***Just a quick note before reading this autobiographical slice. This piece came from a bit of a raw place from the past. However, I did try to add some wondrous humor. I truly did. But not everything was funny, so forgive me if I stumbled a bit. It took a long time before the scar formed, mind you, but the wound eventually healed as it did. It wasn’t pretty, but getting a pretty scar is difficult to say the least.***
Whilst penning award-snubbed pieces and articles of fair-to-middling intrigue by the metric ton, I discovered that I am obviously not drinking enough to be a dedicated author of any note. The total lack of large cash offers to adapt my best-known pieces into award-seeking films hasn’t helped either. The studio powers that be have obviously turned their collective noses up at adapting my other works such as Tic-Tac-Do!: The Wink Martindale Story, War and Peace and Police Actions, The Nudest Fashion Nude Models That Are Naked!: Vol 8, and of course my shameless plug to get into the vibrant youth action market: Hally Parterston and the Divergent Dragon Maze Games: Part Ad Infinitum.
Therefore, I realized that I must dive deep into the dark recesses of my memory and as I stumble around in the pitch blacknitude, wrench forth a nugget of my melodramatic past to get those pesky movie factories interested in my exaggerated tales. These enormous paydays just don’t happen, you know! At this point, I’d even take an offer from Netflix to produce a season that would get canceled before the first trailer was even fully uploaded. Well, all right, I’ve certainly dallied forth enough and so without further ado, because we’ve certainly had enough ado for one day, here we go.
Just the other day several years ago, I was subjecting my children to the musical catalog of The Who. As my homemade song list played, I began reeling back through my fogbound memories. Then came on “The Real Me” which was followed by the instrumental “Quadrophenia” from the album of the same name. (At this point, I laughed to myself because my brother finds the other instrumental on Quadrophenia, “The Rock”, to be the better song. Of course, everyone’s entitled to wrong opinions, and he certainly can have his too.)
Hearing those two tracks, I was immediately taken back to when I first heard The Who live in July 1997 at the Marcus Amphitheater in Milwaukee. The tour focused on performing the entire Quadrophenia album. Back then, I wasn’t yet sold on The Who as much as my brother was, so I just wanted to see them try to impress me onstage. Therefore, I didn’t hear the album beforehand because I wanted the experience to be as fresh as possible. And despite The Who I saw was not the same band from 1971 or 1974 or even 1981, they didn’t disappoint. For many moons after that show, I gobbled up as much of their catalog as I could. And that live show cemented Quadrophenia as my favorite Who album.
While at the show, I ensured proof of my attendance by picking up a Who t-shirt for myself. I also snagged one for my girlfriend. She lived in Texas, while I was in Wisconsin, so it wasn’t feasible to even see each other over the summer break let alone get her somehow to see this show. But I couldn’t wait to call her and talk about this great concert that I had seen and how I couldn’t wait to see her and how was she doing and and and…
We met the previous as freshmen at St. Middling of the Blah Lutheran Ministerial College in Bumblefart, MN. (Names, although not that innocent, have been changed anyway.) She was quite lovely, had a sharp wit, and possessed a refreshing intelligence. She was my first serious girlfriend; I completely fell for her. Clearly, my cynical heart had softened somewhat because the word “love” was getting bandied about left and right. We just clicked so well together on all fronts.
Of course, given the distraction of a relationship, my grades had suffered a bit. Looking back on this is quite embarrassing considering the rather lax standards that college had. Infamously, this school admitted just about anyone who could fog a mirror; after all, tuition is tuition no matter what the GPA, right? But who cared about any of that? I was on a gravy train with biscuit wheels, head way over heels in love, and amidst a concert-filled summer, found a terrific band in The Who. All was right with the world.
Then summer break ended, and it was time to return to the humid, mosquito-laden confines of Minnesota in August. Unfortunately, most of the close circle of friends that I had attached to during freshman year had departed the campus by either taking some time off from school or transferring to better collegiate establishments or joining up with the military or leaving college altogether. Thankfully, at the very least, I still had my wonderful girlfriend in the meantime.
When we first saw each other at the start of this school year, she was standoffish, giving excuses to not meet up. This was beyond odd since our phone calls leading up to the beginning of the school year were the same as they ever were. There weren’t any indications of troubles in paradise. Finally, the moment came when she finally wanted to meet up. However, in retrospect, it was weird that she chose the lobby of the antiseptic college administration building of all the places to reunite.
After some relatively mild pleasantries, she explained that she thought it best that we stay apart from each other going forward because we were moving too fast. I was gobsmacked and before I could stammer out a reply, she then laid down the hammer: she thought we were bad for each other because I was a threat to her faith in Christ, so our relationship was over.
To say I was dumbfounded is too light a term. I was shell-shocked. My lips went numb. Everything sounded like I was underwater. It was one thing to break up with someone by saying that they just don’t feel the same way about you or that they started going out with someone else or that your husband finally returned from a prison camp. It is quite another thing altogether to tell someone that they are a paramount roadblock to their path to eternal life in paradise and a detriment to their relationship with God. How does one process hearing something like that? How would you? All I know is how I reacted: with stunned silence, trying to hold in a sudden cascade of tears, feeling like every single emerging butterfly in my stomach was the size of a panicked turkey vulture.
Now I will be the first one to acknowledge that I am not perfect. Far from it. I am an embarrassment of sins and faults. (To prove it, look no further than the cacophony of grammatical structure abuses in my writing.) Perhaps we were moving too fast. I can understand that. We were young, we were eager, we were looking for something. If it took putting the brakes on things to slow down and regain our bearings, then I was on board. But to hear the implication that I must be an abomination beyond description was incredibly breathtaking.
I recall her just staring at me without any true empathy or sympathy the entire time. Not even fake, placating platitudes were given. No possible remedy, no changing of minds, nothing. The switch was turned to “off”. It was as if a pod person had taken her over. The dust from her sandals was being shaken off right in my face. At that point, I wouldn’t have been surprised if she suddenly pulled out a string of garlic and wielded a wooden stake to end my reign of destruction forever. Honestly, given my reaction, I probably would’ve welcomed it. But it didn’t happen. She walked away, never even taking out the vials of holy water presumably secreted about her person.
There I was: shamefaced in a sterile administration building, stuck in the soon-to-be frozen tundra of vacant Minnesota, with an imploded circle of friends, and no recourse with a sudden ex-girlfriend. However, being this was a ministerial teaching college, perhaps the flood of Christian comfort and love would be forthcoming, reaching out during this lowest point. But no. There wasn’t anything like that. Regardless of whatever fraudulent jolly pictures in the brochure propaganda they peddle, I found out that one of the loneliest places on earth was that Christian college campus.
Not that I helped myself much. I was an insufferably humorless trainwreck. Like if they made Silver Streak without Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor and then had the bright idea of having the train plow through a kindergarten class that was gleefully holding puppies at Christmas. Keep in mind this was how I felt before I found out that she had hooked up with someone else almost immediately, so imagine how I was after that discovery. (That opportunistic gent, whom she ultimately married because he was ostensibly sent directly from the Lord, owes me a drink because due to my childish reactions at the time, he couldn’t help but come out smelling like an amazing rose in comparison.)
Meanwhile, I had morphed into a dour sociopathic bastard or perhaps that’s the real me and she called me out on it, a side of myself that’s normally buried but was now bubbling up to the surface. By that point, I think I was a lab accident and a colorful outfit away from being a lame Spider-Man villain stuck forever in the pages of a forgotten issue of Marvel Team-Up.
Familiarity bred contempt, but I didn’t have the brass to follow most of my friends and just leave that college. After all, that would have been a relatively mature decision. I instead decided that I would circumvent having to see her whatsoever, which is a cute idea in concept, but since the school’s enrollment was as small as a reunion of the original Howdy Doody Peanut Gallery participants and the campus itself would have fit on several flatbed trailers, it wasn’t that realistic in execution. My not having a vehicle at the time also limited my choices. But my knee-jerk decision was made, so off to the planning table!
First, I decided to avoid going to the all-campus chapel services. Fortunately, they weren’t difficult to skip for two reasons: 1) they weren’t that great to start with, and 2) and Hunter reruns were on at the same time as chapel, and they ultimately had a more spiritually rewarding message overall. (I mean if given the choice, would you rather hear a hastily constructed and badly conveyed sermonette or see Fred Dryer throw a deserving punk through a front bay window? Yeah, no choice at all really.)
I even stopped going to the cafeteria for lunch and dinner so I wouldn’t have to avert eye contact with her. I barely left my dorm room and was frankly, an utterly miserable, self-pitying son of a bitch. That my roommate at the time was willing to bunk with me for not only that school year but the following one as well is a testament to how great and patient he is because I was an irritating and gibbering basket case. (He did confirm that I didn’t have a 666 birthmark on my head, so that was a smidge comforting.)
During that time, I listened to Quadrophenia like never before. The story of the ever-increasingly disaffected Jimmy over the course of the album became ever so personal to me. I even recall putting Quadrophenia on when it would rain for an even greater dramatic effect; rain and water being a large theme in the album. There was something cathartic about screaming “Love Reign O’er Me” right alongside Daltrey on the speakers whilst a storm was outside. (Frankly, playing anything loud on that anachronistic campus was cathartic. Even cranking up some Phil Collins seemed to be edgy there!)
After hours, I remember at times going into the chapel alone. The light from the hallways peeked in through the windows on the entry doors, reflecting on the altar cross, giving it a surreal glow. To me, that glow always seemed to be a reminder of the Lord’s presence. I would just pray at the altar there, having my own conversations with God. I finally decided that changing schools would be even harder given the state of my pummeled tattered psyche, so I stayed. Perhaps I should have moved on. I’ll never know.
I also decided to scratch an fan itch I had. Bear in mind that I had never written a fan letter to anyone ever before. But during those fledgling days of the interwebnets, I found Pete Townshend’s physical address. Pete Townshend: the author of Quadrophenia as well as the lion’s share of The Who’s catalogue. Now I was not some impulsive 11-year-old girl sending a fan letter to a rock star. Hell, I was almost 20 and certainly not a girl. (I checked!) But after everything that I was going through, I decided to write to him anyway.
Pouring out the current contents of my soul, I finally ended up with a three-page letter. I told Pete about how much the music meant and how it had affected me and how I’d have to get myself together and everything about the girlfriend situation and whatever else was bouncing in my head at the time. Finishing with a heartfelt thank you, I then posted the letter. At the very least, it was refreshing to vent to someone, even that someone was a middle-aged British rock star whom I had never met before.
Time passed and some months later I was doing some preliminary student teaching in town. (While at this ministerial school, I was training to be a “Christian Day School teacher”, or in a different but far more accurate parlance, a “dogsbody”.) After realizing that the 7th-grade kid I was tutoring in math could do his assignment better than I ever could, I went back to campus and decided to get my mail. Turns out that I had a package, and the mailroom guy went to retrieve it. In likelihood, it was probably from my grandparents who had sent yet another box filled with Pringles and Ramen noodles, so I best hasten to pick it up before the contents went bad by the year 2137.
However, it wasn’t the usual care package stuffed with 63 pounds of Kool-Aid mix that I usually received. It was a smaller padded envelope from Great Britain, Twickenham to be exact. Then I remembered that my grandparents lived in Milwaukee, where the odds of sending a package from England drop dramatically. But Twickenham? Waitaminute! That’s where Pete Townshend’s offices were! I gingerly ripped open the envelope and found a form letter from the desk of Pete’s secretary at the time. Inside the envelope, there was a black and white postcard with bluesman Johnny Clyde Copeland playing guitar on the front of it. I turned it over. Pete had responded to my letter!
He wrote, “Thank you for your touching letter of 5 Oct 98. Hope things turned out OK.” and then he signed it. Pete not only took the time to read my emotional ramblings but also replied. I was chuffed beyond measure. For the first time in a long time, I was happy. Granted, anyone I explained this to on campus had no idea who The Who even were, but I didn’t care. I couldn’t stop grinning. (To be fair, I had sheltered in place for so long in my dorm room, most of the students there didn’t recognize me. However, I must thank those that threw change at me, presuming that I was just some goofy homeless man on their campus.)
So Pete, as I’m sure you’re reading this, yes, everything turned out relatively OK. It is now more than 20 years later. I did eventually graduate from that collegiate institution and have the unused degree to prove it. I have three children that I not only adore but also cannot wait to ship off to military school. I have a mortgage, two cars, and a great love of The Who that remains to this day. The friends that I do have are wonderful parts of my life. My faith in the Lord is strong and seemingly I’m not a barrier that blocks the love of Christ for anyone else, so that’s been refreshing. (Of course, it just figures that the one person that I effected in this way would have been my first serious girlfriend.)
But most of all, I have my radiant wife to share this life with together. She rescued me from the hell that I was living in. She centered me and for that I’m unceasingly grateful. What’s more is that I don’t deserve her; I am incredibly blessed indeed. After all, it isn’t just any woman that requests to listen to Quadrophenia during labor pains en route to the hospital! (I mean, think about it: in the car that day, our yet unborn child heard Roger Daltrey screaming outside the womb. Chances are, even Roger Daltrey’s children never had that experience.)
As far as that ex-girlfriend goes, I hope she got whatever she wanted in the end. Maybe she’s had a whirlwind of immeasurable bliss that I couldn’t even hope to give her. As far as I know, she never sent an old priest and a young priest to my dorm room to perform an exorcism. (Perhaps I wasn’t possessed by the devil himself, but by one of the lower demons, like one from accounting or sales.) And since I’m older nowadays and supposedly wiser, I don’t bear any personal ill-will in her direction. However, let’s just say that for every fifth time she accidentally stubs her toe on something, I don’t feel bad one bit.
When I listen to Quadrophenia nowadays, I’m still taken back to those angst-ridden, tumultuous times of my being dragged from childhood to adulthood. The mistakes made, the regrets, the fun, the laughs, the growth that hopefully started and hopefully continues to happen. I saw several other Who live concerts too. For the most recent one I attended, my wife wanted to go as well, so we went together. While there, I made that supreme gesture to confirm my love for her: yes folks, I got her a Who tour t-shirt. Love Reign O’er Me indeed.
(And if that’s not a way to end a movie adaptation of just a sliver of my embarrassingly titanic life, I might as well just give up! C’mon, where are all the filthy rich contracts?! The Twilighted Furious and the Transforming Pirates: Vol. 2 of Googol series is practically begging to be seen on the big screen already! No? Well then, what if I did an animated series that focused on a character from Scooby-Doo? Like Fred or Daphne or…Velma! On second thought, nah. After reading what I just typed, that sounds dumb. Nevermind.)