Nov 14, 2014, 06:47AM

Scorch Marks

Sobriety was not and is not an option for me.

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It’s all about research. You have to do your own research. “Trust no one.” as the famous television series The X-Files tells us.

I was first diagnosed with Hepatitis C in early 1991. At the time, I was covered by my wife’s IBM insurance. I’d gone to a podiatrist to get a plantar wart removed from my right foot. The mercenary old fraud saw that IBM insurance and ran $1800 worth of tests to remove a fucking wart. One of the tests, a fairly new one at the time, revealed the presence of one of the six strains of viruses collectively known as HCV. His attempt to remove the wart failed miserably. I later cut it off myself with a Swiss Army knife. That worked. I consulted a gastroenterologist.

She ran a series of tests and told me that if I didn’t quit drinking and get on alpha-interferon, I’d be dead in five years. I did some research on the Internet, a bit tricky back in those pre-HTML, pre-Netscape days. The alpha-interferon treatment was unacceptable: the side effects were anxiety, irritability, and depression, and I was already soaking in all that. There was a very good chance it wouldn’t work at all. It might even kill me.

I did quit drinking, for about six months in 1992. Sober, my tolerance for human stupidity dwindled daily, exponentially, and the very long fuse on my notoriously monstrous temper shortened to a hair trigger. I morphed into an entity comprised entirely of contempt, all sociopathy and sarcasm and nasty crystalline intelligence. Sobriety was not and is not an option for me. I need that buffer.

I opted instead for milk thistle, dandelion extract, and dietary adjustments. I quit drinking hard liquor, except on very rare occasions. I didn’t die. I didn’t even feel sick.

In July of 2009, in Mountain View with no insurance whatsoever, I could just barely get out of bed to vomit, and I was vomiting blood. I managed to sit up long enough to do some research, and discovered sulfasalazine.

In the UK, doctors apparently think cutting down to six pints a day is making an effort, but any drinking at all keeps a patient off the transplant list. I’ve never been able to ascertain exactly how they discovered it, it’s distinctly counter-intuitive, but this ancient and inexpensive sulfa drug reverses and prevents cirrhosis of the liver. I had Daisy drive me to a Doc-In-A-Box in San Mateo, and I got a prescription.

I also discovered that I had about $4000 sitting in an account called “Healthy San Francisco.” It seems that San Francisco requires employers to kick into this account, and, being completely unaware of its existence, I hadn’t touched it. I got a bridge to replace my front teeth. Daisy lent me the $2000 it took to purchase a white 1998 Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor, previously owned by the Sonoma County Sherriff’s Department and primarily used to serve warrants, not really driven for pursuit and beautifully maintained aside from the coffee stains on the seats.

By September, my liver functions were normal, I had my front teeth back, and I had a genuine beast of a car.

Daisy had no weekends, and days filled with pointless meetings utterly irrelevant to her work as a kindergarten teacher. The disconnect between BGP and Live Nation became even more apparent when an arrogant know-nothing thirtysomething corporate shithead closed the BGP warehouse in San Francisco over the objections of a man who’d come up under Bill Graham and who’d been in the business for slightly longer than the corporate stooge had been alive. The CEO of Live Nation doubled his salary from eight million and change to $15.6 million and froze wages for the crew at the bottom. Our landlord raised the rent again. The windows still hadn’t been fixed.

Bill Graham was a warm, sweet, ferocious character who was larger than life in every way. Stories about him abound, but one of my favorites is pretty obscure. He was up in Concord, overseeing a show at the shed there. Some local crew guy showed up an hour late. Bill stormed out of his office to rip the guy a new asshole, and the guy explained that his car had broken down and he had to hitchhike most of the way. Bill let him slide, and bought him a new car. That’s the kind of guy Bill Graham was. He took care of his own. When he died in that completely unnecessary helicopter crash in 1991, his heirs sold BGP to a company called SFX, which subsequently sold it to Clear Channel, the company that destroyed music radio in this country. Fearing an antitrust action, Clear Channel spun off an abomination called Live Nation, headed by a Canadian promoter named Michael Cohl. The irony there is that Graham hated Michael Cohl for poaching the 1989 Rolling Stones tour.

Cohl brought in a friend, Michael Rapino, a marketing guy from the Labatt brewing company. Rapino quickly betrayed Cohl and usurped his position. Under Rapino, Live Nation evolved into a soulless corporate entity despised by audiences, artists, and crew alike. The only people who harbor any affection at all for Live Nation are the overcompensated drones swarming around its headquarters in Beverly Hills. When I was attending concerts regularly back in the 60s and the 70s, a ticket cost about what I would earn in a couple of hours working a minimum wage job. Under Live Nation, a ticket costs about a week’s salary, excluding the parking fees. They would never consider buying a grunt from the local crew a car to get to work.

In 2010, I took a job with the Census. It was just before the opening of the concert season, and it paid an astonishing $20 an hour. U2 was due to hit the Oakland Coliseum in June, and I saw a chance to pile up some real money first. I spent about eight weeks running a crew of five enumerators, witnessing firsthand the wasteful practices of the federal government. It was ostensibly a part-time, temporary job, but on April 19th, the anniversary of the Waco Massacre and the Oklahoma City bombing, they made me take an oath to “protect and defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” I asked the guy who administered the oath if I should save my ammunition receipts. He was not amused.

I learned something unsettling at the U2 load-in: I could no longer walk while bearing weight. The very first thing I attempted to carry caused my knees to buckle. There was no real use for me there. I went home and booked an appointment with a local free clinic.

Daisy and I binge-watched the entirety of Lost. What little leisure time she had, we spent watching television. It was all we could afford, and she was too exhausted to do anything else. I started calling the school “The Walmart School of the Peninsula,” owing to the atrocious administrative technique in play there, the perfectly vicious and vindictive management techniques of the seriously gender-confused tech-industry failure in charge of it, and the shitty wages paid to the teachers. Daisy replaced the awful little newfangled Volkswagen Beetle replica with a 1998 Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor, purchased from the same dealer I got mine from for a mere $2400. It had previously been owned by BART, the Bay Area Rapid Transit System, and had never been used for pursuit. She gained new confidence on the freeways, and with two white P71s in the driveway, miscreants and low-lifes crossed the street to avoid our little house.

She created an outdoor play space for the cats in the fenced-in yard area on the side of the house, by the kitchen. Buster would go out and chase butterflies, never actually catching one, probably deliberately, and Scooter would sit on a cushion by the back and meditate, delighting in the air, watching the ivy rustle gently in the breeze, sometimes burying his face in a large oregano bush Daisy had planted out there. They loved the sunlight. They chomped on the grass. We did as well as we could with what we had, just trying to make the best of it. We had each other, and the cats. We focused on keeping the cats entertained and happy. In the autumn, like clockwork, came another rent increase. The windows still hadn’t been fixed. Maturin, the little red-eared turtle that lived in the garden, disappeared. Daisy assumed it was dead, but I thought otherwise. I wasn’t entirely sure it had ever really been there.

In 2011, I was diagnosed with multi-level degenerative spinal disc disorder, discs L2 through L5 crumbling away. The prognosis was rather grim: pain, more pain, yet more pain, and eventually incontinence and a wheelchair. I’d thought it was my knees, but it was far worse. I spent a couple of weeks in Denver working on a film that will never see the light of day. I worked Roger Waters’ latest iteration of The Wall, acting as quartermaster and informal therapist as our local crew dealt with the rudest and least competent touring unit any of us had ever encountered this side of Led Zeppelin. I was nowhere near those people. I had a little tent in the staging area for the heavy equipment, which I shared with several pallets of cardboard bricks for the Wall and whoever dropped by to smoke a bowl and unload about the mayhem going on inside AT&T Stadium. I ate incredible Korean barbecue from the tour’s catering. Live Nation worked a good friend of mine for 25 hours straight and then cut him loose to drive home, endangering not only him, but also everybody on Route 101 between San Francisco and San Jose. I would’ve popped for a hotel room for him to get some sleep, and I am 100 percent certain that Bill Graham would’ve too.

I socked away enough money to go to New York City in the autumn. Occupy Wall Street had taken over Zuccotti Park down by the old World Trade Center site. Prior to Occupy, the public discourse was focused on austerity and which cuts in America’s already feeble social safety net were going to be necessary in order to keep the Wall Street crowd in hookers, truffles and cocaine. Occupy changed the dialogue and shifted the focus to the issue of income inequality. I had to see this.

I was blown away by how tiny it actually was and its brilliant organization. I spent a week there, mingling with the wildly diverse crowd occupying the park. Their focus was extraordinary, and their mission was successful: they changed the national conversation irrevocably. I got to hang out with some old friends I hadn’t seen in years, did some quality drugs, and flew home.

I had a nasty encounter with the TSA at LaGuardia. My flight was at dawn, and LaGuardia closes at night. I was first in line when they opened, hungover and not in the best of moods. This big beefy steroid-queen TSA officer barked at me: “Get over there and take your shoes off!” I immediately and loudly responded, “You left a few words out, there, bub. This isn’t boot camp, and I’m not your private. You will address me as ‘Sir,’ you will say ‘please,’ and you will calm down. Understood?” He didn’t like it, but he did it. When I got to Dallas to transfer for my flight to San Jose, I found that someone had upgraded my ticket to first class. I got to ride in the fat people seats because I mouthed off to a pig. I have fans.

I got home to find Daisy and the cats freezing in the apartment. It was 48 degrees in there; we had a wall thermometer. The heater had died days ago, and the landlord was stalling on replacing it. I hadn’t even unpacked before I went totally Defcon 1 on his ass. I called him as soon as I dropped my carry-on bag.

“When are you replacing our heater, Chris?”

“Oh, the owner and I are having lunch tomorrow to discuss it.”

“I don’t give a flying fuck at a rolling donut what your dietary practices are, or who you talk to. Fix the heater tomorrow, or hear from my lawyer on Monday. I will own your ass if you fuck this up.”

“I don’t have to listen to that kind of language.”

“Just do it, or I’ll sue you from hell to breakfast and seven ways to a Sunday.”

It got done. The guy who replaced the heater showed us the scorch marks running up the walls inside, told us that the heater had been installed in 1953, when the place was built, and added, “That thing was ready to burn you both alive.”

The windows still hadn’t been fixed. I began researching Chris Hopkins, a.k.a. “Westmont Development,” our landlord, and the owner, Craig Boyle. I began contacting lawyers and tenant support groups.

2012 was a year of adjustments and frustration. I had to adjust to the fact that I could no longer do crew work, and there’s very little else out there for a white native-born American with no tech skills. I had an unemployment claim, and I applied for food stamps. There are approximately 50 million Americans on food stamps right now. The penalty for defrauding the food stamps program is 20 years in jail and a $250,000 fine. There’s no penalty for repackaging subprime mortgage loans as prime investments and selling them to pension funds. It’s pretty obvious where to go if one is inclined towards fraud.

I registered Republican so I could vote for Ron Paul. I don’t agree with the man on everything, but he’s honest, which is more than one could say about any of the other candidates. What stunned me most about his campaign was the way it excited younger voters. I hadn’t seen the 18-25 crowd so thoroughly electrified by a presidential candidate since Bobby Kennedy in 1968.

There was a lot of hoo-hah about the Mayan Apocalypse, due to arrive on the Winter Solstice. I’d examined the Mayan Calendar in a cursory way many years earlier, back when I was still interested in that sort of consumer occultnik crap. I figured that the Mayan Gods had an aversion to tobacco smoke and a fondness for human flesh flavored with high fructose corn syrup and prescription anti-depressants, hence the anti-smoking campaign and the obesity epidemic. They like lots of fat.

Despite the obvious fact that Ron Paul could’ve defeated President Oreo without breaking a sweat, the anencephalic Republicans nominated Mitt Romney, the trustafarian spawn of a career politician whose vaunted “business skills” consisted largely of shipping American jobs to third-world shitholes where the workers are lucky to get a bowl of fish heads and rice for a day’s labor. Despite the best efforts of Diebold, ESS, and Sequoia, Romney lost. Given a choice between a lying robot and a lying pimp, the American people chose the pimp. Of course: pimps are charming. Robots lack charm.

The Winter Solstice came and went. The Mayan Gods did not swarm down out of interstellar space to devour the non-smokers and the fat people on Prozac, much to my regret. Daisy and I watched the entirety of Lost again. That show is like a consoling faith.

There would be no consolation in the year ahead. The Mayans were right, but we didn’t know it yet. Our world was about to be blown to smithereens.


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