Escape from Manzanar

My Grandmother, Bachan, answered the knocking, only to find it wasn’t knuckles upon door she heard, but a 11 x 17 placard being nailed into the clapboard siding of their Delano home.
INSTRUCTIONS To ALL MEMBERS OF JAPANESE ANCESTORY it began, the print scrolling smaller as it continued down, the words shrinking as their intentions grew more evil.
Bachan stood on tip toe and looked closely at the words, her nose almost touching the paper.
Sounding out each English word aloud in whisper, she thinks she is surely misunderstanding the instructions of eviction.
By the time my teenaged Mom came out to the porch and read it for her, their life was already slipping away.
.

I ride through the historic main gate, stop at the small guard station where a ranger hands me a map of the grounds.
He takes a look at the Pirelli big block tires on the Honda and, grinning, points to one of the multiple signs reminding visitors to Not Go Off Road.
The skies are darkened by fire smoke, the sun reddened as if blushing in embarrassment.  
The atmosphere is heavy and hellish, but feels somehow fitting as I start riding along the paved trails.
Good, I think.
I would hate to see this place on a beautiful day.

It is, shamefully, my first visit to this place.
Long ago, we recorded a song titled Manzanar, a rough 130 second song about Japanese internment.
People sometimes tag me or the band in photos of the place.
A quick stop off Highway 395, maybe on their way to or from a weekend of skiing the fine powders at Mammoth.
They take a moment out of their hilarious vacations for a somber look into America’s shadow.
#CH3 yo!, they might tag under a photo of them posing by the gates.
Or, ….in fact in your own back yard! captioning a selfie in front of the barracks, a nod to one of the lyrics.
In the comments, people chime in that they first learned of the place and that chapter of history from the song.
It’s humbling and appreciated, and I can sometimes convince myself that I wrote those words as 19 year old to teach my fellow punks of our true capacity for brutality, and not just because I needed a three syllable title to match Kimm’s bitchin’ riff.

They were told to take only what they could carry, leaving behind their furniture and home, report to a bus station.
Go somewhere else.
Bachan fretted over the weight of the tetsubin, if she could bring her bowls and cups. Mom assured her they would carry the iron teapot for her, though the lacquered rice bowls would have to stay.
Grandpa took a lantern with him to the vineyards that night, his Japanese ceremonial swords bundled in burlap like a tragically deceased infant in a burial shroud.

He dug a hole, then dropped the swords into the Earth, taking stock of the grave from every vantage in the futile hope he would someday be back to retrieve them.
He smoothed the dirt beside the grapevines he had tended just that morning but would never see harvested, their fruit still green and bitter.

The visitor center is closed, but the few restored buildings and exhibits open.
The barracks impressively present camp life of the day.
There are large photo walls and plaques filled with paragraphs of history.

But I am drawn to the still tableau of daily life here.
A matchbox sits on a shelf of bare wall stud. A blanket hangs over a clothesline, the only privacy afforded between whole families.
There, a long handled mochi mallet sits in its tub, and I imagine the rhythmic pounding on New Years Eve, making rice cakes for the traditional New Years feast.
The wind howling through cracks in tar paper, the grim smiles trying to insist holiday and tradition upon life while being held prisoner in their own homeland.

I ride around the compound and stop at each of the exhibits.
The floors are clean, the beds all made. It seems almost quaint, like a rustic resort, and I imagine if they put up string lights and sold hard cider the place could be a hot hipster glampsite.

But it is beyond the immaculately presented buildings, just past the landscaped walks of raked gravel that the moaning past seems to truly exist.
It is there, on the naked concrete slabs that still dot the grounds.
Cracked foundations, the bones of their buildings long since crumbled.
These outnumber the restored buildings, and they lay flat against the desert dust, unremarkable markers of lives shattered and held.
In the graveyard in the dusty back field, the cemetery obelisk shrine stands white against Mount Whitney, barely visible from ash-heavy winds.  


There are some interactive exhibits in the barracks, handsets you hold to your ear while looking through a photo album or diary.
When you push a button you hear a voice: a past resident telling of their experience here.  
I listen as a woman tells of arriving at the camp as a young teen. It was cold.
The muslin blanket she is handed so loosely woven she could peer through it at the weak winter sun.  

Suddenly, it is my own mother I am hearing, those stories she told of her own first night so far from home.  
They were sent down to Camp Jerome, down in the swamps of Arkansas for the duration of the war, an even worse fate than being at least still in California, I always thought.
When she would tell us stories of camp dances and group dinners at long tables, and it sounded fun to us children.
But now I think of it from a Father’s perspective.
Her parents, Grandpa and Bachan, surviving the indignities of each day.
The good natured cheer they tried to bring to their family in prison, the underlying rage that had to boil, hidden just beneath an expected serene Japanese façade.  
I have to hang up, for I can’t think of my mother, and her mother, come back to me in this way.

The night before they were to report to the bus my mother lay awake.
She sat at the sound of muffled voices outside, then raised a corner of the window shade by her bed.
Out in the street were two battered trucks, men standing in a tight circle.
Smoking, spitting.
The glowing red tips of their inhaled cigarettes floating like fireflies, their weathered faces illuminated briefly by match strike.
Mom said it was the Okies, waiting to come in when they left.
To squat in the vacated home, go through the closets and sniff at the strange pantry.
Shreds of dried seaweed are tasted then spit onto Grandma’s immaculate kitchen floor.

By the time Mom and her family were riding the bus to Santa Anita racetrack, the house is already cleared of clothes and hardware.
When they finally lay down to sleep in a horse stable that night, sharing with another family the space usually reserved for one thoroughbred gelding, dusty overalls sit upon their couch back in Delano.
Everclear alcohol splashed into Bachan’s prized lacquered tea cups, the fine paint already weeping.

But my Mom, telling the story again after we pestered her to relive it again, she never really blamed those poor white people coming in and taking their things.
They were just another tribe fucked over and set to wander, though saved the indignity of barbed wire by color of skin and crease of eyelid

In each of the halls I am joined by a few other visitors.
Everyone is masked and quiet, taking in the exhibits with hands clasped behind their backs or hands cupping their chins in thought, all in silent reverence.
Suddenly all I want, now, is sound.
Yelling or even laughter.
A roaring humbucker pickup buzzing through 100 watts of tube amplifier, an open E chord struck with windmilled fury.
Anything to break this spell of stillness, to shatter it all and to name this place for what it really was.

Leaving, I go off pavement and take the back fire road behind the cemetery.
I switch off the traction control and ABS, and paddle down to first and fucking gun it.  
The back end swings sideways with loss of traction then suddenly hooks up, and I go through the gears short shifting, getting the hell out of there.
When I look in my side view, I do not see the expected ranger truck chasing me, no lights or siren.
No one cares that I am gone.
I see only dust.
Dust rising, rising like earthbound spirits finally freed.

The OC Fair

Arab meets us at Gate 4 in his golf cart, points us into a parking spot 10 meters from the back entrance to the fair. As a favor among old punk rockers, he has allowed us a space in the crew lot.
I watch as he pulls the barricade shut behind us, disappointing a line of cars that have slowed in hopes of joining us here among the tour buses and amphitheater staff cars.
Arab waves them on, sending them to the back recesses of the parking lot, miles from the entrance.
And at my age, this parking space thrills me.
I am tempted to spend the evening in Kimm’s Yukon, isolated and safe from the teeming crowds, cracking the window only to hear Cheap Trick play Surrender in the distance.


Beyond me the lights of the fair rides sparkle in the twilight.
There is the shriek of children pitching down the banked curve of rollercoaster, there is the smell of meat smoking over open flame.
Ghastly concoctions are deep fried in oil and sprinkled with powdered sugar, ingested in the name of Summer, of being goddamned alive and once again at the OC Fair.

It is ritual, this walking tour of Americana nestled within the confines of Orange County.
It is the one month of the year, in the dead doldrums of Summer, that we can drop our cynical armor and march, like mesmerized chickens, toward the bright lights.
We imagine the thrill of the circus come to town, a brief escape from brutal and honest work in the fields.
We can pretend to be the earnest and the good, washed shiny and clutching at our nickels.
Toward the exhibit halls packed with hopeful baked goods and artsy craftsy photographs, past the pens filled with prized chickens and sheep, the best of the county offered to be judged.


It is my second visit to this year’s fair, having gone to see X play a couple weeks back.


I make a beeline for the Centennial Farm to check on the piglets, and am shocked to see how fat the little fuckers have gotten in my absence.
Truffles, a slutty Yorkshire sow lays defeated in the sawdust, eleven greedy children nursing on her chafed teats.
They eat like, well, pigs.
It reminds me to join in their gluttony, and we traipse off toward the food stands.

Oh, the food!
they say, your coworkers when you tell them you are knocking off early to go to the fair.
They list their top five favorites and allow you to leave only after you promise to eat one of each for them.
But let’s be honest here; the food is pretty crappy and crazily overpriced.
It is this setting, after all, that makes the food come alive.
Eating on shared benches with open mouthed strangers, the air wafted with goat shit from the nearby 4H exhibits.

We eat corn barbecued black at five dollars an ear.
Pork chops are sold, but with a carnival twist of being on a stick, forcing us to lap with extended tongue as if upon pork lollipops.
Sausages that have been cooking for five hours straight are sold to us for fourteen dollars.
They are oversized, and this being the Fair, each sausage is also wrapped in bacon.
The meat is vicious, dried out and bland, but eating it here on a picnic bench under the purple sky it is delicious.

For dessert there are ungodly treats battered and fried, combinations dreamed up by either madmen or stoned Junior High school children.
Oreo cookies are not only deep fried but again wrapped in bacon, dipped in chocolate, powdered with sugar.
They are served, naturally, on a stick.

I take a bite and it is America, obscene and victorious.

We stumble to our seats in the amphitheater, dazed by the smoked meats and fried sugar, herded into a sold out 8000 seat arena with not a mask in sight.
There is a passable Blue Oyster Cult tribute act on stage, and it take a couple songs to understand that, no, that is Blue Oyster Cult playing.
Two surviving old guys joined by a couple new young guys, a lineup that makes me feel for some reason familiarly queasy.
But god bless ’em, they roll into the set closer of Reaper without a mention of Will Ferrell or doing a cowbell schtick, and then it is intermission.

A beach ball floats over the crowd now, people return to their seats double fisting beers.
We will have a normal Summer, the scene says. Even if it goddamned kills us.
Outside the amphitheater there are roars of terrible hydraulics, another set of hardy riders launched skyward on some insane ride, anything to escape the grim realties of our Earthbound existence.
They are, for at least a single moment, weightless.

A stranger next to be fist bumps me, yells Cheap Trick, whooo! into the night sky.
I try not to think of the odds of airborne virus in this place, the random gift of disease raining down as casually as a beach ball swatted from one filthy hand to the next.

But the people here are happy, thrilled to be out, and I am ashamed of sitting among them with such thoughts.
It is a Summer evening amidst the lights, and for the moment anyway, we can all pretend everything is quite fine, or soon will be.
Cheap Trick come on, the familiar strum of Hello There ringing out and the crowd goes fucking wild.
And though I usually refuse to stand during these things, I am on my feet with the rest of the crowd, shouting Hello There right back to Robin and Rick.


They are joined tonight by not only Rick’s kid on drums, but Robin’s son on bass, who nails each of those pure sweet high notes of his Pop.
Ah, I think.
They have cracked the problem of longevity by simply handing down their setlist to the next generation, able to book shows into the next century with their legacy upheld.

The show ends right at ten.
The curfew imposed by the same neighbors who make the jets take off at crazy angles from nearby John Wayne airport, settling you back into your economy seat of Frontier airlines with palpable G force, your balls squeezed tight as on any badly maintained carnival ride.

As we file out we take one last look at the livestock, check in on the piglets who amazingly have seemed to grow even fatter since we arrived earlier today.
One spotted little fellow roots up close to my Conversed foot, and I dare to reach through the slats and stroke him behind his pointy ear.
He snuffles with glee, and looks up at me with canine affection, and all is right in this world.

Next year, god willing, we will return yet again to the fairgrounds.
Returned to the ritual, the memory of tonight’s heartburn and inevitable nausea long forgotten.
We’ll walk through the same Halls of Products, eat the same salty food, perhaps try the latest deep fried combinaton of chocolate and bacon on a dare.
And we will return to the pens once more, and seek out our porcine friends.
Be they now exhausted mothers themselves, with greedy piglets nursing in a row.
Or perhaps they will be nourishing us further down the midway, gloriously smoked or deep fried.
Impaled in their blue ribbon glory, America on a stick.






Riding the Rails I

The 12:27 Blackpool North to Leeds.Train

We face backward, the scenery fading away from view.
As if we are rewinding an old 8 mm movie or falling back in time, reviewing our barely visible youth on the horizon.

Ant comes back from the bar car, cheese and onion sandwich and a Strongbow.  He tries to nudge Nick to let him back in the window seat, but Nicky just shifts in his nap and spreads out further.  Anthony shrugs at me and takes the empty row across the aisle.

Kimm taps on his keyboard to my right, Beanie is a few rows up, head visibly bobbing to whatever the earbuds feed his head.  I put on my own headphones now and Bluetooth the phone, shuffle songs by The Beautiful South.

I look behind to an empty row and tilt the seat back, a luxury I never claim on a plane.
I refuse to ever tilt the seat back a single degree in hilarious battle: a passive aggressive show of respect to my fellow man, a courtesy that is never rewarded back to me.
A 3 foot tall child inevitably gets the seat in front of me, his evil little legs unable to even reach the stained carpet.
As we reach cruising altitude, he proceeds to launch the seat back into my knees, the audible crunch of patella like a framed photograph destroyed beneath the boot of a jealous lover.

As the lilting strains of Bell Bottomed Tear come on, I slip on the Wayfarers.  Take a sip of Earl Grey and watch the  hills moving away from me.  Their green is deepened by the clouds above, an emerald carpet punctuated only by dots of sheep.

Fuck, I love a train ride.

And the stations.
In this day where banks are reduced to storefront ATM cages and churches pop up in abandoned industrial tilt ups, you can count on the train station still catching your eye on the horizon.
A spire or clock still standing defiant amidst the cranes that seem to infest every city, like a congregation of giant robot mantises just waiting to bend down for another bite.

Still lovely on the outside in granite and gilt, guarded by patinated gargoyles or saints.
And though usually garish inside with the tattoo of modern commerce, you can just squint past the Subway and Boots signage and see its stately history.

The small stations in the countryside, outposts of connection placed among outrageous green. 
Here, a pause in the journey, a garbled announcement on the PA system reads off a list of towns undecipherable. 
We stand, sit, and stand again, ask each other if this is where we transfer.  We put the guitars back in the racks and sit back down, only to repeat this comedy routine at the next stop.

Perhaps the best part of train travel is the absence of airport torture.
The lack of the TSA queue–or any of the overbearing corralling of the airport- makes us feel like we are finally grown ups, held accountable for our own scheduling.
Third graders finally allowed to walk to school by themselves.

The split-flap board scrolls yet again, and you gather up bags and rush toward your track with a delicious tinge of espionage.

Find the proper car class and simply get on,  grab a seat.
See? You did it all by yourself.

Who’s a big boy? You are!

Helsinki
Central Station Helsinki

Doors hiss shut and there is that exquisite moment of lag between pause and motion.
You move away, slowly, the high ceilings of the station finally surrendering to the gray skies above.

You can’t help but be reminded of black and white cinematic images, the bellowing steam giving way to a couple kissing farewell.
Pearls and overcoats, a final look back before handing a porter her bag.
There is a wave through an open window, and then distance between the two lovers.
Each now considering their new lives without the other.

Riding the Rails II

I’ve dozed, and jolt awake when we pull into New Pudsey station.

The car is crowded now, and I’m grateful my gangly legs and naptime drooling has kept the seat next to me vacant. I take out my phone, start a new playlist, shake my head to wake up and look about.

Beanie is in a seat across the aisle and one up from me.
He’s wearing all red today.
Pants, shirt, jacket. Socks. Everything.
The costume is tight on his thin frame, making him look like a villain from the DC comics universe, intent on kidnapping then eventually being destroyed by Batman.

Good natured to a fault, we like having Beanie along for the ride.
When we all get in that pissy mid tour mood, you can always count on Beanie to lighten up the room.
Backstage and grumpy, staring at our phones, he barges in and tells us we have to come look at the full moon hanging above Milan.

He hustles the merch, often shilling leftover shirts in the wrong sizes to fans who walk away broke and puzzled, wearing XXXL Indian Summer shirts like mumus.
And they were looking for Naked Aggression merch in the first place.

He’s squished against the window beside a large fellow, but cheerfully nodding to the frantic beats coming through his headphones, watching the green hills roll by.

He turns to his seatmate to point out a squirrel or maybe an outhouse, immediately spills a half can of Scrumpys Cider between the seats.
The big man half jumps up away from the spill, then nods to the aisle.
“Go on, go through then,” he says.
In his coarse northern accent it comes out gah froo den.

Beanie gets up to fetch some paper towels, and I am tempted to offer the guy my seat,  lest he break Beanie in half.  His forearms are thick as unsplit cords, covered in blurry mirrored lions.
Tattoos of the miserable football club that will let him down yet again this year.

But in a moment Beanie is back, paper towels and a new can of cider for each of them.
I watch them chat a bit then touch cans in toast. Soon Beanie has his phone out and is showing the chap photos of his dear departed Mackie.
The two of them now laughing at a video of the Terrier mounting then destroying another pillow.

People shut off their Ipads, finally break their gaze at the phones in their laps and just stare out the window at the land going by.
I watch them watching, see them taking in this rare moment of quiet without, alone with the scenery and their thoughts.

When they touch their phones again, it’s not to check their useless Instagram feed but to snap a photo.
Lamb noshing on turf; Cathedral spire lording over a thicket of Alders.
They picture themselves back home, Happy Hour at LoConda Verde, pulling out their phones and showing these shots to friends.
Knowing they can never put this into words.

Hell. The only time you see photos taken on a flight is when the passengers are collectively recording an Air Marshal dragging an overbooked passenger down the aisle, screaming and bleeding as he clutches at their ankles.

Now I take in all my fellow passengers, spying openly.
I gift them personalities and lives befitting my perception from this rear seat.

This guy, man on his way to break it off with his mistress: he twists the gold band around his finger clockwise as if shutting off a faucet.
The old woman crocheting on the aisle? Wearing a discreet half kilo of brown heroin tight against her pantyhosed thigh.

Here we have a young Vicar returning to his flock after a cleansing weekend in Ibiza, no secret save the bejeweld butt plug that twinkles just inside his boxer briefs.
That bored Bulgarian teen taps on a labeled ice chest, delivering a sparkling cornea to St. James.
A cloudy eyed widower waits to look upon his son one last time.

And what of us, our group?
Members of a third rated Cirque troop, heading to a muddy field just outside of town.
Me, I throw knives at a leotarded gal named Isla.

People are starting to gather their things, make their way to the doors as the countryside gives way to the gravel and concrete of the city.
I watch a young woman, maybe drinking age, get up.
She’s dressed defiantly, Doc Martins and torn tights, a rainbow tie dyed MDC shirt leading up to her harsh angular haircut. She got on in Manchester with some of the other people returning from Pride weekend. She pulls a black backpack off the rack, walks past me and waits for the train to stop, the door to slide open.

I’m writing this in the future. These people, that train ride, all in my past.
Just waiting for a miserable year to finally release its claws and slip back to hell.

To ride on a train again.
Through a foreign country, surrounded by strangers, sharing the same harmless air.

I would even welcome the brat behind me a whole 12 hour Trans Atlantic flight.
Kicking at my Upper Economy seat since Heathrow, yet I vow to smile at the kid as he hangs over my headrest and stares at me upside down for the whole approach into LAX.

Please Lord.
I will gladly take the middle seat between the Herbalife sales lady and the silent farter.
Just let me go, let me wander once again. I’ll be better.

Leeds station, the others trot off with guitars in one hand, wheeling luggage behind. Beanie balances a cardboard box of the merch on his head, walks his way through the train station with the practiced gait of a Mumbai porter.

I take a moment, use the excuse of kneeling to lace a Converse.
I see the girl who got off the train first.

A man and woman come to her.
She brings a hand to her mouth, then hugs her mother.
The girl raises her head to look at her dad over her mum’s shoulder.
The dad wipes a tear from his eye with a thick thumb, then envelops them both.

I finally have to look away.
I am intruding on something real, in the middle of the station, in the shadow of the Northern Line.
I cannot resist and look back again.

They start shuffling sideways, laughing now as they try to walk while still hugging.
Trying to travel, without letting go of each other.

The Punker Looks at Sixty

I turn off the 78 just past Ocotillo. The paved road drops onto a rutted two track, covered in sand deeper than it looks.
The sudden lack of traction, a twitch of the front wheel surrendering to the dust, spurs ancient muscle memory from the old racing days.

I crouch over the seat now, keeping elbows up, eyes aimed ahead.
I am sixteen and at Saddleback on a RM125. I am bulletproof.

I come to the ditch way too fast, a gear too high to effect any change in momentum or direction.
Pull up the bars and try to off weigh the pegs, will the bike to fly.

But the big bike just plows across the eroded gutter and sticks the far side hard.
All inertia seized, I float for an instant above the bike, above the Earth.
Held there for the moment, then, and already wondering: what will this feel like tomorrow?

I am Sixty and by myself in the desert on an overweighed adventure bike.
I am closer to death than birth.

Was it only a decade ago I celebrated 50 with a ride through a different desert?
A chilly morning start in Barstow, a hilarious finish in Las Vegas, a night filled with countless rounds of drinks and stories of the ride we’d just survived.
Even then, jokes about being old men.


It’s a different world now. I am solo, my usual riding buddies staying within their own bubbles during this long and toxic holiday weekend. We’re separated by distance and disease, but I’ve decided to go ahead and take a long ride myself.

Funny, growing up.
You always pictured that certain people, oh say Baseball players, Presidents–your own doctor– were always older than you.

We’d trip out at the elder statesmen of punk, Lee Ving or Charlie Harper, carrying the torch at some crazy number. He’s already forty, for Christ sake!
But the graduating class just keeps getting grayer, and we’re catching up to them all brother.

Catching up? Hell, what of the Joeys, Ramone and Strummer?
I passed them long ago.
Tragically gone, but frozen in history with coolness forever intact, they’ll never suffer the indignities of decay.


I make the mature decision that I should not be out here, riding the trails by myself.
Back on the pavement and up toward the hills. I wave at a group of guys riding back toward the dirt on their nimble KTMs and Betas. They will soon be rolling around in that sand, falling off and getting back on so many times they lose count. They won’t see the true costs of their stunts until a later date, some distant future unfathomable to a kid on a barely street legal motocross bike.
I watch them in the rear view as they turn off the road and hit the dirt in a riot of dust, out toward the fun.

I gas it up the Borrego Salton Seaway, the luxury of pavement humming beneath me.
The dual clutch transmission automatically snicks into 5th, saving me even the tiny effort of nudging big toe under shifter.

We used to tout our nihilism with a sneer, so sure that we would never see thirty.
That life is meaningless, what better excuse to blackout drink nightly, tell the scheduling manager at Fedmart to fuckoff when the weekend shifts are posted.
We are seizing the day here, don’t ya see!

Of course the sad day comes to those of us unlucky enough to survive.
The taxes unpaid for the last three fiscal years, that pesky molar now insisting upon a canaled root- we learn that the future is upon us, and we are merely along for the ride.

I stop in Borrego Springs and celebrate my day with a bacon cheeseburger.
Hold the bacon, no cheese please.
And make that a turkey patty, fruit cup instead of the fries.
I pop a deflated blueberry into my mouth, its juice bitter as truth.


Each year another vice, another flavor, is sacrificed in the name of health.
Comfort is held ransom against another day of breathing.

I gave up the booze this past decade.
Started running, eat bundles of Kale like that shit is delicious.
Hey. I floss every fucking night.

The hygienist sits back on her stool after exploring my mouth with a little mirror, speechless.
Amazed that someone has actually listened to her scolding advice.

I start West on the 371, shadows spilling long now.
The curves bank back and forth in nice rhythm, and I think back to the last decade with the band.
It is amazing how much has changed, how much has not. The digital compression of our art, the instant and devaluing use of social media to release idea and music.
We’ve been busy, or at least give the appearance.
Released an album, an EP, various singles, a few videos.

We’ll tour again, maybe? But for now we keep the band alive with a post or video here or there. Tiny smoke signals to prove we still exist.

They drop with an artificial splash across the iPhones and flat screens, garnering a few blue thumbs and colored in hearts. We count the likes and loves, needy as 14 year old girls.
We have been reduced to Space Monkeys, pushing the correct buttons in sequence to be rewarded with a salty nut.

I stop into the Sunshine Summit market, ask the girl at the register if there’s a public restroom.
Her eyes don’t leave her phone as she points a pink tipped finger across the parking lot to a Porta Potty.

I am slowly becoming invisible, and I find a comfort in that.
If they knew the real secret, these kids, they would go screaming into the night.

That old dude sitting at the picnic table?
Just as confused as the 17 year old kid that sat on the edge of his bed, writing songs about how weird this is, all of it.
Turns out they don’t hand you the answer sheet after all.

It’s Dusk now, and getting cold.
I stop at a lookout off Highway 79 and get the heavy winter gloves out of a pannier.
Lights are starting to come on in the Coachella valley, sparkle like broken glass under streetlights.

I begin down the twisty road on the final leg, the next stop home.

I lean into the curves, slide my weight toward the apex of each turn, countersteer the front end to make the big bike obey and lean. It occurs to me I am tired, it will be so good to be still and warm.

Now LED headlights come up quick and close, a Subaru WRX kitted out with fog lights and other bolt-on rally nonsense.
I lose him easily enough in a couple turns, but the car hits it on the straights and brakes late, pulling in close again.

I see the driver’s face briefly illuminated in blue light as he glances at the smartphone in his lap. Young guy, texting. Of course.
He double clutches and revs it, sounds like a muted trumpet.

I know of a certain 25 year old who would downshift now and get ready to fuck with this guy.
Maybe the block and slow treatment, or toss him back a windshield snack of pulpy orange. Or more likely, race him down the hill.
He’s still in there, fights to fight. I can feel it.

Tomorrow I start the next decade.
The days and weeks will pass quicker now, speeding toward a focused dot on the horizon.
Will I revisit these GPS tracks on my 70th birthday, or will I be unable to swing a leg over the saddle?
Still here, or gone on unspeakable adventure?
Perhaps locked in an Alzheimer prison of the mind, forever more twelve years old and incontinent?


I swerve into the next turnout and slow, and let the car go by.

The Streaming Life

We got busted for sneaking 48 cans of Coors Banquet into the Cathay DeGrande one night.
We loaded through the front doors innocently enough, Dobbs nodding us in as we carried naked guitars in one hand, and in the other guitar cases heavy with Rocky Mountain Lagers.
We left the stage looking like a hoarder’s rumpus room, El Duce pantless and snoring beneath a pyramid of aluminum cans.
After that drunken night, we were searched for smuggled booze each time we played there.

Years later, when some of the larger and greedier venues allowed us through their gates, they’d check to make sure you weren’t sneaking merch in the Anvil cases.
Can’t have the band avoid count-in and the 20 percent cut they got out of the inflated T-shirt sales, now can we? Fuckers.

Post 9-11, load in at the Downtown Disney House of Blues became nothing less than a military exercise.
You had pass a thorough security check before they would lower the phallic bollards for entry.
Cheerless dogs would sniff at us not for pharmaceuticals, but explosives.
Mirrors on poles were shoved under the van to peek at its underside, a colonoscopy of the machinery to ensure we weren’t carriers of some terrorist cancer.

And so it goes, being in a band through the decades.
You learn to comply to the latest protocol, to submit to the latest safeguards.
The world thinks up new horrors, and the punk adapts and continues on, bouncing pinball-like against and off the latest obstacle, onward toward the flashing lights once again.

Bring us up to 2020, and on one muggy Saturday we queue up at check point to have our temperatures checked and recent medical history reviewed.
We point our smartphone dumbly at QR codes and wait for a 3 page questionaire to pop up. We have to think hard as we are asked if we have had contact with the infected:
Has a Zombie bitten you? Be truthful now….

Inside, the venue is impressive, not only for its production setup and gear, but for the medicinal cleanliness of the facilities. Arrows along the floor keep us wandering in a clockwise path through the warehouse, lest we actually confront another human face to face and breathe a shared droplet of disease.

We say hello to the usual Soto devotees, Greg Antista and 2 Bags, Jorge and Frank Agnew.
Efrem and the kids of BadCopx2.
We shout muffled hellos through fabric, extend elbows to bump.
It feels like a gig-almost.

Thankfully, the greenrooms are air-conditioned, clean if not a tad antiseptic.
I mean, what we would give to sink into those germ laden couches in the black dressing rooms we love!
The contact risk of scabies and crab just another charming risk in the name of RocknRoll!

But we are here for a good cause, to play the songs of our fallen brother Soto on the eve of his birthday. Cathy Mason has graciously allowed us to be part of the show, along with all these other people who miss the big fella so much.
Fittingly, the proceeds of the show will go towards Save Our Stages, an organization that hopes to have venues still there when this madness clears.

Good ol Joe Sib is there to act as emcee, his constant patter a comfort as the room is heavy with the absence of audience. In fact, the whole day is eerily calm and quiet.
We go up and do our song, searching the black lenses of the cameras for any sign of life, listening for the slightest response from the few stagehands scattered through the hall.

We send Steve’s song Everybody into the void, and it’s like tossing a valuable gem off a cliff just to hear its reassuring crash on a distant bottom.

The stage manager gives us the cut sign and we’re out as the show switches to a video feed of Kevin Seconds beaming his sweet song down from Sacramento.
And then it’s silent once again, masks are replaced over our smiles.
We roll up the guitar cords, and for once they are not filthy, sticky with spilled beer.
No one comes up to the stage and asks for a setlist or pick, no one comes by to tell us that we really sucked tonight.
I miss that.



I stare into the camera’s dead lens, at my image inverted and black, wondering at the new digital distance between this and the audience.
Is this how it will be, if at least for a while?

From Scoob’s living room

Will the music and visceral beat, the sweat and smell be reduced to a binary sentence of 1s and 0s, and fed to the screens of people so far away?

Greg and the fellas come out to set up for their turn to wade in the stream, but I stay on stage a moment longer.
It’s been too long since I’ve stood on one.


The Nap

The WebX meeting drones on, Shelia from HR outlining the third phase protocol of facilitiy reopening, once phase two has cleared, pending the go ahead from the individual team leaders but not until after…..when you catch yourself drifting off with a snort of a snore.

You look longingly at the couch, just a meter away.
Ah, to stretch out, mid day and- if even just for a moment- slumber.

And so a new generation has discovered the joy that musicians, toddlers and other day drinkers have known about all along: the nap.

Oh, you’ve been a good sport, all this work from home stuff.
Sitting through meaningless PowerPoint presentations and corny Zoom birthday parties for Jason down in Contracts.
That you are only wearing pajama tops and terrycloth skorts is small consolation as the day reaches 2pm, and you suddenly catch your head slipping off its axis, nodding like a novelty sippy bird.
But you resist, pop another RedBull. Go to sleep during the day, me?

What ya need is a nap.

Oh, I’m not talking about those sweaty 90 minute affairs that wreck your Saturday.
Where you bolt upright, clammy from the vivid nightmares that haunt deep daytime sleep.

See, all ya need is 25 good minutes of shut eye, a quick reset of the day.
What can be more luxurious than to take a break mid day, to simply give ourselves a moment of graceful rest.
Shut ourselves out of the scary clatter, disconnect from the insane digital trash we have injected into our every moment of consciousness.
We draw the blinds, lay down in a room darkened and cool.
And shut our eyes.

That’s the ticket.

Kindergarten, do they still nap?
That was a charming and somewhat creepy tradition we could probably not get away with today.
A roomful of toddlers strewn across the floor, faces pressed into the synthetic toxicity of a filthy rug, the unsupervised supervision of a single adult watching over 25 unconscious minors.

The Asian community has long seen the value of laying head down on desk.
No shame here, people. More like plugging in the phone for a bit, letting the little flashing lighting bolt of sleep recharge the inner lithium.

The closet alcoholic goes out to his van at lunch, a cheerful little respite after nipping off a half pint of Canadian Club all morning. He’s back at the desk at 1pm bright as a nickel, ready to tackle those spreadsheets until it’s time for Happy Hour at El Torito.

Passed Out. Napping.–who’s to say? It’s all semantics officer.
And besides the keys weren’t even in the ignition.

If that’s the case, Kimm and I have been guilty of only catnaps at 3am, holding up the line at Del Taco.

But traveling with an aging punk band, oh baby.
That’s where naps are not only beloved, but necessary as Wet Ones and backstage WiFi passwords to the touring musician.
Fuck soundcheck, brother.
We’ll be back at the Quality Inn, riding those semen paisleyed comforters like champs, blissfully asleep until downbeat.

On those rare occasions we all have to share a day room or perhaps an upstairs apartment above the venue in Europe, it is a race to see who goes down for the nap first. The loser of this contest is usually cheated out of his nap, subjected to the symphony of syncopated snoring and farting that soon fills the room.

It is an enviable talent to be able to shut down instantly, like a machine.
Anthony of course has been known to fall asleep mid sentence, deep into REM before the flight attendant has even finished holding the oxygen mask in front of her face.
In the van, Ant can only be counted on for just a brief conscious moment: getting his place in the back of the van before making a canine circle of the best seat and immediately drifting into slumber.
Bunk mate Nick just looks over at him, envious, and silently pulls out the Bose noise cancelling headphones in preparation for the hurricane of snoring that will soon flood his vicinity.

Back when the band was in its hard drinking days, we’d pull into town and meet the locals for a jolly lunch.
Our reputation precedes us, and old friends have been dying to show us what’s new in town.
The decent Churrascaria , or maybe that bar with the good jukebox–hell, they persuaded the owner to open early, just for us.

And what’s this? Hah! An actual beer bong? You guys!

In the guise of good humor, we’d ingest everything put in front of us.
Waddle through a hilarious soundcheck and then its bed time.
How many times have nervous promoters called the agent back home, the support band blasting away in the background, wondering just where the hell we were.

Up and back into moldy clothes, back into the van and back to the venue with the second hangover of the day.
A couple shots of Jaeger to get back in the groove, play the gig and then drink enough to get back to sleep, ready to do it again, then again.
Good times.

A bit more sleep. I propose it’s what we’ve all been yearning for.
We have become discontent, ready to shout ourselves hoarse over natural difference of opinion.
I hear you.
We’re all scared, we’re all pissed.

What we have become, is cranky.

And what do we say to all cranky children, hmmm?
Somebody needs a nap!

My Dinner with Chi

I walked upstairs to the backstage, not in a great mood.
It had been a long miserable travel day to Kiel, 8 hours on an Autobahn that slowed to a crawl every 80 kilometers due to construction.
The old soda delivery van we traveled in had no air conditioning, a single rear window.
We took turns at the window seat to stare out at the baking sunflowers and the neon vested roadworkers who would slow us down yet again.

We finally got to the club and loaded in, too late for a soundcheck.
We all wandered off in different directions, finally free of being in a space the size of a refrigerator box with four other oversized men.
We would play this gig, load up again and get a couple hours on the road toward Berlin before sleeping somewhere.
It was one of those nights when you have to ask yourself just why, exactly, are you are doing this.

I walked into the dresssing room and there sat Ken at the catering table, picking through the fatty meats and sweating cheeses.
He looked up, registered my dark mood, then started to plaster himself with slices of deli.

Mike, he says. It’s Good-ah to see you!
And here he points at to himself.
Gouda—eh? You get it?


Fuckin Chi.
Anything for a laugh.

We first met Chi way back.
Summer of 1983 we cut back West through Canada.


A gig in Toronto with Youth Brigade then meeting up with our old pals in Stretchmarks, Winnipeg.
We set off toward Edmonton with hangovers, those hardy Canadiens feeding us Extra Old Stock malt liquors all night for their wicked amusement.

Ken was young then, great fucking hair.
We had the half Asian thing in common, and chatted about that a bit.


I remember the night after the gig he came and hung out with us as we did our wash at some Edmonton laundromat, took us to a cheap place he knew for lunch.
He sat in the blue and white while we waited for the dry cycle to finish, thumbing through Jay’s pro wrestling magazines. I believe he wanted to be in the van when we shut the doors.
Ready to go on to Vancouver, onto somewhere, anywhere, more exciting than another dull weeknight in a prairie town.
He was a kid to us, but totally into the music and lifestyle we seemed to be only taking half seriously in comparison,

For when he took to the stage, it was energy unleashed.
You’ve seen the photos, Chi rarely with two feet planted upon the stage. It was as if laws of gravity didn’t apply to him.
It was a meter above the Earth that he was more comfortable, singing those pun driven lyrics with a surprisingly clear tenor.

We caught up a few other times through the years, when they would come through LA, SNFU rightfully eclipsing our band in popularity.

2009 Düsseldorf we shared a bill once again.
A grand night, Adolescents and The Dickies, DOA, SNFU and us.
I walked backstage and said my hellos, Joey Shithead eating some backstage pasta, Anthony and Soto chatting over the bar.
I saw Ken, and I think it was the first time I encountered him in the Mr. Pig persona.


He came right over and gave me a sweaty hug.

I held him at arms length.
Jesus, kid
, I said. What the hell happened to you?

And indeed, this last decade, he did look rough.
The drugs and mental demons seeming to pull ahead of him.


Not that it came as a surprise, the social media posts seem to all start off with, before repeating the news of his passing.
And that’s the fucking heartbreaker, right there.

He flipped his dentures over in his mouth and cackled, took off into the club.

It was the usual clusterfuck after the gig, all the bands loading up in the darkness, drum hardware and amp heads slotted Tetris-like into the back of Sprinter vans.
Tour routes compared, we’d see some of these guys in a few days for another gig, probably catch up with everyone again at Rebellion.

I found Chi wandering around, said goodbye.
He laughed again, another damp hug, then went past me and fell to his knees behind DOA’s tour van.
He pointed at the towing ball mounted beneath the bumper and laughed, then actually put his mouth around the filthy thing.
Look Mike, I’m sucking the chrome off a trailer hitch!

Fuckin’ guy,
Anything for a laugh.

Biscuit II

New Years Eve 1982, and we’re standing together in the upstairs loge of Irving Plaza.
We got to play and then the plug was pulled; the promoter has bailed out.
Those lumberjacks of DOA are wandering the venue, trying to find someone to beat for this shit.
As with so many stacked shows in those days, no one knows anything, no one’s getting paid, and the sound company starts dismantling the rig 3/4 way through our set.

It’s our first time in New York City, and we are still trying to wrap our heads around this freezing cold, the mountains of buildings…the people.
Kimm is chased out of a Kosher Deli for requesting a slice of cheese on his brisket, Jack is still trying to find parking for our rental station wagon on the streets around Union Square.
Larry buys a quarter gram and four Quaaludes off a friendly cab driver, yet is rewarded only baby powder and AlkaSeltzers for his 50 bucks.

We are just kids in the city, having a fuckin blast.

Kickin it in the alley with Doug Holland

Biscuit’s counting heads, trying to calculate how much money someone has skipped out with.
He stops counting and shrugs, resigned to just another cancelled gig, though this one is 2000 miles from home in the dead of winter.
“So how y’all?” he asks, and that honey smooth Texas accent adds some familiar warmth to this strange moonscape. We haven’t seen The Boys since we passed through in July, though it seems like a lot has happened for both our bands.

A snotty kid comes up to us then and stops in front of Biscuit.
Yo, you’re the guy from Big Boys, right?
Biscuit nods and sticks out his hand in greeting.
Hahaha!, the kid spits, faggot! and then he runs off.

I am frozen, sick with shame, as much from this brutality as my own cowardice for not chasing the kid down and poking his eyes out.

But Biscuit just turns back to me and continues our chat.
“So y’all got some good shows going on out LA huh? We gotta get back soon.”

I think of that now, and imagine all of the ignorant abuse this man endured, being one of the first openly gay guys in the hardcore scene.
It doesn’t seem any big deal now, but amidst that macho bullshit of the early 80’s, this supposedly independent music community was often soured by a prison yard mentality.

And when I heard a couple of years later of The Bad Brains passing through Austin and cursing Biscuits’ lifestyle as an affront to their pseudo Rastafarian religion, I could only imagine Randy taking yet another insult in stride, if not with graceful anger.

 

When we pulled up at The Ritz it was already a boiling Texas day, the damp blanket of humidity another new experience for us.
But we’re cheered immediately by the hand painted sign welcoming us to town, and what a fucking lineup!
The Big Boys had humbly put their name down at the bottom of that banner, though they explained to us it would be a lot better if they played last.

The crowd was great for our set, though we were shaky and nervous as hell.
The Huskers were a little shaken by the charming Austin tradition of tossing empty LoneStar cans up at the stage, and warned us to keep an eye peeled.
We simply requested only full cans only be tossed in our direction and spent the set running around with our mouths open like drunken sparrows at dinnertime.
It got the crowd on our side and by the end of our set we were sticky with beer and drunk off our asses.

And then The Big Boys got up there to close out the night and we understood:
This was their town.

Tim Kerr stage left playing loose and fast, all syncopation and jangle.
Chris Gates to the right, a block of power and mass: a car battery.
And Biscuit front and center, using up that stage. I think they had some horns along, though you couldn’t really hear them for the crowd shouting their lyrics right back to them.


This felt like community compared to LA, our metropolis flattened and spread wide like a squashed and molded fruit.
We had already had punk on punk violence and splintered tribes formed by area code, but here it was still us against them, and everyone in that hall was united by the music, the life, the city.
What else to say? They were a great band.

A few years went by.
Looking back, it was a shockingly short time that bracketed that first episode of punk for us. I mean, our EP came out in 1982, and by ’86 we were already dressing like Eastern Bloc whores and playing the goddamn harmonica onstage for fuck sake.

But in that sweet season we got to connect then reconnect with these people again at different waypoints.
Compare notes on what we saw out there in the wilds of America. The crisscrossed network of promoters and clubs grew bolder with every month, and bands would return with new reconnaissance to share.

The Big Boys would come back through town, a show with us at The Vex, or we’d go to see them at another club.
One night we picked them up at whatever pad they were camped and took them down to the Cathay for a weekday gig. The Red Hot Chili Peppers were the openers that night, and though I know it’s hard for you youngsters to believe, they did not always suck.
The Peppers charged the basement room, Flea slapping the shit out of that MusicMan, AnthonyK rolling the floor as he spit the sixteens.

The ride home was quiet. They talked about what they saw: something ferocious and new, obviously inspired by them.
I think they sensed that someone had discovered and refined the art they had created.
Made it sleeker and sexier, ready to be repackaged to the very Frat Boys that were the Big Boys’ earliest nemeses.

After that Ritz gig, Duane, Jackie and I went back to Biscuit’s place while Larry and Kimm went to stay with Tim and Beth.
We pulled up sweaty, drunk and exhausted.
Biscuit opened the door wide for us, cleaned up and smiling.

The wild force we’d witnessed onstage just a couple of hours ago was now the proper Texas host once again. He bowed to bid us in and then pointed us to our beds for the night.

“Well, I just had myself a cool bath and made a peanut butter jelly sandwich, and I invite y’all to do the same,” he said.
We were grateful as abandoned dogs, and fell upon the white bread and Skippy in kind.

“That was a real good one, wasn’t it,” he said then.
“Good night.”

Bourdained

We’re in the Pho joint right next to Til Two Club in San Diego a few months back.
Pho King….. get it?

It’s a good place, noodles with just enough surface tension, a bone broth deep in flavor with just that faint waft of urine that lets you know the place is legit.

I look up from my slurping and notice a little Vietnamese boy watching me intently.
I look away, but when I look back he’s still staring. I shrug to his Mom.

“He thinks that’s you,” she says.
She points with her chopsticks at the TV montior hanging above our heads.
I look up and there he is, Anthony Bourdain, Parts Unknown or maybe a rerun of No Reservations.

The kid looks up at the TV where Bourdain is also hovering over an Asian noodle dish, then down at me, and back to the TV again. He laughs.

Got Bourdained, we’ve grown to calling it.
Without fail, on our travels here and there, I inevitably get the double take and then it’s Hey, anyone ever tell you, you look just like….

I come back to the United lounge and sit down with the fellas.
“Got Bourdained again,” I tell Kimm. “That’s three for the day.”

I don’t see it.
I mean, am I really that grey of head?
I’ve always seen myself as more of the Wayne Newton doppelganger, or maybe an Osmond brother with gigantism.

But man, they keep coming up to me to point out the resemblance.
One chap actually cornered me at the back of the plane while we floated a mile above Duluth.
“Hey man, don’t want to bother you, but just wanted to say I love all your stuff!”

I am immediately inflated, thinking, ah, you meet CH3 fans in the strangest places! Now where is a pen for me to sign an autograph and make this mortal’s day special?

But then he takes a closer look and his face falls in disappointment.
“Ah, sorry about that, you’re not him are you? Anyone ever tell you ya look just like….”

What I’ve come to understand is people really love-loved- Anthony Bourdain.
It’s made me appreciate at least I don’t look like Mike Pence for fuck sake.

And for some reason they feel the need to tell me how much they enjoy the shows, can only dream of his lifestyle.
Man, if I could only live like that! I wish!

Now we learn of his farewell, and it hits you like a sock to the gut.
It makes you wonder at the blackest of holes that can lurk deep inside us all.
What deep despair pulls at a soul, no matter if they are lounging on a tropical beach with a Michelin rated chef or sucking cock for rock in the alley?

But besides this tragedy, and the show we will miss– that food, the smarmy commentary! —I think this hurts so hard because we all felt Bourdain was one of our own:
A punk.

My fave episodes of his shows are when he hung out with musicians.
I think he understood just how connected bands are to food and travel, the twin comforts and demons to any touring band.

There he is, in the city with David Johansen, cruising the backstreets of Helsinki with Sami Yaffa.
And when he sat down with Iggy, you could just feel the adoration Anthony had for the man and the music.

But my very favorite show was when he went to Montana and sat with fuckin Jim Harrison for a meal and a chat.
The grizzled lion of letters, croaking out his poetry in a cloud of American Spirits.
Anthony Bourdain sat, rapt and respectful, and I could only hope I could hold my own half as well in the presence of a hero.

And, damn.
Both gone?

In Kitchen Confidential he was open and honest about the drug use and fuckups, as well as his love of truly good music.
It made him that more relatable to our tribe.

The line cooks with their own demons, listening to the Dolls while blanching the Brussels Sprouts.
Smoking in the back alley before dinner crush, comparing their Cocksparrer tattoos blemished by yet another 2nd degree burn by a molten saute pan handle.

Punk rockers connecting the dots with food, rejecting corporate fast food to search the back alleys for a memorable meal after soundcheck.
Trying to capture the essence of a city by its food, where in the past it may have been a more lethal gluttony.
Now: Ingestion, not injection.

And when we saw him sitting down to noodles with Barack Obama, the graceful world leader meeting junkie punk, we could only feel it as somehow a triumph for all of us in the tribe.

On Damian Abraham’s excellent Turned Out a Punk  podcast he shows a respectful and deep history with the New York scene. No celebrity poseur with the 10 grand Crass leather jacket here.
The guy knew the food , the music, the places.

But now another one gone.
This tragic news we consume with resignation, seems like nearly every week.

I never met the guy, no connection at all.
I’m just a fan, just like the people that feel the need to come up to me and point out the resemblance.
They take a moment out of their day to tell me about their connection to Anthony Bourdain, and I can see their love for him even though they are disappointed they did not get to meet the man.

Sometimes, I tell them, “Hell, tell your friends you did, though, right?”

And they think about that for a moment and then nod their heads in agreement.
And they walk away, happy.