Monday, August 31, 2009

Hail, Slump (2001)

FROM THE ARCHIVES, AUG 31 - This ran as a column in Punk Planet 44, mid-2001. I'm kind of conflicted on the piece. In hindsight, complaining about PETA seems a tad gauche. At the very least, it's a soft target, like bitching about gas prices in 2009.


I'm waiting for this alleged recession to kick in, and not just so I'll finally have a cover for my pathetic man-shamblings in the financial sphere. A showdown is brewing between the sillies and the slump. It's the simplest of equations. Prosperity gives wings to nincompoops. Recession takes those wings. I've been sitting patiently in my lawn chair for a while now, and the parade of dewinged nincompoops, long postponed by good weather, just might be getting under way.

Take Adbusters. I've been plenty tickled by this magazine over the years, although not for the right reasons. Here's a full glossy publication of spoof ads that, at first glance, looks like a yuppie update on Mad Magazine, minus a knowing wink towards the reader. And two bucks higher at the newsstand. On closer inspection, it turns out the fake ads are declarations of the 'culture jamming' faith. The editors and contributors seem to regard their social critiques as bona fide political activism. "The Panthers, Feminists, Situationists [and] Zapatistas fought for an intangible idea so radical it seemed like a dream," reads their text (curiously, ACT-UP, Adbusters' obvious immediate graphic design predecessor, gets no nod). "The corporate jammers are the heir to that tradition. It's our turn."

Some sad shit, this. Curious, too. It seems like there's some genuine conviction buried under all the drivel. There's certainly a lot of rationale upkeep involved with this jamming of culture - like Adbuster's editorial digs at the "commodification of dissent", as if an anti-consumerist coffee table magazine could exist as something different and detached from the pricey Che Guevara T-shirts they themselves sniff at. These self-justifications remind me of the deeply conflicted record reviews found in the back of all crummy metal magazines, in which a particular band is force-hyped at the expense of its own genre (like; the new Ass Factory CD rises far and above the average drone of most so-called hard-metal acts). Adbusters hadn't crossed my mind much in the last year, and it was only by coincidence that I happened on their recent Fool's Fest campaign. Explains Adbusters; "Abby Hoffman proved, on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, that throwing money at the problem works - when the problem is conformity. Let's do it again -- FOR REAL! Let handfuls of dollar bills rain down on the trading floor of your local stock exchange or, failing that, shopping mall."

Lest anyone miss the condescension, I should mention that Adbusters promised to review videotaped submissions of these scenes and refund $100 "to all worthy entries". Could there be any more telling sign of the folly that the New Economy hath wrought than the sorry spectacle of enraged graphic designers hurling cold cash at the masses? But hard times heal the silly. There'll be a lot less money to toss about - figuratively and literally - in a recession. How many computer jockeys will still be willing to do pro bono bogus ad work when their own market demand has shriveled? And when the Gen X nouveau riche finally have to start budgeting their magazine subscriptions, which do you think will get the ax first - The Nation or Adbusters?

I'm wondering if Critical Mass will prove more recession-proof. This national franchise of "organized coincidences" has been swindling otherwise intelligent bicycle enthusiasts all through the economic boom. A CM chapter started up in Richmond, Virginia the last year I lived there. It was bad enough having to see them in action every now and then, "reclaiming" "their" public space. Mission statements stapled to telephone poles provided an even harsher toke. Cars are destroying the social fabric of our community! we regular folk were reminded. The fun, excitement and enthusiasm of the cyclists is quite infectious! But there was something fishy about a bunch of predominantly white punk kids tying up traffic in a city that's 55% black. And there's still something sinister about a national movement that mouths only the most meaningless slogans of civil disobedience and high school civics class, both for no real-world purpose. That it's bad politics to vent rage with "car culture" on drivers should seem kinda obvious. I'm wondering if it's any less obvious that there are people driving cars with lives to lead, jobs to get to, mouths to feed, emergencies to deal with. Could any shadowy FBI program have so effectively pitted activists against citizens? I don't think it's a coincidence that Critical Mass started in 1992 - the year after our last war - and flourished in the boom. It's a classic of first-world navel gazing. There are chapters, supposedly, in India, Argentina, Thailand.... proving only that American exports aren't limited to fast food and toxic chemicals. But you'll find very few CM chapters in pockets of America that missed the expansion entirely. There is no Gary, Indiana Critical Mass. There is no East St. Louis Critical Mass. There's a reason for this.

And yikes, People For the Ethical Treatment of Animals... how bad are they going to catch it when the economy plops? For the record, I don't file PETA in my little roster of sillies. They've done good work over the last 20 years. But a decent recession could trim much baloney. The "Got Prostate Cancer?" billboards (even Adbusters gave this a thumbs down), the campaign to make Timothy McVeigh's last meal vegetarian... all are hallmarks of a group whose thinking machine has been gummed up by excess money. The money doesn't even have to be theirs, it could just be floating around in the atmosphere. Economic good times means more resources, more contributors, more publicity outlets, more celebrities willing and financially able to lend their names to inane stunts.

As fate would have it, my mom worked at PETA in the mid-90's. She served as assistant to founder Ingrid Newkirk and was, briefly, the person who managed incoming crazy mail to the top brass. I got to visit their offices in suburban Maryland a few times and was deeply charmed by the giant carrot suit. Only later would it occur to me that dispatching a large anthropomorphic vegetable to elementary schools, with a sign reading "Eat Your Veggies, Not Your Friends", doesn't make sense on any level beyond performance art. My impression is that this type of kitschy, cloying weirdness slowly but surely chipped away at morale in the ranks. Unfortunately, the folks in charge seem unable to tell good publicity from bad. Not long before my mom left, PETA launched a strange campaign to rename the town Fishkill, NY as "Fishsave", NY. In my home state, the "Kill" suffix is a vestige from the days when the Dutch ran the show, and it means "small brook" or "stream". So this idea had all the moral heft of an attempt to persuade actor John Goodman to change his name to John Goodperson. An economic wrecking ball won't transform this kind of unfortunate policy slant, but when dollars have to be earmarked one way or the other - conceptual billboards or animal rescue - hopefully the less doofy urges will triumph.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Illness Filler

INFIRMARY, AUG 28 - It's probably a coincidence that I spent Tuesday in an airport full of coughing people and H1N1 warnings and subsequently spent Wednesday through now on the couch with a fever and vertigo. In the meantime, here're some odds and ends from my hard drive.

This mailbox - an artifact and emblem of 2002 America - still stands today. For all I know, it gets emptied every week.

Someone at this church is on a slow, downward wig out. Earlier this year, there was a period where all the sermon titles were first run movies (RACHEL GETTING MARRIED and HE'S JUST NOT THAT INTO YOU). Now comes this. Whatever nightmare verbal and/or literal bloodbath transpires this Sunday at 10, nobody will be able to say they weren't warned.

Every now and then you go to a foreign country and you see a sign that is kind of funny and you self-consciously take a photo like a big dumb tourist and then you go home and stick the photo on your fridge. Eventually it winds up on your blog.

Seven years ago, Target got into some hot water for selling caps and shorts embroidered with the number '88'. The letter H is the eighth letter of the alphabet; in the coy semaphore or neo-Nazism, '88' stands for 'Heil Hitler'. Now Target sells Kramer t-shirts. In the wake of the '08 election, is racist apparel going to grow so meta that you'll eventually need some sort of decoder ring just to detect the presence of a white supremacist? Whatever happened to red Doc Martens with the laces tucked inside out?

When I lived on Mulberry street in Richmond, my next door neighbor was a big burly paramedic dude. One day he came by and said he had a stack of paramedic magazines he was going to throw away. Did I want them? The offer seemed too good to be true, so I played it cool. "Sure," I said nonchalantly. "Why not?"

I spent that entire afternoon poring over the stack, wondering why providence had smiled on me so. Every page of every magazine offered some treasure from the bizarro world of first responders; requests for victims of specific crashes involving specific vehicles; classifieds pleading for labor in Saudi Arabia; ads featuring every possible injury to the human body. This particular photo - I can't remember the product it hawked - seemed tailor made for the cover of one of my band's records.

But I never did the use this photo, which was probably for the best. It's kind of harsh.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Fighting The Worms And Maggots (2001)

FROM THE ARCHIVES, AUG 25 - This posted on, 8/13/01. The bit about Dave's bass guitar still stands (although his address has changed) - if you see it somewhere, send me a postcard.


Last month, while I was out of town at the Mordam Convention and thus defenseless, a stranger named "Terri" sent the following email; Hi! How are you? I send you this file in order to have your advice. See you later. My lone employee opened the attached document and I don't blame him for the hubbub that followed. Not many people know the golden rule of ouija boards and file attachments; clumsily spelled names are a telltale sign of the evil wraith attempting entry into the human world. "Terri" turned out to be the popular W32.SirCam virus (technically a worm). Sir Cam proceeded to roll its little shopping cart down the dusty aisles of my computer, no doubt whistling a hateful little tune as it plucked items from their proper places. It sent random documents from the hardrive to random friends in my address book. In my browser cache it found more addresses and proceeded to email more random documents to absolute strangers. When I returned on the 31st, I noted dumbly that the little green DSL light on the back of the unit was chugging away, even though I wasn't online.

On the 1st, I started receiving returned email from nonexistent persons. It took a few hours to grasp the severity of the problem. If 57 letters were returned from bad addresses, how many were sent to good addresses? Several strangers wrote demanding to know why I had emailed them the paltry "plopgate" column from last February. A friend in Seattle was sent a spreadsheet of people's birthdays (I checked and hers made the list). The webmaster at "" was sent a list of potential short story first sentences I'd written over the years. The office of the governor of West Virginia was sent a file I'd rather not discuss. Computer sickness inevitably draws metaphors with human sickness, especially the ugly belief - usually unspoken with humans - that the infected must've been careless to get infected in the first place. But this one's not my fault! When Napster posted that the only virus one could catch using their service "is the one that will affect your mind, body and soul", I took great pains not to catch that one either! And this is the thanks I get?

Consequently: my August site revisions are going to take a while. Until I get the harddrive scrubbed clean and rebuilt I stay offline. Just the act of posting this very update will cost me. Last week I logged on long enough to correct a few live show dates, about six minutes. Later that day I found another 4 messages from infected users, including a "DIE MOTHERFUCKER" from someone I've never met. It's strange writing this, knowing that an evil intruder is in here somewhere, peering over every keystroke. Why, Terri?


Dave from the Rah Bras reports that his bass guitar has gone missing. It was last seen on July 7 and foul play is suspected. Dave describes the disappeared instrument as "a total rip off viola bass Paul Mccartney hofner look-a like thing. It says 'Royal Artist' up where you turn the things to make the strings tighter. It has gold screws where the neck hooks up to the body on the back. And it is a hollow body bass. It has a reddish-yellowish sunburst look... and has some black on it. The volume knob is big and silver and could be mistaken for a old TV knob." Dave adds, "If you run into the person that has it... and you can't take it by force... just nicely ask them to return it to me (COD if they like), at David NeSmith, PO Box 4934, Richmond, VA 23220." This is where it seems appropriate to add a quote from the insert sleeve of the first Blast LP, sound counsel even fifteen years later: "COMPLETE HATRED TO THE FUCKING MAGGOT THAT STOLE DAVE'S BASS (FROM THE BALBOA THEATER IN L.A.) BURN IN HELL YOU SON OF A BITCH!!"

Monday, August 24, 2009

Recent Acquisitions

RECEIVING, AUG 24 - Recent Acquisitions:

MANIAC - I bought this film online for an article I'm working on. I only paid cash money for it after being rebuffed by my local video stores, Netflix, and the L.A. county library system. At one point I had the box in my hands, but as I was leaving the video store, a flitter of intuition told me to check the disk. It was the 1934 version starring someone called William Woods and someone called Horace B. Carpenter. Although this looked like a great movie, it wasn't the Maniac I wanted.

The Maniac I wanted was made in 1980. Obscurity added to the film's mystique. When I was in fifth grade, word spread of a film rated X for sheer violence, and over the course of my adolescence I built up this film - and Dawn of the Dead - into two hours of entrails-squishing madness. Hushed playground rumors confirmed my worst fears; watching Maniac would make you shit your mind in fear, disintegrate your personality, and render you unfit for any other movies, or human relationships. Until 2009, I never would have imagined I would have any reason to watch this.

Seeing Maniac last month was a bit of a letdown. New York fixture Joe Spinell (the sassy dispatcher in Taxi Driver) stars as the serial killer Frank Zito. Spinell looks like a serial killer - he's got the dead, fisheyed stare of an anonymous creep, and all the rumpled facial fat of Bill Murray or Edward James Olmos with none of the charisma. But despite the casting and general greasy claustrophobia, there's not nearly enough violence to justify my 29 years of dread. Spinell skulks around his dank outer borough basement apartment, occasionally emerging to scalp or dupe people. The one money shot - presumably the scene that earned the X - takes place halfway in, when Frank blasts special effects artist Tom Savini in the face with a shotgun, popping his head like a water balloon. It's a gloopy shocker, but not one made for DVD technology. A simple freeze frame revealed Savini's paper mâché head, as if he'd pulled a last-second prison break from the entire movie. Why was I so scared of this?

Spinell does one nice trick; his narration voiceover is just heavy breathing and pervert grunts. In a perfect world, this would have been the DVD's commentary track.

FAKE OWL - The mockingbird has returned to the tree outside. Through the first half of the summer, my backyard boomed with the inhuman beatbox at jet engine decibels. Since using a very large water gun didn't work last time around, I spent several sleepless nights pondering my options;

- Slumber in the car, far away

- Start drinking and drink myself to sleep every night

- Burn the tree down

- Burn the house down

- Concentrate and concentrate until either me or the bird pop like a water balloon

The obvious solution was slow to emerge. Normal birds hate owls. I'm not sure why (the internet tells me different things - jealousy, intimidation, envy). Plastic owls keep away regular birds. It had the sweet ring of truth. I would use psychology to vanquish the beast.

It took six stores to find a suitable fake owl (furrowed brow, hateful plastic eyes), but it's apparently done the trick. No midnight screeches and howls. No more winged freaks divebombing the neighborhood cats. Relative peace and quiet.

Downside: the one in the backyard now shields a huge spider. No natural predator will go near the fake owl, so the spider slowly grows bigger and fatter and snares larger and larger victims in its expanding web. Also, I keep forgetting the owl is there, and some nights I catch its silhouette through the window - like some prop from an Abbott and Costello haunted house movie - and it kind of weirds me out.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

FF in PHX (2002)

FROM THE ARCHIVES, AUG 20 - This originally posted on, 4/22/02.


One-man band Fast Forward drove from Los Angeles to Phoenix, AZ this last Wednesday for a rare live performance with Olympia, WA.'s one-man band Thrones. This drive, one eighth of the distance across the continental USA, consists of three parts; 1) a relatively painless stretch past the car dealerships and strip clubs of the eastern inland valleys, 2) a reverent stop at the General Patton Museum in Chiriaco Summit, CA, 3) 400,000 hours across the scorched and insensate desert. Seen along the way; 1) several cryptic groves of headless palm trees, 2) a billboard featuring a troop of marching cartoon ducks, reading United We Quack To Stamp Out Child Abuse, 3) one unmarked chrome container truck, reading only Inedible - Not Intended For Human Food. The band passed the state line at dusk, the only time zone in the U.S. one can cross without actually changing times. In Phoenix, banner ads were seen for the anti-tobacco proposition 200, reading Secondhand Smoke Kills! At various intersections along the route, smaller signs could also be seen taped underneath each banner with arrows pointing upwards, reading so do hot dogs!, and so do cars!, and so do cheeseburgers!

Joe Preston of the Thrones was already at the club. He produced a flyer for a show Thrones played with Unwound last month, their last. Both bands were listed on a tombstone. "They didn't have to list me on the grave," he said quietly. A young man in a horse poncho arrived. Some locals recognized Mr. F___ of Fast Forward as the guy who drunkenly found himself behind the club while looking for the men's room at a different show last year. A small beam of recognition crossed Preston's face. "Hey... I played here eleven years ago. This is where I poked a guy in the chest with my bass."

Fast Forward played at ten. A small bomb had been constructed with road flares and a stolen alarm clock. By 10:04 the set was over and Joe found himself stamping out a few pathetic flames on the stage. In the rush to exit the club, Fast Forward had scattered a stack of flyers which various concert goers silently picked up and returned to their neat little piles on the shelf by the door. The flares had filled the room with a thick sulfur stink. Later, during the Thrones set, Mr. F____ could be seen at the back of the club, hair mussed. “History,” he muttered, “will exonerate me.”

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Snacks! (2008)

From last year's Unleash The Walrus art show;

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Smelly Bakeries (2001)

FROM THE ARCHIVES, AUG 18 - This originally posted on, 1/1/01.


Last month I talked with Brooks H., ex-drummer man for UOA, Born Against, Young Pioneers and Skull Kontrol. In the course of catching up, Brooks revealed his successful segue from percussionist to chef. In certain circles such a lifestyle course correction is known as a Mustacheless Greg Norton. Brooks preferred to call it "going from one under-appreciated and non-lucrative lifestyle to yet another". He told me of his recent move from a local bakery to the kitchen of a respected hotel, an advancement not made without a quota of parting bitchiness.

"Kitchen people sound a lot like thespians," I said, "hissy and wonderfully self centered."

Brooks seemed to like the sound of that. "Yeah, definitely. But there's also some stuff that was already familiar from being in punk bands. I got a speech about 'selling out' when I left my bakery. It's like the bakeries are the respected indie labels and the hotel kitchens are the hated, well-paying majors."

"So by extension," I continued, "Vermiform Records would be like the bakery with really great croissants that nobody goes to any more because it smells like pee."


Ok, I know this comparison isn't perfect; some of my croissants are kind of stale. But what to do about the smell, and the old inventory, and the dwindling clientele? I've been trying. After 17 months of no new releases, it seems like I should have a ready explanation. But there is none. Debts' a tricky thing to negotiate. Having carefully navigated this business away from the rocky shoals of a global bull market & the mid-90's punk boom (I can officially add the Jubilee 2000 debt relief movement to that list today), I'm left with 9 sellers financing 43 nonsellers. After a while that kind of math would catch up with any label. No disinterest or disengagement should be implied in this unintentional hiatus. With a few exceptions, I've dearly loved all the releases on this label, and it saddens me to see so many waiting forlornly for that magic Wells Fargo stagecoach to come carry them out of the red and into the black. Lots of good records are still in the works. Like I said, I'm working on it.

Eleven years ago today this label released its first record, a four band, split label comp drenched in HO-scale shmardcore hyperbole. One year ago today I'd planned on releasing VMFM 50, the label's 10th anniversary compilation album, with some new, grandly symmetrical State Of The Label writing to compensate for the bad tidings of VMFM 0. But debt has swallowed that release as well. After a while the absence of any (already advertised) comp has made its own, far more eloquent statement about the state of affairs. Fielding my bills, watching temporarily unstocked Born Against LPs list for swelling amounts on eBay as "long out of print", I feel more and more that this label is like the submarine in Das Boot - sinking, sinking, seeing how much pressure she can take before implosion. Remember; that sub was fixed and lived to ride again. Before it was sunk by Allied warplanes, that is.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Interview With Former Housemates

I interviewed my old housemates, Adam Nathanson and Alyssa Murray, on 5/23/09 at Jyoti Indian Cuisine in the Adams Morgan part of Washington DC. It was loud, and a lot of other people talked over us.

Sam: When we all lived together, in '93 and '94, I have distinct memories of me being the press secretary for Neil. Neil would do something controversial - like toss his used cat litter out the window, or write on the walls - and then the next morning I'd have to issue a clarification on his behalf. Is that an accurate memory?

Alyssa: Yes. I remember a broken coffee table. And I remember you were the spokesman for the broken coffee table...

Neil: I don't remember this coffee table!

Adam: Who broke it?

Neil: What kind of asshole would break a coffee table?

Alyssa: (pause) That's what I'm wondering.

Adam: I also remember a guy stuffing things in the wall for the property manager...

Sam: Hey, I was provoked. And I've since come clean about that. But, so, me being press secretary is an accurate memory?

Alyssa: Yeah...

Sam: And that is a pretty sick relationship, right?

Alyssa: Yeah....

Sam: Also, I have no memories of any of us five sitting down for even one meal together at that big table in the kitchen.

Neil: I don't remember that either.

Sam: Why did that not happen? Did we all hate each other? I thought we all got along.

Alyssa: There wasn't enough room.

Sam: But it was huge table.

Alyssa: It was against the wall.

Neil: (mocking) Noo! Everybody had to fend for themselves! I'm going to eat this at this time! And I'm going to eat that at that time!

Adam: You're correct though, there was no sense of community.

Sam: Why was that? It wasn't a punk house, because people in punk houses do things together.

Adam: Well, weren't there sensitivity issues? Like, you didn't want to be mocked for what you were eating?

Sam: Oho. (laughs)

Adam: That was kind of an issue.

Sam: I would have eaten well if somebody had made some nice food for me!

Adam: And then Neil had the temper tantrum where the spaghetti ended up on the ceiling...

Neil: [chortles]

Sam: And I had to issue a clarification for that as well!

Alyssa: Neil would run out of the room after he did stuff like that... [laughter]

Neil: This interview doesn't paint a very good picture of me.

Alyssa & Adam, early 1994, kitchen. Note view.

Sam: Did we have any parties? We had a lot of guests, but no parties, right?

Alyssa: We had a lot of guests. But I don't think we had a party.

Adam: Nope.

Sam: That seems abnormal, now, doesn't it? Is it because we had so many animals? And the animals were mostly crazy?

Alyssa: We had so many people staying there, often enough, that why would you need to have a party?

Adam: Yeah, bands...

Sam: Yeah, but the people who stayed there were never festive. They were mostly awful, right?

Adam: I don't know.

Alyssa: Hm.

Sam: Wait, I never got an answer about the Caligula thing, Alyssa.

Alyssa: I don't remember that...

Sam: My memory is that me and Neil rented Caligula at Strawberry Video, and we were really, really excited to watch it. Then it turned out to be the most boring movie ever and we fell asleep while watching it. And at some point I think I woke up on the floor and you were watching it. But you don't remember any of this?

Alyssa: I don't.

Sam: I remember thinking we'd done a bad thing by inflicting this filthy movie on our one female roommate.

Neil: I remember watching that in high school and thinking it was a really deviant thing to do....

Sam: The only group activity I remember from that house is all of us watching MTV together for hours and feigning outrage.

Neil: Watching TV and complaining. And I think Alyssa used to watch 90210 all the time and we used to interrupt her.

Sam: I remember the Beastie Boys video would come on a lot and everyone would kind of grudgingly like it. But then I had to go out to the mall and buy the cassette in secret because I didn't want any of you to know I'd bought something on a major record label.

Adam: Your secret was that you liked that REM video for 'Losing My Relgion'.

[everyone laughs derisively]

Sam: NO.

Neil: And you bought the Fu-Schnickens CD!

Sam: No I did NOT.

Adam: Featuring Shaquille O'Neil! [Restaurant fills with derisive laughter / frowning-face emoticon, etc.]

Friday, August 14, 2009

New: Joe P. @ Mt. V

ANNALS OF JOE, AUG 14 - Vice Magazine just posted my essay about traveling to George Washington's birthplace with migratory bassist Joe Preston. What I wasn't able to fit in the article was our four hour passage from Philadelphia to north Virginia in a van with no air conditioning and windows that didn't roll down. By the time we arrived, my shirt was translucent with sweat.

Also, I forgot my camera and had to buy a disposable at the Mount Vernon gift shop. I'd forgotten what lousy pictures these things take. And I was kind of hoping that Washington's ghost might've popped up in a corner of at least one of the photos. That never happened.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

NSP01 (2001)

FROM THE ARCHIVES, AUG 13 - This originally posted on, 2/12/01.

The New Success Program '01 launched last week. This program consisted of my auctioning off a good chunk of the LP collection I transported 2,800 miles from storage in upstate New York. Southwest Airlines allows passengers three pieces of stowed luggage at 70 pounds each. I managed three poorly taped boxes at 68 pounds each (some of the B's had to be left behind). Mothballed for over a year, these records seemed even less vital to my life after I'd lugged them across the airport concourse. The lady at the counter pursed her lips and made me sign a damage waiver. Once in the air, back and shoulders aching, I hatefully pictured the boxes spilling open in the hold, unsleeved vinyl sloshing around in turbulence, rare hardcore albums gracefully raining down on the midwest.

I don't regret the actual selling of these artifacts - almost every obscure punk & new wave record ever pressed is available on CD these days. I save my remorse for the wretched nickel & dimeyness of online record auctioning. A lot of pandering to the lowest common denominator comes with this territory. Several hours of cataloguing skips, scratches and surface scuffs left me a cheaper, smaller man. The Shift/F7 thesaurus was frequently summoned. I tried noting 1/32 inch seam splits, but my sarcasm didn't seem to translate.

Also, steering clear of eBay's "Shill Bidding" rules is tough. It's ok, kind of, for a friend to bid in one's auction. If that friend is genuinely interested in the items. If they act in collusion with the seller, or bid with the intent of inflating prices, or hold some shade of doubt in their heart, the transaction may be illegal. Not covered in the rules is what I should do if that friend comes over to my house, drinks half a bottle of Captain Morgan's spiced rum, logs on to my computer and starts drunkenly bidding for items, intent unknown. No! I pleaded, already internalizing the pettiness of my oppressors, They can trace the cookies! They'll cancel my auction! How did it get this far?

I made out as well as can be expected. A lot of Italian and Japanese hardcore sold well. I didn't have many German bands this time around, so I'm not sure if this was some post-Axis trend. My remaining albums have been winnowed to resemble the kind of record collection one might see in a freshman's college dorm - The Police, Jimi Henrix, The Beatles. A slight transfer of wealth from the gods of colored vinyl to the gods of unpaid bills is pending.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Problem: Unresolved Hate Mail

THE ZONE OF UNEASE, Aug. 12 - Some background: In early 1995, I received a large box with no return address. The box contained 75 copies of a bootleg 7" record of my old band, Born Against. As some sort of nonverbal good will gesture, the shipper also included a teddy bear. Each record had had its production code manually scratched off the matrix. Scratching off production codes is a time-consuming chore for any bootlegger, but worth the effort to produce a final, untraceable end product. A de-numbered record has no maker or factory of origin.

I, however, had 75 records. And with 75 records and some patience, it was entirely possible to retrace the missing number. The deciphered production code led me to United Records in Tennessee. After a few faxes, I had the bootlegger's home address. I held a destruction party with a few friends. We snapped records, ripped up covers, disemboweled the teddy bear, poured in some old Chinese food from the fridge, repackaged the box and returned the whole thing to sender. It was a smashing waste of resources.

I didn't care that the bootlegger might, potentially, make some money off my old band. There's not much money in 7" records to begin with. What did highly cheese me off was the idea that a stranger could insert themselves into my life and make creative decisions on my behalf. It was a violation a little bit like robbery or identity theft.

After I shipped the box, something stuck with me. The records had been sent without malice. The bootlegger had probably been surprised that I didn't share the good will. Future bootleggers might make the same assumption. On my next monthly advertisement in
Maximumrocknroll - the Internet of 1995 - I wrote WARNING: PEOPLE WHO BOOTLEG BORN AGAINST GET SUED. I didn't have the cash or desire to actually sue anybody, so this seemed the easiest way to proactively shorthand that future counterfeits lacked my blessing.

The ad was a hit, in that readers responded negatively, which was more response than my other ads got. A month later I got this anonymous letter, postmarked Oxnard, CA:

This particular threat confused me, specifically the charge of hypocrisy. Had the author falsely assumed that I'd once endorsed bootlegs? Or was this threat an offshoot of that slippery hippie mentality that held me a hypocrite for not generally going with the flow and being cool? Maybe the anonymous assailant, fed up with other, more real hypocrisies of mine, had taken my ad as some sort of final straw that could not go unanswered. Maybe the letter was from another bootlegger. And the nature of the threat also confused me. Was I to get the black eye just for mentioning litigation? Or was the black eye only to be delivered if I actually went to court? Was it a warning, or a promise?

This note marked a strange interlude in my life when I stopped getting threats from right wingers and started getting threats from left wingers. In retrospect, it seemed like a precursor to the insane hate-mail marathons generated by Napster just a few years later. I wonder now if the anonymous author ever reflects on this particular letter, and, if so, if he or she is either proud or embarrassed of telling me off. Maybe this threat was only one of hundreds or thousands of crank letters churned out by the same author. Maybe the writer has long since graduated to threatening politicians and cereal companies by mail.

Most importantly, I'm still puzzled over the statute of limitations on this. Will I need to look over my shoulder the next time I'm in Oxnard? Or anywhere else? Will I still need to guard my eyes when I'm 80, propped up in a beach chair at a retirement home?

Monday, August 10, 2009

The U Word (2002)

FROM THE ARCHIVES, AUG. 10 - This originally ran in Punk Planet 46 under the title "Food On Y'all"; I think I'd been listening to an ODB song where he yells that and it struck me as funny...


I am deeply conflicted to report that a 20-page fanzine of Henry Rollins poetry has just sold for $205 in an online auction. I bought the thing for a dollar in 1990, which would make my rate of return slightly over 20,000%. If I reinvest the cash wisely and pull the same trick again, I can make $40,000. Do it once more and I get a cool $8,000,000. This is what all the big guys huff and puff over - rate of return. When Bill Gates & Donald Trump get together to eat in one of their fancy restaurants, they discuss how to maximize their rate of return. When word of this column leaks out, their next conversation will doubtless center around my stupendous feat.

The deep conflict arises from the U Word. "Usury", once confined to the lending of money at high interest rates, has come to mean a more general, amoral brand of profiteering. The Bible weighs in quite heavily against usury. Try Ezekiel 18:13:

If he has exacted usury or taken increase -- Shall he then live? He shall not live! If he has done any of these abominations, He shall surely die; His blood shall be upon him.

Yikes! If my little online auction isn’t a clear-cut case of “taking increase” than I don’t know what is. Despite not wanting my blood upon myself, however, I’m not so disturbed by my own apparent greed. I am disturbed at how thoroughly my passion over the issue has evaporated. This kind of stuff used to vex me into a mad froth not ten years ago. There was a time in my life when inflated record prices were a real and palpable evil, the shallow end of a continuum that included all culture related markups, crookedness, financial cynicism, hypocrisy, graft, racism, war, genocide, and exploding planets. It's hard, writing from the comfort of the 21st century, to decipher my thought processes. But I do remember that I wasn't alone. Venus records in New York sustained a low-level drubbing from myself and others for years over this issue, the outrage of the righteous over the perception of unfair prices. Friends assaulted their door with condiments. Stock was vandalized. Lip was given. Serious stuff.

The problem with the commandment against usury is that it challenges its detractors to formulate a fair price. It’s a slippery proposition. The owner of Venus once smartly posed this very challenge to me and I sidestepped with some teenagerishly amateur snide comment. He saw right to the meaty core of a problem that exists yet today - the ever shifting boundaries of fair price. Like; I guess $205 plus shipping and handling is kind of harsh for a slim tome of pretentious poetry. When I close my eyes, concentrate, and ask myself what seems like a reasonable amount, a hazy “$4?” emerges (this was my asking price for the zine in question). But that's still a four hundred percent profit. I would certainly hate to see, for example, the $125 used refrigerator I & my girlfriend bought in 1999 purchased on eBay for $500.

And there's an unspoken paradox here, so obvious that I have to wonder how it escaped me during my uppity anti-usury-guy days. If poseurs are the problem (and even at this late date I remain convinced that poseurs, in various stripes and guises, are THE problem) and if only a poseur would pay $46 for a Peter And The Test Tube Babies record… well, isn’t this an elegant solution to both problems? There seems something beautifully Darwinian about the whole arrangement. Who am I to mess with Darwin? Yet... there are even flaws in this approach. The implication of my own superiority over the buyer, at the very least that I “got over” on someone, is kinda uncomfortable. I'm not sure that there was any getting over involved in this latest transaction. Perhaps the Rollins zine was purchased for a noble cause. I'll never know. Statistically, it’s not impossible that the buyer paid the whopping winning bid only to rush the item on a doily to a dying grandparent, some bittersweet last request. Or it could have been purchased as a birthday present. Who am I to mess with someone’s birthday? Most plausible still, the buyer could be a prudent investor. A twenty thousand per cent return over eleven years is the holy grail to even the wealthiest of investors. The Sultan Of Brunei would bark like a duck for those numbers. The same logic that makes me a smart guy for pulling off the sale potentially makes the buyer exponentially smarter than me. Damn.

At least I didn’t bootleg the thing! And don't think I didn't think about it! I did! A few staple pops, some quick moves at the copy shop and I've got a steady extra income. I strongly doubt any buyers of my hypothetical cloned zines would be running a fiber analysis on the paper or grades of Xerox toner. Victimless crime! And if Ezekiel already dooms me to an eternity in Hell for the initial sale, why not bootleg it? Well.... because I already sent it off, that's why. Oops.


1. For all the complaints I’ve read about the new Hotmail design, I have yet to hear anyone else gripe about the new wave of audacious spam that started the moment their site was updated. I get at least two commercial messages a day now with headers like, RE: We charged it to your Visa or RE: Your account is overdrawn or RE: I want to suck your dick. Is this the next wave of selling? The funny thing about online marketing - people worry about privacy loss, pernicious techno-sophistication and invisible cookies, when what they SHOULD be worried about is the opposite; the reversion to crude intrusion, the dangerous desperation of modern advertising. It's the big secret of every business magazine. The number one commodity for all modern markets is consumer attention. Advertising is a victim of its own success. The same technology that allows a seller to blast a million potential customers with unwanted ads forces that same seller to compete against a million other sellers, all in competition for dwindling fractions of the public's time.

The future of advertising may not be the giant video geishas from Blade Runner. My bet is that we're going to see far more of the tactics perfected by the street freaks during my five years in Richmond, VA. I once had a street dude run in front of my moving car, arms flailing, screaming for me to stop. I played the good Samaritan up until he ran up to the window and asked if I had any cigarettes. And who could forget the door-to-door serial borrowers? I recall several confident chaps ringing the bell and asking to borrow my bike for half an hour. One guy lost his composure after I refused, paused for an angry minute to reflect, and then pointed next door, blurting, "Well, your neighbors... how they livin'??!" Some ad exec is going to catch on to these tactics sooner or later. I can easily visualize this future - Pepsi sponsored home invasions, Virgin Megastore muggings, rocks stenciled with the Verizon logo hurled through windows...

2. I should note that I'm not reinvesting a dime of my easily gotten $205. It all goes for some alimonyish payments due to a large East Canadian printing firm. These good souls printed many a CD and LP cover for me, providing me with this column's link to this issue's graphics design theme.

3. The Rate Of Return conundrum creeps into the creative spheres. Take these columns, for which we are all eventually paid our $40. If I need eight agonizing hours to churn one out then I’m not making but five dollars an hour, fry cook territory. But if I dash this thing out in a half hour, I’ve suddenly lurched into the $80 an hour range. Not bad. A fifteen-minute column gets me into the lawyerly tax bracket of $160 an hour. And a two minute sprint – 90 seconds smashing on the “j” and “k” keys as fast as possible followed by 30 seconds of random space bar insertions – gets me into the $1200 an hour range. Could such a gibberish-fest make it past the editors? Only time will tell ...

Friday, August 7, 2009

New: Alex Cox Interview

EXCELLENCE IN JOURNALISM DEPT., AUG 7 - My interview with British filmmaker Alex Cox is now online at the Village Voice. The director of Repo Man and Sid And Nancy endured my grilling on his upcoming Repo Chick with the jolly good humor I've come to expect from our British brothers. Not included in the piece were our discussions on John Carpenter films, southern Oregon, and his disdain of Obama from the left. He only grew momentarily icy when I mentioned that I really enjoyed the first two Terminator movies, which, sorry, I'll stand by.

Repo Man was the reason I wore a tie and buzz cut for most of high school. The film held vast sway over my teen years. When I got to discuss Escape From New York with Cox it was one of the few moments where I was able to pay back my 15-year old self for all the ridiculous things I've done as an adult.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Problem: Crummy Letter to Newspaper

OOPS DEPT., AUG. 6 - My hometown of Albany, NY, was also home to William Kennedy, Pulitzer Prize-wining author of Ironweed. Kennedy was Albany's best known author (except for the few months when Toni Morrison lived in town, in the house next to mine), and pretty much Albany's only celebrity.

Kennedy's son Brendan went to my high school. I don't remember he and I ever speaking, although my yearbook tells me we were on the five-student Newspaper Committee together when I was a senior and he was a junior. Sometime in the summer of 1986, Brendan and his father co-wrote a children's book,
Charlie Malarkey and the Belly Button Machine. Atlantic Monthly Press published it, and the two got some national press. That November, I wrote an angry letter to the Albany Times-Union.

I remember reading my letter in the school library newspaper the morning it was printed, and not making the connection that I'd done anything troublesome, or even out of the ordinary. Later that day, words were exchanged with some of Kennedy's friends on the dodgeball court, but that was about all the feedback I got; it wasn't really the kind of school were kids broke into fisticuffs.

Artistic jealousy is an insidious force. Over the years, I've seen it do serious damage to all sorts of relationships. I guess I'm glad I got my snippy fit of jealousy out of the way at an early age. In 1994, Puffin books published the Kennedy's sequel,
Charlie Malarkey and the Singing Moose. I'm glad, also, that my nasty little note didn't deter either from working together again.

Anyway, if you're Brendan Kennedy and you've Googled yourself and stumbled on this page (and my strong suspicion is that everybody Googles themselves sooner or later), please consider this an apology. I was young and high on hormones and had not quite yet worked out the mechanics of being a decent human. If it's any consolation, I've had some crummy things written about me in the last 23 years, and none of it's been about anything nearly as prestigious as even a children's book.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Misc i-Zone photos

From the old fridge, r.i.p.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Alberti Records (2001) pt. 2

FROM THE ARCHIVES, Aug. 4 - This is the second half of my obituary for Alberti Records (see yesterday's post for part 1)

Ken from Prank and Mike from Broken Records arrived mid-morning. They'd left San Francisco at 2AM and appeared grim. Andy and I clawed through boxes with the euphoria of those disoriented by hot manual labor. When Bill Alberti found me perched between shelves & pallet, 6 to 7 feet over the concrete floor, he politely asked if I might consider using their ladder. "No, we want to do this! We signed waivers!!" "Fifty five years and only one behanding," Andy added, giddy. "I think your safety record speaks for itself!" Later in the day, Long Gone John unearthed a dozen boxes of old Redd Foxx 7"s, pressed on the Dooto label several centuries ago. A very quiet and intense period of looting occurred until someone (me?) pointed out that we couldn't all sell these on eBay at once.

On the third day we reverted to scavenger hunts from my list. The dark loft was revealed as a graveyard of Alternative Tentacles jackets. Andy and I discussed which important mother would look the prettiest mounted on his wall and installed with one of those crafts store clock innards. On the envelope for the KRS 250 stampers I read: PUT BACK IN NOTHING WRONG WITH THIS PLATE SOMEBODY WAS LOCO. I overheard the familiar disembodied Frank voice, explaining to the telephone: "this would've been our fifty fifth year." On a Kill Rock Stars box I found a sad, hand-drawn heart, crudely crossed out with magic marker. It seemed emblematic of something. I used a lull to debrief Bill Alberti. How long had they been in this building? (Since Eisenhower.) How long had Frank worked here? (Since Ford.) Had they ever refused anything on grounds of content? (Never.) Did he listen to any of the records he'd pressed, for enjoyment? (back in the seventies). Any problems with bootlegs? (They'd been raided by the FBI thirty years ago, but CDs had made the issue irrelevant by the 80's.. "after a while the FBI wouldn't even return our phone calls.") We discussed some of the financial events that had led to the company's demise. An estate battle resulting from the death of Mr. Alberti (Bill's father and the plant owner) earlier in the year had triggered the final cash drain. But the economics of vinyl, no surprise, had been on a steady decline for the last decade. By 2001, their main customers were Mordam labels and Ebullition. And certain Mordam labels had stopped paying (he didn't mention any names and I didn't ask). "McClard always paid up front," said Bill. "He's a hell of a guy." Andy called out from the other side of the room, "what's this thing?" Bill showed us the recycler - used for removing paper labels from "remil". Andy picked up a chipped label and said, "Hey... it's Brown Reason To Live!". Bill examined the shard, then looked up, stumped. "Is this a good record?"

On Friday we made one last van trip. Loading finished before 2. Our repeated offers to treat Frank & Bill to lunch were bordering on the awkward. Bill hemmed and hawed and finally said he wouldn't have the time. Frank laughed and roared off on his forklift, cigarette dangling. I searched for more stray parts and found a few. A representative from a rival plant arrived, thumbing through his own inventory for different record labels (I might need to do business with him someday, so; no names). We introduced ourselves. "Our place is nothing like this", he said, nodding towards the disorder of the assembly room. "Actually, their plates and mothers were exceedingly well organized" I said, blushing at this man's terrible rudeness. Insulting Alberti at this stage seemed like head-butting a lymphoma patient. "Yeah, ok," he continued, "but... I mean, look at this place. We're nothing like this."

Bill agreed to take us on a quick tour of the pressing station before we set out. This was the dark cavern behind the assembly room, one I'd only peered in. He hit the lights, illuminating the mechanical guts of the operation. The drama of insolvency had seemed to overwhelm Bill, but here he was in his element - a guy as versed with steam-release valve mechanics as he was with a spreadsheet. We passed sacks of shiny pellets from Keysor corp of Saugus, CA. This was the Alberti's prime number - raw vinyl. I'd pictured it simmering in vats of blurpy liquid. In person, it more resembled cattle feed, bagged and unpretentious. We were shown to the record presses, large Semi-Automatic SMT's (for Southern Machine & Tool). There didn't seem to be anything automatic about these monsters. Each stood chest level, a weird jumble of pipes intersecting pipes, secured at points with 5 inch bolts that would be better suited to the bowels of a supertanker. "These cost us $70,000 apiece." Even with the overheads, the room remained a dreary and atmospheric place. Random spots of machinery were illuminated by stray beams of light strobing through the roof fans. The windows were clouded with years of calcium deposits. Nearby, a woman in a bikini gazed at us from a faded 1986 Thermoking Of Indiana calendar. "They're worth about $200 now," Bill added softly. He tugged on a jutting tube and a set of metal jaws rolled out and popped open. A faint hiss rose from somewhere deep inside the machine. He showed us where water cooled the system, where steam entered, where the plates and hot blobs of wax were inserted for pressing. I asked how many records one machine could make in a shift. "1,500 records can be pressed on one machine in any 8 hour period.... that's if there's no bullshitting around." My heart sank at the inhumanity of the work I'd commissioned without regard for labor, as if I had been ordering up an endless series of pay-per-view movies. Bill added: "This is where it really gets hot".

I asked to use the office phone. A pang of gloom registered when I found my own name at # 27 on the speed dial. I'd lived in California for two years at this point. Why hadn't I visited earlier? Why, at the very fucking least, hadn't I sent a sympathy card when Mr. Alberti passed away? These opportunities to verify your humanity are rare and irretrievable. Clearly I hadn't been the worst financial offender (disclosure; I was, at a point in '97, a year behind in my Alberti bills. I also caught up in '98 and even prepaid for a batch of repressings, a rarity among the Mordamed. I'm not sure if this all equals out). But I had acted in collusion with every other stupid, thoughtless record label by default. It was too late.

We shook hands out front, the van packed. Bill and I exchanged email addresses. I told him I'd send lists of AWOL plates. The sun continued to bleach cardboard in an overflowing dumpster. "Well." I paused for a moment, unsure what to say. "What now?"

Bill shrugged. "Start over, I guess."

Monday, August 3, 2009

Alberti Records (2001) pt. 1

FROM THE ARCHIVES, AUG 3 - This is the first half of an article that ran in Punk Planet 47. I worked this job in the weeks after 9/11, driving a large truck at dawn and spending my days in a haze of exhaustion and existential willies. It was good, honest labor in a time of mass insanity, and I'm sad the job didn't last longer.


Alberti Records of California has closed its doors after 55 years as a vinyl manufacturer. Although I've covered four states since first dealing with Alberti in 1993, fate had me living a mere half hour down the freeway by the time they'd called it quits. The final announcement was made by mail. Being the closest label-owner made me the first to receive the letter, and the bearer of bad news to other anxious label-owners. We had been given exactly one week to clear out.
After next week there will be no here at all [sic?], the doors will be locked and the keys to the company will be turned over to our lawyer, read the impenetrably bleak announcement. After that point anything remaining here will be sent to the dump. "No here"? The dump?? That sounded hopeless indeed. A lot of record labels started emailing me. I suddenly found myself popular.

When I and Andy and Andy's van arrived at their plant in Monterey Park on the 18th, I was armed with a mandate to retrieve all parts for nearly every Vermiform, Kill Rock Stars, 5RC, Punk In My Vitamins and Paralogy record pressed in the nineties, over 180 titles. I also packed; a clipboard, detailed notes on every release by name and catalog number, magic markers, liability waivers (removing our right to sue in case of injury on their now-uninsured premises), a bottle of Bushmills whiskey, a red Christmas bow and two pairs of wollen winter gloves unearthed from the pre-California section of my closet. Ebullition Records owner Kent McClard greeted me at the door with a hearty handshake. The last time I'd seen him was 8 years ago, and I'd placed my first call to Alberti from his living room.

The whisky & xmas bow were for plant manager Frank Scalla. My 8-year phone relationship with Frank had left me anxious over meeting the man in person. Mordam employees had described him as "an old hippie". I'd pictured him more like the late actor Jack Nance in his "Blue Velvet" role, gruff beyond gruff. It was a little jarring to see the place in person. For all the rumor surrounding Alberti, I don't know a single label owner who's ever set foot in the place. Kent admitted this was his first time at the plant (while on tour three years ago, I'd made arrangements to "swing by".... I'd heard later that my last minute no-show had actually been considered as rude an offense as the $500 bill I'd temporarily stiffed them for). Frank appeared. His Wilfred Brimleyish mustache surpassed all expectations. Following him was Bill Alberti, the middle-aged and mannerly grandson of the company's founder. We made our introductions and ceremoniously signed the waivers. "Any injuries around here?" one of us asked in half-mock nervousness. "Welllll.... let's see," Frank said, stroking that incredible mustache. It was like seeing a famous radio DJ in the flesh. "One guy got three fingers crushed in a press a while back. That's about 2,000 pounds per square inch."

Kent directed us into the snarled interior of the assembly room. It was a little hard to get a visual grasp on the place - stuff, stuff and more stuff sprawled in all directions, crammed into loose boxes, shoved under tables, piled around trash cans. Andy & I were directed to six tidy, narrow aisles along the east wall. "Here's your stuff," said Kent, pointing. On a certain shelf I found a neat stack of all my mothers - the solid nickel master record that the more brittle and short-lived pressing plates are born of. Almost every release I'd ever pressed was here. One aisle over we were shown the endless stacks of paper labels and pressing plates. "Isn't it kind of disturbing seeing everything at once?" asked Kent, laughing. It was. All my triumphs and all my mistakes were neatly arranged and covered in a fine layer of dust. The entire space resembled a monastic library, faithfully maintained over the eons by dedicated monks. Except for the overhead hum of fluorescent lights, the room was silent. The winter gloves had been a false alarm... we'd expected loose stacks of razor edged mothers and had instead found each sealed cleanly in its own manila envelope. Flipping through these manilas released small eddies of fetid crypt air. I felt like the world's luckiest archeologist. The relevance of particular artifacts made it a little hard to concentrate. Here and there were the very plates that had pressed some of the most significant albums of my formative years, long before compact disks were a twinkle in anyone's eye. Andy threatened to stab me with the (presumably) sharp edges of the Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables mothers. I menaced him with Flipper's "Gone Fishin'". Long Gone John of Sympathy For the Record Industry emerged from a further aisle. "I've got over five hundred titles here", he said morosely, to no one in particular.

Behind the assembly room we found an equally spacious loading dock. Here were hundreds upon of hundreds of boxes, frozen in bankruptcy - some loaded on pallets, some buried, some loose. A bound tower of Lookout Records cartons teetered off an eye-level ledge at a crazy 45 degree angle, like part of a lame Universal Studios theme park ride. The clutter extended across the breadth of the room and continued into a second story loft, receding into darkness. Andy pointed to a series of aisles underneath the loft, also dark. Bill told us this was "mostly old stuff".

We flipped the lights and gingerly started down the corridors of this auxiliary lost library. Faded boxes of labels hinted at the company's history; "Wild West Recordings of Rialto, CA", "Kick Khadafy's Butt", the "Erotic sounds of Love" series, the "Black Political Power" series. My excitement at certain Rollins Band labels paled next to Andy's near swoon at the sight of certain Nuclear Crayons labels. The timer light for this section kept shutting off, leaving us a few private moments to contemplate our immediate find as the other fumbled back to reset the switch.

On the 19th we brought a truck. And my mandate was widened - Jade Tree, Troubleman, early Slap A Ham, a stray Mr. Lady mother. I made arrangements for more people, feeling like the begrudging spy from Our Man In Havana - slowly hiring on sub-agents to help with the dirty work. We spent the morning loading pallets. Alberti had always kept strict east coast business hours, 6AM to 2PM. I'd been told this was because Monetery Park is "a hellhole". Standing by their loading dock in the cool dawn air, surveying the hills and swaying cypresses behind the plant, I wondered why. By eleven I understood. Outside the sun was merciless, the perhaps 40 feet of loading area a scorched airport tarmac. Inside, the oxygen was flat and wrong. Bill Alberti good-naturedly chuckled at my pampered discomfort. "This is like heaven to us. When those presses start up, it gets to 110 degrees in here."

[Continued tomorrow....]