Monday, August 23, 2010

The sweet 16 rent's due mugging, featuring Smilin' Jon and the NY thugs (in 2.5 parts)

Act one: Smilin' Jon

After Dave and I got off the China town bus in Manhattan, we headed to Washington Square Park to chow some dosas from an all-vegan south Indian food cart. After eating, we went looking for the bargain district to buy my little sister a 16th birthday present. It was an innocent day in New York City with the boy I love. It was, anyway, until we got a block from the park and I got a phone call from a Seattle phone number.

Now let me rewind a little bit. Dave and I have had some terrible luck with roommates this year. First we lived with a racist German (awwwwkward), then with a "truth-twisting" professor (to make a long story short), then we got a really nice kid from Seattle, Jon. He was 25 and moving out of his hometown for the first time. He'd lived in lots of roommate situations, and seemed sane (not that we gave him a rigorous test, we just figured he couldn't we worse than the last guys), and swore he'd been to Philly and knew what he was getting himself into. He moved in July 1st and was PERFECT. Best roommate I've ever had. We were thrilled. He loved Philly, he was clean, it was great. Then one day at the end of July he came downstairs and said,

"Uh hey guys! Um... my unemployment got cut and I don't have a job, so uhhh... I'm moving in with my parents (in Seattle). Sorry!"

On August 2nd he gave me a rent check then left in the middle of the night, his room still full of his things. As he stood in my doorway waiting for his cab out of town, he told me that he wasn't even sure he was moving out but he would call in a couple of days (after he went to court to try to get his unemployment back) to let me know. He said if we found a roommate, cool, but if not, maybe living with us would work out. He said that of course he would send us money for bills for the month he'd lived with us as soon as he got home. In return, I told him that if/as soon as we found a roommate I'd send his money back to him for every day the roommate lived with us. We agreed that him paying for August was fair (since 2 days notice is not, nor is staying into the month and not paying), and that us finding a roommate as fast a possible and refunding him was also fair (since he was a nice guy, a good roommate, yada yada yada.)

The next day I got a text from him saying not to cash the check because he needed to deposit money. Since he was traveling I didn't think anything of it. Then he texted me AGAIN the next day not to deposit it (and rent was due) which is why when my phone was buzzing in Manhattan and it was a Seattle number, I answered. But it wasn't Jon's voice on the other line. It was a woman.

Now I want you to brace yourself for this next part. It's unbelievable. This nice, 25 year old guy who had left my house smiling, apologizing, and saying he may move back in, had his Mother call me. And this is what she said,

"Yeah hiiiii, this Jon's Mom. I put a stop on that check he gave you. I think you're taking advantage of my son."

Now for those you who know me, you'll know how the next part went down. For those who don't, let's just say I laid into her and within minutes had her tripping over her ill-thought out words. When I asked why SHE was calling me instead of HIM, she said, "Well, he's just very stressed out about all of this." (Awww poor little guy.) At the end she decided that she would give us half the rent and "2 weeks notice." I asked when we should expect the money in our paypal account since rent is due, and she said, "Oh, well that's Jon's responsibility."

What a big boy! He may have his Mommy call but pays his rent all by himself! What a good Mom making him take responsibility for himself at the age of 25!

Act two: "I wanna talk to you"

Infuriated, Dave and I marched on toward the bargain district grumbling to each other about cutting umbilical chords and never living with roommates again and what the hell is wrong with people and blahblahblah and then Dave stopped, looked around, and said, "Does any of this look familiar?"

We realized that in our anger we had walked right by our turn. So Dave pulled out his his trusty iphone, checked google maps, and we walked the two blocks back to the street we'd missed. But we didn't make it to our turn on 1st Avenue because one block in we were attacked by two gigantic dudes.

Here's how it happened:

We were walking and two muscle-bound shaved-headed tattooed dudes approached us. One in front of us, one behind. They were in NY Mets shirts and jeans. The dude in front walked between Dave and I and said to Dave, "Hey bro, I wanna talk to you."

Now we live in Philly. Here, when two dudes try to separate you from your friend and get you to "stop and talk" it means you are about to get robbed. And if this happens you get away as fast you can, avoid talking, avoid eye contact, just GO. So, Dave and I (without communicating this to each other) both assumed these dudes (one of whom was like, no joke, 3 times my size- he'll be known as 3Xme from now on) were trying to rob us. So Dave declined his invitation to chat, I waved my hand dismissively, and we kept walking. This didn't go over well.

The dude (The Dude from now on) turned and got in front of Dave and said again, louder, "I want to to talk to you, bro!", and Dave declined the invite, again, and tried to push the guy aside. (The Dude had walked in between us, shoulder checking Dave as he spoke and staying close to him as we walked, so the push wasn't unjustified.) With the push however, 3Xme came out of nowhere and lunged at Dave, and seconds later The Dude was on Dave too.They pulled him around and to me, since I was panicking, it looked like a slow-motion wrestling match. Dave tried to get away, pulling and struggling against them both, while I focused my efforts on The Dude (the smaller of the two,) trying to push him off the man I love. The Dude screamed at me while 3Xme screamed at Dave and, since I'm not exactly a warrior, I got out of the wrestling match and went for my phone to call 911.The Dude came at me and screamed for me not to move, and then terrified (he was big) and feeling totally out of options (and I am not,) I started crying. Then 3Xme screamed at Dave that he was going to mace him, and that's when Dave and I both realized:

These guys were cops.

Seems strange, doesn't it, that they failed to mention that?

If they had, we would have stopped to talk. If they had, we wouldn't be pushing them and trying to get away. If they had, I wouldn't be trying to call 911 to try to get the COPS to come stop these guys from robbing us.
They made Dave and I stand against the wall with our hands out, and I started going into shock (since I had thought we were being attacked in daylight by 2 thugs, then realized we were being attacked by obviously crooked cops which was way, way scarier.) We asked over and over why we were being stopped and they wouldn't tell us, instead asking us over and over what we were doing, and despite us telling them that we had just eaten Indian food and were heading to buy my sister a sweet 16 birthday present but got lost because we're from Philly, they asked again and again. (Me: "We walked 2 blocks too far, *sniff* and we checked google maps on his iphone, and... and.. *sniffle sob sniffle* then we turned back the right wayyyyyy!!! We ate some dosas and we're, we're... *sniff* getting my sister a present... she's *sob* turning 16 this weekeeeeend..*sob*")

After a long round-about questioning that felt like an Abbott and Costello skit ("Where are you going?" "1st Avenue" "Well 1st Ave is that way" "Yes that's why we were going that way" "So why were you going that way?" "Because 1st Ave is that way" "Where are you going?!?!"), and after the cops got angry at me for being so upset (!!), and one cop berated the other for not telling us they were cops (which they finally understood that we didn't know after we responded to "Why were you trying to get away??!!" for the hundredth time with, "WE THOUGHT YOU WERE MUGGING US!"), then immediately blamed us for not knowing they were cops ( "You didn't you see our badges?" "No, you were attacking us."- their badges, by the way, were dangling at the end of a chain hanging around their necks which were either obscured completely or swinging wildly when they grabbed us. I'd see an anklet about as well,) and their back-up came, and they ran our ID's, and they searched Dave ("What did you throw in the trash can, huh?" "What trash can?! What?!"), and they tired of trying to get us to admit we knew we were in a drug area ("We live in Philly! We don't even know where we are! We got lost! Like we keep telling you! Iphones! Googlemaps!"), they came over and said,

"We stopped you because we observed you walking down the street, stopping, and coming back the other way. That's suspicious."

Then they shook our hands (?!), The Dude looked at Dave and said, "You can console her now.", and they left.

Now, I've been in some upsetting situations in my time (someone tried to use me as a human shield in a drive-by, for example) but I have NEVER been that terrified in all of my life.

I know we should have got their badge numbers but I was in no position to ask (since I was a blubbering mess) and Dave was so busy consoling me (thanks for the go-ahead, assholes) that we just let them leave.

But I was thinking. If I carried a weapon, which is something I've been meaning to do, I would have used it on them. I had no fucking idea they were cops, they just looked like random thugs attacking my boyfriend. I really hate to think what would have happened if I had tazed The Dude, or pulled a gun on 3Xme. I'll tell you one thing, we certainly wouldn't have made it to Brooklyn for vegan cheesecake...

Seconds after 3xme and The Dude left us

Act 1, scene 2: Outed assholes

After Jon's Mom made sure he sent us the half a month of rent (leaving us to scramble to cover the other half with about 6 hours notice), we asked him about the bill money. He promised to send it right away. When it didn't come, we asked again. He said he would send it right away. When it didn't come AGAIN, we asked AGAIN. He gave us the same story, and of course, nothing came. Then, sitting in the back resting my tired feet during This Is Hardcore, good ol' Jon popped into my head and I sent him the following text:

"Last text you're getting from us. Are you paying your share of bills or are you fucking us over? If you don't respond I'll assume the latter, and spread the word."

The next day I got an amazing response, via email.

"Hey Davin, I lost my phone a few days back and just wanted to let you know the money should be in there by today."

What remarkable timing huh? That he felt compelled to email me the day after I texted his lost phone threatening to out him as an asshole to the world?

More remarkable yet is that he still didn't pay. Not for another week and half. Not until TODAY. I would respond to his emails with "NO MONEY YET," he'd respond, "Today I promise!" and as I knew I could rely on, his word was unreliable.

Paid or not, it doesn't matter. I'm writing this because I spent weeks struggling because of this schmuck. I had to borrow money to cover him. I stressed constantly that he wasn't going to pay. I'm writing this because someone who leaves in the middle of the night with a smile on their face while handing you a (for all intents and purposes) fake check to cover their responsibilities, leaving their room full of things (for you to clean out), trying their damnedest to dodge their share of bills (which is basically telling you that they feel YOU should be the one to go to work for 8 hours and come home exhausted to cover them and they should have to do nothing), is a god damn asshole. And a grown man who has his Mommy call his roommate is pathetic. And someone who doesn't answer their "lost phone" (which is miraculously still on after being lost for over a week) is a coward. And someone who continuously lies to people who have been nothing but nice to him is despicable. And, Jon, that's you.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Drive this 7" wooden paint brush through my Philadelphia heart

The year was 1997. I was a 15 year old hardcore kid living in Polyglot flyer-plastered room in rural Maine with nothing but a small and dear record, tape, and zine collection connecting me to the outside world of what was then called the "hardcore community". Through various means, including but not limited to a hardcore radio show from New Hampshire that I picked up once a week by holding my boom box's antennae at just the right angle, zines I picked up at the shows I could convince my Dad to drive me to ("... it's only 45 minutes away Dad and BLOOD FOR BLOOD is plaaaaaying! Pleeeeease??!?!"), the bands who toured up to Maine (Blood For Blood, Hatebreed, and 25 Ta Life mainly), and most importantly my Very Distribution catalog, I learned about new music.

This is how it went: Once a week I would hear new bands on the radio. I would write down the names of those I liked on my "to order" list. If I went to see a band I dug and they shouted out a band I'd never heard, I'd also add them to the list. (For example, I can thank 25 Ta Life for introducing me to Warzone through endless "As One" covers.) And lastly, I would read through my Very Distribution catalog, highlighting any band that sounded interesting (using various colors of highlighter to signify my varying level of interest) and throw them on the list, too. Then I would comb the streets for cans to return for a deposit, or wait for a holiday to get a little money and then make the huge and arduous decision of which of my listed and highlighted bands would get ordered. 

There were always oh-so-many bands described as "heavy", "metallic", and "straight edge" (instantly earning them a yellow highlight), and I had been burned several times by betting on the wrong record (Plagued With Rage's 7", for example), so I ordered carefully. On one particular ordering spree in '97, Ink and Dagger's "Drive This Seven Inch Wooden Stake Through My Philadelphia Heart" had piqued my interest with its odd title, made the cut, and arrived at my little home in the middle of nowhere... just in the nick of time.

All of us have bands that represent pivotal moments in our lives. For me everything is always politics, that's just the way I am (and maybe why I've always loved Feminism so much- "the personal is political"), so my "important" bands are those that led me down a more resistant path. (I guess you could call it "the path of resistance"... heyo!) Ten Yard Fight pulled me out of drug and alcohol addiction, One King Down led me to veganism, Boy Sets Fire made me see the connection between animal and human suffering, Trial reminded me that hardcore could be a place for intelligent (radical) ideas, 25 Ta Life (hate all you want) made me realize that for angry, poor, ripped-off kids like me there could be "strength through unity", but there was still an element missing for me in hardcore. Something punk rock (a scene I never felt was mine) had that we didn't. A lawless side.

Hardcore was very by-the-rules. It was a particular band playing a particular sub-genre singing about a particular selection of regurgitated (but somehow never tiring) topics. Tough guy bands sung about fighting and hardship. Straight edge bands sung about drugs and sell outs. Emo bands whined. Political bands sung about politics. It was like a corn field planted in straight lines. Very few surprises. I was ok with that. I was like an Idahoan. I liked livin' in the corn. But sometimes you need a little adventure in farm life. And so entered Ink and Dagger, the band that left corpse-painted crop circles in the neatly growing ideas I had of what hardcore was.

From "Drive This Seven Inch Wooden Stake Through My Philadelphia Heart":
You are now able to do whatever you want, because you are in control of your energy, and feel free to expand and manipulate that energy into positive accomplishments. Being the new vampires, we wield our thirst for "energy" (blood) into a weapon that sees no boundaries aside from the total obliteration of the old mindsets handed down from the Gods Of Punk long ago. The new vampires set our own traditions. We have emancipated you from these chains of mortaldom. Punk is about doing whatever you want, therefor we wish you, the new vampires, to take personal meaning to this, and build upon your powers every single day.
That was it. Ink and Dagger represented the creativity I craved. They were the unselfconscious boundary pushers I needed. That I felt we all needed. They became a band so meaningful to me that I carried their 7" in my backpack all the time. I would pour over the lyrics, over those words above, and I would feel connected to and inspired by the hardcore community which I saw now as whole and rounded.

Being from Maine I never got see Ink and Dagger. When the singer died, I thought I never would. Then the line up of This Is Hardcore was announced and who was on it, but them. And not for money like so many bands (cough BOLD cough) but as a fundraiser to help a friend (good ol' "hardcore community"), which is something I could respect. And get way fucking excited over.

I do not make very much money so I don't have much to give, but I wanted to do something to honor the band I love so much. Then I thought... gee what can a face painter do for a band that used to play with their faces painted in corpse paint? Hmmmm maybe... paint faces?

So I made a plan to paint every Ink and Dagger fan at the fest in corpse paint before their set, worked it all out with the dude who set up the fest, and the morning of Ink and Dagger's set I rolled out bed, packed my brushes and my paints, and rode over to the Starlight Ballroom.

I set up my little corpse painting station at the front of the venue before Ink and Dagger's set. My friend Martine went to round up some "new vampires" for me, and much to my surprise they came. In droves. In fact the line for Ink and Dagger corpse painting became so long that Martine had to help out and we only did maybe half of the people who were there before we ran out of time. She whited faces, and I blacked them. We moved so fast I barely had time to think about how extraordinary what we were a part of was. But then I painted this one dude, and I did.

As I blacked and whited him we chatted about our love of Ink and Dagger. He seemed to get a little choked up, which confused me, until he told me that the old singer of Ink and Dagger (Sean) was a friend of his. I stopped painting and, still holding his face in my hand, expressed my sympathy for his loss. I continued to blacken his eyes as he told me how he and Sean met, what an influence Sean has been on him, and how he was getting his face painted to honor both the band and his old friend. I painted in silence for awhile, taking in the depth of what was transpiring, and then he broke my thought with, "Sean would really like this, that you're doing this. He would."

I had a sad but, for lack of a better word to describe it, kind of special moment then where I felt connected to a guy I never met and a band I never saw who had, despite the distance, helped shape a scene for me that had helped shape my life. 13 years later in an absurd hypo-allergenic theatrical way, I was able to give something back, to contribute to the immortality of the band that tried to give us immortality.

I painted my own face and jogged through the crowd to get near the stage. Their set started with an explosion of sound and light. The strobe lit up the white faces around me, I watched them stage dive and scream and throw their arms around each other in a camaraderie I rarely witness anymore. As I climbed up some one's back and crawled and rolled my way over the heads of the crowd in a desperate attempted to sing ANY of "The Road To Hell" into the mic, the world flipped and spun around me, the multicolored lights flashed and glowed, and I felt the wet spray of fake blood on my face I thought,

We wield our thirst for "energy" (blood) into a weapon that sees no boundaries aside from the total obliteration of the old mindsets handed down from the Gods Of Punk long ago. The new vampires set our own traditions.

I fell back into the crowd, into the corn field, and looked up in admiration through what seemed like the haze emanated from a freshly landed space ship, and stood amongst the new vampires in the circles that Ink and Dagger had cleared for us.

Thank you Joe, Ink and Dagger, and the hardcore community for a fantastic night.

(photos below from nikki sneakers)
the corpse paint assembly line (me above center, martine in the right hand corner, me below)