Essay from A. Iwasa

Pumpin’ 4 The Man by A. Iwasa

While working on the ‘zine Clevo Style, I read Good Trouble by Joe Biel, and was inspired by everything he wrote about dead end jobs to write about the crappy jobs most scenesters I knew worked in the mid-to-late ’90s.

My first job was completely steeped in the party and music scene I had been in the midst of for a couple years by 1996:  a fast food job at Parma Town Mall.  It had its pros and cons, but it was there, watching food float in the fryers, where I decided I needed to take a vocational class in case the whole music thing didn’t work out for me.  I suppose this shows a lack of dedication, making a Plan B.  But considering how The Revolution hasn’t been happening since 2001, perhaps I was smarter then!

None of my coworkers were in the scene, but tons of the other mall rats were.  Some friends, others?  Enemies.  There were rockers who we shared mutual hatred for us that rivaled the intensity of our conflicts with some white hip hop kids and jocks, who sometimes made walking to-and-from the mall dangerous. 

Two of my band’s shows got cancelled in a row.  After dropping hundreds of dollars to professionally record at Spider Studio, we didn’t have enough cash to release our second demo.  After a particularly crappy day at work, I started kicking a garbage can in front of the mall, screaming lines from a record Schnauzer’s Steve Eggs recorded, of himself screaming on a roller coaster, that he released as Nut Screamer on a split 7″ with Pissed Off Orgasm:  “I don’t care if I’m a pea brained loser!  I don’t care if I don’t have a fucking future!  I hate everything about life!  I JUST WANT TO BE BURNED, LIKE A FUCKING PIECE OF BACON!”  

Group of young white guys posing for a black and white photo. They all have tee shirts and jeans, one has a pentagram and the others have different designs. One has a baseball cap.
The band Descend

My friends laughed, some cute young women laughed at, not with, us I suppose, and a stranger yelled, “Me too!”  I quit my job, our rhythm guitarist quit our band, and that all fell apart.  School started back up, and a friend I made through the first ‘zine that published my work, Possum, started taking me to Tremont, Clevo.  My first visit to a commune, The House, and my first spoken word performance, at a cafe named Isabella’s if I’m not mistaken, were in that neighborhood that fall.  I was starting to get new ideas about creative possibilities, and probably should have dropped out of school and got on with my life before my recent relapse into drug use totally spun out of control.

Instead, after I ran out of the little I had saved from my first job, I bunkered down, got another fast food job closer to my mother’s house, and eventually worked with two of my best friends from Parma’s High, also part of the party and music scene that I was in, and worked with other new and old friends.

One was a middle aged woman who had been friends with Floyd from Floydband in the ’70s.  I also met my first two real Hobo friends who worked there while my first couple of old school friends hit The Road with dreams of doing nude house cleaning when they got to Seattle.  It was a mostly fun time, but the drugs and booze were a gnarly underside.

My favorite memory from that job was really belting out Pumpin’ 4 The Man by Ween, the kind of guilty pleasure I’d like to believe I wouldn’t dig if I hadn’t heard it when I was 14.  I was sweeping the parking lot, looked up, and realized a slightly older and very attractive woman was trying to eat in her car with the window rolled down, and was frozen, eyes bulging in abject horror as she stared at me, part way into a bite.  I quickly shut the hell up, and finished my job, praying though I didn’t even believe in God at the time, that she wouldn’t snitch on me for what she probably perceived as a vulgarity laden rant, like the woman who claimed she saw a couple of us smoking weed by the Dumpster.  Would I have been the irresponsible of a teenager?!

Five guys, some white and some of indeterminate race, with black tee shirts with heavy metal band logos, posing in front of a brick wall with graffiti.

My nearly two year career at what I then frequently called Burger World, in honor of Beavis and Butthead’s employer, was still in full bloom when my vocational class, Graphic Communications, started at Parma’s High.

This was inspired by local death metalists, Descend, who were all printers, did their own printing, and even at one point all worked in the same print shop.
One of the really fun things about Graphic Communications, the printing class for the shared vocational system with Normandy (AKA Normally High) and Valley Forge, is that apparently if you failed the aptitude test the councilors just stuck you in printing.  Out of 20 or so kids, I was one of maybe three that actually wanted to become a printer!

Group of people standing around a white guy laying on the floor. large rope above them.
Nine Shocks of Terror

Telling one of the farmers I worked for in southern Iowa about how most of the other juvenile delinquents ended up in my printing class, he said, “It sounds like you went to high school in Soviet Russia!”  I think he meant that as a bad thing, but the Communist Party was enough of a force in northeast Ohio historically that it actually owned the building Speak in Tongues, and The Pieta/The Pit were in!  Further, Gus Hall, a former Chairman of the Communist Party, USA and four time presidential candidate for The Party, had been a leader of the organization in Clevo during its glory years around 1939.

Band poster for Nine Nut Screamer, Pissed Off Orgasm. Words written in all sorts of angular artsy fonts.
Nine Nut Screamer

Back to class:  our vocational classes were three periods a day, five days a week, for two years.  I was one of a few students from our class who got hired to work there in my off periods, after school and some vacation days.  I went on to work there for five months after graduating, adding up to a year and a month actually working in the industry for my first bout.

We listened to a lot of great music, and had some good and bad times, some of which spilled over into or backwashed from the scene between both students in the classes and other employees of the print shop.

Matt from Abrasion/Temper Tantrum and later Crash of ’59 was one of my favorite in this cast of characters.  He was critical in helping me go my first year sober when we were down with claiming Straight Edge, and a fun game playing, drinking buddy after we both sold out.

Maria was another, who listened to a couple of my bands, and had a brother who went on to play in at least one band that did shows.  She kept a year book photo of our class in her car after we graduated.

H-100s band logo written in a curvy shaky font.
H-100s band logo

Then there was this kid we called Hillbilly Frank or Franor…  He Loved The Cramps, Carcass, and a host of other great bands.  When he wasn’t lecturing me about my need to lay off of drugs, he was asking me when I was going to start again, when he realized what a mess I remained sober.  One of my fondest memories of high school was him spending an extended period of time trying to reason with me to not be upset about something, before he lost it and yelled, “Cheer the fuck up before I punch you in the face!”  When I moved into a Christian Compound in Uptown, Chi, my room mate their assigned to monitor me through their Orwellian “Buddy” system was called “Hippie Frank” by mostly everyone, I called him Franor since I actually did like him.

Our first year printing teacher, Bill, was a childhood friend of Jeff Hatrix/Jeffrey Nothing from Hatrix and Mushroomhead.  He found out about Mushroomhead through me, after noticing the Hatrix graffiti I drew on a cute lady’s folder.  Bill tracked down Jeffrey Nothing through a mutual friend, and interviewed him for the school newspaper, on the condition that he not print Jeffrey’s real name.  It turned out Bill also went to grade and high school with one of my mother’s cousins!  They had nothing but nice things to say about each other.

That cousin, actually took me to see Face Value the one time I got to see them.  Luckily it was when they opened for 7 Seconds, because when they played with Agnostic Front and Ringworm, another one of my mother’s cousins went, and not being familiar enough with Hardcore to guess it was going to be in the Agora Ballroom, not the larger Theater, he just followed the trail of blood to the Ballroom… 

In her stone washed jeans and Christmas sweatshirt, a steady stream of posi Punx asked her in a friendly manner who she was there to see.  She had a blast, and actually wrote a paper about how she thought Do It Yourself (DIY) Punk was giving young people the tools they needed to advance their lives in productive ways.  She read a draft of it to two of my friends and me, asking us questions for a later version.  I have no idea what she did with it, but she was a pharmaceutical sales rep (the family joke was she was a drug dealer, my friend Sarah who she also drove to see 7 Seconds didn’t get the joke at first and was like, “She looks really conservative for a drug dealer!”) so who knows what sort of industry think tank that might have ended up in…  She also went to at least a couple of the bar shows I played at, one of my only white relatives who supported my creative endeavors over the years without any mean spiritedness about it.

One day in the print shop, while I was trying to clean out a paper jam of a press, Bill turned it on and almost ripped off my hand!  It was the first time I cursed out a teacher.  Bill smiled through the whole thing like a cat that just ate a canary.  When my shock induced tirade was over, he said, “Sorry man, I’ll buy you a Coke.”  

An odd outcome of this was that day I decided to start making playing bass a daily discipline.  I had been occasionally noodling with guitar for about five years at the time, but almost losing my hand was a real wake up!

About a year later, I reminded Bill that he never bought me that soda.  Instead of coughing up the change, he turned to Franor and said, “This kid’s going to show up to your twenty year class reunion, and still complain about not getting that Coke!”

Bill was in a barber shop quartet at the time.  We only talked about it once, but the way he described it to me was a revelation:  there was a barber shop quartet scene!  It still never ceases to amaze me that there is basically a scene around everything.

One of the only reasons I started taking classes at Cuyahoga Community College (AKA Tri-C or Try High) in in 1999 was that to keep my job at the Parma Print Shop, I had to be a student.  I dragged my feet in registering for classes that fall, and even only taking three classes ended up giving me such a screwed up schedule that the print shop job turned into something impossible to deal with, especially since I was trying to walk everywhere which meant I lost a lot of potential work time walking, also stressing myself out with my newly found sobriety’s bursts of energy and wing nut ideas like only sleeping every other day, and eating while I walked.

Luckily I had enough saved up to take most of the semester off from work, since my mother didn’t charge me rent as long as I was a student.  This also nicely coincided with a renaissance of Parma bands.  I played a few bar shows, cut a demo, supported the other local bands like Abrasion and The Getaway Drivers, and saw some great international acts such as Danzig, Samhain, Six Feet Under and Manowar.

My hair reached my waist for the first time, I got a couple tattoos much to my mother’s chagrin, this time along with much of the Parma Youth Straight Edge and Assholes, in our dude’s older brother’s 100% DIY basement tattoo parlor.

It seemed like everything was going full stride for me, but wasn’t what it was cracked up to be.  I floundered a bit in school, started washing dishes professionally at an upscale Italian place, and between semesters, quit my band.

I still haven’t seen The Godfather, so at first the joke to the name Corleone’s was lost on me.  Also, this was way before Kill the Irishman came out, so I was only dimly aware of old school mob violence, and mostly associated it was Italians in Chicago and New York.

I actually found it charming the way my boss, who was Polish and Lutheran, wanted to appear mafioso along with all his small business owner buddies.  Remember, this was in a town at least once so Italian it was called Parma.

He also had this working class hero thing going, at least in my book.  He frequently talked about working at some sort of metal fabrication factory for years, saving up to start his business.  All these years later he remains one of the most fair people I’ve ever worked for.

The thing I find weird in retrospect, is how many people his age have to remember the dozens of gangland car bombings that happened in Clevo in the 1970s.  I mean, maybe that’s why he knew the Parma Youth Straight Edge kids he hired weren’t bad, but most of his peers, how could they always talk about how violent people of color were or judge us for how we dressed when they lived through that era?!

As usual some other things were lost on me at the time:  Erba, the last name of guys from a slew of local bands such as Face Value, Windpipe, the H-100s and 9 Shocks Terror, is actually the name of a city in Italy, which I only semi-recently learned while reading a collection of Antonio Gramsci’s writings on the post World War I factory take over wave that had swept Italy at the same time that much of Central and Eastern Europe was in the throes of Soviet styled insurrection.

Also, neighboring Seven Hills’ name has to be a reference to the Seven Hills of Rome, which I only learned about after a Seventh Day Adventist picked me up hitchhiking, and gave me a DvD about the Book of Revelation that I had actually prayed would be a granola bar when he started pawing around his back seat for it.  I felt obligated to watch it with a couple comrades when I finally got back to the Bay Area out of respect for the driver, and a nearly jumped out of my seat at the reference! 

Back to Corleone’s:  I believe Chris from Allergic to Whores was the first one of us to start working there.  Culinary Arts was actually his vocational at Normally High, and he cooked there.  I believe he was Lerpy from Abrasion and Striking Distance’s reference when he started working there, busting suds.

Lerp worked his was up into management, and when he became the Head Dishwasher, he called me up and offered me a job after he heard I needed one.  He also hired his band mates from Striking Distance, John and Josh.  We listened to Hardcore, Metal, Punk and the local oldies station, much to the confusion and annoyance of most of our coworkers.  I ate so much out of the bus pans that I was almost fired for it, by the Head Server who had known Floyd from Floydband in the 1980s, when he was dating a significantly younger woman.

When the spring semester ended in 2000, I hung around long enough after my last final to take my mother out for Mothers’ Day, then spent one more night at her house before actually buying a Greyhound Ameripass (as opposed to the counterfeiting scam so popular among the other Travelers of the era) and set out for my first trip alone to the west coast.  It was also my first trip to the American South West and Deep South.  I saw my hometown out of a bus window as I turned 20 On The Road.

Ex-band mates started a rumor that I went to Cali to join a cult, which sadly wasn’t true.  I was going to Phoenix to check out a trade school, and figured if I was going all the way out to Arizona I might as well re-visit the West Coast and see what else I could get into.  When I did move to Chicago to visit a Christian Compound in Uptown, I used to like to joke that the rumor became true in kernel.

I eventually wandered back to my mother’s and Corleone’s, then working in an electronics factory and taking just one class on Saturdays.  I actually started playing in a contemporary worship band at a Four Square Church, which is the only all around good experience I’ve had playing in bands.  Our guitarist, Arthur, had been part of the small but lively Christian Hardcore Scene in Clevo in the early-to-mid ’90s.  I can’t remember what band he was in, but Six Feet Deep, who was on the Dark Empire Strikes Back comp, Mortal and Forge were the cadre of that milieu.  One of Parma’s High’s marching band’s drummers circa 1995, Mike, was also in one of those bands.

As time wore on slowly, and I day dreamed about hitch hiking to Alaska, I went back to professionally washing dishes, working my way up to Head Dishwasher and my only stint in management, and took classes for two years straight including summers to finish school with my factory savings.  I did a few more ‘zines as I tried to figure out a way to relate to the people I was around, but they seemed to be more popular outside of the scene with seemingly random co-workers and class mates.

One of The Getaway Drivers started waiting tables at Corleone’s but I didn’t recognize him.  He told me he had a video of my jumping on stage at their first show, and grabbing the mic out of James’ hands and singing Skulls by The Misfits when they covered it.  I had expected half the crowd to mob the stage, but no one followed me up!

I remember James’ look of shock as he let go of the mic, eyes bulging, mouth open.  I looked back, perplexed, shrugged, and sang the song as I would since James stopped.  I felt like Henry Rollins singing Clocked In for Black Flag when he was still in State of Alert! 

Many people in the crowd also looked shocked, and I felt like Moses parting the Red Sea as kids scattered to avoid getting kicked in the face when I jumped down.  I was sort of a bloody mess to boot, and you can still see a scar on my left hand from that show.

But 9-11 was the definitive end of all that for me.  I haven’t played guitar or bass since that day, and I’m almost ashamed to write how all these years later the war is still going on, but the Afghans appear poised to end it the old fashioned way:  by winning.

But on a lighter note, if you haven’t already, next time you Consult The Oracle, please search the youtube for descend cleveland death metal demo 1995, and as Franor would say whenever a good song came on the stereo in the Print Shop:  “Make it loud!  This is the song that started it all!”

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