2015: A Year’s Worth of Memories (Nicholas Cummins)

by Steven Spoerl

Fern Mayo II

One of the many people I was very fortunate to get to know during my time in Brooklyn was Nicholas Cummins, who was playing bass in Fern Mayo when we were first introduced. They always treated me with a kindness that registered as both empathetic and tender; someone that genuinely cared not just about people but the state of their world. At some point last summer, they also began covering the low-end in PWR BTTM, allowing them to be more outwardly vocal about gender politics. Here, they offer up an exceptionally moving piece about returning to a home that was nearly forgotten thanks, in large part, to traumatic past events. I’m genuinely honored to be running it as a part of the 2015 edition of A Year’s Worth of Memories and am increasingly thankful for all of the interactions I had with Cummins over the course of last year. A brilliant musician and a gifted writer, their piece can be read below.

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I clicked the left blinker and we merged onto the Rock Creek Parkway, finally on the way out of DC’s clusterfuckingly labyrinthine street grid and heading to our next show in New Freedom, Pennyslvania. It was early October and not cold yet. The forest on either side of the small highway was still lush and growing over, but the smell of drying leaves was fully in the air now and, like every year, that smell told me that the past was on it’s way back.

It’s a haunting cliché, but I really do spend every summer running carefree into the sun and every fall retracting into a dried leaf. In August, the long days and hot sun eek sweat from everything and all the colors of my friends and loved ones run together. The first week of September hits, though, and suddenly I can smell it.

New Freedom is actually a borough, not a town, in York County, Pennsylvania. It has a population of about 4,400 people and the center of commerce there is a Rutters gas station where I used to ask strangers to buy me cigarettes when I was 15. The post office is unintentionally modern, architecturally, for a one story building, and since I moved away they added a train museum called Steam into History. My old friend Cain is one of the last people I know there, and he’s starting a music venue in an old barn called The Hart.

It was the fifth stop on Fern Mayo’s album release tour for our first release, Happy Forever.

I was irritated because we had gotten a late start that day but to be real I am almost always irritated because we almost always get a late start every day (working on this). Holding the steering wheel steady with my right hand, I used the pair of locking pliers permanently locked into place to roll down the manual window in our 1997 Honda Accord. When we bought it for $500 from a family in central New Jersey in March that year, every surface of the car was covered in cigarette ash. I quit cigarettes in May.

With my knee holding the wheel, I cupped my hands and lit a joint. Weed makes me stupid, but New Freedom makes me sad. Choosing to play there as our stop between DC and Philly was as much an act of rebellion against myself as a way to bring two parts of my world together, the person I was growing up and the person I am now. That person was brash, insecure, and had a mother who suffered greatly from schizophrenia.

This one was quieter, more sure of themselves, still grieving her death, but getting better. Passing familiar landmarks, I noticed how much time had passed while I’d been on autopilot. We pulled off the highway and into the woods. We crossed an old one-lane stone bridge and I began to feel nauseous. “Where is the house you grew up in?” asked Charlie, then our drummer.

“Don’t worry about it,” I grumbled. It’s too easy to pass a wave of pain off onto the closest person. He didn’t reply. “Sorry, it’s not a big deal.” That house had been foreclosed on and taken by the bank a few years ago. Clearing my childhood boxes out of the dusty basement was a memory I didn’t want to revisit, but one that took any opportunity to muscle its way back into my thoughts. What was I supposed to have kept that I didn’t? Did I hold on to my mom’s old watercolors? Were they somewhere or did they get swept into the trash in the rush of it all? I can’t remember.

We rumbled through the forest. The Honda creaked as its wheels bounced into the potholes. Grass grew through the rocky pavement in the center of the road. Off to the left was a dirt path flanked by two golden-orange long-haired cats. The Hart.

Cain Kline is the first person who I saw perform music that really hit me in the gut. His first band, Paroxysm, played at Mr. Bob’s Skate Park when I was 14 and it utterly blew me away. 14 years later, we pulled our overheating Honda up the grassy hill to his barn to load in. He popped through the very tiny blue door and gave me a huge bear hug, shining black hair flowing down past his skinny ass.

The opening act was my close friend and former Paroxysm bassist Nate Borek, who came all the way from Philly to read poetry. During his set he spoke softly with a subtle and occasionally surging ebullience underneath his voice, like he was fighting to restrain his excitement. So many people I hadn’t seen in years surrounded me, sitting in a semi circle in the center of the barn as the light outside faded to the pitch black of the forest. Some I hadn’t seen since high school, some since my mother’s funeral. Nate smiled and glanced at me before reading his last poem.

“For Nicholas Cummins,” he said.

“Oh fuck,” I said.

My favorite bassist
of the band
Has a day job

My favorite bassist
of the band
Has a day job

They don’t do cartwheels
They do handstands

My favorite bassist
of the band
Has a day job

Somewhere in between him getting my pronouns right and calling me his favorite bassist, a tear rolled down my cheek, burning red from all of the eyes in the room pointing my way. I thought he may have known that I can’t do cartwheels, but have had vivid dreams about them. As I found out later, he meant that I was an active musician who maintained a 9-5, bouncing from New York out to DC or Pittsburgh or Boston and pulling together tri-state weekend tours, but always snapping back to my desk on time for work the next day. Handstands, not cartwheels. He was the same.

Sometimes a place you’ve left in ruins is unthinkable to return to. Sometimes you have to steel yourself to even consider feeling comfortable going back to the site of an old wound. You think it’ll still be there, open, stinging, evident in the time-imprinted sights of old street signs and buildings. And for the first couple of times, it probably will be.

But maybe over time some weeds will grow up through the ground and swallow what used to stand there. If you’re lucky someone with a kind heart will stay behind and tend to them, even start building a garden. I’m not really sure but I think next time I make it, some will have bloomed.

-Nicholas Cummins