PASSING THROUGH

Introduction

This is a story about two punks. Two best friends. Losers to society and social adventurers. Danny and Brian, friends since practically birth. On the streets just as long. They have nothing to lose and nothing to do so they travel together. They are in a constant state of migration. 20th century nomads, tourists by trade. This reality is something learned out of necessity. Society doesn’t accept a dead beat but will tolerate a stranger for a while. Danny and Brian are punks. People don’t like punks loitering in their pristine municipal gardens. And so you do what you can; loiter, panhandle, and shoplift until you feel the heat coming on and then you catch a freight out of town and start all new and fresh with a sparkling new welcome to wear out. And that’s what you do unless you’re dead or in jail. It’s a different kind of lifestyle, and if it seems strange or lonely to you just think how your life seems to them. Besides these two were born into it and they haven’t known any other life since they were 15 years old.

Danny and Brian went to the same elementary school. Brian had an older brother named Samuel. Samuel was in high school. He was in a punk rock band. It was the only punk rock band in the whole town. Needless to say, they didn’t have too many admirers. They did manage to cultivate some die-hard enemies. Other kids their age who were afraid of the funny way that they dressed and the loud noise they played as music. Everybody thought Samuel was crazy. He had a really unstable mood and it was rare to see him smiling. He spent all his time writing lyrics about zombies and sheep and space aliens who use mind control devices. If he wasn’t doing that he was listening to his tape collection of LA and UK punk bands and if he wasn’t doing that he was screaming into a microphone. Samuel was dedicated to his music and as far as punk goes, he was pretty good. Actually he was really good. Nobody knew it though, except for his band mates and his little brother Brian and his little brother Brian’s best friend Danny. Samuel’s band was called the Son of Sam. The name was a little too much for a small town like Green River and it put the father of the church in an uneasy state. This was unfortunate for Son of Sam because the only place for an underage band to perform was at the church on Friday nights. And considering all this it isn’t too hard to imagine why people saw Samuel as unstable or depressed or just plain crazy. The situation for an aspiring young punk band was grim. And they weren’t able to go on like that for too long. The band stayed together for about two years and then everything fell apart.

Like I said before Son of Sam had their fair share of enemies and the most threatening of these enemies were the rancher’s boys. These guys didn’t want any kind of noisy punk faggots hanging around and fucking with the church and scaring their mothers. Or maybe they were just angry to be born into such a boring place, angry to be born to take over the labor of their fathers and nothing more. Angry because all of the choices in their lives had been made for them already. And maybe they needed someone to take it all out on. Who better than a social deviant. Someone who feels they are above the responsibility of cooperating in society. Someone who will probably not have to work on a ranch for the rest of his or her lives. Son of Sam and especially Samuel received constant reminders of this tension. Verbal slander, beer bottles thrown from speeding pickup trucks, being slammed up against lockers at school.

The leader of these rancher boys was young giant named Buck. The reason why Buck’s father named him as he did, if you can believe it, was because of his favorite pocketknife. Because a man can always rely on his trusty pocket knife to help him get out of a jam. Or if you look at it from Samuel’s prospective, Buck was named after a tool and could look forward to a life of being used like one. Anyway the tension between these two was concrete and if you ask me what happened next was destined to happen, it was always just a matter of time. But the way it did happen to happen went something like this, or so I hear:

Son of Sam was having a rehearsal at the church one night, the rancher’s kids had been riding them extra hard that whole week and making serious threats. There was a rumor that they were going to show up after practice and beat the crap out of those punks once and for all. Danny and Brian were there that night; they went to all of the SOS rehearsals. At the end of the night, after they had loaded up all of their stuff into the car, Buck and the rancher kids drove up. They didn’t waste anytime with shit talking. They were serious. Six of them jumped out of the back of a pickup truck. They were all armed with various hick weapons; baseball bats, chains, and pocketknives. SOS was a three-piece band of scrawny nerd types, except for Samuel, he was a little scrawny also but he had that unstable mood thing going for him. Buck made a b-line for Samuel and with a pocketknife in his hand he lunged out and stabbed Samuel in the hand. I don’t know if Buck meant to actually stab Samuel or if he meant really to just cut him. The two of them stopped suddenly both surprised with the seriousness of Bucks actions. Bucks friends had both of Samuel’s band mates on the ground. They were taking turns beating on them. There was no fight it was just a beating. And it was at that moment that Samuel went berserk, somehow managed to get a hold of Buck’s knife and then proceeded to stab him in the face throat and chest over 47 times according to the police report. Although it should be noted that the actual number of stab wounds is impossible to tell since the grouping is so close in many places that the flesh is just shredded. It took Green River what seemed like a total of five days to find Samuel guilty of first-degree murder and the other two members of the band, after they had fully recovered from their injuries, guilty of accessory to murder. They were sentenced to 30 years with no possibility for parole and Samuel was given the death penalty.

Danny and Brian were now officially the only two punks in Green River.

Early the next morning while everyone was still sleeping, Danny went over to Brian’s house with a sleeping bag and a backpack. He went around the side of the house to where Brian’s window was and knocked carefully on the glass. Brian crawled out the window with everything he needed to bring with him; a small tape player and a backpack filled with his brother’s collection of LA and UK punk tapes.

“You can’t take that stuff with us!” Danny whispered.

Brian looked at him for a moment with a solemn look on his face and said,
“Yes I can, this is all I need.”

There wasn’t any further protest and from that point on Brian was rarely ever seen without his big brother’s tape player.

Chapter 1, Five Years Later

It’s hot. Danny and Brian sit silently in the Sheriff’s car speeding down the interstate. The two cops wont shut up about how hot it is, 103 degrees. How they’re “really doing you boys a favor.” And how “if it weren’t you two could have died out there.” Brian presses his sweaty head against the glass. The front and the back of the car are divided by piece of plastic. Only a trickle of hot breeze is able to reach Brian’s face. Sweat is burning his eyes; he can’t wipe his forehead because he’s wearing handcuffs. Danny is sitting next to him. He has his eyes closed. Brian can see blood around Danny’s wrists where the cuffs were put on too tight.

“You give us a hard time and you only make it harder on your selves.” The cops said earlier when Danny wouldn’t tell them his name. Brian could see that Danny was trying real hard not to show any pain. Danny was mad at Brian for caving in and showing the cops his I.D. and he was mad at himself for never getting a fake one. After Danny caved in he had to show the cops his I.D. too. He had to do it for Danny’s sake. If Brian went to jail and Danny didn’t he wouldn’t make it more than a week out there on his own. He’d end up getting himself killed, raped or molested. Or some other horrible thing. No, it’s better this way. It is Danny’s solemn oath to take care of and look out for Brian. He’s never been the same since his brother went away and it just isn’t right how it happened. Brian is just too fragile to make it out there on his own.

The car pulled up to a gas station situated at a crossroads. It’s the only thing they’ve seen besides desert for the past half hour of driving. It’s really the only thing Danny and Brian have seen all day. The cops let them out of the car right up in front. Every one was watching. There must not be too many punks around this part of the country because the small crowds of onlookers were acting as if the cops were letting out a couple of kangaroos. Maybe they’re just not used to seeing anything but drunk white trash or illegal farm workers riding inside of cop cars.

The cops took the cuffs off and then the boss cop explained to them,
“You take that road the interstate the same direction that we were just traveling and you go about 25 miles, that will get you the nearest bus station. You take that road there and you go about 25 miles and that will get you to Irrigon. That’s where your court arraignment is going to be held in ten days. I recommend you try real hard to show up for your court date on time or there’ll be a warrant for your arrest.”

The boss cop looked at his sidekick and they both smiled as the sadistic pleasure of the situation that they had manifest began to sink in through their tough skins. The boss cop had a flash of inspiration and added,
“Now you boys play it safe out there, and remember, don’t let me catch you trying to hitch a ride anywhere. Hitchhiking is illegal in this state and if I catch you doing it I’m going to have to write you another ticket.”

The two cops smiled at each other again. Danny was filled with nothing but contempt for these two pigs. Brian was starting to regret showing his I.D. it would have been better to have been arrested, at least then they would have a ride out of the desert and a place out of the heat to hangout while they wait for their trial. For a second Brian thought about throwing his tape player at one of the pigs so they could go to jail. But he could never do that, ever since his brother went away he’s been afraid of confrontation. He’s afraid he’ll just snap one day. Just go berserk and who knows what could happen.

As the cops were driving away Brian caught the sidekick cop gazing over at him. Their eyes locked. The sidekick cop was gazing deeply into Brian’s eyes without any contempt or malice, just pure blank wonderment. The car seemed to pull away in slow motion as the cop fell into Brian’s eyes. What was going to happen to these two young kids? These poor dirty punks. And what had happened to them so far? How did they get here? What could possible lead some kids so young into a life like this? And for that frozen moment, something totally unexpected happened. A deep feeling of envy came creeping over the sidekick cop. In just that moment he sensed how truly confined he actually is. He realized that his is not the life of action and adventure that he would like to think it was. That his was really a life of monotony. He realized how sheltered he really is. He realized that he has no concept of what the real world might be like. He wondered if he had ever felt what it means to be alive and to be connected to a sense of the real world. And the jealousy turned his stomach as the cop car drove away.

Driving down the interstate the boss cop noticing the sidekicks quiet mood jabbed him in the ribs and said,
“Sucks to be those lousy punks don’t it.”

The sidekick mustered up a little chuckle and replied,
“Huh, yea. Punks,”

Inside he was still coming to his senses.

Chapter two, The Island.

As the car pulled away the crowd of onlookers quickly dispersed. Cops are gone, nothing to see here. And there sat Brian and Danny. Two anonymous crust punks. Mostly purposely ignored except for the occasional bigoted sneer.

It was so hot that day that standing under direct sunlight was impossible. This they soon realized was a major problem. Regardless of what they decide to do they’re going to need transportation. It was too hot to even think. Danny and Brian sat on the ground right next to the entrance of the mini mart, hopelessly transfixed by a combination of heat and dehydration. They sat there watching the barren desert shimmer and listening to the sound of the doorbell ring. A constant reminder of the steady flow of motorists coming and going. They would take turns trying to bum a ride off someone but few people were going their way. Most would pretend that there was nothing there as they entered the store.

Effective begging is a delicate art. There must be a constant balance between getting what you noticed and not causing too much of a disturbance. These two punks definitely wanted to get out of there as soon as possible but if they got 86ed from the property before finding a ride there would be no chance for survival. Both Danny and Brian secretly hoped the pigs would come back to arrest them.

After a few hours of sitting there Brian spotted a train.

“Danny, look! It’s a train! It’s a train! We must still be near the tracks!”

“Those must be the same tracks that we got pulled off of.”
Danny replied.

It looked like the train was about two miles away, straight out through the desert. It would be hard to make it that far unless they waited for the sun to go down. Brian started to cook up a plan,
“We can go out there in the dark and we’ll bring some card board with us, we can build some kind of shelter out of the cardboard and then if we have to wait longer than the night we’ll be protected from the sun. We could wait out there all the next day if we have to”-Brain looked around to make sure no one else could here him-“it would be better that sitting here in this shit hole with all these hicks breathing down our backs.”

But as they continued to watch the train move through the desert they both came to realize something at the same time and Danny said it,
“That train is hauling ass and it must be three miles away from us. It could be going over 50 miles per hour. There’s nothing out here. This is nothing but a straight shot, no train would normally stop out here. I bet they saw us riding the train somewhere earlier on and decided to pull us off out here so we wouldn’t be able to another train.”

Brian thought about if for a moment and then looking more depressed than before replied,
“Assholes.”

So what can you do? When you’re in Portland or Seattle or Los Angeles there’s always going to be people who hate you for the way you look, for what you represent or are supposed to represent. They’re always going to look at you with a sneer on their lip. Sure. But then there’s always an escape. You can go to a show or a squat or a small record shop. There needs to be an escape hatch somewhere. How can you sit there stranded in 110-degree weather in some shit kicking fuck hole of a place like this. This isn’t even a fucking town! This is a fucking gas station for Christ’s sake! Danny and Brian had nowhere else to go but right now there’s nowhere else in the world that they wouldn’t rather be. Every sneer every disapproving glare from every good Christian family walking past felt like god focusing the beam form a giant magnifying glass on their heads. Hold it on em’ till their heads cook!

“I just wanted to see what would happen, I didn’t mean to fry em’ honest I didn’t,” god said.

“Excuse me sir, we were just wondering, you wouldn’t happen to be planning to be driving away from this gas station in either direction would you? You see we’re going to die out here and it seems that we can’t even get the time of day from folks around here. It would be nice to at least know what time of day it is so we could try to figure out how much time we have before we die of heatstroke.” Danny listened to Brian going on fictitiously.

“Listen man,” Danny said, “I know the situation is bleak right now, but if we start getting crazy were never going to get a ride. We got to get out of here and were no going any where by sitting here talking shit,”

“Well what do you think we should do? People are looking at us like we have dog shit smeared all over us, they think were monsters or something. We’re a fucking disaster out here. Just as Brian was saying this a white minivan pulled up to the spot where they were sitting. It was best when a car parks directly in front of them because it gave them more time to make their pitch. If the prospect were to park somewhere else besides directly in front of them it gave the prospect a chance to get a look at them and size them up. To check out their tattoos and funny haircuts, their black and dirty rags they had on for clothes. It gave them time to build up enough walking momentum so that they could just speed right past those beggars sitting by the entrance. Pretend not to hear them. Pretend to be in too much of a hurry. Those punks, those scumbags. Sneak a peak at the freaks but don’t slow down to chat. They must want something. Money, money to buy drugs with. Or maybe they want to sell you some drugs. What a social disaster. They smell like a couple of dead bodies. Died hair, tattoos, their clothes look like they’re sewn together from little scraps of oil rags and dumpster trash. Someone should come and clean this mess up. Why can’t the police do something about this? What do they want? A ride? Huh,yea right. More like they want to get in my car and take me for a ride, out to the middle of nowhere so they can slit my throat and hide me in some bushes. They would probably rape me too. They want to steal my car so they can sell it and buy more hair dye and methamphetamines. They would probably pull out a gun and force me to drive home so they could wait until my family comes home. Then they could molest our children, take all of our valuable possessions like my grandmother’s diamonds then tie us all up and burn our house down with us inside of it. That’s the kind of thinking that happens when someone gets a good look at you. No, It’s better when people take the parking spot directly in front of you. Because they don’t have time to build up all that momentum.

The family in the white minivan starts to get out. Danny and Brian are watching with hungry eyes. We need a ride! We need to get out of here! The family sees the punks. Watching them watching you. The mother instinctually gathers up her young. Three good Christian children. Good enough to eat. The youngest still needs a car seat. The good Christian father sensing a situation makes moves to position him self between the punks and his family.

“Excuse me sir, we were just wondering if you might give us a lift, we’re stranded and we need a ride to the nearest bus station.” Danny says trying his best to make an optimistic example for Brian. Brian could see it was just a show. It’s all just a show. You got to maintain your illusions if you intend to participate in this society, or get a ride from it at least. And it’s true Brian was trying to set a positive example but it came out pitiful instead. It was the saddest most hopeless attempt of the day; he was really just addressing his plea to some one up in the clouds rather than the good Christian father making moves to escort his good Christian family from minivan to mini mart. Another hopeless attempt. The most hopeless. That may be what caught the good father’s interest. He stopped to hear their plea while the rest of the family made their break to the safety of the mini mart. He wanted to know where they had been and what they intend to do. Brian was too desperate to hold back his plea but too hopeless to make up some story that would exclude any social deviance.

“We ride trains. We dropped out of school and ran away from home. We don’t have jobs. We just ride trains around. Someone saw us and called the cops. We got pulled off out there,” he pointed out some place on the empty horizon, “,in the desert. We don’t have any where to go, we just don’t want to be here,”

Then Danny cut in,
“Normally we would find our own way sir, but with the heat out in these parts we don’t think we would make it more than five miles before the sun put us down.” He was trying to speak with a local dialect. The good Christian father was silent for a moment contemplating their story. Then he said softly, regretfully, ” well, I’m sorry boys but I just don’t think were going your way.” And then turned in to the store. That was the closest thing to a ride that they got so far. It was not encouraging. Brian and Danny sat there feeling hopeless and dumb. Danny wished they weren’t punks for one day. He wished they could put on clean clothes and no one would look at them. He wished they could just blend into the crowd for one day. He wished society was different. He wished people weren’t so stupid and scared and he wished they could just be different without everyone thinking they’re monsters. Danny would never clean up his act because soap is not for washing clothes. Soap is for washing brains.

Brian looked at Danny. They were both squinting because the sun had moved across the sky and their shade with it. Brian asked softly, feeling very defeated and vulnerable, “What do you think we should do, Danny?”

Danny had a headache. He glared back up at the sun. They were both starting to sweat more.

“I guess we might as well go inside.”

I want to point out that this idea is a lot more serious than it may sound. This gas station is an island oasis in a barren wasteland of death and heat. I think this much has been adequately enough so far. But what may not be so apparent are the serious implications of Danny’s suggestion. For the average consumer, the average tax paying citizen, going into a mini mart is a god given right that one is simply born into. There’s nothing to think about. You simply go in. That’s all there is to it. You don’t even have to open the doors. They open themselves for you. Inside you can have whatever you want; Red Bull, candy bar, bag of chips, beef jerky. Here’s a 20, put the rest on pump, oh I forget, it’s the blue SUV over there, yea pump 6. But that reality is simply inaccessible to social deviants like Danny and Brian. For them going into a mini mart is like crossing a boarder. They need to show their papers and make sure they don’t over stay their welcome. For Danny and Brian there is no Red Bull, bag of chips, or candy bar. There is no SUV. Danny and Brian have never had a need for pump 6 or any other pump. Danny and Brian have never bought a single gallon of gasoline in their whole entire lives. And that fact in it self puts them largely at odds with society in America. Danny and Brian were well aware of this fact as is any other homeless punk and the default strategy is to go in loiter and shoplift until you’re 86ed then move on to the next block. But under the circumstances being 86ed seemed more like a death sentence. The bell rang as they broke the beam and a blast of cool air enveloped their bodies. It was instantaneous relief. Their thoughts seemed clearer their moods lifted. For a moment it seemed as if it were all over and all their problems have been resolved. It’s O.K. now. Were not going to die. Then reality snapped back.