come as you are

From Vol.1's "Best 3-minute stories of the '90s" reading on Wednesday at Matchless in Brooklyn:

I grew up in Youngstown, OH, where there kids have nothing to do but go to the mall or bum rides to places where loitering is nominally tolerated. Our place was Camelot Lanes, or more specifically the game room inside the bowling alley. It had everything you needed: Mortal Kombat, Addams Family pinball, Pole Position, which had the crucial two seater space for make out slash serious talk, and a dark corner where people could take self-imposed time outs when crashing out in Pole Position.

Most of the time we couldn’t bum rides so we skated there on boards bought at our friend Tim’s grandma’s skate shop. That Tim’s grandma owned a skate shop made him a kind of star among us, and also meant Tim had lots of older friends who were like, actually punk rock. When we got kicked out of game room we hung around outside in the space between the bowling alley and the Taco Bell that sat in front of it, cutting up our knees on the blacktop. We couldn’t get too close to Taco Bell because only jocks parked there, but the stoners and everybody else inhabited the grey space, listening to Metallica and ollieing over nothing.

 The parking lot reaffirmed that whomever got to 16 first was in a seriously superior position to anyone micro younger. Fourteen and 15 year olds who were even allowed out alone at night had all kinds of disingenuous relations with these folks to score the all important ride, and of course there was a serious filter for older kids letting these losers in. Tim already had an advantage, but slowly over the course of fall 1992 he came up with a clever plan to assure his way around town among the hood elite: he became a merchant of bass.

Now, every single one of us was a metalhead of some type, filtered through grunge or classic rock or something, but united always when “Mother” came on in basement hangouts.  Tim had been a huge Mr. Bungle fan and I once spent four hours on the phone coaxing him out of suicide while “Come As You Are” played on repeat in his bedroom. But that fall something snapped in Tim. One day he showed up at the bowling alley in the car of a 16 year old, who incidentally my mom would later call me at college to tell me had been arrested for dealing crack, but who at that time was just another one of the undifferentiated trenchcoat masses. The car was bumping, like…no trunk rattle, serious subwoofers installed in custom boxes in this car that could only be called a hooptie. Then came that lazy Leon Haywood psychedelic soul lick and backbeat hit over subbass with Snoop counting down, 1, 2, 3 and to the 4: not for time but just to warn us he’s coming. We’d all seen the video and we knew about a kind of cool that eluded us: urban, or black, or older, with a fridge full of 40s and friends who actually danced at parties. We weren’t those people, but suddenly Tim was no longer just one of us. I mean, he didn’t even look like he was kidding as he sat there in the passenger seat, and whatever obnoxious shit we said that first night, the metal heads quickly fell in, learning about amps and tweeters and daydreaming about rides.

 Soon Tim was doing a swift business in stereo installs, swapping parts and building his secret machine with the best of what he got. He swapped my shitty CD player for his Fender bass, which he no longer wanted, and we bought a new CD player for my first car, a Chevy Cavalier that had survived a high-speed crash. The system was nothing really, some 5x7s and anyway I annoyed him by only using bass to bump the Breeders. Still, Tim took the seat of honor on the way to school that spring, and for a brief while my car became the belle of the ball in the Camelot parking lot.

Then came the fateful day in May. I remember getting out of my car in the high school parking lot and standing at the trunk of my car waiting. Tim got his driver’s license. I thought for sure I’d hear him before I saw him, and I stood there ears peeled, only half registering what my eyes saw from the turn off the road to the half mile drive up to campus. There was no sound, but there was a color. It was salmon pink, and it was moving so much slower that other cars built up behind it like on a racetrack after an accident. Then, just like it did while first hearing The Chronic through those speakers in the parking lot, time stopped to let this awesome rupture catch up and roll by. I saw that same serious face on Tim as he passed, one hand on the steering wheel and bass shocking through the trunk in the 8:30 am school traffic. He was beatific while the outside world went sideways to accommodate what I could then confirm was a Camero painted like a Barbie birthday cake.

It was the talk of school all day, and I’m sure I was just one of dozens of people who couldn’t stop asking questions about the car. Was it pink? No, it's peach. Was it that way on purpose? Yes, he liked it. Really? Really. He continued with his beatific look and gracious responses all day, even as these questions turned from curious to outright ridicule.

That weekend we took our places at the bowling alley, spring air making for quality lounge time under the mercury lights. We weren’t really waiting for Tim because waiting would imply fear he wouldn’t be there: everyone was always at Camelot. And there he was, in his by now trademark drawling drive with bass that seemed to hold the car to the ground. He rolled to us, then past, looping by the front door of the alley and coming back around, a traditional first pass of the evening. But he didn’t stop, or even slow down. Instead, the salmon pink Camero rolled past and into the Taco Bell parking lot, taking a place of prominence one slot away from the Handicapped spaces by the side door.

The window rolled down, and a few guys walked over to the driver’s side to chat. They laughed, but then they asked Tim to pop the trunk, and the four of them stood around back. And with that, Tim was gone. Soon after, it became very unfashionable to skate at all at Camelot, or at least we stopped doing it. 

Best part of this 1993 Arsenio Dre segment:

"You said there's a lot of comedy in your rap. Like....what's funny in here?"