Passion of the Weiss is the place where Douglas Martin and many of the best wordsmiths around found their voice as writers. This could have been a chapbook, but instead he gave these words to this site. Please subscribe to our Patreon and support the work we do.
Douglas Martin got the bars from being in group homes.
I come from a long lineage of introverted, stubborn, hard-working, intelligent black men. I don’t really know if the men who came before me were as spiritually exhausted as I feel in the bulk of my adult years, because our conversations hardly ever went that deep. I know both generations preceding mine have suffered from depression, but depression and psychic fatigue are parallel but not entirely similar journeys. It has been too long since the last time I called my grandfather; I imagine him in Buffalo cracking open a can of Coors Light (what we drank together on the last day of the week he spent here after my father’s funeral).
When they broil me to a crisp and put what’s left in a jar, I hope someone writes a poem about how I made it through the best years of my life with a burnt out soul.
I. Roc Marciano – “Muse”
The golden sunset is bouncing off the overpasses of the freeway and the buildings of downtown Seattle, touching my face like the hand of someone who took herself away from me far too soon.
I started the new year interviewing for a job I’m pretty immensely qualified for and didn’t even know I wanted until I received an email from a writer in town I respect. A handsome prince; he’s going to be running the discourse on Seattle’s music scene one day. I interviewed for the position — “I’m not easily intimidated by people” was the pull quote — and my future boss very strongly hinted I was hired a few days later, replete with winking emoticon.
Now I’m in the car, breezing down southbound I-5 in my El Camino upon finishing my first week, sinking in the overwhelmed feeling of having too much to keep up with.
I was on the precipice of spending the lion’s share of 2018 writing stoned prose poems and impressionistic short fiction about a lost love of sorts I ended up courting again: Seattle’s fertile, sorta-insular, off-center music scene. My early days in my position conjured up memories of attending shows at Healthy Times Fun Club and the wonderment of the career first of having a desk. I brought thumbtacks, a poster for an NXT show I didn’t go to, a magic marker drawing my eldest niece made of Sonic the Hedgehog when she was like five, and a vinyl sleeve of the Microphones’ masterpiece The Glow Pt. 2.
Much like many of the artists I admire, I’m very protective of my work. I obsess over every detail fastidiously, with a very particular eye on how they all are presented as parts and the whole. In the case of my novel — halfway done and in gestation since my mom died in January 2014 — I’m too protective. I sit on it and sit on it, apprehensive to get it done and let it go. Afraid of the postpartum period.
II. Vic Spencer and Sonnyjim featuring Chris Crack – “SauceMANIA”
I’m on my commute to Seattle Center, thinking about how things with my new lady friend have already petered out, but cheering myself up by listening to “SauceMANIA” and feeling untouchable.
Faking it until I make it, I guess.
A scant few weeks ago, I was getting ready for work at the supermarket on a chilly January afternoon, apron tied tightly around my torso. She kept marveling at how sexy I look in it (not the first time I’ve been paid that particular compliment, but always welcome and appreciated nonetheless). She was working from my house for the day; we did things I’ll politely decline to describe here before I had to scurry off to the store.
She told me stories about growing up in the Valley and knowing Dean Spunt in high school. I shared the trials of a childhood living in fear and an adolescence too bitter and self-destructive to believe in it. Sparks led to flames between us; jokes, emotional intimacy (which isn’t a difficult place to arrive with me), and a unique sexual chemistry. Talkative dates over several upon several drinks. Catching glimpses of her tattooed hands tightly gripping my windowsill. Her getting up to leave and hang out with a friend in Tacoma, because she never sleeps over with anyone. And as always with things that burst into flames quickly, those flames tend to burn out and turn into smoke and smolder just as fast.
Short but meaningful flings have been a romantic trend in my life over the past few years.
As traffic slows to a crawl on my way to the station, as it does approaching every city, I noticed state troopers giving someone a sobriety test at nine in the morning. She was walking the line as flat-footed as I would have. I wonder what would have happened if I kept the orthopedic insoles I was given when I went to the foot doctor with my uncle when I was in middle school. The world will never know how my distinctive walk would look like with healthy arches.
III. Curren$y – “Mashin”
I’m doing the opposite of mashin’ in the rain.
Been stuck on Mercer for an hour trying to get onto the freeway, somewhere in the space between drizzle and steady pour. I should have put an edible in my Hill-Side bag. Inside are my notebooks, my laptop swaddled in a camouflage sleeve, a bunch of pen marks. I left work at 3:30 to try to beat traffic. It’s almost five and I’m still not even on the freeway yet; I’m practically dying of boredom and joint pain in my knees from sitting, so I decide to record an Instagram story about being gridlocked in traffic and listening to Curren$y.
With extra time to think, I pass through thoughts about the people I hang with. I have a very close friend I never hang out with more than once or twice a month. She has a new position at work and is drowning in a string of twelve-hour days and work trips to Portland. We both like our independence and our solitude, and then we pick up right where we left off, smelling like reefer in the strip mall bistro. I looked the cute waitress in the eye and ordered a martini, extra dirty. I blushed to this friend at the crass suggestion of that particular message.
I recently became buddies with a dude who lives my neighborhood. He’s a native of Florida but is listed as an Army reserve. We’re friends but not really close friends; in certain ways we’re intellectually adversarial, but we have respect for each other. We talk about different ways to bring up future generations of black men. He has a business-minded, money-making sort of approach and I have been considering, visualizing being a mentor to young black folks who want to be music journalists.
Traffic putting me in a desperate mood to fumigate my brain cells and be in the company of a friend, I text the new number my friend from the Eastside gave me two days ago. He’s in, so I head straight to his place. He recently saw a picture of me when I used to wear non-prescription glasses on the regular and started calling me Brother Mouzone. He thinks our personalities are similar. He didn’t know me back when I actually wore a bowtie. I pull up to the curb in front of his place about 6:50.
“Damn, this Swisher is stale as fuck, my nigga. Fuck!”
I’ve always been fascinated by those self-governing, Old Testament-style outlaws (the lawmen to a lesser degree), the ones whose modus operandi is, “Just because I don’t play dirty doesn’t mean I can’t.” All the time I encounter people who think I don’t have it in me. I know I’m capable of doing something really terrible to another man — I’ve written about the violence inside of myself in this space — I just choose not to. Partly out of empathy and partly out of a strong belief in karma. I’m no longer the self-destructive kid growing up with nothing to lose.
After a trip to another corner store to get a fresher pack of Swishers, we return to my friend’s house. His girlfriend teases me: “Mr. Starving Artist,” “Mr. I Don’t Fuck With Banks.” I forgot I told that story the night she made delicious catfish sandwiches and I sat down with her, my friend, and their beautiful, sweet daughter for dinner; the latter no longer a baby, just a kid. Babies and kids mostly like me. She tells me it’s because they can spot a kind soul. I tell her I got a new writing job and she says it’s a step in the right direction, that maybe I’m starting to bet on myself and cash in a little off of my talent.
My friend and I are smoking a blunt and riding around because it’s still too fucking cold to smoke on the patio. He takes two puffs, coughs a little, and says to me, “I feel like you’re actually one of those old cats, who look at the rest of their blunt and get excited about going to bed at 9:30. When we met, you were still working night shifts at the store. Tweakers and shit, asking me for two dollars in the potato chip aisle. I was going to a party and it was still poppin’ after 2am, and you were the guy trying not to get fired for selling alcohol after the cutoff. I handed you an eighteen pack of Budweiser and you said that’s what your dad drank. We became cool that night.”
He agrees with his lady; I’m far too talented to do this starving artist thing any longer. We have a discussion about how many young people of color are brought up to manage our expectations — we are taught to excel and overachieve in every area we explore, with the realization that we could be twice as good as the runner-up behind us and still not even picked to compete in the race.
“I challenge you to finish your projects and not be so scared of success. You’re standing in your own way. And somewhere there’s a young brother dying inside from the shit he’s going through, looking for someone who came from what he came from and made something of himself on his own terms.”
The green and gold lights of the Emerald Queen Casino sign flash in his face — dreamlike in our stoned state — as his eyes grow wide and tells me he doesn’t want to believe my self-doubt is more powerful than the gift I was given.
IV. Denmark Vessey – “Tomorrow Again”
Sun peeking out from behind the clouds, a sliver of gold cutting from behind the dark blue hue of the storm clouds it’s trying to break past, the roads of southbound I-5 are slick and sleek. My car’s wheels turn and turn along past Boeing Field to the right and then Southcenter to the left, Nordstrom winking and taunting me from the calm side of the road. My personal style icons the Strokes guided me through my years in fashion retail; all thrift store suits and skinny ties. It’s Friday afternoon and people are driving like it, darting in and out of lanes in order to get to their lives a minute or two faster than anticipated.
The (cute) young woman who works Saturdays at the tribal-owned smoke shop drive-thru likes to keep the line moving, but when there’s nobody behind me, I always try to chat her up a little.
I hesitated when she asked what she could get me, and after I remembered, I said, “You’d think I’d know what I wanted, since I get the same thing every time. Maybe I go through too many of these Swishers.” She smiled through the bars trapping the window in bondage and said she had the same problem.
Sometimes, I come across someone who thinks imposter syndrome is a cop-out, that it’s not something that legitimately happens to people. I wish I could think like them when I’m wracked with anxiety. Three months in at my new job and I still have this fear of bombing a task, this lingering sense of doubt. “You’re not really the real deal like you think you are. You are what you hate, a pretender.”
On the road toward the (very legit) taco truck on the Tide Flats, thinking about the roundabout between the smoke shop and the straightaway that winds and eventually leads down the hill brings back a painful memory of an awkward, argyle-stuffed kid who listened to Colin Meloy sing about bayonets. Sometimes you have to try on ill-fitting things in order to find your style. I wonder how much time I’ve wasted trying on stuff that doesn’t fit, I wonder what life would be like if I were one of those supernaturally perceptive folks who found themselves early. I’ve always felt like kind of a late bloomer.
When I was a much younger man, I had abandonment issues. A little distance from that and a little added perspective on life helped me realize those issues stemmed from expectation (a form of entitlement, in my personal opinion) and the false implication that some things last forever. Everything is temporary, I’ve been told I say it all the time. Life is just a bunch of phases; what I wear, what I enjoy, who I spend my time with evolves mercilessly.
Under that is the core of the person I’ve always wanted to be, but I’ve had to trade much gold to get there. This year and last and the year before that, I rocked the fur of a raccoon I didn’t shoot or skin. (People frequently ask me what’s the deal with the hat. I answer, “I tried it on and it fit.”) Maybe next year I’ll rock a businessman Stetson like Raylan Givens or one of those wide-brimmed Undertaker joints. Maybe next year I’ll wear all black and abandon hats entirely. Unlike a certain beloved and racist songwriter who wrote a great lyric or two way, way back in the day, black is not how I feel on the inside. But a lot of darkness surrounds me irregardless.
I saw a child who looked exactly like me walking down the street in the rain, with the same spiritually drained look in his eye, doomed to live an existence of tuna fish sandwiches, saltine crackers, and Kool-Aid never sweet enough. Throughout my life, I’ve seen people mistake a kind smile for a happy disposition; those encounters have always made me wonder about the pain which exists inside of everyone. There was no kind smile on this kid’s face, he was exasperated.
V. Chris Crack – “Couch in Silverlake”
An old friend, a dear friend, the first love of my life before she extinguished hers in a fiery ball of rage and regret and uselessness, visited me in a dream last night.
It was set in my bedroom from the apartment I paid half the rent on alongside my sister. The way the sun was positioned, it was about noon. We were deep into a 24-pack of Tecate with nary a lime in sight. She told me in the height of her depression, she couldn’t get enough of me. Said she wanted to hold onto me as much as she could, because my heart and my humor and my brain were the only bright spots in her life. She ran her tattooed fingers along my face. It was like she was still alive.
It made me realize being in love is like a dream; you’re in a completely new place every day.
There’s a young brother in his early-twenties who I work with at the supermarket, I call him D. We talk a lot about music; he’s 23, so he’s into a lot more singer-rap than I am. He’s also got me way beat in the R&B department. He put me on to “Boo’d Up” before anybody; before blogs, Twitter, anybody. He had three jobs but now only works at the store; the Sears where he worked closed down (along with hundreds of others) and he left his job at Amazon. He worked in the warehouse. He once told me, “Everything you’ve heard is true.”
I’m one of those stoners who sometimes goes to bed early, wakes up at six-thirty the next morning, only to light a joint while I watch the sun rise.
The morning I heard Anthony Bourdain had taken his own life, I walked around my living space in a half-asleep, half-stoned daze. I always appreciated his talent for capturing a singular perspective no matter the locale or company, his boundless sense of curiosity, his embodiment of the phrase, “Do no harm, but take no shit.”
I pondered the darkness inside of him, the kind that would make him want to kill himself, tucked away behind the blinding light of the world and all its wonders. I have certainly experienced those dark moods myself. During an early valley in my lifelong struggle with depression, in the thick of age 20, I had a friend who couldn’t for the life of him understand why I wanted to kill myself. He would tell me how much I had going for me, how much talent I had. Of course, people who struggle with this state of mind know it doesn’t matter their level of talent or success or adulation.
Sometimes the voice you hear the loudest is the one in your head, telling you you ain’t shit.
I feel most people have that aforementioned voice in the back of their head, and fighting that voice is a fight worth having. But I do still have those thoughts, about regretting my choice to accept this still-pretty-new job because of all the pressure I put on myself to write meaningful things.
It would be so much easier to just be some charming nobody who works at a supermarket. Smoking weed every day and banging soccer moms. But would it be satisfying in the long term?
I fell into a minor relapse of depression, a crisis of confidence, right before summer started in earnest. I thought about giving up for the first time since my manic-depressive blackout from the summer I was dumped by a woman who I wasn’t even in love with. Needless to say, life has been pretty tough for me since my parents died and sometimes I struggle to feel I have what it takes to carry on. I don’t have enough space on my body for memorial portrait tattoos of all the people I’ve lost.
I stepped out of the El Camino, nearly dragging the tote bag I brought along for my groceries to go in. An elderly couple was concerned because they thought I was spitting blood, but I had smoked some reefer and had half a bag of Starburst Reds before I made a store run. I drank two plastic cups full of water before I left the house, and my throat was kind of gummy and clogged because I don’t drink enough water.
Living in the suburbs is a double-edged sword for me. I grow weary of the polite insincerity of my neighbors, but I like the peace, quiet, and generous helpings of solitude.
I popped the latch on the tailgate of my El Camino so we could talk for a little bit. We watched the vast expanse of the cloudy sky from Trader Joe’s parking lot. I never thought I’d be in my mid-thirties still kicking bars to women I’ve just met, but here we are.
The only thing that ended up happening was good conversation.
“At first, it was like, ‘You screwed someone over who I’m still very much friends with,’ but then it became, ‘Why are you and I pretending we’re still friends? We haven’t talked in two years.’” We were chatting about friendship while looking at the darkening sky. She has a friend she doesn’t exactly like, but she doesn’t have many friends and therefore doesn’t want to let this one go. I reply on the grounds of rhapsodizing my solitude. She doesn’t like her friend, but doesn’t really like herself enough to be alone much of the time. This is probably why she’s talking to a stranger in a grocery store parking lot.
I’m certain she could smell the weed on me; I don’t wear cologne to hide it.
June started with working hard at my still-new job, scrambling down the sidewalks of Pioneer Square covering Upstream Music Festival, a couple of drinks and an edible in me, pen marks all over the hardcover of my notebook, bratwurst with a close friend who is an editor in a field unrelated to mine (I let her read my notes and she marveled at how they were ready for the page), singing along to Protomartyr as Joe Casey croons into his drink, staving off thinking about the concept of death even though it is something that efficiently comes for us all, rainy drives as we creep into summer listening to “Couch on Silverlake,” feeling happy about my relationship with the Pacific Northwest, “Draymond sucks” chants. The grey of the suburban sky in the early afternoon is soothing.
I’m feeling kind of tacky; I could really go for a hard shell taco.
VI. Westside Gunn – “SaBu”
Once again, I’m smoking joints on the patio of my brother’s house. He and his wife (they got legally married about a week and a half ago; I had an unrelated anxiety attack and didn’t go to the family function after they got home from the courthouse) and my four-month old nephew are in the Dominican Republic to attend her niece’s wedding. They bought me a big bottle of moscato that’s almost gone; I just had a glass even though it’s only noon.
Supreme Blientele is an album I think my father would have liked if he were alive for me to play it for him. I imagine him blasting the fuck out of it while he washes his cars. I briefly considered washing my car here, as I did last year, but forgot to ask my brother where the car washing supplies were and wasn’t passionate enough about the idea to send an international text. My father taught me a lot about dignity, about how to carry oneself. And, of course, I’m his first-born son, right? So it’s self-evident why I share is distaste to perform for people in some demeaning minstrel dance.
Now I’m driving up to Seattle for a DEFY show, glittery lotion from one of the bathrooms on my hands, golden sparkles twinkling in the sunlight. Being stoned (as my natural state has been these past few months), the effect is illuminating. Austin Aries swindling Shane Strickland out of the championship, standing in the ring holding up one of his seven or eight belts in front of a pissy and emotionally defeated Washington Hall crowd burns through the darkness as I close my eyes to go to sleep.
The next day was one of those mornings where I took a good look at myself in the bathroom mirror, and instead of seeing the one grey chin hair, I had noticed I sprouted four or five.
I set up my work station on their kitchen counter and set one of my baby nephew’s onesies on the stool next to mine. There were words on it, and they read, “Handpicked for earth by my grandpa in heaven.” I passed by photos of my mom and dad on a cruise and thought about how it has already been four and a half years since they were both alive.
Bella slept on the floor while I watched All Japan Pro Wrestling matches into the double digits of the night. She’s a sweet girl. In the deep recesses of my brain, I can hear my mom yelling at me for rolling a blunt on her dining table. I started housesitting on Tuesday night, by Wednesday night, I drank the last of the moscato and am eating Orville Redenbacher and binge-watching Power to catch up before the new episode on Sunday.
It’s 90 degrees out, I have tan lines on my thighs and this patchy-ass beard, and I’m eating a frozen pizza called Bessie’s Revenge. I wondered for a second if the golden pistol Uncle Willy gave Earn (and all his boys were cracking on it) was a potshot at the gun used in Season 4. Power is a lot extra, but still I watch.
“Praying five times a day, I got court soon.” There’s only a subtle shade of emotional complexity in Westside Gunn’s creative world. After all, why have emotional complexity when you could have confidence? But every now and again, he’ll drop something heavy, like turning to religion in order to get bailed out of a jam.
Bella likes to sleep and lay in the sun. She most certainly has a playful spirit, though. She’s outside while I’m in a haze getting ready. Here, I have long, lazy nights and early mornings waking up to two boxes of diapers staring me down in the guest room. I’ve been thinking about shaving my housesitting beard ahead of a first date with a very pretty lady at a restaurant I frequent. At a glance she looks like Maggie Gyllenhaal with red hair and short bangs. We had drinks and a nice dinner, and I wish I could remember what we talked about, because it was so much fun talking to her.
We didn’t kiss when we said goodbye to each other, but I talked to Bella about our instant chemistry, her disarming intelligence, her easy charm. It’s been a long time since I hit it off with someone so firmly and immediately. The Tinder gods hath shone their light on me once again. Bella’s really just happy I’m home. She slaps her tail on the floor while we watch Mitsuharu Misawa vs. Kenta Kobashi, Halloween 1998.
These housesitting stints for my brother often feel like vacations, even though I’m a five minute drive away from home. My last vacation has been taking up a lot of space in my mind; Memphis in 2015 for Gonerfest. I escaped from town a couple of times in the months following my father’s murder. I remember how the first thing I smelled on the way to the hotel from the airport was barbecue. At 10:30 on a Wednesday night. My dreams are the only other places I smell barbecue in the air at night.
I haven’t had a lot of things to do these past few years, completely by design. After my parents died, I required a lot more solitude than normal; I suppose I was recharging from the spiritual drain of grief. Things have been happening anyway, and my schedule gets fuller and fuller.
My time out from the world is over, I guess. I’ve got too much shit to do.
I closed the garage and stepped out into the still-hot evening sun, two bags, my laptop, and my pizza pan in tow. I tried my hardest to sneak out, but Bella knew I was leaving.
VII. Curren$y featuring Wiz Khalifa – “The Count”
The heat is blaring through the windshield of the El Camino as I cycle the roundabout in order to head to the reefer store. I stopped going to the one on Sixth Ave in Tacoma when I found out there was a tribal-owned, tribal grown store in Fife, which fulfills the part of me that tries to support POC-owned businesses and is more convenient because it’s ten minutes away from my house instead of half-hour. I pass by the taco truck I intend on visiting later. My back is sweating buckets, but at least the red leather seat isn’t burning my ass anymore.
Now I’m sitting at a stool in front of the taco truck on the Tide Flats close to my house, staring blankly at the marina across the street, talking to a pretty blonde wearing a stylish blue romper with a pink and white floral print (underscoring the word “stylish” with the added information that she is also a Libra). We’re currently on a first date. She’s a special education elementary teacher who describes herself as “bad with idioms” and is obsessed with 90 Day Fiance. We had a nice lunch near the Browns Point Lighthouse (perpetually under construction) on some picnic tables by the water. I was wearing my denim jacket and racoon hat, drastically overdressed in this heat but still enjoying myself.
The date was taken back to my place, always a welcome and unexpected occurrence that happens often enough to be a reasonably expected occurrence. To my surprise, she wanted to watch the day’s G1 Climax event (for the uninitiated, New Japan Pro Wrestling’s month-long round robin tournament which decides who will challenge for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship at their huge January 4th supershow) with me. “So this G1 Climax is basically wrestling’s World Cup?” I was kinda surprised by how easily she broke it down; “Yeah, actually. More or less.”
EVIL was her favorite, due to the juxtaposition of his name and “Lisa Frank hair.” She clowned Zack Sabre Jr. — vegan, socialist, Deafhaven-loving wrestling genius — probably my favorite wrestler in the world right now, hard as he’s twisting Juice Robinson into knots with a submission hold, complete with a semicolon-laden, twenty-word name. “He should have come up with a cooler name for himself. These other guys have names like EVIL, and then… here’s Zack.”
Eventually watching wrestling led to making out, which led to fooling around, and next thing I know, I’m getting head between the sheets of my bed as the air conditioner purred in our ears. When I walked her to her car, I stepped out into the smoldering heat, my neck blotchy with hickies like I’m sixteen again.
The night before she was set to go to the Tri-Cities for her friend’s wedding, she came over. We had sex but I don’t really remember it at all. I’m sure the gods of equity made sure it was just as unmemorable for her. But she spent the night this time and left the next morning, with a kiss and a smile.
She broke things off with me before the hickeys completely dissolved.
While having drinks with the bride-to-be and a few friends, she sent me a text on some “it’s not you it’s me” type shit, further highlighting my history of not being able to break up with someone I didn’t really see a future with before they push the button first. It was for the best, as the woman I recently went on that fantastic first date with was still on my mind. A Libra is always secretly relieved when instead of making a hard decision about someone, the choice is made for them.
My dude from the Eastside listened to my recounting of this brief dalliance over some Grape Ape rolled in a Grape Swisher. My sunglasses are on my face instead of hanging from my worn-out Lil’ Sebastian shirt a girlfriend gave me in 2011. He listened with the rapt attention of a man almost a decade deep in a relationship living vicariously through his lifelong bachelor friend as the sun sketched tan lines on my face around my Ray-Bans.
He also told me he has me listed in his new phone as Black Sabre Jr., which is substantial proof as to the respect he has for me. If I were a wrestler, “extremely mean-spirited submission specialist” would totally be my in-ring game.
VIII. Stallion – “Off the Top Rope”
I’m in front of a camera, standing dead center in the gravel of a random lot in Ballard, my El Camino in the background. We fixed bullhorns, kindly borrowed from everyone’s favorite hipster burrito joint in Seattle, Bimbos Cantina, on the hood. I met a nice fellow named Sean; his main job is with a big company in town but he also does production work for Major League Wrestling, which now produces a pretty solid weekly show called Fusion. It’s 85 degrees outside and I’m sweating through my dress shirt and the armpits of my blue suit into dark navy. I’m hoping to myself I don’t look like too much of a mess, because I paid $50 for this bolo tie. After writing a feature about the band — one of my favorite things I’ve done at the station so far — I was asked by Pete if I would be interested in playing the band’s evil manager.
I’m pretty sure the band only wanted me so my El Camino could be used as the getaway car, and wasn’t expecting me to put in as much thought and effort and natural proclivity to become this dynamite character, this excellent heel, this purported “gentlemen” who obviously operates way outside of the law, a well-to-do pot dealer from Greensboro, North Carolina (“Flair Country!” “Home of the original Starrcade!”) whose wrestler bodyguard was killed years ago.
Clutching my fourth beer, the red light went on and I cracked jokes in character about wrestling legend and noted sadist Kevin Sullivan cashing in a pension check in order to buy a plane ticket to Seattle. I taunted support band Jock Tears after one of their members filmed a promo about the band two weeks ago, letting them know I was the big money player hired to ensure Stallion would remain World Rock ‘n Roll Champions and their punishment for speaking out against my guys would not be swift and merciful. I drank more beer and let it roll; Sean was impressed by my very first run of wrestling promos.
I named myself Marty Caballero, finally found my accent after weeks of practice, and came up with an elaborate origin myth for my character which I plan on turning into a short story. In some off-camera banter, the guys asked me questions and I stayed in character the entire time, the “southern lady who definitely lives in the hills someplace” voice that had finally unlocked my facility with a southern accent, minus the pitch. Luke asked me if I actually sold weed. I told him about the time my friend Meaghan and I was going to turn her mom’s unused garage/shed — built by her grandfather’s two hands — into a growhouse.
When I first saw my neatly shaved mustache on Wednesday, I thought I looked like a cop. Now it’s Sunday and I think it looks cool. I’m still on a high from that wonderful, surreal Saturday.
No blood was spilled at this year’s Rager, but there were quite a few antics. Even in 85 degree heat bouncing off of concrete and cooking us all, I stood in my suit and had three beers before my first meal (among others). Marianne, one of the coolest people in town, had to be driven to the hospital because of heat and beer and low blood sugar. There was a helicopter and a getaway car (of course it’s a white El Camino and of course I’m the getaway driver), and a briefcase “filled with money” someone offered me $100 for. I asked if she owned a house. “A house?” “Yeah, do you own a home? If you give me a deed, I’ll give you this briefcase full of money!” Many people approached me wanting to know what was in the briefcase. None of them offered me a deed.
Backstage, I was holding a grip of bullwhips and rhapsodizing my love for Elmore Leonard while explaining the character of Marty Caballero to one of the wrestlers. Luke called me an erudite.
A blissfully surreal day. The day after, the woman I’ve been seeing quipped on social media, “The only thing missing was Dalton from Roadhouse.” The day was steeped in this very specific slice of Americana, watching wrestling on bleachers and bales of hay with my lady friend, who happened to be at my house the night before in a very unexpected plot twist, especially being as though we didn’t even kiss on our first date. Watching people gleefully throw beer cans at and over the cage where a snotty garage-punk band is playing.
I gleefully taunted people (To a dude gathering cans: “I hope you plan on throwing those cans in the garbage!” He wordlessly looked up at me: “I hope you plan on throwing those cans in the garbage!”), and they gleefully taunted me back. The lady I’m seeing threw her cup at me from four feet away and the wind swept it away from my face by several inches. “You still missed! You were standing right there and you still missed!”
I stuck my chin out and gave my cheek a couple light smacks as to show her where her target was. Getting to flirt with her while remaining completely in character made me believe I missed my calling as a heel wrestling manager. DEFY’s too serious to ever allow a character like Marty Caballero and his drunk southern drawl to yell at people, but maybe 3-2-1 Battle should give me a call.
Our server at Randy’s — filled with war airplanes and corresponding imagery, of course being across from Boeing Field — pointed to me in order to indicate Gary Ridgeway’s regular seat at the diner. Great conversation with my lady friend and her friends about Seattle and how it’s being turned into something none of us admire, even though we love this damn city. Making out where my car was parked, across from the day’s events, standing in the dirt, with one solitary car not incredibly quickly passing by.
That day in a scorching Tukwila parking lot, I realized a great many of my fantasies: Being the gentleman outlaw (inspired in part by various pieces of rap music and Elmore Leonard novels), partaking in a bountiful supply of free beer, impressing a pretty lady by playing this over the top character, taking in people’s gleeful antagonism and giving it right back, taking the stage to the strains of “Iron Man” like a fucking badass, driving the getaway car and peeling away with all the money.
My lady friend was right. The only thing missing was Dalton from Roadhouse.
IX. Vic Spencer – “Communion Juice”
I’m on the way home from PROGRESS Wrestling’s first show in Seattle, sort of bleary-eyed, guiding the El Camino home from Washington Hall to I-5 South. This is the first time I’ve gone to a wrestling show by myself in all my years of fandom, and it reminds me of going to see bands in my twenties; alone, receiving more energy from the room than I’m exerting, and still leaving exhausted.
I’ve been getting texts from a young woman I know who currently lives in Portland. For eight years we were on-again, off-again lovers — on-again, off-again like the lights in a restaurant bathroom — but we were going to give being friends an honest try. She was drunk and flirty and asking me how the show was.
Jim Smallman, as he does for every PROGRESS show, opened and closed the night’s festivities with charming and open-hearted engagement (as well as serving as the ring announcer for matches). There were folks from New York — attendees of every U.S. show on this, the company’s first tour of “the States” — sitting front row center. Two young women who flew in from California stood somewhere behind me, as I forked over $40 to sit in the third row instead of stand in General Admission. It was a special night, and I get into DEFY shows for free anyway.
Some of my favorite wrestlers I’ve never seen perform live had the crowd in the palm of their hand. Jimmy Havoc got thrown right through the first three rows of chairs by WALTER; I had to get the fuck out of the way as to not have the King of Goths in my lap, so I took to Twitter to commemorate the moment. (I also gushed about how much I enjoyed the match to Havoc afterward, something I never do.) I watched fans throw balled up bills into the ring — as per lucha libre tradition — after a superlatively entertaining six-man tag featuring Bandito, Flamita, and Rey Horus take on British Strong Style; Pete Dunne did a Floss so bad it would make Ted Danson jump for joy.
The second night of this doubleheader, hosted by DEFY, I’m being accompanied — among five or six others — by a close friend who I’ve known for twelve or thirteen years, the Karl Gotch to my Minoru Suzuki. You’d know him if I told you his name. At the Jamaican restaurant down the street, we chatted about how “cruiserweight” is a good name for a weight class; “lightweight” is kinda condescending, “light heavyweight” sounds overcompensatory. He really likes the “bantamweight” designation as well.
He said the reason he liked wrestling when he was younger was because he thought it was a real sport. I told him I actually liked it more when I found out it was staged, predetermined, fictional, “fake.” The creativity involved in wrestling has always been my favorite part. He seemed to dig Artemis Spencer, though. Even though he doesn’t watch wrestling, he has a good eye; four months later Spencer would win the DEFY Wrestling Championship in an insane match against Shane Strickland, who served valiantly and deservedly as DEFY’s top guy for the better part of two years.
I watched and hollered as Nicole Matthews (maybe the most overlooked wrestler of her generation; as close a stylistic descendent to Stan Hansen as anyone currently in wrestling) and Toni Storm (near-unanimously touted as the very best on the women’s wrestling scene right now) beat the tar out of each other in what was my favorite DEFY match of the whole year.
Occasionally, I would make my way through the packed Washington Hall crowd, dapping up the kids wearing sleeve tattoos and D.A.R.E. shirts.
X. Beach House – “Lemon Glow”
We’re two of the only people in the indoor passenger area of the King County Water Taxi; we’re half-asleep and basking in the glow of each other. A long but excellent day, easily one of the best of the past number of years: A black, surrealist take on the ills of capitalism, shrimp and grits and a bloody mary for breakfast, quiet sex in the middle of the afternoon. A Lyft from Greenwood to Alki.
To say we “saw” Shabazz Palaces would be stretching the truth a little; we double-fisted Pacificos in the beer garden listening to the bass on “free press and curl” thump while twenty-somethings kept shoving past us, even though they couldn’t see anything either. Canoodling to Beach House from under a tree, her singing along to her favorite Father John Misty song and later picking the fried shrimp off my po boy, while I’m dipping kettle chips into my etouffee.
We’re two of the only people in the indoor passenger area of the King County Water Taxi; we’re half-asleep and basking in the glow of each other. She was more like 75% asleep and I was getting there, having had my fill of being in public. We arrived via the last shuttle to the dock, too-packed to the point where the last passenger sat up front next to the driver. I was leaning against the folding door.
As the Port of Seattle shifted into tall buildings downtown, she said, “I’m going to start telling people you’re my boyfriend, is that okay?” “I’m going to start telling people you’re my girlfriend.” I stuck my pinky out, she linked hers around it.
I smiled at her and said, “It is now law.”
At the start of our hour-and-a-half-long shared Lyft, we passed two people walking. One of them had on a GXFR hoodie, the yellow one with the cover of Don’t Get Scared Now practicing miracles on the front.
The weekend before our union was made official, we went to the Browns Point Salmon Bake — an annual tradition I hadn’t attended in earnest since I was 19 — drank beers in the sun, tip-toed gingerly over rocks to get to the water, and cuddled in a spot of dying grass. Too-drunk ladies in the too-hot sun stumbled over themselves to cash in their next beer ticket. She told me about how WWF’s xenophobia turned her off wrestling at an early age, but she’d be interested to see how wrestling has evolved. The sun beat on us as we drank our beers facing the water.
Our feet gingerly tip-toed over rocks to stand in the water for a few minutes and enjoy each other’s embrace. Soccer moms in bikinis recognized me, but not to the point where they came up to me and struck up a conversation while I held hands with my lady friend.
We came home and she took a photo of the tan lines on my feet.
XI. Chris Crack – “Uber w/Randoms”
We’re at Pony. We’ve had a long week.
My girlfriend’s friend is spinning records to a light Thursday night crowd. Old magazine cutouts of nude men and trans people adorn the walls while we dance and chat and laugh. On my third screwdriver and her third beer, my girlfriend presses her forehead up to mine and talking about collaborating. “Your anger … and my anger … could create something beautiful.”
We stepped outside for a minute. A couple women in our group are sniffing coke off their fingernails or an eyeliner brush while some strangers walking up passed me the last two hits of a powerful joint.
In the Lyft over, we had been chatting about the likelihood of Brett Kavanaugh getting the seat on the Supreme Court — three steps back — and the culture of women constantly being threatened throughout the course of time and history. I listened to what she had to say and the conversation faded away. The next words I heard were from my girlfriend, acknowledging the look on my face.
I ended up talking to someone I just met, another writer, for like an hour. About life, about seeking fulfillment of the soul through writing. In the dim light, I had another screwdriver. My girlfriend and I eventually went back to her place and fell right asleep. Well, she fell right asleep. She falls fast asleep on me even when she says she isn’t sleepy.
On this night, I’m lying awake in her bed, watching the dark shadows of tree branches wave at me from behind the closed blinds. I stare at the slumbering ceiling light like it’s going to turn itself on and ruin the whole party, and I think about the weight I carry even though my life has hardly ever been happier.
I guess in order to truly gain, you have to know what it’s like to suffer tremendous loss.
On the drive back to Tacoma the next morning, I realized I got too drunk and left my debit card at Pony. I just drove the rest of the way home because they didn’t open until 3. I spent an hour and a half driving back to Capitol Hill, getting my debit card, and driving back home in the blazing hot September sun. As I drove, my sweaty hands stuck to the burgundy steering wheel.
This is exactly why I usually don’t drink at bars if I don’t bring cash.
XII. Mach-Hommy and Tha God Fahim featuring Kungg Fuu – “Cardio”
Smoke is billowing from the hood of my El Camino like someone set it on fire.
I’m standing on the shoulder of northbound I-5, staring at the sign for the 85th and Aurora exit. The black smoke fades into the grey sky as a couple of dudes pull over and see if I need any help. “Well, I have busted water and radiator hoses, so I’d say I’m pretty much fucked.” They shook my hand and wished me luck. I thanked them for seeing if they could lend a hand. I thought about how I was going to be late for the DEFY show. I ran my fingers across the upholstery I stapled to the roof when it began to sag one day during summer.
I’m so exasperated and despaired; I’m literally seeing everything in black and white.
Minutes ago, I was listening to “Cardio,” one of the songs which recently soundtracked my drives from Northeast Tacoma to Greenwood, as I stepped on the gas harder and my car didn’t go any faster. My engine started to click, clickclickclickclickclickclick. Smoke barreled out of my exhaust pipe as cars behind me started merging into other lanes in droves. I managed to get to the side of the road before it finally crapped out. I tried starting my car, no dice. I texted my girlfriend and asked her to pick me up. Then I called a tow truck. I slid across the red leather bench seat, for what I was certain would be the last time and got out of the passenger side. I slammed the door and hung my head low.
My girlfriend and I had dinner at Luna Azul on Greenwood Ave while we waited. The bartender gave us the secret to a perfect Michelada: adding a shot of silver tequila.
My car was dropped off underneath the carport of an auto shop nearby. The rain poured down along the outer edges of the covering. I scribbled down my phone number and what was wrong with the car. Days later, a junkyard tow took it away for free; there was nothing left I could do for Trixie. We had a good run. Four and a half years of the classic “boy and his car” film. I loved her.
We were indeed late to DEFY but we made it. Matt Cross hit his gorgeous shooting star press and my girlfriend jumped out of her seat.
XIII. Roc Marciano – “Amethyst”
My friend from the Eastside and I are smoking a blunt together for the first time in a few months and chatted about whether or not WWE should have a performers union and whether or not Boots Riley was being dogmatic for his criticism of Black Klansman. “A mustache? You’ve been wishy-washy about having one for years and you finally did it. All because of a creative breakthrough, talking shit about Kevin Sullivan. It looks good on you, man.”
A friend he had back in the day went to the cops and snitched on him out of spite. I see this guy sometimes around the Eastside, usually when I’m picking up munchies from a gas station or a corner store. I wonder if he ever runs into his former friend. I wonder what runs through his mind when this happens.
Over my go-to combination, Blueberry Kush wrapped in a Blueberry Swisher, we chatted some more; about how Mike Ehrmantraut is one of my favorite fictional characters in any medium. On the surface — on the shallowest surface — he seems like a grumpy, drab old man. But that is the perfect vibe for such a deeply principled man, one with little patience for pretty much anything except the task at hand. His service to his work is carried out honorably and efficiently, and that might be why people think he’s kinda boring. His layers are subtle, like layers of sand in the desert.
As the conversation shifted, I breathlessly raved about Becky Lynch storming Monday Night Raw, blood smeared all over her busted open face, throwing her arms out and talking shit in the throes of being blacked out from a concussion.
The chrome on his Impala chopped through the air while we finished the blunt in our drive around town. My iPod is plugged into his stereo. “Damn,” he said with his eyes on the road, admiring the newest Roc Marciano project. “This nigga is the real deal.”
I don’t like to divulge too much information about my friend — ours is a bond of trust and decades of spiritual exhaustion — but he knows I write about him. He finds pleasure in me telling his stories. I was talking about midterm elections and he listened intently because he’s interested in politics — interested from a healthy distance — but can’t vote because he’s a convicted felon.
When night fell like the anvil over a colony of ants, the rain still poured and we were still driving. I went from frustratingly bathing my face with open palms to floating on a cloud, due in part to a second Blueberry Swisher Sweet. My friend talked about arguing with his girl the other night. He’s too private, he keeps too much of the grisly things he’s seen to himself. He asserts he’s just being careful so that he doesn’t get caught slipping. “The less you know about certain things, the better for the future of you and [their daughter].”
In my carefree days being single, he always told me one day we’d get together and smoke blunts after stressing over our girlfriends. At the time, I was seeing someone I admittedly didn’t see a future with, while embroiled in a small handful of not-exactly-platonic relationships. At the time, the future I envisioned for myself was that of a lifelong bachelor; it had been four years since my last committed relationship. The smoke flew out of the cracked window. I coughed heartily.
Lots of green was extinguished this past week to diffuse the buzzing nerves of stress and misplaced bitterness and feeling like a minor martyr without the flowers and roadside shrines and murals. No martyr ever did what they did for the flowers placed on their grave, which makes me feel like kind of a fraud for desiring an outpouring of appreciation.
In one way or another, all of us are caught between what we want and what we think we deserve.
The fact I write mostly to find peace and spiritual relief in myself is a topic which crops up frequently in our conversations, with much more frequency since the point last year where he referred to writing as my therapy. He finds peace reading my words, which is a profound compliment because I see a lot of myself in him. We’re both young-ish brothers — not exactly spring chickens, but young — with a torrent of psychic exhaustion swirling through our souls. I’m prickly and moody, he is often openly confrontational. At separate points in our respective lives, we’ve both been told we’re too smart for our own good.
I’ve kinda leaned a lot on my friend’s company this year. Not just because he has way better reefer than me, but because he reminds me of a friend who was very important to me before she joined the afterlife by her own hand. Of course, these two friends of mine are mostly different — for instance, I don’t detect the same pangs of self-destruction in my friend at the wheel of the car I’m riding in at this very moment. That woman was a kindred spirit to the kind of person I was back then, a little bitter about how my life turned out, having a kind of poetic self-hatred.
I drank a lot with her, just chilling. I smoked a lot of reefer with him, just chilling. He is a kindred spirit to the person I am; a painfully self-aware, super intelligent, highly ambitious, highly functioning stoner. With each of these friends I write about, they came at separate mile markers in my life, but we had a relationship where we influenced each other. Like him, she was very private.
There is a certain level of trust you are quite obviously able to achieve with a close friend. I had begun to detach from very important people in my life because I felt I wasn’t considered trustworthy, but with this woman and later this man, there was a bond I’m starting to realize is the crown jewel of friendship. He has a very solid perspective on life, even in an increasingly stressful existence in some areas of life.
Some people are just clutch under pressure.
I tell him I’m experimenting with economy in my writing. The wind behind the cracked Impala window took the smoke away again.
We sat in the car and watched two kids fight on the corner; a short, stocky kid gave a taller, rangier kid a mean right cross and kept going until his opponent toppled over on the sidewalk in front of a convenience store. The owner chased them and their teenage spectators away. He and I didn’t think to intervene. We just watched. We both feel it’s important to let two young black men fight out their frustrations, to punch away whatever stress drags them down.
Somebody has to lose.
XIV. Benny the Butcher featuring Keisha Plum – “Intro: Babs”
I took a short drive to the taco truck on the Tide Flats this afternoon, the browning leaves falling on all spots of the steep hill I had to make my way down to get there. This is probably, arguably, the most legit place in Tacoma to get a taco. Run by a family — and older, religious dude most of the time, sometimes his wife and their 20-year-old daughter — cash only, the diametric opposite of farm-to-table. Bullet holes riddled right along the face of a cartoon taco, probably done by some shithead teenagers or a racist with nothing fucking better to do.
It shared a parking lot with one of the two Ladybug Bikini Espresso stands along the same stretch of road, the other maybe a half-mile away in the direction of my place. I watched as a young woman walked across the corner of the parking lot and entered the stand wearing a polka-dotted silk robe.
I put a lot of value into my solitude. It’s difficult — excruciating sometimes — for me to keep up with the swiftness of other people’s changing moods.
I’ve been getting high and binge-watching Succession. The series is partly about The Ennui of Rich People — which is something I’m interested in, but only marginally — but investigates in great detail the power dynamics of family, which guides families and sometimes breaks them apart. Kieran Culkin steals the show as the baby brother with the acidic sense of humor.
More people in the city are starting to recognize my work. I know what it’s like to spend ten years becoming an overnight success.
I’m stoned and inspired. It happened around November of last year, the cab of my El Camino reeking of dank, parked near Washington Hall before a DEFY show, where the wrestlers thought I was either a wrestler or someone who worked for Viceland. I guess I don’t blame them. Two weeks after that, I was at a Jamila Woods show, standing beside of a young couple Shazam’ing a D’Angelo song. My years on Earth are slowly catching up to the years of my soul. I’ve had it in me since I was a young man, just as spiritually drained as now, showing up at school with welts on my face.
The woman who gave me those welts was in her mid-twenties when that sort of terror started happening regularly. She wrote me a letter years ago; she told me she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. There was a point in time where I was sure I hated this woman, because I could see in her eyes she hated me when she spit at me or slapped me and punched me in the face at eight years old. Bipolar disorder or some shit, though. Maybe she really felt as though she was making me tougher, like I wasn’t getting an in-school suspension for busting a kid’s nose open with a textbook, like I wasn’t getting “almost” suspended for fighting some chump who deserved to get his ass beat.
Thing is, I didn’t even touch him. I was going to let karma sort it out, and then he told the band teacher I kicked him. I should have gotten my money’s worth. I caught myself trying to show mercy when I should have kicked the piss out of him right there in the band room.
My anger comes from all the years I showed mercy to people who didn’t deserve it.
XV. Earl Sweatshirt – “December 24”
The guy who rings the Salvation Army bell in front of the supermarket struck up a conversation with me that ended with him assuring me blessings were coming my way for having the fortitude to hold down three (extremely part-time) jobs. He affirmed his respect for me; when I shook his hand, I felt part of his pinky finger was missing. I truly believe such reminders of the coming harvest are scattered throughout the universe. Maybe I’m just too optimistic.
My whole loft is choked in indica smoke. It’s the usual; Blueberry Kush swaddled in a Blueberry Swisher. I’m reminiscing over my maternal grandmother’s last days, subsisting on the drip drank. The date she died? December 24, 1995.
I spent almost every weekend of my childhood — sometimes weeks at a time — with my grandma, whether it was her little house on Montlieu Avenue or the senior apartment building downtown near the courthouse. Watching Dot roll her eyes at Hello Nurse on the tiny black and white TV in her bedroom. Playing with my toys in the bedroom of her little blue house while she watched her stories. Chicken pot pie after chicken pot pie after chicken pot pie. Saturdays helping her get her prosthetic leg on and helping her up the steps of the bus, going to grocery store with her and flipping through music magazines until she was finished shopping. Two open heart surgeries. Reading Proverbs from the bible she gave me while we waited for my uncle to pick us up for church. Burning TV dinners in her microwave, burnt brownie and macaroni and cheese smell roaming through the senior apartment like a ghost. Buying me a new gaming console when my biological mother sold my NES for crack money. Rolling around the house in her wheelchair while humming a gospel tune, knowing the Lord was going to bring her somewhere better one day. The way her fingernails dug into me when she tickled me.
Sometimes I would sob uncontrollably upon leaving my grandmother’s place; because I didn’t want to leave her and because I was scared of what was waiting for me at home.
There were talks of my grandmother taking custody of me around the time she passed away. I was wearing a purple and yellow Tommy Hilfiger rugby when I was told she passed away. I walked around in a fog that whole day, that whole weekend. I opened my Christmas present from my biological mother; a pair of Timberland boots from Dillard’s she put on layaway two months ago. I looked at them, smiled weakly, and cast them aside. It’s a devastating loss for a twelve-year-old, losing the person who showed you the most care and kindness, losing the person who clearly loved you the most, losing the person who practically raised you.
I knew her death would change my life for the much, much worse. And much, much worse it got. But then it got better. Adulthood was a blank canvas for me and I painted the life I wanted for myself. I’d like to think there are traces of her in my personality. The perseverance, the easy smile. She worked at the same place for 37 years before she retired; she was beloved.
Her aura could never be reduced to a series of beeps on a heart monitor. It still looms large.
On Christmas Eve, I had an edible — my favorite, a caramel apple chew — when my girlfriend and I arrived at Point Defiance Zoo so it would kick in at the aquarium. We went home and watched The Sopranos for like five hours. I made us salmon and grits the next morning — and some spicy scrambled eggs with cheese for her because we had some left over from making brownies on Thanksgiving; I don’t eat eggs. Making breakfast for someone other than myself is a first.
My eldest niece wants to be an animator; when she was five she sketched a picture of a lion that would put my best drawing work to shame. That’s when I knew she was gifted. Whenever we see each other, we talk about character and story because she knows I have an invested interest in such things. On Christmas, she brought over a huge notebook she was given as a present and showed me a few characters she was working on; pencil sketches, immaculately drawn. All of these characters are going to be riding on a pirate ship.
Little bro gave me a gift bag which included edibles, Mango Swishers, a rigged Coke can full of shake, and chocolates with Jose Cuervo Gold drooling from the center. My baby nephew thought I was a stranger and cried when I tried to hold him. We were best buds last time I saw him five months ago.
After a great time with siblings and nieces and nephews, my girlfriend and I shared a cry about trauma having the ability to crop up at pretty much any time. We were fooling around and she slapped me so hard my left ear started ringing. Normally I would like it, but I immediately had a flashback from my childhood, laying on the floor and my biological mother standing over me. My ear rang because she slapped me as hard as she could.
It was a cry that cleansed my soul; years and years of trauma were trapped in my throat and I let it all out. The tears flowed and wouldn’t stop until they did.
My biological mother sent a Christmas card to my post office box. I threw it away.
I do pretty well living with the weight of what I’ve been through. I am the person I’ve always dreamed of being, so getting overwhelmed by the trauma and acrimony and fucking weight loaded into my saddlebag only reminds me most feelings are ephemeral, like the patrons of a gift shop with a revolving door.