Friday, October 29, 2010


* This is a fictionalized account of some shit that actually happened. All the names, locations, etc. have been changed to protect the innocent. – JG *

Aside from the aforementioned basement, my favorite place to hang out in Towaphna was on the roof of my parents' house. It was pretty amazing how far you could see on a clear day. Facing Kenton, I could see all the way across the I-23 and the cemetery and over the treeline could discern the highest points in Kenton: the uppermost floors of the two facing mansions on the opposite corners of Delway and Kenton Avenues, the spire of the United Methodist church, and the decrepit grain elevators of Snakeland. I couldn't discern the "AGWAY" painted on the individual silos but it was obvious it was Snakeland nonetheless, casting its long ugly shadow over the people of the small village.

If I pointed myself in the opposite direction, towards Towaphna, I could see the railroad and beyond that the staid businesses that took the place of the three greatest achievements in Towaphna history: the I-23 Drive-In, the Tail of the Whale Car Wash and Fun ‘n’ Games Park. Odd, now, to think that all of this could exist in an area no bigger than a medium-sized business park (and was replaced in the late 1980s by a medium-sized business park) but no matter: it did exist, and before it was pulled down into the whirlpool of reconstruction that began at the dawn of the 1980s it was the center of the Towaphna teenage universe.

Taken individually, the I-23 Drive-In was just a regular old drive-in movie that was within walking distance from my house. You could actually see the movie from the I-23 and I remember driving by and watching 3 seconds of Ernest Borgnine’s face when I was a little kid. I was always excited about becoming old enough to ride over there on my bike and watch a movie for free but when you have to be home when the streetlights come on it kind of stops you before you start.

The Tail of the Whale was a very simple idea – take your average drive-thru car wash and surround it with a huge fiberglass sculpture of a blue whale, thereby turning your run-of-the-mill trip through the car wash into an intense, Jonah-like trip through the innards of some beached and smiling Leviathan. In retrospect, it’s pretty goddamn outlandish and definitely one of those things that just reeked of 70s logic. I remember when I touched the side of the whale being hopelessly disappointed that it felt like a concrete wall, not soft like skin and flesh like I had imagined.

Fun ‘n’ Games Park was a smaller version of a regular amusement part, with a correspondingly smaller roller coaster (the locally made Wild Mouse) and smaller ferris wheel. Otherwise it was just a version of the little carnivals that still travel around everywhere during the warmer months – unwinnable midway games, omnipresent kiosks selling deep-fried anything, frighteningly un-frightening Haunted Houses and endless variations on the basic “Teacup”-model ride.

By 1979 they pulled out the screen and the speaker poles of the I-23 and in 1980 they tore out all of Fun ‘n’ Games except for the concrete slabs that lay under the miniature golf course (more about this later). By 1982 the car wash was gone too, and then it was all over. Adulthood and mediocrity ensued. But still, it was one of those few things that actually made me want to be a teenager in the 1970s.

Imagine it; I do. Barracudas and Gremlins, bright orange and lime green, passing through the Whale from stem to stern, passengers high as fuck, laughing hysterically as the trip from mouth to asshole was completed, just like in some acid-fuelled Health class digestive system movie. Those same ‘Cudas and Gremlins, blasting Kiss and the Runaways, lined up before the huge blank screen of the I-23, waiting on the night. In the meantime, as dusk descends, last trips up on the Fun ‘n’ Games ferris wheel, feathered hair blowing in the twilight wind, carless kids making out in the shadows under the Wild Mouse, dirtbags blowing chunks into the mouths of garbage cans shaped like clown heads. A strange paradise, but nearly.

Friday, October 22, 2010


* This is a fictionalized account of some shit that actually happened. All the names, locations, etc. have been changed to protect the innocent. – JG *

Although I went to Kenton North Senior High School, I didn't live in Kenton, oddly enough. I lived in the Town of Towaphna, about 4 miles away from Kenton North. The Town of Towaphna, like the City of Towaphna and North Towaphna that border it, rests on the Towaphna River that also circumscribes Kenton to the west.

The Towaphna area is certainly not big enough to necessitate dividing it into three separate sections, and the difference between the three (the Town being slightly more suburban than the City; North Towaphna skewing more blue-collar than the Town) would certainly not be detectable to an outsider in the 10 minutes it would take to drive through all of them. However, for whatever reason - financial, political, traditional - Towaphna was split into three, and those of us that were lucky enough to grow up in the Town were sent to Kenton North.

Growing up in Towaphna was weird in that there were two very large boundaries separating the Town and Kenton that took up most of the 4 miles between - Interstate 23, or I-23, or "the 23" (as in "You could just take the 23 to get to Gusmann's house") was the closest of these and was always audible in the background on any given day if you listened for it. At night it was cool, though - the constant roar of traffic turned into a quiet, rhythmic breathing interrupted only by the distant sound of the train whistle out past Industry Row, just perfect for getting to sleep on late summer nights.

The other boundary was the Mount of Olives Cemetery, which stretched all the way from Colver across Delway and Oakwood to Industry Row, a huge swath of green and grave.

Past all this (about 3 miles of it) lay the Village of Kenton, the promised land of Teenage Milk and Honey: record stores and pretty girls. Not only did Kenton contain the Record Mine, one of the all-time champion used record stores, but had 4 others within biking distance: to the south, Home of the Hits (located in the bottom flat of an old Victorian on the traditionally bohemian part of Oakwood Avenue, featuring all the best indie rock records and all the most garish Hardcore t-shirts); to the east, Record Theatre (a solid local chain, still in existence to this day); to the northeast, the Record Exchange (where the guy would actually give you real cash money for records, which financed many a party); and to the north, in the wilds of North Towaphna, was Two Minutes to Midnight (where you could find awesome underpriced records in the Used bins because the proprietors were so fixated on Heavy Metal that old soul and rockabilly gems would pass right through there without either of them the wiser).

Similarly speaking, most of the girls in Towaphna were Heads (probably for the lack of good record stores) so upon arriving in Kenton it just seemed like heaven had descended onto the earth in the form of blonde-haired, black-wearing, Violent Femmes fans. Some of them even attended Catholic school, and wore Catholic school uniforms. It still amazes me that I didn't just spontaneously combust in a concentrated burst of flaming hormones when I crossed the village line.

Another great thing about Kenton was that it was much easier to tune in the local college radio station there. Our local was called WBNY, 91.3 FM - left of the dial, in accordance with prophecy. In Kenton, with a little determination you could actually tune it in on pretty much any decent-sized stereo and, supposedly, some guy we knew had a car radio that intermittently picked it up.

In Towaphna, the best place I found to tune it in was in my parents' basement, sitting exactly 7 and 1/2 feet from the receiver with something metal in my hand. Occasionally I would get very lucky and be able to distinguish a song that I was already familiar with.

Friday, October 15, 2010


* This is a fictionalized account of some shit that actually happened. All the names, locations, etc. have been changed to protect the innocent. – JG *

The Punks Vs. Heads battle, much like the Mods Vs. Rockers clash beforehand, was one of the great pop-culture wars of all-time; also like the Mods/Rockers before them, the Punks/Heads conflict came to a head (ha ha) in an otherwise insignificant geographical area – for them it was 1960s Brighton, UK and for us it was 1980s Kenton, USA.

It is hard, now, to imagine these types of ideological conflicts existing today in this incredibly homogenized post-millennium marketplace of ours, but when your pop culture is almost bequeathed to you as a birthright by your socioeconomic level, your (perceived) intelligence level, your (again perceived) tolerance of those different from you and, most importantly, the kind of girls you’re attracted to, you have almost no choice but to take up the youthful banner yourselves.

And take it up we did. Of course, we never referred to ourselves as “Punks” as we were, of course, a mélange of Mod, DIY, thrift-store, glam-rock, trash and the product of the overpowering influence of the NY/Detroit Proto-Punk Axis. In other words, we were Complex. We were also resolutely middle class. We either called ourselves “the Best and the Brightest” or “the Core” (but the latter term was used primarily to refer to us and the girls we all dated at the beginning of our Sophomore year when we all discovered each other and rock n roll and art and talking about rock n roll and art and the Power of Pussy all at the same time – that was a Good Year) but “Punks”? Not really. It fell to others to name us that, but as evidenced by the preceding selection from “Battle of the Bands” it was usually appended by “Faggot”, as in “Punk Rock Faggot”. Similarly, I don’t believe the Heads called themselves “Heads”, but it was preferable to “Heavy Metal Assholes” which is how we primarily referred to them.

I’d like to take a moment here to address the issue of bias. Yes, as I was a Punk I have a definite “pro-Punk” slant, but just as with the Mod/Rocker conflict time has made it easy to see how little really separated the Heads and the Punks. Both groups wore jeans, boots, and leather jackets. Both groups favored black concert t-shirts. Both groups had their issues with women. Both groups made old people feel uncomfortable and want to cross the street. But most importantly, both groups listened to music that was really fast and loud and distorted. The real difference is that the Punk bands’ singers couldn’t sing, and the Head bands’ songs had guitar solos.

Really. That’s about it. A few Heads lived in the Kenton Project, commonly called "The Proj", but most of them were from the same neighborhoods as the Punks. Some Punk bands could be kind of political, but so was Megadeth. Some Head bands could be really offensive, but so were the Meatmen. The line that separated bands like later Black Flag and Misfits from thrash metal is so thin it is to laugh. It’s more than a little ridiculous in retrospect. However, having said all that, someone once said that History is written by the Winners. And, as I am here writing up this little chunk of history, apparently we Won. So fuck you, I’m-a write whatever the hell I want.

But, Winner or not, if you told me that today I would have more Slayer songs on my Ipod than Dead Kennedys songs (after you explained to me what an Ipod is), I would have told you that you were a total asshole even though, as it turns out, Slayer is a much, much better band. They just had some goofy titles, like “Hell Awaits”.

Now, despite my new-found love for thrash metal, even I can see that some songs ride the line directly into self-parody. One of these songs is “Hell Awaits”. Now, I’m sure that the backwards-masked opening was terrifying when played at midnight in Snakeland, but in the light of day, especially in the light of going to college after high school, the concept of Hell awaiting was so doomy, so goofily down that you couldn’t help but make fun of it. Or we couldn’t, at least.

“Hey, man, you wanna go to the Record Mine after school?”

“Why bother, dude? Hell awaits.”

“Hey, man, did Toni Falletta let you eat her pussy yet?”

“C’mon, now, Dave. Hell awaits.”

“Mr. Gusmann, are you ready to present your oral report?”

“I’m sorry, Mr. Gould, but I am not. You see, Hell awaits.”

It was pretty all-purpose, and pretty wonderful. It was also cleaner than another of our favorite phrases of this period, which was “Lick my clit”. This started as a natural reaction to some of the girls we dated telling each other to “Suck my dick”, a favorite all-purpose phrase of the Heads, but little did we know how gender-fucked people would take it. You could say that to somebody who you were genuinely pissed at, and they were genuinely pissed at you, and they simply would NOT KNOW HOW TO RESPOND. Today I wouldn’t even know whether to laugh or get even angrier. Or lick the guy’s clit.