I’ve become a Dead fan, I guess

Before James and I got together, I only had a passing acquaintance with the Grateful Dead. I didn’t own any of their music, but I could sing along with a few songs. I remember the day Jerry died, mostly because I was bartending back then and had a regular who I knew would be devastated and probably come have a few drinks that night. He was, and he did. I think I bought him a round.

Fast forward a few years, and James and I moved in together. As he unpacked box after box of cassette tapes filled with homemade recordings of live shows from all over the country/all over the past few decades, I realized his love for the band was extensive. Like, more than I loved Duran Duran in junior high (and for completely different reasons).

We listen to music a lot in our house. So it makes sense that over the past decade and a half, I’ve heard a lot of Grateful Dead music. And over time, my relationship with the music has changed.

Initially tolerated with a few eye rolls (and questions like, “How long is this song? Twenty minutes?”), the music became ubiquitous–and then unnoticed. Then at some point in the last handful of years, after seeing what remains of the band half a dozen times (in The Dead or Dead and Company iterations), I finally got it.

Grateful Dead songs, specifically of the live variety, are aural comfort food. Much like theatre, no performance is exactly the same. But there’s still plenty to ground you to other experiences with the music. Plenty to give you that sense of familiarity and togetherness.

Sold-out, tie-dyed, pot-smoking house for the Dead show at Shoreline Amphitheatre, across the street from Google, June 3, 2017.

I’ve seen a lot of live music in my life. A lot. And I’ve never experienced the kind of crowd that has consistently appeared for Dead shows in the aughts and teens of the 21st century (I can’t imagine what the crowds were like in the ’60s and ’70s).

The shows we saw in California last decade, before we moved out here, featured a vibrant parking lot scene. People selling “pizza” made on hotplates powered by a battery resting under their rusted-out VW van. (The pizza being a tortilla topped with watery pizza sauce, a sprinkle of pre-shredded cheese and a few slices of pepperoni.) Thin bed sheets spread on the ground and covered with beaded necklaces, glass pipes and crystals for sale. Stinky, barefoot children running around barely supervised. The dress code for old and young veering past the obvious tie-dye and into crocheted tops and jeans with patches sewn on. All worn un-ironically.

Dancing bear ears on a headband. A somewhat subtle nod.

The parking lot scene has been killed for the most part, but the fashions are still pretty amazing. And the lack of self-consciousness is part of the charm. Where so many people try so hard to be “separate” while being in a crowd (“Yeah, I’m at this Backstreet Boys reunion, but only to make fun of it.”), Dead Heads are all in. They love the scene, they love the songs, and they fucking love you, dude.

The guy in the blue and white cap had the best time of his life. All night.

I’ve never seen anyone get in a fight at a Dead show. If you ever have to lose your wallet, phone or keys at a concert, do it at a Dead show because you’ll quickly find a free beer, borrowed phone or ride home from a perhaps chemically compromised but big-hearted stranger.

The guy sitting next to us printed up his own buttons (two styles) with the date of the show on them and gave us each one.

There’s a dedicated music-nerd army of people at every Dead show who livestream the audio or even provide a video feed. You can go on a couch tour and follow the Dead from show to show, and there are plenty of forums online that share set lists and bets on what they’ll play next. Before we went to see the band last Saturday, I reviewed the set lists from the first few shows of the tour and was disappointed they’d already played a couple of my favorites. Which is when I realized–I have favorite songs by this band.

A little hard to read, this guy’s shirt says, “Mayer is Dead to me.” John “Your Body is a Wonderland” Mayer is touring with The Dead on guitar. Nicknamed “Mayernnaise” by non-fans, he actually works pretty well in the mix. And I know enough about the band at this point to have seen that shirt and chuckled. Life is funny.

The saying is “familiarity breeds contempt,” but that’s not aways the case. There are many things we dismiss out of hand that, upon closer inspection, actually have something to offer. They grow on you slowly, like the frog in the pot of water that’s gradually being heated, and next thing you know you’re boiling to death to the sound of Terrapin Station. And you realize there are worse ways to go.

Half the guys on this stage may be in their 70s, but they can still get thousands of people on their feet and keep them that way the entire show. And if they tour again next summer, we’ll be there, on our feet, all night.

ain’t no free (except outside our house)

Monthly heavy trash pickup in our neighborhood is this week. We’d been waiting for this opportunity to get rid of a lot of things we hadn’t found a home for, and I was excited to get the stuff out of the house yesterday. Evidently the roaming neighborhood pickers were excited for us to get the stuff out of the house, too, because things barely had the chance to get comfortable on the grass next to the curb before quickly being scooped up.

At one point, there were two cars idling in front, waiting to see what we brought out next. It was quite an eclectic collection with enough variety to outfit an apartment. Table and four chairs. Set of plates. Various cooking implements. Working electronics. And also some crap. Three chipped salad plates. Cobwebby stuff from the back porch. An old futon that was the daytime bed of the big dog (who farted every time she hoisted herself up on it and is quite pissed at its disappearance).

Judging by the excitement of the people who were happily taking the stuff and their desire to talk about it (“You’re just GIVING this away?”), our trash was their treasure. And we avoided it all going to the dump, which was optimal.

The dogs are not happy, though. Not just because of the missing couch. They know that something big is going on around here, and they’re pretty sure they aren’t going to be involved in it. I keep telling them that they get to go on this trip, but I can tell they don’t believe me. Every time Stella looks up at me, she has big sad eyes. She doesn’t understand. Doesn’t know about the fancy doggie car seat I got for her so she can see out the window as we trek across the country. Stella, the dog who’s never been more than 80 miles from home, is about to have her little doggie mind blown.

I have no idea what they’re going to think when their paws touch the Pacific.

that time I went sleepwalking

James was in the den watching TV. It was around 11:30PM, and I’d gone to bed an hour or so earlier. He heard the door to the laundry room open, the light switch flip and the door close, which was odd. The laundry room is so tiny you have to leave the door open in order to have enough room to get the clothes out of the dryer. But someone was in there. Creepy.

He opened the door, and I was standing in front of the washer with the lid up. Sort of pawing at the air inside the machine but not really making contact with anything. He asked if I was okay. I said, “I’m just so tired. I’m tired. So tired.” (Martyr.) My eyes were open but not awake, and he realized I was sleepwalking. He walked me back to bed, and I didn’t remember any of this the next morning.

The first thing I did was start googling to see what dread disease causes one to sleepwalk. Because, even though I’ve slept approximately 15,877 nights in my life and this was the first (only?) time I’d ever gone sleepwalking, I was sure it meant something horrible was coming. And maybe it is, but the “incident” was 10 months ago and hasn’t had a second appearance. As far as I know.

Sleepwalking is common in children but less so in adults–maybe 4% of the population. Almost half of adult sleepwalkers have an incident at least once a week, and 25% deal with it nightly (!). An isolated incident in adults, which is what I assume I experienced, is usually related to stress + sleep deprivation + alcohol or some other sedative. Hmmm. Those are three of the main ingredients of my life.

It happened last December when I was applying to grad school for fall of 2013. I’d been riding the fence about getting an MFA in playwriting for years and decided to stop talking and start doing. We regret the things in life we never tried, blah blah blah.

Applying to grad school is a bitch. It’s easy to spend a month or more just checking out programs, trying to find the ones that have the right mix of funding, location, programming and reputation. At the same time, you have to track down copies of your college transcripts, study for and take the GRE, write some bullshit  about why you’re applying to the program (and you’re not supposed to say, “because I’m having a midlife crisis”), wrangle recommendations from people who are really too busy to make up nice things about you, and pay $50 to $100 for each application. Oh, and there’s the writing sample, which, for an MFA program, would technically be the most important part.

I applied to four fully funded programs, being unwilling to go into debt for a graduate degree that doesn’t lead to a job at the end of the rainbow. Of the four programs, I got into two. Of the two, I was especially excited about the one that was in southern California. James and I went to check the area out. I’m pretty sure in a parallel universe we’re still stuck in traffic on I-10 outside of LA.

Since it’s now October and I’m writing this in Houston, I guess it’s obvious I decided not to go. It didn’t feel right. I think I really just want a change of scenery, and that can be accomplished much easier than by going back to school.

Meanwhile, every time I travel alone (most recently to Chicago this week), I worry that I’m going to get up and try to do laundry in the hallway of the hotel, only James won’t be there to guide me back. I wear a shirt and shorts to bed, just in case.