Another Sunday, another trip to the laundromat. I’m a pretty mundane guy, really. I like to go to bed on Sunday night knowing all my clothes are folded and put away or, for certain shirts, hanging in the closet. You know, enough to get me through the work week, to spare. There’s nothing like hitting Thursday and not having clean underwear or socks, or a clean shirt.
There are other things I’d rather be doing during the week than laundry. Not that I hate doing laundry; I’ve developed a bit of an obsession, that’s become a routine, and I tend to be a person of routines. Call it my Asperger geekiness: I often will eat the same thing at the same restaurants, and drive the same routes, and cook the same stuff at home over and over, and I have to force myself to make other choices.
Although it doesn’t really matter what I do, really. I mean, I’ve got no one really vying for my time, so I can get up and do what I want, and not have to plan it out, or argue better this than that, and I don’t have to answer to anybody. Not even a cat, or even a girlfriend. Wife? Forget it. I’ve pretty much figured out that this flying solo is my lot in life at this juncture, and I really can’t see things changing out of the blue, so what I can do is take good care of myself and enjoy life, one present moment at a time.
Lately, a lot of my present moments have been filled with this obsession I have to become a better guitarist. So I hunker down in my tiny apartment with books of tablature, translating the arcane symbols on the page into music via my fingers, the left-hand ones on the guitar fretboard, and the right-hand ones dangling over the sound hole, plucking the strings. Or trying to make music. It’s slow work, really, and the improvements seem glacial.
It’s taken me months to get even a few of Taylor’s songs down, because the arrangements are so deliciously intricate. I can do halting and tentative versions of “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight” and “You Can Close Your Eyes,” and I’ve got about 12 of the 15 pages of tablature memorized for the first guitar (there’s a second guitar part, too) on his cover version of Carole King’s “You’ve Got a Friend.” I’ll probably work to get those three as “mastered” as I can before I move on to other songs. I have some Beatles and Jobim and Joplin and Bach books I want to work out of, too.
Which is good that I’m such a loner. If I had a social life at all, I’d never learn these difficult tunes. It use to be that I wanted to play music because I thought that might be a keen way to meet women, but now I just do it because I’m in love with the process itself, and there aren’t any women to be found. I also write a lot of songs, some of which I think are pretty good, but the only way I will get people to listen is to be able to play them really well. And I am hoping that some of what I’m learning from sweet baby James will start turning up in my own repertoire as well.
So there’s your update. Hope you’re having a swell week. I am. —Jackson Griffith
Some people go to bars. My typical M.O. is to swing by Phono Select, that swell little neighborhood record store in Midtown, on the way home from the office. Usually it’s Dal or Nich or maybe the lovely Christina, or a combo thereof, invariably with Downtown James Brown, headphones clapped over his ears, checking out either Famous Flames videos or, today, Google-searching stuff like “Christina Aguilera naked pictures.” Ha, James is diggin’ on some porn, somebody said. “Naw I ain’t lookin’ at no pornos!” he yelled, triggering laughing fits around the store.
Today I found a record in the $1 bargain bin. I don’t usually spring for the cheapos, but once I took a gander at the liner notes on the back of Trini Lopez Live at PJ’s, on the Reprise label, I had to have it. Penned by Mike Connolly from not only The Hollywood Reporter but syndicated by the San Francisco Chronicle, the notes had that yabba dabba doo swagger that could only come from the aftermath of a four-martini lunch at Martoni’s or perhaps Vesuvio’s, depending on in what end of the state Connolly was imbibing, I mean, writing.
I relish writing like this. I’m not going to attempt any kind of critique; I’m just going to string together some of the fine similes and metaphors, and let them do the talking, and let you stand back or sit down and be as totally impressed as I was and still am: “Like an anchor in aspic … as exciting as Bingo in a church basement … stronger than tacos in an Olvera Street sidewalk stand … as disorganized as Liszt’s Second Hungarian Rhapsody arranged for harp and trumpet … just like Saturday night at the Paseo de la Reforma.”
The trouble with these kids today is that they’re putting out albums and singles and whatnot, and they’re not hiring half-in-the-bag scriveners to liven up the back covers with prose like this: “That crazy beat, P.J.’s trademark, is showcased typically in Trini’s ‘La Bamba.’ No dancing is permitted at P.J.’s so the customers keep time to Trini’s Latin-scattin’ vocals with their cocktail jiggers, their glasses, their fists and their feet.” Sounds like a good time to me.
So I bought this album just because I needed something to write about this evening. I could talk about almost getting run over twice by the same bus — Sacramento Regional Transit Bus No. 2379, first when the driver ran a yellow-turning-red light at approximately 6:43 p.m. while speeding east on J Street at 25th Street and nearly clipped me at the southeast corner as I stepped into the curb and he or she swerved into the lane to access the bus stop, and then later on J Street at 20th at around 9 p.m., much less of a close call this time, but still, same bus, as I was about to cross at 20th Street — but I wouldn’t want to get the driver into trouble for trying to get to Jimboy’s before closing time. Those tacos can be pretty tasty. Still, being a pedestrian in this town sucks sometimes.
Didn’t have any cool dreams about dark-eyed beauties, either. So, this. —Jackson Griffith
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m probably the antithesis of a hipster, or what currently passes for hipster these days. That’s the inevitable byproduct of growing older, I guess, and I’m so old that my definition of “hipster” goes back to guys like Cab Calloway, Slim Gaillard and Slam Stewart. But rather than be some butthurt old hippie about it, I think it might be better to remain open to whatever is forming and shaping the evolving hipster aesthetic. Well, mostly, except for this yacht rock obsession: Please kill me first if you’re going to foist Toto and Christopher Cross in my general direction. But if you kids really want to fall down a rabbit hole of stupid, feel free to chat me up about the blow-dried universe of smooth jazz.
So this evening I was hanging out with my pal Ian, whose late dad Nick the punk-rock guitarist and Ventures and Throbbing Gristle and Dennison’s Chili enthusiast was an old friend and icon, until he passed away in 1989, a few months before Ian was born. Me and the kid hunkered down in the corner of the patio at a midtown coffee joint, and I tried to force him to listen to “Happy Egotist” by Womb, arguably the shittiest rock record ever recorded, 17 minutes and 17 seconds of Manson Family retardation and mutant asshole rock about a car wreck, kind of like Rashomon for glue-sniffing Brady Bunch rejects.
The kid commandeered my laptop and pulled up some French zombie shit with a nice throbbing electronic beat that cracked a cold beer for my inner happy camper; the visuals were the sort of runway fash-fash glamwank that might get a drunken Lindsay Lohan jilling off furiously, except it had way more dudes in it than femmes so that would be a wash. Nice. (And, yeah, if this is way past its sell-by date fedora to some of you sneeros, no biggums; like I said, I’ve got zero hipster cred, so consider me your clueless grandpa rambling, much doo-wacka-doo about nothing.)
Next up was some nice glammy boys from, I think, San Diego. “I’m gonna get you fired up on this Three One G shit,” the kid says. I’m not utterly convinced; while the vid has some laugh out loud moments, like with a small dog — what my former father-in-law the chowchow enthusiast used to call an hors d’oeuvre — getting hammered repeatedly as it pops up (so sue me, PETA, for laughing), it’s also got the usual bunch of lads posing in rawk-star moves, which isn’t quite as novel if you lived through the ’70s and were into all that English homo-rock swill like I was, because, well, having done enough shitty drugs while listening to Sparks and Roxy Music at ear-bleed volume, and that was before the whole punk-rock thing turned up the intensity and incoherence turned me into a complete vegetable, and it’s just another rerun, albeit quite a cool one.
The kid pulled up a couple more videos, including one with a bunch of hipster mouths chewing on hipster hot dogs, and another one that, well, I forget. It’s all good fun, but like I said, I’m old, so even though I’m amused, I still gravitate to old videos with static visuals, or spinning 78s, accompanied by the music of Blind Blake, or maybe something with Mississippi John Hurt on some 1960s TV show, or Lightnin’ Sam Hopkins in a documentary. That’s what really feeds my heart these days.
Funny how your tastes change when you grow older, no? —Jackson Griffith
Dunno why I’ve been seeing these “Keep Midtown Janky” stickers around for a while. Buncha hooey, I suspect, from a certain group of locals of whom I choose not to place an any kind of pejorative context, except to say that this word “janky” leaves me going “no thankee.” First, because it’s reportedly some kind of San Francisco snootnosed hipster insult that’s been appropriated by a few fat-tire bike types here as a badge of honor, to which I say that if it came from San Francisco, fuck it. The only two things worth a shit in that burg are the Giants and that John Coltrane church, and, uh, maybe a lot of other things, but not those saditty fucks who turn their noses up at you when you cop to residing in the nine one six.
Second, because I think it’s bass-ackwards. Now, if you’re going to coin a portmanteau of jinky and skanky, then janky doesn’t cut it. Especially when there’s one with the imprimatur of Robert Crumb, who, on the bright orange cover of his Zap Comix No. 1, put it succinctly thus: “Zap Comics are Squinky Comics!!”
I’m not sure why I’m feeling this intense need to keep Midtown squinky; perhaps it’s in response to a recent Midtown Monthly article about “janky” eating in Midtown Sacramento. I mean, I was sitting there reading it in a supposedly janky dining establishment; I was thinking about some ideas I had the week before when I was eating in one of my favorite janky places, the one I told everyone about and can take credit for making it all popular among the right peo- … uh, fuck it, I’ll shut up about that line of jibberjabber before I make any more enemies.
Actually, I was eating at Chita’s Mexican Grill, which is so goddamn janky it’s squinky. I was thinking about squinky, about the places in Midtown that bring the squink. Chita’s is such a place: first, because it’s two doors down from Benny’s, which used to be called “Two Doors Down” when Dolly Parton had a hit by that name and some Bee columnist who used to write his column from the bar there wrote one about what a swell establishment it was before he dropped dead from a heart attack and then newspapers stopped letting their columnists write columns from bars, a big mistake I think, because unedited drunken ramblings are arguably a lot more interesting than what’s getting published in newspapers these days, witness The Bee, but I digress except to say that I would start reading The Bee again if they let a bunch of drunken chimpanzees run rampant with opinion columns and again I digress to mention that the Sacramento Press occasionally serves that function and the UFO and ghostbuster reports can be highly entertaining, but anyway, not only is Benny’s a bit of a “shanky” place these days, if shanky means stabby or a place to get some unwanted impromptu ventilation that will stain your clothes and maybe kill you, but also that between Benny’s and Chita’s is a green-cross joint called “420 Evaluations.” I mean, how frickin’ squinky is that?
Erm, a few definitions by examples. Jim-Denny’s is squinky, perhaps the epitome of squink. Cafe Bernardo is not squinky. Zelda’s is squinky, and Chicago Fire is not squinky. Taki used to be squinky, but whatever it was that replaced it is decidedly not squinky. In fact, no sushi bar can be squinky. Chita’s and La Garnacha are squinky, Centro is not squinky — actually, no Paragary restaurant can be even remotely squinky — and Tres Hermanas is kinda halfway in between. The 524 Club used to be squinky until the redo a few years back, but the satellite joint on Northgate near West El Camino is still squinky as all getout, as are all taco trucks that aren’t run by foodies. As for bars, Round Corner is squinky, and the 20th and K corner with Faces and The Depot and Headhunters and whatever that non-gay (but very ghey) joint is called, like 20-something, on the northwest corner are the quintessence of not squinky. Pine Cove is squinky, and Old Ironsides is mostly squinky, because they’ve been rocking the Pabst flag since before Frank Booth made it the pisswater of choice for hepcats (fuck that “hipster” shit).
See, I’d prefer to live in a squinky world, one with rounded corners that looks like it was drawn by Robert Crumb. I wouldn’t mind meeting a few ladies who look like ol’ Bob drew them, too. And I’d love to have a Robert Crumb-designed automobile. So that’s squinky to me — old Sacramento, back when Crumb lived in Dixon, then Winters, and Justin Green used to go pick him up and drive him around so Crumb could sketch elevations for his comics — Del Paso Boulevard seemed to be a favorite, and that strip between Globe and El Camino should be a regional monument to squink. And we need more squink. There is way too much antisquink in Sacramento, and dunno about you, but I respond to this new antisquink the way Turkish nationals respond to old episodes of The Chipmunks with David Seville: “I do not know what this is, but I feel strongly that it is not good.”
I babble, I babble: We need to keep Midtown squinky, not janky. —Jackson Griffith
“Izzat Kenny Bloggins over there?” Some guy just yelled that at the guy sitting behind me, Dana Gumbiner, inside the Miners Foundry in Nevada City. I guess Dana once had a blog called that. I guess I should feel like a dweeb because I’m sitting here “blogging,” but fuck it. I have a commitment to fulfill. Because I’ve dropped the ball on this whole blogging thing, so I’d better get on the good foot or the lickin’ stick or whatever it is and write some shit.
Sorry. It’s dark. I can’t even see my fucking keyboard, so I can’t see to find any of the great 19 or so short movies I watched today. I’m at the Nevada City Film Festival, which is run by my old pal Jeff Clark along with Jesse Locks and this other guy David. So I posted this other really catchy pop song. I’ll write more later. It’s rude to sit here posting with all these other people around. Later. —Jackson Griffith
So here it is a wild Wednesday night, and I’m not out there chasing all that wonderfulness, or looking at the stars, or feeling the wind on my semi-ancient face. Nah, I’m here. Workweeks are like that. Got back to Sac, sat in the back of a hot room for an hour, went out for pizza afterward — not that I need to eat pizza, having eaten it twice last weekend, once while being waited on by my lovely daughter at the Tahoe beachfront restaurant where she works, and again at Squaw Valley with my brother, his daughter and her husband, their two kids, and her cousin and her cousin’s husband and their two kids, got that — so I’m what my daughter’s mom used to call “slugbait.” And so, I type this.
I don’t talk a lot about my job, but I love it. Partially because it has nothing to do with the music business, or filling up the editorial well of a newspaper or magazine under the gun, and partially because it’s about bugs. I’m weirdly fascinated by bugs, especially the eusocial insects, like ants and bees and termites, the ones that live in huge hives that function like brains, or at least organisms with some kind of swarm intelligence. Plus, they’re trippy. Ants live in huge colonies, and some of the species, like the invasive Argentine ants, are big old metrosexual lesbian cities where everyone gets along and they do all this amazingly cool stuff, kinda like a big six-legged Lilith Fair concert that stretches out for hundreds of miles and involves billions of fans of sapphic folk music, while other species, e.g. the pavement ants, are like backwoods hollers filled with long-Balkanized clans of meth-sizzled arthropod hicks who mix it up to the tunes of Ynsyct Skynyrd and have huge stupid wars, shady lanes be damned.
Then there are the termites, which are kinda like a massive underground South Park episode involving Eric Cartman and a million of his clones, gobbling the wooden version of Cheesy Poofs and farting up huge storm clouds of methane. If you could run an engine on methane, you could like drop a log in the tank and make a bunch of termites fart and generate stinky fart gasses, which you could burn and run your SUV. I’m thinking that Al Gore might want to get on board with this, no? Termites have these humongous fat queens, too, that do nothing but lay around and push out termite eggs, and they have these really nifty-looking soldiers whose heads look like earwig butts with big-ass pincers, which come in handy when those crankster hillbilly ants come a-calling, looking to stir up trouble.
Of course, nearly everybody loves bees, because of flowers and honey and stuff, unless you’re allergic to their stings, or you don’t dig the buzzing. But you can you not love bees? Wasps, of course, are another story, especially the ones without any sense of noblesse oblige, who’ll take their profit from insect Wall Street with nary a concern for their fellow bugs or anyone else, either.
But lately, the talk among bugsters has been all about Cimex lectularius, otherwise known as the bed bug. These little bug snoids, about the size of an apple seed, are serious trouble, and if you’re unlucky enough to get an infestation of them, well, you’re not going to be happy about it. They get into your mattress, and onto your furniture, and in and around your bed, and then they wait. For you. When it’s dark, they wait for you to zone out, and then they zero in on the carbon dioxide you exhale, and they find you and they suck your blood. I shit you not. And then they poop your blood out all over your bed, and shed their exoskeletons between instars, and generally leave a mess. Bed bugs are bad neighbors, and it is readily apparent that they are soooo unkind. Fred Rogers would not approve.
But the worst part? Bed bug sex. No, they’re not all noisy like your horny neighbor, whose orgasmic cries and yelps infiltrate your dreams as the sound of animals being tortured. It’s just that their courtship defies rules of common etiquette and civilized behavior to the degree that even Huns and demented Visigoths might stop and take notice. You see, these bed bugs practice a form of sado-masochistic sexual behaviors called “traumatic insemination.” What that means is that, well, imagine a bunch of guys running around a nightclub with no pants on, and they all have boners, and those boners have been sharpened like swords. So these guys with dangerous pointed dicks are chasing all the women in the club, and when they see one that gets them all hot and bothered, they run up to her and jab their dicks right into her belly and start humping like some crazed gutter-pooch horndog on your leg. No decorum, no witty lines, no drinks bought — just stab, stab, stab, then blow a load.
All this helter-skelter horndoggery, sans secret messages from the “white” album, and the womenfolk of bed bugdom naturally try to do some kind of an immediate Houdini, as in get me the fuck out of this place like right now. Totally. Which is why entomologists who study bed bugs were initially perplexed at the random and bomb blast-like way that Cimex lectularius will spread throughout a living space, until someone surmised that all the members of these bed bug diasporas were females who wanted to get away from the obnoxious and dangerously annoying and uncooth to boot needledick males.
So, well, sleep tight, and don’t let these asshole bugs bite.–Jackson Griffith
Tonight, when I was walking around the park, I saw a falling star. I was walking up Alhambra, and it was just over the truncated spires of the Greek Orthodox Church across the street. I’d been eating soup at a Chinese restaurant, all alone — yes, ladies, the lone diner strikes again — except for the help there, who were conversing in Chinese, and there was a large television set with an English-language version of a Chinese cable-news channel bringing tidings of flooding on the Yangtze and disaster everywhere in the Middle Kingdom. So I needed to walk the jinky off, and what better place than McKinley Park on a cool Tuesday evening?
Seeing that falling star immediately took me back to the mid-1990s, when I was living in Midtown Sacramento on I Street and driving a stripped-down Dodge Dakota pickup. Sometime during midsummer through the dog days, I’d hit Interstate 5 going north — again, all by my lonesome — on a restless night when the Leonids or Perseids would be raining, crank a little Pavement on the deck, something along the lines of the sweet stoner jams of Wowee Zowee, and a few hours later I’d be winding along the Everett Highway from the town of Mount Shasta up the south face of the mountain to the treeline at around 8,000 feet, where I’d park in the lot above Panther Meadows. I’d make sure my windshield was facing the mountain, and then I’d climb in the back and wrap myself with a sleeping bag on an old futon mattress and watch the stars shooting around the sky like breaking billiard balls all night and drink Mountain Dew and smoke cigarettes. It was like seeing a Vincent Van Gogh painting come to life.
Years later, like about four years ago, I was in New York City on business, right around when my marriage was coming off its rails for the final time. I’d managed to find enough work to merit stretching a couple day’s worth of perusing old rhythm and blues contracts in the eighth-floor loft offices of a hip-hop label on 49th Street right near the Brill Building through the weekend and into the next week. On Saturday I walked all the way up Central Park West to Harlem, then back down around the park on the Fifth Avenue side. I was going to spend all day at Central Park on Sunday, but the weather turned ugly, and so other plans needed to be made.
I figured out that the Museum of Modern Art was right around the corner, or a couple blocks over and four blocks up, on 53rd Street, so that’s where I went. I managed to hit every floor. Entire rooms filled with Picassos. Lots or Warhols and Lichtensteins and Rothkos and tons of other great stuff. Round a corner, and there was Andrew Wyeth’s “Christina’s World” in all its glory. In one room, away from a brilliant Toulouse-Lautrec that depicted the exquisitely bored sneers of the entitled, there was a crowd gathered along a wall, where a small painting was hanging: Vincent Van Gogh’s “Starry Night.” Yes, it was beautiful, but like Bruce Springsteen, in my mind it loomed gigantic; in real life, not so much. In fact, not much at all. The only thing as shocking to me was a tiny Salvador Dali painting, “The Persistence of Memory.”
Or so I remember. Everything that day was eclipsed by one art piece. I’d walked into this room, and the wall was completely covered with a Jackson Pollock painting, or more accurately a radioactive jizz explosion of copper and other hues. I stood in front of the piece and got baked from the inside, and had one of those “suddenly I understand” moments that I still can’t explain, except that the starry starry starry starry starry night wasn’t on the wall or in some static and small painting in another room, but inside me waiting to burst like shredded notes from a saxophone whose embouchure was being aeolusly and righteously fired up and worked like a master.
Anyway, so much for starry nights. It’s bedtime. Hope sleep will come. Pleasant dreams, too. —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
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