Friday, November 13, 2020

Serbia / Slovenia

         It was the Spring of 2013 and one week deep into a European tour with Rene Hell and Laser Poodle. The tour had been centered around an invitation to play at the Donau Festival in Austria and the four of us relaxed in the dressing room there drinking complimentary cans of a cheap lager called Zipfer while Jeff (Rene Hell) watched basketball on his laptop and I took Vine videos of everyone hanging out. 
In three days time we would reach the eastern most destination of our trip — the Serbian capital of Belgrade. Speculation as to what awaited us there was one of two conversational topics that dominated our car rides. None of us had ever been or really knew very much about the place and the mystique of it cast an apprehensive and somewhat ominous shadow over the days leading up to our arrival. The second topic was a fantasy in which the promoter of an upcoming show, enraged by the some might say ‘difficult’ computer-music stylings of Rene Hell, experiences a violent meltdown resulting in a variety of unspeakable horrors, ultimately ending in Jeff’s murder. Other than this we kept it pretty quiet. 

The night before Serbia we rung up an impressive bar tab drinking frozen cocktails on the roof of a ship in Budapest and in the morning we traversed the Great Hungarian Plain in a frenzy of hungover anxiety as the highway signs guided us gently towards Belgrade. The armed border patrolmen did little to soothe our nerves, staring abhorrently at our American passports and surveying the car’s interior clutter with an eye of revulsion before eventually waving us through. Immediately the TomTom GPS unit that had escorted us thus far ceased to operate — Serbian highway data had not been part of its programming and we hurtled along through the countryside desperate for guidance. Stopping at a gas station on the outskirts of the city we took photos of a road map and zooming in on these managed to locate the name of the street the venue was on and clumsily navigated our way to that general area where we proceeded on foot.
Mosquitoes were a problem this time of year as was apparent the moment we stepped out of the car when a large flatbed truck came noisily shambling up the road spitting thick streams of toxic insecticide out of various tubes that protruded from a large Soviet-style contraption strapped to the back. Imitating the locals, we covered our faces with our shirts and ducked into the nearest shop as it ambled by, enveloping the street in a pale orange haze. We had arrived. 
The addresses weren’t always labeled so clearly and the numerical system by which they increased or decreased wasn’t based on a logic that any of us could discern, therefore we weren’t certain if the building which we gazed upon was in fact the venue for that night’s show, but we feared that it was. Down an overgrown path sat a two story concrete structure that had quite some years ago fallen into a state of disrepair, any doors or windowpanes were long gone, and the place was now in the process of going back to nature.  I’d been paid a decent amount from the Donau Festival — twice what we’d agreed upon to my pleasant surprise, and in cash — so for safety reasons I took the opportunity before entering to roll up the wad and lodge it deep within my sock. Inside it was how you’d imagine an abandoned building that’s been exposed to the elements for years and is now hosting gigs would be; wet, cold, sprouting vegetation, every inch covered in ridiculous graffiti. Power was provided by a chain of extension cables that ran secretively from the closest neighboring building through one of the windows. 
We could hear the backstage spreads and hotel rooms of previous days calling us, welcoming us with open arms, and we began discussing the possibility of a retreat. We hadn’t met anyone yet so if we just drove away it would be as if we’d never shown up. Jonathan (1/2 of Laser Poodle), Jeff, and I all liked the idea of getting back in the car, driving towards our next show, getting a hotel along the way and having a nice relaxing night. Comfort however was not of much interest or importance to my friend Johann (the other 1/2 of Laser Poodle) and he repeatedly shot the idea down each time we suggested it, leaving us to reluctantly pull up the car and begin loading in.

We sat around a small bonfire outside taking swigs of some type of sweet but extremely potent Serbian liquor I didn’t catch the name of. The offeror of the booze watched us closely as we drank it, waiting for our lips to make contact with the bottle before his mouth would contort into a devilish smirk, the expression made even more disconcerting by the light of the fire. A respectable amount of people had turned up for the gig at this point, but they didn’t necessarily seem like your typical abstract computer music fans, and Jeff began feeling hesitant about his set. 
“These people don’t need to see me do that, Schofield.”, he would say. I couldn’t help but agree and I wasn’t in the mood for doing my usual thing either, so we decided to do an improv ‘hard-style’ collaboration in which I’d mess around with unused beats I’d already programmed while Jeff scattered a layer of weird sounds from whatever software program he was using at the time over top. It went alright, the audience seemed to dig it sort of, and our moods began to improve. 
Back at the bonfire, someone who was apparently in charge of the gig came to pay us for the night. Our eyes surged with delight, pleased with ourselves for not having fled the country when we so foolishly wanted to, as they exposed a plump cylinder of rolled Serbian bills and handed it in our direction. They then chose the words, “This converts to about 30 Euros”, to deflate our sudden swelling of joy. We continued drinking around the fire until it was deemed acceptable to sleep, at which point we were shown to a room on the second floor which identically resembled the rest of the building, except with a pile of thin mattresses and some sheets of foam in one corner which we distributed amongst ourselves. I hopped on one, pulled my coat up over my head and let sleep take its course. 

I awoke in the morning horrifically thirsty, my tongue bone dry and pasted to the roof of my mouth. My eyelids flickered and as I adjusted to the sunlight I began to notice the intricacy of the stain on the mattress next to my face, radiating out from the center in increasingly sicklier shades of yellow. A surplus of stagnant mucus, having lost its viscosity, came rushing from my nostrils as I sat up. I sopped the translucent ooze up with my sleeve and took a couple good deep sniffs to try and suck any that lingered back inside. 
The first thing I noticed as I assessed the room in my state of morning decrepitude, was that during the night a pack of eight to ten stray dogs had come inside (there was after all, nothing to stop them from coming in) and they now laid about the room interspersed between my sleeping friends. They seemed unwell, mangy and breathing shallowly — but unthreatening, which led me to believe they may be diseased. I then realized that with this backdrop, most living things would appear to be diseased and that I at that moment most certainly fit the part as well. 
A morning dew had blanketed the room and my shoes squeaked in the moisture as I tiptoed around the dog carcasses, not wanting to rouse the beasts. I found Jonathan outside smoking a cigarette around the remnants of the fire and he said something along the lines of, “We should get the fuck out of here, right?”. It only took one good shake and a quick gesture towards the dogs to get Jeff up on his feet, but Johann, who does like a good snooze, proved harder. It turns out that even in a wet concrete room in an abandoned building filled with sick dogs, curled up on a filthy sheet of absorbent foam, that getting a solid night’s sleep was still his top priority. 

Once we crossed the border into Croatia the GPS started working again and Jane, the British woman we’d chosen as our navigational voice, directed us without issue to the city of Ljubljana, Slovenia. This evening’s show was at a more traditional club/venue within an arts commune that we were told many times was like the ‘Slovenian Christiania’. The promoters seemed nice enough and were very excited about the show, busying themselves posting up a schedule on various poles and doors around the room. 
After soundcheck we hit the town in search of a cocktail bar where we could hopefully sit outside, unwind with a stiff drink, and maybe have a laugh about our Serbian excursion. Before too long we found just that, except the menu at our chosen establishment was rather untraditional and I didn’t recognize a single drink on it. Our waiter stood by slowly losing patience as we hemmed and hawed, shooting looks of confusion across the table at each other, until I decided I’d end the insufferable limbo and order us a round of drinks named “The Killer”. Objections were voiced all around, but I insisted upon it and the waiter eagerly scurried off. 
They were aquamarine in color, heavily iced, and in tall glasses with one of those curly rollercoaster-esque party straws. After a few sips I guessed it to be a combination of vodka, gin, and blue curaƧao. It tasted awful but went down easy and ended up packing more of a punch than expected. 

The first DJ opened the night up to a small audience who mostly lingered in the back of the room and Rene Hell went up next. The crowd moved closer as he took the stage and then changed their minds shortly after he started — I got a great Vine that starts with him beginning the set and cuts to a group of girls rushing out of the room. As I headed backstage once he’d finished, I began to hear the cries. 
“Schofield! Schofield!”, he shouted, “It’s going down! It’s going down!”. I caught a glimpse of his panicked face darting up and down where the three promoters had him cornered and pushed up against a wall. They were genuinely irate and their fingers poked and prodded Jeff’s chest forcefully as his eyes begged for me to intervene. 
With some persuasion I managed to coax them away from him to talk to me in the next room. I couldn’t quite believe my ears as they began to explain what — from their perspective — had just happened as it was taken verbatim from the fictional tales we’d spun in the car. They believed that Jeff, angry he was made to play first out of the live acts, had decided to retaliate by playing what they called ‘very bad music’. This next bit perplexed me, but they seemed even more angry not about the fact that his music was ‘bad’, but that he played it for such a short amount of time — 22 minutes, they repeated. He had done this, in their minds, in an attempt to sabotage the evening and sully the name of their DJ and party promotion crew. I assured them that Jeff had in fact played this exact same set every night for the last week and half in every city we went to and that not only did he intend for it to sound the way it did, but people often liked it. This information managed to derail their anger somewhat and replace it with confusion, but a hostile vibe now lingered in the air. 
One of them grabbed a timetable (they’d put up so many that one was always within arm's reach) and showed me that Rene Hell was scheduled to play from exactly 10 until exactly 11 pm — one solid hour, and in fact each of the live acts and DJ’s in-between them were to do the same. This presented two additional problems as far as I could tell: we had a long night ahead of us, and I was going to need to double my set length somehow.

In the meantime, while all this bedlam had been unfolding, The Killer — unlike any other cocktail I’ve had before or since — was managing to increase in strength as time went on, as if it was regenerating or giving birth to little Killers inside of me. Everyone agreed they were at an unusual level of drunkenness for what had been consumed and wondered if the drink didn’t perhaps contain a variety of illicit pills.
A couple of hours later its gestation period had been completed and I took to the stage in a frightful state of inebriation. I began, intentionally, to play each part of all my songs for twice as long as I normally would, thinking that this would stretch my 25 minute set out to a more locally acceptable length of 50 and hopefully help to avoid any additional conflict — but boy it wasn’t easy! My vision rattled and trailed erratically, each button press or knob twiddle required utmost focus and concentration to ensure that the correct one was being depressed or tweaked. One arm had to be used to steady the other one as I hunched over the array of blinking electronics squinting through one eye.  I had a hard time ‘losing myself in the music’ if you know what I mean, and the set slogged forth at an alarmingly sluggish pace. 
“It was like being in a time-warp.”, remarked Johann, his glasses skewed at a steep incline across his face as I watched The Killer work away at him from within. 

Jeff was catching a train back to the Donau Festival in the morning, and Jonathan and I walked him back to where we were staying, which unfortunately was the promoter’s apartment. I scarfed down a cheese burek from a late night food stand along the way which I drunkenly praised in great detail for the remainder of the walk and still have flashbacks to the succulence of to this day. After tucking Jeff in, advising he stay awake in case the promoters came back feeling vengeful, and saying our farewells, we headed back to the venue to pack up and get Johann. 
What we were hoping to see when we walked up was Johann standing out front of the venue, which was now closed, with all the gear packed up, eagerly awaiting us. To our dismay what we arrived to was a party that had nearly doubled in size and showed no signs of stopping. We squeezed though dancing Slovenian club goers in a frantic search for our friend, wanting nothing more than to be free from this situation, when my eyes caught sight of him as they scanned the room. He was on stage, behind the decks, in the middle of an unscheduled DJ set, responsible for the continuation of the party. The Killer’s transformation had been achieved and the glasses were fully off now as he bopped around behind the turntables looking possessed. Our groans were audible even over the roar of the PA, as Jonathan and I both knew well that even a trained FBI hostage negotiator with thirty plus years experience would have no luck in getting DJ Cosmo Knex off of that stage. A hopeless feeling of inescapable monotony began to take over, a feeling that I would become very familiar with in the years that followed, a feeling known as ‘Techno Hell’. Due to my brain’s safety mechanism, in which it enters a stand-by mode when exposed to Techno Hell, the remainder of the evening goes blank and is wiped clean from my memory.

The Poodle Boys and I drove to Italy in the morning and explored towns along the Gulf of Trieste before landing at a Best Western in Gorizia. We had our first showers in several days, watched Italian television, and ate prosciutto pizzas in the square — a necessary and restorative night of relaxation after several in a row that offered none. 

In 2018, back in Budapest for the UH Festival, I met a guy from Belgrade who had driven up for the show.
“You played there before right?”, he asked.
“Well…”, I paused. “Sort of.”
“At kind of a strange place?”, I nodded slowly, watching him search for a more appropriate word. “At a kind of very sketchy place?” The pace of my nodding increased. He went on to say that although he knew about the gig, he hadn’t gone as he had a hard time imagining it could be real, finding it unfathomable we would’ve been playing such a ‘venue’. In the time that had passed I always wondered if my imagination had embellished my memories so it was good to meet someone, a Belgrade native, who could reaffirm the way I’d preserved the experience. How, he wondered, had we ended up there? Who had led us astray? There were no sensible justifications that would satisfy his questions and I stood silently before him with my hands in the air. Before we parted ways he suggested I come back for an actual gig sometime, which I would love and hope can happen, although I’m not confident on being able to get a Ljubljana show secured for the following day. 

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Gun Trouble

Rick’s backyard like all the others in the area had been paved over with concrete and extended rectangularly from the rear of the house to where it abutted a highway underpass. The underpass was a long and dark corridor which provided ample space for parking, and judging by the amount of used condoms and syringes that littered the ground, granted an acceptable level of privacy for the conduction of deviant acts. Above that the interstate traffic flowed by in continuity, blanketing the neighborhood with a steady rumbling which droned away into the periphery over time. Due to the state of our surroundings no one could see the harm in me playing my set from the backyard, how adding a little bit of music into an already disharmonious atmosphere would have any ill effects — it was a crisp early Spring evening in North Philadelphia and everyone was ready to spend a bit of time outdoors. 
        Kicking off the night under my noise alias of God Willing, I sat with my gear on a folding table in one corner of the yard with my back to the house and my Roland keyboard amp on a chair next to me. A respectable twenty-five or so people had come and were spread out before me swilling cans of Schmidt, also known as ‘animal beer’, as I began. A minute or two into the set I entered what is commonly referred to as ‘the zone’ and became absorbed in the music and less aware of my surroundings. I remained in this state of focus for several minutes before a hairy pair of hands that I immediately recognized as that of Rick’s roommate Arthur broke into my line of vision and occupied the previously vacant space between my face and my gear. They oscillated in tandem, crisscrossing each other to repeatedly form the shape of an X — the universal gesticulation for the command of ‘stop’. I suspected that either a neighbor had complained or a cop had shown up or that Arthur just really wasn’t into what I was doing. 
Earlier in the day when rehearsing I had recorded a cassette of rich and vibrant bubble sounds which although I was very excited to incorporate into the set, I hadn’t yet gotten around to — the set had yet to progress to the bubble stage, but not about to let them go to waste, I slipped the tape into my 4-track and slid up the faders before stopping to look and find out what the problem was. The bubbles frothed out from the speaker popping jubilantly in the night air, and as my head craned upwards towards the crowd I nearly expected to see everyone erupting in joyous rapture, smitten by the sound. 
It came as a surprise when I found the entire audience compacted against the opposite corner of the house from where I sat, squished into each other tightly as if compressed by some invisible force. Lower lips were extended and trembling gelatinously as bodies writhed together in a desperate grasp for safety. Those who hadn’t managed to cover their heads and face the house were staring across the yard towards the highway in a mix of terror and suspense. Following their gaze I found a man standing at the gate, his face distorted in a clash of shadows and streetlight glare, who was in a state of severe agitation. His body jerked in unpredictable spasms and his mouth morphed through a selection of exaggerated shapes as he rambled to himself incoherently, holding a handgun above his head. 
In a rapid, nearly imperceptible motion, he had lowered the gun and pointed it directly at the mass of people that had accumulated in the corner. A chorus of fearful objection emanated from the crowd in the form of moans and shrieks before he redirected the trajectory of his weapon, aiming it at me. Previous to this I had never really taken the time out to sit down and  imagine what goes through your head when someone who is visibly in the throes of a psychotic episode threatens your life with a presumably loaded gun, but things slowed down and took on an eerie calm. Watching the way the gun quivered in his hand and how his finger slipped unsteadily around the trigger in his jittery grip, I decided it was probably a good time to end the bubble solo which had been percolating away, serving as a wildly inappropriate soundtrack to the occasion. I reached out slowly and lowered the faders. 
Silent aside from the endless hum of the highway his voice was now audible. Each word collided into the next forming a long strand of incomprehensible babble which occasionally spiked in volume to arbitrarily emphasize certain fragments. It was the closest I’ve seen anyone come to actualizing the expletive speech bubbles that cartoon characters make when overcome with frustration, as what he was saying could only be written out in a complex series of asterisks and dollar signs and exclamation points. His maniacal oration came to an abrupt halt when he fired the gun once into the air in a form of punctuation and then carried on his way down the road. 
Although all attendees were physically unscathed, his bullet had struck the vibe of the show, murdering it in cold blood. The vast majority of people made a mad dash for the front door and a few kooks stuck around seeming relatively unfazed, wondering what time the touring acts were on. Abandoned in the heat of the moment, personal stashes of animal beer were free for the taking and the few of us who remained hung out for a couple more hours drinking those to reduce tension.

It was somewhere around Noon the following day when my phone vibrated with an incoming call from Rick Weaver. “You better get over here.”, he said. I only lived about a ten minute walk away and started in his direction immediately. We sat across from each other on separate couches in his living room eyeing an aluminum foil covered baking tray which sat between us on the coffee table. Rick explained that just before he called there had been a knock at the front door. He opened it to find a fifteen or sixteen year old girl wielding the aforementioned baking tray.
“I think my dad was here last night.” She said to Rick.
“Oh yeah?”, he questioned her uncertainly.
“Yeah, I think maybe he fired his gun?” She went on to explain that her father was a shell shocked war veteran suffering from PTSD. Awakening in fright to the sounds of searing feedback, loops of plastic bottles being crunched up, and pulsing bass tones descending upon his neighborhood had sent him into a horrific flashback, and in an ingrained militaristic reaction he grabbed his gun and hit the street. 
“We made you this lasagna as a peace offering.” She said, extending the tray towards Rick. 
We took it into the kitchen and served ourselves heaping portions, cracked open some more animal beers, and sat down to an unexpected and delightful lunch. Ricotta doesn’t exactly sit near the front of my list of top cheeses, but after inadvertently inducing a nearly catastrophic meltdown that teetered precariously on the precipice of tragedy, I felt that consuming this food was really the least I could do. 


A few months prior to this in January of 2010, running late for a show, I hastily tossed my gear into a duffel bag and set off for West Philly. Traffic snarled up a bit as I entered University City before gridlocking entirely on Walnut Street where I sat impatiently in my van accelerating forwards at the rate of one parked car length per five minutes. Feeling that my composure was soon to expire I decided it best to walk the rest of the way and snuck the van into an open space along the side of the road. I hadn’t packed with walking in mind however and the weight of the vintage test oscillator, bulky cassette players, and case of beer I’d brought made for no graceful way to carry the duffel bag as I wrestled with it in a bizarre dance past the immobilized motorists. 
Where Walnut intersected 40th Street had been closed off completely to automobiles and pedestrians alike, and a foul mouthed officer of the law brusquely directed me to return to where I’d come from with a choice of words that I’d describe as ‘rude’. The issue was that the venue I was trying to get to — The Rotunda, although visible from where I stood, just past the cop on the other side of the movie theatre, was now inaccessible. Going behind the library I was able to navigate through a portion of the University of Pennsylvania campus to an area further down 40th where I managed to cross to the other side undetected. Thinking I could probably access The Rotunda though a rear entrance I took the alley behind Qdoba where I encountered a pair of detectives illuminating sections of the ground with oversized flashlights. They weren’t pleased to see me and one began rifling though my bag while the other steadied me against the wall with an outstretched arm. Their faces expressed uncertainty as to whether the contents of my bag were anything to be concerned about before turning me loose and barking “Get. The. Fuck. Outta. Here.” into my face, accentuating each word with a slap of the flashlight into the palm. 

The gig that I was having so much trouble getting to was for Outer Space, who had driven a cool 6 hours from Cleveland just for the one show and I was to be providing ‘local support’ in a collaborative duo with Bee Mask. It was being put on by a local promoter who tended to specialize in events of a ‘high brow’ and ‘avant-garde’ nature and therefore had secured arts funding for his organization which I had been guaranteed $75 dollars of in check form for my participation in the evening. It was absolutely essential to the continuation of my existence that I acquired this money and therefore felt deterred in no way by the obstacles that had blocked me thus far and continued forth, persevering in my quest. 
Entering into a classic game of Cat and Mouse with the detectives, I covertly maneuvered through the driveways, yards, and neighboring alleys, clutching the duffel bag in a way that would prevent the bottles from clinking together, only to fall into their spotlight at the turn of each corner, scampering away back into the shadows as they cursed and hollered. After much exploration and many close calls I eventually was able to pass the bag over a chain-link fence to Brian Morseberger before scaling over it myself, entering the grounds of the venue after having thoroughly contaminated a crime scene. 
Everyone was there and awaiting my arrival so the night could begin, but before that had a chance to occur, two uniformed officers entered the building. They quickly studied the appearance of everyone in attendance and did a cursory search of the room before making an announcement. During an attempted robbery of the movie theater next door, an off-duty police officer who had attempted to intervene was shot dead in the lobby by a perpetrator who had then fled the scene and was still believed to be hiding out somewhere in the immediate vicinity. The show was allowed to go on, but the doors would need to remain locked, no one could leave until the area had been cleared or the suspect had been captured, and no one could say when that would be. If anyone needed to go, they needed to go at that moment, via police escort. The idea of spending a moment longer than necessary at the gig seemed more than most people could bare, as about 75% of the audience eagerly lined up to be taken away in a voluntary mass evacuation.

Although the promoter and I had never actually engaged in conversation, I was under the impression that we had differing opinions in regards to the way one should enjoy experimental music in a live setting. Of the handful of his events that I’d attended in the past I’d made a habit of bringing along (both for economical reasons, and to share with friends) a case containing 24 bottles of Lionshead beer, something which always got me a raised eyebrow and disapproving leer at the door, and which I’d heard him verbally object to to one of his colleagues. My frat-noise buffoonery was at odds with the chin scratching gallery approach he was taking, and where as I saw no reason the two couldn’t co-exist, something about it seemed to go against his vision. So where as some found the jingling sound of glass bottles which echoed around the nearly empty room as I shimmied the case free from my bag to be merry, the promoter did not, and took a seat in a far corner of the room, distancing himself from the events. 
The next blow to the evening’s class level came when it was realized that the DVD which Outer Space had planned to project and have serve as their visual accompaniment had been misplaced. Desperate for a replacement, John Elliott (of Outer Space) bravely chose to break free from our lockdown and sneak over to the Redbox which sat temptingly across the street in front of The Fresh Grocer. Not having any time to leisurely browse, and limited of course by the somewhat conventional selection, John returned moments later with a copy of the 1990 romantic fantasy box office decimating blockbuster ‘Ghost’, which they then provided a live score to while it was projected at 3 times the normal speed. 
His presence made known only by the glow of the Apple logo which shone faintly from his laptop in the outer reaches of the room, the promoter busied himself with distractions as the evening degraded into a sparsely attended, beer fueled, Hollywood movie screening — financed by grant money and from which there was no escape. Phantasmic sex scenes flickered past in hyper-speed while arpeggiated synth lines and filter sweeps orbited the cavernous room without mass to absorb them.
Sometime in the early AM hours, taking a peek into the outdoors, we determined that some resolution had been achieved and with other things on their minds the authorities had simply forgotten to notify us. If it hadn’t been crucial to my well-being that I received payment I almost would’ve felt bad taking it, as it was with great reluctance that the checks were forked over. And with that, everyone filed out of the building and went their separate ways. It was not, I imagined, the way anyone had intended things to go, although — murder aside — I don’t think I could have planned a better evening myself. 

Saturday, October 24, 2020

The Camper

        My band Japanese Karaoke Afterlife Experiment had recently played our first out of town show at a bar in Brooklyn called Hank’s Saloon, which aside from our transportation situation had gone reasonably well. The mistake that we’d made wasn’t actually taking the Greyhound bus there, but choosing to bring all of our gear on it; amps, drums… the whole lot. We fumbled around with it awkwardly, inching the mess forwards piece by piece in the taxi line outside Port Authority in Manhattan, unaware of just how costly riding one of those to Brooklyn would be even before the baggage fees. Which is why for our second out of town show, which was to be held in the commuter train station of the suburban Philadelphia town of Wayne, Pennsylvania, we decided we would need a car. 

It was 2002 and I’d recently turned 18, which even if it hadn’t already been financially prohibitive made renting a car a legal impossibility for another 7 years, so my bandmate Charles and I began to look into some alternatives. We knew a guy named Crazy Joe who owned a 92 Geo Prism, but after brief consideration thought better of asking him to borrow it. We entertained the possibility of buying our own car to use for future gigs, but again we just couldn’t afford it. At the time we were both working at a bakery/cafe on the west side of Providence called Daily Bread and as we spoke of our predicament a co-worker chimed in to say we were welcome to borrow her pick-up truck. Having recently moved across the country from Oregon in this truck, its bed currently housed a camper unit which she had slept in along the way. She informed us that it was mechanically incapable of exceeding 50 mph and would experience violent tremors the closer it got to that speed. She asked that we got an oil change, and let us know that it needed to be returned no later than 9am Sunday morning so she could pick up her aunt from the airport, and with this knowledge imparted we were handed the keys and sent on our way. 

This was my first time as the driver on a journey of such distance and it turns out there’s a certain level of proficiency in regards to ‘the ways of the road’ that can only be attained through experience. For starters, I failed to understand the concept or practice of an oil change and simply poured a few extra quarts into the engine thinking that would do the trick. Secondly, we left without first printing out several pages of Mapquest directions and just headed south imagining it’d be self explanatory from there. It wasn’t, and we ended up battling stop lights on Route 1 as we wound through Philadelphia’s vast northern expanse in a large arc, adding hours to an already much slower and shakier trip than we’d expected. 

                                                    (The camper looked something like this, just in case you were having a hard time picturing it.)

    The show itself didn’t make a whole lot of sense and was hard to tell if it had been actually authorized in any way, as both the ticket booth and coffee shop were closed and there wasn’t a SEPTA employee in sight. Aside from the performers — which included hardcore band The Funeral Bird, US postal employee and noise musician Newton, synth punk duo Abiku, and ourselves — only a sparse handful of scraggly attendees were present. 

It was after Abiku’s set, needing to let the haze from the fog machine clear out of the room, that everyone spilled out into the parking lot and caught their first glimpse of our truck, which during the show had fallen victim to a heinous act of vandalism. The delinquent riffraff of Wayne had — in a thick black spray paint — adorned the camper with an extensive assortment of vulgar phrases and accompanying crude illustrations, and a meager audience now encircled the vehicle to gawk at its defilement. 

In a bold declaration to all oncoming traffic, “WE FUCK A LOT!” had been written across the front of the camper’s loft which curled onto the roof of the truck. An arrow had then been added along the side, winding its way down to where it eventually pointed into the cab where Charles and I would soon be sitting. Above a primitive depiction of breasts, “TITS IN HERE!” had been written on the door in some sort of invitational ruse. Similarly crass announcements were printed on all sides including the roof, and the paint leaked grotesquely downwards in suggestive streams from each of the many genital portrayals which bespeckled the vehicle. 

In an attempt to look at the bright side, Charles conjured up a memory of our co-worker saying something about not wanting the camper back, and how if we could get rid of it somewhere along the way that would be a bonus. I personally didn’t recall her saying this whatsoever but I dearly hoped he was correct. It was beginning to get late and we’d need to be leaving soon if she was going to be picking her aunt up from the airport in the morning. 

Stress sweat poured from my palms, generously lubricating the steering wheel as we puttered up Interstate 95 trembling unsteadily at an inefficient 45 mph. Eager for a look at the barbarian who dared to helm such an obscenity, heat from the stares of each passing car could be felt on my skin. A liberal honking of horns seemed to surround us for the entirety of the drive, although whether this was done in solidarity or protest couldn’t be determined. I kept my eyes glued to the road, wide awake with nervous energy as I pondered fretfully over the legality of driving something in such an offensive condition. 

A truck in a less than desirable state such as this wouldn’t go unnoticed in my parents quiet neighborhood, a place I still called home, and so we parked it out front of Charles’s apartment just after daybreak. His apartment was in Providence’s rather drab North End — essentially a repetition of various faded shades of vinyl siding, which aside from a Walgreens and CVS across the street from each other offered little in the way of commerce. As Charles was the only person in my immediate friend group who had his own place I would end up spending a lot of time there, but the vibe was bleak. In a bizarre glitch in reality the actor Jason Mewes (perhaps best known as the Jay half of comedic duo Jay and Silent Bob) had moved in after meeting Charles’s roommate at the Providence Place Mall. He had likely seen better days and was being followed around by a film crew for a documentary on his heroin addiction. His presence only increased the already steady traffic of random teens into the apartment, excited to sit around a video game console shrouded in smoke and ‘party with Jay’. 

Everyone was asleep when we got in and I brushed the blunt guts off the futon before taking a seat. We took a moment to try and put ourselves in our co-workers shoes. I closed my eyes and imagined the arrivals area at TF Green Airport, full of recently disembarked passengers all looking in the same direction towards the entrance ramp, waiting to spot the car they would recognize as that of their friend or loved one or business associate coming to pick them up. I then imagined the way that their facial expressions would change when from over the horizon became visible the phrase ‘WE FUCK A LOT!’ as our jalopy shambled forth into clearer view. Everyone of course would be exceedingly curious about who this monstrosity had come to whisk away, and I imagined my own Aunt Margaret and the shock and embarrassment she would feel when she saw me, her nephew, behind the wheel beckoning her into the passenger seat with an encouraging wave of my hand while the crowd watched. When my eyes shot back open it had become obvious that even if she hadn’t said anything about getting rid of the camper, at this point it was the only humane option.

We headed to the most desolate place we knew of which was behind the Atlantic Mills building on the Woonasquatucket River in Olneyville, an area built perfectly for illegal dumping. No longer under the cover of nightfall we navigated the cop magnet across town as stealthily as one could, sticking to side streets, wracked with anxiety and fearful we’d be spotted by someone we knew. We backed the truck up against one of the walls and with some spare rope that just happened to be part of the natural refuse of the area, tied the camper to a rusty hook that protruded from the bricks. I felt sick to my stomach sitting back in the drivers seat preparing to floor the gas, having been awake all night behind the wheel and knowing full well that the course of action we were taking wasn’t the mature or responsible one, but having failed to think of any solutions that could be categorized as so. 

An aggressive metal on metal gnashing ricocheted between the buildings when the truck lurched forwards and was followed by a dull thud as the camper landed hard on the concrete. Adjusting the rear view mirror I could see it slouched lazily to one side, injured from the fall and sitting humiliated in the dirt. My heart was filled with sadness and a sense of wrong-doing as we hustled to move it up against the wall and out of the pathway. Even if she hadn’t wanted it back (which was still unconfirmed), it must have had at least some sentimental value and wasn’t deserving of the callous burial that it was receiving. The problem of its proper disposal was passed on to someone unknown as we fled the scene, leaving it broken and degraded against the side of the building.

I parked the truck outside of Daily Bread about ten minutes before Charles was scheduled to start his 8am shift, left him with the keys and the responsibility of handing them over to their rightful owner when she came to collect them, and began a contemplative several mile walk back to my parents house. My next day at work contained an uncomfortable interrogation about the whereabouts and condition of the camper as well as a chastising for not having actually gotten an oil change, although I genuinely believed that I had. In retrospect I can see that our co-worker had mistaken Charles and I for adults, a stage in life that was many many years away. Her kindness had been misplaced and unfortunately it was the camper who paid the price. I quit working at Daily Bread later that week.