Monday, January 12, 2004

Time, and the radiant heavenly city

This is what I get for falling asleep listening to The Germs - M.I.A. anthology... (does anyone else find it strange that the listing for this album says "Buy this album with Group Sex by the Circle Jerks today and save!"?) I wake up and there is a memory sitting on the edge of my bed, and it won't go away.

When I was 13 I was this incredibly desperate poser. I'd been living in Utah, but it felt like I was on another planet... I had zero connection with anyone I knew. Life behind the Zion Curtain was boring and strange - that whole 'Stepford Wives' thing they had going on was fucking creepy. I had no friends, partly because most of my human interactions consisted of getting the shit kicked out of me by my mother's second husband, partly because I made the decision that I didn't want to know the little zombie kids they were breeding without end in my neighborhood.

Each year I would get shipped back to California to spend the summer with my father, at least nominally... I really hardly ever saw him, and when I became a teenager he had zero clue how to deal with me, so I was pretty much on my own. Luckily, it didn't take long for me to fall in with the wrong people, and my life soon got better when I met the neighborhood 'problem teen', Darren. I knew who he was long before I met him... he lived near the local quicky-mart, and many times as I cut through the parking lot of the apartment complex he lived in I'd hear great music coming from his apartment, stuff that was different from what was on the radio.

I don't remember how we finally met, but it wasn't long before I started hanging out with him and Elizabeth and the two or three other punks in San Dimas. He had 'cool' friends, who would pick us up and take us into the city to go dancing - there were some clubs that got around the whole curfew issue by just locking everyone in until morning when the curfew was over. I had no idea what I was in for... I really was the town mouse, and I wasn't just hanging out with the city mice, I was hanging out with the punk, goth, bondage, drugged, beautiful, and above all interesting city mice, and my mind was blown. The city was radiant and alive, which I guess is the same thing as saying 'I was young and happy', but we never really notice these things when they are happening.

These people would come in from LA, bringing with them handfuls of zines and stories of the gigs they had seen since we last met. They had to dress me up before they'd be seen in public with me... I was still dressed like the 70s, in corduroys and tennis shoes (which made me look like someone from the Partidge Family), while they were more like boots and leather and black hair dye. Darren lent me his spare boots, and Liz showed me how to put on eyeliner (shut up, it was the 80s). Somebody lent me the requisite black clothes, and we piled into the car and drove off into memory.

When I went back to Utah, I was still a major nerd, albeit one with burgundy hair and black boots. Some small part of my California experience had rubbed off on me, and I found that what would have been lame and unhip in LA might as well have been from another planet in Utah, even in the diluted and derivative form it retained after my insecurities and essential uncool got through with it. Unsurprisingly, this led to almost complete ostracization in my neighborhood, which is really the best thing that ever happened to me, because it drove me out into the world to find my people.

I think it took me a long time to stop being a poser and figure out who I really was (actually I'm not sure I'm really done with that process). I was way too insecure to even know who I was, let alone express who I was openly. Luckily I had some friends who didn't go away, and after awhile I was able to figure out what parts of me were essential, and which were just wrappings.

I hope you didn't read this far looking for a point. There's no 'happily ever after' here. I'm fairly happy with who I am, except for the bit where I'm laid up in bed 23 hours a day with chronic pain, which gives me a lot of time to really stretch out my midlife crisis. I can't imagine how people went through things like this before the web... as it is, when memory coughs up little vignettes like this post I can google on phrases like "Darby Crash" and "Missing Persons" to find sites like this brilliant online collection of LA scene articles from the early 80s that help to minimize the lapidary effects time is having on my memories.

(BTW, the title of this post is lifted from Alan Moore's 'Promethea', which I was reading before I fell asleep.)