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Day 6 - Sander Hicks Why the Tour Got Kicked Out of the Winston-Salem Border's an excerpt from the tour

I flipped out last night after the Border's incident. The town closed in, people flaked out, promises were made. A couple of people said we could crash with them but they left their phone off the hook. Southern Hospitality. I got so jumpy my driving priveliges were temporarily revoked. The boys took the wheel. I sang old Black Flag songs and assaulted a shrubbery. My War. Police Story. Understand it. We're fighting a war. I got a six pack but was forbidden to drink it in the truck. The boys got real parental. I tried to calm down but realized I was really upset. Down deep, I was craving alcohol. I slowly realized this, and it was frightening. I swore we would not sleep inside the Winston-Salem city limits. I insisted everyone in this town was a Robot, as I hedge-dove outside Hardee's. The boys found a cheap hotel close by though, and I compromised out of pennance for unravelling screams and alcoholic crankiness. Maybe it's time to go dry again. Why give up control?

We got the motel double but everyone felt distant. Dale slept in the truck and in the room Matt took the floor near the door. Seth had a beer but couldn't sleep. I had four and didn't want to sleep. Channel surfed and let my boiling head dry.

A horror film made me think the bathroom was posessed. The lights were on a timer. Exactly 3 minutes after you turned some off, others flipped on. Matt stirred, sleeping face up, spread-eagled like a dog in the foyer. And the toilet ran if you didn't know how to reach in and jam down the flush valve.

So, the walks to and from the bathroom got dull and tiring and I shut off the modern Keanu horror flick. I laid awake and replayed the Border's incident. Why had it gotten to me? What did I do right? What did I miss?

For two years at the start of this decade I went to school in a very square, small-minded, concrete place. J.M.U. There was one person there able to really articulate the problem. Greg Allen, the self-proclaimed campus celebrity, the elvis-shaped thorn in the side of the middle class proving grounds of James Madison. The one guy who pointed out the increasingly safe social standards that everyone from the frats, the newspaper, to even our own brand new FM school radio station were instituting fiercely. Fellow students ratted you out to higher-ups if you played music with cuss words or inappropriate story lines. A point system scored your productive input and moved you up the administration of the station. Greg Allen was older than me by a couple years, had gotten into radio early, and as we were about to go FM, tried hard to make the programming more risky, wild, tripped-out, devilish and prank-filled. His FM radio program, Learning to Love Me, was an exhibition of the rarest freaks and garage sale oddballs of 20th Century recorded music. Together, a few of us threw up a clangy resistance to WXJM's debut season of consumer polls and classic rock.

Greg, me and some other people ran the radio's magazine, Back to the Basement. Every issue was jam-packed with a lost library of clip art and garish collage Greg assembled from twisted old children's books the University warehoused. You looked into the landscapes of these black and white collages, and realized something was very wrong. There was a whole side of the story that you weren't getting in this tight, controlled, stadardized, media-censored little enclave. Greg's visual portals might not have been taken by all 5000 readers, but at least we had something that showed there was a different channel out there.

Greg's senior year was a rough one. He cast his senior work play without a script and made the best actors on campus nervous. He planned something extra for the end of year issue of our magazine. This title would be modified, Back to the Beelzebub. He stayed up all night for about a week, on caffeine and marijuana and wrote a shiney little play about cannibal television aliens visiting a world of schoolyard bullies, terrorizing weaker kids and their egg pets. Back to the Beelzebub went to press and we went with it, all three editors pricking their fingers under the structure of the web press and bleeding into the red ink we had done special requisition papers for. It was gonna be just like KISS. They bled into the red ink once too.

When the paper hit the streets, society panicked, the whole valley. The local AM talk radio phones lit up like prison flood lights. Tight nasal midatlantic women made sweeping statements about demonology, "That means DEVIL" and for a minute, J.M.U. was viewed as a hotbed of Satan. Greg was ecstatic. Gleefully he tried to pick up the phone and get on the air, but they wouldn't let him through. He probably would have laughed his good-natured chuckle and everything would be explained. Maybe the mystery and the fear about the paper sustained the suspense on air. I'm glad the talk radio didn't let him explain. The issue really was a grand finale attempt at social meltdown. On the cover was a vibrating, fine-line picture of a devil/gnome head. Next to him was a poem or a speech or a manifesto, "Buy a piece of property on plasma can physically unify but you refuse to fuse freely with foreign forms." The whole thing had a late-night creative-burst edge, the hour in which thoughts meld and the solution becomes lucid. Everything permitted.

In an editor's note, Greg explained about the blood, claiming there was a virus in it for everyone, and bid a fond farewell to the campus. He even had a spot on the cover readers were urged to lick for promised effects. A lot of campus administrators were shitting bricks, but Greg went out into the plaza in the Spring Virginia sleet without a hat and passed out copies of the tabloid. In large wet flakes and dark stringy bangs sticking to his forehead and brushing into his eyes, passing out papers angily in the sleet, this image of him holds as I walk away. I had a weird feeling. It was the end of the year, what had Greg done to get here? Would he be OK after this? Where would he go that could work with this scholar of such specific, dangerous genius? Had he paced himself?

Greg taught a little school for a while, but ended up working in town at Luigi's, the dead head pizza place, wearing a large beard and a large poncho. He tried teaching in South Eastern Europe I heard, but ended up down in North Carolina, at Border's. He did well there, was well-liked, and was made Music Manager in Cary, N.C. in 1996. He got married two years ago to someone none of the old freak scene approved of, but I decided to reserve judgement.

When we got to his new store in Winston-Salem yesterday, he looked five years younger, like he had gotten caught up on sleep. He looked shorter. Good skin, neat and trimmed hair. I gave him a big hug. We tried to catch up as much as we could inside the hectic set-up. I tried to connect with him about business things, like the growth Soft Skull has had, but he was on his way out the door. He had dinner plans. New wife's new bosses at new job. He asked me for more notice next time. He laughed nervously, putting it on me, joking and teasing. I should have said, since when is three weeks not enough time for advance notice. He said, "Sander, if you come down again, alone, next time, I'd love to set you up. But I can't house three dudes. We've got a small place." He left.

We played in the caf*. White Collar Crime acoustic, on a cockamamie old Stuvesyant upright. We drew people in with the Talking Heads cover. That always gets 'em. This Ain't No Party. A dangerous life during wartime hides under the subtle production of the Talking Heads FM radio espionage.

In Greg's abscence, Joy, his community relations coordinator, stayed on our tail, turning down the volume. The real problem began brewing with Seth's show. It began to be clear that we were mismatched with the location. Joy said so, why a superstore in a strip mall in the suburbs of a conservative town.

The answer is because it is there. Because it is everywhere.

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