Photo by Andy HarrisMaybe punk is dead, you say; maybe it never changed anything but a few haircuts. Maybe you're right. But in some small way, it changed a dog's penis. And maybe that's how the revolution is going to start.
It was St. Patrick's Day, and my friend Kevin's dog, Chewie, was sick. Kevin is a good boy—he loves his momma, and he loves his guitar—but his bond with Chewie is something almost too delicately tender for this world. He sleeps with Chewie in his arms, softly strums him songs, and refers to him with heartfelt sincerity as his "little brother." And when Chewie's diminutive urethra clogged with jagged bladder stones, Kevin didn't want him to suffer—he wanted him to piss with gleeful impunity, like a doggie should. So he came to me.
Thanks to alumnus Richard Nixon (class of '34), "dances" were permitted to be held at Whittier College, and I had been booking punk concerts at there for a few turbulent months; carpets were soiled, lawns trampled, American flags stolen and marred with cigarette burns, jail time threatened, and so on—all standard procedure for the most part. But I could pay the bands I booked, especially if we could lure a crowd, and I could help save Chewie's penis. This was a chance to make a difference.
We'd never dealt with a crowd larger than a few disinterested art majors, but we set up a benefit concert immediately. That night, as waves of kids staggered zombie-like out of the chilly March mist, I could tell something special was happening. Even Campus Safety sensed the magic: instead of immediately arresting an underage kid with a dubious ID and a pocket full of "prescription, I swear" pills for standing in the college president's parking space and pissing on the administration building, they released him into my custody. "Piss behind that dumpster," I said, clapping him paternally on his leather jacket, "and remember: have fun tonight."
As a band played—fronted by some towering, Sasquatch-like giant I'd seen wandering downtown alleys in a daze—I worked the door, taking wads of singles from kids with smudgy eye makeup; I stuffed them haphazardly into any pocket I had. Underneath a photocopied blowup of a happier, freely urinating Chewie imploring patrons to "Help Save My Pee-Pee!" I coaxed what extra monies I could out of kids with $80 bondage pants and nothing but used chewing gum and school-nurse's-office condoms in their zippered pockets.
The next band was a trio of pimply, brace-faced, classically sex-desperate teenagers: before they went on, they handed me a porno video for the lecture hall's projector. I put it on fast-forward, worried that Campus Safety would wander in and discover the Lautrup-Ball cinema had been turned into a cut-rate Pussycat Theatre. Cyclopean penises whipped back and forth on the back wall like palm trees in a Florida hurricane. The crowd roared. Suspiciously prepubescent kids flooded inside, handing me whatever bills they had in their fists without taking their eyes from the screen and disappearing, enraptured, into the darkness. "This is the best show ever!" someone crowed.
I met Chewie's blurry, photocopied eyes and grinned back. The larger-than-life, triple-X action was just the spark the night needed —drunk on a potent cocktail of porno, punk and whatever they'd been swilling in the backs of their cars before they came, the crowd became something like a family. Waves of feedback zigzagged off the back wall; blurry, nude figures engaged in confused and passionless sex; and a mob cheered for both nothing in particular and everything at once. And I thought, "We're gonna make it." And then Campus Safety met me at the door.
They'd found one too many half-empty bottles of malt liquor in the administration building's flower beds. We were shut down. The last chord sputtered out, the projector flickered and went dark, and I turned the lights on. Two hundred bleary, half-drunk, mascara-rimmed eyes stared back at me. Cigarette butts fizzled between combat boots and new carpet. No one made a move to leave. On the poster behind me, Chewie still beamed bravely. I hung my head. I couldn't face him now.
Then an angel—Amanda Mayhem, Whittier's scene queen and party czar—reluctantly spoke up.
"You can do it at my place," she mumbled. "It's just up the street." She pointed, the cloud-choked heavens parted, and a shaft of light arced earthward, illuminating a tiny, artsy loft barely a couch length wide. Painter Avenue was suddenly choked with bodies: an anti-parade of tipsy teen punks, glowing with hope, anticipation and salvaged malt liquor.
Inside the reeking, rat-swollen frat houses that lined the street, window shutters slammed closed. Motorists, waiting for the green arrow and smiling too broadly, clicked their doors locked. Pickup trucks rattled past, amplifiers rocking in their beds. Somewhere, a Pomeranian was smiling.
And then we heard the sirens.
I ducked into an alley, my pockets dripping suspiciously with wrinkly cash. Police cars roared by: one, then two, then more, from all directions. I found Kevin behind a trash barrel. "I heard them," he reported breathlessly. "They said, 'Call for backup! It's a punker party!'"
The amps were never turned on again. Kids sluiced off the streets—nobody wanted to come home with the cops when they'd told their parents they were going to a school dance. The show was done for, but Chewie still had a chance—a pocketful of chance.
"Did we make it?" Kevin asked. I silently handed him the night's take: ones, 5s, crisp 20s still pungent with mom's perfume and more—almost-empty tubes of lipstick, leaky pens, a middle school ID card from Santa Fe Springs. They'd given all they could, those punk kids, trusting that, somehow, it would save Chewie's pee-pee. I blinked back tears.
In the front seat of my car, we sorted by denomination by the fragile, ethereal glow cast by the dome light. "I've got about a hundred," said Kevin, still counting. "I got 50," I said. We found a quarter roll—10 bucks. We found a wad of sticky nickels. We counted 79 pennies.
We had around $200.
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We needed $1,000.
We didn't make it. And somewhere, a dog howled.
But Chewie got his surgery anyway, thanks to Kevin's mom. And then his bladder exploded, necessitating further emergency surgery and another $1,000. Kevin's mom paid for that, too, but I still feel—in my heart—that Kevin, myself, and all those bands and kids made a difference: 10 percent of a difference, maybe more.
Sure, we barely covered the sales tax, or maybe a round of expensive drinks at some plush veterinarian bar, but what was important was that a bunch of outcast kids whom everybody laughed at pulled together for one special night to make the world a better place . . . with $1,800 of help from someone's parents. You think punk's dead? Maybe. But I know a certain dog penis that would disagree with you.