Through Sound and Time 2001
After what later became known as the “Fight of The Century”. Paul went back to school and I went back to the comic shoppe life. My dad gave me a life changing ultimatum early in the year. I had a choice out of three. I could A) Move out B) Pay rent or C) I could go to school. Seeing that my best bet financially would be to pay for a couple of classes at the local county college, I opted for that. I took two classes: English 101 and Photo 101. I wasn’t exactly excited about continuing my education, especially after my high school experience. Frankly. I was just starting to understand that it was ok to be different and I wasn’t actually looking forward to having a bunch of classmates give me shit about not listening to their music, or dressing like them.
Boy, did I have college pegged all wrong! So I excelled in my English class partly because I’d made a point to ace both of these classes so my pop wouldn’t kick me out and partly I think that Camden County has a bit of a lowered expectation for what is considered proper English. I struggled with the Photo Class for the first half of the semester. Then I hit stride and began to understand light and printing. I can’t lie though I had some help. My dad had taken the class as well, so I was extra motivated to do the work. There was no option to sleep in and miss class either.
So I had found a new calling. Something that I actually liked to do aside from write that could actually become a career. If only I’d have known the amount of work involved in becoming a photographer. I wonder would I actually be one now. Thankfully it seemed an easy way to make money and I started on my path toward the visual arts.
As the year moved forward I began to make friends around the college, Mostly liberal arts majors and photo students in the photo lab. And there were girls of course. It was easily the first time in my life where girls were actually treating me like a human being and I think a lot of that had to do with my decision to just sit back not be annoying as all hell and observe. I made an effort to be myself but to not be overtly weird.
It was late March when I finally started hanging out with people that I went to school with. I was at a Dropkick Murphys show hitting the pit with a confidence I had picked up in the last few shows due to an entourage of friends and reoccurring acquaintances who had dubbed me “Crazy Legs” because of my erratic mosh pit dancing style. I was a local celebrity for the first time in my life, and I was loving it. On a trip to the men’s room at Philadelphia’s illustrious Electric Factory I ran full on into Dena Merlino, the lab monitor at my college. I mean I actually ran into her. She recovered and I told her I’d be right back. I was thirsty and in those days I wasn’t drinking beer at shows and I wasn’t going to pay $3 for bottled water when Philly tab would do just fine. I got back and we both laughed about the accident and we exchanged phone numbers to hang out later. I couldn’t talk for long as my crowd was in action and dancing in the pit.
Dena Merlino was a raven haired goddess to me. She had that Betty Page haircut and she was into the same kind of music I dug, well read and she took an interest in me so that was a plus too. She was a little older (a year) and I was still way too shy to deal with girls on anything more than meet-ups and hangouts. She asked me what I was going to do for my birthday this year (because I was turning 21) the next week in class. I wasn’t sure I was doing anything. I’d spent the last to years just sitting around the house doing pretty much nothing, Birthdays hadn’t been a big deal for me then. They were more of a time to reflect where I’d wonder about the future and if I’d do anything with myself, depressing stuff really. I told her I had no idea what to do. I didn’t drink so going to a bar was out. She told me she’d see what bands were playing.
The next week she told me she’d gotten tickets to see bands at the Trocadero. I was way too excited to even care who I saw. The weeks past and I’d come to the lab to hang out . Dena would check out my stuff and give me hints on how to create different effects and we bullshit about music. We even found out we had a mutual friend, Pete Hagan, who had just started working with me in the comic shop. Pete instantly grew on my like a foot fungus. I’d hang out at his place til the late hours of the morning, we’d watch movies like the Warriors and he’d lend me music from his collection. The Smiths, Morrissey and he even got me into Metallica a bit. The Old Metallica like Ride the Lightning and such, But I digress.
So the day of May 16, 2001 came to pass. Dena met me at my (dad’s) place we drove to Philly to see the Kottonmouth Kings. Never heard of them, nor had she, we just figured we’d see what they were about. Brian McManus came along as well. We listened to a Tribute to the Misfits comp on the way there. I wasn’t intimately familiar with the misfits just then, but I do remember that much. So we got in early and muscled through the first band that was like some kind of rap/rock clown metal band whose message was that it’s not fair that the government takes away your money from your minimum wage paychecks. Mindless droning and selfish spoiled suburban kids bitching about how different they were and how much more money they should be making. We laughed at them. And I hoped that this next band wouldn’t be so bad. Needless to say that if you know about the sort of music I’m into, these were horrible bands in anyone’s opinion. I still mark this down as one of the worst concerts I’ve ever been to. The company was great though. We ended the night at Runnemede’s Philly Diner. Nothing ever blossomed with Dena though from time to time we catch up and still laugh about that show.
Summer of 2001 hit and I had deeply gotten involved with the skating scene in my home town. I was using the tennis court behind the Shoprite as my skate ramp. My friends and I would meet there and try to do tricks. We’d listen to Guttermouth and Suicide Machines and Goldfinger. It’s funny that we thought this made us punk. Sure we were punk, but I think it had absolutely nothing to do with the amount of music and skating we did.
Pete Hagan had recently procured a job at Mister Softee for the summer. He got me a job there too. For the first time in my life I was really making enough money to have fun with. It was a grueling job, though. I’d spend all day riding around and serving ice cream in Trenton. It was just me to my thoughts all day. There was no one to talk to and all I had was my music. Lucky for me my boss was a big music lover and had installed a sound system into the truck. Each day I’d drive up Rt1 and go to CD World to find my CD of the day. This habit thoroughly extended my music collection. I bought all the Clash albums, Elvis Costello’s My Aim is True, The Deviates, Death By Stereo, Ten Foot Pole, Alkaline Trio Albums. In short I was all over the place musically and I was rocking out. One of the Albums I’ll never forget Lou Reed’s Growing Up in Public is indelibly scraped into my mind during that time because My boss played it during my training period. Softee was how I learned not to fear highways, how I learned to drive in a city and learned not to worry about being afraid of the projects. I must have listened to Rancid’s Black Album everyday up 295. Sadly, My time with Softee ended on a down note as I got robbed and then the next day I broke my arm. That was the end of June… I had a ticket to see Green Day and the Living End that day. In the Hospital I started reading a lot of trade paperback. Kurt Busiek’s Astro City was a feature of the 3 day stay in the hospital. I healed in a few months and even made it to Warped Tour 2001 at the end of July.
August was a shitty month for me. The girl I was dating just stopped answering my calls and I got fired from the Comic Shoppe. It was a huge blow for me. I wasn’t really sure I’d be able to make it doing anything but selling comics to people and playing CCG’s. Thankfully, it was likely the best thing my friends did for me. There was still a large amount of strife going on because I had been caught cheating by the DCI a year prior and I needed to move on and start making some kind of life for myself. At the end of the month when school had started I was already working at a photo lab in the Echelon Mall and life got back to being stable.
Photo 2 and English 201 were a snap and I had started to develop a dark style to my photography, and a mantra that I still hold to today. Well, perhaps not a mantra but a dark humour to who I am. A Sick Cry For Help, one of the “alternative” students in my class had said that about my work. Most of my photos for photo 2 were self portraits, in a b movie still fashion. Taking the cue from greats like Hitchcock and Lovecraft I went for a more morbid look to my art. I used chocolate syrup as fake blood and came up with these scenes where it looked like I was either the killer or the victim. I wasn’t hurting on the inside or feeling dark thoughts I was just exploring what kind of reactions I could get from my classmates. One woman remarked that it was a Sick Cry for Help. I laughed, that sounded like a great idea for a book.
I started going upto Rutgers a lot more to hang out that year. Almost every single weekend in fact. Paul was living in the quads on Bush campus, and I was using the time away from work and home to practice my photography. I started hanging out at parties. This was the first time I really went out of my way to be overtly social. I’d drive my friends across campus and we’d hang out and scam on girls then I’d drive everyone back and we’d repeat the process the very next night. I remember Halloween in particular being an overwhelmingly good time, but damned if I can remember what I was that year. I was meeting people of all different cultures and beginning to understand what I was missing for not going away to college. I decided that I needed to get out and make it happen. The rest of the year was a blur but I was reading Camus and started on Finnegan’s Wake (which to this day I haven’t finished). I do remember that I was drinking a lot of Jolt Cola then. I had met my current roommate and had started writing these 100 word stories and haikus into a book. It was a formative year and a lot happened that changed how I looked at the world I made connections that to this day still affect me 9 years later. Things were rapidly getting interesting.