The LIfe Sentence.

I walked in the room and it was grey, the walls and the floor, and there was no window, but there was cherry-white paint splattered on the light bulb attached to the grey ceiling over the metal table. I shut the door behind me and nodded to the three people behind the table. They did not nod back. I just stood there, a little too close to the door, and afraid to go any further until I was told doing so was acceptable.

With a curt drop of his head the man in the middle, too short with blistered skin and sun-bleached hair, motioned toward the single wooden chair in front of me. I sat down, my hands pushed together in my lap as if they carried heavy metal cuffs. I was not entirely sure if they did or not.

On his left was an overweight black woman, with thick thick glasses and a permanently disgusted look on her face.
On his right was a razor thin person (I could not discern a sex) wearing all black over paper-weak skin. The face was a skeleton.

“Tell me where it all went wrong. Tell me about ( he checked his notes) Peter” the man said, his two associates picking up their pens in unison, as if every word I would say mattered.

Peter was my terrible friend. Me= too impressionable in my teenage days, him= older and a dropout with a pocketful of money, since his dad made him work and he still lived at home and drove his dad’s car. He lied to women in the worst ways, dangerous, anti-social untruths to get what he wanted. Drugs and alcohol for barely-teen teenage girls, exaggerated borderline cartoon tales of his life and all the things he’s never really done and…

“Stop. Tell me about you. Tell me things you’ve seen.”
This year? Or Ever? Or today?

A rotten, rat-chewed mattress in a house of garbage hoarders, a 30- year-old man rolling over just often enough to not become entwined with the springs cutting his back and shoulders. And he doesn’t get off that mattress, ever, for any reason. You want to hear things like that?

“What? No, Lord no. I want to know… when did you become this way?”

Maybe 3am in the desert, 1995? And the desert was a sand-awful place to break down. But the Van picked it for us, a busted transmission and not enough oil. We were literally camped out on the border of Utah and Nevada, two throwaway states, at least for Southern punk rawk trash, nothing more than means to an end land on the way to the waves of California, the guitars of Seattle. We’d spent a hard 10 hours in Las Vegas ogling the strippers smoking cigarettes on the sidewalk between shifts, and stepping over the pornography crowding up the gutters. Bet it all on black. Bet it all on the dark side.

“That’s too long ago… more recent?”

Wasserman and I stumbled through a freezing cold New York City, the inside of our bottom lips freshly tattooed. We walked Greenwich Village looking for nothing to do, our mouths all bloody and swollen. Being straightedge never felt so good…

“Even more recent?”

I did a week on my head in a closed down hospital. My hand was all sorts of burned in a house fire and it was no big deal and it got infected and they said the poison had poured into my bloodstream and it became a very big deal. But me? I’m fine, I’ll be fine. On Night One at Hotel Carraway I snuck past the nurses/doctors/ valets and ran through downtown, onwards to Speakeasy. I was drugged up so bad from… the drugs that I don’t even remember being there, or running back. I do remember that I was going through a real phase of surfer-acid reverb tunes and The Raveonettes were my soundtrack of escape.

A friend snuck me in contraband, that being a red bandanna, and I stood in the doorway of my room with it tied backwards on my head, scaring visitors of the terminally ill that adorned every other room on the floor. My incarceration that week pumped my blood so hard; I could feel the veins contracting. Or maybe it was just the dark side taking over, who knows, and more importantly, who really cares?

“Excuse me, but did you just say ‘who cares’? As in you go over to the dark side? And what does that even mean?”

Sitting there I realized I had come up with two great book ideas, a cool poster, and a new game to teach Janey. I looked around at the grey, I felt the veins, my veins, contract. This hearing needed to end.

I blurted out, without meaning to be so rude, “Are we almost done?”

The three faces of judgment looked stunned, looked at each other, looked back at me. “Do you want to add anything else before we make our decision?”

And I have so much more to add.

“Yes,” I said, “you know what else?”
They didn’t answer. They just waited.

Writing these one and two thousand word pieces is masturbation. They fill this untitled, dark-abyss, void I have to do something bigger with my days. They are hit and run, small-time skirmishes, militant-enforced guerilla tactics.

I’m going to fight my war.

I’m going to fight my war on my terms. I’m going to put down 90,000 words this year on notebooks, my computer and on the back of receipts and napkins. And…

I’m never going to dress like anybody else, or look like anybody else, or think like anybody else ever again. Or write or react or speak like anybody else either. I am now my own celebrity.

Passion, inspiration… those words are for posters, laminated pictures of cats and mountaintops. Books with how-to titles, cheap poetry and late night commercials on the off-channels.

So let’s get homeless, lets get abused, lets get sick, and lets get dying. If that’s what it takes to war the good war.

Call it what it is. Say it. Say the word out loud.
Say it!
The word is possessed.
Say it and swallow the red pill boy.

Their faces mirrored equal parts shock, disdain and disgust. The silence in the room seemed eternal, but was probably closer to 30 seconds. “Uhhh” the man in the middle of the table uttered, “that was more than enough of what we wanted to hear. Mr. Cowgill we have decided that you are to be given…”

“Wait” I yelled, a last ditch effort on my part, “just wait! I can be good. I can learn to smile and laugh politely. Wear suits, drive in rush hour traffic and drink wine socially. I can. I can belong.”

They smiled back at me, their smiles were sad. “No, no you can’t sir. I’m afraid what you are, what you have done to yourself, with yourself, the direction you are going… only warrants one thing.”

I took a deep breath and stood up, no longer feeling the nonexistent shackles on my wrists, my back already turned before… the condemnation.

“Life Sentence, Mr. Cowgill, I’m sorry. But you’re already well aware I’m sure.”

I nodded yes. I turned and thanked the three of them- the man with the blistered skin, the heavyset woman, and the skeleton. All three of them were so so sorry. I opened the door and walked away, far away, from the grey of the room, not at all surprised with the decision.

“We seek only reprieve and welcome the darkness. The myth of a meaning, so lost and forgotten
.” – Lamb of God


Essay #2

(Not only did I change names but the new names all come from Material Issue songs. Material Issue was an opening set rock-n-roll band from the super early 90’s that no one ever listened to, or had even heard of, but me. And when the lead singer killed himself it broke my black emo heart. Essay #2 is not a ‘fuck you’ essay. I’ll save that one for later on.)

Diane’s body was broken and smashed underneath the roof of her car, a brand new ‘96 Honda Civic. The roof was crushed down, violence, from the weight of the tree on top of it. A dog or cat, or raccoon, or ghost, ran out in front of her, in the rain, at night, and she swerved, and she died, and the whole thing took maybe five seconds. Calling it a freak accident would be an understatement. The details of this wreck are akin to a sideshow carnival act, much like the two-headed dog, the Enigma Man, or the Siamese twins that, ironically, both know how to eat glass.

Diane was all sorts of Christian-religious, but that was okay because she backed it up by actually being a good person. She dated a boy who was crazy about Christian hardcore, bands and t-shirts that said things like Strongarm and Wish for Eden. He was straightedge, and she was on her way to save the world. I loved them both. Two years after Diane died I saw her boy out on Highland Avenue, and he was filthy and drunk. I haven’t seen him since.

Last week I stood outside on an East Lake corner, in the rain and thunder, and heard Diane call my name. The corner is an unfortunate view for this side of town’s not-so-subtle slide into spiraling abandon, chewing up its young, burying off its old and swallowing the souls stuck in between. The neighbors on the next corner position beat-up pitbulls chained equal paces to safeguard their drug house, the downed power line, and the infants learning to walk on the dirt yard and gravel.

On this corner the children, all babies, inside the East Lake address were once reduced to sleep nights in a doghouse, escape from a mama and her abusive boyfriends and her black shadow of addiction. I nodded along as Diane spoke, not a bit surprised to hear her after all these years.

She told me to quit sleeping.

“You can sleep when you're… you know…” she trailed off for a moment. “And help someone who needs it. For no reason. Help them because you can.” I pictured her with her arms out, wide and spread, and smiling. Her world, her idea, is much more beautiful than mine.

“Anything else?” I asked.

“Quit wearing so much black. It’s bad for your soul.”

I walked inside the East Lake house, and I said hello to the babies that survived their mama.

And Valerie,

Valerie crashed her car too, a flipped-over, metal re-arranging affair as well. And yeah, that’s what killed her, but me, I blamed the needles. Before crashing she’d just picked up the contents for the needles, a black moist powder in a rubber balloon. Before dying she’d had a kid and gave it away, she’d had a mama and her mama went legally insane, and she’d had a boy at home that liked to fill up the needles too. This particular boy of hers and I used to shake hands in the high school hallways and talk about industrial music. Skinny Puppy and Ministry kind of talk.

Valerie was such a leather wearing rebel punk rock girl. She was short and fiery, and had a different boy, in the days when I really knew her, that she always left me to runaway to. The two of them would share needles stuffed with the same black moist powder, and that went on and on until he went to prison to serve real time. He was inside when she crashed her car and died.

I was on Arkadelphia at midnight, again in the rain and thunder, helping medics piece together a drunk driver. It took a really long time to cut him out of his pretty sports car. In the back of the Rescue Truck I held his scalp on, blood running down his eyes and mouth, that not even being the most severe injury he, or we, needed to worry about.

Valerie’s voice sounded like she smoked two packs a day for a reason. “There is nothing else when you die, ya know”, she said, “this is it.”

“Why are you telling me this now?” I wanted to say, my hands wrapped around the cracked skull and exposed brains of the victim, his blood dripping off his chin and on my arms.

“Go do something dangerous. Soon as you can. Tonight even, who cares? This is it George. Go hitchhike to Portland, or jump a train. Rob a liquor store and give the money to the poor. Fuck, just don’t die boring.”

“Am I boring?” I may have said that out loud and gotten a look from the other firefighters and medics.

“Life is not an option, man. What did you write one time, ‘Life is living fast, dying young and living forever’? You wrote it, so… back it up. Don’t die boring, George. Too many people are lined up doing that already. And don’t ever wear white. It just tells the cops where you're hiding… and it’s bad for your eyes.”

I thought of train tracks, and books I want to write, abandoned wood bridges over water. Small Southern towns with polite waitresses and black coffee. I thought of my grandfather. “Fast, young, forever… got it.”

I get it Valerie.

Then little Christine… she just put a gun next to her head and fired. Her parents found her in her bedroom, an 18-year-old body with tear-stained eyes from a meaningless boyfriend/girlfriend argument. And all that blood. Her funeral was so quiet... (I still think about you Bobby Jean)

And little Christine talks to me all the time.

In graveyards at night, if I'm there just to be dark and morbid, putting lyrics against her tombstone.
Or inside burning houses, romanticizing of being a super hero.
Or driving highways late at night, making sure the world is indeed round.

“Pick the best place to commit suicide,” little Christine said, “and never go back. Burn the map to get there too. Believe me George, it ain’t worth it”.

“But you did it!” I screamed, and I’ve screamed it more than once, many times over the last 13 years.

“So? I was 18 and dumb and impulsive and, and, and…” she sighed too loud, trying to swallow her anger. She caught her breath, lowered her tone. “Listen… you and I, neither one of us are known for thinking things through okay?”

Her words were broken, and bloodied.

“But, please, you have to listen to me. Find something small, something otherwise meaningless, and use that to get you through. Try this. Try staring at that building off Highway 31, the one downtown that says ‘American Life’. Okay sure, it was originally some stupid insurance ad or whatever but still, those words… American Life. Use it, and don’t ever forget what that says.”

“I don’t know what that means, Christine.”

“Then spend the rest of your life figuring it out! Oh, and one more thing… quit being so sad all the time. You’ve got too much to do.”

“Like what Christine”?

I heard her smile, I heard her fade away far too young and far too soon. Her words broken and bloodied with regret.
I get it Christine. I promise you darling, I understand.

“Song #1 is not a fuck you song. I’ll save that thought until later on. You want to know if there’s something wrong? It’s nothing.”
- Fugazi


The Hardcore singer, The Hardcore song.

I know what caused this. A stupid song. The song is not really stupid but I’ll call it stupid since I let it get me so worked up. The song is “Piano Man” by Billy Joel. Oh, and “I Knew Prufrock Before he got Famous” by Frank Turner. So two songs. Two stupid stupid songs.


The microphone is held together with duct tape, the chord connected to it affixed with duct tape as well. The house lights are too dim, busted bulbs and black light, you can see the outlines of cigarette smoke and sweat in the halogen. The singer seems so much older than me, he’s not, and he’s wearing a t-shirt of a band I’ve heard of but never actually heard. They’ve played four songs already, the crowd is piled on top of itself at the front of the stage, ravenous for more.
It’s 1989,
or 1999,
or 2009,
or last night.
“This song…” the singer says “is one I wrote at 2am… after everything went wrong” he says, “and I mean every word of it.”
And I mean every word too.

East Lake Trash. There were too many of us in the car and none of us were old enough to drive, including the driver. I sat in the backseat, pressed tight against the window of the beat-down 4-door Chevy. I had my shirt pulled up and over my mouth and nose to mask away the pot smoke. I was tall and too skinny, and had already started chopping off my hair. Jon drove, the cassette tape music were his choices. Black Sabbath. Black Flag. Hendrix. Sounds that sound like that.

Parking lots were no sanctuaries. Electric weekend nights hummed with seething violence and drugs and teenage sex. I was just the passenger to it all and I would find myself gazing in eyes that were glazed over, or rolled back, or wide-open asleep. Briana’s house, lost in the White Projects behind the airport, was always on our radar. Her mom would snort coke and sleep with Briana’s boyfriends. Her mom was only 32, too young to be a grandmother but it wasn’t up to her, no not anymore. I ran away at 1am and rode my skateboard there, past Bama Motel Hookers and the Woodlawn Wolves, showing up with my shins all bloody… decorated in pieces of gravel and glass.

Secret Handshakes and New Years Eve Promises, all strengths of East Lake Trash. Jon taught me how to drive in a wrecked El Camino and I drove fast, maybe too fast, but fuck, I’m impatient now, I was really impatient at 15. You want to know the REAL reason I don’t do drugs or drink? Morals? Religion? Recovery? No, no, no. The real reason is because I’m fucked up enough as is.

That, and I’m a control freak.
My personality is cocaine. My mood swings are heroin and vodka. And at 15 I had no idea who I was becoming.

News traveled Amphetamine fast when Martin wrecked, and he was drunk, and it was the third car his dad had bought him, and the third car he’d wrecked. Jeremy was in the back seat and his legs crushed and broke in the tumble. Everyone around me was on LSD and didn’t care, so I pretended not to care either. We poured into a car for the Rugby Deli, the all-night store that sold beer and cigarettes and porn to anyone, any age. We hit Thrill Hill so fast in the wrong lane, Campbell driving with his pupils wide from the Acid. I was in the back seat in a hoody, freezing cold in the January electricity.

And no one knew why we were supposed to fight that time, but we were, and it was in the graveyard off Division Avenue (ironically next to Station 19, and maybe 100 feet away from where I’m writing right now). The East Lake Trash buzzed with the voltage, the potential blood. I was scared and stupid and too skinny and I wore a fist full of heavy spiked skull rings, there were two baseball bats on the floorboard. Boys I didn’t know with long hair and ratty jeans from different zip codes lit Molotov cocktails; seeing the fire in their hands was electric.

News traveled LSD fast when the skinheads moved into East Lake. Wisely, they kept to themselves in the angry half-black, half-white neighborhood, UNLESS. Unless they hosted their tourist nazi allies from out of state. Trucks with Georgia, Tennessee and Mississippi tags lined their street on Friday afternoons and that always meant hostility for the weekend. 35 bald angry boys surrounded a handful of us, us being the Outsiders, at the Rugby Deli. Police cruisers kept black eyes and broken ribs to a minimum. A retaliation of severity was planned, one week out and to the day.

East Lake Trash gathered in a church parking lot, maybe a mile away from the skinhead house. Weapons were passed around, sharpened, chipped and displayed. We caravanned to a high school parking lot and quietly circled around the dirt infield of an abandoned baseball field, directly behind their house.

I carried a lead pipe in one hand and a fist full of heavy spiked skull rings in the other.

Two “scouts” shattered the windshields of every car in the driveway, then ran to the field, the trap set…

But Police had been waiting and they knew, and I think the skinheads knew as well, they weren’t as dumb as they seemed. I think back to all of the knives, and brass knuckles and spiked skull rings. The moon was so bright, you could see the gleam of steel and the nervous violence of the East Lake Trash. We were there to maim, to hurt and kill. I ran through pitch black woods, hiding from Police, hiding from skinheads, running with the East Lake Trash pumping through my veins.

Lately, out of concern for my well-being, or out of morbid car wreck curiosity, I’ve been asked about my writing. The details, the stories, the characters… are they real? How do I remember them? Am I lying?

It’s simple.

I don’t want to just write the song, I want the song to be about me. I have the pen, the axe, the fists, and the terrible ideas. And I can write memory, and mental snapshots, and moments… and I can morph them all into portraits of sorrow, or hope or death or life or fuck it all. This song is about me. This song is my account of nothing.

The singer is so much younger than me and that’s okay. He’s wearing a shirt of a band that I was friends with, once. There is zero ventilation in the room and you can smell the testosterone sweat and smear of teenage hardcore. But no one is smoking so that helps. The microphone looks new, no duct tape. They’ve already played two songs, the second one had no lyrics. The singer is leaning over, pushing on his knees for balance.

“This next song” he says, “is your life. Every word. Now do something with it.”

The bass guitar thumps against the snare and the crowd, ravenous, moves against the sound.
This is right now,
and right now,
and the night was so so electric…

He says, “Bill, I believe this is killing me,” as his smile ran away from his face. “Well I’m sure that I could be a movie star, if I could get out of this place.” – Billy Joel


Imagining the Bay.

Imagine every division below exists as its own entry. Excerpts from a journal. And by journal I mean handfuls of scrap paper, receipts, the back of my hand, self-sent texts and anything else I can jot down meaninglessness on before I wise up and forget.

Imagine I’m schizophrenic and that I see things… on my own terms. Imagine I’m temperamental, and too emotional, and self-destructive. “Imagine all the people”, haha. Haymakers, people. I’m still throwing haymakers.

I was staring, I couldn’t help it. He wasn’t moving, everyone else was yelling, running up and down apartment stairs, or walking down the Sunrise Hills to get a good look at the witness stuffed in back of the cop car. And that guy ain’t saying a word. So I could stare and not feel awkward, no need to explain, no one to explain anything to. Face down in a parking lot, him not me, I kept staring. A thin creek of blood sloped down the asphalt, un-ironically arrowing toward the cop car and the silent witness, and I just stared.

I spent the night there once, in Sunrise Hills, on a 1988 New Year’s Eve. Elizabeth Somebody’s mom was out on the town, which meant a handful of Outsiders and yours truly were crashing on the floor. All those guys had a thing for Zeppelin and Hendrix, while my tastes ran… a little angrier. Warzone patches and Public Enemy t-shirts accompanied an everybody-is-my-enemy lifestyle. I wanted to rebel against everything, anything, nothing. I was very good at it.

And I still am, sort of. Kerri says I’m born a rebel and to not even try to explain my tattoos to anybody else. And he told me this outside of an $18 a night hotel, in front of a domestic assault call. A “no ID, no credit card needed” kind of place. Then…

Then Harley quit. Harley quit standing over dead bodies, molested children and burning skin. Harley quit sleeping when he grew sad over what mankind does to itself. Two little girls and a wife at home, he paced the floor all night long, in constant fear of the horror business outside their front doors. And Harley was the real thing too. Patching up bullet holes, shocking hearts back to life and delivering babies. Dive in head first every single night.

Family first though, and I get that. Defending the Bay comes second to something serious. Flesh and blood is that kind of serious.

I had to stop writing when a man called 911 and 911 called for Engine 19. He told the operator he’d be waiting for us on the front porch with a knife.

Still staring at Birmingham murder victim #endless, I leaned down and watched the blood and brains slow from the hole in his mouth. I do the math. He was two years old when I was rebelling against the inevitability of 1989, Sunrise Hills.

Hope called me at midnight in hysterics, in the 1990’s, to meet her in the Southside streets so she could kiss me. And it seemed like that was what life was supposed to be like. Hopeless moments, romance nights and loud, too loud, songs on the radio. Not the Bay.

No, no one died, no one was raped. No, I am not okay. That last call got to me baby. Shook me up good… I’ll tell you about it soon enough.

I can’t stop listening to Billy Bragg. I can’t stop wanting to do something stupid. My next essay will be a document of 24 hours of self-destruction, one bad thing after another, with the hopes that I make it out alive. Billy Bragg is punk rock’s answer to Bob Dylan, so what better soundtrack for it all.

Another tonight, and there are too many kids in the house and I don’t want to leave it, what with the violence and all, but there’s a word for it. The word is “protocol” and I hate it but oh well, a lot of people dig ditches or sit on a shelf for a living. (Against Me borrowed line). The house is sick with kids, not enough men and a 14-year-old girl in a red bandana. “He’s beating on her… again”, she says emphatically.

Police showed up in a pack, and the violence spreads like plague from the bedroom to the living room to the streets of Oporto-Madrid. Kerri ushered the children into a back bed room and told them not to look. People in the street went separate ways… jails and hospitals and other homes in the Bay. I went back to the station and threw up.

Leaving is not what superheroes do.

And I missed a 17-year-old hanging himself on my off day, Grandmother finding him in his room, next to a ladder, the blood pooling with gravity, lower and lower inside his body.

The Queen collapsed behind the SOS Lounge off 1st Avenue, open for business just a few feet from where the streets of the Bay bleed into Roebuck. The Queen looked dead, face down in the gravel, one arm awkwardly twisted behind her back. Unconscious drunk in the 1pm sun looks a lot like death. The back door of the SOS Lounge read “No Bums Allowed” and “English speaking customers only”. Kerri told me the locals call her the Oporto Queen. Fat, drunk and sunburned to hell she scraped to her feet, and the cops told her to shake it off, and wait it out at the Krispy Kreme. They’d give her a ride home (somewhere) later.

Taylor Swift’s “Fifteen” is the last song I should think of… but I do anyway. Roaches are everywhere. And trash. And kicked-in or punched-out holes in the wall. And roaches. And yelling. There was a lot of yelling, threats, and obscenities. And children. There were a lot of children. In their underwear, and dirty, and not shaking off the bugs crawling over them.

“And you're dancing around the room when the night ends”…

This is the house that God has abandoned. The father won’t quit screaming and the grandmother’s neck is tattooed, she’s chain smoking. They are overly polite to us, as if they’re talking to prison guards, but they really just want us to leave. Four little boys and two little girls in the living room, I wandered through filth and found another girl asleep on a back room floor in a pile of garbage. One boy, six, is heading to a downtown hospital. The children seem to have a consensual fear, but it’s masked by the filth and the screaming, their sad acceptance that this is life.

This? This is something called life? No, no one died, no one was raped, no one was burned alive, But no baby… I am not okay.

This is the house where I renounce God, Heaven, and Hell, those kinds of things. Because no God exists that would allow these children to wake up this way every morning.

Life? Life is running so fast it burns. Life is superheroes and pretty girls, muscle cars and cut-off sleeves for summer parking lots.
Life is living fast, dying young and living forever.

My sister Carol lives a hundred yards away, a fence-hop and short cut through the neighbor’s backyard. She has a daughter and she worships her ground too. No baby, I just can’t…

I cant let it go.
I was fighting off a steroid rage, tears, and an uncontrollable wave of helplessness when Kerri told me you can’t save them all. He said it twice in the bay of Station 19. “You can’t save them all.”
Save them all? I’m not saving anybody. I just hope I can sleep. Again. Someday. Ever.
I closed my eyes, and thought of the missed hanging. And I saw these kids… the ones growing up wrong in the Bay. And how I no longer believe in prayer.
That is not what superheroes do. They don’t let go.

Back down Oporto-Madrid, it’s 2 am, and a woman furiously digs through the bushes of an empty lot, flashlight in hand, down on her knees. Kerri says she’s looking for baggies that dealers have hidden, or discarded in fear of the police. We pass the Oporto Queen, alive and well just down the strip, one drunken step after the other… down Division Avenue and out of sight.

And I called Harley and he said it was okay to write about him.

“Flesh and blood, flesh and bone, save us. Save us all”, is what I keep hearing.

I took an ink pen and wrote on the back of my hand “You are so fucked up”.

Can’t… save… them… all.

Goddamn you Kerri, I’m going to try.

“There was this one time, back when I could steal the show…” – The Takers


Heartbreakers. (A screenplay)

(Unintentionally & ironically posted on the first day of 5th grade.)


The first time I saw Janey was in the Atlanta airport, Terminal C. She was tall and thin, her mom dragging her by the arm, late for a flight. She was at least 12-years-old and her hair was straight and brown and all the way down her back. I had too much time to waste before a flight to Gainesville and I was dragging along the terminal with my backpack and cut up clothing. Some people wear suits to catch a plane, I dress like I’m homeless.

When we pass each other my skin burns and I turn around, waiting for her to look back. Just a glance… but she never does, her left arm well in front of her being dragged along to the gate.

I wonder how many times I fake smile writing this.

Janey is on a beach with friends listening to a California Girl song. She’s drinking underage beer and wearing sunglasses, I walk past her on the way to the salt and water of the Gulf. Her hair is bleached and she has piercings stacked on top of each other in both ears. Her eyes look hollow behind the glass, the skin around them black from stained-cheap eye shadow. The song goes on and on about the sun and short shorts and parties that never end. I swim straight out into the ocean, more worried about sharks than the red flag and riptide. I did, after all, grow up in Spielberg’s Jaws era.

I stop writing my screenplay in mid-sentence, overwhelmed by the fear of death in a hollow room, surrounded by handfuls of photographs and notebooks full of nothing. I stare at the front door, I imagine the snarling growls of wolves, predators, this world if you let it. I take comfort in simple securities- blankets, taxi locks, brass knuckles and seatbelts. I walk thru Southside and I hear the California Girl lyrics again. The parties never end, they never ever do…

I wake up in Atlanta, a city rough with all night left-behind diners, rock-n- roll shows and gay discos. My teenage days once wasted away on North Avenue waiting in line for a punk band that wouldn’t bother for fuel in Birmingham, USA. North Avenue, and Little 5 Points, stumbling past the rude indie-store clerks, the homeless asking for change, and the rich spike punks asking for change. Janey is there, in the 5 Points, talking to herself, angry in beat-up jeans and a ratty Subhumans t-shirt. Everyone in Little 5 Points seems tense, everyone is fake snarling. I watch her stop and speak to different locals, their reactions all the same. No money, no needle, fuck off. 5 Points is so strung out, so “on the line” for violence. Like everywhere else, I never really fit in, I wish Janey didn’t either.

Janey is 21, barely, and begging me to let her see her boyfriend. It’s raining, we are surrounded by garbage, and it’s all happening too fast in an Elyton alley. I watch the police flashlights wave back and fourth up ahead and I hear Tommy yell for me not to worry about bringing the medic equipment. I leave Janey with a cop who lets her smoke in his squad car while I walk against the alley in the rain… go see what her boyfriend would’ve looked like if he was still alive. (He is not)

Janey is in the back room of an underground women’s shelter. If you didn’t know the shelter existed you would never know that it existed, and that’s the point. Women hide from evil that not only hurt them once, but is looking to hurt them further. Janey has a worn away face, scarred arms and dirty hair, with clean blankets and a rusted cot frame. The lockers have hand-written bible scripture on them and nicknames in quotes. She is behind me biting her nails, leaning against the lockers. I have no idea how old she is but I turn around when I think she says my name. I bite my lip to blood and hurt, trying not to make eye contact. She walks away, around a corner, and off stage.

Then that one scene… the one where I fall off completely.
And I hear Janey screaming in Northside.


I am the only one on the porch, kneeling under burning rafters and waiting on water to fill the nozzle in my hand. The front door is wide open, nothing but red streaks and smoke inside. I hear Janey scream and I scream back, “Where!?” I go inside alone and fight my way up the stairs, hearing her scream, screaming back at her, hearing her scream again…

My mask sucks in on my face as the air begins running out. The fire is over, more or less, but it’s pitch black in the early afternoon, thick smoke and charred walls have nowhere to go. But Janey isn’t here. I see a window and, for a second, I think about jumping out of it, but that would be crazy. I yank my mask off when the air ends. The pitch black stings my eyes, rips into my nose, my mouth, my lungs, and I don’t like it.
“Stairs”, I scream.
Someone grabs my hand and pushes it against a wall. I feel the dip of the first stair and relax… believe me, I know the way down.
I fall down the next 18 stairs. Me plus the weight of the gear measures in well over 300 pounds. I laugh when I hit the bottom, and I don’t tell anyone about the screams.

Janey is walking down the median of Highway 31, defeated, when I finally lose it. Memories of white trash teenage romance, laughing and marginally breaking the law (my late 1980’s) prove too much to confront on a road run over with bullshit strip malls, fast food joints and, now, the nightmares of four college girls burning in a crummy hotel. I think of Janey in college room hotels, I think of her in underground women’s shelters, in gutters and backstreets as well. All the wrong places, all the wrong people, all the way down.

So what if this is heartbroken?
So what if this is doom and gloom 100%? Fake smiles, false hellos and Smiths records on a sinking ship. Are you fake smiling now?
Because I’m snarling.

I hold Janey’s hand along New York City streets, a Manhattan Christmas, the two of us in search of Greenwich Village and peanut butter sandwiches. Janey is wearing a faux fur jacket with a hood that I keep pulled over her ears. She says it makes her look like a miniature King Kong, and she’s right. I hold her hand and flag down a taxi, the horns and cold fading away behind us.

I usher her into the cab, pull the door closed and lock it. I buckle her seatbelt, then mine.
Simple security to keep away the wolves.

“When I see a woman on the news, who didn’t ask to be abandoned or abused, it doesn’t matter who she is… I think about you.” – Colin Raye


The Hunter

(Everything, as always, is true, or at least as true as I remember. Names are changed, it’s getting to be a habit.)

The one time Briana saw her dad was in a folded-over picture cupped in her mom’s hand. It was a 1978 overheated June, she was riding in the backseat of a wrecked and green Chevy Nova down Highway 11 to meet him for the first time in a Circle K parking lot. She was five-years-old then, which meant her mom would soon turn 20.

Briana looked forward to seeing Dad, the handsome boy in the folded-over photo. They waited, and her mom cried, she didn’t understand why, nothing but a young and dumb teenager soaking up cigarettes and Coca-colas somewhere between Trussville and the White Projects of Woodlawn. “Somewhere between Heaven and Hell”, to coin Mister Mike Ness.

Dad never showed, her mom threw the picture away, and Briana never looked for her father again.

I met Briana when I was 14 and I’d just started looking for something.

I started looking in dead American writers. Hemingway hitting his knuckles bloody on a marlin before writing “For Whom the Bell Tolls”, blood dripping on the pages of a book with torn, dusted covers all across high school libraries. And Fitzgerald smiling, drinking poison and furious about every verb and adjective. I stood over his grave in Rockville once, envying the great dead American writer(s). I read their books, I hid in the pages. I stared at every word.

I stole anarchist books from high school libraries, and I bought zines with cut-and-paste pages. DIY philosophies meets ancient political manifestos, I read them both leaning against a Circle K wall, skateboard and Coca-colas.

A decade later I stumbled through Hollywood, still looking, now on the Boulevard of every boy and girl’s vision of the Runaway American Dream.


Dana’s friend tried to kiss me and I didn’t kiss her back. It was way past 2:00am and we were in a nameless park on its benches in the heart of it all. Surrounded by trees, blue and red and yellow city lights in the distance, faint highway noise. Dana told us about the skinhead wars, she was a skinhead. Her and her dark skin and Chelsea bangs and Doc Marten boots. Dana’s friend was dark skinned too, but without the tough guy/tough gal air. I still didn’t kiss her back.

Dana told campfire tales of the Hollywood skinheads and where they left each other bleeding and dead, the gangs (primarily) divided over white power rhetoric and anti-white power rhetoric. 5 on 1 fights bruised the celebrity walk of stars. Dana’s beliefs, and skin color, told me which side she was on. Some gang called SHARP. Skin-Heads Against Racial Prejudice. (I love clever acronyms, no sarcasm intended) Shaved heads would quickly turn into shaggy surf bangs and beards, at least until the heat died down, until the rust blood washed off the razors.

Still looking… I listened to Dana’s tales of violence echo away into the California stars. I thought of her years later when I waded through the violence in suicides.

Tarrant’s man still wore his Oakland Raider’s jacket in the 100 degree indoor hot, the gun in his lap in the blood in the end. Tarrant and her man lived behind a garage, in a hidden room, with tacks in rap posters and records in a stack against the wall. There was a Corvette in pieces in the garage and I hate fucking sports cars. I tilted my head to the side to stare at his body, see if an alternate angle would make this seem less real. Tarrant did a lot of screaming, but she didn’t cry. They taught me to laugh so I did, and I kept looking.

(They taught all of the hunters to laugh. Laugh at danger, shrug off blood and guts, fall asleep with an eyeful of took-their-life teenagers, burned bodies and cut-in-half car wreckers. Laugh. Laugh, keep going… or collapse under the weight of brutality. If you want to help humanity, then learn to shelve your own.)

Betty V. was pretty in an ugly neighborhood crying, her eyes running down her face in black smears and pink circles. The headlights of the SUV were still on, she kept pointing at it over and over. I got out of Engine 14. Her boyfriend had celebrated his early release from rehab with some puncture-wound heroin. He was collapsed behind the wheel, eyes empty and jaw flared back and up, mouth agape, pulse grounded. He looked… dead, and his heart wasn’t pumping.


A medic’s IV, another needle, and Narcan, the great overdose reverser, put him back in this world. He sat up in a zombie-embedded confusion, violent and dizzy. Betty V. kept crying. I leaned my head to the side and looked in her eyes. It was raining, she was still crying, and my view of her never changed. Her eyes seemed so sad.

And then that one time I looked in Portland… the city’s majority runaway citizenship, and heroin dilemma, too many strip joints and Chuck Palahniuk. I stayed in an upstairs flat with closet junkies and their blue-black dyed hair, we stopped by the Salvation Army Store to buy sweaters for the beach. The beach was brilliant cold and beautiful and there were huge rocks in the water, white waves smashing violently around them. The stairs from the street to the beach went straight down and I was lost to the left of a USA map, Pacific Northwest. Teenage girls on family vacations rode horses next to backpack transient punks throwing a baseball. It felt more like hiding than hunting.

Until last week and the 4th of July when I went back to the White Projects where Briana grew up, only now named the Mexican Projects. We were once two dumb 15-year-olds driving through alleys with street names to change shirts for a high school football game. The first black family moved into the White Projects in the early 1980s and the neighborhood drove a burning car through their living room that night.

(I once created a fictional neighborhood in a novel and modeled it after these alleys. I named it Nopelika.)

I drove Engine 19 down a now-Mexican alley to find fire. Gangsters with shaved heads and white t-shirts leaned up against cars and clothes lines. An old lady walked past me with no jaw, an oxygen tube in her nose, small tank on her hip. A handful of cops smoked cigarettes, leaning against their cruisers. And the kids! The kids were everywhere, in the street and dirt. They stared at the engine and I waved and smiled. They looked at my tattoos, I looked in the windows of their homes and the black electrical tape holding together the frames, the uneven breaking doors and chipped away walls.

Briana is so long gone, and I doubt I’ll ever find her.

But I kept looking. I needed something- a meaning, a purpose, and at the very least, a valid explanation.

I found a stack of 1980’s movies, Breakfast Clubs and Outsiders and Pretty Pinks. Pony Boy killed two Socs with a switchblade, John Bender got birthday cigarettes, and the poor girls got the rich boys.

I found a handful of 1970’s adult contemporary songs and they said something about the good dying young.

And I found weights. I ran, and sweat, and bled. I fought myself over and over, since nothing is ever, ever, good enough. I found reckless abandon, a neighborhood born of hell and rotten hotel rooms at 3:00am with girls on their way to somewhere else. More hiding than hunting.

I found fire. I taped a piece of paper to my locker, it read “You are never finished.”

Hiding, I found nothing. There was never any secret one-sentence summary that explained it all… no religion, or message in the clouds. The only meaning was there’s not one, keep going.

I am the hunter, passing through this world never content and never comfortable, always looking for… something.
Her eyes in the rain.
The Boulevard.
A photo of a father that doesn’t exist.

And Briana look at me now. My eyes are open and forward, absorbing the suffering of others, the violence and loss, and missed moments. I try to embrace the actions and people that actually matter, ignore everything else, keep going.

Until the end, I am the hunter, coded and cursed with four words…

Something I once read taped to my locker.

“All of her lovers all talk of her notes and the flowers that they never sent. And wasn’t she easy? And isn’t she pretty in pink?” – Psychedelic Furs.


East Lake, For all my Life.

Haymakers. Love it hate it degrade it ignore it all you can, but when I write I’m throwing haymakers. I want to write like I’m standing in a minefield, like there’s a knife to my throat, and bullets in my spine. Writing this brought out the Jekyll and Hyde good and bad in me. It made me clench fists and look for something to destroy, it made me want to run away to Portland and Seattle, it made me want to burn this world down in ashes. And then there were the bad thoughts…

Haymakers. I’m throwing haymakers here.)

I changed some names.

Ronnie leaned out the window with the shotgun in his hands, I drove slowly down an East Lake alley. It was a weekday night, it was something to do in 1989, it was revenge against a man and a gun that’d been aimed at us a few moments earlier. He drew down on us and I spun out the tires of my Dad’s hand-me-down Malibu, in the trash and mud on the dividing line of East Lake and Woodlawn. We raced down West Boulevard, no time to think things through, no point in trying. Ronnie retrieved the pistol grip shotgun he kept under his bed. His grandparents asked what we were doing, we did not reply.

Terri still sleeps under the overpass near 81st. His American flag is usually up, and he’s always reading. This morning he was sitting in a beach chair underneath the southbound and northbound bridges of I-59. His shirt was off in the early May heat and I couldn’t read the title of the book he had in his hands.

See that lady? She waved to the Engine, I waved back. She killed one and shot the other two, the owner of a walk-in closet boutique next to the church where I went to boy scout meetings once upon a time. I thought of the pocket change in the register the day three boys opened the door, pistols in hand, none of them walking away, one of them never walking again.

East Lake kids cover the streets and sidewalks, the vacant lots and all the wrong spots, all night all day. Black boys walk pitbulls on homemade leashes with silver spike collars. The airport is buying up homes in it’s shadow for runway space but there are houses with families in them right now, airport babies just weeks old, their front door a piece of plywood, even more plywood covering the windows. Arthur stood over the first murdered body I’d ever seen in an East Lake alley and said something under his breath to the corpse. The flies had found him before anyone else, it was 8am in a July. He was younger than me, he was a lot younger than me and I stared at him, the other firefighters staring at me for any crack in emotion. I did not give them one.

The lady cop with the tattoos up and down her arms is still working out East. She and I hugged in the middle of I-59 at a wreck just this morning, Ruffner Mountain still shadowing the pavement.

The abandoned Elks Lodge is right outside Station 19’s bay doors and that’s where the firefighters rallied during the strike of ‘79. They asked permission to bring in black firefighters because it was 1979 and that’s how things were in East Lake in 1979. Dumpster fires and burning abandoned cars terrorized the city during the strike, the National Guard soldiers proving a poor substitute for smoke eaters. A fire officer boarded himself up in Station 23 and got drunk, the National Guard unable to do anything but watch him through the windows. Unrelated to the strike, but on the night of, a firefighter shot and killed a man in a Northside juke joint.

Listen to the radio. Listen for Engine 19...

I was in Dollar’s Barbershop on 1st Avenue the day of the Minor High riots. Old Man Dollar, at least 90, butchered my hair and I listened to the men talk of their time and their lifetimes. I never said a word, why would I? I was only 16. Across the street was an Exxon, and a classmates’ brother was executed one night for using the payphone on a weekday after sunset. I watched her cry away the rest of the semester, I never said a word, what could I say? I was only 17. And that Exxon is a Shell now and Dollar’s Barbershop is long gone, but the payphone is inexplicably still there.

Tara was a lesbian drug dealer and that’s why we were in an alley on the dividing line of Woodlawn and East Lake. I crept through with the headlights dim and circled back around the Corvette dealership, Ronnie still halfway out the window. His hands were scarred from punching out airport trash windows over news he was going to be a father at 16. We circled the dividing line…

Cinema City 8, you will always be a part of me.

As well as the Anchor Motel and the family that lived in the janitor’s closet-turned monthly room rental. There was one mattress on the floor and the couple were both HIV+, and he was a bounty hunter wearing all camouflage. Their 12-year-old son was having problems breathing and I hate it when kids don’t get a chance. The Bama Motel too, it’s bright neon red lights and I was only 15 and snuck out on a Friday to get a $40 room, next door to pretty white hookers who leaned against the door frames and propositioned and/or insulted everyone that walked by.

The women’s shelter defeats me every time. A woman touched my arm in the lobby and said “George, right?” or maybe it was “George, it’s me Cindy…” and I knew who she was and I remember seeing her in a Southside bar a decade ago, and I knew her from having cheap sex with a friend and I knew she had just had a job working a grocery graveyard shift and she told me over skim milk and peanut butter purchases at 2am that her husband had given her the black eye she wore and that he was a Nazi skinhead, and she could never leave him. I remember paying my tab and telling her how much I hate Nazi skinheads.

Cindy touched my arm in an East Lake women’s shelter, and smiled, and it all makes sense now, but not really.

My mom and I sat in the parking lot of Burger King and ate in the car. The row of porn shops were catty-corner to us, and we laughed at the men sneaking in to the Cinema Blue, the way they parked so far down the Avenue. The Cinema Blue used to be the “College Theatre” and the college in question was nearby Howard which packed up and moved to Homewood and changed it’s name to Samford. I was a student of Samford for one day, and hated it so much, and I excused myself from my counselor’s office and found a water fountain and I never went back. In 1981 Burger King gave away Empire Strikes Back glassware, and I had an unhealthy obsession with Star Wars, one that I’ve never gotten rid of.

They closed the Go-kart repair shop this winter.

Johnny T dealt drugs out of his one-room flat in the top level of an old East Lake mansion. A teenage beauty queen client went missing and her father and brothers held Johnny T, and a roomful of Outsiders, hostage with hunting rifles. Anger-raged tears and fueled on Southern-violence, the beauty queen’s family cooked up Johnny T’s cocaine and tied off each other’s veins. She surfaced a week later in one of those surrounding little towns that you only hear about in references to high school football or the weather. Johnny T tried to be a firefighter for a few years, and quit when they started drug testing.

I took LSD on three different occasions in ’86. We ate the paper and skated over scary dark streets and hid in Rugby Avenue corners. On New Years Day 1987 I decided to never smoke, drink or do drugs again. A few months later I discovered a band called Minor Threat and learned the word “straightedge”.

But then Harold met that girl on the Panama City Strip and her name really was Chaos and they split time living in an old house, in the heart of it all, and a Fultondale hotel room. He left her for a pregnant 14-year-old bleach blonde and they are still together to the day, their kids all grown up.

Cinema Blue is still… Cinema Blue, recently making national news in a glory hole sting operation. Rows and rows of abandoned stores face off against 1st Avenue and the porn shop strip mall, their shelves and stock left behind with the cracks in the sidewalk, and the weeds growing in them, and small business doom. This is my hometown Springsteen, this is my hometown.

The next night in the same women’s shelter and another woman called out my name, a fabled tension all its own. She and I spoke for a few seconds but I don’t remember anything said. I couldn’t get over the children in the lobby and in the dorm rooms, eating cheap pizza and their superhero bed sheets. The shelter wasn’t always exclusive to women and children, but the director said having men on site created too many problems. I told her I understood. I didn’t tell her that I saw a man hang himself there once, because I understood the problems she alluded to were a far different matter.

East Lake save my soul.

The next murdered gangster was pressed against a wooden fence, the rain thinning out the blood and guts of his face, soaking his cliché bandanna. It was cold and I’m sure he was freezing on the ground, the seconds he spent there before he died.

The first house fire in my return to East Lake and the first Birmingham cop to show was once in a high school basement when I got “jumped in” to the Black Gangster Disciples. There were five of them and just me and I took my licks like any 16-year-old was supposed to do. Mitch was there too, and in charge, and he’s dead now. The BGD later brawled with a rival gang, friends of mine from the Southtown Projects, boys I knew from East Lake that would get high with the Outsiders and watch us bleed up our knees on skateboards. Nate is blind now from a machine gun drug deal gone awry and Lewis… he’s in a wheelchair from a similar bad situation.

“Ladies and gentleman, please direct your attention to the loser in waiting. The savior of nothing, and protector of the already-lost.” I had the nightmare again. I couldn’t breathe, there was fire and black. I woke up afraid and screaming, sucking air. I woke up, the loser left behind to clean up the junkyard neighborhood that he grew up trying to get away from. “Ladies and gentlemen, listen for the radio, listen to the tones for Engine 19”. The stabbing deaths and collapsing houses, nonsense assaults, cars burning and overdoses. Just listen.

Listen for the goddam radio.

Ronnie sat back down in my Dad’s hand-me-down Malibu, he put the shotgun under the seat and lit a cigarette. There was no revenge on the dividing line that evening. Ronnie’s son… he’s out there at 18 or 19 now. Living proof of nights that couldn’t end and lifetimes without a chance. And Cinema City 8 is so long gone, and Terri is under the bridge with his books and American flag. And Ruffner Mountain even burned down once or twice, or tried to.

And I’m out here too. Scarred proof of nights gone wrong and one lifetime to make things right, or at the very least…

Go down trying.

“After all the loving and the losing, for the heroes and the pioneers, the only thing that’s left to do is get another round in at the bar.”– Frank Turner


I think it was called Revolution.

(In 2006 this was 400 words and I re-wrote it this year to 1100. It’s been a while since I’ve posted… anything and I just wanted to prove to you, and me, and the demons that push me that I’m still around. My current essay (not a re-write) will follow soon and it’s an emotional rollercoaster of doom & gloom and neighborhood. Imagine that.)

They served vanilla cokes at the Waffle House. I had no idea until Andi told me and said that’s where she wanted to meet. We didn’t have too much history together but we had enough to hang out over caffeine and sugar. Both of us straightedge, both of us failing trying-to-be, gonna-talk-about-it for-a-lifetime writers, and both of us Pensacola re-locates. She’d seen Exhaust live many times in ’97, ’98, and ’99. She always stood up front and sang the words to our songs, which was impressive, since I thought I was the only person that knew them.

I’m Birmingham-bred and raised, and have been my whole life, except for the one miserable year in Pensacola, USA. That miserable year I spent faking work until sundown in a 9-to-5 law office and wasting away at night in large automotive circles of go-nowhere driving, chain book stores and Wilco songs. Andi, unkempt brown hair and dirty shirts, occupied some of those nights at the Waffle House over vanilla cokes. I had not come to the conclusion that I was living a lie, not yet, tucking in my shirt and reporting to a swivel chair and a desk for a paycheck each morning. Andi, stolen shoes and mismatched socks, I think she knew, but was too damn nice to say so. Andi, smiled a lot. And she had a great smile.

Andi was Anarchist, text book definition. She evolved from the lyrics of the wild and metal bands we danced to into a life out of a Salinger novel, or an Aaron Cometbus zine, or her own book altogether. She slept in a flat with a dozen other folks (one being the above-mentioned author Aaron Cometbus), and never worked… but when she absolutely had to, she picked up shifts at Van Gogh’s, a coffee shop run by other like-minded politicals. I wasn’t living as displaced as her, but I had no established residence either, bouncing from my sister’s couch to my parent’s couch to a couch in the guest house of my then-employer. There was an irony in not having a bed in Pensacola, me being the Alabama trash that I am, spoiled rotten on air conditioning and thread count sheets.

So Andi…

Andi jumped trains. She rode the iron rails from coast to coast, collecting the unimaginable stories along her way. Scary, dangerous tales that left me with a big brother-ish worry when she wasn’t around. Sexist as it may sound I worried more over her being an attractive female, but I wrote it off as my traditional Southern upbringing, and common sense, more so than sexism.

Unimaginable danger stories came from Andi riding trains, it wasn’t all makeup and glam on the back of an open train car stocked with recycled bolts or corn husks. I was in the middle of trying to explain my employer’s lawsuit database when she told me of a teenager that had run away with his younger sister to ride rails and lost her along the way. A trucker drove off in an 18-wheeler, baby sister in the front seat, the teenager busy inside a 7-11 buying them all cigarettes. Six months later the teenager was still searching. Baby sister had just turned 14.

Another night of vanilla and ice in a Waffle House and I was rushed, checking my watch every few moments, adding up potential hours of sleep, since 5am is early no matter how pointless your job seems. My mind wandered over tomorrow’s checklist, my white button down sleeves rolled up, collar loosened, tie taken off in the truck. Put a drink in one hand and a cigarette in the other and I was a full-blown executive. Put a gun in one hand and open my mouth around the barrel, this aint a lot like living.

Andi, her voice a distant echo, said something about a gang of transients, and I came back down from self-destructive fantasy. A gang of transients with tattooed faces roamed their train yards and slit the airways of trespassers on their turf, she said. An entire campground wiped out overnight, all victims of rusted knives to the throat.

And so it goes. So it went.

Waffle House, Pensacola, USA, the two of us too social-outcasted for the beach scene or dance clubs. Too many military boys and teenage girls wanting to get married anyway.

I drank vanilla cokes and hung on every word. Andi didn’t shower, and didn’t shave her legs or under her arms. I thought that was weird, but she thought it was odd that I showered three times a day, and shaved my legs and under my arms. She brought me a fanzine she’d clipped together, all handwritten, proving she was a notch above me as a failing, trying-to-be gonna-talk-about-it for-a-lifetime writer. The zine was filled with poems she’d written in the middle of Nowhere America.

When she was cold or hungry.

Running away or running back home.

Lost or found.

I read every word on whichever couch I called home and felt like the biggest phony that had ever listened to Operation Ivy. I got up the next morning and put on a tie for work. I stared at the train tracks that ran parallel with the Bay and hurt for somewhere other than where I was headed.

I haven’t seen Andi since those 2002 nights at the Waffle House, but I think about her a lot. I thought about her when I got fired from that law office job a few months later, I thought about her when I drove across America in my parent’s Honda, and I thought about her when I started getting paid to run into burning houses.

And I think about her when I write.

Her friendship did something to me, something wicked between inspiration and envy. And if I ever see her face again I’ll let her know.

But for now, me and my sexist Southern upbringing hope she’s safe.

"Maybe you’ll be out there on that road somewhere, some bus or train, traveling along. Some motel room, there’ll be a radio playing & you’ll hear me sing this song. Well if you do, you’ll know I’m thinking of you and all the miles in between and I’m just calling one last time, not to change your mind, but to say I miss you baby... Good luck goodbye... Bobby Jean"
- Springsteen


My Imaginary Intervention

My lungs hurt worse than they had in quite some time. I fought to breathe through my nose, but a cold was making that impossible. Snot ran down my face, 36-year-old bones + muscles held with the glue of 80-year-old joints + ligaments. I was in shorts in December and I was running up and over the 24th Street Bridge. Christmas was days away and I promised myself that if I stopped running, at any point on the bridge, I would jump off.


Running is simple with the right inspiration. This particular day had been bad, trivial nonsense that incorporates being me, and the next day didn’t seem too attractive either. The self-wager was relatively easy to make.

I caught my breath on 3rd North outside of the Speakeasy. I gave a homeless man an unopened pack of smokes after watching him dig through trash for lip-stick coated butts, beer-soak-breath filters. Wasserman wrote a book called “At Home on the Streets”, and he’s as nonsmoker as me but I gave away the pack in his honor. I didn’t have to jump off the 24th Street Bridge.

I help people, right?

I’m doing all I can, I think I am at least. So what, I’ll try harder. I’ll quit sleep, quit work, quit breathing, I don’t care. I just want to help. I just want to matter, write out the words of razor and fire, the suffered-beating pulse of avenues & cross streets. Those were my final thoughts as I walked down the stairs…

They invited me, but I said this anyway.

“Thank you all for coming. I know you're busy, I’m busy too… life keeps most of us on heart attack courses.” I looked around the room, blank semi-interested, semi-bored, semi-concerned faces stared back. The room was a basement, it looked and smelled like a basement, the only light being a single bulb that swung from it’s cord power source. It was hot, and someone had been smoking until I politely asked them to put it out, but the tobacco and dust hung in the air. There were no windows, the smoke and dust, like me, had nowhere to go.

I counted 11 faces.

Looking around the room, I saw 11 faces of our inherited culture. Rock-n-roll was too far discovered, and Bukowski shot up and died while we were in kindergarten. The Sex Pistols were frauds and the Ramones were Republicans, except for Joey… But here we are and everyone was waiting on me to say something, anything, nothing. So I started talking.

I could feel the need for something self-destructive in my veins. I drove though the white cold rain, furious for no reason. Highway 31 and the sky had blackened over with the weather, nevermind that it was mid-afternoon. Traffic stopped on the bridge over the Nick. The Nick Rocks.

A man, haggard with a beard and wet with rain, waved his hand pushing traffic through one lane, around the wreck, the over turned SUV and the woman trapped inside. No police, no fire trucks, just a handful of everyday folks, parked past the carnage, biting their nails, crossing their arms and dialing 9-1-1 over and over. I parked and got out…

The 11 of us are victims of an inherited culture. I didn’t ask to be a part of this, neither did you; waking up cursed, morning after morning, with the anchor that I’m not doing enough with this life. Just a few hours ago I saw a man torn in two, his car folded in half like a deck of cards, the dashboard pushing bluntly through his gut and into the backseat. His right arm was twisted behind his head, eternal dark, eternal sleep. The chief cancelled the Engine Company I was riding with, instead asking for a coroner. We went anyway.

I parked in the middle of 31 and got out, it was still raining cold on 31. The Nick was under me, with it the nonsense memories I had of the one time-convenience store. Being turned away from Black Flag for only being 12-years-old, being the opening band for Jawbox, finding my truck windows bashed in under the viaducts. Thanks for memories…

I walked toward the SUV, my skin burning, the adrenalin and self-destruction boiling…

There were three children on the corner of Montclair Road and Montevallo, two boys, one girl, a dog on a chain. They wore green and black, filthy clothes, patches on their jeans, bull piercings in their noses. Typical homemade tattoos, typical homemade punk rock look. Birmingham has been sick with transient punk kids through the years, scene invaders prone to violence and theft, since they could just leave to locust another town if things blew back on them.

These were not those kids.

Their eyes were hurt, their ribs were obvious, they were wrong turns and bad ideas. The girl, maybe 17, held a clever sign that said “On the road and out of luck”. I handed Janey money to hand them through the truck window. I told her to tell them to stay out of trouble. She didn’t say it.

Self-destruction boiling I stuck my head in the broken passenger window of the SUV and looked down at the woman trapped under the wheel, flat against the pavement. The windshield, spider-webbed but still in one piece, was the only way in. There were sirens in the distance and traffic was stopped up on both sides of the highway. 911 would be a few minutes. The handful of everyday folks, hyper on the violence, talked over each other with scenarios and ‘what ifs’. They all stopped when I punched the windshield.

A second hit pushed the glass forward and I grabbed the entire shield and yanked it back, yanked it back enough for a point of entry. Blood was running freely from my knuckles and forearms. The SUV rocked on it’s side when I got on the pavement and crawled in, too far gone to turn back now.

Wandering children must travel in threes. Just hours ago a trio of dirty punk rock boys showed up at the station, on the road and out of luck with no clever sign. The youngest looked 13, and handed me his birth certificate to show me he was 18, and I didn’t even read it. He had a guitar slung over his back, and his older brother had a bull nose piercing. Actually, they all had dumb tattoos and piercings (sound familiar?) so I gave them money to get back home, get back to Florida, and I told them that if this was a con, and they stayed in town hustling folks for change for beer and cigarettes, that I would find out, and that I would kill them. It was hard not to laugh, but I said it. It sounded tough, like Alphonse Capone or Frank Castle. I was only half-joking.

Somebody grabbed me and told me I was bleeding. I laughed and screamed “Get your fucking hands off of me!” and continued the crawl. The woman was trapped and hurt in a seatbelt, and under the rearranged dashboard, but mainly just scared. Working on my knees in broken glass I took her weight off the seatbelt, and unlocked it. I told her to press her face against mine. Then I pulled us both off of Highway 31. Sirens even closer, police pouring out of their cars, I pulled a large piece of glass out of my hand and went home. I nursed my wounds in a hot bath, I watched the water film over into a brown red, the sting of every piece of glass against the heat of the water.

I help people, right?

I am doing all I can. And so what, I will try harder. I’ll quit sleep, quit work, quit breathing, quit living and dying and quitting, I don’t care. I just want to help. I just want to matter. Those were my last words as I walked away from the 11 other faces of our unrequested inherited culture. Up the stairs and out of the basement, turning my back to the only people that have ever believed a word I said.

I smashed the light bulb on the way out and muttered “I’m on my way to save the world”, eyes focused on whatever comes next, my inherited culture as the backdrop for self-destruction and importance and a reason. No sleep, no hesitation, no backing down.

Born against.

“I’m on my way to save the world” - Operation Ivy


American Distance

(This is for Andrew & Dolarhyde, who gave me his CD and I listened to it until 4am and then wrote half of this in a notebook. This is for Clay and Judas Cradle who fell in love with metal and fought their way all over the USA map. This is for Wasserman and None but Burning… and every single one of my friends who threw it all away, stepped into the abyss, and went on tour.)

I woke up under a million burned out stars in the Flagstaff Arizona mountains and went to bed in a cheap Las Vegas hotel. The contrast of the two surroundings disoriented 21-year-old souls, a four-hour drive between cities was no time to adjust. Flagstaff was snow freezing in July, the mountain air burned our nostrils, but this was nature so none of us cared. The first thing I noticed in Vegas, aside from the neon lights and their inducing headaches, was the pornography. It lined the streets and gutters and we were ankle deep in glossy paper and cardboard, exposed flesh penetrating exposed flesh.

Our show in Flagstaff, 1995, never happened, but a year and a month later we went back and played, maybe, Exhaust’s best show ever. The Arizona comeback took place in a mountain side gazebo, the 100+ anarchist-nature-style punks more adapt to burning nostrils than the four yolks of Exhaust. I hung from the wood rafters and explained our song “Will” a screamo-emo tune (always) about a preacher telling Candace’s family that her suicide was God’s will. I dropped to the ground in unison with Andrew crashing in the drums and 100+ anarchist-nature style punks went crazy.

It’d be too easy to say that ‘you had to be there’ or ‘go on tour for yourself’ to understand this kind of thing. Start a band, annoy your parents, your girlfriends and practice at awkward times, awkward places. Rent a storage unit, a warehouse, a loft. Do something, be in a band, play shows, go on tour. Glamour-less, money-less, and in my case, talent-less, but throwing it all to hell because it all falls under punk rock, and I’d been wearing that title on my name tag since the mid-eighties.

En route out of Las Vegas for the first and last time we stopped at a fast food chain mirage in the middle of the Nevada desert, erected for road-weary travelers, drifters and suckers (chalk us up under all three). I met a 17-year-old employee on a smoke break, Christy, and she was impressed with my poor fashion sense and band status. I never led anyone on about being in a band. All we were doing was nothing. Nothing special, nothing exotic, nothing socially or financially or romantically beneficial. It’s a band. It’s punk rock. I shrugged a lot when I tried to explain it.

She begged me to take her with us and I refused. I just laughed.

Years later she found my number on the back of an Exhaust cassette and called. She’d just had a baby, she was 19 now, she still worked at Arby’s and she had nowhere to live. She told me I should’ve let her go with us. “Look at me now, look at my life now”, she said, tears in her voice.

Portland to Seattle was an easy three hours north but it was 2am and raining and we had covered insane distances to get to Portland in the first place. We were tired, mean, and getting too skinny… ribs sticking, faces whiter than usual, and sunken eyes. Brannon drove too fast in a van that drank oil like watered down beer. I watched his head drop as he dozed over and over, slapping his own face hard to come back to the wheel and the responsibility of a van full of southern white-boy punk-rock kids. (I’m writing this 14 years later so it’s a safe assumption that the self-slaps were effective). Red Bull had yet to become the common commodity it is now or we would have been bathing in it.

Tooth and Nail Records #2 man in charge, Bill, fell in love with Exhaust’s Dischord-borrowed sounds after I gave him a copy of the same cassette I’d given to an Arby’s Nevada girl. Tooth and Nail, then, was releasing wave after wave of successful bands, many or most with religious backgrounds. (Something Exhaust was far from). Bill and I both knew that Exhaust expressed different versions than the label’s current roster but we both chose to ignore the obvious. Sort of. A real record deal was talked about. Contracts, paid studio time and more touring.

When Bill finally called, Andrew and I were drinking Gatorades on a swingset at an elementary school, worn out from a poorly-played game of basketball. “Are you a Christian band?”, he asked, “not that it matters”. I could have said yes, I could have lied or trumped up my role and my band to be something we were not. Rock stars, millionaires, popular… or Christians.

Six months later Exhaust’s career on Tooth & Nail had watered down to a guest spot on a compilation CD called “I’m your Biggest Fan”, sharing space with bands that graduated to Pepsi commercials and sold-out fairground arenas.

And we stayed poor white-boy punk-rock types and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

We found the infamous DIY creation example of Gilman Street in Berkeley… North California coming on strong after a series of gangster failing LA shows and dominatrix days. (See an old essay I wrote called "Greetings from an Eerie-sweet Place") The show was sold out, not for us, no no no, but for the heavyweight matchup of Los Crudos- Hispanic political heroes, and Weston, New Jersey goof balls. Mohawks and spikes had made a fad comeback with Rancid’s 1995 outing of the wolves, and North California was covered in them. We stayed with friends in Oakland and Oakland is/was every bit as touch and rumble as they say. Our friends later that month lied their way onto a daytime talk show, with a fake bad romance and nationally-appealing drama.

Onstage at Gilman Street goes a long way. Exhaust had studied/modeled/attempted our stage presence after handfuls of other rock-n-roll nobodys that we worshipped while the rest of the world ignored them. The code was simple:

Play your heart out. Tear their hearts out.

A self-review would write that Exhaust. made up for holes in talent with emotion-terror and attitude. We were nice, we were smiles but we did not give a fuck. The 600 mohawks and spikes on Gilman Street got the same show that the four drunks in Albuquerque did. Strained-vocal emotion. Emo-terror. Out of breaths. Out of our element. Out there.

We shook a lot of hands and hugged a lot of necks in Berkeley. The hippie fight back scene of the sixties now had shaved heads and loud guitars. A year and a day later, back in Oakland, back on Gilman Street we played to no one, maybe 17 people, and aimed our claws and fangs at their hearts too. We stayed in a warehouse loft, the drummer of Operation Ivy living next door. Our this-year host said the drummer collected bi-monthly checks of $30,000. Reward for being a part of the greatest recordings to survive the late eighties.

The original lineup of Exhaust played its last show in St Louis, August 1996. Mike drank beer because it was free and we didn’t get paid. We’d driven straight from Denver (go look at a map) and the night before we’d driven from Seattle to Denver (look at the map again). We hurt-tired, we hurt for home and we were beyond poor now. And I wouldn’t have had it any other way. There were rusted nails in my throat and broken glass in my heart when Mike quit the band a few weeks later. I still hold that grudge against him too, that’s how much being a part of nothing going nowhere meant to me.

And I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’ve had the rest of my life to get things in order, make plans that make sense, and learn to be an a-dult. A busted-up van and a handful of southern white-boy punk-rock types with a shoebox of emo songs was the opposite of all that. Stumbling through cities, American explorers blindly following a notebook full of venue directions and contact numbers. Screaming lyrics hoarse to a crowd of hundreds or a crowd of 3-4 and, finally, being a part of nothing going nowhere that taught me something I will never let go of:

How to be me.

“I can’t stand this singing, I can’t stand this song. I can’t stand being home, lord, I can’t stand being gone.” -Tim Barry

“15 hours for a cancelled show, somewhere in Nowhere, Ohio… I think I just want to go home.” - Dolarhyde


The Endless Meaningless Murder Summer.

(Originally handwritten on the back of a gang prevention brochure)

The stuffed animals were once white, now black-charred and dripping wet, dark marble eyes staring, forever staring. A stack of clothes melted together, sequins & sashes, coat hangars reshaped into iceberg runs of plastic. Malcolm X books survived, as well as Birmingham 1960s civil rights pictures. The memories of this town, in that era, never go away. There was snow and ice on the ground outside and the fire confined itself to one room, in one apartment. It ate everything in it.

The kitchen was sidewalk narrow, I had to turn to the side to walk through in 40 pounds of turnout gear. A barbell was loaded up with iron plates on the floor below the sink. A Rubik’s Cube sat next to two hammers on top of the water heater. There was a stack of books on the counter. The kitchen was a jail cell. Weights and peanut butter jars and reading material.

I thought of Joey.

It was the endless straightedge summer and hardcore/punk rock/emo bands toured across, or tore across, the southeast with the steel-eyed drive of General Sherman burning down Atlanta. A packed car driving to Athens, Auburn or Memphis to stand in a cramped living room and watch our heroes bleed on microphones meant nothing. It was just gas money and laughs and yellow lines on the pavement passing by you at 1am. Wasserman and I hosted more than our share of bands, only we cheated slightly and rented out an old store front for the music. I tried to keep my living room clean.

Joey came from the Midwest and told us he’d played drums for Coalesce before doing an ounce of prison time for stealing a car. He was straightedge like us, and wore the similar war paint tattoos, the shirts and hoodies. He knew the lyrics, the same ones we did, the same ones that some of us had written. Re-located in Pensacola the four hours of I-65 meant nothing to him and his girlfriend Angela when it came time to be a part of things. There was Bear Witness and Caption. Haste and Exhaust. 8th Day.

The word “emo” didn’t take a wrong turn until the end of the 1990s. The four miscreants of Exhaust once stayed up all night on a beach swing set arguing over what was emo and what was not. Cars, haircuts, backpacks. We had a vicious reputation for not taking anything seriously and self-deprecating senses of humor. And that was in ‘95.

Hot Water Music played a pool party and life could not have gotten better.
I remember Angela there.

Angela had crystal-glowing eyes and didn’t talk very much. She was tall and thin-shouldered and constantly self-aware of her posture. Brown hair. Tour shirts. She was one of many I’d see asleep on my living room floor after nights of noise, or upstairs at Sluggos in Pensacola… leaning against a graffiti-wall in the dark bar lights.

Everyone did silly stage dives into the pool when Hot Water Music played the set list they virtually let us write. It was an endless meaningless summer and often, I’d sneak away from Alabama bartending to be a part of it all. Amber and I ate I-65 South alive that day, in pursuit of lyrics with meaning and growling guitars, Pensacola, USA.

More than once I wandered into a hardcore show, barefoot and covered in sand, salt-wet board shorts. And that was alright. I was in Pensacola, USA and no beach is prettier, the horizon disappearing behind waves and seaweed. A nearby beach bar would leave their speakers on all night and I don’t think I ever heard a song that Sammy Hagar wasn’t singing. Again… that was alright.

Two Thousands

The decade rolled over into a new century and nothing got easier. No longer part of Exhaust, no longer doing shows in a downtown store front, and nervous tension over a beautiful daughter on the way. The desire was still there, the voices, the passion, but things had changed. I remember seeing Boogie Nights in the theatre and walking out when William H. Macy’s character, Little Bill, put the gun in his mouth and the film rolled the reels from 70’s free-for-all to 80’s brutality. The relevance being that I don’t handle change very well.

Southeast roadtrips became fewer and further between, the living room floor no longer covered over with sleeping bags, tattooed skin, and black-dyed hair. I’d moved into a crummy Southside apartment across the street from an all night disco, the thump thump of the bass going until sunrise. Amber and I shared the space with no a/c, stolen internet and two attempted break-ins. Our slumlord, to this day, remains one of the most hated men in Birmingham, USA.

The phone lines were down when I got an email from my Mom in Pensacola. It read “Call me ASAP. One of your friends just killed another one of your friends.”

When the law caught up with Joey he was running down train tracks and draining blood from his wrists, both of them slashed to ribbons from the same Spyderco knife he’d use to stab Angela to death. Facing down the guns of Pensacola Blues, and coated in the drying brown-red blood of two (his and hers) he told them that he was the man they were looking for. The paramedics bandaged his wrists, the police put handcuffs on them, I seem to think that he took one last look at daylight…

I’m not sure of the ‘why’, but from bits and pieces of court testimony, and police reports and friends too close to it all, I know a great deal of the ‘when’, the ‘where’ and the ‘how’.

Joey stabbed Angela a total of 17 times. She fled to a neighbor’s apartment and banged on his door, midday, as Joey continued stabbing her while she screamed in a cell phone to 911. Whatever crimson image her neighbor saw kept him in shock, and a shut-in, for months and months. Joey ran for the train tracks when the door opened, the Spyderco knife now turned against his own wrists, Angela’s body collapsed, running streams of blood.

A month later and it was still the endless murder summer... Amber and I went to Panama City Beach, of all terrible places, to see Hot Water Music and whoever else at the Warped Tour. The punch of the lyrics had new meaning. The guitars now felt like they were cutting open my veins. On the way home I stopped at an all-night burger joint to meet Pensacola friends. We talked about Joey. We remembered Angela. We agreed that life was unfair… unfair that there were so many horrors in this world and, sometimes, all you can do is watch. We hugged good byes and, in the parking lot, I told them I was going to open a bar someday and call it the Speakeasy. I drove back to Birmingham, USA.

Another month later and I raced away from closing down a Southside bar to UAB’s hospital to be there when Janey was born, be a part of it all.

Summer was officially over.

(This essay was supposed to be my “Jungleland”. Drifting characters and late late nights, and the interaction of the two. Parking lots, living room shows and beach sand. That idea took a wrong turn along the way. I just finished reading a book where the protagonist had a voice in his head driving him. The voice said “Push… it ... down…” whenever he began to dwell on his actions or behavior. Whether it was regret, or sadness, or anger.

Push it down.

A lot of words written above came from something that I’d pushed down. A lot of words I’ve written over the last few years come from something I’ve pushed down.
Today I met a woman who’s husband was shot to death; left her and their daughter behind to fight this world alone. Her daughter is nine. Janey is nine. Life hurts all over. No one is exempt.
Push it down.)

“Shiver and say the words of every lie you’ve heard. First I’m going to make it, then I’m going to break it while it falls apart.
” - Echo & the Bunnymen


Shallow Discontent.

(This essay is about music. I love music. And I listen to every single band mentioned or quoted below. Who cares…)

Big city. The trains kept waking me up. That, and the cold in between the cracked mortar of the brick walls, and the nightmare that I’d lost five years and Janey was 14 and I was stuck running in circles. I woke up crying. I woke up cold. I was hidden away in a 2nd Avenue North Fire Station, centered between a true speakeasy and the Family Courthouse. There was a book about Satan on my night stand and I tried to go back to sleep.

He turned his wrist in to shoot himself in the heart.

I’ll stop there. Enough.

No, no I won’t stop I won’t ever stop. I’ll walk into every fire you set, I’ll grind glass in my palms and I won’t quit. And I’ll pick up your dead bodies. Forward motion. (Forward motion means I will write about it all)


He turned his wrist in to shoot himself in the heart. His wrists were scarred-slashed from last week’s attempt, and they were done the right way. Semi-sharp razors running from the veins to the forearms. It was cold in the projects, it was loud from the family member’s screaming, and it was blood-pooled from where he’d turned his wrist in to shoot himself in the heart.

Still alive, and screaming to let him die, in a cheap chair, reclined in a corner. Pepsi cans stacked in front of ash full trays, home cooked meal left uneaten on the plate and it was 6:30am. The police went in with us simultaneously. The gun was on a counter top and I was freezing cold, tough guy that doesn’t wear a jacket on 20 degree Tuesdays.

To me this was “Everybody Wants to Rule the World”. English-accent diatribe bounced echoes behind colorblind eyes, in between the snatch-and-grab to get a pulse-barely man to UAB’s trauma hotel. For him it’s “Don’t Fear the Reaper” a 70’s mantra on turntable vinyl turning, crackling, running around over the grooves. There’s no need to play the album backwards since the hidden messages are in the chorus.

Take your own life. Anyone can do it. Or take one, because anyone can do that too. Advice? Stay on the highways.

The highways of the Tragic City keep you out of the neighborhoods… neighborhoods forgotten over with abandoned factory hopes and shop-glass dreams. Soaped-up and dust store front windows. This is Lower Common Denominator economics and short term leases. The streets are not streets, they are alleys and pot holes. The houses are not homes, they are four walls with a roof-leak ceiling. The children are not children, they are the thieves, victims and bystanders of tomorrow. Kingston pushes against Woodlawn and into East Lake, my personal favorite*
*(When New Orleans arrived in town during a recent hurricane scare, the tourist gangsters beelined their violence to an all out war on Oporto and 2nd Avenue North. Across 77th an Asian shop keeper has killed two, attacked multiple and refuses to back off. 44 oz sodas and stolen beer. Once again, and said from long ago... East Lake eats you up.)

Downtown numbered avenues separate the East from Elyton, Ensley, Pratt City, and the other heavy hitters of the West. Stay on 31, believe me don’t get off 59, 20 or 78. Don’t even look off the highway, don’t make eye contact with the shadow-heart of the city.

Stay on I-59 through Kingston and the dead gang boy we pulled off a porch with a bullet piercing underneath his arm and into his lungs bouncing into his trachea. We locked the door, locked in the thick pot smoke that got me, straightedge boy since the eighties, really high really fast while his friends drew guns and wanted to see a magic trick. The magic of resurrection. The one cop in the house called in a 10-33 and an army and a stream line of blood ran over a tattoo of a David star, poorly carved in blue-black ink, with some cliché words of God judging him. Stoned, I went outside and the police calvary roped off the area with machine guns and yellow tape.

Inside I’d leaned my back against the door to keep the neighborhood from coming inside, their screams tearing open a silent night of Kingston, the creaking industry sounds of Stockham long long gone.

Stay on I-59, the safe passage over neighborhoods this big city tries to bury. But just staying on the highway... it’s not always enough.

Big evil city. Winter was just some girl. Cursed with the complex of never saying “no”, the complications of going along to get along. A boyfriend’s bully older brother cornered her once in a downstairs bathroom, there’s no romance in kissing like that. Winter bleached her hair white like snow and had buck front teeth that worked for her and shrugged off the bad shadows of the city. Winter had two kids and there was that time a different boy cornered her, held her arms, and shoved fingers inside her and she told me that it wasn’t rape because she never said “no”.
“You never say no” I said. This is “Sweet Jane” meets “Jane Says”, a mashup of sad, mixed musical notes that play the message: There was something here for me at one time, but even that’s gone too.

Winter smiles way more than I do, a pretty freckled-blonde smile. I thought about her once and I didn’t look at pornography for five years. The heart of the big evil city keeps beating.

So forward motion dictates to go to hell with it… let’s get meaningless. Lets re-write Anarchist manifestos to Rich Boy or Motley Crue. We no longer need Strike Anywhere, Public Enemy or (early) Against Me. Do you think that’s what I listen to when I conspire? I write “romance-dead-tragedy, with some string of hope barely threaded”. I don’t need reminders that this town is hell. I need alcohol-esque escape. I need songs with puddle shallow meaning, lyrics of nothing.

Look at my shoes, my haircut, my watch, they make the man, right? Flat black soles, a cheap Timex, hair not an option. This is N’sync’s “Bye Bye Bye” in the speakers, not Fugazi’s “Song #1” or anything that matters, or anything relevant or anything that will last. That said Big Evil Crumbling City…

I’m not going to work so hard to be your hero anymore. I don’t need jacket patches and silver spikes to prove my discontent and,

and someday,

I will be the one to bash in your beating heart.

“You can't win. You know that, don't you? It doesn't matter if you whip us, you'll still be where you were before, at the bottom. And we'll still be the lucky ones at the top with all the breaks. It doesn't matter. Greasers will still be Greasers and Socs will still be Socs”
– S.E. Hinton


International gathering of Failure Narcissists

(I’ve kept this one stashed back like a pair of brass knuckles. I’m not going to count it as my first for 2010 but damn if it’s not a precursor. This is a multiple-personality year. This is the year of schizophrenia… late nights, ultra-violence and pouring gasoline on wounds. This is my year to let go. One more thing… after today the titles of these essays will not be so damn 90’s indie-rock cryptic. Scout’s honor.)

I knew her from somewhere and she knew me right back, I think that’s why she spoke up. I couldn’t place her, she didn’t place me, the two of us standing in her doorway, three turns deep inside a women’s shelter buried on the forgotten side of downtown. She may have once been a hostess at some restaurant I’d go to every weekday for months, the whole city knows I’m a creature of habit, a disciple of repetition. She may have been a dress maker I would pass by in storefront windows of Homewood, me running away demons, her with a tape measure and a mouthful of pins.

Or she may have been homeless and dirty and asked me for cigarettes in a parking deck at 3:00 am and I told her to fuck off cause I don’t smoke and my back was wrecked from work and I don’t share well with others after midnight.

She just wanted to help now. Her glasses were chipped and taped and her clothes were mismatched and her teeth were crooked and she was younger than me and it was after midnight and I turned around and spoke back because she just wanted to help. There was a row of lockers in the barracks. There was a different bible verse taped to each one.

So you help me, Doctor.
That girl, I can’t get her out of my head.

Seeing her made me want to smash mirrors.
Seeing her made me want to burn American flags and paper money, vomit blood on televisions, throw away family photographs.
Run away to Portland, land of the runaways, strip clubs, and heroin. (in that order)
Sadly though, I don’t think she was ever really there.
So tell me who I was talking to and, more importantly, who was talking back.

My parents told me, and tell me to this day, very matter of fact, that I can do anything in life that I put my heart to, put an effort to, give a fuck about doing. And I’m trying Doctor, I’m trying with fading strength, and bitten lip stress, heavy metal soundtracks at sunrise. The poisoned bastard on the shrink’s couch wants to follow the rabbit, the pen, the paper… the writer.

I could morph Chuck Palahniuk, easy. Watch this:

The piss smell met us at the door. So did the entire family in the living room, handfuls of children pre-school to high school. 8am and the adults are drinking beer. 8am and no one goes to school on a school day. She.
She locked up in the bathroom with the pills that kept her sane, her pills that kept her unlocked. We banged for a few, she opened. Sat down in the living room naked. Her body was beat up by gravity and crazy, she put on a robe full of moth holes, vomit stained. Her hair was picked apart by small rodents, her nails were pieces of melted plastic.

“Ok, I’ll take my pills.”
Her son said “fuck this” out the door, the nakedness that was his mom went to the kitchen and got two beers and poured them in a dirty cup.
The flies buzzing were unaccommodating. The urine smell was a good host, it stayed close by.

Or Henry Rollins? He has tattoos and muscles, I have tattoos and muscles. No problem, he would finish this fun memory strong:

The things I remember most are all insignificant. The hundreds of figurines piling off of an end table, all of them black except for two. Her wild-haired-son stormed in and out of the front door, opening a screen door with no screen. Just a hollow frame on front of a home. There were rows and rows of flowers leading up the walkway, or down to a Crown Victoria on the street with the windshield bashed in.

Robe open, she washed down a handful of sane-pills with the two beers. A black and white copy of a news article was taped to the wall. The headline said “Evans to be put to death.” A quote, highlighted in yellow, read “I don’t wish harm to his family, just him.”
In pen it was written over “He does wish harm to his family too.” Black Jesus paintings surrounded all of us- the family, the firefighters and the flies.

But Doctor, I just don’t feel a thing anymore inside this continuing pursuit of defining identity. The corpses no longer leave me numb, no longer leave the sweet-sad taste of loss and regret. A girl with chipped glasses three hallway turns into the shelter, now that’s another story. But the dead? The dead leave nothing. I’ve crushed ribs in before many many times to bring back life, and I have had some success, but the failures, the dead, I shrug away.

No Doc, I don’t want the pills, twice a day. I don’t want shots every Wednesday in my stomach and I certainly don’t want to sit in on group therapy. Other people’s problems are something I absorb every day, my job choice has me hunting for them. When my lips are bitten in holes of skin, chewed for rat food (Palahniuk would say) and my muscles ache for the last time forever (Rollins coffee table stuff).

When you find me left for dead,
but still breathing in a public park,
stick the IV in my carotid and I’ll turn my head and watch the fluid push under my skin, into my neck, into my blood veins. Any more intravenous medicine please push through my cheek, just under my eye, I can’t stand to see my shoulders bleed.

I don’t want pain killers Doc, I want pain reminders. Mace and a tazer, bullets and batons.

Are you still there? Doctor? Are we still discussing my kingdom of rust and dust, broken glass scattered in the parking lots of my childhood, which is, honestly, not too far of a walk from your office.

Validate me.
Only you can’t.
I'm sitting here shaking, pen in hand, furious hurrying to jot down the details of suffering, of struggle, mine and others, before I forget. I know what this is.

The girl in the shelter, and the happy endings to stories that I am re-writing daily… and YOU.
None of you are really there, are you?

You don’t get to keep the parts of the country you like, ignore the rest, and call what you’ve got America.” - Warren Ellis