Stinkfist | A Firsthand Account | Power of Synchronicity


Stinkfist | A Firsthand Account | Power of Synchronicity

Synchronicity. Not the mega-selling album by The Police. It’s the theory that some coincidences are not purely coincidental, some events are not random. The wizard behind the curtain pulls some strings and voila! You get the outcome you need.

It’s happened to me. Or maybe “for me” is a better way of phrasing it. When synchronicity happens you get the feeling that something is conspiring for you, what Rob Brezsny calls “pronoia.” The world isn’t out to get you. It’s out to help you.

That’s what happened the night I met Stinkfist.

First we must set the scene.

I worked at a cybercafe immediately after college. Couldn’t find a regular job in the profession I trained for (journalism), so I worked at a cybercafe babysitting 20 game-ready computers hooked up to a high-speed data line and serving snacks to the losers who whittled away their lives playing online games and sneaking peeks at smut. This was back in the days when most people still connected to the Internet via AOL dial-up and used an Internet browser called Netscape. A hot new game, Half-Life, was the most popular around.

Yup, dinosaur era. Like, turn of the century.

So I joke that the patrons were a bunch of losers because I fit right in. Hell, I was King Loser because I had a college degree and could only get a minimum wage job within walking distance of my little apartment near the university.

Patrick was another employee of the Loser’s Club. You’d never guess by looking at him that he used to be a Marine. Crazy curly dark brown hair nearly covered his ears like a school kid’s art project. He stood a foot short of NBA guard height, which is to say he was maybe 5’6”. Wire-thin and sinewy. Dressed in a style all his own, what I call Thrift Store Chic: a mishmash of patterns and colors that somehow worked together and definitely made him stand out in a crowd. Almost Hipster style but with more thought put into it, more panache. He was the lead singer in a local band called Kit Kat Klub, making music crossed between The B-52s and Talking Heads. A wonderful, eccentric, fast-talking man and trained killer. His job in the Marines was to hunt down and eliminate snipers. Serious shit. But that was like a previous life for Patrick. The killer had hung up his six guns.

After closing the cybercafe one weekday night we decided to go out for a drink at a neighborhood bar called The Library. Basically a tight square room with pool tables, old wood floors, and an L-shaped bar against the back wall. The smell of sweat and draft beer permeated the joint. And cigarette smoke, lots of smoke. Overhead fans stirred the brew. Not the sort of place to have air conditioning running on a hot summer night in Cincinnati, the city aglow in the light of a full moon.

So we hit the bar and have a few beers, play some pool, talk shit. Just a couple of guys sucking some enjoyment out of life. Patrick and I had good camaraderie. We were complete opposites in many ways, but found common ground by easily engaging with people we didn’t know.

The night was a slow one at The Library, two dozen-or-so people casually drinking, about a third of them playing pool. Jukebox playing. The clanking of pool balls knocking around. We played doubles against anyone willing to give us a try. That’s how we met Stinkfist.

“I remember coming back toward the table and thinking to myself, “This ain’t good.” Stinkfist is really starting to run his mouth, and Patrick isn’t taking shit from anyone. He didn’t start it, but he isn’t backing down.”

Young white guy. Didn’t look quite old enough to legally drink, but that’s probably why he was there. About Patrick’s height, which is to say a few inches short of par. Two features of the guy stood out.

One, his dirty blond hair was burred short, almost a skin job.stinkfist

Two, he had British teeth. Looked like a miniature Stone Henge inside his mouth. Wore faded Levis and a charcoal gray T-shirt with the word “Stinkfist” emblazoned across the front. For those of you who don’t know, “Stinkfist” is the first song on one of the best heavy metal albums of its era, “Aenima” by Tool. Back then Tool was not that widely known outside the metal world.

To complete the picture, imagine the guy whose wallet is connected by a chain to his belt loop, but he doesn’t have enough money to really worry about it getting stolen. Yeah, that guy.

Stinkfist was a real piece of work. Loud. Crude. And getting louder and cruder the drunker he got. He wasn’t shit-faced, but sobriety was a shore growing distant. He was there with two young females most dudes wouldn’t look at twice. They had all crawled out of the city to join the college kids for a night of fun and cheap beer.

Whatever. All good.

The night goes on and Stinkfist is proving that he’s not as good at pool as he thinks he is. He and Patrick have a testy back-and-forth going over the table. Patrick and I aren’t the best pool players, but we aren’t chumps. Which means in that small pond we dominate the table. Lose a game and you are waiting in line a while to go another round.

Stinkfist raises a stink about everything. “Hey, you didn’t call that shot.” “You bumped the table.” “Why you talkin’ to me while I’m trying to shoot?” Fucking endless. I forget what set him off when he decided to attack Patrick. I want to say closing time was a few ticks of the clock away and we were looking forward to sampling the weed waiting for us across the street at my apartment. We’d had our fun. I have a picture in my head of Patrick and I winning one last time and giving up the table to the losers, Stinkfist and his hoes. I might have walked away to pay my tab or something.

I remember coming back toward the table and thinking to myself, “This ain’t good.” Stinkfist is really starting to run his mouth, and Patrick isn’t taking shit from anyone. He didn’t start it, but he isn’t backing down. I think Stinkfist was used to people backing down. Could see it in his eyes. Stupidity. Like, almost short-bus stupid, mixed with volatility and anger. The kind of guy who would sucker punch a grandma.

Patrick decides to wait for me outside. Stinkfist is getting under his skin and he doesn’t want to fight the kid. I tell him I’ll be right out.

Patrick walks out and I am twenty seconds behind him. I think I was saying goodbye to someone I knew. Stinkfist is pacing near a pool table, cursing to himself, working himself up like a pot about to boil. Suddenly he tears his shirt off and dashes for the door. It was one of those doors like an emergency exit that opens by pushing on a big metal bar. It made a loud clack whenever pushed hard. Stinkfist slammed it on the way out.

I run around the pool tables and get to the door about five seconds after Stinkfist’s dramatic exit. I hear a loud crash of glass bottles on asphalt. I’m expecting the worst.

Outside, Stinkfist is on his back struggling atop broken glass. Patrick is on top of him in a position known as side control. Other than a full mount, it’s the most dominating position to be in when a fight hits the ground. At that point Patrick could do anything he wanted. Stinkfist is just trying to cover himself. Patrick hasn’t thrown a punch, but he can start whenever he wants to and Stinkfist can’t do a damn thing about it.

stinkfist_anal“Patrick!” I holler. “Let’s get out of here.”

“I’ll teach this fucking punk,” Patrick yells. Everyone from the bar has poured out to see the show, forming a half-ring around the action. Patrick’s killer instincts have kicked in. He told me later that as he stood outside waiting he knew Stinkfist was coming, and as soon as the little putz flew out the door in a rage, Patrick Judo flipped him into a pile of trash cans at the edge of the sidewalk and pounced.

Kid was at his mercy.

Stinkfist’s girls are yelling. The streets are empty for the most part except for the spectators. Patrick is one second away from making a terrible decision. He really wants to destroy the punk. But sanity kicks in and he gets up. I steer him away. Stinkfist is slow to rise. He still has a lot of fight in him, but he is laying shirtless in a pile of broken glass. I have about twenty seconds tops to get Patrick away from the scene. My gut tells me Stinkfist is only warming up. He just needs time to collect his bearings before Round Two begins.

That’s when I see the semi.

It’s rolling slowly down the street—2:00 in the fucking morning on a city street and there is a semi. I’d lived in that neighborhood for years and had seen local fast food joints get deliveries from semis late at night, but those trucks had logos on them. This rig was plain white and towing a full-size trailer, riding like it’s fully loaded. Perfect opportunity. I have to get Patrick away and know just how to do it.

“Come on man, the weed is waiting. It’ll mellow you out. This fucker ain’t worth it.”

“That semi passed by at precisely the right moment, creating a barrier between Patrick and Stink Boy. Where it came from and where it was going is a mystery. It didn’t belong at that place and time, a complete anomaly. Sent from Heaven.”

Patrick is in the gray zone between fight or walk away. His jets have cooled a little but can flare hot again in a heartbeat. Finally he relents and I lead him across the street just ahead of the semi. Now the semi is passing between us and the scene on the other side of the street. Stinkfist is off the ground and his females are being drama mammas. He has been humiliated but is too stupid to realize he should take his losses and walk away.

The entrance to my building is a nondescript glass door set between a row of storefronts. I unlock it, get Patrick inside and up a few stairs. My apartment is on the second floor. Turn around, flip the bolt, and the semi has just passed. Stinkfist is across the street, about sixty feet away, looking around for Patrick. Hands clenched in fists. Breathing heavy. Scraped up. Sweating. Ready for a fight. If Patrick and I had entered my building two seconds later, he would have seen us and come running. It would have been bad. But I felt something serendipitous at work. I felt the universe helping me defuse the situation.

I felt synchronicity.

That semi passed by at precisely the right moment, creating a barrier between Patrick and Stink Boy. Where it came from and where it was going is a mystery. It didn’t belong at that place and time, a complete anomaly. Sent from Heaven.

It would be easy to call the passing of that semi coincidence, but sometimes coincidence is meaningful. You can feel when it happens. It’s like standing close to high voltage. You don’t see the powerful current of electricity passing through the wire, but it’s there. Go ahead, touch it and know for yourself. To see synchronicity at work in your life, do the right thing and watch how events unfold in a way that helps you achieve a desired outcome.

It will be all the convincing you need.

The Magic Mushroom Ride of My Life

Magic mushrooms talk to you. The tan and orange fungus with a stem and cap is like a leprechaun, and when swallowed it spends the next few hours – sometimes days – fucking with your head by telling you things about yourself, your life, the world, the universe, like:

You are a spiritual being having a physical experience.

The world is your classroom.

Humans are not alone in the universe.

Magic Mushrooms, fresh

That is a sampling of what the mushrooms said to me on a night when I rode the magic carpet of psychedelic experience. It made me aware of myself and my environment in ways I’d never known. It spoke and I listened, and it made predictions that came true. Then all hell broke loose and the experience turned sinister. First, to set the scene.

My friend Matt lived in an apartment with a crack house on one side and a heroin den on the other, on a side street close to Bogart’s music hall in the Corryville neighborhood of Cincinnati, a seething mix of university students, urban high school kids, low-income locals, visitors, homeless, opportunists and criminals. A lot of bad shit went down in that neighborhood, and Matt lived in the middle of it. The craziness didn’t usually bother us. We were used to it.

The night we took the mushrooms at his place, the gore-and-screams band GWAR was playing at Bogarts. And, as they say, the freaks were out. Our friend Steve joined us. It looked like we had a normal night of listening to music and hanging out ahead of us, except, of course, we were eating magic mushrooms. Matt at first didn’t want to trip with us, but we badgered him, and like the good friend and addict he was, he ate half a cap to make us shut up.

Bad idea. Never pressure anyone into taking psychedelics. It’s asking for trouble.

Matt’s living room had a couch, portable radio, a table or two, guitar gear, some junk, and not much else except his dog, a black lab mix named Rufus. We listened to music and talked as the ‘shrooms kicked in. At first your body tingles and you feel electric but chill. The fun stuff in the mushroom, called psilocybin, travels from the stomach to the bloodstream and throughout the body, and everything that had been gray is touched with color. Senses sharpen. Perceptions deepen. Body relaxes. Then the psilocybin settles into the brain, and the conversation with the leprechaun begins.

That night it manifested as something trying to get my attention. Matt and Steve were engaged in a heated conversation, as they were liable to do, both strong-willed and stubborn. If they disagreed about something they could go on for hours about it. At some point I tuned out and just enjoyed the exhilaration of the drug. That’s when I noticed Rufus.

Something is up with the dog, said the leprechaun. I noticed Rufus acting sort of like he wanted to go out to crap in the yard, but more excited and even confused. I wondered if he was picking up strange vibes off the three humans juicing their brains, but there was nothing out of the ordinary going on, nothing to set him off like that. We were listening to an LA Guns CD, Vicious Circle, for the first time, and I heard undertones in the music that affected me deeply. But Rufus was used to hard rock and people doing drugs,

Then reality decided to take a high dive from an orbiting space shuttle. Rufus started frantically running circles around us in the living room. We were on the floor. I was laying on my back. Steve and Matt were going on about something. Rufus ran circles counterclockwise. He flew over the couch, the chairs, the junk. He sprang off a chair and did an impossible somersault in the air.

Did I really see that, I asked myself. Did Rufus just do a flip with a twist like a gymnast and bounce hard off the carpet, fly up and continue running in circles?

I looked at Steve and Matt like, didn’t you see that? But they were oblivious, and somehow I knew it was supposed to be that way. When Rufus took another flying leap and they didn’t notice, we weren’t in Kansas anymore. Welcome to Mushroomville, the land of oompa loompas and leprechauns and all sorts of magical stuff.

I’ve known people who hallucinated whole scenes while tripping on LSD or mushrooms, but for me the effects had more to do with color, sound, sense of time, and opening connections inside myself. Never had I hallucinated something like a dog flipping out. What I saw was real. If someone completely sober was in the room, they would have seen Rufus doing flips, two humans paying no attention, and one human (me) with eyes as wide and bright as cream pies.

The mushroom, compared to other hallucinogens, is more of an internal trip. It talks to you about how you see yourself and the world, about what you do and why, about where you have come from in your life and where you are going, about what you believe. Done in a controlled setting it can be therapeutic, but in an uncontrolled setting it can be a bad trip. The mushroom opened me to really feel what was going on around me. Steve, an experienced tripper, was having a ball, while Matt, even though he ate a fraction of the amount of mushroom that Steve and I ate, was trippin’ hard. That fungus was potent. Something strange was in the air from the beginning, and I sensed it before the dog freaked out.

Earlier in the night as the ‘shrooms kicked in, we had the radio on and were talking. Steve and I had a sense for each other like complete opposites do. Enhanced by the mushroom it was as if we were reading each others thoughts. There came a pause in our conversation, and the leprechaun in my head said, “Steve is going to suggest to change the radio station, and you should tell him to turn it to your favorite station. He will then say, “Why were we listening to that crap, anyway?””

A moment later it happened exactly as predicted, down to the exact words. It is one of many instances that night and others when I heard in my head exactly what was about to be said or done, and is why I say that the mushroom talks to you. Because it does. What it told me about why Rufus flipped out is going to sound like some crazy shit, so be ready. To this day I’m not sure what exactly happened, but in later events I had some confirmation of the way I interpreted it. I’ll get to that.

Matt finally noticed Rufus but reacted like it was nothing. However, I felt something in the walls and under the soles of my feet, something deeply wrong. Something very dark. We went out on the porch to change the scenery, and the feeling only increased as I watched people going by, especially the freaks going to the GWAR show. Bad vibes, bad neighborhood.

Then it struck me: something was wrong about the big house converted to apartments where Matt lived. It felt sinister. I didn’t know at the time that the neighbors were crackheads and heroin junkies – found that out later. Besides, they were nowhere in sight. The wrong I felt was like the feeling of being watched from the shadows by a killer.

The mushroom said, “The presence you feel is attacking the dog: Demonic possession.”

Told you it would sound like some crazy shit. A dog possessed? Yup, sounds crazy to me too, but the mushroom had been right about other things that night. I am open-minded about the mysteries of life, so I can accept altered reality. And from scripture I know that animals can be possessed by spirits, remembering the story about Jesus allowing the legion of demons to possess a herd of pigs after he exorcised them from a possessed man. If you had been there and seen Rufus the dog, you would agree that something was up with him. I’d known that dog for years and never seen him act like he did that night. Then for Matt and Steve to not notice was too strange.

So what do you do when your brain is soaked in psilocybin and a voice that feels like it is being beamed into your head tells you that a dog is possessed? Well, naturally, you perform an exorcism!

As soon as the thought crossed my mind, potent energy filled my body. I have been in churches when entire congregations were “possessed by the Holy Spirit.” It is unmistakable. I think people can work themselves into such a state that they make shit happen that is far outside the boundaries of “normal.” What it felt like to me was God decided to enter Matt’s apartment and do battle against the demonic presence, using me as a proxy. That is the best way I can explain what happened next.

Feeling myself filled with righteous fire, I tracked down Rufus inside the apartment and laid a hand on top of his head. I reached my other hand toward the sky and called down the Holy Spirit. With the most powerful voice that has ever come out of my mouth, I rebuked the demon. I was told later that I could be heard a block away over the street noise, and that people stopped dead in their tracks at the sound.

Steve and Matt had done for a walk this was happening. It felt like an hour passed before they came back, but I bet it was less than 15 minutes. I rebuked the demon over and over. I quoted scripture with a voice that sounded like rolling thunder. The dog’s eyes fluttered back, showing only whites. His tongue rolled loosely in his mouth. My hand stayed attached to his head as if stuck by magnetism.

Then it was over. Rufus returned to normal. I felt everything around me with incredible distinction and clarity. Before Steve and Matt walked back into the apartment, I sensed them coming. Before seeing the people gathered outside drawn by the sound of my voice, I knew they were. Most of them were confused, some had an inkling of what just happened, and a few under the influence of darkness were pissed off. How dare I!

At that moment I understood how Jesus felt when he saw the masses of the sick, diseased, infected, and waded into them, his voice crackling, his hands feeling like they’re engulfed in flames, his mind filled with the most powerful light, his eyes seeing everything as it really is. A revelation came to me:

Life is not a game!

Life is not a game!

Life is not a game!

That message was personal. At the time, I treated life like a game. It worked pretty well for me to that point because I was good at games, but when confronted by supernatural reality, that approach suddenly appeared childish, dangerous. In a sense, that night I was initiated into a deeper understanding of why I am alive and having this experience of being a spiritual being in a human body.

Beneath our reality is a template for a perfect universe. Align yourself with it and you too can make things right. You can heal. You can perform what are called miracles, which are not really “miracles” but more like a curtain parting. In order to face what is behind it, you can’t treat life like a game. There is a combination of levity and humor involved. You can’t take yourself too seriously, but you can’t be a fucking joker either. If you go about using your mind to channel perfection into this reality, this dimension, you will butt up against forces that oppose you, and they aren’t here for the laughs. If they can’t stop you by other means, they will try to destroy you, either by driving you insane or setting people and events against you.

I’m open to the idea that everything I experienced was a hallucination. The mind can manifest anything it believes, including a dog doing double flips with a twist. If you haven’t tried magic mushrooms, you night think I hallucinated it – I would think that if someone told me a story like I’m telling you. But I was there and tell you I have never been so lucid and aware in my life. Plus, a month or two later, my friend Matt met the evil presence and had his own battle with it.

What I didn’t know at the time was Matt had started using crack cocaine. He’s a good ‘ol country boy, a hard drinker, smokes two packs of Marlboros a day, but he didn’t seem like a candidate for crack addict because the drug wasn’t part of his culture. Then his work tools and material possessions started disappearing, and I wouldn’t see him for stretches of time, sometimes weeks. I should have known what was up.

One day, very agitated, he showed up unannounced at my apartment. I took my time calming him down before trying to get him to tell me what had set him off, and had to drag it out of him. “You wouldn’t believe me if I told,” he kept saying.

“Try me,” I said. “You know I’ve been through some weird shit.”

So then he tells me that he had just been at home and decided to buy crack with the $20 his grandma had given him for Christmas. His grandpa had recently passed away, and Matt felt guilty (even before getting hooked on rock) about not living up to the old man’s expectations of his grandchildren. He had battled with himself over spending the money the way his grandparents would want on food and necessities, or spending it on what he really wanted. You know which side won the argument.

So he goes looking for the $20-dollar bill in the Christmas card and can’t find it – no surprise, considering the state of his apartment. So like a good crackhead he obsessively tears the place apart searching for it, and instead keeps running across a picture of his recently-deceased grandpa. It didn’t just happen a few times, but over and over and over and over and over. Same picture. He said he would open a drawer in the living room and there it would be, then go look in the kitchen and there it would be, then go look in the bathroom and there it would be.

Even after my mushroom experience at his place, I thought maybe Matt had been unconsciously carrying the picture around, or looking time and again in the same place and forgetting that’s where he’d just seen the picture – knowing him, it wouldn’t surprise me. But what he said next turned me cold inside.

He had gone to the basement where he kept his tools and handyman supplies (he was the maintenance man for that building and several others), frantically searching for the lost money, and found it down there. The basement was right below his apartment, where I sensed something emanating from during the night of my mushroom experience. The money, he said, flew out his hand as if ripped away. Then he felt two presences in the room, God and Satan, fighting for his soul. When it was over, the money lay on the cold concrete floor. He grabbed it and drove over to my place.

I know that people can manifest things in their lives to overcome. They can create battles for their souls. Addicts’ lives are full of drama, and hallucinations even when stone-cold sober are known to happen. In a related way, shamans sometimes discover their abilities out of need because something ails them and conventional treatment doesn’t work. I know someone who became a shaman because the other choice was a short life of physical misery. In a similar way, addicts set up experiences that make them want to get better, sometimes very perilous experiences that bring them close to death. But I did not detect anything in Matt that would lead me to believe he had made his inner drama an outer one. No, I think his drama with crack led to an intervention of the supernatural kind.

I wouldn’t draw that conclusion based solely on what he told me about the battle for his soul, or even on my mushroom trip at his place. Because you see, the battle didn’t end that day; it continued for as long as Matt was hooked. He had done all sorts of other drugs, but none of them made him into a different, darker person like crack. I started to see the changes; sensed the thing beneath his apartment and the oppressiveness of the neighborhood; sensed my friend slipping away. I prayed about it and felt convicted in my heart to do something.

Soon after, I was given a beautiful, sunny day to go find my bro. He worked odd hours and could disappear for weeks at a time, but on this day I pulled up in front of his apartment and there he was on the front steps. After chillin’ for a bit, talking about whatever, I told him there really was a battle going on for his soul, and God was acting strongly to save him. It didn’t matter what he believed in, all he had to do was sincerely pray for help and it would come. Matt had seen me change from raging alcoholic to got-my-shit-together dude, and because I had been there at the bottom where he was, he respected me, and I respected him.

As we talked, I suddenly heard, “Cut that shit out right now.” I turned to see an old black man glare at me then look away as if he wasn’t talking to us, but there wasn’t anyone else around for him to talk to, and his words cut right to the heart of our conversation. Derelicts of all sorts prowled the neighborhood. This guy though could have walked right out the movie Angel Heart. He looked like bad news, and I knew he was there to try to stop me from saving my friend. The man said something else which I don’t remember and hung around in the background – it was a public area and we couldn’t stop him. His presence rattled me some, but I spoke my heart to Matthew and know he listened. It was the best I could do.

Sometime after that, Matt’s living situation changed and he got out of the neighborhood and away from crack, but was never far, if you know what I mean: A part of it and his experiences there went with him wherever he went. And with me, too.

Bob: the Homeless Guy Sent By God … Maybe

Bob was a homeless guy in my college neighborhood who seemed to be protected by God. I know how that sounds – I’m not the type to see God in everything, but my time with Bob was meaningful in so many ways, and there were so many coincidences, I can’t explain it a better way. Knowing Bob (maybe “experiencing” is a better verb) was like one of those Old Testament stories about angels who walk among us in disguise. Except Bob was an ornery, dirty, sodden heap of a man who could say the meanest things one moment and the sweetest things the next. He was no angel.

Bob had the face of a prize fighter who took too many beatings. During the course of ten years that I knew him, I saw him with bruises and abrasions more times than I can count. Blackened eyes. Busted lips. Nasty cuts. A permanent dent ran across the bridge of his nose – a nose lumpy like a garlic bulb and riddled with broken capillaries. Heavy brows sprouted wild hairs, half-concealing his eyes. Dark gray hair, oily and thick, barely hinted at the rich brown it once was.

I first heard about Bob when he was referred to as “Vietnam Dave” by people in the neighborhood, known by that name because he was a Vietnam vet, two combat tours in the Marines, and it summed up why he lived on the streets. His full name is David Robert Willis. He called himself The Duke and liked to imitate John Wayne – his shtick  Whenever Bob pulled out The Duke imitation, his next play was for the change in your pocket. It worked on me many times.

Bob, the homeless guy who changed me
This is not Bob — this guy looks way less beaten up and haggard.

That’s how we met. Bob did his impression, maybe told a raunchy joke, and asked for some change. I fished in my pocket and gave him what I had.

Bob lived in the great wide open concrete jungle surrounding the University of Cincinnati, an area peppered with fast food joints, bars, shops and convenience stores. I’d find him asleep on bus stop benches, sidewalks, door stoops. He peed wherever he wanted, whenever he wanted, though unless he was staggering drunk he’d usually find a private corner. He sometimes reeked of urine. A few times I noticed long wet stains on his jeans. And more than a few times I saw him taken away in a police car. He’d disappear for weeks, sometimes months, but always returned to the fertile ground where the city and the university met.

Despite all his misfortune Bob was the luckiest man alive, if you count being alive as lucky. He walked with the Grim Reaper always at his side checking the time and saying, “For crying out loud, how many times can one person dodge me?” Bob would down a few half-pints of Wild Irish Rose – called “shorties” in street lingo – he’d buy with the change he panhandled, then go careening through multiple lanes of traffic. One memorable time I witnessed him buy a shorty, down it in one swig, smash the glass bottle on the sidewalk right next to a trash can, then hurl himself across the street through heavy traffic – and somehow find a seam between moving vehicles. We’re talking about one of the busiest roads in the city, rush hour, in front of a bus stop where buses passed twenty times an hour and impatient drivers barreled through traffic.

The convenience store clerk who sold Bob the wine told me she had seen him heedlessly part traffic like that so many times, she was convinced an angel watched over him. That day she’d sold him 20 shorties and finally cut him off. That’s why he busted the bottle: he was mad about being told no. He staggered down the street to the next convenience store.

Bob was a willful person. He didn’t have to live on the streets – he had a veteran’s pension, maybe collected disability – but chose it as part of his lifestyle. He drank away his pension checks within days after they arrived at a tavern he used as a mailing address, then the rest of the month he relied on handouts. I remember hearing about homeless guys in Paris who made the same choice to live on the streets. They could get an apartment paid for by the government. They chose not to, like Bob.

His willful dark side popped out when Bob had been drinking a lot, and Bob always drank a lot – except when he couldn’t afford it. There were plenty of rainy days and holidays when the streets were mostly empty and the people tighter with their pocket change. I’d see him wandering the streets like a plastic bag blowing in the wind, looking for someone to hit up. One day I encountered him stalking a man on the street who had refused his request for money, cursing, “Come back here you fucking nigger!” I heard him from a distance and quickly closed in.

“Bob!” I said forcefully, “what the hell do you think you are doing? Get out of here. Go!” I pointed down the street, away from the man he cursed at, a well-dressed administrator from the university on his lunch break. Probably an assistant dean. Late 20s. Athletic. Dark-skinned. Bob shambled off in the direction I pointed, and the young man, accompanied by an attractive woman his age, was happy to escape the crazy homeless dude.

I followed them from a distance as they headed back to campus, an uneasy feeling in my gut. The guy suddenly turned around to go find Bob, presumably. He’d had enough time to process the incident and get pissed off. Maybe having the young lady with him made it especially galling to be harassed by a street person. I said to him, “I saw what happened back there and think you did the right thing by walking away. Beating him up won’t do any good.”

The guy fumed, “What right does he have to say that to me? He wants money? Here, I got money!” He pulled his wallet out from his suit pants and grabbed some singles. “I’ll stuff it down his fucking pie hole!”

“You did the right thing,” I said sort of meekly. “Don’t mess it up now.” Realizing that his lunch hour was almost over, the guy put his wallet away and hurried across the street with his girl before the traffic light changed.

Another odd encounter with Bob took place on the morning of a final exam. I walked through a slim sidewalk that shortcut between rows of four-story buildings to get to campus for the exam, and heard noises back in an area where one of the businesses kept trash. There, on a smelly, shadowy, debris-strewn stretch of sidewalk, Bob swept up the mess with a broom. It was early December, a bright, cold morning when at 7:30 the sunlight still has a brittle, blue quality and your breath turns instantly to ice crystals. Why Bob swept the mess, I don’t know. Maybe he was clearing a space to sleep, or a local business hired him to do odd jobs. I think he just felt like doing a good deed.

Another time with Bob I’m pretty sure I was used by his Maker to look out for him. I gave him money sometimes but didn’t always have it to spare. My pockets were empty that day. I walk down a sidewalk across from the university and see Bob reclined on some steps against the emergency exit of a local business. He looks bad. Deep scrapes score his face. His eye resembles a bruised cherry. His head hung between his knees. He looks up at me as I walk nearby and asks if I can spare some change. I look down at the sidewalk and, kid you not, saw a wad of one-dollar bills. People walked by, avoiding the dirty, drunk man with a face like a scary mask. A strong breeze blew through the busy city street. And there was a wad of money.

Not Bob
This isn’t Bob either, but is strikingly similar to how he looked a lot of the time.

I handed it to Bob. I’ll never forget his gratitude – to him I was a savior. He grabbed my hand and pulled me in close, creating a bit of an awkward moment, but I’d seen Bob around enough by that time to be receptive to him instead of afraid or disgusted. As our faces came close together I saw he’d been crying. With misery and tenderness he asked me:

“Do you think God hates me because I’m a fag?”

I’d never seen Bob act remotely homosexual, but as soon as he asked, it made sense. Bob had his demons, and his devils, and his shame. Too many thoughts crowded my mind simultaneously for me to say exactly what was in my heart, but I managed a reply. “God doesn’t hate anyone, Bob. You are made exactly as you are supposed to be.”

I found out more about Bob’s background as the years went by and my encounters with him piled up. One night while walking home from a grocery store I saw him sitting on a park bench. With nowhere in particular to be, I plopped down next to him and gave him a cigarette. It was one of those nights when the stars can be seen through the city lights and it feels like the sky is trying to say something profound. Seeing Bob on that bench at that moment just made sense. He started talking like I was meant to be there to hear him. I know I was meant to be there.

“I helped build that building,” he told me, pointing to one of the older university buildings. “Worked on the construction crew that built it. This was after I got back from ‘Nam. Made good money. Had benefits. The school gave my daughter free tuition because I worked for them. Then during Christmas break she was driving home to where our family is from. She stayed over at a motel, and someone raped and murdered her in her room.” Bob’s voice broke like his heart when he lost his daughter. I heard his pain. Hell, I felt it too. Tears moistened his eyes. “I was never the same after that. Why bother?”

Bob lost the will to live after his daughter died. David Robert Willis became Vietnam Dave, another casualty of the war at home. He blamed himself for his daughter’s death because he reasoned that she wouldn’t have been in the situation that led to her murder if she wasn’t attending the university where he got her free tuition. After he was done talking I gave him a dollar and had to hurry home before my frozen goods melted.

One encounter with Bob sticks out among all of them. The time when he followed me into a laundromat. Sometimes Bob would see me on the street and join me like nobody’s business, just two old pals sharing a laugh. He always wanted something, and I didn’t mind. I was comfortable telling him no, or yes.

On this day what Bob was after was heat. The sauna-like warmth of the laundromat contrasted starkly with the fall chill outside. When the clerk saw Bob with me, the ‘get the hell out of here’ look froze on her face. Bob followed me over to the washers, small-talking, and spotted his paradise: an empty row of plastic chairs where he could recline against a dryer and heat up his old bones. He walked over there and noticed a bulletin board plastered with faded pictures – most of them three decades old – of patrons of the laundromat. He said excitedly, “Hey, that’s me!”

He reached for a picture and pulled it out from among the hundreds of faces. It showed a young man with deep brown wavy hair swooped up off his forehead, a ready smile, happiness in his eyes. I couldn’t believe at first it was Bob because the guy in the picture looked nothing like him, but thirty years of living on the streets had chiseled him down a layer at a time. The more I looked at the eyes of the guy in the picture, though, the more I saw Bob.

It’s how I choose to remember him. I wish I still had that picture – kept it for many years and lost it, but I still remember the smiling face of a young man with his life ahead of him, and wonder might have been different if he hadn’t known hell, first in the jungles of Vietnam, then in the jungles of America. Knowing Bob, aka The Duke, made me see the world differently. We are all just people. Appearances don’t change what we are inside. Everyone deserves our sympathy, our kindness.

Bob is the homeless guy who changed me. God bless him.

A groovy book about dreams

I took a sabbatical from blogging to write a book about dreams and dream work, titled Dreams 1-2-3: Remember, Interpret and Live Your Dreams.

Dreams are the ultimate life coach because they know you in ways you might not even know yourself. But to most people, their life coach speaks a foreign language, and they only understand a little of what they’re told. Learn to speak the language of dreams and you understand them like never before, discovering that they advise about every area of life: work, family, school, friends, feelings, love, ambitions, needs. Dreams can even predict the future and show you your soul.

Dreams solve problems from work and personal life. They show areas that are active with potential for growth, and areas that are inhibited or blocked. They are concerned with health of the body, mind and spirit, offering suggestions on ways to improve health and warnings against detriments. Dreams can also communicate with spirit and connect with all spirits, passing information along an invisible network.

In Dreams 1-2-3 I teach not only how to decipher what dreams mean, but how to remember and apply them to your life. Dreams contain information to benefit you, and ultimately they are a call to action. Sometimes they are a simulation to show you how you would react under certain circumstances. Sometimes they revisit unpleasant scenes from the past, trying to help you move forward.

Screw paying $50-$100 an hour for someone to tell you what you already know, which is what life coaches basically do. Find out for yourself from your dreams (my book is only $3.99 for Kindle. Print edition coming soon). Many famous folks like Einstein and Stephen King used their dreams to create great works of science and literature. So at the very least, by knowing how your dreams work you can improve your creative life and do your job better. But if you really follow your dreams and work at them regularly, you’ll find that you can become a calmer, more aware, more successful, more loving and more giving person.

In Dreams 1-2-3 you’ll learn about nightmares, recurring dreams, animals and insects in dreams, dream characters, structure, settings, and much more. Examples from dreams I’ve interpreted enliven the book by showing the dream interpretation process in action and teaching step by step how I break down a dream and rebuild it using the dreamer’s associations. And since I believe in learning by example, I’ve used dozens if not a hundred or more dreams from my life, my partner, my friends, and my work as a moderator at the Reddit dreams forum. Drop by and ask for RadOwl — it’s a great community for sharing dreams and experiences.

You can read the first three chapters in a free book sample I uploaded to Scribd. It spells out the basics of remembering, interpreting and living your dreams. I’m going to try to embed it below — it works sometimes, and sometimes it doesn’t, so use the direct link if you need it.

Thank you for your support as I make this transition to author and dream interpreter! I promise that more groovy writing is on the way!

[scribd id=91668385 key=key-2kdv83w1bewud3nwiads mode=list]

The 10 Other Best Rock Guitarists

Seems like every list of the best rock guitarists features the same names: Hendrix, Page, Allman, Rhoads, Satriani. All are guitar Gods deserving of praise, but what about the less-heralded players who merely rock out with a vengeance, and whose licks, chops and chords helped push guitar playing to new heights of greatness? Ladies and gents, I present to you 10 guitarists who deserve more recognition as some of the best in rock music!

First a back story. The New York Times printed a list of top guitarist (which I can’t find now) that included many jazz and classical players as well as rock. Buried deep within the article comments, a lone voice spoke up for a guitarist too easily overlooked, who played alongside two of the most gifted musicians of their time and produced an epic catalog of rock music. That guitar player is:

Alex Lifeson got dissed by the Times and spoke up for himself

1). Alex Lifeson of Rush. Sir Alex spoke up for himself in the Times because the writers overlooked his contributions to the art of playing guitar with other musicians. From solos on songs like Limelight and Freewill, to the brilliance of Spirit of the Radio and Tom Sawyer, Lifeson displays feel, technique and inspired creativity. Any conversation about great guitar players of any genre should include him.

The next guitarist is a controversial pick because glam rock is snickered at among “real” rock musicians. A bunch of girlie men wearing makeup just can’t produce the sound that aspiring players will struggle to learn 20 years later, that stands out from the rest for a higher level of musicianship. That guitarist is:

2). C.C. Deville of Poison. Hear me out before calling the rock police. Have you ever really listened to Deville’s chops on songs like Nothin’ But A Good Time and Talk Dirty to Me? Dude rocks, fast and clean, and if it wasn’t for so many critics knockin’ Poison for their glam ways, they might stop complaining long enough to realize C.C. is a rare talent. Sure, other guitarists like Richie Sambora (Bon Jovi) and Mick Mars (Motley Crew) also created memorable licks and wore makeup at some point during their careers, but C.C. in my mind is the better player. Haters gonna hate, and it’s easy to hate on C.C. for making millions by playing shit like Every Rose and bagging busloads of hot groupies.

3). Jack White originally of the White Stripes. When Jack first hit the scene, I was slow to catch on. He was too noisy and lacked sophistication as a guitar player, in my mind. But that’s his genius, and as I’ve listened to him more, the more appreciation I’ve gained for his nasty slide guitar and frenetic yet controlled rhythms and solos. I similarly love Tom Morello, but he’s gotten a lot of credit for his guitar innovation and skill. But Dirty Jack seems to channel the spirit of an old black man sitting on a hickory stump and making the dogs howl with his pickin’. (If the movie Crossroads is ever remade, White should get the starring role.) Jack probably can’t play a blazing Satriani-style solo, nor would he want to, but just try to duplicate his gritty sound. The man’s got soul and it shows in every note, and that to me is a large part of what defines a great guitar player.

Now I’m going to pull another surprise by nominating a player for guitar greatness that you’ve heard many times but probably had little idea how exceptional he really is. I have the advantage of having heard his playing on an album titled Submarine by Gregg Bissonette. This guy plays guitar on one song and the first time I heard it I had to drop everything and listen (the entire album is an orgie of different music styles featuring the best guitar players). At one point during the outro solo — using tremolo and maybe a power tool or child’s toy — he makes his guitar sound like a spaceship taking off. Then I went back and listened to his more famous work and gained new appreciation, enough to mention him here:

4). Steve Stevens of Billy Idol. Can you hear the signature riff in your head from the song Eyes Without A Face, when the distorted guitar kicks on? bumbum BAM BAM! bumbum BAM BAM! A simple riff that gives me chills just thinking about it. Or that long wavering harmonic on the opening to Rebel Yell, before Billy starts singing? Stevens goes where none have gone before, always mixing things up and taking risks, soaring and diving and growling with his guitar (here Stevens plays Voodoo Child). Go back and listen to the solo on Rebel Yell and try to tell me it doesn’t absolutely rock.

5). Rik Emmett of Triumph. I grew up listening to arena rock during the ’80s, and other than Randy Rhoads, no other guitar player inspired me more to pick up the instrument than Rik Emmett. While Rhoads brought a classical approach to his metal sound, Emmett’s classical training colored his arena rock sound. One moment he treats us to power riffs and soaring guitar solos on songs like Fight The Good Fight and Lay It On The Line; next song he’s launching into intricate picking and fast, melodic chord changes, like Midsummer’s Daydream or A Minor Prelude.

The Allied Forces and Thunder Seven albums are epics of guitar rock. Emmett’s chord voicing is pure genius, alternating between distorted power chords and clean appregios, always reaching for the extra note or two that turns ordinary into memorable and memorable into masterful. Many other great players hogged the limelight during the late ’70s and ’80s, but how many of them are still all over rock radio like Triumph?

Ever since conceiving this Top-10 list of under-recognized guitarists, I’ve been debating between two masters of metal who are often left out of the discussion of great players. They each have avid fans; each has merits and created riffs back in the ’80s and ’90s that guitar students still use to build their skills. These two guitarists displayed blazing speed with the best of ’em, and mastered techniques that helped define the hard, fast sound of a generation of rock guitar. George Lynch of Dokken fame was my original choice, but I’ve finally settled on another player that I think is a little more deserving:

6). Jake E. Lee, probably remembered most for the two blistering solos on Bark at the Moon, a song I’m still trying to learn all the way through. Jake was overshadowed by his predecessor Randy Rhoads, who to some fans will always be the best guitar player to join with Ozzy Osbourne. To really appreciate Jake though, listen to some of his more obscure work like Killer of Giants and Ultimate Sin. What I really love about his playing is, even when he’s out front of the music he’s still playing within it. Jake’s replacement, Zakk Wylde, is a complete badass of the guitar, but really only has one speed. He’s a muscle car next to Jake’s Porche which takes corners at high speed with grace and style and still beats the muscle car off the line. Jake brought a deep bag of tricks with him when he played with the Oz, and, later, on his own with Badlands, influenced by many styles — even disco! Anyone who can turn disco licks into classic heavy metal deserves a place among the greats, in my opinion.

Another surprising omission from many lists of great guitarists — including the New York Times list, if memory serves me correctly — is a name closely associated with rock guitar innovation. He can play with both hands at the same time on specially designed guitars, is better with one hand than most players are with both, and his sound can be identified from the first note. He’s played with the biggest names in rock, recorded hits as a solo artist. … One more hint: he was in the movie Crossroads:

7). Steve Vai. Some people might say he’s had enough recognition, but he’s often excluded from the top tier of guitar players when really he IS the top. His solos can be ridiculously complex, but what I admire is his versatility and distinctive voice. Enough said. If you’re aren’t familiar with Vai, or don’t agree, there’s no point in going further. (This next video is long and very vulgar, but the entire second half is Vai and Frank Zappa throwing down monster solos):

Only three more slots to fill this Top-10 List and so many great guitar players who deserve a mention. I already know who the last one is going to be, my personal pick for the Rock Guitar Hall of Fame, so really I have to choose two. Pulling out an obscure soloist could burnish my cred as a guitar fan, but none that come to mind fit all of the criteria. I could play it safe and argue the greatness of David Gilmore of Pink Floyd, who never played as fast as guys like Vai or Lee or Stevens, and who recycled many of the same licks. Frank Zappa was a wickedly good guitarist. Also, many people these days don’t remember Eric Johnson, who grabbed the world’s attention for a few years with his hit album Ah Via Musicom. Back in my rock journalism days I interviewed Eric, and he is definitely one of the best guitarists as well as people, though his later albums never came close to the commercial success of Musicom. But after much consideration, the guitarist who keeps coming to mind is:

8). Chris DeGarmo of Queensryche.

Once again you see how arena and guitar rock has influenced my taste, and DeGarmo was the creative force behind one of the most creative rock bands of my generation. Queensryche wrote radio hits that had balls. I mean the swinging between your knees variety. With the exception of one power ballad that also happens to be a beautifully restrained guitar piece — Silent Lucidity — everything else Queensryche put out on the radio with DeGarmo combined powerful guitar riffs with sweet interludes and at times operatic arrangements. While Grunge was taking over popular music, DeGarmo developed a sound that could be at once more metal and make the leftover hair-rock bands of the ’80s wish they were so good at writing hits. DeGarmo’s playing was the driving force behind songs like Empire and Eyes of the Stranger, and made the album Operation Mindcrime one of the best rock concept albums of all time. When he left the band, no one could adequately replace him and take the band back to the pinnacle of rock. His sound and influence are unique, making him one of the best.

One more slot to fill before the last one, and I’m sure many readers are wondering when I’m going to mention their favorite less-recognized guitar player. Ruled out of consideration are the certified greats like Hendrix and Page, and one-dimensional wonders like Slash. (I love his music and think he’s great, but in my book he’s overexposed, sort of the Clapton of a later generation.) Other guys from way back like Jeff Beck, Tony Iommi and Ritchie Blackmore have enjoyed long rides as guitar heroes. I’m looking for someone who isn’t mentioned in the same breath, yet is a certified master of rock guitar. Adrienne Belew of King Crimson fits the criteria, but that pick feels too predictable and old-school. There’s also Dire Straights guitarist Mark Knopfler to consider — also kind of old-school. Stanley Jordan put on the most impressive live solo guitar performance I’ve ever witnessed, but he’s not a rock guitarist. And I’m sure that for every Tony McAlpine, Neal Shon, Steve Morse, Trevor Rabin, Alan Holdsworth, Paul Gilbert, Larry Carlton, Steve Howe, Vernon Reid, John Frusciante, Gary Moore or Kirk Hammett I can mention, there are many more just as deserving. But in the end I pick:

Darrell is one of the best guitar players often left out of the conversation

9). Dimebag Darrell Abbott of Pantera fame. He redefined heavy guitar, laying down riffs and solos unmatched in ferocity. Floods, This Love, and my personal favorite Cemetery Gates … songs that demand attention and make any rock guitarist cream his or her pants. Until Darrell, the really heavy guitarists except Kirk Hammett lacked something, usually interesting melody. Putting much feeling into million-mile an hour riffs is difficult, just ask Malmsteen. Darrell poured emotion into his music; he really “got it” — how to speak with his instrument — and for that reason I chose him over all the other great guitarists who could be singled out.

And now for the rabbit about to be pulled out of my hat. This guitarist was not mentioned on the lists of great guitarists by Rolling Stone or LA Times, probably because his most famous song is an acoustic ballad still played to this day at high school dances. But the ground-breaking album that song is from is a feast of guitar playing offered to the Guitar Gods, pushing the limits of how many tasty riffs, delicious chops and mouth-watering fret runs can be packed into one hour-long musical meal. Three of the other tunes were played heavily on the radio: Get The Funk Out, Decadence Dance, and Hole-Hearted, and two others rank as almost superhuman feats of guitar playing: Flight Of The Wounded Bumblebee, and He-Man Woman Hater. The album is Pornograffiti, and the guitarist is:

10). Nuno Bettencourt of Extreme. Known best for his song More Than Words, Nuno recorded four albums with Extreme, three of which combine to form a guitar anthology covering every style under the rock umbrella. The riffs range from bone-crushing to soul-touching; the chords and chord changes are always interesting; and only the best players can attempt to keep up with his solos.

The follow-up album to Pornograffiti — 3 Sides To Every Story — in my opinion is one of the best albums ever made. Nuno’s sound and style matured, and his endlessly creative musical mind found an outlet in a 3-part album — Yours, Mine, God’s — that ranges in style from rock radio-ready, to tender and lyrical songs expressing the deepest of human feeling and observation. Nuno, who is also a masterful producer and pianist, colors the entire album with string, piano and orchestral arrangements that fill out the sound and fully develop the musical ideas.

The last album — Waiting For The Punchline — went nowhere commercially, and is barely known of even among some Extreme fans — but I saw the band on this tour, at Bogart’s in Cincinnati, and Nuno put on a chin-dropping performance. Punchline is stripped down rock and roll essence, in-your-face music with no pretension. It’s the opposite of the ambition heard on Pornograffiti and its Billboard #1 song, More Than Words. Nuno and the band had proven themselves, and for their encore they only wanted to rock.

Honorable mention goes to a fresh guitar player on the scene — so fresh he’s only 10 years old! And from Japan, to boot: Yuto Miyazawa.

I found Yuto’s cover of Mr. Crowley while researching this post. His playing is far from perfect, and his vocals are almost unbearable to listen to, but the kid can play some Randy Rhoads licks — he even performed Crazy Train live with Ozzy! It was like the first time watching the video of Funtwo perform Canon Rock; neither of these guitar players can truly keep up with the greats mentioned here, but they’re influencing the next generation. Funtwo (and his 100 million views) is getting into the heads of aspiring players everywhere, and a few of them are going to rise to the top in the next decade or two. Yuto could be among them if he learns how to express his own voice through his instrument — it’s one thing to imitate and another to create — and that is ultimately what separates the great from the good.

The News: 24 /7 of the same ol’ crap

Poppa DeBord speaks (he watches a lot of news):

In these days of 24 hour a day news coverage by CNN , FOX etc, you would think that the whole world is going to crap. Maybe it is! Paris Hilton crying for mama gets 24 hour coverage. Personally, the whole O.J. coverage got to the point where I wanted to puke if I ever saw it on TV again. How about “what’s her names baby?” Miss big boobs with all the money? Is this worthy of 24 hour news attention? I wish I could turn on the news and see a variety of news of what’s really going on in this world, FAT CHANCE!!!

I don’t expect that this blog post will change the minds of the news media. Let’s face it, human nature craves bad news. Turn on the local news and what do you hear? Murder, rape, bad accidents. When was the last time you heard good news on local TV broadcasts? Good news does not sell.

Well, I have some good news for you. On May 4, a powerful F5 tornado ripped through Greensburg Kansas. This would seem like bad news at first. But within 24 hours, Christian relief organizations (not the gov’t) were there with pre-loaded trucks of supplies and equipment. They cleared the way for the Nat. Guard to set up makeshift hospitals, provide emergency assistance, and clear away tons of debris so people can eventually rebuild.

When was the last time you heard this on CNN!