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              It was a blustery weekend in Muskrat Flats. The wind was conducting a symphony as the poplars bordering the vineyard...

Saturday, November 29, 2008

"Sometimes I Feel, Like I've Been Tied to the Whipping Post"

Thanksgiving has come and gone in Muskrat Flats and once again there was much activity at the corner of Petersen and McKernan Streets. The Odd Fellows Hosted their annual free Thanksgiving Dinner with all of the trimmings, feeding about 1,500 residents of the Flats and the outlying areas. There were free shuttle buses going to shelters in Dana and Prescott.

The banquet hall was warm with the glow of votive candles, with bursts of orange and brown decorations and ornately carved luminaria. The warmth was accentuated by shiny glazed bread cornucopias filled with fresh hand fruit and colorful gourds, the savory aromas of roasting turkey and sausage stuffing, the sweetness of roasted butternut squash, pumpkin pies, and of course Iva Bartleby's blueberry muffins.

The meal was paid for by the various fundraisers the Odd Fellows had hosted during the course of the year, particularly the Labor Day Bike Run and the concessions at the Silver Days Celebration and the Fall Festival at the Farm Museum.

This year was the first time that the formerly annual anonymous donation of $2000 toward the production of the meal, officially came from the Coleman Blackstone Foundation. This foundation, set up recently, with the mission statement of facilitating the rehabilitation of the homeless through arts and music programs in conjunction with mental health, drug and alcohol counseling. Coley Blackstone, Muskrat Flats' wealthiest resident, who himself lived as a homeless man as he grappled for years with untreated mental illness, was actually on hand and volunteering for the event.

Coley was the judge for the Annual Checkers Tournament. Surprisingly, the tourney was won this year by a kid named Matt Derose, a 14 year-old with Down's syndrome, who turned out to be something of a checkers prodigy. There were snickers from the peanut gallery early on in the competition as he would enthusiastically shout in a special needs kind of way,

"King Me!"

These snickers quickly turned to cheers as he dominated the competition and the onlookers shared in his enthusiasm by shouting along with him as he marched on to victory.

Moe Eckstein was looking at the front page of the Muskrat Flats Telegraph. The lead story was about the Odd Fellows Annual Turkey Dinner. This was accompanied by a picture of Coley Blackstone, holding up a beaming Matt Derose's hand in Victory as his other hand hoisted the Winner's Cup above his head.

Moe Eckstein had just sat down, with his coffee and muffins, after having gone for a brisk walk, that morning. He had stopped his chemo therapy weeks ago and was feeling healthier than he had felt in a long time. The doctors were happy with is alarming progress. Sid Bartelby was sitting across from Moe.

"Whaddya make of this guy, Coley?"

"Eh, what's to make? He is pure Muskrat Flats. No doubt that he is a chip off of the Hawthorne block. He was a misguided kid who is starting to make a better life for himself and the people around him."

"Yeah, but he is nuts." Sid said as he continued to scan his copy of the Telegraph.

"I thought that was a prerequisite for being a resident of the Flats." Moe quipped. Sid chuckled.

"Comon, Sid look around you, look at your past, look at mine … this town has always attracted a rare breed. Some of us - a little crazier than others, but I love it."

"Yeah, you're right, I shouldn't judge." Sid replied.

"That's right. I don't know if I would want people to meet some of the creatures who live in my forest, and that is a hard thing for a writer to say," as Moe tapped his skull.

"Oh, shit!" Sid cried. "page four, Moe. Speaking of creatures in your forest…"

Moe turned to page Four and read the headline.

Local Musician Jailed After On Stage Prank Goes Awry.

Dana - There was a near riot at the Dana Arts Center as local musician Gomer Shabbos aka Gomer Eckstein and Rabbi Robert Feldman from the Ark of the Covenant Synagogue in neighboring Baptist Lake were jailed after an onstage scuffle, Wednesday night, causing the crowd of 2500 onlookers to head home earlier than they had anticipated.

"Shit, that's the Rabbi that confronted him after the Labor Day Bike Run, show." Moe read on.

Eckstein who is the leader of the hardcore Klezemer band, Gomer Shabbos and the Hook Nosed Satans, had his performance interrupted when the Rabbi jumped on stage and attacked Eckstein. In the scuffle Both Eckstein and Rabbi Feldman assaulted Officer Seamus O'Neil who was trying to contain the violence. Both were charged with assault on a police officer. Feldman was charged with inciting a riot. Both were released on their personal recognizance.

The Hook Nosed Satans had just performed the tune "Satanic Seitan" a song Eckstein describes as "a diatribe revealing the evils of vegetarianism … it is a satire like most of my songs."

Eckstein sighed and wondered aloud,

"Why do people have to take themselves so seriously? It was just a joke."

The ruckus occurred in the second set. As drummer Joel Birnbaum kept the beat, Hook Nosed Satans guitarist Seth Brockmeyer and fiddler, Jerry Green brought onto the stage a young woman dressed in hippie garb whom Shabbos described as "a vegetarian I caught washing a lump of wheat gluten on a rock down by the river."

The Satans held down the "vegetarian," played by renowned San Francisco poster artist, Miranda Klein, as Shabbos dressed in all black with dark glasses and white face make up wildly whipped Klein with a cat-o-nine tails he had dramatically fashioned, onstage, from strips of raw bacon. The crowd responded wildly.

The diorama ended with Klein bowing to Shabbos swearing her allegiance to him and consecrating her vow by taking a big bite out of a "Fresser" or overstuffed, Kosher Corned Beef Sandwich.

It was at this point in the show, the Rabbi jumped on stage reportedly shouting in Hebrew and attacked Shabbos.

"Mumar le hak'is" the term my father shouted at Eckstein is a Hebrew term for a defiant lawbreaker or heretic," Explained Feldman's son, Josh.

"We believe that Gomer Eckstein has turned his back on the Jewish Tradition and is using the very essence of his band, The Hook Nosed Satans, an ethnic slur and abomination against the Jewish community, in and of itself, to ridicule and undermine the community.. Even his stage persona, Gomer Shabbos, is a mockery of Shomer Shabbos our Sabbath." Josh Feldman continued.

Eckstein, a Muskrat Flats resident and son of famed Beat Writer Moe Eckstein, made national news last Fall as his Ebay account was shut down after he offered two items for auction - a hypodermic needle purportedly used by Sex Pistol's bassist, Sid Vicious. And, a microphone, Eckstein had obtained from former Murder Junkie, Chicken John, which he claimed was inserted into long deceased punk rock bad boy, GG Allin's, rectum.

Messages left at Rabbi Feldman's residence were not immediately returned.

"What I do is Art. Everyone may not like it, but I have the right to do what I want on stage. I would consider what I do as Frank Zappa meets Rob Zombie at a Fiddler on the Roof retrospective."

"Asking me to change the content or direction of this project would be like going up to Claude Monet and saying, "I really like this painting, but can I have one like it with a little more blue and green so it will match my living room?" ... Some people may not see what I do as art, but I've got a lot open minded fans out there, decent people, Obama voters, who want to see me keep doing whatever it is that I do." Eckstein said outside of the Dana Police headquarters.

A pretrial conference is scheduled for December 6th for both cases.

Sid raised his eyebrows at Moe. Moe clicked his tongue against his teeth and chuckled.

"Oh, Sonny Boy, what have you gotten yourself into this time?" He asked no one.

"I tell him to pick his battles, but it looks like the Rabbi has picked the battle this time."

"We'll have to see how this one plays out." Sid said.

Moe sighed. He took off his glasses and cleaned them on his t-shirt. He placed them back on his nose and looked at Sid.

"I love that kid, my friend. He is a piece of work, but he is my piece of work." Sid smiled and looked up.

"Speaking of the Satan …" Moe turned around and Gomer was approaching him with his arm wrapped around the waist of a gorgeous young lady. She was clutching a copy of Moe's first book. Green Jello and Rust Stained Toilet Tanks.

"Dad, Sid, I want you to meet Miranda." She looked at Gomer and then smiled expectantly to Moe.

"Miranda? Word on the streets is that you like corned beef sandwiches."

Sid, Gomer and Miranda laughed as Sid swatted Gomer playfully on the shoulder with the newspaper. Moe looked at her, she looked at Gomer. Gomer looked somewhat chagrined, as he wanted to tell his Dad what had happened first hand.

Moe broke into a big smile and hugged his Sonny Boy. He then hugged Miranda. "It is a pleasure to meet you, young lady. I'm glad you didn't get arrested after your first gig with this hoodlum. Maybe you can keep him out of trouble?" She handed the book to him and said,

"Mr. Eckstein I'm a big fan of yours."

"Please call me, Moe."

He took the book out of her hand and admired it, it was a first edition. He took a sharpie out of his pocket. He wrote inside the cover,

"To Miranda, It is a pleasure to meet you. Remember, don't ever try to flush the green Jello."

Sid came over with two cups of coffee and some muffins in a card board j-tray and asked,

"So, Miranda, do you like blueberry muffins, these are the best."

"I know, I've been reading about them for months, I've been waiting to try them." Moe looked at Gomer as she said this, Gomer raised his eyebrows and smiled.

They all sat down at the wooden table under the watchful eye of Sheriff Hawthorne. Moe began to read the newspaper article to Gomer. Sid winked at Iva, his wife, across the room, who was smiling at Gomer. Jerry and Sveltie along with Jeff Nelson began to wander over to the table

Gomer was overjoyed. It would take a pretty big reason to get him out of his seat never mind back on the road.

This was where he longed to be, with his father, a beautiful woman by his side, surrounded by dear friends in the familiar warmth of the Odd Fellows Hall at the corners of Petersen and McKernan Streets.

Much like Gomer, Just For Today, I can't think of one damned reason to be …

Running Hard Out of Muskrat Flats.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Giving Thanks and Praises

About Ten years ago, when I will still happily married, happily stoned and happily running my own business into the ground, I went to the State Fair. It was a mid week night, perhaps a Thursday.

My wife and I got a baby sitter for our wee little one, and headed out for the evening. Things did not look promising as there were dark storm clouds looming in the horizon and were quickly headed our way. By the time we hit the Fair, it was pouring rain. That cold, unrelenting September rain that can do nothing but reinforce that summer is indeed over, and it is time to start gathering your fruits and berries for the long winter.

We could have postponed our outing to another day, It was actually in the high 70s and sunny the next day, but we had a reason for being there, playing for free at the outdoor stage were the Fabulous Thunderbirds.

The band was hot, Duke Robillard was great. There were about 300 people there and they played their asses off. About three quarters of the way through the set, We had had enough of the foul weather and we decided to leave, much like many of the other concert goers had decided to do as well

As we approached the entrance there was a guy on the bleachers, all liquored up, heckling the retreating crowds.

"You guys are crazy, don't you know what you are missing?!" He would shout as if someone were going to grab him by the arm and make him miss the rest of the set. There was fear and incredulity in his voice. How could these assholes actually leave?, was the incredulous message he was trying to hammer home. As far as the Fear, I can Identify.

I know what it means to have 300, 50, 15 people in the audience as I watch a talented group of musicians with all of the promise in the world, drift into a cloud ... a cloud which will surely obscure their live performances, their body of work hurtling them into anonymity as quickly as Hunter S. Thompson's ashes were launched into the stratosphere packed into an elaborate fireworks display.

All of the sudden you may find yourself experiencing flashes of recognition, a fond and distant memory which will take over your thoughts and cause you to ask,

"What ever did happen to those guys?... They were good"

I can identify with that guy at the Fab T-birds show. I am incredulous that people are not flocking to see bands like the Drunk Stuntmen. When they played at Black Eyed Sally's in the summer time, it was a nightmare. There were about 15 people in the audience, five of which were there specifically to see the band. There was a sloppy drunk from Canada, who almost started a fire by knocking over a linen covered table along with its burning votive candles. He ended the night barefoot and lying on his back on the vacant dance floor. The bar back was hammered and the contact person was a raving anti-social freak.

That is a lot of shit to put up with for a meal, for which they wanted to charge the band due to the sparse attendance. The club upstairs was so packed the patrons were coming downstairs to use the bathrooms.

I can identify with that guy at the Fab T-birds show as he desperately tried to cling on to a feeling - a good feeling which he obviously wanted to share. Unfortunately he was doing a poor job of conveying the message as his enthusiasm was clouded by the fact that he was so drunk.

In the rooms of a 12-step fellowship it is suggested that you identify, not compare. As a dear friend, who is sober, but does not participate in a 12-step fellowship pointed out,

"Sometimes you can compare and Save."

He knows a little bit about what happens in those rooms, the rooms where the Anonymous sequester themselves for many hours during the week. He possesses wisdom and a healthy outlook which I admire. In a lot of ways he has more recovery than some folks I know with over a decade of living life without drugs or alcohol.

He knows about how we spend hours in those rooms, hours which could be spent with our families, working on a soul fulfilling project or hobby, or even at a job, hours which could be deliciously spent in the arms of a new found love. I am learning to live and enjoy life with the greatest of luxuries all ... hours of nothing to do but sit quietly and meditate.

And listen.

I don't have to say, "I'm sorry, what?" When I am listening.

I have listened to my disease in the past. Listening to me say it is okay to get high, that I deserve it. I can get away with it. If I am cool, no one will ever know. I know that voice is bullshit. I am an addict and have proven this point to myself, time and time again.

I have listened to my friends confirm these erroneous notions and let me know how they justify their using of drugs and alcohol.

Identify don't compare means, listening to another and thinking that your disease is just that much less insidious than the diesease of another.

I am thankful that I have people like you who look forward to what I am going to write next. I am thankful that Muskrat Flats is a thriving community, albeit a fictitious one, but one that is vibrant enough to facilitate the creative process.

I am thankful for Music. Thankful for both the ability to play and the so many great musicians out there I enjoy seeing and hearing live.

I am thankful that my glassblowing skills are improving, as another glass artist in my karass pointed out, becoming "more refined." Thanks to all of you who have supported my endeavors in this department, contributing to my studio at the Indian Orchard Mills becoming a living and breathing destination.

I am thankful that on a Monday before a Friday payday, I have $40 dollars in my checking account. My bills are paid, I've got gas at both the studio and in my car and my child support is paid.

I am thankful for my daughter, Rayna. She is a bright shining beacon in my life. I am thankful that I am available to her these days, spiritually, physically and financially. She is growing up a talented, bright, and empathic young lady with a great sense of humor whose possibilites for a rich and rewarding adulthood are limitless.

I am thankful that I did not wake up dopesick. That I did not have to jeopardize my life and freedom, just one more time, for a $6 dollar bag of death.

I am thankful that today, I can still remember the last time I got high and pray that I never forget.

Wishing you all a Happy Thanksgiving. Today I'm going slow it down a little bit and listen to that voice in my head, guiding me to a better place, a place where I don't have to speed things up so I can be ...

Running Hard Out of Muskrat Flats.

Friday, November 7, 2008

"Tonight I would be thankful, Lord, for any dream at all ..."

Gomer ascended the steps out of the Embarcadero BART Station onto Market St. He peered down to the waterfront and saw the clock tower. He hoisted his sack onto his good shoulder, the other one was still a little sore from when he hit the ground when the rope unraveled during the reenactment of Sheriff Hawthorne's staged hanging, at the fall festival. At least the sun burned maple didn't drop a branch on him in the process. The rope simply let go and he was sent tumbling.

He looked around and took a deep breath. He loved San Francisco. He had a few days to kill so he decided to stay in town, after all, life shouldn't just be centered around work. He eyeballed someone across the street who caught his eye. How weird, It was the kid who was frantically dancing in front of him at the show last night. The Hook Nosed Satans played on a double bill in a warehouse in Oakland, the previous night. There were about 2,000 people there. And from the sounds of it many were there to see him. The party was hosted by a bunch of Burning Man folks who had some of their large contraptions on hand for additional entertainment.

The kid was wearing the same clothes as he had been the night before. Gomer doubted he had slept at all, considering how on the edge the kid seemed during the show. Gomer kept an eye on the kid from the side of the stage during the intermission between the opening band and the Satans and decided he was harmless. He sure as shit was into the music. Still, Gomer hoped he was not to be recognized now that it was daylight and he was in his civvies.

He looked drastically different from the guy who would stand on stage in all black with a long black cloak, combat boots and a porkie pie hat. His stage persona, Gomer Shabbos, looked as hard and ethnic as the music he presented. His long, dark, wavy hair was often unrestrained and he wore dark, half moon spectacles as he stepped and gyrated his way through the set often waving his clarinet around as if it were a baton, as he was directing the band. The Hook Nosed Satans kept the groove, thumping along beside him as he growled out some of the crowd's favorite tunes. Now, as he traversed the foggy streets of San Francisco, he was simply Gomer.

He did some shopping at the farmer's market, and headed back to the Embarcadero station to hop on the Muni. As he was walking along Market street, he envisioned fleeting glimpses of what the Barbary coast looked like back in the day when Sheriff Hawthorne made his way out west to wine and dine his idol, Mark Twain.

Shortly after he hopped the train, he was on Mission St. He was humming the Jerry Garcia song, Mission in the Rain as he strolled in a light down pour, taking it all in. To his left was a brick wall which was colorfully adorned with a Mexican mural.

He found the spot he was looking for, a coffee shop he and his father had been to many times before. He stepped out of the cool foggy drizzle and into the heady warmth of the shop. He looked at the pastry case as he ordered his brew, a dark roast which was so strong and rich which no amount of cream was capable of lightening up. As he poured over the pastries he heard his father saying in his head,

"The look good, but they are nothing like Iva's Blueberry Muffins."

Gomer missed his dad, he hoped he was doing well. Gomer found a seat in the crowded shop. He was powering up his his laptop as an unmistakable sitar riff, courtesy of George Harrison filled his ears. He heard the opening lyric for the song. "Each day rolls on by ..." He looked up as he waited for the computer to fire up, and waited and waited while contemplating what if he put a klezemer twist on the song. It would be a good cover he thought. a good song for the middle of the second set, one where they could stretch out a bit.

He sipped his coffee. Whew! Rocket fuel, not like they make the coffee at the Oddfellow's, that's for sure. He gazed over the rim of his cup, shifting in his seat as a cute blonde, perhaps a few years older than he, made michievous eye contact and smiled in his direction. He nodded and smiled back. There was progress on the screen.

He opened up his word processing program and began to read something he had been working on. It was a semi auto biographical account of the circumstances leading up to his arrest and eventual surrender to the lifestyle of recovery.

"We were in the South end of Dana, it was about three o'clock in the afternoon. My nose was starting to run, my stomach ached and I was having difficulty keeping my eyes open. The dope sickness was getting worse. I began to drift away when I was startled by my companion, a Puerto Rican chick named Iris. She shouted loudly in Spanish into the phone and then switched to English,

"Hold on, hold on .... JOSE! Hold on." She nudged me and motioned for me to take what was in her hand.

"You're falling alseep, you need a hit." She handed me a glass tube opaquely clouded with brownish funky resin, her thumb over one end concealing the precious cargo. I slightly stumbled. She pulled back.

"Don't drop this brick, motherfucker!" She said as she motioned once more for me to take the pipe. I took a deep hit and held it in.

I felt the crack searing through my brain. it sounded like a fleet of helicopters were heading in my direction. I began to float a little bit. I exhaled and felt the rush overcome me.

Iris went back to her conversation. I began to feel a little nauseated. The copter blades kept whirring, then began to subside, I wasn't going to puke, not this time. I was startled again as Iris held the phone in front of her and barked.

"Jose, JOSE ... Escuchame! I'M SICK, MOTHERFUCKER! I NEED TO GET OFF E! She then simmered her tone down pleading.

"Jose, por favor. What? Five minutes, bless you." She hung up.

"Fucking Dominican fuck ... the niggah sez he wants to go to the gym first. Give me the stem ..." I didn't realize I was still gripping it in my hand. Her phone rang again. She looked at the screen, rolled her eyes and flipped it open, muttering,

"I am not, motherfucking well ...WHAT?!" She listened.

"Where you is?" She waited for a response. She began shaking her head.

"NO, no ... we were there twenty minutes ago. Where were you? ... Huh? I told you to meet us outside the house." She listened again, shaking her head.

"Smoking a brick ... save you a hit? Shit. If you was where you s'posed to be at you be smokin' a brick, too." She listened.

"Yeah, I've got more ... what you mean you don't have any money, well, go get some." I looked over at Iris and she was handing me the pipe back. She pointed to the phone and whirled her finger around her ear doing the international crazy symbol.

"What do you mean what are you gonna do? Go out and suck a dick, get $40 dollars." there was more silence.

"You don't have to do anything just go stand outside on the street, someone will pick you up. We'll be there in 25 minutes." As she hung up the phone she was unrolling her window and guy in a sweat suit rolled up to the car, she hopped out and was back in seconds.

"Let's get go ... Give me your needle, we need to get off E ..."

Gomer heard someone clear their throat. He looked up, it was the woman who had smiled at him a few minutes ago. She was holding a poster which advertised the show last night.

"You're Gomer, right?"

"Yes." He flipped the laptop down, slightly embarrassed by what he was just reading.

She handed Gomer the poster with a sharpie.

"You're from Muskrat Flats, huh?"

"Yeah, have you ever been there?"

"No, but I'd like to. You guys totally rocked last night."

"Wow, this is one of the posters from the show last night? I've never seen it!"

"I know, I made it, I'm an artist."

"Very nice, can we use this, uh ..."

"Miranda, my name is Miranda. Of Course you can Gomer, I'd be honored."

He signed the poster.

"I've got to go, maybe we will meet again when I come to the Flats?"

"Yes, that would be great, my friends run the Farm museum, we can show you around."

"Yeah, I'll email you ... I love blueberry muffins. I want to try the ones you are always writing about."

She smiled and walked away, looking over her shoulder for one last glance as she did so. Gomer simply sat there stunned, even speechless.

He was amazed at the experience he just had. He thanked his higher power and he thanked Jerry. Why else other than his affection for that song would he be in the Mission, in the Rain?

He let out a deep sigh of satisfaction and smiled. San Francisco, great music, beautiful women, love at first sight. Can there ever be a better reason for ...

Running Hard out of Muskrat Flats?