Wednesday, July 21, 2010

What's Wrong With Your Mind?

I realized a while back that the music loaded on my iPhonamapod was lacking something: good ugly brutal drill-seargent-mean workout music. Sure, I had plenty of uptempo jams in there, some of them plenty aggressive, even. But I had no individual albums loaded up that could drive me all the way through from warm-up to that final agonizing “DON’T YOU FUCKING GIVE UP YOU FUCKING PUSSY!” set and on into the cool-down. So this past weekend while I was making some adjustments to my carrying-around music, I remedied this situation by uploading one of the most perfect workout albums ever recorded, Pantera’s 1992 Texas metal masterpiece, Vulgar Display of Power.

Except for the last song because it’s a piece of shit.

Dude got punched
Understand, I was sixteen years old when this album came out, so I was at a point in my life when I was all about the blind screaming rage. As far as I was concerned, this album was the pinnacle of humanity’s creative endeavors. I don’t recall exactly what I was so very pissed off about all the time. The usual package of teenage boy woes with a crate of fat kid afflictions piled on top of it. But really and truly, the specific focus of one’s anger is of secondary importance when you’ve got power cords, double-kick drums, and demonic vocals providing the sonic backdrop for your angst. I had that shit on constant rotation.

So the other day I went to the gym, ready to give it a try. The gym I go to is in the bottom floor of the building next door to where I work. I go there because it’s free and because there’s hardly anyone there. I’ve often got the whole place to myself. As I walked over, I detected -- what is--? Is that apprehension? Nervousness? See, I had not actually listened to this collection of songs in ages. What would my beloved Vulgar Display sound like to me lo these many years later? Would the production sound shitty compared to the quality of recorded music now? Would it seem so silly as to be painful? Or, horror of horrors, would the music of my youth be too aggressive for these aged sound receptacles of mine? 

But as soon as “Mouth For War” came thundering in, all these worries went and fucked off somewhere. It was exactly what I had been looking for. I’m not going to go into the details of my exercise routine because then I’d have to punch myself in the face for being one of those people, but suffice it to say that by the time “Fucking Hostile!” rolled around, I was feeling, well, not exactly fucking hostile, but at least reasonably hostile. There was definitely some hostility emanating from my person, but in a positive sense. The blood was pumping, the music was aggro -- I was in a good place.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the door open and a person enter. I turned to see who it was and damn near dropped a weight on my foot. It took a long moment to register what I was seeing, but when the synapses finally got to firing, I realized that, yes, standing in front of me was none other than my old friend Jennifer. What was she doing in town? At my gym no less? What the hell was she smiling at? I pulled the buds out of my ears and stood there breathing heavy for a moment, trying to regain the ability to speak. Between gasps, I forced out the question.


Something about her looked strange, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. She laughed and shook her head.

“I can’t believe you’re still listening to that shit.”

While it may not have been the absolute last thing I would’ve expected her to say, it wouldn’t have been among my top hundred guesses. I’d barely started to babble out a response -- “Whahuhwhowhat’reyouhuh?” -- when the door opened yet again and in walked another old friend, my oldest friend actually. I’ve known Chad damn near my entire life, since we were just little kids having sword fights with curtain rods and watching the skies over our suburban Houston homes for UFOs. He walked in and stood next to Jennifer. They didn’t look at each other, only at me, like they’d planned this little meeting. And just as I’d noted with Jen, he looked strange somehow. He laughed too.

“I can’t believe you, man.” he said.

“What?” There was clearly a joke here that I was on the outside of. “You can’t believe -- Pete?"

And then who else should walk in but none other than my freshman year crackhead roommate, Pete. And when I say crackhead, I don’t mean he busted his skull open while diving into the wrong end of the pool; I mean that he started off our freshman year at the University of Texas as a harmless pothead and was inhaling rock through a glass tube by the next summer. Until this very moment, that was the last I had seen or heard of him.

“Hey T-man, what’s happening?” He smiled and lit a cigarette. He always was the kind to ignore No Smoking signs, then act surprised when someone in authority pointed them out to him. Oh gosh, I’m so sorry!

And there they stood in a line, all facing me, watching me pant and sweat. An odd reunion in which I seemed to be the only person surprised at its happening. These three and I, the four of us, had never been all friends together. The three of them had maybe met each other at some point or another, but my relationships with each of them had been separate. So the way they’d all gathered here, completely unsurprised to see me or each other, it was highly suspicious. I had the strange feeling I was being intervened with.

And then it dawned on me, Pete’s scraggly hair, his acne-scarred cheeks, the inch and a half long cylinder of ash at the tip of his cigarette that would crumble under its own weight at any second and fall down on his hand -- he was exactly as he was the last time I saw him over fifteen years ago. And Chad with his wide eyes, long hair, and rail-thin body, Jennifer with her jet black hair pulled back with little butterfly clips and that scent of vanilla that followed her like so many admirers -- these weren’t the people they are now; these were the people they were then, back in the day, so to speak, back when the album I currently had blaring in my headphones was one of my mainstays. Pete’s cigarette ash looked close to teetering, but if he was worried about it, it didn’t show. “Seriously man, you still listening to this metal shit?”

“What?” I was totally thrown off. Were these really my friends from over a decade and a half ago standing before me in this gym? What were they doing here? Why these three? Were there more coming? Was one of my exes about to walk through that door?

“You’re what, 30-something now dude?” asked 17, 18, maybe 19 year old Chad. “You haven’t mellowed out yet?”

“What? No! I mean, yes, I have. I haven’t listened to this in years. I--what’s your problem? You come from the past to hassle me about my music?”

“Who is this again?” asked Jennifer.

“Fucking Pantera,” drawled Pete. “Y’all, I remember this fool used to play this shit all the time. And sometimes he’d strap on that guitar of his and fucking play along with it. He’d be all--” and then he proceeded to demonstrate for Chad and Jen what I looked like when I did my dorm room rock god routine. I don’t recall being quite so spastic, but I didn’t argue. I was faintly aware of a guitar solo emanating from my dislodged ear buds. I left it alone, leaving Dimebag Darrell, R.I.P., to do as he pleased.

“Okay Pete, first of all, fuck you dude. I couldn’t listen to classic rock for an entire year after living with you. A year! You made me not want to listen to Zeppelin! And The Doors still irritate me.”

“And you’re still wearing that?” asked Chad, pointing at the ratty old Tool tee-shirt I was sporting.

“Oh my god! You had that in college!” said Jennifer.

Holeyer than thou
“He had it in high school!” said Chad. “We both got that exact same shirt when we saw ‘em in concert senior year.”

“Trav, come on.” said Jen. “I had slightly higher hopes for you than this. Buy some clothes, would you?”

“I’m just wearing it to exercise!” I protested.

“It’s like you haven’t grown up at all.” she continued.

“Yes I have! Seriously, look at this thing. It’s covered in holes. I only wear it to work out or to mow the lawn or -- oh! I have a lawn! I have gardens! I have kids! A wife! Chickens! See? Grown-up stuff.”

“So are you still listening to Tool?” asked Chad.

“On occasion, yeah, and so are you, I might add. Current you, I mean. In fact, you just saw them in concert not long ago.”

“Really? They’re still around?”

“Yep. You went and put the pictures up on your Facebook.”

“What’s a face book?” he asked.

“A book with faces in it?” said Jennifer.

“Why would I put pictures of a concert in a face book?”

“Maybe they were pictures of faces?”

“That sounds stupid.”

“It is stupid.” I said.

“So hey man,” said Pete, “it looks like you ain’t done a whole lot with yourself since college, huh?”

“What?!” I laughed because this had all become so ludicrous. A crackhead was standing here telling me that I hadn’t done much with my life. Three inches of ash hung precariously off the end of his cigarette. “Dude, I’ve done plenty. Probably more than you have, wherever the fuck you are. For all I know you’re fucking dead.”

“Oh now that’s just mean.” said Jennifer.

“Naw, he may well be right.” said Pete. “I ain’t exactly been walking a righteous path.”

“Still, it’s not a nice thing to say.” she said, looking at me. “Be nice.”

“Yeah,” said Chad. “It’s not our fault you’re all old and still pissed off, listening to this shit.”

“I’m not old.” I said.

“They playing Metallica on classic rock radio yet?” he asked

“He was always so angry.” said Jen. “What were so angry about anyway?”

“I wasn’t--! Look, is there something you need from me? Something you need to tell me? Or did you just travel into the future to give me shit?”

“You’re being awfully defensive.” said Jennifer.

“No I’m not!”

My hostility, it was increasing.

“You fuckers are standing here giving me shit about my life just because you happened to catch me listening to Pantera for the first time in literally years when in fact I’ve...” and I started babbling, stammering, spilling out an incoherent bullet list of my life in no particular order, things I’d done, things that had happened to me, accomplishments, failures, the most random of memories, any and every thing I could think of to prove that my life hadn’t gone on pause all this time, that I’d been living, doing. And it wasn’t until I heard myself actually say, “I’m a different person now!” It was only then, as I stood there with cool air-conditioned sweat dripping down my face, that I looked at the three of them and realized the obvious.

These stupid kids don’t know a damn thing.

Well, they know how to travel through time

I suppose there’s that.

I laughed. “You fucking don’t know shit, you know that?” And then they laughed, seemingly with me rather than at me for the first time during this exchange. The ash of Pete’s cigarette fell to the floor whole and silently exploded into dust on the industrial carpet. He didn’t seem to notice. We just stood there laughing like idiots. A gym employee passed through, but barely gave us a glance.

With the tables flipped over in my favor, I thought I’d have some fun and drop a few hints about what the future had in store for them.

“So Chad...” I started, ever thought about joining the Army? But before I put voice to the question, he disappeared. Pop. The air rushed to fill the space that had become unoccupied so quickly. Jen and Pete looked at each other, at me, then they disappeared too. Pop. Pop.

Well, I thought, that was....

By this time I was all cooled off and didn’t much feel like hopping back into the routine. I shouldered my backpack and headed out the door, slipping the buds back into my ears. It was right in the middle of a song.
....then when confronted we ask them the question
What's wrong with their mind?!?!
What's wrong with your mind?!?!
Hell if I know, Phil. Hell if I know.


Anonymous said...

I fucking love it. At times, I swear we share the same mind. Maybe we are distant relatives or something. At least brothers from another mother?

Tara said...

A book of faces and random links that don't work with an eye phone.

Cheryl said...

Loved this all to hell and back!

twobusy said...

This was 100% awesome.

greg said...

what's in the water you drink dude?

Didactic Pirate said...

There was a recent study conducted about this phenomenon: playing music from one's high school years is known to provoke spontaneous space-time travel.

I think it was the Doc Brown Institute of Flux Capacitational Science.

sybil law said...

There is NOTHING wrong with listening to Pantera - or Tool for that matter!
I frequent them both, myself.
Fucking kids!

JenGid said...

This was kind of wonderful. I find myself completely absorbed in your stories.

Bri said...

If still loving Tool 10 (or more) years after high school is wrong, I don't wanna be right.

Anonymous said...

Speaking as someone who has somewhat stagnated musically over the last decade, with those same bands (and that Tool shirt as a matter of fact) I'm definitely with the guy who wrote this, right down to simply stating my own view and only being accused of going on the defense.