My latest book project is a memoir portraying the years I was a roadie/road manager for several major punk bands in the 80’s. For five years I toured with Dead Kennedys, Flipper, TSOL, Subhumans, and The Dickies. I started out as a roadie and worked my way into road manager, managing tours: logistics, crews, merchandise, and bands. I was a strung out drug addict let loose on America, traveling the highways, ODing in motels. Causing mayhem and disorder in every city and club that crossed my path – it was a beautiful thing to behold.
Here is the first chapter:
It’s Awfully Late For Patti Mitchell
I wake up in a bedroom. Not just any bedroom. It’s a little girl’s bedroom, with Echo & The Bunnymen and Duran Duran posters on the walls. There’s cute stuffed animals, a Hello Kitty bedspread, and a framed picture of a baby monkey dangling from a tree limb with “hang in there” written across the bottom. There’s also a studded leather jacket and Doc Martins on the floor mixed with my clothes.
I’m under the covers, naked, wondering how I got here, and what the fuck happened last night. I’m on tour with the Subhumans. I don’t know where the band is. They’re young guys. They’re from England. I don’t like to let them out of my sight. We’re crashing at an apartment in Kansas City some art student is letting us use while she’s moving out, or she’s moving in. I wasn’t listening when she told me. But the apartment is practically empty and there’s plenty of floor space for us to sleep on. Last night we had a night off. We went to a club to see The Dicks play. I remember saying hi to Gary Floyd, and talking with Debbie their manager while drinking PBR’s back stage. But that’s where my memories end.
I lie immobile staring at the ceiling. I hear noises. People talking. A distant clanking of pots and pans like someone’s in the kitchen. There’s a shower running somewhere. I think I hear a radio. I’m getting nervous. I don’t want to get up. I’m afraid to go out of the room. My head is splitting. I need drugs. I need a cigarette. I’ve got to take a piss.
There’s a window next to the bed. I reach over and push back the curtain. Outside there’s a lawn and trees and bushes and no other buildings. I’m in the fucking country. I hate the fucking country. I’m really nervous now.
I grab my pants and search the pockets until I find three Valiums in a small ziplock baggie. Thank god I didn’t do them all last night. I look around but there’s nothing to drink. I try to conjure up some spit. But I’ve got cottonmouth so bad there is none and I dry swallow the pills. Stuck in my throat they start to dissolve and taste like shit. But they’re in me. They can melt on my tongue for all I care. I just want them to work. Take the edge off.
I’m searching my leather jacket for cigarettes when the door opens. A cute girl comes in drying her hair with a towel. She looks to be about 16. I’m hoping she’s at least 18.
“You’re finally up,” she says.
“Hey,” I say, checking her out trying to remember who she is. And then, after failing, to avoid feeling any more awkward, I ask, “What time is it?”
“It’s ten in the morning,” she says. “It’s awfully late for Patti Mitchell to be getting up.”
“Who the fuck is Patti Mitchell?”
“I’m Patti Mitchell,” she says and slumps on the end of the bed. Her eyes moist like she’s about to cry.
“Sorry,” I say. “I’m no good with names and sorta slow in the morning.”
Patti Mitchell perks up and smiles. “That’s okay. You hungry?”
“I could use a cigarette,” I say and reach for my pants and stand to put them on. I can feel her watching while I grab my t-shirt. The fucking shirt smells like sweat and beer. But what choice do I have – so I slip it over my head.
“Where are we?” I ask.
“My house,” says Patti.
“Your house,” I repeat and then feel better. Like possibly this is her house and maybe she has roommates who are out there doing things that roommates do.
“Where’s your house?” I ask.
“Shawnee Heights. Shawnee Heights, Kansas,” she says.
I have no idea where the fuck Shawnee Heights, Kansas is. I was in Kansas City, Missouri last night. I’m wondering if I drove here. I’m wondering if I’ve driven an underage girl across state lines. I’m wondering if we had sex. I’m thinking we did. I’m afraid to ask. I’m thinking of the Mann Act and Chuck Berry getting nailed for transporting a fourteen-year-old girl across state lines for the purpose of immoral acts, and going to jail for two years at the height of his career.
“Did I drive here? I say to Patti.
“Yeah,” she says. “You were so wasted I was amazed you could.”
Now I’m feeling better. Screw the Mann Act. I have the van. I can escape.
“Come on. I’m hungry. Let’s go eat,” says Patti.
“There a restaurant near by?” I ask, hoping we can get out of here and head back to find the band.
“Don’t need a restaurant,” she says. “Mom’s cooking.”
I’m suddenly very nervous. And then the Valiums kick in.
The hallway is dark, there’s deep pile green shag carpet and wallpaper with big pink flowers. I see the bathroom and tell Pattie I gotta take a piss. But don’t go anywhere. Don’t leave me alone.
The bathroom is blue. I mean every-fucking-thing is blue: tiles, walls, towels, even the goddamn hand soap. There’s some blue doily-ass curtains, and one of those annoying carpeted toilet seat covers that you have to hold up or else it’ll fall down.
I check myself in the mirror. I’m a fucking mess. My hair is all over the place, sticking out in different directions. There’s darkness under my eyes. I look gaunt, but I like that. Last night was the first real sleep I’ve had in weeks.
I lift the blue carpeted toilet seat and take a piss. The stench of my unwashed body envelops the room, killing the air freshener. I could use a shower. Instead I run some water in the sink, splash my face, and spike my hair with some blue liquid hand soap.
The hallway’s empty, Patti is gone. I hear noises at the end of the hall, there’s people talking. I think I hear Patti’s voice. I walk into the kitchen. A woman stands at the stove frying sausages. She’s wearing skintight leopard print capris, a frilly apron, and high heels. Her hair’s big, ratted out, and bleached blonde. A tough looking older guy sits at the kitchen table reading a newspaper. A cigarette dangles from his lips and he doesn’t even look up or acknowledge I’m there. Next to him is a kid in a football jersey. He’s clocking me heavy. I nod. He sneers. Patti is nowhere to be seen.
The woman turns with the frying pan in her hand. “Oh, you must be Patti’s friend,” she says and everyone looks at me. “You hungry?” she asks, the spatula poised in midair.
“I could use a cigarette,” I say.
“Hank,” the woman yells. “Give Patti’s friend a cigarette.”
Hank lowers his paper and looks at me. He looks like a cop, or a DEA agent. He’s a fucking bad ass, or at least he used to be. “Here,” he says and tosses me a pack of Marlboros. I fucking hate Marlboros. But what the hell.
“Got a light?” I say as I pull one free of the pack. He slides a brass Zippo my way and I spark up. When I push the lighter back I notice Semper Fi etched in its side.
“Sit, ” says the woman, indicating a chair at the table. I reluctantly take a seat by the sneering boy. I’m wondering what I’ve gotten myself into. Is this some sort of demented Leave It To Beaver sitcom? And where the hell is Patti?
“You in a band?” asks sneering boy.
“Work for a band,” I say, and notice dad as he raises an eyebrow.
“What do ya mean work for a band?” says dad.
“I’m a road manager. I manage bands while they’re on tour.”
“You make money doing that?” he asks.
“I make a living,” I say flicking the cigarette ash in the ashtray.
“How much is making a living?” he says, and looks at me all intense.
I have to think about this. Like how much do I really make? Somewhere around three hundred a week. Which barely pays for a maintenance Heroin habit. Although I also buy a lot of pills. Then there’s the occasional Speed for the all night drives, and bad food at truck stops. But I don’t live anywhere. I don’t have to pay rent. I drink free at the clubs. My overhead is sort of low.
“Thirty thousand a year,” I lie.
The dad’s expression changes. He looks more relaxed, like he’s seeing me from a new perspective. Like I’m no longer just a scumbag punk rocker at his breakfast table. A scumbag punk rocker that banged his teenage daughter, and is now smoking his cigarettes. Nope. Now I’m a scumbag punk rocker that makes bank.
“Got a beer?” I ask.
“Beer?” says the mom.
“Breakfast of champions,” I say.
The kid snorts and says, “Losers you mean, don’t ya?”
The kid is obviously some jock and the type of guy I hated in high school. Well, at least the type of guy I got in fights with when I actually went to high school. I want to smack him. But really I just want to leave. I want to run outside screaming in fear. This is so fucking uncomfortable. Where the hell is Patti Michelle and why did she leave me here to deal with this all alone?
Mom takes out a longneck Budweiser from the fridge and hands it to me. I twist the top off and take a swig. The beer hits my stomach hard. The first beer of the day always does.
In a flurry of domestic activity mom serves up plates of eggs, fried potatoes, and sausages. When she lays a plate down in front of the empty chair by her husband she calls out for Patti to come to the table, foods ready.
Patti runs in through the backdoor from outside. There’s a dog following her. It scurries across the room to sniff me and then disappears down the hallway. I look at my plate of food and know I can’t eat it. Patti sits down and grabs a piece of toast off the stack on a plate in the middle of the table and starts slathering red jam all over it. I try to catch her eye, but she’s not looking at me. I’m wondering does Patti bring home a lot of scumbag punk rockers? I mean they’re all too relaxed about this. What the hell’s wrong with these people? I just fucked their daughter and spent the night in their home. I could be Ted Bundy for all they know.
I push the scrambled eggs around the plate with my fork and look up to see mom staring at me. She’s hot, in that suburban mom/married woman/forbidden fruit/sexual tension kind of way. I smile at her. She smiles back and moves her hair with her hand so half her face is hidden in stiff strands of peroxide blonde.
“I gotta be getting back to Kansas City,” I say to no one in particular.
“Missouri?” says the dad, and I get nervous all over again.
“Yeah, I guess?” I say. “That’s where the band is.”
“What band?” asks the mom.
“The Subhumans,” I say, and wonder where the band is and if they’re all right.
Patti looks at me and smiles. She’s trouble, but I already knew that.
“Mom, I’m gonna go with Patrick,” she says.
“Okay, honey. Just be home for supper. I’m making your favorite, meatloaf.”
“Yummy,” says Patti.
I chug the rest of my beer, then sneak another cigarette and stand up. “Thanks for breakfast,” I say.
Dad nods, but he doesn’t look at me. The mother smiles and stares off into space. The kid sneers, and follows my every move. Then Patti grabs my hand and drags me back down the hall. Inside her room she jumps up kissing me, shoving her tongue down my throat. I’m a little surprised. I’m kind of freaked out. I’m getting a hard on and feeling none too good about it.
“I wanna go on tour,” she says and grabs a backpack and starts shoving clothes into it.
“Wait a minute,” I say. “I can’t take you with us. It’s a small van. There’s no room.”
“You said I could last night.”
“Did not,” I say and wonder if I did.
We’re in the van. It’s in one piece. No dents, no bent bumpers, or even a cracked windshield. I’m heading north on Highway 35. I can see some tall buildings in the distance, which I’m guessing is Kansas City. Although there’s apparently two, one in Kansas and one in Missouri, which is confusing as hell. Around us the suburbs stretch for miles. It’s all spread out and endless and I have no idea where the apartment is. Patti sits slumped in her seat. I didn’t let her bring her backpack of clothes. She’s pouting. I could give a shit. I really just want to ditch her. But I’m feeling guilty, or responsible, or maybe it’s I’m off my game because I need to shoot some Heroin. I’ve got a small last hit stashed in my bag. But it’s at the apartment with the band. I’m thinking if I can just get to the club then I can find my way to the apartment, then everything is going to be all right. I remember it was by the river. I think there was a bridge.
“Patti? How do I get to the club?”
“What club?” she says.
“Last night, the club,” I say.
“Who cares,” she says. “The fucking place is closed.”
“Just tell me where it is.”
“Take this exit,” she says.
I drive down the off ramp, there’s train tracks, and nondescript buildings. Nothing looks familiar.
“Pull over here,” she says.
I stop at the curb and Patti jerks open the door and jumps out. “Fuck you,” she screams and slams the door.
I turn to watch as she runs down the street. It’s a one way. There’s too much traffic and no way I can back up. I can’t just leave the van. She’s gone and I don’t know where the fuck I am.
Previously published in Fourteen Hills, Vol. 17, No. 2 (2011)
Background Photo: Anna-Lisa S. VanderValk
Reading “It’s Awfully Late For Patti Mitchell” for AULA’s Literary Uprising reading series 2011
My former job, roadie/road manager for Dead Kennedys. Watch at around a minute forty-two seconds I’m trolling for Biafra on the mic cord.