Read my knuckles. They’ll say STAY GOLD.

(For Amber O. You and I are gonna go the distance, I promise. Forever Family.)

I wandered through Hartford, Connecticut as the out-of-place white-boy Southerner, read too deep in the misadventures of Aaron Cometbus and coffee-charged on the localism of Mark Twain. It was 2002 and I was in town with just enough time to watch Autumn turn leaves gold and neighborhoods turn to steel red-brown and dust. In the 1860-somethings Yankee soldiers poured out of their homes to march on Atlanta in the sharpest cut of Union-blue uniforms. Northern charm and grace became reputation for the next century. Near-water pleasantries and manners. I was on foot and looking for all of the above, enough time to kill before airing “0274”, a documentary I directed.

Don’t be fooled by the name. Hartford is a tough town.

I ended up on an out-of-place street, potholes and bottle-trash. The teenage mothers were hanging over balconies with two kids apiece tugging on their shirt-tails. Cars stopped each other and exchanged product for currency, their transmissions not even in neutral, just another day. The sun was setting and that marked my time in the middle of somewhere I didn’t belong as OVER.

Don’t be fooled by my size. I’m intimidated easily out of my comfort zone; for this tale let’s indicate that zone as the Post-Confederate South.

The documentary screening fell to pieces, the promoter backed me into his office to show off his drugs, computers, and family photos. I bit my nails in his solid white-decorated studio apartment above a nightclub, cornered in a town that had not shown me the Mark Twain accent I’d anticipated. “If it wasn’t for the forest I would hate the trees,” or something like that was once said. The promoter disappeared, I’m assuming, to find someone actually interested in cocaine, laptops and baby photos.

I found his assistant, a young fake-tan female who wore all spandex and hairspray, and passed along the message: I’m leaving and not coming back.

Don’t be fooled by the confident swagger. I go schizophrenic-useless in unanswered situations, zero to 60 in a Jackson, Mississippi second. I sat parallel-parked in Hartford, Connecticut (population 125,000 + me) in a borrowed car and banged my head on the wheel, distraught over the what next. I had no idea, and no money, low on gas, food in a backpack. I opened and closed my fist, imagining the times I’d foolishly punched out windshields, teenage anger angst attitude* and ignorance. Busted bloody knuckles over something dumb, a country highway outside of Mobile, East Lake late nights, or Highway 31…

(The Highway 31 incident was actually a semi-valiant reason, and I was in my thirties, but I was fueled on a chewing rage, so it makes the T.A.A.A.* list)

The great “0274” film tour of 2002 was pieced together like a Frankenstein map, half by me and half by a Florida nurse named Brooke. Brooke was dripping with metal piercings, muscles and Elvis tattoos. She was married to some big time radio dj and condemned to residence in Pensacola, Florida (population: Navy boys, beach bums and too many conservatives + me for one short year) She helped me selflessly, with no rewards outside of bragging rights, and those aint worth much. I dug through a notebook of contacts to find the name under the photo-showing drug-ingesting promoter. I read the next name wrong, or it’d been written down wrong to begin with, but it stuck.


Russ was 18 and living a college life in Storrs, Connecticut at a small college called UCONN. He met me in a parking lot filled with stickered up SUVS, anything goes from Phish or Portishead to the Social Distortion skeleton or Crass logo. Russ was straightedge, bundled up in the uniform- hooded sweatshirt, converse shoes, dime-store holes in his ears. For the next two days he fed me on a stolen meal card, snuck me into their weight room with a stolen gym card and let me run alongside his pack of friends. Straightedge is easy at 18, his whole table in the cafeteria wore the hoodies, had the shoes, had the ears… and I listened to them talk so excited over the rest of their lives. Brooding filmmakers, writers, and teachers, all neck deep in the life and music that spilled out of the DC hardcore scene like a black plague brooding in the fur of rats.

Don’t get me wrong. Straightedge can be a great thing if it doesn’t eat you alive.

My film screened, the room was full, and the university actually paid me. Home-fucking-run. I left UCONN en route for the West, or Boston, I can’t remember. Russ and I hugged and swore to keep up. We did for some time.


I called one time and it just rang. And rang. No machine, no answer, no Rust, and no idea why. I found an old email account and wrote “just checking in”. Weeks later Russ’ girlfriend wrote back that Russ was sick. Sick sick, and it didn’t look good.

I called again, sometime down the way, and his number was disconnected, further emails were never answered. Disconnected, I was on the other side of the country, lost at a late night diner alone, 2am. I watched tables of drunks come and go, I watched loners, fellow wanderers sit down, eat with prison manners, eyes on their food, pay, tip a buck or two, and leave into the rain and wind.

A UCONN cafeteria table…

The table in the cafeteria… a handful of the future, younger card cuts of every idea I had growing up in the scene of unpopular screaming music. Making movies, writing books, or standing in front of a classroom. I’ve always hated the phrase “let’s be realistic”, but I know what happens when you get older. The fire inside fades. The fire inside turns to necessity, survival, apathy. It turns into cold winds and power bills, new-born kids and steady paychecks. But I’m selfish. In my mind there’s a table at UCONN conspiring against the world right now, beat-up Converse shoes, blue-black hair, Time in Malta t-shirts. Russ is right there with them, studying the works of Gilles Deleuze, or justifying anarchism, and not shaking with chemotherapy. He is right where I left him. They are all right where I left them.

Don’t get me wrong, I did leave them behind. I left them to rust. Slowly crumbling into steel red-brown and dust, akin of wrong turns neighborhoods in Hartford, Connecticut (population: a thousand other towns). The world is waiting to turn them into something else; something other than everything they want to be. So I left them there, I admit it.

I let them rust.

“It’s our life, we do what we choose. Black jeans, black shirt, black shoes. Mom and Dad still don’t approve. Save me from ordinary. Save me from myself.” - Modern Life is War


The first of many words without you

(My ex-wife, upon hearing the horror subject of this essay, the morning after it actually happened, told me that I really needed to talk to somebody. Well… I’m talking now.)

Tommy said She came by the fire station as a kid. Ten years old, Her and an older brother on bikes- buying cokes from the machine, putting air in low tires, needing cups for the water fountain. The neighborhood surrounding Legion Field is over flown with kids on bikes dodging between cars and making fun of the crazies walking like zombies from their dorm room halfways. Young is good. It’s really good to be young.

The 300-foot rectangle of yellow caution tape was just… tape, but the contents of the Projects, a volatile crowd, respected the boundary. There was only one cop on the scene, and that was about a dozen cops too few. Young children sprinted by the Engine in a November night race, see what’s going on see what caused the red lights, blue lights and full moon screams. I stepped out of our backup Engine, in it’s last week of use before an awaiting doom to scrap metal and/or training for Rookie Schools, and told Davis “This does not look like it’s going to be much fun.”

Early that morning, in a different set of projects, a different side of the Grey Lady, our soon-to-extinction Engine pulled up to a man on the ground, shaking and foaming with seizures. Nothing more than a coincidence, Her older brother walked by, no longer on a bike, no longer running routes off Graymont Avenue. He wore a black hoodie, the hood unnecessarily pulled over his ears. November is still warm where we come from. It’s really good to have warm Novembers. He nodded his hello, kept walking. We picked up the man in the dirt and strapped him to a cot. I brushed the leaves and dirt out of his eyes.

People waved and yelled us in. No one likes seeing this. The thugs, the involved, and the folks trapped next door as neighbors, honored the yellow tape but screamed for someone, anyone to do… something. I put an air mask over Her mouth and nose, Davis cut off her jacket. Lieutenant called for a backboard and for someone to find a pulse, screaming that she was a “load and go”. The Rescue Truck backed up in the narrow alleys of Elyton, we tore the yellow tape to let them pass.

19, where was I? Lying to myself and pretending to be a college student, driving back and forth from Montevallo on a daily basis, and listening to bands like Nation of Ulysses, or Nine Inch Nails, or Juliana Hatfield (I was as schizophrenic then as I am now). I was tall and too skinny and worked out (without a clue how) to compensate. I delivered pizzas, I played hockey, I girl-watched at Century Plaza, and I slept late. Nothing life changing, or life-extraordinary, but I was, after all, only 19. And 19 is a really good thing.

Mother didn’t respect the boundaries of the tape and stood over us, looking down at her daughter. A second cop showed up, half-heartedly holding her back. No one could blame her being there, hovering, because me, in her shoes, a father cursed to walk this world with a never ending worry of his own daughter? I would have eaten my way through yellow tape and city badges and anything else that stood in my path. But that’s emotion, that’s pain, that’s flooded endorphins. I was there as a first response, we were there to help. Mother was eerie calm, standing above me when she said “I’m just curious if my daughter is dead or not.”

I found a pulse. It was strong, beating over 100 times a minute. A pulse like that contradicted everything else in the Projects’ parking lot.

I rode in the back of the Rescue with Eric and George, Station 6 medics, one on each arm raising needles for IVs, a four lead for signs of a heart working, oxygen pumping, hopefully, to still moving lungs. Tommy drove us in, a 4-5 minute tornado from the Elyton Projects to UAB’s Trauma Center. Tommy was pulled off the Engine specifically to drive, a demon on the wheel, unaware of things like “right of way” or “brakes”. The second turn he creased pushed us close to two wheels, and slung me forward across the 19-year-old girl.

My forearm pressed against her forehead, the spill from her blood and brains smeared my skin.

Mother said it was a disagreement with another girl. The police had a baseball bat roped off inside the yellow rectangle. It was hard not to notice. She left the project with a strong pulse, still alive, even if momentarily. Leaving the projects breathing is a really good thing. The strong pulse didn’t show up in the back of the Rescue Truck so Eric bagged her, violently feeding her oxygen while I crushed her sternum with compressions. For the record she died on a trauma table. Literally, she left this world in between a parking lot and 4-5 minutes of lights and sirens.

I was 19 once and sleeping on my parent’s couch. I can remember smashing my eyes shut to fight off the insomniac-depression that I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. Zero goals, zero direction, zero inspiration. This went on for weeks before it hit me that it didn’t matter.
I was only 19.
Realizing that I never slept better. I had the rest of my life to worry nights away, bite my nails to the quick, drink a lot of coffee.

A dozen doctors and nurses and hospital handymen went into action as soon as we pulled her from our cot to their table. I was abruptly shoved back while they put hands and saws to work. But they were only human beings, not gods or magicians, and could only do so much. I went outside to clean up the IV needles, bloodied-gauze, and brains from the back of the Rescue Unit.

Tommy said She came by the fire station as a kid. Ten years old, Her, her older brother both on bikes… Dodging cars, drinking cokes from a machine, airing up low tires. But look away for just a moment, or blink, or close your eyes and a near-decade later something domestic would escalate from words to baseball bats to guns too fast in an Elyton parking lot, in a warm November night. The neighborhood scattered around Legion Field is thick with kids that find themselves in a fight to grow up. Young is good. Damn, it’s good to be young. But…

It’s really good to have a chance to grow old.

“This is where we see who runs first. It’s you and me, and the train, the steel tracks, and the dirt.” - Defeater


PART II (Holding my breath 4,5,6…)

(Part II is a survivor, pen–written in unlikely locales and on unlikely sources. The back of a ticket book, belly-up to the bar of Bottletree, during the set of Bison AD, who sound like an introduction to Viking war. The counter of the UAB Trauma Center following three shootings in three minutes. The papers were stuck in my pocket for editing and that was interrupted by a 2-alarm Woodlawn house fire. Dried out, typed and… finally posted.)

I write from the end of a sledgehammer.
I write from…
I write.

There was something in her eyes at the kitchen table. Black-starved glare for attention, cum-starved needs attention. It was sexual, or chemical, or both, and I didn’t get it. I was too young, too naive. A pleasant reminder of how desperate people can be. Exene mumbled that “we’re all desperate” and “get used to it” before 1,2,3 counts for a band called X in seedy Los Angeles bars a chainsmoke-junkie’s lifetime ago. Yes, I write the memories of others and yes, I was only seven-years-old in 1980, and nowhere near California, but I can fade away to anytime anyplace with a pen and paper and the cursed gift of not being able to forget, or to let it go.

I want to write fiction, I’ve typed that before, but fiction just seems so uneven. I may be melodramatic… I may use homemade adjectives and street-born adverbs to get what I want. Broken English, broken speech, imaginary punctuation.

But I don’t lie.

Snapshot 1: Two men, one woman sat around a coffee table outside the first unit banging dominoes. Two, wearing all red, sat in chairs, the other sat on the stairs. A pitbull puppy rolled on his back in the weeds. Extension cords ran across the courtyard, pushing power from one address to another, the stairs in the back units resembled loading docks.

Jason and I saw the car flipped over, headlights still on, wheels spinning. Before midnight I’d hold the names of the dead. Rich boy drinking again, driving again and killing again. He and I paralleled two paths of similar goals, with significant differences. I fought for my bars with credit card bills and bank loans, his bars were parents’ gifts to steer him out of trouble’s way. When we said our “hellos” in public I was usually throwing away beer bottles, sweeping up broken glass. He was busy swiping plastic and smiling teeth at young Southside skirts. Trouble, as they say, finds those that are truly troubled.

The static of my truck radio and “Glory Days” and yeah yeah yeah. Jason and I, bored with straightedge but not going anywhere, drove aimlessly in large January circles up and over Birmingham’s hills. The headlights over the bend in the road hit first, the upside down headlights. It was him, the rich boy, on his path. Reiterating, he had killed before, waking up sober behind prison’s cell-gray bars in a year-and-a-half of bad mornings.

The bad look in his eye, it was the devil inside.
Embrace excess. Die for the troubles.
I don’t smile over the dead, I can’t. But that night and now I embrace his death. And I write about it, nothing uneven this time.

Snapshot 2: The inside of the house was just a means to cross from the courtyard to the alley. A rotten mattress tucked away in the living room behind a dresser missing two drawers. Roaches walked over walls, ants crawled through open containers of food in a three-foot-wide kitchen. A pile of decade-ago magazines scattered on the floors. A college report card hung by magnets on the refrigerator, 4.0 average.

White is the minority in this neighborhood and she was white. The voices battling for her conscious had dialed 911. She was scared. It was painful, or psychosomatic, or both and I get it. Everyone else went outside, waiting on her Rescue taxi to Belleview. I stayed inside, looking through dust shelves of trinkets and photos of probably-dead people.

“So... voices… what do they say?”
“They say…”
“They say?”
“They say kill yourself. Over and over. Negative things like that.”
I nodded. “I hear them too ma’am. I just write away the voices.”
She nodded back, “I paint them”, pointing to a wall full of art. It wasn’t my kind of style, but A for effort, right?

Snapshot 3: The outside alley was rowed with garbage bags ripped open by cats, rats and dogs. A stack of one hundred Cobra brand beers piled up outside the bedroom window. A couch, faced back to the alley, was surrounded with bent or broken toys. Her husband misheard “vitals” for “violent”, and would not let go thinking that we were accusing him of abuse. We were not. He called someone on his cell and quit his job.
The wife sat in a folding chair next to a stack of a hundred Cobra cans, arms zombie straight, eyes looking through something that wasn’t there, embraced in her own madness.

I wrote snapshots and inked notes on the back of my hand.

I'm going to keep screwing around and end up writing a 100,000 word short story: full of verses about love, a buildup to pages about loss, and a twist ending about death. I’ll wipe the bloodied handprints down my jeans, heart beating so fast it cracks ribs. Arms are still wide and, sometimes, there’s even a slight smile… if just for a moment. This is really me, writing with a Polaroid memory and scrap pieces.

Ammonia bags.
Vicks inhalers.
Band-aid looking things taped across my nose.
Rubbing alcohol.

Anything it takes to keep breathing, keep going, keep fighting, writing, loving, living, dying. Over and over and over again.
This is really me. The lungs, the sledgehammer, and the snarl.
And I’ll embrace it all.

“They cover their eyes, for who wants to be sad? Life is sweet at the bottom of the sea. So don’t tread on me, for I am your brother, I was born with an American hear
t.” – Scott Bondy


Holding my breath 1,2,3… (PART I)

(I’m going KILL BILL on this one PART I and PART II. Too many words to swallow, and I KNOW with factual certainty that the attention span of hopeless generations X Y & Z have slipped from two hour black and white cinema to rock videos, now down to 30-second pop chart clips hosted by boys half our age. Or half my age. It’s not an age thing, I hate you all.)

I write from the lungs.

Dead Warren Zevon sang about werewolves while I spit blood constantly. The tooth, rotten out and busted roots from a failed root canal, hurt and gave my face a brass knuckle finish.

The damage caused trauma caused disorientation and inexplicable anger. The lion had a thorn in his paw, the lion aint all
that happy.

Do you want to swallow honesty? Trauma inducing honesty? I’ve repressed anger and depression with sex. So there, swallow that. A September birthday may make this an old man thing, it may be a self-loathing thing but I’ve wasted away, a lot, for shallow fucking payoffs. And going to Morris Avenue for Hardcore shows is so 1980s but I found my way to the cobblestones, again, only now I’m in my mid-thirties. Have Heart headlined for a filled up junior high scene (a good thing for Hardcore, not so much for my social life).

I’ve lost my way with crowds, with movements, and with women. The older girls look too smart for me and the younger girls… look too young. Clay, six years behind me, and just now learning to suffer with the cruelty of age in Hardcore, stage dove drunk into a crowd of born-in-nineties children, all unisoned in the lyrics of “Armed with a Mind”. Again this is a good thing. A Hardcore good thing.

I embrace it.

The indecipherable lyrics, overbeaten drums, I only hear what I want to hear. A message of something, everything, and nothing. A meaning…


Embrace the screaming, the tattooed shirts, the biting lips. Embrace the cracks in the sidewalk, in homelife, in this life. Embrace the bricks of a medium-sized small town, the abandoned project bricks. Machine gun fire for free. Skate the banks of South Town, leave before sunset or they will strip your car, strip your skin. I still want Life. Love. Regret. inked on me I just can’t find any room. (My neck is off limits.)

I write with bloody handprints.

Yesterday had three bullets in him, one of three shootings within minutes of each other, within a few miles, West End. The two in his stomach weren’t pouring blood, more dribbling, but they’re still gonna kill him. The one in his hand made his fingers look like the damage of a meat cleaver. The doctors and nurses and police officers lined up down the hall. I scrubbed my bloody handprints off every spot in the Rescue Truck that kept my balance, Tommy driving us in ninety to nothing.

Have you ever really seen a dead body? Loved ones gone and missing and forgetting. Crushed in cars or hanging from a rope? Left in an alley from needles or gun shots, some sort of hole piercing some sort of vein and organ. Bandannas, red and blue, it seems so funny in Birmingham, seems so fake cause this aint Boston, or LA, or NYC.

Funny, blood pouring is not very fake.

Dead career pretty boys Aha sang something about the sun, something about it shining, and something about TV sets.

I write from the sternum.

“Engines 14, 6, 1, Truck 1, Recue 6 Battalion 2…” House fire. More accurately, the projects were on fire. Supposedly.
Just blocks away, we were the first ones to the dance. Smoke billowed out of the third unit, forming under yellow lamp lights that shined off red bricks, the sidewalk chipped through uncut grass and weeds and gravel, and the growing crowd of black females, ages 8 to 80, all pointing toward the window source of the exhaust.

“She’s burning down her own home!”
“Crazy bitch lady aint all there, she’s gonna burn us all!”

My Lieutenant pressed his face against the screen, into the smoke, the silhouette of a black woman appeared, “I didn’t call you, get away, go away.” He shrugged and called off the first response, the engines and trucks surrounding the bricks, pushing red lights flashing, strobe lighting off the faces of the curious and the concerned, a madwoman’s neighbors.

I slowed my pace, bundled down in 40 pounds of turnout gear, an air tank and an SCBA mask. This wasn’t the “big one” I’d been hoping for. Call me morbid, call me a harvester of sorrow, call me an empathetic arsonist. Call me an asshole.

But I love fire.
Embrace it.

Nonetheless, this was not one. Police cars showed up, one by one, taking over for the fire truck lights pulling away. A fat woman screamed into the middle of it all, “Miss Claire just likes to set her walls on fire, it’s okay, Miss Claire don’t mean no harm” Sleep tight next door folks, she’s only burning her walls.

The police leather-gloved against the door, hard fists and “cop tone authority” voices. Open up, open up the goddamn door.


“Sledgehammer would put that door in” I said, covering the words with a fake-stifled cough. My Lieutenant frowned at me. I shrugged, and rolled my eyes.

Ten minutes of leather door banging and threats passed. A female officer, small with purple streaks in her hair and jokes, lots of jokes, said “Didn’t someone say something about a sledgehammer?”

I didn’t even look up. I held out my left hand and Johnny C put the wood and metal in my grip. Johnny C is cursed with the legacy of brutality, as am I, both of our dads handing down the role of Birmingham City Firefighters. (Johnny’s older brother got stuck with it too)

The screen door pinned back I hit the solid steel door just above the lock. I felt the bounce back and I smashed again. My chest rattled. A third shot crashed the door open, the police pushed in and elbow-escorted her outside. Doctor’s orders.

A fear of firefighters kicked in all over her face. Maybe she was old enough to remember the fire hoses of the sixties and misguided orders given that should have never been followed. Bull Connor, Art Hanes-issued orders. The short female officer with the jokes, lots of them, compromised. “She don’t like you guys, I’ll take her to the hospital, no worry” Words at 1:10 am. A psych ward waiting, strait jacket on the gurney.

Engine 6 called over at 7:00 am. They’d run a “person down” call on 5th Ave North. Miss Claire was dead in a gutter.

No explaining that. Embrace it.

I write from the snarl.

In the end, I’m just like you. Sitting around, eyes forward, beer in hand, talking loud about what I’m going to do with my life. A 36-year-old boy, too loud to not have any answers but enough laced self-loathing to back it up. All hail the sheep in wolves clothing, all hail the defeated. Sitting in a bar staring ahead staring at nothing at something that's not there and hasn't been for a long time, maybe a long time is never.

Snarling. A wolf, one of many. I just write about it. I write for it.
I spit American blood through missing teeth, sleeping in America’s basements.
I spit serpent venom for neighborhoods that cities hide. “We’re number six, we’re number six” chant the killers and thieves of a city that smiles, of a city that hides, of a city that eats its own.

I write for America, I write about America. A low-level patriot, Dylan poetry, Springsteen growl, Agnostic Front anger. I write from the sledgehammer. My feet are planted in the gravel under a St Louis arch, the boys of Exhaust wasting away July. My arms punch fists on the dark street one-ways of Corpus Christi, the one arm nazi girl fighting imaginary enemies. My eyes double take the girls of Santa Cruz boardwalks. 1980 video games and handfuls of quarters, a black shirt with words like NAKED AGGRESSION poorly pressed on the front.

Hail the defeated and embrace what you are, or at least I think that’s what they sang on Morris Avenue. I just took what I needed to hear, just like I’ve been doing at a thousand venues in a hundred towns since I was 12. And I do my best to live it, and write about it… yes, this is really me… (arms spread wide)

I write,
I write from…
I write from the end of a sledgehammer.

“Are you kidding? I am Queens Boulevard” – Vinny Chase.

(Part II to follow soon… maybe next week…)


Let's bleed in circles so we never really go anywhere.

Janey fell asleep to the hum of the air conditioner and I kept driving, church sign after church sign of clever sayings and quotes; the backroads of Alabama creeping into Florida are overboard with them. She slept, I drove, one of us with a lot of living to do and the other with a lot of living to write down. I was eleven years old the last time I passed through the same two-street Southern towns, riding with my Dad to the ocean, 1985. I bought stapled comic books from used bookstores, Dad bought 1960’s Playboy magazines where the centerfolds still wore bikinis. Back then I was the one sleeping to the a/c, occasionally woken up by songs on fm radio. “We Built this City” by Starship did it more times than I care to remember, but that was then.

Now, any vacation getaway I take is haunted with daydreams, voices planning a “new me” when I get back within Birmingham city limits. A stern tone voice barks for me to work harder, workout harder, type harder. A shoe gazer slur asks me daydream-away questions; life summary meaning problems and adrenalin fixes as shallow sounding as fortune cookie philosophy when said out loud. Too vague, too complex and … well too boring. Then… a gritted-teeth dare grounds me. A voice said, “eat the fix”. Adrenalin meets worthless ancient history.

Prove the past actually happened.
Childhood haunts, Neighborhood urban legends.
Prove they were ever there at all.
For starters,
break in to Banks High School.
Eat the fix.

Banks High. My mom graduated a Banks Jet in 1969, along with one of Charles Manson’s flock and a handful of NFL quarterbacks. I went there for two years in ’88 before they closed it, covered it with a middle school, and then closed the whole thing for good a few years back.

Tall chain link fences run the school’s near half-mile length, put up originally to keep out drug dealers, remaining up present day to keep out homeless.
I had to see. I had to go back.
Prove it.

I was not the first one to return. Trophy cases were smashed, tables and chairs burned. The walls were coated with spray paint marks of 14-year-old Crips and Black Gangster Disciples. I went in classrooms where I’d once stared at the clock/at the walls/at girls waiting on 3:00. (I was a pretty crummy student) The administration offices waited on trespassers (read: me) with silver fire graffitied on the walls, accompanied with a typo greeting:

“Welcoem to Hell”

I walked down halls too abandoned for echoes, finding the standing spots of nothing memories, but memories nonetheless. First kisses, teenage wishes and the Outsiders I called friends. I walked through the auditorium, still amazingly sound after a 2000 fire, three years of abandonment and 50 years under rule of the Birmingham Board of Education. I read nicknames and adolescent scratchings in those wood chairs for two lifetimes.

Someday I’m going to write a book about abandoned Banks High School and call it “Misspelled Greetings from the Afterworld”

On the way home I passed Crazy David’s house, an East Lake urban legend that disappeared into thin air. His house sits undisturbed in the middle of East Side suburbia and has remained unopened since he… vanished over a decade ago. But that break-in would have to wait for another day.

“Another day” was a week later.
Let the nightmares begin.

David, crazy David. Crazy David lived in the lungs of East Lake through the 70s, 80s and 90s. I think he spared society from the brunt of his “capabilities” for the first two decades but in the nineties… duck and cover.

The tourists, and by tourists I mean everyone that lived off the block yet drove by on a regular basis to see the house of the crazy man (read: me), were only allowed minimal insight to the madness. A tree outside covered in political agenda nonsense, windows boarded over with the same. No power. No utilities.

One night a naked, bleeding woman ran out of Crazy David’s house screaming. When the trial began he served as his own lawyer. He made it back home on probation but still a free man.
Only now he was living with a vengeance.
And no sanity, until
The G-men came for him. Two cars full, in dark suits and matted down hair. One TOO MANY death threats to President Bill Clinton, 1997. And the house, a mystery to me and a nuisance to its neighbors, sat vacant for 12 long years.

For me, the best approach to criminal activity is a direct approach. Mid-day I parked out front, smiling and waving to neighbors as I prepared for the break in. Flash light, gloves, camera and shaken nerves.
Both doors were clamped down with locks and bars, covered over in garbage and losing an eleven-year battle with Mother Nature. Through windows I could see a path stream lining through the books, boxes, clothes and craziness but could not figure out how he came and went. Then it occurred to me…
He didn’t. In the end he never ever left.

I found a loose baseboard under a rear window and yanked it out, exposing the top row of bricks. One by one I pulled them down until I had enough of an opening to kick my way in. I felt like the Juggernaut (X-men) and Andy Dufresne (Shawshank Redemption) all at once. A pack of feral cats resting on the inside of a broken window, eyeing me the whole time, was almost enough to scare me off.

Heart beating painfully and sweat pouring profusely I walked the small house, stepping over the clutter of an interesting, albeit insane, life. Clothes in disarray next to a meticulously documented file system of conspiracies and grievances to society. Un-open medication next to cans of cat food and stacked books. Everything surrounded by the artwork and messages of representing madness.

“People need to feel:
1. Cared for
2. Loved
3. Important”

In 97, the law had had enough of Crazy David’s antics. The front lawn, again, covered in political outrage toward local politicians, police officers, and neighbors. Again, one too many death threats against President Clinton.

“People need to feel:
1. Useful
2. They belong”

That late late night, the two dark sedans, the G-men in their dark suits. Pouring out, knocking twice before opening his door.
Bye bye David.
Years from now, when they loosen my straitjacket straps, I’ll get a box of crayons and write a book about crazy David and the crusade. I’ll call it “Stumbling into the Mouth of Lunacy” and I’ll sell a million copies.

The day dreams I have leave me wrecked, adrenalin leaving, and always pushing pushing pushing. When I do run away from it all, the voices, this city, this so called lifetime, I’ll walk down lost-hearted highways and scour the America for every abandoned idea and broken window town. I know right outside of Chicago is an empty insane asylum with an underground tunnel system to transport patients from one building to the next. Lobotomy 101 and I’m not kidding.
I know of an abandoned town in Pennsylvania…

Another time.

I blue-printed both break-ins in a Florida hotel. I slept to the thump thump thump of an eight-year-old’s beating heart. The adrenalin, man, it was a rush, and I ate the fix.
At the risk of exposing multiple personality disorders, the concerns never go away. Self-destructive-challenged worry and questions, all the questions. Fortune cookie philosophy at it’s most meaningless.
Why are you so worried?
About tomorrow?
About dying?
About a heaven?
About god and country and everything that’s lost in between?
Why are you so damn worried?
People need to feel:
1 ?
2 ?
3 ?

I want to live in moments that last forever. Close your eyes forever. Tragedy in beauty and violent-perfect visions. I don’t want to be scared of my own daydreaming, I don’t want to be scared of forgetting.
And I’m going to write a book about every single moment that mattered.
I’ll call it “An Account of Nothing”.

We’re just a million little gods causing rain storms, turning every good thing to rust. I guess we’ll have to adjust.” – The Arcade Fire


Gas station hugs, he had RED RUM tattooed across his neck.

(I changed names.)
Nina grew up in mansions, white ribbons in her hair, private schools at her feet. She cut the white ribbons to pieces in high school, rich girl punk rock, freckle-faced pouty good-looks. Enough money and attitude for the tame drugs and lame parties and asshole rockers. I was a hundred miles younger than her, awkward, and very socially-inept.

East Lake punk rock kids were, culturally, always reaching and grasping at straws. We stood out in crowds of blue hair, black nails and green LSD vomit. The fact that Nina was on 86th Street South at 4am Sunday morning suggested she was a slummer, looking for kicks with a Black Flag soundtrack. A one-night stand on a basement couch with one of my friends while I slept alone on a throw down mattress. It’s tough to call 15-year-olds together a “one night stand” but…

I pulled a blanket over my head, not for warmth, not in August, but to pretend I wasn’t there, an ornament on the set of someone else’s movie. My friend never went to high school, not a day, and his parents let him run Skid-Row wild as long as he got up Monday thru Friday to lay tile. He’s still running wild to this day.

I woke up that morning and traded a dirty Youth of Today t-shirt for a clean one that said “BOLD”. Straightedge was so “in” in ’88. Nina was asleep on a couch, distant eyes dreaming. I cut through the woods that separated East Lake and Roebuck, headed home.

I heard Nina’s name again in college in a sentence that had pills of ecstasy (a new design) and lines of cocaine (an old favorite). No longer slumming she ran with a jet set of new wave kids who drove BMWs to Morris Avenue for shows or to the projects of Elyton for drugs. I wasn’t an ornament on this set but I read the script. The new wave kids gathered around a card table with paid for pills of all shapes and devices, in the basement of a house nicer than anything on 86th Street South.

Nina’s boyfriend was tall and jet set and wrapped his arms around her. He was laughing when he put one bullet in the gun, leaning his head next to hers when he spun the chamber. “I’ll live forever”, he said, still laughing as he pulled the trigger that made him a liar.

His blood and body on the floor were irrelevant. Nina was permanent-lost at the gunshot, torn up white ribbons and forever winters, dizzying the rest of the way on her own. It’s tough to call 19-year-olds in love so I won’t suggest it…

Small town stumbling over the same people on my path I’ve heard her name used in other painful scenarios: Another boyfriend, a New Orleans trade and swap, and an ugly celebrity and his female companion.
Years further she showed up in a Southside bar I was standing behind, now married, new pills and new husband. The same distant eyes looking for life to begin, end, or exist somewhere else. Nina had no idea that we’d ever met and, looking back now, I don’t think we ever really had. She wore an expensive coat, fur and plush. It looked like a blanket.

For me this summer’s nights have been laced with wake up nightmares over and over. I’m scared to fall asleep, scared of my subconscious screaming: I want to hurt, I want violence, I want to become the worst serial killer this America’s ever seen. Larry Livermore once wrote that “it’s no surprise there are so many random acts of murder, rather it’s a wonder there aren’t a hundred times more.” I read that line in 2000 and looked out the window of my then-Highland Avenue apartment, the drunks pouring out of nightclubs and dancehalls. The next night Samantha told me I was going to be a father. The nightmares would come and go, they always do.

Instant best friends. Zach and I met in fifth grade, playing GI Joe and Star Wars at sleepovers on the weekends. Over the next few years we migrated into b-movie exploitation films, hair metal and the Violent Femmes. Zach’s mom raised me on the weekends, a small pack of us roaming the safety of Mountain Brook-Irondale on foot, wanting reckless trouble but not really knowing how to find it. In ’87 I’d shied away from the Outsiders of East Lake, too tired of explaining why I didn’t do drugs anymore. Also, I liked the blanket security on this side of town.

Young friends are hard to hold onto. People choose paths to follow that fail to represent the same importance to instant best friends. Teenagers turn into their twenties and thirties before you can even laugh about it. Or, all you can do is laugh.

Zach chose. He chose a heroin needle route for safe keeping and pain removing. Before it even began he’d watched a girlfriend fade away on a course of rehabs, the strung out thing and fix-necessity. Now…

Zach’s pills turned into bigger pills turned into fake makeshift heroin into the real thing. A rock-n-roller friend turned him on and toured the country, yet kept Zach “on a leash” to prevent the strung out thing from slamming him the way it did, the way it does, the way it can. The way it will. The way you can expect.
Everything numb.
Nothing, and I mean, nothing matters, the blanket wrapped around you. The blanket makes sure nothing is wrong, nothing can go wrong and nothing can make you sad.

The fairytale unraveled when the rock-n-roller found himself stranded in New York with nothing to gauge. Zach FedExed heroin overnight hurry hurry and put the dealer’s number in his phone. The leash was off now.

Of course Zach’s dealer was from Roebuck!, the woodsier side of East Lake. A skinny rave kid that soon let the enemies and addictions catch up to him so he moved in with Zach to hide. Their relationship turned sour over money and drugs the way it did, the way it does, the way it can…

Another batch and another dealer who stayed in business while kicking off his own habit. Every day Zach and the rock-n-roller waited in the bushes for the dealer to leave for the methadone clinic so they could break in to get daily doses weekly doses too many doses… Zach said the questions were always there. They sounded like “Am I really fucking up this bad?”

I was a million miles away back then, putting on my best suit, my only suit and straightening a borrowed tie in the mirror. Leaning over the sink, throwing cold water on my face, careful to keep my clothes dry. It was 7am and I was on my way to a job that wouldn’t last that I already hated. Who am I becoming and why do I feel so helpless? Little did I know about Zach…

After failed rehab tabs piled down Zach found a way out, and the way out was eight months in a Mississippi treatment facility. Zach said it wasn’t their program that cleaned him up but the time away. Time away to ask ugly questions with broken glass answers. Sort of like “Did I really think I was getting away with it all?”

Instant lifelong best friends, bonded by youth and Youth of Today records, Avengers comics and films like “Bloodsucking Freaks” or “I Spit on your Grave”. We talked the other day and he filled in the holes of his story, the times we fell apart, the times he fell apart. Zach’s good now, trying to lead a decent life, becoming the guy he used to be. His mom, who took her share of grief from 13-year-old boys looking for trouble in Mountain Brook-Irondale, passed away this year. Her death crushed my heart, and it annihilated Zach’s, but he never went back to needles. Eight months of Mississippi was enough.

Zach said he still has a friend out there using, living in a car with a girlfriend, everything numb, everything a dream and not getting away with anything. He’ll call now and then for money, for food, for warmth. He’s willing to work for it, but Zach said he can’t be trusted. Zach gave him a blanket to keep warm.

This morning I put on a blue city shirt, blue city shorts and black socks. I took a cold shower to wake up and drank egg whites with enough fake-sugar to kill the taste. I looked at my eyes in the mirror. They looked distant. They looked tired and wired, waiting on life to begin, or end, or exist, but not somewhere else. Right here. This very minute. Janey was still asleep, arm over her face to hide off morning, just a little while longer. I kissed her goodbye, pulled the blanket over her shoulders and whispered “It’s me and you against the world kiddo.”
She hugged my neck and said “I know that already daddy.”

“Who are we kidding, there was never a plan. We followed our instincts in the worst kind of ways
.” -Lucero


Read this, choke on it, spit blood on me.

The mask is coming off.
Tonight I’m going out with the intentions of doing something really great. Or incredible. Or stupid. Stress-addicted, coffee-fueled and diagnosed with a hero complex and a loser complex simultaneously. A closet “god complex” too, but I try to keep that to myself, as I do the “wasting away” complex.

Put a song to it, the lyrics don’t even have to be relevant.
This is our last good bye? Jeff, it wasn’t about death but wow did people think about it when you drowned. I can’t sing or write songs so I’ve borrowed here and there to get my point across. You’re also allowed to pick an actor to play you in the re-make. He can be a foot shorter if you want, and handsome-teeth, gel-hair. Popular on some dumb show making the leap to movies, or the pretty-boy pill problem. Girls, pick your favorite famous-for-wrong-reasons angry brunette, blonde, or redhead.

I almost bought into, or sold out to, the fantasies of meaningless music, worthless films, and predictable aspirations. Martini drinks and gold-diamond bikini-tops, high heels, fast cars, open highways bleached teeth. Suits and ties and photographs lie. Too bad I have these addictions without the courage to confess them.
I put my hands on my face and started to pull off the mask, fingers digging into my cheeks and eyes, my jaw…
Ian Curtis fronting Joy Division sang that love will do something to us; I just can’t remember what.

She was black and bruised and I wanted to feel used. We asked how much. Before driving away she showed us the jagged piece of glass wrapped in tape to fend off bad guys. There were four of us and young enough to talk to hookers and old enough to know better. I pictured the slide…
People don’t start out with one shoe missing, fishnet stockings, homeless dirty beaten-face-smashed IV drained arms, mattress floor, dirt floor, no floor no roof no power no water. Seven year-old kids in the street out for something, nothing, 3:30am, life unused.
There’s a slide.
I wanted to feel used.
I want to feel used right now.

I found the rock quarry, again, at midnight, the graffiti faded rocks torn to pieces, the industry beaten gravel. Rows and rows of identical Trussville houses in the distance, now. There’s a bulldozer graved in the water, legends of impaled swimmers and cliff-divers. And now your Trussville babies can walk out the backdoor to a 110-foot drop. Now that’s a backyard! Good luck piercing the chemical layers, the pipes pushing neon colors over once-blue spring water. I left the crickets’ screaming and eerie-forest white background noise and drove straight to a graveyard near the airport. I wanted to steal an 81-years-dead corpse, but I chickened out. Typical Tuesday night fright.
Mike Ness stood in front of Social Distortion and sang about praying in a broken down Chevrolet…

There’s a slide, mask coming off…

Good times, good drugs, good girls, good rush. Picture this: a fence in West End, an alley in West End and I want to slump down against the chain links and lay down and die. Over and over if possible, but once will probably be enough. White boys in bad predicaments are always so tall and so skinny, even lying down. Motioned-hand across the throat from another firefighter, “George, you ain't gonna need that medic bag.”
The slide comes quick, the slide’s not pretty.
You don’t wake up and get dropped off in West End to die from an overdose. You don’t plan on dragging your barely-out-of-her-teens fiancée along with you. YOU don’t pick the spot against a chain-link fence in an alley where you’ll curl over and die, cops flashing their lights on your body, found you in the rain. There’s a slide, sliding down the chain links, sliding onto busted asphalt. Let your ghost hear fiancée’s indecipherable words through cigarette inhales, smeared raindrop makeup, and no shoes.
There’s a slide.

“George, I was just reading a description of a nursing home, people shitting all over themselves and such… I want you to promise me that if I ever reach such a state by way of illness, injury, or age that you will come and kill me. (My wife) won’t have the guts.” – Jason. (A close close friend)

“He’s not breathing very well”, his nurses said and he’s old and grey and they were all waiting on us. Nurses sitting on the foot of the bed, hands in their lap semi-concern-look faces. My Lieutenant craned his neck over the bed… count it down three, two, one… “Not breathing well? This man’s dead”.
yes Jason.
the time comes
I will kill you.
I will stop the slide.

I had an axe in one hand, waiting on word to destroy something, everything, anything. A thousand yard stare, my mind a million miles away. I wanted to break something, even if it was for the right reasons. My mask slid off, but the house was still on fire. The black smoke rushed my lungs, the black smoke painted the inside of my nostrils, my mouth, my eyes. The house burned and burned…
(The Slide)
Hanging out the windows of Woodlawn, hookers on the sidewalks, a gun pulled in our faces, no reason, the drugs and wrecks and voices behind me as I left for good, the twisting bruises and love/hate emotion that eats me up when I drive past. Left for good, left for gone. Long gone.
The car was still going 40 mph and I was through listening. So I opened the door to get out, daughter screaming, ex-girlfriend screaming. Snakes in my head, schizophrenia unleashed, temper tantrum but I'm still as un-thinking as I’ve ever been. 240 lbs of scarred-muscle emotion acting without consequence.
I no longer talk to my family.
I want to go out swinging.
I want to do something really great. Or incredible. Or incredibly stupid.
Ask what happened to me and I’ll ask you “Which time?”
There’s a slide.
The mask stays on for now, but
there’s a motherfucking slide.

“I want to be blind and dumb and have no heart. I want to crawl in a hole and never come out. I want to wipe my existence straight off the map.” – James Frey

“In this life you're on your own. And if the elevator tries to break you down… Go crazy.” - Prince


I want to drown right now too, Leah

(This cannibal swallowed a 400-word piece written a long while back. So much for a 2.0 version of said previous effort. Like everything else in my life, this blog developed into a beast of it’s own.)

We are the hopeless,

Another night in my veins. I wasn't in the room when Beth's head hit the floor, but I heard the impact. The sound was an anvil dropped on wood, an aluminum bat smashing a wall. I wasn't in the room, I was in the bedroom with her daughter Tiffany, both of us 15 and not doing anything physical. Just laying there, talking. Something to miss about 15. Endless nights wasted away into sunrises thinking of ways to rule the world.
The dumbest things funny.
Mindless importance.
It was that way that night too, until I heard Beth's head hit the floor.

I’m the kid who worried too much, nicknamed “Daddy George” for too much concern over drunkenness and acid trips, age 13. Mitch Ricketts pinned that title on me and then took me to the top of Pine Tree for my first jump. “Keep your body rigid, keep your hands at your side and try not to bite your tongue off when you hit the water”, he said, too far gone on Busch beer. Then he rolled over the rocks, the water too far away for me to hear him hit.
I’m the kid who followed him over the cliff.

There are 100 magazine covers telling me who I’m supposed to be. Product reinforcement turns needless into necessity or, simply put, nothing into something. Too bad for 100 editors, because in my blackest moments of loneliness or confusion or sadness, or any other multi-syllable emotion, I picture us, me included, as transients on the side of a nowhere highway. The sign in our hands reads “Take me somewhere else.” And that’s a hard vision to send to the marketing department. No beautiful models are on the cliff with us, no mandatory sports car stock market lives.
I’m the guy who put the four words to cardboard.
I’m the guy tearing up 100 magazine covers.

we are the helpless,

We ran in the room, Tiffany’s hands going straight over her open mouth to stifle the shock and scream and awe. The 50-year-old biker that followed Beth home from a Woodlawn juke joint was passed out on the couch, an eerie upright position. A handful of Outsiders were scattered about the room as well, all of them seemingly conscious. Outsiders only traveled in handfuls, a fateful bunch of rebel soldiers… fake-patch anarchists in hiding from our families. Beth just laid there, slightly twitching and slightly breathing.
I’m the kid who worried too much.
I’m the kid that called 911.

Ask me about the “Last of the Runaway Americans”, I dare you. Having a title on the book I’m writing as farewell words makes self-demise seem so inevitable, so inviting. Writing sentences on those pages scares even me. Is there a name for fiction embraced around fact? I call it “faction”, but that just goes along with my ineducated habit of redefining words to fulfill my own descriptions’ needs.
I’m an American Psycho without the murder.
I’m the boy writing a 100,000-word epitaph.

"Uhhhhh I'm at a house, near the white projects but not in the white projects, kinda behind the airport," I stammered. 911 operators are the worst people to talk to when something is really wrong. "We're on a dead end street at the end of another dead end street!" I pleaded, frustrated at my lack of intelligible direction. Someone handed me a piece of mail and I read the address. Tiffany, rightfully so, was in no condition over her mom's condition to be of any assistance.

and we are the heartbroken.

The Kelly house burned down the other night. Again. 21 years after a schizophrenic runaway disguised as one of us set the initial flames. Thad took refuge in the brotherhood of Outsiders and the kind hearts of the Kelly brothers, sleeping in the crawlspace of their house. A folded over mattress hidden in between the walls. The other night was the third time the house burned and it’s a bitter taste when I say out loud that the house is cursed.
Thad and I fought once in a Panama City Beach hotel rooms after the chemicals in his head came unbalanced and he attacked a girl.
I’m the boy who had no business in Florida hotel rooms.

The 50-year-old biker remained in his mixed-pill, alcohol wash-down coma, despite our slaps and shoves and screams. Firefighters and cops are coming, better take his drugs. For his own good. And his money. Again, for his own good. He crawled out on all fours, literally, when Engine 8 showed and initiated the usual drill on Beth. Vital Signs. Sternum rubs. Narcan. She'd live thru that night; we'd all live thru it. I went outside and sat on the hood of a wrecked Malibu. It was 4:30 am and, on the dark side of the white projects, I stared at my dad and my future, both behind the wheel of Engine 8. We never talked about that night, but I could read the words in his eyes, behind the smoke from his cigarette. "What the fuck is my idiot son doing here?"
I’m the man that was an idiot son.
An idiot son following in footsteps and
And growing up.

I’m the man with pen notes on the back of his hand, black ash and soot running from his nose after taking his mask off in a house fire. I’m the man destroying a door, a car, a wall to find fire or to save the dead. Bodies buried in bathtubs under piles of newspapers and coupon clippings, parked cars in parking lots, front porches…

I’m “Daddy George”.
Dialing 911.
Becoming 911.
I am the masochist savior, the billboard fightback figure of the carnival freaks and the fags and the niggers and white trash whores. Anyone else that America spits at, or spits out or spits on. The anger and the hurt creates titles for us all. NO ONE is immune since the signs and symptoms do not match the anecdote. So just hold on, all of you, all of us… We are the hopeless, the helpless, and the heartbroken.

The Raider’s jacket suicide found in a cut-out room behind a Southside garage full of busted Mercedes cars.
The porn covered mattress in the white projects, the body there for days before neighbors wondered and we kicked in the door. The gun next to the hand next to the head next to the blood and brains.
The teacher’s bathtub and two feet of water and too many pills and his face on the wrong side of the bath water’s surface.
I still don’t know what to say now, or what I could have said that day. “Meet me for lunch” wasn’t enough I guess. Whatever words I missed I’m sorry.
I’m the boy that made the promise.
I’m the boy that will keep that promise.

Beth was 31 that night. A year later she became a 32-year-old grandmother. That same year the police raided her house on suspicion of drug use. They found skulls and human remains from an abandoned cemetery near the airport. Last year, in a fit of misplaced nostalgia, I drove by their house on a dead end street at the end of another dead end street. It’d been torn down.
I was glad.
Days later I saw Tiffany walking down the side of the highway.
I’m the guy that pulled over and cried his eyes out.

(Janey, recently, stopped me from getting out of my truck so we could hear American Land, a poem written in 1899 by a Slovakian immigrant and re-written to music by Springsteen. We sang the chorus together loudly and held hands and I bit blood to my lip and told her that I will never ever, EVER, give up. She didn’t understand yet.
But someday she’ll be the woman that will.)

“I am Jack’s complete lack of surprise.” – Chuck Palahniuk

“What is this land America, so many travel there? I’m going now while I’m still young, my darling meet me there. Wish me luck my lovely, I’ll send for you when I can. And we’ll make our home in the American Land.” – Bruce Springsteen


Dear ghosts,

It’s no secret that I don’t sleep. The sirens and last calls see to it, at least on paper. An eight-and-half year-old who sleeps opposite hours does her part too, in addition to a stack of unread books and another stack of unwritten books. But, at the risk of sounding insane, I blame it mainly on the voices in my head.

The voices in my head pound in unison with the blood pumping in my veins. They are moments and memories, the vocal chords of the dead and defeated all at once. They are stories my father told me driving through 1970s East Lake, his eyes straight ahead, my eyes outside in a neighborhood that’d find it’s stride in gun shells, reused syringes and abandoned schools. The voices are places too far gone to be anything more than memories, them too, dead or dying. Just to clarify: the overwhelming resemblances to Springsteen songs found me, not the other way around.

Late night thoughts too awake to call dreams. We, the stress addicts, unfortunately choose to dwell in an overload of human worry, converting the smallest crisis into red-wire-eyed insomnia. Recently, and I’m ashamed to say this, I stayed awake until sunrise because I didn’t have a plastic lockbox on the thermostat at the Black Market Bar.

Enough was enough. The voices were there, and had been for some time. I started listening.

I got up at 3 am, put my shoes on and listened all the way out the door. For the first time in a long time I actually paid attention, surprised at what they said. They didn’t mention college courses, 60-hour-work weeks or a 401 K. They didn’t tell me to plan for retirement or build a portfolio or open another restaurant… and they certainly didn’t tell me to get a plastic lockbox on the thermostat.

They told me to throw rocks at trains.
Confused, I kept listening.

I knew Alan was sick and I know he did it to himself with substances, but his death still stung. His nonchalant laugh and beer in hand… just another one of the wolves at one time. He walked down beaches with the rest of us, putting up with my insecurities and instabilities as good as any other. Alan was razor smart, not that it matters. Engineering degree smart. His funeral, I’ve written before, was one of my greatest regrets. I regret not screaming at the top of my lungs who Alan was to me. Awkward bike ramps. The teenage trips to the Gulf, and the heavy metal. Alan’s voice, one of many, I can hear it now…

I once fell asleep at 7am on a dirt-floor basement in Huffman, the sun not able to reach me at all.

Decades removed from a Huffman basement the voices snuck me out of Carraway Hospital, drug-pushing wires in my arms, calling me back to 1988. The cobblestones of Morris Avenue made punk seem so dangerous. Low-lit street lights threw shadows on the mohawks and shaved-head boys, the girls in intentional too-much makeup and tattered clothing. It didn’t matter who was playing, it was a reason to be here, to be there, to be somewhere. (Look at your Birmingham now Bull Connor!) Our own faux London separated the north and south of a not-yet rebuilt downtown.

The blood stains are still there, even if you can’t see them. Street fights and Friday nights, the smiling violence we called dancing. The train yards still grind rails and the rats still dig through unseen trashcans. But the torn flyers and cheap stickers, once everywhere, are long gone. The voices there are not as specific as Alan’s, but they exist; and I still have to listen.

I closed my eyes in a hospital bed, an open victim to the sun, only an hour away. I’d been five miles on foot, pumped up on drugs with names with too many syllables.

Shade told us that he wouldn’t have gone out of town with them if he hadn’t truly considered them his friends. Imagine the fear, or surprise, when they attacked him for being gay. He said it wasn’t the violence that destroyed him. It was the betrayal. After leading him on they left him near a lake, broken bones and bleeding.

So he found heroin. The numbness of the needles. The lowered expectation of living. Days wasted away into a lifetime until new friends grabbed him by the throat. Intervention. Stop this nonsensical self-destruction. They started a band. Hard- driving emo punk stuff. Shade busted his ass at a 9-to-5 and then drove to band practice every day at the same time, straight into a setting sun. He never wore glasses or shielded his eyes. He just let the light burn. He said it reminded him that he was alive, and that there are things worth fighting, and dying, for. A decade ago I didn’t really understand, not like now. The sincerity of his voice, the pain in rejection and struggle…

A voice that keeps me up at night.
Throw rocks at trains?

Deep breaths and heart pounding I closed my eyes and let a lifetime of the dead and defeated speak to me. Locations long gone. The lessons of my father’s stories. Moments and memories….

They said…

Lets throw rocks at trains.
Lets dig up bones by the airport.
Lets say life is too short and lets get bored.
Lets tell stories that never happened. No wait lets tell stories exactly the way it happened.
Lets break into Banks High School, or what’s left of it. Or lets break into that guy’s house; you know the one the government took away in the middle of the night for threatening the president.
Lets put lyrics on Alan’s grave. Something loud, a band’s name that WE can pronounce correctly.
Lets laugh at danger and jump cars on Thrill Hill.
Lets start riots.
Lets slam dance.
Lets build something amazing and then burn it down for kindling, in that order.
Lets not tell our friends, no wait, lets tell everybody.
Lets tune in to AM radio and remember our grandfathers. Yellow-gray photos taken during and after the last Great War. The factory job. Everything they did to get us where we are now. Every dream that went unfulfilled, their voices screaming the word “sacrifice” over and over. Lets sacrifice now for our grandchildren so they can listen to their own voices.
Lets write letters to the dead until we’re dead.
Lets remember yesterdays until we’re insured they will exist forever.
Lets abandon the idea of heaven and look out for ourselves for once, for once, for once.
Lets write the best unread books this world has never seen.
Lets die in shallow graves that we’ll dig ourselves in places carved out of teenage memory. A smile on our faces, unfinished books and symphonies torn to shreds at our feet. Plane tickets to the other side of the world stuffed in our pockets. Burn-scarred hands and bloodied knuckles. Photos of 8-year-old angels in our cold grip.

Lets cry our eyes out. Lets give blood. Lets give all.
Lets let go. Just tonight.
Let go.

At least that’s what they said to me.

In this lifetime you get memories and moments and a lot of nowhere plans. There is nothing else. Stop holding on to whatever definition you have of yourself, the mirror’s reflection, and your checkbook balance. Listen to the voices.
And let go.

(After writing this I collapsed in a prison-cell-sized cubicle at Station 14, the TV on CNN so the horror stories will flash off of my eyelids. Four hours later I woke up to three houses burning with 20-foot flames. Some things never change. Oh, and Shade… A few years later, at a scrawny 120 pounds, he ran into three once-fake friends that had sexually tortured him and left him broken bones and bleeding near a lake. He took an aluminum bat and crushed them into the hospital.)

“I remember you from parking lots. Skate downtown, get dragged home by the cops… You dyed your hair green, turned your mother’s grave.” – Joseph Plunket


Greetings from an eerie-sweet place

(In 1994 I became the second singer for a band I would later name Exhaust. For five years we outlasted anything TOO detrimental to stop us and that taught me more than the 16 scattered years I spent locked up in classrooms and study halls. I was confronted with human nature and what to expect, and not expect out of life, learning far more than I did from the thousands of dollars my family threw at UAB. I’ve ripped up at least a dozen tries at documenting those memories on paper; I could never seem to get it right. Adventures were tortured, hysterical, endless…

Every minute mattered. And I wouldn’t trade a moment in Exhaust for anything. This is for Andrew… Brannon… sigh and you too Mike.)

Go west. We showed up in the shadows of Los Angeles late. Weeknight. I’d booked the next few shows and spirits were high among the four of us, despite disasters in Flagstaff, Phoenix and New Orleans. Texas, actually, had been kind to us, but I think we’d just gotten lucky.

Renee was just a voice on the phone, one of many Andrew and I called on our list of strangers sprawled across the map, Gainesville to Portland. Pleading with the voices to book an Exhaust show, find us a roof to sleep under and maybe, just maybe, a few bucks for gas. Hat tricks were few and far between. Shudder to Think stayed in the cassette player, and their off-center queer punk lyrics reminded us to play what you want and damn the rest.

There was a lot of non-verbal eye-contact communication behind her back when we met Renee. She was pretty in a punk rock way, with self-torn clothing and intentionally over-bleached hair, fishnets under shorts. She couldn’t help the freckles but they worked on her. You don’t envision a dominatrix in Venice Beach having freckles but… this one did.

Calling the four boys of Exhaust naïve is an understatement. Andrew and I stumbled out of Birmingham’s public school system, while Brannon and Mike graduated on the other side of Red Mountain. On the road our greatest weakness was also our greatest weapon: absolute ignorance to… well, everything. Optimism and self-deprecating humor pushed us past the big setbacks. The breakdowns, the lack of funds, the violence...

We just shrugged when our California shows began falling through, content with sleeping on the floor of her above-garage flat. Enigma was on the radio, and they didn’t tell us anything discernable; but we’d been sleeping on the side of the road and in rat-trap hotels. Meaningless music felt good.

The four of us wide-eyed everything in Venice Beach. The terrible LA traffic that led to the narrow-alleyed streets that led to her dungeon, or more specifically, her place of employment. Retro torture devices were everywhere. Cages, whips and a handcuff pinwheel. The early July heat was put to rest by the Pacific winds, something I was not used to. We walked the handful of blocks to the boardwalk, a place that, to date, had only existed for me in cinema fiction and early 80’s punk rock history. Xanadu, The Jazz Singer, or Colors. Suicidal Tendencies and Beowulf. A huge wall mural of Jim Morrison, Venice’s adopted son, went up in ’91 to stand watch over petty drug buys and purse snatches. The ocean water was California frozen, and burned through my skin. (One of those moments that I mentioned in the beginning)

“White trash is a racist term” Renee said on the way to LA’s seediest porn stores, lecturing me on the pitfalls of my, and the band’s, extremely self-destructive perceptions. We made out in the peep show booths, her in fishnets under self-torn clothing, me in a beat up Liberty Caps’ t-shirt and camo shorts. I remember leaning against the velvet-curtained wall, as far from the real world as I could ever be (The jury’s still out on that one). Jawbreaker came on the radio as we drove back through the black skies and stars of Los Angeles to above-the-garage, and they reiterated that “it gets loneliest at night…”

Our shows under Renee’s wing were perfect examples of Exhaust’s severely poor grip on punk rock reality. A gay rights festival. A block party hosted by drug dealing gangsters (actually, one of our best shows). At another questionable venue, the lead singer of Wish for Eden, a Christian punk outfit, stood in front of the stage, stone drunk, and begged us to take him along on our “way to the top”. The Exhaust response was simply more non-verbal eye-contact communication amongst ourselves, mid-set. Renee’s current boyfriend, and a selection of the Mexican gang he was a part of, waited in the parking lot. Texas, it seemed, wouldn’t be the only time that luck was on our side.

Leaving Renee behind, en route to the Pacific Northwest, was confusing. She’d big sistered us and screwed us up in the same breaths, with poor show after no show after poor show. Brannon went to Shades Valley for Christ’s sake! And here we were getting teary-eyed over a dominatrix in the suburban shadows of LA. She let Mike borrow Rollins’ book “Get in the Van”, an irony too tough to swallow even then.

A year and a month later had not been enough days for us to learn our lesson as we ventured back through Renee’s waters yet again. The shows continued their trend of being disasters or non-existent, only this time we’d been sentenced to sleep outside of her apartment, in the van, in east LA, thanks to a new boyfriend and the history Renee and I had of making out in a porn store peep show booth. A wide-eyed black man woke us at 4am, beating on the side of the van, more confused than us on our intentions. A brief confrontation between he and I resulted in him returning with a cocked and loaded gun, crossing the street, eyes straight ahead, a vigilante/lunatic with a purpose. We fled quickly to fight another day, luck again intervening. And I swore that I’d never speak to Renee again.

Years later I checked an old email address and found a dated plea from Renee wanting the Rollins’ book returned. She was writing a column for Maximum Rock n Roll and Exhaust’s five year run had ended, leaving me to bartend and scheme other ways to waste resources and time. I wrote her back telling her that Mike, now too, was on my list of people I never planned on speaking to again. I added that, in his defense, Mike was currently nine-to-fiving his life away as a bank teller and probably needed that book a lot more than she did. Not all of us can be one of Venice Beach’s adopted sons and daughters.

(The last few pages of this story would read that Exhaust ended the same way it began. Wave after wave of confusion carefully masked by 800 pounds of self-deprecating humor. No one, and I mean no one, was more abusive to Exhaust than Exhaust. But every minute, extraordinary, meant something.
At least it did to me.)

Untraceable. Untranslatable. I can’t explain all I ever wanted to do.” - Fugazi


Hey Dad, we wear air masks in fires now

Janey, the runaway American dream cannot just be about survival. Not anymore. It has to be a sincere effort/push/fight to make things better. Make your life better. Make life better. An 8-and-half-year-old’s reasons for getting out of bed every morning are so different than a torn up 35-year-old’s. So angel lets do it. Lets run away. Tonight. America is plastered across this world and surely, SURELY, we can find a fire station that will hire on one lost soul. Yes, we can open another restaurant, and yes, when you're older, you can hostess there if you want.

Coming up I never wanted kids, but situations have a way of finding you. You're mother and I used to fight like caged dogs, the frustration of it all being too much for a naive southern hardcore kid and a temperamental Yankee. I was bartending when your mom went into labor, and I reeked of beer and bleach when I first met you that night. Of course I cried, you were four weeks early and only weighed five pounds. For all my size and tattoos I’m still pretty emo.

East Lake was a meat grinder for teenagers in 1988. Packs of wolves roamed directionless at all hours, cheap cases of beer bought on Oporto-Madrid Boulevard in the backseat, an ounce of pot in the glove box next to brass knuckles. For a solid year the underage hookup for alcohol was a young black woman that worked the 3-11 shift at Conoco. Early one Tuesday night a 13-year-old wandered out of the woods and shot her in the head for a gang initiation. The store never re-opened and for the next three years I watched the weeds grow through the asphalt and over the gas pumps, until the bulldozers finally came to bury a hurt memory.

In ‘02 you were two-years-old and living in Pensacola; I was worthless, in my late twenties with a dead-end job and no future. I’d work until 3am in Southside and drive all night to see you, falling asleep on your mom’s bed and holding your hand thru the crib bars… Headaches and worries of what you’ll think of me if I don’t make things better. Did you know that I opened the Black Market Bar just to impress you? You wanted a restaurant and the Speakeasy didn’t have a kitchen. Silly I know, but I do better on no sleep and cheap coffee anyway. You’re a hell of an influence, kiddo.

In ’07 I wrote a book no one will ever read in a Vestavia library, waiting on you to get out of 1st grade. I bit back tears from your excitement to see me every day, the way your brown eyes lit up... I kindof stand out in the midst of Vestavia soccer moms and Mercedes Mini-vans, which made the walk back to the library that much more fun. We raced across the schoolyard and bounced story ideas off each other, yours always better than mine, at least more marketable…

Your grandparents let go of my reigns after one of my many close calls with self-destruction. Nights were endless or empty, often times both. Someone, lit-up on… something, would mumble, “Isn’t there a witch buried in Bass Cemetery?” and the cars were running. The train tracks grinding parallel to the headstones were impossibly eerie, but we never found any ghosts or witches’ graves. The older kids would make the trek to Mad Dog, way out in the woods of Hoover, home to devil–worshippers, runaway abductions, and animal sacrifices (allegedly). Traci Bishop, disintegrated on Busch beer and handfuls of pills, showed me an arsenal he’d put together for his one-man assault on Satan’s children. Guns scare me now just as bad as they did back then, even more so in the hands of drunken idiots.

East Lake was over run with white trash punks, skate rats and southern-fried hippies, (two of which categorized your dad) the frustration of it all being too much for directionless kids with muscle cars and motorcycles. The neighborhood taught me fear and survival, scarring me on illegal substances, violence, and going to parties. We were Outsiders and outcasts and out of our minds simultaneously, running from wolves and howling like wolves at the same time.

Janey, I’m still hiding from the wolves.

Only now I’ve traded East Lake for the outskirts of West End.
This man just now… his son waited in the parking lot for Engine 14, his grandson waiting in the car, both crying because they already knew. The hotel rented by the day, the hour, the week or year, depending on how far of a slide you were on.
Inside, one bed was covered in garbage, stacks and sacks, the other a sheetless stained mattress of cigarette burns, sweat stains and food condiments. He was dead on the floor between the two, blood staining his face a brown red crust.
I touched his skin for vitals and it was cold freezing. “Why die here?” echoed over and over in my mind. Behind a grocery store in a cardboard box would have had more dignity. Not that it matters where I do it, but I really don’t care to go out buried under garbage in a $75-a-week hotel room, not unless it’s on fire.

So Janey lets run away and you never grow up. The rest of the world is waiting with its scams and grifts to get some sort of foothold in you, or on this planet, or in their own self-worth. But, at 8-and-a-half, and as long as you have someone to protect you, then you’re bases are covered. And for you I’ll tear down the skies, a war against God.

But please…
Don’t outgrow me. Don’t start thinking I’m dumb, or outdated, or overprotective, even though it’s all true. You broke my heart once rollerskating with two of your girlfriends instead of skating with me, then won it back when you bragged to our waitress that I’d ripped back the windshield of an overturned SUV. Keep in mind that underneath this exterior of testosterone, intentional scars, and shaved-head grimace, I’m still pretty emo.

At 8-and-a-half, you can just stare out the window and selectively pick out the good in things. Don’t grow up jaded, bitter at what you think someone else owes you, or what you think life owes you. When I’m with you I try to accept the amazing in this world, picturing how it looks through your eyes.
Please don’t ever grow up, because I’m in no hurry for you to see the world through mine.

So pack a bag and we’ll leave tonight, no set destination. We could follow the footsteps of Andi in Pensacola and jump a cargo train to anywhere, but the “square” I’ve turned into might insist on a somewhat safer passage. We’ll leave behind my anchors, collected from years of trying the same thing over and over just to get by.
Just to survive.
Surviving is not enough, Janey.
You have to make things better for yourself.
Re-define the word “impossible”.

Bring a notebook for my sentences and another for your drawings. Bring books to read and re-read and trade for more books. Wear Converse hi-tops so I’ll never forget East Lake and the kids it chewed up. Worn out soles burning up on pavement. No more stolen graveyard bones, 33-year-old grandmothers, or drug dealing bikers.
Janey, that’s the runaway American dream. Birmingham to Seattle, Key West to California.

Along the way I’ll need you to remind me that life is, and can be, beautiful.
And you’ll need me to protect you from the wolves.

“I can’t seem to scream these words loud enough, or hard enough. Somebody say my name so I know I’m alive.” – Feeling Left Out

Don’t act like your family’s a joke” – Drive-by Truckers.


We’ll start at my left wrist and go up.

Damn these movies and music. The false heroes of actors and the “fuck you” ethics of punk rock have warped me past the point of any safe return. I foolishly set goals that are only probable in comic book pages, three-chord-backed screams or frame grain cinema. It was fun to call it DIY growing up. It was fun to call it entertainment, a hobby, or something to kill time. But now I’m calling it what it is.

A sickness.

I’m not schizophrenic; I just know the world is out to get me. So I’m trading in sleep for worry and heart break. It’s also more time spent with my eyes open. I’ve come to realize one thing and one thing only:

for sadness.

Broken down cars and busted homes. Who cares about mansions and Mercedes when there’s overgrown houses inexplicably empty for the ground to reclaim? The woods of Newcastle are so intoxicating. Late night legends of three boys that go missing. The late night legends said they cheated moonshiners and the story ends there, no bodies necessary, no graves ever found. Three decades later their ’51 Chevy shows up buried under the old Highway 79.

And that’s only a bit part of one story.

Hey did someone try to convince you that life is a movie? 120 minutes of antagonists and protagonists, a nail-biting problem and the courage to solve it? Do you want to be the well-dressed gentleman at the end of the bar swirling a rocks glass, every word witty and every word… important? You’ve read this far so you’re now down to 119 minutes. Tick tock, tick tock.

Me personally, I’ll need longer than two hours to burn this world down.

So I’m not that gentleman at the end of the bar either. But hey, if you are, rocks glass in hand, raise it high…
Raise your glass for forgotten punk bands. Punk rock never quit its day job or didn’t have one to begin with. Bands didn’t want contracts, or dressing rooms, or roadies. Many refused to even play on a stage. We could play “where are they now” forever but as long as someone remembers then it all mattered. Life Sentence. The Headless Marines. Caustic Outlook. Birmingham punks paid the $5 door to pack out abandoned television towers atop Red Mountain, condemned rental halls in Ensley, hallowed out downtown garages and other places far less accommodating. Three-chord-backed screams taught the ones of us listening a very important lesson.

Accept nothing.
Expect nothing.

The glory of the rock star has faded away.
An eight-page rider sent city to city in preparations for my arrival. Red m&ms, teenage girls, and beer lists. Standing on a 20-foot stage reciting some clever anecdote that will sinkline into a top 10 hit song. Lean over the moat of security guards, point at a girl in the front row wearing a shirt with my name on it, and scream, “this song’s for you, darling!”

Well this song is for Moody Alabama, a little girl lost in Corpus Christi, Texas. She compensated for her missing right arm with unbridled hatred, and justified her hate in loneliness. She wore swastikas on her clothes and seig heiled Hitler, pretending to be white power, but I could see right through it. She fought and picked fights with anyone paying attention until her dad picked her up from the show; a beat up four-door on spare tires, alcohol breath, and jaded over eyes. She told me she’d stayed in Moody for a year and hated it as much as Corpus Christi. It’s easy to hate someone wearing swastikas, but not when it’s a fifteen-year old girl. When you're lost it doesn’t matter which crummy city you call home. You may never be found. (This song’s for you, darling)

The days of the movie star are over.
Reality brutality is far more addictive. Directors struggle to recreate the most fascinating people in history, replacing actuals with script readers and cardboard cutout scenery. Put on your tuxedo and pack into the Kodak Theatre. Hold the gold over your head. Thank your mom and the academy.
Thank God, and

Thank a mother in Liberty, Missouri, outside my window at 7am, digging through the trash of the low-rent apartments I was housed in. I woke up in 2001 working for a law firm in the midst of a multi-million dollar trial, battling over a drug gone wrong. I’d been put in charge of driving the plaintiff’s expert witness from the courtroom to his $350-a-night hotel room. I’d also been put in charge of driving back and fourth to Kinkos all night on cheap coffee and FM radio. I heard her voice, too loud in the freezing winds of the west, her excitement when she’d found a jacket, buried in generic cereal boxes and emptied ashtrays, for her two-year-old daughter. I watched her put the jacket on the small girl, zip it up and walk away. I remember my legs not working for the hour I balled up on the floor, sleep deprived and bawling, as I constructed a mental blue print of this world on fire.

I bit blood from my lip that night as I drove the expert witness back to Kansas City, letting him talk too loud of private planes and celebrity clients. I could only stay quiet, plotting the flames. His empty stories reminded me to remember the three-chord-backed screams learned in an Ensley rental hall…

The superhero is a piece of paper.
Hand drawn to handle the most unreal expectations that life can offer. Bad guys are big and have guns, BUT the superhero is big too, and he’s got heart. Shine the light in the sky; pick up the red one-way telephone…
So someone can save the horror story family of rookie school. The 2.5 kids, plus mom and dad, trapped inside their own burglar bars as smoke and fire raced to annihilate their American dream. The first arriving Engine Company found their charred bodies clutching each other and clutching the bars they’d installed to keep out the thieves. Now they live forever as a spook story for firefighting rookies, a grim look at “the calling”.

So thank you and acknowledgments go to the ones that understand. Please understand that I’m scratching away the surface, leaving only one thing behind. And that one thing is what I’m supposed to be in this life.

This is for you. And

This is for the homes of East Lake and Ensley, too poor for power, every room covered with mattresses and blankets, all while wannabe lawyers argue over socio-economic politics on Fox News and the patio at Dave’s. The kids are awake at 3am because there’s no such thing as a school night. Pot smoke and pills. Gunned down neighbors. And so it goes.
I don’t fight fires in homes like YOURS. The pretty, logical layout, a beeline path to the kitchen, just past the plasma screen TV and marble coffee table, all modeled out of an Ikea catalog. The black smoke-filled houses I frequent have broken chairs pushed against doors, weakened wood floors, and boxes and boxes of nothing. And a lot of mattresses.

This is for Ricky Davis.

This is for the bit parts in my life that let substances stop them short of something brilliant, eating them alive. Hey Scott, to me you're somewhere singing along to those three-chord-backed screams that ruined our ears when we were teenagers. We weren’t THAT close I know, but man I liked seeing you around.
This is for the other side of the street and everyone on it. Because I’m just not the rock star gawk-movie type. No stretch limousine, or cigar-smoke nights of flash bulb fame and too-tall stages. But…

I am still writing MY “Born to Run”.

And I’m taking a whole lot of people with me, chapter by chapter. Sit back, hold on, accept nothing and expect nothing in return. When I strike the match I want you to know who I’m doing this for. Hold my hand, we’ll burn the world down together.

Life is not a movie, or a sold out corporate-sponsored concert. And (unfortunately) it’s not red and blue tights-covered muscles, unbreakable bones and x-ray vision, penciled perfectly in right angle boxes. But I’ll make it something that matters.

I can promise you that much.

There are only a few things that really belong to me. Who I am, who I was, and who I want to be.” – Bouncing Souls


Five “life sentences”, six counting the title.

I know what I want to be when I grow up.

Pine Tree cliff was 110 feet to the water and don’t let anyone ever tell you different. Legend was the locals, Trussville hoodrats in cut-off jeans shorts and stinking of cheap beer, would climb the pine tree at the top and let their weight bend the bark down until they dropped 110 plus feet into the fake blue water of the quarry. I never saw anyone attempt this, and I never talked to anyone that saw it attempted, but I did meet a lot of people that knew someone who saw the Pine Tree bend. This was miles before Trussville became the white-flight Christmas shopping paradise it is now. Trussville was a one road town with train tracks and rednecks and no Best Buy.

The news crews were there when they found the horse trainer’s body at the bottom of Pine Tree. Neck broken on impact and under a shopping cart that his lifeless body disturbed on his descent to the bottom. A drunk dive gone bad, I was surprised that he was the only body they found that day, underneath swarms of fat starving catfish, sweat soaked mattresses, and Food Max shopping carts.

By my count I jumped Pine Tree six times. Each time I’d wear black high top Converse to deaden the impact of the… impact; shoes similar to the ones I’m wearing now only I’ve “sold out” and gone to low tops. I watched Channel 6 news when they found his body and I swore to my unborn children that I’d never jump Pine Tree again.

Part I
I’m writing this with scar torn arms from not minding my own business. The blood poured from multiple windshield glass wounds, thinning out in the rain of last week’s storms. Reminders of my nosiness consist of small shards of glass that I’ve found hidden in my hands all week long. I stood out in the middle of Highway 31 and thought of a 110-foot cliff and how far I can fall still smiling. Granted, I’m a little crazy now, but I was REALLY crazy then. I should have tried to bend back the pine and fall further.

Her friend came running into the Mill crying and grabbed Charlie, or should I say Officer King. Officer Charlie King and I went back a ways to an era of me waiting tables at Chili’s and him working the graveyard shift at an all-night grocery. I bought skim milk from him every night until the day he quit, graduating from the grocer’s life to being a cop. I soon followed suit and graduated from waiter to bartender, still at Chili’s, where I’d suffer for three more years. I still have nightmares about that goddam corporate restaurant. I didn’t cry when it burned down.

Her friend came running into the Mill crying and grabbed Charlie, both of us working our assigned life slots, police and bartender, only now we’d escaped the melted streets of Irondale for the one-way circles of Southside.
I went outside with the two of them, fearing a purse snatching, a bar fight, or something equally as trivial. The image would be a lot more… severe. Her friend pointed at the car, fifty yards ahead, headlights lit, windshield shattered, and a girl’s chest beating short fading beats, life-leaving rhythms. A year later I sat in the courtroom staring back at her father, my role next to insignificant, a time and place witness of the accused. Her father’s eyes on me paralleled the 110-foot fall into a water black abyss. What else am I supposed to say? Young girls’ fathers are left on this earth to fight their wars for them. The emptiness of his losses, his daughter and her war, is a long way down. An abyss of untouched photos and high school annuals. Cheap flowers left by anonymous friends en route to the rest of their lives.

Part II
So I write these haunted memories with gasoline soaked hands. The gas burned every single cut that hid shards of broken glass. The pickup truck was still on fire with a five-gallon canister in the back that I didn’t feel like watching burn. So I snatched it out. The plastic container had melted across the top and fuel spilled all over my arms. “Throw those fire gloves away”, Archer told me. “That gasoline will never really come out.”

I told Chris where I was going and he showed up to have a beer, passively aggressively trying to stop me. No one ever jumped Pine Tree at night. And no one did it in 15-degree weather. The swim from the bottom to the gravel shore wouldn’t be that far, in the daytime, in a normal swimming environment. But in the quarry, full of stolen cars and concrete-shoe corpses, at night, in the frozen cold, it might be akin to breath strokes in a pool filled with razor blades. It got late and I got tired and I had somewhere to be in the morning, (I always have somewhere to be in the morning). Get a black marker. The excuses keep coming.

When I grow up...

I want to be someone’s memory when I grow up. I want to be a folded over photograph, kept in a wallet or on the dresser. A bookmark. Taped in a locker. Tucked in a fire helmet. Crumpled up and thrown away in the most frustrating of moments, only to be dug out of the trash and taped back together. My dad, the other George Cowgill, made front-page papers fighting like mad in ’76 to save the life of a young black girl crushed in a car accident. I found the paper folded over in a stack of documents, none so memorable as that article. At least not to a seven-year-old boy that would grow up to fight the same wars as his father.

I want to be someone’s ghost when I grow up. A silent nod, a smile. A memory of craziness and laughter. “Hey remember that time George…” My ghosts wake me up at the same time every day, regardless of the sleep deprivation from all-night car crashes, heart attacks or drinks poured.

Sonny Kincaid left his father on a front porch in North Birmingham to stop the Japanese aggression in the Pacific, circa 1943. Until the war’s end he would call the USS Otus home, a ship sailing the war-torn seas to assist submarines and wounded vessels. In 1945 he came back to Birmingham to marry my grandmother, put flowers on his father’s grave and, 37 years later, take me to Rickwood Field to meet Mickey Mantle. I was wasting away in college when I found a handful of black and white photos, “Kincaid” etched in pencil on the back of every one. Photos of the celebration of the Japanese surrender. A corner ripped shot of Sonny leaning against a beach boardwalk railing, smoking a cigarette with the arrogant swagger of a yeoman. Another picture in the handful has been permanently scratched into my shoulder, black and grey ink.

Fathers’ sons (and grandfathers’ grandsons) are put on this earth to continue to fight their wars for them. So if you ever wonder where I’m coming from, or why I do this… Now you know.

No Part III
I’m NOT writing this shivering from a 3am fall in the black sky of Trussville into the black waters of the quarry. Feet and arms bruised from the impact. Soaked Converse. Nose running, swimming in a panic to get to the gravel. I just couldn’t go. Responsibility of job one and job two, and it just got too late. (Get that black marker)
Oh and, thankfully, Chris stopped by for a beer.

Please remember all of the things I never got a chance to say.” – Rocky Votolato

I come from down in the valley, where mister where you’re young, they bring you up to do like your daddy done.” – Bruce Springsteen


Ian Curtis was 23 (June 7, 2008)

I want to write fiction. I spent the year of 2007 writing a book called CLARITY- 75,000 words of my imagination. I’d find myself writing in the weirdest spots at the most unusual times. Holed up in the once called Scrushy Library waiting for Janey to get out of first grade. Or in a casino. 3:00 am in East Lake after I saw my first hanging. I’ve pulled off I-65, I-20, and 459 to jot down some inane plot point or character flaw. I told the few people with knowledge of the book that I didn’t care if anyone ever read it. Just as long as I got through it. Finishing CLARITY, back in March, made me feel complete. Accomplished.
For a day or so at least.
Within a month I suffered a serious drought of depression.
More specifically, I felt empty.

God, I wish I could write fiction.
Small hotel rooms.
The second room was walking distance from the Upside down Plaza. The old man, I guessed 80 but he was 53, was having a hell of a time breathing. And, since breathing is a necessary skill to sustain life, they called us.
I was a guest, riding with Engine 3 out of Southside, a company known for having the best scenery of any fire station in Birmingham, Alabama, or the Southeast. All day and night the boys of 3 will sit on “the wall” off Highland Avenue watching pretty girls jog by or women in evening gowns wait for the valet to retrieve their Mercedes as they smoke cigarettes outside Botegga. “The wall” at 3 is an easy distraction. I never got much writing done on CLARITY at 3.

The hotel room was a pay-by-the-week affair and the size of a walk-in closet. There was a cot’s mattress on the floor and a legless couch. The 80-year-old-looking 53-year-old man lived there with his daughter and her boyfriend. The young couple was well on their way to over aging too. I used to see the boyfriend at shows, in pool halls… somewhere, but back then his face wasn’t covered in open sores, and his legs weren’t punctured pincushions for needles.

I’d never seen the daughter before but she’d been a looker… once. Not now. For every sore her boyfriend had she had two. Blacken her eyes and loosen her teeth too. The life had bled out of her blonde hair and her dead white skin exposed blue-sick veins. The track marks were one on top of another and looked more like broken bottle wounds than evidence of brown-liquid syringes.
If her dad looked three decades older than his age then she looked four. She was a walking corpse, waiting on the undertaker and her headstone.
The old man’s part-time nurse told us outside that the boyfriend is holding them hostage in that small hotel room. The old man’s medicine, delivered weekly, was divided among them like food for castaways. When the pills run out and the makeshift street drugs they obtain are sold or snorted the mood turns into frustration.

And despair.
Engine 3 was getting called to that room on a regular basis; the man’s failing health demanded it. One day the calls stopped. I hate to think the worst… but I do it anyway.
Eventually bruises don’t go away. Teeth are knocked out or rot out and they aint coming back either. Don’t hold yourself, or anyone else, hostage.

The business of selling a novel is a foreign language read backwards. Trying to “sell” anything makes me feel like a bottom feeder. Be the sell, believe the sell etc. Whether it’s cars or gold or encyclopedias, salesmen all possess some gift that I do not have and cannot truly comprehend. Maybe that’s my problem.
But damn, I want to write fiction.

The first room was in the darkness of East Lake and the crummiest room in the dirtiest hotel on 1st Avenue North. The room used to be a storage room, until someone got wise to the idea of putting down cheap carpet and renting it out monthly. I was the only firefighter in the windowless room, the rest of the guys standing out in the hallway to avoid the roaches and blood-vomit stains.
Besides the couple’s 12-year-old son I was the only one in the room not HIV positive.

He was a bounty hunter and he couldn’t breathe or, more accurately, was having a hell of time trying. (Please read above on breathing and it’s vital role in sustaining life). A bounty hunter, 100 lbs and rail thin, wearing all camo. Guns were neatly holstered on a chair. The mattress was a grey stained cot and on the floor pushed against cheap wood paneling.

The bounty hunter found his breath eventually. His wife, 200 lbs heavier than him, cried her eyes out, cheap mascara smearing her face. The 12-year-old never blinked, leaning against the wood paneling in mis-matched shoes and too big jeans. I grew up during the discovery of AIDS, and HIV, so standing in that room I tried, and failed, to fight off my own misguided worries. Her tears…


I took a big step back, out of the room. Eye contact with the bounty hunter as he nodded, happy to breathe. The 12-year-old never blinked. The 12-year-old never blinked. The 12-year-old never fucking blinked.

I tore a sign off a broken coke machine that said, “If you need coke, see manager”. I thought it was funny.
We ran a call to the hotel months later and I went by their room. The door was open and the room was vacant. They were long gone.

I want to write fiction because I am, admittedly, a control freak. I like everything to tie in together and make sense at the end. I love plot twists that, while unexpected, fit. I love writing characters that people hate to love and hate to hate. Fiction makes me feel alive, and driven. Writing fiction makes the author a god.
Writing on the reality of this world doesn’t always give me that heightened sense of existence. On a good day I see myself as a passenger, observant to the details of a world many of us do not know exist, at least existing so close to ours.

Then on a bad day…
I feel meaningless.
More than ever.
So I fight to remember the lessons learned in small hotel rooms. Never let anyone hold you hostage, even yourself. No one can tell me what I’m capable of.
Because I don’t know myself.

Who’s going to tell you things aren’t so great? We can’t go on thinking nothing’s wrong…” - The Cars