Like the Devil Needs Matches: Bradley Williams’ Debut Column

Like the devil needs matches

Christmas time in the land of cotton

Welcome to the only web-site that matters.

I’m gonna start it out with a little number I like to call?.

The Plan.

It goes like this: I was to fly across the country, from LA to Alabama. Once in Alabama I could relax. I was going to make the most of this trip. When I would get back to LA I was supposed to turn in my first story to Razorcake for a column on the web site. It would be a monthly, if I could pull it off. So while I was in Alabama I was going to see some shows, get back to LA and write my first story on the music being made in Alabama these days. With this stewing in my head, I figured I would also spend some down time on a farm. Breeze through Christmas with the family. Go deer hunting with my brother. Head up to Huntsville and meet up with some friends. I would go to Atlanta and chill. Everything was chill. Things were cohesive. I had a plan. I was going back home for the holidays.

Here we go.

Less than 24 hours before I was to leave the grand ol’ city of Los Angeles on a mission to the Alabama front, I woke up with the side of my face swelled up. I hadn’t gotten in a fight in a while, but it felt like I’d gotten punched in the jaw. No, this was something far worse-it was an abscessed tooth. I bitched my way to the bathroom. There I stood in front of my stained medicine cabinet mirror admiring the swollen jaw, and cursing the pain that jolted through my head.

This was no good. I needed something to kill the pain and fast. In the medicine cabinet I found a bottle of Tylenol PM, took four, got dressed, and walked to the bus stop to catch the 8 AM number 302 to work.

At this time in the day the 302 was always full of aging Mexican maids making their morning trek to work at the castles in Hills. I would usually try to pick up on their morning conversations. I think of it as a sort of makeshift Spanish class for myself, but this morning, there was nothing doing. My jaw was being ripped apart from its fleshy insides. The four Tylenol PM were kicking in. Soon the pain was lessening, and it was more than an effort for me to keep my eyes open.

The important part is that I eventually made it to a dentist. The dentist wrote a prescription for a bottle of antibiotics to keep my jaw from turning green with various infections and to help ease through the next week of pain-a full bottle of Hydrocodone.

I left work early that day went home and finished my last minute packing. I was thinking it was Groucho Marx who said that a man should never pack more than he can carry in his front pocket-a toothbrush and a clean change of underwear. I picked it up from a drunken magician, The Great Alabambini. I’m not even sure if the elder Marx brother actually said it. Regardless, I always think it to myself, at least once, while packing

I caught a shuttle bus to the LAX. A long, sleepless, night of waiting lay ahead of me.

5:15 AM arrive at the LAX.

6:30 AM a sausage and egg McMuffin breakfast with a large Hawaiian man waiting on stand-by for a plane to Vegas. Take fourth Hydrocodone. Forget about the pain. Swelling persists. Take some more antibiotics.

6:50 AM standing in line waiting to board. A strange man walked past, catching my attention. The old fella’ was wearing a brown leather jacket and what appeared to be goulashes. He was old and looking the full part of crazy. Something about him said he was a gambler. Nevermind.

Around 7-7:15 AM board plane. Pass out in window seat next to a vivacious Texan girl wearing boots and a “Cowgirl Up” shirt. She agreed to wake me when the orange juice arrived.

8:30 AM slightly stunned. Las Vegas airport. Found my way to the bar. Saw the Texan girl feeding the slot machines money. She was losing and dazed. Enjoyed three beers and a few cigarettes.

Sometime in the next 30 minutes I was back on the plane headed to Birmingham, Alabama. The land of red clay and large-mouth bass. Bar-b-qued PORK and SWEET TEA. Old friends and dirty bastards.

3:30 PM in the Promised Land. Off the plane and picked up by a friend, Luke. We got in the car, made it to the closest service station. I bought a pack of smokes, a six-pack, a jug of Milo’s SWEET TEA. Then I got in the car and sat back to let it all come together. The plan was going to be hang with Luke. Catch up on days gone by and all that shit. At around the third beer it all went to hell. The ground was rumbling. I hadn’t even touched the tea. Let me give you a picture. Ex-wife. Two year old daughter. Daughter lives with ex, ex is el numero uno punta-bitch. Fresh divorce.

This brand of hell was not what I had ordered. I wasn’t getting into its flavor. Especially at this point of sleep deprivation and slight intoxication. Quickly and with the blessing of Luke, I got on the phone and secured myself a ride out to the country south of Birmingham.

In the country I’d been promised a fresh kill. A deer had been ran down by some dogs, and it had somehow broken its leg. Steve’s dirt-eating compadre, Alvin, had found the deer with the dogs knawing on the last bit of what it would ever know. He claimed to have cut its throat with a rusty Buck knife and the meat was still warm when he put it in the smoker. There’s nothing like a fresh kill.

The woods are grey. The smoke is rising. I love the smell of home.

When I got to Al’s there was an unattended fire blazing about four feet high, close to being under the bare branches of a water oak. I could see the silhouettes of two smokers close to Al’s pick-up and a table lined with beer bottles. The smell of meat and smoke hung heavy in the air. But no one was outside.

Al is a crazy fucker and you need to watch him at all times. One minute he’ll be washing dishes, the next you’ll find him in the yard surrounded by beer cans and holding a rifle. I found him inside sitting on the couch rolling a cigarette. Guns in the corner. Deer in the smoker.

I’ve had deer cooked many different ways by many people, but not one of these people have ever cooked up a deer like Al. Let me tell you.

Briefly?.

Three six-pound deer roasts, wrapped in bacon, and smoked for eight hours. I don’t know how anything in the world could have been that good. When he took it out of the smoker each bacon-wrapped roast was put on a white plate. By the time the meat cooled to where it could be eaten, blood and juices had drained from the meat and onto the plate. I hadn’t eaten since before I left LA, so I sat down and tore into the roast.

After a meal like that I needed a drink to help knock it on down. I asked Al if he had something besides beer.

“Bourbon” he said “in the freezer”

When I opened the freezer door. A large woodpecker made a frozen attempt at flight, and fell out landing on the kitchen floor. I picked up the frozen bird.

“Al, what the hell you got a woodpecker in the freezer for?” I asked.

He didn’t respond.

When I went to put the woodpecker back in the freezer I found the bourbon-it was resting behind a frozen duck.

“Al! What the fuck you got a woodpecker and a duck in the freezer for?” I asked.

“Found them dead by the barn,” he said.

“So you froze them?” I asked.

“They pretty ain’t they?”

Damn it’s good to be home.

In long enough time for me to check out the duck and the woodpecker, and pour myself a glass of bourbon, Al had got out his 30/30 and a spotlight. We picked up the table with the bottles on it and moved it closer to the woods. I shone the spotlight on the table and bottles. Al took a shot and missed. The next shot hit the edge of the table and flipped it. The bottles strew out into the edge of the woods. It was somewhere around 2 AM.

Home! To hell with your big city where your belt best match your shoes. I’m wallowing drunk with a belly full of deer meat and the smell of gun power in the air.

All the way across the country for this! Nothing but the finest. Drinking from Las Vegas ’till the backwoods of central Alabama. I thought it was the best it could get. Nothing but the finest.

The next morning I awoke with a dog’s ass on my face. Try what little I was able I couldn’t get it off me. I made it to the bathroom with the dog’s ass still clinging to my face. I was able to drown the dog in the toilet, but then my head was left thundering. I was hung over like a punk.

Today would be the day that I would attempt to make it to Athens for the show. But it was not to happen. I figured it was a trade-off. Can’t make it to Athens so I’d kick it on the farm. I ain’t complaining. But, I did have a suspicion that my plans might not work out the way I had intended. What usually happens with my plans is that they go to shit. Suppose for some reason you alphabetize about fifty books and barely even look at them before you knock them off the shelf. Then you blindfold yourself and try to put them all back in order in two minutes with a dog gnawing on one of your hands.

Al gave me a ride north. I told him I’d be back in a week. But that wasn’t going to happen.

*****

It’s Christmas in Dixie.

Christmas for me is never just one day. It’s usually at lest three to four days leading up to the twenty-fifth, on which it’s over before 10 AM.

You need booze for this time of the year. It’s either booze or don’t mix with the family. I figured that I’d have to mix with the crew so I stocked up on some bourbon for when the going would inevitably get tuff. Plus I still had some hydrocodone so I figured I’d be in good shape to extract myself if it became necessary. The pain in my jaw was gone so the hydrocodone wasn’t needed for that specific pain anymore.

Somehow I was able to make it through with out drinking or my medication. I didn’t hang out too much with the family. They had become busy with their lives since last time I was home. I was glad for this.

It came around to reasons other than family to drink the night of Christmas.

The chill was in the air. My friend J.C. drove over from Anniston to Rabbit Town to pick me up. J.C. edits copy at one of the only independently-owned newspapers in the state. We sat around, and he told me stories about how they piss off the local community because they print a lot of things that you’re just not going to get at a paper that’s owned by some out-of-state conglomerate. What makes this most interesting is that this is not a small paper. It is THE PAPER for this part of the state. The owner of it had repeatedly been offered a large, comfortable hunk of cash for the paper-he would not and will not sell. To do so would violate journalistic integrity. Respect. J.C. had just gotten married to a firey redhead named Lisa. She’d had troubles finding jobs in Anniston, and was starting to go to the mall in search of work. Then one day, out of the wild blue, she got a job. She didn’t get the fry-cook position at Wendy’s or the one in the lingerie section of Sears. No, she had just gotten hooked up with an editing job at a magazine that’s devoted to women, truck driving, and the issues that arise when the two are mixed. You can find it in truck stops across the nation.

I would stay the next two days with J.C., his wife Lisa, their two dogs Ruby, the rabid coon hound, and Dixie, the make-out-queen. We sat back and worked on my reserve of bourbon.

Peace on Earth.

*****

Things where getting back on track now that Christmas was past. I had somehow managed to arrange a ridiculous trip to Atlanta via Huntsville, AL.

Atlanta is four and a half hours from Huntsville. One and a half hours from Anniston, Alabama. And all are around about fifty-five hours from Los Angeles. The point here is perspective. Four and a half is not much when you’ve come across country.

Getting there was yet another Rubik’s Cube of travel to figure out. I had caught rides from friends to get me as far north as Pine Mountain. From there my family had picked me up and taken me to Anniston and Rabbit Town to stand down Christmas. Now the plan was to get from Anniston to Huntsville then to Atlanta.

*****

At times, shoddy planning and worse ideas, mated with no organization yield a shitty time. All hell can break lose. The world could blow its top, which it’s not too far from doing. But that doesn’t always happen.

I met up with Brent Wayne Stolevek of The New American Dream/ The Awesome Ones, at Visions Gentlemen’s club in Huntsville.

“What the fuck’s up, boy?!” said Brent.

“Not a damn thing,” I said.

“You glad to be home, ain’t’cha?”

“Hell yes.”

“I’as about to start thinkn’ ‘Will done gone out to California and gone all cool on me.”

“Kiss my ass.”

“I’m just fuckn’ with you, boy,” he said. “Them Cali boys ain’t got shit on ‘ol Wayne.”

“What you want to drink?”

After we had a few beers and were inspired by the ladies of Visions, we headed over to Ernest T. McDaniels’ house. Ernest, for the past couple of years, had been playing the part of guitar and harmonica in a band called the Crypt Kickers, as well as the sole proprietor of Nation of Kids Records. He was ready when we showed up. He had a case of Best Leaded to match the one that Brent and myself had procured on the drive across town. We drank and listened to records for a while. Sometime a little latter the lights flickered on and off then back on then they stayed off. Don’t know what caused it. Maybe someone ran into a power pole. Who knew. We found flashlight and a Coleman lantern then sat around in the cold, drinking beer. About an hour later there was a knock at the door. In walked a group of people with alcohol. Sometime after, that room got drunk. This girl who’d come in with the group took a drunken bet that she would take off her shirt and bra. It didn’t take long after that that Brent convinced her to dance topless on the coffee table. I don’t know if you’d really call it dancing, but she was topless, standing on the lantern-lit table, and wiggling her hips. I sat back and let the craziness commence.

“This is fuckn’ awesome!” said Brent. He was getting his fill of tits for the night.

Shortly thereafter the front door swung open. The girl jumped down off the table and tried to get her shirt back on before whoever was coming in saw her. It was some guy who I didn’t know, but he saw enough to know that the girl had had her shirt off seconds ago. I think his name was Jonathan or Jordan, something like that. This girl was his girlfriend. He didn’t say a word. She ran out of the living room and into the kitchen. He followed her.

Drama.

When he heard the back screen door shut Ernest went and got another half-case box and went out on the front porch. Brent was cheesing out with one of the other girls who came over with the group. I decided to go out front with Ernest and the beer.

Around four in the morning I passed out on the floor.

No dreams. In the morning the dogs ass was back on my face. Except this time I think the bastard had been chewing on the side of my head while I slept. My nose had bled and the side of my face was covered in blood.

*****

Ah, the grand ol’ hour after a midday breakfast.

Brent, Ernest, and myself got ready to drive the four and a half hours to Atlanta from Huntsville. Ernest grabbed a half-case box out of the fridge, and we went straight to Sunburst Records located somewhere in the depths of Huntsville.

I follow Ernest in through the front door. He’s got the half case with him. He sits it on the counter, gives one to the man behind the counter. The man behind the counter is none other than Jay. He’s the owner and the only guy I’ve ever known to work the store. Me and Brent get some beer for ourselves before the box disappears behind the counter.

Sunburst was full of teenagers, boyfriends, and girlfriends trying to spend their fresh Christmas money. A few minutes after we got there, started drinking and blowing tobacco, the customers made their finial selections. Then they all got the hell out of there.

“Where ya’ll headed off to Ernest?” asked Jay.

“Atlanta? my arch rival.” Said Ernest.

“Why’s that?”

“It’s never done anything good for me. Everything that comes out of there is crap. There’s not one good band from there?. Where’s the beer?”

“I got it in the mini-fridge,” said Jay.

Jay reached below the counter and retrieved a fresh one.

Sunburst is the best damned record store in the country! We moseyed around looking through records and CDs for an hour while we finished the beer. Sunburst has everything you might possibly want. I’m sure if you are into pop music or into some esoteric smart-guy crap, then you might not be pleased with the selection. But then you shouldn’t probable touch the f’n door.

After all was said and done, it was time to hit the road. We said our good-byes to Jay. Stopped at a service station, got some boiled peanuts, and were on our way. We still had four hours to go.

Our plan was to get to Atlanta, and see if we could crash at the C-11 warehouse. Then stand outside in the cold and get drunk. Nice enough plan I thought. I’d given up on the idea of seeing any band, not that I minded all that much. It just seemed like it wasn’t going to happen, that’s all.

*****

Driving up the highway, I was waiting to understand the voice. I could hear it running uncontrollably in my head. I was trying to catch it and hold it down as Brent drove down I-20 towards Atlanta. I slid off into a daze, hypnotized by the road and beer. I began to have visions or was I daydreaming? Is there a similarity between the two?

We were at the warehouses home of Stickfigure record distribution and the Close. At one time, this place housed some of the best shows I’ve seen. One such show was the Prank Feast. If I remember correctly, it would go on for about three days and maybe somewhere around thirty bands would play. It was mostly what I’d call grind or crust core. Bands like Damad, and Four Hour Fogger-I’m a bum because I can’t remember any more of the bands. Some time in the past year or so there’d been an accident with a girl and the eight foot half pipe in the back of one of the warehouses and that, from what I understand, slowed things down a bit. The ramp is still there, covered with scooter parts and old mattresses and insulation. They still do an occasional show. Now there’s a recording studio, which is run by the Close, and of course Gavin and Stickfigure.

It was Dustin from the Close who opened the door to let us in. We were drinking, and while not totally unexpected, we hadn’t given him much notice of our arrival. Dustin didn’t seem to mind. He showed us to the kitchen. We were sat down to a dinner of sardines and crackers, washed it all down with Budweiser. It was warm inside. There where two girls there. Lisa and a friend from Oregon, Kate was her name. The room was full of cigarette smoke. Was I daydreaming? Was I drunk?

Then we where in some bar room, full of people. The Earl I was told it’s called. There were a lot of people. A band was playing in the back. They were three girls and some dude wearing a Kiss shirt. The band’s name had the word ‘cat’ in it somewhere. We caught them as they where finishing up their set. Brent says to me that they just did two things a band should never do while ending a show. Which according to him were: don’t end with a cover song and don’t end with a special guest-I suppose that was the guy in the Kiss shirt. They had just done both.

Without realizing it I was starting to understand what the voice was saying. It was saying that-yes-I was drunk. On this point I could not argue. So much for the vision.

Soon I was standing outside the bar blowing on a harmonica while Brent stomped his feet and Ernest was singing songs about digging in the dirt. People where standing and watching. Some didn’t know what to do. Someone took a picture. We made a buck. We stayed until bar people started telling us we had to leave.

Dustin and Lisa rounded us up and into the car.

“We’re going to the Claremont” said Lisa.

“What’s that?” someone asked.

“Two hundred pound naked women dancing on the bar is what that is,” said Lisa as she took a drag of her cigarette, then added “toothless strippers.”

Shit fire and save the matches.

By the time we got to the Claremont, me, Brent, and Ernest were broke/seeing double. We managed to have a beer or two. Ernest was holding strong, but as soon as we left he started puking up stomach lining and finally emptied the trough on the sidewalk. Brent and me had been burping up sardines for a while, but felt nothing like Ernest.

From there it went on rolln’ and tumbln’ ended up floatn’ dead in the water.

The next morning we drove toward Anniston to see JC. We rolled in looking the picture of shit. He took us in and gave us some coffee and the use of his bathroom. We proceeded to lay around for the better part of the afternoon listening to records. Things were looking good.

*****

Two days later, New Year’s eve, I was at the Birmingham airport, going through the metal detector, expecting to get searched, but I didn’t. There weren’t any long lines either. If things went well I’d be in LA in six hours. A New Year would be here shortly. I held no expectations.
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