Ship of Ghouls…

Amoral vs. Immoral:

Both have to do with right and wrong, but amoral means having no sense of either, like a fish, but the evil immoral describes someone who knows the difference, doesn’t care, and says “mwah ha ha” while twirling a mustache. If you call someone immoral, you are saying that person knows better. (Vocabulary.com)

 

 

Not long ago, I posted a piece on my ideas about spirituality and the redeeming, even purifying powers of nature to wash away my inner guilt and leave me with a hope for a meaningful afterlife. As much as I’d like to confess that those were just some especially strong feelings, meant to lift the soul of anyone who took the time to read my online blathering, I can’t. You see…I’m a sinner, floating out on the social waters at one of the darker edges of our social globe in a ship of fools. You see…I bet on dead people. Well, actually, that isn’t true. I bet on living people that may or may not die in the near future. Let me explain.

About five years ago, having been plied with ample amounts of dark ale, I was lured into a quasi-secret society of adult ne’er-do-wells. It was explained to me that for a mere monthly installment of five dollars I could join this merry band of outlaws in a game that required so little of me it seemed immoral. I was right, it was immoral, but I didn’t hesitate to join them. I plunked down my five dollars (which for the sake of convenience and permanence, would soon be converted over to an automatic withdrawal from the bank account of my choice…modern immorality is THE best) and simultaneously carved away a slice of my soul. I blame it all on the Brit.

John was born and raised in England and had brought this concept of a Ghoul Pool across the puddle when he and the Beatles invaded our fair land. Okay, he isn’t as old as the Beatles, but his impact on our little patch of American soil is just as meaningful as theirs was. John is clever, polite, charming and more than a bit devious. Back in the motherland, he had belonged to a group of blokes who bet on which world-famous celebrity might expire first. That’s right, a member can pick any person famous enough to be noted in the New York Times upon said person’s demise and hope that this chosen one is the next to go. First ghoul wins the pot. The Ghoul Pool, it was called. A quid dropped here and there, a florin spent now and then, a couple of innocent pints with close mates then they’re betting on death and before you know it, Bob’s Your Uncle…here comes the Hell Express and it’s waiting carry us all asunder.

Now, granted, our American souls had been on line, waiting some time for that Hell Express to load us up and drive straight into the river Styx, but creating our local version of the Ghoul Pool (which is the exact wording of my monthly Quicken entry, by the way) has probably put us in some sort of express lane. We easily qualify for the commuter lane, as we’re now approaching double figures for enrollment. Though it might seem intuitive to suppose that a group so debased as ours might be primarily made up of unshaven plasma-sellers and bottle collectors, such is not the case with this group. Some of us even shower on a regular basis. Indeed, we have at least five educators, two lawyers, and a dentist among our crew. Educators (full disclosure: me) are simply innocent bystanders too easily sucked into whatever muck is closest to them; most frequently it’s just middle school. Lawyers, although one of ours is now technically a judge and as such may or may not have risen to a higher principled ground, are too often, the brunt of tasteless jokes all the while doing more good than harm. Just the same, you would have thought they might have known better.   Most dentists are just communal medicine men/women just trying to help us all in the least painful way possible. Yeah, that never works out like planned, but I think they really do try. Unfortunately, Bernie, our GP dentist and chief financial officer is also a Cardinals fan, which can already get you to hell quicker than shooting the Pope. Overall, we’re good people with a weak spot for tasteless entertainment.

While I have pointed my finger at John for infecting our moral fiber, it was actually Sully who thought that the idea was too good to keep a secret and set about to create what is now our version of the Pool. We needed a legal outlet for our poisoned souls and the Ghoul Pool seemed to be the perfect vehicle for us. That plus we were looking for a good reason to gather and drink once a month. The Pool was started a year or two before I was asked to audition. Sully explained the concept and told me to meet him and the boys, numbering about four strong at the time, for a beer. Oh, and by the way, make sure I bring a list of candidates from which to choose. The existing members could veto anyone they thought would be too likely to die before his/her time. That ruled out Willie Nelson right there, which in hindsight, turned out to be a good thing. So I kept my ears open, did my homework and showed up that fateful night ready to swing for the fence.

It didn’t seem right to pick someone that I actually would not miss if they keeled over, so I dropped Dick Cheney and Fred Phelps (Westboro Baptist Church…) out of what guilt I had left to muster. I liked Jim Nabors and Keith Richards too much to choose one of them. It needed to be someone about whom I was fairly ambivalent. Eventually I gave them a name that they all accepted with suppressed snickers all around. They nodded knowingly at one another believing that I had chosen poorly…but I was a rookie…could they expect less?

After about ten or eleven months of tithing, the Pool voted to grant me full vestment, which meant that if I now won, I’d be eligible for the entire pot, not just an actuarial percentage of whatever I’d personally invested. In mafia terms, I’d become a “made man.” The Poolers were smug in the assumption that my choice was a long shot. Within weeks, the roulette wheel of disgusting events stopped squarely on my number when Amy Winehouse, my selected celebrity, unfortunately lost her battle with sobriety and slipped from this world. Cha-Ching!

There is no way to feel good about “winning” the Ghoul Pool. I think we all secretly hope that our choice, usually someone with glaring problems, can get straightened out and make us look silly. Of course, we only think this way until the Cubs win the pennant and one of us needs a couple thousand in windfall cash to buy a nosebleed seat at Wrigley (I’m looking at you Sully). Don’t get me wrong. I took the money. I paid the bar tab for the boys that night, as is customary. We toasted the memory of Ms. Winehouse and moved on. But whenever I hear her nearly perfect bluesy voice telling me that “…no, no, no!” she ain’t going back to rehab, I sigh and wish she might have said “…yeah, yeah, yeah!” instead.

Just the same, the Ghoul Pool moves on even if life doesn’t. I’m a sad soul with much to answer for when my own number comes up, but I’m betting that isn’t soon. Looks like a need to take a walk down a mountain path and see what nature can do to cleanse me again.

By the way, anybody know the current state of Meatloaf’s health?

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So You Wanna Be A Rock n’ Roll Star…

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Quite an auspicious beginning, to be sure. My mom might understand how it got to this point, but she would certainly not be happy with my choice. As if it really were my choice. I didn’t poke the cigar in my own mouth. I didn’t light the cigar. I didn’t even ask for the cigar.

But here I sat; my fifteen-year-old ass wedged between an upper class high school dude and a car door that looked very flimsy, just puffing away by order of Bill, the keyboard player. The moon kept poking through the ghostlike clouds as the night crept toward the haunting hour.

The ’68 Chrysler Town En Country wagon that hauled most of the gear and pulled the overburdened U-Haul trailer behind us was unusually cramped for a car of this size. Rex, the drummer, had been entertaining himself in the back seat with a rapid succession of horrific farts that sounded more like exploding water balloons than anything at all human. As a result, Bruce, the singer/bass player (for tonight’s gig…Tom, the regular bassist, had been put on a short geographical leash by his mom) was trying to get as far away from him as possible, which put him mostly on my lap, head hanging out the open window. The farts, as pungent as they were artistic, almost created enough of a screen to kill the smell of the skunk that Mike, driver and guitarist, had hit about five miles back. It was the combination of all of these toxic potions that convinced Bill somebody was going to smoke the cigar. Such was the start to my brief stint as a local rock n’ roll star.

It was late October and still warm enough that having the windows down late at night on our trip back home wasn’t lethal or even foolish. Do away with the skunk’s odor, Rex’s air biscuits, and that cheap assed cigar I was smoking, and windows down would have been a fine choice anyway. It was just another night on the road for The Heavy Experience…local rock heroes. Our band…and I use the term OUR very loosely, had just entertained what must have been tens of, dozens of kids just waiting for us to stop playing so they could grab their dates and go in search of warm beer and cold stabs at teen romance on the dusty back roads of rural Iowa.

But, for me, the night was magical. I had been invited to climb that stairway to the heaven of stardom. I had become the personification of all things righteous in the deviant world of rock n’ roll. I had lived out the dream of being on stage and performing in a real rock band…one that got actually got paid in cash, not just all-you-can eat chili at the local legion hall. Elvis, Dylan, The Beatles, The Monkees…we all now shared a common bond. Rock Gods! As such, the temptations of this kind of power can be overwhelming. So, truth be told, it was with little, if any protest, that I accepted the cigar that Bill demanded we light up to combat the stench that had now nearly asphyxiated us all. Really, I didn’t care. I was a rock n’ roll star.

The Heavy Experience was a pretty typical little band for our little patch of the world. A little Hendrix, Spirit, Cream, some Free, toss in the occasional Guess Who and you had half of the set list. In it’s usual configuration, it was a five piece band with an under aged roadie. Mike played a pretty good rhythm guitar with enough chops to slap together the occasional solo that sounded as authentic as he needed to fool the locals. Bill played keyboards with a restrained darkness that should have signaled to us what would later play out to be a tragic ending in a troubled life. Rex, the left-handed drummer, kept a good beat and was all-in on being the best version of Keith Moon that he could muster. He was the jester in a court already too full of goofballs. Tom, the Boy Scout of the group (with a sneaky penchant for streaking) was a steady hand on the faux-McCartney bass that he prized so much. Bruce, the lead singer (by virtue of the fact that he was the only one that knew all the words) was the front man. He was the one closest to me in age. Two years older than me, I more or less put him on a pedestal that he never asked for. Bruce was the devil in blue suede Adidas. He became the architect for most of my bad choices. Drinking that…smoking this…don’t even get me started on the he took me to the only Grateful Dead concert that I would get to see…or more like, hear…or mostly neither. Who knew Boone’s Farm and Panama Red were not on friendly terms?

But on this trip, Tom couldn’t go and the contract called for a five-piece band. I had been travelling with the group all summer as the roadie / lighting dude and was preparing to be same for the stop that night in Seymour. When the boys pulled up to get me at my home, I was sent back in to grab a dress shirt and a tie. It seems the closer we got to Missouri on our road trips the more the school administrators expected in terms of formal wear. I just figured that applied to the light dude as well as the boys in the band. It was, however, explained to me, in short order, that on this night, I was going to be on stage, and that under no circumstances should I do anything stupid. Too late for them…they’d already given me a license to kill.

Once we arrived and got set up, it didn’t take long to slide into the part of tambourine playing, background singing, acne-faced rock god. I had already been playing drums and percussion since sixth grade so I was no threat to screwing up their rhythm section. However, it didn’t take long to realize that there was a reason I’d been asked to stop attending mixed chorus in eighth grade. I had always assumed it was because I was an incurable smart ass. Turns out I couldn’t hold a note to save my life. Problem? Maybe… Too bad for the boys that I knew how to turn my microphone back up every time they tried to turn it down. I knew the words as well as Bruce did and by god, I was going to be a genuine back up singer…so sing I did. Loud and loose!

It was nirvana, before Kurt Cobain had even heard of the word. There I was, on stage with a button down collar and a shitty tie and a flippin’ tambourine in my hand wailing like the day I was born. All of those years of standing on the floor of the gym looking up at those cool guys on the stage playing their instruments…The Soul Purpose…Sound Alliance…and now, I was one of them. I was in The Heavy Experience. I was Mr. Tambourine Man playing songs for my own fans on the floor. So what if they wanted to be out getting drunk? It was my fantasy, not theirs.

And before I could soak it all in, it was over and I was getting sick from not knowing that cigars don’t necessarily have to be inhaled fully to be enjoyed. But for that moment…for that one golden, fleeting moment, I was a rock n’ roll star. And damn…it was good!