We can’t all help but feel a little disappointed that Dave Ogilvie isn’t here with us. This is the 2001 Reunion tour after all, but as devoted fans of Skinny Puppy we were hoping for an appearance by its onetime member and longtime producer. We don’t know him or anything. But we’re purists, you see. We worship at the altar of Skinny Puppy circa 1988’s North America VIVIsectV tour. We say fuck you to animal testing, nuclear arms, and the DARE pledge. We’ve got Assimilate lyrics written in permanent ink on our wrists. We shit on all you posers.
Emeline has a black eye. She is crushing together a pinky finger’s worth of coke and raspberry poprocks in a clear plastic baggie. Roscoe’s ’92 Suzuki doesn’t exactly fit all of us-that’s me, Emeline, Roscoe, Donny, and Rae. Plus, we’ve got our backpacks, flasks, sweatshirts, army boots, and Donny’s huge ass self-portrait on canvas stretched across our laps.
Emeline pulls her history textbook out of her backpack.
“You just got enough of that crap for one?” Donny asks, giving her the side-eye, unable to hide his envy.
Emeline cocks her head to the left and winks. She empties the baggie onto American soldiers engaged in revolutionary warfare and crafts a tiny, thin line using her pointer fingers. After she snorts, she pinches the bridge of her nose.
“Citric,” she says.
“That’s just mean to do in front of us, you know.” Donny continues bitterly. “Selfish cunt.”
Emeline puts her hands on her temples and squeezes her head as the rush hits. She twitches as if to relieve a back cramp. Slowly, she removes her hands from her head and turns our way. Her dead eyes are beginning to spark. She leans back, takes a breath, and lets loose. “Spit yo’ game, talk yo’ shit. Grab yo’ gat, call yo’ click. Squeeze yo’ clip, hit the right one. Pass that weed, I got to light one. All them niggaz I gotta fight one. All them hoes I gotta like one. Our situation is a tight one. Whatcha gonna do, fight or run?”
We give her a pass for spitting Biggie at a Skinny Puppy concert. He’s got pretty serious street cred and we appreciate that kind of thing after all.
See, we’re all just waiting. Em’s killing some of that waiting by getting high. We’re all waiting in the car for the main act to start because the opening band is some stupid, neo-goth band that’s all about the scene, not substance. Donny and Roscoe are waiting for me and Rae to fuck them again. That man in front of us, flashing his wand over people’s tickets, he’s waiting to get home to his TV and beer. Skinny Puppy is waiting to see us, waiting to reach out and hold us.
Rae is looking pretty bad. She’s completely doped on pills. She’s sits next to us, her thin frame puffy, smoking her cloves and sipping on a lukewarm Heineken. She’s gone all dippy on us. Her parents are going to put her in the clinic any day now. Shit, this might even be her last night to rage with us. We’ve gone to great lengths to get her here tonight. Her parents have all but padlocked her in her room. They say she’s depressed. That’s she’s had a mental break. That she’s compulsive. But all is she is now is stoned.
Tonight, though, tonight we give ourselves up. Tonight, we move into the masses and like Jesus, open our arms, our chests, our hearts and sacrifice all pretenses for the divine mercy of Skinny Puppy.
We need it so badly, too. We’ve taken off early at the 7-11 and switched our shifts at Little Caesars for tonight’s show. We sold our old Aerosmith and AC/DC cds at Tower for enough money to buy some ditch weed and liquor. Our essay prompts and math worksheets and lab diagrams lay untouched in our backpacks. We’ve taken razors and safety-pins to our shirts. We’re wearing our bullet necklaces and dog collar chokers. We just can’t deal with the bullshit anymore. Parents bitching at us for bringing our ignominy to their dinner tables; counselors pulling us aside to ask if we’re ok; teachers accusing us of cheating; our so-called peers pelting us with tomatoes at lunch break; even our bosses are driving us nuts with their mealy eyes lingering on our asses. The sick static of school and home and a $5.15 minimum wage makes us feel like we’re drifting out of a transistor radio.
Roscoe’s got his hands on the wheel still. He’s looking out his front windshield at the venue. He hasn’t taken a shower in days. He’s stopped brushing his teeth and changing his boxer shorts. We know he’s still living in his parent’s RV. They lost their house a month ago because his dad got laid off and couldn’t make the payments. And his mom’s Diabetes keeps her from working, so they’re home together all the time. Roscoe can’t fucking stand the thing, says it constantly smells like his dad’s monster shits. He’s taken to crashing with us. Last night, he was in my bed. No action, though. Not since the RV. There’s just no way with that nicotine mouth and crotch sweat.
“Let’s kill what’s in our flasks and go in. I got to hit the head,” Roscoe says. We nod and unscrew our flask lids. It’s Everclear mixed with apple juice. Burning apple trees enflame our throats. Emeline gives us all some melon-flavored Bubbalicious to take the edge off. Her pupils are the size of quarters, and we can see scratches across her collarbone. Her mom’s boyfriend beats her up before he takes off her pants. Sometimes she’s unconscious for the whole thing. Other times, she’ll wake with him on top of her. She tells us she likes it. She pukes her guts out in the school bathroom after every lunch. She goes days without eating. She says, “gives mom the ol’ fuck you, cellulite ass.”
The bruise covering her left eye is a full-mouthed kiss bleeding out right under her lower lid.
But then we’re out of the car and walking in our boots to the venue entrance. Inside, the hall is all the way lit, and SP’s crew is putting up the gear. Rae is walking in front of us, and in front of her are at least 200 people. All we see is her silhouette, backlit, strays of hair snaking around her neck from the stage fans. She turns her chin over her shoulder. “We only come out at night,” she whispers. It becomes a chant, hungry, bordering on rapturous. The more she says it the louder she becomes. “We only come out at night. We only come out at night!” She moves like a gypsy, smiling, twirling. For the first time in a while, she seems present, even lucid despite the pill stupor. She’s been on them ever since she drove her little brother into a utility pole. She’s was just fourteen, already diagnosed with bipolar, when she took her parents car and went to pick him up after kindergarten. She always claimed she was just trying to help out around the house for once. Her parents lost both children that day.
When we got to her earlier, she was on the bed, sitting inside her duvet cover, drawing on the underside of it with a black sharpie. With her left hand holding up the cover, she drew with her right tiny stick people walking, running, cart-wheeling, somersaulting, and sliding down a large letter S. In between, a few stick people struggled to climb up the letter. The air smelled of ethanol. We climbed in alongside Rae and got on our backs, heads pressed together, legs strewn across hips, and ankles under thighs. Donny lit a smoke. “Is this us, Rae?” he asked. She had just finished drawing one final stick figure; this one hung of the end of the S by one arm, the other arm waving. “Everybody up is already down,” she answered. The duvet was filled with cigarette smoke. “Still,” Donny said, pointing to a stick figure with its hands and feet out, flying down the first outside curve the S, “this one could be me.”
Roscoe pees and gets back in time just as the light dim. We all grab onto him as he pushes people out of the way in the pit. A giant video screen is descending from the ceiling and settling behind the drum kit. Smoke is coiling voluptuously across the stage. A splattering of neon pink green and blue light up circles of the stage erratically. This is it. We can all feel it now. We start chanting, “yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.” Euphoric teenage goths in Manson T-shirts saddle up right beside the balding, head-nodding ones who were no doubt sixteen when Bites was released in â€˜85. Lighters go in the air. Small mushroom clouds of weed appear over the crowd and float down slowly. The lights move now like a convulsion; the stage is cast in the ethereal glow from the continuously flashing, and then Ogre is standing in front of the mike while the rest of the band settles down. The screen splinters on and it’s all white rabbits with huge red eyes and men in lab-coats holding them down. Ogre hunches over, swaying back and forth. His hair is long and black and it’s in his lips and teeth when he brings the mike to his mouth. Snitter’s barking, “I hope you make sure we’re properly dead before you start, old rip-beak!” and then the band righteously breaks in to “Testure” and we’re moving. Hands are up, hips circling, head swiveling with the electronic samples and drumbeats. Ogre’s now-famous grunt-sing-talk moves from our ears, down the canals, and into our vibrating blood vessels. The screen assaults our eyes with shots of dissected pigs and electrocuted monkeys.
We only stop moving when Ogre sneers into the microphone “it will come back and win shock paralyze turn. Trauma burns out the will to live. The lying message 5 year genocide 1945 suicide vivisect VI.” The stage goes black, but then the band starts in on “God’s Gift (Faggot).”
In the pit, when we jump, it’s in unison. When we fall, we’re caught. When we see someone dancing, we join them. We mosh with care, but we are careless. We’re finally home, finally free.
Roscoe playfully shoves Donny into a group of people. Donny turns, bleary-eyed and exhilarated, and shoves back. Roscoe grabs his shirt and smiles and throws him back again. Donny lands among the backs of dripping, long-haired brutes. They push back, and he is on his feet, neck hunched, arms swinging by his sides like an orangutan. He tosses Roscoe back in the same manner, and they continue this dance, thrusting, falling, and thrusting again. Finally, they stand, chin to chin. Donny unfolds his middle finger and pushes it into a hole in Roscoe’s ratty-ass Ministry shirt. They are skin-to-skin, eyes locked in a competitive stretch. Roscoe’s face is an imploding star when we see it again. The two are on each other in an instant, a pile of elbows and sneers and bear hugs. Rae turns her chin to the ceiling and howls. Emeline’s over her shoulder, smirking with all of her teeth. They are two hyenas around a pack fight.
Donny used to be our drug dealer before he became part of our crew. He used to sell us LSD in the flat field by our houses. He’s from downtown and we’re from the coast. He takes the bus north across the city nearly every day to be with us. He never speaks of any parents, and he wears it on his face like someone watching a dog, out in the tide, too tired to swim back in.
He told us once he’d been in actual bank robbery. He was standing in line for a money order when they ran through the door, shooting the security guard in in the leg and jumping on top of the desks. After they were done robbing the place, they herded him, along with the other customers, into one of the back offices and told everyone sit down and count to 1000 before leaving the bank. These guys had fucking guns. AK-47s and shit. They wore black pantyhose on their faces and referred to each other only using slang for the female vagina. Like, “come here, cunt.” And “go get that bag over there, twat.” “Screw you, pink, I’m running this show.” “Do what pussy says, ok?” Apparently, there were two older men who stopped counting at thirty and got up from the ground to leave. Donny freaked out and threw a desktop monitor at the both of them. He stood in the doorway, sobbing, blocking everyone, scissors in hand. “We’re not leaving until we count to a thousand,” he wept.
He wasn’t going down that way, he told us later. “What will they put on my grave,” he choked, “here lies one un-lived fucker.”
Donny’s on the floor now though. Roscoe’s got his face rammed into the dirty floor. He’s leaning on him with all his body weight, crushing Donny’s cheek into the grime. An old ticket stub is dangerously close to touching his eyelashes.
Roscoe’s in a bad way right now. Not only has he lost his home, but his family’s in the toilet as well. He told me just a few weeks ago his dad’s been nailing his first wife again, even though she’s got a new husband and a six-year old by him. “He’d come home after being out, doing these odd chores, and take these, like, 3 hour naps,” he said that afternoon as we walked down my hallway on the fringed, velvet runner. “And then I saw it with my own eyes.”
He said he was driving by a strip mall, he’d just past the Burger King, when he saw his father’s parked station wagon. He pulled around, hoping to get a free burger out of good ol’ pops. What he got instead was an eyeful of his dad’s hairy buttocks and his first wife’s spider veins as they got in on behind BK’s dumpster.
He couldn’t confront either one of his parents. He said his dad was too blissed out, and his mom was a classic case of denial. She eats Little Debbie cakes and plays internet blackjack all day. The soles of her feet were a dark slate color and cracked with long, jagged ravines. “She’s told me she’s regulating her disease her way,” he said as we got undressed in my family’s back office. “Yeah right, mom. Not with insulin, but with corn syrup and mouse-clicking for exercise. What cheats. They got nothing better to do than revisit old pussy and sit around watching their feet rot off.”
I nodded, running my hands over his tiny man shoulders. His nipples had a fine downy blonde around them. I put one in my mouth. “I mean, we’re sixteen and we’re braver than them,” he said. He looked down at me on his chest. “Let’s never grow up and sit around spouting off bullshit and never do anything. Let’s never have kids so we can never tell them to get fucking A’s and go to college and become something. Let’s never watch them grow up and not do anything and then have kids and start the whole fucking thing over again.” I said yes. We were on the couch after that, pants on the floor, trying to figure out the rest.
Two big dudes in yellow security jackets spilt Roscoe and Donny up and push them back through the crowd toward the exit. Ogre was grimacing and grumbling through “Tin Omen.” Shots of marching soldiers, Kim Jong IL, and riotous crowds flashed on and off on the screen behind him. We latch onto their yellow jackets, but Rae holds us back because she’s pointing at the screen behind her, repeating, “Revolution! Revolution! They want us to go in circles!”
We get these two dudes toward the door. “Look,” we say, “what can do we do? We’ll do anything? You can’t just toss them out. This is Skinny Puppy!” The two dudes leer at each other and then face us three girls. “What’ll you do?”
Our collective hearts thud. There’s an edge. It is easy to see; it separates us from the dudes. It is always separating us from them, whoever the “them”, and no matter what we do, we’re always prancing toward it. “Well, what do you want?” Emeline asks, moving herself in front of us.
“What the fuck happened to your eye?” one dude asks.
“My mom’s boyfriend likes to hit me before we screw,” she offers flatly. “Well, actually this time it was just a blowjob.”
“What?” they both ask in unison, eyes ogling her. Then, they’re really grinning and nudging each other with their elbows.
The dat-da-dat-da-duh drum beat of “Assimilate” grows from the speakers, and Ogre is shuddering violently on stage. He points at the audience, leaving his hand in the air for a full fifteen seconds. Keeping his outer fingers splayed out, he moves his pointer finger into his thumb until he is squeezing us, the audience, like we are a tiny, three-segmented ant. The crowd erupts wildly, middle fingers in the air.
“Don’t you need to get back there or something?” we ask, tugging on the dudes’ yellow jackets. “The pit’s super gnarly.”
“Yeah, yeah, we’ll be back in a minute,” they say, each dude grabbing one of Emeline’s arms and moving her away backstage.
We stand and do nothing. Roscoe and Donny exchange a guilty look. Only Rae moves her head in time with the beat; she raises a fist and shouts out Rot! Rot! Rot! Rot! in time with the chorus. We move toward backstage, but the only thing we see is more yellow jackets and skinny girls in vinyl bras and pleather hot pants. No Emeline. “Let’s get a smoke outside,” Roscoe says, cheeks flushed. “Can’t do anything now.”
We get our hands stamped and go out for a smoke break. We are in the night like the invasion of hot breath into a cold room. “They don’t have anything better to do than hassle us?” Donny asks, inhaling viciously on his moist, wrinkled cigarette. “Typical.”
He’s got a three inch scar on the outside of his left hand. It’s from our car wreck. His hand went through the front windshield. The scars all carnation pink and membrane-y now. We were piled high in Rae’s Jetta, Donny driving, coming back from a party up on Black Mountain. We hit up the Circle K for some cherry cola mixer and Doritos. Roscoe was in the passenger side seat, pretending to be Sick Boy from Trainspotting. “Do you see the beast? Have you got it in your sights?” he imitated, poking Donny in the ribs. What he was saying made no sense so we laughed harder, high and drunk and full of additives. “Clear enough, Miss MoneyPenny,” Donny answered back.
We were headed to Rae’s suburban condo. As we moved through the community of perfectly square, beach-washed flats, Donny rounded corner too late and had to jerk the wheel hard to the right to compensate. Still, we went over the curb at 35 mph and into someone’s fenced off garden. As we were crashing, Roscoe yelled out over our laughter, Connery accent ablaze, “mayday, mayday, we’re going down.”
But nobody is laughing now. Emeline’s away from us and we feel the hollowness of her absence. We feel the hopelessness of what she’s doing. Back inside, we all lie on the ground. People fall over us and get up, cursing and kick us in our bellies. The whole room is strobing light. With each illumination, we watch the fading halos and the floaters in our eyes, tiny worm shapes that reveal our drug use. People stomp on our hair, sometimes our ears, our hands. We welcome the abuse. A brief silence sweeps over us as the band gets ready for the next song. Rae curls up around my body until she is spooning me. “All I want,” she says into my ear, “is something beautiful.”
Emeline’s shows up some time after that. She’s peering down at us; her face has the look of someone who has just been yelled at in public. We get up and observe her small bird hands plucking at her long hair. When she sees us studying her, she throws us a vacant smile in our direction. She asks, “how many songs did I miss?” but she’s looking through us like we’re not even there. Even the question seems like it is meant for the people standing behind us. “Do you want some water, Em?” we ask, but we don’t have any water.
In the bathroom, we hold ourselves over the urine-spotted seats and pee. We re-lace our boots and take mouthfuls from the flasks. Emeline’s at the mirror, wiping at her watery eyes. Her black eye is a full purple moon shadowing her face. She turns the faucet on, bends her head down and drinks freely. We want to say so much. We want to say what a world. But what are we going to do? Take her home with us? Here, Mom and Dad, I know how much you love the fishnets and bad grades and missing alcohol bottles from the bar, so I brought home another version of me. Get out the clean sheets and extra plates. We want to say so much and yet there is nothing to say. So instead, we say, “black eyes aren’t sexy, Em.” She’s smearing red gloss over lips, laughing, “says you.” She turns around and faces us with her dead eyes. “Different life, different time. You’d all take me in the back and do the same thing.” She’s in our faces, her spittle on our lips. “I’m the one who’s free here because I know it. Glory and halle-fuckin-lulah.” She turns, sticks her finger down her throat, and pukes into one of the trashcans on purpose. “See?”
We’re near the back of the crowd again by the time the encore arrives. The droning rhythm of “Addiction” pulsates. Right about now, we really need Skinny Puppy to lift us up again. We wait, eyes closed, for the industrial gods to reach down and place their hands upon our chests, opening them, sculpting them skyward. Even though the band has moved onto the pivotal rock climax of the show, we can’t feel it. Donny is holding Rae’s hand, but she is just openly crying. Roscoe’s looking around at the people, inspecting them, grading them, hating them. Emeline’s still as a cement pylon, bird hands clasped over opposite elbows. We’re all sick to our stomach. It’s like that terrible late afternoon on a Sunday-before dinner-feeling when you’ve got homework and a pile of laundry to still put away. We know what we’re in for tomorrow. More waiting. We’re nauseous with it. We hate it so savagely. No other hate in our lifetime will be as clear and as strong as the hate we feel at that very moment. It occurs to us then how we should have gone harder tonight, fought stronger, since nothing was going to come and save us anyhow.
Donny produces his pipe from his pocket. The five of us form a circle in the pit, passing the tiny pipe back and forth. We do it quick so we won’t drop it and so those fucks in their yellow security jackets won’t haul us out again. The lighter never catches a break. It’s red hot by the time Emeline cashes the bowl in her snowy palm. Donny takes pipe, blows out the ash and quickly puts it back in his pocket, leaving Emeline with the lighter. For some reason, maybe because she’s standing so still in a pit that is full of dancing sweating jerking bodies, we all stare at her. With those flashing neon lights behind her, she is a vision of beauty to us. She stands, a casualty in her knee-high combat boots and tiny tank top, and looks at us square in our eyes before slamming the lighter onto the flesh of her free arm.