626 University Place, Evanston, Illinois (May 1990)
I know this is Spring only because I am wearing warm weather clothes. And it was an early Spring at that. After a rather cold winter, and inches upon inches of snow, April was a rainy blur, and May was windy, drunken and sultry. Dan Laser took this picture of me. It's his bass. Months earlier, Marco Ricci had sat on the neck, necessitating a cheap, yet inconvenient repair at Flynn's on Noyes. I had another bass at the time—a fretless Hohner Steinberger knockoff. But I had wanted Dan to take this picture of me. I think we had just come from seeing Pete Coviello's band at Allison Hall earlier, and I was feeling pangs of jealously for not being the one playing on stage. I can't tell if the look of determination on my face is authentic. After all, this is me showing off. The top string of the instrument is not parallel with the rest of the strings—the phosphorous flash caught the moment just after I had played something, which in looking at the position of my hand, was most likely in the key of "G" or "C". Of course, a year later, Pete and I would finally play together on stage. I was still playing that crappy Hohner fretless; Pete was playing a beautiful assortment of Selmer saxophones. I was lucky to be surrounded by such talented musicians. Earlier that evening, Alec (requiescat in pace) had sat on my bed and posed for a picture. He was holding a globe and pointing to Houston, Texas. I don't have the heart to post that picture—it still makes me sad.
This was the Spring of settling into the routine of college. Of learning how to stumble through a first kiss with a girl that sat across the auditorium from you in your "Music and Literature of the Romantic Period" class. Of learning how not to lapse into free verse for Joanna Anos' difficult poetry seminar (in that class, I remember a moment when a very soft spoken guy read a poem about fishing in Northern Minnesota, and how its clarity, honesty, and delivery left the class dumbstruck with awe). Of learning that the best way to avoid a hangover was to eat a couple of slices of Pizza from Gigio's. It was the Spring that Todd revealed to me the magic of overcaffeination. It was the Spring that Marco taught us the "dance fighting" technique, and how Dan and Mark instilled in us an appreciation for the fine art of stealing food from frat parties. It was the Spring of impressing girls with our taste in music, of pointing out that the most inspiring moments, the figurative and aural jouissances in Astral Weeks were Connie Kay's sudden, explosive ride-cymbal upbeat bangings during the last moments of "Sweet Thing". It was the Spring when a steady diet of Americana, equal parts Buck Henry and Lester Bangs, assured that you would emerge on the other side of the universe, transformed yet unscathed. It was the Spring of Vladimir Nabokov's "Spring in Fialta." It was the Spring when Dan and I perfected the dark art of the "receipt drive", of stocking the Hell Room with our alcoholic and sonic spoils.
Imagine yourself as the one taking this picture. To your left, you would most likely see Todd Spangler reading. I think he still had a papier maché palm tree in his corner. Go further back, and you will be in the first floor hallway to Shepard Residential College. Jeff Reinhardt and Kerim Baran lived next door. Across the hall was "ROTC Keith". Now turn left, and walk down the hall. Mark Kretzmann and Marco Ricci were on the far left. Their room was the site of the infamous "NEVER, EVER FUCK WITH FREE FORM" incident. Dan and Joel Falco lived across the hall from them: they had the best stereo system. Elmer was still further down—an engineering major who just happened to be taken a class on German expressionist film. Mark Goble, Chris Spilker and Alec lived two floors above. I loved going up there and hanging out with them and Pete—I felt as if I were privy to a super secret society of sorts.
Walking towards their rooms, on your right, you would pass by a fire hose mounted in a glass case. We called it the "Shepard First Floor Museum", and more often than not, it contained old, empty Beck's bottles, and occasional items meant to embarrass us. The hallway was our agora, and more often than not, we would stay up into 3-3:30 a.m. drinking beer, eating, avoiding work, avoiding responsibility.
It wasn't the nicest of places, but it was our own normative universe. It was the center of the world of our Freshman year, and we would not have traded it for anything. We were all too glad to return the following year.
This picture is teeming with artifacts of a "typical" college existence. Everyone with an inclination towards jazz must have had a copy of that poster at some point in their life. Notice the first edition of Pynchon's Vineland on my shelf. Next to it is a Dover edition of The Egyptian Book of the Dead. I had no idea what it was about. I thought it sounded mysterious and dangerous. It was neither.
This picture is almost twenty years old. I still wear that watch.