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.

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463 Words About Drinkin’

That ain’t no 25 year old liver tucked in them particular guts, and though a slight baby face might survive in some circles, the spine and stamina of this man’s mellowing age have been severely tested by those fresher and more vital than him.

My god, the sheer velocity of how a youth can drink and continue to forge into the wee morning is a staggering display of blind power. It’s the identical arsenal of alcoholic ambition that once led me and my friends into asphalt astral travels and slight brushes with the law. By age 16 and most likely around 8 pm, the front of my clothes would be definitely moist with beer and bourbon. My rear jeans pocket kept a gnarled, half crushed box of red Marlboros or a small apparatus of lamp parts and receipts for record albums bought at Django or 2nd Ave. Records the day before. We had great fun, unstoppable forces of rebellion thinking we’re too cool for anything because we knew it all. (We knew less than jack.) But we still caroused and aroused the neighborhood and I even had an ignorant little chip on my shoulder that was kept in place by the foot of my conscience. I always imagined it to be a tiny Mrs. Barham, our school office lady, in a little angel outfit.

The wild experiments of chemical-testing young, pink livers and burgeoning adolescent brains with voluminous tipping of sour mash whiskey seems like one of the dumbest things one can do to their bodies.

Nowadays, when a hangover strikes, it drops like a heavy storm with a head-stomping of solid lead from The Monster of Mixing Booze and Beer and/or The Beast of Drinking Past Dawn. These nefarious creatures are most certainly conjured up from the reckless debauchery that seemed like such good ideas but just turned the previous evening into a slapstick blur. No other chemical can begin as an alcohol-driven, jet propulsion melee of dancing, laughing and wonderful foolishness and then inevitably, like a Swiss watch, ends like bombs from an airplane, the sodden bodies drop after hours of saturation, crashing to the carpet or linoleuem or onto any random piece of furninture. I don’t recall ever having a hangover until after I turned 30 and then I had them every day. Just kidding. But seriously. It was every other.

I’ve no business in attempting to drink up and keep up with someone 15 years my junior, it just ain’t worth the pain and dry-heaving humiliation. People say age doesn’t matter, “it’s how old you feel,” and I say that I feel as old as Stonehenge when I go out and play with twenty-somethings. They all suck, their stupid metabolism and fresh kidneys make them energetic booze repositories. Or is it “depositories”? Regardless, they all suck.

All I Wanted Was A Pepsi

suicidalIn the early 90’s I used to roll around town in a developing mullet. Those days were rife with rebellion and destruction whereas I had just discovered this dirty, mostly British, violent political noise called punk and long-haired, headbanging songs of guitar solos and secret devil signs. I was indeed on the brink of my salad days, walking around with a scowl and a chip on my shoulder during a time when my only source of stress was my school and my curfew. If only I knew of the tension and bottled insanity that awaited me in adulthood I would have listened to much more Ace of Base and Bryan Adams and saved the heavy stuff for when I got a job and had to slave alongside chimpanzees dressed like people. Where competence was a foreign word and “I’m both and idiot and a tool” was the common moniker, I seem to have wasted all the intense music while I was carefree and young.

By “roll around town” I mean walking, skating, taking the bus or riding my chrome Mongoose around (until it got stolen by some jerk offs in Gresham, Oregon.)

Used to drink, used to rock, used to party in the park in ripped jeans and brainstorm ways to get little bags of weed we smoked out of pop cans on playground play structures. Adolescence was the time you either flew high or flew right. I was doomed to be the former first, then the latter later.

Memorial Coliseum Assembly Hall was a concrete bunker beneath the grand glass box that was Portland’s largest arena at the time. An underground sweat-hole where rock bands too small to fill the real joint up above would hunker down for the capacity crowd in the basement and blow the kids’ eardrums clean out of their skulls. Those shows were some of the roughest I ever saw and when Suicidal Tendencies came to town from Los Angeles, the sheer violence in the pit rivaled any thrash fest I’d seen.

I had a leather jacket and a Levi jacket with the sleeves ripped off and on the denim I had my aunt sew a Suicidal Tendencies patch across the back. It was so great because the adults couldn’t read it but all my friends could.

Turned out one day in the 9th grade I was walking out of a downtown Portland McDonalds and got my ass severely whipped by 4 guys who didn’t like Suicidal’s music, apparently. They definitely didn’t like my mullet because they had shaved heads. That was my first taste of getting a certifiable beat down in front of bystanders and all I really remember was me throwing a few but taking a lot more lumps and those waiting for the bus just watched. No one said a word. I suppose no one wanted 4 skins beating them up, either. That patch on my back then became my badge of badassness. I didn’t take it off until a year after I graduated.

Skinheads terrify me, though, even today. Yikes. Who wouldn’t be afraid of a drunken and pointlessly violent contingent of the world’s most supreme ignorati?

MLC and Me

My interesting little life in Portland, Oregon truly began as a 2nd grader at Metropolitan Learning Center in the old Couch School building on Glisan Street. It was an “alternative school” which back then meant that I was too smart to sit still with rest of the muddling 2nd graders in town and needed to flourish at an alternative pace. Incidentally, “my alternative pace” was described as being perpetually inattentive and terribly disruptive to the learning process of others. I will never know the other behavior symptoms that were prerequisites for enrollment but am assured that a few kids had some similar to my own (all of whom I would befriend later). By the time I left that school I had learned more about the world during my primary and middle school grades than I would ever learn in high school or the 10 subsequent years of dropping in and out of college.

Despite being a public school, when the word “alternative” is used to describe such a school, it becomes perfect fodder for students from neighboring “regular” schools. The buses would stop at different schools and they would pick up some of the nastiest little creatures from nearby Chapman and those kids would always make fun of us but we knew they were just jealous of our curriculum and liberty (off campus lunch hour, imagine 5th graders running the streets like freed zoo animals) so they would always be mere Chapmanites to us.

Everyone who went to MLC loved the school and I attribute it for showing me the intricacies and beauties of human interaction, not so much with a textbook or homework but instead by having actual human interactions. They would treat you like a short adult instead of a daipered ignoramus.

We called our teachers by their first name. Lower grade students mingled with high schoolers. Everyday after lunch period we would have elective classes, like drawing, photography, building and creating things, learning to find our niches and talents. Every afternoon would be different than the last, they taught us to embrace our interests and cultivate individual curiosity, which wasn’t commonly encouraged in “normal” school settings.

My favorite class was a 6th grade elective every Tuesday and Thursday for an hour called “Beatles and Drawing”. Taught by a charming and grizzled man named Siegie, the class was probably his favorite since it was essentially kids listening to The Beatles and drawing for an hour. I can’t draw worth a bean but I write okay and that’s plenty for me. Writing about that particular class sounds silly now but because of such classes I one day went to Vietnam for a year to live each day like it was my last.

MLC has helped me become the restless and inattentive wayward man that I am today and this post has encouraged me to write plenty more on this sweet, sweet memory of a place.

Sexting In America

Apparently, cyberbullying is out and sexting is in and you would think that spreading love instead of hate would be a good thing.

I was around 9 or 10 when I showed the neighbor girl my little lizard and she showed me her little muffin. I don’t know how normal that was but I’m glad I wasn’t hauled in for coercion, it was after all, my idea to meet by the bushes on the side of the house.

When I was a kid I did crazy things and luckily I was reasonably smart enough to know when to draw the line. But regardless of environment and influences, growing up will always be a constant roll of the dice for parents and children.

I read that teenagers caught sending or keeping racy pictures of each other via cell phone (“sexting“) may be slapped with child pornography charges. I don’t know whether to laugh or weep. Can we seriously use the same laws against those we’re trying to protect?

Can anyone define “racy” or “offensive”? Is it a lesser crime if it’s semi nudity? What if dirty words are attached? Let’s say the family dog was in the background, does Fido deem some horrible bestiality charge as well? Will any of this be graded on a curve?

Have we gotten to the point with our kids where since we can’t relate with them on a technological level we quit trying on an emotional one? So instead of having a conversation about pre-maritel sex or how stupid it is to take a picture of your hoo-ha and send it to all your friends, we’ll just give them criminal records and label them sex offenders? I guess that’ll learn ’em real good.

We all knew the boys in school who had to fight everybody. We all knew the girls in school who were easy. We all know now it was because they had self-image issues that caused such behavior. It’s actually quite natural because aside from some extreme cases, they usually turn out to be normal, regular everyday people.

Kids are going to make-out in the 6th grade. Kids are going to sneak out of the house at 15. Kids at that age are also going to “sext” (what a stupid word) each other whether we spank them, ground them, or legislate ridiculously dangerous laws against them. Don’t make talking with them a last resort. Roll them bones with confidence and have faith in your kids.

It must be nice to be a teenager and set all this precedence in front of administrators and lawmakers who might actually benefit from a little sexting themselves. All the while making parents crazy on numerous levels.

And I Don’t Mean “Enter Sandman”

It was the summer between my 7th and 8th grade year and I was just discovering all the wonderful nuances of girls, exploring my own nooks and crannies and slowly developing my adolescent social skills into finely honed weapons of high school survival.

Back when music was pressed and recorded onto media called cassettes and vinyl albums, record companies would advertise mail-order bargains that seemed too good to be true to a mulleted 14 year old boy. 12 records for a penny! A bona fide one cent coin with Lincoln’s head on it could acquire 12 albums of whatever they had catalogued and all I had to do was buy one record a month for five years or something. 14 year-old boys don’t think that far ahead of their zipper and stomach.

Needless to say, when that cardboard package arrived 8-12 weeks later my love affair with Heavy Metal Molten Hard Rock was born. My life changed between the time it took opening the box and laying the needle down.

When I was in the sixth grade my friend had an older brother (thank god for bad older brothers) who had this poster on his wall with these crazy guys on it and my friend kept telling me how great they were. A year and a half later Columbia House had Ride The Lightning delivered to my house and as I listened to the first track I literally felt my testosterone well up and run down my legs as I was filled with this wonderful, furious noise. It explained all my frustration, confusion and ambition through abusive power chords and relentless pounding drums. I kneeled in front of my record player and became an instant hound for aggressive, obnoxious music that would eternally anger teachers, frighten parents and guarantee me to never hold hands with the pretty preppie girls.

I was in love with 4 men from San Francisco but a few months later I cheated on Metallica with some guys named Slayer and it’s been beautifully downhill ever since.

Simultaneously, 3 black guys from New York City introduced me to a whole ‘nother sound that would also terrorize authority figures and every girl who carried an Esprit bag. But that’s a whole different post.

Like a distinct smell, music defines a moment more than any kind of memory.

Spanky McCoy

When I was in the 7th grade I had a friend named Spanky McCoy. He had just transferred in like I did but he was from South Philly and I was from North Portland. We met each other at our new middle school in the west hills and I knew when I met him that his reasons for being there were not so different than mine.

He wore a beat up mesh Freightliner hat and showed me how to smxxx pxx through a ball point pen while hiding in the tall grass during lunch break. He also once stopped the elevator in his building and opened the door so we could peer down 16 stories of dark, empty shaft.

We were our best friends because we couldn’t relate well with the spoiled, affluent little pricks of the Prada student body and being 13 meant learning to hate what you didn’t have and hate even more those who didn’t understand. Ah, the innocent passion of youth!

That time of my life was terribly transitional and most of what I learned in middle school followed me to high school where I truly assumed I understood the human condition. How people are selfish, opportunistic, material and self-involved to the point of needing to be thrown from a ledge. By the same token some people are good spirited, generous, accepting and respect the wishes and differences of others.

Spanky McCoy taught me to disregard that last sentence because he believed that deep down everyone wanted something. No matter who they are they’re trying to benefit themselves and only themselves.

It was shortly thereafter that I decided I liked pretty girls more than I liked Spanky McCoy.