In 1978 I remember driving along the streets of Cleveland with my father at the wheel. Spray painted on the wall of some typically decrepit warehouse were the words, 'Sex Pistols'. Neat.
"Hey, dad? If you are shot by a sex pistol, do you change into a girl?"
"It said 'Sex Pistols' on that wall back there."
"Yeah! So I was wondering if you were shot by one..."
"The Sex Pistols are a bunch of filthy assholes! Don't you ever mention them again."
Even though he was a hippy vampire feeding at the neck of Colt 45, Dad was a wise man.
Being an angry young dog, I would eventually gravitate towards punk. Several years too late, perhaps - but what can you do?
While most of my friends were listening to Def Leppard and Rush, I was listening to Talking Heads and Television. When those same friends graduated to Anthrax and Slayer, I was listening to Public Image Limited and Dead Kennedys.
Punk gave me focus in a foggy world. In many ways, it shaped who I would become.
And it is all because of Chuck Arwood.
Chuck Arwood, a misfit's misfit, was a dear friend of mine. In sixth grade he was a horn-rimmed butt of many a wise crack; scrawny, nervous... a bit spacey.
He was the 'Weird Kid'.
Paralleling my gradual descent from the social graces of the 'cool kids' during my junior high years, Chuck grew physically bigger than most of us - which, in turn, allowed him to grow bolder in his bizarre personality.
He was the type that most people would love to have around them.
For a week.
Any longer than that and you were simply tempting the fates; there was no way to predict what the wild child Arwood would do one moment to the next.
Would he pull out his dick during a pick-up baseball game and rave to the world his superiority in all things girth?
Would he deposit Monopoly money into his parent's ATM account, then withdrawal hundreds of dollars for splurges at Parmatown Mall?
You just never knew. And that's why I loved the guy.
While hanging out at his house one night, boredom set in.
"Wouldn't it be nice if we had a car, Baker?" He almost always called me by my last name. "We could blow this place and have some real fun."
"I guess. Where would you go if you had a car, Chuck?"
"Does it matter? Anywhere. Everywhere."
Trying to impress the impressive, I thought back to a conversation I had had with a mutual friend that very day. "Listen... Troy's car has no locks and can be started without a key. Why don't we take it out for a spin? He'll never know."
So we took it.
Keep in mind that Troy McManus was a friend. We had grown apart in the months previous, but he was a friend.
Like that mattered...
The joyride consisted of Chuck screaming down Pearl Road, a major thoroughfare cutting from Strongsville to Cleveland, narrowly avoiding a horrendous motorcycle accident cleanup at speeds topping out at 80 per. It amazes me that we weren't popped right then and there.
I'm sure that the cops and ambulance attendants were probably too stunned to do anything but gawk.
I later found out that the motorcycle rider was D.O.A. at the scene.
At the end of our night, Chuck decided that turfing the lawn of Greenbriar Junior High was in order. Who was I to argue?
On the last pass, Chuck lost control of the car, sending it directly into a swing set.
Turfed lawn. Check.
Toppled swingset. Check.
Demolished car. Oh, crap.
Lucky break #2, I suppose. The entire passenger side of the vehicle was a mess.
But I wasn't feeling too lucky.
Panic set in.
It's not as if Troy would fail to notice that his prized piece of shit was totaled. Right?
What to do? What to do??
"Let's burn it!"
I've made some bad decisions in my life, but 'Let's Burn It!' would rank as one of the worst.
Right up there with, 'Why don't we take it for a spin? He'll never know!'
One Grand Theft Auto and a side of Arson, please.
In disgust, the old man spit in my face when he got me home from the police station. It was a lot of fun. We still laugh about it in between the 2-3 year cycle of lay offs from talking to each other.
And needless to say, after the smoke of near incarceration cleared, my old circle of friends rightfully turned their backs on me.
Smart guys. I deserved it.
Friendless (and grounded for six months), I transformed myself into as much of an outward freak as I could in order to reflect the inner chaos. And, most importantly, to piss off my father with the one thing he hated above all else.
I became a punk.