January 21, 2012

Punch in the Eye

I was 4 years old.  I remember my older brother Kelly was there.  I can't remember why I did it, but I punched another kid in the eye.
I remember feeling triumphant, then feeling bad, then being taken home by my brother.  I don't remember any repercussions for punching the kid in the eye.
What did I learn from this incident?  A sense of power?  Knowledge that the best way to settle an arguement is to fight?  I do not even remember the other boy or his name.  I don't remember anything about him, except that I punched him  in the eye.
The feelings that lingered for the rest of my life was that punching someone is not the way to deal with your anger.
I developed a fear of my own strength.  A fear of the harm I could cause.  I felt bad because punching him made me confront a side of myself that I did not want to indulge.  A side of me that I did not want see come out.   This is the lesson of holding your temper.

My father had a reputation for a temper that preceded him.  I don't mean that he inherited his temper from his father, although that is the usual course of development of our tempers- how we express our feelings of anger is not inate, but is a learned behavior.   Obviously I learned this from a young age.  What other memories do I have that precede the one of punching a kid in the eye at age 4?  
I remember falling down a stairwell to a basement in North Vancouver when I was two.  I lost one of my front baby teeth. Later the same permanent tooth was chipped when I was 8.  For years I had the indignity of a silver cap. I also remember running naked out the front door of our house in Port Alberni when I was either 3 or 4, running down the street until my mother caught me, spanked me and lectured me on decency.  And then the punch in the eye.  
I bring this up to explore what are our earliest memories are.  Why do some memories stick, when others  disappear?   I think it is because these memories were important in our development in some way.  The punch in the eye at age 4 lead to the development of a temper, and a consciousness of anger, and how we choose to express ourselves.  
I was very conscious of my father's temper and the way he expressed his feelings.  I was also conscious that when he exploded, it  did not make me feel good.   I made the decision at an early age  not to express myself in a similar manner.  So where was my anger to go if I could not just let it out?  I was afraid that if I let the genie out of the bottle,  I would not be able to control it.
As a result, I spent my early years withdrawing from situations that might result in violence.   Yet violence was all around me.  At age 5, I saw JFK shot, and then Oswald shot.  Later, Martin Luther King Jr, and Robert Kennedy.   Every night on the news, we had violent reportage from Vietnam.  Naked children running down the street, except in her case it was after being bombed with napalm.  
The Sixties were a particular violent time to grow up in.  At home, my father was not a violent man; he was just loud. He said what he felt, when he felt it, and seemed to forget about it once it was over.  But I felt the reverb, I could hear the echo, I could sense the bounce back.   For days after, I would stew, and simmer on a low boil, doing what Hank Hill (on King of the Hill) famously said was the time honored tradition of sucking back your own rage, swallowing it down until you feel that lump in your throat, and that sick feeling in your gut.  That's how you hold in your feelings.
But there would be times I could not hold the anger inside.  It would burst forth.  I remember kicking a locked door open in the gym, surprising the gym teacher who pegged me as the quiet kid.  I remember getting into a fight with a kid, grabbing his underwear and giving him a 'brownie".  But I also remember when he retaliated by kicking me real hard in the crotch.  The pain was unbelievably painful, and even though it left a mark on me to this day, I refused to tell anyone.  Anger and shame kept me quiet, but along with the pain, I seethed inside.
Once I was mad at a girl in drama class.  She was kind of cute, but was actling like a brat.  She did something resulting in me getting a little wet.  The real damage was to my ego, as  I felt humiliated, so I left the classroom and deliberately went down the hall, grabbed a bucket, and filled it with water.  
I then proceeded to dowse her with an entire bucket of water.  Well, all hell broke loose, as she was connected with the jocks at the school, and here I was, a drama nerd, humilating this jock's girl.  For weeks, I was on a kill list.  
Later my anger found its release in acting.  I watched Taxi Driver about 15 times, and A Clockwork Orange about 10 times.  I became the 'go to guy' for the psycho parts.  In an acting exercise, I was asked to show "status" over another actor in an improv, and basically, I made him grovel, forcing my fellow actor to cry.  Another time, I kicked a girl in the head. (an accident)
I was angry and all that pent up anger and rage that I had been suppressing for about 17 years started to explode.  All around me, other kids were going through the same thing, and all these rejects moved from the suburbs to Vancouver.   This was the start of the punk scene in Vancouver.
My anger poured into my writing, and after finding expression in acting, I finally made the decision to combine my love of primal theatre, poetry and music.  This was the start of AKA.
AKA helped me to express my rage, to vent my anger, to rail against the injustice around me.  This is why  punk as a movement, and as a community,  as an outlet for my rage and anger was a such a personal turning point.   There was a lot of screaming with my first band, AKA.  My first non AKA act on the Smilin' Buddha stage was to run on while another band, the Shades were playing Psychotic Reaction. When the band sang, And it goes like this,  I  grabbed the microphone from thge singer and screamed AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!, and jumped off the stage backwards into the crowd, who caught me ( as they did that in the early days!)  
A few months into this new punk life, I was attacked after a show.   I had left the show at O'Hara's early ( a show that later became famous for its own violence), and went home to my new apartment in Kitsilano.  It was pretty much a bed, a table and some chairs, and not much else.   Bored I went out to the Chinese fast food joint down the street.  While I was waiting, some French Canadians were playing songs on the jukebox.
At one point these three kids came in, proceeding to harass first the French Canadians, then the Chinese people who ran the place, and finally make gestures toward me, the token punk.
As I left the place with my food, I turned and said- and forever I will wonder if this was the best line I could have come up with- Why don't you go home and listen to your Foreigner records! ( with a sneering "Foreigner".
I was half way down the block when two of them came out of the restaurant, and shouted " What did you say?"   I said, Why don't you go home and listen to your Foreigner records?   Well, then the two of them starting running toward me.
Now remember, I'm not the violent guy.  I'm the lover, not the fighter.  But I wasn't a coward.  I stood my ground as they came upon me.   I like Foreigner you fucking punk!  He kicked the bag of food out of my hands.  Stupidly, I bent down to pick it up, and he sucker punched me, right in the eye.
Blood was running down my cheek as my face kind of melted.  His fist perfectly positioned so the smallest knuckle broke the skin of my eyebrow, and the brunt force of the rest of the fist broke my nose.
Blood was everywhere and at that, they took off.  Just one punch.  The third guy in the trio who was actually the biggest of the three, then came running down the block toward me.
I'm thinking, what now?  He says, Oh my god, I'm really sorry for my friends- do you need me to call someone?  No Fuck off! I mumbled through the blood, picked up the luke warm Chinese food and went back to my apartment.
Later that week at the Buddha, I saw Wimpy, who was and is my favourite of all the punk singers, and he asked me what happened.  I told him and he said, well, I guess you're a punk now.
All it took to be reborn as a punk was a punch in the eye.  That and 17 years of holding inside all my feelings of anger and rage.    

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