Sunday, December 30, 2007

The Rock-and-Roll Couple

I’m not sure if it’s a saving grace or a fault, but I often leave people off the hook who’ve done something grievously wrong to me. I clearly recall one woman at a spot I was working, a friend/consultant to my boss, routinely trying to mess with me in ways that should have had her lanced (save the “friend” relationship to the boss – it created problems, and not just with me). The last time came just as I was leaving (a few weeks after my boss had been let go), when this woman took a private email I had sent to her expressing doubt over the direction of the department, and forwarded it to one of the guys in the department, with the question, “Is this the kind of attitude we want moving forward?” Of course, I wasn’t copied on this.

Never mind that I had tendered notice and had no intentions of moving forward, which she damn well knew. This piece of shit saw her chance to create trouble for me one last time and took it. The guy she sent it to was duped, too, not recognizing that she was playing him and not intending to do anything constructive. I should have taken the whole thing to the CEO and had her removed, which would have been very easy to do and a nice parting shot, costing her tens of thousands of dollars. But I let it go, figuring I’d never have to deal with this heavily-medicated douche bag again, and I was right. (Her usual excuse for being routinely abusive to everyone on staff was she had foolishly cut back on her medications. Right.) Running into people like this is routine in New York; I’d wager it’s routine everywhere.

I can recall a similar situation, this one involving what I call The Rock-and-Roll Couple. Again, it was a woman. Women will often use subterfuge to fight because they recognize a full-on assault against a man will not work. But you better believe I’ve dealt with men being just as dishonest, especially in offices, particularly when large sums of money are involved. Usually the most shocking aspect of these instances is that you’ve done nothing wrong to this person, nothing that you can point at and say, “My doing this caused this person to blind-side me.” There are just people in the world who are devious, who surely understand the difference between right and wrong, but choose to be wrong. As for their motives, I have no idea. My motive is generally to get the fuck away from these people once they clarify that this is how they roll.

Back in college, I became great friends with C., one of my English professors. After I had made the nut at our branch campus and prepared to move on to the main campus, C. made it clear that he thought I was cool, especially for a student, and the feeling was mutual, as I recognized a kindred English-major spirit. So it came that I fell into C.’s circle of friends, various other “hip” professors at the campus, local hipsters, some musicians, other poets, etc. More often than not, either that first summer before I left for the main campus or when I was back home on a weekend, I’d drive down to C.’s place and hang out, usually having dinner and killing a bottle of wine. (Please note: I was 21 at the time and this fell into the fresh category of "hanging out with an old friend." I’d hate to get C. in trouble after all this time when the set-up was completely legit.) C. was a child of the 60s, so we had plenty to talk about in terms of music, and I was constantly learning about poets and such from him. He was like an older brother to me, and a damn good person to boot.

Through C. I came to know Rich and Anne, the Rock-and-Roll Couple, so-called because Rich was an aspiring musician, while Anne put out the vibe and look of a hip rock-star girlfriend. They were quite a pair. Both came from small towns near the branch campus. Rich was an all-star quarterback in high school, but a rocker all the while, one of those football players who had long hair coming out the back of his helmet. When the 80s came around, he veered new-wavish in his look, sporting a faux-hawk that was often multi-colored and seeming to take every fashion cue from Charlie Sexton who, at the time, had a minor 80s hit (“Beat So Lonely” … a real Bowie tribute) and was briefly real hot stuff on the music scene. (Charlie went on to carve out a nice career for himself with more acoustic-leaning/countryish solo work and a long backing stint as Bob Dylan’s lead guitarist.) Two things to note about Rich: he was charismatic, an extremely likable guy who had an athlete’s easy physicality about himself on top of that hang-loose musician vibe, and being a musician, he fucked around. A lot. I believe he and Anne had an unspoken open-door policy on this, a “don’t ask/don’t tell” understanding when he was out playing.

Anne had some crazy background, raised by a stern father in some shady governmental position, trained as a classical pianist, she became the female version of the preacher’s son, cutting way too loose from daddy’s grip as a form of self identity. She was a looker, too. Long brown hair, a thin body, and unusually large breasts for a girl that skinny – she knew what boys liked. She chain-smoked, too. I can only imagine how hot she must have been in a Catholic school girl uniform.

I can’t recall how Rich and Anne came into being as a couple. I know Rich was going to NYU. I think he met Anne there as, at the time, she was dating a NY-area based biker. Not sure if he was a Hell’s Angel or what. But it was just her kind of thing to date a biker, despite the classical piano training and higher cultural leanings. Apparently, one night she saw Rich playing in a bar, love at first sight, went back with him to his dorm room, and according to her, was woken up the next morning by her biker boyfriend tapping a knife on the base of their bed. It sounded like bullshit, but who knows. She attached this magical bad-boy aura to bikers that I know is bullshit, having known one or two in my time. (Do biker gangs even exist anymore? It seems like one of those 60s/70s things that are slowly dying out over time, unless I’m just not seeing it.)

The story goes that rather than chain-whipping Rich, the biker recognized his old lady loved another and let her go. No doubt going back to the clubhouse to play “Freebird” on repeat for days on end on the jukebox. I don’t know what Anne was doing in New York. I seem to recall a hazy story line of her working for a guy who moved pianos and thus was around the city to help him set-up and tune newly-moved pianos, which is quite an ordeal.

They became a quick, perfect couple, and I guess from the biker connection, also got into transporting pot along the NY/NJ/PA route they’d take to go home occasionally. Also being an outdoorsman, Rich was prone to having hunting knives and rifles in his car, so this was a bit dangerous whenever they’d get pulled over, as it would be a guy with eye-liner, purple hair and leather pants, his equally made-up girlfriend, and a backseat filled with weapons … with a few kilos of pot in some hidden space in the trunk. They never got caught, but had a few close calls. Rich would celebrate by going fishing. It must have been something for an old-timer in his boat, to look at the guy in the next boat and see a Billy Idol clone with no shirts and a dirty pair of leather pants and boots waving hello. But knowing Rich, after about five minutes, the two would be talking like old friends, probably about Rich’s exploits on the high-school football playing field.

By the time I knew them as part of C.’s nutty circle of friends, Rich was working in radio, mainly doing sports-casting at various high-school events for a local station. Anne was giving piano lessons. They lived in a small house in Anne’s hometown. All the while, Rich was trying to get his band together with a friend from New York, a Jewish guy I’ll call Artie who worked at CBS Records, apparently in a fairly high position, which seemed to allow him a lot of time to head out to Pennsylvania and jam with Rich and cohorts. Since he was so musically connected, it was expected that Artie would find some way for the band to cut a quick path to a record deal and some type of stardom.

I was at their first gig, at an American Legion hall in Kulpmont, Pennsylvania. Man, what a strange night that was. I think the Legion was simply throwing some type of “teen night” dance. As I was about 22 at the time, I wasn’t that far removed from the audience (which was sparse) by age and felt at home. I recall meeting Artie’s wife, who was also hot stuff, but more in a sedate, NYC Jewish way, simply an attractive woman as opposed to Anne’s tartiness. She looked good in a black party dress with black stockings, as opposed to Anne in her fishnets and cleavage baring, leopard-print tank tops. I remember liking her and Artie immediately.

The band … while it wasn’t fair to say the sucked, had a long way to go. The music was mid-80s hard rock, again, a guy like Charlie Sexton comes most to mind. Think INXS’s more rock-leaning material. Again, Billy Idol is a good comparison. Unfortunately, their lyrics really sucked. I recall one couplet: “Ooh, baby, I’m a spy/No, don’t ask why.” Shit like that. It was bad. Musically, those guys had it down, they knew what they were doing. Look-wise, they had it, too, fitting in perfectly with that cheesy mid-80s "Road Warrior" look. I’d see them a few times over the next year or two, mostly back in Pennsylvania, but twice in New York later on.

All the while I was getting to know these people, and liking them immensely, C. was getting involved with a woman I’ll call Maryann, a newscaster on a local radio station. To listen to her on the radio, you’d hear a smooth-voiced, erudite young woman intelligently reading the story lines of the day. In real life, you’d hear a tough-talking Italian broad who didn’t take shit from nobody. She came from a town near mine in the northern part of the county, i.e., our home county is separated north/south by a small mountain, and the gist is the northern is more tough/working class while the southern is more polished/upper class (although there are plenty of towns south of the mountain just as funky as in the north). C. and her got along well because they were both Italian, and I think Maryann recognized C. was a class guy with higher aspirations – the type of guy she probably wasn’t running into a lot back there.

I had no problem with the two being together: today, as then, as far as I’m concerned, people’s romantic/private lives are none of my god-damned business, and vice-versa. I was simply glad that C. had met someone he was getting along with. While I wasn’t sharp enough to see or sense it at the time, apparently Anne didn’t think much of Maryann. Or more precisely, thought she was a bad match for C. Whether this was true or not was irrelevant to me. It was true that Maryann had an edge on her and was scrappy, but I wrote that down to the Italian vibe, and my own knowledge of her hometown, which had a tough reputation. Maryann and I got along well based on geography alone, and our understanding as a pair of “north of the mountain” kids making their way in a “south of the mountain” world.

The fall after I had graduated, I landed a short stint teaching remedial English at C.’s branch campus. It wasn’t a bad gig: close to home, I knew the campus, the job itself was fun. I should have stuck with it longer than I did (six months), but at that age, I was real hot to see the world and get away from home, which I did with a short stint in Venice, California and eventually New York a year later. But during that time I was teaching at the campus, one of the legion of resume/writing samples I had sent out landed at one of my favorite music magazines, and they scored me a gig to interview a band before they played at the Ritz in New York City. Understand that I had never seen a major city at this point in my life, save Pittsburgh, which is more like a big small town. I was excited as hell to get paid doing something I wanted to do and see New York for the first time.

Since I knew nothing about New York, Rich and Anne decided it was their job to be my guide. As the day of the interview/show grew closer, Rich had to drop out due to a work assignment, but it was set that I’d drive to New York in my yellow Hornet station wagon with Anne as my guide to interview the band at The Ritz.

And I will never forget seeing the New York City skyline for the first time – I think it literally gave me an erection. Not from love or lust, just pure excitement. It looked like Mars on the horizon as I approached on the New Jersey Turnpike. Anne could sense my excitement and was getting excited herself. We drove into town through the Holland Tunnel, and I made my way over to 11th Street between 3rd and 4th Avenue, where The Ritz is, and found a parking lot on the same street (which is now an NYU dorm, like so many of the hallmarks of my early days in New York City).

This was the fall of 1986, and I can recall falling in love with the place the moment I landed one Converse black high-top on the street. It just felt right. I knew I’d live here one day. (Of course, I’ve never lived in Manhattan, and now that I’ve lived here long enough, I can see that’s not such a bad thing.) The East Village still had that punk-rock vibe to it, although it was surely waning at the time. Anne took me down and walked me around St. Marks Place, which is what every teenage/early twentysomething would do at that time as the street was a microcosm of all that was cool about that part of town. All the while, Anne was feeding off my excitement, I could tell she was having a blast.

We came back to The Ritz at the appointed interview time and were let in. The Ritz still exists, only now it’s called Webster Hall, and I’ve never been in Webster Hall. When I moved to New York a year later, I saw many shows at The Ritz, always getting there early to see their enormous sound/video system playing rock videos of the day. (It seemed like “Birth School Work Death” by The Godfathers was always playing … still a very cool song.) As it was, one of the guys who worked The Ritz’s door showed me to a back room on the second floor, and I can’t tell you how cool it felt, to be guided to this private place in a New York City rock club, with a woman at my side decked out in her rock slut finest.

The interview went incredibly well, partially because Anne was there, and the band was smitten with her. She really hit it off with the lead singer, even after he drawled, “Hey, little girl, want to get what I got,” as he smeared some lip balm on the Herpes sore on his lower lip. Apparently, the set-up with Rich didn’t extend to her side, although she later told me she’d have fucked that guy sideways if she hadn’t been so in love with Rich. And she found herself deeply impressed by how I handled myself, getting the band’s references to The Faces and The Velvet Underground. I recall the lead guitarist thinking I was a bit of an asshole, as he saw himself as a seasoned vet being interviewed by a wet-behind-the-ears college kid. But what the fuck, the lead singer was treating me like a little brother, the bassist was one of those eternally cool/goofy musicians, and the drummer just a very graceful, courteous guy. It went well.

After the show, Anne took me to a bar in the East Village, one she described as “being filled with old Pollocks until four or five, then college kids, then punkers” and delighting in the nightly shifting of crowds based on drinking times. As we were talking, she kept nailing away at C.’s relationship with Maryann, how she thought they were wrong for each other, how she wished they’d break-up, etc. I can’t recall exactly how I handled this. I probably nodded along and said, “Yeah, you have a point.” Very much a "yes, dear" vibe while I read over my notes from the interview. I probably agreed with her on some very minor level, but probably also pointed out to her that I really didn’t care what C. did and who he did it with so long as he was happy.

Afterwards, we hit the show, these guys were great live, although they played to a nearly empty house. (They’d come back a year later to a sold-out show at The Ritz.) Anne and I drove home that night, gushing. I was overwhelmed simply by seeing and feeling New York for the first time, really “getting it” in some deep sense, understanding that I’d be there again one day. The vibe lasted the whole trip home. I felt like I was talking to a very hip, slightly older sister, we really clicked that night, and all I could think was, “Man, this is really something, things just keep getting better in my life.”

That Monday at work, C. avoided me. I mean to the point of me saying, “Hey, C., how’s it going” in the hallway, and him walking right by me with downcast eyes. What the fuck, I thought, somebody die and I didn’t hear about it?

Later that day, I was passing C.’s office. He called me in and closed the door. I can’t recall the exact conversation, but it went something like this.

“Bill, I know you don’t like Maryann, but I never thought for a minute you’d stab me in the back like this.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Please, don’t act like you don’t know.”

“I really don’t know. What are you talking about?”

“Anne told me all about the horrible things you had to say about her while you two were in New York. That you think she’s not good enough of me. That you think I’m using her just for the sex. That you think I should dump her and find a new girlfriend. Don’t pretend that you didn’t say these things.”

I didn’t have to pretend.

“C., I never said those things.”

“What are you trying to say here?”

“I’m saying that whatever Anne has told you, and I have no idea exactly what she’s told you, but I never said those things. As far as I’m concerned, I have no problem with you and Maryann being together, and I really don’t think it’s any of my business. Or that my opinion on any of this shit matters at all.”


At this point, I was getting pissed off, on top of being red-faced that I’d be accused of something like this.

“Something obviously went on while you and Anne were in New York. Something was obviously spoken about regarding Maryann and me.”

“C., people say shit about each other all the time. But I can assure you, I said no such things about you and Maryann.”

I should have demanded an apology right there, but I was so young, and had my mind so blown, that I didn’t. I should have blown the roof off the joint, demanding an immediate three-way, face-to-face conversation with C., Anne and me directly after work, but I didn’t.

“Well, I guess I’ll just have to take your word for it.”

“You don’t really have to take anything. You know me. You know my word is good. I don’t know what happened here, but I don’t like it.”

“Neither do I.”

And I can see that as the point where C. and I backed off from each other as friends, although we still are friends in a sense, albeit distanced. You can see what happened here. Anne despised Maryann and wanted her out of the picture. She used that conversation in the New York bar to take all the nasty, totally lame, catty, bullshitty things she felt about Maryann and her relationship with C., attribute them to me, get C. on the phone the next day and bury me, in hopes that in doing so, his relationship with Maryann would sour along with it.

You see, I was so innocent at that point in my life that even talking about another person in confidence to someone seemed like a “bad thing” to me that you should never do. I’ve since realized that all human relationships are thorny, that we all have complaints and occasional negative gripes about each other … and that it rarely makes sense to share these complaints and gripes with the friend/lover/family member in your life at which they’re directed. Why? Because the real reason you’re griping to a third party is simply to share in some hope that you’re not the only person who sees these (usually minor) things wrong with the person. You want that affirmation. On some other level, you also want that trust with the third party, the understanding that you’re sharing a sort of secret about the person, not to be shared with anyone else, just an acknowledgment that you both know this person and you both understand these quibbly points about the person. You hope the third party understands this and isn't some piece of shit who will use this information in a pure power play to damage whatever relationship you have with that person (and hopefully bolster theirs with that person).

The thing is, I never really did say that shit about C.! Even if I had, so what. The real issue here, and what I would have been asking had I been C., was: “Anne, this sounds like a candid conversation Bill had with you and you alone, not wanting you to share this information with me. Why are you sharing this information with me?” That was the question. And C. never asked it, probably because he felt hurt as hell when he thought I was shooting my mouth off about all his personal stuff. The age I’m at now, if someone directed a broadside like that at me, my first reaction would always be, “What do you stand to gain by telling me this?” Not, “Boy, I’m really hurt that so-and-so feels that way about me.” Because unless so-and-so is telling me this directly, I have to wonder what the fuck is going on here! (And already know, in my heart, that the person sharing this confidential information is a scumbag I need to remove from my life.)

The ultimate truth was Anne had abused both my and C.’s trust, to the point where both of us should have lanced her from our lives. I know I did, and the few remaining weeks I had at that college job were a bit ragged, with C. never really getting over that episode. He and Maryann did break up months later, probably because she really was a bit of a bitch and a pain in the ass, so Anne ultimately got her wish, although I suspect it had nothing to do with her seedy machinations. I understand Maryann blew a gasket, too, over that episode, and I never got along with her again, which I frankly didn’t give a fuck about as I could see she also seemed to be on the same cunty wavelength as Anne. If she had her wits about her, too, she would have been following the wavelength noted at the end of the previous paragraph. But we were all comparatively young and not well-versed enough in these sort of sick reindeer games.

What happened after that? I moved away, eventually to New York. C. and I got along and stayed in touch, but I can say this now, to this day, I think that situation still haunts us in a sense, that our relationship was knocked down a level of trust and has never recovered to that level. C. went on to get married and have a few kids with his new wife, so he’s doing fine, still teaching. Don’t know what happened to Maryann – I assume she moved forward with her radio career, and good for her, I never had anything against her when you get right down to it. Anne and Rich got married – in Morocco or some such place, a big deal noted in the home county paper as they took pictures, Anne getting hennaed up for the traditionally African ceremony, both of them reveling in that cool sense of a foreign culture wedding. And Anne and Rich, from what I understand, eventually got divorced. I can only imagine the shit that must have went down leading to that dark day, if what I had experienced was just a snowflake on the ice berg of her shenanigans.

I did meet Anne one more time after that. About two years later. Rich’s band had a gig at The Cat Club in New York, a heavy-metal club in the East Village long since shuttered. (I never went there as I was never a metal head.) It was a bit of a reunion of sorts, as none of us from C.’s old crew had seen each other in awhile, and C. was coming along for the ride. It was great to see Rich again – I couldn’t help but like the guy, no matter what, and he’d certainly done me no wrong.

Anne saw me, and she looked great, as usual. She walked over to me, with the flashpot and strobe lights going off, some indeterminate 80s metal wailing in the background, and yelled in my ear as she took my hand, “You must really hate me.” She stepped back to get a read on me.

And what she saw was lucid young guy, who looked her in the eye, and yelled back, “No. We’re cool. What’s done is done. Let’s just be friends tonight.”

I could tell she was dumb-founded. Why did I do that? To be honest, I felt like punching her square in the face. But what was I going to do? C. was there. Rich was there. Artie and his wife were there. A few of the kids I had tutored at the campus were there. Cause a scene? It would have been bad. I had no urge to have a private conversation with the woman, based on our last one. I guess I said that because I figured that would be the last time I'd be seeing her, the damage was already done between C. and me, we were still getting along in some sense, and that’s all that really mattered to me. What could I realistically do to her that would serve as payback? What would it matter? If she was routinely pulling shit of the kind she had with me, she surely had much worse stuff to deal with her in life than me getting weird on her in a night club in New York. I let it go. Not so much forgiveness as recognition of the clearest way out.

We both watched Rich grinding his crotch into the heart-shaped ass of some mousse-haired heavy metal tart in black tights on the dance floor. Anne shrugged. I shrugged. She had bigger to fish to fry. I was relieved that I saw the way to a clean break from someone I recognized as real bad news. Sometimes you have to recognize that’s the best you can do, and leave thoughts of revenge for a few dark moments on a bad day. They, too, shall pass.

Sunday, December 16, 2007


The other night, I was having drinks with J.P. when the subject of kids came up. He has one from a marriage, which imploded a few years back, no need for details or assignment of blame, shit happened. The good thing about J.P. is he doesn’t sugar-coat or sentimentalize being a father, which I guess is a prerequisite of divorced parenthood: I gather you spend a lot of time hoping you haven’t screwed up your kid by being divorced, which doesn’t leave much wiggle room for self aggrandizement.

My take on kids is much like my take on the world. I look at the people in my life. Some have kids, some don’t. Some are married, some aren’t. Some are divorced. Some are married for years now. I look at all their lives and recognize there is no greater wisdom to be learned from marriage and kids – just a different set of experiences that will contain their own particular kind of wisdom.

What bothers me is when I meet people who have that attitude about (their) marriage and children, and they’re often the most tiresome assholes on earth. It’s often mildly insulting, too, although I’m willing to bet that’s not the intention of these people gushing about the wisdom and beauty of parenthood. I know when I’m being sold a false bill of goods, and that has to be one of the bigger ones of adulthood. Because if you’re being honest and not trying to bolster your self esteem, you’re looking at marriage and parenthood and seeing a mixed bag of choices that have positive and negative implications … like any other choices in life.

J.P. made a point that I often think about myself. We come from a generation, post WW II and being kids in the 70s, where our parents reproduced like rabbits. In my extended family alone: my parents had four kids, one uncle had five, another had five, another had three, and an aunt had two. Our childhoods were extended maps of cousins and visiting relatives, an endless sea of potato salad, cramped sleeping arrangements and weird conversations (“Dude, I can’t believe you guys like Pink Floyd and play Monopoly in New Jersey, too, this is so cool.”).

Our house in Pennsylvania, since it contained my grandmother, the surviving matriarch of the family, was ground zero for constant visits from her children and their families in the summer. As Charlton Heston said in Planet of the Apes, it was a madhouse. I look at that house now and can’t believe that seven people normally lived in it. (It would be comfortable for two parents and two kids.) When relatives visited, you’d sometimes be talking 12-15 people in the house, half of them hyper-active, bored kids.

That zoo-like sense of families and childhood, the countless running-around kids … not sure where it all went. My whole neighborhood was like that – scores of kids in the 70s. But in the 80s, that number started to dwindle, to the point now where I go back there, I hardly see any kids, which can partially be attributed to lower birth rates, but also kids having different social habits (i.e., the advent of video games and computers).

J.P.’s point being, what’s going to happen when we get old? He has one kid, with no apparent plans to have more. His sister has none. I know very few people who have more than two, and a lot of who have one or none. I wouldn’t put it as bluntly as “who’s going to take care of us when we get old” as “who’s going to be in our lives when we get old.” I can see my mother has a support network of us kids – we keep her focused in some sense and feeling alive. But last trip I was home, Mom said something to me that I can sense is the downside of getting old: “I can tell you now, son, getting old can be lonely sometimes. All the people you knew for years disappear.”

And that’s a sentiment the young are incapable of grasping – I’m only starting to grasp it myself now. In that beautiful Flaming Lips song Wayne Coyne wrote about his father passing, “Do You Realize?” he has that jarring line: “Everyone you know/One day/Will die.” Just like Wayne after the passing of my father, I understand this as oncoming reality as opposed to a vaguely frightening concept you’ve yet to experience. Thinking about it is one thing. Experiencing it for the first time with an immediate family member, another. And living long enough to see everyone you once knew pass away is it.

You don’t have kids, you get to be in your 40s, you see this could be a detriment down the road, simply in terms of having quality people who care about you in your life. Then again, this is running on the assumption that all goes well between parent and child, and they’d want to be in each other’s lives decades down the road. I’ve seen many instances where this is not the case, and given the shoddy nature of parenting I often see, it’s a given that you’re going to have a lot of splintered family trees.

Often on Saturdays, I’ll see a woman in my local laundromat who looks a lot like Will and Grace star Debra Messing: a real looker. Maybe 20 lbs. heavier: the version of Messing if she wasn’t on a thousand-calorie-per-day diet. The first few times I saw her a few years ago, my eyes were falling out of my head, and she was flirty in return. Sometimes people just look at each other and think, “O.K.” After a few visits, the hammer came down: I started seeing her in there with two kids, a boy around eight and a girl around 10. And it seemed clear from her previous flirtiness that no man was around. I saw that she lived in the next apartment building up from the laundromat, alone with her kids, not sure what she was doing for money, if she had an ex, or was a widower, was on public assistance, etc.

But every time I see her now, it’s a mixed bag for me (especially after she befriended one of the bigger douche bags who frequent the laundromat). She’s still very attractive and making eye contact, but on the other hand, I wonder what happened there. And I also suspect the concept of her dating a new guy would go over like dogshit with the kids, who put out a territorial vibe in her presence. I keep a vague distance beyond the friendly hellos and head nods: write it down to male intuition. Not sure if I want to take that thing further – this has been going on for about two years now! The thing is, I can see that she’s raising her kids on her own, and her kids seem unusually well-adjusted and sharp, especially for our neighborhood. Whatever she’s doing, it’s working, which must be a tribute to her parenting skills, as I’ve seen two-parent families raise monsters. If there is a father in the picture, I’m not sure where he is, as the kids appear to be around most of the time with her, including weekends, normal visitation times for fathers without main custody.

Still, it’s oddly comforting for me to know this woman, who I’m guessing is not having the best time financially but somehow getting by, is managing to raise two seemingly well-adjusted, sane kids. On the other hand with parenting, I’m thinking of that recent news story in NYC concerning what looks like the camera-phone film footage of a bunch of loud black girls harassing and eventually beating what appears to be a docile, lone white guy on a late-night subway train ride. (Turns out the guy was a hispanic school teacher, but who’s keeping score.) I gather a lot of people watched that footage in absolute shock. For me, that was like being back in the Bronx, save I never got rode that hard over my skin color, but the dumb, casual bigotry was roughly the same.

The guy was a saint for not fighting back? In my book, he was a wimp. That was a bunch of teenage girls looking to get over on somebody, who were in desperate need of a public smackdown and were comfortable enough doing this (they filmed it, for christ’s sake) that it was clearly a habit. The first thing that occurred to me while watching that clip was the hoop earrings on the main instigator. Because if I’m that guy sitting there minding my own business on the subway (something I consider an inalienable right on the train) and some ass clown like that goes off on me, the first thing I’m doing, before she gets on her rhetorical hobby horse to harass me, is grabbing one or both of the earrings like grenade pins and ripping either part or all of her earlobes off her head, while the resulting chaos making for an easy getaway.

What did I find really shocking? When this camera footage was put out on the web (again, these girls were dumb and brazen enough to think this was “OK” behavior, welcome to New York!) and everyone was eventually identified with resulting criminal charges, the father of that main instigator came forward first. And the statement that guy made was humbling – I’d say it was beautiful. He apologized to the guy on the train, profusely, didn’t make any excuses about his daughter being a raging, uncontrollable asshole, offered to take her down to the station and give her into police custody, and basically apologized to the world in general that he had lost control of raising her and had failed as a parent. It was a humbling statement for any father to make that left me feeling a mix of emotions: astonishment that such a clear-headed honest man could raise such an idiot child, and a mild anger towards him that he could let this happen.

Until that point, I had a typically angry response to the whole scenario, but at that point, the father made it all real, put it in the context of his personal failure to control his kid, and that’s something just about anyone in America can relate to, having seen childhood friends go off the rails, and when you look at their families, recognizing they weren’t being raised much differently from how you were. I guess it’s to my discredit that I wasn’t expecting such an open, clear-headed statement from a parent of a kid like that. I’d have assumed this guy would have been a non-existent and/or abusive father, but it seemed clear from his statement that he was hands on and had simply lost control. And I know from personal experience, some kids just go off the rails like that. You can see working-class families where two kids will put themselves through college and make lives for themselves, one will be a welfare bum the rest of his days, and one will end up in jail for decades. How that works out is often a tangled mix of childhood successes and failures, hurt or valued emotional experiences, the choice of friends and influences, or simply how people choose to live once they reach the age of reason.

I gather from J.P. that his kid is one of the few things that make sense in his life, and luckily neither he nor his ex are playing those silly reindeer games divorced parents often play, using the child as a pawn for their ongoing war of bitterness. From what I’ve seen of kids, the ulterior motive in having them is to increase the size of your world, although I’ve also seen people so zoned in on work and family that everything else falls away, simply due to time constraints. Also, people need things to love. When you’re younger this tends to be romantic relationships (how many people have you known who seem lost without one), but I gather kids fill that role eventually. If I ever do get around to having kids, I’ll be sure to refer back to this passage to see if it holds true. Because I don’t see myself having some magical transformation that makes me any better or worse as a human than I am now, despite the sage Lifetime Network wisdom of some parents. I feel like I’m always trying to make sense of how tribes of cavemen once lived and how a lot of that stuff inexplicably applies to how we live now. Kids surely fall into that elemental category.

Sunday, December 09, 2007


Lately, I’ve been thinking about a friend who passed away a few years ago: Bob. No particular reason. Don’t think he died this time of year. He passed on in his early 50s from some type of severe gastric problem, don't know exactly what it was. But the end came fast, leaving everyone in his life in shock, particularly his wife and two kids.

Bob was one of those people you didn’t forget, even if you couldn’t stand him. And apparently, some people couldn’t, at least at face value. Back in the early 90s, with the internet in its infancy, I became part of an internet “digest” consisting of fans of a legendary NYC DJ, Vin. He was legendary for good reason – his show was a rolling pastiche of great new music, well-chosen classics, cool interviews and a lot of interesting stories and talk thrown in the mix. He’s still doing it at one of the college stations around here, and possibly on satellite radio, but I lost touch when the major rock station in NYC dumped him. (Which he shouldn’t have taken personally – every rock station in the NYC area dumped everything and everybody of value by 2000.)

As a result of Vin’s “everyone’s invited” vibe, he started an internet digest where listeners signed up and became part of a large group (at its largest, close to a thousand members) consisting mostly of NYC area rock-music fanatics and the occasional garden-variety sociopaths who haunt any internet endeavor. In its prime, it was an interesting place with all sort of dialogues, occasional knock-down/drag-out brawls, some great writing, and a lot of fun to be had. As noted above, when Vin left his last gig at the major station, the digest itself, at least for me, fizzled out, too, many of the voices that were once part of it having moved on or phased themselves out through boredom, fights, life getting too busy, etc.

But there was one legendary event, can’t recall the exact year, probably about 1995, where one of the digest, Bob, offered to throw a gigantic party for Vin who, at the time, was making a jump from one of the other rock stations to that last station he’d work at for the next few years. (It was a fretful few weeks leading up to that, as Vin’s future was vague until this announcement, but his radio legacy won the day.) To this point and preceding the digest, Vin would occasionally have movie screenings and such, which served as the only social meeting point for a lot of these people.

No one knew who Bob was. The one thing he was known for on the digest: leaning far right in his political views which, if you haven’t lived in the NYC vicinity, is like painting a target on your back. Bob went over-the-top on a lot of issues, as many of us did with this new internet thing, and had established a reputation for getting into issues in a way that was sometimes abrasive. But abrasive in a way that, if you’re an adult, you can roll with and recognize it’s just an opinion that holds no sway or power over you, unless you let it. The digest was populated with people who put out a gentle, aging hippie vibe (while often being monstrous in their personal lives), so Bob’s shtick went down like a shit sandwich for a lot of people.

(The ultimate truth of the digest, or any internet group, is that it becomes just like high school in terms of cliques forming, with the same exclusivity and mild-to-hostile negative feelings towards competing cliques. Most squabbles come down to dealing with people you just don't like, and never will, with the feeling being mutual. If you're looking to bust any aspirations you may hold towards sainthood, force yourself to hang around people you can't stand. In no time, you'll look like the biggest asshole on earth, when the truth is anyone would. Knowing when to leave is an art form we should all perfect.)

What to make of Bob throwing a party? Could they attend a filthy Republican’s social event and still maintain their liberal cred? Should they throw the I Ching to find the answer? Bob claimed to own a gigantic warehouse space in Hoboken, and he expected dozens of people to show up, including Vin, and a few local bands that Vin had championed. I signed up. The dozen or so people I knew from the digest did, too, as did most of the usual suspects from the digest. It became an event in no time. Bob even scored a beer sponsorship with a local micro-brewer so we’d drink for free.

And what a night it was: freezing cold, icy streets (can’t recall if it was February or March), a bad night to be out, but it was one of those nights where the stars aligned, and the few hundred people who showed up had a blast, like a lost tribe gathering. We all got to meet each other for the first time and recognize the wizards behind the curtains. I’d say there are 10 or so people I met that night who are still regular players in my life, and another 10 that I keep in touch with throughout the year. There’d be other digest events after this, but nothing came close to that night at Bob’s place: it was magical. Vin showed up, but looked overwhelmed and uncomfortable. The usual introduction came from a jabbering fortysomething in coke-bottle glasses and graying shoulder-length hair: “Vin, man, that interview you did with Genya Ravan in 1977, it changed my life, man, this is so heavy meeting you now, man.” I think I realized that night that I really didn’t like Vin. I loved what he did on the radio, but he seemed like a really strange guy, so I guess the internet was a companion media format to radio. I suspect the only place he feels all right is alone in front of a studio microphone doing his thing, and that's cool.

That night was all thanks to Bob. The warmth of that night lasted a few weeks, but sooner or later, I’m sure Bob ripped someone a new one over Bill Clinton’s penis, which was all over the place at the time, and it was back to hating him again for a lot of folks. Bob and I always got along, and the few times he’d gouge me, I’d gouge back, with a wink. He took that as high-sign that I “got” it, and vice-versa. The internet is awash with people who want to fight – I think I was like that myself for a year or two back then. But after awhile, you learn how to fight and what minor level that nonsense exists on or, more importantly, learn that there are probably other reasons why you are fighting and just get over that shit. I’ve come across a few people on the internet who are either certifiable or bad people, but most are just killing time, putting stuff out there for friction because so much of our lives is spent in front of computers, and this is how people sometimes connect now.

I learned that there was a lot more going on with Bob than the occasional right-wing rant on the internet. Bob made shit happen. (Always thought that would be a cool job description. So, what do you do? I make shit happen. I’m a shit-happener.) He started his own stage lighting and design company back in the 70s and was immediately successful, doing a few very famous music and concert sets that you see referenced to this day. I think he said at the height of his business he was employing 80 people (and probably making a fortune, although not once did he reference this). But at some point, he got tired of the managerial hustle, pulled back, found that huge space in Hoboken (apparently just before property values sky-rocketed in the late 80s), got married and got into computer database consulting. The warehouse was something else, two huge halls, one side his living area with a large kitchen at one end, a living room set in the middle and space all around, with the other hall looking like a garage/storage space filled with files, tools, equipment, computers, etc. Off the two large halls was a smaller bedroom area on a second floor, with small side and backyard areas for his gigantic dog to roam and shit.

I don’t know how we got more in-touch aside from many private email exchanges, but I somehow came to help him out at the warehouse in between freelance gigs and work assignments. Just doing minor stuff – helping him get organized mostly. It was a long haul for me to get out there, via the PATH train, and he lived a good 20-minute walk from the station. Typical work day was showing up around 10:00, hanging out with Bob and his wife K in their kitchen for half an hour, talking and listening to great music on their warehouse-wide sound system, then getting busy with whatever project at hand. At the end of the week, he’d cut me a check, and this would happen maybe a handful of times over a 2-3 year period in the mid-90s.

What I found in Bob was a complex man who helped me understand the mindset of your average CEO. Because that’s what Bob was with his lighting company, and he chose to walk away from that level of pressure, despite enjoying the work. He was always “on” – always thinking on his feet, extremely bright, always working on some sort of plan. He set goals, constantly, either small daily ones or larger ones he always had his eye on. I could tell K really admired and emulated this aspect of him, maybe even why she loved him, as when I think of physical comparisons, Bob looked like a slightly thinner Zero Mostel. When you had a conversation with him, he’d always try to feel his way into what you wanted from life, what you hoped to do with yourself in the grand scheme of things. Which mattered to him in some sense, as he always thought in those terms about everything.

On one hand I thought that was a load of bullshit, but since I knew Bob well enough to see through this, I knew he had a lot more going on than Type A intensity. He wanted to do things in his life with a sense of rising from one level to another, to what point, I don’t know, but maybe his point was the journey of self improvement in recognizable steps. That sounds a bit cheesy, but that’s how Bob was when you got to know him. He named one of his kids after R. Buckminster Fuller, and I had to admit, when he did, while I knew the name well, I had no fucking idea what R. Buckminster Fuller was known for. Bob sure as hell did and worshipped the man. And just looking at the Wikipedia entry on Fuller, I can deduce how Bob came to be who he was:

Throughout his life, Fuller was concerned with the question "Does humanity have a chance to survive lastingly and successfully on planet Earth, and if so, how?" Considering himself an average individual without special monetary means or academic degree, he chose to devote his life to this question, trying to find out what an individual like him could do to improve humanity's condition that large organizations, governments, or private enterprises inherently could not do.

That was Bob. I recall how he used to take me down to the local Italian deli to get lunch, usually tomato/mozzarella sandwiches. This was a real Italian deli, generally stocked with construction workers on lunch break or the few remaining neighborhood Italians who hadn’t been spooked off by the yuppies. Every time I went in there, I felt like those guys were going to form a circle and start pushing me around like a beach ball. Bob would walk in like he owned the place, chat with the owner, who greeted him warmly, and we’d get our sandwiches and soda in a matter of minutes.

I remember one day, we were working a haphazard back porch deck he had set up in the back lot behind the warehouse – tearing down boards, cutting new ones, hammers, nails, etc. And we had just come back from the deli, eating our sandwiches in the early April sun, looking at the ugly luxury condo being built on the edge of his lot. It was just one of those nice moments, think it was “Racing in the Streets” by Springsteen floating out from the warehouse door, along with the sound of his daughter chasing their gigantic dog, neither of us knowing our ass from a hole in the ground with carpentry but doing it anyway, looking at that horrible building, a guy who could have moved into that business and built similarly ugly buildings for a fortune.

One day, Bob asked me to help organize his files. The guy saved every piece of paper in his life. I mean everything. Old articles ripped from magazines in the 1970s. Invoices from his long-defunct lighting company. Catalogs of all sorts. He refused to throw anything out. I came across a letter he wrote to his father a few years earlier. I knew it would be this because the manila folder it was in had “Letter to My Father” scrawled on the tab. And what a letter. I knew it was a private matter, should have just closed it and moved on, but I couldn’t help myself.

I gathered from the letter that he had a rocky relationship with his Dad, which seems to be a hallmark I’ve noticed with a lot of successful businessmen. It seemed like his father was successful in some sense and didn’t think Bob was living up to his standards. At least that’s how I remember it – it could have been a different situation, but I do remember there was an obvious, serious disconnect between father and son noted. The “Bob” part of the letter came with Bob looking to put aside any past misunderstandings and let them both get more involved in each other’s lives, because he wanted his kids to know who their grandfather was and have that larger sense of family. (Bob often hassled me about not having kids, as he saw them being the keys to long-term happiness. He lit up when they were around, and I'd like to think all parents are that visibly enamored of their children. I suspect the hardest part of his dying was knowing he'd never get to see them grow.)

I read it once, put it back where I found it, and thought, fuck it, Bob, you file that one because I don’t know where it belongs. I could have walked over, said, Bob, what should I do with this, and he would have spent half an hour discussing it with me to get my take on it. But one thing I knew, no way on earth would we get through Bob’s insane amount of files. He had two or three long, bolted, metal file shelves running about 30 feet, three shelves on each, every square inch filled with some sort of file, no rhyme or reason to a lot of it. Something tells me he knew exactly where that letter was, and I should just leave it there.

After a few of those work visits (which always came at times when I genuinely needed the money), I fell into steady work at an investment bank and didn’t see Bob for a long time, actually ever again. A mutual friend told me that he was seriously ill with some stomach problem, and a few weeks later, he was gone. I suspect he knew it was coming. A few years earlier, he had taken out a life insurance policy on himself that would leave his family doing well in the event of his passing. I don’t know how much K or anyone else knew, but I suspect he knew something like this was in the cards and wanted to get as much done as humanly possible before checking out.

And I can only imagine how torn up K was over this, knowing that Bob was one of those long-term thinkers, that whatever he couldn’t do in his life, he’d want to see his kids picking up his knowledge and intensity and carrying them forward. He wouldn't want either to feel the need to write the sort of letter he had to his father. I suspect the difference between Bob and his father was what happened after he ditched the lighting company, that Bob was viewing success for himself in a different light from money and wanted to move in that direction … which makes no sense to people who traditionally define success only through money. I gather when he passed, K picked right up with everything he wanted to put forth, saw that she had two small kids depending on her now, took Bob’s spirit and used it to make herself get through such an awful time.

I honestly didn’t know what to make of his passing. At that point in my life, I’d had the death of my grandmother and a few wayward passings of teenage friends under my belt. I was also dumb-struck at the concept of someone not another generation older from mine passing away from health problems. It’s to my discredit that I didn’t help out K more … just didn’t know what to do and still don’t. I know in my case, when Dad went, there wasn’t much you could do for me, save go on treating me the same. Whatever shit I had to deal with, no one was going to clarify that situation for me. Dealing with death is like putting on another layer of clothes in winter when the temperature drops more than expected. You can heap all sort of psychological bullshit on top of that, but the world just got a little bit colder and smaller for you. Nothing’s going to change that, and you have to re-adjust. It's that simple, and you better believe life gets that black-and-white for a long time afterwards.

How do I remember Bob? As one of the most generous, open, intelligent people I’ve ever met. And a Republican to boot … how about that. It’s been one of the stranger mind games in my life that the people who’ve extended themselves the most for me, who were the most selfless (aside from my parents), have occasionally been right-leaning conservatives. Plenty of liberals, too, I usually don’t bust balls on political persuasion. I need to underline that about Bob, because people who didn’t know him well had little idea about who he really was, and the public persona was a mild ruse as opposed to who he really was. In our daily dealings, he rarely got into politics, which seemed like a surface annoyance to him. I felt the spark of life around him – the guy attached value and meaning to everything. He probably would have driven me nuts if I’d been around him more, but it was great to take him in for those small doses.

My best memory of Bob: one blustery, sunny Saturday in January, I was walking around the area of 34th Street on the west side of Manhattan. I can’t recall what I was doing there, as that part of town is desolate on the weekends. Just walking. As I turned the corner of 34th and 8th by the huge post office, I saw an idling van on the side of the street. The side door swung open, and there was Bob, giving me the finger and laughing. You have to understand the random nature of living around Manhattan, that running into someone you know well like this is rare. K and their daughter were in the front seat of the van, laughing. It turns out they were going to some type of kiddie concert at Madison Square Garden and had just got there. As usual, they had sandwiches and invited me in to eat. But for whatever reason, I thought it best to keep walking and get home (the Bronx at that time), as it was cold as hell with a biting wind. But we talked anyway for a good 15 minutes about nothing in particular. For some reason, if there is some type of after life, wherever I go, I suspect a door will swing open in that place, and Bob will be there, giving me the finger. Heaven or hell, you decide.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

C30! C60! C90! Stop!

All week long, I’ve been in heavy CD-duplication mode, coming home every night and knocking out 5-10 CD-R's of my annual Christmas CD. (I send these instead of cards … I don’t like cards.) As much as I bitch about the process, I hearken back to the days of cassette tapes and realize it’s a cakewalk to spend six minutes per disc and have dozens of discs completed by week’s end.

This may be boring, but who knows, maybe people who weren’t familiar with the lugubrious process of making mix tapes will get a kick out of this. Making those things really was a labor of love. Compiling them took much longer than with a CD and relied on a well-structured stereo system as opposed to a computer.

As with CD’s, it would all start with a concept. I can’t even remember the first cassette compilation I did – had to be in college, mid-80s, when thanks to Walkmans, cassettes become the dominant media format. The Sony Walkman was a revolutionary piece of equipment. Before then, there was no portable device, save for transistor radios, that one could carry around and listen to music with. (Sure, there was the Panasonic Hand Pump Eight-Track, but those things were just as bad as transistor radios in terms of sound quality, and very few people had eight-track tape recorders. Even less mourn the “warmth” of eight-track tapes: the single worst product invented in the entertainment industry, and unfortunately one I bore full witness to along with millions of other music fans in the 70's.) There were car cassette players … but you had to have a car.

With the dawn of the Walkman, and having a car at the time with a Sparkomatic tape deck (for the uninitiated, that means I was sucking fumes financially), I dived headlong into creating cassette compilations. And at first, they must have really sucked. My breadth and knowledge of music was extremely limited, mostly to the more tasteful rock of the 70s and 80s, and only the obviously-great 60s acts (Stone, Beatles, Kinks, Hendrix, etc.). College kicked that door open, not just with the indie-rock scene entering its prime, but with my first indulgence in 50s Rock and 60s R&B, i.e., discovering music before I was of-age or even born. (Buying The Atlantic Rhythm & Blues series as each two-disc set came out was a monumental growing experience for me.) Getting into the requisite Dylan and Velvet Underground undergrad listening experiences was also key.

For awhile there, especially the late 80s when vinyl was being phased out, cassettes were it. I didn’t buy many store-bought cassettes, but there were a few dozen from that time period, and, man, did the quality of manufactured cassettes suck. I could make better-sounding cassettes with blank, low-noise TDK’s and a deeply average stereo. I’d buy vinyl whenever possible, eventually caving in and buying a CD player in 1990. (I think we’re in a similar phase now with CD’s giving way to MP3 files, or at least it feels that way to me.) By the early 90s, my music collection was an unruly mix of vinyl albums, CD’s and shitty cassettes.

These were my sources for the mix tapes I made. I’d need a lot of room, physically, any time I did this, because the start of the process was pulling all the albums, CD’s and cassettes from my collection and laying them all over the floor and furniture around me. The concept was to create the mix in my head, and when mentally choosing each song, pick up each piece of physical product with that song on it, thus creating an oblong stack of all three media formats. After awhile, I had the art down so well mentally that I knew when to stop a “Side 1” pile and when to start a “Side 2” pile.

Of course, there’d be a lot of juggling and switching as I realized one segue would work better than another. I was never too uptight about song choice. If an artist had two songs I wanted on the compilation, it happened. If some psychedelic song had a 15-minute drum solo at the end that I hated, I’d fade the entire solo out. The art of the segue is crucial in any mix – if you don’t develop some sort of feel for this, you’re wasting time, although this is not as big an issue with CD’s and “next track” buttons. Sometimes the segue is a nod and a wink to the informed listener or a thematic connection with lyrics, other times it’s similar-sounding songs leading into each other, or the hot/cold shock of loud and quiet songs together. There’s a beginning, middle and end to the mix, as with any story. It rarely pays to be too hip, unless all you know are hipsters, in which case, you need new friends and a swift kick in the ass.

And here’s where it grew into an abacus-style luddite process. I would take each album, or CD, or cassette, write the song title from the disc down on a notebook page and write the track time next to it, a circled number representing its place in the mix. I’d do this for each song, each side, and then sit there with a calculator, adding up the times, making sure to take the “seconds” total, always in the hundreds, and divide by sixty, then adding that number the “minutes” total, which would often be an extra 5-10 minutes. This was where I’d fine out I had 10 or 15 extra minutes to kill, a few songs to get rid of. I preferred using TDK SA 110s – 55 minutes per side. The reason I loved the TDK tapes was they always ran longer than 55 minutes – usually around 57 minutes, so I knew I had that two-minute cushion to play around with.

Song cutting time was always a pain in the ass – still is with mix CD’s. But I also found it beefed up the mix, got rid of also-ran’s and songs that, while I liked them, shouldn’t have been there. My notebook pages for these mixes must have looked like a track list from a recording studio – arrows everywhere, songs crossed out, or arrowed in. Anyone reading the page could have seen my thought process, from where my mind was going with the song selection, to the mild angst of whittling the mix down to fit the time frame.

The time frame involved up to this point in the process is at least three hours. Because in the process of trying to find which songs I wanted, I often had to throw them on the stereo to see if it felt right, which often lead me to listening to other songs from the album. And with cassettes, I’d have to get the tape set to the start of the song I wanted – a pissy process with a lot of Fast Forwarding and Rewinding. This is all leading up to the actual act of making the cassette.

Making the cassette tended to take another three hours: recording in real time, sometimes fading longer songs out 30 seconds early to make room, sometimes having a hell of a time getting a song (usually part of a medley or disc where one song flowed into another) at the right starting point. Three hours, at least. I’d be exhausted after doing this, feeling like I literally spent all day in a recording studio, because in a half-assed sense, I had. The whole process was six hours at a minimum: one of those Saturday afternoon/evening/night endeavors.

But I loved doing it and still enjoy doing mix CD’s. Luckily with tapes, I had a dual cassette deck and could dub another copy of the cassette in about 20 minutes. (I can dub about four CD’s in the same amount of time, and this with a slow laptop.) Looking back, I think 110 minutes was way too long and probably wore out the listener. I suspect a near-80 minute CD may be too long, too, but I rarely do a mix CD without running near that limit. The last step: writing in the song titles, which was a pain in the ass with mixes made up of shorter songs (like 50s rock, 60s Pop or 70s punk) – there were never enough lines on the cassette case insert to fit all the titles, so I had to write small and put numerous songs on each line. Again, programs like MS Word and PowerPoint made this much easier, but this was how it was done before we all had home computers.

Never got too fancy with artwork, although my options, again, are much more broad with even a basic design program like PowerPoint. I’m pretty good with design – don’t think I missed my calling, but I always did well in art class and have a knack for creating things from scratch with a real homespun vibe. I have friends who do graphic arts for a living, and one of them has told me I'm primitive, but effective. My favorite cassette design was one of my last, a Glitter Rock tribute from the mid-90s. I’d found a neat fan drawing online of David Bowie’s “Aladdin Sane” face (with a star over the left eye), copied the image of a Gibson Guitar from that company’s website, put a plus sign between each, followed with an equal sign, and the image of a big blue star throwing off rays. For the cassette’s side panel, I went to Staples and found those little gold-star decals that elementary school teacher’s probably still use to put a “gold star” by a student's name on list to demonstrate a job well done. I put those around the cassette’s title. It looked like something a junior-high kid in love with glitter rock and on acid would have created circa 1974. In other words, it fit the project perfectly.

Why all the work? I guess for a number of reasons. On rare occasions, it was to impress pussy. (Hint: mix tapes do not impress pussy. Pussy doesn’t care that you have the Paper Lace version of “Billy Don’t Be a Hero.” Pussy will appreciate the gesture, but will also think you’re weird, hopefully in an endearing way.) The older you get the less you’re “showing off” when you bestow music mixes on people. It’s a cool thing when you’re 21 and at school, and I guess as we all get older, I tend to forward mixes to people who will “get it” in some sense.

The ulterior motive is to show I’m alive. I’m thinking about other things outside the context of my every-day life. I haven’t forgotten what it means to be 14 years old, hear a song for the first time, and be floored. A mix is a connection – to an earlier, more idealistic version of myself, to other people, to the ongoing river of music that keeps flowing through time. I make these things because they’re fun for me to do, and the people receiving them often let me know how much they appreciate getting them.

At this point in my life, I have it down, have a massive musical collection, enough knowledge to put together a deep, learned collection of material and am still curious enough about music that the spark of learning about it is just as strong as when I was a kid. Maybe stronger, now that I know so much more and am willing to branch out. (Music was like a chosen uniform as a kid, with all the social implications tied into taste. That constricted sense of regimen no longer applies.) I think the most attractive, interesting aspects of adulthood involve what people do with their spare time. I don't care what it is, so long as they have something they care about passionately. Sure, I feel like a dick doing these things sometimes. But I feel like a dick every day at work. I feel like a dick writing here sometimes. Feeling like a dick is an essential part of adulthood, so why not revel in it on occasion?