Picture the scene:

I was twenty-four. My San Francisco band was on tour. The night in question: we’d just finished playing the 7th Street Entry in Minneapolis, opening for The Celibate Rifles. The show had gone extremely well. Me, manning drums. Dave on guitar, Jim on bass. A great big rush and blur of wailing voices, whiskey and heartache-strung guitars, adrenaline drumsticks. Think thrashy folk music: the bastard lovechild of REM and the Violent Femmes after a long night of ecstasy and crank snorting.

Post-show, I hardly knew what to do with myself. Like other nights when we’d played well, I had so much energy, so much elation that I could hardly contain it. At the time, I knew only one way to calm my emotions, keep my environment in check.

I started drinking.

A S.W.A.T. team of teetotalers couldn’t have torn me from the bottle. Beer after beer, my body weather grew calmer. A little less tornado; more sweet, sudden summer downpour.

A guy approached me. Compared to others in the crowd, he was quite conservatively dressed—Polo shirt, Dockers shoes, khaki jeans cinched up with a brown leather belt. Think Robert Chambers; less the murder rap, more punk rock. “Great show,” he said.

“Thanks,” I replied.

“If you guys need a place to stay tonight,” he said. “You can crash with me.”

The guy turned out to be pretty cool. Lee was his name. Was an environmental lawyer. Knew the Hüsker Dü and Replacements musical catalogs inside out. Could recite all the words to the Dead Kennedys’ “Stars and Stripes of Corruption.” He bought my band mates and me numerous rounds of drinks and shots, then we headed to his place.

Once there, that’s when all the beers and tequila I’d pounded performed their weird juju on me. Within minutes of my arrival, I was in Lee’s bathroom, puking my brains out. I was so shit-faced that if you’d said the word “Jägermeister” my stomach would’ve dropped through my ass. After my intense ralphing session, I was so physically spent and head-spun I couldn’t move. I crashed right there on the cool porcelain tile floor.

Lee popped his head inside the bathroom. “You okay?”

I nodded weakly.

“Can I get you anything?”

“I’m fine,” I uttered. “I just need to stay by the toilet.”

He considered that one, then said: “I think I know exactly what you need.”

Next thing I knew he was leading his beautiful Irish setter, Daisy, into the bathroom. She lay down next to me. Smelled like baby shampoo and fresh hay. Her eyes: bright as lightning bugs sparking dark. She licked me on the ear; right over the scar I’d earned after a safety pin piercing back in high school.

It took all my strength and concentration to stroke her deep red coat. It was silky smooth, a vibrant pulsing of warmth and life. Lucy licked me again. And again. Each tongue-touch was slightly more soothing and life renewing. Think Florence Nightingale; less medical pioneer, more Canis lupus familiaris.

Lucy stayed with me throughout the night, through my numerous rounds of puking and groaning. Every so often, she’d lick my forehead, my cheek. I’d groan a thank you, and offer a coat stroke. Come the next morning, when Lee’s other dogs, and everyone was up and about eating breakfast, talking music and politics, Lucy was still in the bathroom. Right by my side.

Had I not already been familiar with the words that would’ve been my first object lesson in true devotion and healing.

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RICH FERGUSON has performed nationally, and has shared the stage with Patti Smith, Wanda Coleman, Exene Cervenka, T.C. Boyle, Jerry Stahl, Bob Holman, Loudon Wainwright, Ozomatli, and many other esteemed poets and musicians. He has performed on The Tonight Show, at the Redcat Theater in Disney Hall, the New York City International Fringe Festival, the Bowery Poetry Club, South by Southwest, the Santa Cruz Poetry Festival, Stephen Elliott’s Rumpus, and with UK-based poetry collective One Taste. He is also a featured performer in the film, What About Me? (the sequel to the double Grammy-nominated film 1 Giant Leap), featuring Michael Stipe, Michael Franti, k.d. lang, Krishna Das, and others. He has been published in the LA TIMES, Opium Magazine, has been widely anthologized, spotlighted on PBS (Egg: The Art Show), and was a winner in Opium Magazine’s Literary Death Match, LA. His spoken word/music videos have been featured at poetry film festivals throughout the world. Ferguson is a Pushcart-nominated poet, and a poetry editor at The Nervous Breakdown. His poetry collection 8th & Agony has been published by L.A.’s Punk Hostage Press.

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