I’m still dealing with the fact that my baby niece asked me to buy her records this year for Christmas.
It feels like a lot of pressure to be shouldered with, the thing every punk has at least had a tiny fantasy about, that they would get to give their baby cousin/neice nephew/whatevs their first punk record. Here it was before me, and I couldn’t think of what to get her, I mean where do you start? I feel like I have all of punk stretched out before me to choose for her, where would I have started if I could have known what there was?
I can’t even remember what started my slide into punk. How I tumbled off the cliff. The Ramones had something to do with it, and then operation ivy. But it started before them, I was primed by my brother’s old skate videos, and random tapes left around the house that had Suicidal Tendencies, Black Flag, Agent Orange sharing time with my brothers getting stoned reggae mixes. I used to fast forward through Maxi Priest, Black Uhuru, and Steel Pulse to get to the fast stuff the stuff I would jump around on the couch and shout along to.
So when my first encounter with punk in the world came, I was more than ready for it. It was like coming home, finding out that my secret love wasn’t just a thing my brothers had that I wanted. Like everything else. It was something I could go get, go find, go be. When I saw the Ramones the summer I turned 13, it hit me like an epiphany, I wanted to be punk. I went home and tried to use Clorox to bleach out parts of my hair. I took a sharpie and wrote “FUCK” on one of my dad’s old shirts that was in the rag pile, I threw bleach all over my jc penny’s stretch pants and put on some red 70’s boots of my moms. The transformation was overnight.
I took the money my mom gave me to get my now fried and orange hair fixed and went to the one record store I knew how to find and asked for punk cassettes. The extremely sweet older man helped me pick out The Sex Pistols, The Clash, and as I demanded, The Ramones. I played those taped on my walkman until they there warbley and faint.
When I was 16 I begged my dad to let me unearth one of the old turntables in the garage so I could listen to the small box of punk records I had assembled from garage sales and thrift stores. Hardly any of them would play they were so warped and scratched to hell, and the ones that did play were terrible new wave or just didn’t resonate. But I listened to them anyway, I liked their smell, and I liked watching the record spin with the needle singing along in the groove.
I didn’t start buying records in earnest until I was nineteen and finally started seeing touring bands on a weekly basis and buying their merch. I never got bit by the collecting bug. I don’t want to have every record, or delight in having exceptionally rare records, but I want to have the records I love. I want to physically own the records that mean something to me, and I’ll pick up records of bands I see and like, but the records themselves aren’t the passion.
All of this, relevant or not went into my choices for my budding punk niece.
I’ve over thought it, I know. But in the end it’s good I had a strategy. I decided to give her a smattering of the classics:
Black Flag – Everything went black. She lives in a tiny town off a big highway in the central valley. The population is about 5, 000, and less than 200 kids go to her high school. The main industry is dairy, so there is always at least a hint of cow in the air. There are five blocks to downtown. Most people would describe this as sleepy, or quaint, but to most of the young people it is one word: boring. Since rural hell can be a lot like suburban hell in it’s monotony, and frustration I thought she might connect to Black Flag’s seething.
Bikini Kill - s/t LP. She has a guitar that her Dad got her for her birthday, but she doesn’t play it. She likes having it, she wants to play it, she wants to learn, but she’s kind of convinced herself it’s too complicated or too hard for her to do now that it’s in her reach. I want her to pick her guitar and feel she has every right and capability to play it. I think Bikini Kill has said that effectively to a lot of girls.
Ramones Mania. This is my one nostalgic choice. Since my first punk show was The Ramones doing one of their farewell tours, and their music will always hold that magical crystallized moment for me when I wanted to be punk. It was ugly and wild, and that was what I wanted to be, or rather who I was, and it was suddenly not just okay, but cool.
Plus, I threw in Black Sabbath, ACDC, and B52’s to psych out her dad so he wouldn’t scrutinize her punk records too closely. I love my brother, but becoming anybody’s dad will throw the pressure on you to be a stickler and a square. And he was already a little bit of both.
I’ve also got CD-Rs ready to mail of Warsaw, Neurosis, Amebix, Earth, and Rudimentary Peni since hearing she is really into a certain Nu Metal band that shall not be named since this column is for posterity and I don’t want to grievously embarrass her if she ever reads this.
And if she does, I want to thank her for asking me for records. For letting me live the dream. And I’d want to tell her that in the end, as exciting as this all is for me, I can only try help her find the bands she’s looking for.
I can’t help too much, after all, punks make themselves.
any mail should be tied to the leg of a sleeping pigeon, that is fed bread crumbs bearing my address. What’s my address? Oh, well, um…
I saw the two bloody visions dance past each other on a street just below Market in San Francisco. It was a bright cold morning and the suits shuffled and gabbed while others curled up below sleeping off last nights drunk. A little grey-haired lady laughed, that’s the only reason I looked up to see it, the absurd and magical moment that the anti-fur mobile with it’s flayed skinless little creatures plastered across it and the anti-abortion box truck with it’s big posters of bits of aborted fetus on it’s sides slowly passed each other in the mid-morning traffic.
The little old lady snorted another short little laugh, and said to herself, “Well what’s the meaning of those two put together, huh? No coats out of babies? Stop badger abortions now? Oh it’s just too much. “
When I was eight my babysitter took me to planned parenthood with her when she went to get a pregnancy test. I got to pick whatever assortment of candy I wanted in exchange for my silence. I was working on my third abba-zabba when we walked out to the parade of tiny elderly ladies outside the clinic. Shelly tried to get us out of range before they saw us, but it was too late. In moments we were beset by cotton ball headed grandma’s in decorative sweaters with binders full of confusing red photos. I was curious when I saw the first photo of the red glossy shapes they put in front of me, I didn’t understand what the globs were supposed to be, but it made me think of when I saw kittens being born, of curled up birds I’d found, and sliced cherry pie.
It was in the same moment I heard one little lady say “they’re killing babies!” that I saw the little hand. It was like a little severed doll hand in the mess of red. I threw up. I threw up and I fell down. I don’t remember Shelly carrying me to the car and driving me home. I told my mom I ate too much candy and got sick, she put me in clean clothes and into bed.
Horrifying images are nothing new in the lexicon of political propaganda, probably because they are inherently compelling, and effective at making issues tangible and real to the viewer. These kinds of images beg people to look at the “truth” of a situation, confront them with an aspect of life that they would rather not see. Such is the case with films like “Hearts and Minds.” A Vietnam war documentary which shows just about every horrifying aspect a war could manifest. It seeks to show the horrifying, the grisly, the in-humane portions of the war to combat the notion that it was an honorable war, that war could be honorable.
But you can choose to watch a film, or not. You can choose to look at reporting in newspapers. You can choose to seek out these “truths,” or you can gloss over them, ignore them like most people do, or as the news sometimes chooses to do for them. But what happens when these images are forced on us? When do we deem it appropriate, even ethically necessary that we press these images on others? And what happens when the gore simply becomes part of the aesthetic? Used simply to convey the protest-ness or political activity? Does it ever do what it’s meant to? Or is it less about advocating a cause than using it as an acceptable release of moral outrage at those do not agree with you? Psychically hitting them with the violence of your images.
If that’s the intention, to express moral outrage, to express anger, then by all means that is important too, but if the intention is to change minds, to advocate, to appeal to the part of another that you think would be as rightly outraged as you are if they understood the way you understand, then the best way to do that is to create interest, to create dialogue, and nothing will prevent that more than a tactic that is basically a confrontational visual slap.
But sometimes shit is just so crazy, so outrageous, you really do just want to slap people who don’t see the horror you do. I know that feeling, I know it intensely as a hater of war, the suffering and exploitation of animals, of rampant ecological devastation, of poverty, of a million other things that seem so obviously hate-able, that seem so clear, that it does almost make me feel wild with rage that it isn’t universally acknowledged. But I also know what it feels like to be the subject of someone else’s moral outrage. I have a thousand dreams of a little severed hand to remind me that there has to be a limit to how far you should go to make your point.
I’ve had my vengeance a few times over by throwing water balloons and garbage and condoms full of lotion at various sets of little old ladies protesting outside of clinics (If you’ve never tried it, let me tell you it is seriously helpful for working through issues).
I like to think about what the two drivers of those gore covered box trucks must have thought as they passed that morning. I imagine them slowing to check eachother out, finding themselves disgusted, but with a kind of professional sympathy and maybe even jealousy. “That’s so disgusting, and printed so well, I wonder who does his sign work…”
It really is too much.
I know, I know, there’s a lot to this. Trying not to over simplify, but I know if I do, you’ll call me on it. That’s what an angry letters section is for. I welcome a dialogue about this… niegh, I plead for one. Please send all passionate emails defending your vivisection photo poster collection to ______________ and all your napkin drawings of aborted fetuses should be made into a zine and sent in for review.
Everyday I sprawl on the lawn before class, pretending to read, but actually scanning the courtyard for punks or near-punks, somebody to relate to, to give my already re-read and well worn new issue of MRR.
I finally saw them. A couple with matching green splotches of hair in the “its cheaper to share dye, even if we’re all matchy after” kind of way, which is adorable in small doses. As they got closer I saw they were shinier and cleaner than they first seemed, with matching white creepers and Horrorpops shirts (BTW, who the fuck are they? Anybody?), I gave them the nod. Punks are punks, right? He arched a brow at my faded Dystopia shirt and rolled his eyes. It was out of a movie about high school. I know it’s never cool to be the new kid, but really?
I suddenly found myself the crotchety old punk wondering about what punk has come to. “Who are the punks these days? Seems like we can’t trust to find each other on the street anymore. Some people look punk but aren’t down; some people don’t look so punk anymore, but are.” I grumbled on this way all the way to class, disappointed.
“Lyra, are you punk?”
“I don’t know, mommy.” Lyra is slouched way down in her car seat trying to pull one of her little cowgirl boots off. Her mom, Kristina, smoothes a loose lock of her hair back into a barrette. “Yeah. I know what you mean kid, I don’t know either.”
Lyra scrunches her little face for a moment then looks at us seriously and says, “We’ll see when I’m bigger.”
Kristina is a wide seven months pregnant, with sneaky eyes and a bright smile. Last time she was pregnant she used to make me laugh by drinking water out of tall cans at parties and seeing how many dirty looks she would get. We’d laugh even harder when no one gave her shit for it. When she got pregnant the first time, she moved back in with her parents in Orange County. So she knows just how I’m feeling right about now.
My decision to become a nurse, though it has felt right, has wreaked havoc on my life. I am living in the house I grew up in with my cranky, aging father, in a town I once swore to hate for all time, away from almost everyone I know, and am daily forced to battle the boredom and bureaucracy that is community college.
“I don’t know, I just don’t feel that punk sometimes,” Kristina continued, “I was dating this kid, and he was so obsessed with being punk, he had to print designs on his jacket and fill it up with patches before he could wear it out. I don’t know, it just seemed so stupid. How are we punk? I mean, I know we are — we don’t look it so much these days, but we are right?”
Tina may not feel so punk anymore, but she’s more punk to me now than she was a few years ago as just yet another wastoid in Oakland. She’s studying to be a librarian, and is getting really into Chicano Studies, interviewing her friends and fellow activists about racist gang-injunction legislation that targets brown people. She is a mom in a time when I can’t imagine trying to hope for a future.
This is the age, the point in life I feel like most people lose touch with punk. Insecure because school, or motherhood, or a new life situation has pulled their community out from under them, they become lonely, or resentful that punk has not grown into their new more complex life with them.
I am here to say that you’re still punk, even if you don’t feel like patching up your jacket anymore, even if you don’t only cut your hair when you are black out drunk anymore, even if you don’t recognize all the names on the cover of this rag anymore. You can participate as much or as little as you want to. Just because you want something else doesn’t mean you have to stop being punk.
It is society that has branded punk a youthful rebellion, as a passing phase. It is society that has told us that punk is a kid thing, something you grow out of if you want to do “important things” or “grown up things.” Just like with every other assumed truth society at large has dictated, I call bullshit.
We need to redefine punk to encompass who we are as whole people. So you don’t need to be a punk-hyphen. Punk-mom, punk-lawyer, punk-yogi, punk-chef, punk-whatever. Punk should be big enough to include all these ways of being and to represent us at any age.
If you see your friends drifting away, feeling cut off or dissatisfied with punk, make them a mix tape, remind them it’s less about how we look and what we do individually, and more about who we are and what we care about and do as a community. When I’m feeling cut off and punkless, which is a lot lately, I just think about all of my inspiring friends and all the things they are gonna do to change the world, and to change our idea of what a punk is and can be. I think about all the punks I know, or know of, who are working toward something better. Working as teachers, community organizers, herbal healers, doulas, women’s choice clinic phlembotomists, and those going back to school to become public interest lawyers, nurses, doctors. I feel good knowing that somebody else was bitten by the same bug.
I think of Lyra becoming bigger, deciding what she’ll be. I think of all of the punks in my community I just haven’t met yet. We’ll find each other. I’ll be in the dirty Dystopia shirt (seriously, most of the time). And I think of Ivy the last time I saw her, singing at the at Clarion Alley block party sagely reminding us that “what we want is what we’ll get.”
Put paper letters in a bottle and throw them in the garbage, you’ve got a better shot of it getting to me that way than with the ocean.
Kristin and I have ventured to the Black Castle in Inglewood for an epic dose of metal. None of the band names are familiar, but with the wildfires, community college, and missing everybody in the bay, I’m in a dark mood, a metal mood. It’s $15, (yikes!) but the interior is perfectly familiar, a barewalled converted old warehouse space with a slapped together stage and exposed rafters. I feel blissfully at home.
The metal is technical, flashy, and the hair is whipping at a phenomenal speed. It’s not really what I was looking for, not the darkness I wanted, but it’ll do.
The first person to speak to me of the night, that is not Kristin, is a young heavy set dude, with long hessian locks, in a crisply black shirt with a pretty unremarkable and dumb band name on in like Nightskull or Zombie Death, or something like it. But I’m still pleased to maybe make a friend, being new in town can be rough.
Instead of leaning in to say hi, or something equally friendly and expected. He looks me full in the eyes and jockishly says “nice tits,” with a menacing kind of friendliness in his air. Everything in his manner says ‘If your cool you’ll say thank you and wink, if you get upset, you are an uptight bitch.’ It’s an approach that risks nothing and dares you to get upset. One I am too familiar with.
I want to punch him, or at least get a good solid slap across his face. To keep from doing so I lash back with the first snide and cutting enough response I can think of.
In tight but even tones I say, “you too” and mock wink. I haul myself to the other side of the stage before he can respond.
It feels good to have something cold and bitchy but funny to say at just the right moment, but it feels hollow too. I’m reduced to making a joke about his size to defend my self and my sex.
My small victorious high wears off entirely by the time we are leaving. I am wondering if I handled things as well as I could have, when a dude from one of the bands standing outside hollers at us wanting to know if we wanna be their groupies. As we keep walking down the street there is the faint sound of the word “bitches” on the breeze. I sigh.
Sometimes it’s so hard to know what is worth expending energy on, and what is best left unanswered; what fights are worth fighting. It’s something I’ve been thinking about and struggling with more lately.
I remember standing around Nick and Rhi’s kitchen this summer in Brighton after our show, holding a beer in each hand while heather sat on the countertop. We took turns complaining about young dudes saying and singing fucked up shit on tour.
“Ugh, I mean they are teenage dudes I keep expecting them to know better, but they don’t. “
“And they were so stereotypical too. ‘this song is about my ex-girlfriend’ then every other word in the chorus is bitch. We walked out, and were gonna tear them a new one, but it just didn’t seem worth it.”
Nick didn’t agree. He thought it was important to challenge people everytime, call them out. “it’s important” he said with a warm smile, and he was right.
I know it’s important, I do, but most of the time I am just too tired to really deal, too overwhelmed. I roll my eyes, mouth “fuck you,” but ultimately let the offending incidents go by unchecked. I make excuses for people, I invoke cultural relativity and tell myself that I didn’t understand the situation right, that it’s different here in London, or Arkansas, or San Diego, that I can’t really know or judge their cultural climate or intent. I tell myself these things so I don’t have to fight every inch of everyday. So I don’t have to cause conflict, so I don’t have to rock the boat, so I can I just get on living life.
But isn’t that what punk and radical politics is all about? Rocking the boat, challenging all the unbelievable bullshit we see and experience in the world, even in our peers, maybe particularly among our peers.
While that is true, letting things go can be necessary sometimes too. I only have finite energy to battle the forces of thousands of years of gender based bullshit, and it’s not my responsibility to take every sexist asshole I meet and read him the riot act and instruct him how to not be an asshole.
There has to be a balance, a compromise between the two.
I’ve decided to try something new. No more pretending not to hear shit, no more declaring war sporadically. I want to be the kind of person that reasons with people, that lets them know when they say and do fucked up shit, and why I think it’s fucked up.
I don’t have all the energy in the world, but I can do this. I can talk to people, I can try to stay calm, I can reason it out. I can try.
So, to the random metal head in Inglewood: Sorry about the tits thing, you had something coming to you, but making fun of your size was not it. That said, I see you again and you talk that same shit to me you are in for a real long lecture about how saying shit like that makes you an asshole, and why you shouldn’t be one. But be careful, I’m new at this, you make me too mad, I still might just knock you out.
No new PO Box yet, sorry. Save up all those letters and send ‘em at once, drown me in paper.
Janelle got me thinking about omens the night before I left.
We were packing boxes in my nearly cleaned out apartment when she explained her subtle art of divining. “So right before a job interview, I went to get coffee and this homeless man whipped it out”
“The interview went great! I ended up telling my potential future boss about it. I don’t know how appropriate that was, but he thought it was hilarious. Homeless penis is goodluck”
“I guess we gotta troll around people’s park anytime something crucial comes up”
“then the other day this bird shit on my hand. And I had the worst day ever.”
“that one makes sense. ”
I don’t believe on omens, or signs, or much of anything really, but it was fun to subscribe luck and portent to the random weird things that tend to happen to me and Janelle. A bird shit on my hand once too, and I totally had a terrible day too. Evidence enough for us.
That night I dreamt of crows, hundreds lined up on fences. One cocked its head looking at me and said something I couldn’t hear. They took flight all at once, and I opened my eyes.
I’ve had this unsettled feeling the whole drive down the I-5, my car packed full of belongings. The BBC tells me they there is an out of control wildfire burning in the foothills above Los Angeles. They just evacuated half of the city I’m moving to and the fire is only 5% contained. The governor has declared a state of emergency. I pick up my phone.
“Hey mom, why did no one bother to tell me La Crescenta is on fire?!”
“It’s not on fire, it’s the hills," she answers. "It’s all over the news.”
“I don’t have a tv”
“it’s on the radio too”
“yeah, I know. But why didn’t you call me?”
“it wasn’t serious. There are lots of fires right now. But I thought you knew.”
“Well, what’s going on ? Is there any news?
“aunt carol is evacuated, so is your uncle donny. The fire is coming down the mountain now. But, I think it’ll be okay. they said at the very worst the 210 will be a fire break, it won’t go past the freeway.”
“mom, we’re on the mountain side of the 210”
“well, yeah, but that’s at the worst, they’d never let the fire get this far through the city. Unless the wind picks up, then they can’t… but it won’t honey. Everything will be fine.”
“okay, I’ll just see you when I get in”
“oh, didn’t you get my message?… I’m taking your dad out of here, the smoke is too much for him. Don’t worry so much. Just make sure you get a face mask on as soon as you get here. And stay inside. And keep the phone on you in case they call to evacuate. Love you honey.”
This is bad.
My first glimpse of flames is exiting the freeway. The night sky is clouded by smoke lit orange by towering flames. I continue to drive and the flames continue with me. The familiar range of mountain transformed into seething and angry gods. The mountains like an endless row of erupting hilltops and the trailing orange glow of fire on the mountainside like lava creeping ever closer. It’s easy to feel awe and hysteria mixed in the sight of such unbelievable demonstrations of nature. The desire to go home sweeps over me. But I don’t have a home anymore, I am here to make a new one. Carrying my bags up to the house the smoke is thick, the air is hot and dry, and it’s lightly snowing ash. My nose burns with the smell campfire, and my eyes are watering.
The house is empty, but the oversize TV is blaring the news. A man stands framed against the flaming hills.
“We’ve been lucky so far, but if the winds pick up, I can’t promise the safety of the 10,000 homes now threatened” He looks tired. Face smudged with black ash, eyes red and drooped, but alight with the same anxiety in mine. I need a cup of coffee, or a beer.
The coffee shop is full of pacing nervous people and black smudged firefighters. No less anxiety here.
“Even in a worst case scenario, the fire won’t come down this far. Right?” the girl pouring coffee is smiling, sure of his answer.
He is less sure, and careful with his words, “we hope it won’t come to that miss”
No one wants to make predictions. The fire doubled in size over night, and no one feels sure of anything. I know, intellectually, the fire would be stopped before it raged so far down the hill as my father’s house. But at the moment, anything feels possible. I step outside.
The smoke has settled like fog, and my flimsy mask is not helping very much. I’m looking at the mountain, wondering what I’ve got myself into. Joan had it right when she said that “Los Angeles weather is the weather of catastrophe, of apocalypse, and, just as the reliably long and bitter winters of New England determine the way life is lived there, so the violence and the unpredictability of the Santa Ana affect the entire quality of life in Los Angeles, accentuate its impermanence, its unreliability. The wind shows us how close to the edge we are.” She was speaking of the hot dry winds that rise out of the Mojave and usually spark the autumn fires, but it feels like it can be applied to all of LA’s seasonal phenomena: mudslides, floods, earthquakes, and fires.
“you know, the native Americans used to burn off large sections of this land to make fertile soil… they did. What we’re gonna have is new and abundant growth up in those mountains. And nothing for the Santa Anas to burn this fall. So don’t look so concerned young lady. It’s a natural cycle, a clean slate for the mountain, a fertile renewal.” He is a dapper old man, cane in hand, and white hair parted and smoothed down.
“aren’t you worried about all these houses?”
“oh no, not for mine anyway. I’ve got a box of photos and books to put in the car, and insurance for the rest. I could do without all this smoke though.” I handed him a spare mask my mother had left me while he coughed into a white handkerchief.
“do you believe in omens?” I said returning my gaze to the mountains.
“no, no I don’t. but if I did, I think fire would be the best kind. A promise of a new beginning, of a world purged of mediocrity.” With that he shuffled off into the smoke fog.
I went home, turned off the news and began to unpack my things.
I was daydreaming about the perfect burrito when the tire blew.
It was at the precise moment I had decided that cilantro was indeed crucial to the ultimate harmony of flavor perfection that the van roared and shuddered violently beneath us.
We later concluded that the loose gravel on the road contributed heavily to why Heather lost control and we tumbled off the road down the embankment. I remember her clear and absurd calm when she said, “here we go!” as the van spun around and tipped over the edge.
That moment of terror and hysteria is a strange kind of memory. It was so loud, the rumbling crunching of the van, I know it was, but my memory of it is somehow one of still and quiet terror, frozen in the moment just before the tumbling began.
We had been deep in a cranky silence before the accident. Five and a half weeks into tour we had settled into a dysfunctional truce, fundamentally still friends, but sick of everything about each other. I don’t remember if we had been fighting really, but I remember the tension in the van. No one was speaking in the long dark stretch of Texas on the way to El Paso. We had all retreated into our respective heads for some much-needed alone time that we could not really have for a few more days.
Eating enough is a perpetual struggle for me on tour, since vegan eats are few and far between on the road I make do with every variety of fried potato. I am always thinking about our next meal, and if it will prominently feature the color green. Sometimes on tour I dream about grilled tempeh and big green salads with California avocados (those Florida imposters are fucking garbage, btw). Once I woke myself up ordering a sandwich out loud. So it’s no surprise that I was thinking about food at that crucial moment.
As the van was falling off the road, I had time to be terrified, to brace my arms in front of my face, call paul’s name and laugh as I thought, “I can’t believe my last real thoughts are going to be about food.”
I was the only one with out a seat belt on so I tumbled a bit more than the rest. When we landed on our side I was scrunched upside down and buried in the loose contents of the van: corn nuts, dirt, socks, sunscreen, a piece of the high-hat stand among other things. Sliding down the embankment with our windows open also threw tons of dirt and shredded truck tires in with us too. When we stopped sliding the dirt cloud in the car made it so I couldn’t tell which way was up, or where anyone was.
There was another moment of absolute still, of anxious terrifying stillness, before we began to call out for each other. Dan’s muffled, “herrre” was spoken into the side of my knee and I found I was sitting upside down on top of him.
We crawled out the passenger side window into the warm clear summer night. We stretched out our limbs patted ourselfs down looking for injuries. Everyone was okay. Dirty and shaken, but fine. My only injuries were a knock on the head and some rug burns on my elbows from tumbling against the car interior.
The couple in the car behind us that had called the ambulence and climbed down to see if we were alright found us hugging and verging on tears.
I touched Paul’s face and told him I loved him as the fluids from the engine seeped out the top of the car and down the hill toward us in a shining black mass.
Some of the most important people in my life were in that van with me, and knowing they were okay, that we could have very easily not been so lucky, that I could have lost any of them was a totally sobering and unrelatably scary thought.
I was shaking for at least an hour.
We caught a ride with the highway patrolman to a small motel in the closest town, and the tow truck driver promised to pick us up to survey the damage early the next morning. After settling our dirty scraped up selves in the motel, we formed a much needed beer expedition.
The gas station mini-mart refused to sell to us because while we were waiting in like with out twelve pack it had passed the legal time to purchase. We explained that we had been in line in time, that we’d flipped our car off the road, but to no avail, the heartless harpy, queen of that particular mini-mart would not budge. So we walked back to our motel. All in need of winding down, all a little trembly and high from our brush with death still.
We took long hot showers, ate candy, and sat near each other on the lumpy beds while watching bad television. We worried about how we would get home if the van was wrecked. The room buzzed with a different kind of tension now: a mix of shock, adrenaline, and a deep satisfaction in being alive.
We made some phone calls to friends to relate our scary tale, and uncertain future. The sweetest response of all was from Will, who immediately offered to come pick us, and all our gear, up if the van was indeed totaled. “Just let me know, and I’ll come get you.”
And though it turned out in the end we were able to drive home after duct taping the side mirrors back on, refilling the engine fluids, and replacing the tires and rims, it was nice to know that we had real friends, people who loved us, and that we loved each other still despite the long and tense time on the road. We drove the crumpled van home, and after it safely conveyed us there it was junked. The shop determining it would cost more than the thing was worth to fix everything we had broken, and that sooner than later it would give up altogether.
It’s so easy to get caught up in petty daily life annoyances and bullshit, It’s easy to lose sight of the big picture. But I’d much rather my last thoughts be about friends and love and family, and not how annoyed and hungry I am.
Sometimes when I’m eating a burrito I get this strange overwhelming feeling that there isn’t much time left -- that I should take a step back and enjoy life, and value those around me, because I could go at any moment.
“I just got egged!”
“What? No way!”
Pat showed me the slimy side of his pants with a disgusted grin. Jon followed him in the door laughing into a tall can of root beer saying, “Yeah, they threw them out of their car at us. They only hit pat though.”
“People still egg people?” I said, eyebrows raised, still staring at the drippy mess of Pat’s pants.
“They egg Pat anyway.”
I scrunched my face up, looking at pat and said, “well at least nobody is trying to kiss you, I’ll take eggs over gross old dude kissings any day”
“who was kissing?”
“ugh, it doesn’t matter. I’m just grossed out and a little mad”
“that makes two of us”
I don’t know why we were smiling, but we were. Arms folded, smiling at each other. Mad, grossed out, and smiling.
This night started bad, then got weirder and worse as it went. Everybody was late, bands cancelled, it rained, only a handful of people turned up to watch the bands, and to top it off two older drunk dudes under the guise of thanking me for the show gave me too familiar hugs and planted bar floor smelling kisses grossly close to my mouth. The first one I chalked up to drunkness, and a slight case of the over friendlies, but the second dude swooping in for the same right after, that was conspired lechery. Add to this a band whose song mentioned going to TJ to catch a donkey show, and you have my idea of a bummer night.
But looking at Pat with his eggy pants and folded arms, it couldn’t be anything but funny. I started giggling hysterically, and I couldn’t stop even to explain why I was laughing.
Gilman is like that. You get shit on, and when you think you ought to be mad, you’re laughing.
1st and 3rd Saturdays: It’s meeting time.
We are sitting around in a loose circle on dirty couches and metal folding chairs. These twice-monthly meetings let us check in with one another since we don’t all come to all the shows. Here we decide everything pertaining to the club from frustratingly small quibbles, to the ideologically large. Anyone who has been to at least one meeting before can vote on any proposals brought up, and anyone can join in discussion. These meetings, though sometimes tedious, were a large part of why I wanted to get more involved with Gilman in the first place. I loved that any issue you had could be brought up to the collective, and that even if you didn’t volunteer at the club you had an equal say in it’s running, because as a punk who went there you had an equal stake in it too.
I remember soon after one of these meeting seeing “It’s your club” printed behind plexi in the entrance and finally getting it. Really getting it. It was my club. I knew suddenly that it was all of ours to take care of. The next weekend I started training to work in the Stoar — that was sometime in 2005.
My palms are sweaty. I don’t usually get nervous talking in front of big groups anymore, particularly here at Gilman. But I have an announcement to make, and one I won’t enjoy making. I have to tell them I’m leaving. That after these years spent volunteering here, I am leaving and I don’t know when I can come back.
I twist up my scarf in my hands and begin “I’m moving at the end of august. And I can’t be head coordinator anymore….” I take a steadying breath, and I tell them that I’m going to LA, and will be gone at least a year. I am trying not to look at anyone.
I know it’s not really such a big deal, that someone else will step up and take the responsibility I’m letting go of. But I can’t help but be worried. A big part of my life the last few years has been just that, worrying over and tending to things that needed to be done at the club.
For the first time it occurs to me that maybe I’m less worried about how the club will do without me than how I’ll do without the club. As much as I’ve tried to do in the last few years, I know I’ve gained more than I’ve ever given.
I used to be a pretty plucky fighter, ready to punch someone out if they deserved it, but I’ve seen again and again that almost all fights start over nothing and come to nothing. Over and over I’ve seen fights erupt over stupid misunderstandings or drunken aggression and end in blood pouring down faces and flashing red and blue lights. Now my only respect is for those who can speedily prevent fights, or break them up. I’ve also cleaned enough split lips, broken noses, split eyebrows to know that y’all need to learn to keep your heads down (or your arms up).
I’ve gone to a lot of shows I never would have gone to and am better for it. Seeing bands that I would have always thought to poppy or sweet for my taste, and liking them despite myself. Which is how I ended up with a Defiance Ohio record, and Kimya Dawson stuck in my head. I found that across scene divides everybody is just as nice, and just as punk.
I used to have to drink at least a 40 or a couple 32’s in order to comfortably enjoy a show. Yeah, social anxiety is rough. But, after so many shows spent sober, and delightfully able to remember what bands sounded like, I don’t think I’ll ever feel the need to link how much fun I’m having at a show to how wasted I am again.
I used to think every punk band was playing for the love of music, but I’ve had to see some pretty pathetically money driven displays that have opened my eyes to the fact that a lot of punk bands are just as greedy and obsessed with getting their “due” as any other genre. Instead of being disillusioned I am instead more appreciative of the bands that are generous, and really are doing it for the love of it. Bands who give money away to other bands, who don’t have or want booking agents, who don’t have tantrums over the band order, and who say thank you and mean it — they have a very special place in my heart. How your band acts in the world has equal bearing as how much you rip, so be nice.
More important than any of this I’ve learned to trust myself as capable. The other volunteers of Gilman have trusted me to be in charge of decisions and their trust has given me confidence to make those decisions, to take the lead in emergencies, and to know without a doubt what I am capable of (it’s a lot more than I thought). In turn I’ve learned to encourage others to see what that are capable of, to push them to do what they’re not sure they can, and enjoy their success as much as my own.
Gilman’s appeal, it’s amazingness, is the very simple fact that it is entrusted to us (all of us) to make of it what we will. Even if you live a thousand miles from the Berkeley, I guarantee there is something that that you can do that will mean the same to you as Gilman has meant to me. You can work unselfishly for the betterment of your (punk/whatever) community, share power and decision making with others, and respect the needs and opinions of those around you. If you resolve to build or maintain something good in your community, I promise you will get 100 times back what you give. And it will be impossibly hard to leave if you ever have to.
The meeting is over and it’s time to get started on the night’s show. Bands are loading gear in through the side door, I’ve got to go get the worker list and a clipboard to get started on staffing the show. I notice Pat standing in the doorway still has a yellowy string of egg on his pants.