During the long, cold, wet months, the corrugated steel roof did nothing to keep us warm but it did allow the raindrops to ricochet off of it like small steel balls. I found something comforting in that racket.
We rigged an old oil drum sideways on cinder blocks, hacked a rough door into it with a saw and some bolt cutters. A length of venting pipe hung from loops of wire which twisted its way up in the general direction of the roof. The smoke kind of dissipated through various fissures and cracks in the fibre-board walls. When the drum was fully loaded with newspaper and scrap wood, the thin metal glowed red and the carpet underneath blackened though it never fully caught fire.
We huddled around it, spitting gobs of saliva on the sides just to hear them sizzle. A couple of times, Ed peed on it; just a small trickle to see what would happen. It evaporated on contact leaving a sour smell which mixed with the other sour smells.
No one bothered to go all the way to the other end of the warehouse on the second floor which was where the public bathrooms were located. We peed in the sink or in jars until they were full and smelled a little like rank orange juice.
I remember that winter we were all obsessed with throwing knives. We used kitchen knives and small folding knives. They weren’t weighted correctly but we practiced until we could flip them end over end and plant them quivering in the sheetrock. One wall was completely pockmarked with holes.
Most punk houses had a defining wall of this kind. My friend K’s place had a wall where the boys hawked their loogies. Boys are gross and punk boys have some kind of grossness ranking system. Anyway those guys totally won top prize.
We were cold, and the damp sunk into our bird-thin bones, but Ed had two thick wool blankets and once the oil drum was going, it blasted out heat in the tight area immediately around it. I remember thinking how cozy it was; how welcoming the small window looked all lit up against the inky sky, and how the rat tat tat of the rain clattering against the roof made me feel even cozier. That and the whiskey or the rum or the vodka or, in leaner times, the thunderbird or nighttrain discount wines. We tossed in our cigarette butts, watched them flare and crisp. Tobacco smoke all blue and hazy hung about two feet from the ground.
Ed worked on his knee tattoo that winter. It was a huge spiderweb, right on the knobbly bone. We learned to tattoo by watching the movie, Decline of Western Civilization. There’s a whole segment where John Doe and Exene from X show you how to do it. All you need is a sewing needle, thread and some India ink. We all had little permanent scribbles etched on our skin. I had an ‘A’, a dove, a star, a snake. I should maybe have put a little more thought into what I poked into my skin but it didn’t matter. It was all about the process. Magical the way the design appeared under the smear of blood. Ed was serious about his tattoo. You’d have to be. It required dogged persistence to stick the needle in over and over again, to make the rays of the web as thick and dark as possible.
When he was finally done, it stood out against the brown of his skin, almost three-dimensional in its intensity. It would last forever, never fading.
A month or so later, around the time of his 21st birthday, he was gone.
He didn’t tell any of us where he was headed. He sawed off his dyed black dreads and left them in a pile on the kitchen table, then buzzed his head, clumping the drifts of short hairs into our big ashtray where they caught fire from our cigarette butts and made everything stink. I found the two wool blankets folded neatly outside my bedroom door.
That tattoo would have identified him but he vanished without a trace.