Welcome to the Cheddar Lounge

Xmas was all whirlwind and flash, like the old Sonic Youth album cover. Chicago to Youngstown and back again on little sleep and plenty of beer. Saw lots of old friends. Blasts from my pasts. Time does funny things in Youngstown in December at the Cedars Lounge.

The Cedars is an institution of sorts. Back in the day, it was a dank dive with cheap beer, loud music and bad poetry on Tuesdays. Somewhere along the line, the owners came into some loot and added on and now there's a groovy couch room and a kitchen. It's still the place in town to go for good music, and about the only place to avoid meatnecks in Starter Jackets and their overtanned girlfriends. I drank my first illegal beer there when I was 17 at a Sister Ray show. My friend Mike once kissed Johnette Napolitano there and promised her a fine deli tray on her return (she never came back). A guy I knew in high school, Jeff, had a band called the Runts and they named their 7" e.p. "The Cheddar Lounge" in the club's honor. When doing my senior thesis, I attempted some long-winded ode to the Cedars, but fell way short of the goal. Sometimes words are not enough, I guess.

On Xmas night, the Cedars is the only place to be. Never mind if it's the only open bar in town (or just seems that way). It's pretty much the evening stop-off for any and every young and every decaying semi-hipster who used to live in town and moved away plus all the regulars (who I sometimes think are the really hip ones). This year there was a beer-soaked, high-energy cowpunk band playing. Per usual, people were elbow-to-elbow and 3-deep to get to the bar. You can get a draft for a dollar (it used to be 75 cents) and the bottles don't cost much more. Just imagine visiting from New York or LA or Chicago, closing out the night with a bar tab equivalent to your first round back home and being much more buttered to boot. Some people get depressed for the holidays, but homecoming Ytowners have a good time.

I went with a friend I hadn't seen in some time and ran into some more long-lost types inside: The bartenders who still remembered me from years before who were still generous with the already-cheap wares; The leather-clad indie-guy with whom I used to ramble incessantly about GbV; The woman who loaned me her 4-track for a solid 6 months in '99 and didn't complain when I returned it broken; middle-aged painters still painting and middle-aged rockers still looking for that gig to break their band; shit-talking pick-up pros and their hard-storied past conquests; good-looking Boho-goth college-types and high school kids sneaking into their first real bar; the guy who taught me old songs on my first guitar and the girl who came all the way to Chicago just to create an ugly scene; One poor sap in a Cleveland Browns jacket watching sports highlights on a corner TV. Nobody else notices there's a TV . . .

We drank a ton at the bar. Then we went to someone's house and drank a ton more. The sun was rising when I finally got back to my mom's place. I didn't really feel drunk at that point, and when I woke up hours later, I wasn't hung over. I felt good. Energized, even, to the point where I returned Sunday with my friends to have a few more drinks before my train ride home.

I've spent the better part of the last year or two getting over certain nostalgic tendencies. I suppose such tendencies fester when old connections disconnect. Stepping into one's old haunt for the first time in years can be daunting, at first. Then, past events flow into mind, create a melancholy sort of high. At last, the come-down isn't so bad; that old haunt -- its hipsters, its hucksters, its drama queens and its ghosts -- keeps haunting.



I remember years ago when I was in a friend's wedding and we all gathered at his dad's place for a prenuptual whiskey. His dad was a greasy Coast Guard vet, seemingly obsessed with Japanese martial arts. On the walls of his gaudy, suburban home were souvenir store hangings with vague proverbs on revenge. I wondered for a second why my friend's dad couldn't make his first marriage work, or maybe I didn't. But that was Cleveland, a place I'd sooner never see again.

The expatriation bug seems to be in the air of late. Folks going to Canada in droves and how to blame them, really? You can have expanded marriage rights, universal health care, decriminalized marijuana and not feel like the rest of the world hates your home. And hockey. And who cares if their version of football is silly? You can travel to Cuba without your government imprisoning you for it.

I don't know if I could ever permanently expatriate, anyway. I don't know if I could ever just stay in one place as opposed to the other or another. If I moved right now, I would probably just go to New York or New Orleans or Austin. Some might say the shit has finally hit the fan. I think folks have just finally noticed the odor circulating. Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Pound ... they went to Paris, man. Why did they go there? They were pissed off because the government took away their booze. Sure, Hemingway was wounded in war and may have felt some disillusionment, but if he could have sidled up to a bar stateside, The Sun Also Rises may well have centered around a rodeo in Wyoming. Canada? I mean, most U.S.-ers aren't even going to Quebec ... it's just too easy.

I guess my point is: if you're going to call yourself an expat, then up and go a little farther than Toronto, Jack. There's a big world out there and hopping that northern border is about as subversive as voting for Nader or riding your bike in one of those insignificant Critical Mass events. Or wearing your $85, Marc Jacobs-designed Che Guevara t-shirt to the Whole Foods on Clybourn, where you're always rude to the non-union staff.


Nyla's internet went out again this morning. She just had a maintenance guy over two days ago and it's out again and with it the cable. Were I a tad more paranoid, or a tad less apathetic at this point, I would suspect the ministry of homeland security.

speaking of the internets, I was spammed by poetry.com. This is one of those "enter our poetry contest and win $XXX" scams where they get a bunch of kids and lonely old ladies to send in really bad poems about Norman Schwarzkopf or their pretty kitties and bilk them into dropping $40 on an 'anthology' of these submissions. I submitted a haiku to let them know I was onto them. Awaiting their response/solicitation to buy said anthology.

I was up early this morning, had a nice diet-friendly breakfast of lean turkey bacon and eggs with a spinach salad. I really crave whiskey and that Jameson bottle in my closet is looking mighty neglected. 1 more week until I can booze with a clean conscience.


rock, read and drop

Last Friday I played a solo set at the Green Door tavern in River North. It's an historic place, as it survived the fire 133 years ago and prohibition (was a speakeasy, they tell me). There's a nice cabaret room downstairs. Had a decent-sized crowd, though they'd come to see Steph, who had booked the show and headlined after my set. I had nearly forgotten how it felt to stand in front of an audience and play my music and have people actually listening. It was nice. The free beer was nicer.

Tuesday was my second poetry feature/book-release/birthday bash at Charlie's cafe poetry series. Like the rock thing, a good crowd, and some friends of mine even showed up (they normally wouldn't). Nyla brought a cake from Mandy B's and Charlie provided pie and marscapone from Trotter's to go. Those were all nice gestures, but the Jameson gift set from Anthony and Natalie took the aforementioned cake. N & I then went to Simon's with Joe and Cindy for some drinks. 33 feels OK. The next day, my actual birthday, Nyla took me to see The Motorcycle Diaries, which is not a bad movie. We had pizza and beer afterward, and now we're dieting again. I don't mind it, as the food is still good, but the lack of fat or simple starch really ups one's cravings, and we're eating like pigs.

We're losing weight, too, though, so it ain't all bad.