Thursday, September 8, 2016

Life on Other Planets

In college, my friend Curt lived in a shack.

Well, not the whole time, just his last summer in Tallahassee. And it wasn't really a shack, more like an old warehouse. It actually used to be a punk club, Planet Ten. It was downtown over by an auditorium and a bunch of half-razed buildings.

I spent a lot of time there that summer. At least that's how I remember it. I was probably only really there for a few weekends. It was fun, if a bit unnerving. I mean, you'd be sleeping on a bed close to where Black Flag played a few years previously, but you'd also worry a bit about rats or bums interrupting your beauty sleep.

The place didn't have a bathroom, air conditioning, or water, but that didn't seem that big a deal in your 20s. There was a gas station close by that was friendly with their bathrooms, and I remember swimming in some apartment complex's pool when the dirt/heat got too much.

Curt and his roommate Pete had different strategies to beat the Florida heat and humidity. Pete took to sleeping with a bucket of ice water on his chest. It made sense at the time. Curt's remedy was simpler - in his words "You have to get drunk just to get some sleep."

I certainly wasn't objecting to that.

Curt had the larger room - right off of where the stage used to be. Pete had a room in the back decorated  like a cross between a dungeon, a cable access monster movie show and a set for a Cramps video. He had an awesome collection of old monster records, as well as just about anything you could put a Frankenstein or Dracula on.

There was a courtyard-type thing between their place and an auto repair place, one of the few businesses still standing. This area was filled with junked cars and busted out TVs and other assorted debris, giving the place a nice post-Armageddon look.

Planet Ten was a perfect place for parties, as there were no neighbors (well, except for the occasional bums on the other side of the plywood wall) and nobody really cared what went on in the run-down part of Tallahassee. Like a lot of punk houses, it had the feeling of Pinocchio's Pleasure Island (before the whole turning into donkeys part), a space with no rules or responsibilities, a place where you could set off bottle rockets inside, play your latest records at a respectable volume, have a party on a Tuesday, or just reject your middle-class upbringing by throwing empty bottles at the busted TV out in the back.

It was the morning after a party one day and Curt and I woke up around 11, as gentlemen are wont to do. This was in those wonderful, magical days before your body punished you with hangovers, and we were sitting around playing Pete's monster records while planning what we were going to do later that day.  An angry banging on the garage-type door interrupted our philosophical discussion on "Famous Monsters Speak."
I mean, of course we had to discuss this. Look at those headlines!
Curt rolled up the door and we were confronted by two angry rednecks and their short African-American friend. The head redneck was screaming at Curt for having a party and leaving cans and bottles all over the vacant lot.

A scene like this is never fun to be confronted with first thing in the morning, but to be caught holding a copy of "Famous Monsters Speak" with a dazed, deer in the headlights look like I was, at least added some humor.

Head Redneck finished screaming at Curt after we promised to pick up all our trash, and he and Silent Redneck got in a truck and took off. Their African-American pal got on a bike and shouted, "Ya'll shouldn't be having no parties anyway" as he was leaving.

We spent about 20 minutes cleaning up the yard, and Pete was even awoken from his dungeon enough to help for a while. While Curt and I were accustomed to crappy work in the Florida sun, it was pretty funny watching a hungover Pete gingerly grabbing a can, looking like a vampire caught in the first rays of sunlight.

There weren't too many parties after that, and Pete and Curt drove off to grad school a month or so later, right on the heels of a long-awaited bum invasion of the space. Years later we learned the rednecks were touchy about the condition of their vacant lot because they had branched out into the much more lucrative business of smuggling cocaine and were currently awaiting trial.

The three of us, on the other hand, have all moved on to become respected members of our communities, In fact, if you need a skull microphone (and who doesn't, really) check out Pete's site.

Occasionally when I'm shelling out for a monthly mortgage gouging, or the city tells me I have to clean up the vines on my side yard, I yearn for the simplicity of a shack where I can live far away from The Man's rules and regulations. Then I remember the scary rednecks and bums and rats and the lack of air conditioning and kiss the threshold of my suburban home.

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