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…)