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Craig Clevenger

C&C: What was your favorite toy as a child and why?

Easy… I had a five-foot (at least) styrofoam replica of a t-rex skeleton. I have no idea where my parents found it, and I’ve never met another person who had one as a kid. I found a picture of it not too long ago, with me and my younger brother sitting beneath it. As for “why,”I don’t think I need to explain the coolness of a big-ass dinosaur skeleton in a small boy’s bedroom.

C&C: If you could choose 5 songs as an accurate soundtrack of your life up to this point, what would they be? If you could choose 5 songs as a soundtrack to your ideal life, what would those be?

 Man, this one is tough. Honestly, I’m not much of a music person. I love music, of course, and I have my preferences but my listening range isn’t all that expansive. And as for lists… I just don’t think in the absolutes of lists very often, much less lists that could be sound tracks to my life thus far (to say nothing of antithetical lists of my actual life versus my ideal life). I will say that Chris D.’s “Lily White Hands” would be on there. It’s probably the most achingly beautiful song about heartbreak that I know, a trailer park ballad that sounds like someone’s playing a violin strung with barbed wire. Just beautiful.

Tina Turner’s cover of “Whole Lotta Love,” not as a reflection of any point in my life, but just the music I’d like to imagine playing in the background any time I made any sort of entrance. Which I never do, anyway. But it’s one of the balls-out sexiest things ever recorded, and downright dangerous to play to anyone who has even the slightest intentions of keeping their clothes on. The same could be said, of course, for Link Wray’s “Rumble,” which is so seriously bad-ass it’s the only instrumental tune to ever be banned on American radio (play it once, and you’ll know that fathers across the country were imagining their daughters’ footprints on the insides of car windows).

But still, it’s hard to make a list like the one you’re asking for. I suppose those last two could go toward my “ideal life” song list; in truth, my life as reflected in my writing (or maybe its the other way around) has been a long-term effort over many years to change a bitter world view that I was pretty much born with. And I don’t know how to plug music into that. Most of the time, I’ve got so much noise in my own head that I needn’t add to it with music. I listen to Johnny Cash on my iPod before doing a reading, and bring said iPod with me on long plane flights or when I go for a run, but otherwise I’m okay with silence. I’ve driven between Northern and Southern California more times than I can count, most of that with nothing but the road humming beneath me; I drove back to Texas some years ago with five or six CD’s that I hardly listened to most of the way (though I will say that driving through East Jesus, Nowhere in the dead of night, with nothing but empty fields for miles around and the occasional light from a distant farmhouse, while listening to Tom Waits recite “What’s He Building in There?” is a whole level of spooky that I’ve never experienced in a horror film).

Yikes, that’s it…. forget those other songs (I mean for my life list; otherwise, don’t forget them, because they’re all brilliant). My list is actually only one song, and it’s the same for both lists. Not in the creepy context I just described, of course, but the sound track for my life would simply be, “What’s He Building In There?”

C&C: How many pairs of boots do you own?

Right now, three. I’ve got a pair of black smoke jumpers that I don’t wear too often. My brown, steel-toe engineer boots (the ones pictured here) are pretty much what I wear most every day. They got promoted after my square-toe harness boots (also brown) finally gave out on me after the fifth or sixth set of soles. I left them behind when I moved back to the U.S. from Bolivia. Since I lived next door to a cobbler who literally specialized in clown shoes, I imagine my old roommates donated them to the cause. I picked up a pair of rattlesnake skin cowboy boots not too long ago, which was love at first sight, and I’ve got some photos of some really cool, 1930’s work boots I’m going to have made for me, once I find that giant bag of money I’ve been looking for.

C&C: What do you have in your pockets?

Right now? Which pockets? Just my jeans? Or my coat? Which coat? Technically nothing, since I’m sitting here in a pair of old jeans that look like they’ve been hit by lightning. But to give you a more legit answer, here’s my “every day carry,” as the cops would say:

Various keys one acquires from couch-hopping for as long as I have, all hooked to a caribeaner in my front belt loop.

Motorcycle wallet with “White Trash” stamped on it (this got a huge laugh from airport security in South Africa) and painted red,white and blue (though the color’s fading from fifteen years of back pocket friction); I doubled the chains up on this one, and keep those hooked to my front belt loop as well.

Emerson CQ-7 folding knife… great locking mechanism, and I swear this thing is made of scrap from the Roswell crash. It cuts through damn near anything and always gets an envious raised eyebrow from other knife geeks. I’ve threaded the loophole with about eight feet of military paracord, all compressed neatly into a rattlesnake knot lanyard (I’m getting pretty good with paracord).

A lighter. This is random… I don’t smoke, but try to make it a habit to carry a lighter. Somebody once told me that a gentleman always has a pen, a lighter and the correct time. And I aspire to be a gentleman. And a lighter is a lot like the knife (and especially the paracord), something for those situations you hope you’re never stuck in but don’t always get to choose. Especially if I’m traveling, I keep as much survival gear in my pockets as I can. Every time I hear of someone’s horror story about being stranded in the middle of nowhere, surviving the night in some blizzard or strange desert, I wonder why they went hiking without a knife, whistle, lighter, paracord, signal mirror, etc.

Pen. I file down Mont Blanc refill cartridges to fit inside of ordinary Bic gel pens. The refills are more expensive, but the ink is so much better and easier to write with, and I’m a pen snob. I ran out the other day, so I’ve been using a fountain pen this week until I get myself to the office supply store.

Moleskine Reporter Notebook. Always in my pocket, so I’ve always got something to write on. I built a pen holder on the spine with black electrical tape, but that’s too small for the fountain pen. I’m also a notebook snob.

Forty-three cents. Okay, that’s not true since, as I said above, there’s nothing in my pockets. But when I leave, I’ll have at least that, so that I’ve got represenation from all coinage for any transactions that day.

A black bandanna. Actually, three of these. I have a cold, and I’ve been sneezing and hacking a lot. Vanity prevents me from carrying a packet of travel tissues. That’s right up there with wearing a pocket protector.

Sunglasses. Five bucks at Walgreen’s, I got them a few years ago when I was tending bar on Halloween night and dressed as Jim Morrison. Wore the leather pants I bought when I lived in London (and yes, I looked good), a black t-shirt under a blue workshirt, etc. I still have the sunglasses, though I’ve crushed them a few times so whenever I put them on, they’re kinda crooked and I look like I just stood up after being shot out of a cannon. I just haven’t bothered to replace them.

Reading glasses. These are a pain in the ass. They’re rimless, with really thin wire earpieces, so I absolutely have to carry them in a case. The thick-rimmed glasses that are so fashionable now just don’t work on me… I look like someone from a 1950’s educational film(“Your body is changing…”). I need to get my eyes checked again, so I’ll try to find some frames that are a little more durable without making me look like I lost my lab coat.

Not in my pockets, but around my neck so, technically, part of my EDC…

Six-fingered hand necklace. My roommate, Pol, made it for me down in Bolivia.

Skeleton key. Long story, but it goes to a house with seventeen rooms and a gajillion locks. So, I’m not sure exactly what it opens, but if I were willing to break and enter and spend a few months testing every possibility, I could find out. I like not knowing, because that way I get to make something up.

And I used to have a magnifying glass, as close as I could get to a monocle (which I totally want, someday, the kind that actually hooks into the eye socket), that I wore on a chain, but for the life of me I can’t remember what I did with it.

C&C: You collect mugshots – how did that begin, and do you collect anything else?

I don’t recall how I started collecting mug shots, honestly. I don’t collect any one thing, but I do collect lots of different things. That made no sense at all, did it? Okay… I don’t take pictures. I hate being photographed (and I mean really, really hate it), so I’ve never made a habit of taking pictures. But I do save things… trinkets, gifts, etc., anything that will serve as a memento. I build altars out of them, memorials to memory, really, instead of keeping photo albums. So I’ve got old club flyers, bottles of liquor, subway tokens, stocking stuffers, odd toys, casino chips, letters… just a ton of shit… and I build story altars out of them. When I was staying out in Rob Roberge’s cabin in the Mojave, I built an altar out of the stuff I found in the desert. Old rusted cans, a Mexican Coke bottle, animal bones, weird bits of flora, feathers from different birds (one being the road runner that wondered into my kitchen after the wind blew my front door open during the night), and I built an altar out of that (with a few of my own votive candles thrown in, of course). Which reminds me, I collect bird feathers, too. I love birds. I’ve got a few parrot feathers, a crow feather (they’re harder to find than you might think… there’s a weird legality there, I think), and I’ve been looking for an owl feather for a long time. And books. I mean I collect books, not that I’ve been looking for a book for a long time, which I sort of have, but then we stray into weird philosophical territory there… But the mugshots, I don’t know how that started. There’s the obvious noir angle, of course, and I love old shit. I guess “antiques” is the proper word (you can charge more for antiques than you can “old shit”). And the fact that there was a day when everybody dressed to kill when the left the house, Sunday or not. All these criminal scumbags getting their booking photos taken, and they’re wearing collars and hats. I dig that. I have a couple of con men (both are described as traveling with dogs and being expert golfers—the con men, not the dogs—and both are from Memphis and, I believe, in the same handwriting. So I don’t know if that was some kind of con artist’s M.O. of the day, or if it was code for something or what). Some of them don’t have charges written on them, just the fact that the person escaped from a prison or road gang, etc. I’m always on the lookout for more.

C&C: Is romanticism dead or dying with technology – i.e. cell phones, emails, texts, all leading to FEWER near misses, random meetings, eye contact with people who cease to become strangers…? Tell me what you think about all of this.

I’m not sure I can summarize my feelings about all of this, right here. Certainly, all of those things are changing the way we interact with each other, no doubt. And the changes are both positive and negative, in my opinion. I’m among the first to say that technology is killing romanticism, but I’m all too aware that every generation believes that the [insert invention here] is going to be the death of civilization as we know it. Some people belived that the telephone, with its ability to interrupt someone else at any time—and from any distance—would be the death of polite society (and of course, some would say that’s exactly what happened).

With email, many said it was the death of written correspondence. With MySpace/Facebook/etc., it was the death of real interaction. With Twitter, it was the death of… what? Long form journalism? Attention spans? I don’t know. But it’s always the “death” of this or that. And I think those statements are certainly true to a degree, but they’re only part of the truth.

Facebook is mainly for my own PR, but I also keep in touch with extended family as well as friends who live far away. And I’ve gotten back in contact with people I would never have found otherwise, through Facebook. And having spent some time in the Third World, and seen how Facebook is a pipeline to a whole new level of discourse with the rest of the world, I’m not so quick to dismiss it. But yeah, it has its downsides. I remember talking to someone who said he hated Facebook, because it wasn’t real. He said his friends put up “fake lives,” only showed themselves in their best light, that it was all superficial and phony. I then suggested that is perhaps was not Facebook’s fault, but his choice in friends. That did not go over well.

Me, I’ve become something of a luddite in recent years. Yeah, I’m all over the interweb, but I still write longhand; I still send snail mail love letters; I’m having calling cards printed up, soon. Not business cards, but calling cards. Those are much more useful to me, given I don’t have a business and represent only myself. I absolutely loathe talking on the phone. If it’s critical business, or someone I haven’t spoken to in a while, then I manage. But just “Hi, how are you?” I hate that. For me, the phone is best for planning face-to-face meetings. Texting is my preferred method, though. Again, mainly for quick interaction, not prolonged discourse. I prefer things in person. It baffles me when I see people in groups with their friends, and they’re all texting people who aren’t there. And I will bet money that if those people with whom they’re texting were, in fact, present, then they’d be texting someone else.

I ditched my iPhone (not by choice, originally) a while back. There are times, no doubt, when I wish I could map something, or otherwise take advantage of it. I’ve been using a little disposable “burner” phone for the last two years or so. It cost me fifteen bucks. Great reception, and I pay only for the time I use (and given how much I hate talking on the phone, even my minimum plan for the iPhone was money up in smoke). It sends and receives texts, but has no voice mail. If I see someone called, I can call them back, but needn’t listen to some recorded babbling. My favorite feature of this phone—all of them, really—is the “off” switch. Seriously. Cell phones have given rise to this assumption throughout society that we’re all able to be reached anywhere, any time. But the throttle works in both directions; it’s also just as easy for me to decide when I don’t want to be reached, and for how long. I get a lot of resistance on this. A lot. People have a sense of entitlement about cell phones; I’ve encountered genuine anger from people who don’t hear back from me right away. I used to have an outgoing voice message explaining that my phone is off during certain hours while I was writing, but I would call back after my work day was over. The vitriol people left on my voicemail was staggering.

Gads, I could go on forever about this stuff. I ranted about the shortcomings of Google+ at length, already; there’s also the whole privacy issue, which is enormous and complex. But, your question was specifically about romanticism, so I won’t go into that. What else…? I’ve heard, recently, that younger people aren’t developing a lot of social skills such as the ability to read non-verbal cues, facial expressions, etc., as a result of having so much of their social lives lived out on smart phones. This may or may not be true, I don’t know. I didn’t hear any sources cited; it wouldn’t surprise me in the least, though.

For me, technology should facilitate real world, offline interaction. When it ceases to do that, it fails. My cell phone, Facebook account, email address, etc., all serve me. Not the other way around.

 C&C: Do you wear shoes in the house?

Whose house? What kind of shoes? Generally, no. I like to be comfortable. And since I mostly wear boots, my roommate frowns up throwing my filthy smoke jumpers on his glass coffee table. But sometimes I have to. In Bolivia, the tile floor got really cold at night. In the desert, shoes left unattended for too long are scorpion bait, and I wasn’t there long enough to be comfortable on the porch, barefoot. I have big feet. Easy pickin’s for the snakes.

C&C: I know you’ve bartended, do you know anything about ‘flair’? You know, like cocktail type stuff. Don’t hit me. Just tell me about bartending.

I loved bartending, but I was never one of those superstar bartenders who knew every cocktail in the book. So, no, I know nothing about flair. I started at a beer and wine bar, at first, so there was no need to know any of that stuff. Same with the last gig I had, as well. I only worked one hard liquor bar during those years, and knowing a dozen or so basic cocktails and a few mixing basics was enough. Every now and then somebody would ask me for something I was unfamiliar with, and it was perfectly acceptable to say something like, “remind me what’s in that one, again?” Nobody ever had a problem.

It was great work because it was social and physical, which is what I needed after sitting alone most days and writing. Interacting with people and moving around for three or four nights of bartending would always re-charge me for my writing week. That said, it completely burned out my desire to hit the town on weekends. Or at all. I hardly drink at all, anymore, and I’m loathe to go any place crowded and noisy.

And having spent some time volunteering at a needle exchange, I’ll say this: between the drunks and the addicts, I’ll take the addicts. Granted, I was seeing the addicts under very controlled, benevolent circumstances. But man, drunk people, and I mean really drunk people, are awful. And dealing with unchecked alpha-male attitudes, emotional baggage, crying, vomiting, fighting, delusions of super-humanity… it wears you out. But, yeah, I’d do it again.

C&C: Why would anyone have a llama as a pet?

 I have no idea. I mean, cats, dogs, birds, goldfish, I get. But a llama seems like it straddles the lines between “livestock” and “pet” and “pack animal.” Kind of like a horse, I guess. Except you can’t get a lifetime of mittens and scarves from a horse; I also don’t think they’re as agile with cargo on narrow mountain roads or other treacherous terrain, and most people are loathe to slow-cook their horse over a pit after it’s out lived its usefulness. All of which I suppose is precisely why somebody would choose a llama for a pet.

C&C: What did you get me for my birthday?

I’m not telling you. I’ll have it on me, next time I see you and it’ll be up to you to spirit it away.