I cried for about a week straight when I first moved to Tempe with my band (at the time) Persephone’s Picnic. I had been urging them to move up to the Bay Area with me but goshdarnit, Arizona really gets ahold of her own! So there I was, miserable among the endless miles of strip-malls and other forms of ugly architecture; immersed in a culture of paunch-bellied Coors Light drinkers. Accordingly, my bandmates and I had taken up residence in a squalid institutional apartment complex in south Tempe. I shared a pair of adjacent apartments with my bandmates and their girlfriends whom I later came to regard more kindly, but at the time considered to be awful, nagging, useless excuses for women. It was not at all how I had envisioned my life unfolding. I would never have suspected that this blighted, humorless jungle of salmon-colored adobe facades and NASCAR fans was exactly where I needed to be at the time.
Because I hadn’t really fronted a band before, I had been shying away from directly facing the crowd at our shows. Once I decided to turn around and let ’em have it, we started getting really great gigs playing to more and more people. One such gig was at The Valley Art Theatre on Mill Avenue. I had come down with a crippling case of bronchitis, but the show promoter gave me a Fishermans Friend (like an Altoid, but curiously soothing) and the show went on. As I was performing, I saw a tall, skinny fellow with what looked like a large denim pillow on top of his head standing in the back of the theater. I did my set, got off stage, hugged and talked to an appreciative and growing fan-base, and as I turned around, there stood the pillow-headed fellow. It wasn’t a pillow on his head after all, but a single giant dreadlock under a big piece of blue fabric. This probably wasn’t the way the blue fabric had envisioned its life unfolding either. Whatever the blue fabric had started out wanting to become, it had wound up a dreadlock-pillow despite its best efforts to become something else entirely, I felt sure. I wondered if it hated ugly architecture as much as I did.
“I noticed that when you sing, your energy is red, but when you talk to the people, it turns green,” he observed. This held great significance for him, and because he was talking to me about me, it held great significance for my ego as well. He told me his name was Merril and he started pontificating to me about the Mayan Calendar and this system of belief which included, among other things, never speaking the word “no” or even “know” because of it’s negative connotations. For all of you who know me personally, you know that I am a sucker for this sort of thing. This is due to the megalomaniacal hope that at any moment, the pontificator will realize (and proclaim!) that I am, in fact, The Chosen One.
Meanwhile, the fellas in my band were getting a group of people together to make a party (something I did quite often). They were leaving the theater and I was shoulders deep in my discussion with Merril still, so I opted to walk home from the place. Merril offered to escort me and I accepted, so there we went: me my in my black velvet blazer, Sheriff badge gleaming in the moonlight, and tall, skinny Merril and his head apparatus. Our conversation turned to my upper back which was bothering me and seemed vaguely related to the bronchitis. Merril, being a self-styled healer of sorts, put his finger to the part that hurt and – wouldn’t you know it – I felt better immediately. I said “would you mind keeping it that way as we walk?” He agreed. As we strolled down Mill Avenue, talking about this magical that and the other, a cop car pulled up lights flashing, bull horn blaring “Hands where we can see them.” I, being cheeky and thrilled that I felt better than I had in days, said “Don’t worry fellas, I’ve got it under control here,” and pointed to my Sheriff badge to indicate my command of the situation. When I realized that they didn’t recognize my authority, I instinctively went into my oh-don’t worry-I-am-not-on-drugs-or-crazy routine. It’s a versatile routine, appropriate for grocery store mishaps, sidelong looks at the library, and police interventions alike. Nonetheless, it didn’t work. It became apparent that they thought Merril was holding a gun to my back.
There we stood in the driveway of an AM PM, engulfed in an awkward misunderstanding of 80’s sitcom proportions. My band and their newfound partygoers happened to be there buying beer (Coors Light, no doubt). They gawked as the officers sprang from their squad cars, pulled their guns, and crouched behind their open car doors; ready at the slightest whiff of malfeasance to take out the maniac with the pillow on his head! Merril, for his part, was absently unconcerned. The policemen might well have been mailboxes or lamp-posts.
I said, “Officers, thank you for your concern, but there isn’t a gun behind my back, he is just doing healing work on me as we walk, he is actually quite a nice fellow.” Well, Laguna Beach officers would have gotten this explanation right away, but something in the makeup of a Tempe cop prevents them from immediately processing that brand of “woo woo stuff.” Perhaps I was suffering from an advanced case of Stockholm syndrome. Perhaps I was actually the perpetrator, posing as a victim (with a badge!) to throw them off the scent. A tense moment of silence passed while they processed the situation. Deciding that there was no danger, or that if any danger was in fact taking place it was of too obtuse a nature for them to bother with, they put their guns away, got back in their cars and drove away. My band, still agape, asked if we wanted a lift back to the apartment(s), but it was a beautiful night and Merril and I had been enjoying our evening stroll. Plus my back really was feeling better!
A few months later, after a wild night on the town a bunch of us crashed at Tres house. In the morning while Tres and I were spending some quality private time together in his makeshift bedroom, our cohort, one Chris Doyle, went outside to smoke a cigarette. Suddenly, we heard Mr. Doyle talking to someone. It was Merril. Mr. Doyle reported that Merril was looking in the window, spying on Tres and I! Tres confronted Merril who was characteristically unconcerned, then ambled off. I suppose when you’re on Mayan time, the petty annoyance of being called on your voyeurism is just that: a petty annoyance. No oh-don’t worry-I-am-not-on-drugs-or-crazy routine required.