These words are from a love poem I wrote a long time ago, and I always thought they’d make a cool drawing. Today I finally got around to it.
Who killed Cock Robin?
I, said the Sparrow,
with my bow and arrow,
I killed Cock Robin.
Who saw him die?
I, said the Fly,
with my little eye,
I saw him die.
Who caught his blood?
I, said the Fish,
with my little dish,
I caught his blood.
Who’ll make the shroud?
I, said the Beetle,
with my thread and needle,
I’ll make the shroud.
Who’ll dig his grave?
I, said the Owl,
with my pick and shovel,
I’ll dig his grave.
Who’ll be the parson?
I, said the Rook,
with my little book,
I’ll be the parson.
Who’ll be the clerk?
I, said the Lark,
if it’s not in the dark,
I’ll be the clerk.
Who’ll carry the link?
I, said the Linnet,
I’ll fetch it in a minute,
I’ll carry the link.
Who’ll be chief mourner?
I, said the Dove,
I mourn for my love,
I’ll be chief mourner.
Who’ll carry the coffin?
I, said the Kite,
if it’s not through the night,
I’ll carry the coffin.
Who’ll bear the pall?
We, said the Wren,
both the cock and the hen,
We’ll bear the pall.
Who’ll sing a psalm?
I, said the Thrush,
as she sat on a bush,
I’ll sing a psalm.
Who’ll toll the bell?
I said the Bull,
because I can pull,
I’ll toll the bell.
All the birds of the air
fell a-sighing and a-sobbing,
when they heard the bell toll
for poor Cock Robin.
— English Rhyme
The name Cock Robin has its origin in this morose little poem written around 1744, for children. Leave it to the English to imbue a perfectly lovely bird with a a truly horrid fate. A million laughs in “Jolly Olde.”
The Cock Robin I am familiar with was the name of a chain of hamburger and ice cream fast food joints that were all over the western suburbs when I was growing up. The two I remember the best were in Lombard and Villa Park.
As a kid, I preferred their burgers to McDonalds or Burger King, which is not to say that they were good; they were gut-bombs of the rankest order. When you are a kid though, they seem to taste good because you are a walking garbage disposal with a monster metabolism. Today? I wouldn’t eat one. They were kind of like bigger versions of Sliders–the kind of burger you should just take home and throw in the toilet. Me and my brother got a huge charge out of the fact that a restaurant had the word ‘Cock’ in it and, like every other 11 year old, we’d look for excuses to say it in front of teachers, especially nuns.
“Excuse me Sister, can we go to CAAAHHHHHCCCKKKK Robin for lunch?” They’d go mental. They knew we were getting over on them, but they didn’t know quite what to do about it. “This is great, Sister. My mom brought me lunch from CCCAAAAHHHHCCCCKKKK Robin.”
The thing that was special about Cock Robin was the ice cream. hey served it in squares instead of scoops and it was good. They had a sherbet rainbow cone that was magical. Between the square shapes and the colors, these were a treat. They were also really good.
Every week, the Villa Park Argus or the Lombard Spectator would have a coupon for their “Big Buy,” a double cheeseburger–buy one, get one for a penny. Me and my pothead friends would raid the papers at the drug store and Al’s Smoke Shop for all of the coupons and have a stoner feast on winter afternoons. The ones we didn’t eat, we threw at cars. Our crowning achievement being that we once nailed a squad car with 5 Big Buys. This victory was somewhat dimmed by the vendetta the local cops carried out against us for years after. The Villa Park cops were pricks and once they knew your name, they would go WAY out of their way to fuck up your day at every opportunity.
One of my first crushes worked at the Lombard Cock Robin and she was always surrounded by a posse of Greaser shitheads who didn’t much like me and my crowd. They were a retarded collection of monosyllabic asswipes who could often be seen with a string of drool connecting their lower lip to a milkshake.
There were also some cool rockabilly guys who hung there, who were distinctly different than the Greasers. These guys were cool. They liked Elvis and Carl Perkins and the nascent Rockabilly acts like Robert Gordon. One of the guys was Eric, who later fronted Hi-Fi and the Road Burners. These guys were good guys who loved motorcycles and rock and roll. A couple of years ago, Eric died in a motorcycle accident, which made me sad. I can remember talking to him back then and both of us agreeing that nothing would happen for us until we got the hell out of that town.
The girl that worked at Cock Robin’s name was Susan and I never knew how to talk to her, so I would just sit in there and draw and chill out and smoke cigarettes. Once in a while she’d ask me what I was up to and tell me her boyfriend was stupid but had a good job as a mechanic. I mostly just listened and made little sketches of her. I felt like she was out of my league and her boyfriend was a shaved ape who could kick the shit out of me if he had a mind to. Eventually he got her pregnant and abandoned her. She raised that kid all by herself and never bowed her head or felt ashamed despite the disapproving glances she’d get at the Jewel or the mall. I always thought she was heroic.
The Cock Robin isn’t there anymore. . .replaced by something faceless and invisible in a way that just happens in plain sight, if that makes any sense. I killed a lot of time there. I learned some lessons about how people go on through life doing their best with what they have, and how when things are tough, a square cube of sherbet can seem like a revelation, while you’re waiting for your shift to end.
Every time I think of what we give up in the pursuit of oil, I think of the phrase, “Pyyrhic victory,” referring to the war of Pyyrha, which was actually many battles between Greeks, Romans, Carthaginians, Etruscans, and many other tribes and countries. It ended in the defeat of the Greek armies, but it was a victory that came at such a high cost, it more resembled defeat.
Such has been our endless consumption of fossil fuel. It has nearly destroyed our environment, caused worldwide misery and warfare, and killed millions seeking to control its supply. It is one of those conflicts that degrades and erodes all who engage it. Oil will kill us, one way or another, and oil companies will continue to send our young men and women to meaningless wars in order to protect their interests. It is vile stuff. The sooner we get off it, the safer the world will be.
Few memories evoke as much giddy joy for me as Halloween. For myself and the collection of miscreants, juvenile delinquents and future felons that comprised my peer group, Halloween meant that we owed our community some smashed pumpkins, obscene renderings, trees full of toilet paper and of course, the odd flaming bag of dog shit on the front stoop. Halloween untethered us. It was the day we more resembled the beasts we were to become. Halloween was the day we handed some of the horse shit back to the adults. Halloween was AC/DC, a monster sugar buzz, stolen liquor (in my case, my father’s fifth of Jim Beam) and getting some payback.
My friend, Rick, made a full-scale dummy so lifelike, that when it was hurled from the top of a building into oncoming traffic, you honestly thought some poor dildo had fallen or jumped to his death. The “body” was loaded with mushy pumpkins to assure a fairly decent spray of guts upon impact with the car. It was a hoot.
I, myself, opted for a more artistic approach. Whenever people decided not to be home for trick-or-treat, we made them pay. We smashed their pumpkins, loaded their trees with toilet paper and, on their front doors, I would leave an original drawing; usually a giant cock and the words “Rat-Tat-Tat” exploding from the end. One time this nearly got my ass kicked. We assumed the people weren’t home because nobody came to the door. So I went to work:
I’d seen some Japanese erotic wood-cuts and decided to render a Samurai-type schlong on the glass door. I drew it with a wax candle, knowing they’d have to scrape that shit off with a razor; it didn’t just wash off like soap. Right when I finished, the light went on inside and I kind of froze, as the door suddenly opened. The guy was a big, oily mother-fucker with mutton-chop sideburns and a greaser haircut, and for a moment we locked eyes. Then he stepped back and looked at what I had drawn in all of its glory. It took him a second to realize what it was; a giant cock–a big, fleshy, veiny motherfucker attached to an ample nut-sack. I heard him yell, “Jesus Christ, it’s a cock!” For some reason, I started laughing my ass off as I turned to run and in an instant he was out the door and right on my ass. This guy must have been an old track man because for two blocks he almost had me a couple of times, and he didn’t give up for four blocks. My friends made it worse by yelling back at him, “Fuck you, Elvis!” and “Next time, give up the candy, you cheap prick!” It just pissed the guy off more and made his ass run faster. I finally lost this prick and was completely out of breath from running and laughing. My pal, Jimmy, laughed so hard he wet his pants.
As we grew older, we realized that the experience of Halloween could be greatly enhanced with a couple of dozen grade ‘A’ large eggs and some mescaline. At my high school we had a hard-on assistant principal and every Halloween we’d plaster his car with more eggs than a Denny’s. One of my friends Krazy-Glued a double dong to his front-door, with the words, “For you, and the horse you rode in on, Mother-fucker,” underneath the blessed gift. Somewhere, there still exists a Polaroid of this; our crowning Halloween achievement. The assistant principal knew it was us. We called him, “Doughboy” or “Rubber Ed.” He’d have us all called to his office and try to lean on us and get us to give it up. He’d tell us he had a witness; an old bullshit cop-ploy we were hip to. My friend, Eddie, would say, “Go get your witness, let’s have breakfast. Let’s get some EGGS,” and we would fall out laughing. Doughboy would fume (he spit when he talked) and threaten to expel all of us. We’d tell him to go ahead and he’d instead suspend us for three days. In other words, we’d get a three-day vacation for egging this pud’s car.
There’s a downtown fairy singing out Proud Mary
as she cruises Christopher Street
And some Southern Queen is acting loud and mean
where the docks and the Badlands meet
This Halloween is something to be sure
Especially to be here without you
‘Halloween Parade’– Lou Reed
As I grew older, Halloween became even more important to me. The first time I saw the Halloween parade in New York was a revelation. A celebration of being whoever you needed to be in the world; a bacchanal full of love, imagination and freedom. The Lou Reed song about this may be my favorite song in the world. Being raised Catholic, I was fully expected to believe in ghosts, holy and otherwise. Lou’s sad, elegaic tribute to those free spirits no longer with us resonates with me in a way religion or any other of the claptrap I was raised to believe never did. For me it is the only holy song I love.
Coming from Chicago, the Halloween parade was something alien and wonderful. We didn’t have this back home. We were still (and still are in many way) a provincial, prudish place, where celebrations of one’s sexuality of any kind or freedom were frowned upon. It’s gotten better. The brave folks who started the gay pride parade here broke down a great many barriers. Many of the sexual outlaws are now part of the system, including a gay alderman. All of this stuff New York was way ahead of the curve on.
For me though, Halloween is still about letting that beast that lives in your heart off of its leash, finding your inner outlaw and tossing him the keys for 24 hours or so. I’m talking to you in the cube; let it loose. . .come dance with the beast.
Spiders have always scared the hell out of me. Only lately have I stopped killing them. They are incredibly useful; eating nits and mosquitoes and flies and lots of them. Still. . . they give me the willies.
My favorite childhood story is about a spider, Charlotte’s Web. It is a gentle and beautiful meditation on the life-cycle, without all of the religious horseshit. At the end, when the hundreds of Charlotte’s babies are blown into the world, suspended by their silken-thread parachutes, I’d cry like a baby. My daughter, Gaby loved this story and for years, would make me read it to her at bedtime.
There is that part of me that wishes my daughter stayed 5 years old and didn’t lose her sense of wonder at Charlotte and Wilbur and their rustic life in a barn.
Now she is a half a world away , going to college in Florence. We Skype every day and I’m about to send her a box of Hot Cheetos and Skittles over there. Evidently the candy in Florence is lousy.
Maybe I’ll tuck in a copy of Charlotte’s Web.
After more conversation with my daughter about her trip to Naples. I made this little drawing. She told me that a great many of the citizens she ran across “looked like they’d lived hard, unforgiving lives. . .like they’d been put through a meat grinder. . .that life had beat them up.”
I read a bit about the Port of Naples, a tough network of docks and trafficking of every nefarious sort. Interpol surmises that nearly half of the dope that winds up in Europe comes smuggled through this port. It is here that many criminal organizations intersect and hold sway.
This is another of my “Lunch Drawings.” It came from an encounter with some drunk girls at Black Dog, the greatest gelato place in Chicago. These young women were shit-faced and trying to eat gelato and play with my dog, Chooch. Chooch ate their gelato and they giggled until one of them puked like a firehose.
I held her hair so she wouldn’t zuke in it, then they cried and told each other they loved each other and they loved me for not letting their friend puke in her own hair. There was some puke on my shoes but it was no big deal. I felt bad for her; I can remember many a night this also afflicted me.
I told them to stay away from the sweet shit… that if they started out drinking vodka, bourbon, and beer, then goddamit. they should stick with vodka, bourbon, and beer. I told them it was the appletinis that fucked their night up, and that NO male wants to knock boots with anyone who would pour apple juice into perfectly good vodka. Most men would sooner go home with a girl with a nose wart. They thanked me.
The word “Apache” is another of those catch-all words used to denote many tribes of first-nation peoples. Apache is, in fact, any peoples. The Navajo and the Mescalero are also Apaches. I was ignorant of this because I was only taught the history of white Europeans. Of the 562 tribes of first-nation peoples, a great many of them from the American Southwest to the Plains states can be identified as Apaches. Geronimo and Cochise were both Apache. There were Texas Apache, New Mexico Apache, Arizona and California Apache, and many, many clans contained in those tribes.
The first Americans were as different state to state and village to village as Europeans and Celts were. It is an inexcusable blind-spot in American history that the story of our first citizens are barely known to us.
My friend, the art dealer Sara Jo Romero, is a child of New Mexico and one of my favorite things in this world is an Apache “teardrop” arrow head she gave me some years ago as a gift. She’d find them all over the high dessert in new Mexico. they are lovely; made from agate, which was almost like glass and shaped into a lethal tear-drop shape that was so sharp I could still cut paper with it easily. These arrow tips were often dipped in poisonous compounds from plants–jim- weed and hemlock– to ensure death in the intended target.
The Apaches were great warriors and hunters, often trading the elk, antelope, and other hides for other goods with neighboring Apache tribes. They often raided and were considered horse thieves (a hanging offense) by other tribes and white settlers. Still, nobody much wanted to fuck around with the Apache peoples. They were ferocious in war–even the Sioux gave them a wide berth.
The Comanche (also Apache) regularly got their asses handed to them when attempting to usurp their fellow Apache tribes both the White Mountain and Mescalero Apache stomped their ass more than once.
A couple of Apache guys I know have a bristling kind of resentment with the Navajo because their reticence at identifying themselves as Apache. “It’s like they’re Navajo before they’re Apache. They are like the Mick Jagger Apache. They piss the rest of us off.”
My friend, Hector Maldonado, who is Texas Coushatta (who are not Apache), often explains to me that nobody has a nastier opinion of other tribes like other Indians do. Like every other tribe, like the Irish, Italians, Polish and Germans, we want to be around our own kind, and are suspicious to those who are different from us.
The popular version of American history was that the Americas were virtually uninhabited when mighty-whitey got here. The ruling mythology being that the existing 526 nations were like so many rabbits and turkeys.
‘Sit on your ass, Pilgrim. . .light up a Camel. This IS the promised land.”
Thankfully, the Apache had peyote and used it in ceremonial sweat rituals to seek visions. And if you’ve ever done peyote, you know that, after the ceremonial puking up of your toenails, the visions are NO problem. That’s right, Chum, gag down a button or two, if you don’t have any plans for the next week. . .and you bought your ticket to the aural and visual tilt-a-whirl.
I have friends that make a yearly pilgrimage to Burning Man with a stash of buttons and don’t remember a goddamn thing other than “There was fire……. Big fire.” It looks like fun–a bunch of smelly hippies burning shit and fucking in the mud, all the while dressed like the cast of the Road Warrior. The website sure is fun. Friends have begged me to go and I’m always tempted but I feel like I’m too old by about 25 years for this circus. It is not lost on me that this pagan bacchanal is held right smack in the nut-sack of what used to be the Apache nations. I am betting there are no small amount of spirits to summon there.
I keep writing what very little I know about First Nation peoples because in 2013, it seems they are nowhere in the conversation. It seems the stories of the 526 nations of our first Americans have been rendered disposable. That is the way history works against us. Bankers, bean counters, and bloggers and shit-heads on FOX news, now decide what is worth saving and what is worth remembering. A few days ago was the 11th anniversary of 9/11 and its awful and tragic legacy has an inexorable grip on out psyche as a nation, still– as it should. Some of the memorials were tasteful, others tantamount to the pornography of grief.
But how do we remember our country’s first inhabitants? The first real Americans?
We want badly to forget that we took this country at gunpoint. We burned other human-beings in piles next to newly built railroad tracks. For all of the proud words, horse-shit, and hyperbole being tossed around, about “honor” and “change we can believe in,” the land itself tells our story and underlines our transgressions.
Know this: We live on stolen property. Every sidewalk, every gated community, every 7-11, has the air of larceny about it. And we descend from the most successful murderers in human history.
This had an immense purchase on my imagination. I knew the only thing that could kill Superman was Kryptonite. I used to dream the sky was full of this stuff, flying back and forth, glowing and green and lethal.
I thought we should have a stash of it in case Superman let his power go to his head and decided he ruled the earth. . .just a few pebbles of the stuff to straighten him the fuck out, if need be. The idea off glowing green Kryptonite seemed, in a weird way, seductive to me. This alien rock form that glowed like a jewel in the dark, seemed musical and deadly and sexy. . .like you wanted to crush it up and snort it.
In early folklore, blue jays were thought to be hand-servants of the devil because of their noisy and boisterous nature. I remember them as a pleasant and mysterious part of childhood. The mystery being that I would see them everyday for a while (a week or so) and then they would disappear for six months until I’d almost forget about them and then they’d be back. I was always wondering where the fuck they went. They were the Houdinis of the natural world.
In high school, I had a job cutting grass in Queen of Heaven cemetery during the summers. The place was full of pine trees and thus, blue jays. In fact, if you want to see a lot of birds, go to any cemetery. It is a relatively safe place for them. As accidental bird sanctuaries, they are a safe place to nest and enjoy relative safety from humans cutting down trees and shooting birds.
I kind of liked that job. I worked with lots of guys from Mexico and in the middle of the afternoon, one of them would hop the fence and go buy six-packs and dirty magazines. We’d hide our mowers and drink beer in the bushes and smoke cigarettes and take naps. It was great. Learned all of the dirty words in Spanish I could think of and met people from another part of the world who were nothing like me, except that we wanted the same things; to work outside and to be left the fuck alone.
I loved watching birds with these guys. They could imitate bird calls and told me in Mexico, at night, the birds turned into angels.