Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Listening To A Sub-Par Record With A Human Door Mat

The truth is that I could relate to Eddie a lot more than I cared to admit.  For starters, we were both held back in 6th grade together; which is to say we had both endured the single most awful thing a grade school kid could think of. Although I'd later see being in this younger class as a gift, it was never anything but awkward for Eddie.  He was scared of everything and everyone.  As a result, he would never disagree with anyone and would do whatever it took to stay in someone's good graces.  His opinion was no opinion.  A conversation in our junior high group of friends might go something like:
Matt:  Hey Eddie - listen to this:  "Slip It In" by Black Flag.  What do you think?
Eddie:  Well - what do you think?
Matt:  I think it rules and I think I get a stiffy every time I listen to it.
Eddie:  God, now that you mention it, I'm getting one too.
Matt:  I was just kidding about the stiffy part.
Eddie:  Oh - me too.  You thought you got me, didn't you?  Anyways, great tune.
I never wanted to risk not being accepted by the crowd, but the truth that liberated me decades later - that I was never in any fucking crowd in the first place and never would be and that "the crowd" was a big waste of time anyways - was nowhere on the horizon. I found myself placating friends with half truths and unobtrusive opinions, just like Eddie.  Eddie was way worse, but I couldn't help but sympathize with him.

Eddie's world was kinda messed up.  He was a very gifted singer called upon frequently to sing wedding masses, funerals masses, or musicals.  He was called regularly by local orchestras when they needed a young lad to sing classical music.  He had an opportunity to study in Vienna for a summer when we were in 8th grade - nixed by his mom.  His mom was an overbearing racist windbag who had this really lame Dave Berry rip off opinion column in the local paper.  Although I don't recall her saying anything overtly racist, you didn't have to be around her long to see where Eddie got his fear of the world from.  Once when I spent the night, she grounded Eddie for not locking his doors/rolling up his windows fast enough when we drove through the "black neighborhoods" in town.  I once watched a Redskins/Giants football game with Eddie's mom's family and it elicited all kinds of racist commentary, to which she laughed up uproariously.

That was kind of the tip of the ice berg for Eddie's pinched/repressive world.  His older brother was good looking and popular; Eddie was vanilla and tubby.  His obnoxious younger brother could kick Eddie's ass.  His henpecked dad was a mechanic who chain smoked Winston Lights and always had this look of defeat on his face.  He usually retired to the TV or hid away in the garage, coming in only for meals.

So when I went over to Eddie's house for overnights (which I did with great regularity), I tried to be as kind to him as possible.  I saw him as a good dude that the world walked all over.  And honestly, he was the only guy who would do whatever he could to placate me - steal cigarettes from the drug store he worked at or smoke in the house after his parents went to bed, for example - so yeah, I kind of used him.  But I'd be lying if I said I didn't cherish those overnights for the companionship.

Of course, they centered on playing records and mix tapes until all hours of the morning in his bedroom.  Our conversations meandered from hot girls in our school to teachers we hated to how fucked up Reagan was (okay, the last one was only me).  The music seemed to follow the ebb and flow and sometimes even the subject matter  of the conversation.  From the Who ("Tommy") to Tears for Fears to Dire Straits ("Brothers in Arms") and the Angry Samoans (I couldn't get enough of "Hot Cars").  Some nights we were swilling stolen gin that was camouflaged in a brown bottle of prescription mouthwash I had to use.  If we were really lucky, we were sipping gin and pawing smutty magazines while the Replacements played.  I don't think Eddie liked any of the stuff I brought over because he never recorded it and he never bought it. But of course, he never said anything about it.

I do remember him taking a real liking to one record I brought over:  Frank Zappa's "You Are What You Is".  He thought it was the funniest thing he'd ever heard.  He loved it because it was totally outlandish.  He couldn't believe the things that ol' Frank was singing.  He immediately ripped, er, copied the entire double LP to a couple of cassettes.  I was to find out later he listened to it pretty heavily for at least a couple days.

I didn't notice the kitchen phone ringing two nights later; I didn't notice that my mom had stopped cooking dinner to talk for a bit to the person on the other end.  When she came into the living room - where I was listening to "You Are What You Is" on very low volume - she informed me in a very matter-of-fact manner that "that was Eddie's mom".   Eddie's mom was furious that I had brought that record into her home and she wondered if my mom knew what I was listening to.  It was filth - about sex or drugs or the Bible or whatever; mercifully, my mom didn't expand.  She just thrust out her hand and said, "Let me see it."  Worried about the outcome, I gingerly handed over the LP.  She looked at both covers, then read the lyrics on the record sleeves.  She shook her head.  "You know this is garbage, right?"

I'd like to say I launched into an impassioned defense of art, of expression, of ideas; but the truth is that I sputtered out something to the effect of "I'm not an idiot, I don't take that stuff seriously and it doesn't influence my behavior".  I was bracing for the worst.  My parents didn't believe in grounding as an effective means of punishment, so they'd have to concoct something more devastating.  I awaited my sentence for my offensive music and for back talking.

And mom turned out of the living room and went back to dinner.  That was it.  Nothing happened.  I'm not even sure she brought it up to my dad.

It never came up again until I was an adult.  In addition to not thinking too much of Ed's mom (she tuned her out for the most part on the phone), she saw my behavior and knew any mischief I was getting into was, in the over all scheme of things, pretty harmless.  She knew any psychological problems I had were rooted much deeper than one of Zappa's weaker records.  My mom is smart like that.

As for Eddie - he was grounded.  Probably still is.  I was not to spend the night over there as much after that.  I'm pretty sure that was a direct result of me introducing "harmful" material into Eddie's house. Eddie got his driver's license before I did, so we still palled around from time to time; just not at his house.   We usually went bowling or to the movies.  It almost always involved smoking ciggies (though Eddie didn't smoke.)  It was still fun, but Eddie never showed any interest in anything I listened to again.

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