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We had a big cheese contingent at the Neko Case show last night. Neko was amazing. I actually left liking her music more than I did when I went in, and I liked it plenty upon arrival. It’s poignant, sad, hopeful, nostalgic, and filled with the detail of every day life, sometimes all in the same song.

When we all got to the BART/MUNI stop after the show I was struck by something. Maybe it was a reflective mood inspired by an hour and a half of Neko Case. While we once all lived in walking distance from Rainbow, now I was the only one left in San Francisco. This entry/article/rant has been said many times before, to be sure. But I felt the sadness for a moment. Our communities that once existed and the way they could have grown – and we could have grown old – together.

It didn’t help when the first song that came on this morning as I sat down to the computer was J Church’s “The Satanists Convene” which is a song about everything this city has lost. And of course we’ve lost Lance too. His songs occasionally made me cry when he was alive. While his songs were also part sappy/part serious, some certainly have become more poignant since his death.

Perhaps returning to the Warfield also contributed. I hadn’t been these since (I think) a 1992 Cramps Halloween show. Just to prove how old we are, I attended that show with friends whose youngest daughter was one-ish. These are wonderful people that I’ve been friends with since the ‘80s who fled the Bay Area for more affordable living in rural Pennsylvania, but returned last year. Earlier this week that daughter won a $10,000 scholarship for her singing from Beach Blanket Babylon. You can’t predict these things. And some of these things are good.

I suppose poignancy was the theme of the last 24 hours. I didn’t choose that theme. It just happened.
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Saturday night I went to a 40th birthday for an old high school friend but first I had to use my nature skills to avoid getting skunk-sprayed. I took the 49 and cut through upper Ft. Mason to get to the Ft. Mason Center*. It was dusk and the moon was shining on the Bay. I love the combination of natural beauty and huge man-made structures. Damn this city is beautiful.

The staircase I would usually take was chained off so I had to backtrack uphill to the long staircase that is about 50 yards of straight downhill concrete. No big deal except about 10 steps down I realized that a skunk was heading uphill, right next to the stairs, in my direction.

I stopped and stomped a little. Skunky stopped and raised his/her tail. I stomped some more. Skunky walked onto the stairs, luckily still 50 ft. away, and stopped, daring me to keep coming. I shuffled my feet loudly. Skunky raised tail again and turned around. Stalemate.

I kept making noise, not willing to walk a quarter mile back to the main street and taking a roundabout route of a few blocks. However, even though I was going to a party of ex-punks I wasn’t willing to go with that strong a stench. My day-of-working-with-cheese smell was quite enough already. “Hey Skunk, I have no problem with you personally. You just go your way and I’ll go mine,” I yelled.

I stomped some more and eventually Skunky jumped back off the stairs and slowly walked perpendicular to the stairs. I started down again and every time I’d take a few steps Skunky would stop and raise his/her tail. We went on like this until I reached the bottom. I felt we had reached an understanding and appreciated Skunky letting me pass.

The party was at the Firehouse (not the old club at 16th and Albion) and it was all the good things a 40th birthday should be, especially when the birthday girl hasn’t lived in the Bay Area for over a decade. There was sushi, meat on a stick, a grown daughter of people we grew up with, and music we never would have listened to at the time.

In fact, as Elton John’s best song, “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting”, played I thought about how many more times we had seen Verbal Abuse play that song than we had listened to Elton singing it. Of course, when Verbal Abuse played it at the tail end of the violent side of the ‘80s punk scene, The Farm would often break out into a sea of drunk brawling.** I don’t miss those days and the violence but it sure had a lot more feeling than a punk scene of bored, gently nodding kids wearing backpacks. Oh yeah, and you kids get off my lawn!

Anyways, as always at these events there are memory flashbacks and things you can’t figure out how you ever forgot. A slide show ran constantly of Niki pictures from the last 40 years… kiddie pics from before we met, drunken 4th of July parades, pictures of dead friends, pics from the party where our friend pulled out a gun “as a joke” but where no one died, bad fashion, parties with occasions that didn’t matter, weddings of the now-divorced… you know… life.

This was my favorite picture, taken in 1986 at one of those weddings. Niki is mourning that we had run out of champagne.
lysas wedding

I can’t believe we’ve known each other for 25 years. Happy Birthday Niki!



*geez, is this one of the worst homepages ever for such an amazing resource?

**A couple of the sound that I really like
Are the sounds of a switchblade and a motorbike
I'm a juvenile product of the working class
Whose best friend floats in the bottom of a glass

Indeed

*** I briefly dated the woman on the far right in 1987. On our first date I gave her a Mohawk. Hott.

****The remnants of my Marin County punk scene will be coming together for Joan Jett at the Marin County Fair on July 2. There will be three of us.

*****and happy birthday [livejournal.com profile] goodbadgirl!!!
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Whoo-hoo! my old friends won the Sundance Best Documentary prize! I haven't seen it yet, but write it down folks, see it when it shows in your hometown! The Grand Jury Prize: Documentary was presented to TROUBLE THE WATER, directed by Tia Lessin and Carl Deal. An aspiring rap artist and her streetwise husband, armed with a video camera, show what survival means when they are trapped in New Orleans by deadly floodwaters, and seize a chance for a new beginning. I'll have to dig out and scan that great pic of me and Tia on a picket line in 1988 so I can bask in her reflected fame.
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cheeseheadcootieshot
Cootie Shot and me.

Cootie Shot was just as awesome as I hoped.

More coming soon on cheese judging, the Festival of Cheese, drinking the hotel bar out of beer, travelling with a trunkful of cheese (like always), rural northeat teen punks, special guest LJer appearences, and so much more.
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I don’t remember when I met Hank. The lines were pretty stark at the college we went to. If you were white and weren’t in a frat or a sorority or one of their hangers-on, you hung out with the activists, artists, punks, queers, and dead heads. Most people who wanted a social scene had to choose. At least that’s the way it was in the late ‘80s.

The two factions were not equivalencies, but they were parallel social scenes. The non-frat folks hung out all together because the town was too small for each of those groups to have a strong enough presence on their own. It was strange coming from the Bay Area to see all the subcultures hanging out together, because back home there’s the illusion that you could hang out only with your rarefied scene. For example you could find a group of only straight-edge, vegan, peacepunks as opposed to the vegetarian anarcho-punks cuz, you know, those guys are fucked up.

Hank was somewhere in our scene. He didn’t dress punk or hippie. I’m pretty sure he went to the anti-apartheid meetings and protests but he was quiet and I didn’t know him well. A car load of us were taking my 1976 Buick LeSabre up to Toronto for the 1988 North American Anarchist Gathering and Hank asked if he could come. We would be driving through his hometown on the way so he also wanted to stop in and say hi to his family.

That he wanted to go surprised me, and I think the others too. We tried, though didn’t always succeed, to not be cliquish in our activism. Hank had been around the protests, he had always been pretty subdued, never volunteering for anything or calling attention to himself. Most of us, one way or another, loved calling attention to ourselves even if we justified it in the name of rallying people to our causes.

But, like I said, Ithaca was stark and so we were also used to converts. We were happy to take him to the Gathering and probably gain another person for our zine collective, our secret spray painting runs, and to do the shit work that makes demos possible. We boarded my car with snacks from the food co-op and our collective kitchen and headed North. As we got closer to Buffalo, Hank got more and more excited about going to Toronto.

We stopped at his family home so he could say hi. His parents were surprised to see him and especially surprised to see us. It was the late ‘80s and we were going to the anarcho-fest. Like any good members of a subculture we had tried to look our best honoring the traditions of our people. As a group we looked more conservative than most of the attendees would, but amongst us were a number of bad dye jobs, spikes, studs, and obnoxious t-shirts.

It may be hard to recall in the post Nirvana/Green Day period of American history, but this had a strong effect on some people. Hank’s parents were nice folks. They offered us drinks and cookies because they were the kind of people who kept things like that around for unexpected guests. Or maybe they were always stocked up because they were used to getting snowed in a few times a year. Hank’s mom asked him to come into the bedroom with her.

We didn’t know we would be unexpected so we settled into tense small talk and drink sipping stupor, just us and Hank’s dad.. We were crowded into the family’s small brown living room, sitting on the extra folding chairs and admiring the family photos of a friend who we actually barely knew. Hank’s dad brought up topics and we tried to sound smart and friendly. I felt oddly protective of Hank for no obvious reason, there was just something in the air. We deflected direct questions about how well Hank was doing in school and whether he was dating anyone. None of us actually knew the answers. I remember answering at least once, "Well, you know Hank…"

After a bit, at least five minutes too long, Hank came out of the bedroom without his mom. "Alright you guys, I know you’ve gotta get going. Thanks for giving me a ride. See ya back in Ithaca." We didn’t know what had happened, but we knew enough not to blow another kid’s cover. We said out thank yous and our goodbyes and headed back to the highway and the border.

We never talked about what exactly had happened. The weekend galvanized those of us who went, but something had galvanized Hank too. Back in Ithaca, he kept to the periphery but remained aligned with us, coming to the important meetings and demos but never getting any closer.
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Greg was an instigator. He had older brothers so he got to things ahead of his years. I had one too, but mine wasn’t as committed to delinquency, ‘70s metal, and cheap drugs.

Greg and I went to school from kindergarten on. Some years we were friends, some years we weren’t, and I think that was just based on whether we had the same teachers or not. We weren’t ever enemies.

We bonded over many things but the bonds were never tied very tight. I think in 6th grade a classmate’s mom yelled at both of us for making her son do all the work on a model of a castle we were making for a school project. The odd thing was that we weren’t. There were some son/mother dynamics going on that I was too young to understand. Martyrdom was learned early in that family and our classmate had complained about us to look good. I tried to protest but Greg just took it.

He lived just a couple of doors away from the martyr boy and Greg already had a reputation in the neighborhood as a bad kid because of his brothers. In retrospect I can guess at his motivations, but I think it just boiled down to the fact that he already knew he couldn’t win that argument with martyr mother so there was no point in fighting it. If he just let it happen there, safe in some other mother’s garage, he wouldn’t have to hear it at home too.

It was at his house that I learned a lot of misinformation about sex in exactly the way that parents fear their children will: National Lampoon, soft-core porn mags, and the bragging of older brothers trying to impress someone . All I can say about that is, parents, talk to your kids early.

I had an uneasy relationship with his brothers. I was intrigued by them and impressed by them but also a little scared of them. They got mad unpredictably. They broke things for fun. Greg, despite being years younger, always seemed to be smarter than they were and if they thought he was showing them up there would be a price to pay. Luckily Greg was always a good talker and only occasionally did we end up with smashed toys or balls thrown on neighbor’s roofs.

Greg and I wanted to start a band even in middle school. Unfortunately, we had neither dedication, talent, nor original ideas. It never got off the ground, but Greg had the name picked out. He would be Vern Davis and the rest of the band, ala the Ramones, would all be brothers* named Carrier. Yes, V.D. and the Carriers. We wrote that on stickers and post them up around school and mall bathrooms and other deserted areas of our hometown.

Greg was also the last person I fought physically. I don’t remember what the issue was but I do remember that for a little guy he hit hard and that after a few punches neither of us wanted to keep fighting. Unfortunately one of his brothers was there and kept egging us on. We couldn’t stop without losing his respect so we kept wrestling around in his back yard hitting each other sporadically. I remember being exhausted by the time that his brother finally broke us up, disgusted that one of us hadn’t knocked the other one out. We both ended up with black eyes and lots of bruises.

Just like I can’t remember why we fought, I can’t remember how we became friends again but we did. It was no big deal and we hadn’t really been that mad at each other in the first place. When we hit high school Greg was easily accepted by the stoners and metal heads, who knew of his brothers and probably bought, or wanted to buy, pot from them. He began pretending he wasn’t so smart, which previously he had only done at home. After he failed a couple of classes we ended up in different educational tracks. Just like in our younger days, when we stopped having the same teachers we drifted apart.



*The concept of women playing in bands hadn’t occurred to us.

(Note: yes, i changed the name of this one. I forgot I had used "Frank" already)
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Frank was attracted to danger and he often took us with him. It’s not like there was much else to do in that town of ours.

His dad was some kind of traveling salesman. My knowledge of this was vague, even then. When Dad was in town he didn’t like to drive so Frank had free reign with the tinted-windowed Lincoln Continental that his dad leased to look prosperous. Frank drove too fast and sometimes drunk around the winding hills nears our parents’ houses. There were no cops back there, especially on the fire roads that weren’t even supposed to be open. We knew it was kinda dumb but he was a little older and had a driver’s license and a car so we drove with him anyway.

This isn’t a story of tragic, early teen death though it easily could have been. Other kids died on those roads. But somehow luck followed Frank around. He hit a curb coming leaving the one way tunnel leading out of Fort Cronkite beach at about 70 MPH one night and I don’t know how we were ok but we were. We got pulled over all the time but he never got a ticket and they never found our underage beer. Hell, I even remember him convincing the park ranger to let him finish his beer one night instead of pouring it out into the sand.

For awhile we were into stealing Taco Bells. They used to have actual bells, you know, not just a graphic image of one. Actually, that’s not true. They had bell-shaped hard plastic and fiberglass replicas of bells that hung from their distinctive franchised roofs. But from a distance they looked like real bells. When we first had one in our hands we were upset. Oh plastic suburbia, you sadden and disappoint me once more!

Taco Bell locked metal plates in front of the ladders to the roofs to prevent trespass, but standing on the roof of the Lincoln Continental let use reach the top rung and pull ourselves up. When we hit the Taco Bell on the San Rafael miracle mile I was standing next to the car while Frank wrenched our prize free from its corporate home. He threw it to me and I caught it, the fiberglass cutting my forearms. Just then a cop car pulled up behind the Lincoln. I threw the bell in the car, shut the door and hoped for the best.

"What’s going on here?" the single cop asked shining her maglight in my face. Did I mention it was late? It was a summer weekday night at about 2 AM back when fast food closed at a decent hour. Slamming a tinted window door shut quickly while parked in a closed-for-hours fast food restaurant wasn’t too conspicuous was it?

Just then Frank jumped off the roof and landed behind the cop. The noise caused her to turn around fast. Frank greeted her with the biggest smile on earth and said, "Hello Officer."

He probably would have gotten shot for that in the city. Somehow though his manner always emotionally disarmed the cops. Her radio called and she got back in the car saying, "You better be out of here when I come back in a few minutes." She then sped off.

Me, I’m a cop magnet. If I had been alone I would have ended up in Juvie and trying to explain to my parents why I was stealing a Taco Bell. And I didn’t even like Taco Bell. I’m always the one busted, like when I got hit for felony spray painting charges after a coordinated anti-apartheid action. When I was in college I inherited the role of arrest-him-first for no good reason or at least no more reason than any of my other friends should have been picked. It kept me on my toes and, I hate to admit it, eventually altered my actions.

But Frank was like a teen degenerate Ronald Reagan. Nothing stuck to him. It extended to his home life too. His parents rented a house on a hill where his bedroom was downstairs and to the side. Not only could they not hear any noise that came from his room but you could sneak in and out at will. We’d have twenty people in there, crammed in, drinking, and smoking pot and he never once got caught. I think of those parties whenever a certain early ‘80s punk singer buys cheese from me. We used to listen to his record over and over because Frank loved it so much. He grew up Catholic and "The Catholics Are Attacking" was his favorite song. He liked the one about LSD too.
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Emily was odd in a way that I never quite figured out. There were rumors from people she went to grade school with about an "accident" but no one really had any details. Long absences, changed behavior, a knew personality upon return. But these were all vague in an untantalizing way and I never really pursued it, though I am a gossip by nature.

We were thrown together by a quirk of scheduling. Somehow we managed to have six of seven classes together senior year in high school. We hadn’t known each other at all before that. I went to a big high school where I sat next to people at graduation who I’d never met, so that wasn’t really a surprise. In fact, I think it took a few weeks before I noticed we were in almost all the same classes. Emily was very quiet that way.

Before I heard rumors of the "accident", I attributed her quietness to her slight Russian accent. There weren’t many Russian immigrants in our school and though she’d pretty much grown up there, it was still the Cold War and Eastern European accents were something to mock. Kids have trouble with the logic that if someone is speaking that way 65 years after the October Revolution, that their family probably fled for a reason.

We became friends by proximity but it never ceased being a little difficult to communicate with her. Not because of her accent, but because her answers to routine questions did not take the most direct path. Answering whether or not she did her homework took her describing her trip home from school on the bus, piano practice, what her mom cooked for dinner and whatever unexpected events (phone call from a relative, what book she was reading etc.) occurred.

Often that kind of thing would bother me but with Emily it didn’t. It was part of her charm. There’s a reason the phrase "I haven’t got all day" is a part of speech, but in this case, I actually did have all day thanks to the school scheduling computers. Our conversations would stop and start unhurriedly through the breaks between classes and the lulls in lectures. It was a really nice part of my school day and I missed her presence when she was out sick. Which was fairly frequent.

When she invited me to her classical piano recital, I wasn’t really surprised. It had dominated, as much as anything could, our conversations for the couple of weeks beforehand. Even though I was a snotty punk rocker with no interest in classical music, I accepted because it was obviously a big deal to her and I, in that semester, probably spent more time with her than anyone else in the world. And hell, I liked her.

I didn’t, however, expect to be the only other teenager there. I knew Emily wasn’t a big crowd kind of person, but I did know I wasn’t her only friend. She defied cliques, but she was friendly with the hippies, accepted by the smart kids, and had conversations with the other independent, slightly-odd teens. Though she loved playing the piano, this event seemed geared towards her parents. It was at a friend of her dad’s house, a huge home on top of a hill with a California glassed-in living room that held, what even I could tell, was a super-expensive piano. Everyone else besides me was adults: friends and business associates of her dad and mom.

It was uncomfortable to say the least. The adults checked me out since many had never met a friend of Emily’s before. They also all treated me like Emily’s boyfriend and I didn’t know whether that was just their universal assumption or whether this idea came from Emily. While Emily and I certainly spent a lot of time together, none of it until that moment was outside of school. But I think I was a more-clueless-than-average teenage boy in that respect and I could have missed the signals. I hadn’t even thought of the possibility of dating her until that moment, but that also speaks more of my fucked up teen boy stuff than anything else.

I didn’t know anyone in the room and I hadn’t learned yet how to hide my anxiety in those types of situations. I drank fruit juices and nervously bounced my knee waiting for the recital to start. I was underdressed and didn’t know how I was supposed to act. Emily was too nervous and busy preparing to do more than give me an enthusiastic "Hi" when I walked in the door so I sat alone depending on the prurient interest or pity of the adults to have someone to talk to.

Finally her father announced her and what pieces we would be playing. Everyone clapped politely and she appeared wearing an adult, but modest, black cocktail dress. She played and was mostly amazing to me though I had no way to gauge the difficulty level of the pieces she performed. She did have trouble with one piece though. She stopped and started it three times as her father glowered in the closest seat to the piano. But she eventually got it going. She played for a long time, long enough that at some point I realized I would be late for my family Sunday night dinner and there was nothing I could do about it without being rude.

When she finished she was surrounded and well-wished by the attendees but I could tell something was wrong. I hung back, not wanted to compete for attention. When the crowd cleared, I complimented her performance but all she could talk about was the one she messed up. I tried to comfort her a little but didn’t have the words. Finally I explained that I had to go and she seemed disappointed. Whether that was because she wanted to hang out more or because the whole night had become a disappointment, I didn’t know.

I figured we’d have plenty of time to discuss the whole thing and I did have to get home. But we didn’t. Emily didn’t come back to school the next day or the next week. After another week passed, I called her house, having the number from the recital invitation she had sent me, not because I’d ever called before. Her mother answered and kindly, because she had met me at the recital, but firmly told me that Emily was not available and wouldn’t be back at school for the rest of the semester. Her tone did not invite further questioning.

Rumors of illness spread from her longest term friends. But the rumors were vague and the illness seemed to preclude visitors. I missed her, but we were still relatively new friends so the year moved on. I stopped asking our mutual friends for news because they either had no information or wouldn’t tell me.

She returned part way through the next semester but the scheduling quirk wasn’t in our favor this time and we only saw each other occasionally in the halls. Our relationship had lost its delicate balance and luxury of unlimited time and it never recovered.
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Dan said he was a socialist. I didn’t necessarily believe him at first because I’d never met one before. Even if it was my secret aspiration at the time, it was also too dear a concept to me to break from my fantasy version of what a socialist would look and act like. Certainly it wouldn’t be the skinny intellectual kid in my freshman Beginning Journalism class.

I’ve always been slow to embrace labels for myself, not out of that punk don’t-label-me-I’m-a-unique-individual feeling, at least not completely, but because I always wanted to know I could follow through before taking on as mantle. I’d like to think it was out of respect for history and not my laziness or fear of commitment. It always seemed arrogant or flaky to jump full on into an identity and then find it didn’t fit or was too confining. Northern California had enough of both those traits already.

Dan and I became friends quickly. We tormented our Social Studies teacher on general principle because the assigned text for our Political Theory section was On Communism by J. Edgar Hoover. Most public high school teachers are no match for highly motivated smart-asses with axes to grind and Mr. Reactionary was no exception. I think we both realized the power of researched and prepared confrontation in that class, one of the best things one can possibly learn. I suppose Mr. Reactionary deserves an ironic thank you for that, but whatever. He was still an asshole.

Dan and I learned to trust each other in that class though and we continued on through high school signing up for the same social studies classes so we could back each other up. We also played pranks together. The most notable being when we, along with our dead friend Rachael, unfurled a banner that said "Socialist Wing: It can work!" in the Young Democrats’ yearbook photo. The photo shows us looking directly at the camera and smiling while half the actual members of the club, who moments before had been happy to see us bulking up their numbers, are looking over at us trying to read the sign.

Not all of our ideas were good ones though. We were teenagers after all. We successfully heckled "Red Dawn" (not [livejournal.com profile] reddawn) into submission when it came out, sitting in the back row and Very Loudly laughing at the most jingoistic parts as if they were a parody of every right-wingers jerk-off fantasies about saving their country from invading Ruskies. My favorite moment? All the high school football players, living up in the hills, eating bugs, having seen their parents murdered or imprisoned and their hometown taken over by parachuting commies with AK-47s are sitting around a campfire. One turns to another and says, "Things have changed". We turned the entire audience against the film and transformed it into a comedy. The word "WOLVERINES!" still cracks me up to this day.

However, we overestimated our abilities at cinematic direct action when we tried to do the same to Rambo II. First off, unlike Red Dawn, this movie made the Vietnamese exceptionally cruel. I think the first scene (I haven’t seen this since it was in the theater) was some graphic rape or torture which made cheering for the Commies impossible. Second, we underestimated the combination of pumped-up, testosterone teens at action films and racism. Dan, who is Korean, had planned to do a lot of heckling to highlighting the racial assumptions made by the filmmaker. In the film, Sylvester Stallone kills Vietnamese soldiers with every shot, while hundreds of pounds of commie ammunition constantly misses him. We started commenting on the inability of Asians to properly use weapons since, after all, Americans invented gun powder, but that was met with silence or whoops of support for Sly.

Dan tried to up the ante by yelling "Kill the Gooks!" sarcastically at exceptionally bloody scenes, but since it was a dark theater, the implied social criticism was not apparent. In fact it was met with an enthusiasm that had us sneaking out of the theater early so we didn’t get mobbed.
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Ever know your best friend is kinda lame but you don’t see a chance of doing much better? Charles was that "best friend" for me.

The late middle school years were probably my worst, popularity-wise. Charles was my best friend but the friendship was fraught and uneasy. Greg was our only other friend and Charles often has us competing for his attention. It was through Charles that I learned about manipulation.

We met each other in the smart kid class in 4th grade. We became friends while paying together on a CYO basketball team that never won a game in the three years we played together. He was the tall kid who got to play center besides having no ballplaying skills. I was medium big and built for football, and since I did play football too, the 18 year old "coaches" of our team had me come off the bench to hard foul the other team’s best players. It was not uncommon for me to come in the game and foul out five minutes later. I had no basketball skills either so it actually saved me some embarrassment in case I actually ended up with the ball and an open shot.

I don’t remember exactly what happened between us. Greg and I eventually figured out that we were being told lies about each other under the classic "but don’t tell him you know" technique. But there was no big confrontation. No moment where Greg and I, or me separately, went to tell Charles off. Charles just went off on a family vacation during the summer between middle school and high school and I called Greg to hang out because I was bored. I remember being tense and palm-sweaty when I called, wondering if I would be rejected. I honestly didn’t know who else to call or what else to do. I‘m wary of equivalencies, but I think Greg was in the same boat. Charles demanded that all communication and planning went through him. Talking to Greg directly would alter the dynamic forever. I was wary of Charles’s return.

But he also never came back to us. Maybe he sensed the change that was coming but I think it was planned in advance. He had to decided to move up in social circles once he hit high school and we just weren’t gonna cut it. He was having secret negotiations with a whole different clique, one that was bigger and higher up the food chain. He returned right before the first day of class and when we saw him he was with a whole different crowd, reinvented as a baseball jock. It hurt I’m sure, but all I can remember now is a feeling of relief.

I don’t know how that went for him. I don’t think it lasted long because about half way through the year I noticed him eating lunch with only one or two other people instead of the whole team. I didn’t follow Freshman baseball, but there were tells about his status. He seemed to hang out with the lower rung of jocks, the ones who didn’t play much.

The only thing left in our relationship was the silence and tension when we’d run into each other in the halls. Soon we learned to look through each other so even that didn’t matter. We never discussed what happened. Soon the whole exchange became numb and it was hard to remember that we’d spent so many hours together watching TV and mis-educating each other about, like, sex and stuff. Greg and I had discovered phone phreaking over that summer and had met people from the other feeder schools who we’d become friends with in high school a few months later. It was a lower-mid level clique, not so weak that we were targets, but not strong enough to worry too much about competitiveness. That suited Greg and I just fine.

It’s weird what you remember. Charles actually still owes me for some old bets that I won years after we stopped talking. He never grew up to 6’6". The best player in our rinky-dink, church league didn’t make the NBA. Maybe at our high school reunion I’ll finally get that 20 bucks.



I made a mistake with the Croghan. I forgot to ask the price. My vendor made a special call to tell me some was available and that it was amazing, but that I had to buy it now if I wanted it.

It’s a firm, raw goat milk cheese from England, distributed by Neal’s Yard. Neal’s Yard is the UK cheese supplier. Much like many Bay Area food innovators, they are an up-from-hippie organization. The followed the path of back-to-the-land and locally-produced into resuscitating family farms and traditional cheeses, some of which had been produced for centuries but were facing imminent ends. These farms and cheeses were on life support as mechanized cheese-making made its way to England from the US. Neal’s Yard is a company worth supporting even if I find many English cheese too bland for the price.

But I was getting the hard sell on the Croghan. Not because they couldn’t find anyone to buy it, but because it is so rare. Like Sally Jackson in Eastern Washington, it’s a very small operation, barely on the radar. They only make a few two-kilo wheels a week. I had never even gotten to taste it before. And these were the last wheels ever because the cheesemaker had been diagnosed with MS and they decided to retire.

Imagine my surprise when it finally arrived, these are 5 week advance pre-orders, and it was over $20/lb. Wholesale. "Oh shit," I thought. And again, while they could have mentioned the price, it was my job to ask and my fault I didn’t. Luckily, though I ordered a bunch, they rationed them and I only got four wheels.

First things first, I cut into the wheel. One thing I think sounds like bullshit but really isn’t is when someone describes a taste as "long-lasting". It’s something that’s hard to convey unless one has done a lot of tasting. Some food can be wonderful but extremely ephemeral. Some can keep evolving without taking another bite. The Croghan is long-lasting. It was tangy and fruity, settling into a rich milkiness you usually can’t expect from a goat cheese. Grassy too, not as grassy as a good pecorino Sardo or the Flor di Capra where you feel like your frolicking in the meadow with the little mammals, but unmistakable.

But long-lasting isn’t the same as strong. There’s some snobbery in some circles about Americans not appreciating mild specialty cheese. Certainly American appreciate a mild cheddar more than anyone else on the planet. But I’ve had some importers, and a few customers, bemoan the fact that certain traditional cheeses have never taken off in the US. Especially the Brits. Chesire… Leicester… Caerphilly… Very few Americans will buy those cheese. Wensleydale only sells because of Wallace and Grommet.

Honestly though, it makes sense. Importation, transport, and (right now) exchange rate makes these cheeses expensive. Rightly I think, people won’t pay a lot for blandness. If those cheeses were $4.99/lb retail I’d recommend them all the time. At $10 (for crappy factory versions) and up? No way.

So here we are with the Croghan. A wonderful cheese. Perfectly aged. Well-honed, long-lasting flavor. But at $30/lb retail? I hope some people on expense accounts show up soon.

One old commie approached a co-worker about it, questioning whether it was truly in line with our principles to sell such expensive cheese. She was assured it was a mistake. It had only been on the shelf for an hour, but those old commies always find those things right away.
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(Due to length, the "B" cheese entry will be posted later today or tomorrow)

Barbara and I went to school together pretty much all the way from 1st grade to high school graduation but we never really knew each other. I can’t actually remember a conversation we had until the end of senior year. We were in close proximity for 12 formative years but never ran with the same crowd. She was one of the girls that pretty much everyone back then called a "fox", which in retrospect is actually a really funny term of compliment. She ran with the popular kids and developed early while I was awkward and fat-ish.

Though we weren’t friends, she did earn my respect forever sometime in 7th grade. "Mr. Newfield, why are you staring at my chest?" she asked loudly, breaking the silence of an English test. She was wearing one of those preppy sweaters of the ‘70s with the monogram in small letters in the middle. With every kid in class now staring at him he attempted to respond.

"I was trying to figure out your middle name." An odd answer at best, but we had no time to think it over before Barbara responded.

"I’d think that would be on the attendance sheet, Mr. Newfield."

He turned beet red as students gasped in delighted shock. He was a bitter and nasty old letch. He was also the kind of teacher who would stand next to a student, belittling them for wrong answers. The kind of teacher who professed that public embarrassment lead to better concentration, but really just got off on being a bully. He spoke in a slow, moderated voice unless he had a squirming student showing signs of panic. Then, suddenly, he would become bitingly witty. Or straight up mean. Either way, it was the only time he showed signs of life and love for his job.

And Barbara had totally outwitted and embarrassed him on his own turf. "I’ll see you after class, Barbara". We returned to our quizzes in stalemated silence. The bell rang soon. I would say everyone got a little shiver at that, but likely that’s only because I have twenty-five years of perspective on it. Barbara knew what she was doing though. With all eyes on her, she dropped her quiz on the desk and walked out.

The rest of us got out of there as quickly as possible. Mr. Newfield had been our teacher for 3-4 months at that point and he would be looking for another target. I sat near the window on the far side of the classroom and I just wanted it not to be me. Though I hurried, I was still one of the last ones out. But I made it. In fact, no one was called back in for a detention of wrath. I’m pretty sure it was the first time I’d ever seen a teacher beaten like that.

Barbara didn’t come back the next day either. She had gotten assigned to a new English class. Mr. Newfield stayed of course. His behavior was pretty much the same except he tried not to get caught looking at the girls’ chests anymore. He was a bastard, but still the reason I can still recite most of The Jabberwocky and am physically uncomfortable when I read a sentence where the last serial comma is left out.

Barbara remained popular until mid-high school and I remained entrenched somewhere in the not picked on, but not-in-the-loop-or-invited-to-cool-parties crowds. Somewhere mid high school though, I realized she’d stopped hanging out with the preppies. Instead she was wearing a lot of eye makeup, it was the raccoon-eyed ‘80s, and hanging out in the back parking lot with the rockers. Our paths still didn’t cross because in my high school the rockers and punks were sworn enemies* except when it came to buying drugs. Even then, the rockers preferred pot and the punks went for speed and hallucinogens. But there was some overlap of interest.

We had a tradition of senior cut day where all the seniors would skip school. Proudly, the class of ’85 upheld the tradition of vandalizing the school the night before. This year however, someone figured out how to break into the school through the roof. Let’s just say that the next morning there were visible good-byes to a school that had gotten increasingly repressive through those early Reagan years. Or whatever. Graffiti and broken glass lashed back at the administration but I don’t believe there was a unified ideology. The entire roof of the cafeteria was also lined with alcohol bottles, sending another mixed message. It looked beautiful in the sunrise.

Barbara and I had both won a backhanded senior class award in the school paper that had been voted on by our classmates. "Done School for the Most" as opposed to "Done Most for the School". There was no clear cut definition of that award, and I was surprised to win but still proud. Amidst the breaking glass and hissing of spray paint, Barbara and I had run into each other the night before. Years of nothing to say to each other fell away like the rind of an over-aged bucheron. She looked at me, smiled and said, slurring slightly, "Done School for the Most! Give me a hug."

We were drunk hormonally-charged teenagers but it was all very sweet and innocent. We went our separate ways. We ran into each other more in that last week of school than ever before, greeting each other with our honorific and hugs and laughs. We smirked together at the kids who got busted for the damage because they passed out on the school lawn instead of somewhere else. We mocked the ass-kissers who responded to the school administration’s empty threat to cancel graduation unless seniors came forward to clean up glass and scrub graffiti.**

We shared beer in the parking lot and at a graduation party at someplace I can’t even remember. Then we said goodbye at graduation and went our separate ways.

*This was pre-Metallica when punks and heavy metal kids would routinely fight. A punk kid from Sac actually got murdered by rockers just the year before. Our school had a uncomfortable truce.
**When I started reading about the history of Gay Liberation and learned that the assimilationists over at "The Advocate" had raised money to pay for cop cars burned during the "White Night Riot" that followed Dan White’s light sentence in the murder of Harvey Milk and George Moscone, I understood what type of people they were immediately.
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Alan was my first best friend. He lived close by and we didn’t have many neighbors with kids. This was the ‘70s and he was a child of d-i-v-o-r-c-e. So where half the kids I knew of course, but my parents hadn’t quite adjusted to the new decade and I heard worry, pity, and sadness in their voices when they talked to his mom.

And charity, definitely charity. Whenever I did something and Alan wasn’t there my mom wanted to know why not. She was worried he was worried he was getting discriminated against by the stigma of divorce. Probably because that’s what her social set might have done 30 years earlier. But no, he usually wasn’t there because he was visiting his Dad or going on some outing with Mom’s new boyfriend. Again, this was the ‘70s in Marin and Mom had long black hair, peasant dresses, and had a potter’s wheel in the garage next to her VW bug. That combination was like crack for the hippie guys who fancied themselves a little artistic. Or the ones who needed a little more hippie cred because their businesses or investments had started to take off. She had plenty of boyfriends and good for her.

Alan and I used to play war together in the hills where the mansions hadn’t been built yet. Can you still buy toy guns at the supermarket? We had quite a cobbled-together little arsenal of plastic. My brother, who studied enough World War II history and books about guns to be put away in this post-columbine era, critiqued and altered them to look more real. I’m unclear on the exact timeline here, but I think the war on Vietnam hadn’t even ended yet and we would turn every boy’s birthday party into a wargame. I grew up with real guns and had square Republican parents, but I don’t know what these hippie parents were thinking. But then again, by 1975 the countercultural that could was hedging its bets. And these folks weren’t core. They hadn’t gone back to the land, they’d escaped the city and invested in the suburbs.

In fact, Alan’s mom had been getting her real estate degree after finding a limited market for her pots. We did end up going to Alan’s place on field trips from school for the next few years and got to make our own sagging ceramics. But the magic was gone. When the real estate boom hit, Alan’s mom married a sideburned but otherwise clean cute real estate agent and they moved into one of those new places on what used to be hillside. I lost track of Alan because speculating meant moving up and moving a lot. Plus they could afford private school by then and they didn’t want to be bound by school district boundaries. Nothing dramatic happened the last time I saw him back in the day. We just acclimated to different school and different friends and didn’t know what to do with each other when we got too old to play with toy guns in the hills


Asiago is often one of the world’s most overrated cheeses. Customers are surprisingly willing to fight me on this point. I don’t care. They are wrong.

I’m not saying it’s bad, mind you, just too expensive for what you get. Plus my credibility gets called into question when I tell them that the Domestic Stella Asiago with the black wax is better than most of the Italian ones. When I was younger, they would just flat out think I was untrained. Now that I’m older I’ve given in and carry three out of four almost all the time. Buy what you want.

There are four basic kinds: aged Italian, medium aged Italian, young Italian and domestic. It’s from Northern Italy, in the mountain area and blah blah blah. The young one is known as Asiago Pressato. It’s a semi-soft cheese with the consistency of a monterey jack. Comparing a cheese to jack makes fancy shoppers uncomfortable. But hey, I like jack. Anyways, it doesn’t taste exactly like jack it’s more sour and tangy and has much more depth of flavor. This is the one I buy for myself most often. Though it’s called Asiago, it has little resemblance to the others.

The medium, Asiago mezzano, is simply a waste of money unless you can find it for under $10/lb. which in these bad exchange rate days I doubt you can. It’s bland and flavorless in a way that cheese sales reps describe as "subtle". I can see eating this, especially with Italian meats, but not for this much money.

Aged Asiago, vecchio, can be worth the money but we’re talking near $15/lb in most cases. The only one I’d trust would be the Monti Trentini brand. When this cheese ages it gets the odd taste of fermented fruit along with the salty sharpness and nuttiness you’d expect. This taste can turn quickly and overpower everything else despite what the books saying about this being a durable cheese. I mean, it is a durable cheese, it’s lasted for a year or so, but importers seeking a deal will buy pallets of this stuff and there’s a limit to the warehouse aging process.

And then there’s the domestic. There’s no guarantee this cheese isn’t from cows shot up with rBGH and it’s a huge factory production made by Stella who also make some of the world’s worst "Parmesan". But in the end it kicks most Italian asiagos butts. It’s sharp, salty and has that slight vomit aftertaste of an Italian provolone. Oh, I’m not supposed to say vomit… is that what piquant means? Don’t buy it shredded or with a brown wax, but the black wax is a great deal for the money, less spendy than any hard Italian cheese and much, much better than most other non-Italian copy cat cheeses (domestic parmesan, Argentine parmesan etc.)

One of my proudest days as a cheesemonger was cornering my very credentialed purveyor of Italian cheeses, setting up a taste test of the aged asiagos and getting her to admit that the Stella was the best. She swore me to secrecy for life but the satisfaction was mine.
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Here’s a pic of us from 1997.

Gordon & Kyle '97

Actually [livejournal.com profile] psoup sent me that one so I’m sure you’re seen it. and probably like it. We look like a very cute couple who dye each other’s hair.

However, this collection might make you regret working with me at the photo lab )
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Well since I just learned how to post pictures and since I just got back from playing poker, it seems like a good time to remember Ron Apple.

4TH_OF_J

He died a year ago this month. He was almost exactly my age and I realized during his memorial that we must have played pee-wee football against each other back when we were both pre-teens.* Hey [livejournal.com profile] obliviot or [livejournal.com profile] psoup, is this from that infamous Fourth of July where our Victorianly red-haired friend pulled the gun on her drunk hubby as a "joke"?

Some of you can read this too.

So long Ron. We miss you.



*My team, the San Rafael Rangers, avenged an earlier loss to his Novato Hornets in the league championship game. In the earlier loss, I got knocked out of a game for the only time ever in my four year pee-wee football career. It was on my birthday. Some little guy hit me low and hard, harder than anyone ever had before. I know it’s revisionist and probably not really true, but I bet that little fucker was Ron.
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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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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."
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Besides the Megan and Scott pairing of my last entry, [livejournal.com profile] jacitation and I set up two other scary couples. These were all good people, friends of ours, but somehow the chemistry of their relationships changed them into couples to AVOID AT ALL COSTS.

Let’s not use real names. AS reunited with us out of the blue, distraught over the end of her 5 or 6 year relationship. I invited her over for TV and food. She started developing an interest in my housemate AR. It was one of those shy people relationships, they’d hang out all night in the same room, barely speaking and when AS left, AR would start asking question after question. This would only end when AS arrived home 20 minutes later and would call with her series of questions.

When they finally got together they did that shy couple thing of closing everyone else out. When we did see them they did that annoying finishing-each-others-sentences thing. Soon they started not returning phone calls and avoiding us. Patterns suddenly became clear. AR grew up in SF and had scads of "friends" who he wasn’t friends with anymore. Different re-inventions of his personality called for entire new groups of friends. Dating a grad student made him into clean-and-sober-college-student/budding-intellectual and that we didn’t work with that persona. We were evidently his sit-around-the-TV-poor-and-drinking-beer friends. This from the person who coined the phrase, "TV is absolute good with no drawbacks" in his zine. AS it seemed only reached out for friends when she had no boyfriend and was happy to close back down.

That was a disappointment but not as creepy as T and J. We knew them on a college campus in the ‘80s. T was an intellectual Marxist finishing grad school and J was a socialist-feminist aligned with the non-aligned Marxist-Leninists. T was shy and geeky and managed the campus movie theater. He was a music guy, knew all the punk/new wave history in great detail but somehow it was endearing on him. When J started dating him she reported back that surprisingly he didn’t own only one pair of corduroys and one white shirt, but in fact had an entire closet full of them, hung and neatly pressed.

T’s neatness obsessions was always an issue with all of us but their relationship just intensified things. He was the type of person who cleans up during a party. You had to watch your plate at all times to make sure he wouldn’t grab it and scrape your food into the trash. He would change clothes immediately if someone spilled on him. Before the information about his closet cache of identical clothes came this had always mystified me.

They moved in with each other very quickly. Traditional gender roles reared their heads almost as fast. J gave up on her studies and began to plan the move to wherever T got his next job. T was all she could talk about anymore. This might have been forgivable if their relationship had been pleasant but they bickered over anything at any time no matter how small. The type of bickering where ever disagreement they ever had was fair game to bring back up and throw in the other’s face. Uninterestingly to the observer it was always petty stuff too. "You always put the milk on the wrong shelf in the refrigerator!" "I hate that coffee cup!" "You put that Elvis Presley record away in front of Elvis Costello!" etc.

They fought often but would make up by giving each other stuffed animals. Soon their apartment was overflowing with fluffy bears and bunnies. During a poker game with assorted campus radicals, punks, and the local UAW president I witnessed something I never want to see again. T, holding a white stuffed bunny in J’s face speaking in a strained but fakey, child-calming voice. "Mr. Rabbit really thinks you should use a coaster for that beer bottle," he sing-songed.

We all knew it was time to finish our beers and leave.
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If you missed the first part that I posted yesterday read this first )

In 1991, I lived on Mission St when Megan, a friend from my fancy-pants college moved in to our 5 person collective home. She came from East Coast money but had some Northern California cred, with family in Sonoma County. She also had cowboy cred that Scott admired, her great grandfather being one of the few Jewish cowboys. She had beautiful Victorian red hair

I admit it. [livejournal.com profile] jactitation and I set them up.*** I thought they’d make a nice couple. Subconsciously, I’m sure I liked the idea that it would cement the relationship between my new and old friends, enabling me to stay close to all of them.

They hit it off right away. They started to spend all weekend, every weekend together drinking constantly. True to every couple that Jactitation and I set up, things also started going bad right away, but that’s easier to see now. They would tell stories about how cool it was to get free drinks in bars, it only coming out later that it was with the provision that it would be their last drink and that they had to stop yelling at each other.

It’s also easier to see Megan’s white trash fetish in hindsight. I would never blame Scott’s problems on her, he was well down a bad path before she moved to the Bay Area. But it seems that part of her attraction was a search for the authenticity of self destruction and wasted life. They started spending the weekends in a motel in Novato because Scott lived on a friend’s living room floor.

At some point they got "secretly" married in Reno. But it was only half a secret. Scott’s working class friends knew, took it very seriously, and some of his family even attended the wedding. The wedding photo shows his aunt beaming and looking incredibly proud. Megan didn’t tell her middle class family or friends. It was obvious that they wouldn’t approve of her marriage to a working class, high school grad, punk rock, mailroom clerk, drunk. Even though we lived with her, Jactitation and I were included in the latter group that wasn’t told since we went to college with her. When I heard about it from my North Bay friends, months later, I confronted Megan and asked her if it was true. "Yep," she replied, "Ain’t it a hoot?"

Megan and Scott moved to San Rafael and Megan began proving herself to my old friends. This exacerbated some existing tension between me and them. I had more class privilege than they did and I graduated from college on the East Coast. Combining this with moving to SF, while a friend of mine from the very same school chose to live nearer to them, made some of them feel like I was abandoning them. Megan upped the ante by being more self destructive and dangerous than anyone. When she began playing with another friend’s .45 while staggeringly drunk during a July 4th party it was too much for me. Almost all of us had grown up around guns but she hadn’t. She put all of us in the line of fire at various times while trying to playfully point it at her hubby’s head, asking for someone to take a picture. Jactitiation and I left the party early.

While it’s not a sign of class privilege to not want to die drunk posing for a picture, being cavalier with personal safety definitely impressed some of my friends. Since Megan and I fought over that and her concealment of marriage I started drifting from that group a little while she became a more central part of it.

For awhile at least. The months passed and Megan and Scott continued their drinking and fighting until Megan’s mother got very ill. I don’t want to downplay the pain she suffered when her mother died. They were very close. Tragedy can also cause people to change the direction of their lives. But as soon as Megan realized she was going to inherit a lot of money, she filed for divorce and moved out.

I don’t believe she should have stayed with Scott by any means. There was no place to go with that relationship but down. She probably could have drunk that money away like many others have done in the past. Hell, I’d probably be writing about all the great parties I went to in the early ‘90s in Marin if she had. Lucky for her she had resources available to her when playing "No future" got less fun.

When she left, Scott continued spiraling down. He lost his job by not showing up. A friend found him passed out after two solid days of drinking and watching stock car racing on TV and had to take him to the hospital. He lost the apartment he had shared with Megan, moved in with relatives and somehow got kicked out of their homes too. He stopped responding to phone calls from old friends and then disappeared for good. The last time I saw him he looked about 50 years old.

There’s hope that he just needed distance and that he’s just done one of those transformations that he used to do in his early 20s. For all I know he could have hooked back up with the Born Agains that he joined back in the day. Maybe he’s not dead or homeless and just needed to distance himself from his drinking friends, Maybe he’s still cute enough at certain bars to find women to crash with. On the rare occasions, now that almost no one I grew up with lives in the Bay Area anymore, that I see people from that crowd, we always ask each other if there’s been a Scott sighting. And I think we all read the obits regularly.**** Just in case.

Maybe I need to do a zine about friends gone missing. For another disappearance check out my old entry here


*I always interpreted his fancy cowboy boots as a tribute to his background. He switched from the typical punk army boots to cowboy boots in his early 20’s. I don’t believe Scott, like many of my California friends, ever traveled East of Las Vegas. They’d give me shit all the time for being born in Michigan and not moving to California with my family until 1970 when I was 2.5 years old.

**Except for maybe now.

*** look for a future entry about how truly disastrous our history of this is.

****Technically I guess we check the "Death Notices". No staff writer will likely be writing an actual obituary.
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There’s that cliché about truth being stranger than fiction. Unfortunately, sometimes truth is just too predictable. I saw someone on the street the other day that reminded me of another missing friend. Maybe it’s the photo lab reminisces that put me in a nostalgic frame of mind, but I found myself thinking about Scott and once again checking the obit archive in the local paper.

Scott, was from my teen punk rock crowd. He was probably 5 years older than me and grew up in Novato, a working class kid in a small city that was rapidly changing from a farm-based community to a suburban commuter town. I’m not trying to be all we-pogoed-ten-miles-in-the-snow-to-get-to-the-Flipper-show about it, but it wasn’t easy being punk rock in a town like that in the early-mid ‘80s. Not only did Novato boast more SF cops as residents than any city except SF, but their local brethren targeted the freaks and weirdos. Two other friends lost their licenses and motorcycles because whenever they’d head onto the main drag they’d get pulled over. Those were the days before the mandatory helmet laws and flying an orange mohawk was seen as provocation.

Anger boiled right under the surface too. The long-term families, especially those who didn’t own homes, could see displacement coming in the form of the original self-satisfied yuppies, who moved to town interpreting the Reagan Mandate as their personal quest to flaunt their wealth as ostentatiously as possible. Of course, many of the old timers and farmers voted for Reagan and took out their anger not on the yuppies but on anyone who was different but still poor enough to cross their path. The first Dead Kennedys show there was met by rednecks armed with axe handles. Punks didn’t go to the bathroom alone at the Novato Denny’s, the only place in that area open all night, after two kids got jumped and beaten badly.

Amusingly, Scott’s uncle was a SF cop. At that time in SF, cops waited outside punk shows to arrest minors. This often set off near riot situations when the punks, getting all hepped up on revolutionary lyrics and beer, were forced to walk a gauntlet of cops and show our fake Ids in order to leave the area. We’d be there, the situation tensing and escalating and all of a sudden Scott would be all, "Hi Uncle Pete!" From under the riot mask would come, "Hey Scott, hey kids."

Scott was the pretty one in our group too, born to wear a studded leather jacket and swagger around. He made friends easily at bars. At first we didn’t notice that he seemed to know people at every bar we went to. Though we were a fairly tight-knit group of punks, Scott would occasionally enter a non-punk relationship but these never lasted long. Worryingly though, when he started one, he would disappear on us for a bit of time. He’d always return though, usually with tales he could eat out on, like when he tried to become a born-again Christian for five minutes and a yuppie for ten.

Scott was one of our first friends to have a real-life job. He worked the mailroom at a big real estate company. When the late ‘80s layoffs came he ended up being the only mailroom worker. This gave him sole access to the company van which took a pile of punks to every decent show in the Bay Area for years. Scott also used the oppressor’s resources in other ways. We sent out the Bay Area Anti-Racist Action newsletter and other radical lit with the real estate company’s bulk mail permit. Luckily Scott worked the mailroom or he might have gotten fired when somebody actually wrote a "Thank you" letter to the real estate company saluting their commitment to anti-racist work.

Later, when I moved to SF, Scott would visit and we’d go to shows. He’d show up with a half-drunk bottle of peppermint schnapps. I’d start drinking and he’d continue. I’d give him a key so he could return to my apartment whenever he needed to. Even if I set out a blanket and cushions for him, I’d usually find him the next morning face down on the floor with his jacket and cowboy boots* still on.

I was with Scott when I went to one of those life-changing shows that punks, dead heads and x-tians love to talk about. I convinced him to come to the Women’s Building for one of the Chumbawamba shows on the "Slap" tour. To be honest, my interest in punk was at an all-time low** and I was searching for a new, and more political scene, to be a part of. We’d been going to shows together for almost ten years but all it took was one song before when looked at each other and, without talking because it was too loud to talk, knew we were seeing something amazing, inspiring, and energizing in a way we hadn’t seen since, say, the Rock Against Reagan show at the1984 Democratic Convention protests. Weirdly, it was at that show that I met the people who would become my new punk friends as the scene I grew up with disintegrated

(continued tomorrow. . .)


*I always interpreted his fancy cowboy boots as a tribute to his background. He switched from the typical punk army boots to cowboy boots in his early 20’s. I don’t believe Scott, like many of my California friends, ever traveled East of Las Vegas. They’d give me shit all the time for being born in Michigan and not moving to California with my family until 1970 when I was 2.5 years old.

**Except for maybe now.
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


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