By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
Me: You must be well-established here by now.
Tom: I'm not well-established at all -- but I'm here.
Me: You ever go down to San Francisco?
Tom: I go down sometimes -- in for a weekend of excitement. Watch women's wrestling, or mud wrestling. Midget female mud wrestling. It's big there -- it's huge. It's bigger than the opera -- in fact, they call it "The Little Opera."
Me: And have you been playing music in the time between records?
Tom: The standard answer? I've been in traffic school.
Me: You know, you can get through that in a day.
Tom: They wanted to make an example out of me. I didn't have a good lawyer, and I just said, "Look, I'll do the time."
Me: Traffic school is hard.
Tom: It is hard. People don't really give it the weight it deserves.
Me: To get something out of it.
Tom: Exactly. More than just a diploma. I feel better as a person. I graduated vaya cum laude . . . Actually, I've been breaking in other people's shoes. Just on the side. Just to stay busy. You get 'em new, you're unhappy with them -- I wear 'em four or five weeks and mail 'em back to you. No obligation necessary.
But just 'cause you're not fishin' doesn't mean there aren't fish out there. You can go out there when you want, when you're ready to do it . . . We've got a piano called a Fisher. And that's what we use to catch the big ones.
Me: Could you stop playing music and still be happy?
Tom: I thought about that. I don't know. I'd probably end up gluing bottlecaps onto a piece of plywood. I don't know how long I'm going to last. Until I get sick of it. Sick of myself.
I get a lot of weird mail. I get letters from guys that say, "My wife and I ran a hotel for many years, and we've sold it. The folks that took it over are a nice couple, and if you're ever in town, you should go visit them. Tell them that you spoke to us." And I don't know those people. They've already told me some people that they know that I should go and talk to and tell 'em that I know these people that I don't know. And then they tell me about the fact that he had bypass surgery and he has two blood clots, and his wife had a 14-pound hairball removed from her and then they mounted it, you know, on a . . . globe.
You know there's a device that they invented during World War II that could print 4,000 words on a surface the size of a piece of rice?
Me: I did not.
Tom: That's what I'm here for. Here's something else: Now, I hope you never have to use this, but if you're ever pursued by a crocodile, run in a zigzag fashion. They have little or no ability to make sudden changes in direction. But they're fast, they're very fast. In fact, there are probably more people that are killed by crocodiles than there are by . . . anything. More than heart disease. And I hear they're headed west.
Waitress [returning]: You're not going to eat? Not yet?
Tom: Still nothing.
Waitress: Nothing from nothing is nothing. You want more coffee?
[He nods. She refills the cups and moves on.]
Tom: You can sit here as long as you want. [A pause, as he consults his notes.] A mole can dig a tunnel 300 feet long in one night. A grasshopper can jump over obstacles 500 times its height. You know what creature has the largest brain in relation to the size of its body? The ant. An ostrich's eyeball is larger than its brain. You put those two things together and . . . I don't know what that means. I'm not going anywhere with that.
Me: Where do you pick this stuff up?
Tom: Just livin' . . . The Ringling Brothers at one point were exhibiting Einstein's eyes, Napoleon's penis and Galileo's finger bones, all on the same bill. Different tents. 'Course I missed that. You ever hear of Johnny Eck? He was a Ringling act. The Man Born Without a Body. Johnny Eck had his own orchestra and was an excellent pianist and he'd stand on his hands and wear a tuxedo.
I used to take the bus to the Troubadour and stand out front at 9 o'clock in the morning on a Monday and wait all day to get up and do 15 minutes onstage . . . 'Cause you know, you never had confidence, you have absolutely no self-esteem, but you have this mad wish to do something public at the same time. You're sitting all day next to a guy with a silver trumpet who's on acid, you're sharing cigarettes and drinking Tabs. And then like a whole Mexican family with nine kids comes in in matching vests and pants and studs and hats, from ages 19 down to 4, and they get up and do "Guadalajara," "Eres Tu?" -- remember that? Break your heart, just break your heart . . . I saw Miles Davis there. Professor Irwin Corey. They swing a spotlight around right by the cigarette machine to pick you up:
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