I got a chance to talk to Bam-Bam about his father between sets. Bam-Bam's (real name: Benjamin) dad was a long-time nemesis of mine, Detective Richard Donner of the San Diego Sheriff's Department. Donner had been looking for a way to bust me for years, ever since Bekka had been stabbed. Donner decided I was the culprit, and refused to do any real investigation. It took the efforts of me and a mafia enforcer named Paul to crack the case, delivering Bekka's assailant to Donner on a platter, complete with a recorded confession.
A year ago, Donner had more or less confessed why he loathed me. I was a punk. Punk, the music genre, was offensive noise. Punk rockers were obnoxious party gladiators who wasted every opportunity afforded to them in life, preferring to swill beer, abuse drugs, and go out of their way to offend everything good and decent in the world. Donner's point of reference for this was his own son, who had good grades all through school --- even after getting tangled up in that punk rock shit --- but rejected college in favor of pursuing a living in music. His son's band was the Guardians, his son's nickname was Bam-Bam, the lead singer for the Guardians. It didn't matter that his son's band was now relatively successful, living off their music. And they were fairly comfortable, too, no more ramen for dinner, no more living in their tour van. Bam-Bam and his girlfriend had a nice apartment in Westwood, he drove a three year old Taurus, his bills were paid.... The Guardians had "made it."
This meant nothing to Donner. His son had thrown away his life. He somehow earned a living yelling into a microphone, belting out smart-ass lyrics and jumping around like a goon. Benjamin could have gone to college, then moved into a secure career, anything he wanted. No, he wasted his intelligence and opportunities to try and be a rock star. Donner's son was nothing but a disappointment to him.
I explained, in some detail, the different interactions Donner and I had over the last four years, and why Donner found me so reprehensible. I explained that I'd advised Donner to get over it: his son wanted to be an entertainer, and had actually become successful at it. Not many people pursue dreams like that and make a go of it. Donner should be proud of his son. I'd given this advice over a year ago. If Ben didn't mind me asking, how was his relationship with his father?
Ben stared at a spot on the floor about ten feet away, dead silent. He finally said, "Now that I think about it.... my dad has actually gotten a little better over the last year. He's been the one to call me on a few occasions, usually it was me calling him and Mom, letting them know what was going on with me. He'd always ride me about how I"d fucked up my life. I'd point out that things were tight for me, I was living off what I did, I wasn't the drug addict he expected me to become, I was healthy.... Yeah, he's called me, and asked how things are going with the band. And he didn't say 'Good job' or anything, but he also didn't criticize me, either. I figured he'd finally reached a state of acceptance.
"My dad has always been a cop first. Being a cop was priority one, ahead of his family. When I was a kid, he couldn't even ask me how my day at school was without turning it into an interrogation. It fucking sucks saying this, but...." Ben paused briefly, so he could bite his lower lip and clear his throat. "... but I don't think my dad ever loved me, or Mom. He married my mom because it was expected of him, as a career cop. Him and Mom had a kid because that's what married couples do. But me and Mom were just distractions to him, expenses he had to take care of.
"When I first discovered the hardcore punk scene.... Shit. That was in ninth grade. Of course, it was a sign I had turned into a drug addict. He'd talk that shit to my face. I"d learned a long time earlier that yelling at him was pointless, so I'd smile and say, 'Okay, if I'm on drugs, search my room. Have the K-9 squad sniff around for drugs anywhere in the house. I'm happy to provide a piss test or a blood test. You give me ten dollars a week allowance, how am I supposed to support a drug habit with that money?' I actually started working harder in school, just to prove him wrong. And when the Guardians first got together, I invited him to watch us practice, anytime he wanted. He could show up unannounced, fine with us.
"Really? My dad bought the bullshit about the hardcore scene, the garbage that would bet printed in the Tribune. The cops had their own bullshit fantasies, too. You know that cops in San Diego are convinced there's a suburban street gang called the 'Iron Maidens'? Hey, the headbangers have the same sense of fashion, they all have Iron Maiden patches on the backs of their jackets. Obviously,it's not music fandom, it's teenage organized crime. And goodness me, some of them smoke marijuana! Heavens to betsy!"
I interjected, "Yeah, I remember some of the shit the Copley papers published. Where we are right now? This isn't a rock and roll show, it's a Satanic rite. The peace symbol is actually an inverted cross with the arms broken, to signify contempt for Christianity. Punks are an organized street gang. Shit, if that was true, why haven't I gotten paid yet? Nobody told me when and where the gang meetings were being held. I'm guessing I missed out on a lot of awesome sex and drug orgies...."
Ben laughed at this. "Yeah, we both missed out on the good times, I guess. Did your parents ever give you grief over the girls you dated in high school?"
I shrugged. "Meh. A little. They understood the motivation behind the look, the whole anti-fashion thing. They even understood the feelings of social alienation, that the scene was a purposeful thumb in the eye of the 'nice' kids, the preppies. They still thought my girlfriends were scary, no matter how nice they behaved. But they never gave me shit about them."
"Lucky you. One of the few times I really got into it with my dad was in twelfth grade. I brought a girl I was dating over to the house, just so they'd put a face to a name, you know? Trying to do the correct thing? The next day my dad called her a slut. No reason for this pronunciation, he just decided any female who looked like that must be a slut. I told him to watch his fucking mouth, he had no reason, and no right, to say that about her.
"I told him, 'You don't call the girls I know sluts, and I won't call your friends on the force pigs. Fair enough?' He yelled the only reason he wasn't grounding me was that would mean I'd be in the house all the time, and I could spend as much time away from home as I felt like from then on. Fine with me. Two days later I get woken up by him and a couple cop buddies with dogs. Dad finally accepted my challenge to search my room for drugs. I smiled and said, 'Fine with me.' They didn't find anything in my room, so they checked out the whole damn house. The only thing they found was my mom's Valium.
"The K-9 cops who did the searching looked kind of embarrassed about being there, they knew it was just my dad trying to use the force to settle a personal conflict with family. And the best part was that my mom actually stood up to my dad, for once. After the two cops said the house was clean, my mom started yelling, 'Are you finally satisfied that your honor roll student son isn't on drugs?' My dad acted like it never happened at all.
"So.... Sorry my dad's shitty attitude has jammed you up in the past. I guess I'm kind of the reason. How long has it been since you've had to deal with him?"
"Over a year," I responded. "You probably remember the last time I got shot, it was all over the news. When the Bible freaks attacked the studio in La Costa....."
"Yeah, yeah," Ben said. "Damn, I heard you nearly died.."
"Nearly bled out, yeah. And Bekka thought I had died. She freaked out. There were four gunmen in the studio. Bekka saw me in a pool of blood, not moving, and thought I'd bought the farm. She had her own Colt in her hand, and she grabbed my Beretta and charged the fuckers, just blasting away with both guns at the same time. She dropped all four.... And then she had to be restrained from executing them where they were. All four were wounded but alive. Bekka was going to blow their heads off, one at a time."
"Whoa. She'd have been the one going to prison then, huh?"
"Or the funny farm. She was totally out of her tree, from what she told me, her and other people. She thought I'd been killed, and was screaming and yelling, she was bashing her head into the floor.... Her bodyguard had to pin her down until the EMTs could shoot her full of Thorazine."
"Damn," commented Ben. "So what did my dad do then?"
"Well, he was an investigator into the incident, of course. He showed up at my hospital room that night, wanting to grill me. My director and another guy were there, and they basically told him to fuck off, I was still half in the bag from anesthesia. That was when I finally told him to spill the beans about what about me bugged him so much. He started talking about how his son had thrown away all the chances he had in life so he could be in a punk rock band. I asked him which one, he said, 'The Guardians.' I told him his son had pretty much grabbed the brass ring, so far as making a living in the entertainment industry, especially as a musician. He grumbled some and split."
At that moment, the Dwarves launched into their first song, negating all conversation. We stepped forward to watch the show.
Before leaving, an incredible amount of contact information had been exchanged. Ben had provided his personal information, plus phone numbers at Epitaph Records and their management company. In return, he received numbers for Fang and Feather, my office line at Inana, and the email addresses for both me and Erica. He made it clear this wasn't just a whim on his part. He saw what a splash the band could make, and wanted to harness that energy.
We all sat around in Erica and Fang's apartment in Venice Beach, nursing beers and pondering the future. Bekka stated, "Personally? Touring with a successful rock and roll band is definitely one of those life experiences nobody should pass up. Do like Bam-Bam said, join the tour late. They're hitting all forty-eight states, and the tour is running from mid-May until the end of August.... You'd be able to get in a good chunk of exposure in the US, then cruise Europe."
Erica said in a sad tone, "I don't think I should go. I'd be jamming up Inana too much, there's no way the studio can only run with two writers...."
"Or...." I pondered. "I give you a loaded phone card, you bring your typewriter and fax machine with you, and we make a contact schedule. All you'd need to do is keep track of Pacific time and maybe buy phone jack adapters, depending on what country you're in."
"I'd still feel bad. I'd be running all over the planet, pretty much having a paid vacation, while you and Mallory are stuck in the grind...."
"You're letting your Midwest guilt complex come out, stop it," said Bekka. "Okay, Lenny works a lot. So do I. But Tootsie, we both make a hell of a lot more money than you. Our free time may be limited, but once we do have the opportunity to take a vacation, it's gonna be a doozy. And Lenny just said, he'll expect you to be working too."
"What's a Midwest guilt complex?" asked Glee.
Fang smirked and replied, "It's an ingrained thing with anybody raised in Protestant or Catholic faith. Basically, you get trained into not allowing yourself to have a lot of fun all at once. Midwest people, especially in Minnesota, believe that having a total blast angers God, it's bad for the soul. So you catch yourself analyzing how much fun you're having at any given time. Are you having a lot of fun? Then you're being frivolous. God hates it when people don't have a certain percentage of misery going on. To forget that misery is to snub God."
Erica added, "Minnesotans would outlaw orgasm, given the chance. Or at least put a levy on it. The state tax board would collect $12.95 for every orgasm a person has in a year. Teenage boys would automatically be registered as tax evaders when they turn eighteen, they'd all owe tens of thousands of dollars to the state."
"I try to make sure Tootsie owes the state of Minnesota about $400 every week," said Fang with a leer.
Glee groused, "So, you're saying people in Minnesota will be doing.... whatever.... for fun, and then start beating themselves up for it? 'Cos they think they'll go to hell if they have 'too much' fun? That's stupid. And fuck God."
Feather elbowed her sister sharply and said, "Mind your manners, baby girl. You know damn well Bekka is a Christian."
Bekka smiled and said, "No worries. The god I believe in is a very different god than the ones the Lutherans and Catholics in Minnesota believe in, from what I can tell. God in Minnesota is angry, vengeful, petty, and narrow-minded. We were all made in his image? Then why is it everything we say, do, or even think pisses off the Minnesota god? The statement 'Fuck God' is a bit broad, but I'm in full agreement with 'Fuck that particular interpretation of God.'"
Both Fang and Erica were grinning at this. "I take it you've heard Mallory expound on the subject," said Erica. "And the thing is, she's a Minneapolis native. Her parents went to church on Christmas and Easter, and that was it. But the spiritual masochists who live upstate really chap her hide."
I averred, "Well.... Jill is from upstate. And they've both mentioned what AM talk radio is like in Minnesota. In the Bible Belt, people will yell that it's time to kill all the fags and dykes. In Minnesota, they soberly state that those who 'sin against God' --- queers --- need to be complete social outcasts, totally shunned from everyone else. I mean, the frame of mind they have upstate is alien to me. The overarching message is that your only hope of salvation in the next world is a life of self-denial and low-level misery in this life. God only loves people who are constantly unhappy."
"At least Minneapolis is fairly human.... right?" said Bekka. "I mean, there's an open queer scene, there's a pride parade...."
Fang seethed, "Every fucking year, the parade starts ninety minutes late because someone has phoned in a bomb threat and the cops have to sweep the area.... Not to mention the clots of anti-gay picketers chanting and singing hymns. They'll always be surrounded by cops, too, so no one can get at them.
"Also, every six months or so a band of drunk yahoos will decide to stake out one of the queer bars and watch for anyone leaving alone, late at night. Not to mention all the bullshit in Loring Park a couple years ago...."
"What was that?" asked Feather.
"Aw, shit. Loring Park sits just west of the convention center, south of downtown. It's been a gathering spot for queers of both genders for a long time. It wasn't a cruise, exactly. People were cruising, but they'd meet up and go somewhere else. You didn't have guys sucking dick in the bathrooms all day, you know? I'm sure there was some action late at night, but whatever.
"Over the last few years there have been a rash of attacks at Loring Park, and a few murders. The fucking cops have had an attitude of 'Well, that's what you get for being a fag' and don't work on investigating. Of course, that's when they're not beating up dudes outside gay bars themselves."
I sighed and said, "Yeah, well.... Overall, things are better in LA or San Francisco. Don't get too relaxed, though. LAPD has some of the worst yahoos in law enforcement. Just ask Rodney King. And I guarantee there's plenty of LA cops who will give you a ration of shit for being dykes."
"Well, at least San Francisco ---" Erica started.
"Also has a poison police culture. The thing is, in SF it's the police against everyone. SFPD has no real political allies in city government or in the communities. The most they can hope for is indifference. Mostly people treat them with restrained distrust. It goes back to the White Night riots, when Dan White was practically acquitted for murdering Mayor Moscone and Harvey Milk. Most of the riots were in the Civic Center area, that's where cop cars were being torched. But the cops decided they'd get revenge by going down Castro Street that night with black tape over their badge numbers and trashing bars. They were beating the shit out of people who had nothing to do with the riots, except most of the rioters were queer. It was gay-bashing, straight up, performed by uniformed officers of the San Francisco Police Department. That was the straw that broke the camel's back. The cops were acting like petty thugs. Why the fuck should anyone trust them?"
"Is there anywhere in the country with honest cops?"
"Yeah, there is," I responded. "Berkeley. Berkeley PD has a requirement that anyone who wants to be a Berkeley cop must have a college degree, a Bachelor's degree at least. They don't even care what your major was. You just have to have demonstrated you have the brains and commitment to get through four years of college. The upshot is that Berkeley PD doesn't have any fucking dummies on the force. You can count on a basic level of intelligence.
"Also, Berkeley being Berkeley, the cops have years of practice at dealing with the mentally unstable. They always aim to de-escalate situations. Say you and a couple friends are being stupid in public. You're smoking a joint on the sidewalk, two of you are getting ready to fight, whatever. Any other cop is gonna stomp up yelling, 'What's going on here? You three, put your hands on your head!' Just totally creating drama. A Berkeley cop will see you smoking a joint. He'll just walk up and say, 'Can I see that?' Yes, officer. He'll look at it, and grind it into the sidewalk. Then he'll smile at you and say, 'Come on, guys, really,' and walk off again.
"The same situation in Oakland? You and your friends are going to spend the next forty minutes cuffed and sitting on the curb, while they run your names over the radio. Don't talk to each other, otherwise a cop will get in your face. Obviously, you're planning something. And if one of you has more weed, he's going to jail for possession with intent to sell, an 11300.
"And with Oakland PD, it doesn't matter who you are, or what you look like, or what the situation is. They're gonna be hostile and combative, no matter what. I walked up to one once in a gas station to ask directions, I figured a cop would know the best route to where I was headed. I'm a white guy with a flashy hot rod --- the Falcon --- and I'm walking up to him with a smile, saying 'Excuse me, officer?' And he snaps at me like I'd said something about his mom, you know? I asked him for directions, and he wants to play Twenty Questions before he'll answer me. Why am I going there? Who am I meeting? Where am I from? What am I doing in Oakland? He finally gives me the directions, I thanked him, and took off. I'm standing outside the restaurant I was headed to, waiting on Riley to show up, and the damn cop rolls by real slow, eyeballing me and the Falcon. Like I was somehow, in some way, up to no good. Oakland cops all need to switch to decaf.
"At least with Oakland cops, the hostility is front-loaded. They make it clear they hate anyone not wearing a badge. LA cops will come off relaxed, then just switch gears for no reason and be super aggressive. And this is during a traffic stop! They'll ask for your license and insurance, totally casual. They'll run your name like usual, come back and give you your ID back, then decide you driving forty in a thirty-five zone is the most morally reprehensible thing they've ever seen, and begin yelling in your face. He'll be standing there yelling about how you need to learn to read the goddamn motherfucking traffic signs, asshole, and you're thinking, 'Someone skipped their Lithium this morning.'"
"So LAPD will fuck with you for no reason?" asked Fang.
"They'll try to pick a fight, yeah. If you get pulled over in LA, keep your facial expression totally neutral. Don't even smile. Do what they tell you. Don't try to start a conversation. For Christ sake, don't try to debate them. Speak when spoken to, speak calmly, and keep your hands on the top of the wheel at all times. They think every civilian is a charter member of the Charles Starkweather Appreciation Society, and assume you need the slightest excuse to go ballistic. And they'll dig for it, too, trying to pick a fight. Don't let them. Just calmly nod. 'Yes officer, no officer, yes, it was my mistake sir, yes officer.' Find your place of Zen and stay there until you've parted ways.
"I'll never understand anyone who takes a job that involves dealing with the public, when they hate the entire species.... Except for other cops."
Erica said softly, "The Santa Monica cops I've dealt with have been nice."
Bekka chuckled and asked, "The ones on bicycles that are on the boardwalk, like near Muscle Beach or the pier?"
"The city of Santa Monica knows to have emissary cops in tourist areas. They're there more as chamber of commerce representatives than law enforcement."
"I wonder what cops in Europe will be like," pondered Glee. "Or Australia, or Japan."
"Oh, Japanese cops will be delighted to meet you and your sister," I noted.
"For once, they'll be dealing with Americans they can tower over."