pic of the day and bela's words
When Sebastian and I drove across the country, in addition to shooting pictures in malls, we visited family and shopped in thrift stores and "antique shops". We were bonded by junk. In high school we spent an inordinate amount of time at the local thrift stores. After a while even the narcotic thrill of the incredible find (an original copy of iggy and the stooges raw power at a pennsylvania flea market) didn't make the trip feel all that worthwhile.
Driving from town to town in our insular blue bubble, we had almost no one to talk to except each other. In Spokane we met a couple of teenagers outside of a supermarket. They asked us to buy them beer. We did, mostly so we'd have someone to hang out with. It was fun for about an hour. Then we hit the road again. That night we slept on blankets by the side of a quiet dirt road. 30 mintues later it wasn't so quiet when we realized that we were 20 feet from a cargo rail line. About 10 minutes after the train passed we were awakened by bright lights. We couldn't see anything except the slugs that had found our blanket. A cop asked us to move on. We did.
2 years later when I traveled with my band on tour I had the opposite experience. I drove to a town, met people with similar interests, got free beer, a place to stay, and access to amazing record and book collections. It was awesome. We barely made gas money, but I met a more than a dozen people who are still friends of mine today. One of those people was Bela Koe-Krompecher. He booked shows in Columbus Ohio. Now he's a dad and an incredible writer. He threw together this mall recollection for the book/video project.
Catawba, Ohio is a tiny, bump-in-the-road of a town just a few miles northeast of Springfield, Ohio, which, by the very nature of its name, screams Small-town America. Springfield is home to the (former) International Harvester tractor plant, Wittenberg University, and a long row of fast-food restaurants, carry outs, and restaurant-bars that we only knew at “the strip.” I was sixteen in 1984, and this was my reality. The proverbial square peg in a county-wide hole, I tended to spend my weekends getting out of Catawba, which had only one traffic light that weakly blinked off and on, as if trying in vain to be one of the bright lights in Las Vegas. The little light that couldn’t. My family was lower middle-class, living in a parsonage near the edge of the small town. My step-father was a Methodist minister who suffered from severe depression and my mother had already begun planning to escape not only town but the marriage.
Americans have a love affair with the automobile. It is not so much a functional love affair as one borne out of necessity, as there are large areas of the country that require cars simply to get you from one place to another. In Catawba, the closest large supermarket was fourteen miles away, the same as the doctor’s office, the dentist, parks, the “strip”, and, of course, the Springfield Mall. My brother, older by one year, had a car and was able to make a daily escape via a bruised and bent Ford Mustang that had long ago lost its luster and now more or less looked like an almost-silver, cardboard version of a classic American car. When my mother was home, I was able to borrow my step-father’s orange Toyota Corolla wagon, its surface burned by the hot Ohio sun and battered by winter’s freezing winds. If the car had had a face, it would have been the weathered face of Karl Malden, but when I could I would drive it the ten miles or so to my best friend Mark’s house. Mark had cable television, which, in 1984, was new, sparkling, and dangerous—dangerous in the sense that if a teenage boy could stay up long enough, he might glimpse the naked breast of Tanya Roberts or another B-movie heroine at 1:30 A.M. I enjoyed going to Mark’s.
We were usually joined by two other close friends from our class: Joe Wickline, a tall, gangly kid who tried in vain to grow a moustache but only ended up with what looked like the scrubbed remnants of a sharpie scribbled above his upper lip, and Jeff Entler, who had the same type of moustache to go along with a receding hairline at the ripe old age of 16. Joe and Jeff ’s parents worked at International Harvester, while Mark’s stepfather was a veterinarian. They all had a bit more money than I did. I was lucky to have two dollars in my pocket, as my allowance was usually five bucks a week when I got it at all.
I had a punk-rock attitude without even knowing it. There were no punk rockers in rural western Ohio at that time, and I was chastised at school for listening to The Beatles, The Kinks, and The Stones. My classmates had never heard of The Replacements, Lou Reed, or The Ramones, so I didn’t get badgered for listening to them. I never took flack, though. My mouth got me in trouble, but it was balanced with enough wit to save me from getting my ass kicked. Doing the types of things the other kids did left me adrift—I resented the music they liked, their politics and racism, and the rural chip-on-the-shoulder I felt I detected. I was too young to understand the complexities of being a teenager and there was a dearth of skillful compassion in my adolescent head.
Living near Springfield, Ohio in the early to mid nineteen eighties, you had a limited amount of social choices. You could get drunk in your friend’s basement or on the back roads (my favorite option), get drunk and cruise the strip, which consisted of driving the mile between McDonalds and Taco Bell (Joe’s favorite option), or go to the mall (Jeff’s favorite option). I don’t think Mark was inclined to choose any of the options. His social cynicism had a depth to it that made me look like a game-show host. Today Mark lives with his wife on a small thatch of land in the middle of West Virginia, where he grows his own vegetables and slaughters his own chickens and hogs. The Springfield Mall had a Sears, a JC Penny, a Woolworths, and the usual mall staples, such as Spencer Gifts, Orange Julius, and a hot pretzel place. It also had a Camelot record store, the only store besides Woolworths that I would enter. Jeff would want to cruise the mall, looking for girls to flirt with and maybe get a phone number. I was steadfast in my desire to never go out with any girl from Springfield. I had my sights set on either college girls or the girls I knew in Athens. I was a virginal snob, one who had only gotten to third base once (with a girl from Athens), but I was certain that if I waited long enough I would find a clever, intelligent, beautiful woman who knew who The Velvet Underground, the Smiths and R.E.M. were.
There was a short blonde woman who worked at the Camelot. She had a bob haircut and was always smiling. I ventured in one day looking for the new R.E.M. record and she told me, sadly, that the store had only gotten two copies. She had bought one and someone else had bought the other. I was crestfallen but optimistic that there was indeed an oasis of gorgeous intelligence located in the Springfield Mall. She asked me how I knew them and I explained that I deejayed at WOSU, the Wittenberg station, during the summer. Smiling, she said that she was a student there. I let it go at that, [too shy to actually….]
At home I discovered a nude photograph of a blonde-haired woman in the back of one of my National Lampoon’s I imagined was the girl from Camelot. In the twenty-two years since leaving Catawba, I have set foot in a mall fewer than ten times. My dislike for shops, crowds, and the business of capitalism runs deep, perhaps rooted in the unease of a nervous, snobbish sixteen year old who quivered in front of a blonde-haired coed from Wittenberg University. She must be in her mid-forties by now, with children of her own and an aging record collection that evokes memories of parties filled with Romeo Void, The Smiths, and wine coolers. Her children, poking fun at the faded fashion of New Romanticism on the faded album covers, with the circled outlines of the round vinyl record pushing against the cardboard are pictures of askew bleach blonde hair of the day, day-glow make-up dotted with the fake tribalism of Malcolm MacLaren, must shake their collective heads and roll their teenage eyes. “Mom, you listened to this stuff?” dismissing the collection of a mom that , unknowingly keeping the hope of a teenage crush burning through the final two years of high school. I ended up buying the Icicle Works album instead.