[ I just recently got this issue uploaded... I'll make it look all pretty later. -rex ]
Small towns. Where would we be without
small towns? Sure, they're annoying, they're stupid, they're full
of ignorant people that consider "traveling to far off
lands" the same as going to the state fair. I'm talking
about those towns' that exist as tiny dots on the map that have
obscure names printed so small they're barely legible. Places
where communities are located at the ends of back roads. When you
take d shortcut off the interstate, make a wrong turn, then drive
50 miles only to find a would-be ghost town where everyone stops
and stares as you drive slowly though. That's what I'm talking
about. Small towns.
I've spent over half my life growing up in these places.,.When I was 11 years old, I lived in a "community called Jayes Mississippi. I was too young to realize that the only reason we were living there was because it was where my dad was born, and where his family still lived. I was too busy with my cousins playing in cow shit, blowing firecrackers up in cow shit, and throwing cow shit at each other. We had fun fun fun under the southern sun. Sure! We smashed things, we destroyed things, and we believed my grandfather was a voodoo which doctor. My dreams in life were not more than to go play in the sprinkler on a hot day, which seemed to be every day, so there was nothing to threaten my desires or purpose in life. Small town drudgery was a good thing back then, but that was a long time ago and I've learned a lot since. or have I???
Pensacola isn't really that small of a town, but somehow that's where I ended up. The only things that separate it from other rural townships would be it's location near the beach, a few small businesses that cater to intellectual subcultures, and a hand-full of literary bohemians. It's their undying efforts that prevent social erosion from washing this little paradise into the wastelands.
It's a common opinion amongst old people that these dots of civilization are the saving grace of America. They'll ramble on about how nice the folks are and about how wonderful a simple existence is. They might look for the most pleasant sounding town name with the lowest population, something like, Shady Crick Hallow with a collection of 300 proud patriotic Americans. They might even find an RV pull-in with sewage hookups where a person can sit outside and collect mosquito bites. Oh.. what a time these geriatrics can have in their fadedmemory-come-to-life.
Okay, I'm getting off the point. The first part of this issue is supposed to be about the positive aspects of small towns!
A few things I love about small towns:
When you walk or bike around at night, the streets are empty. If you want to play guitar in front of a store fox money, you probably won't get kicked out. Old buildings that are improperly secured and full of forgotten relics make for fun exploration. The lack of thumping cars driven by half-deaf gangsters. If you're normal, people really are nice to you.
I think it's that last one that keeps me from having a heart for the gentle nature of our country's neoindigenous peoples. When I try to think of more things I like, they end up being the. lack of things that are dominant in larger cities. Like homeless people crazy out of their heads demanding money from me on the street. Business men, military guys, crack heads, cops, street lights, miserable people who can't escape the city because it keeps them poor, etc. Maybe the evil fingers of modern day haven't touched every piece of teraformed land in the united states, but thanks to television we have a twisted experiment going on. We get to see the elements of civilized culture mutate into a myriad of hybrid characteristics. A guy with a mullet, and a playstation can be a scary thing. Set it to a soundtrack of Santana and you've got the makings of a really terrifying movie plot. Geez. Is there nothing nice I can say about small towns??
How can you deny a perfect thing? Really nowit all seems so perfect from the outside. Tiny communities of friendly people, working together to help the elderly or underpriviledged. Making sure everyone has food on the holidays, and giving jobs to those that need them. It sounds a lot like a some inner-city collective run by hippies and punks! But city slickers are generally afraid of those people. So, there's a bit of a double standard going on based on geographic locale. That happy little town might exist, but if it does, I bet it's only in places where everyone is white and in love with country music! I bet everyone is happy in the Ku Klux Kommune as long as no one from the outside challenges their beliefs. Just like an African tribe that has survived for thousands of years without all the interference of outsiders. Untainted primitive civilizations having discovered that the evil from outside threatens the purity of within.
My problem is that even though I might "dress down" to look normal, thus avoiding a lynching in Shadybrook Biblesville, I'll still be nailed for looking like a city slicker! If it's not one thing with these people, it's another. "Hey look, the circus must be in town!" as I'm trying to buy orange juice at a convenience store. "Where the fuck did you come from?!" as I'm trying to get gas at a gas station. "Hey, halloween is in October!" while I'm trying to find my way out of their crummy village. The very basics of preschool intellect seem to be the foundation of their every argument. Insulting each other with the same lines that were first aimed at them.
Nice nice nice. I'm supposed to come up with something NICE to say! Damn, this is tough.
People feel safe in small towns and that's a nice thought. As if the atmosphere makes for well adjusted individuals that want nothing to do with crimes of hate. They feel like they can leave their doors unlocked and the keys in the ignition. Their little daughters can feel safe riding their training-wheel equipped bicycles as far as they like. But wait... don't most serial killers in fact come from small towns? They have to get their start somewhere and where else but a place where they have so much time to think about life?! With enough time, one could even surmise the theory that all life is a meaningless f annoyance and must be ended at any cost.
Guffy Colorado. It snows in June, nothing ever happens, and the highway steers clear of the whole city. It was founded in the early 60's (making it older than the city of Lake Havasu Arizona) by a bunch of mop-tops who chose to avoid civilization. They fucked each other and squirted out babies by the dozens to make their numbers grow. Now Guffy is inhabited by the families of those same hippies and bikers and some would say it's a perfect place. There's one store. It's a clothing store/grocery store/head shop and that's it! The population of Guffy? 42 at most. One dirt road, a couple of houses, and a giant looming cloud of pot smoke. Hats off to Guffy, you dudes rock!
There's nothing like looking up into the night sky and being able to see the stars. It's something you can't really do in a smoggy environment, but in the clean-air of a rural expanse, you can see our entire galaxy (so lovingly named after cow secretion). Bring up the fact that our astronomers have discovered other planets outside our solar system and it's time to get the shotguns and pitchforks! The mere thought that there are other cities in other states is depressing enough for some.
You see how it is? I just can't come up with anything nice to say about small towns. I feel like the inhabitants are generally backwards and dangerous people. And even though there are backwards and dangerous people in big cities as well, there are at least a fair number of harmless, creative ones to provide a counterbalance. Changes in our collective reality often are made by some kind of common opinion or vote. When the majority wants things one way, then chances are that's the way it will become. When the majority is sensitive to the needs of minorities, then we have a compassion element that is often left out of smaller local governments. It's really too bad that people with alternative lifestyles can't live anywhere they want. They are forced to flock to major cities for acceptance, and why is that? Maybe it's because the only way anyone can gain enlightenment and cultural awareness is to experience both ends of the residential spectrum. Maybe that's what brought me from Anchorage AK (a mid-sized city) to Pensacola FL (a small, but not too small one). Maybe I hoped to gain enlightenment.
Well, I lived in Pensacola for two years... which should be enough time to figure out what the fuck I was doing there.
And that brings us to part two, which was written before what you just read. I guess I just wanted you to know a bit about where I'm coming from. Even if you don't agree with me, at least you are closer to understanding my view.
If we all understood each other's feelings, the word "war" wouldn't even be in our vocabulary.
I heard something digging around in my dog's food dish. Late at night I could always hear some kind of scurrying in the house. Sometimes it would be rats or mice, but they sounded like pissed off fuzzy-dice in the walls. This was more like shuffling rice paper, but it wasn't rice paper. It was the scrapping of hard legs against exoskeleton, scurrying to get from there to here. Just 10 minutes before, I was crouched down, putting something back in the fridge when I saw flailing in my periphery. I looked down to see a giant roach (palm meadow bug) trapped on it's back. I managed to flick it into a small empty potato chip bag and took it outside to roach heaven (the garbage can). Most of the time, I don't like to kill bugs who's only crime is being in my view with the lights on, but when I feel like they're ganging up on me, my sensitivities start to fade.
I walked over to the dish of dog food and was surprised by the sudden appearance of a tiny head and two 3-inch-long antennae. The long brown beetle climbed onto the rim and did a once around, then disappeared back into the food. After a few seconds it was on the lip again, so I picked up the dish and shook it, causing the insect to tumble down on the peeling linoleum of my kitchen floor. For a moment I had some strange logic. "If it can lift the dish, then it can do what it likes" I thought, then quickly set the bowl back down on top of the bug. I actually sat there for a while and waited for the my dog's dish to move, but it didn't. Even though the roaches in Florida are huge, I guess this one wasn't huge enough to escape the heft of my canine's dinner. I was struck with empathy, imagining it under there... not enough weight to kill it, but enough to keep it in place. And I knew how it felt.
I moved to Pensacola because it had a certain appeal to me. Something rare in this country of ours is the "hip small town". A quiet community of not so miserable people living in tolerance of the eccentric and the disenchanted. There are a few towns that I've been to that have these qualities (like Bloomington Indiana or Athens Georgia), but I chose Pensacola for the people I knew. Just a hand full of movers & shakers that made sure there was always something going on.
The first year was spent mostly traveling around the country then returning to my home base in P'town, but the second year found me stationary in a small run down house with cheap rent right next door to. those same friends that brought me there. I set up camp in that tiny rat infested structure and started building. Maybe living in warehouses has taken it's toll on me, but... no wait... I'm sure it's taken it's toll, but I always feel the need to build my own living quarters wherever I live. I started out in the smallest room of the house, a wide hallway that lead to the bathroom, so that roommates could take the bigger room and split the rent. I moved in my stuff and quickly realized that there simply wasn't enough space for even half of it, so I built a loft. A magnificent god-like structure big enough to put the mattress and box had also found repaired x-mas ambient light springs I had found, with a storage area over the door that was tall enough to put the 70's era art-deco coffee table with sliding front doors I strung up some scavenged & lights around the ceiling for (no shadows) and put a desk I had found under the whole thing on the floor where there were even more xmas lights. It was strong enough to hold at least 3 people and my big dog as well as all the crap I stored up there without even as much as a creak. After screwing some dumpstered metal shelving slot-rails up high on the walls, I had everything in it's place and all was good. There were times when I'd be up in my loft for days without having to face anyone. I'd sneak down to the bathroom once in a while, maybe grabbing some dumpster-liberated snacks, then I'd climb back up the ladder without the necessity of a single word. My bed was soft, my mind was clear, and life was good...
Then reality had to go and rear it's ugly head, just like it always does. Other people have lives of their own as it seems. They like to play their music, have their friends over, and ask me meaningless questions. My tranquility was ruined by the sounds of roommates living their lives. Doing the same things I do, sure, but for some reason it was getting to me. I liked my roommates for the most part, but when life starts to seem too complicated, I strive for simplicity and silence. Even if for just a moment. Not their fault.
A guy named Brian was traveling across the south with a friend, but had gotten seperated somehow. They had agreed to meet in Pensacola should such a thing occur, but his friend never showed up. I arrived late at night from a greyhound trip to the west coast to find him sleeping on my porch. Zack woke up as I walked into the kitchen. "Hey rex, welcome back" he said. I checked around the kitchen to see what was different then asked, "who's that guy with the ripped up shirt sleeping out on the porch?". "Oh, that's Brian, He's just passing through and needed a place to stay". It had become a really common thing for travelers to sleep on our porch, so it wasn't anything new. Still, it was a bit annoying. In the past, some have exercised poor judgment in the selection of our visitors. Nothing too bad, but still, I was wondering who this person was . I waited until the next morning to find out. He was already awake when I walked out the front door. He had this yellow shirt on with two rows of precise horizontal cuts in the back going from top to bottom. Over each hole was another word. Names of things he hated I guess... that, combined with the traditional aged-leather jacket, messy no-style-in-particular hair, and ripped jeans, all seemed really 70's punk rock to me. Which is all together annoying and somehow comforting at the same time.
His eyes were always slightly squinted, as if trying to perpetually see past the bullshit, and into the evil truth that we all hold inside. When he talked, it was from the corner of his mouth through a pained sneer. He was filthy, he was scruffy, he slept with his boots on, and to say he was a pretty cool guy would be nothing less that an understatement . Of all the people who have stumbled through town and spent a night on my porch, Brian was the one that changed my downward spiraling attitude toward them.
A new friend... You know how often I make new friends? Almost never. I lack the desire to meet and get to know most people. My first impressions are always like or dislike, but vastly more the later than the prior. When I do make the rare new friend, I like to think they are a friend for life. After all, what's the point of making friends if you're not planning to keep them? I don't like to use people, I also don't like to waste time with people who have nothing to offer, even if the "thing" they have to offer is nothing more than stimulating conversation. Hell, not even that. Some people's mere existence is an inspiration to me. I might never meet Elliot Smith, but the knowledge that he's out there somewhere makes me feel a little more hopeful that I haven't wasted too much of my life to do something about it. Wait a second.... Why am I talking about Elliot Smith all the sudden?! I guess he's just on my mind today.
Funny thing about that... I'll just take a moment to draw a vague correlation that probably no one can understand but myself. It's sort of the feeling I got from Pensacola before I moved there. There's some old blood in that town. Untold history. Of punks that have grown up,
moved on, but not lost the fight. [umm... the following might not relate to you] Eventually, we'll all have to face it. When it's no longer "cute" to have green hair and filthy clothes, but just depressing. When you realize that hiding your feelings only means you're lying to yourself for the enjoyment of others. When you see that you'll never make a difference in the word by pissing and moaning to your friends. These come: a day when life makes a little more sense and maybe even becomes a little bit uglier. The world doesn't care about you. Your life holds a5 much value as the organs you might donate after your death and that's it. It's the way that everything can seem stacked against you, but still not get you down because after all, you've got more stacked against you when you're a young punk. A life of pain can make a person strong. It can also ruin a person. That's what I think. Pensacola reminded me that that it's okay to stagy true to your values, even if they don't involve carving out a nitche for yourself. It reminded me that it doesn't matter how young or old you are, but rather how real you are.
Back to my vague correlation- When I had first heard Elliot, I was stuck in a strange tows with no friends, nowhere to go, and nowhere to sleep that night. I had found a coffee shop that
was kind enough to coffee for my zine
first hour. I
trade a bottomless cup for a and not kick me out after the
sat there reflecting on the events
that had brought me to such an inhospitable place when I heard something playing on the stereo. I moved closer to the speaker and listened to the
words closely. When the song was done, I looked around quickly, then pushed the "back" button to play the song again. I didn't know who it was, I had no idea. At first I thought it was probably some nobody band that had scored a record contract with some nowhere label. Their past had probably been useless and now they were making bitter sweet lullabies from the mess of it all. Of course, I was wrong. I was taken away for moment to a better place, then when it was all over. I came back and asked the girl working who it was. It was Elliot Smith and the past didn't matter. Yeah, I'm a smoothy for sure. Give me a break.
Sometimes the biggest "fuck you" of all comes from the down-trodden soul that raises it's face and smiles at the world. The smile of defiance.
Our neighbors had challenged us to a "house band feud". They all started a band and set about writing songs, while we were to do the same. Except, like many of my stories from Pensacola, it turned out to be a beautiful fairy tale with an unhappy ending. My bass guitar was broken, Zack was always gone, and Martin was about as easy to get along with as a bi-polar deaf mute. The neighbors called their band "The Blank Fight". They were together for about a month and still managed to go on tour, record an album, make T-shirts, and pack the house when they played at Sluggo's. Meanwhile, we managed to quietly have domestic turmoil and accomplish nothing.
The whole pile of shit got eaten after the Blank Fight show in Ft. Walton (just an hour away). Martin and some friends stayed behind while the rest of us drove back home. They got drunk and drove around the little towns until finally, in their infinite wisdom, they decided to try and steal a case of beer from a convenience store. The next I heard from Martin was a collect call from the county jail whew he was being held until bail was posted. Even though there was bitterness between us, I still went and got him. The funny part is that we drove directly to Sluggo's to catch the last Blank Fight show. I went upstairs where the stage was, only to see Martin's friend whom had been let go the day before... dancing around and acting silly. He spotted me and ran over to ,tell me "I'll go get Martin out tomorrow, don't worry about it!". I didn't bother to tell him that Martin was downstairs. Instead I just smiled and nodded while he went and shook his butt in complete oblivion. What a great friend.
A few months later, the roommate situation changed a bit. One left (Martin aka Mr. Big-room), and the other remained (Zack aka Zack). I moved in to the "big room" thus relinquishing my former habitat to Zack, the long-haired, shoplifting, poppy growing, hardcore music listening, yuppie-shirt wearing, four-eyed, activist, freight hopping, and all round great guy that had been sleeping on a cot in the kitchen for the last 6 months. He had helped me work up the courage to give our problem child the boot, which did a lot to return our home to it's
former glory. I set about building my second loft. It was bigger than the old loft, and stronger. I stacked literally half of my belongings on top of it and put my bed underneath. I made it into a desk where my desk top was over the door, so that if you walked in, I could kick you in the face! The walls were covered with the stupidest graffiti you can imagine, spray paint everywhere, people's names and catch phrases. Depressing wasn't the word for it, but the only word I could find that fit.
Zack had a guitar that he'd let me play whenever I wanted, so there were many occasions for us and our friends to sing our silly made-up songs in the kitchen. We'd sing about the crackhead revolution gathering around our weekly "urban campfire" behind the house. We'd sing about the "Cometbus Observatory" we operated out of our kitchen when Aaron moved next door, into the room outside our window. About how there's "no fucking love in this city no more. Some of the happiest nights there, were spend around a bottle of O1' Crow knocking back shots, chain smoking, and making musical fun of everyone we knew.
Finally, one day, I found myself going through the paces that I know all too well. The steps of sifting through crap and packing it up. Throwing away relics that I've carried around with me since I was 10 years old and keeping the ones from when I was 5. Trashing the flyers and posters that I hadn't put on the wall in two years, and making a pile of devices I had found and fixed, but never used. I thought about going
to the flea market and selling the broken computer parts I had come across as if they worked, but I was reminded that it's a shitty thing to do... especially when it happens to me. I was packing my life away and moving it to yet another city. A bigger city this time. No more living in the back woods for me, I had to yo where there are opportunities! Where there are other people like me, where the things I do are important, where there is an actual community.
Or was I just deluding myself? Do these things even exist anywhere?? Only one way to find out.
Seattle seemed nice. I mean, With all the WTO riots and everything, how could I loose? I got a call from my former Fsunjibleableje band mate who told me he had been tear gassed while walking home. So I decided to move there. Rather we decided to move there.
Forgive me if I'm brief with this part, but I don't really think this is the place to go into detail about my love life,.. I met Rebecca during a trip to Alaska just before I worked at the state fair to afford a ticket home. She was visiting from St. Louis, but that didn't keep us apart for very long. She eventually moved down to Pensacola and into my little house where we both lived while working and saving up to make the move. During the last few months of Pensacola, I built a dark room in the giant
closet of the "big room". Rebecca got to put her photos on the wall at Van Gogh's coffee shop, but We both got jobs at RGIS (Retail Grocery Inventory Services) counting useless shit in grocery stores, which later we both quit at the same time. She continued working in a Ritz photo lab, and I got a job washing dishes at a sushi restaurant which I eventually got fired from because my pill-popping boss was having a bad day. We skated through our last days making just barely enough to save a little extra at the end of each month. I started selling all those things I never used (left overs from doing shows in warehouses) and it just didn't seem to make a huge difference, but something told me everything was going to be alright. After all, Rebecca has this big camper-van that we could always live in if we ended up broke and homeless. And me, I always have... well... I have... MY WITS, right??? Yeah, I've got my wits to fall back on!
A dark cloud moved over our little town. Friends everywhere kept getting fired from jobs, the local activist collective was cast into turmoil, the neighbors (who had been best of friends) started having inner-conflict, the club closed down, Rebecca's van broke down, and every piece of plumbing in my bathroom started to leak. All at once! Then before you knew it, the collective was doing better, some friends left and others returned, I fixed the van, got a car in exchange for money owed to me by Martin, and then Rebecca and I got new issues of our zines done at the same time! Chaos! If Pensacola had been a human being, it would be popping antidepressants and washing them down with gallons of hooch by now.
What confusion! Sometimes, I just wanted to go join the circus with Rymo and tour the nation.
There are memories that I'll keep with me, but not so much the ones that hurt to remember. In some strange way, I think I had hoped that living in such a real place would help me learn to be more real myself, but I think it turned out to show me that I'm already real enough. It showed me that even though I'm true to myself, that possibly it's just myself that doesn't do well with others. It's this fact that I think will haunt me the most. It's like going to a church to find salvation and having the priest tell you there is no god.
Never, before had I wanted to do so many things and "had so little energy to do them. Weather it was the dull moist heat outside, the daily monotony of trips to the air conditioned coffee shop, or the annoying energy I felt from being in the south... How there are so many dumb traditions and old values. Like, how males and females are encouraged to live in two separate bubbles, where the boys want only to grow up to be men and the girls desire only to be facilitated by boys until they are ready to be
house wives. Where talk of things like marriage and family aren't just common, they're mandatory! The south... Sheesh!
Things ending... Not long after I arrived in Pensacola, I started noticing things closing down. It started with a few obsolete clothing
stores that had obviously been around since the beginning of time. Landmarks even. Then there was rampant talk of "cleaning up downtown" which was located on the opposite end of town from the masses that could have created a social hub. Before long, the clubs started to go away leaving only a hand full of frat bars, and strip joints. The elders of the community wanted the downtown area to be nothing more than a touristy play-pen for evil business people to stroll around and eat bagels. Nothing for the youth of today.
I didn't hate Pensacola, I just hated the way it made me feel. It was still the same wonderful place, with all the same mystery and intrigue, but I had gotten used to it and was ready to start something new. I was feeling like the mysteries had all been figured out and the intrigue was no longer intriguing. It was just the same of people doing the same of nothing everyday. There's a whole committee of "porch dwellers" that have gotten together to try and keep everything in that town exactly the same. That combined with the conservative nature of the local government makes for a really boring place.
Just like always, when I get frustrated and fed up with life, I end up sitting down to write about it. It helps, really. As of right now, I have less than a week before we leave. We don't know if we have enough money to make it, and we don't know what will happen between now and the day our feet are hitting the pavement of Washington state. Who knows? Maybe you bought this because we were desperately trying to raise
money on the road. Sometimes selling zines can make a difference... between getting home and being stuck in the middle of small town America, broke and out of gas.
Thanks for buying this. you made a difference.