A Small Stack

Armed with a CD player and a small stack of my dad’s albums, I got through my tween and early teen years. His collection included everything from B.B. King to Tool, Bela Fleck to Nirvana. My father had an eclectic taste, and praised the 80s as the golden era of music. But the records I listened to the most came from the Guns N’ Roses discography, and I fell in love with them despite their obscenity. Guns N’ Roses at that age was the roughest thing I had ever heard. In retrospect, Axl’s screams remind me of an Aztec death whistle, calling to frighten the realities of life into submission with denial and alcoholism. Slash along with Jimmy Page were my introduction to the coolness factor of the guitar. Before them, it was just another instrument, after them it was a roaring expression of soul. My father had mentioned seeing Guns N’ Roses on their tour with Metallica. He described Metallica as “meh” but expressed his enjoyment of the GnR set. As a convert to the Metallica family, I’d like to argue with him about it.

With my CD player that was already outdated, and eventually a small Ipod, I plowed through those albums. In fact, I never shut up about it. In retrospect this amuses me slightly, but I’m sure it didn’t for the folks around me. Unfortunately, time machines have not been invented, or I might save some people some annoyance, among other things. One of the last real conversation I had with my father was about music, he mostly listened and offered a comment here and there.


Hellfire Hits In The Brimstone City

Demonology was the beginning of a new age for a child robbed of a functional life. Before a backpack full of Metallica records got him through the week, now graveyards and old attics became home. No one had a clue about who he was to raise questions about where he came from. Families would answer his ads with weary voices and fear on the other side of the line, and when he left they were relieved to finally leave witness protection. Hellfire Hits was a new high in justice for a brimstone city haunted with pain, and the body count rose with each new official accolade. Damien had finally built a home worth living in.


This Place


When I think of This Place I think of rolling hills and a winding road to an aircraft hangar-like building, which is very clearly labeled “Papa’s Winery.” The signage is needed, though the acres of grape vines certainly gives clues as to what the building is for. The vineyard crew was led by a nearly silent older gentleman that was deaf, save for his cochlear implant. He didn’t care for the noise projecting out of the building on top of the hill, but luckily he probably couldn’t hear it most of the time.

As Charlie blared a fusion of pop and punk in the winery, we set in for another ten-to-fifteen hour day of pressings. Charlie has a few small personality quirks, like throwing hammers into drywall and letting out maniacal laughter upon nearly being knocked off a ladder, or getting a forklift stuck in the mud. A lot of that stems from not wanting to be there. Like someone going to a cubicle in a telemarketing building, Charlie dragged himself into work every day with the same level of disgust. The winery was almost always called by him and his siblings, in spite, as “This Place.” “This Place will drive you crazy! Nothing happens in this place. This place is falling apart” before a customer would walk in the door and they each slapped on a smile.

The winery was falling apart despite being around for only a little under a decade. No one ever intended it to be a winery when the building was built. The drain holes in the floor, used to whisk the water used in winemaking out of the winery, were poorly placed. If you didn’t throw the water in the right spot, it would pool on the concrete floor somewhere else. The bathroom had a big hole in the wall from customers and employees opening the door without a doorstop. All of this clearly bothered Charlie as he crawled into work every morning and cranked his music to drown out the impending doom of what we would have to do that day. There was an attempt at decor in the building, with big torn, paper lanterns, and a giant print of grapes- except it was so low in resolution, when you walked anywhere close to it you could see the massive one inch long pixels. Take that, Warhol.

Charlie wanted to open a bar when he was in college. Unfortunately, he lacked the capital to start one. So, he went off to work on his master’s degree in philosophy, before his father pulled him into the new family business with the promise of putting him in charge of the whole winery’s operations. Just short of a decade later and he was still doing the same job as winemaster. He missed out on the expansive employment opportunities provided by a master’s degree in philosophy. But the day to day operations of the winery didn’t hinge on his bitterness, but they played a role when things went wrong.

I remember one instance when Charlie was climbing on top of a wine tank, which at their smallest would be about the height of a massive bookshelf. Ice had built up around the sides of the tank, which is normal. Suddenly, from the back room, I heard a crash and the distinct sound of a ladder falling over. “Uuuhhhh, Maxxxxx.” I walked out of the back room carrying cleaning chemicals, to see thick chunks of ice all over the concrete floor, which had presumably fallen off the tank and knocked over the ladder. Charlie sat on top of the tank, stranded. He was in a good mood. Then he went out back and got the fork lift stuck. He retained his good mood all the way through pulling it out of the mud with his trusty Nissan truck. He even laughed.

Other times, however, the disgust of This Place would rise up in other ways. As Charlie adjusted a filter nozzle, he yelled out for another employee and me to run to the back room and get him a better hammer. The lights flickered for a moment, like there was a very short power outage. We both paused to look up. Charlie barely noticed the lights and shook the hammer in his hand. We went into the back room looking for another one, and Charlie whipped his claw hammer across the room. It bounced off a corner and knocked over a pitcher of cleaning chemicals. Two weeks later, he asked what that dent on the wall was from. We both stared at him.

Conversation with Charlie followed a similar pattern that was unpredictable by the day. When I mentioned I should’ve been working earlier, he told me that that’d be a waste of time, and college was the best time of his life. You should at least enjoy things as long as you can and enjoy life, he said. I disagreed with him, but his resentment would make him hard to argue with. Luckily, he was planning to start a brewery on the existing winery, which would be a good idea since he might even be able to avoid This Place by building something new. Hopefully, if that ever happens he would find some joy in what he’s doing. I left before that vision could come to fruition.

On my last day, I was cleaning out a large, walk in refrigerator with someone else that worked there. We talked about his interest in parkour (or freerunning) and music, and my interest in backpacking and music. He mentioned that he should get back into parkour, since he was surprised at himself for how long he gave it up, considering how much he enjoyed it. I asked him “Hey, do you ever find it difficult to do anything when you go home? Like when you get home you could just stare at a wall and think about how strange what happens here is, even if it seems  really mundane most of the time?” He laughed and said yes.

I’m not sure if Charlie felt the same way, but it made me see him in a more sympathetic light. I thought of him coming into work to count the wine cases for inventory since no one else wanted to do it and it was fairly important. The count was always a little off, no matter what.  

Angler Fish

Meredith watched the plastic compass melt in the fire while the others called her a heretical thief. She threw in the towel to keep her rags, dropped the bag, left the day for another second rate bait to call her back and cut her in half. Meredith’s mother took her by the shoulder “don’t worry, we can forget about all of this.” Meredith dropped her shovel, picked the plow for an uncertain sentence with only one full-stop in Neverland.  The thought wouldn’t last long as the Angler Fish dangles another treasure in front of her to dig up and throw out to them all. The truth will call her back and trap her down.


Ernest: The Beginning

Ernest fumbled with a cigarette before sliding it into his lips and lighting it. The alley around him was cold and stereotypical of what an alley should be in a city, and he shuffled through it shivering with his cigarette dangling out of his mouth. He took a heavy draw off of it as he ducked into a near faceless brick building with a single door. The whole room had a feeling of a small time punk rock venue and the classic idea of a jazz club, it was packed with people looking in the vague direction of the stage, mostly unmoving.
The crowd glanced at their phones, occasionally nodding at the musicians. The smell of cigarette smoke and pretension filled the air as Ernest pushed his way through the crowd. A few people here and there recognized him, but he ignored them as the band finished their set and started packing up their gear. Every now and then when Ernie brushed by someone, he’d steal something off them as their eyes wandered around waiting for the next band to come on.
Anything that wasn’t tied down was a possible victim to Ernest’s hands. After working his way towards the back of the stage, he picked up one of the guitars at the side of the stage, and tried to look the part as he walked up in front of the crowd and off the other side of the stage, like a guitar player going to talk to the sound guy, he shuffled out the door. As he was leaving Ernest brushed by a girl who stared him in the eye. He muttered about the weight of songwriting and the pain of ripping something out of your body to hand without apology to the unappreciative masses, to mock and fit in simultaneously. She ignored him.

Surgical Master

Reciting memories in reverie, surgical master with a straight razor reiterates realities lost in the mother country. His scissors snip and snap with reckless precision for the Italian immigration decision, resulting in a barber shop. His grand children toboggan to school in the great Alaskan relocation snow revolution while he ignores Anderson Cooper for his own political extrapolation.