Pretty Vacant (Sex Pistols)
The thunder startled me awake. It felt like I was being bounced around inside a kettle drum. I tried to lay still as if the lack of motion would stop the onslaught of sound. As my eyes grew used to the darkness of my room I squinted to make out the tiny digits on my phone. Three AM. Fuck. The stale whiskey and cigarette taste in my mouth reminded of what licking a dirty ashtray at a dive bar must taste like. My head began to co-op the thunder rolls into the pounding of a quick onset hangover. My hand fumbled on the night stand until I felt the reassuring feel of my trusty bowl. If I could manage to get the first hit into my system before my mind fully awoke this morning may just be saved. That was when lightning flared and slashed my eyes like lasers. Searing pain assaults my every sense. A long drag off the pipe and a bit of frantic profanity and I knew this was the start of another long horrible day. I made the mental check, day 24 of misery.
Nothing has gone right since that night. The holy duo of drugs and booze can only take so much away. I can state with absolute certainty that I hate elves.
My name is Phlegm Hardly. Now fuck off while I self-medicate.
Three shots, three hits and three hours later I open my eyes and only hate the world the average amount. Not quite burn the whole place down, but more than willing to roast marshmallows as it does. The thunder is only in my skull but has gone from Slayer drum fill to marching band. Sousa can eat a bag of dicks. People like to say I have had a chip on my shoulder ever since I was a kid. Those people were not named by heroin addicts that had an over fondness for punk rock in the early 80s. They also have not seen half the shit I have and if they had would be locked down in a padded room somewhere drooling pudding onto their restraints. Been there. It is not a good look on anyone. Nearly as bad of a look as nodding off in your chair with the needle still sticking out of your arm while your child listens to Dead Kennedy albums and wallows in his own filth. Slightly better than the look of overdosing in same said chair while your son struggles to do his homework in his room after a full shift at the chicken joint after school.
Yes, I am a touch bitter. Nothing a few chemicals and some solid time in therapy cannot handle. Tried that as well. Not really my thing but when the courts order it, you give it a chance. Imagine telling your court appointed doctor that you have been to the valley of the trolls, seen a dragon roast an entire village or basically anything related to the Undercity. I can feel your eyes glossing over as you disregard that entire paragraph. Probably assuming that it is the drugs talking and I need more help than your initial, scientifically informed opinion, showed. Trust me when I say you are not far off and one hundred percent wrong at the same time. The story of my life.
Which is why we are here friends. I do not know how much longer I have on this plane and someone needs to know that I both existed and tried. So fucking hard. This tale begins twenty four days ago. And thirty five years ago. And hundreds of millennia ago. Every story has a beginning. This is mine.
Got any smokes?
Knowledge (Operation Ivy)
My mother was homeschooled by over protective Christian parents. She knew nothing of the real world outside her sleepy little Texas town. With no real working knowledge of life she decided to head to the big city of Dallas, home of the Ewing family every Sunday night, and make her own way. And like any good Americana lore, it ended up going the wrong way in a hurry.
She had one tattered photograph she kept in her purse. I remember looking at it as a child. Her father was a stern looking man, not even a hint of smile in his eyes. Her mother on the hand, looked like kindness personified. Her smile lit the photo. The way her hand rested gently on his arm showed love and support. My mother looked broodily at the camera. Her blonde hair done up in pigtails. Boxy white leather shoes and a cute simple dress. She looked miserable. Somehow out of place even amongst her family. A large red barn stood behind them, door ajar and hay seemed to be spilling out of it. I memorized every inch of that picture. The way the color had faded and gave everything a yellow tint. The worried edge where sometimes I would see mom’s hand rubbing when she was lost in thought.
She rarely spoke of her time before. Sometimes before she would nod off completely she would tell stories from the bible. Or about helping with the animals. She always loved animals. Humans were liars and predators, but animals were innocence and love. God, she would go on and on listening to the Smiths about meat being murder. Morrissey has a special place in Hell waiting for him, even if he plays Judy is a Punk live all the time and it is a brilliant rendition. Not as good as Pears version on Go To Prison, and I stand by that. Always seemed a strange dichotomy in my mother, she was straight vegetarian, vegan before it was cool but she would happily lay back and shoot that shit into her veins every night. I did not even taste meat until I was sixteen but I could tell when there was more laxative than junk on the spoon. She was a saint, my mother, dripping black tar kisses before bed every night.
She never mentioned her father unless the drugs were strong. He was not a kind man. Prone to quoting scripture and using his belt to expel the demons from his only daughter. But he was straightforward about who he was. Hard working, hard worshipping and had little time for anything between. He never wasted words. She described his voice as gargling gravel from little use. She was a daddy’s girl. Until she wasn’t. And that is where all the problems began. At first it was minor, the flaws in her father’s armor began to show.
“It was the first time I asked how he knew God was always watching us, judging us. There was no movement behind his eyes. Just a quick slap across the mouth. If he never questioned, how did he know?” she slurred, watching the lazy spiral of smoke from the forgotten cigarette between her lips. “It was blind obedience. I realized then you had to question everything you were taught. Even when it makes sense Phlegm. Fuck the patriarchal system. I need smokes. Do Mama a favor and ru…” drool poured steadily out of her mouth as she nodded off. When she finally came to a fresh pack of smokes was awaiting her.
The flaws became cracks the more she read books in school and learned that the all-knowing voice of God her father claimed to be was a ruse. She began to see her Mother’s hidden machinations, the puppet master controlling the show. Her father was quiet because he had nothing to add besides a heavy hand and Jesus. Soon it became hard to even be around him. The Knight became the jester. What about the rest of the world? The land of Sodom her parents warned her about, made her afraid of her entire life? Was it really a den of sin (yes) two steps from judgment day? She grew bolder and bolder, reading philosophies and different religious texts in the public library at lunch. Learned to mask the truth and act like the obedient little girl at home. She did the most dangerous thing a small town girl can do, she got curious. It became an itch that she could not scratch. Not through stolen moments listening to the forbidden rock and roll, reading heathen words or generally asking the right questions.
TV Party (Black Flag)
She could go on for hours about Plato and the cave allegory. She was raised in that cave, and her spirit needed to see the outside world. Every now and then she would see a spark but her mother would try and crush it before it could come to life. Her mother was the perfect southern lady. Demure and sweet, but the iron in her spine was rigid. Mom learned a lot from her, enough to realize that no matter the outward persona, the inner strength was key. She also learned to hate both of her parents for not pushing her, expecting more from her. She was a brood mare to them, eventually to marry a local boy and have kids to help on their farm. Perpetuating this cycle as their parents and their parents before had done. She was finished with it. She made herself a promise on her 16th birthday that in two years she would be in the big city of Dallas. A fresh start. She read and hid in her mind the next two years. Appearing like a sleepwalker to everyone, she had already left. She didn’t know that television was as big a liar as her parents.
Mom’s name was Mary. When she stepped foot into Dallas she was truly a good representation of the biblical namesake. Innocent and wide eyed in all of her virgin glory she went from a town of seven hundred to a metroplex of millions. The tallest building she had ever seen was three stories high so you can only imagine how insignificant she felt dwarfed by buildings that reached up to the heavens her parents forced her to pray to. Her eyes to the heavens her entire life and suddenly she saw what occurred on the ground. She was confused by the number of homeless people roaming the alleys, beggars on the corners of every major road, and the disdain showed by the people driving past them unseeing. This was nothing like television.
She was not naïve enough to believe that this would be perfect. But she never imagined this. She saw Sodom and Gomorrah everywhere. Strip clubs, drug addicts and all manner of misery on full display all around her. It was filthy. The smells of the farm became exhaust and body odor. The stars never seemed to come out like they did at home, Orion’s belt barely visible with the city lights. And the lack of silence. Her entire life had been defined by the quiet. Now she could not imagine it. Or when it got quiet it was a sign of a bad thing. The third day she nearly got back on the bus. She was walking downtown looking for a job when a man grabbed her and pulled her into the alley. He ransacked her purse and grew furious when she had no money. He had a knife. The problem is having a blade and using it are two entirely different things. She had hit him in the throat and balls before he even thought to use the weapon.
Two weeks after stepping off the bus she was already a waitress at Waffle House during the day. She found a boarding home where she could sleep and she pretended it was like church camp. That made the lack of privacy and six others crammed into the room bearable. A month later she cried as the building burned to the ground along with her bible and three changes of clothing. A week at the homeless and shelter and trying to sleep in the backroom of the Waffle House led to a bit of a departure for dear sweet Mary.
Hollywood Babylon (The Misfits)
You are assuming stripper or whore. Am I right? Every small town girl moving to the big city gets turned out by the system, Hollywood has shown us this a thousand times. Let me say this one time – this is not a Hollywood screenplay with a happy ending. She didn’t show up to blow some rich guy who falls in love with her. Grow the fuck up. Had this story gone that way I imagine I would have been born in a dumpster in Oak Cliff or Deep Ellum. That would have been a far shorter, and frankly, happier tale.
Hold on. I am not selling this whole thing correctly. It is not all bad. Mostly bad. But there is more than just the bad.
“But Phlegm, so far you are snarky and a total shit. And your name sucks.”
True. So true. But you cannot judge a book by its cover. Unless there is a shirtless man with a woman standing behind him and to the left. Chances are that is a romance novel. Which is fine if that is your thing, I am just trying to help.
Stick with me. Ride this out and tell your friends. One day you will thank me. Or hate me less. I don’t care which you choose.
Trust me, I have tattoos and body piercings. I can make the best stuffed burger on the planet and know all the lyrics to Walk Among Us. I believe the Talking Heads, Violent Femmes and Pixies are the three of the most important bands on the planet. I vote Jello Biafra for president every election. I am not liberal or conservative, more hit the big red button and start over. I have stood in the face of divinity and held on to my agnostic faith. And I am an amazing lover. Of fiction and art.
If there is any justice, if anyone ever decides to publish this, I need to be shirtless with my gut hanging over my belt with the ugliest possible woman standing behind and to the left. Screw the Establishment!
The Shadow of Love (The Damned)
My mother found something inside herself at this most desperate time. She pulled doubles until she saved enough for a small apartment right down the road from the Bronco Bowl. She was biking distance from work and downtown. She loved riding her bike downtown and being ensconced in metal and concrete. It was far more alluring than the harsh sunlight and dust from her childhood. When she was lucid she would tell me it kept the eyes of God off of her. The city camouflaged her from prying eyes and kept us safe. Back then she did not feel that way. Back then she was figuring out who she was and living as free as the hawks that circled looking for prey.
One night the manager asked to cover the overnight shift after they fired the staff for stealing. Mary never said no to someone in need. She agreed. This is a story she told me a million times.
“I have always been a night person. But the idea of all the drunk and disorderly people I had heard stories about made me nervous about staying at work all night. But Momma always told me that as long as you are honest and true the devil cannot see you. So I went in with the right attitude. And little did I know that love was on the menu that night.”
Too Political (Really Red)
The Texas punk scene was not a nationwide phenomena. But bands like DRI, The Hates and Really Red from Houston were holding the anarchy flag high in the Lone Star State. The Pistols had broken up with a whimper instead of a bang in San Francisco. But Reaganomics was in full swing. The California and emerging hardcore scenes in New York and DC were pushing boundaries and lighting fires. And everyone knows Millions of Dead Cops started here and moved to Portland. The Dwarves were still playing dive bars in Chicago at this point. Fully clothed at that.
Also bear in mind that at this time lead was in everything still. The average person had six hundred percent more lead in their system than was natural. It had polluted the environment and lowered children’s IQs for decades at this point. Not making excuses, just saying.
Punk Rock Girl (Dead Milkman)
She was yelling orders when everyone in the room got quiet. She slowly turned and dropped the pot of coffee. In front of her were ten guys in torn jeans and ripped up t-shirts, fighting the still ninety degree night with spiked and studded leather jackets. And Ronald Reagan masks. The room got tense when the police officers stood and placed hands on guns. Hands went up and masks came off and the room probably mentally agreed that maybe they should have stayed on. Brightly colored mohawks and bulky facial piercings, like a John Carpenter nightmare brought to life filled everyone’s eyes. But the way she would tell it, there was only one man in the room at the moment. He had Liberty Spikes painted red, green and black standing two feet out at jutting and jarring angles. The huge hoop through his left nostril glinted beneath his blue eyes and accentuated the fresh black eye forming around his right orb. Time froze as they stared at each other. The freaks sat at the counter and scrambled enough cash for coffee and hash browns for all. Liberty Spikes got a double order somehow on accident.
She was becoming quite the tart.
That night they did not speak except to order food and pay tabs. But he stayed in her mind when she clocked out and rode home. She described the entire next day as being flooded with light. Everything seemed different and better somehow. She was not aware of it at the time, but she had contracted the most deadly disease of all. This sickness causes nothing but pain and destroys all that fall into its path. She was falling in love.
She found herself watching the flyers stapled to the various poles around town, looking for a hint into what punk was. She had a friend from the home take her to Bill’s Records to get look through the vinyl. It all seemed so angry and scary as she flipped through the crates. She settled on The Ramones because they looked like ugly John Travolta clones from Grease. On a whim she also grabbed Dead Kennedys – in God We Trust, Inc. Maybe she felt the use of God made them better and less likely to lead to the Devil. She was way off base she would learn but she thought his voice was funny and the cover of Rawhide reminded her of being a kid again.
She did not get it at first. It was just the same as the rock and roll her parents vilified. But somehow played worse. But it leeched into her brain. She thought of him as she listened and due to the framing of infatuation it became all she wanted to hear. The words wormed into her brain. She did not know what sniffing glue was like but she found herself wanting to know. Several bus rides to Bill’s and up to Lower Greenville and her collection grew. She began to deep dive: The Clash, Pistols, Siouxhie, the assorted who’s who from CBGB. She devoured it. She bought a Walkman and rocked out on her bike and at work. After shift, she stuck around listening to music and waiting for the mystery man with the black eye to come back in.
Something about this music seemed more honest in her ears. If the television painted everything with a glossy glow, this was paint thinner thrown onto everything. Dayglo lettering and a message to fight, it felt so raw and real in an era of disco and synth music.