The Road – 5/17/19-5/19/19

I got back home from Philadelphia late last night.  I spent just under 24 hours in the city of brotherly love, but I managed to pack those hours with as much living as possible.

In order, then.

Not a ton interesting to tell about the drive to Philadelphia.  I stopped in Lancaster to stretch, and dropped in Angry, Young, and Poor.  Partly for nostalgia’s sake, partially to look at boots.  I always want to look at boots.  I bought some records, but didn’t find much else I was stoked on.  I still loved the familiarity of being in the shop.  It felt like returning to a place I had known and loved after a long absence.  Punk Rock one hundred percent saved my life when I was a lonely teenager stuck in Southern Pennsylvania in the nineties, and this place was a lifeline back then. I even still have some of the records and punk rock t-shirts I bought at this place twenty years ago.  I made small talk with one of the owners behind the counter, joking about how I hadn’t set foot in the shop in just about two decades and I was just happy that it still existed.

“Well damn, dude.  Welcome back to Pennsylvania.”

Something hit me that would be a repeating motif all weekend, was how friendly and just how real punks, even jaded aging punks keep it on the east coast.  I couldn’t remember when a punk rocker I didn’t know in the Pacific Northwest was this friendly to me.  Even some of the ones I did know, well odds are just as good they are gonna pretend they don’t see you in the grocery store or at the show anyway.  Olympia is a cold fucking town and I was so glad to be done with it for good.  As if to punctuate all this – the friendliness of punk rockers, the eager kids still keeping it real – as I was getting ready to leave the shop, two young kids came in to buy t-shirts and patches.  Dude behind the counter eagerly engaged with them, asking them what they were looking for, instead of treating them like some chump posers who would be so lucky to shop at his spot.

I smiled to myself the whole way out of Lancaster.

Driving through Pennsylvania doesn’t haunt me the way it once did.  I used to not be able to roll through Southern York County and through the expanses of forest and farmland without returning to the eerie feeling of being trapped that accompanied the very first time I crossed the Pennsylvania state line with my mother twenty-eight years ago.  I remember it still, like it was yesterday.  Ten years old in the passenger seat of my mother’s car and feeling like the trees that lined either side of the highway became more ominous as the mile posts ticked ever upward until we were in Pennsylvania proper.  Even then, I had a sinking feeling I might never leave this place.

So it was a surprise seven years later when Momma moved away.  Still, the feeling of being ensnared by Southern York County lingered for years, decades.  This place was a backdrop, a foundation.  So much a part of me and the person I grew into.  I see this place in my dreams, in my memories.  I write about it often.

More on that later though.

I rolled into Philly through rush hour traffic and went straight to pick up J for the show.  I know I used to talk shit on cities, and the gray concrete expanse of Philadelphia does make me feel a little bit claustrophobic, but goddamn.  This city has some beautiful architecture.  Rush hour sucked, but I was happy to take a breath and marvel at the buildings.  The whole northeast feels fresh like this for me, really.  I think this feeling is another product of living in the drab as shit, Pacific Northwest for five years.  I remember when Hannah visited me there a few years ago and she commented on how drab and lifeless, without history all the buildings and houses looked.  She’s not wrong.

I picked J up and we went to the show.  It was at some bar in South Philly.  Inside the show, the feeling of familiarity found me again.  I commented to J about how little the Philly street punk aesthetic had changed in my twenty-year absence.  I even saw a few kids with Blanks 77 and Violent Society patches on their jackets, bands I loved and absolutely lived to see when I was a kid who I don’t think have put new records out since before I was old enough to drink alcohol.  I think I read somewhere that Blanks 77 are playing shows again, but I don’t know.  They’ve been off my radar for years.

I don’t remember the name of the first band.  The Stance played second.  They played the gruff brickwall Oi that the punks and skins go nuts over.  I liked it well enough.  A little too gruff and not enough melody for me.  If I had any complaints, it was that the show felt a little bro-heavy, but I was still happy to just be out in the sea of smiling punks.  When the pit started too close to me, I just kept a side eye on the crowd and kept an elbow out, a tactic that has kept me safe for well over two decades now.  I thought about that time kids in Olympia jumped a dude, drug him out of the bar and broke a pint glass in his face for dancing too hard.  Color me relieved to be far away from reactive nonsense like that.

I grabbed some water at the bar before Battalion Zoska.  Pat was up there grabbing a pitcher of water for the band at the same time.  We made small talk for a second when he complimented me on my “Sometimes Antisocial, Always Antifascist” shirt.  Thanks dude.  I awkwardly shuffled through saying that catching Violent Society shows when I was a teenager was like finding an island in a sea of dead eyed pop mediocrity when I was a kid.  I went on to elaborate that watching one of my best friends deck a Nazi skinhead with every ounce of strength and bravery in his teenage body at a Business, Warzone, Vision, Violent Society show in April of 1997 was one of my introductions to antifascism, and gave birth to a lifelong hatred of Nazi skinheads, full fucking stop.  He said thanks for telling him that story, and walked to the stage.

Watching Battalion Zoska, felt so much like coming back home to the kid I once was, enthusiastic about punk and guarded all the same.  I only felt sad for not knowing any of Battalion’s songs.  I did, however admire Pat’s vest from the front of the stage – it looked like the kind of thing any one of us would have worn as a kid, but made by a man well into his forties, decades past giving a fuck about what anyone at the show thought, and if they thought he was a poser for having a Sex Pistols backpatch or not.

The Boils played next. I’d been so out of touch with their music, that I didn’t even realize that they had more or less retired a decade ago, only reuniting occasionally for special one-off gigs.  The kids and the middle-aged weirdos absolutely fucking lost it from the first note, to the last echo of feedback.  I stood onstage occasionally ducking a stage diver or crowd surfer doing their best to get into the light fixtures hanging from the low ceiling.  I smiled and got that feeling in my body that shows gave me before I left the east coast – the one where you feel at home and like this room is the center of the world for a half an hour, and that’s just fine.  All the war and oppression, and atrocity that you worry about 8 out of 10 of the days can wait at the door for a bit and you can just be.

I’m well aware that I’m idealizing a scene a bit, but goddamnit if I don’t need to believe in something right now. When I was a kid, punk kept me from killing myself I don’t even know how many times because it was there to remind me of the good inherent in my fellow human beings.  Right now, I want to remember that more than anything, so it’s what I’m running on because it’s a thousand times better than bitterness, emptiness and misanthropy.

Lion’s Law played, and shit was energetic, flawless, but less emotional.  I sang along to the songs I like and wondered how skinheads make those tiny cuffs in their jeans.  I’m more paranoid about germs than I used to be, and it’s funny.  I have papercuts all over my hands from work, and was constantly trying to touch sweaty crowdsurfers as little as possible for this reason.  The set ended, I bought a shirt and J and I drove back home listening to Bell Witch and making plans for a trip down south later in the summer.

I stayed up way too late talking to N, well past three AM.  The next morning all three of us went out for breakfast and coffee.  I felt hungover despite having consumed not a drop of alcohol the night before.  Just ragged from no sleep and movement.  I was happy to sip strong coffee and think about how much I love punk and my friends.  Maybe I was drunk on how real J and N are, and how sorely I have missed that authenticity while sequestered in the gray land of passive aggressive cliques and infighting.

Driving through Southern York County felt like searching for something without knowing what I was looking for, as it often does.  I followed my routine of going to the Shrewsbury Wal-Mart that opened in 1997, reshaping (read decimating) the economy of this town, like I always do.  I go to the bathrooms in the back of the store to piss, then I buy some tea.  I am always ready for someone to recognize me and make what-have-you-been-doing-all-these-years small talk, but it never happens.

When this fluorescent lit monument to consumerism opened in 1997, all my friends, and my mom got jobs here.  Before the Wal-Mart opened, these were just some vacant hills that kids rode their dirt bikes around on homemade trails.  Those days are long, long gone.  You stand in the parking lot now, and it’s almost impossible to imagine there was anything but a Wal-Mart here.  I cannot help but wonder how long the structure will stand after humanity starves itself off the planet?

When my mom briefly worked here, it was the first time I had seen any trace of hope on her face.  She even chastised me viciously for bleaching my hair blonde while she was at work.  “Now you look like a San Francisco Faggot, and I can’t take you to meet my manager!”.  It was like she believed a nine hour a day, forty-hour week at nine dollars an hour shift might let her re-write her story just enough to let her forget that she spent most of her days wanting to die.  The despair crept back in within a month.  The work was grueling and thankless, and for scraps at that.  The final straw came when one of her co-workers told my mom that their manager had been mocking her for wanting to change her schedule enough that it would allow her to see me on some days.  Writing this twenty-two later, I still feel incredibly anger at the insidiousness and heartlessness it must take to exploit the fading dreams of all the small-town suckers like my mom and my friends, desperate to change their stories.

It’s strange to think about my mother wanting to see me, considering how little she has “seen” me my entire life.  She saw what she wanted to see, putting the low down and dirty of who I was from her mind.  She still does this, I just resent her less for it now than I used to.  I mostly feel bad for her.  She missed out on the entire adult life of her only child.

I remember when one friend quit this place when she went to the hospital for her eating disorder.  That trip to the hospital began a downward spiral into heroin addiction that I don’t know if she ever recovered from.  I lost track of that friend over two decades ago. My other friend, the same aforementioned one that punched out the Nazi skin at the show worked there too.  He quit in style, just a month or two after my mom.  He came over directly afterwards, laughing and telling us how he balled up his apron and threw it in the shift manager’s face, telling him to go fuck himself.  This was the same manager my tangled with.

After Wal-Mart, I drove to the Shrewsbury Cemetery.  I’m always drawn to this spot anytime I’m back in Southern York County.  I’m not sure why.  Maybe it’s because it’s in such close proximity to where I attended my first punk show, at a rented church hall across the street.  Maybe it’s because it’s where my friends and I rotted away countless crawling hours that seem so serene and idyllic now.  D and I would hang out in the gravel shack during slow as molasses summer days, doing graffiti while D smoked weed.  We’d stand on the hill at the south end of the cemetery and look out off into the distance, into Maryland.  Watching the radio towers blink red steadily in the distance reminded me that life, an entire world existed outside of this tiny town, and one day we’d all escape it.

I couldn’t tell what, but something felt missing, like I was being pulled somewhere else, so I got in my car and moved on.

From the cemetery, I drove south on whatever that street that runs parallel to Main is.  It exits on Tolna, right near where E and L lived when we were kids.  Tolna Road is unrecognizable now, and part of me felt sad about this.  I drove down Main and took note of what all has changed at the intersection of Constitution and Main. I surprised myself at being disappointed that the Getty Mart is gone.  Torn down who even knows when to make way for a Walgreens.  The shopping center next to it looked like it had changed, but it was hard for me to tell, never having been as much of a focal point for my friends and I.

I thought about driving through the neighborhood where I had my first job – a paper route when I was 13, but skipped it.  Instead I drove South on Main as it gave way fully to Old York Road.  I passed the hill near the baseball field where DS broke his arm in 1993.  It’s still there.  I wondered how many kids have broken bones on it since.  There was the house across the street from the hill where I used to awkwardly fool around with a girlfriend in the basement when her parents thought we were watching movies when I was fifteen.  I thought about pulling into the bank parking lot further down the street to snap a photo of the spot in the parking lot that my friends and I utilized for skating late at night, but thought the better of it.  I try and spend less time looking sketchy nowadays.

My old neighborhood has changed considerably.  The last two years mom and I lived there, developers were building a new street and new houses at the end of our road.  J, A, and I hid up there one night when it was still relatively empty to smoke weed.  That’s my big memory.  Not worth driving up for.

My childhood home looks significantly different than it did the last time I drove past it.  It doesn’t look at all like the dilapidated repository for my mother’s dead dreams that I left behind two decades ago.  No overgrown lawn.  No peeling paint.  No foreclosure notice tacked to the door.  The owners built a new front porch, vastly extended from the stoop that my friends and I once sat on, listening to tapes and talking.

I left my neighborhood and headed back to New Freedom proper by the back road that I surprised myself by remembering my way around after two decades since the last time I walked it.  I remembered this one night during the summer between seventh and eighth grade when M and I were spending the night at his parent’s house.  I was on the phone with two girls across town while M tried to fall asleep watching TV.  The girls asked if we wanted to come over and make out.  I was into it.  I asked M if he wanted to go, and he said no.  Too worried about getting caught.  I tried to implore him to go along, telling him we could take this road, and not a soul would be on it at this hour and see us.  M wasn’t having it and went to sleep.  I got off the phone.  I remember little about those two girls past that night.  I fell into punk, and they fell into the background, significantly less enchanting then the world full of joyous outcasts I was falling in love with.

In New Freedom, I went to the Rutter’s to buy coffee and piss again.  I skipped going up Third Street.  I don’t even remember if M’s parents still live in that house.  I think she told me that they had long since left.  I think I remember the last time I drove east on Third, that K’s old trailer had been demolished.

Probably just as well.  Who knows what kind of energy would still haunt that place?  I think about that house, and being there as a wide eyed and scared kid.  Watching K’s mom nod out, watching her sketchy murderer boyfriend drink beer after beer. I remember listening to sad songs in K’s room, huddled around her small boombox and CD collection like it was salvation, or at least an escape from the kind of listless summer drudgery that I could almost wish for now, in that our days were filled with more boredom than worry.

Somewhere in the winter of ninth grade, K’s mom disappeared for a few months.  She ended up living with relatives.  One night she spent the night at my house just as the nights were their frozen nadir.  My mom made her sleep in the guest room, as if I wouldn’t end up just sneaking out of my own room and sleeping next to my friend anyway.  If my mom knew, she never told me.  Nothing happened that night anyway, aside from shared secrets.

K told me how she lost her virginity to a boy she was dating a few months earlier.  He was older than us by a couple years.  His name is lost to the years now.  Something beginning with a J, I think.  She told me how they had nowhere to go to have sex, so they broke into her mom’s vacant trailer and she had sex for the first time there.  When they were done, the boy held her all night.  They broke up a few months later.  I always thought that the trailer was maybe totally empty, and they must have fucked on the floor, but I think how little sense that made now.  K was living in the trailer with her mom and a different sketchy boyfriend by that next summer.  D, L and I went to see K shortly after they moved back in, and all the furniture was still there, smoke stained and sticky, just like it had been the year before.

I drove north to Glen Rock, and found the high school without a GPS after a friend challenged me to see if I could do so. I was only a little disturbed to find out I could still remember the way.  I drove around the parking lot and remembered being up there fucking around with D one summer and seeing this other fuck up that I knew only as someone who one of our friends had tried to stab in the neck with a pencil that year over him violating one of our other friends. The boy was driving his parent’s van fast over the speed bumps in the parking lot to see if they could get all four wheels of the van airborne at once.  Everyone in the car was laughing.  I noticed a younger girl in the passenger seat that I didn’t recognize.  The next school year that girl was dead from an accidental overdose after the boy broke up with her.  Everyone blamed the fuck up boy their friend’s death. So much so that he had to change schools to escape the bloodthirsty groups of kids out for him.  A few of us found out where he lived one night later that fall and threw forty bottles full of piss through his car windshield.  I remembered driving away laughing, and seeing him darting out to his front lawn to stare down our taillights.  I remember how angry and defeated he looked standing there in the lawn, fists balled up at his sides.

I thought about hanging out at school to write and let my dog run around, but the memory (and many others left a bad taste in the back of my mouth).  It felt too weird being there, almost like an atmospheric pressure, telling me I was in the wrong place, to keep moving.  I took a picture and left.  Eager to put distance between me and the place that had done it’s best to indoctrinate me and kill my creativity.  It didn’t even feel like a victory, writing there.

I drove to Glen Rock proper, left at the intersection where J and D and I once stalled out in a stolen car.  I drove past SM’s old house which I had totally forgotten about.  I instantly remembered how F told me he was out walking with his niece one night, and had seen the cops in front of the house, looking for SM.  They walked by later, just as SM was coming home.  F told me how he saw SM’s dad on the porch, waiting, and how hard he shoved him, right there on the porch.

I have always wondered if that was that awful night.  Driving past, I wondered if SM’s parents still lived there.  I heard somewhere that his mom never got over having to bury her firstborn baby.  I felt for SM’s mom, and his dad, and his brother and sister, and his own children.  Weird how different people can have different perspective on a life and its loss, and how time can soften that perspective.

I wished that the Wetzel’s was there, so I could go see if DS still worked there.  I haven’t seen DS in twenty or more years.  I’ve heard things here and there though.  F and L both told me that he worked at the meat counter there since just after high school.  That’s twenty years and a thank you for all your hard work and good luck out there.  I just googled it.  Wetzel’s was open for thirty-three years.  That means D worked there for twenty of the thirty years the store was in business.

I wonder how that was for him.

I drove back down Old York Road from Glen Rock, trying to find a place to write in Shrewsbury.  The park was filled with cub scouts.  Not really who I wanted to be near while I sat around and chronicled my lost youth and dreams dried out.  I went back to New Freedom to sit b J and L’s graves for a few minutes.  In another month, they will have been gone for twenty years.  I remember how significant that death felt at the time.  We were so young.  I sat with them for a minute, said hey, and moved on.

I used to skate in that church parking lot. A and I used to meet there to make out too.  I wasn’t allowed at her house.  Both because I was a bad kid, and because she wasn’t allowed to see boys yet. So that left the church.  The day before ninth grade, we met there to talk and make out.  She was mad that I had cut my long hair in favor of something I could put into liberty spikes.  We kissed goodbye and said we’d see each other tomorrow.  The next day I passed her in the hall, said hi, and she ignored me.  That was it.  We never spoke again.

I think we saw one another one more time after that.  On D’s porch.  She came over with her cousin who I had also dated to score weed.  I was visibly uncomfortable, and I remember D joking that I should make an ex-girlfriend club.  I heard later that she was seeing SM.  I worried for her, knowing the monstrosity that guy was capable of.

I finally settled on New Freedom Park to write.  I sat at a picnic table beneath the bandstand and wrote a love letter to C, wanting to share a significant and strange part of my history with them.  While I was writing, I noticed Crip and Blood graffiti on the table, which amused me to no end.  I told C a few things I remembered about the park and told them I missed them, but I was maybe glad they weren’t here.  I thought it would just be boring for them.

The park was eerily empty, save for a few kids playing on the other side of it, near where A and I once made out.  I left and went back to the cemetery in Shrewsbury to say goodbye to Southern York County for now.  The moon rose red and low in its majesty just as I pulled up.  I felt so thankful to greet it.  I looked to the south at the radio towers that my friends and I used to watch when we were kids, desperate for any sign that life existed outside of this place.  They were there, like always.  Blinking softly in the fading light.

When I looked to the south, I felt an old lover out there, somewhere else and I smiled.  I said hello to their spirit out in the night and thought about love, and time, and movement and letting go.  The sun was down, and it was time to get moving, to go home.  It was sweet, and I was ready to leave Southern York County.

I drove through the night, arriving home reinvigorated and relieved to live on the east coast once more.

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The Road – 5/17/19-5/19/19

Diagram of a busted mouth.

Fig. 1

Sitting in a chair at the dentist’s office
Steel toes tap together in nervousness
Dressed in bravest black, winter 1996
Drill bits scrape the mess
Growing in my mouth for the first
(of many) times in my young life
Stare out the window
Catch a lone small town
Punk rocker on their
Way somewhere else in the snow
Footprints sunk into the white
Show where they been
But offer no hint
Of where we’re going.

Fig. 2

First dentist trip in three
And a half years
Mental illness met poverty
Long enough for fifteen cavities
To carve their way in
To a mouth well on
Its way towards rotting
Digging in for the duration
As childhood ends
Sugar coated swath cut
Through enamel and dentine and pulp
Floss and rinse and dig
And brush and drill
Scrape plaque away
With a mad desperation
But never reach the
Source of the rot.

Fig. 3

Sipping black coffee
Burning belly filled:
One part all hell
Ready to break loose at any moment
One part bag of peanut butter pretzels for breakfeast
Bought with food stamps and pocket change
Basking in the glow of
Spring’s latest lover
One morning in the sun
Spinning
Blissed out on three hours
Of sleep weighing down
Eyelids pried open
By caffeine and lovesickness
Frantic need for connection
To fill every hour with
The sweetness and agony
Of feeling it all
Feel a sickening snap
Cracking in the back of my mouth
Reach a finger still warm from last
Night’s lust in and wriggle part of a molar out
Shrug like you can’t win ‘em all
Put the blackened tooth chip
In my pocket, like a keepsake.

Fig. 4

Oh, good. You’re awake.
Do you remember where you are?
You were crossing the street
When you walked into the path of an oncoming car
The good news is your spine isn’t broken
You are bleeding internally
But your organs did not rupture
And your shoulder will heal
And even retain most of its mobility
The bad news is what’s left
Of three of your teeth
Have to come out now
The force of the pavement
Rushing up to reshape your face
Left your teeth shattered
Rammed the remaining roots
Back into your jaw
You are in shock
And heavily sedated
You probably won’t
Even remember this
Or feel it.

Fig. 5

It becomes an identity
A way to laugh at the pain
Taking a mouth full of
Broken teeth as my name
Example:
The words
“busted teeth, broken heart”
Inked forever into my skin
Or it’s a cute party trick
Like the time I decided
To spit my new set
Of fake plastic teeth
Out of a mouth, healed
But still fresh enough with phantom pains
That come when the weather changes
Into my best friend’s
Glass of wine at
A fancy restaurant
Oh sorry. You were drinking that?
I guess I’ll just finish it.

Fig. 6

The nerve pain wakes me
Up one morning in summer
Shooting through my jaw
I call out of work
And spend the day at home
Part of it on the phone
With the same best friend
Seven summers later
Holding an icepack to
The side of my head
“I’m paying the price now
For never quite taking care
For always living with
A low intensity self-loathing.”

Fig. 7

Floss and feel
The very last piece
Of my very first root canal
Come loose from its molar mooring
Spit silver and blood and mercury
Into the sink
Pick up the piece
Bury it in an
Unmarked backyard grave
“Here lies my last self-destruction”

Fig. 8

A piece of my broken tooth hurts
So I do what any person would do
Reach into my mouth
Wiggle the last shard back and forth
With a single-minded determination
And pull it out on my gums
Throw it in the trash
Without ceremony
Or reverence
Having long since
Grown used to this
Saltwater. Rinse. Repeat
The hole closes up.

Fig. 9

You used to do meth, right?
No, why?
I don’t know. I just thought you did.
Did you think I used to do meth
Because I’m missing my three front teeth?
No! I swear! I just thought you used to do meth
Like, I thought you said something about it once
Fact: I’ve never done meth.

Fig. 10

I hate it when my friends
Call me “Creepteeth”
Except maybe I bestowed
That nickname on myself
Making an identity
Out of pain again
Or as a way to make peace with a
Self-conscious smile
I can’t remember now.
I just always knew something
About standing in the shadow
Of so much beauty
I could never ever know

Fig. 11

Morning routine of brushing
Serves as a reminder
Of roads to ruin raced
I have long since
Gotten used to the taste
Sour mouth, brown spit
Washed down the sink
Followed by the reprieve
Of toothpaste and blood-spit
Swirling down the drain.

Fig. 12

A dissolute pain
As company for
The past 8 days
With yesterday spent
Entirely within the confines
Of a borrowed twin bed
This isn’t even my room
And I’m tethered to it
Anyway
Every time I move
Nausea rushes in
Making the world
Sickeningly spin and spin…

Fig. 13

Not a single shred
Of solace to seek
Beneath a gray sky
Sighing with rain
While hours crawl
Into another lost day
Shuffled through in
A nauseated narcotic daze.

Fig. 14

I write from my sickbed
Good reasons to
Just stop feeling
Anything at all
The numb warmth
Creeps through my limbs
Like crawling skin
Filling the void
Ever writhing within
This tired body
Spreading outwards
Beneath my skin
I get why people get addicted
To this shit
There is an elusive beauty
Found within numbness
And I hate it all the same
Just like I hate that
Someone somewhere out there
Learned they could line their pockets
And the pockets of their children
And their children’s children
Selling the cure for pain
Then selling the cure
For addiction
Or the punishment
For those deemed unworthy
Or unable to afford
The cure
Somewhere
Someone owns all of this
And I wonder what it would
Be like to rip his throat
(Yeah, I’m making an assumption here)
Out with my jagged teeth
But then again
The thought of strange blood
And bacteria in my mouth
Fills me with an unquiet revulsion.

Fig. 15

I write a litany to numbness
To later be forgotten
In an overpriced notebook
That I paid $20 for
Instead of stealing
Somewhere along the
Road that always led nowhere.

Fig. 16

I listen to a tinny
Clash bootleg and feel
My spirits wanting
To soar like so many songs
Long since sent into unsuspecting airwaves
I write my way down
Every road back home
And write down reasons
To convince this body
To keep breathing
And greet another day
As a blessing
On the outside
Where the beautiful
People are ugly too
I want to live long and strong
With that invincible
Heartbeat as the backdrop
Sometimes I just think
That a set of invincible teeth
Would also be just the kind
Of company I would like to keep.

Diagram of a busted mouth.

Fighting (And Beating) Fascism Is Totally Punk Rock

On a beautiful spring afternoon in 1996, one of my best friends and I walked into a room packed full of punks and skinheads in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Both of us had fallen in love hard with Punk Rock the year before. We lived and breathed for the next show. We had recently seen a flier at a record store for a Two-Tone Ska and Punk show happening at a community hall in Lancaster. My friend convinced his beleaguered and loving mother to make the drive from neighboring Southern York County to Lancaster so we could spend the day dancing with all the other punk rockers and moonstompers. The names of the bands who played have long since faded from my memory. I do, however remain certain my friend and I were the youngest kids at the show, all nervous with our charged hair and Doc Martens. I will confess to a certain youthful naiveté here, still new to the subculture and susceptible to some negative stereotypes about punks leftover from the 80’s. That is to say, I went everywhere, even punk shows expecting trouble, in a constant state of alert.

My friend and I quickly realized we had no reason to worry. The crowd of punks and skinheads inside the hall were exuberant and friendly. The older punks asked us where we were from. They taught us how to skank. All the punks danced hard, yet without aggression or maliciousness. When someone fell, there was always a set of hands reaching down to lift them back to their feet within seconds. My friend and I lost ourselves like that, stomping to the music until the show ended and it was time to return to our small town. Before we left, we hit up a table towards the back of hall filled with information from Anti-Racist Action (Antifa’s spiritual predecessor) to grab some zines and stickers. I spent three dollars on a “DESTROY FASCISM” patch. The patch was a simple embroidered design of a red star stomping on a swastika, a voice bubble emanating from the star with the words “Fight Back”. That patch adorned almost every punk jacket I wore for the remainder of the 90’s. I did not learn to sew until I was almost 18, relying instead on safety pins to affix patches to my jackets. This meant the patch was easily transferable from garment to garment.

I lost that patch somewhere down the years. Reading the news this morning, I wish I still had it. I hardly believe something as symbolic as wearing a patch on my clothing will stop a rising tide of fascism in its tracks, but I believe in wearing your heart on your sleeve. These days too, I find comfort in remembering where I come from in a world where I feel as uncertain of our species’ collective future as I ever have. This is why I still adhere to lace codes in my Doc Martens. Yellow straight laces to signify to the few people I pass by on the street who might be versed in obscure subcultural fashion codes from a bygone era that these boots are laced up to stomp out fascism.

If you came up punk in the 90’s, you probably hated fascism and Nazism with fervent vitriol, even if you had the only the most rudimentary understanding of said concepts. This too, was a sentiment leftover from the 80’s when groups like Anti-Racist Action organized with punks across the country, fighting and often bleeding to remove the filth of fascism from their scenes and cities. By the time my friends and I came up, the violence was finally dwindling. A.R.A. pushed to make punk and Oi shows inhospitable for fascist recruitment. Nazi skinheads attacked minorities and menaced punks at shows, but with a growing rarity. In Rural Pennsylvania, they served as an omnipresent threat, yet just as often unseen menace.

When we weren’t at shows, my friends and I smoked weed in the woods away from the prying eyes (and noses!) of parents, then rushed back to our bedrooms to put Crass records on the turntable and pore over the lyrics. Crass’ talk of neo-fascism in songs like The Gasman Cometh and Yes Sir, I Will record scared the shit out of me when I was fifteen and living in a small town, far removed from the grim realities of Cold War Britain. The threat just seemed so far away and impossible. Where I lived, Nazi skinheads showed up at maybe 1 in 10 shows and 9 times out of 10, the punks were ready to stomp them the fuck out the instant they threw their first stiff arm salute.

Sure, we worried that the government was fucked, and might kill us all in a nuclear war. We worried we would get cancer from all the pollutants in the air and water and chemicals in our food. We strained at the leashes held by those that ran a world we were coming to realize we wanted no part of. All the same, I was living in a small town, being raised by a conservative mother in the deceptive, neo-liberal calm of the Clinton years. My mother listened to Rush Limbaugh on the radio and raved about the ever-looming threat of SOCIALISM. I listened to punk records and read zines with my friends. The signals were as mixed as they were many. I knew the grim realities of police violence and state control existed, but had not yet witnessed them first hand or felt their hands at my throat. There were two cops in our little town. They both went home at 9:00 PM.

Twenty-two years later, I am no longer young and idealistic. My generation came up in the complacent Pax-Americana of neo-liberalism and the Clinton years.  We became adults in the war mongering to the victor go the spoils ruthless profiteering of the Bush years. We watched Obama offer more of the same, albeit with a prettier face as the world spun out further down. Now there are those who would argue that we are in the end stages of capitalism where a bloated system reliant on relentless resource extraction and consumption, dependent on human misery can no longer sustain itself. Those in power are terrified of relinquishing hold on what gives them wealth. We see power resort to ever more drastic measures to hold on, to keep us running in circles; spending, consuming, hurling humanity to its collective mass grave. If history shows us anything, it is that in these moments of crisis and social transformation where malignant ideologies like fascism take root .

Reading the news this morning, I see that the world my fifteen-year-old self both railed against, and simultaneously never believed would actually arrive has indeed arrived. The moral equivalent of the Nazi boneheads we strove to run out of our punk scenes and cities two decades ago have situated themselves as the conductors of this blood soaked horrorshow. The nihilistic apparatus of power seeks to serve only itself, by any means. It tears migrant families apart. It aims to strip legal rights from queer and transgender people. It aims to allow cops murder people of color with impunity, to warehouse them away in prisons. Antisemites are murdering senior citizens in their places of worship. White supremacists, enraged by any modicum of progress made in dismantling the system that upholds their power, emboldened by the current administration are shooting black grandparents in grocery stores. Movements like Black Lives Matter that you know, arose to make the very simple request that black lives be afforded the same dignity, safety and self-determination as their white counterparts are vilified and criminalized, treated as if they are polarizing and partisan. All of this to feed a network of profiteering, gluttonous parasites.

That great and terrible “just around the corner” that Discharge warned us about through a wail of distortion and D-Beats going on forty years ago now, is no longer just around the corner.

It is here.

Times are cold and hard, but this is an argument against despair. This is the time to act. This is the time to organize. Go to shows. Be with your people. Love your friends and watch their backs. Do not give into depression and isolation. Do not give into apathy and indifference. After the gigs get into the streets. Agitate. Go hard. The fascists are not only organizing, but they are murdering people. Their weapons of state control and industry are running riot and literally bleeding our world to death. This is not a grim and potential future we worried about when we were children. This is the painful present. The stakes have never been higher.

This is for the punks, because 40 years of the movement and the music have been preparing us for this very moment. This is for the aging punks. Remember that spirit of rebellion you carried as kids. I am begging you to keep that flame burning now in whatever capacity you can. Your world needs you to keep giving a fuck. Your world needs your anger just like it needs your kindness. Your children need you, because we owe them a world better that the one our parents left us. We owe them a planet with clean air and drinkable water. We owe them a free and just world. We must instill in them the compassion that this culture seeks to stamp out of them as soon as it can.

This is for the young punks, because while “No Future” may have been a hopeless rallying cry worthy of romanticism by punk rockers over four decades, but it’s a fucking copout now. Your world needs you, because the threat to our future has never been greater. Your fellow human beings living without the luxury of romanticized self-destruction need you. Not everyone has the option to give into despair and self-destruction. This is not the time to succumb to nihilism. This is the time to live up to your rebellious potential. This is the time to use your voice, to step into your power and stand fucking hard.

This is what Crass trained you for. This is what The Dead Kennedys prepared you for. This is what The Clash trained you for. Everything happening now,  Oi Polloi have been writing more or less the same song about since the 1980’s (Don’t get me wrong! It’s a great song!). This is the war that the Vengeance LP hardened your resolve for throughout countless cold winter punk house bedrooms. There must be no retreat, no surrender, because the time is now nearing midnight, and we are in danger of never greeting the dawn.

 

 

Fighting (And Beating) Fascism Is Totally Punk Rock

Untitled

12:42 AM
Drunk, but not too drunk
Just marveling at
The taste of alcohol on my tongue
After five years of
World crushing panic
Every time I tipped a bottle back

Lying in bed
With candles lit
My last great love’s
Scent lingers on the pillow
Long after the echo
Of their laughter
Exited the room

Lingering on
Like cigarette smoke
Permeating hair
Painfully aware
Of toil dragging a body down
Taste the weight of age
Gravity gripping my face
Fear the grave
Lick my lips
Taste a long kiss goodnight
With all the beauty and bitterness
Of mortality languishing on my tongue

Untitled

On Island Road

Cooper City Florida, 1987
Voorhees and Krueger Come
To gruesome life on a suburban television
Screaming children run
Across a flickering screen
Fleeing bloodslick blades gripped
In the hands of fictional horrors unrelenting

The credits roll
The Screen goes blank
The groan and hum of the cassette
Rewinding breaks the brief silence
As the screams of so many murdered
Teenagers fade into the recesses
Of my young mind.
“What did you think of that?”
The words slide
From his tongue with cold eagerness
“Uh. A lot of people died.”

I am six years old
Spread on the floor
While parents wrestle with oblivion
Behind closed doors
He says ghosts live
In the corner of
Every room, watching
This scares me more than the movies
For some reason

His mother’s apron
Hangs limp from a hook in the kitchen
I imagine now, every corner filled
With aprons, suits, dresses
Suspended
Haunted
Lifeless

The cathode ray glow
Filled with cheap horror
Keeps my restless ghosts
At bay until the morning

Less than a block away
My parents sleep
Ashtrays on their night tables
Who smokes in the house around
A first grader with asthma anyway?

Late night cable
Takes a turn for the worse
Filled with wet mouths
And hungry curves
Speaking a language
I have yet to learn

He unzips his pants

There are power lines outside
Humming static against the
Thick night sky
The heat is oppressive

I know I should feel something more.

Right here
In this town
Sneaking around
Feet pound
Late night blacktop
Still clinging to the sun’s last heat
In this house
On this street

I feel nothing.

Do you know how
To give into hate?
I now know how to give in
To hate.

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Photo credit unknown
On Island Road

I don’t Know What To Say

I was six years old the first time I was sexually assaulted. I can recall the majority of the details with clarity and alacrity. This is a blessing and a curse, I guess because the memories have stayed strong and present with me all these for the past three decades. I have spent the majority of my adult life wrestling with them. Like many survivors, the memories often come bursting out of me with little warning, and at inopportune times. Sometimes during the summer if I am sleeping in a room with a ceiling fan, I wake up with a start thinking it is someone’s breath on the back of my neck. I have spent much of my life in and out of various states of dissociation and bottomless rage. I have spent much of my life like I still don’t know how to say no, and often find myself intimate with individuals who know just how to exploit that.

On the other side of that survivorhood, I distinctly remember being thirteen and my male friends and I figuring out that that there was a blurred line between persistence and coercion. To our young minds, the absence of physical violence somehow differentiated us from the individuals who assaulted me years earlier. Furthering that idea, when I was fifteen, a group of boys abducted one of my friends and took her to a party where they assaulted her. This crime was never reported, but served as singular turning point in the young lives of my friends and I; a reminder of sorts of the secret truth we had always known, encoded in our young bodies: The bad men were real, and they mostly got away with what they wanted. My best friend and I walked around school carrying knives secreted away in our pockets the rest of that year, swearing that we were going to stab the one perpetrator we could identify to death the first chance we got. We never did. He went on to live a normal life until dying in a car wreck on the run from the law ten years later. I was at a party when I heard, and I laughed audibly, comfortable in the certainty that my friends and I were so different from this sorry, dead asshole.

When you are a young person, especially when you grow up in punk, you define yourself by what you are and what you are not. You delineate everyone into a clear “them” and “us”. You surround yourself with other freaks and outcasts and convince yourself you somehow live outside of the unrequited-blood soaked horrorshow that is life on this planet. My friends and I naively believed we were somehow different, all the while shutting out the voices of the women and queers in our lives who have been imploring us to just fucking listen and do better. The few deeply intimate relationships with I have had with men have been with fragile boys with fragile egos, unable in varying degrees to examine hard truths about themselves, always wondering why their lives are perpetual disasters and their exes fucking hate them. Don’t worry. I am counting my relationship to myself in there too.

I wrote letters to two of the individuals who assaulted me at the beginning of my thirties, never having the nerve to send them. Two years back, I decided to send them while trying to reconcile and change my own patterns of abusive behavior towards intimate partners. I held the naïve belief that maybe these two men would hear me out and open a dialogue and that maybe we could sort out some of this mess together. One of them responded. I obviously could not hear the tone in their voice as they composed an email, but I am fairly certain it differed very little from Brett Kavanaugh’s as they berated me, simultaneously calling me a liar and weak for still feeling the effect of their actions thirty years later. They included their phone number in the email, demanding that I call them, which I never did. I have no doubt that had we spoken on the phone, they would have sounded *exactly* like Judge Kavenaugh did on television the other day.

This individual also came out to me as trans in their email. Two days later, they committed suicide. I blamed myself for the death of another trans woman, and wondered what kind of common ground we could have found had they just listened. I wondered how similar the paths we had walked really were. I spent the next week certain their ghost was in the room with me at night and slept very little. I left my room only to eat or walk my dog. I told my friends I was sure that they would be waiting for me in hell when I died. The crushing feeling of guilt stuck with me until I thought about what an utter fucking chump move it is to hurl yourself into whatever afterlife will claim you rather than take responsibility for your actions.

My heart feels ripped out of my chest this week. My heart is broken for all the people I love who are survivors (and that is almost everyone I know.). My heart is broken for all the people I love who are raising children, especially daughters in this thresher. My heart breaks for the kids who come after us, who were supposed to inherit a better world. My heart breaks for the people I love who live the duality of being both survivor and perpetrator this week, because every person I have loved the most has endured/is capable of/has inflicted some serious harm, and we have to live the lives we’ve made and pick up the pieces. My heart breaks continuously thinking about the people who I have done harm to. My heart breaks thinking about what it is to live in a culture that benefits you so intensely that your hard-learned life lessons usually come at the expense of the people you love the most, and that is treated as normal.

I am tired. We are all tired. We are all tired and heartbroken, and I have no optimism with which to end this post, only a small body filled with venom and unwavering love for my friends doing the best they can.

I don’t Know What To Say

7/25/18

’67 Airstream with the radio on
Sweaty Appalachian air thick with heat
Cicadas sing me to sleep
Out in the restless southern dark

The night called me home
With song and blood
Skin never quite shed
Right here
Where god spoke to me
For the very first time
Once upon disaster and nuclear atrocity

Outside the trailer door
You can still smell the scent of it
In the air like a thousand sleepless hours
Passed in this city before this moment

This city
Always in my heart
There was never any choice
I loved this place ever since the moment
An angry kid first set steel-toed boot
To heat-cracked pavement
In the rush of misspent youth

I love it now, still
Walking alone on tourist-choked streets
As an outsider to my former home
With aging eyes searching for familiar sights
Across this beloved skyline
I lost my heart in the shining
Concrete and glass relics
Built for a collapse yet to come

Down in the dives
My friends and I
Drink our liquid bread down
Grown like bitter weeds
Breaking through cracks in the concrete
Poisoned plants from poisoned roots
Choking on words wielded like weapons
Smoking cigarettes and talking trash
Breathing in bitterness like our lungs could last
Building lives out of sculptures of ash

7/25/18