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Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Notes From the Old School: Seventh Scrub of a Seventh Scrub

Don't infer by the title of this post that I'm dishing on the immortal Iron Maiden.  As my stepfather has coined from the silver screen of yesterday, Mother Q never raised such a foolish child. 

Anyone who knows me knows Maiden is my favorite metal band of all-time and as I've been pecking at their latest video release Maiden England '88 for review at Blabbermouth, I've found it hard not to drift back somewhere in time inside my mind.  1988 was the year I graduated high school and it was also a year of other transitions and hard life lessons learned. 

I'd faced breakup and forced resignation from a grocery store job that had a policy I was due to receive health benefits after having worked there for nearly two years.  It was the year I missed my senior prom having gone a year earlier as a junior to my ex's senior prom.  Bully on her, she couldn't be bothered to honor the commitment she'd made me a year thence.  On the positive end, my curfew was extended and I was on the prowl most weekends, often coming home to watch Headbangers Ball on Saturday like it was liturgical, and sometimes I'd sneak back out and goof off with buddies in the wee hours until the fuzz politely sent us on our way. 

In 1988, I realized I wanted to be a writer more than anything and as I was accepted into the local community college, I was talked by my folks into aiming towards a business degree as a backup plan to my budding aspirations.  I'd also deluded myself into thinking I was marrying my high school sweetheart and though she didn't support my ambitions, I was willing to get on task of gainful employment, then chase after my dreams.

In the midst of all this change and growth in my life, I was cleaning corporate offices inside a Black and Decker complex that included a warehouse.  My closest headbanger companion Mark worked on the cleaning crew with me for awhile and then he moved into the warehouse end.  I was shrewd enough to know that our foreman only did two rounds of the facility to make sure we were staying on task and then he would crash in the cleaning crew's office and slack off.  He'd later join us for our ten minute break and then disappear again.  He would show up at precise and predictable moments of time, so he was easy to get over since the work was likewise simple and it hardly constituted the full allotted shift time.  You get the picture.

You might correctly assume that because of the flawless anticipation of the foreman's rounds, we on the crew would time our work so that we could gather on certain floors and horse around. Dustbuster Tag was a favorite game.  We'd flip out the main lights and dive under cubicle desks, stalking one another through the partitions and chasing each other with whirring dustbusters until everyone had been "tagged."  I can still see those grody gray-brown marks on my old concert shirts from those epic contests.  One of our lot used to call sex lines from the desks and we'd all laugh our fool heads off until he was fired for it once the corporate moguls put two-and-two together. 

For awhile, we young bucks had a lady on our crew and I made friends with her for the short time she'd been with us.  She took me to a projection booth inside an assembly hall on the premises and she'd let me vent about the stunning loss of my girlfriend.  Sadly, I don't remember this girl's name, but she had a couple years on me and had fallen into a bad relationship she wanted out of.  She gave me my first cigarette (a very short-lived habit I've long put to the wind) and we made out for a couple of minutes in that projection booth before she stopped me and said she didn't want her boyfriend snapping me in half.  A week later, she quit.

Once separated and attending to our tasks of emptying trash cans, ashtrays (this was still the days when people could smoke inside the office), vacuuming, buffing tiles and cleaning the bathrooms (sorry, ladies, but the women's rooms were always far more frightening than the men's), I would have my Walkman strapped at my hip while I worked.  The early form of an iPod, I used to do my job with cassette tapes spinning at my waist and the two heaviest hitters that ruled my Walkman at work were Iron Maiden's Somewhere in Time and Seventh Son of a Seventh Son.

The latter had just come out in 1988 and thus I spun it with the same obsessive consumption as I have every Maiden album that's crawled into my mits.   I could be wrong, but I might've listened to Seventh Son the most times out of any Iron Maiden album within my life span, considering it would get an easy two spins while on the job, reserving time for screwing off with my friends, break time and also when I would sit in the president's office and stare out of his massive window at the glow of the illuminated parking lot after-hours.  I took my headphones off then, just in the event the brass might skulk back in for a late impromptu meeting, which did occur now and then.

On occasion, some of the office workers would linger behind and while many were snobbish towards me, a few of the mid-level managers were really kind and talkative.  One man made the effort to ask what I was listening to and he nodded when I said it was Iron Maiden.  "I'm more of a Deep Purple guy," he'd said.  That stands vivid in my mind and I still find it way cool. 

I tried like hell not to sing "Moonchild," "The Evil That Men Do," "Can I Play With Madness" and "Only the Good Die Young" out loud when people were around working overtime, but when they were all gone for the night, the gloves were off.   I wanted to be Bruce Dickinson in the worst way and I know I butchered him in off-key, post-adolescent impression, yet it felt good singing the Seventh Son songs to no one in particular.  I knew when our super would be on the way, so the headphones would zip off my ears and dangle around my neck while I silently dumped trash and wiped down desks once he moseyed through my floor at 6:40 p.m. faithfully.

There was the one time, however, when I was caught "whoa-ohhing" along with Dickinson during the title track by the floor receptionist.  I was embarrassed beyond words and tried to get out of her vicinity when I saw her laughing.  However, she nicely told me to carry on, that she was only there to retrieve her purse she'd left behind.  This woman turned out to be the mother of one of my closest friends in high school, Heather.  By this time, we'd all graduated and gone our separate ways, a few of us keeping up with the "K.I.T." (for keep in touch) prompts we'd scribbled in one another's yearbooks.  I was very fond of Heather back in the day and supportive of her rotten relationship with some guitarist who went into the military once we'd all left school.  What I never knew, once I'd been formally introduced to her mother at Black and Decker, was that she'd wanted to see me.  Apparently I'd been given a glowing review to Heather's mom and her mother supported the idea of us taking a stab at a date.  This, despite the fact I was a gritboy headbanger with torn jeans, Megadeth and Overkill shirts and a ponytail.

Avoiding as much drama as I can, I was ecstatic once I had Heather on my ear and she'd agreed to go out with me.  I'd been coming out of my personal funk from my breakup and thankfully avoided suicide.  That little makeout session in the projection booth had restored some of my confidence and now this was going to put me right on top.  I'd held a silent crush on Heather for a long time in school, often hoping she'd break up with the loser she'd been with.  They had lasted through high school and I gave up on any notions of getting together with her, much less any of the ladies I'd been attracted to in school outside of my year-long girlfriend, Monica.

Seventh Son of a Seventh Son continued to roll in my Walkman, in my car and in my bedroom stereo.  I fucking loved that album, despite some of the negative press it got.  It was symbolic of change, change within Iron Maiden's sound and change in my own personal life.  Today I still feel all the emotions I ever did when I couldn't get it out of my various tape players back then. 

The unfortunate ending to my time at Black and Decker and my foiled date with Heather came out one night when I stupidly tried to act heroic for one of the warehouse ladies who'd gotten her chips stuck inside a vending machine.  I was looked at as one of the stronger guys on the crew, and I dumbly took that as a responsibility, thus I shook, titled and ultimately forechecked the machine until the Plexiglas shattered.  I got those chips out and we all had a laugh over it, but the critical error I'd made was assuming our supervisor was going to discuss the incident with the right powers and explain it was an accident.  I told the security guard who'd seen it go down that I was willing to pay for the damage, but no one spoke up and I went back to work.  Later, an entourage escorted me out of the building and onto the street. 

When I called Heather the next day to tell her what had happened and confirm our date, she told me she'd been forbidden by her mother to see me.  By this time, I'd had many conversations with her mother.  In fact, I knew her mom had hung behind after her time was up just to share a few words with me.  I liked that woman and felt her reciprocation.  To this day, I often wonder if fate hadn't intervened, what course life would've taken.  It's nothing I agonize over, since life goes on and you make the most of what you have.  Still, given how I thought I'd won that woman over, I felt betrayal, even though she was just doing with a mother would and should do under the circumstances she'd been presented. 

It had gone around the plant that I had picked a fight with the security guard and thrown him into the vending machine.  Heather's mom bought into this fabrication and after I pleaded over and over to be heard out, I was left with a click in my ear.  No one believes a teenager, especially a scrub like I'd been back then. 

I felt a tremendous sense of loss in that fragment of time, on an equilibrium to my breakup earlier in the year.  I was furious, dejected and right back to that deep-down sense of low morale I'd slugged through and would have to slug through again.  With no sense of irony lost, I pushed play on my stereo after Heather sobbed in my ear and hung up on me.  "The Evil That Men Do" chimed on.  Call it figurative if you must, but life does blow raspberries at you that way.

And so, as I watch the Seventh Son tunes roll before me on Maiden England '88, I think about how the band had incredible moxy to tackle a concept album and to buck the naysayers that were blowing their own raspberries at the addition of synthesizers to Somewhere in Time.  Those were increased on Seventh Son and nowadays it hardly sounds shocking.  It's just a natural progression and experimentation that still manifests in their music now and then today.  The acoustic elements on Seventh Son remain some of the most graceful textures the band's ever dabbled with.  At least history has mostly been kind to both albums and I maintain that the songwriting on Seventh Son of a Seventh Son, while lacking the galloping thunder (minus "The Evil That Men Do" and "Only the Good Die Young") and tone-drenched power of its predecessors, is one of their most refined recorded works and one of their finest overall achievements.  Powerslave, for me, is the definitive Iron Maiden album, but Seventh Son is glorious in its own right.

I choose to think more about the Dustbuster Tag games and pretending I was master of the domain in the big boss man's chair than I do the butt ugly conclusion of my teenaged tenure at that complex.  I do wish I'd been given proper audience by everyone who'd disparaged me by grossly misstating the chain of events.  I thought I was being noble and ended up making a yeoman mistake.  It cost me much, but not the cost of the Plexiglas, funny enough.  My honor and reputation had been smeared and that's really about all I lament these days.  In many ways, my future career actions have set about to not necessarily atone for that incident, but to wipe it clean altogether.  Only with infinite dreams and a little cajoling of the proverbial clairvoyant have I managed to achieve that.


UA said...

Great post, I really enjoyed reading this!

Sean said...

Wow, what a fantastic article!

bob said...

nice 'old school' occupation/girlfriend issue(s) story,... ez to identify with as a brother-in-metal, age, time period, etc. As I read your account I just kept hoping that the final 'payoff' would be that you hooked up with Heather's mom! Though I realize that sort of 'strategy' didn't most likely seem doable to guys of our 'time' way back then. But IF you could have, would you have??...

Ray Van Horn, Jr. said...

HAHAHAHAHAHA, thanks for the laugh, dude! In retrospect, ummmmmmm... no. I had very strong feelings for Heather herself at the time and was thoroughly deflated over this incident at the time. I eventually moved on dated lots of girls, but it was at the time, difficult to digest having the opportunity to explore a relationship I'd wanted so badly at the time and have my opportunity ripped away over a lie that I was never given the chance to defend myself over. Before this starts sounds like a wahh-fest, I'm an adult now, so that's just something to put to the wind, though it was fun in a twisted way to recollect. I saw Heather in passing later in life and at least being married at the time, it was easy to just smile and move along, you know? That was hilarious, though, brother.

Ray Van Horn, Jr. said...

"At the time," you know? LOL, I sound like a broken record.