It was the summer of 2016. My friend, Spenser, and I had just been let out of school, a Friday night but still about a week or two off from summer break. We were heading back home to the canyon for a party up on Fernwood, behind Mimosa Cafe. The party was at this guy Toddâs house, âTodd, from Topanga,â which was weird because we were all from Topanga.
Toddâs house was the sort of place where all the local Topangans congregated, hanging around for days on end. It was sort of like Hotel California but with Mario Party tournaments. It was such a well-known hangout that, if youâve lived in the canyon for more than a few years, Iâm sure you know at least one person who was there on the night in question.
Todd was supplementing his income by letting homeless people sleep under his living room table for five dollars a night. The last couple times Iâd been over to Toddâs, the table tenant had been a guy named Russell. He was in his mid-30s with dreadlocks and the words, âONE LOVE,â tattooed under his eyes. As Spenser and I climbed up the stairs to the front of the house, we could see Toddâs door standing open and Russell in the kitchen grilling burgers.
ââSup bros?â We were greeted by the voice of John Caltrain, who sat on the stoop leading up to the house. Caltrain was a local musician with a stage name that evoked the thought, âWhat if instead of being a Jazz musician, John Coltrane had become a...Greyhound bus driver?â
Spenser and I each replied with some variation of âHey man, howâs it going?â
âGood dudes.â Caltrain started describing a music video he had been shooting and the song that it was paired with. âItâs called Intergalactic StarshipâŚof Love.â He let us know to stick around because he was gonna play it for whoever was in attendance later.
Caltrain and Spenser continued with their niceties as I headed inside, through the door, past the two guys sitting on the couch playing Mario Party and drinking craft IPAâs. I approached the kitchen where Russell was patting the backs of several burger patties with a spatula. Standing next to him were Todd and some guy wearing paisley print pants.
Casually, I greeted them. âHey, Todd, hey Russell.â Russell didnât acknowledge me, just kept grilling, leaving Todd to fill the silence.
ââSup, Miles? Have you met the Bong Wizard?â Todd gestured to the man in paisley. âHeâs the protector of our reality.â
âHey brotha,â spoke the wizard. He was zen and contemplative, in a âMy body is here but my mind is on the astral plain 500 million light years away,â smoking a blue glass corn cob pipe, like Gandolf.
âWhy do they call you the Bong Wizard,â I asked. âAre you like a drug dealer or something?â
âNo brother. They call me that because Iâm a sorcerer, vibe mage (magician) and master incantationist. Also âcuz I have this sick bong in the back of my van.â
âOh, cool,â I replied.
âAyo everybody, burgers râ up!â Russell turned around, holding up a plate balancing a pyramid of the absolute rarest hamburger meat that has ever been introduced to the inside of a bun.
âCome on guys! Spenser, John, everybody, grab a burger!â
Now, imagine this, there were maybe 15 people in the room by now, all of whom were lovingly served these brain-matter burgers by Russell. Everybody held out their plates, far in front of them as they tried to avoid the bacteria splash zone erupting from the puddle of juices the burgers had been swimming in. One by one, everybody received a burger, except for me, he passed me by, completely ignored me. I was starving, but I knew Russell was in a tight spot, and honestly, I had no intention of eating a burger anyway, so I didnât say anything though I was offended. Looking around to see that some had even been served two burgers, this felt like a purposeful slight.
âWhy didnât Russell give me a burger?â I leaned in and whispered to Spenser as I set down my empty plate on a nearby table.
âHe doesnât like youâ
âHe doesnât like me? Iâve literally only ever said Hi to himâ
âHe says you have no integrityâ
âHe said what?! He lives under a table!â
At this point people were starting to pour into the house, it was a pretty small place so everyone was situated somewhat awkwardly.
âOkay, guys,â Caltrain spoke up, pulling out his guitar to command the room like an unsheathed katana. He began clearing a space near the kitchen to play his song for everyone. âCan somebody help me move this table?â
âYou canât move that table.â Russell stepped up.
âItâs where I sleep, thatâs my space.â Russell approached, drawing an invisible outline around the area.
âUh, okay, brother, weâll move it back before your bedtime.â
Caltrain ignored Russellâs casual confrontation and began his song, playing through the tension and trying to avoid Russellâs dagger eyes. I leaned into Spenserâs ear, asking for an elaboration regarding Russellâs feelings about my integrity. Russell must have seen me mouthing something, because he spoke over the music and across the room to confront me.
âMiles, heâs trying to play! God do you even notice other people exist?!â Suddenly aligning himself with Caltrain, Russell spoke with the accusatory fire of an annoyed sibling or a school principle.
âWHY DIDNâT YOU GIVE ME A HAMBURGER!?â I snapped back,
âBecause you have no moral fiber!â
Caltrain looked desperately annoyed. âI didnât even get to finish my song, dudes!â
âItâs not even your song,â yelled Russell. Tensions were running hot. âI know that song! You didnât write that song! You just played âCreepâ by Radiohead and changed the lyrics to make it about spaceships in love or whatever!â
It was true, he was just playing âCreepâ by Radiohead and changing the lyrics.
âENOUGH!â yelled the wizard. The lights began to flicker as the room trembled under the awesome might of his ancient and mystic voice. âI think this dialogue would be more productive should it take place on the ancestral plane!â His robe flew open, the Bong Wizard pulled down his paisley parachute pants, revealing some dirty jeans underneath. He dug into his pocket and summoned a wad of tinfoil. He carefully uncrumpled it to display its contents: four pieces of what looked like tiny sheets of paper.
âIts a new drug. Invented it myself. It will curse you with understanding for your fellow man,â the wizard announced. All mouths were hushed and all eyes intensely focused on the wizard. Even the game of Mario Party being played in the background had paused.
âYou invented it? Are you a chemist?â I asked, extremely turned off by the idea.
âYes!â the wizard announced before taking a brief pause. âI mean, not professionally, I work at Chipotle. See this is what Iâm talking about.â
âHe canât just say thank you and be happy with what he gets,â said the wizard.
Russell grabbed the crumpled foil and began consuming its contents. âThank you grand wizard.â
âThatâsâŚ not my name...itâs Bong Wizard!â
Continued Next Issue in Part 2
This playlist is available on Spotify. Search my username, Mileserickson-354.
Long Distance Listening Party, Vol. 16
Unemployed in Summertime, Emiliana Torrini
La Isla Bonita, Large Plants
Look Me in the Eye Sister, Groove Armada
Lucky Number 9, The Moldy Peaches
Gouge Away, Nation of Language
Synthesizer, Electric Six
Iâm Only Sleeping, R. Stevie Moore
Unemployed in Summertime, Emiliana Torrini. I wasnât sure if I should start off the playlist with this song. Itâs more of an acquired taste than some of the others. It doesnât have the crowd-pleasing solos of âLa Isla Bonitaâ or the hard-hitting dance beats of âLook Me in the Eye Sister.â And the first time I heard this song I kept waiting for a chorus. It definitely reminds me of MOBY, but I was surprised to see that it came out in the late â90s because it fits so well with a lot of modern acts like Orion Sun or Angel Olson. It needs a couple of listens before it really hits.
La Isla Bonita, Large Plants. âLa Isla Bonitaâ is a 2022 cover of a 1987 Madonna song. This song takes the âGary Jules Mad Worldâ approach to covers. By that I mean it completely changes the tone and genre and Iâd say vastly approves upon the original by approaching the material from an industrial â60s early psychedelic rock point of view. Madonna by way of Cream. Large Plants replaces the cheap synths and cheesy pan flutes of the original with crunchy, indulgent electric guitar solos and haunting reverb-ey vocals.
Lucky Number 9, The Moldy Peaches. This song works well on a compilation as one song on a playlist. But it doesnât stand up all that well on its own. I admire how stripped down it is with only live drums, bass and vocals, no guitar or electronics at all other than maybe the bass. Itâs technically a duet, and you can tell both parties wrote their own lyrics because, when combined, they feel super disjointed.
Miles Erickson is a recent graduate of CalArts, 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.