Thursday, December 27, 2012

Photo Finish

A bright light flashed in front of my eyes for a few seconds.

"One more."

I was at the DMV renewing my license about 10 years ago.  This was my fourth attempt at the photo. The first three hadn't gone too well.

"Your eyes are still closed. This is the last one, OK? No matter what happens, this one is the one we're going with."

I am not what you'd call photogenic. I'll see group pictures and think, "She looks like she usually does, and he looks like he usually does, but what is wrong with me? I don't look like that all the time, right? I mean, I look in the mirror and I look OK, sort of dashing and rugged, actually. How do I end up looking like a combination of Tom Arnold and Nathan Lane in photographs?"

So I was used to bad pictures. I don't know how many people throughout my life had said, "Why did you have to make that face in the photo," when I didn't have the heart to tell them that that was actually my normal face.

"OK, keep your eyes open this time. On three. One. Two. Three."


At this particular DMV there was a screen where the workers would see the photograph as it was being processed behind the counter. I'm standing there, blinking the sunspots out of my eyes when I hear the entire staff start laughing.

That's never a good sign.

"Here's your license, Mr. Adams," the woman behind the counter said with barely controlled laughter.

I looked at it, expecting the worst.

I wasn't let down. I was so afraid of closing my eyes, that I kept them open as wide as possible. I resembled an excited Mr. Furley with about 30 extra pounds.

My driver's license from 2000
It worked, I guess. Cops always did a double take when pulling me over, and it was always a winner whenever a group was playing "check out my terrible license photo." I really should have scanned it, but when I got it updated a few years back they gave me a new photo, one where I looked like a Russian mobster.

I just got a replacement license this morning after losing my wallet in Bradenton over Christmas. The photo is OK, but I do miss the power of having a driver's license photo that cracked up a whole office of hardened DMV workers, even after the thousands of terrible photos they had seen.

After five attempts at a photo this time, the woman behind the counter said, "Well, at least you have a better picture than your last one."

If she only knew.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

White Christmas

When I was a kid, Christmas Day was mostly a relief after the ordeal of Christmas Eve. I was so excited to see my presents the next morning, but terrified that I hadn't been good enough to deserve any that I would end up throwing up out of anxiety by early evening.

As I grew older, I didn't get as excited about Christmas, possibly in an effort to save my stomach lining. But I would still get flashes of Christmas Spirit, even when I was a teenaged punk rocker and opposed to everything that normal people might like or take comfort in.

Christmas Eve 1989 was cold. Around midnight I was with my friends Curt and Jennifer at her mom's house. I remember driving down Riverside Avenue earlier to pick up Curt and getting caught in a slow-moving trail of cars looking at luminaria and Christmas lights. I was 19 at the time, so this boring old person wagon train was a personal affront to my mission that night, which was to speed as fast as possible down Riverside's twists and turns to pick up my friend. Now, of course, I'll watch the hell out of some luminaria and Christmas lights.

Curt and Jennifer were both home on Christmas break. I was still in Bradenton, making my way through community college. It was a strange time. My friends had moved away and I was working part time and making awesome grades, the first time since about elementary school, probably because I was actually trying for once. But I felt like my friends were out there growing and experiencing stuff while I was spinning my wheels back in my home town.

In those primitive days, contact was pretty much limited to letters, occasional phone calls, and the reliable passenger pigeon, so the few times a year we could get together meant a lot. They would tell me about Gainesville and Tallahassee and how I needed to get up there, fast. That's what we ended up talking about that night. I remember Jennifer had given me a copy of the No Idea zine, with the Mutley Chix/Crimprshine split 7", and like all punk rockers at the time, we were talking about Fugazi.* Jennifer had an advance copy of what would be "Repeater" and we played it over and over again.

"There's a whole world out there where people are creating and doing stuff," I thought. "And I've got to be a part of it."

But I was also genuinely happy to be with my friends. A little later I was driving home through the deserted streets after dropping Curt off. I was thinking how grateful I was to have such good friends and was pondering the future and sort of wondering what and where my place was.

My thoughts were interrupted by waves of pollen from the palm trees falling on my windshield. "Stupid pollen," I thought. "I'm probably going to be all stopped up tomorrow."

Wait a minute, that wasn't pollen at all. It was snow!

I hadn't seen snow in years, not since I was a kid in Mississippi. And it was snowing on Christmas Eve! I stopped the car and let the snow (really little more than frozen rain) fall on my face and hands.

Driving the rest of the way home, I finally got it. The Christmas spirit. Like the best Christmas songs and entertainment, I was feeling happy and excited, but just a little melancholy and thankful at the same time. I hadn't felt that way in a while.

And then I realized why I hadn't really felt Christmasy the last few years. I was waiting for that pure rush of excitement I got opening presents as a kid. But adult Christmas wasn't just about excitement and happiness, it was the whole mixture, with a little bit of sadness and hope and thankfulness.

Christmas is Charlie Brown loving a crappy Christmas tree. It's Jimmy Stewart hugging the shit out of his family. It's the insanely sad lyrics to "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" or Shane McGowan slurring, "I could have been someone." It's Scrooge getting the miserliness scared out of him.

And it's also Dean Martin slurring though "Silver Bells" and dogs at a bandstand happily barking their way through "Jingle Bells," but that's a whole other story.

In the following years, there would always be a time, sometimes only a  brief moment when I could catch that feeling again. Joy, contentment, chemical compounds rushing out to fight seasonal depression, who knows what it actually was. But each year there would come a time when I'd be alone, feeling an incredible mix of contentment and happiness, mixed with just a tinge of sadness to make it all the more sweet.

Whatever your holiday traditions are, I hope you get to experience some of that, at least for a little while this year.

* In the late '80s/early '90s, every conversation between punk rockers would eventually come around to Ian MacKaye and/or GG Allin.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Tiny Treasures

It seems like we visited my Great Aunt Tiny and Uncle Norwood a lot when I was a kid.

I wasn't complaining - they had this awesome house on the outskirts of Fort Myers that Uncle Norwood designed and built.

The house was on a natural dam by Lake Orange. There was a family of alligators that would come up on the bank in the afternoon, which I thought was the coolest thing in the world. The house was on a lot of land, so you could spend the day fishing, playing in the lake, exploring the woods, or driving the golf cart across the dam in the afternoon to feed the cows or visiting a little hollow in the woods that Aunt Tiny called her "laughing place."

Most of their house was dark and cool with some of the creepiness around the corners that fascinated me as a kid. There was a little pond out front with these scary tiki statues that I was drawn to, but afraid to look at too much. There was also a novelty bathroom trashcan in the shape of a huge stick of dynamite that absolutely terrified me.

There was also Uncle Norwood's study, full of old copies of  my Uncle Bruce's old comic collection  which included a ton of horrifying EC comics about people coming back from the dead to avenge murders or getting killed gruesomely in ironic twists. I also found a bunch of Playboy joke books that went completely over my head, but hey, they had cartoons of naked ladies in them.

I don't remember Uncle Norwood too much - maybe he was annoyed with the kids running around and tried to stay away from the house on our visits. And now, with the ravages of age on my memory, there's a lot I'm forgetting about Aunt Tiny.

Tiny wasn't really her name, of course. It was just a nickname that stuck. I mostly remember her telling me about St. Patrick every St. Patrick's Day, which is strange, since our family wasn't Catholic. I also remember the rainy days when we would paint.

Aunt Tiny loved buying stuff at flea markets and yard sales. One of her specialties was old paintings.
When it rained, she would let me help her improve them.

Like, say she originally had a painting of a field. She might decide it needed brighter grass. So we'd repaint the grass. Then with the grass that bright, the sun and sky needed to be redone. And the original artist really missed the boat by not adding any clouds, so we'd have to put some in there. And hey, how about some bunnies in the field, or a flock of birds flying around? Can't have an empty, boring field.

Birds in a big field of green

And after adding all that stuff, we had really done more work than the original artist. What gave him the right to keep his lazy name on it? So we'd paint over the name and paint our own on there.

Three bunnies meet an owl. I don't know what that grass curtain on the left is.
Sometimes the paintings would retain most of the original work, with our improvements enhancing whatever the now-anonymous artist had originally done, other times there was so much paint on the that they became completely new works, like the two paintings here that I've had for ...holy crap, probably over 35 years.

Our big mistake was not publicizing this stuff. I mean, an untaught senior citizen and a little kid manipulating other people's art? If we had thrown around enough bullshit and two-dollar words, we would have been the kings of American postmodernism.

So today when I see art repurposing someone else's original work, my first reaction is usually, "Eh. Aunt Tiny invented that stuff."

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

It's All Connected

In addition to my punishing schedule here at Goo Goo Muck Industries, I also do book/DVD/CD reviews for another site. Every once in a while I'll realize I don't have anything to say about a reissue of an album I've been listening to for over 20 years, and then realize I've been sitting on the review for 6 weeks.

If I remember my literary history* F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote "The Great Gatsby" in 6 weeks, the same amount of time it took me to think up synonyms for "rocking" for a Stooges review.

Of course it was easier back then. While authors in those days had their distractions, like crippling alcohol dependencies, schizophrenic spouses, and sitting around tables being witty, the modern scribe has the internet to steal his or her time away.

Take tonight. "Man, I haven't written anything for the blog in weeks," I was thinking. "Remember how I told myself I was going to put something out once a week? Luckily I didn't write that down."

"I've got all sorts of halfway finished stories, maybe I can do something with one of those."

After poking around the drafts, I thought I had something with my version of falling asleep at the drive-in. But I had a quote in the first paragraph from Ike and Tina Turner's version of "Proud Mary" that I wasn't absolutely sure I had the correct words for. So I had to look that up on Youtube for transcription purposes. Can't have fact errors on the internet.

That led me to about an hour's worth of Ike and Tina Turner songs on Spotify. Holy crap, there's an album called "Cussin,' Cryin' and Carryin' On?" Well, I gotta listen to that. That led me to the James Brown Christmas album, which naturally led to Fishbone's "It's a Wonderful Life." Hey, I need to find a good picture of Potterville showing that cool Indian Head Club. That took an hour or so.

Someone on Facebook had a link to Elvis Costello performing on Saturday Night Live when he stopped a song and launched into "Radio Radio," so I watched that and wondered why that would get him banned from the show for years. I mean, it's not like he was doing "Drink, Fight, and Fuck." Oh, the Beastie Boys did the same thing later, starting with "Sabatoge," stopping, then getting Elvis on there to do "Radio Radio." I should watch that a couple times, also.

Hey, I wonder if anyone ever released I Was A Teenage Frankenstein and/or I Was A Teenage Werewolf on DVD? That kept me busy for some time. Dr. Paul Bearer used to play those all the time on "Creature Feature," so I had to look up "Creature Feature" commercials on Youtube. That caused me to look up the Cramps's song "I Was A Teenage Werewolf." A link from that made me realize that all my work/procrastination had not been in vain. No, by switching off my conscious brain and searching for connections, I had inadvertently stumbled across the greatest thing on the internet. Ladies and Gentlemen, I present to you the best music video ever assembled:

While it's actually the Stranglers, not the Cramps, and I feel that the couple seconds of Shermy dancing in the middle there distract from the overall theme, I think I can safely say that I put in a productive night's work.

Let's see F. Scott Fitzgerald pull that off.

* I probably don't.