This memories of idyllic Stockton thread on Facebook has me all head-scratchy. On one hand, it’s really great to scroll through page after page of posts on places I’d half-forgotten. But on the other hand, it’s infuriating to see new post after new post about “Remember that guy who’d stand on the corner of of Pershing and Swain banging on a guitar with no strings and singing Elvis songs?” The way the page is organized, with zero indexing or search function, it’s nearly impossible to get all the comments on one subject together, so you’ll make a nice and thoughtful addition, and then it will disappear, replaced by another five or 10 “remember that guy …” posts.
Still, and although I’m not one for huge doses of nostalgia, I’m kinda getting off on reading some of the posters, like Terry O’Reilly, an old pal from the punk rock days, and Floyd Perry, Jr., whom I’ve never met. But sorting through the 8,400+ posts, way too many of them redundant as hell — which isn’t really the fault of the people posting as much as it is the inherently chaotic nature of the page — to read the interesting posts takes way too much time. It’s easier on a laptop, but downright impossible on a so-called smart phone.
I have a million stories, but damn if I’m going to waste them in a thread that disappears, to be replaced by 12 hammerheads who’ve typed out the same topic in all caps, or infinite variations on “remember when me and Betty Sue and Linda Lou cruised the avenue and ate burgers at the A&W?” or whatever. A little better way to index or organize the page, if that’s possible, and I don’t think it is, and it would be a lot more magnetic to people like me as a supreme time waster. Because I have a bizarre love-hate relationship with Stockton, and even though I’ll most likely never live there again, that town is a big part of who I am, moreso than I’d care to admit.
Not that the thugs and jocks and lowbrow fucksticks who made the lives of me and all my artsy pals so miserable want to read my take on the burg, which is a lot darker than some George Lucas beatoff fantasy — more along the lines of David Lynch, the Coen Brothers, Martin Scorsese and more. Hey, remember the time we were on our bikes on Yokut(s) Avenue between Sears and Macy’s and we flipped off those National Socialist White Peoples Party assholes from Tracy who were riding in back of a Mercedes-Benz troop carrier wearing Nazi uniforms with swastika armbands, and the driver of the truck tried to run us off the road in front of Lyon’s? Remember the psycho couple in the Lincoln Village flattops who held us at gunpoint for several hours for stealing pomegranates from the tree in their backyard? Remember that guy who burned down the Church of the Presentation because, years earlier, one of the priests there had molested him as an altar boy?
Anyway, I got a million stories. But, hey: Anybody remember Peter Piper Pizza? —Jackson Griffith
Uh-oh. I’m not going to be getting much of anything done for a while, I suspect. Dunno how I stumbled into this Facebook group called “You Know You Grew Up in Stockton When ???????????,” which contains eleven question marks and about a million posts, but I think this could be the rabbit hole that sucks me in for the immediate future, if not until sometime between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Now, most of you with no Stockton connections or experiences most likely look at the seat of San Joaquin County as a geographic variation on the old punchline, “Why, the Aristocrats!” I even make Stockton jokes, too. But I can, because I grew up there, and my experiences and relationships in the town formed the core of my character. If I was from someplace else, like Sacramento or, God forbid, San Francisco (actually, I was born in Berkeley), I might be as boring and lackluster as the rest of you fuckers, but because I grew up in Berlin on the San Joaquin, I’ve got that extra twisted David Lynch smoking laudanum with Salvador Dali gene that welcomes darkness and weird shit like treasured old friends.
Anyway, it’s Friday, I’m dateless, ogling “chicks” in a coffeehouse and wanting to read more about Stockton. So, as the drunks say in Amador County: “Je bemte!” –Jackson Griffith
It would appear that thangs are janky all over the place. I see that a combination of persistent hot weather — and the news of Norway’s version of a Tea Party conservative, watering the Yggdrasil of Liberty with random people’s blood, hitting the 24/7 wall of newstainment across the corporate cable channel infogasm — has caused people to go a bit touchy around the ol’ Heimat over the weekend. As in: trigger finger, itchy. Blam. Blam blam.
Nutters with firearms went off in the usual places, namely Texas, and it was somewhat queasily familiar to see the city where I was raised — Stockton, California — make the weekend roster with a horrible birthday party shooting that left one dead, a 15 year old, and eight others wounded. I’m not going to comment about what went through the shooter’s head and what he — I’ll presume it was a he — was thinking, because whatever it was, it probably wouldn’t make a lot of sense to most of us. I will say that I can understand that kind of simmering resentment, but I’ll also add that I’m extremely grateful that I found some psychological tools to air my head out before I showed up at somebody’s birthday fete with the idea of turning it into a wake.
Stockton is a weird place. I get a little bothered when people in other places, like in the smugly satisfied State Worker Republic of Sacramento where I’ve lived since 1984, spout off about how the county seat of San Joaquin is a violent shit-hole full of crazy people and other mutants. But if you grew up in that part of the 209, or you’ve lived there or worked there for any amount of time, then to me you’re welcome to opine.
I’ll say this: I was surprised once I got out of Stockton that, in most places, people didn’t arbitrarily jump out of cars at stoplights and run over and beat the shit out of you, because that kind of thing seemed to happen in the Stockton of my youth with, well, I won’t say disturbing regularity, but I was the recipient of a sudden and unprovoked ass-kicking several times, and it left me in a state of raw fear for years. Hell, I’m in my 50s, and I still look nervously over my shoulder, and I glance up and down streets rapidly, reading every stranger and group of strangers for the threat of impending violence.
The shooting this weekend took place on Lincoln Road, east of Eldorado Street and south of Hammer Lane, about a mile from where I lived during junior high and high school. It was an okay neighborhood when they built it in the 1960s and ’70s, but like a lot of North Stockton, it’s decayed into a neighborhood over time where you might not feel comfortable living.
But that’s happened all over America. And you can point the finger of blame at that black president you don’t like, or those “socialist” Democrats, or whoever the ruling class clowns like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck and the rest of the Murdoch circus are telling you to hate this week. But the grim reality is that what’s happening now is the result of the greedy portion of the top one percent of people in this country, according to wealth, who don’t want to help pay for maintaining the infrastructure of this country — including a vibrant private sector that provides living-wage jobs here that aren’t in Indian casinos — or the health and welfare of its citizens. Instead, they are using their considerable wealth and influence to wage war on the rest of us. As for the rest of us? Well, look on the bright side: We can buy guns and ammunition, at least until the unemployment checks stop coming. Then we’ll just steal them.
I do believe we are in for a weird ride the next few years. —Jackson Griffith
Boy, do I have a lot to say, and I’m in this just overflowing with groovieness mooding, too! Peaches! We are special golf make shop! If I don’t put a damper on my effusive effusivious Vesuvioness, um, I’m just going to boil over with goody-goodness and get my dinkle squinkled so many times, I’ll probably lose count!
Heck whiz! Actually, I’m in Stockton, I seem to have misplaced my favorite hat today, and I’ve gotta blow this Peet’s popsicle stand and get to my gig, which is at the Blackwater Cafe on Yosemite Street, nine-something-something is the address, where I’ll be playing some music later with Dan Ambiance and whoever else shows up. You got a guitar and have some particularly odious jam-band hippie-rock anthemic 20-minute buttnuggets you want to foist on the sparse crowd? Come on down! Because if you don’t bring it, I will, and you have no idea what I will be pulling from my gigbag. Hell, I don’t either! Show starts whatever, like nine or something, and it’s Friday, July 22. The sun is trine my native sun, and apparently Uranus is in my trousers. Wait. That doesn’t sound good at all.
Aw, fuggit. Come on down. —Jackson Griffith
It’s pretty much a classic out there today, like other Sacramento Fourths in memory: Hot as fuck’n cayenne gelato, with that kind of sleep-inducing summer burn that knocked me out flat for a good hour this afternoon, after playing music (literally, not metaphorically) with a friend. Lucky that my neighbors in the apartment house who are prone to making frequent and embarrassingly noisy rumpypumpy were just having a conversation today. Coming, no pun intended, up with a ninth-chord vamp to accompany their moans and groans (mostly hers) might be fun, but that sort of thing gets a little tiresome after a while.
I stopped by a house party for the Fourth, but it was still late afternoon and I see those people all the time so it’s not like we had a lot of catching up to do. I’m transcribing an interview anyway, so it made for a convenient way of getting out of there, and I also wanted to write something for this space. Which I’m doing. I may go back; I may go to another friend’s house across the river; I may go home. It’s hot, and hard to function in this weather.
The Fourth usually takes me back to times with me and my dad. We lived in San Joaquin County, where fireworks were illegal, and my dad would cross the county line to Galt to buy a mess of fireworks every year, before it turned into liquored-up fat guys dressed like toddlers who were doing the “Hey, watch this!” stuff with a beer in one hand and a lighter in the other. Back then, you were more likely to get some lecture on sensible pyrotechnics by some pedantic science-teacher type, and usually strong drink was vehemently opposed when combined with stuff that blows up and makes noise. I always dug that my dad liked to light up the neighborhood. I’m just kind of over fireworks at this point in my life, though.
Well, kind of. But not really. —Jackson Griffith
Lately I’ve been reading Fat City, the circa-1969 novel by Leonard Gardner. The book is set is 1950s Stockton, and was adapted for a film a few years later by director John Huston. I’d gone back to the central city of the place where I grew up a few months ago, one night to see my old pals the Authorities at some hole in the wall on Weber Avenue near the old Western Auto store, and the next night at the old Fox California Theater on Main Street, which got renamed the Bob Hope Center for the Performing Arts a while back, to see the Authorities open for Pavement. After that show, which was an unexpectedly sad and intense experience for me, I stood on the landing out behind the stage with Brian from the Authorities, my friends Kelly and Jeff, and Steve and Mark from Pavement, talking about life in the San Joaquin. Mark was the only one of us who hadn’t grown up in or around Stockton, but he started talking about Fat City, and it turned out we were all fans of the book.
That conversation haunted me for several weeks, and then I was in Time Tested Books on 21st Street here in Sacramento and found a reasonably non-dog-eared used copy; it had been a while since I’d read Gardner’s downbeat account of hard-luck boxers in a dead-end California valley town. As soon as I picked it up again, I remembered why. Maybe it’s from personal experience, because I was a little kid in the late 1950s and remember some of the places in Gardner’s book pretty vividly, but reading it really churned up an avalanche of ghosts.
My dad was an alcoholic, and my mother was a depressed woman in her late 30s who was stuck with a crummy job in a Weber Avenue insurance agency, a precocious and marginally autistic young son, and a rambling watch-out-for-low-flying-aircraft husband who couldn’t hold a job to save his life. He’d get a job selling cars, or awnings, or farm equipment, and then he’d get wasted on apple wine and forget to show up for work, or he’d show up totally blammed and the natural denouement of that misdeed would be “you’re fired,” and then he’d be off for a while until the next job started. When the old man wasn’t working, we’d have to loiter in traffic on Weber Avenue across from the old courthouse — which I witnessed getting torn down, and a shame that was because it was a beautiful rotting gray old building with a capitol-like dome ringed with clocks, surrounded by creepy cemetery palm trees — where we’d pick up my mom when she got off work at Peirano Brothers.
My memory of those days is framed by what the old man was driving — bulbous Rambler Americans, skinny and Soviet-blockish (post-Starliner) Studebaker Champions, a big old 1950 Buick Special, a 1957 Ford stripped-down sedan, a black Toyopet Crown, which looked like a half-witted knockoff of a Hillman Minx and was the first car sold in the U.S. by then-unknown Toyota, and a big lumbering DeSoto Firedome. I have always been obsessed with cars, and my mother used to say that when I got a set of alphabet blocks, the first word I spelled was “FORD,” which is kind of funny because I’ve been a Mopar man for quite a while, but probably didn’t have two Ds to spell “DODGE.” When you’re stuck outside a bar sitting in the car with a grapefruit-sized metal globe memorizing the continents and countries of the world pre-African independence with maybe your collie dog as company, you tend to be acutely aware of what company manufactured your prison. And I remember the joints we were parked in front of, too — the Weber Inn, the Channel Inn, assorted other low-born watering holes where the old man would get his tank on and then we would swerve home, as in those days it was a lot harder to roll a deuce, with the old man saying, “Well, li’l buddy, we’re really in the doghouse now.”
I can almost taste the old oily funk coming off the streets along with the eye-blistering peat from the Delta that would come blowing into town on a bitter and sharp wind, and can picture the yellow smoke-belching City Bus liners drifting by, and the top of the old Medico-Dental Building with the flickering neon “California Western States Life” lights hung across scaffolding on the roof, which later got replaced by an ugly “KJAX Cloud 99” sign. And I remember Washington Square in Gardner’s book, which was a major hangout for the layabout transient population, and almost seemed like a graveyard with its palms and brown and wino-strewn lawn, but then they knocked it down to build the Crosstown Freeway, which can be seen in the opening to Huston’s film.
And I can remember getting dragged into smoky bars where I was told in no uncertain terms to lurk silently in the corner until the old man finished his medical mission, which was to bring his blood-alcohol count back up to a comfortable range, and the one consistent thing I can recall about every bar I was in was the boxing posters. Boxing was a big deal in Stockton circa 1960; maybe it was big everywhere but it was huge in the place I still love to refer to as Palookaville (but don’t you go calling it that, unless you’re from there).
Anyway, I think about my old town a lot these days. People bag on it without understanding the soul of it, the way West Coast people who’ve never been to Texas dump on that place. Stockton is a lot like Texas. It’s a lot like George W. Bush’s vision for America, and we had all that stuff in Stockton — the stratification of the classes, and a concentration of wealth among a small group of people while a huge portion of the population fought for the remaining table scraps. We had endless waves of immigrants brought in to do a specific task — the Chinese to build the railroads, the Filipinos to drain the swamp at the confluence of the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers and build levees so others could get wealthy farming that reclaimed land, which had “the second-best soil in the world, next to the Nile Delta,” as my mother would put it, the Dust Bowl Okies and the Mexicans to bring in the harvests in the fields and orchards, the blacks from the South to work in the shipyards — and as soon as the work ran out, some of them figured out how to do well, while others got mired in cycles of poverty. We had weird crimes before the rest of the country got them — post-office shooting sprees, schoolyard shootings, weird and violent crimes, gangs, drive-by shootings — so by the time they became commonplace elsewhere, they were old hat to Stockton natives.
But it was a great place in its own weird way, too, and on a pleasant day, you could feel a good clean and cool Italian wind blowing through the Golden Gate and across North Beach and then up around Alcatraz and through San Pablo Bay and the Carquinez Straits and Suisun Bay and across Big Break and Franks Tract and the rest of the Delta islands into town, carrying with it the words of Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Jack Kerouac and Gary Snyder and the sounds of the jazz joints on Broadway and Vallejo Street and Columbus Avenue to connect with the erstwhile presences of hometown boys Lord Buckley and Gil Evans, and I could tune into that feeling and drew comfort from it.
So, well, maybe I should stop typing and get back to Gardner’s book. You should read it, too. —Jackson Griffith
“Let’s spend out last quarterstance randomly/ Go down to the Outlet once again.” If that line doesn’t ring a bell, it’s from a haunting and beautiful song called “Here,” off Pavement’s 1990/1991 album debut Slanted and Enchanted, released in 1992. Now, I have no idea if Steve Malkmus was singing about the Veterans Outlet thrift store on Harding Way in Stockton, but it’s as good a guess as any. For a lot of us who grew up in and around Stockton, the Outlet was a central fact of our existence, or at least a great place to go score cheap clothes once you had a topnotch and cheap lunch at Cafe Azteca on American Street (or, earlier, West Market Street for you purists).
I went through a long period where I was obsessed with the Outlet, and I used to go there nearly every day to check out the shirt racks. Being well over six feet tall, I never could find pants or suits in the racks, but there always was a pretty great selection of tops on hand — bowling shirts, Hawaiian shirts, weird soul brother polyester shirts. And they were dirt cheap, so I was always coming home with like five shirts and maybe a blazer or suit coat, plus some old records and books I’d scored from the dusty bins in the back.
For a while, I had my Outlet nemesis. He was this fairly tall guy, about my age, who wore his hair slicked back in the old-school pre-Liverpudlian lube style. My quite internal reference name for the guy was Elvis. At any rate, he and I had similar tastes in shirts. So if I got there late, all the cool shirts in my size would be picked out, and Elvis would have a neat pile of all the stuff I was going to buy that day, and I’d be pissed. But on other days, I’d get there, case the joint — no Elvis — and I’d get a nice stack of sweet-deal shirts and then he’d come sauntering in. He’d casually meander by, looking at my pile, and he’d glower at my swag. On rare days, we’d get there around the same time, and both tear through the racks, one eye on the shirts and the other cocked on watching what the other guy was getting.
I’d forgotten all about that little rivalry for at least a decade. Then, in the late 1980s, around the time David Lynch’s ABC series Twin Peaks was a big hit, I was in Burbank at the old Warner Bros. Records “ski chalet” headquarters to do an interview. I’d gone there to get a story on one of my homies. So there I was, sitting across the table from Stockton expatriate singer Chris Isaak, and he gave me this weird look, then he pointed at me and said: “Hey, you’re that guy from the Veterans Outlet.” I looked at him and started laughing.
Um, I guess you had to be there. Anyway, the Outlet made for some pretty fine thrifting. —Jackson Griffith