This Used To Be My Playground, Part 24: The Final Countdown

“We have a tendency to want the other person to be a finished product, while giving ourselves the grace to evolve…” — T.D. Jakes.

This is it. The decade, and my interest in the popular music it was currently producing, were both circling the drain. I was about to be a husband and father (in that order, barely.) I had stopped listening to the radio entirely back in early ‘96 (had a CD changer in the car, remember?) MTV was a wasteland by 1997. I had my niche artists that I chose to listen to, and had parted ways with the music currently on the charts…but they were in the cultural air and kind of unavoidable.

So here’s the last batch…mostly unconnected to any specific reminiscences…and a little epilogue…and now I’m thinking of things I forgot over the past 23 entries, and it’s too late to add…oh, God, “Come To My Window” was huge, and nowhere to be found…and “Liar” by the Rollins Band…and why did I pick “Creep” instead of “Waterfalls”?…Oh shit, this whole thing sucks…

#257. “Love Sick” — Bob Dylan

In response to the bombshell she just dropped that early-November night, I did what any panicked unready father would do…I insisted we drive right to the store and buy two more pregnancy tests. Positive. Positive. In the scary days that followed, she decided she would keep the baby and raise it with or without my help. Despite all evidence to the contrary (some of which you have read about), the Holy Bee had a sense of honor. I decided to “do the right thing,” in old-timey 1950s vernacular, and marry the baby-mama.

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Posing with Dylan’s guitar, Hard Rock Cafe, November 1997. My interest in caftan-like cabana wear was clearly growing. My hair was falling out in clumps at this point. The strain wasn’t noticeable in my face, was it?

We told our respective parents of the situation and the decisions we had come to…(except her Religious Dad, who was kept in the dark for a few more months about the reason for the nuptials)…the wedding was set for early January…a certain amount of haste was needed for obvious reasons…I found an apartment for us…just down the block from good ol’ First Run Video, actually…still in business but definitely dying…now entirely ran by the former assistant manager from whom I had only very recently stopped buying Vicodin tablets at ten dollars a pop…Religious Dad would not allow cohabitation before the marriage…I would live there by myself for about two months (Religious Dad did help with the rent)…

I don’t know if it’s coincidence but it’s also around this time that my formerly unruly hair became a lot easier to manage…I was pleasantly surprised at first…where it used to have to be beaten into submission with a blow dryer and a lot of patience, it would now submit meekly to a quick toweling…it seemed wispy…thinner…then I saw some home movies taken around Christmas that briefly showed me from the back and I almost choked on my eggnog…there was a definite patch of empty real estate on the crown of my head…tiny at first but it would grow to the size of a monk’s tonsure by the new century…

We went to see the Rolling Stones on their Bridges To Babylon tour…left early due to the harmful effects the smoky air may be having on the unborn child…

#258. “Bitter Sweet Symphony” — The Verve

#259. “Monkey Wrench” — Foo Fighters

The Future Ex-Wife and I tied the (temporary) knot in Nevada City in January of 1998. It was a pretty nice wedding, actually. I was particularly proud of the sharp-looking tuxes I had picked out for myself and my best man, Will. The religious in-laws raised the subject of having a “dry” reception and were practically laughed out of the room. There would be no compromises on this issue. Frozen margaritas all around!

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Wedding Day, although Allen seems to be the center of attention, flanked by the Holy Bee and a very Tony Soprano-ish Will

#260. “Miss Misery” — Elliott Smith

#261. “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit’ It” — Will Smith

#262. “The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)” – Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliott

#263. “Sex And Candy” — Marcy Playground

#264. “Karma Police” — Radiohead

I really liked our apartment…it had a lofted master bedroom accessible by a narrow spiral staircase, which I had decorated with blue and white Christmas lights…then it was pointed out navigating a spiral staircase potentially several times a night to use the bathroom while pregnant may be a problem…we switched to a more practical unit in the same complex after a month or two…

Religious Dad was finally told of the reason for the wedding (because he certainly knew how to count, and would know the difference between nine months and six months)…he basically shrugged and said something akin to “she’s your problem now”…

Caspar and Audrey came to the wedding reception (late as usual)…and visited the apartment a few weeks later…that was the last time I ever saw either of them…

7cee75f3adec14e28d41ba4601c3b0b4#265. “Smack My Bitch Up” — Prodigy

The fellas in Prodigy insisted they meant the title ironically, and that the song was actually an indictment of obnoxious, overbearing intensity. I almost believed them. But it deeply offended Future Ex-Wife’s staunch feminist sensibilities. (She had only recently stopped writing it as “womyn.”) The Fat of the Land — despite its critical accolades — was a banned album in our new joint household. (When she found out her much-admired older brother owned it, she burst into tears. I don’t know if he got rid of it, or just told her he got rid of it.)

#266. “History Repeating” — Propellorheads

The Sutter Theater was located in the “downtown” area of Yuba City, which being a town and certainly not a “city,” was a just a few blocks. At one end was the Sutter Theater. At the other end was the Underground record store. It was about a ten-minute walk. On a typical Tuesday or Wednesday night at the theater, business was pretty slow and staff was minimal, usually just a manager and another employee. More often than not, it was Will and me. We were already on manager’s salaries ($350 a week for the Holy Bee; more for Will who was now actually Head Manager), so the company didn’t have to shell out for an hourly employee who may cost more than the movies made that night.

With little to do when the movies were actually running, we sat in the office chatting, doing college homework, or reading music magazines. If the music mags tipped us off about something interesting, we could walk down to the Underground on our dinner break, acquire our album, and have it spinning on the office CD player in under thirty minutes. Such was the case with the Propellorheads’ forgotten techno classic Decksanddrumsandrockandroll, which is still a favorite album of mine to this day.

#267. “Closing Time” — Semisonic

To get to Java Retreat and the Underground, you exited the Sutter, turned right, and walked a few blocks. To get to two of the grungiest dive bars in the north valley, you turned left and walked ten feet. The Spur was a classic barfly bar, and its barstools certainly supported the Holy Bee’s ass on more than one occasion. Its next-door neighbor, the Town Pump, attracted a slightly younger and more dangerous crowd. If we ever had a problem with a loud, obnoxious trucker-hatted drunk wandering into the theater (which was often), nine times out of ten, they came from the Pump.

semisonic

#268. “The Way” — Fastball

Saw these guys in their pre-one-hit-wonder days back in ‘97, opening for Matthew Sweet at the long-gone El Dorado Saloon in Sacramento. I pegged this song as the stand-out of their set.

#269. “Iris” — Goo Goo Dolls

#270. “Flagpole Sitta” — Harvey Danger

scn_0001#271. “Ray Of Light” — Madonna

My son Cade Carson was born on June 21, 1998 (at Fremont Hospital on Plumas Street, within sight of the theater.) It also happened to be Father’s Day (gifts displayed at left, along with a rapidly-expanding double chin). His delivery was paid for by Medi-Cal, the California health insurance for extremely poor folks, which we most definitely were. I told people “Carson” was an aesthetic choice, having a nice alliterative ring with “Cade.” But it was totally, 100% after Johnny Carson, one of my childhood idols. (Did I mention I was a weird child?) I would actually have done “Cade Letterman” or “Cade Newhart” if I thought I could get away with it. (There’s a slight chance he’s sitting in his dorm room in Denver reading this right now. Dude, I wouldn’t really have done “Cade Letterman”…but if you want to change it to that…I’m OK with it.)

#272. “Kiss Me” — Sixpence None The Richer

#273. “Cowboy” — Kid Rock

#274. “I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing” — Aerosmith

Summer ‘98!

It all passed in a new-parent blur…diapers…no sleep…but I liked the little guy…he was pretty quiet…in fact, he may have been the lowest-maintenance infant ever…until the arrival of his brother…

#275. “One Week” — Barenaked Ladies

#276. “Believe” — Cher

#277. “The Rockafeller Skank” — Fatboy Slim

#278. “Malibu” — Hole

Billy Corgan supposedly lent Courtney Love and company so much songwriting and production assistance on their 1998 album Celebrity Skin that it is now known as the “last great Smashing Pumpkins album.”

#279. “You Get What You Give” — New Radicals

#280. “Tropicalia” — Beck

mi0001595218#281. “At My Most Beautiful” — R.E.M.

The end of an era. Drummer Bill Berry quit R.E.M., leaving them a three-piece, and seemingly bereft of inspiration. Their remaining albums were pretty dire, beginning with Up. However, this single from Up, a pastiche of Pet Sounds/Smile-era Beach Boys, complete with cellos, chimes, and beautiful harmonies, may well be one the best things the venerable band ever produced. Around Halloween, we had a pumpkin-carving party with a few friends at our apartment. Up had just come out, and we played it over and over, trying to find nice things to say about it, until I finally shut it off and shushed everyone so I could watch the CHiPs reunion TV movie.

The big music event of that fall was not new music at all, but the release of Bruce Springsteen’s Tracks…a four-disc collection of the Boss’ legendary outtakes…it was the must-have purchase of the holiday season for all my acquaintances…I went to see Bruce and the re-united E Street Band at the Oakland Coliseum…hands down the best show I’ve ever seen…part of my euphoria was due to the fact we had seats that we actually sat in…no pushy floor crowd for us this time…sipping on cocktails we got from a waitress…like civilized adults…

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#282. “Pretty Fly (For A White Guy)” — The Offspring

Could be an alternate title for this entire series, amirite?

#283. “Porcelain” — Moby

#284. “Californication” — Red Hot Chili Peppers

#283. “Livin’ La Vida Loca” — Ricky Martinscn_0002

#286. “All Star” — Smash Mouth

I graduated California State University Chico on May 22, 1999. I was now the proud bearer of a Bachelor of Arts degree in History. During my final semester, I pulled down straight A’s for the first time in my collegiate career. I was 24, about two years older than the typical Chico grad, and had a one-year-old son, who needed to be clothed and fed. How to spin an undergraduate history degree into profit almost instantly? That was the question that had keeping me up nights for the past year…

Luckily, the month before graduation, I had taken the CBEST — California Basic Educational Skills Test. The first step on the path to becoming…wait for it…a substitute teacher. Problem solved. The CBEST was the easiest thing I had ever done. I think they even scored the space for your name.

star_wars_phantom_menace_posterI remember the date of my college graduation so well because it was also the week that Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace was released. The graduation was at 10:00. My plan was to sit through the commencement, grab my diploma, strip off my gown, hop in the car, and hit the 2:40 showing in the nearby town of Colusa. I picked Colusa because it was a small town with a big theater that was always under-attended and had an amazing sound system. No crowds or lines, practically guaranteed. I had developed a huge distaste for crowds. It’s why, despite being a music lover, I was never a big concert-goer.


I had been avoiding reviews and “spoilers” (a newly-minted term) since its opening on Wednesday the 19th. I could barely contain my excitement as Future Ex-Wife and I settled in to a 1/3 empty theater (yes!) to see the fulfillment of a cinematic fantasy I had harbored since
Return of the Jedi in 1983. Graduating college would definitely be the second best thing that happened that day. Future Ex-Wife fell asleep before it was over. When the credits began rolling, I was in deep denial. It was good, right? Lots of stuff to like. It was good. I liked it. I really did. Didn’t I? It took a long time for the truth to settle in.

#287. “Intergalactic” — Beastie Boys

The perils of trying to be Cool Dad…leaving Beastie Boys albums lying around, hoping to subliminally influence the one-year-old. The one-year-old was more concerned with the teeth painfully sprouting from his gums, and chewed the cardboard digipak case for Hello Nasty into a pulpy mush. By sheer dumb luck, another Sutter employee cracked his CD of Hello Nasty, bought a replacement, but hadn’t yet tossed the case belonging to the first copy. Problem solved.

beastie-boys-intergalactic

#288. “Steal My Sunshine” — Len

#289. “Smooth” — Santana & Rob Thomas

#290. “Summer Girls” — LFO

#291. “Mambo No. 5” — Lou Bega

matt17-jun1999Summer ‘99!

My mother insisted on professional photos that June to mark the end of my college years…the noticeably wispy-haired result is at left…if you looked at me from the back, you would see your reflection…

I always think of this as my last summer at the Sutter Theater…I actually had one more to go in 2000…but this is the last one that was any fun…since I went on salary at the start of ‘98 I had never received a raise…Future Ex-Wife continued weekends and some evenings at LaudryTime and also worked as a babysitter…I guess technically she was a nanny, as she watched those kids all day most weekdays and even got a W2 from the family…we just about made ends meet…at the end of that summer Will was shipped off by our theater’s parent company, along with some other managers from the area, to set up a massive multiplex in Moscow…he should really write a blog about slipping on ice 10,000 times…tense meetings with the Russian mob to expedite the necessary permits (palms were greased)…surviving hundreds of vodka toasts without his liver exploding…

#292. “Guerrilla Radio” — Rage Against The Machine

One of the last great songs (and albums) of the 20th century. I took my first job as a substitute teacher on October 4, 1999. It was a music class. Like many Day One subs, I was fighting back tears by the end of it, but I persevered because it was a job I could do and continue my movie theater work in the evenings and on weekends. Diapers aren’t free.

My white Dodge Colt with the black fender cracked its cylinder head on the way back from a Sacramento record shopping excursion…I had bought this Rage album, the Velvet Underground box set, and the The Best of Tommy James & The Shondells…(a batch of purchases worth at least four packages of diapers…I wasn’t Mr. Responsible just yet)…luckily I had a “cellular telephone” the size of a chalkboard eraser in the glove compartment for emergencies…I plugged its corkscrew power cord into the cigarette lighter and got us rescued…we replaced the Colt with a powder-blue Ford Tempo four-door “family sedan”…

I gradually got better at substitute teaching…when word spreads that you’re a sub that won’t melt down and can stick to a lesson plan, you become in demand…teachers began requesting me…I was able to pick and choose almost every day…I would only work at the middle school and high school level because small children were deeply unsettling to me…

One day after subbing an ROTC fire science class at the high school towards the end of October, I returned to the office to turn in my room key, and found there was a phone message waiting for me…it was Future Ex-Wife…a doctor’s visit that day confirmed she was pregnant again…and had been for some time…she had been on a birth-control injection most of the summer…evidently the conception happened in a moment of carelessness a few days before the first shot…oh, well…the more the merrier…it would be the shortest pregnancy ever because we only found out partway through the second trimester…

#293. “Freak On A Leash” — Korn

#294. “What’s My Age Again?” — Blink-182

#295. “Nookie” — Limp Bizkit

This is what rock & roll had been reduced to by the end of the 1990s…

#296. “…Baby One More Time” — Britney Spears

#297. “What A Girl Wants” — Christina Aguilera

#298. “I Want It That Way” — Backstreet Boys

A sneak peek into the type of stuff that would dominate the early 2000s…

#300. “Sexx Laws” — Beck

The last album I bought in the 20th century was just before Thanksgiving 1999. It was 220px-beckmidnitevulturesBeck’s Midnite Vultures. In anticipation of buying our own house (!) we moved out of our apartment and moved into a spare bedroom at the in-laws just before Christmas…

We all knew the “Y2K” panic was a joke, but one of our mutual acquaintances decided to have fun with it and host an epic “End of the World” party at his parents’ cabin high in the Sierra Nevada mountains, far away from Armageddon. We drove up as the sun set on New Year’s Eve, listening to Midnite Vultures the whole way.

A lot of people who had worked at the Sutter, or were part of the Hazel Avenue crew back in the halcyon days of 95-96, were actually there. It felt like a reunion. It was also the last time I would see most of those people. The general boisterousness grew quiet when 1999 officially became 2000..all of us clutched our red Solo cups and gazed into the massive bonfire that had been going since late afternoon, spitting sparks and sending smoke up into the sky of a New Millennium…

My second son, Cameron Chase, was born on January 27, 2000…we did buy a house in Marysville (with a lot of help) in March…Will returned from Moscow that summer and somehow got himself a job teaching English at a private school in Sacramento…right after moving in to our newly-purchased house, Future Ex-Wife and I went through a six-month separation after three months of counseling…her younger brother moved in in her place to help with the mortgage payments…the new theater officespace_124pyxurzHead Manager was a dead ringer for Mike Judge’s restaurant manager in Office Space (left)…I mean identical in looks and demeanor…and he didn’t like me all that much…I was too closely associated with the old crew, now mostly gone, and the old ways of doing things (i.e., having fun while working)…summer 2000 was a slog…

Will stepped up again and got me a job at his school as an office aide and roving substitute for the upcoming school year…I was able to quit the Sutter Theater…the last movie I “built” was the dismal old-fart mob comedy The Crew, starring Burt Reynolds, which opened on August 25, 2000. Remember it? No? Nor should you…by the following Monday, I was working full-time at the school and never looked back…the next school year I was the real deal, with my own roster of classes, and a new apartment in Sacramento (I reconciled with Future Ex-Wife and we sold the house for a small profit just after 9/11)…I was an actual teacher…though I ran out the grace period and had to return to school myself in 2003-04 to get a credential…once my bona fides were in place, I became a true “professional educator” and have been so ever since…teaching history to 7th and 8th graders…the 1990s became distant history, too…

matt18-2001

1st full year of teaching, 2001. The facial hair is now finally full enough to cover the double-chin.

Epilogue

In October of 2006…in the pre-dawn darkness to avoid a scene…I moved out of the house I had shared with Emily for the previous two months…

…looking back, she hadn’t caused my divorce…the marriage was clearly dying without her help, but beginning an e-mail correspondence with her the previous summer probably hastened its end…so after my divorce (and her second)…we got together again…the very thing I had wanted for so long, albeit many years earlier…but it was a shot at redemption…a chance to get it right, as adults…it was fun for a few giddy weeks…

…then reality set in and it gradually became the most miserable experience of my life…it was not her fault, she couldn’t help the fact that the person I was was no longer compatible with the person she was…the torch I had carried was finally extinguished under the inexorable forces of time and experience…I couldn’t go on with the charade…I left…I diligently mailed her a check for my half of the rent and utilities every month until the lease ran out…

…we didn’t speak for a long, long time…we eventually became Facebook friends sometime in late ’07 or early ’08…because everyone was becoming Facebook friends around then…I also started the Holy Bee of Ephesus blog at that time…I was alone and usually content to be so… but I needed something to while away the time…writing was always a hobby…In April of 2009, I started the “This Used To Be My Playground” series…that’s now concluding eight years later…it took almost as long to write it as it did to live it…

Oh, yeah…I promised a little nugget of Epilogue information back in Part 5…remember Ronny, the guy who introduced Em and I back in high school creative writing class?…He became ex-husband #3…

She dropped me from Facebook around 2010 for no reason I could discern…maybe it was just time…haven’t heard from her since…

If you’ve read this far, it may be hard to believe that I only really think about all this stuff when I sit down to write it…it was challenging to put myself in the headspace I once occupied and try to feel those feelings all over again…and realize in most cases I behaved poorly…it was fun hating skaters again, though…seriously, fuck those guys…

…I only finished this series because it would bother me to leave it unfinished…

…when I have lunch with Will (who has long since moved on from the teaching profession) a couple of times a year, the Sutter days are rarely mentioned…13625368_10208867011225120_8466043780097688447_n

…this series was also finished thanks to the love and encouragement of my wife Shannon…she likes
my “autobiographical stuff” a lot more than when I write about Ian Fleming or obscure Kinks EPs…it amuses her to no end that her stolid, paunchy, sweater-vested husband…sitting primly next to her on the couch watching
Brooklyn Nine-Nine with his hands folded neatly in his lap…ever had anything like a wild side…even if it was a pretty mild wild…

I was going to do a little “Where Are They Now?” segment here about my old friends and more-than-friends, but…nah…this has gone on too long already…and their younger selves are just characters in a story…it’s not really them, it’s just them as they exist in my imperfect memory… shadows and words…I’ve even begun thinking of them by the pseudonyms I’ve given them…I don’t want to drag the real people that they are now into this…

I don’t see or have much contact with most folks mentioned in this epic series anymore…Facebook friends with a lot of them, yes, but you know how that is…as to be expected they all have careers, spouses, kids…lives…well, except McKinney, who died in 2009 of diabetes complications…I do think about him a lot…

…the faces in all of their pictures have more lines…the hair a little more gray…the mid-sections a little thicker…mine too…

…but at least we were young once, and I don’t think it was wasted…

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The Holy Bee today, old and gray, with his research assistant Eleanor.

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