Armagideon Time

I had thought my father’s funeral would be mirror the Comedian’s service in Watchmen — shitty weather, a handful of mourners lost in their individual memories of the man, and a brief set of platitudes uttered over the departed’s remains. When it was over, we’d briefly shake hands or hug before retreating to our personal domains.

It’s what my father said he wanted. It’s what I wanted. Lil Bro and my dad’s family had other ideas.

I understood my brother’s reasoning. My dad did give mixed signals when it came to putting on a big production. A week before any family gathering, he’d call me to he wasn’t going to this particular one and he’d be happier watching TV at home with his cat and I had the right idea about keeping my distance from my extended kin. Then I’d find out after the event he showed up anyhow. The old man’s vanity and hunger for attention always got the upper hand over his grumpiness, especially when it could also feed his long-suffering martyr complex.

If my father’s kin were going to make the long hike to Cape Cod — and they insisted on doing so — then Lil Bro thought it was only right to have a small collation nearby to feed them. What I thought didn’t matter, anyway, because I’d (again) left all the planning and details to my sibling. All I contributed was an obituary that was a find-and-replace version of my grandmother’s. (To be fair, the adoption process had begun to pick up speed around that time and I flat out told Lil Bro that it was going to be Maura’s and my first priority.)

I don’t harbor any strong animosity towards my father’s people, but I don’t feel any strong attachment to them, either. My maternal grandparents had been a huge part of my life from infancy, but the Weissfolk had always been a bit more distant and distinctly more bizarre. My paternal grandfather was Donald Trump minus the parental bailouts and support structure, just one transparent grift after another, for smaller stakes each time. None of his kids emerged unscathed from his shadow. The specific forms of damage and coping mechanisms varied, but with animal cunning and semi-justifiable arrogance as the common denominators. Imagine being in a room where every person is convinced they’re the smartest person in the room, and you’ve got a general idea of a Weiss family gathering.

Lil Bro gets along with them just fine, but they’ve always been too boisterous and tricky for my comfort. The fact that my father’s stroke-impaired mother and teenage sister lived with us during the back half of my childhood doesn’t help either. Over time, I’ve managed to get past the personal resentment — because they were in a bad way and needed help — about it, but the situation only escalated my parents’ downwards spiral.

It was the particular circumstances of this gathering which made me fret. It was my father’s funeral. It’s not as if I could plant myself on the margins and avoid contact. There’s be hugs and condolences and small talk and questions about what I’d been up to since the previous meet-up I’d been obligated to attend. Maura is an accomplished social interaction shield, but even she has her limits. As the day grew closer, so did my dread.

In the end, it was a lot of angst over nothing. Clannishness works both ways, and time and distance had removed me from the circle. I didn’t recognize most of my cousins and the rest of the crowd kept to their own circles, apart from the expected chatter. It was nice seeing my great-aunt again, and I got a little shook when she told me how excited my father had been about the adoption. I knew he was happy for us, but it was never in a demonstrative way. It was nice to hear, yet made me even sadder that he wouldn’t be around to see it finally happen.

I also got a bit of mileage out of my dad’s line, when asked about his plans for the future, “I’ve got a little plot of land down on the Cape for me and my wife.” The old man loved his rough chuckles.

It was a simple service. There was a short procession, followed by an ecumenical sermon and military honors. Lil Bro suggested I get the flag because I was was the elder son. When the honor guard handed it over, he offered the thanks and condolences of the “President of the United States, its government and armed services.” There were a few soft gasps and doubletakes at the first part. I can’t say for sure, but I swear I heard a phlegmy “fuck that dumb fuck, no I’m serious, fuck that asshole” from the vicinity of the old man’s burial urn.

Afterward we drove back across the big bridge to Wareham, where the collation was being held. I socialized where I thought it was appropriate, but spent most of the time with some members of Maura’s family who attended the service. I don’t usually eat at these things, but Maura enjoyed the special vegetarian meal they prepared for her and I swiped a few slices of gingerbread to eat at home.

I complimented Lil Bro for the good job he did, and we left shortly after Maura’s people did. As we rode back north past an unending series of cranberry bogs, I kept flipping back and forth between relief and existential dread.

It was finally over, but it was also finally over.

I was driving through the tunnel and had my phone muted, so I missed Lil Bro’s text. I didn’t even realize he’d sent it until I started settling into my cubicle and my phone buzzed.

“Did you get my text? The visiting nurse found Dad dead this morning.”

I didn’t feel sad or guilty or shocked. It seemed like the old man might’ve had a few more years in him, but it was also clear his physical condition was a basket full of other shoes waiting to drop. The notion of a Gus-less universe was something I’d occasionally contemplated, but could never truly visualize.

No more pointless arguments. No more phlegmy chuckling at his own jokes. No more meandering stories about esoteric topics. No more Dad.

We’d ended our relationship on a stand-off. I’d called him out for being a shitty father. He’d called me out for being a shitty son. The last weeks before his death were spent seeing which of us would blink first.

I thought I had the upper hand. My birthday was coming up and my father made a point of calling me up on the exact anniversary of my entering the world — 11:58 AM on March 13. He’d marvel at where the time went and tell me again about how he’d requested his CO for leave when my mom went to labor and laughed when asked if he could return to duty that afternoon. (According to my mother, my dad showed up drunk and recoiled at my wrinkly newborn self. “He looks much better now,” he told her with visible relief the following day.)

The birthday call would’ve been the perfect time to mend fences — or, in true Weiss fashion, pretend the fight never happened so neither party would have to admit losing. He fell short of the target by roughly thirty hours.

The first reports said he was found on the floor, but the funeral director said he had passed quietly in his sleep. Cardiac failure did him in, beating out a disappointed lung cancer at the final post.

Maura and I left work and went back home to Woburn. The situation was still too weird to wrap my head around, especially on the heels of losing my grandmother the previous year and Maura’s mother right after the holidays. All huge presences in our lives, and now all gone.

Lacking anything better to do, I threw the 7-inch of “Romeo’s Tune” by Steve Forbert on the turntable. I’d bought it a couple months previous on a nostalgic whim. It had been one of my dad’s favorite songs when was kid. I suspected listening to it would make me bawl, and it did.

Maura hugged me until the song ended. I finished all the crying was was going to do over my father, wiped my eyes, and put the record back in its crate.

Lil Bro and his wife rode into Boston to make arrangements and retrieve the old man’s cat, which I’d be taking custody of again. He dropped the distressed critter off at my house later that afternoon. He and I then spent a good while in my living room, swapping childhood stories about our father while our more respectable halves listened in abject horror.

“Remember when I was a teen and Ma would ask me to defend her against his abuse? And I’d provoke him and try and prove myself but he’d beat the shit out of me? And Ma would cheer him on because she got off on Dad beating up guys on her behalf?”

Good times, and one of the reasons why nobody understands why I continued to maintain a relationship with the man.

My dad had a plot in the military burial ground in Bourne, where my mother had already been (re-)interred. He’d be cremated, as per his wishes, and buried there with military honors at a small service the following month. (It was the soonest available opening.)

In the meantime, Lil Bro and I used a bereavement day to clean out the old man’s apartment.

Most of his possessions went into the garbage. The sticky layer of tar and nicotine residue put a higher threshold on sentimentality. I grabbed his service medals, his bush hat, field jacket and dress uniform blazer, along with a substantial pile of old photos and other family memorabilia. Lil Bro was on the look out for any financial paperwork, as the old man’s promised “big plan” for handling his estate turned out to be “dying without a will.”

We also found this among his papers…

…and I still can’t decide if the placement was some dark posthumous humor on his part.

Although our living room has been reconfigured to accommodate my return to record collecting, space remains a pressing issue. It’s why only about a fifth of my older library got incorporated into the present one, and why I’ve turned to compilations and 7-inch singles for the sake of shelf-maximizing efficiency.

The crunch has driven the “most favored” and/or “essential” ethos behind my purchases of the last couple of years, lest I get buried beneath a flood of impulse purchase bargains. There are LPs bought only a few months back that are on the verge of getting de-listed from the collection and crated in favor of 45s featuring the money tracks.

There are three questions I ask myself before committing to a new acquisition:

1. Do I and/or Maura love listening to it?
2. Does it carry some personal or contextual significance?
3. Will it get played at least three or four times a year?

If it doesn’t meet two out of the three criteria, it gets passed over…

…unless it happens to be the soundtrack from the 1986 film Modern Girls.

I wrote a little about the film back in AT’s early days, and how its rom-com club scene antics felt like an early Eighties pitch that didn’t get shot until the very different back half of the decade.

It’s not a great film by any stretch, though it does feature Daphne Zuniga and Virginia Madsen dolled up in ludicrously stunning High Eighties fashions and the Robert Margouleff Remix of Depeche Mode’s “But Not Tonight” as its end credit music. (The original music video for the track used clips from the film.)

That and The Jesus and Mary Chain’s “Some Candy Talking” were reason enough to buy a copy of the otherwise so-so soundtrack album. My disappointment was less about the MOR club pop jams it included, than about the more interesting songs from the movie which didn’t make the cut — the Belle Stars’ rendition of “Iko Iko” (two years before Rain Man) and “Something Inside Me Has Died” by LA deathrock legends Kommunity FK.

The motivations behind the song selections were certain more mercenary than artistic, a promotional sampler to boost the profile of certain promising (by the labels’ standards) acts over a niche scene darling or an 1982 a-side from a soon-to-be-defunct new wave ensemble. That was the governing principle for licensed soundtrack releases, and why so many of them ended up in department store cut-out bins.

I knew this going in, and could’ve picked up the DM and JAMC material — minus the Floy Joy and Female Body Inspectors — elsewhere. Yey I opted for the full soundtrack LP, knowing that my turntable’s needle wouldn’t touch 80% of it. I can not envision any scenario where I’ll think “hey, I really feel like listening to the Modern Girls soundtrack.”

I purchased because it was dead cheap and such a perfect artifact of its era. And because I have a certain affection for that spawned it, thanks to a long stretch of the mid-Aughts where it was in constant rotation on lower-tier cable movie channels. If I can’t spare a couple of millimeters of shelf space for the mediocre soundtrack of a muddled 1986 movie that gives me weird junior high flashbacks even though I didn’t know it even existed until my late twenties, then why am I even bothering with this hobby?

Front and center

May 9th, 2019

Pal Keith was ruminating the other day about his recent trip to Berlin, and how much its high-density, pedestrian-friendly model contrasts with the auto-happy sprawl on this side of the pond. Some of that can be chalked up to the encirclement the west sector of that city experienced during the Cold War, along with Europe’s very different attitudes about cosmopolitan urbanity.

At the same time, though, it got me to thinking about the Woburn of my childhood. Because of my parents’ odd work schedules, I spent a good portion of my pre-school years in the company of my maternal grandmother who lived in a duplex on the outer fringe of Woburn Center. She did not get her driver’s license until 1980. She didn’t need to. All the goods and services she required were within walking distance.

I used to tag along with her on these trips, which started off with a southbound trek along Main Street to the Woburn National Bank, then worked their way back to Hammond Square with a number of stops along the way.

Brigham’s Ice Cream was next door to the bank, and sometimes we’d get a booth and savor an ice cream cone with jimmies (followed by my Nana cleaning the chocolate residue from my face with a hankie and a dollop of her spit). Then came Woolworth’s for assorted small sundries, followed by Adrian’s for sewing supplies and Gorins for clothing.

I’d been trying to find a photo of Gorins’ unique storefront for years but kept coming up empty until this morning, when I stumbled across this full-color image.

The blue bits were actually opalescent glass that changed from vivid blue to a dark purple, depending on how the light hit the facade. I also got a fragment of it embedded in my eye during my early teens. A demolition crew was going at it with hammers in preparation for the store’s rebirth as a CVS. They did put a safety tarp up to keep the bits from wandering, but it couldn’t handle the sudden gust of wind which sent a small shard my way just I was was looking up at the half-trashed signage.

My mom flushed it out with some homebrew eyewash (as was her custom) with no lingering damage apart from thinking “that fucking place almost blinded me” whenever I pass by that CVS location.

Gorins is also the first thing I think of whenever a “why don’t kids read comics like they used to” discussion drifts my way. The place had fuck all of interest for a restless child, just racks upon racks of discount fashionwear. A few quarters dropped on some Donald Duck funnybooks at Woolworths or the latest issue of Brave and the Bold at the newsstand around the corner could buy a harried adult enough of window to pick out a new sweater or pair of slacks. Comics were a disposable distraction, a role that has been assumed — with far more glitz and versatility — by smartphones and other handheld consumer electronics. If the tech had existed back then, I’d have preferred goofing around on a mobile game over reading some random issue of Superman while sitting next to a rack of polyester hip-huggers, as well.

The taller brick building in the photo with the “DRUGS” sign used to host the Silver Cue billiard hall on its the second floor, which was where Teen Andrew first played Marble Madness, Jackal, and Vigilante. Across the street was a four-story mixed-use building which housed a martial arts studio during the Seventies and kept the pagoda-inspired external trim for a decade after the business vacated the space. The ground floor housed a hair salon with a large airbrushed photo of George Peppard in the window, next to a placard boasting how one of their stylists worked on his hair during the Banacek days.

On the opposite side of “the Busy Bend” was Royal Furniture, Silverman’s Menswear, and the apparently immutable place where I had my first and (as of this writing) latest haircuts.

I’d completely forgotten about Royal, and uttered a soft “holy fuck” when I came across the above image in the Woburn Public Library’s digital archives. None of my family shopped there, but it was such a physical-temporal landmark of my early years. Between the weird wedge shape of the building and the pink-red neon signage. I’m shocked it could slip from memory. (It was eventually rounded off, and hosted a couple of breakfast eateries and a dry cleaning place before entering its present vacant state.

Silverman’s was where you had to go to buy the Tanner-branded gym shorts and reversible black-and-orange t-shirt required for junior high PE class. It also sold other articles of Wu-themed athletic gear and official school jackets, with personalized embroidery an optional extra. (I had a Woburn jacket with “Andy” on the breast because my younger self tried so fucking hard before getting hep to the jive.)

Further on down was the seafood place (which was actually two or three sequential businesses occupying the same storefront) where my Nana would buy her beloved fillets and I’d gawk at the live lobster tank and octopus parts.

After that was Lucia’s, an independent supermarket built around a butcher shop where my Nana got fixings for the evening meal and either a box of Table Talk chocolate eclairs or a Boston Cream pie. Then we’d trundle two blocks back to my grandma’s home, where I’d flop down on her living room carpet with whatever little treasures she’d had allowed me to purchase during the expedition.

This was her regular routine — supplemented by my grandfather driving her to Sears or Finast if required — for years. It only changed after she got her license, which also happened to be around the time Woburn Center’s major retail anchors started to disappear. Woolworth’s was gone before I finished primary school, replaced by the Christy’s Market where I bought Web of Spider-Man #1 from a spinner rack, and later a tax preparation place. Gorins and Lucia’s lasted until shortly after my family moved into the other side of my grandmother’s place, becoming a CVS and series of convenience stores that enabled my junk food and tobacco habits through the new Millennium.

I don’t know when Silverman’s vanished, but the place now houses a music store I walk past on my trips to the ever-unchanging barbershop. The Woburn National Bank and Brigham’s lasted into my college years, and there were a few times where I’d cash my scholarship excess check at the former and then have a celebratory feast with Maura at the latter. The bank eventually sold out to Citizens, and I shifted my money elsewhere after dealing with a complete prick of a bank teller who got pissy because my signature was “illegible.” Brigham’s suffered a franchise-wide retrenchment and the place was re-opened as a Chinese take-out place.

My grandmother herself has been gone a year, the house where I spent a significant part of my life cleaned out and sold off to the highest bidder. Woburn Center keeps trying to transform itself, mostly through fitful efforts to remold itself into a “model New England” retail district — wooden signs and cast iron fixtures and other nonsense evoking bygone times the district never actually experienced. The place was always rough and tumble and more than a little seamy, as befitting an agricultural-industrial hub. Woburn was already entering a post-industrial phase when the post-WW2 suburban boom took off, and it lacked the open space and uncluttered topography of its more rural (and now more upscale) neighbors. (Most of the North Woburn “wilderness” I grew up in consisted of old industrial sites which nature had reclaimed.)

That hasn’t stopped the powers-that-be from trying, even if it means trading ambivalent civic character for vapid blandness.

Maura and I picked up the old man at the rehab, located in the ass end of North Andover. It was first time I’d seen him in a month and he looked…not great, but considerably better than the previous time I saw him. He was still depressingly thin and shrunken, but had put on a little bit of weight and — more importantly — had a trace of that old flamboyant spark about him. The nurses and aides all loved him, as everyone who didn’t have to deal with him on a sustained basis tended to do.

I gathered up his stuff and pretended to listen to instructions about his new medication regimen while the staff made some final adjustments to the walker he was supposed to be using from here on out. Maura pulled the Malibu up to the pedestrian ramp around the side, and we waited as my father navigated its serpentine length and burned through two cigarettes.

“I can’t smoke in your car, can I?”


“[a grunt implying annoyance and grudging acceptance]”

The first stop was Woburn, to pick up his cat from our place. During the drive he chatted about his future plans, gossiped about our family, and offered condolences to Maura for her mother’s passing. He seemed fairly upbeat, and even complimented Maura on her driving skills — the first and only time he ever dished out such praise to a woman. (Maura, with her characteristic rejection of false modesty, simply responded “I know.”)

He didn’t bother going inside when I went to retrieve Peej, but instead sat on the front wall and smoked some more. Peej was less than thrilled against stuffed back into a pet carrier, and gripped the metal part of the spare room bedframe with a strength rivaling a silverback gorilla’s. (“Monkey mitts,” as we call them, run through his extended feral clan. His grandpa-uncle Scraggly kept his vise-like grip right up until the FIV finally took his life.)

The old man sat in the back of our car with Peej, lobbing endearments his way between picking up various threads of our previous conversation.

We got him to his apartment in Southie, and I helped him down the precarious set of steps leading to his basement apartment. He’d always swatted away such offers of physical assistance, and I couldn’t work out if this new development was a positive or negative one. We set up Peej’s bowls and litter box, made the old man’s bed, and put away the food we’d picked up for him. We also hiked to the convenience store on the opposite slope of the Heights because whoever cleaned my dad’s apartment while he was away had tossed his stash of smokes.

Even though we told him we wanted to beat Friday afternoon traffic, my dad kept throwing in new tangents to keep the conversation going. Some of it bordered on self-reflective, though always with performative overtones. (What, you didn’t think I was born with this talent, did you? It’s a learned behavior.) I’d known him long enough to be able to separate spontaneous bits from obviously rehearsed ones, and the latter were very much on display. “When I was 20, I was at war. When I was 40, I was a widow. When I was 60, I retired. Who knows what 70 is gonna hold?” Again, it’s the type of shit which sounds really profound if you weren’t exposed to it on a daily basis since infancy.

For all the old man’s talk about turning over a new leaf, it didn’t take long before his natural deviousness reasserted itself. To make his lofty talk a reality, there were things which needed to be done. First and foremost among these was the need to see a doctor, which was an absolute prerequisite for securing other services he needed. There was also the question of getting him into some semi-assisted living place better suited to his diminished mobility and safety. My dad was great when it came to talking this shit up, but piss poor when it came to actually following through on it.

The doctor’s visit was absolutely crucial for securing him home healthcare support. Lil Bro repeatedly and forcefully explained that to the old man in no uncertain terms, and thus got an earful of irate whining when our father’s inaction threatened to blow up in his face.

He then moved onto to controlling behaviors aimed at offloading the blame, complaining that scheduling a courtesy shuttle ride to the health center was too complicated and threatening yto cancel if Lil Bro didn’t drop everything and drive him there. And when Lil Bro did contact the place to arrange a ride, the old man took credit for setting it up.

The ER and rehab might’ve dealt with some of the old man’s physical issues but they didn’t do anything about the underlying psychological one — that enforced idleness and isolation inhibited my father’s pathological need to stir up shit. I’d be hard-pressed to thing of a worse place to live than in his head, but that’s where he spent most of his post-retirement life, a stew of resentments and “brilliant advice” and plans for killer mindfucks all percolating and gaining intensity.

Non-critical tasks became matters of utmost immediacy and transparent excuses for exerting control. Lil Bro bore the brunt of it, and it was often downright nasty. He got wrongfully accused of fucking things up and not caring because the old man didn’t have an estate as large as our grandmother’s. Neurotic impatience I can kind of empathize with, but my dad made a point of dipping those barbs in pure psychological venom.

I told him as much the last time I saw him. It was on a Sunday grocery run (but no smokes, because he actually did manage to quit) and we found him back in bed like the previous three months never happened. I didn’t raise my voice or rise to his bait. I simply told him that he’d been extremely shitty to Lil Bro, after everything the kid had done for him, and he ought to apologize to him.

There was a space of a half minute or so where it seemed like the old man got the message, before launching into an extended whine about how we promised we take care of things and hadn’t lived up to that and he understands but I had to understand and a bloo bloo bloo he was totally justified in being a massive prick. I let it all slide past me, and left with “I’ve said my piece.”

We didn’t speak again until he needed another grocery run, which he used as an excuse to try and play his boys off each other. I’m still unclear what the actual scheme was, apart from telling the two of us completely different stories without (again) grasping that Lil Bro and I regularly communicate with each other and share notes. Lil Bro, who was thoroughly tired of the old man’s bullshit by that point, wanted to cancel outright but the decision was made for us by a snowstorm which rolled in on the day we’d planned to go see our father.

I had no intention of driving (or asking anyone else to drive) into South Boston during whiteout conditions, but the old man was still smarting from our previous clash and piled on another batch of pass-agg pissiness. (Lil Bro went the following day because he’d already had something scheduled in the city.) My dad stopped calling me entirely, save for when he tried to give my number to someone as an emergency contact and accidentally dialed me.

He tersely explained as much, I responded with a flat “okay,” he ended the call without saying anything else.

I felt guilty about it (and more than a little sorry for the sad old jerk), but he was the one who taught me to stand my ground when principles are at stake.

Most of the singles in my collection are either non-album tracks or one-off favorites where it was easier (and cheaper) to opt for the seven-inch over a full LP. There’s no point in springing for, say, The Best of The American Breed when I know deep down that my turntable’s stylus will only traverse the part containing “Bend Me, Shape Me.” There are also cases (Goldfrapp’s Black Cherry or Ladytron’s Witching Hour) where a coveted album release is impossible to find or extortionately priced, so I’ll settle for a seven-inch promo slice of the whole for the time being.

For reasons of space and efficiency, I generally avoid buying singles of material I already have on LP. It’s not a hard and fast rule, though, and it has been broken for the sake of a superior-to-the-album edits, strong b-sides, or tracks I really, really love and like having handy for the “sets” I spin for Maura and the critters after work.

A perfect example of that last category is “A Message to You, Rudy” by The Specials, a 1979 cover of a Dandy Livingstone jam which became an anthem of the 2-Tone scene. It kicks off The Specials’ eponymous debut LP, which gets frequent spins on my machine but sometimes I need those three minutes of rocksteady bliss in isolation.

I needed it badly enough that I was willing to pay a premium for it. 2-Tone (both the label and broader scene) material still generates strong demand in the used vinyl market. While the prices are not nearly as exorbitant as they are for certain punk obscurities, finding decent condition and affordable copies of the records requires casting a fairly wide net and sifting through a staggering number of international releases until finding an acceptably sweet spot.

Ultimately, I settled for the German version of the 7-inch. It plays perfectly well and is indistinguishable from the UK original in every way…

…except for the truly bizarre font choice on the sleeve.

Maybe the person responsible didn’t really grasp the granularity of the “new wave” scene and assumed it was all synthesized futurism. Or maybe it was 1979 and COM-PEW-TOR shit was still in faddish vogue.

I don’t have an answer. All I know is that looking at it induces intense feelings of cognitive dissonance…while making me wonder if there’s a German release of the “Empire State Human” single where “Human League” is done up with black and white checks with a cartoon version of Phil Oakey rocking a porkpie.

Some luck

May 3rd, 2019

Today marks the thirteenth year since I got it into my head to start Armagideon Time, and what a year it has been. I’ve continued to stagger along, the same way this site continues to stagger along. That’s no complaint. It’s a pretty remarkable accomplishment considering the circumstances.

A big thanks to all of you who still find the time to swing by. I’m past the point of measuring my self-esteem in terms of readership, but it’s still nice to know someone appreciates whatever the hell it is I do here.

Peace and Love

- andrew

P.S. Don’t forget to check the first comment on this post.

Pulp nonfiction

May 2nd, 2019

I have read a lot of dystopian fiction in my forty-seven years. Some of it has been good, a lot of it has been terrible, but none of it has been as utterly disturbing as the copy from this International Paper Company ad…

But it was all right, everything was all right, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Paper.

The old man’s move into rehab was delayed by a lack of available beds and a flu epidemic which ruled out a facility in nearby Wilmington in favor on one up in North Andover.

We kept in touch through texts and phone calls, but I didn’t bother visiting him in person. When this shit started to go down, I vowed to myself that I would not take ownership of my father. I didn’t even want to provide his caseworkers the opening to suggest it. He was my father and I did love him in a particularly qualified way, but the basis for that kind of caretaker relationship died when my mother did.

This tweet from December 19 summed up my attitude perfectly:

My dad in December 1988: “I’ll let the social workers handle it.”

Me in December 2018: “I’ll let the social workers handle it.”

The circle of life is now complete.

It wasn’t my intent to dump those responsibilities on Lil Bro. I encouraged him to adopt my approach and I think he wanted to, but the tendrils of kinship managed to ensnare him. He’s a lot like the old man in that way, driven by a sense of honor-fueled obligation. But to Lil Bro it means more than the selective lip service our father paid to it.

Even if I’d wanted to help, I couldn’t have. Maura’s mom took a turn for the worse around the holidays, and my time was spent making sure she was free to deal with her own family obligations. It wasn’t an either/or competition between our two ailing parents. We were simply following pre-established trajectories based on our familial culture — the daughter of a close knit immigrant clan with a beloved matriarch and the son of an inveterate shit-stirrer whose interactions turn ugly after a short span of time.

I told the old man this point blank — that when push came to shove, my allegiance was to my spouse. There was no way I was going to allow things to lead to another fight with Maura, especially not when she was dealing with the loss of her parent.

My father said he understood. He said it in a way to make it seem like it was his own gesture of self-sacrifice. But I could tell he was fuming with envy over it.

Jealous resentment had become a thing with him in recent years, kicking into overdrive around the time my maternal grandmother’s health started to fail. She had hated the old man from the moment my mom first brought him home, and was extremely resistant to his powers of manipulation. The fact that my dad had been a violent drunk who dragged her daughter down with him, then had her ashes exhumed from the family plot and moved to Bourne, didn’t help matters, but the bottom line is she never liked my father.

When Lil Bro and I got power of attorney over my grandmother’s estate, the old man began to let fly with unsolicited advice seasoned with lashings of resentment.

“How come I’m not in the will?” (Really, Dad? Really?) “You should really do this…” followed by some nonsense that we’d already told him was a non-starter. “What if..” introducing some absurd hypotheticals on par with the moon falling to earth in a shower of gold coins. It would’ve been annoying in the best of times, but was the last thing Lil Bro and I needed to deal with when we were worrying about our grandmother’s health and financial solvency.

It got so maddening that the two of us independently told him to shut the fuck up and mind his own business, forcing him to retreat into his fallback stance of self-pitying martyr. “I just want the best for you boys but you don’t need my help a bloo a bloo bloo.”

Now it was the old man’s time in the tragic spotlight, but the audience was distracted by other events. When we did pay him attention, he was more interested in talking shit and playing games than getting serious about his long term plans. There were services to set up and things to attend to, but getting him to commit to starting the process was an exercise in frustration. “You won’t need to” became “I guess that’s your problem” in the space of a single conversation. He’d accuse me of not taking proper care of his cat to Lil Bro, then turn around and tell me how Lil Bro was saying crap about me — without ever considering that the two of us were in close communication and had told him so on multiple occasions.

The one thing I did agree to was to pick him up at the rehab. Because Lil Bro was going to be out of town and it was a handy excuse to take a Friday off work.

This site emerged from a primordial stew of influences, one of the most prominent being the wave of “archival” mp3 blogs which sprung up in the middle Aughts. Sites with names like Little Hits or Phoenix Hairpins or Last Days of Man on Earth would post digital rips of out-of-print vinyl obscurities alongside enough written backmatter to distinguish themselves from the pirate crowd.

Each update held the promise of a new-to-me (or known only through some tantalizing reference in an ancient ‘zine) forgotten gem, and a fair number of these finds gelled into a new pantheon of playlist-and-mix-CD-ready favorites. The songs — along with the sites that hosted them — thrilled and energized and ultimately inspired me to try my own hand at the whole music blogging thing. I charted a different course than theirs, but it wouldn’t have happened if not for the examples they set.

Although there are plenty of ripped selections from that scene that deserve to be added to my collection, only a handful have been thus far. Many of the records are darlings of the collectors’ market. Low production runs, high demand, and region-restricted distribution lead to premium asking prices, which become inflated even further by covetous souls smelling a “hot property.” Comps and reissues can provide possible end runs around that vicious cycle, but even those fall prey to absurd levels of mark-up within a few months of release.

I quit bothering to put these records on my Discogs wantlist. Even the few “cheaper” copies which do turn up for sale tend to be at least three times what I’d be willing to spend, and there’s no point on cluttering up my daily “just got listed” bulletin from the site with a bunch of non-starters (or even worse — unicorns that were sold an hour before I got a chance to check the listing). I still undertake periodic sweeps of the Discogs marketplace or eBay for them, however, typically after hearing a featured track crop up in a playlist and usually ending in disappointment.

Usually, but not always.

A couple of weeks back, something reminded me of “Strawberry Cheesecake,” released by Detroit’s Algebra Mothers in 1979. The art-damaged approximation of a Stranglers’ jam was one of my earlier mp3 blog finds and epitomized the thrill of discovering something so incredibly good yet so utterly ignored in its era. (Honestly, most American non-hardcore punk from 1977-1981 falls into that category.) I’d sniffed around for it a couple times before, but either came up empty or found the available copies priced ludicrously even by the ranges from previous sales.

This time, I noticed something different on the single’s master release page — listings for a pair of 2019 repressings. The ones for sale still ran a bit high (and came from Canada, where the shipping costs were as much as the record itself), so I googled the reissues’ label. It brought me right to their mail order store page, which had the single in-stock for a whopping six dollars.

I don’t know why anyone would release an obscure 1979 Midwest artpunk single or price it more cheaply than most other boutique labels would these days. I’m just grateful it gave my the opportunity to have my very own copy to spin.

And if they want to give the same treatment to The First Steps’ “The Beat Is Back” 7″ or The Standbys’ sole EP, I’d be much obliged.

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