TEENAGE DREAM: A LULL BETWEEN TWO WARS RECONSIDERED
-T-Rex, Teenage Dream
Are you watching this? It's South Central 1992 all over again -- isn't it? -- sans the Korean shop owners taking pot shots from the roofs of liquor stores.
Do you remember that spring? It was warm and buggy. Most nights we'd drive up to Newton Park near the Dennys. That car: it had been your grandparents' Buick, a massive brown beast with splitting vinyl seats and a dodgy tape deck. You'd sit where your grandfather sat and I'd sit where your grandmother sat and we'd listen to Pussy Galore or Jesus Lizard and drink whatever beer that guy (who'd played bass in our band for like a week) got us.
We were always in and out of bands with each other. The spring of 1992 -- I think we were Cheerleader. Or Paluxy Tracks, misspelling be damned.
Your amp was always overheating, and once it started smoking during practice. You never changed your strings. I didn't know how to tune my drums and my cymbals were dented. But we were good. Really good.
Sometimes Charlie would sit with us, always wearing that same Descendants shirt and green cords. And Mike too, always laughing crazy. Mike could really play guitar, in that chunky metal kind of way.
I remember this one night when we were all there, sitting in your car, drunk and sleepy, just staring out at the ball fields and the utility shed in the moonlight. We were listening to CCR. (I always thought you looked kind of like a Fogerty brother.)
I remember this so clearly: we were just sitting there under some spell, the car gurgling softly. And you turned to me and said, Hey, Jeb, guess what? And I said, What? And you threw the car into drive and mashed down the accelerator, sending us tearing down a grassy embankment and across the soccer field, then through the south diamond's infield. I grabbed the dash and thought I was going to die, though I was laughing like crazy. You just missed clipping the massive tree by the tennis courts. I couldn't believe it was happening. Finally you arced around, going 45, and pulled right back up into the lot and threw the car into park, like nothing happened.
I wonder how history will mark that strange time between the two Gulf Wars. Though we didn't know then that it was an intervening period. Think of all that chaos that we had the nerve to call peacetime: the riots, Rwanda, Kurt Cobain in his greenhouse, Khobar Towers, the fear of computers failing and planes dropping out of the sky, OJ, Kosovo, Columbine.
Peace isn't a real thing anyone can claim to have seen or experienced. Peace is the Loch Ness monster. Peace is spoon bending.
So now the second Iraq Smack Down is over. And I don't love the Butthole Surfers like I used to, but Locust Abortion Technician still makes me happy. Charlie is a divorcee. You've cut your hair and moved off to the desert and no one hears from you but your sister.
I still can't believe Mike's gone. I didn't find out until months after he whizzed around that corner on his Honda and smacked into that pickup. When I think of it I imagine a spray of glass and metal bright against black asphalt, and his lanky body sprawled out in front of the Fred Mayer on Hawthorne, though I don't know where the accident happened. Maybe it was right on the Colombia, with a full panoramic view of downtown Portland.
You know, I only found out he died because I got nostalgic listening to one of our old four-track tapes and asked Charlie: Hey, what's Mike been up to?
That was the real end of the party for me, even before the stock market tanked or those planes were hijacked. Everything suddenly seemed so tenuous, which it was all along. I suppose it was the realization of something finally catching up to one of us. I mean, remember that time you rode on top of Charlie's Jeep like in some kind of bad cop movie? And how he almost hit a parked car and sent you flying off into that grassy parkway? One-foot difference was all the margin you had. Most of the time that was all that separated any of us from becoming some dead poster boy for youthful excess.
The true fuel of youth is luck.
And we depended on it fully, without questioning. Especially you, because you were the only one of us there in the woods by the Theosophical Society sophomore year when the other C---- huffed too much Scotchguard and suffocated right there on the pine needles. You knew better than any of us. And still you embraced the incalculable.
So of course I had to laugh the last time I saw you when you admitted you were afraid of flying. You always had the best punch lines.
"The empty vessel makes the loudest sound."
Shakespeare said that in The Life Of King Henry the Fifth. It seems nauseatingly appropriate that a Bush should lead us from our fucked up Eden of excess and madness into this fearful and savage exile -- that we should call such an emblem of dumb luck and belligerence King.
America Uber Alles!
Stubbornly, I think we will never be killed, you and I, despite recent events. We will probably never die. It's not possible. See, I've learned nothing. Can you imagine the earth after you have died? Even the first minute past your expiration? Can you picture the paper being delivered? The new TV shows you'll miss? I cannot.
So it's you and I and the millions of other immortals against the rest of the planet. Defiant, we will always listen to Black Sabbath. We will always play in bands and then break them up. We will always get drunk and slur ourselves and each other. We will forever rely on that hair-thin margin of error as if it were a given.