shepard fairey








gustav dore

our boys

death and burial


Tuesday, September 18, 2007


Fans, I've got a real treat for you tonight. Every once in a while you run across a writer who's expression is transparent and egoless as water. I've found only four or five in a life long already, and the only one I can think of right now is William Maxwell, longtime fiction editor of the New Yorker. Anyway, the prose of these few is honest and flat as a damn day can stretch.

We become by our own natures, and theirs, their acolytes, urging them to speak for us in a way that we can't, at least out loud. Well, friends, I've found another. All I know about this piece is that it's one chapter of seven I have curled here at my feet, and it takes place sometime in the 80's on the streets of Burlington, VT, which, if you don't know it, is a sweet place. Six or seven colleges abounding, downtown a 6-block, no-cars strip with street performers packed end-to-end, live music from the clubs blasting from every window, and with plenty of ramshackle barely outlying ghettos to house its itinerant children. It can be a real groove in the summer.

And who is our unassuming scribe?

I have a name (a pseudonym?) on these crumpled, coffee(beer?)-stained pages. All I know from asking around is: he's supposed to be somewhere in his thirties by now, perennial vocalist in a thousand hardcore bands, an old-school romantic for all his fast-fleeted youth, I hear, who died again and again, like no quits, over every righteous woman he ever encountered. I've consumed this eventually truncated diary end-to-end, and every chapter gets better, that is, less nasty. Ain't that where we want our lives to head?

Enough from me, chickens, dig this:

Chapter I


by Sterling Dew

There are reasons why I don't trip. Of course, sometimes it takes a trip to make me remember those reasons. I used to try to convince myself that mushrooms might be a better time then LSD, smoother, less edge. Then, an hour and a half later I’d be twisted out of my mind. For me they are pretty much the same harrowing deal. I also used to think that maybe if I ate a whole shitload of acid at once, it would be a better trip. HA!

It almost did work once, though, when I ate nine hits of blotter. I had a great time then. Five hearts and four worlds. The worlds each had a small picture of the Earth on them, and the hearts, a little red heart, of course. I remember lying in the field in Rochester, on my back in the grass. It was mid-summer and very windy. The tall grass swayed and fluttered around my head as I stared up at the clouds, which seemed to be rushing by at ridiculous speeds and moving in multiple directions. I remember lying in the blazing sun for hours entranced by this endless chase, just content to watch them whipping about.

Nick was tripping with me that day. He'd also had a nine-tab breakfast but hadn't stomached it as well. The clouds didn't move for him, just the ground. There was a door in my mom’s living room that we never used. No stairs led to it, only a drop-off of four feet to the ground below. Nick lay on the floor and puked out the door as we listened to D.I..

There was one song in particular that was really messing him up. It was slow and droning, and somehow soothing to me. He blamed it for making him sick. It was called Purgatory2. Later when Nick was feeling more like himself he collected the tabs he had puked up and sold them to Lenny who tripped his ass off too.

So, that was a pretty cool trip, but usually, it’s not like that. As soon as that shit’s down my throat, I know I've fucked up.

For awhile it's OK. I laugh until my face hurts and say a lot of stuff no one but me understands. Or at least if they do, I can't tell. After awhile though, I've had enough, and I just want it to end. I'll start to feel really cold and somehow discontent, or I'll look down at myself and realize that I'm all dirty. Usually, it's only my imagination. It's not so much that I've ever had a bad trip as it is that I've never had a really good one. One trip comes to mind that was particularly fucked-up. . .

I was staying with my friends Jeffrey and Trev at the time. They lived in what was pretty much just a punk rock crash pad. Every night it was beer, chaos, laughter, and tears. Every night was carnage. The floor had soaked up so much booze that the house itself was probably fucked-up. Every morning there were kids sleeping all over the floors. Sometimes none of us even knew who they were.

That being the way it was, none of us were really surprised when Jeffrey picked up a sheet of blotter off the floor.

"Hey! Look, acid," he said, sounding somewhat uninterested. We all smiled knowingly. Although none of us were really big on tripping at that time, we all knew the value of one hundred hits of LSD.

That afternoon Trev took the sheet downtown and sold it off piece by piece. Jeffrey was kind of reluctant to let Trev take it. He'd been the one to find it, after all. It's not that he really cared one way or the other. He would have actually preferred for Trev to go sell it, buy beer, and pot, and bring it back to the house. But Jeffrey was the kind of guy who was always a bit on the paranoid side, always afraid that someone might be trying to take advantage of him. And so, when Trev asked for it, Jeff was immediately on the defensive. Trev was forced to present it in a way that allowed Jeff to feel like he was doing a huge favor for the entire crew, one that would be long remembered.

Trev returned nearly four hours later with the following items: two cases of Budweiser, one eighth of an once of high grade marijuana, four rolls of toilet paper, two packs of Best Buy cigarettes, nine American dollars, and an ugly skinhead called Grudge.

Grudge had come up from D.C. trying to avoid some kind of trouble he was in. He was a real friendly guy, despite his menacing appearance. Trev had picked him up somewhere along the way and it appeared they were already fast friends. Grudge introduced himself to the room, then immediately pulled down his bottom lip so it hung like a bulldog’s. On the inside of his lip the word ‘Grudge’ was tattooed in dark black ink.

"Don't fuck with da Grudge," he growled, and we all burst out laughing.

After a case of beer and a couple joints I was fucked-up enough so that it wasn't hard for Trev to convince me to eat some of the remaining blotter. Jeffrey was all for it, too. As for "the Grudge," I suspected he would consume anything we put in front of him.

As always, as soon as it was in my mouth I knew it was a bad idea. Fuck, fifteen hours of tripping coming up, and already Jeffrey was starting to make my skin crawl.

He was the type who loved the sound of his own voice. It was near impossible to get him to shut up normally, when you got him on drugs it was twice as rough. He had a million and one stories and most of them we had all heard before. Of course that never bothered him. He would just continue droning on. Usually I didn't have the energy to respond.

After awhile Jeff was getting restless. So were the rest of us, but that was OK with us. For Jeffrey to be restless was a very dangerous thing. He was telling a story about when he shot a bottle rocket at his brother and singed off a clump of his hair and damaged his hearing. We had all heard it before. All of a sudden he got a mischievous look on his face and dashed into his room. He returned with a box with a couple of M-80 firecrackers in it.

No one wanted to play with Jeffrey anymore after hearing his plan to blow up the neighbor’s car by putting an M-80 in the gas tank. I didn't doubt that he would try it. He was a true fucking nut. I'd seen him do a lot of crazy shit, also a lot of stupid shit. One time I saw him jump off a second-story porch chasing after some girl who had dumped him. And he had only dated her for like two weeks. He broke his ankle that time. I didn’t think he would live past the age of twenty-five. Still, we all knew better then to try to talk him out of anything.

I was kind of relieved when Grudge went with him. I hoped Grudge would watch out for him. Of course, I don't think that's what "the Grudge" had in mind. I think he just didn't want anyone causing trouble without him. After they were gone we made bets speculating if either of them would come back and if so in what condition.

It's weird the way sound is affected sometimes when you are tripping, particularly music. Next door some rednecks were drinking and listening to Motley Crue, or some such shit. Their voices faded in and out with the music. First the voices were louder, then the music, then the voices again. Not like someone was turning it up and down but more of a battle between two different types of sound. It was a constant vibrating of the sound waves. It was almost like you could see the sound waves coming in the open window. After awhile it began to get really strange so we threw on our own music to drown it out.

This time the sound was right in our faces, but still it wavered in and out. And still, it threatened to drop into the background. At any second I expected the music to just die and the record to keep on talking. Not singing or screaming, just talking, droning on.

At this point, I could definitely see the sound waves. I knew then why they were called sound waves. They seemed to roll out in a half-circle shapes from the stereo. They were clear and yellow and just barely visible. Maybe they were not even visible but almost visible. At any rate, I was aware that they moved like waves. We sat and watched and listened for a while but that got weird, too, so we decided to try the TV.

The neighbors had also shut off their music, and apparently had left. As we started for the living room I wondered what had happened to Jeffrey and Grudge. At that very second from outside came a huge bang. It sounded like a gunshot. My breath stopped. Trev and I both stared at each other. His chubby face had turned slightly pale.
"SHIT" he said, in alarm.

I knew what he was thinking. I was thinking it, too. Jeffrey had finally met his demise. It was only a matter of time, after all. I was kind of surprised he had lasted this long. It would be a shame if he had taken poor Grudge with him. I had a bad feeling that it was the end of him. The end of his stories, the end of his lunacy, his binge drinking, of his pissing in the trash can when he was too wasted to make it to the toilet.

I didn't have time to mourn him before he burst in the door already telling the story of what had just happened. Grudge followed grinning.

"Yeah man...bang! You should have seen that,” he exclaimed excitedly. “I couldn’t get the gas cap open so we threw it in the tail pipe. I dropped it on the first try so I picked it up and threw it in and the thing went off practically in my hand..."

He rambled on about for this for a few minutes until he had exhausted himself. He rested for a couple of breaths and followed up with a dull matter-of-fact statement.

"Oh yeah, we saw Gandhi, he says there’s a party on Maple Street."

"Whose party," Trev sneered, looking doubtful.

"Who cares," said Jeffrey, smiling.

It was near 10:30 by the time Jeffrey and Grudge had convinced me and Trev to brave the outside world. We pounded the last few beers down and set out into the night.

We didn't make it far. Blue lights flashed in the street, flickering off the ramshackle buildings of the Old North End. "They're at the neighbor’s house," Trev reported grimly.

“Friends of yours?" I asked Jeffrey.

"Relatives," he replied.

We decided it wasn't the right time to meet Jeffrey’s "relatives" so we hid on the porch for a few minutes. The neighbor was bitching to the fuzz about someone trying to blow up her car. We listened intently wondering what kind of sicko would do that kind of thing. When the complaint was concluded we made our way silently out into the night.

As we walked across town I was acutely aware of the city’s presence. Voices, sirens, laughter, music, loud cars, it all seemed amplified. The city seemed to be one living, breathing, squirming, writhing, babbling entity. Noises crawled from every house, murmuring an endless cacophony in which one voice or group of voices constantly vies to drown out another. Every once in awhile I'd shy or cringe, thinking they were talking to me.

As we made our way across town it seemed like a lot was going on. College kids were yelling and hooting as they made their way into and out of the bars. Carloads of young girls patrolled the streets. People passed by hurriedly, glaring at us with impossible-to-explain expressions. And of course the cops were everywhere.

The flashing blue lights were always there in the corner of my eye. The trouble seemed to follow us. I didn't always see a cop car, but I could always see the blue lights flashing away. It was kind of unnerving. By the time we reached Maple Street, I was ready to go back and hide in the apartment. So, I was pleased to find that the party was nothing more then a dark, apparently empty, house.

We knocked on the door a couple of times anyway, since we had come clear across town. No one answered, so we turned and started home. I was happy because I hadn't wanted to go to the party anyway. But I had needed to get out of the apartment. Now I knew what was out here. And I knew I didn't want to be a part of it. I had made the attempt. Now I could hibernate without feeling quite so lame.

The walk through town was insanely worse on the way back. The city’s vibe had turned from somewhat menacing to outright hostile. The voices which before had sounded excited now sounded angry and threatenng. I was surprised to find myself intimidated by a woman who was screaming at her kids as we passed. I expected her to turn on me.

Trev led us on what he called a shortcut. It was really longer but it enabled us to avoid the main bar strip, which was fine with me. It did, however, lead us through the back parking lot of "The Chicken Bone." It's a pretty OK place nowadays, but back then it was redneck heaven. I probably had more teeth in my mouth then all the people in that place combined. More sense too.

As we passed we could hear noises of violence coming from inside the door. Apparently there was some sort of scuffle going on inside. As we approached, a man bolted out of the door, heading straight for us. At first I thought he was going to try to attack me personally but he pushed past me and went for a red pickup truck that was parked in the lot.

A second man, with a pool cue in his hands, pursued him. He pushed past us angrily, and smashed the cue over the first guy’s back. It splintered in half as the guy fell to his knees. The attacker continued to beat him with the broken shaft as the victim huddled into a ball and threw his arms over his head and ace for protection. The beating went on till the guy was bloody and broken. He murmured sobbing pleas as his attacker stepped on his head.

We had all seen enough.

More than anything now we just wanted to get home. It felt like the whole town had turned crazy, and it was out to get us. The animals were in a feeding frenzy. Drinking, fighting, fucking. It was like a pack of wolves. Anyone who showed weakness became prey. I was feeling like a very weak wolf. More of a puppy dog really.

I hoped not to draw any attention since it seemed that any and all attentions were negative. But it was hard not to attract attention with people like Jeffrey. His hair was bright blue and spiked up in about twelve points. They sprang like 7-inch nails out of his head. He wore a thick chain for a belt, clasped with a padlock, and he was heavily tattooed. And this was 1987, not 1999.

The Grudge didn't exactly blend in either, with his steel-capped Doc Martens, bright red braces and cleanly-shaven head. To the average citizen we looked like a fucking walking circus, something to laugh at, or something to fear, a freak show, at best--at worst,a menace. I smiled to myself finding some satisfaction in that thought.

It didn't take long before someone sensed our fragile state of mind and decided to test our will. It wasn't much, just a subtle little derivative statement uttered by a passerby. Unfortunately, Jeffrey decided to turn around. Before I realized what was going on, he had followed these guys over to their car and was arguing with them angrily.

In a way, Jeffrey craved violence even when he was the one receiving it. Or, maybe, especially when he was the one receiving it. He had been in more fights than most of the people I knew all together, and he had come out on the losing end every time. I mean, sure, he had stories of fights where he had kicked their fucking asses, but there weren't ever any witnesses, so they would forever be just stories. People who didn't know him were sometimes intimidated by his vicious bark and crass attitude, but the truth was, he was kind of a pussy. Unfortunately, neither of these two guys seemed moved by Jeffrey's bluster.

They were both fairly big guys, one was shorter than Jeffrey but was a lot more muscled. The other had Jeff dwarfed. Probably frat boys headed home after a long night of drinking and fucking with people. At any rate they were not amused now that Jeffrey had drawn their attention.

The larger one hit Jeffrey hard in the head from behind. He must have used some sort of blunt weapon because Jeff went right down, face first. He must have been unconscious before he even hit the ground because his hands made no attempt to stop his face and forehead from colliding with the gravel. He didn't move either as they stepped once each on the back of his head, then jumped into their car.

As they drove away Grudge shouted all kinds of insulting remarks. Trev and I gathered up Jeffrey, who was a bloody mess. We dragged him to his feet and carried him to the sidewalk. Grudge was now walking towards the frat boy’s car which had stopped at a red light at the end of the block. Grudge began to hesitate as it became clear the car had to stop. It was like he wanted to stand up for his friends but he didn't really want to fight these guys. The larger jock got out of the car and charged at Grudge. Grudge backed up kind of timidly.

Now, truth was, normally the Grudge was a badass, you could tell, but he was heavily dosed, and tripping has a way of making you unsure of yourself, or at least less violent. Grudge fell back against the brick wall of a building as the guy collided with him. They wrestled a bit but neither one could get the upper hand. Grudge wasn't able to do much except to protect his face from the guy’s blows. The other jock honked his horn as the light turned green, and the one assaulting Grudge ran to and jumped into the car.

As they drove off Grudge began to yell insults again and flipped them off.

It took all three of us to scrape Jeffrey off the pavement. He was in bad shape. He was bleeding from his eyes, nose, and mouth, and he had cuts on his lips and forehead. It was hard to look at him. His nose and mouth were not too bad, but Christ, he had blood coming out of his eyes.

As we walked home he stared at the ground and mumbled some indecipherable shit. Trev and I were pretty much carrying him. His legs moved but they would not have kept him standing without us. People cast us horrified glances as we passed. We were looking a bit out of hand.

After about fifteen minutes of walking in silence Jeffrey grunted and managed to croak out a word through his blood-caked lips.

"Wait" he said in a broken voice.

"What" I asked.

He looked at me with a horrified stare. His eyes seemed to see through me, as they saw through the blood that clouded their blackened orbs.

"Where am I?" he gasped, then stared again at his feet not caring to hear the answer.

When we got home we cleaned up Jeffrey’s face with a warm washcloth and lay him in his bed. Trev fed him some Percocet in hopes of knocking him out. We didn't know what else to do. There was no way we were going to bring him to the hospital, although we probably should have.

After we were sure he was going to live, at least for a few hours, we took a walk down to Battery Park. It was less then a block away and the outside world seemed somehow less hostile now. It was a warm summer night and the wind was blowing. At the park was a large stone pavilion. We climbed onto the roof of it and sat for awhile staring at the stars and at the lake.

The steady flash of the lighthouse off the shore was a welcome change from the wildly flashing police lights of downtown. The lake was shimmering beautifully in the night, as were the stars. We smoked the last of the weed, Trev, Grudge, and I, and talked until we came down. We talked about our fucked-up night and about one thousand other fucked-up nights and finally laughed the whole thing off.

About a week later Grudge and I were walking down Main Street when we spotted the guy he had scuffled with, the guy who had fucked up Jeffrey. He was walking with his girlfriend, eating a slice of pizza.

The Grudge slipped on a pair of brass knuckles he'd been carrying around with him, walked up to the guy, and smashed him once in the side of his mouth, knocking a bunch of his teeth out before the guy even knew what was happening. As he lay on the ground spitting out teeth and blood, Grudge turned to the guy’s screaming girlfriend and pulled down his lip, exposing his tattoo.

"Don't fuck with the Grudge." he said, smiling a big friendly smile, and we quickly walked away.

--Sterling Dew

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