At some point in high school- perhaps for all of the 10th grade- I was often called ‘Joey Ramone’. People on the street would yell at me as I slunk along trying to blend into the shadows.
One might conceivably take this as a compliment. The Ramones were fun and they wrote short, sharp songs with bursts of guitar and staccato drums. They made me want to jump up and down and bounce off the walls and sing along.
However this was NOT a compliment.
I was female. Joey Ramone was by no stretch of the imagination CUTE.
However we both wore glasses (though his were dark and rockstar and mine were small and librarian-ly), had long brown hair and were tall and skinny and favored high top converse sneakers and pegged pants.
I pegged my own pants. By hand. By the light of a flickering candle.
I had always hated the excess material of wide leg jeans and corduroys. Despised the way they flapped around my ankles. I can remember the soft sussuration of corduroy rubbing against legs and inner thighs as the high school walked past and how the whispering fabric grated on my nerves. Swish swish swish, the soundtrack of high school.
Sometimes I sewed them so tight, I had to cut the threads to get them off again. I liked how my shoes looked with that skinny ankle. I felt like something other than human. My black jeans were a protective carapace. I turned my nose up at corduroy, and the open-tongue boots, polyester shirts and color-coordinated turtlenecks which were the look of the day.
I combed the thrift stores and army surplus stores for jackets and vintage suits, menswear and combat boots.
Back then (the very early 80’s) you could upset people merely by wearing a Sex Pistols shirt.
It didn’t matter if you had long hair there were assumptions made if you had a punk rock t-shirt or a black trench coat or different earrings in each ear. I used to like a stud in one and a dangly earring in the other.
I must say that looking back, I didn’t appreciate how easy it was to annoy people. Because that wasn’t what I was trying to do. I was trying to feel comfortable in my own skin. I was looking for strength. And sometimes confidence comes from a pair of converse one-stars or a Greek fisherman’s hat slouched over your eyes or a bottle of red food coloring (this pre-dated all those fab Crazy Colors and Manic Panic) dumped in your hair.
I wanted to match the outside to the inside. Maybe portray all those swirling, unsettling feelings, that murk, that surprising shout that sometimes bubbled up, through my clothing and my hair- things I could change at will.
The other kids knew something had changed. They could tell that I was beginning to deviate (just a little) from the path we were supposed to be treading, the one that led in the straightest line to the next stop in our maturation.
I sort of stepped off the path. Or maybe I fell off.
I’d been so successful at being unnoticed for so long. There were two tall girls with glasses and brown hair in grade 9. One had a back brace and better grades. I was the other one, even less memorable. Temporary scoliosis, it turns out, is a great identifier.
Amazing how just the smallest change in the clothes I wore signaled a threat. I watched it happen (with a thrill of excitement and unease) to a friend of mine. A horse-mad, cuddly over-sized sweater, glasses-wearing girl who got contact lenses and cut her hair all choppy over the summer. Her personality didn’t change at all. She still loved horses, still drew cute cartoon sketches of her girl-friends but there were whisperings. She smoked, she went to punk clubs where they jumped you in the bathroom and forced you to dye your hair or gave you a mohawk. I wanted to go to those clubs and get jumped. I wanted to be able to tell my parents that it wasn’t my fault that my hair was now bleached and buzzed. That it was just something that happened to me but I was happy to live with it. But I had a curfew and no car, and I wasn’t allowed to go to that side of town.
A couple of years later I cut all of my hair off. A year after that I dyed it a different color every week.
A lady told me at the bus stop that she wished I was her child so she could beat the crap out of me.
That was slightly more attention than I was looking for.
I do know that punk rock saved my life and allowed me to be more comfortable with me.
This was before punk was such a commodity. At that time there were all kinds of different people milling around at small decrepit club shows. Some were arty, some were older, some were fashionable, some were nerds, some were freaks and no one felt that there was a place for them and most importantly no one felt out of place when they were listening to music.
At high school you squeezed in where you could. For most of us that meant the art room. Being into art or good at art meant you could take little risks with your personal style. There was some spill-over into the smoking section along the back of the school, or down by the river with the stoners and metal-heads or into the drama club though that was dominated by the popular girls.
Now I can see that no one, except for maybe the jocks and student government, felt entirely comfortable.
When I remember those pockets of people I remember a lot of nervous shifting from foot to foot, a lot of checking out what people in other groups were doing, the sense that everyone was handling it better than you were. In reality we were all small islands of one trying to make an archipelago so we wouldn’t sink unnoticed beneath the waves.