Thursday, April 30, 2009

Quitting Is Like Quilting (Weave That Shit)

What did people do before quitting?

I wonder.

And then I shrug it off and stop caring.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Punk: A(n) Essay / Story / Defense


I was born 10 years after punk music was born. I was still in elementary school when punk became safe. And I’m not a historian. I say all of this, because if there’s anything I’ve learned since I started listening to punk music, it’s that some punks are touchy if they feel you’re even a little bit off about punk music. I wrote this because I love punk music (and I’m using “punk” instead of “punk rock” because I think it works better as an umbrella). This is just what I think on the matter of old punk music.

Also, no matter how much I write, it isn’t enough. Old punk music and what surrounded it is rad, and I could never do it justice.

A few nights ago, my friends and I were playing King’s Cup, and I ended up choosing Categories. I said, “Bands that you think are overrated.”

We all collectively argued and I listed classic overrated acts like Madonna and The Eagles.

But towards the end, my friend Rex said, “Every old punk band that you guys defend because they can barely play their instruments and it sounds like crap.”

And we all laughed.

And some debated.

And maybe Rex had a point.

See, I got into punk when everything in the mainstream was too polished and well overdone. I was in eighth grade when boy bands and lusty young female pop singers started controlling the airwaves. Everything was written by a roomful of paid songwriters there just to make money and the whole show was run by a producer who used gadgets to make sure these young men and women sounded flawless, like they could be angelic humanoids or something.

It was total, absolute artistic fraud, and they were living in huge mansions for it. The whole few-year episode of boy bands battling singular girl acts for world domination was discerning and it felt like mainstream music oppression. There was no sense of humor, no sense of humility and certainly no sense of reality. It was heartless and gutless, and worthless, really.

Well, it was to me anyway.

So, when I heard the charging guitars of punk, they sounded almost like guns, like a charging mass of freedom fighters shooting the clouds and spitting wherever. They were immature and beyond their years simultaneously. They had rebel cries and brotherhood. They had weapons of music destruction. They had this charming sense of pride, spirit, anger, disillusion and down-to-the-bones poetry. To me, they were like a combination of beatniks writers and a gang from 19th Century New York City.

They were almost heroes to me.

And for what? Barely knowing how to play guitar, bass and drums? For knowing three chords and running with it? For writing music when they couldn’t?

Yeah. Maybe.

But when punk supposedly actually started in the mid-70s, what was on the radio? Foreigner? Journey? Foghat? The Bee Gees? Donna fucking Summer?

Dear god, it was just long-winded rock bands and disco. Punk probably saved music forever, just by whipping out three minute blasts of energy.

That’s as far as I’m going to go into the roots of punk. At least for now. Here’s the fairy tale: Iggy Pop and Patti Smith had sex and gave birth to punk music. There you go.

This whole ordeal is more of what old punk music means to me. It’s not a history lesson in musical rebellion, but themes of change will always be a part of anything ever written about punk music.

My actual roots of interest in punk started accidentally when I was in second grade. I was looking through the tapes in my dad’s glove box and I found two that seemed interesting. One was The Cure’s Disintegration, which I was slightly uneasy about because that cover is unsettling when you’re 7 or 8, and The Replacements’ Sorry Ma, Forgot To Take Out The Trash.

I played the tape of The Replacements in my family’s old stereo and listened. And listened. And listened. And I don’t think I left that spot for the entire afternoon. I just sat there listening.

It was my first instance of choosing music. My parents had always played good music around the house, like Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers and Bob Marley & The Wailers, but the first band I ever really discovered on my own was The Replacements. Shortly after, they changed their sound and they weren’t nearly as dirty or musically unprofessional. But on Dear Ma, they were degenerate authorities on loud and fast. There were mistakes all over that record. The album almost seems unfinished. But I thought the songs were catchy, and years later, I would appreciate the dirty quality of the album.

I listened to that tape through elementary school, never knowing what it was. I didn’t know punk music. A kid even wore a Sex Pistols shirt in sixth grade and I made fun of him, because I thought it was goofy.

But my parents bought me Green Day’s Dookie for Christmas when I was in fourth grade. Then all my friends got The Offspring’s Smash. I didn’t know that either was a new form of a pop-enthused punk either. I was way off from all that. Instead, with the help of my siblings, I was putting on plays for my parents to the soundtrack of Dookie.

In fact, in sixth and seventh grade, I mostly listened to what the radio told me. I just bought into whatever music they were selling.

In eighth grade, I finally discovered punk music and the associated subculture. A kid who I thought was a nerd in seventh grade came around differently in eighth. He was then sporting a big mohawk and an attitude for the school staff. He started drawing anarchy symbols everywhere. One time, he went a little further. In the bathroom, on one wall, he anonymously suggested that we kill our vice-principal. On the adjacent wall, with the same black marker, he wrote, “Bruno was here.” Needless to say, he was suspended.

But names of bands that I didn’t recognize started showing up in pins and patches on his jacket. He clearly didn’t get his music from the radio or his parents, so I wondered.

“Who are the Subhumans?” I remember asking once. This of course sounded like a philosophical question, but I was really just reading his jacket.

He showed me.

And suddenly I had a sincere interest in all these bands all over Bruno’s jacket. It was noise…the beautiful sound of anarchy. It was a kick in the face, given that I was eating up everything the radio stations in Los Angeles fed me. But I didn’t feel as if it was hitting all the nerves I thought it should. It was a lot of buzz to the guitars and a lot of yelling to the singer’s voice, but the distortion didn’t seem to be enough.

Around that time, I read an article on Rancid and bought their new album Life Won’t Wait, also at the suggestion of Bruno and another friend, Matt. It was Matt actually who began showing me what punk had become. He was listening to current punk bands, the supposed end result of Bruno’s bands. I remember when he showed me an album that just came out and filled the void of good, good yelling. It was Black Sails In The Sunset by A.F.I. And I listened to it nonstop once I bought it.

Towards the end of eighth grade, I started hanging around Bruno and Matt more and more after school. And the more and more I got into punk.

But I worked backwards. I listened to new school punk bands, rooting through the catalogues of different indie punk record labels at the turn of the century: Epitaph, Fat, Nitro. From there, I followed bands that had roots in the ‘80s scene, but transformed: Bad Religion, NOFX, The Vandals.

And from there, I looked into the ‘80s bands’ influences and found the roots of the ‘70s. Finally, in ninth grade, I understood the spectrum of punk. What began as themes with Iggy Pop & The Stooges, Patti Smith, New York Dolls and The Velvet Underground and such evolved into what is unofficially deemed the beginning of “punk.”

And then I was a punk in ninth grade, alongside my two closest friends Jeff and Nick.

The three of us had pins and patches, and we played punk music in my garage, and we argued about what punk was. I wish I could remember who believed in what, but there were reoccurring themes and challenging ideas. We actually debated about what punk was, is and could be.

However, I wasn’t exactly well-versed in the politics of punk. The arguments paralleled creation vs. evolution in some artistic limbo of snotty vs. shotty music. Matt once said that the Sex Pistols weren’t really punk because theatrical fashion absurdist Malcolm McLaren formed them into a punk band, and there was no natural order. Matt called them the first boy band, maybe to just be shocking, and others agreed.

One afternoon, I told this to my father, who was actually the one who originally showed me Nevermind The Bullocks, Here’s The Sex Pistols. And he was rather unimpressed with my friends.

“A lot of my friends don’t like the Sex Pistols,” I said, as he arranged clothes in his closet.

“Why not? They’re the Sex Pistols,” my father said, clearly confused by what point I was trying to make about my band of comrades.

“They say they don’t like them because they were formed like a pop band by a greedy fashion manager.”

“Ok,” my father said, pausing, as if to rethink how he could have this conversation without hurting my feelings. “The Sex Pistols were punk,” he finally said, slowly. “I saw them at Wonderland, their last concert ever. Well, at the time it was. But I saw and heard Johnny Rotten say ‘You ever feel like you’ve been cheated?’ That was punk. I was punk. You’re a poser if you don’t like the Sex Pistols. All of your friends are posers. Geez, I’m more punk than your friends.”

“Don’t call his friends posers,” my mother said, stepping into the conversation.

“Why? That’s what they are. They’re all posers. How could you not like the Sex Pistols? They’re the freakin’ Sex Pistols!”

This was my first understanding of how sacred of a thing “punk” actually is to a person. Teenagers were writing off their parents as drones, though they had been punks in the decades earlier, and parents were laughing at their rebellious kids going to “punk” shows with corporate sponsors.

And that’s when I got into the scene. By the time I got into punk, it was safe. Warped Tour had started a few years before and Hot Topic was selling random fashion accessories with old punk band logos for a hefty price. There wasn’t the excitement of the 70s or the danger of the 80s.

I remember talking about old punk music and the current scene with my youngest uncle, who was an actual punk in the ’80s. And it remains the only time that I’ve ever heard somebody say, “I’ve seen things, man,” and mean it. I don’t know if he was talking about sex, drugs, violence or just the empty lifestyle of squatters, but I decided that I probably shouldn’t ask.

But what attracted me to the scene of the ‘70s and ‘80s was that the whole genre of music sounded like everything was recorded with all you could put into each song. I would listen to so many songs and it sounded like they were compromising feelings for musical notes, and I loved it. It was exciting to listen to someone be more into what they were saying than how they were sounding. The singers often didn’t have these grand voices that made them singers. They were just guys who wrote poetry about what they wanted to see happen in the world. And if it made them upset that social change wasn’t progressing as they saw fit, they wanted to convey that frustration rather than try to harmonize.

Sometimes, it was melodic. Sometimes, it wasn’t.

Even though I actually don‘t care for most “crust punk” or “discore” bands, I will say that it’s refreshing to know that there’s bands that want to share a message so bad that they almost lose their minds once they get hold of a microphone. In a living room, where you sit comfortably on a couch while watching musicians endorse soda, it’s almost a welcomed unnerving sensation to hear the frantic sounds of a poor but militant punk band shake out loud on record, while they may also be wild political activists. But I also think that the music is noise and it’s hard for me to listen to, which is maybe along the lines of what Rex suggested. But this is also why a talented and thoughtful punk band that balances good lyrics with good music is something to truly behold.

This is [just] one of the [many] reasons why The Clash was once referred to as “the only band that matters.” And because that’s what their record company put out in the press releases.

However, The Clash really did something more than challenge everything that punk may or may not be known for, and it set a more articulate tone for future punk. I mean, it’s not like punk bands were the first to be political. Jesus, the rock bands and the hippies of the 1960s wrote how many anti-war anthems and political tracks demanding change?

Also, let’s assume that there’s been political themes ever since the first song was written by someone who could hardly pay the rent.

But it’s always easier to sell punk as the new political movement here and there, but it’s laughable. My friend Bret was working at Guitar Center when Green Day’s American Idiot came out. They put up a poster of a magazine cover featuring Green Day with the headline “Punk Gets Political.” Underneath, one of Bret’s co-workers mockingly wrote “…FINALLY.”

And this was 30 years after The Sex Pistols and The Clash.

But, as for punk being a movement that opened up its listeners to a fighting forum rather than fighting boredom, The Clash wrote songs with actual observations and perceptions of the political realm. They didn’t just talk about anarchy and spit on the idea of government, which is what was initially associated with the British punk movement. It was intelligent topics. Their self-titled first album featured songs about racism, class war, the politics of the music industry, looking for work in a stifling economy, while commenting on how the United Kingdom was following more and more American trends and losing its own culture. And they did it while dipping their musical styling into reggae, jazz, dub, funk, rap, doo-wop, rockabilly, ska and pop.

But punk didn’t have to be political, as Johnny Ramone pointed out in the documentary End Of The Century. In fact, he said that The Ramones had no interests in writing anything political, since that was a thing that hippies did.

When The Ramones, often cited as the first “punk” band, first started playing, their songs were almost always under two minutes. Again, this was in an era where the radio was playing guitar solos three times that length.

Four nice guys showed up at the New York City club-venue CBGB, all wearing leather jackets and jeans. Their music was like the weirdos at school hijacked American Bandstand. It was like Bill Haley’s comet (*teehee*), a mixture of 1950s rock, sped up with buzzing guitars. One writer for an early punk mag called it a welcomed “wall of noise.”

However, their sound certainly wouldn’t be noise by today’s standards. The Ramones sound well-tamed (especially on record) for what followed them in decades to come. But at that time, it was a shocking barrage of sound.

And, no, they were not spectacular musicians and a lot of their songs sounded the same, but they never tried to be anything more than they were. Now, maybe that doesn’t seem like it’s a gargantuan or monumental revolution of music these days, but I mean, think about when they did all of this. Do you know what was on the radio at the time? “Love Will Keep Us Together” by Captain & Tennille. Seriously.

These four “yokels” came from Queens in the wake of bitchy and shallow disco queens, the uneatable feast of hippie leftovers and pretentious musician-god hybrids that could talk about their 10-minute guitar solo for 10 hours.

How the hell could you not end up rooting for a couple of glue-sniffers to destroy mainstream music by writing two minute catchy blasts, only knowing three chords and writing about nothing?

It was like a modern-day fairy tale, almost as if the outcasts saved the high school while the cheerleaders and jocks were too busy talking about themselves, and the city rejoiced.

Good god, The Ramones probably saved music in a single year.

That’s probably why Spin called them the second greatest rock band of all-time.

Yes, there is a whole catalogue of arguments against that listing, but think about another band that seriously changed up the game as much as The Ramones. They didn’t influence particular genres so much as they did just influence music. Agreed, The Rolling Stones were incredible and amazing, but they were a combination of American blues and British Rock. Other great bands can be classified with forefathers in music. You can cite influences with The Ramones, but you can identify that sound before them.

The Ramones played louder and faster. And then came The Sex Pistols. And then The Clash. And then punk blew up, and then you had an entirely new genre and an entirely new subculture.

American punk scenes began popping up everywhere, and by the last year or two of the ‘70s, new variations and subgenres were coming out (post-punk, pop-punk hardcore, goth, new wave, etc).

By the ‘80s, punk was a thing. It wasn’t some new trend. It was an actual umbrella of music, cultivating the sounds of artists that didn’t have any interest or intention to be the next fallen guitar god.

These were kids in basements, maybe with a couple of problems and a guitar. Or they were bored. Or they had a message. Or they just wanted to see how far they could get in the world.

So the trends became movements and the movements became scenes and the scenes became communities. And, sure, there was danger to it all, in some realms. But it was also something spectacular regardless.

In the ‘80s, punk became a noisy eruption of spirit, fun, curiosity and/or anger. And from there, it evolved in every which way and is responsible for change in music across the board.

Yes, by the mid-90s, it was safe and more marketable than ever. It wasn’t even a fashionable trend at that point. It was just a staple in “over-the-counterculture.”

But in the ‘70s and ‘80s, punk was something…something it isn’t now. And I like these bands, and I defend these bands, and I adore what these bands did, because…what they did was punk. And that’s not by the standards of today, where punk is in everything. But it’s also not a cop-out of “it was new then, meaning it’s still good now.” I still love old punk music. I’m not limited to it, as I was in ninth grade, but it keeps a good fire burning in my heart.

And listening to a good mixtape of old punk bands hits the goddamn spot on afternoon drives some days.

Beyond logos becoming more recognizable than songs, like the Black Flag bars, there is something unrealistically pure in listening to punk. I don’t mean it’s without corporate substance or that it’s anti-establishment, if it is…what I mean is that it was mostly written by people who just wanted to fucking do it. There weren’t as many schemes to get noticed, not as much cat-and-mouse with the record labels and not a pretense of questioning or wondering.

Sometimes, you just have it as solid in your brain as you do in your heart.

So, to close out, I collected some old punk songs which I think deserve a listen and a spin in your stereo. These exactly my favorite songs by each band. Instead, I just remember putting on a mixtape as a teenager, and I’d like you to listen to it. I don’t know how to make a mix available for download online. For now, just find the songs online(either download or preview them) or borrow albums from friends, and listen to these songs, and consider what they were in the ‘70s and ‘80s and what they are against today.

- “Johnny Was A Soldier” - The Addicts
- “Kids Of The Black Hole” - The Adolescents
- “Breakdown” - Agent Orange
- “I Want To Conquer The World” - Bad Religion
- “Rise Above” - Black Flag
- “All Wound Up” - The Circle Jerks
- “Career Opportunities” - The Clash
- “Oi! Oi! Oi!” - Cockney Rejects
- “Wait For The Blackout” - The Damned
- “California Über Alles” - Dead Kennedys
- “Bikeage” - Descendents
- “English Dream” - Generation X
- “Media Blitz” - The Germs
- “I Don’t Wanna Hear It” - Minor Threat
- “The Glory Of Man” - The Minutemen
- “Where Eagles Dare” - The Misfits
- “Missionary” - Operation Ivy
- “Sheena Is A Punk Rocker” - The Ramones
- “Love You ‘Til Friday” - The Replacements
- “Anarchy In The U.K.” - The Sex Pistols
- “Mainliner” - Social Distortion
- “At The Edge” - Stiff Little Fingers
- “Abolish Government / Silent Majority” - T.S.O.L.
- “Anarchy Burger (Hold The Government)” - The Vandals
- “Los Angeles” - X
- “Sink With Kalifornia” - Youth Brigade

"Old Paris"

Don't give it up for free,
not if the sex shows are sold out...
ah yes, I remember your touch.

A cold wind to light a paler fire,
if only these libraries kept words,
instead of books...a lofty joke, I suppose.

I was fond of you once, love,
but then again, I was also once a child,
and how soon we outgrow all that we adore.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

"A Gust Of Wind"

written after hearing bad news by jake kilroy.

A gust of wind, a paltry balloon,
bellowing down the hospital waterfall,
mesmorized by a bowl full of medicine snacks,
all the while cheering on the sunlight,
no eating, no drinking, no praying,
there's nothing you need that you won't find in family,
now that you know how far a god will go,
just to break his own bones as a human being.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Fountain Of Truth

You can spend your entire life searching for the Fountain of Youth and still die a thirsty man.

But when that rumbling in your stomach, hungry for folklore and truth that’s as clear and radically cut as an ice sculpture, comes about, you start considering what you’re exactly looking for these days. Sure, from morning to night, in the mildly entertaining disasters of freedom from a slow wake-up call to a hearty slumber, you attempt to make these small discoveries that have nothing with your education or work ethic.

And sometimes, it leaves you looking for a shot glass and the map to the Fountain of Youth.

However, even in your search for the mythical and mystical can lead somewhere that will make your parents proud.

Even Juan Ponce de León, who is associated with the legend of the Fountain of Youth, later became the first governor of Puerto Rico. I mean, he supposedly spent years looking for this incredible structure that would ultimately give him access to eternal life, or for the waters of Bimini to cure his impotence. See, that’s where the lore becomes laughable. But the man ended up as a governor (after conquering the island of Puerto Rico).

Now let’s say that the Fountain of Youth is a secret and not a legend. Let’s say that it actually exists, somewhere in the hills of Southern California. Let’s say that you have to follow some oddball directions to get there. Let’s say it involves a hike. And let’s say I went there last Saturday.

And let’s agree that the Fountain of Youth was drained years decades centuries aeons ago to protect humanity from the rumored fuck-up known as eternal life.


Then let’s talk.

It all started Friday night, after a long evening of drinking games, when it struck midnight. Saturday was my friend Chase’s birthday, and we began talking about what he wanted to do on his special day.

“I wanna find this burned down mansion with a drained pool in the backyard,” he said paraphrasily. “And I wanna skate it.”

I’m not a skateboarder. However, I love going on grand adventures in search of something. So I was in. As was Rex, who actually is a skateboarder. And I figured it’d be something interesting to take note of. As an unemployed journalist and soon-to-be published poet, I figure this Saturday glory would be something well-worth writing down.

I was also especially intrigued when Chase said that the only map was “here,” pointing to his temple slowly. Apparently, he saw a girl’s online picture of her standing in an empty pool, asked her how to get to there and she gave him directions that involved the phrases “turn left at the shady-looking bus stop” and “go beyond the general store.” It sounded like an adventure through a few different time periods.

The next morning, Jay, also a skateboarder, jumps in on the adventure. The four of us (Chase, Rex, Jay and myself) hang around a mechanic’s shop where Jay’s truck and Rex’s van are dropped off. Chase’s brother Evan picks us up in his minivan turned mobile surfer’s haven and we stop for food, where it seems very ambiguous to what year it is. Jay orders a pistrami sandwich and a soda while I order a grilled cheese with fries. Everything comes in a plain white bag, all wrapped in yellow paper. Jay is just wearing jeans, Evan is just wearing workman pants, Chase is just wearing ripped up shorts and Rex is wearing jeans and a white shirt, while a reggae song from the early ’70s is gleefully coming from the speakers.

It could’ve been any year. It was a bit surreal.

While sitting in the drive-thru, Chase turns to me and says, “I need you to be Craig Stecyk.”

“I don’t know who that is,” I say. So Chase goes on to explain that Stecyk was the photographer, journalist and all-around documentarian of Dogtown. As Chase explains the relevance of Stecyk to Dogtown, he begins to assign everyone in the van personas from the early days of skateboarding. After much debate, Chase becomes Skip Engblom and Evan becomes Jay Adams. Meanwhile, Rex and Jay fight over who would become Tony Alva. Chase explains that Rex has to be Shogo Kubo.

“I want to be Captain Hook,” Rex says.

“Jay Adams, Tony Alva and Captain Hook?” I ask, as I continue to take notes from my seat.

“Yeah, why not?” Rex says with a laugh.

There really was no response for me. I actually know very little about the politics and staples that made up the fallen empire of Dogtown. If Captain Hook was there and not in Neverland, then so be it. I suppose all Jay Adams and Tony Alva would’ve befriended Peter Pan in a vain attempt to stay young. But again, I didn’t know too much about the names that were being thrown around. I recognized them, but their impact wasn’t as powerful on me.

I never saw the documentary Dogtown & Z-Boys and I never saw the whole thing of the movie Lords of Dogtown. I know very little of the skateboarding scene, past or present. So the theology of Jeff Ho and the movement of Zephyr was lost on me, as Chase and Evan talked. I love listening to how things were when skateboarding first started and the idea of young urban pioneers seems like an incredible tale of almost magical storytelling.

But as long as I can remember, I’ve been fascinated with skateboarders and surfers. I used to rent Endless Summer II on VHS on a semi-regular basis. I loved the original, but I was a kid, so the second one, with dialogue and modern themes made much more sense to me. The 1966 documentary was like…my dad’s movie, and the 1994 sequel was mine.

I bring up surfing, just because my interest in surf culture brought about a curiosity in skate culture, though never nearly as prominent. It also was surfing that birthed the skateboarding scene in a sense. And that transition of water to land seemed like an evolution of sorts. Like creatures changing their bodies in order to make good in a new environment while still able to transform the old, surfers became skateboarders, while still being surfers. It was a beautiful evolution, and I suppose it was essentially a matter of Darwin & Z-Boys.

However, for some reason, I never asked my dad to teach me how to surf or my friends how to skateboard. I just liked learning about the culture, treating it as almost some fictional world of literature and cinema. My actual active interests was more in sports at the time, as I rounded out several years in baseball, basketball and soccer. I’d see kids skateboarding and I wouldn’t think much of it, but when my dad would talk about skateboarding being born, I’d treat like he was telling me a ghost story around a campfire. But it’s from a renaissance that he lived through. I mean, my dad’s only three years older than Tony Alva.

So, true to form, we flew on that lonely road out to Trubujo Hills.

Toots & The Maytals plays the entire car ride, while Chase explains the prospects ahead.

“We’re Dogtownin’ it,” he yells back to us with the windows down. “We’re going right to the source.”

We speed by waves of dead grass spanning across hill after hill, and then it was mansion after mansion, and then it was tree after tree, with shade engulfing the street. Soon, we were seeing houses nearly built on other houses, a rustic old world that I didn’t know existed 20 minutes from where I live.

Evan mentions that the pool might be dirty and we’ll have to clean it out with a broom.

“Let’s look for barber shops, see if we can buy one off of them,” says Evan.

“There’s a general store up ahead,” says Chase.

“Keep an eye out for garage sales,” says Rex.

But pretty soon, we take a left at the shady bus stop and pull over to the general store, where Evan buys a broom.

In the makeshift parking lot of dirt, I take some pictures of the general store and of Rex and Jay wandering around.

“I knew you’d be down with being Craig Stecyk,” says to me.

He pauses, and then continues, “Ok, I didn’t know that you’d be down with being Craig Stecyk, but I’m really glad that you are.”

I laugh and we pile back into the car, jet through the shady and dusty underworld of Trubujo Hills, before finding the right streets. Sneaking through the earthy alleyways that snake through the local houses, we finally come to the end of the road.

There’s no mansion.

“Well, she said there’d be a hike, but I didn’t want to tell you,” Chase says to our group. I grab my bag of pens and paper, sling it around my neck and grab the broom. The other four guys carry skateboards, backpacks and a cooler.

And so we hike up the hill.

There’s no sign of anything but wilderness, as we continue up the steep mountain, winding up through the passes. We come to a clearing at the top and look for structures. We see six posts on concrete, but no pool.

Chase points out foot traffic like their animal tracks in the dirt. “That’s a Vans shoe,” he yells, pointing at the dusty trail.

Then, in the distance, a mass of concrete appears like a mirage. Chase runs down the hill cheering, Evan follows and soon, the five of us are standing on a dilapitated wall, staring down at an empty pool, engulfed in graffitti.

The mansion had burned down decades ago, apparently. All that was left of the place was slabs of concrete and tile, while a decaying fountain sat boldly near the front door, or what was once the front door. Now it was just a few nails in the ground. Spraypainted into the ground at the beginning of the garage was “Your mom called and said it was way past your bedtime.”

This was it, the drained Fountain of Youth.

But it wasn’t actually the busted fountain that once sat in the beautiful courtyard of this grand mansion high up on a hill, looking down on the local nothing. It was the empty pool with spraypaint that read “Peace doesn’t always look perfect.”

And if you didn’t look out at the valley of new homes, maybe just keeping your eyes on the pool, it could’ve been any year. None of the graffitti gave away the year. One wall said “Kill your TV” and another had the perfectly manicured lettering of “Foot Tag” with an arrow pointing to a drop-in spot on a makeshift cement ramp.

So the four skateboarders went to [Dog]town while I took pictures. I tried writing poetry, but I had nothing. This was all I wanted. Sitting on the edge of a long abandoned pool in the California hills on a Saturday afternoon, with a view for miles behind me, friends next to me and a cold beer in my hands…I never wanted to go home.

Why would I? I was watching the only example of early skateboarding I’ve ever seen, over three decades after it happed. There was no flashy bullshit, no ego to pander and nothing to prove.

The modern skate culture doesn’t entice me. There’s too much media, too much sponsorship, too much delusion. But there’s no way to avoid it now. It’s what destroyed punk and it’s what changed rock ‘n roll. But every once in a while, you see the dangers of punk and you hear little reminents of the shock that rock ‘n roll once brought, like an apocolypse sold to the highest bidder.

But this…what I saw Saturday, what I did my best to keep fresh in my sunburned mind was truth. It was the matter of true words without some altercation you have in your soul where you start to doubt what you know with your five sense because of all the oulets that have the ability to ravaged your heart, ultimately fixing your gears in a direction you may not think to be right. You feel like you look back over your shoulders, as the media, your teachers, your goddamn elders pull you away from the beating source. One day, you think, I’ll go back to there, but you put it off and fill your time with things you want to do, sure, but you’re not begging the war to stop between your heart and soul. And when those two things inside you agree on something true and you still keep away from what you think is the truth, you’ve got yourself a serious fucking problem.

It’s only a matter of time before you realize that the Fountain of Youth is actually the Fountain of Truth, something uncorrupt to you and those that you know treasure a pull beyond nostalgia. And you can turn it into something more concrete than the empty pool I watched be skated last Saturday. You can turn it into everything that matters to you. You can take your grand adventures, your all-time searches for nothing, your wasteland promises that you always write down when you have something that comes close to the poem you want to spend your whole life writing, and you can turn them into something that will last you into old age.

And deep down, you know what I’m talking about here.

Good Night, Moon. Good Morning, Society.


I had a job interview yesterday.

So, Sunday night, I went to bed around midnight or 1 in order to feel refreshed when I woke up at 8.

But I laid there. And I laid there. And I laid there. And soon it was 2.

“Why can’t I sleep? Why can’t I sleep? Why can’t I sleep?”

And I kept thinking and thinking and thinking. And soon it was 3.

“Oh, and he could then kill that guy…wow, that’d be a rad idea for a movie. What a plot twist.”

And I tossed and turned, tossed and turned, tossed and turned. And soon it was 4.

“I’m not even a little bit sleepy. I should get a haircut tomorrow.”

And my eyes hurt, my eyes hurt, my eyes hurt. And soon it was 5.

“My body aches. I should probably exercise. My stomach feels heavier than my conscience.”

And that’s when I remembered that the street sweeper may come in a few hours, the day after Easter, as I have yet to figure out holiday scheduling for city employees.

So I burst out of the house and down the street in my boxers in a full sprint.

I started up my car (without brake pads) and fired it towards my house because my cold foot slipped. As I hit the curb, jumped the driveway and landed on the lawn, all I could think was, “Oh my god, is this my lawn? I’m pretty sure this is my lawn. I mean, this is my lawn, right?”

I think my mind had broken when the air-conditioner fluttered around 3:30.

But I sat there, nearly naked in the darkness of my car on the front lawn, thinking, “I have a job interview in a few hours. What the hell is going on?”

I continued to sit there and pick at my nails, trying to figure out what I should do. And not just then, but whenever and forever. There wasn’t much of a debate of going to bed or staying where I was. That was the least of my concern, all of a sudden. After hours of counting backwards and begging some dull emptiness to just let me go to sleep, I finally couldn’t think of anything.

Rummaging through my messy car, I pushed in a mixtape I found under my seat. The Ramones came on. Four guys famous for barely being able to sing and play their instruments, and I was having trouble finding a job after working at a national magazine.

What exactly is drifting anyway? At what point do you start to wonder if your borders and boundaries are no more sturdy than the silver lining of a pretty white cloud?

Groucho Marx once had a good quote about something like that, but I couldn’t remember it then, when my hands were slack on the steering wheel that hadn’t driven me anywhere in weeks. I’m sure Woody Allen said something good too. Bob Hope, Katherine Hepburn, Humphrey Bogart…I’m pretty sure they all have good quotes about drifting in life.

But, damn, even Humphrey Bogart co-founded “The Rat Pack” in his most aimless era of drifting. I couldn’t imagine boredom killing that guy if the drinks and smokes hadn’t.

So, after “Bonzo Goes To Bitburg” finished, I took the keys out of the hole and walked back into the house. I didn’t notice the stars and I didn’t care about the moon. Instead, I decided that I wouldn’t invest myself in thinking so much. And then I was asleep within ten minutes.

The next morning, I got dressed for my interview and realized that I hadn’t planned very well. I picked up a black shirt off of my bedroom floor that I thought looks good on me. I ironed it and showered. Later, I realized that it only looks good on me because I always wear it with the sleeves rolled up and the collar undone. Well, the collar doesn’t fit around my neck and the sleeves are too short.

And then I thought of that Christmas from nearly a decade ago when I actually got the shirt from my grandmother.

I also borrowed a tie from my roommate who is much shorter than I am. And his tie was shorter than my torso. But I still have yet to learn how to tie a tie, so I figured the best counter plot was to raised my pants up an inch or two.

“This fucking thing is going to be a disaster, isn’t it?” I asked my mirror, as I realized that I hadn’t missed a few hairs when I shaved the other day.

I ended up in Irvine at a place called Innovation Way and suddenly felt like I was in a half-hearted and overdone indie film. The irony was obnoxious and enticing.

After finally deciding that I wasn’t in the wrong building or office, I was approached by a fast-moving twenty-something with a headset cranking. This was suddenly seeming like the beginning to a musical about how busy corporate life is in New York City, I thought.

Jesus, who’s the patron saints of corporate team-building?

Though all were very polite, nobody knew anyone.

“I’m looking for Hunter,” I said.

“Hunter, Hunter, Hunter…I don’t think I know who that is. Hey Kevin, do you know who Hunter is?” the headset twenty-something said.

“I know the name, but not the face,” Kevin replied from his half-cubicle.

I was so confused, that when someone randomly walked by and asked, “Are you Jake?”, my reply was almost, “I think so.”

Soon, I was in an unused office, after zipping by name tags and typing fingers. I was interviewed by four separate managers. Question after question about advertising and I was soon confident that I had no idea what I was doing there. It sounds like a great place to work, but the mail this morning said that I was awarded unemployment and would be paid to sit at home and go swimming this summer.

The hour and a half was over before I was sure I had given any real answers.

And then I was outside in the cheerful afternoon sunlight next to a sign that read “Innovation Way,” shaking my head, wondering where I had been for the last few years and deciding to just go on a goddamn bike ride.

You can’t be too lost if you at least have bike rides, I figured.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

A Travis Bickle Summer


I was laid off from my job last week.

Some background information: I worked as an editorial assistant and blogger for a national business magazine. It was a screwy exit. This was the fourth round of layoffs since August and everyone in the art, editorial and online content department were taking on extra tasks and duties. Then, a month ago, we were told that there would be no raises, while not-so-secretly, the VPs and such received bonuses. More figures for six figures, I suppose, and no incentives for the ones actually doing work. The horses are being whipped while the farmers are laying around eat their carrot-on-a-string.

This, of course, screwed up my perspective of business.

To be fair, the entire journalism industry is taking a nose-dive. There are massive layoffs everywhere and several long-standing publications and periodicals have closed within the last year.

No, what bothers me is that my former magazine took a personal nose-dive of character. There were damn fine people working there still when the nearly dozen of us were laid off, but they weren’t in places of power.

When I started there as an intern, the editor-in-chief knew my name by the second day and the editors were supportive. There were birthday lunches and photo albums on the shelf. There were still shady vice-presidents, but they never interacted with my family of art and editorial.

Then, disgruntled with the suits upstairs, the editor-in-chief and other editors left to start their own business.

And then we made a puppet hire or two for those suits upstairs.

And then good people got laid off.

And then everyone wasn’t so nice to each other.

And then some higher-ups brought in their friends and turned our informative magazine into puffier pieces.

And then the magazine wasn’t so fun anymore.

So, when I was laid off, I wasn’t heartbroken. But I was finding myself increasingly disillusioned and disenfranchised. I took the $3,800 I made from servence and decided to rethink things. I don’t want to work for liars and hypocrites anymore. I want peace and purity in my leaders.

And I want some leverage.

Yesterday, I considered what I wanted. Summer’s coming and I have no job, a situation that reminds me of when I was 16 and the most important things to me had no relevancy to tax breaks. I sent out a resume yesterday and came home to watch my friend change his oil. Wearing a bathing suit, I drank a beer on the front lawn and just watched the oil drain out. I couldn’t tell if I was tired, bored or having a great time. The weather was perfect and, again, I thought about my next job, whatever it may be.

Until then, I figured I should just provide myself with minor victories. I should be able to cross off the 100 Greatest Movies of All-Time. I’m at 60-something right now and in the next few months, I should complete the list.

So, last night, I watched Taxi Driver.

And then something funny happened: Travis Bickle started making sense. One thing after another, Bickle was laying down the universal truth, and I was uncomfortable without how I identified with the weirdo loner’s simultaneous apathy and empathy.

I thought he was…talkin’ to me. “Yes, Travis Bickle, I am talkin’ to you. You’re the only one here and I am talkin’ to you,” I thought.

Granted, I was sleep-deprived and unsure if I was hungry or antsy. But Bickle’s slow descent into madness or hyper-realization was sparking plugs inside my wirey body.

Either way…Travis Bickle was speaking some truth.

“The days go on and on… they don’t end. All my life needed was a sense of some place to go. I don’t believe that one should devote his life to morbid self-attention. I believe that one should become a person like other people,” Bickle wrote in his journal in his small, untidy apartment.

How could that not apply to the unemployed?

“My life has taken another turn again. The days can go on with regularity over and over, one day indistinguishable from the next. A long continuous chain,” Bickle narrated as he wrote another journal entry.

This almost seemed paraphrased from my roommates, who have all been unemployed for months. One roommate has been technically unemployed since December 2007, another since November 2008 and another on-and-off since January. They always talk about how days bleed into each other when you have no timetable of a desk job or sick days or vacation days or the plights of a morning carpool.

But I remember coming home from work to antics and stories, all while I was typing in a cubicle, counting planes from my window (by the way, in the course of my job, I saw 181 commercial planes, 102 non-commercial planes and 41 helicopters).

I felt like I was missing out.

But how, or is, life wasteful without a career? Is it more booze or more to prove?

And then you can’t sleep. I mean, why go to bed? You don’t have a day job. You just have sheets and blankets that seem useless to you now. You think you can stay up all night and do everything and nothing. You have no school, no work. Friday at 10:30 a.m. has the same tone as Sunday evening 6:30 a.m.

To you, Saturday night, 2 a.m., is Tuesday morning, 6 a.m.

“I still can’t sleep. Damn. Days go on and on. They don’t end.”

You’ve got it, Travis. You have hold of something terrible and beautiful.

You are my new reverend.

The Reverend Travis Bickle, God’s lonely man…he is surely a truthseer and truthspeaker.

“Someday a real rain will come and wash all this scum off the streets.”

Huzzah! Huzzah!

But what now, Reverend Bickle? What say you now for the future and of me and all that is this? What are you going to do, and in turn, what should I do?

“I’ve got to get in shape now. Too much sitting has ruined my body. Too much abuse has gone on for too long. From now on, it’ll be 50 push-ups each morning, 50 pull-ups. There will be no more pills. There will be no more bad food. No more destroyers of my body. From now on, it will be total organization. Every muscle must be tight.”

And so I follow the Reverend Travis Bickle. I’ll do what he says. I’ll get in shape and never work for another liar or hypocrite again. I’m gonna run the fucking show now.

“Listen, you fuckers, you screwheads. Here is a man who would not take it anymore. A man who stood up against the scum, the cunts, the dogs, the filth, the shit. Here is a man who stood up.”

You’re goddamn right, Travis Bickle. The reverend is goddamn right.