What follows is all true. It's pretty raunchy, has some raw sex and drug use, and lame attempts to take an everyday situation and make it into some kind of metaphor for the human condition. In this, I freely compare myself to Robert Altman, without the talent. Or the pot. Tonight.
I used to wear a black, valour bathrobe to school. Initially, it was part of a drama skit I did, then a part of a research paper that couldn't materialize, no matter how hard Mrs. McIntire tried to help. Irregardless, it felt damned comfortable, and comfort was the buzzword for my Senior year.
While coming back from a jazz band trip to Stillwater, I heard a cry from the back of the school bus we were traveling in. It was Jay, and he was asking for me to throw the bathrobe back to him. I did. Now, I wore clothes underneath the thing, so don't think I was naked here. After we got back to the high school, Jay was waiting for me to take him home, and he was leaning back on my blue Pinto's passenger door, robe closed, still in his jazz band uniform -- blue blazer, tan pants, you get the drift. As I walked towards him, I noticed the slight grin, slight embarrassment (Jay embarrassed?), and how he held the robe closed around him tightly. He apologized for something in advance. I stopped and looked at him quizzically. He mentioned that he'd been getting a blow job from some girl in the back seat and things had... well...gotten messy. He also said he'd pay for the cleaning bill and opened the robe. It looked like someone had punched a saline breast implant. $15.00 at Rod's Cleaners that Monday. He never paid me.
My sophomore year of high school, there were tryouts for the No.1 and No.2 jazz bands. Initially, Mr. Coon (Yukon jazz band director, as opposed to Mr. Taylor, the head band director) had simply assigned us to each class, and Jay was in the No. 2 band, probably because he'd been busted for pot the year before, and Mr. Coon wasn't taking any chances. After the dust settled, the three drummers in the 1 band were Jay, a guy named Shawn Thompson (who shall now be known as "DL"), and me. DL shouldn't have been there. An ass-kisser, he'd memorized how each song we were playing went, and played the same fills and riffs he'd heard on the recordings (no matter how lame they might have initially been) -- so much so that Jay and I used to make fun of the fact by repeating those same fills on the conga drums behind him, or singing them to each other. This perturbed DL to no end, and made him do those same fills even harder, as if to emphasize the fact that he was playing the same drum fills over and over. He quit the next year. Jay moved to his earned post as No.1 drummer, and I found myself half the time behind the drums, half the time behind the new vibraphone that the band had purchased, possibly because they had someone who could sort of play it -- me.
Jay and I never had a single conversation of any real importance. We never discussed life, future plans, politics, anything other than music, drugs, and fucking. I saw Jay every day from 7th grade until we graduated, and I have no idea who he was, except that he got a lot of pussy. And he liked Frank Zappa.
"Music, Drugs, And Fucking" is the title of my next album.
4. I once sold all my Zappa albums to help out a friend, and had to get back "Zappa in New York" from Jay to do this. I drove over to his house and got it from him, and went straight to the Record Shop on 23rd street, over by the Red Dog Saloon, a strip joint of no mean reputation. Alexander, the owner of the record store, a tall, very skinny man who always dressed in a white tuxedo shirt and black vest, much like Bill Berry circa 1986 (and me, circa 1986-90), looked carefully at my wares, nicely impressed, and then he got to the "New York" album. As he unfolded it to look at the gatefold sleeve, small pieces of pot flecked down the spine onto the glass case in front of him. Jay had obviously rolled a joint on the open album, and he hadn't cleaned it off before he gave it back. Alexander smiled and said, "Well, I guess I can give you an extra dollar for that."
Jay once tried to get me to sell insurance with him during my Senior year. I always wondered where he got the money for those suits he used to wear. Jay dressed to the nines his Senior year. While I had my robe, he had his sport jackets and dress shoes. I assumed this was what adulthood would be like, and noted the difference between us: he wore dress shoes, I wore fuzzy bunny slippers, since I was highly influenced by Val Kilmer's character in the film Real Genius. I wanted to be him. Jay wanted to be Neil Peart, but a Neil Peart who got laid a lot, and wore nicer shoes. We once picked up a couple of girls at a band contest in Atlanta (Altantia) my senior year. He was wearing his blue, dragon patterned kimono robe, and I made them laugh. No one ever laughed at Jay's kimono. Only one of us got lucky, and it wasn't Jay, for a change. I have no idea what the young woman's name was, but had fun with her in the bottom of the hotel parking garage. Jay thought that was the shit. This may have been the only time the fuzzy slipper was on the other foot.
Speaking of the Senior band trip to Altantia, Jay made very sure we got all the percussion equipment packed on the buses, along with his two suitcases. When we got to the hotel, he revealed that he'd smuggled his entire home stereo on the bus in one of the percussion containers, and one of his suitcases was nothing but bottles of booze wrapped in socks and other pieces of clothing (this suitcase was much lighter on the way back). In our room was Jay, myself, David Pritner (another senior), and Marcus Perdue (a sophomore who out-matured all three of us). I didn't get to drink very much, because I was still the lookout guy, sitting out in front of the room and sending little signals out when someone of authority was coming by. That "someone" was Mr. Taylor, the only band director who'd made the trip, and who pretty much gave up on the idea of controlling us, since he was the only person of authority there. Bottles were disposed of the same way Luther Mauldin (sp?) disposed of hotel phone books -- out the hotel window. When we drank the last of the champagne, we threw the bottle out the window at the building across the street, and it hit some sort of electrical fixture, sparks shooting everywhere and plunging the abandoned building into darkness. We immediately closed the window and curtains, turned off the lights, and avoided the phone calls that kept coming -- possibly from Mr. Taylor, possibly from the two girls Jay and I had picked up, probably from people wanting us to turn down the Rush and Zappa tapes. Fun trip. We're all going to hell for it, but it was a fun trip. It's called "Altantia", by the way, because that's the way it was spelled on the itinerary we got from Mr. Taylor. Oh yes, on the way to the city, someone threw a bottle of Jack Daniels into the bus toilet, which led to us being stranded in the bus depot for a few hours while they tried to figure out what to do. Good times.
Jay and I carried on a "war of attrition" or "war of stupidity" on DL for most of our senior year, stemming from the time DL bitched out a band director in front of a few students for no reason than to make himself look good in front of a few students. Jay and I surreptitiously recorded the thing and played it for Mr. Taylor later on, who just shook his head, laughed, and whispered, "Jesus." Towards the end of the year, an event happened that illustrates how close Jay and I were and how vindictive we both could be towards DL. DL was dating an amazing young woman he would eventually dump, whose mother used to bring him breakfast snacks during first hour band. She would open the band room door -- it was a separate building from the main high school -- show DL the snack, and then close the door. When Mr. Taylor wasn't looking, DL, who was our tympani player (primarily because no one else wanted to and DL defended his turf enough to make eyes roll) and who wasn't always needed during rehearsals, would sneak outside and eat. The last time he did it, Jay and I made eye contact, he rushed to the far door, I went to the near one, and we locked them. After a few minutes, a quiet "knock" could be heard, and the door knob jiggled. Same with the other door. I asked Jay, as unloud as loud could be, so as not to disrupt the entire proceedings, "Hey, where's Shawn?" Jay replied, "He went for doughnuts and a Coke."
David Gibson, trombone player extraordinaire (no, really, the guy's the reincarnation of Frank Rosolino, but with less violence), turned and asked us the same question.
Jay and I in Unison: "He went for doughnuts and a Coke."
From across the room, Wayne Coon Jr., trumpet player.
"He went for doughnuts and a Coke."
This spread quickly through out the band until Mr. Taylor finally had enough, slammed his conducting wand down, and yelled, "What the hell is going on?"
"Shawn went for doughnuts and a Coke." Mr. Taylor dipped his head down, shaking it slowly, at last beaten. Then, there was a loud pounding on the door. "This is the Principal! Open up this door!"
One of us did, and Mr. Lobaugh -- my neighbor and old friend -- opened the door, looked around, and then Shawn came in, head down, no eye contact to be made. Mr. Lobaugh closed the door and left.
After a moment of silence, Mr. Taylor got back to the task at hand. Someone behind us, possibly Mike Smith, quietly asked how the doughnuts were. He got no answer.
DL, of course, stands for "Dickless".
I've been looking for Jay for a few years now, just to see how he's doing. He and I both received full rides to the then CSU on jazz scholarships, and we both blew them, although it took him a much shorter time to do so. We used to carpool, but after the 10-20th time of knocking on his girlfriend's apartment door to no avail -- or him answering the door half dressed while he played old Chase tapes -- Chase is to Chicago as a high school Stone Temple Pilots tribute band is to Pearl Jam -- and was too high to go with me, I just stopped. The next time I saw him was, I think, at the same party (which will now be referred to as "The Party" because of its ubiquitous-ness in these blogs) where I saw Cindy Gamsjager the last time. Poignant coincidence, or one hell of a party? Your choice. The party thrower wound up re-painting lines in a parking lot, while the rest of us got off scott free.
10. Jay took me to a party once, not at Todd Suitor's, where he almost always partied, but somewhere close by. He picked me up and parked a ways down the street, which led to a short walk to the house. We'd just gotten there, popped open beers, leaned against the fence in the backyard and started to talk, when we saw the flashing police lights out front. We dropped said beer, hopped the fence, and ran all the way across town to my house -- quite a ways to do such a thing late at night. We drank beer with my dad out on the patio for a couple of hours until I eventually drove over to the area and let Jay out to pick up his car and drive home. Jay's car was a bitchin' dark-blue Trans-Am (or Camaro, things are shaky here), that looked great, and drove fantastically. It used lots of gas, though. I watched the gas gauge actually go down when he peeled out in the parking lot once. He peeled out that night, too, since the cops were gone. He may have gone over to Todd's to party, I don't know. I went home and continued to think about how cool it was that I actually got to escape a raided party with Jay Hilburn.
As human beings, we crave closure. It allows our lives to fit narrative conventions that we’ve been exposed to all our lives: beginning, middle, end. When this doesn’t happen, our lives enter the world of tragedy – especially when that closure is not how we’d want it, which life regularly isn’t. Here’s a for instance: I had been looking for a guy named Sean Shepler for a few years. I went to high school with him; he was damned funny – “Hello! I’m Mister Icy Drink Machine! Can I help you?” – and damned annoying -- the Drama Room door -- at the same time, but usually more funny. A mutual friend – Brian Gorrell, yet another fantastic musician I’ve had the pleasure to know, let me know out of the blue that Sean was dead, and had not died in a particularly pleasant fashion. I’d lost contact with Sean after The Party. He and I had simultaneously concocted the same lie that saved Cody (the party thrower) from getting charges pressed against him after The Party. We’d drifted apart, but I had seen him DJ down in Norman a few times before I finally moved down here, when I didn't see him again and then heard that he was dead. The sudden news of his death affected me in ways I did not expect, maybe because I was hoping to find him and reconnect, and maybe because it was not how that story should have ended. Sean was talented, damned funny (again), and should’ve had his own radio show on Sirius, making fun of everyone and everything while playing Miles Davis’ Tutu album. If I’m not looking as hard as I’d like to find Jay, then it’s for that reason: I don’t want to find out he’s dead, or drugged, or some other destiny that he damned well didn’t (doesn’t, let’s be optimistic) deserve. In this, I am practicing Avoidance.
As culture advances, mentally – HA!, there’s a concept – we have to become used to the idea that life, ideas, events, whatever, don’t happen the way we’ve necessarily been taught. World War II doesn’t begin with Pearl Harbor and end with the dropping of the A-Bomb. It’s an event that occurred because of multiple historical and cultural problems and multiple stupidities that are much more complex than a Jerry Bruckheimer film might make it out to be. However, it’s easier to think of it as: “We were attacked. We fought back. We built up our strengths, came together as a nation, and then beat the shit out of bunch of racists and fanatics, ultimately leading to the usage of the greatest scientific advance of the time to end the whole thing, and setting us up as world power!” This makes us look absolutely badass, and much of it is true. But there are grey areas: the whole Isolationist Movement and slight turn towards Fascism that people like Charles Lindbergh wanted (and the peace movement, which people Like Edith Keeler would have had us follow before she was wiped from the timeline. Thanks, Captain Kirk.) After the war, we had to deal with the consequences: the A-Bomb opened up the world to advanced means of destruction, we had troubles with prejudices and paranoia of our own to deal with afterward. To this day, many people hate it when their mythology is confronted with reality. Face it, folks. Human beings created this country – human beings who were as flawed as the rest of us, some of whom dug slavery, hated Germans, and fucked around because they could. However, that doesn’t fit the narrative, so we deny it.
I link this to my drug using, sex-filled friend from high school because I’m consciously avoiding answers. I’d prefer to remember Jay as this awesome guy who did and said what I wanted to say and do, and who once accepted a best musician award at a jazz contest while wearing my bunny slippers. He’s probably doing just fine, married, has a great job, and prefers his life now to his action-packed life in high school. I’d like to think that, as I slam closer to 40 and still deal with the fact that my life, as great as it is, is nowhere near what I thought it was going to be. In many ways, it’s better; I never thought I’d be able to have kids, and I never thought I’d be happier poor than when I had a nice-sized disposable income that allowed me to eat what I wanted, buy CD’s out the wazoo, and create a laser disc collection that is the envy of many unknown Japanese people who are still interested in such useless things. So, in a futile attempt to avoid the pressures of a non-narrative ending to a narrative I’ve created, I’d like to mis-quote F. Scott Fitzgerald, who once said that American lives have no second act. We get multiple acts, folks, and have no intermissions or entre-acts to consider what the hell just happened before we move on to the next. There are nice pauses sometimes, but, as Boethius said, “It's my belief that history is a wheel. ‘Inconsistency is my very essence’ -says the wheel- ‘Rise up on my spokes if you like, but don't complain when you are cast back down into the depths. Good times pass away, but then so do the bad. Mutability is our tragedy, but it is also our hope. The worst of times, like the best, are always passing away’.” Good and bad times mix, and we make the narratives of our lives and read them as we want. Many want their lives to read linearly, from beginning to end, but our lives are much more like Tarkovsky’s masterpiece The Mirror, which he uses as a metaphor for existence: our lives are like dropped mirrors, and the pieces reflect back different parts of us and our lives. It’s messier, but more accurate.
One last fragment. Jay called me up out of the blue a few days after graduation and asked if he could come over. My folks were out of town, so he said he'd bring a bottle of champagne, drink it with me in the hot tub, and we'd celebrate our graduation. We did this, but after about ten minutes, a young woman we were both acquainted with suddenly showed up to say hi to me, saw the two of us, and proceeded to take her clothes off and get in the tub, with a "come hither" stare if'n ever I've seen one. Jay immediately jumped at the chance, took off his bathing suit, jumped in the tub, and the two of them waited for me. I took a rain check, and closed the patio doors and the curtains to give them privacy. I smiled and drank more champagne. Eventually, someone else came over, and we talked while stuff was happening. Jay and the girl eventually came in, towels on, and went into the bathroom. Water started running for a bath. I waited a few minutes, and knocked on the closed door. The girl opened it, and Jay was lying naked in the bath tub, huge grin on his face. I grinned back, and closed the door. Our lives were all in front of us then, and hopefully, they still are. Wheel goes round.