Have Mercy, Baby, On A Poor Girl Like Steve

Classic rock is officially now boring. It probably has been for quite some time, yet it occurred to me today, while flipping the FM dial past a perfectly acceptable Van Halen track that I always would have settled upon before, that all surprises have been bled from this music. This isn’t to suggest that the Led Zeppelins and Pink Floyds aren’t still gods in my eyes, only that the days of listening to this music 24/7 are long gone – and that the songs I’ve always hated are all the more excruciating now (seriously, how is it that I still hear ELO’s Don’t Bring Me Down every goddamn day? Are this many people burning up the radio station hotlines to request it? Really?).

But don’t despair. These thoughts reminded me of a number of diversions my colleagues and I have developed over the years to make such music much more interesting, or at the very least tolerable. If nothing else, the following should renew your appreciation for these dinosaurs ye have forsaken, and make the next cookout where someone is rockin’ these rad tunes an altogether different occasion:

1. Lovin’

This beauty was discovered purely by accident one afternoon whilst Matt and I were still employed as meat cutters, cranking these gems on a tinny transistor in the back room where we brandished knives. Bachman Turner Overdrive, possibly the worst band ever, was at that moment infesting our eardrums with You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet, the absolute nadir of their putrid catalog. During one spot where Randy B is warbling about this mysterious concept of “lovin,” I instead blurt out, “…any pussy is good pussy, mmm hmm, woo hoo…” and just like that, a fresh new pastime is born.

For the rest of the day and many thereafter, we are obsessed with listening – not actively looking up online, say, which would be cheating – for any spot in any song where the word lovin’ is used as a noun. While when used as a verb, it doesn’t really make sense (think of the Scorps and Still Pussy You, for example), we discover countless examples where this simple switch fits perfectly and causes the song in question to shine with an altogether brighter light. It helps too, of course, that what these guys are actually singing about is pussy, not “lovin,” when you get right down to it.

Though many highlights are discovered, my personal two way tie for first place comes down to 38 Special lamenting “good pussy gone bad” and Huey Lewis boasting about “hot pussy every night.”

2. Crash

I can’t take credit for this gem. You need at least one great drinking game to go along with this music, and a long forgotten friend, some fifteen years ago, introduced the undisputed king into our lives one night while we were all knocking back sodas at a favorite neighborhood bar. The object is to take a drink of your beer every time a cymbal crash sounds out on the jukebox (or Muzak, or whatever happens to be playing), which seems much tamer in practice than it is in actuality. Somewhere around the 3rd or 4th song, let’s just say you start…questioning some things, to put it mildly. Particularly as, if your buddies are anything like mine, all parties involved are tripping over themselves to spin an ever more wicked cut.

Expert Tip: there is no more maniacal song to foist upon someone than CCR’s version of I Heard It Through The Grapevine. Don’t even bother searching for it. It doesn’t exist. For that reason alone, this game, while also known as Nice Job, Crash, it more commonly referred to as either Grapevine, I Heard It Through The Grapevine, or I’ll Bet You’re Wondering How I Knew ‘Bout Your Plans To Make Me Crash.

3. Moustaches Per Capita

More a companion piece ideal for when hanging out bored and/or half wasted, listening to classic rock while either everyone is huddled around a computer screen, trolling the internet, or sprawled around a couch, shouting out band names that one or more persons is pulling up on a smart phone. This baby in fact traces its roots yet again to a day on the job where Dan and I this time were flipping through some hilarious 1970s music guide, and he proposed we tried to figure out which group had a highest percentage of moustaches. Though it surely exists, in that particular book we found no evidence of a 100%, although the Doobs scored pretty damn high and helped us kill a good half hour.

4. Steve

Okay, one insight I’m taking away from writing this is that we clearly do more screwing around while on the job than I ever realized. But whatever the case, Steve, sort of the yin to Lovin’s yang, sits at the polar opposite from that particular pursuit, in that you will not be searching for opportunities to play; at some point, you will struggle in futility to shut down your mind from thinking about it.

Steve originated, once again in our meat cutting days, at the hands of this hapless idiot who manned the counter. He was never involved in the composition of these parodies, he was merely the subject. It began one day with Victor cranking up Pina Colada in the backroom and declaring, “…I was tired of my lady…so I went to Steve…,” which soon sparked a full blown phenomenon. Even our district merchandiser got in the mix. Unlike lovin, words that rhyme with Steve are found everywhere, and you soon discover that often merely the correct syllabic window allows you to make a make a perfectly hilarious and logical substitution.

Soon, the craze extends to all manner of song, not just classic rock. To cite some actual examples belted out over top of a buzzing bandsaw, Steve can magically transform Gary Puckett and the Union Gap into edgy performers again (“young Steve, get out of my mind….you’re much toooooooooooo young, Steve”), or make Lifehouse sound interesting and cryptic (“I can’t keep my eyes off of you…and Steve…and all other people…”), it can add another whole layer of sadness to Connie Francis’s ancient tearjerkers (“where the boys are…someone waits for Steve”). Occasionally, it can express a basic truism that perhaps we have not considered before, such as when Toto point out that Steve isn’t always on tieEEEahHAHAeeAYEEiHIhime.

Do with this information what you will. Perhaps reading this will spark up your own creative means for approaching these songs from a slightly different angle (such as my wife and I and our more scholarly – ahem – recent searches for tunes that include the word “perhaps,” without using it in the title. So Cake is eliminated, as far as we know, meaning thus far we’re stuck on Blues Traveler and the Thompson Twins). Now if someone could just figure out a way to make Bruce Springsteen palatable, we’d really be on a roll.


A Winston-Salem Primer

(Author’s Note: a travel magazine asked me to write this piece, then rejected it. They dictated the format, the title of the four sections, and so forth, all to no avail. “Notes From A Local” is literally me quoting a friend’s text message. I think this article turned out okay – not amazing, but okay – although I’m not quite sure what they were looking for)

A Winston-Salem Primer


Guide Section

NAME: Winston-Salem, North Carolina

SEASON: Late Spring/Early Summer

IDEAL CONDITIONS: Weekends, preferably

LODGING RECOMMENDATIONS: Summit Street Bed & Breakfast; a friend’s couch; your car

INGESTIBLES: coffee and gelato (Caffe Prada), shrimp and grits (Mozelle’s), beer, wine
While not nearly as well known as some other North Carolina cities, I would say I’ve had as much fun partying in Winston-Salem as anywhere. It was recently rated by Forbes magazine as the #2 downtown in all of America, which validates my theory that it’s a secret on the brink of exploding.

Naturally then, downtown is where you start. Foothills Brewery on 4th Street is the recommended point of entry. If in season, Sexual Chocolate is a noteworthy pint, although any of their 17 selections will impress, particularly Hoppyum IPA. I would suggest downing a few before dipping back for a peek behind the scenes, as brewmaster Jamie encourages folks to chat him up, and you can grab a 64oz growler to go.

Recreations Billiards, just up the street, has been around since 1947 with good reason. They offer an astounding 108 beer selections, and manage to feel part mobster hangout on ground level, part modern hipster dive in the basement. Plenty of felt here for the pool enthusiast, live music on weekends, and no shortage of eye candy.

Also on 4th, Imbibe magazine recently rated Tate’s craft cocktail lounge one of the South’s Top 100 Places To Drink. Enjoy a martini on the front patio, fashioned from their homemade sweet vermouth, or try a citrus-y signature drink whipped up from fresh fruit squeezed daily – no bottled syrups here – all at a price you’d pay elsewhere for unimaginative well mixes. Reaching further for that upscale, metropolitan feel, a divine appetizer platter, be it a signature cheese or antipasto, provides some substance to avoid collapsing in the street.

If it’s the 1st Friday of the month, then stagger your way through Gallery Hop, a district loop with plenty of wine handy to keep you squinting at artwork. Otherwise, fear not, for there’s always some festival revolving around slight variations of this theme. The Salute! Wine Celebration rocks downtown in early summer, with cooking demos, food pairings by local chefs, and plenty of vino, while the Twin City Taps Beer Fest brings local craft and home brewers out every August. In between, head to Tanglewood Park for NC Wine Fest, a weekend dedicated to live music and more than 30 region wineries, and, of course, should you feel the urge to tap your inner drunken hillbilly, Twin City Rib Fest awaits in the midst of such madness.

I could go on (Rock The Block, etc) but aside from stumbling up 4th Street and/or attending downtown festivals, other options abound:
– I briefly dated a girl from Winston. She was ultimately not a keeper, but the venue picked for our first night out, 6th And Vine, was worth filing under the brim. Intimate seating, of both indoors and courtyard variety, are serviced by extremely knowledgeable yet unpretentious staff who can pick out exactly what your vibe is from a huge wine menu.

-Rustle up a fistful of homies and rent a luxury suite at a Winston-Salem Dash game, the local minor league baseball affiliate. Good fun and a great change of pace for getting sloshed on a budget.

-Though requiring you know a membership packing native, either Break Time Billiards location broadcasts every sporting event known to man on wide screen televisions, has oceans of tables, darts, and a healthy brewskie selection

Notes From A Local

District Roof Top is a pretty cool place to eat and drink. Try Johnny And June’s Ultra Saloon (crazy ass country bar, foam party) or Single Brothers Whiskey Bar (name says it all). Old Winston Social Club has the best overall tavern feel. That’s my spot.

Firsthand Fiasco

Though generally sensible enough these days not to get thoroughly blasted, one evening awhile back I managed to personally derail an anniversary party with some out of character antics, in Winston-Salem.

The mix-n-match sixer I ingest before we even hit downtown, picked up earlier at a small market, doesn‘t hurt. Still daylight, we start at some quaint patio restaurant in a residential neighborhood near downtown. I remember scarfing down some amazing spinach n’ artichoke dip on an otherwise empty stomach as we kick off ceremonies here with a wine tasting.

Matters begin getting cloudy as we’re leaving, and our party piles into two vehicles bound for downtown. We pull into Silver Moon Saloon – this great, funky, standalone building I’ve frequented before – and find the fenced in back patio, grabbing a table. We order our first round, yet the instant it’s delivered, I pass out face down on said table.

Attempts at reviving me prove unsuccessful. Two buddies carry me to the Flex, where I’m thrown in back, and though it’s never explained to me why this spelled our festivities’ end, I’m forever held responsible for ruining this soiree. The guests of honor, sadly the two most sober, are forced to retrieve my car from the first spot. Everyone else piles into the Flex and heads home. I recall none of this, waking up the next morning in a spare bedroom. Ill tempers abound.

The Verdict

I’ve yet to find a great dance club, but Winston has everything else, cheaply and in close proximity. A fantastic party Mecca.

The Shadowy Subculture Of Geocaching


She lures me into an HH Gregg parking lot on the outskirts of town, with no mention of intent or what lies ahead. Frantically consulting a GPS device on her phone, she directs me to turn this way and that, as I progressively slow further and further down and she pinpoints our mysterious destination, apparently, to a single parking space behind the store. Before I’ve even had time to shut the engine off, she is out of the car and frantically running her hands along the backside of a guardrail separating us from this giant ravine.

And this, friends and neighbors, is my introduction into the shadowy subculture of geocaching.

Newly initiated but a quick study of the pastime herself, my wife, Erin, gives me a rapid-fire rundown as I assist in her search. The heady buzz of having descrambled a clue for her has already made me a receptive audience – the hint was “cintagem,” which I somehow instantly converted into “magnetic” – and eager to learn more. People the world over, it seems, are stashing tiny little boxes with a rolled up log sheet and a pen, leaving clues online and coordinates as to its whereabouts. Many of these containers contain little trinkets that past explorers have left behind, and the rules of the game are that you can leave one yourself, take one as a souvenir, or even move one onto the next location and post online where it has been. All fascinating, fascinating stuff, and the thought running through my head while we’re doing this is: how have I not heard of geocaching before?

As it turns out, we can indirectly thank President Clinton for this. Until May 1, 2000, GPS coordinates were considered classified information, blocked from civilians by the US Department of Defense. On that date, he announced that the scramblers would be shut off, and two days later the first geocache was laid. Dave Ulmer of Beavercreek, Oregon, is considered the game’s Abner Doubleday – or make that its James Naismith, as his invention has never been in doubt – setting that initial treasure into place and posting its coordinates online. A man named Mike Teague becomes its Sir Edmund Hillary, then, by extension, the first person to find it, and 2 million active geocaches later, here we are.

But many of you must be asking, what is a geocache? The best I have managed, in describing it to the uninitiated, is equating it to a digital scavenger hunt. Ullmer’s initial stash was a buried bucket filled with computer games, books, coins, a slingshot, and other random junk, yet I’m not sure that even a pilgrimage to this virtual Bethlehem (now designated with an Original Stash Tribute Plaque, as his historic black bucket is long since history) would necessarily fill in the blanks.

What’s the point? is the general skeptic’s cry, and to that I have no answer. You go online to one of the prominent geocaching sites, you find your current GPS coordinates. They reveal some vague clues about tiny plastic containers which are hidden in your vicinity, and your mission now becomes to find them without attracting the attention of or being noticed by the casual passerby. Simple enough. These containers you are seeking are mostly small, by necessity waterproof, and without question camouflaged in some fashion. At the very least, you sign your name on a scroll rolled up within the container – because otherwise, I agree, there is no point – and add another tally mark to your online alter ego’s running total.

Such are the basics, but, given the human capacity for endless invention – hinted at too by what Ullmer had in mind with his debut treasure – it was inevitable that variations and additions to the official rules would soon take root. A good half of the caches we have found are large enough to contain an assortment of bizarre yet essentially worthless trinkets, tradition being that you will take one item yourself, but only if leaving something of equal or greater value. One of my first logs, for instance, was underneath a foot bridge in the heart of Asheville, and I came away with someone’s white ribbon for finishing 3rd in a long ago swim meet; I don’t remember what we left, but it seems it might have been a sticker. Behind a car wash in Mooresville, after crawling through some thorny bushes – and being spotted by a fellow gamer, spraying off his truck, who knew what we were up to and signed the scroll himself – we came away with Jon Bon Jovi’s Blaze Of Glory CD, traded out for a disc of my home recordings. Fair enough, I say.

Other advancements over time have brought the inclusion of trackable objects, which is a terrific idea, but also virtual caches, an irredeemably dumb one. With virtual caches, there is nothing to find, the requirement is that you will find the GPS coordinates, then text the person who initially placed the cache with some sort of clue that proves you were there – call me a technophobe, but this smacks to me of trying too hard to give that which doesn’t need improving a hypermodern twist. On the flipside of the souvenir coin, trackables are tiny registered objects (often referred to as “hitchhikers”) which are placed pursuant of a specific purpose, for example, that whoever put it there wants it to end up in a particular country, to race another object to one particular cache a few states away, or some other goal along these lines. So your job is to scoop it up, log that item, and move it a little further along its route, dropping it at the next appropriate cache you find.

Multicaches ratchet the excitement up a notch or two. My wife and I spent an afternoon chasing one such find around Lake Norman State Park, all 1300 plus acres of it, an odyssey that involves being given only the beginning GPS coordinate for a whole series of them, as you are expected to piece together some clue that will lead you to the next, and the next, and the next, your prize of the log book and whatever other little treasures may await lying ahead somewhere at the final stage. Of course, a primary hazard that potentially looms before any intrepid geocacher, the fruitless quest toward a bounty that has been misplaced or stolen – to quote insiders’ jargon, the item has been “muggled” – becomes all the more painful should it occur at the end of a multicache as opposed to the more traditional. Though this fate fortunately did not befall us that day at Lake Norman, it is going to occur from time to time, which is why any seasoned veteran would recommend checking the date an object was last found before you disembark, and also why being surreptitious and aware of the casual onlooker is a must.

Which touches upon another finer point to be found with this sport, game, whatever you want to call it, the ability for aficionados to place caches themselves. Canisters, meant to be hidden in some capacity, range from, most commonly, vitamin bottles wrapped in camouflage, to more ambitious offerings such as the giant metal ammunition tub we found at one location. You might be surprised to learn that at virtually every Cracker Barrel restaurant in America, there is a magnetic key holder clipped outside the building with one of these trademark scrolls inside (note: places of business, in particular gigantic corporate conglomerations, tend to frown upon the presence of these, especially the already much reviled Wal-Mart). If you were to take a gander at one of the many websites specializing in geocache containers, you would encounter other like the assortment of fake rocks to be placed upon a forest floor, or a hollowed out bolt to shove inside some post, which further up the ante in making the hunter’s job all the more challenging. My wife and I, for instance, searched an eternity in the park behind our house until discovering our cash was hidden inside a phony piece of cork that had been jammed seamlessly into a fallen log. At the ridiculous end of the other extreme, there’s a jeep in the woods behind PNC Arena in Raleigh – where the Carolina Hurricanes hockey team plays – which is the geocache, and typically piled up with a mountain of goodies, there’s one you can scuba dive down to at the bottom of Lake Norman, even a cache hidden in Antarctica.

As perhaps best illustrated by that jeep in Raleigh, though, I do have concerns about what impact our pastime is having on the environment. Though in general I would consider this a perfectly harmless activity, and we even recently introduced our six year old daughter to this highly amusing diversion, and, true, that disabled vehicle had been deteriorating in the woods for eons before geocachers claimed it, to traipse through a forest behind the Iredell County History Museum, citing one actual experience of ours, through areas that ostensibly should appear undisturbed by man, it’s often disconcerting to find a Hansel and Gretel-esque trail of Mountain Dew cans and potato chip bags leading the way. But sadly enough, you could never encourage people to spend more time outdoors in any capacity without this being the case.

Some states such as South Carolina an Virginia have already introduced measures limiting or outlawing geocache activities. Law enforcement officials probably wish the fad would die off completely, for the canisters are occasionally mistaken, which the hilarious-in-retrospect evacuation of Disneyland has demonstrated, as explosive devices. I fear the noose may tighten further with heightened visibility (though initially attempting to maintain a wall of secrecy most sites now allow you to sync your finds with a Facebook profile), and wholeheartedly stand behind the “earth caching” or “Cache-In-Trash-Out” movements which encourage participants to clear up some litter, hopefully performing a little public relations repair in the process. It also happens to be a completely free activity, a not insignificant draw in these cash strapped times.

On balance, I would say that any activity which pulls us off our couches without harming anyone else is probably a good thing – get some fresh air, a little exercise, see parts of even our own hometowns that we otherwise wouldn’t. Just use your head out there, don’t throw candy wrappers or beer cans around, and circle the block once or twice, maybe, if you see any cops. And if you happen to bump into the knowing soul who indicates with a wink that he’s hip, just tell him “TFTC,” that you haven’t caught any “traveling bugs,” and that “xtforce” sent you.

Dynamite River

One summer our family piles into the car for an extended vacation with my Aunt Jackie and Uncle Rob, the most adventure seeking, outdoors oriented couple in our extended bloodline. Rob in particular is a complete maniac who, aside from more standard fare like taking us hiking up mountains, or boating and water skiing, had taught my brother and me how to snorkel dive – including a lesson on slipping underwater, that you block the tube with your tongue and then blow the water out upon surfacing – and the fine art of jumping from cliffs, though neither of us were as brave as the triple-backflip-from-thirty-feet-up type maneuvers that Rob routinely busted out.  He had also led all of us on a camping expedition deep into some native woods once, where our site was ravaged by bears in the middle of the night while we huddled inside our tents, listening with rapt attention, the adults occasionally risking a glance outside.

But by far the most notorious of our adventures with these two would be this hot August afternoon, when they decide to take us inner tubing down their favorite mountain river, a horseshoe shaped affair that ends not too far away from where it began. Jackie drops off five individuals and six tubes – the last having been saddled with a duct-taped cooler full of beer, stocked and modified by the two adult males in this party – as she then takes off in their SUV  to meet us at the rendezvous point. The sky is nearly cloudless and the water high, a perfect setting for this idyllic country ride.

You can probably guess what happens next. A freakish ocean of grey and then black sails into view overhead, blotting out the sun. A wind kicks up, the air perceptibly becomes much cooler and, worst of all, flashes of lightning and peals of thunder reveal themselves a little more closely than perhaps we would have preferred. Mom is freaking but Dad and Rob, who are both, it should be noted, pretty much half crocked at this point, remain nonplussed by this sudden rain and nature’s pyrotechnics. Later claiming they only said so to avoid a mass panic, these two are in fact telling us that in cases of lightning, “the water is the safest place to be.”

Mom isn’t buying this nonsense and climbs out of the river. She starts hopping alongside the bank barefoot, negotiating the rocks, briers, and general overgrowth which is, as a rule, not especially conducive to travelling sans shoes. Upon seeing this, I decide this seems like about the best idea  I have ever heard, and join her in navigating that shoreline. My little brother, meanwhile, appears torn, but apparently decides to trust that the men know what they’re talking about, and remains in the water with them.

After walking what feels like the distance of the Appalachian Trail and back, we eventually encounter a dilapidated shack of a house, where this disheveled old coot is sitting upon his back porch, which faces the water,  rocking in a chair. Frantic to exit this mountain pronto, we ask him if there’s any quicker way off of this river.

“Nooooooo,” he cackles, “not unless you got a stick a dyn-ee-mite!”

Needless to say, nobody thought to pack that in the cooler this morning. But just as suddenly as it blew in, the storm mysteriously passes, at last, without any casualties. By the time we arrive at the pick up spot to a waiting Jackie, the sky looks like it had when we first arrived, as though nothing ever happened – although we all have such a chill in our bones that upon arriving back at their house, we make Rob build a blazing fire just to dry us out.

Classic Stereotypes

Some of this seems like material a standup comedian might have covered at some point, and if so I apologize. I’m not trying to steal anyone’s observations here. But it recently occurred to me that there are certain patterns one runs into repeatedly out there in the retail universe, too many to dismiss as mere coincidence:

1. Express Checkout Line Cashier: is always slower than an IV drip of molasses. In fact, she would appear to be the slowest cashier on the floor – a real head scratcher, unless maybe the store manager figures to balance things out by putting faster cashiers on the longer lines. Actually, I suppose you couldn’t have the slowest cashiers on the normal lines, because that would be an ever bigger disaster. So this one sort of makes sense, except it completely defeats the purpose.

2. Guitar Store Employee: I won’t remark here on this demographic’s basic personality template (i.e. unrelenting smugness), but would like to take this opportunity to note their incredible telepathy. As in, how they always know what you really want, but – befitting their pomposity – will always do the complete opposite. If you’re just browsing, somehow you have 8 employees hovering over your every move; when you genuinely need something, however, you can’t find anyone.

3. Electronics Store Salesman: Completely incapable of muttering the phrase “I don’t know.” To do so sends them into serious convulsions. Instead, attempting to avoid this, they will recommend some weird and unnecessary piece of equipment with utter conviction, which you will take home and only then discover is of no use to you whatsoever. This subset would almost make sense, if such a stance were taken with sales commissions in mind. But their mental foibles extend to 99 cent fuses and $2.49 cords just as much as higher end items, plus you are going to turn right around and come back to speak with a more knowledgeable employee anyway, as you return the junk they sold you, which only makes them look all the more idiotic.

4. TV Weathermen: Always complete fruitcakes. Why? What is the connection? I must be missing something here.

In Praise Of Old New Years

We create our own holidays. In a country obsessed with cramming a holiday into seemingly every date on the calendar, this is as true here as it is anywhere else on the globe. Valentine’s Day wasn’t enough, we had to have Sweetheart’s Day to liven up our mid October doldrums; starved for drinking ceremonies, the Fourth of July, some Saint named Patrick, and really pretty much every other major event with the possible exception of Halloween weren’t excuses enough to get sloshed,  we had to cannibalize Mexico for a Cinco de Mayo that means nothing to most of us. Yet I’m amazed that amid this flurry of brand new concoctions, some real, some postmodern winks of an eye – Festivus, anyone? – and the moldering heap of your Flag Days and your Guy Fawkes that we never really rallied around much, you are left with the truly significant players in this holiday arms race for possession of our hearts and our memories…and yet even so, their importance in our lives does not always stack up the way we think.

Maybe the pecking order is different for everyone, and I would never suggest that any of the following are trivial. But for whatever reason, differentiating one Christmas from the next, or one Thanksgiving, or for that matter most of my birthdays, is a thoroughly impossible task for me. They just all seem to mostly run together into one gigantic blur. For some reason, however, aided surely a great degree by the DNA coding of which two teams are playing, I can remember exactly what I was doing for nearly each of the past thirty Super Bowls – no small feat, considering I am only 36. This is also true, too, for at least the last fifteen New Year’s Eves, occasions I can recall in precise and at times mindboggling detail, except I have no theories to explain just why this should be.

Some were wild and some were not; some were held in the same location with pretty much the same people as the previous year’s, and still I could differentiate them. I never would have listed New Year’s among even the top half dozen of the most important dates of the year for me, until this thought hit me just a day or two ago that, considering the evidence at hand, it indisputably is. Considering this, my initial thought was to detail them all in chronological order, or possibly a countdown or up to the all time #1. Who knows, at some point maybe I will. But for now energy only permits me to recount one of them, a vintage offering from 2008. It was just my second New Year’s after moving to North Carolina by way of Ohio, and while a far cry from some of the craziest, it always sticks out in mind as possibly the most bizarre. I know it comes up the most in our collective conversations, which again is saying something: I couldn’t tell you what Christmas was like that year, and neither could anyone else.

It starts out innocuously enough, or should I say as innocuous as such an occasion can. Early on, I remember sitting on a futon in the garage watching my brother and some of his friends play pool – we had the door wide open for some reason, letting in the bracing cold – while inside, his girlfriend’s parents, who were like the local Sonny and Cher – were roping all takers into the karaoke machine they had rigged up in our living room. When I had first moved in, I became the fifth roommate, initially a madhouse yet slowly whittling down from there; a few months after this particular party, my brother would tell his girlfriend that certain friends of hers were no longer welcome at our house, but for now all these outlandish characters are still coming around. Plus, unlike the previous year, I had actually bothered to invite a select handful of people from work and was sweating who would show up, in particular this chick I had recently become completely infatuated with.

Sonny and Cher split after an argument concerning what he may or may not have been partaking of, and whether it was wise considering his “heart condition.” We thus went from hearing literally eighteen different renditions I think of that one Kid Rock & Sheryl Crow duet for some reason, to having no music at all outside of the old VHS tapes of rock concerts we’re broadcasting in the garage . Fortunately, I just happened to keep my drum set fully assembled in our living room back then (don’t ask), which would come into play later. For now, however, we take their departure as our cue to move some furniture and set up the poker table as well. Right around this time my parents show up, and a couple of their friends, and then Victor, Robert, and Justin from work.

Robert always seems to emerge as the unintentional comic foil in a number of these tales. He made me promise not to circulate pictures and videos of this night around on the internet, so I’m reduced to writing a story about it. But nothing too major or shocking really happened – he just seemed to be on a mission to get as drunk as possible on as great a variety of alcohol as he could in the shortest amount of time. Victor’s laughing maniacally and filming every minute of it, while my mom feels compelled to take pictures. In an hour’s time, he is passed out on the couch. A great deal of the rest of us are stuffing our faces in the kitchen on this amazing food Brandy’s mom made before taking off so abruptly – feta stuffed mushrooms,  a variety of these pinwheel shaped sandwich thingies, et cetera – as the house slowly swells with people approaching midnight. There are kisses and toasts at the magic hour all around.

Things actually at first appear to be dying off an hour or so beyond this point. We’ve got a card game going, and though professing his skill for weeks, it’s apparent that Justin grasps the rules of poker and not much more, as he steadily loses his shirt. All along, I have my eye on the clock. Brandy’s the closing bartender at her place of employment in Mooresville tonight – it has changed names often and I can’t remember what it was called then – and as I was in fact not drinking, it had been decided that I would go pick her up.

Somehow this turns into a complete debacle. At first Dad insists that I drive his Suburban there for some reason, and then after talking me into that, he reasons that it only makes sense for him to ride along, since this is his car and all. From there we springboard into literally every walking person in the house cramming into this one vehicle, with me at the wheel, all except for my mother, who remains behind to crash in Daniel’s bed. At the bar, meanwhile, of course the plastic hats and party horns are out, and somehow Dad talks my brother and his friend Roy and me into to singing karaoke – we sound okay on Comfortably Numb, but thoroughly butcher The Weight. At least most of the patrons are blasted out of their minds and are paying us no mind.

Of course by the time it’s all said and done, we wind up closing the bar down and somehow its owner, who was this middle aged Greek dude, and his obnoxious girlfriend wind up following us back to the house in their car – she’s in her early twenties and has this loud, shrill voice, goes by a name like Ann-Marie or something which is probably made up. Once home, though, it’s like my New Year’s is just beginning, as I start drinking alongside everyone else, and it turns out the Greek guy knows some guitar, as my dad hops on the drum kit and starts rocking out. The video camera begins making its rounds again. Mom, briefly summoned awake by the commotion, said that when she opened her eyes, every cat in the house was surrounding her on the bed “like Children of the Corn or something,” and licking their chops, regarding her as if dinner – I’m not sure how many felines we had in the house at the time, but considering it reached its apex with fourteen cats and probably averaged about six or seven, we could understand her shivering terror.

At some point the instruments are set aside, the radio comes on, and another poker game is introduced. For whatever reason, too, the lights are dimmed down to ridiculous levels, making it difficult to glimpse your cards, though nobody bothers to turn them back up. Ann-Marie (or whatever her name is) complains constantly about the light, leading Dad and I to insist with a straight face that my brother is Amish and doesn’t believe in electricity. She just so happens to be either so wasted or so moronic or both to buy this, and I even go as far as rummaging around in the pantry until I find some candles. We hear her whispering to some people sitting beside her, “he is! he really is! he’s Amish!” and we are laughing our heads off at her idiocy. Unfortunately, she also has this tendency to just blare at the top of her lungs a random line of whatever song happens to be playing at this point, like the Violent Femmes’ American Music. When by sheer coincidence she and I sing the same part at one juncture, she stands up and shouts, “YES! I LOVE THIS SONG!” and gives me a hand-stinging high five.

Her middle aged boyfriend has clearly had enough. “You want to marry her? Please, by all means, marry her,” tells me, palms extended in her direction, sounding so weary that he might weep.

By now, it is nearly daylight. Perhaps predictably, Ann-Marie and the Greek start getting into a shouting match, and then she storms off into the night. When Daniel attempts to restore order, Brandy and her friend Nicole start yelling at him for some reason, then march out the front door after her – this is the last we see of them this night/morning. With the lights up, the Greek sits around commiserating to us about what a wack job she is, and then drives home alone. The rest of us crash out one by one, my dad in his truck sometime after sunrise.

Like I’ve said, it’s unclear to me why these New Year’s Eves stand out so sharply in contrast to all other holidays. Of course, it’s unlikely you would forget such a bizarre night, regardless of what day of the calendar it fell upon. But even the just concluded one of two days ago, which found me working for the first time on this night since I think 1997, a night spent doting on rich, drunk, non-tipping a-holes in the country club lounge where I sometimes work, is on one hand unexceptional, yet at the same time is forever far more vivid than the theoretically more important Christmas. And I’m just not sure why this is, except to say that the air circulating on New Year’s is filled with an electricity missing every other night of the year, and that we truly do make our own holidays. There’s just no explaining, perhaps even to ourselves, what experiences will ultimately mean the most to us, or why.

On Drugs

On Drugs. No two words ever struck such terror into the heart of a youth as these, when placed side by side. On Drugs. To hear our well intentioned mothers and schoolteachers tell it, the menace was lurking around every street corner, even in a tiny Midwestern village of three thousand people. On. Drugs. You would just be walking along minding your own business one day, strolling perhaps to the convenience store to purchase comic books, and a shady character who was On Drugs would emerge from the shadows of this sunny day and hustle his evil wares upon thee.

So quickly did we dismiss this phrase from our memory banks, in our adult years, that we forgot how terrifying and all consuming it was to us as children. By the age of approximately nineteen and a half you realized how preposterous this notion was and promptly forgot about it entirely. Because depending upon the interpretation, either everyone you had ever known was On Drugs, or virtually no one you had ever known was, and in each instance there was no reason to worry about it. Peer pressure was a myth. In the corridors of your high school, you had spent four years looking over your shoulder with a cold sweat, afraid that somebody who was On Drugs would overtake you. Only upon further reflection, somewhere in your mid twenties, did you realize that nobody ever really cares what anybody else is doing and is rarely, if ever, making the effort to talk somebody into something. Anybody who ever ended up On Drugs in life had always really wanted to be On Drugs.

But you have no concept of this as a child or a teen! You stare for endless hours at various posters of your rock star heroes, trying to determine which of them are On Drugs. I also remember being a second grader on the school bus in a brand new district, and being approached by one of the nefarious sixth graders lurking in the back, because the bus always sorted it out by grade. He had a round plastic container filled with bright red granules, and offered them to me, asking if I wanted some “speed.” His lips and the flesh beyond them were colored by the stuff, I was convinced that he was On Drugs. When I adamantly refused he cackled mightily, which only furthered my suspicions. Only much later in life would I recall this incident and suspect that what he actually had was some kind of berry flavored Jell-O.

The greatest fear, of course, is that all perspective is misplaced in our senior years and we revert to these same paranoid horrors. Lapsing back into our childhood reveries and wondering what the difference is between doing some drugs and being On Drugs. Because in the former instance there was at least some hope of redemption, but in the latter, if you were On Drugs, all was lost. You would be the sketchy addict lurking behind convenience stores in tiny Midwestern towns, convincing kids that their four dollars and fifty cents would be better spent On Drugs than some silly comic book or a few packs of baseball cards. From this a life of crime would follow, outrunning the cops in a coast to coast spree after you knocked off one bank after the next to support your habit. All directly attributable to that dude behind the IGA, that Metallica fan who was On Drugs and materialized out of nowhere, who completely ruined your life. So beware, my children, beware.