The Man Cave

The Man Cave
Jack's Man Cave (Click on the photo to enter the Cave)

Sunday, October 11, 2020

There Is a Light That Never Goes Out


There is a Light That Never Goes Out 

Can you go back and fix your biggest regret?


You Just Haven't Earned It Yet, Baby

The other day I was lying on the couch in the Man Cave, feeling sorry for myself because the San Diego Padres just lost to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL2020  playoffs.

My thoughts turned to some of the things I regret in my life, the missed opportunities, and the terrible decisions I made.

If only I could go back in time to fix things.

Is It Really So Strange?

Suddenly, the comedian George Carlin appeared in the bar stool chair. 

"George Carlin, what the hell ...?" I asked.

"The powers that be sent me here to give you a chance to travel back in time to fix one of those regrets you're always stewing on," said George Carlin, rolling his eyes upward to indicate who the "powers that be" was.

"Are you serious?" I asked.

"Serious as November 4th," said George. Then he said:

"Let's have it. To when and where are you going back in time?"

Well I Wonder

George was dressed the same way as he was in the movie  "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure," a movie I've never seen.  He wore a trench coat, his hair was slicked back, and he wore dark wraparound glasses.

"Mr. Carlin . . ."

"Call me George," he said.

"George, I have a million questions," I said.

"Look, don't belabor this, buddy.  Let's get to the fun part of the story," said George.

"I know, I know.  But let me ask you a few questions."

"Okay. Shoot."

"I've never seen 'Bill and Ted,' . . .are you like an Archangel, or are you, God?' I asked.

"I'm sort of like an angel today.  I'm an anthropomorphic representation of your own psyche.  They said I'm as good a representation of how screwed up, cynical, and sarcastic you are, except I'm way more funny and talented, and I did a lot more drugs.  They were thinking about sending Anna Nicole Smith, or Chris Farley, but they were both working on other projects."

"Is this another one of my funny life stories that Hollywood has already stolen?  Like all my tales that I tell down here in San Diego that somehow seep up there to that cesspool and get watered down and put into movie scripts," I asked.

"Yeah, that's it. That's exactly right," says George sarcastically, rolling his eyes.   "Jesus, you really are a buffoon. You think the whole world revolves around you? Are you really that bitter about the Dodgers?  The Padres just need better pitching."

"If I go back and change events, does it change the whole course and trajectory of future events?" I asked.

"No.  This is just a vanity project for you.  You're gonna go back to see what would have happened if you had done the right thing and not F'd up as royally as you did the first time. But the fact you screwed up royally in real life will remain unchanged when you come back here to the couch."

"Oh my God.  Is that supposed to somehow make me feel better? I already know I F'd up?"

"Look, Sunshine, the clock is ticking.  If I just snap my fingers, I'll be out of this weird bric-a-brac  "Fortress of Solitude" Man Cave thing you got going here."

The Boy With the Thorn In His Side

"Can I have a day to think about where I want to go back in time?" I asked

"No. You gotta decide now. Chop-chop," said George Carlin.

"I have so many regrets.  Which one should I choose?" I asked George Carlin.

"Choose the regret that causes you the most pain.  Get it out of your system," said George.

"Should I go back to the Rosarito Beach Hotel in Mexico to fix . . ."

"No! Not that one.  Let sleeping dogs lie!" said George.

"How about Vegas?  That time I wore the Elvis costume, and I got in those two car accidents on the same night?"  

"No.  That one actually panned out in the end if you look at the big picture. Wasn't there a lawsuit after that one, where you got some money?  The money to pay for your wedding ring?"

"Yeah, I did," I admitted.

"That's a net gain," said George.

"Can I take someone with me on the trip?  There's someone who needs to go back with me for this one. This is the biggest regret in his life too." I asked.

"No. But you'll see him there."

"Will Tracy know which regret I went back to fix?

"Only if you tell her," said George.

"Because she'll be pissed if she finds out I didn't go back to fix one of the stupid things I did  . . . during our time together," I said.

"Better keep your mouth shut then.  Let's go, you gotta decide now!" said George.

"You know what I'm gonna go back and do, don't you?"

"I've got a pretty good idea. Statistically, there's one thing you dwell on all the time.  In fact, it shocked me to see how much you fixate on such a stupid and trivial . . "  George caught himself, "I mean, really important event in your life."

"Okay.  I'm ready.  Take me back to 1986!"

This Charming Man

In an instant, I'm standing outside the San Diego State Open Air Amphitheater on a warm dusky summer evening.  A big crowd of high school and college-aged kids are milling around, excited for a concert about to begin inside.

"Luis!  Holy crap, look at how young you are!" I yell at my friend Luis standing by my side.

"What are you talking about?" asks Luis, looking baffled.

I run over to a car window to get a look at myself.  I see my reflection in the Honda CRX.

"Oh, man!  To be this young again!  You Handsome Devil!" I yell at myself in the reflection.

"Hey, Fabio!  Get over here!" says a familiar voice.

I look over, and it's George Carlin, standing under a canopy, behind a plastic table, working the T-shirt booth.  When I run over to him, George says:  

"Look, here comes your boy now.  I can't believe it. You almost F'd it up again. Get over there and buy the tickets!"

"Okay, okay!" I say, running to gather up Luis. "Lu, follow me!"

Luis and I come face to face with a college kid, who looks like Robert Downey, Jr. He's wearing a fedora hat, a T-shirt featuring the band who is about to play, jeans that are tapered and rolled up at the bottom, with white socks and black wing-tipped brogue shoes. 

"Dude, you're about to come offer me and my friend two tickets to this concert aren't you?" I say to Robert Downey.
"Well . . .I've got two tickets I'm trying to sell," says the good-looking scalper.

"How much?" asks Luis.

"$20.00 each.  I paid $17.50 face value."

"We'll take them!"  I shout as I hug the repulsed scalper.

"Wait a minute Jack.  That's too much. I just came here to stand outside the concert to listen to a few songs," says Luis.

Time comes to a halt.  I see George Carlin, who is selling some kid a band poster.  George and I make eye contact, and in slow motion, he slaps his hand to his forehead.  

Classical music is booming out of the P.A. system inside the amphitheater, which only heightens my anxiety that Luis is about to blow this moment A SECOND TIME.

Snapping out of my fugue state, I turn to Luis and say

"Lu, this is one of the most important moments of our lives.  If we don't buy these two concert tickets, no matter what the price, we are going to live to regret it for the rest of time- do you understand me?!"

Lu and the Robert Downey Jr. scalper's eyes widen.

"In less than twenty-four hours, Lu, for some reason we never understand, you will become the biggest most obsessed fan of this band in the United States.  You start to dress like the lead singer.  You buy every single T-shirt, poster, cassette, and vinyl record the band ever produces," I say.

Lu and the scalper stare at me like I'm a mental patient.  

"You buy unlistenable bootleg vinyl discs, recorded under raincoats at concerts.  You correspond, PRE-INTERNET, with people in Denmark, New Zealand, and across the globe, trading band memorabilia, by writing hand-written letters and using stamps.  You wait weeks for the British versions of the records you already have the American versions of to arrive in the mail.   You know all of the secret messages carved into the run-off grooves of the vinyl discs."

"Lu, you will wear eyeglasses and a hearing aid that you don't need, simply because you saw the lead singer doing that in a music magazine.   The lead singer wore that rig for a concert or two, to was pay homage to that deaf singer from the 1950s who Dexy's Midnight Runners sang about, named Johnny Ray.   You, on the other hand, will wear the glasses and fake hearing aid for the first two years of college every single day.  People point and stare at you."

I'm starting to get through to Luis now. He's such an obsessive basket case, none of this seems that far-fetched to him.

"Most annoyingly, you will take on the very persona of Morrissey.  You will critique everything that normal people enjoy, and you go around quoting Oscar Wilde all the time. " I tell Luis. 

"Finally, you will pretend you're 'consciously abstaining from sex,' when in fact, you and I both have so little game that we couldn't get laid in a Nevada brothel even if we had a ton of Bitcoin."

"What's Bitcoin?" asks the scalper.

A Rush and a Push and the Land is Ours

"San Diego, we are 'The Smiths!'" says Morrissey as he takes the stage.

My knees buckle. I almost faint.

The band launches into the song "Panic" then "I Want the One I Can't Have" then into "There is a Light that Never Goes Out."

Tears are running down my face.  

"Jesus Christ!" I say to Luis, putting a fist up to my eye, embarrassed.

"Johnny Marr is the greatest guitar player in the history of the world," says Luis, 

Lu is right.  Johnny is a virtuoso, and every note he plays makes me wanna scream and faint like one of those girls in a  Beatlemania documentary.

I see in Lu's eyes he's become radicalized.  He's started his journey into The Smiths psychosis.  It's gonna be about eight years til he gets deprogrammed and we see him on the other side. I can almost sympathize with his plight from this perspective.

"These seats suck," I said to Luis, squinting my eyes to see the stage from the second-to-last row that we're seated in.

"Yeah, who cares, dude.  This is amazing.  I'm so glad you had that cash.  There's not an ATM for miles around here," said Luis.

"We gotta get closer to the stage.  If Tracy were here, she'd walk us right to the front.  Shit, she'd get us backstage!" I yelled at Luis over the music.

"Who's Tracy?!" yelled Luis.

Just then, George Carlin appeared at the end of the row, wearing a yellow security windbreaker.  He beckoned us with his finger to come with him. We did.

"Whattya gonna stay up here the whole time?" said George.

I looked at him meekly.

"You gotta at least try to get close to the stage.  You'll regret it the rest of your life!" shouted George.

Shoplifters of the World Unite

We followed George Carlin down the long flight of amphitheater stairs, right up close to the stage.  When the Smiths start playing "How Soon Is Now?" the place erupts. The fans go batshit crazy.

George Carlin grabbed Luis and me by the scruff of our necks and pushed us to the front row, right at the foot of the stage yelling,  

"Now Go!"

We tumbled right into a real douchebag-looking guy, surrounded by a bunch of bimbos. He looked like Donald Trump, but he was the local 80's San Diego version.

"What the hell do you think you're doing?" said the San Diego Donald.

"We're getting close to the stage.  We love The Smiths," said Luis.

"No you're not!  Where's security?" said S.D. Donald, looking around over the crowd. 

Damn, S.D. Donald is really tall, I thought to myself.  Really tall. What the hell is a douchebag businessman like him doing at a Smiths concert anyway?

"Security!  Security!" shouted the Donald, pointing down at me and Luis.

The Donald is dressed in a big 80's double-breasted business suit.  His tie is tied way too long, hiding his fat belly.  Donnie whips out an enormous 80's style mobile phone, and, squinting, he starts dialing a number.

"You know how much I paid for these tickets you assholes?  One-hundred, twenty-five bucks each!  Beat it!" said the S.D. Donald.

"Hold on!  Hold on, Sir!"  I shouted.  I had an idea.

The music was absolutely pulsing from the stage.  The whole crowd was hugging and singing the words to "How Soon Is Now?"

I reached in my pocket to pull out my iPhone.

"Excuse me while I whip this out!" I yelled at the Donald, with my phone illuminating his and my faces.

"Oh, No!  The kid's got some kind of a gun!" screamed one of S.D. Donald's dumb girlfriends.

The crowd around us went into a panic and started scrambling to get away from me. 

Paint a Vulgar Picture

S.D. Donnie didn't move an inch. He just stood there scowling at me.

"It's a phone!  It's only a phone!" I shouted.  "Look, check it out!" I took a "selfie" with me and S.D. Donald, then I showed him our picture on the screen.

"Where the hell did you get that thing, kid?!" shouted the Donald.

"I'm from the future! The year 2020.  You invest in the stock market?" I shouted over the music.

"I sure do.  OK great. What's the name of the company?"

"Palm Pilot!"

"What is it?!" shouted the Donald, bending, and cupping his ear.

"Palm Pilot! Invest every penny you got!" I shout.

That's when the music stopped, and I felt the big arm around my neck.

Rusholme Ruffians

Five or six security guards tackled Luis and me to the ground, putting us in chokeholds.  I shoved the phone back into the deep pocket of my B.U.M Equipment pants.

The lights of the amphitheater came up. 

"Stop!  Relent! Stand down Philistines! You brutes!" shouted Morrissey into the microphone.  

The security guards looked up, confused and disgusted at Morrissey on the stage. 

"Unhand those gentle supplicants! Bring the buggards to the stage!" said Morrissey.

George Carlin appeared in his security windbreaker again.

"You heard Morrissey- get these two buffoons backstage now. Otherwise, we'll have a riot on our hands. Chop-chop!"

The Donald was on his huge 80's mobile phone. The bimbo girlfriends stood next to him, flirting with the security guards. 

"I want 500,000 shares of Palm Pilot tomorrow morning, you hear me?  'A LOT OF PEOPLE ARE SAYING' it's a good thing. Just do it."

Steve West, the British D.J. from the New Wave radio station 91X, came up to the microphone.

"Alrighty! Now, now!  It's been a right proper cock-up hasn't it?!  A real wobbly!

We're gonna take a short break so you mingers can get your heads together. Hunky-Dory, - eh?!  That's right, Lads- ta! 

The Smiths will be back soon.  'How Soon Is Now?'  I can't tell you."  Steve West chuckled at his own terrible joke.  

"Listen, there'll be no more kerfuffles, or the boys are going home- do you understand?! Cheers- ta!"

The audience looked at him, totally confused.  

I wasn't sure what he meant either with those crazy British slang words.  

But everyone grunted, "Yes."

Golden Lights

The security guards pushed us to the side entrance of the stage. The kids in the audience shot daggers with their eyes at Lu and me.  We had ruined the song, and now we were going backstage.  

The pungent smell of marijuana filled the air.  At the last minute, I saw the face of the handsome scalper who sold us those shitty seats.  I met his eyes, but he was so stoned, I don't even think he remembered who I was.

"Bring 'em up here, boys!" said George Carlin, who was holding the backstage door open.  George was now wearing a dungaree jeans outfit, with a crocheted Rastafarian tam on his head.  He had transformed into a backstage roadie. 

Luis and I stumbled as the security guards pushed us hard through the backstage door. Then George and two other roadies dragged us to a hallway, where, in all their staggering genius stood The Smiths. Johnny Marr's guitar parts from the records were so complex now, they needed two guitarists on stage, so they brought Craig Gannon from the band Aztec Camera. That's like being invited to join The Beatles.

I got so nervous, I nearly pissed my pants.  Morrissey said:

"Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom . . . Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you two tossers, because you're here somehow"

Now that's some cool Samuel L. Jackson "Pulp Fiction" shit right there, I thought to myself.

The silence was painful.  

"Luis loves you, Morrissey.  And I do too," I said, regretting the words instantly.

"Call me Steven," said Morrissey.  

Luis and Morrissey walked away and sat in two metal folding chairs in the corner, talking quietly face to face. The rest of the group broke off too.

George Carlin leaned against a rigging cabinet smoking a joint with Andy Rourke, the bassist, and Mike Joyce, the drummer.

Stretch Out and Wait

I run after Johnny Marr who's gone off to find his wife, Angie.  Johnny grabs a beer, lights up a cigarette, and then we all three sat down. I started telling Johnny about my guitar playing, and I gave him some tips and tricks that I'd picked up along the way.

"Johnny, can you explain to me how you get your tone on "Some Girls are Bigger Than Others," that's one I've kind of struggled with,"  I asked Johnny, pretending like it was even remotely possible for me to play.  

"Sure, why not?" said Johnny picking up his Fender Jaguar. 

Then Johnny explained his tone settings and showed me the riff.   Everything was going really good, and I was saying  "Yeah, yeah," you can hear me on the video.  I was nodding my head while he talked, but when we got to (1:11)  suddenly I got light-headed, the room spun, and I was out cold. [The nice video player does not show up on the mobile version of the story sometimes- so please click the underlined link, thanks].

Next thing I remember, I was coming to on the floor staring at the ceiling, with George Carlin, Johnny, and Angie, fanning me with towels.

"Oh ... oh shit.  Shit, sorry, Johnny.  Sorry guys.  Johnny, next time you just casually launch into a riff like that, can you give me a little more warning?" I asked, rubbing the back of my head.

"Ahh, sorry Jack, my bad.  That one's on me," said Johnny.

I sat up and looked for my beer.  Someone brought me a fresh one.

"That's so beautiful Johnny. How can you be so talented when you're only in your twenties?" I asked him.

"Lot's of hours sitting alone in me room there, Jack-O," said Johnny.  "Right Angie baby?"

"Don't I know it," said Angie.

"So, Jackie, what's the story here?  Why did you cack up our concert here in sunny San Diego?  What's all the fighting about?" asked Johnny.

"Johnny, I'm here from the future.  From the year 2020.  George Carlin is an angel who visited me to let me come back in time to fix one of the biggest regrets of my life."

I continued.  

"See, in real life, I blew it and passed up the opportunity to buy a ticket for this show.  My friend Luis screwed up even worse.  Within like 24 hours of this concert, for some unexplainable reason,  he becomes the biggest Smiths fan in the world, and we had to stop him from committing suicide whenever he thought about missing this show."

Johnny and Angie stared at me.  Then they both burst out laughing and clapping their hands. 

"Oh, Jack-Man!  What did you smoke tonight, Son?" said Johnny, looking at Angie grinning.

"Check this out," I said as I whipped out my iPhone.

"Oh wow!" said Angie as the phone lit up.

I did the selfie-trick with Johnny and Angie.

"Top gear!"  Brilliant!  You must be joking!" said Johnny.  "Real Star Trek stuff, that!"

"Can I see it?" Angie said.

"Yeah, flip through all the screens," I said.

"So wait a sec. You're from the future?  You know everything that's gonna happen from now to 2020?" asked Johnny.

"Yep," I said.

"And if you tell us, will that affect the future?' asked Johnny.  "I love science fiction!  I've read all them science fiction books y'know!"

"No.  George Carlin says even if I tell you everything that happens tonight, you won't remember any of it when my little trip back in time is over."

Johnny looked at Angie and then back at me.

"Tell us everything!" they both said.


This Night Has Opened My Eyes

I told Johnny and Angie everything that happened between 1986 and 2020.

"And the election is on November 3rd, in like three weeks, and they don't have a cure for the Coronavirus, and Keith Richards is still alive,"  I said, exhausted.

"I can't believe Manchester City wins the Premier League," said Angie.  Johnny shook his head in astonishment too.

"And I can't believe the Bruce Jenner thing," said Johnny.

Outside, the crowd was going berserk for The Smiths return to the stage.

"Jack, everything you told us was so amazing, but you didn't tell us what happens to The Smiths," said Johnny.

"Oh, yeah. Well, Johnny, you stop drinking and smoking.  And you become vegetarian, and run lots of marathons," I said.

"Really? Cheers, Jack, cheers," Johnny said, clinking his beer with mine.

"Yeah, and you and Angie stay married the whole time- real high school sweethearts!" I said, trying to avoid saying more.

They looked at each other and cuddled.

"What about me and Morrissey, Jack?" asked Johnny sheepishly.

"Johnny, before I tell you that . . . can I play "Please Please Please Let Me Get I Want" on guitar for you and Angie?" I asked.  "It's a short song, and one of the only Smiths songs I can play."

"You play guitar do ya, you chancer?  Yeah sure, here play this one," said Johnny.

"Johnny, do you have a left-handed guitar I could play?" I asked, embarrassed.

"Jack, nobody plays left-handed guitar," said Johnny

George Carlin presented me with a left-handed guitar.

"Thanks, George," I said.

Sadly, I can only show you the end of my performance as the video (my talent) is too big for the blog website to handle.  You'll just have to use your imagination how good the rest of it was [Please click on the link if the video player does not appear:

I played the best I could, but, I was nervous, and I  messed it up in the middle. Johnny and Angie clapped politely and over-enthusiastically, just to be nice.  I was over the moon.

"Johnny, that song really meant a lot to me and Luis when we were in high school.  Y'know like when we had a lot of disappointments, like crushes, and missing this concert and stuff."

"Cool, man.  That's cool. Thanks for sharing that, Jack," said Johnny.

Bigmouth Strikes Again

Luis and I walked with The Smiths to the stage and stood by before the curtain opened.  That's when Johnny couldn't hold back anymore.  Johnny got up in Morrissey's face.

"You fuckin' prat!  Do you realize you become a right-wing fascist in your fat old age?!" shouted Johnny.

Poor Morrissey was in shock, having no idea what Johnny was talking about.

"What are you on about?" said Morrissey.  "You don't actually believe a word he says, do you?" pointing at me.

"Did you hear the barmy story he's got about Bruce Jenner?!' shouted Morrissey at Johnny.

Luis and I watched the rest of the show right from the side of the stage.  When the band played their final song, Luis and I  ran out and joined the other crazy fans who made it past security up onto the stage. We picked up and played a tambourine and maracas.

I Know It's Over

When the show was over, we said goodbye to the band, and they zoomed off in the limo-bus.  I took a bunch of photos with my iPhone, but it was sad to think the photos would probably disappear later.

"Alright 'Gulliver's Travels,' it's time to say your goodbyes," said George Carlin, who was now back in his "Bill and Ted" outfit.

"Okay, man. I'll say goodbye to Luis." 

I walked over to Luis, who was standing where the bus had left.

"Hey Lu, was this the best night ever or what?" I asked him.

"Yeah.  I'm so glad we bought tickets.  We would've regretted it for the rest of our lives," said Luis.

"You know what dude? If we missed this concert, we'd have gotten through it together.  We'd have spent hundreds of hours listening to The Smiths, imagining we saw them at this concert.  And that wouldn't have been so bad would it?" I asked.

"Dude, are you kidding me, tonight was epic," said Luis.

"I know.  You're right.  I played guitar for Johnny Marr and his wife, and they clapped politely. Who's ever gonna believe that?" 

"Morrissey told me I should be celibate for a few years, and wear fake eyeglasses and a hearing aid in my ear," said Luis.

"Why did he say to do that?" I asked.

"I don't know.  But I think I'm actually gonna do it," said Luis.

I know you are, buddy, I thought to myself.  Even at school.

"Hey Lu, it was really great seeing ya here tonight.  I wish I could just stay here and do everything we did in high school and college all over again. Most things I wouldn't change at all, really," I said.

Luis gave me a curious look.  Then he said:

"Oh yeah.  Morrissey told me something else too.  He said he couldn't believe that of all the things in the world, you chose this concert.  He said it made him proud for what The Smiths achieved with their music and the connection they made with their fans- with us."

"Really?  He said that?  Geez, Morrissey is such a difficult bastard, it's hard to imagine him giving us a sort of compliment like that," I said.

Luis and I took it all in for a moment.

"Hey Lu, you never even asked me how I knew how to play guitar," I said.

"Yeah, what the hell? You learn how to play guitar in the future?" asked Luis.

"Yeah.  Actually, you play guitar first, and I get jealous, then I learn how to play," I said.

"Hmm." Luis thought about it. "Do we form a band?"

"No.  You're too difficult to work with - like Morrissey.   You lose interest anyway, and you start exercising, just as obsessively as you followed The Smiths.  You become like a super fit Ironman." I explained.

"That's rad," said Luis.

"Hey, Lu.  You just go ahead and drive your Volkswagen Fox home, I'll get a ride home with our new friend George Carlin here, okay?" I said.

"Later dude," said Luis, and we did our soul brother handshake that we always did, cupping our hands to make a real loud "pop" sound when our hands clasped.

Accept Yourself

With a whoosh, I was back in the Man Cave, lying on my couch.  George Carlin was on the barstool.

"Well?  You feel like you got it out of your system?  No more regrets?" asked George.

"Yeah man, that was a blast," I said. "Thanks for all your help George."

"Whattaya think the lesson is, 'Sunshine?'" said George Carlin.

I thought for a few seconds.

"That anytime I need to, I can go back in time in my imagination, and rewrite my life any way I want."

"That's a start," said George.  "Kinda shallow and narcissistic, but a start."

"And if I hurt someone, and that's my regret, whether they are dead or alive,  I can write them a letter, and as long as I'm sincere and honest, I can probably make things better," I said.

"You know, sometimes a well-timed, sincere letter can do just the trick," said George.

You've Got Everything Now

"Here, someone asked me to give you this," said George, standing up from the bar chair.

He threw me a piece of paper folded into a square. Then George snapped his fingers and disappeared.

I unfolded the paper.  A guitar pick with the initials "JM" fell out on my lap.

On the paper, were the lyrics, written in Morrissey's handwriting, to "Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want

Beneath the song it said:  
"Luis and Jack . . . 
'Non, Je ne regrette rien!"

signed Morrissey and Johnny Marr-SDSU 1986.

© Copyright Jack Clune 2020 

Thursday, October 8, 2020

Those Two Foreign Kids Who Moved to the Neighborhood

Those Two Foreign Kids Who Moved to the Neighborhood

Another stark reminder of an era gone by


I have a friend who is a fellow attorney. He's about ten years older than me.  When I took up guitar twenty years ago, he went to the guitar store with me and helped me pick one out.

That's because even though my friend is 5'4" tall, balding and weighs 145 pounds, when he plugged in an electric guitar at my loft, he unleashed a torrent of rock n roll licks like he was Jimmy Page.

After I picked my jaw up off the ground, my friend told me this story.

He told me about two kids he grew up with in his neighborhood.  They came from some foreign country and they could barely speak a lick of  English. The boys' parents could not speak any English at all.

The one kid played classical piano, and the other learned guitar.  The young one hated the endless piano lessons and played drums instead, whenever he could.  But the older brother who had the guitar got jealous of the drum kit and insisted they switch.

They switched.

The two kids formed a band. My friend learned guitar, but he was not good enough to be in the band. The brothers played at backyard parties, and my friend has tape cassettes of the shows.

As they got older, but before they could drive, my friend's mother drove them all to see concerts in Los Angeles, and sometimes on the Sunset Strip.

Leaving the show, my friend would ask the younger brother what he thought of the famous guitarist they just saw.  

"He's okay I guess," was the usual response.

The brothers' band had a rival band they played against in contests and with whom they competed for shows and parties.  The brothers stole the lead singer.  Or something like all that.

My friend the attorney is Jewish, and he grew up in Pasadena, California.  The lead singer of the rival band was also a Jewish kid from Pasadena, whose father was a doctor. 

His name was David Lee Roth. 

I know exactly where I was the first first time I heard Van Halen.  I was sitting in a treehouse with a few other kids, in the orange grove behind my house.  The song was "Running With the Devil."  The music started with the ominous bass heartbeat.  It was terrifyingly alien-sounding, and exhilarating at the same time.  It was unlike anything  I had ever heard before in my life- and I had listened to A LOT of Led Zeppelin, and Black Sabbath.

Van Halen's music, attitude, and image are the living incarnation of halcyon Southern California in the late 1970s and early '80s.  When you listen to Van Halen, no matter where you are, you've 'got a beer in your hand, and your toes in the sand . . . '

Will we ever know such a relatively blissful, carefree time again?


I doubt it.

Rest in Peace Edward Van Halen

© Copyright Jack Clune 2020

Friday, October 2, 2020

Not All Witches Fly on Brooms


Not All Witches Fly on Brooms

But they all laugh the same


My year abroad in Spain was just beginning

It was my Junior Year of College, and I was studying abroad in Spain. I’d spent the beginning of the summer of 1989 staying with my high school friend Mike Heinz at his grandmother at her house on the outskirts of Madrid. Mike interned at the American Embassy, as his Mom was Spanish and his dad German, so he spoke three languages fluently. Once we got off the plane, Mike spoke only Spanish to me, and while it was painful at first, it really did help me later.

As Mike put on a suit and tie and went off to work each day, I kept busy just wandering around magnificent, but sweltering Madrid, going to the parks and museums, seeing what mischief I could get into. Sadly, not much exciting happened then, as I was early in the Hero’s Journey of my year aboard in Spain.

Everything changed in July when I headed off to the city of Valencia, just south of Barcelona, to join the program through American University in D.C. In Valencia, the two-month program was my “Real World MTV” experience, with all sorts of partying, drama, and life-changing experiences, all of which I’ll tell you about another time.

Living in Toledo was like like in a real-life Fairytale Kingdom

Toledo is the magical walled Medieval city, forty miles south of Madrid, where the ruling government once resided. A favorite subject of the Spanish master painter, El Greco, who often painted it in a surreal swirling manner, the city levitates over the surrounding countryside. As the sun moves in the sky, like El Greco’s painting, the city elongates and shapeshifts, and the clouds dance above it.

From a distance, the city seems to be made of one single type of brick, like a dribble sandcastle. But up close, it’s a beehive maze of hundreds of narrow alleyways, tunnels, bridges, and archways. The whole city circles around the Cathedral tower, and while it is like something out of a fairytale, like all things classically Spanish, it is austere.

Pixabay, Toledo Spain looking from North to South (I think)

My program was through the University of San Diego, and we were a group of half American students and half students from Latin America.

I sat by myself at a café on one of the narrow streets for which Toledo is famous. Most of the alleyways and cobblestone streets are too narrow for a car to fit on. Groups of tourists passed me by, going to the tour busses to take them back to Madrid.

I just read the last page of James Joyce’s Ulysses, and I slammed the book cover with a great flourish. “Wow!” I said, proud of myself, but really just kind of relieved to be done with it. My friend David Rosenberg had taken a class at U.C. Berkeley wholly devoted to Ulysses alone. David gave me the professor’s bound notes, which were supposed to serve as some accompanying guide to the text. Sometimes I looked at it, but sometimes it was just too much, taking away from the experience of just reading the book.

I finished the short glass of beer, and my “Sandwich mixto con huevo” meaning a ham and cheese sandwich with a fried egg in the middle of it, with the yoke popping up through a hole in the bread, made with a shot glass. I asked the waiter for the bill, paid, and started heading back to the University.

Looking up at one of the street names, it read “Callejon de Siete Revueltos.” I had just read a passage in Ulysses which referred to the “something or other of Seven Returns.” I got goosebumps and felt like there was more than a coincidence. Halloween was right around the corner, and that is my favorite holiday. It felt like there was magic in the air.


Every night was a party for the “The Big Spender”

It was a Friday night, which made little difference to me, as I went out to the bars nearly every single night it seemed. There was always a group of students going out, while others stayed in and studied. I became the rotating “Entertainment Director” and went out with each group on different nights, it seemed. I’m ashamed to admit it, but I had a lot more money to burn compared to the other students.

My parents gave me a hefty allowance and wired me money every two weeks. They never seemed too upset, even when I told them I spent a little extra or needed more money. 

Only much later in life did my parents reveal that they viewed this year abroad in Spain as being a splurge or reward for me having earned just short of a full-ride scholarship to the college I attended, the University of San Diego

I did not leave home to go to college. I lived in my family home, Freshman, and Sophomore Year. So again, my parents viewed themselves as way ahead of the game compared to the other people they knew who were paying full fare, tax, and tip for their kids’ to go to Notre Dame, Georgetown, or some such other bank-breaking school.

Since I went to college practically for free, my parents gave me a blank check that year in Spain. I did not go crazy, because I did not know I had a blank check at the time. But I never held back from doing anything, and sometimes I even paid for my friends when they said they did not have enough money to go out.

My dorm room was a narrow little monk’s cell, with a desk, a single bed, a bathroom, and a window with a wooden shutter that looked out over the terra cotta tops of buildings toward the River Tajo, which encircles the city.

The sun was going down, and the sky was turning burnt orange and purple. I saw bats fluttering about. One time a bat flew right into my room, and I had to use a towel to trap it and throw it back out the window.


I put on my favorite outfit, a cheap herringbone three-button jacket made of very light material, with a white shirt buttoned all the way collar. I had bell-bottomed jeans made by a company called “Big Star.” I wore shoes that I called the “Bumper Cars,” but could right be called clown shoes. They looked like Doc Martins, but they had these ridiculous soles that had no tread on them.

The shoes really did look like bumper cars with the bumpers on the bottom. Sadly, a chunk of one of the soles came off and looked like it had been bitten off by a dog. I wasn’t ever able to find replacements for them, so I simply wore them with the chunk missing. Since the shoes had no real tread when they hit water, they hydroplaned. I took many a spill both outdoors and indoors.

The Big Spender, wearing the “Bumper Car” shoe

My outfit was just a mess of different influences. Certainly, the jeans and the rave shoes were a nod to the “Madchester” house music scene and The Stone Roses, Happy Mondays from England. The Stone Roses album came out in 1989, and I still loved that music. None of the other kids on the program knew what I was talking about. They all dressed in J. Crew, Tommy Hilfiger, and Guess. They stared at me with their mouths agape.

But the real shocking piece of my ensemble. The real piece d resistance was my hair. Copying my best friend Chris back home, I had let my hair grow for all the months I was in Spain, and I was now sporting A Prince Valiant sort of cut. This was two or three years before grunge rock, so it was still very unusual for a guy to have long hair. There’s a person who inspired this long hair look, but it’s so embarrassing to talk about now, I’ll save it for another time.

The Author, Hair guy

As if the outfit with the ridiculous baggy jeans, the shoes, the three-button jacket was not enough, the hair put it over the top. I was surprised and gratified that the Spanish guys did not catcall or give me a hard time in the streets or the bars.

Having traveled in Europe on a “grand tour” trip at the end of High School with Chris, I knew that in Italy, France, or especially England- if I had done anything to stick out like this, I would suffer some abuse. Without even trying to be flamboyant at all, Chris and I almost got into fights in each of those countries.

Staring in the mirror, I applied the Loreal Studio gel just so and combed my hair back into a short ponytail. That was for the beginning of the night. Later, when we’re out dancing and getting sweaty, I pull the rubber band out and let the freak flag fly. I looked in the mirror-like the Fonz, and I felt good.

Time to get this party started.

Meeting new people from all around the world

As I entered the dining room, I got a few teasing whistles from my new buddies from schools like the University of Minnesota, the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and the Notre Dame kids too.

Finishing dinner, an American student named Kristen came over and said,

“Hey Jack, Juan Pablo and I are going up to the observation tower if you wanna come up there and join us before you go out and go crazy."

“Sure, I’ll meet you guys up there,” I said.

Kristen was a girl who was from Wellesley College, and I have to admit, I’d never met a girl quite like her before.

“Dude, what’s up with that chick Kristen,” I had asked my friend, Chet Carmichael, early in the program, when we were all meeting one another. Chet was from South Carolina, and he was really down to earth and cool.

“What do you mean?” asked Chet in his slow southern drawl.

“Why does she talk like that- with her chin jutting out? Like Thurston Howell the Third from Gilligan’s Island?” I asked.

“Ah, ha, ha,” Chet chuckled. “She’s from Wellesley College,” said Chet. Chet went to Notre Dame.

“Yeah, so what? What’s Wellesley College,” I asked.

I was from Southern California, and I could only name about ten different colleges off the top of my head. My school had no college football either, so I didn’t follow the sport, and I did not get the benefit of knowing every college name in the country that way like all the dumb jock guys did.

“Wellesley is like the Harvard for chicks. They all talk like that,” said Chet. “Wellesley’s for all the weird smart chicks, and it’s all like Feminist and Lesbian professors and shit. You gotta watch what you say around her. But she’s really cool once she knows you, though” said Chet, smooth as Tennessee whiskey.

“Thanks, dude,” I said.

I really did appreciate Chet warning me about Kristen. I had already put my foot in my mouth so many times over here in Spain, with the East Coast kids on the Valencia program, and even with Mike and his Grandma. It’s amazing how you can become inappropriately “patriotic” and other obnoxious things like “West Coast v. East Coast” when you go to a foreign land and feel insecure. I was learning a lot and becoming much more sensitive to people's perspectives from other parts of the U.S. and the world.

. . .

Life in the Ivory Tower (or as close to it as I ever got to it)

I never got to talk to Kristen until after I met Juan Pablo first. Juan Pablo was from Columbia- the country- and he and Kristen became boyfriend and girlfriend seemingly within the first week of the trip. Kristen looked like the nurse “Hot Lips” Houlihan from M*A*S*H. Juan Pablo looked, dressed, wore round glasses like, and spoke like the Mike Myers character “Dieter” from the SNL skit “Sprockets”- with a Columbian, not German accent, of course.

Juan Pablo was a real live Intellectual with a capital “I.” He was skinny and frail-looking. Again, his trademark was his Jean-Paul Sartre round glasses, with stylish black plastic frames. He smoked very pungent cigarettes, drank coffee and espresso all day, and he wore turtle neck sweaters even when it was very hot. “J.P.” as Kristen called him, would not have looked at all ridiculous wearing a beret.

Dieter/Juan Pablo

Juan Pablo was a true bohemian, scholar, and I was intimidated when I spoke to him the first couple of times. But over the first few weeks of the program, we reached a nice friendship.

Chet and I were two of the very few “American Guys” Juan Pablo could tolerate talking to for more than a minute or two. Chet and I were a little lower on the scale of the “Drunken American Idiot Abroad Spectrum” than the rest of the “bros” in their Nike T-Shirts. Chet and I had both read The Stranger by Albert Camus, so we could fake it with J.P. when we needed to sound smart.

I once caught myself during a conversation with J.P. saying something like “That reminds me of that scene Georges Battailes’ “Story of The Eye” . . . And the internal voice in my own head said (to myself)

“God, what a pretentious Dickhead you are . . .”

It was true, I had no idea what I was talking about. I had picked up that book because it was next to The Stranger in the library, and it looked short and had a really cool book cover. The book was gnarly, with all sorts of “transgressive” sex and violence in it. I did not understand the book, but I was glad I read it and could name drop it in situations when I had to talk to people like J.P.

I climbed the stairs to the reading tower, and it was only then that it struck me that I never came up here enough with its 360-degree panoramic view of the city. The sky was still burnt orange, but now with some purple too, with the sun seemingly taking forever to set, and it was almost 10:00 P.M.

J.P was seated on the octagonal bench seat, which ran along with the windows, and Kristen was already curled up against him, with her head on his lap, like a cat.

“Ah, Monsieur Clune, the Existentialist,” said JP. “Have you been contemplating Man’s struggle against the Absurdity of existence? You seem far too cheerful to have been doing that.”


“Only thing I’m contemplating is which bar to I’m goin’ to first,” I said stupidly.

Kristen laughed at my dumb joke. It was all in the delivery.

“Kristen says you are the life of the party,” said JP. “She tells me you’re a great dancer, and you put on a real show for the whole group.”

Kristen had gone out solo with us plebs, the whole party gang of students, last weekend when we went to the bars and danced. She had to come and see what all the fuss was about, I guess.

“Yeah, it’s kinda embarrassing,” I said, feeling ashamed and actually picturing myself all drunk and acting like a fool. I could only imagine what Kristen told Juan Pablo.

“No, no. Kristen says you dance very well. She says you even do . . .” 

Juan Pablo’s English was excellent, but he was struggling to find the words, so he used his hand by pointing it down and making two fingers spread wide.

“The splits!” said Kristen, smiling.

“Yes, the splits!” said J.P.

Now I really felt like a jackass. All the students who went out and danced together would form a circle, and we’d all take turns going in the circle and doing ridiculous dance moves. It was true. I would go into the circle and do the splits, trying to imitate Terence Trent D’Arby, who was popular at the time.

“I would love to see that. But I will not embarrass you and ask you to do it now,” said J.P.

“You should come out with us tonight!” I said.

“Ah, thank you, Jack, but I am not a person like that,” said JP. “I prefer to stay home and read or work on my thesis.”

He actually said, ‘I need to work on my thesis.’ On a Friday night. I only said things like that when I was joking.

“C'mon on J.P.,” said Kristen sitting up, and running her hand along J.P’s face. Don’t you want to wear baggy jeans and big bumper car shoes, and do the splits?”

Kristen said it sweetly and jokingly, and we all three laughed. The image of scholarly J.P. acting as foolish as me was just too much. I could tell J.P. was in for a night of passion. Kristen was head over heels in love with him, staring at every move and gesture he made. We were never going to see her out at the bars or dance clubs ever again.


“Look at the orange sky! It’s so cool. I half expect to see some witches flying around on broomsticks!” I said since it was so close to Halloween.

“You like witches Jack?” asked J.P.

“I love Halloween, it’s my favorite holiday. I like scary things and dressing up,” I said.

“Mi abuela era una bruja,” Juan Pablo said to Kristen.

Kirsten sucked in her breath.

“Oooooh, really?” asked Kristen dramatically.

“Si, de veras,” said Juan Pablo.

“My Grandmother was a witch,” said J.P.

. . .  

Juan Pablo’s stories from the Columbian countryside

“My grandmother was a ‘Bruja’ — do you know that word, Jack?” asked J.P.

“That means witch, right?” I said.

“More or less, yes,” said J.P.

“What do you mean J.P., was your grandmother a good or bad witch?” asked Kristen.

“I would say . . .” Juan Pablo stopped short. There was an uncomfortable silence.

“What did she do? Did she have magical powers?” I asked.

“It was said she could predict the future. And she cured people who were sick,” said J.P., “They say one time, she put her hands on a child and fixed his broken arm,” said J.P.

“Oh, how interesting,” said Kristen.

“Whoa. Do you believe it?” I asked.

“I don’t know. I really don’t know,” J.P. said, distracted, and giving a far off look.

. . .

Then Juan Pablo told us this story. Sometimes he spoke in Spanish, and Kirsten translated as she somehow already spoke perfect Spanish it seemed. She must have been one of those annoying and freakish people who actually learned how to speak the language from the high school classes we took. Most of the time, I could tell what Juan Pablo was saying, but it made it easier to enjoy the story when Kristen translated.

“We lived in a big house in the country, with servants who lived in separate quarters out in the crop fields. My parents left my older sister and me with my grandmother when they went to the city.

Abuela (Grandmother) made us play hide and go seek with her. But she did not hide in the normal places, like a closet or behind a shower curtain.

Instead, she would hide in crawl spaces, or contort herself into cabinets, or climb into . . .

Kirsten had to help him with this one.

“Ventilation shafts?” she confirmed.

“Yes,” said Juan Pablo.

She curled up under mounds of suffocating blankets or went deep into the attic, or down into the dark basement, where she knew I was afraid to look for her.

Sometimes it took me hours to find her. My sister, who was about ten years old, and I, who was about seven years old- we cried, and begged her to come out and end the game.

There were times when I collapsed on the floor, desperate, waking up later, and searching for her again. But she never revealed herself.

And then finally I’d find her in the dark corner of the attic or the basement.

She pretended to be dead.

I tugged on her clothes and cried. I struck her with my fists, begging her to stop. And I fell on her and hugged her.

Still, she would lie silent. Then finally, she started laughing her crone’s laugh.

Laughing at my pain and fear. A horrible, joyless laugh.”

“A witch’s laugh."

. . . 

“Oh my God, that’s so terrible, J.P.,” said Kirsten, grabbing his hand and putting her face to the back of it, and temporarily breaking the spell of the story.

“I told my parents, but they said we were exaggerating. Children are to be seen and not heard where I come from. My father got angry at me, telling me it was a sin to speak so badly of mi Abuela. 

He shouted, ‘Enough!’ when I told them of her games. My mother was powerless to help- it was my father’s mother.

My sister told my parents I was lying and exaggerating.

“My parents left us with her again, and Abuela made us play the game again. Actually, she just disappeared when we were not looking. The hacienda was so big. Do you know that word, Jack?

“Yeah, like a big farm, a big country house,” I said.

I was just thinking of the Mexican restaurants we had back home in San Diego. Some of them were called Hacienda this, or Hacienda that. There was also the famous dance club in Manchester, England called the Hacienda, where all my favorite bands made their starts.

“Yes,” said Juan Pablo.


At first, I ignored her, and I refused to play. But as the day went on, she never came out of hiding. After a few hours, I went to the places she hid before. I found bedsheets that did not belong where they were, and I knew the sheets were from a chest in the guest’s quarters.

I opened the trunk in the guest room, and my grandmother was curled up inside. She refused to get out. When I touched her face, she was cold. She was pretending to be dead.

I still did not believe her. I did not believe she was dead. There was a smile on her face. When they came and took her body away, I still was not sure she was dead.

To this day, I still expect her to laugh, and come around the corner.”

Juan Pablo lit up one of his rich European cigarettes.

“Oh my God, J.P. What a strange woman, to cause you so much pain as a child,” Kristine said.

“She passed it on to my sister,” said  Juan Pablo.

. . . 

It was now dusk outside the observation tower. The rims of the hills in the countryside were brimming and outlined with the dying of the light. I thought of the final scenes of Stephen King’s ‘Salems Lot’ where the heroes, the writer, and the teenage boy wind up in a small Mexican village, hunting down the vampires who wiped out their town in Maine.


“Yes, she taught my sister Valentina how to make things appear and disappear,” said Juan Pablo.

When my parents left us alone now, my sister and I played a game. We sat on opposite sides of the large room, and we dared each other not to look at the windows behind each of us. Whoever looked first was the loser.

“There’s someone at the window,” my sister would say.

I refused to look.

“It’s a man. He has a beard and scar on his face.”

I waited as long as I could.

“There’s a devil in the window behind you,” I said to her. “It has fangs and blood dripping from its mouth.”

“It’s a pirate. The man is a pirate,” my sister said.

It was always me who looked first. My sister never looked, even when we made it extra scary, and turned down the lights and lit a solitary candle.

When you play this game, you concentrate so hard that when you look at the window, for an instant, you see the pirate or whoever else she has described. It terrified me. I could never be sure whether the faces were really there or not.

Valentina laughed and laughed when I lost the game.

. . . 

“One night, when we were alone again, the moon was full,” Pablo continued.

“She made me play the game before I could have my supper. She turned out all the lights, except for the fireplace, and we faced each other in the moonlight.


“There are three men at all the windows behind you,” she said.

I did not believe her, of course. I wanted to simply look and lose quickly. But before I could turn around, a man’s face appeared in the window behind my sister. 

I leaped to my feet, ‘there’s a man, there’s a man!’ I screamed.

My sister did not move. She smiled and giggled at my play-acting.

“Sister, sister, no there is really a man!” I shouted.

Valentina refused to look.

I turned and looked at the windows behind me, and there were three men, two of whose faces were in the windows, and one whose whole silhouette was there in the glass door to the patio. A poor farmer dressed in rags, holding a machete in his hand. He pulled at the door handle, but it was locked.

I screamed in terror.

My sister did not move.

The men turned and disappeared at once. I ran to the window and saw four or more men running towards the cornfields. They disappeared into the tall leaves swaying in the moonlight.

Outside the glass door, the machete lay on the patio.

My sister laughed and laughed. The same horrible laugh as mi Abuela.

. . . 

Funny, I never saw much of or spoke to Juan Pablo and Kristen on the program after that. When somebody tells you a story that strange and personal, it kind of colors things. Whatever the case may be, I kept my distance after that.

Unlike Juan Pablo and Kirsten, I had enough being holed up in a room reading books. I sat in my bedroom and read books all through High School and living at home for the first two years of college. Instead, I determined to pack in as much as I could every day and night that I was in Spain, and that’s exactly what I did, and I never looked back. 

Years later, when I saw the  Blair Witch Project in the theater, I felt like I was having deja vu all over again, remembering Juan Pablo’s harrowing stories.

And whenever I see a story in the news about some cruel act done by an adult to a child, I think back to Juan Pablo’s stories of his Abuela in Columbia.

And I hear the Bruja’s laugh.

© Copyright 2020 Jack Clune

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