This week we have a guest columnist, writer Marius Gustaitis, who some may be familiar with his great blog Trudging Through The Fire (http://mariusgustaitis.com/), if not check it out.
I love when my intuition turns out to be right. When it confirms my suspicions. Tells me my assessments are dialed-in. On target. I love it. It’s deeply satisfying. Makes me feel good about myself. Makes me feel like I know what’s going on. Like I might have a clue.
I met Michael Essington a few months back at a Reagan Youth/ 13 Scars show at Los Globos in Hollywood.
The music was so loud we didn’t get too much of a chance to talk. But I sized him up. I was a bouncer for a few years, and it’s just something I do. Maybe all guys do it. Size up a motherfucker. Try to figure out if they could take him.
Well, I wasn’t exactly at that point with Essington, since we hadn’t pissed each other off. I wasn’t at the deciding-if-I-would-win-in-a-cage-match phase of our relationship. I was just trying to figure him out. Trying to see if I could guess what he was all about.
He looked at ease. With himself. With his surroundings. Didn’t look like he had anything to prove. That told me a lot. If I ever did get any ideas about beating on him, this in itself would’ve given me pause. Guys don’t get like that without knowing they can handle some shit. And they know it… because they’ve handled some shit. You can’t fake it. Probably been through the chopping factory. Endured the blows of Life. But seems to have weathered it well. Call it character. Call it badassness. He’s got it. Like genuine.
Plus, he’s got that bull neck and Taurine shoulders so in fashion with debt collectors from Queens. Probably did some wrestling in school. Football? Yeah, maybe, some boxing, too. He’s a ground-and-pounder alright. Gets you on the floor and pile-drives from above while your limbs are pinned. Knows how to head-butt effectively. You have to resort to fighting dirty with guys like that. Use teeth. Table cutlery. Pull on the peach. All while taking thunder blows to the brow and jaw and trying to blink your way through the exploding green balls and vibrating purple parallelograms in your eyes. You’re looking at major war shit.
But there was no need to reach for the saltshaker, yet. He was just sitting there watching the show.
I figured he’s an ex-maniac, now settling into adulthood. I knew he had a family. I bet he’s easy-going and reasonable, until somebody really get’s under his skin. Then he blows. Yeah. Seems a little powder-keggish. Maybe some childhood stuff he’s still exorcising. Old stuff that fuels it. The Rage.
–I swear to you, these were my first impressions. Just from watching him. Now and then an occasional shouted exchange over the music. I had not read Life Won‘t Wait.
Well, needless to say, when I did, I was immensely pleased with myself. And my psychic powers.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I had him all figured out, or had known his whole story, but it turns out I did have a sense of the warp of the woof. I gisted it.
After reading his collection of autobiographical stories about life in the 818 (with interesting interviews with James Frey, Steve Jones, and Texas Terri Laird) I realized I had been right about a lot of things. Not like a jungle shaman high on Ibogaine right, but right enough to make beer money giving readings at a card table on the Santa Monica pier right.
Mike has been through some shit alright. Some quality childhood bummers. Family dysfunction. Suburban dissatisfaction. Valley Fever and its resulting health issues. A sensitive adolescence. An angry young adulthood, with its accompanying three handmaidens: Drink. Drugs and Violence. Sprinkle in some punk rock/metal, jail time, and a volcanic temper, and you know what you have?
Somebody who would’ve been a close friend. Are you kidding? Fucker’s from my tribe. Forget about it.
So the book was a dee-light to read. A lot of head-nodding and chuckling. Whether he’s going to jail, the hospital, or dealing with stupid things surrounded by stupid people, Essington makes a good tour guide. He doesn’t bore you with details. Just points out some of the interesting sights. Gives a few historical facts for reference. Moves on to the next landmark. He’s smart, funny, and insightful. His work is informed and readable. Never mind prolific.
But to me, one of the most badass things about Mike is that he doesn’t make himself out to be one. Oh, there’s this story and that one. Things happen. Shit goes down. But he lets you decide what to think. He clearly delineates his facts from his opinions. Again, like a guy not desperate to prove anything.
Look, I fancy myself a writer of sorts, so as I’m reading his stuff, I see how he’s stripped-down his line–keeps the sentences simple declarative. Doesn’t write in Proustian curly cues. He just prints it. But I was also impressed with how little editorializing he does. He’ll tell you what he thought, what he felt, but not go on and on about what he thinks it all meant.
Can you imagine how refreshing? Not to have some writer’s philosophy of life railroaded down your throat. My readers should be so lucky.
Anyway, both traits require discipline. To keep the line clean. And to keep the philosophizing to a minimum. It takes restraint in the writing, and some measure of faith in his readers–that they can fill in the blanks. Those qualities make Mike the writer he is. And the person.
And that makes running with Essington, as a reader or road dog, a low-maintenance for big payoff experience. If you haven’t gotten to know him yet, I wouldn’t wait too long. Life sure doesn’t. Neither does Death. So make a new friend. One that can handle himself if the shit goes down.
Misconceptions of Hell is available now: http://goo.gl/n9ofGb