Friday, September 01, 2006

Wasn't there forever...

deep inside my heart

My first apartment was a 3rd floor split-level walkup in a haunted old Hollywood-Tudor frame house. It had been built in 1908, by the developer of a then exlusive neighborhood called Carrol Park.

It was a time when houses, if they were big enough, had names. The name of my house was Brown Gables and it reached about four stories above the two story neighborhood.

Our living room and kitchen were on the third floor but my bedroom was on a split level in between floors, with my roomie sleeping on an elevated loft above that -- a full floor above the living room. The peaked roof rose another 15 feet or so above the loft. My bedroom was on the split level. It was part of a large gable, with three three light windows across the street side.

I used to eat breakfast on the rickety, swaying two flight wooden stair that led dizzyingly down from our kitchen's back door, a story and a half straight on each flight. Our landlord was a neighboring church that was renting out the scheduled-to-be-torn-down old house, divided into five apartments during the tough times of the depression, to students from the local university.

Growing up in the postwar suburbs of Orange County, California, I found the old house the most exotic place I could imagine for a first apartment. I never saw the ghost but my roommate said he thought he did. A Sikh engineering student the next floor down had felt its presence and heard things. Another tennant, a young woman, had seen the ghost, a middle aged man, several times.

House legend had it that the ghost was the former aide and companion of a retired WWI general, supposedly killed in a lover's quarrel by his longtime boss, who was subsequently sent away to an institution for the criminally insane, as those facilities were quaintly known back then.

As one might imagine, the wiring in the old house -- apparently mostly unimproved since its building six decades before, a time when electricity was pretty much used for lights and maybe those new-fangled toasters that had just started being manufactured -- was primitive.

There were no circuit-breaker panels at Brown Gables.

There was just a dingey -- and singed --row of old-fashioned fuses with grease pencil labels over them, protected by a little slanted awning, tucked under the bottom leg of the back stairs.

I should hope it will horrify modern readers to think that college students -- about half of them grad students -- would do something as absurdly dangerous as substituting a slug for a fuse but that's exactly what happened when no one had a fuse and papers needed to be written or Coltrane listened to.

The smudged and blackened area around some of the fuse sockets attested to that danger, yet standard practice when confronting an overheating slug was to simply turn off some appliances and try to go on about normal life. And, of course, try to remember to pick up a box of fuses on the way back from class in the morning.

Brown Gables never burned down, happily for those of us more than three stories above the ground and safety, but they eventually herded us out under court order (at least I got something like a month's rent free, that was nice). We tried a lot of last ditch efforts, invoking the building's historic status (that was most of town in those days, though... much of it sadly gone, now), even holding a tiny protest before a bewildered reporter from the local daily, whose seemed considerably more sympathetic to soulless institution tearing our home out from under us.

Actually, the church caretaker who served as our property manager, was a real nice old fellow, so it wasn't as though we were directly mistreated. Of course, the church tore his house down to build an old folks home.

They put a parking lot where Brown Gables had been.

What, you were asking yourself back when you still cared, does any of this to do with today's song, which, for crying out loud, isn't even about fuses but rather about a circuit breaker, which is really just a slightly goofy metaphor, anyhow...

Nothin' much.

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Circuit Breaker

Honey there's a circuit breaker
deep inside my heart
late last nite I felt the whole thing blow
I felt all my feelings stop

Isn't it amazing, doll
how fast it all can change
the twitch of a tiny hand
and today is yesterday

The love l felt for you
was like a frozen photograph
where you watch the ghosts appear
baby, step into the past

Isn't it amazing, doll...

Wasnt there forever
at least for a little while
wasnt there a time for us
too bad that's out of style

Isn't it amazing, doll
how fast it all can change
the twitch of a tiny hand
and today is yesterday

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

It's your second chance for the very last time

The Devil's Quicksand

The cartoonish admonitory that is the subject of today's post is a tribute, in its way, to the pre-Just Say No anti-drug movies I watched on rickety, flickering 16 mm projectors as a none-too wayward youth. (I was, likely as not, the guy tasked to setting up and monitoring the projector.)

Thanks to the goofy, over-the-top antics of a lost generation of young educational film actors ("And now from his triumphant role in 'Your Hygiene and You' comes...") some very unfunny drugs actually gained a sort of anything-for-a-laugh charisma.

Projector geek I may have been but I got hip and cynical later and had many exciting adventures that do not bear talking about here (ahem). Still, I somehow managed to dodge the obvious and dangerous drug traps (unless you count alcohol, that is, but we'll save that for another post). Unhappily, not all my friends and loved ones have been as lucky.

Drugs can make you a clown -- like the pathetic dude in this song -- but at least in death a junkie can suddenly become a complex, troubled person again, gaining again a little of the dignity squandered in life.

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The Devil's Quicksand

It's your second chance for the very last time
with your head in your hands and your future behind
grab your life pull as hard as you can
cause your up to your neck in the devil's quicksand

if she told you once it was good advice
but a thousand times now that's just a slice
of some other reality you'd prefer to ignore
it's just that easy you shut the door

on the love she gave it was just too good
and you always hated how she understood
and you walked away and you felt so free
in the park that day spinning under the trees

but now its cold and the darkness comes
and the drugs wear off and your chums are scum
and the cyst on your arm is turning green
and the one-eyeds guys sez it's the worst he's seen

so you drag your ass to the ER room
and you wait 12 hours while the TV booms
and the little kids and the sobbing man
and the angel of death is right at hand

you just cant wait and you run outside
in the streetlight night you stop and cry
"is this their pain--or is it mine?"
you ask yourself but you knew all the time

it's your second chance for the very last time
with your head in your hands and your future behind
grab your life pull as hard as you can
cause your up to your neck in the devil's quicksand

twenty cents is all it takes
but ya drop the dimes cause ya got the shakes
ya try again an ya get 'em in
but the the phone just rings and your gut caves in

your knees give out ya hit the ground
people walking by just step around
ya see the sky you see the rain
ya see your ashes in a bag in a paupers grave

but the phones in your hand and your hanging on
and just before the dark her voice comes on
and ya tell her "baby just one last time"
she doesn't say nothing you hear her crying

her sobbing lasts for such a long time
you almost forget why you're on the line
then it comes back like a drano slam
you got one last chance slip this jam

"come on baby i'm on the bricks"
you can almost hear her kitchen clock tick
"I ain't done nothin' in 36 hours
and I need a place to take a shower"

and then it comes and you know you're dead
her hollow laugh fills up your head
she drops the phone and it hits the floor
you hear her walk away and laugh some more

it's your second chance for the very last time
with your head in your hands and your future behind
grab your life pull as hard as you can
cause your up to your neck in the devil's quicksand

(C)1997, TK Major