RW166 - The El Dopa House

This week, Dan and John talk about:

The show title refers to the house John lived in behind Ernie Steel’s on Broadway together with the band El Dopa.

Raw notes
The segments below are raw notes that have not been edited for language, structure, references, or readability. Please do not quote these texts directly without applying your own editing first! These notes were not planned to be released in this form, but time constraints have caused a shift in priorities and have delayed editing draft-quality versions to a later point.

John being on his phone too much (RW166)

John is just sitting here, getting up to speed on the Internet. The less he knows, the better, he really feels that way today. A couple of days ago his phone announced to him that he had been looking at it for eight hours in the course of the day and that he had been averaging over seven hours a day of looking at his phone. He realized that it was true that his phone was telling him and he has been feeling his brain turning to mush for a long time. He tried this before, but he was like: ”Basta! No more!” and for the last three days he left his phone at home and didn’t look at it from the morning to the night. He has the Apple Watch and gets texts and phone calls right, but the phone is also keeping track of the texts and he sends on the watch because it adds up to the total at the end of the day.

Then John looks at his phone at night, he comes home and lays in bed and plays his little card games and look at Safari and Google. Before he would look at his phone all day long. He has become one of these people that pulls up to a red light, glances down on his phone, checks some things, until the light turns green. He is not a monster that sits there at a green light looking at his phone, but he keeps an eye on the light. Anytime he is in a waiting room, anytime he got three seconds he will look at his phone. It has been nice and the last three days he averaged about two hours a day looking at his phone, but that is also counting the amount of time he has been replying to texts on his watch. That is John’s current project: ”Not have my phone.” He bought an expensive thing, he is paying for it on a monthly basis, and now he is not going to use it.

John looked at his phone when he woke up this morning, but he was still in bed. He doesn't want to get into this cheat day situation where it's like: ”Well, technically I'm still in bed. I can take it as far as the front hall!”, but he wants to be strict and say: ”Is this a phone looking opportunity? No, it is not! Leave it!”

They have talked in the past about John’s highly addictive personality, but it will not be a big challenge for John to steer clear of it because he also has a highly restrictive personality or a highly developed capacity to refuse himself that which he most desires. He is going to have no trouble at all making himself not having his phone, it is just the slippery slope that the Watch is only 82% functional and if it is a day where he is expecting to get a lot of e-mails or something he might say: ”Well, I've got to have my phone with me today!” and then it becomes two days and pretty soon he is looking at it for eight hours a day again and he just can't do that! There are only so many hours in a day, there are three chunks of eight. That is one third of your day looking at that damn thing!

El Dopa, a band by John’s peers (RW166)

John likes to be stimulated, he likes to have the little drop of El Dopa. We don't talk about El Dopa anymore, at one time everyone talked about El Dopa all the time, it was on everyone's lips, but now it has been two years since somebody said El Dopa at him. He had some friends that had a band named El Dopa, ripped from the headlines. The band El Dopa was made up of a bunch of John’s close friends and former bandmates. Before the Western State Hurricanes when John was a band in The Bun Family Players, the most Seattle period for him, he had quit drinking and doing drugs, he had a band, he had a girlfriend, he had an apartment, his band had a practice space, which were all things that at 23 years old he did not have: a band, a girlfriend, an apartment or a practice space.

Now John was 26 and had all those things, this wealth of everything he had imagined one needed to be happy in the world. He had a group of friends that lived together in a group house, the house immediately behind the bar Ernie Steel’s that got turned into a different bar called Ileen's later (see this building), the house directly behind it when they would come out at night and throw all their bottles in the garbage can, it was right underneath the living room window of this house, which is still there. Some people in the house had this band El Dopa and the drummer of El Dopa was the drummer of John’s first band Chautauqua, meaning he was really mobbed up with them.

El Dopa played a show, back when they were playing shows for 80 people and they all went to each other's shows, they all went to shows constantly. El Dopa had attracted the attention of the guy in Atlanta who was the producer of the band TLC maybe, which was a super big name from Atlanta, and they were on LaFace records, Jermaine Dupri maybe, somebody from down in Atlanta who was working within a Hip Hop context who decided they were going to branch out. It wasn't Jermaine Dupri, was it Salt’n’Peppa? Are they from Atlanta? Plateau Records wasn't it either, Salt’n’Peppa are not from Atlanta, they are from New York (TLC are from Atlanta, though)

This guy’s name was something like Marcus Marcus and he discovered El Dopa. He had an interesting name that really stuck out. He was doing Hip Hop and R&B, but he was one of these these people that had made a name for himself because he had come up with three or four different bands and now he was looking for a Seattle band, he thought this was the way the music industry was going, maybe he would find a Grunge band. Somehow the El Dopa demo got into his hands and they suddenly had a relationship with this label in Atlanta. They got flown down there, this was the closest thing of this kind that had ever happened to any of John’s peers, it was during the time when you still felt, at 26, you had a cool band, they weren't popular in Seattle, but they were popular with their friends and it still seemed like a world where you would just bump into somebody at an airport and they would sign your band and then you would be huge. That stuff seemed real still.

El Dopa was flying down to Atlanta to make a record with the guy who discovered Bell Biv DeVoe or whatever. It felt like: ”Wow! It is happening! It is happening to our friends!” The bass player of El Dopa was Chris Carniglia who ended up being the keyboard player in the first version of The Long Winters, it was all super-connected, they were super mobbed-up with of them! They watched them go down there and they made a record, or at least they spent a couple of weeks down there, recording, they made this major label record and they said they were at this big really fancy studio down there and every time they came out of the room some major star would be out there, just hanging out, all Hip Hop stars, L.L. Cool J or somebody, but big names.

They were really fish-out-of-water and everybody was super friendly‚ but like: ”Oka, you guys! Grunge band, I guess! Wow, Marcus Marcus is really thinking outside the box here!” - ”Yeah, label mates! What's up Lisa Left Eye Lopez!” Then they flew home and John’s peers greeted them with open arms. This was the era where Built to Spill was the band they all emulated, but they weren't that big and were pretty much Northwest Regional. Nobody had heard of them outside of the Northwest yet.

El Dopa was not good, they were as good as John’s band, but that wasn't good either. They had weird meandering songs and they did a cover of Fight for Your Right To Party, but they weren't a fun party Grunge band, but way too serious, super duper serious, stare at the floor, scream out your inner hurts, and a few months went by, they were talking to their their new label in Atlanta, and then all of sudden: radio silence. They couldn't get anybody on the phone, nobody would answer when they called, and eventually they got a message from the guy's intern, saying he was taking the label in a different direction and thought maybe Grunge was it, but what he did was listen to this album that this band had made and went: ”Hmm, I don’t see anything. I don't know what I saw before, but I don't see it now!”, but they wouldn't give the band the record. It was the classic big time music business stuff: ”You guys made a record for us that we paid for, but it belongs to us. We don't want to release it. We don't want anything to do with it, frankly, we are not going to shit-can it immediately, but you can't have it!”

Those guys from El Dopa had no money, they had no shot of making a record on their own, they didn't even have $1500 to go in and make a record in three days type of thing. They had made this big thing they were super proud of, this big sparkling alt-rock record, that if they had been given the tapes and had come home and duplicated it… This was before a time when any band John knew had ever made a CD themselves. The first Seattle bands who came out with an independent CD, when the first independent CD pressing plants opened, and it couldn't have been before 1998, because you couldn't go buy a CD pressing plant, and by 1998 you could have your own in some little warehouse somewhere.

What they would have done is bring that back and make tapes and sell cassette tapes at shows, and they would have been the biggest band on the scene if they had this professionally made record. The reason they didn't get it from their Atlanta label is they could have taken that tape and shopped it around and they surely would have gotten a record contract with somebody on the strength of this really great sounding album that Marcus Marcus had paid for. El Dopa went back to playing shows for 50 people on a Wednesday night, just like the rest of them, which was super depressing, but it wasn't depressing for John.

John always had that quality that one admires so much in a friend, that quality where he is like: ”Hmm, you flopped, ay? Well, too bad!” John is not the one that you come to cry on his shoulder because he doesn't ask to cry on anyone else's shoulder. He sits on these podcasts and talks about his travails, but he doesn't want sympathy, he doesn't deserve sympathy, and he doesn’t ask for it. He talks about his stuff in the realest language he can, but he does not want you to say ”Sorry for your loss!” Take that stuff and save it. If you lose a child or if somebody dies, John is very capable of offering sympathy for those things, but if your band doesn't make it? John will give you a little chuck on the shoulder, but them's the breaks.

John’s band doesn’t deserve anything more than a chuck on the shoulder, but it doesn't mean that when he runs into Carl Newman of the New Pornographers that he doesn't glare at him, even though he loves him dearly, but he doesn't go: ”You fucker!” and he says that mostly because his songs are better than John’s. In the case of El Dopa he felt: ”Yeah, you guys did not become big rock stars because your songs are garbage! I can't be sad about it, I can't even be sad that you didn't get to be big stars because I don’t want you to be big stars! How am I going to feel?”, but it was sad because El Dopa limped along for a while, but that experience demoralized them.

They went from nobodies that were fine being nobodies… because if you played a show and you had 80 people and then the next time you played a show you had 85 people you felt like something was happening! They had a scene, it was a shit scene, nobody would have cared, but then they did that thing like: ”Bye everybody, we are going to the big time!” and then to come back…

The worst instance of that was a band called Man Ray. They had come ready to be big stars and even in Seattle, before anything had happened, they already had a lot of swagger. That was the feather boa era of alternative rock, before everybody had tattoos, but they had tattoos, they had gel in their hair, they wear sunglasses onstage and they had feather boas and they played glam rock.

Their following was not the same people that liked John’s bands at all. The people that came to see the Bun Family Players were wearing wool jackets that were wet from the rain and did not put product in their hair and were mopey. Man Ray attracted the people that did put stuff in their hair and their jackets weren't wool, they were made of other materials. John played with them several times because they had enough of a draw to be an opener for Man Ray. John liked them personally, although they were from a completely different culture.

They got a big record contract during the real heyday of that stuff and they went out and bought all new gear, big shiny super-1990s versions of it. They didn't buy vintage instruments, but they showed up with electric-blue Les Pauls, bright crazy 1990s instruments that now when they show up in music stores you are like: ”Oh, weird choice, Gibson, to put hearts and spades and jacks and queens on a Les Paul!” That is not 1980s or cool or vintage, that is just weird. They had all that stuff, brand new triple rectifier amplifiers and Galleon Krueger stuff, all this like tech stuff, and they actually said, maybe not from the stage, but: ”Thanks a lot Seattle! Look for us on MTV! We will see you on the streets of Los Angeles!”

They like took off, they all moved, they were going to the big time and then they did the same thing is El Dopa and they made a big big record for Universal and the label decided they were going in a different direction or whoever that A&R guy was got fired and the Man Ray record got put on a shelf and six months later they showed up back in Seattle, booking shows, playing their big guitars. It was actually at a Man Ray concert that John met Death Cab for Cutie. That was the bill: Death Cab opened, the Western State Hurricanes in the second slot as main support and Man Ray at the top. That was a very fateful show meeting Death Cab that night, which had profound reverberations through the whole rest of John’s music career.

Most of the time when somebody says: ”Tonight is the big night! This is the big show! Everybody put on your game face because this show really matters!” it never does. You go play South by Southwest, you go play the big show at Irving Plaza or whatever, and that is not ever the thing, or hardly ever the one where somebody walks up and hands you their business card and thus begins your career. It is always some main opening subplot for Man Ray at the Sit and Spin and you watch the opener who are 8 years younger than you and you go: ”What are those guys doing?” and pretty they are your best friends and your best friend band for the rest of your career.

What the hell is El Dope? It is some kind of medicine that we took to cure depression back in the days when nobody knew how to cure depression, it may be short for dopamine, the thing that makes you feel good. Was this a beta blocker or was this a a reuptake inhibitor? No, it wasn't! It was good for people with Parkinson's disease. It crosses the blood brain barrier and that is important, you want that. John remembers it being really front page newspaper business during a period when he would not take any kind of medicine, even when doctors would recommend that he take medicine.

John cannot speak with authority over what it is at all, just that… the band El Dope didn’t name themselves that because it was like naming the band Aspirin, but El Dopa meant something to them. It had something to do with whatever illnesses they all thought they were suffering from.

Finding new friends after getting sober and returning to Seattle (RW166)

John was in a scene that was the same scene that he had always been in when it comes to drug use, drinking, smoking, yet at least at this stage of his life this was how he made his money performing and playing gigs as a musician, as a performer in general… No, John made his money working at the magazine store. This was the era when bands would get $50 or $100 dollars for a show and when they would get $100 for a show they would high five each other, that was $25 each. John was still in this community, though with easy access to drugs, and how did he navigate that without getting back into it?

When John decided that he was done with drugs and alcohol he was in Alaska, that is where he got clean. It took him a couple of months to shake it off and then he said: ”I have to go back to Seattle!” and the consensus up there from the people he knew and his family and the community he had there, they were like: ”Don't go back to Seattle! Seattle is a den of iniquity! You are going to go back down there and immediately fall back into your old patterns with your old people and be in big trouble!” - ”Look, I can't stay in Anchorage! I can't be an Alaskan right now because Alaska doesn't have a vibrant arts culture!”

Alaskan arts culture tends toward kitsch. Most Alaskan art is about Alaska. If you are an Alaskan painter you paint Alaskan scenes and if you are an Alaskan playwright your plays are about Alaska because the identity of the place is so strong. The people up there want to consume and build an Alaskan mythology, so what you see in the art up there are a lot of bears and moose and the Northern Lights and gold nuggets and that type of stuff.

Whatever the music scene was up there was just imitating the Seattle scene and a lot of the things that created the sound of Seattle were also true in Anchorage. All the 21 year olds up there were also the product of divorced homes and even worse teenage street culture, it just didn't seem worse because Seattle was a lot punkier. John said: ”Look, I can't stay here!” I have to go back and make my way, as much as being sober now is important to me, I can't turn into somebody where that is the only thing I am doing. There is no point in being sober if I'm just sitting around in Anchorage working at a sporting goods store being sober. I have to still try to be part of the world!”

Staying at Nona’s (RW166)

Against all odds, and his parents threatened him with whatever they had to threaten him, which wasn't much, at this point he was 50 days sober, had no money and no prospects, no job, no place to go back to, but he bought this one way ticket, flew back to Seattle, took the bus in from the airport with his little shoulder bag, and he went right over to this girls house Nona whom he was dating in the last days, the worst days of his drug period, and knocked on her door.

Nona had always been responsible. There is that class of people that are capable of maintaining responsibility in the world and as their after work life they really go into the seedy underbelly, the punk preppy thing. You will meet them in work life! There is one girl in the office that is wearing just slightly out tray (?) clothes as part of her work outfit or she has got a piercing or she has some secret and every once in a while you catch a glimpse of a tattoo that you can see under her sleeve and you realize: ”Oh, she has an alternative life of some kind. She doesn't just get off work and go home and watch episodic television with her boyfriend and her cat. She is doing something after work!” Sometimes they are those people that will really surprise you and it turns out that they are into S&M or they are really tight with outsider art. Nona wasn't working a straight job, but if she worked at a restaurant or in a café she was the manager.

John showed up at her house which had always been a nice house, and for whatever reason she had indulged him when he was a homeless, jobless, slouch and he was like: ”Hi, I really need a place to crash!” - ”Welcome back!” and for the first few months when John landed back in Seattle he was living with her and she had been his girlfriend when he was at his worst, ”girlfriend” in quotes. She was very gentle with John, he was sick a lot, getting all of that stuff out of his system, he hadn't been eating very well for a long time before that, just from lack of money but also lack of interest.

That was during a period when John would go to meetings all the time, he had a hard very hard time finding a job. He would get a job at a place and work there two days and just be like: ”No!” Like a lot of people at that time suffering from those same maladies John believed that he was too good for just menial work or he was too good to be a regular American, but he knew he had to stay straight. He didn't have anywhere else to go besides bars and cafes, so he would go sit in the cafe all afternoon with a little spiral notebook, just writing, mostly essays, just trying to get his thoughts out on paper.

A lot of it is unreadable because he was flipping in and out of not just different ideas, the essay had different ideas, but trying to have different ideas about what good writing is. He would try different tones, never different personas, but sometimes he would be more emphatic, more aggressive, sometimes he would be more contemplative, but he would just scribble, just write and write and write and write and write, filling up these spiral-bound notebooks.

Meeting Peter and other friends after getting sober (RW166)

Then at night he didn't know anybody, any people that weren’t in bars, and he would go to the bar and sit there at the bar and smoke cigarettes and talk to his friends. As the night wore on they became less and less interesting, which was his first glimpse of being around drunk people when you are not drunk, it is not very fun. After about 9:30pm he just went out, just wandered the streets, and his first real friend was this guy named Peter Cars, he still knows him, and he was a very depressed, moody, artistic, handsome outsider character, glamorous by virtue of being completely unreachable by anyone, and he lived in that house behind Ernie Steel's and John knew people in that house because he had played in the band Chautauqua when he first moved to Seattle with the drummer Brian. This house was right in the center of Broadway and John would go by there and Peter lived there.

They just immediately glommed on to each other, one of those situations where it's just like: ”Wow, I have a new best friend!”, but Peter didn't really drink or smoke or do drugs. He drank like he had a beer. Most of the people in that house also would have a glass of wine or a beer, but were not drug abusers and they weren't alcoholics, one of them was. It was John’s first experience as an adult, as someone above the age of about 17, of people that he liked, that he admired, that he felt a kinship with, that just didn't have drug abuse and alcohol abuse as a part of their culture. They were artists, they were making art and were living in that early 1990s generation-X super-creative impassioned time, just not getting high.

It blew John’s mind: ”What? Who are these people?” and he threw himself in with them and was able to interact with people that weren't just sitting at the bar talking about the play they were going to write or they were writing the play. He watched people write a play, perform it for five nights in a small black box theater for 15 people a show, and then the play was done and they threw it away or they put it in a box and they started working on their next play, which was very different from the alcoholic crowd and the way that they talked about art, which was: ”I'm going to write the play that changes the world and I’m starting it tomorrow!”

The idea in the alcoholic culture is that when you finally make something it is going to be incredible, and that is part of the reason that you can't start it: You don't quite have the thing that is going to change the world yet and as soon as you get it, then: ”Watch out, world!” Watching working artists who made a thing and they did it and now they are starting the next thing, was transformative for John.

It did not transform him because he still even now suffers from the idea that he can't start working on a thing until it becomes an amazing thing that is going to change the world and he never was able to be one of those people that just went from creative thing to creative thing. Playwrights and actors just just blow John’s mind because they work just as hard on a play as you would on a record album, but it really leaves no record behind, except in the memories of the people that were lucky enough to see it. That is crazy for a musician to think about, even though every show they play is equivalent to putting on a play‚ at least you have an album and people who will never see the show listen to the record. Peter and John would go out and walk all night, rain pouring down, John would be smoking, and they would talk about art and life and the end times. They were both very dark, but finding a shared spirit in somebody else was a great comfort to John and to Peter, they just sought each other out.

Sleeping behind the curtain (RW166)

At some point along the way someone bought John a beeper, some of his friend who was tired of not being able to get in touch with him. You could call the Espresso Roma and leave a message for him and it was almost certain he would get it because he went there every day and then later you could call the Café Septieme or you could leave a message there at the counter and he would get it, but some friend was like: ”I'll pay for your beeper!” and it might have been Peter or Laural.

John carried it around for a while and it would beep and then you would go to a phone and call the number and there would be a message for you. That lasted close to a year before John had his own apartment. He crashed at Nona’s for a while and then the house behind Ernie Steel’s. John started sleeping on the couch there in the living room until eventually the people that lived there were like: ”You can't sleep on the couch!”, but there was an alcove at the top of the stairs, just a place with bedrooms on both sides, you came up to the top of the stairs, you turned around the railing and at the back end there was a dormer with a window that let light into the stairs.

It was about four feet deep and somebody hung a curtain, maybe a shower curtain, across that four foot alcove and if John went in there with a sleeping bag he could sleep and all you would see was his feet sticking out into the hallway. Somehow for some reason the people that lived in that house, which at that point was called the El Dopa House tolerated him. Even though Julie lived there and later Laural lived there and Derek Chamberlain lived there. None of those people were in El Dopa at all, but enough members of the band and the band practiced in the basement.

John slept in that alcove for a long time before the people at the El Dopa house, Nona had kicked him out and he was probably dating Laurel at that point, and they were: ”You can't stay here anymore! You have just been at the top of the stairs for too long! You are the man at the top of the stairs and you are really not bringing as much of the community as you are taking!” - ”I totally understand!” At that point he had been sober for six months and a lot of the people in his life said: ”You got to get a job one day and also an apartment one day!” John was doing work, he worked in a warehouse, he got these little odd jobs, he went to a temp agency and said: ”Put me in anything!” and he could type pretty well. They gave him these little jobs, three days here, two days there. John worked for that temp agency for a while and he liked it because you could go in and say: ”I don't want to do anything for the next few days!” - ”Whatever, we will put you in a thing when one thing comes up!”

Kevin and David Brest (RW166)

Then John had to go over to Kevin's house who was living with David Brest at that point. Both guys he had gone to high school with, David Brest ended up being the boyfriend of Kelly Kiefer, John’s high school girlfriend. When she and John broke up she started going out with David Brest just to infuriate John. He was extremely handsome. He was one year younger than them in grade, he was an 11th grader and John and Kelly were seniors, but he and John had the exact same birthday, not a year apart, but the same age. His parents had held him back before going into kindergarten and John’s hadn't and John wished that they had.

It was an indignity that he was an 11th grader, it was an indignity even though they were all the same age, it was an indignity that he was handsome as he was, he was also very GQ, which meant he wore a Guess Watch on the outside of his shirt, he put it on his cuff instead of on his wrist, he rolled his cuffs back, he wore penny loafers, he was the wrong kind of preppy, he was the gaudy kind of preppy.

David ended up living with Kevin and David was growing weed in the basement, which was extremely complicated for John because John was living in the house with his two high school buddies and one of them had a pot growing operation in the basement, a full-on one. He never went to jail for smoking pot, it was alcohol that was the problem, but he didn't succumb to any kind of temptation. He took a real interest in the grow operation, more than a polite interest, he took a proprietary interest in it.

David was not really from Seattle so John actually made some connections for him. He went out to the people he knew in the community that were on the buying side and David was on the selling side and John put them together. John always had a prohibition on dealing drugs, that was never a thing that he was willing to do, even when he was doing them a lot and it would have made sense, although you are not supposed to do both things: ”Don't get high on your own supply!” because you are not going to make money if you use your own product. You are going to sell it to people and then whatever you would have used to make yourself rich or even to buy more just goes into you and then you are just a drug addict.

That wasn't John’s issue, but his issue was that morally he had a compunction against sinking so low. There were a lot of people he knew that were high class drug dealers that only sold Mushrooms and LSD for instance, they felt confident that they weren't selling narcotics, so they maintained a moral code where they said: ”Look man, I don't sell drugs, I sell these spiritual facilitators!” It is all just a big shit show because of course then MDMA or MDA came along and now what do you do? Is Ecstasy a narcotic or is it a spiritual mind opener? If you call it a mind opener then you are selling MDA and it is very much a narcotic.

The difference between MDMA and MDA: The first one John heard of was MDMA and that was Ecstasy and Attention Deficit Disorder turned into Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and MDA inexplicably turned into MDMA, maybe they just added an M because they forgot before, or maybe it was a different chemical. It performed the same function culturally. Then somewhere when John wasn't paying attention in fairly recent times it started being called Molly. Ecstasy was a perfectly great name that was much more evocative of what the drug did than Molly. For a long time people were talking about Molly and John wondered if this was a new thing like squeak, like somebody invented a new drug? Later on somebody explained it was Ecstasy.

No one ever named LSD anything but LSD. You could have called it anything you wanted, but it was Lysergic Acid Diethylamide and that was always what it was and still is. John was living at Kevin's and David's on the couch and by this point they had a band. Kevin and John had a band, the Bun Family Players, and they practiced in the basement of Kevin's house, which was the problem: They were practicing down there and at this age your band practiced five nights a week, it was all they had to do, and then John would just hang out after after practice and they would sit and smoke cigarettes and watch TV and everybody else would leave and the other guys would be like ”Okay, we are going to bed!” - ”Okay, good night!” and John would sleep on the couch.

Eating other people’s food, getting beer from pitchers in bars (RW166)

This was a period where they would go to bed and John would go into the cupboard wherever the cans of canned food were, he would go to the very back of the cupboard and pull out the can that had been in there the longest because in everybody's pantry there is always a can that gets lost back there, a can of ravioli that just is behind the green beans because it has been in there a year. John started to eat the canned stuff that he thought they wouldn't miss. He had been doing this for years on the drug side.

If you left him alone with your bong he would get into it and scrape the resin out of the stem and smoke the resin. In that way he was able to get high every day without ever having any money to buy pot because he was effectively stealing the resin out of people's pipes. Most dedicated pot smokers are aware that they are storing up resin in their devices and they are saving it for a rainy day and probably a week later when somebody was out of dope and was like: ”Oh, I'll just scrape my pipe!” they would go in there and: Huh, seems like there should be a lot more in here than there is now!”, but it was an extremely low-level crime. John had been living that way for a long time.

John used to pull a scam where he would go into a bar and wait until the bartender wasn't looking and grab a clean pint glass off of his stack and then he would just walk around the bar with this empty pint glass and strike up conversations with people. The presumption it was he had just finished his drink, he had bought a beer and then he just finished it and he hadn't gone back and gotten another one because he was so interested in this conversation they were having. The culture of being in a bar, particularly one where beer is sold in pitchers, is when everybody's glass is empty you pick up the pitcher and you fill up everybody's glass. It is just the assumption an particularly back then in Happy Hour pitchers were $5, you threw $5 down and you fill up everybody's glass and when it is time for a new pitcher the next person goes and gets it.

When it was getting to be John’s turn to get the next pitcher he would see somebody across the room and be like: ”Excuse me you guys, I'll be right back!” and he would walk over there and talk to his other friend, he was a very social person, and he would hang out over there until they filled up his glass. It was not completely usurious like it sounds, he was actually having a great time, and they were having great conversations and these were all friends who all knew what he was doing, everybody at The Comet knew John didn't have any money, but the consensus was that every once in a while it costs you a beer when John came around.

Nobody ever really pulled the curtain down and confronted him and said: ”No beer for you, moocher!” because he brought a lot to the event, is the way John justified it, he made it fun in there, but he did feel like he was trading on his personality in a way, selling it, one beer at a time, and that started to feel like he was a stripper in a way: He had a thing, he had a gift, the gift of conversation, and he was funny and he was friendly and in exchange for that you just had to give him a beer every once in a while, but that didn't start feeling very good to John, it felt like he was exploiting a talent for really low wages.

Sleeping at Kevin’s and eventually in the Ford Aerostar (RW166)

Eventually Kevin, who had been John’s best friend in high school and who played in the Bun Family Players said: ”You cannot sleep on my couch anymore! You have been sober almost a year! You need to join the world! Get a job! Get your own place!” and that was the transition John had the hardest time doing. He hadn't touched drugs or alcohol in nine months at that point, he had a band, he was a member of an arts culture, he had a girlfriend who was a great girlfriend, he just couldn't get his head around having his own place and having a job and having a key ring that and places to be, but his friends had run out of patience.

When somebody is clearly drunk all the time and a drug addict, a lot of people don't know what to do, so they end up being somewhat sympathetic, even though they want you out. They don't know how to say so without impoverishing you, nobody wants to kick you out in the rain in the middle of the night. Kevin had a Ford Aerostar, the first mini van. He had driven it around the country, he had used it up, the thing was busted. They hardly ever used it, he walked to work. It was parked in his carport and he said: ”I'll run an extension cord out to the battery so you will have lights, you just have to move out of the house! You have to move into the Aerostar! You can't be on my couch every morning and every night because it is my couch, it is where I want to sit: On my own couch!”

It was a tiny two bedroom house, it was not like John was on the couch in the basement, he was right in the center of the house. Also John slept to 11am. He was on the couch, they woke up in the morning to get ready to go to work and John was on their couch, hiding under the blanket when they turned the lights on. The key element was: You move out to the Aerostar, but you can't use the house while we are gone. They started locking the house and John couldn't go in in the morning, use the bathroom, use the kitchen, hang out there.

The exile into the Aerostar was in a way genius! Kevin was genius: ”I'm not kicking you out. I'm providing you with a roof over your head. It is just a mini van in the carport and that's it!” John had his sleeping bag and a pillow in there and he made the mistake of deciding at that point that he was going to read… he had always been a voracious consumer of books, but the books were always other people's cast-offs. Somebody would finish a book and they would save it for John and when he came around they'd be: ”Here is a book!”

That way John kept in books all the time. Somebody had given him Interview With a Vampire and he read that in the mini van and went into reading vampire books, horror books, and Steven King books, while basically living outside. The only way he could get the light to stay on in the minivan was by keeping the back door slightly ajar, so he would lay back there, breathe in the night air and when it was time to go to sleep he would close the door and the lights would go off and John was laying in his little carport with the rain coming down, thinking about vampires.

Being the house sitter for Jose’s apartment (RW166)

What ended up happening was Bethany bumped into John on the street and she said: I have a friend who is looking for a house sitter. John’s ears perked up because this had always been a dream. ”Tell me more!” - ”It is this gets this guy Jose from Argentina and he is moving to Heidelberg to go to the University of Heidelberg for six months and he needs somebody to look after his place!” - ”Introduce me!” and Bethany introduced John to Jose, a diminutive Latin man and John recognized him because at some point along the way, back when he was drinking and doing drugs, he had posted outside of a gay bar on Capital Hill that was also a Chinese restaurant, on the north end of Broadway. It was your classic Chinese restaurant, but it was also a gay bar.

John used to sit out front of it, on the sidewalk, because it was a fun sidewalk scene, and he would sit there and bum cigarettes and had a lot of friends in that community, people would sneak drinks out to him. Not that he couldn't have gone in, but he had gotten his ID taken at some point, some situation where he had to put his ID somewhere and then at the end of the night they were like: ”Okay, well you owe us $700 dollars because you did this that and the other!” - ”Oh, I didn't think you had to pay for that!” - ”Are you serious?” - ”I can't pay you!” - ”We are keeping your ID!” - ”I hope you choke on it!” During that whole last period, maybe even the last year of his drinking John didn't have a state ID, so he couldn't just go in anywhere, he could only go into bars where they knew him, even whoever it was that was checking IDs knew him and that is a job that rotates.

John had to really know the bar. There were enough of them, clubs and bars, three of the rock clubs and probably five bars in the city that John could go into and have that like: ”Norm!” kind of thing, but there were lots of other ones, including the cooler ones like the Cloud Room and places like that, The Frontier room even, where they just didn't know him. The frontier room was a legendary rundown Grunge bar and John only ever drank in there a couple of times. Not having ID didn't mean that he wouldn't go try and sometimes you get in, sometimes there is nobody at the door or sometimes they just wave you through. John was confined to a small world by not having ID and he couldn't get in to this bar, but it was a fun scene, it was fun out front and people would sneak him drinks under their coat.

John knew Jose from the sidewalk scene out in front of this bar and he had come onto John several times in one of those reverse situations where he was a little bit older, even though he was 5’1”, came onto John with a daddy vibe, like: ”Come with me, little boy!”, but John was like: ”Well, I'm more just into being a sloppy pile of dirty clothes out in front of this bar. But it is very generous of you!” - ”Oh, you don't know what you are missing!” This was the same Jose, but by this point John looked completely different, he was all cleaned up, he was Mr. Mister Post Grunge and he didn't recognize John! He was going to Heidelberg because he was getting his PhD in Romance Languages or something. He had this wonderful one bedroom apartment right off of Broadway on 10th Avenue E on the ground floor of this very genteel building that was full of rich white girls, and John rented it from him for an affordable price. John was still temping, but all of a sudden he had this furnished apartment, he had a life, and he had a place!

John went to the thrift store and bought a lamp and now people could come visit him and his friends just rejoiced. John was 27 because he was 26 when he quit drinking, he just turned 26, and he was full-on 27 by the time he put all this together, or if not then it was within weeks of his birthday on either side. Pretty soon he got the job at the magazine store. What was wonderful was how Jose kept writing him letters every couple of months: ”Things are going well, I'm going to stay in Heidelberg a little longer!” and he ended up subletting John that apartment for a year and a half because he kept getting extensions on his visa to continue his studies in Heidelberg. It was devastating when he finally got that letter where he said: ”I'm coming back and I want my apartment back!”

John’s friend Peter (RW166)

John was still friends with Peter. Peter and John had a relationship where John left a window unlocked in his apartment and Peter would come in through the window at any hour of the day or night if he needed a place because at that point maybe he no longer lived in the El Dopa house, and it was really success that drove Peter and John apart. Peter had a band called Bugger the King and the Bun Family Players were starting to sell 150 tickets and they were sharing a practice space with Peter that Peter had built and then Peter decided he was going to live in the practice space. They were like: ”What are you talking about? You can't live in the practice space! We are all using it!” - ”I built it and now it is my apartment!” - ”It is a garage behind a funeral parlor. How in the hell are you going to live here?”, but he kitted it out and put windows in it.

Then he started to get weird about them practicing there: ”You can't get weird about that, a practice space is worth its weight in gold! You can't kick us out of our practice space! This is the whole center of our universe!” and he got weirder and weirder and weirder. ”No, you can't be here during these hours because this is my dinner time and I want to cook my top ramen on a hot plate here!” - ”You are kicking us out from 7 to 9? You are just trying to get us out!” until they found their own practice space. In that conflict Peter and John never came back from it, the friendship was never the same.

They continued to call each other, run into each other, he used to do work from John’s mom, and they love each other, Peter and John, there is a deep emotional love that prevents them from just being high five and friends that used to be closer. Everything is always fraught. It is like being with an ex-girlfriend where neither of you are really over it. You can't just hang out. It is the same with John and Peter. Whenever they are with each other, it is that kind of: ”How are you doing?” and that was more than 20 years ago and it is weirdly still an open wound.


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