Category Archives: Lifestyle

On the Road With SUSTO: Part Five

By Matt Harrison (@MattHurrison)

December 14th

10:15am

Charleston, South Carolina

“I brought some energy weed,” James said as he walked through the front door of the house on the Rialto Row compound. One lesson I’ve learned with absolute certainty is that the rock and roll world is a feisty bull to hang on to. So, you may as well get stoned and do your best.

Van the Good and James both arrived at Rialto early to sort out the plan for the day before we left for Macon, Georgia for the last show of the tour.

“I just need to pick up a bag of ice, a 12 pack of Budweiser, and a pack of Camel Lights,” James said as he hauled his ACID BOYS cooler into the van.

The three of us had some time to kill, so we headed over to James’ house to chill out and say hi to Luda, James’ dog who acts as the mascot of Rialto Row.

“You see these speakers here?” James said as we came into his house. “They were custom made for Eddie Vedder and they were the main speakers for the jam room in his house. Ben [Bridwell] won them from him on a bet when they were on tour, so they were his for years. Band of Horses got a sponsor that hooked their house up, so I go these.”

“Can you play something?” I asked.

“Sure,” he shrugged, pulling his phone out. “This is what we stumbled in on last night.”

He played a smooth, groovy, jam. It sounded incomplete, and that’s because it was. The truest version of the song momentarily peeked through the psychedelic shadows of the music. James played a few Band of Horses songs to show off the aptitude of what were once Eddie Vedder’s speakers.

“It’s crazy how these guys are my best friends, right? I would love these dudes if they were, I don’t know, landscapers, if they were whatever the fuck. The fact that they’re making this great music is wonderful and I’m just lucky to be here.”

“It’s fucking crazy to me that these sounds that are made in Rialto, a place that we built, are gonna be heard all over the goddamn world. That is fucked up! And, who knows man, maybe this shit’s gonna cheer people up in Japan and Australia meanwhile Ben recorded the vocals in my shitass bathroom!”

He paused for a moment, looking around his living room with a Budweiser in his hand. “That’s insane, brother, straight up.”

“That’s the American Dream,” I said from the back porch where I smoked a cigarette with Luda.

“Hey, man, they’ve also helped SUSTO out a lot. Band of Horses has taken SUSTO across the country, to Europe. Ben gave Justin a guitar for his birthday one year and Justin goes shit, man! You just tripled my net worth!”

Once we rolled out, we picked up Igoe and Justin before pulling up at the storage facility to pick up the merch bins. The string hanging for the light in the unit took three pulls to turn on. We filled a wide cart with only what we needed for the one show and loaded up the van.

“Esta bien,” Van the Good said from the driver seat once everything was loaded in. “Everybody, take your vitamins.”

We swung through Chick-Fil-A for brunch before being Georgia bound. We were still in the drive-thru, waiting on the rest of our food, when Justin started coughing and choking on his drink.

“I’ve never felt like that in my life,” he said, heaving with every breath, his eyes red and watering. “I felt like I was drowning.”

“You just really wanted that fuckin’ drink,” Igoe said, almost impressed.

“Can you ask for extra napkins? I look like a child,” Justin said.

“You are a child, bud,” Igoe replied.

“I’ve never seen anybody that mean on sweet tea before,” James said in his rough, Georgia tone from the middle row of seats.

“Unsweetened tea,” Justin corrected him, eyes still watering.

“I bet now you have PTSTea,” James said before laughing hard at his own joke. “That was pretty good.”

“He’s still chokin,’ bud,” Igoe said, looking over at James.

“That was the funniest thing I’ve ever said, and nobody laughed,” James said, offended.

“I laughed,” Igoe and I both added.

“Justin probably woulda laughed if he wasn’t chokin’,” Igoe said.

Once we were squared away, we hit the highway and were off toward Georgia. Deep green bushes and towering trees skirted the highway behind a layer of low, heavy fog.

“You’re ruining this beautiful scenery with this ok-ass, bullshit music” James said from the middle row of seats. “Put on Z by My Morning Jacket. Have you heard My Morning Jacket?” he asked, looking back at me.

I shook my head to say no.

“Oh, Canuck. Buckle up,” is all he said with wide eyes before taking a long sip of Budweiser.

We put the album on and passed The Gift Bowl around.

Passing the Gift Bowl. Photo by Matt Harrison

We vibed to the album while countless miles fell away behind us. James looked back over the seat and said, “This is that Low Country, dawg. This is all marsh and rivers.”

He looked up front as Justin drove, eating his chicken nuggets.

“Justin, your nugget-driving form is spectacular. I’ve got a buddy who weighs 400 or so pounds. He bet me one time that he could eat 100 nuggets in an hour. He ended up eating 66 in 23 minutes.”

“Then what? Did he die, or what?” Justin said into the rearview mirror.

“I don’t know, man,” James said, looking out the window at the South Carolina countryside. “He got real sick after that.”

When James starts telling a story, he gets the attention of anyone in earshot. What makes him such a good storyteller is his poetic tendency with words coupled with the fact most of his stories involve some light-hearted debauchery. He sat up straight before he spoke again.

“Do y’all remember when we were all at The Space doing & I’m Fine Today and I came in all excited. You’re like whatsup? And I’m like, ‘dawg, Lenny Kravitz just split his pants and…’” he stopped mid-sentence and looked back at me. “Did you see Lenny Kravitz’s dick? Do you know about this?”

“Yeah,” I said, laughing.

“That was the greatest day of my fucking life,” he said with a methodical cadence. “The fact that he had a cock-ring, leather pants, mid solo. Ah,” he said, leaning back and bringing his Budweiser up for a sip, “ya can’t beat that.”

More miles of endless forest and lowland swamp soared by us as I passed The Gift Bowl up to James. He flicked his Zippo open in a particular, spinning way before he sparked it. Igoe was mesmerized as he did it. She asked if he’d teach it to her, so he slowed the motion down for her to see.

“It’ll take you a minute and then it’ll get real natural,” he said.

“It’s gonna take more than a minute, bud. I don’t understand the physics. There’s gotta be another variable,” she said, continuing to spin and drop the lighter. Spin and drop, spin and drop.

“Ain’t it pretty around here?” James said, passing The Gift Bowl back to me, forgetting about the sound of Igoe dropping the lighter over and over.

“Gorgeous,” I said. He only nodded and smiled.

“Willin’” by Little Feat came on in the van as a part of Justin’s driving playlist.

“Is there another variable?” Igoe asked, her frustration growing.

“No, no,” James answered, showing her the trick another couple of times. “It just takes practice.”

“Show me again, fucker,” Igoe said, and he did.

“Oh shiit!” James yelled, getting the attention of the vehicle with his celebration as Igoe nailed the lighter trick. “Hell yeah, that was awesome!”

“I got it!” Igoe yelled back at him.

The two high fived and James’ excitement grew every time he saw her do it again, and again.

“Hell yeah,” James said between sips of Budweiser. “Lemme see it again, lemme see it again!”

The sound of the Zippo spinning open over and over was broken by James’ voice, calmer than usual.

“Hey, Justin, I just taught Igoe how to open a Zippo like a boss. It’s pretty valuable for your rock aesthetic. Soon, when y’all are rockin’ crowds, Igoe’s gonna need to have a cigarette and it’s gonna be a whole thing. My point is, I think we’ve earned a cigarette. We’ve been putting in work back here and we’ve learned how to open a lighter like a badass.”

“That’s so ridiculous,” Igoe said. She laughed and continued to spin the Zippo open over and over.

“It’s the truth,” James said defensively, his voice breaking midway through the word truth.

Justin gave the idea a moment of thought and looked in the rearview mirror to say, “I’ll give you guys a cigarette break in half an hour.”

“That’s great,” James said, raising both hands in the air, still holding a Budweiser in his left. “Thank you so much for your kindness.”

“I’ll probably have to pee in half an hour,” Igoe confessed.

“Exactly,” Justin said, keeping his eyes on the road. “You’ll have your cigarette then.”

“Oh, well, that’s not exactly a gift,” James said, making sense of the situation.

“Exactly. I’m saying you can have your cigarette, but it’ll be at a routine stop. I can’t watch her do that while I’m driving so I can’t verify the coolness of the trick. It doesn’t feel right to grant you a cigarette break for it.”

James was astonished by this miscarriage of justice. His shoulders raised as he became visibly upset. Finally, he erupted.

“That’s the most bullshit ass, horseshit kinda bullshit rule ever,” he said at last.

Photo by Matt Harrison

Then he broke out in laughter that spread through the van, while Igoe flicked the lighter open, and closed, and open, and closed.

“You’re doing really good over there,” James said to Igoe with a smile.

Justin rolled his window down and took the wheel at top center with his right hand. “Wooo!” he screamed, pumping his left fist out the window. “Window’s all the way down, baby! Wooo! Tour or die!”

Whew. This is gonna be one of the best cigarette’s I’ve ever had, y’all,” James said at the next rest stop.

Justin jumped into the passenger seat, cracked a beer and rolled a joint as Van took over to drive the rest of the way to Macon. The sun had only just struck the horizon when we checked in to the hotel and it was dark when we arrived at the venue for the show.

As we drove over, Justin sat in the middle row of seats. By now he’d had himself a few hits of a joint and he’d put back a few beers. He danced in his seat along with the jams in the van. His seatbelt squeaked each time he bounced in his seat dancing. Once he heard the squeak, he danced in a way that carried a beat with squeak of the seatbelt. Then he danced to the rhythm of the squeaking seatbelt.

That’s the thing about being around a guy like Justin; he emanates music, he breathes it and lives it. Whether it’s dancing along to a rhythm he just discovered in the world, or making up songs or tag lines, little tunes about anything. Justin is in continual participation with his musical self.

We had all sat down for dinner at the venue when Pete walked in with his guitar and gear box.

Pete’s gear. Photo by Matt Harrison

“How do you feel about the last show?” I asked him once he’d settled in.

“Happy to still be standing. Excited to get home, but it’s bittersweet, it’s bittersweet,” he said as he took a seat at the table.

“All good things must come to an end,” I uttered in cliché fashion.

“It’s true, man,” he said with a nod.

Justin sat down at the piano on stage for soundcheck.

“Hey, hey, hey,” he said into the mic. “One, two, three. Nothin’ ‘bout nothin. Check, check, check. Hey, hey, hey. Gettin’ me down, nothin’ bout nothin’,” he sang. He jumped into the full song, singing “Acid Boys” as a warmup.

Igoe showed off her newfound Zippo trick as she stepped on stage. She smiled as she pocketed the lighter before carrying on with soundcheck.

“Alright,” Justin said once warmup finished, “I’m gonna get a shot n’ a beer and go chill in the green room.”

Macon green room. Photo by Matt Harrison

We spent enough time in the green room to get bored before we headed out into the pouring rain and on to the streets of Macon. We walked over to a bar called Grant’s Lounge that is said to have been a major building block in the development of Southern rock, hosting the likes of Lynyrd Skynyrd, Tom Petty, and the Allman Brothers in the 70s. “Silent Night” played and Christmas lights decorated the streets we ran across to get there. Igoe sung along in a dramatic, operatic voice.

“Is that a good opera voice?” she asked me with a whiskey smile.

“It’s great,” I said as we walked into the bassy, rock and roll atmosphere of Grant’s.

“This is fuckin’ cool, man,” I said to Justin with no better words for it.

“This place, it’s legendary, man,” he said as we walked through it. “I’m sure you’ve been told already; this is the place where southern rock was pretty much founded.”

All over the walls are autographs and band names, drawings and otherwise in sharpie, pencil, or whatever was available to write with. The promoter for the show, a southern man named Hubble, handed me a sharpie and said, “Sign somewhere, man.”

I wandered about, looking for somewhere with enough blank space to write and a memorable enough placement to recall. I saw a corner with just enough space.

“Draw a maple leaf,” Justin said after I signed my name.

“I don’t really know how. You try,” I said. I handed him the sharpie.

He knelt down and drew his best maple leaf, writing “Canada rulez” underneath it. We slipped away from the music, into the back area where the pool table was.

“Draw a maple leaf.”
Photo by Matt Harrison

“Corner pocket,” Justin said, leaning into his shot.

“Woo! Cah caw! Cah caw!” James said, pumping a fist in the air with one hand and cradling a Budweiser in the other. “That’s my dawg. I did not have any faith in you on that shot.”

“What can I say,” Justin shrugged, “I’m a closer.”

“I’m more of a middle reliever,” Hubble admitted.

On the next shot Justin sank the 8 ball and it was time to head back to the venue.

As we walked through the bar to leave, I stood in the opening in front of the stage. I looked around, thinking my way through time to some night in the 70s when Lynyrd Skynyrd stepped on stage. Just some long-haired Florida boys, playing like you’ve never heard before. I looked around the floor, imagining the packed houses they must have played for. I wondered what it must have been like, how the atmosphere would have felt, the first time these walls rumbled with the first sliding notes of “Free Bird”.

As the group walked out, I looked around for Justin and found him crouched against a wall. I payed no mind and leaned against the bar until he rushed by to catch up with the group. I went back and saw the place he left his mark, the footprint of the Acid Boys. I ran out the bar and down the street to catch up with the group while we walked through the December rain to the venue.

The mark of the ACID BOYS. Photo by Matt Harrison

As we came back in the building, we could hear Pete singing “Laid Low”.

“It’s true enough I’ve paid for a ride I didn’t mean to take but never have I wanted to forget it,” he sang, powerfully.

“Thank y’all very kindly,” is all he had to say between songs.

I thought of something while I watched Igoe and Justin take the stage for the last time that night. It was less a thought and more a feeling. Something to do with brotherhood and comradery. We’re out here together, neck deep and sinking into a way of life. For each of them, to live without singing would fail to be fully alive. Where there’s a stage and an audience, there are people like Justin and Igoe looking to put on a show and share their passion and art.

“The next song we’re gonna play is about surfing but it’s also about violence,” Justin said, scratching his forehead. “We live in Charleston where there’s a pretty vibrant surfing community. You can probably tell by lookin’ at me that I’m not a part of that community, as surfing requires this elusive thing called upper body strength. Never really chased that down. But I have some friends who were nice enough to bring me along to come try it out.”

“We went out and it was a beautiful morning. The water was glassy, and there were dolphins. And it just blew my mind and made me wonder how do we get to live in such a wonderful world?”

“After that I was like, ‘Call me next time and every time after that you guys go.’”

“They brought me out again a few days later and it was totally different. There was a big storm rolling in. I kept trying to get out into the waves, but I couldn’t do it. I kept just trying for like three hours and I started singing this little mantra: it comes in waves. After a while I gave up and just ripped cigs on the beach and watched my friends catch waves.”

“It was about a year after that I started thinking about the juxtaposition between those two days. And so, I guess this song was written about that feeling of confliction and it’s called Waves.”

Justin strummed the opening chords, letting his voice rip through those first lines. “Why’s there so much trouble,” he sang, leaning into the mic while Igoe backed him up. “We live in such a remarkable place.”

The last song they played was “Acid Boys”. Before they finished, Justin gave thanks to everyone for coming. He thanked Pete for opening and Igoe for performing with him. He thanked Van the Good for giving everything he’d done on his first tour as Tour Manager.

Finally, he looked at me in the crowd and said, “We’ve also had a writer along with us for the last half of the tour. A Canadian writer named Matt Harrison.”

He smiled as he went on to say something else, but I couldn’t hear him over the cheering crowd. I put my hand over my heart and gave him a nod as he spoke. Whatever it was he said, I suspect it was something I had already felt along the way. When I had ceased being some just some writer clung to the underside of the van is indefinable. It was somewhere in those countless miles, those late-night joints and bleary-eyed mornings that I had become a friend among friends.

The after party. Photo by Matt Harrison

Weed was plentiful that night through the after party and the crew drank their fill. We spent most of the night in the bar attached to our hotel, shooting pool and playing foosball. The party cleared out when the bar closed and we went next door to the hotel around 3am. In the lobby of the hotel sat a white grand piano. Igoe sat down at it and started playing.

“Igoe, can you play Rosetta?” Van the Good asked.

A few tears built slowly and ran quickly down my face as we watched her sing. The beauty of her voice and the piano carried through the grand entrance of the hotel with the soothing fluidity of rainfall. At the end of the song, a hotel employee came rushing down the hall at us, clapping his hands and yelling.

Jordan Igoe singing Rosetta in the Macon Lobby

“Hey, hey, hey!” he yelled. “You can’t be playin’ right now, it’s three in the mornin’!”

I’m sorry, I didn’t know,” she softly sang the last line of her song.

We kept our laughter quiet as we went upstairs and continued the party in room 231.

It was around 4:00am when Justin asked me a good question: “Matt Harrison, what are you doing here, man?!”. The last time he asked me this same question we were in Mobile, and he had just taken a hit of a joint. This time, The Gift Bowl was still smoking in his hand as he said it. “For all we know you could be the Devil,” he said. He eyed me suspiciously as he brought the bowl to his lips.

It’s as if it took the right combination of liquor and weed for the charade I had been upholding to fall apart. Ultimately, there’s no valid explanation, no good reason for me to be here for any of this. I’m not an elite member of the press or an exploring documentarian. I was just a SUSTO fan who got lucky.

I’d read The Proud Highway by Hunter S. Thompson and saw how many letters he sent to editors, politicians, other writers, anyone and everyone he thought would be worth while writing to. I mimicked that idea when I wrote Justin the letter that pitched the idea for me to come out with him. All I really did was write a letter. And there I was because of it, laughing along with Justin, Igoe, and Van the Good after touring with them for the last 10 days.

The next morning wouldn’t begin until the early afternoon. We passed The Gift Bowl around the van before we cleared out of the hotel parking lot. After these countless miles, it’s still the same four-person crew. Today the pace is our own and home is the destination for some much-needed R&R.

We met Pete for brunch before he went back his own way. As we sat down, Justin asked the server, “Do y’all sell any liquor drinks?”

The answer was no, so an unsweetened tea would have to suffice.

We said our goodbyes to Pete and drove back through the loping hills of Georgia. The energy in the van was lower than it was yesterday as we trekked through these final miles of tour.

Pete signs a couple autographs before we part ways. Photo by Matt Harrison

“PTSTea is still the funniest thing I have ever said,” James said to a unanimous approval of the van as we crossed back into South Carolina.

The rolling wheels of the luggage cart echoed down the hall of the storage facility until we stopped at the unit where the light takes three pulls to click on. We loaded the merchandise bins away for the last time and pulled the wide metal door shut.

“How much more of that cigarette do you have?” I asked James as I stepped out of the building. “Half? Perfect. Can I borrow a lighter?”

“You do notice that I have not held up the convoy at any point in time?” James said as he passed me his lighter. “I have crushed beers and have not had to make a single piss stop.” His voice was calm as he spoke. “From an efficiency standpoint, everyone can suck ma dick.”

I raised a cigarette to his achievement, ashed it out, and climbed into the van. No one said anything as we drove through Charleston and pulled up outside Rialto Row.

Collectively, we had taken hits to the liver, the psyche, the lungs and otherwise. As we puttered down the dark streets of Charleston, I began feeling the end of the road, the end of the adventure. That first night in Chicago, the end seemed like an address we would never pull up in front of. Yet here we were, parked outside of Rialto Row. James, Van, and I climbed out of the van.

“Matt, it’s been a great ride, bud,” Justin said as I grabbed my things out of the van. “Monday, let’s get lunch before ya go. If you need anything, hit me up. King street is just through here. If you want anything, you can walk as far as you’re willing to.”

“Alright, man, it’s been real,” I said, unsure of the appropriate words for the end of such an experience.

“Yeah, dude. It’s been amazing. I’m glad we were able to make it work.”

“It just took a bit of time.”

“Yeah. I’ll see you around in a day or so.”

There will be other tours for Justin, for Igoe, and for Van the Good. James hasn’t crushed his last Budweiser on the road, either. But this tour, this particular stretch of highway and memories, has found its end.

“Take care, bud,” I said as I gave Igoe a hug goodbye.

“You too, bud,” she said before she climbed into the van.

I shed a couple tears while I watched the second show in Charleston, thinking about the looming end of tour. As I heard the van fire up and watched it roll down the street, I could only be happy any of this ever happened. The highway overpass sent a continual hum through the warm December night as their brake lights flashed at the end of the street before they turned left and pulled out of sight.

One Year Sober for the Second Time

By Matthew Harrison

Sunday July 28th, 2019

3:37AM

Two stars are drawn on my calendar under today’s date. One of them is because today is my mother’s birthday. So, happy birthday, mom. The other is there because today marks one year since I’ve quit drinking alcohol. This is the second time I’ve hit the mark of a sober year. I’d quit drinking for 14 or so months, beginning in May of 2016 when I was 21. This is a brief story of why I quit the second time and why I’ll never drink again.

When I decided to give a second chance to my consumption of alcohol, I loved the relaxation of being out with friends and having a couple beers. I was excited and optimistic at the idea of flexing my self control and becoming a normal drinker. It was sometime in the summer of 2017 when I first began having a beer here and there, maybe even two on a wild night. To drink two beer in a night and choose to stop was something I’d done only a few times before and I was surprised by how nice it was to use moderation.

It was late November of that same year I drank in excess for the first time since reintroducing myself to alcohol. Pressure from school and work had mounted and I wanted to forget it all. I offered to go buy Starbucks for myself and the girl I was seeing at the time. I went to the liquor store and bought a bottle of Jack Daniels before grabbing the two coffees. I cracked the seal on the way home, splashing whiskey on my fingers as I topped up my coffee in a snowy back lane under the golden glow of a streetlamp. I remember sipping the coffee and feeling that old familiar punch.

When I got back to the apartment, I went for a shower while she went to do laundry. I chugged the bottle as fast as I could, leaving all but a few sips at the bottom. After that first sip of it in the coffee, it tasted like bitter nothing. I leaned my head back and the whiskey felt warm and weightless as I drank it.

When she came back, I fessed to what I had done, and we talked it through. I don’t recall now how long after this I drank again, but I didn’t see this as a definitive sign of my lack of self control. I saw it as a singular mistake, one that could be avoided with practiced caution.

I carried on drinking in social situations. Every now and again I’d get myself some beer to have while I watched a Jets game. It was a few months after that first incident that I came on hard times again. It’s not worth getting into what it was over, but my reaction, my first response, was to walk 25 minutes to the Liquor Mart and buy a 26-ounce bottle of Captain Morgan.

It was around noon when I left my house. As I got closer, my anxiety grew. I knew I was doing something wrong, but I didn’t care enough to stop. The thought of buying a bottle had crossed my mind and that’s all I needed in order to do it. When I was a block away, I thought about turning back. Instead, I kept walking. I bought the bottle, bought a slushie at the gas station next door, and headed home. I took a back path skirted by houses on one side and an empty field on the other. I took gentle swigs from the bottle before filling my slushie up with rum and continuing home.

I spent the rest of that day drinking rum in my bedroom, listening to music. The room spun and swirled until I opened my eyes, staring into the darkness between the ceiling and myself. The room was quiet, painfully and awfully quiet. I find that whenever the night, or in this case the day, ends with a drunken tailspin, the silence of waking up is haunting. It never seems real when my eyes first open. How can a room that witnessed such lonesome madness be so calm, so still?

I checked the time and it was 1:45am. The beer vendor would be open until 2:30, which worked out just fine because it’s a half hour walk to get there. I bought a 15 pack of beer and stayed up until 9 in the morning to drink all 15.

Those two days took place somewhere in the Spring, and between then and July, I’d carried on drinking. When I’d drink with others, I’d start slow, but would always get myself to a good buzz that would last me a few hours after getting home. There were a few nights I’d buy a 26-ounce bottle with the real intentions of having a couple drinks. Every one of these nights ended with another empty bottle. One of these nights had me up until 5:45 with a 6:00am alarm set to get ready for work. I wrote a piece that night [which can be found HERE], and it reads like pages torn from the Diary of a Madman.

When I drank socially, it was my excuse to unwind. When I brought beer home, I would promise to only have a few and then I’d clean out the box. One day, I drank a half a case of beer in the middle of the day as a direct response to a moment of peak stress. None of this was indication enough that I had fallen into old habits. None of this indicated to me that I had only momentarily quit drinking, but I had not quit being an alcoholic.

The final straw came at the conclusion of the previously mentioned relationship. I stayed in the apartment we rented for three weeks after we had broken up, unsure of where to go and unwilling to think about the next steps that had to be taken. I came home from work one Monday afternoon, put down my things, and crossed the street to the bar. I bought a case of beer and came home. I spent that night drinking, and when I woke up, I walked to the liquor store and bought a bottle of Sailor Jerry’s. I drank that whole day and when that bottle was empty, I went back to the bar and bought another case. At some point in those days I quit my job. It didn’t matter, nothing mattered. Days and nights danced around me as I stayed in the living room which had become my whole world.

 I remember when I woke up for the last time. I was laying on my back on the floor. My hair was slicked back with spit and there was a crust of vomit on the neck of my shirt. Empty bottles and bottle caps surrounded me. I wore the same clothes I wore to work Monday. I checked my phone and learned it was 3:30am on Thursday.

I turned the light on and sat on the couch, looking about the room. I sent a text message to my brother, saying I was going to need help moving in the next couple days. A box of beer to my left had 9 full bottles left. I knew I was done. This was the proof I needed of the darkness that overcomes me when I drink. By the time the sun rose, those last 9 bottles were empty, and I haven’t touched one since.

A year from that point seems like a very long time, but it’s nothing at all. One day I’ll hit the five-year point, then 10 years, and so on. I made another choice just 27 days ago to quit cigarettes, marijuana, and substances of a psychedelic nature. What I’ve found in those 27 days is a definite resurgence of my anxiety and depression. It feels like a reminder of why substance abuse was ever so appealing in the first place. But I’m not worried, and I’m not afraid. Every day brings about a new challenge, and my greatest asset is my sober mind.

The Sleepless Diatribes of a Liquor-Sick Neanderthal

By Matthew Harrison

Published April 8th, 2018 at 5:22am

Somewhere in the screaming neighbourhood of midnight:
Christ, it’s been awhile since I came on here after a few drinks. Perhaps too long since I’ve come on but just long enough since Old St. Liquor was in the equation. Just long enough to convince myself I have control of the situation. I never have anything important to say when I come on here though. When the thought strikes its first match it always seems as though I’m overflowing with profound and world changing revelations. After some guesswork at what the password and secret knock could possibly be for this damned website I typically stare at the blank screen, as if waiting for something to appear in front of me. It’s worked thus far, and I have high hopes again tonight.

The clock is somewhere past midnight while the start of tomorrow is set at 6:00am. I have the alarm set about 10 minutes prior to that so I have a few moments of extra sleep before I inevitably have to wake up and the regret has a moment to sink in. Perhaps this is what coffee was invented for though I can’t help thinking there was a more noble cause at stake than helping irresponsible line cooks hate their job slightly less than they otherwise would. Perhaps I’m reading too much into it. I suspect not as I have read nothing at all.

The question of the night beckons to me again; what the hell am I on about? What great moment is being encapsulated between the meandering thoughts of a sleep deprived bastard, high on a week of living in the woods and whatever is caught under my finger nails and in the depths of my naval? Just as one would suspect; nothing. This is writing simply for the cause. Beating the drum just to feel the warmth behind the rythym, as it were.

Some music to calm the nerves. Yes, these nerves of mine could use a break. A break from the stress of sleeping through what was designated to be ‘Study Time.’ I know myself well enough to know there was a 35% chance -at best- I’d manage to adhere to the itinerary for the day. Regardless of how much of my day is rolled out before me I can count on the fact that I’ll likely say fuck the plan and take off in the direction of my nearest instinct. Some might see this among my greatest weaknesses. To me, I see a strength in the frailty of my concentration. What excitement is there in sticking to the designated plan? The answer is none. I see this life the same way I see a chocolate cake; I couldtake my time and enjoy it one square piece at a time but I would much rather eat half of it with my bare hands until my gut gives way to spastic convulsions of agony and I’ve dropped to my knees in a fit of self hatred mixed with the desire to continue gorging myself. Maybe I got lost somewhere along the way in that metaphor. Maybe it’s exactly how I meant it to be. I really can’t be sure.

Pour a little more now. It’s no easier to write but it’s easier to open the gates. The words aren’t blurred yet anyways. The last time I took a whole one of these back my memories came in bursts and day turned to night in the blink of an eye. So long as I’m not there I don’t see an error in my way. Then again you won’t know you’ve walked too far on to the ice until it cracks and you fall through before you have time to realize what you’ve gotten yourself into. That’s the thrill of it, I suppose. My own Russian Roulette except there’s a bullet in every chamber. Half of them blanks. Don’t be fooled, though. It was a blank round that killed Brandon Lee.

5:00 am
As fate would have it, you can’t pray away drunkenness. You can try but you’re more likely to fall into your shower curtain while pissing than anything. Either Christ isn’t real or he can’t heal a drunken prick at his peak. You be the judge.

Am I going to be fired today? Tune in next time for the answer!

For the first time since I was 15 there’s Marilyn Mason blaring violently from under my door. And much unlike when I was 15, I have a job to go to in the next 90 minutes. I told my boss I’d be ill but I suspect he expected something different than the drunken imp who is likely to walk into his kitchen in two hours. That sounds more like his problem than mine. My problem will be waiting for me in the form of a psychology exam awaiting me Monday morning at about 9 in the God for saken am. What God has to do with this level of debauchery is beyond me but I have to blame someone for this level of punishment, right?

Sweet Allah, my cat even left the room. He doesn’t want his name to be involved with this sort of debauchery. I can’t argue with him as he runs. What self respecting cat would want his name tied to this kind of nonsensical chaos. Oscar is his name. Look him up. He’s bound to have a healthier social media presence than my own. Then again, what in the name of Good Sweet Mike -as the great Murial Finster would put it- am I on about?

Right, it matters not. I have a job to do -drunk or not- by 7:00. Have a lovely day.

A Walk Through Winnipeg

By Matt Harrison

I skulked through the back alleys and side streets of the Exchange District one sunny May afternoon, smoking half a joint as I went. I crossed some street and came head on with a middle-aged man coming toward me. Judging by the state of his eyes and the tatters his clothes had long since become, I knew he wouldn’t mind the smell.

I popped the latter half of the joint into my backpack and carried on. I crossed Ellice Avenue, heading toward downtown Winnipeg. As I started across a mostly filled parking lot, I was stopped by a woman who looked to be somewhere in her 40’s, though she may have been a rough 30-something. Her skin was worn deep by whatever it was that brought her here. She was missing most, if not all, of her top teeth.

“Excuse me, sir,” she began as I slowed to look at her. “Maybe you can help me. I’m new to the city and I’m not getting assistance cheques for another week. I’m not asking for money, but I need someone to come with me to the store.”

“Why do you need somebody to come with you?” I thought aloud.

“I need baby formula.”

“You need somebody to buy baby formula for you?”

“For my three-month old” she nodded.

“Shit,” I said to myself. “I can’t go with you” I told her after a moment, “but I have a bit of money. Just a couple bucks.”

I dug through my right pocket and gave her the ten quarters I brought for a cup of coffee. “I don’t know what baby formula costs, but I hope this helps.”

“It’s 15 dollars” she said as she slowly shook her head, looking off, down the street.

Her shoulders fell into a slouch that showed the truth of her situation. But there is an infinite chasm between what I felt in that moment and what I knew. If this was a ploy to lure me deeper into this rough slice of Winnipeg, toward some person hidden away, waiting for me, she certainly wold not have told me so.

We each turned our separate ways, and I continued through the parking lot, steering away from downtown and wandering toward Winnipeg’s Central Park.

It was a short time getting there. As I wandered the sidewalk perimeter of the park, I looked across the street at two massive, heaving apartment complexes. I thought of the single mother I met one morning at the breakfast table who lived in one of those buildings with her daughter. She told me about her time spent as a cocaine dealer and the deep anxiety she felt about former clients coming to rob her of money and blow she no longer had. I wondered if she was still in there, if her nightmares had ever come true.

I don’t recall the turns I took, if I took any at all. Nevertheless, I had wandered through a business district and into a residential area. Up ahead, standing on a front lawn, was a young black man with a smoking something in his hand. He reached the joint out to a round headed, bald, white man walking 15 or so strides ahead of me. The man leaned away, bringing his hand up to say no. As I walked past, the same smoking gesture came my way.

”I’m good” I said as politely as I could.

“It’s weed” he said, confused at my response.

“Oh, uh, well, I had already some this morning, man.”

That’s what I’m talkin’ about!” he yelled through a laugh and a smile. I pointed a finger gun in his direction, bringing my thumb down as a mock hammer as I went by.

I wished I could have taken a hit of the thing, even just for the sanctity of the moment. I’m sure it was just weed, but I’d rather never know than learn it was a lie.

Hours passed and still I wandered on. I smoked again as I came over a long, busy bridge. I came to pass a mother pushing a stroller toward me with a toddler walking by her side. I butted the joint out, putting the rest away. She scowled at me as I came by, seeing me as just another shit head, stinking of drugs around her kids. A title I deserved as that’s precisely what I was doing.

I eventually found my way back to Central Park, six or so hours after I’d first come through. An older man with a grey ponytail stood tall ahead of me. I felt a thin, pot scented paranoia that he might be a cop so I gave him a silent nod as I came by.

“Nice day, huh?” he said as I walked by.

Beautiful day” I said, turning to face him with a full smile.

We both lived through the same miserable winter and, chances are, we were both going to sit through the next one to come. Those long, frozen days aren’t a problem for today, or tomorrow, or any sun shining days between here and that icy flipside. We talked and laughed about things of no real importance before we wished each other well and I carried on.

I smoked again as I came over a long, busy bridge.”

I walked on for only a few minutes before I came by two Jehovah’s Witnesses. I glanced over at the booklets they were giving away and it seemed they still had every booklet they brought with them that morning. I thought of what I would say to them but said nothing as I passed.

“They’re free” said the lady next to the very full brochure stand. She was a mid-30’s white woman, with a mother’s love in her eyes. Her smile reminded me of someone I’d known long ago.

I stood and talked with her for 20 or so minutes. She agreed, emphasized, even, the existence of literalities as well as metaphors throughout the old, Good Book. I asked her to state one literal truth which acts as a major pillar of the free literature beside her.

“There will come a day when Jesus comes back and returns the power of the earth to the meek. All evil will be removed from the earth and the meek shall inherit it.”

“And this will literally occur?” I asked.

“Yup,” she said enthusiastically, relieved at my understanding. “Isn’t it great?”

I said something about evil being inseparable from humanity and that acts of evil will always exist. To think there will literally come a day where all the evil in the world ceases to exist is impossible to believe. A thought which later occurred to me pertains to the fluidity of definitions. Even if the Lord were to rid this plane of all evil, there would soon be a modified definition of Evil within the newfound Eutopia. Whatever is believed to be out of line with the contemporary religiosity will decidedly be labelled an act of evil, and the concept shall survive.

The conversation ended with smiles and handshakes. As I turned to leave, I stepped into a pothole and stumbled onward. Perhaps the hole had been dug by the Lord Himself as a mechanism of correcting my misguided ways, though I suspect it was more a result of the nearly finished joint that stunk a hole in my pocket.

The heat of the day clung to the evening. I met a brother of mine at the University of Winnipeg and the two of us went for a walk-through East Gate, an historically rich neighbourhood. We drooled over the castles standing on each side of us, wondering what could be used to fill these many rooms.

I turned us off the main stretch of this Yellow Brick Road, down a brief street that ended at a dumpster, behind which was a small bit of bush line and the Assiniboine River.

We walked into the trees, through which there was a short dirt path that we followed down hill. I saw people standing in a clearing that lay ahead of us. As we approached, we were welcomed with a waving hand through the foliage.

“Greetings!” yelled the man beyond the bush.

“Hi there” I said as the two of us walked up to the two of them. He wore a jean jacket and black cargo shorts, while her hair erupted in a vibrant, sunrise-shade of purple that poured out of her black hoodie. They were sitting on a log, each drinking a Pilsner.

“You can walk right down to the edge of the water if you wanna,” the fella said after a bit of small talk. “Especially you,” he pointed toward my feet “with your fancy-camo-hikin’ boots.”

I told a story about going halfway to my knee in mud at the edge of this very same river in these very same boots.

“You’ll catch more than just fish in that water” I said, and we all laughed at the murky, rotten joke of it.

We talked another few minutes before my brother and I went back on our way. We headed back toward nowhere in particular, back through this big small town called Winnipeg.

More by Matt Harrison:

Another Day on the Road

Aimlessly Wandering Through Chicago

Ever Since I Lost My Mind – SUSTO

Ai-Kon Presents: Winterfest 2019

By Samuel Stevens

On Saturday February 23, 2019 a few conventions, which included the eighth annual Winterfest presented by Ai-Kon, kept the whole RBC Convention Centre quite full all afternoon and evening. Ai-Kon’s yearly attraction, Winterfest originally started as a 10th anniversary event in February 2011, but two years later became an annual event for all Anime/Pop culture fans to scratch their itch waiting for July to come around to attend the full 3-day extravaganza that is Ai-Kon.

K-Pop Dance Showcase - A.C.E.
A.C.E. – K-Pop Dance Group. Photo by Samuel Stevens Photography.

Winterfest had a lot for con-goers to keep busy throughout the entire day and evening. Between the screening room to watch episodes of popular anime or anime movies, the panel room, Maid Cafe, game room/game tournaments, cosplay hallway, the market place to purchase numerous items, art, etc. Even Nintendo of Canada set up a booth near the market place in the main hallway to let con-goers play/test out brand new Nintendo Switch games like Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, Pokemon: Let’s Go Pikachu! and Pokemon: Let’s Go, Eevee! I should not forget about Winterfest’s dance corner in the main entrance area of the convention centre where many con-goers danced along side the Winnipeg based 10-member dance cover group, Nonets and others, throughout the entire con. Lastly, the main stage that saw performances from the Anime theme song cover band, Party Punch, a K-pop dance showcase, and a performance by the j-Rock idol unit, Seishun Youth Academy.

Winterfest 2019 - K/DA Cosplay
K/DA Cosplay. Photo by Samuel Stevens Photography.

There was a plethora of con-goers who dressed up as their favourite anime or pop culture characters at Winterfest, as many do at most cons, for those who are unfamiliar. A noticeable favourite this year was both various characters from the anime, My Hero Academia and Riot Games’ League of Legends pop group, K/DA. K/DA are a K-pop group collaboration between K-pop artists Soyeon and Miyeon of K-pop group, (G)I-dle and american pop artists, Madison Beer and Jaira Burns.

I was able to catch up with a few of these cosplayers and grab a photo or two of their cosplay to show off their hard word and dedication they put into their cosplays for this years Winterfest. (The full photo gallery including the cosplay photos is available here).


Music video for K/DA’s song, “Pop/Stars”

Seishun Youth Academy - Panel/Q&A
Seishun Youth Academy – Q&A and Panel.
Photo by Samuel Stevens Photography.

The convention organizers brought the Vancouver based Japanese rock idol unit, Seishun Youth Academy to the con as the guests of honor. Seishun Youth Academy are the sister sub-group of the Japanese based pop group, SeiSHUN Gakuen. They are the first ever North American based Japanese rock idol unit. Throughout the day, the members of Seishun Youth Academy, Sally (class representative/leader), Ally (Sally’s twin sister, sub-leader), Yayoi, and Stella Han participated in a Q&A panel, a pre-performance and post-performance merchandise time, where con-goers were able to interact with the girls, buy their merch and have the chance to take a cheki (the Japanese word for a Polaroid photo) with your favourite member or a group cheki with all four of the members.

Seishun Youth Academy - Sally

Seishun Youth Academy closed out their time at the convention with a stellar performance of their original music for a large number of con-goers at the main stage. Winterfest marked the units very first time performing out of Vancouver and it was actually also their first ever appearance at an anime convention. They themselves, many others, and myself who was made a fan by their performance, hope to see the girls return to the city again in the future. I hope the group fulfils their dream of performing all over the world in the years to come. Seishun Youth Academy are hosting a free show at the Biltmore Cabaret on March 2, 2019 in Vancouver, BC. They hope to have a new original song out sometime in the following month as well. Make sure to keep a look out on their socials for that.

Check out Seishun Youth Academy at:

https://www.facebook.com/seishunya/

https://www.instagram.com/seishunya/

https://twitter.com/seishunya

Check out Ai-Kon at:

http://ai-kon.org/

https://www.facebook.com/aikonwpg/

https://twitter.com/aikonwinnipeg