The Lusty Lady

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Back around 1990 I used to know this beautiful young stripper. She was the girlfriend of a good friend of mine. So that’s how I got to know her.

She was about 19, with a wholesome, girlish beauty. She had big, glassy cat-eyes, and short but thick black hair, and long long legs. She was a number. Generally she dressed fairly conservatively when she wasn’t working. But — like a lot of off-duty strippers — she usually had this subtle, little extra dash of sexuality to her look that hinted at her possible availability.

She worked at the Lusty Lady Theater in San Francisco. One of the hipper strip clubs (lot of women with tattoos and piercings). And we would sometimes have long conversations on the telephone, and she liked to titillate me with stories about some of the weird things her customers asked her to do (like pissing in a bucket or doing weird lesbian acts). I had worked at the Mitchell Brothers strip club when I was a young man (no, not as a stripper). So we had that mileau in common. So we would trade stories about some of the weird stuff we had seen. I was fascinated with the subject of sex back then and used to think about sex all the time (every now and then I could also think about sports, but that was about it).

We also both wrote columns for one of the more prominent punk rock zines of the times. So we had that in common, too. And we would exchange gossip about some of the local hipsters and scenesters that we both knew.

But I think the main reason she was interested in me was because I was good friends with her boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend — the one before her. And i think she sort of viewed the ex as a potential rival. So she would sort of ply me for information about her character (and potential weaknesses) in case she ever got into a cat-fight with the ex over the boyfriend, and needed some weapons in her arsenal. She was kind of Machivelian like that, viewed the people around her as kind of chess pieces on a chessboard, And you always sensed that her interest in you was tied into whether you were useful to her. She had a cute, girlish manner, but you could sense a definite hardness under the surface. Something I guess you needed to survive in her profession. With its underlying premise of: You can use me if I can use you.

Like a lot of young lovers, she and her boyfriend had their fair share of drama and spectacular fights. And sometimes they’d break up, and she’d be crying and wailing and imploring him to take her back. I think my friend could never get used to the fact that his girlfriend was a prostitute (she was too classy to be a streetwalker, but I think she usually had a string of sugar daddies lined up on the side).

Anyways, they finally had one last big fight and broke up for good. And that was the last I ever saw of her.

Until around 1998. I was walking across the Berkeley campus when this attractive, young co-ed stopped in front of me and said “Ace??” Turned out she was using the money that she earned stripping to put herself through college. Which I thought was admirable. So many of the women in that mileau get stuck in that sexual underground. And when they lose their sexual attractiveness they’re pretty much used up. But when youre beautiful and intelligent and full of ambition (like her) all sorts of doors open up to you.

We sat on a campus bench and talked about old times. Her ex-boyfriend — and my friend — had ended up killing himself. “I don’t know what I saw in that loser,” she said (like I said, she was a bit of a hardened case).

And we talked about the punk rock zine we used to write for. I ended up having a falling out with the publisher, concluded he was slimy and dishonest and disassociated myself with his magazine. But he had recently died, so the local punk scene was buzzing with glowing tributes and hagiography in honor of the allegedly great man. So she asked me if that had changed my opinion of him. “Hell no,” I said. “I still think he’s a dirtbag.” (I guess I’m a little hardened myself).

And that was the last time I ever saw her. I have no idea how her life turned out. But if I had to take a guess, I’d say she married some rich guy and lives in a suburb somewhere, and is a prim and proper and respectable middle-aged lady. And most of the woman at the local PTA would probably never guess about her colorful past history.

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Rancid

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Whenever I see the Rancid logo I get a funny feeling.  And I’ll think back to this long-lost night around 1990.  I was hanging out at this little xerox shop on Fulton just up from Shattuck.  My punk rock friend David worked there, and he printed up 400 copies of my Twisted Image newsletter every month for free, when the boss wasn’t looking.  So I was killing time waiting for David to finish up the job.

This other young punk kid was at another one of the xerox machines.  He had a crude, hand-drawn logo for this new punk band he had just started.  And he was printing up home-made stickers.  He had a shaved head and a studded black leather jacket — the standard uniform back then.  And all I could think of was:

“Sheesh. Just what the world needs. One more high school kid starting up yet another punk rock band.  They’ll probably break up and be forgotten before they even get their first record out, just like the zillions of other punk bands before them.”

The guy’s name was Lint. And he was avid to talk to me, because I wrote a column for Maximum RocknRoll, a zine he probably had been reading religiously since it’s first issue.  And because he was a friendly, out-going type.  And because he had a sincere interest in anyone who was part of “the scene” (as we called it back then). And he was probably hoping I’d hype his new band in my column.

But I had just about zero interest in him or his band.  I had been following the Punk Rock movement practically since the beginning, since the Sex Pistols in 1976. And I had already interviewed Johnny Rotten and Henry Rollins and Lee Ving and the other big stars of the punk rock movement.  So by 1990 the whole thing had pretty much lost most of it’s fascination for me.  Let alone some kid who had played in some band that played at this little club called the Gilman Street Project, which I also had zero interest in.

David’s girlfriend was also hanging around at the xerox shop that night.  She was this incredibly beautiful young stripper who also wrote a column for Maximum RocknRoll.  And she, too, was avid to talk to me.   Mostly because I was good friends with David’s ex-girlfriend, the one he had been going out with right before her.  And I think she viewed her as a potential rival.  So she was avid to ply me for any information about her that I might have.

So every time Lint tried to talk to me, she would sort of rudely rebuff him. Like: “Hey kid, can’t you see that me and Ace are two very important people who write very important columns for Maximum RocknRoll and are trying to have a very important conversation. So will you butt out and go back to xeroxing your stupid logo for your nowhere band.”  Ha ha.

Of course, Rancid would go on to becoming one of the best-selling punk bands of all time.

So the incident always reminded me of how a situation can have a certain meaning at the time. And then, years later, it can take on a completely different meaning.

You know?

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A Ghost Story

 

I’ve always been fascinated by the subject of death.  Maybe because by the time I was 20 I had already had loaded guns put up to my head, and knives up to my throat, and had come within a flick of the wrist of dying.  So death was like a daily companion to me.  It wasn’t just an intellectual concept I played around with.  I don’t know if it gave me a certain gravitas.  But it made me aware at a young age that death could come at any moment, in a blink of an eye.  So you might as well start preparing for it. I think a lot of people, they kind of block out and  repress the subject of death.  Then, when they’re old and on their death bed, it suddenly hits them all at once.

I remember  the first time I really experienced death.  The first time you experience death, it’s kind of like losing your virginity.  Popping your death cherry.  Going through all that for the first (but by no means the last) time.  My friend David McCord committed suicide right before Christmas of 1994.  29 years old, he jumped in front of a train.  David was one of those guys who was born depressed, seemingly.  He lived in a constant state of depression.  When I first met him in 1982 he was this baby-faced high school punker with a mohawk.  12 short years later he was dead.   When we got the word of David’s suicide we were all stunned.  “Shocked but not surprised,” is how one friend put it.  In retrospect it seemed almost inevitable.

Anyways, a couple of weeks after David’s death I was going through a big pile of mail.  I used to get 200 letters a month back then, so it would often pile up for a month before I got around to opening it.  So I was stunned when I came across a letter from David in the pile.  I opened it up with trepidation.  He had mailed the letter a couple weeks before he died.  It was a fairly mundane letter.  “How you doing?  Send me a copy of your latest newsletter when you get a chance.  Nothing much happening here in Chico, etc. . . ”  He had even enclosed an SASE so I could easily write him back.  But I sure couldn’t write him back now.  I stared at that letter for a long time.  It was eerie.  Like getting a communique from the Other Side.  Like David was calling out to me from some twilight zone where departed souls passed through.

I wouldn’t say I’m superstitious.  But I believe all that stuff about the After Life, and ghosts, and spirits, and haunted houses, and sacred spots, and netherworlds.

Shortly after David’s death, Mary and I decided to go out and get drunk and have our own private eulogy for our departed friend David.  Sort of an Irish wake (David was half-Irish, half-Jewish).  The weather that night was gray and drizzly and foggy.  Like the setting for a cheesy  horror movie or something.  You half expected Jack the Ripper to jump out of an alley-way at any moment.  We decided to go to the Bison Brewery, this legendary pub on Telegraph Avenue, to pound a few.  As we walked down the Ave we passed this grizzled-looking street person in a ratty trenchcoat who was panhandling in the drizzle.

“Spare any leftovers?” he said as we passed.

“Sure,” I said.  I handed him the leftover to-go Chinese food I was carrying.

“Thanks,” he said.  “I just got into town.  I just got off a train.”

Mary and I continued walking towards the Bison Brewery.  But after about a half a block, I stopped and looked at Mary and said:  “That’s weird.  Did you hear what that guy said?  ‘I just got off a train.'”

“Yeah, that’s a weird coincidence,”  said Mary,  “considering David just got killed by a train.”

“You don’t suppose . . . ” I said.

We both turned and looked back towards the street person.  But he had disappeared.  He had seemingly disappeared into the mist.  Or maybe he had went off to eat his Chinese food.  But it was eerie.  Like we had just seen a ghost.  Like the spirit of David had come back to earth to say good-bye to us one last time before his soul went off to wherever souls go off to after they die.   And a shiver went up both of our spines.

And throughout the evening, as we drank and talked about David,  we’d periodically think back to that street person in the trenchcoat who had just got off a train.  And that shiver would go up our spines again.

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