As/Is







5.26.2015


Mid-Aughts Mayhem


Summer '04 to summer '05 was the heaviest year to be on the street in Aughts Philadelphia. There was an explosive energy around everything- and my emotions oscillated, personally, between euphoria and dejection from night to night. It wasn't just the Philly Free School Highwire shows; because the Making Time DJ nights had a large national and international following, and all the DJs worked at the Last Drop, just to be in the Last Drop at that time was to be in a realm so supercharged that we might as well have been doing lines off the tables. Adam Sparkles, who shared my name and birthday, ran the place with an iron fist. If he was laconic with PFS, it is because at that time he considered us competitors.

Yet, for many of us, the euphoria of success was counter-weighed by the dejection of living a life more excessive than I (or Jeremy or Abby, especially) had planned in our comparatively "salad" early Aughts days. Abs and I picked a weird moment to consummate our relationship, but there it was. The low point of the year for me was confessing to Mary Harju, who was no dummy and knew the score. Mary and I had been separated for over a year, but still. The one Philly Free School show Mary deigned to attend at the Highwire (at which we showed her Dionysus), she brought her sister Laurie, who was as blonde and pixie-faced as Mary but sharper about making her way materially in the world. She was essentially conservative, and had a way of making us feel like heathens for being artists. Mary's "husband" that night wore a tie-dye, and was truculent. Ruth, the third sister Harju (or Hariu, as they sometimes spelled it), was more handsome than pixie-faced, brunette, and wavered somewhere between Mary and Laurie. So, oddly, my most promiscuous time passed without much real contact with Mary at all.

Unsurprisingly, Mike Land was (or appeared to be) in heaven. Everywhere we went together, including the Highwire, we were treated like celebrities, because the Free School shows were big news- even the Philadelphia City Paper was in on them. It also didn't escape my notice that for these months, we were living the way the Beatles and the Stones were supposed to have lived. If Mike Land was a surprise and a superlative running buddy at a time like this, it is because he was good with euphoric moods, but also with dejected ones- he had a precociously developed appreciation of the human condition, and an empathy with pain and human suffering, which meant that (as, again, I was surprised by) he was no fair weather friend at all. I came to the conclusion- beneath the hustle and the good looks, Mike Land was a very old soul. Jeremy was crabbed and deficient this way and not someone to lean on; Abs, maybe. In the right mood, she could be a stand-up friend. It also never ceases to amaze me that it is here, with all this tumult going on, that Abby fulfilled her destiny and painted her masterpieces.

My writing at the time wasn't completely desultory; I was doing my low res New England College MFA, a rich experience. I was also, as of '04/'05, churning out many of the poems which became Returns and Beams; even as the destiny-fulfilling thing would have to come many years later. It is also funny, for me in 2015, to have been through something like '04/'05 and find myself on the Main Line. Aughts Philadelphia was so resolutely personal; it was about self-expressive individuals, and all the collectives, from Philly Free School to Making Time, were distinctive and self-expressive as well; so that the Great Recession and the Main Line are reminders of how very lucky we were, to have the space and time to express ourselves the right way.