car (mine while she’s in Italy) and break down.

Besides, the thought of trying to meet Parade Marshal Rosie Perez, the pressure to flirt with 48-year-old Rosie Perez, was already exhausting me. I would get zero writing done.

Instead, I discovered Gillette’s Castle in Connecticut, built by William Gillette, a guy who played Sherlock Holmes on stage 100 years ago. It was only 2 hours away. It looked medium popular. I booked a nearby Econolodge for 2 nights.

I brought a composition notebook and my guitar. I picked up a bunch of fruit snacks and Zone bars on the highway. No computer. I took 2 books: The Spooky Art, by Norman Mailer, and The Forty Days of Musa Daghh, by Franz Werfel. I am, as of this writing, 300 pages into Musa Dagh, which represents the first significant fraction of this 1,100-page book about the Armenians. I am currently at one of the book’s hard parts. The not-hard parts depict Armenians taking to the mountains with guns and ammo, preparing to hold off the Turks Alamo-style, drawing battle plans, building forts, and practicing Rambo maneuvers in a way that is rousing and hopeful for the reader. But then, inevitably, new Armenians enter, telling grisly stories from elsewhere in the Ottoman Empire, stories that are completely horrifying and go on for pages. These are the book’s hard parts. And even though I have been more than gamesome for 300 pages of Rambo, then genocide, then Rambo, I am currently between Rambos. So before I left, I decided to bring along another book. Hence The Spooky Art, which is just Mailer rhapsodizing about writing and beyond.

When I got to my room at the Econolodge, the full weight of what I had decided to do came over me. My motel room smelled like smells. The deadbolt didn’t work. The phone didn’t work. With all the lights on and the TV blasting (also the remote control didn’t work), my room was still dark. It was a bizarre, impossible darkness. I had not been prepared for the loneliness of what I was about to do: write by myself for 3 days, in a dark motel room, with 1 trip to a castle. It was going to be fun, but also lonely. On my bed with my guitar, looking at an Econolodge parking lot through the window, I was lonely.

But it made me feel closer to Norman Mailer. I took his advice seriously about the importance of committing to writing for hours on end no matter what. He says you must do this so that your subconscious has a reason to trust you. Only after days of staring at a blank page, gaining weight, accomplishing nothing, will the subconscious bequeath one of its gifts. Looking around at the Econolodge and all its drab adversities, I felt eligible for that.

Moreover, I felt receptive to the full size and complexity of Norman Mailer’s superstitions: that everything in the universe is a plus or minus on the soul of the writer, whose true mission is to nudge the sum of all things toward plus by writing novels. I was ready to believe that as never before. I was ready to believe that books and lyrics mattered in ways I didn’t even know. Recall, again, the uncanny persistence of Econolodge darkness. I’m telling you, my room was dark against all odds. Even on Saturday, with the curtains open and the high-noon sun shining directly into my room, it was dark. So there was that—something to take seriously in an account of the mystical forces around me. Recall also that I had chosen not to go to the Boxing Hall of Fame, boxing being one of my bonds with Mailer. I had declined an invitation from Rosie Perez—I had exiled myself to the Econolodge Den of Darkness. Surely this too was part of the cosmic algebra of my weekend.

Part of me wondered if I was courting something really bad. I had chosen to visit an old castle; I had made the lonely choice, maybe the haunted choice. I was setting in motion events similar to those that began The Shining. I was actually worried about that: before I left, I sent an email to some friends with the phone number and address of the Econolodge where I was staying. “If you never hear from me again,” I wrote, “start here.”

Fortunately, there was no Shining. Gillette’s Castle was quaint. No real occult to speak of, just a bunch of kids with braces running around. I was there as Alone Guy, carrying around my notebook just in case anything spooky happened and lyrics appeared to me. At one point, I carved “IVAN + ERICA” into a wooden picnic table when no one was looking. Sorry, Rosie Perez, I said. Then Sorry, Erica, for saying sorry to Rosie Perez.

After that it was back to the Econolodge for more writing. I unplugged the TV. Consumed fruit snacks. Wrote. Procrastinated by practicing guitar bullshit. Wrote more. Consulted the rhyming dictionary. I forgot to mention this: I had brought the rhyming dictionary my ex-girlfriend Jeanne gave me 10 years ago, back when me and Jeanne were still me and Jeanne.

After 1:00 AM on Saturday, I noticed that my compact MW rhyming dictionary was missing an entry for words that rhyme with savage: cabbage, baggage, etc. I forget why I needed rhymes for savage, but the omission affected me. I spent several wee-morning hours trying to find where the dictionary had hidden savage et al. I never found it. The dictionary had failed. I began an argument with Merriam-Webster in my mind. This is no time to make grave mistakes, I said to my book. Not now, when the Internet has its foot on your throat. You can’t be making unforced errors at a time like this. Do you think I’ve never heard of RhymeZone.com? Do you think the Internet isn’t teeming with words that rhyme with savage, and not only that, but RhymeZone lets you include near rhymes in any search result? Do you have any idea how powerful that is for the young author?

I am willing to believe in the eldritch power of print. I believe in the spookiness of The Spooky Art, and that the Internet is a species of plastic, something that is destroying the mind-world of Norman Mailer. Yes, I am a person who will spend money to be in a decrepit motel room away from the noise and the honking of all that. But when Merriam-Webster leaves out important rhymes from the print edition, I have to wonder if my side has already surrendered. Keep in mind: I don’t know what happens on the fortieth day of Musa Dagh. I know how the Armenian genocide ends, of course, but I don’t know if this guy Bagradian makes it or not. This is why, at 3:00 AM, hunched over on my EconoBed, realizing that my rhyming dictionary contained at least 1 horrible failure, I wondered seriously if all was doomed. I kept writing, though.

PUSHUPS

Backstage at BB Kings, November 2012. Photo courtesy of Chris Klettermayer.

On my birthday, I went to the library in my neighborhood for the first time. It was boiling hot inside, and there were a bunch of people sitting around looking stressed out. Who goes to the library anymore? On my birthday, it was the elderly, local students, and me. It felt like how I imagine 1974. It felt like the world of CBS FM. Computers were a negligible presence, and the books themselves were yellow and middle-aged.

I sat down in the periodicals room and opened my composition notebook. I was trying to finish new lyrics; that was why I came to the library on my birthday. I was hoping that the purgatorial vibe of the library would give me something. It felt like an Edward Hopper painting in the daytime. I was looking to find rhymes in that. One guy near me slept sitting up in his chair, wearing a sea captain’s hat. Another man to my right was reading two giant reference books about cancer. That’s not you, I said to myself. You are here today to turn 26 and write lyrics.

Later that day, after I had put together 2 verses at the library and come back to my apartment, I decided to do 70 pushups in a row without stopping. 70 pushups would not be my lifetime record, but it would be close—I once did 75 in a hotel room in August, 2011. Sometime after setting that record, I started walking around as a guy who could do 75 pushups in a row, and then I stopped doing them, and then I lost the ability. I started trying again this past summer, when I went to Morocco with my girlfriend. On our first day, with no phone and no friends in a foreign country, I realized that it was just the 2 of us and our wits. Part of wits, I decided, should be pushups. So I started doing pushups again.

3 months later, on my birthday, I was ready to try for 70 straight-through, no junk ones. Down and up, every time, with my back straight. That was the plan. Around 5:30 PM, I got down on the carpet and said to my girlfriend, “I think I’m gonna try my thing now.” I’d had reasonable success at the library earlier, and I’d had a full day to brood about the meaning of turning 26. The meaning of 26, as far as I understood it, was horrifying to me. I read somewhere that by the time George Harrison was 26, the Beatles had already accomplished everything and broken up. So I spent most of my birthday furious at that, and on my way back from the library I dared to ask whether George Harrison, at any point in his life, could do 70 pushups in a row. The answer must be no.

I started my pushups by using the terror of old age to power through. The first 50 were a mostly-painless blitz of pride and self-actualization. Starting around 54, I had to slow down a little and concentrate. The next 11 took on a personality of their own. They had the feeling of a blood offering. The feeling of a painful thing I was only doing to scare away the thought of, “What if it never happens?” But I made it to 70, and the last 5 were not too difficult for me to catch a glimpse of 80. I saw the nearness of 80, and I saw the possibility of beyond. It’s not too late to dream of 100, I decided. Happy birthday.

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THE WILL TO LIVE

Roommate in kitchen.

I think about the will to live every morning when I check the mouse traps in the kitchen. My kitchen has 9 different traps in it, and many more units of poison. I don’t know how to measure the quantity of green poison pellets that have been dispersed throughout my kitchen, but there are a lot. Every day I wake up and check the traps, and they are always untouched. Sometimes I find mouse poops near them.

We’ve plugged all the holes, so the mouse is trapped inside with us, and it’s only a matter of time before he stumbles onto a trap. Whenever I think about this, I say to myself, “Please may it not be a glue trap.” As you may know, the glue itself doesn’t kill. You must finish the job. And I’m told that at times like this, the will to live often complicates things. The mouse may scream and have mouse-conniptions. It may drag itself through a narrow space to pry the trap off. If that doesn’t work, some mice are so overcome with the will to live that they will chew their legs off in order to escape.

This is why I pray for it not to be a glue trap. Such a grisly, soul-killing ending with those. And besides, the glue traps make me think about the horrifying powers that are afforded to mice when the will to live is invoked. The will to live can make a mouse do Jason Bourne things, or it can make a mouse do extreme auto-cannibalistic things. The will to live can be kind or unkind, Christian or un-Christian; it can be savage and appalling or it can cite scripture to suit its purpose. It is for this reason perhaps a satanic force.

My roommate runs a catering business, and one time he saw that a waterbug had gotten stuck in one of the glue traps in the basement. When he first discovered it, the waterbug was thrashing around in total madness, trying to escape the glue. The next morning it was still trapped, and it was still writhing around in the grip of absolute mania. The bug was firing every twitch and synapse that it could to get out of the glue, but it was no use. There was nothing it could do. It was just going to starve to death, and probably soon, because of how exhausting it is to be in constant motion. But the waterbug was still alive on the third and fourth days, still flailing in vain, slowly drowning in glue. And then, on the fifth day, when my roommate went down to the basement, the glue trap was still there, but the waterbug was gone.

BEST-LOVED SEARCH TERMS

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A LIST OF SIDE EFFECTS FROM WATCHING EVERY EPISODE OF THE SOPRANOS AGAIN FOR THE THIRD TIME

(This is an incomplete list.)

1. It’s like drugs. It’s too good. Knowing that I can eat dinner and watch another episode of The Sopranos, it’s almost as though I don’t need anything else to live for. One episode can un-waste an entire day, no matter how long it took me to put on my pants in the morning. That’s how much I love The Sopranos. It is a dangerous love.

2. I’m noticing a bunch of small errors for the first time. Mostly they’re first-season stuff: the actresses who play Silvio and Big Pussy’s wives are different the very first time you see them, and some of the vocal punch-ins are a little off. Also the very first season uses more non-diegetic music than the seasons that follow. I’d never noticed that before.

3. When I play the game of “Which Sopranos Character Am I?” I’ve come to see that I’m probably Johnny Sack, the perpetual guy-behind-the-guy from New York who dies of lung cancer. He’s monogamous, he’s uptight about his things, and he’s basically in charge, but he has to play chess games with everybody to get his way. I relate to those qualities. Also he loses face for crying at his daughter’s wedding. The other gangsters talk shit about that.

Now that I’m older I can admit that I would not be Tony or Chris. I calculate too much. I have too many questions, and I have also, in my time, cried. So I’ve come to terms with the fact that I would not be one of the stars of The Sopranos, if my life were The Sopranos. I would be the slinky cigarette-smoker with bags under his eyes. I would be Johnny Sack.

4. Certain things on the show are too much for me. Certain things make me squirm with pleasure-pain. For instance: the scene in the fancy restaurant when Tony Soprano tells some guy to take off his baseball hat. This scene haunts me. The guy doesn’t want to take his hat off. But then Tony looks at him, and he takes the hat off. Afterward a waiter comes over and thanks Tony.

Sometimes I think this one scene has fucked me up more than all heavy metal music and rated-R movies combined. When I’m on the subway and I see and hear things that are the Ivan Anderson–equivalent of a person wearing a baseball hat in a fancy restaurant, I think of this scene and I am tormented.

How does a person do that thing? How does a Johnny Sack become a Tony Soprano? And why does it mean as much to me as it does?

When I talk about The Sopranos as drugs, this is what I’m talking about. It nudges my fantasies to their furthest, most infinite places. And as much as I love the show, sometimes it’s just too much. Like the flavored syrup the dentist uses to clean your teeth and gums. Sometimes that’s the taste of the thing you love.

Halloween, 2009.

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MY RELATIONSHIP WITH CURTIS SLIWA

In 1979, Curtis Sliwa founded the Guardian Angels, a group of volunteers who patrolled the streets of New York looking to reduce crime.

I saw Curtis Sliwa yesterday. I should say that I’m 85% sure it was him. He was across the street, getting into the passenger side of a town car. He was wearing a red beret and a red shirt. Someone walking by stopped and shook his hand.

I was looking out the window of the City Lights Diner on 52nd street and 10th avenue. I was with Jeff and Billy, and we had just finished our photo shoot for Jo Lyon Underfashion. I was celebrating the end of my underwear model diet by eating corned beef and eggs. It was a red-blooded meal, and then I looked outside and saw red-blooded Curtis Sliwa.

I have questions for Curtis Sliwa. One is: what compels you to speak at the Armenian Genocide demonstrations in Times Square every couple of years? How did that get on your vigilante radar? Also, how do you prevent Travis Bickle–types from joining the Guardian Angels? What are the logistics of that?

In addition to my questions, I have misgivings: Sliwa has a tendency to say things in the most obnoxious possible way, a tendency he has named Sliwonics. There is a lexicon of Sliwonics on his official website. For instance, he might refer to the measure of a man’s worth as “the angle of his dangle.” That sort of thing. Also, his television appearances as a pundit on Fox News reveal him to be a not-serious intellect. I suspect he would reply to my questions about vigilantism with easy answers, or worse. I understand the man might be a buffoon.

Part of me even wonders if his commitment to the Armenians is due to an across-the-boards anxiety about Muslims. If you are the type to believe that the present war on terror is a clash of civilizations, one that threatens all of Christendom, then the Armenian Genocide was a falling sparrow. It was providential for anyone who cared to notice. Is that where Curtis Sliwa is coming from? If it is, then his compassion is based on something that is not exactly compassion. But as an Armenian myself, I value his solidarity regardless. Is it wrong for a noble cause to accept members who are less than noble? It’s the same question I have for Sliwa about Travis Bickle–types.

Which is why I know we have some things in common. I was tempted to run out of the City Lights Diner and shake his hand. Not to put him on the spot—I just wanted to shake his hand. I wanted to glean what I could from the look in his eyes.To get some impression of the angle of his dangle. But I was too slow; Sliwa got in his car and drove uptown. I’ll have to catch him next time.

If I ever get a second chance to meet Curtis Sliwa, it will not be hard for me to put aside our differences long enough for a handshake. I will smile and make friends. It will be easy for me. The reason is that my mom says she felt safe on the subways with the Guardian Angels in the early 80s, and that is the source of an enduring gratitude I have for Mr. Sliwa. Take the feeling you get when someone talks shit about your mom. Multiply that feeling by negative 1, and you have an approximation of how I feel about Sliwa when he is not carrying on like a jackass.

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THE PERILS OF SUBURBIA

The author (right) and a friend

The day after I got my driver’s license I put a baseball bat in the trunk of the family car. Not because I thought I lived in a dangerous neighborhood (I didn’t), but because I sensed it was a dangerous planet. As a 17-year-old, I had recently been awakened to a set of destructive urges. After school sometimes my friends and I would drive around and shout profanity and deface lawns. It was a very You-lookin-at-me? period in my life.

I had no awareness whatsoever that it was the result of late-puberty hormones. If you had told me that at the time, I would have said, “Absolutely not.” It did not feel like a phase. It felt like the opposite of a phase. It felt like I had come to see the world as it really was: a place that was described accurately in the lyrics of Pantera. I had no doubt that adults were also going through the same thing I was going through on a daily basis. It explained war. It explained everything. This is why, when I heard the call for vandalism, I had a sensation akin to a young Siddhartha seeing clearly for the first time.

All this is basically to explain why a happy kid from Leonia, NJ was compelled to keep a baseball bat in the trunk. I didn’t expect to use it. I didn’t want to use it. But I knew that NJ Road Rage was no joke; NJ Road Rage was a force to be reckoned with. It gave rise to “kill or be killed”–type thoughts in people’s minds. It was ready to eat you alive. And since I insisted on staring that in the face, I kept a baseball bat in the car. Having it there was not really different from keeping a dream catcher on the door of your bedroom. It does its job just by being put there.

I took it seriously all the same. I borrowed a baseball glove to put in the trunk, just in case cops ever asked about the bat. Sometimes one of my parents would have to remove everything in the trunk before a trip to the grocery store—but as soon as the trunk was empty again I would return the bat. It was becoming the leather jacket of my car.

This is how I know my parents saw the baseball bat, even though they never said anything to me about it. I’m not sure why they never did. When I was younger I thought it was because my parents basically agreed with the premise of the bat. I imagined their thought process to be something like, “Yes, a baseball bat. A baseball bat is warranted by the cruelty of the world.” Looking back, I’m not sure if that’s really what it was.

By now, I am sure some readers are wondering whether I ever came close to using the bat. The answer is almost once. I was driving on the Henry Hudson Parkway, and I must have cut some guy off, because he swerved in front of me as I was getting on an exit ramp and forced me to stop. He got out of the car. I was with my girlfriend, and as soon as I saw his door swing open I immediately thought: baseball bat.

But the urge to grab the bat was immediately beset by a shit ton of logistical issues. To get to the bat, I would have to run to the trunk and LEAVE THE CAR UNLOCKED, and then get my hands on the bat before the guy got to the car and took my girlfriend hostage. Did I really have enough time to go for it? Also, this was at a point in my life when I had gotten better at boxing than I ever was at baseball. Did that mean I would be better off sticking to what I know and using my fists? Probably not, but if the guy had a gun, then brandishing a baseball bat would absolutely be the worst thing to do. I realized at that moment that using the baseball bat was prohibitively complicated. So instead, I stayed in my car with the doors locked, and when the guy came over I just said, “What the fuck, get back in your car.” The guy punched my window and got back in his car. That was the end of it.

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SOME REMARKS ON THE RAT RACE OF LIFE

Sometimes I fantasize about what it would be like to return to Leonia Middle School and give a speech to the 7th graders for Career Day. My speech would be called “Some Remarks on the Rat Race of Life.”

I would begin by saying to them, See if you can give a fuck about something. My advice to you all is to give a fuck. Be wary of those who roll their eyes, those who are too cool to care, those who act bored. Only boring people get bored. Believe it now, or else someday you will be the sort of person who has to smell his own farts to know that he is alive. Do not become such a person.

Do not doubt for a second that Lord Of The Flies was a true story. Each of you is at an age when you have the power to permanently destroy the goodness of those around you. So take care not to talk trash and never to gang up on anyone, because the actions you take now may well determine whether you are a good or evil person in totality.

By the way, for this speech I would wear an eye-patch and I would have a wrinkly, jowly face.

I would close my speech by saying that when you pick on someone, you reveal yourself to be insecure and weak, and everything you get away with now will return to haunt you and mess up your sex life in about 6 or 7 years. So see if you can protect yourself from that by caring about something enthusiastically. Do that, or else you will find yourself entering pissing contests with strangers for the rest of your life.

Giving a fuck can be a hard thing, and diet and exercise help but they are no guarantee. Apply yourself and don’t be a sneaky dipshit. You may fool some of the people in your life now, but you will never fool me, and if you dismiss my advice my contempt will cling to you forever.

I would then fire a pearl-handled revolver into the air 5 times and escape by crashing my body through the windows of the auditorium.

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