“I can’t believe you didn’t check in to Facebook!” a low-lighted, business casual forty-something called across the drug store to a lady who looked like mid-2000s Kate Gosslin– graduated bob, swooped up bangs, silver hoops, dressed in black and gray.th

“Yeah, I know! I check in everywhere!” she called back.

I smiled.  I’m on my best behavior because I’m visiting the post office satellite office blocks away from my work. I work in the most conservative part of my valley. Everyone drives big trucks, and in my honors English class out of 120 argumentative essays on gun control, a mere two were in favor of moderate gun control. The rest were little Charleton Hestons, painting pathos-laden scenarios:

Imagine you’re in your bed after guns have been taken away by the government. You got a new Xbox but then a robber breaks into your house. You reach under your pillow to grab your gun but it’s gone. The robber still has his gun because criminals don’t follow laws anyway. If it wasn’t for gun control, you would still have your Xbox and you would still be alive.

Now I realize that this paints a very vivid picture, and if the intended audience was fellow 15 year old boys, this would be damned effective. But the red pen twitches at the over-use of 2nd person point-of-view and the heart wonders what 15 year old boy actually 1) has his own gun 2) actually sleeps with it under his pillow. 3) would kill someone over an Xbox. But luckily I’m not grading on content, so I just put my signature, “!!!” next to the introduction, which nebulously means, “That’s pretty intense.”

So this is the environment these elite, top-of-their-class students are raised in. Not to belabor the point, but when I returned their essays, I asked them how many have a gun in their house and how many of them feel safer because there is a gun in their house. Pretty much a hair-raising majority. I keep silent about the fact that I live in a part of town infinitely more dangerous, that it literally is “on the wrong side of the tracks.” That the valley community FB  has numerous posts about how “scary” my neighborhood is, and that one poster even claimed he will only visit my part of town on  Google Earth, and that’s “as close” as he “feels comfortable.” So I get in hollering matches with high-as-a-kite profanity-muttering gangsters tagging up the wash by my house, they’re clad in classic gangster uniforms—the ubiquitous white t-shirt, the patchy facial hair—and I am infinitely more afraid that my son would stumble into someone’s closet and find their loaded gun and shoot himself with it, or shoot someone else, than I am afraid of home invasion or a mugging, even walking through the dark streets to the liquor store that features sullen paranoid owners scowling at the customers like a mid 90’s G-funk video.

Back in the old neighborhood, they post screenshots from their home surveillance systems, looking for teenage hoodlums who stole their Amazon Prime packages off their porches. They crow about how they “never answer the door” to salespeople and solicitors and if the person keeps knocking, they open the door and point a gun in their face “and they never come back! LOL!” While we answer the door to Girl Scouts and candy bar salesmen and the local evangelists looking for people who speak “Spanish? Spanish?” and window weather-proofers and anyone else. We open the door with a smile and politely decline, and they move on to the next house. Maybe a little defeated but at least we gave them the time of day because not everyone is a scam-artist, a criminal, a rapist, or an evil master-mind.

I smile to myself as I watch the lady weigh my media mail package on the post office scale. I love Facebook but I have to keep my posts under strict scrutiny. I used to be freer with liking my sex worker friends’ wry commentary and sharing hyperbolic political memes, but now my friends from high school have high schoolers of their own, and I know that despite my “Friends Only” status, a student told me her mom shares my FB posts with her. So as has become my new motto: “Don’t post anything you don’t want printed out and sitting on your boss’ desk Monday morning,” I try to stay pretty mild. But I am tempted, like all overly-wired suburban mothers, to check in everywhere, to post everything, and to like every post.

“Yeah, I gave up Facebook for Lent!”

I look over,delighted and surprised, and nod approvingly. She smiles back at me and we nod at each other. What a cool idea—not white sugar or cursing, but Facebook. That’s a brilliant sacrifice.

“I know!” the friend is closer now, not yelling quite as loud. “It must be so hard for you! You were always checking in everywhere!”

I turn back to the postal clerk as I know how the next step of this mom dance plays out. She’s going to ask me what I gave up for Lent, and I’m going to have to figure out if I need to just vague away or if I need to take a stand.

The bottoms of my feet begin to sweat as I play out my options. “Nothing.” But that seems laconically rude.

“I’m not Catholic,” would be accurate but a little snippy. The fact that I actually ask people, when they walk around with an ash cross on their foreheads, what they have given up means maybe I’m more connected to that community than I really am.  Anthropology is just my hobby, though, and I am enamored of most rituals and customs, no matter how seemingly innocuous.

“Actually, I’m Buddhist,” I consider saying and instantly, I get dizzy. Am I Buddhist? I identify with so many tenets of Buddhism that it’s the religion I identify closest with. But then I think how smug that sounds, “Actually, I’m Buddhist…” *wry hipster yogi smile* A wrist tattoo suddenly manifests…I already drink my coffee with almond milk and consider kale one of the main foodgroups. But then I’m not full-fledged Buddhist. I actually identify as Christian. It was the way I was raised, yet I’m not “that kind” of Christian. Whatever that means. I believe in some things, ignore the rest, and wish I really could just say, “I believe in God, and I really love aspects of Buddhism and Sikhism but I really ascribe to hypothetical Christianity, like Christ’s teachings of the New Testament but Christianity in practice in the last 2,000 years makes me angry and turns me off. I feel the same way about Islam. What I’ve read of the Quran, I really like but then I see orthodoxy in practice and it’s ugly. So yeah, I think the smartest people I know are atheists but I’ve had too many unexplainable spiritual experiences to not believe in God, so basically I just believe in God and I’m waiting for a religion that I can believe whole-heartedly in, and I haven’t found it yet.”

She doesn’t ask me, though. I think she knows that my fervent nodding and smile, then abrupt removal of eye contact, my hands clutching the edge of the postal clerk’s desk, means I don’t want to take the conversation to the next step, whereas a gel manicured hand on hip, and a knee turned out of my cargo pants, means I want to talk more about faith as we are surrounded by bedazzled fleur de lys and crosses, and black boxes with jolly sayings in all white capital letters: “DON’T TALK TO ME UNTIL AFTER I’VE HAD MY MORNING WINE!”

“GERMS AND JESUS ARE EVERYWHERE!” was chalked on the blackboard. I had to stifle a choke. The English teacher in me did not approve of that compound subject. It implies well, you know… but I was a guest in this mid70s tract home. Our sons were on a soccer team together, and we were attempting to patch up a budding friendship. My husband uttered an explicative at my son when he wasn’t following directions, and this mom told our ABA provider. The ABA provider informed us, anonymously, and laughed. And the coaches laughed as I cried because it is So Hard to raise and nurture a special needs child. Sometimes you need to fucking cuss at him when he’s spitting at his teammates, head banging his tutor’s arm, and running in the opposite direction, on purpose, for task avoidance. I asked if Child Services would be involved and they all hugged me, and they told me we are human and we all say and do things that we might regret but that the blond boy laughing and spinning on the freshly cut grass is absolutely undamaged and unphased.

She still doesn’t know we figured out it was she who complained about us, thanks to the Starbucks drive-through gossip grapevine, but we decided to kill her with kindness. We were on our best behavior as she invited us over and we watched our only child attempt to mingle and blend with her extended brood in the garage turned playroom. He formed a particular attachment to a Wonder Pets toy, and she let him borrow it. And I like to think it was her way of apologizing for judging us. Either that, or she was showing him some kindness that his egregiously messed up parents couldn’t fathom.

I wonder about that sometimes. I feel like my son is uniformly accepted by moms everywhere. He’s handsome, out-going, affectionate, and kind. But I feel like I’m being judged as his mother—I let him eat too much junk food, I let him watch ipad for hours on the weekend, I respond to his hypotactile seeking needs by wrestling with him, and I let him cuss when he asks permission. “Mom, can I say a naughty word?” he asks a few times a day. “Which one?” “B word.” “Okay.” “Summa bitch!” The release is achieved, and nothing got headbutted. But I feel like moms are quietly judging, watching, keeping score. “If he was my kid, I wouldn’t xyz,” I think they’re saying, especially the ones who have neurotypical kids. I feel like they think they can cure his autism by their far-superior parenting skills, and they are watching us like a hit-and-run accident. “Should I get involved?” they think, fists clenched, ready to jump in with SuperMom powers gleaned from hours of internet research and practical application on their own children. “No,” they think, “I wouldn’t want someone to tell me how to parent!” And they watch us stumble through parenting with tears brimming. But I notice. I see them. I smile at them. I appreciate their concern, but they’re right. I may not be the perfect mom but I am damned proud of the job my husband and I have done so far. And sorry to be a jerk, but unless your kid is special needs and is a teenager, I’ll only half-listen to your advice anyway. If you have come out on the other side of parenting and are a success, I will respect you, and I will thank you for your words of wisdom.

Growing up, I relished my individualism. Nonconformity was my by-line for everything. I got good grades and was a punk. I was a punk who didn’t drink. I was a terrible flirt who didn’t put out. I wore dresses but paired them with orange tights and fishnets. I wore glasses but they were granny bifocals or tinted John Lennon specs. I did horn-rimmed and cat-eye glasses before I knew anyone else who wore them. I drove a huge car and was a kick-ass driver. I dated boys from Hollywood but lived in a 4 bedroom two-story house with a pool. But I had my community. I had my best friends—girls who wore all black, who fell in love with men 5 to 10 years older than we. We drove weird cars and ate at McDonald’s. We sat on the ground no matter where we were. We wore dark eye make-up and striped tights. Maybe one girl was more into glam rock than the rest of us, another couldn’t get out of bed due to depression, and me, I wanted to go to college and become a famous writer. But we had each other, and if the rest of the world yelled “FREAK!” and “NICE HAIR!” and threw food at us, we would just laugh and scream some obscenity back. We had each other, we had our scene, and we had our community.

But now I find myself in that exact same environment 25 years later. I married the boy I dated in 10th grade. I teach at the school I used to attend. My classroom is right next to the spot we used to sit at freshman year. I have a season pass to Magic Mountain again. And now the old bullies have grown up and want to make amends on Facebook. They send me friend requests although I haven’t forgotten that they tried to beat me up next to the lockers adjacent to the library. “Don’t hold on to old grudges!” they say. “Maybe they’re cool now!” they say, and I get it but when the guy who humiliated me every day for three years, drives by on a golf cart and calls my real name, not that annoying epithet he spat at me every day, with a smile and wants to hand me his business card for his booming real estate company, I just want to shake him out of his chinos and remind me how miserable and insecure he and his 6th grade and 8th grade friends made me (I had that year of reprieve when I was in sixth grade and they were mercifully at the junior high, where I actually had a slight, wonderful break from the constant bullying I experienced from 4th grade to 11th grade).

I look around me, and I see well-meaning women, trying to balance career and family. Or others who stay home but try to keep busy by making their lives a living Pinterest experiment. They are trying paleo, they want to learn to sew curtains, they love to take control of their changing bodies through exercise. They are learning to support each other in a world that fosters competition between women. But then, they mention the C word. “Where do you go to church?” And then it always gets awkward. The phone calls cease, the friendly propositions for a playdate, the liking of the Facebook posts. I am never rude even though inwardly I’m screaming, “WHY CAN’T WE JUST BE FRIENDS? WHY DID YOU HAVE TO BRING RELIGION INTO IT?!” Because I know, so many women get grounded through religion. They struggle with depression and anxiety, but they “give it up to God.” They sare tempted by cynicism and nihilism but then are buoyed up with the question, “What does God want to me do with my life? Is this what God intended for me?” And I just…can’t. You can say “vegan,” you can even say “conservative values,” and I will only slightly waver, but the minute someone says, “The Lord” or “at my church, you should come,” I feel estranged and put on the spot. That I have to defend my beliefs, that I have the opportunity to become someone’s “progressive” liberal friend with weird ideas about religion, but I don’t want that. And I know, I know, that my religious friends will say, “I accept you for who you are! It doesn’t matter that you’re going to burn in hell for not proclaiming Jesus Christ is your lord and savior from the rooftops! I’ll still be your friend!” But I long for that sense of community and camaraderie of old.

Why do we suburban moms all look the same? How are we following trends on point without consulting each other? There is a mom zeitgeist. And I get swept into this tide of momconformity but then I struggle against the current. I do not want my child playing team sports because he doesn’t like to and I feel betrayed by the experiences of judginess we’ve had on the field. I want to grow my hair long because my whole life, I keep chopping it short and bleaching it out, so I want to see what it looks like long and semi-natural looking, but as I sit in the salon chair, my stylist with a little pink curly bob framing her face and I see all the other women in their 40s with hair mid-back, dark in the back, light in the front with just enough interplay of low-lights and highlights to make it look like your hair did in third grade before it all went dark and sad, I realize I’m a dime a dozen. I feel like a rebel subverting gender norms when I pull on my tired old day-off pants and my flip-flops but all the other moms are reclaiming loungewear because they’re so busy during the week. I wear my dark circles under my eyes, no concealer, my jeans, my BJJ t-shirt as I bump into no less than two other tired old moms with thinning ponytails, wrinkled faces, and faded Gracie Barra shirts. What are the odds at Costco on a Saturday morning that three middle-aged women who practice Brazilian jiujitsu are all in the same line somehow? Buying bananas and Kirkland conditioner. I pride myself on my box of delivered box of organic vegetables that I make my homemade soup from, and the other moms post recipes—no gluten, no dairy, all organic! “Yeah, I’m doing #whole30 too!”

I embrace this momconformity to an extent. You are a product of your environment. And when you’re 15, you get a certain sense of pride of bucking the system, of embracing your so-called individualism, but when you get older, you just wanna do what you wanna do, and sometimes that goes along with everyone else who is just doing their own thing and your tastes are formed by the aesthetics around you instead of a reaction against the aesthetics around you.

I wonder how life would be different if we lived in the city. Would the momconformity be short, chopped hair, hand-knit sweaters and raw veganism? Are there atheist mom groups where they squint with concern when you say you believe in a higher power? Forget Pascal’s wager, these women think your brain is rotting if you believe in the supernatural. Would I continue to feel alienated because I don’t ride my bike to work and I don’t grow my own vegetables in a small box on my window sill?

Undoubtedly it’s hard to make friends, no matter your age, your politics, your scene. And the older you get, the more you accept yourself but also, it seems, the more you accept that other people and their perceptions of you don’t matter. So when I attempt to connect to some mom who looks cool or seems to have common interests or hell, who is just in the same room as me, and they don’t acknowledge, they don’t smile, they don’t even register a flicker of recognition that you have verbalized a greeting, you have to think, “ Well, alright then.” Everyone has their family, their friend, their church, their little box. They don’t need anyone else, and you’re the oddball because you try to nudge your way into acknowledgement. Maybe our kids would like to play with each other? Maybe we can share ideas and learn from each other? Maybe we can just make each other laugh for a minute instead of being so tunnel-visioned on what’s doing wrong in the world, in our lives. But it’s true, I have given up. I will drop the smile, the salutation,the acknowledgement and will leave it there for a minute to see if it’s reciprocated. If it’s not, I’m too jaded in this mom game to care anymore. I’ve been snubbed more times at Scooter’s Jungle than I ever was at a keg party, and I can live with that.

Sometimes I like to think that someone will smile back, say hi, acknowledge a budding connection, and that we might go out for high tea at the tea place or I can invite her to roll around for some amateur mom jitsu, but then the opportunity presents itself, and it’s just easier to turn away and focus on completing my errands and return to what Huxely sardonically called a “rabbit hole, a midden, hot with the frictions of tightly packed life, reeking with emotion.”

Our family sustains us and gives us unconditional love and acceptance but every once in a while, wouldn’t it be nice, just on the weekends, or maybe once a month, to have a person, not legally bound to you by any means, to call a friend?

downloadBefore zines, there were friendship books. Small scraps of paper stapled together in a corner, or even, one 8 1/2 x 11 sized sheet folded up into small squares. Each square, each sheet, was a page for you to sell yourself to an elite group of penpals. Your page was your identity. We first found each other in the penpals section in Star Hits and then it was just an underground thing that united bored alternative girls (and a handful of guys) across the country.

Your label communicated what bands you liked, what lyrics you identified with, and who your friends were– a label was a small piece of paper with dried adhesive on the back you’d lick to affix to your page. The label always had: a photo on the left, some lyrics on the right, and your name at the bottom, and if you were stable, your address, too. Penguin Productions made everyone’s labels from the sports fans with no sense of style to the last labels I ordered featuring Bukowski, Bratmobile, Sonic Youth.

I met Ericka through fb’s, as we called them. Ericka was a dark, mysterious, sexy, brooding creature in the Midwest. Her labels were mostly Lydia Lunch with lipsticked mouth agape, quasi-pornographic words, and an association of other like-minded women– Lolita, Suzette, Snow. Her pages were always purple, black, red, and later pink. Her handwriting was impeccable, and the paint she used entranced the eye.

Fb’s, I’d say, aren’t the predecessor for zines, since there have been fanzines for 50+ years, but they filled a similar purpose– a way to communicate your identity, a way to meet like-minded people, and a means to express yourself. Fb’s, though, were one-of-a-kind. You had only one page to stake your claim and that one page would become a piece of art never to be replicated, though many of us lined up our fb’s conveyor belt style, preferring the same colors and images, bands and messages. My dad got rid of my desk and replaced it with a huge plank of wood on two sawhorses so the paint, the leaked ink, the dried glue wouldn’t ruin the furniture.

Ericka was soulmates with Elekta and her pages got lighter and funny and cute as these two forged their friendship. They were obsessed with Kids in the Hall, so quotes from Man Servant Hecubus and quirky quips from the Pixies began to appear alongside a wistful Marilyn Monroe in bright purples and cursive writing. We began to take ourselves less seriously and our pages became inside jokes. I know I still have a banker’s box full of clippings I gathered from the LA Weekly, from gift wrapping paper, from wig catalogs, expired calendars, junk mail, coupons from specialty grocery stores. Wdownload (1)e switched out silver pens that you had to shake to get the metallic ink flowing to scratch off transfer letters. I think we began to think of ourselves as graphic designers more than bored penpals.

Suddenly we looked around and we were all friends with each other. What was the point of making fb’s if everyone on each page you knew already? There was no one left to impress. Then it was just time to entertain each other. “ICR” meant “I Can Return” as each fb was made in tribute to one person whose name was on the front page. Usually someone made the fb for you and it was pretty selfish and gauche to make one in tribute to yourself. But soon every page featured “ICR,” every person knew the person on the front page. We stopped putting our addresses on our labels and on our pages. For some of us, we moved too much and the address of the state university dorm was too bulky anyway. For some, we didn’t want any more penpals, as you’d go to the mailbox every late morning to find it overfull with huge envelope stuffed with enough fb’s to while away many hours that day. And yet if you went to the mailbox and it was empty, that was more depressing than anything. And yet we couldn’t keep up with mail to each other. Months would go by and the boy you were crushing on for 7 pages was just a fleeting memory and the fight you’d had with your husband seemed like old news by the time your penpal wound up writing you back to counsel you on it.

Sometimes you’d meet someone who you wanted as your real friend. You’d exchange phone numbers and call each other long distance and you’d get in trouble for the phone bill a few weeks later. Sometimes you’d find a way to travel states away to hang out with a complete stranger only to become best friends for that week you were in town. Ericka, Elekta, and I met at Chandra’s house in West LA before heading off to Disneyland together. It was awesome to hang out with these people in the flesh and to ride the teacups, getting hair stuck on our lipsticked mouths.

I had met girls up north who were into zines and bands, and taking my love of collage and irony, I started my first zine freshman year of college. Ericka took to zines like I did, publishing the awesome Power Candy shortly after. Our love of fonts, beautiful vintage women, feminism, fear and angst translated well into zines. Suddenly it seemed pointless to smother a page with poster paint and scribble on it with Japanese gel pens for only 10 people to see when you could create a zine and reach hundreds of like-minded people all across the world.

Ericka started Pander and that sense of community bloomed as she gathered all her favorite zines under one roof. I didn’t know much about distros so I tried to figure out how to make flats for her and I marveled as she built a website and a message board that had a fierce following. I still have my Pander Mafia pin attached to my quilt made up of old t-shirts, patches, with pins dotting the fabric.

Visual imagery, decoupage, collage, glitter glue, stickers, Sharpies, colored staples. Now we focused more on words than imagery. We created our own aesthetic instead of banking imagery from our favorite magazines (Interview, ID, Elle) and writing our own diatribes instead of borrowing snippets of lyrics from bands.

We still did fb’s sometimes but we started using our real names. I was Clytie, named after a mythological oppressed fairy tale character I loved from a record of stories I had as a kid. Popsicle Slut Girlie became Erickalyn then just Ericka. Our zines got personal fast, maybe too personal, but our friendship grew as I would take trips out to see her and she’d come visit her mom. We’d always try to find a way to hang out. I was there for her wedding and she came to the hospital after the birth of my son.

Our styles have changed– Ericka wore nothing but black and her hair was shiny and burgundy. Now she’s more colorful than I, gingham and flowers with bright ringlets and skyblue cat glasses. I was my own brand of Cindy Brady meets Courtney Love and now you’ll find me in my suburban mom uniform– jeans, t-shirt, and highlighted blond hair.

We bought matching dresses for the Portland Zine Fair last year and were ready to head off the snickers with the idea that we’d been friends for 25 years and we’d earned the right to dress alike.

There are many days when I crave a “like” or a comment for a post, an email in the inbox, a package of zines, a postcaimagesrd, a letter stuffed with artwork, a 10 page confession, a box of brand-new labels with Dennis Hopper & quotes from Blue Velvet on them.

If it wasn’t for Star Hits, there would be no fbs for me, and if there were no fbs, there’d be no zines, and if there were no zines, I’d have a lot less awesome people in my life right now. I know the USPS did wonders for connecting like-minded souls whether it’s through scraps of paper painted or photocopied. People are cynical about e-zines and blogs. While the ability to reach a wider audience is there, no one communicates like they used to– a special packet of just the right pens, a stack of expensive and rare stationery, a stack of art to take your mind away from your minimum wage job at Goodwill or the stack of dishes that need cleaning.

hqdefaultI’m so glad that places that Sky High Sports exist because my kid is getting older and I’m getting scared.

I’m not worried about how we’ll get along. I deal with teenagers for a living, so I look forward to him at that age. I think we’ll have more in common than less– video games, tv series, movies– the things that he now looks over while watching his show on the computer and he’ll scream out, “Turn that show off!” He hates violence. He wrote a note to my students one day that said, “Dear students, I hate this show.” We were watching American Horror Story, and he was worried that the girl was doing to cut the guy’s head off. She was aiming for his wiener, but we didn’t want to give him another phobia, so we just told him to go finish his homework, as he stood there in dismay. He hates Breaking Bad the most and covers his ears when he runs downstairs to tell us that “Tiger is winning the race!” He’ll watch the tv for a minute, waiting for the pay off of the gun shot or the slap, then he’ll admonish us for watching “stupid grown up shows.”

My fear comes from missing out on his childhood. I read and hear over and over about how “they grow up so fast” and “next thing you know!” This will be my only child and I want to experience everything with him. So I indulge him a little too much but I also drag him everywhere because I don’t want to wake up one day and go, “Oh! You’re too old for miniature golf!” Now I know no one is too old for miniature golf, but when he gets too tall to ride the special train ride for kids only at Magic Mountain, I don’t know what I’m going to do.

I was worried about this age– 9, specifically. For me, 9 was the precipice over adulthood. I was content to play with my Barbies but my peers kept trying to pull me over the edge– to kiss a boy, say a cuss word, then later to shave your legs, drink a beer, wear this make-up. I know I’m lucky in a way because my kid’s developmental delays mean he’s more stubborn than I was and has an iron-clad force field against peer pressure. He could care less that everyone else thinks fart jokes are juvenile or that Sesame Street is for babies. He didn’t speak until age 4, so I didn’t really know what he thought about the world. So when he was old enough to talk back, I asked him about Santa Claus. “He’s not real,” he reported. And that’s that, I thought. Okay, well, I felt weird about lying about the old man anyway, so that makes it easy. Then we saw Santa at the mall a few months later, and then he was very real. Now we’re on the cusp of 10, and he’s absolutely real. Whenever I probe, “Is Santa real or pretend?” He sighs at me and clips, “Real.” End of story. Stop asking, Mom.

I know I shouldn’t compare myself to him, but I found out at the age of 6. I was watching an episode of Charlie’s Angels, and I think Bosley dressed up like Santa. Then Sabrina or someone said, “It looks like Santa is real, after all.” I remember glaring at my parents. “What does that mean?” They squirmed and looked at each other, and then tried to cover it up with, “Oh of course he’s real!” but the damage was done. Those 5 seconds of confusion and discomfort told me all I needed to know. So I spent most of my adulthood believing that I wouldn’t lie to my child. I also spent many years thinking I wouldn’t put meat on his plate or allow him to watch tv unsupervised. But now I just go along with the lie. We visit him once a year but I keep my mouth shut. I don’t use “Santa’s watching!” as a threat or a bribe. We buy one Santa gift just because we don’t want the old man to look like a liar when he asks for a toy; although we could just buy him the toy and say it’s from us, but that seems a little under-handed.

I knew we were at the precipice of adulthood when he started taking charge of his own style. He goes in waves in his interests and he circled back to Guitar Hero a few months back. He decided he wanted his hair spiky and pink, so gone were his chin length 70s child star locks. He picked up a pair of horn rimmed glasses and swore he “couldn’t see a thing without them!” (ala Velma from Scooby Doo).Never mind that I pop out the lenses of each pair otherwise they’ll be too smudged. I remember my own decision to cut my hair short and buck the crowd and I see the other kids give him a double take– with his striped sweater and his polka dot bow tie and his purple galoshes– and he duly ignores them. In a way, I think it makes him look “more autistic” if there can be such a thing– the skater shoes and the Luke Skywalker haircut made him look like every other suburban kid– but now I see the nerd beginning to blossom. I can imagine a fur-lined parka in May, a long-sleeved Punisher t-shirt, draw-string sweatpants and dirty black moccasins, bed head and glasses slightly bent and broken. I pass by those kids every morning on my way to work as they wait for the bus that transports them across town to the school more equipped to serve them. I used to just think those kids were awkward. Now I understand them more. I understand when I’m behind them and they don’t hold the door open for me, they don’t even realize I’m there. And when I do pass by and one of them wants to tell me he has “the heart of a tiger and the soul of a beast” over and over, while the aide smiles tiredly, I stop walking and look him in the eye before I say, “Yeah? That’s very cool” and smile.

I know there’s a place in the world for my son. I know he’s got support on all sides and people believe in him. I also know that every time I think he’s getting too old, he will abruptly push the rewind button. He spent the early part of this winter wetting the bed every night, and he’s on a Baby Einstein kick again. Only now instead of headbutting the screen when he gets overstimulated, he calls over to me, “Can I say a naughty word one time?” “Sure,” I most likely reply. I remember the power of cussing when I was little. “Horse, you SUCK!” he calls out. Or “What the hell are you doing, Duck?” Sometimes it’s worse and I have to wrangle him in, “Heyyyy!” but I love that he asks my permission.

The hard part is finding someone on the same page as him. I’m sitting here after three weeks on vacation and we haven’t had one successful playdate. A few days ago,  I had him go find his friend who lives two buildings over. I let him go on his own and I scrubbed the hell out of that countertop as I waited.”He’s almost 10! He can go ask a friend to play by himself,” I told my nervous mama mind. A few minutes later, his friend walks through the door, in pj’s, clutching his tablet, and it’s 2:30 pm. I guess we’re not the only ones who spend the days in Mario fleece, watching Super Why on YouTube. But they couldn’t agree on anything, so the boy left after 10 minutes.

I do have a complex about that– him spending his childhood without friends. He doesn’t seem to know the difference but when the psychologist heading up a failed attempt at a  social group glared at me when he said his favorite show was Angelina Ballerina, I know that allowing him stay a goofy little kid may be preventing him from making friends. As all the other kids mumbled about their favorite Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle, my kid is jumping in their faces, making Evil Minion sounds. But it’s “age-appropriate,” I tell myself. Maybe he’s annoying and weird, but he is completely entertained, and loneliness doesn’t even make sense when you’ve got your hovering mom who is dragging you to this place and that, who’s got her cameraphone pointed at you to capture that smile or that clever little quip.

As I clean out the clutter from the office, I try to clean out the clutter from old Groupons. We hit up Sky High Sports and I note that a good third of the kids are teenaged. The rest are “school-aged.” No babies, no toddlers, no pre-schoolers. I jump with him while the other mom lounge on black leather massaging chairs. I break my twenty so I can play his favorite song on the juke box as he flips across the mat. We’ve easily got another 10 years here, I think, as I remember the full-grown man with his fingers in his ears at the arcade, a woman, probably his sister, leading him through the crowd, as he stared at the flashing lights and the gaggles of kids pushing the gate at the rock-climbing wall. My boy lops along the trampolines, a plastic toy zebra with a wristband kindly taped around its neck. The sweat makes his hair spiky as he flips onto his back and stares up at me. “Come on, Mom. You try.”

I’m thinking of taking him to kids museum today– they say the age limit is up to 8, but I think we can squeeze by a 9 3/4ths. I think about this as any time now, he could tell me he doesn’t want the Disney stuffed animals, he wants to avoid Bugs Bunny World, he’ll want to donate his Backyardigans DVDs to Goodnightwill so it’s important to take him every place I can to indulge in the kidness. I record him saying words because it’s won’t be like this for long– he wants tickles on his “kneepips” (knee pits). He knows he needs to “hip-eskate” (hip-escape) in jiu jitsu. He doesn’t call zebras “zebrat” anymore and he’s self-conscious about the color of his teeth. The dentist mentioned braces the other day, and I just refused. Forget about head gear, money, pain, rubber bands, cuts on the inside of your mouth. I just want my baby to stay my baby. For as long as possible.

jeep_side_riding“Can I be R2D2?” he says, every day.

“Sure.”

He presses the button and the window rolls down. The snap of the seat belt unbuckles as I turn in the driveway. I hear a “boom! boom!” on the roof of the car. Then I hear, “Louder! Louder!” He’s playing co-pilot and navigator with half his body propped on the car door.

I turn up the stereo to 60 or more, sometimes max, as we cruise through the complex, blasting Quiet Riot. Recently, he asks me to “Drive fast!” which means to speed up to 15 mph in the 5 mph zone. We skid over the speed bumps and round a corner fast enough where his body lurches right as he calls out, “Whooooa!”

I know the neighbors think I’m a bad mom. Heck, I know most people think I’m a bad mom. As he straddles the cart at Ross with a purple rain booted foot caught in the child seat, the clerk admonishes, “That’s dangerous…He could have an accident…He could fall.”

As he struggles, I stare at the clerk, “And break his arm? Maybe. But accidents happen.”

“But yesterday, a child fell out of the cart.”

“And what? Did he break something?”

“Well, no…”

In the meantime, he’s swung his leg free and he’s beaming at both of us, clutching his stuffed Donald Duck.

Accidents will happen and if I could, I’d let him ride his bike without a helmet and I’d pile him and a bunch of pesky, meddling kids in the back of a pick up and drive them to the fair where I’d entrust the safety of their little lives to some carny and a rusty ferris wheel that hasn’t passed inspection in years.

I don’t mean to give the wrong impression– I hover, I hover badly, but mostly to 1) ensure the safety of other children (as my son used to headbutt anyone in his way– adult,baby, or child) 2) block the kidnapping of my child, which is probably the only rational fear I have about him. But accidents, accidents will happen whether he’s overzealously going to grab the whistling tea kettle, or he’ll lose his grip while scaling the outside of the tube slide. Or some kid will climb up the slide from the ground up and will get a mouthful of broken teeth, or a scooter will hit an invisible rock and send the scootee flailing.These things will happen,and I’ve got good insurance.

Having a child with autism has given me a bit of a protective layer when it comes to people judging my parenting. I’m used to incredulous stares and the clucking of tongues. So I might feel a twinge of guilt that first time we hit First Care and he, without filter, tells the nurse that he jumped out of the car, Dukes of Hazzard-style, a second too early, but mostly I will say, for now, while there is no injury, that it’s worth the risk to see him smile when we have the stereo cranked up to max, he’s banging his hands in time to the music, a stuffed Pluto in one hand, the neighbors stopped in their tracks, squirting hose gripped limply in their grasp, we buzz past the empty garbage cans, and he hops down from the car, running into the house to go grab a juice.

twiggy1.
Summertime means riding your bike to 7-11, loading up on Big League Chew and Blow Pops, then riding down the cul-de-sac in circles until it’s time to head up to your best friend’s house where a plum tree hangs over her pool. It’s the only pool in the neighborhood but you’re all alone, practicing back flips into the deep end. You get out every few minutes or so to grab a fat, purple plum that hit the ground– the pink juice all over your pruney fingers which you clean off by diving into the cold, blue water.
But what happens after puberty? When you trade in your banana seat for a 3 speed? Candy isn’t that appealing, even Coke Slurpees are passe. You hole up in your air-conditioned house with daytime talk shows– Sally, Maury, Jerry, Oprah, Donahue, Geraldo. Your parents urge you to go do something besides eat grilled cheese and watch your hair grow out.
Suddenly they’ve enrolled you in church camp, and you find yourself on a bus traipsing up the mountainside to some unknown compound in the woods. You are alone and you are bored.
I was bunkmates with a two-sister set, Marie and Grace, two black mods from Pacoima. I had a couple of magazines in my bag, and we borrowed a roll of Scotch tape and began posting up cool photos all over the room. I was already into the 60s style thanks to the B-52s and I loved British bands like Duran Duran, Depeche Mode, and the Cure, so it was just a hop, skip, and a skank over to the Specials.
We became fast friends and these girls took me to my first thrift shop– a huge warehouse on Lankershim and San Fernando. I dreamt about it for years after– rows upon rows of racks and racks of cute sun dresses, mock turtlenecks, pencil skirts, chiffon scarves. The first time they took me I must have bought three bags full and it changed my wardrobe from nondescript black cotton to polyester dresses and tights. I rediscovered the thrift store a few years ago, after accidentally passing by as I was taking surface streets home from the valley. It was called Sun Valley Thrift and it was just as amazing as I remembered it, only now it had all the latest trade paperbacks I wanted. New owners bought it out recently and gutted the place. Now it’s clean and organized and pretty much empty except for men’s work pants and bland furniture. A neon sign that says “JESUS SAVES” is hung where all the tupperware used to be. That and a tight parking lot means I’ll never shop there again.
The girls took me to my first show– the Three o’Clock playing at Magic Mountain in the amphitheater. I had on jean shorts, black tights underneath, a black sweatshirt, black creepers with white socks, gold peace earrings. Marie bought me a Who pin to fasten on my shirt to round out the look. “But I don’t even listen to the Who!” I told her. “You will,” she smirked. The show was amazing and I still feel cool, 30 years later, telling people that my very first show was an obscure psych pop band when I was 11 years old.
It was a time where I was between junior high and high school, mod and Goth, Christian and atheist, valley and SCV. The sisters made me tapes with the Yardbirds, Selecter, and of course, the Specials and more Specials. They took me to shows with bands like the Skeletones, Donkey Show, No Doubt (whose singer was a teenage brunette who worked at Macy’s).
During this era, mod/ska was a label that made sense– and the rude boys hung out with the mods who hung out with the skinheads. They drew pictures of boys with fades wearing parkas and big boots riding shiny scooters who never smiled. We got to hang out with an older crowd at church camp– these mod boys in high school who wore striped t-shirts and monkey boots. They let us eat with them at the older kids’ table. We gave each other nicknames– Livingston and Dutch, and I was Parrot. They admired my yellow eyeshadow and loved my dresses. After camp was over, we went on beach trips with them where we dove into the waves, shouting, but then would lie panting on the sand, staring at a shirtless Dutch listening to a portable tape player while he stared at the waves. I was pretty certain I was going to marry him when I grew up, and I think I told him so. They were friends with a pop punk band called The Start who played our church. They sounded like The Clash but sang about being saved. My favorite had the chorus of “Oh, he saved my soul!” over and over. Undoubtedly I have their demo tape dubbed on Maxell Metal somewhere in a plastic box.
I had my first kiss at church camp, too. We had a small army of developing punks and rabble-rousers who gravitated toward each other. There was Ryan, freckled and spindly– braces and abrasive. He loved DRI, or at least he drew the DRI logo on everything. And Steve, who was a goofy goofball with tons of energy who recently found me via social media to tell me he was an Anglican pastor who still loved a good slampit, and there was Bobby who looked like Ricky Schroeder and Alex, the punk chick who wore make-up and bleached her black hair to orange. And then there was Wyatt. I don’t remember his real name, but we called him Wyatt because he looked like Ilan Mitchell Smith from Weird Science. We dated for one day but his hands were sweaty and his kiss had too much spit so I called it off after a few hours. This was the era of Oingo Boingo and KROQ. To this day I can’t hear “Just Another Day” without thinking of being in bed at 3AM, unable to sleep, hearing this song and thinking of how sad I was that summer was coming to an end. The same way I can’t hear Jane’s Addictions “Three Days” without thinking of my last boyfriend in high school who went back to his former girlfriend, but he told me to give him a few days to think about us, and I listened to that song on repeat while I cried away another summer because he never came back.
I don’t know who I would be today if I had stayed with the church. The schism happened one session where I told my youth pastor that I was obsessed with music because we were talking about things that we loved that might not “glorify God.” He told me to get rid of my records, burn them, if I’m not mistaken, and a switch got flipped in my mind, and now and then I developed my philosophy on music and art– that this talent to feel and create is part of the energy force of God, and that even holes-in-jeans metal and baroque Goth is part of a lifeline of creativity and beauty that does not contradict the “Oh, he saved my soul!” ditties of the Christian bands, but that it is its own affirmation. It’s hard to put into words for public consumption without sounding like a sap but I believe our inspiration comes from God/ the goddess/ the universe, etc. so to destroy something just because it’s not “godly” is stupid. And so I stopped going to church, I stopped worrying about my soul, and because we lived in different area codes, I stopped talking to the mod sisters.
Our last church trip to the beach, I had invited a boy I was seeing, whom I met at Magic Mountain a few weeks before. I stood waiting at the church while my friends boarded the bus, telling me to just get on, but I waited, and he showed up thirty minutes late, looking ridiculous with his hairy legs showing from under his powder blue board shorts, his black bedhead uncombed. He didn’t look so cool out of his pointy boots, but I’m a good friend, so I went along with the plan when he said we could hang out at his house instead of hitting the beach. The church leaders had me call my folks and I left a message on the answering machine, then they dropped us at his sister’s house where he was crashing. He played the Cure’s “Staring at the Sea” VHS as he tried to romance me, then he tried to guilt me into doing things I didn’t want to do. I remember I had temporary pink dye in my hair and got it all over his sister’s bed as he tickled me into trying to take the next step. Luckily I had the wit to convince him out of the situation after a close call, and we found ourselves wandering around the air-conditioned mall where my folks picked me up after I collect-called them from a payphone.
2.
Punk and goth won out over mod/ska as we tend to emulate the people who are nearest to us, and the closest mod was a boy named Pierre who lived in Canyon Country who liked to hang out with the goths. Kids these days are so compartmentalized in their scenes that they have no idea that there was so much play between them in the 80s- that most of the “weirdos” liked and accepted each other– that it was only when I got older that people started drawing out lists of what you could dress like, what you could listen to, who you could be friends with, who you could date. So at the end of high school, after being dumped by my long-term Hollywood squatter boyfriend, I found myself in the arms of his best friend, a skinhead from Beverly Blvd. As friends, he was the leather jacket wearing, plaid pants, Minor Threat kind of skin, but after we were in Westwood during the premiere of “Boyz n the Hood” and we got chased down by some angry movie-goers and he got pummeled with a rock that split open his face, something snapped in this boy, and he started dressing smarter with snap caps, v-neck sweaters, pressed pants, Ben Sherman shirts. It was old familiar territory to me, so we tried to make it work, til we tried to hang out with my ex as he was working at a record store on Melrose. My ex had grown his hair out and started looking more like Redd Kross than Red Cross, and he did not approve of our Quadrophenia relationship– my Jimmy and me his Monkey.
But the throwback had already taken hold and I found out one of my favorite penpals was eyeing a cute rude boy at her school. Her hair was long and burgundy. Her clothes black lace and velvet to the floor. She went by “Stigmata” but I toasted my way into her life as we met in person, and decided to become best friends. We went dancing at Marilyn’s, went to shows all over, and befriended anyone we could. We had a tight group who shared Fred Perrys and danced on rooftops in the parking lot. We had nicknames which we drew on white patches sewn to our flight jackets: Blue, Whiskey, Chester, Sharky. I was working at Goodwill and had instant access to the best vintage clothes, and I had the uncanny knack of being able to pick out a Fred Perry by looking at the collar on the rack.
I went away to college with my polyester dresses, my creepers, my pin and patch addled flight, my cat eye glasses. I remember my going away party when all my friends drove up from the east side. We had a water balloon fight and every present I got had drawings and cartoons drawn all over them– of me, of us, and the ubiquitous black and white checked border.
I had spent the spring on the east coast, explaining what a “rude girl” was to these boys whose girlfriends had chelsea cuts or big banged 80s hair. I got ditched in New York, calling my parents from a payphone sobbing, while a bobbed girl from San Francisco gave me her name and number and told me to look her up when I moved to town. However, I fell in with the punk scene up north and when I returned to LA to visit, Blue was a full skin chick. She played keyboards in a semi-famous band, and she was even the type of person to confront “fresh cuts” in the parking lot to hack off their fringe with a pair of Fiskar scissors. We stopped talking after that.
3.
Years later, Brit pop introduced itself with a bright smile and a danceable beat. The punk kids combed their hair down and dyed it inexplicably black. A new scene hybrid emerged with white belts, short pants, button up shirts. We called them “Moths,” a mix of mod and Goth with a love of keyboards and hardcore music thrown in. For me, the dresses and tights never left, but the dancing was back, and so were the skinheads. Only this time the skins were Asian and black, whereas LA SHARP skins were almost 90% Latino with a couple of white boys desperately trying to convince the world they weren’t racist. I stalked a young Filipino until we sealed the deal and I found out he wasn’t as intriguing as I thought (par for the course for dating in San Francisco), as he lived with his parents, drove a minivan, and stole a Ken Boothe cd of mine. I had an epic “mods vs. rockers” party when I gave up the lease for my one-bedroom apartment in the Outer Mission and had a ton of my punk friends’ bands play but invited my new crew inherited through dating, when a punk wearing a cowboy hat got head-butted by a skinhead from Texas. I remember watching the confusion as the politics got weighed– he headbutted me for wearing a cowboy hat ironically! because he’s from Textas! But he’s black. “Do you really like cowboys so much that you had to defend their honor with violence?” I asked my friend. “No. That guy’s face just pissed me off” was the reply. In the meantime I was outside sitting on some poor boy’s rusty Vespa as I developed delusions of ditching the Casanova and becoming a regular at the Orbit Room.
It all turned to mush as Calvin Johnson called me a skinhead for tossing a bottle of Snapple at the Make-Up, my best friend Jared turned into a rocker with a round head of curls, a baseball jacket and a pair of Cons. I counseled young skinheads on the history of the scene as every once in a while, the youngins focused more on the violence and the suspenders than the music and unity. My siblings were immersed in Third Wave ska which was utter shite. Luckily they liked traditional, too so I took them to shows and reveled in having a cool family who traded jackets and got sweaty bouncing around the dance floor together. I realized that after all these years of liking this music and this scene and these boys and this hair and those clothes, the best of all worlds was a mix of all worlds, even if it meant having no community to belong to. So I kept the penny loafers with DM soles, I published the zine that sold at Epicenter, volunteered at MRR, danced at Pop Scene, made out with drunks I picked up at Mission Records, and ultimately sold all my clothes, shoes, and jackets on Telegraph Avenue, got a dot-com job, and started shopping at Old Navy.
I’m sticking with this– a middle-aged woman with highlighted hair who shops the clearance rack at Target. My last hurrah was some unwise purchases at Merc in London when I had the money to buy designer mod clothes but not the scene to show them off in. But I will still sport a Lonsdale hoodie when I’m heading out for a night on the town at City Walk, and I’m half in it for the mod and the other half for the MMA. And only I know I’m cool as I support the scene by picking up the Three o’Clock limited edition cd at Amoeba because if I don’t support their endeavors and remember the soaring crescendo of “Jetfighter,” who will?16lpfrance

Lure.
“Do you play drums? You look like a drummer,” the girl told me. This was also the same girl who told me I should start doing zines– she was an amateur graphic designer and zines were her way of testing out imagery and typography.
“No,” I said.
“Well, we have a band,” she nodded to her friend sitting on her bed. “We don’t have any songs or gigs yet but we have stickers.” She handed me a sheet full of stickers with a 1950s cocktail flare.
So that was my first band. They wound up developing songs and getting gigs after all. They got a real drummer, you might know her as “The Real Janelle,” and while I watched them from the pit, I thought to myself, “That could have been me.”
Not Bratmobile
I played up the “looking like a drummer” bit as I came home to LA for the summer after living in the dorms during the school year. I had made a lot of friends through the mail and wound up meeting them in person. We went to Jabberjaw, getting there much, much too early in the excitement of it all. We sat out on the pavement with zines in our lunchboxes, talking and laughing.
“Oh, so you’re Bratmobile!” the sound guy said.
We just laughed.
“Cool, come on in and let’s sound check you.”
“That’s not them,” some partypooper doorgirl said.
“Are you sure?”
“Yeah, I don’t know what band they’re in but that’s not Bratmobile.”
Another fake band to add to my resume.
A few weeks later, Tiger Trap and Heavenly came to town. We hustled our way through the growing crowd, looking for a bathroom. Since the show was on a college campus, there were just locked and unlocked doors everywhere. We found an unlocked door with an empty bathroom and then opened out to a bunch of equipment.
“Oh cool cool,” was the consensus. We weren’t the band that night but we were some other cool riot grrrl band (again, not by our lying but just by our not denying the mistake). We stood around and drank the sodas.
Tiger Trap walked in and glowered. I know they recognized me enough from common Northern California shows. The singer returned my Hi without eye contact, then told someone we weren’t supposed to be there. Kicked out, so we left the entire show and laughed our butts off in the parking lot.
Macaroni Bicycle
The fun of riot grrrl came from the dismissal of all rules and regulations for who gets to create art and music, and who gets to consume it. As I worked on the second issue of my zine, my best friend from high school came over and I explained to her the entire ethos. Minutes later, we were in my garage, pounding on garbage cans, riffing on my little brother’s Stratocaster, screaming and laughing. We knew we sounded awful but we were enjoying ourselves in a way we never had before, with loud, reckless abandon, and that was my first step toward making music for me, not following sheet music or trying to replicate a punk song at my boyfriend’s frustrated insistence.
Hello Klitty
A year or two later, I found myself in a real joke band. I say “real” because we had songs, we practiced, we had gigs. I say “joke” because all of us had a wicked, satirical sense of humor and we were fully self-aware that we couldn’t play our instruments. Ideologically, we were solid, but musically we were terrible. I think we all clearly would have admitted that we were more like the Shaggs than the Frumpies, but we loved it.
Stephanie was the 17-year-old guitarist who played in “real” punk bands in the south Bay. Tim Yo from MRR was her biggest fan, so I’ll never forget him standing up front at our first show, exploding with applause, then coming up to hug her and congratulate us at the end.
Bianca and Rebecca were best friends. Bianca wrote songs about not being “Hispanic” and making guacamole out of her blood. Rebecca had a Lisa Frank sensibility. When I think of Bianca, I think about how she took me to Mexican dive bars where my margarita got mickeyed, and when I think of Rebecca, I think of a poodle wearing sunglasses riding a pink skateboard.
I should have known better, being the eldest of the group, but instead I provided my bedroom as our practice space, much to the annoyance of the students next door at New College who just wanted to have Socratic seminars on supporting local business models without listening to us caterwauling.
I wrote one real song, with rhythm and lead guitar parts, a real drum beat, lyrics that meant something to me called “My Room.” I think we could have become a “real” band if we had practiced a little more, but we were too busy making zines and coming up with funny lyrics to really commit to the music.
I remember having some out-of-town guests stay with me one week in summer, and as I was getting ready for a show, they chastised me for putting on a dress. “How can you drum in a dress like that? Won’t you be uncomfortable?”
“No” and it doesn’t matter was my response, but I think the fact that even the Canadian women soaking beans in my kitchen criticizing my band was a big indicator about how the world at large saw us.
The Piltdowns
“Hey you play drums, don’t you?” the boy I knew as the cashier for the dorm cafeteria asked me.
“No, not really,” I replied. It had been a few years, and I knew a thing about humility and defeatism. But I did still have my drumset– tiger striped with a deep green tom, my ex-boyfriend’s old hippie roommate bought it off a church band in the Western Addition for $100.
“Yes she does! She was in a band,” my friend volunteered for me.
“Can you play even a little? We’re forming a band. We want a female drummer. Like the Velvet Underground.”
And that’s how Moe Tucker became my point of reference as they taught me how to drum properly– to use brushes and mallets, to focus more on the tom drum than the bass, and that my slight syncopation would be an asset to this 60s psych/ 80s indie rock type pop group.
Again, practice would have made perfect, and we tried. We had a practice space on Turk St., we jammed in bedrooms, we had gigs in LA, Oakland, and San Francisco. We played the Purple Onion, and we actually hooked up with a couple other awesome, similar bands, so we might have developed a following in time. We covered Tommy James, Huey Lewis & the News, Velvet Underground, and the Kinks. Our songs were about overalls, daguerrotypes, and always lost love. We even had a track on a compilation cd.
At first the name was Piltdown Men, and that drove me crazy, so we agreed on the Piltdowns, but we still had to explain our name wherever we went.
I really like to think of us like the Beatles or the Monkees– and that there should have been teen magazines in tribute to us. We should have had our own tv show.
There was Ed– the Paul of the band. Cute, well-dressed, well-educated in pop music. He wrote the love songs.
Josh– the bassist– the John, cynical and smart, he wanted us to rock more. He wore cop glasses on stage. He was about 6 foot 5.
Ben– the George– a little bit hippie, a little bit mystical. His lyrics were always an enigma. He had the longest hair and always seemed to be faded.
And then me, of course I’m Ringo. I’m not the best drummer in the world. I’m not even the best drummer in the band. I’m funny. I wear silly shirts like Hawaiian shirts, shirts with the word “BITCH” ironed on them. My favorite part of being in a band is after we’re done playing and all the tension is off, and I can sit at a table and be wooed by the mop-topped, black turtle-necked cute boys in the other bands who want to talk shop over a beer.
California Pony Girls
I was living in the Tenderloin, in love with a gay mod boy who was best friend and companion. We’d go dancing every weekend and we’d hit the corner deli mart for dinner. One day we decided to rent movies and found ourselves strolling the aisles, looking for something decent. We found ourselves in the Adults Only section, as he pulled out various titles to make me laugh, and then we found California Pony Girls– a low budget VHS with two women in lingerie with harnesses and horse bits in their mouths as a leering male towers over them.
“Oh my God, this is hideous!” I said, and “But that would make a great band name.”
I tried to get him to rent the video but he refused. “You remember I’m gay, right?” he said, and all irony was lost on him.
I moved back to LA after a bitter break-up and formed my own one-woman band. I had bought a 4-track, now knowing a little bit about music, and I recorded some stuff for some of local kids around my hometown. Back to the garage I went, with the old white Stratocaster. I redid “My Room,” with layered tracks– me on drums, on guitar, lead and backing vocals.
I made a tape for CPG with a hidden bonus track where Owen from Casiotone for the Painfully Alone laid down a funky Casio beat as I plainly and repeatedly stated “I’m gonna kill Jets to Brazil,” even though I really loved the band, the song was more a commentary on their fans than them.
My best and favorite song was a collaboration between me and the singer in my brother’s band The Tagalongs. I was crushing hard on a friend who lived in Brooklyn, but I was living at my parents’ house, broke and bored, so we wrote a song about me getting a job at the mall so I could save money to move to New York. It’s my favorite song I’ve ever done, with Joel on guitar and lead vocals, me on drums, keyboards, and the chorus. We have friends cheering in the background and oodles of inside jokes in our lyrics.
When I cleaned out my tape collection this year, I got rid of everything I could find on Spotify. I kept my mixtapes from penpals and I kept all the demo tapes from all the bands I’ve known, loved, and tolerated. We may be listening to a music made and mixed on computers these days but there was a time when all you needed was an amp, a guitar, something to pound on, a little keyboard from the thrift store, a duct-taped microphone, and a shoe to prop it up. Even though one day I won’t have a way to play them anymore, I feel like these tapes mean more than just musical expression– they are an insight into our emotions and our politics 15 to 20 years ago. There’s a story behind each one and some are embarrassing, some are enlightening, and most are unforgettable if you choose to remember them.drums

tribbles

I know it may be hard to tell by looking at me but I teach Science Fiction to 12th grade slackers. You might think it a prerequisite to wear glasses, have a mousy bob, to wear comfortable Easy Spirit sandals, to wear pants & a floral button up shirt while talking about Future Shock and Asimov’s robot laws, but that was the last Sci Fi teacher who I took over for. She decided she’d had enough of grading papers so she went back to school in her 50s to get her masters in library science. Now she shushes kids and helps them set their margins to 1″ in MLA format, and the only time she dips into the SF realm is to help some freshman find the third in the Divergent series.
I knew nothing about Sci Fi when I got hired, which is so typical in the education system. “We have an opening in a sheltered Mod Civ class, how do you do with the ELL population? Never worked with them before? What’s your philosophy on the best way of teaching Aristotle, Socrates, and Plato? What? Your specialty is on the French Revolution, well welcome to the world of SDAIE and the Yangtze River. You might want to brush up on these things before school starts in two weeks.”
I had a perfunctory knowledge of SF being the older sister of a D&D-playing, Star Wars loving uber-nerd, and being an iconoclastic writer, I knew a bit about dystopian fiction, so I bit my lip and nodded my head earnestly when they offered me the job my first of teaching.
What I soon found out was that there is no better class to teach– my first year was rough as I followed the previous teacher’s lessons of worksheets, constant multiple choice quizzes and awkward group projects made out of magazine collages and speculation, but when I made the class my own, and made it surrounded by the idea not of Future Shock– that the world is developing technology at such a rate that Mankind cannot keep up (cue 50s film strip beep here), but instead, my approach was, “How were the Sci Fi writers right? And if they’re not right yet, when will they be?”
We start with a research project where the students get to work with a partner and get to choose from a list of approved authors. We watch a hip, cable tv type documentary which gives them a 50 minute blitzkrieg of Sci Fi culture. I show it to gauge the temperature of the class– will they laugh when they see Octavia Butler on the screen and some flat-billed douche will inevitably call out, “IS THAT A DUDE?” and then I have to hit pause on the DVD player, flick the lights on, and then strong-arm them into realizing that their stupid reaction is actually why Butler had a hard time breaking into Sci Fi, while the rest of her female compatriots were using fake androgynous initials for names to try and get respected in the biz. The only benefit that comes out of the lecture, when it does happen, is that someone will choose Butler as their author project, forcing the kids to stare at her image on PowerPoint slide after PowerPoint slide. “Remember how you laughed at her? Are you laughing at her books about time travel and slavery? You privileged brats, don’t you feel guilty now?” And I just smile and nod.
I wait and see how they deal with death– Huxley asked for a massive dose of LSD on his death bed, Asimov died of AIDS– how do they death with sexuality– Delany is gay, Wells was a sex addict– how they deal with pop culture nuances– Ellison wrote for the Twilight Zone series, King wrote Carrie– and inevitably, I can identify the lazy kids right away– they choose Verne, Burroughs, Crichton. And I know immediately who are going to be the coolest kids in class– they choose Atwood, Dick, Stephenson.
We watch clips from The Handmaid’s Tale. Kids bring in their instruments and play songs dedicated to Philip K. Dick’s paranoia. I’m always jotting down notes on a scrap of paper about what to read next: Dandelion Wine, Mona Lisa Overdrive, Barefoot in the Head instead of circling scores on their rubrics. Inevitably some marginalized kid will fall in love with H.P. Lovecraft and the two of us will shiver and squeal about Cthulu while the other 38 humans in class will have no idea about the depths of fear and despair. This year I had a kid list the website of the Church of Satan in his Works Cited. His citations were correct so he got credit for a reputable source, but I shook my head the whole time. “Did you really just cite the Church of Satan in your project?” I asked him when the lights came on. He smiled sheepishly. “Okay, then!” I said, as more than a few kids started rubbing their rosaries under their desks and saying their Hail Marys as I calculated his score. C- because it was one week late.
I know I disappoint the professional geeks. They see the Leonard Nimoy record propped up on my wall, and they want to talk Tribbles. I let them wear their Naruto headbands in class and encourage their explanations of Dark Matter from Dr. Who. I explain Hard Sci Fi and Soft Sci Fi to the masses, and I can register the disappointment in their eyes when I say Soft Sci Fi is best because Hard Sci Fi is annoying and dull. I don’t read books that take place in a series. I like the classics, and when I try to encourage independent reading, I always add a rule-breaker to the list of common district-approved classics: Gates of Steel, Childhood’s End, Ender’s Game, oops! Snow Crash– sorry about that sex scene. Yikes! The Female Man– sorry about that sex with a robot scene. A Scanner Darkly– whoa, this book blew my mind. Sorry for those of you who chose that book who have never read a book on your own before and had to experience that one without a pacing calendar, study guide questions, or Spark Notes to explain it. But those are my favorite moments when I think to myself that I’d rather teach Myth and Folk, then I find a book that reminds me that Sci Fi is fertile ground for experimental fiction. As I told Sci Fi fanzine legend Don Fitch, “I teach Sci Fi to high schoolers!” He told me that teaching Sci Fi goes against its very principles, that is inherently against rules and the authority of the classroom, but we make it work. As long as I have the kids under 18 get their parents to sign a permission slip when I’m nervous.
I love teaching Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 because the kids connect with Clarisse. I guide them into this with a series of well-timed journals and discussions about book banning and addiction to technology. Are you a Clarisse or a Mildred? I silently ask them. Do you sleep with your sea-shell radios in? Do you love your tv more than your family? Do you diet to double digits? Do you alter your sensibility for a temporary and shallow happiness? Or do you want to take a walk outside after dark? Talk to your uncle about life and the universe until 2AM? Do you want to ask “Why?” of your teachers or do you want to just lose yourself in your Snap Chats and your Tweets, one eyeball on the clock because this class is so lame and once this class is over, and then school will be over, and then graduation and then college, then career, then family, then retirement, then death. Everything and everywhere is better than where you are now. I put up a silkscreened print next to my clock that says BE HERE NOW in all caps red block lettering. Enjoy this life now. Look around and talk to the people next to you, listen to what happens in class, take a vested interest in the here and the now because this minute is living and breathing.
My favorite unit is short stories though by then the dystopian themes have become old-hat: nonconformity, consumerism, alienation, the appreciation of the small and beautiful leads to the sublime. But during short stories we talk about the Other, we (I) mock the classic space opera hero via Ursula LeGuin, we talk about sexist language and careful diction: “manmade star,” “booby prize,” the captain is a woman, we find out on the penultimate page. We talk about the pain of childbirth, women in combat, why the black guy or the guy in the red shirt dies first in movies, I read them Tyler Durden’s speech from Fight Club. We bring in advertisements, looking for how we’re manipulated by marketing and advertising. At this point, they’re convinced or they never will be. Either J.G. Ballard is a genius or an old, meandering British perv. I top off the unit with a refresher on the business letter, accompanied by Gordon R. Dickson’s “Computers Don’t Argue”: I show them a clip from Summer School, as Shoop has always been my teaching hero and Chainsaw is my ideal student, when everyone gets new RayBans by writing in to the sunglasses company. We mail off our letters and get gift cards and coupons in the mail, though I have to say that the economy hit that unit hard as most kids get nothing as customer service has dwindled to naught in most companies, so the days of a package full of anything for free is now over. The best we can hope for is a generic letter and maybe 20% off at Innout.
Their own short story accompanies this unit and I have read more than enough stories about post-apocalyptic war-torn environments where Hunter or Jake and all his pals are suddenly military commandos looking for any signs of life. I prep the story by making them research current events every other week– I tell them that anything goes as long as it’s within the two-week period and that it’s from a reputable source. It is my favorite day because I kick back in my director’s chair as they talk about putting gold in one’s poop, an artist who grafted an ear to his arm, planets and stars being discovered, 3-D printing of guns and hearts, and life-enriching opportunities to check out electronic conferences or star-watching at the Griffith Park Observatory.
I used to finish with Jurassic Park, as the kids remember being terrified by the movie when they were little, so it was the perfect way to round out high school– to take this dinosaur story and then apply our social criticism chops to what Malcolm and Hammond have to say about capitalism, greed, and scientific progress. We would top it off with recreations of their favorite iteration– where kids donned bandanas and air soft guns, stalking in their lush backyards, looking for plastic dinosaurs found at the Dollar Tree, where one football player did an interpretive dance representing Dennis Nedry’s death at the hands of the dilosophaurs. But these days the kids are even more reluctant to read than they were 10 years ago, so last year when I taught the book, I found myself cajoling the kids into discussing the motives of InGen, Henry Wu, Dr. Grant. I knew they weren’t reading. They were failing the quizzes, and they didn’t care. So why am I teaching a book I don’t even like that much for the 10th time when they don’t care? So this year I switched to Brave New World.
I told them openly that if they refuse to read and to discuss then I might as well teach a book that I love so at least one person in the room will be having a good time while the rest of them clock-watch and hide in the back row, waiting for the movie I show while we’re working on drafting essays at home. So I went whole hog, and I will tell you– the kids still didn’t read, the quiz scores were still deplorable but the discussion were ace. I played them “Mother’s Little Helper,” I taught them more about Shakespeare to unlock the allusions to Hamlet, Othello, Romeo and Juliet, and the Tempest than I taught my AP Lit class. Somehow talking about the savage reservation segued us into talking about public breastfeeding which lead into some kid bringing up free bleeding, and I’m standing there, allowing their soon-to-be-adult minds to form opinions and hash out their passions in a safe environment. We talk about dating and relationships, the self-flagellating tribes of New Mexico, EDM, heroin and Xanax, Pussy Riot, test tube babies and cloning, Henry Ford and the benefits of genetic engineering.
No matter the book, the last essay is an argument about cloning. Thanks to the new common core standards, I present some articles, some film clips, I encourage their own research, then kick back and observe the results. After teaching this class thirteen times, shuffling through thousands of terrified anti-cloning essays, this year I found that all but one essay was about the benefits of cloning. Despite showing them Gattaca and Michael Bay’s The Island, the consensus was that cloning and genetic engineering will lead to a longer, happier, healthier life for everyone involved, despite the high number of failed clones and the potential for misuse by an unregulated market.
And I think back to Future Shock, where technology outpaces the capabilities of a human’s comprehension for dealing with the ramifications of scientific advances, and I know that I am a victim of Future Shock, as my Mildreds, my Montags, my Clarisses, my Franklins, my Hathaways, my Bernards, my Leninas, my Fannys see me as a Faber– a relic from the past with a little bit of knowledge, a typewriter, and a suitcase full of dirty clothes, ready to help them escape from society’s clutches by taking that Freudian trip down the river to be reborn into a world where books are good and friends mean more than the Spot Bargain or the newest model of the parlor walls.
So don’t blame me when this generation grows up and begins to rule the world– I did my part– but when they pass bills to develop superhuman soldiers and encourage robots to suppress the ghost in the machine to become nannies and dogwalkers, I warned them but this is their future, not ours.

“Attention, punks! Zorro calls to you,” I wrote on a piece of lined notebook paper. “Punks” because I didn’t know the proper name for the genus of people I was looking to attract as penpals. I didn’t know all the labels for the sub-sections of death rock, new romantic, etc. so I just figured “punks” was a nice umbrella term for anyone outside the mainstream.

“Zorro” because I also wanted to convey the idea that I was looking for people dressed all in black who had a love of mystery, but my symbolism went amiss as the mail from Star Hits started piling up, letter after letter addressed to “Zorro.”

nickI was looking for like-minded people through the mail, as I was making that fearful crossover from little kid to teenager. It was unbelievably awkward, as my only exposure to alternative culture was through MTV and the occasional “how-to” fashion page in the magazines I read because they featured Duran Duran on the cover. I was a big time Durannie, in love with Nick Rhodes. In fact, I clearly remember sitting on my bed, staring at the solo posters of my favorite guys on my wall- Nick, John, and Simon, and I started crying. Simon had just gotten married, and Nick was engaged. Through mother’s intuition, my mother climbed the stairs to my room and found me wet-eyed in bed; she asked me what was wrong. I explained that if Nick gets married, we’ll never be together. My mom laughed a little patronizingly and told me she felt the same way about James Darren. But, I thought, it’s not the same. Once I grow up and become famous, Nick will fall madly in love with me. He just needs to wait 10 more years til I finish junior high, high school, and somehow develop a career where we will bump into each other at a ski lodge in Switzerland.

I was pretty convinced my whole young life that I was going to do something big when I grew up. I just never figured out what, so nothing ever became of it. I grew up in an era when They told You you could be Anything you wanted– an astronaut, a ballerina, an actor, but They never said anything about Talent, Skill, Perseverance, and Practice. So I grew up thinking that one day, I’d be a famous singer or a writer or an actor or a model. I didn’t have talent or connections, and I had no discipline for practice– I’d played the piano and the cello with the zeal of a hostile troll. I remember walking uphill, both ways, to my piano instructor’s with her schnauzers bounding in the backyard and never learning anything I liked. We must have played “When the Saints Go Marching In” one hundred times, though at the end, I did learn “Fur Elise” and I can still play the opening bars to that, much to the surprise of anyone nearby. I gave up the cello once I got a car and realized I could go places in my car, while my poor cello instructor lugged her practice cello across town and was ringing our front doorbell to no avail. The thing is when you’re young, you have hope. You have this idea that “one day” things are going to work out in your favor and you’ll realize all the frustration and loneliness and defeat would pay off. Now as an adult, my priorities have changed, and I look around and think, “This is it. Enjoy it.” It’s my very own Peggy Lee existential crisis. There is no hope that I will somehow be “discovered” and will become a stand-up comic or that I will suddenly become a master of the palette. But don’t worry, I do know I could always go to an Open Mic night and give it a whirl. I could take art classes until they have to wheel me into the common room at the home, but that idea of Making It Big and somehow Becoming Famous and bumping into Nick Rhodes just isn’t going to happen anymore. I gave all my Durannie gear to my friend’s older sister who was still in love with the band– my giant posters, my picture discs, etc. I kept my albums, though, and never stopped listening to them. I remember she was on the bus when I dropped a pile of stuff in her lap– this same bus where we’d line up outside it and we’d sing “Wham Rap” from start to finish without making a mistake.

We didn’t have the zeal the baby boomers did for the Beatles, but I loved Boy George the minute I saw him, but I thought he was a girl at first– he gave off an Annabell from Bow Wow Wow vibe but when I found out he was a guy, he became infinitely cooler. We loved Kissing to Be Clever and even made wedding rings out of foil that we decorated with red, gold, and green glitter. I know our parents thought we were insane, and then we gazed at the cover of the Madness album, trying to figure out which member was the cutest. When my parents bought me Cupid and Psyche 85 for Christmas, my cousin was remarking how the dark haired lad in the band was the cutest, and it just seemed like blasphemy because everyone knew that Green Gartside was the dreamiest.th

I wanted to be a video director more than anything. I was glued to MTV and how each song told a story. The songs without stories needed one so I spent hours in my room every day with my headphones on and the volume cranked up, imaging what the story was. My parents bought me a new stereo system for my Christmas and/or for my birthday every year, as I went through them, wearing them down, wearing them out, after hours of playing. I remember their punishment for me was not grounding, but was taking my headphones away. One day I was listening at 3AM with a pair of headphones that came free with a system, but the quality was awful– the ear pads were sponge not leather, and you could barely crank them up without hearing staticky distortion. My dad walked in on me mid-dance– as I always pantomimed what I imagined the actors/ singers/ musicians should be doing in my video– and just simply stated, “I can’t believe it.” It was an addiction. I remember how mad I was at Scritti Politti’s “Perfect Way” video– because that’s what I considered my 12 year old director’s style, and how could I make it big as a director if it’s all already been done before? I was right. Every video after that had the same slow-motion, distorted, impressionistic style, so I needed something else. I was convinced I was going to direct all the way up to college– I was beyond pissed that Fugazi refused to make videos (at the time) because I knew I was a perfect fit for them and I had a version of “Runaway Return” which would win me an Academy Award– but then I took my one and only film class, told my dad I wanted to direct, and he told me to hang up the phone, drop out of school, and move back home. He wasn’t going to spend money on a degree in film when he could just get me a job on the set immediately. But I want to be a director! I don’t want to be a PA! And there we go– delusions of grandeur. I’m going to be  Nick Rhodes’ wife and a famous director, but I need to find that major Chutes & Ladders cheat that propels me from square 28 to 84.

I got my parents to buy me the usual teenybopper magazines– Bop, Tiger Beat, etc. but there seem to be less D2 and more New Edition, so I started looking at import magazines– I got them to buy me Star Hits, which became the sacred word, as Star Hits had the perfect blend of humor, fashion, idol worship, and slightly off the mainstream focus. I remember putting $12 worth of change in an envelope to buy an import magazine with the Cure, Duran Duran, and Depeche Mode, but no one told me it needed extra postage. The magazine never came, but the Boy catalogs came like clockwork. I loved looking at the pictures of Madonna, even though I was outgrowing her music, and I loved reading Bold Type’s article– a strange advice/letters to the editor column with a charismatic and sardonic writer who went by the name “Bold Type.” I remember one particular letter about someone who kept putting money in a machine with badges (1″ buttons) and they kept getting a Buzzcocks button every time, and they wondered who the heck the Buzzcocks were. (1. this was before the Internet– do you remember when you heard of a band and you had to ask around to find someone who actually had some music by them? 2. I remember being slightly scandalized by the name “The Buzzcocks” and I wondered if it even was allowed to be in print in a major magazine.) I always imagined Bold Type as a man– a big, stocky guy with a mustache, a button-up shirt, and a cigar, when really it must have been some cheeky staffer in boat shoes and highlighted hair. But Bold Type told the letter writer to go to the record store and buy a Buzzcocks album because they were really good. And so I did too, and that’s how I wound up with my copy of Singles Going Steady.

I don’t know what I would have done without Tempo Records. I was constantly begging rides to go to Tempo, just so I could peruse the aisles, Pretty in Pink style. The people who worked there were gods. They knew everything about music, they had cool hair, they were in bands, or supported bands who played gigs in the valley and Hollywood. To this day I know that a tape that costs $6.99 will wind up as $7.44 with tax. Many times I showed up with a bag full of change that amounted to exactly $7.44. I scoured underneath the couch cushions and begged off change from my dad’s pockets. I remember telling them that I wanted Depeche Mode’s Some Great Reward in every format possible, and that’s when a clerk told me it was smarter to buy new music to try it out instead of buying the same awesome album in CD, cassette, and record. My favorite Tempo story is when I asked for a ride but everyone was busy so I got on my 3 speed and decided to ride my bike along the newly cemented roads from my house to Tempo. And I made it, and I carried The Three O’Clock’s Sixteen Tambourines on vinyl in a plastic bag bumping against my handlebars the whole way home.

It was Star Hits, MTV, and USA’s Night Flight that got me into music. No one else I knew was into the same music as me. My friends were still happily trotting down top 40 lane as I saw the B-52s’ “Legal Tender” on tv one day and it changed my entire life– my aesthetic, my music, my reason for being. My friends all thought it was hilarious that I was obsessed with this quintet with beehive hairdos, songs about quiche, and “heavy…equipment!” To show my devotion, I took my copy of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” and smashed it over my bedpost. My friends all gasped. “But that’s a really good record!” they admonished, and they were right. I knew it was stupid to take a stand against all mainstream music, but I wanted them to know I was serious. I was going to follow what I called “Modern” music (because I had no definition and no other label). I had my own version of new wave I tried to piece together with the clothes my mom would buy me at Clothestime– lots of pastels, lots of bangle bracelets, surf shirts, baggy shorts, Vans with no socks, and short hair like a boy’s with plenty of mousse. There was a girl at Clothestime who wore black lipstick and had frosted hair shaved  on the back and sides. She was cheerful and friendly, and my mom always went to her for advice in picking out clothes, but when I crawled over to my parents’ bed and asked them if I could get the same haircut as she, they dismissed my desire for a complete make-over as foolishness. That said, I had done the same thing a few years earlier, when I approached their sleeping bodies to ask if I could change my name to Jennifer because I was sick of how unique my name was, and how I never could find any stickers or pencils with Kelli spelled right.

My best friend had an older sister in high school who loved Adam Ant the way most of us loved Duran Duran, and it wasn’t a big jump from the shiny suits and bangs in the face to leather pants with a peasant shirt puffed open. I loved Adam and the Ants like nobody’s business, and some of my best memories from my youth are when we took a camping trip when I brought along “Kings of the Wild Frontier” and “Seven and the Ragged Tiger” and we played those tapes non-stop for days. But something about Adam Ant’s sexuality rubbed me the wrong way– Duran Duran seemed to hint at it (unless they were chasing a half-naked babe through the jungle while she panted) but Adam was pretty overt, and it was a little much for my burgeoning hormones so I love “Friend or Foe” a million times more than “Strip,” which I listen to with fondness but also a little Puritan pearl clutching.

We were waiting in line at Magic one day as we spotted a group of darkly clad teens waiting for the Electric Rainbow across the way. “Oh, look!” my friend’s sister said.  How cool. They wore army jackets, black bandanas, heavy black eyeliner, black lipstick, hair dyed black or crimped orangey-red. “What kind of music do they listen to?” I asked her, as the source of all hidden musical knowledge. “Dark stuff,” she replied. “Heavy metal. Ozzy Osbourne, stuff like that. They’re called Death Rockers.”  No way, I thought, remembering the case of tapes from the desert. They looked too cool– they didn’t look like my shirtless neighbors, with their mullets and their torn jeans, the scowls on their freckled faces, their middle fingers in permanent flip-off-mode in my direction. “Yup, I wouldn’t hang out with them,” she said, and I accepted it. For a while.

Then like most kids figuring out stuff on their own, I decided to dress up as “death rock” for Halloween. I wore my dad’s boots, a pair of crepe black pants, a black button-up shirt, a long black and brown checked coat. I hairsprayed and hairdried my hair up in a crown and found black spray hair dye at the local drug store. I gave myself black-tinged bangs, and I used my mother’s eyeliner to draw heavy black lids and thick black lips. It was Halloween so no one seemed to care, except the boy in the rolled up jeans and lopsided hair in my science class. He traded seats with someone to sit by me. “You look good like that.” Oh, really? “Yeah, you should dress like that every day.” No, I mean, I’m just a poser. Isn’t it weird to just show up to school in all black out of nowhere? “No, I mean, everyone’s got to change some time. Why not just do it now?” Why not, indeed. So I did, and this guy became my best friend, and the two of us pushed each other– silver jewelry, t-shirts from the swap meet (where you would buy the t-shirt first because it was cool, then you’d go to the record store and buy the album, hoping that the band was cool– this is how I found out the Damned was awesome, but the English Dogs– not so much– so if you see an old picture of me in an English Dogs shirt, you can know that I am purely wearing it for the lamest reason– because it looked cool, because I did not like the band). We got our parents to give us rides to Hollywood to buy pointy boots, and at this time a small group of other kids all started to make their own discoveries into this unknown world, then I started picking up periodicals whenever I went– Interview, ID, LA Weekly– and I made it my business to know a lot about music and alternative fashion.

No one knows how much mail you receive when you put a classified ad looking for penpals in Star Hits but I think at one point, I was getting at least thirty letters a day. A lot of the letters started off the same: “I don’t know if I’m a punk, but you sound cool anyway,” and that’s when I learned that punk was its own species– that punks were highly illiterate and liked to drink and fight and break stuff. My friends in the mail were elegant in lace bodices with huge hair and massive record collections. My mix tapes from this era are what made me who I was– I heard about bands even the cool, jaded clerks at Tempo had never heard of. We ordered albums specially and this is how I found Marc Almond’s solo career after being the crushworthy front man of Soft Cell. Then I saw him on the Some Bizzare show on Night Flight and realized that I loved him with the same intensity as my love for Nick Rhodes. But wait, he’s gay? Gone were my notions of moving to England and becoming a break-out start. I could admire his red sequined devils horns from afar. But the reality of forging my own music and my own identity was becoming more real.

In elementary school I started writing short stories about a group of orphans who stayed together in a big house– this was before Party of Five and the eldest was a beautiful pink-haired singer named Moonshein. A few years later my version of Moonshein showed up on Saturday morning cartoons as Jem and the Holograms– only she was rich, while Moonshein was modestly middle class, but I don’t have anything to show for it because when my stories got passed around the classroom, the teacher confiscated them and threw them away. I do remember the premise, the brown lined paper I used, folded in half and stapled, maybe it’s my first zine.

We’ve Got a Fuzzbox and We’re Going to Use It taught me that girls could make music, and you could have a core group of awesome girlfriends to hang out with and be goofy while making music. I felt that me and my friends were our own version of Fuzzbox– dressing crazy, going to the amusement park, having a ball. We added plastic kids jewelry to our repertoire and anything ugly. I bought a vinyl, orange purse on clearance at Clothestime and it became my signature piece– I added green spraypaint and buttons to it. I also collected keychains, and we got our ears pierced as high as our parents would let us. We added pettycoats and colored tights (not just black and fishnet) but orange fishnets, Mary Q stripes. I added in my own paisleys and 60s style– I had my grandma bleach my hair white and cut my hair into a bowl shape. I wore little Bobby Brady sweaters with pea coats and black & white checked skirts, John Lennon specs, cat eye glasses, creepers and Docs. This was the time of Doctor and the Medics and the Dream Academy, so we blended Goth and mod in a whimsical way, not like the dour-faced “moths” of the mid to late 90s, but the psychedelic Partridge meets Adams Family of the late 80s.

I grew leaps and bounds though the mail– finding out about obscure bands, making friends with people who lived nearby, and they became my friends as we discovered clubs together– Helter Skelter and Marilyns, and some became legendary in my mind though I never got a ride there– Zombie Zoo and Fenders. My other friends had dropped out, discovered other scenes, got lazy and disappeared but one penpal and I became inseparable and made the somehow seamless transition from death rock to ska one easy summer. These women I met through the mail changed my perception of everything– I remember dreaming about mail, getting playing cards in the mail, hearing about artist collectives where like-minded people all lived in the same house, and they all were reading Samuel Delany’s Dhalgren and wanted me to read it too. The girl I loved the most was from Texas. Her name was Pixie and she sent me the best tapes, she had the best handwriting, and she got me into buying expensive stationery and got me particular about the type of ink I’d use. I catfished someone once too, as this girl was convinced I was a guy, even though my reply to her letter was signed Kelli, not Zorro, but she was so lonely and insecure that I pretended like I was this hot new ro guy with long white hair and a hook nose– like Lucius Malfoy– to make her happy. I had taken the picture someone had sent me and passed it off as my own (the name on the back was Kelly so it was close enough). After a few letters, she called me out, that I had put some fingerprints on the letter with a stamp pad and her friends said my fingers were too small to be a guy’s. I apologized and wanted to be friends but she hated me. And all of that happened through the mail– we didn’t need no filmmaker from New York to drive up to my parents’ house in a rented Subaru. Although I think I did call her on the phone to explain (she gave “Kelly” her number before) but she hung up on me, and I still feel terrible, though I had a friend many years later who catfished people on purpose around the same time as my debacle. She and her friend pretended like they were male Durannies and took a classified in Star Hits. If I, a little Soft Cell freak, got 30 letters a day, imagine what professed male Durannies got. She told me they got thousands of letters and they were hilarious. She wanted to do a split zine with me about our experiences– this was before the tv show Catfish– but I couldn’t do it. I feel guilty to this day.

I have piles of Star Hits magazines now, with no plan on what to do with them. I have boxes of music paraphernalia that no one cares about. If you do care– you have the same boxes in your garage. If you don’t care, I can’t make you. So I had this ingenious idea to cut them up & include them in a zine all about how influential music has been on my life, so each little photo has been sitting and waiting in a box, in a storage unit, in a walk-in closet, in a garage for years, just to make you take a look at this faded photo of Marilyn or Visage or Henry Rollins or Siouxsie, just to enjoy its power in changing the course of direction in a little girl’s life.

cateyeglasses_usa_blacksilver_aluminum_frontI had just moved into the SFSU dorms the day before. It was a whole new chapter for me. I had never had a roommate before, and it’d been years since I found myself all alone without a friend in the world. I had seen the boy from my dorm room window. He was sitting alone and seemed to emanate stink like Pigpen. He later told me he was planning on wearing the same shirt for a year straight without washing it. The shirt, a faded black tee with a stretched out neck, claimed “ALCOHOL RUNS MY LIFE.” I wasn’t sure why that shirt would be the one he chose to devote a year to– including wearing it under a smart striped polo shirt when he went out to eat with his elderly parents from Del Mar.

Our first date was to ride the bus up to Alcatraz. We both were from Southern California but he had friends in the East Bay so he knew more about the city than I. But neither of us knew how cold it would be, so we wound up holding each other at the bus stop in North Beach, literally out of coldness, but then, like how some of the best relationships start, we looked at each other like, “Okay, let’s do this.”

Things were sticky between us, as apparently he was seeing some babe in Oakland a few months before, so when he told her he was going to SFSU, I think they both thought he was doing it for her, but when he showed up with me at a party, that plan of action fizzled out. No one ever liked me, which I can say with a bit of flippancy now, but it hurt me for years that when I’d go to parties with him, I always felt like the odd man out. Many of the punx called me “That SKA GIRL” because I had spent the previous year skanking in the trenches with my homies back in LA. The first time I went to 924 Gilman St., I was wearing my flight jacket with all my pins and patches, because that’s what you do! You wear your flight to shows! But I was mocked and ridiculed for following the rules of an unfavorable subculture, instead of abiding by that subculture’s rules of nonconformity.

To make matters worse, Riot Grrrl was a controversy. In the Bay Area, Riot Grrrl was a faux pas. Members of the band Spitboy actually came to the first Bay Area Riot Grrrl meeting to shut it down. They said they didn’t want Riot Grrrl in town, because the original riot grrrls they met on tour were hostile to them, so we compromised– and I think about it with my teeth gritted now–  I hopped on the BART and followed a small gaggle of razor-chopped-haired girls in patchwork skirts out to Ashby Station. I walked behind them about 15 feet as a couple of teenage gangster boys told me I needed “a big black dick up my ass,” and I walked about a mile to the punk house where the first meeting was to take place, trailing behind them. This is Riot Grrrl? I thought. If it’s really about empowering women and making friends, I’m not sure why they didn’t just turn around and say,” Hey, are you going to the meeting? Come sit/ walk/ talk with us.” But that’s the Bay Area for you. I have never been more excluded, shunned, and ignored than the 8 years I lived there. And why didn’t I introduce myself to them? That’s what I’ve learned in my years since then– to just jump in and introduce myself when I want to make a friend, but back then, I couldn’t figure out why they knew I was behind them for 45 minutes but they didn’t say a word.

In any case, it was decided that having a Women’s Group at all was more important than the label, so we just called it the Bay Area Women’s Group, and it was an important part of my transition from ignorant teenager to self-assured woman. We had vegan potlucks, clothing swaps, and talked about herbs and speculums. I don’t think they ever really trusted me, though. Wearing cat glasses was a political statement, and as long as I wore barrettes and mary janes, I was never really part of the you-can’t-come-to-the-potluck-because-you’re-wearing-leather-boots crowd. They did encourage me to get a copy of Our Bodies Our Selves and I learned that eating a ton of vitamin C can help bring your period on early.

Because I was a part of it all without really being a part of it, I met infamous people all the time. Most of them were fine, but some of them were assholes. LIke the guitar boy who went to shake my hand then quickly swept it across the side of his head. “What is this? Silver Spoons?” I asked him, but it was a time where there were girls who were cool, then there were the rest of us who were lame and who were making a lot of noise. I distinctly remember Cool Girls, then girls like me who were complaining about not enough women in bands, that the boys were cavalier in their casual sexism, that girls should stand up front and not be stage dived on. We were hopelessly uncool but the more they considered us uncool, the more we fought to be considered cool.

A few years in to living in San Francisco, it all clicked and I started having it all figured out. First of all, forget the East Bay. Hypothetically it was fun there because everything was all ages and revolved around drinking in alleyways, but the city was better because people were nicer– they had a harder edge to them, but they were all vulnerable once you cracked the veneer. I liked the bars better because you had something to do between bands.

The simplest lesson I learned is something that I struggle with now– that the easiest way to adapt is to not care, and people will be your friend if you don’t care if you’re friends with them, you’ll get the job if you don’t really need it, and the funniest is to forgo the shower– I took a shower every morning and would show up to school or work every day with wet hair, but up north, the longer you go without a shower, the more physically appealing you become. No, really, I tested out my hypothesis and it’s true. So maybe that’s why people in Oakland didn’t like me– I couldn’t watch the stink of the suburbs off me. I didn’t want to drink a 40 in the parking lot across the street, and instead of just nodding and laughing at Cool Guy’s story, I wanted to tell my own story.

Pigpen boyfriend broke up with me a few weeks into our relationship, so I was left to my own devices. With my small taste of Riot Grrrl, I tried to befriend  girls at my dorm– one girl looked like Lady Miss Kier from Deee-Lite, others wore overalls with their glasses and their Docs and Goody hair products– but no one wanted to hang out. In those first few formative weeks where I was bonding with my boyfriend, they were making their own clique with no room for someone else. I ate lunch by myself in the student union’s basement every day between classes, and then I saw a girl who looked like me– bleached blonde, floral vintage dresses, chunky boots, a backpack with buttons and patches on it. Before college, I thought I had a unique style, but then I learned that my style was our style– that most of the girls who had interests and politics like mine inexplicably dressed like me. Like the time I went to Gilman and saw a photographer there taking pictures of the “Riot Grrrl Movement,” of girls in polyester dresses with glasses and plastic jewelry and I thought to myself, “Yes, I belong! They’re just like me!”

I went up to this girl and pointed to the OLY GIRL patch on her backpack. “What’s Oly Girl? Is that like Riot Grrrl?”

She looked embarrassed and knowingly glanced at her shorn-headed friend. “No, Oly is Olympia. A town in Washington.”

“Oh, sorry, ” I said. “I just like your style! I figured you might be a riot grrrl.”

“No, I’m not,” she said, “but I do like the music.”

“What music? I thought it was just a political thing.”

And then the education began. We walked back to my dorm where she looked through all my cds and records. I had a huge L7 poster I bought in Philly of a dominatrix in a leather bikini straddling a client. At the time, I didn’t think much of it, but my hippie roommate’s hippie mother said, “Oh you’re trying to shock me with this poster. Well, I’m not shocked.”

“That’s okay. They’re just an awesome band.” And then her daughter got me into listening to the Indigo Girls before bed but I just couldn’t follow suit with her penchant for sleeping naked.

“Ah, Hole! Oooh, Babes in Toyland. This is all good stuff,” my new friend said. “But it’s not Riot Grrrl.”

So what’s Riot Grrrl?

“It’s like Heavens to Betsy, Bratmobile, Bikini Kill.”

I’d heard of Bikini Kill. I saw a small article on them in an issue of Sassy magazine. They sounded magnificent– the lead singer sang about oppression while wearing a bikini, fishnets, and gogo boots. They sounded amazing but I never could find their albums at Music Plus.

“Okay, let’s go to Epicenter,” my new friend grabbed my arm and led me to the 26 bus.

Epicenter was a collective punk rock record store– the first time we climbed up those stairs to what looked like a doctor’s office hallway, I knew I had entered another world. She loaded me up with tapes and vinyl. Superchunk, A Wonderful Treat, Nation of Ulysses. Her first impression of me was that I was some weird, socially awkward freshman, but then she realized I was just a kid who had never heard of these bands, had no idea about this part of the scene. I must have spent $60 that first day, and I remember being confused that you brought up the record sleeve with no record in it, and the staff would go in the back to find the record to prevent theft.

I owe a lot to her because somehow I wound up in the East Bay again because she lived in Berkeley, so while Pigpen was partying it up in warehouses turned co-ops, I was down the street sneaking into bars with her, meeting her infamous friends. The biggest controversy was Green Day– did they sell out because they signed to a major label? Nearly everyone said yes, except one girl who said they could make an album on a major without selling out their beliefs. This same girl got both of her upper arms tattooed and it looked so weird– this pasty white girl with these huge colorful tattoos. She spent the night with different boys and then complained to our Women’s Group that she got yeast infections from wearing the same tights day after day. The solution? Plain yogurt up the coochie. And then Jawbreaker was being courted by a major, and then Rancid, and then my friend who lived in this cute house with all her 50s furniture and her optimism on life got a bit sour.

In the meantime, Pigpen and I got back together, and he decided it didn’t matter if his friends didn’t like me and we stuck to the city and its bar scene. We started volunteering at Epicenter where for the first time, I started to make friends and to feel like I really belonged. Then I started working at Blacklist mail order and Maximum Rocknroll, and the more time I spent in the city, the less I liked the East Bay– except for its awesome record stores– Amoeba (before it turned into the soul-sucking conglomerate that shut down all the other stores in its path), Rasputin, Mod Lang, etc. and decent vintage clothing shops and cheap pizza along Telegraph.

When people write books or make movies about Riot Grrrl, I feel weird about it. For me, it was more of a struggle than a triumph. It taught me to become a writer on my own terms, and not to wait for some publishing company to find me or to hope some literary agent will represent me. It taught me to give women the benefit of the doubt and to try and support each other first, before tearing each other down from insecurity or jealousy. And these are things that still define my everyday life, even now. However I feel like most of the support I felt was in the mail– writing letters and exchanging ideas with girls from other states and even other countries. In person, I felt like I didn’t have the support I needed, and that whenever I came across people in or on the fringes of that scene, they were unwelcoming, judgmental, and standoffish. But mostly I feel envy that I wasn’t part of it all from the beginning. That I got involved when it was all becoming passe and that I didn’t have those revolutionary moments. I just remember girls breaking in to Epicenter, wheatpasting all the records, writing SEXIST CLASSIST RACIST in black Sharpie on everything, and then, in true Epicenter style, a worker altering it all to SEXY CLASSY RACY which is why I loved it there so much. I was part of the cynical aftermath, not the trespassing vandals.

I have a hard time looking at the famous old photos because it was never just pure fun or empowerment for me. But mostly it’s just envy because everything we did was tinged with an eye roll. Every time there was a meeting, someone wanted to shut it down or derail it for their own ego by “calling people out on their shit”– the equivalent of jockeying for power and control. The only time I really saw it work was when I was away from “home,” when I was back in LA & its friendly take-you-as-you-are scene, when I was traveling with friends in Chicago when all the zine writers played games and acted like little kids in the best way, at the Riot Grrrl Convention in Omaha when we danced our guts out, in letters where we found camaraderie and in art where we expressed ourselves and supported each other in a scene that said we didn’t matter.

I like that I’m a food snob, that I appreciate the aesthetics of unwashed hair, that I can take public transportation anywhere without being scared (my only fear is if I miss the last bus/train of the night), that when I meet another woman I want to get to know her as a person & not compare/judge/evaluate her in comparison to who I am as a woman, that we listened to rad music. But please don’t ask me to watch “The Punk Singer” without feeling equal parts nostalgic, proud, and disappointed. It’s just…complicated.

indexThe first time I went to a night club, I was with my dad. Khaki shorts, canvas VANS, a short, permed haircut, fifty gold bangles climbing my arms, a pink T&C shirt. We had taken photo booth pictures in the video arcade, separated from the rest of the family, we went exploring, looking for the origins of the booming bass.

In the middle of the park, a bandstand was set up with smooth concrete floors. Teens from all over LA county where swaying on the dance floor. They wore black stirrup pants, heavy black eyeliner, short bleached blond hair with dark roots, long bangs lazily covering one eye. They swayed to the bass, feet planted in one spot with the occasional kick up of one Kung Fu-slippered foot.

We watched them on the edge of the crowd. My dad in his polo shirt, matching khaki shorts, sensible footwear, and well-groomed mustache. I didn’t know the music they were playing. It was dance music, but it wasn’t the kind of music I thought cool people would dance to. Later I found out it was Debbie Deb, Egyptian Lover, File 13, Grandmaster Flash, but at the time it was so unfamiliar to me, a kid who knew about alternative culture by sneaking glimpses at MTV. MTV was right next to the Playboy Channel which was right next to the Disney Channel on my parents’ black box. For some reason I felt guilty when I watched videos of the Smiths and the Cure, as if I was doing something wrong– growing up too fast, maybe, dipping my toe into some sort of melancholy philosophy I didn’t think my parents thoughtI was ready for. So I’d flip the channel past Playboy up to Disney whenever I felt an adult was going to enter the room, as if it was porn, but it was just a bunch of skinny English guys moaning about love and loneliness.

“I see some good dancers out there,” I murmured, knowing that I needed to bond with my father in some way to show my appreciation for letting the ten-year-old me watch the cool kids in their natural element. He laughed. “I don’t!” he replied. I shook my head. I guess I didn’t either but I was in awe of the other life that I never knew existed– one with fog machines, strobe lights, cigarettes dangling from apathetic fingers. There were those of us who had Magic Mountain passes who came to the park just to dance, to socialize, instead of kids like me who rode Colossus backwards three times in a row, whose friends pocketed the cheap rings from the souvenir stand by the carousel. who ate salted pretzels and tried to get as wet as possible in the fountains and on the water rides.

I became one of those kids when they moved Contempo dance area to Back Street, where the club became a major attraction for the entire north-western side of Los Angeles. There was a cordoned off maze of a line to get in– the club was protected from the families and the thrill seekers by huge walls where murals of cityscapes were painted. You had to rope around the line to get in, just like it was a ride itself, and many a sweaty teen bopped their heads in line as they followed the metal fencing around to the entrance.

It was an awesome dance club like in the movies and tv shows, but better because it was free (with paid admission to the park), and because it was all ages, so at any point, you’d be dancing to Taylor Dayne and you’d see someone brought their little brother in as a joke. He’d dance around like an amusing little monkey, we’d all cheer for him, and take pictures on our cheap cameras on loan from the photo dept. at school. Everyone was there– gangbangers, high-haired tunas, the punks, the goths, security guards, friends of ours who worked at the park who’d show up in their striped polyester pants suit to come say hi.

It is here where I learned to appreciate a good dance song–my husband teases me about my blatant love for pop & dance music– because to me, a good song is a good song, so I love Doug E. Fresh and Bell Biv Devoe only slightly less than I love Siouxsie and the Banshees and the Cocteau Twins. My best friend loved it all–I think she loved Power 106 more than she loved KROQ, even though she had a dyed hair, a ratted bird’s nest for hair, and sloping cat eye liquid-lined eyes, and pointy boots with shiny buckles up the sides. We met people every night because we lived in town, so we befriended any out-of-towners who looked like they should be our friend. Back then, the freaks stuck together, so if we saw each other, we made friends immediately.

I met my husband there. He was sitting alone on some steps where we hung out by the pizza place (where you could get a free pizza if you found someone’s discarded tin & you returned it to the cashier pretending like you dropped “your” pizza on the ground and could you get a replacement). Mostly we sat outside the club when the line was long, waiting for the line to die down. He was skinny, pale, with big Robert Smith hair, dressed in all black despite the 90 degree summer heat. I remember I was the one who’d recruit people to our posse, so I told him to hang out with us. He said, “Why?” in a brooding, existential way, and I said, “Why not?” We wound up taking him to a party with us that night, crammed in my friend’s mom’s car, because why not? And he became our best friend and then my rebound boyfriend, and then the love of my life 10 years later.

So the 80s and early 90s to me are a mix of punk and death rock and dance music. Pigbag and Heaven 17, Ready for the World and Trans-X, the Information Society and Newcleus, Trinere and Nu Shooz, I know they can never have a dance club at Magic again. Magic got the reputation for being a gangster haven a few years after Backstreet opened, so they closed the club, and heightened security. The only music that plays over the speakers now is the Looney Tunes theme, because they’ve revamped the park to be more family-friendly. But now when we walk toward the entrance, I see the sheriffs station where we used to spend at least 30 minutes every Saturday night while they searched us for spikes and studs and weapons because of our big, hairsprayed hair and our leather jackets. I think about the times where roving families of tourists would take pictures of us to wow their friends back home, and how I developed a love of fake strawberry-scented fog pushed through random vents, and how  “Theme from a Summer Place” will always remind me of ripped fishnets and teaching Bobby Trendy how to apply foundation in the girls bathroom after his parents dropped him off in the roundabout.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.