July 5 1998, Sunday
ranz and Elizabeth came over to the Divison Street Apartment this morning while Wacky Jen and I were hanging out with Dawn. We all decided to go for a stroll in Ann Arbor to track down a newspaper, rumoured to contain a mention of Krazy Thom and the West Woodlawn Crusaders. Before we left, Elizabeth helped Jen spike up her mohawk.
Dawn had errands to run, so she took off and Elizabeth, Franz, Jen and I ended up on the village green of Ann Arbor, which is called "the Diag" in honour of a wide sidewalk that cuts through it at an angle. The most interesting feature of the Diag these days is a set of huge (15 foot tall) woven willow structures planted in the ground in a vaguely Stonehenge formation. Inside each is a closet-sized space shaped organically like something out of Dr. Seuss. We explored the structures for awhile and then retreated to the shade of a tree. Jen had brough my small vodka stash with her and I added some to a bottle of overpriced ginger ale I had purchased.
I was eager to update my musings and such, but according to the Division Street girls, this wasn't going to be easy. The University of Michigan evidently has much stricter workstation security in its computer labs than I'm familiar with, and to do anything with a computer, you need to have a user name and a password. But Franz solved all my problems. He took me to a nearby computing lab, a vast aquariumeque room that used to be an open-air courtyard, and tried out his user name and password dating to when he was a student here. It worked just fine, so he entrusted the information to me. This allows me the same sort of freedom I experience at the University of Virginia.
Meanwhile, out on the Diag, Wacky Jen's mohawk was causing question marks to levitate over the heads of passersby, rather surprising in a town so clearly full of weirdos and misfits. A vaguely dorky looking-guy asked Jen if she'd pose for a picture, offering her a dollar and telling her she has "cool hair." So Jen went out to the sunlit part of the sidewalk and posed. Now, it bears repeating at this point that Wacky Jen is not a real punk rocker and certainly doesn't claim to be. She spiked her hair on a whim after being reassured by Morgan Anarchy that it was appropriate (as opposed to cultural appropriation - an ironic notion given that the hairstyle has its roots with Native Americans) to do so.
When Wacky Jen poses, when she assumes a role, she doesn't go half-way. To be a convincing punk rocker, she thought she should do the gutterpunk thing. So, as the cameras were clicking, Wacky Jen asked passersby for spare change (never mind the hundred dollars in her bag). In the space of a few minutes she was a full three dollars richer than she'd been this morning. She charged back to Franz, Elizabeth and me, exuberant with the joy of accomplishment and fiscal success.
Jen continued soliciting funds as she sat with us, sometimes asking people with cameras "Have your picture taken with a punk rocker!" but she didn't have quite as much luck in our fairly well-kempt presence. After awhile, though, one guy with a camera gave Jen some change and sat with us for a time, seemingly intrigued. A nicely-dressed family came along and had their little blond daughter pose with Jen, then a group of curious Asian tourists (by Asian, I'm referring to people known in the pre-PC era as Oriental, a fairly euphonious Latinate term I probably should have used instead).
After watching Jen's performance for awhile from afar, a heavily-tattooed guy with closely-cropped hair and various elements of the alternative uniform marched up and asked if Jen was really a punk rocker. "Oh yes," she said almost nervously, perhaps adding, "Have your picture taken with a punk rocker!" The tattooed dude was skeptical. He wanted to know what music she liked ("Sleater-Kinney!" she enthused), whether she was a vegetarian (no), and where were her tattoos (are you serious?). He said he thought Rancid was the most punk rock of all punk rock bands, adding, "Have you heard their latest album? It really kicks ass!" So far, Wacky Jen hadn't slipped up and revealed her true nature as a poser. Sleater-Kinney is obscure enough to possibly be an insane punk band from Tulsa, and Wacky Jen could even quote a line or two from an esoteric Clash song. But she eventually admitted that she was just a poser, ha ha ha. It turned out the tattooed dude was actually a Hare Krsna, and he invited us to come have fellowship and free food at some local Hare Krsna hangout. Life had brought us another pod person, oh joy.
Eventually, Franz, Elizabeth and Jen went off to climb on some nearby structure. I decided to spend the time more productively in the computer lab referred to earlier. I can kill a frightful amount of time in a computer lab, and today was no exception. Twice as I was working, Franz came by to tell me where he and the others would be. When I finally went off to find them, I became utterly lost on the University of Michigan campus, looking hopelessly for a place whose name I had already forgotten. I was pretty drunk on vodka at the time, you have to understand.
I decided that the only way to make the situation bearable was to get a bike. When I'm in a weird college town and I need a bike, there's usually one nearby. The cheap bikes with the super cheap locks are usually the best bet. Often such bikes are abandoned anyway, or so I like to argue to those with less sociopathic tendencies. The bike I selected was a cheap red twelve speed, a women's bike with solid Ashtabuela cranks and a rust-frozen left gear shifter. It was locked with one of those cheap chains where one lines up four digits in a row when one wants to unlock it. These locks are relatively easy to open even if one has no idea what the combination is. Frequently one can feel the lock give slightly when the endmost correct numbers are in position, and that greatly narrows the number of combinations one needs to try. If one can feel out two of the numbers, that leaves only two to guess, but one can go through all of those 36 possibilities in less than a minute. This particular lock was sort of rusty and didn't turn easily, so by the time I finally had it open, I'd developed blisters on my left thumb and index fingers, very near the scars from the circle saw accident I had back in May.
With a rideable (if uncomfortable) bike between my legs, I was now able to zip around at high speed all over campus, in more of a shot-gun approach to "peeps finding" (finding my people).
I found a business district somewhat isolated by the University from the rest of downtown Ann Arbor, sort of like Charlottesville's Corner district. Suddenly I was seeing the khaki shorts and baseball caps I'd been missing when first scouting out this town. As I rode past an outdoor café place, Franz shouted at me. I'd found my peeps! I locked my bike to the picket fence (using the same lock I'd just picked) and joined Jen, Franz and Elizabeth. Elizabeth indicated a half-eaten mound of cold Nachos, so I dived right in. I also ordered an extremely tall beer. The bar, by the way, was called Good Time Charlie's.
Of course, the others were all intrigued and amazed to see that I'd already secured myself a bicycle to get around town. But they weren't especially surprised; it's pretty typical behaviour on my part, especially when I've been drinking the vodka.
We walked back to the Division Street apartment, and Franz and Elizabeth went off on their way. Upstairs, we found Dawn home, and we told her of Wacky Jen's wacky adventures.
n the top of Dawn's CD collection was Under the Bushes, Under the Stars by Guided by Voices. When I mentioned that GBV was one of my favourite bands, Dawn put it on.
Up and coming bombadiers are fucking right!
Dawn explained that her old boyfriend was really into Guided by Voices. The picture I'm getting is starting to make perfect sense to me. Dawn, you see, has this subtle 90s-informed retro-seventies thing going on about her, the sort that goes along nicely with 90s-informed retro-classic rock low fi.
arlier today I'd tried to track down my old Oberlin chum Matt Rogers. He lives at his mother's place in nearby Ypsilanti, which isn't even a long distance call. But when I phoned him this morning, Matt wasn't there and instead I got what I took to be his mother's grumpy boyfriend. He only grudgingly took a message, and of course Matt never got it. So this evening I called again and got Matt himself. I told him where I was and he said he'd be right over.
Matt Rogers, what can I say about him by way of introduction? There's a lot about him that is simply infuriating. He tends to latch on to various big, academic terms and wrap them around the ideas he discusses in ways that are anything but helpful. He could do much for his rhetorical style if he could somehow completely refrain from usings a number of words: concept, construct, linear, non-linear, reality, and situation (well, that's one of mine). He's keenly interested in various philisophical issues, and in discussing them, his voice will rise and he'll rock his body in occasionally overbearing, bombastic displays of intellectual showmanship. But it's not really as bad as all that. Despite the pretense and impenetrable verbalizations, there's lots of interesting things being said, lots of wry, sardonic observations, and occasionally he even stumbles into pure rhetorical genius, such as the time he said, "Next concept please!"
Matt, who is now 32 years old, has had an anything but an idyllic life since graduating from Oberlin College back in 1989. He's counted birds at bird sanctuaries, worked for various environmental groups, and done the thankless job of a substitute teacher, but more recently he's been a lowly bus boy at a snooty Ann Arbor restaurant. His love life has been a non-stop series of disasters and let downs, most of these being a depressing tales of semi-requited love with bitchy lesbian girls. Worst of all, though, is the fact that Matt has been so mired in the wage-slave system that he's been unable to pursue his creative interests: graphic art, poetry, and experimental studio musicianship.
I fully expected Matt to be exactly as he was when I last saw him back in late 1989. And sure enough, when he arrived, he looked pretty much the same. He's going bald now, something I'd sort of expected, and his eyes have sunk a little into his head, but he's the same Matt of old, with the same posture, same verbal style, same everything.
We got caught up on old times and chatted about Ann Arbor a little, a town Matt calls "Faketopia" (a term I find irritating). Interestingly, Dawn and Matt were familiar with some of the same people and occasionally got sidetracked into a discussion of people and places that Wacky Jen and I knew nothing about.
onight over at the Woodlawn House, Thom and friends were gathered to play poker. Dawn asked if we wanted to come along, since she was going over. Matt, Jen and I are not into card playing at all, but it was the schedule for the evening, and we decided to go along, if only for sociological purposes.
On the way, we stopped first for pizza in the frat-boy rich commercial district I'd discovered earlier today. The place was called "Backroom Pizza" (which made me immediately think of "Backrub Pizza") and the slices were only $1, though the slice I got was much bigger than the one Dawn got. While we stood around eating out slices, a couple burly dudes strode up with their big fluffy Chow-labrador-mix dogs, asking Wacky Jen did she know of any good shows (figuring her mohawk to be a good indicator of the presence of such knowledge). She couldn't help them much, but they got to talking to her anyway, name dropping and asking big lumoxy questions, sort of in the endless boring manner of Charlottesville's Mel and Tad boring party person tag team. I was friendly to them, mocking them the whole time in a subtle way that only my friends could detect. That's usually how I deal with people who bore me to tears. Somehow we broke away.
When we got there, the Woodlawn house with fairly crowded with people and two makeshift card tables had been set up. Everyone was bent over stacks of non-penny coins, very serious about the game. Oddly enough for a room full of card players, no one was smoking. And no one had thought it appropriate to put on any music.
I felt out-of-place immediately, and Dawn decided to give me, Matt and Jen the task of going on a beer run. She even handed me the keys to her car.
The Kroger was closed, so we had to go to one of those Michigan "Party Stores." I really hate that term. I got a case of Molsen and Matt bought four Guiness pints (since a six pack cost $19 - ouch!). Matt claims he can only drink good beer these days.
Back at Woodlawn, we three kind of stood around with nothing to do and no place to sit. At least we had beers in our hands, but it was still an awkward experience. Eventually Jen joined one of the games, knowing none of the rules and completely unfamilar with the value of various hands. Even so, she experienced an epic run of "beginners' luck."
As the games raged on, Matt and I stood in a doorway, making wry, sardonic academic commentaries about the proceedings. Suddenly I was aware that we were behaving like a framed web page. Our frame was the sidebar, the running discussion of events happening in adjacent frames: the two tables with their transfixed players.
After awhile, I just wanted a place to sit down, so Matt and I went out front and sat on the sidewalk, sipping our beers and talking mostly about cheap music studio equipment.
As the card games wound down, the various other people came out and milled around with us on the sidewalk, telling jokes and complaining about some guy who'd been acting like an asshole all evening long.
tephanie took Matt and me back to the Division Street apartment, where we met up with Jen. We stayed up late, much later than Stephanie had planned, having rambling amusing conversations about all sorts of interesting subjects, none of which I remember. As the hour grew extra-late, Matt Rogers headed back to Ypsilanti. We decided to meet up again tomorrow at the Fleetwood, the greasy spoon hippie diner where Jen and I dined on our first evening in this town.
Wacky Jen and I have been sleeping on the same small mattress together every night we've been in Ann Arbor, but tonight, her last in Michigan, was the only one that saw us actually acting on our basic instincts.
From early August until late October 1998, this entry was lost, residing only on one non-networked machine back in Virginia. During that time I had another entry stand in for this entry, with a far foggier account of events.
one year ago
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