We join our story already in progress…
Everyone knows rain on your wedding day is not really ironic. Nor is your ex-boyfriend unexpectedly showing up at your reception. Both can end up a damn mess, though. Luckily, I don’t think I could have dragged down that visibly grim scenario any further. The fact that her thrown-together reception was being held in her parents’ small backyard with everyone awkwardly holding paper plates indicates the situation was already pretty fucked. I also lucked out in that the groom was somewhat dim-witted and didn’t really grasp what was happening. Emily took me aside before anything could truly escalate. I’ve never seen an unhappier bride, and I don’t think it had much to do with me showing up.
“Were you ever going to tell me?” I asked.
“It all happened so fast. The Air Force is sending him to England at the end of the month. He begged me to marry him and go with him. I just…” she trailed off.
“OK. Congratulations.” I may have choked on the words a little, but I turned on my heel and headed for the door.
The next day, I didn’t feel as bad as I thought I would. I actually felt kind of OK, like I was released. (Little did I know…)
There is no “God,” as has been demonstrated time and time and time again, so the premise of this song is invalid. (To be fair, there’s no such thing as a talking walrus spouting “goo goo g’joob,” either, and that doesn’t stop me from enjoying that song, so let’s call it a push. And I must say Osborne is a hell of a vocalist.)
Empire Records was a horrible flop of a fake-indie movie, its desperate bid to court the 90s youth market was nakedly transparent, and the whole thing came off like a bunch of hair-gelled, empty studio suits in their thirties trying to guess what “the kids” were into these days. The only thing the movie did right was assemble a notable soundtrack, highlighted by this pulsating, vibraphone-drenched neo-soul nugget by Edwyn Collins, who was little known outside of the U.K.
Not that something as small as Empire Records would play in the Yuba City multiplex anyway. (The funkier downtown Sutter Theater would sometimes get those lesser-known films, but not in this case.) The soundtrack was available locally, and had gained some cachet. I last saw Girl Whose Name I Forgot when I hauled myself, clothes dripping, out of that hot tub earlier in the year. That fall, I ran into her one more time at Java Retreat. Empire Records was the topic of conversation. She had the soundtrack on cassette in her car. I asked if I could borrow it to make a copy. She handed it over. I did not ask for her number, but gave her mine. She clearly would rather live without that cassette than call me. That Empire Records soundtrack moved from glove compartment to glove compartment as I changed cars over the years, on the off chance I would see her at the coffee shop again. I didn’t. I probably still have that cassette somewhere.
I don’t know what the official harbinger of autumn was before pumpkin spice lattes at Starbucks, but a return of cooler weather is always a cause for celebration in California’s blistering northern valley.
Billy Corgan fulfilled all of his massive prog-rock ambitions with Smashing Pumpkins’ third album, Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, a double-disc behemoth chock-full of angst, despair, ennui, joy, and nostalgia. Good ideas and bad ideas, fragments and epics, with a rich vein of meandering instrumentals. “Quietly noisy relaxed intensity,” to quote Edward Albee. And I can’t even say it’s a great album. All I can say is that we probably won’t see its like again.
I had been living back at home with the parents since May, and I was kind of stuck. All my friends’ apartments were already full-up with roommates. My folks’ phone number hadn’t changed since we moved to the area back in 1989, so Emily had it, and one day in November, she called.
“I thought you were in England with your husband,” I said.
“He went ahead of me to get the housing situation settled. I’m going after Thanksgiving. Come over and watch The Beatles Anthology with me.”
The epic, multi-part documentary on my favorite band (and her third or fourth favorite band) made its TV debut on ABC on November 19, 1995, along with the video premiere of the first “new” Beatles song in 25 years. Paul, George, and Ringo overdubbed their parts onto an old demo tape of John’s to create “Free As A Bird.” It wasn’t bad, but it certainly wasn’t the Beatles. It sounded more like ELO, thanks to being (over)produced by Jeff Lynne.
So we sat down on the floor and watched The Beatles Anthology on the TV in her mostly-empty old bedroom at her parents’ house. A week later, she was 5000 miles away.
She said I should come visit them in England, and couldn’t understand why I would never do that in a million years.
I turned 21 on December 3, 1995. Legal drinking age, but for some reason, pictures from my family birthday dinner depict me innocently sipping on a Sprite, just like I had been doing since I was seven. Drinking in front of the family still felt wrong, I guess. (Oh, how that would change, and very soon.) Later, I celebrated with my friends…by going to see Toy Story. I didn’t set foot in a bar until a few weeks later, in Nevada City…
One of my favorite memories is when a few of us drove into the Sierra Nevada foothills to the Nevada City Victorian Christmas Stroll…held for a few days in December…a nighttime street festival with vendors, performers, carolers…everything festively lit…freezing cold air, often snow on the ground…open fires…hot, mulled wine…bars and bookstores…that night we had a big dinner in a small Italian place…afterwards, Allen (who had also just turned 21) and I nervously went into a bar for the first time in our lives…shyly approached the bartender… “Uhh…what’s a good Christmas drink?”…we were condescendingly presented with grasshoppers…complete with straws, which Allen found particularly insulting… “Give the little boys straws…” The best part may have been the ride home…heater blasting cozily…at a crawl through heavy fog…getting lost twice even though all we had to do was follow the same highway we had used to arrive…I heard the Pogues and Tom Waits (beyond his vocal cameo on Primus’ “Tommy the Cat”) for the first time on Allen’s car stereo…we did the Stroll again once or twice in later years…but it was never quite as perfect as that first time…
I had taken community college as far as it could go. I was called into the counselor’s office towards the end of fall semester and was told that by this point I had qualified for an associate’s degree, which I hadn’t planned on. I was just taking classes that would be transferable to a state university someday. Someday was here. I enrolled at California State University Chico for next fall, meaning no school for me from mid-December all the way to late August of next year.
Other changes were afoot…Will and Allen had been assistant managers at the Sutter Theater in Yuba City since time out of mind…the theater’s parent company decided to re-open the older, bigger sister theater, the State, across the river in Marysville…it had been shuttered for over a year…an assistant manager would be needed there…Will hooked me up with the job…
I gave my two weeks’ notice at the video store the day after my 21st birthday…one of the other new hires for the theater staff was Future Ex-Wife…
The grand re-opening of the State Theater featured…Showgirls. That’s right, the infamous NC-17 turkey starring what’s-her-nose from Saved By The Bell. The part where she has a spastic, seizure-like orgasm in a jacuzzi may be the funniest moment in cinema history that wasn’t meant to be funny. So, not an auspicious beginning for this new theater venture. I began to learn the ropes of theater (assistant) management, which mostly meant dealing with snack bar inventory, counting cash drawers, and running the projection booth.
It seemed like every coming attraction trailer for a rom-com or heartwarming family film around this time used “Roll To Me” as its soundtrack.
No full-time union projectionists for our company…both the State and the Sutter had projectors run by the theater managers…whenever one of the temperamental beasts broke down (which was often) we had to call in a specialist…the diminutive Henry the Projector Guy…serviced all the projectors owned by our company throughout northern California…it would often take weeks for him to show up…and when he did, he called all the girls “sweetheart,” all the guys “mack,” and complained nonstop about his “ballbusting” Filipina wife…he reminded me a little of that gopher who extracted Pooh Bear from Rabbit’s hole…if that gopher had told racist jokes and had a honking South Boston accent….
Visions of Mushroom Girl (see Part 3)…I was semi-stalked for a few weeks by a self-diagnosed bipolar girl (her alleged disorder was, like, the third thing she told me after being introduced.) I dated her twice (why twice? I wanted to be sure I didn’t like her…) before pulling the plug. She kept trying to put the plug back in. In my mind, I began uncharitably referring to her as “Lump,” after this song. (“Lump lingered last in line for brains/And the one she got was sort of rotten and insane…”) Horrible, I know. One of the pitfalls of writing this is putting myself in my former boots as a 20-22-year-old again, and realizing what a jackass I was. On the bright side, I traded her my Aersomith’s Big Ones compilation CD for her Billy Joel’s An Innocent Man. There’s a sucker born every minute.
When we first began working together, I had no real interest in Future Ex-Wife, nor her me, except as someone who could buy her and her under-21 friends Mike’s Hard Lemonade. She was far more interested in two other members of the staff. One was a typical spiky-haired Frosted-Tip Douche closer to her age (she was three years younger than me…still is, now that I think about), and one was the super-cool, sophisticated, older-than-both-of-us Rodger, a tall, striking African-American guy with dreads and little wire-rimmed glasses. I, too, initially struck sparks with someone else as the State opened for business.
As we’ve seen, I had a bad habit of assigning disparaging nicknames to people, at least in my own mind. I’ve almost grown out of it (Frosted-Tip Douche might disagree. I just now came up with that one, but it’s accurate.) The girl I found myself attracted to this time had a couple of strikes against her. 1) She was 2 or 3 years older than me and had a kid, which freaked me out a little. 2) She lived in a trailer. 3) She was a pretty heavy smoker. #2 or even #1 may not have been deal-breaker in the long run. Under favorable lighting conditions, I thought she looked enough like Hole bassist Melissa Auf der Mar to keep me beguiled. If making out with her wasn’t like licking an ashtray, things might have turned out differently. After things went south with her, my mind assigned her the sobriquet “Smokey.”
One of her positive attributes was that she was upfront and direct, and asked me out before I could ask her. She invited me to her house (trailer) to watch her favorite movie, Repo Man.
Rodger was actually the one to train me on the part-science, part-art of “threading” a full-size cinema projector…running the film from the platters through an elaborate pulley system…feeding it through six separate gates…if the film loops inside the projection gears were too big or too small, it would be disastrous…making sure the tension was just right on the sound drum to prevent warbling audio…setting the correct lenses and aperture plates…framing and focus…it was a daunting task at first, but soon I could do it in my sleep…
Despite having a semi-regular thing going with Smokey (we went to see the Spade/Farley abomination Black Sheep solely because movies were free for us now over at the Sutter), I found myself more and more intrigued by Future Ex-Wife, mostly because she had absolutely no interest in me. Her unavailability and clear affection for Rodger made her irresistible. The State was a second job for Rodger, so he was only there a few hours a week. I had a lot more time with her, and I found myself turning on the charm (such as it was) out of sheer ego and competitive instinct. If I could lure her away from Rodger, then I would be in some way validated. Not a great way to start a relationship, but I was not at my best during this period.
Future Ex-Wife loved a lot of music I had no use for, such as ska and Morrissey. If I haven’t mentioned yet how much Morrissey sucks, as a singer (matter of opinion) and as a human being (matter of demonstrable fact, just settle in and Google “insane Morrissey rant” some time), allow me to do so now.
More Smashing Pumpkins here because the sprawling, overblown Mellon Collie really was the soundtrack to that winter.
More Oasis here because I thought they were awesome. (Still do, at least the first two albums. OK, three albums.) If I ever want to be instantly transported back to the State Theater and all the crazy shit that went down in those first couple of months there, such as having Smokey and Future Ex-Wife in the passenger seat of the Bronco II on alternating nights for awhile (making sure to pick the headrest clean of blonde or auburn hairs) and scrambling to cover my tracks, I just need to hear the opening chords of “Wonderwall.”
I remember describing Pulp’s album Different Class to someone as sounding like Oasis and Blur (deadly rivals in the legendary Britpop Wars of ‘95) settled their differences and had a baby. I still think that’s a pretty accurate description.
I won. Over the course of about two months, I convinced Future Ex-Wife to stop seeing Rodger and start seeing me. And if I wanted her to be exclusive, I had to be the same way. I had to tell Smokey it was over between us. I called her and told her I would be over later that night. When she answered the door (to her trailer), she was actually in a see-through negligee. I had never seen a negligee on a real person before. I thought they were only worn in Cinemax movies, or by mannequins in the Frederick’s of Hollywood store window. But here was the real thing. I couldn’t fathom why she would be wearing that, and then I realized it was after midnight, and was technically February 14. I broke up with her on Valentine’s Day.
Pro-tip: Never break up with a co-worker on Valentine’s Day when they’re essentially topless, unless you’re going for a really awkward time on the job for the next few weeks…
Stone Temple Pilots finally stopped being a Pearl Jam knockoff with their third album, which I will still defend as a nice piece of work to this day. But by then, most people had stopped listening.
The parents’ homestead shifted back to Yuba City after a few years in the small, further-north town of Live Oak…the new place had a pool, which really cemented the relationship with Future Ex-Wife…it was practically across the street from the old record chain-store the Wherehouse…I could walk out the back gate…go down a short alley…through a Burger King drive-through…jay-walk across a busy road…and basically go from bed to record shopping in about ninety seconds if I moved at a trot…when not working, I was always in sweats anyway…
The music review section of Entertainment Weekly gave the Superdrag album Regretfully Yours the letter grade of “A,” which almost never happened. Plus, I think it may have used the term “Beatlesque.” I rushed right across the street, bought it, listened to it, and forever after referred to a stupid impulse buy as “pulling a Superdrag.”
In early June, I had my first experience with a “listening party,” when a group of friends get together to spin a hotly anticipated new release. We decided Will had the best sound system, so a few of us went over to his house (he had recently traded up from an apartment), and put on the CD. Beck’s masterpiece Odelay fused hip-hop, folk, electronica, blues, and any number of other elements into an amazing, funky stew that I would listen to over and over that summer. I still think it’s one of the best albums of all time.
Unfortunately, the album we listened to at that party was Metallica’s aptly-titled Load, released the previous week. Will would not let us back in his house for months.
The Hazel Avenue Clubhouse was no more…sold off, finally…out-of-town colleges had already begun claiming the crew…Allen decamped to the Big City (Sacramento) to work at the art-house theater, the Tower…like me, everyone had reached the outer limits of Yuba Community College…time to ostensibly grow up a little…