The Cobalt

The Cobalt

I met Sober Jake Jackoff in a chat forum for metalheads, of which I was not one, but I was writing for underground music magazines and if you interview people like Joey Shithead and Thor you will eventually find yourself in strange places.

Soon, a small group of regulars emerged in the forum; which was basically those of us who spent the least amount of time contributing to society and the most amount of time on computers. We got to know each other in the way that you do when you’re trying to decimate someone’s self-esteem with the most inhospitable putdowns you can volley at an unrelentingly pace throughout the day.

There was Cannibal, and Jon Bee, the second was known for carrying a blow-up sheep with him to shows. Eddie Anarchy. Ash Trey. Wendy 13, the ringleader of the Cobalt punk bar. Sober Jake Jackoff. Mr. Plow. Elvis Hitler. Corndog & Lisafurr. Dirty and the Derelicts, all the Jaks; that sprawling degenerate skateboard crew. And myself. This was a time when I was falling in love for the sake of falling in love and I was so deep in the gloom of a one-sided adoration, the Cobalt crew provided a distraction in a way that gave me life.

It didn’t take long for my crushing capabilities to transfer over to this new underground world, and it started with Jake’s avatar. It was a picture of him; and he looked like a punk rock James Dean. In a DOA t-shirt, talking on a phone, head down a bit, so that his bouffant hair was flipped over into his face. And that doll’s face; black coffee eyes and bow lips. Pretty features in a leather jacket. Total dreamboat.

…The Cobalt crew provided a distraction in a way that gave me life.

He was also the endearing kind of funny; a self-deprecating sense of humor with a bit of mockery verging on satirical thrown in to deflect others, at the last moment, like a friendly ninja. He was a master flirt but didn’t know it, he didn’t see himself as a ladies’ man and that made him even more irresistible. Jake was intoxicated by all women; a trait that polished us into diamonds, even those of us that were little more than hot messes. He could always find the good that was lurking in the great dark depths of self-doubt.

Jake and I accidentally created a fake back story that stuck. We led our forum compatriots to believe that we were cousins. Cousins who’d dated. The truth was that we were strangers, and Jake was living across the country in Bobcaygeon, Ontario, but I had nothing to lose by going along with the story and having a bit of fun. Secretly, I wished for him to return to Vancouver, where he’d been living before moving back home mysteriously prior to my arrival in the group. Jake was always talking about how much he missed the city, how much he missed the scene, and I treasured those musings like I was collecting evidence. I wanted him to move back so that we could date in real life. I didn’t even care if people thought we were related.

Since he was “family,” I was asked by the magazine I wrote for to retrieve gig reviews from him out East. This gave me the opportunity to connect off the forum, and allowed us to develop a genuine friendship. We had a shared love for writing and resisting authority, and we spent many midnight hours trading poetry, or talking about album reviews and upcoming shows.

“I need to do some research for the SNFU show,” he told me. “I don’t know a lot about them, other than Chi, and I only know him from the Cobalt.”

“Washing the floors and being unintelligible isn’t much to go on,” I said.

“Are you calling me unintelligible? He draws some mean characters though.”

“No, I was talking about Chi,” I replied. “He washes floors and mumbles. You take after Aunt Heather with your lack of brain cells. I, thankfully, take after Great Grandaddy Dilbert the inventor of wall gum.”

“I was thinking, next article will be of me blowing off some awesome band to review myself at Karaoke.”

We spent a year talking and creating cousin jokes, sharing band stories, music interests, and heartbreak. I learned that he was a fanboy for The Doors, and a drinker, an entertainer, the fun guy to have at any party. I learned he almost killed himself from drinking. I learned that he was recovering from unrequited love, having been dumped by his girlfriend who had two-timed him with a friend. I learned that he’d gained weight since moving back home and was self-conscious about his body. I loved him for all of it; and not in my usual creepy way but in a tangible way, I could empathize with him and it put us on equal ground. All the other boys were stuck on pedestals but Jake was a friend. A friend with mutual ennui, who made sick jokes with sweet lips from a good heart.

Then he came back.

He arrived in Vancouver for a visit, and we were going to sleep together. This was never a specific topic of discussion, but I was fairly certain that it was understood intuitively we were going to get laid, together.

On the Friday night that we were going to see each other face-to-face for the first time, I tried not to act like a 13-year-old girl about to meet her favourite boy band member after a concert. I dressed innocuously. My attempts to “fit in” with the crowd were mostly adding my skull scarf to whatever outfit I was wearing. I was too poor to buy nice things, so in that sense I fit right in with the scruffy ruffians that populated Vancouver’s diviest dive bar. I spent a bit of extra time on my make-up, because this was the moment: I was meeting Jake, and we were going to fall in love and somehow make it work. I chugged a beer that was probably lifted from one of my roommates, in my sad little bedroom with the mattress on the floor and no closet. I checked for lipstick on my teeth, and then snuck out of the house towards the skytrain station that would take me to the end of Main Street.

Walking towards the rickety brick building with the Girls! Girls! Girls! sign now burned out to just one “Girl,” I thought about the potential romance of our clandestine meeting. I had to stop myself, because I knew from experience that reality never followed through on expectations. Instead, I thought about that lip piercing, those hooded eyes. That leather jacket with Jim Morrison on the back. I debated how I would say hello, as nerves crackled against my bones while I walked. A drunk yelled from an alleyway, and a woman with one shoe and a face full of scabs pushed an empty shopping cart yelling about revenge. A bus snortled by, full of people watching us out the window like we were part of a zoo tour.

The east end had not yet been gentrified, the hipsters with their beard oil and artisan food had not yet moved in and taken over this block. I was in the fray, steps from the scourge of the city, according to the bureaucrats in City Hall. I could see Wendy 13’s Mohawk from a block away. She was in her jean vest, smoking against the wall beside a painted black door and a 250-pound bouncer. A couple dingbats smoked with her, yelling and moshing with each other to the discordant sounds inside. I approached.

“Your cousin’s inside,” said Wendy, wiggling her painted eyebrows at me.

My heart skipped and I tried to act casual. “Cool,” I said.

I stopped to light a cigarette, noticing that my fingers were shaking. I was nervous. I didn’t know how this was going to work, and wished suddenly that I had a set of directions for this type of a blind date,

Wendy kicked her foot off the crumbling rust-coloured concrete and stood with her legs apart on the sidewalk like she’d just jumped off a horse. “Wanna wrastle?”

I stared at her blankly, flicking ash from my cigarette. Before I could answer, she reached out and yanked me into an effective headlock. I was less concerned about Wendy 13 beating me up in an act of misguided affection than I was about my hair getting messed up. I’d spent an hour flat ironing it, and now she was rubbing her meaty hands all over my head. I fought her off to the best of my ability and almost lost an eye in the process. “I don’t like this game,” I told her, throwing my cigarette into the gutter. I pulled on the handle of the pub door, while Wendy laughed and laughed in her spooky baritone cackle.

I saw Clayton at the bar, uncapping and swiping beers across the counter like a gunslinger, and I shuffled under the chandelier of tricycles that hung from the ceiling, through the crowds of people, looking for a familiar face. There was a dank combination of smells, most notably sweat and hops. I spotted Cannibal, at the front of the stage, in his army fatigues standing with Jon Bee and his sheep. I saw Elvis Hitler in his Harley chaps. He was watching me and waving across the room. I waved back but didn’t approach. The Jadad Jinas were shredding the stage with their vaginal rage in green hair, kilts, electric guitars. An anarchy symbol was tattooed on the singer’s chest.

“Hey, Emily,” said a familiar voice. I turned to see Mr. Plow hanging out against a post in his Cobalt hoodie.

“Hey, Plow.”

“Jake’s here.”

“So I hear.”

Plow looked down his nose at me with a skeptical gaze that was either the result of quizzically aligned facial features, or his only expression. “Are you guys really related?”

“What do you think?”

“I’m going to write a song about you two. Kissing Cousins.”

“Make it nasty,” I advised.

“Don’t I always?” he asked, insulted.

“Where is he, anyway?”

“Back there,” said Plow, and I followed his extended thumb to the far corner of the bar.

He was sitting on a stool talking to Chi Pig, who was holding a moldy mop and smiling with a mouthful of missing teeth. Jake looked up, like he sensed he was being watched, and our eyes met.

I walked away from Plow, feeling shy. Jake was making a face and when I approached I could see, even in the threadbare light, that he was self-conscious.

“Emily.”

Chi glanced over in my direction, giggling at his own private joke. When it was evident that he’d become a third wheel, he mumbled to Jake who reached out to perform some kind of secret handshake before the janitor wandered off, dragging his mop in search of another spill.

“How’s Aunt Heather?” he asked.

“She wanted me to give you a hug.”

He jumped up from his stool and we reached for each other until all I could smell was the leather of that coat. He looked just as I had memorized but more full of spirit; he was a presence, and the Cobalt melted away as I took in the excited voice, and the way he was looking at me.

“What do we do now?”

“Get drunk?” I suggested.

He put his arm around me, pulling me to the stool beside his. “Let’s get drunk and make out.”

“I approve this plan.”

He looked at me with genuine surprise. “Really?”

I leaned in and kissed him on the cheek. “It’s good to see you, cousin.”

He put a hand to his cheek bashfully and called out to Clayton for a handful of shots. Clayton left the throng of punks, who were waving five dollar bills in the air and jostling for their spot at the counter, and approached with shot glasses and a bottle of Jim Beam.

“Have one with us, Clay.”

“Glad to have you back,” the bartender told Jake, winking in an aside to me as he grabbed another shot glass. It felt like he was indicating discreetly that he didn’t judge the two of us.

An hour later while we were kissing a voice interrupted: “You guys just be sure to stay safe. It’s all fun and games until you start breeding more dumb dumbs in the family.”

I broke away from Jake’s face long enough to recognize Elvis Hitler, who was looking lonely. “Don’t worry, we’re third cousins,” Jake told him. “People used to do this all the time.”

“That explains society today.”

Jake slid off his stool, holding my hand as we aimed for the exit across the room. Elvis called after us, “Can I have your stool?”

“All yours bud,” Jake offered, over his shoulder.

“Where are we going?” I asked.

“Upstairs.”

We scurried undercover like mice in a ballroom; racing through the thumping clatter of the music and weaving between the raised fists. I was kicked by a dusty combat boot and face planted a jean jacket as I tried to keep up with Jake. I had another eye almost taken out by the burning end of a joint. We stopped then, briefly, to imbibe with the dreadlocked thrash-mosher who was taking a breather by the bathroom stalls. Then we continued on through a door and along a narrow passage way to a staircase that looked like it would have felt at home on the set of a horror movie. The Cobalt was a hotel, and one that I didn’t think I would ever step foot in, given that it was the destination of choice for drug addicts and hookers. This was not a hotel one stayed in unless one was down and out in the worst way.

“You’re staying here?”

“Where else?”

“Why don’t we go to my place?”

But then we were kissing again, and in that tiny piss-stinking stairwell the world turned upside down and my brain melted like cheese from the sensation of his tongue, and thoughts of his poetry caused me to forget all of the parts that weren’t romantic.

Inside the room we attempted to get undressed while making out, which proved clumsy and time-consuming.

“It’s okay that we’re doing this right? Do you want to do this?” Jake seemed to be worried that I wasn’t able to properly consent, which just made me want to rip off all his clothes. But nothing seemed to be peeling off properly and at some point he ended up on the floor, rolling around on a carpet that had probably at some point seen a murder, and I was pulling on one of his black jean legs in my bra. And then, finally, we collapsed together to a crescendo of creaks as the bed broke our fall.

I woke up the next morning in small stages, feeling the crispy hotel sheets and the saggy mattress against my naked body, and then the sun made its presence known, filtering through cruddy blinds. Dust mites and other unknown airborne diseases danced in the streaks of daylight. Then the hotel room came into focus, the bareness of it, the cluttering of clothes. I glanced beside me and found Jake lying on his back, the sheet pulled up to his chin.

“Good morning,” I croaked. He smiled, but it was the only part of him that didn’t look sad. “What’s wrong?” I asked.

“Nothing is wrong,” he said, turning on his side to face me. Stubble was already appearing on his wide, friendly face.

I stared at his lip ring, tracing the curve of his mouth with my eyes. “Do you regret sleeping with me?”

“Are you serious?” he asked. I turned on my side as well, feeling vulnerable and pulling the sheet up over my mouth to keep my morning breath from knocking him unconscious.

“You’ve made my year.”

I let this sink in, feeling the lightness of the morning settle onto my skin. As much as I wanted to lounge in a hotel room that probably glowed neon under a black light, I suggested we go for breakfast.

Jake reached out and flipped a piece of hair from my face before rolling back and glancing around the room. “Is that your sock?”

“What?”

Jake pointed to a sock on the carpet, by the door. It was a huge grey tube sock trimmed with red stripes; the kind lumberjacks wear.

“You think that’s one of my socks?” I cried.

“But it’s not mine,” he said, looking at me fearfully before cracking up. He laughed from his guts, an impossible act not to follow.

“It’s your sock though. Right?” I asked. This only made him laugh harder as he gasped “No!”

“That is super creepy,” I muttered, looking for something I could step on so I didn’t have to touch the fungus-hued carpet.

“Probably the Cobalt ghost’s masturbation sock,” said Jake, staring up at the ceiling. “He just wanders through the rooms watching people sleep and wanking off.”

“Good of him to use a sock.”

We finally got dressed, back into our Friday night street gear, and with my smudged make-up we made quite a pair. We spent a few minutes checking our phone messages and then Jake  locked up the room behind us, despite the fact the door looked like it could disintegrate under a swift kick. I followed behind him down the dingy stairwell, holding my breath until we were outside on the sidewalk.

The day noises weren’t quite at rush hour level yet. It was still early, the crack of dawn, and the sun was just flickering up over a horizon of high rises. The world felt charged with excitement. “Where can we go?” I asked.

Jake started into the empty street after a car rushed by. “To the Ivanhoe!”

The breakfast joint beside the Ivanhoe pub consisted of a handful of booths, most of which were empty. An old couple, and a pepperoni stick of a man in cyclist gear were the only two occupied tables in the place. The light was dim, thankfully, and I slunk into a seat across from Jake as the waitress handed us menus. She snapped her gum and told us she’d be back with coffee. We didn’t even have to ask. She limped away like she was on the last hour of a double shift.

“Do you regret last night?” Jake asked, fiddling with his lip piercing. He seemed to be considering my earlier question.

“Nope,” I told him. “I’m happy that you’re here.”

“For a week!” he said.

“You should stay with me,” I said hopefully.

He smiled and reached for my hand, kissing it in a very gentlemanly fashion. “Can I sleep in your bed?”

“Undoubtedly.”

Jake pumped his free hand in the air in a gesture of victory. We pulled apart for the waitress, as she returned to fill up our mugs with hot coffee, that spilled out from an aluminum canister. We ordered two regular breakfast specials and she nodded, gum snapping.

“I’m getting really sick of hangovers,” I said, stirring cream into my mug.

“That’s why we should start drinking now,” Jake explained.

“I’m thinking of quitting everything. Going straightedge.”

“I was forced to do that,” Jake said, glancing off over my shoulder. “Now I have take a million different kinds of pills for the rest of my life. I almost exploded my liver. Didn’t stop me though. Just slowed me down and made me fat.”

I watched him from across the table, noticing the dark circles around his eyes, the almost yellowish tinge to his pale skin. I wondered how serious it was, but I was afraid to ask. I waited for him to continue.

“The biggest obstacles I have are the ones I put in front of me,” he said.

“Sounds familiar,” I told him.

We sat in comfortable silence, waiting for our food, listening to the low buzz of radio music, the clinking of utensils against plates, the murmurings of quiet conversations. I had to go to the bathroom but as I slid from the booth, my eye caught sight of a sock on the floor.

“Jake.”

“What?”

“That sock is here,” I said, keeping my voice low as I took in the lumberjack sock, the same sock from Jake’s hotel room, lying on the café tiles.

Jake leaned out of his seat to see, and then he started with his infectious giggling again.

“Don’t laugh at it,” I said. “It might attack.”

“Doesn’t it look like it’s watching us?” asked Jake. “It’s like a stray dog.”

When I returned to the table from the restroom, a few minutes later, the waitress was placing two plates down while glancing towards the sock.

“Someone dropped a sock,” she said, without emotion. “Is it yours?”

She was looking at me and I held my hands in the air, wondering just how much I unwittingly resembled a lumberjack.

“It’s following us,” Jake informed the waitress. “Must be a stray.”

“I’ll get the busboy to deal with it,” she told us, flatly. “Do you need anything else?”

We told her no, and the hobo sock was forgotten in favour of runny eggs, toast and bacon.

Jake came home with me that day, and we spent the week together. He’d visit his friends while I was at work and then he’d pick me up at the bookstore and we’d go drink, eat, get drugs and return to my home where Jake’s appearance terrified my artsy, conservative roommates who were at that point plotting my eviction. I was in a bad place then, as good as Jake was in it; I was inconsiderate, strung out, lodged awkwardly between choices so poor I couldn’t seem to get myself out of trouble.

We lived in isolation for five days on that little mattress in my bedroom, staying up all night. He was as much a gift of relief to me as I was to him, and we fell into each other’s pockets perfectly.

“Move back,” I told him, the night before he was left.

“I can’t, I have to be home right now for my dad and my family. He’s got cancer.”

“Jake, I’m sorry.”

“It’s not your fault.”

I stood up from the bed to change out the music on my stereo, before slipping back under the sheet and resting my head on his chest. He ran a hand down my arm.

“I was trying to be the responsible one who held our family together,” he said, after the first bars of a song slipped out and lit the evening with an undercurrent of yearning. “We’re a huge split family. I swear I still don’t even know everyone. Anyway. I realized that only happens in movies.”

“What only happens in the movies?” I asked, watching the rise and fall of his breath.

“Saving everyone. People fight with people, people screw over people. Family or not, it happens all the time and there’s nothing I can do.”

“Just being there is something you can do,” I said. He didn’t answer, and I thought about family, and imposed obligations. I thought about how good it was of him, to step into that caregiver role when he was suffering. I imagined he was getting the care he needed from his mom. That circle of support was something I was missing in my own life; I was running from family. Jake had run back to them.

“I wasn’t kidding when I said you’re the best thing to happen to me all year.”

“Just the year?”

“I’m being serious. My confidence was shattered, but you put me back together.”

I turned to face him, pressing my thumb to his chin. “Same to you,” I whispered.

“I think I figured out the story of that sock though,” he said, giving me a squeeze.

“My sock?”

“Your lumberjack sock. It fell through a black hole from a dryer in a parallel universe where we’re married.”

The next day he went home.

I wasn’t broken up about it. I knew I was lucky to have a week when he lived so far away. So, in the intuitive understanding that we had, we returned to our online friendship. He’d flirt late at night, talk about his dad, share pictures of his family; all his little cousins who adored him. I accepted that he loved many other girls, all of whom left him sweet comments under his pictures from their late-night conversations. He was the most attainably unattainable man I’d ever met, and eventually I felt the need to see him again.

The summer after Jake and I met, my family was flying out East for a family reunion. We were heading for Ontario cottage country; passing by the highway that led right to his house. But I also knew it was impossible; we were on a schedule. A three-day reunion schedule. It was an epic family trip, the five of us, my mom and dad and two sisters. After a cross-country flight, we rented a van and drove hours from Toronto. I sat in the back, mom half asleep on a neck pillow in the passenger seat and dad fiddling with the radio stations while he drove. I watched the rural farmlands sweep by in cascading rushes of green and gold, the sun high in a pale blue sky that made everything look like a kid’s drawing of the perfect day. And then I saw the road sign slide by like an afterthought.

I got to your house this morning,
Just a little after nine
In the middle of that riot,
Couldn’t get you off my mind…

“Emily are you okay that we’re not going to visit your friend?” my younger sister asked, turning around and staring at me through her sunglasses.

I shrugged, pretending not to be disappointed. “I get that it’s not feasible.”

“Wave to your friend!” called my mom, trying to be helpful.

“I did,” I told her, because I didn’t want anyone to feel bad. Who could have known that was the last chance I’d have to see him again?

Later, Jake agreed that it would have been awfully awkward making out on his family’s front porch while my family waited in the car. As the months passed, we stayed in touch for show reviews. He finished his professional cook training, moving to Toronto where he found a job as a bistro chef. He talked about the food he was making, the friends he was loving. He was getting better, I thought, but I never did ask. We talked about the closing of the Cobalt, which was turned over to new owners who kicked out Wendy 13 in favour of indie nights with skinny-jeaned musicians playing banjo duets. We talked about learning to cope with change, about sobriety and the struggle to stay clean. I moved away from that bedroom cave and found a quiet apartment to myself, near the ocean. I told him that I had spiraled before I got better, and how I knew it wasn’t going to end well if I continued getting in cars with Asian street gangs. As time marched on, in a quiet, undramatic way, we drifted apart and I grew into adulthood along the Vancouver seawall, with the cawing gulls and the rhythmic tide.

I heard he died from a post online by one of the other forum members, which was appropriate. And a terrible shock. Many months later, when I was moving out and up in the world, I pushed my mattress from the floor while packing to find a grey tube sock resting against the hardwood and blinking up at me. Because of Jake’s passing, I was going to carry that night at the Cobalt with me whether I wanted to or not, so I left the sock behind. Maybe it would find its way back to the world where we were living happily ever after.

Not getting a chance to say goodbye can rip you to pieces. Questions bob and float in the well of grief: what didn’t I know? What did I miss? How had I not known – or, more truthfully, hadn’t I? Reconciliation of an unexpected death can be a difficult peace to find. But it’s not about us in the end, and we have to look outward to accept the loss as a whole, not just a loss of the parts that suited ourselves. We have to let go, so those bright lights can float up into the stars and shine out with the constellations.

***

Eargoggles, Issue 4
January 14, 2010

They say you can never go home again, well that may be true, but Eargoogles sure the hell comes close! Reverting back to my old ways and dwelling alone, with Jim Beam on Christmas Eve, I found myself thinking of days gone past. Deciding it was time to finally give the 2009 compilation of live performances at the Cobalt, the proper viewing it deserves. The DVD begins with one of my favourite Cobalt family members, the one and only Dan Scum, acoustically playing, “Get off the dope. and get on my dick.” It doesn’t take long to get into the hardcore brand of music the Cobalt is known for as the next band appropriately called Hard Charger tears into a fist pumpin’ rage. From there on in there is everything from Dayglos to Aging Youth Gang, Blackie Leblanc to Bison! I cannot watch Bison without thinking of my good friend Eddy Anarchy. And in that vein, as the bands roll on so do the memories; the beers swilled, the shots pounded, and the ever-degrading commentary from Mr. Plow. Each set takes me back to a place I can no longer go. We all know the fate of the Cobalt has come to an end. I’d say R.I.P, but if I know Wendy 13, there will be neither rest nor peace in her search to bring to the Vancouver fans of hardcore full bore a safe and friendly environment to get their rawk on, in the sometime near future! This shot’s to the hope that she does! Cheers my friends, thanks for all the memories!
-Sober Jake Jackoff

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