Cigarettes Pt. 1

Long before there were any notches on a beat-down headboard or a depraved selection of stories of how the notches got there, before jobs or deadlines, before past due notices and pleading no contest, there were cigarettes.

The second gateway drug after your friend’s mom and dad’s Kahlua and peppermint schnapps.

The daily dope of yellowing fingernails and raspy morning hacks, the hourly desire to tap the vein and choke the throat with that stinky, sweet tightening of every wonderful inhale…

6th grade. 1985. Metropolitan Learning Center. Northwest Portland, Oregon. Off-campus lunch hour. The Gypsy was a vast, dingy, dark neighborhood lounge where filthy day-drinkers and junkies hoping to escape the light of the afternoon often dwelled. In its doorway stood a cigarette machine that had a picture of a Marlboro cowboy corralling a herd of something while gripping a Full Flavor between his teeth. This was the notorious machine where the schoolkids would sneak into the bar’s entryway and stuff the machine with quarters and pull the knob that delivered those wonderful, brightly colored parcels of contraband.

One day it was Reed’s turn to get the smokes. Never having gone into The Gypsy or even began to fathom what a truly legendary dive bar it was, his introduction to such a venue was monumental. His eyes and mind were forever and beautifully wrecked for seeing such dimly lit debauchery thickly wallowing in a cloud of silent drinking and cigarette smoke.

As to not be spotted by the bartender, this child trembling, pushed what he hoped were enough coins into this towering machine. Frantic with nerves, he quickly saw the camel, that universal desert animal, dirty with gold and dust on its emblem and pulled the plastic, crystal knob that loudly delivered the cigarettes into the dispenser.

Reaching in, he snatched the smokes and booked it out the door, panting, dizzy, victorious.

Reed’s friends, standing across the street at the theater doorway, giggled and ran towards him as he swaggered down 21st Ave, the cock of the cigarette walk. He tossed the pack over his shoulder at the bunch and then watched his delinquent pals groan with disappointment. “C’mon, man, what the hell is this?”
“Whaddya mean,” Reed asked.
“Dude, these are straights.”
“Straights?”
“Yeah. Straights. No filter. Tobacco in your mouth. Lung burn! Short and not sweet, have you ever tried them? How are we supposed to smoke these? Gross. You smoke ’em, they’re all yours,” throwing the pack back at Reed in disgust.

Be ready to sacrifice yourself to the gods of vice should you choose to live such a life of experience, excitement and excess. There will be a day when you’re compelled to ingest chemicals you’re not confident in. A day when you will be expected to finish off the rest of the drugs, a moment when, you alone, will have to reckon with the fact that your partners in crime will abruptly leave you high and dry the minute you think everything is great.

Live, Love, Laugh, Crash

A month laid up and a year gone off.

Here’s the lay of the land. The splayed wide openness of what I understand:

Horrendous separation and even more gruesome motorcycle crash. At least they were both quick in their bite despite being long with their resolution. All in a year’s work. In a year’s fight, a year’s struggle flush with pain and adventure.

Two dozen feet from point of impact to where my body came to a stop. On a sidewalk. Across the street. Two bones broken poking up through the skin like a splintered tree. Pup tent on a pant leg, picked it up and it was like a sack of broken parts, my boot twisted around like hands on a clock. Never lost consciousness, never forgot who I was or what just happened. Never not knew that someone just broke the law right before I broke my leg.

It takes a certain mettle to deter the depression that wallows in these hollows, this haunt of a beautiful apartment becomes a narrow prison if not checked. Injury that limits mobility and independence will always take the form of an angry, rabid animal that eventually wants to break through walls with its head and roar furiously to freedom. Sequestered from voices, vices, severed from the flesh of society, best leash that beast, boy.

This couch, no matter how nice the leather, there’s a blanket over it. Protecting what, I’m unsure of. Commanding this sofa into oblivion, resting, hurting, healing, watching great television.

Anyone who tells you that life is short are wrong. Life is long and full of beauty and madness. Unless you’re a child. That died. That joke was from Louie CK, who, hands down, has the most poignant and tragically beautiful television show in all of pop culture.

The dog knows. She goes slow, watching my legs, is calm and obedient in the face of my broken, wary gait. Waits as I finally sit down until she ambles up, begging for pets and play.

There isn’t any amount of gratitude that is enough for me to have for everyone who has and still is contributing to this certain convalesence.

 

Bang Bang, Vroom Vroom

Nothing is easy.
Everything is pleasing
and adventure is teasing
but the moments
we’re seizing
are so unbelieving
I’m amazed that you’ve stayed
to recognize this feeling.

Nothing is stopping us from leaving.
There is no rationale or real reason
why we brush skin and share passing grins
and escape this place every evening.

Everything is easy.
Finding beauty in darkness
catching love in one’s starkness
reminding us we’re needing
a friend, a lover, laughter feeding
on each other
like how silly boys like bleeding
and how little girls like healing.

Everything is allowing us to remain.
There is no gain in woe or to complain,
alongside we share a glimpse of this life
as we navigate this amazingly strange terrain.

This whole planet is nothing but feelings
whether concealing, revealing or stealing.

You be the entertainer, I’ll be the sly conniver.
You be the gun waver, I’ll be the getaway driver.

Bang bang, vroom vroom.
It’s just us in this crowded room.

Behind This Smile Lies A Face 30 Minutes away

there is an incredible liberation that occurs when getting away from the city and burying yourself deep in the suburbs. new and foreign grocery stores, outlying sprawling mini malls of chains and bland corner plazas, the lights take forever and the traffic is awful but the pure anonymity is like clean water washing over me.

The Taste of Music

My dad used to sing me Neil Young and Uncle Remus.

Then he showed me David Bromberg, The Rolling Stones and Tchaikovsky.

I was at my neighbor’s house when Black Dog gave my little boy body wide-eyed convulsions.

There was a Tuesday afternoon elective at my school called “Beatles and Drawing.” It was a half hour of listening to the Beatles and drawing whatever you wanted. I was 9 years old. MLC…sigh.

I was a 10 year old when my friend mentioned that his big brother bought Kill ‘Em All and it took me 2 more years of Madonna and New Wave until I finally understood what he said that day.

My first concert was George Thorogood and the Delaware Destroyers at Portland’s Civic Auditorium in 1986. The following year my dad took me to my first indie show, Screaming Trees with The Dwarves at Pine Street Theater. That’s how cool my dad was.

When my family broke up I moved schools and went from being raised among the culture of the city to now having to explore adolescence deep in the Eastside suburbs, my life took a serious turn. My lifelines were License To Ill, Legacy of Brutality, N.W.A. Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables, It Takes A Nation and in the 8th grade my friend brought over G.B.H., Jimi Hendrix, L7 and Slayer records and we played them all until the needle broke and my brain melted like soft ice cream.

I was neck-deep in a suburban white neighborhood and it was then that I realized I could either be a product of my bland environment or make a conscious decision to live and think for myself.

Anything that flaunted the system and mocked the establishment, the music that protested corruption, oppression and used passion and adrenaline to express their discontent was music I subsisted on, endlessly blaring into my Walkman. I was an only child who just lost his mother and was now living an hour-long bus ride away from the comfort of downtown. Music was the only thing I listened to because I certainly wasn’t hearing any of my teachers or relatives.

On those bus rides I understood why some people listen to bubblegum pop and others just…don’t.

I found this and this at the record store while dropping out of college. Twice.

My friend at Tower Records told me to buy Pretty Hate Machine. I bought it on title alone.

I showed my best friend the Marshall Mathers LP when it first came out and we played it continuously in his 88 Mustang GT.

A friend came to my house and she showed me Glass Animals.

I went to my friend’s house and she showed me 21 Pilots.

Though words and pictures are like my harem, it is music that leads my beautiful life from darkness into today.

Go. Go Now.

I’ve never been to the South. Never stood in a sweltering street and watched big trees sway in the slow wind.

I’ve never been to the Midwest. Never stood in a sweltering street and watched busses barrel by on long, flat roads.

I’ve never been to Alaska or Hawaii.

Or Africa. Or Europe. South America. Australia.

I believe there is packing to be done.

West Side Story

The sub rural streets deep in the west side of Portland are so incredible I have decided to never trade them for anything else. For now.

Woodsy, early and midcentury architecture lie hidden and overrun by old growth evergreens, asphalt veins and forested hills.

These outlying grocery stores, quaint little shops and bland mini malls are filled with faces and families I’m happily unfamiliar with. My weird need for anonymity outweighs any desire for banal friendliness towards anyone whom I randomly know.

Learning new winding routes and each important thoroughfare through these narrow, pine tree streets has been both thrilling and exasperating. They’re all so unknown so they’re unpredictable and convoluted.

Deep west side now shows my best side.

I really do kinda love it all.