“Mind if I have a beer?” I asked the big skinhead with the bulbus beer gut.
“Only if you do one thing for me,” he said.
I nodded. “What’s that?”
“Talk to people,” he said. “Socialize. Don’t just sit in the fuckin corner like a fuckin leper.”
This was it; it was called A Touch of Class. An abandoned house where the Punks and Skins went to get trashed.
Jeff Turner had brought me here.
* * *
I first met Randy at the free Toxic Narcotic show at the Axis. I’d seen him at other shows but this was the first time I met him in person. Jeff, Harry, and I went to the show together. It was being filmed and I licked the lens of the camera as they filmed the crowd standing in line waiting to go in. In the final production they did not use that footage after all, but they did catch me standing there like a boring buffoon. Just standing there. I was at the front of the line and I was the first one to notice the guy with the camera emerge from inside the big black doors.
Usually this venue had many buff, angry bouncers standing around, making sure no one stage-dived—although that never stopped us—making sure no one was high on drugs, making sure no one danced in the pit with studded jackets, spiked collars, lock-&-chains around their necks. Tonight Toxic Narcotic had rented out the place for their 15-year anniversary and they removed the barriers between the band and the crowd, making it so much easier to stage-dive, and got rid of the bouncers, too———it was just us kids. Jeff Turner was caught on camera numerous times leaping from the stage and surfing the upraised hands that brought him to the back of the venue in a fluid, sequential motion.
Personally I did not enjoy this show as much as others, because I felt that the crowd was rather divided. There were cliques formed and it was quite boring.
As I left the show, down the street from the venue, Harry, Punk Rock Pete, and I were walking and then we were stopped immediately by this large, muscular skinhead who I later learned was named Lester.
He said to me: “What the fuck is up with the upside-down flag on your back?”
He grabbed the shoulder of my soft, navy-blue blazer, with an upside-down American flag sewn to the back. Pulled me toward him with a single heft. My jacket hung to my shoulders awkwardly after he got a hold of it.
I could smell the whiskey on his breath.
Next to him was this fat skinhead who I later learned was named Randy. Both were dressed sharp. They had scaly caps, braces, plaid, denim, and steel-toed Docs. Their jeans were cuffed evenly. Their braces were straight, their laces were straight. Even their scaly caps were straight. These two guys had flair, albeit they were piss drunk and pissed-off.
Lester held me in his large, hairy hand. His knuckles were tattooed: SKIN. His hand was tattooed too. I tried to avoid looking him in the eye and I noticed that he even had tattoos climbing his neck.
“I oughtta kick your fuckin head in,” he spat, with one hand clung to my blazer, the other hand clenched.
I was scared.
Harry was scared.
Punk Rock Pete was holding something in his pocket.
The fat skinhead said: “Lester, let it go.”
Lester’s grip on my jacket tightened as he pulled me closer. My boots were raised off the ground.
The fat skinhead said: “C’mon, Lester. They’re just kids. Let it go.”
He patted the skinhead named Lester on the chest. Lester released me with a shove, and I buckled into Harry. We both stumbled backwards as Punk Rock Pete stood there with his feet planted firmly on the ground.
The skinheads walked away. Punk Rock Pete pulled brass knuckles from his pocket and told me that that was fuckin scary, man.
Later Jay Drunk said to me: “If our Founding Fathers hated their country, why can’t we hate our own?”
I was pretty sure these skinheads were not interested in an intellectual debate.
* * *
That’s why I was nervous as I sat in the corner of A Touch of Class. Lester and Randy were there.
Randy handed me a beer. Beckoned me into the kitchen.
“C’mon, what’re you waiting for?” he said.
Lester was stumbling around with a beer in his hand. He gestured for me to come over to him.
He put his hand around my shoulder and led me to a private corner.
He said: “Sorry, bud.”
I was dead silent.
“Listen, bud,” he said. “I think we got off on the wrong foot.”
He said his name was Lester; I told him my own.
We shook hands.
Still holding my hand firmly, he said: “Here’s the thing. I hate the government but I love this country. The flag means freedom. I served two tours overseas just to keep it that way.”
Then he walked away. I sipped my beer and started to feel much more at ease. These guys were welcoming me in.