Chapter 3 – I Wanna Jam It With You
After spending about ten days sleeping in the childhood bedroom of my college buddy Tim O’Shaughnessy while looking for a place to stay, it was brought to my attention that a warehouse coworker named Kevin’d had an open bedroom at his place that was available to rent at the cost of two-hundred-and-fifty bucks a month. All I really knew about the guy at the time was that he was a middle-aged white dude with long gray dreads who liked to listen to Bob Marely while making hose assemblies in the back of the warehouse. Nevertheless, with that price in addition to his offer to drive me to and from work every day, the deal was too sweet to pass up. I told him I was in.
As I’d come to learn from sharing a domicile with him, Kevin was divorced, shared partial custody of his two grammar-school-aged children, played in a reggae band that used to tour with No Doubt, was a black belt in Shaolin Do kung fu, did Tai Chi all the time, had a bunch of Jamaican friends, smoked pot like it was his job and had even dealt a great amount of the stuff back in the eighties – I’m talkin’ twenty pounds a month that’d been packed into steel tire molds and flown into America in a private plane by some dude named Apache who ended up doing time in federal prison. Bit by bit, all these interesting facts I came to learn throughout my tenure in the Cleve. What I could tell about who he was when I’d initially moved in with him, however, was not all that exciting.
“So,” asked Dan the warehouse manager one morning as we’d been tag-team wrapping a giant hose assembly in the back of Shamrock before shipping it to one of our regular customers, “how you like livin’ with Kevin?”
“It’s alright. I mean, his house is kinda hectic and shit,” I replied. “I moved in on Sunday night and there were a bunch of kids sleeping over and they were throwing cereal on the floor and, after I went to bed, they ate half the groceries that I’d just bought.”
“Yeah. And then I got up on Monday morning to start my routine and was all groggy and shit when I stumbled into the bathroom and placed my foot in a puddle of ice-cold piss on the floor right next to the toilet. I guess one of the sleepover kids got bad aim ‘er somethin’ ‘n’ must’ve missed the target when freakin’ a leak in the middle of the night. Then I flipped up the lid and someone’s dump was just sittin’ there with no toilet paper in the bowl. I mean, how you gonna dump and not wipe your ass? You know what that means? That means one of those kids was walkin’ around and sittin’ on Kev’s furniture with a shitty fuckin’ asshole.”
“Oh boy,” he shook his head.
“Yeah, so then after that, I jump in the shower and have no problem turning the thing on, but when I go to shut it off, the handle falls straight off and I can’t figure it out so I throw on a towel and run downstairs lookin’ for Kevin to save me from this situation and have to run through the living room where a bunch of kids are sleeping and I’m half-naked dripping wet and so now I feel like some kind of molester but then eventually find Kevin in the basement who I got to go upstairs and help me sort the thing out.”
“This sounds like a scene from a movie.”
“Yeah, that’s what it felt like. So then I go to make some breakfast and find that the kids had used every dish in the house the night before when they were eating my groceries and I gotta scrub pans and bowls before I can make myself some fuckin’ eggs and pour a bowl of cereal. And then the first egg I crack in the just-cleaned pan turns out to be full of blood. I’ve never had that happen before. Is that normal in Ohio? Does everyone around here eat fuckin’ chicken periods and shit?”
“You’ve never seen that before?”
“Think that happens everywhere from time to time.”
“Alright, yeah, well that happened and I was disgusted and dumped the egg in the garbage and started over. But after I fried up two new eggs and got my cereal poured and shit, I went into the dining room to eat and his table was covered with so much shit there was no room to sit. Where do they eat their meals in that house?”
“Think they just sit in front of the TV.”
“Ah, okay. Yeah, I mean, it was covered in Halloween and Christmas shit and a massive Lego spaceship and even some fuckin’ Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em robots and shit so I just ate my shit standin’ up.”
“Yeah, and speaking of Christmas, he still had the fuckin’ tree up in the living room. It’s mid-February. That thing is deader than dog shit. Total fire hazard. Thing looked like it was no more than a sock-to-carpet static shock away from going totally up in flames. So after work on Monday, I put some gloves on, picked the thing up, carried it to the back, leaving an absurd pine needle trail throughout the house, opened up the door and just tossed the fuckin’ thing down the back stairs into the yard. I ain’t gonna lose sleep worrying about a dried-out piece of shit Christmas tree spontaneously combusting in the middle of the night. No way. Fuck that.”
“Alright, alright, alright,” Dan stopped me. “Okay, so we know Kevin’s not the most organized guy around. Other than that though, how’s it livin’ with him? You hang out and talk with him at all?”
“A little bit. I’m usually pretty tired after work and got shit I need to do every day, but we talk when we cross paths and what not.”
“No, I don’t mean casual chatting. You should talk to him s’more. He’s an interesting dude. He’s got some good stories.”
“Have you asked him about his hair yet – why he started growing it?”
“Nah. Must’ve been growin’ it for a long-ass time though. Those dreads are down to his ass.”
“Yeah, he’s been growin’ ‘em for over thirty years.”
“Yeah, but uh, you should definitely ask him about that – why he started growin’ ‘em. It’s a great story.”
One night after work, after having lived together for a few weeks and I’d had sufficient time to get used to the way things worked around his house – a time when his kids had been with the ex so the crib wasn’t nearly as messy or wild – I wandered down into the basement from where I could hear tracks from Bob Marley’s Kaya album blasting and the stench of marijuana smoke billowing.
The basement wasn’t big. The main room had been about the size of a boxing ring. Thrown atop an old cement floor was a ratty old square of dingy white carpeting. In addition to honorific portraits of ancient kung fu masters, there’d been swords, nun chucks, some sai and a hodgepodge of other martial arts weaponry carelessly hung on the painted concrete walls. On the ground and flanking the perimeter of the carpeting had been knee high stacks of reggae records, a weight bench that looked like it hadn’t been touched in ten years and boxes full of kung fu magazines dating from the eighties to present day.
In the middle of all this and seemingly in a world of his own, I found Kevin with eyes flaming red and an ice cold bottle of Heineken in his hand.
“Yo, bad bwoy!” I called out to him over the music in my best Jamaican accent. “H’gwine?”
When he noticed my presence, he turned the music down just enough so we could hear what one another had been saying. After some basic chatting, I eventually got around to asking him about the origin of his dreads. The story went roughly as follows.
“Growing up I was always a Hendrix fan. I listened to Hendrix. I played Hendrix. I loved everything Hendrix. But then when I was fourteen, my sister’s boyfriend had bought me Bob Marley’s Rastaman Vibration album and I was like, ‘Bob Marley? Who the fuck is this guy? Yeah, whatever, thanks for the gift,’ and tossed the thing aside.
“But then one day I actually decided to give it a listen and I ended up liking it. And then I listened to it again. And again. And again. And then I started bringing it to parties and I’d play it over and over until people got sick of it and would say, ‘Not again! Hey! Shut that shit off!’ But not me,” he shook his head. “No way, man. No matter how many times I listened to it, I never got sick of that album. I couldn’t get enough Bob Marley.
“So, a few years later Bob was in town playing at The Music Hall to promote the release of his new album Kaya – the one that I got playing here right now – and I went to the show and I don’t even gotta mention it, but I will, it was fuckin’ great.
“And, uh, after the show, I was with this girl and one of my Jamaican buddies pulls up in the car next to me and says, ‘Wanna meet Bob?’ And of course I’m like, ‘Hell yeah, I wanna meet Bob.’ And he tells me that he got word Bob was staying at a place called Swingos. So, we hop in the car and we head over there and we’re hangin’ out in the lobby lookin’ for Bob but we don’t see him. But after a while of sifting through the crowd, I spotted Bob’s bass player ‘Family Man’ standing by the elevator with a twelve-pack of Bud cans.”
“‘Family Man’ is his name?”
“His nickname. Aston Barrett’s his real name but ‘Family Man’ is what he goes by. It was his bass lines that would hold all Bob’s songs together so well. And he was a real low key dude, man. When I walked up to him with my buddy and this chick – oh, and as a side note, if you’re ever talking to a Jamaican, don’t use the word ‘buddy’ to describe a friend the way we do because, to them, ‘buddy’ means ‘dick’ and I’ve been called on it many times. They’ll say, ‘Oh yeah, you and your buddy went there, huh? Sounds like you and your buddy had a good time,’ and shit like that. So, be careful.”
“Alright,” I laughed. “Duly noted.”
“So, anyway, me and my buddy go up to Family Man and say, ‘Whoa man, great show,’ and I reached out to shake his hand. ‘Family Man’ is all he says in return as he reaches out and shakes mine back. I have nothing else to say to the guy but I can’t stop staring at him. I was in awe. And he notices this. He sees me staring at him with my mouth open, inquisitively looks back at me and points up with his index finger. I nod ‘yes,’ the elevator doors open up and we step in.
“When the doors opened up, it smelled of roasted oranges – a sweet herb smell. The whole floor was filled with it. It seemed to be coming out of every room which led me to believe Bob must’ve rented all the suites on the floor. There were people all over the place and we ended up following Family Man out the elevator and over to a room where he knocked on the door and Bob’s chef Gilly opened it up from the inside. It was a beautiful room with a bar and everything and it was completely packed with people. There was nowhere to sit but there was a great vibe. Gilly pulled out a tray of nuts and fruit and told us to help ourselves. The only problem I had with the situation was that I didn’t see Bob. So, I began peeking around.
“In one of the smaller side rooms off the main room where all the people were I found Bob being interviewed by some dude from The Plain Dealer and went in to observe. I guess I’d walked in right at the end of the interview because the guy almost immediately stood up and started walking out when I came in. And I suppose it hadn’t gone too well judging by the way Bob made a pissed off face and spat ‘Blood clot!’ as the guy made his exit.
“So then it’s just me, my buddy – my friend, not my dick – and the chick I’m with in this room with Bob Marley, the Wailers and couple more of their homies. And Bob gets up, walks over to the table that’s no more than two feet away from me and sits down. At the table, he pulls out a fist-sized ball of bud that he kept wrapped in wax paper, sets it down on this rectangular piece of brown leather called a suru board, pulls out a buck knife and starts choppin’ up his herb right in front of me. Again, I could do nothing but stare in awe.
“The way Family Man had, Bob took notice of my astonished staring and laughed at me as he continued to chop. After he’d cleaned out all the seeds and stalks, he pulled out four Zig-Zag papers and started rolling up a fat-ass splif. He rolled it up faster than I’d ever seen, put it in his mouth, looked back up at me and slid the suru board over in my direction. ‘G’wan roll a splif,’ he said. And I stood there nervously, unable to move. But then my Jamaican buddy jumped in front of me and started rolling one up as if he were a soldier responding to orders. All the other guys in the room seemed to already have their own splifs rolled up and ready to go.
“So, as Bob and all the other guys are smoking individual splifs, me and my buddy are passing ours back and forth. Bob saw this and smiled. But even as we shared, that bud put me in another zone. I remember Bob was trying to talk to me. He kept calling me ‘Leroy.’”
“Yeah. ‘Leroy,’ he’d say, ‘Leroy, wagwan?’ which is the Jamaican way of asking ‘what’s goin on?’ ‘Yalright Leroy?’ I’d hear him, but I couldn’t respond. And my buddy’s like, ‘Yo, you know Bob’s talkin’ to you, right?’ And I was so happy all I could do was smile and stare back. Right after that, Bob started rappin’ with his buddies and we sat there and hung out for a couple hours, ‘til around three a.m. It was great. It was a warm cool loving vibe.”
“So, is that when you decided to start growing out your hair and became a Rastamon?”
“Not quite yet. But not too long after that when Bob was still in town I was at this house party hosted by some Jamaican chick when my buddy – the same dude from the time before – came up and told me he heard that Bob Marley was on his way.
“Some time after hearing the news, I remember the song ‘Talkin’ Blues’ off Bob’s Natty Dread album had been blasting on the house’s speakers and I was out on the front porch smoking a splif when this group of dudes started heading up towards me. In the middle of the group was Bob in a tan army jacket and he started harmonizing with himself when he got closer. He nodded at me as he passed and walked into the house. I couldn’t tell whether it’d been a ‘Hey, what’s up?’ nod or an ‘I recognize you from the other night’ nod, or both. In any case, as soon as I was done with my splif, I went back into the house to look for Bob.
“After searching everywhere else in the place, I stumbled into a dark upstairs bedroom where the lights were off and I could see nothing but the flicker of a lighter illuminating Bob’s face as he used it to spark a splif. ‘Oh, there they are,’ I thought to myself as I stood in the doorway. But before I could even enter the room, Bob came walking out with some girls and we met face-to-face in the hallway. I needed to talk to him but I didn’t know what to say so I nervously spat out ‘I wanna jam it with you’ – ya know, thinkin’ of the song ‘Jamming’ – but instead of sounding cool it kinda sounded awkward the way Chris Farley did on that SNL skit when interviewing Paul McCartney. So, while looking at me, Bob took a hit of his splif and nodded his head. ‘What type of music do you play?’ he asked. ‘I play what you play,’ I responded without thinking. But I actually didn’t yet. I just should’ve said, ‘I play Hendrix music,’ like I actually did. I felt so stupid I wanted to crawl into a hole.
“So, anyway, Bob just leaned back and took in what I’d said to him. He didn’t say anything to me in return. He just nodded and then walked past with his crew right behind him and they walked outta the house. I followed out after to watch ‘em walk away. After that, I never saw Bob again – in concert or otherwise.
“But, uh, that’s when I decided to start growing my hair out, set the Hendrix aside and start playing reggae full-time. I became the lone white rasta boy in the city of Cleveland. I even carried a bible around with me. People thought I was crazy. I was shunned by whites. I was shunned by blacks. I was even shunned by my own family over it. But I didn’t care. I started playing in a hardcore roots reggae band called Black Lion. I love reggae, man. I love the Rastafarian outlook on life. I know one day that Babylon will fall. I’m all about peace, love and unity. And I fuckin’ love Bob Marley.”