In no particular order…
1. Phil Hartman Dies - May 28th, 1998. I heard the news on my car radio. It was shocking. Devastating. Way worse than Kurt Cobain. Kurt Cobain wasn’t the funniest person ever. A celebrity death has never affected me as much before or since.
2. Columbine - April 20th, 1999. Not the first school shooting, but somehow it felt the most evil. The way they planned it. The amount of weaponry. The black outfits. It took me a long time to shake the creepy feeling that hung over me after that day.
3. The first time I got high - Sometime in the Spring of 1993. I had smoked pot a few times before that and just thought marijuana was overhyped. I mean, I kinda felt a little buzzed I guess. Then one day, I actually got high for reals. It kicked in while I was being pushed on a tire swing. The moving dirt below framed by the hole in the tire became a movie theatre screen that I felt like I was staring at for three hours. When I got off minutes later, I cowered behind a bush thinking the feeling was never going to go away. Eventually I went home wearing a shit eating grin for twenty minutes as my dad told me about how he was going to meet Axl Rose at a local awards show that weekend. I don’t think he ever did.
4. The first (and only) time I took mushrooms - Sometime in 1995. I went to visit some friends in Chicago. At the time they were taking hallucinogens with the frequency most people smoke pot. I decided to try a little bit. The amount proved to not be enough to send me on an ego annihilating shamanic journey and instead, just amplified the marijuana induced anxiety I was already feeling. We had come from Detroit with an acquaintance who had a worse freak out than me and thought everyone thought he was gay. I didn’t want to drive home with that dude, because I thought he was going to make me think I was gay, so I blew off the ride and stranded myself in Chicago. Turns out the guy actually was gay. And I just turned out to be having a classic case of “homosexual panic.” I think. I hope. Why does everybody think I’m gay?!!
5. Lifespring - Summer of ‘94. I had just graduated high school and I was lost. My mother’s cousin had taken this seminar called “Lifespring” that’s supposed to help you change your life. She got my mom to do it and in turn, my mom got me. Over the course of the next two weeks, I would spend the entire day locked in a hotel conference room with strangers while we were systematically broken down. These were adults mind you. Real adults surrounding me sobbing about divorce, drug addiction, and shattered dreams. I was eighteen and the worst I’d gone through was an unrequited crush. The brainwashing worked and for the rest of the summer I dressed like a Mormon and walked around thinking I was better than my friends because all they wanted to do was get stoned and have sex. Ha. Losers…
6. Getting beat up by Mike H. - Summer of ‘93. Mike H. was a guy in our circle of friends who had re-invented himself as the toughest guy in school after his own traumatic ass whooping freshman year. He considered himself to be sort of a renaissance bully, giving as much care to the psychological aspects of intimidation and malice as the physical . Rumor had it, he even mind-fucked his shrink to tears. A real bush league Hannibal Lechter-type. When his wrath turned against me, it grew to a battle of epic scale. Alliances formed and things eventually ballooned into a hilltop rumble out of an S.E. Hinton movie. The thing got so big, that for weeks, I’d personally managed to evade a confrontation. Finally, one morning after a sleepover, some friends and I were hanging out at the elementary school across the street when a car sped up and screeched to a halt in front of us. Mike and some goons got out and he got up in my face, while the goons did the taunting. I tried to Woody Allen my way out of things and actually did make Mike’s girlfriend laugh when I referred to a goon named “Mad Dog” as “Mad Puppy.” Then I was sucker punched in the face and repeatedly stomped in the ribs on the cement.
7. Losing my virginity - 1995. I was working as a bus boy the year after graduation and had begun flirting with a cute hostess. One day I got up the nerve to ask her out and we started dating. I knew from the moment we kissed, everything was wrong. There was absolutely no chemistry. It was as exciting as making out with a male cousin (and no, contrary to #4, this was not a good thing and yes, I did have female cousins that would have probably been more fun.) Things got worse when I took her clothes off to reveal a much doughier body than had been advertised by those cute hostess outfits. There were also several red flags indicating mental instability which later proved valid when she was hospitalized for a nervous break down. But I was a nineteen year old virgin and was already well behind my social circles curve. So we had sex. Terrible, terrible sex. I know I’m a man, but darn it, I wanted it to be special too. Now all I have to reminisce about is a couple passionless missionary thrusts and an impending sense of doom from an upcoming court date. Which brings me to #8.
8. Being arrested - Around February 3rd, 1995. I know this date more or less because the Jerky Boys Movie was released on February 3rd, 1995. For whatever reason, my friends and I were going to see it that night, so we piled in a car parked in front of my father’s house and got high. Moments later, three police cars appeared out of nowhere, having stealthily rolled up on us under the cover of night and then flipped their lights on as they boxed us in. Four of us were taken down to the station that night and three of us were arrested for having something on them, including me. Much like the surprise attack by Mike H. in #6, I still have no idea how they managed the surprise ambush. Maybe in both cases it was just fortuitous. Or maybe, just maybe… there was a rat.
9. Death of a friend -1998. Having a friend die makes young people feel like they’ve earned a special badge in life. At least I always felt that way. I would drop it in conversation sometimes to make myself seem more interesting, more world worn. It’s an exploitation of the persons death that’s more about your image than it is about properly honoring their memory. That’s the tricky thing I feel writing about it now. This being a public blog, I hope to make this entertaining for the reader, so how do I do that without exploiting? I don’t really know other than by being as honest about my experience of dealing with their death as possible. I really cared about my friend and I think they were very special and there are many times when I think about them and even imagine seeing them secretly walking around like they were Elvis or Tupac. I imagine surprising them in the aisle of a grocery store in some part of the world they never expected to run into anyone and then hearing all about why and how they faked their death over lunch. I really would love for this to happen and sometimes, I think it really will. Maybe not giving up on fantasies like that is the best way to honor the memory of a friend.
10. Parents divorce - Around April 27th, 1993. Like #8, I’m able to date this with relative accuracy because of an event in popular culture. I had just purchased the newly released debut album of Porno for Pyros the day I met my father for the dinner he told me he and my mother had officially been divorced. I hesitated to include this in the list because I never really felt I experienced the trauma consciously. The breakdown of my parents marriage had a lot of competition in the early nineties: girls, drugs, the alternative rock boom. Not only was there not much room left in my teenage emotional life for the divorce, but the benefits of a broken home and distracted parents provided the opportunity for lots and lots of wonderful coming-of-age house parties. I guess I’m mature enough now to understand that this was probably how I was dealing with the trauma. Maybe I was just too busy listening to “Jump Around” in those days to realize that I was indeed living in my own… House of Pain.