When I First Experienced Death

I was first exposed to the concept of death when I was between four and six years old. The backyard of my home was the battleground for my education. The lawn was large and green and full of life. Frogs, toads, and little animals and bugs ran free in the lawn, keeping the place natural and healthy-looking. It was beautiful. The flowers and plants were a nirvana for most of the small animals, including myself. You could truly feel the positive glow of it all.

I used to help my father mow the lawn. Imagine the horror that these little creatures beneath the grass felt, seeing a massive metallic blade spin overhead, sucking everything into its path. I didn’t realize the scope and grandeur of our work on the lawn until I sat there one day, on the newly cut grass, enjoying the smell and feel of it. To my right I noticed a frog hopping with difficulty. He was a victim of the blades. He was bleeding a greenish yellow puss from under its belly, and its eyes were wide and blank.

I didn’t want to pick it up; it was gross. I simply watched it from above. I was so young, and ignorant of the truth. I didn’t see it die. I saw it give up. Its breathing was labored; it was trying to keep its motion fluid and find solace in the trees nearby. Wouldn’t you want to lay your body down in the comfort of the forest when you realize your life is ending? But it stopped, and it just laid there, within arm reach of me, among the clover patch and freshly trimmed grass. I crawled over it and watched it lay there. It was such an innocent situation to witness – a little boy on his hands and knees, head hanging below his shoulders, looking at something on the ground, waiting for something to happen. Nothing happened. I looked at his face for signs, but saw nothing. That was the first encounter.

A Weekend in DC – 1

It begins like a story, seat 19C and I’m too close to the stewardess’ ass which is uncomfortably moving thru the aisle, half-offering beverages to thirsty patrons at a premium. Nothing has happened yet, except the dull din of engines and circulated air. My headphones are still out of earshot at level eight. I close my eyes between the students, businessmen and hard bodies watching me as they pass on the way to the bathroom.

DC is where the American Nursing Society’s 37th Annual Members Induction Ceremony would happen. My mother was being inducted, and I had the opportunity to fly down. I will remember her accomplishment for all my life. I came for the ceremony, but I stayed for the reunions with college friends over a brief, two-day/two-night visit.

Night one, Friday, 7PM. My flight lands at Reagan, and there’s an exhibition by Slideluck Potshow in Georgetown. If we can make it there by 11PM closing, I hope to have a moment with the proprietor. My eyes should be closed; preserve the energy, slow down the blood, and deny these demons inside the privilege of idle boredom.

If I had one sentence to sum up the whole of my experiences in DC, it would be this: “I don’t know why I never considered living there before.” My social experience was a mash-up of events, and I was caught off guard. It was good: the Metro system with its well-funded substations, the automatic revolving doors, the blue glass art sculptures and jade garden walkways, the smell of clean city.

I hit the ground running that first night, like a quiet frenzy of positive energy. I met Hammer at Cure, the lounge bar at the Grand Hyatt where I was staying, and we talked for an hour over brews about life, since we last met, before meeting Levy and friend. We talked about jobs and job searches, music, women, money, and relationships. We talked about how badly we wanted to relive our Killington Weekend, and then Levy showed up with his friend Robbie who made me laugh.

We drank enough at Cure, the four of us, and decided it was best to move on before the older folks gave us any dirtier looks. Down 11th street we walked towards Chinatown, an urban golf shot from the opening gates.

Mambo sauce. I heard about it more than once during my trip, but never got around to have it. Hammer told me he’d take me to the best spot for Mambo sauce in all of DC the next time I visited.

We didn’t quite cross the threshold into Chinatown. We ended up at RFD’s, and sat in the center table, pulling back more drinks. They had a great beer selection. Levy toasted our reunion with shots of Jack, and that’s when the night began to tip. Levy told me about his return home from California, where he had spent the last couple years living with his now ex-girlfriend, making music and making a name for himself in LA. She was hot, but things went sour, and he left LA and came back home to save money and work on his music.

We got nostalgic about Boston as the booze took its course. They told me stories from their life in DC, stories that entertained me to no end. Listening and learning about their subculture happenings felt anthropological. I wanted to see more of this.

It wouldn’t happen that night, however. I drank up all the culture I could handle and ended up staying at Hammer’s place in Columbia Heights, sick with rot-gut and blacked-out memories. I had to put the pieces together quickly the next day: my folks called, concerned about where I was, and wanted me to come back to the hotel. Hammer reminded me about the two frumpy girls who met up with us as we left the bar, right around the time our friend Robbie was getting kicked out of RFD’s. He fell back in his chair and knocked our table over, all the drinks going down, and a laughing fit ensues that got the whole bar laughing and clapping and drinking. It was the Jack that did it.

Toby T hangs out with Ghostface Killah

The following story was dictated, not read.

Story Time with Toby T:
Toby T hangs with Ghostface Killah

Before there was a show, before there was any talk of a show, there was this kid named Downey…

He paints a brief picture of a college friend with Aspergers Syndrome.

…starting a Facebook group called “Bring Ghostface to MCLA,” and he sent me a request to join the group. Now, I’m a big Ghostface Killah fan, but I was like “no way is Ghostface gonna’ come to MCLA.” I just found it too funny a person like Downey would not only listen to Ghostface Killah, but like him enough to start a group to get him to MCLA. He’s like, a random artist for someone like Downey. I thought it was a joke, so I ignored it.

Well, three months later or something like that, I’m driving home from work and on my way home, my buddy, who was still going to MCLA, calls me and says, “Ghostface Killah is gonna’ be at MCLA tonight.” I’m like, “are you serious?” Downey did it. He got Ghostface to MCLA. How random is that shit? This socially-awkward kid who no one really thought much of was able to nail that down.

He started the buzz, and when the MCLA Student Activities Center saw how much people were interested in getting him there, they took steps to make it happen. And when I heard that, I just continued driving on to MCLA. I’m like, “I’m going to this show.” I’m making this.

Being a freshly-graduated alumnus, I got into the show for free, so now I’m at a Ghostface Killah show for free. There’s a big crowd already there so I’m not as close to the stage as I want to be. The show had not started, in fact; the show was late. Word is, the DJ got lost or something trying to find the place, which makes sense because this place is in the middle of the damn mountains.

So an hour goes by and people start leaving. I make my way right up to the front of the stage. An hour and a half goes by, and finally Ghostface Killah comes out on the stage, and is like, “Yo, our fucking, piece of shit fat-ass DJ is late. We’ve been here, you’ve been waiting. When he walks out on stage, boo his ass. Just boo him hard!”

And so this big, fat, white DJ dressed head to toe in fuckin’ Lakers gear walks up on stage, and everyone just goes “BOO! BOO! You fucking piece of shit, BOO!” and he looks all sad and goofy-lookin’. He saw Ghostface and knew he was in the right place.

So they start the show, an hour and a half late (at least), and now I’m right up front, and he starts rocking out, just rolling through a bunch of different pieces, putting his own words on tracks, going through some different solo work and just giving a real solid mix of shit. He brought a bunch of bitches up on stage, and all these chicks I knew from school were grinding up on stage. Shit was cool.

And then I see this little kid, my old weed dealer, get up on stage and he’s like ‘la la-la la la!’ Well, security grabs him up mad-quick, manhandles his ass and just drags him off stage so violently and unnecessarily. Just drags him away. And I heard, after the show, that they handcuffed this dude and brought him outside.

Now where we are on campus, we go outside and there’s a roof of a building, and there are flights of steps that go up around the building’s side. You’re up there. It’s kind of cool architecture. So they take him out there, and he just starts running, up the stairs, in the handcuffs, and he fucking trips and takes the ill tumble, down the steps, just fucking himself up real good on those concrete steps.

I didn’t see that, but I heard about that afterwards. Meanwhile, I’m in the show, just enjoying myself. Ghostface only does like a 45-minute set, and word is he got like 20-Gs to play. Imagine that, you get out on stage to spit some rhymes for 45-minutes and get twenty-thousand dollars. I imagine it had something to do with the DJ being late, but dude’s getting old, his time is valuable.

Show ends, I meet up with my boys and chill out. It was a solid show, not the best concert I ever been to, you know, but I’ve been listening to this stuff forever. Always like Ghostface, but I love it when the gang gets together. In any case, we decide to go to the bar later on that night. My friend and I end up going to the Pitcher’s Mound; I used to bounce there, and it’s right by the school.

We’re walking there, and I see, sitting in the parking lot, this dark green Escalade, and I think to myself, ‘what if Ghostface is in there.’ I was just joking myself. We get there and it’s fucking crowded! Like, crowded for a Thursday (and it is never crowded on a Thursday). I make my way through the crowd, my friend and I are both pretty big guys, you know, kind of pushing our way through. We got right up to the bar, and I sit down. I’m ordering a drink, and I turn to my left, and swear to god, right there, sitting to my left, was Ghostface Killah. Just chillin’, sipping on a drink.

He was drinking some kind of mixed drink and it was red. I don’t know what it was. When I saw that he was next to me, I ordered two shots of tequila and offered him one, and he took a shot with me. Then he asked me what I wanted, and I was like, “you know, I’m fine with beer.” He was like, “get these guys a pitcher of beer.”

We were just drinking and shooting the shit; lots of people were coming up to him and thanking him. There was this one dude who came up to him on some real dick-riding shit. He was like “I’m your biggest fan, I have all your albums, I’m a producer, you should let me get your manager’s number and this and that…” and you could tell Ghost just wanted to be left alone.

We finish our drinks, and before I get up to go I turn to him and say, “Hey dude, if you ain’t trying to go home just yet, I’m about to go to my boy’s apartment. We’re gonna’ pick up some more booze, and we’re gonna’ roll up a blunt, you know.” And so I give him the address on Blackington Street. “If you want!” And he was like “Aight, thanks.” Now in my head I’m thinking, ‘there is no way he’s gonna’ show up.’ He’s not gonna’ fucking show up, but why not?

From there, I go with my friend and pick up a thirty-rack from his house, and then we pick up a blunt, and some pot, and we start walking towards Blackington. As we approach, we look over and see a big green Escalade rolling towards us down the street, parking right on the side of the road, and out pops Ghostface and his posse.

And he had a bunch of older white chicks with him, like in their mid-thirties; you know, like fucking, like it was weird. There were his height men (who were on stage with him) and then his manager, a couple of other dudes and then a few of these older white chicks. All of them there in that Escalade, except the manager who had a Cadillac Deville.

And that kid, the one who was dick-riding Ghostface Killah at the bar, followed them over to where we were and walks up to us and says, “Yo, you guys have to let me smoke with Ghostface Killah. I’m his biggest fan, you have to let me in, like yadda-yah,” and my friend who’s got a mouth on him is just like “Yo, fuck you; you’re a dick-riding bitch. Get your bitch-ass out of here or we fuck you up.”

I wasn’t gonna’ curse the kid out. I was just looking at him like ‘come on, are you serious, dude?’ Like, ‘why are you dick-riding?’ But instead my boy just goes off on this kid, and then the dude runs over to Ghostface Killah and tells him that my friend was calling him a bitch. So Ghostface Killah walks up to my boy, right in his face, and immediately his boys surround my boy and Ghostface is like “what you say about me? What you say?”

It got serious mad quick. It was getting real, so I had to step up and separate my boy and Ghostface Killah, and straight-up get in the middle of that. I’m not gonna’ let my boy get his ass beat. So now I’m breaking up what could be a big ass fight with Ghostface and his crew.

It was just me. I step in, and just pull out the bag of weed, unravel it and say “Listen, no one’s calling anyone a bitch; we’re talking to this stupid mothafucka right here, not you. We came here to smoke this. I got the weed, I got the blunt, just come inside and drop this shit, or you know, just fuckin’ leave. And Ghostface is like “alright, you make a good point. I know this kid, you know; when he was talking with me in the bar, like yadda-yah… let’s go inside.”

So we’re walking up, and that kid tries to follow us in, and Ghost’s boys just put the hand on him and are like “get the fuck out of here,” and sent him on his little bitch-ass way. The rest of us walk up and knock on my friend’s door. Now he looks a little tired. I tell him “I hope you don’t mind if I brought some people over.”

“Are you serious, who’d you bring over?” And Ghostface walks in with his boys. “Oh, Oh! Welcome! This is my place, welcome!” So we walk in and make ourselves comfortable, and I crack the Dutch. I break up some bud and start twistin’ this up. Well, word immediately spreads out (being a small college town in the mountains) that Ghostface Killah is on Blackington. All of a sudden a hundred people show up, and as people are coming in, some are giving me their pot to roll the blunt in.

“Oh shit, is that the blunt you’re gonna’ smoke with Ghostface? Here, take some of mine!” And so this turns into a fucking cannon, and there’s a lot of pressure because there’s only one blunt, and you know I’m twisting this up for Ghost. The pressure was on, but I twist up this massive blunt, and it was perfect. Light it up, pass it around, and we kind of move into the “beer pong” room. Ghostface kinda’ just picks up one of the ping pong balls, and we start playing beer pong.

Smoking blunts and playing beer pong with Ghostface fucking Killah. Everyone is partying and having a good time. Mad people were there, and that motherfucker was not even trying to go anywhere. He fuckin’ straight-up chilled out with us until five in the morning, at least. 5AM. We were hanging out outside, dude didn’t have to be anywhere, he just made 20-Gs. Just taking it easy. The fraternity on campus came over to the party and made Ghostface an honorary brother of the fraternity. Brother Ghost.

The one thing I look back on and regret was not getting a picture. I know throughout the whole night people were coming up to him and getting his picture, trying to dick-ride him and shit, and he really seemed to be bothered by it. I could have talked about my work as well, could have pushed my shit on him too. We talked for a long time about shit, just general shit like girls, joking about this and that, and I was talking about certain albums by him I really liked, certain songs. His music.

I think he was impressed because I was quoting some of his lines and shit. Anyone has to be into real fans, the genuine fans that know his shit and know what material is actually good and bad, because everyone puts out bad songs. Very few don’t put out bad songs. Usually, popular songs are not liked by the artists themselves, you know, and the opposite goes for the ones not usually talked about. It’s good to say “I really like that song,” and have it really mean something to the artist.

So that was quite possibly one of the best concert experiences of my life. I’ve talked about it with other people who’ve been there, and when I do, it’s like reliving the experience all over again. A friend of mine from MCLA who now lives in California came into town and knocked on my door, and it was a whole different story. We both went to MCLA, and bumped into a few people, and the story just came up.

“You remember playing beer pong and smokin’ with Ghostface Killah?”

Yeah, in 2008, if not 2009. I got an autograph and the bag of weed I rolled the blunt out of. Got it in a jewelry box somewhere. His autograph looks like gibberish, but I can’t make that up. I couldn’t make it out the first time; it looked like a scribble, but over time I found the right angle and was like “oh, there it is.”

That was story time, with Toby T. See you next time.

Combination Reasoning

Combination reasoning
Halloween 2010

It was the Halloween party, 2010, out in Somerville, deep in the residential area, among the houses rich enough to build, but too expensive to own. It was fun; the house was a notorious four-bedroom, three-floor brownout that held parties year after year, a tribute of the press company my roommate worked for, exploding into 300+ visitors.

I was a coked-out investment banker in my blue Saks pinstripe, black portfolio pants, Aldo dress shoes and old red tie; a blotch of white face paint covered my nose, and I was considered one of the more original costume ideas of the night. Honest, except for the hot women and men who were too proud to say anything, everyone I introduced myself to was impressed. I was too, on the inside, at all the characters I half-knew amidst the beer and booze.

But I left – combination reasoning. Shit grew weird after the 6th drink, when I ran into some butchers who called themselves “ninja turtles.” It was intolerable; the three of the four I met (Raphael, Donatello, and Leonardo) wore green clothing underneath white smocks with “blood” spattered across them. Different colors, yet they all looked like green Jackson Pollock’s.

Apparently I offended one of them with my costume. I told Donatello what my costume was, and he began to question my intentions. “Why would he be coked-out?” I was caught off-guard, kind of like an awkward come-back from a would-be girl you’re hitting on. I had to defend my intentions, and it gained the interest of more than just the turtles. Raphael was more offended than Donatello. His father was an investment accountant.

The beer and booze did little to solve the problem. Raphael began to ask me who I was, who I came with (to the party), and really made a scene around the ten-odd people in the foyer. I was humiliated at the hands of a bastard ninja turtle; there was no social comeback.

I decided to leave. The keg was finished and I rounded up the remaining booze in a blue solo cup. Believe me when I tell you, the party is over when the booze is all gone. Luckily for me, I spent my last minutes there drinking a combination of Yellow Tail and Jim Bean, provided by a girl dressed like a clown, but claimed she was Elton John. She looked funny, and I thanked her for the help before running into a Frenchman and his companion with a proposition.

“Hey, do you want to smoke some pot?” I was easily swayed, and I quickly forgot about the party inside. The smell of marijuana didn’t seem to bother other people, despite it countering my inebriated self the same way sugar does with coffee. I was in a good place, even after the negative episode minutes earlier, feet away.

I left when I saw the ninja turtles hovering around the front entrance. I didn’t want to cross paths with them again. My roommate would find his own way home; he’s the type to milk a moment until it’s dry, and being only 2am, I knew he would continue his escapades for a while longer. I said my goodbyes to the Frenchman and friend, Gretel and Charlie Brown, along with Vincent Vega and Jules Winnfield, Red Riding Hood, Dobby the House Elf, and that dancing banana from that hit “Peanut Butter Jelly Time” by the Buckwheat Boyz.

There were so many others I remember, but I knew there was no opportunity worth trying for to get past the obstinate (and obdurate) ninja turtles. Before heading down the gravel path, I saw them talk and point and stare directly at me, bringing Michelangelo into the mix, making my odds of physical conquest four-times more difficult. I cut my losses and left. It wasn’t worth it.

I had my iPod shuffle. It was somewhere in the middle of a track mix my brother gave me from New York, so I couldn’t tell you what I was listening to. I wasn’t sure where I was going, either, but I was blessed with five seconds to ask a passing cyclist where Highland was. He pointed in the right direction, the general area which led me towards another house party.

Now imagine this scene – you’re out of your mind and in a personal zone, and all of a sudden a character you know and revere is standing outside with a monk and a tennis player smoking a cigarette. Patrick Bateman, the lead character from “American Psycho,” was wearing a poncho over a business suit, just as he did before killing Paul Allen with an ax.

I play off that angle when we first met. I simply asked where Highland was from here, and then asked if I could use his bathroom. “Yeah, go for it. You seem like a nice guy,” he said, and I casually entered the scene. The place was amazing, definitely more expensive than my place on Grand View. He had a bigger foyer with dark brown tiling and windows overlooking the street, and steps leading up into the apartment rather than a hallway turn-around like mine.

The party was still in effect; club girls in skimpy outfits were talking to each other near a billiards table that nobody was using, dudes in cop outfits and spiked Jersey do’s were taking shots of Petron, and a couple or two were making out in distant corners of the lavish apartment. I wandered around, looking for the bathroom, kind of like a fool who didn’t know where he was. The bathroom was in a weird location, and there was a line, but a cop who knew I wasn’t a part of the crowd saw through me and let me jump in line. Nice guy. I enjoyed the relief and thanked him as I left.

I walked back outside just as quickly as I entered. “Thanks Bateman,” I said to the host as he talked to the monk. “No problem,” he said, as if he didn’t notice the name I called him. I told him flat out, “you know, you look just like…” and he flipped out, in a good way. “You know, you’re the first person all night to get my costume. Why don’t you come in and have a drink…”

All the random people who saw me quickly come and go were surprised to see me return with the owner’s arm around my shoulder in smiles and praise. It was a different turn, and I took it. I became one of the dudes taking shots of Petron. I opted for a round of pool with the owner. “You know, it’s been ages since I played this game.” I don’t remember if he or I said that.

I remember we shared quotes and scenes from American Psycho, and the girls with hard bodies revolved around us because we looked like we knew what we were doing. I caught the eye of some blonde who was talking to her friend; they were among the few sitting by the entrance when I first arrived. When the game ended, I shook hands with the owner and thanked him for his hospitality. “Hey man, thank you,” almost competitively gracious; explains the multi-hundred dollar getup he was rocking.

I had to excuse myself, not because it was late, but because I wanted to meet the blonde outside before I left.

“Hey,” she said, “who are you?”

“I’m Alex.” She meant what my costume was, confused by the blotch of white paint on my nose. I told her, and she said “oh, that’s funny.” She didn’t laugh, but smiled. Her teeth were whiter than my face paint. I got her number but didn’t get her name.

I stumbled home the remaining half-mile to the sound of Cate Brothers “Give It All to You.” I still got home before my roommate. 4:30am or so, and he strolls in with some girl he met at the party. She wasn’t fabulous, certainly a couple notches below the blonde I met, but still fun. He brought home a brown paper bag full of beers, and he and I drank more as the girl began to have second thoughts. Within minutes, they left again; he drove her home as I sat in my Eames chair, drafting the first part of this story. At 5:10am, he returned with a smug look on his face. “Man, I did that girl a favor.” I could care less if he got laid that night.

We talked about my shenanigans at the press party, and laughed about the chance encounter with Patrick Bateman and his lavish house apartment over stale pizza and beer. It was near 6am when I went to bed, and my dark empty sleep was interrupted a few hours later when my parents texted me to meet them in Copley for brunch.