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

5/21/2007

DIARY OF INDIGNITIES
Maybe this Explains Why I Never Liked Tallahassee
The girls made this weird sort of noise when I peed on their kitchen floor... High-pitched and slightly modulated, a cry of distress to be certain, but without the shrillness or desperation one might expect. It sounded like how Olive Oyl sounds when she’s being menaced by Bluto, or Brutus, or whatever that guy’s name is, the way she acknowledges the routine character of this latest, minor horror with a peculiar touch of the blasé. The result — a perfunctory wail, expressing as much boredom and resignation as anguish: “OoooooooohhhhOOOooooohhhOOOooohhhh.”

There was no Popeye here, of course. There was only Chuck From Hell, leaning against the sink, sipping a warm beer and laughing.

I was kind of hoping for more from the girls. More outrage, more anger, more disgust. But we were all tired, and it was late. Late enough that most normal people would call it early.

I shook off the last few drops of pee and immediately started feeling guilty. Why the hell did I do that? What in the world could be wrong with me? Well, shit, I had already dumped half a gallon of lemonade on the floor, followed by a selection of liquid condiments — nothing crazy, mind you, chiefly your mustards and ketchups, although some relish or perhaps Creamy Italian might have been mixed up in there too. So what was a little pee? And anyway I was careful to keep it in the kitchen, where linoleum tile makes cleaning up a snap! I guess. Assuming you’re the type that’s ever inclined to clean something up.

I stood in the center of the mess, grinning and mixing it around a bit with the soles of my giant steel-toed motorcycle boots. The half-assed Olive Oyl moan from the girls trickled down to a series of squirmy, exasperated sighs. I picked up the taller girl, Eileen, and stomped off to the bedroom with her over my shoulder. For a brief moment, the protests rose half an octave or so.

I dumped Eileen down on her bed and, kneeling on either side of her hips, beat my chest a few times, Tarzan-style. Eileen just rolled her eyes. She giggled a few times as I descended on her, forcing her to submit to a minute or two of assorted fumbly caveman grotesqueries and a bit of erotic drooling.

“OoohhhhOOOoohhh careful,” she said, suddenly more concerned than amused. “You’re getting sewer mud all over my sheets.”

I sat up, rolled off and sighed. The sun had been up for a few minutes and light was starting to come through the blinds. I could see the dried mud all over my jeans. A few hours before all that floor-peeing business Chuck From Hell and I had crawled into the sewer to drink a 12-pack of beer.

Chuck From Hell had been in weird state of mind that night. It was understandable — only few months prior he’d survived a late-night head-on car crash that killed his girlfriend and put our pal Weasel in a coma. Chuck survived with the fewest injuries — physically, at least. A missing tooth and some low-key facial scars that most everyone found reasonably fetching. When you’ve earned the name Chuck From Hell, you can pull off a missing tooth or two and a few scars.

Stylish, funny, fearless and mean, Chuck From Hell embodied at least four of the chief attributes going into the making of a successful punk rocker. I hadn’t traditionally been close to Chuck, but I’d admired him for years, and latched on to him in the months after the crash — a fair number of his friends seemed to wish he’d hurry up and get over the death of his girlfriend, but I didn’t mind if he wanted to ditch the big parties and drive around all night, listening to shitty metal cassettes and just thinking, or not thinking. Chuck seemed happy enough to have a tagalong, doling out cigarettes, booze and meals in exchange for keeping him company, and I tried to pay part of my way by distracting him from his sadness with antics involving urine or fire, when the moment seemed right.

Sitting on the edge of Eileen’s bed, I picked a little at the mud flaking on my jeans. It was sewer mud, technically, but seemed to be free from garbage or poo. The particular sewer pipe Chuck and I had earlier crawled through was designed to provide under-road access to one of the many harmless streams crisscrossing Gainesville, not ferry away human waste. Climbing through that thing was totally worth it, too — a real adventure.

“You want to go spelunking?” Chuck had said.

“Sure,” I said. “Um, I hope that’s not, like, a euphemism.”

We ditched whatever party we were at, stopped at a gas station for smokes and a couple 12-packs of beer, and headed downtown. We parked near the American Legion hall, which, in addition to hosting such excellent hardcore punk acts as Minor Threat, Naked Raygun, Bad Brains, Circle Jerks, DOA and Negative Approach (not to mention the Flaming Lips, still in the relative infancy of their career), was located right on University Avenue, the road that more or less served as Gainesville’s main drag. It was around midnight and the hall was just a few blocks past the intersection of University and Main Street, supposedly Gainesville’s nexus, but the area was dark and deserted, a few civil bureaucracies surrounded by quiet streets full of shabby, empty houses.

“Hey, I think this is the parking lot where those skinheads peed on that girl Pam,” I said. It was during some punk show — Pam went off to have sex with a handful of skins and finished it off with a golden shower. I guess she liked it. Pam had attended high school with me and was one of the first people I met when I moved back to Gainesville a few years earlier. She was also the first person I ever saw overdose on heroin, something she managed to do during class. I don’t believe briefly reminiscing over her sexual proclivities influenced my later befouling of Eileen’s kitchen floor, but who knows. The human mind is a wonderful and complicated thing.

Chuck and I climbed down the short bank and approached the drainage pipe running under University Avenue, straddling the thin stream trickling out of it and slipping on the occasional mossy rock. Without hesitating Chuck crawled headfirst into the pipe, pushing a 12-pack of beer in front of him. I followed, splashing in the shallow water and scraping along the metal and sand on my hands and knees, blind in the total darkness. It was a tight fit, but I kept pushing forward, listening for Chuck’s movements ahead of me. After a few minutes, a saw a dim light ahead, flickering orange and yellow.

Pulling myself through the last few feet of pipe, I emerged into a small, manmade cavern. The low ceiling was flat, and I could hear the muffled hum and feel the vibration of cars passing overhead. Concrete banks sloped up at an angle from the stream to meet the ceiling, creating a long space shaped like an upside-down triangle. Mud and sand had collected and dried along the bottom few feet of the slope, and held the remains of several candles. Kneeling, Chuck moved from candle to candle, lighting the stubs with matches and throwing the burnt sticks into the stream.

“Bums,” Chuck said by way of explanation as he continued to maneuver and work in the restricted space. “Bums come here and leave these candles.”

“This is awesome,” I said. Normally a bit claustrophobic, I felt totally comfortable, even cozy.

“Give me one of those beers,” Chuck said, and I did.

We sat under University Avenue for an hour or two, drinking beer, lighting smokes off the candles and listening to the occasional car pass just a foot or two over our heads.

Eventually, Chuck decided it was enough. We extinguished the candles and crawled back out through the pipe, our jeans, leather jackets and boots now spotted with large, wet patches of mud and sand.

Like all the best punk rockers, Chuck From Hell seemed to have a mild disdain for actual punk rock, so when we climbed back in his car he cranked up a tape of the first Guns ‘N’ Roses album. The floor of his car was littered with cigarette packs, burger wrappers and beer cans both empty and full. He was constantly on the move back then, especially at night, driving around for hours whether I was with him or not, stopping only to return home and sleep through most of the day. Right now, though, Chuck was just getting started — even though on the clock it was far past the cut-off point for buying beer in Gainesville. Our spare 12-packs had warmed during the expedition into the bum cave, so I suggested we drive over to the apartment where Eileen and Tracy lived, to see if they had any cold ones.

The moaning and protests started the minute we began banging on their door, and Chuck’s permanent Billy Idol sneer twisted into a cruel smile. Though they had been sleeping and knew nothing good was to come of it, Eileen and Tracy let us into their nice, clean apartment. We spent a few hours knocking things over, throwing couch cushions around, making fun of their stupid Exploited records and projecting cartoon menace while drinking our warm beer (Eileen and Tracy hadn’t stocked up). Eventually, things had escalated to pee.

Later, watching the sun come up through Eileen’s blinds, I pushed myself off of her bed and walked into the living room to check on Chuck. Him and Tracy were quietly sitting in the mild shambles of the living room, sipping beer and watching MTV.

“Let’s go,” Chuck said.

“Alright. Bye, Tracy,” I said. “Sorry about the pee.”

Tracy sighed. “Bye you guys,” she said. Eileen was asleep.

Chuck and I drove to a gas station and got coffee. We got back in his car and he stared straight ahead, not turning the ignition.

“I think I ought to go visit her grave,” Chuck said. “You want to go to Tallahassee?”

“Sure.”

“I haven’t seen it yet.”

We made it about 45 minutes north on I-75 before the coffee wore off. Chuck pulled in at a rest stop, parked, and we went to sleep, leaning the seats back as far as they would go. It was still early, and there was almost no one else around. Fatigued from the events of the night, I was out almost instantly.

When I awoke it was sudden, and unpleasant — a child crying, a parent screaming, horns honking, the loud roar of nearby interstate traffic all hitting me at once. The sun was now high in the sky and painful, blinding me. It was hot. I blinked a few times and jerked one of my legs, which was buried to the middle of my shin in beer cans. The noise startled Chuck awake, and he groaned. I looked around, to the best of my limited ability, and the now-crowded rest stop outside the car window took on a little focus. A family of vacationers stared at me at they got out of their car, just a few feet away, the children scared and curious, the parents disapproving.

“Jesus, we gotta get the hell out of here,” Chuck croaked. “Let’s go find a gas station and get cleaned up.”

We continued north on I-75 for a few minutes before hitting the first exit that advertised a gas station. We drove to the first one, parked and walked inside to buy smokes and ask for the bathroom key.

Something caught Chuck’s eye. He pointed behind the counter, where they kept a selection of toiletries and hygiene items, no doubt for truckers on extended hauls. “We really have to get this pomade,” he said. His enthusiasm seemed a little strange to me, but I was game, and no stranger to pomade.

Next, we pulled alongside the station’s dumpster and started throwing away empty beer cans, saving eight or nine happily full strays that were by now borderline hot. We took one into the gas station bathroom and cracked it open, sipping from it as we took turns splashing water on our faces.

“This is hopeless,” I said. “We’re too haggard to clean up. We’re awful.” I looked at us in the bathroom mirror. Our dirty leather jackets were covered in metal spikes and paintings of devils and skulls. Our jeans were torn, crusted like our battered leather boots with streaks of dried sand and mud. I had on a leather wristband, covered with more metal spikes, and Chuck was sporting a belt made of rifle bullets.

“The pomade will help,” Chuck said, opening the bottle and pouring some into his hand. All the pomade I had ever used up until that point had been thick and waxy, the consistency of really stiff Vaseline, and was usually perfumed to a point where nausea could easily be induced in nearby sensitive types. This pomade was different — it was white, surprisingly liquid and smelled chemical and acrid.

A minute or two of careful sculpting under chuck’s instruction we both had giant, preposterous, greasy pompadours. Then it was back to the car and onward, north to Tallahassee.

I was almost four hours before we got to Tallahassee and found the cemetery. The place was huge, clean and modern. Despite never having been there, Chuck knew exactly where to go. We walked along flawless sidewalks and pathways, past elegantly and carefully sculptured gardens, glancing at the marble memorials all around us. I followed Chuck as he walked up to a wall that was covered in tiny, golden plaques. His girlfriend had been cremated, and her ashes were somewhere in the wall. We walked along, reading the names until we found her.

Chuck stared at the small plaque for a short period of time, less than a minute. I stared at Chuck.

“Well, this is depressing,” he said. “Let’s get out of here.”

We walked back to his car and got inside. “I guess I did it,” Chuck said. “I went and saw her grave.”

I thought about his dead girlfriend. She had been very beautiful, and always nice to me.

Chuck decided he wanted to hit a nearby mall, to buy clove cigarettes and a cassette tape by a group called Zodiac Mindwarp and the Love Reaction. Everything at the mall seemed really bright and clean. We looked horrible, covered in skulls and spikes and mud and leather, shambling around on maybe two hours of sleep. We smelled terrible, too, reeking of sweat and ditch water and stale beer and dirt that damn pomade. The clove cigarettes made it worse. The mall was crowded and people pushed each other to get out of our way, or sat and stared at us, frowning.

Chuck From Hell found his Zodiac Mindwarp tape and suggested we leave.

“Man, going to the mall here really makes you feel like a scumbag,” he said. “Hey, I know a girl in Tallahassee who likes to get fucked in the ass. We should give her a call.”

“OK,” I said.

We drove downtown, near a spot Chuck had once skated, and parked, walking over to a payphone alongside a busy road. A middle-aged man wearing rumpled khakis and a blue, button-down shirt sat on a bench, watching us, expressionless.

Chuck dug some coins out of his pocket and started leafing through the phone book.

“We were here for some skate demo, partying at the hotel,” Chuck said. “She looked at me and said, ‘You want to fuck me in the shower? Sometimes I like to get fucked in the ass.’ It was great! Now if I can only remember her last name...”

“Please try,” I said. “Do you think she has any friends? Do you think her friends sometimes like to get fucked in the ass?”

Chuck, head down and concentrating, continued paging through the book as the stoplight next to the phone booth changed to red, and traffic stopped. I glanced over at the first car stopped in line. Two college-age girls sat in the front seat, staring at me. I smiled. They locked the car doors and drove off, running the red light.

I sighed. Chuck looked up. “I can’t remember her name,” he said.

The man on the bench reached under between his legs, pulled out a bottle wrapped in a paper bag and took a long drink. Chuck stared at him, and the man stared back, shaking his head at us, disapproving, like we were some sort of lost cause.

“Even the bums...” Chuck muttered, staring. “Even the bums in Tallahassee are better than we are.”

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