Friday, December 29, 2023

2 Minutes. Go!

Dear old Dan...that's what she always called him. Never Dan. She never called me Dan either; it was always Danny. I can hear it now. Always with a laugh in the voice. They were happy people. At peace, yet they had lived through more hardship than any two people ever should. Contrast that to the rest of us, bitching about nonsense and whining. Thing is, I don't know how they did it. 

They were happy about going to buy cheese and other goods from the Amish. They were happy about a particularly good batch of apples. They ate trout caught from tiny streams, and they ate simple. They dried their laundry on a line, and they would watch the birds from the window, enthralled, even when they didn't know their names. 

I try to imagine these people years before they were my grandparents. I imagine, because I know the history, what it would be like to walk into your son's room to find his head exploded all over the walls, the white paint dripping blood and brain matter. 

I try to put myself in those shoes, and I just think, shit, I'd reload the gun and put it in my mouth. In a second. In a heartbeat. Anything to stop that screaming tear in the mind. But maybe I wouldn't. They didn't. They rallied. Were extra proud of their surviving son. And he lived up to and surpassed their expectations, dreams, and hopes. 

They liked dumb jokes, and they read more than anyone I have ever known. Certainly more than most people who quit their formal education so young. They knew that books were equalizers as well as entertainment. 

My Paupa showed me more love than he showed my Dad, and I don't necessarily think that the fault lies with either of them. My nana was a constantly giggling, always generous, buddy. When I think back, that's the word that comes to mind. I loved them both so much. I was there when my Nana lost her memory and gained a time machine (she couldn't always remember me, but the street she grew up on was suddenly vivid and real again). I was there when my Paupa tried to figure out how life would work without her. I saw them at their lowest, and they were still higher than me. Paupa became a widower, but only for a few years. 

He was still happy, in a way. At least, he could pull it off when I was around. 

I've had many examples of amazing men in my life, and I'm not like any of them. Maybe that's a travesty. Maybe that is the saddest thing you hear today. Or maybe that's the way it is supposed to be. Evolution. My Paupa ate all the pain the world could offer, so it wouldn't be a shadow over my father's life. My Dad lost a brother in the worst way you can. He became an only child overnight. And, still, he raised a family...became the most responsible person I have ever known. Maybe too responsible. That's a weight to carry. I know, I feel it. I just can't carry it as well as he did. I feel the pain through the years, and I guess that is human history. 

My kids will probably never eat squirrel, chewing slowly in case there is shot still in the meat. I never walked the rails collecting pea-coal that fell off the trains so my family could be warm. I've seen some hardships, sure, but nothing like these people saw, they fought a fucking war. And here I sit, wishing I could be more like them, instead of this quivering mass of feelings and guilt. 

Sometimes, I wonder if they knew how much I cared for them. We weren't that kind of family. Not real touchy feely, physically or emotionally. I think they knew. I think they knew I wanted to hear their stories, to learn the things they knew. I think they saw the same progression I saw, and it probably pained them and inspired them at the same time. 

Our children never really know where we come from, and maybe that's good. My kids will never live in a city that is still segregated (with a wink). My kids won't be pulling up stakes every couple years. Still, I want to see some of that Mader grit in them. I want to see that resilience and perseverance. I want them to be strong and do the history proud. 

Best thing I can hope is that maybe it skips a generation. 

There's still hope for my girls. 

Friday, December 15, 2023

2 Minutes. Go!

You weren't there, so you can't feel it, but I can try to tell you about it. 

The first thing you have to do is understand the fear. It's a special kind of fear. There is excitement in it. A bit of dread. You are drinking beer to kill the nerves, but it's a slippery slope. You need to maintain balance, you need to drink medicinally. Unfortunately, you aren't wired that way. 

The nerves hide the alcohol until it's too late, and the other guitarist is pissed, and that makes you feel like shit, and feeling like shit is no way to play a show. So, you have another beer.

If the opening band sucks, the energy will be low. If the opening band is good, you will be extra nervous. Extra drinky. That will ruin the set, and there will be some unspoken anger. Or maybe it gets spoken. Maybe there's yelling. Even physical violence.

Sometimes, things will go right despite your failings. These are the good times. It's easy when it's like that, but it is a rare occurrence. Hailey's comet type shit, really. 

If a band plays after you, your set is largely dependent on them. If you sound way different, they might hate you. If you sound too similar, they will hate you for a different reason. The best band to follow is boring but competent. There are lots of bands like that. If you are feeling pessimistic or maybe realistic, you might group yourself amongst them. 

Too many cigarettes. You always smoke too many cigarettes, and it makes your voice dry. Which doesn't matter. No one came for the singing. This isn't The Voice. 

You should move around on stage, but it's hard to play guitar, sing, and be entertaining to look at all at the same time. Still, you hate live bands like this. Like Weezer. All focus, no show. 

Boring shows have to be perfect, and you ain't never going to be perfect. 

The fact that girls come to the shows is a miracle. Sometimes it helps. Sometimes it makes it harder. It doesn't matter if you play well. Not to most of these girls. You were on the stage. You have a kind of distant aloofness. That's the important thing. You can boost their status, and they won't be intimidated. You're accessible. Especially after the after-show beers. And basically, you're a feminist. Of sorts. So, it's safe. 

If the show was good, you might not get wasted. If it was bad, you'll be blacked out before they turn on the lights. Start herding people out. Because you are on the bill, you can pass out with the knowledge that someone will keep people from robbing you. Fucking with you. Sometimes, nothing hits the spot like a punk rock pass out on a thrift store couch. 

When you wake up, you'll have regrets. Either you fucked up and feel guilty or someone else did and you're bitter. Like, how does someone break the 'E' string on a bass? That shit should be impossible. Or the drummer broke another snare. Or the backup vocals were shitty. It is rare to feel good after a show. You wonder sometimes about more musically competent bands and what their regrets are. 

Or you might wake up next to a girl you don't know. That can be good or bad. It's a crap shoot. You try not to let it happen, but the beer...

You think, I should just stop drinking. This has happened too many times. It's fucking scary if you think about it. You are among a bunch of people in a place you aren't familiar with and you are at your worst and best at the same time. Sometimes, the drummer kicks a door in for no reason. Smashes a window. You're the only one entertained by this. 

And that's about it. You do that over and over. As often as you can. If it pays, great. If not, great. There will always be another show. Maybe you got hit with a bottle, broke a finger on somebody. If you did, that needs to be dealt with. 

So you deal with it by getting drunk. Rinse and repeat. Punk fucking rock. 

Friday, December 8, 2023

2 Minutes. Go!

Reggie stepped off the curb with a slight stumble. Anyone watching would likely assume that he had had a few too many drinks. Anyone watching for longer would be able to watch him weave down the sidewalk, bumping into people. Because he was good, that was all they saw. Not me. I saw the quick, darting motions that pulled wallets out of purses and pockets. I saw watches and jewelry disappear. He was good. Too good for his own good. Not as good as I was in my day, but good. 

Sandra was one of the bumped-into. She lost her grandmother's necklace. That glint of diamond was gone. She wouldn't realize it until she got home, and, when she did realize, she would fall to her knees, sobbing. Cheated. Duped. Dirtied. Contaminated. 

Al was an old man, and he had nothing worth stealing. He stood on the corner, sipping from a brown bag and hoping that the liquor would hurry up. Getting drunk was not a gradual process for him. It was like getting hit by a sledgehammer. That was the way he wanted it. He would drink a pint of vodka in one go if he had a beer to chase it with. This time, he had no beer. But a few more sips, taken in rapid succession, and he would be good to go. 

Anthony wore a badge, and he thought it made up for the fact that he had...bad ideas. Bad desires. He cast glances he was ashamed of. He dreamed things at night that couldn't stand the test of sunlight. He was ashamed, but it was beyond his control. The badge was a scarlet letter that only he could see. He was barely holding on, but, man, he was trying.

Yolanda didn't try at all. She gave into every base desire that she had and never thought twice about it. She took everything she could with no remorse. No empathy. No Jiminy Cricket for Yolanda. She was a predator in the truest sense of the word, and broken souls fanned out behind her like a wedding train. Her panther eyes missed nothing. Her conscience was clean. 

I was the one watching them, but I didn't judge any of them. Judge not lest ye be judged. I reckon that there isn't a person on earth who doesn't do or think something they don't want anyone to know about. That's what it means to be human. That's what fuels writers. At least, that's what fuels writers like me. 

Friday, December 1, 2023

2 Minutes. Go!

I broke your mind and left you stranded. I didn’t give into the shit you demanded. I got it twisted, tied it up. Filled my fucking misery cup. "Let it spill," you said, and smiled. I wrapped myself in sweet denial. I stood on the mountaintop feeling free, while industry feasted on the last real tree. 

Fishing for robot fish ain’t fun. They never jump. They barely run. They taste like metal, hurt to crunch. There’s no real fruit in that banana bunch. 

I had a woman, I remember well. Now I cuddle with the clones they sell. They don’t hold me tight, won’t hear me cry. They just sit and stare. I wonder why?

Ain’t they seen carbon-based before? Weren’t they invented just for this chore?

I fixed your mind with gum and paste. I took your good faith, bathed in waste. I let the politicians play, blood in their teeth at the end of the day. I blamed it on God, and you believed. The corporate shareholders were relieved. They toasted and laughed at declining health. Said, “As long as it won’t affect my wealth.”

So that’s what happened, believe it or not. Truth is cheap, but I gave it a shot.