Friday, May 23, 2008

Fight # 2: Brendan Hits The Girl Next Door

Actually I hit the girl down the block but you catch my meaning.

I was 7 or 8. I was playing with a whole group of kids across the street at the Hodges house. My neighborhood seems to have been drawn by Rockwell if he'd had the 1970's as his main aesthetic. It felt as if 20 or 30 kids would simply gather and roam about, playing whatever came into their heads at the moment.

The boys would split off and play some kind of sport, usually baseball or whiffleball. The girls would go do whatever girls do. Occasionally the sexes would mingle in some sort of make-believe activity. The infamous fight # 2 happened on one of these days.

A girl named Kristen had moved into a house 3 or 4 doors down. I remember the distance as being quite far but when I went back and visited I could have thrown a rock from my house to hers. In my neighborhood there were the mainstay families and then the Johnny-come-lately-don't-stick-arounders. Her family came and then moved (to London, perhaps if memory serves) in less than a year.

Just long enough for me to do something I regret to this day!

I don't remember how it happened. We were all congregated in front of the Hodge house, a little red ranch with a perfect square of a yard gently sloped down to the street. Right on the edge of the street in the right hand corner of the yard was a tall fir tree that served as a right field wall in whiffleball or an impenetrable fortress in war games. Since there were girls around this must have been a fantasy game of sorts.

Kristen and I didn't get along. I can't remember her face but in my recollection there lurks the faint whiff of pre-adolescent attraction. Perhaps it was mutual, I don't know. The enmity certainly was.

We squared off angrily for a forgotten reason. She hit me and I retaliated, knocking her backwards into the fir tree. In my mind's eye she was enveloped completely by the green, as if I'd buried her in it. How my mother knew what was going on from across the street I'll never know but she yelled my name and told me to come inside.

I burst into tears and ran across the street to our front door. I don't remember exiting or entering by that door very often, we primarily used the side door nearest the driveway. The front door had something formal about it and we weren't a formal family.

All of a sudden what I'd done was in a larger context. All of a sudden I wasn't an infant anymore, I was a human being who had crossed a line of decorum that was not tolerated. I felt like I aged 7 years from the moment my fist hit Kristen to when I threw myself on my bed face down and sobbing.

The next morning I walked down the street alone and knocked on Kristen's door. One of her parents must have answered but I have no memory of that. I do remember apologizing to Kristen and not being able to tell which one of us was more embarrassed.

Some people have stolen kisses that they remember from the time before their teens. Not me. Big man that I was, I beat up the cute little girl from down the street.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Fight # 1: Idiot Attempts to Burn Own House Down

As anyone who knows me will tell you, I struggle with the corrosive effects of anger on my soul. My son, wired very similarly, recently described how he felt after he got angry..."It hurts." And he meant physically, shrugging his shoulders to show the warping that accompanies such turmoil.

There is a constant flowing river of rage running through me, sometimes silently and invisibly, other times it floods up and over the banks and becomes apparent to the rest of the world. It is my only source of regret.

Oddly, the only full-fledged fist fight I've been involved with as an adult was devoid of anger on my part.

Here's how it went down. A friend from high school was having a party. I was in college and it was summer. I was recovering slowly from a break up. And by recovering I mean NOT recovering. This friend's mother was out of town and had given her blessing for a barbecue. Kegs were bought. Plastic bags with frozen hamburgers were dug out of freezers. Perhaps a hundred people were expected.

I arrived early to help set up. I parked my beat up Volkswagen Karmann Ghia at the very edge of the house, at the top of the driveway. This will be important later on.

An ex-girlfriend of mine was best friends with the hostess and we were de-facto hosts ourselves. She'd been a part of the triangle that had eventually caused the ultimate breakup that I wasn't recovering from. We are friends to this day. I brought 30 or so CD's because the hostess had left hers in storage at her college. Someone took The Cure album that had the 'Kiss Me' song on it.

In any case, a day of leisurely keg drinking stretched out. I also manned the grill, churning out burgers and dogs in a white apron. I felt the knot of unease loosen in my stomach. Maybe I would get over this girl after all. Maybe I could enjoy myself this summer.

Slowly it got dark. The hostess' brother arrived. He'd been estranged from the family. His mother had kicked him out of the house. He showed up with a little coterie of fawning midgets. Maybe they only looked like midgets because he was quite tall but the image remains in my head of a ropey six two dullard surrounded by midgets.

This caused a rope of tension to tighten around the property. A wooded acre, the house sat atop a yard which sloped away from it. Directly at the top of the driveway a stone wall came up to chest height and followed the descent of the yard. Tucked at that corner of the house was the propane tank that kept the house warm. Next to that was the grill I'd been working.

All the guests were high school friends who'd gone off to various colleges. Dave the Angry Brother had dropped out of high school to join the Army. He felt like an outsider at his own home. He thought everyone at the party looked down on him for not going to college. I avoided him.

I went out to check on the grill. I saw him down at the end of the diminishing stone wall. I smelled gasoline. The entire wall was doused. Somehow my presence aborted his bizarre mission and he and his giggling buddies abandoned their sabotage and set about antagonizing party goers again.

Then I saw him about 20 yards down the driveway. The woods encroached immediately so he was shrouded by tree shadows and actual foliage. He had made a small pile of wood near the line of cars that stretched away from the house. He was now pouring gasoline over it.

I immediately went to his sister who was inside the house and trashed. I told her what he was up to. She and my ex-girlfriend asked if I would go talk to him, because he'd always seemed to like me more than any of her other friends. Why I agreed to this I'll never know. But I did.

I purposely grabbed a beer and a burger so that I wouldn't seem as if I was threatening him. I strolled as nonchalantly as I could over to him and asked him what he was doing.

Of course he said it was none of my business. It was his property and he could do what he wanted. I merely stated that some people were getting nervous with all the GASOLINE being poured all over the place.

That was when he grabbed me around the neck, calling me 'College Boy'.

Everything went slow motion and quiet. He was strangling me but my hands were free. Like I said, he wasn't the brightest bulb on the tree. In fact he was so stupid he was trying to burn the bulbs and the trees.

I took both of my hands and thrust them upwards into his chin. He seemed shocked that I had responded at all and he backpedaled, confused. Then he REALLY got angry and rushed at me open-armed. I wound up and punched him in the mouth with full extension and power.

He fell backwards, blood spurting from his lip. My hand was bleeding on the knuckles. By now a crowd had gathered. He was woozy and his little midget goons took him into the house to clean him up.

I immediately wanted to leave. But my car was blocked by a line of at least 20 other cars. I tried to mobilize people into moving their cars. I was not confident that further confrontation would be as painless for me as the first had been. He was much bigger than me.

Just then he burst out of the woods behind the group I stood in and sucker punched me in the back of the head. I then rushed at him and punched him in the exact same place, reopening the cut.

A strange melee ensued in which 60 people were unable to stop the twisted will of 1. He tackled me. My cheek hit a rock on the ground and I had a hard time thinking. We were tangled up. I felt his hand on my face and he clawed at my eyes. The next day I would have Cleopatra bruises from the corners of my eyes almost to my hairline.

As we tussled, I felt his fingers just above my hip on the love handle. He pinched me. I laughed. I asked him, "Are you pinching me?" He said, "Yeah, I'm f*#cking pinching you!" I got on top of him briefly and managed to hit that same spot a third time. Neither of us looked too good at this point, but my cheek was already swelling a good bit and the bloody eyeliner he'd given me was truly creepy.

Finally people intervened. I always wondered why it went as far as it did. People like to see a fight, I guess.

I wasn't angry in the moment. I am now actually fond of this memory somehow. I have never been in anything even remotely resembling a fight since. I'd had scraps on the playground in elementary school and bullshit shoving matches in frat houses and off-campus bars. But a full on fight? With a disgraced pyromaniac Army son?

He later menaced my sister as she drove my Karmann Ghia. He was on a bike. I left a message at the home threatening to kill him if he ever spoke another word to anyone in my family other than me. This was in the days of answering machines so I don't even know if he ever got it. Oh, I was angry then! You don't mess with my sisters!

But in looking back on it I'm struck at how calm I was while I fought him. He was bigger and stronger than me which gave him enough of an advantage to do me serious damage. His frenzied clawing left a hole in my retina that allows me to see in the dark.

If I'd been angry I wouldn't have gone into slow motion and seen his lip with a big bulls eye on it.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Shifting Gears

I've come to a fork in the blog.

When I started this project I thought I would write a new piece of short fiction every day as a way to train myself to think creatively. While I still enjoy that idea, it didn't inspire me to any consistency. I wrote sporadically.

Once I shifted to writing about music everything changed. I would get to work at 9 and start flipping through the mental Rolodex until a card got caught in the gears. I had no intention of writing about my personal life...the idea was to write a posthumous review of a dead show.

But what started to happen was a flood of surrounding circumstance, which is ironic seeing as I titled the blog before stumbling onto the paradigm.

And now I think it is time to shake things up again. Sure, there are still concerts in my past worth discussing, like the time at the Living Room with Circle Jerks blaring away when a stage diver was diverted upwards by the front row and came down vertically so that his skull landed directly on mine. Or the underrated Del Amitri on their first American tour in the middle of a 'who can have the weirdest facial hair contest' with the lead singer winning on the strength of stripes on one side of his face and an Abe Lincoln-esque chop on the other. Yet another Living Room memory of going to see Violent Femmes but being forced to leave early because of a whining ride who had to get up early. Primus taking the stage at dusk at Lollapalooza and proceeding to lay an acid trip on 20,000 people. Sitting in the front row of a Craig Ferguson taping as Paul Westerberg bashed out three more chords and a nightmare. Willie Nelson's voice floating over the desert at Coachella like some sort of Gold Rush apparition.

I could go on and on and on.

But something is telling me it is time to focus on some other sliver of perception.

I don't know yet what it will be.

Like a Luddite with a GPS I may double back and retrace my steps from time to time but I'm going to search out uncharted territory.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Larry and Fielding Get Hitched

I'm breaking tradition here on the blog to talk about my friends Larry and Fielding getting married in Santa Barbara at the gorgeous Bacara retreat. The wedding took place in the Miro room, a spectacular restaurant with scores of Miro art work set against a panoramic view of the ocean.

The ceremony was outside, brief but beautiful and heartfelt. Funny, too. Larry was in a crisp dark suit with a red tie. Fielding wore a couture tan diaphanous cocktail dress that was especially sexy when she did a cartwheel during the traditional first dance.

I could rhapsodize about the sushi hors d'oeuvres, the tuna tartar passed in little ceramic spoons, the channel islands lit by an almost full moon, the lobster that elicited oohs and aahs, the chocolate fountain for pete's sake.

But what I'll remember most about Fielding and Larry's wedding is the relaxed sense of fun and joy that permeated every inch of the proceedings. There was none of that pinched nervous tension that accompanies so many weddings. (Well, actually, when Terry Maratos broke those three plates the wedding planner summoned a whole raft of that angst!)

They were determined to foster a feeling of ease, as if they happened to LIVE in this amazing room and had casually wound up with all of their family and friends coming over for dinner. And so that is what wound up happening. We were all at a dinner with Larry and Fielding, not A WEDDING!!!!! Which made it even more of a wedding, if you catch my drift.

So, a toast. To two people I love dearly two days into the rest of their lives. You shared the true colors of your relationship with all of us this weekend and gave us a beautiful memory in the process.

Congratulations, Larry and Fielding, Fielding and Larry!