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The Tommy Bass Effect 

Wednesday, Nov 22 2000
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�All I really want,� Gilbert said that night, �is to have as little effect as I can on anyone else�s life.�

And then he leaned back. To find that he was on a stool, that there was nothing to lean back against; so to keep from falling he scooted and jerked and threw an elbow here and there until, balanced again, he set his forearms back on the bar and hunched into his beer glass. The place was called McGinty�s. We were less than an hour deep in December 1987. That left just over seven hours to clear the final molecules of my stuff out of the studio I�d called home since July 1985. The new tenant, Dorain, had warned that she and her belongings would be taking over at 8 a.m. sharp. At which point I would be . . . open to suggestions.

Moving out is even more annoying when one has no new place to move into. Most of my possessions were already in a storage space down on Olympic, and friends had offered temporary beds and couches in Venice, Miracle Mile and downtown. Dropping out of CalArts would someday turn out to be one of the best decisions of my life, but this was not that day. Hadn�t been able to find a job. Made the final four from a field of over a hundred for a gig running the AV department at a mind-numbing Century City advertising firm. Until then, I�d gotten every job I�d ever tried to get: paperboy, busboy, carboy, doorboy, barboy, janitorboy, fileboy, closet-customizerboy. So confident I�d been that this AV job was mine, and so burned out on seeking employment that had nothing whatsoever to do with my interests (art, words, responsible anarchy), that when I made the cut to the final four, I stopped looking.

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Bad idea.

Now Gilbert dragged a finger down the side of his pint glass, clearing a panel of light frost. Lifted and drank, shrugged and sighed. A kindly and thoughtful man with a deep brow and a full, strong jaw, Gilbert usually wore a wistful face, without which he�d have looked like a �20s Mafioso stereotype, even with the blond hair.

In his wallet, Gilbert kept a picture of Tommy Bass. He�d shown it to me one day at school, or at a friend�s wedding, or maybe one night at a fIREHOSE show at the Anti-Club. Not a photograph, but a wallet-size photocopy of a line drawing, executed in the folk-realist style favored by early-20th-century dictionaries. Based on the photocopy, Tommy Bass looked important.

�Who�s Tommy Bass?�

�I don�t know. I just like the picture.�

I liked the picture, too. Tommy Bass looked to be in his 70s or beyond, with a pronounced agricultural squint, a big, meaty nose, bushy eyebrows and a crewcut. So Gilbert let me make a photocopy of his photocopy, and I cut it to size and put it in my wallet, too. I�d been carrying Tommy Bass around for over a year.

Otherwise, our wallets were unremarkable.

When at last I�d made the decision to drop out of CalArts, to save myself from a half-lifetime of insurmountable debt, my counselor, Dee McMillen, wished me luck and gave me a checklist of the various forms I�d need to fill out, where I needed to go to get them, who I needed to speak with there, where I needed to turn them in, and when.

One of the last places on the list was the financial-aid office. Or something that looked like a financial-aid office. It was definitely an office. It was downstairs, not far from the job board stocked with 3-by-5 opportunities to make $4 to $6 hourly, part time, just enough, maybe, to cover your $10,000 tuition, and no life.

It was an inordinately quiet office, a pale, portly space, subdivided with steel and cloth, done up in what insurance salespeople call tasteful decor -- autumn tones, with soft oranges, nauseously overexposed to low fluorescent ceilings. Front and center was the back of a small chair facing a medium-size desk and matching occupant, Virginia. Virginia introduced herself, made sure that I was Dave and invited me to sit. Virginia wanted to see some identification, so I extracted a wad of crap from my wallet and began shuffling, searching for the proper card.

For no honorable reason, when Tommy Bass appeared atop the shuffle, I decided to place the wallet-size mystery-geezer photocopy on Virginia�s desk, facing her. Atmospheric tampering for its own sake. And so doing, I said something like, �I also go by Tommy Bass.�

Virginia said nothing, which is a reasonable thing to say when artsy-fartsy class-clown types provoke with non sequitur photocopies. But after she�d finished saying nothing, Virginia said, �My father�s name was Tommy Bass.�

Which made it my turn to say nothing.

In the short, thick nothingness, Virginia seemed upset, as if I�d done extensive Tommy Bass research specifically to come in here and fuck with her head. I didn�t know what to do, and when I don�t know what to do, I usually default to apology. �I�m sorry. I didn�t . . . I . . . Is that . . . Is he . . .?�

No. It wasn�t her father. But it was too late: Gilbert had had an effect.

* * *

Ancient, by Internet standards, What�s Inside Jeremy�s Wallet? (www.inforamp.net~xenowallet) is a 5-year-old site dedicated to explicating the unremarkable contents of one Jeremy Ryan Wilson�s wallet �for the sole purpose of meeting HOtt Chicks�.� Wilson�s wallet harbors, among other things, no small bit of hostility toward his old friend Johanna, who rebuts Jeremy�s descriptions at a page of her own (http:home.istar.ca~johanna wallet.html). Everything in Jeremy�s wallet, and in Jeremy�s Wallet, is there for a reason.

Southern Bass (www.tbass.combasse.htm) is a Bass-family quarterly newsletter, edited by Lea Dowd and dedicated to former Nansemond Tribe Chief Earl Bass (1910--1996). Don�t let the embedded Last of the Mohicans MIDI file distract you: Minus headdress, Chief Earl Bass (www.tbass.comimg00003.gif) is a dead ringer for Tommy.

Award-winning documentarian David Isay�s profile of Leesburg, Alabama, master folk-herbalist Tommy Bass, available in RealPlayer streaming audio from Talking History (www.talkinghistory.orgisay.html -- scroll to the bottom, find Tommy Bass, and choose a file size) is a fascinating, beautifully produced study of �a distinctive-looking 84-year-old, he could be a character out of a Spielberg movie, small man with a disproportionately large head, complete with a prominent red nose, bushy eyebrows and a crewcut of fine, white hair, spiked straight up.� The Tommy Bass?

Artist Griffin (just Griffin) has created a bronze sculpture of the aforementioned dead ringer, Chief Earl �Running Deer� Bass (www.dimension-3.comAD_Page_Art_ Griffin.html), which you can buy for $50,000 (price includes shipping and insurance). If your wallet is too thin, download Griffin�s representative JPEG (www.dimension-3.comAD_ConsignmentsAD_GC001.JPG), print it out and carry it, as I�ve been doing these past few weeks, in your wallet. Not Tommy Bass, but an incredible simulation.

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