Thursday, December 24, 2015

Chapter Ten.

     Merry Christmas, you guys! My gift to you this year is the same as it was last year: a super-embarrassing - yet - totally - true story from my life. This one also happens to be the next chapter in my memoir, Making Sh*t Up: An Improvised Life, and is one of many reasons why I should stay the hell away from Hollywood, and famous people.

     Wherever you are, and whatever kind of shit you're up to, I hope this finds you healthy, and - dare I say it - hopeful, at the close of the year. Thank you for continuing to come back to this space, and encouraging my bad behavior. You're the best.

Chapter Ten
Smelling Angela Lansbury
      I smelled Angela Lansbury once. Like, I didn’t just walk up to her, stick my nose on her neck, and take a big ol’ drag. We both happened to be in Pasadena, California, at the Television Critics’ Association’s annual gathering. This is when the networks and the press get together in some really posh place (it was the Ritz Carlton, and, yes, I was Gomer Freaking Pyle for a week), and the networks announce their fall television lineups, and what are the new shows, and who got cancelled, etc. They trot out their stars so the press can fall all over themselves with the possibility of running into Courtney Cox in the hallway, or having a conversation with Dick Wolf about cutting-edge crime drama while figuring out how to take notes AND eat the complimentary shrimp cocktail.
     I was there representing not only my show (Wishbone), but also PBS. And, yeah, that’s as sexy as it sounds. Don’t get me wrong; I love PBS. With a passion. Public television introduced me to the wider world, which most significantly took the form of British humor and science fiction. Monty Python’s Flying Circus, The Benny Hill Show, and The Goodies made me laugh, and Doctor Who made me believe in the possibility of other life forms. And also killer fucking robots that still occasionally haunt my dreams (up yours, Daleks!). Not to mention Sesame Street, The Electric Company, and Zoom. So I am, and always will be, down with PBS. But in the greater scheme of the TCA meeting, where you were bumping into celebrity boobies every two minutes, we were like the ugly smart girl that nobody wanted to dance with, but you had to, anyway. Not only was PBS announcing that Wishbone was returning for another season, but we also had won the TCA award for Family Programming, which I guess essentially meant that parents could watch our show with their kid and not want to gag or intentionally ram their head into the corner of the coffee table to get out of having to watch a “kid’s” show.

Betty Buckley (WISHBONE producer) and self. She's beautiful; I'm drunk.

     The evening of the awards banquet, I also learned that Angela Lansbury was receiving some kind of lifetime achievement award, probably because they had started producing Murder, She Wrote around the end of the Civil War, and it was still on the air. Whatever the reason, I found myself backstage, standing right next to Angela Lansbury. And here is something you need to know about me: I am a straight sucker for an English accent. Especially if the English accent issues from the mouth of a pretty lady, and even though Angela Lansbury is old enough to be my grandmother, she was still very pretty. Another thing you need to know about me: I have the uncanny ability to take an awkward situation and make it even more awkward. So we’re standing backstage, and she turns to me, gives and me a dazzling smile, and asks, “Are you with that wonderful show with the little dog who teaches children about classic literature?” And right at the second I was about to answer, I caught a whiff of her perfume. And – I realize this is a strong word to use about a woman who is old enough to be my grandmother, but it’s the only word there is to use – it was intoxicating.
     It was just the right amount of flowery, and citrus, and springtime, and British, and proper (but slightly saucy), and I just kind of got lost for a second. And as I looked at her, I suddenly remembered she had asked me a question – and I had no god damn idea what it was. And I wasn’t about to go, “I’m sorry, could you repeat the question?” because she asked it a second and a half ago and she was standing right in front of me. And I couldn’t explain that I was literally so into how she smelled that her question, the one she asked three feet from my face, had just suddenly fallen out of my brain, because my brain was busy trying to catalog that wonderful scent. Her scent. And then my brain screamed at me to say something, for God’s sake, because you do not leave Angela Lansbury hanging. Make some shit up!
     And so what I said was, “You smell divine.” But when I heard it come out of my mouth, it sounded like I was channeling Hannibal Lecter. It was the creepiest fucking thing I could possibly have said. I might as well have followed up with, “And I would like to eat your liver, with some fava beans, and a nice Chianti.” I desperately turned to my inner voice of self-preservation, to help me find some way to salvage the situation, but he merely threw up his hands and said, “You’re on your own, asshole.” Fortunately at that second a stagehand came to whisk Ms. Lansbury off to receive her award.
     Later that evening, I had an altogether different kind of olfactory experience. After the awards ceremony, the TCA held a big reception in the grand ballroom of the Ritz Carlton. I would have happily spent the evening there, because it was open bar all night, but I was too afraid I’d run into Angela Lansbury again. I decided to call it a night and go back to my room. I had just gotten on the elevator and pushed the button for my floor, when a very well known comedian and actor got on at the last second. He nodded, pushed his floor button, and as soon as the doors closed he hotboxed the elevator car. Or, to put it another way, he farted. Loudly. Violently. In an enclosed, small space. And I don’t mean a “one-cheek-sneak” kind of fart. He let one rip that sounded like his ass was deliberately trying to tear itself apart. The back of his pants started to melt, and I seriously considered pushing the fire alarm. But I was trying to be cool, because this dude was a celebrity, and I didn’t want him to think that I was shocked that famous people not only have flatulence, but evidently have world-destroying, soul-eating flatulence. As the edges of my vision started to blur, he looked back at me, and looked forward again, then said over his shoulder, “I guess I can’t blame that one on the dog, huh?”

     Next Week, Chapter Eleven: Doing My Best, God and Country, Law of the Pack, and Stupid Fucking Crafts

     Make a contribution to the book Making Sh*t Up: An Improvised Life by clicking HERE.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Chapter Nine.

     Well, here we are again. Time for another chapter of my memoir Making Sh*t Up: An Improvised Life. This is most definitely not the feel-good, holiday chapter. (I'm actually pretty sure there is no holiday chapter in my book. There is a chapter about the time I accidentally creeped out an elderly movie star; you'll just have to wait for it.) Anyway, I have placed it here for your entertainment and/or edification. If you'd like to make a contribution to the continued existence of this space, and this book (and it's author), you can do that right here. And away we go...

Chapter Nine
Dad Before The End

One of the last surviving photographs of John Larry Brantley. Or, Dad.
  Earlier in this book, I made a rather harsh statement. I said that my dad was an asshole. (Note: if you think I’m about to retract that statement and get all redeemy and forgivey, you might want to skip this next bit. Later on I’m going to talk about how I was once convinced that a rabid beast was loose in my house. Skip to that, it’s funny.) (Additional note: I am well aware that “redeemy” and ‘forgivey” are not actual words. Except they are now, because I just wrote them. If you Spelling Nazis don’t like it, suck it.) Here’s the thing: I’d like to be able to trot out some platitudes and shit like, He did the best he could, or He loved us in his own way. But judged against the other dads I knew from childhood, even the bad ones, it was as though my father’s sole objective in being a father was to aggressively put forth as little effort as possible into raising his kids.
     If some dads did things to “toughen their kids up,” my dad translated that into crush your children’s spirits.” I remember once when I was nine or ten, I’d gone to the little store in our neighborhood and bought something, and as part of my change I was given a crisp, brand new dollar bill. I’d handled plenty of money, but this was the first pristine dollar I’d ever seen. It had been printed that year, and looked as if nobody had ever touched it. For whatever reason, I was fascinated with it.
     I brought it home and showed it to my dad. I wanted him to see how clean and new it was. He snatched it out of my hand, wadded it up, and handed it back to me in a ball. Swear to God. I was so stunned by this that I just stood there, hand outstretched, looking at what used to be an unmarred dollar bill, that my dad had just fucked up in front of me on purpose. And then I started to cry. I remember asking, through racking sobs, “Why did you do that?” And his response was, “What’s the problem? It’s still a DOLLAR.” I never showed him anything after that.
     Still think I’m being too harsh? Okay, let’s take a quick, unscientific poll: how many of you ever had your dad abandon your family by trying to fake his own death? Anyone? Anyone at all? I’m totally not making this shit up. This happened when I was around six or seven, and we were out at Aunt Lillian’s ranch for the weekend. My dad decided to go fishing all by his lonesome, so he took the ranch truck and the little aluminum boat, and off he went. When he didn’t come back by dinner, nobody thought much of it. When he didn’t come back by morning, we all decided to go look for him.
     I remember this episode less for the drama surrounding my dad’s disappearance, and more for the fact that this was the time I had a close encounter with a cactus. By the time somebody in my family had figured out my dad was missing and had raised the alarm, I was driven out to the scene by the river where cop cars and an ambulance and a freaking dive team were all in the process of trying to locate my dad’s corpse. I was more fascinated than scared and, as everybody kept assuring me that everything was going to be alright, I decided to poke around the countryside. Remember when I mentioned earlier that I wasn’t the most physically coordinated child that ever shot out of the chute? I was up on a rise overlooking the river where all the activity was taking place. I took a step, and a root from a mesquite tree snagged my toe, causing me, in the words of my Mee Maw, to go “ass over tea kettle” down the hill, picking up a goodly amount of speed along the way. Fortunately (sarcasm alert), my fall was broken by a beautiful and bountiful patch of prickly pear cactus at the bottom of the hill. I mean I landed right smack dab in the middle of that shit. When I started screaming, it took the adults more than a few minutes to figure out how to even get to me without getting their own selves fucked up.
     I think I made the ambulance guys happy, because they finally had something to do. And what they had to do was spend the next hour or so removing cactus needles from every single part of my body. A lot of the little bastards had snapped off underneath my clothing and were embedded in my skin, so the heroic men of the Marble Falls Volunteer Fire Station stripped me down to my tightie-whities, got out the tweezers and the iodine, and went to work. It was as humiliating as it sounds. I have no memory of my cute girl cousins being on the scene, but I may simply have blocked that out. And at the end of it, I was told that my father was missing, and presumed dead. (Note: much later in life I was reunited with the prickly pear cactus, after I discovered that it goes really great in a margarita. But that’s the only time we ever hang out.)
     A few days later I went with my Paw Paw to the sheriff’s office to collect my father’s belongings that had been removed at the scene. The only things I remember collecting were my father’s boots and a couple of fishing poles. There may have been some other items, but that’s what sticks out for me. I also remember that my Paw Paw (this is my mother’s father) seemed really pissed off, which I thought was strange, because I was really sad, and I thought that’s what you’re supposed to be when you lose a loved one, especially your dad. Had it somehow inconvenienced my Paw Paw that Dad had drowned? Was it cutting into his TV time? Did my dad die owing Paw Paw money?
     I should have suspected that something was hinky when we didn’t have a funeral. At least, I don’t remember having a funeral. Or even a memorial service. What I do remember is that me and my mom and baby sister moved into a trailer home on my grandparent’s farm, and this was just fine with me. I loved the idea of living in a house with wheels. Not to mention living near a giant garden, where I would shortly learn how to use a machete. I was completely and utterly distracted by the endless possibilities of life on the farm. I also learned never to mention my dad in the company of my grandparents, as this was a recipe for stern looks and brooding, uncomfortable silence. I played, I imagined, and I got on with my life.
     Six weeks to the day that my father died, I was sitting in the toy box with my sister, watching television, when the phone rang. Mom answered it and immediately went pale and shaky. When she hung up the phone, she turned off the television and told us to come sit by her. “Kids… um, your father is coming home.”
     My sister, who was maybe three at the time, didn’t register this as an unusual thing at all to say about a dead man. I was a little quicker on the draw. “I thought you said Daddy was dead.”
     “Well, honey… not exactly.
     “What’s ‘not exactly’ dead?”
     “Well…, he, um…, he’s just been gone for a while. And now he’s back.”
     That was terribly anti-climactic for my imagination, as for a brief second I had seriously entertained the thought that my family had super powers. Like coming back from the dead.
     Then my sister and I were told that Daddy was coming home real soon, and that we should be really happy about that, and not to ask him any pesky questions like, Where the fuck have you been for the last month and a half? Or anything like that. Ever. And two nights later my dad pulled into the driveway of the farm - on a brand new, black-as-night motorcycle. Any thoughts I had about asking him where he’d been flew right out of my head. He had a motorcycle! Plus the fact that I had a dad again! I remember being really happy, and my mom being really tense. And later, when we walked over to my grandparent’s house as a complete family again, it being really, really weird.
     To say my grandfather disliked my dad would be understatement bordering on criminality. It would be decades after both my dad and grandfather were dead before I uncovered the truth about this animosity, but we’re not there yet. We’re at the part where my dad comes riding back into our lives on a motorcycle, and my Paw Paw decided that he wanted to ride it. Paw Paw was one of those old-school cases who believed in the sanctity of never seeking advice, counsel, or education about anything before jumping right into it. Like how to ride a motorcycle. I’m not sure exactly how he talked my dad into the idea. Maybe Dad was just willing to do anything to get back in his father-in-law’s good graces (which even I could have told him was an exercise in futility if he’d ever asked me, which he didn’t), and thought letting Paw Paw take a brief joyride on the bike might smooth some of the edges.
     Dad tried in vain to give Paw Paw a brief tutorial on the physics of two-wheeled travel versus four, but my grandfather waved him off. When he very shakily took off down the driveway, motorcycle wobbling to and fro like a drunken sailor on shore leave, I had a thought that amounted to, This isn’t going to end well. Paw Paw was supposed to turn right on the farm-to-market road where his property began, drive the two miles down to the state highway, turn around, and come back. The whole trip should have taken less than ten minutes. After twenty minutes, my dad and I jumped in the Impala and went looking for him.
     We found him in the gravel driveway of the local Baptist church less than half a mile down the road. The bike was lying on its side, and my Paw Paw looked like he had been dragged behind the bike for that half a mile. His whole left side was bloody, and it was obvious from the condition of the white gravel in the church parking lot (crimson streaks) that he’d spilled the bike there. My dad was pissed about the bike (which really only had some cosmetic damage), and my Paw Paw was embarrassed, and he dealt with his embarrassment by getting pissed. Plus, he was pissed about my dad being pissed, and my dad could see this, which pissed him off even more. So, you know. It was a real bonding moment for the men of the family.
     Paw Paw was in no condition to drive, and I was seven, so Dad hopped on the bike to go back to the farm and get my mom and bring her back so she could drive the Impala with me and Paw Paw back home. We were sitting in the Impala with the doors open. Actually, I was standing up on the front bench seat next to Paw Paw, who was half in and half out of the passenger seat, and probably in a mild state of shock, now that I think about it. And then he said it was too hot and he reached over to the ignition column of the car and turned the key in order to start the engine and get the A/C going. Except the car was in gear and he was on the passenger side and couldn’t depress the clutch, so when he turned the key the entire car lurched forward, and I went ass-over-tea kettle (are we beginning to see a pattern here?) into the backseat, where my forehead connected with one of the solid steel and very sharp seatbelt buckles sticking straight up out of the bench. It wasn’t serious, but I am a dedicated bleeder, and so less than five minutes after my dad left and returned with my mom, he rolled up to discover both his father-in-law and his son bleeding all over the interior of the Impala. This naturally pissed him off, which Paw Paw could see, and that pissed him off, which caused Dad to…
     You get the point.
     Here, then, is the sordid and somewhat ridiculous story of what really went down when my dad “drowned.” It’s also a reminder that, if there is a planet in the universe where common sense grows on trees, my people live farthest from that planet.
     The cops knew right away that my dad had not drowned. In fact he left so many obvious clues that he had simply abandoned the family, he might just as well have hung a banner that said Fuck Off, Y’all. I’m Out!  In the first place, the spot in the river where he’d deliberately capsized the boat was so shallow that he would have had to stand on his head – for a long time – in order to drown. Clue #2: everything that should have been in a boat loaded for fishing (rods and reels, tackle box, bait, nets, etc.) was all still neatly arranged in the back of the truck. Evidently he was in such a hurry to get away from us, he couldn’t be bothered to correctly stage the scene. Or he was just lazy. Probably both.  But the loudest clue was the boots. Remember, the boots my Paw Paw and I collected from the sheriff’s office? Why in the hell would a man pull off his footwear to go fishing in a boat? Answer: he didn’t want to leave footprints after he capsized the boat and waded across the river to the other side, where he walked up the bank to a trail that led to a dirt road, that eventually led to a county road, where he hitchhiked his way out of the state, and out of our lives. Except that my father was a big man, well over 6’6” and pushing 280 pounds, so even barefoot he left a trail that a near-sighted drunk with no sense of direction could follow. Apparently the blood hounds that the search team used had no problem picking up his scent, and following it all the way to the point where he got in a car.
     Based on the obvious and embarrassing evidence that my father was a) probably still alive, and b) a terrible death-faker, the county would not issue a death certificate, which meant my mom could not cash in my father’s life insurance policy. So in addition to remaining poor, she was now completely humiliated. As it happened, Dad walked and hitchhiked his way to Dallas, where he met up with a very shady friend in the private investigations business, who knew a guy who made counterfeit documents, and got himself a phony Social Security card. He used this to pinball between Colorado, Oklahoma and Texas, taking odd jobs that included valet parking attendant, and bouncer. Eventually he got tired of trying to hide the fact that he had abandoned his family from everyone he met, and so decided to come back to us – on the condition that we never ask him about where he’d been, or what he’d been up to. Which, to a seven year-old boy, seemed fair, I guess.
     Now I could stop right there, and you could understand why my grandfather hated my dad as much as he did. (Actually, this was the second time my dad had walked away from his family, but that first time was only for a week. But that’s another story.) You could totally look at that and understand why Paw Paw absolutely detested my dad. But my grandfather’s hatred stemmed less from what Dad did to his family (and especially to Paw Paw’s daughter, my mom), and more for what he did to my grandfather’s pride.
     See, when the cops came back to the family and basically told them that my dad had split the scene, my grandfather adamantly refused to believe them. Because my father had pulled that shit once before, and had gotten himself a world-class ass chewing from my grandfather, after he lit out for Mardi Gras with a waitress for a week. (Oh, and did I mention that this was right after my mother had gotten home from back surgery, which was way more dangerous and painful then than it is today? Swear to God. He brought Mom home from the hospital on a Friday afternoon, then he and the waitress took off for New Orleans. For a week.)
     So Paw Paw and his Irish pride were certain – dead certain – that my dad would never ever pull that shit again. He was so certain, that after the dive team and the searchers left the riverbank, Paw Paw went back up to the ranch, got a cot, a lantern, some food and water, and went back down to the site of the “drowning,” and stayed there. For three days. He would walk up and down the riverbank, looking for my dad’s body, looking for clues he was sure the sheriffs had missed. He was so certain he’d put the fear of God into my dad and that he would never leave the family again, that the old man kept a three-day vigil during a hot and sticky Texas summer, on a river bank teeming with mosquitoes and scorpions and snakes. At the end of the third day, dehydrated, exhausted, and covered in bug bites, he packed it in - only to have his wayward son-in-law coming rolling back into town six weeks later, on a shiny new motorcycle.
         Oh Yeah. There was hatred there.

     Next Week, Chapter Ten: Smelling Angela Lansbury

Make a contribution to the book by clicking HERE

Friday, December 11, 2015

Seriously. Who Would Pay For This Sh*t?

     Well, I'm actually hoping you will.

     Do you remember when Radiohead decided to stick it to the record companies, and they published their album In Rainbows online, and told fans to pay-what-you-like? Seriously, it wasn't that long ago. Some of you have to remember that, right?

     Now, granted, I'm not Radiohead. Or a recording artist with millions of fans. I maybe have, like, three fans. My daughter is one of them, and she's not even allowed to read this shit yet. My point here is that, since I've been publishing my memoir, Making Sh*t Up: An Improvised Life here in this space, more people have actually been coming to this space. Which means more people have been reading the book, and sharing it with people they know. Which is awesome. And then, last week, a kind of weird thing happened. I got a private message from somebody asking if they could make a financial contribution to the book - just like they would if they'd downloaded it online, or bought it in a store. And that sounded like a fucking great idea to me, because I love to write, and my bills love to get paid.

     So I finally got a GoFundMe account set up RIGHT HERE. If you click on the link, you can actually pay what you want for the memoir: of which, by the way, there is still a shit-ton to read (it's been a long life). If you've gotten anything out of this space in the last two years and change - humor, insight, wisdom, and what kinds of shit you should really avoid doing in your life to end up like me - I really hope you'll consider going to the site, and making a contribution. Especially since the person who gave me this idea in the first place - you know who you are - has yet to actually follow through on that. I know where you live. Just saying.

     Seriously, though. Thanks you guys. Thanks for reading this shit. Love you, mean it.

Seriously, Radiohead? What the fuck is that? Is that an ice cube being held at gunpoint? How is that possibly cool? And why can't I stop STARING at it? 

Support "Making Sh*t Up: An Improvised Life" by clicking

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Chapter Eight.

     Hello, all seven of you. Before we get to the latest installment of my memoir, Making Sh*t Up: An Improvised Life, which is an actual book that I actually wrote, and am publishing online for free, I've gotten a few inquiries in the last couple of weeks, asking if regular readers of the blog (and the book) can make personal contributions to the cause (the cause being me, and this shit I write). I'm looking into it, but it's complicated for me, as it involves not only technology but math, both of which make my head hurt, and have me reaching for the Xanax. I'm hoping to have some sort of something in place soon, to make it very easy for subscribers to make a financial contribution to the book (and also a big middle finger to publishers who sent me rejection letters). If any of you, dear readers, have experience with that sort of thing, your help would be greatly appreciated.

     In the mean time, should you wish to make a donation, simply private message me via social network connections. However, if we're not currently connected via a social network (for which I blame myself), simply leave a comment here expressing a desire to help me continue my bad writing habit, and I will contact you offline with information on how to make that possible. Thanks, you guys.

     And now...

Chapter Eight
Sex, Contact Highs, and Rock n Roll

It's not really the 8th Wonder of the World. It's more like the third nipple on the kid at gym class, that you can't stop staring at.

     [Author's Note: at the top of this chapter I write that I have only ever been high once in my life. That is no longer a true statement, given that, when some of my friends found out about that, they made it a personal mission to get me good and stoned a few times in Middle Age. Mission accomplished...]

    I have been drunk many times in my adult life. As I’ve previously mentioned in this memoir, I like to drink. A lot. I don’t need to drink, and I know this is true because the only times I have ever had booze before noon is when I’m on vacation, which is perfectly acceptable to any culture in any age. (Except maybe cultures who eschew alcohol completely. Which is just fucking weird.) But I have only ever been high once in my life, and that’s what this story is about. I wish I could tell you it was an awful experience, that it made me nauseous and guilty, and afraid I would become a horrible addict who would lie and steal, or maybe even kill to get that next high. It wasn’t like that at all. It was a second-hand high I got in 1982 at the Texxas World Music Festival in Houston.
     A brief word about me and drugs. I don’t do them, and never have. I figure if any teenager could have been forgiven for a crippling drug habit, it would have to have been a teenager whose dad had killed himself, and whose mom lived in a bottle. I was THE prime candidate for drug abuse. I never did drugs for two reasons, the first of which is that I was too poor to afford them, the second of which is that I had already discovered sex, and no one could convince me that drugs were better than that. They still can’t. If you think drugs are better than sex, then you’re doing it wrong. Period. So, that’s me and drugs.
     1982 may have been the greatest year for big-ass rock concerts the city of Houston has ever, or will ever, see. Houston was one of the last rock ‘n roll bastions against New Wave, which had already claimed some of my more marginal friends in Conroe. But the Texxas World Music Festival was the big Middle Finger to all that techno, plastic, one-hit-wonder pop trash, and it had been going on since 1978. The gods of rock descended upon the Republic of Texas every summer to lay their hands on adoring fans (and their guitars, and sometimes their penises, if you were a hot chick), to scorch the heavens with full-throated vocals and sear flesh with white-hot guitar solos, to perforate ear drums and implode chest cavities, all in the name of rock ‘n roll. I freaking loved it.
     On June 13, 1982, I found myself in a van with my two best friends, Doug and Geoff; their girlfriends; my sort-of girlfriend at the time; Doug’s brother David, who was driving, and Doug’s older sister Sara, whom I was completely wacko-insane about, as she was the single most attractive girl I had ever been that close to in my life, ever, up to that point. There were probably some other people in the van as well, but none of them was Sara, so I don’t remember who they were. We all had our tickets to the Texxas Jam, and we were heading south on I-45 out of Conroe, bound for the Houston Astrodome.
     If you’ve never been inside the Astrodome, all I can suggest is that you keep it that way. I know it’s been remodeled a bunch of times since my teenage years. It’s just that building a huge stadium designed to hold thousands of people and then slapping a dome over the top of it is, in my opinion, a fundamentally bad idea. Like pet rocks. Or New Coke. You can do it, sure. But why? The Astrodome was built in order that the city of Houston could get some professional baseball and football franchises in a part of Texas where the weather can be so shitty, you have to seriously question the mental health of anybody who would choose to live there. It’s bad enough that the summers typically stay in the mid to upper nineties range, but on top of that the humidity is always like 170 percent. It’s the kind of humidity that makes you actually think, and I’m paraphrasing Lewis Black, “Gosh, you know what? I really wish I had put antiperspirant on my balls.”
     In 1982 the Astrodome was a colossal concrete and steel cave, with bad ventilation and worse acoustics. (The bad ventilation will become important shortly.) It was also the venue for the Texxas Jam. This was the lineup of bands, from opener to headliner: Point Blank, Joan Jett & The Blackhearts, Sammy Hagar, Santana, and Journey. The only band I wasn’t balls-out excited about was Santana, but it was a solid line-up and I couldn’t wait for the show to kick off. As a lot of people weren’t bothering to show up until the second or third band took the stage, we had no problem parking and getting to our seats in the Gold section. That sounds like a really great section to be in because of the name, but really it was called the Gold section because that entire section of seats made a dingy yellow ring all the way around the Astrodome. We were midway up in the dome, on the left-hand side of the stage.
     One of the biggest reasons Doug and Geoff and I were friends, was that we were music freaks. We had huge record / tape / CD collections. We briefly had a garage band, with Doug on a Fender Jazz bass and Geoff playing a Peavy POS guitar, but we folded for two reasons: we didn’t have a drummer, and I couldn’t squeeze my nuts hard enough to sing like Paul Stanley or Rob Halford. And we meant business when it came to rock concerts. We watched the show. The whole show. None of this running about the venue, dicking around, trying to find a non-urine soaked corner to make out in. We were there to rock. So, when Point Blank hit the stage we were firmly planted in our seats. We only got up during band breaks when the stage was rearranged to make ready for the next group, and then we only went to pee or load up on concession food. Joan Jett came next, and I had no idea at the time that she was a lesbian. I didn’t even know what a lesbian was. I only knew that she kicked ass, and I should have suspected something when I went to the bathroom after her set, and there was a line out the Women’s restroom made up of women that I’m pretty sure could have kicked my ass in a fair fight. And I was a black belt at the time.
     Sammy Hagar was still the Red Rocker, and still three years away from joining Van Halen, thus ending my love affair with Sammy Hagar and Van Halen. Maybe you liked that weird incarnation, but to me it was too much liking kissing your sister. But the night of the Texxas Jam he was shredding. After the Hagar set I got up to walk around and look at the merchandise (my high school wardrobe for four years consisted mainly of jeans and concert t-shirts). I was in no hurry to get back for Santana’s set, and I was walking through the very large music library in my head looking for Santana songs that I was actually familiar with. There was Evil Ways, Black Magic Woman, and Oye Como Va for sure. And in the last two years they’d had a couple more mainstream singles, Winning and Hold On. So, okay, if they played those five songs, I’d be happy. But Carlos Santana had always been known as a jam-guitar guy, who could segue from one Latin-infused solo into another so effortlessly that after a while you thought you were at a jazz concert, for God sakes. I paid for my commemorative t-shirt and headed back to my seat.
     And that’s when I first began to notice that things had gotten… foggy.
     Santana opened with Black Magic Woman, and while I was kind of familiar with the song, I had this thought about two minutes in: Damn. I am really enjoying this song. I also thought that the stage guys were overdoing it on the fog effects, because there was a thick miasma hanging out everywhere in the Astrodome. And it seemed to be making the music sound better. I have no idea what the second song in Santana’s set was. But I do remember thinking: Man, this is better than the first song. And halfway through the song I didn’t know, I thought: This is the best fucking music I have ever heard in my entire life. Carlos Santana is a goddam genius. How have I never seen that before? Toward the end of his set, when he broke into Oye Como Va, I nearly shit my pants with excitement. I was singing along in perfect Spanish, and I don’t speak Spanish.
     When Carlos left the stage, I was more despondent than the time my dog had abandoned me for a family that could actually afford to feed him every day. But that feeling evaporated when somebody in our group said, “Anybody want anything to eat?” I was about to open my mouth and say hell freaking yes, but as soon as I did open my mouth I saw in my own head the list of things I wanted – no, needed – to eat at that moment, and I knew they’d never be able to remember them all, and they didn’t have octopus arms, which they were going to need to carry all the shit that I was hungry for, and then I realized that I’d been sitting there with my mouth wide open for way too long and it was Sara who’d asked the question and I was staring at her open-mouthed like a goddamn lunatic. I slammed my jaw shut so hard that my nasal passages hummed, and fled to the concession stand. Here is a partial list of what I know for sure I ate:
     *Two large orders of nachos with cheese sauce and extra jalapenos (which I wasn’t going to order because at the time I didn’t like jalapenos, but the concession lady was like “Aw Honey, you gots to eat nachos with jalapenos!” and I thought Well, shit, she sells this stuff, she should know…)
     *TWO foot-long chili dogs with relish, onions, mustard, ketchup, and a bag of Fritos crushed and sprinkled over the top, because why the fuck not?
     *One (maybe two) corn dogs slathered in mustard
     *Two giant salted pretzels (I just realized that this event alone is probably why I have high blood pressure to this day)
     *One large barrel of popcorn that was probably left over from the first Texas Independence Day, drowned in imitation butter product
     *One Snickers, one Baby Ruth, one bag of M&Ms (plain)
     *Two Dr. Peppers, one Mr. Pibb (Dr. Pepper’s “special” cousin), and a Coke. All big enough to drown a child in
     I did not at the time realize that I was experiencing what stoners everywhere call “the munchies.” I only knew that it was the best freaking food I’d ever eaten in my life. A few hours later, when the high had worn off and the gastro-intestinal consequences had kicked in, I would significantly alter this view. But for the moment, it was awesome.
     I was high through Journey’s entire set. I should mention that this was the Journey of the Steve Perry days, and that the Escape album had just been released the previous year, which was, and remains, their pinnacle music achievement. When they broke out Open Arms – probably the greatest power ballad in the history of ever – there was no cheering among the more than 53,000 fans at the Astrodome, because every single one of them was making out. I was making out with my sort-of girlfriend. But I may have been making out with Doug, or Geoff. I honestly don’t know. I wanted to be making out with Sara, but she had flown away on the back of a rainbow-colored unicorn to destinations unknown. Or maybe that didn’t happen, and I only thought it happened because I was high.
     By the time Journey was into their second encore, and all the pyrotechnics were going off, the Astrodome had been transformed into the world’s largest rock ‘n roll bong. It’s a miracle that the sheer volume of weed smoke didn’t blow the roof right off the place. Evidently the people who built this monstrosity had never heard of air scrubbers, or were too cheap to install them, because the recycled air was blowing back out on the entire audience like a fog machine. And I had a brilliant thought, as only truly stoned people can have: a new home air conditioning system that cooled you down and got you high at the same time. And I would call it “Air-ijuana.” I was just about to share this idea with my friends, but Journey started into Wheel in the Sky and my brain immediately went to “Dude! ‘Wheel’ and ‘Sky’, are two images that are both symbolic of infinity. Holy shit!” And I was trying to explain this to the couple sitting next to me, but they couldn’t hear my brilliant analysis of the song lyric over the volume of the song itself. Plus their faces were mashed together in a desperate attempt to see who could suck the fillings out of the other person’s mouth first. So I sat back and let the last song of the evening take me wherever it wanted, and I was awash in second-hand weed smoke, smelling vaguely of chili, and, for a moment, pretty damn happy.
     Rock concerts were a huge part of my teenage years, mainly because live music was my drug of choice. Alcohol is a close second these days, but I didn’t really drink until I was in my late twenties. I’ve been going to concerts since before I could legally drive. And what I mean by that is, yes, I did illegally drive my friends and me to concerts more than once. I think one of the reasons I never really fit in with any clique in high school was that a big identifier was the kind of music you listened to. The Kikkers listened to country, the Preps listened to pop, the Homeboys listened to rap, the Jocks didn’t know what music was, and the Band Geeks listened to… well, band music. I listened to rock ‘n roll, in all of its varieties and subsets. I would go to a Judas Priest concert one week, then turn around and hit the REO Speedwagon show the next. I will also admit here and now that I attended a Neil Diamond show one year, but only because Doug had an extra ticket, and his sister Sara was going. I had heard rumors that women became so enamored of Neil when he performed that they would spontaneously take off their bras (and sometimes their panties) and throw them onstage. If there was even a one in a million chance that Sara would do something like that, then I was going to sit through a Neil fucking Diamond concert.
     She didn’t.
     Every spare dollar I had in high school usually went toward concert tickets. My friends and I had long ago made the acquaintance of the owner and proprietor of Rainbow Records and Tapes, the only real record store in Conroe. (I later learned that the owner also ran a paraphernalia and dope operation out of the back of the store, for which he was later busted.) He became a Ticketmaster outlet not long after the store opened, and we spent many nights sleeping in front of his shop on lawn chairs, so we could be first on line when tickets to shows we desperately wanted to see would go on sale. This strategy got us excellent seats for shows such as ZZ Top on the Eliminator tour, YES (90125 Tour), Judas Priest (Screaming for Vengeance), and front row center for REO Speedwagon (Wheels Are Turnin’).
     So, when I say that I have developed a bit of a hearing problem in my mid-forties, this should come as a surprise to no one. You do not (at least, I didn’t) think about the repercussions of constantly exposing your ears to a decibel level that has more in common with a battlefield in World War II than a music performance. I remember at the REO show, our buddy Joe S. had shoved cotton in his ears, and I think we all made fun of him for it. We were all standing there, front row and center stage for the entire show, and it was awesome. REO always ended their encore with Ridin’ The Storm Out, and on the last few power chords they’d fire off these huge pyrotechnics. So it’s the end of the song, and guitarist Gary Richrath hits that first ending chord, and at the same time BOOM!!!, this cannon or something goes off – and something hits me in the side of the face. Not hard, not like shrapnel or anything. It was soft. And I turn my head, and there’s Joe, standing next to me and looking shocked and awed, and he’s pointing at the sides of his head and shouting something, but I can’t hear him over the song, so I look at his mouth and what he’s saying is IT BLEW THE COTTON OUT OF MY FUCKING EARS! That was the first time I thought there might be consequences to all of my rocking, later in life.

     Next Week, Chapter Nine: Dad Before The End