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Now so many stories never get told. Why? Because people are scared to tell them. It’s one thing to show off faded Slayer tattoos and pass around photos of yourself in a different stage of life, wearing an Army uniform or wedding dress. But if your old stories and pictures are punk, everyone runs the other way. “Oh no,” they say. “Not another jaded blowhard talking about the good old days.” It’s sad because for some of us it’s impossible to talk about our personal history without talking about the past, and punk.

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-Aaron Cometbus, from Cometbus #45

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I tried, for years, to stop writing about punk. I tried to stop being punk, too - in fact, I denied that I ever was one (save your breath, I never was one). A few years back I realized I couldn't stop being punk no matter how hard I tried, and slowly, slowly, I started writing about it again, and now it has gotten to the point where that is mostly what I write about. This is a warning - punk is everywhere in these pages. Everything in here is tinged with it, cos I can't talk about my personal history without talking about the past, and punk. There is even a whole section dedicated to it - an essay! With theories! About punk! Ridiculous, I know, especially since I hate essays, and I hate theory. Ah well.

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A number of the stories in this issue are going to appear in my upcoming memoir, Real Dreams That Never Go Smash. I decided I had to tell my tales because I am fucking sick of the way mainstream culture portrays rebellious girl-type people as they grow into adulthood. It's like, if you are a girl-type person who is an artist, is involved in underground culture, sleeps around, does anything illegal, or experiments with drugs, there are only three ways you're allowed to end up. You can die and therefore act as a warning to all other girls who might try and follow in your footsteps - "If only she hadn't been in that dark alley, that seedy bar, if only she hadn't been traveling alone! If only she hadn't smoked/ snorted/swallowed that! If only she hadn't slept with so many people! If only she had done exactly what we told her, she'd still be alive!" You can end up in the system, either prison or psychiatric, which is another sort of warning - "Dare to do anything illegal? Go straight to jail and do not pass go! Dare to experiment with ecstasy in the guise of intoxicants, sexual pleasure, or art? You'll go mad!" The third option? You clean up your act, become a total square, get a husband and a kid and/or a career, never take another puff of Mary Jane, become monogamous and straight (in all ways), stop writing poetry, realize you never really wanted to go to punk shows or fuck women or get tattoos or travel the world or write a book, it was all just a phase, and it turns out your deepest desires could be fulfilled by expensive shoes and low-fat lattes and a comfortable bed and an, I don't know, Josh Groban CD. And none of those scenarios are relevant to what is happening to me and


my other girl-type friends as we reach the mid-20s to early-40s part of our lives. Sure, some of us have kids or careers or spouses, and some of us have had battles with madness and the law, and some of us like expensive shoes or comfy beds or what-have-you, and we don't touch the hard drugs anymore, and we might not be quite as extremely wild-and-crazy all the time, but, like, we didn't die or clean up our acts. We're working out a balance, where we can grow up and survive, and yet still travel, make art, go to shows, get drunk sometimes, be monogamous or polyamorous as we see fit, etc. I need to tell my story to show, hey, I did all these 'transgressive' things in my younger days, and I'm now a mama who's building a writing career, and I have a long-term lifepartner, and I'm not going out gallivanting every night, but I also still make zines, give myself stick & poke tattoos, get shitty with my pals on occasion; I still hold the same ideals, and I am still in love with the undying spirit of punk rock.

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Two more things: I like to describe my stories as mythistories. Robert Moss defines a mythistory as 'the true story of something that may or may not have happened, but always is.' And - there are some things in this zine that could be triggering. Some of the stories mention self-harm, rape, panic attacks, drug use, and other sensitive topics. So, please, proceed with caution, and do what's best for you and your mental health.

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(-(Rust Belt) Jessie Lynn (fka Jessica Disobedience & about ten other names), September 2012)


Jinx Removing

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It always came back to me and Zeke. Zeke was my friend, my lover, and my brother - not by birth but by a strange soul-closeness. We even looked a little bit alike. We had similar cheekbones, we had the same full lips and crooked grins; we had similarly large-ish noses with a bump in the center (mine inborn, his from a fight), blue eyes. But where he was all skinny hips and broad shoulders, I had tits and a soft belly swell. “I like those things about you,” he said once, when I was down about my appearance. “You’re all woman.” Years later, when I told him that I’d known he meant well, but that it actually didn’t help because sometimes I wasn’t a woman, sometimes I was a boy, he said – “You’re beautiful and sexy no matter what. Boy or girl, or anything else. You’re Jess, and I love you.”

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No matter what else was going on in my life, I could always count on Zeke to appear and simultaneously fuck it up and fix it. He’d fuck it up by getting me into even more trouble than I was already in; he’d fix it by reminding me that all I could do was be myself, and that most of my depression occurred when I was trying to mold myself to fit what other people wanted me to be. We could go months, even years without speaking, or seeing one another, and then there we were – both of us back in Chicago, lurking the grimy summer streets and looking for bars to get booted out of and dumpsters to dive into.

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Once, we found a dumpster full of champagne. It was past its ‘sell by’ date, but it was still perfectly good. Well, not good – it was cheap, shitty champagne, the kind that tastes more like turpentine than it does like grapes – but still sparkling. We popped a bottle open right there in the dumpster, it exploded all over us, making our hair sticky and seeping into our shoes. After we swigged the swill, we loaded our bags and bike baskets as full as possible, and left the rest for whoever might stumble upon it. We pedaled our haul back to whatever slummy apartment, or punk house, or squat, I can’t remember, that Zeke was living in at the time; in the close heat of his bedroom, we dug in for a night of drunkenness.

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That was the night we marked each other. In the wee morning hours, when the hazy summer dawn was just peeking through the windows and illuminating his filthy room, after who knows how many bottles of champagne, he said he wanted me to give him a stick and poke tattoo. “Of the Black Flag logo,” he said. “I know it’s dumb, but it’s kind of a punk rock rite of passage.” And we laughed, because it was dumb; getting a shitty stick and poke from your drunk best friend was dumb, and so was getting a tattoo of the Black Flag logo, period. When I’d finished the tattoo, which he’d had me place on his inner left thigh, I said – “Speaking of punk rock rites of passage…” I asked him to give me a Germs burn. “You sure? It’ll hurt.” –“Duh. But I can take the pain, Zee. Plus, I’m so shitfaced; I won’t feel much to begin with.” –“Where do you want it?” -“On my left wrist. The underside, near my palm. Near where…” I didn’t have to continue, he knew the history of my scars. And he didn’t second-guess me again, though I was asking him to put it on one of the most sensitive parts of my body.

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He grabbed a Marlboro Red from a near-empty pack lying next to his mattress, and went over to the candles that were guttering into puddles of wax on the windowsill. He lit the cigarette with the low blue flame of the jinx removing candle, and I got that Jawbreaker song stuck in my head – but I didn’t sing it, because he and I hadn’t yet said those words to each other. Those love words. I walked over to him, held out my wrist, offered him that vulnerable part of me. I had so many scars already, what was one more? At least this mark was for a better reason than most of the others. He touched the orange tip of the cigarette to my flesh. I inhaled sharply and gritted my teeth.

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With our fresh wounds tingling, we flopped down on the wine-and-ash-stained mattress. He spooned up behind me, and then I felt his stubble rub up against the nape of my neck, and his arms circled around me, his hands reached toward my belt buckle. The room spun, the sun rose higher above the warehouses and the tenements. He traced his fingers over my burn, lightly. I reached back and grabbed his inner thigh.

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That burn scar has since faded, along with the others. But somewhere in Chicago, the ghost of a jinx removing candle is still burning on a dirty windowsill.

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Stick&Poke

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Everyone I've known has changed me; all the friends I've shared pots of coffee with and the lovers I've shared beds with have left marks on my soul. Is it corny to say that? Yeah, but it's true, so fuck it. When it came to lovers, friends, lover-friends wanting to tattoo or brand me, I thought, "Why not? They're gonna leave a mark anyway, and this way I'll have something tangible to point to, to say - 'This is how they've changed me, this is where they've touched me.'"

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I have been tattooed or branded by someone close to me on eight different occasions 1.

2.

3.

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my psychic punkrock soulsister Toaster took a safety pin and the ink from a stamp pad, and gave me a tattoo of a safety pin on the inside of my left ankle; we listened to X sing "drain every beer left over at home / and listen to ghosts in the other room" as she poked the ink into my skin, as we drained our beers, one cool blue mothmoon August night in Door County my first skinhead boy, one rooftop Chicago night (season unknown), he tattooed my right ankle with a small spade; a spade cos it means death, change, destruction, and he called me his "sweet little chaosbringer" on a sticky-hot summer night in a Chicago slum, my bloodbrother Zeke gave me a Germs burn; after I tattooed the four bars on his thigh, he lit a cigarette from a jinx removing candle and pressed it to my inner left wrist; we were drunk on dumpstered champagne on a Brooklyn rooftop with autumn and the end of things approaching too fast, my favorite villain heated a small skeleton key til it was molten and then seared it into my flesh; I had him put it in a spot so secret that it was unlikely anyone else would ever see it my raindog vagabond boy tattooed three dots on my right temple, a sort of vertical ellipses (to show that nothing truly ends, it goes on...and on...); I gave him a matching mirror-image marking, that lonesome


6.

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8.

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September-October night not long before he left me for the first time but our paths always crossed again, eventually, and one wild moonshine night in my tiny studio in downtown Racine, he tattooed a diamond on my left temple (always keep a diamond in your mind) Ratticus, my forever partner in crime, inked a Chicago-flag star on my outer left wrist; it was a summer afternoon in Chicago, a group of us hungover as hell witch-punk girls were gathered at Ratticus' place, tattooing each other and partaking in a lil hair 'o the dog on a bitter biting January eve in Chicago, Ratticus took my right foot and drew a rickety heart and a bent arrow, and it hurt like hell

Some of those were done so long ago that they have since faded to the point of being invisible, but at least for a time I could show them to people and say, "That's the mark I got from s/he. The people who did not use ink or flame, those scars are more difficult to see." (And then of course there was that hidden skeleton key; that one was just for him and me.)

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Dumpster Delilah

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Our love was dirtier than most other loves I've had. I don't know how to explain what I mean by that. It wasn't about the sex, or about anything we did, even. But there was something lowdown and mucky about our love. We exuded it, it oozed out of our pores like sweat. It hung around us, wafted behind us. When we were together, people called us witches, thieves, whores; we were never sure if they wanted to kiss us or spit on us. So we spat our wine-and-cigarette saliva at them, and kissed each other with our stained lips and tongues. I always felt so plain, next to her. She was everything at once, a gorgeous messy mishmash. She was punk rock and the blues, John Coltrane and the Ramones, an anarchist with an American flag tattoo. She was wild horses and slam poetry, burlesque shimmy and ink-stained hands. She made a two-dollar thrift-store hat look like it had come from the priciest haberdasher. She was wolves and whiskey and circus tents. She was a legend. (There is a chance she never really existed. There is a chance she is a composite of every girl I've ever loved. There is a chance she is me; that I am mythologizing myself.)

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Oh, my dirty beautiful love, my dumpster Delilah. Imagine the two of us, both redheads at the time (she, like me, often tinted her hair some shade of red). Imagine us sitting outside a coffee shop in Milwaukee, late afternoon, October drizzle coating our hair and plopping into our coffee, our filthy bitten-fingernail hands twined together under the table. Or imagine us in a bar in Manhattan, leaning against a midnight window, with glasses of red wine or rye whiskey in our hands, our knees touching. Imagine us talking, or sitting silently. Imagine a man approaching us, looking at us with desire and fear - imagine him hurling an epithet at us, calling us "dyke whores." Or, if he is a different sort of man, imagine him asking us - "Are you girls witches? You're not going to hex me, are you?" or "Are you girls thieves? You're not going to steal my wallet, are you?" And imagine us, in either scenario, doing what we always did - smiling at the man, saying nothing, cackling viciously.

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Punk Magic

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People talk about folk magic, low magic versus high magic. If high magic is elaborate rituals and expensive crystal wands, low magic is candles and bread-baking. High magic is for new-agey white people who think they can summon the spirit of Athena with their robes and the spells they read in books. I prefer low magic, because it is personal, it is suited to the practitioner, it does not require any special equipment, it is handed down but it is also created anew every day. All it requires is belief and intent - any activity can be a ritual, any word or phrase can be an incantation. It does not even require initiation. I never understood the idea that you need to have some coven of fancy Wiccan priests and priestesses invite you into their fold - baby, I was born a witch, and anyway that smacks of too much hierarchy and authority, and I don't need anyone telling me how to live my life, so why the fuck would I need anyone telling me how to conduct my spiritual practice? Yeah, I was born a witch, and I practice low magic; rather than folk magic, I like to call it punk magic.

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My magic is slutty and chaotic. My magic is orgasms and intoxicants. Making a pot of coffee is a starting-the-day ritual. Slicking on red lipstick is a beautification ritual. Changing the color of my hair is like shape-shifting; tattoos are sigils permanently inked into my flesh. My magic is building altars to people like Iggy Pop and Nancy Spungen. My magic is lighting a jinx removing candle while listening to "Jinx Removing." I read tarot; I also find my fortune and future in cryptic messages written on beer bottle caps. I thank the dark gods of punk rock whenever I get a free drink; I pray to the restless hobo gods when I hear a train blow by on the tracks near my house. Every poem and song I write is a spell, and every story I write is either an exorcism or a prophecy. I have a coven, but we don't call ourselves one - it's just me and my pals, and we slam and sweat our demons out at shows, we invite positive energy into our lives by having 1 a.m. Gogol Bordello dance parties in dingy living rooms, we bond ourselves together by sharing booze and giving each other stick and poke tattoos. My magic is lighting off firecrackers while I run


down dark streets. My magic is ripping my stockings immediately after putting them on. My magic is destroying you.

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What We Talk About When We Talk About Punk

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I. "What"

I said, "we drink a lot of Stroh's," and Alex punched him in the nose "we see your daughter after every show" then we set fire to his hair and stole his pen and broke his chair He said, "There's just one thing I want to know: What is punk?"

! -The Mr. T Experience, 'What Is Punk?' !

In order to have punk mean anything - as a genre of music, an aesthetic, a lifestyle, or a culture - it is necessary to define it somewhat. In order to figure out what it Is, you must also define what it Isn't. Paradoxically, one of the things which is Not Punk is deciding what is and isn't punk. Punk is full of such contradictions. Punk is political, and punk is apolitical. Punk is getting fucked up, and it is radical sobriety. Punk is having Day-Glo hair that defies gravity, or it is looking outwardly normal but smoldering inside with strange fires. It is amp-shredding hardcore, and it is an acoustic guitar played on a streetcorner. It is all of those things, and it is none of them. It is defining your own meaning, and it is meaningless.

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II. "Everything"

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I spent so much time saying "I’m not punk, I never really was" and "Well, maybe I was punk once, but I’m not anymore." I was so busy saying: "I’d rather listen to cabaret than crustpunk, I’d rather wear a dress of gossamer rags than a pair of bondage pants," that I overlooked the truth. The truth is - punk, for me, was never just the music or the fashion. The truth is - you can stop calling the girl Jessica Disobedience, but you can't take the disobedience outta the girl. The truth is once, Erica told me I was so punk rock I made her vagina hurt, and J.J. used to refer to Ratticus and me as the last living punk rockers. All the old fiends still call me Whiskey, and, in the words of Jack Terricloth, "I’m sentimental, if you know what I mean - I hate the music, but I love the scene," or, in the words of Pat the Bunny, "A punk rock song won’t ever change the world, but I can tell you about a couple that changed me."

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In early 2009, I stopped trying to deny that part of me, and I embraced it. Taking a cue from Aaron Cometbus, I declared February 5-March 5 to be Punk Month, and I dove right in to doing the kinds of things that, to me, signify punk. And it didn't end. Punk Month became Punk Year became three-and-a-half years later. I realized that punk has influenced everything I do, in some way. It has effected not only the obvious aspects of me, like how I dress and the kinds of music I listen to, but also the way I write, the way I parent, the way I carry myself through the world. I realized that, no matter what I'm wearing or what music I'm listening to...Jessie Is A Punk Rocker.

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I don't trust people who can eradicate punk from their lives entirely. I hate to sound like I'm saying "if you're not punk now, you never were," but that's kinda what I'm saying. I don't give a shit what music you listen to, what job you have, how you survive. I don't care if you covered up your tattoos (or never had any to begin with), or if you wear a goddamn button-down shirt every day. That shit doesn't matter. But if you have completely divorced yourself from all things punk, and even more than that, if you roll your eyes at how you used to be, if you talk about punk like it was a phase you went through as a


dumb kid, just something you did to piss off your dad, well, you're an asshole. And I don't understand you. And you're lucky. My life would probably be a helluva lot simpler now if punk hadn't so consumed me when I was younger. If it had just been a phase, maybe I could have successfully become part of the Big Straight World; maybe I wouldn't be so broke, or so goddamn angry. Even if it was mainly about the music to you: there are some good fuckin' punk bands these days, and you're missing out. Or if you don't have the desire to listen to anything new, dust off the old records, and tell me that London Calling doesn't still make your brain explode, tell me that "Six Pack" doesn't still make you wanna fuck some shit up.

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III. "Nostalgia" The other thing I tried, for a while, to stop doing, was writing about punk - the music and the culture and my experiences with it. I tried to stop writing about the music cos I wanted people to know I listen to all kinds of music, and am a well-rounded individual, or some bullshit like that. I tried to stop writing about it in the context of my life, cos I am nostalgic enough as it is, and when you talk about punk in the past tense, it's so easy for it to turn into the bad kind of nostalgia. It's so easy to go from 'remember when' to 'things were better back then.' It's too easy to fall into thinking that the best bands broke up before you even got into punk, or, worse, to act like the time when you were a young punk was the best time, the only time, and anyone who wasn't there just doesn't fucking get it, man. I don't want to fall into any of that, but punk is so transitory, we can’t help but be nostalgic.  Punk is this nebulous thing that has been reported to be dead since it was first born, so no wonder we look back at those times when we felt like we really had it, even if only for a minute.  Remember that band that only released that one 7” before they broke up, and it was the best fucking thing you ever heard?  Remember that show your band played, or that zine reading you did, and it was only to five people but all five of them really got it?  Remember that girl you saw on the L, the one with the peroxide hair and Ramones t-shirt and pink All-Stars, and how you made eye contact and she smiled and it was total Punk Rock Love at first sight, even


though you never actually talked to her?  Yeah, you do. Don’t even lie.

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I guess the thing to keep in mind is, whether we're 54 or 14, all us punks have those kinds of memories, and when or where they took place doesn't make them any more or less valid than anyone else's.

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IV. "Dead" Punk is dead. Punk never dies. Folks have been going back and forth about this since at least '77. And man, I am so tired of some sad-sack motherfuckers talking about punk being dead. People who say it's dead are always people who gave up on it and gave it up, and they're jealous that other people are still part of it; the only way they can make themselves feel better about no longer being relevant is by saying "real punk is dead, the kids today will never know what it was like when I was in the scene, when True Punk still lived." I recently read this book, A Cultural Dictionary of Punk, by Nicholas Rombes. I loved it, for the most part, but he wrote about punk as though it is something that existed only in the past. "Punk was a type of music that was around until 1982, or maybe not even that long," he said. So, Mr. Rombes, you're telling me punk only existed until the year after I was born? Fuck. You.

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Of course, he's right, in a way. As soon as you start defining something, as soon as you start trying to pin something down, it begins to die. Or, maybe not die, but - some of the glamour rubs off. It gets tarnished. The second people started writing about punk, the mystique began to wear away. I am rubbing away some of the last little pieces of the punk mystique, right this minute.

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Punk began to die the minute we started referring to certain bands as "classic punk." Punk is supposed to be anti-classic, right? Punk began to die as soon as Ramonescore became a genre. Punk began to die the minute people started writing about "the history of punk," because punk is supposed to be "I don't care about history." Punk is supposed to be "a thousand kids bury their parents." Except, that's a posture, too. Punk


has always looked toward the past, all the while pretending that it didn't.

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"Kill Your Idols," the kids say, while playing guitar like Johnny Ramone and styling their hair like Johnny Rotten.

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V. "Tarot"

When the three biggest Ramones ganged up on their weediest compadre (Dee Dee), taking a broken bass guitar to his head, claiming it “contains the secrets of Egypt” if only he would “stop being a dick for one goddamn second” and “let us beat them the fuck out of you already”, they foreshadowed the coming punk rock ideal-type, whose power to respond with disproportionate righteous vehemence to any given situation is matched only by the spatial improbability of his/her haircut. EAT YOUR OWN WEIGHT IN SALT / ONLY IN AMERICA. / PICK YOUR BOOGERS IN YOUR CAR / ONLY IN AMERICA. Etc.

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In competing to formalise a new, participant, cultural modality, early claques of make-upsmirched, pink-nylon-clad lunatics begat and enumerated punk’s arcana, whose symbolism overlays traditional Greco-Roman and Christian allegory of sin, grace and redemption with universalising themes of snot, sweat and shouting loudly.

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-Nigh, 'Major Arcana of the Punk Rock Tarot'

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If I were to create a punk rock tarot, the four suits would be: Switchblades instead of Swords. 40 0zs instead of Cups. Records for Pentacles; Sharpies for Wands. Shuffle, cut. There would be The Riot Grrrl, The Junkie, The Barista, The Skinhead, The Straight-Edger. The Drunk Punk, perhaps. The Road Trip. The Trainhopper. The Diner, The Zine, The Dumpster.

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Iggy Pop would be The Fool (or, rather, The Idiot), urging you onward on the journey, saying "all aboard for funtime." And Jack Terricloth would represent The Magician: meeting you in your sleep, inciting chaos/ magic with just a nod of his head and a wink of his eye, bringing out the potent potions and waving his hands, saying "let's steal everything!"

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Shuffle, cut. Patti Smith would stand in for the High Priestess - hiding the mysteries of the spiritual in her hair, saying something like "I am an American artist, and I have no guilt" or "Jesus died for somebody’s sins, but not mine." Joan Jett would be The Empress, with her dark eyeliner eyes and her unnerving unwavering gaze and her guitar, saying - "I don't give a damn about my bad reputation."

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Shuffle, cut, lay out the cards once more. Joey Ramone would be The Emperor, of course, tall and imposing yet also benevolent; he may be the law of the land but he "took the law and threw it away, cos there's nothing wrong, it's just for play." And Joe Strummer would represent the Hierophant: "The fury of the hour, anger can be power - don’t you know that you can use it?"

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VI. "Revelation"

Punk rock had burst into my life with the force of revelation, though I cannot now call the revelation much more than a tempo and an insurrectionary intensity that matched the explosive pressure in my psyche. I was fifteen,


and when I picture myself then, I see flames shooting up, see myself falling off the edge of the world, and am amazed I survived not the outside world but the inside one. Before and afterward, landscapes rural and wild would be the places that resonated most powerfully for me, but for the decade that started with my discovery of punk it was cities. The social I've often called a layer of baloney sandwiched between the bread of the physical and the spiritual, but that is only the most reductive form of the social, one that defines human possibility within narrow and predictable terms. Punk with its slam dancing and getting wasted and stage diving and standing in front of speakers that made your bones vibrate, with its political indignation and impulse to incite and express extreme states, was in collective revolt against this social. Like ruins, the social can become a wilderness in which the soul too becomes wild, seeking beyond itself, beyond its imagination. And there is a specific kind of wildness, having to do with the erotic, the intoxicating, the transgressive, that is more easily located in cities than in wilderness. It has a time too, the time of youth, and of night.

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-Rebecca Solnit, from A Field Guide to Getting Lost

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VII. "Geography" I've been thinking about geographical punkness. What I mean by that is: the part of the world you're from, the types of punks and punk bands you're around as you come of age, in turn help determine what kind of punk


you'll become. I came of age here in southeastern Wisconsin, approximately halfway between Milwaukee and Chicago, so I was influenced equally by Sconnie bands and Chi bands. My larger scene spread out to include the whole of the upper midwest, and the rest of the rust belt, so I was also influenced by punks from (western) Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, and Minnesota.

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It's not just the music or the scene, though. There's more to it than that. The section of the country I came from, that in and of itself had bearing on the kind of punk (and person) I became. I grew up with hot humid summers and bone-chilling winters, with vast expanses of rural nothingness, and with decaying industrial cities. With segregation to abhor and ruins to explore, with closeminded people to avoid and back roads to drive. I grew up with easy access to cheap beer (with names like Schlitz and Blatz and Hamm's); grew up with the sound of the coal trains that haunted my dreams. With bowling alleys and 24-hour diners. I grew up with pine trees and gas fumes, corn fields, cabbage fields, the Great Lakes. I grew up going to shows at the YMCA or the Polish Legion in suburbs and mid-sized towns, shows at warehouses and squats in the bigger cities, shows out in the middle of nowhere in someone's old barn. And what were the bands like, what was the scene like in my neck of the woods, back in the day? There was a lot of emo (keep in mind, I'm talking mid-to-late '90s emo, like Braid and the Promise Ring, not whatever bands are called emo these days; and that just made me sound like I should be shaking my fist and telling some teenagers to get off my lawn). There was a distinct ska contingent (it seems like the ska-punk thing died out everywhere, and that makes me damn sad). There were quite a few skinheads, both of the trad/anti-racist variety and, unfortunately, the Nazi fucks. I never noticed a huge sXe movement. Yeah, there were sXe kids, but it didn't become quite as much of a craze in the midwest as it did in other parts of the country. I think, maybe, cos all the nothin'-to-do, nowhere-to-go, combined with the bitter cold winters, make it a lot more tempting to get fucked up than to stay sober. The two main factions were the pop punk geeks and the self-destructive nihilistic hardcore kids. All of


this conspired to create me - a self-destructive, nihilistic, pop punk geek.

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The other thing that I mean when I talk about geographical punkness is a lot less complex: I'm talking about punk songs that mention specific places. There are a shit-ton of them, but I'm just gonna name three of my favorites, all of which reference Midwestern cities, cos I don't care to talk about any other part of the world right now. 1. The Replacements - "Skyway" (Minneapolis) 2. Boris the Sprinkler - "West of the East" (Green Bay) 3. Noise by Numbers - "17 on the Wayside" (Chicago)

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VIII. "Folklore"

As you get older, you realize that punk is folklore and oral tradition and myths. That’s never written about.

! -Aaron Cometbus !

Yes, punk is folklore and oral tradition and myths. If you start talking with someone, about punk, next thing you know they're telling you some story about the time they saw World/Inferno in San Francisco, and how Jello Biafra was standing next to them all night, before getting up on stage to call Jack Terricloth out on getting his facts about California politics wrong. Or they're telling you about the tag they left on the back wall of the Fireside Bowl in Chicago; or the alley they used to get drunk in in Baltimore (the one the cops never checked). Or they're saying: "You know that album, Live from the Taco Riot? That's me screaming 'fuck you,' over and over in the background." Some of those things sound a little bit like bragging, and maybe for some people they are, but they're also a punk form of storytelling, and a way to make connections. Because if someone tells you a tale like that, unless they're a complete douche, they're hoping to hear your stories in return. Or, they're hoping you'll say: "Holy shit, I was at that show, too!" or "I saw that tag at the Fireside!"

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Because punk is also secret codes, symbols, and connections. You can be across the country or the world from your home, and see a familiar tag, and know that someone you know has passed through the same exact spot. You can see the faded tattoos someone has, or the pins and patches they wear on their battle vest, and know that you might want to talk to them. (And if they have a GG Allin patch, you know to stay the fuck away.) You can be at an awkward party full of people you don't know, but then flip through the record collection (or zine library) of someone that lives there, notice their Nation of Ulysses albums (or copies of Free Beer zine), and then you have someone to talk to, someone you have at least that in common with. You can be at a show, where the performer is someone you've never heard, or heard of, before, and say they cover the Joe Strummer song "Love Kills," without possibly knowing how much Joe and that song mean to you - after their set is done, you can approach them, and wind up talking about Joe Strummer and The Clash, and Sid Vicious, and then the prevalence of heroin in the punk scene.

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And all of it, all of it, makes you feel part of something, makes you feel a little less alone. IX. "Stolen" But then our secret codes and symbols get stolen, and sold to anyone with money and access to a Hot Topic or an Urban Outfitters. I'm not saying that no one should shop at those stores. Well, no one should shop at Urban Outfitters, but that's for more serious reasons than lack of "scene cred." I'm also not saying that if you got your punk clothes from Hot Topic, you're a poser - after all, everyone has to start somewhere, some kids can only access the aesthetics of punk culture at places like Hot Topic, and I despise elitism. And poser is a meaningless term - if anyone who doesn't fit your personal, arbitrary standards of What Punk Is is a poser, then we're all fucking posers.

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What I am saying is, it's fucking weird and alienating that people who have nothing invested in punk culture, people who don't even listen to the music, can purchase the aesthetic trappings of it and appear to the world as


though they're One Of Us. It means that if you spot someone in a battle vest or decorated leather jacket, you can't assume they're someone you have anything in common with, because they might have bought a vest or jacket with the studs already put on, with the symbols already painted on, with the patches pre-selected; they might not know anything about what the signs and symbols they're sporting mean.

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About ten years ago, when Urban Outfitters first started selling pre-faded t-shirts with Ramones and Bad Religion logos on them, I encountered a girl wearing one of the Ramones shirts. "Rad shirt," I said to her, "the Ramones are one of my favorite bands of all time." She stared at me for a second, looked down at her shirt, then said, "Oh, uh, I don't actually know who the Ramones are? I just thought the shirt was cute." Really? Why would you wear a shirt for a band you don't listen to? I don't get it. I know people appropriate the signifiers of other cultures and subcultures, too, and it is much worse when people mis-use sacred objects from ethnicities and cultures and turn them into stereotypes (such as the White Hipster Girl in a headdress), but since punk is what I know, and what I'm writing about... It is so strange to try and make an honest connection with someone based on something you think you have in common, and be met with a blank stare.

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It is not solely a literary metaphor to say that our secret handshakes have been stolen, our dress codes copied & now mass-manufactured overseas, our hiding spots now highlighted in Details magazine. Anyone who criticizes us for being too elitist, too guarded & too sentimental has never had their passions turned into public sport.

! -from Drinking Sweat In the Ash Age !

Though it does kind of force you to develop a sort of "punk-dar." You learn to differentiate the DIY haircuts


and sloppily hand-scrawled shirts from the pre-fab jackets and $200 bondage pants.

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X. "Mean" Sometimes, punks look mean, like we'll spit our beer on anyone who looks at us the wrong way. Sometimes, punks look real mean, like we'll slit the throats of anyone who crosses our path. Sometimes, we have that cool meanness, that leather jacket meanness, that '50s greaser glare, as we lean up against the light post outside the club. Yeah, we're angry; yeah, we're ready to defend ourselves - but most of us aren't mean unless someone gives us a real reason to be. It's a front, a studied pose. It's a protection. Most of us are dorks, deep down. Most of us got so used to being fucked with that we taught ourselves how to look tough.

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XI. "Trauma" Recently, some of us have started talking about Punk Trauma. I have been raped twice in my adult life. (I'm not going to get into the childhood shit, not here.) Both rapists were people who were in some way involved in punk.

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The first was a girl I knew through zines. At the time, she actually said she was an ex-punk rocker. She told me she wished I would stop writing about punk, because punk was oppressive and punks were assholes. She said she'd quit punk rock to get away from all the abusive people in the scene. (That part still makes me wanna laugh-cry til I barf.) Worse than the experience itself was everything that occurred in the aftermath. A large portion of the zine community, these supposed progressive and radical zine punx, people I looked up to and respected, people who had written about sexual assault and consent in their zines, called me a liar. Eleven years later, I'm still not over that. Why the fuck would I lie about it? I went through fucking hell, and it was made so much worse when I opened up about it (in my own zine, which up 'til that point had been a place where I could write about anything, no matter how dark or secret). Why would I lie about it and put myself


through being called names, being threatened, being partially blacklisted from the zine world?

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The second was one of the King Punk Rockers of Kenosha. I consented to making out with him, I consented to oral sex, but I did not consent to PiV sex, and he did not take "no" for an answer. The aftermath of it was just as bad, in a different way. When I finally told people about it, no one called me a liar - but I still ran into him at the bar from time to time.

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In this discussion of Punk Trauma, a question was brought up: should we blame punk itself for the traumas inflicted upon us by certain punks?

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I have experienced many other, "lesser" traumas, in my adult life: getting groped or harassed or threatened, receiving unwanted sexualized attention, and those times it wasn't rape cos I said "okay" but it almost was cos I didn't want to. Some of those have been perpetrated by punks, or in punk spaces, but most of them had nothing to do with punk, or punks. Also, some of the most supportive people I've ever known, people who encouraged me to follow my dreams, who had my back if anyone fucked with me, who gave me a bottle of whiskey and a shoulder to cry on when I was trying to process my traumas, have been punks. So I've been raped, harassed, and called a liar by some punks, but others have been beyond great to me. How do I unpack that?

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I can't blame punk. I want to rid the scene of the rapists and rape apologists, of the racists and sexists and homophobes, of the GG Allin fans (seriously, I am forever giving the side-eye to people who are like really into GG Allin) - but I can't blame punk. Because for every shitty thing that has happened to me at the hands of a punk, punk itself has given me five things that saved my fucking life. Above all else, it has given me a space where I am allowed to be angry at, and fight back against, everyone who has fucked me over.

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XII. "Belief" The other night, I was drinking rum with a couple of my pals. When the time came to put on some music, they


asked what I wanted to listen to. "I dunno," I said, "I'm pretty much only listening to punk, these days." "Ah, nostalgia," one of them said. I mumbled something like, "Nah, I've been listening to a lot of new shit, too," but what I meant to say was "No, not nostalgia! Well, yes, nostalgia always, but that's not all of it! I still believe in punk!"

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I still believe in punk. Maybe punk is dead. Maybe punk is the undead zombie forever gnawing on my brain. Maybe punk is dead; maybe I don't fucking care. Maybe I just believe in the power of rock'n'roll to burn furious like gasoline, to purify and electrify me. Maybe I just believe in something that creates and destroys, rebels against whatever you've got, and buries our parents, yet is also sentimental and nostalgic. Maybe the belief is the thing.

! ! ! Tell me how to punk. !

Every time you don't believe, the punk scene dies, so clap motherfuckers, clap. XIII. "How"

Argue about who would win in a fight between Kathleen Hanna and Wendy O. Williams. Buy a copy of Aaron Cometbus’ Double Duce and love it then lend it to all your friends who don’t get it and think it’s depressing they live in a shithole and destroy themselves rather than energising and inspiring. Feel weird. Feel alone. Do a weird manic shuffle around your room to World/Inferno until the people downstairs think you’re having an epileptic fit. Start a zine, never put out an issue. Wear dumb shitty clothes and pretend it’s a statement. Make statements and pretend you’re just being dumb and shitty. Learn how to play a bunch of poppunk songs and forget the words even though


there’s only four lines. Give yourself a name like Johnny Fucknuts or Joanie Nutfuck and have no-one call you it. Read Cometbus some more, drill Punk Rock Love is… into your head convinced it’s the most perfect piece of writing ever and then actually fall in love and it’s nothing like that at all but it’s still pretty goddamn amazing even if she doesn’t share your appreciation for the finer subtleties of mid-90s Chicago punk. Connect with a bunch of sarcastic oddballs on the internet who live hundreds or thousands of miles away. Fuck your throat up when you’re drunk trying to sound like the guy from Dangers. Sound like an idiot when you’re down and trying to sound like Billy Bragg. Know exactly where punk started and where it started for you. Selfmythologise, self-deprecate, get bored and write songs about getting bored. Like Black Flag. Spend money you don’t have on vinyl. Get irked by metalheads. Crush on someone who’s dead now. Learn what anarcho-syndicalism is. Whisper ‘me’ to yourself when Jello Biafra asks “Who’s that kid at the back of the room?” in InSight. Be cynical. Get angry. Get wasted at a boring sXe hardcore show. Stand sober at the back of a Beerzone show because you just can’t get into it right now and you take the bus home worried that maybe you’re falling out of love with punk rock and what the fuck are you gonna do now. Hear a BTMI! song 12 hours later and laugh because it still means so so fucking much. Know what BTMI stands for. And CBGBs. And ACAB. And KARP. And you. Get jealous that you’re too broke to go to Fest.


Dance in the backrooms of pubs and in house shows and fall over and get picked back up. Misalign your headbanging and crack heads with the guy in front of you by accident so later you’re not sure if the sheer fucking awesomeness of the band blew you away or if you’re just mildly concussed. Start a band. Start another zine. Start a stupid fucking blog. Get annoyed by hippies. Get annoyed by punks. Love them all anyway. Be stupid. Be smart. Be a cunt. Scour blogs for new bands. Throw them at people until a couple stick. Have a favourite Japanese hardcore band. Have a favourite European neocrust band. Have a favourite Jawbreaker album. Have a favourite Clash song. Fetishise duct-tape. Have a favourite Ramone. Have it be Dee Dee. Lament that you were born too late, be happy you were born right when you were. Build something. Burn it down. Stomp through the ashes until they billow up and get caught in your throat like a Cock Sparrer song so you fall to your knees retching and coughing and tears streaming from your face and all your friends laugh at you, drink a glass of water. Feel a little better. Feel a little better. Feel a little better. Do none of this shit apart from maybe the last one every time you play one of those songs, those songs, the ones written by the same sort of twat that you are.

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Or you know, just spike your hair and listen to The Casualties and tell your parents and/or guardians to fuck off.

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-Joe Briggs

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XIV. "Talk" A few weeks ago, someone wrote on their blog that we should all stop talking about What Punk Is, because no matter how earnest and honest you're being, you're going to end up sounding like a jackass. "Also," they said, "we're no longer in the 9th grade."

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I have to disagree. I want to talk about what punk is, forever. I think it’s super-important, actually. (It can also be really hilarious, but the two aren’t mutually exclusive.) Also, where did they go to 9th grade? No one I knew in 9th grade talked about "what punk is," except in the sense of, like, calling people posers cos they had the "wrong" shoes or listened to the "wrong" bands. That’s not the sort of thing I’m talking about. I’m talking about having real, meaningful discourse about what punk is and isn’t. I think that’s the only way we can stop it from becoming stale; the only way we can make sure it grows and changes along with us. Because -

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I was going to tell you something. I mean, I was going to prove a point. You see, this happened a few months ago, but it’s still going on right now, and it ought to make us feel ashamed when we talk like we know what we’re talking about when we talk about punk.

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the world’s a mess, it’s in my kiss

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When it wasn’t gin and tonics all night long, it was blackberry brandy mixed with Sprite. Booze was about the only thing that dulled the sharp edges of the constant panic. Panic about all the changes about to occur in my life, and the worse panic, the illogical panic I convinced myself I had syphilis. This chick walked up to me at the pub, one night. I did not know who she was, but she sure knew me. Knew of me. Then, as always, my reputation preceded me. She was the ex-girlfriend of this guy I fucked a couple summers previous. She was his girlfriend when I slept with him; I hadn’t known he was dating anyone, in fact as soon as I found out I broke things off with him. But she, like so many women, could not blame the shitty boyfriend. No, she painted me in her head as the evil temptress, and she came to confront me - though it was two years later and as I said, I hadn’t known. I tried to explain that to her, even offered to buy her a drink, I think, some kind of alcoholic peace offering. She wasn’t having any of it. She called me all the usual names: slut, bitch, cunt, whore. I’d heard them all before, but they stung that time. Stung because I was trying so hard to be good, to not be that slutty bitch anymore, and I was failing spectacularly. “All the people you’ve slept with, I can’t believe you don’t have some fuckin’ disease,” she said, then walked away. Though I had been tested, several times, and was (mostly) careful, I thought - “She’s right. I probably do have some fuckin’ disease.” And I had just finished reading a novel in which the main character had syphilis, and suddenly my mosquito bites were marks of syphilis and my panic attacks and sadnesses were signs of impending insanity. I did not have syphilis, or any other STD, but even after I knew that for sure I couldn’t stop panicking.

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There was a creeping sense of doom to that entire summer. It blew in with the hot hot wind; that summer was so hot, somehow dry and humid at the same time. It never rained, but always threatened to, the sky choked and ash-gray; a scorching desert wind blew in from the west and the dry ground swirled into dust clouds, dust which stuck to everything in that thick, humid air. My


sense of doom clung to me like dust, I could not shake it. My love affairs were doomed, all of them. The comedian, the sad girl, the musician, the ex-goth, the carnie - my lovers were no angels, they were devils in many ways. I worked a dead-end job that I felt stuck in, that barely paid enough to support my gin habit. I felt stuck in my hometown; I was set to move to Milwaukee at the beginning of autumn yet somehow it seemed like I could never leave. Worst of all, I began to be afraid of telling the truths of my life. Everything hurt too much and I grew fearful of hurting others. Oh, and there was that midsummer pregnancy, but our old pal Vitamin C took care of that.

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I did things to try and get my mind off it all. I mean, I did things other than drink. I rode my bicycle to the park and lay under big old oak trees and read Thomas Wolfe and smoked cigarettes. When I wasn’t reading Wolfe, I read the poetry of Dorothy Parker and Edna St. Vincent Millay. I’m not sure their words improved my mood but at least Dorothy made me laugh in a sort of gin-martiniup-with-a-twist way, and Edna made me sigh and say “women have loved before as I love now.” At times, I wrote my own words. Sonnets inspired by Miss Millay, or fictional stories. I wrote some damn good fiction that summer. I may have been scared of writing the stories of my own life, but I was able to at least tell the truth when it came to characters I invented. I pretended I was a fictional character. I played dress-up; spent the chunks of my paychecks that didn’t go to booze or bills on vintage dresses. I dressed up 1920s, ’30s, ’40s, ’50s. I listened to music, of course, for some reason that summer I listened to a lot of rockabilly, alt-country, gothic Americana. Guess those spooked-out cowboys understood the whole doom and darkness thing. I played my accordion, my piano, my guitar; wrote my own dark and apocalyptic songs. Apocalyptic, yes. It wasn’t just my own future that frightened me, it was the future of the whole world. I started having my Armageddon dreams again, once a month or so they came in floods and flames. I turned to the tarot, took them everywhere with me, went so far as to lay them out on sticky bar tables and read them while the other patrons looked at me like I’d brought some kinda bad mojo in with me. I consulted the tarot so often that it ceased to help and


only made me more muddled. The only decipherable message that came up over and over again was - “You feel trapped in your current situation. You need to escape, any way you can. A trip would do you much good.” Whenever I had enough time off work to get away, for a week or a day, I went wherever I could - Milwaukee, Chicago, Lake Geneva, Door County. Those awaymoments were good. And there were some good moments with some of my lovers.

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I could say more about some of the lovers. About the sad girl, and how I still love her. About the carnie; but the gods know I have written enough shit about him over the years. About the musician, and how deep down I always had an inkling that we were better off as friends, but I confused finally feeling comfortable in a relationship with True Love. But why would I talk about any of them when the one that summer was about, the one this story is about (he’s haunting between the lines), is Jack of Spades. Jack. The ex-goth more cheerful than I was in so many ways but also much more of a whiner. Jack of Spades. I gave him gin and brandy and music. He gave me words too pretty to be true; he gave me a crashing like storm-waves on Lake Michigan. He gave me adventure and strips of photobooth pictures. He was a dreamdemon boy with a pumpkin smile. He was younger than I; not so much younger in the grand scheme of things, but enough younger that it seemed significant, then. And my god we exploded, imploded, an utter disaster - and I knew from the moment I met him that it would be like that, volatile, white-hot. So why, why, why did I fall for him with such abandon?

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The night we met, after bar close had long since come and gone, after we had made love for the first time, all twisted at strange angles in the back seat of his small blue car, we walked out to the edge of the water. We walked barefoot, cut our feet to hell on sharp stones and glass shards and didn’t give a fuck; sang songs at the top of our lungs. The sun was just beginning to rise, night melding into day - the horizon tinged with the first washes of peach light, but the shadow of the moon still hanging on the sky. When we reached the water, I started telling him he didn’t want to get mixed up with a gal like me. Yeah, we’d already fucked, but that didn’t


mean we were gonna be a "thing," and I spelled it out for him, told him all the ways that I was fucked, that my life was fucked. When I finished trying to scare him off, I said - “The world’s a mess, it’s in my kiss.” And I meant it, but I also meant, please kiss me. He did.

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Beer City Trilogy

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I. It’s two days before the Fourth of July, and the city of Milwaukee stinks of yeast and dead fish, stinks of charcoal, cut grass, fresh tar. It stinks of shit, road kill, and sulfur. The bars of Bayview just yelled out their last calls, and drunks are spilling out onto the sidewalks, sidewalks littered with red, white, and blue beer cans. I’m flying down Kinnickinnic Avenue on my bike, and a hot wind lifts the bottom of my dress and reveals a flash of my thighs to passers-by. A pack of white college boys, their bellies full of beer and their groins full of angry lust, whistle at me; I clench my teeth and pedal faster. A cop car speeds down the street, siren blaring, lights bleeding red and blue into the night. I round the corner at Rusk, take Rusk to Superior, turn left on Superior, turn right on Estes, and then I’m there. South Shore Park, the place I’ve spent many nights trying to clear my head; the place I’ve spent so many nights lurking late, after the park is closed, ducking behind trees to avoid park security.

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II. One Fourth of July, I stood with my boyfriend and a gaggle of punk rockers, train hoppers, roller derby girls, and comic book nerds on a Riverwest rooftop. It was a pause in the day's revelries, after the BBQs and before we really hit the booze. The hazy sky held the smell of gunpowder from the firecrackers folks had been lighting off for days already. All that red and blue blended into a purple dusk. We all clutched sweaty bottles of beer in our dirty hands; some of us smoked cigarettes. We watched the sky darken. And then the fireworks, showers of silver sparks and green and pink and blue and red flowers of fire exploding over that ugly lake, exploding over the cream brick buildings and the woodshingled houses. That hour on the rooftop, that view of the city - it was the best thing that boyfriend ever gave me.

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III. And I saw the buildings and smokestacks emerging from the humid summer haze. And I thought about all my favorite secret places of Milwaukee. None of them were truly secret, in the sense of no one else knowing about them - what I mean is, they were special to me,


and they were places I only went alone or with very select people, people who I was pretty sure would Get It. Because places like that, if you take the wrong person with you, it kills the magic. Like the bend in the Kinnickinnic River, where the sunken, rotting boat is. Like my favorite trainyard, where sometimes I would go to catch out, but sometimes I would just go there to sit and think and drink. Like the crumbling side streets of Walkers Point; like the shadows underneath that one particular railroad bridge where the trains curve past at frequent intervals. Like Southshore Park. Like the Locust Street Bridge. Even the fucking Hi-Fi, sometimes, or Burnheart's, sometimes, or Fuel, once upon. I miss those things. I miss riding my bike across the damn city until I nearly collapsed. I miss Bayview and Riverwest. I miss basement shows and bars. I miss my sad drunk hoodlum pals.

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Starfucker (or: my famous ex-boyfriends)

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I used to be a starfucker. Only, not on purpose. I just happened to fuck some people, who just happened to be (kinda) famous. There were four of them - well, no, there were more of them, but there were four that are the ones I still hear about the most. And none of them were officially Boyfriends, but for the purpose of this story, I’ll call them that.

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All of them were older than I was. One by five years, two by eight or nine years, one by twenty-nine years. Three of them - all except the one that was so much older than the rest - I am older now than they were when we met. Two of them lived in New York City. Two of them lived in Chicago. I met all of them in Chicago. Three of them were musicians. One was a writer. One musician was also a writer. Another was also a painter, and an actor. The writer was also a musician. Fucking artists. I should stop fucking artists. One of the musicians was also a bricklayer. He didn’t fancy himself an artist. He just did what he did. He was the most humble of the bunch.

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Only one of them was famous when we met. The other three were more infamous than anything; their work only known in the punk scene. Even the already-famous one was really only famous to a certain type of person; a certain coffee-and-cigarettedamaged jazz-listening art-school crowd.

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Two of them sought me out - one tracked down my email address, the other my mailing address, both said they were fans of my art. So maybe they were the starfuckers? In a way, I mean. (Let’s pretend I’m Edna St. Vincent Millay and can seduce men with my poetry.)


One of them, I sought him out. I’d heard a lot of stories about him, they intrigued me, I set out to seduce him. One of them, there was no seeking. We knew each other; we ended up in bed.

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One of them was married. One of them had an on-again, off-again girlfriend. One of them got me pregnant - three times. One of them was a raging fucking alcoholic. Two of them had coke habits. I loved three of them. Those same three, we had on-again, off-again things. The one I did not love, it only happened with him a couple times. I mostly just felt sick. All four of them told me, at one time or another, that they’d never get over me. At least one of them was lying.

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This is all vague. How about some specifics? #1: He lived in Chicago. He was married. He was a writer. We were friends. He was kind of my mentor; he helped me get a couple things published, he gave me feedback on my work. He got it, I thought. I don’t know why I slept with him. I did not love him. He’d already helped me with my writing, so it wasn’t that. He told me I was pretty and cool. I guess I was flattered. He was cute, in a dorky way. I liked his tattoos. He was really funny, made me laugh. We only slept together a couple times. I felt guilty. One of my friends told me it was his moral fumble, not mine. Once, after it was over, I ran into him in a bar, when I was on my first date with #2. He looked sad and confused. He knew #2. They’d known each other since childhood. Two years later, I ran into him at a show. His wife was there. We made small talk. Ratticus glared at him the whole time. See, I didn’t love him, but he ruined my life for a while. The novel that really made his name had this part in it that was very similar to something I wrote, something that I let him read. Something I gave him a copy of.


I only recently got over it. I realized that he didn’t steal any of my words, he only wrote something with a similar sentiment. Probably, no one else would even notice the similarities, unless they were looking hard. Anyway, I steal lines and inspiration from other people all the time. I haven’t seen or heard from him in seven years. He writes me into his characters, sometimes.

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#2: He lived in Chicago. He was a raging fucking alcoholic. He was a musician - the humble, hardworking one. He sought me out. Saw his band mentioned on my website, read the rest of my website, emailed me. “You should come to our next show. I’ll put you on the guest list.” “Okay,” I replied, “if I can interview you cats for the mag I write for.” So I interviewed his band, and he kept touching me, and running across the room to light my cigarettes. For all that, it was another seven months before we even kissed. We both had other complications, I think. We finally kissed on a warm, foggy November night. (That was the night I ran into #1 at the bar.) We finally kissed, and I smiled for days. We were in love, but it took us years to admit. We were both scared. We had wretched timing when it came to each other, too. We had an on-again, off-again thing for five years. He remembered all of my stories. He sang me Johnny Cash songs. He had an off-kilter voice, a crooked smile. He touched me like I was the most beautiful creature ever to walk the earth. I haven’t seen or heard from him in nearly four years. We avoid each other. I tell myself it’s better this way; tell myself that if we’d ever truly been In A Relationship, we would’ve drunk ourselves to death. But I would have turned my claddagh right-side up for him, if the timing had ever been right.

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#3: He lived in New York. I met him in Chicago, but we didn’t sleep together until two weeks later, in Pittsburgh. We fucked in a motel bathroom. I got pregnant. We had an on-again, off-again thing for two years. Every time I tried to end it, he would somehow get me to give in


and try it again. He was a charming bastard. And I loved him. Every time we were on-again, I got pregnant. He had another on-again, off-again girl the whole time, and he did the same things to her that he did to me, except one thousand times worse. I knew about her, some of the time. Other times, he told me they were done, for good. And I kept trying to tell myself he and I were done for good - but that would have been too easy, far too easy; and though he and I were both easy, our love never was. Really, we were too much alike to make it work. He destroyed me, multiple times, but I wasn’t entirely innocent, either, and I’ve forgiven him. The best time in our whole relationship was when I was riding the Chinatown Bus from Philly to NYC, to see him. I mean, the bus trip itself was the best part - because before I got there, I thought, maybe we can make a go of it, this time. But no. We fought, cried, did coke - and I got pregnant, again. I have not seen him since. He still sends me letters, occasionally. I can not respond, because the only way to quit him was to do it cold turkey. He still appears in my dreams, but not with the frequency he once did. Sometimes, he writes songs for me.

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#4: He lived in New York. I lived in Milwaukee. He wrote me a beautiful paper letter that had me swooning instantly. Within two months, we arranged a date to meet, in Chicago. We had a whirlwind day-and-a-half. We danced, made love, talked of jazz and Buddhism and Marc Chagall. I saw him twice after that - went to New York City to visit. There were dates to Coney Island, there was cocaine. Once, he told me I was too beautiful to even exist. Eventually, he asked me to move to NYC, to be a we. I didn’t. I loved him, terribly, but I I couldn’t believe that someone so much older, so much more talented, could truly be in love with me. And I was so young, and so scared.


I haven’t heard from him in four years, or so. I recently found out that he is very ill - in fact was already ill when we met - and it broke my heart, that he never told me what was really going on. Sometimes I wish I had moved east, to be with him. It could have been very, very beautiful.

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So those are them. My famous ex-boyfriends. You can try and guess who they are, but it doesn’t really matter. And I’ll never tell. Unless I’m drunk. (It was drinking that got me into all this trouble in the first place.) I haven’t talked to any of them in years, but I can’t avoid hearing about them. Two of them are still friends with some of my friends. And all of them They pop up on the Internet. Their music, art, stories. (Whatever else I can say about them, they are a talented lot.) And I hear all these kids talking about how cool they are, so I just want to say: kids, don’t sleep with them. Once you fuck them, they don’t seem so cool anymore. They become cheaters. Coke fiends. Alcoholics. Beautiful, imperfect human beings.

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! When Dawn Breaks !

When dawn breaks over the city of Chicago, the streetcleaning machines wssshhhh one last time down the avenues, brushing the dregs of the previous night into the gutters. When dawn breaks over the city of Chicago, the stragglers from last night’s revelries vomit one last time into the river, which is green all year long, not just on St. Patrick’s Day.  When dawn breaks over the city of Chicago, a faint breeze blows in from the east, smelling of factory smoke and sewer gas and chocolate from Blommer’s Chocolate Factory, and the mulberry trees shiver and stretch their sleepy limbs. When dawn breaks over the city of Chicago, the sleeping el trains begin to awaken, creaking to life in the humid summer morn, getting ready to pick up passengers from the northern parts of the city and drop them off in the Loop. When dawn breaks over the city of Chicago, a hungover haze of a girl rubs her eyes and lights a cigarette, begins a slow saunter from a lover’s loft in Wicker Park to a friend’s flat in Humboldt Park. When dawn breaks over the city of Chicago, the other people on the streets nod at her; they are other girls in ripped stockings and the smeared traces of last night’s make-up, smiling a little to themselves, they are homeless crawling out from hidden doorways asking if she can spare a few bucks, they are businessmen rushing toward work in the Mercantile or punk rockers on bicycles rushing toward nowhere in particular, and they nod as if to say, what are you doing awake so early. When dawn breaks over the city of Chicago, they sip their coffee, they turn the volume on their headphones up higher, they wonder why they’re awake so early, or, if they’re still awake, why they haven’t yet gone to sleep. The girl, the strangers she passes on the street, they become the same, they become the same as all the tired masses of that lonely stinking city, their hearts breaking with the dawn, hearts breaking like the bottles they drank at a 4 a.m. bar the night before, breaking like the real dreams that smashed in the gutter, the real dreams they had so long ago. When dawn breaks over the city of Chicago, the strangers on the street think of skipping out on work and sitting all day in the park, pulling on a cold beer, tossing a Frisbee with


friends; imagine lighting off firecrackers all day by the lakeshore or visiting a tourist trap that they secretly love; think of eating a hot dog, loaded with everything, and listening to the ball game on the radio. They have all left Chicago before, and they have all returned, to haunt the summer sidewalks like the ghost of Nelson Algren, because smashed dreams or no, no other lovelier lovely has ever felt so much like home.

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When dawn breaks over the summer city of Chicago, the hazy hungover girl steps into a café, pulls a couple ragged dollars from her pocket. The strangers go on their way, off to work or home to bed, or, if they’re lucky, to pass the hot, sticky day with loitering and other criminal mischief. The girl hands the money to the barista, orders an iced coffee; it is not the café she wishes she were in, but that one closed years ago, another thing trampled over by the death march of progress. Still, some things never change; she walks back into the heat, squints her eyes at the lightening sky, and then continues to walk west, wondering if anyone at her friend’s place will be awake, smoking on the porch, waiting to hear her stories from the night before. She, too, has left Chicago so many times, has tried to find home in other climes, so she knows – once you’ve loved the Second City, you’ll return to it again and again. All roads lead to Chicago.

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Crime Thing

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Crime Thing I've known you for close to a fucking decade and you've always set me on fire like a Molotov cocktail thrown through the window of a cop car. I never told you, the timing was always wrong, so our friendship was just brief flashes of secret passion, sharing zine-talk and stolen cigarettes and those hugs that lasted just a beat too long, drunk on whiskey or coffee-high. Crime Thing I don't know what happened that night, why I finally got brave, but one minute we were pounding beers on the porch and then, and then, our lips were locked and your hands were in my hair. After all those years of waiting, it could have been a let down, but oh, fuck, it was just as good as I'd imagined, no, wait, it was better even than that. Somehow we stumbled to your car, somehow I managed to purchase prophylactics - I wanted to steal them but was too drunk to pull off such a sneaky crime. But Crime Thing I wasn't too drunk to fall into your bed, and thank you for checking in, thanks for making sure I really wanted to do it. Oh, I did, really want to. Maybe more than you'll ever know. And with your hands and your mouth and everything else, with your burning fuck you gave me back to myself, made me beautiful and dangerous again. And I screamed so loud I woke your upstairs neighbors, whoops, sorry I ain't sorry. And afterwards we were burning cigarettes, standing in front of a Pilsen basement apartment, I was only wearing my underwear and your faded raggedy Crimethinc t-shirt; I shivered from the chill night air, shivered from the newness and the dĂŠjĂ  vu, from terror and gladness. Then back to bed, for more, for more, and we tried to get a few hours of sleep, and maybe you were able to but Crime Thing, I was too wired on lust and adrenaline. So I lay there and thought, shit, "I thought this could just be a release of a pent-up decade of attraction, I thought we could just be friends who fucked, but no, there are those tender feelings creeping in and I certainly didn't see this one coming but - nobody ever sees it coming, no exceptions at all."

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Interlude: a month of emails and text messages, the 21st-century version of a romance through letters. Dirty dirty sexts interspersed with "this song made me think of


you" and "let's have an affair that'll be written about in romance novels and totally-crushed-out zines"; sayin' "fuck the police!" and "fuck voting!" and also saying "I'm drunk & sad & things are bad, I'm broke, I almost got arrested." Inside jokes and sappy shit and "I miss you so." Only anarchists are pretty, my dearest, and us anarcho-punks can be sappier than most cos we ain't dead inside like those ugly authoritarians.

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And then, finally, after a long long month, I was on a train and you met me at Union Station and that Windy City wind blew fierce and wild, and I felt wild and pounced fiercely into your arms. Crime Thing, you're so perilous, such a criminal, baby, maybe that's why it felt so right to know that all we had was those twenty-odd hours I stole from my real life back home, twenty-some pilfered hours to tear down the town, put a new coat of blood-red paint on it, get fucked up and fuck shit up. And to fuck, of course, and that was the first thing we did; ran from the train to the el, ran across the sidewalks of Pilsen, ran inhaling the smells of coffee and corn tortillas, winded cos we're both smokers, but going as fast as we could cos we had to have each other's flesh beneath our restless fingers. Before our clothes were even all the way off, we had to pause, I was shaking and on the verge of hyperventilating, you asked if I was okay and I said "I just need some water," but Crime Thing I was shaking with desire, not dehydration. It was one thing to wait nine years to be with you, but after I knew how good it could be, that month apart built and built the heat inside me. I drank some water, I calmed down, and then, oh god, yes, there and there and there.

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Dusk and time for adventure. First, to Quimby's, to make out in the photobooth. I can hardly look at that strip of pictures, now; any fool could see the love lurking in those four frames, they are too vivid of a reminder of what I had in my life for all too brief a time. Anyway, Crime Thing, we had to get out of that photobooth quickly, not cos of love but because hands were already roaming and you started to growl a little under your breath and I certainly didn't want to be banned from Quimby's for life. So we walked, stopped sometimes to sip rye whiskey from my flask, to sip and smoke in Wicker Park alleyways. All our scars were showing in the


gathering dark, our vulnerabilities leaking out on our whiskey-loosened tongues. There were funny stories exchanged, too, stories that made us high-five each other and say "sweet, bro." (Like all the best love affairs, we were closer than lovers; we were as close as brothers.)

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Crime Thing we walked so far across Filth City that night. We walked from Wicker Park all the way to Lake View, we walked and we talked, talked about our shared history of zine readings and pirate radio and shows at the Fireside Bowl. We walked, passed the flask back and forth, skulked down side streets to avoid the cops that were everywhere, everywhere - like they'd called the force out en masse cos they knew the two of us delinquents were out, together. We hid from cops, and sometimes stopped walking to make out in the shadows; I got so turned on that I pawed at my own hoodie to have something to do with my hands, tore at it so hard that I ripped a hole clean through it. We walked under the freeway, over the river, saw the lights of downtown shining and blurring on the ink black water. We walked past the weedy viny darkness of Chi Che Wang Park, and then we were at the bar. The bar - Delilah's, cos it was Punk Rock Monday. We both ran into people we knew from different towns and different times, we made introductions and shared hugs and high-fives and slainte-s with suburban skinheads and Kenocore kids and NoLa freight riders; some of my old fiends saw the way I looked at you, Crime Thing, half-sweet and halfleering, and they've known me long enough that they knew - I was on the prowl, and still disobedient after all these years. Oh, I was on the prowl alright, a Chicago monster ready to take your skin between my teeth and wash the taste of your sweat down with round after round of drinks. We bought each other round after round of drinks, beers and whiskey-shots; swapped Delilah's stories from days gone by, stories of good dates and bad nervous breakdowns, drunken nights and nights doing lines of shitty coke. I told you about one of the good dates, with a particular fella, gave you just enough details that you said - "Tell me it was Aaron Cometbus." "No, I wish," I said, and you said, "So do I!" and I thought how fucking rad it was to be able to tell you about other flames without even a hint of jealousy flaring between us. We sang along to all the songs the DJ played. I told


you of my own days spinning punk rock records at Delilah's; told you about the time I played Apocalypse Hoboken and some guy got so excited that he leapt across the bar to hug me. And there were more drinks, more sing-alongs, more old pals to pound shots with. Crime Thing, we are nostalgia keepers, and that night, we were uppin' the motherfuckin' punx. A Buzzcocks song came on - 'Ever Fallen In Love (With Someone You Shouldn't've)?' "This song, or 'What Do I Get?'" you asked. "This one," I said, and I was falling, I had fallen, though I knew I shouldn't've.

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We stayed until we were drunk (though drunk on booze or on each other, who can say), then began the trek back to your den of iniquity, my Crime Boss Thing. We stopped to make out some more, you pressed me up against brick walls and dumpsters, and it was too too much. "I need you now," I said, and we looked around for a place to go. There was a Catholic church, St. Something-or-other - but no, no, us anarcho-Irish punks couldn't quite do that, even though we long stopped believing in the Church, we would have felt too guilty. There was a school - yes, perfect, the church we couldn't desecrate but we are fond of smashing the state. We sequestered ourselves in a dark corner of the playground and soon your hands were everywhere, under my shirt, down my pants, then yanking my jeans down around my ankles, and then your fingers were inside me and I had to grit my teeth to keep from screaming. Momentarily sated, we tripped back toward Pilsen. We looked for a grocery store at which we could rustle up some grub; they had all closed for the night, so we got food at 7-11. Back at your pad, we stood in the kitchen laughing and shoving down the 7-11 swill, and then we adjourned to your room. We'd talked about making a zine together, about the night's adventures, but our time was so finite Crime Thing, that we opted to occupy your bed. That's where we were until sunrise, and after sunrise, with short breaks in between to spoon and fake sleep, or smoke cigarettes in your small mosquito-infested backyard. We went through the rest of the condoms we'd purchased the month prior, as well as many more that I'd brought with me. I knew we'd need them. Speaking of Catholicism, again - oh, bless me, Crime Thing, for I have sinned. We sinned, over and over and over. Squalid


and warmhearted. No one else has ever fucked me like you did, baby, no one else has ever made me cum quite like that.

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Late morning, we made coffee, showered, I packed my bag. "Should we go get breakfast?" you asked, but who needs food, I just wanted to be filled by you. Our clothes came off, again, again, and then, time had ticked itself out, Crime Thing. We got in your car, drove through heavy downtown traffic to Union Station. We talked about light things, tried to act like we weren't both thinking of my leaving. You parked in the drop-off area, hazards flashing; we sat in your car holding hands and smoking a last cigarette together. Then a deep deep kiss, and it was sexy, your hands on the back of my neck and your tongue flicking at mine, and it was sad, because I knew it was our last kiss, or at least our last one for a very long time. On the train, headed north, I finally let myself cry.

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Crime Thing, I haven't seen you in 77 days, and I don't know when I'll get the chance to see you next. And we may never touch again, except for those hugs that last just a beat too long, but you live in my heart, and you pay no rent. You fuckin' criminal, you anarcho-hunk you busted the rusty lock on my heart, and you claimed squatters' rights.

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9/22/12

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There are so many stories I left untold. That's why there will always be more issues of my zine. Ten years from now, I'll be telling the stories of what my life was like when I was in my early thirties.

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Neither art, nor shitty fanzines, are created in a vacuum, so a lot of people contributed to this issue, both directly and indirectly.

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First, credit where credit is due: the photos used to create the punk tarot cards were found online. I do not know who took them, but it wasn't me. The lyrics on the back cover are from the Jawbreaker song 'Jinx Removing.' The term mythistory was coined by Robert Moss in his book The Secret History of Dreaming. I quoted Aaron Cometbus twice in this issue - in the introduction, and in 'What We Talk About When We Talk About Punk.' (If you haven't read any Cometbus yet, well, you really should. He set the bar for personal fanzines way too high for most of us to even come close to reaching.) Other than Cometbus, I quoted and excerpted many people in 'What We Talk About' - The Mr. T Experience, Nigh (found here - http:// rateyourmusic.com/list/nigh/ major_arcana_of_the_punk_rock_tarot), Rebecca Solnit, Drinking Sweat In the Ash Age zine, Joe Briggs (visit 'Is This Punk Rock?' - http:// isthispunkrock.tumblr.com), and I bastardized the title and the final paragraph from the Raymond Carver story 'What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.' The rad letter preceding this page was sent to me by Thomas of Showerbeers zine, and wins the award for best letter I've ever received. Everything else in this zine is by me. Feel free to quote me whenever and wherever you like, as long as you give me credit; if you want to use a full piece, please contact me first, and we'll work something out.

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I have a lot of people to thank - friends and lovers and family and penpals and editors and people I had Important Discussions About Punk with: Declan (I'm sure having a punk rock mama won't always be easy, but I love you all day, every day), Patrick, Lissa, Ratticus,


Emchy, Waza, Stacey Marie, Aaron Cynic, Stefan Blitz, Johnny Midnite, Joe Briggs, Thomas (Showerbeers), Tee (Sour Puss), Lenore, Luno, OtherxCore, Brittany (Playing Victim), Katie (The La-La Theory), Jes ('Modernist Witch'), and Annie (River Trash). And of course, big thanks to you, whoever you are, for reading this.

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The other people, places, and things that inspired and fueled me through this are - my vices (coffee, cigarettes, beer, and the occasional whiskey drink; my vices are a lot simpler than they used to be), bike rides, long drives, train rides, exploring my hometown, Evelyn's on Main (best bar in Racine), Chicago, the Chicago Zine Fest, Door County, Milwaukee, MKE Punk (http:// www.mkepunk.com), Wisconsin punx, nostalgia (duh), research & archival, stick & poke tattoos, The Collective Tarot, folklore, messing around with copy art/Sharpie art/white-out art for the first time in close to a decade, punk comics (particularly anything by Liz Suburbia, Liz Prince, Mitch Clem, or Jaime Hernandez), RGR (who brought up the topic of Punk Trauma), Abram Shalom Himelstein (who came up with the title 'What We Talk About When We Talk About Punk,' all those years ago), gender confusion, mamahood, a bunch of books and zines (particularly: anything by Aaron Cometbus, A Cultural Dictionary of Punk by Nicholas Rombes, The Vicious Red Relic, Love by Anna Joy Springer, and Up the Witch Punks zine), and a shit ton of music (including: the Ramones, the Effigies, X, The Replacements, the World/ Inferno Friendship Society, Jawbreaker, Tom Waits, pretty much every Dan Vapid band - mainly Noise by Numbers and Dan Vapid and The Cheats, The Mountain Goats, and two great albums that came out while I was finishing up this issue - Firewater's International Orange! and Tooth Soup's Casting Off Curses).

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To find out what else I'm up to, you can visit my website - http://rustbeltjessie.com, though it's still under construction. These days, I'm most active on my blog http://rustbeltjessie.tumblr.com.

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Reckless Chants #18