My Fake Exploding Heart

I was watching a TV show where one of the characters unknowingly smoked crack when she thought it was just weed, and it reminded of a special time in my own life, where I didn’t smoke crack-weed.

Gather ‘round the children!  Aunt Mags is going to tell you a heartwarming story about it, and maybe even sing you a little song or two when things feel too intimate, because she’s the worst.  The worst!

The year was 1993, and crack-weed was all the rage.  You couldn’t walk down the street without tripping over piles and piles of it, lined up like bags of toys to be loaded onto Santa’s sleigh.  In what can only be described as a real tour de force, crack-weed swept the Academy Awards that year in every category, including the highly coveted Oscar for Best Crack-weed.

(The above information regarding the abundance of crack-weed is not actually true.  The drug you couldn’t get away from in 1993 was Melrose Place.)

By the time I was 17, I had already dated enough druggies and tried just enough drugs to know that I wasn’t really into drugs.  They just weren’t my thing.  I was way too jacked up with anxiety and OCD to have taken anything that could have resulted in being arrested, overdosing, or making me feel weirder than I already did.

Also, my mother had told me and my sisters from an early age that we had a genetic heart condition where if we tried cocaine even one time, it would make our hearts literally explode and we would die immediately.

First, turns out she made up the heart thing, and second, I’d be really surprised if any of us were to die “immediately” of anything.  It’s much more my family’s style to be merely grazed by a falling satellite just enough to cause permanent nerve damage, and then have the falling satellite slam into an orphanage next door and explode, revealing a diamond mine just underneath the building on the very same day scientists discover that diamonds cause airborne Lupus.

We all have way too many grudges and need to linger for years and years in the death process in order to exact all the revenges we need to exact – even it means barely holding on for decades attached to machines in dank, hospital basements while wearing tissue boxes as slippers.  Clinging to life out of pure spite is in the family charter right next to a nanner-pudding recipe (that’s really just the Jell-O banana pudding recipe straight off the box).  Our family crest is an infinity symbol with that spiked wheelchair from Nightmare on Elm Street Part III in one loop and the words, “Why don’t you say that to my FACE?” in the other loop.

So! Crack-weed.

I was at my friend Sky’s house for her 16th birthday party.  Her house was like a hippie paradise, complete with two cartoonishly hippie parents, who seemed like they had been transported directly from Woodstock and had skipped over the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s entirely.  Sky’s 16th birthday party consisted of making our own tie-dye t-shirts in the backyard and learning how to wire-wrap crystals for necklace charms.  The music was all Grateful Dead, all the time.  Someone was weaving something.  There was a jar of wheat germ on the counter.  These people were hippies.  So much so, that when Anne and I ran into Sky’s mother hanging out at a nearby coffee house the month before and someone asked her if she knew what time it was, she answered, “We don’t do time, man.”

Once it got dark out, we all left the party at Sky’s parents’ house and made our way towards the beach about ten blocks away.  When we got there, we found an unoccupied lifeguard tower, climbed up the steps, and sat around with our teenage legs dangling over the front of it, Sky with her long, flowing hippie skirt, and me with my burgundy tights and combat boots.  She was a hippie, I was grunge, and we bonded over our common high school enemy:  The Preppies.  The rest of the hippie/grunge hybrid group lined up around the lifeguard tower and we all looked up at the stars and chatted.

Someone lit a joint, and it was passed around.  Someone had a bottle of gas station wine, and it was passed around.  I stuck with one of the bottles of Budweiser that one of the older guys had brought along.  Everyone was having a nice, fun night and the weather was pure April in Florida, which is just warm and breezy and beautiful.

Then Roach showed up.

A grown man.  Named Roach.

Don’t look surprised.  This is a story about crack-weed, for god’s sake.

Sky leaned over and told me that Roach was a friend of a friend of hers, and that they’d hung out before and he was cool.

Uh huh.  I knew Roach.  Boy, did I know Roach.

My family had actually known Roach’s family since before I was born.  We grew up a few streets away from each other, but he was about five years older than me, around 22 or so at that point, and I hadn’t seen him in a couple of years.  He and I looked at each other and exchanged secret looks of recognition, I imagine like when two politicians pass each other in a whorehouse.  I pretended like I didn’t know who he was, and he did the same with me.  If he had admitted that he knew who I was, I could have told a million humiliating stories about his fucked up poverty household, and likewise, he could have told a million about mine.

Growing up in our neighborhood, everything you did could be used as a sort of social blackmail down the road, so once you made your way into a different social set, you had to burn that bridge behind you.  That’s because poor kids tend to do really weird shit when left to their own devices, and it’s hard to scrub the images from your memory.

I assume rich kids do weird things, too, but strictly within the confines of their golden castles where only servants and teacup-sized pets can witness their childhood atrocities and humiliations.  They probably play games like “Mock Futures Trading” where they make their Ken dolls plummet off the roof of the Barbie mansion when the market takes a turn, or role-playing games like “Let’s Under-Pay The Working Class” where they dress up in their parents’ clothes and say things like, “Listen here, I may not know how they say Chi-poll-tee in Los Salvador or where ever you’re from, but here in America we talk American, and when I say I want a Diet Coke, I want a Diet Coke, com-pren-day?”

You know, stuff to prepare them to be the kind of Barry Goldwater Republicans they’ll surely grow up to become.  Related, we’re all going to die.

I imagine that unlike the poor kids, the rich kids rarely poured gasoline all over their crotches just to see what it felt like and then had to get hosed down in the yard by their 12-year old babysitter’s mom.  It’s hard to forget the visual of a young man crying and clutching at his junk while being hosed down in public by somebody else’s mother yelling, “Why did you do this?!  Tell me why you did this!”  That stuff sticks with you.

Likewise with that time we were all walking home from the bus stop and that kid said, “Do you dare me to poop in the road right now?  Because I’ll do it.  You dare me?  You dare me?!”

Nobody had dared him.

After his weird rant, he dropped his pants and squatted in the road, a small crowd gathering around him, but then after much consternation and straining he couldn’t do it.  He got poop-shy.  Nobody could think of anything to say, so they just started making fun of him for having little bits of toilet paper in his butt crack.  He looked embarrassed not by the fact that his hygiene was being called into question, but by the fact that his butthole wasn’t nearly the extrovert that he thought it was.  I think what we all witnessed that day was a butthole identity crisis.  Nobody ever spoke of it again.

The same way we never spoke again about that time you were hiding out at my house and your dad showed up drunk, screaming that you were a little whore, and tried to break down my front door while I hid under the bed and called the police.

🎵 Two – of – cracks, two cracks that beat as weed. Two – of – cracks, I need you, I need you. 🎵

Or that time you caught a fish and then stomped it to death, wide-eyed and grinning at me the whole time while I screamed, and then you kicked it back into the canal and put your line back into the water to catch another one.  Even though nobody ever spoke of it again, I made a mental note to never, ever forget your full name because I was certain you would grow up to be a serial killer.  You probably did.  How would I even know until you get caught?  I saw you years and years later working as a security guard and the idea that you wield power of any kind over anyone terrifies me to the depths of my soul.

🎵 Wake me up before you crack-weed, don’t leave me hangin’ on like a crack-weed. 🎵

And everyone remembers when your dad killed that old woman on his third DUI and your mother said it wasn’t fair that he had to go to prison for it because the woman was so old, anyway.

🎵 Crack-weed singing in the dead of niiiiiight.  Take these crack-weed wings and learn to flyyyyyyy.  All your life, you were only waiting for this crack-weed to ariiiiise. 🎵

You can see why it was easier for all of us from the old neighborhood to just pretend we were strangers and invent our own pasts.  Besides Roach, I hadn’t known any of these people on the lifeguard tower prior to the age of 16, and they didn’t know anything about my past – or his.  I intended to keep it that way.

Roach got right down to business as he sat on the other side of Sky, pulled a plastic bag out of his camouflage jacket and said, “Hey hey!  I got you a little something for your birthday!” as he shook the bag around, jangling it around like a cat toy.

Sky snatched the bag from his hand and said, “Awesome!  I can always use more weed!  Hell yeah!”

Roach’s spiked pewter skull rings caught the moonlight as he folded his arms across his chest, smug as the bug he was named after, and said, “Look closer.  See those little white pebbles mixed in?”

Sky put the bag closer to her face so she could inspect it.

Roach beamed, “That’s crack!  This ain’t just weed, honey.   It’s crack-weed!  Happy Birthday!”

🎵 You come on like a dream, crack-weed and cream, lips like strawberry wine, you’re sixteen, you’re beautiful, and here’s some crack-weed. 🎵

Sidebar:  That Ringo Starr really was ahead of his time to record that song about a 16 year old girl when he was THIRTY-THREE.  Edgy, even.

Now, had I had a car, the introduction of crack-weed would have been my cue to say, “Whew!  Well, it’s getting pretty late so I better head on home!” but nooooo.  I was still Captain Beg-4-Rides at this point, so when something like crack-weed makes an appearance at a sweet sixteen birthday party, you just have to find a way to deal with it.  There was zero chance I was going to actually smoke it, what with the genetic heart condition that I thought I had and whatnot.  Plus, you know, it was crack.

I inched away from the spot where I was sitting, and got up and walked down the catwalk to the sand.  I looked up and saw Roach was packing a pipe for Sky and two other girls.  They each took turns lighting the pipe to smoke the crack-weed, while Roach shielded their teenage girl faces from the ocean winds.

I have to tell you, for being a Grade-A dirtbag growing up in my old neighborhood, as an adult, Roach was surprisingly a gentleman when passing around crack to teenage girls.

I sat in the sand below the lifeguard tower and observed the way the girls reacted to the crack-weed.  Sky became sort of “Sky on 10”, jumped down to the sand, and started twirling her skirt in the moonlight, dancing and twirling and dancing and twirling while singing Violent Femmes lyrics, until she threw up gas station wine all down the front of her freshly tie-dyed t-shirt.  Then she took off to go swimming in the ocean to rinse off her crack-vomit and ran back up, now topless, looking for more crack-weed.

🎵 I take one, one, one ’cause you left me, and two, two, two for my family, and three, three, three for my heartache, and four, four, four for my crack-weed-ache. 🎵

One of the other girls came down, dropped to her knees and fell face-down in the sand, her body shuddering and twitching like she was electric, and I thought she was dying until she rolled over to her back, laughing and spitting sand up like a fountain.  She laughed and laughed and said, “I’m rubbing my face in the sand!  I’m rubbing my face in the sand and I can’t even feel it!  I can’t feel it!”

The third girl climbed onto Roach’s lap, tugging on the collar of his camouflage jacket and asked if he had more crack-weed, and the two of them went off into the sand dunes together.

I had never, ever, been so thankful that I was born with a fake exploding heart.

Wait for it.

🎵 Don’t tell my heart, my fake exploding heart, I just don’t think he’d understand.  ‘Cause if you tell my heart, my fake exploding heart, he might blow up and kill this man.  Wooooooooo! 🎵

Bing-a-ling-a-ling-a-ling-a-bomp—bomp—–bomp——-twang…

(I can assure you.  I know how annoying ^^ that ^^ whole business is in this post.  You don’t have to tell me.  A team of specialists is on it, so go take a pill, Mary Sue.  This is how I cope.)

THE END

…twang–twaang.

In Defense of Hair Bands

This, dear friends, is the exact moment that a frontman in a hair band locked eyes with me for the very first time.  (Please note the super boss Metal Edge magazine t-shirt.)

20180907_090555

This particular frontman is CJ Snare from Firehouse.  A great triumph of mine in recent years was finding a karaoke list that included Firehouse “Don’t Treat Me Bad”, and I sang the shit out of that song.

I’ve drifted apart from many things of my youth – things that I thought I’d love forever.  Winn-Dixie Superbrand individually wrapped cheese slices, white Fayva high-top sneakers, respect for Corey Feldman as a dancer, but the one thing I’ve never parted ways with is hair bands.

If you’re wearing red and black tiger-striped spandex leggings and suspenders with no shirt and preening around a stage singing songs about (a) strip clubs, (b) the Sunset Strip, or (c) strip clubs located on the Sunset Strip, then hell yes.  Count me in.

If your band name is filled with deliberate misspellings and needless accent marks, names of cities in east Asia even though you’re from Scandanavia, or is simply the last name of the person who has the coolest last name in the band – I’m all about it.

I was thinking about it last month when Anne and I went to see Poison for the tenth time, or as most of my “cool” musician friends refer to them, “Do you seriously like those bands?  I have lost all respect for you.  Don’t ever talk to me again.  Ever.”

Fact:  The only reason I ever took my Poison door poster down was to put up a Skid Row one, that I promptly covered with red lipstick kisses.  The Skid Row door poster was surrounded by posters of Kip Winger.  I bear no shame, and I shame no bears.  Related, Kip Winger is an unapologetically hairy man.

My cool friends will often accuse me of just trying to be “ironic” by liking these bands, even after I assure them that I’m not, and pull out my collection of Winger t-shirts, much to their horror, as proof.  My love for all things hair band runs as deep as the swimming pool in the L.A. Guns video for “The Ballad of Jayne”.

It blasts forth from my heart like a fire hydrant in the Slaughter “Up All Night” video.

It is as pure and platinum as Matthew and Gunnar Nelson’s long, blonde locks.

That’s right.  I’m at Nelson level hair band fandom.

Nelson.

I feel like you really need to know the depths to which my feelings lie, or else this entire conversation will be for naught.  I don’t want you walking away from this thinking I’m talking about rock bands like Van Halen, a band that managed to be the perfect hybrid of wicked fun and incomparable talent.  I don’t want you to think, “Hey, that Maggie sure does like AC/DC!  What a cool lady!” and then call it a day.

Motley Crue is, in fact, the most cerebral band I like from the 80s.

I want you to know what you’re getting into here.  If you put on an Enuff Z’Nuff video, my eyes will glaze over and I will sing along.

Hair bands came along at a time in my life when things really couldn’t have been worse.  Poison, in particular, came around when I was in middle school, the literal worst.  The god awful, miserable, worst of the worst.  The onset of the hideousness that was puberty, living in a house with caved-in bathroom walls and falling-down ceilings, carpets blackened with ground-in cigarette ashes, and piles of old furniture rotting in the yard.  Where when you flipped on the kitchen light, you could be assured that at least 200 cockroaches would scatter for cover, and at least one of them would stand there, defiantly, like “Fuck you, kid.  This is my house,” and you’d know that, deep down, they were right.  Getting shipped off to live with out-of-state relatives when the shit really hit the fan at home.  Getting groped in school nearly every day when the going attitude was, “Ignore it.  Maybe all these guys with their hands all over your body just like you!”

Having a goddamned perm at the exact same time as 2-in-1 shampoo/conditioner became popular.

Mr. Belvedere being cancelled.

Middle school in the mid-to-late 80’s:  It was a real crap festival.

No matter how shitty things got, when I turned on the television, I could be assured that Bret Michaels would be there wearing leather chaps, fingerless gloves and a bandanna, literally humping his way up a microphone stand while singing about bops that were unskinny and dancing with laser beams in the shape of ladies.  You could always count on fun times with those bands.  And as a matter of fact, as a singer my entire vocal affectation can be directly attributed to the thousands of hours I spent singing Poison songs as a tween/teen.  I wanted to be Bret Michaels.

Fun was always part of the package with hair bands.  They were like a candy necklace around the bag of garbage that was my life.

I’m not telling you this to get your sympathy for my troubles.  I’m telling you this to get your sympathy for hair bands.

Hair bands provided me with an escape from the misery of my life, and I know I’m not the only one who feels this way.  I know it because I can see it on the faces of the thousands of people who still show up for the reunion tours, who still scream like it’s Beatlemania when Kip Winger walks out onto a stage in his leather pants, and to women like me who feel proud to see Lita Ford still tearing that shit UP.

It’s the pageantry.  The wink-winkiness of it all.  The pointy guitars and choreographed moves while ripping out scales at nearly supersonic speeds.  The men in frosted pink lipstick and thigh-high red boots and the women in flamey leather jumpsuits pouting for the photographer in Circus magazine.  The frontman wearing a pair of cow-print chaps and doing high-kicks onstage.  My god, how could you not love it?  How could you not love every single second of it?

I mean, it’s just rock ‘n roll. Why you “cool people” gotta be so uptight about it?

And I’ll tell you this much, smartypants, the fact that I love hair bands doesn’t detract from my love for “ooh serious bands” like Wilco and Dinosaur Jr even one little bit.  Just because you love sumo wrestling doesn’t mean you can’t also love greco-roman wrestling, or professional wrestling, or mud wrestling.  The love for one thing doesn’t detract from the love for all the other things.

That being said, if Jeff Tweedy from Wilco and CC DeVille from Poison were both tied to train tracks and I could only save one of them…

I’m just saying the guy doing the high-kicks in the leather pants is probably not going to be the one who ends up becoming train meat.

Old Man Yells At Cloud

I feel sorry for you Millennials with your student loans.  As a solid Gen-Xer, I was fortunate enough to not have to bear the burden of having student loans.  I know.  I’m one of the fortunate ones.

What’s my secret?  How did I manage to escape the burden of such heavy debt?  How rich are my parents?

Were my high school grades just that outstanding and I got a scholarship?  I mean, my extensive knowledge with regard to the 1982 NBC primetime line-up alone…

All good questions.  Every last one.

I managed to escape the student loan trap by being a goddamned dirtbag who never went to college.  I do not recommend this as an approach to avoiding student loan debt.

Not attending college was a “bold move”, in that I had no money to go to college.  Since nobody else in my immediate family had gone either, there was nobody to tell me how I could have even done it, anyway.  There was no internet to find this information.  We were poor as fuck, so nobody knew the first thing about crazy shit like “applying for financial aid”, or “talking to someone about your future”.  When you grow up poor, you are acutely aware that you don’t have a future.  It was just assumed that if you didn’t have $40,000 in cash lying around, then you didn’t go to college.  Go find yourself a jobby-job.  End of story.

As the brilliant Ted Knight so eloquently says in Caddyshack, “Well, the world needs ditch-diggers, too.”

When people asked me on my graduation day from high school what I was planning on doing after school, my answer was that I was going to, you know, hang out.  See some bands.  That’s exactly what I did, too.  I hung out.  I saw some bands.  I had no car and no job.  Had my mother not gotten remarried and moved out of the house, I would have had nowhere to live, either.  She let me live rent free in the old, falling apart house for six months as a graduation gift to me, thank god.

After lying around on the couch doing nothing for months on end and slowly descending into a flaming bout of mental illness which was akin to those scenes in “The Aviator” where Leonardo DiCaprio is crazy as fuck, manic with OCD, stops bathing, and keeps repeating the same sentences over and over while twitching, I finally pulled myself out of it and got an entry level full-time job that paid me $6.00 an hour, through a friend who could also give me a ride there.  My two-week paycheck, after taxes and whatnot, for 85 hours of work, was $373.00.

Anne eventually moved in and we split the rent at the house.  We relied heavily on the Burger King “Two Cheeseburgers and Two Fries for $2.22” deal for meals, and ate at our parents’ houses whenever we could.  I still didn’t have a car and instead had to pester everyone I knew to give me rides.

I was fortunate that my mother’s husband surprised me with an awesome used car one day when I was 21 years old, that he let me pay him back for over a five year period at $100 a month with no interest, otherwise I would have never been able to get a car on my own.  I was never able to put more than $5 worth of gas into it at a time.  The first time I could afford a full tank of gas, I was 26.

In the end, stuff worked out, and by “worked out”, I mean I spent decades of my life not even having $400 to my name.  If I had to estimate how much money I spent cumulatively in overdraft fees at my bank, it would be in the thousands.  Sometimes I overdrafted on purpose, and took the max amount of cash out as sort of a gonzo loan until payday, where I would deposit my paycheck at the end of the week and it would just take my account back up to $0.

After working full-time for 16 years, the first time my checking account had $1,000 in it, I was 34 years old.  I felt like a millionaire.  I opened my first savings account when I was 36, and didn’t start contributing to a retirement account until I was 37.

When the subject of my lack of higher education has come up at job interviews over the years, it makes me feel like I want to literally die right there in the interviewer’s office.

“You mean you didn’t go to college…at all?”

Then they make the face.  The face that, if I’m lucky enough to be hired, makes me feel like I have to work ten times harder than everybody else, just to prove that I’m worthy of the position.

That’s why it is incredibly insulting when someone asks you what college you went to, and when you tell them that you didn’t go to college, they say, “Good for you!  I wish I hadn’t gone!”

It’s like telling someone who has polio that you wish you could go back in time and not get vaccinated against polio.

Why am I regaling you with all this nonsense?  Because I want to impart one large piece of wisdom on you.  GO TO COLLEGE.  A CHEAP ONE.  FOR A DEGREE THAT WILL SOMEDAY HOPEFULLY MAKE YOU SOME MONEY.*

“Okay!  I’m thinking of majoring in philosophy!”

No.  If you tell me that, I will push you into a fire and walk away.

You can toss any arts degree in there while you’re at it, and I say that as someone who has both tried to make a living as an artist and is a huge, huge supporter of the arts.  Someone whose friends are almost all exclusively artists.  Someone who believes art is the most powerful language in all of humanity.

Had I had the ability to go college when I got out of high school, I surely would have majored in some broke shit like creative writing, or painting, or poetry.  You know, things you absolutely do not need a degree for in order to do them.

Get an accounting degree.  Major in international finance.  Medicine.  Science.  Engineering.  Something with computers and whatnot.  You can work your job and still write poetry in your spare time.  Also, your poetry sucks.

That was uncalled for.

I guess what I’m really saying is loans or no loans, nearly everyone is fucked unless they’re born with money.

 

*This is just one humble dirtbag’s opinion.  Your anecdotes where you fully disagree with me or show me your student loan bills will be printed out, put through a shredder, and then used as kindling for a drum circle bonfire, which I will not actually be attending, because “drum circle”.