The Brooklyn Rail

MAY 2017

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MAY 2017 Issue



I still remember the day I thought It Was Going to Happen. It was May 15, 1987 and we walked all the way home from high school with Rhonda, me and Paul. Paul said to me, Heeey Maaaatt, I Can’t Believe You Got Rhonda to Walk Home with Uuuus. We walked all the way down Texas Boulevard, then Border Avenue then Bougainvillea. School was almost over, it was already over 100 degrees. I couldn’t feel my Levis or skin anymore, it all just stuck together. We were sure It was going to happen. Rhonda was the only cheerleader who was also a headbanger. And you know what? I didn’t notice this ‘til we were halfway there to my mom’s house but all three of us had heavy metal t-shirts we cut off at the shoulders, was that like a good sign or what? Paul said to me, Heeeey Maaaaatt, Tell Her About The Time You Saw Iron Maiden Up North. So I told her how me and my older brother Rick drove up Highway 281 up through Alice and finally on to Odessa, where his best friend from high school had moved, Can You Believe That They Played Odessa? We saw them in this big auditorium and I stood up on one of those chairs nailed to the floor when they started playing Run to the Hills. I had more to say about Iron Maiden but we were now walking on my mom’s street like all of them over here, which don’t have sidewalks. I can’t believe we walked this far in over 100 and everybody’s tight jeans stuck totally to the skin even with holes at the knees. I saw Rhonda’s t-shirt said Armored Saint. She moved her shirt away from her skin, open and closed, over and over, really fast to try to cool off. Paul whispered to me he was sure It Will Happen, that my mom had that new shag carpet and Rhonda would want to spread out on the carpet, under my new air-conditioner and check out my new Scorpions record and see what other records I had. Paul said he took Rhonda one time to Mexico after her journalism teacher let her out early and he drove her to Progreso, right over the border, at 2:30 in the afternoon to that one bar all the high school seniors went to when they skipped class, the one with the pink neon light and cracked mirrors on the ceiling. He told her she could get whatever she wanted. He said he remembered that day she was wearing her best friend Lori’s Judas Priest shirt, the one with the little bit of glitter in it, that’s how he could remember what bar it was because it was the pink neon light reflecting in the glitter parts in the words Judas Priest. He was staring at her chest the whole time or he was trying to stare but it was hard to see anything because she was a headbanger after all wearing this extra-large heavy metal t-shirt, That Was the Problem There Was Nothing to See, Paul whined. He said she ordered this pink slushy drink in a tall glass and a lime called a Rumba and Paul said he was sure it must’ve been strong, For Sure It Would Happen. She had three and it turned out she knew it had no alcohol, that’s why she ordered it, it was just ice and fruit syrup. But how could he know in the dark dim pink lights, Paul complained.I Could See That, I said. So now we were sitting in my AC-ed room, I put the AC on full blast-max and like Paul said she was totally into reading every detail of each of my records, it seemed like she was in the library or something. She very carefully told us the whole story about the lead-singer guitarist from Megadeth and the other band he used to be in, the now-sellout-famous-one that Paul and I can’t stand, and why he got kicked out and then she told us everything about the controversy with this one Scorpions record cover. We were sitting there looking at my new white-glitter-stucco ceiling that my mom’s boyfriend just finished, and Rhonda started a new story about what happened to the old lead singer Bon Scott from AC/DC. I didn’t know this story and I looked at Paul and I forgot It Was Going To Have Supposed to Have Happened but Paul asked about how Bon Scott got into that band in the first place and I looked at him trying to look like I Thought It Was Going to Happen, without Rhonda seeing me. What she just said, crazy details of how Bon Scott died and I didn’t remember It Was Going to Have Supposed to Have Happened when Rhonda said she had to go before her mom got home. I did what I always do and watched her walk away in her tight jeans, just telling myself I was staring at the pocket design and I saw her knees peeking out of her ripped jean holes but then I had to ask Paul what had Rhonda been saying, what the meaning was behind Iron Maiden’s song The Number of the Beast because the whole time I had been thinking all this and staring at her shirt and the gold and silver wave design on her back pockets as she was laying down on my new carpeting study my records, I was forgetting and remembering at the same time that It Was Going to Have Supposed to Have Happened.



So what they were saying was, is what I knew they thought was, is that metalheads were stupid. They didn’t even use headbanger which I thought sounded cooler, they said metal heads which sounded vaguely sexual and I was still geeked out by the sexual in 8th grade and didn’t want to say metal head because some guy would say yeah, head and make a look I didn’t totally get because I wasn’t 100% sure what head was but it was something adult I should’ve known in my stupid head and I didn’t totally. Was I making this all up in my head? Look even tho I was in 8th grade and learned the word stupid from like way before when, I’m not stupid enough to think that I’m assuming I know what kind of stupid you mean. Like what kind of stupid? We read H.P. Lovecraft and you didn’t, so there. And it was Metallica’s bassist who knew about Lovecraft anyway and he was reading for fun and you just read Hawthorne just ‘cuz the teachers told you to. I knew what they thought that about us and I knew it wasn’t true and it made me feel all horrible again but what could I do instead of pretend-fucking them off with my middle finger. It’s not my fault I had to walk home in my worst looking Lee’s that weren’t really the metal kind, they had the back pockets that were girlylike, not the square pockets, but I had made a hole in the middles of the knees - my best friend Rhonda said I could do whatever I wanted with them, she basically gave them to me. So when I ripped holes in them she asked me What Did I Do That For and I said Well You Gave Them to Me, aren’t they like mine when that happens? But I gave them to yooooou, she said, and you made holes in them? It’s like you didn’t have to buy jeans! But I said, But you didn’t want them anymore, so they weren’t valuable to you and that’s how I wear my jeans ‘cuz I like heavy metal. She said, Well if my mom knew she’d be mad. But I said, But you don’t own them anymore and your mom isn’t my mom. Then Rhonda almost cried-said, Well I can’t believe you did that. I sighed the big kind of sigh and huffed Whatever, feeling weird. So I walked home thinking well maybe I really did do something wrong, did I not be thankful enough for the new used jeans that were too small for Rhonda ‘cuz she was the first one of us to get like real hips and stuff and she felt sorry for me and my old jeans but that didn’t really work ‘cuz I made holes in them? I thought it would be ok to make holes in them ‘cuz then I could say it wasn’t the jeans I bought with my parents’ money who would have said that I wasn’t being very nice by making holes in them when people didn’t have clothes in other parts of the world, but I always said I’m making holes in the clothes that were so old I wouldn’t wear them unless the holes made them more exciting, so that was better than giving them away to the religious donation place in the first place. But they said that someone else would have been able to wear nicer jeans, my jeans without the holes, and more use would come of that than me wearing them with the holes which made it seem like I was ungrateful or something or didn’t understand what money cost and what money had to be used for. Plus it looked trashy they said. It didn’t matter if famous people did it. But I said that since I’d rather wear the jeans with the holes because I was a metalhead, that meant they didn’t need to buy new jeans for me because I was saving them money, I was doing what they always said to do which is to not throw anything away or be wasteful. But they said don’t get too smart, I was being wasteful because I was putting holes in the knees and I said that can’t be wasteful if I was still wearing them. Nothing was wasted, I saved the denim pieces from the kneeholes cut out, in case my denim jacket ever got a hole. That was one hole I would definitely sew up. It was not cool to have holes in your denim jacket but if you didn’t have holes in your jeans you were not a real metalhead and I was not about to let that happen. So when the cool cheerleader girls said we were stupid with our holes and I knew I wasn’t stupid but I didn’t really know what they meant I just said they were stupid for following what everyone else was doing which meant their head was full of holes. Sure my knees also had holes but every one knows you see with eyes at the back of your head. If you don’t get this then you don’t belong in my w(h)ole universe.


Satanic Bible on Interlibrary Loan

Can we allow one cliché? In 8th grade I pronounced it clich. “Oh you said that yesterday, that’s such a clich.” As if. The devil lurks beneath all small Texas towns, propelled by its music. A well of teenagerness could do it, something Radclyffe Hall’s couldn’t. The well could be one screech and scream a mile underground. In the middle of all of your friends. What I remembered was the check out slip, the carbon copy, my confident signature, the unfazed look of the clerk who looked at the title but who already had a scrunched face all the time and a wimpy name and a pale pale complexion, I didn’t know if anything was different to him. In my head the interlibrary loan is swathed in snow. To drive you to not the devil’s music but the library. Lighters in the air in the dark. Yes think of the saddest song ever but it’s not dumb ok? No one’s hair caught on fire. Moving on a ballad suspended on guitar solos that hung on a note that fell off the roof of the concert hall where I was headbanging with 4,500 headbangers. I looked it up: The Villarreal Convention Center hosted 4,500 of us at the only Metallica show in the area with Cliff Burton who died two months later. I close my eyes and I can only see snow where there’s no snow, The Satanic Bible on interlibrary loan, with its pink-paper-taped-badge-of-a-sash, so I couldn’t see the whole cover, stacked in my pile of books, some mine, some not, under a stereo playing Master of Puppets 24/7 before I knew what 24/7 meant. There is no snow in south Texas. There were the Matamoros murders that someone sort of connected to heavy metal but I never understood. You have to remember the vacuum of a well of loneliness, that’s where this is all headed. Sort of like Alice in Wonderland, but really Laura Ingalls Wilder, one mile below sea level, permeating everything. I dreamed one of those wells in Little House on the Prairie with me inside with my ripped jeans and Reeboks copied off of James Hetfield. But he wasn’t the one who said to go check out The Satanic Bible. It was Slayer but I didn’t listen to Slayer. It was Ozzy and I did listen to Mr. Crowley but Ozzy wasn’t my age. I think back and all I can see is snow falling but there was no snow in the border. There were a lot of death metallers and that’s related to Scandinavia somehow but maybe it wasn’t snow, maybe what I’m thinking of is the whole town in one of those Xmas shakers, all of us in there as specks while the glittery flecks swirl around and I’m in there somewhere in some well, checking this book out. It was the light of the library I remember. Which is fluorescent light, which is like snow, but I didn’t know what light the devil’s music was. Someone was always saying devil’s music and I thought maybe it was a dead scroll under the basement of every Catholic Church. In 1986 in 8th grade I did what the title said I did. I did. I did. I did, to answer it in my dreams from here on ever after. It was in the liner notes of so many. One day I said I will see, I will see, I will see. Buried in folded paper in the cassettes. I looked for it at the bookstore at the mall. One day the postcard came that not Aleister Crowley’s but Anton LaVey’s book was in, The Satanic Bible, and my parents didn’t see it, I got the mail that day. I got it and flipped through it and honestly it sat there in my pile of books with the Ayn Rand one I was reading for a scholarship essay, Judy Blume’s Forever on interlibrary loan (look it up) and a stack of records. Reading it, I thought every thing would come together, every defunct water well shortened to level, the snow I think I saw disappearing in there disappeared, every cryptic evil line in every song I halfway listened to appear with its subliminals exposed, every pentagram come alive, it would all make sense once I read it, but I couldn’t read it backwards, like how we tried to listen to Stairway to Heaven backwards for the line Satan, something Satan, which is what the video warning us against the devil’s music said, but backwards or forward, nothing shocked me and I think that’s what shocked me most of all, made me wonder if the devil’s music was already inside my head.



It was in the forgotten part of Tonawanda, the old downtown, that she found the jacket. In a thrift store with a name no one ever remembers except that it’s the thrift store with all the good stuff. It was a metallic blue security guard jacket, the kind people wear when they are not police but something kind of important; you see them out of the corner of your eye and know you shouldn’t be doing anything wrong. The jacket was hanging on the store’s rack in the middle of other sorry dull jackets, with the ones that stay unsold forever through winter and summer, not old enough to be cool, not new enough to be nice. The jacket had the word Cazenovia stitched in it, she knew it wasn’t that far from where she lived now, but wasn’t exactly sure what Cazenovia entailed except that she might be mortified to admit she wasn’t from there but would have to explain the long story about how she got the jacket in the first place. There was a word that was partly stitched, but the stitch was ripped out, though Cazenovia flowed beneath in gold cursive stitching. Somebody’s stitching machine messed up, like her last coat messed up on her. She wore the new used blue shiny coat every day, maybe people mixed her in with the very cool people who wore used clothes like that, she just got it because she needed a new coat plain and simple. She tried to think of excuses in case someone really wanted to know if she was from Cazenovia, if she really cut her teeth there or was she just trying to hide behind it. The truth was that she cut her teeth in another place like Cazenovia, but how to say she cut her teeth there but wasn’t really there? One time she was in On the Run and she knew it. She was at the register getting a coffee in a Styrofoam cup and the cashier’s eyes were on the broken stitch and Cazenovia the whole time. Are You From Cazenovia? the cashier asked. Um No, she said. I Just Have This Jacket, and she shifted her weight from one uneven Converse to the next. Yeah, Right. Uh. Huh. the cashier said under a certain current. She thought of getting rid of the jacket then but she didn’t have another one, this was just right, should she get rid of a jacket because the cashier on the outskirts of town knew she wasn’t from Cazenovia and was trying to wear a security jacket from that town? She never answered the question. Then there was the woman whose name she never learned, who came by every so often where she worked, in the middle of a neighborhood in the middle of nowhere, a bike ride past vacant lots, every day, up the same creaky steps to the old office to the paper work, and hanging the jacket up on the rack affixed to the back of the office door. It could possibly be a lie that she totally wore the jacket minus any thoughts to its second-hand-ness or vintage. It is true she loved Cyndi Lauper in junior high and all the vintage clothes that entailed. But she felt guilty with this coat, but what could she do. The Lake Effect didn’t discriminate. The woman she didn’t remember the name of came in the office every so often, talking about her husband’s unemployment and her overnight shifts at her job. Every day the same, saying hello to the woman with no name, trudging up the stairs, take off the jacket, hang it up, sit down, file the papers, put the jacket back on, worry about being truthfully from Cazenovia, go home, eat, go to sleep, get up, coffee and put on the jacket with the missing stitches for someone’s name, and go to work again. Last winter she was staring out the window of the old building where the office is, and the woman with no name came in and had some blue material in her hand. “I always felt bad for you,” she said “with your jacket and name messed up, and so I brought this for you.” She held a jacket with her name perfectly stitched and with the back, stitching of a trucking company. A real trucking company and her real name, really stitched by a real person who worked in an embroidery factory, now she knew. Someone who knew her name all along and the missing stitches she thought no one noticed. As she fingered her new coat, with her name on it, no irony here, no trying to fake being part of the trucking company, she realized you can never try to hide your missing stitches. You think don’t nobody notice what’s missing, even if it’s not yours to begin with, but someone’s gonna see through it, see through your Cazenovias, your trucking companies, your name.

Insert Grateful Dead’s “Truckin” here…


Steph Gray

Poet-filmmaker Steph Gray is the author of seven collections of poetry, including Shorthand and Electric Language Stars (Portable Press at Yo-Yo Labs, 2015) and the chapbooks, Words are What You Get/You Do It for Real (above/ground press, 2019) and A Country Road Going Back in Your Direction (Argos Books, 2015).


The Brooklyn Rail

MAY 2017

All Issues