May 22, 2000
Punk Protocol


Maroon Bra Lady stood directly in front of our table on Saturday night, engaged in spirited conversation with Black-Beret-and-Spike-Heels-Lady. The dank, sooty little bar was nose-to-butt-crowded. (Her butt/my nose.) Every time she waved her fleshy, tattooed arms around in the air for emphasis, she sloshed beer onto my brand-new open-toed sandals. 

Meanwhile, D.J. Lebowitz was onstage, banging out a punk cabaret version of "Holiday in Cambodia" on a church basement piano. A grainy, twenty-year-old film of Jello Biafra divebombing into a mosh pit flickered on the concrete wall, high above us. In one corner of the room, Penelope Houston stood next to a pool table piled high with Avengers T-shirts and copies of her latest CD, exhorting people to sign her e-mail list. At the bar, two men with cropped blond hair embraced  tenderly.

I've never seen so much faux leopard skin, orange hair and silver jewelry in one room in my life.

"You know what this reminds me of, don't you?" I shouted to David over the din.

"A high school reunion?" he shot back.

I nodded. "Yep. Exactly." 

A high school reunion ... for a really scary and disturbing high school.

the corvairs
~ David playing with The Corvairs at The Mabuhay Gardens, 1983 ~

I agreed to go to *The Unofficial Fab Mab Reunion Show* with David this past weekend for two reasons: one, a devoted sense of girlfriendlike duty ...

... and two: naked curiousity.

Just like discovering the college journal last month, this was another piece of the David-puzzle ... another way to *see* the young man he used to be.  For as long as I have known him, David has spoken of The Mabuhay Gardens with reverence.  Often described as "ground zero for the punk explosion," The Mabuhay --  which closed in 1986  --  was like a home-away-from-home to him, during the days of his not-completely-misspent punk youth. (He was more than just another spiked-and-pierced poseur: he and his band actually played at the club. That's him in the sleeveless red T-shirt in the photo above.)

He waxes similarly rhapsodic about Penelope Houston, late of The Avengers. I get the sense that she was considered a goddess among the drooling, slam-dancing boys of the Mabuhay.

I supposed I was required to hate her.

The Unofficial Reunion Show on Saturday night was held at a dark and sticky little place called The Club Cocodrie, on Kearny Street at Broadway ... just around the corner from where David and his cronies used to line up outside the Mabuhay on those long-ago Saturday nights, back in the late 70's and early 80's. In addition to D.J. Lebowitz, the lineup that night featured the much-ballyhooed Ms. Houston (sans The Avengers), Jumbo Shrimp (featuring former members of The Dead Kennedys) and former Mabuhay MC/"Pope of Punk," Dirk Dirksen.

(Of course, until meeting David I had never heard of any of these people: in 1977 I was listening to Fleetwood Mac, forcryingoutloud.)

That night, after dinner at a groovy little sidewalk restaurant in North Beach, we ran the gauntlet of strip joints and sex-toy shops on Broadway before arriving at The Cocodrie, half an hour before the reunion show was scheduled to start. The place was practically deserted: only the Devo and Screamers posters, taped to the walls above and around the stage, told us that we were in the right place. We ordered Cokes and staked out a wobbly little table in the very back of the room. Onstage, Penelope Houston and her band were performing their sound check, warming up with a couple of surprisingly lovely, acousticy-folky-sounding numbers. (Think: Lilith Fair in black leather.)

Wow, I thought. Maybe this isn't going to be so bad, after all.

In spite of serious misgivings about spending an evening in a bar ... about spending an evening in a bar, surrounded by drunk people ... about spending an evening in a bar, surrounded by drunk people, listening to punk rock music ... I was trying really really hard to be a good sport about the whole evening. I knew that it meant a lot to David.  And now ... what do you know? It didn't seem like it was going to be all that terrible, after all. I could stretch out here at our little table and drink a Coke, and hand-hold with David, and listen to this silky, relaxing music.

Half an hour later I was nose-to-butt with Maroon Brasierre Lady, wiping Heineken off my shoes.


The club filled up at an alarming rate, once the front doors were opened. Suddenly our little table was completely hemmed-in by middle-aged punk rockers ... a good number of them oblivious to the State of California "No Smoking in Public Bars" ordinance, apparently. (Another good number of them oblivious to Arrid Extra Dry. But that's another story for another day.)

When it became clear that 1.) We would not be able to see the stage for shidt, and 2.) I was going to have a heart attack and die right there of claustrophobia if we didn't move somewhere else RIGHT NOW, David and I abandoned our little table, worked our way through the sea of black leather, and moved out in front, plunking ourselves down on the floor with a handful of other people. (I have since learned that sitting on the floor in front of stage is considered a very serious breach of punk etiquette. So is asking for an autograph, apparently. So is having your picture taken with any of the performers ... which is why you won't see any photos of me and Klaus Flouride posted with this journal entry.)

Our impolite vantage point beneath the stage, however, was the perfect spot from which to see -- and hear -- Penelope Houston.

I'll admit it: I expected to hate the bitch, just like I would hate any of David's former lovers. Even the imaginary ones from his adolescence.

But then she stood at the microphone -- a pretty, fortysomething woman, in her black miniskirt and her shoulder-length blonde hair and her shoes-exactly-like-mine, looking like someone who might ride in the Totem Pole elevator with me in the mornings -- and sang, in a warm, fluid voice:

I remember our love was born
hanging laundry in a lightening storm
Hid in the cellar as long as we could
Well, the corn ran out and the water ran out
and we had to come out when the honey ran out
Out of the forest and into the woods

Sweetheart, they're going to talk about us
Well, I say live and let die
Sweetheart, they're going to talk about us
Well, I say live and let die

~ © "Sweetheart" ~
lyrics by Penelope Houston/ music by P. Houston, E. Nemzer, S. Strauss

And that was it.  A fan was born.

She is an effortlessly engaging performer with a spunky style -- at one point she picked up a Hohner Melodica and accompanied her bandmates: at another point, she held a cassette player up to the microphone and played a recording of herself, haranguing a Mahubay audience ("Get up, you fuckers!") during her most virulently punk days. I found myself liking her lots more than I'd planned to. I was expecting Wendy O. Williams. It was more like Aimee Mann. That was probably the best surprise of the evening.

It was nearly midnight by the time her set was finished. Someone had knocked over a glass of something that smelled like whiskey and urine, two or three feet behind me on the floor. The club was opaque with cigarette smoke. My butt was asleep. My feet were wet.

I was ready to go.

David said, "Let's check out 'the goods' before we leave," so we headed over to the pool table in the corner of the bar. There, he shelled out thirteen bucks for an Avengers T-shirt, while I signed Penelope Houston's e-mail list (adding the URL to *FootNotes,* of course). She was standing on the other side of the pool table while I signed. When I was finished, our eyes met ...

... and we smiled at each other.

I felt so warm and fuzzy toward her at that moment -- so connected to her as a human, as a brand-new fan, as one creative soul to another -- it was amazing. It took every *willpower molecule* I possess, in fact, not to ask David to take a picture of the two of us together.

Punk protocol and all.

one year ago

throw a rock