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Today I made a tape for a friend and I included The Nils, one of my favorite little known bands.  Although they were around for a long time (1978-1994) their recorded output was fairly small (a couple ep's and an lp plus assorted tracks on compilations collected on Green Fields in Daylight) and every now and then I've googled them to find out anything I could about them.  Today I tried wikipedia and at the bottom of an extremely short entry was a link to an obituary for Alex Soria, the lead singer and songwriter of The Nils.  The Nils were a band who toiled in near obscurity and because of  that, it took me nearly four years to learn that Alex Soria had killed himself in 2004.

There was a time in the late 80's, after their self-titled lp came out that The Nils were absolutely my favorite band.  My friend Matt had seen them play in New London, CT and went out to find their album.  We listened to it over and over.  We found their earlier ep, Sell Out Young and listened to that even more and later we found "Scratches and Needles" on the compilation Something to Believe In.  Man, I loved that band.  I could barely understand a word that Alex Soria sang, even with a lyrics sheet in front of me, but the emotion in his voice and the conviction behind it were so pure and real.  It was the kind of music that would hit me right in the chest, seeming to fill me up with the sound and emotion of the hooks and the singing and the words I'd catch here and there.  It was the kind of music that you listen to and you just feel like it's the best song you've ever heard and you just want to keep listening to it again and again so you keep rewinding the tape over and over and still you just can't get enough.   It was that good.

I had tickets to see The Nils in 1988, in New York at the Ritz, opening for the Butthole Surfers.  Some of the kids in the dorm were going to see the Surfers but I was going to see The Nils.  For some reason that I never learned, The Nils cancelled and even though I scoured the music listings weekly to see if they were playing anywhere in the NYC area, to the best of my knowledge, they never returned.  Eventually I'd heard they'd broken up.  Lots of bands get the label "The Best Band You Never Heard" but The Nils really deserved it, not that that's a good thing.  Most people who I've mentioned the band to -- even people who are pretty knowledgeable about music -- just kind of give me a blank look.   I've read where people called them a Canadian Replacements and they really were on the same level as the 'Mats and Hüsker Dü, they just got even less breaks than those bands did and never recorded enough to leave behind the same sort of legacy.  And that's really unfortunate because you can put any Alex Soria composition up against a Paul Westerberg song and it could match it hook for hook, and with more sincerity and emotion.  It's too bad.  The Nils made some damn good music.
Woody Whelan of Mag Wheel Records, The Nils’ and Chino’s label, says “Alex was hands down one of the best songwriters. He could say so much with so few words. When I think of his lyrics they give me goose bumps. Lines like ‘Let’s pretend we were joyful, like green fields in daylight,’ or ‘I think I’ll go out and buy the smartest clothes, so I can talk without much force.’” He adds, “I often think of that Steve Earle quote regarding Townes Van Zant: ‘Townes Van Zant is the greatest songwriter, and I’ll jump up on Bob Dylan’s coffee table with cowboy boots and say that to his face.’ I would change that to Alex Soria, boots to Converse high tops, and Bob Dylan to Paul Westerberg.”

Don't believe it?  Here's an acoustic track:  Love to Hate
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On February 12, Larry King, because he was an openly gay 14 year old junior high student was shot in the head at school by another student.

Today, this charming letter appeared in our paper:

I was disgusted to read the March 28 article regarding Larry King, who was shot in the head by a classmate at a California junior high. I was even more disgusted that the school and community reaction to the shooting was an outcry for more "tolerance programming."

This young man wore high heels and makeup to school and would deal with boys taunting him by flirting with them.

How ridiculous. Did the school not feel the need to address this conflict earlier?

Where was the authority? Students are sat down to discuss clothing or behavior that is distracting to learning all the time. If there is outright confrontation between students, shouldn't both parties be addressed before someone begins shooting the other?

High school isn't about showing your personal identity, it's not about proclaiming your sexual orientation. Learn your French and geometry and talk about your sexuality outside of class all you want.

We are suffering the breakdown of common sense in our society as a whole. I don't want my child attending unnecessary classes to help her "redefine" her sense of right and wrong. This is a subject best dealt with at home. I don't want my daughter hearing about sexual orientation at school.

In this situation, who paid the price for the school's lack of foresight? I firmly believe that this young man's life wouldn't have been stolen away from him had the administration shown some common sense.

KARA S. MCCoy, Coon Rapids

I don't often write letters to the editor but I was so outraged at the callousness and insensitivity of this woman's letter that I immediately wrote and sent this response:

Unbelievable. A 14 year old boy gets shot in the head in California for being openly gay and a Friday letter writer blames it on him. Disgusting. Her assertion that the school is to blame because it did not stop Larry King from wearing high heels and make-up would be laughable if it weren't so disturbing. What about the boys who spent their days following and harassing this child, pelting him with wadded up balls of paper in the bathroom, making his young life miserable? Are they not to be held at all accountable? School should be a place where students feel safe and welcome -- not afraid and persecuted. Whether Larry King was openly gay at school is not the issue. It is the fact that intolerance in schools -- be it over sexual orientation, race, or just plain bullying -- is allowed to flourish and thrive unchecked. Attitudes and opinions like Friday's letter writer's only help encourage that hate, fear and intolerance to grow.

When I was in grade school I was the victim of intense organized bullying.  Thirty years later I am still sometimes haunted by it. Stories like these affect me on a very personal level because when I read them, when I hear about them, I can see those children, I can see through their eyes and feel what they feel  and know what it is like or was like for them to walk through the hallways of their schools sad, alone, and scared.  And I fear that stories like this and like Columbine will continue to appear as long as persecution in schools is allowed to go on unabated.

Larry King

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Saturday is Arie's birthday party.  Last year, we had his party at a bowling alley and he really liked it so he wanted to have a bowling party again.  I booked the lanes and got invitations then asked Arie who he wanted to invite.  He listed off a group of eight kids so we wrote out the invitations and sent them out last week.  It's now been five days since the invitations should have been received and, as yet, we've only gotten two RSVPs back.  Luckily one of those is from Arie's best friend at school but I'm terrified that those are the only two kids who will be coming to Arie's party.  I feel absolutely sick when I think about it.  I have no idea how well he gets along with kids at his school -- if they like him, if they tolerate him, if they just kind of avoid him or what.  Arie has trouble making friends and trouble playing with other kids because of his Asperger's so I just never know if when he tells me someone is his friend at school, is that kid really a friend or is he or she just someone Arie plays near or sometimes does school things with.  When I was in school there was a while (most especially in 5th grade) where I was universally despised by the vast majority of the school and I can't help but project those feelings and fears I had back in grade school onto my son.  Each Valentine's Day I agonize over each little card that my kids get .  I think, did this kid give my son a card out of obligation?  Do the other kids like my son?  I have to remind myself that I'm again projecting, but it's really hard to stop, especially once I get going.  So now we're five days away from Arie's party and only two out of eight kids have responded and I'm thinking of the possibility that these will be the only kids other than his brother who go to the party and I'm thinking about how Arie will react if that happens, and will his feelings be hurt, and what will I do if it happens.


Dec. 11th, 2007 10:36 am
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I was held up at gunpoint on Sunday night right in front of my own fucking house and I can't stop thinking about it.  I just got out of the shower where I kept going over and over what happened and what I could have done or what might have happened and my heart is beating too fast like I'm having a panic attack.

I'd just come home from Target (after buying some stocking stuffers for my sons).  I pulled up in front of the house at 8:15 p.m. and as I pulled on to our street I saw a man walking right down the middle of the street further down.  I got this kind of funny feeling about him but I didn't think too much about it because for some bizarre reason people in this city insist on walking down the middle of the street quite often.  I sat in the car for a few extra seconds listening to "This American Life" on the radio and then thought I should get out and get in the house because this guy was in the street and I didn't want to be sitting there when he walked past.  He'd been walking very slowly up to this point, almost lingering fifty yards away.  I got out of the car, Target bag in hand, leapt over a snow bank and started towards my front door which was only about twenty feet away.  From the street I heard a whistle and a "Hey," and I looked over, thinking this guy was going to ask for a cigarette or something, to see a gun pointing at me.

"Give me your fucking money," he says as he walks up to me.  I tell him I don't have any money, really.  "You're going to give me your fucking wallet,"  is his response.  This whole time he's pointing the gun at me. "Ok," I say.  Before I could get my wallet he grabs the front of my pants looking for my wallet and says, "Give me your fucking wallet."  At this point, he is right in front of me holding the gun which is aimed at my head.  It is sticking out the end of his jacket, a small 9mm semi-automatic.  I have my hands up, palms open and I tell him my wallet isn't there, it's in my jacket.  I slowly move my hand to my jacket and tell him that my wallet is right here inside my jacket and all I'm doing is getting it out.  This is when he put s the gun right into my face only a few inches away and says, "I'm going to shoot you in the fucking head."  I again tell him that I'm getting my wallet for him and I pull it out and hand it to him.  As soon as he has it, he turns and runs down the street, his back to me.  I watch him and think how easy it would be to just shoot him in the back if I had a gun as he runs away.

I keep thinking this.  I keep thinking, what if I'd had a gun, or what if I'd gotten into my car, chased after him and ran him down.  Of course I've also jokingly said to Haddayr that I should have just been like Bogart in The Maltese Falcon and grabbed the gun out of his hand then slapped him across the face.  But I also keep seeing that gun pointing at me and I keep hearing him tell me he's going to shoot me in the fucking head.  One of the things I said after I'd called the police was that I hope someone shoots him in the fucking head.  I meant it, too.  I think I still do.  I just can't stop thinking about that fucker and his gun and going over in my head what happened and then what would have happened if he had shot me.  I think about what he's done with my i. .d. and the cancelled credit cards.  I'm worried that there's going to be some big unpleasant surprise with our finances.  I just can't stop thinking about that gun.

Last night I had to take Arie to his therapy session and it was dark outside.  The car was in front of the house and Arie, blissfully unaware of the previous night ran out happily to the sidewalk.  "Wait, Arie,"  I told him.  "Wait for me."  I kept both boys close to me as I scanned the street looking for anyone suspicious.  There were two people walking down the sidewalk who scared me because maybe they were muggers (it turned out they were  friends of Haddayr's who were bringing us soup).  On the other side of the street was a dark figure walking in our direction who terrified me.  "Hi, Jan," the figure called out.  It was our neighbor form across the street.  Later that night, the dog had to be taken out.  I told Haddayr I'd like to do it because I thought I'd feel less scared with the dog.  I get out to the boulevard, looking around to see if anyone is approaching and what do I see but a dark figure walking towards us down the middle of the street.  I told myself that it couldn't be a mugger but I was absol8utely terrified.  My heart was racing and I was certain the person was going to pull a gun on me.  The mugger was Somali and everywhere I see a brown Somali face that looks even vaguely similar to the mugger's, I think, "That's him."

I just can't stop thinking about this and I feel sick and scared and panicked and really sad and depressed.  This really sucks.


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