In the last edition of this column I mentioned that I would be briefly moving back to Topanga, and, in the time since the last volumeâs publication, Iâve become a fully naturalized canyon dweller. I drink $30 cups of coffee at TLC. I write cryptic and vaguely threatening rants on Nextdoor calling for the arrest of various teenagers and the dangerous criminals who shop at Sprouts without a re-usable bag. And earlier this week I had the classic Topanga experience of going around a corner too fast on the S-curves and accidentally murdering a drifter.
Currently the household consists of my Sister and me, plus my cousin Tori; combined weâre like one big dysfunctional family. Well, I guess we literally are that. We also have my two dogs, one of whom sheds like heâs going through chemotherapy and looks at you like you just walked in on him watching an adult movie. The other dog, Nibbles, is 15, blind and deaf and spends the days that make up his golden years going to every house in the neighborhood and barking at the door until someone answers and gives him a treat, like heâs Tony Soprano making his collections. Nibbles has the warmth and affability of a goblin shark and just in the time Iâve been back in Topanga, has eaten a bag of king- sized Kit Kats, a bag of individually wrapped Hersheyâs kisses, and an entire raw egg, shell and all. None of this has phased him. The only time he had to go to the vet was when he ate barbed wire and even then they just massaged his stomach for an hour and gave him an $800 bill, which, unfortunately he could not pay because he is a dog. Just walking these dogs is a task which has been more demanding than getting my Bachelorâs degree.
Being back in Topanga with my sister hasnât made me particularly nostalgic for my time growing up here, but it has made me recall a couple of moments from my youth that I would like to share with you.
Going to see my younger sister perform in the Topanga Elementary production of Charlie Brown, a play that was literally longer than James Cameronâs AVATAR. Also, my father interrupting (what would have been) my first kiss to tell me that intermission was over.
Me babysitting my younger sister while she played on the jungle gym at the Community House, and her asking another toddler why his parents didnât live together.
My childhood dog going into my neighborâs house on Thanksgiving and eating their turkey.
This story is slightly too long to be condensed into a single sentence, like the previous three articles on this list. This morning I drove my sisterâs carpool, and upon puling up to the drop off zone at Pali High, I had a PTSD war flashback to a moment that wound up defining about a year of my life during my Freshman and Sophomore years of high school.
One night when I was 15 years old, I was hanging out with some friends eating candy that weâd purchased at the General Store here in Topanga. As we were all sitting around, a friend of mine snapped a candid picture of me holding the left side of a Kit-Kat bar bar between my teeth. The picture wound up being posted on Instagram and later that week, I was sitting in class when a teacher Iâd never seen before, escorted by a police officer, entered my class, confiscated my Jansport backpack and informed me that I had been summoned to see the Dean of Discipline (side note: if youâre a middle-aged adult and your job title is âDean of Discipline at a high school,â that is the point one might consider re-thinking your life choices). Also, I should mention that at the time I was summoned to see the Dean, I was also taking a class called âParent/Child Development,â where I was assigned to take care of a robot baby. So, flash forward 15 minutes and Iâm sitting in the disciplinary office, cradling my robot daughter (who is crying hysterically), having no idea why I am there. At this point I am formally introduced to the mentioned Dean of Discipline, a man whom I had only met once before, briefly, when I saw him punch a hole through a fax machine while interrogating children because someone had thrown a paper airplane in science class.
Now, at this point I was shown âExhibit Aâ (there was no Exhibit B), a printed-out photo of me with a Kit-Kat bar between my teeth. They were under the impression that it was not, in fact, a candy bar, but a joint, blunt, or some other kind of marijuana smoking paraphernalia. Then, in complete and utter sincereness, the Dean of Discipline of Palisades Charter High School pointed to my plastic, lifeless, robot baby and said, âWhat kind of father does drugs while heâs taking care of a child?â
Iâm going to quickly interject here and say in the most blunt and succinct way that I can: It was not a joint, it was not any kind of drugs or drug paraphernalia, it was, in all honesty, a Kit-Kat bar.
It has been 10 years and I still am adamant of this fact, and say so on my motherâs grave and with all of my journalistic integrity on the line.
After many frustrating conversations with school officials and my parents, I was sentenced to attend 50 hours of a program called âAngels at Riskâ for youths, most of whom were there by court order. I was also required to attend therapy sessions indefinitely with a counselor, but thatâs another story. The worst part of being a kid is that, if an adult calls your parents and tells them youâre doing drugs, you have no recourse. Itâs not like you can sue the school for slander.
The average school day is from 7:50 in the morning to 2:10 in the afternoon, and I was now spending the remaining hours of my weekday in therapy or Angels at Risk for a crime I did not commit. And trying to tell the adults running the support group or the children attending it that youâre there because of a misunderstanding is like being in prison and claiming youâre innocent.
We all went around the circle introducing ourselves and elaborating on the violent crimes that had landed us in there. I was surrounded by 14-year-olds with five-oâ-clock shadow and teardrop tattoos. Unfortunately for me, âItâs not a blunt, itâs a Kit-Kat bar,â really does sound like the kind of terrible lie a 15 -year-old would come up with. They had us write essays about what our week had been like and then read them out loud to the group. I vividly recall the kid next to me having an essay about how he had gotten into a knife fight with someone from a rival gang; my essay started with, âSo I was playing wii-bowlingâŚâ Later, during that same group, the man running it told me that he wouldnât sign my attendance slip unless I was âhonest with the group.â
You may see where this is going, but from that moment on, for the next month-and-a-half until the school year was over, I had to lie and pretend I was doing drugs, just so I didnât get in trouble.
I wound up transferring schools the following year. Annabella-Lilibet, my robot baby, if youâre out there, your father loves you very much
Long Distance Listening Party Vol. 5
Cold Little Heart (Radio Edit)âMicheal Kiwanuka
The Art Of DrivingâBlack Box Recorder
Diamonds from Sierra LeoneâKanye West
Sexie SadieâKush Mody, Anderson Paak
Space SongâBeach House
Satellite of LoveâMorrissey
Sweet Dreams, TNâThe Last Shadow Puppets
Cold Little Heart (Radio Edit)âMicheal Kiwanuka. Iâve said this before, but very rarely do I listen to a song and think it should be longer. Kiwaukaâs âCold Little Heart,â maybe, the only song Iâve ever listened to that genuinely deserves to be 9 minutes long (maybe âShine on You Crazy Diamondâ or âRunaway?â). âCold Little Heartâ is a combination of late â60s/early â70s soul and a kind of cold, cosmic, ghostly, Spiritualized/Delia Derbyshire energy. The song is also a favorite of every mom who watched Big Little Lies back when it came out. Also, if youâre in the market for modern, retro soul music, check out Curtis Harding and his 2017 album Face Your Fears.
UnderwearâPulp. Most of my favorite songs fall under the genre of ââ90s Brit-pop, songs that are slightly too jaded to be considered New Wave and slightly too Pop-ey to be considered Grunge. Underwear by Pulp fits firmly into all of these categories.
The Art of DrivingâBlack Box Recorder. You may remember Black Box Recorder from the first volume of Long Distance Listening Party, which would put you in the very exclusive club of people who still remember Black Box Recorder.
Diamonds from Sierra LeoneâKanye West. Despite being an anthropomorphized clown emoji, Kanye West actually does make good music. Most people, when discussing Kanye, say that they have a hard time separating the art from the artist, for me, I have a hard time separating the art from the memes (Bound 2). Although, Kanyeâs entire discography can basically be summoned up in one sentence: âBrilliant ear for Otis Redding samples, great producer, mediocre rapper.â When Kanye first started making music his corniness was somewhat endearing, so was how seriously he took himself. For me, that endearment lasted for about three albums. Then My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, an album as over-bloated as its title, came out and all this talk about Kanye being an âartistic geniusâ and an âauteur rapperâ started. Honestly, I think most of that was just because there was a painting of a naked lady on the cover.
Satellite of LoveâMorrissey. I donât have a lot to say about this cover. In the original version of the song the line is âI watched it for a little while, I like to watch things on TV,â which Morrissey changes to âI cannot stand the TV.â I donât know if Morrissey just doesnât understand the meaning of the original line, or if he does and heâs just too pretentious to admit that he watches TV.
Miles Erickson is a recent graduate of CalArts, a published author, and currently enrolled in a prestigious, 4-year, student loan repayment program. Long Distance Listening Partyâs vague intention is to discuss topics framed in the context of what Iâm currently listening to.
This playlist is available on Spotify, search my username, Mileserickson-354. New songs are added every two weeks.