I love anniversaries, and red letter dates, moments of occasion, and calendar celebrations. They can remind us of good times, and memorials. But, above all, they serve to remind us of where we’re from, what happened to bring us here, and why it is important to always move ahead. And I don’t mean only holidays. Our challenges and our blessings are all wrapped together in dates circled in memo books, diary entries, personal memories.
Did I ever mention when and how I started writing? Don’t worry, this won’t be a long story. In 1989, I was a wee and curious thing in high school. My best friend (Steve Light, where are you???) and I had become little darlings at a Goth club in Berlin called “Linientreu.” There we meet a slew of richly caricatured souls, including a young English nurse by the name of Rose. She had this short pixie haircut, the kind that looks playful and sensual if framing the right face. But, Rose never tended to it, so she always ended up at the club dressed amazingly, dancing languidly and proud, make-up worthy of glossy fashion print, but looking like someone had just taken sheers to her head. Odd that I remember that about her, but that’s how the scenery of memory works.
Anyhow, she invited Steve and me to a party at her cramped flat one evening. It was in Kreuzberg. If you know anything of Berlin in the 1980’s, you will know that Kreuzberg was a dangerous place to go. But, I was 16 and adventurous, daring and curious. Every young man should be at that age. He should test the limits, see where “too far” really is. It’s no different than really learning what “hot” is when you touch a stove for the first time as a tot. You have to experience it to know how dangerous it is.
We arrived at Rose’s closet of an apartment. I only make mention of how small it was, because of the number of people she had invited. Perhaps 50 people crowded themselves into a flat you could shove on a shelf. She said quickly as we entered, “LOOK! My American boys! Yay! Now…..coke is there in that corner, there’s a little smack in that corner, and don’t be greedy, and some hash on the balcony…..” Big smiled she was at how much of an accommodating hostess she was proving herself to be.
I looked at Steve, and Steve in turn, looked to me. Both of us rigid and wide eyed with shell shock. I asked Rose nervously and asked with one of those titter of a laughs that exposes how nervous you are, “Got any beer?”
Her scream was undiluted, and caused a few cracks in the wall, I’m sure. “HEY! HEYYYYYY!…..(all went quiet, all eyes on her)…..did anyone bring any beer?”
Not a peep. She turned back to us as her smile brightened and said, “Sorry, fellas! Enjoy!” She then danced off back to her guests as I turned quickly to Steve and said, “We’ll go to the hash. I’ll be David Bowie, you be Iggy Pop.”
And there we were on the balcony, lovingly enjoying the breeze, the view of the bright city lights when we smoked hash for the first time. It must have slowly crept up on me, because for the longest time I felt like I was smoking nothing more than a cigarette and telling myself how harmless this really was. Having to pee, I found my way to the restroom. And while unbuckling my belt, I could hear the music. I’ll never forget it. It was Siouxsie’s, “Red Over White.” And suddenly I started seeing all of these scenes in my head, could feel my imagination truly take hold, could see a story line develop. Without batting a lash, I looked around thinking how desperately I had to write this down. I found an eyeliner pencil and a roll of toilet paper and just sat on the floor and started writing. Just scribbled on the toilet paper as he rolled and rolled out. Then the next song came on and my story shifted. New ideas, new scenes, new twists to the plot. I must have been there a good 10 minutes before a knock on the door got up me up…..clutching an eye liner pencil, trailing a roll of toilet paper behind me.
I screamed at Steve, “You HAVE to read this.”
“You wrote this? That’s good…..what happens to the evil queen?”
“I don’t know. I’m waiting to see what the next song is….”
Then it became a beautiful routine. Steve and I would gather some hash from Rose, go back to my apartment, smoke something, and Rose would dash in a flash (always after an American GI). We’d pull out our records (ha! Remember those?) Steve would play DJ, and I would write. When done, he would read, encourage me, and there ladies and gentlemen, I was set free. Oh, and what freedom I found in the vinyl scratches of Diamanda Galas, Skinny Puppy, Einsturzende Neubauten, Anne Clark, Alien Sex Fiend, Dead Can Dance, This Mortal Coil, and of course, Siouxsie.
Other friends would come over to visit, see the writing on my desk and in mid sentence, their eyes would scan the desk, they’d mumble a few salutations, then go quiet.
“I just started writing that,” I’d say proudly.
Then they would have a seat.
I’d ask, “Wanna get something to eat?”
“Hold on….I’m reading this.”
“What do you think?”
“Well, it’s good.” Pauses as they continue scanning the writing on the desk before looking to me with curiosity. “I wanna know what happens to the evil queen….” Obviously.
It was here that my AP English teacher assigned us to write weekly journals and pass them in. After class I told him I wasn’t quite sure I wanted to journal. “Well, that’s the assignment. Figure out a way to do it.”
“Well, I was thinking maybe I did a serial instead. Maybe I’d write a new chapter every week with a cliffhanger to keep the story going?”
Man, you should have seen the look in his eyes. As though he were proud, but still asked, “Why not a journal?”
“It’s just not what I want to write, but I want to write something. I have an idea in my head.”
He smiled, placed his hand on my shoulder and said, “Ok. If it’s a good enough story, I’ll let you keep going, but after two weeks, if it’s not grabbing my attention, you need to go back to journals.”
He collected our journals (and my first chapter on Friday), read them over the weekend, then gave us his thoughts on Monday. Monday morning I rolled into class and he pulled me aside. “I want you to read this out loud, in front of the class.”
“I want to see what you do with it. It’s dramatic, expressive. I want to see how you deliver it to your classmates.”
I stood there, frozen, staring at my classmates, a tickle in my throat, cute football player’s biceps distracting me. I looked to Herr Schmoll, then down at the page, cleared my throat and…..
(To Be Continued…..with a major announcement in part 2).
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