Monthly Archives: November 2013

I was an 80s punk rock poser

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It’s Thanksgiving Eve, 1982 and I am looking at myself in a dirty bathroom mirror at the Mabuhay Gardens in San Francisco. I am in the grimy bathroom, probably the least hygienic place in the whole aging, moldy club. And that’s not good. Blood is gushing from my now oddly shaped nose. Its flow is so strong that I can feel the warm blood as it seeps through my black canvas Converse high tops. I am giddy.

The club’s manager Dirk Dirksen walks into the small room. He is shorter than me but 20 years older. He looks at me in the mirror. He is a legend. The promoter of punk in San Francisco. He is also nervous. I am seventeen, a child under the law. And he knows how fast his venue could get shut down because of a little thing like this. It’s happened before. He is a nervous man on the best of days, but seeing me smile through the wide red ribbon jetting from my nostrils makes him even more antsy. He has two rules for the club. Pay to get in and don’t get hurt. I face him. He curses under his breath and hands me a clean bar towel. “Here, hold your head up. Are you okay, Rick?” “Yeah, it’s pretty cool,” I say, true to my punk rock ways. He quiets. “You know, you can fix that right now. Beat a trip to the doctors. If your parents see you like that, they’ll never let you in here again.” Dirk lets what he said sink in.

Hours earlier. The pit was filling up as Black Flag took the stage. This was an event. In fact, Black Flag was only a handful of decent bands that managed to find their way to the Mabuhay. And when they came, the house was actually packed, and not just with scenesters playing see-and-be-seen. These were actually fans who had come to see the band. It had been a good night for Dirk until he saw me dazed and bloody crumpled up in a ball on the dance floor while spastic fans continued to bump and trip over my body as they circled tribe-like. They beat each other with their white, bony arms. All the while, ear-splitting music blared so loud that it was disorienting.

My deepest secret was that I didn’t really like punk music. I was more into new wave. I never listened to punk, didn’t really enjoy what I heard, and knew most of the bands only by name. Still, I was attracted to the foreignness, the rage and the youthful angst. Punk was a British transplant. A culture from across the sea. And that’s what interested me.

In my mind, true punks suffered for their art. They skewered themselves with long needles and squatted in the abandoned and ignored areas of big cities. They were runaway artists with a death wish. I, on the other hand, had to ask my parents’ permission to take the 40-minute ride to the city,

I looked in the mirror. Two puffy and purple eyes looked back. They were my medals, My tickets into punk’s inner circle. I, too had now suffered for my art. No one could deny it. And it had been done in the pit during a Black Flag performance. It would be my story, my myth. It would make me.

“What I mean is, I can fix it if you want,” Dirk continued. “Can you?” I asked. He left the room and came back with some ice and a new towel.

“Here” he said, handing me the towel. “Blow hard into this.” I put the towel up to my nose and blew hard. I forced out a bubbly, chunky discharge.

Dirk put a hand on each side of my nose. He pressed gently on each side, his two hands forming a  triangle. “Oh, one last thing,” he said. This will probably be the most painful thing you’ve ever experienced.” With all his force, he then squeezed both sides hard and then yanked down hard.

I heard the cartilage in my nose crunch like someone walking on snow as a bloom of pain expanded from the middle of my face and radiate outwards. The initial shock faded enough for my brain to translate the sensation into a loud scream. I began to feel woozy and Dirk sat me down on the toilet seat. He handed me the  bag of ice and some aspirin. “Take these and put the ice on your face.”

Now instead of blood, there were tears streaming down my face. Tears of pain, anger and confusion. My home seemed so far away. I just wanted to be in my bed. Where’s the artistic purity in this? I thought to myself. Suffering and pain was just that, nothing more. A chapter had turned and I again faced the unknown. Punk was now dead, at least to me, anyways. 

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My 80s closet

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So I decided to rummage a little more deeply into my 80s walk-in closet and found an entire lost decade intact. No wonder it’s hard to find anything. The Laserdisc was in front because I have used it recently  and I am thinking of selling it on Craigslist.

I wear a white painter’s mask because the dust of desiccated Power Spikes hair gel and mousse billow up whenever I step down hard on the unclean carpet or when I shuffle and open unmarked boxes too quickly. It’s like SCUBA diving and I must move gingerly lest I lose all visibility.

I stumble over my cheap suits and strange thin ties, my Talking Heads albums and my college diploma. Beyond that, my low-paying part-time jobs scramble across the floor like scared rodents. I can hear them but never catch a glimpse.

My friend Chris, who jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge is there, still young. He is quiet and looks good for a deceased guy. Moving along, more dead, still in their 80s garb. Grandparents, people I kind of knew, kids from school that I knew of but never really talked to. They’re all still there just hanging out. You would think they’d find a better place.

I move on. The floor ungulates as I pass through the emotional temblors of teen life. There’s even an old dusty jar of acne, its gold and red contents shimmer and blaze against the darkness. It sits on a small dresser, protected by small Star Wars action figures: Storm Troopers, Darth Vader, even sand people. 

I’ve seen enough and I need fresher air. I stumble back the way I came in as the dust’s deepening opacity clouds the room into an even deeper pea-soup foggy grey.

Finally, I find the door way that leads me out into the muted fears and horrors of 2013.   

The girl, the raven and the scalpel: a true story

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It was just after lunch and I was trading personal horror stories with the new girl. Turns out she had been unemployed longer than me. Not only that, she had been serially unemployed — the last time for over two years. She was slim to skinny and Pacific Northwest pale.

She, too had skin cancer. But hers was worse than mine, she tells me, and without a second thought, she stretches her faded purple cotton blouse down far enough to expose a thick pink scar. It runs jagged across her chalky flesh from shoulder to bony shoulder. “You win,” I tell her, hiding my shock while others in the office try not to notice us.

It was like the surgeon’s signature and it took me back to a time months earlier when I sat beneath the scalpel.

I was lucky enough to have a Beverly Hills plastic surgeon using skills on me that he normally reserved to “rebloom” moneyed, fading trophy wives. He wasn’t making me look younger, though. Rather, he was trying to help me get older by slicing into my scalp and scooping cancerous flesh from my skull.

As I watched the shadows of afternoon lengthen across the room’s sterile white walls, the surgeon deftly sewed me back together. I sensed he was bored. What was monumental to me was just another day for him. He was probably thinking about his upcoming vacation or what he was going to have for dinner.

I could feel, and somehow hear, the surgical thread pass through my scalp and then tighten to close the gaping red hole. As he sewed, I looked out the window to find a raven looking back at me from a tree. The bird of death, I thought, witnessing me cheat fate. We stared at each other for a moment, and then, as if acknowledging my win with a slight nod, it flew off.