Tuesday, April 01, 2003

Charity Begins at the Eagle

So I decided to run a marathon, for whatever reason it is that compels an otherwise "normal" human being to run over twenty-six miles at a pop. Well, for one I noticed that my spare tire, one of those skinny bottom of the trunk jobs, had inflated itself up to BF Goodrich T/A All Terrain Radial. I'd recently done the Bay Area Alzheimer's Association Memory Walk, a three and a half mile stroll around the post-nuclear wasteland some wiseass (Captain Hook, perhaps?) named Treasure Island. I raised some scratch for a good cause, I had a nice stroll in the sun behind my daughter in her stroller, and she got to rock out to some taiko drumming at the "afterparty." When I saw the brochure for the SF AIDS Foundation Marathon in Vancouver, I was intrigued. The fundraising minimum was a whopping $2800 in order for the Foundation to fly you up there to run about foolishly for hours on end until your ball and socket joints grind together like a mortar and pestle, and they promised that even the most slovenly sausage eater would become a marathoner through their training program. I took it as a challenge, one of those things that I should do before I die, like jumping out of a plane, climbing Everest, or kicking Steven Segall's ass in a streetfight. Okay, maybe Van Damm. The fact that the actual marathon was on my birthday sealed the deal.

After a couple of attempts to book a benefit featuring the Jack Saints fell through, I finally set up a show at the Eagle with Ludicra, Nigel Pepper Cock (that's three words, motherfucker), and High Tone Son of a Bitch. Actually, the event kind of put itself together-I asked Aesop from Ludicra if he wanted to do a benefit, he talked to the rest of the band and then contacted the other bands and Doug at the Eagle, and voila-I'm an altruistic pervert, Mr. DNA.
I threw a flyer together, hit Kinko's, then bought a tape gun and went flyering the Mission, SOMA, and Haight at four in the morning after I get off work at the End Up. The tag end of the tape kept slipping out of the feed path, or, worse yet, when I slapped it across the pole in what I thought was a commanding and decisive professional mover manner, the whole combobulation would backlash and leave me with a sticky, cellophane rose. The darkened streets of a major metropolis in the pre-sunrise hours lend themselves to moments of clarity, and I had mine: I am thirty-one years old. I have a master's degree. And yet, I do not have the job skills to put up flyers for a living. Every passing partied-out club-goer, homeless person, and crack addict transmogrified into the Voice of Reason business majors I met in college: "Just what are you going to do with a creative writing degree?" they asked. "Just what are you going to do with two creative writing degrees?" Well, professional flyering, at least using this NASA tape gun, was clearly out of the question. It's a good thing I was doing it for charity. A guy with a hair gel helmet and one of those sheer polyester Friday night party shirts stopped hurling in the gutter, wiped the gack off his lower lip, hopped in a convertible BMW and shook his head at me, the yutz on the bicycle fiddlefucking with a tape gun. Let's see, salable skills: can throw drunks through doors, great conversationalist for sweaty speedfreaks to work out their social aggressions on, can spot fake I.D.s and GHB overdoses in the dark. Some trouble with adhesives.

The night in question rolled around, Thursday, March 6, and I rolled up to the storied Eagle on my bicycle, tres leather daddy, visions of midgets freeballing in chaps in my head. After ten years in the city I can't believe I'd never been to The Eagle, though, I must somewhat shamefacedly admit I've sent legions of drunk tourists in khakis there. When I worked security at Slim's it was a running joke that when jocks asked where "all the chicks were at," the Eagle was the no-miss spot for the hot ladies. I like to think I broadened a few minds, but my friend Adam tells me he used this line at the front door of the DNA so frequently that one of the Eagle bartenders walked the block to 11th Street and ordered him to cease and desist darkening his door with horny farm boys and mullethead homophobes with B.A.C.s higher than their IQs.

I was standing in front talking to a friend when a dingy gray molester van whipped around the corner, the driver half out the window yelling at a cabby to get the hell out of the way. The door opened and The Village People spilled out. "Nigel," my friend said to me. That's right-Nigel Pepper Cock arrived at the show in full Village People regalia. Not the type to put on costumes in the bathroom when no one's looking, they were rocking headdresses, helmets, and ten gallon hats in the van, man, with a confidence that made me think that maybe they wear that type of shit 24-7.

I went inside for High Tone S.O.B. They've got one of the best band names going. Aesop thought it was "High-Toned S.O.B.," and that it was some sort of gearhead, hot rod lingo. Being a Hank Sr. (really-is there any other Hank that matters?) fan, I knew for a fact it was honky tonk, not hot rod, and High Tone-no 'd'-as in, "Mindin' other people's business seems to be high tone/ I got all that I can do just to mind my own." But they're not all name. I once attended a party where a guy in a Navy pea coat strutted around with his chest puffed out, starting shit with everyone. When someone called him on it, he threw off his Popeye the Sailor coat in a dramatic gesture to expose arms like Olive Oyl. "Aw, man," his would-have-been sparring partner laughed, "you're all jacket." Then he walked away. High Tone are definitely not all jacket-they've got plenty of reason to be high tone. They kick ass much like Hank on a week long speed binge, but uranium heavy instead of twangy. Hunkered down low, creepy crawl style, the boll weevil lurking in that fluffy cotton. I met Scott and Ron after the show and we had a chuckle over their uncanny resemblance to the regular biker/bear crowd at the Eagle.

The whole time High Tone was playing, the Pepper Cock crew glided in and out of the crowd in Village People get ups, standing out from the hoodies-and-spikes metal and punk types, but somewhat camouflaged against the gay bikers on acid d├ęcor on the Eagle's walls. They set up their gear in V.P. duds. But when they were announced, it was as though we'd all been watching one film and the Pepper Cocks had spliced in a different reel. There they stood in bowler hats, lederhosen, and mustaches, Oktoberfest beer band meets teutonic Clockwork Orange droogies with an inexplicable tinge of Irish pub. They rolled up as the Village People and completely changed their look when no one was looking-and I mean no one. I talked to several people afterward and none of them noticed the changeover; I wouldn't be surprised if they threw down magic pellets and in a cloud of smoke and fairy dust their outfits morphed into whatever pleased Beelzebub. Maybe it was a collective hallucination, but was brilliant. Add to this songs like "Sleepover at Neverland Ranch" and "Who Wants a Massage?" and the only word I'm left with is Visionary, with a capital 'V.' Oh, and I can't forget that they threw out porn store paraphernalia. One lucky lady caught a Nugent-style zebra-striped gift set, complete with zebra thong and zebra vibrator. Aesop scored a vibrating thong for his girlfriend. Well, that's who he says it's for.

Before Ludicra came on, I was standing out front when a girl approached me. She kind of squinted at me and bobbed her head back and forth minutely, as though deciding if I was who she thought I was. "You don't remember me, do you?" she said.

I squinted and bobbed my head back and forth back at her before being forced to admit, that, no, I didn't remember her.

"I didn't think you would. My name is L-, you used to let me sleep on the floor in the lobby at the Lusty Lady."
I immediately remembered her and gave her a hug. She was young and homeless a few years before and used to come into the Lusty to hang out, sleep under a roof for a little bit, albeit under a roof in the lobby of a peep show. We all liked her a lot and were pulling for her to get off the streets. She seemed to have a lot upstairs and was just missing that crucial bit of luck to get a job and a place to stay. Before she disappeared from the neighborhood she did score a job at Jamba Juice, but it was short-lived for whatever reason. After that she started hanging with a punker girl and her boyfriend, both obviously strung out, and their dog. When I tried to describe her to Aesop, who also works at the LL, after the show, he drew a blank until I mentioned the junkies with the dog. "Of course," he said, "there's always a dog." I don't know-I'm in danger of looking like a complete asshole here, and I in no way want to insinuate that homeless people are deserving of their situation and not having a run of shitty luck or whatever, or that they're incapable of loving and caring for a pet. But "there's always a dog" made so much sense-seems like the blow it cases that are the most blown out on the streets are the ones with pets. It's Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. If you can't meet your own, what are you doing with that dog? "Hey, can you spare a quarter that my girlfriend and I can split between food, dog food, and the yawning chasms in the crooks of our arms?" (In reverse order.) In the end, of course, luck or not, we're all responsible for our lives-our homelessness, our addictions, our lack or dexterity with tape dispensers, and our dogs.

When L- disappeared from North Beach, I figured she overdosed. Turns out she cleaned up, went back to school, lived in NYC for a couple of years, and at the time I ran into her at The Eagle, was on a scholarship at Mills majoring in Literature. (Just so long as it's not Creative Writing, L-.) And she thanked me. For letting her sleep in the dingy lobby of a fading porn landmark, and for "treating her like a regular human being."

It was with these words and a couple more hugs that I went in to see Ludicra, the cockles of my heart sufficiently toasty. (Turns out the girl with the dog even cleaned up.) And Ludicra ripped my heart out, cockles and all. Completely pulverizing black metal, with epic, intricate song structures and tempo changes, intertwined guitars, pounding drums, hammering bass lines. But the thing that makes Ludicra is the dueling lunatic howls of Laurie and Christy. There's the purity of white light in their screams: sunyata, the shining void. Nothing is one way or another in the midst of one of their screams; everything just is. There's really no room for interpretation in the midst of it-it's pure experience, black metal meditation. Black metal isn't usually my thing-it seems to verge on silliness much of the time, without enough self awareness to at least be ironic. Ludicra aren't silly, they're symphonic, but not in any Cradle of Filth/Nightmare Before Christmas cartoony way. They rocked shit to its foundation, including Ross's bass, which he destroyed at the end of the set. Apparently it was a gift from his girl who'd recently kicked him to the curb. Well, a man's got to relax somehow, I guess, but that was a pretty new looking bass. Don't get me wrong-it was a powerful gesture, but one he might've regretted in the clear light of day. Or not. Aesop seemed pretty miffed about it though. He ashed his smoke on Ross's suede jacket after the show.

He also introduced me to Laurie and Christy. For screaming like valkyries, they sure come off as sweet and nice and charming and regular. They actually thanked me for the opportunity to play for free. I guess I didn't expect them to rail at me in their black metal stage voices, but witnessing such smiling good cheer coming from vessels of unadulterated power was a bit like staring down the barrel of a howitzer, blinking, and discovering it was really only a cuddly kitten. I became instantly smitten with Christie. First off, I'm a sucker for redheads. Second, any girl in leather pants, with a foot long spiked armband, playing a flying V, who can scream like a typhoon and still come across as someone who could have a pleasant conversation with your mom is marriageable material. I told Aesop as much, and he introduced me by saying, "This is Scott. He wants to marry you." Of course she has a boyfriend, but he struck me as a lanky, somewhat metalled-out, mopey Beck type. I'm gearing up for a marathon here, I'm ready to fight Segall. I can take him. No mere street fight would do, however: to win the maiden from a band as epic Ludicra would take a swordfight in full chain mail.

After the show Doug, the booker/bartender at The Eagle, and former guitar player in Bomb and Gift Horse, handed me an envelope with $1,000 in twenties. Righteous. Great night. I rode by the End Up to pick up my check, then headed up lustrous Sixth Street on my way to the Lusty Lady to pick up my check there. Somewhere around Sixth and Howard it struck me: Here I am, riding a bicycle through the most abysmal cesspool in San Francisco with a grand in cash in my backpack. To be honest, I wasn't too worried about the baseheads, bedlamites, dopers and dealers on Sixth as much as SFPD. I wasn't doing anything wrong, but I did have that inexplicably large envelope of cash-how was that going to pass the shake down test? "It's from a benefit for the SF AIDS Foundation."

Right, buddy, sure. Well, we'll let you go, but we're keeping your dealing proceeds here for evidence. How was I going to explain that to the people in High Tone Son of a Bitch, Nigel Pepper Cock, Ludicra, and The Eagle, let alone the people at the Foundation? "The benefit made a thousand bucks, but I got rolled by the cops on the way home." Sounds a bit far fetched, I know. I don't drink, so I was stone sober, and besides a pocket knife (and that envelope), I had nothing remotely questionable on my person. But I do have "HELL BENT" tattooed on my knuckles, meaning the first thing cops ask me is, "Who's your parole officer?" And I'd been stopped twice on my way to work in the weeks prior for not having reflectors on my bicycle. Haight Street on a Friday night after ten, who knows what all going on, and the cops are going to sweat the guy with the dangerously dim bicycle. I decided not to crowd my luck and to head home forthwith and hastily.

Everything was cool until I was nearly home and passed a cruiser in the shadowy recesses of Golden Gate Park. It slowed, but the train kept a rollin' and so did I. I decided to stop at the Jack in the Box on Geary a half block from my house. I ordered a sourdough grilled chicken club, chili cheese curly fries, and chicken breast pieces with three kinds of sauce through the bullet proof portal. Training for a marathon, you know. Makes a body hungry. Something about the glow of fluorescents at three-thirty in the morning and the cryptic message posted on the milkshake machine ("DON'T LET ANYBODY IN. ASK FOR I.D. AND SHOES") revived my paranoia. When I got my food I figured out what the problem was. The thousand in cash wasn't really the issue; if I was going to get jacked by the SFPD, it'd be now, as I rolled down the sidewalk to my house with a steaming bag of greasy food in my hand. Good thing I didn't order the fajitas.