Uptown Rantz

Don't Wanna Be No Uptown Fool

Archive for the tag “henry rollins”

Parker and Surfer Girl

“Mid-day masturbation and random trips to Target.”

That’s how Parker described his daily life to me in a recent text. Since his divorce five months ago, he’s moved into the bottom apartment of a south Minneapolis duplex. He was initially excited about the pretty 20-something blonde living above him, whom he described as a surfer girl who looks like she smells like cocoa butter. He then concluded that she sees him as the old divorced dude, which means he hit on her and she felt creeped out by it.

Since I moved to Austin, he’s talked a lot about coming down for a visit. But I know he goes days without leaving his apartment, so any enthusiasm and initiative he shows for it is fleeting at best. Nonetheless, I was looking forward to seeing him on my recent trip back to Minneapolis. It didn’t feel like I was visiting him, though. It felt more like I was checking up on him on a bitterly cold Saturday.

I met Parker when I was in fourth grade and he was in sixth grade. He was the kid seeking shelter from the cold during recess by leaning against the 4-story brick elementary school. His winter coat looked worn, thin and so small that the sleeves were almost halfway up his forearms. He didn’t have a stocking cap or gloves, so he kept himself semi-warm by holding onto a Zippo lighter inside his pants pockets and lighting it every few seconds for a burst of warmth. Our school uniform required dress pants with slant pockets, which allowed just enough room for his makeshift pocket furnace.

Parker has been in and out work, like Cheney, but unlike Cheney in that he does not think that he as any discernible talent. After greeting me semi-enthusiastically, Parker disappeared into the kitchen and reappeared holding two bottles of Heineken.

He was wearing red flannel pajama pants, a blue t-shirt and no socks. His blonde hair looked like it has every day since I’ve known him – like Calvin’s from Calvin and Hobbes. He had that look of someone who hadn’t left his home in days because there was no need to. His apartment felt and smelled warm. I was still living in central air when I left Austin.

The walls of his apartment were bare. The one piece of furniture was a satellite chair facing the television in the corner of the living room. The small circular ottoman serves as his desk and dining room table. I’ve never known Parker to play guitar, but there was a small practice amp leaning against the wall. I didn’t bother asking him about it.

“Beer?” He extended one toward me as I set my coat and scarf on the floor and looked for a place to sit. Even though he saw me looking around for a chair, he never offered me one. It looked more like he was squatting there as opposed to living there.

“I do not miss this fuckin’ cold, man,” I said shaking my head and taking a seat on the windowpane.

“I bet. How’s Austin?” Parker sat back down on the satellite chair. It made a loud creaking noise that sounded like it was about to break. He pointed the remote control towards the TV.

“It’s warm and starting to feel like home,” I looked around to notice the envelopes from the state unemployment office. Parker has been living off unemployment and the occasional temp gig.

It’s early Saturday evening, and I could hear the muffled, excited telephone conversation of the surfer girl in the above apartment as she shuffled around in stocking feet on her hardwood floors. Plans were being made and outfits were getting picked out. At that age, Saturday nights mean excitement, opportunity, memories, selfies and sometimes regret.

I was sitting on the windowpane behind Parker’s satellite chair, which was facing the television, which never stayed on one channel for more than ten minutes of the two hours that I was there. He commented that it feels weird watching the television that he and his ex-wife picked out together. None of our conversation was face-to-face. If he wanted to talk, I would have listened.

Parker was happily and busily married when I was under my post-Amanda dark cloud. Everyone goes through an isolated pajama pants period, but Parker’s seems debilitating. I fought mine with working out, writing and saying “yes” to almost anything in order to create opportunities and step outside my mind, because thoughts and imagination can be awful enemies at a time like that.

“Your ex-wife is likely taking this just as hard as you, you know.” His ex-wife’s name is Carrie, but I never knew her that well, so I didn’t feel comfortable mentioning her by name.

Parker heard my attempt at consolation, but he didn’t acknowledge it. Not even a shoulder shrug. I later realized that by saying that, I was disclosing that his life doesn’t look all that great right now.

I felt bad for him then I began to feel guilty, I guess, because I didn’t want to be at Parker’s anymore. He’s one of my oldest friends but all I could picture is me back at my hotel or in my Austin apartment – lying diagonally on the bed reading a Henry Rollins book while listening to Sugar’s Copper Blue. It seemed like he didn’t want company.

The shuffling stocking feet of surfer girl had now become the clicking of high heels on hardwood. Her hair and face are probably done, Facebook status updated, Tweets have been tweeted and iPhone fully charged. Her voice will be hoarse in the morning after an evening of shouting over club music.

I know Parker’s divorce broke him emotionally and financially. It’s easy to spot someone who’s underneath a cloud of depression when you’ve been there before yourself. The cloud covers you like Deon Sanders in his prime covering a receiver. No matter where you go, it’s there – swatting hope away from your hands and then shoulder tackling you out of bounds just for good measure. Eventually, you just give up and watch the game…watch life from the sidelines.

From my windowpane seat I saw a taxi pull up in front of the duplex. The upstairs door slammed shut followed by two clicks of a turnkey lock. Surfer girl high heeled her way down the narrow staircase. Her steps were slow and deliberate, so I could tell she was steadying herself with the guardrail. She scurried to the taxi wearing a tan overcoat over a black dress with black stockings. There was just enough daylight left that I could see her puffs of breath in the freezing air.

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The Alcoholics and My Second Interview

“So we’d love to have you come in for another interview and meet some more members of our team.”  That’s how the message ends on my answering machine. I still have an answering machine because I still have a land line, and voice mail is an unnecessary expense.  And the blinking message light is always something to come home to.  This particular message comes at a moment when I really need to hear it.  I’ve just returned from the coffee shop where I sat at the corner window table with Get In The Van by Henry Rollins.

There were two middle-aged men seated to my right and two more behind me.  After ten minutes of their conversations leaking in on my reading, it’s apparent that two are recovering alcoholics and the other two are their sponsors.  There’s a church just around the corner so a meeting probably just ended.  These are the saddest and, at the same time, most self-indulgent conversations I’ve ever eavesdropped on.

It’s a cacophony of self-pity, day-to-day existence and over-rationalizing of recovery.  They all appear to be in their mid to late forties, and I never want to be them.  One guy takes a really spiritual view of recovery, and another talks like he’s smarter than the whole process.  I find out that they’re all single and that being on Facebook is prohibited in recovery.  Looking at profiles of exes and their successful lives makes us all pick up a beer, but these guys would never be able to stop.  Any ambition they’ve ever had has been replaced by fragility.  It would suck to be these guys.

I never want to have so much free time that I’m able to fall into chemical dependency, attend AA meetings and sit around discussing myself in a coffee shop.  I don’t want that to be my day, week, month and year.  Who knows how many years these guys have lost to their addiction?  Years they’ll look back on and realize they didn’t make the most of that time.

It’s exactly why I need this job.  Not want it, but need it.  I don’t want to look back on a time in my life where I sat unrecognized, unfulfilled and unhappy in a cubicle and did nothing to make it better.  Making a paycheck but never becoming wealthy.  We all deserve to be rich.  It’s not a bad thing.  We all have that potential and I’ll be damned if I’m going to let it go to waste in this place.  Excess money won’t guarantee my happiness, but it will guarantee more choices for myself and my future family.  I’m too young to accept complacency.  Aren’t we all made in God’s image and isn’t God prosperous?  I’ll never prosper at TR.

So fuck it.  I return the call to set-up the second interview.  I’m going to take the entire day off for it and not just a half day.  I grab my car keys and I’m out the door to buy a brand new suit.  I’m going to buy the ultra-nice and expensive DKNY one because four alcoholics made me realize that I deserve it.

The Stars at Night are Big and Bright…and the Nose-Picker

I once read in an old Glenn Frey interview that the way to maintain a constant buzz is to drink two beers immediately and then one beer every one hour and 20 minutes. My experiment with that began back at MSP International. I set the alarm on my cell phone to remind me when I’m due for another. It will necessitate a couple of beers on the plane, so I make sure to have the exact change like they always request on the pre-flight announcement.

I board the plane and take my seat next to a high school kid. He continually picks his nose and then touches his iphone screen. Pick. Touch. Pick. Touch. He has a Led Zeppelin biography on his lap. I know everything that’s ever been written about that band – the tour debauchery, musical virtuosity, the heroin, the witchcraft, the gangster manager, the shark and the groupie, the Yardbirds, the vomit asphyxiation. I know it all. It all remains the same. Pick. Touch. Pick. Touch.

On my lap is A Preferred Blur by Henry Rollins. H.R’s not a great writer. He’s not even a good writer. I’ve read enough of his books that I’m used to the typos, poor syntax, staccato phrasing and repetitive themes of solitude and anger. His books are self-published so there’s no strict editorial process or publishing house standards to live up to. He writes despite his lack of formal education. But his books are a diary of his lonely, manic, focused, information-craving and sleep-deprived life that would make anyone feel lazy. His only ever “real” job was serving ice cream at a D.C. Haagen-Daz in his teens, and he still keeps in touch with the former manager who told him that if things didn’t work out with Black Flag he could return to the store no questions asked. Overall, he’s lived an uncompromising life and how do you not respect and admire that?

The flight attendant hands me my beer. Pick. Touch. Pick. Touch.

The humidity penetrates Austin Bergstrom Airport. The terminal feels slightly tropical, but I don’t mind. I text Kathleen to let her know I just landed and should be at her downtown loft within 30 minutes. For the past year, Kathleen has enjoyed a sweet gig as a freelance writer for Yahoo. Now that her contract is coming to an end, she was more than happy to rent her place to me again. We’ll spend a beer catching-up, she’ll hand me the key cards to the building and her loft, I’ll hand her the cash for the few days of rent and she’ll be off to her parent’s house.

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