Saturday, September 30, 2006:

Shuggie Otis -- Aht Uh Mi Hed

Shuggie Otis -- Aht Uh Mi Hed
In college I was roommates with someone named Shuggie, a tall muscular man with a moustache and an afro. He said the nickname came from "Sugar," itself a reference to his boxing in high school; apparently he could knock the shit out of somebody. He spent most of his spare time running and at the gym, though I don't know how he had any spare time; he was double majoring in physics and electrical engineering. I spent most of my spare time reading or playing guitar on the plaza; I was majoring in English. I doubt it was as demanding as any of the sciences.

We didn't have a lot in common except for a love of dark comedies; the day The Big Lebowski came out on DVD we'd both bought it. We smoked a sack together watching it; it was safe to say we were friends after that.

He didn't talk about boxing much, though one of my friends downstairs said he still used the punching bag at the gym. Shuggie's conversations always seemed to be about physics or music. In music, he'd get excited talking about ways to mix psychedelia, soul, funk, blues, and jazz. He didn't play anything, though, or at least I didn't think he did, and there weren't yet any good programs for making mashups. I guess it was just the concept that blew his mind so much; I had a cheap 4-track and I tried to get some of his ideas to work but couldn't.

One day I came back from class to find him playing my guitar. We'd been roommates for about three months. He wasn't bad; I wanted to hear more, but he was embarrassed and just apologized and put the guitar away. I didn't press the issue. I don't know how long he'd been playing; if it was only a few months then he learned faster than anyone I'd met. I meant to ask him about it again but I never did.

One night he started talking about the nature of space and time and how a planet's gravity warps the time around it like a ball bearing on rubber sheets. I didn't understand him, but when Shuggie was talking about physics I rarely did. Maybe it was the same for him when I talked about transcendentalist yearnings in pop fiction. I guess he got tired of the conversation; at any rate, he went to his desk and started writing something; and when his CD was done I put on a Charlie Mingus LP. I lay there stoned, listening to the bassline, and dozed off; when I woke up he was soldering some wires to a circuit board. It put an acrid smell in the room but it seemed oddly pleasant.

Over the next few days he set the circuit board into a big metallic box he'd assembled with wires running off in all directions. I was curious about it and he answered my questions, but they were the kind of answers that were highly technical and--to me, at least--unsatisfactory. I decided he probably didn't want me to know, so I'd just leave him alone about it. After all, he wasn't asking me about the non vidi citations in my paper on systemic inhumanity in Catch-22.

The week before Thanksgiving, he asked what I would do if I could go back in time but only about thirty years.
"Why only thirty?" I said.
"Suppose you'd got just enough energy for it."
"What do you mean? Like you had a nine-volt but it took a car battery?"
"Something like that," he said, in the kind of voice he used sometimes when I was trying to keep up but failing.
"I don't know." On TV, The Dude was dancing down a flight of black and white stairs and teaching Maude how to bowl. "I guess I'd try to prevent Martin Luther King from being assassinated."
"You think you could do all that?"
"Maybe. I don't know. Probably not. What would you do?."
"Probably just go to college."
"Well, don't go to Kent State."
He laughed ruefully. "No. And I'd burn my draft card."
"Yeah," I said. "I need another hit"
"We smoked it all."
I prodded the pizza box. "And the pizza is gone."

In the morning Shuggie was gone too. He left all his stuff but he took my guitar. I called his parents two days later to ask if he'd gone home early. They said he hadn't. When he still hadn't come back by the end of the week they showed up in town and the police came around to ask some questions. I didn't mind; I could understand how they felt. At the end of the semester his parents came back to collect his stuff. They seemed dazed but polite. A couple of semesters later we fell out of contact. I don't know what happened to him; you'd think he'd have finished the degree and taken a job teaching physics. Maybe he decided to be a boxer instead.
[Inspiration Information @ amazon.com]
[Inspiration Information @ emusic.com]

None of this post is true, but Inspiration Information is ahead of its time.

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Comments:
Great post and story, Tuwa. You had me in the palm of your hand, never doubting, the mark of a good storyteller...!

Thanks, Girish.

Great.

Great story. Great song. Great album. (I just downloaded it from eMusic.) I'm proud to be your co-blogger.

Thanks, Dave, Rosswords; it's very kind.

A very good song indeed, on one of the great lost albums. The arrangement is mind-blowing.

This is great, Tuwa, and a pleasure to read. I've got tons of memories ass'd with this record as well, especially "Strawberry Letter 23" and "Sweet Thang."

That was outstanding.

i love the tune aht uh mi hed and it was great coming across your story...

i like the notion of it...

as i love shuggie otis too x

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