Friday, April 8, 2011

White Dope on Punk: Chapter 13. Spot Skips School, Seeks Stardom

By Greg Kim
Ali Punk Rock – that’s what we called her - was waiting for me. I jumped off Muni and we walked toward the Quad at San Francisco State. It was early and the campus was bustling with students arriving for class. The pervasive fog formed a low ceiling, casting a white blanket into the far corners of the rectangular buildings. We were both students and had planned an action to coincide with other protests throughout the city. Ali looked exactly like the last hundred times I saw her: punk as fuck. We called people like this PFL—Punk for Life! They found a look and were sticking with it until death.

Inside the Student Union, we found a table against the wall, in a corner. A smattering of students speckled the abundant tables, books open, feverishly cramming before their 9 am classes. The lights were dimmed to give it a nightclub feel, a respite from the normal academic environment. It was a good place to discuss clandestine information.

Ali placed her backpack on the round table. Inside there was a plastic bag from the Canned Food Warehouse, a discount grocer where all canned products appeared to have fallen off a truck. Inside the bag were two badly dented cans of creamed corn. She opened the bag just enough where I could see them. A while back we decided that creamed corn was most consistent with vomit and that’s what we were looking for. She closed the backpack and dropped it at her feet.

I grabbed my satchel, a heavy black denim bag, and placed it where Ali’s bag had been. With the opening toward Ali, I revealed two cans of spray paint: black and red. The colors of revolution!

This was my last day at State. My bad student tendencies hadn’t changed and I was way too interested in extracurricular activities like music, specifically my band Short Dogs Grow, to study. The band was doing well; we had just put out a record and we were going on tour. Why stay in school? The two classes that I was still attending were falling apart and it was only a matter of time before I said “fuck it” or got kicked out of the class. I had a history of challenging teachers or shouting down other students, when I felt I just couldn’t take it anymore and I could feel that urge knocking at the door again.

A week prior in my Ethics class, I answered the door:

The teacher was asking us our thoughts on certain actions and if we thought they were a crime or not.

“OK, murder? Do you think it’s a crime?” he said, grabbing a piece of chalk. On a portable blackboard, in tiny letters, he wrote the word murder in all lowercase letters. Being that this was the first question in a series of many, all of us thought it was a trick question. We looked around, afraid to answer. It was obvious that it is a crime but in the back of our heads we figured the response to our answer could be: “Well, you know, in certain cultures murder is considered virtuous and a rite of passage.” The teacher was wearing a wool jacket with elbow patches that gave him kind of an Ivy League look, a look that said, “Don’t fuck with me, Kids, I went to Princeton and got a minor in Ethnic Studies.” A brave soul finally said, “Yeah, it’s a crime.” He put a small check mark next to murder.

From there it went on to Rape. Check. Kidnapping. Check. Bank Robbery. Check. Check. Check.

When we got down to “Litter, Jaywalking and Adultery” I raised my hand. Up to now, the class seemed like common sense, right or wrong answers to simple questions. Any idiot would know the difference. I had had enough and a semester's worth of boredom and frustration was about to be addressed.

“Yeah.” I always like to start out with “yeah.” It buys me some time, if I want to change my mind. “You know, isn’t this all common sense? Doesn’t everybody know that murder —killing another person—is wrong? And for that matter, kidnapping and every other crime?" I paused, silence. The teacher stood there, staring at me. Most of the class bowed their heads, not wanting to get involved; the other students were wide-eyed with anticipation. Filling the air, I continued and made it worse: “Furthermore, hasn’t this whole class just been common sense? Come on!” I stopped. Silence again. I was careful not to take my eyes off of him, while he stared me down. If I did, he would have me. His look was a mixture of shock and hatred.

Finally, he moved, grabbing his bag and said, “If you’re so smart, why don’t you teach the class?” It was a classic line—a cliché at best. On his way out the door, he paused and looked at me, waiting for a response. I shook my head and mouthed, “Come on, man. Give me a break.”

After five minutes, it was obvious that he wasn’t coming back. I grabbed my bag and went straight to the registrar's office and demanded to be withdrawn from the class, even when it was way past the withdraw deadline. I claimed that teacher could not fairly grade me after our incident. They agreed. I saw the teacher a few months later at the grocery store. Suffice to say, it was awkward.

My other fledgling class was some Chilean-1973-Noriega-Falklands-Bautista-Cuba-Che-Allende-Noriega hybrid class. It was very San Francisco State. It was taught by a visiting professor that wrote a book on the subject, which, of course, we were using as the text. The book was dry, intellectual and, I thought, unreadable. I’m sure many students ate it up.

The teacher was bearded, and I assumed bearded greats like Fidel Castro and Karl Marks were his inspiration. He had that exotic, revolutionary vibe; he wore tight button-up shirts and was prone to not using all of the buttons. And he was always a little sweaty. If ever got close to him, it was sure thing that he was smelly.

The students were a mishmash of opinionated, dogmatic lefty types, so his open shirt and liberal use of sexist language didn’t bode well with the feminists, or the feminist sympathizers like me and the other “empathetic” men in the class. Because of this, he was shouted down many times and there multiple dramatic exits from students, yelling, “Sexist pig!” The drama was about the only thing I liked about the class. Since there were many people like me who were prone to attacking the teacher, I let them do the dirty work. Coinciding with my Ethics outburst, I decided to stop attending this class too.

My last obligation to SF State was not a class, but a group that I was part of. At the beginning of the semester I posted flyers around campus advertising for students who were interested in Animal Rights. I posted a date, time and place to meet to discuss forming a student group around this issue. The flyer had a small caricature of a punk (the Circle Jerks punk) spray painting ALF (Animal Liberation Front) on a brick all. Back then, it was always a brick wall.

One person attended the initial meeting—her name was Jean. We sat around and waited for others to show, but nobody did. We talked and decided to form an animal rights group on campus, even if it was just her and I. I had already given some thought on a name and suggested SCAR—Students Concerned for Animal Rights. It was aggressive and, I thought, it represented direct action. And, it was called SCAR.

Jean and I were very different. She dressed in nice clothes, had long, straight blond hair and was very innocuous looking. She was one of the first “straight” people I met, who wasn’t punk but had somewhat radical views, specifically when it came to animal rights. She wouldn’t liberate animals, but she would provide the tools and write the press release. I was a brick thrower and she was a letter writer, but we found common ground.

To become a recognized group on campus you had to get a teacher to sponsor you and have a president and vice president. I found a sympathetic Health teacher, but the president issue was a big deal. Jean didn’t want to do it and I couldn’t do it because of my anti-authoritarian, anarchist beliefs. Eventually, we settled on both of us being vice president and made up a fictitious name for president.

Now that we had a fancy name, which was bound to attract new members, we scheduled another meeting. We posted flyers and encouraged “all to attend.” The night of the meeting I picked up Jean at her Clement Street apartment. She opened the passenger side door and stopped.

With a look of disgust, she said, “What’s this,” gesturing toward the lush sheep skin seat cover. I had seen the pictures of sheep, spread-eagled on a torture-type device, when being shaved for wool; however, when I received the seat cover for Christmas I hadn’t put the two together. It was soft, cuddly and would cover my gross passenger seat.

She refused to get in the car until I took it off. I quickly unclasped the back and threw it into the back seat. The ride down Sunset Avenue to State was long and quiet. I tried damage control, explaining that it was a gift and that I’d never purchase something that came from an animal, but it was futile. Right there our friendship was over.

At the meeting, there were a few new faces, which helped defuse the sheep incident. However, we soon realized they took the “all to attend” part literally and they were there to debate us. Plus, they were rather angry.

We held our own—arguing computer modeling, moral obligation and that most tests were trivial. They ripped into us. There were more of them and countered that the benefits of animal testing outweighed the moral issues. Looking us up and down for any signs of animal products that we wearing, they called us hypocrites. One of them said his mother had cancer and that if experimenting on animals would help his mother, he was for it. How do you argue with that? Fuckin’ great. We lost.

That was the last SCAR meeting. The sheep incident and debate defeat were hurdles too big to overcome. Jean and I went our separate ways. As far as I know, SCAR may still be on the books at SF State.

All these factors led up to this moment of me and Ali Punk Rock sitting at a table with two cans of creamed corn and two cans of spray paint in the Student Union.

We left and walked north to the Psychology building. There were unconfirmed rumors that they were experimenting on animals on the fifth floor. We took these rumors as truth.

Entering the double doors, I pushed the elevator button. On the fifth floor, Ali stayed with the elevator, holding it until I was done. Walking down the hallway, I glanced through the glass window doors, looking for students and teachers. The floor appeared to be empty. I took out the spray paint and wrote “Meat is Murder” and “ALF” on the walls, while slowing walking back to Ali. Alternating between black and red, I ran a continuous line of paint, slogans and just pure wanton graffiti. I reached Ali and the open elevator door and we were off.

Once out of the building, I ditched the spray paint in a trash can. We walked briskly to our next stop—the building that housed the office of the ROTC. I went into the bathroom to wash the remnants of paint off my hands. Pulling out a small container of turpentine, I scrubbed the red and black paint from my fingertips. I walked back outside and disposed of the turpentine container in the trash. We were careful to discard everything that linked us to the spray-painted Psychology building. Back inside the ROTC building, Ali was waiting. We huddled together and reiterated our plan. I pulled the two cans of creamed corn out of Ali’s backpack and held them as she used a can-opener to peel back the lids.

We burst into the ROTC office, a square room with two large wooden desks, one occupied by a man in uniform—a Marine I think. He rose as we pantomimed throwing up, gagging, holding the cans close to our mouths as we sprayed creamed corn over the walls and floor. When the cans were emptied, we fell to the ground in a dramatic die-in. We lay on the ground and watched large splats of creamed corn drip down the walls.

The Marine calmly got up and walked to the front of his desk, where we were laid out on the ground, eyes closed, bags at our side. We were giggling from nerves. He walked back to his desk, sat down and called security. Something told me that incidents like this were a regular occurrence at the ROTC.

Security came, stopped at the door and hovered. They asked us a few questions but we didn’t respond. Knowing that we’d eventually leave, they left. Cops have learned the hard way that sometimes it’s better to just sit back and watch or have no presence at all instead of engaging. Dragging us out kicking and screaming wouldn’t have been good for anybody.

Right behind them was a student photographer for the school newspaper. She tried to talk to us too but we gave her the same silent treatment. After taking a few pictures, she left.

It had been a long day for me. I had gotten up early and was very tired, so I took this opportunity to take a nap. It appeared that Ali was napping too. After two hours, I looked at Ali and nodded. We both got up and bolted out the door. And that was it. Nobody was in the hallway or waiting for us out front. We went out the back door and disappeared in the darkness. That was my last day at SF State.

The next week Ali called and said that we were on the cover of the Golden Gator, SF State’s weekly newspaper. She brought over a few copies. On the front page was a big picture of Ali and me lying in front of a big wooden desk in the ROTC office. Behind the desk, a Marine was writing dutifully in a ledger. The juxtaposition of us and him was great. We were very proud.

Coincidentally, I also appeared in another article of that Golden Gator. A few weeks prior our friend Mitzi had interviewed my band. She had got wind that two of us SF State students were quitting school to go on tour. There was a big picture of the band and a half-page article, and the headline read “Spot Skips School, Seeks Stardom.” It was a fitting end to my college career and my transition from anarchy to rock.

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