The floorboards creaked beneath heavy feet, above me someone was walking around the house. Who was upstairs? I knew who it wasn’t. I thought maybe it was the ghost again. I had heard one once. It was obviously not my mother, highly doubtful, she would never have returned home, she had been gone too long to come back. I knew it wasn’t my father based on the sound, he shuffled around like Karloff’s Mummy or one of Romero’s original zombies. My father barely left from his spot in front of the television. My father sat in his beat up recliner drinking four fingers of whiskey at a time, mostly falling asleep watching old horror films, and then switching to the lumpy couch in a somnambulist state. I hoped he dreamt of a place that made him happy, a place better than this.
One of the only things that made him the least bit happy was watching those horror flicks. Some purchased and others recorded off the television onto VHS. He preferred the Video Home System overall. please adjust tracking for best picture quality, and he refused to succumb to the invasion of DVDs. My father was not the type of man who did well with change, and the last thing he wanted to do was get all of the movies he already owned on a new format. The audacity of some of these companies. What a waste of fucking money, he said. Leave it alone.
JVC, or The Japan Victor Company spent the early seventies developing vhs tapes, dropping them on the rest of the world a year after releasing them solely in Japan in 1976. My father would grow attached to analog video recordings, not knowing that they would have a life expectancy of roughly thirty years before they stopped manufacturing them and video rental stores would close down. Thirty years is a good run for a piece of technology I suppose, I doubted that I make thirty. My father should have been the last person who thought anything lived forever.
My father depleted the remainder of his time on earth watching movies, emptying bottles of Irish whiskey and practicing tying knots on an old two foot piece of manilla rope. Each frayed end was wrapped tightly in electrical tape. He bided his time, effortlessly tying a variety of knots. He would tie a bowline, undo it and then tie a figure 8. He would make a barrel hitch and hang his beers in it. Sometimes, he would make little nooses. One day I thought I might find him hanging from some quarter inch rope somewhere in the house, probably in the basement where my room was. Then there would be two ghosts. Isn’t that where people go to hang themselves? The basement. Basements and Attics were where I presumed most people committed suicide inside their domicile, then I heard a muffled voice.
I hadn’t invited anyone over and no one came to my house for my father. He didn’t talk to anyone outside of the house, he went days without emitting a sound. He livened up a bit whenever Maeve came around but the time would come when she wouldn’t be around so much anymore either, but that would be my own doing. My father had no friends, and if he did, he didn’t want them. The occupants of the house, mainly my father and myself, were used to the sounds of loneliness. We lived in a structure that brimmed with sadness. A sadness felt deeply but never discussed.
The voice I heard was that of my Cousin Kenny, whom we were not expecting back so soon. My family on my father’s side lost touch or didn’t speak to one another anymore over petty squabbles. It’s rarely over the really bad things we do to each other but the insignificant, trivial bullshit that creates the cracks in the relationship. My uncle, my father’s older brother Liam was the only family member who kept tabs on my father, and that only entailed two calls a year lasting about thirty seconds to see if he was still alive. Uncle Liam had been gone for decades now. I believe the reason was to not have to see anyone, to get away from all the nonsense and drama that goes on within the clan. My family were Irish-American Queens representatives, by way of County Tipperary, like many Irish, our descendants left Ireland behind in the 19th century to escape starvation. In spite of our history my father waged his version of a hunger strike, a strictly liquid diet, requiring triple distillation, in protest of my mother’s departure. She was a great tragedy for my father, as he starved for her love and affection, it devastated him.
Uncle Liam, whom I’ve never met in the flesh, always wanted to be in the motherland despite being born on the wrong side of the pond and into the wrong family, his words not mine. The moment he was old enough to survive on his own, he left for Thurles, where our family originated from, before settling in Dublin because of work. He never set foot on American soil again. Kenny was Liam’s son. Kenny would come and stay with us fairly often, usually unannounced, usually when the Garda were routinely making visits to the house. They lived in Finglas, a section of Dublin meaning clear streamlet, in a tiny flat. Instead of getting into mischief in Dublin, Kenny would leave to lay low in Queens only to find himself getting into trouble here. Same shit, different place and accents. Kenny was always going to be himself no matter where on earth he was at that precise moment, even if that meant causing a bit of commotion from time to time.
I idolized my cousin Kenny, still did. I was so fond of him as a child. He was like the big brother I always wanted with a dash of the protective dad I never had. As an adolescent I wanted to be just like him. He was older, and anyone older was just instantly cool. A scrappy young man who always rocked the raddest band shirts. Misbehaved at times, sure, maybe a bit, but he was always respectful and intelligent, and insightful beyond his years. At 12 years old I strived for two things, I wanted to be like my cousin and I wanted to be a member of Metallica. I couldn’t do either of those things. Kenny was one of the only family members that I had that didn’t wind up being a major disappointment to me. Almost always, he remained true to his word and valued our bond. One of the foulest things that can happen in a lifetime is putting faith, trust and love into a human being and then watching them become a stranger, or worse, an enemy. Sometimes relationships, just like the cassette tape can become obsolete, or trash.
“Yeah. I’m down here. What’s up, Kenny.”
“Hey bud.” Kenny stomped down the stairs quickly with his boots.
“You just get in?” I asked.
“Yeah, came straight here. I had to get out of Dublin for a while. I don’t particularly enjoy warm climates. What are you doing?”
“Nothing much, Just watching An Evening Of Edgar Allan Poe.”
I watched a film starring one of our favorite actors, when I say our I meant my father and myself, the master of menace himself, Vincent Price. There are people, dead or alive that you don’t know but you feel a connection with, you know that you would get along with that person. People you’d want to have a beer with. I’d enjoy having a beer with Vincent Price. In this film he narrates four Edgar Allan Poe stories, a writer whose work Mr. Price understands with a familiarity of which I’m afraid to admit I have of no one or nothing. Mr. Price is in pure form, delivering lines full of conviction, committed to each character, it continues to leave me in a transfixed state, each viewing transports me to somewhere other than my basement. An acting performance rivaling many and a feat in storytelling. While he crushed his performances in The Pit And The Pendulum, The Sphinx and The Cask Of Amontillado, the best by far is The Tell Tale Heart. A story published in 1843 that is timeless and quite relevant. Poe would never be obsolete, I hoped. You watched a man as he unraveled by the weight of his own fiendish deed. Vincent Price was certifiable. Man is a killer, but how wicked is the conscience, if that particular man possesses one, when he knows what he has done is wrong. Does guilt get everyone in the end? I believed that it did not and I hoped I was right.
“Class. But have I got something special for you, lad.” Kenny was overjoyed, beaming over whatever it was he had clutched behind his back. I didn’t quite understand what he wanted from me, I usually didn’t know what people wanted me to do, but he stood there looking at me on the couch, a wide grin across his unshaven face, in his trademark denim jacket with all the sickest band patches, a plain black hooded sweatshirt and dirty Doc Martin boots. Kenny and I could have passed for brothers, I liked the fact that we looked alike, since I held him in such high regard. I suppose our genes were strong in some respects, appearance and alcoholism. He had longish dark brown hair like me, and his eyes were hazel like mine, only his were more brown and mine leaned more towards a greener spectrum. He was 5 ’11 and then I was small, but I would only grow to barely touch 5′ 9.
Whenever Kenny had something for me, and he usually brought me presents, they tended to be thoughtful but the best gift was the truck tire he gave me. I was grateful but felt shitty about not having any gifts to give him in return but in my defense I usually had no idea when he was going to show up and I was rarely holding much coin. Kenny never seemed to mind, that was not the reason, he was not the kind of person who did things expecting something in return. He had given me so much over the years and influenced me as much as Ozzy and Martin did, some of the most cherished possessions were from Kenny. He had given me a bunch of patches and an old Levi’s denim jacket I think he might have stolen for me to sew the patches on to. I got tons of tapes from him, the most influential for me were Ride The Lightning and Master Of Puppets, on opaque white cassettes. They belonged to him, and he passed them down to me one night before he left to go back to Finglas. Kenny bequeathed all kinds of classics to me. And Justice For All. Faith No More’s The Real Thing and Public Enemy’s It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back. He put me onto so many bands and albums, only once did he tell me not to listen to something, that was Metallica’s Black album. Kenny, like many other metalheads, took their new direction as a personal insult. He was responsible for getting me into Slayer, Morbid Angel and Ozzy’s solo shit. He introduced me to a lot of shit. He, as did I, took music seriously. There were also bands that he loved that I couldn’t get into like Overkill and Testament. Not everything made an impression, some bands I felt no connection to, not that they were not good at what they were doing, they simply had no impact on me. It was with Kenny that I had my first sip of whiskey, the water of life. Kenny was instrumental in shaping me into a little pugilistic alcohol imbibing head banging metal head. I was thankful he cared for me as much as he did, and everything I learned from him I brought and shared with Ozzy.
Kenny revealed the present. A record, he played with, flipping it in his hands. His knuckles were busted up. “What’s that?” I asked.
“It’s a record. Vinyl, twat.”
“I know it’s a record, you fucking dick. But I haven’t got a record player. The Cravens do. We play records all the time at their house,” I said. I wanted to hold it and look at it.
“Well, we’ll have to go and get you one then. Look, it’s a fucking picture disc.” Kenny handed the record over and I stared at it. “Seriously. How cool is this thing? You see this fucking thing?”
“It’s so rad. Was it expensive? I mean, It’s great. I love it, Kenny. Thank you so much.” Thank you Kenny and thank you Dr. Peter Goldmark and his team at Columbia records.
Indeed, it was a badass looking record. A twelve inch released in 1984, consisting of three songs. Creeping Death on side A, flip it and listen to two covers of bands I had not heard of until that day, songs which would eventually be released on Garage Days. It was a picture disc. If this was to be my first record, Kenny had made a sound choice. An artist named Alvin Petty created an otherworldly scene, something Lovecraftian, a landscape of jagged stone with passageways carved out of mountains, a subtle depiction of a skull beneath the arch of the path in the void, hues of purple with a green fog. The Metallica logo, impressive and looming overhead, and accented with green and silver. The words Creeping Death beneath the band’s name, in a strange font but nevertheless etched and unforgettable in my teenage mind and most likely for as long as I shall live.
It was my most prized possession for a long, long time. It was nostalgic, for sure, but the record looked as awesome now as it did when Kenny put it in my hands, and it didn’t hurt that the song was timeless as well. There was also the combination of my love for the band, and more importantly my idolatry of my cousin, those two things made that gift so monumental for me. Kenny was the only person in my family, blood related who concerned himself with my well being. He wanted me to be happy and the record did. I absolutely loved it and I must have looked at it for days on end, inspecting and admiring it, memorizing each detail. I couldn’t wait to show Ozzy. Records were one of the few materialistic things I relished and still coveted.
Materialistic people, especially the ones I knew personally I found to be despicable, and those who placed importance on possession over character to be deplorable. It was wack to me to place importance on something that had no meaning behind it, or to represent some brand that was determined to be cool by people whose opinion did not matter to me at all. The emphasis should be on the art itself whatever the medium, though it is often not about that at all, it becomes about whatever shitty trend is popular at the moment or who’s jacket says what is on it. My fixation was on a piece of flat polyvinyl chloride, which had a function and a meaning, there was something there, something larger, found deep within its grooves, a personal attachment, a connection. I had no interest in most things other people around me cared about, like overpriced clothes with some name emblazoned on it, it seemed pointless to me to advertise for companies that shared nothing in common with my lifestyle or viewpoints. If I was going to be a walking billboard for anything, I’d much rather promote a band that spoke to me on some level. The more the kids at school, or just in the neighborhood flaunted the cost of their sneakers, which my family couldn’t afford anyway, I would proudly search for the cheapest, plainest shoes I could find so I could distance myself from them as far as possible. Maybe it was partly true that I didn’t have much of a choice but that didn’t matter to me. The appeal of all those labels was lost on me. I doubt any of them would have cared about my record, though. Call it even.
Tommy Hilfiger had never hung out at the park with me and my friends. I knew nothing about any sports where you had to be on horseback. I wasn’t about to place my tools in a Louis Vuitton bag. Fuck boating. Maybe it’s my lower middle class roots, or my blue collar upbringing that makes me cringe at the name sewn on a pair of jeans being the topic of a conversation.
“This is the start of your record collection, lad.” A collection of records, like the one Mr. Craven had, sounded amazing to me. “Colm, we’ll start building your collection together and no matter how the trends fluctuate, you hold on to these. Treat them with respect. I’d love to drink a beer with Flemming Rasmussen. You know if Metallica sticks with that dude, they’ll do no wrong.” I wanted to be there if Kenny ever got the chance to drink beer with Flemming Rasmussen. His name alone sounded heavy.
“Thank you so much. I don’t know what else to say. Thanks so much.”
“There’s nothing to say, bud. It’s my pleasure. I’ll look into getting us a record player this week. Cool?”
I said, yeah. Cool.
“Are the Mets playing today?”
Baseball is utterly worthless in Ireland, but Kenny had grown to love our national pastime, just as he had grown to love Queens. He might have loved New York City more than Thurles or Dublin. Most people who come here from another country, when they get to New York City they automatically wear some wack Yankees bullshit. I don’t know what’s worse, seeing tourists getting ripped off on fake merch or seeing grown men wearing Jeter shirts. Fucking groupies. Kenny knew better than to fall for all the championships. His home away from home was Queens, and when the galaxy is home, you should do your part and root for the Mets. I rather be the underdog, or at least I lied it. There was more to New York baseball than the fucking Yankees, since 1962. If by proximity you might have been a Brooklyn Dodgers or a New York Giants fan in another time, well then it was your civic duty to root for the Metropolitans. The Miracle Mets adopted Dodger’s blue and the Giant’s orange, which are also found on the flag of New York, another valid reason to represent.
“They played already. It was a day game. Dreary. They played like shit. Bonilla fucking sucks.”
“Yeah, but he fanagled an insane contract though. That has to count for something.”
“Not if they don’t win. Stupidity. For real.”
“Hopefully they make the playoffs.”
I said that it didn’t look like it.
“How did Sunderland do?” Kenny asked.
“I don’t know what that is,” I said, smiling.
No matter how influential Kenny was to me, nothing could ever get me to care about Soccer, unless I had some action on a game and that only happened about once every four years. Kenny followed a couple of different soccer teams, I knew one was from Scotland and another was The Black Cats out of the Stadium of Light, who were founded in 1879. They had a few years on the New York Giants, who were formed as the New York Gothams in 1883. Life might have been better during that time. I didn’t know how the Giants did in ‘83, or how Sunderland was doing presently but the Mets would finish fourth that year. Death was always creeping. It took conviction to be a Mets fan, that was certain and something to be lauded.
Kenny Ryan remained a strong figure in my life over the years. A life that admittedly lacked strength and conviction from anyone else in my family. Aside from getting me heavily into music, no pun intended, he also taught me how to box, he taught me the value of defending myself. We would spar, and work on combos and hand eye coordination. He stressed the importance of calisthenics, instilling a regiment that I kept religiously. He taught me that endurance was key for someone my size, since I was smaller in stature than most kids my age, until I hit my growth spurt which didn’t help that much anyway. Kenny gave me another gift one afternoon. He was able to acquire a disposed tractor tire, apparently he had made a request with a friend’s father and he came through. A big hulking circle of old dirty rubber found a new home in my backyard. I stood in front of the tire. I asked him if he wanted me to lift it? Which I doubted I would be able to. He said fuck no. Kenny went into the shed and retrieved a ten pound rusted sledgehammer. He told me to hit the tire with it. Keep your back straight. Squat when you bring the hammer down to strike and alternate arms. Imagine your chopping wood. He told that if I’m ever upset over something to come out here and wail on this fucking thing to let it all out. Needless to say, I spent countless hours working the rubber on that fucking tire until my shoulders were dead, until my arms were no longer capable of lifting the sledgehammer above my head, until my hands blistered and I were a puddle of sweat. Kenny gave me a lot but those two things were most memorable, a record and a truck tire.