Monday, May 25, 2009

Jay Bennett

I don’t know why, but whenever a musician passes on who never got his full due while alive, I’m on it. The last time I felt this way was for Sean Costello, the young blues guitarist who was just starting to find his voice before checking out in a run-down hotel room in Atlanta. When Ronnie Lane passed on quietly in a small town in Colorado, that hit me like a thunderbolt, as I had spent the past few years discovering the great music he made after leaving The Faces.

And, now, Jay Bennett, formerly of Wilco, checks out far too early. Not sure if it was misadventure or on purpose, but I don’t think anyone’s scoring that too closely. He was a year older than I am, which I found shocking … thought he was much older than I was, or I was much younger. He always seemed so middle-aged, probably due to his body type and big head. He had one of those burly midwestern bodies and head, you could picture him in a pair of horn-rim glasses, a black leather hat with ear flaps and a big-ass Woolrich coat. Shoveling snow, or selling newspapers on the corner in Chicago, or bouncing a niece on his knee at a cookout. The dreadlocks were out of place on him, but that was his thing, to be this typically midwestern-looking guy who had a lot more going on.

Apparently, he was in the process of suing Wilco over the issue of royalties related to his appearance in the documentary I Am Trying to Break Your Heart which, let’s face it, has created this “story” about Jay and the band that will be his legacy. (Jay was also needing a lot of money for a long-delayed hip operation, without health insurance.) In the documentary, Jay is made out to be this mad genius, constantly smoking, who spends all his time in the studio and eventually gets too nuts for Jeff Tweedy to deal with, so he’s asked to leave the band. We never get to see this happening. Sure, there’s a scene where Jay’s fretting over an intricate segue between two of the songs, complete with Tweedy vomiting in the rest room when the tension over their disagreement on this issue boils over, but that didn’t seem all that harsh to me. If you know bands, you know that break-ups tend to result over a long period of fights and issues that make stuff like that passage seem like small change. Whatever caused Jay to be dumped from the band, we didn’t see it happening.

And that’s a shame, because Jay was responsible for pushing the band to its creative peak, with Summerteeth and Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Only the band knows for sure, but both those album, Jay’s presence is all over them, whether as a songwriter, arranger, producer or musician. When he left the band, that musical density and greater pop sense disappeared with him. I still love the band, but you can hear what Jay meant to them when he left. This two-part interview from Glorious Noise – the first part letting Jay expound upon why he left and the second outlining exactly what he did on Yankee Hotel Foxtrot – gives excellent insight into just how integral his role was to the band.

I’m guessing his imprint was even larger on the previous album, Summerteeth, which many fans consider the band’s peak. I do, too, although I didn’t think much of the album at first. Brother J was a Wilco fan before I was, because of their alt country beginnings, but Summerteeth, he threw his hands up and said fuck these guys. Their previous album, Being There, was considered their creative breakthrough, and even then, Jay’s imprint was being felt in more loose/trippy arrangements. I know more than a few people who couldn’t stand this sort of “branching out” and thought the band was over-rated, but there are certain songs like “I Got You,” “Red Eyed and Blue” and “Dreamer in My Dreams” that are the sound of a band hitting its stride.

Jay leaves the band, and Tweedy veers Wilco into a more lean, less poppy direction. Which I still love. Every time I listen to Wilco, I feel like I’m listening to a guy, Tweedy, who really likes marijuana. Everything he does is trippy in a way suggesting that intelligent, but slightly askew take on the world so many heads have. But you can hear that pop sense Jay imparted greatly decreasing, and when Jay was with Wilco, he was writing material that’s about as good as pop music gets. Two songs in particular represent Jay’s creative peak.

“My Darling” from Summerteeth underlines the issues so many older Wilco fans had with the band: too much shit going on. I recall Brother J’s reaction to Yankee Hotel Foxtrot: “These guys are writing basic songs that sound fine and then lumping all this sonic shit on top of it to make it sound experimental.” Which he thought was bullshit, and sometimes it was. This was truly the case for “My Darling,” which was mostly Jay’s song, maybe all Jay’s song from what I gather, and if you want to hear the best version, try this one from his first post-Wilco album, The Palace at 4 am. Less is more in this case – I put this song on the same shelf as “Imagine” by John Lennon. It’s that good! To come up with a melody that basic that hasn’t been used before, to me, is a sign of someone who has the ability to function on a higher creative level than most musicians.

The absolute best, though is “California Stars” from Mermaid Avenue. I don’t know what Jeff Tweedy has to do with the song, and I suspect that asshole Billy Bragg just sat in a corner strumming an acoustic guitar. It’s my understanding that this was one of Jay’s song, too, with lyrics, of course, by Woody Guthrie. “California Stars” is one of those songs that defined the 90s for me, maybe the best song of the 90s, along with other songs like “Creep” and “Common People.” First time I heard that song, it made perfect sense: that sad, floating feel that did impart someone looking up at a night sky and wishing he was back in California. The lap steel work by Corey Harris is also outstanding, really makes the song.

Those two songs alone put Jay Bennett on a higher plane for me. He didn’t stop making music after Wilco either, putting out solid solo albums that had flashes of the same brilliance. Try “My Little Wicked One” and “Hank,” which now takes on new meaning. I hadn’t known it at the time, but Jay’s musical presence was in my life back in the early 90s. Brother J had read a review of the band Titantic Love Affair that compared them favorably to The Replacements, with their first album having a cover designed by Chris Mars. “Planet Strange” was their big song, and they weren’t quite The Replacements. I never warmed up to that album; it just wasn’t on quite the same level. Still, that’s Jay Bennett, skulking under his straggly hair in the background. I think Brother J still has that CD back home in his rack, although I’ll bet he hasn’t looked at it, much less played it, in years.

His legacy will always be the work he did with Wilco which, of course, will be tainted by the negative vibe attached to his departure. I’m watching I Am Trying to Break Your Heart right now, and it still seems like Jay got a raw deal, although, again, none of us have any idea what went down between him and Jeff to blow things apart. Like most bands, Wilco seems like a strange beast, full of guys jockeying for position and “yes men-ing” it to maintain status quo in that floating perception of power within the band. Which never seems real until you’re thrown out on your ass. I gather being in a band is like being in a reality TV show, like Survivor, where you can tell yourself this isn’t real, but it is. I would never do these things in my real life, you tell yourself … but this is your real life. The camera following you around is your fame, your image, and it’s always watching you and influencing how you act. I don’t think Tweedy or Wilco are bad people at all – quite the opposite. But I’d gather they’re a bit fucked up, like all bands are, which is what happen when you travel around for years in a bubble with the same people all the time.

But poor Jay punches his ticket over the Memorial Day weekend. He deserves better than to be thought of as some talented crank who talked his way out of a great band. He wasn’t full of shit regarding his place in the band, as it became evident how important he had been when he left, and the band’s direction took a sharp turn. Summerteeth will be like summer itself, representing a time and place that stays the same while you go on, or don’t go on. Man, Jay looks like hell in this documentary, constant cigarette, hangdog face, clearly some kind of drug usage going on. Ditto Tweedy, they look like hell. But that hell they put themselves through left behind some great music. I don't doubt Jay was a pisser to work with, but the end results speak for themselves. Hats off, Jay.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Forgetting How to Ride a Bike

I haven’t been to a high-school reunion in a few years, think the 20th was the last. The 25th didn’t happen – apparently not enough interest. The old class seems to function better on the zero years, and 10 years is a nice round number to see people again. But this isn’t about high-school reunions, per se.

I commented a few weeks back about Facebook – the concept of our lives turning into permanent high-school reunions by constantly keeping in contact with people from our past. When I first moved to New York, and even now, it felt important to me to maintain contact with people “back home.” Some people move to cities to leave their pasts behind, but that always struck me as foolish. You can’t escape it. Whatever you were there, you’ll still be that here, no matter how hard you try to bullshit yourself. New York is crawling with douchebags – a lot of them were born and raised here. And you get that certain kind who moved here, who would be chased out of any town where more than a small circle of acquaintances and coworkers knew who they were. They move here to escape, not realizing they can’t escape themselves, that it’s not where they’re from, it’s who they are that’s so troubling.

Going back home these days implies knowing a lot less people: a handful of old friends and immediate family members. This has been the case for a long time now. There was that era in my 20s where there were still plenty of other guys in their mid-late 20s at relatively loose ends (unmarried, going to bars, etc.), but that scene faded out over time as people either got married or moved away. I go back home to clear my head out for a few days in a rural area as much as anything else. But it’s still important to me to maintain that connection. What something like Facebook would do is point out numerous, maybe dozens of, other people back there whom I’ve lost contact with and put them back in my life in some respect.

While that would feed my ego in terms of hang-out options, I’d also have to wonder how genuine it all was. I don’t crave having dozens of people I’ve lost touch with pushed back into my life – the concept neither offends or appeals to me. It’s just not something I’d do on my own … so why have a website do it for me? I’d see through the ruse and realize this “homecoming” of sorts would be more a tribute to social networking websites than any real urge I had to know these people again. I’d rather a relationship developing like that be more organic – you meet someone by chance, hey, we still get along, let’s keep in touch, here’s my email address, etc. This is what high-school reunions are for: to meet with these people again, have some drinks, kick back, talk about old times, then all go our merry ways again for another 10 years.

I don’t think that particular social construct was meant to permeate our every-day lives. It’s a privacy issue at heart. Or maybe just relates to the kind of person you are. I’ve come across many people in New York offices who don’t seem to have any real sort of relationships: the ones they do appear to have are related purely to what the other person can do for them. That may sound mildly evil – it’s a way of seeing the world I’ve never quite accepted – but that’s just how some people are. They’re “networking” sort of people no one ever really gets to know. They don’t know you – they network you, in hopes that if they scratch your back, you’ll scratch theirs somewhere down the road.

And that odd way of seeing the world is in synch with horseshit like Facebook, Twitter and the Permanent High-School Reunion these things hope to perpetuate. You’ll never really get to know anyone, but you’ll “know” hundreds of people. In effect, everyone you know will be an acquaintance, and only in way that somehow serves your sense of well being, with little regard for theirs. It’s an extremely mercenary form of friendship that, as noted, I’m already familiar with via dealing with business people in NYC offices. The focus is on self, not on others, not on how self and others interact. It’s all about you, which is why this stuff gives me so much trouble. The ruse, the selling point, is that you’re building this wonderful world of people around you to help each other get through with life, when the reality is you’re only building a monument to insecurity.

What are real friends? That’s always a good question to ask. I look at my own life and can see how these situations change over the years. It’s obvious how it works when you’re a kid, and well into your 20s: these people are around you, you spend real time together, you go through a lot, most importantly, at times in your lives when you’re far more open to trust people and create lasting bonds that could run the rest of your lives. Before you get out on your own, you’re forced into these relationships simply because the people are physically there in your life, in the same house, or street, or town, or home room, or math class, etc. You find some like-minded individuals, and you bond, in ways that you think will last forever, but you’re not fully aware that the simple passing of time will push you in different directions, with some of these relationships ending, some going on.

It’s not as easy after that. You get exposed to the world; you move around in it. You see how genuinely awful some people are, and this taints your view of humanity. You become more careful with whom you trust. Some of the people you trust turn out to be awful; some would die for you. Some people you thought were assholes turn out to be all right. Most are varying mixes of both. Chances are good that the physical sense of everyone you know in your life being right around you will disappear – either they will, or you will, or you’ll just stop knowing each other once you no longer have reason to be in regular contact. Marriage, kids … things like this tend to take up people’s every waking hours on top of work. Some people will work like fiends, with time for nothing else.

That traditional way of defining friendship no longer applies to my adult life. Most of the people I know are spread out. Some back home in PA. Some are in NYC. Some were, but most moved around the general area, so that even being 30 miles outside the city represents a travel scenario that's a pain to deal with. My neighbors are pricks and weirdos for the most part – I’m not going to befriend them. It would be nice to meet people around where I live, but as noted, the casual trust that’s so abundant with kids fails me as an adult. I find it a lot harder to make real friends as I get older. They seem to spring up here and there through various circumstances, but again, the way these things go, it’s never in that traditional way.

I recall in the 80s TV show Thirtysomething, there were the friends in that age group, all living in the Philadelphia area, who always seemed to be constantly, and physically, in each other’s lives (not relatives either). I feel like seeing Joe. Hey, I’ll just get into my car and drive over to his house, and we’ll have some beers in his den!

Does your life work that way? Man, mine doesn’t! I have to make appointments days, more likely weeks, in advance to hang out with people, and half the time those plans get jumbled or tossed along the way. I get the impression if you, as an adult, live where you grew up, you do have a more built-in network of people constantly in your life. I also get the impression you wish you could kill some of these people, and both they, and the concept that you never moved, gets to you after awhile. I like the idea of portraying myself as a rural sort of guy, but part of that is being in a city and really appreciating certain aspects of that way of life (more space, less traffic, more greenery, etc.) … while conveniently ignoring certain aspects that would drive me nuts were I to live there all the time. This last trip, I couldn’t stop noticing how trashy so many people look back there these days: missing teeth, idiotic tattoos, dingus facial hair … and this was just the women. I’m usually against using a term like “white trash,” but man, there were a lot of trashy white people around! Much more than a decade ago, much less two. And these folks seemed to be not just self conscious over how grubby they were, but taking a perverse sort of pride in it, too. Soap, deodorant and toothpaste are your friends, folks!

Every so often, “Bob Dylan’s Dream” will come up on the iPod, and it always gets to me:

While riding on a train going west
I fell asleep for to take my rest.
I dreamed a dream that made me sad
Concerning myself an' the first few friends I had.

With half damp eyes I stared to the room
Where my friends and I spent many an afternoon.
Where we together weathered many a storm
Laughing and singing till the early hours of the morn.

By the old wooden stove where our hats was hung
Our words was told, our songs was sung
Where we longed for nothing and were satisfied
Joking and talking about the world outside.

With hungry hearts through the heat and cold
We never much thought we could get very old
We thought we could sit forever in fun
And our chances really was a million to one.

As easy it was to tell black from white
It was all that easy to tell wrong from right
And our choices they was few so the thoughts never hit
That the one road we traveled would ever shatter or split.

How many a year has passed and gone
Many a gamble has been lost and won
And many a road taken by many a first friend
And each one I've never seen again.

I wish, I wish, I wish in vain
That we could sit simply in that room again
Ten thousand dollars at the drop of a hat
I'd give it all gladly if our lives could be like that.

I guess these days with that group of friends, one would be Twittering on his iPhone, while another sends a text to someone he'd be meeting in five minutes, while another cuts off one who was talking to take a meaningless call, and the last two would be stone-faced in front a TV set with a Playstation for hours on end. None of them would give a shit about each other. Dylan wrote this in his early 20s, a time in which I knew what he was singing about, but never would have come near defining it as well. The song means a lot more to me now. Of course, I also think if you reunited those friends in a room with Dylan, he’d shuffle around uncomfortably, making goat sounds, and would excuse himself after five minutes. He longs for that feeling of seemingly endless stability and certainty more than the friends. Another song by Jonathan Richman, “That Summer Feeling,” hits the same nail on the head with the great line: “Do you long for her?/Or the way you were?”.

A few weeks ago, I youtubed my old high school and town names around that area, and came across this: two teenage girls goofing around to 60s songs on an iPod. What really struck me was that both girls had memorized the lyrics to ALL the songs, so they knew how to anticipate each line and silly mannerism. And they're listening to great pop music that's 40 years old! I can guarantee you, we weren't sitting around in the 70s with megaphones crooning Rudy Valee and Bing Crosby songs... but I think their love and appreciation of the music is a very cool thing.

It was also a nice little moment, documented for all time, the kind of moment you rarely have as adult, but seems like second nature when you’re growing up. Every high school reunion aspires to a drawn-out moment with the same feeling these girls have effortlessly clowning around in the living room on a boring Friday night. What happens to that feeling? I don't know, but it gets harder to find with passing time. Call it forgetting how to ride a bike.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Trash Weekend

I was going to call this one “White Trash Weekend,” but, as you'll read, that title wouldn’t have been all-encompassing. Back in my 20s, I used to get these “vibes” along the lines of “why is the world closing in on me,” generally based on a combination of minor things going off-kilter in my personal life, coupled with random events on the street or at work, that left me feeling like I was under some type of cosmic attack. I had somehow displeased the gods, as if Zeus was hurling thunderbolts at me.

Well, I’ve since written that sort of mental state down to self absorption. The world wasn’t spinning around me. Good and bad things happen to everyone all the time, the only recognizable pattern being that sometimes they will be caused by my previous thoughts or actions, i.e., you’re gonna’ reap what you sow. And the random things that happen just walking down the street are just that. Random. I’m in the wrong place at the wrong time and being exposed to douchebaggery, which never makes anyone feel good, but as I’ve learned, just keep moving, and that shit is gone. In other words, no reason to question why you’ve stumbled on a very minor, temporary losing streak for a few hours or days.

Friday started with the news that an old friend had been diagnosed with a severe disease, and that’s about all I’m going to say about that, because that’s about all I know at this point. Never good to hear news like that.

When I went to leave for work that morning, I took my usual glance down the side street to see if there’s anything I need to address on my landlord’s sidewalk: graffiti on her wall, garbage on her sidewalk, etc. Sure enough, there was garbage on her sidewalk. Upon closer inspection, the remnants of an informal party: two pizza boxes stuffed with uneaten crusts and about two dozen cigarette butts. Three empty six packs of Heineken. Various plastic bags with napkins, plastic cups and shit like that. Someone methodically made a neat little pyramid pile of all this junk, as if they were sitting in a car, everybody got done, very nicely put all their refuse in one spot on someone else’s sidewalk: how nice of them to be so thoughtful.

That’s pretty typical stuff for me to deal with – I get that immediate flash of anger (“what kind of wretch would knowingly dump garbage on someone else’s property?”), but sooner or later realize no one else is going to pick it up and throw it out but me, and if I don’t, the asshole Sanitation folks may very well ticket my landlord for that. At this point, I know the drill: deposit whatever’s there in the garbage bin and get over it, because it will happen again, and there’s not much I can do to stop it.

Rest of Friday was thankfully routine. Saturday morning, I wake up to what smells like burning plastic and rubber. A really harsh “this is not good” chemical smell. This part of Queens is routinely under attack by various toxic orders, usually of two kinds. One, a very sickly-sweet smell like burning maple syrup, or cow shit. The maple syrup smell has since been identified as some type of confections factory in New Jersey (!) wafting its odor over the entire New York City area, and the cow shit is a sewage treatment plant about a mile away that’s has had ongoing issues with a failing turbine. It must be hell to live right near that plant, but this entire part of Queens, you get “that smell” sometimes, and it’s foul. Welcome to New York … and this has grown into one of the more “exclusive” areas!

I never did found out what this smell was – if I had to guess, I’d go with one of our bozo, broken English neighbors who occasionally get up to some weird, illegal chemical disposal hijinx that people normally do in zoned areas of factories wearing space suits and respirators. Not a good smell to wake up to, and I never did find out where it originated. There must be a trailer park in Athens that’s spiritual home to some folks around here.

I get online and check out my home county newspaper to find that the gang of teenage creeps who beat to death an illegal immigrant in Shenandoah, PA have all been let off with a simple assault charge, i.e., a bunch of drunken kids in a mob got away with third-degree murder. Horrible stuff, makes me embarrassed for my home county. (Can’t write it down to a typically Shenandoah thing: the trial took place in Pottsville, the county seat, and presumably had jurors from all over the county.)

An unbelievable verdict. I know how court rooms work. A defense attorney’s job is to create reasonable doubt at every corner – the O.J. trial is a tribute to this. And if you get people dumb enough on a jury, they can be lead like sheep, i.e., made to feel they have to toe a defense attorney’s line of reasoning instead of recognizing a few basic truths. There’s a dead body in the street. Not suicide. A bunch of kids were seen by numerous witnesses beating this person before he died. No one denies this. They killed him. Want to get picky over minor issues of who delivered the final blow, or what color his sneakers were? Go ahead. Somebody got murdered. Someone is accountable. Only two kids were charged. From what I gather there were more than five kicking and stomping this guy as they yelled racial slurs. This is reality non one refutes. Courtroom reality is no one is to blame unless you can prove it without a shadow of a doubt; this form of reality blows, and our world would be chaos if it existed outside a courtroom. It's not justice; it's bullshit.

Shenandoah has always been a mess of a town, but this takes the cake. I have one friend who lives there (and I wish he’d move), but that’s all I’m ever going to have to do with that town from now on. Frankly, if there are demonstrations and riots all summer long, so be it. This is foul. What kind of message it sends to these assholes, I have no idea. I can only hope federal and civil cases are in the works.

And just when I’m getting myself into a nice “white racism/bad” lather, something else comes along to remind me jackasses come in every color. Later in the morning, I got into my usual routine: laundry, groceries, quick sweep up of the landlord’s sidewalk. My Saturday mornings tend to be pretty busy, nonstop activity once I get rolling. So, I’m out there cleaning up the sidewalk – an easy one this time, probably won’t be out there more than 15 minutes. As I’m doing so, two black kids, couldn’t be more than 13 or so, who had been playing basketball at the schoolyard next door come sauntering by.

From the corner of my eye, I can see that dumb walk long before they get near me. Walking very slow with their heads tilted back, frowns on their faces: they’re already mimicking the affectations and attitude of street trash. Just goofball kids who can’t even walk down the street without getting into shit. When I lived in the Bronx, I would see this transformation occur constantly – from a sweet/open 10-year-old to a fake wanna-be thug by 13. I can see the logic in adopting a stance like that as a defense against the world, but right there, that's admitting cowardice and defeat. You can’t face the world as you are, so you pretend to be something you’re not. Teenagers of all colors are prone to this sort of insecurity, and woe unto the numerous adults I’ve come across who never break through this shithead barrier.

As they get near, one of the kid pulls out a plastic bottle of some garbage concoction, looks pink, and it’s frozen. He makes a big show out of repeatedly smacking it against the wall along the landlords property (to break up the ice) … thinking in his mind that this is going to antagonize me into a confrontation. Got news for you, kid – if I’ve gone through years of black and hispanic kids spitting as I pass them on the street, you’re going to have to try harder than this to get me to hit you. Kids don't realize what adults are up against if they get caught beating some them on the street: not just various assault charges, but also child abuse charges, and in this case, probably some type of racial intimidation thrown in for good measure. It doesn’t serve my purpose to lay a finger on this kid; it could open up a very bad can of worms that could haunt me for years afterwards.

But the kids keep walking. Understand, this is all peripheral vision on my part – I’m not even looking at these kids. I didn’t see it, but at the far end of the sidewalk, the other kid drops a foot-long scrap of tin foil, obviously on purpose as he sees me out there sweeping, and thinks it would be cool to make “whitey” pick up after him, because he’s such a playah.

Can I tell you how many times I’ve come across this Dance of the Dumb in my travels in New York? Dozens and scores doesn’t do it justice: hundreds, if not thousands. Always the same attitude, the same “please hit me” vibe that, clue me in, I outweigh both of these kids put together and would pulverize them in a street fight. They might be carrying guns? I strongly doubt it; try playing basketball with a gun in your waistband.

What they’re doing goes all the way back to slave days, although they’re probably unaware of that. They’re treating me as the authority figure who must be “secretly” taunted to show how smart they are and how dumb I am. I have seen this lame, defeatist attitude thousands of times with black kids. These kids don’t realize they’re already conceding power to me by acting this way, that instead of treating me as a normal, equal human being and passing, they’re viewing me as an authority figure they feel some need to get over on, because they feel inferior, although they have no reason to feel that way. I don’t see them in terms of inferiority or superiority – they’re just kids walking down the street. I’m just a guy minding my own business. If they saw me as inferior and wanted to prove it, they would attack me, which I would welcome!

You tell me – I’d love to be enlightened on this. Rank stupidity and total lack of self awareness strike me as debilitating diseases of the mind. I’ve seen this sort of role playing enough to note it as a common occurrence. Do I feel sorry for this kids? I feel sorry for their level of stupidity, sure. But, no, I don’t feel sorry for them at all. As noted above, you’re going to reap what you sow. You go around acting like that, bad things are coming your way, and I’d rather not be one of them. I let them pass on crap this minor, because engaging assholes like this in any sort of real dialogue is a waste of time. I wouldn’t know how to tell these kids that manhood is not allowing anyone else to control your actions, that you don’t go through life burdening other people with your bullshit.

Besides which, I know that sidewalk, little things get dropped along the way all the time, whether I’m there or not: water bottles, empty potato chip bags, etc. I’d be like King Canute ordering back the sea if I got into a physical confrontation with every scumbag littering out there.

So, this, too, passes. I take a nap, listen to some music, then head out to the gym later in the afternoon, normally a relaxing walk down to 30th Avenue, about half an hour each way, and a workout that usually clears me out nicely. But two blocks from my apartment, I come across something odd unfolding. A man and a woman, in their 20s, white, arguing. At least, it looks like arguing – from a distance, they could be monkeying around in that annoying way couples do in public that comes close to physical assault. As I get closer, I can see they're not monkeying around. The woman takes a swipe at the guy’s head, and he ducks back with a grimace on his face. He’s got club-hopper written all over him: grotesque Ed Hardy t-shirt, little square soldier’s hat cocked at asshole angle, pencil-line facial hair and soul patch. If I were to look up "douchebag" in the dictionary, there'd be a picture of this guy with the definition. The woman is pretty good-looking: angular, long black hair, blue eyes, a real looker. What she’s doing with a guy like this, I haven’t got a clue.

Nor does she at that moment. I hear her blurt out, “You’re going to jail! You hear me? Jail!” She’s trying to dial her cellphone. I get the vibe that I’m walking in on an ongoing, bad confrontation between a woman who, for whatever reason, must have a court order out against this guy to stay X number of feet away from her. It has that feel, the “couple gone seriously awry” sense of two people about to get physical, like many times before.

As I’m about 10 feet away, she looks at me, and this is where I decide how I’m going to deal with this. If her look in any way says, “please help me,” or if she flat-out states that, I probably will help her, which would could mean nasty business with Pencil Beard. I’m not too big on violence against women, especially with a guy who looks like this, on the street, in my presence. This guy can see me, too, can see that I’m walking straight towards both of them, not moving, making eye contact, letting them know I’m not intimidated, just want to go along my merry way.

But her look says, “I can handle this.” I look at the guy, and I can see the same sort of stupidity and arrogance I saw with the black kids a few hours earlier. Just a lost little jackass who can’t deal with a woman properly, which I don’t care about one way or another, just don’t do it in front of me. And for however attractive that woman is, the burning question: “Whatever possessed you to be with a lost little boy like this?” So if she looks like she can handle it, and she’s dumb enough to have this clown in her life, I feel fine just walking on by. Hell, for all I know, I’d side with the guy on this if their full story was explained to me.

But all in all, I had a pretty good weekend! Wrote this, cleaned my apartment from top to bottom, did my usual routines, got about 400 new songs transferred onto the iPod for an upcoming trip to PA, a very productive few days. This is how life is. I don’t understand people who carry on about being happy or sad. Life isn’t like either all the time – if you think it is, you’re delusional. In the course of a day, I’ll go through both emotions, and then some, a few times over. As far back as I can remember, life has always been like this. Trying to label your life, or periods in your life, is a luxury you shouldn’t indulge. Just get on with it.