Billy Manes is Editor-in-Chief of Watermark Publishing Group . Follow our weekly excerpts of a draft of his autobiography, Yesterday is Dead: Life and Men and Death and Love.
We originally wrote about Billy Manes here.
Chapter Two: So Free Her
By the weathered age of 15, I was forced into a career of hoofing it around Bloomingdales with samples from Mrs. Fields Cookies, to which I was assistant manager – at 15 – on the third floor. Why? Because I was terrible and reckless at home and needed to atone for my sins, of course, even if they were the blatant sins of others. Jesus loves cookies.
Whatever. My real consumerist passions lied in record stores, where I would spend most of my time flipping through imports and 45s, looking at life like it was postured packaging in gatefold form. Thanks, Duran Duran. One day, a manager of the local Peaches depot (it used to be a record store, back when record stores were an actual thing), asked me why I didn’t apply for a job there and we had an instant interview. “Why do you think you should work here?” Peter queried. “Well, you just asked me a different version of the same question, for one. Also, I’m always here and I know every format of Japanese releases from Corey Hart, T’Pau and Cutting Crew,” was some version of my retort. “Also, people like me.”
And generally they did. The most wonderful thing about record stores in the late 1980s was the assemblage of broken people that gravitated into their staffs. There was Lisa from New York who had a story about everything, Kate, who was there after being kicked out of school for attempting to shoot her abusive boyfriend in college, and about 20 other people with fantastic stories of living on the outside. Sadly, many of them liked the Dan Reed Network – look it up; it’s not good – but we had a family there. We even played volleyball on the beach, like, way before Baywatch.
At 18, I was preparing to leave for college, and we had a party on the beach on the third floor of some random beach hotel (many of us had been fired from Peaches for reasons that involved “shrinkage,” even though that remains debatable – I know I stole some things, though). I drank for real for the first time – my only previous drinking was done in the bushes at a pool party for my 16th birthday party from a wine cooler; oh, and that one time I skipped school and did shots of Jack Daniels from my parents’ wet bar, which caused a bit of a digestive incident. But the leaving party was intensely sad; sadder than leaving my family behind. I was leaving my actual family behind. So I climbed out onto the outside of the balcony railing and made the first of many finalizing attempts. My friends (family) naturally grabbed me by the back of the shirt and pulled me in, but it would likely be a signal that I was going to have control issues. I know when the record should end, at least in my head, and that would be virtually everyday for a while there.
To be clear, it was a manager at Peaches that sent me home the day that I realized that I was in too deep with the sex at home. I couldn’t speak, my skin was ashen, I didn’t know what to live for anymore, my ass hurt. My third-floor balcony farewell might have only cost me a broken leg had it transpired, but by age 18, everything else was already broken. There was nothing to lose, there was nothing to gain.
The suicide echoes reverberated from all of the speakers for what has been the rest of my life, even if it wasn’t my life that was ending. And, so what? Death is a certainty, blah, blah, you’re selfish, blah, blah, but you’re in pain and you want to go away. There is no reset switch, unfortunately. No control-alt-delete to reboot all of the terror you’ve already enjoyed. So suicide is a really bad album to play.
I didn’t die. I went to college, instead.
At Florida State University in Tallahassee, where all of the magic happens, I was assigned a dorm room in some kind of diversity program by mistake (I was later told). My roommate did not speak English, but he did speak “steal your CDs and other items of interest from a tiny refrigerator.” It only made my monastic entrance into academia that much more silent. I had Russian language class at 8 a.m. every day, so the only language I was using was mumbled Cyrillic, anyway. Pretty sure I learned the Russian alphabet by lusting after boys in the Greek fraternal elite, one of whom would rub his leg against mine during our world religions class. Oh, the silent stalking I’d conjure as I followed him to the Sigma Phi Epsilon house with my tongue hanging out of the side of my spaniel mouth. I’d have sewn my lips shut had it not been for ambitions of using it terribly Hellenic ways, or eating macaroni and cheese that I strained through the screen of my dorm room because fine cuisine matters. I was the cold war.
In order to pay off the credit cards that I was forced to apply for by logic and great big-bank marketing, I got a job immediately at another record store, this one called Turtles. It was slow. Blockbuster jumped in and bought the chain, because Wayne Huizenga is my father (not really), and I managed to keep my head above water and my stolen goods in pizza boxes that left the store with me. Though I should feel horrible, knowing that I was really sticking it to the man who was killing the Everglades or something made it a true act of political revolution. My Take That CD was everyone’s Take That CD, and that was my justification.
Around that time, I met Bob. Bob was a southern guy who – I didn’t know this, but would come to know this, obviously, had a girlfriend. She, as it turns out, got pregnant two weeks before Bob asked me, “What are you up to tonight?”
Bob lived in a rather Spartan apartment, and what we got up to was nearly eight hours of clumsy thrusting to Dead Can Dance records and, alas, Pearl Jam’s “Alive.” To this day that song rushes through my head when I’m done being pressed into with husky-voiced manhood. I’m still alive, I would tell myself, on a mattress, minus box spring, on the floor of a filthy squat in Tallahassee. Looks like we made it. (Bob’s girlfriend had the kid; I have never met said kid, who is now no longer a kid). Bob did die, though, in the recent years. HIV/AIDS was the culprit, as I understand, though we only communicated a time or two after our initial duplex breakup from which his sister Amber stole our washing machine and dryer. I seduced him back from his parents’ home a year after our demise, only to realize he was as terrible as he had been in the initial two-year stretch of living together. Also, I was terrible. And I do miss Bob. “Do what now?” he would ask, almost via some slang rhetoric meant for Mama’s Family, signifying nothing.
He allegedly fell into a drug haze of homelessness for a bit, something that was a given when you saw that he had dyed his gorgeous blonde Georgia hair into something more blonde than necessary for a handsome former football player with issues and eyebrows. Bob used to be a gifted kid, like I was, in public school, but he was a strong man and a fighter and an athlete. He used to call me, via landline, from the living room of our half of the duplex and just sit there on the phone waiting for me to give in. I miss Bob sometimes. I think everyone has a Bob living in his or her mind. But seriously, that was my first love and I’m sticking to it. It is stuck to me.