I'm at a backyard party near North Redondo Beach when I get the call. It's Lindsay.
"Vegas. You in?"
It's around 10 pm on Halloween night and I've just broken up with my off again on again boyfriend for the millionth time. When I look back at this point of my life, I've always just broken up with my boyfriend, which is hilarious when you stop to consider it.
Halloween was our anniversary. But I'm not lovesick. This is all routine now, and my heart is more annoyed than anything else. I'm bored, antsy, 21ish.
Of course I'm in.
Suddenly, we are speeding through the dark, vast desert.
The daughter of a racing family, Lindsay has a lead foot and the ability to run any grandma (or lifted truck bro) off the road. In fact, Lindsay's grandma was known to drive a race car or two, back in the 60s. Main point: She does not fuck around.
Lindsay is singing to loud music. With nothing but the clothes on my back, I'm attempting to defrost a frozen gas station burrito by cranking the heat and wedging the icy snack between the windshield and dash.
It works! Eventually. I make a mental note to try this again. Spoiler: To this day, the opportunity never presents itself.
Scene: Vegas at dawn. Trash scuttles down the cracked sidewalks. I'm in "a mood."
Lindsay is drinking with her boyfriend at whatever casino we are at. This particular boyfriend is only memorable because he would buy our friends beer when we were teens loitering around Hollywood.
For reference: Back then, we were in an all girl band. We had piercings and tattoos. We were "tough." Except if you read the notes that we had passed to each other in class, we were like any other teen girls. Insecure, angry...unwilling to believe that this what all the world had to offer us. COULD THIS REALLY BE IT??!!!
Now, I think of myself as much "wiser," especially in the realm of love (may this blog post prove how very wrong I was).
In my "down with men" state, he just seems lame and tepid. I barely talk to him during our romp around Vegas. Regardless, I'm happy for Lindsay.
Hos, before bros.
Watching Lindsay jump on her boyfriend's back and howl, I don't want to drink, I just want more hot beans and cheese. I want comfort. Maybe a snugly scarf or a cup of hot cider.
Thanks to "the cereal" diet, My hip bones jut out against the hand sewn mini skirt I'm wearing (made by my friend Leslie, one of my most cherished and well worn treasures, with two zippers marking an x on my butt).
Eventually, I borrow a band t shirt from Lindsay since mine is covered in beer and cigarette smell for the backyard show...which is now ages ago in my mind.
Wait...what were we doing here again?
We gotta find Hellen and Mikey. Why? Because we just do.
They are supposedly at another, louder casino. Every casino is louder and brighter and smokier than the next. I am turning into a crotchety old woman, but on the outside I play class clown, my favorite magic trick of all.
At some point, I brush my teeth with vodka, spitting it out through my teeth like a deranged hobo. It's a parlor trick that makes Lindsay laugh for (literally) years. I'm still not sure how I got a toothbrush since I know I didn't bring anything. Maybe I brought a toothbrush. Not sure how. It doesn't really matter, now...
We find Hellen and Mikey, no problem. They are easy enough to spot!
Hellen was (and is) a very talented tattoo artist with a huge multicolored Mohawk and Mikey is the beer gutted (although not anymore), wise cracking love of her life. They make an odd yet lovely pair. She's the straight man to his Prankster. They are so in love. He calls me melon head.
As in, "you're a pretty cute chick for having a melon head." The quote came about when he attended a kegger at a house I rented near the traffic circle in Long Beach with some friends from high school (a house that became so trashed the landlord tried to sue us all, and rightfully so. I was in Europe at the time, so I claimed I had nothing to do with the damages).
If there was a keg or a backyard show or a band or a party, Hellen and Mikey were there, bringing an entourage of eccentrics (and sometimes) downright bums. Mostly, I liked their little weird and friendly crew. They are simply good people (The band they have together, Bad Ass is currently playing gigs, if you're in southern California).
The chimes and dongs and squeaks and chirps of the slots are incessant. Smoke is visible. I think of that one Twilight Zone episode...
There, on the casino floor, dying for a nap, I shake hands with Hellen and Mikey's foreign pals. It seemed like I had just met Staf, the couple's sweet, unassuming Swedish friend, and I was already getting into a cab squished up against him after wee morning drinks at the Double Down Saloon. Like the blink of an eye.
He's a nice, goofy guy, unlike his other Swedish friend (with the face tattoos) who acted standoffish and tight lipped. I'm not saying the face tats had anything to do with how I judged his character. It's just how I remember him.
We (Staf and I plus Lindsay and Mr. Tepid) head back to the Luxor and go to sleep like happy little wild animals. Yes, sleep.
Although Staf would go on to believe our friendship could become one of passion and romance, it never had a chance. It was my fault. My heart was made of concrete and he was like wet paper. Like a show flyer left out in the rain. I AM STILL SORRY FOR THIS.
Note: I think we all have to be young and dumb and naive at one time or another. Like hitting someone down on the playground, you need to know that the terrible power is in all of us. It was certainly in me.
After returning to LA I get a call from Hellen. Staf is still In the U.S. For a while. He wants to see me. Can I pick him up at the station?
I had just finished an internship at a radio station in L.A. and my life felt open, but not in a good way. Exposed might be a better word. Returning to live at your mom's house will do that to you. Although I am thankful for a reprieve from living "under the stairs" at a party house (I was the stair troll) I don't know what my life will look like in five, two, or even one year.
I showed Staf the beach, and we drove around the South Bay just listening to hank Williams and X and seeing what would happen. He drank sparks and smoked Marlboro cigarettes. Remember Sparks (energy drink + booze + death)?
At night, I take Staf to a backyard show in a questionable neighborhood---that's what my friends and I did every weekend.
On the way, police pulled my car over, rightfully so. Only Lindsay knows the whole story and only she can tell it properly, so I won't even begin to try!
We watched, stunned, as Obama was elected from Leslie's echo park apartment.
It makes sense that I would attract a stranger in a strange place, breezing through town without a mission. That was my life. Too scared to follow my inner dreams. Too fierce to admit defeat.
New Year's Eve. I'm in Helsingborg, Sweden (Hell Town, as the kids call it) and I have that same old Vegas feeling: What am I really doing here?
Fireworks, dangerous ones like warzone gunfire, explode in the small town, igniting things and (probably) maiming somebody. There's snow on the ground and someone puts a cigar in my mouth. An impish smile.
"Happy new year."
I adore all of Staf's friends, even though some of them think I'm puritanical because I don't want to get naked in the steam room (yes--steam rooms are located in many of he apartments). His friends are loyal, fierce and funny.
We are connected by a common thread: the knowledge of English (they are incredibly fluent, and I cannot even say a word of their language), a love of music and a reverence for the "punk rock" way of living.
However, I still don't know what the latter means. There has to be more to it than waiting around for something to happen... Some show or house party down the block. I feel as though I'm avoiding my real destiny, hiding under a mask of defiance.
I spend my days in Hell Town roaming the cobbled streets by myself like a feral cat. I lounge in an ancient (REALLY ancient) graveyard and listen to the Meteors on my headphones. I order a burger at Burger King and observe that there is pepperoni on it (?).
We go to a punk show and I'm shocked, surprised and overjoyed to see that the same feelings of frustration, excitement, and anti-conformity are alive everywhere in the world.
I watch 90s re-runs of Melrose Place on Swedish TV while Staf complains that "all I do is eat and sleep" (he liked to eat one large meal a day and spent nights gambling online). I'm not judging his habits, just recognizing how incredibly different we are. There is no wrong or right way to live.
After he confesses his feelings of unrequited love, in a fit of rage and utter sadness (rightfully so - I should never have come here) I jump ship to stay with friends of his, sweet lady twins with dreads. I AM STILL SORRY FOR THIS.
That first morning after crashing on their couch, I awoke to a tiny piece of paper I the coffee table that read: "you are now like at home."
Although just what I needed, I knew that it couldn't be farther from the truth.
I brought only a few things home and with me: a Manowar record, a GBH record (funny, no Swedish music) and a kid's shirt with a Viking ship on it that said "Denmark."
I woke up at 4 am and left Staf's place in the dark the morning of my departure. I felt like a shitty person and a naive heartbreaker. I was all of those things
I took some change off his bedside table and walked a half mile to the boat that would take me to Copenhagen. Then I rode a train in silence to the airport. The sun rose and my stomach gurgled uneasily. That pepperoni...
I missed my flight, did it all over again.
Note: I am so thankful to both my parents. I called my Dad and he helped me figure out what to do about the flight. It was inconceivable to me that I could wake up before the sun and still be considered late. In ANY situation.
When I returned home, I wore my Denmark shit to an Amebix show, trying to take my mind off of how lost I felt. My friend Marissa walked up to me in a dirt lot.
"You are SO lucky you got to go and that he paid for you to fly out there."
I just want to crawl under one of the parked cars.
I heard not too long later that Staf had an accident at the rail yard he worked at, pretty much breaking every bone in his body. I told him I would send him Sparks and Marlboros but I never did. I AM STILL SORRY FOR THIS.
My evil was not personal, although I am sure I will feel uneasy and unsettled about this period in my life for the rest of my life. Like pushing someone down in the school yard, that awful power is in all of us.
If I were able to go back, I would have done three things differently.
1) I would have stayed home and written some songs.
2) I would have been honest to everyone about everything, especially myself.
3) I would have never eaten that burger.