My New Year’s Resolution.
The new year is upon us, and many of my friends are preparing for an annual celebration of one kind of another, generally a drunken bacchanal at a club or bar, or a similar gathering at someone’s house. I’ve never particularly liked the festivities associated with New Years Eve, even when I was younger and more prone to the art of partying with my likeminded friends. It always struck me as dangerous to plan on going out somewhere to get loaded, and the whole idea of communally saying goodbye to one year and welcoming another never spoke to my sensibilities. At least not in the way that people tend to celebrate that yearly transition.
So instead, I will spend that evening somewhere less social, probably in a retrospective mood like the one I’m in now. We’re all like individual flames in a great dark void, and while humans are social creatures, almost to the point of being herd animals, that type of social structure can dilute our individual power, or at least keep many of us blind to it. We should be bright points of isolate consciousness, not just another voice lost in a screaming crowd. There is a time and place for that kind of thing. I used to spend too much time seeking it, now I prefer to Work on my goals, many of which have turned inward in recent years.
The herd is comforting, and being one among many provides a great feeling of safety, but that is an illusion that keeps us asleep. To me, it is far less appealing to cling to a belief that we are all somehow connected than it is to admit to myself that everything I experience is through a very personal subjective filter. We may indeed be “connected” in some way, but I prefer to seek out others like myself, rather than flocking to the same bright and shiny lure that others do, like a lemming.
Instead of taking shots or drowning myself in champagne at midnight in a crowd of strangers, I’ll be contemplating my place in this universe, and planning for the year ahead. I hope that you shine brighter this year, and that we can spend time together, celebrating the unique and potent power of each of ourSelves as individuals, not as nameless and unimportant components of a enormous and faceless herd.
Beware the Shrill Condemnation of the Holiday Police.
Tis the holiday season all of a sudden. Seems to creep up on us around this same time every year, and with social media networks like Facebook, the holidays bring with them a lot of baggage that they didn’t always seem to have. As if they needed more of those.
Specifically, there seem to be more and more people who feel obligated to dictate what the rest of us should or shouldn’t think about them.
First on that list are the Facebook folks who spread around “clever” memes about Thanksgiving – generally taking a slam against white people being “illegal aliens” who took America from the Natives living here. There are variations on that theme, but that’s the basic model.
First of all, Thanksgiving seems to be celebrated by just about everyone in the U.S., it’s not some honky holiday where exclusively wealthy white people get together to congratulate themselves on past conquests from 200 plus years ago. A lot of people just use it as a reason to get together with family and friends, and maybe to pause and give thanks for the blessings in their lives. It’s also not a religious holiday for the most part, which makes it a nice secular way to enjoy the people we care about, and to eat like pigs without too much guilt. I guess I don’t get the desire some people feel to throw in a little angry jab at a basic holiday that has evolved to mean “eating with family and friends” for most of us.
It rubs me the wrong way, reminding me of the folks who feel it’s necessary to dictate what Christmas is all about.
So what IS Christmas all about anyway? Well, like many holidays, the way it’s celebrated has changed a lot over the years. Yes, if a person is a devout Christian, it’s the biggest religious holiday of the year for many of them. But it’s only been celebrated in the modern sense for a brief period of time, and was even suppressed by the church in the 1800s, because Christmas was celebrated in much the way Mardi Gras is today – with a lot of drunken street mobs and back alley buggery. Merry Christmas, y’all!
The modern American traditions are a mishmash of older ones borrowed from many cultures, and quite a few were essentially invented in the 20th century. My point is that Christmas is not exclusively a Christian religious holiday, nor is it the only religious tradition celebrated during the latter part of each year. This country has grown very diverse, as it was always intended to be, and Christmas as an exclusively religious Christian event is no longer the way things are. Heck, its roots are in pagan festivals, just as many Christian traditions are.
So when some creep with an agenda tells me to “Remember the reason for the season,” or tells me “Merry Christmas” like he’s looking for a fight, I want to tell him “My name is Chris, and I reject your religion. Hail Lucifer!”
But I (usually) don’t.
I guess the point I’m trying to make here is simple: trying to politicize the holidays is bullshit. Enjoying a holiday meal with loved ones at Thanksgiving doesn’t mean that a person is ignorant of this country’s horrible record in regards to its treatment of native Americans, or that they support that legacy.
And possessive Christians should also realize that not everyone who celebrates Christmas believes the things they do, nor are us secular celebrants of the holiday trying to wage a ridiculous “War on Christmas.” The only thing that would completely destroy the religious celebration of Christmas is Christians deciding to give up the holiday. The rest of us can’t take that from them, nor are most of us trying to do so.
So people should lighten up. The Winter Solstice is coming, and this time of year is cold and dreary enough without bickering on social media about what various holidays should mean to the collective “us.”
Crazy Cat Ladys – Our Tendency to Punish Women Who Break From Societal Expectations
Women get called crazy a lot in our culture. You have the “crazy ex” and the “psycho girlfriend,” sometimes shortened to “psycho chick” because of a supposed long history of nightmarishly psychotic dating behavior, and then you have the “crazy cat lady” designation, which seems to be reserved for a slightly different category of “crazy” woman.
But let’s examine that tendency to call females “crazy” first. Yes, there are lots of women out there who suffer from various mental or personality disorders, and they can often act erratically. Dating anyone who suffers from real mental problems can be incredibly difficult, and only a handful of people are probably up to the task.
And there are also women (although men are just as guilty of all of these behaviors) who have anger problems, or are extremely jealous or controlling. The types of people who instantly think of vengeance when they perceive they’ve been slighted. I can’t make any excuses for those people. Anyone whose just wired to be selfish and mean is going to have to work through their problems or face a life of diminishing returns. But in most cases, they’re probably not actually suffering from mental illnesses. If they are suffering from a mental condition, it may be the real reason they seem to be set off so easily.
It’s a difficult thing to say with certainty that a woman is “crazy,” and the real reason people do that is because it’s a way to marginalize that female, and to call into question all of her actions. It’s a strategy employed by people who will benefit from either silencing her, or by devaluing her opinion to the point that no one will take her seriously. Nine times out of ten, it’s not a valid warning that a female is actually suffering from a mental disorder, but a way of turning others against her because she has made a person’s life difficult in some way.
Then there’s the “Crazy Cat Lady”, a uniquely female designation, and a disparaging one, despite the fact that there are probably as many male animal hoarders as female. And yes, there are people who suffer from mental conditions that drive them to collect animals the same way someone else might accumulate aluminum cans. It’s usually a psychological disease, unless they’re some sort of twisted pet breeder who is just abusing animals through neglect.
But why is there a disparaging stereotype regarding “crazy cat ladies” and not men?
I think it’s a form of sexism for sure, but also a form of scapegoating and marginalization that goes back hundreds of years, maybe since the beginning of human society. People who, for whatever reason, don’t conform to society’s normal rules have always had a difficult time of things. As a male who doesn’t like sports, I get viewed with suspicion by many people. For what? Not enjoying watching ball games played by adults. Snoresville.
We’re all expected to grow up, and to walk a straight path, avoiding things that might cause disruptions in the status quo. Listen to boring music, stay in school, get a job, get married, have some kids, eventually die. Anyone who steps out of that expected course too much is looked at as potentially dangerous and irresponsible, despite some weird societal double standard that places rock stars and other “rebels” on a pedestal.
But as hard as it is being a weird guy who doesn’t always play by the rules or meet other people’s expectations, it’s got to be doubly hard for women.
A few hundred years ago, a woman who acted unconventionally might be accused of witchcraft. Maybe she just didn’t want to get married, and chose to live away from others, maybe she suffered from some minor form of antisocial disorder, or maybe she just hated Pilgrims. Who can blame her? But not all that long ago, being a female outsider was a good way to end up hanging from a tree.
Not to be dramatic, but I think we’re still devaluing and marginalizing women who step out of line, or who are “difficult” or antisocial today. They aren’t usually murdered by suspicious and superstitious neighbors anymore, but instead ostracized and ridiculed.
What’s a crazy cat lady anyway?
It seems to me that we lob that unflattering moniker at almost any woman beyond the age of 35 or so who doesn’t have or want kids, and who doesn’t have a man in her life for whatever reason. The joke is that the cats are just waiting for her 40th birthday before they’ll invade the house in droves. Har De Har Har.
But I know just as many males who are in the same boat. Middle aged, no mate, no kids, and a few pet cats that they care for. But you rarely if ever hear about “Crazy Cat Men.” No, it’s a way of poking mean spirited fun at women who haven’t conformed to society’s expectations of them.
We (and by “we” I mean other men and women, it’s not just guys who do this) treat women like they’re crazy when they’re young as a way to control them and to devalue them as people, and then when they hit a certain age, we’re just as happy to marginalize them as crazy ladies who have a bunch of cats because men won’t have them.
It’s fucking bleak and not right.
And on another note, there are plenty of single men and women who have a lot of pets because they work with animal rescue groups, and because they care about the welfare of animals. That doesn’t mean that they’re “crazy” or should be treated like mentally deficient outcasts.
I’m a very introverted person most of the time. Shy even. I have five dogs, should I be cast out of society because of those things, or because I’m “weird”?
Why should women be treated worse? It doesn’t make sense and it’s not fair.
6 Scary Clowns Creepier Than Pennywise
My new Houston Press article is up.
Unlikely Moments in Horror Movies…
Sending Camels Through the Eye of a Needle- Wealthy Religious People That Don’t Pay Their Employees Enough.
There has been a lot of recent talk about raising the federal minimum wage, which is currently set at $7.25 an hour. People are split on this issue Some assume that minimum wage is just for high school kids or people that only have themselves to blame for only being able to earn such meager pay. Others think it needs a significant boost.
I’m not going to touch on whether I think we should raise minimum wage or not, but on something I’ve noticed a lot:
Devoutly religious business owners that don’t seem inclined to pay their employees jack shit.
And I’m not talking about REALLY small business owners. If you own a tiny dog grooming business and have two employees, then maybe you can’t afford large pay raises, I don’t know.
But I’ve worked for a number of folks that own successful businesses, and who I would call wealthy. Not Bill Gates rich, but they’re still multimillionaires. The types of people that will pay $45,000 a head to take ten friends on a religious “mission” somewhere on the planet, and who seem to think that being affluent doesn’t contradict their religious faith.
And maybe it doesn’t. I don’t know for sure. There seems to be a lot of cautionary stuff in the Bible about being rich, but I’ll assume The Lord allows a few of his faithful to win at life in a big way financially.
I would probably believe that the religious, successful business owners I’ve encountered were leading a pious life if it wasn’t for the demonstrated frugality I’ve seen when they set the wages for their employees.
Lest anyone think that this is just a case of sour grapes, and I’m bitching about low pay because I don’t make that much – no, I am comfortable enough. Lucky to have the skills I do, and to be able to demand a certain level of pay.
But I’ve seen some of these people. People that have never missed a meal, never gone without in any significant way. I’ve seen them pray before meals, thank God for the blessings in their life, and still bitch like Mr. Burns when it’s suggested that they pay their workers more than $8.00 an hour.
Some of these people live in mansions and never have to choose which bills they pay this week, and which they can (hopefully) push back until another paycheck rolls through. They’ve never suffered the indignities of poverty. They drive nice cars to their nice homes, and take lavish vacations with their well-dressed families. They donate to their churches, and never miss a Sunday sermon.
But they sure as fuck cringe when there’s a rumor of a minimum wage hike, or employer contributions to health care for their employees.
So what’s the deal? This seems very contradictory to me, but in a world where bullshit religious movements like the “Prosperity Gospel” teach that financial success is intimately entwined with spiritual piety, perhaps it’s not that surprising.
I probably wouldn’t care as much if they were just greedy heathens that obviously lusted for material success. Those people are gross, but at least they don’t suffer from a soul-withering hypocrisy at their very core.
But every time I see some hokey creep with four million in his bank pause at a meeting to say a silent prayer, only to find new ways to get more from his employees for less? I want to pop that motherfucker in the mouth and tell him that if there IS a Hell, that he’s heading straight for the fiery abyss for being such an uncharitable cockhead.
I once thought these types of religious fucktards were probably a rarity, but I keep working at companies run by them. I suppose that since they almost all attend churches mostly attended by other rich people no one has ever told them that paying the people that make your business successful as little as possible is contradictory to the spirit of their religion. If they’d just drop the hokey God’s good guy act and be openly greedy then I’d still dislike them, but at least I’d dislike them a little less for their honesty.
I just find a logical and moral disconnect with people that are willing to spend large amounts of money on religious “missions” abroad, but who choose to pay their own employees poorly. Then there are the businesses that are closed on Sunday due to the owners religious convictions. I can almost guarantee that more employees would choose to make a buck or two more an hour than to be closed on Sunday.
I don’t think that there’s a way to buy one’s way into heaven, but treating the individuals who help make you successful a little better could make this world a better place, or at least make their lives appreciably better.
Rock & Roll Battlegrounds – Adventures at the Guitar Store
But these paradises of gear lust are also weird environments with their own rules of conduct and social orders. There are also quite a few characters you’re likely to encounter if you spend much time in guitar shops. Some of those characters are fun people to be around, and others will make you wonder if they have a secret doll-themed torture room in their homes. Proceed carefully.
In my neck of the woods, there are really only a couple of different basic types of guitar shops, but they’re different enough to make note of those differences.
First, there are the small, independently run shops. In most places they were the common type of music store until the big places like Guitar Center became more common in larger cities. You can still find some version of these mom-and-pop stores in a lot of places, many being the “all around music shop” that sells a little of everything from school band instruments to guitar gear, and they usually don’t specialize in the really expensive stuff.
Then there are the expensive vintage and boutique style stores. Those places generally have pricey vintage gear and high-end newer stuff. Some of them feel like museums, and a person might experience sticker shock the first time they walk around one. It’s disconcerting to realize that the guitars you’re brushing past are all more expensive than a new car.
Fact: All American guitars made before 1968 are magical, and were blessed by wizards, paying $25,000 for one makes total sense when viewed in that light.
Most of the people working at either of these places are similar to the types of people you’ll find at the big stores (more on them shortly), but you’re much more likely to encounter one type of individual at the mom and pop stores:
The Moody Owner Person
It seems like a lot of independent guitar shops are owned by moody older guys. That’s just been my experience, I’m sure it’s not universal. But with places like Guitar Center breathing down their throats, I’m sure keeping a small music business afloat is a cutthroat and stressful endeavor. I’ve been in several guitar stores where some gruff owner person started yelling at his employees or just was an unfriendly ass to customers for whatever reason. Again, I’m sure that’s not universal, and these folks are probably having to make blood sacrifices to Dark Gods just to stay in business, so maybe the twitchy eye, and mean temperament just goes with the territory.
The other main type of guitar shop are the Guitar Centers of the world, giant “big box” style stores that seem to have a little bit of everything available. Some people love those places, and others hate them. I’ve personally found that Guitar Centers vary in quality depending on location. Some are like navigating the nine levels of Hell just to get in and out with a new set of strings, and others are fairly nice to shop at.
I have one tip for shopping at any big guitar chain, and really it can be used at the small shops too – shop during off hours. There’s no reason I’ll ever go to a Guitar Center on a weekend for instance. Or anytime around a holiday, for that matter. You’re setting yourself up for an unpleasant experience, as it’s almost certain that the store will be stuffed to the gills with soccer moms and kids. The cacophony of twenty 13-year olds simultaneously trying out high gain amps playing badly and out of tune is not something easily forgotten. But go in to the same store at 10 AM on a Monday, and you’re probably going to be the only geezer walking around the place.
These stores also vary in the quality of their employees for some reason, and you’re likely to encounter a few basic character types. People like:
1. The Sales Pro
These guys are pretty common in the big stores, it seems like at least a couple of them work at each big guitar retailer I’ve ever been to. I guess they get paid on commission or earn bonuses or something, because they’re the music store equivalent of the used car salesman. Once you’re in their clutches, good luck, because there’s a pretty good chance they’re going to give you the hard sell on something. You walked in knowing you just wanted an entry level student guitar for a niece of yours, but the Sales Pro knows that what you really need is that $2,400 Les Paul hanging on the wall. Then there’s…
2. The Know Nothing
This is a common employee of the big music stores. Since it’s probably an entry level retail job with high turnover, a lot of the people working at these places just don’t know much about the gear they’re selling. You ask a few specific questions, or have a certain amount of knowledge already, and it will become obvious that these guys don’t know anything about the stuff they’re trying to sell. It’s understandable in a store with thousands of different items, but you aren’t likely to get much good info from some guy that only knows electric guitars are stringed instruments that are plugged into squarish speaker box things, and they make sound. The Know Nothing is still better to deal with than…
3. The Sales Liar
The Sales Liar is often just a more ambitious version of the Know Nothing. Sometimes these guys actually think they know what they’re talking about, and in other cases they’ll just spin any old line of bullshit in order to make a sale. Ask one of these people anything specific about a guitar or manufacturer, and you will hear all sorts of bogus information when dealing with the Sales Liar.
That Fender Squier that is marked as being made in Indonesia is really “better” than the American Strats being made these days, at least according to the Sales Liar. You’ll discover that there are still great guitars being built today, but only if you’re willing to spend at least $1,000, says the Sales Liar. Inconsistencies and obvious misinformation will be passed off as fact by these folks, so beware.
These days it’s relatively easy to research gear before ever setting foot in a store. That’s the best way to counter the dishonest tendencies of The Sales Liar.
You’re also likely to meet…
4. The Bitter Band Guy
Unsurprisingly, a lot of the employees at large guitar shops tend to be people struggling to make it in bands. It makes sense. Even though the pay is probably not great, there’s likely to be an employee discount on gear, you can look like a rock star, and it’s a good place to network for your band.
It almost assuredly beats working at some loathsome fast food restaurant or other retail job where you won’t get hired for having a bitchin neck tattoo. The problem with dealing with the Bitter Band Guy is that if they’ve been struggling too long, and their band isn’t getting the success they think it’s due, then these folks can be surly fuckers to deal with.
Look, I’m sorry your band Death Hippie isn’t doing so well, but can I just buy this overdrive pedal please?
If those years of struggling become decades, you might end up facing..
5. The Rock and Roll Throwback
These guys have likely been working for years and years in music stores. They’ve seen music fads come and go, and they’re still hanging in there. When I was younger, most of these dudes were guys that played in bands in the 60’s and 70’s. They’d sometimes have attitudes about the newer music trends that had come along since then.
They’ve largely been replaced by now middle aged rockers that still love 80’s hard rock or hair metal, and think rock has sucked since then. For the most part the Rock and Roll Throwbacks can either be cool cats or bitter assholes depending on how angry they still are by their music of choice slipping from popularity. They’d probably still like to be spending their nights playing in L.A. Twyster and doing cocaine out of the butt cleavage of strippers, but those days are long behind them now.
The Rock and Roll Throwback is often related to…
This guitar store employee can take several forms, although they are commonly either Metal guys or Bluesmen of some type. Whatever the form, they tend to think their music of choice is the only good stuff out there. At their most irritating, these dudes are just not helpful if your gear preferences or look mark you as someone from another musical team.
I once worked with a Metal Purist that we nicknamed “Dr. Dio.” The good Dr. was openly hostile to customers that weren’t metal musicians. I once saw Dr. Dio argue with a teenager, easily less than half his age, that Faster Pussycat was a better band than Nirvana. Whatever one’s opinion on that, it was weird to watch a 40-year old with hair like Nikki Sixx losing his shit in an argument with a 17-year old. What would the Metal Gods think of that lapse of decorum Dr. Dio? What would Michael Angelo Batio think?
It’s not just the Metal Purists that can be dicks though. I once had a Blues Purist give me attitude when I was trying to buy a guitar he deemed suited for hard rock. I don’t know how to counter these people. Like any closed-minded clowns, it’s probably just better to avoid them unless you happen to play the kind of music they love. If you happen to play their chosen music, you’ve probably made an invaluable music store ally. If not, just walk quickly away.
Of course, there are also lots of friendly helpful people that work at guitar shops, and once you find a place that meets your needs, and has employees you like, you are indeed a lucky person.
Just never turn your back on Dr. Dio. You never know what that guy is capable of.
In The Claws of the Lobster Boy
In the late 80’s, I was still living in a small town outside of Houston, and was trying to figure out what to do next. I was recently out of high school, and trying to make that awkward transition into adulthood.
I was casually dating a lady I’d known in high school, someone I’d had a crush on and really liked, but the whole situation was confusing to me. Most things in my life were at that point.
I still enjoyed silly things like going to the County Fair (to be honest, I still enjoy stuff like that) and so the girl I was dating (I’ll call her “Alma”) and I went on a double date to the Fort Bend County Fair with my friend George, and his girlfriend “Donna” (also not her real name).
The night went well, a fun but typical outing to the Fair, when we stumbled across a seedy collection of freak show attractions in the back corner of the midway. I always loved freak shows, and while they were not common by the late 80’s, they were still a lot more common than they are now.
One had huge elaborate banners advertising “The Lobster Boy.” The garish paintings showed a little boy with red lobster claws instead of hands, engaged in a variety of activities befitting a mutant kid.
I knew I had to see whatever lay behind the door of the trailer framed by those banners. I assumed that it was probably some sort of gaff – a fake of some kind, probably a guy wearing fake claws. That was fine with me, I loved the fake stuff too, and had already seen a “Spider Woman” several years before that was nothing more than a big fake spider body with a woman poking her head through a hole in the floor. I counted that stuff as worth the price of admission.
So after a brief discussion, we all headed towards the line to get in, paid the admission, and were allowed entry.
I don’t think any of us were prepared for what lay behind that trailer door. The inside looked like some old guy’s home. It might as well have been anyone’s trailer house. There was no stage, no glassed off display area displaying a fake stuffed Lobster Boy or anything.
Instead the place was occupied by a slightly rotund older man with badly malformed hands. he happily berated us, and offered me his hand to shake. Instead of the normal five fingers, he had two large ones that really did resemble lobster claws. I shook hands, but we were all shocked by this meeting. I don’t think it really had anything to do with the man’s deformity as much as we all suddenly felt like low-lives exploiting some old guy with a genetic disorder.
I shouldn’t speak for anyone else that was there, but that’s how I felt. The Lobster Boy himself wasn’t particularly strange, nor did he seem uncomfortable. Decades of plying his trade in this manner probably made the experience completely normal to him.
After leaving the trailer, it seemed like a slight pall had fallen over our outing, and we left soon after that.
Years later, I found out that Lobster Boy was a famous sideshow performer named Grady Stiles that had been in the business since his boyhood in the 1930’s. He lived for years in Gibsonton, a town in Florida famous for being home to many circus and fair performers when not on the road. Stiles was an abusive alcoholic, and tormented his family members for years. He even shot and killed a man his daughter was going to marry. Despite showing no remorse for the crime, Stiles was only given 15 years of probation due to sympathy for his medical condition. Apparently this light treatment by the law gave him a sense of invulnerability, and his abusive tendencies became even more severe.
Eventually, certain family members had enough, and Stiles was himself murdered in 1993 by a hit man hired by his wife Maria.
I own the true crime novel about his life and murder, and every time I see it, I’m taken back to that moment at the Fort Bend County Fair all those years ago. Alma and I didn’t last together much longer,and that date sort of tanked, but we’ll always have our moment with the Lobster Boy.
Mike, the Rock n Roll Roommate Clown From Hell.
Around 1991, I was living in a small cottage behind a bigger house in central Austin. It was a great place, and about as conveniently located as one could ask for. I had only been in town a few months, and was enjoying living on my own for the first time. Then I got a phone call from Mike.
I knew Mike from Houston. He was one of the guitar players in a band I was friends with, but we didn’t know each other very well. He was the first person that ever asked me if I knew where we could get some heroin, so that was notable (and a little worrisome) but other than that, he just seemed like a regular band guy, although he was sort of the whipping boy in his Houston band – They’d nicknamed him “The Green Clown” for some reason. I never found out why… It was something he didn’t like talking about.
I was not expecting to hear from him, and most people in Houston didn’t have my number, but it was nice to hear from somebody from home. He asked if he could stay with me of course – the only thing I got asked more than “Can you get some heroin?” in Austin at that time, was “Can I stay with you?” – but it sounded like he was planning on visiting, so I figured why not?
He arrived a few days later, and I was alarmed to see that he had a lot of stuff with him. It didn’t look like he was just visiting for the weekend. He told me that he was planning on moving to Austin because the music scene was better than Houston’s, and was wondering if I might need a roommate.
I had originally planned on having a roommate – a woman that I had dated on and off for a year, had originally planned on moving in with me, but she changed her plans at the last moment. While that development hadn’t bothered me, it did leave me with more bills than I originally planned on, so I agreed to let Mike move in. Besides, he was a decent guitar player, so I figured he could show me a few tips.
Mike was odd. I wasn’t really judgmental, as I was pretty odd too, but we were different kinds of guys. He was a few years older than me, and seemed to have crafted his image after guys in bands like “Thin Lizzy”. He had long dark hair, but had bleached in a blonde streak. He was also prone to wearing things like leather vests without shirts, or when he wore a shirt, it was usually a blousy thing that was unbuttoned to his navel.
He wore snakeskin cowboy boots, and concho belts. Mike was originally from New Jersey, and was of Italian descent. He was tan, and just a little too paunchy to really pull off his look well. He always talked about wanting heroin, but must have been the only person that couldn’t find the stuff in Austin in the early 90s, because it seemed like everyone else I knew was able to. He did drink a lot of beer though.
We got along well enough. For the most part, Mike was an amiable guy, very friendly and outgoing, but a little sleazy and definitely lazy. He always talked about how he liked to “fuck women in their asses” (imagine that said with a New Jersey accent for full effect), and he didn’t seem in a hurry to get a job of any kind.
He also was fascinated with American Indians and their spiritual practices. He went to “Pow Wows” once or twice a week, which sounded like a cross between an Indian themed Ren Fair and a swap meet. He also talked cryptically of “The Chief,” some Indian leader that he knew back in Houston. He told me that I’d meet The Chief someday. I wasn’t sure I wanted that to happen.
Mike would always talk about getting a job, but only worked for a couple of weeks during the time he lived at my place. He got a telemarketing job somewhere, because they would hire freaky looking people. It didn’t pay much, but I was looking forward to a contribution to our rent. Unfortunately, the day he got paid, Mike disappeared to Houston, and when I saw him again a couple of days later, he was dragging a bear skin around with him. He had bought the “sacred object” at a Pow Wow, and was again broke. I was not pleased, but he was too comical too be really angry at.
A couple of weeks later, Mike went to another Pow Wow, and showed up with two strippers in tow. Now my place was small – about the size of a tiny one bedroom apartment, so I was wondering where Mike was going to store his new titty dancer pals. He told me one was his new girlfriend, and that he’d brought the other one for me to fuck. Nice of him, I guess, and she was attractive, but I had options at the time, and if I wanted to sleep with a dancer, I knew where to look.
That was an awkward weekend. I woke up with the extra dancer naked in my bed, grappling my man parts, and considered just going with the flow, until I snapped to my senses, and figured that was probably more trouble than it was worth. I told her thanks but no thanks, and then left to go stay with a girlfriend of mine that lived up the block.
The next day I came home, to find a dark mood had rolled in. Mike was kind of angry that I’d spurned the advances of the girl he’d brought me. I guess she was angry, and his girlfriend was angry too. “You fuck lots of girls, can’t you just fuck her too? ” he opined. He seemed genuinely surprised and offended that I didn’t want to sleep with this stranger.
He could be very creepy at times. I had a bed in the living room, and left the bedroom for Mike. This arrangement was fine for the most part, as I would often stay up late watching movies with friends, and the bedroom was too small for that. It could be awkward if one of us had a date over, but usually wasn’t a big deal. Usually.
I was watching movies with a female friend of mine one evening when Mike was around. He was in his bedroom playing guitar, and bellowing this song he’d written called the “Queen of Tattertown” or something. He sang that song a lot. It was horrible. But we were watching a movie, and although we weren’t making out or anything, we didn’t want to be interrupted either. So it was a surprise, but no surprise when Mike appeared from his room wearing nothing but a towel, walked over to our little dark corner, and loomed over the bed we were relaxing in. “You guys want some…company?” he slurred. I figured the guy had at least a couple of 12 packs in him.
“No, we’re good!” my date and I replied in unison. Fortunately, Mike slithered back to his lair in the bedroom, but I always had to be careful around him.
Several times he would come home with a woman, and disappear into the back bedroom with her. I’d be up front watching a movie or something, and about thirty minutes later, the woman would suddenly emerge, and then abruptly leave without saying anything. After witnessing that a few times, I realized that Mike was doing something that scared them off. Since they were probably there for sexual trysts, I shiver to think what it was that spooked them so consistently. I always assumed that the ones that ran didn’t enjoy “anal” as much as Mike.
On the plus side, I occasionally met cool and interesting people that Mike would meet and bring back to our place. I met my friend Doug that way, and we shared many an adventure later on.
But, meeting cool people didn’t exactly balance out having a mooch for a roomie, or make up for the frequent creepiness that Mike brought to my place.
I had to listen to him constantly talking about his mystical Indian experiences. Seeing sentient glowing lights in a sweat lodge, summoning protective spirits, that kind of thing. I was used to being around people with goofy spiritual views, but there was something off-putting about Mike’s involvement with that stuff. First, it sounded pretty hokey, secondly, he was an Irish/Italian mutt from New Jersey, something just seemed “not right” about his interest in that stuff.
One night, I returned to our place after having stayed away at a friend’s for a couple of days. When I got home, I could tell before I entered that Mike had a visitor. When I opened the door, I came face to face with a person I knew instantly had to be “The Chief” I’d heard so much about. This guy had great “powers” (according to Mike), and lived off in a camper somewhere in the “woods” of North Houston.
He DID look like he could be a Native American, but he was dressed like a cross between the Indian guy in “The Village People”, and a roadie for Van Halen. Maybe he was a part-time carnie, I don’t know.
He was wearing leather lace-up pants, moccasin boots, an enormous turquoise belt, had no shirt on, and had a bunch of dangling bones and teeth from a necklace he wore. He also had the practiced observation skills and banter of an ex-con or person that’s spent a lot of time on the street. He and Mike had been busy burning sage in the house (I hate the smell of burning sage) to “purify” the place, because the Chief sensed that I had a lot of demonic entities following me.
Mike explained all of this in a matter of fact manner, but I was not happy, and told him “So what if there ARE demons here? They’re my demons, maybe I want them to stick around?” That shut him up, but the con man Chief guy was definitely trying to size me up. I figured he’d be hitting me up for something soon. I was surprised when he didn’t.
More unwanted news came when the Chief tried to impress me by saying “Did you see my wolf?”
“Wolf?” I asked, worrying about what might be coming next.
“Yeah, he’s staked out in your back yard. It’s awesome!” came the reply.
I walked outside, and sure enough, there was a wolf staked in my backyard.
I told Mike that he needed to get the wolf out of there, before someone called the cops.
When I mentioned the cops, Mike and the Chief looked at each other quickly, and then made plans to go somewhere else. Before he left, the Chief gave me an ancient Indian spell for harnessing a demon, and making it do my bidding. I thought that was nice of him, but puzzling since he’d spent so much effort chasing any of my demons away from the house already.
Soon after that, Mike moved out. He’d met some topless dancer that was going to support him while he got his band stuff worked out. I figured that was probably the best way for a guy like Mike to get by. I didn’t see him for a few years, and then ran into him at a Cheap Trick concert. He was tearing tickets at the door. He’d cut his hair shorter, but was still the same basic Mike.
I haven’t seen him since.