Author Archives: Benjamin Bradford White

About Benjamin Bradford White

I write about spirituality, candid stories of my addiction and redemption, current and retro pop culture, religious controversy and unity, and global issues...

Vomit and Tears

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Puking and Driving

Puking and Driving (Photo credit: Mike “Dakinewavamon” Kline)

Fall was always my favorite time of year.  The Fall of 1996 in northern Ohio was complete with sun-kissed luminescent leaves on trees like every color of a neon, ultra-violet rainbow.  The chill in the air lent itself to thick button-up shirts and sporting my blue and black winter hat with flaps on the ears.

Sublime’s “What I Got” and The Wallflowers “6th Avenue Heartache” were filling the ears of listeners during the autumn of ’96.  But I was still a classic rocker to the core.  I carried around a big yellow Sony Walkman with Korg studio-headphones that looked like ear-muffs.  I wore it in the hallways of school and filled my brain with Led Zeppelin 3 and The Beatles’ ‘Revolver’, as well as Lenny Kravitz and Jimi Hendrix originals.  By this time I had so many recordings I had made on my own that they became a regular part of my listening too.

I smoked pot weekly.  It had become normal for me.  In the midst of my creative pursuits I had a disdained disinterest in school, sports and the functional, healthy ways of life that I saw my peers embarking upon.  I smoked Camel Lights, about 5-10 a day.  I lit up in the bathroom sometimes, but mostly before and after school.  The nicotine rages would kick in at the end of the school day if I hadn’t had a cigarette, which is why I would sometimes sneak one in the lavatory.  Lots of others in the school did this.  The boys bathroom wasn’t even allowed to have doors on the stalls because the teachers and hall monitors wanted to police the students constantly for puffing on cigarettes.

I also acquired a fascination for drinking hard liquor.  I learned the wild ride of pumping a bunch of it into my system at once.  I would mix it all of the time.  I would drink Whiskey, Cognac, Rum, Gin, and Vodka in any order at any time.  Straight shots, Screwdrivers, Rum and Cokes, you name it.  My parents had a liquor cabinet, and I learned that they’d less likely catch me drinking if I combined a bunch of different liquors.

By this time I had been convinced to “go out” with Jaen, who was Duane’s ‘blind date’ at the homecoming dance.  It was odd, because Jaen was 17 years old, and I was only 15.  I could tell she had never kissed anyone, because at one point we kissed and it was about as awkward as seeing a clown at a bus stop.  I hung out often with Jaen and her group of friends, which included my blind date, the cool hippie-girl, now turned friend and party buddy Elysia.  We would have parties, and find parties to go to.  There would always be beer, liquor or dope.  We began to learn the madness of mixing the three as well.

I was still in love with my ex-girlfriend and now best friend Harmony also.  We talked all the time on school nights and weekends.  We shared all that we went through with our relationships.  Something inside of me always felt that I was dating people just to see if she would become jealous.  She would definitely ask me questions about girls I was with, including Jaen.  I would act like I really dug them, but I was just hoping that Harmony would admit her feelings for me.  She began to give me little notes at school.  I kept them all in a shoebox.

I loved to raid my parents’ liquor cabinet before going out on social functions.  By this time, Duane, our drummer from Mulberry Tree, could drive.  He would drive me all over the place.  If my parents happened to be at work at the time I would raid the liquor cabinet and fill myself with alcohol, then call Duane and have him come and pick me up.  Sometimes we’d have plans, so I’d take some shots before and find myself falling all over the place, making a total fool of myself in front of our friends.  It became a kind of image.  People would say, “awww…  Benny’s at it again!”  I became that guy.  I was the intoxicated guy, the one that was drunk at 3pm, the one that was stoned at 8am in the morning at school.  I lost weight rapidly.  I eat Vivarin caffeine pills all the time to try to keep myself alert when I wasn’t wasted.  I dropped to 135 pounds, and earned the name “Skeletor” amongst my friends, because I always had dark circles under my eyes and was bone-thin skinny.  I also had a huge puff of hair on top of my head, making me look like an oblong q-tip.

One day Duane had planned to come and pick me up, just to hang out at Arabica, our favorite coffee house, to smoke cigarettes and drink coffee.  I decided to hit my parent’s liquor cabinet, since they weren’t home.  I drank an insane amount of liquor.  I drank it all straight, mixing Gin with Rum and aged Cognac.  I took a huge swig of pretty much whatever they had in the cabinet.  I felt a twinge each time in my throat as it burned down my esophagus and into my guts.  I certainly hadn’t had much to eat.  I probably drank the equivalent of 15 shots.  Duane showed up in the driveway and I got in his car.

The alcohol quickly began to kick in as I lit a cigarette and smoked it out of Duane’s window.  I don’t remember much of what happened, just that Duane was amused with how tanked I was.  What transpired after wasn’t amusing at all really…

The next thing I knew we were at the coffee shop.  I tried to sit down but I kept having to put my head in my arms on the table.  Everything was spinning out of control.  I had been drunk plenty before, but this was another level.  I got up and stumbled to the bathroom, running into every table and chair on the way, falling over on the ground, running into people.  I got into the restroom and grabbed one of the 5 blurry toilets I saw spinning around in a kaleidoscopic whirlwind.  I aimed my mouth into it and spewed out what seemed to be an endless flow of poisonous vomit.  I don’t remember much of what happened after that for a period of time…

The next thing I knew Duane and I were sitting on the pavement in some obscure area behind the Acme Plaza in the town of Hudson, Ohio.  There was puke all around me.  Duane had bought me a loaf of bread to eat, and some water.  I was trying to eat and drink…  everything went blank after that…

The next thing I remember, Duane and I were in my room.  He had really gone out of his way to look out for me.  I had gotten myself into a shower and changed my clothes on my own somehow,.  The problem was, my old clothes stank like grandma’s cough medicine and barf.  I was laying in my bed and Duane was telling me he had to go.  He had to take off before my parents’ got home, in case I would get busted.  Since I was obviously drunk, like an insane vagrant stumbling in the streets, it was apparent that I would be found out.  I was as obviously impaired in my judgement as the princes of Zoan in Egypt were in the time of Isaiah the prophet in the five-hundreds, B.C.  The Lord had mingled within her a spirit of confusion, and they would make Egypt stagger in all its deeds, as a drunken man staggers in his vomit. (Isa. 19:14)  Like an ancient analogy coming to life, I was a drunken man staggering in his vomit to be sure.

My parents got home.  I don’t remember much of our conversation.  But I do remember being at the dinner table.  They told me if I did this again, they’d take away all my instruments and not let me play music.  I started weeping and crying like an alcoholic.  “Don’ take away my moooosic man…”,  I whimpered.  I was to be grounded yet again.  Though they threatened to take away my music, they didn’t, just friend privileges and freedom to go out on weeknights and weekends.

Many original songs would flow out of these struggles.  I was earning the reputation as a seriously troubled kid.  I certainly wouldn’t cease smoking marijuana, drinking, and smoking.  Though I learned to hide it better.  For some reason I couldn’t get enough.  The life around me continued to shatter and crumble.  All I cared about was the next buzz and the next song.  The lyrics and melody of Smashing Pumpkins’ “Muzzle” rang in my head like a soundtrack and anthem…

I fear that I’m ordinary, just like everyone

To lie here and die among the sorrows

Adrift among the days

For everything I ever said

And everything I’ve ever done is gone and dead

As all things must surely have to end

And great loves will one day have to part

I know that I am meant for this world

My life has been extraordinary

Blessed and cursed and won

Time heals but I’m forever broken

By and by the way…

Have you ever heard the words

I’m singing in these songs?

It’s for the girl I’ve loved all along

Can a taste of love be so wrong

As all things must surely have to end

And great loves will one day have to part

I know that I am meant for this world

And in my mind as I was floating

Far above the clouds

Some children laughed I’d fall for certain

For thinking that I’d last forever

But I knew exactly where I was

And I knew the meaning of it all

And I knew the distance to the sun

And I knew the echo that is love

And I knew the secrets in your spires

And I knew the emptiness of youth

And I knew the solitude of heart

And I knew the murmurs of the soul

And the world is drawn into your hands

And the world is etched upon your heart

And the world so hard to understand

Is the world you can’t live without

And I knew the silence of the world

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W8bfBKVVv0Q

The Post-Hippie Scene of Kent, Ohio

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Main St Bridge - Kent

Main St Bridge – Kent (Photo credit: Todd Baker << technowannabe)

Kent, Ohio was made infamous by the 1970 May 4th shootings of 4 college students on campus, and Neil Young, backed by Crosby, Stills and Nash, coined the song “Ohio”, which forever rang in the consciousness of Kent residents.  Ever since then it was one of the premier hippie spots in the Cleveland/Akron area.

In the center of this hippie culture was Brady’s Café.  Brady’s Café was right next to the Kent State University Campus, and was upheld by hippies who had been around Kent for a long time.  It attracted a new generation of hippies…  Gen-Xers and Slackers who listened to Flaming Lips, Sonic Youth, Nirvana and Smashing Pumpkins, as well kats who were into the Grateful Dead, Phish, and the more widely accepted Dave Matthews Band.

Duane and I were drawn into the scene of Brady’s, and were introduced to it by his older friend Brenden, who often sold us dope.  At least once a month, a band called “The Black Hole Jokers” would play there.  They were mostly a Grateful Dead cover band.  I had my “initiation” into the Brady’s scene at the ripe age of 15 when the Jokers were playing.

You can imagine the kind of scene a Grateful Dead cover band drew in.  A synchronistic plethora of freaks, circus clowns, dopers, hippies, Frat Boys, Goths, Wiccans, Transexuals, Preppy Kids, Metal Heads, Harley Riders, Bisexuals, Satanists… you name it, were all there in their respective haze of choice to enjoy the surrogate psychedelic sounds.  I was just a kid, and no doubt got stoned on weed that was stronger than what I was used to at Brady’s.  Now I was hanging with college kids and adults in the drug scene.  At times, it was more than I could handle.

I spent many nights at Brady’s sick from something or another.  One night I was just ill and spitting up by the ledge on the outside of the café.  It may have been that I had been taken hold of by some bad pipe greens that were laced with something nasty.

We literally used to buy drugs in the upper floor of Brady’s from crazy dudes we didn’t know.  One dealer was named “Seff”.  He was a bi-sexual nymphomaniac, and a heroin addict.  He would sell Duane and I weed, sitting right in the middle of the coffee shop on the upper floor.  Looking back I realize I could’ve gotten into some weird situations that I didn’t understand or know how to prepare for.  Someone transcendent was looking out for me…

They turned Brady’s into a Starbucks years later…

High at a Haunted House

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English: Vincent Price in House on Haunted Hil...

English: Vincent Price in House on Haunted Hill – cropped screenshot (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Amidst the haze in my cobwebbed brain that paved a way into Halloween during October of 1996, I was convinced to be a part of the Hudson Haunted House.  The Hudson Haunted House was a locally known haunted favorite in the Cleveland/Akron area of Ohio back then, and it still is.

You have to understand that Hudson was a predominantly Upper-Middle Class community.  Most of the people of Hudson were well off, white Protestants.  We in our family were middle-class agnostics.  I felt caught like a rock in a hard place…  torn between two worlds.  The world of the lower-middle class, salt of the earth misfits always seemed to have an alluring grip upon me.

The Hudson Haunted House was full of infamous yard-birds, run by the “Hudson Jaycees”.  The Hudson Jaycees rightfully sought out disadvantaged and “troubled youth” to volunteer at the house.  This was quite a bunch of vandals, stoners, and mobile home dwellers.  We had Jeff, who had a throwback mullet from the 80’s heavy metal scene, and seemed to always have a 40 oz. bottle of Mickey’s Malt Liquor surging through his veins, and then there was Myron, caked in facial blemishes and at least 60 lbs. overweight.  There were many more of a colorful variety like this that worked with the Jaycees at the House.  And I was to join the band, a toothpick-thin skinny stoner with a 1966 Beatles haircut.

There was a lounge in the back room of the House where everyone hung out, smoked cigarettes, and geared up in costume for their next scare in a room.  The rooms all had a different theme and a plethora of costumes, complete with various rubber, decapitated body parts and unlikely weapons such as meat cleavers and hammers.

My favorite room was called “Bloody Butler”.  It must have been something of the only child narcissist in me, because it was a room that was run solo.  One would put on a torn up, sanguine steward’s uniform, and a zombie like mask with a bald head, and long, gray, curly hair sticking out over the ears and back of the head like George Washington.  The room would be strewn with decollated heads, arms and legs.  Their was a severely creepy chandelier that hung above, laden with cobwebs and dimly lit.  Organ music similar to a Bach fugue would play at a suspicious medium volume in the background.

As the Butler I would wait behind an unseen doorway and wait for a crowd of people to enter.  I would walk past a sensor quickly into the sight of the people and wave the meat cleaver in the air in front and close to them.  A strobe light would come on and a Vincent Price-esque laugh would blare at loud volume when the sensor was triggered.  Women would always scream and cling to their boyfriends or husbands.  Once or twice, a large football player would freak out and scream at a high pitch, which was satisfying to this Rock n’ Roll whey-face.

One day I was to work Butler, and Elysia my favorite hippie girl friend showed up before my time to go in.  She told me she had some really potent weed on her.  She grabbed me and we ran out into a forest nearby.  She packed that silver and black pipe she had full of herb and we smoked it.  Something about jogging a bit before doing this would intensify the high, because my lungs and adrenaline were pumping.  Also, I wasn’t one to run or exercise regularly, so any bit of it would really get my blood moving.

I walked back to get into costume, feeling insanely fried.  I don’t even remember putting on the costume or heading into the room…  But I do remember one instance that followed.

I did my normal gig of walking past the sensor and into people’s faces to scare them.  Besides making one lazy, hungry, affected and aloof, ganja affects one’s depth perception, to where sometimes things right in front of you look almost two-dimensional instead of three-dimensional.  I went out past the sensor and towards the crowd, while lethargically waving my meat cleaver into the air.  There was a gated fence made of black iron that separated me from the line of people coming through, and I fell over it and practically right on top of this girl!  She was screaming her head off and freaking out.  One of the security guys, Brutus, who wore a yellow shirt labeled “STAFF” and generally watched for the welfare of our customers punched me in the head and cussed me out.

I was taken into a room and scolded by someone, I don’t remember who.  I just know that I stared at them lackadaisically with a dumb smirk, which intensified their anger and irritation.

After that I think I was asked to leave the Hudson Haunted House.  But I didn’t care.  It was all the more reason to blaze up another joint, have another beer, do another shot, eat another caffeine pill, chain smoke some cigarettes, and slip into oblivion.  By this time I was spending at least $10 a week on dope, probably $40 a month on liquor and beer, and smoking a pack of cigarettes every three days, which back then cost about $1.85.  Where did I get the money you ask?  From my parents.  I would use the money for this stuff instead of lunch at school or other things.  That was also why I got so skinny, because I would spend money on drugs instead of food.

I began to write weird, dark, depressing songs.  They cried out in desperation, sorrow, and heartbreak as these emotions crept through a haze of inadvertence.  I was addicted also to the depression and pain that came with my self-induced blues.

Local H’s “Bound for the Floor” was popular in 1996.  The lyrics described my life and echoed into my soul, though I would have explained them to be about someone else.

“And you just don’t get it, you keep your copasetic, and you learn to accept it, and no, you’re so pathetic…”

I was in ignorant bliss, as the world around me seemed to continue crumbling.  My parent’s and I fought more, my grades plummeted, my feelings for my ex-girlfriend Harmony seemed to magnify, but it seemed that there was nothing I could do about it.  I drowned myself into a haze of smoke and liquid, as the holidays approached nearer and nearer.  I don’t remember the Christmas season of 1996, but I’m sure that I was stoned and drunk for most of it.

Mellon Collie and the Infinite Teenage Sadness

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Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness

Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the Winter and Spring of 1997 I have hazy memories of the subconscious of which I do not recall, nor understand.  I sit here now in Conway, New Hampshire on my day off, sipping strong coffee and writing of these vague memories.  My wife Sarah just reminded me of how great a memory I have, and how difficult it is for her to remember half the things in her past that I am able to conjure!  However, I’m the type of person that struggles with letting things go and nostalgia, and always have to intentionally seek divine grace in matters of forgiveness.

But the Winter of 1997 is a fog to me.  I’m certain I had gotten to the point during this time where marijuana had entirely engulfed my mind and existence.  I slipped into a deep depression.  I had a longing for the first love I had ever known, my ex-girlfriend and then best friend Harmony.  I dreamed about her in vague daydreams, mystified by scattered thoughts, tears and the abyss of abeyance.  I smoked my mind away and poured my broken heart into songs of longing.  My parents had bought me an Ovation 12-string guitar with an electric pick-up.  This guitar became my vehicle of inner expression.  I would spend nights up until 3am alone…  puffing and inhaling away on pack after pack of Camel Lights, and smoking pot in a pipe of my own that I had gotten through an older teenage dope-head.  You see, dope pipes were sold in regular stores under the veil of being used for tobacco only.  One would even have to sign a waiver stating that this was their intention, though it obviously wasn’t.

This was a great era of music.  The Winter of 1997 brought about a post-grunge era of deep expression fused with electronica.  The popular alternative songs were a soundtrack for my unspoken, lonely misery.  The Smashing Pumpkins had an anthem of woebegone called “Thirty-Three”.  When I listened to it again today through the eyes of my 15-year old self, it actually brought tears to my eyes.  Maybe it lingers as a subconscious memory of the desperate love and despair I felt back then.  The song croons with despondency the words:

“I know I’ll make it, love can last forever,

Graceful swans of never topple to the earth.

And you can make it last, forever you

You can make it last, forever you

And for a moment I lose myself

Wrapped up in the pleasures of the world

I’ve journeyed here and there and back again

But in the same old haunts I still find my friends…”

This song was certainly an anthem that rang in my mind.  Would Harmony and I ever be back together again?  We would talk some nights until the late hours, sharing our heart and soul with each other, but she always seemed to have a love interest in someone else…  I felt that she could truly “make it last forever…”  This love that existed in my heart for her seemed infinite, though looking back I know it was just the piercing strength of my post-adolescent emotion that paralleled the longing within all of us to taste eternal love.  We all try to find this love in every corner of our soul…  For what can be known about God is plain to us, because God has shown it to us, and anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. (Rom. 1:19; 1 John 4:8)  I suppose the real question is; “What is real, sacrificial, true love?”  I’m convinced that that question can be fully answered in 1 John 4:7-21, but that is a discussion for another forum.

“In the same old haunts I still found my friends.”  Mitchell played bass and Duane played drums in our band, Mulberry Tree.  Our music seemed to get more and more powerful.  It was as if we were living inside of our songs and performances as we worked harder on our sound.  We were close friends and band-mates.  I often shared my heartbreak and struggles with Duane, because he was an introspective poetry writer and cynic like me.  I shared feelings with Mitchell as well, but tried much harder to appear manly to him, because he was an athlete as well as a rock n’ roller.

Duane was definitely a great poetry writer.  His poems consisted of dark corners in the spiritual realm.  He was raised a Catholic and had become a self-proclaimed atheist.  These shadows of anger came out in his poetry and his abstract drumming.  Him and I would always spend time smoking cigarettes and pouring our thoughts out to each other.  He inspired me to write poetry as well, and it helped me to deal with the emotions I was facing, as well as strengthen my song lyrics.

Mitchell was a great bassist and songwriter to be sure, but he had another aspect of his personality.  He was the type of guy that thrived in the world of sports and athletic vigor.  It was quite amazing, really.  He could spend a weekend with us smoking dope and drinking, and then go right back to lifting weights, eating creatine, and beating the garbage out of other huge dudes his size on the wrestling mat.  As his muscles grew, so did his appeal with the high school ladies.

Harmony began to gain an interest in Mitchell.  I couldn’t have been more devastated at the thought.  But I loved both of my friends so much, and I was put in the middle.  One night Harmony and I were talking and she asked me the fatal question, “So…  Can you ask Mitchell if he likes me or not?  He’s SOOOO hot!!”

I would call Mitchell not long after and ask him.  Of course he liked her back, because she was obviously the most beautiful girl in the world to me.  He made sure to ask me, “Is it ok though Ben?  Is it alright that I ask her out?  I mean, I know you like her and stuff.”  To which I bluffed, “No, no man.  I don’t like her anymore bro.  Go for it buddy!  What more could I ask for than two of my best friends to get together?”  I couldn’t believe the words coming out of my mouth.  Was I insane?  How could I bear this all to happen?

And yet it was inevitable that Harmony and Mitchell would become a thing.  My songs would delve into so deep a sorrow that they became anthems of hard rock anger.  The way I really felt was akin to Gwen Stefani of No Doubt in their #1 hit “Don’t Speak”:

You and me

We used to be together

Everyday together always

I really feel

That I’m losing my best friend

I can’t believe

This could be the end

It looks as though you’re letting go

And if it’s real

Well I don’t want to know

As a way of escape I delved into marijuana use in a whole new way, and pretended that I was happy for my friends getting together.  But there had to be a way for me to get back at Harmony somehow…  She had friends!  That’s right!  She had friends that were good looking.  Maybe if I dated one of them I could make her jealous.  She had a curly haired friend named Laila who I thought was attractive.  I began my ploy to see if we could get together.  And of course I would use Harmony as my “middle-woman” to orchestrate the whole fiasco.

Maybe I should have listened to the lyrics in the song “Discotheque” from U2’s “Pop” album to set me straight.  I realize now that they could have spoken truth to me when they claimed a universal reality:

You’re looking for the one

But you know you’re somewhere else instead

You want to be the song

Be the song that you hear in your head

Love…

(You want heaven in your heart)

(Heaven in your heart)

(The sun, the moon, and the stars)

As much as this longing in my heart has been abated upon this earth as I look at my life now, I realize that back then it seemed to be so desperately far from me that I didn’t know what to do with myself.

Listening to Early Pink Floyd, Smoking Dope and Talking Wild Philosophy

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Cover of "The Piper at the Gates of Dawn&...

Cover of The Piper at the Gates of Dawn

 

In the later Spring of 1997 the glow of gritty, punk-infested grunge rock paired with experimental art rock began to fade into a glimmer.  A new type of “pop-alternative” began to invade the charts.  Bands like The Verve Pipe with their hit “The Freshmen” and Third Eye Blind with their hit “Semi-Charmed Life” (a song about snorting meth-amphetamines…  a metaphor veiled by upbeat pop riffs) began to take things over.  Alternative music had reached its pinnacle of commercialism.

Mitchell, Duane and I still called ourselves Mulberry Tree.  We were getting into Pink Floyd’s early records with Syd Barrett, “Piper at the Gates of Dawn” (1967) and “Saucerful of Secrets” (1968).  The LSD infused songs would prove to be foreshadowing of things to come…

We were also into Primus and other strange art rock.  Most of the music we did was either highly philosophical or a deep cynical mockery-melody.  I know it’s a lot to say for 15 and 16 year-old sophomores in high school, but we were awfully pretentious for our age.

I decided go after Harmony’s friend Laila, to see if she would go out with me.  “Going out” was a statement we used to say that we were going to feign exclusivity with each other, as if we were pseudo-adults.  Laila reciprocated interest in me and we began to “go out”.  She was certainly cute and I dug her.  I would often go and meet her at her house.  We’d go for long walks and smoke cigarettes.  We’d occasionally stop to make out.  I began to fall for her.

I just wasn’t the kind of kid that would go on with something like this half way.  It was easy for me to substitute my feelings for Harmony with feelings for Laila.  I mean, after all, Harmony was going out with my good friend and bass player Mitchell, and they were hitting it off!  I might as well move on.

Of course I went to extremes.  I wrote poems for Laila.  I even wrote a 10 minute opus called “Stir” for her- a song of my naïve love.  She seemed to dig it and all was well.  Our relationship continued to move forward.  Every chance I got, I would tout that fact in Harmony’s face.  Wrath is cruel, anger is overwhelming, but who can stand before jealousy? (Prov. 27:4)

Marijuana was still a normal part of life, as was booze.  They almost seemed to be a peripheral addition to our little soap opera version of Rock n’ Roll High School.  I got high whenever I felt like it.  Mitchell, Duane, Laila, Harmony and I, and others who made up our little group of dissidents would often acquire liquor or beer for the weekends, and mix it with dope, cigarettes and caffeine.  Some of us would end up making out at the end of the night, and then we’d figure out lies to tell our parents about where we were.

In reality we existed in the cornucopian underground of our little microcosm of society.  We partied with Juniors and Seniors in High School.  We were beginning to make acquaintances with people in college.  It seemed as our tolerance for inebriation grew, we began to be accepted into some sort of secret bohemian society.  We would end up in various dark basements, smoking bud and talking wild philosophy.  We’d jam with various musicians.  We’d speculate on whether or not the earth was some sort of vortex into the next dimension, or upper plane of existence beyond us.  Or if we were living in a nihilistic wasteland that had no eternity beyond, trudging around aimlessly like lumps of scientific goo towards no destination.

This all led into the next years’ Rock Fest.  Just like the year before, Rock Fest was a collection of the bands in our High School.  It was a chance for us to express our music live.  In traditional fashion, me and the boys in our band Mulberry Tree went up to the upstairs bathroom and preceded our performance with a shared cigarette in a dark bathroom after school hours.  We had a wild show planned.  It was full of deeply aggressive music.  I was sure to blow my voice out.  It was also filled with sentimental songs.  I hoped that my cigarette and dope blown vocal cords would hold out.

We did the show in aggressive fashion, sweating our brains out, bashing our heads into cymbals, jumping into the air and putting on a spectacle.  As expected, my voice blew out, so I just yelled most of the lyrics for the songs into the microphone, imitating one of my musical hero frontmen- Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins.

We played a number which was co-written by my cool Wiccan hippie girl friend Elysia.  It was one of our personal favorites and the crowd really dug it.  Laila was jealous though.  I assured her that I only had feelings for her but she didn’t believe me.  We got in a fight about it in the parking lot and she was really spooked.  Maybe it was the fact that she was so serious about me and we were so young.  I was serious about her too.  I hoped things would work out.

After us, a band of some friends of ours went on to play who called themselves “Discordant”.  Their name described their communal habit of drinking an excessive amount of beer at a religious rate.  Of course, they played all the latest hits on the radio including “The Freshmen” by the Verve Pipe.  We had only played covers that no one knew, like “Corporal Clegg” by Pink Floyd, which amused us, but not many others.  Discordant was a hit.  They had become a household name at the High School, replacing us in our perceived pop stardom.  Of course in our callow High School minds we despised them thoroughly.  All the more reason to slip deeper into addiction and “stick it to the man”.

Rock Fest had gone well, and the party after is a blur in my memory.

A week later I got the news from Harmony on the phone.  Laila had cheated on me with Jimmy Snarks.  She had done something far heavier than we had ever done physically with him in the woods at Colony Park in Hudson, Ohio.  I was crushed to the core.  I wrote songs about it.  I resolved never to be messed around with again like that.  My ego started to inflate.  It was nearing the summer of 1997, and my G.P.A. cumulative was about a 2.13, a C minus average.  I was on a quest to get over on Laila.  I wanted to shed off the status of virginity, which my classmates saw as a handicap to man-hood.  I was ready to party harder than ever, abandon my scruples more than ever, and slip into a focused destruction more than ever.

Looking back I see the downward spiral so clearly.  If I knew then what I know now I may have caught myself ahead of time.  Yet most nights, I was left to myself.  It was as if alluring eidolons were encircling me, inspiring me to write dismal poetry and spurring me on to the next level of neurosis.  I buried my feelings for Harmony even more deeply inside of me.

Harmony and Mitchell began to tire of each other.  She was a hippie girl and Mitchell was an athlete.  They just didn’t have enough in common.  When they broke up I forced myself to be intentionally disinterested.  I wasn’t going to risk my heart to her.  The lyrics of late Nirvana member Dave Grohl described what I felt toward Harmony, as well as my own wrecking, in his song “Monkey Wrench”:

What have we done with innocence?

It disappeared with time

It never made much sense.

Adolescent resident

Wasting another night on planning my revenge.

Jazz Cigarettes, the Abolishment of Chastity, and Fred the 57-Year-Old Coke Head

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English: Howard McGhee, Brick Fleagle and Mile...

English: Howard McGhee, Brick Fleagle and Miles Davis on piano (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My inhibitions were at an all time low in the summer of 1997.  Nonetheless, my social confidence was higher than before.  The sun and warmth crept into northeastern Ohio and brought with it an optimistic openness to new friends, new experiences, and greater reckless abandonment.

Jazz music became a new passion for me through my friend Leron Clink.  He was an upright and electric bass player.  He loved Thelonius Monk and Miles Davis amongst many others.  We started to jam regularly and create a strange, compelling acid jazz/rock concoction.  Leron was a Junior in High School and more familiar with eccentric characters.  He introduced me to a new potency of marijuana called by the name of “kine bud”.  The urban dictionary defines “kine” as Hawaiian for “excellent” (http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=kind%20bud).  This dope usually cost us about $50 for an eighth of an ounce, as compared to $20-$25 for an eighth of an ounce of what was called “shwag”, i.e.- low grade brick weed that was likely illegally shipped from South America.  Sometimes shwag would also be cut with formaldehyde or liquid PCP, making it “wet weed”- a much more toxic yet potent form of it that would leave one feeling like rubber in addition to having a pounding headache.

Leron had a high-end appetite for pot, and always had kine bud.  His weed usually was purple, light green, orange-red and sprinkled with a crystallized white glow.  One or two hits of this stuff would send me babbling in riddles, in a comatose, borderline hallucinatory state.  Not only would I begin to become psychologically addicted to being stoned, but my wallet would be continually more and more empty…  so empty that I would have to sell a little bit of ganja to support my habit.  It may be a downward spiral, but it is true that each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. (James 1:14)

I became an occasional “middle man”.  This meant that I knew a few dealers that would get large quantities of marijuana, and I would supply my friends with it in smaller amounts.  I would hook up any unsuspecting kid with weed, no matter how young or innocent they were.  Because I was a persuasive type of personality I would even convince younger kids to try it.  Any time someone wanted to buy a $20 bag I would get it for them, and then keep a little bit for myself.  Marijuana was in a continual supply for me.  I owned a purple bong and a pipe… people began to call me “Benny”.  I began to wear tie-die t-shirts.  I was establishing myself as a wanna-be hippie of the late 90’s within my little sphere of influence.

The music of the summer of 1997 was anything but hippie music.  Ska music by “The Mighty Mighty Bosstones” was the new thing.  Alternative rockers were pop bands like Matchbox 20 and Tonic.  In my mind, the songs were cheesier than processed Velveeta.  My friends and I were still into classic rock.  We didn’t care what was happening in mainstream culture.  Let me rephrase that…  we thought we were ten times more artsy and cool than the conventional rock of our age.  Wait a minute…  I guess this meant that, by the standards of the 2010’s, we were “hipsters”!  What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.  (Eccl. 1:9)

Our band Mulberry Tree began to fall apart, because we were all going in different directions musically.  We all did our own independent projects.

I attended parties often, whenever I had the chance I would lie to and manipulate my parents to get to them.  I was still 15 and didn’t have a driver’s license, so I would always find ways to get a ride.

Once I was at a party at Caelie Shrugg’s house.  She lived with a single mother who was never home.  I have no idea what combination of substances I was on, but I know that it led me into the presence of Madiera- the girl whom Mitchell and I had been arrested the summer before for being drunk and breaking curfew.  Somehow I ended up at an outdoor fairground with her, and I definitely was burning up in my maleness and youth.  She came on to me heavy…  almost taunting me for not making the first move.  Madiera was a notoriously “bad girl”, and all of us sophomores knew it.  She was a Junior in High School.  She was experienced… a force of virile potency.  She was wild and partied like crazy.  Something in each of us younger boys was attracted to the wildness in her.

And the next thing I knew Madiera and I were together.  In some summer haze of partying and riding the wind I looked…  and there she was at my side.

Madiera and I were high all of the time.  We were drunk for most of the weekend.  The private encounters that would ensue were reckless and discombobulated.  We were caught in a deep infatuation.  I was disillusioned in believing this was a true ascent to masculinity.

Boys at the age of 15 feel this way in every generation.  They become convinced that sex is a rite of passage into manhood.  I can’t even speak long about the pressure my friends and I would place on each other to enter into this mysterious realm of spiritual and physical connection.  Though I now believe that sexual freedom can only prevail guiltlessly within an exclusionary marital union, I didn’t believe this then.  I got caught up in what my friends believed.  Even the pure love that I seemed to feel for my childhood love Harmony began to fade into a deep memory.  I wanted to make the rite of passage.  God gave me up in the lusts of my heart to impurity, to the dishonoring of my body among others. (Rom. 1:24)

Madiera and I did share that intimate moment together, insecure and exposed, confused and unsure.  I didn’t know what to think after it had happened.  Did I even really know her?  Did we understand each other?  Were we really friends, or were we just confused children, bouncing around like pinballs in a teenage wasteland?  I told her that I loved her…  Maybe it would grow with time.  Maybe we would understand each other.

The relationship continued into the late summer, where we eventually embarked on a camping trip and had an encounter with Fred the Coke Head.

We were on a campsite with a group of our friends.  One of our friends, Meghan, had a Dad who was a throw-back hippie.  He loved to drink beer and smoke pot.  He didn’t seem to have a problem drinking beer and smoking pot with us- a bunch of minors.  We set up camp and sat around the campfire all night, toking and drinking, telling wild stories.

Meghan’s Dad had a friend that apparently lived in an RV.  This guy seemed higher than all of us, even at the height of our wildness.  This was Fred the Coke Head.  He was a 57 year old man who consumed drugs like he was a 21 year-old hippie from 1969.  This caricature described his inner-child rather well.

We stayed up all night partying, and at the cracking of twilight Fred broke out some weed, which he said was “special”.  He only invited Madeira and I to partake of it, because he said that we were probably the only ones who could handle it.

He lit up a joint, and we passed it around.  Every hit made me cough like Dr. Dre in 1992.  What ensued was a tingling euphoria that I had never felt before.  It was as if I had taken a bite of Eve’s apple and soared into a realm where I thought I could be a god.

It’s important to say that I’m leaving many details out because I don’t remember them!  That’s how constantly intoxicated I was in these days.

As the sun arose Madiera and I had another encounter in her tent.  We were crazed by the combination of THC and cocaine which we had just inhaled in smoke form…  the first time I had smoked “Chronic”.  I had never felt so torn before.  My emotions were with Harmony, but somehow I found my young, drastically un-sober body with Madiera.  Our encounter ended, and we got no sleep after.  We got in some strange, sleep deprived, strung-out argument shortly afterwards.

On the way home from camping I felt sick within myself.  No amount of marijuana or alcohol or whatever else could mask this feeling.  What was I doing?  I was having a heavy physical relationship with this girl and I wasn’t even sure if I loved her or even really knew her!  All we did was get high and fool around!  Did we even know who the other really was?

I would have to break it off with her.  I was afraid to do it, because I so thoroughly felt physically connected to her because of all we had done…

Shattered, Broken, Beer-Bottle Hearts

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DSCF1857 (Photo credit: Kdt.)

 

Please fellow readers, don’t be offended, for this is only my opinion, but a lot of the popular music of August 1997 was a disgrace to rock n’ roll.  Again, this is only my opinion!  Sugar Ray’s “Fly” was #1 on the charts in these days.  We heard this song so much on the radio that I thought my head was going to implode.  I would have gladly heard Tom Jones’ “What’s New Pussycat” ringing beneath my eardrums for seven days straight than have one hour of “Fly” by Sugar Ray.  But those suckers in that band knew how to write a catchy, irritating tune!

But I couldn’t hide any longer, and like the irritating melody that it was, the lyrics of “Fly” rang in my mind, providing yet another soundtrack for my love-confused, teenage nicotine heart.

All around the world statues crumble for me

Who knows how long I’ve loved you

I just wanna fly

Put your arms around me baby

I just wanted to fly.  All of the time.  I was stoned practically every waking hour of the day.  Everything in my mental framework was seen through dope vision 3-D glasses.  Who knows how long I had loved my ex-girlfriend and then best friend Harmony.  It seemed like a lifetime to my hormonal self… really it was two years.  Yet here I was, living out a full-on sexual and emotional relationship with my current girlfriend, Madiera.

Madiera and I weren’t only a serious item.  We were pot buddies.  We both loved to get high…  all the time.  Yet I knew that I had to break it off with her…  I knew that my feelings for her were clouded by my desire to be with Harmony.

Harmony and I definitely didn’t talk like we once had throughout most of the summer of 1997.  But when August rolled around she began to appear in my life again.  She was on the verge of her sophomore year, and me my junior year.  She was more beautiful than ever to me.  A young hippie chick with long brown hair who loved Led Zeppelin and smoked weed.  She was my close friend, and the truest love my naïve mind and soul had ever known.

Madiera left for a weekend to go and visit her friend, Andrea, at Bowling Green University in Ohio.  It was my chance to re-connect with Harmony.  I set up a time with her to hang out.  I called her on the phone on a cool summer evening…

“Hey, how’s it going?”  I said,

“Good!  How’s it going Ben!”  She replied in all her perceived luminescent perfection.

After some small talk, I went for it;  “So do you want to go and hang out at the park tomorrow?  The weather’s supposed to be good.  We could have a few beers or something.”

“Uhhhh…  yeah Ben, that’d be alright.  But are you sure you want to drink in the park!  That’s like totally illegal!  You’ve gotten really crazy in these past few months, what happened to you.  And would it be ok with Madiera?  Aren’t you guys still going out?”  She replied.

“Oh no worries.  Madiera knows that me and you are just friends Harmony!  C’mon, it’d be good to hang out!  It’s been too long!  And it’s cool- we’ll find a spot to drink in the park where we won’t get busted.”

“Ok Ben…  then do you want to go to…  Hudson Springs Park?”

I couldn’t believe it.  Was she really into me like I was into her?  She was going to come and hang out with me…  alone, in the park!  And she was going to drink with me…  alone!  In the park!

“Sounds cool to me- wanna meet at like 12 noon?”

“See you then!”

“Ok, bye!”

Adrenaline was surging in my veins as I lit up a cigarette that night after getting off of the phone with Harmony.  I couldn’t wait to see her.  Would I be able to contain myself?  Harmony and I had been friends for two years.  We had dated once for a couple of months.  We had never kissed because I was so nervous around her!  Now here I was, no longer a virgin, and she still was.

It’s difficult to explain the twisted mind that was within my cranium.  I felt that now I was more experienced, I could approach Harmony with more confidence.  I knew she was jealous about Madiera.  I had told her everything…  what Madiera and I had done.  After all, Harmony and I were friends, right?  Yeah right.  I was using the experience to make her jealous.  I thought it would make her want me more.  I was narcissistic, like Pete Townshend wrote and Roger Daltrey sang in The Who‘s “Behind Blue Eyes”;

But my dreams they aren’t as empty

As my conscience seems to be

I have hours, only lonely

My love is vengeance

That’s never free

But in all of my vainglory I had a whisper of love.  The Greeks would have called it Eros and Phileos… a combination of romantic and friendship love.  This was a love that I felt heavily for Harmony.  I wasn’t capable of unconditional love…  I had no way to tap into that extreme power…  at least not yet.  My conscience was empty, and the way I expressed my love was all too selfish.  I suppose if I would have actually put Harmony before myself all along she wouldn’t have ever questioned or denied my sincerity or character.  Nonetheless, my chance with her had arrived.

We met at Hudson Springs Park at noon.  It was a cooler summer day in the upper seventies.  I had acquired a six-pack of Molson Golden beer, and had a full pack of fresh Camel Light cigarettes and a blue lighter in my pockets.  I put it in a backpack to remain inconspicuous to any legal bullies roaming about.  Hudson Springs was about a half hour walk from my house, so I went on foot to meet her.  Even though I was sixteen I was literally too lazy and stoned all of the time to try and get my driver’s license.  Plus, I had so many older friends that carted me around it didn’t seem to matter to me.  One caught up in a life of hedonistic addiction doesn’t care about personal progress, as much as they care about the next kick.

And there she was standing in the gleaming daylight, a phosphorescent seraph.  Harmony was beautiful to me.  I was a young kid in a puppy love daze.  I still remember the fuzzy light blue short-sleeve sweater shirt and bell-bottom-like jeans she was wearing, with her long brunette hair parted down the middle.

I had a continual agenda of intoxication.  We quickly walked out into an open field where I knew we were alone.  We broke out the beers and drank them, smoking cigarettes, laughing awkwardly and potentially falling in love all over again, or maybe for the first time mutually.  We each drank three beers.  Harmony and I had a strange, paradoxical innocence in much of what we did, even though much of what we did was not innocent.  We were friends, and we were beginning to become truly more than that.  At one point I just put my arm behind her shoulder and we laid there… looking at the clouds in the sunlit sky and basking in the afterglow of alcohol, hops, and sentiment.

We woke up an hour later.  We had fallen asleep amidst the infatuation and beer buzz.  We laughed about it.  “Whoa, I guess we passed out!”  I said.  “Yeah, that’s totally crazy!”  She replied.

“But I don’t want to be anywhere else”  I said back, with a boldness I had never had before with her.

“I don’t either”  She replied, as my heart pounded with life and vigor.

I remember rolling over and looking into her eyes.  I brushed her hair away from them and almost leaned in to kiss her.

“Wait a minute!”  Harmony said.  “You’re still going out with Madiera…  We can’t do this.”

I sheepishly and unwillingly agreed, so as to appear somewhat honorable.  “Yeah, you’re right.  I need to break up with her.”

Harmony and I walked away from that scene.  It had been a whole two years that I had known her and been completely crazy about her.  We had never kissed before.  We came close to having our first kiss ever but it didn’t happen.  I needed to break the news to Madiera when she came back from Bowling Green.