Wednesday, April 13, 2011

White Dope on Punk: Chapter 16. Short Dogs Suck

By Greg Kim

Joe quit the band in El Paso. After extending the last of his automotive skills by changing the starter in the parking lot of an auto parts store, we jumped in the van and drove to the airport. It was a long, silent ride on a hot, hung-over morning. All mornings on a Short Dogs Grow tour were like this. We said our goodbyes—void of bitterness and blame—and said we’d see him in two months. We were determined to finish the tour, drummer or no drummer.

Only one week into the tour, things had fallen apart quickly. While leaving a Motel 6 in Albuquerque the morning before, two cops cars appeared out of nowhere, blocking our van from leaving. They exited their vehicles, guns drawn and said, “Is Greg Kim in there?” I was in the back of van, lying down, hung-over from the night before. Mel and Tom were in the front seats with their hands up. Both looked scared. I slowly opened the door.

They abruptly pulled me out and said, “Why did you use a stolen credit card?” I frantically shook my head, not saying a word.

Finally I said, “What are you talking about?”

They shot back, “Who is George Kim?”

“That’s my dad,” I said incredulously. They holstered their guns, which helped the situation.

The night before, knowing that we had a guarantee of $150 for our show in Albuquerque, we reserved a room at a Motel 6. My dad had given me his credit card to use in case of emergency, and we used it to reserve the room. Little did I know that the card he gave me was expired. Regardless, we only used the card to reserve room, paying cash when we got to the motel.

They took me downtown and I waited in a holding cell until they could contact my father. The band waited out front, while my family members tried to locate my dad. They found him at a sales conference in Denver. He was paged and things were settled. It was late afternoon and we left for El Paso.

Knowing there was plenty more of this bullshit in the coming seven weeks—trouble seemed to follow us on tour—Joe was probably already thinking about leaving.

It was a short drive to El Paso. We arrived at the club at 10 pm and loaded in our equipment. The opening band was playing to five people—their friends. They finished, loaded their equipment and left, taking their friends with them. The promoter told us that Cheap Trick was playing across town for free and apologized for our show being five bucks. He said there were two paid admissions and, if we didn’t want to play, he would give the two people their money back. This was a first for us. A promoter had never given us an option not to play a show.

Mel was at her wits' end. It had been a long day of jail, the stolen credit card mix-up and lots of waiting. Playing to two people didn’t sound like a lot of fun and she wanted to cancel. Tom and I argued that we had played to fewer people and that two people had paid to see Short Dogs Grow and that we should play. Joe was indifferent. We argued and yelled and then Joe quit. We didn’t play the show.

With nowhere to go or stay, we drove toward downtown El Paso. We stopped off at a pay phone and made two calls: one to our booking agent and one to the promoter in New Orleans, where we were playing in ten days. We told our booking agent to cancel our gigs in San Antonio, Dallas and Houston and we asked the promoter in New Orleans to find us a drummer for the rest of the tour.

Having no place to stay and knowing nobody in town, we decided the smartest thing to do was to park our van at the border and go to Juarez and get drunk. The next morning I woke up in a car in Las Cruces, New Mexico, 40 miles from downtown El Paso. I was missing a shoe and had no idea how I got there. Next to me, in the driver’s seat, was a strange woman. On the drive back to El Paso, she filled in the previous night’s adventures. Her name was Sharon.

We had met Sharon and her friends at a bar in Juarez. We drank and carried on as clueless Americans do in border towns, disregarding the locals. One problem, though, was that we chose a local bar instead of a touristy gringo place like Senor Frogs or Hussongs. This turned out to be a bad move.

In our drunken haze, while belly-up to the bar, we noticed small objects of all kinds flying our way, some hitting us and others ricocheting off tables and chairs, coming to rest on the dirty floor. It was all small stuff likes pesos and pieces of food. We didn’t know where they were coming from, but we suspected it was from many tough looking hombres at tables throughout the bar. I turned to Tom, our singer, and said, “We should get out of here. I’m gonna throw a bottle at those guys when we leave,” gesturing toward three guys with cowboy hats in the corner. The beer was making me braver than I was. Tom gestured like he was stabbing me in my belly. He said, “Have you ever been stabbed in the stomach? No? Well, it hurts.” We left without throwing any bottles.

Tom and Mel assisted me over the border. It was around this time that I lost my shoe.

Somehow I heard of a party in Las Cruces and convinced a local that we had met at the bar to drive me there. That’s all I could remember.

We arrived at Sharon’s air-conditioned studio apartment, a 60s motel-like building with cement hallways and metal banisters, sometime around mid afternoon. Without knowing her living arrangements, I deduced that she lived by herself. There was one bed and no signs that a boyfriend or roommate lurked in a walk-in closet or laundry room in the back. I plopped on her couch and dozed off to the sounds of her checking the answering machine. Beep after beep, the same message rang out: “Where’s our guitar player? Give him back!” It was Tom. I knew he was more pissed about me sleeping in an air-conditioned apartment than anything else. They probably slept in the van or bushes in a park. Since there were no cell phones at the time, his last message told us to meet them at a surf and turf bar at sunset. He specified a time.

I woke up dehydrated and disoriented, and reintroduced myself to Sharon. The sun was setting and night was near. While on tour, we tried to avoid the day as much as possible; drinking every night until daybreak helped us achieve this misguided goal.

On the way to bar, I found out that Sharon was unemployed and played in a local all-girl band. We had nothing in common except our need for companionship: I enjoyed the girl-attention and she liked hanging out with someone from the big city of San Francisco. I’m sure she mistakenly found my dreads, gaudy rings and piercings exotic. El Paso was a very small town.

We arrived at the bar and the band was happy to see me and already had a few beers in them. I had asked Sharon to invite a few of her friends and band mates to the bar. They were there, hanging out with Tom and Mel. Like the night before, we drank and carried on. This went on for three nights.

On the fourth day we got a call from the New Orleans promoter saying they found us a drummer. We decided to leave the next day.

The band picked me up at Sharon’s apartment. There was a hurricane watch and it was raining. I said goodbye to Sharon and thanked her for the place to stay and for entertaining us while we were stranded. She handed me a sealed envelope and asked me not to open it until we were on the road. I was intrigued and a bit nervous. The van's horn cried out. I turned and left, thanking her one more time.

I jumped into the back of our pop-top, baby blue Econoline van. In unison, the band, or what was left of them—Mel and Tom—yelled, “Foooooot.” Foot was my nickname, given to me because, in the right light and naked, I looked like Bigfoot. I hung my head in a rare display of shyness, knowing that the way they said “Foooooot” was in reference to me having hooked up with Sharon. We had a band rule that if you had sex, you had to ride in the back of the van (which lacked a passenger seat) until somebody usurped you. It was 700 miles from El Paso to Houston and another few hundred miles from Houston to New Orleans. I assumed I would in the back the whole way. But Tom was very handsome and charming and there were many rest stops and gas stations along the way…you never knew.

I showed the band the envelope from Sharon. Anticipating a nasty letter, I was reluctant to open it. The band, though, were more than happy to read it. Any form of distraction— negative or positive—was welcome. I handed them the envelope.

Much to my relief, the envelope contained a picture, not poison. My relief quickly turned to dismay. In ballpoint ink was a picture of me (the dreads and jewelry gave it away) with my pants down—privates hanging out. In my left hand was a bloody knife and in my right hand was a heart. I was wearing a T-shirt that said “Short Dogs Suck.” Next to me was a woman lying on the ground, sans heart. I would assume this character was Sharon. It was scary and priceless. We taped the picture on the ceiling of the van, next to the Denny’s menu, and sped away.

On the way out of town, a tornado loomed in the far distance. Many cars had stopped under overpasses; we joined them. When it became apparent that the tornado was moving in the opposite direction of where we were headed, we continued on, driving as fast we could…for the next 700 miles.

The promoter in New Orleans was a friend of a friend that we had become friendly with in the past week, due to our incessant phone calls asking, “Have you found us a drummer yet?” She took in all in stride and assured us that she would find us one.

She failed to mention that the drummer she eventually found would be wearing a denim vest with marching band medals attached to the breast pocket and no shirt underneath, short jeans shorts and beat-up tennis shoes without socks. His name was George Finley. We called him Finfuck.

By the time we got to New Orleans, George had already learned the material from our record and was ready to play. We settled in and practiced for a party in Baton Rouge and our scheduled gig in New Orleans. Both went extremely well. George was a really good drummer, a nice kid and liked to drink. Plus he was willing to uproot his life and go on the road with us for seven weeks.

We left for Mobile, Alabama, early Saturday morning, after our gig at the VFW Hall in New Orleans. George waited curbside in front of his house, wearing the same denim attire that he sported when we met him. We were a little bummed about his fashion choice, but he was a drummer and we assumed his drums would hide his “outfit.” We pulled up to the curb, loaded his drums in the back and headed for Interstate 10. We let George sit in the front since he’d never been out of the state. He was very excited about seeing the Appalachian Mountains. We told him to reserve his excitement for the Rockies and the Sierra Nevadas.

Despite the constant hazing he endured from us—writing in a Sharpie pen all over his body while he slept, sewing his leather jacket to the floor with him in it, piling chairs and other shit on top of him while he slept, etc.—George stayed with us and managed to get “hipsterfied” by the time we crossed the Bay Bridge back to San Francisco, changing his denim vest for a leather vest, the short jeans shorts for knee-high jeans shorts, and dirty tennis shoes for black high-tops. He also adopted a bandana head scarf look a la Brett Michaels of Poison.

George took up residence in San Francisco, toured with us a few times before eventually returning home to New Orleans with a bad drug habit. He took with him many horrible tattoos, a receding hairline and wonderful memories of tall mountains.

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