Jan 30, 2013

Waiting for my (wrong) man

This is another long-delayed response to a reader question sent in while AAP was in mothballs. After all this time, I hope it offers something useful.

Hello AAP-
Basically I met a crusty yesterday on the train. We were on our way to the beach to see the 4th of July fireworks. He was with his other crusty friends and I was by myself. I saw that he was staring at me but didn't think much of it... anyway, fast forward an hour later, we all get off to go to the beach and he left his friends behind so he could talk to me. He gave me his number, and we started talking about music. Pretty much we have very little in common but this guy was very, very likeable, funny, SMART and polite. The way he expressed himself so eloquently was very attractive. He had a lot of tattoos (some legit, others homemade) and then I got to asking him about his scars on his arms (they looked like the kind you get from shooting up too many times) but he said they were caused by mosquito bites (there really aren't THAT many mosquitoes in NYC this time of year). So I got to ask him what he does, and he told me he's pretty much a hobo. A few gigs here and there (he's in a band) and he also makes and sells his own art. He stuck around till I met up with my twin sister and then he told us to wait for him outside while he went to the restroom. Basically the plan was that he was gonna ditch his friends and hang with my "crew". As soon as he went to the bathroom my sister said, "ewww this guy is not your type, he looks like a friggin drug dealer and he stinks (which he didn't) so lets ditch him.". We left him behind, and I felt SO BAD for doing that! You see, the difference between my sister and I is that I don't judge people based on their appearance and she does so our groups of friends are very different.

I am 21 years old, currently going to NYU. I'm not rich by any means and I can only afford to go to school because of scholarships. What I do have in common with this guy is that we both had an alcoholic parent and our childhood environments were less than ideal. I don't really follow any subculture. The music I listen to is mostly mainstream (Nine Inch Nails, Marylin Manson, Alice in Chains, Nirvana, etc... is as mainstream as I get). He recommended some songs to me but to me, it's just sounds like a bunch of NOISE (no offense). His lifestyle choices aren't very healthy. He drinks a lot, smokes a lot (I have asthma, he told me he would quit) and we just seem very different. I really, really like him, and I've been trying to learn more about this crusty subculture but they don't seem to have a very good reputation. The back of the card he wrote his number on was a business card for LESC which stands for Lower Eastside Service Center which by the looks of it is for people who are in rehab/detox. I really don't know whether to pursue this relationship anyfurther because I have no idea what I'd be getting myself into. I have enough problems as it is (mom suffers from depression, dad from alzheimer's, and I take care of the both) and I don't want this to become a burden...

Sorry for the friggin novel I just wrote but I would really, really appreciate your advice!


PS: By the way, he's 28 years old so there is a 7 year age difference.I believe that he's 28 but he looks like he's been to hell and back for a 28 year old. Sorry if this comes off as a stupid question but I've never seen a crusty in his/her 40's/50's. Is it something they grow out of? Why do they disappear? What happens to them? Many thanks.

Dear MD -

I'll answer your last question first: They either clean up, go to jail or die.

Although, like you,  I tend to give people the benefit of the doubt, regardless of their appearance - likely because, in the distant past, I tended to look a little shady myself - I think your sister might have helped you dodge a bullet here.

I'm sure you were accurate in your description of him. Many addicts are smart, funny & charming because they were all those things before they made that first, critical error: Thinking they were going to be the one who dabbles but doesn't get hooked. After that, all the smarts, charm and humor get focused on one or both of the following goals: securing drugs or securing money to buy drugs with. Period. I know this because some of the smartest and funniest people I've known were addicts, and very verrrrrry few of their stories ended well. Eventually the charm and humor fades and the intelligence becomes something shifty and unsavory.

I might catch some hell from some self-identifying "Crusties" but the truth is, a good percentage of people who call it their "punk subculture" are really, beneath the CRASS t-shirt and the tattoos, junkies and/or addicts on the edge. 

You even know that he clearly lied to you with his "mosquito bites" bullshit, but he still knew how to keep you talking and how to get you a bit closer. He was willing to so easily ditch his "friends" because he (and likely they) are always on the lookout for a new source of $ or dope. If you had let him into your life, I can promise you that within 24 hours your ipod would be oddly "missing" and he would have some fresh mosquito bites. And then you're both off to the races with him charmingly and perhaps even tearfully promising that it will never happen again (but it will,) and you going through a laundry list of attempts to help/fix/change him (which you won't.)

The bigger question is: Why were you attracted to this guy in the first place? Luckily the answer is pretty simple: Because his energy was so familiar. You said you grew up with an alcoholic parent (exactly the sort of useful information I rarely get in reader questions) ... so guess what? That means you're wired to seek out these sorts of people. The kind of people who will supply the chaos that the children of alcoholics & addicts often mistake for love and relationships.

I hope you threw away the card and ran screaming in the other direction.

Jan 23, 2013

Not So Mello

This week's question is actually one of the many I received when I was on my long hiatus. I'm hoping that I'm not posting it, and my answer, too late to do any good.

Dear AAP
Day 1: The band confronts me. sober for a drug test. I spent four hours locked in a room with my two bandmates. read the response post. I'm out of the band until I'm clean. and I can't play til my shoulder heals. I just found out my parents divorced, my grandmother died and my cousin got married. second realization - I was too high to care.

Day 2: smoking a blunt talking to my lead singer somewhat sober. Talked to him on the phone for four minutes. shortest convo ever.,, my band, my best friends have stopped talking to me.

Day 2.5 (two am): woke my mom up and gave her a size ten box that used to contain calf high combat boots. so many packets and small boxes of shit I can't close the lid. walked around the house for three hours and went to leave found three more packets in my boot, and one in my glove don't remember putting htem there.
I went to school on friday - first time this year. Plan to go on monday but withdrawals starting to set in so not sure how that will go. I just read a notebook that was on my bed... i'm a great artist. I apparently write and draw compulsively. problem is I don't remember doing any of it. I've apparently replaced my drug addiction with skim milk, ive gone through five gallons in two hours. my moms getting pissed but happy at the same time. my entire mouth hurts which is kind of a bith but I'm sober ...and I'm staying that way. 

so uh thanks, I guess. still have yet to talk to jami
-Mello (seriously)

Dear Mello
Your email - reprinted here exactly as I received it - was all over the map, but all the talk of "packets" and "withdrawals" makes it seem pretty clear that we're talking about heroin addiction here and the self-delusion is starting to reach some dangerous levels. "Smoking a blunt" and "somewhat sober" are two states of being that can't exist at the same time - and please, cannabis supporters, don't flood me with hate mail. I know weed and heroin are two very different things... I'm talking about the addict mindset here. I'm talking about someone who is trying to convince me that he is "apparently a great artist" (a classic addict's dodge) who thinks that somehow makes him special in the eyes of Heroin. It doesn't, and heroin doesn't care about what you think you are... it only cares about destroying you. 

The tone of your email tells me that you're not ready to use the word "addict," ...while "too high to care" is fast becoming your mantra/epitaph. You're in serious trouble, but of course the heroin doesn't want you to know that. Getting tossed out of bands and being surprised by major family/life events like divorces and weddings sounds to me like you're so deep in an opium cocoon that pretty soon breathing will seem like too much of a hassle. ... and drinking five gallons of milk in a day isn't exactly a solid step on the road to recovery. 

The last words of your email "I'm sober... and I'm staying that way" were at least hopeful, but probably impossible to stick to. I got no sense from your email that you really felt like you were in trouble (you are) or that you seriously wanted to get off the rollercoaster... and since I received your message several months ago, I can only wonder how much worse things have gotten. 

You're so painfully young. You could save yourself decades of horror right now, if you really want to. Getting thrown out of your band is the least of your worries right now. Your only concern, really, should be this: Saving your F-ing life. Aside from the divorce, and the grocery bills, you don't mention your family at all. Where did the twin tendencies of addiction and self-destruction come from? What was/is your family like? Is there a history of addiction there? Not necessarily to H, but to booze, or pills or even scratch lottery tickets? Is there any help to be found there? ...assuming you're ready to admit that you need it?

You need to get some help from people who've been there. There are recovering addicts in NA and AA who would positively leap at the chance to help you, and to possibly save you from some of the horrors that they went through - and which surely await you. Trust me, as crappy as things seem now, they can get soul-shreddingly worse. In a hurry.

Forget the band for now. Seriously. If they haven't thrown you out already - quit. This stuff is more important... and if you're half as good as you say/think you are then you'll have no problem finding a new band when you're REALLY ready, because there are never enough drummers to go around... especially sober ones.

Good luck.

Jan 16, 2013

Small Town Punks

It is great to be up and running again here on AAP. Here is this week's question, with apologies if it sounds like I'm patting myself on the back:

Dear ASK A PUNK -  
I figured it would probably be a pretty good idea just to mail you and tell you that the blog (er.. whatever) is great! I've been searching for a site or something similar that covered mostly punk subjects. That search, being a major pain in the ass for a 16 year old newfound punk. The constant reminder from so many people that "punk is dead" was really almost getting to me (not that I'd give it up) until I found coincidentally within a 2 day period the Dead Kennedy's album Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables and this site.

So, yeah, man. Really, a young small town punk who is the backbone of the total 2 man scene amongst an ocean of pop and "Post-Hardcore," anti-self expression fourth Reich bullshit wanted to tell you that you're great for doing what you do! Maybe a few question answers are due, wouldn't you say?
But yes! Thank you very much for doing this and you better get back on top of it! As unlikely as it very well may seem, there are still some young people out there who need to know stuff. Word of mouth is a dead form of syndication so the internet's our next best choice.
Thanks a lot, man.
Cheers from an aspiring musician from Nowhere, New York
Have a good one! -

P.S. Sorry if anything here is less than coherent. I've drunk.

Dear LT -
Thank-you for checking in. I'm glad I left the site up during the hiatus and that some people were still finding it and reading it. I'm sorry it has taken so long to respond to your email, but here it is.

I came from a small town too, so I know you probably can't wait to escape the place. But instead of thinking of your current situation/life as some kind of purgatory to escape from - try thinking of it as an incubator you'll eventually emerge from. - The change in wording DOES make a difference. Don't sit around waiting for your life to start "once I'm out of this place" ...start it NOW. When I was discovering punk I had to go out looking for it... miles and miles and miles in every direction from my tiny-ass hometown, just to find a record store with a Ramones album. Now you can have it all delivered to your computer... take advantage of that. You said you're a punkrocker, but do you play an instrument? If not, WHY NOT?! You can go on youtube and find FREE guitar lessons, drum lessons, bass lessons, etc etc etc and of course there are 1000s of other resources - like my site or even Henry Rollin's column for LA Weekly - not that I'm comparing myself to him... or if you're anti-Rollins (and I understand some are) keep looking elsewhere. It is all out there, and it costs nothing. When you're ready to start recording your stuff you can do it at home - on 'garageband' if you have a MAC or, if you have a PC you can download (for free) a program called 'audacity' which is almost as feature-rich as Pro Tools. You and your generation don't HAVE to run off to 'The Big City' like we all had to... so take advantage of that. If your town doesn't have a "scene" guess what?  That means YOU are the scene. It is yours. Create it yourself. And...at the risk of sounding like your parents: stay in school, get that HS diploma ...and then you'll at least have the option of maybe escaping to a small college somewhere, or if not, at least you'll be better prepared for the long fight ahead (ie: life.)

I have caught a lot of crap here on AAP from people who said I wasn't punk-rock enough because I have a huge 'live and let live' streak - but I'll say this anyway: Even if the seemingly brain-dead pop and 'mainstream' folks have no respect for your music etc, try to find something redeeming in them and theirs... or ignore it, but don't REACT to it. Life is an F-ing struggle for EVERYone and even if it seems like 'they' all have their shit together etc... trust me: "They"  don't. "They" never really do. Everyone in their teens is shit-scared, they just use different tactics to hide it, and some are quite intimidating and impressive.

I won't judge on the under age drinking but I should warn you about it. I started at 16 but I've been sober since I turned 31... and that was a long time ago (I'm not quite as old as Rollins, but I'm close.) Be wary and try not to  throw all that new-found punk rock passion down the bottomless pit of illicit chemicals. There are too many bodies at the bottom of that pit already.

Stay Strong and again - thanks for visiting the site. Tell your friends.

Jan 9, 2013

Children of the Con

Since Ask A Punk was originally launched in early January 2008, it seems fitting that the relaunch is (ok, finally) happening at the beginning of a new year. The hiatus that started in Aug. '11 served its purpose - It gave me the chance to take care of a few other issues in my life & work and just sort of gave me a break from the self-imposed weekly deadlines and the feeling that I wasn't accomplishing much with the blog. 

I also discovered I was wrong about that last thing.

Even though it has been a year+ since my last, official weekly post, my handy google stats page tells me that I still have regular readers/visitors to the site, and my inbox is filled (ok, semi-filled) with "When are you coming back?" messages, along with plenty of new questions. This was all as flattering as it was unexpected.

I wanted to come back when I tacked up that most recent post in May, but I discovered I still had too many other things to deal with. I did spend some of that time creating an eBook (which you can see me flogging in the right-hand column.) Now I have finally cleared the decks and am ready to get back at it. ...but I also want to do it better this time. I am actively soliciting advice & opinion on how I can improve the site and do a better job of reaching people. I'm still on the fence about some of it: "include more links", "include more pictures", "do interviews." Do more links & pictures really equal deeper reader engagement? I'm still not sure. I think greater interaction does. This site will never be a record/band/show review site, but I have added a new "music+" page that will contain essays, posts on topics not covered by the regular weekly advice post... and maybe even an interview or two... but you'll notice that the main page is still the weekly Q&A. I still think that is the most important part of this endeavor, as well as the most satisfying.

What I DO want to encourage is more participation. With the revamp of the site, the "comment" section is harder to miss, so I hope people start leaving more comments, and adding their own advice. 

Enough blather! Let's get on with it!  At long last, here is this week's question.

Dear AskAPunk:
My dad's insane. I know many people say that, but he really is. Maybe insane isn't the right word because he is scary-smart and hyper-intelligent. The problem is he is, basically a con-man. Always has been. When we were growing up, my sisters and I never knew what he did for a living. Our mom worked in an office, but dad would vanish for days or weeks at a time, or months. We were told he "traveled a lot for business." which, when you're a little kid is the only explanation you really need, because why would your mom lie about your dad? But she had to, because the truth was, he never had a real job, was always hustling people out of money and then hiding from either them or the cops. I remember several times us all getting dressed up and taken out for a "day with dad." Invariably the day would include a meeting or an "unexpected encounter" with some adults we had never met before, but who seemed to know my dad. Those adults would often call my dad by some nickname or first name we had never heard before. We would never see these people again. Years later, we figured out that they were new marks he was setting up and we were being trotted out as proof that he was a stable "family man" or something. It still makes my skin crawl to think about it. I know it all sounds crazy and almost old-fashioned, even though we're talking about stuff that happened in the 1990s, but I swear it is true. The truth slowly started to come out, as it always does, as we got older and we could figure things out for ourselves, and his getting sent to prison didn't help any either. By the time dad got out of the pen - he was a model prisoner of course, always smiling and cooperative like he was on a con -  I was in punk bands and trying to get through community college, because of course there was no money for college. One of my sisters joined the army and the other just got a job. He moved back in with my mom and went back to his same old crap, only now he was also trying to work angles with us. He nearly hustled my army sister out of her government cash and stuff - I don't know the exact details, and I can't tell you how many people have told me they had met our band's "manager" or how many times he'd asked one or all of us to help him out with some shady little meeting or delivery that never sounded quite illegal. I finally had to tell him to fuck off out of my life. It wasn't easy, even though by then I was totally living on my own, because we live in a small-ish city in the Northwest US and I can't totally avoid seeing him or running into him somewhere, and yeah, I think he plans some of those "chance meetings," especially when I see him with people I don't know. He never beat us up, or did a ton of drugs (as far as I know) he was and is just a scumbag. I'm sorry I haven't even gotten to my question yet. There are a couple of them: 

1) I'm scared sometimes that I'll follow in his footsteps whether I want to or not. At school I often find myself having to fast-talk my way out of things with teachers or the accounting office, and I am remarkably good at it. How do I safeguard myself against this? 

2) Why the hell didn't my mom divorce him a million years ago and save us ALL from all this bullshit? How can I get over my anger and resentment at my MOM for that? 

3) How can I keep him the F out of my life and away from my band?

 - Not so easy money.

Dear NSEM -
Your story reads like a post-grunge "Paper Moon." I'm glad you've stood up for yourself so far and done your best to get past the family bullshit, because that is pretty much what you'll have to do. Here are my answers.

Sometimes we all have to fast-or-sweet talk teachers, administrators, bosses, clerks in the accounting office, club bookers or the various other people who stand between us and what we're trying to accomplish. For good or ill, this is a normal part of human interaction, especially in our particular culture. Try not to over-think that part of it. What you have to make sure of though, is that you are scrupulously honest with the people in your life - the real relationships that help to define who you are as a person, and when you meet new people, be sure that your first thoughts are "how can I help them?" and not "What can I get off this clown." I'm not saying you have to become a push-over or a full-time good samaritan, I'm just saying pay attention to the first thoughts you have when you're dealing with people in your life. When meeting someone new, a con-man like your dad's first thoughts would be about finding some advantage he might have over the other person - some weakness in them that he can exploit... and, to him, even positive human traits like kindness would be considered a weakness. 

Even though you didn't state your gender, I'm going to go out on a limb and assume you're a girl. Even in the most well-adjusted of families, Mother/Daughter relationships are almost always more fraught with issues of anger and resentment etc. From what you wrote, I don't think your mom was your dad's accomplice, just his enabler. Even though your dad is a lowlife, he and your mom clearly have some kind of deep connection, although a clearly unhealthy one. This isn't going to sound like a very punk-rock answer, but what you have to do is simple: Forgive her. ...and try to very gently coax her toward admitting the truth about your dad to herself, keeping in mind that that might never happen. YOU have to decide if you want a relationship with your mom, just your mom (and it sounds like you do.) That relationship, now that you're an adult, has to be about you TWO, and not about the shifty ex-con elephant in the room. If you can see yourself still loving her, then love her, and let it go at that. Don't make your dad the only topic of conversation between the two of you, in fact: make it the one-and-only topic that is off-limits if necessary.

Cutting him out of your life is easy, as long as you stick to your own rules. I'm guessing it isn't possible to simply MOVE somewhere else, so instead you have to build a wall around your life and keep him out. Send all his emails to your spam file, unread. Never take his calls and if you get a call from a number you don't recognize let it go to voicemail first. If you "bump into" him somewhere unexpectedly, and he is with his latest mark, immediately say something like: "Great to see you Dad, I didn't know you were on parole" ...do that a few times and I can promise he will start avoiding you. Wouldn't that be nice? As far as the band stuff goes, make sure he has no access to your websites, twitter feeds or whatever you use to engage your fans online. Bring a photo of him to gigs and give it to the door guy, telling him there's $10 and a beer in it for him if he doesn't let the guy in the picture into the show. Two beers if he shoves him. and finally, and most punk rock of all: Write a song about the bastard. Heck, write a whole album. Put his picture on your website too - let the world know that he has nothing to do with you or your band. That would be pretty punk rock, wouldn't it? YOU have nothing to be ashamed of, he is the criminal.

I hope that helps. Do your best, and remember, if nothing else, your dad did give you one very useful gift: I bet you can spot any conman from a mile away.