Friday, May 13, 2011

An old story

I wrote this seven years ago and just found it on an old blog I had. Some details have been changed and names omitted to protect the guilty.

My friend M had skin cancer that metastasized and spread all over his body, so he ended up in St. Mary’s Hospital on chemotherapy and all that and his friends decided to throw a benefit for him and for their other friend who had a brain tumor. It had a tumor theme and M designed the flyers, but didn’t make it to the party because he was too sick. When I was young and 21 and drinking too much and staying out too late, no one mentioned brain tumors or cancer. Our worst problems were hangovers, and even those weren’t as bad as they are now, and our idea of being broke still allowed us to go out three or four nights a week.

I had met M through my friend C at a party in the South of Market that we went to that was kind of disappointing, but we didn’t really care because we were all pretty drunk on booze and camaraderie and singing Judas Priest songs. Me and M had grown up on punk rock, and we would reminisce about seminal bands like X and the Minutemen, who on second thought weren’t really that seminal because no one really sounds like them because no one really listened to them, which is probably why we like them so much. M had this slow, staggered way of talking, and had kind of a California twang, because he was raised in Berkeley, and he would say things like “Wohl, fuckin’, like, Fear were like, fuckin’ the ultimate punk band.” Marcus also had dubious taste in movies and so I was suspicious about his recommendations of both the Fight Club and the Matrix, but I liked them both.

He did animation and dated a beautiful 19-year-old, even though he was 34, and once drew an anime chick on the message board of my old house during a party, next to notices to pay Shannon for the electricity bill. He had a lot of tattoos and used to have a drug problem so we forgave his overindulgence in the drink as the lesser of two evils.

He was all into Burning Man and had these friends who were part of a something called the Space Cowboys who put on an event called Space Lounge which I never went to because I wasn’t really into that kind of thing, I mean the bleep-bloop music and everyone being so fucking happy and the drugs. I was more into going to shows and complaining about how derivative and lame they were and how stupid scenesters were.

It was the Space Cowboys who threw the benefit party. It was in an old church in the Mission, right around Halloween 2001. I was still freaking out about September 11, and it was the first time I had really gone out since all that badness happened; The planes crashing into buildings and our reaction to it, Bush preaching biblical revenge, and the liberals being totally ineffectual and that horrible feeling that something really really bad was happening, and losing faith in my country and not being able to do anything about it.

The night of the party I was tired and felt lazy and didn’t want to spend the 20 bucks to get in, but I knew it would be worth checking out, and I had invited this cute Australian girl, so I dragged my sorry ass out. There was a live fire show out front, but we waited in line to get in.

I went for the retro look, wearing my rust colored plaid jacket and brown hat. I knew I didn’t have any appropriate clothes, and so opted to totally not fit in rather than try to and fail miserably. The crowd was typical of those kinds of events in those days; ecstasy-damaged graphic designers and computer programmers and webmasters who walked that fine line between artist and dork, yuppies with better taste in drugs and music than their khaki-wearing brethren clogging the bars of the Marina, foreign-exchange students, party girls, and aging hipsters, we being in the latter category. Girls dressed as sexy nurses sold cheap drink tickets, and all the organizers were dressed as mad doctors. Some of the crowd had decided to dress in theme. There were tons of dj’s playing house music, but both of us were more into dancing to rock or old soul, so we went outside to watch people smoke and be able to hear ourselves talk.

C and I were both in grad school as a way to put off getting a real job, he in the humanities and I in history, and we would talk about music like we were writing our graduate thesis on it. We couldn’t just think that, say, X’s “Los Angeles” was a great song. We had to deconstruct it and analyze it within the context of L.A. at the time and the racism there and the white flight. Which would lead us to Fear’s homophobia and Quentin Tarantino’s bogus use of the word “nigger” as if racism never happened. I think it scares the uninitiated, those people who have the audacity to just like the music they like without considering its past and future and its place in the history of popular music and youth culture and the politics of the time and take it all with a seriousness that probably belies some gnawing emptiness in our lives.

A friend of C’s from Berkeley was there, and he was married and had a kid, which was weird for us because neither of us were even self-sufficient, much less organized enough to take care of another sentient being. But it was also kind of cool, especially in the environment of the party, because we felt like we were part of a new, alternative generation, one full of nice, good people who weren’t part of the shitty, greedy, consumeristic and stupid mainstream who were plastering American flags on their cars and pouring out their French wines and eating freedom fries and voting on American Idol. It was a world miles apart from all the embarrassment and horror that greeted us when we watched the news.

In a lot of ways the party was a very punk rock thing, or at least was the kind of thing punk rockers would aspire to do, only if they did it the music would have been suckier and everyone would have had to pretend it was lame and there wouldn’t have been as many cute girls and they wouldn’t have been dressed as well and everyone would have been drunk on cheap beer or fucked up on speed rather than drunk on vodka tonics and fucked up on E.

 (I went to a hardcore show in Milan a few years ago, and all the crusty anarcho-punks [called “punkabestia” in Italian, literally “Punk animal”] were staggering drunk and dressed the same and had the same dreads and the same type of mutts on the same rope leashes and I asked myself, “so this is the revolution?”)

By two a.m. me and C were drunk and tired and wanted to go home. Both of us felt too old and too tired and we had things to do the next day for school. Which we wouldn’t end up doing anyways.

So I left as everyone else was just coming, and went home four hours before the event ended, to sleep fitfully and wake up feeling tired, elated, and a little disappointed, because something great could have happened to me that night but didn’t.

M died a year later, and I didn’t go to his informal wake, which was held at the Wherepad in the Mission, because I felt like I didn’t know him THAT well, and it would be fake, and C wasn’t around to go with me. I had only been to one wake in my life, and I didn’t like it. My reaction to being sad was to get angry at the rest of the mourners, and when I wasn’t doing that I was breaking down and spilling tears in my coke. But now I regret not going because even if M wasn’t my best friend, he was still a good guy, and I find myself missing him.

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