When I moved out of home at the ripe old age of 17, I’d already been a Firesign Theatre fan for several years and was spending all my spare change on their albums. I’d managed to collect Waiting For The Electrician or Someone Like Him, How Can You Be In Two Places At Once When You’re Not Anywhere At All, Don’t Touch That Dwarf Hand Me The Pliers, and Everything You Know Is Wrong and memorize them all. My ability to memorize the albums was surpassed only by my ability to annoy people by responding to almost any conversational cue with a Firesign quote. But I was still about 30 years from my Asperger Syndrome diagnosis so nobody knew why I was like this, only that I seemed to be possessed by some rather eccentric demons. But none of us would have predicted that my Firesign obsession would put me in mortal danger and then give me a reason and the strength to set my life back in order.
The first roommate I had after moving out of home bailed on me before he’d even moved in. But I had emptied my savings to put up the deposit and so was forced to take the first replacement roommate that came along. I knew Irv only vaguely from school. Gossip had it that his girlfriend had just moved to Texas under mysterious circumstances. He was more well known for the exotic kit car body he’d bolted onto a VW frame, though. That was about all I knew of him before he moved into the vacant room in my new apartment. On the second or third day he handed me a letter.
“You’re working today, right? Can you mail this for me?”
“Sure but you’ll need a stamp and a return address.”
“I don’t know what our fucking address is. You signed the lease.”
“Alright, I’ll address it. You at least got a stamp?”
“Here’s a quarter. But I want the change.”
“Fuck that, you’re lucky I’m even mailing it for you.”
The crowd I grew up with confused profanity for sophistication and Irv and I were as fucking sophisticated as they came.
The letter was addressed to Irv’s girlfriend so I decided to make an effort and look up our correct return address so she could write back. It wasn’t her fault the guy was a dick, after all. But being 17 and a natural master at passive-aggressive conflict resolution, I put a Firesign Theatre character’s name above the return address rather than Irv’s name. “She’ll figure it out when she opens the letter,” I thought. And it was kind of fun imagining her reaction. When I got to work I bought a stamp, mailed the letter and forgot about the whole thing.
A few days later after morning classes I returned to the apartment to drop off my books and change into work clothes. Irv had locked himself out twice in the first week he lived with me so when an urgent pounding came on the door I assumed he’d done it again. I stomped to the entry way and threw the door wide open.
“WHAT?” I yelled.
Even as the words left my lips, I became aware of an object an inch from my nose. As I adjusted my focus further back I realized I was staring down the muzzle of a shotgun, and an angry man I’d never seen before was at the other end of it.
“You Irv?” he demanded when I finally met his eye.
“No.” The shotgun hadn’t wavered and I kept alternating glances between the muzzle and the guy. Then I got a mental image of what it must have looked like to him as my eyes repeatedly crossed and uncrossed and had to stifle a laugh. I quickly regained my composure. “You can see his car isn’t out front.” I pointed in the general direction of the parking lot. Everybody knew that car. If this guy was looking for Irv, he had to know about it too, I thought.
“Yeah, I noticed. You his roommate?”
“Who the hell is Luger Axehandle?”
“He’s a character in a Firesign Theatre play. He’s the Sheriff of Heater County California. Why? Do you like Firesign Theatre too?” I still hadn’t put it together that this guy was Irv’s girlfriend’s father or that the letter I mailed had been intercepted. Irv had turned out to be a major asshole and I just figured this was someone in the long list of people he’d managed to piss off.
“No, I don’t like Fire Side Whatever. I’m gonna find Irv and I’m gonna kick his goddamned ass. He’s not at work. Where the hell is he?”
“I dunno. It’s his day off. Sometimes he goes to the flea market to look for car parts.”
With that the guy lowered the gun and left. I immediately locked the door and started dialing all of Irv’s friends to tell him to hide out. He must have gotten the message because it was a few days before he came home. When he did, he was pissed.
“Why the FUCK did you put Ruger Axehandle on the return address of that letter?”
“Luger,” I corrected. “Who was that guy anyway and why was he so pissed off?”
“My girlfriend didn’t ‘move to Texas.’ She went there to get an abortion and since she didn’t tell her folks who the father was, they wouldn’t let her come back.”
“You the father?”
“She’s my girlfriend, dipshit. Of course I’m the father. But her dad didn’t know that until YOU signed Ruger Axehandle on the goddam envelope. Why the FUCK did you do that? Her aunt saw that and opened the letter, then it took her about two seconds to call the dad, and it took him less than two seconds to load his shotgun and come hunting for my ass. Tell me why the FUCK you did that anyway!”
“Luger,” I corrected gently.
I was eventually able to talk Irv down and we stayed roommates for a while longer. We heard the girlfriend’s father had gone to Texas, presumably to have a face-to-face chat with his daughter, and by the time he’d returned to Florida he’d cooled down some. He still wanted to kick Irv’s ass but now he had Irv’s picture and, short of ending up physically between them, I had nothing to worry about. For his part, Irv threatened to kick the guy’s ass if they ever met in person but nevertheless took care that they never met in person. As for me, Irv threatened to break all my albums and stomp me to the ground if I ever played or recited anything that even vaguely sounded like Firesign Theatre. Having just moved out of home, I now found it necessary to sneak away from my own apartment to get my Firesign fix. This sucked. Not as much as being hunted by a redneck with an attitude and a shotgun, but it sucked nonetheless.
Eventually Irv moved out without notice and left me hanging for the rent. Unfortunately, he had been one of the better roommate candidates available. My high school unpopularity had accompanied me to Junior College and the only people left who would have me for a roommate were by definition people I didn’t want to risk living with.
Lacking someone with whom to split rent, I was evicted, lost my deposit, and ended up living in an empty unheated section of the storage warehouse that my best friend’s band rented out. There was an enclosed office on one side where I put a bed, a lamp and a discarded couch I’d picked up off the side of the road. At the far side of the open space an unenclosed toilet glared at the office’s paneled walls with undisguised envy, wondering where it had gone wrong in life. There was no sink or stove, and the garden hose out front served as my shower. The tenant next door was a catering company that kept a lot of baked sweets on hand so there was a bit of a rat problem which I did my best to alleviate with a pellet rifle.
As rough as warehouse life was, I really didn’t mind. In fact it was the first time I had been really happy in years. I had lots of space to myself with nobody to tell me what to do or what I could listen to. The Doberman guard dog from next door used to curl up in the corner to watch me perform using the band’s PA system and improvised stage. Now and then she’d race off to kill a rat in some dark corner, bring it back to me as if we had been playing a game of rat-fetch, and then return to her blanket as if nothing had happened. Best of all, I had the company of four Dear Friends whose influence magically transformed a hovel into my first real home. Sure, I could have blamed Sheriff Luger Axehandle for getting me into this mess. But in the end it was him and his friends who got me out of it.