A 50 page excerpt from
One Man’s Adventures in the American Work Place(s)
One Man’s Adventures in the American Work Place(s)
Keith Lowell Jensen
Click here to download a word document of this text.
Keith Lowell Jensen
Click here to download a word document of this text.
Workin' at KFC (pages 11 - 16)
For hours my mom drove me from fast food joint to fast food joint. I filled out an application at each. At one grease pit I actually made it past the application stage. They invited me to come back on Thursday at 2 p.m. when they did interviews. I arrived early and took a seat alongside a half dozen other hopefuls.
A plain woman wearing the button-down dress shirt and tie that differentiated managers from polo-shirt-wearing drones introduced herself and sat down to talk with the first person in line. I listened in, hoping to get a few tips as the heavyset, sloppily dressed applicant explained that she'd just gotten out of a recovery home and was trying to start a new life.
“Well, I guess I got this one beat.” I thought.
Dress-shirt lady asked the hopeful young drug addict if she was going to “meetings.” She sure was. And wouldn't you know it? The queen bee burger flipper was an “anonymous” substance abuser, too.
The rest of us were given a rousing thank you for coming to the interview and told the position was filled!
I wanted to protest. I wanted to ask how she could be so sure that we weren't all in recovery after being big screw-ups too. Hell, maybe we were even bigger jerks than this girl! I could have been a heroin addict or a molester of puppies, if she'd just given me a chance. Line me up some coke, I'll show you what a moron I am. Here, look! I'm touching myself right now. I've got problems really!
I bit my tongue and left. With her usual maternal wisdom, my mom advised me to shake it off and keep applying. She drove me to the next bout of humiliation.
My friend Robbie, a drug casualty who was not in recovery, called me that night to tell me he'd gotten a job at Der Wienerschnitzel. Now this stung. Robbie had a car and was able to get a job in the next city, where his reputation was less well-known, but there's no way he should have been employed before me.
I went out the next day with renewed determination and drive. My mom and I stopped at the local Kentucky Fried Chicken, and there behind the counter was Greg Weston.
I had a few classes with Greg’s little brother, Brooke. Brooke would have made a great frat boy, had he gone to college. Instead he was a really hyper stoner who was forever searching for the perfect way to call me, and the rest of the world, a fag: “What’s up gay lord, cock lover, nancy boy, suck master, ass captain?”
Unlike his brother, Greg was the hippest guy I knew. He had great hair, listened to The Smiths and managed to keep his eyelids half-closed even when he raised his eyebrows. Greg was perfect.
I tried to be as cool as a cup of KFC coleslaw as I approached the counter and asked for an application. I said hello to Greg only after it was in my hands so my intent would be absolutely clear.
"Oh, you're applying for a job. Julie, this is Keith, he's a friend of my brother's." I said hello to Julie, the woman who’d handed me the application. I didn't mention that I actually didn't care for Brooke much, nor that Brooke regarded me as just another probable homosexual in planet crawling with homosexuals.
"Do you actually want to work here or do you just have to fill out applications for school?" Greg asked.
I wanted to work there. I really wanted to work there. I wanted to be able to buy endless piles of cassette tapes and to go out to eat without my parents. Amazingly enough, I wanted to put on the horrid beige-and-brown uniform and paper hat. I wanted to wear the name tag. I wanted to take another step towards independence, towards being a grown up.
"I would like to work here!" I blurted.
"Well, put my name down where it asks how you heard of Kentucky Fried Chicken, only put Chance. My name's Chance now."
Damn Greg was cool. Way too cool to be a Greg. He was definitely a Chance. Minutes later, I handed Chance my completed application and restrained the desire to skip to where mom was waiting in the car. I hopped in the passenger sear with a big grin and told her I had an “in.”
Two anxious days passed and then I was back for my interview with Jim, who owned 51% of this franchise location. The interview, which he conducted from a script in a white three-ring binder, was a series of questions like:
If a co-worker was stealing money would you
a) Tell them to stop
b) Mind your own business
c) Tell a manager
They got progressively trickier. What if the thieving co-worker took care of his ailing mother? Woah! Heavy. What if it wasn't much money, just a few bucks here and there?
I wondered what kind of subnormal would be tripped up by this amazing psychological wizardry. Not me. A week later, I was hired.
I attended orientation at The Kentucky Fried Chicken Training Center, a classroom in the back of a KFC in a nearby city. Along with many other newbies from the surrounding area, I watched a film detailing the life and accomplishments of Colonel Sanders, founder of KFC and the genius behind the top-secret recipe of eleven herbs and spices. I was most disappointed to discover that I would not be trusted with this secret. The spices came pre-mixed.
Orientation complete, I took my place on the prep line. I made pies and filled cups with coleslaw, mashed potatoes, and other gooey stuff. I hate to think how many pounds of chocolate pudding I ate. Never mind minimum wage; having all the chocolate pudding I could eat meant I was a rich man. At first I'd wait until break time to eat, but I soon learned how to sneak a few bites behind the line. I figured out I could fit a whole Chicken Little sandwich in my mouth at once. I just needed the boss to turn his head for a second and I was fed. Those miniature chicken sandwiches were the only non-dessert item at KFC that I didn't get totally sick of within the first month. Bless you Chicken Littles. I also consumed at least a gallon of Coca-Cola a day.
I did well enough on the line, or the boss noticed food costs rising, and I was moved up front to the register. I loved dealing with the customers. Having real live people to talk to, rather than Styrofoam cups, made the time go much more quickly. Sure, sometimes we'd run out of chicken and people would get pissy, but I never took it personally. Insult KFC, insult me, insult my mother—it meant nothing. I just enjoyed the more interesting customers. Call my mom a whore because I don't have your chicken ready. It's not personal; you don’t even know my mom. She’s a nice lady.
The one thing that irked me about customers was when they used my name. If they felt they needed to say “Thanks, Keith” or “I’ll have the two piece breast meal, Keith.” then I felt they should introduce themselves and see if I offered my name. I wouldn’t call a stranger by name just because I could read it on his chest. I started changing the name on my tag daily, but the boss put a stop to this after a sweet old woman told him Chewy-Pooh was a charming young man.
Merriam and Shelly worked with me at the counter. Merriam was mildly developmentally disabled. I tried to be a good guy and treat her as I’d treat anyone else, but when she developed a crush on me, I was embarrassed by it. She would compliment my cologne no matter how many times I told her I didn’t wear any and she was smelling my deodorant. Merriam wouldn’t skip a beat, complimenting me next on my deodorant. My coworkers would tease me about it, complimenting me on my deodorant as well.
Shelly was smart and pretty, with short blonde hair. It was my turn to have a crush. I had it bad, but I was too shy to ever say anything. I looked at her schedule and requested the same days off, thereby increasing the odds of having the same days on. I don’t think she noticed.
Next, I was trained on the drive thru. I don't care what anyone says; turning the microphone on your drive-thru headset on when you flush the toilet is funny, no matter how many times you do it. Your co-workers hear it; the customer at the drive thru hears it. You say "Welcome to KFC, I'll be right with you." and then you flush. They assume you didn't mean them to hear it. Its comedy gold, I tell you.
I had taken up smoking pot around this time, mostly with Robbie and a new friend, Christian. We’d be sure to swing by KFC at closing time on the nights when I didn’t work, and I’d do my best to appear sober when I asked for leftovers. I’d proudly carry buckets filled with chicken, pudding, mashed potatoes and gravy back to Robbie’s car. We’d make short work of it in a display I’m sure would be absolutely revolting to an outside observer. I didn’t feel guilty about taking the food. Jim would never throw it away when he could sell it to the pig farmers to feed to their livestock. So it was stoned teenagers or pigs. I sided with the stoned teenagers, though our table manners weren’t much better.
I quickly discovered that, despite my best intentions, I just didn't have it in me to be a model employee. Screwing up was way more fun. Chance had long since disassociated himself from me. We’d had a falling out when he asked me to book bands for a party he put together. I booked a ska band and showed up with a bunch of punks to show support. Chance was not impressed with my friends and asked me to get them to leave. I was too busy experimenting with an inhalant called Rush to offer him any assistance. Its effects didn’t last quite long enough for me to reach the dance floor after taking in a hit, so I had to bogart a bottle of it to properly get down. Chance was not pleased. Soon enough, I was moved back to the deep fryers, far away from him, and unfortunately, far away from Shelly.
At this point I'd done every job except washing dishes and making biscuits. For the latter, you had to be 21. It seems a youngster mixing up some biscuit dough at some KFC had stuck his hand in the bowl and the mixer tore it clean off. Jim went into great detail describing the way the dough turned pink as the powerful mixer just kept on mixing, but he swore it hadn’t happened at his KFC.
Our biscuit guy, Bradley, was some piece of work. He was lazy, overweight and totally lacking ambition—exactly the direction I was heading. When not actually engaged in the act of making biscuits, Bradley would sit and stare at his mixing bowl.
We'd be slammed. "Bradley, can you bring some slaw from the walk-in?"
"Slaw from the walk in?” he’d ask. “Is that making biscuits? No, it's not. It’s bringing slaw from the walk in. I’m not the ‘bringer of slaw from the walk in.’ I'm the biscuit maker. If you need biscuits made, let me know." Then Bradley would stare at his bowl as everyone else ran around sweating grease. I dreamed of one day having Bradley's power.
I got the hang of the deep fryer. These giant machines had to be vented and some genius designed the vent to blow toward the operator. As if I didn’t have enough trouble with my teenage skin, I now spent hours with hot greasy steam blowing in my face. My clothes and shoes got so soaked in grease that my mother took to laying cardboard over the car seat when she picked me up from work. I'd bring two plastic KFC bags to put over my shoes.
My fellow grease faces were Brian and Tony. Brian was quiet and serious and I think he planned to maybe one day own a KFC franchise of his own. Tony was absolutely insane. He loved to sneak up behind me and break a chicken leg next to my ear. Watching me cringe at the sound of bones cracking gave him no end of joy. I didn't think it was nearly as funny as making one's coworkers listen to the toilet flush.
Tony taught Brian and me a great trick: dip a finger in the chicken batter and then into the flour with the eleven herbs and spices. Add a second and third coat and finally, put your finger in the hot grease. The flower will start cooking as the finger stays safely insulated. Hold it there until you start to feel some heat, then pull out a gruesome-looking but unharmed Kentucky Fried digit. Guess which finger Tony preferred to fry.
Of course, it was just a matter of time before someone used two fingers to make an original recipe peace symbol. Then it was three fingers. Finally, I decided to do my whole hand. This was the most exciting day of our fry-cook lives. We chilled the batter and flour for increased tack and a longer submersion time. I applied the coats carefully, avoiding clumps which could flake off and expose skin. And then, the moment of truth;
I dipped my hand in an inch at a time. I waited longer than ever, until I felt my skin turning pink.
Ladies and gentlemen, a work of art was unveiled. My hand looked like a big, gory, bubbling, burnt…hand. I grabbed myself around the wrist and ran into the dining room with a horrified look on my face.
As several diners jumped up to assist, I took a bite. "Mmmm, mmm, love them eleven herbs and spices,” I said.
Miraculously, no one narked me off. I stayed in the boss’ good graces. Jim even started training me on closing procedure. This was a sign that I might someday be an assistant manager, an aspiration I actually held at that point.
One night, Jim and I were working late scrubbing the tile floor. Junior prom was coming up. Everyone asked for the night off, but I volunteered to work. Jim insisted I go to prom and wouldn’t take no for an answer.
“Jim, I’m not going,” I told him. “I can spend that night at home, while you serve chicken to kids in tuxes and gowns by yourself, or you can let me come help you.”
“Keith,” he replied. “I took care of you. I got you a date.”
“Oh my god, no! Jim what are you talking about?”
”Shelly said she’d go with you,” he said. This was a nightmare and a dream come true. I would have loved to have taken Shelly out, but not like this. I couldn’t do it.
“Jim, I can’t go to prom with someone whose boss told them to go with me. Come on! Will she be clocking in for the time she spends with me?” Jim didn’t get it. I spent prom night at the local cable access TV studio editing footage of my buddies’ punk rock bands.
I spent increasing amounts of time at the station or video-taping the local punk and metal bands. Between that and work, I didn’t have much energy for school. I slept through most of my classes and finally decided I would not be returning to high school for my senior year. My parent’s fought me on this one, until I made enough of a nuisance of myself that they let me not only drop out, but move out.
Jim had a hard enough time when I didn’t go to my junior prom; not going to my senior year was too much. He gave up on me. I’d never be the Boy Scout son he wanted me to be. I figured he already had an actual Boy Scout son, so what the hell did he need with me? I didn’t miss his paternalistic attention.
I became the dishwasher, and I spent a lot of my shift running to the back room to write lines of poetry on to-go bags or rolls of register tape. I quit after being suspended for a week for drinking a free soda while not on duty.
Tony was fired a few months before me after he dove through the drive thru window, and landed in the car of a customer who then received the most shocking ass-kicking off his life. Tony claimed the customer had spoken rudely to Shelly. Bryan quit after the minimum wage was raised to the rate he was being paid after three years and as many raises. Chance took on a rich older girlfriend who kept him well stocked in clothes, jewelry and plenty of booze. A few years later he came out of the closet, and probably found a rich older man to take the lady’s place. His brother Brook just knew somebody was gay. For all I know, Bradley's still the biscuit guy.
Gelato: Briefest term of employment ever (page 63)
After a long depressing job search, I landed a position at a place called simply “Gelato.” I would work by myself much of the time, standing behind a register making coffee drinks and serving up cups of gelato. The work was mellow and unambitious. There would be nowhere to move up to, no promotions to seek. I let my friend Joe move into my room with me, reducing my rent. Things seemed to be calming down.
When I showed up for my first day, the woman who ran the place gave me a quick orientation on the cash register. Then she told me she had to go call my references!
“What the hell?” I thought. “Isn't that done prior to hiring?” Thankfully, I had only listed references I was relatively sure of, or so I thought. As she left me alone at the register I began to wonder what kind of reference I'd get from Greta's. I deserved a bad reference, but I figured Greta would be "cool" and give me a good one. Still, the fact that she refused to hire me back made me unsure.
I sold a cup of gelato and noticed about $300.00 sitting in the register. I seriously considered grabbing it and splitting. My morals got the better of me, and the money was still in the register when Ms. Gelato informed me that I couldn't work for her. I’d received a bad reference.
"I can't believe you wasted my time like this!” I shouted. “You don't call someone's references after you train them. What is wrong with you? I want to be paid for the 30 minutes of my life you wasted!"
It was probably closer to 15, and as I said this, I realized I was yelling at the woman for less than four bucks. I took off my apron, threw it on the ground and walked out the door. I only lived two blocks away, so it wasn’t long until I was crying in the safety of my own bathroom. Joe was in my bedroom making a mix tape. Things began to feel very hopeless.
Spike and Mike Part 1; Sacramento, San Francisco (Parts 1 and 2, pages 79 – 96)
I discovered the freedom to leave town when I wanted. With the help of my VW bus, I would never need for a place to sleep. But there was only so far I could drive so long as I had to get back to work. I’d done the nearby beach towns. I’d been up to Oregon. I was jonesing for more. Arlo Guthrie didn’t turn his “Volkswagen Micro-bus” around and head back to work at the coffee shop. Why should I?
Dan, Christine, Bryna and I began planning a long road trip and, while we had plenty of enthusiasm, I was well aware that many other such dreams had evaporated.
Then Christine showed up with a hippyish boy named Doug and a 6’2” Vietnamese skater/raver boy named Homes. They were both open and friendly and they had the coolest job ever, working for Spike and Mike’s Festival of Animation and the Sick and Twisted Festival of Animation. They were from San Diego, Spike and Mike’s home base. Spike and Mike sent them traveling around the country armed with flyers to promote the festival’s shows at local independent theatres. They would stay in each town for a month or two with a couple of rental cars per crew. A crew was made up of four or five people.
I knew immediately that I had to work for Spike and Mike. I grew up in Corona, right next to where the festival started in Riverside, and I'd made my mom make my dad take me to see Spike and Mike's original festival on the UC Riverside campus when I was 13. It just felt right, like the circle completing itself. Spike and Mike had come up from the south, from my childhood, to give me the life of adventure I’d been craving.
I asked Doug and Homes if they could help me get a job and they said they probably could. Mike Gribble, the Mike of Spike and Mike, was in town and all of the flyer guys were meeting that evening at his apartment. I called my night job and told them I wouldn’t be in. I had called in sick too many times and they were looking for a doozey of an excuse. I didn't give them one. I explained to Stacy that I had an opportunity I couldn't pass up and, if things went my way, I wouldn’t come back at all.
"And if things don't go my way,” I said, “I will totally understand if you're unable to have me back."
She didn't sound too impressed. "OK, Keith. I hope you know what you're doing."
I went to the meeting, which was really just Mike getting all the guys together to take advantage of the free food The Traveler’s Lodge put out. Free Cokes, chips, salsa, mini hot dogs and even beer were ours for the taking. We all filled our mouths. An older guy on the crew named Chip dropped as many Budweisers as he could fit into a backpack for later.
The Lodge manager came out to find out why this horde of locusts had descended upon his lobby. Mike was 6’5” (though he’d only admit to 6’3”), lanky, and in possession of a long purple beard. He dressed in loud shirts, mostly purple, and purple Doc Martin boots. He looked like the shameful offspring of Ronald McDonald and his strange purple buddy, Grimace.
Mike responded to the manager’s whispered hostilities with a loud booming voice for all to enjoy. “Oh, I get it,” he said. “Because my clients and partners are a bit younger, we’re not entitled to your hospitality. Because my clients aren’t wearing Dockers, they’re not welcome at your fine establishment. Well, isn’t that interesting—considering this young man with the skateboard just signed a multi-million dollar sponsorship this morning?” The skater in question was Andy Mac and, within a few years, Andy would indeed become a pro skater with many lucrative sponsorship deals.
Mike, who may or may not have realized that he had just prophesied, continued the tirade. “I guess you salespeople and corporate reps know success when you see it.”
The apologies had begun the moment Mike raised his voice, but the longer he kept everyone distracted, the more we could get away with. We continued stuffing our backpacks with beers and devouring every bit of food in sight.
After storming out of the lobby with all of us in tow, Mike took us to see a play that he’d gotten free tickets to, and the night ended with foosball at a local bar. Nobody beat Mike at foosball, ever.
Doug and Homes gave me a ride home and ended up crashing at our pad after a night of drinking and exchanging stories. They loved our little scene, and Doug was particularly fond of a red-headed girl named Darcy. I got up with Doug and Homes in the morning and, after calling Wayne at The China Bakery to quit my job, I hopped in their car. Wayne was very understanding. He wished me luck and told me to swing by and say hello when I was back in town. (The café had closed by the time I got back. I never saw Wayne again and I’ve still never tasted a bao, pineapple or otherwise.)
We met the rest of the crew in front of Mike’s apartment. There were eight guys plus Mike, more than twice the size of your average crew. It was explained to me that two old flyer guys, after “borrowing” films from Spike and Mike, had started their own animation festival locally. Mike wanted them buried.
We rang the doorbell and waited about four feet back. Apparently it was a bad idea to enter Mike’s apartment. The man smelled terrible. He was always clean, but he seemed opposed to deodorant of any kind. We were invited in. After we declined, Mike stepped out and the guys all groaned as he announced that we would be doing a sunrise salutation. This crazy purple-bearded freak had eight hungover skate punks doing yoga on the sidewalk next to a busy street. Horns honked and people shouted encouragement from their cars. Freshly enlightened, we loaded flyers into cars. At this point, Mike noticed me.
”What are you doing here?” he asked.
“I’m working for you now.” I answered, brushing past him to toss a box of flyers into the trunk of a silver rental car.
“I’m not hiring,” he informed me.
“I don’t care,” I replied as I continued working around him.
“Look, we’re not hiring, and even if we were, we don’t hire outside of San Diego.”
"That’s fine. I’ll get a San Diego address. In fact I can uses Homes’. Yeah, I’m Homes’ roommate now.”
I left Mike shaking his head and hopped in the car. He shouted something about me not working for him as we drove off.
I worked my ass off. I am, by nature, a loud and outgoing person, and I put flyers in many hands. I cracked jokes; I sold people on the show. I ran from store to store hitting counter tops with stacks of brightly colored flyers.
Doug and Homes gave the boss an account of my stellar performance and, when I showed up again the next day, Mike told me I didn’t work for him with less conviction. That afternoon, as we ate the free goodies in the lobby of the Traveler’s Lodge, he handed me a stack of papers to fill out. I was now an employee of Spike and Mike’s Festival of Animation.
I worked the first couple of weeks in Sacramento and got to know the job. We flyered at Sacramento State and at the community college campuses. We hit all the live-music shows. We left stacks of flyers at every record store, comic book shop, video store, liquor store and head shop (Sacramento had a shortage of these). At night, we’d flyer the bars, staying longer at the ones with fun people. Later, we’d go back to the apartment the company rented for the crew and get tanked.
Homes introduced us to a game: move from the balcony to his bed without touching the floor. He jumped from the balcony onto the couch, from the couch to the dining table and off the table into the hallway—where, in a show of superhuman strength, Homes threw his arms and legs out against each wall and caught himself. I’d climbed up a hallway spider-man style, but I could hardly believe he could jump such a distance and just catch himself. He shimmied his way down the hallway, his hands and feet against the walls, moving faster than I could run with my feet on the ground. Finally, grabbing the top of the doorframe, he swung into the bedroom and landed on his bed. The rest of us gave up, put on a skate video and settled in for the night.
A few nights later, we were all drinking at Old Ironsides, a bar where my short-lived band had played and where I knew most of the folks despite being barely 21. I was pretty tossed when I notice Charlie Coyne, my boss from The Delta King, sitting at the bar with a big-haired bleach blonde in a tight dress who looked like she was straight out of an episode of Married With Children.
"Hey, you see that guy at the bar? He’s an asshole.” I slurred to Hoang, one of my new coworkers. Hoang headed straight for Charlie.
“Hi,” Hoang greeted him, before ordering himself a beer. “I hear you’re an asshole.” He said it politely as he took his drink and walked away. I was delighted.
I made sure everyone else in the bar knew Charlie was an asshole. It didn’t take long for Charlie to notice where the unwelcome vibe came from. He approached me.
“Hey. I want to talk to you,” he said.
“Well, I don’t care to talk to you. I’ve heard from a reliable witness that you’re an asshole,” I replied.
He grabbed my arm and pushed me through the door. Once outside, he popped me one in the mouth. I was way too drunk to fight, even against an old man like Charlie Coyne. He threw another punch, which I managed to dodge, and I made my way to the bar door just as two bouncer types were heading out. I slid past the big guys and turned around just in time to see them catch Hoang midair as he attempted to attack Charlie. Charlie headed for me and was thrown on his ass by the bouncers. They told him to get the hell out and never come back. I waved bye bye.
“I remember you!” he yelled. “What’s your name again?”
“Dylan,” I answered, thinking of the Beverly Hills 90210 character.
“That’s right,” he said. “You’ll never work in this town again.”
I’d never expected to hear that cheesy line in real life—especially in a town like Sacramento—delivered with no sense of irony or sarcasm.
“Yeah, OK Charlie. Tell your wife I said hello.” I said that last part for the benefit of his date, who was most certainly not his wife. I had no idea if he had a wife, but I figured it was worth a shot.
We had one final farewell to Sacramento. The whole Sacramento gang, plus Doug and Homes, headed to the river. Darcy, who had grown up in Sacramento, brought us to a great spot that I'd never been to before. Here I was, ready to leave and still discovering new surprises.
We hung our feet in the water and had some wine. Then we found a big floating platform stuck on some tree roots. Doug, Darcy and I climbed aboard with a bottle of wine and a pack of smokes and shoved off.
We were floating down the river with no way to steer, which seemed quite adventurous for about five minutes. Then it seemed a bit stupid; we hadn't brought any water. We tried to relax and enjoy the gorgeous scenery, but when a few boats passed we tried to wave them down. A nice lady in a boat threw us a line, towed us close and helped us aboard. Then she circled around and dropped us off.
Big brother had been watching. The local news helicopter caught up with her. Footage of our "rescue" played on the tube that night. The woman explained that we were crying and needed help and she just couldn't pass us up. Ha. We were glad she got such a good story out of it. She did help us out, after all.
As we prepared to leave Sacramento, I had Christine shave my head and just leave my bangs, which hung down to my chin. It was the hairstyle I’d gotten rid of for my job as a video tech. I said my goodbyes, and we headed to San Diego for a few days.
I slept on Doug’s floor and waited to see what town I’d be assigned to next. I hoped I’d go to San Francisco with my new friends Doug and Homes. Unfortunately, the word among the flyer boys was that my name had been seen on the Arizona list, where the crew would be lead by a fellow named Scott who was, they warned, a real horse’s ass.
The day of the big meeting at the Spike and Mike office, I showed up with my bangs in braids, each held by a different colored rubber band. I walked in the office where Spike, a monster of a man, sat with a Scottish terrier. Both of their heads panned back and forth in sync as they watched the various folks walking by the beachfront office. I took in the room, first noticing the wall decorated top to bottom in scribbles from famous animators like Nick Park (Wallace and Gromit) Marv Newland (Bambi Meets Godzilla, Duck Man) and John Lasseter (Luxo Junior and years later, Toy Story). The rest of the office was full of painted cells, reels of film, and boxes of merchandise like T-shirts and videos.
Spike looked at my braids and rubber bands, then bellowed “Who the hell is this guy?”
Doug told him I was Keith Jensen. Without a word, Spike walked to the grease board where K. Jensen was written listed under Arizona. He erased my name and rewrote it under San Francisco. I heard him mutter under his breath, “Arizona. They’d eat him alive in Arizona.”
I’d been driving my bus for months, but I still didn’t have a driver’s license, so Doug and Homes took turns driving as we headed north to San Francisco. We hooted and hollered as we crossed the Bay Bridge, and then through town and across the Golden Gate. Finally we went through a tunnel with a rainbow painted on its entry arch. Doug told us holding our breath all the way through the tunnel would make our wishes come true.
Holding my breath and wishing for adventure, I crossed under the rainbow and arrived in Sausalito. Sausalito is prime real estate and we were staying on a gorgeous house boat. I could not believe that this was my life. Chip was already there when we arrived. He’d ridden up with Mike Sharp, who would be our crew leader. (Not the Mike of Spike and Mike.)
Chip had already claimed the upstairs bedroom. Homes grabbed the ground-floor bedroom, so Doug and I agreed to share the room downstairs. Sharp was staying on his own boat on the next dock. The festival worked on the teenage boy rule of “he who calls it first, gets it.” We went about calling the best rooms. calling shotgun in the car, and calling who got first shot at cute girls we met—though none of us honored that one.
The bay almost reached our windowsill downstairs. I sat there, staring at the water, and trying to really grasp where I was. We checked out our floating patio and then set about putting up some posters and making the place our own.
Sharp came over to say hello and told us all to be ready to go by 8 a.m. the next morning. Chip, a drummer, had been busy tapping pots and pans in the kitchen, rearranging them and tapping some more until he’d assembled a drum kit to his liking out of the cooking supplies. Chip played us some amazing drum solos and then we left to check out San Francisco.
First, we went to Haight Ashbury, where we scored some weed and had some food. After we’d gotten good and high, a homeless black man stuck his head in our car and asked if we’d care to contribute to the United Negro Cheeseburger Fund. We all laughed up a lung and he must have walked away with thirty bucks.
The crew got along great. We took turns playing music. Chip drank nonstop, without ever seeming to get drunk, and around midnight we headed for the boat.
Sometime in the night I rolled over and planted a kiss on Doug’s cheek in my sleep. This earned me my own room.
I got up around 7:30 a.m. to find Chip in the kitchen, fresh as a daisy, downing his first beer. At 8 a.m. Sharp showed up as promised, but not quite as expected. He was on our floating porch banging on our back door. We let him in, and saw that he’d rowed over on a small kayak from his own boat. He grabbed two beers, and told us to split up and hit Berkley and Haight Ashbury. Then he hopped in his kayak and rowed back to his dock.
I went with Doug. It was exhilarating to cross bridges and pull into Berkley, the downtown full of street venders, artists, panhandlers, pot smoke, Asian Christian evangelists, militant lesbians and future rock-music critics. We dumped flyers everywhere, ate lunch, stayed stoned most of the day and headed back to San Francisco to hook up with the others.
Homes and Chip had discovered a great restaurant called Kanzaman. We sat on rugs and ordered falafel and hummus and dolmas and spiced wine. After dinner, we ordered a big a hookah with apple-honey tobacco. Chip dropped a nugget of weed on the top of the hookah bowl and immediately we all felt panicked. The wet tobacco sat on hot rocks, which burned up the weed. We were not so concerned with wasting weed as we were with the restaurant filling with pot smoke and getting us busted. We grabbed the mouthpiece and began passing it, each of us hitting it hard and then thrusting it in the direction of the next stupid stoner. No one noticed.
OK, that’s not possible. No one cared.
After scoring some acid, we shared it with the people we’d scored it from, a bunch of homeless kids about our age who spent their days busking or just begging from tourists. We all ended up sitting in a circle in a park, telling stories and getting to know each other.
Brent was living out his hobo dreams for one summer before going off to school. His hobo-ing would be interrupted for a few weeks when a professor took him to some Caribbean island for a conference. This was believable, not only because we were three kinds of wasted, but also because Brent was brilliant. He was well-read, he could converse on any subject, and here he was living on the streets of San Francisco and getting by well. With no money in his pocket, he ate well and enjoyed the comforts of drink and drugs and good company every day simply because he was fascinating to be around.
I fell fast for Jill. She’d decided to drop out, to learn about life by letting go of all security and seeing how she did. From Chicago, she had hitchhiked and camped out all over the country.
Then there was Pierre. Pierre was from France, or so we assumed. He could have been French Canadian or just about anything. Pierre was the name we gave him. He didn’t speak a word of English. He just smiled and accepted whatever food, drink, drugs or affection was offered.
I wanted to spend the night in the park, but I was convinced to head back to the boat. Remembering that we lived on a boat was pretty convincing in itself.
Chip drove. I protested, but the other guys convinced me Chip was sober. I let myself believe this. He certainly seemed fine, until he asked what to do at a purple light. We all looked, and sure enough, the traffic light was purple—not red, green or yellow, but purple. He decided to go, and that worked out OK. (It was years later that Bryna pointed out to me that looking at a red light through the blue window tinting at the top of a windshield would make purple.)
After the purple light, we were almost home, and I looked to my left to see a cop car pacing us. I looked at the cops, and something about their matching mustaches and matching well-starched uniforms and matching serious stares struck me as hilarious. I laughed to the point of tears. The cops flashed me a look of disgust and turned right, leaving us be.
The next morning, Sharp and I covered a humongous territory with flyers. Sharp was cool. He’d been a theater major, and was working with Spike and Mike while he looked to start a career in theater management. He came across as a John Wayne-loving tough guy, but he was nice and only slightly judgmental of our partying ways. He understood that we were hired to create the image the festival needed.
That night was a much-needed mellow break. Chip and I "borrowed" a neighbor's rowboat and rowed out to the middle of the bay. The Richmond, Bay and Golden Gate Bridges were all within view. We drank a few beers and smoked cigarettes, and, for once, didn't talk much. When we put the boat back, Chip left a few beers in it for the owner.
We started working the U.C. Berkeley campus and my inner showman emerged. We’d set out wind-up cows to draw attention as we flyered. I put a cow in a hamburger bun and got bitched out by some vegans. I explained that I was vegan too, and that I used a fake wind-up cow for that reason, but they figured I was just teasing them. To get more attention we got a bloody apron and began slaughtering cows. We’d fill their head with strawberries and ketchup for a good bloody mess. The school paper took my picture with the cows and ran it on the front page. Doug and Homes found me a bit annoying on campus I think. I started the day loud and stayed that way.
We tried to work around rush hour, but always ended up in bumper to bumper traffic at the end of the day regardless. Homes was quiet and smiled to himself a lot. He seemed to always be dancing, even as he sat in the car. One day, he was dancing more than usual as we waited in the parking lot that the Bay Bridge had become. He had to take a piss and finally, when traffic had sat perfectly still for a good minute and a half, he stepped out of the car. Using the door as a privacy screen he started letting it flow right there, and of course, traffic began to move—slowly at first, and then picking up pace. Homes had held it for too long.
There was to be no stopping, so he started walking next to the car while continuing to piss on the asphalt. He was giggling and, as the drivers around us began honking and waving, he started laughing. The cheers built, our speed continued to increase, and Homes was jogging, laughing his head off, and peeing, peeing, peeing. It was yet another testament to his unique grace that he didn’t seem to get any on him. He hopped back in the car, waving to his new fans, and we all laughed our way over the bridge.
I frequently worked Haight Street, where cops continually harassed anyone committing the crime of not shopping. They told me to move whenever they saw me, along with the bums and the buskers. It pissed me off to see buskers banished on Haight Street of all places. The Summer of Love’s main drag had to be kept safe for Gap shoppers?
One day, I got into it with a cop who inconvenienced me daily. He was getting really pissed at my smart mouth, and then he called me a faggot. I got loud.
“Faggot!’ I yelled. “Did you really just call me a faggot?” Another cop persuaded him to walk away and that was the last of I saw of that particular law enforcer.
We continued hanging out with our homeless friends at night. We stumbled across a wedding in a park one night and Chip, tripping on three hits of acid, approached the doorman. “Hey, can I get a bottle of champagne?” he asked. “I’m trippin’ hard and it would really help me get grounded.”
“Can I get a couple of hits?” the doorman bargained.
Chip happily handed him two hits and walked away with what the doorman told him was—and he claimed to recognize as—a very nice bottle of champagne. We each took a plug. When a fourth of the bottle was left, a witchy-looking woman asked us if she could get a pull. Chip took one more sip and handed her the bottle. She finished it of in one swallow and said, “Gack!”
“Gack” Chip repeated. “What the hell is ‘gack’? You just had some very fine champagne. You don’t gack good champagne.”
She put her face inches from Chips and repeated herself. “Gack!”
“Oh, gaaack!” He repeated yet again, this time jubilantly. “Gack!” With this, he hugged her.
Friends from Sacramento visited. Christine came up and spent the night in my room, as did Bryna, and my friend Ursula. Darcy came up, but the magic with her and Doug seemed to have faded. She stayed in my room and we made out a bit. I wasn’t the player I appeared to be—at least I didn’t think I was—but I didn’t say much to downplay the way it looked to the guys.
Bryna's visit was strained. We listened to Chip's story of what he did on his 21st birthday. He told us how he’d gotten drunk, passed out in a field and woke up with David Lee Roth pissing on his head. Roth apologized and invited him to party at a Van Halen concert. Chip had a ton of stories like this, and every one of them started with, "On my 21st birthday..." On father's day Chip would send his dad a card reading, "Happy Mother Fuckers’ Day, Motherfucker!"
Bryna got a kick out of Chip and the whole crazy scene. She was enjoying herself, but she seemed distant. I asked her what was up and she said she'd write me a letter. I guessed Bryna was tired of the games. She loved me, and it was time for me to do something about it or move on, to shit or get off the pot—to put it crudely. She was movin' on.
She sent the letter, but it never found me as I continued my nomadic life.
Jay and Steph, a homeless couple who used to sleep in our living room in Sacramento from time to time, came to visit. Little did I know they had moved into my room when I left, and then stiffed Dan on the rent. Coincidentally, Dan was visiting me the same night.
Jay was insane, with paranoid delusions that seemed to be getting worse. I told Dan that, while I understood why he was pissed, he wasn’t likely to get his money back and there was no point fighting with Jay here. Dan kept quiet, but Jay’s conscience or his craziness (or both) got the better of him. He started calling Dan a red-headed Jewish devil.
“Hey Jay, you gotta go man,” I told him bluntly.
He continued ranting and raving.
“Jay! I’m counting to five and then removing you physically, which I really don’t want to do.”
The rant got louder.
“One… two… three… four… five!”
I walked towards Jay; everyone else in the house was ready to back me. He ran out the door. As I turned back to the porch, he ran back in the door.
“I’m leaving,” he shouted, “but not without my milk!” He grabbed a carton of milk from the fridge and left.
We all stood there for a minute, unsure whether he was really gone. Finally, Chip relieved the tension. “He took my fuckin’ milk!”
I was more and more enamored of Jill. She had such a gentleness to her, a relaxed easygoing manner. I was tempted to give up having a job altogether and see what it was like to live her lifestyle.
Of course, the crew couldn’t resist brining a gaggle of homeless kids to a house boat in Sausalito, so we put together a little Cinco De Mayo party for them. We picked them all up and we actually had a pretty mellow evening of drinking and smoking and listening to music. Jill slept in my bed, but other than staring at her for most of the night, nothing happened. I had the next day off, and she and I spent the day having lunch by the water and walking around Sausalito. I never got up the nerve to make any kind of move. She seemed too pure to screw it up with my need for something more.
The kids crashed on the boat with us again the next night and, as we all got ready for work in the morning, we noticed Pierre with his hands down his pants, jerking himself off on the couch.
“Dude, knock it off,” Homes commanded. We realized Pierre was sleeping. “Someone’s got to wake him up.” Homes said, giggling.
Nobody wanted the job of waking the masturbating Frenchman. I'm sure if you listed "waking masturbating Frenchman" in the classifieds you'd get plenty of applicants, but on the boat that morning, nobody wanted to touch the masturbating Frenchman at all.
We started throwing pillows at him. He opened his eyes, but his hand kept working away. We remembered his lack of English. There we all stood playing charades, trying to find the universal gesture for, “Dude, quit jerking off on our couch.”
He stopped, either because he got the message or because he finished. Mike showed up at our back door, displeased with our choice of houseguests. He made us promise we’d have no more visitors.
The shows started at the Palace of Fine Arts. Spike and Mike both came up for the kick off and it was then that the gossip mill let me know that the two did not get along. Supposedly, they'd even had a shoving match or two. Most of the flyering crew preferred Mike. Spike seemed like a miserable old miser and it was hard to even imagine how they became partners. Spike didn't stay in San Francisco long. Mike stayed through the first couple of weekends.
We threw beach balls out into the audience, letting the crowd bounce them around before the show. If it was the Sick and Twisted show, we'd also throw out a couple of inflatable sheep or blow up dolls. Once the auditorium was filled to the brim, Mike would take the stage.
Watching Mike emcee was a delight. He spoke to the adult audience with a tone of voice that would normally be reserved for children, while conveying respect for his audience's intelligence. This was most flattering, as his own intelligence came across full strength. At the end of his speech he would lead the audience in raising their hands, wiggling their fingers and seeing the movie magically begin. He gave these adults the intellectually acceptable means to become kids again and enjoy some cartoon magic.
Then, come midnight, he worked the younger rowdier Sick and Twisted crowd with equal grace. He used the same delivery, with a few added phrases like, "syphilitic squirrel fuckers, of a decidedly non-Disneyesque variety." That he was so crass while still so damn slick just thrilled people. The same man that delighted in exposing hungover ravers and skaters to yoga would lead this stoned, obnoxious crowd in a raising of the hands, a wiggling of the fingers, and a magical conjuring of some mighty foul cartoons. I watched his introductions every chance I got.
The original classic festival included the year's Academy Award nominees, with Wallace and Gromit headlining. The Sick and Twisted show featured a wide range of fart jokes and studies in excessive violence: Lupo The Butcher, Performance Art starring Chainsaw Bob, Quiet Please. Most notable were four no-budget, homegrown cartoons by a man in Texas: Duh, Inbred Jed, Frog Baseball starring Beavis and Butthead and one more Beavis and Butthead cartoon. The man from Texas was, of course, Mike Judge who would go onto do lots more Beavis and Butthead, the live-action film Office Space and King of The Hill.
At this time Mike Judge was an unpleasant subject for Spike and Mike. MTV's Liquid Television had arranged to swap artists with Spike and Mike, a seemingly win-win situation. MTV then signed several of the better artists to restrictive contracts and screwed my employers out of working with the artists they had discovered. Of course, I only know one side of the story, but I’m never in much of a hurry to treat MTV justly.
Spike worked with Judge on those early films. His name is in the credits as producer and on one of the toons he’s credited as a writer. Supposedly Spike even gave Butthead his name. For now Judge was to be regarded as a sellout who forgot where he came from. I sure did love his cartoons though; crass enough to please the drunkest of frat boys but when you actually paid attention you found brilliant character studies and some amazing writing.
Chip and I were sent to spend a day in San Jose scoping things out for the crew that would soon be heading there. I decided that as long as I was spending the day with Chip I'd see if I could keep up with him drink for drink. We'd given him grief about his habit of drinking before breakfast so he started drinking Oatmeal Stout figuring this would kill two birds with one bottle.
I joined him. We sang "Look ma, I'm drinking my oatmeal." and headed to S.J.
Once there we got down to flyering and searching out the free papers and the college radio stations. We stopped at every other bar and had a beer, a snake bite, a cider. We met a salesman type guy at one of the bars and, as I was starting to feel the alcohol, I didn't understand how we ended up having dinner with this weird guy at a steakhouse. We were drinking wine, I understood that. The salesman was intense and kept yammering on and on about money. I didn't retain the details. I never do when people talk about money.
I like money but all I have to say about it is “Yay I have money!”, or “Crap I have no money.” People collect it, trade it, do magic tricks to make it grow. They have interest rates and stocks and bonds and angles and systems. None of it makes a lick of sense to me. These money people never seem to have any money; otherwise I might have made an effort to learn their language.
I caught that there was tension toward the end of dinner. Apparently the salesman was hoping that Chip was paying for dinner. This guy was just like the kids on Haight only more scheming and less honest. Chip was happy to buy dinner for the kids on Haight but he was matching wits with the salesman. He was actually trying to get the scam artist to buy ours. Salesman said he had no money, Chip said neither did we. I said nothing and was increasingly drunk. Finally Chip excused himself to use the restroom and left me to stare at the salesman as he told me why we were lucky to have met. I just looked through him, drank my wine and tried not to puke. Chip found the waitress and had her split the bill. He paid our share tipped her and returned to the table. She was moments behind him and as she dropped the salesman’s bill on the table we stood and said our goodbyes. The Salesman had lost but he wouldn't spoil the chance of going another round at a later date. He thanked Chip for the company and muttered something about opportunities, shook both our hands and we were off.
We grabbed a couple of beers to drink in the car back to S.F. I was barely staying awake as I sipped a big bottle of Heineken. Chip was driving, showing no signs of being intoxicated. He wasn't talking about his 21st birthday or anything.
We got home, holding our breath and making wishes as we went through the rainbow tunnel. Chip bought another couple of bottles of beer at the little store by our dock. After wobbling down the dock I reached the boat and went straight to bed, Chip drank both bottles and god knows what else.
The shows went great, that is to say they were well attended, so the big bosses were kept happy. We took boxes of flyers and ditched them in dumpsters around town, one box per dumpster. You could not tell Spike or Mike that they ordered more flyers than we could possibly use or they'd insist that we weren't working enough. So, we dumped flyers and wasted money. As long as we were selling out shows we couldn't feel bad.
We had one last dinner with our homeless friends, buying one of just about everything on the menu at Kanzaman. Pierre shared with us, and then started sharing with the people sitting next to us. They turned out to be some really cool German tourists and they were great sports about it. Then Pierre turned to me and said, "This is great. You guys are so great."
"Ahh, thanks Pierre... HOLY SHIT! Pierre you're speaking English."
"Have you been able to speak English all this time?"
"I'm not sure. I think maybe I just learn from when you are speak to me."
My own theory is that Pierre ate more acid than anyone I've ever met and forgot what languages he spoke. I'm not sure he'd even been speaking French. We said goodbye to the kids. I was sad to say goodbye to Jill. She gave me her mother's number and I promised to keep in touch.
Doug and I were sent to San Jose. Chip and Homes would be elsewhere. Being the new guy I felt emotional. I felt like we'd shared an amazing experience and I was sad to see the gang split up. The rest of the guys were a bit less emotional about it. Their reaction let me believe that this was just the beginning.
Spike and Mike Part 2: San Jose
Doug and I drove to San Jose. We would be working with a couple of skaters named Twister and Greg. I was sure San Jose would be great fun.
We found our motel and unfortunately we hadn't read wrong it was indeed a motel. I surely wasn't expecting a house boat like we'd had in S.F. but a corporate apartment like the one we had in Sacramento would have been nice. Word came back to us that the balcony at the Sacramento pad was on the verge of falling off of the building when we were done with it and had to be replaced. This may have had a bit to do with the no-frills digs we would now call home.
The uninspiring lodgings would turn out to be a good representation of things to come in San Jose. First off, Twister did not live up to his exciting name and Greg unfortunately didn't even manage to live up to his lackluster name. Doug fell in with these guys, perhaps exhausted from the adventures of the previous few months. All they wanted from life was to drink a few beers and watch TV every night. Not even movies, but TV; sitcoms, news, commercials and bull shit. I tried to stir them, to inspire them to go out and explore the town but to no avail.
It wasn’t long before Doug pulled out his tarot cards and I was finally bored enough to let him do a reading for me. I was the skeptical atheist as always, but I was amazed by the cards. They struck me as a valuable psychological tool, making the recipient of the reading analyze their own life categorically.
I really enjoyed the tarot reading and I felt a certain bond with Doug afterwards. Then he got up, walked through the door separating our motel room from our coworkers and plopped down in front of the TV. I went to bed.
Night after night of this was more than I could bear. I headed out alone one night hoping to find some fun and ended up at a punk show where I sat around waiting for someone to be my friend. Nobody decided to be my friend. Somehow I had become the old guy. After I ordered my forth beer the bartender jokingly offered me every sixth beer free. I left with two free beers in my belly.
Being that I was older than most of the kids at the show the bartender hadn't carded me, which was a good thing as I’d left my ID back at the motel. I was looking for more booze though. Just a few months past twenty one, I knew I'd need that ID but I also knew that I didn't want to go back to that motel, EVER.
Before my 21st birthday I used to buy alcohol in stores by limping and twitching and grumbling to myself. The clerk would want me out of the store in a hurry so they'd skip the ID stage of the transaction. I decided to try a similar approach at the bars. I came to the first one, kicked open the door, and loudly announced to the crowd inside, "It's my twenty second fuckin' birthday, who's buying me a god damn drink!" The crowd of old men looked at me blankly and then went back to their drinks. I sat at the bar and the bartender hit me for my ID.
"I get a free drink on my birthday right?" I asked, trying to change the subject. She asked for the ID again. "Yeah, I can't find it. Can you imagine that? My own birthday, the one day that damn ID is worth something, and I can't find it. That's cool though. I'll pay for my drink. Gimme a beer."
She gave me an invitation to leave, which was just as well. I realized I had only a dollar left in my pocket. I found another bar, kicked the door and made my announcement again. The crowd was a bit younger and amidst the blank stares were a couple of giggles. I took a seat at the bar and I waited for the bartender to notice me. A heavy set Latina girl took the barstool next to mine and put a cardboard coin in front of me.
"What's this?" I asked. She explained that it was good for a drink. The bartender, a grumpy old lady with spongy nicotine skin asked me what I wanted.
"I want whatever I can get for this piece of cardboard."
“it’s good for a beer.”
"Well give me a beer."
Now she wanted to know which beer. "C'mon lady. This can be easy for both of us. Just pick me a good one."
She set a beer in front of me and I started drinking it. Her tip would have to come out of the cardboard because my one dollar was buying me two packs of peanuts for dinner.
My Latina sponsor sat next to me and we didn't speak a word as I drank her beer. I took my last swallow and she invited me to go to her brother’s girlfriend’s house where they were gonna do some more drinking. I looked at her, not finding her attractive in any way.
It wasn't that she was physically unattractive, just blank, completely and totally devoid of any sign of personality or joy. "Look lady, I just wanted a birthday beer. I aint lookin' to get married." She stared at me uncomprehending. I was trying to be cool. I felt like an asshole. "Sorry."
She left. The bartender came back by. "Hey, do I get a free drink on my birthday."
“You had your drink.”
"That wasn't free, I gave you that cardboard. That girl must have done something to earn that cardboard."
The bartender leaned forward and told me that she thought I was an asshole. Oh well, that made two of us. She suggested I buy a drink or get out. "Does anybody want to buy me a drink?" I asked the room. Nobody did. I headed out.
As I walked out the door I noticed an open back room to the bar, a room full of large bottles. I stood there considering grabbing one when the walking cigarette filter of a bartender appeared. She showed me some amazingly crooked teeth and offered to show me her fire arm next. I moved on.
This night sucked. I had not had any adventures. The beautiful kids at the punk show did not talk to me. I did not end up somewhere amazing in the company of new and interesting people. I had nowhere to go but back to the couch potato motel. I walked back, stopping at every pay phone along the way to make collect calls to my high school girlfriend, Nicole's house. I hadn't kept in touch with her but her phone number is one of the few that have become permanently lodged in my memory. Her father answered and would not accept the charges from Holden Caulfield, Hank Chinaski or Rocky the Flying Squirrel. Finally Nicole answered and accepted the charges from Jam Master Jay. She let me know that I'd gotten her dad real pissed off, and her worried. I was just glad to be in touch with someone from my past. Someone who always held me in high regard.
"Life is shit Nicole. I fucked up. I should have finished school and stayed at home, and went to more school like you're doing. You got it right Nicole. The adventures are boring.
Being shit in San Jose isn't any better than being shit in Sacramento."
Nicole told me to go to sleep and that it would be better in the morning. As Nicole hung up it occurred to me that I was being drunk and dramatic. I didn't feel depressed. I didn't feel inspired. I felt frustrated at not feeling anything. I wanted some drama. I wanted to be Charles Bukowski, but I had failed to create anything that wasn't superficial, a geeky kid wishing he was something more than clinically bored. I got to the motel and passed out. Nicole was right; in the morning I did feel better. I still craved some connection to a past that was rapidly slipping away. I called my mom.
Spike and Mike part 4; Chicago (Part 4 and 5, pages 103 – 117)
After a few weeks living in a bus with Dan, traveling from LA to Nashville and then to Riverside (southern California, not far from LA) I was ready for more Spike and Mike. During the trip we ran into Christine in New Mexico. Her and I were no more, officially now, finished. She'd determined she was a lesbian and I, beyond even being surprised by such, determined I was relieved to have the inevitable closure of that relationship. Our trip ended when Dan's bus blew up a few blocks from my brother's place in Riverside. We worked a couple of days there, as the show was playing on campus and then we did a couple of days in San Diego. SD was considered home base and so nobody would have a room rented for them there. Dan and I stayed at a youth hostel and we were joined by our old Sacramento pal Darcy, the six foot tall gorgeous red head. She'd managed to land herself a job with Spike and Mike and I began to wonder if all of Sacto would eventually be touring around with the fest. I hoped so.
I was a bit pissed that Darcy would take an obnoxious Spaniard into the room we were sharing and lock the door with us on the wrong side of it and most likely do things with him she was not doing with me. It's the not doing things with me part that I was most unhappy about.
Fact is I was increasingly unhappy in general. San Diego is an amazing place and we found distraction easy enough, but those still moment were filled with existential angst. The meaninglessness of existence was weighing down on me, or maybe it was just Darcy not wanting to make out, but I was pretty sure it was the meaningless of existence. Everything I did felt increasingly pointless and the thought of decades more of the same was a thought I could hardly bear. Dan was unsympathetic. He'd come to terms with meaninglessness long ago, and he still thought I was an asshole
There was much drinking of tequila, some horrible hang-overs and then we were off to Chicago.
We loaded up our backpacks and flew into the windy city where we hooked up with Mike Sharp (from the S.F. show) and Mike's friend Mike. The Mikes were twice as macho together as they were alone and that's pretty macho but, as in S.F. Sharp did his thing and didn't mind us doing ours, so long as we did it without a car. The two Mike's apparently needed two cars.
Our one room apartment was amazing. It was tiny but it had a small kitchen counter with a stove, sink and a little fridge against one wall. There were two day beds and a table. It was in a historic old building and the furniture and decor were all antique as well. We of course found the roof right away. The view of Chicago from up top was spellbinding.
With no wheels at my disposal I walked a-lot and it was freezing. Coming from San Diego I'd neglected to pack a coat. After two days of shivering, I found a great corduroy blazer in a thrift shop and I loved it. I was out handing out flyers to drunk college boys that night in my lovely new coat and several of them each handed me a dollar. When a fifth person offered me a buck I asked him why people were giving me money.
"Aren't you out here asking for money?"
"No. I'm here promoting for a film festival."
"Oh! Well that can't pay much."
"Dude, they rent me an apartment, a car, fly me all over the country and I make money aplenty."
This guy who'd intended to be generous and was now being rewarded with embarrassment turned angry. "Yeah? Then why the hell are you wearing that stupid coat!"
He left his dollar and moved on. I was handed three more dollar bills that day and did not protest. Wanting to be true to the lifestyle I'd found myself in, I spent the money on fortified wine.
Chicago was an uphill climb in every way. Advanced ticket sales were not giving us any indication that the shows would be well attended. We worked harder than I'd ever worked at promoting. We covered every inch of that town, well, every inch that wasn't a frightening neighborhood where white boys in rental cars stood out like Klansmen at a NAACP meeting. We did find ourselves in such neighborhoods a number of times.
I was determined to help Dan out with meeting nice girls who might be interested in kissing him. Maybe the guys were right. Maybe I was a player. I was feeling guilty about stringing Nora along and so I figured I might as well use my powers for good. Dan and I hung out at the Art Institute of Chicago, a great place to promote and a great place to meet artsy girls. Dan had it all planned out. He'd ask the girls to go to the Magritte show currently busy-ing up the walls of the Art Institute Museum. The Museum was impressive and we spent as many of our dinner breaks exploring it as possible.
Dan had to go to the dentists and I went with him. His mouth was hurting so I did most of the talking. Dan by this point was quite a site, with several different colors of hair dreading on his head and the staff assumed that he had "special needs" and that I was his social worker. I was invited to be in the room as the doctor extracted a couple teeth. The doctor was a fun loving guy and invited me to lean in get a better view during the operation. After the first tooth I asked him if I could do the second, now that I saw how it was done. He made like he was handing me the scalpel and I'm still not sure he was joking. I put my hands to my side in the universal gesture for "Nope!"
The ride from the dentist back to the museum was great. Dan couldn't talk and I decided I wouldn't either. This made the Mikes much easier to deal with. They'd talk their shit, but with no response they'd get bored and we'd ride in silence, with the unfortunate exception of the awful music they played. They dropped us off at the Museum and we sat on the steps for a minute before getting down to business.
Dan scribbled a note suggesting that not talking and using notes would allow him to meet girls without his shyness getting in the way. I agreed and I added that it was endearing. I noticed an attractive girl watching us communicating with Dan writing notes and me talking back to him. Dan gave her a grin and she returned with the kind of bashful smile that screams "Come talk to me." Dan looked at me with joy dancing in his eyes. He wrote "Wow, she's going to walk around the museum with me!" I told him he should go talk to her, or write notes to her, and I noticed that she was now watching us intently. Dan prepared to make his move... by spitting a huge mouthful of blood on the steps of the museum! I could only shut my eyes. When I opened them the cute art student was no more and was Dan looking pathetic and miserable. We got to work.
Chicago continued to be a rough town and Dan and I were not getting along well at all. We were doing terribly at meeting people to hang out with, and we were broke for the first couple of weeks during which we worked 12 hour weekdays and even longer on the weekends. When opening weekend's attendance was not up to par the hours increased.
Dan woke me up to watch the news as the U.S.S.R. ceased to exist. We watched in silence as the tanks rolled through Moscow.
At last we met some art students, a couple of guys and a couple of girls and had dinner with them. We invited them back to our place for our great rooftop and some beers. They weren't 21 they informed us. Well hell neither was Dan. It was fine. I was, and I was willing to buy alcohol for minors. They stared in horror. We should have given up then but we were desperate. We offered Cokes and they came along reluctantly. We all sat on the roof and stared at each other through one six pack of Coke. When they said they had to go we didn't argue.
I owed Dan money but decided to buy myself a shitty bottle of brandy instead. Dan was pissed. I was pissed. The bottle didn’t even get me drunk. I tried to quit smoking again. I failed.
I decided I’d call Jill, the cute homeless girl from SF via her mother’s phone. Her mother told me how glad she was that Jill had come home to face her charges. Jill it turns out was a seventeen year old runaway who would have end up doing time in prison if she hadn’t returned to face her charges before she turned 18. She was currently in Juvenile hall. Her mom didn’t offer any information on what the charges were. I didn’t ask. I gave her my parent’s number so that Jill could get a hold of me but I never heard from her.
The second weekend of shows sold out most time slots. Life would get a little easier. Our pay checks came and they were so big we could barely lift them after all the overtime. Dan and I got along a little better now that we had money.
I went out flyering with Sharp’s friend Mike and he kept telling me about the Jagermeister girl he'd met at the bar the night before and who we would be seeing tonight. She worked for Jager, he kept saying as if this was proof that she was hot. It was obviously a great status maker to be dating a Jager Girl, much cooler than a Keystone Girl. He showed me her little poster and she was certainly cute. The poster had her name, Cheryl, printed on in such a way so as to look like it was personally autographed. The picture was taken from above at an extreme angle showing off her big brown eyes and generous cleavage.
We caught up with Cheryl, and I realized the angle wasn't so extreme, she was. She had a big head, a normal sized torso and little legs. Any third of her was beautiful viewed alone without the next third to compare it to. I stared in amazement, much to Mike's delight but I was not thinking wow, what a stud Mike is. I was marveling that his concept of what this woman looked like came from the photos and her title more than from his own eyes. Mike was a product and victim of the modern age. But Mike was happy and Cheryl certainly seemed nice enough. Appearance mattered too much anyway. When Mike nudged me once every five minutes to ask again if I thought she was hot I agreed that she was, for sure, the hottest. Cheryl was a blast, much cooler than I thought a Jager girl would be. Mike just stared at her all night, taking brief breaks to make sure he was being seen. I talked with her and she cracked me up. She was Jagering it, making crazy good money, while going to school. Mike dropped me off and he and Cheryl disappeared into the night.
We finished up and Dan and I were anxious to get out of Chicago. I had my grandparent’s 50th wedding anniversary to attend and then we'd be heading up to Seattle, which we were very excited about.
The day to take our leave came at last. We stopped to play pool and kill an hour before we had to be at the airport. The Mikes did the pool playing and I bought beers which I shared with Dan hoping he wouldn't be carded. The pool game took on too great an importance for the macho men and we left late for the airport. Once there Sharp sent me and the bags to the gate while he returned the rental car. Dan and Mike took the other car. I threw Sharp and I's bags on the little belt and as they went through the x-ray the screener asked if there was a gun in the bag.
"What! No, of course not."
"This looks like a gun."
"We're in show business; it's probably a water gun or something. Can you just open the bag and you'll see?"
"I can't open the bag. I need a federal agent here to open the bag." and with this she radioed for the feds. I waited patiently for a time, and then I told her I was going to find the bags owner before he got on his plane.
"You can't leave."
"I'll be right back."
I took off to the gate but could not find Sharp. On my way back to security a man in a black suit began walking right next to me, pacing my steps exactly. Are you Sharp?
For some reason I thought he meant was I a Skin Head Against Racial Prejudice, a moronic gang that Sacramento cops would accuse you of belonging to if you had any hairdo other than a flat top.
I showed him my long, bleached blonde hair. "Do I look like a SHARP?"
"Oh, Mike. Yeah, listen I'm not but I am the guy with his suitcase." and with this I was on the ground. My hands pulled behind my back, my wrists bound by metal cuffs.
He helped me back to my feet and walked me to security where lots of men and women in similar suits were now milling about excitedly. The bag was open and the gun, the real, honest to goodness, gun was lying next to it.
I was propped against a wall. I got the attention of a female agent or officer or whatever she was and told her that the bag belonged to Mike Sharp.
"Don't try to get out of this one. You'll be talking to the judge, so don't bother with us.
That's a gun and you had it. You're going down." She was practically hyperventilating.
"That's fine. I'll go down, but I thought you might like to arrest him too, before he leaves the airport." I knew Mike would be able to straighten this out, and I wasn't worried about being loyal to a friend. This friend let me carry a god damned gun into an international airport. We hadn't made an agreement as co-conspirators, signed in blood. And besides, he never let Dan and I use the car.
She only continued her tirade. "Don't bother with your Mike Sharp. You had the gun! You're in a world of trouble."
She must have been playing bad cop. Another cop was overhearing her and he interrupted, sending her to help someone with something, somewhere. He took Sharp’s name, and went to the gate to find him. Sharp was easily found and very apologetic. He'd forgotten it was in the suitcase when he sent me in. He carried it with from town to town as we’re often in a position to move large sums of money from the theatre to the bank at night, and who wants to waste money on security? He usually declared the gun, but had forgotten too this time in our mad rush. I don't know if this is true but I chose to believe it. I certainly don’t believe that Sharp had any interest in hijacking a plane to somewhere warmer.
The two of us were locked in up in the airport jail, where only other cell was occupied by two men who had been caught making love to each other in a stolen vehicle. The cops cracked many gay jokes and I thanked god above that I was only in for attempting to hi-jack an airplane.
I would be out in an hour we were told; they just had to run my record to make sure I had no priors and no warrants. Sharp would stay at least over night. I was relieved. If only my record had come back clean.
"Keith, are you a member of a gang called The Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigade?"
Oh shit! The RCYB was a group of young communists who specialized in vandalism and parades through minority neighborhoods where they weren't necessarily welcome. I had let a bunch of them stay the night at my house after a May Day parade but I spent the whole night debating with them as I have only mild socialist leanings and a strong aversion to bloodshed. First I miss meeting Dan Quayle and now I spend the night in jail in Chicago. Damn you Big Brother. Damn you Chairman Mao.
We were taken from the airport to the main jail in a cop mini van. The corrugated metal seats just bent your knees a little and tweaked your back, not letting you actually sit, just allowing you to clear the ceiling of the van. Roller coaster style bars held you in place. The cops drove the van at light speed and used special cop roads allowing them to cut sideways across freeways.
Miraculously we reached the main jail in one piece and we were put in our cells. They took my belt and my shoe laces. My ridiculously baggy pants didn’t' want to stay on. I pulled some string from the lining of my jacket and tied some belt loops together. Then I fashioned a pair of shoe laces. I felt very industrious. Sharp sang "Sitting on the dock of a bay" over and over again. Not the whole song, just that line.
We were offered a meal of bologna sandwiches. My veganism was based on the availability of vegan food. I'd always said I'd eat whatever I needed to eat before I'd let myself starve. We'll I wasn't at deaths door but I was hungry, so after asking if they had a vegetarian option and listening to the laughter spread through the jail as my request was repeated, I accepted a bologna sandwich. I really did intend to eat it. The two slices of wonder bread with one slice of bologna and a tablespoon of mayonnaise could not have been less appetizing. Sharp had two bologna sandwiches.
In the morning we were let go, but we had court dates set. Sharp assured me he'd take care of everything.
I had one last chance to utter a cliché that I was dying to use. We were being processed and I turned to the fellow behind me in line.
"So, what are you in for?"
"Operating a cab without a license."
"They'll put you in jail for not having a business license?"
"No. A driver's license. What are you in for?"
It hadn't occurred to me that I'd be asked this question in return. "I sort of carried a gun into the airport, but it was all a misunderstanding."
He didn't seem particularly impressed. He asked if we needed a ride back to the airport. His taxi was right outside. I doubted that he'd earned his driver's license while locked up, but we were in a hurry to catch the next flight so we accepted. Sharp discovered sixty bucks in cash, a good bottle of bourbon and his Air Force Jump Pins missing from his luggage. The cops had not found anything worth taking in my bags.
I flew to San Diego where Dan met me and we got immediately on a plane to Seattle.
I'd missed my grandparent's anniversary but I had one hell of an excuse.
We climbed onto the plane, me looking like I’d spent the night in jail because I had, and Dan looking the same because that's how he always looked. What a funny time to get a free bump up to first class for being frequent fliers. We sat amongst the suits and ordered our free drinks.
When the attendant asked Dan for ID he told her it was in his bag, the same bag that she and two other attendants had, with great difficulty helped Dan squeeze into the overhead bin a minute before. She opted to leave the bag where it was and pour Dan his free drink. We really liked free drinks. We were nice and toasty warm by the time we landed in Seattle.
I kept a promise I'd made to Mike and kept the story to myself, well, until now. Sorry Mike.
Spike and Mike part 5: Seattle
After spending 14 hours locked up in a Chicago jail for bringing a gun into an international airport, missing my grandparents fiftieth wedding anniversary, missing many meals and flying from Chicago to San Diego to Seattle, I was ready to crash hard, but I stayed up drinking and carrying on instead.
Homes and BJ were in Seattle. We were their replacements as they'd be heading up to Vancouver. They were making the most of their last night in the amazing apartment the Festival had provided for the Seattle run. Two walls of the living room were windows, wrapping around the corner and looking over Puget Sound. There were two bedrooms, one for Homes and BJ, now Dan and I and one for Hoang who had become a crew leader. The building featured an indoor swimming pool and Jacuzzi and a cool patio on the roof. A guy with dreadlocks whose name I've forgotten was hanging out. He'd been fired by Spike and Mike in San Diego for napping on the job but he'd remained good friends with the flyer crew. He was in Seattle for awhile and was practically living at the Spike and Mike apartment.
A party was already in progress when Dan and I arrived and naturally we joined in, overjoyed to be hanging out with Homes and BJ. We drank more, having already caught a good buzz on the airplane. We were falling down giggling drunk in no time. Being a stupid shit I took a piss off the balcony. This was bad enough, but I later knocked a drink off the ledge of the top floor. I think it was an accident. We all looked over the edge and saw that it didn't hit anyone and then we bolted to lock ourselves into our hiding place/apartment.
I passed out and woke up to Mike Mike’s furious purple bearded face. He yanked open all our blinds and let the insanely bright sun in.
"UP!" He yelled before marching into the living room.
Dan and I dragged our aching heads out of bed and Took a seat in the living amongst the huge mess from the previous evening's debauchery. Hoang was sitting on the other couch and he didn't look happy. He had spent the evening in his room, by himself, trying to get some sleep.
"Clean this place up, now!" came Mike's order.
We picked up bottles of beer, the free weekly paper which was spread across the apartment. We threw away the chips, dips, Taco Bell trash. We stacked the CDs, magazines and video games. Mike stopped us as we got to cleaning the pile of dishes we'd stacked in the sink. He had us take our seats again. He stared at us, breathing deeply, and his rage was apparent. Then finally he spoke.
"What the hell happened here? This is how you appreciate us putting you in such an amazing place? You trash it?" He didn't know the half of it. "You piss off the god damned balcony? You throw bottles off the roof." Oh shit, yes he did.
"Hey Mike..." I started, but he felt the need to warn me of the thin ice I was on. In fact, he informed me the ice had already broken. I was treading in the freezing water.
"Before you say a word, THINK! Think because I've already called and arranged for you all to be flown home. Now, do you have something to say?"
I did. "Well, I have one thing, that's important to say. Hoang had nothing to do with this. He was in his room. We didn't even see him until this morning."
"Is this true Hoang?"
"Well you're in charge. You shouldn't be letting this happen."
Hoang nodded again. He was out of the fire.
"Where are the other guys?" I asked.
"They're in Vancouver. I was about to fire their asses but they tell me this was you two."
I didn't know whether to believe him or not, but I didn't care to keep the truth from him. I wasn't that noble. "We just got here last night. We drank and made one night's worth of mess, which could be cleaned up in a couple of hours. We couldn’t possibly have made this big a mess in one night."
"Who pissed off the roof?"
Nobody answered. I don't know if anyone else knew.
Mike asked if it was the dreadlocked guy.
Nobody answered. I was feeling like a grade a prick, but I also felt like keeping my job and dread Lock boy didn't have a job to lose.
My conscience got me halfway to the truth and I answered, "I don't think so. I doubt anyone pissed off the roof. I didn't see anyone do it."
"Someone did!" Mike yelled. "Do you know who threw the bottles?"
I was already full of self loathing, so I went for some redemption. I raised my hand.
Mike just stared at me. I reverted to my five year old self for a moment under his disgusted glare. I could’ve cried, but instead I spoke, carefully.
"I didn't throw any bottles. I knocked one bottle off the ledge, on accident. I saw that nobody got hurt, and we shut the party down then." As it came out of my mouth it actually sounded much more reasonable than I thought it would.
"All of you, Clean this place up and then you two get your bags packed."
Dan and I were going home. I was tempted to say fuck it to the clean up, but I'd already reached my quota for stupidity. We got the place sparkling as Mike and Hoang went out flyering. We didn't need to pack. We'd never unpacked. We got a call from Margine who ran the office and she spoke to us each separately getting our stories of the previous nights events. She told us that Dreadlocks was no longer allowed in any Spike and Mike apartment. She was calling Homes and BJ for their stories too.
Mike and Hoang got back. Dan and I had each gone through the shower. Clean us, clean apartment and a few hours to calm down had Mike relaxing a bit. He moved Hoang to the couch and himself into Hoang's room. I wanted to ask if we were still leaving but I just left it alone. That night Mike gave us our assignments for the week. We were staying.
The next morning I finally saw Seattle by daylight. What a city, so green and gorgeous. We found the gay mall, the space needle, and the college campus. We flyered hard. We were torn between embarrassment, relief and anger over what happened but for now we concentrated on getting to know this glorious city.
We met a-lot of buskers and spare changers who were living like the kids we'd met in SF, more campers than homeless. Later day hippies with a generous helping of punk and hip hop sensibilities mixed in. I met a couple of these kids, Sara and Jake that I ended up hanging out with.
Sara sang me a song she wrote and it was beautiful, she was beautiful, sitting on the street with her watching all the busy people go by as the sun went down was beautiful. I was again feeling like maybe joining Spike and Mike was just a step toward where I really wanted to be. I was homeless, sort of, I had no ties to any one place, but I still had a boss and as had been recently been made clear my way of life could be taken from me all too easily. It wouldn't take much to throw it away either, which I was tempted to do. I could just stay there, with Sara and Jake. They'd be heading to SF soon. I was sure It'd make a better person of me. I wouldn't be pissing off of balconies like a spoiled shit; I'd be pissing in alleys instead. I said goodnight to Sara and Jake and returned to the apartment.
It was nice getting to know Hoang a little better. He was Asian, but not sure what nationality. He asked his white dad once if he was Chinese or Japanese or what and his dad replied with "You're an American. You want to be a gook? I can drop you off in China town right now; you can be a gook there." Wow!
You'd think he'd be able to figure it out based on his first name, his appearance, etc. but Hoang knew less about Asian culture than anyone. He was racist against Asians in fact. We were out driving and a group of young guys in the car next to us started shouting to Hoang in some language neither of us recognized. Hoang yelled back. "This is America ya slant eyed fucks. Speak English! You speakee engrish?" They yelled more animatedly now and Hoang laughed his ass off.
Hoang could beat anyone at Street Fighter II and this introduced me to a strange subculture. We'd enter an arcade and there would be a line waiting to play the game. Whoever won would stay on, and the loser forfeited his spot to the next in line. If Hoang saw anyone win several games in a row he'd feel then need to get in line, beat them, and then give up his spot, playing only the one game. I marveled at this virtual fighting creating an actual real life pecking order. I doubt kicking the dominate males ass in Street Fighter got you laid, but maybe, indirectly, it did. Hoang walked with a certain swagger when he had just beaten someone's ass.
Hoang was fun to work with. We'd take turns playing music and he was open to it all. He liked poppier stuff himself but when I put on David Byrne's The Forest he observed that it was perfect for such a rainy day in such a green town. We went and saw The Smashing Pumpkins together. Billy Corgan called me an asshole from stage. I was on top of the crowd and the tempo of the music slowed, but the crowd kept me up. Corgan points out the asshole crowd surfing during a slow song, and then makes some dumb crack about him not being punk rock enough. I climbed a tower with a camera on top and dove from it as a ridiculous response to the embarrassment of being singled out like that. This would have gotten me in a couple of fights if Hoang wasn't good intimidating people off.
Dan and I met a girl named Allegra and immediately we both fell for her. I honestly tried to step back, weather Dan believes it or not, and give him a shot. But she was beautiful and she made it clear that she was interested in me. What was I supposed to do?
I ended up in the Jacuzzi with her and without Dan, and the deal was sealed with a kiss. She had a curvy body and big curly blonde hair. Dan was not fond of me, but fuck it; I wasn't too crazy about me either, and kissing such a delightful young women was one of the only ways I knew to improve that situation.
I was determined to stop the now repeating cycle of going to a town, being dissatisfied with the pointlessness of my life and going to another town. I wanted to do something drastic. Hell, Allegra was gorgeous and free spirited, I figured we should run and get married. I'd stay in Seattle, everything would be new. Sure, why not. By the time I suggested it, we were drunk way beyond driving anywhere, but she thought it was a dandy of an idea. We passed out in each other’s arms. We woke up, and I went back to work.
I seemed unable to enjoy what should have been an ideal life. I drank every night and I had trouble finding the energy I'd once had for flyering. I kept thinking I'd settle down with Allegra or bum around with Sara and Jake. Instead I'd get some beer, settle in for the evening and start it all over the next day.
I was hung-over as hell when Mike dropped me off to flyer at one of the colleges. I was still contemplating quitting, not just this job, but the whole rat race. I didn't realize when I turned in that application at Kentucky Fried Chicken that this was forever, that I'd need a job from then on, that I’d be defined by my job, the quality of the job, or the lack of a job would be the center of my life from that point on. Unless I could escape it. Unless I could go backwards. I was moving forward at a faster pace than ever. What links did I have to the past? I was losing people. My family had changed and would never be the same. I had no town that was home. I tried to go back when I visited Emily. The cliché rang true. You can't go back, but maybe I could at least hold still. Put on the breaks. Stop a moment and build something out of it.
I wandered across campus for a bit, then found a newspaper and sat on my ass for a good fifteen minutes, not knowing that Mike had followed me in to see if I was working. Appearing out of nowhere, he grabbed my flyers, and started flyering loudly. Fuck! I'd blown it again. I tried to get some flyers from Mike so that I could start working, but he wouldn't let me at them. I followed him all over campus as he flyered with great exuberance. The happier he acted the more pissed I knew he was. I followed him out to his Volvo and got in.
Mike didn't say a word as he started driving up into the hills. I half thought he was just driving me as far from civilization as possible so he could ditch me. That would be about what I deserved and was known to fuck with people. Mike parked at a photo opportunity pull off.
Mike sat there for a long time, and then he started talking.
"Spike and I built this company up from nothing. Do you know our history, because I'm going to tell it to you. We were young, your age, when we got jobs promoting concert films. Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin. The guy doing the shows didn't give us cars or hotels; he didn't even equip us with staplers. We'd pull tacks out of bulletin boards and re-use them.
“I bought some cartoons on 16 mm and suggested he put them on before the films. I found great shit. The first thing I bought was Porky Pig smashing his thumb and cursing. Well it became clear to me that the cartoons were being talked about more than the concerts. Spike and I flunked out of college and spent all of our money and time putting together our show and promoting it. This is our dream come true. I love this show. I love entertaining people. I love supporting this art form of animation. And I love being able to have you punk ass, skater, raver kids be a part of it.
“Do you like being a part of this? Do you realize how special this is? If not, that's okay. Go home. Find something special to do. Life is short Keith. Some day, sooner than you realize, you will be old and I hope that you'll look at what you've spent your time doing and be proud. Will you be proud to say you stole my fucking money by sitting on your ass while I paid you to promote my cartoon show? Hell no. You'll be a bitter, jaded fuck, like all these assholes we deal with every day, who hate us because we're not rotting away in a cubicle and yet some how we're on the floor above them at the hotel. Decide Keith. If you want to stay, you're welcome to stay, but be a part of this magic thing."
"Okay Mike." There was nothing more to say. Mike was right and I was a shit.
I needed to wake up. Mike was one of the most amazing people I'd ever met, and there had to be more to this than drinking the same shitty beer and griping the same tired gripes in a new town every month.
That night Mike gave this speech again, to all of us, while standing in front of those amazing wrap around windows as the sun set behind him. He was yelling, "Look! Look at where you are, and appreciate it! This is amazing! This view, this sunset, this life!" Hoang and Dan were pinned to the couch, having no idea where this was coming from. Mike was so driven I was pretty sure there was more going on here than just my getting caught goofing off.
Mike then turned suddenly giddy. He invited us to watch a movie with him. Poor Allegra had sat in my room waiting through Mike's rant. Mike asked her if she would do us the honor of watching a movie with us. She accepted and he took her with him, practically dancing her out of the apartment and off to buy some popcorn, soda and snacks. I loved Mike right then. I felt like he was my second father. I'd found myself a purpled bearded, non-deodorant wearing, fooze ball playing, yoga loving mentor.
Dan's reaction to Mike was a bit different.
"Something's up." Dan announced as soon as Mike had left the room. He picked the lock on Mike's briefcase. Dan was right. Something was up. He found papers, unsigned, which would give Mike's share of the company to Spike for a tidy sum. Mike would stay on as a consultant and independent contractor, promoting the festival in specific markets including Portland Oregon where he’d always celebrated his birthday. So, nothing would change except the way that the inner workings were structured, but it was significant. Something was most definitely up.
Seattle eventually drew to a close. The shows were doing well. I’d studied Mike's announcing some more and I continued to be amazed by his presence on stage. Hoang and I announced the Sick and Twisted show a couple of times together, with Hoang doing most of the talking. We couldn't hold a candle to Mike so we didn't try. We went loud and vulgar. I wouldn't write my mom about it, but it felt good to get the crowd pumped up.
For the flyer crew the show really started in the lobby. With one of us at the door and the other two behind a merch table we’d bark racial slurs back and forth to each other. Dirty Jew this, slanty eyed nip that, cracker ass get to work. And when someone complained to Mike he’d feign disgust and offer an immediate refund of the patron’s ticket promising to fire us all with due haste.
I had a couple of days off and so I spent the time with Allegra. I was thankful we hadn't gotten married. I was annoying the hell out her with my slovenliness, and she was annoying me by being so annoyed.
I had one last day to flyer for our closing weekend. The sun was out and I felt like playing mute. I'd learned the trick when Dan had his teeth pulled in Chicago and from time to time I would just quit talking. I was flyering and drawing with chalk on the sidewalk to get attention. A woman happened along with her cello and asked if I'd mind her playing while I drew and flyered. I smiled and nodded. In no time at all another woman came along and started reciting poems in time with the cello. Her poetry was actually good too. Good poetry is as rare as such a sunny day in Seattle in the Fall. Life may have been meaningless, but it sure could be pretty.
Spike and Mike: Vancouver, all by myself (page 223 – 228)
“Excuse me, sir? Look, I got the Beatles two CD set. I just bought it. It’s like…” and he walked away. I looked around for someone who looked cool enough to believe me, or to give me the time of day. What did it even matter if my story was true? I needed 15 bucks and I had some Beatles CDs to sell. Ironic that the CDs were a gift from Spike, the son of a bitch who’d put me in this fix.
I told the office I was broke. I told them I didn’t even have money for the bus ticket from Seattle to Vancouver. “No Problem” they said. “The bus ticket will be on call at the bus depot along with some cash. Well here I was; I'd flown from Sacramento to Seattle, it was 9pm, there was no god damned bus ticket waiting for me, no cash either and nobody at the office to call. Spike was not picking up his cell phone.
“Excuse me, I need to get to Vancouver tonight or I’m sleeping in this bus terminal. I’ll sell these to you for fifteen bucks.”
“What?” Good. He wanted to hear my story.
“I’ve got a hotel room and a car and a job to do in Vancouver but the bus ticket that was supposed to be here, waiting for me, isn’t. I just bought this Beatles set in Santa Cruz. I haven’t even had a chance to open it. It’s like twenty five bucks in the stores; I’ll sell it to you for fifteen bucks.”
“It’s not stolen?”
“Oh come on man. I’m not a junkie. I just got stuck and I don’t want to sleep in the bus depot.”
“Alright man. Will you take ten?”
“Shit. You didn’t listen to me. I’m not lying man. Ten doesn’t put me on a bus. I’m desperate. No. I won’t take ten.” Yuppie asshole. What about ‘All you need is love’?
He gave me fifteen bucks and I barely made the bus. I had a few hours of travel ahead of me including a border crossing and then I’d figure out how to get to my hotel from the Vancouver depot. After that I’d figure out how to kill Spike.
The ride was pretty. The northwest is gorgeous, by sun or moon. It had been some time since I’d traveled by bus anywhere and there was a nice nostalgia to leaning my head against the big window and watching the headlights go by. I felt the panic drain out of me as I made my way into Vancouver.
The border crossing was a snap, and a short time later I got off the bus still not clear on just how I was going to get to my hotel. I asked a cabbie how much it would be from the bus station to The Dufferin Hotel on Seymour. “About twelve American? Fine.” I hopped in with no money and off we went. I hoped that the desk clerk at The Duff would lend me some money. If not, well I’d jump off that bridge when I came to it.
The desk clerk had no problem letting me sign for 20 bucks. I paid and tipped the cabbie and I went upstairs to my room. The place was a disaster. Goddamn Frank. He’d left me quite a mess; t-shirts, videos and stickers everywhere, boxes of flyers open and spilt out, the beds unmade and the do not disturb sign on the door to insure they’d stay that way. I walked through the obstacle course to the window and opened it. I looked out from the sixth floor at this amazing city, so pretty all lit up in the rain, and I cried. I felt more alone than I’ve ever felt. It wasn’t all bad. There was something incredible about it. I’d just traveled across three states and into another country by myself with a serious lack of support and now I stood here, alone in a motel room in the middle of a big, gorgeous city. I finished my cry and called Bryna.
I tried to describe the feeling of strength and independence that facing this kind of loneliness gave me. Bryna is an oldest sibling, where I’m near the bottom. Solitude and independence came more naturally to her, but then so did empathy. She wired me fifty bucks to get me through the next couple of days. I had a car and a room so all I needed was money for food.
After getting off the phone with Bryna I took a walk. I found a store selling Samosas, three for a dollar. Frank may have left a mess, but in that mess he’d also left a jar of Loonies and Toonies, Canadian one and two dollar coins. Frank was the world’s worst penny pincher so I was sure it wasn’t on purpose, but it would serve me well while I waited for the fifty bucks from home. I got two bucks worth of Somosa goodness and continued walking in the rain.
The next day I got up early, broke out a map and figured out Vancouver. I’d been here before of course, but I had relied on other folks do the navigating. My sense of direction is abysmal but with the map and enough planning I did okay, one more feather in my independence cap. I drove by The Ridge first to make sure I could find my way to the show that night. I felt good having found my way there, and I was confident I could get back.
It feels like half of Vancouver if not more is park, not a swings and monkey bar, have a bbq park, more of a national forest kind of park. I drove through the trees with my windows down, the cold air feeling good against my face. I loved my Volkswagen bus at home, but it was great to drive a nice rental car that handled effortlessly, winding through the trees, listening to Elvis Costello’s Armed Forces on Bryna’s CD player with an adaptor allowing it to play through the cars cassette deck. Life was good.
I pulled over and sat on the trunk for a while. I may have felt strong and independent just being there, but I did not feel like pushing it. I was doing good, but I was still high strung enough from the trip up and too worried about getting to the theatre that night on time. Taking a walk was out though the park was out of the question. Sitting on the trunk and being aware of the hugeness of the planet was perfect.
I made my way back to the Duff. The maids had visited, the beds were made, clean towels waited in the bathroom. I folded and counted all the t-shirts and DVDs, loaded the car and went to find some lunch.
I ran into a young white kid with a shaved head who was studying Buddhism. He wanted to know if I might help his studies by buying a book. I said sure and gave him a Toonie for the small volume explaining Buddhist principles.
“Are you interested in escaping suffering?” He asked.
“Oh god no! I’m actually pretty fond of it… in moderation of course.”
He laughed. “Alright, at least you know what you like.”
I was intrigued by his unusual lifestyle choice. “How long have you been… well, you know, studying?”
“I’ve been a pilgrim for three years now.”
“Do you get to travel?”
He told me that he’d studied under teachers in California and Vancouver, and that he was hoping to visit Japan and maybe India in the next year. He was sweet and alert. I asked him if he wanted to grab some lunch, my treat, but he was meeting some other pilgrims. He asked if I’d like to come to their temple and I told him some other time when I was more relaxed would be better.
I made it to the theatre, an hour early of course and I got everything set up. A cool punk rock girl named Jenna, showed up to run the merch table. Apparently frank had hired her and nobody had seen fit to tell me. With her much appreciated assistance I had very little to do. I MC’d and since it was the original show I was able to relax and really have fun with it. I threatened to show the two hour film “How To Play Chess” if the audience did not quit being so Canadian. The show did in deed open with a funny short called “How to Play Chess” which starts very dry. The introduction worked with the film and got the audience into playing and having fun with what they saw on the screen.
Jenna told me about a completely vegan Chinese restaurant a block away so I jogged over to get us some take out for dinner. The restaurant was in a huge old house and it was run by Buddhists. I picked up a beautiful postcard featuring a painting of The Buddha as he apparently was the deity of the day and ordered way too much food. It was great to have so many options.
At the end of the night I let Jenna keep the tips we’d made. She was shocked. Apparently Frank hadn’t given her a share of the tips once. What an ass. I went home and after lugging all the merch up the stairs and calling Bryna I slept as soundly as I’d ever slept.
The next day I found my way to the Vancouver Aquarium. They had a giant octopus that I just stood and stared at for ages. They had Beluga Whales, big white fellas with humps on their heads and smiling faces. I don’t think it’s too cool to keep marine mammals in captivity and I was surprised to see such a thing at an aquarium, but have to admit to really enjoying them as they swam around their huge pool; amazing creatures. It was nice being at the aquarium by myself. I spent as much or a little time as I wanted at each display and then I went back a second peek at my favorites.
I returned to the hotel restaurant for lunch. The food wasn’t the best but they had taken good care of me when I was broke on my first visit to Vancouver and it was nostalgic to sit in their booths again with a hot cup of coffee and a handful of Falafel filled pita bread.
Frank called asking about the jar of change he'd left.
"I didn't see a jar of change dude. The maid must have assumed it was a tip and taken it." That's what you get for leaving the room like that ya dopey bastard.
The show went well again. The employees of The Ridge were really cool. The manager told me she had just gotten a copy of Todd Haynes’ “Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story.” Back then it was hard to find as Haynes hadn’t gotten the rights to the music nor had he, or could he have gotten permission from Mattel to use Barbie. As a fan of Barbie, Indy Film and The Carpenter’s I’d been dying to see it. Too bad I’d be leaving in the morning. I packed up and headed back to the Duff. I was already midnight but I was it was my last night in town so I went out for another walk. I passed the strip club down the street and decided to venture in.
Some crusties spare changed me and I felt bad saying no. It was as if I was saying “No. You’re ugly and clothed. This money’s for the pretty naked people.”
I had the experience I’d been wanting to have at a strip club. I saw attractive women dancing seductively, I had a beer and I went home to go to bed. I passed a gorgeous woman on the way back to The Diff, better looking than anyone in the club. She reached out and stroked my shoulder. “Hey baby, want a date?”
Well, I most certainly did, or at least a part of me did. “Oh, no. I’m sorry I can’t. You are lovely though.”
I made it to the hotel and since I’d be up in just a few hours to drive home I left the t-shirts and DVDs in the car. I figured the lot was safe and who would steal such low value stuff anyway?
I was getting up and on the road as early as possible. They had given me three days to make it from Vancouver to San Diego. I planned to make it two thirds of the way in one day, one straight shot from BC to Sacramento, so that I could spend the second day which happened to be Thanksgiving, with my girl.
I woke up, dressed, grabbed my bags and found the rental car with its back window smashed and one box of t-shirts gone. I checked the glove box and, yep, Bryna’s CD Player with my Elvis Costello still in it was gone as well. Worse yet, It had snowed. There was snow inside the car and no window so it would be freezing. I made a quick call to the office leaving a message explaining what had happened.
I didn’t want to slow down for anything so, I drove. My bad sense of direction was not a factor. Highway five would take me all the way in. I planned to stop only twice, once to gas up and tape some cardboard where the window had been and once at a cool yuppie super market where I got some hummus, avocados and bread. It’s hard to make an avocado hummus sandwich while driving, especially when it’s a loaf of unsliced sourdough but I made it happen and it tasted perfect. The scenery was beautiful and I found a really cool Jazz station. I’d never really gotten into Jazz but I sure was digging it now. I wrote down names I needed to Remember. Jimmy Smith, Grant Green, and Sun Ra and his Arkestra. I lost the station but then I found another one. Were all jazz stations this cool north of Sacramento? Our local station played a bunch of fusion with way too much emphasis on crappy guitar, or they played bad acid jazz with worse rapping over the top of it. I like when the hip hop guys played with jazz but vice versa didn’t work out too well. Today though, everything was great and I was on my way to see my girl.
The sun set and I was getting mighty tired. Gas station coffee leaves much to be desired but I hadn’t found any mini-thins, those happy truck pills that keep ones eyes open on long road trips. I saw a hippy hitch hiking. Figuring a bit of company would help me stay wake I pulled over and let Stephon into the car. He was pudgy and covered in tie dye. He didn’t smell which was good but he wasn’t the conversationalist I’d been hoping for, instead prattling on endlessly about weed using stupid terms like diggity dank and shwiggity shwagg. I was wishing I could just go back to my jazz. He asked me if the tape player worked and I lied and said it did not. I don’t know what he was gonna play but I was sure it was going to be the diggitiest of dank.
A giant sinkhole had claimed one side of the 5, slowing traffic to a crawl. There I was, not moving, 14 hours into the trip with at least three to go, probably more at this speed and some kid with a really low IQ, getting lower by the bong rip, diggity danking at me. Most surreal of all was the knowledge that I was in this position because the earth itself had opened up and swallowed my path. It would be so good to be home.
We got around the sinkhole at last and came to the hippy’s exit. He asked me to go a block further where his friend lived. We went a block further and he asked me to make a left and go another block.
“Nope. Sorry dude, you gotta get out here, I’m getting back on the highway.”
“Oh dude, it’s just a block away.”
“That’s what you said a block ago. I’m sorry man, I’m a nice guy, but I’m turning around and driving back to the highway and if I have to do it with you still sitting there I will.” I put the car back in gear so he’d know I meant it. He got out, probably labeling me as diggety dank and I got on.
When at last I reached Sacramento, my own damn town, I got lost. I never entered Sac from the north. I kept grabbing 80 and 80 kept not doing what 80 was meant to do. Like a bad dream I’d see my skyline, beckoning to me, and then the damn freeway would turn away from it. I’d turn around and do it all again. I was close to tears when I walked into an AM PM. The old black guy at the counter was cool.
”Calm down man, I’ll get you there.”
I laughed at myself and listened to his directions. I got back on the road and grabbed the redundantly named Business 80. I got to Bryna’s, walked in the door and she took me right through her comfortable dark house into her bedroom. She lay me down on clean sheets and wrapped around me. Life was great.
The Tuesday Night Grindhouse (pages 242 – 245)
(Just to catch you up here, I rented a small theatre to show “Trash” films, starting with H.G. Lewsi’ 2,000 Maniacs)
Opening night I ran around like a mad man. Patrick wore a vintage suit with his perfect pompadour and a pair of 3-D classes. I myself grew a pencil thin John Waters’ mustache.
We asked our friend Bunny Dave who was great in a dress, more of a pop culture transgender fashion model than a drag queen, to host. I hear all the best transvestites are straight, but Dave sure was an unusual entity in Sacramento. Bryna completed the core group and allowed us to focus on being insane as she put together a crew that just happened to be made up entirely of blonde girls, most of whom were related to her. Our all blonde army became another part of the image and draw of our anything goes show.
We got about forty people out to the theatre. Not a bad start, on a Tuesday night, in the ghetto, but not paying the bills either. Regardless we were stoked. Erick Foemell, the suavest man in town, discovered the crying room upstairs. The crying room was meant for moms with noisy babies to sit in. A large window with a speaker over it would allow guests to see and hear the film. This became our VIP room, to thank our volunteers, and Erick built and stocked the most beautiful bar. He’d be up there in his shark skin suit mixing up cocktails and charming the pants off the ladies (often literally.)
By the end of the night the film had frozen in the gate and melted and we had to drop the third reel because Jim Sr. had loaded it backwards. This meant dropping more than a quarter of the movie including the notorious barrel roll scene. Patrick and I were crushed, and a bit humiliated. The audience had a great time regardless and they were back the next week. Jim Sr. was not. I had to find and hire a projectionist, a handsome young Mexican kid named Angel became our Angel in the booth.
The Crying Room was a blast but downstairs was pure insanity; live chainsaws being wielded by hunchbacks running through the theatre, a girl riding a motorcycle down the aisle, mud wrestling. Patrick had a habit of nay saying my ideas which worked to our advantage. Anything he said couldn’t be done, I had to do. Topping ourselves each week became a challenge and people were talking.
We were brainstorming what to do for our first woman in prison flick and I threw out mud wrestling, never intending to actually attempt such a thing.
“No way. We can’t do mud wrestling.”
By this point I was hardily tired of Patrick telling me what we couldn’t do. I figured I’d eventually pull of a big enough coupe and he’d have faith in me forever more. “That’s it. We’re doing mud wrestling.”
I drove my VW Bus to target, scored a cheap kiddy pool and using a fine fish net filtered dirt from behind the theatre, attempting unsuccessfully to filter out any sharp rocks or bits of glass. That night The Betty Pages wrestled the Country Bumpkins. One of the Betties would become an instant Grind House favorite. Shannon was broad shouldered and tall with enormous breasts which she liked to pack into t-shirts emblazoned with logos that read “WOW” or “Oh Yeah!” During the first match a drunk punk got too excited and hopped into the kiddy pool throwing real punches. Shannon lifted the waif high over her head and brought her down against her knee in a brutal back breaker. Of course Shannon created the illusion of certain death while protecting the girl from any real harm.
“You get the fuck out of here or I do it for real next time.” She whispered in drunkie's ear, sending the dazed, amazed and muddy girl hobbling back to her seat. I had only cold water from a hose and some towels to help the girls clean off afterwards, and they were covered in cuts and scrapes from rocks and glass that had made it through my net. They were too stoked, and too drunk from visits to the crying room, to give a damn.
Amazing intermissions were not the only attendance building stunts. At the second or third show I got a report that some kids were smoking pot in the parking lot. I went to check it out and sure enough four guys and a girl were hot boxing a station wagon. They freaked when I tapped on the window.
“Oh, hey, um, yeah, we were just leaving.”
”What? The movie hasn’t started. You gotta stick around. But listen, smoking pot out here is pure stupid. If the cops don’t get you the crack heads will. If I was going to smoke some pot I’d probably just do it inside the theatre. Unfortunately I run the place so I could never tell you to do something like that, but I’d probably be way too busy to notice.”
This was an old Spike and Mike trick. Look the other way when the pot smokers come though and you’ll have one demographic firmly secured. Sure enough the kids all sat in the second to last row and that row was a bit more crowded each week, until at last I could count on two rows of stoners at each show.
Our intermission entertainment often featured a masked Mexican wrestler named El Flaco Loco, which translates as The Crazy Skinny Guy. We were showing Cannibal Ferox, a particularly gory Italian film featuring a castration scene. I’d originally booked a guy who bleeds and makes art with his blood to the point of passing out to a soundtrack tape of original music. I asked him if he’d perform this with a live band and he reluctantly agreed. Then the band dropped out after I described the guys act. No problem I figured, he can bring his tape. Turns out he’d gotten attached to having the band; no band, no bleeding. We decided to have El Flaco drive a nail through his penis on stage. Flaco never gave me grief. “Tell me what to do and give me my cue.” was his motto.
Flaco was in the lobby with the large fake penis shoved down his tights and the blood pack loaded and ready. He went to the front door, intending to have a smoke and he noticed a crapload of cops facing their guns at the theatre. His first thought was of the penis and how they’d respond when they found it strapped to him. He backed away from the door while pulling it from his tights. This got the cops uptight as the combination of the mask and the reaching for something in his pants looked to them like a shoot out ready to happen. Bryna found me and told me that we were surrounded by cops. I laughed and then I saw that she was serious and quite scarred. I went to the door, putting my hands where they’d be visible in the little round window.
“Hi. I’d like to come out. I’m the manager of the theatre.”
“Come out with your hands on your head.”
I did so, and I was amazed. There was a swat team facing me with blindingly bright lights and a helicopter circling. “ON YOUR KNEES!” As I got to my knees I looked at the cops, most younger than me, with their big scary guns trained on my head. They were frightened and their fingers were on the triggers. One backfiring car would mean my death.
I dropped to my knees and two cops rushed me, one on each side. They patted me down and I explained why the gentleman was wearing a mask and I made up some BS about him being wired to a special effect box that didn’t’ allow him to walk out the first time without unplugging. They sent me in to get Flaco. They put the great masked one through the same routine they’d just put me through, only they were much rougher with him.
Eventually the cops calmed down and by the time the surprised audience came out for their intermission cigarettes they were joking and laughing with Flaco and me. They explained that a neighbor had called saying that a masked man and a man with a gun had entered the theatre. The man with the gun was my friend Michael who had come as a suicide victim, small hole on one side of his head, big hole on the other. Despite my begging them to join the fun the cops refused to be a part of the intermission show. El Flaco Loco drove the nail in and blood shot past the sixth row of seats. Business went on as usual.
We escaped any real crime happening at the theatre just barely. Chris was working the candy counter when a boy who looked to be about twelve years old asked if she could break a hundred dollar bill.
“Can you break a fifty?”
“No kid, I’m sorry. You want fifty dollars worth of candy and popcorn?”
“How about a twenty?”
Chris was smart enough to see what was going on. “Kid, I can’t even break a five. If you give me a dollar for a candy bar, we’ll have that dollar in the register, along with a couple of rubber bands.”
The kid had the information he needed, the information he’d probably been sent in to get, and despite having paid his admission he exited the theatre.
We plugged on. Leesa and RJ secured a copy of Fulce’s great Italian gore fest Zombie. We had one of the guys from the band Rancid come to the show with a gaggle of other Berkley punks and we had plenty of Sacramento horror fans finally give in and check us out, giving us our biggest audience yet. We were a lily white crowd in a black and Hispanic neighborhood and this bothered me. I wanted to see the neighbors enjoying the show. Two black girls were walking by and taking long strange looks at the goings on. I told them to go on in and check out the show.
We had a great dub band playing at intermission and then the Zombies showed up. Three of them and they made their way from behind the audience toward the stage. When the two black girls, who had no idea what to expect saw the shuffling ghouls they began screaming. When the ghouls climbed onstage, tore the drummers belly open, pulled out the bloody intestines and started eating them, both girls were on their feet screaming to high heaven. I should have paid them. They made the night. I was sure I could expect a house full of their guy friends once they spread their tale but maybe we did too good a job as we never did get the neighborhood folks through our door.
The gut eating effects worked great and were so simple. A zip lock bag full of chocolate and strawberry syrup and intestines made from condoms generously donated by the local free clinic was taped to the drummer’s belly. Slip on a shirt you don’t mind losing and let the magic happen. I felt a tinge of guilt at misusing the clinic’s condoms so I passed a bunch out the next week with a good safe sex message.
Things were going good, but of course we never did turn a profit. Despite our over the top press releases the papers ignored us completely. Television media paid some attention. The local Fox affiliate called and threatened to call the police if I kept sending them my “pornographic” releases, this from the station that carries the Simpson and COPS, my two favorite shows. If you’re John Waters, post Hairspray you get to be on NPR talking about Divine eating dog poop, the polite hostess laughing with you, but when you’re an unknown scum bag showing Orgy of The Vampires you get jack. I was tempted to continue sending them my innocent releases. Getting arrested might be just the press we needed.
Radio Stooge (pages 265 – 266)
“Arabs and Muslims are the enemy, they have chosen to be our enemy, and we will not be safe until every Muslim and every Arab and all of their sympathizers in this country are rounded up and put where they can be kept track of. I don’t want to see them hurt, I just don’t want them allowed to hurt me, or my loved ones, or our way of life.” I was saying in a loud and impassioned voice which was being broadcast throughout the Country.
While still working at In Alliance I received a call from a man named Larry. Larry found me through my friend Brett who had moved to LA to become The World Famous Lizard Boy. Larry hired folks to call in to talk radio shows like Mancow and Howard Stern and pretend to be various loonies.
I talked with Larry, proved I could improv and do various voices and he agreed to put my talents to use. The gig paid $50 a call. The radio show folks would phone me at 5am, sometimes 4am, and then put me on hold for an hour or more making me listen to their horrible right wing radio until they got to me, the DJ pretending that I had just dialed in.
In the beginning Larry wrote the roles for me to play and they were awful. My first time on the Mancow show I played a guy who washed his ass with a tooth brush. I added the detail that I was working on a kid’s book. I did research, finding statistics and developing an argument; over percent of Americans suffer from hemorrhoids. Man cow didn’t need much; he just called me a sick jackass and hung up. I barely had a chance to get in, “I’m sick? You sit there with a filthy bum, and you call me sick.”
I played a few more of these horrible roles and then came the abortion call. Larry wanted me to be a guy who had spent large amounts of money on fertility treatments trying to have a baby with his new wife only to find out that she had had three abortions prior to their relationship. I had a really bad cold making it easy to sound like I was in tears. Mancow sympathized completely with me, and instructed me to leave that bitch, slut, whore. His callers were less understanding as they slung insults at me in my time of suffering. I felt like a tool having aided Mancow in this moronic propaganda. Mancow is not pro-life; he is anti-pro-choice, more about hating on the enemy than loving on the fetus.
I was done, unless I could insure better calls. I pitched some ideas of my own to Larry and he bit.
After seeing Bowling For Columbine I went on as Mad Dad who was sending his kid to school with a gun so to play hero should any of these “Marilyn Manson faggot freaks” decide to make the school a shooting gallery. By playing the most exaggerated version of the conservative asshole that Mancow represented I could push him back the other direction. It worked perfectly and Mancow told me what a moron I was. This I enjoyed.
September 11th had me concerned over the backlash against Muslims and Arabs. I called Larry and pitched an idea. He bought it and after running the idea past Mancow who loved it, I was on the show again, this time suggesting that all Arabs and all Muslims be interned. I had to make as strong of an argument as possible to get the response I wanted.
“Sure it’s easy to say interning the Japanese was wrong, but we won the war didn’t we? We’re all better off now aren’t we?”
Mancow went nuts as did his listeners, all of them professing their love for Muslim Americans. Ha ha.
“Yeah, sure, go ahead and love them from your secured building Mancow. I don’t hear any of them there with you in the studio. Easy for you to love ‘em while you stay out of their reach.”
“What? I have a Muslim, Arab woman right here, working the phones.”
Now I really scored. The angry DJ put a female Arab voice on the radio. She was awesome. She defended her ethnicity and faith, and told me off in Farsi.
They kept me on for an hour, where I usually got a couple of minutes. I was still on as my neighbors began waking and starting their days and I worried that they'd hear my racist ranting. Brett was on later that day, but was mostly ignored as the Muslim love fest continued.
I had never felt such pride in my creative endeavors. Larry must have been pleased as well. He got me on the Howard Stern show. Unfortunately, I would be playing a part that Larry had written. I was Animal Lover Ben AKA Bestiality Boy, a man trying to create a man dog hybrid using his neighbor’s dogs. Oh well, you can’t win them all.
Jensen Brother’s Creative Aquariums pages 173 and 174
(I started a business cleaning fish tanks, hiring on my kid brother James and my friend Brett.)
"Um, Keith. Has Jordan ever, uh, well..." Brett struggled to get the question out as I talked to him from a pay phone in SF.
"Hit on me?" I helped him out. "Maybe tried to suck my dick?"
"Yeah that's it exactly."
"Nope. He did go for James though, pretty aggressively too. Did he hit on you while you were there working?"
"Yeah. I had finished and we were hanging out, talking about music."
"Well drop the account, that's bullshit."
"No, it's cool. I was hanging out. I'll just be sure not to stick around after I finish with the tank next time. Um, Keith... something else is actually bothering me."
"Everything you put in his tank dies?"
"Yeah. What the fuck. I thought it was me!"
"I worried that it was me. I'm relieved to hear your having the same rotten luck. I don't know if he's eating them or what. Keep trying, and hey Brett, if you decide you want to get your dick sucked its okay with me."
"Yeah. Fuck you Keith."
A week before I returned Brett called to tell me Jordan had grabbed his dick as he was cleaning the tank.
I showed up at the scheduled time and was welcomed back.
"Dude. Did you grab Brett's dick?"
"Yeah. So. What's the big deal man? I was just playing."
'What's wrong with my dick?' I wondered. I had no interest in having my dick grabbed but this was getting god damned insulting. Did he want every dick out there BUT mine?
"He was working. That's harassment. I can't let him come back here or I'd be vulnerable as his employer. I don't even know if I want to come back."
"I'm not going to hit on you. Don't worry."
WHY THE HELL NOT? I'm a good looking guy you dumb asshole. "Fine. I'll work on the tank, but when I go out of town you'll have to hire someone else."
I worked on the tank for a bit longer, but I got tired of dead fish. I passed the job off to David, the hippy from Capitol Aquarium. David looked like a cover model from a super market paperback romance novel. I was sure Jordan would like his dick and I was pleased that I had helped karma to continue to plague the hippy.
Finally I got hired on at another aquarium and when I was offered a chance to manage the place. I took it and said goodbye to Jensen Brother's.