As cute as Mike could be when vulnerable, I was privy to a different but not unfamiliar side of him during this period. One night the three of us were heading to a Social D gig somewhere in OC. Sway was driving, Mike rode shotgun and I sat in the back in my vintage cocktail dress and heels with a bullet belt hugging my hips.
We were at a stoplight when a raised pickup truck full of muscle bound jocks pulled up beside us. Jocks and punks had a long history of mutual hate but these dudes had likely never encountered a couple of stone-cold sober punks like these two. They were a different breed of brawler. Jacked-up on caffeine and frustration, Mike and Sway welcomed the opportunity to unleash. The jocks were the first to exit their vehicle and as they approached I could feel my jaw clamp down. What if the jocks won? What the hell would happen to me? It seemed like a reasonable concern and cell phones hadn’t been invented yet.
Mike exited the car and got directly in someone’s face. Sway was close behind him. I was trying to make myself invisible. The jocks had big biceps but my boys had bigger chips on their shoulders. When the posturing and peacocking reached its climax the jocks backed off and peeled out. Mike and Sway returned to the car and off we went to the club. Mike was unfashionably late and the show was blistering.
When day turned to night, visitors would get a bowl of something, usually Mexican, that Dream cooked up and a red SOLO cup of beer. (Dream introduced me to chorizo.) Dream’s connection with Goldenvoice founder Gary Tovar provided a steady supply of primo weed and good times.
One such evening the Social Distortion crew shuffled in to partake of the revelry. It was my introduction to the band which had just returned from the infamous "Another State of Mind" tour. I would soon be one of the lucky few to sit in the cutting room and preview the movie that featured one of the most iconic moments in punk cinema: the Mike Ness makeup tutorial.
Dennis Danell (RIP), who some of us lovingly christened “slobbering heathen” because he would drool when he was drunk, had a flair for fashion and a goofy laugh that was highly contagious. Hailing from the ticky-tacky middle-class town of Fullerton in the purlieus of Orange County, Dennis and Mike were surf buddies in high school (I’ve seen the photo). Though it may have seemed antithetical to the punk aesthetic to be a beach bum, many OC punks along with Venice punks were surfers and/or skaters.
As the night wore on, I began to notice Mike noticing me.
At this very moment there are quite possibly thousands, if not tens of thousands, of women who would do nearly anything (even that!) to have Mike Ness’s undivided attention, but I was momentarily immune to his charms. After coyly smiling at me from across the room, he sauntered over, leaned in, and in his boyish, pre-junkie voice said, "Hi, I'm Mike. You're really pretty." He had at least an inch of smeared black eyeliner extending almost to his orbital bone, mild acne, and easily two weeks worth of Aqua Net keeping his hair erect. I found him amusing but not attractive. He whispered sweet somethings in my ear like “Why are you with Dream?” “Be with me.” I laughed.
Mimi could apply mascara, change her clothes and eat a meal all while flying down the notorious 405 at 70 MPH in her brown Toyota (license plate: PHIEND). My superpower was attracting law enforcement. One night after a big punk show somewhere behind the “Orange Curtain,” we sat in the car for the better part of an hour trying to figure out who was sober enough to turn on the ignition. Parked directly across the street were a pair of cops happily awaiting our decision. Mimi's magic carpet of Positive Mental Attitude usually provided us a safe getaway and this time was no exception. We laughed all the way home, another dodged bullet added to the belt.
Sometime between getting caught in the Mendiola’s Ballroom riot and taking on the crucial work of handling Social Distortion’s fan mail, we fell into the orbit of the Better Youth Organization. The brainchild of Mark and Shawn Stern who had a band called Youth Brigade, BYO pioneered the punk DIY ethic and served as a record label and promotion company for hardcore bands around the country. Mimi, a textbook extrovert, managed to use the Mendiola’s debacle (Chapter 7) as a springboard for friendship and fun (read: sex and drugs) landing us an invite to the BYO HQ on N. Flores St. in West Hollywood.
The property consisted of an old two-bedroom Spanish Revival house in front, and a small apartment above a garage in back, with a long driveway alongside. Both dwellings were in various states of disrepair, a fact that was not incongruent with its tenancy. We climbed the stairs up to the apartment shared by Mark and Shawn where we hung out and discussed the news of the day. That’s where I met Dream.
“Where’s the party?”
At Palisades High in the late ‘70s, everything was about status. From your jeans to your preferred radio station or your brand of cigarettes, every choice was critical and every mistake had consequences. But in the hierarchy of cool, knowing where the parties were by the last bell on Friday, was a surefire way to establish your rank. In order to possess this sacred knowledge, reliable sources were essential. Being a Gemini with a journalism career in her sights, reconnaissance was second nature.
I had friends in high places. I had friends in low places. When I wasn’t in class or ditching class I was typically planted in the unsanctioned official smoking section at the front of the campus. I read Shakespeare for fun, played tournament tennis, kept pace with the biggest stoners and knew the lyrics to every Led Zeppelin song. I was a social chameleon, able to hold my own among top-tier overachievers and absolute fuck-ups alike. The only kids I didn’t gel with were the theater geeks (Forest Whitaker and Penelope Ann Miller among them.)
Junior High had been a horror film and I was perfectly cast as its leading reject during my final semester. I had one friend that wasn’t a book or a record and she was equally awkward. Lunch period was usually spent alone, crouched behind a tree on an ivy-covered slope as far away as I could crawl from all signs of life, but still on the right side of the chain link fence. I was Ally Sheedy in The Breakfast Club sans dandruff.
I spent much of that summer before high school locked in my bedroom deeply contemplating my social deficits, fantasizing about Robert Plant and wishing I was someone else. Someone with Stevie Nicks’ hair, Susan Dey’s figure and a boy in the band. One hazy day that cruel summer, I replaced the tobacco in my parents’ cigarettes with oregano, snuck a couple a swigs from their well-stocked bar and proceeded to lock my door, empty my closet and take stock in front of the full-length mirror.