Monday, February 7, 2011

Skinheads, Doormen, and Gay Bars

In the film No Way Out, Kevin Costner runs up an escalator from the subway platform and weaves through shoppers in a Mall, eventually bursting through some glass and steel doors onto Wisconsin Ave., half a block south of M St. To the average viewer, this was one of the more exciting and suspenseful scenes in the movie; to any Washingtonian, this was complete bullshit. There is no subway stop in Georgetown. Closest you can get is Foggy Bottom, then you would have to grab a bus to M St. DC's Metro System is one of the strangest, albeit remarkably clean, public transit systems in the country. It shuts down at midnight during the week, the steel caterpillars vomiting out their passengers and retreating to the fetid safety of the darkness below the city, not to be seen again until just before dawn, when they emerge to devour neatly clad attorneys and politicos who perform their weekly pilgrimage to the halls of power, up and down escalators in Metro Center, a million harried Kevin Costners, only seeing Federal Plaza or Farragut West by the light of day, never hearing the city exhale, a sigh that becomes a growl, a sound like boot laces slipping through eyelets, a gathering of momentum, a kinetic wind blowing through the cherry blossoms.

The station-wagon comes to rest on H St., a four thousand pound rhinoceros, a National Bohemian can for a horn, symbols in matte paint covering it's skin, who drives that piece of shit?, speed freaks, my dear, speed freaks, cross the street, ignore the skinny, crazed nightmares getting out, forget that you saw them slip down an alley, or memorize the location for the inevitable police inquiries, sweet Jesus don't let them smell us. Punk shows were rarely held in convenient, easy to locate places. The owners of those places see the great, churning flesh machine on the dance floor, the screamed, indiscernible words, and No Fucking Thank You, they will destroy the place, drink nothing but water, we won't make a dime, they all have sharpie Xs, mark of the Beast of  No Bar Tab, send for a Zepplin cover band, it is Thirsty Thursday, two-for-one tequila shots, bring in the college girls, more baseball caps, revenue.

The alley is teeming, bald heads and braces, torn jeans and battered leather, Elmer's Glue spikes, pressing toward a bar-stool occupied by a bored looking twenty-something with a flashlight and a sharpie. He pauses and examines IDs, but some kids just come up and poke out their fist, waist level, back of the hand up, accepting the mark, two strokes across the fist, the mark of almost there, funneled down the hall, the sticky floor, no "have fun", no recognition, this is the norm, bored apathy, this happens twice a week, never any lack of pimply kids, it will be LOUD, the sweat will flow, a proving ground, a den, a chapel. The doormen are universal here, they don't look threatening, earning a bit of pocket money, sometimes they become fans but mostly they wear their Bauhaus shirt, sitting, aloof, it's all been done, you are not new, I will outlive this.

The bald heads huddle in groups, the band is backstage, a few mohawks bob through the Doc Martens, no one cares, Skinheads are idle, looking forward to the adrenaline, at rest. To the uninitiated, this word, Skinhead, is foul, it oozes a stench, it is a word used to describe stock footage from a riot in London, but these Skins are strange, one, a woman, a black woman, stands with her hands in her pockets, her braces forming a looping W across her rear, she is deferred to, an American Flag shirt with Oi! printed over the stripes, blue laces, jeering the peace punks. The show begins, there is a revving, a generator starts, the drums are muffled, the space goes all sweaty and intense, these young men (mostly) are showing their grit, telling the world about their angst through a dance, ballet gone feral, a chaotic ritual. The bartender is a woman, working hard, strong triceps bulging, she is nice but firm, she is biding her time somewhat, her money crowd will wait, the Punks and Skins will shuffle out by 10, her friends will arrive then, the dance music will play, the lights flash, rhythmic, distracting, the whole thing will metamorphose, Skinheads fade into lesbians, the only place a lot of these punk bands can play, the only tolerant ownership, a back-alley gay bar, no one even blinks.

And now the kids head home, the show is over, the subway is still running, it's early, Rockville and Manassas kids ride home, the station-wagon lurches into traffic, " say it's the crossroads, the place we meet, all I'm seeing is a dead-end street...", speeding toward DuPont Cir., beer or vodka, friends will laugh, the lights will stay on, the music echoes, but the caterpillar will sleep.

Until next time. 

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