(Re)Collection #17: Susudio
Updated: Mar 31
I used to loathe Phil Collins. I was sick of Genesis. I was sick of his voice and his sappy, goofy lyrics. I was sick of his headband. I was tired of his ubiquitous solo records. Phil was lame.
In the summer of '85, when the radio was overrun with Bruce Springsteen, Bryan Adams, Madonna, George Michael, Michael Jackson and the rest, Phil Collins stood out. It was that nonsensical hit song of the moment, Susudio. What the fuck? If it was on the radio, I immediately turned it off. In much the same fashion that a drunk all of the sudden projectile vomits his late night White Castle. A sudden, violent jerking motion.
But why? I am not entirely sure. Maybe it was the fact that so much music that I really liked was nowhere on the radio yet that song somehow was. Maybe it was the insipid, cutesy quality of a song called Susudio. Nonetheless, it was a reminder of how vanilla that time was in my life and I rejected it gleefully.
When all the people in the know in D.C. were having their punk rock Revolution Summer, I was standing in a parking lot guard booth in a tight polyester security guard uniform. While they were beating their chests and crying watching Rites of Spring and Embrace flail around right up the street from my house at the Chevy Chase Community Center, I was getting beaten down by the hot, humid D.C. summer sun. I was suffering in that peculiar way that college students do while working their throwaway summer jobs.
I was a lowly security guard at a company called Intelsat. My mom knew a former D.C. cop who ran the security firm that was employed by Intelsat. Instead of working in the cozy file room at the World Bank with my hip drummer friend Jay like the summer before, I was stuck in a new office building on Connecticut Ave across from the University of the District of Columbia.
I was getting paid about half of what I made at the World Bank to boot. But I learned a thing or two on that job. The first thing is how to sleep on the job when you work the overnight shift. The second thing is to never go on river rafting trips with your fellow security guards.
All security guards at Intelsat had to carry walkie talkies. You had to check in when you made it to your post, left to do your rounds or needed something from the shift manager. I would often just turn mine off. One particularly bad week, a number of guards called off work and I was required to work some overnight shifts. I think I pulled doubles. The good part was I made time and a half. The bad part was that I was stuck in a sterile, glass-walled office building with nowhere to hide. Guards were not allowed to read. Watching TV was ok, but I was never posted by one. Listening to music was also strictly forbidden.
I killed time in that passive aggressive way that many employees working shitty jobs around the world do--I found a place to hide and slept. It was not cool I guess, since my poor conduct on the job could get reported to my mom by her cop buddy. But I didn't really care. Once the bosses all left for the night and basically locked us in, I started doing my rounds. I was often given the rover job as the low man on the totem pole.
I patrolled that huge building jammed with loads of computers, cabling, metal conduits and power transformers. Parts of it resembled the interior of the space ship in Aliens. And it was really cold in there to keep all the computers cool and operating well. Those Intelsat computers controlled commercial satellites that orbited the earth.
I was always on the lookout for places to sleep in empty offices that didn't face the open center of the building. When I found one, I would turn the walkie talkie back on, wrap myself in my 3XL Intelsat wind breaker and rest my head on the walkie talkie. If anyone was looking for me and asked for my location, it woke me up. I had lots of fitful naps waiting for the sun to rise again. It was kind of nightmarish. But it passed the time.
I was the only college student at that job, and I was viewed with suspicion, dislike and envy. I was only temporary, and they knew it. Only two guys among the many even talked to me--Dave and Joe. Dave was an ex-Army guy who lived out in the suburbs with his parents. Joe was a little cooler and arrogant. He had supposedly been an Army Airborne Ranger. There were no wars at that time, but he would regale us with tales of night combat jumps and survival school in the desert. I was kind of impressed by his stories. Maybe he made all that shit up. At least it was entertaining.
One day on lunch break, we were all eating together. They were talking about their plans to go whitewater rafting the following weekend. I listened silently hoping they would not ask me to join them. They asked me to join them. I am a quiet guy now and was so then. I was not looking to make waves so I said sure. I immediately regretted not having the backbone to simply lie my way out of it.
Early the next Saturday morning, I drove my mom's white Chrysler LeBaron out to
suburban Falls Church to Dave's housing development. Dave welcomed me into his house and told me his parents were away. I was a little alarmed to be alone with him because dude was kind of creepy. He was a young man, just a couple years older than me, but he had a mustache and the physique of a middle aged man. And he smelled weird. Like BO and too much Mennan Speed Stick deodorant.
He wanted to show me his room. This set more alarm bells off in my mind. Shit, what was this ex-soldier gonna do? I kept well away from him. He excitedly gestured for me to come over to the closet. He was a collector he said. So I edged my way over and I look in the closet. It is jammed full of Nazi World War II ephemera: hand grenades, death's head pins, officer's jackets, SS arm bands, spent bullet casings, Nazi Youth knives, Swastika flags. I pissed a little in my pants. He was a budding white supremacist who lived in his childhood bedroom in the suburbs. I got out of his room and waited outside by the front door. He asked me if I wanted to get high. I said no.
We waited out in the heat for Joe to pick us up. It seemed like an eternity. Joe finally arrived late and we left for West Virginia to whitewater raft. It was a muggy, miserable day. We got there, and I realized I didn't have sunscreen. They didn't have any, and I wasn't going to buy any. So I burned. I also made the foolish choice of wearing cut off jeans that were just a little too cut off. Straddling a rubber raft in wet, leaden jeans is a particular type of hell.
My work buddies drank and got high all day. I couldn't wait to get out of there. We finally left the river around three and drove home. Joe didn't want to drive because he was too messed up so Dave did. He was in marginally better shape. The two were oddly close to one another all day. Like they wanted to hold hands but didn't have the nerve to do so. I wasn't shocked by that or anything, but I was a little weirded out because they acted so macho.
I was in the front seat next to Dave and Joe was in the back. As the drive progressed, Joe got more and more agitated. He kept provoking Dave and calling him a faggot and a pussy. I didn't know what they were fighting about exactly. But Joe was wasted so he didn't make much sense. At one point, Dave tells Joe to shut the fuck up. Next thing I know, Joe is hanging over the back seat punching Dave in the back of the head as a he is driving. Dave jerks the car off the road and they both tumble out and start to fight. Like really fight. Hitting each other as hard as they could. The dull sound of fists on flesh is sickening. It doesn't sound like it does in movies.
I just sat in the car and let them finish. It ended in a wrestling match and a truce. Then they both piled back in the car. Joe got behind the wheel and drove home very fast. I was just happy to get back to my car quicker and escape that freak scene.
When we got back to Dave's house, Joe barely let us get out and floored it, squealing tires and all. I said goodbye to Dave and hopped in the LeBaron. That was enough of that.
So yeah. Phil Collins reminds me of that time in my life. Nothing goofy or fun about it. Sususudio. No.