“The Twins are pregnant.”
“Not one — both of them. Both of them are pregnant.”
“Jesus Christ. Really? You’ve got to be fucking kidding me. Are you serious?”
“Totally serious. Fucked up, right?”
“Just a little bit.”
“You know what this means, right?”
“Fuck. Abortion Party.”
The crew I ran with, well, to put it lightly — we were a bunch of misfits, ne’er-do-wells and miscreants. Living in the desert wasteland of Phoenix, Arizona in the mid to late 1980s was pretty much as awful as it gets. Living there while not fitting in and finding yourself a part of the punk rock scene kind of compounded that awfulness. It made everything seem like some codeine-tainted dreamscape. Life was a wash of colors and tracers flying by in slow motion and double-time all at once. Desert parties. Abandoned pools to skate and destroy. Cheap drugs due to our proximity to Mexico. Lawlessness. Bathtub drugs concocted in cookie-cutter tract homes by bikers. Drive-thru liquor stores that would sell to anyone with a whisper of a moustache.
Wealth was usually the main divider among us.
Most of these kids actually came from pretty decent homes — the part of Phoenix we all lived in was pretty well-to-do, although the reasons why I was living in that part of town were misleading. My family did not have any money at all, we were just a family that had sold a home back east where real estate was valued much higher than it was in a rapidly-expanding municipality like Phoenix. Extra loot meant an extra nice home. My family? We were totally out of our element.
The kids I ran with, though — they all had money, or at least were much better at assimilating into the look and feel of having the money my family did not. They all had cars, for fuck’s sake. All I had was a skateboard that I had to work most of the summer to save up for. Very few of them had newer cars, but the ones that did always seemed to be the same kids who always had extra money hanging out of ripped pockets whenever we would all congregate at Denny’s after a hardcore show or something — not just chipping in for the seven or eight orders of fries, but ordering actual meals that they would hoard.
We were an odd posse, for sure.
This circle of people was very incestuous, like most control groups of teens would turn out to be. Whenever anyone new would rotate into our little family, they would invariably end up attached to the hip of whomever was single at the time. Everyone made out with one another, at least everyone in the opposite gender. Some of us made out with each other regardless of gender, but that didn’t happen very often — usually at the aid of some narcotics that were purchased from some scallywag outside of our circle. Sometimes people would drink entire bottles of cough syrup and “Robo-fry,” the effects of the flood of the medicine supposedly being akin to taking low doses of LSD.
We were that bored.
“Which house are we going to have it at?”
“Fuck if I know? Maybe we should just get some generators and have it out at The Power Lines?”
“How many bands?”
“We’ll figure it out. Someone is going to have to pony-up some front money for the kegs, too. Let’s get the girls started on making calls.”
There were really only a few predators out there that really had any of us worried at all.
Cops were obviously one of them, no matter how inevitable it was that they would show up and shut down whatever thing we had going on. Half the time we would be sitting around somewhere doing our thing when someone would mention the police and we would all snicker because we knew it was a fucking jinx, and lo and behold if they didn’t show up within ten fucking minutes flat. Most of the time the cops would show up at the party and tell everyone to clear out while they stood around and made whichever sad soul whose house it was pour out all the liquor. There were always cops lurking around the usual parks we would gather in, too. Just hiding two or three blocks off the spot and watching until they saw we were actually having a good fucking time — then they’d roll up onto the grass and into the playground with the gumball machines on rotate to shine that awful light on whatever meek attempts at teen debauchery we had going for us.
Parents really weren’t that big of a deal to most of us. Because some of the crew had folks that had important gigs, there was almost always some set of parental units somewhere within our crew out of town on any given weekend — and if not, someone always knew someone who had parents that were in Aspen or Mazatlán. Every now and then someone would also find out that a family outside of our circle that had a guest house on their property was out of town. Those parties were always notorious and legendary.
We didn’t necessarily fear The Jocks or even The Hessians much — most of the time when they ran out of connections for weed or other drugs they would come to us to help them hook up what they needed. Sure, there were appearances to maintain — peer pressure always drove our groups apart, usually with either the threat of violence or actual violence happening. Whenever actual violence would go down, someone would always come and get me so that I could stare/shout down whatever possible assailant[s] there might be.
In most cases, that tactic, coupled with the entire crew standing behind me ready to throw down if the need actually did arise, worked.
Our biggest obstacle at all times were the packs of roving and unorganized Nazi skinheads that seemed to rise up out of the earth at every turn, foaming-at-the-mouth for violent confrontation. It didn’t matter what part of town you were in — at any given time you would spot two or three of them watching you, studying you as if they were taking notes for a history exam. Phoenix was [and still is, really -- look at all the lunacy going on over immigration right now] a breeding ground for hate-filled boneheads. The complicated part in dealing with them was also maddening — because the scene itself was so small and insular, most of us knew one another. Hell, a lot of them all went to fucking private school together, since most of my friends all went to the ritzy Catholic high schools because their parents were setting them up to get into better colleges and whatnot. Like I said — I was just white trash from Brooklyn that didn’t really belong, along for the ride with a gang of kids playing the rebel card to the fullest.
Basically, it was mostly the threat of violence from them that kept us on edge. The older punks and “traditional” skins we knew were much more likely to take up fists with them, and many times we would end up taking our lumps from those elders for not matching violence for violence with the Nazi skins.
“Everything is set for Saturday. Do you guys want to play first, or do you want someone else to?”
“We might as well. Hopefully we can get a full set in before the fucking cops show up and shut it down. How much are we charging per cup?”
“Five bucks and people can drink until the kegs are gone.”
“How much do we need again, four hundred?”
“Yeah, four hundred. We should be able to pull that in, right?”
“As long as nothing fucked up happens, it should be easy.”
“Did somebody make flyers or something?”
“No — the girls have been calling everyone. This is going to be fucking huge.”
The harsh reality of teen sex: someone will eventually slip one by the goalie.
When this happens, it usually creates a ripple throughout not only your peer group, but the splinter groups throughout whatever scene you’re a smaller cog within. In our little punk rock world, we would hear stories about someone across town getting knocked the fuck on up and not believe it until we saw that person at a show at the VFW Hall and saw the baby bump with our own eyes, witnessing whatever poor sad fuck of a guy who was responsible for creating it trying to keep her out of harm’s way in the seething and roiling masses of angst-filled teens trying to destroy one another in the cacophony of a five-dollars-to-see-seven-bands punk rock show. We would see the girls within our own group, and watch the way they would witness this activity — some of them with wet eyes, others with the glassed-over coldness of the knowing.
The Power Lines was this place way out in the desert north of Phoenix.
To get to it, you’d have to drive for what seemed like miles and miles on a bumpy as fuck dirt road that twisted all the way back into the northern edge of what was then the unincorporated part of the city, on the back side of a small mountain range. None of us ever knew who really found it or heard about it first — it was just part of the city’s folklore and seemed like a magical place that had been handed down from high school class to high school class as a spot that kids could go and congregate, buying themselves a little extra time to party and get loaded before the police chopper would swoop down and shine that million watt spotlight on everyone, scattering them throughout the desert.
The area was immense. On any given Friday night you would have seven to ten different high schools out there partying around their own bonfires, eyeballing one another and flashing those “you don’t want to step to this” glares that testosterone-filled teen boys are so wont to throw off instead of a smile. Of course, you would have all of the different cliques from each school intermingling with one another around their own fires — Preps, Jocks, Hessians — all seemingly getting along on the surface of things.
No matter what schools we were from, the punks were relegated to our own single bonfire as far away from the other schools as humanly possible without setting the desert on fire. We didn’t mind being outcasts, we were used to it. We were only useful when people wanted drugs. We were only necessary when they were looking for someone to fuck with. We were fine in our freak tribe — if anything, we reveled in it.
Every now and then there would be bands out at The Power Lines. Mostly terrible thrash metal bands, as that was what was all the rage in Phoenix at the time. Bands like Flotsam And Jetsam and Sacred Reich were getting national attention, bringing every bedroom mirror Malmsteen out to try and out-shred the next. Sometimes some of the more daring punk rock bands would trek all the way out there, schlepping their gear to try and plug into their generators and play for all the kids. Most of the time they would get laughed at or have rocks thrown at them by all the Hessians and Jocks.
This was just the natural order of things in that era. We were the lowest on the hierarchy then. This was still a period of time when grown men would jump out of their pick-up truck at a stoplight and kick the shit out of you for having blue hair and riding a skateboard. This was when people still saw that episode of CHiPs with the punk rockers on it and felt a little bit of terror. This was way before the plague of mall punks and t-shirts with tattoos on them.
We didn’t have roadies — we had friends who would help us set up our gear.
“We’ll get The Twins to hang out over by the kegs and collect the money while some of the other girls hand out the cups. You guys should pretty much start playing right away before all the other people come over to see what all the noise is about.”
“That’ll work. Who do you have manning the kegs for security?”
“Some of the older guys are on their way — Kong and a few of the old SVS dudes.”
“You think the Nazis found out we’re out here? That would be kind of fucked if they showed up and started a bunch of shit.”
“Look — I heard some of them are coming. I don’t think they’ll start any shit out here in the middle of the fucking desert, dude. They know why we’re out here. Some of them are friends with The Twins.”
“I know, I know. I’ll just never understand why anyone would be friends with dudes who are full of hate, I guess.”
“Do you need any help setting up all your equipment?”
“No, we got it. How much juice is in those generators?”
“My brother said each one of them will probably run for about an hour or so. How long is your set?”
“Twenty minutes, tops.”
Whenever a band starts playing at a party where kids are already fucked up on a gang of different chemical libations, there is this really intense moment where time totally stands still. If you’re one of the musicians, the first thing you notice is how loud you actually are, and the moment you strike the first note you see nothing but a sea of eyes flicker to life at the same time. When you’re a punk rock band playing in the middle of the desert and the only light you have is the glow coming off of a row of bonfires, those eyes look like a pack of hungry jackals.
As you’re halfway through your first song you glance toward the gathering storm of a crowd and you see blood being shed — some of the Hessians from other bonfires have made their way over, and they’re doing that fucked up thing they like to do when people are trying to genuinely enjoy a band — they start to slam-dance with no regard for anything remotely human around them. Elbows and fists. Full-on flying bodies. Loaded morons in moccasin boots careening toward the drummer, plowing through the singer.
As the song comes to an end, you feel flush with endorphins. You see the old heads — the guys who raised you into this scene — trying to keep the peace with the Hessians and now the Jocks, separating them and explaining to them that this isn’t how things are done. This is controlled violence. When the drummer counts off for the next song in the set, the set you’ve all memorized through hours of almost-mechanized precision rehearsing in the garage, you don’t think — you react and dive right into the opening riff.
You look over toward The Twins and the rest of the girls in your crew. You see them counting money, smiles on their faces. You see the shadowy outlines of a bunch of guys in braces and boots skulking around in the shadows near where the girls are stationed, and then you see some of them come into the light near the kegs, plastic cups in hand. You see some of them nodding their heads along with the rhythm, nemeses helplessly caught in the wake of the noise. You feel the rush and roar of your amplifier at the same time you see nothing in front of you but a whirling cloud of limbs and hair in the desert light.
Someone screams again, this time loud enough to be heard over the rumbling and crashing end of the song. The singer says something to the gathered mass about how we’re all out here trying to get along, about how nobody out here should be violent toward anyone else. The singer tries to duck but the bottle hits him in the side of the head, shattering and raining glass all over the drummer. Someone screams. The next bottle hits your guitar and a terrible sound rumbles from your amplifier. You can feel warm beer and glass all over your hands. You see the old heads trying to grab up the throwers, but now the torrents of bottles and cups are almost too much to defend against.
There is nowhere for you to hide.
You cover your eyes and look over to where The Twins and the rest of the girls were and you see them running toward their cars. You get hit in the shoulder with another bottle. Someone screams and then you hear gunshots. The same swirling crowd becomes a scattering, a conflagration of flight. You see hundreds of kids running across the desert floor and into the brush. You see kids running through the bonfires as you hear the sound of a chopper. You see the bouncing headlights and the flashing gumballs. You hear the ATVs.
You hope they made that four hundred dollars.
I’m not sure if other groups of kids within that scene ever threw Abortion Parties. I’m not sure if we even realized what it was that we were actually doing — for the most part, it just seemed like a very natural pack mentality way of dealing with something nobody could ever dare go to their parents with. I never heard of anybody in my group ever telling their parents they had impregnated someone, let alone did I ever hear tell of any of the girls telling their folks they themselves were pregnant.
What was clear, was that nobody within our little crew was ready to be a parent. Being a parent meant no more LSD. Being a parent meant you couldn’t hide out on a golf course until the sun rose, huffing engine coolant and playing grab-ass. Being a parent meant growing the fuck up.
None of us were ready for that noise.