Having a car meant a number of things, not least of which was not having to bum rides off of Kevin S. and his vintage Volvo. Kevin had scored his license during the last quarter of sophomore year, and when he grudgingly granted my request for a daily lift (round-trip), I knew my royal blue Schwinn Neu Citi (“The Ford Edsel of Schwinn 10-Speeds”) was retired forever.
It wasn’t a free ride, by any means. I paid every day in ritual humiliation as Kevin and fellow passenger Rob L. would slowly approach where I stood outside my parents’ glorified apartment (“townhouse”) then quickly accelerate, forcing me to trot after them, until I got just close enough to reach the back door, at which point the acceleration was repeated, to the delight of all except Your Humble Narrator. If Kevin and Rob got a really early start, they would park the Volvo a block or so away, and crawl into the dense shrubbery that surrounded my domicile, make a few Monty Python-esque yelps of “Ni!” or “Meep!” then dash back to the car with me in hot pursuit. Every so often, they would call my answering machine and fill it with chants of “we hate your speed bumps, we hate your speed bumps, we hate your speed bumps, God, they suck.” (Yes, the interior driveways of my townhouse facility were practically corrugated with speed bumps.)
In one of life’s cruel coincidences, I received my license the same month that the city of Marysville banned “the cruise.” I’m sure every medium-sized town with a lack of better things to do has had some version of the cruise ever since the advent of paved roads. To see an example of this in action you can rent American Graffiti, which depicts a northern California cruise circa 1962, or come along with the Holy Bee for a moment as I walk you through a northern California cruise circa 1991. On Saturday nights, hundreds of kids aged about 16 to 20 (old enough to drive but too young to get into bars) would drive slowly up the main street of the town, reach the outskirts, turn around, and drive slowly back. There were frequent stops at Carl’s Jr, and AM/PM, frequent switching of cars (each car usually carried no fewer than five kids), and shouted conversations and come-ons between cars at stoplights. This rite of passage for several generations of young motorists, celebrated in hit songs and major motion pictures, I got to be a part of exactly once before The Man shut it down permanently.
It was after we had all left Joanne B.’s Hawaiian-themed 16th birthday party held at some roadhouse out on Lindhurst Ave, which I don’t think is there anymore. A group of us ended up in the back of a Toyota pickup (I forget whose), on the cruise for the first and last time in my life, with a large box of those leis made out of plastic garbage bag material. Of course, this provided us with an absolutely sublime proposition for other cruisers: “Wanna get lei’d?” Who could resist that? As it turns out, everyone.
“Cruising Prohibited” signs went up shortly after that early August night.
What I didn’t know at the time was that the remainder of my summer would be affected by a person I met earlier at the party. For the past year and a half, I had been pining for female affection (resulting in some humiliating moments I have not gone into, as they are not tied to the playlist), and when the possibility of it finally reared its ugly head (quite literally), I discovered that my desperation had its limits. I am talking about Mushroom Girl.
She was loud. She was obnoxious. She was thoroughly off-putting. Her blobbish shape, ginger bangs, and ever-so-slightly crossed, coal-black eyes put me in mind of the mushroom-like Goombas in Super Mario Brothers, and she will always live in my memory as “Mushroom Girl.”
At some point at that party, the DJ played this EMF song more than once, by request. It was the white-hot hit of that week. We all bobbed around under the disco balls, wearing our plastic leis. He also, for reasons known only to himself, played the sub-mediocre 1968 oldie “Judy In Disguise (With Glasses)” by John Fred & His Playboy Band. It is obvious to anyone with ears that John Fred & His Playboy Band are not The Beatles, and are merely using some rather lame wordplay to parody “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds.” But over the music (imagine!) I heard a grating, Peppermint Patty-style voice exclaim how “Judy In Disguise” was her favorite Beatles song. Hearing this, and having an annoying habit of being Mr. Correcty Correctorson (I have almost broken myself of this entirely), I approached her — still a complete stranger to me — and said it was not The Beatles.
“Yes it was” she bleated. At this point, I had two things going against me:
- I did not know who it was (John Fred & His Playboy Band being entirely, and deservedly, off my radar.)
- She proceeded to ask the fucking idiot man-child DJ, who said it was The Beatles. He was either messing with her, misheard her, or was saying anything to get her to go away.
I was livid to the point of nausea and totally beside myself. I simply could not live with the fact that this person I had just met five minutes before was now going to live out the rest of her days thinking that was a Beatles song. So when she said “wanna bet?” I naturally said “sure.” I offered a wager of $5, which she laughed at. She then upped it to $100, which I knew was a ridiculous amount, but illustrates the type of person I was dealing with. When we were trying to figure out how to prove our cases, it was revealed that she lived across the street from me, and would stop by tomorrow. Giddy at the thought of being right (less so at the $100, which I knew I would never get), I clambered into the back of that Toyota pickup and headed off on the cruise.
She came over the next morning, was proven wrong, and as expected, seemed to immediately forget about the wager. She left.
And then came back about two hours later.
And again that afternoon.
And again the next morning.
By the third day of this, I had not only stopped answering, but actually began dropping to the floor and ceasing all motion, in case she spotted me as she boldly peered through the pebbled glass that bordered my front door. She kept coming and coming. As relentless as her namesake. Why didn’t she give up?
Because I would occasionally answer the door…
…when she was with her friend.
Her friend was quite fetching. Strawberry blonde, athletic build, a little taller than me.
She didn’t go to our high school. I don’t know where she went, all I know is that I was smitten. We walked aimlessly around the neighborhood, to 7-11 or the park. I was desperately trying to make some sort of impression on this other girl, The Friend (I honestly cannot remember her name.) And I could make no headway whatsoever because that freakish troll Mushroom Girl was constantly yammering away about “bitches” she disliked, conspiracy theories she picked up second-hand from her stepfather, and vital news of the day, such as the Pee-Wee Herman arrest. (“He was boppin’ his baloney,” she rasped smugly.) All the while trying to hold my hand, and getting rebuffed with decreasing politeness.
The Friend seemed impervious to my ever more obvious attempts to amuse and fascinate her. Mushroom Girl, who was maybe a notch or two brighter than The Friend, must have figured out what was going on. (Now that I think of it, the two of them gave off a kind of Spongebob-and-Patrick vibe. But it was a beautiful Patrick.) She stopped coming by with The Friend. Then – finally, blessedly – stopped coming by altogether. Then summer was over, and I never saw either one again. (Except once, at the mall, about two years later, I ran into Mushroom Girl. The person I was with said I turned totally white.)
I do recall one time I got through to The Friend. We were alone together for just a moment. I was wearing a painter’s cap. In a moment of inspiration, I turned it sideways, just like the jackass in the video, and crooned “You’re unbelievable!” in my best EMF voice. And she favored me with an adorable, sunny grin and put her hand on my shoulder for a fleeting few seconds as she chuckled at my tomfoolery. Then that nasty little hobgoblin returned from wherever she was and it all turned to shit again.
The lead single from the monstrously successful “Black Album,” which came out a couple of weeks later. There was a cry of “sellout” from the hardcore metal fans, because this was much more accessible and pop-oriented than their earlier material. But it provided a gateway for curious listeners, like myself. I was definitely excited to hear the full album. Another example of my musical palette expanding.
Anytime anyone asks me a question that end in the long “e” vowel sound, my standard response is “Yeah, you know me.” “Can you stop by at three?” “Yeah, you know me.” Which explains why most people avoid me.
This was the first time I remember a great whir of excitement about a record release. (I dimly recall news stories about people lining up for copies of Bruce Springsteen Live 1975/85.) The front display case of Camelot Music was decorated with silver cap pistols and plastic roses. The Wherehouse across town had large posters covering its front windows. Rolling Stone had been offering breathless previews for months, and “You Could Be Mine” and “Don’t Cry” were in heavy rotation on MTV.
Camelot Music was about the size of a large closet, tucked away at the back of the Yuba-Sutter Mall. They had just introduced an “Alternative” section, about four feet across, jammed with CDs (in their cardboard “longboxes”) by Skinny Puppy, Soundgarden, and Primus. I had just acquired Primus’ Frizzle Fry with an enormous pocketful of loose change. Times were hard. Fifteen dollars worth of nickels, dimes, and quarters were dumped unceremoniously on the Camelot counter, to the obvious delight of the clerk.
Author’s Note: Memory is a fluid, fickle thing. When I was writing earlier, I could have sworn my first exposure to Primus was listening to the Bill & Ted soundtrack in Brian’s truck. Based on the soundtrack’s release date, that had to have been in August or Sept. of ’91. But I now realize that all the previous spring, Frizzle Fry had been on a constant loop in the ear-splitting cassette deck of Kevin’s Volvo (along with The Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour and the Up In Smoke soundtrack.) So, Reader Beware. All of this could be a pack of mis-remembered half-truths.
When the Great Guns N’ Roses Release Day – September 17, 1991 – finally came, and Use Your Illusion I and Use Your Illusion II were on store shelves, it was The Wherehouse to which I came, behind the wheel of the Blazer, with the remains of my first paycheck in my pocket – just enough after gas and car insurance to buy a CD a week. Soon I was the proud owner of Illusion I, (II would have to wait until next week), and in the left turn lane at Colusa and Clark. Then, the unthinkable happened: the mighty engine of the Blazer sputtered and died, not to be coaxed back. It was just after 5 p.m., and traffic was lining up behind me. Two minutes passed. Five minutes. Rrrrrr. Rrrrrr. Rrrrrr. …………..Rrrrr. Rrrr. Rrrrr……….Nothing. I had been a licensed driver for six weeks. I felt the urge to curl into a ball and cry. Horns began honking. (A reaction I’ve never understood. Did they think I was unaware that I was not moving? Did they think the soundwaves from their horns would magically resuscitate my engine?) Tears and the fetal position were just not an option for a bad-ass G’n’R fan like myself. I popped it into neutral, and pushed with all my might on the next green arrow, cranking the wheel to the left. I had momentary visions of losing my grip on the wheel and door frame, and getting mangled beneath the rear wheels, but I made it through, sweating and shaking.
The engine fired immediately the next time I tried it. Son of a bitch.
The spacious Wherehouse was slightly preferable to the cramped, crowded Camelot Music. Decent selection (including an entire wall of cassingles), plus you could rent movies there, too. Although their selection was not as broad as Placer TV Video up the road, it had a fairly deep catalog, and between the two, I managed to indulge in my love of Peter Sellers movies. (The Holy Bee recommends 1968’s The Party.) I finally had a little money in my pocket, thanks to a job working for my dad at his auto body shop out on Railroad Avenue. From 4:00 to 6:00, at $10 a day, I swept, stacked, sorted, did a little sanding on cars about to be painted, and swept some more. (Worst memory: sanding down a Cal-Trans truck. I spent a week looking as though I had been dipped in Cheeto dust.)
I was now able to afford the occasional CD, but I still spent far more time browsing in the Wherehouse than purchasing. When the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ album Blood Sugar Sex Magick hit the shelves one week after Use Your Illusion, I was definitely intrigued. It was highly recommended by Spin magaizne, the younger “alternative” version of my beloved Rolling Stone, which I had just begun nosing through recent issues of. I must have picked up an carried around Blood Sugar Sex Magick a dozen times, then put it back, unable to commit those precious fifteen dollars to such an untried commodity, especially when there was still such a long way to go in building up my Rolling Stones and Who collection. The dinosaurs of classic rock were not easily replaced in the #1 spot in my heart.