Friday, August 11, 2006

Kerouac and Ginsberg Grow Up and Get Jobs

Originally posted Friday, August 11, 2006, while thinking about old friends and more adventurous days.

I was absorbed in cyberspace when I thought I heard a suspicious sound in the real world.

I turned around and glanced around the cluttered office, but nothing was moving. My ears listened for the telltale sounds of the kids playing in the far reaches of the house. The last thing I wanted right now was for someone to come asking to play Nintendo or watch one of the "America's Funniest" animal clips on All seemed to be quiet enough, so I turned back to the screen.

What had my attention so fixed was a message from someone I hadn't expected to ever find on MySpace.

A fellow trumpet player (for 11 years!), and a fellow traveler through the late 80s/early 90s ordeal of growing up in White Middle Class America. He was the unintentional center. He was the guy who discovered things and shared them with the rest of us.

Wanderer, explorer, welcome bum. He had roamed the suburbs of Northwest Phoenix from age 12, getting into and out of the kinds of trouble only an over-tall kid armed only with a thick Stephen King novel or true-crime/serial killer book can get into.

He was the conduit through which I discovered a love of Tom Waits, the Pogues, Wilco, Nana Vasconcelos and the Bush Dancers, the Police, Elvis Costello, Ofra Haza, Les Negresses Vertes, Chris Isaak, and Buckwheat Zydeco.

He's the guy that edged me out of childhood reading material such as the Hardy Boys and into Salinger, King, Gaiman, and even a little divertissement called "Les Miserables."

He is the guy who was there for 1993 - about which, the less said the better - and yet still considered me a worthwhile person.

And I found him again on MySpace.

All of the sense memories, and not a few images from the past, were on my mind as I read his note. A catching-up kind of missive; just enough to say, "Howdy" and yet imply that there was a lot more to say. If you can't already tell, thinking about the old days takes me back to a place that most would think of as "the bottom of the barrel." And frankly, it is.

It is the Waffle House of memories, where the coffee is bitter, the spoons are never clean, and the air is full of grease, smoke, and Hank Williams songs coming from a fascist jukebox that won't play what you paid to pick.

It is all of the porn shops, bars, and flea markets we used to visit; not so much for the shopping, but for the sake of watching the people we found in such places.

We already know our safe, suburban world, and we had always been told which way was "up"... but these places and these people were the Other Option. This was the threat our parents and teachers had always held over us. More frightening was the fact that this WAS us. If we failed, or gave up, we had every reason to expect to end up there.

And now I was chatting with this old companion of the Waste Lands from my safe, warm house full of children via a slick, silly online forum.

It felt good.

Just knowing that for all of the close calls and odd adventures, we had made it to places that make us happy, or at least to some compromise between the forced potential and the rocky alternatives.

But there it was... the old rebellious urge to show him that I was still somewhat "hip"... that I still maintained my edginess. To downplay my "Mr. Mom" role, and revel in the dark side. Like the old days...

Of course, that was the moment that I felt a breath on my neck, and realized that there was someone behind me. Not just behind me, but literally climbing over the back of the chair!

With memories of horror movies and crazed homeless people -- or even some supernatural beastie from another dimension -- fresh on my mind, I was seized by cold, wet, unreasoning fear. Lacking breath to scream, I emitted a small "urk."

Then the little girl toppled over the top of my head and into my lap, giggling like a mad little imp (see, supernatural beastie from beyond!).

"I love you, Daddy!" she said, batting her eyes, which she knew would save her from any unpleasant reaction. As my heart rate returned to normal, I pieced together the "surprise" she had perpetrated; putting the kitchen stool in my blind spot, creeping up on me. Come to think of it, all of the good things in my life have been surprises.

So, sitting with her in chair, I dash off a maily to my old friend from my old life, and tuck away the hobo memories for another day.

"Daddy," she said, "Can we watch the 'Funny Dogs' video?"

Sure, honey. Why not?