Wowee, I’d forgotten how much I love dogs. First, Lulu (I think that’s the spelling; please don’t chew my shoes if it isn’t) developed a nice little friendly thing with me whenever I’d drop by Body Tribe, where her dogmom Allyson works as a trainer. I figured Lu, pretty much a black Labrador with a bit of Border Collie in her, was just kinda atypical of most pooches, and she just really liked me for some oddball reason, even though she kinda went all barky bark on me the first time we met a couple years back. Lu’s great, and whenever I need a shot of doggie love, I head over to Body Tribe and hang out with her.
Then I got a call the other day from a friend, Diane, who needed someone to spend time with Denver, her Australian Shepherd, and Annie, her Border Collie, for part of the weekend. I got lots of caveats: Don’t get upset if the dogs don’t like you much; they’re rescue pups; they have issues; Annie doesn’t even like it if you look at her, kinda like Barbara Streisand in the green room or something. But about an hour into our time together, they were nuzzling me and bugging me to pet them, and we spent lots of quality time just hanging out. I played guitar and sang, and they curled up at my feet and listened, or Annie would jump onto the couch and try to rest her head on my lap as I played and sang. Denver was supposed to be a fine vocalist in his own right, but I couldn’t get him to overcome his shyness and work out some harmonies with me. And then we got on the stairs, and I repeatedly would kick a tennis ball down, which Annie would retrieve with her lightning-speed reflexes.
I’ve been warming to dogs again lately, after the heartbreak of losing my dog Sammy Hagar Jr., or Sam, a pound pup who most likely was some kind of Newfoundland-Chow mix that my ex-wife rescued from the shelter, who also had issues, especially with SMUD and PG&E and AT&T workers, but especially with US Postal Service, UPS and FedEx delivery people. After the sudden demise of my marriage, I rented a room from this guy Phil where there was a house Alaskan Husky named Matilda who, sadly, is no longer with us, so I couldn’t bring Sam with me. And I was too shattered from the insane David Lynch-style end of my marriage to cope with taking care of a pooch, so I let Sam down, and me, too, much to my eternal regret.
Lately, I’ve been running into dogs, and even the putatively unfriendly breeds seem to like me and warm up to me, and I just have this special bond with them. I really can’t explain it, except it seems to have come alive in me as I’ve calmed down through the daily practice of Buddhist meditation. Or maybe this is what happens to guys like me who grow older and kinda mellow out — dogs take a shine to us for some weird, inexplicable reason.
Anyway, I’d kinda forgotten my connection with our four-legged friends. Until now. —Jackson Griffith
The good news is that old dad’s found a way to deal with the horrible snoring caused by his sleep apnea, where he no longer sounds like a lumber mill every time he catches a few Zs, thus waking half the neighborhood. Now, an exercise regimen of swallowing and chewing motions, plus random vowels along with a moratorium on Ben & Jerry’s, to reduce neck circumference (read: fat), and everyone is sleeping a lot easier. No more CPAP-related flatulence, either.
The bad news is that old dad’s taken up playing the goddamn didgeridoo, the blowing through of which is helping him strengthen and tighten those flaccid throat muscles, thus reducing and even eliminating snoring. Unfortunately, the aforementioned didgeridoo, known to law-enforcement officials as a patchouli-scented hippie magnet, has manifested as a massive neighborhood influx of bongo-playing dreadlocked burnouts and other bong-impaired vermin around the clock, not to mention the low-level aural pollution of didgeridoo and drum circle noises.
But the old bastard’s quit snoring, which is all that matters. —Jackson Griffith
I have no idea who god is, or if he or she or it even exists. All I do know is that if there’s any kind of divinity that trifles with us mere mortals, then he, she or it has a pretty weird sense of humor regarding yours truly. I mean, I know I’m lucky in certain areas, and I have some friends who I’ve watched go through some incredible travails. Just last month I was visiting a friend at Mercy Hospital who suddenly had things go sideways on him, and when he got checked out he found out he had this brain tumor the doctors removed that turned out to be gliosarcoma, which all you can do is treat with chemotherapy and radiation and hope for the best. And I know someone else who I’ve watched walk through a very painful bout with cancer. So I’ve been lucky there. And those guys are my heroes, really.
Stlll, in other areas, damn. Look, I never signed on for sainthood, but some of the wilderness I’ve wandered through in the past few years has been incredibly trying, and getting things and people stripped away from me on a regular basis until I’m left with nothing but my wits and marginal charm — and, if you’re the believing sort, some kind of higher power that will sustain the day and watch over us — to get by on is tougher than you’ll ever know. Builds character, some people say. What does not kill you will make you stronger.
Um, yeah. Whatever you say, podna.
All I do have is a raging sense of impermanence. Think I’ve found the love of my life? Hey, don’t worry — within the week, she’ll be blissfully banging somebody else and coolly distancing herself from me with lines about needing more space. Finally landed that cool job? Well, we’re sorry to tell you this, son, but it just isn’t working out. Got some great new outlet for art or music or whatever? Ah, we really like your stuff, but there’s this other person whose stuff we like just a teensy bit better, so sorry. Best of luck, man.
And all I know is that what I really have is the perception I’m getting between my ears and behind by eyeballs, right now, in this current moment. The past? Memories, stuff that may or may not matter, people and places and things I need to let go of and move on, because to stay focused on that past is to remain enmeshed. The future? An infinite stream of dreams and nightmares, but nothing there to grasp onto or count on. And, anyway, the only real way I know to build any kind of future is by putting together a string of successful present moments, step by step.
I have no idea where to go from here. I don’t even know how much longer I want to stay in this town. Given my druthers I’d be working enough to pay bills, make amends, live simply and frugally and create some music that no one else may ever give a whit about, but music is the one thing that’s never let me down and continues to give me satisfaction and a reason to keep going. Well, that and my daughter. But everything else? A mirage.
Well, that’s my sermon today. I don’t know a damned thing, really. Shalom, namaste, whatever. —Jackson Griffith
Jeez. And I swear from the outset that I’m not going to waddle around in lachrymose ramblings, but fuck it: What is it that I’m not getting here? Some background: I think I’ve landed this fairly cool warehouse job, although there’s a bit of a learning curve, but I figure they’ll glean I’m no dummy and keep me on for a while. Yeah, I estimate I had a couple of tough days, but today seemed to go much smoother. So I clock out of work, no one says anything, I ride over to this temp agency that did the hiring, turn in some paperwork they’d asked me for, and no one says anything, begin riding back to the train station, get a flat tire on the way, get on the train, walk home, and the phone rings. It’s the woman from the temp agency, who says that the place I’d been working for the past seven days will not be needing my services tomorrow, or any day going forward. I mean, what the fuck?
Look, I’ve been through a lot. A fucking lot. I lost a bunch of things in a fire when part of my house burned down, and then my mother died from Alzheimer’s after we took care of her for a few years, and then my wife, well, let’s just say she was Tiger Woods and I was that blonde Swede except there was some even gnarlier details involving a National Book Award winner from Sacramento not named Joan Didion and his enthusiasm for certain ancient professions and leave it at that. So I got run out of my own house by Sheriff’s deputies one cold January night and kicked to the curb by my now ex-wife and her wonderful family of origin and some dick she met through her ancient professional work, after she got done being the understudy of the National Book Award winner from Sacramento not named Joan Didion, and I got so fucking depressed that I let my house go. A year before, I’d left the weekly newspaper where I’d been working because I no longer could put up with the dour whims of an abusive editor, and I stupidly went to work for a startup digital music company, a horribly defective mechanical carnival bronco I rode all the way to the bottom.
It was precisely the wrong time to be losing a job, so I collected unemployment. I thought I was in love with someone very sweet after my nasty comedy of a marriage, but apparently she felt otherwise, so that ended one night in her carport when she coolly informed me that she needed to be with someone who “had his shit together,” and that person wasn’t me. Yeah, okay, I mumble, my heart bouncing into the gutter. And then came my year and a half of stumbling around like some goddamn aging hipster bindlestiff, trying to make it on the nickels and dimes I could pull in from my brilliant writing career, starving for the first time since a childhood bout with poverty, dropping from 260 pounds to a lean 190. I became a very fashionable bicycle commuter, except it wasn’t by choice; I’d stopped driving because I couldn’t afford the car insurance, and then the small SUV I’d bought four years before got repossessed, because I couldn’t keep paying on it.
I was in dire straits, sleeping on a massage table in the spare room of a friend, two floors above a nightclub with a loud, throbbing and often annoying sound system that somehow I learned to sleep through. Guess growing up next to a Western Pacific track had a few unexpected benefits. My clothes were all worn out. I was down to my last pair of shoes, my last pair of pants, my last two pair of socks. My trusty steed of a bicycle had two bald tires and frayed brake cables and a shredded seat. And then I got this job.
I thought it was going to be perfect. I got my confidence back. I can do this, I thought. Yeah, the learning curve is tough, but they’ll give me a little bit of grace to figure this out and make it work, because it’s meant to be. I’ve paid my fuckin’ dues, and it’s time for me to rebuild my life. No, I wasn’t dreaming of any castle or monster daily driver, really; I figured I’d get me a small pad with a warm bed and a place to prepare food and a hook to hang my bicycle, along with a quiet spot to practice meditation and get back into a daily yoga regimen, somewhere in Midtown close to the light rail line so I could use public transportation to get to and from work. I was just starting to plan for a nice, reasonably austere life, probably by myself because I just don’t seem to be relationship material anymore, considering everything I’ve been through with marriage and heartbreak and stuff.
I kinda had some medium-sized plans. That is, until the rug got pulled from under me today.
Okay, so I don’t want to wallow in bathos here. Pretty much every challenge I face has its roots in something I did or didn’t do, like finish college. I’m not blaming anyone else for my predicament. But what I want to do here is talk about some of those medium-sized plans I had, plans that an aggregate of daily work plus the occasional writing assignment might help me make tangible.
I was looking forward to getting a few paychecks down the line, so I could go shopping for some clothes. You have no idea what it’s like to be down to your last pair of pants, because the rest of your trousers have fallen apart. And it isn’t like I can just go down to Thrift Town and get some el cheapo dungarees, because I heard “Hey, where’s the flood?” enough as a kid, and I never want to hear it again. (For those of you who don’t know me, I’m six foot seven, which makes pants shopping difficult; I usually have to buy new.) Having a little extra cash, with knowledge that more would be rolling in as long as I suited up and showed up, can provide a wonderful psychological boost, and I’d be able to buy soap and shampoo and get my bicycle fixed and who knows what else?
Once I’d done that, and then once I’d found a place of my own, with a warm bed and a kitchen and shower and other amenities, where I could hole up by my hermit self and write my little pop music masterpieces no one will ever hear and sing them to the walls, and then once I’d made some headway with some old bills and obligations, I was planning on beginning a quiet course of financial amends to those who generously came to my assistance in my time of need. A lot of people have helped me out since my life took a downward swoop, and although maybe they’ve written off their contributions as money pissed away on some loser, I haven’t forgotten them, and I really was looking forward to giving back, little by little. And once I’d made some headway on my financial amends, I was looking to start paying my good fortune forward, too.
One such recipient would have been my daughter Ellie, who just graduated from Chico State. I called her yesterday morning while I was on break at work and asked her how big her college loan debt was, and told her that I wanted to help her retire that sum, because that’s what a dad who loves his daughter will do when he has the wherewithal to make that happen. Shit. Now I have to put that off for, well, when?
Anyway, I’m tired. I got up at five this morning, was on the train at six, was at work before seven. I put in a good day’s work, and I walked out of there feeling good, feeling like I was just starting to get the hang of things. I laughed off a flat tire and thought, well, if I can just borrow a few bucks till payday, and then make it through until the end of the following week, I might be able to put a nice positive run together.
I know that a lot of people have written me off as some kind of loser. Fuck it. I don’t care what you think. I know in my heart that I’m not a loser in any way, shape or form. In my Walter Mitty world, as delusional as it might seem, I know I’m a smart, talented, capable, resourceful, highly creative, loving, compassionate and occasionally funny human being. I’ve been through enough trials and challenges over the course of the past decade to kill Job and half the other characters in the Old Testament, and I’ll put my hard times and bittersweet life experiences up against anyone’s. I’ve been there, I’ve paid my goddamn dues, and I’ve got the character and inner toughness to prove it. And frankly, any company that boots me out the door, especially without having the cojones to tell me to my face that I’m not cutting it, is fucking stupid, not to mention pussyass. Because I’m good, and if someone will put a little goddamn faith in me and what I can do, they’ll be rewarded a hundredfold.
So, well, you know that bit about me staying in Sacramento? Maybe now that just isn’t in the cards. Hell, I can barely get a music gig in this town anymore, while I see the same people getting bookings over and over (although I will be playing at Dad’s Sandwiches in Freeport on Tuesday, June 1 from 6 to 8 p.m., if you feel like coming by and throwing your spare pennies at me). I got nothing going here, really, and maybe it’s time for me to try my songs out on people elsewhere, because people in this town just don’t seem to “get” me. Their loss, really.
Hell, I’m tired. I’d go for a drink, but that stopped working for me a while back. Maybe I’ll just go walking around, looking at the night sky, wondering. I’d consider praying, but that doesn’t seem to be working out all that great, and to be honest, if any of my recovery pals were to offer bromides about my higher power or God or whatever, I’m not sure if I’d sock them in the kisser or tell them to fuck off. Most likely, I’d wheel around and walk away, laughing the bitter chuckle of a man who’s tired of getting dealt hands so difficult to play for a win. —Jackson Griffith
Now this is a novel experience. Try going back to steady work after enduring over 28 months of consecutive unemployment. While it’s doable, and there’s a lot of energy there behind me, definitely helping me segue into this next episode, it’s kind of a weird feeling experiencing, for the first time in a long time, the days in the work week as they pass by. After getting up every day for weeks, months and years — well, like two of them, plus change — and trying to figure out how to put one foot in front of the other, and wondering if I ever was going to work again, locking into the daily grind is kinda, ahem trippy.
I wish my iPod could hold a charge so that I could dial into some Brian Eno or Cluster or Tangerine Dream for the train ride into the office. On the train before 6 a.m., meeting the same people every day, like this cool black cat who works for CalTrans. But on the train, it’s zone time, and the Folsom Boulevard route gets pretty boring — although I did see a new botanica, or santeria store — in the world’s ugliest shopping center at Folsom and Bradshaw. The neighborhood’s looking up.
The warehouse where I work is, well, it’s just business. Everyone seems pretty cool, and it has that kind of even-toned atmosphere where I thrive well. Even when the pressure is on, people are cruising through, one foot in front of the other. I work next to this Hawaiian ukulele-playing cat who blasts Gabby Pahinui and Keola Beamer records on his iPod, which is kind of lighting up a bomber of Humboldt County’s finest, meaning it sometimes isn’t so conducive to getting lots of work done quickly. Shit like that turns the office into instant New Orleans: “Where’s that hot line-stopper order I just gave you five minutes ago? That shoulda got done!” “Yah, whatever, mon. Like, just chill.”
After work, it’s back on the 3:45 Downtown train, which can be where the fun starts. Like today, with a buncha kids with dreadlocks and and a good old-school gumby fade. Then there was this black woman with a Mickey Mouse hat who was totally crashed out in a Light Rail seat, her head on a nylon lunchbox. She started snoring loudly, and then she woke up, still snoring while sitting upright. Then she kinda came to consciousness, and noticed the dreadlocked guys, and began screaming for them to shut up. “Now!” she hollered. “Shut up! Please! Be quiet!” They, of course, figured her out on the spot, and began telling her to shut the fuck up and go smoke some more crack. “Fuckin’ crackhead bitch, fuck that shit!” one guy opined loudly. She got up and stumbled to the other end of the car, with a dreadlocked Greek chorus hectoring her.
I got off while that shit was still going down. And noticed I was close to broke. I was doing fine existing on very light meals and little activity when I wasn’t working, but this job thing is kicking my keister for right now. I feel like eating everything in sight, but I don’t get paid until Friday. Anyone care to loan a brotha a couple of twenties until then?
And, hey, tomorrow is “hump day.” But I won’t be humpin’, because there’s stuff to do. –Jackson Griffith
So now I ride the train. I guess I feel pretty good about my morning workaday shlep: At the light rail station before six a.m., on the eastbound with my bicycle (yawn!), get off at its terminus at Sunrise, then hop on the bike and pedal through an industrial park for a mile or so to the plant. After work, I reverse the process: Ride to the station, board the westbound train, back in Midtown by late afternoon. Which makes me a good little urban citizen or enviromuffin, using — or utilizing, if you work for some government agency — a near-perfectly angelic mix of bicycle and public transportation to get to and from my place of employment. All hail me!
Now, I could bite down and crunch my granola and smile with a flourish and tell you that why, yes, I am such an admirable environmentally conscious citizen, aren’t I? But the reality is that, given my druthers, I’d hop in the Dodge Challenger SRT-8 with the hemi that I don’t have, fire up a Marlboro Red, stomp the gas pedal and get a sweet little burnout, then hit “play” on my deck and crank the first Montrose album with Sammy Hagar on vocals, with Ronnie’s power-chord lead-in to “Rock the Nation” giving me enough of a good solid and stiff car boner to get me to work. Maybe roll through a drive-thru on the way for some vile fat-laden fart fuel if I have time.
But really, I’m not that guy. What I am is Mister Innocuous, sitting there with a bicycle and a backpack. I chill, but I’m hyper-aware of my surroundings. Which is nothing on the way in; just working people getting to jobs. Haven’t run into anyone tweaking or flaking apart after an all-night Vitamin L jaunt, just people like me reading the paper or staring out the window.
After work, the train is another story. Ever seen Mike Judge’s film, Idiocracy? I think the light rail took a detour to 2505 and picked up some of the people hanging around the Carl’s Jr. there and brought them back to Rancho Cordova, because I’m seeing a few extras from that film every day. Like last Friday, when some mutant offspring of hobbit-dwarf sex got on with sideways baseball caps and trou hanging down to their knees and proceeded to inflict Insane Clown Posse on those of us working stiffs who were too brain-dead to tell them to STFU.
Actually, I was pretty amused, because their antics provided welcome comic relief at the end of a long day. Two sawed-off guys with very large girls, the lads acting out in spasms of explosive illiteracy and Mountain Dew-fueled bumbling, which may or may not have impressed the young lasses, but it sure impressed me. They got off somewhere around Power Inn, and I continued to 16th Street to change trains so that I could hit the Sacramento News & Review for their “V.I.P. Reception” and, more accurately, a paycheck. That’s where the trouble started.
Around downtown, K Street to be specific, I was seated with my bike in a crowd of young black guys with dreads who seemed to be enjoying a blissful 420 Friday reverie. One kid with a red ball cap hovered near the door, and a Filipino guy with black street style and a CVS nametag got on. He must have invaded the space of the hovering black kid — in that mystifying way that two cats cross each other’s paths in an alley, then it’s a hissfest with a few low wails, and suddenly there’s yowling and fur flying and blood — because the Filipino kid wheeled around, stopped, and suddenly there was a confrontation.
Punctuated by “nigga” this and “nigga” that, the two apparently had some sort of disagreement that was threatening to spill out and mess with the rest of us and our perfectly satisfactory-to-that-moment train ride. I could glean that the Filipino’s hands were “registered lethal weapons,” or so he claimed, but the hovering black kid was threatening to up the ante by calling in reinforcements by playing the “you don’t know who you fuckin’ with because I am affiliated” card, whistling for posse members at the other end of the car, a couple of which rushed to his aid.
Suddenly there was a dreadlocked guy, several sizes larger than the two chums who had initiated the scrape, and it was inferred that he was carrying, or “packing,” the type of hand-held metal device that could suddenly change a self-professed martial-arts expert from animated and bellicose to supine and ready for the wizards of mortuary science to work their wonders of arterial embalming, cosmetology and, quite possibly, facial and cranial reconstruction. The problem was that some of us were in close-enough proximity to become candidates for the embalmer’s trocar, too.
The vibes thickened. “I’m from the muthafuckin’ ghetto, from the Philippines, and I don’t give a fuck!” Mr. Lethal Hands of Doom spat. His adversary mumbled something, more words were uttered, the guy allegedly packing heat tilted his head and jutted his jaw with a Kobe Bryant grimace, and finally a few of us — one gently stoned individual in particular — started advising them to take it off the train at the next stop, because they were seriously harshing the mellow we’d been enjoying until testosterone went awry.
I got off at Globe, and went and hung out with Rik Maverik, who was DJ-ing the party. The oddest thing was that there wasn’t a moment I got the fear; it was just like watching some weird little movie in very real time. And I’m guessing I’ll see a few more weird little movies the longer I ride that train. —Jackson Griffith
No apologies for not posting anything for like a week. I got a job, my first full-time work in over 28 months, and merely adjusting to that first week was enough to knock me off my usual pace of posting. And then yesterday, my lovely, centered and very smart 22-year-old daughter Ellie graduated from college, two hours north of here. So now it’s Sunday evening, just after five, and I just got my load of laundry going in a washer at the neighborhood laundromat and figured I’d check in.
The job showed up in the nick of time, lemme tell you. I’m pretty much down to bupkes, which translates to my last two pairs of socks, my last pair of pants and my only pair of shoes. I have a few shirts left, and I’m all right in the boxers-briefs department for now, but don’t call me to look strikingly handsome in that photo shoot unless you’ve got clothes for me to wear. I still have two suits, but I figure I’ve lost around 70 pounds in the past year, so they’ll need some alterations, not to mention a good dry cleaning.
I guess that means I’m gonna have to go shopping for clothes sometime. I hate shopping for clothes, although a lot less than I used to. I’m still kinda pissed that the city forced Joe Sun — this really great work-clothes emporium on K Street in downtown Sacramento — out of business a few years ago, because that place made it easy, and I never had any problem finding pants long enough for my six-foot-seven frame. Now, who knows? I guess when I get a few spare dollars in my pocket, I’ll pedal my bicycle out to the mall or something. I ain’t driving there, that’s for sure.
Y’see, the repo man got my car, about a year short of me paying it off, and I’m still getting calls from the bank — which got a pretty sweet bailout from taxpayers so its executives won’t go hungry or miss any crucial golf games — or its agents, wanting me to come up with the remainder of the loan. Sorry, lads, but I’m kinda tapped at the moment.
This, of course, means that I’m consigned in the foreseeable future to public transportation and my trusty bicycle, which itself could use some major maintenance, as it’s got two bald tires, shredded brake cables — which means that I’m reliant on Hanna-Barbera-developed Flintstone & Rubble stopping technology that tends to be absolute hell on my last pair of shoes — along with a ripped-up seat and other amenities. I will make do with it until I can get some paychecks rolling in so I can afford the necessary repairs.
All I can tell you is that I’m so frickin’ grateful it isn’t funny. I’m still sleeping in the spare room of a friend, two floors above a disco, on a fold-out massage table, but when I lay my head on my zafu — the meditation cushion that doubles as my headrest — I’m so thrashed that sleep comes easily, even when the house is shaking like some hellzapoppin’ oontz-oontz jackhammer and my friend is yodeling along to Portuguese fado or Chinese pop records in the other room. I look forward to making enough money someday to afford my own bed in my own place, where I can go to bed early and no one will notice.
I’m really not sure how long it will take to gain even a semblance of equilibrium. This has been such a long, weird ride that I’ve kinda forgotten all my old entitlement issues, and I guess the upside is that I get to figure out what the new “normal” will be. Maybe a nice, clean, gently lit, simple living space, with fresh fruits and vegetables on hand and a comfy bed to welcome me every night will be my reward for this long night in the wilderness.
Somehow, I doubt if that McMansion with the Hummer in the garage is in my future. —Jackson Griffith
Yeah, yeah, I should be apologizing all over myself for abandoning you this past week, dear and gentle readers, but something happened to me. No, I didn’t get marooned in Europe by some volcano whose name looks like something a cat might punch out while walking on a computer keyboard, nor did I get beamed up into metallic origami by extraterrestrial praying mantis proctologists. Nope, I got a job, the first steady job I’ve had in like two years.
So please do forgive me while I get back up to speed. The past couple of evenings, I’ve done the internet-age equivalent to what my dad would do when he checked out after a day at the plant, when he’d smolder in front of the tube to a good episode of Barnaby Jones with a nice big bowl of rocky road ice cream. Except I can’t afford the ice cream yet, so I’ll settle for laughing at gossip accounts of entitled Hollywood stars falling out of expensive Eurotrash saloon cars and into the beds of skeevy movie producers in exchange for pepsi or royal crown or whatever these gosh-darned wacky kids are putting up their noses or smoking in their buttcrack tubes or whatever they do at those wild and wacky parties down there in the 90210 and stuff.
Back in a jiffy with more stories and entertainment. Lemme get a few good meals in me, and I’ll bring it. Srsly, I frickin’ promise, or I’ll eat a Dodger cap without the Gulden’s, the official mustard of the San Francisco Giants. —Jackson Griffith
Some of those details in my last blog post, about my life in Vegas in the late ’70s, awakened some long-dormant memories. I’d forgotten a few of them, especially the ones involving powerful hallucinogens and large-bore firearms, but they came rushing back last night when I was posting. Baby, I was so money back then.
Actually, I didn’t have a lot of money, because I worked for Tower Records. Nor did I have a lot of common sense. What I did have was a lightning rod for weirdness, along with a head full of Hunter S. Thompson’s 1971 classic, Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas, which I’d read when it was originally run as a two-part installment in Rolling Stone magazine. When I left Stockton (which was Thompson’s middle name) in 1978, to get away from Central Valley hay fever, a couple of crazy ex-girlfriends and a bunch of angry shoplifters I’d busted when I’d gone over the top in Starsky & Hutch mode at Tower, I figured Vegas might be a great place to get my act together.
This, of course, turned out to be a terrible misconception. Las Vegas is a great place for a careening out of control young person to get grounded and embrace positive change in the way that pouring gasoline on a conflagration is a great way to extinguish flames. To this, of course, I was utterly clueless; I had fantasies of scraping together enough gelt to buy a used late-’60s Cadillac convertible and a wardrobe of Hawaiian shirts, and soon I’d be sweet pals with every fine erection-popping showgirl in town, riding around top down, swilling cold beers with my new bevy of sweethearts, with nothing but Dino and Frank crooning from the deck. Hell, my Uncle Wendell had showed up in Vegas in the late 1940s or early ’50s, and he’d ended up with a pretty good gig with Nevada’s employment development department. He loved the place. And I figured I might, too. I was enamored with the coffee-shop modern architecture morphed into a burgeoning Flintstones metropolis lit in garish neon, I was dialed into the whole Rat Pack aesthetic, I never had any kind of gambling problem and could give two shits about blowing money at the tables, and something about Vegas appealed to my sense of humor, or at least the darker side of my funnybone.
There were two problems, however — my multiplying entanglements with alcohol, which were starting to get me into cop and bouncer trouble, compounded by my attraction to certain hallucenogenic compounds, which upped the intensity factor by a magnitude order of, oh, 10, 20: whaddaya got? Make that three problems: Las Vegas is a police state, which doesn’t occur to you until you’re out one night with a head full of NorCali greenbud, languidly grooving on your own personal magic carpet ride on a gently caressing desert wind, and suddenly John Law is overhead in a helicopter barking at you through a loudspeaker and blinding you with klieg lights: “Get off that bicycle and wait for the next available ground unit!” So you stop, wait, and when the cherry top rolls up, and some red-necked fuckstick threatens to toss your ignorant ass into jail for not knowing the ground rules, which expressly prohibit California hippie stoners from pedaling around on bicycles while checking out the stars. Which you can’t see in Vegas, anyway, because of all the ambient light pollution, unless you’ve enhanced that view with certain chemicals.
My weirdest night in Vegas came a couple of nights after me and Davey and Mike the journo from my hometown had done some vitamins and hit the casino, and I got stymied by the rotating carousel lounge at the Circus Circus and set two shots of Wild Turkey aflame on the bar, then screamed at burnoose-wearing Arab sheiks at the MGM Grand to “fuck this money-humping gibberish” while getting dragged out by the armpits by gorillas in suits after I’d grabbed the microphone out of the hand of a lounge singer who was pointing at me while singing a Randy Newman cover in which she’d changed the lyrics to “tall people got no reason …” and then I’d stormed the stage and grabbed the mic and snarled at her: “Listen, bitch, you’d best not be making fun of tall people, because I’m high on drugs and I might get crazy,” and then later, after my friends ditched me, I lay in the reflecting pools in front of Caesar’s Palace looking up at the stars. Bug me later and I’ll tell the story sometime.
No, anyway, I think this was after the day me and Davey tried to rent us some wheelchairs so we could roll into the Jerry Lewis Telethon all scribbled on psychedelics. We’d gotten a bit of an edge from the vitamins that mere cocktails wouldn’t cut, so we went by this coworker Debbie’s house, because Debbie always had blue Valiums falling out of her pockets like Hershey’s Kisses on Easter Sunday, and we needed some. Unfortunately, Debbie’s boyfriend Gary dealt, and there on the brownlawn instaghetto cul-de-sac where they lived, he was right in the middle of an apparent transaction with a bunch of swell chums on big roaring Harleys, and it was the sort of adrenaline-ganked standoff that makes prudent people dive behind large, immovable objects for safety. We, however, were clueless and stupid, and we walked right up. “Hey, man, what’s happening?”
Apparently, we almost got killed. “Get in the motherfuckin’ car!” Gary yelled, waving his magnum toward a beater Chevrolet Monte Carlo in the driveway. We wordlessly complied; Davey in the back and me shotgun, because of my long legs. The bikers got on their scoots and roared off and Gary got into the driver’s seat and threw the Monte Carlo in reverse. “Gotta get Debbie a scrip,” he growled, and off we went to the White Cross Drug Store, in that skanky part of Strip real estate north of Sahara and south of downtown.
I went in with Gary. Davey sat in the car. As soon as I got into the store I realized why; the place was crawling with scabby junkies and other lowlifes from the human-arachnid continuum. I sat on a broken leather and duct-taped stool at a lunch counter, between two self-professed “fur trappers from the Yukon,” just as the vitamins shifted from Spielberg to Fellini. The dumber-looking of the duo had a string of translucent onion strings dotted with liver bits dangling from his mouth, which had turned into writhing snakes; his buddy supplied the narrative. By this time, words were salad, and what I think he was talking about was me drawing all my money out of the bank and driving him and his partner back up to Whitehorse or wherever the hell they’d come from. I was watching the snakes and trying to process the words and all of a sudden I saw Gary out of the corner of my eye and he was screaming: “You motherfuckers want a beef?!? I said, you motherfuckers want a motherfuckin’ beef?!? He was waving his pistol again. “Get in the car!” he shouted. I grabbed the big grocery bag he’d dropped and edged out, and he followed me.
Gary clunked the Monte Carlo into gear and we peeled out of the parking lot onto the Strip, heading south. He reached into the bag and pulled out a half-gallon jug of Jack Daniel’s and the biggest bottle of blue Valiums I’d ever seen; I unscrewed the bottle and grabbed a handful of pills, washing them down with the Daniel’s and passing the bottles to Davey. Gary slowed about 50 yards shy of the stoplight, rolled down the power window on my side and tossed me the gun. “Go for it, podna,” he urged, motioning with his head toward the light. I was so fucked up it made perfect sense, and I pointed the pistol out the window space, aimed and squeezed of a shot: “Blam!” The kickback nearly tore my arm off, but I took the light out. At the next light, Gary grabbed the gun and took it out with one shot before gunning the motor. Davey shuddered from the back seat: “You assholes are crazy.”
After taking out a few more lights, we ended up on Warm Springs Road just south of the airport, swigging off the Daniel’s, popping more pills, smoking dope and trying to shoot the lights off the tails of incoming jets. How we avoided getting arrested or killed is an utter mystery to me. How I survived that night, or living in Las Vegas, is another. I must have one hell of a guardian angel, capisce? —Jackson Griffith
Jeebus, when things go sideways, well, maybe it’s just time to go for a few cheap laughs. Like the time I took my grandfather’s Oldsmobile 98 for its final airborne ride off the levee at Ladd’s, west of Stockton. I punched the 371-cube J-2 Golden Rocket engine and felt the sixpack roar into afterburner mode just as my buddy was lighting my bong, with a quart of Colt 45 malt liquor between my legs, and the Olds, a ’57 model that looked like a big chrome catfish, sailed off the road into a cornfield, with the Allman Brothers Band’s dope’n’roll epic “Whipping Post” blasting from the eight-track. Wheeee! Good times.
Some days are just crummy. You get up, you realize you didn’t get enough sleep. Then, things just go all dog’s breakfast from there. You break things. You realize you don’t have the dough in your pocket to get a good, satisfying meal, and you’re probably not going to get paid for a few days, and people are calling you who want money. You scrape together change, get coffee. Some random cop type sits at your table and gives you the flinty eye. You feel like a total bindlestiff, figure you might try bumming some money to get enough ingredients to cook up some hobo stew for the unruly crew in the empty lot at 20th and P, but then better sense prevails.
Once I got into trouble in Las Vegas. I mean, I got into trouble lots of times in Vegas, chemically enhanced trouble, like the time me and my pal Davey saw that they’d changed the signs for Paradise Boulevard to “Jerry Lewis Telethon Boulevard,” so we drove his Corvette Stingray to Abbey Rents to rent us some wheelchairs so we could roll into the telethon and talk to Jerry with a head full of Owsley’s finest. Not that time, but weeks later, around Halloween, when we dressed up like Bootsy Collins in made-up “Funk Funk” Devo suits and went to a party at the Epaminondas disco, and I kept shooting my plastic ray-gun spinner and hitting the waitresses in their tochises, or nay-nays, and they got pissed off and locked me in some sort of “Sadie Hawkins Day” wooden jail, which was not a good place for a guy with a head full of, well, you know, trouble. So I panicked and busted out of the jail, demolishing it, and they 86ed me for life, from all Epominondas discos and Eppie’s coffeeshops, too. Good times.
Yes, I can be an idiot at times. I’ve been clean and sober for, um, it’ll be 18 years at the end of the summer, so I can tell war stories with impunity. I do go to those “meetings,” but I don’t tell the great stories anymore, like when I was in this band called Death’s Ugly Head for about five minutes and change, and we would take a map with Stockton at the epicenter and draw concentric circles around it; Sacramento, at 45 miles, would be be inside the “our drummer’s wobbly and doing a lot of fills, but he’s still kicking the beat” circle, and San Francisco, at 90 miles, would be inside the “our drummer fell off his stool and is curled up in a foetal position next to his kit, so we’re rockin’ without a timekeeper” circle. Most of us didn’t get famous, but he did; made the cover of Spin and everything.
I’m generally well-behaved these days. I mean, I don’t get all scribbled and walk up to random women in bars and babble stuff like “Baby, you make me extremely conscious of my heterosexuality, if you know what I’m talking about and I think you do.” Believe it or not, that line worked a few times. I still talk to women, but the conversations are on a more even keel. Generally. But I still love to hear stories about people who really lose their composure and do amazingly funny and stupid stuff. Like this golden oldie. Um, not safe for work:
Damn. “I don’t know why I’m like this.” Um, I do, Pat. I’ve been zigged to the eyebrows like that, so chemically tumescent that enough blood was drained from my brain to make me seriously stupid and deranged, just like you! And thanks for the laughs, because when I hear phone messages like that, no matter how crummy I’m feeling, it’ll pull me out of my torpor in a jiffy. How can you continue a bad mood after that? I sure can’t. —Jackson Griffith