Saturday, January 18, 2020

Preface To 1984: Cars & Other Things About My Sixteenth Year On Earth

It's very weird thinking about the me I was over thirty years ago, but it's safe to say he wouldn't recognize me at all.  That Gary didn't quite know how it would work out, but he imagined he would be some kind of writer, hopefully comics, maybe sci-fi.  That Gary certainly loved music but it wasn't the most important thing in his life - he certainly didn't think he'd ever love other artists as much as he loved John Lennon, David Bowie, or Elvis Costello.  That Gary still felt some kind of attachment to his family, although he knew they didn't enjoy being around him, & vice versa.  That Gary knew less about how the world works than this Gary, & that's saying something.

Perhaps I don't say enough about my family.  I lived at the time with my mother & my little brother, who is one year younger than I am.  We lived in a two-bedroom, two-floor apartment in a six-apartment complex, just a block away from where my mother worked, a convenience store called The Time Saver.  It was owned by my mother's boyfriend, a decidedly unhandsome & gaunt man named Ed, who lived in the same apartment "complex."  We lived in number one, he lived in number five.

Ed deserves a longer description because he was a complex & awful man, & it's worth nothing that he met my mother when she worked at another convenience store, which he frequented to buy pornography.  My mother sure could pick 'em!  He said some very strange things to me from time-to-time, asking me questions that, when I remembered them to people who specialize in child sexual abuse cases, said that abusers say.  I have not asked him, nor would he admit it if it were true, but my little brother despised Ed, which made me wonder if Ed had maybe done something to him.  He spent most of his time with my oldest sister & brother-in-law.  It meant I tended to have the room I shared with him to myself, which suited me fine.  We did not like each other much in those days.

My other siblings were around.  Except possibly my oldest brother, Eddie, who had remarried & moved to Washington state.  I'm not sure when he moved.  He was never close to me, & a couple of years ago, when I was giving him a ride to the airport after he visited my mother in Texas, he mentioned it was natural, since he left the house when I was a child.  I pointed out to him that other families stay close even in such circumstances, but he seemed baffled by it.  In any event, we were never close, & he either stayed away from family functions or had moved away by then.

My sister Pat had many family gatherings, & invited us all; she felt she needed to keep the family together for some reason.  I confess I wasn't fond of her then.  She was openly racist, she was a tiring know-it-all, & worst of all, she was married to a short-tempered man named Dan, who clearly loathed me.  Both Pat & Dan thought I was a kind of social failure, & any time I was in their orbit they attempted to somehow make me into their idea of a better person, which of course I resisted.  Their favorite refrain about me was that I was "book smart" but had no "common sense."  Which meant I wasn't interested in cars or sports or whatever it was that they felt was important to success in their hardscrabble working-class world.  Which was ironic because so much of their success, as did my mother's, depended on theft.

My mother stole from Ed.  In later years, she would cackle about it: "I ripped that so & so off," she would say, laughing.  My brother-in-law worked for years for Oak Farms, & was fired at some point for stealing.  When later I worked at 7-11 - that's a story you'll have to wait a few years for - I was told to watch the Oak Farms guys, who supplied the store with milk & dairy goods.  Why?  Because they shorted 7-11 & took the leftovers to independent convenience stores where they sold them for cash.  & not just cash: Dan & Pat's refrigerator was full of milk, cheese, whipped cream, & butter.

My other siblings - my brothers Ralph & Steve, my sister Karin - I saw at holidays & whatever gathering Pat might have planned that I couldn't get out of.  They had very little interest in me.  Steve had three children, Ralph had just gotten married, Karin, too, I suppose.  It's hard to remember them so young.  I suppose my middle brothers were still heavily into drugs - Ralph was quite the proponent of pot at the time.  Karin would've been a very young 22 in 1984.  Maybe she hadn't been married yet.  In any event, they weren't interested in me, & I had almost nothing in common with them.

Oh, I just remembered something about my brother Eddie - this may have happened earlier - he, like my father, enjoyed responding to earnest questions with smart-ass answers.  I read the book 1984 around this time, & was deeply impressed by it; Orwell's essay on language at the end still resounds in me all these years later.  I asked my brother Eddie once if he read the book.  "No, but I've seen the movie," he said.  My eyes widened, "There's a movie?"  Then, as now, he was genuinely shocked when someone took something he said seriously.*

When it came time for me to get a car, though, it wasn't my mother or my siblings who helped me out.  It was, of all people, Ed.  (Probably with some prodding, though, from my mother.)  He got a car from someone, he offered it to me, & I would pay for it by working at the Time Saver, his convenience store.  It was a 1976 Ford Granada, & it looked like this, but with a maroon top:

The funny thing is, I spent the better part of two years in that car, & I don't think I have a picture of it anywhere.  I feel safe saying that a car for a teenager is freedom, even if I didn't really know how to express that freedom.  I wasn't brave, I was fearful.  I wasn't bold, I was cautious.  I lived inside my head, I was incurious about the rest of the world.  It would take a little prodding to get me out of that shell, & my car was the beginning of that.

It also facilitated friendships.  Yesterday I mentioned a friend named Kurt, whom I met through a comic book amateur press association.  When I got my car, I would drive to hang out with him where he lived in Richardson, the city just north of Garland.  One night, Kurt invited me up to his church where he was allowed to use their photocopy machine to make the copies of our pages for the next edition of the apa fanzine.  He brought along his friend Joe, & during that time we spent together, I found myself liking Joe's sense of humor & his modesty over Kurt's incessant bragging.  I thought I might like being friends with Joe better than with Kurt.

Which ended up happening in the next year.  Kurt was unreliable & disappeared for a time, although I did see him again in 1986, & he found me on the internet at some point in the 1990s.  I don't really remember what he looked like but maybe in a couple of years I'll tell you my favorite Kurt story.  If I haven't already.

As I approach my 52nd birthday, I try to recall if my 16th was very special, or what I wanted for Christmas in 1984.  I draw a blank.  I wonder if I could tell the Gary then about how awful people like his friends, his family, the fellow who sold him comics, the fellow he worked for at the convenience store would turn out to be.  Would he listen?

Nope.  He would say, "There's no way I turn out to be you!"

* This was before there was an actual film version of 1984, & anyway Eddie would never have gone to see that movie in a theater.  Video stores were in their infancy in 1984.

Friday, January 17, 2020

The Summer Of 1984

Every time I hear a discussion about how children should remain in school longer, I get horrified, because I loved summer vacation so much.  Sleeping in, watching reruns on television, having mostly nothing to do - this pleased me.  In the summer of 1984, I remember having three things happen that would affect my life.

It was always somewhat weird that I never really hung out with school friends, & this was true for me that summer.  I met a fellow Gary - last name Anderson - at the comics shop.  The owner, Don, knew I hoped one day to write comics.  He told me there was another person in the neighborhood who liked comics but was an artist, so he arranged for us to meet.  Gary Anderson was a bit taller than I was, he had curly blond hair he wore long - a decade too late - & he loved elves.  He loved Elfquest, to be exact.  I could tell a lot of stories about Gary, & maybe I already have - yes indeed I have! - but suffice it to say he didn't want to draw my comic ideas because they weren't about elves.  We became friends of a sort, because we were both a little lonely, & he encouraged me to revisit a lot of the play-acting I used to do when I was younger.  We would spend time in overgrown fields & pretend to be other people in an adventure - well, I would pretend to be people.  Gary was always the elf.  Sometimes I had to play both the hero & the villain.  I was, you'll recall, sixteen years old.

More normally, my friend Kirk would come over occasionally.  Kirk Ditterline was a brash fellow, opinionated & foul-mouthed, & his mother was his constant driver.  Kirk would get it into his mind to do something, his mother would drive him, & sometimes he'd show up & take me along.  I remember being dragged with him to a Chuck E. Cheese's & watch him blow twenty bucks on Dragon's Lair that I didn't get to play because I had no money.  (Kirk, sadly, died in a car accident in 1987.  He would perhaps be amused to know that nowadays you don't have to play the game to see it solved.)

Another brash friend I had, one whom I didn't see that often in 1984, but with whom I spent most of the summer three years before, was named Gus.  (I talked about him here.  Gus Papageorge had been a friend of my little brother's & had contacted me back then to ask about comic books - mainly as an investment.  I had been drifting away from comics for a while, but Gus drew me back in - in a short amount of time I discovered Frank Miller's Daredevil, Chris Claremont & John Byrne's X-Men, & Marv Wolfman & George Perez's Teen Titans.  Gus called me up out of the blue that summer & asked if I wanted to go to a comic convention with him.  I said fuck yeah, & went to my first convention.  I got to see a panel with Jim Starlin & I got to chat with Mike W. Barr but Gus was there to buy stuff.  We didn't get to stay long - again, I had no money, so I couldn't buy anything - I probably spent what little money I did have to get in - but as we were leaving I might a fellow named Hank who introduced me to amateur press associations.  This was one devoted to "young heroes" - basically X-Men & Teen Titans fans, although there were some members who didn't do DC & some who didn't do Marvel - yes, it was like that even back then.  It was my first attempt to connect with people who shared a love of comics with me.  & they were in nearby Richardson.

The idea of being able to contribute to a fanzine about comics - even young heroes - was thrilling for me.  I wasted too much time & too much paper trying to make my contribution perfect.  I spoke to members on the phone.  It was neat.

As I started eleventh grade, things seemed to be more promising.  One of the members of the APA (as you called amateur press associations) was named Kurt, & it seemed like he & I were hitting it off.  Another friend outside of my high school, sure, but he also dug music, & actually liked Elvis Costello.  Alas, Kurt would not be my new bestie, but he would at one point drag along a fellow named Joe who would become my "best friend" & also would betray me worse than anyone I ever loved.  He would do that, actually, within six or seven years.  But that story I can save till later.

Something else happened in 1984 that was very important - I think it must've happened in the fall - I got my first car!

Thursday, January 16, 2020

1984 Was If I Recall Correctly A Lonely Year

The next Self Help Radio will explore the music that I love that was released in 1984.

On my birthday week in 2003, the first birthday I had while doing Self Help Radio, which began in October of the previous year, I thought it might be fun to play my favorite music from the year I was born, 1968.  It occurred to me that that was something I could do every year around the time of my birthday, & so I have, with one exception - I skipped 1969 the next year because I had a guest do the show.  Which is why the show is almost eighteen years old, but I'm only sixteen years in.  (Remember: the show started in 2002, but my first birthday was in 2003.)

Last year I wrote a couple of posts about 1983 which may inform this year's reminiscence.  The too long didn't read portion is this: in eighth grade, I made my first real friend, & at the end of ninth grade he moved away.  So my tenth grade year - in which I was mainly around people I'd been to school with my entire life - was a bit of a challenge.

On January 20, 1984, I turned sixteen, but I was not like most sixteen year olds.  My younger sister Karin has told me - it was a bizarre thing to say & my wife likes to repeat it - that I wasn't "sexualized" early.  The truth is, like a lot of sixteen year olds, I masturbated as often as I could.  But I had no female friends, & probably couldn't have spoken to any of them unless it was for some assignment in class.  I don't think actually I had any friends at all for the first half of 1984.  I went to school, I came home, I guess I occasionally played video games, & I read comics.

This is something I said last year: I loved comics.  I still do, of course, but there was something transformative about comics that affected me in a way nothing else did.  I was still obsessed with the Beatles, although I had started to branch out; I still read a lot outside of comics, probably beginning my obsession with John Steinbeck around this time; but every week, I went to my comics shop - which was a little bookstore on Shiloh Road in Garland that carried comics - & I spent lots of money I did not have on comics.

How did I pay for the comics?  In the many years before 1984, in the convenience stores in which my mother worked, I would often show up, & if the boss weren't there - this is something I suspect I knew but I didn't admit to myself - I was allowed by my mother to grab as many comics as I wanted.  I had amassed a large number of comics - a lot of them Archie, Richie Rich, war comics, etc. - which just sat in my closet.  I discovered that the owner of the book store - Don was his name - would give me a lump sum for a number of comics.  That, in part, paid for my comic habit.

Something else happened in 1984: I began working at the Time Saver.  This was the convenience store purchased by my mother's boyfriend Ed, at which she worked as well.  My mother didn't want to be up there all the time, so I was asked if I would like to work there.  I confess I didn't like Ed.  But I needed the money.  So I accepted the job, showing up around five pm & working until close, which could've been nine or ten.  (The Time Saver didn't stay open all night.)

There is so much more to be said about Ed, I should save that.  The reason I know I was working there in 1984 is because of the Presidential Election.  I remember two things specifically about that election (in which I could not vote).

In the summer of 1984, Mario Cuomo gave the keynote speech at the Democratic Convention.  I always knew Reagan was a lunatic, & I never trusted his nonsense, but I didn't know quite what I believed about politics.  Cuomo laid it out so plainly.  He truly gave my feelings a voice.  At that point I realized I was a liberal, or a progressive, or a Democrat.

One night, in the Time Saver, Ed called me to the television - there was a television, always on, behind the counter - it was playing a Mondale/Ferraro campaign ad.  The music was the Crosby, Stills, & Nash song "Teach The Children."  I remember Ed saying, "That's your guy."  Ed didn't give a fuck, he probably never voted.

& I remember asking the fellow who owned the book store where I bought my comics, Don, about the election.  He said this: "If Mondale wins, the economy will tank, & people will come to buy their books here, at a used book store.  If Reagan wins, the economy will grow, & people will have money to buy books here.  Either way I win."

Ultimately, I came to realize Don was an odious man, but I was puzzled by his logic.  I couldn't square it with the language I heard Cuomo use about a just society.

Comics, politics, living mainly in my head.  I had no reason to believe, as tenth grade ended, that eleventh grade would be any better.  Something happened, though, in the summer of 1984 that would change my life forever.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Self Help Radio 011320: Reflections

Something happened on today's show that I'm not proud of, & it happened within the first twenty minutes.  To explain how it happened would be extremely defensive, but suffice it to say I listen to a lot of songs before each show, & many songs are covers of a more famous song.  The Supremes song "Reflections" is one of those - I must have had five or six covers of that song, from the Four Tops to Swervedriver.  I chose to play the original as the second song of the show.  Then, after the first airbreak, I played a cover of the song.  If you could've been in the deejay booth with me, you would have seen my mortification.  I forgot it was a cover.  What could I do?  I played it then apologized for it in the next airbreak.

Someone called & told me they thought it was brilliant I played the cover - as a reflection of the Supremes song - in the middle of a reflections show!  I said, "Damn, I wish I thought of that."  The caller could not believe it was what it was: a dumb mistake.

Some shows are like that.  Much thanks always to listeners who give dumb deejays the benefit of the doubt.  They perhaps see us as a reflection of them - & how could we be bad if we're like them?

The show, the show, the show.  What a silly show.  It's at the Self Help Radio website where it's holding a mirror up to itself.  It doesn't like what it sees.  There is a username - SHR - & a password - selfhelp - if you dare to listen.  So as not to surprise you, what you will hear is below.

As always: thanks for listening! !gninetsil rof sknaht :syawla sA

Self Help Radio Reflections Show
"Reflections" New Vaudeville Band _Winchester Cathedral_
"Reflections" Diana Ross & The Supremes _The Complete Motown Singles, Vol. 7: 1967_
"Reflections" The Chambers Brothers _New Generation_

introduction & definitions

"Reflections" Original Mirrors _Nouvelle Vague Presents: New Wave_
"Reflections" Corniglia _Corniglia_
"Reflections" Lady June _Lady June's Linguistic Leprosy_
"Reflections" Liechtenstein _Survival Strategies In A Modern World_
"Reflections After Jane" The Clientele _Suburban Light_

interview with lawyer & autobiographer Bobcat Sloan

"Lucretia My Reflection" Alkaline Trio _The Suicide Girls (Black Heart Retrospective)_
"Reflecting Pools" Vitesse _Acuarela Songs 2_
"Reflections At Dawn" Phyllis McGinley _Reflections On A Gift Of Watermelon Pickle... & Other Modern Verse_
"Reflect" Frente _Marvin The Album_
"Reflection" Fanclub _All The Same_

interview with millennial experts Alyssa & Jason

"(Further Reflections) In The Room Of Percussion" Kaleidoscope _Dive Into Yesterday_
"Shadows & Reflections" The Action _Nuggets II: Original Artyfacts From The British Empire & Beyond, 1964-1969_
"It's Only A Reflection" The Lollipop Shoppe _Just Colour_
"Reflections Of My Life" The Marmalade _Jackie The Album_
"Follow-Up & Reflection" Space Ghost _Yeah, Whatever_
"Reflection" Section 25 _From The Hip_

demonstration of reflectology by Anton Mulvay

"Reflections In A Flat" Half Man Half Biscuit _Back In The DHSS_
"Reflections On Youth" Sonny & The Sunsets _Hit After Hit_
"Introspective Reflection" Ogden Nash _Pleasure Dome_
"Reflecting The Rain" In Letter Form _Fracture. Repair. Repeat._
"Reflection" Tearwave _Different Shade Of Beauty_

conclusion & goodbye

"Reflect On Rye" Emily _Irony_
"Reflected" Ronderlin _Wave Another Day Goodbye_
"A Reflection" The Thermals _Personal Life_
"You're A Reflection Of Infinite Chaos" Outrageous Cherry _Our Love Will Change The World_
"Reflections Of A Shattered Mind" Yankee Dollar _The Electric Coffee House_

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Whither Reflections?

(Image from here - where there are a lot of images of things reflecting!)

This morning, avoiding my reflection in the mirror, I asked myself, & not my reflection, which I am almost certain is not me but some other being in a separate dimension who vaguely looks like me (I certainly don't look like that!) but who is intent on mimicking & mocking me at every opportunity - where was I?  Oh yeah.  This morning, not looking at my reflection, I asked myself, "Self, why do a radio show about reflections when I'm not terribly good at reflecting & I don't enjoy looking at my image reflected in a mirror or other reflective surface?"

Then I heard a voice in my head start to answer, & I immediately thought, "Oh shit it's finally happening!  I'm hearing voices in my head!"  So I rushed into my room, turned music on very very loud, & in-between songs I waited to see if there were still a voice in my head but it was very quiet in there.  Maybe too quiet.  Had I died?

Turns out I didn't die, but I had fallen asleep, & upon further reflection I realized that this needed no further reflection.  This would be a radio show about reflections, & no matter which way I looked, there'd be two images & one would be backward.  That was the nature of the radio show.  & reflections.

Tomorrow!  6-8am!  Freeform Portland (90.3+98.3fm)!!  Objects in your radio may be closer than they appear!