13% [chapter 22]


On the flip side of your handsewn musical memory's buttflap stretched a snake skinned seamline whose name is Lydia Lunch.

At The Record Exchange in Princeton, New Jersey, just after turning 15, you spent the money you received from your crappy job running a hot dog stand in the lobby of a pre-Walmart department store called Jamesway on the first vinyl record in your collection: '13.13'. You had no idea who Lydia Lunch was, but the cover was all black with red text and you instantly adherred to the song titles printed on the back: 'Afraid Of Your Company', 'Lock Your Door', 'Suicide Ocean', 'Snakepit Breakdown', 'Dance of the Dead Children'.

13's always been your favorite number. You felt sympathetic for it having received such a bad rep when it did nothing wrong except be unique and meaningfully prime to pre-Christian calendars and Mother Earth-centric festivities celebrated by potent thick-ribbed women before they were all branded as whores and condemned to death; untold millions drowned, hung, boiled or burned alive for knowing the healing medicinal properties of plants we now commonly call weeds. Masculine consorts seized the holy stations where women stood defenseless because there was no such thing as weapons or fences or war for over a thousand years. Then the conquerors dressed themselves up in flowing robes, grew their hair long, wore fake padded boobs and ritually pretended to menstruate monthly. Instated, they took the daughters of those women burned at the stake and forced them to dance around the pole 100 times, barefoot in the smoldering red hot coals of their mother's scorched remains so as to ingrain in them what would happen if they disobeyed the new laws of the male god. All in terrific disdain for the philosophies they could not control and the life-giving abilities they could not contain. Penis envy is a Freudian phrase that's about a hundred years old, but womb envy's been going strong for 5000 or so.

The moment the needle dropped, you felt relief. These songs made it ok to be this angry. To seek some poetic retreat from the worries that rained down amidst cold war threats of nuclear destruction, to the things that were being done to your young numb feminine body, to the fucked up foot binding rules society was expecting you to follow without question. This record let you know it was your duty to voice dissent. Even if no one ever heard your hollow holler, it was better than ending up like your mother; whittled down into submission, cleaning up in service to an unappreciative master, doing the best she can, passive aggressively getting her way by naggingly not taking a stand.

After becomming engaged with your new tattoo machine, you spent ages designing and drawing and inking Lydia's image from that album cover. 13 snakes portraying Medusa hair wrapped ouroborous-like around your forearm, along with the words "cvm patentia" (with patience). A reminder that whenever you felt suicidal, the best thing you could do is just wait. So many times, a few days after crying yourself down into a gluten-induced tarpit, you'd feel fine and realize that life was actually ok. Then some pleasantly gentle thing would happen and while smiling, you'd tell yourself, "Gee, sure am glad i didn't off myself last week." Approximately 40,000 times, this has been the case.

Synchronicity explains how then, after seeing the tattoo you were working on, a friend told you that Lydia Lunch was coming to play in San Francisco that weekend. A special set of the songs from '13.13'. Another friend gave you a free ticket at the door. And you spent that entire night not believing this wasn't a dream, a mere 28 years in the making.

Upstairs, just after the gig, you stood 3 feet away from her but couldn't bring the awkward teen inside you to say anything susinct. You were just grateful being there, hearing all those songs again, as if the universe was pouring forth rays of serendipity all over you and all you could do in your starstruck state was stare into the headlights. Death was coming like a speeding train to crush you down into nothingness again, but for now, that was totally ok. At that moment you felt you were standing in exactly the best fated time and space.

Less than a month later you were invited to play an opening set on stage in LA where she was headlining for the Extreme Futurist Festival on December 22, 2012. The first day after the End of the World. Just being invited was a miracle in itself. Something that never happened. You'd become accustomed to organizing events on your own because it was the only way you could ever play shows, by putting yourself in the mix instead of waiting around forever for someone else to book you a gig. Even if just across the Bay Bridge. So being invited to play such a huge festival in LA was absolutely monolithic.

A further surprise was that this invite came from someone to whom you were an outright bitch. Rachel had been flown to SF to play at a Throbbing Gristle tribute festival called Destroy the Universe a few years earlier. But while helping set up the stage for her soundcheck, you found her demands arrogantly shortsighted and rude. Completely stressed out and overtired you told her, loud enough so that all the other bands could hear, "Ya know, being a dick to the person who's running your sound is a really bad idea. No one deserves to be treated like shit!" She quickly recognized the sense in this. Pleasantries were exchanged afterward and you stopped scowling eventually.

By now, it was like you'd become the proxy mom while staging shows, telling young rock stars and divas to remember to say please and thank you and to clean up after themselves. It's called having consideration for others. And it disgusted you that these things had to sometimes be said out loud.

Being doormatty and pleasing other people laid flat in contrast to this sad outstanding fact that the only people who seemed to have any respect for what you were doing were the ones you stood up to. And you're resoundingly grateful that Rachel even remembered such a smalltimer like you. Other folks just walked all over you. Because you let them, stupid. Because you thought that's how you make friends, by being kind and useful. But those people weren't friends, they were just opportunists using you. Shoulda figured that out by middle school. When you get good grades everyone hates you. So you learned how to dim your light, hide your potential, not speak your mind, fail on purpose so that you could have a social life. And look where it got you.

Putting all that behind you, you got too psyched about the prospect of playing on the same stage as the woman who had initially inspired you to make music in the first place. And your shits quickly turned into cement bricks. Looking to social media for proof that this was real, you excitedly posted the flyer for the upcoming festival with your band name proudly emblazened on the amazing lineup below Lydia Lunch, Survival Research Laboratories and NegativLand. But no one responded or commented or liked this wonderful thing you'd been invited to do. In shocking astonishment, you reposted the news a few days later to the same non-responsive silence. And again. With spiralling eyes. Still, nothing. After years spent congratulating other people's record deals and massive tour bookings and escalading accolades of success and achievement, finally here was your Yay Hooray. But no one was happy for you. Not one person.

Devastated, you were beyond hurt. You'd taken for granted how much it meant to feel that someone else out there was rooting for you. This was something even your own mother would never do and that magnified this perceived damage. How hard was it to click a stupid fucking little button? Confused as to what you must have done to all 400 of the super friends in this community for them to collectively consider you such an undeserving asshole, you waffled and flailed and stewed, alone on a computer in your room. Clinging to these unravelling strings of disbelief, you sent messages to 3 or 4 other musicians, inviting them to come play this stellar show with you, willingly splitting up the 45 minute set to share the ample stagetime with others you felt close to. To share the joy. But they all said no, too.

More than just a slap in the face, or a punch in the gut, this total absence of support completely threw you for an endless looping mindfuck; its degrading mental tail spin dragged you further down the dark self-doubting trail than you can, even now, relive without feeling a bit sick. Abandonment via social media made you go from shitting bricks to being just a piece of shit that shits shit bricks. Virtual poo with poo in it.

Then, a week before the festival, Kat, whom you'd been playing with in an improv noise trio replied and said ok. She'd go with you. Exhaling exasperated gasps of relief, you set about making a papier mache mask of a huge dead bird skull that would disguise your scared shitless face while standing on stage. In sloppy speed driven agonized haste over too many sticky twitchy nights and long drawn out days, you decided you'd rent the truck, do all the driving and reserve the hotel room where you'd both stay. Kat was from LA, so all she had to do was give you directions to the venue.You'd use all your rent money to pay for everything and bring a bunch of merch to sell, hopefully making up the difference. This was a risk you were willing to take because, hey, This Was Your One Big Break.

The night before leaving for LA while obsessively repacking all your gear, a cold breeze wafted through your room at 3 in the morning whispering, "Leave now. On your own. Just Go."

"No, i can't do that. Kat'll be upset if i leave without her..."

For a moment though, you did consider the freedom of doing just that after being so torn through and deboned by that searing high-pitched lack of anyone having your actual back.

As you began loading shit into the truck, you got a parking ticket. Then another. And another as you waited for Kat to arrive at 9 AM. A dread had sunken in by then that was so thick and biley, you felt certain something really fucking awful was going to happen. Like an accident. A car crash. Or some other kind of foreseen disaster. So you procrastinated. Hour after hour, you waited for this nauseous anxious feeling to go away, and got yet another parking ticket in your panicked state. At noon, realizing this trip had already cost you $180 without going anywhere, you and Kat finally drove onto the interstate.

Driving down the grapevine into Los Angeles at rush hour, you ran out of gas in the dense freeway's middle lane. A big strong blonde woman stopped traffic by parking her car across the fast lanes so that you could let the truck roll backward into the breakdown lane. With semis blustering by every few seconds, the stalled truck rocked and shook like a little toy capsized. Until the tow truck arrived, you both sat counting each second as if it would be your last, delicately impaled on a bed of nails, crooked and rusty. Kat yelled through the cocophany, "Is this life in the fast lane?" and you laughed hysterically. You were just glad no one was dead. But that expectant fatal threat hovered too close, waiting to pinch you from every next breath with the tiniest of misplaced steps.

Towed, refueled and running late, you quickly changed at the hotel and sped toward the show with $20 left to your name. Your phone rang every 15 minutes wondering where you were. Again and again, you cried that you were on your way. Kat kept turning her phone's google map this way and that, losing track of the north star. Repeatedly missing the exit and sleeplessly stressed out from hours of speeding around lost in the dark lead to you having seizures behind the wheel on the busy honking unforgiving highway.

Pulling over at a gas station, you bought a paper map of the entire city. With eyes so weary and crazed, the mass of unfolded tiny letters crammed up next to each other in a gray blurry fog of unreadable characters. Moving the map to and fro from your disintegrating face, you could not see a fucking thing. It reminded you of the time you were tripping on acid in London's subway and all the lettered signs morphed into unknown symbols like Chinese. Your cell phone kept going off, demanding to know where the hell you were. Lost in Burbank. After the lightning storm of seizures passed, you sat down under the pale green halo of a street light and just sank to the ground. Admitting total and complete defeat. Pummeled like a pylon. So close. Yet so far away. Needless to say, you never made it to that stage.

Dropping Kat off at her friend's house the next day, too upset to say anything, you drove home alone, $400 in the red. Several pitstops were made along the way, in between waves of crying so hard that you couldn't even see the lines on the road.

Relationships disappointing you was something you'd grown so used to that witnessing the death of your sex life the year before was no big deal compared to this. The dying of your creative life was like losing your only child, like losing something so innocent and sweet that had never harmed anyone or anything. It had only ever brought joy into your life. But it got killed because of your own inability to be there for yourself. It was a deeper self-inflicted wound that no part of your soul knew how to forgive. A slow droning sound with the cold stone glare of a hungry barred owl filled your head as you drove too fast, riding on fumes of self-hate because you had not cared enough for the one thing that tried so hard to save you from your destructive demonic self.

Afraid to succeed because you didn't know how to, failure was your self-imposed comfort zone. It's all you knew. It's all you deserved, you thought, because you'd amassed so much proof of this. The big miracle gig was supposed to even all that out. This one good thing was supposed to make up for all the bad things you'd already been through. You needed it to redeem you. But it didn't. You blew it. And the hard hitting smack of that fact was not something you wanted to survive.

If there is a lesson to be culled from all this, it certainly showed up even though you didn't: Trust Your Gut. It Will Never Lie To You.

At that moment in your room when the wind was whispering,"Go now. On your own," Kat was at home thinking she didn't really wanna go to LA with you. Just like everyone else. And if you would have just said Fuck It, wrote down the directions to the venue and then went and did this one awesome thing For Yourself, there may have been a river of redemptive successes that came from passing that test.

It showed you that intuitive feelings are not selfish reflections of wishful thinking. That clear voice KNEW not only what was best for you, but also what was good for others, too. And that blew your mind open a little wider in time. It meant that intuition is somehow attached to the collective mind that seeks to uphold a benign group health, it wants the best for everyone, for everyone to become their best selves. And now that it was crystal clear no one outwardly cared, you could quit trying so hard to please everyone else. This was the next best thing that could have happened to you.

Always mining for creative veins of gold, you began taking photographs at each unhurried pause on the long drive home. At several shifting spots you stood in psychic quicksand, donning the dead bird head you'd put so much effort into creating. It hung over you like a shroud in silent solace with death's ordinary unbiased approval.

Walking off into the woods beyond a town called Gorman, beneath heavy mossen bare oak trees, ankle deep in yellow leaves, the crow skull cawed for this lifelong loss in front of a clicking camera lens. A young doe stood curiously close, chewing grass and watching this display of creative desperation on that otherwise quiet afternoon.

At sunset, the bird head scanned no man's land across the brown acrid haze of Bakersfield, stung by the putrid winds of slaughter, dung and fodder.

In moonlit orchards of the central valley, near a small town called Tranquility, more love shone from the migrant workers tin huts, strung together with Christmas lights and songs of collective suffering than from the 2 car garaged tract homes of upstanding plastic surgeried families, comfortably alienated from each other and themselves.

There you found the blessing of knowing, sinking in the chilly mud, looking up at the ringed moon through a bird's eye sockets, that this tragic turn of events would be remembered indefinitely. Only you and I would know how oddly peaceful and liberating those painful static hours in motion became. And how they would naturally shape all future behaviors after that day, December 23, 2012. The second day after The End of the World.

On the third day, you posted these photos on facebook with the tale of your utter failure to achieve anything in LA. It got a bunch of Likes.

So you closed the lid and hammered in another spike with a clear-seeing half-smiling respite. Even if no one else ever would be, you were now and forevermore, on your own side.

*u can call me ph!*