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.