Thursday, August 16, 2007
Statute Of Limitations (Gullible No. 26 - 2005)
At the end of one February, we did a weekend tour through the northeast. We tried to do one weekend a month; a nearby show on Friday, a longer drive Saturday, then an early show on the way home Sunday, arriving in Richmond after midnight, road-stiff and constipated.
This Sunday, the show was an hour west of Philly, in Allentown, Pennsylvania. The first show at a new punk house, with a vegan potluck to boot. After two days of sitting in a van, filling myself with beer, Subway and Chinese takeout, the potluck was a welcome sight. This was over a year before my famous appetite earned me the tour nickname The Food Lion (named for a grocery store chain in the South), but the attitude was intact, even if my behavior was formative. I tended to eat like a dog, especially during the eleven years that I spent as a vegetarian. If you put food in front of me, I'd eat until it was gone. My vegetarian years were all before the metabolic shift that begins in the mid-twenties, so, I was having a harder time getting full, at a time when my body already needed more food.
To make matters worse, I love to cook. Food rarely tastes right to me when it comes from a restaurant. I spend most of the meal deciding just what I would have done differently in my own kitchen, and mentally cataloging tastes and spices to crib for my own recipes. More and more, cooking has become a creative process for me. Making food is something that I have control over, that I use to please my friends, that I can perfect to my own taste, or fuck up and evaluate my mistakes. More often than not on tour, we bust out of our sleeping bags and into the van, then roll up to the show without time to eat, never mind cook. It’s nice to be playing music on tour, but it’s a strange limbo, because you don’t get to create on tour, you just retread what you already have done. Eating is not too different - rest stop food is rest stop food no matter where you are.
Place me, the young Food Lion, after a couple of days without home cooked food, in front of a vegan potluck. Now, step back while carnage ensues.
It was to be a fun show. Everyone at the house was enthusiastic and positive and we were playing with a couple of bands from Philly, who promised to bring a caravan of our friends with them. Beard jokes aside, a unifying trait among our friends from Philly was a good sense of humor, so we were all looking forward to being the out of town band who shows up at the show and sits in a corner with their friends, laughing at inside jokes. Weird how I began to enjoy the punk scene a little more when the way I conducted myself began to mirror the actions of those that I found alienating a few years beforehand. This was at the same time that I was realizing that if the older punks who seemed aloof back when I was in high school are anything like my friends now who are in their mid-twenties, then those seeming elitists were really just shy goobers with poor social skills. Let's face it, Saves the Day mall-schlock aside, punk is for the socially inept. Some eighteen year olds outgrow their awkwardness and get out of punk, others turn into twenty-five year old spazzoids who feel a little displaced every morning that they wake up in their own bed, instead of on tour. Take it from an insider.
Vegan potlucks tend to be heavy on the pastas and desserts. I was finishing off a plate of dry cookies and dense cake as people began to sift into the basement, where a band was tuning up. Louder than electric guitars, nature called. The crowd on the house's ground floor had thinned, leaving me plenty of privacy in the can.
Aside from dumpstered bagels and a never-ending stream of people to swim with, the best thing about a punk house is the supply of reading material in the bathroom. On the back of any given toilet, you tend to find a couple of local zines - emo kids have personal zines, politicos tend to stick with heavy-handed pro-vegan pamphlets - along with yellowed copies of standbys like HeartAttaCk and Maximum Rock 'n' Roll. The inevitability of finding these zines in punk house bathrooms is such that if you begin reading a Mykel Board column in Columbus, you can finish it in a bathroom is Des Moines less than a week later.
I shut the door and went about my business. It was a quaint, freestanding house in a small northern town, and something about the tile, layout and even the residual scent of previous, less punk tenants, reminded me of the bathrooms of my relatives up in the Boston area. I hate to admit to getting a sentimental while taking a dump and reading a copy of MRR, but that's what happened. My mood lightened a little, and I felt less road worn. As is my compulsion, I splashed water in my face after washing my hands, dried off with a grubby bath towel and headed through the kitchen and into the basement.
At the top of the steep basement stairs, I was greeted by a group of dismayed punks, charging three abreast up the wood steps.
"Ahh, don't go down there!" said a bearded guy in a Carhartt jacket.
"A pipe burst and there's SHIT spraying everywhere!" said a girl in plastic glasses, corduroys and a thrift store t-shirt.
Kids who lived in the house barreled down the stairs, upstream against the thirty-odd show goers who were beating a rapid retreat upstairs.
I turned tail and followed the show out onto the soggy, February lawn. Within a minute, everyone that was inside was outside, and grossed out. Bringing up the end of the parade was an unfortunate bunch of musical equipment that had been in the wrong place at the wrong time. A shit-slick black bass drum, an amp covered in fuzzy gray fabric, now splotched with wet, brown stains.
Those who needed to get cleaned up, got cleaned up. Word spread through the lawn that the septic tank had backed up from all of that afternoon's use, and a pipe in the basement had clogged and burst. The rest was history. The kids from the house braved the basement and attacked the mess with ammonia and mops. I was divided - I had been the last one in the bathroom, so it was kind of my fault. But, mine was the crap that broke the camel's back. Today alone, many others had used that toilet, and none of them were sloshing around, ankle-deep in punk rock dookie, they were going across the street and stealing things from WaWa. I try to be a stand-up guy, but there's a certain somewhere that you need to draw the line. I lived five hours away, and the clothes on my back were all that I had. I couldn't hop back to my house and change, then get back for the rest of the show, and I'm not G.G. Allin, so I wasn't going to play covered in shit.
It would have spoken really nicely for the punk rock community if we had formed a human assembly line, bailing out the basement by passing buckets of septic water up the stairs and dumping them out in the lawn, but that didn't happen. I didn't feel up to initiating a relief effort, so, feeling like an arrogant deadbeat, I followed the crowd over to WaWa and stuffed my jacket pockets with convenience store food.
For those of you living in less-industrialized parts of the country, and in the dark, allow me to fill you in, because you tend to laugh when you hear someone get excited about a store called WaWa. WaWa is a gas station/convenience store chain, popular in Pennsylvania and New Jersey that was among the first convenience stores to offer alternatives to standard chemical-food fare. Their sandwich bars and kiosks full of “fresh” fruit and salad are a welcome sight when you don't want lunch at Taco Bell again. What truly makes WaWa remarkable is that, especially in suburban settings, the counter is at the front of the store, flanked by two exits, and, get this; the cash registers are positioned so that they face the parking lot! In other words, the employees have their backs to the store for most of the time that you're in there.
Most convenience stores insurance policies dictate that they have a no-chase rule regarding shoplifting, but you can still be stuck with the occasional vigilante who will chase you out into the streets of downtown Richmond. This is a non-issue if the folks at the register literally turn their back to you while you order a sandwich from the sub counter, then walk past the line and out the door, with your lunch in your hand.
In a recent issue of "America?," Travis Fristoe was talking about aging within the punk scene, and mentions reaching a point where you start to consider that Clif Bar in your pocket, and wonder if the two dollars you'd have to shell out for it at the counter are reasonable not-going-to-jail insurance. This little slice of zine came to mind a few weeks ago when I was on a car trip and paid for lunch at a Wawa in Delaware. Getting caught for a four dollar sandwich wouldn't have been worth the hassle, or the heat endured from my traveling partners, if I had been caught. But, boy did I feel like a chump, taking my time walking back to the car with my food in a plastic shopping bag instead of a coat pocket. I hadn't been on tour in over a year and I began to wonder if I was losing my touch, or if it would come back if I ever got to go on tour again. Most people stop stealing because of warrants or because they had some horrid experience with shoplifting that makes them swear it off, but supermarket security didn't drag me past the employee lounge and into an interrogation room, I just petered out.
After an hour or so, the show continued, and despite the overpowering smell of ammonia, people crowded into the basement. I didn't even tell my band mates about who was the last one in the bathroom before what was beginning to be called The Shitpipe Incident. I felt bad for being the last one in, and even worse for not helping clean, kind of like how lying to your Mom made you not enjoy that one R-rated movie that you saw when you were seven.
The rest of the show went off without a hitch and we pulled out of Allentown, with our friends pelting out van with dirty snowballs from gray snow banks.
We were all tired, and the van had a sleepy Sunday feeling, coupled with a small case of the going home blues. Once we were on the highway, I spilled the beans and the guys had a good laugh at my exploits.
"You're lucky that the guy with shit all over his amp didn't find out!"
That's true. I'm just glad that the statute of limitations on that story was only a couple of hours. No matter what the penalty may be, a good story is an urgent thing, and the wait to tell it can be the longest in the world.
Before our band was together, a couple of guys were in another band that used the same van. The band that only did a one week tour with that line-up. The band that kept a diary of all of their inside jokes on the white painted ceiling above the loft. The band whose singer spent the night in the van and whacked off in that same loft, then announced it the next morning, while everyone was sitting in that same van, imagining him, not six feet away, at eye level in the loft, blowing his load into a fast food napkin. Ugh.
He should have waited to tell that story. That would have been great ammo for when the guy who owned the van left the band.
"Oh yeah? Well, go ahead and quit! And take your van with you! Shit, I used the fucking loft as a cumrag! Howyalikemenow, motherfucker?!"
Instead, he dropped the bomb mere hours after doing the deed, grossing out his tour mates and setting a strange tone for the rest of the trip.
On the way home from a tour, when we were feeling accomplished, and the van hadn't broken down for a couple of months, we'd recap all of our adventures. How many shows we'd played, what town had the best crazy people, what town had the worst crazy people, the dumbest thing that was said in the van, the time we stole a bunch of liquor and broke off the backdoor of a random college party in Cleveland...?
Whenever we were reminiscing, the story of the singer for that other band jerking off in the loft would come up.
"Man, I can't believe he did that."
And, every time it came up, I'd be holding back on a story that I had that sent that one running home like a sore loser from a wiffle ball game.
It had happened in Michigan, in the middle of our second tour. We were playing a few shows in the Midwest and were on the last leg of the trip, discussing a possible drive through Canada to save time on the trip home.
I'd slept like shit the night before and was in the loft, dozing. We'd been on the road for a couple of weeks, my girlfriend at the time was about a thousand miles away, and I hadn't jerked off in four or five days. The hum of the American-made engine vibrated the loft, and my sleepy mind kept returning to sex, fantasies growing more detailed and lengthy as I lay on my stomach, getting harder and harder. I remember thinking of a girl that I had a crush on in high school that I hadn't seen since. I remember pressing my sex against the plywood loft while fever roared in my ears. I remember my underwear getting really sticky all of a sudden, and feeling kind of relieved.
When you come, you think everyone for a mile around you is in on it. The sensation within your own body is so universal that you forget that, aside from a small spurt at waist height, the experience was pretty self-contained. I squinted my eyes open, now feigning sleep instead of wishing for it. I saw the backs of four guys heads; smoking, driving and reading. They hadn't heard the commotion going on in the loft, in my pants. I stayed on my stomach, feeling my seed spread across my boxers and cling them to the red shock of hair above my privates. The van was nearly twenty years old, and it would need fuel sooner or later. When it did, these boxers were finding a new home in a gas station trashcan, and I was freeballing it at least until we got to the show.
I was dying to tell that story, but I couldn't do it while we still had that van. I didn't wanna hear about it every time someone considered sleeping in the loft.
"Oh, I would, but I don't wanna sleep in CT's cumstains."
It wasn't until about a year later when that van finally bit the dust. It was the tail end of yet another tour, and our second to last show had been in Columbus, with a friend's band. They had the next day off, and decided to follow us to Cleveland to see if they could jump on our show.
They got on the highway ahead of us and got in the center lane. A few minutes later, we were passing them, and Mike and I decided to moon their van out the side of our van. Mike hung his ass out the shotgun-side window while I pressed my clammy rear against the window that spanned the back seats. We could see Steve in his van in the next lane over laughing and shaking his head, then doing a double take as his jaw dropped and a look of horror took him over. My ass isn't that bad looking! Then I heard the bang and saw the black smoke boiling out of the hood of the van and into the Ohio afternoon. A metal object that sounded baseball sized ricocheted around under the hood and the van immediately lost steam. Mike and I pulled our pants up and both bands pulled over.
A quick look under the hood proved us to be totally and absolutely out of luck, but we had to get to the show. We'd flaked out on Cleveland twice before and those kids were gonna hate us. Now here we were a hundred miles away, looking at flaking out again. The show must go on!
My gun-nut aunt whom married an engineer buys the whole family Triple A cards every year, and that'll save a touring punk's ass three times over. We called a tow truck and most of the guys in my band hopped in the other van, sitting in laps and curled up in the loft. We pulled up at the show with a tow truck and a surprise band that the kids in Cleveland loved. We were really pleased with ourselves until it came time to go home.
It wasn't easy to find a U-Haul truck on a Sunday evening in Cleveland, and all that they wound up having was a bigger one than we needed. So, the band fund was thrown to the wind. Neil and I lay on amps that were laid out on the floor of a big U-Haul, Jeff lay out in Mom's Attic over the cab, and the other guys sat up front, smoking cigarettes and watching the miles recede as we headed home at the end of a month long tour, our first to the west coast.
At a gas station near Cleveland, Mike opened the back of the truck just long enough to give us one tall can of beer. It was gone after a forty-five second punk rock feeding frenzy, and then the three of us sat on musical equipment and passed the time finishing off the band's supply of grass, freestyle rapping in the pitch black back of a moving truck.
Mike and I traded spots, so I got to see the tail-end of West Virginia as we passed through the mountains at dawn. The fresh air was wonderful, and I swear that southern air smells different. It's narcotic; thicker and sweeter than the industrial carcinogens of the northern Midwest, where we had been.
We got a new van, and I sat on my loft story until the right time. It was months later, and we were in the middle of nowhere in Kentucky when the mood caught me.
"Hey guys, I got a story that I've been waiting to tell you for over a year now…"
After I told my band mates that I was the culprit at the shitpipe show, word got around. One of my band mates, who shall remain nameless, was in touch with the guys from the house, and told them. We played a show in Philly almost a year later, and when I went to check the microphone before we played, there was a crude note taped to it. There was a drawing of a dagger and, written in red marker it said "We know you did it!" I looked up and there was a huddle of kids from that house in Allentown, pointing and laughing.