Monday, November 23, 2009
For years a friend had been asking me to write a book. The fall of 2008 he told me the question that was on his mind at seeing an older guy, still in the Punk scene, who was Gay, and a Skinhead.
“How does he walk that line?”
That’s when I began to write.
I got stuck for a year and three weeks on this project. Then I wrote out the events here. As I type this out I’m not sure if what your about to read is to be the first chapter or the last.
I know there are typos. “Writing is about re-writing.” Once I’ve cranked the manuscript out I’ll get to the real work so don’t go to my Face Book to send corrections.
I’ve been printing out this draft and handing them out at Punk Rock Shows I attend. On advice passed down from a publisher I set up this BLOG. She said it would help to "create a Buzz". I will be posting chapters as I work on them, but who reads these things anyway? I'll stick with the low tech D.I.Y. style as well.
I’ve been getting a lot of positive feedback, constructive criticism and useful advice.
I’ve also been told what folks have been taking away from my writing. So far I’ve been pleased with what I’ve heard. Let me know what you get or don’t get out of this.
The Rev. Pedro Angel Serrano
Monday, June 29, 2009
Bait Dog: Dog baiting is placing 2 animals in a confined space for fighting.
Degenerics: A hardcore punk band from New Jersey. Name inspired from an episode of Rug Rats: Degenerics = non generic.
Hard Core: A style of Punk Rock.
Liquid Carbohydrates: Beer
Merch: Short for Merchandise like t shirts, CD's, Vinyl records.
Mosh/Moshing: A style of dancing.
So there’s still tomorrow
Tomorrows another day
I know we lost yesterday
But what do we have today
to turn the tides around
and live one step at a time?
So fuck tomorrow. Rule today!
We’re only gonna have today.
”Today” by the band Convict Orange
Look to this day;
For it is life,
The very life of life.
In its brief course lie all
the realities and verities of existence,
The bliss of growth,
The splendor of action,
The glory of power -
For yesterday is but a dream,
and tomorrow, is only a vision. But today, well lived,
Makes every yesterday a dream of happiness,
and every tomorrow a vision of hope.
Look well therefore, to this day.
I was only aware of the rhythm of punches to my face. He said “Give me the camera!” after each punch. He grabbed the camera. I wouldn’t let go. I started to kick him in the knee.
He said, “Don’t get up! Don’t get up! Don’t get up!” a punch between each time he said it. I do remember starting to get up off the ground. It didn’t improve his mood.
There are interesting things in getting pounded in the face over and over. For example, the laws of physics apply to everything in the universe, including your skull. So when a guy punches you on your right cheek, momentum jerks your head to the left. What’s interesting is your head will turn back to where it was, thus making it easier to get punched again.
Now you’d think that thousands of years of evolution would lead to the instinct that makes you leave your head facing to the left. No such luck. Another thing that may surprise you is that I felt no pain. Pain is reserved for later. Also time passes differently in this situation. Albert Einstein would have found a beat-down fascinating. He may have jumped on the quantum physics band wagon a lot sooner.
My situation lasted for a long time. Most folks would have been curled up into a ball after eight seconds my situation lasted for perhaps a full minute. I think it’s because of this, that some guy who knew my attacker came over to split us up. It turns out the guy that attacked me thought I’d taken his picture. No seriously. That was it. He thought I had taken a photograph of him. I didn’t take his picture but had not
opportunity to say so. He just kept screaming at me. “Give me the camera.”
I explained that it was a film camera, and said I’d give him the film. He started screaming “Give me the film! Give me the film, give me the film.” Then “Give me the film! Give me the camera! Give me the film! Give me the camera!” He was bouncing up and down a bit, his hands held out like some kid pleading angrily to his mom for a package
of Kit Kats.
I open the back of the camera and he grabs the film cartridge while it’s still in the camera and tears up the film.
I turn away, spit on the side walk, and see that it’s blood red. I look down and see the same red on my shirt. I think “Damn. I really liked this shirt.” I remember advice a skinhead gave me a few years back. He saw that I got blood on my jacket from a bar fight. “As soon as you get home soak it in cold water.”
My attention turns back to my attacker. In general I have a mind like a steel sieve, but in situations like this my memory tends to get better. It’s a good idea to get a mental sketch of who’ attacks you.
I’m 6’1’ he was about a head shorter then me. Round face, a bit round in general actually. He wore fashionable summer wear; bright yellow colored shirt, a short gold chain that didn’t go past the top of his chest, and a shaved head. Oh, and he was an asshole. Yea, I remember that too. Can’t say the guys he was hanging out with in front of the bar on French street New Brunswick, NJ across from a liquor store/bar called The Hub, were of the same disposition. I try to keep an open mind.
Before walking back to the corner bar he says, “You can’t walk down this street.” He turns and with the small group of guys that had collected walks away.
I turn to the opposite direction. I stand there for about 7 seconds then turn and follow them.
He walks into the corner bar. When I get to the corner I’m told by the guy who got between me and my attacker “You can’t go through here.” I said, “I’m going home. This is the way I’m going.”
Actually where I lived was in the opposite direction. But when he said I wasn’t allowed to walk down that street I thought about how I’d feel about myself if I went home from there.
Now I’m taking the long way home after having my face pounded. I feel self conscious as I pass some guys hanging out, leaning against a car. I feel self conscious about how my face must look. This was followed by the thought that I was supposed be feeling something else. As people walk towards me I look the in the eyes as we pass. I make the effort to stop caring about what other people might be thinking.
After crossing the street I reach into my pocket for the phone. I called Tony and left a voice message.
“I just got jumped on French street. Some guy just beat the crap…” I pause. “Tried to beat the crap out of me, and I’m calling because I want to have some portraits taken.”
At the next corner I turn left and begin to pass more folks walking in the opposite direction. My back is straight and my chin is up. I give some guys sitting on a porch a nod.
When I get home I take off my bloody shirt. First stop was the kitchen sink. I pour salt into a bowl and dissolve it in tepid water. I rinsed my mouth. What I spat out went from red to clear in no time.
My right eye was nearly swollen shut so I looked in the fridge for some ice. Looking for ice trays I didn’t notice the clear plastic bag of gourmet ice at the back of the freezer so I opened a box of frozen potato and cheese pierogies. It worked well. The healing pierogie shape fit over my right eye perfectly.
Shirtless, with part of the dinner I’d planned now on my face, I head to a friends place for ice. As soon as I step onto the sidewalk I see some big guy step out the door of a house just ahead of me. I get self conscious again and cross the street to avoid having some one else see my face. From across the street I hear this guy shout my name.
“Pedro! Is that you?”
It was Brother George, a hardcore guy I’d not seen in months. The only times we’ve had to hang out have been at punk rock shows.
He calls out, “I moved in last month.”
When folks in the Punk scene describe George they’ll say, “He’s the big guy with lots of tattoos that’s always smiling.”
I love this guy. Not in a Gay way though. No, seriously! Hey! Just because we both appreciate naked potlucks doesn’t mean anything. But I digress.
He walks towards me saying, “Tonight’s my night off from fight school.”
George was training to be a mixed martial arts fighter. Three times a week he’d take classes on submission wrestling, martial art form from Thailand called Mui Thai, and then boxing. As he crosses the street I can see how big he’s gotten since last we hung out. The only thing that didn’t change was his smile.
When George sees my face his eyes grow wide. George asks, “What the fuck happened?” I was to lose count over how many times I’d hear that question.
I say, “I got jumped.”
He asks, “Where?”
I say “On French Street.”
He says, “You want to go here right now.” His words came out fast, the tone was hard, and his smile was gone.
I say, “Not now. I just need some ice for my face.”
As we walked to his place I say I give him a recap; the guy suddenly coming up from behind, getting knocked to the ground, the pounding my face while holding my friends camera, his friend splitting us up, him taking the film and telling me I couldn’t walk down that street anymore.
My voice sounded strange to me. I was out of breath from talking so fast. I turn to Brother George and see that he’s smiling. I realize I was smiling too.
I say “I’m already sure that tomorrow morning I’m going to have me a breakfast beer.” Understanding completely George laughs and enthusiastically supports the idea.
It turns out to be a night of coincidences. George just happened to have moved a couple of doors down from me, it just happened to be his day off from fight school, he just happened to step out of his place as I was walking past, and he just happened to have ice.
First stop was his kitchen where George expertly wraps some ice in paper towels. Here’s another bit of advice. Don’t keep the ice pack on your face. Lay it on for 20 to 30 minuets then reapply every two to three hours. We sit with two of his house mates and watch a DVD of Heroes and comment on the death of Michael Jackson and Farah Fawset.
George brings up the scene of Farah and Michael at the pearly gates and Michael walking to the head of the line. In my best M.J voice I paint the scene.
“’But I’m the king of pop.’ Then Saint Peter says, ‘We already have a king, the king of kings! Now get your skinny ass back in line.’”
I notice that when Brother George laughs he leans away, then straightens up again like recoiling from a blow.
Soon George and I go all philosophical about life, god, and why the immortal women on Heroes in one season suddenly got bigger breasts.
He says, “Then I saw her in some magazine. Talk about false advertising.”
I say “It was probably the slipping ratings.” Saying what I think a TV executive would say I paint the picture,
“’We need you to take one for the team and lift those girls in a push up bra.’” Brother George leans back laughing.
After about an hour I stand up saying, “I’m heading out.”
Then George stands up and says “I’m going to the Hub for some beer.”
I say “I was thinking the same thing.”
In preparation for battle, George puts on all black cloths covering his tattoos. Remember kids if vengeance is what you seek make it as difficult as possible to be identified. Before I get to ask if we could swing to my place for a shirt, George asks if I wanted one. So with a black DEGENRICS t-shirt on we head off to The Hub.
“Do you see him?” George asks.
George wanted a look at the guy and had come ready for action but said, “It’s better to wait till things cool down.”
With a couple of six packs of liquid carbohydrates we hang out on his porch talking about how we got into the punk scene. I told him the song that kept me in the scene was “Striving Higher for a Better Life” by War Zone.
“It was at a time of my life when was thinking, ‘What are all these kids doing here?’”
Having had the same feelings he leans away laughing.
We shared the meanings of our tattoos, and images for new ones. He told me how hard it was dealing with people who didn’t understand his being in the scene.
“Please!” I say, “You never had to deal with Gay guys who weep openly when they hear the Village People sing Go West!” George leans so far I thought he was going to fall over.
On my getting naked at shows when moved to by the bands George tells me that when he heard folks refer to me as, “the naked guy.” George tells me “I say that Pedro becomes the Naked Ninja.”
I say “Thank you for that. That’s going to be my super hero persona.”
He informs me of his new neighbors. Women who tend to hang outside in there sports bras and short shorts.
He says “I just can’t figure that out.”
I say “They’re probably on the Rutgers University Soccer team.”
Then Tony calls.
“So what happened?” he asks.
I gave him a short recap. He said he’d be free to take some photos the next day around 9:30 am. I set the alarm on my phone.
From folks walking by, we find out a show was happening that night. So we head over to a venue called America.
All the houses have there own names; Rock and Roll High School, Meat Town U.S.A., and Disappointment Island. The house across the street from America was named “Canada.”
It turns out a couple of good hardcore bands that had traveled as far as California to play in a small hot sweaty venue.
Brother George moshes hard. I felt like dancing too but with one eye nearly swollen shut my depth perception was lacking.
After the band was done George buys a T-shirt from them. I buy a 7” from a band called “Guilty Faces.” I go for music over cloths. The needle skips over the fabric.
Before we leave the bands merch table George offers his place for them to crash if they need one. Before I head out I give George my e-mail so we can hang, brainstorm on a zine idea, and plan a naked pot luck. Not a great day, but still a good one. I head home with a smile on my face.
The next morning I arrive at Tony’s place. Our friend, his room mate, George Scripture walks into the room. Tony hadn’t told George what happened. His mouth hung open while he took in the sight of my face.
I wasn’t up for giving another full explanation. I share the major points and Tony fills in some blanks while getting his camera ready. We step outside and he takes a test shot of me against the white background of the house. He looks at the screen of his digital camera and says, “Damn, It looks like that guy really fucked you up.”
I thought it funny. Seeing me face to face is one thing, but to see it on a camera screen brought something out somehow. He took lots of shots, taking his time to compose them nicely. A couple of weeks later seeing the first shot he took I thought,
“Damn, that guy fucked me up.”
When we get back inside plans are hatched as to what to do. I try to let things rest after seven days. Tony and George thought this had to be addressed no matter what. I agreed. Tony suggested he some friends “loiter” on French St. with cameras. I liked the style of it. Like bug zappers to a mosquito.
Tony also said “He owes Pedro a replacement roll of film and an apology.” Sounded fare to me. Tony leaves and I hang out with George before he heads out to work. About how well I was taking the whole situation. He says “It’s fucked up someone would do that to somebody with such a gentle soul.”
I had paper work to drop off at the clinic that day. My case worker was stunned by how I looked and said I should go to the hospital and report the incident to the police. With the right side of my face numb I say “I’m feeling fine.”
Going to the emergency room was a good idea. Turns out I had a Subconjunctival Hemorrhage. It sounds worse then it is. It’s why the white of my left eye was blood red. Looked a bit scary but I thought it balanced off the shiner under my left eye.
I also had some fractured facial bones. The doctor explained “There not like arm bones. They’re called spicules and are very tiny.” What caused my face to swell up was from the good supply of blood there. The right side of my face and upper right lip was numb. Later Brother George explained it was temporary nerve damage and that feeling should come back in a month or so, if it didn’t it meant surgery to repair the bones in my face.
The next day I went to fill a prescription for amoxicillin to prevent infection inside my skull. I go to a small Mom and Pop operation, (Zajac’s Pharmacy on 223-225 George street New Brunswick N.J.) I was able to develop a personal relationship with the owner and it’s the only place I go to. I pull on the door and find it locked. Turns out I’d arrived at the exact moment the place closes. As I walk away the owner appears from another door. A first generation American immigrant from India he sees me and quickly walked over to let me in. His smile fades and he asks me what happened.
I say, “I was attacked by some guy.”
He asks me “Where did this happen?”
I say “French street.”
He says, “Such people in this world.” He sounded disappointed.
By the way, when filling a prescription don’t be afraid to ask the pharmacist questions or advice about your meds. They know a lot! Mr. Zajack informs me that I need to take the medication on a full stomach, at the same time every day.
I get home and take my meds. Then I take the dog I’m watching named He Man for a walk.
He Man makes me want to have a dog. He’s a handsome beast - white pit bull, with a patch of brown fur around his left eye and scars on the right side of his face.
When I first saw him he seemed on the scrawny side. After a month with me he’s built like a Marine! Worst guard dog ever. His bark is brutal but the look in his eyes says that he’ll lead the burglars to your stereo. After having been chained to a post for two years, and abused as a bait dog He Man still likes people.
On the way to the farmers market on the forbidden street, a woman I know tells me there’s a party with food, music and a pool. She had me at “food.” I say I’m heading for the market and will be back soon. She says “Just walk right in.”
When I arrive the barbeque was in full cooking mode and a huge inflatable pool stood in the back yard. No one had gone in yet. I said “I’m sorry I didn’t bring my leopard skin print bikini underwear.” Those who know me asked why that should matter. I did my best Naked Ninja dive.
Once again I’m asked about my face and what happened. I’m a story teller at heart but being asked so many times it was wearing me out.
I say, “I got jumped on French street.”
A skinhead named Terror arrives and gives me a long hug.
He says, “I’m waiting.”
I respond, “You smell good.”
I don’t remember when I first started saying it but one night I didn’t and he said, “What’s old man? Don’t I smell good?” He expects to hear it every time. He always does smell good.
“I like holding you close,” he says. “You can’t have me though, I’m taken.”
He then introduces me to his new girl friend.
I was at the show were Terror got his nick name. The singer for the band Inspecter 7 saw him from the stage and said,
“You look like Terror from (the film) the Lords of Flatbush! From now on your name is Terror.”
I never saw a skin get a nick name as fast as that.
He of course asks me about the black eye. I give the short answer,
“I got jumped on French street.” He wanted to know more but I wasn’t up for a recap of all the details.
Later that night a young man named Nate invites me to a game of beer pong.
“I can’t. I’m on medication.”
“We have to do it soon.”
“In ten days. I promise.”
He points his finger at me and says “Deal.”
Later, Nate waves me over.
“I have to know the whole story.”
“OK. I’ll fill ya in.”
He climbs over the railing of the back porch and sits next to me as I tell the tale. When I’m done Nate puts out his hand. I take it and he says,
“There isn’t any one who knows you that wouldn’t back
It felt he thought I needed a reminder.
Later in the kitchen, it’s small talk with Terror. Before leaving he takes a potato chip from a bowl and slowly brings it to my mouth. I eat it. Terror heads to the door with his girl friend. Just before he goes through the door he says loud enough for all to hear,
“Who loves you old man?”
He says “That’s right.”
I walk home with a smile on my face I think how great a day this was. Not outstanding, but great day though.
I went to the radio station early the next morning for some on-line time. Another DJ named Cory walks in. Before he can ask if WRSU could be heard on the radio, he stops short.
“Whoa. What happened?”
The now standard exchange has begun. I say,
“I got jumped.”
“On French Street.”
“Wow. Are you O.K.?”
I’ll end up saying “I’m fine” two more times.
To change the subject I tell Cory,
“I phones a friend and said 'I just got jumped on French street. Some guy just beat the crap…' I pause. 'Tried to beat the crap out of me, and I’m calling because I want to have some portraits taken.' I'm putting them up on my FAce Book and My Space profiles."
Cory asks, “Are you proud?”
He wanted to know why I wanted to put up photos of my banged up face for all to see.
Off the top of my head I say, “I’m proud that I didn’t get knocked out. I’m proud I didn’t loose my friends’ camera. I’m proud that he said ‘Don’t get up’. Because it meant I was getting up.”
As teen I heard from the Gay media about a thing called “Fag Bashing.” Gay guys being jumped and beaten either for robbery and/or entertainment. Robbing a Gay guy had its advantages because many Gay men wouldn’t report it to the police out of fear they’d be “outed” and/or ridiculed by the police themselves. I’ve realized then that I never was I given an example of some gay guy bruised and bloody, getting up, turning to a friend and saying, “Hey! Take my picture!”
I have no word to describe how I was feeling when I called Tony that day to have “portraits” taken, but I didn’t feel like a survivor. I didn’t feel like a victim either. I wasn’t even thinking about revenge. Was I proud?
Turns out, the next day was Gay Pride parade in New York City. I’d forgotten but was reminded when a friend of one of my house mate’s talked about being in New York and not being able to cross the street because of the March.
“It was kinda cool. There were all these floats. One of them had drag queens on it.”
I smiled when he said it and got back to writing what you’re reading now.
When I started writing this book it was to answer a question asked by Fid when he was a young punk rocker.
“I saw this older guy still in the scene, was gay, and a skinhead and I’d ask ‘How does he walk that line?’”
I knew what the answer would be and that the result would be a very thin book. But I found other questions along the way.
“What was my effect on those around me?”
“What was it that I learned?”
And now “Am I proud?”
That answer arrived with another question. “Who am I?” Not my name, not being Gay or a skinhead but what I
am to others.
“I know a better world is possible.” It was a statement a women I heard on the radio repeat several times during a speech. War, racism, homophobia, violence towards women, all these things were challenges that the world faced and she repeated throughout "I know a better world is possible.
“I know a better world is possible.” The statement stuck in my head but didn’t seem to fit there. After about a week I figured out why. I’ve come to believe that I already live in a better world.
It’s a small world by most standards, but it’s a world where, I’ve been told, is better for my being in it. It’s that world where I’ve found support during the worst times of my life and showed me what you can accomplish with very little, and knowing that this little world changed me for the better.
There’s a Celtic blessing, “May you go from strength to strength.” It’s been described as a spiraling upwards and changing for the better through the hard times. I'd add that you’re changing for the better through the joyful times as well, or when you’re engaged in some imaginative effort, or being of service to something greater then yourself. It helps if you’re actually aware that you’re having a good time though.
I’d like to think I’ve made some progress upwards and will work to make the climb a more conscious one. I have changed from that scared little kid into some one, though he still feels the grip of a fist around his heart from time to time, can say “I’m beginning to know myself.” and who hopes that what’s shared here will answer the question many will ask when they see my banged up face.
“Why is he smiling?”