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Why Albany, NY Sucks Shit Through a Straw


by Smiley McGrouchpants


    Firstly, Albany's, like, 5 blocks — with one street with shops & stuff (Lark St.) that'd you'd want to visit.
    Secondly, everyone's allegedly from “Albany” — my address, should anyone from college have cared to write to me, would and did entailed them addressing it to an “Albany, NY 12225” postal address, not “Colonie” (where I lived, but was encouraged to forget/not notice/not address the “dissonance” of) or “Guilderland” (similarly, where friends from high school resided) or “Loudonville” (similarly, I think, where some people I met through someone who got kicked out of the high school me and the Guilderland guys went to — a pseudo-military prep. school, the Albany Academy, have you heard of it? Andy Rooney went there. So did Herman Melville, but his parents were broke, and they had to pull him out after a couple of years. Hence: it's more Rooney than Melville, if you ask me!).
    COME TO THINK OF IT: Everybody moved away (whom I respected).  There wasn't any way to say “Albany” without scoffing (a high school teacher once remarked, with no sense of risk for his job's safety, that “Utica's more of a city than Albany!”).
    Which brings us to that night at Rocky's.

    Actually, it wasn't called “Rocky's” — the bartender, and possibly the owner, I don't remember, was a short, somewhat-stocky guy who'd wear white button-down shirts and slacks that were a throwback to another era — here, in the one place in Albany near a Ben & Jerry's, while Garbage's “Only Happy When It Rains,” P J Harvey's “Down By the Water” and Belly's “Superconnected” ruled the airwaves worth tuning into.
    Not much happened that night at Rocky's — which wasn't called “Rocky's”  — in Albany — which wasn't much of anything, but we called it “Albany” — in 1995, when things had come-and-past, half-started, half-finished, left still going . . . but, they had a “DOLLY” (Parton) pinball machine for way cheap to play (and the priceless “camp” factor!), bottles of Rolling Rock were a mite smaller than what you were used to (10 oz., maybe?) but they only cost a buck, and, what the hell, we'd all played our “Classic Rock” albums growing up (really: just what the Clear Channel & Co. corp's radio stations called the playlists of album tracks we were all already supposed to be hyper-familiar with — so , hey, learn to fake not being behind something that turns out to be a foam off the cappuccino version of the substance brimming underneath . . . how old were we, anyway?), and, as far as it went, the big wallop of “1990” ending the sterile and moribund Reagan ‘80s for once and for good with the finality of  an odometer rolling over, so obvious and unmissed by everybody it, somehow, rebounded to become unworthy of comment, and thus, perhaps, not completely articulated . . . now what?  R.E.M. and U2 had point the way though, no war this time, this was our time, had we turned the corner already and . . . missed it?
    Sometimes you're too bar behind to be properly “prepped” for it, sometimes you're too far past to notice, yup, you've missed your (cultural) train . . .
    Nothing much happened that night, at Rocky's-or-whatever-it-was called.
    But:

 — Radio was getting worse.  (“Hello . . . ?”  I might-as-well have asked, during my finally-I'm-in-college-and-get-to-do-a-radio-show at the “100 Watts of Power!” WHPK, during the 3 — 5 a.m. weekday hours newbies got.  “You just heard the Spinanes with ‘Spitfire' and The Grifters with ‘Bronze Cast' and, coming up, we have either Refrigerator with ‘Crows' and ‘Ceiling' or The Dambuilders with their latest-in-a-series of singles about the 50 states, ‘New Jersey.'  Let's have a show of hands . . . (crickets sound — again, if the station could AFFORD such sound effects!) . . . Dambuilders it is!”)  Rush Limbaugh's edging off it onto TV into bars and living rooms and TGIFriday's restaurants, making your friend (and former bandmate) Pete very nervous (“Hey, I got a Dinosaur Jr. t-shirt!” he amazed us all, but displaying said item upon his return from a trip to Amherst, MA, back when Guns ‘N' Roses were big, Aerosmith had returned with their Permanent Vacation album, and everything seemed both corporate-produced and from very, very far away . . . “they have their own t-shirts?”),  something — not different from what you thought-and-felt, but maybe the result of being more attuned to it — that would prove all-too-prescient in the mudslides of thought that would prevail, behind the scenes of actual (governmental) work and right out in the open of (mass-mind) thought, for the rest of the decade.  (THINK: Nazi Germany, and those “Rush is RIGHT!” bumperstickers, before they were parodied by “Rush is REICH!” and Al Franken's crucial . . . and Other Observations book.  REMEMBER: Children need to be read to!)
— Zines were blooming.  (THINK: Thomas Paine, and other pamphleteers  — yakkers who could think and type(-set) at the same time!)  Work-product is a by-product of processed thought.  Only Xerox machines can copy things!  The proof's in the pudding, folks!
— Other-brother-of-one-of-your-hometown-circle stories continued to circulate.  (“He could get a grant for that!” Pete opined at the latest, a “trickle-down” tale about how he and a bunch of cohorts had finagled a bunch of talking GI Joe and Barbie dolls en route and replaced each of the voiceboxes with the others's and returned them to their respective retail destinies . . . a thought which, again, proved prescient, though it would never have occurred to you, before that moment.  (“Grants, huh . . . ?”))

    Things caught up, but were too late, include: the four-track you earned with something like money, but were fresh out of ideas/enthusiasms to do much other than fiddle with; the home-video VHS camera which, in a major technological leap, gave stellar sound (over the silent standard of color 8mm film that predominated the “home movie” market of the late ‘70s/early ‘80s), which you couldn't edit with (unless you had whatever-it-was you high school had — price range, doubtless, forget it!); and the looming sense of adult responsibilities coupled with almost impossible nag of finding out how to hear about — let alone grab — a job with an income not requiring more education/skills to apply for, anyway . . . hello?  We all were waiting for . . . this?
    Any chance I could get myself laid, with cool female peers, without a job of an (indie-) vocation?
    Tune in — five or ten years later!
    (I'm behind — gotta catch up!)

Letter never sent:

Dear Deirdre,                                                         Oct. 3, 1995

    Hello!  Howdy to wherever-you-are.  Hopefully, you're on another of your road trips in that used hearse you got at a bargain-basement price, and this letter'll find you well.
    I was thinking about what those two waitresses (right?) told you (or, I guess, let you overhear) when you mentioned you were 21: “Aw, she's just a kid!”  You were right, to relay this story to me as though it were remarkable: there's hope!  (I had to read Stephen King, say, talking about Shirley Jackson, and how awesome she was, to get any sense of a “line” before our Elders: “Guess what, Boomers!  You weren't the First Generation ever born!”  Resent us all you want to . . . hey, who are you looking up to!” etc.)
    But: yes, diatribe aside, it is, sad to say, notable, that you had to make it to this point in our lives to even hear about people thinking that way: 21's “just a kid!”
    Long lives to us!  It's not just Lou Reed (and several handfuls, maybe) who'll live and thrive, anymore!
    More later.  (Right now, I've gotta put this aside for Dr. Katz!  Oh, Comedy Central, where had you been all these years?)
    Try not to take any wooden nickels.  (And avoid picking up sketchy hitch-hikers — or, alternatively, plastering one of those “ASS, GRASS OR GAS / NO-ONE RIDES FOR FREE!” signs on your back window: it really is unseemly!
    (Ha, ha!)

                                                                                Oct. 7, 1995

    Morning in Albany — it sucks.
    (I'm at the Border's that opened on Wolf Road — it's like a fuckin' miracle!  People flock here!  Liz Clayton, a zinester who wrote for the college paper at U of C when she was still in (the related) high school (called the “Lab School” — sorry, not to rub it in!  Sorry you didn't get the financial aid — we would have been better off with you there!), related something-or-other about how weird it was to see “indie” albums stocked at Border's . . . but, yup, Fugazi (and other bands on Ian MacKaye's Dischord Records label) have added the witty-but-probably-true “This CD is $8 postpaid from Dischord Records” label to offset the $11.99 in-store sticker price . . . well-concealed cash!  What a concept.)
    Where was I going with this?  I don't know.
    Is that “Café Newz” place still there — the one you and your friends were calling “Café Pretentious?”  I liked that place, Deirdre!  Color me grateful . . . anything with cappuccino, pastries, cool music . . . better than Denny's/Pizza Hut/Chuck E. Cheese, right?
    Speaking of which: I'm out of coffee.
    (More later!)

                                                                                Oct. 10, 1995

    Yeah, so, the dream job from college — it's now the job from hell!  What could be more fun, I'd thought, picking up some extra money when home during breaks or around the hours of my summer job . . . and it was!  Sadly, though, the 40-hr. shift, year-round, in fucking Scotia (not even goddamn Schenectady) just brings in people looking “new releases” — and it's not their fault, just . . . why the fuck am I here?
    (In dipshit corner, Mr. Not-a-Drummer — you remember him? — stops by regularly, after working at, get this, a School for Wayward Girls.  I'm like, “Dude, you weren't a Social Work or Psychology major, those girls have real problems, whaddaya think, being Captain of the Ski Team and Camp Counselor qualifies you for this?”  He's got some kind of paternal, father-complex going on — at the ripe age of 22.  I guess those “Stick a fork in me, I'm done!” jokes he used to make while getting stoned at college were all too apt!)
    Good thing, by the way, you broke up with that guy who looked like David Koresh — creepy!  What was he, Class of 1980, Class of '84 college?  And then he hangs around, wearing (likely) the same baja, playing hacky-sack and listening to bootlegs of you-know-who . . . Good riddance to bad rubbish!  30's too old to be dating a 21-year-old, let alone mouthing such inanities as “Deirdre is goodness” . . . I'm like, she's a person, dude!
    (Sorry I never told you.  Oh well . . . all's well that ends well!)

                                                                                Oct. 12, 1995

    Remember that place I took you and Thimbledick (I know, I know . . . lesson learned!  Price you have to pay to have someone to go see all the indie movies with!) up in the Adirondacks, where my family went, and you were like, “This place is AWESOME!  Why don't you bring us up here more often?”  Well, you see, Deirdre, the thing is: my family's crazy.  I grew up with an uncle who had a beer-gut at the 8- or 9-months pregnancy level, a mother who would get as dressed up as Montgomery Wards would allow and conduct herself with a sort of vague disapproval of all the going's on which made all the relatives nervous, a great-aunt who smoked herself down to a 73-lb. death, a great uncle who's a two-star general who we never see (though one of his sons bought our old house in the Forest Park school district and the other offered to hook us up with “free” HBO — a double-demerit in my un-Christian-fundamentalist-but-like-a-Christian-fundamentalist mother's eyes) . . . the list goes on and on.
    Mostly, though, the picture I'm trying to sketch out is this: they all hang out together, Deirdre, and this whole tree of aunts and uncles and cousins and what-not all seem to think, err, that there's no . . . “boundaries” . . . being obviated? (right word?)  In short: they hang onto that “camp” (so-called) hammer and tongs, and, as it was, it was a small miracle there was no-one up that weekend (heaven forfend!).  But for my Aunt Jeanne — another great-aunt, she's the one who owns the place with my Uncle Gerald, in absentia, who always used to read Snoopy to me and my cousin the same age (who lives at home with his mother, now — college's for chumps!), took us hiking up Mt. Severance, and started an endless line of joking after we saw The Jungle Book (“What do you want to do?” “I don't know . . . what do you want to do?” “Now don't start that again!”) — they're all a bunch of nuts.  (Or, generic cogs in a wheel that goes, uh, nowhere.)
    What am I supposed to say?  (Who's asking me?)  You grew up with this much range of relatives, of people, of different points-of-view (presuming any of ‘em . . . a likely story!) and you think, what, childhood was so great, you'll just . . . stay there?
    (Jeanne'd love to hear your stories about Ireland.  She's full-blooded Irish, but never been there.  Maybe you can show the Síle-na-gig you gave Síle . . . wait, what am I saying?  She'd have it, wouldn't she.  Well, we can always play my great-aunt the PJ Harvey song, with the phonetic spelling . . . well, then again.
    (Maybe not!)

                                                                                Oct. 15, 1995

    Hey, did I ever tell you about the Dean of Students we had at Academy?  (I was thinking about him 'cause I got a new copy of Thomas Pynchon's Vineland at Borders — much better than the ratty, used copy I picked up at Powell's on 57th St. in Chicago!  Ah, that new book smell . . . )  Well, he used to treat us to lectures — laughably — revolving around such themes as “The System” and “if you push The System, gentlemen, it will push back!”  This while we're being assigned The Lords of Discipline and Hunter S. Thompson (not to mention having read Lord of the Flies in 8th grade).  This, while half the student parking lot is Range Rovers and Saabs with Dead stickers.  Who was he kidding?  WE were here to “get into a good college,” not sent here for disciplinary reasons — didn't he get the memo?  A couple of students would bray laughter.  The rest of us felt it was unnecessary.  It was a weird position of confidence to be in . . . the cream of Albany's families, and the scrimper-and-savers from the suburbs, all sent their sons here for the academic reputation, knowing full well the marching with guns was just tradition, just for show . . . right?
    Wrong.
    (Well, not “wrong,” but . . . did you ever hear, explicitly, about the time me and you-know-who and Heath Cohen and the headmaster's son all got caught leaving school and coming back so stoned there was no disputing the fact?  Well, it's not just that they couldn't really have done anything to us — not since we had the headmaster's son with us — and it's not that Heath, as a senior, really did have “sign out” privileges to leave school which the rest of us, being sophomores, simply lacked . . . it was what, given the circumstances and the probation we were put on, anyway (which was the next-to-last step towards you-know-who's expulsion) I was told in an after-hours, hypocrite's smoking like a chimney on school property in-his-office meeting during which he confided to me: “You get good grades, and your teachers like you, so we're not going after you . . . it's the ringleaders we're trying to get.”  Words to that effect.
    I immediately felt both reassured and, like, “Dude, that's fucked up!”  But it was one of these things were you were just supposed to listen, anyway, so . . . I never mentioned it to anyone ‘till now.  I mean, these are freaking kids, fucking teenagers, you know?  Well, I guess they got what they wanted, you-know-who got himself kicked out (bringing something to school to hit someone with is just asking for it!), and then . . . oddly, something seemed to have abated.  Like, they needed it to happen, and then the tension broke, like (for the rest of us) something unthinkable had happened and (for them) someone got sated, like a shark finding a swimmer.
    Still, the whole school from our forward-thinking English teachers to the ossified math teachers who'd been there for 30 years or more seemed to have nothing to do with this malarkey other than this guy and two (2) seniors who'd revived something called the “Student Judiciary Committee” which had laid dormant for some decades and seemed to take great pleasure in making underclassmen squirm with the full weight of school-imparted authority . . . funny, I guess, no-one told them that year after year of seniors had held ranks of “captain” and gone on to healthy, fulfilling lives without fixating upon what these ranks meant outside of 4th period required drilling exercises.)
    Anyway, I'll end that paren. here and wonder aloud to you, Deirdre: I wrote all these articles in the school newspaper, with the full support of my teachers, not just about the Pixies or the Cowboy Junkies or whatever but the then-current flag-burning controversy, Earth Day, and the Sinéad O' Connor spat over singing the National Anthem and the resulting uproar . . . and I'm reading Vineland, and it's about all these infiltrators and snitches and such, and I'm wondering . . . do you think they started an FBI file on me?
    I know, I know, Deirdre, it sounds paranoid, but, the thing is, while I might sound paranoid, those guys definitely were!
    Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

                                                                                Oct. 19, 1995

    Hey, did I ever tell you about the time I saw My Bloody Valentine in Chicago?  (Not to change the subject, but . . . you're my captive audience!  As you yourself once said in a letter to me, “deal with it!”)  It was on Valentine's Day, actually (can you believe that?) and they were doing a double-bill tour with Dinosaur Jr. and graciously (it seemed to me — it was Valentine's Day, after all!) playing first, leaving Dino. Jr. to headline (though maybe it was just their turn — I guess the principle was they alternated every night).  After the straight-up opening band, Babes in Toyland, they took the stage, and I saw what “shoegazer” meant — Deb Googe didn't show us nothing but her back!  She bobbed back-and-forth, at a slow pace, in rhythm to the music, playing bass, staring at the wall (or curtain, whatever-it-was), while Kevin Shields and Belinda Butcher played face-out to the crowd, mic's and guitars, signing us those crashing waves of lullabies.  (“Shoegazer,” of course, means that those hiding-in-distortion types tend to look at their shoes, stomping on their effects pedals, holding their guitars, while their sonic onslaughts protect them from the world!  A withdrawal.  “Not in apathy, but disgust,” as Linklater says.  And R.E.M. quotes.  Or something.)
    Anyway!  The guys wanted to go, and —
    (Whoops!  Coffee shop's closing.  How apt.  I'll pick this up later!)

                                                                                Oct. 20, 1995

    Right.  So.  (I'm at the Borders coffee shop.)  Where was I? Ah yes.  The show.
    The guys wanted to go, and I was like, “Can't we just stay for one song?”  (Little did they know, I really meant “Freak Scene” — one specific song!)  But, that was all it took.  Dino Jr. took the stage (and they were LOUD!) and, like, RIGHT AWAY, they had these looks on their faces like that fuckin' Memorex commercial, I swear to you Deirdre, eyes agog, mouths open: “They were AWESOME!”
    “Thank you so much for making us stay, dude!” they said to me, afterwards.  (Put an “assist” in my column, for that show!)
    Belly was another matter: They came to town — I don't remember if they were playing a show that night, or not — and they did this signing at some record store way out in the outskirts.  Silly me, I didn't consult a map or nothing, just hopped on this bus and that train and figured . . . I don't know what, exactly!  By the time my predicament had dawned on me — there were no maps of the routes posted at most stations, none that could help me make sense of where I was trying to go, anyway — I hear “Hey, man!” and I look over and THERE'S TWO GUYS FROM MY DORM!  (Not the same two.)  It was weird — if I had gotten on a different part of the same platform, I totally would have missed them.  One of them was from Chicago, and they were going to Belly signing, too, so I just tagged along.
    We got there with 5 min. to spare, and they would only let one of us in (there was, of course, already a line of people waiting, and they were about to close), but they let me give my Star CD to the Chicagoan and he took a poster for the other guy, who was Singaporean.  I got a good look at the band, though: you know those old “Which of these does not belong?” kids' games?  The new bassist looks like a female Beavis: someone from the burnout, heavy-metal smokers' section in high school, while the other three were obvious Smith fans (or what-have-you).  It was no obvious it was jarring.  I'm like, “Am I the only one seeing this?”
    (You were picking on me for watching that video too many times, remember Deirdre?  “Oh, what, you like the part where she lets her hair down?”  Feed the tree, feed the mulch, feed the worms . . . be there when I die, boy!  Good song.)

                                                                                Oct. 22, 1995

    Just sold $100 in lottery tickets to this guy who comes in here every day — no, I'm not kidding, Deirdre!  The thing is, you play the 3- or 4-number combinations, “exact” or in a “box” (any combination), you could win $2500 or $500 — somehow break even.  Thus, he comes in and spends this much — occasionally winning, and right back in it goes — and the store gets 8¢ on the dollar.  The point is: it gets people in the store.
    The guys just reeks of some backstory — dead wife? farm's just barely staying solvent? Sad and lonely? — but anyway you look at it, it's a waste of time, a dead end: who's asking me?  He's going to come in, a human phantom-limb, a reflex of a decision made by default years ago until there's nothing left of his personality but following through on that single tic . . . I get confused pissed-off, annoyed, and despairing feelings every time I see him.  Every morning, just after 10 o'clock or so.
    So, I play Earthworm Jim.  So, I'm writing to you.  Did I ever tell you about the time someone tried to rob the store, when I was back in college?  Well it wasn't quite a robbery — in more ways than one!
    What happened was: this forty-ish, fifty-ish woman comes in around 8:55 — just before closing — and is like “Um . . . I don't know what to get,” and all that and then this guy comes in, he's maybe late-twenties, early-thirties, around 9:10 — when, by all rights, I should be closed.
    He finally gets something (it's maybe 9:25, and the woman's gone by now, with whoever she brought with her — “fucking finally!” I'm thinking), and, after I ring him up, and all — “Have a good night!” and all — I go into the back to turn out the lights, and I come back, and see him — plain as day! — through the glass front door returning to COME BACK IN with what couldn't NOT'VE been a gun, held down, pointed at the ground, between him and traffic (the road faced his car), if there WERE any!
    Deirdre, I was SO scared!  Shit happened so fast, I could tell something was up by the bearing, the sense of purpose that had overtook him — that was discernible! — and WHAT THE FUCK PURPOSE WOULD HE HAVE, WALKING BACK IN TO THE STORE, after he'd gotten his video . . . anyway?
    I ran!  I ran to the back (knowing) there was a staff-only exit (into the back parking lot, and thus back to the other stores' back entranceways — which he probably didn't realize!), and I then I realized — looking at the light-switch — “Hey!  I could turn the lights back ON, just to see what happens, first!”
    No bell ring.  (We had one of those automatic-doorbells on the front door, of course!)  I edge up the back hallway, confident I can see him in ways he can't see me, due to the light and the windows, and, yup, sure enough, he's hesitating, peering around the movie posters in the windows, trying to see where I am.
    That only lasted so long, so — and this is important, Deirdre! — clearly not having any business he wanted to conduct in the store with the lights on, he gets into his car and pulls out.
    My heart was beating jackrabbit-fast.  I barely managed to get the day's receipts totaled — it was, like, $40, it was a Tuesday, another reason it was so fuckin' weird — and get myself out the door before I calmed down a little.
    The door!  The goddamn door . . . you see, Deirdre, the front door had this “quirk” . . . you had to pull in while pushing the key in the bolt so it'd square with the frame and get locked, which I'd done . . . hadn't I?
    In my haste, I honestly couldn't remember whether I had or not.  Closed it.  Locked it.  Whatever.
    Duty-bound — I had to check, after all, to make sure the automatically-closing front-door was locked, didn't I? — I drove back to the store, with a trepidation I had heretofore never experienced, and walked towards the store, step by step, car running, driver's side door open, empty parking lot.
    “BRAAAP!” Don't go in there somebody shouted from a car on the usually-empty road — RIGHT AT THAT INSTANT!
    Fucking A, Deirdre, I jumped back in my car, and drove out of there as fast as I could!  Fuck the door.  What the hell was going on, here?
    So I go to Zinta's house, and she's not there but her parents are, they're very nice (the usual “freaked out teenage friends of our daughter” situation) and let me call the police and give me some tea or something (I can't remember!).
    Long story short, something's up, so I feel I have to tell the police to check the store — after that car horn and shouted warning well after the original incident, by about 15 min. — so I say something like “I think someone's robbing the store” to the dispatcher or whoever-it-is.
    That's it.
    Sounds apt, right?
    WRONG.  This is what I found out, when, fucking asshole, lazy cop lays into me for not saying “burglarize,” or something — he thought someone was robbing the store!  He thought he was going to be interrupting a robbery-in-progress.  “I don't need that adrenaline rush!” he lectured me, as though this was some teenage crank call to an empty barn, or some bullshit.
    I'm like, “Dude, fuck that, that's your job!”  But I didn't say anything.  Worse still, he seemed so convinced of my mis-assessment (?) of the whole incident (the dispatcher didn't tell me, didn't ask me to clarify!) that he didn't believe me at all — since I took him away from his fucking coffee break, at the goddamn donut shop, I guess — that no-one else believed me, either!
    Fuck!  What do I need this shit for.  I spent the rest of the summer quasi-terrified, screwing up the day's receipts (which matters) and failing to lock the safe (which doesn't — it's basically  heavy version of a cooler, like you'd keep sodas or beers in, and a crowbar'd make quick word of the lock in a second) in my haste to get out the door, and getting (occasionally) yelled at for that.
    The guy came in later, too . . . weird!  He used the same card he did that night (it doesn't take much; show us your driver's license and a credit card, you've got a video-store membership!), and had grown a beard, and seemed, vaguely, to be scanning my face to see if I'd make anything of it.  I didn't.  He only came back one other time.  I was scared shitless both times.
    No-one cared.
    Which was shitty, 'cause it felt like no-one trusted my judgment: “What, did I just fall from the sky?  Haven't you people known me my whole life?  Why the fuck does that count for nothing?”  Between my aunt (who owns the store) and my parents (who seem to think they're humoring me, “letting” me turn down B.C. for some school in Chicago they'd never heard of, before) it's like any long, sustained effort I've put out is only glanced at, sidelong, so long as it doesn't conflict with their own image of themselves as adults.  Ditto the cop with his donuts, and grey hair, and quiet-town beat (breaking up a high school party's probably the highlight of his week!).  Funny how people have to be far enough along in life, Deirdre, to be able to “afford” cutting you any respect . . . otherwise, it's as jealously guarded as a pot of gold!
    Fuck these people.

                                                                                Oct. 23, 1995

    Whew!  Big entry.
    Did I ever tell you about the time I didn't get kicked out of Boy Scouts — but, something else happened, shortly thereafter, making it impossible for me to return?
    Well, pull up a chair, 'cause here's how it all went down:
    “Leadership Corps” was a bunch of us, having reached that age (we were between 8th & 9th grade — all of us, pretty much, scratching at Eagle; it always amazed me, later, to hear about Seniors in High School taking that long: we moved at a fast clip; always at the base minimum you had to stay at one rank before reaching the next one . . . and so, when everyone's doing it, it's easy to feel like you're just “keeping up,” you know what I mean?), who took over for those who'd moved on — older kids, I mean.  (One guy's older brother, people who'd left the troop after making Eagle . . . now, it was our turn!)  It was different from that “Order of the Arrow” secret-society-esque thing that involved those of us who were chosen not knowing beforehand and being waken up in the middle of the night and taken to this ceremony with all these torches blazing to light the scene — boy, if my readings had been different when I was younger I would have had a field day piping up about that, back then!  (They didn't tell us about “Skull and Bones” in the Albany paper . . . did they?)  Well, it was pretty innocuous — if appropriating Native American imagery in a way that was meant to feel “first Thanksgiving”-esque, but can't fail to strike one, older and wiser, as blithely colonialist — but, this was something different.  You see, we were supposed to lead, Deirdre — set on example for the younger scouts — not sit in our tents all day, smoke cigarettes, look at my Playboy's and Penthouse's, and generally put the kibosh on/discourage much active participation beyond the utterly desultory (. . . if that!).  Everybody knew I was chiefly responsible — even if nobody said so in so many words — and even though they made all of us come to these “very, very disappointed!” taking-to's at whosever-it-was's houses, the general feeling among the adults was, for some reason, it was that McGrouchpants kid who was holding everyone else back.
    (What can I say?  It was true; I was getting bored with Scouting, and, after summers of happy, hard work earning pain-in-the-ass merit badges like “Environmental Science,” which entailed a lot of getting up in the morning at 4 or 5 a.m. to watch how these plants had grown and recording the precise measurements in my composition notebook — and canoeing for “time off” random fun, instead of TV, and rowing instead of lying around playing Atari — I was starting to push the momentum backwards, to thwart it, out of spite.  It had gotten to be too much, and, with all the perversity of a budding-pubescent 8th grader, I was ready to get drunk and sneak cigarettes before rambling around and doing things . . . these restrictions themselves, were starting to chafe!)
    Thus, that summer where I bought up the June, July and August issues of both Playboy and Penthouse — which I had bought, bold 14-year-old that I was, at B. Dalton's and Waldenbooks at Crossgates Mall!  (The funny thing is, Rolling Stone and Spin— which I'd read, anyway — were both oversized mags, perfect for concealing the others in the inevitable “Look ma what I bought!” rides homes from the mall — I just had make a point of buying those month's issues!)  The thing was — although I went from an amazing “it's like they're letting me buy beer!” feeling of adulthood, autonomy and power to being completely burned out on the prospect after three months of each magazine.  I figured out how this was even possible when a couple of guys, on our 8th grade trip to Washington, D.C, somehow managed to convince the newsstand guy at our last stop before the long bus ride home via obviously-bullshit notes (i.e., “Please let my son buy Hustler”) to sell them these mags, which all of us crowded around to look at — provided we didn't give ourselves away to the teacher — on the way home.  (Hustler, by the way, gave me confusing repulsed-by-the-gynecological-graphicness feelings, which I resented it for — I wanted to like seeing naked ladies!  Ugh.  Too much.  I didn't know what that was all about . . . and didn't have a better sense of representing female “wetness,” at that age, regardless!)  But, in my case — since I tried (I don't know . . . I must've looked “confident”?) — that's all it took!  They let me buy them.  They sold them to me.
    And, uh —

                                                                                Oct. 23, 1995

    (I'm at Barnes & Noble.  The coffee shop — that new one on Lark Street? — it closes at 10:00 PM, so . . . here we go.  Again.  On our own.  To quote the only Whitesnake song worth listening to!)
    So: flash-forward not hardly a month or two, and this guy, he's doing his Eagle Scout project, and we're all helping.  (The final, big thing you need to do to make Eagle — sort of like the equivalent or a dissertation, I guess — is to plan and, with the approval and go-ahead given by the adults, execute a project that does, in fact, benefit the community you live in.  Somehow.)  We're going door-to-door, updating people's information for some index-card files the fire department keeps on residents (so they know, right away, if it's two or three kids they've got to come rescue in a burning building, I guess), and it's pretty rote, by-the-book stuff (show up at a door; ask; leave; show up at a door; ask; leave; etc.) and, lo and behold it turns out that one of the classmates he's ropes into helping with his Eagle Scout project — apart from the rest of the Troop; it's too big and would be basically impossible a project without outside help — is a former neighbor of mine (before my family moved away, arbitrarily-but-for-the-somewhat-bigger-house, when I finished 3rd grade; staying in Boy Scouts was a way to keep in touch with my former friends) named Marirose.
    Marirose lived in the house on the corner at the street that met ours at the farthest end from where our house was; she was maybe 11 or 14 doors down.  We were, like, two or three in from Lincoln Ave. — a “major thoroughfare,” at least for Albany — and all the way down the other way, our street met this other, adjunct-to-Lincoln Ave.-street where Marirose's house was.  It was the about as far as I was allowed to walk by myself, when I was nine years old!  I remember liking her — I remember sitting on the grass, with or near her, simply thinking “I like Marirose!” — in a way that was simple and true and whole unprojected (unlike these somewhat obsessive, “kissing” fantasies I used to have about girls in my class).  We were genuinely becoming friends.
    Sadly, my family moved away (I'll never forget that last bus ride home; it was like everything I'd know was passing by, without me, all these lucky people got to stay where they were while I, for no apparent-or-really-explained reason, was going just far enough away to make the difference of having to switch to a different school).  Here was my big chance!  I overcame my innate shyness — you know how it's always easier to talk to your own rather than the other gender at that age — and, after a ridiculous “saw-you-at-the-mall-looked-you-up-in-the-phone-book” later (remember, I knew her street address, and could pluck her family's house out of the three or four listed with the same last name) I ended up, in the next couple-few weeks after the Eagle project and the too-shy-to-say-anything-to-you mall spottage having a THREE OR FOUR HOUR conversation with her, at least TWICE!
    Now, here comes the sad part: I couldn't figure out why she was treating me so bad, avoiding me, showing up for this “date”(-ish) we had agreed to at the mall only if her friend went, and with my best friend backing out at the last minute . . . well, I was humiliated.  Or rather, I had been humiliated: you see Deirdre, what these guys had done — and actually it was one, maybe two, who did this, one of whom I'd always genuinely liked and who rubbed this in with a relish that mystified me, while the others just stayed out of it, helpless — was (and remember, this was 1986, when no guy is going to admit he even jerks off) they had told her I had bought all these Playboy's & Penthouse's and she thought I was the biggest pervert in the world, done deal, 60-0 mph, 180° turn, it was completely over . . . I swear, if there was such a thing as outright lying with a true fact, that's what they did.  (“Oh, no . . . he's the one who looks at Playboy's!”)
    She was an eighth-grader in 1986.
    She didn't know.
    I didn't bother going back to Boy Scouts, after this had played out for a few months.  Why show my face?
    I didn't bother explaining; I just didn't go back.  Tuesday nights were spent in the house, until enough Tuesday had rolled over that it was erased, like a sandbar washed away by waves.
    Tuesdays hadn't had anything to do with Boy Scouts for so long, they were just Tuesdays.
    I still miss Marirose.  Fuck having guy friends, as primary close friends!
    (Want to buy some Playboy's, Deirdre?  Ha-ha!)
    I need another mocha.  I'm almost completely broke, but goddammit, I deserve it . . .

                                                                                Oct. 27, 1995

    Ever heard of Rollerderby?  It's this zine done by this person named Lisa Carver, who tours as “Lisa Suckdog,” paints herself in blood, advocates fine grooming & dating skills, and other fun things.  She's a howl.
    Well, the reason I mention her is — did you know? — there apparently was a Nintento version of Family Feud made in the late '80s (Jeopardy!, too!) and Rhino Records, bless them, expanded their used-CD-and-tape stock to include a place for used video games, and I managed to pick up each for $5 apiece.
        I'm so excited!  I'm the “SUCKDOG” family every time.  You have no idea how much this amuses me.  Every time it switches back to the other family (name in the background, question on the bottom — punch it in with your NES pad! Quick! “Good answer, good answer!”) it's just suspense until it clicks back to my family name, and I howl with laughter, seeing it up there, “Family Feud” style, like it's the most normal thing in the world.  (Like: it's perfect!  If she added another syllable it'd be gross.  It manages to suggest so much, and yet, not go over the line . . . “Eww!” Ha.)
    Sadly, I'm stuck playing with Mr. Air-Drummer (how do I tell him? “Dude, if you get it out of your system . . . nobody does that!”) and someone he's managed to befriend at work (Wayward Girls, let me show you the way! It's easy. Like skiing . . . or smoking dope at summer camp!) who's held onto her virginity, yup, all the way through college.  (What the fuck?)  She's the ripe-old age of 24.  (???)   She's a bit . . . “off” . . . I guess?
    Ah, virginity.  Having shacked up with a 1st year to get me away from a Jeckyll-and-Mr.-Hyde roommate during my last year in college (“Wow!” she says to me. “I know what all those women in ‘Cosmo' were talking about — I never could believe them, before!” Great . . . ), I still haven't paired off with someone I've ever had a “thing” for (or, affection, esteem, meeting-of-minds companionship, etc.).  Wasting time with male best friends seemed more of a waste of time than I ever could've guessed, personal-investment-wise (“What, you're having a baby at age 22, right out of college . . . come to think of it, how can you afford to?”), and, sadly, the world hums on, uncaring about my plight.
    Poor Claudia!  Did you ever hear that her parents sent her to an $8,000 SUNY — this, after her older brother went basically wherever he wanted, some private school for the usual $25,000, I don't even know which — and then, they went ahead and blew the difference (about $11,000) on a scuba-diving trip to the Caribbean, for the two of them?  Fuck!  Way to kick her in the teeth.  What could she do?  We didn't talk about it much (like, ever!).
    This, after the boyfriend in high school who told her — no lie! — that “if you break up with me, I'm going to kill myself!”  Shit!  When air-drummer told me this, both of us were repulsed — give Mr. Non-Applying-Myself credit for that!  What a waste.  What a lame, cowardly fucking bit of emotional larceny . . . what could she do?  (Sick joke: “Ha, ha — go to college?”)
    Anyway: I once remember her mentioning at a party (it may or may not have been the one attended by the guy running an “indie” booking service named after a Dinosaur Jr. album, who's been driving small-label bands crazy with his empty promises and weird demands, as I've been discovering in Frantzine and Wind-Up Toy) that “God!  I feel so sorry for women who say they DON'T ENJOY SEX!”
    I bring this up because I agree with her — and I'd like to agree, um, more?
    If you know what I mean?
    Get it, Deirdre?
    Do ya?
    Are you sure?
    (Aren't you glad I'm writing you this?  “Orange you glad I didn't say banana?”)
    From a letter:
    
CLAUDIA: After the teacher had finished telling us about how the greenhouse effect could increase the temperature by 1°, some guy in class raised his hand and said, “Well, I wouldn't mind 1°, I'm cool with that!”  No, dickhead, it's what it would do to the whole ecosystem, not whether you would mind!

    She said, “No, dickhead.”
    I love Claudia!

                                                                                Oct. 28, 1995

    I tried playing the Bratmobile song for Zinta called “And I Live In a Town Where the Boys Amputate Their Hearts,” with its “make me miss America / don't care!” taunt, but she mocked it.  I've got my own four-track, but I'm out of ideas — I never did get to the point where I was confident enough to write a whole song, and, well, I guess I'm still not there yet!  I tried filming a video for Slint's “Good Morning, Captain” (“Me and Bob tried to film a video for ‘Good Morning, Captain,'” Pete snorted in disdain when I told him, like everyone was trying it), walking down my street with the camera to make it spooky, but someone called the police on me.  (“Excuse me,” they said, when they pulled into my parents' driveway, “why were you walking up the street with a spotlight—”)  Whatever.  Explaining it looks, in this neighborhood, more odd than stupid, since these people are suspicious of . . . someone who's lived here since 4th grade?  Don't you people recognize me?
    Apparently not.
    (They keep their shutters closed — inwardly, more than outwardly; “mind blinders,” no matter how much they go out in the backyard and wave to neighbors while jumping through the sprinkler systems or sunning themselves on deck chairs made of metal and plastic — just as much as my parents do.  “I've been waiting ten years for someone to say that about your father,” my home-owner and alleged mother told me, somehow sounding as if it was the most important thing in the world and as if she could give a shit.  Nothing'd change.  They'll never get divorced.  I make one offhand, out-of-hand dismissal about one and the other eats it up.  Like they're not my parents, but older siblings.  Making me depressed, by the way — “I mean these things!  Do something.  Move on.”  Even the sarcasm's point at something wrong, there's a reason why . . . What was it, your friend Julie was saying, to make me respond (empathetically): “I can't work under these conditions!”  As though we have the right to.  To work.  Sit here kids, and feed my emotional needs . . . “Oh, look!  Wheel of Fortune is on!”)
    Ugh.

                                                                                Oct. 30, 1995

    Halloween's tomorrow: Like it matters!
    (Would that I could throw together a crazy party — apple-bogging, weird music, partial nudity, the works!  Sadly, everybody's already split the scene, plunged into insistent domestication — “Quick! Grab a partner, and PROCREATE! (Whew! Identity crisis . . . AVERTED!)” — or the ever-popular, thrice-divorcée scene: “I'm done, stick a fork in me, been fucked by/fucked like a bunch of jerks!”  It's so sad.)
    Well, I'll wrap this letter up.  I could tell you about how my dad told me, one summer, at Cape Cod, “Well, nobody really wants to work!” and I just looked at him, incredulous, at all of age 12, but having found completed schoolwork plenty satisfying . . . how this would explain, sort of, why they'd sit there, immobile as rocks, or lizards on stones, in the sun, until I'd have to nag them (even, as little as possible — I hated hearing that tone creeping into my own voice!) to take me to the bookstore, again, since a finished book, for me, was like eaten food . . . how the “pretense” of keeping up with current events, like a lifeline snapped, broke with the lapsing-and-nonrenewal of the Time magazine subscription back in 1982, not a good sign, nothing left to keep the sitcoms and commercials at bay . . . how when my mother asked me, almost timidly (for her!), if I was “going to church, since you know, we can't make you . . . ” to which I responded, curtly and honestly, “Nope!” — only to find, returning from college, that I've “lead the way” for them to stop going themselves, even though they used to drag us, regular as clockwork, even making us get dressed up when we were little, just to sit there, one felt, “just in case” — and now, free of the burden, like it's a big relief, like they'd just as soon let it drop, it's gone for good, there was never a word about God or the Bible or any-of-it during the week, anyway, regardless . . . ditto their paranoiac fears of big cities, abated, over time, by my living in Chicago, but not in time enough for my first apartment in college, which I had signed the lease for at the end of my first year, and I have to listen to my mother, when I inform them of my decision, make this bald-faced lie, that the financial aid wouldn't cover it, like she would know, like you could even get my father away from it, doing the paperwork, that is, and she says it without missing a beat, and he's conspicuously silent on the phone, like he'd have to openly contradict her after she'd grabbed it, like everyone I know from every walk of life and from doubtless-variant financial aid situations are all moving into apartments, “it's a mass exodus,” the Resident Heads in at our dorm say, “we've never seen anything like it,” and the fucker has the gall to write me a letter, later — like I haven't already signed and committed to a lease! — saying it was about my grades, as though he doesn't have a history, nay a 100% average, of rolling over on every decision she has qualms about, from R-rated movies to reading Stephen King to riding my bike down the fuckin' street, busy, as he was, partying and — if not always — driving home drunk from celebration with his goddamn relatives . . . what the fuck am I supposed to do with this shit?  Be a fuckin' moron, with blinkered, contra-worldly suburbanite parents, swallow the bile and bear the public cost of their private ignominy, “it's cool, we'll find subletters . . . ” which they do, which is almost worse 'cause like, who's gonna call them on my looking like an asshole?  If things broke down they might not get away with it, heaven forfend they don't “save face,” funny how I'm stuck oscillating between the most-earned-and-understanding covers and the most rigid, obstinate, “of course we can do this to you!” mores at home . . . who cares?
    Who needs this shit?
    Albany is — I'm convinced, Deirdre! — a sort of “control group” for suburbanite-ism.  It's not Boston, it's not small-town . . . and all the trade-offs of being a resident of either sort of place are missing, so everyone feels like Pizza Hut, Price Chopper, three-four hours TV watching daily, swimming pools and cars and Denny's are just . . . “there,” you know?  People don't know what they are or aren't.  “There's nothing to compare it to, now,” Thomas Pynchon said on the first page of Gravity's Rainbow (I got at least that far!).
    I've got so much more to say to you, Deirdre, but, alas, I feel the time is up.  (It starts to mean something else, anyway — doesn't it? — to write past the point where it'd be apt to start listening for a response.)
    This is it, Deirdre.
    Ball's in your court!

Love,
Smiley

P.S.  Don't make fun of my “nom de plume,” okay?  I might have to tickle you to an injurious extent, if you do!

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ENDNOTE: My dear friend Deirdre Dooley passed from this earth when, after a Halloween party in London, she fell down a flight of stairs, and remained unfound for two days, slipped into a coma, and died.  She was 32.  She is irreplaceable, but such is Life.
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