Archive for the 'junk drawer' Category


we should make our privates kiss

Some long-ago street gangs wore satin jackets a means of quick, easy identification. Others wore berets. The Super Elves, after a dispute with the only embroiderer in town left them with no way of stitching their clan’s name across their uniforms, opted for the bold sartorial choice of tucking their shirts in without wearing a belt. The unconventional move had the desired effect, as their growing reputation as the toughest band of miscreants in town led the local high school to swiftly alter its belt-optional dress code to ease parental concerns about gang recruitment. For fun, the Super Elves enjoyed the same activities as the other hooligans around town: slicking their hair back, singing doo-wop music, and cutting motherfuckers UP with their switchblades.
A few prominent members of the Super Elves were standing on the corner sneaking drags from a cigarette one afternoon, jeering the square kids as they trudged home from school with knapsacks full of homework, when they all stopped suddenly. A chick they had never seen before marched right in front of them. She must have been new in town. Her fuzzy pink sweater, stretched taut in places their girlfriends’ weren’t, announced to them that this wasn’t a girl; this was a woman. Alvin, the most audacious of the group, had been considered something of a leader, so he stepped forward. Before their eyes he turned into a cartoon hillbilly wolf, scarcely able to keep his straw hat on and his overalls fastened as his tongue unfurled and he let out a lusty whistle. This got her attention, and she turned around. “Name’s Nanette. Sorry boys, but I don’t go steady,” she said, then uncorked a right hook that sent Alvin reeling. She didn’t stop there either. It got ugly. Talking about some real Three Stooges type of stuff. By the time she was through with him, his teeth looked like piano keys and his eyes read “No Sale.” The Super Elves had themselves a new top dog.
Though the Super Elves had plenty of moxie, they were terribly disorganized, and Nanette set about rectifying this in short order. She had them up every morning before dawn to practice their dice-shooting technique. Instead of sneaking sips from their old man’s liquor cabinet, members were “strongly encouraged” to take advantage of the health benefits provided by a daily egg cream soda so they could beef up. Their turf expanded considerably once Nanette taught them sophisticated new fighting methods. This guy Jerry from the Westside Wendigos was getting the better of Pee Wee Kesketonovich until she shouted at Pee Wee to pick up his heavy, ethnic-sounding surname and use it to clobber his rival. Nanette was tough but fair, and while the fellas might have bristled at times under her charge, they certainly couldn’t argue with her results. She waited until they displayed the toughness of badgers, the savvy of serpents, and the discipline of monks before she revealed to them her master plan, calling them together for a meeting in an abandoned warehouse. “Ten hot records for one cool penny,” she purred, their eyes transfixed on her as she gave them their orders. “But boss, how will we turn a profit?” Willie Bagdeserian piped up from the back. “We’re practically giving them away!” She responded by sliding some shitty Christmas album that a subscriber had definitely not ordered into an envelope, reveling in her own wickedness as she sealed it with her tongue. “This one’s sixteen bucks.” They all stifled a gasp and wordlessly obeyed her, afraid of appearing chicken in the eyes of their idol.


more ralk, less tock

One afternoon this really good looking lady boarded the crosstown bus carrying a bag of groceries. Not to brag or anything, but I couldn’t help but feel a little flattered that among the three or four guys who had stood up to offer her their seat, she chose mine. Spying a small sliver of beige strap peeking out from under her green shirt as she sat down, I thought to myself, Oh man, what I wouldn’t give to trade places with that bra. Not wishing to be more of a creep than I was already being, however, I wrapped my elbow around the pole, returned to my book of intermediate level word find puzzles, got out at East 20th, and thought very little of the bus ride for the rest of my day. So, needless to say I was quite shocked to awaken the next morning to find myself being removed from a dresser drawer by this very same lady from the bus. My wish, albeit one that I had obviously not intended literally, had come true.
So I guess I’ve been at this whole bra business for about eight months now, and altogether it’s not a bad gig. To bring you up to speed, the lady’s name is Evie, and she’s a 33 year-old paralegal who’s originally from Eagle Rock Mountain, ID, but moved to the city after graduating from Bowling Green University in 2001. She’s a very nice lady. And if there’s a way to say this without being terribly crass, the cargo I’m charged with supporting is considerably more impressive than anything I could have imagined on the bus. I’m tellin you, friend. Absolutely breathtaking. Of course, not that I have any significant gripes, but there have been a few minor things I’ve had to get used to. For example, I realize it’s nothing personal, but admittedly it was a small blow to my ego to learn how eager she is to get rid of me at the end of a long day. I was definitely not prepared to spend this much time hanging on the bathroom doorknob; sometimes entire weekends. Plus, she’s got this one kinda itchy sweater that I’m not too keen on. Fortunately she doesn’t wear it too often, but it is difficult for me to stay properly focused on the otherworldly soft, supple flesh on the inside of the cup when I’ve got this abrasive, grating sensation on the outside that can only accurately be compared to fiberglass or steel wool. There’s also the matter of her boyfriend. If I had eyes, I swear I would roll them every time this doofus fumbles with my hooks in the back. He just doesn’t seem to get any better at it, when just the slightest bit of, you know, effort? would make all the difference. Ugh, what an idiot. The fuck kind of name is “Greg,” anyway? Also, as I get to know Evie better, I find myself wishing she had purchased me after a professional custom bra fitting instead of at Sears. Yeah, I realize it’s a little more expensive, but she’d be so much more comfortable and maybe a little less likely to slouch. Overall though, I can’t complain. Hey, nobody expects every minute of every day to be spent gratefully absorbing delicious, lightly fragrant underboob sweat, right? I’m not sure exactly what the long-term future holds, though it seems like the best case scenario involves me getting shredded and reused as eco-friendly home insulation, but until then I’m just going to live in the moment and enjoy the ride, because it truly is a privilege. Surprisingly, my enthusiasm has not dimmed in the slightest the whole time I’ve been on the job so far; if anything, I’ve actually gotten more devoted. In fact, if I had it to do over again, I guess the only thing I’d change is maybe to have instead turned into a pair of her drawers.


the caller id just says ‘jerk store’

I guess everyone has a story about where they were when all the Christians got raptured into heaven. Me, I was in Astoria at my dealer’s apartment, of all places. He just disappeared into a cloud of smoke, right between explaining why an eighth was suddenly $60 and promising that it was only a temporary price hike, when his clothes suddenly crumpled to the ground after a half second where they briefly, dramatically, still held his shape. I sat there stock still for about twenty minutes, worried that the same thing was gonna happen to me, but it never did. The wind blew through the window onto my face, and I felt perfectly, horribly alone, the trance only breaking when I heard a few voices talking on the street. Within a few minutes, dozens of others had arrived and we figured it out pretty quickly. It took us all a while to absorb the concussion, at first collectively before we each began picturing the specific ways the event was going to affect us all individually, then we began drifting slowly away one at time from the huddle to gather our loved ones close and begin rebuilding our lives. I knew it was just the shock setting in, but I found myself most mystified by the knowledge that the guy who sold me baggies of Sharkleberry Kush and Hulk Dick was a believer. I mean, over the years I had heard him make a few vaguely homophobic remarks, but I had no idea he was that far gone. I walked quietly back into his apartment, then after a little detective work I stuffed a couple of bricks under my sweatshirt.
There were a lot of people gone. In His infinite wisdom the Lord took a pretty broad interpretation of the phrase “whosoever believeth in Him”, showing no regard for denomination or sect. Episcopalians? Snake handlers? The Pope? Death row inmates? The 2007 National League Champion Colorado Rockies? Everyone. To answer the question asked ad nauseam by Newsweek that year, yes, Mormons were definitely Christians, although I think most of the people who were wondering that were no longer with us. There were a few days initially where it looked like things might get pretty bonkers, but over the next few weeks and months, the 24 percent of us who remained in the United States gradually pulled together and began rebuilding society, taking newfound comfort and pride in civilization’s vital institutions as they rose back up, and either altering or shedding altogether those customs that had before driven us apart. Without most of our elected officials, we were especially thankful for the calm, steady leadership of President Barack Obama. Turns out he really was a closet Muslim, but nobody gave a shit.
It was amazing how much work there was to do that first year; things you’d never think of. We put crews to work repurposing all the newly abandoned houses and buildings, focusing a lot on the churches once they figured out how many of them there were, and how much stuff was in those suckers. They started with the big ones. These guys would find like a nice leather couch in a youth group lounge and give it to some ninety year-old old Laotian lady or something. Without the Christians to help them discern which poor people were deserving of help from the ones who hadn’t sufficiently tried to pull themselves up out of poverty, they just basically took everyone who knocked. You can fit a fuck ton of beds in a church building if you use the classroom and office space wisely, and some of the nicer ones even have showers next to their basketball gym. The places that had top-of-the-line sound equipment, like huge PAs with EQs and racks of processors, put on free shows all the time. Megadeth were actually better without Dave Mustaine, eschewing that kinda indulgent, overproduced prog metal direction they had been increasingly moving in over the last nine records in favor of a return to the good thrash sound they had back when all their album titles had ellipses.
Over time we found our way. Abortions and teen pregnancy went down, thanks to vastly improved health education, increased access to birth control, and a willingess to have frank, honest conversations about sex in terms that showed respect for young people’s growing adult decision-making skills. Surprisingly, people only had slightly more sex than they had before, although we noticed that a lot of the really fucked-up genres of porn were no longer as prevalent. Climate change still posed a considerable challenge for global leaders, but with three quarters of the world’s largest resource-consuming nation gone, the planet’s temperature skated just under the deadline for irreversible change for a few years before scientists finally reported small increases in polar ice.
It wasn’t perfect. Though we have come pretty close, we still haven’t been able to fully eradicate gun violence. And of course, the world has never quite gotten over the loss of Stephen, the most talented of the Baldwin brothers, feeling a collective measure of regret for the way he was cruelly exiled from Hollywood for his convictions. Other than that, though, not too bad. People seem a lot less certain of the inherent rightness of their opinions, which has led to some interesting and productive discussions. Plus, after all we’ve been through together, folks take responsibility for each other and are more likely to talk to each other on the street, unprovoked, and it’s not even weird. Kinda pleasant, actually. In fact, just this morning I was walking up the steps from the West 4th subway stop when I noticed an older white-bearded gentleman by the basketball courts having some difficulty with his camera. He was a solidly built man with a regal bearing about him, like he was from somewhere far away. Maybe Russian, I thought. I helped him out, then he took a few snapshots and said his son was playing out there, pointing to this lean, swarthy guy in his thirties who was just dominating the court. He threw down a rim-rattling dunk, then on the other end blocked a shot, somehow came down with the ball, and pulled up for a jumper just inside the half court line. The crowd that had gathered to watch completely erupted as he drained it, and he humbly acknowledged them before he stripped off the headband that had been holding his long hair in place and wordlessly placed it into the hand of a child. The older fellow smiled and told me they were on vacation and I asked him long they were in town for. Not long enough, he told me with a weary sigh, but they were going to have to get back soon. He didn’t want to say where they were from, only mentioning that the people there kinda got on his nerves.


trust the name it took me 233 times to practice saying with a straight face

Renowned cartoonist Jim Davis steps to the podium. A phalanx of photographers go to significant lengths to position themselves in a way that will honor his press agent’s request that Davis’ ass-length ponytail not be visible in any pictures. The media outnumber the fans at this symposium, though those few pilgrims who braved the snow to see his keynote speech at the Great White North Winter Summit Comic Convention in Butte, Montana, huddle together and hunch forward in the front three rows of chairs in the Emerald Room of the Best Western Plus Butte Plaza Inn with an intensity of devotion that makes Doctor Who enthusiasts seem casual by comparison. This intensity, of course, is best exemplified by their fierce reaction to anyone who mistakes them for Garfield fans, quickly correcting any mistaken assumption they they might be here to talk about anything other than U.S. Acres, Davis’ lesser-known daily strip set in a barnyard, which has scaled dizzying creative heights over the 27 years of its existence but never achieved the same commercial success as Davis’ iconic lasagna-loving cat.
Though U.S. Acres has been widely reported to have been cancelled in 1989, living on only as the “And Friends” side of the titular equation on the “Garfield and Friends” animated Saturday morning series that ran on CBS from 1988-94, its abiding duration continues to thrill its cult-like followers. Davis created U.S. Acres as a way to give voice to the subversive anti-capitalist message that he knew his regular audience couldn’t handle. Garfield, whose licensing rights enrich Davis by tens of millions of dollars every second of every minute of every day, pays the bills, but U.S. Acres is where he lets his creative side run wild. “These are stories that need to be told, but many are not ready to hear them,” he says.
Davis’ staff can usually shit out a month of Garfield strips in about four hours, which leaves him plenty of time to carefully craft the narratives of U.S. Acres. He spends a few weeks each month in a remote cabin in Utah, requiring absolute solitude to fret over even the finest details of each panel, whether applying a touch of pointillism to Roy the Rooster’s comb to simulate its spongy texture, or selecting an ink that is rated three grades blacker than standard comic-drawing ink to color in Orson the pig’s nostrils, the inner darkness of which is the strip’s most famous visual commentary on the emptiness of consumer culture.
When Davis first published U.S. Acres, his previous success led to a highly anticipated launch and predictions that he would have another hit on his hands. Eventually, however, the critical darling, saddled with high expectations, became too controversial for most audiences, first being bumped off the comics page and onto the op-ed page next to Doonesbury, but over time even the shitty newspapers (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Edmonton Sun) jumped ship once Davis expressed his intention to run a week of strips in which Sheldon the baby chick, forever unwilling to fully emerge from his eggshell, used a banana to demonstrate the proper method for putting on a condom. Eventually U.S. Acres was only getting published in a handful of alt weeklies. The irony of Davis having nearly emptied his Garfield earnings to keep his passion project alive is that he soon found that his characters flourished away from the spotlight.
Davis engages the assembled fans with a long Q-and-A session, pausing before seemingly every other thoughtful answer to remark about how nice it is to be surrounded by people who appreciate his artistic vision in its purest form. Everything goes smoothly until an earnest young cub reporter elbows her way through the crowd. “Tell us about Odie’s owner Lyman,” she demands. “Don’t you think these people deserve to know why hasn’t he been seen since 1979?” Though not as often as it used to, this still occurs from time to time. As security drags the woman away, a visibly shaken Davis adjusts his tie uncomfortably and fumbles for a glass of water.


criminal animal

I tried to explain the fact that I was the only 35 year-old in the children’s swim class as the result of a clerical error, describing the situation to the few interested parties in terms that expressed my magnanimous sympathy for the poor overworked scheduler that I didn’t want to bother by having her place me in the advanced swim class where I rightly belonged. My cover story thus established, I spent a lot of time that summer crouched down in the pool with my chin hovering just over the jiggling line of the water, gripped with fear. Despite my arm floaties which had been carefully selected for their neutral color, avoiding detection by friends, family, and acquaintances proved a challenge equal to any I found in the drink, and the price of failure in either of these areas felt similarly high.
Speculation among the frail, liver-spotted seniors in the water aerobics class two lanes over that I was some kind of assistant instructor assigned to encourage the children by making their progress seem significant by comparison soon gave way to speculation that I was a plant assigned to keep the lifeguards’ skills sharp, after the fourth time I was dragged from the pool that first difficult week. I had traveled well beyond the age at which my flailing efforts could be considered endearing, much less inspirational. Observers could imagine the low ceiling to my potential relative to my classmates, who had their whole lives ahead to improve. Indeed, my skills would likely never advance much further than a point that would make me, in the event of a nautical disaster, more a liability for my fellow survivors than I would be if I simply drowned immediately.
My performance in the Little Ducklings End-of-Summer Swim Show was roundly panned, practically an inevitability given that I had not had the advantage shared by my classmates of being able to stack the bleachers with partial spectators such as neighbors and grandparents. Peter Travers from Rolling Stone magazine, whose 36-point font declaration “A Triumph!” adorns the top line of the DVD case for Carlito’s Way 2, called my performance “a rare… misstep from an emerging… talent,” noting that “any humor that could possibly be derived from a pathetic adult being in a class full of children has already been thoroughly explored and even strip-mined by the 1994 film Billy Madison.” Prepared for this line of attack, I deftly countered by jabbing my finger in Travers’ chest for emphasis as I pointed out that our class’ instructor’s hand had been bitten off by an alligator. That had been from an entirely different movie altogether.


white people: the movie

Brett came to pick me up in his uncle’s Mercedes convertible, waving to me on the third floor so I would recognize him, as he wasn’t in the Grand Cherokee he usually drove. At the time I didn’t know that the SLK 230 Kompressor roadster was one of the lower-end Mercedes, what industry insiders called an “entry-level” model, slotted below the M, R, and SL classes. I hadn’t had a lot of exposure to Mercedes. As requested, I brought Brett down his Lord Tariq and Peter Gunz CD and his travel sized bottle of Hugo by Hugo Boss cologne that had come prepackaged with the big bottle. He didn’t have that much stuff in our dorm room anymore; aside from having to share the suite’s bathroom with Steve and Mitch, I basically had the place to myself. It would have been a good time to grow a pot plant or something, but the thought never occurred to me. I got pretty good at shooting baskets with my off hand on the Nerf hoop on the closet door.
Not that many juniors still lived in the dorms, just the ones whose scholarships mandated it, which no longer applied to me. I had lost my scholarship the semester before when my GPA went below 3.2 for the second straight time, but I stayed because had already filled out my housing form for the spring. Brett was staying mostly at his uncle’s place by the lake anyway by that time. His uncle was in Singapore on business till June and had given Brett a key. Told him to come by and bring the mail in a few times a week. Keep the grass cut. It might be a quiet place to study, he told Brett’s parents, or even use the pool if he wanted. I never met Brett’s uncle, but he was an older guy, like sixties. Divorced. It was a big place for one person. I couldn’t tell if he had good taste, but definitely expensive taste. The picture window mirror in one of the bathrooms was enormous, and angled in such a way that once I couldn’t help noticing this weird face I made when reaching back to wipe my ass. Did I make that face every time, I wondered. I worked for months afterward to correct it, then forgot about it. Oh shit, I probably still do it.
When I got into the car, he weirdly did not give me shit for wearing just a pocket t-shirt from Old Navy. He was dressed for the club though; he kinda always was. Did this fucker ever once wear a normal shirt the whole time I knew him. We went to college in a town where people still cruised the drag, and as we pulled on to the street where the club was, he handed me a pair of sunglasses just like the pair he was already wearing and I put them on. Not because I was trying to look cool, but because I didn’t know what to do with my eyes. It was a convertible. My whole head, my face, were just out there, and people were looking at us. I tried to look like I was looking straight ahead, expressionless, but I probably looked scared. Behind the sunglasses, I was looking all around.
We got to the club and I sneaked up to the third floor where they played hip-hop, to see if I could get a black girl to dance with me, but they could all tell I was a student. I went back downstairs to check on Brett, but he was fine. He had the reddest ass of any baboon in there. Looking and acting like an asshole was important to Brett, but he wasn’t one. He told me once that he had gotten with a girl that had been in a bad car accident, and he had had to hold her colostomy bag for her to get into the one position she was comfortable in. Uncharacteristically, he didn’t use the word ‘bang’ when telling the story. He had probably had to be pretty careful. I never knew why we lived together longer than one semester, but he accepted my weirdnesses long before I accepted his. Which of us was the better friend. The better person.
When the lights turned on at the club, he and I found each other and he had his arm around this really tall girl, Jamie. He said Jamie was just waiting on her roommate to come back from the bathroom, and then they were both going to follow us to his uncle’s place. Turns out I kinda knew her roommate. She was this girl Holly, a freshman, whose dad Mark I came into contact with a lot at my job. When I lost my scholarship, I got a work-study job at Central Purchasing at the physical plant. Mark was in charge of the motor pool, and he came by to order and pick up vehicle parts. Starters, brake shoes, bearings, belts. We all got back to Brett’s uncle’s, and instead of asking if they wanted to go swimming like he usually did, Brett started a VHS of A River Runs Through It in the den, then he and Jamie went back to the master bedroom. The movie was already halfway over when he started it, so Holly and I had some beers and talked for a while with it in the background. She told me Mark and her mom were divorcing. She was thinking about taking a semester off, having never lived anywhere but this town. I mostly just listened, but when the tape ended I put my hands on the couch to get ready to stand up and press Stop, and she put her hand softly on top of mine.
We kissed briefly. For seriously less than a minute. Then we heard Jamie’s footsteps walking briskly up the hall towards us, and when the light crossed her face upon entering the den I saw she had this really annoyed, impatient look on her face. Brett was behind her, not walking as fast. “I think we’d better go,” she said, and Holly stood up and got their purses and they left. Holy shit he had brought out the acoustic guitar, hadn’t he. He had.


hydroplaning toward a better tomorrow

A business associate of mine passed along the name of a doctor known for his discretion, a reputation supported by the fact that the address given to me led to an unmarked storefront in a part of town I knew primarily from my days as a cash-only delivery driver struggling to maintain willful ignorance of my cargo. I waited outside until I saw an important-looking man, presumably a patient, emerge from the door with a sling on his arm, escorted to his SUV under the careful watch of his subordinates, a couple of appliance-sized fellows in track suits and sunglasses. I pressed the buzzer, then waited on the verbal cue to speak the word I was given over the phone when I made my appointment. Saturnine. In contrast with the building’s exterior, the examining room was immaculately kept, and the doctor entered promptly with an outstretched hand to greet me. Having completed the business of putting me completely at ease, he asked of my physical complaints as I changed into a surprisingly comfortable gown while trying to discern the source of the relaxing music.
The doctor attentively checked the affected area in question, then assuaged my Wikipedia-fueled concerns and issued me a small tube of topical cream. And when I complimented his encyclopedic knowledge and computer-like recall of ailments related to mine, he looked me in the eye and said, “I can tell you a heck of a lot more than that for an extra $50.” Intrigued, I took him up on his offer and he led me to a room in which two-thirds of the space was taken up by a large machine emitting a menacing hum. I began to question my decision as he attached electrodes to my chest, forehead, and fingers, but tried to focus instead on the music, which I could have sworn had somehow become even more relaxing, perhaps even aggresively so. No sooner had he attached them all did the machine print out a sheaf of papers, punctuating the flurry of activity with a cheerful “ding!” and the doctor pronounced the procedure complete.
He handed me the papers, offering no explanation beyond “your career stats.” Quickly my bewilderment gave way to astonishment as I pored over page after page of a complete inventory of every activity I had ever participated in, replete with the number of times I had done them. Among other details, the copendium reported 24,192 times in my lifetime that I had brushed my teeth, using the equivalent of an application of toothpaste 504 feet in length and spanning 11 different brands. I had clipped my fingernails 1,716 times, my toenails 343. Over the years, I had eaten a total of 416 veggie combo classic footlongs from Danny’s Famous Subs, which would have qualified me for 52 free footlong subs of equal or lesser value, if I had not misplaced 29 of Danny’s Famous Subs Frequent Diner punchcards prior to completing them. 8,736 minutes of my life had been spent masturbating, compared with 8,947 minutes spent obscuring evidence that I had. I consumed the catalogued information voraciously, stopping only upon learning that fully 2,488 hours of my life had been taken up with meetings at work that had led to an increase on productivity so low as to not even register on this exhaustive list. I began to worry that I had wasted my life and resolved henceforth to value my remaining time before it dwindled away. The doctor correctly surmised my intentions as he observed my flipping ahead to the last page and stopped me. “Don’t bother, friend,” he said. “That list can tell you a lot of things, but no one knows for sure how much time we’ve got left.” Just then, a runaway gasoline tanker truck barreled through the front of the building, killing us both instantly in a horrific fireball. We awoke in the afterlife, bypassing an information desk crowded with souls trying to find out their lifetime pickup basketball shooting percentage, and proceeded confidently to the pizza buffet.


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.

August 2020