Sunday, September 27, 2009

Domestic Bliss

My friends with the wildest lifestyles seem to have the most conservative dreams.

Just before my friend and ex roommate Nancy died she came to visit my new family. I had a wife, a son, a daughter and a dog. Nancy was beside herself with happiness for me. I was struggling and the loss of my personal freedoms was just beginning to sink in.

Nancy was into leather-clad dominatrix S&M and wasn’t above spontaneous sex in an elevator. Still it seemed a happy little family was what she really wanted.

Several times in my life I’ve settled into a nice, warm little nest. That’s why I know it’s all an illusion. It won’t last. Honestly it gets boring.

The last Christmas I spent with my dad was at an apartment I shared with my girlfriend Jill. Jill and I were learning wines together. She experimented with her first soufflé on me. A few months ago she confessed it was the only soufflé she ever made. It tasted like puffy scrambled eggs to me. The whole scene was like Barefoot in the Park. My friend Annie came to visit and made some kind of remark about how domestic we seemed. It killed the whole thing for me. After a couple of happy years Jill and I split up.

My dad’s last impression of my life was my home with Jill. He loved it. He was happy for me.

This was when I learned how desperately he tried to keep our family together when my folks split. My parents always seemed close and I couldn’t figure out why we couldn’t all be together. Eventually I learned how mentally abusive he could be when he was drunk.

When my ex and I split I also tried desperately to keep our family together.

A lot of people around us assumed I couldn’t bear life without her. Actually I had been unhappy for years but I knew how it would affect the kids. She insisted things were different for them. She was wrong.

We all have scars.

When Jill came to visit a few months ago she brought her two girls. She said she was really happy. She told me I was responsible for her husband falling in love with her. He noticed a copy of Captain Beefheart’s Troutmask Replica in her record collection. I turned her onto the Captain.

A few years ago when I spoke with her on the phone she said she had no urge to procreate.

Pics are all from my Dad’s last Christmas with us in 1978. It’s my entire immediate family- Jill, my brother Patrick, my mom, dad and me. The cat to right of my dad in the pic where were playing together tried to murder me in my sleep. I’ll get to that story, if I haven’t already, soon.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Time Honored Tradition

There’s a tradition that strikes terror in the hearts of all skydivers. It’s a ritual that happens after your 500th jump. When you least expect it you’re pinned to the ground, your pants are pulled down and the number 50 is painted on the ass cheeks. The idea is your butt hole is the other zero. Believe me; everyone tries to sneak past this jump without advertising it.

A friend of mine named John surprised everyone with a sign painted on his ass that read “Exit Only, Do Not Enter”.

I figured it was inevitable so I embraced it. The morning before I would make the jump, my girlfriend Lora painted and elaborate Yin and Yang symbol across my butt cheeks. There were sparks around it and a lightning bolt going through it. I wish I had a photo.

I jumped all day with my team Muffy and the Divers.

After my 500th jump I braced myself for the attack but nothing happened. After a while I thought I was lucky and skated past it.

That night we sat around the bonfire getting drunk. We were doing our best to one-up each other’s skydiving war stories. I had totally forgotten about my butt.

Around midnight I looked up from the fire to see a group coming at me. I tried my best to get away but they tackled me. As they held me down someone pulled my pants down.

They all recoiled in horror when they saw my ass. The sweat of the day melted the painting into a swirling black, blue and green blur. It looked like someone had whacked my ass with a 2x4.

Plenty of photos were taken and a few of them were stapled to the wall of the Venice Cafe. I was tending bar there at the time. After a few weeks they were taken down. I like to think someone found them erotic but I’m afraid the truth is they were just too damn disgusting.

I wasn’t able to find any of the photos. The five way pic is my 300th. I’m lower left and coming into the back of a formation to close what’s called a Zipper.One of these hung above the cash register for years at the Broadway Oyster Bar. There’s a pic of me landing somewhere in Tennessee and Lora and me at a rest stop on our way to some drop zone somewhere in another state. This was in the early 90s. I apologize for stacking the photos like this but it’s the only they work in all browsers.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

A Tribute to Melvin Bozen

As a child I was able to drift in and out of disparate social circles. I was as comfortable with the popular kids as the outcasts. Parents of kids in this latter group seemed grateful for my presence and lavished every kindness on me.

Some of these kids were such loners that I really think without my sole friendship they may have grown into Jeffery Dahmers.

I had a friend named Joel who sat next to me in Band at Nipher Jr. High school in Kirkwood. He played baritone and I played trumpet. I was always class clown and Joel was always getting in trouble when he couldn’t control his reaction to my silly behavior. I called him Baritone and he called me Trumpet. I think he got in trouble because our teacher hated him as much as the kids did.

He was just too strange to the other kids. Poor Joel was always getting beat up because he was a little too effeminate and nerdy. Years later I learned Joel was gay. I couldn’t decide if he already had been or if he had been driven into an alternative social dynamic by the cruelty of the kids.

One person that had a big effect on me was a 4th grade buddy of mine named Melvin Bozen. You know with a name like that he was in for a lot of trouble. Melvin was an only child and his mother spoiled him rotten.

He had a movie projector, an endless collection of 8mm Universal horror movies, and a tall stack of Famous Monsters of Filmland magazines. Here was a counter culture I could really believe in.

I fell in love with the Bavarian gothic villages in Frankenstein, the foggy woods of the Gypsy wagon camps in The Wolfman, King Kong’s Skull Island, and the artifact filled tomb of The Mummy. King Tut’s tomb had just been discovered 10 years before and its curse was part of the popular imagination.

Ray Harryhausen, who did all the great skeleton battles in the Jason/Hercules/Sinbad movies, did the animation grunt work for Willis O’brien on King Kong. O’brien had already done the great dinosaur clay animation in the silent movie The Lost World.

It was all about atmosphere. Boris Karloff was my first favorite actor and his second film, The Old Dark House, was so dimly lit it makes the Film Noir movies of the 40s and 50s look like they were lit with stadium lights. It’s still one of my all time favorites and it must be pre-code because of all the innuendo.

I wish the old movie houses hadn’t turned into art film houses. The most intense visual experience I ever had was watching The Creature from the Black Lagoon on a large screen in 3D. Or, as Whoopi Goldberg put it, “The Creature from the African American Lagoon.”

Needless to say, I was totally absorbed with this stuff. I had a huge stack of Castle 8mm films and an editor viewer. I never could afford a real projector. I subscribed to Famous Monsters and Eerie.

I was disappointed when my first copy of Eerie arrived. I was hoping it would be like Famous Monsters with photos from old movies and interviews. It ended up being a mag sized black and white comic book. It grew on me though. The stories were written by the likes of Harlan Ellison and H.P. Lovecraft. The cover was always some gorgeous painting by Frank Frazetta.

I began to appreciate the sets of TV shows like The Munsters. Fred Gwynne is still one of my favorite actors. I modeled my bartending style on his performance in Iron Weed.

Whatever happened to sets on television? Think about F-Troop, The Munsters, Gilligan’s Island, Bonanza, Daniel Boone, and Lost in Space. There’s just no heart anymore.

Atmosphere is as important as substance to me.

Thanks Melvin!

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Comic Books

Last week Disney bought Marvel Comics for 4 billion dollars. I haven’t been able to relate to comic book fans for years but comic books were a big part of my childhood.

I still have a hard time with the new X-Men and that happened in the 70s. And what’s up with all these graphic novels they’re turning into movies?

I think the comic book reading demographic must be getting older.

I had a large comic collection before I could read. I remember my friend Joe’s mom begging me to let her son borrow some because he didn’t have any. She made it sound like he was deprived.

I started reading them right when they went up from a dime to twelve cents. My local drug store had a machine you put a dime in one side of its slot and 2 pennies in the other side.

I remember being bribed by my mom’s friend and our roommate “Sandy from Maplewood,” to run to the drug store. She would buy a comic book for me. She gave me a dime and I had to explain that it wasn’t enough.

We moved in with Sandy right at the city limits in Richmond heights. It was the first place we lived after Laclede Town. I had to take the Bi-State bus to continue going to Waring school.

I broke my wrist falling from a town house in Laclede Town. The concrete hadn’t completely dried between cinder blocks and I was climbing up it from the outside. I was in second grade.

We had moved by the time the cast was to come off. My mother was broke and she couldn’t afford to take me back to the hospital to get it removed. Two weeks past time the unbearable itch and my desire for freedom of movement convinced her it was time for it to go. She cut it off with a hack saw in the bath tub.

My son is an avid comic collector. I used to worry a little because he only likes lighter stuff like The Simpsons, etc. He never got into super heroes. I have to admit I grew up liking things like Sad Sack and the DC super heroes. Sheesh, I even collected Archie comics. I never got into the Marvel characters with their personal problems. Why would I want to be reminded of things I was already going through when there was Bizarro World?

It seemed like every Superman had a panel with Lois saying, “How ironic!” That’s how I learned the word. That’s why it drives me crazy when Alanis gives examples of bad luck as incidents of irony. I love her more recent albums though!

When we moved to the county my mother and I met with my new 6th grade school principal.

“Does he read?” he asked. “His nose is always buried in his comic books, does that count?” she asked. Damn straight it counts!” I thought to myself.

This was the house where the tragedy occurred. Our basement flooded. My comics were stored in beer cases down there. When the flood receded there was a beautiful mound of multi-colored psychedelic pulp.

I think I had pretty much the same reaction my friend Mark Holland had when his huge Frank Zappa collection was stolen. He turned away from Frank and toward Jesus. I turned to Mad Magazine and wouldn’t read comics for years.

When Wuxtry, a used record store, opened up in the West End it wasn’t the music that attracted me. It was the fact that they carried comic books. I got a job there immediately and started building my collection again.

I started with Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen, trying to recapture my childhood. I began to appreciate newer artists and writers. This was when I decided Jazz and comic books were the great American art forms.

I would get angry when customers came in and called them “funny books.” “You never read a real comic in your life,” I fumed to myself.

Artists like Neal Adams, Will Eisner, Wally Wood, Carl Barks, Steve Ditko, and Barry Smith still haunt my dreams. There were great writer too. Steve Gerber, Eisner, Denny O’neil, Frank Miller, and Roy Thomas come to mind.

Recently I needed money and sold the first 6 issues of Silver Surfer. (I do have back-ups). There’s a new scam out there. I had to send them off to a rating agency. They gave them numeric grades and sealed them in air tight plastic cases. This is the only way you can sell them sight unseen over the internet. This cost thirty bucks apiece. It almost wasn’t worth it.

I probably won’t be selling any more. I had always intended my comics and my audio equipment to be my legacy to my kids. Unfortunately this kind of thinking has led to my son saying things like, “Dad, when you’re dead can I have ...?”

In 1954 a psychiatrist named Frederic Wertham wrote a book call Seduction of the Innocent. It preached the evils of this morally depraved art form. It scared the hell out of parents. The comic industry started policing itself. They came up with the Comics Authority Code. I am the proud owner of Spiderman and Green Arrow books published in the 70s that didn’t get that stamp. Both were drug issues.

The best comic company in the 50s when all this happened was EC. They were responsible for Tales from the Crypt, Creepy, Weird Science, Mad, and the true crime comics that were so graphic it was only a matter of time before they were shut down. They got rid of all their titles except Mad. They changed that to a full sized magazine. That made it legal for some reason.

Mickey Spillane had a story he had to convert to a novel. It became his first, “I the Jury”.

Mad Magazine had a profound effect on me too. I’ll get to that soon.