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JOSH B. - REPORTING FROM CHICAGO IL

    
 

Our guest is (was) Josh B., a music enthusiast who spends most of his time scouring the many nooks and crannies of Chicago in search of vintage documents from the American music underground. He currently lives with his two cats, and works in an office. He can occasionally be strong-armed into writing things for the enjoyment of others. Send him an email. He loves that.

(also see: 2002's posts, 2001's posts)

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WEDNESDAY, MARCH 24 2004

:: GOODBYE BLOG ::

Writing this has proved tougher than I thought it would be, which might go far in explaining the extremely untimely manner in which this is being composed and delivered. Even though I could sense the end growing nearer with each post-less day, I just didn’t think it would be so difficult to confront when the time actually came. In many ways, this moment is nothing different than any other night of writing for me: home alone, sitting at a borrowed computer, searching for a suitable ending to a story that, in many ways, has really yet to begin.

When I was first asked to write for TNI Books over two years ago, it was a startling proposition that bordered on the surreal. I was not what anyone would have called an experienced or conventional writer and, to be honest, I probably wasn’t someone that even those closest to me would have referred to as a “writer” at all. But almost from the outset, this site became something of a signifier for me. And through this medium, I managed to open several doors that would have never otherwise been available to me. I have not only conversed with numerous people around the country, but have formed actual personal relationships as a result of this offering. Unfortunately, much of this happened to coincide with one of the more vulnerable junctures of my life to date, causing some of those more personal relationships to be destroyed by the turning of these very same words against themselves.

Although it was never my intention to use this spot as a vehicle to portray myself as someone I am not, I see now how an element of confusion can unknowingly creep up through the floorboards. Writers embellish, often saying the things they only wish they could say, operating in situations they only wish they could make a reality. But even so, this is probably the purest form of me that exists anywhere outside of my own body. The image others hold of me in their minds is barely a fraction of the whole, but one I have learned to accept for better or for worse. Only somewhere in-between those two worlds lay the truth. The sweetest of words are laced with the bitter taste of deceit; the most genuine of actions rooted so firmly in fraud. Writing is a human endeavor of the highest order, and one capable of crushing the foundation of those with the best intentions.

And as much as I’d like to close this by typing up some sort of storybook ending for this tale, there just isn’t one to tack on. I’m sitting in the same apartment, staring out the same window, feeling all the same things I did two years ago. Of course, that’s not to say I haven’t learned or gained anything from this experience, because it has been amazing in a lot of ways. It’s just that I see myself struggling all the way up to the last word with the same demon that brought me to the dance: the inability to let go.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank anyone that ever took a moment out of their day to read my writing, and especially Adam for giving me the opportunity and encouragement to do this at all.

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MONDAY, OCTOBER 20 2003

:: SUMMER ::

There's an overused expression in sports that aptly simplifies the merging elements of probability and competitive spirit, stating the obvious in such a way that even the dimmest bulb could begin to see through the darkness with their own impotent flicker: this is why the game is played on the field, and not on paper.

Things have had a relatively static taste since the beginning of the year, and while I had been wholly optimistic about the possibilities of another summer in Chicago, it has instead seen my world tilted at an unexpected and slightly juvenile angle.

I entered the summer months looking for potential progress to manifest itself donning a long robe of maturity, lighting the cryptic tunnel of a life entering the final year spent in its twenties with wisdom and legendary insight. Growing older has long been thought to be locked-in with growing wiser, but it looks now like I am the exception to the rule. Of course, this is not to say I've stooped to the depths of the impetuous or idiotic; more that a dense cloud of regression has slipped under the door and begun to pollute my room.

If I had put my life plan into an envelope and sealed it five years ago, it would provide a startling read today. I can see myself, shaken by laughter and utter remorse as I crawl further away from things I marked as locks. Instead of joining another person's family, I joined a band. Instead of opening a bank account, I opened several hundred packs of baseball cards. Instead of planning on going to bed at a reasonable hour during the week, I plotted how to find time to sleep between commitments whimsically agreed to.

The unforeseen injection of youth and alcohol had left me in situations I previously hadn’t the courage to dream up. Wildly slapping hands and carousing with an elderly, mustached woman while watching a baseball team from Chicago play themselves into a World Series was a great and unexpected experience. As was the TV watching party that ended up taking me across state-lines and into a casino, where I was promptly fleeced by ever-addictive slot machines.

The most beautiful part is that the most incredibly bizarre and stimulating summer of my life seems primed to carry itself over into the fall and beyond. It's not only been responsible for completely obliterating who I thought myself to be, but more importantly reinventing what I feel capable of squeezing out of the next 29 years.

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FRIDAY, OCTOBER 10 2003

:: JOSH WILL BE RIGHT WITH YOU ::

[note from editor]: It's been quiet here at "The Blackout". Josh has made extensive promises that he is fully revived, big chested, and ready to entertain you with hot whit, deft mental power, and deep sorrow. Please: encourage him.

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WEDNESDAY, JULY 30 2003

:: OLD BEDROOM ::

Originally I intended to write this piece at my mother's house amongst the bright pink ruins of what was at one time my adolescent bedroom. I felt that being back between the A-frame walls that saw the genesis of nearly every bad move and regrettable teenage pulse that ran through my developing body would help me gain some insight to the man I am reluctantly becoming, and hopefully steer me clear of future personal disasters. But ultimately, it proved to be more of a distraction than anything otherwise beneficial.

My old bedroom is now my mother's computer room, and it's been that way for some time. Gone are the pictures of marginal '80s baseball players and pseudo-heavy rock bands that proudly adorned those teenage walls, as they have been cruelly tossed aside in favor of numerous wooden geese and a variety of stuffed animals wearing overalls and bifocals. Even those smudged portions of the walls, blackened from years of resting my feet on them while talking on the telephone, have been erased by thick coats of pastel-colored slop - all of which served to grind my mind down into a delicate dust.

A teenage boy's room is a lot of things, but at the base, it's an incubator of perversion and misguided thought. I certainly suffered through extended stints of both as I made each additionally awkward step towards manhood, but now every shred of its fleeting existence seems lost forever. And maybe that's why being at home always cripples me with depression. Each trip back finds me feeling a little more out of place than the time before, wondering what, if any of it, was actually real.

Where you're from, no one cares who you are because they remember who you were. No one is interested in updating files, or taking the time to know the real you because they already know all the answers. To them, you will forever be the kid with an untucked, vertical-striped button-up and frizzy hair that was friends with that one guy with the cool tattoo. Resistance is futile in the sphere of nostalgia, and any attempts to rebuff the past are not only foolish, but also a waste of time.

But ten years is a long time, and it seems that I've begun to lose touch with that frizzy-haired kid over the years. So in a potentially vain attempt to get reacquainted with him, I started digging through my mother's storage area to see what I could find - for better or worse. The results were mixed at best…

Initially I came across a smattering of suspiciously titled mix-tapes, some of which were sexually suggestive. One cassette, in fact, not only declared that I was a "hottie," but was made up of both a "Side 17" and "Side 21." Not good things to be slowly rediscovering with your mother less than three feet away, but definitely not the worst thing to be reminded of during the course of an average day. But this day was shaping up to be anything but average.

I'll freely admit that I was starting to feel like something along the lines of a smooth R & B man, but that feeling didn't get a chance to advance past the starter's gate, as my hands soon froze on a decrepit Mead notebook that seemed vaguely familiar.

The outside was covered in cryptic phrases that seemed to warn potential thought-bandits to stay as far back as possible.

"Brains and a bat," snarled the notebook. "Tragic flaw."

I waited until my mother left the room, and then began to slowly open the notebook as if handling the sacred parchments of a lost medieval culture.

I was greeted by page after page of virginal canvass, apparently left completely untouched through the years, and just when it seemed that I was at an impasse in the search for my former self, I found a clue on the back of the notebook's very last page:

Consider
A sliver
Of sickeness
I've never felt more like you

My past was breathing the stale air of sour life, and unfortunately, it seems just as baffling as when I left it behind.

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WEDNESDAY, JULY 2 2003

:: LOV, MELISSA ::

It's not often you leave the gas station with a sense of having been touched on an emotional level, but then again, it's not often that you leave the gas station with a page from a child's journal in hand. But as it happens, tonight was such a night for me, and I feel compelled to share my findings with you. The author seemed to want it that way…

12-17-03

Today in school they said that tearists where threatening us. I'm just writing for just in case I go to heaven. Because they might do something like throw a bome. Becouse they said if we don't give them what they whant. And I'm scared. I hope nothing happens becouse they will pay the conciquestions.

So if enybody reads this I hope they'll be Ok couse the bom could be so big that the world could end. It could happen if you'r sleeping if you'r eating or you'r going to school or work. So if enyone reads this I say congrajulations you stayed alive. God bleas you for the reast of your life.

Lov,
Melissa

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WEDNESDAY, JUNE 25 2003

:: ASTRAL WEEKS ::

The weeks leading up to my most recent vacation were what those closest to me likely viewed as skewed and naïve; a catastrophe in waiting, with a gestation period roughly equivalent to the duration of a flight from Chicago to New York. But as it seems is my lot in life, people often aren't willing to give me the benefit of the doubt; no credit earned through a lifetime of missteps and baffling failures that would rank high among even the most horrific collapses in the history of team sports. To be fair, however, a trip to visit the woman you lived with for three years can be a tough subject to broach with those who care about your mental well being. When you've stood at the helm of similar vessels in the past, you develop the ability to guide yourself through the treacherous waters of inter-personal debacles with the cunning of an Old World explorer. You know it's your game to lose if you choose to do so, and like so many times before, I did so choose on this occasion.

For days I fluttered around the office in an ecstatic mist of nervous energy, not knowing if this vacation was a harbinger of the end of my days as a Chicago resident, or merely the trip-wire of a deep and hopelessly dark summer waiting in the wings. Words caromed off my head like stones, as I wandered in and out of what could best be described as a trance-like state. Preoccupied would have been a gross understatement, and every facet of life was now beginning to show signs of significant wear.

Unknown to most, obsession can actually stem from ringing clarity; the identification of a desire so base and focused, that you find yourself lost in its simplicity, wondering how you could have possibly ignored it for so long. But to stand up and call it to the front of the line is an intensely brave thing, and an act I've yet to master in my 28 years on this planet. And so, I found myself in line at the airport terminal, with fear once again poised to be my traveling companion.

I drifted in and out of a Dramamine induced slumber while waiting to board, but after being permanently jolted awake be a careless codger with wandering arms, I decided to crack open the book I had brought in the case of an emergency, Lester Bangs' Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung.

Being a collection of what is regarded as rock critic Bangs' best work, I took special advantage of the fact that I had already spent many an evening thumbing through it, and went straight for a few of my favorite parts. Typically my first stop is to revisit his ad hoc list of the most unlistenable recordings ever made, only to work my way back towards the beginning of the book to re-read his thoughts on a group which, although significant, basically amounts to a footnote of '60s rock, The Godz. On the way, however, I stumbled across two words at the top of a page that had recently begun to mean something to me, although I couldn't recall ever seeing them in this book before: "Astral Weeks."

The fact that Astral Weeks is an early, critically acclaimed effort from
Van Morrison might go far in explaining my initial apprehensions about the
record.. I had spent a notch just below maximum effort in recent years trying to avoid Morrison's overconfident croon, and had even more recently included no less than two of his hit singles on my list of songs I yearn to see banished from the airwaves for all eternity. But in spite of all that, there's just something about Astral Weeks that makes me really want to become a fan.

Astral Weeks had offered itself to me at every bleak juncture of my adult-life, and it had never made sense to me one any level. It appeared nothing more than a blur of acoustic instruments and loose ideas; a typhoon of feelings betrayed by the very sound it manifests. For all its reputation as a monstrously tangled & depressed masterwork, I just wasn't buying it. That is, until a truly inspired passage from Bangs' article on the very subject shed the light necessary to see through the cluttered forest of emotion, and into my own longing to understand.

"What Astral Weeks deals in are not facts but truths. Astral Weeks, insofar as it can be pinned down, is a record about people stunned by life, completely overwhelmed, stalled in their skins, their ages and selves, paralyzed by the enormity of what in one moment of vision they can comprehend. It is a precious and terrible gift, born of a terrible truth, because what they see is both infinitely beautiful and terminally horrifying: the unlimited human ability to create or destroy, according to whim."

Misery is a strange and mysteriously unifying force, with the unique ability to draw folks from all walks of life into its dead pool. How we choose to disguise that misery, however, is not so easily predicted. Differences that had once seemed worlds apart now looked as varying shades of gray. Some sing, some dance, while others merely hop on a plane with the intent of having a showdown with the unknown. But differences aside, we are all running from something.

And as much as I wanted to believe that I would bravely face my feelings this time around, be honest about what I wanted, I managed to fall flat once again. The emotional outpouring I had hoped for ultimately gave way to a physical one, as I wound down my last night of a three-day trip wasted, dry heaving into a trash can somewhere on the streets of Brooklyn.

I awoke the next morning in a daze, doing my best to chip specks of dried vomit from my glasses while retracing the lost steps of the night before.

"You were an extremely stressful party guest last night," she said with a slight smile. "Bleeding, vomiting, talking people's ears off. I lived with you for three years and I never saw you act like that. Is something wrong?"

"No, I just miscalculated my intake. Too much too fast; you know I don't drink much."

"Are you sure? It just seems like something's bothering you."

I paused for a moment, forced to contemplate an opening before me.

"It's just… well, I feel like a ghost when I'm with you. Like it doesn't matter what I do, because none of it matters in the end. I have to go home tomorrow and nothing's going to change that."

"Well, things are different now," she said while closing her bedroom door. "You know we don't live together anymore."

"Yeah, I know. It's just… I don't know. I'm just tired, that's all."

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MONDAY, JUNE 2 2003

:: THE FAILURE ::

(editor's note: Aside from and probably even including all his fears, Josh B. is the real deal one of a kind. If you've got more than two quarters in your pocket, and you wanna shout AMEN you should write to him and tell him that you're here)

Historically, this is around the time I'd write here acknowledging my elongated and inexcusable absence from posting to the site, only to couple it with a half-hearted promise to make things different from now on. But that just doesn't seem right. Nearly a month has passed since my last post, and I'm feeling no remorse; in fact, I'm not feeling much of anything at all.

A simple case of the tank being out of gas, and not having the energy or interest in scraping resin from the internal pipes. It seems I've gone to that well one too many times already, as it's below bone dry. Now, does all of this add up to my demise as a writer and your melancholic TNI informant? No, but it certainly has put the whole thing in jeopardy. This is easily one of the toughest times I've faced since I embarked on this trip roughly a year and a half ago, and I'm not quite sure which way to turn.

Sometime around mid-March I put myself on probation, vowing to resign from my position as TNI's guest writer if I didn't reach the very reasonable number of posts I set for myself. Possibly I should have let this whole thing mercilessly crawl off to die right then and there, but I'm a glutton for punishment; a slave to a promise I not only made to you, but also to myself.

Now, before these words begin to sound even more eerily reminiscent of a really lame break-up letter, I must digress. In spite of all my endless complaining, life has actually been pretty good this year, and I don't see signs of it letting up. Not only have I been more socially active than at any other point in my entire life, but I've also begun to find my stand-by impulse to stay at home and pine somewhat repugnant. The irony, however, would seem to lie in the fact that the more active I am, the less I find I have to write about. Possibly it's nothing more than an indictment of me succumbing to activities I've always considered to be rather pedestrian, or maybe it's merely something as benign as the weather. In either event, I can literally make up hundreds of reasons why I've been stuck in Off-Mode for the past couple of months, but they would all be posturing for the sake of saving face; something between a dripping lie and an admission of complete failure.

The fact is, my expectations of myself changed entirely the moment I openly used the term "writer" to describe this portion of my life activities. No longer was I the scrappy, literary underdog fighting the good fight; I was an untrained rogue attempting to masquerade in a world that I know nothing about, praying to ascend to the next level with the ease of which I took to Phase 1. But I know now that getting on requires a dedication that I've rarely displayed in life, and I'm beginning to wonder if I have it in me to turn that corner.

Of course, if I had the answers to questions like that, I'd be in a luxury suite swimming in pools of cash won at the race track, courting every willing female in the county - which is beside the point. What's really being called into question here is my willingness to actually try. To have the nerve to stand up, kick over the table, and spit in my own face if I say or think anything to the contrary. My lack of assertion is a demon I've been unable to exorcise, and one that I've allowed to eat away at every facet of my life for much too long. And while I won't profess this public catharsis to be a sign of me finally getting my act together, it is a start, which is something I haven't allowed myself to have in a very long time.

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FRIDAY, MAY 7 2003

:: DISCERNING CUSTOMER ::

Having logged close to five years behind the counters of various Midwestern record stores, one thing stands out as an absolute constant: the customers are completely insane. Wannabes, penniless degenerates & taste-impaired buffoons are merely bright swatches in a wildly numbing spectrum that at its worst, has you blindly feeling under the counter for a blunt object to turn on yourself and others. While ambiguous threats of violence and false claims of rabid genius do nothing to loosen the clenched hand of failure growing ever tighter around your throat, you do manage to take solace in the fact that it's only for eight hours a day. And generally by the end of an average day on the job, one can only wonder why anyone (me) would willingly submerge himself into a world of such diverse horror. Even getting the first crack at the rarest records sliding across the counter doesn't quite seem to be worth the mental welts caused by months of racial tension and the unfounded accusations that accompanied a majority of my days spent operating in that realm. But every time I was ten paces beyond the end of my rope and ready to hang up the gloves for good, I'd find myself hypnotized, starring deep into the optical center of the beautiful canvass of comedy, and breathing the fresh air of optimism once again.

For every great deal I've come across in a record store, I have at least two first-hand accounts of a stupidity so ambitious and damning, that it hardly seems right to have ever complained at all. The uncharted waters of idiocy found in record stores run to abyss-like depths, leaving the lungs of common sense flooded, attempts to rise up giving any living organism the bends. No one on either side of the divide is immune from this embarrassing plague, and the only hope for sanity is to remove yourself from the equation altogether, which to some extent I've managed to do.

But even after spending the past three years living on the customer's side of the counter, no longer employed by these stores, the comedy is still my favorite part of the game. And that very same, sick pounding of the drum is what keeps me coming back for more.

I was fortunate enough to happen upon the following conversation already in progress at the local CD shop while on my lunch break yesterday. When I walked through the door, a middle-aged male customer was leaning up against a rickety glass counter, inquiring to the owner about the availability of a brand new release.

Owner: Well, it looks like we only have it on CD right now. Are you sure you don't want it?

Customer: Yeah, like I said, I'm strictly dedicated to cassettes. I'm not going to let myself fall into the CD trap just yet…

Owner: You know they aren't really making everything on cassette anymore, so who knows if it will even come out. The CD isn't really that bad an option, you know?

Customer: I don't know… You know they just don't sound as good. Cassettes really are superior in sound quality.

Owner: Uh, maybe they are… I guess everyone's entitled to their own opinion, huh?

Customer: Just wait, you'll see what I'm talking about. Some scientist will come out in a few years and reveal that the cassette is truly superior, and that CDs are totally worthless. I mean think about it. Cassettes have a more natural movement: back and forth, side to side - it's scientific! And cassettes will last longer, too. Just wait until some of these CDs get to be ten years old. Then you'll see how great they are…

Owner: (looking rather perplexed) I don't know, man. Cassettes really don't last as long as you think.

Customer: But the sound quality is so superior! For my money, there's nothing I'd rather have playing in my $300 car stereo than a cassette. You can feel all the levels. It's not like a CD!

Owner: Well you know, a lot of people still prefer vinyl over CDs…

Customer: HAH! Talk about a dead format! Vinyl is truly dead! It has no future at all… those records wear out in no time!

Owner: I have records that are over 40 years old that still sound brand new.

Customer: I don't know… pretty soon there won't be anything left to play them on. Then what?

Owner: I guess it will be like VHS or laser discs. Most things are moving towards digital anyway, so who knows? Soon you may not even be able to watch TV if you don't have a plasma or digital screen…

Customer: Please! I won't even watch TV if it's not on my small black and white! There's really no beating that quality…

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FRIDAY, APRIL 4 2003

:: THE RUBBER CHICKEN RETURNS ::

Growing up, I didn't think of myself as the kind of kid who would willingly attend social functions as markedly dubious as Nintendo conventions. But as my body lengthened, and my hormones waged in a civil war over my true best interests, I discovered that going anywhere out of my parents' immediate reach was well more than capable of short-circuiting my motherboard and reprogramming what had previously been known as its 'better judgment'. In fact, the urge became so strong, that my best friend and I often found ourselves voluntarily cramming our undeveloped beings into the back of a maroon, geriatric four-door owned by a kid known to most around town as the Rubber Chicken. The destinations were irrelevant, as our hunger for any view of the outside world had no bounds. One such collapse in logic found us downtown, grinding against the grain on a one-way street, as the Chicken struggled to find a place to park near the convention.

Not surprisingly, the convention was a bust from the outset. I stumbled around in a freak-induced stupor for the better part of an hour in search of anything to lose myself in, trying my best not to squash young video game enthusiasts in the process. Around every corner dangled wildly oversized video monitors manned by two or three rather unfortunate middle-aged men whose ecstatic barrage of encouragement shook the hall with the force of a sonic boom. As compelling as supernaturally high scores and hidden levels can be for some, it was a force I managed to withstand with relative ease. Video games were at the most a tertiary interest for me, and watching other kids physically fight it out for soon-to-be outdated game cartridge giveaways was borderline numbing. But the promise of cutting-edge prizes will always be capable of shattering the foundation of a child's mind - not to mention conjuring up their beast within.

The crowd was already swelling with anticipation as the competition began to flicker, signaling a conclusion was rapidly approaching. An eerie calm had gripped every child present, when one of the unfortunate men unexpectedly grabbed an idle megaphone and made a horrifying announcement.

"All right kids! It's not over - not by a long shot! There's much more where that came from... Free cartridges on the back table for the first 20 kids!"

Knowing what was about to happen next, I turned in a vain attempt to get out of the way. The voices of over a dozen fretting mothers rang out in unison with the full Christian names of their obliviously darting children, as a hot wave of panic raced through me. Almost immediately I found myself being swallowed by a gaming land rush, and before I could even process the situation at hand, I found myself cowering behind a stand-up video game module, feverishly scanning the crown for the exit.

After twenty minutes in hiding, I mustered up enough courage and made a desperate charge back into the fray in the hopes of finding my friend and making a quick escape. Luckily, I spotted him almost immediately, sitting in a remote corner of the hall, engaged in deep video game warfare with a nauseatingly pale fellow in a wheelchair. Paraplegic is, I suppose, the preferred term for this young gent's condition, but I was too busy grappling with the brutal reality of his enormous head to see anything in that sort of light.

By the time I produced a folding chair and pulled up to the table beside them, my friend was beating the wheelchaired kid rather soundly at a game of computer basketball. Much to the chagrin of our young paraplegic, each passing second was stretching the scores further apart. But it turns out my friend's score wasn't the only thing rising at an alarming rate.

It seems our paraplegic was secretly packing quite a temper, and was anything but bashful when it came to letting us know how he really felt about the beating at hand. The blinding streams of absurdity originating from the thin-lipped gorge on the lower part of his bulbous head were already approaching the stuff of legend, but when he sensed that I was choking back an unhealthy chunk of laughter, he lost sight of himself and his surroundings altogether.

"You fucking asshole!" he shrieked while violently ramming my legs with his wheelchair. "I'm going to kick your fucking ass!"

Normally a proposition as unique and dangerously morbid as an invitation to brawl with a person confined to a wheelchair would have at the very least caused me to pause and consider the possibilities, but at this exact moment, his ire was generating anything but rage inside me.

"Come on man, relax!" I said with a ballooning laugh, "It's cool…"

"Fuck YOU! I'm going to fucking KILL you!"

Somewhere between the repeated blows being thrust upon my legs and the primal flail of his marionette hands desperate to reach my face, I fell to the floor, struck down with a furious bout of laughter.

His rage had backfired on him, forging a damaged and intensely flammable concoction that had me on the brink of physical ecstasy, and him on the verge of implosion. The level of his humiliation deepened, and he become more focused on ending me. The repeated ramming soon gave way to a pathetic attempt to roll his wheelchair over my torso, while the steady stream of profanities that set the episode into motion now bordered on complete nonsense - and it was not going unnoticed.

A perplexed hush began to wash over portions of the crowd with the gradual persistence of a tide. Our queer battle seemingly gaining the attention of one person at a time as sounds of the commotion crept across the hall. But outside of numerous confused glances, no one made a move.

Knowing that there was no escaping the ludicrous jag I'd fallen into, my friend grabbed me by the arm, and started dragging me towards the door.

"You're dead!" the paraplegic cried unequivocally in the distance, "I will find you!"

When we finally made it to the door, our half-friend the Chicken was pacing nervously, with a horrified look etched on his face.

"I'm starting to wonder why the hell I take you guys anywhere," he said while ushering us through the doors. "You're just lucky I like you."

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TUESDAY, MARCH 10 2003

:: BANDS WITH MANAGERS ARE GOING PLACES ::

Out of all the shards and morsels that comprise an average day in my life, easily the one I take the most for granted is the insanely close proximity of the office I work in to the all-purpose entertainment hall known as The Vic.

At its least interesting, The Vic provides the safety net necessary to catch those of us who have been free falling through life without having shelled out to see the year's second and third rate "major" motion pictures. But at its best, it's an untapped mine of comedy, and one that has unsuspecting rockers from across the globe standing in as drones, unwittingly showing their respective asses in the endless search for new nadirs of excess.

And with an approximate capacity of 1000, it generally stands for one of two things to your typical touring band: a springboard that will vault you and yours into national prominence or the clearing just wide enough for you and your stone-washed mates to crawl off and expel one final musical gasp.

My personal preferences tend to lean towards the latter, and luckily, I've been fortunate enough to witness the public folly of more than a few shell-shocked former stars whose descent into said clearing has been more than just a little tough for them to swallow. It's kind of hard to pick a favorite moment, but invariably the one that always seems to spring to mind first is the lead singer of Tesla spotted by our receptionist in the throes of a tantrum on the sidewalk in front of the club. The trigger: having to carry his own bags through the front doors.

All in all, a classic boner move, and one firmly rooted in the left-over delusions born out of Tesla's moderate success in the early '90s, all of which is something I can at least understand. Many of these people had a very good thing once, and as I'm sure we can all attest, it's excruciatingly painful to watch a good thing you call your own disintegrate before your very eyes. And I think that might be the very reason I find these newcomers even more ridiculous than their predecessors.

To be a pompous fuck when you've at least caught a whiff of the mountaintop is one thing, but to don the robe of King Shit because you've knelt and made a misguided commitment at the alter of rock 'n roll at all is both disturbing and terribly sad. I can think of nothing that wholly embodies that ideal more than a fragment of a conversation I overheard on the way to the corner drug store last week.

The Sno-Core rock "festival" (which I'm told used to be marginally bigger than its current incarnation) had rolled into town with the preternatural force of a snowflake, leaving the street in front of the club littered with various members of these weak musical units. I generally try not to make eye contact with any of them on my way by, as their bulbous egos tend to mistake any common human function in their vicinity as a gesture of admiration for not only them, but their trade as well. The suffocating wombs of their tour buses rise from the asphalt like monuments molded in the image of their importance, but in actuality seem to accomplish little more than further insulate the crumbling idea of their importance - which would on some level explain the newborn-like daze that accompanies each step that takes them further from the bus.

But just as it seemed redemption of any sort had escaped them all, I passed an irate rocker bickering with his manager on a cell phone, who managed to sum everything up in a way only one of his kind truly could:

"OKAY dude, I totally understand that. But what you need to understand is that every night it's my job to be a drunken asshole…"

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TUESDAY, MARCH 10 2003

:: SOLE SEARCHING ::

What started out as a simple trip with my mother to look at tennis shoes last weekend unexpectedly turned into an experience so taxing, that I've been locked in a harsh funk for the past 6 days; the results of a complete mental audit still pending.

It all looked so brilliant on paper: get in the car, run over to the mall, buy a pair of shoes, come home. But as always, there are certain variables that accompany any equation involving yours truly, most of which instantly elevate the proverbial molehill into a mountain of inadequacy and offensively finicky outbursts.

"All I want is a fucking shoe!" I barked while riffling through a hopeless mound of cross-trainers and extraterrestrial-looking basketball attire. "A fucking shoe… do you know what I mean?"

"What are you talking about?" quipped my mom, looking embarrassed and slightly exasperated, "There must be a blue million pairs to choose from here - what exactly are you looking for?"

"A fucking shoe! All I want is a normal shoe with a regular sole. Where do they keep those?"

"Everything all right here? Can I help you guys find anything?" asked a nervous sounding clerk, doing his best to intervene before the threat of a foot-crazy rampage became a reality on his watch.

"Yeah, a shoe."

"Well, we've got plenty of those, sir," remarked the clerk triumphantly, thinking he'd managed to diffuse the bomb with humor, and without incident.

"Where? All I see are these multicolored slippers with a five-inch molding fused to the bottom… I'm looking for something along the lines of the old Bruce Jenners. Remember those?"

"Christ!" exclaimed my mom, "It's been so long since you've bought shoes like this that you've missed the boat altogether! This is what's happening now, not Bruce Jenner! You've got to become more modern!"

"Alright," I sighed with the perplexed whimper of a freshly beaten dog. While turning toward the clerk: "Just let me take another look through here on my own for a minute. I'm sure there must be something."

I dejectedly poked through the daunting aisles of shoes for the third, possibly even fourth time, feeling scorned by the brazen nature of my mother's claim. Even worse: the possibility that she may actually be right. But to step out of this haze of humiliation and into the present time would require a dangerous makeover, the likes of which have rarely been seen this side of Jenny Jones and the balance of her knuckle-scraping brethren. It would either transform me into the man my mom swears is lurking beneath this wretched beard and aging button-up, or open up a chasm in the time continuum so wide that the Earth as we know it is swallowed up inch-by-inch from the inside out. And while I'd normally be resigned to just lay heavy wood on the latter and go on with my day, I decided it best to use this moment to take a quick inventory of my current situation:

I collect vinyl albums released mainly in the 1960s & 1970s, drive a 1988 Oldsmobile Cutlass Sierra with a missing bumper, viciously ridicule cell phone devotees behind their backs, and stress out at the mere suggestion of upgrading my insanely antiquated computer.

Not exactly what I would classify as the "modern" life, and when you couple it all with my penchant towards mattress-stuffing instead of opening a proper bank account, I'm looking downright old-timey. And I'm beginning to feel that way, too.

At 28 I'm already showing tendencies of a man at least 40 years my senior, and my recent revelation that I I've lived a lifetime or so in the last ten years alone has done nothing but reinforce my crotchety ways. It seemed like a good time to stand up and give adulthood a shot. To take the Bull of Resistance by the horns, and knock his dick in the dirt once and for all.

"So what's it gonna be, Josh," said my mother, sneaking up on me. "These are about as plain as they get."

I hesitated for a moment, and then, remembering everything I'd just gone over in my head, made my final decision. "Fuck it," I said, placing the alien footware back in its box. "Let's just forget the whole thing…"

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SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 28 2003

:: WE DOORKNOBS ::

For the all the posturing and crowing we do about respecting each other, deep down we all know one another to be slack-jawed cretins who, at the very base, are totally incapable of successfully pulling off the most rudimentary of functions. And there's the steadily flaking notion that it's everyone else, alone, possessing this undeveloped trait, whereas you'vesomehow managed to rise above it all and buck the hex. Where all others have come and wallowed in miserable failure before you, you will most definitely rise up in triumph, laying their feeble minds to waste in the process.

Take, for example, a slowly unfolding situation here at work that's become so excruciating, I've considered stapling my walking papers to the hand of the next dope that walks past.

On the other side of my desk is a door that bridges the oil-and-vinegar worlds of our client service and computer tech departments. It's not a special door really, just you're typical rectangular slab of wood on hinges that provides the desired barrier between us business types and the alley-dwellers skulking out in the frigid air. But that's about it, really. It opens; it closes. It locks; it... doesn't unlock? Suddenly, a typically dull morning full of folks shaking off the effects of the night before and the sounds of chiming spoons had become a cavalcade of comedy and intrigue.

It seems no man can resist the urge to be the one to step up and pull the sword from the stone, and this situation was no exception. I was fortunate enough to be ringside as grown men, certain that they walk amongst fools, took turns straining on the knob of a broken door all in the hopes of being the one lucky enough to pry it open. And it wasn't until about midway through the day, after every able-bodied man in the office had had his crack at glory and the office was filled with a solid fog of defeat, that the building's superintendent materialized and took the door off its hinges and out to the dumpster.

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FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 6 2003

:: NOT SO SUPER ::

It was about a week ago that I had the wild misfortune of witnessing the Super Bowl demolition of a football team many considered to be The Complete Team in the National Football League, 2003 - the Oakland Raiders. A team so balanced, many figured they would not only be reclaiming their rightful place among football's all-time elite, but would proceed to spit down upon the league's more pedestrian squads from their lofty throne for the next few years to come.

Riding high off beatings administered in the first two rounds of the playoffs, the Raider Nation (as their legion of devotees are better known) was tasting it, and willing to die for a solid bite. Word has it Bay Area ex-patriots Metallica even dipped a finger in the pre-game bloodlust via an "impromptu" set in the parking lot of Oakland's fabled Coliseum. It seemed the stars had aligned in the form of an eye-patch, and everyone was beginning to reveal a hint of the silver and black veins they've been carrying a fraction of an inch below the surface of their skin. The eve of the Raider Nation's ascension was upon us, and the ensuing years promised to be nothing short of outlaw tailgating and debauchery to the highest power.

But that's why they play the game on the field, and not on paper.

It's rare in this day and age to catch an old fashioned public execution in its full, graphic splendor, but that's essentially the hand the Nation was dealt a few Sundays ago in front of the entire world, as they were soundly bludgeoned by perennial league laughing stock, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Now, did anyone ever see an ambush of this magnitude coming? Sure. In fact, I was one of those who remembered a similar Super Bowl match-up from a couple of years ago that saw a vicious Baltimore Ravens defense devour a shell-shocked New York Giants team, leaving only the brittle carcass of a loser in their wake. And while Tampa Bay's vaunted defense may be a hard-on short of being mentioned in the same breath as those same Baltimore Ravens or a legendary team like the 1985 Chicago Bears, I knew it would be enough to decimate an aging squad like the Raiders. In short, I predicted Tampa Bay in a romp of epic proportions, and laughed outwardly at anyone who believed otherwise.

Of course, if you're an Oakland Raider employee, I'm willing to cut you a little slack, as logic most likely didn't tell you your veteran quarterback (and reigning league MVP) would be soft-tossing balls into the void, while your All-Pro center lay in a hospital bed as a result of carrying on like a shithouse rat in the bowels of Mexico the night before the Big Game - both of which not only came to pass, but ultimately burned a hideous brown streak into a previously peaceful night sky.

All in all, it was a sickening display of cowardice, the likes of which should never again be allowed to air internationally. Humiliation on such a grand level can do nothing but defame the character of a regal sport like football, and I'm beginning to wonder if football will ever recover from a debacle of such proportions.

But even having said that, I need to point out that it's not completely the fault of the Raiders' startling inability to simply play the game of football on that particular Sunday night. True, the game itself wasn't worth a pinch of shit, and it was all but over at halftime, but the most egregious errors of the night definitely belonged to the television network (ABC), whose presentation of the game had me doubled over in disgust. A plague of commercials interrupted only sporadically by actual football was something I've come to expect from bottom-dwellers like these, but the decision to force-feed the public large, unhealthy chunks of live music by Bon Jovi at various points during the post-game show increased the suffering exponentially. As disappointed as I (and a wealth of others around the world) already was to see a stillborn Raider Nation cradled in the arms of these mealy-mouthed feebs from Tampa, Bon Jovi's run through their latest song featuring a voice modifier had me calling out football's official time of death. The NFL as I knew it was gone forever.

But here we are; only a week or so removed from that hideous display and I am already craving more! And come the first weekend in September, I know right now that I'll be tying off my arm, ready for my first sweet fix of the year. Like a prostitute, I'll just have to learn to fuck without feeling, and go through the motions of every Football Sunday from now until the end of my days with the knowledge that the purest football I'll ever see has come and gone.

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THURSDAY, JANUARY 22 2003

:: DELAYED, GROUNDED ::

The following is the first (and it turns out, the only) installment of what I had hoped would be an ongoing documentation of my thoughts while in route to TNI headquarters in Seattle, Washington. However, there seemed to be another plan in store for me that day, as the plane I was on had to make an emergency landing at an airport in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. In hindsight, I could very easily dress up the problematic aircraft as a cataclysmic happening on the brink of absolute destruction, but it would be a lie. Truth is, it may have been the smoothest landing I've ever experienced... the true horror turned out to be the 8 hours I was essentially held captive at that airport in South Dakota.

But I was on a roll in that airport's food court last week. And if not for an unexpected visit from an anonymous blowhard who took it upon himself to pull up a chair at my table without asking, there's no telling where my train of thought would have finally stopped...

By all rights I should be in Seattle right now. Seems that all it takes to sever and tie off the budding exuberance one might be inclined to feel on the cusp of some much needed leisure time is an airplane engine leaking fuel and a gang of heartless thugs moonlighting as a professional airline. Instead, I'm drowning in a sea of shorthaired women and highly suspect food somewhere within the city limits of Sioux Falls, South Dakota. To be quite honest, though, I'm not all that surprised to be here. I've had a dull gnawing in my gut for the past week over what I could only think of as a tragedy in waiting. But thankfully, tragedy has been staved off for the time being - although the knowledge that there is a minimum of two flights left before this trip is officially over doesn't exactly afford me much room to breathe easy... To say I hate flying would be a gross understatement. I've already gone over every possible way to get from here back to Chicago without being 30,000 feet in the air, but the thought of hopping on the nearest bus seems like a fate worse than a crashing, burning death from high...

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THURSDAY, JANUARY 22 2003

:: CELEBRATE, DAMMIT ::

Considering the kind of year 2002 was for me on the whole, I'm not exactly sure why I was surprised to find myself winding it down back stage with my best friend's girlfriend at a new age piano concert, neck-deep in the whimsical musings of a musical luminary such as George Winston. At its best, 2002 had been a wretched year, and one that had seen me embarking on a variety of subhuman ventures - some of which I deemed to be even a little too dicey to document on these pages. There was the vampire-ish ten-month odyssey of sleeping on my coffin-like couch, the seemingly endless weeks of refusing to retrieve the mail from the mailbox, and to top it all off, the endless parade of disconnected utilities. And on, and on, and on… and I should have seen it all coming!

2002 kicked off with such a limp and dampened salvo for me, that even the purest of pessimists would have opted to put one eye on the other side of life and pray for sunlight. Adjusting to living alone was going to be difficult enough, but when you multiply those numbing effects with the degenerative behavior outlined above (not to mention all the other national pains oozing up through the floorboards), you start to think about staying down for the count. After all, when you find yourself down, licking dirt with pigs on a regular basis, convincing yourself that you're NOT swine becomes a monumental undertaking.

As I've mentioned on this site on numerous occasions, we are currently in the throes of one of the foulest ages mankind has seen in at least a few generations, and the threat of DEFCON levels jumping with the ease of a young girl playing hopscotch is an absolute certainty. I had hoped that on a personal level, the New Year would at the very least provide me with the proper template to carry out the primary stages of my Awards Tour of Local Domination, but a sinus infection at the eleventh hour had me out of action for December 31st's Big Dance, whimpering and twitching at home like a diseased rodent. Certainly it seemed to be a most appropriate way to close out 2002, but to start the New Year? It hardly seemed right to me.

As I lay in bed over the next few days, I contemplated my fate and how life seemed to have a sinister plan in the works for my next 365 days. I figured that by using my shortcomings of last year as a guide for what NOT to do this year, I'd easily be able to navigate my way through these narrow and hazardous waterways, floating out to higher places in a placid sea of peace and love. But before I could even get back to full strength and start fighting the good fight, the Rockslide of Misfortune came crashing down from above.

It all started innocently enough, with a couple of bad calls costing my favorite football teams sure victory, but in a bold and unexpected move, fate jumped straight from there and latched on to my jugular: The exposure of tnibooks.com and its contents (my writing!) to my superiors at work had become a reality.

I frantically grasped for any measure to help stem the tide and keep the damage to a minimum, but ultimately fell to the floor in a heap of flesh-colored defeat. I was a beaten man with nothing short of his livelihood hanging in the balance. But just when I was about ready to have my cut-man throw in the towel and call the whole thing off, I remembered something very important.

I've been known to do some of my best thinking when at the lowest of lows, and this situation had every one of the markings necessary to be enshrined in such a dubious pantheon of missteps. Like some of the greatest of all-time, I would have to play from behind. I was not ready to embrace my status as swine just yet!

I assembled my gear, deciding it best to take one deep shot into the wind, and harkened back to my old days as video game freak. Remembering what I used to do anytime things weren't going exactly as I had hoped at an early stage in the game, I'd hit the reset button - I'd turn my internal clock back a week, treating the night of January 8th as if it were New Year's Eve, and rage with the fury of a sailor on his last night of on-shore leave. From there on out and for the remainder of this cursed year it would be up to me to right the ship, and smooth over any rough spots by just playing dumb.

Granted it's a bold and unusual plan, but I feel it is a plan worthy of any Accolade of Deviance that could be molded. I've managed to extract a fresh start from the dung heap, and all I have to do is believe in it to make it work. All in all, it may prove to be the sublime metamorphosis no one ever expected to see in me, as the banquet for my aforementioned Awards Tour of Local Domination has been resurrected, and life is back on schedule - albeit a few days behind yours.

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WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 1 2003

:: NESTLING ::

As we close the books on yet another long year graced by outlandish claims and general buffoonery, I'd have to say that the following exchange gets the nod from me, hands-down, for the highly coveted "Best Interaction With Another Human Being" Award 2002. As you may surmise from its content, it's been a slow year almost completely void of meaningful interaction - but one jam-packed with high comedy...

The following conversation took place at a Christmas party:

Him: Yeah, so this one time me and my buddy were nestlin'...
Me: You guys were nestling?
Him: Uh, no dude. I told you before, I don't swing that way!
Me: Well, then why the hell were you guys nestling?
Him: Dude! We weren't "nestling" -- we were on Mescaline!