Soilent Green executed a flawless set. I felt inspired. I didn’t want to chalk it up to being what it was because of the mushrooms, because it wasn’t. Only certain bands have the ability to become larger than life, to conduct an event that might be the closest thing to a religious experience I could ever have. The band began their set with It Was Just An Accident. Benjamin Falgoust, the vocalist, summoned demonic voices from down within his gut to a level of hell Dante failed to reach. In a dirty white t-shirt, and sweaty hair that seemed to sweep the floor of the stage, Ben screamed into the microphone, pacing the stage and head banging, with some air guitar thrown in for good measure. There were a few moments where he appeared to lock eyes with me, screaming and pointing down at me, while I screamed the lyrics and pointed back at him.
I’m murdering the love in my mind / I’m murdering the love in your eyes.
I had my own twisted understanding of what those lyrics meant.
After Soilent Green finished I waited for the crowd at the merch table to subside. I bought a shirt from Ben, who was affable, thanking him for an incredible performance. He shook my hand like a man, and was genuinely grateful for the support, which I appreciated on a human level. The mushrooms made me feel talkative, and for a moment I wanted to mention to him that I picked my tag name, SG, because of the band, well, it was partially the reason, and slightly coincidental, it mostly had to do with S.E. Hinton’s 1967 novel, The Outsiders. I talked myself out of it and kept it moving. I doubt Ben would have cared about why I wrote a specific name in graffiti, and I didn’t know how well graffiti thrived in Louisiana. I kept my mouth closed, sometimes it’s better to not speak to people whom you might admire, you don’t want to run the risk of ruining the image of them, especially those you hold in high regard. I walked outside to where the boys were waiting, I showed Ozzy the shirt I copped. He lifted up the shirt he bought and it was the same shirt. We were always eye level, always on the same page.
CBGB’s was magical, a refuge for outcasts and weirdos like ourselves, a place that felt like it was created specifically for us, a place that we could claim as ours. Although I loved going to shows at Wetlands and Castle Heights, even Voodoo Lounge was fun, but CBGB’s was always going to be king. I wondered which future venue would be the lucky one to become the crowned prince. Which venue would achieve sainthood?
While some congregated at CB’s to be a part of something greater than themselves, because maybe they weren’t apart of a graffiti crew or on the baseball team in high school, or whatever the fuck, that is not to say that these rebellious youths didn’t exhibit elitist behavior. Others used the music and the scene to represent their crews and promote certain ideologies, and though diverse and tolerant, there was always room for potential altercations.
We flew under the radar of the scene kids. It’s funny how it’s mostly the same group of people going to all the same shows, and yet I might have recognized their face in the crowd and we probably would have common interests, I’ve never tried to befriend anyone, nothing more than a little congeniality when passing through or when trying to order a beer, a simple nod in acknowledgement was all. That was the extent of our exchanges. We were not seeking any acceptance, we just wanted to go to shows. We kept to ourselves and got blind drunk, occasionally fought but mostly watched the bands on the bill that mattered to us, and more than a few who didn’t. During an unfavorable band’s set we staved off thirst at the bar with our fake identification.
CB’s was a venue that made shitty bands sound better and great bands godlike. It was a place you hoped you didn’t have to take a shit. A place notorious for over capacity. I found it strange which shows sold out and which did not. The Soilent Green show for instance, how does that band not sell out? Under-appreciated to say the least. Over the years we saw hundreds of bands, bands like Glassjaw and Drowningman play to just a handful of people, which would not always be the case. Then there were shows with Napalm Death, Hatebreed, Converge and Poison The Well, just to name a few, these bands played dangerously overcrowded and combustible shows in the future location of a bullshit boutique. There were so many good shows, and I’m not talking specifically about the birth of punk at the venue or the golden age of hardcore, but simply overall. It’s sacrilege to think it will one day just be a t-shirt. More proof that eventually everything you love will die. Some people don’t get to live as long as CBGB’s doors were open. I guess it’s better to be happy with the time you had with something while you had it, then never having it at all.
The next stop was Floods, one of my favorite Pantera songs, and a lesser known dive bar in the Lower East Side.
Wash away us all, take us with the floods.
It made sense to us since we were always trying to wash everything away. Our friend Wilhelm’s last name was Flood, so I couldn’t wait to tell him about this spot. Two friends of ours had recently started tending bar there: Mina and Imogen. Viggo was perpetually scheming on Mina. There could have been something going on between those two and they just kept hidden.
We marched down the length of the bar, and assumed control of a section at the end. Each of us pulled out wrinkled twenty dollar bills from our weathered wallets, stacking them on a messy little pile to start the night off. It was a little ridiculous, looking back on it how we all unintentionally matched, I don’t remember if we realized it then, but we all were wearing variations of black jeans and black hooded sweatshirts. Mine were Levi’s and Champion, nothing to brag about. I’m certain all of us purchased our sweatshirts from Modell’s or something, rocking Russell or Discus. Not one band hoodie that night.
Mina happened to notice us first but was further away, she got Imogen’s attention, and whispered something in her ear while pointing at us. The girls were happy to see the boys. For the most part, we pretty much always behaved ourselves when the girls were working, at Floods or any of the other establishments they slung drinks at, and there have been quite a few. We hung the gloves up at the door. We kept our rough hands at our sides. Cowboys leave your guns at the bar sort of thing.
Good little boys prone to trouble, but more likely to find ourselves fist fighting in our own backyard. Of course, there was a scrap or two, the occasional dust up, a one-on-one or an isolated bar brawl with some thugged out assholes or some frat boy yuppie scum, but nothing remotely close to how things were for us inside the galaxy. Not at all like what happens with us back in Queens. Bloodied up and bruised from the shit holes and dive bars of Queens, or worse, tearing it up on a three day bender on Bell Boulevard, a place that snowed all year round. The probability of a problem was far greater, and so was the likelihood of getting locked up. Each of us had seen the inside of the 111th precinct, and the 109th and a few others, nothing new there.
The problem with Queens was that it was personal. The chances of running into someone who disgusted you, who made your blood boil and your stomach curdle, whose face made you throw up in your mouth a little, was far greater in Queens, specifically Whitestone, Flushing, College Point, or Bayside, we were too interconnected. There was an endless list of people you hated. Beef was on. It was a time where you could get your ass kicked easily, things weren’t as wild as the 80s or the early 90s but it was still on. You could get it at anytime, going to see a movie at the Quartet with your girlfriend, putting gas in your car or trying to get a fucking sandwich at Cherry Valley. It wasn’t difficult to get caught out there, but I guess you always knew the risks of going to certain places.
It’s funny how you can have mortal enemies over neighborhood shit, a minor disagreement blown out of proportion could be one reason, it tended to be over girls, or graffiti, but if you met these people that you fucking hated under different circumstances, remove the hoes and the colorful disrespect you might have been the best of friends. Instead they were your adversaries, and you did hate those guys because that was the only way it played out. In some cases there was no alternative to the hatred, you were always going to hate some of these people unless time helped broker peace. So many things happened in these short lives that made it impossible to view certain people or specific actions in a new light. It’s hard to shift those opinions. It truly takes some growing up, and not one of us appeared to be maturing anytime soon. Sure, we were all aging, but I think we might have been growing at a slower rate than maybe other young men in our age range. Pride and hatred were strong attributes for us.
For as long as Mina and Imogen worked at Floods, which was not very long at all, we’ve never fought inside the bar. That is not to say that staggering our way back to the car we upheld the same discipline, that was a different story. Things in the city were still capable of getting ugly. Maybe we were accustomed to being on edge, I’d like to think of it as being prepared and not necessarily looking for trouble but that’s not the whole truth, now is it.
“I’ve missed you guys,” said Mina, coming out from behind the bar to wrap her arms around each of us.
“Oh, I’ve missed you,” Viggo said, grabbing a handful of Mina’s ass as she hugged Martin.
Imogen stood behind the bar and appropriately lined up six shots of Tullamore Dew. “Hi, boys. To what are we toasting the first round to?”
“Memorial Park Boys,” I said.
Viggo said, twenty one.
“This one is for Philip,” said Ozzy.
“What happened to Philip?” Imogen asked. “Where is he? Is he alright?”
“He’s pristine. The altar boy has found himself in the clink,” said Ozzy.
“Oh, no,” said Mina. “That’s terrible.”
The six of us clinked our shot glasses together, touched them back down on the sturdy bar before downing the hatch, gulping the generous heap of whiskey Imogen poured, as everyone said, to Philip.
“Poor Philip,” said Imogen, curling her bottom lip. She wiped a little bit of whiskey excess off of the side of her face with the back of her hand. She immediately poured pints for us.
We hung out and caught up with the girls when they weren’t tending to the other patrons. They brought us new pints without being asked. They always took care of us. I thought Imogen was cute, there was something dirty about her even though she wasn’t like that. Her hair was blonde, and had grown out but I personally thought she looked hotter with a Chelsea. I felt like there was something between us, it was subtle but it was there. Maeve was the reason nothing ever came about. Mina was pretty too, a little brunette, Viggo and the rest of the guys pined over her. The girls were an inseparable duo. They worked together and shared an apartment in Ridgewood. We’ve all crashed on their floors. Someone introduced us to them in high school and after that, they were team, they were a part of the click. There are people in this forsaken world that you just seem to gravitate towards. Mina and Imogen were those people, our kind of people, true friends.
Time was at a standstill, but it must have been an hour or so after we got to the bar when Martin tapped me on the shoulder. “I got some blow off of Mina. Would you like to do some?”
“Yeah. Sure. Why not? I don’t see any harm.”
“Lead the way.”
We cut through a small crowd of people, some scantily clad ladies with some ghetto looking dudes. You can’t assume a person is or is not capable of some treachery based on the way they looked, the whole don’t underestimate a person adage was true. Don’t dare give anyone any credibility because they look potentially dangerous either. The guys we walked through looked rougher than us, we on the other hand always looked like dorky little kids, and we were dorky little kids, but we’d also be comfortable with grabbing the nearest bottle and breaking it over your face and trying to carve your fucking eye out with whatever shards were still left in our hands. We were conditioned to be violent.
You should never lower your guard because someone is unassuming, which in most cases we were to people. We were there to have a good time, having fun was the objective but we were trained from an early age to keep an eye on the surroundings. We grew up in a hostile era. I tried to pay attention to how large a group was, and if and how they intermingled. I don’t think Martin gave a fuck. I knew for certain Ozzy did not. Martin was more laid back than Ozzy, but everyone would throw if necessary.
The stairs leading to the basement swirled in a red light, something you’d see in a low budget film portraying Amsterdam or the underbelly of some other cities in Eastern Europe. There were some new tags written in marker and carved into the sheetrock along the hallway. The bar had to repaint its walls often, which would only be vandalized again.
The first door was the women’s bathroom, the second was for the men, two urinals and a stall. We went in, I pissed while Martin stood by the sink, tapped coke onto the back of his hand, and snorted it off. I took a bump off of my fist. Martin loved cocaine. He was the one who sought it when we went out. Martin would try to have it on hand most nights.
“I saw Maeve earlier today,” said Martin.
Maeve was the only real girlfriend I ever had, there were other girls but not like how things were between Maeve and myself. We got together young, we dated throughout our teens, but we spent the last two years going back and forth between talking and not talking, dating and not dating. At that moment we were not together. To be fair to Maeve, I don’t think she treated me unkindly, anything she did that might’ve hurt me was unintentional, the truth was it was all my own fault, any pain I felt was self inflicted. If anything happened that I wasn’t happy about, it was my own doing. She didn’t behave the way Blair did, thankfully. I felt sorry for the mess Martin was in with Blair, but that was his doing. You can’t predict when you’re young and crazy and you find a woman, that she might outgrow you, that she might one day change, she might feel differently towards you, that she, simply will want to fuck someone else. If she wanted to fuck everyone in the neighborhood, that was her choice, it was really none of our business. No one can predict how things will turn out. Martin fell in love with the wrong girl. Maybe Maeve fell in love with the wrong boy. How could Maeve have the foresight to see that as I got older I would become more mentally fucked up and become distant and emotionally unstable.
“Did you,” I said. “Was she with someone?”
“No. Nothing like that. She was by herself.”
“Where did you see her?”
“One Five Four.”
One Five Four was a delicatessen. Every neighborhood has that store that they go to for beers and sandwiches. Located off of Willets Point Boulevard, One Five Four was our spot. As minors we would make trips to the store from the park, every night, it was a pilgrimage, sometimes more than once to grab forties of Olde English and 24 oz bottles of Heineken or Becks. As long as we concealed the beers and stayed out of sight from the other customers, sometimes waiting in the back by the fridge, or in the fridge, for them to leave the store, we were golden. Brown paper bagging it on the walk back to the park hoping the cops don’t roll up and bust our balls.
“Makes sense, I suppose.”
“She asked how you were doing.”
“She did. I think she misses you, man. I honestly don’t really get the problem. What’s wrong with you two?” Martin did the last bit from the bag he got from Mina.
“The problem? I am the problem. Is that not obvious?”
“You know she loves you, for real. So what is the problem? I got another bag from Imogen. Should we hold it or do it now?”
“I mean we’re here.”
“Yeah, fuck it. Leave no evidence. It’s a tiny bag. So why can’t you two work it out?”
“Are you interested in Maeve, Martin?” I asked, making a little clumpy hill of white powder on my hand vanish. “You want my blessing?” He would never get that from me. No one who I ever considered to be my friend at that moment would. I wouldn’t say never, just not then.
“No. No. No. it’s not like that at all. Don’t be an asshole. It’s just I’m very conscientious of the problems in my own relationship and yours seemto be way better but you deaded Maeve and I’m still going back to Blair. I just want to understand, because I don’t see the problem.”
“Are you really, fully aware of Blair though? For real?”
“Yes, Colm. I am, thank you. Blair can be an idiot with some unfavorable tendencies but she is good deep down. I can’t help myself when it comes to her. I know it’s wrong and fucked up. But Maeve seems good without the extra nonsense. She is like a genuinely good person. It’s baffling from the outside looking in because there doesn’t seem to be a real issue.”
“I don’t know, man.” I knew exactly what the problem was. I was the issue. “A big problem for her, for us, is that I have a problem communicating. I don’t tell her I love her, Like I can’t say it. I know I love her but I can’t allow myself to vocalize it. When we are together she will say ‘I love you’ and I’m unable to say it back.”
“Maybe you’re not in love with her? I wish I didn’t love Blair. Maybe your heads are just a little messed up right now.” Martin did more coke.
“I am. I think. I think I’m too self aware. As if reciprocating makes it real, then if the love is real, well then that sentiment makes me vulnerable. I don’t like that. I don’t think I’m capable of trusting her completely. I don’t think I could ever trust anyone completely.”
“Not even me?”
“Wow, that stings,” Martin joked. “I think you’re too fucked up right now. So I’m going to put you on a time out and I’ll finish this.” Martin flicked the little that was left. “Has she ever done anything that would make her untrustworthy?”
“Yeah, finish it. That’s fine. Has she? Not really. But just because she hasn’t done anything doesn’t mean she won’t do something in the future. I mean, to my knowledge she’s never cheated on me, but who knows, it could be worse she could be like Blair.” I laughed a little mean laugh.
“Come on, bro. Is that shit even necessary?” Martin smiled, shaking his head. “You’re immature, Colm. Blair’s just testing the waters. You, my dude, have hurt my feelings and now I need to do even more drugs to feel better about myself.”
“Sorry. I couldn’t help myself. Easy target. How do you deal with Blair’s salacious lifestyle? I know Maeve’s been with other guys. I can barely stomach the thought, but you can’t change it. So how do you do it? I don’t ever address it. I know more than I should because she’s weirdly too honest with me sometimes. If I didn’t push her away it probably wouldn’t be a discussion right now. Do you think subconsciously I’m trying to punish her for it?”
“How do I deal? It’s just sex. It’s part of life. I try not to place the focus on what Blair does when I’m not around. No one is innocent.” Martin made a face that showed some defeat.
“I guess it matters and it also doesn’t matter. I don’t think I’ll be sticking around so it’s better she doesn’t waste any more time on me.”
“Where are you going? Ireland? You’ve been saying that for years.” Martin laughed.
I wanted to tell Martin what my plans were but I thought better of it, it was not the right time or place. “I might have something up my sleeve. Even if I did stay I don’t think I could keep Maeve happy long term. You know. These other dudes she dates all have money, I don’t have any money. Might never have any. No matter what people say at some point money or lack thereof, it will become a problem and it will strain the relationship. After a while, things will go bad and she will leave. My mom did.”
“I don’t see her being like that at all.”
“That’s the thing you never see it coming, or you pretend not to see the truth,” I said. Do we ever truly see anyone as they really are? Do we ever have the foresight to know something will not end well? What is to be gained from letting someone in far enough to know them, to really know them. I thought about old battleships and destroyers sailing under the Whitestone bridge, setting course for somewhere far away from here. “When I think about the guys she dates when we’re apart I don’t understand why she would be interested in me. I know them, or of them, they’re not even people. Just vapid, materialistic, shit talking, douchebags who think the most important things in the world are objects and money. It’s all pretend. They have no real personality. No depth. Their whole being consists of what other people tell them is cool. They base their lives off of what others think because they have no mind of their own. I don’t get how she tells me she loves me and wants to be with me, but wants to spend her time on them. I can’t tell her what to do when I’m the one who broke up with her. But she’s too good for them, and definitely too good for me. I think it’s foolish on her part but she thinks they’re nice.”
“Of course they’re nice to her. They want to fuck her.”
“Precisely. I know that. You know that. We know that. I think about things that don’t matter more than I’d like to admit but it makes me feel more detached. I grow more disconnected from everything by the minute. I think I find myself questioning everything lately. You know. My feelings for her. My place in the world. I have to rethink what it is I saw in her and what I want out of life. Is she still that girl I obsessed over or has she become some strange woman that is only in my life because of a shared history.” Of course, Maeve has changed as we all have. It would be foolish to think otherwise. Change is welcome unless it leaves you unrecognizable, or alters the perception and what your expectations might have been. My expectations were always a bit high, which leaves ample room for disappointment, which were my usual results. I was very familiar with disappointment.
“I have the same feelings with Blair.”
“Yeah, but Maeve is not like Blair. Blair is a-”
“What the fuck?” Martin feigned anger. “Don’t say it.”
“What? I was going to say wildflower.”
“sure, you were.”
“It might feel good to say it. you know, it might be a relief.”
“No. I’m not going to say that. Let’s get the fuck out of this bathroom. And you’re a dick. Mad immature, bro.”
We all knew how Blair behaved and that Martin loved her regardless. It was an issue for them to sort out, and only them, no one else, but everyone knew everything and that was the problem. Wildflower.