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Facebook is an inadequate medium to satisfy most of our online needs. It think this is proven by the fact that that I see so many post by my LJ friends complaining about it. Facebook is not generally a place for refection or involved thoughts. It’s the place where most of my co-workers gather online so I do get up-to-date snippets from their lives sooner than I would otherwise and I enjoy that. There are a few performers that I follow there, but I think that I know all of them personally. Mostly for me though, it’s more a place to run into people I once knew, chat with them excitedly for a few minutes, then realize that there’s a reason I don’t see them very often.

You may have a desire to read that negatively. I don’t mean it that way. I find it incredibly satisfying – sometimes even cathartic – to communicate with folks who I used to see every day -- people who were crucial to life at whatever time they touched it – and see they are doing good things, raising children, and living in exotic (to me) cities like Cleveland and Baltimore. But I don’t have much unfinished business out there. And the reason I don’t see those folks much, no matter if I miss their daily presence, is that they are busy doing something else.

I know that’s obvious. But between 1. Living in a city that people live in and leave quite often 2. Growing up in a town that’s too expensive for most kids to reside in when they grown up 3. Working very public jobs 4. Historically being a sometime anarcho-tourist and 5. Going to college across the country from where I grew up, I know a lot of people that I don’t know anymore, if you know what I mean. Facebook is good for seeing that those folks went on somewhere. It might be just me. I’m overly nostalgic. But I like the frequent reminders that they are carrying on, even if I will likely not see most of them again in real life.

My girlfriend from 1985-1986 found me recently. We haven’t communicated for about 20 years but there wasn’t any bad feeling. We just went in different directions. Well, not totally different directions really since her husband (who I’ve never met) worked with my friends (who he didn’t know back then!) Tia and Carl (Whose New Orleans documentary “Trouble the Water” just got nominated for an Academy Award!).

But she had bad news along with the good. A friend – her name was Young -- from back in those days had died. My ex had stayed in touch but I hadn’t seen Young since 1987 or so. The three of us had spent a lot of time together back then but all I can really remember about Young was her intensity and her loud, crazy cackle-laugh. I can’t claim to be in mourning, but it is sad.

I promised I would look for pictures and the only one I had of her is actually really fitting, even if it was taken on Halloween. Young is on the top right, my ex is hugging her and two of my housemates are in the foreground.

While I was looking for that picture, I found another one of another person from those days that I heard was dead. As I type this, I can’t remember who would have told me that information so I’m a little tentative to spread the word. I feel like it was someone I trust, but have no way to know.

Here’s Becky (on the right) having a drunken snow fight with the singer of Mutant Breed sometime in 1985:
becky and the Mutant Breed guy

This was the time of year that, to commemorate my friend Ron Apple’s stupid death, I used to call for people to post their memories of friends who died Stupid Punk Rock Deaths I called for an amnesty for one day on the pain they caused in order to remember the good things about them.

I am not calling for that today. (Though if you want to remember a friend use the link in the last paragraph). Today I’m just thinking how weird it is that a medium like Facebook can be so ephemeral and content-less yet also provide the opportunity for these fulfilling and/or intense interactions. I’m still figuring out my relationship to it I guess.


Oct. 3rd, 2008 06:12 am
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A co-worker killed himself yesterday. We weren’t that close. Indeed, I probably fought with him more about work issues than any other single co-worker I’ve had over the years. But I never stopped liking him. Really, he was mostly a sweetheart, an exasperating one to be sure, but a guy with a good heart. We could fight over x-mas music in the store, seasonal allocation of space, his ridiculous assertions about his department’s worth to the store -- and often in buyers meetings I would be the main force opposing him – but we’d run into each other at the Eagle or at the park near where we both lived for a long time, buy each other a beer and enjoy each other’s company.

In my co-op political work one of my main goals is to discourage the idea that our workplace is a family. For too long at our store -- and in too many other co-ops -- bad people and dysfunctional workers use that dynamic, much like in real families, to manipulate others, get their way, and skate on infractions that would get them fired from any other workplace in the country. This isn’t the time for that essay, but as I thought about the fact that, while that is true, it also only needs to be my co-op political line because there are so many ways in which that line is blurred already.

When death hits the store it’s clear that we are not a regular retail workplace. True, we didn’t close for the day, but workers stopped and took the time they needed. Some people left and there will be no discipline or reprisal. People made a quick altar* and began calling other co-workers who needed to know. Today was a coupon day** which generally means we are all at full speed, stressed and hurried. But when we got the news people cried, hugged, and talked and basically, no offense,*** ignored the customers as much as possible. Death didn’t make it us-and-them exactly, more just… well… like we’ve taken a loss and aren’t quite ready to talk about it to outsiders yet. It made us even more clannish than usual.

A few years ago a different co-worker was run over by a semi while riding his bike in a funeral procession for a bike messenger. That hit the store in the same way. That day -- and if memory serves me right it was right before Thanksgiving -- we even had a spontaneous moment of silence that someone called for over the intercom. I will never forget all of us stepping away from our work areas in response. The customers were confused but stayed quiet too, sensing that we weren’t playing, that something was really wrong.

I don’t know if it’s true for everyone, but it seems like all the people I’ve known who’ve killed themselves -- either quickly or slowly -- were done in by their demons. I don’t want to expose or speculate on Tom’s demons but I know they were there. Still, it was a surprise. Many times I’ve known people who died too young but there was often an element of yeah-I-saw-that-coming about it. Not here. Tom was fairly resilient, or at least seemed to be. No one I talked to saw this coming though all agreed he’d had it rough recently.

Demons. We all have them to some extent, so what make some people’s so much harder for them to bear? I would never claim all demons to be equal but some folks certainly seem to be able to bear more than others. One person can bear a bad thing that can send someone else over the brink. Of course, these things are never really comparable because we never know all the demons that someone else has had to bear previously, right?

It was a hard, sad, confusing day at work today and I can imagine tomorrow will be the same as more folks find out or get to talk about it for the first time. If you are shopping, (and it is another coupon day) be nice and be patient.

***One of the things I love best about the store is that any worker can put a picture and a candle at the front desk to honor someone who recently died. I have done this myself too many times: Joe Strummer, June Jordan, Del Martin, Wendy O Williams, Ron Apple…
**Luckily after 5:45 almost everyone was home watching the debate so it was pretty slow tonight.
***I know I saw a few of you. Sorry if I didn’t seem happy to see you but at first it was all-engrossing and too much to try to explain
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For those of you who may not have heard, [livejournal.com profile] elementa (Carrie) died last week. Even though I hadn’t communicated with her for at least a year, it’s a sad, sad thing.

I originally met her in [livejournal.com profile] postqueer. I actually met a lot of you on that community back in its early days. We got along well online, in fact she was one of the few people I IM’d with before I realized it was ruining my arms.

I never knew her well but we hung out in Portland a couple of times when I visited. Once she was house/petsitting in some modernist mansion in a gated community up in the hills in West Portland that I didn’t even know existed. For the only time in my life I watched “Sex in the City” (which was the best thing the owners had on dvd) and enjoyed it, mostly because we mocked the same parts. It was a nice memory, sitting on expensive couches in a fancier place than we’d ever live in. It felt like we’d broken in while the owners were away and were eating their food and watching their state of the art home entertainment system.

We hadn’t spoken since a public online argument she was having (with someone else) led to her escalating the situation in a way that I couldn’t ignore or condone. My lack of support led to her dropping me from her friendslist so I didn’t really know how she was doing for the last year of her life.

It’s all a shame. It’s a shame that Carrie hard a hard time so much of the time. It’s a shame that she often pushed people away. It’s a shame things couldn’t have been easier. There were a lot of demons in her head, and I can’t claim to know what they all were or exactly where they came from. It’s just sad that she couldn’t keep them at bay. It’s a tragedy even if, as [livejournal.com profile] goodbadgirl wrote the other day, it's not a particularly uncommon one.

Bye Carrie.

gordonzola: (Default)
So, obviously I haven't been on LJ much for a couple weeks. I agreed to do the zine for Lance Hahn's memorial. That, combined with my thanksgiving cheese buying responsibilities, left me really no time for anything else.

The zine included about 20 submissions of art or writing, childhood pictures sent by his sister, some writing of Lance's that his partner found while cleaning up his desk, a couple of things from the surviving Epicenter logbooks, and a million pictures and J Church/Cringer graphics scanned from our personal collections.

I mentioned this in the intro I wrote, but it was really hard to put this together. I thought it would be easier for me because, while we were friends, I was not as close to him as some other people were. After spending this week receiving nothing but Lance memorial news, submissions and stories in my e-mail box, I'm glad that I could help spare Lance's closest friends this task.

It was overwhelming. I wasn't able to get Lance's voice out of my head but I also couldn't stop listening to his music. Obviously I also had to keep reading the submissions and e-mail questions. I started and ended many of these days crying. The outpouring of love for Lance is remarkable and speaks to what a special person he was.

Two old Epicenter friends came over on Friday and we spent 8PM – 3 AM eating food, drinking beer and putting the 40 page zine together. We did it old school, cut and paste, gluestick, 8.5 x 14-folded in half-style. I spent most of the next day printing 250 copies.

The memorial was last night and really a special, if often too-crowded, event. Lance's sister brought home movies. There were videos of J Church. The room was covered with pictures, graphics, album covers, and flyers. I don't know how many people were there over the course of the night but it was a lot, especially when you consider that Lance hadn't lived here for 7 years. It was part memorial, part Epicenter reunion, and part punk show (without bands). Punks aren't great about showing their emotions, but people did their best. Old grudges were even overlooked for the night, maybe even forever, who knows?

It was really good to see a lot of the people there. It made me miss Lance, miss a lot of those people and even miss the old days a little even if I don't want to go back. The '90s Mission punk scene was a special time even if it sucked a lot too. I think many of us were mourning that loss and the loss of our own youth as well as mourning Lance.

I may have extra copies of the zine after I mail out the ones that were requested by out of town submitters. Let me know if you are interested.

*My original Lance Hahn obit is here in case you missed it the first time.
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I don't want to be maudlin or go for an easy emotional cliché. But my 40th birthday party will always be linked to Lance's death. I don't think that's awful (though Lance's death is certainly awful)… life and death intertwined… a milestone birthday and confrontation with mortality… It's so fucking poetic that it would seem contrived if you tried to use it for a short story or something.

Lance died at 40 and I was celebrating my 40th. Most of the people there were in a good party mood, part of the party was somber. Some folks had fun despite themselves and then felt guilty. Mourning is a tricky thing filled with the potential for self-hate.

As I mentioned, I got the news as I was shutting down the computer as I left my house for the party. In the car ride over, I got a call and a text. I freaked out a little asking how I should deal. Should I bring it up? What if I knew they didn't know? Should I turn my party into a memorial?

I got good advice from my people. Try to have a fun party. Don't bring it up but talk to people if they do. Let party guests tell each other and do what they need to do. We have the rest of our lives to mourn.

Many of the people there who knew Lance hung out with each other, but they probably would have done that anyway. I couldn't tell if they were mourning or just having a mini Epicenter reunion. Occasionally someone would come up to me and I could see they were teary and red-eyed. We'd acknowledge the obvious, and try to smile. We'd show some muted and socially awkward signs that we were glad the other person was alive and in our lives. Then we'd move on.

I felt bad the next day when I found out a few people, that I assumed knew, didn't. I have many different social scenes in my life and they have different styles of mourning.. Some would have been loud and aggressive, trying to make the world stop with their outward pain. The old Epicenter crowd is quieter, more stoic, less likely to call attention to themselves. I'm sure many people at the party had no idea that others there had just gotten very bad news.

The advice I got was good even if it didn't stop my own mixed feelings from creeping in. We do have the rest of our lives to mourn our dead. A San Francisco memorial for Lance is being organized and that will be a better place to remember him. Weirdly though, it was kind of an honor to share my 40th with Lance's memory.

I'm not sure I did him exactly right by him. Should I have said something from the stage? Had a moment of silence? But he was taking space in the hearts of all of us who knew him, publicly acknowledged or not. I'm glad I was around those folks. Even if my focus was elsewhere, it was comforting to look around and see other folks with their own internal struggles of mourning vs. celebrating written lightly on their faces, decipherable only to the other people who shared the pain.
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I never really understood Lance's songwriting until I listened to radio in Hawai'i. Island reggae, Hawai'ian pop, and other Hawai'ian songs have a sense of history. There are lots of elements that, out-of-context, I might find sappy or overly nostalgic. But they not only work with those songs, they are crucial elements to the genre.

Lance's songs, especially the Cringer and early J Church ones, had that same element. I'm nostalgic and sappy by nature, mind you, so they always appealed to me. But there was no real punk genre for it. His bands mirrored his personality more than most songwriters I know. Both Cringer and J Church were intellectual but friendly, political but approachable, fun but taking themselves seriously. Unlike many of the bands Lance (and I) admired, his lyrics were never preachy. He always sang as one of us, not to us.

"Sometimes I wanna go back
Sometimes to the beginning
Sometimes I wouldn't change a thing.
Sometimes the things I've done, It seems like martyrdom
Sometimes it doesn't mean a thing
Don't wanna,
Won't be sad
Like the sailors
Of Petrograd

Lance was a sweetheart. Everyone who's written about his death so far has called him "one of the good ones". He could get away with writing lyrics like those, which could easily be read as pretentious on paper, because his personality came through in his singing. He wasn't comparing himself to the theory of the Great Revolutionary, he was connecting through history to the emotions of the people he admired and wanted to relate to. Ones who died anonymously in service to their beliefs but who were just ordinary working folks doing what they felt was right..

He'd also just probably read an Alexander Berkman book and wanted to write a song about it. He was always reading.

Lance was an auto-didact, a student of history, especially anarchist history. I mean geez, he even put Leon Czolgosz, unlabeled, on a J Church shirt. He was also sweet, kind, thoughtful, and quietly funny. He knew how to make people feel good but more than that, he cared about making people feel good. He carried a million details in his brain, surprising you with something you said offhand at some show or some party months before. He was a special, special man.

Lance lived above me on Valencia St, half a block from Epicenter Zone. Lance's apartment was referred to as jokingly "The Crash Pad" after an SF Weekly reporter dubbed it that in an article.* Our apartment was already name "House of Failure" because our phone number was 552-FAIL. Oh, those early '90s…

Here's Lance on our back stairs watching some illegal punk show we put on in our backyard when the 1st floor tenants went out of business. 1993
failure stairs071

It seems symbolic that many of his songs remind me of our shared neighborhood. Early J Church is so time and place for me: all songs about the Mission in the early '90s., While traveling out of the Bay Area for an extended period, and leaving from my apartment on Mission St , "November" made me cry while riding a train through Eastern Europe. I had made a Mission District bands cassette and as soon as he mentioned rain on Mission St, I started bawling.

"As the rain falls hard, it fills the cracks on Mission St…"
"No matter who you are, you feel the same when you're wet, cold and alone…"
"We only dream to float downstream, reminded by the rain,
Tied to a tree, cannot break free, reminded by the rain"

It's a sad song about rain making people feel alone, but it does the typical Lance thing. He empathizes with strangers and tries to find a human truth. This un-self-conscious sappiness is a unifying force in Lance's songs. Even the punks have to admit their fuzzy feelings sometimes. It kept his lyrics, no matter how political, from being as dogmatic and alienating as a lot of the other anarcho-punks.

I think my favorite thing about Lance was just running into him in the street. I can think of hours spent on Market/14th, at 16th/Valencia, in front of Lost Weekend, just gossiping, talking about bands, demonstrations and friends. He made this city a better place by just being around, having time to hang out. He also rarely missed a demonstration. He had good priorities even if rather than being in front with a bullhorn he's be bringing up the rear, poking fun at the sectarians and trying-too-hard anarchist kids. I think he'd appreciate that my favorite picture of him was from the San Francisco Rodney King riots. Hip-hoppers and punks were unified in their desire to liberate electronics to facilitate their communication with a hostile world. Somewhere, maybe his room, I saw a picture of Lance coming out of an electronics store with his hands full and his eyes blacked out, like any punk wouldn't recognize his long hair, his slouch and his band t-shirt. Or maybe I just made up that picture in my head.

Lance still seems like a San Francisco icon 7 years after moving to Texas.

My oddest Lance moment was probably seeing him play guitar for Beck at Slim's. It was near the height of Beck's post-"Loser" glory. If I remember correctly, he knew Beck from playing at some German squat show together back in the day, but I could have jumbled up that memory. Anyways, he put me on the guest list, possibly because no one else we knew wanted to see Beck cuz he was like, all popular and stuff. It was so odd seeing Lance play and not be the central feature of the band. The first thing it made me realize that Lance could actually really play guitar. The second was that in another scene Lance's non-traditional singing voice might have forced him into a lesser role if he wanted to be in a band. What a loss that would have been.

The third thing was seeing him walk across the club without kids coming up to talk to him. He was probably the most approachable band guy I've ever met, constantly talking to kids who came to SF hoping to see him working his shift at Epicenter or at some of the bars, taquerias, and cafes he mentioning in his songs, if not his shows. Occasionally he'd have to hide from a creepy one, but that was rare. Usually he'd hang out, talk about their hometown (which he probably had played), and generally treat them as a new friend. There were times he really represented all that the punk scene should have been.

I hadn't seen Lance in awhile when I got the word he went into a coma.. My heart goes out to his partner and his friends there. To many of us in San Francisco, or maybe just to me, his bad health was a little hard to fathom. My memory of Lance is full of mellow energy, happy to see you, happy to chat, always looking for new bands and new fun. I imagine that the last couple of years, being on dialysis, not being able to go to every show, was incredibly hard for him. But I always thought I'd just run into him in the Mission or at a show one day. That he would have beaten his bad organs, that he'd be the same old Lance.

Old Epicenter workers crashing the Epicenter closing party 1999. I believe this was right after Lance's first brush with hospitalization. (Thanks Jeff Heermann!)
goodbye epicenter

In one of his best known songs, Lance wrote:
So where's my sense of humor?
My life is a disaster,
No one has a future,
So let's all get there faster

But it was a cautionary tale. He wasn't a No Future Drunk Punk.. He was writing about going to the local bar and looking at what he might become if he let himself. He didn't want to get ground down like other working class people around him there: unhappy, overworked, underpaid. The narrator in the song reacts to those thoughts by deciding to blow off work the next day and take time doing something important for himself.

Lance organized his life to be a writer and artist. He recorded what… 300 songs? His bands put out albums faster than the Minutemen in their prime. He wrote for MRR and was trying to document the obscure bands of the '80s Peace Punk scene. Bands that meant a lot to people like us even if almost no one has ever heard of them. He was one of the people who make all these alternative scenes and obscure political movements possible. People in every city with a punk scene, or that once had a punk scene, are mourning him

He worked his whole life for it, never getting famous or rich, but doing it anyway. It's something a lot of people promised when they were 18 but few actually did. He meant it, ya know? All of it.

Bye Lance. You are missed already.

* So funny I had to link. Filling a booth near the Photo Area, Edgar, Wells, and Hahn share a laugh over the crash pad half a block from Epicenter This was also the apartment referred to as "My home, my tomb" in "My Favorite Place".

** If anyone's interested, my favorite Lance albums are Cringer "I Take My Desires for Reality… Because I Believe in the Reality of My Desires." And the J Church early singles collection " Camels, Spilled Corona and the Sound of Mariachi Bands". The "Nostalgic for Nothing" comp is pretty good too. If you want to find one song to download, I'd say "My Favorite Place", "Nostalgic for Nothing" or "Bomb" (J Church) or "Petrograd" "Despair Ends" or "(If I had your) Pen" (Cringer)

*** Other Lance stories from at the same time, Commander cranky, and at a blog set up for Lance stories here. Someone also set up a Flickr Photo pool (which I also LJ syndicated)
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Proving how much [livejournal.com profile] anarqueso and I think alike about certain things, we discovered at work on Saturday that, independently, we had both volunteered to help set up El Rio for Heather MacAllister's memorial yesterday.*

I mentioned previously here that Heather and I weren't friends. We certainly weren't enemies though. Our paths crossed often but neither of us made an effort to hang out beyond that. I'm pretty sure I told a mutual friend that I thought she was hot once. Soon after, Heather came to the cheese counter and checked me out. That's the way I remember it at least. She might have just wanted cheese. Either way, we didn't spark. She soon fixated on a co-worker anyway.

I mention this because even though it was never my plan, examination of grief is one of the themes of this journal. Oddly, I feel closer to Heather in death . Partly because I can see how much she touched close friends of mine. Partly because her memorial was a lot how I would like mine to be someday. Hopefully a long time from now. I don't mean the things that people said, though there was an outpouring of love and respect that was overwhelming at times. I mean the format. Gathering at a public park, street procession, memorial at a bar.

My parents had few friends and my family is small and all on the East Coast except for us. I never went to a funeral until I was 17 or 18. It was for my coach, who I also worked for some summers doing manual labor. He was an old Scottish guy and his funeral was the first time besides that one AC/DC song that I heard bagpipes.

When I hear bagpipes playing "Amazing Grace" I cry. I seriously was pondering whether it was some kind of innate cultural memory** before I remembered that funeral. Following bagpipes through city streets is an act that demands respect. Residents came to their stoops and looked at their windows. No one mocked or heckled the march full of queer, mourning, fat radicals. Even when we crossed Mission St.*** people waited patiently for us to pass.

I've gone to one other funeral with a street march to a bar. A few years ago my co-worker's son committed suicide. She was an old hippie and all the other old hippies, no matter what they looked like 30 years later, came out to the event. Walking from the houseboats through the nearly empty industrial streets by the bay, it was a reaffirmation of community. There were people who had put on the events that made people flock to San Francisco in the '60s and people the mother had worked with for a month. It's fleeting, to be sure. The mourning reappears and buries the bits of joy one finds along with the pain at funerals. But marching in the street is a physical act of togetherness to look back upon. It's collective action that, to me, is more meaningful than prayer.

That Heather is being mourned by organized memorials in San Francisco, Portland, Boston and New York shows how many folks she touched. She was a symbol. An activist. A diva. A force of nature. Someone who died too young. A sister, lover, and/or friend for many people there too.

Since I mostly knew her from over the cheese counter and from being in groups waiting on her to put her fabulous outfit together so would could go wherever we were going, I felt uncomfortable even mentioning her death in my journal last week. I disabled comments and made sure people knew I wasn't claiming a share of the mourning. It seemed like the only respectable things to do.

But I realized at the memorial, or maybe re-realized because it is not a lesson that has sunk in but neither does it seem brand new, that it is ok to mourn people you don't know well, even people you could have been friends with but didn't, for whatever reasons. I knew Heather mostly as a symbol, an activist and as someone who meant a lot to people that I love. I appreciated her force-of-nature-ness even if, like most forces of nature, I was a little scared of getting too close.

Recently at work, we had a series of meetings to decide how to honor Cesar Chavez Day. I'm not saying the situations are identical, but it was a reminder that we have to honor our people, the ones that fight for the things we believe in. We have to remember them and talk about them. No one else will.

While Heather was sick a large group of folks took turns taking care of her, both in the Bay Area and in Portland. I was not one of them, something else that makes me hesitate to write about Heather. It was an amazing thing, truly an example of a community coming together to take care of someone without the resources to get through the fighting of , and eventually dying from, ovarian cancer. But no one has those resources on their own. (In fact, [livejournal.com profile] anarqueso just wrote about this as I am typing this out.) Life-threatening illness is usually handled by family, but some folks don't have that option or feel closer to their friends or chosen family.

Heather's friends/chosen family did an amazing job through her entire illness. It was an incredible and inspirational thing to witness. There were too many folks at the memorial to mention all of them, but [livejournal.com profile] amarama**** and [livejournal.com profile] anarqueso you both made me laugh and cry. It's why I love you guys.

If anyone else out there has written a public entry about Heather or her memorials, please feel free to link below. Most of what I have read on LJ has been locked. The more voices that talk about what Heather meant to them the better

*I really think this obit means well despite some questionable word choices. At least "heavy" was a better choice than Gavin's Heather MacAllister Day Proclamation for the City of San Francisco that used "overweight" instead of "fat".
**If you knew all three of my real names, they would amaze you with their cumulative Scottishness.
***If you don't live in SF, you should know that Mission is one of the city's big main streets even if we were crossing at a relatively quiet point.
****who also read something from [livejournal.com profile] charlottecooper so London was represented

Detroit Free Press Obituary

SF Chronicle article on yesterday's memorial
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Though my market research has shown that my music writing is the least interesting thing to most people who read this journal, I’m afraid I am compelled to make another punk entry. Sadly, this one is to mourn another fallen comrade.

Most of the time I worked at Epicenter, I lived less than a block away. Our House quickly became known as the "House of Failure" because our Pac Bell given phone number was 552-FAIL. Soon, we got friend to rent the other apartment in the building and 7/8 of us were Epicenter workers. We even got mentioned in the SF Weekly as a punk crash pad, giving the above apartment its own nickname. Aaron Probe, who did NOT live there, provided drama by breaking down the front door in some kind of drunken rage. We even starred in a J Church song:

My house, my tomb,
I can't even write a song about sitting in my room,
There's no room to sit,
I just wait in apprehensive gloom

Most memorably though, the three Epicenter workers in our apartment put on a lot of shows over the course of those years. Some of the best bands of that time either slept there on tour or used the house as a dressing room because it was so close to the store. Though he paid no rent, one member of the household did more than any of us to make those shows go smoothly. It would have been impossible without him.

Bikini Kill, Nation of Ulysses, The Ex, Tribe 8, Slant 6, Team Dresch, Fifth Column, Tattle Tale, Stay Prest, Pansy Division, Kicking Giant, Los Crudos, Born Against, Taste Freeway, even reunion shows with Frightwig and Social Unrest… All relied on our fallen friend.

I went into my room yesterday and knew something was wrong. My clock wasn’t working but there was no power outage. I investigated. There he lay, lifeless. I tried to resuscitate him but it was no use. The House of Failure Power Strip was dead.

I think the only reason he lasted so long as that people were afraid to steal him because "Failure" was literally written all over him. The individuals who made up the House of Failure have all moved on. The phone number was changed years ago when the drug-addled riot kids accused us of being racy, classy, and sexy and kept crank calling. Epicenter closed its doors for good in 1998.

failure death fronte016
1993-2006 Rest in Peace, friend. You were my last tangible link to those times.*

*Well, except for all those promos I took at the closing party.
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It’s been an odd week. I guess weeks with death in them tend to be weird. I guess I’d like to keep it that way too, come to think of it. I spent my week working, drinking, baking kugels for two sets of mourning Jews and, ironically or non-ironically (I can’t tell anymore), watching a DVD of "Dead Like Me" episodes.

One thing about the aftermath of death that I find particularly tricky is the hierarchy of mourning. Unless its one’s lover, parent or child who dies, it seems there is always someone closer, someone hurting more. Because I am fairly sensitive to issues like that I tend to defer.

Certainly with Jonny’s death I was not a first tier mourner. I was part of the larger mutual aid network, but not someone who was a caretaker and intimate. I was sad and upset. I do feel the loss and miss my meanly funny Jewish holiday buddy. I would have bawled at the memorial if it hadn’t been run by his distant family and almost bereft of the Jonny I knew. I am a bawler.

For a man who found family in his friends it was odd that the family was so central in his memorial. That reflected their world-view not his. I don’t know if it’s traditional, but there was a receiving line upon the conclusion of the memorial. To leave the synagogue one went and greeted the family. It was so wrong. Distant relations who vaguely knew their "bohemian artist" relative were star mourners while people who did his laundry, cleaned his house, fed him, and sustained him for nearly two years were treated as guests.*

Last week people sent me sympathy for all the death and memorials I’ve had recently. While appreciated, I feel it’s somewhat misplaced. Besides the obvious fact that others have dealt with a lot more death in their lives (certainly folks in West Oakland who I do co-op stuff with. Re-scheduling a meeting due to a memorial is, while not common, also not surprising.) most of my deaths haven’t been in my smaller circle of intimates.

Leslie in 1989 was a part of our political collectives when she died in a car wreck in Arizona. I was hurt but not close enough to be devastated and immobilized like many of my friends. Plus I had a car, so I did the errands: picked up food and a memorial tree, shuttled people back and forth, and drove down some state highway with friends to find relief in a way that only Americans can, by driving way too fast.

Jamaal was [livejournal.com profile] jactitation’s death but I felt it in support and learned how fucked up family can be in times of grief.

I almost got into my only fight as an adult after Chris’s death. My co-workers and I were at Zeitgeist and semi-dressed up from a memorial. Some drunk started giving us shit for being yuppies and I stepped up and explained to him very clearly that we were at a bike messenger bar, mourning a bike messenger who got killed while riding his bike after another bike messenger’s funeral. Then I told him to shut the fuck up. I was ready to go too, in a way that I never have been before or since. He backed down and bought us a couple of pitchers to admit he was wrong. It was not a role I’ve ever played before, but I could in this case so I did. Some friends of Chris still bring it up in appreciation.

Ron I consciously kept distance with because, honestly, he always scared me a little no matter how much I liked him. His memorial was a reunion of Novato punk rockers. We stood amidst the iron workers and family members and remembered how much we love each other even if we are in different cities and don’t see each other much. It was then I realized that certain ties won’t break. Those days bonded us forever.

At Rachael’s death I was a first tier mourner to the only person I cared about there, [livejournal.com profile] comicbookgrrrl. But I was stealth. Rachael had stopped communicating with her parents, if they even cared, by the time we became close. CBG and I sat in the back of the yoga center and bawled for the friend we hadn’t seen in years. Then we went to the grave and bawled. Then we went to the bar and bawled. But my only responsibility, besides to Rachael’s memory, was to CBG. No one knew me enough to include me in the family memorial decisions which I am incredibly thankful for because I didn’t want to deal with them.

The problem with this perception of a hierarchy of mourning is that we all feel things differently. We mourn for different aspects of the same person, we mourn for different friends/family/lovers at the funeral of another, we mourn ourselves and what we’ve lost both specifically and of our own hopes and dreams. It can’t be cleanly placed. Death can bring out some really ugly things in the people left behind, but I think the concept of competitive mourning is really harmful. I might think it was just me who felt it, but I have talked to enough people over the years to realize that almost no one, beyond the aforementioned lover/parent/child category, knows where to fit in at times like these.

A sense of the feelings of others is important because it’s a basic building block of community. Accepting of a diversity of mourning is equally important because while some people may have material and emotional needs, mourning alone is one of the saddest things in the world. Obviously there can be real differences in the depth of despair and loss. Acknowledge that and move on with the task of taking care of each other and remembering the one no longer with us.

* I did appreciate that, in honor of Jonny’s sense of humor they made the rabbi get up and tell a "A rabbi walks into a bar…" joke. Oddly, the rabbi was just getting over a flu and sounded exactly like the therapist in "The Sopranos".
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Johnny Kaplan died Friday morning. It was not totally unexpected, though it did come fast in the end. He had been battling cancer for awhile.

I met Johnny through a co-worker. They were part of a pack of SUNY Buffalo anarchist artist types who all moved to San Francisco in the late ‘70s/early ‘80s. Almost all were Jews and [livejournal.com profile] jactitation and I spent pretty much every Jewish holiday with their crowd after we realized we liked each other and there wasn’t much g-d mixed into their Jewishness. I loved being a part of it even if some years I had to ask the stupid questions during Passover (when [livejournal.com profile] anarqueso or the occasional child wasn't there). At least it made me feel young.

Johnny’s art is amazing, I just wish there was more of it. I wish I could find something online to link because it defies description. Intricate tableaus built inside common objects. Amazing detail and depth. Things you could look at for hours, sturdy on the outside precise and fragile inside, sometimes with moving parts. I can only imagine what he could have created in a society that supports artists and if he didn’t have to work stupid jobs to survive, especially as this city got more and more crazy expensive.

I last saw him about three weeks ago in the Geary/Divis doctor district. I was going to see my doctor about my tendonitis, he was leaving his doctor’s office. We hugged. He felt frail in his puffy jacket. We talked about what movies we would watch together and made plans for the following week. Unfortunately, when I called to confirm he wasn’t up to visitors.

At the informal gathering yesterday, I got to see pictures of Johnny in a headless panda suit from around Thanksgiving. They totally captured his sense of humor: Johnny the Panda "hiding" in a potted bamboo plant, Johnny the Panda playing baseball, Johnny the Panda cooking food, Johnny the Panda fake pooping. Thankfully the gathering also reflected his humor, being filled with New York atheist Jews who, in my anecdotal dealings with death so far, are my favorite mourners. If a story is funny enough, they don’t mind laughing on the day of a friend’s death, at least in these circumstances where we all knew it was coming.

Johnny and I were never close. If we had managed to hang out in the last few weeks it probably would have been the first time we socialized without other people, but he was a part of my community of people and it already feels smaller without him. And it was his community that cared for him in the end, making sure his rent was paid, that he had company when he wanted it, that he got regular massages, that he had food in the house. No one wanted to see him disappear in his sickness, something fairly easy to do in this society if you don’t have a partner or close family.

Over the years, unfortunately, I’ve had the opportunity to write about the death of friends. Many of you have told me you were especially moved by some of those pieces. I understand that partly that is the subject matter alone and another part of it is the impulse that any decent person has to comfort the afflicted. Still, I do think that the hyper-nostalgic way I deal with the world makes me well suited for obituary writing, though I don’t find these entries to be any great work of art. I do feel like it’s my duty to publicly remember my people.

In this case though, if you know [livejournal.com profile] jactitation,understand that she and Johnny were much closer than Johnny and I were. You might wanna send your kind words her way instead of mine.

Also, another member of my extended community, though more of an acquaintance to me than Johnny was, is also battling cancer. It seems appropriate to mention that there is a benefit for Heather McCallister of the Big Bottom Revue coming up on 1/14. Details can be found here.
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I probably wouldn’t reminisce about my dead high school friend Rachael so much if her grave wasn’t in a cemetery on the road to the Russian River. I realized that with [livejournal.com profile] dairryiere moving in, [livejournal.com profile] obliviot and [livejournal.com profile] psoup in Pennsylvania, and Niki and Scott somewhere further north, there’s more death than life in Sonoma County for me. At least with my oldest friends. It seems like every time I drive through Sonoma, and as you can see I have less and less reason to, I pass Rachael’s grave or the stupid golf course where Ron’s memorial was held.

I know the body is empty of life and decomposing peacefully into the earth. And I know that I didn’t see her alive for the last years of her life. But it still seems rude to pass by her grave without stopping. I mean, it’s not like she can visit me.

I had forgotten that I would be passing the cemetery until I turned onto it following the weird but good directions I got from yahoo maps. I looked down at the map and sighed. Oh yeah, Graton Road. I tried to think about what I could leave as an offering. I had a cheese button and a Gang of Four button on but I knew Rachael pre-cheese and she never liked the English bands. I had some food but she sailed off to Valhalla years ago. I only had CDs, no tapes that we would have shared. None of the rubber iguanas that I buy in her memory to leave when I pass by.

Luckily I looked in the rearview mirror and saw the reflection of an X promo poster that I had gotten at a garage sale the last weekend along with a book on Chinchilla care. I bought it for someone else, but it seemed like fate. Or at least good enough for the spur of the moment. Rachael and I had shared some quality X moments together, back in the day.

The river was wonderful, by the way. Sun enough to burn me, water cold enough to cool me down, Lagunitas Pils, gin and tonics, Boggle , [livejournal.com profile] jactitation, and [livejournal.com profile] confabulator. A perfect day away from the city.

(backstory for those interested can be found on my memories page under "obituaries")
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I don’t know why it took me so long, but I finally got the CD from the punk rock zinester super-group Astrid Oto. The dreadful and exciting thing about memories is that you never knows what will trigger them. I opened the liner notes and got smacked in the head.

"Bringing New Meaning to DIY" concludes with the suicide of Ricky Puke in 1984. Don’t worry, no one out there is expected to know who he is. The Pukes were the pride of the Marin County punk scene*, banned from every club in the Bay Area because of Ricky’s vomit on demand during "You Make Me Sick". They were even profiled in one of those "What is the world coming to?" articles in the local paper filled with the even-then boilerplate "shock" quotes of the Point: "Your generation of generic corporate culture and rich, hedonistic ex-hippies will kill us all in World War 3." Counterpoint: "These kids are sick and need to be beaten and sent to work camps" variety.

There’s a picture of The Pukes included in the liner notes; people I haven’t seen for a long time. The guitarist from my high school who never talked, hid her face with her hair, and gave her back to the crowd the entire show.** Out of shyness not attitude, but it worked that way too. Uncharacteristically, she’s looking right into the camera for the photo.

Actually one of the few people I remember her talking to was my old friend Rachael. Rachael and I and Ricky’s sister*** tried to form a band once. I hadn’t thought about that in years, not even when I was trying to dredge up every last memory of Rachael when she died last year. We played in my parent’s bedroom for an hour before we gave up. I had a medium crush on Ricky’s sister but we were both shy and awkward and about 16. Then her brother died.

Ricky died on a rainy winter night. He was going to school at State and his scooter wouldn’t start, so his teacher said he could spent the night in the classroom if he didn’t tell anyone. Sometime during the night he hung himself. I remember rumors of it being an auto-asphyxiation accident, but that was as trendy an urban myth as the gerbils-up-the-butt thing at the time. It held some weight though because no one really wants to believe a friend committed suicide.

Aaron Cometbus **** describes it much more poetically in the song:
"Rickey from The Pukes with a can of spraypaint
breaks into a gallery in the middle of the night
paints ‘this is art’ then kicks out the chair
and in the morning they find him hanging there."

I’m not sure I’m up to the don’t glamorize suicide vs. the honor and martyr our fallen friends debate right now. I find both schools of thought compelling in different ways. Leaving friends and family devastated is a fucked up and cowardly thing to do. Aaron’s lyrics point to a bigger picture though, including the parameters of possibility in this world, and frustration with trying to change and create. Those were certainly matters dear to Ricky’s heart and obviously on his mind at the time of his death.

Aaron’s writing, which I love, is all about myth-making. It’s about the continual rediscovering that our lives are meaningful and that we don’t struggle, or die, in vain. It’s about creating a broad culture of resistance and support. It’s about romanticizing being in shitty situations sometimes because they can pay off in ways that safer choices don’t. It’s about taking the experiences of others around you and melding them together with yours so both of you can feel part of something bigger.

There’s myth-making in the abstract and myth-making when you know someone and see their real life. Ricky’s death in this song is the culmination of a punk life, a final symbolic act. In real life it was also a waste and a tragedy. The song doesn’t ignore that. The chorus, after all, is "Doing it yourself, that’s what it’s all about / You put some hope in your heart and have to rip it out." Sometimes we risk and lose.

But then I can also see my friend Ron, who died in January, being martyrized in a punk song too, though not by Astrid Oto. He was living a punk rock lifestyle and taking chances. But really, the way he died was just stupid. When to honor and show the best, and when to scream at the corpse? It’s one of death’s trickier questions.

Ricky’s face is partially scratched out in the liner note picture. Who scratched it out? Why? Dislike? Angry reaction to his death? I never really knew Ricky, but my oldest friend was their roadie who eventually took over singing duties when he died. The band tried to carry on his "message" but that never works unless you have a "message" like AC/DC. My friend couldn’t puke on demand anyway, so momentum was lost and the band eventually fizzled out.

And for the life of me, I can’t come up with any of their lyrics. *****

*UXB probably should claim that title. They actually had a song on the "Not So Quiet of the Western Front" compilation and caused a jock vs. punk riot at my high school during a lunch time concert in 1983 or so. Oh, the days when punk was a threat. . .
**She had a very distinctive name that sounded like a fake punk one but wasn’t. I just did a google search and the only hit I got was for a yoga instructor in England. I wonder . . .
*** This is definitely not her but they do share a name.
****Someone else who would have been a good example for my last post about scenes turning on their successful members.
*****I’m still mad a Lali Donovan for "borrowing" my Pukes demo tapes and never returning them.
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The house where the woman would buy a wheel of brie every year for the Open Studios days has been taken over by punks. They leave a Santa Cruz-based music zine outside in a little stand whenever a new issue comes out. Sometimes they leave their stuffy-apartment door open and I see them drinking cocktails. I picture them having a full tiki-retro living room with all the hipster accouterment. But really that’s just my imagination filling in the blanks from the little glimpse of something red and furry I get through the cracked door sometimes, and what looks like a full bar.

Between the two intersections were most of the drivers make illegal left turns, and across the N Judah tracks, there’s a house where a tenant held a protest vigil against the selling of the house he lived in. It was during the dot-com mass-eviction boom and when the apartment was due to be shown he stood outside with a picket sign and fliers, detailing how long he’d lived there and how he wouldn’t be able to afford anyplace in the city if he was evicted. I watched him try and talk to potential buyers and a lot refused to go even go inside and look at the place. Of course that probably meant he got a real heartless asshole as his new landlord. After a few months of this vigil I saw his apartment was empty and the "For Sale" sign was gone.

Church Street used to have massive street sales all the time until someone, probably my neighborhood association,* cracked down. I once found a bunch of Re:Search books there that I was quite willing to buy for a buck or two each, but the homeless salesman was nowhere to be seen so I had to take them for free. I asked a few passed out drunks, but no one knew whose sale it was.

There’s always an AA or NA meeting at the church there by the taqueria. The recoverers stand outside in huge smoking clots during their breaks, flirting with each other and ignoring those of us trying to walk through their blockade of sobriety. Death feels all around me right now so I’ll mention that was the last place I saw my almost-housemate Krystina. She was a smart and hot** Latina dyke who had "Working Class" tattooed across her back in gothic letters. [livejournal.com profile] jactitation, [livejournal.com profile] anarqueso and I were about to ask her to move in when someone I trusted implicitly told us it would be the worst mistake we ever made. I don’t know whether or not she was clean at the time, but allegations of missing money by ex-housemates were on the grapevine for plucking if you knew who to ask.

It kind of broke my heart a little because I liked her a lot. Over the next few years she would always bring it up whenever I ran into her, which was often because she worked just a little farther down Church. "That was really weird, I thought you were gonna ask me to move in." But I learned to deflect it and we had a nice neighborly chatting-in-the-street/running-into-each-other-at-parties relationship. Despite the fact she was not in great health she was always telling funny stories and tasty community gossip. She died at 28 from complications of leukemia.***

Above the taqueria, lived my friend Mick and his kids. I didn’t know Mick until he came to the party Jactitation and I threw in the Mendocino Woods for our tenth anniversary. He came with another AK Press boy who I had invited and Mick brought his oldest daughter. He had her name tattooed on his neck and was preparing to get his newborn’s name next. He is one of the few people I know to leave AK Press on good terms, but that was probably because he quit to move back to LA before things turned bad. I miss seeing him and his friends and family hanging out on the roof of the taqueria and drinking beer. It was incredibly homey for such a busy street.

*The same one that opposed a queer youth center for a Boston Market years ago because the neighborhood was over-served by social service agencies and under-served by fast food.

**She was one the cover of "On Our Backs" once. Go back and check your porn collection.

***Ida Acton did a really good piece about her called "Beloved" but I can’t find it online anywhere.
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Last week my co-workers got a call from a Swedish freelance journalist living in Berkeley. She was trying to confirm that we carried Vasterbotten cheese. She hadn’t seen it since she left home and was amazed that someone in the Bay Area had heard of it. Evidently, Vasterbotten is made in a town of like 8 people, all of whom work at the Vasterbotten factory. A 2000 word article and pictures ill appear next week. I’ll link it if there’s a link.

We started carrying Vasterbotten because one of our favorite customers kept asking us for it. Living up to every cliché, he is a Volvo mechanic with a heavy Swedish accent. He works a block away from our store so he hasn’t weaned himself from those Euro shopping patterns and we see him every day. Unlike I would assume however, he doesn’t drive at all. He’s actually quite a bike activist and politico. I also see him at demos cheering on the Black Bloc while drinking beer.

I brought in a wheel just for the hell of it. Immediately the ex-pat Swede community began rushing in to buy it. I even bought a bunch of wheels one weekend and we sampled it out. The were a lot more mixed reactions than usual with a sample cheese but I assumed there would be because it really is odd. Some loved it, describing it as like a cross between sharp cheddar and Havarti with an extra punch of something. Others said the taste of burnt plastic turned them off. [livejournal.com profile] anarqueso made a sign for it that mentioned our mechanic friend and described it as "indescribable" asking for people to suggest their own adjectives. My distributor began calling me the "Vasterbotten King" since they were only bringing it over to the West Coast for our store.

Thursday the reporter came into the store, interviewed me, the mechanic, and a co-worker who spoke fluent Swedish. That co-worker had called her mother earlier in the day to ask if she had ever heard of the cheese and her mother imediately demanded she bring some the next time she visits. The reporter also brought a photographer who took pictures of Americans eating Vasterbotten and of the display we made extra pretty for the event. A surprising number of other customers and workers also spoke some Swedish.

Everyone was gathered around the cheese laughing loudly, and speaking Oingie-Boingie like the chef on the Muppet Show. The mechanic started rousting other customers, demanding they try the cheese and saying, "It’s good, no?" The cheese counter became a Swedish party spot for over an hour! [livejournal.com profile] magpiesf can verify all of this because he was there.

Friday I went to a memorial for my old friend Ron. He met his wife V in Sweden and visited often. Eight or nine Swedes came for the funeral and they sang a Swedish hymn that had been sung at his widow’s grandfather’s funeral. Ron had told his wife how much he liked that song at the time.

They stood up in front of a crowd filled with iron workers and stiffly funeral-dressed old-Californians. They stood close to each other for support and sang the hmm while crying. It reminded me of movies of the old west where the new ethnic group wins the respect of the other settlers because even though they have their strange ways, suffering and respect for traditions of mourning are universal. One singer, I was told his name but am blanking on many of the day’s details, let out a uncontrollable yelp of suffering as they finished and he made his way back to his seat.. It was an unmistakable sound of pure pain; part wounded animal, part loss, part awareness of how fucked up it is for a 36 year old to die so young and stupidly.

In a ceremony that was mostly about a Ron I didn’t know, that sound alone bashed me over the head with the reality he wouldn’t be back. That sound by itself made me sob.

I told V that I would bring some cheese and bread to her house later in the evening for a small gathering. I of course brought way too much and when I got there, I saw that most of the uneaten buffet from the ceremony had been brought as well. No one was really eating. I put most of what I brought in the fridge so her and her relatives could eat it later. When I greeted her, her eyes were pained and unfocused. "I brought some Swedish cheese," I said for lack of anything better. She likes good food and she looked dubious and a little disappointed. Obviously I wasn’t really expecting it to make her feel better, I was just trying to be thoughtful and struggling for words. "…Vasterbotten?" I continued.

I wouldn’t say her face lit up. There was way too much grief to be lifted by anything that night. But she did get a little animated. "Vasterbotten is like our Parmigiano Reggiano," she said. "You have to tell XXXX you brought it," pointing out a tear-soaked friend with bleached blond hair.

I went over to where she was sitting and introduced myself as an old friend of Ron’s. "V wanted me to tell you I brought Vasterbotten," I said. Like it was a party or something. I immediately felt stupid. She just looked at me not knowing exactly what to say.

There’s a confusing aspect to memorials and grief. They’re part reunion of the living and part pure suffering. During the last few days there were times I was just happy to hang out with people who I hadn’t seen in awhile. But then I’d remember why we were together and that sadness can come back with even fuller weight when I realize I had an disloyal moment of laughter and non-pain.
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Weird. That’s how it always is when I return to Marin. In the 18 years since I’ve lived there full time, I’ve lost my ability to blend and sometimes even communicate with my people.

Of course, it’s even weirder when I’m only there to pick up a friend from high school to go to another high school friend’s grave. We stopped to pick up flowers because it, well, just seemed like the thing one does when visiting a cemetery. The florist shop we saw from the car in downtown Fairfax was closed so we walked across the street to the independent natural food store to see if they sold flowers.

It was a store not unlike the one I work at, although about half the size. I saw someone sweeping up in the bulk section. He was a hippieish white guy in his early 20s. "Do you sell flowers?" I asked

He gave me a why-do-I-have-to-deal-with-morons look and walked me over a couple of feet. "Yeah, we’ve got all kinds of flours," pointing out the white flour, wheat flour, oat flour, etc.

"No, no , no, I mean like flowers that grow in the ground, with petals and stuff." I’ll admit my communication wasn’t at its best either. He mumbled something that I took to be "I’ll go check" but obviously wasn’t since he never returned. I saw another worker cutting cheese in the aisle on a small table.* Even more my people I figured: a Marin, health-food working cheese cutter. A request for a florist was greeting with a frighteningly blank look. Not for lack of knowledge, she told us to go across the street, but in that everything-is-a-complicated-existential-question-that-I’m-working-on-bettering-myself-spiritually-so-I-can-comprehend way.** Then she just started looking over my shoulder at nothing I could see.

ComicBookGirl and I left. I felt displaced and odd. I couldn’t tell if I was somehow alienating these people or if I had just forgotten how to talk to them. Was it our non-hippieness? Did we talk too fast? Are we too urban now? We had to pass a café on the way to the car. Many people spilled out of it as well as a number of golden retrievers with neckerchiefs. I was searching for adjectives to describe them later and [livejournal.com profile] anarqueso suggested smug. That’s part of it. Self-satisfied is another. How can I describe growing up in Marin other than when I (and my dead friend Rachael) were getting into No Business As Usual in order to "prevent World War 3 no matter what it takes!", people my parents age, though not my parents, were joining a group called "Beyond War".

There’s some truth in advertising to that, actually. Not much affects you in Marin. I honestly could not hold back. As we passed the crowd at the café, I said very loudly "I’m so glad I don’t live in Marin anymore". CBG agreed.

But I don’t think anyone even noticed.

* Which I do not approve of, for the record.
**You may have had to grow up in Marin for that to make sense. Let me know.
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Instead of sitting inside and debating Burning Man with my LJ Readers, I took my day off and fled to Guerneville.* A day of swimming in the river, reading the Sunday Times and my pile of Anderson Valley Advertisers, and trying not to get burned was just what I needed. Plus I got to hang out with [livejournal.com profile] jactitation** who’s bucolic country sublet is in the neighborhood.

Guerneville historically was a resort town for wealthy San Franciscans before the days of air travel. At some point it fell into disuse by the rich, leaving it open for bikers and hippies to use as their own playground for many years. Unlike the town of Mendocino which has similar history, Guerneville got taken over and redeveloped by gays and lesbians in the late ‘70s/early ‘’80s, making it a place to have fun rather than be herded like cattle to pay too much for overpriced "art" and mediocre California Cuisine.. It’s about a 75 mile drive away, through cow pastures, apple orchards, hideous grape stakes and beautiful twisty Redwood-ringed roads.

Johnson’s Beach is one of my favorite places. They rent umbrellas and inner tubes cheaply and they sell both soft-serve ice cream and beer on tap. What more could you possibly want? Though the town of Guerneville is fairly queer-positive, if for no other reason than the fact that queer tourist dollars keep the town employed, the public beach isn’t the cruising scene/alien gym body type of place you might expect. It’s mostly families and very low key.

The queer events tend to happen in private spaces and I admit I was tempted by Lazy Bear Weekend this year. My co-worker Conorrhea invited me up, promising to let me ride on the back of his motorcycle.*** I was kinda into the idea of partying with a group of guys who all share my body type. But then I saw the picture on their site (since changed, sorry) of a part of the river so filled with Bears than there was only one tiny speck of water visible. I realized once again, sadly, that I like the river more than the boys and it lost it’s appeal.

But yesterday was perfect. All the families were cute together and there was no visible fighting. The teenagers didn’t try to drive everyone away with that "rap" music stuff they listen to.**** The beer stayed cold just long enough to drink it. The water was warm enough to swim in for hours. Jacco and I just lay around all day reading, eating, swimming, and shooing away the occasional bee. I can’t wait to go back in mid-September when the kids will be back in school and the tourists will be away. I just rented a cabin for three nights with my co-workers One-Third, Two-Thirds, and Insane-a. Off-season rentals are my friend.

But because I can’t have too much fun on one day, I stopped by Graton to see my friend’s grave. Jacco’s sublet is about five minutes away from the graveyard and I wanted to see if I could find it again. At the funeral, almost exactly four months ago, I was so fucked up emotionally I didn’t know if I’d remember where it was, but it was easy enough to find. I wanted to see her headstone I guess, but there wasn’t really one there.*****

I decided more or less spontaneously to go, and after about 30 seconds I knew it wasn’t the best idea. Just seeing her grave again made me burst into tears, and I knew that unless I wanted to devote a few hours to crying, I needed to get away from the area right away. I stood on top of where Rachael’s head must be and looked across the valley to her mother’s house. I thought of the sick irony of the daughter who ran away and cut off contact, now forever in her mother’s view. I cut off those thoughts. Visiting Rachael needs to be a separate trip, not a part of a vacation day.

It seemed somewhat disrespectful to not go when I was so close by, and it seemed disrespectful to leave so soon, but I figure I have the rest of my life to mourn. My eyes were red from swimming and red from crying. As I drove home I hoped I wouldn’t get pulled over because I didn’t feel like trying to explain.

*Fun Fact: childhood home of [livejournal.com profile] candywarhol)

**Confidential to Jactitation’s real life friends: I saw no sign of pods. However, Jacco did continue to insist that she loves living in the country. We may have to chip in to rent her Grandma an apartment in Sebastopol in order to flush Jacco back to city life. Stay tuned.

***I develop mad lust for anyone who gives me a ride on their motorcycle. Just FYI.

****When I was a teen I used to aggressively listen to Dick Dale and Agent Orange at the beach. What a little jerk.

*****Does anyone know the deal with headstones? She still has a small, thin, temporary-looking, metal plate with her name on it. Do headstones take a long time to order or is Mom just using the large Buddha statue as a headstone instead? If you read the linked post you’ll see why I don’t want to ask her myself.
gordonzola: (Default)
Both Comic Book Girl and I wanted to flee but we also had too many unanswered questions to skip the potluck at Mother’s house.* After some ranting and crying we drove back to downtown Graton. When we got there, I sought out Rachael’s Dad and told him that I didn’t know what to say when I first saw him, but that I had loved his daughter very much and that I was sorry. We hugged. He could barely talk, and I realized he hadn’t said a word during either ceremony. CBG said he was often like that.

Unfortunately Rachael’s co-workers didn’t come to the potluck. I’m mourning, otherwise I would never put words into the mouths of people of color, but I’m sure they said, "Let’s get away from these crazy white people."

I found Rachael’s last boyfriend who it turned out went to our high school also, class of 1986. I tried not to hate him for no reason. Unfortunately he wasn’t really deep or tactful, and I thought CBG was going to hit him when he said, "I was dealing in those days and it caused tension between us. But she didn’t complain when I brought home wads of cash." He didn’t seem to be someone to trust with the questions that could crush me if I heard a painful answer.

I found a stack of photos Rachael had shot in high school. Concerts I had attended with her: The Clash, Dead Kennedys, MDC, Dicks, Siouxsie, Gun Club, and that we reviewed for the school paper: The Police, Madness, Oingo Boingo, Elvis Costello. I thought back to seeing X with her at the Phoenix Theater in Petaluma in 1984. She couldn’t bring her camera so we hung out together for a change, standing dead center in front of an extremely drunk Exene and screaming all the lyrics as much bigger people bashed against us.

I wondered what happened to all the letters I had sent Rachael and whether they would surface. Would mom read them and what would they say about her? During the service Mom had said, "She loved you all. She saved everything. You all meant a lot to her even if she never told you." I decided to send her an e-mail and ask to get them if they turn up. But we’d had enough.

CBG and I turned and headed to the car. Back to the City. Time to get drunk.

*[livejournal.com profile] obliviot and [livejournal.com profile] psoup, her mom’s house is very close to, if not the place you lived in when you were in Graton.
gordonzola: (Default)
Longtime readers of my journal might recall my lost friend Rachael. Visiting NYC last summer, an old high school friend and I spent a morose hour or so wondering what had become of her. She had broken off contact with the two of us years earlier and we both missed her.

Well, she’s dead. She died of liver and kidney failure last week after drinking and starving herself to death over the last (5? 10? 15? 20?) years.

I’m feeling the veritable rainbow of fucked up emotions: guilt, anger, sadness, frustration, pain. This person inspired me more than probably anyone else in high school. She had so much more talent and passion than I did. She pushed me in ways that have helped me for years after she was no longer in my life.

When I got the call, I realized that I was still holding onto the idea that she was living some quiet, but nice, life somewhere, and that her old friends reminded her too much of the pain of childhood and that’s why she couldn’t talk to us. That she might be happy and trying not to dwell in the past. That she was still creating art behind some set of suburban doors and one day I’d see a byline or photo credit in a newspaper and we’d have a chance to meet again, me telling her how much she meant to me and her sheepishly apologizing for losing contact.

Of course part of those fantasies were because I didn’t want to think about her being stuck in a nasty relationship with a jealous man who wouldn’t let her talk to her old friends or finding her crazy on the street asking for change without recognizing me

After I got off the phone with my NYC friend, I put on "London Calling", Rachael’s favorite album in the early ‘80s. Rachael in fact, once wrote a poem while listening to it, dialoging with Joe Strummer all the way through.* I had been having dinner with my housemates and one of my closest friends when I got the call, as we cleaned up, I turned it on. Loud.

I guess it is only fitting that "Clampdown" made me cry. Lyrics to inspire people to not let their lives be stolen by drudgery, exploitation and routine can be heard as incredibly depressing to someone who had hit her 30s and hadn’t. I pictured her listening to it and feeling the full weight of the things she could have done. I listened to it and felt my desperation to feel like I could have helped her if I knew where she was. For the first time, lyrics that had been nothing but positive showed their double edge:

"The voices in your head are calling
stop wasting your time, there’s nothing coming
only a fool could think someone could save you"

I cried for her pain. I cried for her lost talent. I fucking cried for me.

Please read the links. I feel like I already wrote her obituary 6 months ago without knowing it.

*It’s not a great poem. But I’ll always remember the last lines. It was called "Innocent Trout".
(the trout) "started wearing blue and brown
‘Anger can be power!’ they cried
And then they spawned,
what a stench."
gordonzola: (Default)
There are certain mid -80s styles that people don’t remember. For example, almost all punk rockers wrote on the white space of their Chuck Taylor’s. I can still remember that R had, among other lyrics and slogans, "I hate children" (from the Adolescents) on one shoe and "Mommy’s little monster" (from Social Distortion on the other). I write that and think, "Awwwww, how cute", but, without trying to claim some kind of title to oppression, the Reagan ‘80s were a time when even in the Bay Area just having short hair earned you bottles thrown from car windows and shouts of "Faggot!". R’s dyed-black, fucked up, unevenly chopped, hair and her anti-social shoe slogans didn’t exactly help her blend.

Starting high school the year Reagan was elected president definitely plunged us into a cultural war that we couldn’t fully understand. I remember vividly going to the friend’s apartment with R and our friend’s mother breaking into German to ask her how dare she bring such a girl into her home, with "schwartz hair" and obviously loose morals.* We could feel ourselves being pushed from the "Moral Majority" Christians, school administrators, and the wanna-be yuppies (a new term at the time) but, like the dot-com boom of recent years there was no clear end in sight, no way we could see how bad it would get.

Unlike the relatively recent WTO protests in Seattle**, the politics of ‘Rock Against Reagan" were more counter-cultural and less well developed. But I can say, without inflating the memory, that it was a turning point in my life. Being younger makes it easier to look at things as US vs. THEM, but at a time of a cultural mandate for neo-conservatism, being leftist/anarchist, punk and in the streets seemed to be the obvious choice. R and I were arrested together at the 1984 Democratic National Convention in SF where, after a huge outdoor concert by Dead Kennedys, MDC, The Dicks and many others. We took the streets to protest arrests earlier in the day at a "War Chest Tour", the ‘80s version of anti-corporate demonstrations where a bunch of punks would rush into some multi-national’s office and start screaming about their capitalist evils and their financial ties to both the Republicans and Democrats.

At the time, our protest became the biggest mass arrest in the Bay Area since the late ‘60s. As we rallied outside the Hall of Justice, the police moved in without warning from all sides. My weasely brother, six years older than I, made it through the police line at the last minute but I got stopped by a cop pushing me back with a riot baton in my chest. My best friend at the time and R were right behind me. I spent all night in jail before being sent to juvenile hall the next morning, being 16 at the time. R spent the night outside in a makeshift holding facility before she got shipped to juvey. My best friend lucked out with a typo on his arrest form listing him as 18 so he was released later that evening.

Going through R’s letters, I found her account of her arrest which we ran in the student paper*** I’m struck by how much better her writing was than mine. I wrote the straight-forward, newsy account and she basically did an arrest diary which she wrote while on the horrible family vacation mentioned in my last entry. Below are excerpts:

"Ahhhh, the swinefest of the Democratic convention of 1984. Let’s see, I was arrested about an hour after Gordon was. I just kept scooting back and scooting back in the dwindling crowd that was seated on Bryant Street in front of the Hall of Justice. People were getting nervous all around me. I watched the piles of various paraphernalia, switchblades, and fire crackers get larger and larger around the edge of the crowd. Last cigarettes were being passed around by everyone who had them. The cops stood lined up in front of us, glaring down, not speaking and occasionally stooping to pick up a switchblade and pocket it."

What I find interesting about this paragraph is that it shows that the forms of symbolic arrest hadn’t been codified yet. By the late ‘80s, people knew how to be arrested like sheep and not to bring weapons to demonstrations.

"After sitting and freezing for hours (R’s group was being held outside at Potrero Hill Middle School) we became bored and invented songs with lyrics like "We all live in a Fascist USA, a Fascist USA, A Fascist USA" (sung to the tune of "Yellow Submarine"). . .I talked to a girl from LA with a purple mohawk and she said she had just come up to SF that morning. She said that a lot of punks were coming up to SF because the cops were really sweeping the streets in LA for the Olympics.**** They had all heard how cool the SF cops were. I think she had changed her mind."

The rest of R’s account includes numerous and humorous anecdotes about the cops not being able to tell the boys from the girls, spotting punk "stars" in the police vans and being processed in the school cafeteria that was identical to our public school cafeteria. R’s account ends with:

"It was 3:30 (AM) when they put me in a 5 by 10 ft. cell with nothing in it but a rock hard cot and a window covered in wire with glass about three inches thick. The doors were heavy, they really clanked when you shut them. I lay down on the cot and wondered what it would be like to be claustrophobic. Suddenly, I heard the clanking of the door being unlocked and a woman led me down the hall, saying they had my father on the phone. . ."

(later, when being released) "The man told me I was being charged with unlawful assembly, failure to disperse and intent to riot. He said he hoped I had learned my lesson. Foul beast. I liked my father’s version better. He said to me on the way back, ‘I hope you learned your lesson. Don’t get caught.’"

After this was printed in the school newspaper, the howls of outrage at these words of fatherly advice were arguably the loudest.

*I’ll ask my two high school friends who read this journal to share the irony of this for a moment.

**Some of the same people were main organizers for both events actually.

***When I look back, I can see how great our student paper was. The faculty advisors saw one of their roles as defending and supporting students being critical of the school administration. They also took a lot of heat for not only the articles mentioned above, but others including one by R reviewing "pregnancy counselors", including Christian, fake, women’s-counseling services that were anti-abortion. Armed with the pregnant urine of a neighbor, R wrote a great description of the local "Birthright" clinic people telling her she’d burn in hell if she got an abortion.

****Evidently she didn’t know the SF cops had done the same thing before the Democratic Convention got underway. Even the Chronicle detailed the police dropping homeless people off at bus stations and the Nevada border

gordonzola: (Default)
Well, that’s overstating it really. But after touring DC Comics with one of my oldest friends we drank a large amount of margaritas and, predictably, got onto the subject of our lost friend from high school, R. Neither of us have any idea what she’s up to now and we both miss her

R was my comic friend’s best friend and a good friend of mine even before I kinda fell in love with her. Surviving high school would have been much harder without her. R was a photographer with a keen sense of observation and the mean sense of apocalyptic humor of the kind that was necessary to survive the Reagan ‘’80s. She had a love of Hunter S. Thompson, iguanas and punk shows. She was also, like all of us, a fucked up kid.

But as I write that, I realize it’s not quite accurate either. She was a little more fucked up than most. But her stories aren’t mine to tell, even if almost no one out there knows who I’m talking about. I dug out some old letters from 1984 that she sent me from a forced family vacation in Texas. They’re full of pain and desperation, both personal and related to the times we were living in. But they also showed her ability to be incisive and funny in the face of adversity and her hope for a future that I had no idea I would know nothing about.

I realized later that she almost single-handedly formed my view of Texas with passages like:

"I think there’s some ultra-BAD business brewing for me in Lubbock, My absolute ding bat, dumb-shit aunt was talking to my Granny on the phone and mentioned in passing that I had been arrested and my camera had been beaten up. This is not good. You do not tell Granny these kinds of things. I’m sure she is praying for my soul right now. I can hardly wait for the late-night sessions I surely have in store when she comes creeping into my bedroom, bible under arm and cold-cream on face. YICK!!!!!!!!! Have mercy on my sinful soul."

Other passages detail family dynamics, mid-summer Texas heat, political arguments with strangers in the street, depressing visions of the coming Fascism, and responses to my previous letters. There’s nothing like old letters to humble your illusions that you were as smart as you remember yourself. But beyond the tortured teen angst and the truly embarrassing,* are the glimpses of talent and the sadness of the times.

The biggest feeling I came away from reading these however, was a reminder of how powerless being a teenager is. Not just with R, but with all my friends. Most of us were unprepared to understand people’s hints about serious trouble like anorexia and abuse. And if told outright, not having any real idea how to deal with the responsibility of knowing, say, a friend’s mother beat up on her but she was too scared for her younger sister to leave the house. Or know how to give real support to the person being occasionally molested by a family friend when their family members were too fucked up to notice..

And it’s a long time ago. I know what I would (probably) do now in similar situations. But the letters brought back the memories of being presenting with intense problems and being completely ill-prepared to know who to trust and how to help without fucking things up worse.

And while I still miss R, the letters reminded me of why some people have to get distance from their pasts.

Tomorrow: Rock Against Reagan/Racism – 1984. R and I get arrested.

* And the amusing, "Two bad Clash albums in a row! Is it time to give up on them?" written about the release of "Combat Rock". If only we’d know the unfathomably worse "Cut The Crap" was still to come.


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