2020 Dreams

So, about this year’s dreams.

Before 2020 went completely sideways, my friend Joel died. After that, he started showing up in my dreams, a lot. Like, an unhealthy amount. The dreams were nothing abnormal or psychotic; it either involved running into him at a party, or the company we used to work for somehow got re-formed and I had to move back to New York and work for him again. The dreams completely fed into my nostalgia obsession/problem, and whenever I woke up, I would know — I would assume — he was still alive. And then I would remember he wasn’t, and think maybe that was an alternate reality or some mistake was made and he was alive. And then the dreams got even more weird, because in the dream he would explain to me that he wasn’t dead, and it was a big prank or for tax purposes or I misunderstood the email or something.

(I realize there’s an easy psychological explanation for this, given the total lack of closure in his death. And duh, I should be talking to a therapist about this. I think everyone’s got bigger fish to fry at this moment.)

* * *

I don’t know exactly when the COVID dreams started. But I started having these intense dreams where I was walking around, like in the context of a normal weird dream, and then I would realize I didn’t have a mask on and suddenly needed one. It was like the typical “naked in front of class” terror dream, and fed into the same fear/paranoia/shame nerve.

I also would frequently have these dreams where someone was giving me COVID. Like I had this bizarre dream where I was competing in some kind of eco-challenge race through the desert with Joe Rogan. And every time he talked to me, he would lean in really close and spit would fly everywhere. And I woke up in a panic, trying to think if there was something I was supposed to overdose on to prevent the virus from catching, like eating a whole bottle of vitamins or drinking a gallon of Listerine.

I haven’t had the same nightmares I had during the SARS epidemic, though. They were based on a nightmare I had as a child. When I was a young kid, maybe four or five, I had a bad pneumonia or something that completely laid me out, and I had these insane fever dreams that everyone but me was dying of a mystery plague. Like I was watching the news, and the anchorman dropped dead, and bodies were piling up outside the house. And finally I was the only person alive, and the earth looked like the surface of the moon, and some alien Vincent Price-like voice or being was laughing at me. It’s one of my earliest memories, and that dream went back into heavy rotation when the SARS boom hit.

* * *

I have always had a lot of dreams about dead malls. Those still happen constantly. (Another big one is being back at IU, or some bizarro version of IU that has all new buildings, which I guess is IU now, since they’ve expanded everything in the last twenty years.)

My usual dead mall dreams — and these happen pretty much every third night or so — involve a strange composite mall. Like in my mind, the mall will be just outside of Queens, but it will remind me partly of Hilltop Mall in Richmond, mixed with some Factoria Square outside of Seattle, and maybe a dash of University Park in South Bend. There will always be vivid dashes of heavy deja vu around a particular store or sense memory, but when I wake, I’ll realize that there’s no way that mall exists at all.

This is also some weird sense of mourning, because I really miss these places and they don’t even exist. I have spent very little time at malls this year (obviously) and a lot of them probably won’t survive the plague, so I’ll miss them forever. So it’s fitting that they end up the backdrop of my bizarre nightmares.

* * *

Similar to the malls, I have a lot of dreams about Wards. These end up being two varieties. One is that Wards never went bankrupt, and they just closed the stores I knew about, and they had locations that still survived. The other is that some vulture cap company bought the name (which actually happened, but for online catalog purposes) and were somehow kickstarting a new retail presence. I’ve had many dreams where the old store #2258 in Elkhart has reopened, the existing Hobby Lobby shut down and the store converted back to its old glory, except it looks like a Sears with virtually no stock on the shelves.

In many of those dreams, I have a permutation of the “I forgot I had one more class to take to graduate” thing, and I’m somehow obligated to go back and work some shifts. (John said he gets the same thing with the Army, that a recruiter shows up at his house and says he didn’t finish his time thirty years ago and has to come back and do more.) In some of those dreams, my original coworkers are still there, although I’m certain that thirty years later, most of them are all dead. Sometimes I go back and I’m the only person who worked at the old Wards and that’s supposed to hold some cachet over the new people. (I have the same thing going on at my day job now.)

In last night’s version of this dream, I was back at the paint department, but as a manager. A weird little fact popped up in the dream that I’d almost completely forgotten. To mix paint, we had this big turntable thing with various pumps of pigment on it, and you would shoot specific amounts of each primary color into a can of base paint. This was all manual, no computers. We had a binder of formulas for the 863 premium colors and 768 standard colors. Each formula was something like 3-B, 6-C, 2Y-F. So you’d turn to the B color on the turntable, pull back the plunger three notches, shoot in that paint. Turn to C, six notches, go. The Y was significant, because that meant you pulled back the lever to its fullest extension, and gave it a full shot. I don’t remember the exact nomenclature or what the primary colors were, but I totally remember that Y.

* * *

I’ll occasionally have a full-on dream of a real mall, and it usually leaves me horribly depressed, and it’s almost always Concord Mall. I’ll leave you with a dream from a few weeks ago:

I was back at Concord Mall for a visit, and there was some major construction going on, like the whole fountain area was completely redone as this giant Rainforest Cafe-looking food court with a waterfall and a ton of mask-less people in it. I was a bit bummed most of the mall was all Simon-ized and bland, but then I found a semi-hidden staircase that went to a second floor that I never knew existed. The upstairs was basically a mirror of the first floor, with a duplicate of the shops below, but they were all in the 70s livery and configuration, mothballed and untouched for 40 years. I wandered an old JC Penney and everything had signs on it like it was a museum exhibition. I was then in the food court and met up with Kurt Vonnegut, who was talking about how he found an article on Dresden right before he wrote Slaughterhouse Five, and it was like the magical key that unlocked the whole novel in his head. He then gave me a mall directory from 1980 and said that was my key.


Day 4

I’m not alone here in saying that things got weird fast here.

I’ve been debating writing about any of this. I’ve seen every hot take possible on COVID-19, and I’m seeing endless posts about being shut in, suddenly having to work from home, losing work, panicking about food and medical care, and so on. And in the current climate, I feel like putting anything out there opens me up to “oh, you think you have it bad?” attacks. I feel the same way about writing almost anything these days. We’ve fallen down this pit of stupidity that makes talking about almost anything pointless.

But, I need to keep writing every day. It’s more important than ever when the only other choice is to freak the fuck out about everything. And also, I know someday, I’m going to want to look back and see what I was thinking as World War C unfolded. If you look down at the sidebar here, it’s missing a few months of dates in the fall of 2001. This wasn’t a conscious decision; I was just working on finishing Rumored and was too busy to run this thing. And now I wish I could go back to read entries from September and October of that year, to see what I was thinking the last time the world was ending.

So first, the boat. The fucking boat. That Princess cruise ship docked at the Port of Oakland like a week ago. (I don’t even know when it was. The last week seems like a year and a half long.) The ship was about four thousand feet from my house, and if I was up on the parking garage connected to our building, it was plainly visible. (It’s not visible from our house, because they built another set of townhouses right in front of us, blocking our view. That’s another point of aggravation, but what can you do.)

Despite it being that close, it was a world away. No danger of infection, no view of the evacuation, just a giant symbol of how shit was about to go down, sitting on the horizon. The optics of it were bad — “well, we can park this thing in Oakland, because nobody lives there.” Thanks a lot, fuckheads. I understand the logistics of deep-water harbors and all that, but I’m sure if Atherton had a fifty-foot draft depth berth next to it, there’s no way the ship would have ended up there.

I also got the usual craziness from relatives who assumed I was ten seconds from death, like I do every time there’s a forest fire six hundred miles away or a 3.2 earthquake outside of LA. I had a real problem after 9/11 in that for a lot of people, I was their closest connection to the attacks. I did not like being in that position, being the face of the disaster, especially from people who generally had zero interaction with me, and suddenly they had a best friend who was in the towers when it collapsed, even though neither of those things were true.

The shelter-in-place happened quickly. At one point, they said seniors should think about staying home, and hours later, we all had to go on lockdown. Things changed fast, and in a world of clickbait media and dumb algorithms, it was difficult to get straight answers on anything. There were more questions than answers on Monday, and I didn’t wrap my head around the enormity of the situation as it was happening.

I did ease into this a bit since I got back the week before. I resupplied at Target on Friday afternoon, thinking everything would be wiped out by the weekend. I filled my prescriptions, bought toilet paper, got cat food, did all of my errands. I’m glad I did, because by all accounts, Monday’s midnight shelter order turned every store into a nightmare. You probably saw the pictures, a million times. Disaster porn is big these days.

The Saturday before, it was rainy and cold, and I drove out to Pleasanton to walk Stoneridge mall. I was slightly apprehensive about it, but I figured if I kept my space and didn’t touch anything, it would be no problem. The mall wasn’t empty, which surprised me. I think that was more scary than if the mall was completely empty on a Saturday. The quick walk made me super anxious and nervous, and I had to get the hell out of there.

That mall is now closed — all Simon malls are. The only malls that are open at this point are insane or stupid. A month ago, the whole concept of the mall in general had a shaky future at best. Now, malls are absolutely fucked. Some of the more prosperous large chains are withholding their earnings projections statements. Every anchor store imaginable is completely dead. None of the mom-and-pops will be able to survive. At least in the bay area, malls that were living day-by-day are going to be shuttered for months. At best, they’ll be temporarily reopened as virus hospitals. Most will probably end up in foreclosure, chained up, left to rot. Maybe in five or ten years when the market is back and REITs are thinking about redevelopment, they’ll get rebuilt into apartment complexes.

I wanted to get out of the mall nostalgia thing. Looks like that decision’s been made for me. Hang onto your photos, fellow mall-walkers. It’s all we’ll have left of the era of indoor shopping.

I’ve been working from home for almost ten years now, so this is business as usual for me.  I never leave the house anyway, and all of my meetings are always on Zoom. If anything, things are more chaotic for me because I simply have too much work to do. Not to get into details, but I have three really big things going on, plus an endless barrage of update meetings on what’s happening, how we’re responding, etc. Also, there’s a lot more chatter on Slack, in email, on Zoom. One of the reasons I love WFH is that the eight-hour office work day is really about two hours of solid work, and six hours of social interaction and distraction and annoyance and ritual. Remove that, and I can do three times as much work, plus still have time for cat herding and whatever else. But a lot of other people are getting stir crazy over this, and it’s ramped up the amount of online distraction. This is in addition to the bad news every two minutes on the rest of the internet.

The structure of my work day routine has not changed, for the most part. Work all day, try to take a walk at lunch (that’s still allowed), try to write (and don’t), then watch TV until bedtime. The weekend is going to be another story. I usually walk around my house during the week, and spend the weekends driving somewhere else to walk or hike or shop or whatever. Now, I can’t officially do that. Not sure what I should be doing to stay sane. And this will go on for weeks, or maybe more. I know, #humblebrag, I still have a job and a roof over my head and health insurance, and I’m worried about park access. I’m mentally ill, go fuck yourself, see the second paragraph above, and feel free to start your own blog.

I think the worst part of all of this is the resonation between this and 9/11. There’s that overwhelming feeling of panic saturated into everything. The economy is in free-fall, and not coming back. Major industries like the airlines, auto production, retail, restaurants may never recover. Many things we took for granted two weeks ago have completely vanished. A large swath of the public is completely fucked. And none of this is even including the tens of thousands of people who are going to die from this.

I don’t officially have PTSD from 9/11, at least from like a diagnostic standpoint. And if I did, I’d be too ashamed to admit it, knowing that people in my office died, and they had family and friends and spouses who were directly tied to it, while I was just an observer. But sirens can get me ramped up. The smell of burning electronics has the same scent as the powdered concrete and metal smoke that hung over lower Manhattan, which doesn’t exactly have a calming effect on me. I tend to get too amped up over natural disasters and emergency evacuations and mass-panic situations like that. And having a helicopter hover a thousand feet over your house 24/7 for a week so the channel 2 news can get a picture of a fucking cruise ship isn’t great for this predicament. All of this, all of the uncertainty and the plummeting economy and the thought about if the grocery store is going to be open in a week and if I’ll still have a job by then or if banks will still be open — there are strong parallels, ones I can’t entirely put on the back burner and ignore.

This situation makes me think way too much about the fall of 2001, the feeling that all of lower Manhattan was going to shutter, send everyone back to whatever square state they came from, leave behind a skeleton crew of locals and a few bodegas, boarding up everything else, turning into some burned-out dystopian nightmare like the 1977 shown in every Son of Sam or Ramones movie. When I walk outside with nobody around, almost no cars on the road, no planes overhead, it reminds me of that same feeling I had eighteen and a half years ago. It’s scary. It’s something I wish I could ignore. It’s something I can’t. I have to work on that.

Not much else. Working. Watching TV. Trying to not look at my 401K, which I think is gone now. Playing Out of the Park Baseball, and simulating a season per month, now that the 2020 one is probably dead. This week, my team is 61-60 and three games out of the wild card, with 40 games left. (It sims a game every thirty minutes.) The 1971 Dock Ellis is the ace in my rotation, and my outfield is a 1984 Tony Gwynn, 1976 Ron LeFlore, and 1934 Jo-Jo Moore. If you’re a fan of the national pastime, spend the twenty bucks and get a copy. Drop me a line when you do, and we can start a league or something.

I should be writing. I’m not. I should work on that. Hope everyone else is surviving out there.



When I was a kid, I was a fan of pop music, mostly because of the insular community where I grew up. We had one pop FM station out of Notre Dame University, which wasn’t a “college rock” station, but played the standard hits. (There were two stations if you had a really good antenna and could pick up WAOR out of Michigan.) When I got my own stereo and started taping things off the radio and buying 45 records, it was all top 40 music. The early eighties wasn’t a bad time for this, hence the “hey, remember the 80s” nostalgia that has pretty much become a genre. I spent a lot of time listening to bands like Men at Work, The Police, Def Leppard, Van Halen, Journey, and whatever else crossed the airwaves. I didn’t have any specific favorites, but I prided myself in being able to identify whatever songs popped up on this AOR FM station, or this brand new thing called MTV.

When I was about 14, I started hanging out with this guy Derik who lived nearby. He had an older brother who was a drummer, and while he was in the Air Force, Derik had also become an accomplished drummer. We were into a lot of the same music, but he also knew of a lot of other bands from his brother Keith, things that were either slightly older, or weren’t in heavy rotation on WNDU. Derik played along on these albums with his drum set, and I started to get enticed by the weirdness and heaviness of it all.

One of the bands was called Rush, this weird little trio of Canadians that sang about wizards and talking trees and nuclear war and had impossibly complicated songs that sometimes spanned an entire album. They also had like a dozen albums at that point, and wouldn’t stop putting out more. I didn’t really know where to jump in on this, so Derik dubbed up a C-90 for me with two of their albums: Moving Pictures and Grace Under Pressure.

That summer, the one between junior high and high school, was like Rush summer for me. I memorized that tape. I was amazed by the complexity and virtuosity of it all. For a kid who was obsessed with computers and Dungeons and Dragons and was a social outcast, this stuff scratched a serious itch for me, and I scraped together every penny I could to buy more of their tapes, and begged Derik to dub copies of more of their albums. In those pre-employment, pre-social life days of summer, I listened to the stuff constantly.

Rush was also almost like a secret club to me. Other than Derik, I don’t know anyone who was a big fan. They never played the music on the radio. Even though MTV only had like twenty videos in rotation, they did have maybe two Rush videos, but they never, ever played them. Cyndi Lauper and Michael Jackson were on every hour, but that one Rush video for the song “Countdown” about the Space Shuttle only came on like twice all summer. The people who did know about Rush were the record store cashiers. When I’d go in with my hard-earned ten bucks of lawn-mowing money and approach the register with a copy of Caress of Steel, the long-haired dude at the till would give me a nod, like “yeah, this kid knows what’s up.” Never mind that my mom thought they were Satanic, and everyone else at school was obsessed with Johnny Cougar or whatever. To this narrow audience of people who were the gatekeepers of cool (and who could tolerate Geddy Lee’s singing), I was part of that club.

I don’t know how I pulled this off, but I somehow convinced my parents at that time that it would be a good idea for me to spend an entire summer of babysitting wages to buy Derik’s old drum set. Derik now had a “real” drum set and sold me this mish-mash of various Sears and Ludwig student-level drums with rusty hardware and tarnished cymbals. I quickly learned I have absolutely no rhythm or musical skill whatsoever, and that experiment lasted about a year, until I sold the kit and bought a ten-speed with the proceeds. But trying to learn drums made me listen to the music much more, made me separate the parts and focus on the rhythm and the parts of songs. Before I listened to Rush, music was just something that started when I pressed a play button or turned on a radio. But after examining it, I learned the roles of the drums, could tell the difference between the bass and the guitar, and could appreciate the skill level between something like “My Sharona” and “Tom Sawyer.”

Another thing that Rush did was serve as a gateway to an entirely different foundation of music for me. I read every interview or magazine article I could find about them (there were very few) and I went back to try to find every influence of theirs. So through Rush, I discovered Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, and Cream. Then I tried to research all of Rush’s prog-rock peers (although they are peerless) and discovered Yes, Genesis, Saga, and Triumph. Each of those bands led to other bands. There was a strong teenaged urge to chase that high, to find things more and more extreme. There wasn’t much more complicated than Rush at that time (although later, this lead to Dream Theater, and guitar virtuosos like Satriani, Vai, Malmsteen, etc.) So I fell down the wormhole of finding things more heavy, more loud, and more extreme, which led to Metallica, then thrash metal, then death metal, and so on.

And I’ve told the story before on The Koncast so I won’t repeat it, but my first concert was Rush, on the Hold Your Fire tour. Me and Derik went, and it was mind-blowing to see the band a few hundred feet away, but also to be in an arena full of people who geeked out to the same kind of music, the stuff nobody in my small town seemed to appreciate. It was like the first Star Trek convention for a lifelong Trek fan. It showed me there was much more out there in the world of music, and life was much bigger than what was going on in rural Indiana.

Anyway, I got to college, and my relationship with Rush “normalized” a bit. I was into so many other bands, and I guess it just fell out of style a little bit, just like D&D and model airplanes and video games. It was uncool to be into Rush, especially after their late 80s synth-dominated albums, and after “college rock” became “alternative” and Nirvana exploded, and anything related to metal was tragically uncool with the mainstream. The cold war was over, and instead of worrying about Reaganomics and tribalism, Generation X became the me generation, and we were all supposed to worry about ourselves, our Prozac, our go-nowhere futures. (Ugh.)

My interest in Rush waxed and waned, because they still put out an album every year or two. A new one would drop, and I’d buy Roll the Bones or whatever, and think “eh,” but still end up spending a week rolling 2112 and Moving Pictures again, before I moved on to Queensrÿche or Morbid Angel or whatever the hell I was into at that point.

Anyway, as far as my personal relationship to the members, guitarist Alex Lifeson was a non-entity to me. No offense to him, but he wasn’t the spokesman, and he didn’t sing, and on those late 80s albums, he damn near didn’t even play guitar. Geddy Lee was the frontman, and because he sang, in my head, it was he who communicated the lyrics to me. He’s also a hell of a bassist, and does that and keyboards at the same time. But the singing was, well, a bit of an acquired taste, and although he seemed like a cool guy and all, he wasn’t who I really related to.

But, Neil. Like I said, I tried to play the drums, and I had that connection. I knew how hard it was to do something like “YYZ” or his marathon drum solos. (Or the song “Marathon”… Jesus Christ, all that weird off-meter stuff – I had no idea how a human being can remember all of that in order, let alone perform it.) And he was indirectly, through Derik’s playing and obsession, the reason I got pulled into all of this. Neil was also the lyricist, the person who actually wrote the words that Geddy sang. So he was the one reading Tolkein and Jack London books on the tour bus, like I did in study hall, except he distilled them into songs instead of Dungeons and Dragons campaigns. Neil was the quiet, intelligent guy in the band, and that is why I identified with him.

Later, in the Nineties, Peart started writing books. He had a book called The Masked Rider, which was a travel journal of his bicycling adventures in Africa. This was particularly resonant to me, because I spent a long period in high school cycling everywhere, doing every 25K race I could find in northern Indiana, even doing a 100K race once. And every day after school for a year of so, when I first got that ten-speed in exchange for the drum set, I would ride twenty miles in the cornfields of Elkhart county, usually listening to a Rush album. So when I read this book, it felt as if he was speaking directly to me in some way.

Neil had a series of tragedies in his life in the late Nineties. First, his nineteen-year-old daughter was killed in a car accident. Then, ten months later, his wife died of lung cancer. After this, he pretty much called everything quits, and took off on his touring motorcycle, on a crazy multi-year trip that wound across the continent from end to end both ways. After recovering, remarrying, and rejoining the band, he wrote a book about this journey called Ghost Rider. This book is absolutely essential reading for people into travel and road trips.

One of the most striking coincidences as I read this is that he was crossing the US at the same time as I was. In 1999, I went on this two-week ramble from West to East, driving everywhere and seeing everything I could. I very distinctly remember an afternoon in remote Utah, sitting on the bench seat of this giant sedan I’d rented, everything I owned in the back seat and trunk, flipping through disc after disc in my collection, going on a twelve-hour jag of listening to old Rush albums in the middle of nowhere. It’s strange for me to think he was out there at the same time.

Some Rush fans lock into it for life, go to every date on every tour, only listen to Rush, get custom license plates and tattoos and teach their kids and grandkids all the words to Moving Pictures and the whole thing. That wasn’t me; I moved on to other things, I guess. All of the albums, every note and word, were still locked into my head, though. And I would still go back to them, a guilty pleasure, a way to immediately teleport myself back to the summer of 1985. But Rush meant a lot to me. When I met a Rush fan, we’d trade our stories like two people who both came from the same small town, both fought in the same war, both knew the same people. It was and is still a big part of my life.

You probably already know where this is going. I heard the news today that Neil Peart died of brain cancer this week. He was 67, far too young. It’s hard to process this, because he was such an icon, yet such a close voice in my head from all those albums. He was the root of my musical tree, and an example of how to strive for perfection. Not only that, but he was the perfect example of doing what you want to do, doing what is you, even if it flies in the face of convention. Nobody was doing full-album conceptual science fiction songs, and he was penning these things in motel rooms while broke, facing a record company about to drop the band for dismal sales, touring the country in a car, and opening for Ted Nugent or whoever the hell would take them. He did what he did, and people learned to appreciate the genius behind it, instead of trying to follow whatever formula for success everyone else said to take.

Anyway. Fuck. I have no good way to end this, except to say I really appreciate everything Neil did in his lifetime. A legend.


Killed by Death

Hard to believe the news I heard last night: Lemmy is dead. I knew it was coming, but I expected a long, slow decline, and not the sudden shutdown from a cancer just found a few days ago. I knew he had health problems, and I’d heard he was moving a bit slower, using a cane, not able to make some recent tour dates. He also didn’t sound great on Maron’s podcast recently. But shit, it’s easy to think of that medical decline as the same calculated swagger a rode-hard-put-away-wet aging rock start like Keith Richards also sports. It seemed like Lemmy would plow on forever.

Like many, my first memory of Motörhead is seeing them on the show The Young Ones, back when MTV showed the reruns late Sunday night. This must have been like my freshman year of high school, so it was years after the first era of the band, right before Lemmy moved to LA to start the second round. There were a lot of great bands on that show (The Damned were another standout for me) but “Ace of Spades” was the one that hooked me. My metal diet at the time consisted of a lot of Metallica and Iron Maiden, so it made sense that Motörhead would click with me.

I asked my buddy Ray about the band, since he was the only one of my friends into anything cool metal-wise at that point. He immediately loaned me his two-tape copy of No Remorse, and I dubbed them onto a C-90, which I memorized over the course of a few thousand listens. I admit I didn’t do much exploration of their back catalog (not that it would have been easy in that pre-internet era) but I did listen to both sides of that tape constantly. I remember many a time walking across the IU campus with that thing in my walkman, wearing my leather jacket, wishing I had a Harley (even though Lemmy didn’t really ride motorcycles.)

The one album that really burned in for me was 1916. I bought it when it came out in 1991, and listened to it constantly. It was a year I was commuting to the IUSB campus from Elkhart, and would fit in a complete listen each day, for months. I also hung out with Ray a lot in that spring semester, and it was permanently stuck in his tape player, too. I got my VW Rabbit that spring, and I think 1916 was the only tape I listened to for the first six months I had the car.

I was dating someone in Bloomington while I worked in Elkhart in the summer of 1991. Every other weekend or so, I’d finish my second-shift duties at midnight on Friday night, take a quick shower, then hit the road for the four-hour drive down the middle of the state, that tape blaring in the little VW. “Nightmare/The Dreamtime” is the eerie song that still reminds me of driving wide-open-throttle through the darkness on the way down there.

Another big memory of Motörhead was when internet commerce and my collection fetish really geared up in the late 90s. Right around then, Castle reissued all the old Motörhead albums on CD, all remastered with new bonus tracks and b-sides and whatnot. And of course, I immediately had to have all of them. I bought a lot at Silver Platter records in Seattle, but also used to shop online at I think CD Connection, or one of the other early online sites (which have all long since died.) But searching the used bins and scouring all the new CD stores in the greater Seattle area was a constant process I remember well.

I haven’t followed the band as much as of late. It’s no fault of theirs; just that I haven’t been following music as much as I drift into the great Midlife and become much less enthused about anything new coming out. It feels much better to put on No Remorse and think about tooling around in my beat-up Camaro back in high school than it does clicking the Buy button on iTunes and making the somehow unsatisfying purchase — actually “lease” — of some songs out in the cloud I will only listen to twice because, life. I think the last physical purchase I made of theirs was 2004’s Inferno, and I couldn’t name a single song on it. But, I could tell you exactly what points drop out of that original C-90 tape I played a million times in the last 30 years. Funny how that works.

I didn’t know much about Lemmy in the early days of no wikipedia and shitty J-cards with no text inside them in the old releases of tapes. I only knew him from his image, his swagger, and the way he talked in Decline of Western Civilization 2 (which he apparently hated). I found out more about him later, from the internet and his book White Line Fever. It always amazed me that Lemmy seemed like the ultimate persona someone would invent, especially in the era of guys like Alice Cooper or Gwar or King Diamond creating an outward appearance as a representation of their work. No offense to any of those acts, but no “act” could ever keep up the the act 24/7 for decades, especially as times changed over the years. Kiss dropped the makeup; the big hair bands lost the hair and turned to “unplugged” shows and ballads. But Lemmy was always Lemmy. When music was about punk and speed metal in the early 80s, he was Lemmy; it moved to heavy metal, and he was Lemmy. When grunge killed everything, he was still Lemmy. You could never group Lemmy into another category – he was always just Lemmy. A lot has been said in the last day about how much of a badass he was, how much he drank, how loud the music was, and all that is true. But the biggest takeaway for me was that he did what he wanted, even when that was something that the popular trend didn’t want, and he was what he did. That amazes me.

There was some Lemmy quote that I can’t find about not eulogizing the dead, so I won’t. I think he’ll always be alive as long as we still have his music, so that’s where I’ll leave it.


RIP, Oderus

I woke up this morning and found the start of a flood of Facebook posts that I thought had to be a hoax, but they were true:  Dave Brockie, also known to many as Oderus Urungus of Gwar, had been found dead last night.  He was only 50.

I must have first heard about Gwar back in 1990 or 1991. I remember hanging out with Sid Sowder and Matt Reece over at their dorm room in Wright Quad, and them playing the Live from Antarctica videotape, while telling me the story of an infamous show in Indianapolis, where they played at an old Howard Johnson’s and completely destroyed their ballroom. They took on the role of the most extreme band in my head, this melding of Troma shock-horror movies and extreme metal, demonic costumes and fake blood. The lyrics were campy and meant to be offensive, and yet the music was nuanced and more sophisticated than most typical metal bands could belt out.

I didn’t really start listening to them until America Must Be Destroyed came out in 1992.  When I DJed at WQAX that summer, the station had it on CD, and I dubbed a copy and listened to it constantly.  The concept album told a story about censorship, blind patriotism, the gulf war, and predicted the dubya-ization of the country that would uncannily happen a decade later.  I loved the CD, and played the title track almost every week on my show.

I was never a loyal Gwar fan, and they were more of a thing I’d forget about and then fall into every few years, going down the rabbit hole and watching and rewatching the Phallus in Wonderland tape. But then five years would go by until I’d pick up another album.  The horror-metal category was always filled better for me by the band Haunted Garage, but they’d only released a single album on Metal Blade before completely vanishing from the scene.  (They’ve since reformed and have done local shows in LA, though.  Check them out over on Facebook.)

But Gwar still helped define that era for me, the early 90s.  I started listening to that album constantly when I was writing Summer Rain, and mentioned it a few times in there.  And one of the distinct memories I have of my cross-country trip in 1999 was this long and boring drive from St. Louis to Bloomington.  I had already listened to everything I owned 19 times in the last week or two of driving across the southwest, and was going through entire albums from this Summer Rain playlist, playing that game where you force yourself to not skip songs and go through the entire album from first to last track in order.  I was somewhere on I-70 and very clearly remember listening to “Rock N Roll Never Felt So Good” and thinking how amazing the authorship of the song was, how it wasn’t just some speed metal collection of noise, but had such a carefully crafted structure that showed a decent musical knowledge, even though the song was about fucking a 13-year-old quadriplegic with a piece of frozen shit.

John Sheppard just saw Gwar last year, which made me go back and buy their newest album, and we planned on going to see them again when they came back to the US for the next leg of their tour.  It was like a religious experience for him, and I really wanted to check it out, even if it involved flying to Alabama or something.  Unfortunately, that won’t happen, which really sucks.

Oh well.  I guess the lesson to be learned though is how you really need to chase down your creative extremes and beat them to the ground.  Gwar started out of a freaky group of artists who wanted to shock people and do weird out-of-this-world shit, and that’s exactly what they did.  They didn’t set out to win Grammies or sell albums, but instead decided to marry together extreme horror movies and the performance of loud music, and they did it balls-out for thirty years.  Given the choice of doing the ridiculous and pointless that you really want to do or doing the expected and formulaic, they chose the former, and it gave them unprecedented loyalty from their fan base.  There’s something to be said for that, and it’s something to keep in mind as I try to figure out what the hell I’m doing next.

Long live Oderus!  Antarctica will miss you.


Death and Facebook

I found out last night that an old friend of mine from college died of a brain aneurysm, right after her 40th birthday.  She’s someone I lost touch with for twenty years, and then just found on Facebook, so there’s this weird temporal distortion around the friendship.  We only exchanged a few messages, compressing two decades into a couple of hundred characters.

Actually, she reminded me of an episode I forgot about, when I recovered all of the files off of one of her dead floppy disks, which now has some strange symbolism to it.  I don’t even remember how to do disk recovery anymore, but I used to do it in my sleep, a thousand times a day, when I was a computer consultant for the university.

I think I first started emailing Allison in 1993, from this stupid online dating program that ran on the VAXes.  We exchanged too much email and never met, which is one of the problems with online dating — you can end up being forever in the friend zone, as email buddies, but that was fine with me.  I was in a horrible depression at the time, and we had no chemistry, but I remember we started hanging out in person, and she made this concerted effort to drag me out and introduce me to her friends and try to get me to act social.  I was just starting as a writer, reading Bukowski and Hemingway obsessively, never leaving the house except to go to the liquor store, staying up all night scribbling in notebooks and feeling sorry for myself.  I remember one time she read me the riot act, telling me to stop being such a shit, and although it pissed me off in the moment, she was right about it, and it was the kick in the ass I needed.

I didn’t keep a lot of email from college, because our accounts had tiny disk quotas, but I did keep all of my emails with her for some reason.  It’s about a semester’s worth of “do you believe in zombies?” small talk and daily routine, and I’m now afraid to open the file, for fear of falling in a very deep and unavoidable k-hole that will bottom out with me googling the names of every college crush and forgotten band and old Bloomington haunt, spending hours and hours trying to find artifacts from Garcia’s Pizza and wanting to scan in every old receipt I still have in boxes and make some kind of giant, depressing photo collage project or write another book set in 1993 that nobody will ever read.

These kind of things make me deeply fear my own mortality.  I’m taking a half-dozen allergy medicines and my back is out and I need to lose weight and I have high blood pressure, and the idea that something in your brain can just explode and kill you really freaks me out.  It’s like when I was in a serious car accident back in 2009 and smashed the entire front end of my car into a pulp, and then had to get back in the driver’s seat the next Monday and spend an hour doing battle on the 101: every other driver on the road wanted to kill me; every lane change was a near-homicide.  It’s easy for me to worry too much about this stuff, and I guess the moral of the story is that I could spend all of my time worrying about it, or I could try to get some shit done.

The facebook angle of the whole thing also fucks with me in several ways.  First, her profile is still posting some asinine daily horoscope thing to her wall every day.  This is absolutely morbid.  Someone from my high school died of cancer a bit ago, someone I wasn’t friends with and didn’t know, but when I heard about it, I looked up her page, and there were tons of daily automated posts from these online games, saying “so and so needs a row of corn for their farm!” or whatever.  And it’s strange to still see her life trapped in amber there, her picture and info and birthday and all of that.  It’s like if when people died, their entire houses were just left as they originally were, the doors open, all of the possessions on the table, food still in the fridge, like one of those museums where they leave Einstein or Macarthur’s office exactly as it was when they died.

There’s also the strangeness that I didn’t really find out about any of this until her wall exploded with posts about praying for her family or whatever, and the only way I could piece together what happened was to crawl through a hundred posts in reverse chronological order.  I guess in the old days, you’d read about this sort of event in these things they used to print called newspapers.

And it also bothers me that facebook has now created this friendship vortex, where you think you’re friends with someone because that bit is flipped in your profile, and you see that daily status update saying they’re in line at the Starbucks, but you don’t really know anything about them.  You don’t talk, and you don’t exchange emails, but you are lulled into this sense that you’re in touch.  Aside from facebook updates, I think there are about five people who consistently email me these days.  Ten years ago, I would write three dozen emails a day to people, long emails talking about everything and nothing.  What happened?

Anyway.  Three day weekend.  Plenty of time for me to lose that twenty pounds and start writing more emails.  Fuck.


On the death of a New Balance customer

So Steve Jobs died, right on the heels of everyone taking a shit on the iPhone announcement and the new model not being able to read minds, turn straw into gold, or last sixteen weeks on a one-hour battery recharge.  Cause of death is assumed to be his pancreatic cancer, but this is a guy who was in the middle of a fierce legal battle with a company that uses PowerPoint for design documents, bug databases, legal briefings, and product mockups, so it’s possible he bought it from extreme eyestrain.  At any rate, the internet is swimming with heartfelt tributes from weepy Apple fans who are all remembering how Jobs invented the Apple II, Mac, and iPod, which is news to Steve Wozniak, Jon Rubenstein, and Jef Raskin, respectively.

I got started on the Apple II way back in grade school, although when it came time to actually own a machine, I got a Commodore 64.  That was a no-brainer; a C-64 cost $200, and a similarly-equipped Apple was about two grand.  And when it came time in college to gear up, a Mac Plus cost about $2500, while a cobbled-together PC cost a few hundred bucks.  By that time, Jobs moved on to bigger things, like the NeXT computer, and I took many a walk across campus to screw around on those high-end magnesium black cubes.

Even though I made a living helping people deal with their dying Macs over the phone (“shut down all of the other apps; reboot; zap the PRAM”) I never actually owned one. I did, however, identify as a Mac User.  Between a few long-term loans of old classic Macs and the hours spent in the Mac labs on campus, I did quite a bit of work on the machines.  I laid out my first zines in Pagemaker, and used the GUI-fied version of WordPerfect back when the 5.1 PC version was just a blue and white DOS box on a screen.  I probably identified with the Mac as some form of rebellion, of being different than all of the other masses of business school droids sitting in front of Windoze machines, plunking away at Lotus 1-2-3 spreadsheets.  And back in the early 90s, if you wanted to edit images or record sound or cut movies or do page layout, you used a Mac.  PC people could whip out the virtual dick measured in kilobytes and megahertz and brag about how much more they got for their dollar, but at the end of the day, they were sitting at a C: prompt, typing in all caps.

I eventually bought my own Mac, and have since bought a bunch of different iPods and iPads and iPhones and other iStuff that has made life easier and more fun.  And Steve Jobs was somewhat responsible for that, or at least responsible for the company from not completely going into the shitter in the late 90s.  But it always irks me a bit when people say he “invented” the stuff.  I’ve always been more of a fan of the Other Steve and his hacking of hardware that eventually led to the Apple II, or the futurist (and former tech writer) Jef Raskin, whose ideas about different computing paradigms eventually transformed into the Macintosh.  I’ve always liked the design of the Mac, but that’s also not entirely his deal, either (Jerry Manock).

Jobs falls squarely into the schizophrenic relationship Americans have with CEOs.  They don’t deserve their high salaries, but when a company fails, it’s entirely their fault.  They don’t invent things, but they do.  I am not saying either of these is right or wrong, but it amazes me when people believe both of these things.  And in the case of Steve Jobs, it always infuriates me when people think a CEO should single-handedly be involved with every aspect of a company.

This management belief is the one thing that pissed me off the most about Jobs.  Not that he did this incorrectly, but that he led so many managers to believe that if you acted like an egotistical asshole and got your thumbs in every aspect of a product’s lifecycle, you would be treated like a goddamn genius and get fantastic results.  I’ve worked for several managers like this, the kind of people who are in charge of a billion-dollar company, but need to copy-edit every single page of a stupid user manual that nobody will read, and then waste all of your time insisting they know more about technical writing than you do.  Just because Steve Jobs did the same shit, doesn’t mean anybody that did that would get the same results.  It’s like suddenly becoming a Nazi sympathizer will somehow help you become a leading auto manufacturer.

Probably the thing that freaks me out the most about the death of Steve Jobs is that he was only 56, and I’m now pushing 41, and I’m not exactly making billions of dollars on any of my companies.  I’ve always hoped that by the time I got some form of cancer, the medical community would be able to inject cell-repairing nanobots into my veins and the whole thing would go away in less time than it would take for me to jet-pack over to the local Mars shuttle and catch some lunch on the red planet.  Of course, now 58% of the country believes that science should be banned from schools, and I realize I am fucked.  I should probably eat some more vegetables or something.

Anyway, Command-Option-P-R, Mr. Jobs.  Thanks for not making me spend a fifth of my life trying to figure out what the fuck copy of d011v109.sys I need to download every other time I need to read a CD-ROM.


The Death of Death

I was in the allergy clinic last week, waiting for my arm to swell up until it looked like it took a Justin Verlander fastball, and I saw some magazine with a cover story about man reaching immortality. I didn’t read the article, because I know there are exactly two types of articles in magazines: 1) “Everything is fucked and we’re all going to die,” and 2) “You really need to buy this random useless gadget, or you’re worthless.” (I guess there is a third type, which is 1+2.)

It’s not an unfamiliar concept, especially if you read a lot of SciFi: eventually, we’ll get to the point where all of the diseases and maladies that currently kill off people will be treatable or curable, and the only way to die will involve motor vehicles with a fast 0-60. That’s not to say all people will live forever; everyone who can afford it will be able to.  Also, maybe there will be some kind of Logan’s Run cutoff date or death lottery or other optional euthanasia scenario which will prevent infinite population growth.  But what I find interesting is that immortality is already available to the ultra-infamous, and we just saw an example of it this week.

So Osama Bin Laden found himself on the wrong side of a SEAL team last Sunday. They installed some additional ventilation to his brain, which had the side effect of stopping his pulse for an indefinite period.  Half the world took the opportunity to get drunk, scream “USA! USA!”, wave flags, and thank the wrong president for a job well done; the other half of the country posted quotes incorrectly attributed to the wrong civil rights leader.  I’m not here to condemn or condone either reaction, except to say that I had a different one, which is to acknowledge that Bin Laden did not die, because at this point in time, nobody of his stature can die.

Before anyone flies off the handle, I don’t mean that OBL was a great guy or anything like that.  What I mean, is that in today’s world, when you get to a level of infamy like he had, there will always be people who insist you are alive, regardless of your body temperature or lack thereof.  Governments are corrupt, and media is worse; we see constant examples of that.  Things get covered up, and conspiracies occur, so any time anything happens in the world, a plurality of people will insist that it didn’t.  People so carefully cherry-pick their news from partisan sources, any time they hear something they don’t want to believe, they move on to another news source until they find the one they agree with.

Case in point: how many people believe Bin Laden really got killed?  I’m not saying the number is down there with the percentage of people who think the Washington Nationals are an awesome baseball team, but it’s not 100%, either.  The government didn’t drop fifty tons of Mk.82 love from 40,000 feet and turn the entire village into jelly, so there was a body, and there was DNA testing done. (Or was there? The fact that I don’t know this off the top of my head sort of proves my point.) But there weren’t photos released, and the body was quickly buried at sea.  That’s fine by me, but it means that there will forever be doubt in some peoples’ minds about whether or not this really happened.

And there’s a whole list of reasons why people don’t want to believe.  Some think there’s no way that the current president could have pulled off such a coup when the last one spent 7 years burning calories on a quest to do the same thing, but failed.  Some people think the whole thing is an October Surprise situation, a Wag the Dog scheme to bump up poll numbers.  There’s a group who think 9/11 was engineered by the government in the first place, and this dude had little to nothing to do with it, so a scripted end to him brings a false closure to that whole operation.  And who knows what other motives are there for a lack of trust.  But some folks on both sides of the spectrum will insist that OBL did not die on 5/1/11.

This sort of reaction isn’t limited to high-ranking terror suspects.  Did Tupac die?  You’re a google search away from his autopsy photo, but “tupac alive” also gives you four and a half million results.  What about Michael Jackson?  JFK?  Elvis?  People elevate superstars in their mind, making them larger than life.  When that life happens to end, the legend continues, and that dovetails nicely with a media that prints anything for money and a political system that does the same.

So now the White House wrings hands over whether or not to release some death photos.  But peoples’ minds are decided.  They could cart out that corpse during sweeps week on Dancing with the Stars and it would get a twenty share and people still wouldn’t believe it.  The Navy could personally bring his dead body to your doorstep like Ed McMahon with the Publisher’s Clearing House cardboard check, and you’d still say, “I dunno – looks fake / you could put that beard on any homeless dude.”  I know the dude’s probably dead, and to me, that’s not a bad thing, but the speculation will continue forever.

And I can see why they did a burial at sea.  I was in Berlin a few years ago, and I did not seek it out, but I walked past the spot where Hitler’s bunker once existed on my way to Potsdamer Platz.  They’ve since put up a sign, but at that point, the Fuhrerbunker was underneath a Chinese restaurant, and nobody was in a hurry to mention it to anybody, for fear that every skinhead with a passport would show up to turn the place into a Neo-Nazi Graceland.  People get weird about stuff like that.  When I lived in Seattle, people still cruised past Kurt Cobain’s old house, looking to get a glimpse of the garden house where he offed himself.  (It’s gone now, BTW.)  And I just recently wasted too much time on Google Maps, trying to find the spot in my neighborhood where Black Panther Huey Newton got gunned down in 1989.  (The exact spot on the sidewalk where he died now has a sign warning you of the speed bumps on the street. Unrelated — or is it?)  I could see the reluctance to having a burial which would become a monument to whatever followers might still be knocking around decades from now.

At any rate, this all shows we’re at a weird time in history.  It used to be you remembered where you were when you heard about things like this. Now, when something monumental goes down, chances are you’ll first get the news on the computer, which will make all of these events blend together.  And when it happens, people will flock to Google Maps to find the death site; they’ll reload their twitter feeds over and over to get the latest distorted quotes and unvetted news.  Back when I was a kid and a space shuttle exploded or a president got capped, even the pre-emption of all three TV channels brought little information.  Now, there’s too much, and we only believe pieces of it.  Not sure which one’s worse.

[2020 update: wow, not to get political, but this got way more horrible in the last ten years. I never thought we’d get to the point where like half the country thinks the world is flat, but here we are.]


Cardiac arrest is self-expression

Peter Steele, the bassist and singer of Type O Negative died on Wednesday, something that came completely out of left field for me.  He was only 48, and apparently died of heart failure after a short illness.  It took a few google searches for this to really sink in, since he (or maybe his record label) hoaxed his death in 2005 for an album release, and he’s got a pretty morbid sense of humor.  But I guess he had health and substance abuse problems, and it’s been confirmed by many sources, so I guess it’s true.

Type O Negative (and his earlier band, Carnivore) are pretty intertwined with my life in college and in the 90s.  When I worked at WQAX, my biggest “get” interview-wise was a phone interview with him on the air.  I have a tape of this somewhere, and I ran it in my zine. (You can read it here.)  He was pretty hilarious and odd on the phone; I was incredibly intimidated going into the interview, and then didn’t think it was going to happen, because they were late calling, and the manager I was dealing with seemed a bit flaky.  But as I sat in that shithole apartment of a studio, I got the phone call from New York, and we went on the air and got started.  He was not serious about any of the questions, and gave hilarious answers to everything, even when I started throwing out bizarre questions.  It was such a refreshing change from pretty much every other death metal or thrash metal band I interviewed, who pretty much ran through the same ten questions with an incredible seriousness, telling me their influences (always the same list of bands), the reasons their music was heavier than anyone else’s, why they hated Metallica, and how much the PMRC sucked.  But Pete was truly entertaining, and realized this wasn’t about looking cool and brutal; it was entertainment.

I remember first hearing Type O Negative in the fall of 1991.  Ray came down to Bloomington to visit for a weekend, and I was dating Jo at the time, and the two of them were fighting the entire time, both trying to out-whatever the other and assert control over the situation.  I hung out on a Saturday afternoon with him, while she was off doing something.  We went to the Fine Arts computer lab, where they had the super-high-tech Mac IIfx computers with giant dual-screen monitors, color laserprinters, and color flatbed scanners, the first time I’d ever seen any of those things in real life.  The computers had this brand new program called Photoshop, which you could use to edit images.  It came with a sample image of nine babies lying in cribs, a sort of top-down artsy shot of a hospital nursery.  We used the clunky 1.0 features of the Adobe program to demonize the kids; one had a severed head; one had a Manson-style swastika on the forehead; another puked blood.  We made color printouts, then went out to a dreary-sky campus and drove to Pizza Express on 10th street to get a pizza for lunch.  We ate in Ray’s car, and he produced this tape with a grainy green cover that vaguely looked like a poor night-vision snapshot of sexual penetration, entitled Slow, Deep, and Hard.  “This is the fucking heaviest thing you’ve ever heard,” he said.  “It makes Black Sabbath sound like, fuckin’, Charlie Brown.”

And he was right.  I fell in love with the album and bought my own copy of the tape that day.  A big part of that love was that I was going through a really rough patch of life then, a caustic relationship with someone who constantly played mind games with me and caused me to go into deep cycles of depression.  And here was this music that was both extremely depressing – talking about infidelity, suicide, depression, you name it – but also had a lot of black humor to it, a very clever and dark twist on the darkest part of life.  I spent so much time poring over that album, just absolutely bathing in its negative emotion, using it as a soundtrack for this ugly tail-end of a relationship.

I spent all of the summer of 92 listening to Type O Negative, as documented in Summer Rain. I got a Type O Negative pin in the mail from the band, after I did the interview, and I wore it on the lapel of my leather jacket for years, serving as a sort of litmus test for people who actually knew the band.  Bloody Kisses came out in 93, and I was thanked in the album (albeit misspelled) and also memorized this one, listening to it constantly on those long walks across campus with nothing but my Aiwa walkman to keep me sane.  After my bad breakup in the fall of 93, that album kept at my brain constantly, and it was somewhat ironic that the band actually gained incredible success, with Bloody Kisses eventually going gold and then platinum.

Their 1996 release October Rust also burrowed a permanent position into my brain when it came out. I know it’s stupid that in 1996, I was still morose over a breakup that happened three years before, but I was in such an extreme state of angst about having nothing going on dating-wise and being alone in a new city.  The album became this touchstone to that era three years before, and in a way, reopened many of the wounds, splashing them with rubbing alcohol and stinging them back to life.  I absolutely loved this album, every part of it, even though the band had almost completely moved away from their original metal origins.

I never got into the band’s later work, but those first three albums are still in constant rotation in the iTunes library, and probably at least once a day, one of them comes up during my drive to work or while I’m at the computer.  So it was shocking and sad to hear the news about his death.  It’s also weird to go back over his lyrics post-mortem, because they all talk about death and dying and killing and suicide in such a heavy and tongue-in-cheek way.

I don’t really know how to end this post without sounding stupid or sappy, and I keep wandering to my iTunes library to look things up, so I better wrap this up here.



An old friend of mine died on Thursday. Chuck Stringer was one of my coworkers when I was at the support center back at IU, and was part of the whole crew that included Simms, A, Liggett, and others. The short story is that he drank away his liver, and I got a call from A on Wednesday saying he was in the hospital, unconscious, hooked up to machines, and fighting a massive infection. A day later, I heard from her again, and they had disconnected everything and he died.

I can’t say I was the closest of friends to Chuck – he seemed to me to be a guy that was always friendly, but also to some extent kept to himself. After I left town, it was almost impossible to get some kind of conversation going with him on email, but when I was there and he decided to fire up the grill on a Sunday, at least a dozen of us would show up. I guess I mostly knew him from the workplace, because the support center was such a pressure cooker environment. He worked on the team that supported the IBM mainframes (which supported the bursar, parking ops, the registrar, and every other thing on campus that involved money changing hands.) That group worked in their own enclosed and locked war room, covered with plasma monitors on all sides. If you spent the day locked in there, you frequently popped out and paced up and down the hall and the line of other phones, and that’s where I first met Chuck. When I was sitting on the Mac line on the first day, not knowing a soul in the place, he was prowling the back nine, and came up to me and started in with some hurried, deprecating comment about one of the managers or something, then vanished again.

That pretty much set the tone for Chuck’s behavior over the years I was at the SC. There were always pot-shots at the upper management, and there was this division between some of the workers, best described as “us scumbags” versus “people who think veganism and saving whales make us better than you”. I guess that seems a little harsh now, but when you’re locked up in the basement of a building with a bunch of people all day, every day, there’s a lot of trash being talked. And Chuck was the master at barging into and derailing conversations to draw laughs to our side of the aisle.

One of the things I totally forgot about until Simms reminded me the other night was that something that me and Chuck did almost got us fired, and it was slightly morbid, given current events. But back in 1994, after Kurt Cobain died, there were some massive flamewars and trolling between alt.tasteless and alt.whatever.cobain. I was a faithful AT reader back then, and I don’t remember if Chuck was reading it, or I told him or what, but both of us started in on a lot of anti-Cobain stuff, black humor at the expense of unwashed, flannel-wearing idiots. Both of us were posting some sick, sadistic shit in the nirvana group, including a ton of Cobain haiku, and eventually, some weepy, Cobain-loving granola chick wrote a shitty letter to our boss saying we should immediately be fired because we didn’t like Nirvana or whatever. This got me called in to a manager’s office to get bitched out for wasting company time for posting something…. on December 26, when I was hundreds of miles away on vacation. I don’t know how Chuck got out of it – he probably just said “look, go fuck yourself” and got back to work. What’s odd is not the sick humor, because me and Chuck and Simms and others were rolling on the floor about this shit. It’s just strange to think about it in light of the fact that Chuck’s dead now.

And that also reminded me of the time he visited me in Seattle. Nothing was weird about that trip – he and Suzi, his girlfriend, were on this massive expedition to Alaska from Indiana, and were getting bored of camping, so they stopped in Jet City for a long weekend. I was dating Karena then, and I stayed over at her house most weekends anyway, so I gave them the keys to my place, and the four of us hung out for a few days. There’s nothing weird about that, although he stole his neighbor’s pink flamingo and was taking pictures of it across the country, so we had to go to the Microsoft campus, the space needle, and the Fremont troll. But my one weird memory was that Princess Di got killed that weekend, and everyone was PrincessDiPrinceesDiPrincessDi everywhere you went, and we were in a Safeway or something, and Chuck just yells “I CANT BELIEVE WHAT HAPPENED TO PRINCESS DI!”, and finishes with some sick joke like “what was the last thing that went through her head / the windshield.” That was not unlike Chuck at all, and to a sick fuck like me, it was funny as hell. But after he died and I thought back to that, it was a little abnormal.

I don’t mean to lay out all of these negative things about death and sick humor. Chuck was also a writer, and we spent a lot of time at work talking about fiction and stories and Hemingway and Orwell and craft and workshops. He read the old Air in the Paragraph Line issues and had kind words and good suggestions. We were both registered for Murray Sperber’s 50s/60s Lit class (which turned out to be the best class I ever took at IU) but he had to drop out because of a work conflict. The strange thing about Chuck’s writing is that I never saw any of it. He was very secretive about his work, and although I gave him a draft of every story I wrote back then (and he was very encouraging about my early work on Summer Rain), I never read anything of his, outside of the nirvana newsgroups. He said he had a story almost ready for AITPL #9, but he never pulled it together. It makes me wonder if he has a giant box of stuff under his bed; I really wish I could get my hands on it and pull together a posthumous book of his stuff.

One of the things that has me so conflicted about this is that my most positive memories of Chuck are also ones that are closely tied to alcohol. He was a belligerent guy to start with, but get a six pack into him and wind him up, and he was god damned hilarious. He was at our 94/95 New Year’s party, and was one of the main instigators of the drunken bottle rocket fight at midnight. I have pictures of that night, and everyone there, and of course there was enough alcohol to supply a small town for a year. And every time we went to his place, we’d pick up a six on the way. And every time we went out after work, it was to the Irish Lion or something. And Chuck brewed beer, and made his own mead, and we lived on a college campus where you could pay your tuition bill in kegs if you needed to. I’m not saying Chuck was a heavy drinker, or was when he was around me, but there are touches of alcohol in all of those memories. And I’m not super anti-alcohol, even though I don’t drink now. It’s just that I had this problem where when I drank a lot, I was really god damned funny, and everybody else thought I was funny. I wasn’t happy, but I was funny. And the next day, I would not be happy or funny, but at that moment in time, I was the life of the party. And my sick psychological framework needed that, although my liver didn’t. And I wonder if Chuck had the same issues. And the guy was 44 fucking years old, and is in a wood box now. That is really fucking sad, and makes me angry, but it’s hard to process, and who should I be mad at?

Truth of the matter is, I haven’t talked to Chuck in almost ten years. The probability that I’d never see him again was high anyway, although if he called me up and said he was driving to Alaska again, the sofa bed would be his. But I haven’t talked to him or emailed in forever, and to some degree, that makes me feel like I am less deserving of having grief over this. Like I said, it’s hard to process. I don’t want to be one of those people who jumps out of the wings to start crying over this, when the people in his inner circle are the ones who need support the most. I also feel bad about not keeping in touch, but I have a lot of “keeping in touch” issues right now. Sometimes I work hard to keep in touch to a person and I just can’t; other times, I don’t even try, and it clicks. I could beat myself up over that, or I couldn’t. I don’t know.

Add to this the whole thing about me being out of shape and in poor health and worrying about my weight and my bp and my brain, and someone I know and remember as being in the best of health drops dead, and all of a sudden, that celery and berries diet sounds like a pretty damn good idea. The fact that I’m rounding third and heading for 40 really scares me. Having six digits in a retirement fund helps, but I still worry.

Funeral’s on Monday, but I can’t get out there for it. The one last strange coincidence of this whole thing is that his showing is at a funeral home right next door to my old apartment at Colonial Crest. I lived there when I first knew Chuck, and I walked past there every time I went to the grocery store. It’s always weird how this shit works out.