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Friday
Jun292012

So Ed, Didja Pork Her? +20

The Mysterious Matthew

...So said Matt Zuniga on the day when I admitted to having gone out with a girl. It was the first such instance in the seven months or so that we had been hanging out as co-workers and frustrated, exiled drummer wannabes. But really, it was more the first time in my nearly 19 years that I had gone out with a girl, with any hope of it turning into anything of a relationship.

Matt had a very unfiltered manner of speech. By the time I met him, he was already 20 and I was a newly minted 18 year old. He came on like a total character. Since I never saw him as a younger fellow who might have been tempered by the presence of his folks, he came out of nowhere and blindsided me with some of his outrageous comments and behavior. I think I've told some of those stories on this journal, and you might do a search for Matt Zuniga if your curiosity is so perverse.

Slippery Shelby

Being a pretty uptight kid myself, and being hopelessly optimistic about my um, prospects with Shelby Duncan starting on December 18th, 1988, I didn't really look long at other girls. She too exploded on the scene for me that evening and by the time of this date in 1992, the essential parts of our 12-year drama were written, rehearsed, and nearly mastered. We were never an item; rather she kept me at some distance and we never did so much as a kiss. That is, outside of my imagination. But make no mistake, I was as committed to her as anything, particularly during the period shortly after our graduation from high school in 1991. (She was at Mission Bay and I was at Madison. We were also peers separated by just nine days in October—me on the 12th and her on the inverse of those numbers, the 21st, so that lent some poetic air of closeness too, possibly in lieu of the real important stuff.)

Melissa, the Patient One

In the background, there was Melissa. She's the daughter of Mark, a younger friend of my old man's from the days before either Melissa or I were born. Mark and my old man worked in the same factory at Solar Turbines and the social times carried on for some years. They used to live in Clairemont and I do recall faintly some times when we were at their house. They moved to the suburban tract of Mira Mesa in 1984. At the time that was on the fringe of civilization, or so it seemed. Melissa, about two and a half years my junior, was a play pal on some occasions when our dads got together to kill time, nothing more. Because Mira Mesa, just nine miles away, but about a world away to those of us growing up in our little suburban zones, was so far out, I basically forgot about Melissa for years.

Then sometime in early 1991 she called me at home, apparently having raided her folks' address book (that piece of technology preceded such items as we now take for granted, like smart phones and iPads. It was made of paper.) I guess that as a 14 year old, she was just curious and excited when she recalled I was a sometimes playmate. At the time, I was about to play a talent show at school and I might have mentioned it. She might have come down. At any rate, she did manage to notify me of a time when her grandmother, a singer in the Sweet Adelines (a barbershop style singing group for women) was to be singing at some flag waving rah-rah fest at the school football field not long after the first Gulf War came to a close. It was one of those times when she wanted to sneak around the back side of the bungalow where no one was looking. I don't know if she really had an agenda. She was way too young and even a year or two later did not seem ready to act on that kind of impulse. But it was clear she wanted to get closer somehow. And that kind of weirded me out.

First off, there really wasn't anyone but Shelby on my mind at that time, and nothing was going to pry me away. Shelby was a contemporary of mine and a far deeper personality that even I was intimidated by. She was also impossible to get close to, even at half the distance of Melissa's place in Mira Mesa. I can't say I ran from this attention but I brushed it off as a little misguided. I guess she dropped it. I don't recall hearing from her for over a year.

The Dream

And then, one Sunday morning at the end of June 1992, I awoke to a thunderous earthquake timed in such a way as to interact with a rather stirring dream of Melissa beckoning me to join her. It was one of those odd dreams when external stimuli (the earthquake) gets integrated into the dream. I shot up bolt upright. It was something of a revelation. At the age of 18, not having closed any deals with the opposite sex—and really, not even dating, it must have been rumbling in the subconscious that something had to change. Was this some kind of advertisement for Melissa being easy? Or was it some message that I need to stop with the Shelby illusion, er, delusion? That day I had to think on what it meant. I guess there was just one thing to do since the message did not seem to leave me to my own devices. I called Melissa. I offered to pick her up and go to the University Town Center mall, a place about equidistant from both our places. I'd pick her up around 11 the next day. I gather she did some kind of happy dance finally.

Was I just acting because this was all available to me? Was I really interested in her? Was I just curious? Yeah, probably all that. Melissa was a slightly rounded girl-next-door type who was into all the girly stuff. She was into fantasy fluff. Endless Disney movies. Radio dedications on the soft rock station. Who knows. Aside from being B students with dads who worked in the same company, I don't feel there was all that much glue between us. Sometimes you have to just leap into the river and see where it takes you.

I had to ride my bike to my grandparents' place about three miles in the other direction so that I could borrow my grandfather's Ford Escort. Their cars were somewhat available, but because I had a car accident at the close of the first month after I got my license, they were a bit shy of letting me drive too much. Well, that was nearly two years before and the caution had faded. Good luck for me because I had a date with destiny. 

That week I had some interesting gastronomic issues. My journal is put away nice and good at the moment but it caused me some distress. Eating was not all that rewarding. So I went up to Melissa's place to pick her up, feeling queasy. Or was it just the anticipation for the experience about to unfold? We drove to UTC, about halfway back to my house, and I suppose we strolled the place, ducking in and out of shops like people are programmed to do. I do recall we got to Sears (the one errand I had to make so I could get some new ribbons for my word processing typewriter that was recently worked hard with the production of my first fanzine, the Rhythmic Catharsette.) We were looking about and in some rather unfortunate coincidence, she twirled around with her purse just as some kid went whizzing by. Her arm and purse put a pretty quick halt to his running around. She was profusely embarrassed and apologetic, no doubt because she was putting on her best face for the day, no doubt a long time in the making.

At some point we got to the food court and set about having lunch. Was it a gyro sandwich? A hot dog on a stick? A slice of pizza? Taco Hell? Probably a gyro since that was where I first learned to enjoy the spiced meat and fluffy pita and veggies and creamy tzatziki sauce. We were sitting across the table from one another, chatting the small talk. It was never very deep with Melissa. I mean, she was 16 at that time and still very much under the sway of her father, a rather stern guy who could be loving, but always in control. I suppose he let her go out with me because of our history and he felt he could keep me accountable somehow. But then in a moment, somewhere as we're finding our eyes locking up more, I reached out and grabbed her hands and spent a good while holding them. It was electric. I don't know that it was because I was enthralled with this one girl. It was just one of those threshold moments that would have to happen sooner or later. But it was happening now. It was happening at last. Of course, she was receptive to it all, and I guess the world did get all soft and blurry and slow motion around us. The moment did seem to distort time for a while.

Boys Might Be Boys

I never really obsessed about being in any competition with guy friends about who'd get with a girl first. I never really was part of a crew where that was talked about much. Not until I met Matt, and even then it was more of a one sided thing where he regaled me with his tall tales. I was too uptight to engage in that, even as a matter of fiction. Still am, I guess. But after high school sent me on my way, and after one year taking my community college courses, and having spent time at Subway for about eight months, the sense that time was forgetting that I might need some companionship was upon me. I mean, here I was, nearly 19 and nothing but a few casual times out with a girl or two during high school (that led no where else) was all I had to show for anything of a love life. I was quite aware of it all. That year after high school was one of great alienation. A loss of the barely existent social life I had in school was acute; the distance between me and Shelby (who was by then in Northern California attending school, hosted by her step dad) and Steve Rau (back at home in Germany, where I was set to visit in just about two weeks from this first day with Melissa) was all too much at times. Having Matt around was small comfort. We had no history. He was not even nice to me sometimes. He was so contrary to my sensibilities that I was sort of embarrassed to be seen with him but glad that we spent any time together, else it would be a pretty desolate existence. 

One thing that would have been on my mind that season was the insane anticipation leading up to my trip toe Europe on July 14th. It was to be my second trip, and this time around, it was the trip that was by far my own initiative. It drove me to slave away at Subway, and to put up with Matt. In fact, it was one of those things that could well have been the end of all history. I had no plans of what to do upon my return except the vague knowledge that I'd start another school semester, look for work, and go out and play drums with Matt. My trip to Germany was so big a deal that I could have died after that. (I'll have to tell that story in another entry soon.)

Maybe my gray void following the trip was something recognized by the universal powers that be and maybe I was rewarded with Melissa's arrival on the scene. Telling her about plans to fly on the 14th elicited a plea to not go. Ah... the drama mounts. My heart began to know conflicting desires. But really it was a no brainer. I had already paid for my trip. I had spent a year in agonizing anticipation, hurting at all the experiences on the path to Germany. Sorry, but no girl was going to talk me out of it. The ball was already in play. Melissa's arrival on my scene did of course create a cause to become homesick where for that dark year, all I wanted was to escape San Diego and to get on my big adventure, my first solo trip—to Germany! Of course, it was more important to connect with Steve Rau, who had become perhaps my best friend to that date, doubly notable because he was male. The six weeks that we could spend together on untold adventures had all the gravitational pull of Jupiter.

Eventually our little moment at the food court returned us to real time with crisp colors. But walking out of there, hand in hand, and with a heart racing, was surreal. Driving back in the Ford Escort, it was a good thing I did not have to drive stick, or else the hand holding would have to come to an end. I don't recall if the first day at the mall ended in what became one of our signature half hour goodbyes out by the car in front of her house, but that was soon enough to come. After I left, I went home, no doubt buzzing with adrenaline and hormones. I had a date with Matt and Shelby that evening.

Dangerous Mixing of the Elements

The day before, I took a small drumset out to a commercial area in town called Kearny Mesa. Light industry, warehouses, offices, and all that. I was making early explorations into finding a place to play drums. This building, the Volt building, was the first that held promise and set the standard for places we'd use for a couple years to come. Slightly hidden area to play; AC power outlets for plugging in music to play to; hidden from weather, and unoccupied at nights and weekends. Having found it to my liking on Sunday, I told Matt we should go there together and do some Rhythmic Catharsis jamming on Monday the 29th. I may have only mentioned to him—sheepishly so—that I was about to go out with Melissa.

It was the news of the day when Matt and Shelby and I convened on this Volt building, and before or during some break, in the long daylight of the post-solstice summer days, we were eating some of Shelby's weird vegetarian concoctions and I was expected to give a debrief on the day's events. Matt, ever Matt, decided that my coy answers were not cutting it. How could I kiss and tell anything when we'd not even kissed?  So Matt just barged in with the question, "So Ed, didja PORK her?"

Uhhh...

That might have been a bold enough question in the company of each other at work or playing drums together, but man...that was a loaded question for me, especially in front of Shelby. I mean, Melissa was just a diversion from my longing for Shelby. And I had not even had my desired experiences with Shelby yet. (Nor was I ever to have them.) Part of me wanted to run from the question. Part of me wanted to smack Matt pretty good. So I gave the only answer I could give: an embarrassed and squeamish "NOOOO." I guess now was not the time to bring up that I was saving myself for Shelby. Meanwhile, Shelby, who never wanted anything of the sort with me, probably saw this as the golden opportunity to offload me onto someone else. I'm pretty sure she encouraged me that way, asking the kinds of questions that would cause me to hear my own voice speaking words of praise and fondness for Melissa, even protecting her dignity in my response to Matt's stunning question. It was almost a trap.

Shelby stayed a while, pretending some interest in what Matt and I played on drums and screamed at the tops of our lungs. Then she left. At least it was guy time again. Time to smack the drums with a newfound energy and passion. Aside from the obvious drama of the day, it was also one of the last times I was to play drums before leaving on my trip and I was channeling that energy. But the thought started to dawn on me that day: there might be a life after Germany after all.

There will be more tales from that summer. Melissa certainly held down the fort in terms of correspondence. I don't know if it's of any value to me anymore but I still have a box of letters she sent me, and a journal she wrote during my trip. I guess I can't complain about having an utterly unambiguous awareness that someone was thinking of me, wanted me, and couldn't sleep at night while I was gone. Coming out of the depressing and alienating year preceding our new time together, that was like fresh air and sunshine in my dark cave. These days I can barely stand to look at the words within (out of some kind of embarrassment that someone's looking over my shoulder, even Matt), or even how they're presented to me in the pen of a 16 year old girl, but there's something so remarkably pure and innocent and renewing in the message. I suppose I could do as I have done with a number of other documents and artifacts of my life, that is to burn it all. The day might come. But maybe in the overall record that has many troubled parts to it, I deserve to maintain some counterbalancing evidence that I was worthy of someone's devotion, particularly at that age, and even if I didn't pork her.

You gotta start somewhere.

Saturday
Jun092012

Casa Kansas

Kansas street house just minutes before pulling away for the last time in May 2012

The previous post was a long way of saying I moved house. But it didn't do justice when it comes to saying what I left behind. The old house at 3967 Kansas Street was a place that deserves some words. It is the first place that Kelli and I lived in and actually liked and had no real reason to leave except that it was far from where our bread is buttered up in Escondido. It was the first place we did a ritual walkabout in the last days before leaving, honoring what the house meant to us for the two years and eight months we were there.

Here on the site, I just created a gallery that illustrates much of the really memorable stuff that made Casa Kansas special. Why not go see it. There are considerable notes to accompany the pictures, and you can view larger version in the lightbox mode. Just click.

Hiding in Public

For some years now, I've not reported on where I lived for some concern about my old man and his history of snooping us out and sometimes doing some unwelcome stuff. The last that happened was in the last days of our previous house on Nashville St. I had made the mistake of giving out the address there to someone in mutual contact, and I think that might have made it easy for him to pay us a visit, unbidden. 

But there is a lot of life that happens at one's house and it sucks to keep that from the official record. (I just happen to keep a publicly viewable record.) The fact is though, Casa Kansas was nearly more a community hangout than just "our house." Lots of people knew where it was because it was a hub of community life for us. In fact, I counted 70 people who graced us with their presence at our dinners, parties, or JEM related work including podcast recording sessions. And really, there's a feeling in me that begs to be honored with a public telling of the story of how life was so rich there.

Backstory

I found it in a different way than others of our houses. I was driving the neighborhood as a volunteer delivery driver for Special Delivery in September 2009. My eyes were open for places then because our old place on Nashville was in foreclosure and it seemed an unstable place, and I wasn't satisfied that our landlords could hold it together. One day while delivering to the apartment complex next door, I spotted the sign on this house and by late September had put the money down on it. It is in a richly varied part of town, with some of the most innovative and interesting restaurants, plenty of walkable streets with services and just as far from church as the previous house had been. About the only thing not to like was the commute home from work. I had just agreed to move to a place upon one of the great mesas in San Diego, from a place that was closer to sea level and at about the same elevation as where I worked. In 2009 though, that was a welcome challenge, seeing how that was my pinnacle of biking activity. After paying my deposit at Kansas, I went to the bike shop and got a new cog for my fixed gear bike, a lower gear for making the hill at Washington St. near work. I would do that hill at least five times a week for the coming year and more.

At $1500 rent, even as I signed up I felt queasy. Kelli was just freshly out of her hospital residency, so her stipend was no more. I was earning about $2400 take home then, sometimes less, to the tune of about $2200. I had no idea how we'd do it if she didn't get work in the coming months. It was kind of miraculous how we held it together. Casa Kansas left me feeling quite overextended. But it was a charming 3-bedroom in a charming, walkable neighborhood, and near work and church for me. Bikeable area that was also near Jubilee Economics Ministries office too. But this house was also the latest in a series of ever-rising rent rates that we faced. Rents at my old place on Quapaw were enviably low for me, at $150. The thought was not lost on me at Casa Kansas that our new rate was TEN TIMES that. Of course, Quapaw was an unusual deal even in the Kelli year (it went up to $450 then), but still...the margin it allowed to work or not work, to risk living a bit was nice. It just came at a steep emotional price. In between Quapaw and Kansas, there were more realistic rates that climbed each time we moved, for the most part: $775 at our first apartment; $600 up to $800 at the Calabrese Compound (the shift was when we lost one roommate and split the $1200 into thirds instead of quarters); $1200 for our share at Nashville, and now $1500 for the entire place at Kansas. It was dizzying. And worrying.

Thanksgiving dinner 2010 with the MHUCC young adults bunchThanksgiving 2010 with Young Adults group

Open House, Community Hub

Setting that aside for a bit, we opened our place up to friends from church and other circles. The young adults group at church was the first major bunch of new friends that came by for the Thanksgiving dinner about a month or so after we moved in. A few of them, Margie, Nichol, and Amanda, helped us move in a scramble when the Nashville house situation crumbled a bit faster than we planned. I got a box truck from work, and one buddy from there helped out too for a couple nights. The whole Kansas era was one defined by community life, and Kansas had the most open door so far.

The place had the charm that accompanies houses of its kind. A craftsman style place from 1922, it was pushing 90 years old when we got there. Stylish and useful built in cabinets and drawers, wood floors (mostly), a pretty big kitchen, and other features from days gone by were things that were functional and novel to tell people about. Being so centrally located was handy. Being in walking distance to a dozen quality restaurants was an easy hook to "come over to my place." It was in short distance to Balboa Park where the Critical Mass ride launches once a month (I rode it several times), and where three dog runs were available. The JEM office was just a mile away so it made it easy for Lee Van Ham to ride over and do podcasts and other media work. It wasn't far out of the way so I might have Kelli drop me off at church and then I'd just bum a ride back with someone going that way. We had Sunday dinners with spontaneous lists of folks. Kelli had a bible study series. Birthdays, New Years Day wine parties, and other events all happened there.

Backdrop for Life

Even aside from what actually happened onsite, the Kansas years were the backdrop for a great many developments for both of us and the communities we operate in: my male initiation and the trip to New Mexico a year later that was as important; we had time and will to do some regional travel to desert locations like Death Valley, Salton Sea, Joshua Tree, and other regional points; Kelli became a professional chaplain by getting not one but two hospice positions while there; she was ordained too; I was let go from my job but spent considerable time helping Jubilee Economics Ministries with all manner of digital tools; so too with the newly created Women Who Speak In Church, a way to help Kelli and Amanda network with other women in ministry, especially those getting into it; I briefly rehearsed some music with MHUCC players there and also made the most strides in a long time, trying to get back to making music with the help of the nearby store, New Expressions Music and a couple Meetup groups that introduced me to folk music and songwriter groups; Kelli's growing place in UCC at a national level, bringing her disability ministry concerns to a wider audience, and I suppose a lot more still.

Torelli fixed gear bike which has been my main ride since 2009My main ride as of July 2009

The Five Mile Radius

For those years, I found that I could live within about a five mile radius most of the time, and often just three or so. Church was at the far end of that three mile radius, but the Kansas era was largely shaped by the time at MHUCC. At times, it was like I rode grooves into the street along University Avenue. I liked riding to church but didn't really like the route I had to take. While there were a few alternatives, none was really any improvement upon just throwing in my lot with the rest of the madmen on the road and charging along the too-narrow stretch from Kansas to Park, and then into the vast sea of asphalt from Park to 10th, and then back into the smaller streets that get me to Washington, closer to church. When I worked at Specialty Produce, I rode nearly the same route, but without any detours off University or the part of Washington that drops off the mesa and down to Specialty. I sort of got tired from doing that commute since I'd ride the same path to church and work for about three miles, and on a busy week with five days of work and a few things happening at church, I suppose I could rack up nine trips along that road per week.

The Economics of Escondido Employment

The economic tide shifted toward Escondido though, particularly after a year and more of my being unemployed. Kelli got her job there as a per diem in early 2010 but it took until September 2011 before she got Amanda's vacated job as a full time chaplain at the same place. (This is in addition to her working back down in San Diego at another firm, also as per diem chaplain. She keeps busy.) The miles up to Escondido take their toll on the car and take time from both of us. Having seen Amanda move to north county for the same job just as we started off at Kansas, we knew it might just be a matter of time once she got the full time offer. The hospice down in San Diego though did make tentative offers at about the same time but never gave enough detail to really lock in to a position there, so then it became clear our fate was linked to Escondido. But how long would it last, commuting those 30-45 minutes each way? The math says that to do that for 48 weeks a year, it would be about 13,000 miles. That's a lot of gas, and mostly a lot of time on the road that isn't spent living together. And sometimes even after all that, Kelli might need to come home and chart the day's visits. Or she might need to work a few nights per month at the local hospice, or even two Saturdays. That was just too much. Buying the car in April forced us to evaluate where exactly that money would come from. Fortunately the car payment could be offset with a reduction in the gasoline bill from moving house, this time to a place that for the first time was actually less expensive than the one before.

Amanda, just a short while after getting the green light to become ordained. She was camping out at Kansas for the weekend before we moved.

The State of the State Street

Kansas was more than just a house. It had spirit. It was a venue for a lot of growth for both of us. It was a hub of activity that is not insignificant. It's impossible to know the trajectory of influence. Who knows what one of our JEM podcasts will become when the ideas therein are scattered about in the minds of people who saw the economics of life one way and then the JEM way? Who will hear those words and change the world? Same with the prospects yet to be evident from both Kelli and Amanda launching their professional careers with the help of this house. Who knows what they shall do in the realm of disability inclusion or therapy for those abused within church settings? Or for the young women who are yet to enter ministry? So many areas of promise met and mingled at this house for just shy of three years. It was vibrant there in a way that no other residence but for a short while at Quapaw was. I never learned this stuff from my home life, except maybe seeing it from a bit of a distance of age when my grandmother was more socially engaged when I was a boy.

We're not in Kansas anymore, Buber

Kelli and I did a walkabout during the one day we had to cooperatively work on cleaning the place out upon moving. I did much of the work myself, but on one evening we toured the rooms and paused to reflect on what the place meant to us. To be glad for all the friends and experiences that made the place special. It was quite moving. All told, I was there cleaning the place for six days and nights so I got a chance to let my mind wander and to be ready for that moment. 

I wonder what other stories that house has to tell, if just a couple years there was so rich for us?

Friday
Jun082012

Beautiful Hidden Valley

In spring 2010, Kelli got a part time at a hospice agency in San Diego's north county. She worked there as a per diem chaplain for over a year. She had another job that overlapped it for a while. And then she got another per diem chaplain position at a hospice in urban San Diego. Juggling the two per diem schedules was unruly. Finally, in summer 2011 she got a full time spot at the first one, despite what appeared to be a kind of unwitting bidding war for her. Both places had full time spots turn available, and it was an interesting time waiting to see which would settle down first. What was at stake was that we realized for her to work in north county, we'd see less of each other as she spent time in commuting, and with a job that required her to drive a lot even while in north county, she'd be at the wheel seemingly all the time.

Kelli's spiffy new Mazda 3, all sporty and red, just before we went off the lot with it.

The Car

In April we paid a visit to a Mazda dealership up there and ended up getting Kelli a newish car. It's the first of its sort she has ever had. Late model, valid warrantee, nice features, sporty, in good condition. On April 20, we came home with the new car. It was the first time I'd had that experience since I got my truck from a dealer in 1996. About the same time as the car purchase, Kelli was keen to drive me around in some of the areas where she works, up in the rural reaches of the north county. A pleasure drive turned into checking out some rental houses in the next couple weeks.

buber dog slumped over the recliner chair looking all lost and wistfulWe're not in Kansas anymore, Buber

Kelli's Work

And then checking those houses out gave us the clarity we needed: living over 30 miles from her office was taking time from us. Spotty dinner times because the work day finishes just "whenever" and then she'd have an hour or more of charting to do. Tired Kelli, especially if she went to exercise at the YMCA or picked up some groceries after work. We couldn't always walk Buber Dog together. Evening activities at church? Hit or miss, at least doing them together. Once every couple months or so, she has a one week period of being on call. It pays whether she's called or not, but there were times when she came all the way home at quitting time for her regular day's work, only to be called back. And on some occasions, she was pulled back again like a yo-yo. Weeks like that were brutal. Fortunately they were rare. Some on-call weeks had no calls at all.

And that's just her full time job. The other requires four shifts a month, and the way Kelli's broken it up is to do two weeknights and two Saturdays a month. On top of all that, she's also a board member on a national board of disability ministry for our denomination, the UCC. That takes some meeting time and other work. And even more so, all this is not particularly the stuff she got into ministry to do: be a pastor at a church. That process has borne no fruit so far, so as time has passed, the realization is that Kelli right now has many chaplaincy opportunities that actually pay well enough to juggle the rent, car, and most critically, the student loan payments that are just bruising each month. Okay fine, but the time suck of the commute was something that made things rougher than they needed to be.

The Economics of Escondido Employment

Calculations revealed that to move near her primary job would cut out about 13,000 miles/year JUST on her five day week commute. That turns into some real money when looking at the gasoline bill. Not pushing the new car that hard would stretch its lifespan appreciably. But by far, the option for a better quality of life not spent on the road (even in the new car with Bluetooth and all sorts of creature comforts) was more compelling. So we found a place in Escondido pretty close to work. Her mileage compensation kicks in after the distance from home to office is surpassed. You can imagine that cutting that to two miles or so is more attractive than driving 30 miles or so. That means that nearly all her work day behind the wheel is on the company dime. And moreso, some of the work that she'd go to an office to do can be done at home, so her work day is partially spent here now in our new house. Phone calls, charting, prepping other notes and planning for presentations to the others in her office... all that can be done here.

Roses, citrus trees and a white picket fence. Cute.Our new pad with roses and white picket fence. Awww...

Home Sweet Home...again

Where is here? Here is a cute little late 40s/early 50s house with our first white picket fence and rose bushes in the front yard. It's a tad smaller than the one we had in North Park, and after that place, we miss the built in features like cabinets, book shelves, and so on. While it's an older house, it's not 90 years old like in North Park. It's old enough to have real hardwood floors (a bit abused but recently refinished and glassy smooth) but new enough to have a number of remodeled features like brand new windows, kitchen cabinets, bathroom features, pretty new and complete set of appliances. The microwave is the first one I've had in my kitchen since early 2007 when our old one died and we didn't replace it and took to living without regular access to such a device, but having some access while we lived with Suzanne, where she had a microwave in her granny flat. The presence of a dishwasher is officially the first time I've either had one, or more specifically, one that works. The one at the Calabrese Compound didn't work and that was just fine with me. I am perfectly content to wash dishes the old fashioned way. The only other place that may have had one was my old apartment on Mt. Ada in 1997, and I don't recall that being the case.

We live across from an industrial part of town, so there's trucks and ugly buildings across the road from our door. Industry across the street makes for a loud environment most days.

The problem with here being here is that here is also in a neighborhood that borders an industrial part of town, and with big trucks literally outside my front window, it's noisy. The area is nearly entirely Latino and while that isn't the problem, all the folks like to play music that I don't particularly know or like, and my neighbor, one of those junkyard kinds of guys who works on cars, has the radio on while he works, blasting it with the mile-a-minute announcements and commerciales en Espanol. I guess I could have spent some more time sussing the place out. The matter of noise is one thing for general livability but I also have on my mind what it might mean when I want to record. Only today did I record a bit of test material to see what I am in for. The double pane windows help.

My landlord saw that on the rental application I answered a certain question about risky property with "guitar, bass, drums." I was tentative about it but he okayed us anyway and said "that's cool, just keep the guy in the back cottage in the loop and respect him." With all the noise in the area, it might be justifiable to set up the drums and play in the house. That's something I did a small bit of at North Park but for which I was very self conscious. It's really been since the Calabrese Compound days of 2006 that I've played drums in a full-tilt way. And the last I've played actually inside the house was in Quapaw at the short lived post-demolition Hog Heaven. My room here now has just enough space to set up some drums and perhaps other stuff.

Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow

We certainly didn't do this move for social reasons. In that regard it barely makes an ounce of sense. In fact, not only is it a step backwards, it's a leap backwards when you consider that in North Park we were in a highly walkable area that was in reach of everything. Church was bikeable; Lee of JEM came by on his bike to do podcasts and guests were constantly flowing in and out of the place; the music store down the road was the meeting place for two groups I was starting to get involved with; restaurants were plentiful and of great quality. Yep, Escondido has some big shoes to fill. The mileage now is +30 miles to just about anywhere. Church is a few miles more. We might not get down there weekly.

The larger picture, aside from the obvious economic case for moving, is one of feeling like I needed to repent a bit for Kelli's benefit. The last time it made a lot of sense to act according to what she was doing, I was not ready. I'm talking of course back in 2005 when we got evicted (this same day seven years ago, essentially) and when it might have been a good idea to pull up and get to Claremont, CA where her school was. I was scared shitless during that period and found a job here. It was also important since my/our therapists were here, family friends, church friends, and all that. It would have been too jarring to move that far out during that traumatic period. But I've always known that would have been a better thing to do since Kelli's progress has the power to be the economic backbone of things. So this time around, after the years of living with her gone part time, and then even after getting her back after all that preparation time, losing her to business-as-usual, it seemed time to relocate so we can get her off the I-15 (the road she cut tracks into from her seminary commuting schedule for seven semesters).

Shaking the Dirt Loose?

There's a part of me that wonders if, in one of those odd universal, fateful ways, this move is bigger than just the move to Escondido. Does it somehow register in a bigger way than just picking up and going up the road some thirty miles? Does it get me out of my comfort zone? I've felt for a long time that staying in San Diego is a sign of laziness or something else. It's a nice enough town, but I've sidelined other calls for adventure outside my little region. I've been aware for some years now that I never lived outside a ten mile radius from where I was born (at Sharp Hospital in Kearny Mesa). In fact, the measurements I took from Sharp to each house I've been in has made that claim even narrower. When measured directly as the crow flies, the previous peak distance was 7.65 miles out to Robin's house where I stayed for a couple months in 1996. But I never changed my postal address, so that's more of a technicality. Of the places I've actually had my mail sent to, the greatest distance was at the Calabrese Compound, at just under five miles (as the crow flies). All the others settled in a bit less than that. Now it's about 22 miles, or more like 30 by the roads. It doesn't seem like much, but this is the first time I've lived outside San Diego. We'll see what opportunity presents itself now that I've had the dirt shaken off my roots.

I have been upstepping my job search, perhaps aided by at least the firmness of the knowledge of what town I'll be in. For a while there it was hard to look at ads for jobs and have in the back of my mind that I could get a job and realize that it would still be better for Kelli to be spared the drive, and that maybe I'd have to look for work again in a new place. There's a show production company that might want to get me on their roster, and if I get paid at a decent rate for doing some mixing jobs, that might not be too bad, and not particularly a routine punch-the-clock place. I still have my reservations about that kind of work, but after all this time, it would be nice to actually get any income. But I did one show with this company and it went over quite well, which is in contrast to the experiences that mostly led me to walk away from that industry nearly ten years ago.

And then I wonder if now that we've made such a step that it's time for Kelli to get a break. She submitted her UCC pastoral candidate profile to 30 more churches nationwide. If she were to get a church, the unfortunate fact is that most of the pastoral positions so far have been seen to be a reduction in pay, and some appreciable amount like 20-40%. Since hospice is funded by Medicare and UCC churches by individuals in a community who rise and fall with the economy, one will be less stable, or be drawing from a smaller pool of funds in the first place. So it's a mixed feeling, looking forward to getting a church but knowing that it might not hold things together even as well as they are going now. Still, the move felt right and maybe somehow the universe will take notice that we're ready to do something different.

There's something that says to me that Kelli and I should figure out whatever big plan in life we might have and use this breakthrough moment to act on things we've sidelined while occupied with the usual life in our comfort zone, our home town of San Diego. She's got a rising star in UCC disability ministry work, and I've been urging her to develop a personal web site that casts her as an expert in the field worthy of consultant work, speaking, etc. It would be a way to work together.

So farewell for now to San Diego. The training wheels are coming off at last.

Thursday
Jun072012

Proto-Blogging at TAPKAE.com +10

While my monthly archive might reflect a longer history than what I am about to write about here, the real beginning of this blog was on June 7th, 2002—still in the days before the actual blog technology existed (for me anyway). A small few entries have been added into the chronology to tell a story. Since I am just telling my own story anyway, they serve to fill in the historical record and it doesn't really matter if I play fast and loose with the entry dates, posting things into their proper place after the fact.

In the days before I discovered B2 blogger and later on, Wordpress, or still later on, Squarespace (which I now use as of 2011), there was no word "blogging." I just made a new HTML entry on the index page, and when it came time for a new one, I copied that entry over to the "archive" page and entered another on the index page. It was a bit lame but without a dynamic, PHP/database-driven site it was all I had. I didn't do it long enough to really get ridiculous. I've seen some sites that kept on that way and had to create archive pages that each carried oh, several months or a year's worth of entries, and then on to a new archive page. Only about two years of monthly posts accumulated that way and it wasn't too hard to manage the entries prior to discovering "real" blogging. I then started bringing stuff into the new formats in 2004 when my new hosting plan at Startlogic included something called B2 Blogger as part of the package. If I recall right, Startlogic offered a whopping 1 GB of space which dwarfed the 100 mb that my prior host Mavweb offered. I suppose Mavweb was state of the art a few years before when Mike Thaxton selected it and got me started in 2001.

But aside from all that, this blog got fired up in earnest on this day ten years ago. In many ways it was a simpler time and I didn't have all that much on my mind. Only a couple months before I had finished my year of school at Art Institute of California, so I was anticipating becoming a brilliant and high paid web designer (ahem!). Strike that. I was trying to get a couple crappy web design gigs with friends or friends of friends, and hoping my still-novice skills were up to the task if anything but pretty basic Dreamweaver-assisted HTML sites were needed. (Rockola's Mark Decerbo was one of the first to ever take me up on my work. Surprisingly, his site is still up, though a bit outdated as of 2007.) AIC turned out to be a rather disappointing place with regard to the proportioning of the subjects relative to the goal of a web design certificate program. The entirety of the web design courses included summaries of the Macromedia suite within 12 weeks. The other 36 weeks were broken into three 12 week blocks of Photoshop, Illustrator, and a CD-ROM production that included Macromedia Director and Adobe Premier primarily. But the web stuff was but one quarter of it all, and seemingly an afterthought. And above all, it was just a "design" emphasis. Never really learned coding there, and never anything with any real functionality. I recall being a bit miffed that I never was really showed stuff like Javascript or how to build CGI email forms and other stuff that really was, well... useful.

Getting out of school put me back into an unstructured world after a year. It had been a year of change, and not just because of schooling. In that one year from the start of April 2001 to that time a year later, my grandmother had died; I was in solo therapy for several months into the fall of 2001 in response to the family crisis around my older sister's big revelations earlier in 2001; I had entered kicking and screaming into the new age following my grandmother's death because my old man took over the house I lived in already for three years and ordered that I get two roommates; I got my first computer as just one way of blowing the inheritance I got (the rest was blown with an even larger display of gear acquisition for the studio); the notorious terrorist attacks of 9/11 happened and changed the work prospects for my industry of event audio; I finally finished Receiving; Kelli and I had gotten together during the winter and she had her car accident not long later; I was playing bass for a few months in an exciting trio with Dom Piscopo and Whit Harrington, and sometimes with the mighty Todd Larowe (listen: All Things Frippy and Return to Zero). Oh, those are the high points. Or low points. But in the midst of all that, I got the first drafts of TAPKAE.com done and then finally cut the first settled version loose on the world in May or June, and the first "blog" was posted. It is relatively brief because I had not yet embraced the long, detailed, and boring voice I have since attained here!

Rebecca Vaughan of Loaf, with Matt Zuniga's handiwork in the backgroundIt was around that time when I found that Hog Heaven Studio was bursting at the seams. The crazy influx of new gear during the summer before saw to that. With my grandmother gone, I took over the two rooms she called her own, clearing them out and painting them for the first time in perhaps all the years she and my grandfather had been there. One room was a bedroom with a bathroom attached, and the remodeling of that was one of the projects that was alluded to in the first blog. The other room, a rather generous 15'x17' space, was the room immediately adjacent Hog Heaven Studio. Together, they were two spaces carved from what was once a garage. Hog Heaven extended the garage street side wall some 6' more and so was split down the middle by a space that was on the flat part of the garage, and also on the sloped part of the driveway. Inside, I had leveled the floor but the beam through the middle indicated the old garage face. In the great room, I set up my living quarters in 2001 after the new rental arrangement was established. I got the entire wing of the house to do as I wanted, so I cut a mouse hole from Hog Heaven into the great room and went about using the band Loaf as my guinea pigs to try out the studio options that would result. I did two sessions spaced out by a year or so, but that first session with the whole band, I had the bass and drums in the studio with me (an odd thing that later was resolved with moving the control room into the great room later in the year), and then I used the great room for the guitars, keys, and Rebecca's lead vocal and percussion. I used upturned love seats and mattresses to provide guitar amp baffles. The Roland VS-2480, my then-new recorder, able to capture 16 inputs at once with no compromise, was relatively mind blowing after years of using the VS-880 and the four inputs it provided. At any rate, the new opportunities for using up to three rooms to record in was exciting. It was a whole new age for Hog Heaven Studio.

Kelli, later on in 2002One thing that is conspicuously absent from the site for some time (even into 2003) is any mention of Kelli and the fact we'd entered into a new relationship at the start of 2002. By the time we did that, we'd known each other for over 11 years anyway. I recall much of 2002 was a time when it felt like I was floating, particularly in that new relationship. However, it wasn't a feeling of being totally lovestruck. It's hard to say what it was, but perhaps because Kelli's presence put to an end the five year dry spell that preceded this new era, or perhaps that Kelli and I were old friends in a new role that seemed too good to be true and could have dissolved, or perhaps that her presence also brought with it a new feeling that I should get to church and start the process of grounding myself in something different than the years before. Hard to say. I didn't want to try to capture lightning in a bottle by writing about it. Kelli was talked around on the blog, usually mentioning "my girlfriend" during 2002-2003. If her name is in the entries from that period, it's because I redacted those entries to right that wrong in 2011.

I'm glad I have these few entries from 2002 because there is precious little digital evidence of my life from that first year or so of computer ownership. I had some problems with my data going off to digital heaven, particularly so with the folder that contained my Microsoft Entourage data. In one shot in the late summer of 2002, I erased about a year of my life's notes, calendar dates, emails. Bad move. Worse yet, I had not kept a parallel record in a paper calendar like I had for all years prior. So there's a big blackout during that period. And maybe things are as they are supposed to be, even with that giant flub. The period was one of transition at a deep level. Losing data was perhaps part of the exercise of getting lost in more ways than one, this time a way of losing control over things. And, since I have tended to be a keen historian and curator of my own life, a lesson might be gleaned that to overmanage things is of no use.

 

Thursday
May032012

Rhythmic Catharsis +20

I knew it. I knew 1992 would be a year demanding a quasi-nostalgic look. It was the first full calendar year after high school so it was certainly going to be a time of change and new insight and adventure. I guess it was that, but the story I am about to tell isn't nearly so captivating. It's about aimless young men biding their time in suburbia with the help of a drumset.

18 year old Ed with drums on a new homemade rack system. The shells are mismatched because two were add ons from another kit.My kit in transition before the refinishing, but after the add on toms were brought in. May 1992.

Tales from recent months have chronicled the exile from home once my drums and love for pounding the skins proved to be unwelcome. Enough of that story has been told by now and you just need to skim back to about November 2011 to get on track with those stories. Today's is a related development because it started a new concept in my creative history. I don't want to oversell the idea, but it did make a break point where things went on in a new way and in such a way that shaped a lot of history to come.

Drum set at the bridge. Seems lonely but there's a road just beyond a chainlink fence that provides a boundary so stalkers won't get to us and leave us for dead.At our favorite bridge in Mission Valley, spring 1992.

When Matt and I were out in the parking lots, parking tunnels, and wherever else we could take the drums and do guerilla percussive pounding, we didn't really have any plan but to go blow off steam and have nothing but a few hours to waste in our time away from Subway. After the middle of April 1992, I was on permanent time off from the Subway where we met. All I had going then was a semester of school that was coming to its end, and little else but a raging anticipation of my trip to Germany coming up in July and August.

May 3, 1992

I don't suppose May 3rd was any different from what we did on other such occasions down in Mission Valley. Matt played his takes on whatever metal and hardcore stuff he could emulate and I did my usual takes on Rush or whatever else I was doing then. Matt was probably banging on whatever else I brought along, probably not much more than a cowbell or three, or he was thumping on parts of the kit while I played. He might have been honking the car horn too. And he was probably screaming some really odd shit. I have since parted with the recording from that day. But my calendar shows that it was on that day when the name "Rhythmic Catharsis" was first used. Before the advent of digital editing and multitrack recording that, taken together, can make projects go on for weeks, months, years, it was good enough to slap a cassette (it's a form of recording media, for you young'uns out there!, and not a very good one) into the recorder, set it up, and play back the recording. In those early days almost everything was a kick to listen back to—even randomly implemented double drumming and screaming and smacking of found items in an underground concrete cave under a freeway!

The pen and pencil drawn cover of the third DWA recording, featuring the screaming, pounding stick figures at their respective percussive stations.The cover of DWA's third tape, Rhythmic Catharsis.

Because of the new indignity of having been fired from Subway weeks earlier and having had a restraining order put on me and the looming appearance in court to make an already-doomed attempt at defending against it, I guess that day was channeling even more youthful energy and rage. Something sparked in me to call it rhythmic catharsis. Once a tape is recorded, that's the end of the deal, so to call it a project, I gathered a few other bits that had accumulated in the few outings prior to that, and I made a sleeve using a word processing typewriter to type titles and other notes on the card that served as the album cover. I then drew a couple stick figures with super exaggerated gestures at a drumset and stand with a few cowbells, each screaming out. And so it was, Rhythmic Catharsis.

The thing is, that was just the "album" title. I was still referring to us as the name we adopted a couple months before, Drummers With Attitudes (DWA). In the first of two instances of an album title becoming the identity of the performer(s), this launched us as Rhythmic Catharsis. (The other time was in 1996 when I launched The Artist Presently Known As Ed with a tape I released that summer and later adopted the moniker as my persona. Obviously, sixteen years later, it's done well for me.)

Meta-Catharsis

Rhythmic Catharsis, the third tape from DWA, was really no different from the ones before it or the one after it, which was probably worse, if that is possible! But the new name gave me a bit of an excuse to play around with new ideas that included words that made some crude attempt at direction and phrasing. The song genie was let out with the rather crude and cynical Roly Poly Porky Boys tribute to my ex-bosses and their family.

Matt at the drums inside the warehouse we pirated. It has a bunch of random construction junk in it. Matt inside the warehouse we pirated a couple times that month of June 1992.

At the same time in the late May, I launched into a project of taking my Pearl Export knockoff drum kit completely apart down to wood shells and refinishing the now seven-piece kit with new pearloid wrap (from the very same material as used to adorn classic kits in the 60s, provided by some old codger named A.F. Blaemire who once made kits for Hal Blaine and others). The bearing edges were manually filed to a sharper edge using primitive means and the interior of the shells were smoothed out with repeated applications of wood filler, primer, and gloss black paint until they projected like cannons. The whole kit was also augmented with a custom rack my old man made for me. It looked and felt like new. It was like a rocketship, and far beyond what most Pearl Export kits ever looked or sounded like. I was beaming.

The Rhythmic Catharsette

With a new name, a new drum kit, a new approach to thinking about what we were doing, and stupidly much time on my hands, and moreso, fighting back depression, the next new thing was going to happen just before I headed out to Germany in July. You wanna know where the origins of TAPKAE.com reside? This whole chatty approach to the minutiae of my career as an artist like person really owes itself to a two issue fanzine from 1992 called The Rhythmic Catharsette. (It was actually a bit more newsletter like, taking up four sides of 8.5 x 11.) In the Catharsette, I detailed all this stuff in sickening detail. Since I had been on the school newspaper for one year, I had just enough knowledge to lay out the three columns of typed and printed copy, leaving space for images, and doing a few other bits to pretend it was a newspaper. It even had a masthead drawn by Matt, in one of his unusually cooperative moments. Of course it was done his way, and indicated another set of figures, this time one was playing drums upon the other's head. In the Catharsette, a fun little playground for my imagination, I turned our jams out in parking lots, warehouses, and even a trip to the local canyon/nature preserve into our "gigs" or even our "tour" and wrote reviews of those dates. In one weekend, we did four such stops and recorded much of it. Other Catharsette features included a survey question and "fan mail," preceded by the terms for publication of such missives:

Rhythmic Catharsette welcomes your letters. Please keep them brief, legible, interesting enough to want to be read, and polite, addressing us as "Sirs." Letters may be edited, censored, or banned at our discretion and we reserve and observe no rights so take your own risks.

A piece of fictional fan mail came was borrowed in form and narrative from the comedian Yakov Smirnoff. The bit about the radio being destroyed has to do with Matt carelessly placing my boombox recorder upon the car before we left home one day to go jam somewhere:

Dear Sirs: God bless you for the beautiful radio I won at the homeless persons' bridge on your last tour date here. I am 43 years old, homelss for 3 years and it's nice to know that there are people like you who came about the homeless. Bless you for your kindness to some forgotten homeless people under a bridge. One of the men I live near is 73 years old and always had his own radio but never let me use it. The other day he radio dropped into the river and washed away. It was awful and he asked me if he could use mine, and I said eat shit and die.

We were sufficiently cocky like young men tend to be, at least for the sake of shameless self promotion in a rag that hardly anyone would see anyway:

Rhythmic Catharsis, Inc., originally Drummers With Attitudes. Now we're San Diego's newest, hottest, coolest, baddest, loudest drum duo. Reservations or not, we can turn your residential or commercial are into a sonic dumping ground in minutes! So give us a call and we'll be there. Or don't call us, and we'll be there anyway. Our Motto: "No Rights Reserved or Observed."

Our respective drumming influences were named in groups that were supposed to number ten:

Matthew's gods:

Stewart Copeland; Dave Lombardo; Pete Sandoval; Ian Paice; Lars Ulrich; Chuck Biscuits; Mick Harris; Bill Ward; Nicko McBrain; Neil Peart.

Ed gods:

Mike Bedard (I forgot this was here); Mark Brzezicki; Larry Mullen; Tim Alexander; Manu Katche; the drummers of Dire Straits (Pick Withers, Terry Williams; Jeff Porcaro; Manu Katche); Stewart Copeland; the drummers of Jethro Tull (Doane Perry, Barriemore Barlow; Gerry Conway, et. al.); Neil Peart; Neil Peart (sic).

(You might see the common denominator. Sometimes I wonder if Neil Peart was all that held me and Pig together. There hasn't been much between us since NP started to lose it.)

The subscription information informed the reader of the terms:

Subscription Information: $100 for four issues, or $75 for two issues. Please send your request for a subscription with check or cash and the following: An essay of 500 words or less why you wish to join our fan club and receive our fanzine. Or write an essay telling how you feel on the topic of writing essays for people who don't really care about reading them. Or maybe I'll just send the next copy to you. How would that be? Easier on me.

Ed and Matt crouched at the front of the drums, new and glimmering with their slick shell wrap and the stainless steel rack.Matt and me with the just-completed reconditioned kit, just outside the door of the same warehouse. I wonder if we had yet tried the door to find we could actually get in and set up out of the sun?

And that's what I have on the page that's available to me right now. Later on in 1992, I wrote and mailed another complete issue of the Catharsette, but not because of high demand. In the early summer 1993 I typed out most of a third issue but shelved it. This Rhythmic Catharsis thing ended up being the first "band" I was in. It was far from mutual, but it did give me the chance to think in terms of doing songs, recording them somehow and then publishing. In the second half of 1992, after I returned from Germany, I pushed it farther along into song territory with some songs that had a bit more staying power, including one written in Germany, Is God Trying to Make Me a Smoker? (this recording is from 1999 with Todd Larowe on guitar and me on everything else, but the drums and basic vocal are about the same as Matt and I would have done), even though things were still really juvenile, the charm of just jamming with no particular focus began to fade when it made better sense to show up with some lyrics and hope that chaos would self organize into something decent on tape.

I never liked punk music. Still don't. But you have to admit that Rhythmic Catharsis was punk in its own way. Matt was closer to that more rebellious strain of music than ever was. I was into progressive rock and things that I had discovered along the way: Dire Straits' laid back country/folk rock, Fairport Convention's folk rock; Sting's fusion of world music and pop. My ambitions were always to make more refined music than I ever saw in the punk world. I just didn't have the knowledge or the ear or much of anything else. Always wanting to play stuff like Jethro Tull or Rush, I talked my way out of a lot of potential band options at a young age. So I got Matt. We put that drumset to some use though and in a way had fun pretending. I did, anyway. It was always my project. Matt was sometimes more clear about it. He was sort of embarassed because of the words I put before him. He brought some things but they were... too punk or hardcore or something. So part of our "sound" was really Matt acting out in rebellion against ME! I swear he threw me a few bones but then pissed all over the rest of what I was trying to accomplish. We never played real gigs though I did actually book a couple. He flaked out.

The drums a year later with a square tubing rack that was better proportioned for the job. This was the aesthetic peak of this drum kit.About a year later in 1993 I shed the homemade rack and bought the far nicer Pearl Jeff Porcaro rack. The drumhead featured a hand painted logo upon it. We had arrived. We broke up two months later.

As he showed his true colors in 1993, I found myself drawn to more legit musicking and away from him. By the time the book closed on Rhythmic Catharsis in August 1993, I had developed a sense of being accountable to recordings and a process that went beyond just the one take stuff. It was crude, crude, crude both in technology and implementation, but it was a start. I found in the course of the year following RC's demise that I had no drum style that would apply to anything of a real musical context. All that time wailing was one way to make "music" when playing solo drums and aspiring to be both a progressive rock drummer (known for being more complex) and to also be the sole instrumentalist in a duo. It's hardly conducive to developing a musical ear and technique. So that was what I had to learn while in the subsequent groups in 1993-94. But that is all a story yet to be told here.

Some heirs to the Rhythmic Catharsis material are still around in my more elaborate recordings done in the late 90s, a tribute to that stuff and a chance to make better versions of things that I thought had some promise if Matt's distractions were gone, and if I had some more musical sense. Taken as a bunch, the recordings that constitute my unreleased-but-nearly complete project, ReCyclED, represent my first attempts at making music in the crudest possible fashion, but in their present form, a number of the old tracks were done with a rather delightful array of cameos from local players on the working circuit. It's an odd mashup but there are some witty tracks done in that fashion.

As much as I've had a music career, I have to own my humble roots with DWA/RC.

Back in 1992 at the kit in a parking lot of a place we played. In the midst of office buildings, light industry, etc.December 1992, about the time of the second Rhythmic Catharsette, and just before the first crude attempts at "multitrack" recording. It was actually sound+sound recording, but it was what really launched my musical approach as a recording artist.

Tuesday
Apr242012

TAPKAE dot com at Ten

Ten years ago, sometime in the late winter/spring, the first complete incarnation of TAPKAE.com went up. Click the link there and you can see a fairly early version, courtesy of the Internet Wayback Machine. (Once at the view of the old TAPKAE.com you can click forward in time to see incremental captures of the site as it has evolved, though there are a few versions that don't appear.)

Picking a domain name was never a point of debate or hand-wringing. What else would have made sense for me in 2001-02 when I was thoroughly embracing my moniker, The Artist Presently Known As Ed? Of course, that is a bit of a drain on memory resources for people (and a bitch to type out), so the shorter form, TAPKAE, was a brilliant and available alternative in just six letters. In those days, the .com top level domain was still quite open, and even today, there aren't many TAPKAEs out there, at least in the English speaking world. Mike Thaxton ("Thax"), a major supporter of my movement into the web, reserved the domain name and got me a hosting plan (100 mb!) that lasted from mid 2001 until early 2004 when I really took the reins and tried new stuff.

I was drawn to all this web stuff because of the value it offered to a self produced recording artist such as I was then. As a guy who employed the studio space to capture various instruments and to record things from start to finish, the chance to craft a whole digital presence was alluring. The notion of standardizing what songs were presented in high quality audio was a major lure; this was the promise of not needing to have to dub a cassette or burn a CD and then shove it into a package. There was a cool distance from all that. Putting a bunch of material out for all to hear seemed a great equalizing device when talking up my tunes and asking people to hear them.

HTML Dark Ages

I went to the Art Institute of California during the year from April 2001—April 2002. TAPKAE.com was developed with the help of things I was learning there. It was actually my second HTML website, the first being a project that focused on the eccentric composer Erik Satie. TAPKAE.com was developed in nearly the same way with some additional bits: javascript menu, pop up windows for detailed pages, and a shopping cart system that cost me more than I ever made in sales. This TAPKAE 1.0 version was pretty complex for a first time out. Totally self indulgent. The menu structure was using drop menus with a couple levels to them. My bio was split over three pages—pretty crazy stuff, and it was only my music related profile. An attempt at an image gallery was arduous.

Without CSS, HTML had therefore not evolved into the rather lean language it is now. Without CSS, the thing was a bear to visually inspect and keep styled consistently. All those bolds? All those italics? One by one, page by page. Without the database-driven active pages we have now in most platforms, each page had to be copied to provide the basis for another, or I'd have to use a template (I never did). It was arduous trying to keep it all together. Deciding to change a header style would be an absurd amount of work, even in Dreamweaver—mainly because I didn't use the site caching for years to come.

In 2002, who really knew what social media was? Mp3.com was one site I used that was starting something a bit like Myspace became. Even the word blog seems to have not been on my ears then. Web 2.0? RSS? Podcast? The Cloud? Facebook? Wordpress? Stuff we take for granted now wasn't around then.

The first time I can think of when I knew I was looking at a blog was in late 2003 or early 2004. It provided me the clarity to know that the days of manually updating HTML and moving front page journal entries to "archive" pages was a hopelessly unnecessary act. Somehow I went in search of new hosting solutions and happened upon Startlogic, which I remained on from early 2004 until early 2011. And BAM! there was the B2 blogger platform ready to install. For a while in 2004-2006, the blog was a separate component that was not integrated into the site. And so it was that I had to essentially style the two separate entities so they looks enough alike.

But what the hell was this .php shit? And how in the world was I supposed to edit things when I could not see the whole page at once? Why were these blog sites so damned complex? I guess it took me a while to learn the part about how sites were leaving plain ol' HTML behind in favor of detailed and consistent styles with databases providing the content. My paltry education at Art Institute was made seemingly more so with the advent of all this new blogging technology. I was in over my head. But blogging was cool because it took care of the old entries.

The thing is, I came into this as a guy with some stories to tell, not as someone out to make money and to connect with other blogs. At various times, I disabled pingbacks, trackbacks, comments, and other things. I just wanted to put my stuff up, and all those extras just got in the way. Meanwhile, I heard about people blogging to make money. Journalists blogging to tell their version of the truth, sans editorial review. The rules had not solidified.

B2 & Wordpress: 2004-2010

After discovering B2, I tried out various other blogging platforms but remained on B2 for a while, and eventually in 2006 landed with Wordpress. And then I decided that Wordpress was mature enough in the late summer of 2006 that I found I could make my entire site within the Wordpress environment. But I always had my problems with Wordpress even though for a number of years it was the tidiest platform of all. While the Wordpress era was structurally more solid, the visual aspect was more limited since I didn't then know how to do a local testing server, so to change the graphic or other CSS related details, I painstakingly edited one thing at a time and resaved and uploaded. I got off Wordpress before I ever did a Dreamweaver local site to test and edit upon. The Wordpress years were a time when the major component was the blog itself, during a period of a lot of transformation.

In some way though, turning off all the social options at the blog gave me a needed period to let the TAPKAE online identity reform under new values. In the early days, I sabotaged things with certain newsgroups and music/recording related forums. The stuff is still out there for the looking, but there is now more stuff that bears my name and more of it is worthy material.

In 2010, after slipping away from publishing much to the web but for blog posts and pages, I found myself drawn toward helping Jubilee Economics Ministries, a small non profit that was in need of new methods to move their message. I had proposed podcasting, not even knowing much about the medium, and then to support that, I found it necessary to reacquaint myself with some things and to plunge into many others. What started as a podcast became a new website for JEM (using Squarespace, which I had just learned about as I was starting to actually learn Wordpress for JEM), and the typical social media accounts, and then organizational things like Google Apps and Mailchimp... It was all exasperating to me, and even more so to the others, who, being folks my parents' age, were blindsided by all the changeup, but grateful since they never would have unpacked it all.

Certainly I can't deny that several years of publishing to the web was handy, but as I have spent a couple years now with JEM and an ever-unfolding map of possibilities, I have read a lot of material about best practices for blogging, search engine optimization, social media, and all that. And sometimes it makes me feel pretty low. In some ways, I seem to have gotten it all wrong. I know that's a bit much to take on and that I'll never master the stuff.

The mind that generated this site probably does not connect with all but about four people out there in web land. My stats are shit at this site. Who but a few friends and curious onlookers are interested in this story? (Craig Z.?) Certainly this is just a labor of love, and a way to keep from seeing my own handwriting! My methods and approaches, a more-is-more kind of expression, is so counter to the prevailing winds of web publishing where blogging is supposed to be pithy and succinct. It's supposed to be nearly mathematically derived to squeeze every ounce of SEO value it can. No long paragraphs. Lists are always winners. Connect with readers and give them a reason to come back. Incentivize. Laser focus on a topic. In 2004, it was the wild west in blogging. I guess I wandered down one dirt road, maybe into a box canyon, while others built a freeway system.

The Squarespace Era: 2010-present

I pay for web hosting with Squarespace now that I moved this site over some months after finding I liked it for JEM. The rate was $240 for the first year, and thanks to a rate change, it's $180 now. It has allowed me a chance to be more visually creative than anything I did in the Wordpress years. I don't have to worry about that sick feeling associated with managing my own database at the MySql level. So I have been willing to pay for that. I've never run an ad here. This is just my channel to tell a story; a labor of love is all this is, a way to help untangle the spaghetti of life. Some people spend that kind of money on their booze or gambling in a few hours. Or in driving their car for fun. Or to go to Disneyland. None of that appeals to me. And, here, about a decade after my first foray into the web, the rate is perhaps twice what I used to pay, or less, but the potential to put up so much content makes all that a moot point.

I like that for once, I've managed to create an online album that reflects a mix of experiences, good and bad, and a mix of media to tell the story. Keeping busy with JEM such as I have, trying to find new things to move that message, I sometimes have to make a conscious effort to take some "me time" here at this site. Never mind there are just a few subscribers (thanks!). Never mind there are no casual users stumbling upon this site and bringing it to Facebook. Certainly there is more that I want to put up. More pictures, more scans, more audio. More video. There is only one of me though, and it happens that I allocate more time to JEM, sensing that promoting or even building this self-indulgent site is not as responsible a thing to do as developing the JEM platform. Last summer, I did plug in a good deal of content here that was never on any previous version of the site. Were it not for the bottleneck of the scanning process, I might have done more. The other bottleneck is that I am a loquacious, captioning freak, and it takes time to narrate things, particularly when a new photo gallery is put up! And since I got this site (and a new camera at about the same time), I've had a lot more photographic material to process. It's easy to get distracted.

Netizenship & Transparency

The web has changed a lot since 2002. I've changed a lot too. When I first got into it and didn't know about netiquette I went overboard and offended people, some of which were in-person relationships too. But overall, I've put that away and tried to become a better netizen. Blogging at least gives me the chance to soapbox in my own space rather than on other sites. And even that has sort of waned for me. The futility of trying to argue a point online is pretty clear. I feel this site got more interesting when I went inside and unpacked this person I've had to deal with all this time. Maybe no one else gives a shit. A few cheer on the sidelines, saying I'm doing something that takes guts. Others cringe. Others slip away nearly unnoticed. And then there are about seven billion others who don't even know this site is here. Sure, it might be a self-indulgent site, but it doesn't mean I am important. But who else will tell the story?

And that brings me to the matter of my approach to sharing information here. Presently I am looking for work, same as I've been doing for a year and more. (Unless I am applying to a web job that might call on certain aspects or technology or aesthetics that demonstrated at this site, I don't usually give away TAPKAE.com or social media links. I use a personal Gmail address.) I know no HR person is going to write me a courtesy note saying that they read a handful of posts on TAPKAE.com and decided to pass me over because they didn't think my family situation was going to lead me to be a good employee. Or that a post said I have struggled with depression. Or Wordpress. (There is some overlap at times.) The fact is, I don't really know how thoroughly I am disqualifying myself from jobs. And I sort of don't care. The places that won't have me won't have me. This site is a tool to help me feel that I know myself. And in the process, I might find that truck driving is not really my calling, and that while it could be an entry into an industry, I don't awaken each day, licking my lips at the prospect of piloting a few tons of steel down streets and alleys. Somewhere along the line, I embraced transparency in the hopes that it would win me more than it lost. Shutting doors to paths that I have no business on should be a better thing than not. I can say I've applied to jobs that I know I'm not interested in, and then it should be no surprise, website or not, that I don't get them.

Nothing is stopping me from making a go at a commercial site, doing things by formula and metrics, and leaving out the personal stuff for the most part. I don't exactly feel I have anything to share that warrants that, but I would like to develop community around JEM and when possible, other orgs or groups that have shared interest. I may or may not ever get that right. It may or may not ever be my thing. Lurking at the edges is TAPKAE.com, where it's okay to get it wrong, to experiment, to be transparent and unpretentious.

Tuesday
Mar272012

Sandwich Art Imitating Life Imitating Sandwich Art +20

You know you don't amount to much when your life feels like it is held together or drawn apart by a fast food job. For a young person who is starting to struggle with gaining independence and identity, a job of any sort glistens with a kind of promise, even with the pitfalls that accompany working for places that will alternately over- and underwork a person according to unseen forces, usually for as close to minimum wage as possible. So it was with me at my second job (and the first that happened after graduating high school). Around this season of 1992, 20 years ago now, it pretty much turned on a dime from day to day, or week to week. Working at Subway Sandwiches #10731 (the ability for the brain to retain such information is one of the natural wonders of the world) went from a blessing to a curse in a small way just like most jobs do, but in March 1992 it really got to be way more of a soap opera drama than any fast food joint should be allowed. For an 18 year old kid who didn't have but one goal in life at that point—saving to get to Germany for the summer—it was worth the indignities for a while, but then it got just over the top with the change in ownership at my store. The actual usefulness of the place drew to a close by mid April, but the whole experience during that era has continued to unfold in a fractal-like manner.

His Chuckness

If ever there was a risk of me becoming a "company man" it was at that Subway up until March 1992. But that came crashing down in the space of a few weeks, and was a totally exploded idea by the 12th of April. The owner I worked under until March 10th was Chuck Perricone, a delightfully salty but serious businessman of about 50, and a well-respected franchisee from what I could tell. (I profiled him and other experiences in other entries that can be found with a tag search of Subway.) He had a few other stores in Miramar and Mira Mesa, about 8-10 miles out. Maybe he bit off more than he could chew to start this store from scratch. I never got the story, but in February, employees started to get news that the store would be sold. Soon after, a Jewish couple (yes, that affects the story), Abe and Arlene Levy started working in the shop, as was required for new owners to gain experience before they could take over. I didn't like them much from the start but was advised by Chuck that maybe they'd keep some of the staff on for continuity's sake. And, by that point, I was the third in line after Chuck and manager Steve. And Steve was already making his exit by being careless and flip. It got to be annoying while he was still on Chuck's crew, but on the last day, March 10th, Steve became one like me and Matt Zuniga, and we cut up and had some fun, even in Chuck's presence! Chuck seemed inclined to put in a good word for me with the Levys since I had pretty much earned the reputation as a brownnoser by then. Whether he did or not, I persisted in my meticulous cleaning and was pretty good on the line after about seven months there. I thought that might earn me some grace with the Levys.

The Jew Crew

The next day, Abe and Arlene took over. And immediately their presence was felt. Hours were cut. Days were cut. Split shifts of about 10-2 and 6-11 (nine hours) were part of the scheduling strategy (more so after I left). One or the other of them worked a morning or evening shift each day, and so I worked with Abe mostly for closing shifts. They had three sons, ranging from about 12-21, and at least one of them were on the scene too. Adam, the oldest, was often on my shifts, apparently as "the" Levy for that shift. I guess it was easy for them to slash labor when they only retained three employees (Matt, Angela, and me), and then the rest is done with five family members who probably all lived in the same household. My records indicate that only two of the last days I worked there were shared with Matt. If I recall right, Matt and I alternated nights, and Angela worked days. Maybe Matt did days too, in a split shift arrangement. In about no time, it made a lot of sense.

A franchise like Subway has a regional compliance overseer fellow come by every few weeks to measure a store's compliance with the national standard. Are the onions cut the right way? Are there the right number of slices of each meat in each sandwich prep layout? Are the breads being cut with the Subway "U" channel? All that stuff is monitored and graded. I got to know enough about it all while Chuck was there, and right away, I saw the Levys deviating. Maybe it was a bit less meat here, or not offering condiments there. Corner cutting. Even coupons that were for national promotions, say, for any 6", were honored with an option to get the cheapest three sandwiches—a Cold Cut Combo or Veggie or Meatball, for example. Customers would come in and ask for the special and Abe flatly rejected it and offered his shoddy substitute instead. The customer might not want it. Maybe he was cowed into another, more expensive sandwich at list price. Or maybe he got the cheap stuff. Or maybe he left. Under Chuck this would be punishable by death, but here it was... the new owner himself was pulling this trick!

I said the Levys were Jewish. Unfortunately, Abe in particular, a late 40s looking guy probably from Israel with a thick accent to boot, rather rotund and bespectacled, was a spittin' image for the stereotypical money grubbing Jew. He made no bones about it. It was like he relished the act of raking in money. One day in full sight of customers during a lull in business, I asked him why he was gaming the offers like he was. Or why he didn't want me to spend so much time cleaning. Or whatever was done so differently from Chuck's method. He went to the register, opened it up, and with a stern voice possessed with capitalist fervor, exclaimed that all he cared about was if that thing was full each night. I think a couple customers turned their heads. The one day Matt and I worked together, just before the end, he caught us standing and talking a bit. He got all riled up, hollering across the work area and in plain earshot of all, "What is this booolshit? What does it mean? Am I paying you to stand around and boooolshit?" He issued me my check for the week and sent me out early. A customer asked me if I was fired, and I said I didn't know. He sounded genuinely concerned and said he'd register his own complaint about the matter. The very next day Abe was arguing with customers about their order and Abe decided the best solution was for them to be kicked out.

Arlene was a bit less demonstrative. She was a bit more level headed in general but after my naive attempt to narc out Abe's antics, I'm pretty sure she started to plot my demise there. Saying she was more level headed was relative; she seemed to hail from New York and had the thick accent you'd expect, and not a small bit of New Yawk attitude. But she wasn't so blatant as Abe to tell off a customer, or to almost hug and kiss the cash register. Since her kids were all there, she did seem a bit motherly, but let's not make too much of that. She was a mama bear.

Their sons were obviously not so annoying, but I had a hard time figuring out if Adam was a turncoat since he was the Levy-on-schedule many nights when I closed. In the end, I think he was kind of a double agent. He had a Z car that had a pretty bad assed stereo and speaker system in it, and one night he invited Matt and I to put on some CDs. It was pretty intense. I suppose he got some extra perspective on us that way. He was already cautioning me to not clean as much as I was inclined to. After all, Chuck used to intone, "if you've got time to lean, you've got time to clean." I kept a very, very clean shop. I thought that would be of use to them but they told me to just get the job done. Nothing special.

Maybe they thought they were running their own deli in New Yawk, and that the franchise rules didn't matter. Or maybe they were short timing it. I don't know. I just know they did everything just about the opposite as I had learned, and that seemed impossible if they wanted to carry on as franchisees.

Germany?

Steve Rau and I at senior breakfast before graduation, June 1991The entire reason I put up with Subway was to get to Germany. I can't say that earning a glorified minimum wage at a 20-30 hour job as a sandwich jock was worth much beyond this one goal of mine, except that it did help pay for the trip. The calendar bears this out in a pretty clear way: I bought my flight ticket (nearly $1000) at the Triple A office next door on April 7th and was fired from Subway on April 12th. Germany was like the promised land that year and all the ups and downs of Subway and everything else only strengthened my resolve. It's hard to communicate what a feeling it was to get back there after the all-too-short few days I spent in Garching in 1991 with school buddy Stephan Rau. Graduating from Madison the year before brought our in person relationship to an end, were it not for the trip I took there just weeks later. But it was just a taste, staying at his place for a few days at the end of a larger tour my old man put together. Not having a clue how, I told Steve I'd "come back next year." It was a bit audacious considering I had no job or too much more in savings when I said that. During the exactly one year between leaving in 1991 and arriving in 1992, the year of Subway and of starting in on college courses, the year of being exiled from the house to play drums, the year of being pretty depressed since my already small social circle from high school and church was turned into something unrecognizable, and that almost dangerously revolved around Subway itself... during that year, Germany was the white city on the hill for me. Nothing seemed right without it. Of course, I had no idea what would become of me after I got back, but that was so far in the future. How soon could July 13th arrive?

Drummers With Attitudes/the Pig Thing 

At "the bridge" March 1992 where DWA was launched, at least on tapeWith my only option to play drums having been reduced to literally playing outside, requiring lugging the kit around in Matt's car most times, he and I spent time on weekends or afternoons before we reported to work. We found a quite acceptable location in Mission Valley, located in a rather secure and sheltered space that wasn't claustrophobic. What gave us a bit of sustained fun was the advent of recording and having something to document our youthful exploits. Of course, it was all really dumb shit. On March 8th, the recording that basically launched us as "Drummers With Attitudes" was done in this spot under a freeway bridge. Matt and I, being pretty bored with lives of apparent meaninglessness, were horsing around, breaking glass, yelling, and honking the car horn and whatever else we could do to blow off steam that accumulated as we worked at Subway during the good old days! That humble boom box recording turned out to be the cornerstone of a sustained effort pretending I was a musician with a band that I was responsible for, and making recordings and doing promo stuff, even including a joke fanzine a few months later—a prototype effort at a blog, essentially.

But on the evening of Abe Levy's big cash register outburst and his busting Matt and me for standing and talking after lunch rush, Matt and I retired to his studio apartment after work. Both of us were rather shocked with how the day went, what with working two shifts each, and all the Abeisms from that day, we were blowing off steam and somehow started to talk all sorts of shit that found its way onto paper in some joke "rap" that might be delivered over some drums one day out at the bridge. To read it now would be pretty dismal at many levels. A rant that smacks of antisemitism and um, a lack of sensitivity about body diversity? Check. A dreadful attempt at songwriting? Check. The anger of young men full of self-righteousness, and who know everything? Check. Yep, it's pretty lame and I'm pretty sure it is gone now. But you know what? It was essentially all true as far as our experience went. To us, or at least to me, it wasn't exaggeration to say we were dealing with fat, greedy Jews. The title itself was meant to be rather offensive too, in order to make every possible stab. "Roly Poly Porky Boys" was meant to condescend just as much. I might have to give myself more credit for being "punk" than I typically have, but even legit punk music was rather more refined and musical than this! If anything, the drums and vocal nature of things hinted a direction closer to rap or hip hop, which neither of us really liked, but gave us a couple references for naming ourselves and other bits along the way. Later in the year, one of our recordings was entitled Acoustic Rap or Acousti-Crap?

I didn't intend to launch my music career with such a wretched thing. I didn't intend to launch a band with songs at all. But such a thing slowly took shape as I drew inspiration from being disillusioned and angry at things. I put pen to paper and wrote some of the worst dreck ever using all cliches available to me. We made our first attempt at recording it just two days after I got canned. And then there was one unusual instance that emerged when Matt and I hauled up to some warehouse north of here and jammed with a guitarist and bassist I used to go to school with who made admirably meathead metal out of RPPB and recorded it the day after our first recording at my house. (On a clandestine basis, we set up at my house, but all the truly fun playing was done on the run.)

The pig fetish that people associate with I am associated grew out of this sordid mess. I assure you it didn't start with pink, fluffy toys. Hog Heaven did start with toys in 1996, but this is where the entire pig thing begins.

The Firing

Things might have been looking up that week at Subway. I worked five days in one calendar week which was notable considering the downward tendency of late. April 9 was the infamous Abe day. The 11th was unusually well staffed at night. Matt and I were let to work together. But in a break with the previous month's pattern, Arlene was in the office, and son Josh (the middle son, probably 16) was there too. With all that staffing, cleaning got done quickly. We were standing around, making our fun. We had no business so we got pretty casual and even ended up taking our little laugh session outside to the parking lot. There was probably some shit talking. No Arlene though. Still in the office. While I had the chance, I told her about Abe's antics the previous days and pronounced them wrongheaded. Apparently she and I got into some words. Yeah, all that crashed and burned like bacon wrapped shrimp at a yeshiva cafeteria! I don't recall what happened in what order, but the night was an odd mix, like the gathering of clouds before the storm. How could it be that I just argued with my boss yet was outside laughing it up with her son and my always troublemaking buddy coworker?

The answer came clearly enough the next morning when I was called by Arlene and told I was done there. It was Palm Sunday, which of course meant nothing to her, and really, probably nothing to me at that time. But if it was any concern to her, I guess she might as well fire the uppity kid before Passover.

Matt, not being one of much conviction in such matters, was retained and worked there so long he outlasted the Levys and ended up working some time for the family of Indian owners that took over after them. They didn't know or care about the Levy drama so in 1995-96 I started to hang out on Matt's shift which resulted in some amazing examples of Clerks-like use of business space that went far beyond anything that happened while I worked there! But in 1992, so much for the vague ideas of solidarity that if he or Angela or I got canned, we'd all walk out on the Levys. He and I kept on with bad attitudes about the whole thing, but he somehow managed to keep his head down and play their game. I never really liked it and I used to egg him on to challenge the split shift thing and other bits he regaled me with over time. In the days and weeks after getting fired, I carried on my usual trips there to get dinner, or to meet up with Matt after work. Of course this didn't meet Levy family favor, and they tried to dismiss me. At least, they kept me outside and wanted me gone.

The Law

On April 28th, I was in my driveway, probably talking to my old man as he worked in the garage. A car drove up and presented me with an envelope of documents. I didn't know what to make of this stranger walking up and passing this off on me, but inside was a restraining order from the court on behalf of the Levys. It contained a few bits of truth but mostly was trumped up with hyperbolic accounts of the threat I supposedly posed to them. Small things like kicking around a bit of wood bark in the parking lot while waiting for Matt to get out of work was transformed into throwing rocks at their windows. The order dictated that I'd stay 1000' from the store for one year. I had to go to court to say my two sentences in vain. But before doing that I was able to get a character witness letter from Chuck Perrecone, the previous owner, who reported me as an excellent employee. I got a letter from my pastor, who said that while diplomacy training might be of use, but a restraining order was overkill. Of course, when is the law going to take sides with an 18 year old over such a thing as this? Any business owner is going to be favored going in.

Since the restraining order came after our little song, the biting criticism already voiced in that bit of anti-Hallmark verse was validated and I seem to recall extending the lyrics or making a sequel. I was both bitter and self righteous. I wrote to Subway corporate in Connecticut and told them about the Levy debacle. I took to getting my dinner at another local Subway, making sure to report the Levy method just in case I could get another jab in. I was a pup on the pantleg for a few minutes there, but it was pretty pointless. I wasn't used to being rejected like this. Anyway, I had Germany coming up on the calendar, and while in a holding pattern for that, it was a big thing for me to set about refinishing my drum set and embracing the DWA activity as something more productive than staying immersed all the Subway crap going on.

The Law Taketh, the Law Giveth

Matt's ability to stay at that shop for about four years after all this astounded me. And then he only left because he joined the army. Now that didn't make any more sense to me than his Subway tenure. While I was on restraining order I pretty much kept my distance but flirted a bit. After all, my bank was across the parking lot! On the day when the order expired in May 1993, I sort of made an occasion to go in for a bit of nosh as if celebrating a birthday, accompanied with a girl, Jenn Cody, who was more than a school acquaintance but less than a date. That whole gesture of course carried a bit of a mocking air about it, and I don't remember if it was just Matt there who would have known, but I did do it. At about that same time in May 1993, I got a job at another Subway with a different owner, one who knew all about the Levys (from being in the same office as the local compliance monitors worked from) and shared my opinion of them. My time at that Subway came and went in about a year and a half and the Levys still owned 10731.

The fact that Matt worked there still led to a number of rather comic times, but one instance that vindicated my attitude that the Levys were up to no good was when Matt showed me some legal court documents relating an instance where Abe and his youngest son were in a CVS or Sav-On store or something like it, and were trying to shoplift some video tapes. Abe, being a chunky dude, maybe was hiding stuff under an oversized coat or something. As he and his son were leaving the store, the security team closed in on him and challenged him to stop and drop the goods. He put up some resistance and was wrestled to the ground and apparently got hurt. This lawsuit somehow was trying to accomplish the most ridiculous bit of table turning where Abe was suing for some compensation to help offset expenses associated with injuries from rough handling. Ahem?

Epilogue

Some months ago I got a blog response from Angela, who at the time was only about 16 or 17. She had searched for Matt on Google and found nothing much except the post I wrote last year that illustrated how Subway was at the intersection of so many parts of my life then. She was quite amused at my recollection, and we wrote some notes back and forth about the "good old days." To the extent that's true, it really should be limited to the Chuck months. Not much of it is inherently good, especially if you're a young guy yet to have scored with a girl yet, not really connected at your new school, or if you've faded from your once-vital church community, and also aware that the home and family picture is shifting too. It's not all that great when your "best friend" sends an envelope of your letters back to you because you misspeak about money. It's not too exceptional when you don't feel you're born to make sandwiches, not born to serve customers, not born to mop floors, and not born to give a shit about a company that could just as easily throw you under the bus—even for being "too" dedicated to your work.

Chronologically, this tale closes the book on the first Subway job from August 1991 to about May 1992. After this, there is the other store that in due time will be told about next year. Subway might have just been a job to work and walk away from if it wasn't the backdrop for such a period of life as it was. Or certainly if Matt had not been part of it not just during my time there, but for years later. Who knew in those sunny summer days in August 1991 how such a job would end, particularly in the way it spun off my "development" as an "artist"? Really, I'm still chiefly glad that it served the purpose that I most consciously articulated: to get to Germany. Later on this year, I anticipate I'll be telling that story. At least I hope to. I realize that I didn't even write anything about my first trip last summer! I was caught up in graduation memoirs and a bit later on with 20th reunion stuff. I should do better this year since that trip was so important to me.

Monday
Mar262012

A Tale of Two Martins

On Tuesday the 20th, Trayvon Martin came onto the scene for me during a press conference with his attorney that appeared on TV while I was in Florida with Kelli's mom and grandmother. I had never heard the name prior to that day. And it was something I was impatient about. I mean, I try to avoid TV as much as possible, and on that particular afternoon, we were just about to pack and leave that house in Port Orange and were on our way to catch a train to Washington DC. But all of a sudden in the last five days, Trayvon is everywhere. And the hoodie has become an iconic image as all manner of people display it, wear it, march in it, all to show solidarity with the fallen young black fellow who went out to get some candy in the wrong clothing a month ago and was felled by a white vigilante who still is out free, something that defies logic and our usual idea that the bad guys get busted. Unless they're white. Does everyone remember To Kill A Mockingbird?

It turns out that Sanford was one town we might have caught our train but we went to the next station in DeLand, which is a bit closer to Port Orange.

While in DC, I had time (while Kelli was in her meetings) to traipse around and see the National Mall, and on Thursday night, I took in the Martin Luther King memorial. It was pretty darn packed at 8 pm, full of school kids and a rich mix of Americans of all stripes. It was the one memorial I visited that elicited a bit more of a visceral response for me. I don't think it's nearly as nice a sculpture as the Lincoln but to stand under it is a powerful thing, maybe because he was almost a man of my time. (He was killed about five years before I was born.)

The link is pretty clear: two black men gunned down well before their natural times for the worst of reasons that amount to total senselessness, fear, and hatred. I think were he here today, the prophetic Rev. King would make a great pronouncement decrying the hypocrisy and injustice. 

Over the weekend, as the Facebookosphere was lit up with posts encouraging the wearing of hoodies and "I am Trayvon" messages in a display of solidarity with the victim, this image crossed my mind immediately, especially since I had taken several pictures of the memorial from all useful angles.

While in DC, I also visited the Holocaust Memorial Museum, and was able to meet a cousin of Kelli's, a convert to the Baha'i faith, and one who offered an anthology of statements about economic justice that Baha'u'llah had made about a century ago. All of it seemed to be even more focused than the stuff that Jubilee Economics works with from none other than the Bible itself. Because of this and other things, I knew something would happen as I made my first foot journey to the iconic places in DC, the seat of the Empire. Maybe the King memorial moved me because of Trayvon, but probably not in real time as I stood there and snapped my pictures; I didn't know much about the Trayvon case. But King is a perennial favorite among those of us who identify as progressive Christians. He's not just a brilliant social activist in the secular realm, but he's acting out of the radical paradigm of the Hebrew Prophets, who were the voices that criticized power run amok, idolatry, injustice, and all that. As my former pastor Jerry Lawritson likes to say, King too easily gets overlooked as a Christian pastor, but that is where he got his true voice and authority to do the "secular" work he did. The old prophets were the voices that called their societies and the powers to reform and repent. King realized it was a unified mission to serve God and country in one effort to gain justice and peaceful cooperation. 

So there is a rather delightful subversiveness about King being enshrined in stone with the national figures. He didn't hold office. And a good thing. His role, the role of the prophet, is to be on the periphery where one can avoid the entanglements and mixed loyalties that come with having power. But his prophetic power came from witnessing injustices manifested in the senseless violence that apparently is still not squelched even 44 years later. He's gone from the flesh, but you know he'd don a hoodie this week.

Tuesday
Mar062012

Getting in Tune with the Music

Ed mugging behind the StratocasterNovember 2000I suppose maybe I should have done it 17 years ago, but I waited until February 23rd. I mean, I started when I was just about to turn 21, and now I'm 38! But I didn't ever do it right. I just did it my way. And then things got distracted and even the attention I used to pay it was cut down noticeably. But something inside me keeps nagging for things to be reawakened, but this time it has to be done a different way. Of course, everything could have been different if last Friday happened anytime in the last 17 years. But it didn't happen that way. But it did happen.

I had my first proper guitar lesson.

You read right, folks. First paid guitar lesson ever. It wasn't for lack of opportunity; there are quite a number of teachers in this town, and there were several teachers among the various bands I used to work for. It wasn't that I didn't know anything about guitar, either, or about music. I did have a basic musicianship class (and a concurrent piano class) at Mesa College in 1993. So, by the time I picked up a guitar in late summer 1994, I was already introduced to chords and scales and intervals. My second instrument, the piano, made some sense to me since one key makes one sound. But after playing in bands that used guitars rather than keyboards, it began to be apparent guitar and bass would be more useful as auxiliary instruments to know. (I mean, I had a piano at home but I wasn't about to go to a rehearsal with it!) 

It just so happened that Bill Francis, the curious fellow who lived at our house in 1994 had two guitars and he wanted to shed one to make a few bucks. For me to say he lived "at" our house is more descriptive than to say he lived "in" our house. He was afforded a trailer or a shed to live in, courtesy of my old man, who was willing to help just enough to keep Bill from being totally homeless. Bill let me borrow one guitar—the Fender F-210 I still use today (about 25-30 years after its manufacture)—and that the old man subsequently bought for my birthday just a month or so later.

I had a chord book but had no idea what to do with it, really. It was more of a traditional jazz-blues kind of book from Mel Bay and I was kind of sour on it because I didn't hear the chords I saw in the rock bands I played in. I didn't really have vocabulary for it, but I was essentially missing the various power chords, partial barre chords with an A or E string left to drone, or certainly, open tunings or altered tunings. Not long after messing with all that, I sought some time with Jim Pupplo from Slaves By Trade. SBT was just in the process of breaking up, not by some big artistic differences, but that Jim was leaving to play with another band. As a parting gift, he showed me some power chords and other bits one day at his place. The thing is, I wasn't really sold on guitar as something to get passionately into. Chords never fell well under my fingers, and even to this day, I am slow to get certain forms, lest my fingers get into a tangle.

The battle-damaged F-210I never took a lesson since then. I've had a few more chord books and a couple books that, if actually used as intended, might have done me some good. Instead, I was keen on experimenting with sound. In early 1995, I was in an interesting spot to receive two guitars from a girlfriend who was keeping her convict friend's possessions. For a while, I had an acoustic guitar (don't remember if it was electro or not) and the very same Strat as I now play. (Sort of. Almost everything on it has been replaced and renewed over time.) I recall that quite early on in my guitar era, I took to using alternate tunings. I think the first ones must have been to tune to what would be a minor barre chord, or maybe a major if desired. One of my early tracks, Earl, was simply me strumming open chords at a couple positions as a drone effect. I was rather far from actually making music. Another odd tuning I used was EBEebe and perhaps a more extreme form, EEeebe. Somewhere there lurks a recording from mid 1995 using that tuning on the F-210, with an amazing stack of octaves and unisons but no real chords. It pretty much is a heavy attack minor key kind of theme that has an interesting buzz about it. That Fender acoustic could be called on to do some odd tunings. I've used it to play Robert Fripp's CGDAEG tuning, and even a variant of that, tuned a half step down! And of course I've done DADGAD and DADF#BD type things. It's versatile.

Some of that was to avoid having to learn real music on the guitar. Almost as soon as I picked up guitar, I found my two leading inspirations to diversify away from my drums-only identity. In December 1994 I saw Mike Keneally for the first time, and in the spring of the next year, the newly re-formed King Crimson threatened to explode my brain. There was nothing I could do to emulate Keneally's guitar or keyboard playing, but I could make jokey recordings with copious amounts of tape editing. And over in Crim-land, I could go for a highly processed tone, ambient effects, noise, and unusual tunings. It was fortuitous that just a month after seeing the Crimson King, I began working for Rockola. By the end of the summer, I was beginning to work for Bob Tedde. He let me borrow all sorts of things that made my experiments fruitful: pedals, 12 string Rickenbacker, effects boxes, Mustang bass (the short thing), and over time, various synths. Doug and Marty of the band also let me use bass and drums if I was responsible for getting them to the next gig. Various other guys I jammed with let me use instruments for various periods: 6 string bass (the one I played with an air compressor), electronic drum kit, and more. It was handy to have access to things, but because I wanted to record more than I wanted to practice, I set about my early practices that became my standard approach until maybe 2001: the recording was the artistic focal point for me and instruments were the brushes that let me paint the sound onto tape or disk. Learning musical vocabulary and repertoire was secondary, and often ignored.

Receiving coverI worked around cover bands playing a lot of classic rock, funk, disco, fusion, and even some blues and country. Some of what I missed in lessons was supplemented by watching bands so much of the time, and at least taking some stabs at things I saw over and over. But I never really learned songs or parts on guitar or bass in the way that I did on drums. Major disadvantage that I am now trying to put right. Receiving was recorded at the peak of my activity in the music/tech world, but you will barely hear anything directly attributable to my having watched so many bands play those styles named above. On Receiving, like all my recordings, there is really no knowledge of conventional harmony. I doubt there is even one tonic-dominant progression to be found. Or maybe only one! And yet, there is some adventure in the tension and release on certain tracks. It just isn't anything you'll find "in the book."

Over time, there were a few players that were on my scene for a few months or a year or so, and who graced me with better musicianship than I ever brought to things. In order, I'd name Michael Kropp (bass/guitar 1995), Tom Griesgraber (bass/guitar/Stick 1997-99), and Todd Larowe (guitar/bass/keys 1999-2002). Each of these guys gave me access to better playing on those instruments, but each also left me with something to think about as I watched their method or as they helped me unpack other things about music. My understanding was pretty decent, but my application of any of that to the instrument was always lacking. Knowing some things was half the battle, but I never won the other battle on any of the instruments I played: working the sticks and picks with any discipline. I've tended to regret that.

In the years since 2005, most bets have been off the table anyway, particularly with regard to space to set up and do thing as I used to. That was a bruising time that took a lot of wrestling. Despite selling off pieces that I sort of wish I had kept, I did retain enough to maintain a guitar/bass/drum/recording capability. And in the absence of actually playing much guitar or bass, I've been soaking up music just as a listener and allowing it to reach me in a way that I don't think it did when I was trying to create stuff myself. In the background I've been trying to push myself to develop some familiarity with pop music of various eras, either on bass or guitar, or just in trying to map out chords and get a feel for things at a new level. Part of the challenge has been to develop my ear and intuition on an instrument.

Church in the parkIn the fall I briefly played drums and a bit of bass for a budding worship band at church. I don't like the music and I didn't like the structure, but I gave it a shot for a while to at least put myself to some use. In all the years of doing church and playing music, I had never played for any liturgical purpose. The band leader was driven enough to buy a drum set and so I used that at rehearsals, making it quite easy to show up and play, only needing to add a few personal bits to the kit.

Fender bass wall with 5 string jazz bass and the bastard Fenderless fretless modJazz bass on the left; Fretless on rightIn October I bought my first instrument in years. It wasn't a huge step, but it warmed me up some. I found a rather used and very cheap ($100) Indonesian Squier P-Bass at a pawn shop, and as soon as I got it home, ripped the frets out in gleeful abandon, using toenail clippers! Then I took it to a luthier and paid 2.4 times as much ($240 more) to have the fingerboard properly finished with inlay lines and dots, and smoothed out. I was just aching to have a fretless again. It's no Warwick, but it soothes me to find my own notes again. Maybe it's part of my ear training method, but it's good to have a fretless bass once again.

Since the late summer, I've been joining in on a monthly acoustic/folk kind of meetup that lets me come in to learn some pretty basic songs on guitar. Again, not all of it strikes me as my kind of music, but since I did such a job of not learning the basics, now it's like I am building the foundation underneath the second floor! Just a couple days ago I went to the monthly meetup and the theme was "no guitars." I was able to come in with the fretless and hamfist my way through the tunes. It was quite a different group with no guitars. I think I was more able to participate on bass than on guitar.

Heartbreaker amp/cabinet looks pretty lean and sporty.I hope to make the Heartbreaker screamAll this has helped draw me back into spending time with music. Over the past few years, there have been a trickle of song fragments and chords that I have not finished. Part of the hold up is not really feeling I have a singing voice yet, but knowing that can be worked on. And I think maybe that should be made a co-incident priority with guitar related tutoring. I've mostly resisted the urge to set up a recording environment. It's hard, but I've sat many times in the past decade, staring at a rather complete recording rig, fully aware that I am more beholden to the gear than any stroke of brilliance and passion in my fingers. And that got old. I've stormed out of the studio plenty of times knowing that that approach was disingenuous, and that I should tap into whatever feeling lurks, and to work at developing some technical readiness to deliver the goods when the muse arrives. Eventually complicated recording setups can be put together, but for now, I need to trust that me and the guitar have something to say, and that has been the trouble. 

Another meetup group I just tried last week was a songwriters' meetup. I got a good feeling off of it, and since the people are dedicated to song craft, with a chance to be reviewed by others, and a feeling of collaboration, it might lead to other opportunities that get me out of my rut.

Unfortunately, the jobless situation means funds are a bit tight, but the choice to get music lessons is a worthy use of funds. I've been of the mind that the time has come to seek personal growth with some combination of music lessons, a gym membership, or with a shrink. I can't really afford all three. Two of them are things I've never done. One will just tell me to do the other two. In the few days between the first lesson and the songwriter meetup, I felt distinctly more alive—damn the therapists! I've been of the mind that it's time to make some more space for music, even if it comes at some cost to a life at, say, church. I've already cut back on that for various reasons. With the meetups and a new sense of empowerment, I might be able to meet some new people and do things that I've been setting aside and dreaming about.

Saturday
Mar032012

Accidental Growth Opportunity +10

Just over ten years ago Kelli and I started on the kind of relationship we have now. There was a quite generous post about that not long ago so I won't retrace those steps. But just ten years ago this day, something a lot less joyful happened that rewrote our histories in its own way. It's one of those things I can't say I'd do all over again (and Kelli sure as hell would not, and some years ago when I mentioned this realization, she bristled at the thought), but the lessons are such that maybe they were that important. Sometimes it takes some terrible news to make breakthroughs and to grow.

This was in that odd time when we sort of pretended to not be a couple even though we were joined at the pelvis. Were we a couple? Weren't we? I don't even know if we knew, so we refrained from openly saying so. At church, where we both had long histories already, and where we had met over eleven years before, we carried on like we weren't an item.

Kelli was living farther east than I was back in 2002, and it was clearly advantageous to stay at my house in Clairemont so we could get to church on Sundays. On this March 3rd, she and I came from our separate residences instead. She was coming from a funky trailer she lived in for several months not long after college graduation. From there, she'd be coming west on the I-8 and then north on the I-5. I was already at church. Worship started. I had only started back there just two months before and usually we sat together. More and more of the service was passing and Kelli wasn't there. This was years before we got cell phones. Where was she? This got uncomfortable. What's taking so long?

Then I saw her through the glass, making her way around the round balcony. She's hunched over, hobbling feebly and her face was wincing, obviously in great pain. She could barely open the door and make her way in to the couple pews, and fortunately, Deb, the pastor's wife, saw her and helped. But as soon as Kelli was in, she had to go out. She needed to get to the hospital. So much for church that day.

As this played out, I found out through her shaken voice that she and her Volkswagen Fox was rear-ended by some guy just one exit before she'd leave the I-5. Apparently there was some slowing and she slowed down some but was hit by an uninsured driver who didn't get the message, and was probably going over 50-55 on impact. She pulled aside and as she was trying to find herself again, refused an ambulance, thinking herself better than she turned out. Eventually she got to church after the accident scene sorted itself out. But then it was time to get up to Scripps in La Jolla. That's how the rest of our day went, until dark.

This was a heck of a way to start a relationship. We were friends, but this romantic stuff was new and still not really anything that had sunk in yet. I had no idea where this was going to lead, and of course, the natural response is to feel helpless in the face of it. Kelli had been in another car accident before, and her mom in two accidents that had been pretty damaging to her back, requiring surgery. Oh, no... not a "like mother, like daughter" thing?! (Unfortunately, a lot of my personal history from 2002 got wiped out due to early computer experiences while also losing touch with paper calendars, so I don't have the best record of what that time was like and what I might have been thinking.) I was aware that it was only a bit over a year away from the experience when I failed my grandmother when she fell and was on the floor overnight, sitting in her unfinished business in the bathroom for probably eight hours or more, all the while crying for help. That was on my mind as the thought occurred to me that Kelli would be needing me now. I was scared. Not just for the fear of what Kelli was experiencing, but also that I could be a pretty slothful fellow.

After finding that the X-rays miraculously indicated nothing broken, there was small comfort. But her muscles and tendons and nerves were rattled a great deal. There was no need for surgery or any casts, so later that day she was sent home with the usual treatments for pain: ice and vicodin or something like it. Everything was painful for her since her low back and hips were hurt the worst. I became her de facto caregiver. It wasn't because I was qualified. She stayed at my house a lot then. Her trailer was quite cramped and hard to turn around in, and the steps alone were an obstacle. Since the house had the bathroom and kitchen, it was harder to just use those facilities. Not too long after the accident, she moved out of there and into a house in Poway with our church friend Cindy (Phil's ex-wife). That afforded her a place just miles from work, some decent space, a flat floor plan, and a sympathetic housemate, even if it was 21 miles from me. I'm not sure I was a very generous boyfriend then, at least when it came to driving. I wasn't working much and she was, so more times than not, she drove to see me.

The ongoing need to care for her and be far more patient than I expected I'd need to be was able to draw something out of me that I don't think I'd called upon for years, if at all. She was still mobile, but short on energy and flexibility. And the more rest she could get, the better. I found myself getting us dinner more. To say that I was cooking is too lofty. We make our jokes about how "cooking" for me was preparing the DiGiorno frozen pizzas and opening a pre-made salad mix with a two liter of Coke. Sometimes we turned my big room into our cafe for two. There were some times that were really lovely, being brought down to a new reality as we were. It kind of put the brakes on some of our, um, youthful enthusiasm for each other. Or, at least, let's say it forced us to adapt some. For a while it slowed down some of our exterior activity, but eventually things came back into the schedule. I think it afforded us even more chance to address a deeper life than maybe we might have done if we had our full mobility and carefree attitudes.

As the years since have borne out, that one momentary lapse of alertness damaged Kelli in a way that had the effect of aging her probably 20-30 years. The shock to her skeleton and muscles was pretty great, and to this day she's got after effects. She was only 25 then, and in some ways, her body was put into the condition of someone twice that age. It isn't exactly hyperbole; she now goes to the YMCA pool and one class she takes is an arthritis class that is pretty gentle, and most of the folks are 50-80.

Not too long after the accident, we had to go to the insurance adjuster's office where the other party's company would interrogate Kelli and squeeze every tidbit of information in such a way as to minimize their guy's guilt. We momentarily got our hopes up that we might get a sympathetic ear when we got to the office on stormy day and found the adjuster was none other than Jennifer, the daughter of our former youth pastor! And, interestingly, Jennifer and I had our first car accident with each other back in 1990, just weeks after we both got our licenses at the age of 16! But, it was not meant to be. Jennifer had to recuse herself due to a conflict of interest, so we were fed to the sharks after all. At least the decision was made to total the car and help make the way clear to get a newer one, a Saturn—a car that turned out to be rather crappy as time passed.

The two realities that collided for me were that for exactly five years prior to our first "date" at the start of January, I had been with no partner and was rather depressed during much of that time. I felt like a lost soul. All the strife seemed to pile up during those years. Kelli's arrival on the scene was a slow development, but after January started off, it was a clearly different period we were in. We had just two months of "normal" early relationship excitement before this accident changed things. It isn't that I turned into any great, compassionate saintly guy after it, but this accident started that process. It hit close enough to home for me that I had to start to see things another way. She wasn't totally helpless, but she needed help. I didn't do a very good job of helping anyone before her. I'm not even sure I did a great job of helping Kelli, either, but this experience was the right one for the time. It came at the time when I was ready for change because doing things my way was not working out. Even in the first six months of our relationship, I realized there was something new afoot; I had told my young roommate Zach that I thought there was marriage potential with Kelli.

For all the time since that dubious day, I've sort of been haunted by Kelli's car "luck." It didn't exactly make me happy to hear that just a week ago she called me to say she had been rear ended. This time though it was a parking lot incident with a truck that backed into her trunk at almost no speed. Okay fine, but before she came home, I was getting worried. I hate to risk it, but with such a record of car accidents, I don't always like the idea of riding along. It used to be a greater cause for worry, unvoiced as it was. Some families just don't have good mojo, you know? I want to stay clear of all that.

Obviously one can't test this out scientifically. Would I have developed a compassion for Kelli just the same? No one's going back to test the theory. In the spiritual journey, all sorts of things take on meaning, even the sad moments and the tragic upsets. Who knows how things would play out if this hadn't happened? Would Kelli be willing to embrace her role as an advocate for people who have disabilities? Was her childhood struggle enough to lead her there? Even as late as about two years ago, she was only deciding to come out as a person who had both a birth disability and an acquired disability. Obviously one does not sign up for opportunities for growth like this, but one applies meaning to experiences and eventually the twisting path toward self shows some sign of making sense.