Friday, December 13, 2019


Daily, we straddle the cosmic threshold in a ritual near-death experience. Under covers, behind eyelids, we tempt fate, suspend consciousness, and trust an alarm to bring us out rejuvenated.

The moments leading to sleep are pure potential energy, a wheel at the crest of a hill, teetering on the cusp of this and another dimension.

In the best of times, the transition is an effortless surrender to psychic gravity. At the most inopportune—the night before a double shift or a long drive with children—it’s holistic constipation as your entire being insomniatically strains toward anesthesia, unable to let go and pass over, and you roll over and over, afraid of tomorrow, afraid of no-tomorrow…

Either way, tomorrow becomes today: another chance to kill our nightmares and give life to our dreams.

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*The Face Zone is also a live show with music.

Thursday, October 31, 2019


Byberry was a notorious psychiatric hospital in northeast Philadelphia from 1907 to 1990. Its fifty buildings housed seven thousand of the city’s mentally challenged to criminally insane. For much of the century, it more resembled a concentration camp with patients abused and exploited, huddled naked in crap-smeared corridors, having teeth extracted without Novocaine—the kind of hell the staff should go to Hell for. At last, budget cuts and a series of appalling inspections shut it down.

For the next decade-and-a-half, Byberry would become an abandoned post-apocalyptic playground for looters, gangs, and dark tourists. My friends and I were among the earliest wave of trespassers, high-schoolers from nearby Bucks County armed with a crowbar and flashlights, maneuvering past the on-duty cop to get inside. There was still wax on the floors. Wheelchairs. A straightjacket. Boxes of patient files. An art room featuring a dementedly asymmetrical portrait of the Pink Panther. A morgue.

The first time venturing into the cold, tile hallways, light beams unable to see the end in either direction, all that terrible history in mind, disembodied noises… we lasted as long as virgins do before pulling out. But we returned a hundred times, getting braver and staying till the sun came up to explore every last nook. The blueprints we found even led us to underground tunnels used for shuffling people between wards, concealed from the light of day.

Best friends already, our little club bonded deeper as we got covered in tics on the overgrown property and had to strip naked for the drive home up Roosevelt Boulevard, where the other cars honked at us in celebration and disgust; as we encountered a former-resident-turned-squatter in a stairwell; as a dozen Satan worshippers with medieval weapons chased us on a rooftop, down through levels of ransacked architecture, and out desperately onto the highway—cars honking this time to avoid running us over. Not quite a military kinship, but at least the Goonies in a fucked-up asylum.

Everything was razed in 2006 in a ceremony with the mayor. It’s condos now, so someone’s microwaving a Hot Pocket in the spot where an auditorium once held theater productions with lunatics. Where later I sat in the seats while a giant demon head floated in an exit door behind me, accidentally captured with a $20 Radio Shack camera. In the developed photograph, a line of chairs obscures the entity’s mouth, but those eyes suggest a malevolent smile...

My only record of our tremendous adventures there, that picture prompts me to look over my shoulder now and again, to be mindful of toxic forces that creep up unchecked such as burnout, complacency, or those extra Jack and Cokes. And to keep finding ways of tapping into the bold electricity of youth which landed me in that front-row seat to exhilarating madness.

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Saturday, August 31, 2019

Only Eats Bugs

Certain characters exude a particular quality so strongly that it defines their entire persona.

Many of us sport a mask for a few hours at the end of October, but Gene Simmons and RuPaul are living embodiments of their costumes, unrecognizable without them.

Can you imagine Charles Bukowski doing anything other than drinking, fighting, and betting horses?

With that aura of highest spirituality, it’s hard to envision His Holiness the Dalai Lama hunched over the lip of a bathtub cutting his toenails or sitting on the crapper.

Contrastingly, Hitler was evil incarnate no matter what paintings he produced.

Bees, the pollinators that they are, are inextricably linked to humankind’s very survival, yet their stinging reputation lessens our urgency to prevent their extinction.

Thereafter, how might the universe see us in totality? For better and worse, what will have been our greater essence, you and I?

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*The Face Zone is also a live show with music.

Friday, June 21, 2019

Omega Summer

Some are born to be hot, lusting after beaches, saunas, hot springs, Jacuzzis… carnally drawn to searing engulfment.

I have an extraordinary aversion to high temperature. While everyone else prepares for their Florida retirement, I daydream of pounding slushies in Alaska. I’m so white I’m almost blue, so UV rays scorch me like flames on marshmallow. Walking on an August afternoon, I can actually feel my cells being murdered. If there’s even a leaf’s worth of shade, I’ll park my little toe there, and indoors I require cryogenic levels of air conditioning.

I wish the future were colder, but global warming is as established a fact as the solar system, and it would take a geek with more degrees than the sun to reverse it. I’m grateful I won’t be around for smothering pollen counts, charcoaled California, sunken Venice, total blackouts, and water wars. What can I say? I like my Arctic with a shelf.

Despite our blistering fate, it is worthwhile to slow down the burn. If we at least delay the inevitable through science and sacrifice, we could eke out another generation or two—who would greatly appreciate it—and buy our species a little time to figure a way off the planet. Really, doing nothing is tantamount to blasting a fart in a packed elevator as you’re leaving.

And that’s some karmic heat I don’t want to take.

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*The Face Zone is also a live show with music.

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Raised by the Racket

Thanks to my parents, the soundtrack of early childhood resounded with The Beatles, Janice Joplin, Errol Garner, and Bach. After that, I was on my own.

For years I turned the dial, continually underwhelmed by what vibrated through the speakers. Billy Joel was lame, early rap clunky, and new wave had as much soul as the supermarket aisles over which it now plays. 

Then a girl in tenth-grade social studies let me borrow a Memorex mixtape starting with The Dead Milkmen’s “Bitchin’ Camaro.” I replayed that snotty, sarcastic lo-fidelity raving until my Sony Walkman chewed it up, and then spent an hour performing surgery on the tangled mess of magnetic ribbon so as to salvage the cassette as well as my chances with this chick.

But the Milkmen are to punk what Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi are to the blues, so it was quickly on to the more legitimate intensity of The Dead Kennedys, Bad Brains, Circle Jerks, Minor Threat, and early D.R.I. That shit? Made me wanna kick down doors, burst through walls, and whirlwind-destroy every room therein! In a good way.

Punk was uniquely cathartic and motivated fans to surge toward any goal set to its soundtrack: causes fought for; democracy exercised; broken hearts welded; workouts conquered. Most importantly, the scene connected scatters of colorfully awkward outcasts too creative and brave to surrender, but nonetheless worn down by Top 40 expectations. Minorities in our far-apart high schools, suddenly five hundred strong in a charged concert hall.

So, what happened? Like the hippies it replaced and the hip-hop that’s replaced it, punk’s just another iteration in the grand timeline of counterculture. A stop along the evolution of revolution, eventually a mohawked anachronism. 

In the meantime, for those old enough to remember, the fire that music ignited continues to light the path of our current endeavors, fueling productive rebelliousness and keeping us spiritually honest until we slam dance into the great beyond.

I hope they blast “Rock for Light” at my funeral and catapult my studded coffin into the grave at the center of the ensuing mosh pit. My last stage dive.

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Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Tacit Peace

Routines are an inevitable necessity. The cosmos works on interconnected unity and repetition. Had I not finally established an official spot for my car keys after the fifth time leaving them somewhere, I might be writing a "Do Not Tow" sign instead of these words.

Familiar rhythms crescendo to a beating headache when overplayed, however. I drove one route to work for years (on the days I had my keys). Every morning at 6:53 by my dashboard display, I passed the same stoic, mustached, walrus-like construction worker standing at the corner of Motter Ave. and Dill St. waiting for his ride to an overly familiar gig. The pattern was initially comforting, a reassurance that I had company in facing the day. Later on he just bothered me, a tired character in a tired plot. (At one point I stopped seeing him there. I guess it got to him too.)

We eventually cease to appreciate even the most spectacular encounters. Once you've lived in a place at the shore for a while, you no longer look out at the ocean, and that upbeat yellow you painted the living room now drives you up the very same walls. Notice how mellow the crowd remains under a ritual Independence Day sky, as if the fireworks were happening on a distant screen saver. Chronic users get low instead of high, the cannabis cloud thickening into a lead blanket, the harder stuff a deathbed.

There are some cycles that have to be broken altogether, certain landmarks that belong in the rearview mirror. You don't revisit quicksand, perpetual religious conflict only begs the apocalypse, and one colonoscopy is enough, thanks. Otherwise, a well-timed departure begets a positive return. The best chocolate cake comes at the end of a diet. A forgotten view takes your breath again. Love is renewed after time apart.

The more things change, the more they stay the sameness.

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*The Face Zone is also a live show with music.

Sunday, January 27, 2019


Keys have always captured my imagination because they open worlds.

A world of wonder as the lid of a treasure chest releases with a baritone creak.

A secret world, finally accessed by the inheritor of an eccentric relative’s safe deposit box.

A world of memories when I come across the key to a house (and marriage) long since demolished.

A freer world the moment iron bars slide sideways to discharge an inmate.

Most of the time they admit us into routine living: turning deadbolts of front doors, starting cars, and protecting valuables in gym lockers.

People are lockboxes too, denying or permitting entry depending on the solicitation.

Waiting for that uniquely inspiring teacher to move our potential.

For that singular love to unwind our individual complication.

For that particular chemical to trigger addiction.

For that one insult to unleash our fury, then our fists, then our firearms.

And at long last, for that unifying cause, compelling us to let loose our collective best impulses before Karma changes the locks, and humanity is shut out altogether.

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*The Face Zone is also a live show with music.