He hadn’t been in L.A. very long. He was “practically fresh off the bus from Virginia.” I know because I heard him say so.
He was a tall white guy with brown hair, wearing a baseball cap. I was on the other side of the one-room taco shop, watching while he was being friendly with the cute punky girl behind the register, a young Latina woman in a Misfits t-shirt. Maybe too friendly. He hadn’t said anything inappropriate, but he was making way more conversation than one needed to order tacos. It felt only slightly cocky, but then he said something inexcusable.
“Do you really like The Misfits?”
I froze, burrito halfway to mouth.
“What do you mean?” said the punky girl.
“Like people will wear the shirts but not really listen to the music. Just ‘cause, like, they think it’s cool to seem like they’re into punk,” He smirked at her. “Are you like that?”
Wow, I thought. Was he really trying to impress her by insulting her? Didn’t negging go out in like 2009? Not to mention the dog whistle racism, the implication that punk was the domain of angry white men, so what could this young Latina woman possibly know about it? Which, as anyone who grew up in L.A. knows, is incredibly fucking ignorant: there is a long, storied history of Chicano/Latinx punk, and women have always been part of it. (Alice Bag, anyone?)
“I do listen to their music,” she said, her tone patient and earnest.
“Really? What stuff of theirs do you like?” He pressed.
“Well…” she said, and thought for a second.
What followed was the most complete overview of Glenn Danzig and Misfits’ discography I could imagine. Personally, I can’t name a single album, but she knew them all, and knew their history. She knew their changing lineup, their live shows, everything that had happened even years before she was born. The guy nodded along, his confidence draining with every second. I smiled, thinking of all the young Chicana punks I’d known growing up in Southern California. Nobody knew more about music than they did.
“…I guess Static Age is probably my favorite of their albums,” she concluded. “What’s yours?”
“Oh,” he said, and all his bravado was gone. “I… I only have Walk Among Us.”
“Oh,” she said. She could have been smug, but she wasn’t. “That’s OK!” She handed him his tacos, and he accepted them with his head low, looking shorter than he had before.
“Um,” he said, after a long moment, “I’m sorry if that was, like… rude.”
“It was,” I piped up from across the taco shop. “Nobody likes a gatekeeper.”
The guy looked at me, confused and deflated. The punky girl and her co-worker, a girl with short hair, exchanged amused glances, and went back to talking amongst themselves.
“Kevin says he has a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for breakfast every morning,” the punky girl said to her co-worker.
“Peanut butter and jelly isn’t even good for you,” said her co-worker.
The guy suddenly looked up, like a dog who’d just heard his owner’s key in the door.
“Peanut butter and jelly?” He said. “For breakfast? That’s so weird!”
The two girls looked at him, then looked at each other, then looked back at him.
“Uh, yeah,” they said, almost in unison. Then they turned back to each other, and he turned back to his tacos. He didn’t say another word, just finished eating and left silently. The second he did, the punky girl, her co-worker, and I all burst out into laughter.
“What was his deal?” said her co-worker.
“I don’t know!” The punky girl laughed. “The thing is, I am a Misfits fan, but when it comes to punk, I don’t follow it that closely. I’m really more into metal.” She smiled sheepishly, and said something that will keep her in my heart and mind forever.
“I don’t actually know very much about punk at all.”
Fake BBC Show Title of the Week: Me and Me Trouble
Stuff I Did This Week: Finally got to announce my upcoming event with Laurie Halse Anderson, the author of Speak, at Housing Works Bookstore in New York! We will be talking about her beautiful, cathartic, poetic memoir, Shout. This is an incredible honor, as her writing was a very big influence on me. It’s on March 12th, get your tickets now!
Also, I found out that Kim Stanley Robinson’s agent passed my post about his writing along to him, and he found it very funny! Once again, I am honored, and I’m pleased to find that Robinson has a sense of humor about his amazing work. (Somehow, I feel that Mary Gaitskill might not have taken it so well.)