Another Earth Day come to chastise us; a great pageant of patchouli-scented goodwill and self-congratulation. And what a sight! Several acres of innocent grass trampled and strewn with non-biodegradable trash, gangs of roving dreadlocks, bean bag jugglers, admirably unbathed artisans, glassy-eyed botanists, an enormous blinking music mainstage with the evident carbon footprint of a leviathan, little electric cars sparkling in blanched, 13 billion-year-old sunlight. You have to plug them into smokestacks to charge the batteries, you know. Never mind. This dumb rock has been turning forever, spat out of a hot singularity, drenched with steaming rain, then germs, then trilobites, then tax attorneys; this described without irony as an ‘ascent’. It just takes time. The heavens have seen all this before. We can’t Kill the Planet. It was stone dead once already and still patiently managed to turn a smattering of amino acids into Cate Blanchett. The Earth will be fine, dear little nincompoops. Our efforts to rescue Mother Earth are valiant and maybe even noble, our blinkered little race doomed, but lightly. Lightly doomed. Not our fault. It’s a cycle. You could kill the planet down to the bare bedrock and in 7 billion years you’ll have Ms. Blanchett again. Our little cars and plastic bottles aren’t sealing any doom but our own. Yes, eventually we’ll be shaved off like whiskers. We won’t go out with a bang or a whimper. We’ll just exhaustedly hit the road some eon hence, pack our recyclable bags and hemp pajamas and give it all back to the patient, seemingly emotionless bugs. They’ve been waiting. Every time we triumphantly step on one it goes down grinning.
Are we blessed creatures, or only a self-impressed residue of the Big Bang? Is life sacred? These questions tend to bring out the worst in us. In Washington D.C. (this nation’s largest and most lushly appointed Executive Lounge), a pious lawmaker will inveigh sonorously and with great moral gravity against the taking of the Life of the ‘unborn’, and then turn on his heel and blandly wave into law a drone strike program that splashes Pakistani viscera around like rainwater. Our apprehension of the numinous is childlike, but does not always express itself as poetry.
It’s been a little less than a year since Mr. Bubble dominated the news cycle. No, not the Mr. Bubble called upon by 1960s parents to hover menacingly over the kids’ baths with his clean-freak chatter and unnerving man-giggle. I’m talking about the ‘Bubble Ordinance’, the court-ordered rule/attorney catnip that tells Christ’s foot soldiers (and others) how to comport themselves when ministering to young ladies on the steps of Planned Parenthood. The Bubble Ordinance (also known by its lighthearted nickname 9.99.010(D) Section 9.99.020) tells sidewalk Right to Life counselors how far away they need to stand from those they would loudly dissuade from seeking abortions at those clinics that offer the service.
The questions are Big Ones, and the intercession of the courts has only served to add a byzantine layer of legal gibberish and towering billables to the eternally unanswered questions, to which have been added one more: “When delicately parsing the metaphysical arguments for and against the existence of an inviolable and eternal human soul, how close may I stand to you and scream like a bug-eyed banshee before my passion for Life becomes legally actionable intrusion?” This Sanctity of Life thing – it gets people riled.
Luckily the Supreme Court has solemnly spoken on the matter, and there are few sights more solemn than that of nine bewildered oldsters wading into a room in billowing black muumuus. As one would expect in a newish country founded by angry runaways tired of being broken on the rack just for saying the wrong thing, the Justices have done their utmost to balance the sacrosanct Right to Free Speech against the more recent constitutional guarantee of the right to an abortion (or ‘privacy’, to recall Roe vs Wade’s 14th Amendment raison d’être).
What sounds Solomonic, though, is in practice moronic, a surreally choreographed minuet that serves no purpose but to ineptly enforce the letter of two very very fundamental human rights – talking and privacy. You can occasionally view the fruits of their wisdom in front of most California family planning clinics on any given day – two opposing mobs yelling like drunks and a terrified woman trying to push her way through and thankfully surrounded by an imaginary, court-ordered protective cordon; 8 whole feet of thin air ringing with the guttural cries of narrowly informed First and Fourteenth Amendment loudmouths on both sides. Constitutional chest thumpers are drawn inordinately to family planning clinics and gun shows. It’s a fact. And whatever happened to that amendment that confers the Right to Ignore ear-splitting Free Speech? Must’ve died in committee.
And so it all comes down to the usual, touchingly human attempts to embrace the Eternal through placard-pumping, fistfights, and endless litigation. In the quietude of a lamplit evening, though, the central, driving questions burn like insistent little flames. What are we for? Is there Something in the middle of all this? One gets misty thinking about the millennia of horror, brutality and bedlam spent simply trying to approach some semblance of an answer to that one. How we achieved our coveted spot at the top of the food chain is anyone’s guess.
The soul-searching provides our sorry-ass “lawmakers” in D.C. much comic opportunity. Many of these well-fed clowns seem to actually believe they can untie this ancient Gordian knot with phony, quiet-talking piety, ministerial press conference singsong and Bible-waving. They are National Defense Hawks and Right to Life Crusaders. In our leaders’ under-furnished bobble heads, these mutually exclusive propositions cohabit like two peas in a cozily impossible pod. Between explosive “collateral damage” missteps (Woops! That was a wedding party!) they have the balls to wave the Bible and preach to us about saving the unborn. Maybe you’re the wrong messenger, dimwit. If there is a special room in Heck for those who cynically leverage scripture, it’s a room that surely needs a huge daily build-out.
True to their on-again off-again desire to end life, certain of these stargazing jackasses on Capitol Hill would put a shield of hope-killing sanctity around the embryonic stem cell, a so-called pluripotent cell whose ability to be teased into becoming any sort of tissue an ailing body requires both promises large scale relief for the ailing, and makes of the scrap of tissue a magnet for the pious empathies of Sanctity of Life poseurs. When a single unconscious cell trumps a hopeful Parkinson’s patient with a family, loving friends and a life force that is struggling to continue, we have donned our thinking caps completely ass-backwards. These “Primacy of the Individual” fakes in the legislature have for decades been telling us how to screw and marry. Now they tremble tearily over the hallowed stem cell, attempting to block its use as a healing agent while lustily blowing up innocents abroad with Conscience-free aplomb. Makes the head swim.
Luckily it isn’t all dour. There are moments of levity from both sides. Take for a start last year’s episode at UCSB, complete with affronted cell phone footage, featuring a Feminist Studies professor angrily grabbing a visiting Pro-Life protester’s sign and smilingly walking off with it. For those of us who struggled as teens to stay awake in 2nd period Civics, it is heartening to know you can have dozed with your head on your desk through the whole Constitution chapter and still go on to earn a doctorate. The herky-jerky cell phone-verité footage of this self-satisfied blockhead professor wandering laughingly away with the protester’s sign is as utterly amazing a video document as a grainy film of Nessie humping out of the icy Scottish waters of her famous loch. You can’t quite believe what you’re seeing.
Is Life sacred? No. Life is Prima Facie not sacred. Through the recorded and unrecorded ages we have been anonymously mown down in our millions by disease, privation, mass murder, hailstones, sinkholes, ungrounded microphones, shipwrecks, faulty brakes, landslides and dogs. Pediatric cancers spring up like wildflowers in the guts of our children. If this is Life as a State of the Sacred, what on Earth is luckless, ordinary life going to look like? Best not to think about it.
I spent my teens and early college as a Born Again Christian, proselytizing, going to Bible study and worshipping barefoot in a terrific and loving hippie church. I can still reel off Galatians 2:20 (it’s a good one). But I slowly came to understand that folks who take the unvarnished view that we should never kill, never go to war, never ever murder, were seen by my Christian mentors as endearing fringe oddballs, these Jains and Mennonites and what have you, these quaint and curious relics whose greatest contribution is the smiling guy on the box of Quaker Oats.
The awkward fact is, the state of The Sacred isn’t a sliding scale, it’s not a spectrum. It’s binary; one or zero. Yes or no. We are all sacred, or not one of us is sacred. Is a fetus sacred? If the answer is yes, than so is the 18 year-old kid about to be blown up in al Bayda Province, so is the skeletal, fly-covered baby in Somalia, and so is the lady on death row. But I guess we can’t save everybody. That’d be like reaching for the stars.
SB Sentinel Vol 4 Issue 6 March 21 – April 4
By lamplight everything looked strange
in the usual way a city evening brings strangeness
the streetlights flicker on and the trees,
stirring with the nighttime’s collective ennui,
look like museum exhibits in the purposeful incandescence.
Stella said, suddenly and declaratively
employing the certitude-percentile of a kid,
“I’m 99.9% sure there is other life out there,”
and went on to explain she didn’t mean disappointing life,
but life with legs, hopes, homes;
humanoid and approachable.
“If space goes on forever
there can’t be just one life,” she intuited with upturned eyes.
It seemed, and seems, inarguable. If not mathematically
We walked along and I thought only momentarily of a true thing
– we are aliens ambling across the surface of a planet
a world floating in empty space, just like in the movies,
suspended from nothing and surrounded
by visible and invisible gases and clouds and rays,
girdled in weather, and space bolts in eternal apogee
and all the colors of the stupidly broad photonic spectrum,
most of which we’ve not been given to see.
We were headed to the liquor store for popsicles.
They have the best selection there for reasons I’ve never understood
nor particularly pondered with any effort.
Possibly it’s to do with the reformed boozer’s
increased craving for sugars.
We walked quickly across the dark street
away from the dangerous crosswalk
and its checkered promise, my hand on her back.
Periodically gusting, the evening wind
threw clattering dried leaves over the pavement.
The sound was definite, light and musical; polite applause.
I was going to say something
and Stella said “I love that sound of dry leaves being blown,”
and within 12 minutes or so we had our confection.
I chose fruit and she the frozen Oreo.
In the buzzing, vibrant center of the beautiful UCSB campus sits a squat concrete box. This is Kerr Hall. Simultaneously cube-like and angular (not an easy combination to effect), the building looks like an enormous post-modern bunker, or an Iron Curtain edifice meant to make a statist comment. Which is fitting. To add to the atmosphere of gaiety, Kerr is windowless on three sides, its gray pebbled carapace textured with roof-to-ground vertical grooves, reportedly not molded in a cycle of prefabrication but deafeningly gouged out with jackhammers once the building was completed, in 1977. A demure little plaque at the bunker’s east end, gone tastefully green over the years, bears an innocuous inscription
“Clark Kerr – President of the University of California 1958 – 1967. For Encouraging a Better Quality of Teaching”.
What the hell does that mean? Who is this Clark Kerr guy? You wouldn’t know it from that bland little encomium, but Clark Kerr was UC Berkeley’s embattled first Chancellor, and not incidentally a prominent Free Speech piñata who the Commie-frightened Establishment would beat till the candy came out, to our common detriment. Clark was also Ronald Reagan’s springboard into politics in the go-go sixties. He would be invoked with contempt as a limp, liberal communist sympathizer in The Gipper’s galvanizing 1966 campaign speeches.
Kerr was, more lastingly, the architect of what came to be known as the California Master Plan for Higher Education, the nationally and globally venerated public education model that layered California’s institutions of higher learning – community colleges, the California State College System (today’s CSU), and the vaunted University of California system (the UC) – into a parfait of academic upward mobility. The Master Plan’s holy mission was to codify a promise from the State of California to her citizens: any student who aspired to an empowering education would have one, and practically free of charge; a compact that wove into the state’s cultural fabric a social and class mobility that was limited only by an individual’s desire to rise through learning. This didn’t sit well with everyone, particularly Reagan, a guy (like many during that period) to whom the word “State” summoned the Red Scare, Stalin, and Siberia’s chain of Best Western gulags. In 1966 Reagan would enlist the delighted assistance of the FBI and step lithely into the governor’s mansion on the mud-smeared back of Clark Kerr, and three weeks later Reagan would loudly fire Kerr as UC President. A couple years after that, in 1969, the Governor would formally begin California’s climb-down from investment in public higher education by placing more of the burden on the University students themselves, whose socialist ingratitude for the education they were receiving had gnawed at him since the days of Berkeley’s student protests and what he considered Kerr’s insufficiently iron-fisted response. Reagan’s convincing of the UC Regents to impose “education fees” on the UC students was comeuppance for Kerr’s Master Plan, and is considered by educational historians to be the introduction in California of a little something called Tuition. Heard of it? You can blame it on the commies.
In 1949 the United States was aflame with the Red Scare, which sounds like a rash and did indeed result in pustules and weeping sores, many of them holding public office. That year the UC had instituted a requirement that all employees, present and future, sign an Oath of allegiance foreswearing ideas and institutions seeking to overthrow the U.S. government, a thinly clad reference to Communism. Clark Kerr, since 1945 an Associate Professor of Industrial Relations at UC Berkeley, grudgingly signed the oath but would take it no further, and continually pushed back against the singling out of colleagues and staff on campus. Kerr’s pugnacity earned him the nervous respect of his colleagues in the academy, and it was Kerr the UC Regents chose to appoint as UC Berkeley’s first Chancellor in 1952. During his time as Berkeley’s head honcho Kerr proved a rock star steward of “Cal”, such that by 1957 UC Berkeley was ranked third in the nation behind Harvard and Yale. That year an impressed Board of Regents chose Clark Kerr to be president of the entire UC system. Just ahead lay UC Berkeley’s explosive Free Speech Movement, Ronald Reagan (and his girlfriend the FBI), and the meat grinder that would pulverize Kerr and make pâté of his Master Plan.
In late 1964 a bunch of Berkeley student activists set up some tables and information booths on the Berkeley campus. Most of these kids had just returned from Mississippi, where’d they’d spent an adventurous summer registering as many African-American voters as possible in a well-orchestrated effort that came to be called The Freedom Summer, or in the movies “Mississippi Burning”. The thousand-strong army of volunteers that poured into Mississippi that summer had braved beatings and harassment and arrest. Several of them had been murdered. Now the returned Berkeley student contingent, lives changed and eyes opened, wanted to talk about it. From their rickety card tables and benches and booths they disseminated info on campus and collected donations for civil rights causes.
UC Berkeley rules at the time prohibited any campus political activity outside the student Democratic and Republican clubs there, and the dean asked the students to please strike their tables and stand down. The bloodied Freedom Summer students would have none of it. There commenced over the coming weeks a swarming wave of sit-ins and angry marches, with a charismatic grad student named Mario Savio becoming the leader of the movement, one of the first American university protest conflagrations of the sixties. Kerr was caught squarely in the middle (to the delight of many), pissing off the Berkeley students for not acquiescing immediately and wholly to their demands, and enraging Edward Pauley, head of the UC Regents, for refusing to expel and otherwise punish the wild-haired socialist student rebels. Bewildered and poorly directed peace officers helplessly followed the “frightened mistakes” template, arresting and nervously clubbing kids who were, after all, only agitating for a Constitution they’d been bored by as jug-eared fifth graders just a few years before, but which had now become a precious thing which the Civil Rights struggle had burnished to a fine luster, and whose purity they felt exalted to be beaten up protecting, this tattered cousin of the Magna Carta. The bland wallpaper of ubiquitous freedom doesn’t become dear till it’s being torn down by often well-meaning morons.
Watching the goings-on at Berkeley were two birds of a feather; future CA governor Ronald Reagan and his bulldog on a long leash, J. Edgar Hoover, the dyspeptic and perennial pugilist-king of the FBI. Hundreds of thousands of pages pried from classified FBI files by the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) show that Reagan had been going to second base with the FBI since his film acting days the 1940s, routinely flipping Hoover and the boys the names of supposed Communist subversives in Hollywood, Ronny in one recorded instance dutifully reporting on an actress who’d had the temerity at a cocktail party to complain about the Hollywood witch hunts. The relationship with Hoover would prove fruitful.
In 1966 Reagan ran for governor of the Golden State, and wasted no time colluding with the FBI to smear both the Berkeley student leaders and UC President Clark Kerr, with whom both Ronny and Edgar were furious for not cracking down on the seditious, unshowered hippies. The Berkeley students would soon enough fold an anti-Vietnam War theme into their riotous campus protests and enrage Reagan and Hoover even more. FOIA documents describe in detail the nighttime break-ins and personnel file fingering of the FBI in Berkeley neighborhoods during this period, much of which largesse showed up as fodder for Reagan’s gubernatorial campaign. In his public rhetoric Reagan vowed to send “the welfare bums back to work,” and “to clean up the mess at Berkeley.”
The student unrest at Berkeley, and the public disaffection he managed to whip into a politically helpful shit storm, got Reagan elected governor in a landslide. Once in office he went unabashedly after Berkeley, slashing the school’s budget, and, when they complained, recommending Berkeley raise money by selling their library’s rare book collections. Ray Colvig, the Chief Public Information officer for UC Berkeley during the period of Reagan’s rages, has said, “He thought if you wanted a world-class university, let the students pay for it. The idea of selling rare books went along with that.” Three weeks after his election, in the new governor’s first meeting with the UC Regents, he fired Clark Kerr.
Today there are four Kerr Halls in the University of California system; one at UC Davis, one at UC Santa Cruz, this grooved bunker at UC Santa Barbara, and most tellingly, one at UC Berkeley. Why? Providing the disenfranchised the means, not the capital, mind you, but the means, to move freely about the class system is not everyone’s cup of tea, mission statements and impassioned dais-thumping to the contrary. The metastatic growth of tuition as the defining feature of higher ed is the proof in that pudding. But it was Clark Kerr’s cup of tea. What Kerr had attempted to make an Individual Right is now an increasingly exclusive clubhouse. And Kerr? He seemed to accept his fate with good humor. When Reagan fired him, Kerr did indeed refer to himself as ‘fired’. “I leave his institution as I found it; fired with enthusiasm”. Kerr laid the foundations for a common beneficence through education and got bitch-slapped for it. And in that light the gray concrete box that is Kerr Hall doesn’t look half bad after all. It may even be the sweetest spot on campus. If you think of it, stop by and leave Clark a flower.
Tiptoeing past my middle-passage afraid of rousing (or worse, arousing) whatever cloaked figure awaits the creak of a floorboard or the sound of a stepped-on garden rake levering up to thwack my beak, I am nevertheless confident in the New Day. May it bring an Elysian lawn chair or the romance of slaughter at the disputed Hot Gates.
Startled by the flying beige flag! 55 years old! Yes, teens, my decline and your prom are coincident, this bit of manufactured magic acquires a seam once the liquefied plastic is blown in and all the Wonder of wonder bread is its balloon-daubed plastic bag. Einstein fires a bullet in a car traveling 800 feet per second per second, and another per second thrown in.
I know exactly where you are: the sweaty, temporal nightmare of roiling youth and feeling good, when Elton murmured from my Panasonic ball and chain like a man singing through a hangman’s hood.
So, yeah. Speaker tech and outerwear? Much later the radio “sounded” better. But we lost through that advance the letter of the law; Gilbert O’Sullivan stands down and in sweeps Ke$ha. We threw it all away for a pair of fancy-pants.
Really now; imagine actually waking one day, Samsa-like, to find you are an older man with sudden dappled paws. And I don’t mean “Perhaps”. That happened to me. Hand-backs shiny with Arbus cross-hatches and arranged spots like those that trouble the failing sun and indicating the same collapse.
The microwaves turn back around and the heat-death of All This sees God tiredly lifting the latches again, this time to let it all back in, tired energy pouring homeward from near and far, as was expected all along. “The day is done! Lamplighters, would you please snuff this dim embarrassed star? And turn up the stereo one last time on Billy Joel’s ‘Zanzibar’! Jesus, what a song!”
Star light, Star bright, the star our God turned off tonight, I wish I may I wish I might be delivered of this overbite. No more to burn the petals or leaves, and buh-bye melanoma. O teen you have some insufficient inkling but you won’t grow comfortably into this weirdness any more than I will return to pinrail and glory in the wings of Oklahoma.
But I I I I…I have the plucky interiority of a 30-something and have retained, against every expectation of my own childhood certainties of decay, a sense of timelessness, and now see kids glance sidewise at me several times a day.
I used to shiftily spy on ‘older adults’ with whom I would periodically be trapped, utterly trapped and panicked, my expression naked with dread. “Kid” (I’ll say); “as strange as you think growing older is going to be, I’m here to tell you that your untested powers of imagination are not up to the task of painting that picture on the inner walls of your earbud-deafened head”.
Now it occurs to me that, in the space of some individual year, no way of knowing which one, in a future whose approach I only guess (not a calendar year, but I’m supposing about 1 year of adventurism from a stem to a stern, more or less)
I’m likely to unravel like a ball of yarn, my sensory nonchalance, this thoughtless unenlightened physical well-being of my middle passage will be cruelly undone, my spirits in flight like foul bats from a foul barn.
An inexplicable, sudden cascade of cancers, renal failures, plummeting bone density numbers, aortic blockage, and x-rays that cause my doctor to breathe hard and raise his hand to his mouth – a melting pilgrim’s cornucopia of disintegration as my architecture takes the express line south.
That will stun me! Stun my hapless fa-mi-lee! Clusterfeck of bewildering setbacks and teary, faux-philosophical internal and external monologues (arms waving around like those of the over-earnest Branagh), hug the wife and kids and step onto that ceremonial last banana.
Questions, I have but a few; could we have been less murderous as our cowboys headed west? At the top of the Space Family Robinson’s flying house what’s that little bubble do? This is what I have to look forward to.
Visionary thinking, an aching frame, every day the same sustaining pill. Don West and the older Robinson girl? Not Penny, but Carol or whatever? Thanks to Captain Robinson’s intransigence and the finally distracting Alpha Centauri mission itself, they never got together, and now they never will.
I have anger like a highly polished gem
one that has been buffed with a specialty cloth.
the facets shine like brilliantine
and are warm to the touch.
Brilliantine is a word my head has always admired.
Is brilliantine a stone or a trade name?
Whichever. It’s fucking inspired.
I have haste like a cruise line without brakes
don’t know from whence it came or where it’s stored
Carnival Cruise plows through soil and steel
roar that buzzes and rips the air
Is brilliantine a stone or a trade name,
or the glow in Eddie Cochran’s hair?
By the age of 26 I had a beautiful teak rolltop desk full of weighty documentation, having parlayed my university experience, considerable native intellect and ruthless drive to succeed into a position of By my mid-twenties I had resoundingly fulfilled and then surpassed my early promise. My 75th floor office gave onto a skyscraping eyrie at whose filigreed iron railing I regularly took in the view of Gotham, the teeming city/state I’d conquered with such aplomb and daring as is only dreamed of in the pages of Fortu
As Grails go this gig is definitely the battered cup of a carpenter and not the kingly, jewel-encrusted decoy that caused that guy to melt in the third Indiana Jones movie. Rocky’s is not the Hollywood Bowl, but it is a club in Santa Barbara; or FREAKING SANTA BARBARA as I called it then. We’re jumping around like shameless asses a block from the long-sought Pacific, and we are being paid. The dance floor is packed with beach-scented revelers. As recent arrivistes from the powdery Sonoran desert sprawl of Phoenix and its black-painted, fishnet-gloves-and-clove-cigarettes club scene, we are in thrall to our sunshiney good fortune. True, the pay is such that, back at the band house/rehearsal studio, we are surviving on baked potatoes and pilfered frat house boxed wine. Show Biz Glamor is keeping her distance. Actually, she took the first red-eye to Timbuktoo and imperiously asked us to drop her a line when we began to gain a little traction. That would never happen. A freckled sunburst Yoko would presently shamble into the club with her friends and utterly guileless 1000 kilowatt smile, inadvertently laying waste to our china shop and turning my page so quickly it would effectively be torn from the book. Today the sun would begin setting on our years-long band and songwriting project, Spin Cycle. Elsewhere songbirds would begin quietly announcing the roseate onset of an extravagant new dawn; a dawn often viewed through slanting arctic rainfall on a Vermeer landscape, but a spirit-seizing, heart-renewing Dawn nonetheless. Juud!
My beer-dappled Converse® high-tops are being put through their paces. I’ve descended from my gosh-like position on Rocky Galenti’s Mainstage (or as we used to call it, the stage) and am mingling frenetically on the dancefloor with the thrashing throng of thought-free thoroughbreds, my unwieldy 60 foot mic cord allowing me the freedom to be publicly asinine in a setting where Asininity is King. The band churns buoyantly away behind me as I weave between the swingers. I’ve made good use of my late-breaking leave-taking of the Wallflower Club, whose charter membership I once wore like a badge of quietude in h.s. and college. I and my like-minded stagemates are well-matched. As a band we are part circus, part pop roadshow, part inexplicable performance piece.
I’ve stood atop our equipment truck at midnight of a starlit evening and serenaded a writhing mob in the street outside the club as our music poured out of the open stage door. I routinely take my leave of the dance floor in the middle of a song, and, mic in hand, climb atop the drink-littered bar in the front room and do the Vegas Catwalk, affronting the patrons in the main lounge who’d thought they’d successfully steered clear of this malarkey. I’ve sung hanging from rafters, have shouted off-pitch into the mic from the reverb-blessed confines of a club restroom, and once managed to warble while laying supine on a dance floor with a weighty patron in failing halter top perched on my chest. Which is all to say, ‘look how cool I was, and understand in part why nobody ever really realized I couldn’t sing’. Our between-song stage patter would frequently baffle our audiences, and in the middle of a song Leslee, our resident ‘foxy chick singer’, would more often than not flop off the stage like a maddened marionette to join me on the dance floor in a fit of high octane idiocy, bewildering the pogo-ing patrons with what looked like a grand mal dance seizure. We were full of surprises, misfires and dayglo laissez-faire. The songs, though, always came first. Eddie and I had been writing together since high school, he a post-modern Richard Rodgers who even as a 17 year old could spin a gorgeous, genre-crossing melody as you or I would open a can of soup; me a willowy, nominally quiet word-fan with one lazy eye and a nose made crooked by the Toyota Corolla that smacked me when I was 14. Rodgers and Frankenstein?
Today is The Day. Juudje, Carola and Renate are en route. It is 1986. We are, I think, three sets in on a sunstruck Sunday afternoon at Rocky’s, our favorite regular gig and the one that speaks most loudly to our having successfully made the move to California. Summer beach light pours onto the dance floor through the arched northerly club windows. The tanned, sandy throng gyrates in bikini and board shorts, pleasantly dizzy and pumping their fists in the ambient summer glow, as the pleasantly dizzy will do when unable to otherwise articulate their inner joy and wholeness. How many more sets this afternoon? Two? Three? One? Soon it would hardly matter. I believe I’m singing the epileptic Devo ballad ‘That’s Good’, leaping like a fool on coals and occasionally landing atop a fleetingly disgruntled mosher. I can actually smell the beach here in the club. We are expertly blaring a colorful mix of our own original tunes and covers by the likes of Talking Heads, Howard Jones, Divinyls, Our Daughter’s Wedding, and so on. Everything is going according to plan!
Eddie and I step outside for our customary Carleton between sets, a pitiable ‘low tar’ ciggy whose pathetic, pleading ad campaign at the time (IF YOU SMOKE, PLEASE TRY CARLETON!) is just amusing enough to make us fans. We reenter the club and spend the few remaining minutes before taking the stage in chit chat.
In walks Juud, in the company of her two beautiful friends and fellow-travelers Renate and Carola. I didn’t see them come in that afternoon, though one would think the hollering, frantically waving cherubim and seraphim would have tipped me off. As often happens, the heavenly chorus was drowned out by the din of happy drinkers ringingly in love with their own collective Moment. It wasn’t till Judie approached me between sets that the angelic loud-mouths gave their full-throated endorsement. I only remember someone speaking and me turning to regard a glowingly adorable post-punk ragamuffin redhead in a Cure t-shirt, and the warmest, happiest green eyes I’d ever seen. She was saying something unintelligible through the riot of club noise. She seemed to have some sort of speech impediment.
“I lijk ye bent.”
“I LIJK YE BENT.”
“I LIJK YE BENT.”
“You like the band?”
“Thanks.” Her towsled strawberry blonde mop, purple tube skirt, off-brand sneakers and immediately kissable face were not the standard uniform. My head swam, a little. Later it would swim a lot. Her striking pals Carola and Renate were behind her, mingling a little, watching over Juud a little. The three of them looked like radiant refugees from a Benetton shoot, high latitude blondes who carried themselves like self-possessed creatures of another culture, as indeed they were. They introduced themselves and explained that they were from Holland, a smallish town there called Monster.
“Muenster?” I blathered
“MONSTER!” Judie corrected, then raised her arms above her adorable apple head and made claws. “Like a monster! Raarrrgh!”
“Oh. It’s…the town is called Monster?” The three of them laughed disarmingly.
I wanted suddenly to wrap my arms around the one with the freckles and heartbeat-accelerating grin and warm green eyes. Keep your hands at your sides, you fool! You don’t know what is considered acceptable in Denmark or wherever!
Later that afternoon I would glance over through the madding crowd and see Juud standing in the middle of the blur, looking straight at me, her gentle, clock-stopping smile a still-point, a quasar, the gently buffeting breeze from an 80 kiloton explosion. I remember it with crystal clarity; that smile at that moment. I looked over and there she was, looking over. It almost sat me down, right there on the floor of the club. Good Heavens. That smile, that smile! Juud is the most beautiful, sensitive, life-loving and desirable creature on Earth, and an ongoing knee-weakener. Things happen to me when she enters a room, not all of them suitable for discussion in mixed company.
That Sunday in 1986 a corner turned, though I wouldn’t know it for some weeks. We fell hard and spent many an hour in my room at the band house, listening to music, talking about everything, partaking sickeningly of Little Caesar’s two-for-one deal. Soon it would develop that Judie had to go home, her visa expiring. I would labor over and then make an odd and slightly macabre decision, one whose effect on my dear friends I barely paused to consider, it must be said. Without the requisite inner turmoil (it would come later), I put my immediate past aside and stared fixedly at a previously unforeseen and deliciously unforeseeable future in another country.
I imagined the ineptly dubbed afterschool specials of my youth; rural European kids on tractors wearing alien-looking overalls, their words and mouth movements marvelously unrelated, cars with strange license plates, windmills, canals, those van Gogh stacks of threshed wheat; a half-accurate and delirious premonition. In brutish short order my emotional life would soon be overwhelmed anew as I informed my beloved bandmates and pals that our longstanding gig was up. All those endless muse-chasing days and nights, going right back to the egg; Eddie’s and my musical convocations and discoveries and initially accidental collaborations in the orchestra pit in our high school auditorium while crewing for that season’s musical, then the practice rooms in the music building at NAU with Paul.
And then the band years in carpeted living rooms and garages, clubs and bars and Fraternity bacchanals and university courtyards and city park bandstands, hotel ballrooms and yard parties; growing the band, growing each other. Everything for the music, for the imperfect, mildly self-mocking pursuit of Art. All the stories, the personalities – Monica, Tooth Sue, Plum Crazy the Gentleman Pirate, who could slurringly recite any Baudelaire you’d care to request, and who would travel with us to our Ventura gigs in the back of our enclosed equipment truck, sitting in the dark back there and emerging with a laugh when we arrived — I hadn’t a clue how tough this chapter-closing would be. I vividly remember my complete surprise at breaking down in the middle of the street downtown as I told our drummer, Cary, and him putting his arm around me like a consoling big brother. Cary; the comparative youngster we called The Kid.
Then there would be passport complications, more tears, some unnerving final gigs, a horrified last-minute, morning-of-my-departure pursuit of Leslee’s escaped cat (Commander Salamander RIP), me boarding a jumbo jet with one large suitcase and a Brother electronic typewriter as heavy as an anvil. “Okay, here I go!” I chirped confusedly to Leslee at LAX when boarding was called. “Don’t be glib,” she said levelly, through tears. “This is it,” the flight attendant said to me with meaning, looking me straight in the eye as I boarded; a strangely apt remark I still wonder at.
Then a peaked attic bedroom at the tippity top of a flight of narrow spiral stairs, a bedroom through whose canted ceiling window one could stare straight up at the enormous black birds endlessly battling the Dutch gale, their desperate caws sounding like cries for help. Then nuptials in Amsterdam, much horizontal rain, long nights drinking in Naaldwijk with Juud and Marcel, then biking back to Monster through the Dutch countryside in the whisperingly silent wee hours under scudding moonlit clouds. Freaking magic. And a whole new, deeply beloved family in a cozy little seaside town, nestled against the dunes on the Dutch channel coast; my second home and the Monster in my id. Oh, wat ben ik gelukkig. Thanks for coming to the club that night, Judie!