"Let me understand."
She was a girl from the neighborhood, the sister of one of my sister's male friends. She was a raven-haired Italian beauty, a little out of my league. She worked the counter at Nathan's - not the famous Coney Island one - one of the retreads, on Stillwell Avenue, just a few blocks north of the house I grew up in.
I was 17, the drummer/singer in a shitty awesome Brooklyn heavy metal band. I worked the counter part-time at Pizza D'Amore, a parking lot pizza joint, and spent most of my free nights in a little room in my parents' house, making electronic music on my Korg/01-WFD analog synth.
I would soon graduate high school - a music loving metal head, but I didn't have long hair. I was losing my hair instead, barely old enough to drive but old enough for Rogaine. I was intensely shy, and intensely insecure about going bald. I had never been on a date, had never kissed a girl. Being bald was very uncool in the 20th century - it was sold to society as a problem, and a running joke.
One cold January night, instead of heading home after an evening of dishing out pepperoni rolls at the Pizzeria of Love, I headed to the Nathan's on Stillwell Avenue, Metallica or Ministry or probably Nine Inch Nails blasting out the speakers of my Chevy Cavalier. I was in my usual winter attire - a long black trench coat, black Doc Martens, and a black-and-white striped wool hat I stole from Waldo.
The kids from Columbine and I had the same wardrobe and taste in music. As the child of hippies, I found this slightly discomforting.
I was there with a purpose - not to do harm, but to woo. Consuming two hot dogs and some famous Nathan's crinkle cut fries was just a formality. I was there to ask this raven-haired beauty on a date. After downing the wieners, I nursed my Coke, then slowly consumed all the ice from the oversized green-and-yellow cup. I loitered outside the restaurant, waiting for her shift to end like a good little stalker.
In my teens, this was as brave as I ever dared to be. As far as I was concerned, sitting alone in my room, surrounded by vinyl records, compact discs, and analog keyboards always seemed a much less stressful alternative to the painful rejection of pretty girls. It was safer.
To their credit, my hippie parents were pretty liberal about the volume of the music coming from my room. They probably felt guilty about giving me a smaller room than my sister even tho I was older. This allowed me to sing along with those who understood me best in those days - Trent and Kurt, David Gahan and Bono, Layne Staley and Eddie Vedder.
The D train rumbled overhead as she finally emerged, the faint aroma of processed meat and vegetable oil trailing her out onto the pavement. I approached, typically timid, and muttered some sort of invitation to hang out.
"Let me understand," she responded, and then she was gone - into the cold Brooklyn night.
I never saw her again.
This awkward exchange defined my teenage years. It was an era dominated by rejection, frustration - and confusion. Will I ever get the girl? WilI I ever fall in love? Who wants to date a chrome domed 19 year old? Let you understand what???
Soon I started escaping into my own tunes, playing shows and getting noticed. Music was not just the medicine, it was the solution.
By the end of college, I would become "a relationship guy" - commitment and celebrations, vacations and flowers and anniversaries. Love and hope and plans for the future. I was still singing along to my heroes, only in my own place now, with joy in my heart. I started working at Z100, the biggest radio station in New York. I joined my boss' band and we soon formed a strong bond. I was playing showcases for major labels, opening for a few name acts. My stock was rising, my confidence was high.
One warm September night, my girlfriend came over for dinner. We had some wine, watched a movie, made love - a typically satisfying evening. Laying there in the dark, I turned to her and confessed that my music and my career were as important to me as she was. Maybe I felt it was something that someone driven to succeed is supposed to say out loud to make it all come true. A cinematic cliche, an affirmation. Maybe I needed to hear her say she was ok with never truly being #1.
Looking back, it seems like the first of more than a few things a selfish asshole would say.
"That was a long time ago."
"Don't be so hard on yourself."
"Everything happens for a reason."
"It wasn't meant to be."
"You're a good person."
"Give yourself some time."
"You're gonna be fine."
During the hardest of times, we hear these little phrases from our little support groups. They typically come with hope and good wishes, from friends and family, from people with good hearts. But that's all they are - little phrases. It's either that or awkward, uncomfortable silence, and you're left wondering which is worse. Because we rarely share our true feelings with anyone. We lie instead and say everything's fine. When someone offers sage wisdom, we make excuses or we placate them. "They mean well, but they don't truly understand what I'm going through."
Few are brave enough to tell a friend or family member that they're a fool, or even worse - a selfish, broken person. It certainly doesn't make for good dinner conversation. But at that time in my life, I was all of these things, and no words could offer solace nor guidance. Mostly, people just listened and waited patiently for me to shut the fuck up.
We're all crazy. We're all mad in here, Alice. We've all got something, man - and some of them are real doozies. How much do you want to put up with? How much can you put up with?
After you answer that, then look in the mirror and ask yourself how someone can put up with so much of you.
That hard time in my life remains poignant - it's when I should have really grown up and saw the world with eyes wide open. But I didn't learn my lesson, and so there were harder ones to follow. I still thought the universe owed me something because I had suffered thru the "Let Me Understands" - because even tho my own flaws and fuck-ups were a big part of the blame for my unhappiness, I was still somehow a victim.
Bad choices were made. Bad habits were only tempered, not eradicated. Closed doors were re-opened.
O That's Y is crazy and imperfect, just like you, just like me. Just like every relationship, the good ones and the bad ones. But its message is simple and direct.
You're not gonna get everything you want. You're not gonna get the perfect person, and you are certainly not the perfect person. So how much do you want to deal with the crazy? How much do you want to deal with the bad that will always come with the good? How badly do you need it in your life when the alternative - being alone - seems so scary? So bleak.
I used to think that Crazy Stupid Love was the answer, not a question.
"Eh we're both fucked up, but we love each other. Isn't that crazy?? That's what make it so awesome! Let's be fucked up together!"
But that's all nonsense. That never ends well.
I can deal with your crazy just as long as it doesn't interfere with your dedication to me. To us. Life is hard, man. Life is all types of hard. But don't turn on me. Don't take me for granted. Be loyal. Be compassionate. You're not the only one suffering, we all are - every day, for something we did or for something we didn't do or for both.
It's all about dedication.
That's what I used to tell my ex after most of our award-winning screaming matches. She was my wounded bird, my crazy stupid love. "I'm your guardian angel." I would say it aloud often. I wasn't putting myself on a pedestal, I was putting it into perspective.
I'm not the enemy. I am on your side. Respect that. Respect me. I am here to make your life better, so stop making mine worse. I'm not part of the problem, I'm part of the solution.
Let Me Understand.
Or let me go. That's okay. We'll both be better off.
We have all lost something, we have all lost someone. Do we dare to lose more? None of us are angels. We all have a moral compass that points us in all different directions, and I like to think that this is what should guide us up and until our inevitable end.
I'm happy with where my compass has led me, but I had to learn a few hard lessons to get there and I still bear a few scars. In the end, it is truly only ourselves who live - and die - with regret.
You're not gonna get everything you want. That doesn't mean you should hurt your people.
You're not gonna get the perfect person. That doesn't give you the right to be a selfish asshole.
You're not the perfect person. That doesn't mean you shouldn't do the best you can.
Be grateful. Be good. Or be gone.
O THAT'S Y
That's why you did these things to me
And I know and I understand why you're crazy
But what I don't understand
Is why you're not crazy for me
I know that it hurts
When you don't get your desserts
That's okay :)
Chris Pennie - synth, loops
Brett Aveni - guitars
Music and Words by Ron Scalzo
Copyright 2014 Bald Freak Music (ASCAP)
Recorded at The Boiler Room, Princeton, NJ
Engineered by Fight Mannequins and Ron Scalzo
Mixed by Fight Mannequins
Artwork by Joseph Milazzo
Mastered by Michael Judeh at Dubway Studios