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.”
“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.


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.

You Call THIS the Longest Day of the Year?

First day of summer this year came numb and quiet like how I escape a room and when no one interesting is around.

This life is so weird. So quick to change and turn on you, unpredictable and unprecedented, nature will devour you or embrace you, if you’re lucky you’ll feel a little of both.

I once told a woman that I felt better being alone because that was the only way I knew how to be. Comfortably. Then I realized by watching my father’s nobility towards my mother and saw that despite relationships not being clearly defined by how society measures success, a union of love will always be that. Love. Alone or not.

My best friend as I was growing up had parents that gave kids refuge both in their home and in their hearts, it was an unconditional respite from whatever was troubling us back then. As I was forging my adolescence through the darkness of sickness and death, I found myself under the wing of my friend’s father and his influence and wisdom brought me from the edge of certain indelible mistakes that has plagued many a boy far better than I. He overwhelmingly helped make me the somewhat charming and fun guy before you today.

First day of this particular summer is the day marked for fathers. All that I’ve learned from the men that love me gives me an absolute and beautiful power that seems to grow with every day, every decision and every relationship.

The love in being alone or with someone is love I’ve learned from mothers and fathers. But today, the first day of summer is the first day of something I’ve been practicing for forever.

Reid Rockatansky

Let me tell you about my relationship with Max Rockatansky. He’s a real dreamboat. A real cool guy. A real survivor.

I first watched Mad Max in the summer of my 5th grade year at my friend Josh’s house during one of his birthday parties. Man, birthday parties back then were the business. When you’re a kid everything is so monumental and over the top, birthdays were a chance to plan deviance and recklessly cause trouble outside of school hours, school rules and school grounds.

I remember the movie was randomly playing in one of the rooms and only a couple of my friends were watching it but Josh’s older brother and all his friends were sitting silent so I sat and glued myself to this VHS screening of what turned out to be one of the grittiest and baddest ass movies ever. Dirty. Violent. Characters so vivid and ornately costumed, big, loud engines, motorcycles and hot rods, choppy, vulgar slang-filled dialogue made a young boy such as myself stare fixed into that big TV screen as if nothing else mattered.

I always hated my friends’ older brothers for being such pricks but that day was one that changed my life forever.

Max was everything that embodied what I wanted to be. An ambivalent and quiet loner with a dog and a fast car, only made mad when pushed by the evil that men do, but a man with no particular destination, wandering, gunslinging for survival, searching for gas, dressed in hard leather.

I would from then on crave to watch the dark and tragic anti-heroes who were hopelessly at odds with the world and their own morality. The romance of hating those who love you or just plain realizing that everyone eventually will let you down for their own gain would be steadfast and hard-edged codes that this little boy, possibly unfortunately, would holster in his core as he wandered the wasteland that was the playground.

Rabbit The Dog

Lost dog
Apparent spring,
March forth into new wilds
With fresh beginnings.

Speckled and slung with a nose searching mischief,
Wild and running into nighttime waiting eyes,
Feral though loyal, Rabbit sought her reasons
Buried in dark evenings and when she found
The right time she returned to the sky.
Brilliant animal whose sly wit and cunning advantage
Made monkeys of people and prodigies of dogs.
Brown marks concealing her form
Against the green of Oregon’s arms
Allowed her liberty to stalk and prod
Up and down neighborhoods and wetlands.
Bound in the house during times of youth
Stifling the fury in her animal bones
Containing such raucous desire
Proved the finish of many chewable objects
Her belly was the mecca for faces and rubbing,
Clean your ears and throw her soft spots at you
Only hands could restrain her fence-breaking ways.
No trash bin safe
Or rodent nearby, no feline was clear
Until the dog found more interesting distractions.
Jumping like some dingo kangaroo
Towards the towering trees that held squirrels safe,
The beast in her skin just wanted to play.
And say hi.

Colonel Hottie, Wilma Deering

Thanks to the magic of internet television, I’ve officially rekindled a love affair that started over 25 years ago, an unrequited, pre-adolescent obsession that almost led me to enlist in the military. If only it were the 25th century!

Her outfits had to literally be sewn around her body, silver spandex with a holstered laser gun, oh the power she helmed! It was a 1980’s 4th grader’s toss-up between Col. Wilma Deering from the Buck Rogers TV show and Lynda Carter’s glamorous Wonder Woman. Wilma was hardcore, who had a sense of realism, no invisible jet, just an alpha strut of sleek uniformed authority. Wonder Woman may have run around in hot pants and a bustier (bless her), but Wilma Deering was almost always covered, never having to show skin since her business was all about whipping ass instead of wasting time with alter egos or using cleavage to dispense justice. Erin Gray portrayed one of the first leading ladies of television who was truly intelligent and independent from the will of men, a woman who outranked the leading male character while making all other men (and budding little boys) dutifully tune in each week for a glimpse of her doling out seventies sex appeal like the stern sci-fi military queen she was.

Moreover, Wilma Deering wasn’t bioinic or wore bracelets that could deflect bullets from a gun. But she was, by god, a superhero both boys and girls could look up to, and the first woman to break this little boy’s heart.

10 Years In A Barrel

I walk by my old grade school about every other day. I walk through the park where we played football, where my friend was Dan Marino and I was Steve Largent and I caught bombs from him all day long. It was here, where by 6th grade us boys were terrorizing them girls but also learning to slowly caress them then finally bragging about  how we made out with them.

The whiskey is Eagle Rare bourbon and it rests in oak barrels for a decade before bottles of it are carefully filled and 10 years never meant that much until this very moment as I’m writing this. My best friend jumped into a night-time skyline 10 years ago today so now I toast his soul, for as I sit alone, I’m never without him.

My schoolyard, my friend, my booze.

It’s true how when they keenly abuse

their chemicals and bodies soon

resign and refuse

to be something other than someone we lose.

In a post script, Niagara Falls is where barrels, nuptials and suicides coincide like a car crash amidst a holiday parade or a cruise liner sinking in a beautiful tropical bay.