Strove to find a way to punch people in the face by using the Internet.


Like a Rock… Oohhh, Like a Rock
I’ve never been one for regrets — all too often I’m generating indignities so fast that I don’t really have much time to stop and reflect on all the dumb shit I’ve done, except of course when I’m writing stuff down for this site. But if I paused to savor the various layers, shades and nuances of heartbreak caused by, say, that bitch Jennifer Testa ditching me back in ninth grade to go out with that asshole with the Trans Am and the nunchucks, I’d be giving short shrift to the hot flush of shame that hit me this morning, when I cut my ear. Trying to shave it. Fucking ear hair. What the fuck kind of cruel biological joke is fucking ear hair?! And fuck you, Jennifer Testa, I am so, so over you.

Anyway, I’m not one for regrets, but if I could go back and give a wee Bad News some advice from the future, it’d be something along these lines: “Don’t try. Just don’t do it.”

Because some people just aren’t equipped for cool. Maybe it’s the result of an inherently comical physical appearance — cool people sure as shit don’t have to try and shave their ears, you know?

Or it’s because of a geeky enthusiasm for minutiae and detail: “Excuse me, that’s incorrect. Devo released ‘Girl U Want’ as the first single off their 1980 breakthrough album, Freedom of Choice. The surprise success of ‘Whip It,’ which is often attributed to their novel use of the video medium, paved the way for a an upsurge in interest in ‘Girl U Want,’ as well as future singles, which, while not performing as well on the charts, still blah de blah de blah…”

Or maybe it’s because someone doesn’t drive a Trans Am while waving nunchucks around like a fucking idiot and has to get around on their dad’s old 10-speed and pay for lunch with those big, pink tickets that announce “I’m poor” to the world, Jennifer, so fucking sorry I’m wasn’t a rich karate dickhead with a Members Only jacket, just a sincere, decent guy with a pretty good record collection, for a ninth grader; a guy who made you laugh and who walked you home from the bus every day and who your mom liked and, uh... Ummm... Was I just saying something? Well, whatever. Sometimes it’s a combination of these factors.

Style plays a big part in this stuff, probably never as much so as in middle school. In sixth grade I was aware that style existed, mostly because many other kids didn’t miss a chance to remind me that I didn’t have it. Occasionally I’d even try to give it a go, in hopes that other kids would think I was cool. Not surprisingly, this never worked out to my benefit.

Partly this was because I just didn’t relate to the popular style at the time, which in Gainesville was kind of a mellow California surfer look based around the brands Ocean Pacific, Lightning Bolt and, for borderline losers, Hobie Cat. If I would’ve been loyal to my personal aesthetic, I would’ve dressed like Sid Vicious or maybe Dracula from the neck down, topping off the ensemble with a full-head Godzilla mask, Dr. Who scarf and samurai sword. But I got my ass whooped often enough without drawing excess attention to myself, and swords weren’t allowed at school, so I never really gave that look a proper try.

I loved rock ‘n’ roll music back then, mostly punk and new wave stuff but also classic groups like Led Zeppelin, The Who and The Kinks. There were a handful of older proto-stoner kids at my school who dug similar stuff and dressed in a classic dirtbag style — lots of denim and black band T-shirts. They weren’t exactly popular, but they were tough and received a wary kind of respect from the jocks and popular kids that was pretty appealing from my somewhat battered vantage point. There was no way I could afford all that Lightning Bolt shit, but the dirty rocker look was certainly within my budget, so I grew my hair long and decided to give it a whirl.

I used to tag along to garage sales with my mom on weekends, mostly to buy old records. I started looking through piles of T-shirts too, trying to score some tough-looking rock gear. I scored a Who concert shirt, which was good enough, but unfortunately yellow. I also picked up a T-shirt with a Mr. Bill logo. Now, Mr. Bill was an unfunny Saturday Night Live segment featuring a clay guy who got crushed a lot and, while I had never actually seen it, I was vaguely aware from reading Rolling Stone that Saturday Night Live had some counterculture/rock 'n' roll cache, so I started wearing Mr. Bill about three times a week, and even had it on when they took school pictures. It was dark blue, too. Still not black, but a good start.

Around this time my mom would sometimes take my sister and I to Lake Wauberg on the weekends. Access to the lake is now limited to University of Florida students, who mostly use it to scream and thrash around and tip their canoes and generally become hysterical upon sighting 3-foot alligators sunning themselves on the bank. And swimming is prohibited, I think because of some deadly water virus or poison moccasin infestation or something biological. But back in sixth grade the south end of the lake was operated by the county as a kind of piss-warm, murky pool-alternative for poor, scumbag area kids who couldn’t afford the 75 cents it cost to swim in the city pool, and it suited me just fine. We’d go, I’d submerge myself in the dark, gooey water and then go home and pick ticks off my legs while mom poured hydrogen peroxide in my ears to kill off mites and bacteria and such.

And one day, while splashing around in the dark green slime and pretending I was about to emerge from the depths and level Tokyo, I found it.

A rock ‘n’ roll T-shirt. A bit faded… But black. Just floating there, waiting for me. Holy shit.

Bob Seger, it was. A black Bob Seger shirt, with a design that featured some horses running majestically in front of a mountain or some lightning or something.

Now, I fucking hated Bob Seger. The only thing I knew from Bob Seger was that shitty “Old Time Rock ‘n’ Roll” song, which I recognized even at that young age as wholly bogus chunk of conservative bullshit. It didn’t seem like there was room in Bob Seger’s world for exciting new groups like my favorites, The Clash, so as far as I was concerned he and the Silver Bullet Band could go fuck themselves. But remember, I was trying to adopt an aesthetic I didn’t truly feel. All I saw in the shirt was a possible entry into the mysterious world of cool, or at least potential camouflage.

So I snagged the shirt, wiped off some of the algae, and got my mom to wash it. And then I proudly wore it to school the following Monday.

It was exciting. I just knew I had entered into a different world. One, I anticipated, with fewer beatings and insults. I sat in my first-period class, thrilled and feeling truly alive.

A few cool kids were sort of neutrally checking me out, glancing at each other with raised eyebrows. Probably figuring out the best way to induct me into their ranks, I thought. After a few minutes, Julie, a popular blonde girl with very white teeth and an impressive collection of expensive Jordache jeans, looked over at me, sneering, and in a quiet, flat voice said, “Nice shirt, dude.”

“I know!” I replied, too excited at the attention to hold in my enthusiasm. “And I got it for free! I found it in a lake!”


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