Closer Issue 8
I was walking down Imperial toward the Trolley transfer station. The streets in the part of town, at least on the night I was walking, were covered with broken glass from bottles, people hanging out on dimly-lit street corners, cars which looked like they were abandoned. The fluorescent lights from the depot beckoned, as cliché as it sounds. It was the only decent light around. As I walked toward it, I heard someone with a mournful harmonica, playing a familiar song, something I heard years ago. I walked in, past the buses, and saw a tall African-American man in a jean jacket, wandering around, blowing his harp carefully. After listening for a while, I placed the song - "Tom Dooley." I flashed back to riding in the back seat of a station wagon as my mom listened to the Kingston Trio sing the same tune. After a few minutes, a bus pulled in and he disappeared into the night, leaving only the sounds of kids playing and conversation in his wake.
I saw one of the most beautiful women I've ever seen in my life tonight. I don't know her name, I don't know who she is. I just know I saw her bouncing around on the fringe and in the pit, singing along with Propagandhi's songs, shaking her vaguely lavender hair loose and wearing a floral print dress. She reminded me of Lois Maffeo - not surprising, since I've had a crush on Lois since the first time I heard "Strumpet." She wasn't taking shit from the skinheads either. They'd start moshing around in their circle and push her out of the way, but in a few minutes, she was back where she had been. It was really refreshing to see someone like her, someone who is utterly and totally beautiful without adorning herself with makeup, without exposing her body to the leering glances of the testosterone-addled jockcore boys. She was completely real and she was lovely. I'll probably never see her again, but I'll never forget the way she looked as she was dancing to songs of liberation.
The water quietly dripped from the faucet as I washed her back. It was late at night, about midnight or so, and the water was at least 85 degrees, if not more. The soap slowly swirled down her back as I squeezed a water-laden sponge over her bare shoulders. Steam rose from the water and her damp hair tickled my chest as she leaned back against me, her skin squeaking on the tub surface as she reclined. I don't know how long we sat there like that, my arms wrapped around her, our eyes closed. Sometimes, time doesn't matter at all.
Driving east into the darkness, my left hand resting on the windowsill, illuminated by the "Check Engine" light. I kept thinking about Jonathan Richman singing "Roadrunner," and the only star-bounced noise I could hear was carefully constructed to evoke some sort of emotion, tailored to stir the soul in what probably passes for a profound way. These days aren't my days, but I don't have any others. It seems like everything is a product, everything has been commodified. I'm sick of being manipulated by contrived musics which play at emotion. I'm sick of music not meaning nearly as much anymore, sick of it being polluted by the dull, the boring and the mindless. Crucify the insincere? Only if we start with Billy Corgan and his minions. Radio off.
It's easy to hate racism as an abstract concept. It's incredibly easy not to tolerate intolerance. It's a lot harder when that intolerance is attached to a name and a face. Then again, when I came face to face with a skinhead tonight and put a name to the racism, hating hate just became that much easier. I talked to him and heard what he had to say. I shook his hand and introduced myself. And as he kept talking, I felt sick to my stomach. He insulted everyone who wasn't a straight white male. Presumably, he found me okay. He must not have known that a few of my great-grandparents were full-blooded Cherokee. I masqueraded as someone sympathetic to their cause for a few moments tonight and I'm ashamed that I didn't tell him to get his racist ass up and out of the chair at the table I was occupying and take his white power bullshit elsewhere.
I'm going to out myself now - I am a fucking race and gender traitor and I'm damn proud of it. I do not defend white culture. I do not uphold it, or regard it as having set levels of intellectual achievement all other cultures should aspire to. I regard it as one among many cultures, all of which are valid and worthy of respect and appreciation. I find certain practices (like female genital mutilation) abhorrent, but I also find what passes for democracy in contemporary America abhorrent. I find socializing women to be submissive, passive and a sex object abhorrent. In short, I don't see any fucking difference between the ways males brutalize women in our culture and the ways other cultures brutalize women.
When I got home tonight, and even as I write this, I still feel sick. My hand is raw from where I scraped it with a scouring pad, trying to get his sweat off me, trying to erase the feeling of shaking his hand. The only solace I have is in the irony of the situation - sexist, homophobic white power skinheads paying money to see a show at a venue run by one of the most gentle and positive Afrikan women I know of in San Diego. Their money will go right back into progressive efforts, putting on shows by bands they would find offensive. I heard the words that skin said tonight, and it made me sick. Even so, I came out of that conversation with a bit of hope. He complained about the lack of white power shows in San Diego. I asked him where bands like Skrewdriver might play down here. His response was simple - nowhere. Apparently, Aryan Pride bands had been chased out of San Diego and understood both implicitly and explicitly that they are not welcome here. Even though I criticize this town for being a haven for racist, right wing fuckheads, sometimes I'm pleasantly surprised and that moment was one of those occasions.
Oh, a quick footnote. I realize this passage directly contradicts the piece contained within these pages which welcomes everyone to punk. I can deal with this hypocrisy, because, to me anyway, punk wasn't about excluding anyone, and white power is. Ergo, white power is not punk, so fuck it and fuck the people who subscribe to the notion.
Sometimes life is strange. It was the day the CDA was struck down by a Federal Court, at least, temporarily. There was a knock at the door. I opened it and it was someone I hadn't seen or spoken to in years, and the last time we had spoken, we were on fairly bad terms. She had come by to return some letters I had written years ago; I don't know why she saved them. For some reason, I still don't understand (though I suspect it was directly linked to my exuberance and joy that the old fucks in the government had been soundly rebuffed), I started talking to her. We sat on my front stoop and chatted while the sun lazily drifted toward the western horizon. It was awkward, but no more so than talking to someone for the first time. Birds chirped, pine needles fell around us and when she was leaving, she extended her arms, wrapped them around me and gave me a hug. I returned the gesture, and as I put my arms around her back, a flood of memories came back - sitting in parking structures in the middle of the night, talking about personal tragedies, listening to the Replacements, talking on the phone for hours in the middle of the night, walking her back to her dorm as dawn cracked in the east, breaking the cover of darkness with gentle beams of cloudy, misty light. I remembered telling her once how I felt, saying that I wanted to be the one to fix chicken soup for her when she was sick. I had blocked all those moments out, repressed them and tried to forget, but with that contact, I was able to reclaim them. I may never see her again, but at least I can think about the times we shared fondly. At least I can remember them now, and reclaim part of myself I had locked up for years.
A friend of mine and I spent a few hours talking the other night, discussing compromises which seem to be part and parcel of scraping by in this town. As I was driving home, I realized everything is a compromise - our choice of words, our feelings and how we express them, how we choose to look - every day we concede a few more points for comfort, for popularity, for economic survival. It's revolting. I refuse to believe we have to live like this, without free will. I refuse to believe in predetermination. I may have to accept poverty for living life on my terms, but it's preferable to cutting deals and bargaining for every scrap which someone throws to me. It's preferable to slowly cutting off every part of myself, to be rewarded for my acquiescence, for my complete surrender, with a paltry salary and a meaningless job. I refuse to sell myself out to a world of murder, corruption and black hearts which long for nothing but money. I will resist because I will not lose without fighting until I'm dead in every way which matters. I may lose in the end, but I will not follow the shuffling feet down the dark road to oblivion. I will not follow them to a gray world of dehumanization willingly. I will take up arms and fight against these pressures because it is my only choice if I want to survive. This is my oath, my creed, my life.
Well after midnight. I was talking to someone I had never met before on the Internet. Talked for hours, switched to the phone about dawn. Falling for her. Stripping away the shell I've built up around myself - the attitude, the words, the ideas. Tearing it all down, ripping the bricks apart with my bare hands and raging at the prison I built for myself. My fingers are still bleeding and I can see the red smudges on the keyboard as I type this. I'm sick of being anything less than completely, utterly, totally honest and real with people. I'm sick of hiding what I think and fear and feel because I worry it might offend someone, because it might scare them away. I'm sick of feeling like I'm lost in the supermarket, confused by all the products and deals and offers, all the little compromises which gradually amount to nothing less than suicide. I'm sick of cutting my losses, of making concessions to a culture of rape, denial and dehumanization, a society of racism, hatred and death which burns self-loathing into us so deeply that the scars are welded to our bones. I'm sick of inhabiting a world that I can barely tolerate, much less like. So I'm going to change it. It may be a sentiment which appears most often on bumper stickers, but I will not accept what I can't change. I will change what I can't accept. Who taught us to hate ourselves, to hate each other? Why did we listen? Why do we still arrange ourselves in groups, in cliques, adhering to the same mentality which forced us away from the dominant culture and brought us together under the umbrella of a music? Why have we brought the prejudices and bastardized, unforgiving rules of the outside world into something which is ours? Why do we feel the need to bring our baggage along instead of leaving it at the door and forgetting it ever existed? Why is this shit still here? We've all been lied to, told that our music, our ideals, our chosen path means nothing and that we'll never change the world. Maybe we won't change the world, but we can change ourselves. We can stop being so small and petty, so mindless and dull. We can stop debating the fine details and start looking at the bigger picture. We can stop picking up pine needles, get the fuck out of the forest and see what is really going on - a slow, spreading and deliberate colonization. Everything we see, hear and know will gradually come to be affected unless we resist by thinking and breaking down the walls we've built between us. We can stop identifying ourselves as nation-states and start identifying ourselves as people, as part of a collective whole which is a strange, crazy, beautiful, mixed-up and wonderful being. We can stop fucking each other over, hurting each other and abusing each other. We can start something new. When was the last time you went to a punk show and saw people hugging each other? When was the last time you went to a show and saw people expressing thanks that, once again, everyone made it and was still alive and whole? When was the last time you appreciated the person standing next to you at a show just because they were there? We're all guilty of this. I almost never talk to people at shows - too afraid of rejection I guess. I don't look at people, don't communicate with them. I wind up just watching the band, losing myself in the music once again, driving home with my head ringing from the noise. I never stop to tell someone how happy I am that they've survived long enough to make it there, how glad I am that they're alive and part of whatever this is. And when the lights go down and the band starts tuning up, I'm pretty sure we all remember why we're there and it isn't because we want to be cool or seen or in a clique - we're there because the music speaks to us and says something so profound and coherent and brilliant that it blinds us while simultaneously awakening every other sense. For those few brief moments - that power chord that sends chills up your spine, those soft, murmured words which hit you in the gut like a solid body blow - we're actualized and part of something which is larger than any of us, or the collective sum of what we do. We're part of something which is so grand and majestic and wonderful that we can't begin to comprehend it now, but as years go by, maybe we'll gradually come to understand what we have to simply accept without describing now. It's something beyond the lies, beyond the hatred, beyond this culture we've all stepped away from. It's something which is so deeply buried in all of us that I can't explain it, I only know that I share it with you and it lies between us as a bridge upon which we can meet, a common ground upon which we can stand without our prejudices, without all the bullshit from our past. It is ground upon which we can stand without fear, loathing or anything but understanding, acceptance and mutual respect, admiration and affection. I'm glad you're here. I hope you stay and if you leave, I hope you take this ineffable thing, this spirit, with you wherever you go. See you next time.