Saturday, March 31, 2012

Tastes in Music May Vary

The biggest problem I’ve had with growing up, is realizing how much of what I thought was normal isn’t.  My first Christmas with my wife’s family; reunions; relationships; bullying.  I had lived half my life under one impression of how things were supposed to be, only to – still – be learning individual experiences may vary.

I believe it was my ninth grade year that I left my Walkman in the car on the way to school.  Emmanuel Baptist Academy was part of neighboring school district, but not their transit system.  So, a suburban would show up at my house every day and drive me to the district limits.  From there, I’d carpool with one  of the school’s educators, as pastor from a nearby church. 

And yes, I had a cassette player.  I’d had a mixtape of Alanis Morisette – not the big, famous ones: lesser tracks like ‘Not the Doctor’, and ‘The Couch.’  This was around the time my teen angst phase (all eleven months of it) was fizzling out.

The fact that I was listening to Alanis like a honey badger is surprisingly tame, given my music exposure in the six months I’d been at that school.  Within three days, one student leant me her CD of Sublime, which I popped in my SegaCD, rerouted the audio from my TV into my boombox recorder head, and dubbed to cassette.  This would be done for my first real exposure to Nirvana, with their unplugged MTV session.  To this point, I already had a good classic rock exposure, having built up my eight-track collection of Deep Purple, Led Zepplin, David Bowie, Beatles, and Pink Floyd.

Yes.  Eight-tracks were outdated even by my era.  That was why I thought it was so asinine and wonderful.  I would frequently find obsolete equipment and juryrig it into other components simply to make one central piece that worked like a newer item.  Take this:  I had a speaker, a milk crate, cassette deck, handful of wires, and a chord organ that made no noise.  I affixed the speaker to the milk crate, rigged up the chord organ’s speaker rotors above that, and wired the main board of the cassette recorder and such through the crate.  Voila: Boombox.  Pretty effing good one, too.  I even sprayed it in silver glitter spray paint.

I was such a renegade graffiti artist.

It was the end of my first week at that school when I was introduced to Marilyn Manson.  The irony will never elude me: outside of the school, I didn’t know who the hell this guy was; Once I go to a Baptist academy, I realize this guy is the demagogue of their underground couture.  Yet, after of all that, I get busted with Alanis Morissette.  

The lecture was priceless.  I was pulled out of my science class (learning how man developed brass and iron over 12,000 years…), and was set in the principal’s office.  I was then forced to go through how secular music would inhibit more moral capabilities, blah blah blah.  The youngest teacher in the school was brought in to tell me how he really liked U2’s ‘Joshua Tree’, because it had such an uplifting message, and this Alanis woman had nothing more desirous than to bring down the very nature of Christianity.

At least he was half-right.  Two things:  ‘Joshua Tree’ was not an inspirational album.  Matter of fact, by ’98, it was barely a relevant album.  Most of the album is spent remarking how amazed they were with how oblivious Americans are.  Second: this is a phenomenal ‘Pop’ pastoral technique: Talk to the ‘kids’ about things like ‘The Matrix’ and ‘U2’ and their ‘Led Zepplin’ like you understand them.  Once you have that relatable hook, try to persuade them to see your vantage.  I’m not going to say coerce, because a strong enough mind can resist it, but, well… the thought’s there. 

They keep my cassette, calling my mother in for a talk about it.  In the car on the way home, she pops it in the car stereo before she says a word.  Five minutes later, she’s laughing over how stupid they were and stops for pizza.

This was, of course, because she had heard me playing the other music I’d brought home.  I was their effigy; their burning man.  They were smoking out the wrong rat.

Speaking of which: this was the first school I ever smoked inside of.  Remember how small I said it was?  I mean, we’re barely talking 2200 square feet.  One bathroom for each sex from end to end.  And one afternoon, on a very long day, I wanted nothing more than a cigarette, and, was offered a lit one right there in the bathroom.  Keeping in mind, despite being transferred, my smoking habit stayed with me until I was around twenty. 

The summer preceding this – and I think what caused all the drama – there was a magnificent party.  It was in the middle of Dundee or Wayne, New York, and there was so much noise.  I had never heard of Rage Against the Machine before that night, and it would forever cull up memories of teenagers etching crude tattoos of a giant salmon one another’s leg.  There was an enormous trampling, which I would use to simultaneously break three toes and another girl’s nose.  Late in the evening, why, even the Pastor from the school showed up. 

Let me tell you the shitstorm that caused.  We were mostly supervised, but he still barged right into the house of the kid’s parents like he owned the place.  As he was not invited in, they turned a shotgun on him.  He demanded to know who was responsible for the eternal souls of all those impressionable youths.  We heard the shotgun prime, and he was in his car five seconds later peeling away.

This did not go – it would seem – to his plan.  The start of my ninth grade year, new forms were sent home, giving the Pastor the right to inspect a student’s home and to make it his personal right to follow up on their moral upbringing.  Inside my home, this created a hurricane of Floridian proportions in protest.  Ultimately, unless she transferred me back to public school, she relegated against sending me back to public school.

So, I was the first man on fire for the sake of their enforcement.  Secular music, unkempt hair, and I was allowed to watch ‘R’ rated movies, why- I was a right proper malcontent.  I tried to keep up a better presentation after that – joining the basketball team, and the soccer team. 

And then, one lovely spring afternoon, they walked in on me and my girlfriend snogging.  Oh, I tried to come up with some stupid ass story, but, I was wearing her lipstick, so that went out the window.  Fortunately, I was a ‘problem’ case, so she wasn’t penalized.  I was suspended for three days.  I wrote a quick ‘note’ on the grease board before leaving.  That night, my mother received a call about it, and was informed I’d be suspended into the next week.  She found the whole thing hilarious, and was proud of her genius little boy.  The message?-

“Dear educators,
Albeit reticent, do understand my behavior shouldn’t have interrupted this school.

Do you see it?- the little hidden bits?  I guess they were actually feeling sorry for me, until they realized it read ‘Dear Dumb Shits. Sorry.  Chris’.  If I was a renegade kid, I did so intelligently, at least.

Much this past week, I learned a lot in those weeks off from school.  Hell, I did a lot.  I painted a house one time.  Another, I created a wall-mounted turntable out of an old, broken RCA turntable- got it working and everything.  At one point, I sat in a rocking chair in my room for seven hours as I beat Wario Land on the VirtualBoy, while I had the contraption literally belted onto my face, with the audio wired out into giant speakers that I kicked over to face me.  Seven hours, folks.  My eyes were like a monitor with image retention issues for two days after that.

I also learned a lot about  manipulating DOS and windows 95 – a skill that would get me suspended again.  In Rome, I used a school terminal daily.  I had created my own Admin account, reserved and encrypted a chunk of the drive for personal use.  I frequently would use their internet to hunt down nude pictures in a 16-bit greyscale.  I’d print them out, and use them as references for my drawing.  Seriously, too.  They actually creeped me out a bit: most of the models were posed in a manner that translated well to my drawings, but were so vacuous that it was art for me, and not anything else.  To make sure I didn’t lose track of the image files, I’d save them into my space on the networked drive. 

So, fun story: the school converted over to a purely electronic grading system in my junior year.  They actually created and established this lovely IT department.  One day while poking around (alright, bombarding), I made it into the school records and may or may not have manipulated roughly a dozen records for myself and close friends.  They saw the user access, and followed it through a remote spoof looped out of Australia.  In tracing it, they found the fault inside the school’s IP, and on checking the complete student space for the breach (which they never did find), they found my lovely little hideaway.  No one to nail the hack on, but I was suspended for violating the network’s TOS (terms of service).  As far as the rest, all I have to say is: I passed Algebra finally.

What’s the great takeaway here?  We all have our own little drummer, and we all think ours has the best beat.  Don’t be afraid to hear someone else’s song, but don’t be afraid to fall in line with your own.  After all, no one will ever be able to dance to your song the way that you do.

Friday, March 30, 2012

A Song for No One

I’m giving up on Game of Thrones.  At least for now.  The book just bores the hell out of me.  It’s like a great Tolkien fantasy – only, instead of old fantasy, you have underage sex.  All over the place.  If I want fictional sex that’s going to turn me on while making me uncomfortable, I’ll leave that to Clive Barker’s “Imajica”.  Sure, it was a dude that magically turned into a chick to get it on with another dude, but it beats Pears Anthony’s magically transformed girl-horse that’s in heat, so this other guy casts a magical spell on his junk to ride her like he’s an actual stallion.  But at least everyone was legal. 

Outside of Oklahoma, anyway.

This isn’t the first book series I’m throwing in the towel on.  But, that’s not the interesting part.  I like writing – well, I like talking about my thoughts and the stories I hear.  I enjoy doing a fine piece of fiction, and particularly enjoy the pieces that I’ve written.  I just am not what you would consider a ‘reader’.  Hypocritical, maybe, but brutally honest.  The last book I read cover to cover was likely James SA Corey’s “Leviathan Wakes.”  Speaking of which, a sequel is due out soon… best get cracking on re-reading…

There’s one I read regularly: “Transmetropolitan.”  I have yearly readings of the entire body of work, and would say that is the largest contributing factor to the method in which I do (or do not) organize my thoughts well.

 Spider Jerusalem taught me a good deal about life.  One, was organizing my thoughts in webs, frequently shooting along unrelated strands just to bounce back again.  A conversation about pants becomes a party from last summer in underwear, becomes a reflection on the air pressure at elevations over 8,000 feet.  There’s a connection there, but I think unless you can see how my brain moves along it, you’re lost. 

I have also learned better and more accurate means by which to articulate my severe discontent with oxygen breathing bags of human flesh, as well as the childish delight I feel from my love with others.  I feel less constriction about my own social bounds, and am always willing to allow my mind to adapt to any situation.  I feel as comfortable surrounded by stranger, as I do in my own house in sleeping pants and a torn shirt. 

I also love his use of bowel disruptors, but I digest…

He’s not a hero of fiction.  If anything, he’s the asshole curb-stomping you while you’re down in the gutter.  I can actually connect to this guy emotionally, as he is the mouthpiece of my own lofty goals in life.  Ironically, it’s that type of character I feel so much literature is lacking.  There’s always this absolutely right character and this absolutely wrong character.  Always makes for a better read, I suppose, but I don’t buy it.  Life has lots of little greys, and I get tired of books that always drag your face through who is good and who’s not.

Let me use this example by Louis C.K. to help illustrate the problem with fictional notions we’ve had hammered over heads for years:

“Let me tell you something. And this is important because some day one of your friends is gonna get divorced. It’s gonna happen. And they’re gonna tell you, don’t go “Oh I’m sorry!” that’s a stupid thing to say. It really is. First of all, you’re making them feel bad for being really happy, which isn’t fair. And second, let me explain something to you. Divorce is always good news. I know that sounds weird, but it’s true because no good marriage has ever ended in divorce. It’s really that simple. That’s never happened – THAT would be sad. If two people were married and they were really happy and they just had a great thing, and then they got divorced, that would be really sad. But that has happened zero times. Literally zero. Ray Charles has killed more jews than happy marriages have ended in divorce. So if your friend got divorced, it means things were bad and now they’re – I mean, they’re better. They’re not good. Life is shit wall to wall. But they’re better, so you should be happy.”

For years, this narrow stream of entertainment has filled the vast ocean of widely distributed content.  This wouldn’t be such a contemptable occurance, if so much of it hadn’t been pressed simply to capitalize on the niche of a select few good products.  Vampire romances?- teen rated and mass produced.  Social commentary and commercial satire with zombies?- PG-13 movie option, with a comic to follow the upcoming clothing line.  Deep space horror?- video game rights, sneakers, manga adaptations.  Small town girl, big city boy fall in love on the subway?- lunchbox coming soon.

It’s easy to play to these concepts.  Lead people on with boy meets girl, girl loves boy, new love interest, girl ends up loving the first love.  There’s your fucking lazy ass story.  Oh wait- let’s have something peppered in: chinese fast food cooking contest.  There.  And the other guy makes Australian pancakes with vegemite or some shit, and has a great accent.  There’s surfing involved, and a sideplot about an aging Yakuza father whose death would allow her to be fully vested in the Australian.  We’ll add in two enigmatic and diametrically opposed friends, and a pet that meets a tragic demise.


I just wrote the synopsis for five books published by major houses last year.  Well, that was fiction, too, but that’s the point: What is it about the same old story that has any person reading it?  Then you have the wildcards- the ones that set you up to think that’s going to happen, and instead you have President Snows and Voldemorts: stories where the sideplots are the main story. 

That’s why I like “Leviathan Wakes” – why I like most of what I read – it assumes nothing about the reader, and does what it wants.  It doesn’t really have a style, save the one in which it has to be written.  I speak on the part of conjecture, but the best stories in life were the ones that went against the popular notions.  As time progressed, though, they were loved, they were modified, they were adapted, they were condensed, and they were sweetened.  The tit of tinned milk has fed fantasy minds for decades, and I’m just tired of it.

The best stories are the ones that live like life – unpredictable, bold, and yet small enough to fit inside your pocket as much as your soul.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Working Stiffs

“These are my people.  These are the lost, the damned, the loved, and the lonely.  And, they have been freed-“, Carson’s voice was still echoing through the valleys, booming off hills and mountains far, yet had a snarl as strong and poignant as the hand holding [spoiler's] throat, “-By selflessness and hope.”
The writing has not slowed this evening.  I've added a new chapter to my work of fiction.  The endeavor to keep doing this day by day is starting to click all the cylinders into the right chambers.  By my own stipulations, I still have to post something here more than pleading for an apology because I wrote something else.

I really make stupid goals.

I have to work for the first time in nine days tomorrow, and I'm still writing two hours after starting.  Let’s discuss sale shopping, then, shall we?  See, I had to buy some lovely new shirts for work.
Back that up: I didn’t have to, I wanted to.  I enjoy shopping. And cooking.  And yes, I made our goddamn window treatments.  I don’t idolize Iron Man, Super Man, or even Captain Hammer.  My idol?- Martha Freaking Stewart.  Not only is she the de facto standard on household everything, but she even went to jail, and made more money because of it.  She is a standard to which any reasonable American should strive.

Remember that bit about thanking god that sexuality is genetic?  This is another one of those moments.

 So, on top of the Martha Stewart admiration, I found possibly the best hot pink polo.  The other day, found a neon orange hoodie to pair it with.  I tell you, if there’d been a neighborhood watch killing while I was wearing this getup, it would likely have been an impassioned crime to destroy the hipster youths of America.

Several years ago, this disgusting (and boring) fashion trend kicked off where we all decided fall colors are a year-round fashion statement.  Beige and burnt sienna in high summer?- Alright!  White and tans mid-novemeber?- go-go fashion statements!  Uggs- heck yes!  WHY ARE PEOPLE GOING OUT OF THEIR WAY TO BE BORING?  Why do we not love colors?  Why do people buy shoes that make you like you’re tightrope walking with elephant’s feet?  Seriously: bulky tan jacket, white crop top, grey tights, and a pair of uggs.  Stop for a second and imagine that.  I’ve seen prettier color schemes in bloody vomit at a subway station.

So, these bright colors retailers are pushing the past twelve months just aren’t getting the market share that bigwigs want.  It took everyone a while to get into the bland colors all the time, so it’s only fair if it takes a while for them to get into color right?  So, let’s clearance the shiny red monkey’s butt out of ‘em!

This goes into my previous discussion of how the people selling this stuff really believe the consumer is daft. Are you really into dark colors during summer? - What if we give you bright ones for the same exact price?  Now, in the world of Apple electronics, changing colors and charging the same damn price will get you some serious traction.  Everywhere else, most people will just say screw it, and go with what they like already.  So, the companies drop the line, and major retailers sell it on the super sly.  In a few months, someone else will think they can do it better, or, the profit-loss guys will mass produce some hot stuff (like Old Navy, which has some great stuff lined up), which will catch the eyes of the big dogs.  A buyer’s market is an inverted pyramid – the people at the bottom (the largest monetary unit) have the power to determine a product’s future, and yet they always trust the guys at the top because- hey, they’re the guys at the top, right?

And what, people?!  Have you ever seen kids playing king of the hill without adult supervision?  I have, and the nut shots were HI-larious.  At one point, this kid pulled a Kung Fu Panda-esque flying judo kick of sterilization from six feet away.  They both got hurt, but only didn’t have his testicles ascend into his abdomen.

The concept here is that same King of the Hill is trying to tell you to buy this great new thing, and giving you no incentive for it.  Hell with that, people.  Return the ‘favor’, and wait for it to go on sale. 

I write these for free, because you should never pay someone for their opinion.  Because, frankly speaking, opinions are like buttholes, and you know what?- everyone’s got ‘em.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Family Jewels

I could start by telling you about my first polar bear swim.  That’s a short story, though: we cut a hole in the ice, I jumped in, and was a woman for a week after that.  I could tell you about delivering newspapers in winter on a bike.  I’d start the trip in a snowsuit, have it unzipped and off down to my waist halfway through my route, drenched in sweat, and once I hit a parked car head on.  Sliding forward off the seat, my pelvis found the handlebars.  I was a woman for a week.  I dated this girl in Rome that though it’d be funny to kick me with the heel of her cowboy boot in the crotch once while I was tickling her.  I was a woman for a week, and I dropped her faster than a wolf spider.

But let’s talk about boxers.  I was a briefs man for many, many years.  I’d even endured that awkward assortment of pink tinted underoos.  Sometime after my run in with Bo in Hammondsport, I’d decided to learn basketball.  Sports with ‘ball’ in the title have been notoriously harmful to my, um, reproductive capacitance.  Of course, not learning about nutcups until I was nearly fourteen may have had an impact on that.  Our apartment had this lovely basketball court behind it, with a stone barrier all around.  As our neighbors in the adjoining unit didn’t play, we had a big old pile of rubble, dirt and dust on the court.

One afternoon, I took it upon myself to clean up that pile of dust.  I started by removing giant branches and chunks of wood that had scattered from a kindling pile nearby. Next, I came after the dirt and leaves with a shovel.  Soon, I was well into the afternoon, and desired a way to move more swiftly.  I found a giant push broom, and went about the court.  An hour later, I had nearly cleared all the detritus away when, while distractedly rushing side to side, I had the handle level with my waist, and ran into the rock wall.  Suffice it to say, my shaft got the shaft. 

My mother did everything in her saintly power to not laugh to my face.  I mean, she really really really really really tried.  I grabbed some ice from the freezer, and went to my room to lie down.  I’d taken the briefs off, but had to freeball in a pair of jeans because the bruising was rather sore.  So, in a bit of genius, my mother brought home a pair of polka dotted boxers, and thus began an era I’ve never looked back on.

Except at LTC.  They made us wear these Army issue workout shorts 24/7.  Mine were a size too small, but I was ‘expected’ to fit them comfortable by the end of training.  Needless to say, they did not, and I was largely exposed the whole damn month. 

There was a lovely transition phase that no one ever thinks to tell you about when you’re a kid – from boxers to swimming trunks.  I honestly did not see the difference.  In practicality they were the same concept.   So, it goes without saying that my first year at Baptist summer camp, I went without a bathing suit.  I would cannonball into the water in nothing but my t-shirt and boxers.

I think the exposure was overlooked thanks to my shirt.  What kid swims in a giant shirt? 

This kid. 

I was self-conscious of my pudge around strangers.  And I was prone to the kind of bacne they model Warhammer terrains out of.  Might have had something to do with not always having hot water to shower with as a kid; let me tell you, nothing builds character faster than a fresh blast of cold water first thing in the morning.  City kids with your automobiles and Gameboys and walkmen and hot water – y’all could learn something about building character.

This was not an issue until the third day into the week.  Late in the day, you could take a little five minute course on boating safety, and then jam five or six kids onto a boat.  They toss a giant inner tube out the back, tie it on with a rope, and you’d hop on hoping to ride.  I say ‘hoping’, because the driver felt much the same as I do about children, and he was being paid to whip them around, behind a boat, at high speeds, hoping to slingshot them any myriad number of directions.  And most of the kids wanted him doing it faster.

I was one such son of a bitch.  I remember the ride well: started out simple and slow, and I kept making the motions to go faster and faster.  At one point, I was catching a good ten to fifteen feet coming over the crest of waves that crisscrossed in ways that would have the tire being dragged sideways with my feet kicking up against the force of the water.  I became aware for the first time that water at high speeds was hard.  I was so aware of this, that I didn’t try to level the tire out before cresting another cross of waves, spinning through the air like a helicopter blade.  I lost my left hand, then my right.  I hovered a good three seconds, hitting the water like a skipping stone rolling head over heels. Coming to rest, every nerve on my body was tingling like a leg that just woke up.

Which would explain why I didn’t notice I had nothing on from the waist down.  The driver of the boat first pulled up to me, then did another circle, reaching for what I thought was a part of the tire.  Coming around again, he leaned over close to my ear, told me I should put my trunks on before getting back in the boat, tossed them over, then dawdled as he pulled out the ladder.  No one on board was the wiser, thank god, but my mother arrived the next day with a pair of red swim trunks nonetheless. 

I bring this up just to remind everyone: highbrow or lowbrow, a laugh is a laugh.  I still break down in tearful hysterics when I see some poor chump getting the completely unexpected nutshot.   Don’t take yourself seriously; don’t be afraid to smile at a butterfly, colonial humour, or a simple crack in the tallywhacker.  You’re selling yourself short by being afraid to laugh loudly at life.