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