I watched Christie climb on the hottest guy I’d seen in my life so far. He was tall, blonde and Peter Murphy skinny.
Christie handed my new dream man 15 bucks and he slid a tiny piece of tinfoil into her back pocket. Everything was five bucks. Five to get into the club, five for a hit of fry.
And then, in perfect Christie fashion, she did a full-on Bill the Cat “ACK-THBPPT “followed by an “Arp!” and hit her arm across her body, (which was her cruel imitation of someone with a developmental disability), then grabbed me and ran us toward the bathroom.
It was so curious how she was always her weirdo self, yet was pretty popular in the Goth crowd. It reminded me of school – I had to study for hours to get an A on a test, while my friends would barely study and ace it. I mean, for fuck’s sake, I practiced my serious face for hours in the mirror only to be dragged around the club by Bill the Cat.
She (fittingly) locked us in the handicapped stall and perched herself on the back of the toilet. I hovered awkwardly as she unfolded the tiny foil origami only to expose three very small pieces of paper, each with a tiny dragon printed on it.
Fry was paper? All this anticipation for paper?
“Stick out your tongue.”
I obeyed. She placed the small piece of paper on my tongue.
“Hunter bought five sheets of windowpane double-dipped Dragon in The Dead parking lot last week. This shit is so pure – you’re going to fry balls!”
I longed for a drug jargon-to-English interpreter; instead I just smiled and nodded.
“Don’t swallow it for 20 minutes. Just let it soak in, then chew it up before you swallow.”
This was meant to be. Little did most know, but I’d been eating paper for years. I was practically built for fry.
When I was a kid, the dog didn’t eat my homework – I did. I also loved books. They were delicious. I ate half of The Velveteen Rabbit.
I loved the taste of paper and the process of eating paper. I eventually graduated to pants and it got ugly, but it was like corduroys were meant for eating those little rows just like corn on the cob.
Someone walked into the bathroom and knocked on the stall.
“Courtney? Are you in there?” Christie’s eyes got huge, but I knew that voice.
I threw open the door and hugged Sandy for days. She was meeting us there, but with all the paper eating I completely forgot.
Christie suddenly burst out of the bathroom, put the foil with the last piece of fry in Sandy’s hand and ran onto the dance floor. She didn’t like attention wandering anywhere beyond her.
We met her on the dance floor but before we could talk, Front 242’s Headhunter came on. Christie freaked the fuck out and hugged both of us. I guess she was no longer mad.
“ONE YOU LOCK THE TARGET!”
And we all started to dance. And didn’t stop. Nitzer Ebb, Tones on Tail, Sisters of Mercy, and Alien Sex Fiend later, I stopped. In the middle of the dance floor.
Goosebumps shot up my arms. The warmth started in my knees and spread throughout my body and I broke into a sweat. I thought I might be thirsty, but I couldn’t tell.
(Press play and listen while finishing this post for maximum impact.)
Bella Lugosi’s Dead came on, as if on cue. The music vibrated through me as if there was no beginning or end of my body and the song. Where did the song stop and I begin? Nowhere. We were one.
The people, pain, music, high school, my father, mom, drugs, this place, this time, the planets, gravity, dimension travel, past lives, the meaning of it all – each piece fit into an intricate puzzle and it was right in front of me. Of all of us everyday really. We just couldn’t SEE it because it was right there.
It was all so simple. If I only had a pen and paper to record the answer to everything, but that would require I get off the dance floor and that was never going to happen.
We danced until the club closed at 2am, piled into David Byrne’s* beat-up 1973 VW Bug and ended up – Sandy, Christie and me – all laying on the floor, chain smoking and watching David Byrne make enormous shadows dance on his cottage cheese ceiling with his very large hands hovering over a single candle – the only source of light in the room.
Bella Lugosi’s Dead came on. It all came back to me – the answer. So I decided to share what was in my brain with my friends and David Byrne, but my voice sounded like a swallowed warbled echo and I wasn’t quite sure about the shape of my words anymore.
David Byrne hovered over me. His face was much more liquid than solid. He smiled wider than the Cheshire Cat.
“Is this your first time riding the LSD train, little girl?”
It didn’t hit me until 36 more plays of Bella Lugosi’s Dead (David Byrne had a cassette tape with nothing on it but that song for this very specific kind of incident), five packs of cigarettes and five hours later (remember, everything’s in fives now) that I realized that I’D TAKEN LSD.
I’d finally crossed the line in the sand. A line I never drew, but a line I was familiar with – that step from minor escape to full-on hard drugs.
I was not scared.
I felt dirty from the inside out.
And I couldn’t wait to do it again.
*I found out later that David Byrne was 20-year-old named Peter Pow and was not actually David Byrne, but he was just as tall and thin and was the front man of a local, very strange band. So I wasn’t too far off.
Murderous by Nitzer Ebb, Album: That Total Age, 1987, addt’l info
Lyrics (repeat several times)
Where is the youth?
It’s time to live
It’s time to know
Shout golden shouts
Lift up your hearts
Much better now
We’re stronger now
Don’t be lazy
With the pleasure of sin
Where is the youth?
Where is the gold?
Think of the beauty
Think of your pride
Don’t back away
It’s there, it’s there for you
Hear, hear what we say
Said hear, hear what we say
Let passion spend
Let your passion spend
Better now, stronger now
It’s time, it’s time to know
It’s time, it’s time to live
Shout golden shouts
Christie was a parent’s worst nightmare. She put the “wrong” in “wrong crowd.” Of course, my attraction to the wrong crowd was no accident. It was due to a perfect mix of a shitty childhood and horrific bullying.
Saying that I slipped and fell into the bad crowd is like saying Bobby Brown single-handedly destroyed Whitney Houston. Trust me, Whitney was looking for her Bobby, and if it wasn’t that Bobby, there would’ve been another one to flash her the perfect gap-toothed come hither by the glow of a crack pipe.
That being said, I sought out the wrong crowd like a heat-seeking missile. Once I hit Christie, I exploded.
I couldn’t wait for Friday, or shall I say, FRY-day. I’m quite certain I was the only human more excited to do something that she had no idea what it was than anyone ever had been in this particular position.
I went home with Christie after school on Friday, all packed for a sleepover AND a night at the club.
Christie lived in the nice side of town on a small horse ranch. Her mom drove a BMW. But most impressive was the fact that Christie had a Nintendo.
We ate dinner with her mom, dad and younger brother and then played Super Mario Brothers until it was time to get ready for the club. For fry. The butterflies in my stomach flittered up to the top of my esophagus.
I followed Christie into her bedroom. Her walls were a mix of Robert Smith posters and horse riding ribbons. She pressed play on her tape player. And This is What the Devil Does started and she threw me on her bed.
(For a more authentic experience, press play on this song while reading the next section.)
She hopped on me – full Tigger style – and started fake fucking me. This would be a portent of what was to come like nobody’s business.
“I’m going to hug you and squeeze you and call you George!”
I struggled my way out of her attempted rape. I barely trusted her; she was the second most unpredictable human I’d met behind my bio dad.
She heated up a black Wet n’ Wild eyeliner pencil with a lighter – oh high, of course – and started applying thick HOT black eyeliner to my eyelids. I tried not to flinch.
We began comparing notes.
- We both weren’t virgins, but she was a downright whore. I’d done it once with one guy and she’d done it hella tons of times with hella lots of different guys. And one of them was over 40 – awesome!
- We both drank alcohol, but she’d already had her stomach pumped once. I was so jealous.
- We both smoked cigarettes and weed, but she smoked cloves and she didn’t get paranoid when she got high.
- We both went to Premier, but I only went once and she went 8 zillion times and knew everyone.
- We both went to Rocky Horror, but she most certainly didn’t go with her mom. Let alone two moms.
- We both felt Goth, but she was brave enough to wear it on the outside. I was too chicken to look Goth anywhere other than the Premier and I hadn’t even done that yet, so I was really only Goth in my heart and in my super deep poetry.
I was living the song Anything You Can Do (I Can Do Better) – in reverse.
She was so many steps ahead of me on the badassedness scale it was like I got to the party after everyone was already drunk so I had to do 12 shots to get on the level STAT.
My competitive nature kicked in and my drive to become Goth was now at the top of my priority list. That, and keep a 3.0 GPA. Oh, and try out for drill team. And stay in French Club, Ski Club and Students Against Drunk Driving. And have everyone like me so I could stay on this planet.
Three hours later, we were dropped off at Club Underground. I don’t think my own mother would’ve recognized me. I looked like Siouxsie Sioux with blonde hair. I was nervous, but I felt almost as if I was on stage. Like I was acting. My outsides were protecting me from any rejection because it wouldn’t be me who they were rejecting. It would be this facade.
I mean, Jesus, I had Christie’s thick leather jacket on. No one was penetrating my wall.
My hands shook as I held up a clove for Christie to light. The fucking hands – they’re the only traitor on my body. They are incapable of being cool.
We walked in the front door smoking and posing, half of Woolworth’s Wet n’ Wild black makeup on our faces. Christie scanned the club for her connection, then jumped up, grabbed my hand and we ran into a crowd of underage club kids who hurt just like me: some were being molested at home, most were addicted to drugs and all had a story.
And a common solution.
Instant Club Hit (You’ll Dance to Anything) by The Dead Milkmen gives a somewhat accurate portrayal of the Goth club kids of the 80’s – by totally ripping us a new asshole. It’s basically the punk perspective of the Goth subculture. It will help you enter the world we’re going to be in for a few years…
. . .
Tune in next week to find out what fry actually is and what it does to walls!
It was time to shop for a new, rad friend. A boss. One who would propel me to new social heights. And she had to be Goth; I made up my mind that my future was going to be black.
Oh, and it was. Just wait.
I met my best friend Sandy where the smokers hung out, so I threw my badass on and moseyed over to the sidewalk across the street where we smokers got our 10 minutes of nicotine meditation on.
Christie said she was 5’ tall, but she was lying. She was 90 pounds kitty cat wet, but she rode horses so she was all muscle. She could jump horseback hurdles without the fucking horse.
And she was Goth. Openly. At school. She didn’t give a fuck.
The second I met her, I knew she was trouble. It’s what drew her to me and eventually tore us apart.
I watched her flail around as she excitedly talked to a small group about the probability of aliens. And the probability that they had probed her anus. And she was literally bouncing.
She bounded up to me and did one of the best Bill the Cat impressions I’ve seen TO DATE.
How did she know about my obsession with Bloom County? That I had all the books and read them over and over?
My drawings of Bill were as good as her impersonation. I drew Bill the Cat on everything including the notebook I was… holding.
In hindsight, it was quite fitting that the mutual love of a derelict drug addict cat was our bond.
She grabbed me by my notebook and spun me around with great force.
“Cut with me. I have cloves.”
She had me at “with me.”
We walked two miles to the cemetery. It was obvious we were cutting for the rest of the day. Christie sang some song about dead poets the whole way and I realized that I was going to have to bone up on my literature to become Goth.
Christie took me to an unlocked tomb and we crawled inside. It was empty. The sun streaming in through stained glass made it feel like a tiny church. A sense of calm pervaded my senses. When my family lived in Mexico, I used to hide from my abusive father in church. It was the only other time I felt that all over body peace without using drugs and alcohol.
We sat on the stoop and Christie handed me a clove cigarette.*
“Hold the clove between your fingers and then make a circle with that hand and cup it with your other hand. No take a huge hit and hold it as long as you can.
I’d been smoking pot long enough to come off overqualified.
The promise of distorted reality was always a carrot I would chase, even if it meant possible death.
I exhaled and I had a sweet buzz on. The cloves tasted like strawberry. It was a perfect cemetery day.
Signature Christie, right in the middle of my buzz, picked me up and spun me around and around and around. Like a record, baby.
The only predictable thing about this girl was that she was completely unpredictable. And hyper as shit.
“Now lay down, take a power hit and listen to this.”
I lay where Mary Buford made her final resting place. I imagined her 6-feet under me in a coffin. Decaying. I felt so Goth.
I was beginning to feel like a slave to her whims. But of course I would do what she said rather than face the consequences of standing up for myself. This girl was my only touchstone to the world I wanted so badly to belong to. I was no victim in this scenario; I was definitely a volunteer.
The only other person I knew in the scene was Ethan, but he made me want to puke and he wasn’t even Goth.
She put her headphones over my ears. I took the hit. She pressed play on the Walkman. It was My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult – I’d never heard them. The song was A Daisy Chain 4 Satan. Right when the song started, I was floating. I was in the music. I was the music. I felt that peace wash over me again, but this time it stayed.
I knew this was going to save me. I was going to reinvent myself. I was going to be untouchable. No one would break my heart again. No one would know about my deep shame of losing the Brie Lesbian Attempt.
I tried vulnerability. It didn’t fucking work. I suddenly understood why punkers wore those thick leather jackets. I was in need of a shell.
I felt breath on my face.
I batted my spider legs open. Christie was an inch away from my face studying me as if I was her very own science experiment.
“Stay over at my house Friday night. We’ll go to Club Underground and do some fry.”
I felt like Charlie getting the golden ticket to Goth. I had no idea what fry was, but if it was half as good as cloves, I was in.
*Clove cigarettes were illegal in Nevada, but Reno is only a 45-minute drive from the state line. It wasn’t as rad as having weed, but it still meant you drove or kicked it with people who drove, which made you badass.
Brie hated smoking. She thought it was gross. Whenever she caught me smoking, she’d pluck it out of my lips and stomp it out.
Thankfully I smoked generics.
I tried and tried to convince her that smoking was trés chic. I pointed out smoking in the French films we watched together. Johnny Depp from “21 Jump Street” smoked and he was my new number one and her number two, behind George, of course.
But nothing, I mean nothing, could get that girl to smoke.
Then, at that very moment, at the other end of the club, Ethan put a cigarette in between his perfect lips and, as if on cue, the most gorgeous goth girls of them all pulled out a lighter and lit his smoke for him.
And yes, it did all happen in slow motion if you were wondering.
Here’s the math:
George Michael = G, Ethan Johnston = E, Brie = B, Smoking = S
G ≥ E, E=S ∴ B=S
Brie had a cigarette between her pouty lips quicker than I could throw away every colorful item of clothing I owned and buy a box of hair bleach.
She made her way to Ethan and asked him for a light, knowing full well that he didn’t have one, but that’s how we rolled. I don’t think I would’ve ever gotten a boyfriend if I had a lighter. Or at least pretended like I didn’t have a lighter.
So now I was alone in the club wearing pink and chain smoking. I studied the girls glaring and laughing at me knowing that next time I came here, I would look just like them and they wouldn’t recognize me as the Betty from the week before.
Then it happened. Another defining moment in my life. A moment that changed me forever.
Never Let Me Down Again by Depeche Mode blasted through the nightclub speakers.
The dance floor grew thick with kids. I knew this song and all the lyrics which made me super goth. I sang along, loudly, and smoked at them. The song was about betrayal, a subject I knew all too well.
My despair intensified with every flip of Brie’s hair. With every fake drag off her cigarette. With every word Ethan spoke to her. The pain that she wanted him and not me coursed through my blood.
My face got very serious.
I now had two things going for me:
- Serious face
I was already Goth on the inside, now my outsides just had to catch up.
The music pulsed through me. I fell in love with at least 12 men on the dance floor. I studied the dance style so I could practice once I got home.
I could do this. I could be Goth. No problem. I knew pain. I knew sadness. I looked forward to stop pretending like I was happy because I hadn’t really been happy since the horrible day we moved to Sparks and before that I was only happy for about six months.
My life before we moved to Reno was hell. My biological father was a violent alcoholic who tried to murder my mother on a nightly basis. And we lived outside a fishing village in the middle of Mexico. Now I was excited to delve into my sadness with other people who understood. I could tell they understood. That they were like me.
If these Goth kids wanted to have a sad-off, I’d wipe the dance floor clean with all I’d survived.
Then, in the middle of my smoking sad-a-thon, a ray of sunshine broke through the smoke clouds. There they were – beautiful, fantastic and trés chic.
TWO CHICKS WERE FULL-ON MAKING OUT ON THE DANCE FLOOR!!!!!!
My sad face was totally destroyed. I was grinning from ear-to-ear. Let’s go back to the blackboard:
Brie = B, Goth = G, Courtney = C, Trés Chic = T, Kissing Chicks = K
G=T, C=G, B=G, G=T, K=T ∴ B+C=K!!!
It. Was. On.
I’d even let Ethan watch if that was a stipulation.
The only thing I thought of when Brie said “let’s go clubbing” was how much I loved baby harp seals and how she found the one thing I wouldn’t do to win her love.
“The Premier. Everyone’s going. It’s tres chic.”
Yes, we overused the term. We were branding trailblazers.
The Premier was a nightclub that had an underage night every Sunday. The reason she wanted to go was because Ethan was going to be there.
Ethan was a Junior at Reno High. He drove a BMW. He wore nothing but Ralph Lauren – hell, he played water polo. He wore fucking pastels.
But he had a striking resemblance to – guess who?
Yup. George Michael. My nemesis.
I was a freshman and Brie was still in eighth grade when her psycho mom took her to tour Reno High so she could get a variance just like me and there he was, leaning on his Beemer, just like Steff in Pretty in Pink.
I think he was the only other human on the planet who really saw her. Who undressed her layers of baby fat and insecurities and saw her true beauty underneath. Not enough to actually date her, but definitely enough to lead her on for the next, oh, four years or so.
“Were you at Premier last week?” he asked her as she walked by without actually looking at her, which I know from experience is a cool technique.
She stopped, dead in her tracks. The color drained from her perfect face. Was that George Michael leaning on a Beemer?
“Yeah, you. With the brown hair.”
I already hated him.
Somehow we managed to talk Brie’s mom into letting us go to Premier on a school night. The mind still boggles.
The only fact we knew about the club was that Ethan went there. He was a prep, so we assumed the other kids would look like him. After hours of wardrobe changes, Aqua Net and important lip gloss decisions, we finally deemed ourselves club worthy.
We were nothing short of an epic fail before we even got through the front door. Brie’s mom decided to wait for us in her car PARKED IN FRONT and read a book.
We pulled open the front doors and smoke billowed out. Lame, party of two, nervously stood by the door front door to find a subculture we never even knew existed. Once we adjusted our eyes, it was obvious that no shade of lip gloss was going to save us.
Everyone was goth.
The protocol was black clothing, powdered white faces, black eyeliner, black or dark red lipstick, and smoking. Everyone smoked. At least I had that going for me.
The only color allowed was saved for hair. If it wasn’t dyed black or bleached white (not blonde, white), it was purple, blue or fire engine red. There were a few Oranges, greens and yellows (again, not blonde, Martin Gore yellow).
We weren’t the only non-Goth kids. There were other kids that mixed in:
- SHARP’s (Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice).
- Nazi’s (Skinheads for racial prejudice).
- Straightedge (Skinheads who were violently anti-drug).
- Rich kids with money to blow on, you guessed it, blow.
Ethan had a full head of hair. Do the math.
Nitzer Ebb’s Join in the Chant came on. I’d never heard anything like it. It sounded nothing like Madonna or 2 Live Crew. The closest I’d come to this sound was Depeche Mode, but after The Blue Banana Incident, I no longer went over to Jan’s house and listened to Depeche with her. Backstabbing bitch.
The longer I listened, the longer I realized Nitzer Ebb would’ve eaten Depeche Mode for breakfast.
The song pulsated through my body. It made me want to fuck someone dirty, even though I’d yet to actually fuck someone, I’d only been fucked. I wanted to do drugs. Hard drugs. I wanted to dance. I wanted to hurt people. And myself.
I got on the dance floor and started moving to the music. I didn’t care that I didn’t look like everyone else. I didn’t care about the past. I didn’t care.
I just didn’t care which was the one thing I had been searching for all these years. The ability to NOT CARE.
I felt powerful. I pulled up my rage and showed it. I pulled up my shame and told it to fuck off. I pulled up my tiny khaki skirt because my ass was just about to make an unwelcome appearance. Not again.
I’d wasted years trying to fit in when the real way was to not fit in at all. Brie’s stupid crush led me to the Holy Grail. For a second, I was almost grateful for Ethan Johnston.
Ends up there was another subculture of kid that hit the club, very rarely and usually only
- Betty (A girl who tries to fit in with the goth subculture without wearing black or listening to The Cure and smiles when she should be frowning. A poser. The most disliked person in the club.)
And this was going to be the last time I ever looked like a Betty again.