The Cattle Prod was packed with every kind of punk in Southern California. Every rowdy boy and reckless girl she’d every partied with was here. Not the actual people per se but the personas they projected, because everybody went undercover at the punk rock show. The sick-of-it-all sons and daughters of dildos and douchebags, each one uniquely unique: the big rockabilly guy in a tight shirt with fake pearl snaps and sleeves cuffed to show off his sailor tats even though he didn’t know how to swim; his wannabe chola girlfriend with intense eyebrows and hoop earrings so large they could almost be worn as necklaces; the wannabe chola girlfriend’s girlfriend who was put on this earth to remind people that she didn’t take shit from nobody; the girlfriend’s broke-ass little speed freak cousin; the kid’s grommet friends with fake IDs; the almost–famous, former professional skateboarder who made a habit out of scoring coke off the most embarrassing people, like his drug dealer’s gay boyfriend; the four skinheads the gay boyfriend has slept with; the three burly shirtless beardos who bodysurfed off one another’s slick bellies; the tattooed mother of two who loved giving head in the photo booth; the impossibly photogenic art school couple with multiple STDs; the crusty punk who was too old to be sleeping on the street and busking for change but it was the only lifestyle that suited his ambivalence toward personal hygiene; the alcoholic in the nurse’s outfit; the hipster who knew was wearing panties that said Wednesday even though it was Saturday; the balding dude who somehow managed to coerce every single hair on his head into impressive-looking liberty spikes; the sexy moms hot for ’77 style English punk, every one of them in fictional romances with someone they shouldn’t have fallen in love with; the woman wearing her daughter’s cheerleading outfit (but not for long); the bruiser in a T-shirt that declared I PLAY MONGOLIAN BATTLE BALL on the front and PRAY FOR ME on the back; the woman writing a dissertation on masculine violence sucking face with a homeless gutter punk who may or may not be living in the garage of the house her ex-husband was still paying the mortgage on; the guy with the laugh that made death tremble.
These were her people. She was them and they were her. Every last one of them. Mad and sad and ready to raise hell. She sent Oscar to the bar for some top-shelf tequila. They took the shots like buccaneers, the liquor scorching a trail through her body. Doing shots was like leaping out of a burning building: relief mixed with terror because the closer to death you were the more alive you felt. Melanie had never been able to reconcile these feelings.
She told Oscar to stay close and dragged a fingernail across his muscular forearm, mostly for his benefit though she pretended it was for hers. He had a nice face, kissable lips, and an eagerness to please that she liked. It was a shame she was about to ruin this boy.
She took him by the hand and plowed through the crowd as The Furors took the stage. The crowd moved in two directions: the people in the back surged forward while those in front moved off to the side, away from the menace the skinheads were making as they asserted themselves at the foot of the stage as if to say, This is our turf now.
We’ll just see about that, Melanie thought as she pushed deeper into the crowd.
The lead guitar and bass players adjusted their microphones while the drummer fiddled with his kit. They turned knobs and stomped on pedals, testing notes that fed the tension felt by everyone who wasn’t in a white power movement. And what about the Nazis? What was going through their heads?
Who fucking cares.
The band began to play: three chords, martial beats, jokey lyrics, falling-down-the-stairs progressions. Underneath the slashing guitars and fuzzed out melodies, the backline was disciplined and relentless. It was good music to get fucked up to. There was a kind of wildness to the performance, a message from the dark side. Plus, the singer was cute.
Melanie shouldered her way toward the stage between a pair of skinheads who weren’t much bigger than she was. Neo-Nazi action figures. One of them tried to elbow her in the face. She ducked the blow, clicked open her knife, and stabbed him in the leg. He bitch-screamed and it was on.
The second skinhead saw blood and wheeled on her, but Oscar was there and he planted a fist in his face. Melanie didn’t know if it was the skinhead’s teeth or Oscar’s knuckles that shattered and she didn’t waste time finding out. She ducked under the advance of the bald wall swimming into the pit while those who were brown and down went to work on the peckerwoods.
Melanie strode through the turmoil she’d created. Screams of agony and ecstasy detonated all around her, punctuated by the sound of breaking glass, She put her knife away. A skinhead girl came at her and showed Melanie the brass knuckles she was wearing instead of just hauling off and hitting her, which Melanie appreciated as it gave her plenty of time to plant a boot in the bitch’s face and knock her the fuck out.
She was just giving them what they wanted.
All these boys desired was to fight and fuck each other, their mannish-looking women with their stupid haircuts clouding the picture of what, for centuries, was act two of war-making: the taking of the spoils. You be the conqueror and I’ll be the vanquished. All Melanie had done was speed the process along. It bothered her more than a little that in the midst of all this animal savagery the thing she was most keenly aware of was the agonizing clarity of her own thinking. What was the point of creating all of this chaos if she couldn’t enjoy it?
Melanie plucked a bottle from behind the bar—good old Fiery Cat—and broke through the back door and into the quiet night. The marine layer hung in the air, turning the streetlamps into alien motherships that hovered above the parking lot.
Sirens. Shouts. Fucks yous.
The cops were coming.
The cops were here.
Melanie went around to the front of the bar where the prowl cars were slanted in riot formation. The flashing lights did weird things in the fog. She thought she saw a cop on a horse—a fucking horse. A bullhorn crackled to life. A voice told Melanie to drop the bottle. She took a long pull off the Fiery Cat as punks and skins poured out of the club. Melanie took aim then lobbed the missile high into the air, where it sailed up, up, up into the murk and disappeared. Melanie closed her eyes and waited for the glass to shatter.
Jim Ruland is the author of the award-winning novel Forest of Fortune and the short story collection Big Lonesome. He is the co-author of My Damage with Keith Morris, founding member of Black Flag, Circle Jerks and OFF!, and Giving the Finger with Scott Campbell, Jr. of Discovery Channel’s Deadliest Catch. He is currently working on a book with Bad Religion. Jim also writes about books for San Diego CityBeat and punk rock for Razorcake—America’s only non-profit independent music zine. He also writes book reviews for the Los Angeles Times and the Los Angeles Review of Books.
Jim is a veteran of the U.S. Navy and works as a ghostwriter, editor and copywriter. He has worked for advertising agencies, entertainment enterprises and the gaming industry. Jim lives and works in San Diego, California, and is an avid enthusiast of punk rock music, tattoo culture and strong coffee.