I went for a walk this evening after burning a few CDs for my younger brother, Michael. He had to drive to Hollywood for his weekly acting class, and he wanted some Pogues albums for the road. Hollywood is only 30 miles away, but the trip can take two hours if you leave at the wrong time. (Remind me why Carmageddon got so much publicity?) I gave him The Pogues’ sophomore album Rum, Sodomy and the Lash, as well as their first album, Red Roses For Me. He had requested those two — he’s been on a Pogues kick ever since he found my dad’s copy of The Best of The Pogues on the CD shelf behind the bar in the family room. The third CD I burned him was a copy of a playlist I recently made, which goes like this:
Rain Dogs — Tom Waits
Stagger Lee — Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds
Bowery Blues — Jack Kerouac
Dharma Brains — Foxygen
Hard On For Love — Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds
The Shower — Charles Bukowski
Tom Traubert’s Blues — Tom Waits
It’s A Motherfucker — Eels
The Moon Her Majesty — Jack Kerouac
The Stranger Song — Leonard Cohen
Map — Jason Webley
Whiskey, Mystics, And Men — The Doors
Scum — Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds
Honey In The Hair — Blackbird Raum
Broken Cup — Jason Webley
Children’s Story — Tom Waits
Desperadoes Under The Eaves — Warren Zevon
Last Song — Jason Webley
Readings From On The Road & Visions of Cody — Jack Kerouac
Anywhere I Lay My Head — Tom Waits
Looking at the list all typed out makes me smile. Honestly, it looks Just Like a typical hour of “Dancing Barefoot,” my old radio show on KZSC Santa Cruz. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if I once did play “Tom Traubert’s Blues” followed by “It’s A Motherfucker.”
What’d I call the playlist? “Rain Dogs,” of course. I get a real “Rain Dogs” vibe from all of these songs — vagabonds wandering city streets and all that.
I left for my walk at the same time Mike left for his class. I decided to go ahead and listen to my playlist to see if it actually worked as well as I thought it did. I walked up my street and around the corner, which takes you down a long hill that leads to Kanan Road, a street that, by suburban terms, is loud and crowded. Not crowded with people, of course — Kanan is crowded with SUVs and luxury autos and the occasional Prius. Once you reach the strip mall with the Starbuck’s and the Ralph’s and the Carl’s Jr/Green Burrito, then yes, you see some people. Mainly, Kanan is all hustle and bustle because it leads to the freeway.
I’m sure Walt Whitman could make it sound poetic; he’s dead, though.
During “Dharma Brains,” I turned onto a cul-de-sac, and after about one minute I started hearing this weird click-clacking sound that I knew wasn’t part of the song. (I should know, for it is one of my favorite songs. For serious.) At first I thought it was due to my headphones being old and shitty, but after a few minutes, I felt that familiar “I think someone’s behind me” vibe. I turned, and there were two 14(ish)-year-old boys walking behind me. They didn’t scare me, but the sight of them definitely startled me. I smiled at them, and then when I turned back around I saw a white plastic spoon land in front of my feet. I turned around again, and, low-and-behold, the boys had run away.
The little jerks had thrown a spoon at me.
I laughed to myself and kept walking.
I thought about when I was in middle school and used to wander the same exact streets doing stupid things. I used to walk around with a friend of mine writing bizarre messages on notecards and taping them to people’s doors. On one notecard we drew a picture of an alien with a word bubble coming out of its mouth that said, “Hmmm…bagels…interesting.” It nearly killed me. I thought that it was the most hilarious thing that ever appeared on paper.
When I came to the end of the cul-de-sac and turned onto the street, I saw The Little Jerks looking right at me, plastic spoons in hand, ready to open fire. I stopped walking, took off my head phones, and said, “How ya doin?”
“Good,” said the smaller one.
“What’s goin’ on?” I asked.
“Nothin’,” said the smaller one, thus establishing himself as the dominant Little Jerk.
I decided to just be blunt with them in hopes that it would freak them out. After all, my bluntness has scared away men in the past, even when I didn’t want it to.
“Are you gonna throw that spoon at me?” I asked.
“Maaaaaaaaybe,” said the smaller one, shit-eating grin plastered to his face. I didn’t let it intimidate me.
“Well, please don’t.”
I put my headphones back on, disappointed that The Little Jerks had made me miss the first half of “Hard On For Love.” I started the song over, and after about thirty seconds I felt the “I think someone’s behind me” vibe once again. I turned, and, sure enough, The Little Jerks were there.
I stopped walking and said, “Are you guys seriously gonna throw those spoons at me?”
“I don’t know.”
I spread my arms out, threw back my head, and said, “I’ll give you a free shot. Go for it.”
I looked at them, and the dominant Little Jerk stepped forward, wound up, and threw his spoon. He missed me by about 10 inches. When the spoon landed on the sidewalk, I bent down and picked it up. “Next?” I said.
The quiet Little Jerk missed me by about two feet. I picked up his spoon, too.
“How old are you guys?” I asked.
They were pretty cute, really. Still, I was done with their game.
“You guys should go do something else,” I said.
This seemed to confuse them.
“Can we have our spoons back?” asked the dominant Little Jerk.
“No,” I said.
The quiet one laughed.
“You guys go on home, now,” I said, shooing them away with my hands.
They turned away and took a few steps, and then turned around to see if I was still watching them; I was. They took a few more steps, then turned again. I was still there, waiting for them to walk away.
I watched them as they made their way back up the hill. Every few seconds they’d turn around to look at me, or spin around pretending they were spinning around just for fun. For a good three minutes I stood my ground, staring right back at The Little Jerks. I never wavered. I waited and waited and waited until they were far away, and then, when they disappeared and hid behind a tree, I waited some more.
Finally, I put my headphones back on and continued down the road. I didn’t hit “Play” right away — I wanted to be able to hear The Little Jerks in case they came back with their spoons.
I made my way down Kanan, passed the Starbuck’s and the Ralph’s and the Carl’s Jr/Green Burrito, and as I turned to head up Thousand Oaks Boulevard and back to my neighborhood, I hit “Play.” “Tom Traubert’s Blues” came on. I listened to it once the whole way through, and then I thought to myself, “I wonder if I know all the words.” I started the song over, and sang at the top of my lungs.
The Little Jerks never reappeared. Maybe I really did scare them away with my confidence, or maybe they really did go home. Maybe they found a different unsuspecting victim and lost two more precious spoons. Regardless, I hope to Hell they have fun this summer. I hope they ring a lot of stranger’s door bells and dial a lot of random numbers. I hope they make a ton of noise inside of Rite Aid and get thrown out of Blockbuster for knocking movies off the shelves. I hope they run home laughing their heads off after terrorizing some college kid who works at Baskin Robbins. I hope they Double Dare each other to steal candy bars from CVS, and end up feeling twice the rush when they almost go through with it. I hope they never forget this summer, and how badass they felt when that 24-year-old chick in the “Protect Our Oceans” t-shirt and ripped jeans threw her head back and said, “I’ll give you a free shot.” Most of all, I hope they never forget how dorky and annoying and awkward and brilliant they were when they were fourteen-years-old — for they are Rain Dogs, too.