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MERRY SKULL BITES: Good Dreams of Bad Things

"Woke up sunrise Tuesday morning, set the chain of events into motion. Stepped out into backyard, poured circle of salt and cigarette and marijuana ash, and stepped inside with an armful of bait: honey for Oshun, aguadiente for Eleggua', a dried frog for Coyote, etc. It's a long list but the folks I invited to that show were the ones I felt at the previous shows, didn't see any reason to have 'em miss out on this tour." Read Miguel Benito Calbillo's letter to an incarcerated friend. An account of the October 23, 2001 Butthole Surfer's Concert in Houston, Texas.

by Miguel Benito Calbillo



I'm a cog in the culture machine but the music helps --Lupine Howl

Reading this book called VURT by Jeff Noon for the millionth time and it is about dreams, hooking into the collective unconsciousness via a drug called VURT and the adventures you have therein. And there was this passage I read last night about that moment you have where you look into someone's eyes and find a look of deep recognition, 'like falling for a long lost friend that you'd never met before.'

Had the 5th or so good dream of bad things since Tuesday night. Guess what happened shook me up deeper than I'd readily admit to most. There wasn't any completion to the ritual. There. I said it. As cheesy as you may take the next part, you can dismiss it with a handy grain of salt or as just another southern-fried drug delusion, what have you. But I share it with you anyway because I trust you.

Woke up sunrise Tuesday morning, set the chain of events into motion. Stepped out into backyard, poured circle of salt and cigarette and marijuana ash, and stepped inside with an armful of bait: honey for Oshun, aguadiente for Eleggua', a dried frog for Coyote, etc. It's a long list but the folks I invited to that show were the ones I felt at the previous shows, didn't see any reason to have 'em miss out on this tour. Quick trick about magic: most of it's sympathetic, like attracting like and all the ritual is usually for the tourist crowd. All you really need is some fire, either a dark room or the golden hours where the sun rises or sets and an unchained mind. It's rather simple.

I went to the show with Fintz, and it was his first time seeing Butthole Surfers. We immediately noticed how few people were in attendance and the only logical conclusion we could draw was that everyone we knew who would be at that show were either in jail or dead. Yet another reason to mark the occasion the way I did that golden morning.

Fast-forward to the show: right before the Surfers, I'm on my back, then sitting cross-legged, the drugs rapidly taking effect. I look up and there they are: a swirling mist of known and lesser known (in this day and age) deities and among their smoke, the smiling face of Michelle. Ritual had worked; all the ghosts were present. Last bit then: on the opening note of 'Blindman' (the 1st song of the surfer's set) surreptitiously sprinkle beer from my fingertips to the 4 directions and let go of--did I ever describe 'the cold thing'? No?

There's this defense mechanism I developed after years of being beaten up in public school. I lose my humanity, I let 'the cold thing' envelop me and then I can do whatever I want, regardless of consequence. I can fight 'til I'm hamburger, I can wait hours in the driving rain during winter for a dealer to show up with my next fix, I don't give a single FUCK, 'the cold thing' surrounds what is human and good in me and keeps it in check until the task at hand is over. And I hated it. Every second of it. But it kept me 'alive' for a while so I dealt with it, until I realized that it was killing what was human in me by slow increments. Do you understand? If so, explain it to me sometime, 'cuz I'm still baffled by it all.

So I do this, open my arms and it's like this cool clean ocean breeze right off the coast gusts from the back of the hall and through me, rippling my T-shirt and 'the cold thing' rides the back of it out of me and up onto stage, meshing with the chaos up there. Haven't felt that peaceful since I was a kid eating cereal in our 1st backyard with my sister. Felt safe, human again. Reveled in it during their 2nd song, '1401', homage to those LSD-psychedelic-fueled car wrecks, with the requisite over-saturated 1950's driver's ed. horror films playing behind the Surfers. "I hope I'm together when I die...' reverberating over and over again through my head as my first and final prayer, one single shattering memory, both deja vu and the future at once.

The rest, well--you know what happened then.

Third song into the set, this couple of white trash gypsies set me up. This HUGE guy, around 6', 5", 280-300lbs pushed his girlfriend into me, which I thought was odd considering I was standing behind the soundboard with no one around me, so I could flail without the risk of offending anyone. This venue seats 2,000 and they I heard a rumor they sold less than 200 tickets, so everyone except Fintz and me were at the front. So after she fell against me, I apologized and moved over so she could stand between Fintz and me. I asked her if it was her 1st show, she said yes, I said cool, and went back to watching. Next thing I know Gorilla Boy is on me: "you hitting on my girlfriend? You hitting on my girlfriend?" Both times I said no, then started to back away from him. Then he grabbed me by my neck and picked me up. My first thought was, "wait, this isn't part of the show". As he did that, his girlfriend grabs my wallet, snaps the clasp from the chain holding it on my belt and as he flings me to the ground she tosses him my wallet. I'm on my feet in seconds, full knowledge of what just happened. She took off up to the left top hand exit, and he started to walk down the right-hand side toward the exit. I ran after him, screaming 'YOU'VE GOT MY WALLET, YOU'VE GOT MY WALLET"---then he turned on a dime and I saw this WORLD OF FIST coming straight at me. I barely had time to pull back and I have this complete memory of being laid out: of his fist connecting, my head snapping back, collapsing in a heap with my arms around my head, strobelights illuminating the red pain behind my clenched eyelids, the faux-carpet scraping up my arms as I forced myself up to give chase. Except according to Fintz that didn't happen, I just shook the punch off and kept after him. He had split open my cheek but I ran after him, staying out of the reach of his wild punches, trying to snag my wallet back.

We finally make our way to a security guard that catches him with my wallet in his hand. Fintz is there finally, backing me up on the events that occurred. Gorilla Boy takes a final swing at me and takes off. Security guard #1 hands me back my wallet, sans money of course, and sends another guard after him. I resign myself to acceptance, and go back to my vantage point to watch the rest of this show I'd waited 5 years to see, this show I woke up at dawn for just to give libations to my gods and dead friends, summoning their spirits to the show--but you already know that part.

So Fintz comes up one song later and says they caught him at the door and the cops were there. I walk over with the security guards who witnessed it, but they hang back when we reach the cops, saying 'it's in their hands now.' I get that sinking feeling in my stomach. Gorilla Boy is there with his girlfriend and when he spots me, he starts screaming 'there he is, he hit my pregnant girlfriend!' Cop takes him into the bathroom to get his side of the story. I'm thinking that I'm in the clear: his girlfriend doesn't have a mark on her, he's being totally obnoxious and obvious, he was caught taking swings at me with my wallet in his hand--I figure justice will be served. Never been more wrong in my life.

So cop sends Gorilla Boy and his chick over to his partner and pulls me into the bathroom and asks me my version. I tell him everything, ask him if he wants to talk to the guards (he doesn't) and he looks at my split-open rapidly swelling cheek. Then he takes me out and pulls gorilla back into the bathroom. Minutes pass. I'm missing a show I waited 5 years to see. Cop comes back out, says: ok, here's how it's going to go. If you want to push this, I will arrest you for assault and I will arrest him for theft and the both of you will go to jail tonight. I ask if he had the denominations of my wallet in his pocket, cop says yes but that he can't force him to give me my money and that my eyewitnesses don't matter, that under the letter of the law in Texas, if an assault is alleged against a woman, someone must go to jail, and that since my assailant only stole 48 in bills and $1 in change (not to mention MY FUCKING TICKET STUB, which was the worst part) my offense would carry a more severe penalty than his.

Feeling raped and let down but wanting to get back to my show and forget it, I say, "since you say there's nothing I can do, I'm going back to my show, officer Lindsey. Thank you for your time.' I take a step away, pig grabs my arm, pulls me in close to him, no earwitnesses to this of course, cop was slick. He pulls me in and says: I'LL TELL YOU SOMETHING ELSE: YOU KEEP EYEBALLING MY BADGE LIKE THAT AND I READ MY NAME ON A COMPLAINT FURTHER ON DOWN THE ROAD THAT OFFICER L. DID NOT DO HIS JOB, I WILL FIND YOU, I WILL FIND HIM, I WILL ARREST YOU ON ASSAULT, I WILL ARREST HIM ON THEFT AND I WILL MAKE SURE YOU SHARE THE SAME CELL. He repeated this 2 more times, just to make sure I got his point. I said I understood, asked him if they were going to be allowed to stay in the venue. He said no, that they were leaving. I said, fine, I'm going to go watch the rest of my show. Grabbed Fintz, headed back in to watch the second Buttholes set. Few minutes later, I glance back and see Gorilla Boy and his girlfriend walking back into the hall. So I spent the rest of the show up front, hidden in the crowd against the stage. Stayed there, watched them split. Then I went to the box office to get names, see if a report was filed, but Officer L. stood right there in front of the door, arms crossed, giving me his best cop mad-dog stare. Suffice it to say, we split.

I mean, think what you will but these things are IMPORTANT to me. And now my dreams are colored by what happened, in all the colors of a psychedelic seizure. And without 'the cold thing' to help order the panic, it's like every emotion is in this horrid flux, all chaos with no ordering voice to snap it in line.

Dreamt of it again last night, right before the hand closes off my oxygen and I'm scrambling for 'the cold thing' to come into play but it's too busy goofin' on the light show. I'm standing against the railing and then I'm sitting above the show, in this dream alcove of books and one bed. April is on the bed and I'm describing the drums during the song '22 going on 23' and the way Gibby supplemented the usual samples of 'ANXIETY…MEDICINE…SLEEPLESSNESS…RAPE PROGRAM' by growling 'PROZAC…LITHIUM…DEPAKOTE…ZOLOFT…LITHIUM…HEROIN'.

And then I'm back in the show, second set, hiding from that asshole who hit me, snuggled deep among the pit crowd, feeling each THUMP and POUND of the drums inside of me, my heart taking up the tribal beat. Pulled out of the dream right there and then, spent a few minutes shaking on my bed. It's always painful when I pull out of a dream, feels like being skinned alive.

Then I came in here, sat down and wrote this out. Make of it what you will. I need to travel to see the Austin show on the 17th. I need to finish the ritual. Sadly, maybe I need 'the cold thing' back, despite the trouble it's gotten me into in the past. What is courage, Richard? Some would say that 'the cold thing' is the closest thing I have to it, others would say that courage is when you're honest enough to admit how shit-scared you really are. I just don't know.

Had another dream on the eve of Halloween. My head hits the pillow and I'm back in it again: picked up, backed against a railing that bites into my kidneys. I'm beyond resistance; I can't breathe because this fucking guy has my neck in a death grip in his hand. I start to cry, tears squeeze out of the corners of my eyes and roll down my face and I'm pleading inside to someone, anyone--wake me up.

And then my prayer was answered, but not quite the way I expected. Always a surprise in the minefield of my mind. I open my eyes and everything is frozen, silent. Hear someone next to me say "What kind of help are you talking about?" I shift my eyes toward my interrogator, and lo and behold, it's me. Same evil shirt, same prayer beads, me except this me is smoking a cigarette and his cheek is swollen somethin' fierce. I manage to croak out "What the fuck do you mean? Help me, help us!" Then I look at myself; rather the me that takes another moody drag off the cigarette looks at the me that's dangling in the air. The rest of the conversation didn't involve words, just the notions flashing through my head as dialogue, lightning fast, so I don't doubt the validity.

I stub out the cigarette, shift my belt and take off my glasses. Walk up to myself and say: What were you trying to accomplish by coming here? By undergoing cleansing rituals beforehand? By letting go of your cold side at the precise moment? And I sob back: Change. I wanted to change for the better. I look myself directly in the eye and say, and what have you always said was the one thing that would hold you back on this earth when you die, the one thing you truly regret? And I answer, "Hitting Michelle." I pull out another cigarette, light up, look sadly at myself, full knowledge of what is going to happen next. I say, so you're on the receiving end tonight. You may go to jail on false charges of assaulting a woman. Suck it up.

I'm getting over it now.

Epilogue: Filed a complaint with Internal Affairs that will probably amount to nothing, but at least the next time that cop lets someone go, maybe an eyebrow will be raised, maybe not. As I stood with my father on the corner outside the building that houses the IA division, he remarked that down the block was a place that was once known as "The Pit". A parking lot on the edge of the bayou, the cops used to take minorities that resisted arrest to the parking lot, call up other cops, they would take the sad fucker down to the bayou's edge and proceed to beat the shit out of them. All injuries sustained were merely the result of 'resisting arrest.'

Took a bus with Fintz to Austin, and we met up with this friend of mine who calmed our understandable tension with tea and reading us part of her thesis. She'd graduated from the Naropa Institute and the part she read us was about being mugged in India while on way too much LSD. Calmed us down enough to stop worrying about what might happen at the show later on that night.

The La Zona Rosa gig was perfect, everything I had hoped for and more; since it was the last night of the tour, the band had their timing down to military precision, and Gibby did his infamous "cymbal of flame", where he pours rubbing alcohol onto a cymbal, sets it on fire and hits it repeatedly, sending a fireball soaring into the sky. The only strange occurrence was when a surly crowd surfer deliberately swiped my glasses off my face, but the surrounding crowd was kind enough to stop dancing long enough to help me find them. All in all, a great way to end a year and regain the confidence lost by almost being arrested for being mugged. I feel safe and confident again.

Miguel Benito Calbillo is a freelance writer, soundman and 'ethnovideographer' for Nuestra Palabra in Houston, Texas. His work has been featured in the now-defunct music magazine Thor-A-Zine.

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