Did I mention I never got laid in high school? I was afraid of girls. Well, that or I had this hang-up: I thought they just didn't do that sort of thing. Silly, I know. In hindsight, I probably could have gotten my cherry popped just by asking often enough, the girls I knew didn't ignore me that badly. By the time I'd been in for six years, however, I'd convinced myself of the sexless female delusion and thought any overture I made would be turned away summarily. Because of that, ironically, I became closer to girls than ever before. This was the cause of much frustration and probably the biggest reason I finally left Fort Worth. You see, once I did do the deed, I found that that didn't automatically bring with it what I really wanted, which was love. Even a year after Candace, and throughout my time at Six Flags, I came no closer to having that, and this made everything else seem all the more pointless and bothersome. I might have ended up doing something truly self-destructive if someone else hadn't done it instead.
I don't remember what his real name was, I only heard it at his funeral. Most of the guys I knew in Fort Worth went by street names at the time and a few have stuck. Badger and Ferret still call me Shrubber, and I return the favor, but I haven't felt like Roger the Shrubber in over fifteen years, and Badger's now a reeyul biznissmayun. At the time, in midwinter 1989, Badger was one of my new punk friends, and the roommate of Eddie and X. Not the girl from Six Flags I renamed 'X' for the purpose of saving her the possible indignity of having someone she knows read this journal and die laughing, but X Mutah Death, a young black anarchist with a savage wit and a tragically uncaring girlfriend. Tragic, because she was the apparent cause of his suicide. I didn't see this as a call to get it together, though, I was a self-indulgent slob who went through McJobs almost as often as I put gasolene in my scooter; I used his death to further ingratiate myself to his friends. But to show better how this all came together, I need to get back to that nerd I was in high school.
Did I mention I was in high school for six years? Oh, yeah, I was a winner alright. I'm sure I've mentioned 'P', the girl who changed from Paschal to Southwest around the same time I did and who introduced me to far more people there than Keith, my best friend for some seven years, did. P had been quite a getaround girl at Paschal, so I naturally wanted to see what she'd get up to with a whole new crowd. What I hadn't expected was that she'd hook up with another girl, the same 'L' who I gave some clandestine late night rides on my Honda Elite. I had an itch for L, but this wasn't to be. I then became interested in one of the girls P moved in with when she finally gave her parents the finger, but that one soon married another man. There was no question of finding interest in P's next 'friend', because when they got together P dropped all contacts with guys and left the social scene. L, on the other hand, stuck around long enough to lead me into poetry readings at the Hop, where I found the punks consistently sitting out on the stoop far more stimulating than those emoting onstage. So did she, for a while.
The Hop was a unique spot, the House Of (veggie) Pizza for old hippies, the home of angsty outpourings for my fellow poets (equally responsible for The Little White Death Book), yet also the last resort hangout for the mostly homeless in studded leather and Doc's. Wanting to finally shed my nerdy personna and thinking that here was exactly the non-cause I was looking for, I gravitated to this ragtag bunch with uncharacteristic abandon. And with L often needing a ride, but not yet trusting this group enough to let them shinny in her window at three in the morning, I had a good excuse to insinuate myself into their world. I began going to Joe's Garage and the Axis (that is, the old Axis, the real Axis) and meeting the colorful members of the DSB (I'd tell you but they still know where I live), and even saw a fight between them and Dallas' chapter of the Confederate Hammerskins. The DSB were anti-skin, regardless of their haircuts or lack thereof, and despised all things fascist or authoritarian. This was right up my alley, and the music that pumped out of the Fort Worth dives put adrenaline in me. My blue scooter didn't hurt either, though it wasn't a Vespa. For a scant slice of time, I felt great about being a loser. If you're young enough and have no one depending on you for... anything, I recommend a night or two eating macaroni and cheese out of the pan with a horde of spike-haired demons in the back room of a dying club. I never felt more at home. And they had pot! Eris knows where it came from, but they were free with it, and to my mind that was a profound trust.
Amongst the Southside punks, I met three guys who couldn't be more different from me or each other: Eddie, the self-proclaimed Satanist; Badger, the gentle giant on motorcycles held together with spit and blood; and Ivan, not yet Mad but certainly not wholly sane. In addition, there was L, who they christened 'Lewd', and Ferret, who I'd known as Jason from more innocent times in Paschal. Somewhere along the way I also met X, who lived with Eddie and Badger, but he stayed mostly in the background and seemed moody. As it turned out, his problems went far deeper than I suspected. Before I had barely gotten beyond being able to remember that 'Mutah' meant a short, contracted marriage (in other words, an empty gift) in Arabic, I was sitting on the stoop outside the Hop when Eddie ran up to say that X had shot himself in the head in the kitchenette of their apartment. I didn't go see the place until the next night, after what was left behind by the coroner was cleaned up by his friends and buried in a very private ceremony. In fact, that night we mostly played games on their coin-op Stargate machine and talked about all the guns and knives that they had to hide from the cops. The next day, we all wore our leather jackets to X's funeral because that's what punks do.
For their part, X's family was gratious and the DSB showed uncommonly good manners, but the ceremony was vacuous and disingenuous. X was an atheist who hated everything his Baptist family stood for, or so his friends told me. Reading what he had scrawled all over his bedroom walls confirmed it. His girlfriend stayed conspicuously absent; it was rumored that she'd already found someone else. Coincidently, Ivan's mother's house had been recently gutted by fire and was in the middle of being refurbished, so it was agreed by unanimous consent that what X required was a proper punk wake. We delivered.
Ivan's mother's house was a Beautiful Tudor on the outside, with little besides new wooden floors and bare walls within. Ivan lived in the carriage house against the rear fence, a throwback to when model T's were a curious nuissance and dignified persons were content with one horsepower. On the night after X shot himself it snowed, and that abnormal weather wasn't finished. The night of the wake was as cold as a witch's tit and the next morning revealed the deepest white blanket Fort Worth had seen in a decade. There were at least twenty of us to begin with, but the house only offered a single gas heater and fireplace, so as the people filtered out, we who stayed huddled and shared blankets and sleeping bags. Before we settled down, however, there was revelry to be had, and we did our best to send X's ghost off smiling. Lewd consented to many tittilating acts, including being covered in candlewax; a far cry from the parties she and I had attended with mutual Southwest High friends. The drama ran from forelorn empathy to baldfaced recriminations (some friendships remain strained to this day). The group divided and subdivided, congealed and reconciled, flowing from the crow's nest on the roof to the root cellar (a rarity in North Texas) and back again. As a gift to X's memory, we emptied several markers on the unfinished walls of a downstairs room (whatall was written there I can only fuzzily recall, but the drawings were raucously obscene). For musical accompaniment, we had the impromptu meditations of Badger (yes, that mountain of a man!) on the one remaining native piece of furniture, an upright piano too charred to ever find a true note again. For food, someone supplied a Barbie doll drowned inside a tub of green Jello and a table of the best that food stamps can buy. There wasn't much alcohol, and that went quickly (maybe that was the real reason half left early). By the time the only light we had was coming from candles, methane, and firewood, the group had melded into a plate of goosedown-and-granny-quilt enchiladas softly telling life stories to each other on the floor of the once and future living room. Before that night, I had felt like only a fringe member of what was really a loose hodge-podge of like-minded kids, but they treated me as if I was the one for whom the party had been called. In fact, we all felt that way about each other. X really missed a helluva party. Thanks, X.
Did I mention we cut up his plaid flannel and made badges with safety pins? That's what the icon stands for (though I didn't create it, thank you icon gods). My piece still sits in the top left drawer of this desk, though it's too frayed now to wear.
As I said, it snowed again that night, so naturally we spent the next morning asking around the neighborhood for cardboard boxes and looking for hills to slide down. Fun was had by all. Even Badger, Ivan, and Eddie momentarily forgot the newly openned rifts in their friendships that would widen until we thought someone else might fall through. At some point between one snowball fight and the next, the chaotic conversation turned to Monty Python, and I got the only nickname that I'm still known by in the Fort Worth underground. In those days, with those who partook of the herb, 'Shrubber' was a double entendre, so I considered it quite appropriate. I was so taken by the air of comeraderie that I stayed that night also, then with Ivan and his other hangers-on in his cozy carriage house many times that winter. I can remember Caprice platonically sharing my sleeping bag while we listened to fuzzy tapes of Sinead O'Connor and the Violent Femmes. I remember dragging the bag up to the crow's nest and shivering in the wind so I could watch the sun come up (big house on a big hill=great view). I don't remember worrying about the infighting beginning amongst X's friends. On the second afternoon after the wake, I went home to check in with the parents (no phone at Ivan's yet) and dropped the scooter half a dozen times in the snow. I ignored the bumps, bruises, and bickering. For me, it was bliss.
But X's wake was the last time that group got together in toto. The Axis was forcibly shut down by da Man (temporarily, it happened on a semi-regular basis), the Hop canned poetry nights and soon was itself turned over to new management that didn't cotton to poor, underaged teens hanging out on the stoop. Joe's Garage likewise folded. The Fort Worth punk scene dispersed into the cracks on the sidewalk where it forever lurks, bitter and dejected, and I was left in between three warring factions that once were a steady front against neonazis and All That Is Dallas. In short, I was where I'd begun, scratching a living out of Six Flags and living at home dreaming fondly of couchsurfing and sleeping bag cuddles. I looked around my room and saw nothing and a future of nothing. I looked around Fort Worth and saw feuding and backstabbing between people I'd not even known a few months before and wished I'd never met them at all. I lost touch with P and L (who no longer acknowledged P or answered to 'Lewd') and grew more and more convinced of my own irresponsibility, despite losing most opportunities to be irresponsible. I felt caught in a trap of my own making, a stagnant tarpit, but I never seriously considered suicide. I saw X as a fool, choosing a route from which there's no return when even in my frustrated state I could look to California, where my oldest brother lived, and imagine starting over fresh. Throughout the Spring and Summer, I gradually turned away from the punks, the poets, and my old friends from high school and looked west. When my anticipated romances at Six Flags turned into regrettable one night stands and my scooter got stolen, I'd had enough.
Did I mention I only stayed in San Diego for a year? Actually, it was eleven months. Yeah, I fucked things up there, also. But at least I could lay on the beach and pretend I was getting my act together. My problem was always giving in to the feeling that I shouldn't have to do what I needed in order to enjoy the rest. In high school and after, in Fort Worth and San Diego, I resented the System and let that rule my actions. I should have just done what I had to do and stopped trying to start over. The world's going to change whether we like it or not, and I was never in as bad a place as I thought. There came a time when I no longer had the luxury of feeling frustrated or the choice of not doing what I was told I should. When that time came I remembered X and how he'd checked out because his girlfriend didn't love him and his family didn't understand him. Suddenly, even living in a wheelchair seemed good enough. After all, there are at least three guys who still call me Shrubber, but it took them seeing each other in my hospital room before they healed the rift X had opened.
Just after July 4th, Badger told me he doesn't have time to play piano anymore, but he's married with children, so I forgive him. Eddie still carries guns, but now only as a security guard. Ivan recently lost his paintball field after going through surgery for throat cancer, but don't you know he's practically orgasmic over the GOP loss of Congress? When X died all three said they expected the next bullet to be for them, but it was for me instead. I'm still not satisfied with everything in my life, but I do what I have to and leave the resentment for those too blinded by how much better their lives could be to see how good they've got it. If that's an admonishment, so be it. There were a lot of times I might have benefitted from being kicked in the ass and told to get over myself. Surely, that still applies. But don't let a bullet find you before you let go of your resentment of the System. You've got better things to do, like taking a walk in no particular direction and for no reasons other than you're bored and you can't get anywhere sitting down.
Well, you could if you were me. I take it all back. It sucks to be you.