i say we let him go

There I am in the corner of a Houston sports bar standing in front of a giant Texas flag that takes up most of the wall, holding a guitar and facing a room full of denim-and-boots bona fide Texans all giving me that “Okay, entertain us then, music boy” look with their chiseled Marlboro Man heads cocked back and eyes narrowed and eyebrows raised while I’m dolled up in my full vaudeville getup and eyeliner. I’ve had dreams that start like this, bad dreams, and I’ve had enough Shiner Bock tonight to not entirely be convinced this isn’t one of them. In two minutes and change, the entire place will be enthusiastically singing the choruses of “Just A Gigolo” with me — I don’t know this yet, so instead I can’t decide if I feel more like Peewee Herman in the biker bar or Boy George from that A-Team episode that I just mentioned in the last entry here.

The words “this wasn’t part of the plan!” keep running through my head, exclamation point included, and all I can focus on is that it’s an impotent and useless statement that isn’t doing anything to help me push the moment out of its current stasis. My act was a last minute addition to a show that was a last minute addition. Four of us from the Freaksheaux To Geaux burlesque/carny/vaudeville ensemble I perform with monthly went to Houston to guest in Kiki’s Sordid Sideshow at a performance space and represent the rest of the troupe. They do fantastical stunts and dances and lose clothing while I back them up with music and singing. A week before we left for Houston, Kiki let us know that they’d booked a second show at an outdoor venue the same night and wanted us to perform in that one as well. Ok, cool.

We finished our first show and got turned around on the way to the second place, which in Houston is a fine way to brush up on your swearing. As we were getting back on the right route, we got a text from the other half of our group:

“we’re here. this is going to be interesting”

“I wonder what that means?” we said. “Oh,” we said ten minutes later as we pulled into the sports bar’s parking lot. Because it had gotten really cold through the night, the show was moved indoors. One of the girls couldn’t do the act she had planned for the middle of the show because there wasn’t enough space for it inside.

“You’ll have to do a song,” I was told.

“What a great idea,” I said. “This place has no idea what kind of show is about to hit it. In the most ideal situation, they’re gonna be all worked up to see more glass walking and lady skin and here I’m gonna come sing them a song for three and a half minutes,” I said. “Can’t fail.”

“Can’t do anything else.”

I gripped a fist around my bottle of Shiner on the table and slammed the last of it in one gulp. “Can’t wait.” It really didn’t look as badass as I’m trying to make it sound there. I mean, I was just drinking beer and saying something sarcastic. It’s a Texas story though, so I’ve got to try to keep up.

A few minutes later I heard myself work up the crowd to sing a Louis Prima song with me. The show was a success and everyone had a great time, so I guess shame on us for judging a place by its look. And its surly patrons giving us the weird eye while we set up. And its 10’x10′ Texas flags. And its classic rock and country music blasting on the PA when we came in. Ok, really, what were we supposed to think.

After the show we went to a diner called House Of Pies, a place that has the honor of having one of the dumbest Yelp reviews I’ve ever read. The haze of exhaustion from twenty-one hours awake, six hours on the road, two shows and more Shiner than I can remember blurs the menu in front of me. I laugh to myself — it’s a rite of passage I go through on every extended road trip I’ve ever been on. By tomorrow, I’ll have shifted into a different mindset where I’m not nearly as edgy as I feel like I am when I’m rooted back home, when unimportant things I’d normally get all worked up over become barely noticeable. It’s why I like being on the road, even when the conditions are terrible. Some kind of food drama unfolds in the booth behind where I’m sitting, drawing me out of this rather self-absorbed train of thought and waking me up some.

“Excuse me,” a woman says through a mouth full of food.

“Yes?” a passing waitress answers.

“This, it’s not what I ordered. It’s not.” I can hear the flecks of half-chewed whatever spraying out with each “s”.

“Oh, I’m very sorry. What did you order?”

“I wanted the pancake breakfast with over easy eggs and bacon, this is french toast with scrambled eggs and bacon,” the woman says, finally mercifully swallowing her food. Her meal sounds mysteriously like the one I had ordered thirty minutes ago and was still waiting for. Suddenly, she barks “What are you doing?!”

“Uh,” the waitress stammers, “well, uh, I’m going to uh, bring the food back so I can get what you ordered.”

“I’m not done eating it yet,” the woman says.

“She’s not done eating it yet,” a man’s voice says.

“So uh, well, wait, you’re going to eat it, um, and not pay for it?” The waitress sounds very uncomfortable about this for some reason.

“There a problem with that?” the man asks.

“Uh, I really can’t…uh, you’re um, you’re going to have to talk to the manager.” Over the next five minutes, the manager shows up and gleefully allows himself to be bullied into giving the woman the meal for free. I used to play with a drummer who would pull that kind of crap when we’d go eat after shows. I don’t miss it.

The rest of the weekend was a combination of eating more food, good and bad, and hanging around at our friend Galina’s house reading terrible Yelp reviews out loud making all of us learn to hate Yelp and my voice reading it, wishing I’d brought my new left-handed guitar with me so I could try to maybe improve at it while I was hanging around. I’m a lot better than I was when I got it a few weeks ago, though that’s on an extremely relative scale, the same way a snail is a lot faster than a tree stump.

A couple of days before I left for Houston, I put together two brief videos using some of the scenes we’ve already shot for the “Targeted” project to showwhat kind of movie we’re making to the committee in charge of one of the exterior locations we want to use. So as a result, even though the film’s still months from being finished, we’ve got a trailer for you to watch now.

A couple of days after I got back from Houston, I went into Music Shed Studios with Remy and Thugsy to record thirteen tracks for our vaudeville music project that we really really need to figure out a name for like four months ago now. The studio’s still mixing it so–

Hold up, I just realized what an interesting new thing that is for me to be able to say. “The studio’s still mixing it.” For my entire career I’ve self-produced every track I’ve ever released, as well as a few other bands’ demos and albums. I’ve probably spent tens of thousands of hours mixing tracks over the years, and I’ll probably spend tens of thousands more hours mixing tracks over the coming years provided nothing awful happens to me. Mixing is all at once a grind of tedium as well as a demand of extreme educated focus on intensely subjective details. Changes more subtle than they should be can make a decent track sound amazing and can make an awesome track sound like terrible shit — it’s as rewarding as it is frustrating. Passing that responsibility to someone else who knows what they’re doing is uncharted territory for me and it only just now hit me. Huh. It’s nice, even if this ends up being the only time, and even if only for the experience of knowing what it feels like to have an alternative to doing every production-related thing myself. Anyway

The studio’s still mixing it so tracks won’t be up for a while. When they are, I’ll let you know. I’d like to put some of the non-copywritten songs we did on a record and do a limited run of those. If there was ever a project I’ve done that belonged on a turntable, I think this one is it.

Speaking of limited runs on obsoleted media, the Jak Is A Four Letter Word double cassette release is all dubbed, printed, folded and ready for action! I’ll bring one to every show I do where you can buy it for $12, or you can email me at jaklocke@gmail.com to see if I still have any and we can arrange for me to mail it and some other stuff to you. Put “cassette tape” or something like that in the subject if you do.

Oh, and remember that “email 90’s Jak” thing I mentioned last post? Some of you emailed 90’s Jak, so it’s a whole thing now. A new one gets replied to and posted every week, so if you want to send something to the 90’s yourself, email wiracocha1@juno.com. While you’re doing that, I’m going to go punish my wrists on this backwards guitar.

meanwhile, at another band’s practice

I’m sitting in a Houma furniture shop’s office and a band a lot of my friends are in, Blackwater Burial, is practicing across the hall. Because we’re all friends, we’ve heard each others’ songs a hundred times before. The official beer of Blackwater Burial, a lukewarm Natural Light, is in front of me, daring me to put more of it in my stomach. I already know it’s going to win this dare because it’s raining cold and hard outside and I’ll be here for at least another few hours. Because it’s the 21st century, I pull out my iPhone before I have a chance to start thinking about things. I halfheartedly check my feeds and whatever I’d been browsing on Safari a couple weeks back which turns out to be yet another strange winding journey through Wikipedia.

“The internet is boring tonight,” I say, out loud to myself because I feel like it’s okay to do that in situations where even I can’t hear it. I shut the phone off and drink my disgusting beer and my mind starts to wander like it used to before I got this phone. I realize I just said ‘The internet is boring tonight’, as though every single aspect of the internet has nothing going on. “Now, there’s a concept,” I say — when was the last time there was an absence of internet activity for even a microsecond, a complete lack of any upload, download, email, messaging or any other conceivable kind of data transfer-in-progress happening worldwide? A finite point has to exist where–then my sister interrupts this thought by texting me.

“Hi”, the text says.

When we were growing up in the 90’s, she used email and browsers while I was still dialing onto BBS’s and Telix messaging with my friends so I learned most of the fundamentals of using the modern internet from her. And here in the future, I’m sitting there, bored with the entirety of the internet that’s instantly accessible in my 2013 hand, forgetting again that signing on to the internet used to be a whole *thing*, a commitment of time and preventing people from using the phone or calling the house. Switches had to flipped, things had to be typed, boxes had to be clicked, noisy digital handshakes had to be sat through just to be able to see who put something in your Juno box. If you were going to go online, it was going to be for something that was worth the effort — or maybe it was going to be worth the effort by default because of the effort. Hmm. With no warning the words “wiracocha1@juno.com” pop into my head, a string I haven’t thought about for more than a decade.

“No way,” I say, out loud of course, “there’s no way.” I go to Juno.com and at the top it says “Juno Email Sign In”. I’m kind of shocked that it’s still around. I enter “wiracocha1” into the username blank and then type in the password I used to use in the 90’s because I have a great memory for completely useless data like that. I’m waiting for the inevitable “No Such User” or whatever to show up, when my inbox pops up for the first time in eons.

“No fuckin’ way!” I shout.

“What?” comes a voice across the hall. The band was taking a break from playing and I hadn’t even noticed.

“Nothing, I just signed into an email account that’s old enough to vote,” I call back.

“Oh, wow,” comes the reply. He sounds genuinely impressed and, yeah, he should be. I certainly am. All my emails from back then were long gone of course. I had met a girl from Texas when I was in Hammond at some “Here’s why you should go to Southeastern University” thing that failed to convince me I should go there. I wonder if she ended up going there. Anyway, we had traded email addresses and we’d casually flirt with each other once a week for a few months before we just sort of found better things to do. All that was gone now. A shame, I wanted to see what sort of game I had as a teenager. You know what, maybe it’s better that I can’t.

Once again, that email address is wiracocha1@juno.com if you want to email 90’s Jak, who will reply to you if you do with 90’s teenage Jak flavored advice because I don’t have enough aimless projects already. If it’s fun enough, maybe I’ll put them on a blog page or something like that.

“Hello”, I text my sister back.

She lets me know she just made a Twitter account. “Welcome aboard,” I text back. “Enjoy spambots.”

“Enjoy what?” she asks.

I read that a few times to make sure I’m parsing it correctly. “You’ve been on the internet longer than me and you don’t know what a spambot is?” I wait an extra few seconds before I send it, trying to simulate a disbelieving stare. That’s a tough thing to pull off over text.

“No, I know what a spambot is. How does that affect my Twitter unless I follow one?” I try to explain. I’m not very good at it. She understands it enough to move on though. “I expect I’ll be a pretty boring Twit.”

“Angelle says it’s kind of like a giant chat room or something.” I try to explain. I’m not very good at it.

“Tell me what you think of what I have and maybe you can help me make it better,” she says. I look at her page and there’s all of one tweet. It’s about bread.

“Oh wow,” I say out loud, not just because the band has started playing again. “Oh wow”, I text, “bread, huh”.

“How can I make it better?”

“Twitter posts or bread?”

“Twitter posts.”

I try to explain that I’m not very good at it. “When I’m not talking to people on it, I just post whatever stupid things I temporarily think are clever or entertaining. Half the time I think ‘Maybe I shouldn’t have posted that’, and in all cases I’ve forgotten about it a half hour later. I’m probably not using it right either.”

“Ah.” And the conversation ends there. So many text and chat conversations end with “Ah” that when I see it, it’s a reflex for me now to close the window or lock the phone. I lock the phone and listen to the music and drink more awful beer. It tastes like morning mouth and old keys. Seriously, I hate this stuff. It’s this or water from the sink though.

***

A few hours later it’s two in the morning and I’m driving back to New Orleans from Houma in outrageous rain. I’ve been up all day and I’m starting to get dangerously tired so when I get to a red light I start scrolling through my phone contacts for people who would still be awake. I call Amanda because her name starts with A so it’s the first one I come to. I bet people with names that start with A get these kind of calls a lot more than anyone else. Good thing to keep in mind for your kids, future parents.

“Hey Jak,” she answers.

“You at work?”

“No, I’m at home.”

“Congratulations, you’ve been chosen in the Exhaustion Lottery. You get to keep me from falling asleep at the wheel for the next half hour.”

“I’m so honored.”

“I’m so tired.”

We talk for a while, mostly about shitty beer. Then out of nowhere she asks me “Do you have Netflix?”

“Half my friends do so I have access to it enough to say yes.”

“You need to watch an episode of the A-Team called ‘Cowboy George’.”

“‘Cowboy George’.” I chuckle and decide to go for the obvious joke. “Where Boy George guest stars on the A-Team.”

“Oh, so you’ve seen it. Wasn’t that crazy?!” Wait, she isn’t joking.

“Hold up,” I say, “Boy George guest stars on the A-Team? This is a thing?” Over the next minute she details the entire setup of the plot for the episode to me and it’s even sillier than the one I had in my head. See for yourself. The next day I watched the episode with Angelle and the execution is even sillier than the setup. I recommend you watch it too if you can.

***

Because obsolesence should never get in the way of execution, and because I just really like tapes and miss working with them, I’m putting out “Jak Is A Four Letter Word” as a double cassette release with a brand new extra EP included, “Side D”. The last cassette release I did was in early 2003 — wow, almost exactly ten years ago, I just realized that — and it’s been really neat recalling all these things about the whole process. I’d gotten so used to 74 minute CDs and unmetered internet releases that I forgot how strict the time limitations can be per tape and per side, enough that it can influence track order and necessitate shaving parts off of songs to make them fit. The dubbing is time consuming, the equipment is old and loud and clunky, the j-cards and labels are a mess of cutting and folding and sticking, and I’ve loved every single inefficient outmoded minute of all of it. By its nature, I have to put a lot more into each copy than I ever could just uploading a batch of MP3s and a PNG file to Bandcamp, and there’s something I like about that. If you want one, I’ll bring a copy to every show I do until they’re all sold out. Give me a bit though, I’m still finishing them up.

Oh and hey, pictures from live shows are back again for like the seventh time or so! Instead of having thousands of badly composed dark pictures like I had the last time live pictures were up on this site (2009 I think?), I’ve only put up a few of the best shots from each year. Maybe I’ll put some more up. Or maybe it’ll disappear yet again. It’s just one thrilling mystery after another here isn’t it?

catching

Once again it’s January and once again I’m thinking about putting together a tour, this time for the Rock Show. Of course I say that like you knew this was a regular thing for me — I never mention it online because I know that nobody wants to hear about something that’s only an idea unless they’re part of the process. And yet like some kind of flagrant idiot, here I am doing just that. Well there’s more than just an idea here, this is bigger than all of us — this happens to be a quest! I bet you feel foolish now!

If you listened to Side A of Jak Is A Four Letter Word (and of course you did, because it costs you zero dollars to stream and download), you heard a track that consisted entirely of someone talking about flipping the tape when it stops at the end. That was a recording of my friend Amanda from twelve years ago, and I hadn’t talked to her much in about ten years.

When people start talking to someone again after a very long time of falling out of touch, they usually use the term “catch up”. I’ve never liked that, even when I’ve used it myself. The semantics really do make a difference here because to “catch up” with someone requires that there be a finite end to the process, and I think that’s why the term has always bothered me: once you’re caught up, you’re done. In most cases it’s maybe a few weeks of small talk and eventually you’re “catching up” again another span of years later. And really, social media has kind of obsoleted “catching up” anyway. Thanks to Facebook, I didn’t have to talk to her to already know she owns a place called Zog’s in Chapel Hill, NC and that she’s just ordered herself a lime green melodica from Amazon. Thanks to Facebook, she didn’t have to talk to me to know whatever it is I’ve been up to that I post or that gets posted about me and linked on my wall there.

When I emailed her to let her know “Hey, I made this really noisy album and, oh hey, you’re on it, here’s the track” she took that as a good reason to pick up where we left off rather than “catch up”. And yeah, it pretty much is. Here is the email she sent me back:

“What’s been going on with you lately? In an effort to bring that question away from the mire of small talk, please list three bulleted points about your life. Thank you.”

24 hours of bullet points and chat later we have a co-authored weblog thing called Three Bullet Pointz (I swear we’re not 14, it’s only because Three Bullet Points with an S was already taken on WordPress) where we write three related bullet points(z) per post on whatever topic we feel like to each other as if the internet’s not looking and then let the internet look at it. Theoretically, anyway — how much of the internet would want to look at something like that is a mystery to me. On the other hand, the internet looks at some really bizarre things sometimes so I have no idea. I just put things on it.

Though honestly, no, you really should look at it. How else will you learn about the dangerous game of Breadsy? You didn’t even know you were curious about Breadsy until just now. Just think of what else you might be missing out on…!…?… .

It was around this time that I put together an ambient drone track called “Fever Dream” for a Flaccid Plastic floppy disk split release with Spacings (coming soon). I based it off when I had pneumonia a couple of years ago and I’d get stuck in these horrible repeating dreams where I was sitting in a chair at a table playing chess with the personification of Mathematics who insisted on discussing philosophy with me instead of ever making his move. We were submerged in some murky fluid, floating about lazily. I could never follow a word of what he was saying, and he was relentless. For a few days until my fever broke, whenever I would start to sleep, it was always the same progression: a few moments of blissful rest and golden warmth, followed soon by forceful philosophy with that jerk Mathematics, and it would drag on mercilessly until I’d inevitably wake up with a pounding headache.

A couple days after writing “Fever Dream”, I got a fever that would reach a high of 102.8. My next song is going to be called “One Billion Tax Free Dollars In My Bank Account (And I’ll Stay Young And Healthy Until I get Tired Of It)”. Let me know if you want in on this action, I think I’m magical.

Anyway

I’m chatting with Amanda, and at this point I’ve only hit 100.6 degrees and trying desperately to convince myself that I don’t have a temperature that’s rising one degree per hour, that it’s all just some fluke with the air conditioning, the way I’m sitting, what I ate most recently, and my imagination, in that order. It makes perfect sense at the time, and don’t expect me to remember any aspect of why anymore. I hate being sick so much that I’ll do some serious gymnastics of logic to convince myself that I’m not really sick. At some point in talking to her, the melodica gets brought up. It’s funny to me because whenever I’m talking to somebody who I’m friended to on Facebook and something comes up that I already know about via their feed, it reminds me of when I watch a movie based on a book I’ve read and see something straight from the book on the movie screen. It’s a very 21st century feeling.

Anyway, the melodica comes up and I remember that I’ve forgotten I wanted a melodica twice now — once in 2008 when Adam Rouse brought his over to a practice to see if it could sub for the accordion part in “Battle Hymn” for the acoustic tour we ended up taking in December (it totally could! He didn’t end up coming with us on that tour though); and again last September when Dr. Sick played all of three notes on one at a Freaksheaux To Geaux revue (there’s no follow-up parenthetical anecdote here — I just put them here to balance it with the other one). I tell her this.

“I’ll make a deal with you,” she says.

“I’m listening.”

“I will purchase another melodica and have it mailed to you.”

“The lime green melodica.”

“The same.”

“That isn’t ‘a deal’. There’s more to this.”

“Yes. I will purchase the melodica and have it mailed to you if you promise to play Zog’s at some point in 2013. No show, no melodica.” She’s sent this all as one block of text, and for some reason I insist on reading it in my head with dramatic pauses and imagining sinister music swelling underneath it all. It’s the fever. I try to ignore it — I’m having a conversation here! I fail: the music I’m hearing in my head is just too good at creating the mood. For a moment, I keep reading it over and over again with various villainous deliveries, completely forgetting that someone’s actually waiting for a response from me.

Finally I snap out of it and read it properly. I decide I don’t like it. It feels too much like getting paid in advance for a job — the effort-to-reward flow is all backwards and wrong. “Here is an amended proposal,” I say.

“Okay.”

“Go ahead and get the melodica.”

“Okay.”

“And have it delivered to YOUR house.”

“O…kay?”

“And I will come to pick it up when I play Zog’s this summer.”

“Done. And if you never, ever come play Zog’s, I will burn the melodica on a funeral pyre and post pictures of its lime green guts on your Facebook page every day.” And knowing her like I do, I absolutely do not doubt for a second that this would happen.

“Now *that* is a deal,” I say.

I’m right, and I’m also wrong. It’s a deal and it’s so much more than a deal. We call it “MELODICA QUEST: It Probably Resembles An Adventure” and it’s going to be around seven or eight days in July or August. Exciting! It could be your town we play in! It will more likely be your town that we drive right past the exit of. It will most likely be that we won’t even be in the vicinity of your town!

***

There are days when nothing seems to go right. In no-budget filmmaking, those days are called “every shooting day”.

In October we did the first shoot for the Targeted project, the brothel scene. Angelle and I got to the set at 6:30 in the morning with a list of tasks and how long they should take. The list was adorable in how wrong it was. The wall construction was estimated at thirty minutes; it took an hour and a half. The light setup was figured at five minutes — HA, closer to twenty-five, courtesy of not threading the bulbs into the sockets properly because I’m trying to make up lost time and being too hasty. I don’t think there was a single item on the list that didn’t take at least three times as long as the estimate, and each delay just made us prone to making more mistakes and more delays.

I’d call crew members to see if they were close to arriving only to have them tell me they were just now waking up. One of our actresses dropped out and another one went to the emergency room that morning so we had to find two willing replacements within a couple of hours — it didn’t help recruiting efforts that the roles were “Whore #2” and “Whore #3”. Somehow our casting wizard Melia was able to find two who were willing and available.

Even with the cast and crew all there, diner customers kept wandering onto the set in the middle of shots. Every time a truck would pass on the highway next to the building, the walls would rumble and ruin the audio of any takes in progress. Video poker machines and sink faucets added anachronistic sounds that we had to wait out.

“There’s this image I have in my head for situations like this,” I say to Angelle while we’re waiting for the camera battery to recharge for the second time.

“Yeah?”

“I’ve never tried to verbalize it to anyone before, so bear with me.”

“Okay.”

“There’s these four walls all in front of each other, each with small square holes cut in them. All four of these walls are moving left-to-right and right-to-left against each other at different speeds, so VERY rarely, the four square holes will be lined up. On one side of these walls is a man with a bow and arrow and on the other side is a target. Each take is the man shooting an arrow and trying to hit the target.”

“Trying to get it through all four holes when they’re lined up,” she nods.

“Except he’s blindfolded.”

Somehow we got enough good takes to finish the scene. I remember being completely drained and wondering if I was cut out for this kind of thing at the end of the day. This was nothing like the short subject films and music videos I was accustomed to putting together up to this point.

“It’s no wonder most of my filmmaker friends are going bald,” I said.

“This is just the first day,” Angelle reminded me.

“Just, wow.”

3 months and a number of shoots later was the Pinkerton Agency scene that we did this Sunday. I wake up at 6:45 in the morning to day six of being sick. I check my phone, thinking “Okay, let’s see what crises happened overnight.” Sure enough, the actor playing the reporter in this scene dislocated his shoulder and is still in the emergency room — he won’t be able to make it.

“The guy playing the photographer is now playing the reporter,” I text to Melia. “And the backup actor who was on standby is now the photographer.” I go find something to eat. Later, on set, we find out the actor playing the photographer decided not to show up.

“How about our backup?” I ask.

“He’s not answering his phone either,” because of course he’s not, why would he?

“For the next ten minutes, everyone contact anyone you know that wants to be in an ultra low budget underground western with us for a couple of hours.” I then get back to screwing light bulbs into the softboxes and figuring out what wardrobe would look best on me as the photographer, glancing at the storyboard to determine if we can shoot the angles that character is in without catching his face since I’m already playing one of the main characters too (we can). I stop for a moment because I realize that the sudden vacancies of two important roles in today’s shoot elicits the same reaction from me as having to screw in light bulb #8. “Well, that needs to be done next, then. Okay.” The contrast of how we handled October’s shoot comes to mind and I smile, even in the midst of all this chaos with my head and lungs full of virus. This must be progress of some sort.

This is good.

We did find two fine replacement actors and the shoot ended up going great. Somehow it always does. Pictures from it are up at the Targeted project’s Images page, with more to come soon.

***

Two days prior to that was my performance as Jareth the Goblin King with Kali for the Dirty Dime Peep Show. If you want to hear me sing with one-sixteenth of a voice and a fever while Kali spins fire inches from my face, you’ll probably want to click on this video link, you sadist.

product

A song I hadn’t heard for years came on recently. It’s from one of the first ten albums I bought on CD.

“What kind of music do you like then?”

I’m 15 and in a music store at the mall, surrounded by CDs all priced at $16.99. This short man who looks like Ricky Gervais with greasy auburn hair years before anyone has any idea who Ricky Gervais is has just asked me what kind of music I like because he works there.

“Punk, jazz,” I answer. He cocks an eyebrow. “No, for real.”

“Like what?” I’m stunned by how the question comes out of his mouth, very savage. This guy’s got to be in his mid-20s and, you know, I’m just a kid here — though I know enough by this point to know that I made the mistake of saying “punk” to a record store snob in the 90s, so now I’m on the spot.

“Count Basie,” I say.

“Uh huh.”

“Oscar Peterson,”

“Uh huh.” I know I can’t keep listing jazz forever. He knows too.

“Uh, like, Velvet Underground, Replacements, some stuff my cousin put on a tape that I don’t know what it is.” And I’m not lying, though I do make sure to keep Green Day from slipping out of my mouth. I’d been in that conversation before.

He looks genuinely impressed. “No shit,” he says. I look at his store badge with his name in bolded Times New Roman: “Gary”. “I got something I think you’ll really like.” He walks me over to one of the shelves near the end of the alphabet and pulls out a blue album that says “The Verve Pipe” and “Villains” on it, and I can’t figure out which is the name of the band and which is the name of the album. “It’s this band from Michigan that’s blowing up huge.”

He starts going on and on about their big single, a song called “Photograph” and how good it is (spoiler: it’s not good. Apparently the best way to guarantee a song will be tedious and annoying is to call it “Photograph”, regardless of what decade it is) and he still hasn’t said the name of the band.

“So is it Villains or The Verve Pipe?” I ask. It’s the first thing I’ve said in minutes now.

“What?”

“The name of the band,” I say, pointing at the words on the album in his hand. “I can’t tell from the album art, and either one puts it in the V section here.”

“Huh,” he says, his head bobbing up. “Well shit, you’re right, it’s pretty ambiguous.” This time he says “shit” in a hushed tone, like my friends do when their parents are in the next room. A moment later, a similarly dressed employee passes by us. That must be his manager. “They’re called The Verve Pipe,” he says, making sure the manager can hear him, “and I think you’ll really get into it.”

I end up buying the album on his recommendation because I’m 15 and he said “shit” — TWICE — while he was on the clock so he has to be someone with an opinion worth considering. I listen to it at home and end up convincing myself I like half the songs on the album and that I love one of them because I’m 15 and I spent $16.99 plus tax in mid-90s dollars on this thing. Even still, “Photograph” is not one of the songs I like and oh, did I try to.

***

Recently I’m reading an interview article that features a local producer who’s taking some severe liberties with facts about the shows they put on, speaking in competitive terms to answer simple questions — all that was missing were buzzwords and cliches to clinch the huckster stereotype. It bothers me even though I’m only tangentially related to the scene in question, in the same way that battle of the band-style contests have always bothered me. Divisive competition is scene poison, period, objective truth. There aren’t many hills that I’ll die on unconditionally, and that is definitely one of them.

I get it, though: it’s all about the ends, and every decision, interaction and process falls into the means. I recognize it because I used to think that was how things worked best too. It’s a claustrophobic and miserable state of doubt, image obsession, superficial connection and cyclic revalidation that I wouldn’t wish on anyone. It’s also the sort of thing you only realize in retrospect, so this person isn’t even aware what they’re doing or how they’re coming off to everyone who isn’t doing it too — it’s just the way it’s done as far as they’re aware. They’re an accidental jerk. I recognize it in the same way as when I hear a song I totally forgot existed, remember I used to love it, and realize I can’t stand it now. Sorry, The Verve Pipe.

There are different kinds of accidental jerks. One of the best things I ever ate was when I was staying at my friend Z’s place. His apartment was basically one large room divided into functional areas with a separate bathroom attached, so the kitchen wasn’t a kitchen so much as it was the wall that had the sink. He’d always buy these crazy vegetables and make stews and stuff so the whole place smelled like an apothecary. One day he made a stew that had this amazing aroma. I wish I knew everything he had put in it — all I remember is that he said it had bok choy and I was food-ignorant enough at the time to have never run across that word before, so it stuck with me to the point that whenever I hear it, I think of his place. I asked if I could try some of the stew and so he handed me a bowl which I didn’t waste time finishing off.

“That was incredible,” I told him.

“Oh thanks,” he said. “What sort of flavor did you get from it?”

I told him my impression of it and I got pretty flowery, because it was that good.

“Oh cool. I’m glad you were so detailed in your description, because that was all I had made of it. It sounds like it was very good.”

The thing about being that kind of an accidental jerk is that you’re the only jerk who knows you’re only a jerk accidentally, so everything that you think to say just makes you look like a worse jerk.

“Why would you make such a small portion in such a large pot?”

“Why would you hand me your entire bowl instead of just a spoon?”

“Why didn’t you, I don’t know, speak up when you realized what was happening?”

I didn’t say any of those things, instead deciding to say “How was I supposed to know!” which is worse than if I’d said all three of the other things, especially since I said it with an exclamation point instead of a question mark.

NOTE: Any question sounds more threatening when you leave off the punctuation entirely. Try it in a chat or text message some time.

Times New Roman Gary was an accidental jerk of the third kind. Villains by The Verve Pipe was standard grungey blandness, nothing remotely like any of the bands I’d listed. His job was to push that particular product that week, by way of having conversations just like real human beings do if necessary. It wasn’t anything personal, in any sense of the word. Kind of like that producer, I guess.

I get it. And it’s still nauseating. “…humanity becomes more obscene for the vague resemblance.” Anyway, they’ll figure it out if they do. I’ve got new stuff to give you.

***

Links get easy to ignore after enough of them get sprinkled around a post. I’m counting on you keeping that in mind so you can avoid passing over any of the links I’ll be putting in the next two or three paragraphs.

“Songs For Cello At Night” is an EP-ish thing I made nine years ago and discontinued seven years ago and remastered last month and reissued three weeks ago and wrote about just now and today you’re going to download it. There’s not a single cello on the entire album and a lot of you figured that out as soon as you read its title.

And hey will you look at that, out of nowhere my second release through Flaccid Plastic Records is now up, or maybe it’s my second, third and fourth releases. However you want to categorize them, it’s all new stuff on three EPs that share seven words of an eight word title that has the word “word” in it — I call it: “Jak Is A Four Letter Word Side A” (anti-folk), “Jak Is A Four Letter Word Side B” (experimental), and “Jak Is A Four Letter Word Side C” (noise music).

Coming later from Flaccid Plastic is a lathe cut split I’m doing with one of Dingle’s new experimental projects called Spacings. You can hear some of what he’s doing with that project here. My side will have one or two tracks depending on how big a record we get cut, and will probably have a run of 20. I’ll talk about it more between here and social media when it’s a thing.

Some days from now I’m going to be singing “Underground” from the Labyrinth movie looking something like David Bowie looking like Jareth the Goblin King. At an average rock show, that would be the big showstopper. At The Dirty Dime Peep Show, a hard-edge burlesque revue, it’s gonna need something else. If only the Jim Henson Company owed me a favor. If nothing else, the hair will look awesome, seen here modeled by Duckface Moobsman. I’m talking to Freaksheaux To Geaux’s Kali about doing some fire spinning while I sing, so maybe there will be a Firey up there with me. If six-year-old Jak could see that sentence, he’d be horrified — those guys traumatized me as a kid.

Some days ago, like many people, I spent New Year’s Eve with some friends. Like not nearly as many people, I spent about fifteen minutes of New Year’s Eve fighting with an aging FC Twin’s NES cartridge slot — “aging” because it’s two years old which is apparently ancient in Famiclone years. There’s this magic angle of insertion that needs to be *just* *so* *slightly* skewed to one side, so delicate that any less than six asterisks wouldn’t have adequately communicated the precision involved. A real NES system displays a blue screen when cartridges aren’t connecting. This one shows a random pastel color like mauve or yellow. While trying to get Metroid to work, we play a dozen rousing rounds of “Guess The Next Shade” like we do every other time this happens, and I’m ready to give up.

“Three more,” I say. “I’m going to try it three more times.”

“Purple,” Joe guesses, because it had been purple the last two times. He’s wrong. It’s light orange. I shut it off and pull the right corner of the cartridge out of the slot by like the width of a few hairs.

“Pink,” Adam tries. He’s right. I turn it off again and try the left side this time.

“Beige,” Joe says, and he’s wrong again. It’s purple this time. I realize he hasn’t guessed correctly even once yet.

“Stay away from roulette wheels,” I tell him. I grab the cartridge and start pulling it out of the console. “Well that’s that then.”

“Try it one more time,” Adam says. “I have a feeling the fourth time will be worth it.”

“Oh all right.” I push the right corner back down, leaving the left one barely unseated and turn the power on. It’s working, sort of. The sprite grids are corrupted to blocks making it look like Metroid via Atari 2600. For the next five minutes this is the coolest thing we’ve ever seen for some reason. Here, see it for yourself.

Parting gift: When Youtube suggests this, you watch every second of it.

significance is optional

I’m with Angelle on the way to the only used game store left in Metairie when a chalkboard sign in front of a bar catches my eye. Someone’s written on it in pink and blue chalk “Bring Our Rooster Back — Reward.”

“Did you see that?” I ask her.

“See what?” she asks. I tell her about the sign and she laughs.

“That’s a story I’ll never know,” I say.

I started a game of Dragon Warrior III on New Year’s Day 2011 and a game of Dragon Warrior on New Year’s Day 2012. We’re going to this store to see if they have a copy of either Dragon Warrior II or IV. It’s actually a LAN center that shares a parking lot with a daiquiri shop. The lot is packed with cars to where we have to drive to the very back to find the last open spot.

“I guess everyone’s watching the football game at the daiquiri shop or something,” Angelle says.

“This oughta be a fun place to drive through once it’s over,” I say.

It was a logical assumption to make, and dead wrong too. The daiquiri shop wishes it got this kind of business. The LAN center is full of spectators commenting and loud gamers pounding on mouse buttons, every one of the dozens of seats filled, standing room only. “Take the base! Take the base! Take it!” a guy is barking into his bulky headset. “I’ll make a man out of you!” sing four guys standing behind a blond kid frantically tapping keys. I recognize it from Mulan. “Here’s the plan,” a twenty-something starts cooing coolly in a velvet voice on his headset, somehow audible through the din, sounding like he belongs on a top 40 station. The whole room’s alive. I feel like I’ve left Metairie for a while and stepped into the same specific space from the first time I saw an arcade when I was very young, the first rock club I ever wandered into, the first bar I ever snuck into with my friends. I enjoy it while it lasts.

Finally I remember why we came here, so I go to look at the NES game selection. They don’t have either game, so the tradition ends here. I can’t say I’m too disappointed because II is a frustrating drag to play through and IV would have been very expensive.

***

A couple of days earlier I’m talking to Greg, a friend of mine that I haven’t spoken to in a long time. We catch up on what the other’s been up to and then out of nowhere he says “The year’s finally coming to an end soon.” He sounds almost anxious about it.

“It sure is,” I say because I can’t think of any other way to reply to that. I guess I could have said “No it’s not!” Maybe if I ever have this conversation again I will, just to see what happens next.

“I just wish it would come sooner,” he groans. “Ugh, three more days of 2012.”

People who are relieved when a year ends are always relieved every time a year ends. The predictability doesn’t bother me so much as the kind of mindset it implies. It’s not the year’s fault after all. The date the year begins isn’t some universal law like gravity, just a day agreed on by a handful of people over a thousand years ago. Really, January 1st just kind of sits there in the middle of winter. Spring equinox makes more sense from a metaphorical and even an orbital basis for a Northern Hemisphere-dictated beginning. In a parallel universe where that’s the case, I bet he wouldn’t have started this conversation for another three months.

I tell him this.

“Equinox isn’t the same day every year though,” he says.

“It’s a range of three dates,” I say. “Make it the second one.”

“Ok, so the year starts in the middle of March now. Not a very pleasing aesthetic.”

I think about this. He’s right. “So we make March 20th into January 1st.”

“That makes sense,” he says. “How many days is that?”

“From what?”

“From our January 1st to your January 1st?”

“What makes it *my* January 1st all of a sudden?”

“Well it’s your idea, isn’t it?”

“If I were talking to myself, yeah. You just said it made sense, so ‘my’ January 1st is actually ‘our’ January 1st.”

“Well what do we call the other January 1st then?”

“‘Their’ January 1st.”

He liked this. “Ok, so how many days?”

“30 days hath September…” I start. There’s got to be a quicker mnemonic or something for the number of days in a month, because it always feels like it takes forever to get to the end when I go through it. “79 or 80,” I say after a moment.

“Ah, because of the leap year.”

“Which would now come…in the middle of December.”

“Would it have to though?”

“No, I guess we could just stick it anywhere at this point.”

“Why not the end of the year?”

“December 32? Think of all the hard 31 limits that would need to be recoded on websites and in software. Those poor programmers.”

“Hmm.”

We thought about this a lot longer than we should have.

“November,” I said. “November always felt like it should be a 31 month.”

“You know, yeah. It’s more robust than a 30 month somehow.”

“November 31st is our leap day.”

“Rock.”

We spend a few minutes figuring out what our new birthdays are. Mine becomes February 23rd. I suddenly remember that I was friends with a girl a long time ago whose birthday was February 23rd and it nearly knocks me over because I realize I’ve had no memory of her whatsoever for years and years until this coincidence of thought brought weeks of experiences flooding back.

***

There’s this girl with long dyed black hair hanging out with my friend Chris when I go to meet him at Pepper’s. I hadn’t seen Chris since we’d lived in the same dorm building two semesters ago. The last time we hung out, he had walked in on me while I was pissing in the bathroom. Instead of the standard “Oh oh, sorry man,” he just stood there and stared at me. I stared back at him and then delivered the best one liner I’ll ever come up with: “Window shopping or just sightseeing?” Chris turned and sort of half ran out of the bathroom. Marcus and Louis exploded with laughter in the other room.

“Let me get you an icepack,” Marcus heaved between laughs.

“I don’t need an icepack,” Chris snapped. He was beyond flustered.

“It’s the only way we’ll stop that blushing,” Louis cackled, adding “Window Shopper.”

“Don’t call me that!”

One year later, Chris waves at me with a big smile on his face, getting up out of the booth to greet me. He looks exactly the same as he did a year ago. I decide not to bring up the bathroom thing. Yet.

“I’d like you to meet a friend of mine,” he says, gesturing toward the girl.

“I’m Alissa,” she says.

“I know,” I say, sitting in the booth. “I’m Jak.”

“You know? How did you know?”

“That crazy thing a year ago that we met at.”

“We did? What crazy thing?”

“You don’t remember?”

“No, refresh my memory.”

“Oh yeah, that’s right. It was a pretty wild time, so bear with me. I’ll try to get the story right.”

She sits up straighter in her chair. “This I’ve got to hear.”

I come up with this absolutely stupid story. I don’t remember most of the details anymore. Swimming pools full of alcohol and Rolls Royce demolition derbies. I think Billy Joel showed up for some reason, probably because “Piano Man” was on the jukebox at the time. At one point we all ended up at the White House. We got the key to the city of Thibodaux. Aliens showed up. That kind of dumb story. It all ended in a disaster, because that’s the only way I knew how to end a story back then. Something the aliens did, I’m sure. Everyone that didn’t get amnesia from their head injuries agreed to be sworn to secrecy since the government considered the existence of the aliens classified. I remember that I ended it with “To this day, if you talk to anyone involved, from Bush to the mayor of Thibodaux to the guy in the gorilla suit, they’ll act like they have no idea what you’re talking about.” Somehow she was still listening.

“Then why are you telling me? Won’t you get in trouble?”

“It’s all right because you were there. Don’t tell anyone else, now.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t dare.”

“I can’t believe I did,” I say. Chris keeps nudging me under the table and grinning and winking at me. He’s really very bad at subtlety. Alissa notices and gives him a sour look. I say “Did Chris ever tell you why we call him Window Shopper?”

He frowns. “Aw, c’mon man.”

“He didn’t, and you’re going to,” she says, completely intrigued.

“I, just, ugh,” Chris stammers. “I don’t have to sit through it.” He gets up and walks outside to smoke a few cigarettes, anything to not relive that. It really bothered him! He didn’t come back in for another forty-five minutes after I finish the story, so Alissa and I keep talking. At one point she mentions that she had always wanted to be a pilot.

“Like for an airline?” I ask her.

A look of shock crosses her face, like she blurted out a secret no one was supposed to know. “Ugh, never mind, no, no, no no no nonono.” She sounded out the “no”s like a marble dropping.

At first I thought I had said something dumb. “Then what, like a test pilot?”

“Seriously, forget I ever said anything about it.” I realize that for some reason this was extremely embarrassing to her.

I spend the next minute trying to think of something else to talk about. Only aviation exists in the entire universe for this minute. I keep my mouth shut.

She breaks the silence with “My dad always told me it was a stupid idea.” I figure that’s about the moment our friendship really began.

“What, flying?”

“Well, me flying.”

“Why would he say that?”

“I don’t know. He never said why. Just that it was. And he was very adamant about that.”

“That’s strange.”

“Yeah.” She says it like she’d never considered that as a possibility. “I guess he was a strange guy.”

“‘Was’. Is he still alive?”

“Oh. Yeah, I haven’t talked to him for five years now.”

“Does it still matter what he thinks?”

She stares ahead for a moment. “Hm,” she hums. “No, I guess it wouldn’t.” Of course it wasn’t so simple as that. And of course it really was too. We got to be pretty close friends for a while after that.

A few days later I met her roommate Don. They had been best friends since elementary school. He had this great easygoing personality and found humor in everything. He was also a curiosity in Thibodaux, a giant 6’5″ gay man easily more than 400 pounds. He had a knack for hooking up with the worst people in the world. The one who beat him up with a baseball bat. The one who stole his car at gunpoint after breakfast. The one who tried to drug Alissa at a party. The one who was selling crack from the house they used to rent and tried to blame Don when the police raided it. Those were the big four; most of the rest of them just ended up stealing things. We came back from lunch with him one day to find their apartment door open. “Well, it happened again,” he said in the way anyone else would say “Ah, the mail came.” This one had stolen the television, his vintage record player and the toaster. The toaster. “The TV, the turntable and the toaster,” Don said, giggling. “I have to appreciate the alliteration.” Then he sighed. It’s the sort of sigh I shouldn’t have been able to ever forget. It was an aural diamond of concentrated sentiment, one wordless syllable that spoke paragraphs of resignation clearly and without context. It’s been years and years since I’ve thought of it and even longer since I heard it, and it still breaks my heart a little even just to remember it. I couldn’t recreate it if I tried. I wouldn’t want to.

The apartment lease was in Alissa’s name and she was torn about telling Don to find another place to live.

“I couldn’t,” she would convince herself. “He’s always been there for me, so I have to be there for him. He’d end up living with people like that and really get hurt or in trouble. He’s the worst judge of character in the world.”

“I have to,” she would convince herself. “I can’t keep coming home to an open front door. One of these days he’s going to bring someone here that’s going to kill us. I have to look out for myself at some point. He’s the worst judge of character in the world.”

Most of our time as friends wasn’t consumed with these issues. Like Greg’s 2012 though, difficulty sticks out more in memory.

The last time I talked to her was in an email. I’d moved from one friend’s place to another’s and decided I wanted to stay in town permanently, so I had started looking for a job. I was going back to New Orleans periodically to work with my friend’s company and play shows for cash to sustain me while I looked for something steadier in Thibodaux. She had emailed me after I hadn’t been in touch with her for a month or so, just asking what I’ve been up to and if I had any new music she could hear. I told her I’d been really busy and that I’d catch up with her “real soon”. I attached a couple of MP3s of songs I was working on. I figure that’s about the moment our friendship really ended.

She emailed me back a few hours later, though I didn’t check it until the next week. She had spent her own actual real time listening to my songs and then writing out what she liked about them. I don’t remember what her email said anymore; instead, I remember that I was wearing a pair of blue jeans and a maroon t-shirt, with my tan button down shirt draped over the computer chair. I remember that I was eating an orange popsicle. I remember that later that night I got drunk with Rob and Ben and Brennan in the same booth at Pepper’s where I’d first met her. I remember not replying and letting this friendship slip away because I felt like she was part of the life I had before I’d made this latest plan. Anything involved with that life could wait until this life was in place. It’s the kind of wrong thought that’s only obviously wrong after it’s all over.

Up to this point, talking to Greg, years after “real soon”, I’d forgotten everything about Alissa and her universe, which I guess is fitting for a friendship that started with a story about amnesia. I wondered what else I might have forgotten. I wonder what I’m doing now that I might forget. It happens, I know that. Everyone who’s lived enough to regret something knows that. Forgetting human beings still seems wrong somehow.

Alissa. Don. Bring Our Rooster Back — Reward.

***

“Anyway,” I say, “the point is that you wouldn’t be anticipating the new year like this right now if it were three months away.”

“Well, obviously,” Greg says. “So?”

“So it seems awfully limiting to label the next three days as being part of a ‘bad’ year knowing how arbitrary it is, doesn’t it? Why wait to change your outlook?”

“Hm,” he hums. “That makes sense.” And in this case, of course it really is as simple as that.

bias is often called identity

I was talking to an insanely talented performer after a rehearsal for a show we’ll be working together on next month.

“The difference between professional and amateur performances is how much they’ve been perfected,” he says.

I’m pretty sure I disagree, though I haven’t thought it through or heard it out enough to commit to saying something about it one way or the other. “Mm,” I hum instead. I nod my head up gently as I make this noise. It’s enough to acknowledge “Yes, that certainly was a thing you just said and I sure did hear it” without obstructing or leading the dialogue yet.

He goes on, “In community shows like what’s standard around here, you’re always playing to the same crowds, so you constantly have to keep coming up with new material. You can’t spend months honing an act to perfection like when you’re on the road and it’s always new audiences every night.”

While that’s true, there’s such a thing as “too perfected”. Perfecting an act means calculating what actions at what times will generate the desired appropriate response from the audience. This, of course, is a vital component to any act worth seeing more than once.

If you’ll allow me to get all douchey artistic-minded (and you will, because that’s how reading other people’s words works)…

Where it gets “too perfect” is when the creativity and initial drive behind the act gets eclipsed and replaced by those calculations. And yeah, it’s not hard at all to fake enthusiasm enough to fool people when you’re already performing at such a level that would lead to that point.

Who’d want to though? At that point it becomes a crass and soulless meta-performance, doesn’t it? To me, it’s right down there with “How’s everybody feeling tonight?” or “What’s up, [town name]?”: a meaningless effort with a guaranteed reaction because there will always be at least a few people who feel obligated to respond to that sort of thing with some kind of positive noise.

Some of the best acts I’ve ever seen fly completely by the seat of their pants, rehearsing just enough to have nothing more than a general direction and they still carry the performance with their ability and personality. I’ve also shared bills with acts that have every second of the show from the song intros to the stage blocking meticulously planned out and honed months in advance that completely failed to entertain anybody.

It’s not what he meant, and so I don’t say it.

I do say “I don’t think it’s possible to standardize what’s ‘professional’ in entertainment.”

“Mm,” he hums, then “True.” I feel like I should be happy that someone I have so much respect for agrees with me, and I’m not. Instead we share an uncomfortable moment of silence because we both realize at that point that it would make our jobs so much ridiculously easier if it weren’t true.

…on the other hand, we get to do this for a living. We move on to other topics. Later I get home and finish up the audio / video pairings for the sheriff’s office scene in Targeted, a process that is so boring it won’t get mentioned again once the period ends this sentence and here it comes and here it is right here.

The next day I wake up to an intense argument going on outside my window. A man and a woman are having it out in their carport in machine gun Spanish. Thanks to the distance, the speed of the words and the twelve years it’s been since I spoke Spanish with any regularity, I can’t even catch a gist of what they’re arguing about, except that they are both throwing some righteous rage each other’s way.

I’m annoyed that I don’t remember more Spanish. If someone’s going to argue loud enough to wake me up from a house over, I want to follow the story. It’s a public performance at this point, and I can’t tell if it’s amateur or professional.

Fifteen minutes later, a car door slams and the ignition roars. I imagine her twisting the key so hard that the top snaps off. The woman’s voice fades in like someone turning up the radio from zero really fast as she starts yelling again inside the car a few seconds before she rolls the window down so he (and I) can actually hear her. There’s something very funny about that to me that I can’t even explain to myself.

They, of course, spend another couple of minutes screaming back and forth, because nobody ever just immediately drives off in these situations. She eventually volleys a sentence that satisfies her and does drive off. It feels like a song that ends on an unresolving chord. What was all of this about? Who won, if anyone? Will this pick up again when she comes back? How much Spanish can I brush up on between now and then?

I have things to do though. I’m going to busk with Remy and Thugsy on Royal so I step outside to put my guitar and ukulele in the car and there’s my neighbor, still pacing the carport.

“Hello!” he calls with a cheery wave. “How are you today?” His voice sounds sluggish and labored somehow.

“I’m fine,” I answer back. “Going to play some music for a while.” Now my voice sounds strange too, and I realize it’s because for the last half hour I’ve been listening to enraged Spanish. In comparison, English sounds like a series of yawns. “What are you up to today?”

“Rearranging the patio,” he says. His grin drops and he looks away for a moment, then back at me, smiles, looks away, frowns, smiles, and then turns away. It looks even more awkward than it sounds like it would.

“Good luck with it,” I say, not meaning the patio.

He nods and tries to mask a sigh as an “mmmmmhmm”. The shoulders give it away. The shoulders always give everything away. I feel bad for him, and just a little guilty that I get to go have fun on Royal Street.

I shouldn’t have, because four hours later I was in a pretty bad car wreck. It’s good to get the first wreck over with early. My ugly green Kia Soul is currently in the parking lot of a collision center, sitting next to other smashed-up vehicles like it’s waiting to be seen at an emergency room. Since I first bought it I’ve said it’s so ugly, it’s charming. Right now it’s so ugly, it’s ugly.

***

A clarifying moment is a point in time where every bias and subjective tint falls away, leaving only an objective truth. That sounds really deep and important, doesn’t it? It’s not. Most clarifying moments are inconsequential.

On the other hand, it can be argued that everything is inconsequential if there’s a large enough perspective applied, so I guess it depends on what’s important to you.

A while back I played through Final Fantasy V. I found it extremely hard which usually means I was playing it wrong, like when I played through Final Fantasy VII with only level 1 limit breaks because I didn’t know any better.

One of the mandatory bosses in FFV is a beast called Twin Tania, and he will absolutely wreck your shit. There’s an undisplayed time limit to the battle, at the end of which he’ll cast a spell called Gigaflare which wipes out your party even if they’re all at full HP. It’s not a long countdown at all.

The game isn’t content simply ending the battle with a Gigaflare cast though. It gives you a facade of hope by allowing you ONE MOVE between the “Gigaflare gathering power!” message and the nuclear payload. This detail is important enough that you read about it in a book a bit earlier in the dungeon.

The rub is that despite knowing about the grace period, it’s worthless knowledge. Unless you’ve spent weeks just leveling up your characters to Herculean heights, there’s nothing you can do in one move to kill Twin Tania by this point. It’s SquareSoft sticking a gun in your face outside the convenience store and saying “I’m going to kill you no matter what you do. So what are you gonna do?”

Things like that give the most valid idea of exactly what kind of RPG gamer you are, moreso than playing every RPG ever made ever will. What do YOU do with a meaningless move seconds before an inevitable Game Over?

Seeing a pair of headlights rapidly approaching brings about a clarifying moment that fits in a larger perspective. The thoughts you have besides “OH SHIT” in that sluggish space between realizing “this is inevitable” and the actual impact are a clear picture of the sort of person you truly are.

I saw a man in his 50s in the driver’s seat of the truck. There were no passengers. “I hope he doesn’t get hurt,” I thought. “Well, here it comes.” And I think I can live with being that sort of person.

As for Twin Tania, I cast Meteo on my party because I’ll be damned if I give some six-legged warthog the satisfaction more than once.

***

What else? Oh! The Jak Locke Goes Too Far EP is finished and I released it online a couple of days ago. Here, listen to it! Enjoy it while it’s still something new!

12/21/2012 ADDITION: Apparently the proper way to beat Twin Tania is that you’re actually supposed to wait until the Gigaflare is charging and then use something with an instant death effect on it. The book is supposed to be a clue to use that method. Because it’s been more than seven years since I played it, I’m going to go ahead and blame the Playstation version’s lousy translation for not making that clearer, even though I have no idea if it was the translation’s fault or not. That version’s localization was so awful that I’ll take any possible opportunity to slag it.

There’s probably a metaphor somewhere here for seemingly meaningless things actually having a function if only the proper knowledge is applied, and it’s a shame I have no interest in finding it.

all words are old ideas

On Monday I worked as an extra in a movie called Boulevard H which is supposed to come out next year. The most official synopsis I’ve been able to find is “a group of wannabe actors who collectively follow an eccentric and volatile acting coach. The students are held back by autism, old age, dwarfism, paralysis, egotism, and delusions of grandeur.”

I got the email confirming my booking five hours before the call time so I only slept three hours. If I hadn’t been getting three hours or less of sleep the last three nights, that wouldn’t have been a memorable detail for me.

The email only told men to wear “semi-formal” which is the most vague wardrobe description possible. I threw on the suit I wore at my show last Saturday, shoved a tie in my pocket (just in case) and went to the shoot.

We’re playing audience members at the play the characters put on. I’m sitting in the third row at the far right. The actors are running their lines on the stage and it’s legitimately a very funny scene, leading me to believe that the movie must not have a very large budget (it doesn’t). One of the lead actors is also the director / writer. A mammoth headache begins to roll in as I realize I should have eaten a lot more for breakfast than a handful of pretzel sticks. The director’s assistant is pointing at me and telling me to move to the front row, rightmost seat, then later moves me again two seats to the left. He later thanks the front row extras for dressing properly. Okay, so that’s what “semi-formal” means.

After three hours of positioning and rehearsal, the crew is finally ready to start rolling cameras. Loud booming chords of music play from the other side of the ballroom doors. We’re all confused, nobody mentioned this.

“Mood, you think?” the girl to my left asks me. She’s a very pretty college student who told me earlier this is her sixth film she’s done background work on and that she’s excited because it’s the first project that she hasn’t been cast as “student” in.

“That, or maybe the fanfare before the play?” I say.

“Doesn’t the old lady play the fanfares on the trumpet?” she says. And she’s right, that’s one of the funniest parts of the whole scene.

“That’s true — say, why do the director and crew look as confused as the rest of us?” I ask.

“You think there’s something else going on out there?” she asks.

It was a conversation of questions, one of many going on between the cast, crew and 100 extras. Finally I hear the assistant director, a big important looking man with a white beard, talking over the radio and relaying it to the director who is currently wearing chainmail.

“It’s a children’s Christmas concert. The hotel said it’s been planned for a long time. We’ll have to wait until they’re done.” It feels kind of good to know that it doesn’t just happen to my movie, it happens to the bigger deals too.

After an hour of slightly off-key Christmas songs, shooting begins and we’ve all memorized every characters’ lines by the time lunch comes. Five hours later the girl on my left will find out she’s been asked to come back tomorrow to play one of “ten youthful classroom extras” in a different scene.

“So you’re a stu-”

“Shut up. I’m a youthful classroom extra.”

Much later I’m home and looking up articles about background work to see if the experience on this set was an average one or not. I find a particularly lively one and start reading.

It’s an article so long that I end up glancing at the scrollbar to see if I’m as far down as I think I should be by this point. (I’m not. I’m only halfway through.) It’s a phenomenon you may be familiar with. I scroll up to see the post date and I begin to wonder if the author wrote this in one sitting and if not, how many sittings it took. I start thinking about the way I look at articles and realize it extends to any collection of words and, really, anything at all that’s published in any kind of way.

“That Frog Dell’s Junkyard book was certainly a book,” someone says about my book. “When did it come out?”

“It came out in November 2010,” someone else will answer them. And suddenly that book is now locked into that very specific reference point, even though I wrote it in little shreds and giant marathons at various points of time between 1999 and its release in 2010.

“So, this is a November 2010 kind of book then, huh?” said nobody ever. Even still, that’s the kind of referential tint that’s thrown on those sorts of things, at least in my mind. And it’s incorrect.

You are reading this whenever right now is, and you can glance at the header to see that it was published on December 11th 2012 at 4:01 in the afternoon.

This part of this post is being written in a restroom which is in a restaurant I’m really not supposed to be in right now because it’s closed. It’s December 8th 2012 at 1:14 in the morning right now, and I just finished playing a Jak Locke Rock Show at The Boxer & The Barrel next door. I may have drank — a LOT — leading up to the point of me clumsily typing this on an iPhone that doesn’t register half of my keypresses because my fingertips are too calloused.

It is dark in here, and I can hear cymbal crashes, snare drums and throbbing bass guitar notes coming through two walls. Every now and then I can hear Don Puebla saying things, probably mean things, on the microphone to the audience, because that’s what he does. I can’t hear what he’s saying. Mostly I’m waiting to see what my stomach’s next move is going to be after the abuse I’ve put it through today between bad food, cheap beer and twisting my body around for forty-five minutes.

So far I’ve just been standing and leaning against the stall wall, wishing I could peek ahead to see how this ends, because right now there’s definitely a war going on somewhere between my esophagus and my lower intestine, and I’m having a hard time figuring out which direction the front line is advancing.

Almost every nightclub and bar I’ve been to has bathrooms with no doors on the stalls. In situations like this, I like a bathroom that has doors. Just in case.

The pain and nausea eventually pass with no incident. It’s cool and dark in here though and so I spend a few more minutes just enjoying the relative quiet.

After the show’s over, I go to Pepper’s to get some pizza with Israel and find out that everyone else in town apparently had the same idea. It’s getting really late now and I wonder if they’re really going to be able to serve all these people before they have to close in like fifteen minutes.

“Excuse me, are you taking orders?” I ask a girl wearing a black Pepper’s shirt.

“No,” she says. Israel and I notice that there are a couple of people with menus, some even in the process of ordering. The girl keeps staring at us like we just asked her to drive us to the moon.

“Can I take your order?” another girl wearing a red Pepper’s shirt says.

I’m hesitant to answer that. Israel looks at me as if I’d have any explanation. I’m not sure why that annoys me, just that it does.

“She just said you aren’t taking orders,” I tell her, pointing to the first girl.

“*I’m* not taking orders because *I* don’t work *here*,” the first girl says with a proud and disdainful sneer, in a way that suggested working at Pepper’s were the tenth circle of hell Dante couldn’t bear to write about. The second girl, Israel and I all look at her shirt at the same time. She looks down and her face turns red so quick it’s almost creepy. “…oh.”

“I work here,” the second girl beamed. “Can I take your order?”

“Let’s get a pizza,” Israel started to say.

She sucks in some air between her teeth and cringes slightly. “Ooh,” she says. I don’t like the sound of this. “Yeah, we’re going to close in fifteen minutes so we won’t have time to make that.”

I’m looking at the menu and wondering just what can be made and consumed in fifteen minutes. I’m not seeing any candidates.

“Breadsticks?” Israel asks.

“Sorry,” she says, and I really believe her. She really does look sorry about it.

“Ravioli?”

“Sorry,” she says just like before, and I realize it’s just a very very well rehearsed sorry.

Israel just starts going down the menu listing foods he’s heard of. The “sorry” gets more and more humorous to hear as the situation becomes more and more like an early draft of a Monty Python sketch.

We end up getting a bowl of cold banana peppers, a fantastic idea after what my stomach’s been through already. I notice for the first time that except for a handful of tables, everyone else is eating the same thing we are. We’re able to finish three each before they start kicking people out to close.

Did you notice the point where I stopped typing and just pasted the bottom half of a Livejournal entry of mine from 2001?

Anyway

Good stuff coming, like the EP that I’m totally working on right now instead of typing this. Next time, a post that doesn’t mention pizza at all, which means that only pizza-related things will probably happen to me over the next week or so.