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Minimum Wage & The Typewriters
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Minimum Wage & The Typewriters
Eulogy for a Poet.
Don Everett Pearce
I'm a singer-songwriter based in New York City.
|AUTHOR'S OTHER TITLES (3)
Backseat (Songs) Late-night soliloquy from the back of a cab. A Manhattan lullaby. To hear this song: www.doneverettpearce.com/listen.html [195 words] [Romance]
Greetings From... Asbury Park? (Non-Fiction) A non-fiction short story about a trip to Asbury Park. [2,025 words] [Travel]
Looking For Water (In Joshua Tree) (Songs) Impressions of a desert town in a sort of talking-blues form. To hear this song: www.doneverettpearce.com/listen.html [160 words]
Minimum Wage & The Typewriters
Don Everett Pearce
My friend Kaz was what you might call a neo-beatnik. He was a Jack Kerouac-readin�, Tom Waits-listenin�, old typewriter-bangin�, wine & beer-drinkin�, poetry-writin�, Camaro-drivin�, guitar-playin�, American Spirit-smokin� sweetheart of a guy.
In the wee hours of September 14, 2001, Kaz shot himself in the kitchen of his apartment in San Francisco. He was almost twenty-four. I don�t know if it was accidental or intentional or some combination of both. Hell, I didn�t even know he had a gun.
I first met Kaz around �93 when I was playing San Diego�s coffeehouse circuit. He and his friends used to hang out and listen to me on Friday nights at this little place called the Naked Bean, down on the Coast Highway at the edge downtown Encinitas, my hometown. They were just high school kids of 15 or 16 at the time, almost 10 years younger than I was. I talked to them once or twice during those days, but I didn�t make any real connection.
It was a couple years later that I started running into Kaz at various coffeehouses around town, as we were each in the habit of spending inordinate amounts of time in these types of joints, nursing refills and scribbling junk in notebooks. Conversation was natural and easy, despite the age gap. There was a genuineness about him that made him likeable.
Kaz was young, but he gave an older-than-his years impression. He was tall and thin, his hairline receded a bit and his hands trembled sometimes when he lit his cigarettes. He wasn�t sickly, but he also wasn�t about to go running a 10K any time soon. He was charismatic, and when he wore his glasses he looked as intelligent as he was.
The random run-ins gradually became more intentional and his friends became my friends by default. My girlfriend at that time, several years older than me, used to refer to Kaz and Co. pointedly as my "little buddies" and had little interest in their company. So I split my time between them, spending many a weekday afternoon on the sidewalk outside the Naked Bean yappin� with my "little buddies" and watching cars go by on the highway, and then spending evenings indoors playing chess and listening to Miles Davis with my gal.
Memories of the ensuing months bleed together; Sipping coffee on the upstairs deck of Gelato Vero in downtown San Diego while the sun set over the freeway and the airport. Walking the streets of Tijuana with tragic young hookers grabbing our sleeves while we pulled away, grinning in embarrassment, thrilled at the spectacle, but not daring to stop for a moment. There were nights of wine, music and friends, whether at a motel on the highway or at somebody�s house on a hillside overlooking the railroad tracks and the black ocean beyond.
By the end of �97, Kaz would be living up in San Francisco and I would be running away to New York with a 20-year-old actress.
During those years when we were living on opposite coasts, I rode the train across the country a couple of times and dropped in on Kaz and his girlfriend at their apartment in the Mission District. I remember those visits as a collage of diners, bars, pawn-shops and sun-washed streets. There was used CD-shopping on Haight Street and late nights shooting pool at The Uptown, feeding bills into the juke box and ignoring the state�s anti-smoking laws while women for sale walked back and forth outside, all stocking-legged and red satin in the headlights. At the end of the night, the three of us would drift back to their place and stay up late listening to music. Being around Kaz was like listening to a classic Rolling Stones album in that he made you feel a little looser and a little funkier than you felt otherwise.
The rest of the time, we kept in touch the old-fashioned way, ignoring that disposable and overrated new thing called e-mail. A letter from Kaz usually arrived in a 5x7 manila envelope, plastered on the outside with magazine cutouts of clich�d 50s icons like Elvis or Betty Paige or Marilyn Monroe. When I opened it, there�d be various worthless cracker-jack doo-dads and confetti spilling out. Sometimes there�d be a cassette of his latest batch of songs, recorded at home on a cassette 4-track. His musical moniker was Minimum Wage & the Typewriters. His singing had a Lou Reed-meets-Tom Waits-in-a-Greyhound-station-at-3am sort of growl and he played a gritty, staccato guitar. His lyrics were suitably dark and sometimes funny.
Another feature of a Kaz letter would be the unexplained photo or two thrown in. My favorite is the one where an unseen woman is trying to light a cigarette that dangles from his mouth...with her feet, while he wears an earnest expression, as if to underscore the seriousness of what they�re trying to accomplish in that moment.
But the highlight would be that bundle of handwritten or typewritten pages on random-sized sheets carrying news of what was going on in his life, things he was thinking about. They were written as narratives, short stories almost:
I found a wheelchair, abandoned, on 21st street a couple nights ago and brought it home. I try to present myself as someone who doesn�t believe in ghosts and all that, but it was a little creepy at first. I seemed to feel better after cleaning it with bleach, somehow that managed to get the spirits out.
He also managed to find poetry in otherwise insignificant, everyday moments:
I have lots of broken things arranged outside my front door, on my porch. Broken car parts, broken speakers, broken dolls and childs toys. A little Mexican girl just made the long climb to the top of the stairs and found a doll without a head stuck between a motorcycle piston. She made some kind of baby talk, "Ohhh" and then saw me smiling at her from the livingroom. She smiled, dropped the doll and ran.
Sometimes he sounded like Holden Caulfield�a bright young guy trying to figure out what to do with his life:
I feel like I�m part of a dying breed that doesn�t want to do the shit-eating thing, by choice. My English teach says I should be a writer�I got the second highest grade in the damn school for a paper I wrote while I was hungover, and he knows about the hangover. Maybe he�s just a bad teach.
In the last sentence of his last letter to me, he wrote:
Everything�s fine here, too much fucking school, no money, I get blind drunk at least two times a week and stay up till dawn listening to Dylan records.
At the time, this made me smile. I read it as just another one of his beautiful-loser anecdotes designed to amuse and testifying to a passionate, spontaneous life. Looking back, I can�t help but feel that I missed the darker implications.
We talked about him coming out to see New York, but we never got around to it. So many times I�d be walking home from some good night out, feeling contented and in awe of downtown�s silent 2am streets, thinking about how much Kaz would love this place. On a few of those occasions I�d dial him up on my cell phone. I�d only have to say something trite like "Hey, I�m up on my roof right now looking at the Empire State Building" to get an enthusiastic "Dude, that is so cool!" from him.
The last time I spoke to him, on the night of September 11th, I threatened to use my $300 Bush tax rebate to fly him out to New York, but I wasn�t committal about it amid the uncertainty of that day. Now I wish I had been. I wish I would�ve said "hey, buddy, your air fare�s in the mail!" It might have given him something small to look forward to, a reason to pull through the awful mood that week, but who knows.
When artists depart, whether prematurely or at a ripe old age, they inevitably leave behind some kind of record by way of their works, some evidence that a human being did indeed pass through this place.
With that in mind, I�ll leave you with one of his poems:
by Kaz Matula
In Los Angeles
an old, decrepit grandfather
like an idealistic teenager,
imitating in full determination and pride
a great bullfighter,
chancing and turning and
making the moves while
with mock horns
and all giggles
put on a perfect devil beast in prime,
chasing and arching his t-shirt back
around the prince of candlelight
And while their Mexican radio pounced
upon all beats,
we talked about Tijuana
like it was an actual place
and put cards upon the table
for all matadors die
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© 2004 Don Everett Pearce
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