Jer @ SBS Presents 15/30 – 003: Foolio
At one point in time, I was actually a pretty good student – but it wouldn’t take very long at all for that to change. From kindergarten to grade seven, I’d experienced all kinds of successes from student council positions to honors awards, to being considered for challenge programs and whatnot. For a moment or two there, I might have even had people convinced I’d end up on the straight & narrow, even though the odds were long to say the least, given that the stock I’d come from was…let’s say…a little resistant to authority, the natural order of things, economics & commerce…you get it. I wasn’t supposed to be a ‘good kid’ if genetics were to play a role; honestly the results of combining the DNA between my mother & father basically resulted in the nuclear powder-keg that was my raging emotions, throughout the vast majority of my life. Essentially, I could try to be good all I wanted to be, but my natural tendencies were much more curious & deviant, and eventually those parts of my personality would go on to win the battle throughout my junior high-school years. I went from being a ‘scrub’ by force to a ‘skid’ by choice; the former being a broke-ass kid with jeans way too tight and not a single label attached to any of my clothes, the latter being a broke-ass kid that no longer cares because Grunge became a thing. No joke, one of the happiest days of my mother’s life was the day I announced that I didn’t want to go to the department store (okay, it was K-mart) to get new clothes anymore. I told her I wanted to hit up a secondhand shop called Value Village, and walking out with an entire closet’s worth of clothing compared to the one pair of skinny-ass too-tight jeans I would have ended up with from K-mart was like she’d won the fucking lottery. We were never that well-off financially, so any way to stretch the budget counted big-time – I don’t blame her for reacting as enthusiastically as she did, the entire fashion industry is made up of torn dreams & tattered feelings mixed with teardrops and clothes cost way too much still to this day. I had to smile in writing this out, knowing that I actually have a T-shirt in my closet right at this very moment that was bought for me by my girlfriend in grade ten at the Gap – how’s THAT for value? My mother would be so damn proud – that’s like, more than a quarter century this one shirt has still managed to stick around. Think about it – they’ve practically paid ME to wear it at this point! If we’re talking about cost-effective clothing, the shirt cannot be beat…literally like pennies on the dollar after all this time now – and still in good shape too! I’m thinkin’ I can get another twenty years out of it.
Anyhow. I suppose the evolution, or de-evolution of myself, depending on how you’d look at it, as any kind of merit-worthy student, occurred slowly enough between grades eight & nine. Nothing too rapid really, and most of it all revolving around social groups and girls I was dating within each year. I ended up being a chameleon by trade, morphing my way into this circle and that circle, never staying long enough in any of them to be fully revealed as the outsider I really was. Towards the end of grade eight when I got into my first major relationship, that’s when my grades immediately started to plunge – I’d love to say it’s coincidental, but there’s no way that it was. I was too busy wrapped up in the idea of whatever boobs were to concentrate on whatever the heck a coat of arms was, or what I was supposed to be learning in a sewing class. Let’s be real – school is WEIRD…and there ain’t a whole lot taught there subject-wise that’ll teach you a damn thing! It’s in the subtext & what happens in the background…the life lessons we learn while we’re there – that’s what the whole place really educates you on…if you’re paying attention. Not that they give out grades for that shit – but that’s where you’d find me getting an A. I was always looking for that way to work the system to my advantage just enough to get by without having to put in any real effort, and that allowed my brain to absorb the social elements of how people work, how they think, how they react & make decisions…all much of what guides my thinking process today even now to this day, and helps me solve problems quicker than most as a result of my training.
Ah heck – I suppose it’s just called being observant; I’ll try to keep my narcissism toned down a bit here.
As full-Grunge-Jer began to emerge, I was trying to find my way into the artistic realm somehow, and my first girlfriend Kalinda became that doorway into a whole other world. Most of it was straight-up crazy and foreign to me – like, she acted with intent, you know? She had her eye on being a part of the whole entertainment industry one day, and naturally she joined all the different high-school drama plays to take on every opportunity to perform. Truthfully, she was incredibly good for such a young age, committed to the art beyond words already, to the point where sometimes it was tough to even get ahold of the REAL Kalinda while standing face-to-face…a methodist in the making, but of the acting variety. Not only did she teach me about what artistic courage truly meant, by proxy, she taught me that it was something I just didn’t have. At least, not publically – hell no! I was still in the ‘what if people are gonna laugh at me stage’ having just come out of all the stages where people laughed at me on a regular and very justified basis…I really wasn’t into the idea of just coughing up my newfound cool. I still had to find a way to bond with Kalinda if there was any chance to do that within school hours, or even for extra projects outside of’em if the opportunity ever presented itself – and one day, while watching her rehearse for a play called Steamboat, that moment finally came my way. The spotlight dude had apparently gone home sick or called in lazy or whatever, I don’t know – all I know is that I was the only person really left in the room that didn’t have a job to do already, so they asked if I could fill in. No problem at all, sure. I jumped behind that giant metal laser and manhandled this thing from the left to the right as I figured it all out in real-time, and eventually I replaced the guy that was originally doing the job. Mission accomplished – I was in. Now I could see Kalinda outside of school hours for even longer in a day – that’s high-school victory at its finest. As I pushed this tin-can tube around, shining its beam across the stage, a teacher named Mrs. Lester ducked under the light and accidentally hit the table I was standing on. I didn’t know her – she taught grade nine kids and I was still stuck in grade eight – but she sure seemed nice enough. She looked at me, apologized, smiled, and headed out the doors.
I didn’t have Mrs. Lester as a teacher in grade nine, though truly I wish that I would have – she was a genuinely sweet soul. High-school, or junior-high as it were, can be a strange place in that regard – there are people in the exact same building as you, that you might never meet or interact with at all; it doesn’t HAVE to be that way, it just kinda IS. Really the reality is, unless you’re assigned to a specific class, you might just see this adult walking around all day long that you know is a teacher somewhere in the building, but never even have actual proof. I wasn’t assigned to any of Mrs. Lester’s classes, so that meant our short interaction, however sweet, however nice, was all there ever should have been to it.
This was not the case, of course. The year later, in grade nine at the height of all my clownery in school, I was failing my math class terribly, attending extra catch-up blocks before and after the day started & ended for everyone else, and had to also give up my woodworking class just to TRY and pass what they couldn’t teach me. I was an epic miserable mess every time I stepped foot in the door of that building for nearly that entire year, and any chance I had to leave it behind for the day, or for a field trip, was pure fucking gold. Just so happened that such a field trip eventually came up…I think if I recall correctly we were going to visit Oakalla prison for some kind of tour – I was DYING to go. When the day finally came, and everyone got loaded onto the bus, my class ended up merging with Mrs. Lester’s for the adventure – of all people! What luck right? Y’all must think I’m crazy – who even IS this lady, right?
Listen. Mrs. Lester was actually a right fucking hardass if you got on the wrong side of her – but if she knew she could trust you, she’d give you all the grace & space you wanted to be the person you are. In short, she was a freakin’ perfect teacher…more of a guide in that sense, there to make sure we didn’t color too far outside of the lines, and ready to teach the minds in her classrooms that were hungry for more. If you weren’t…if you were dead weight & happy to sit at the back of the class, she just didn’t have the time for ya…she was…discerning I suppose is the word – she understood we all weren’t worth her attention & effort, and found the right ways to work with the ones she felt were. I was just some unproven schlub who was holding onto some stupid wobbly spotlight when she first met me, and I was sure I was forgotten just as quickly. As she came around the bus to take attendance and get our permission slips that had been signed by our parents in order for us to go, she stopped in front of me and said – “Hey! You’re that guy from the spotlight at that play or whatever from last year aren’t you?” To which I said yes, I was…and I probably turned a little red – she was undeniably cute, for a teacher. “Right on, right on,” she said, and then asked for my permission slip. As I reached into my pocket to grab the tiny piece of paper I needed to leave these godforsaken school grounds, my mind flashed to the breakfast table where I realized I had left it sitting. I was about to reach into a pocket with absolutely nothing inside, and that was going to be a problem instantaneously. Sure enough, there was nothing there. I made some kind of a show of it, looking inside my backpack, anything to help satisfy Mrs. Lester and potentially convince her I’d just lost it innocently on the way to school that morning and for her to LET ME LEAVE THIS UNHOLY PLACE NOW…but that’s all it was going to be, for show and nothing more. There was no piece of paper with my mother’s signature on it…and so I was going to be left behind. Sad and dejected, defeated and miserable, I accepted my fate and I got off the bus at Mrs. Lester’s request.
You know how rough your school-life has to be for a person to be like, please let me go to PRISON instead of going back to that hell-hole we call an educational institution? I was kicking rocks on my way to the library, where I’d sit for the entire fucking day, with no one else I knew around, pretending to study up on something I probably didn’t care about, all because I was too dumb to remember to take that one tiny piece of paper to school on the day that I needed to. Sadly, this was far from the first time this occurred…in fact there are too many instances of this, and situations LIKE this, that there should be no possible way that I’ll ever be completely proud of my brain. I had just enough time to sit down and sling my backpack into the tiny desk space so that I could start CRACKING THE BOOKS like the good boy I was (yeah right), when a hand reached out and tapped me on the shoulder. I looked up, and there she was again – Mrs. Lester! Who in the hell IS this lady? And what on earth does she want from me?
Much to my surprise, she didn’t want anything at all – at least not yet. At the moment, she was actually there to offer me something I needed so very badly during just about every point during the ninth grade – a little encouragement, reassurance, and hope. “There really is something different and special about you isn’t there?” she said, half stating, half asking. “I don’t quite know what it is…or even if YOU do yet, but there’s something there inside you Jeremy Gladstone…you’ve got a good heart.” I was taken aback every bit as much as I was curious as to where in the hell this was leading. “So I’m going to do something I’ve never done before in my LIFE – and you’re not going to say a word about it to anyone,” she said, swearing me to secrecy. Wasn’t she supposed to be on a bus to a prison far nicer than this one right now? “I’m going to be your guardian for the day. Here’s your permission slip. Fill the rest of it out, and I’ll sign at the bottom.” She slid the paper in my direction before yanking it back even quicker – “but DON’T think that I’m doing this favor without expecting something in return Mr. Gladstone.”
“Okay…wait…what? What am I going to have to do?” I asked. If I’m going to make a deal I want all the cards on the table where I can see’em…what if I was trading my way into a worse fate somehow? Maybe I’d be picking up trash at lunch-hour, or scrubbing the student toilets – who knew? I looked at her in the eye quizzically, awaiting the answer, but pretty much equally afraid of what it might be.
“I don’t know yet,” she stated bluntly, “but those are the terms. Take’em or leave’em kid.” Hardass.
Honestly I would have made a deal with the devil himself to get out of a school day at that point, so this was a no-brainer. The devil, Mrs. Lester, most certainly was not – but I’ll admit, I had no idea what this lady was going to ask of me in return for her TAKING RESPONSIBILITY OF MY BEING during that field trip.
We made our backroom deal, and I returned to the bus. I’m sure the field trip was great – I don’t remember anything at all about that. The only thing I really remember from that day was the fact that this relatively unknown stranger was somehow willing to put her faith in me to do the right thing, and the kindness that would take. An amazing gift for which I’m eternally grateful, even now as an adult.
Grade nine was so loaded with bullshit that I could barely see straight or maintain any kind of normal grip on my emotions – I was out of control, and almost all of the time. Not overtly, but on the inside – I was like a nuclear atom just waiting for someone to come along and jiggle the beaker with just the right amount of force to give me a reason to explode, yet knowing I’d probably implode as a result of how introverted I was. I was breaking ground in that department to a degree – it was the year where Grunge really took over my life…from ripped clothing that barely held in my junk, to spectacularly beautiful dresses – I wore a plethora of offensive stuff that basically pissed off on social group or another for whatever petty reasons we all come up with as kids. Fuck it. I was starting to do my own thing, even if that was basically a copy of what I was watching my heroes in music do…you get the idea – I was becoming less afraid of what anyone else had to say, or at the very least, less afraid to show I wasn’t. Again, on the inside, at this point in time, I’ve probably got a running list in my head of everything anyone & everyone has ever said to me that’s rattled my cage by even the slightest bit. I was pissed off because of the epic failure in math dominating my free time and way too much of my brainpower every single day of high-school, that the entire year began to blur into a haze very quickly. Factor in finally smoking weed after resisting throughout the offers of my childhood, and eventually turning onto acid – I morphed my way into a character built to protect the real me; a suit of armor that permanently protected me from any harm, because what I chose to reveal, wasn’t ever going to be the full story. I suppose it is now…maybe that’s why I’m here, and I’ve ratted on what Mrs. Lester did way back when; we become less afraid over time & experience just livin’ LIFE…and rightly so…we should be rewarded.
As one day blended into the next, I had entirely forgotten about my deal with Mrs. Lester altogether, until one day sitting in my homeroom with the rest of the kids waiting for the final announcements to be broadcast from the loudspeaker to signal the end of another terrible, no good, horrible, very bad day – the speaker crackled, and the voice said, “Jeremy Gladstone, Mrs. Lester would like to see you in her class after school.” It was like the weight of gravity came crashing down on my shoulders and I felt myself sink into the floor…I had forgotten all about this arrangement we made – we NEVER cross paths at school – so what in the all-hell was she going to want from me? I made my way down the hall towards her classroom as the rest of my friends spilled out into the hallways in pursuit of their freedom.
I creaked open the door and peered inside, and there she was, feet up on the desk, just a cigar short of being a straight-up mob boss kickin’ back after a long day of makin’ sure ‘Jimmy took care of that guy.’ “Mrs. Lester? You wanted to see me?” She smiled a devilish smile; perhaps I had misjudged this deal.
“I did. Have a seat,” she said, pointing to the chair in front of her desk and straightening up to sit & face me. “You remember we had a deal, yes?”
“I do,” I said, swallowing hard.
“I need you to stage manage the upcoming talent show,” she stated as a certainty.
“Yeah, I’m not…”
“Nope, you definitely ARE – YOU made a deal, remember? And it’s time to pay the piper.”
“But Mrs. Lester – I don’t know a THING about whatever stage-managing even IS, or managing people in any capacity at all – how am I supposed to do this?” I pleaded.
“You did that thing with the light didn’t you? It’s basically that, but a bunch more stuff too – fun right?” I have to admit, this did not sound like fun, not one bit, not at all – this sounded like bizarre punishment. “Listen – you’ll be in charge of the whole show, you’ll line up the acts, make sure people are ready to go on, push’em off stage, welcome in the next one & that’s pretty much all there is to it. You’ve got this.”
Did I? Did I have this? I sure as shit didn’t think I had this, did I? What choice did I have though? I made a deal, and I intended to stick to my word no matter how rough of a situation I had put myself in.
“Okay. I’m in,” I said. She laughed out loud – I’m sure lightning struck a deer somewhere out yonder simultaneously at the same time, and we got on with the rest of our day. Throughout the next several weeks on Wednesdays, we’d gather in the gym to go over rehearsals and do the whole audition thing – to be fair, I was enjoying the entire experience about a million times more than I ever thought I would. I was in a situation that I couldn’t control…and that’s where my energy tends to come ALIVE and I thrive the most…each and every day I was interacting and being forced to socialize with people I’d passed in the halls for the past year & never said a word to…it was oddly thrilling, and sometimes unpredictable. Like the time where good old Kenneth the ‘utility’ guy on our stage-production crew put up the world’s tallest ladder to stretch a banner clear across the very top of the stage, tucked right underneath the roof of the ceiling. I remember looking at this dude climbing way the hell up there without a care in the world like he could do it in his sleep and start fixing the banner for the talent show into place. I remember the slight wobble of the ladder’s legs. I remember the sound of it caving in on itself. I remember the scream of Kenneth as he dropped from ceiling height onto a wreckage of twisted metal ladder underneath him. And I remember him getting right the fuck up like it was just time to get back to work. You do not see this kinda shit every day as a natural introvert; I was out of my element & loving it.
Plus I suppose that’s when I became addicted to the drug I’m still most addicted to now – desire. These were my first real up-close moments watching people get five minutes of junior high-school level fame, and they were GOING FOR IT. It’s very similar to fight or flight, only it’s like flight or fight for your right to party in the artistic realm…every person that’s ever been in an audition or talent show-like situation all has the exact same thing in common, deep down – desire. The want to be more. The want to DO more. The want for everything we are and that we could be to merge for just one perfect moment. Desire is as addictive as any substance you’ll possibly find on this floating rock we all call home I tells ya.
Anyhow, I’m sure the show went well – I don’t remember any of that either. Weird story to tell right? Details in all the wrong places. At least now you know it wasn’t just math I was bad at – I was bad at everything. Relationships – bad. Friendships – bad. Grades – bad. Home-life – bad, bad, bad. But I did manage to keep my word to Mrs. Lester, nut up, and get the job I agreed to done – surely that counts for something? At the very least, it had satisfied my end of the bargain – and I was finally free of Mrs. Lester once & for all, knowing she had nothing left to hang over me and no further way to claim my soul.
By the time grade ten came around, I was barely functional – I was worn right out. I was on my third ‘long term’ girlfriend in as many years, which caused every social circle around me to be pissed off at me for one reason or another, and the walls of Mary Hill Junior High felt closer in on me every single day. I DID pass math in the previous year, thank-you very much, with a whopping rounded-up 49.9% for the first of what would eventually be two times in my proud academic legacy – but I was still taking it in grade ten too, and although I was back to being a B-level student, I still hated the daylights out of it. My world at home collapsed in on itself…with my mom & stepdad choosing to move to the island with my brother, I was left to choose which parent I wanted to live with. At age…what…sixteen? No kid should really have to make those kind of decisions, especially not with the potential repercussions that could occur…which they did. I chose to live with my dad two full cities away from where my school was, and my mother barely spoke to me at all for the year that followed. To sum up what would make a very long story even longer, had I stayed where I was, I wouldn’t be here today – survival instincts kicked in, and I chose the path that ultimately was going to keep me breathing, as harsh as that may sound. I couldn’t see the future ahead of me, I was squandering whatever potential I had, floating along and existing – I was purposeless, distracted all the time, and trapped in an endless well of never-ending guilt as a result of having to choose between my two parents, which also consequently meant choosing to leave my brother behind as well, which is something I reckon will never sit right with me as long as I shall live. In short, I was a mess – other than punching massively above my weight by dating the sweetest girl to ever grace this Earth’s terrain, everything else in my life was spinning right out of control with no end in sight.
And then one day it happened. That familiar crackle and feedback frequency of the loudspeaker above my head in the homeroom class I was sitting in after running through the whole gamut of classes, waiting for its announcement of that sweet sweet freedom I’d been craving all damn day – “Jeremy Gladstone, Mrs. Lester would like to see you in her classroom after school.” Seriously. What the fuck? Had I somehow not repaid the devil her due? What more penance was required of mere mortal me?
Out of familiarity now, I had a bit more confidence in opening her door this second time around, but I still had my guard up, because hey – you never know. I was walking into the lion’s den. Mrs. Lester was a shrewd negotiator & at the end of whatever this meeting was about, she would get what she wanted.
“Hey there Mrs. Lester! Long time. What can I do for you?” I asked innocently, hoping for nothing.
“Same as last year. Wanna do it again?” She flashed her devilishly mischievous grin in my direction.
I summoned up a bit of courage, and natural resistance. It WAS fun – but it WAS work too – and I was less into the idea of doing anything to do with the W word than ever before at this phase in my life. I was taking two buses and a connector sky-train to get to school every day after the move to my dad’s house – I was EXHAUSTED just from living. I looked her straight in the eye and said, “with all due respect ma’am, last time around we found ourselves in slightly different circumstances than we do now.” Or something like that. Probably without the southern drawl, but you get the picture – I wasn’t just going to say yes automatically here – I had done my time, I had completed my task – I was supposed to be OUT. Yet here I was, looking across at the one lady that seemed to have this strange power over me; Mrs. Lester was like a genuinely radiant beam of inspiration inside of an institution that had none at all.
“I suppose that’s true,” she said flatly. “So are you in or not?” Goddamn hardass.
“I’m…innnnnn…” I said slowly, leaving space.
“You’re in, but you want something in return,” she stated correctly.
If only I knew what that was. “Exactly,” I said.
“Okay then, what’s your pitch – what do you want? You’re the right guy for the job now Jeremy, you know what you’re doing, so what will it take to convince you to be the stage manager one more time?”
I really had no idea. I think I was outright mesmerized by the fact that this teacher was willing to sit down and negotiate with me like I was an adult – but now I was here, and I had to go big, otherwise this whole gambit had been for nothing at all. What would I say? What can you even ask for as a student to a teacher? They ain’t gonna let you borrow their car for a week – and I didn’t even have my license yet even if they would have. I was just some little punk, sitting across the desk from an experienced and empowered woman who was a verifiable force of nature, more scared to have asked for something than looking forward to receiving whatever it might be…because I had NO IDEA what to ask her for. As my brainwaves fired-up, sputtered and sparked in trying to find the answer, finally one came to the surface and I just blurted it out, unfiltered, without thinking it over seriously, or what it might actually entail.
“I want the opening spot on talent show night,” I said, like a fucking BOSS.
“Done,” she said. “Anything else?”
“Then we’re good here. I’m glad we could work something out. You’re sure you’ll be able to do both?” Mrs. Lester wasn’t even looking at me or even really listening for an answer any more – I had said yes to the stage manager position, and that was all she needed – the rest was just blah blibbity blah blah blah.
“Yeah, for sure. I think as long as I start out the show, then I can just go right into stage manager mode and not have to have that weighing on me all night long instead, you know?”
“Makes enough sense to me. See you next Wednesday for the auditions at three o’clock sharp.”
“No problem, I’ll be there. Looking forward to it.” I turned to leave, ready to throw up my lunch.
With my hand on the doorknob, sensing the freedom on the other side, Mrs. Lester trapped me for one more moment & paralyzed me with her next question: “What exactly are you going to do?” she asked.
“Oh you’ll see,” I said. “Top secret for now.”
I had absolutely no idea what I was doing.
And I had never been on stage in front of a crowd before in my entire life.
Mary Hill Junior High was a strange place, and much more musically inclined than any other school I’d ever go to. We’re not talking about the band room jamming any harder than the booming trombones and trumpets you had or have floating through your own – same deal there – but the kids were all tuned in to the nth degree, and that was largely how most of our social circles were formed. There’s a good chance this is the lens I saw things through in my own perspective of course, but it seemed to be a theory that held water. You had your Punk kids, you had your homies that listened to Rap, you had the Grunge crowd like myself, and then of course a modest mix of people that didn’t listen to a damn thing, or the jocks, whereby sports was their only jam. Keep in mind, this is around the 1993 to 1995-ish era when all this story is occurring…Grunge is kicking all the ass right now, and seemed intentionally provocative in so many badass ways. Not only was I slowly bleaching my hair blond by adding peroxide to the water bottle I sprayed down my long hair with each morning before school, but I had the goatee already in full swing, dangling my chin-muff out there loud & proud for all to see, long before the rest of my school caught up. Not because they weren’t into Grunge – we’re talkin’ straight biology here – I’m a hairy dude – there was basically nothing that I could have ever done in this life throughout my early childhood that WOULDN’T have stood out, because I looked like I was the fucking missing link incarnate taking classes. So I embraced it. I wore dresses to school to freak people out, and I’d make a point of going out to the smoke pit in the parking lot and stand next to the football players, giving them the opportunity for an easy laugh if they were brave enough to take it. I became the guy seeking out a laugh for saying something idiotic at just the right time. I ended up feeling like I was completely untouchable – people were so used to me being strange, that all of a sudden I could cruise right into any social circle for the moment and just hang out. All of it was a joke to me; and most of the time it was only a joke for one.
I decided that the best idea I could come up with for the talent show, was to take that joke as far as it could possibly go, and put it right on stage for all to see. Because what WAS the best music at that time? If you judged by the fairly evenly spread-out cliques in our school, you’d never know what was THE best of the best – and I was ready to settle the debate once and for all by having the last laugh. For three weeks as we auditioned hopefuls every Wednesday after school, I formulated my battle plan – I was going to need to enlist help if I was going to pull this off…a crew that would be up to the challenge. After we’d selected our lineup and we started rehearsals, I’d be asked each and every time if we were going to go up there and get everything ready, and each time I declined. Not only was I terrified of going through with what I’d committed to, but I wasn’t nearly ready yet – and if I was going to get up there on stage, it was going to be a one-time only thing – no encores here. Whatever it was that I was going to come up with, we were all going to witness it happen for the first time, in real time, no matter what.
All of this ultimately served a massive purpose – breaking me out of my shell. There are so many things in life that I know I’m just not built for – that doesn’t mean I don’t want to experience them at least once, if only just to see what happens. I don’t wear dresses now – I never did on a serious level – but each time I showed up to school in one at random, I put myself in a situation where I was forced to deal with a whole lotta shit, and think faster than the rest to survive it all. I freakin’ LOVED it, and that feeling, that desire to have to battle wits-wise, is still something that drives me to this very day. Had I not put myself through these naturally uncomfortable situations by force, by choice, and on purpose, I’d be an isolated hermit in the mountains by now.
At the time, I felt like Rap was the most suitable adversary for Grunge – and I was sure that the best way I could make the biggest impact and deliver the most shock value syllable for syllable, would be to have the Grunge kid cover something from that genre onstage. I had to make a statement beyond that though for the joke to really hit home somehow…it couldn’t be what was really popular – it had to be more of a twist on it, like what they’d assume I’d THINK was popular, and use that in a tribute to what Rap was really all about, completely in jest. Gangsta Rap was just breaking through and crushing it out there in the scene, and rightly so – that shit’s still badass as hell and the dawn of a real defined era in music’s history. It couldn’t be that. It had to be someone else…that was like Will Smith, but not Will Smith, because I love Will Smith, and anyone that doesn’t love Will Smith even now, is broken inside.
As I’d sit on the many buses I’d take to school throughout the month since I’d made my arrangement with Mrs. Lester, I’d flip through my catalog to see what I could find that would be the most offensive. If Gangsta Rap was popular, then something G rated was absolutely the way to go. I chose Coolio’s “Gangsta’s Paradise” – which was one of those classic crossover, soft-hardcore hits that was safe as it gets, and borrows the bulk of its hooks from the original song “Pastime Paradise” by Stevie Wonder. Gangsta without really BEING Gangsta…something with room in it, for whomever I’d enlist to help me with this project take it all way too far onstage, and take it as seriously as a goth kid puts their makeup on. It was the perfect choice. I told very few…I targeted those I directly thought would be inclined to get up on stage and have no problem making an ass of themselves in front of hundreds of their own classmates…and even though I tried to keep a lid on it, word quickly spread about what was going to go down at this year’s talent show. Believe it or not, I got ‘death threats’ about posing as a rapper, because the Rap guys responded exactly like I thought they would – they took this as a direct insult, which it was. Nothing against any of the people, I couldn’t have cared less – this was a statement on behalf of the music I was listening to, and drawing a line in the sand to prove what was better. I couldn’t rock a full band at that time, or probably even now – but I did believe that I could instantly rap without any issues. Obviously looking back on everything now, knowing what I know as a critic – I was the weakest of sauce.
With a posse of my own that included G Dog Smith Foo, Mel Minster Q, Michelle Pfeiffer and the kid from the Dangerous Minds video supporting Coolio’s megahit song – we NEVER rehearsed, not even once – we only agreed on the mission, and laid out the blueprint on paper. G Dog was an old homie and one of my best friends at the time…Mel was some random dude that caught wind of what we were doing and demanded he be included…and that trend continued when we decided to parody the video at the same time as perform, including our nearly seven-foot tall dude in a blond wig as our Michelle, and a kid I never even crossed paths with before that day who strapped shoes to his knees so that he could be the kid from the Dangerous Minds video with the sunglasses and all that – we’ve all seen it; you know. We set up the scene, we came up with & crossed out ideas, and mapped everything out as hard as we could without actually DOING it – and most crucially, we planned to take over the mic when the song was done to lay everything out on the line once and for all, to declare our victory & musical superiority.
On my own, it was an entirely different story – I was entrenched in battle mode, preparing every day, playing Coolio’s song forwards and backwards until I knew every single second of it by heart, and I still know every word to this day. Could G Dog Smith Foo and Mel Minster Q sing well enough to support me and be my hype-men on stage? I had NO clue – but at this point, we were committed; this was happening…tickets were sold…many tickets in fact. I do not know the exact specifics of course, but by all accounts, it was shaping up to be the biggest one the school had seen in years – and all because of the buzz we’d generated with this stupid secret stunt that even its creators really had no idea on how it was going to work. I have learned this from the aftermath…gather ‘round…because this is important – ALWAYS REHEARSE & rehearse EVERYTHING…if you don’t, you’re a fool. Or better yet – you’re “Foolio.”
My heart was pounding throughout the entire day of school, sitting there knowing I’d be taking the stage, performing in front of people for the very first time. I watched the clock like it was counting down to doomsday, and when the bell finally rang, it was finally time to get organized. Between the hours of three o’clock & seven, we had to rush to get everything ready – and I needed to make sure everything was good with the rest of the show to follow our opening act in the process as well. I sped around like a madman on stage, preparing everything I could in advance as much as possible, so that I could go hide myself away, and probably throw up from the adrenaline coursing through my veins.
When the show seemed secure enough, with about an hour left, I had my time alone to get ready. With about a hundred really tiny elastic bands, I went to work…and I put my entire head’s worth of hair into two massive spikes standing upwards like antennas, Coolio-style, and added as many as I could to my teenage goatee for good measure. Baggy jeans were still a thing at the time – so it was time to go beyond baggy – I practically put the belt around my knees and wore an extra-long shirt; I’m sure there was asscrack involved, but thankfully no one would have to see that…I was covered. Sunglasses – check. Necessary too…I didn’t even know if I was going to be able to open my eyes while I was doing this, lest I retreat and run back to the dressing room out of pure fear. Somehow, I had to push past all that and just NUT THE FUCK UP & get’er done…like I said, this machine was humming now – this was happening.
Peering out at the packed gymnasium full of kids & their parents & extended families from behind the curtain onstage felt insane – WHAT WAS I DOING? I had no business being the center of anyone’s attention, despite how much I kept pushing myself in that direction. All I can remember thinking was that this was either going to be the best thing, or the worst thing, I’d ever done, and I had no idea which it would be. Would I forget the words? What if the music was too loud, or I couldn’t hear it? You know, the standard questions any performer would think to themselves if they didn’t do a SINGLE REHEARSAL.
We pulled two chairs onto the stage – our only props besides the outfits we were wearing. Setting it all up just like the video, I sat inches away from the behemoth dude that was our Michelle Pfeiffer. We were both nervous, and just ready to go with the moment…and we had already talked about something extra we had planned for the performance that was sure to piss people off even more, and we were so giddy that we just burst out laughing. I looked RIDICULOUS – but so did this non-passable crossdresser right in front of me – Michelle didn’t even have his WIG on straight, because we gave zero fucks – this was going to be as over the top as we could make it, and with the lights going low at the front of the stage and a hush finally falling over the crowd, it was game time. We could hear the emcee ready to kick off the night on the mic, welcoming the people to the talent show & all that. She’d asked me to give her a piece of paper with what we wanted her to say, and she’d say it – so we did. “Ladies and gentlemen, first up tonight we have…ummm…G Dog Smith Foo…Mel Minster…Q?…ummm…Michelle Pfeiffer (cue laughter)…the kid that found his way onstage, and their head homie, Foley.”
Wait – what? Who the fuck is Foley? I’m FOOLIO – that’s HALF the joke, down the drain right there. We heard this from behind the curtain and sat there snickering, waiting for the music to start. When it finally did, some Adult Contemporary slow-jam started up…and the curtains peeled back slowly to reveal the two of us sitting at the center of the stage. The entire place ROARED to life and started laughing and cheering, just as we had hoped they would – the only problem was, that wasn’t our song. They closed the curtain, I poked my two-pronged head out the door to tell them to switch tapes, and they did. We reassembled back to our positions onstage, now more nervous than ever. The music started, the curtains pulled again…wrong song – second time. Maybe I hadn’t made the smartest decision by agreeing to stage manage the show AND be a performer after all. I ran off stage and out through the door to the main floor below, coursing through the pile of tapes we had for the acts that night until I found ours, and jammed it in the cassette player myself, then ran back up to my chair to see if we could get it right on this third attempt – and we did. The curtains pulled, the intro played, and right before the first verse, I sprang up outta my chair, tossing it so far behind me in the process that it flew across the stage and split itself. Instant impact – the crowd went OFF. Walking carefully from one side of the stage to the other with my pants basically on the floor around my feet, I delivered – I actually spit bars, for the first time I ever performed, and never forgot a single word. To be truthful, all I remember about the actual part of my own performance, was that the lights were so damn bright I couldn’t see a damn thing, and that suited me just fine. I spit rhymes like my life depended on it – and who knows, maybe it did! Maybe those ‘death threats’ I’d collected prior to the show were more real than I knew and this was my first, last, and only performance ever! I made the most of every moment…I swear I crushed it up there, to the point where I even surprised myself. I hit that last word and just put my chin into my chest, standing there & holding the pose like a statue of sonic badassery, and let the rest of the chaos play out.
Because that’s EXACTLY what it was – chaos. No disrespect to my homies and all – I appreciated having them there – but G Dog Smith Foo and Mel Minster Q were just about the worst singers I’d ever heard! The moment they revealed themselves onstage, they came out to a wave of applause – they were both a million times more popular than I was on an everyday basis…I might have been the star of the show tonight, but every other day they had me beat by miles. Their popularity carrying them, I give them both credit for keeping it going – it was horrendously bad…like cover your ears bad…and honestly I was kinda shocked by it. I mean, they told me they could sing, so what the fuck was THIS shit? As far as our Michelle Pfeiffer was concerned, he was a crucial part of the opening, but we’d scripted nothing after that for him…so he just kind of hung out there onstage while we performed. As for the kid, our friend who came out with the shoes strapped to his knees, shocked by Michelle when she strolled over to remove his Dangerous Minds-inspired sunglasses – not only did he create another huge wave of applause when he came out, but they ended up being a pivotal part of the show. Understand that at this time in the early 90s, gay-culture was still on the fringes at best and hardly accepted in what you’d call the mainstream – and with the dawn of Gangsta Rap, an era of misogynistic lyrics seemed to be almost rebelling against the acceptance we needed as a society. Once again, Grunge became the answer to that, not only recognizing the gay community at-large, but celebrating it along with them by embracing every kind of person under its umbrella of comfort. And we weren’t rappers – we were only here to stir up shit & make people think about other shit than the shit they were already thinking about.
Towards the end of “Gangsta’s Paradise,” our giant Michelle Pfeiffer and the Sunglass Kid locked into a massively over-the-top and damn near grotesque stage-kiss that went on & on & on. Beautiful! And when the music stopped, G Dog Smith Foo grabbed his mic, yelled out “we want to dedicate this performance, to the ONE & ONLY greatest rapper of our generation…the greatest rapper of ALL-TIME – MICHAEL JACKSON!”
Need some cream for that BURN homies? I bet they still do. We checked every box we wanted to check off, and made sure to piss off every person we intended to. They cut the mic, they kicked us off the stage, I set up the next act, and life itself returned to normal instantly as I went back to my role in managing the show for the rest of the night, still buzzing from the thrill of performing.
I don’t remember the rest of what happened on stage that night after I was on – I’m sure it was a good time had by all. What I DO remember, is that when I was being driven by my friend’s mom back to her place to spend the night & hang out after the talent show had wrapped up, we felt the van rock oddly from side to side as we drove back to her house, only to find pictures & stuff on the floor when we got there. Apparently we’d been riding through a small, but modest earthquake. Coincidence? I’ll let you decide on that…but I like to take credit for sending a few shockwaves into the Earth on that fateful night.
For the weeks that followed, I’d hear people shouting “HEY FOOLIO!” from down the hallways, and it’d bring a grin to my face every time. It was all anyone could talk about for quite a while really, at least to me. We didn’t win whatever the heckin’ prize was, but we didn’t need to – doing it WAS the reward.
Little did I know, at the time, the event was actually filmed by one of my girlfriend’s friends – and she was kind enough to send over a copy when all was said & done, at the end of some space this lady had at the end of a VHS tape. I remember it all too well really…watching it back for the first time, equally mesmerized by the fact that it happened at all, and just how terrifyingly bad we were overall onstage. It was AWESOME – and I’ll truly never forget it. In fact, for years and years, I kept that VHS tape knowing it would come in handy one day…that I’d be able to retrieve that moment out and blow someone’s mind when the time was right. That little rectangle of joy had a label on it that read “Bob’s Tape” – hard to forget really…whomever the lady was that sent it to my girlfriend’s name wasn’t Bob, but that’s what we called her. For years it got packed around with me from place to place, and was one of the very few things that somehow miraculously survived me losing everything I owned long after at the age of 22.
As I became savvy to more technological things throughout the years and got into what I do now at sleepingbagstudios, I eventually found a rig online that, with a whole bunch of wires and magic, could turn VHS tapes into digital files – and you BET YOUR ASS the first thing I did was look for Bob’s Tape. I hadn’t seen it since the year I had performed – which put this new potential viewing something like, at least a decade if not fifteen years after the fact. To say I was stoked put it mildly. I was a married man at this point in time (still am!) and I had talked this moment up to my wife for YEARS – but who in the heck even HAS a VHS machine anymore? Ours was buried in a box somewhere, and I don’t recall that we ever used it once from the time we got together back in 2004. With the newfound technologies at my fingertips though, it was time to go hunting through the archives – I ransacked the house until I found everything I needed from the old player to the old tape, and got ready to watch, push record, and turn my first magical moment onstage into a digital file forevermore. As I watched the black bars of the VHS tape sputter themselves into place, and the screen stayed dark…I tried not to panic too much – I’m sure it was just at the end of the tape – maybe I didn’t rewind it? I kept watching, and the screen stayed completely voided of any and all entertainment – there was nothing. It was heartbreaking. Especially for the fact that to this very day, my wife doesn’t even REALLY believe that it actually all happened.
Maybe it was all in my head. Maybe it was a story after all. Isn’t that what memories become over time anyhow? I’ll never be able to PROVE that it happened at this point and I’ve had to begrudgingly become comfortable with that, mind you, that’s after scanning the darkness of two-hours of nothingness from a VHS tape at least five more times to be COMPLETELY sure it was gone…which it was/is still. It’s morphed into one of my wife’s favorite inside jokes between us now, and I’ll have to accept that I’m the punchline in this particular scenario. Which is KINDA fun – the entire thing was meant as a joke to start with, and that’s how it remains to this very day in a new way that was never intended, but still hella funny every time it comes up now. Let the record show once and for all though…tapes wear out – memories, do not.