Thursday, June 29, 2017

Our Retinentia (Part I)

Wanna hear something funny? My mother is losing her mind. Oh Sorry, that’s not the funny part. The funny part is that the more I experience her mind slipping away, the more I realize mine is slipping away too.

It could be that when I am around her the assuring positive way in which she commits to what she believes to be true is so often adamantly proposed that I find myself doubting what I really know. The other day my sister, Jeannie, messaged me while I was sitting at my computer to say,

“John, was Paige with you when you came to visit last week? Mom thinks Paige was with you?”

And I found myself asking myself, “Was she?”
Even though I knew she wasn’t. At the time my girlfriend Paige wasn’t even in the same country. But was she there?

I know my mom. She raised me. She is the one who raised all 5 of us by herself. It made her a bit crazy, but in a way that was grounded, solid. She kept us alive. There must be a logic to her recollection. I can’t believe it was based in nothing. She experienced something.

So with my fingers frozen on the computer keyboard, I made myself recall that day, all that we had talked about… saving the world, Japan, the history of my friendships, video games… Then, I took my fingers off the keyboard and said, out loud, to myself, “Oh, Paige WAS kinda’ there.” I realized that my mother and I had been talking about Paige, about her growing fame in the video game community. I showed Mom a video on youtube, and at that exact moment, Paige called me on the phone, and I relayed questions and answers back and forth between them. "Ah, she was there."

I put my fingers back on the keyboard and typed to my sister, “Well it is more complicated than if she was there or not.” Then I told Jeannie the information above and she said, “So Paige was there but wasn’t. I get it.”

The other funny not so funny part is that my mother is in the midst of nursing my father’s first wife who has Alzheimer’s disease. Yes, my father’s FIRST wife, my father had four wives, my mother being the second and longest. As the story goes, one day, these two divorcees, my mother and my father’s first wife, met for coffee, commiserated and became good friends. My half sister Nancy was a big part of our life, and that made that relationship easier. My half sister Nancy died during the tight grip of Alzheimers on her mother, and now this mother does not even remember that her only daughter is dead. My mom has gone to visit her constantly and has had to make the hard decision to put her in a care facility. This ex-wife now, after months and maybe years of this, barely remembers my mother, but knows that she is the woman that has always been there for her. This woman will ask, many times over and over, “Where is Nancy?” And my mother, who hates to lie, has to tell her that she plans on coming later. But Nancy is never coming. And soon this woman will remember nothing, and then nothing will remember her.

I don’t know if you can catch dementia, actually I know you can’t, but I would like to think that maybe my mother is just tired, and if we make her sleep enough and drink enough tea, she’ll get better. She’ll become younger, and she’ll fly to Florida, alone, forget that we exist, sit on the beach in a young woman’s bikini, calm, maybe a little smile in the corner of her mouth, catching a tan; like she liked to do but never did. It’s been a hard life, she would deserve that, and that’s why it should be possible.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Tender Demon

“You looked like Steven Seagal with your stupid long hair pulled back into a ponytail, I wanted to fucking hate you, but you’re alright Johnny.” That was one of the first things Peter said to me when we finally got past him being my boss at the bookstore. He was the assistant manager at Crown Books back in 1991. There was many things we liked about each other, but I think he thought he knew something about me that most others didn’t. I am aware enough of myself to know that I am perceived as a standoffish yet kind fellow. But as close friends know I have a deviousness that lurks underneath, and sometimes not so underneath. I can lash you with my tongue, often without you even understanding the level to which I struck back. He said I was a tender demon. I am a precarious balance between father and mother.
My mother has always been kind, even in her old crotchety age, she still has a gleam in her eye that makes you want to hold her tight. She is a wonderful slice of humanity. She will drive back to the grocery store if she discovers too late that the cashier had accidentally given her too much change back, even just a few cents. 
Peter loved the beat poets, their writing, indistinguishable from their life style, was a very personal matter for him. The love of literature was a selfish but infectious part of his personality. His opinions about the meanings of things needed to be fought for and shared. I was not a big fan of the Beats and this did not please Peter. One day after work, traveling back home on the bus, I reached into my back pack and found a pristine, new, copy of the book Dharma Bums by Kerouac. On the front cover was a post-it note that just said, “Read This!” It was a touching gift but, I too felt I knew Peter pretty well. He did not pay for that book. He had snuck it into my bag so that I would have to unknowing steal my own gift. But you see? I could have returned it. I didn’t.

I have been thinking about Peter a lot while preparing for my character in ONCE, The Musical. He was an incredible musician, with an Irish heart that bled buckets. He was soaked in beer and whiskey, and he sang like he would die if he didn’t. Some people say I had a man crush on Peter, I don’t know about that but I sure did love him. But the thing about loving hims so much is that this is what has allowed me to hate him as much as I do too. I hate him for many reasons but mostly for taking his own life and leaving us all behind with an empty Peter-shape clawed out of our lives.

Friday, December 23, 2016

The Punk Heart

The Punk Heart:

1. Is inherently wounded.

2. Questions even the most simplest of thoughts.

3. Is angry, but not from Hate, but from Love.

4. Understands the need for a place called home, but never wants to be there… for too long.

5. Likes to be alone, but needs to express their compassion towards others, and this drives them completely crazy.

6. Understands that music is a necessary component for living a fulfilling life, but knows that music is not life itself.

7. Sometimes wishes that life was as simple as a well constructed three chord song.

8. All too often wants to burn it all down, but then realizes it is not qualified to rebuild it.

9. Wants to learn to be good at everything… so it can burn it all down.

10. Like a good buddhist teacher, hangs out by the door of enlightenment, but never goes in. What the fuck is one suppose to do with enlightenment?

The Punk Heart needs to feel its own blood pumping, or else it doesn’t know that it is still beating, that it is still keeping itself alive.

Monday, December 19, 2016


My older sister has a daughter, my only niece. And I only have one nephew. His mother, my younger sister, is a single parent. When she was pregnant I promised I would be around more to help, more than I was with our niece. But life always seems to get in the way, and once again I have not been the best uncle I could be, but I feel I have had my moments. I really do love this kid she named Levi. 

 Anyway. He has had an ongoing fascination with Santa Claus. Not just around Christmas, but all year round. In summer you can catch him sitting with his legos building a perfectly crafted Santa with reindeer and sleigh. Sometimes out of clay, sometimes, with crayons, but always to perfection and with personality. To me that is a sign of a real good artist, where you can look at a detailed or even simply drawn image and it somehow comes alive, like it has a soul. He can make this happen in the most simple of creations. 

Earlier this year he and his mother drove together to Indiana to purchase a real antique sleigh, 120 years old. The man who sold it was offered more money from another buyer, but then heard that a little boy who loved Santa and loved giving gifts wanted it, so he sold it to my sister, a few hundred dollars less than it would have cost for another customer. It was the exact Sleigh he wanted. You could see its resemblance in his drawings.

Every time I visit Levi he presents me with a drawing from his collection. They are always well crafted, and if they do not feature a Santa, then they feature a super hero, often both. A good Imagination makes things like that possible. Something in him is attracted to figures who try their best to help others. Often my sister would wonder if the mild obsession with Santa was somehow hurtful to him. But it never seemed to keep him from making friends or getting work done or functioning like a regular boy. 
Levi is by far one of the last of his age to believe in the existence of Santa, and somehow over the years the kids coming to the realization of the contrary while around him did not deter his devotion. 

Well… A couple days ago, Levi sat my sister down and told her to be straight with him and not to lie. He asked if Santa was real. And my sister had to tell him, "No." He got very sad and began to cry. He is also at that age where a human begins to realize that all things die, and somehow these concepts of non-existents and death combined and the weight of this information hit him hard. My sister told me he was going to stay home from school the next day, and I said I would stop by. I worked out things that I could say to him, to make him feel better about Santa and even about himself. And then I felt I over-rehearsed it and thought it wouldn’t feel real, and then I decided I would just play it by ear. Today, he just seemed like he needed a male play pal for awhile, so we had a drawing contest, then we just threw balls at each other. Later he tried to kill me with a sword but luckily I found the Truthful Glove of Surrender so he had to get whirled around on my back till he was dizzy. 

Then he showed me his amazing, real to goodness sleigh, with antique cushioned seats and metal rails. It was outside in the snow but it was covered with a canvas to protect it from the elements. He said, “Mom and I are saving up money to buy a shed for me to put the sleigh in, and a place for me to go to draw.” I said that sounded marvelous, then picked him up and tickled him, then he screamed and laughed, ripped off my glove and then I no longer had the Truthful Glove of Surrender so I had to release him. After a few moments of silence I said, “Are you Ok?” He looked away and his eyes sunk to the ground. I put my hand on his shoulder, he teared up, and politely took my hand off. “I’m very sad.” And I just said, “That’s Ok.”

They drove me to the train station as the snow began to fall. Through the frosted car window he saw a cup on a vending machine outside the station. He said, “uncle John, knock that off for me when you get out.” “Do I have to?” And he with a serious smile said, “Yes, you do.” So I did. When he was out of view I picked it up and through it in a garbage can. On the train I felt bad that I did not say the things I meant to say, so when I got home I told my sister so, in an email. I pasted the paragraph I had planned to say to him in some order or fashion. She said it was beautiful and that Levi responds positively to compassionate things like that, and she asked if she could read it to him. And I said Yes. So she did. I don’t know how he responded but I hope it helps in some way.

“The things I feel you see in Santa are in you. Santa is kind, you are kind. Santa gives gifts, you like to give gifts. Santa brings joy, and you bring joy to your mom, grandma, your uncle and your friends. Santa Claus will always exist in your heart, because you are more real than he could ever be, and so he will always be around within you."

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Screeching Weasel and Ben Hamper

I found this photo on the internet, but there was a logo printed over it. Luckily I was able to purchase a hard copy of this photo from an online company. I came home from Japan and on my table piled deeply within a stack of mail, was the package containing this print. I am not sure why I like this photo so much. I think because it shows us as just a bunch of guys hanging out, doing the things we chose to do, to keep busy, to fill our time on this earth, to maybe accidentally make something of ourselves. We are silly but also there is a glimmer of serious business, and perhaps a dark brewing of disagreement and fragmentation. We are both clean cut and filthy, innocent yet already full of road weary experience. We were seeking adventure yet still holding anxiety close to our suburban sheltered fears and doubts about death from accidents, skinheads who hate our band, and shows cancelled from lack of interest and shitty promoters, being stranded in small towns and big cities, at any time, on a mountain road or stuck in a winter storm. We are not famous, but we are not unknown. We are the lineup that most will view as the best the band ever had, yet to us, then, we were far from being as good as we could be. We were still learning how to play the basics of punk rock. We were equal in charisma and talent yet we were plagued with an imbalance of vanity, assholery, compassion, insecurity, and need for control. We would soon implode, but at that moment in the van we were a unit who played punk rock with a veracity that has made us legends amongst a particular group of music lovers.

Pictured from lef to right: Richard the Roadie, Dan Panic, Ben Hamper, Dan Vapid, John Jughead, Ben Weasel.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

The Suicides of Tojinbou

Ever since I excommunicated myself from the Mormon church, when I was 15, I have been more a man of Logic and Coincidence, with some Chaos and Absurdity thrown into the batch. I lost most of my spiritual beliefs over time, they were absorbed by more pertinent things to me like creativity and the beauty to be found in the simple. Superstition is now just memories of a wild imagination as a child. After rereading Kierkegaard in my early thirties I had regained a strong understanding of the importance of belief, and have reincorporated it into my life, but now without religion attached to it. Mostly I know it is important to believe in people and to trust the inexplicable feelings we often cannot come to copes with.

This post has gone to a place I didn't expect. What I really wanted to share, which I suppose the aforementioned paragraph gives some backstory to, is this: When I was at Tojinbou with Shogo and Akiko, while standing on the jagged rocks looking out over the Sea of Japan, they told me that this was one of the most popular places in Japan to commit suicide, so much so that the city installed a phone booth with a bowl full of coins to use to make a call and a hotline to dial for support. This is pictured below. They also told me that the island just across the way, Oshima, was a place of unsettled ghosts, the ghosts of the thousands of suicides. Then Shogo turned to me very seriously and through broken English told me that people say that at night you can look out over the cliffs towards the island and witness arms stretching out from the sea. This is no joke, and they are not ones to pull a prank on me. Later that night when we were looking through our photographs, we spotted this strange picture of me sitting on the rocks. Take a look. And tell me that that isn't weird!

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Weasel Logo silk screened into the internet machine

Years and years ago, a few days before hopping in a Chevy Malibu to travel across the country, touring with our, at the time, fledgling punk band, I purchased a do-it-yourself silk screen kit. The way these things worked seemed to me to be some kind of modern day magic. I spent a couple days making a shit ton of concert shirts. I built a wooden frame, stuck the screen in it, and sat Paul Russel’s legendary Weasel logo, against it under a sun lamp, covered in some kind of magical chemicals. Then I coated the screen in an otherworldly goo, and when I washed it off the logo had wondrously adhered itself to the screen. To this day the silk screen making process is still magic to me! But the silk screening repetitive work itself is all too real. I unwrapped and spread dozens and dozens of blank t-shirts across my floor, and one by one I poured paint into the wooden frame and squeegeed even levels of it across the screen, and then slowly lifting it up revealing the logo, anxious each time that I was going to fuck up the design. Which did happen quite a few times. We still sold those fucked up shirts too, just at a cheaper price. We couldn’t afford not to. After hours and hours of repeating this process, all night and into the morning, covered in paint from head to toe, I was surrounded in my room with drying concert shirts. Getting out of their was like playing Hot Lava, except I didn’t have a couch to stand on to protect myself from burning my skin. I jumped, crawled, wavered, and nearly fell quite a few times till I got to the exit. I think about this every time I happen upon this photo on the internet. I was pretty damn proud of those shirts, with or without one of them being warn out on the body of this well known rocker. This came up because of wandering down memory lane preparing for my next youtube album archive episode.