Archive for June, 2012


i still got it, just not that much of it

Coeur de l’Ours, Vermont, population 161, is a town where you can easily walk three or four blocks without running into a single soul, much less one of your childhood idols, so you can imagine my surprise when I saw him in the general store, even following him around for a few aisles to make sure that it was really him.
“Why are you staring at that guy?” my traveling companion inquired. “Is he famous or something?”
“Yeah,” I said, nodding in the direction of a 58 year-old man in a salt-ringed khaki ballcap and a Land’s End jacket filling a paper sack with wood screws. “That’s Lord Cthulhu.”
“No way. How can you even recognize him without the makeup?”
He actually only wore the makeup on his third album, 1981’s Winged Victory, but that was what everyone remembered him for. My older brother had the LP, and when he wasn’t home I would let my friends come into his bedroom one at a time to look at it: Lord Cthulhu covering himself in vampiric glory, spreading his cape menacingly and pioneering the use of yellow contact lenses years before anyone else as blood dripped from his fangs.
Like many of the Vermonters I’ve encountered over the seven or so years I’ve been taking girls up here for the weekend, he was certainly not looking for conversation, but perfectly engaging and gregarious once I introduced myself, letting me know with a smile that that nowadays people called him Doug Shepard and extending his hand. I asked him what he was doing nowadays, and he invited us to his farm to see for ourselves.
“Don’t worry, we have folks out there all the time,” he said. “My wife runs a bed and breakfast and I make custom furniture. Sell it on the internet. You should come out.” I wrote down the address and tried to play it cool.
When I drove up the next morning, he waved to me from his wood shop and indicated a spot where the gravel road ended as a good place to park. He walked out to meet me, then leaned on the opened tailgate of a 1970 Ford truck to clean his glasses with a handkerchief. They weren’t bifocals, I noticed. After joshing me about not getting up early enough to help him milk the cows, he offered me a cigarette. “Free of charge,” he chuckled. “If Carol asks, though, they’re yours,” said the man who can no longer legally enter Finland due to a 1985 heroin smuggling charge.
Doug bought the place after returning from a tour of Japan in 1993, one year after his daughter Jennifer was born, and a few years after his star had fallen in the United States. Knowing it was his last gasp, he hit the road sober for the first and only time and put away nearly every penny. Jennifer is a junior at UVM now, to be joined this fall by her sister Joanna. Lord Cthulhu beamed with pride as he joked that for the rest of the summer, his dining room is serving as “the Official Joanna Shepard Graduation Gift Overflow Area.”
Said he doesn’t think about the old days much, and I believe him. Too busy with work and family. “Little things remind me, though,” he said. “This year on my birthday I happened to be driving into Burlington with the rock station on, and they mentioned me on This Day in Rock History, right after C.C. DeVille and Ian Astbury. That was kinda nice.” He smiled warmly at a barn cat drinking milk out of a bowl. “Of course, they didn’t say how old any of us were.” Who knows, they might have been that new kind of bifocals that don’t look like bifocals.
He showed me his shop, where among the pieces he was working on was a beautifully ornate headboard. Two weeks from now, he told me, a man in Bellemore, Wisconsin, will give this headboard to his wife as a 20th anniversary present. Then he smiled the smile of a man that has found true happiness. When asked of the secret to his happiness, he spoke humbly of his devout religious faith. “Yessir,” he said. “Every piece of furniture I build is to the honor and glory of Satan.”


i liked you better when you were a blank canvas for me to project my hopes and dreams upon

He knew he was over her six weeks after she left, when he went back to emptying the entire packet into the shells and cheese dinner without feeling a twinge of guilt. It had been a tough run lately, but he was finally starting to snap out of it. Hitting the gym couple times a week. Shaving his neckbeard. He realized it was gonna be good for him to get out there again. He had been in a bad rut the last few months, and it took her leaving for him to realize that. He was even starting to feel grateful to her. As difficult as the solitude was, sitting there in that apartment, it had allowed him time to reflect on his life. Some parts were not easy to think about. In high school, he waited three long years for the starting quarterback job, but by his senior year the school’s team was terrible. The football program’s reputation had fallen to the point where five different teams had scheduled the Calvert Mustangs as their homecoming opponent. They went 0-10, same record as they would have had if they hadn’t had a quarterback at all. The experience of having 11 year-old kids call him a loser at the mall sent him into a downward spiral that it took him nearly all of his college years to overcome. The only thing he had enjoyed about that time (he had had to move four times in his twenties to escape the silverfish that came to live in his stuff at this one duplex) was the fact that 1997, with its rich litany of Hype Williams-directed music videos, was a great time to be a thrice-daily marijuana smoker. Trying as those times were, they did not break him, just as this time wouldn’t. His struggles then gave him the resilience to become a professional success, and throwing himself into his work was where he always found himself when little else seemed certain. As he went in to the office, he could feel a new chapter in his life beginning. Beautiful women were all around him everywhere he went, and he was finally starting to take notice again. Things weren’t so bad. After all, he was the guy in the sleek suit and sunglasses silently overlooking the nightclub from a balcony in an action movie. He surveyed his kingdom. It wasn’t a bad gig. Below on the dance floor, people writhed seductively under the lights to the hypnotic pulsing beat of the DJ. His henchmen sent signals to one another as they waded through the revelers, reaching inside their jackets as they closed in on the unwitting vice cops. All was right with the world.


honey, they’re playing our hold music

We stopped the van for the night in front of an old vacant house that had been overtaken by plant life and checked the address. The guy at the club who told us about it said bands stay there all the time, and nobody bothers them. I guess because there’s a chain link fence around the property. I was in front so I got out to open the gate, then Matt pulled into the driveway, stopping a few feet shy of the garage, which had collapsed under the weight of all these thick, ropy vines. I put our own lock on the gate after pulling it closed behind him. Everything looked red in the brake lights and I was already tired, so I didn’t get it on the first try. The exterior of this place was covered with ivy that hung heavy enough to cave in the roof in a couple of places besides the garage. Working on the place from the outside in, with time as its greatest ally. Boa constrictor. The front door was unlocked, so we went in and after we put down our sleeping bags in the living room, someone said we should have made sure nobody else was staying here first. Nobody was, though. The moonlight shone through a big hole in the roof into the middle of the room, and we huddled around it like a campfire.
We turned off our flashlights. I told Jared I’d give him one of my drink tickets tomorrow night for a cigarette. All he has is menthols, which I think is a strategic maneuver designed to keep me from bumming that many. Then after I lit it he reminded me that the last three places we played- two skate parks and an all ages club run by this bugging out Christian guy- didn’t offer us drink tickets. Fine, next time we get them, then. I’ve never considered myself a smoker, not because I don’t consume cigarettes, but because I don’t buy them. Same with Pringles. Not super happy with our dietary choices as a group at that time. When we first started years back, I figured we would be eating better by now instead of still having to pool our change occasionally. Four pack of canned ham salad and a box of Wheat Thins. Nobody liked it anymore. We were all sick of how the van smelled, plus the last couple of years I had started getting weirdly bloated every time we went on the road, so I tried to get like baby carrots occasionally.
It was on this tour that we realized that it wasn’t just “industry politics” that was keeping us from achieving our potential. When we spoke with friends we had made in some towns, we started talking openly about things winding down and taking a break when we got back. No hard feelings. Maybe the peak audience for fifty-year-old-divorced-men-playing-traditional-Chinese-music-in-the-style-of-Def-Leppard really is only six people per town. A few years from now, I thought, we’ll only remember the good parts. We’ll wonder why we gave up. I borrowed someone’s water bottle and washed down a Centrum Silver and a glucosamine chondroiton tablet.


there is no lowercase l in “team”

Glad you could see me on such short notice, Mr. Calabria. I wish I had better news to share with you, but I thought you’d probably prefer to see these numbers before the next shareholders’ meeting. Brace yourself before opening that file folder, sir. We fell well short of our projected profits again this quarter, and the numbers are so bad that as your chief financial officer, I’m beginning to fear for the continued viability of your empire of adult videos and novelties. Consider the list of disappointing projects we’ve undertaken of late. Well, to name one, your newly opened chain of strip clubs failed to sustain the momentum engendered by its spectacular debut once word got out that the only thing “barely legal” about those dancers was their immigration status. And though I’m aware of your commitment to get a tentacle in even the remotest corners of the market, the fact is that some of our more specific fetish categories have simply become too expensive to produce. You want girls to use oversized scissors to cut bubblegum out of their hair, you gotta shell out top dollar. I mean, you only get one take to capture something like that, and after that, the girl’s on the shelf until her hair grows back. Lot of directors can’t handle that kind of pressure, and while the audience for that stuff has a cultlike level of devotion, there just aren’t enough viewers out there to get much of a return on our investment. Speaking of fetishes, you know that new sexy librarian movie that’s just a cute chick in glasses picking her nose and wiping it between the pages of the collected works of Robert Louis Stevenson? Turns out they used actual library books, so now legal doesn’t think we can release it. Furthermore, now that the hot dogging craze is starting to subside, we’ve got a few things in production that are unlikely to move many units, which- oh, hot dogging? You know, when you TF a girl’s butt cheeks? Yeah, it’s hot as hell. Look, guys like you and me, we didn’t get into this business to make money. We just wanted to jack the fuck off while watching oily, muscular dudes get nards-deep in some milves, am I right? But our investors don’t understand that, so I gotta throw them a bone. Which reminds me, our movie of the same title is gonna be a couple of weeks behind schedule while we look for a new caterer for craft services. Yes, again. Well, they didn’t want to wear raincoats. We’re getting off topic here. Basically, the only thing I can think of to suggest is a line of premium sex toys that don’t look too obvious when your suitase is under the x-ray machine at the airport. I realize a beige vibrator that looks like it was designed by Texas Instruments sounds counterintuitive, but there’s a market for this sort of thing. I got a buddy that’s making a killing since he opened up a head shop that specializes in smoking apparatuses that don’t look like they belong in some idiot’s dorm room.

June 2012
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