I cannot find my toothpaste and so have no choice but to brush my teeth with liquid hand soap and substitute suntan lotion for mouthwash. During my morning meditation I realize it may be overkill.
Phil buys a bio of Valerie Solanas at Amherst Books, where I try to purchase a bus ticket. The transaction goes like this:
“May I help you?”
“I need to get to New Haven.”
“Oh, how are you going to get there?”
“My mistake, I thought you sold Greyhound tickets here.”
“We do. You need a ticket?”
Phil and I can’t figure out why everyone in this town treats us like we’re there to cast another remake of The Wicker Man. In an attempt to throw them off the scent, we start auditioning people on the sidewalk for Solanas’s drawing room farce “Up Your Ass.”
After almost a hundred hours of intense overproximity, sleeping in such intimate adjacency that the cadences of our snoring become synchronized, Phil heads back to Braintree and I get on a bus bound for Connecticut. There’s a one-hour layover at the bus depot in Springfield. While waiting in line, a bag of fresh shaving cream next to me talks into his phone the whole time; I keep my cellphone pocketed out of fear that his sibilance will crack the glass. It’s hard to know if there is anyone on the other end. It kinda seems like he’s dictating the specs for an advertising campaign about pantyhose, but then he’s doing some sort of exorcism for a bird, maybe. I mean, I am unable to discern just by the feverishness of the patter if he is attempting to complete an avine soul possession, but I can connect the dots when he says “Are you holding the phone up to the cage or is it inside the cage? How far away is the water dish? Move it closer. Feathers! Angel wings are a myth!”
He transitions into conspiracy theory in which airplanes being able to fly prove the earth is flat and vice versa. Bottom line, the dude has issues with airborne objects. As we get on the bus, I can’t stop muttering “Please don’t sit by the restroom, please don’t sit by the restroom.”
The second half of the bus ride is uneventful, due in no small part to the electricity being offline, and the driver heading the wrong way for a half-hour before he realizes the error. When he makes an announcement on the P.A., I shout “Stop smoking, start vaping!”
We arrive at the Union Street train station in New Haven an hour late; the next train to Greenwich departs in yet another hour. I sit on a wooden bench to wait. The thing on my foot burns with moisture and itchiness.
Directly in front of me is the escalator. Coming up is a man who looks like malevolent sheisse-hund televangelist Jim Bakker, gazing vacantly at his cellphone. He’s got a rolling suitcase with a coat draped over it. The coat gets snagged in the escalator teeth and pulls the oblivious Bakker-ganger to the floor. People behind him realize too late what is going on, and can’t back up anyway because of more people behind them. Some try to side-step, a few try to jump over, but that doesn’t go well. It’s an upward-bound avalanche of commuters and travelers piling on top of one another, rolling around, yelling. A couple suitcases pop open and there is stuff all over the floor within seconds. I look for a coat hanger to borrow so I can scratch the thing on my foot. As people scramble to their feet and try to get out of the way, clothes and toiletries and file folders and newspapers mingle and get trampled. I can hear glass breaking and more people yelling. Four cops appear out of nowhere and think it’s a good idea to get the German Shepherd involved. I don’t know why, in case there’s a bomb underneath all those bottles of deodorant and boxers with boot prints on them?
There are regular announcements on the train from New Haven informing riders that they must move forward if they wish to get off at the approaching station. How many cars from the back one must be varies. I look around for visual clues about which car I am on. There are none. One is just supposed to know. Not wanting to leave a suitcase-encumbered mad dash forward to the last minute, next time the conductor passes, I ask if Greenwich is a stop where I can exit from the car I am on or not. I keep my California moonbeam thoughts about making the train stations the same size as the trains to myself. Not his department.
“Muh,” he grunts at me, “This train don’t stapp at Greenwich. Switch at Cos Cob.”
That’s right, between two Vogon poets, the one who sold me the ticket and the one who punched it on the train, both of whom know my destination, neither one mentions it until I ask. One is just supposed to know. Go back to Storrs.
My nieces are delightful. For the twelve hours I am at their house, I laugh almost constantly, even in the shower staring at their Barbie storage facility. The girls’ actual names are none of your damn business, so let’s just refer to them as “Big Gwendolyn Jane” and “Little Gwendolyn Jane.” Believe me, you’re lucky to get such excellent aliases; too bad if it’s not enough. There is no complaining on the yacht. Big Gwendolyn Jane, who is dressed in all purple, attends elementary school and is already a surprisingly good painter. In addition to her own landscapes and animal portraits, she’s done a copy of Van Gogh’s The Starry Night. The girls’ grandmother came out the winner of the bidding war for her version of The Scream. Little Gwendolyn Jane, dressed in jeans, black tutu with gold sparkles, and an open shoulder shirt, drops French words into the conversation at breakfast with the assurance and timing of a stand-up comedian. Her favorite subject at school is physical education “for the screaming. And bowling.”
Stepping off the train in New York City, one is punched in the face by the pervasive stench of iron supplement pills, skurf, diseased urine and spoiled cheese. The entire time you’re there, your body is in absorption mode. After a few days, you suspect you yourself are the source of the emanations, because you are.
I check in to Mid-Life Crisis. It’s like a youth hostel for old people — crossed with a treehouse and an ascetic retreat for monasts. I found it online and the description “afflicted living for contrarians who won’t accept help and are a pain in the ass in general” resonated with me.
The room, with its all-CO2 air conditioning, has a thin atmosphere that makes me feel out of breath. It’s a tiny cubicle, barely big enough for me and my luggage. The walls are sticky and covered in dust. The bed is made of hundreds of slices of stacked bread, and the pillows have lavender, pizza crusts, and ashes stuffed inside. I can hear rustling through the walls, punctuated by grunts and murmurs. The tap water is flavored acid recycled from the runoff of the ruminant farm on the roof.
The nodules on my lip are rupturing. They ooze burning liquid and tiny pods that wobble for a long time on the bathroom countertop. This new development is alarming but it takes my mind off the thing on my foot.
I pumice-scrub the thing on my foot at my father’s apartment in Hell’s Kitchen and gasp so loudly that he asks through the door if I am all right. The results of my ablutions are so appalling that before I leave I must wash out the bathtub. I feel like the stink spirit in Spirited Away. Paging Haku-chan, please report to the bath house.
My father and I take the subway uptown to the Met Breuer to see an exhibit of color photos by Raghubir Singh titled Modernism On The Ganges, and Delirious — Art At The Limits Of Reason 1950–1980.
We make a pitstop at The Dapper Tooth, a café where the asking price for a paltry raccoon haggis with tobacco jam is nine bucks. The server asks if I’d like a coffee refill. I say yes, please. He takes my cup and returns with the check. We must look like we’re off our meds or something.
“After an Accident, Grand Trunk Road, Bihar” from 1991 is the Singh photograph I can’t take my eyes off. In it a bright orange flipped-over truck takes up the entire right side of the image, and off in the distance, a shepherd tends to his creatures. Also of note is “Sitalmata (the Smallpox Goddess), and Stone Lingams Being Worshipped, Calcutta,” which draws blank stares from the people around me when I blurt out “Ariella!” Maybe the Dapper Tooth server was correct in his assessment.
The exhibit includes a couple black-and-white photos by Lee Friedlander, one of Singh’s influences. “Flag, Movie Marquee, Spokane Washington, 1974” is marvelous: an American flag cuts the image in half; on the left is a parked truck, the kind that is configured to deliver large panes of glass; on the right, an old geezer hobbles up the sidewalk past the adult cinema that reads “Open 12 Noon — Fairytales For Adults — Also: Lies.” Welcome to The Stinking Republic. Nothing ever changes here, except to get worse.
Many of Friedlander’s other street photographs, particularly the ones that utilize window reflections for cropping and layering, depict an off-kilter, irrational space that reminds me of the excellent collage work of Orchid Spangiafora.
For an exhibit at a squaresville institution, Delirious mostly lives up to its promise as a groupshow with four areas of focus, “vertigo, excess, nonsense and twisted.” Indignant thoughts such as “no Rauschenberg? Seriously?” soon fade, because you can play that game all day and it’s not going to get you anywhere. I take a moment to be happy to view Warhol’s “Electric Chair” prints in person, just like normal people who know how shut the fuck up and be satisfied every once in a while. Dara Birnbaum’s “Kiss the Girls: Make Them Cry” could do some damage projected on the huge screens at Times Square, but here, even on multiple TVs sets, seems small and harmless. Still, repeated cornball mugging of all-affectation celebrities on Hollywood Squares is not exactly useless in the crazy-making department. Ana Mendiata’s self-portraits of her face pressed against glass from the early ’70s should be familiar to any fan of Justice Yeldham. No blood, but just as brutal. I totally relate to Tony Conrad’s “Cycles of 3s and 7s” video, where he narrates the action as he crunches numbers on a calculator. I’ve spent entire days in that frame of mind. Carolee Schneeman’s “Viet-Flakes,” with its soundtrack by James Tenney, uses jittery shots of war atrocity stills to just… fuckin’… rape the consciousness.
On the subway headed to Brooklyn, a lady wearing a bright green poncho boards the train. Six little kids accompany her, each carrying tiny buckets. They take turns dipping scrub brushes into the Clorox and wiping down the woman’s rain coat. A cop boards the train and she immediately begins berating him about the route of the New York City Marathon. She seems pleased when he gets off at the next stop, even though there’s no way she could find his shrugging non-answers to her incoherent accusations satisfactory. I guess if you’re sloshing around multiple open containers of bleach on very crowded public transportation and an authority figure shows up, best to go on the offensive right away.
We arrive at 96 Morgan Avenue in Brooklyn, a basement bar underneath a clam shack next door to a slaughterhouse. I ask the DJ what he’s playing and he says, “Radio static and a Bill Orcutt record at the wrong speed.” Which is exactly the sort of claim I would make and no one would believe. “I brought all these cassettes with me, but something’s wrong with my tape player.” A few minutes later, when I hear the unmistakable reeeeer-reeeeer of abused tape, I look over at him from across the room, and sure enough, he’s banging his hand on a tape player. And then he spins “Good Vibrations.” Turns out it’s Keith Connelly from the No-Neck Blues Band. He is accompanied by a Danish scholar of Alvin Lucier who identifies himself only as Nielsen. I suspect they are father and son; tall and bearded, they look exactly alike. Nielsen does not engage in conversation unless he can relate the topic at hand to Lucier, specifically a phenomenon he calls “cerebral exploitation.”
When C. Spencer Yeh enters wearing a BuFMS T-shirt, I shout “Curtiss!” at him. He has brought me a durian. Hard to believe he’s not at the Hospital Records 20th Anniversary across town, but the man is true blue.
He asks if I have plans to reprint Bananafish as a book. I say no, I still have plenty of the originals in storage, but people do ask me that regularly. He wants to know what I say when people ask. I tell him I say sure, if they give me $25,000. He’s surprised at the figure, asks is that really how much it’d cost. I say no, I just pick something high enough to change the subject.
Genital Quartz (aka Sinuba Dreem) goes first and performs an assured theatrical piece that incorporates props, movement, audience interaction, video, and pre-recorded audio. However, as a self-described harsh noise boy, Sinuba wouldn’t use the term “theater” to tag what he does. Too nerdy. “A lot of what I do,” he explains, “incorporates either an aspect of performance or video, depending on whether I am performing the music live or not. In this case I chose to fly [from Oakland, California] without all of my gear because I have a weird name for TSA and it is almost always a complete nightmare.”
That pre-recording consists of a deathly sensuous, industrial maelstrom and selections from an interview with Joseph Campbell where he discusses “Love And The Goddess.” Unsure of whether he’d be able to screen the video he brought with him, and lacking a microphone, he decided to include Campbell’s voice at the last minute, even though “Love And The Goddess” came to him, he says, “at a time when I was very confused and hateful of gender. Particularly being born a ‘girl’, which, I suppose now that the whole ~spectrum of gender~ has been revealed, I don’t necessarily consider myself to be [solely].” Remembering that sociologist Fred Hoon’s Yellow Brick Road Ratio (three damaged old men for every strong independent girl who knows what she wants) is even more asymmetrical in noise, one should not be surprised to learn that when Sinuba first listened with some fellow noise ladies to Campbell’s interview, feeling very much disempowered by his own age and gender in “a noise scene that has always been primarily dominated by men … usually much older than me…, [who have never] taken me seriously … unless I was in a band with a man,” he “just cried a lot.”
Sinuba is Egyptian, spent all his summers growing up in Egypt, and always heavily related to Isis. “The way [Campbell] also speaks on [the subject of] Satan, or Iblis, with Islamic history was so interesting to me…. I was raised Muslim, and quite conservatively, so Iblis is my boy…. The interview to me at the time was so enchanting; it’s essentially these two older white men … reveling in all that is the power of femininity.”
The video is a feverish Eros / Thanatos, sacred / profane montage of dancing (predominately twerking and pole dancing), depictions of violence (schoolgirl pistol execution, flashing of knives, decapitation by axe), and trashy pop culture (Homer Simpson, emojis, gleeful beach choreography) — each of them penetrating one another in destructive Day-Glo orgies of heavily pixelated dissolves and damaged crossfades. Together, the video and Campbell “invoke some sort of power in womxn reclaiming their sexuality instead of being shamed for whatever people consider to be ‘ratchet’ or ‘slutty’. The act of twerking in itself needs to be recognized as divinity, and if you have ever seen a dancer at the club in action, it truly is a ritual of the Goddess.”
He continues, “I’m not a good menu-based, tons-of-buttons, kind-of-a-computer-but-not-really person…. The only things I really know are how to make and destroy contact mics, and figuring out a sweet spot of feedback. But I basically learned how to get things out of a four-track and into a computer, like, the week of the show. I also got lucky in New York and my friends let me record some sounds off of their synths into the computer, which I added on top of what I had already. Mostly the process for a long time was just spending hours on end trying to make what is essentially a toy sound really ‘big’ or ‘harsh’.”
He decided to get rid of everything he owns and start over by opening “the modular hell mouth,” which he compares to “hacking the system by making up your own, while looking like a total asshole and nerd. It’s harsher than harsh noise, almost.”
While all this is going on, Sinuba strolls through the audience, shoving some people, offering flowers to others, moving in ambiguous ways. My father and I hesitate as we reach for the flowers he extends toward us, both of us no doubt thinking, “Wait a second, should I be doing this?” He doesn’t have time for our internal rainbow pizza to finish buffering and moves on. When a dude nearby attempts to accept the flower, Sinuba pulls back and swats him in the face with it. He is clearly taken aback and watches closely to see if anyone else gets face-swatted or if he should take it personally. All I can think of at that moment is Ben Stiller sneering “Cram it up your cramhole, LaFleur,” and my chuckling earns me a sharp look from the victim.
The flower petals flying everywhere from the ongoing revocations and swatting strangely echo the masses of pixels getting stir-fried onscreen. “You are not over-thinking it,” Sinuba assures me. “I was hoping to be able to walk into [the video] and further obscure the projection, at least somewhat, and I have no idea how it ended up looking.”
My older white male awareness of video artists suddenly feels anemic, so I ask Sinuba about his pantheon. “I went to a Black Dice / Wolf Eyes show when I was like 17 or 18, on a lot of ketamine [and saw] some of Danny Perez’s projections. He had used the most disgusting part of my favorite Japanese horror film overlaid on other stuff and I almost couldn’t believe it. I haven’t exactly kept up on his work but that really helped me break away from the more serious film friends I had. Later I briefly went to and dropped out of art school in Chicago, when the whole glitch scene was happening. Jennifer Chan (major crush), Rosa Menkman, Takeshi Murata and Jon Satrom fall under the influential umbrella as well. There was also ... a glitch scene in Cairo happening at the same time, and Sarah Samy is, like, my number-one art hero. We bonded over our favorite Arabic word once and I was just so happy there were other queer Egyptian girls making similar art. Incredibly reaffirming at the time. As far as favorite though, I would say Wendy Vainity on YouTube, whose learning process of making 3D animation I followed. I was so in love with her for a while. She’s gotten actually very good at 3D animation now and I’m honestly a little bummed. They are still super weird, but following her progression for four years was a wild ride. I still want to learn 3D animation because of her, but I just got a computer again for the first time in a year, so we’ll see. Also, Lisa Frank as a concept.”
In the lull after Genital Quartz finishes, I get button-holed by a fellow who claims to be a bigwig in the Auto-Correct Poetry scene. Every time I break eye contact with him, he moves to reestablish it, which gives off a predatory termite vibe. Over his should I can see someone looking our way. He’s wearing a T-shirt with a glow-in-the-dark NASA logo, same as me. With my arms at my sides I discreetly wave him over. Turns out it’s Daniel Blumin from WFMU. Bren’t Lewiis contributed “Cockroach Footage Restored” to Blue, one of the fundraiser CDs he anthologized. The Auto-Correct termite looks at our matching shirts and asks contemptuously, “Are you guys astronauts or something?”
Feeling emboldened by Daniel’s presence, I boast, “Absolutely I am. Been to the moon, too.”
“Really,” he says, not buying it in the slightest.
“Twice,” I say.
Without missing a beat, Daniel chimes in, “I’ve never been to the moon but I was with John Lennon when the ETs handed him a golden egg.”
The Auto-Correct termite departs. No idea where to. Maybe to chew a hole in the wall behind the deep fryer upstairs.
Daniel gives me a new WFMU disc he compiled, Speak Unless Spoken To, a self-described “tribute to Fylkingen’s Text-Sound Composition series.” I admit to snickering when some hack comes along trying to pass himself off as a “curator,” but this is not one of those times. Well-chosen, thoughtfully sequenced and designed, it is a welcome ping of light for the black-hearted.
The expected techniques for revealing the hidden and obscuring the obvious in speech dominate the first section, some vocalization exclusively, some with accompaniment — double exposures of emphatic narrators, fragmented recitations of inventories, montage, signal-blurring effects, actual shouts and murmurs, suffocation caused by exoskeletons and poker chips. The voice becomes increasingly abstracted and divorced from its inherent agency, a transition into the realm of the synthetic completed by Jaap Blonk’s excellent “Exit Only,” and immediately confirmed with Joke Lanz’s suicide note that follows, an announcement of the literal annihilation of a human voice. The third and final section continues the trajectory to a fully source-obscure AI (artificial incoherence, so to speak), followed by a previously released 1983 track by Bruce Gilbert serving as a coda to bring the entire thing full circle.
As Shots set up their gear, I see Daniel DiMaggio hanging a cloth from the ceiling above an elevated platform that resembles a hyper-extended table hospitals use for serving Jell-O platters to bed-ridden patients.
There is some ambiguity about the source of the name of the group. Matthew Friberg cannot outright reject the possibility that they are named after a Steve Lacy album, but his brother John is confident that they hadn’t heard it until the name had already been chosen.
As soon as they begin, the room goes completely silent, which I find hard to believe. Not a single self-loather who can’t handle his liquor in the house? Is this location not zoned for lonely millionaires on the prowl for overnight companionship? Have we depleted the supply of tech-bros braying into their cellphones about category theory? I try to put these thoughts out my head, because the moment I become smug and content, some rando will stumble down the stairs, take a dump in the middle of the floor, and fall in it during an incoherent screaming fit right out of /r/Incels. Soundman Spencer Ward says he’s never heard 96 Morgan Avenue so devoid of chatter. Matthew agrees it’s “mad quiet,” and notes that “at past shows, people stop talking after the first minute or so, once they realize we’re playing.”
“Last time we played Philly,” recalls John, “Most of what we were doing seemed inaudible over the crowd noise. Someone in the audience yelled ‘You suck!’ which was funny. Unfortunately, nobody recorded the set.”
As Shots are playing, I feel exactly how The Lady In The Radiator looks. That the stage is dominated by a large, red, crescent-shaped booth from a restaurant contributes to my Lynch-infused elation. John sits at one edge of it, working a volume pedal with a mic wrapped in a plastic shopping bag connected to it. The mic is taped on the stand just below the cymbal, with all of it going through a Fender mini-amp. Daniel breaks a beer bottle on the floor, and kicks and sweeps the pieces of glass around — which he tells me about after the fact. I am so transfixed during the set that it doesn’t occur to me to take a few steps so I can see what he’s doing.
“I like the idea of ... playing onstage as a chance to do things that would be less acceptable or would seem too aggressive otherwise,” he tells me. Even though my attention is acutely focused on them, I fail to connect all of what I am hearing with what I am seeing. It’s tough to admit to being overwhelmed by something that, on paper anyway, one should have no trouble keeping track of. The cloth hanging from the ceiling, for example. I have no idea what’s going on there.
“Washcloth soaked in water,” he says, “Dripping on a contact mic’d piece of glass…. It was supposed to be audible but it’s cool that it wasn’t.” Maybe it was audible, I don’t know. I’m just a boob down in front with an ear-to-ear grin who can neither confirm nor deny.
Matthew is by far the most animated of the three. He strokes and caresses a bright green rope with a determined look on his face as he switches from one semi-awkward stance to another. An attempt to mimic the body language of skaters is made, with a cardboard tube clutched between his ankles.
“This particular visual aspect is pretty new, the movement-based stuff,” he reveals, “And I definitely want to keep going in that direction. Or, at least, some of the time. When I talk to myself about it, I call it ‘cave dancing’, but I really have no idea where it comes from. Nowhere in particular.”
He anchors a wind-up toy with a string to the center of an overturned cymbal on the floor. As it marches around in circles, Matthew steps back and goes through a series of worshipful gestures from across the spectrum of belief — bowing, praying, genuflecting, mudra, pāraś kappayim. All are fractured and incomplete, as if in competition with one another.
“I can’t imagine doing that and not trying to be funny. That would make it suck, I think,” he tells me, “But like, on another level, I’m trying to elicit that reaction in order to contest it. It basically depends on who’s asking.”
The set is short, about fifteen minutes, and seems to end abruptly. But, no, not really.
John says, “I just saw Matt sit down so I figured he was done, and thought it would be a good time to stop.”
Daniel says, “I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen any live music that has held my attention for longer than, like, ten minutes.”
Matthew says, “I don’t like to play for too long; I prefer for us to offer glimpses, because I think that keeps everything more confusing.”
I recall a recent Bren’t Lewiis session where we recorded back-flipping wind-up toys and spring-loaded jumpy toys on a contact-mic’d pane of glass. There are some wavelengths shared between us and Shots, however different our respective results. To get all the mutants in one room together could be a heavy Jane Goodall breakthrough worthy of an Archie McPhee sponsorship.
I am about to start my set, the first time I have ever played solo in public. I’ve done a reading here and there, and participated in round robins, but never have I been the guy onstage making the noise all by himself for the entirety of the set. There is no stage fright. I don’t lack confidence. Genital Quartz and Shots are both so good, they make it impossible, reprehensible even, to have doubt in my mind. But I can’t keep the second-guessing at bay. Does this evening deserve to be capped off by nothing better than me just sitting there pushing buttons? Keith Connelly brought more life to the DJ booth than what I would be offering from the big red crescent.
I nod to Spencer and the video of Lily McBilly begins, projected on the same wall where Sinuba’s was shown. Her familiar bent and distorted head, oddball authoritarian gestures, and imperious facial expressions illuminate the room, my six-year-old girl as Big Brother. In the past seven years I have watched this thirty-second movie hundreds of times, and now a roomful of people are going to match my dosage in thirty minutes. I hope they find it mesmerizing. I am nevertheless conscious of under-delivering.
Just as I am about the twiddle my first knob, I notice a plastic spool of dental floss on the table. What the hell is dental floss doing here? I pick it up, look at it, huh, peppermint flavored, toss it aside. Maybe it’s Matthew’s, leftover from Shots’ set. The noise loops begin. I fade new ones in, I fade others out after I feel like I’ve heard them long enough. I have to glance at the Lily McBilly video again. My eye catches the dental floss on the table. More noise loops. God damn that dental floss, I really need to find out if there’s any left inside the box. Should I wait? No, I need to know right now. I pick it up again and open it. Yeah, there’s quite a bit left inside. Almost full. Someone’s going to regret misplacing this. Whatever, it’s the Big Apple, there’s an all-night drugstore on every corner, right? I set it down, closer to me this time. I fire up the radio on the Koma Elektronik field kit and adjust the effects box so it sounds like it’s coming from a sunken aircraft carrier. Man, some Bill Orcutt at the wrong speed would sound good right now, maybe Keith can tell what I’m thinking by the look on my face, c’mon Keith, don’t leave me hangin’. I can smell peppermint, it’s all over my hands. How annoying, but it does smell good, so stop complaining. I pick it up and pull a couple sniffs, oh yeah, that’s nice, very calming, give the radio knob a quick bump, one more sniff and into the pocket with the dental floss. Pull up a couple new noise loops, something more jarring, kind of piercing and shrill, different lengths so they don’t sync-up, how about some boop-boop from the voltage-controlled oscillator, or should that come later, no, it needs to happen now, a steady unadorned pulse to contrast the god-awful loops. Why did I put the floss in my pocket, I hate having stuff in my pockets, especially when I’m sitting down. It makes me feel like I’m covered in tumors. Spot check the video, good, Lily’s still holding down that side of the room, no one will notice if I stand up again and get this box of dental floss off my person, another sniff before I set it down, make it a good one, big enough to hold me to the end of the set, indulging in this kind of behavior while I’m on the clock is tacky. Seriously, dude: represent. Let’s mess with those noise loops a little and get the solenoid vibrating on the lid of the Partridge Family lunchbox, keep it tilted, not too steep, though, yeah, that’s some good spasticity right there. Fuck, I can’t take this anymore, I’m going the cue up the closing noise, that harsh electric zont the freight elevator used to make every time one of the warehouse guys at work would have to come upstairs, so glad I recorded that before I quit my job. Okay, let’s end this. No, you know what, since when have you let oral hygiene products of any kind define who you are and determine what you do. Well, junior high school was three years without an apple because of the braces, so what’s that, forty years, plus or minus. Rubber bands in the mouth, swollen lips, clear putty for the sharp bits… Ugh. Never again. I can handle this. Contact mic, dental floss, yank out all that green string, keep yanking, listen to that distressed whir coming out of the P.A., sounds like a hummingbird dry-heaving into a washing machine, keep yanking that floss, keep yanking, hold the contact mic against it tight, do not fuck this up, hairless ape, keep yanking, keep yanking, check in on Lily, that video is so great, I love it so much, I wonder if I’ve mind-controlled anyone with it, later on we’ll see if anyone has trouble talking without mirroring her hand gestures. Yanking, yanking, v-v-v-v-v-v-v, v-v-v-v-v-v-v, v-v-v-v-v-v-v, gick! Done, play the elevator zont, and ta-da!
Keith and the Lucierologist ride the same subway train as my father and me part of the way home. A man with a bichon frise gets on at one stop. He has it on a leash and strapped inside a cone of shame. There are no signs of recent surgery or rawness from scratching, so Keith asks the man what’s wrong with the dog, why he’s got it wearing the device.
“Nothing wrong with him,” the guy says, who then cuts a fart that reverberates harshly against the plastic subway set, “I just like him to stay focused.” Keith and the Lucierologist scholar get off at the next stop.
I pause as I walk down the narrow stairs at the subway station, to allow a man who is struggling to make his way to the top. He sees me and sneers, “What, you afraid to walk down the stairs?”
Before I can utter a syllable, a lady shoves past me and says to him as she descends, “He’s not scared, he’s just being polite cuz you’re a gimp!” and then whacks him on the back with her cane.
My father takes me to a twenty-four hour diner called Hot Seat. He is unsure if it will be to my liking. I assure him rejecting the warmth of the bench does not come easily to me. It is the first time that day he asks what is wrong with me. The second time is after I use the restroom at the Hot Seat, which has no fan, window, or any form of ventilation whatsoever. I like to think that I’m an above-average restaurant customer, courtesy-wise, but my bodily functions clearly are not. I can’t take them anywhere.
Another thing I can’t do is remember the last time I had a chance to sit for hours on end, without interruption, reading and snacking on honey tentacles, yogurt-marinated shoulder of marmot, glazed Band-aids, and goosepimple fondue. My reading list includes Grim Planet (7.13 Books, 2017), a collection of stories by former Double U bass-player Alex Behr, who helped me for years get booties and bonnets onto my prose for Bananafish. Most of her stories are set on the West Coast — Portland, San Francisco, Berkeley — and the vividness of her characters have been praised as “conflicted, uncertain, pained…, carved from the guts of us.” Even one that takes place in a colony on Mars maintains the “horror leavened by comedy.”
Troy sipped a cola a customer had left behind. He frowned. He smelled rot around the can’s sharp lip. Microbial rot. The supply ships didn’t arrive from Earth too often. The colas went bad and no one fucking cared. He struck his hand inside his pants pocket to feel his lucky pebble, his sacred pebble — the one he had found in the dust by a shredded bra.
The Vanishing Acts Almanac by Pembroke Francis O’Hear, (Olde Smitty, 2016), an encyclopedic and exquisitely peculiar guide to super-obscure (to the point of non-existent) antipodean rock bands from the 1980s, also gets the attention it deserves from me. Like a cross between the Trouser Press Guide to New Wave Records and Dictionary Of The Khazars, it contains an index and thorough cross-referencing, which only enhances the aura of magic realism.
Keloid And The Brood (also known as K & the B)
Genre: Experimental Pop
Releases: Burnt Dolls (LP, 1983)
Minimalist pop soundscapes laconically interrupted by lead singer Keloid’s groans and whispers. Keloid was truly a hulk, wheeled on stage with the aid of a customised shopping trolley. Rarely smiling, she would sit playing a greasy glockenspiel while eating handfuls of liquorice all-sorts washed down with white wine.
At an infamous Ferntree Gully Hotel gig during power ballad Spitzophrenia, she violently vomited the entire mixture back into her glass. To the horror of the audience Keloid immediately re-drank it, giving rise to the infamous “Keloid’s breakfast,” a cocktail consisting of white wine with minced liquorice floater.
A Keloid And The Brook album found release on private press, soundtrack to nasty 1983 slasher film Burnt Dolls directed by art house darling Nigel Spiral (also of Knives With Eyes). The music worked eerily well for a film about rampant doll torture in the suburbs.
Keloid died in 1990 as a result of cardiac arrest related to morbid obesity. Confined to a mattress on her kitchen floor ([to] which her flesh had apparently begun to fuse), an exterior wall had to be removed to gain access to her enormous dead body.
See also Knives With Eyes
My father and I become aware that eighteen hours have elapsed since we arrived at Hot Seat, so we decide to just stay there all night celebrating Jolabokaflod early, and keep reading until the sun comes up.
Someone had dropped a ketchup packet on the floor, which we notice only when it explodes with an above-average pop, splatters ketchup on the radiator, and sizzles for a minute. I say, “Aw, damn, I was saving that for later.” My father says, “Hm?” but like much of what exits my piehole, the quip doesn’t warrant an encore.
While eating second breakfast with my father, I notice a man standing motionless on the sidewalk outside Hot Seat wearing black Ray-Bans, staring at us through the window. It is a little unnerving to me, but my father says it always gets like this when the World Series Of Poker is in town.
A group at a nearby table who all look like malevolent sheisse-hund televangelist Jim Bakker are being needlessly conspicuous in their discussion of pro football. The phrase “my Chiefs” comes up in every other sentence.
The waiter, wearing oversized amber-colored cop glasses with white frames, never looks down at us when we order. We ask if he knows anything about the guy on the sidewalk. He walks away without answering. He returns with the goat embryo covered with glue I ordered, but it is sub-par. The difference between fresh and frozen is vast. I admit it — I am a snob.
I can’t take being stared at through the window by the Ray-Bans guy, so I go out and invite him to join us. He declines. Up close he resembles a cross between Mr. Carlin from The Bob Newhart Show and a dried apricot. But the same can be said for nearly everyone.
“Are you sure?” I push. “It’s on me. No pressure.”
“No pressure, you don’t know that!” he snaps.
“I’ll rephrase. Whatever extant pressure there is right now is all internally generated by you. I am not intentionally adding external pressure to, uh, to whatever this is. ‘No pressure’ for short.”
“True ’nuff,” he says and walks away.
My “wait, what?” moment is interrupted by the sudden sound of sirens coming up the street. A guy just entering the crosswalk looks up from his cellphone at the approaching firetrucks. Not impressed, he keeps walking and returns to his cellphone, nearly getting creamed in the process. He rolls his eyes as several of the fireman shout insults at him. He gets closer, and I can see his T-shirt says “California” inside an outline of Illinois.
He walks past me. I watch him. A man in a wheelchair is coming toward us, though Illifornia doesn’t notice. The wheelchair guy stops, backs up a little and begins a volte face, but miscalculates the location of the curb and flips over backward into the street. His chair lands on top of him. The contents of the bags he had slung across the handles are all over, rolling down the gutter. He’s groaning, “Oh, my god. Oh, my god.” Illifornia keeps moving. I approach but he screams “No! Get away!”
“Come on, let me at least get you upright.”
The rest is indecipherable gibberish. He and all his stuff smell like the inside of a vacuum cleaner bag, so I am happy to let him yammer and keep my mouth shut for the remainder of Operation Collect And Reorient.
My father and I catch a subway headed downtown. On the platform, a frighteningly malnourished man wearing nothing but longjohns cautiously pokes a stick at a tangled pile of filthy duct tape as if it’s a coiled snake ready to strike. Two women and a little boy stand behind him, observing apprehensively. Our train arrives, preventing me from being able to report that it ended well.
An obnoxious little bichon frise struts around the subway untethered, no apparent owner, biting people on the legs indiscriminately. No one seems to care, they just shake the thing off with a quick twitch of the foot. The dog gets off at one stop but before departing, turns for one final assessment of the pathetic humans. The doors close on the dirty fucker. It yelps and jumps back too late. The thing’s trapped between the doors with its feet scrabbling the air. Viscous ooze dribbles out rents in its midsection, its eyes are blinking on and off, sparks crackle from its earholes. The yelping becomes slower and softer and deeper in pitch. Its head pops off to the sound of a plastic crunch and rolls across the floor of the train, coming to rest by the sandwich-bagged shoe of a man with a Burger King crown and metallic gold paint all over his lips and tongue. Upon noticing the dog head, he begins singing “Bicycle Built For Two.”
The World Trade Center station, where I catch the train to WFMU, is enormous, empty and white. Looking straight up from the center of the floor feels like being inside a gargantuan Venus Flytrap made of porcelain.
Moments later I am at the radio station, sitting in the corner checking my email, listening to and watching Brian Turner do his show. Highlights include an entire prerecorded live set, including video, by Group Doueh, a track from Chik White’s LP of solo jaw harp on Feeding Tube, and a German cover of “Fox On The Run” by pre-Scorpions band The Hunters. We chat on and off throughout the show while he does his thing, queuing records, logging his playlist, replying to listener comments. Then he tells me to strap on some headphones and step up to mic, bitch. (I’m paraphrasing. Brian’s a good boy.) Before I know it, I am being interviewed on WFMU. I try to stay calm. It’s brief and clean and matter-of-fact, no malarkey. He plays something from The Tenses / Bren’t Lewiis disc on Chocolate Monk, one side of the Glands Of External Secretion seven-inch released by I Dischi Del Barone, and a cut from the reissue of World Of Pooh’s Land Of Thirst LP on Starlight Furniture Co.
By the time the show is over, whatever’s going on with the thing on my foot is catching up with me. I have difficulty concentrating. Shortness of breath. Time accelerates and stops. I’m not sure what is real and what is imagined. The house dog at WFMU, is it growling at me? Does Brian tell me a story about the time he threw Dolomite cassettes at Wilco when they played Irving Plaza? Did a rosacea-scarred old man denounce President Drumpf into the faces of some college kids campaigning for a female mayoral candidate? Why does every piece of clothing I’m wearing feel like it no longer fits? How is it possible for flames to shoot out from under my feet every time I take a step? Are we trying to catch a cab on the set of Bladerunner, next to dramatically illuminated steam-powered kiosks? Is the muzak in the cab Nik Raicevic’s Head? Dr. Jessup, are you okay?
Because of the pictures on my cellphone, sent to my lovely wife back home for the express purpose of inducing envy, I’m reasonably sure we have dinner at Momofuku Noodle Bar in Manhattan, where I suck chunks of lamb off rib bones like the last bit of a popsicle. I may be a vegetarian but I never said I was Gandhi. I’m just a fat guy who doesn’t eat meat, except for when he does. Charred romaine lettuce, shishito peppers, buns stuffed with shiitake mushrooms, spicy hozon ramen — all get dumped into my gullet in a flash. I am a human pelican. It has to be nightmarish to witness. I can barely comprehend Joe Piccirillo’s elucidations about the ingredients and preparation of each dish. The soap bubbles floating out of his eyes each time he blinks are distracting me. I think I am going to lose consciousness soon.
Brian gets me to Penn Station. There are words coming out of our mouths regarding a topic. In the middle of a sentence I am either saying or hearing, not sure which, I notice that Brian is gone. When I shut my eyes, I see lights flashing; I open them and everything is dark. I’m not fully aware of anything in any meaningful, functioning manner. I am the thing on the thing on my foot at this point, and the thing on my foot is the thing with a thing on it, and that thing is me. My clothes seem to be changing sizes: my pants feel like they’re shrinking and falling down more than usual, but the sleeves on my coat are so long I can’t get my hands out to pull up my pants. Everything is bellbottoms.
I get a ticket for Philadelphia and moments later I am in Baltimore. A street vendor looks at my hat and asks what LAFMS stands for. Without even thinking, I reply, “Like A Fuckin’ Master, Son.” I am spinning in a circle trying to figure out what to do next, and where I should go to do it. The man is either cracking up at me or having an aneurysm-induced sneezing fit. My shoes feel like they are filled with wriggling centipedes. He wants to trade a red Nevermore T-shirt with a huge raven on the front for my LAFMS hat. I don’t have time for this, but if Cambridge taught me nothing else, sometimes you gotta throw the pitbull a steak to get him to stop humping your leg, so I say sure, why not. Whenever Edgar Allan Poe’s name comes up, all my father will say is “Damn pervert.” I plan on sending the shirt to him as a gift.
Against the odds, I make it to Philadelphia. Through the window of the train, I see a building with twinkling purple lights on the outside, which even in my demented state seems like extremely unlikely architectural ornamentation. I record a few minutes on my iPhone so I can verify it later.
The Lyft driver who picks me up at the train station has trouble delivering me to the Memphis Taproom, as his GPS tells him to take exits that don’t exist, and to enter streets that are closed due to construction. Welcome to my world.
The exhausting traveling-without-arriving shtick finally concludes and I am greeted by Siltbreeze proprietor Tiberius J. Lax, a fistful of antibiotics, a pint of Nodding Head Sled Wrecker that ushers my inner Dorothy into the Technicolor, and a dude named Kyle whose claim to fame is having served the late Jay Reatard the last beer he ever drank. I come in halfway through Kyle’s story about his impending trip to Las Vegas to see The Misfits. According to the infomercial I saw on the JetBlue flight to Boston, Danzig and Co. have replaced their signature leather jackets, eyeliner, and black forelocks with Cher costuming — angel wings, sexy fishnets, and enormous rhinestone headdresses that look like an inside-out octopus. Standard issue for Vegas shows, no doubt. Kyle is so excited about seeing them, I don’t have the heart to break it to him. Poor bastard will find out soon enough.
Tiberius and I walk through the quiet, narrow streets of his neighborhood — me with my suitcase full of gear, him with a bag of slaughtered critters. No idea what kind, but there’s a decent variety of claws and paws sticking out the top. As we get closer to his place, he expresses hope that the next-door neighbors will take a night off from their knock-down drag-out fights.
“The bad blood started from the get-go,” he tells me. “They hired a commercial looking truck themselves and once all their precious shit was inside the new digs, they just left the truck out front, running, with the flashers on. The street was impassable for hours. Cops showed up, told ’em to move the truck, neighbors are complaining — which they somehow translated to being me.”
Before I can say “So, Tiberius, do ya’ll have AirBnBs in Philadelphia,” we are at his place. He pulls his keys out to open the front door and a figure in the shadows startles us both.
It’s his neighbor, standing in her doorway with nothing on but a cloth wrapped around her head like a turban. She laughs at our surprise and says, “Lotsa people don’t never know me when they sees me. I ain’t got no look.” She gives me the once over, scoffs, and asks, “Tiberiuslax, whatchoo do? You some kinda writer?”
“Yeah,” he says slowly, “Sometimes I get paid to write.”
“My daughter’s a writer an’ I’m a writer, too. I’m a writin’ a book right now. I needs a publisher, though. I think I’m a gonna contack Simon & Schuster.”
She sashays into the darkness of her house, away from the door, leaving it open.
“Well, that was weird,” I say, but from Tiberius’s reaction, I am understating the significance. He stands there, paralyzed, as if bitten by a venomous roll of duct tape.
Once inside his place, he starts to snap out of it, but he’s still tweaked, lost in thought.
“She called me by my entire name,” he mutters.
“Yes, she did.”
“In all the time they’ve lived here, she’s never uttered my name in any capacity, ever.”
I wonder if this is connected to the nudity, but how the hell can I ask that without risk of getting face-swatted with a dead chafinch?
“I just figured out who’s been going through my mail.” He picks up his phone.
“Who you texting?”
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