PUNK: Lonesome American Memoirs

15. Busted!

My first brush with the law was when I was ten years old. I was in the grocery store, standing in front of the candy. I had a Butterfinger in my hand, and was trying to figure out how to get it into my pocket without getting caught.

I had the candy bar completely concealed in my hand. Staring straight ahead, I slowly moved my hand back toward my pocket. I got my fingers to the opening of the pocket of my jacket when I heard a booming voice call “Hey! Have you got any money to buy that candy?”

I roared around on my tennis shoe and stared into the face of a grocer. He had short brown hair and a big mustache. He was peering into my face, right into my eyes.


“Then put it down and get outta here!

I just stood there shaking.


I ran out of the store.

Suddenly the world was full of police cars. Sirens everywhere. They were after me. I ran for home as fast as I could. Half way there I got a side ache and sat in a bush for about twenty minutes. When the ache was gone, and the coast was clear I innocently walked the rest of the way smiling to myself. I’d almost had it.

My next encounters with the man were quite different. Getting pushed around by SFPD and the UC Police was routine. They liked to feel up little boys, and my special friend in the Berkeley Police had a special crush on me. Until I was full grown anyway. Then he treated me like everyone else.

Damien and I were in the alley next to to the Mab. We hadn’t been able to get in, so we were lighting paper bags on fire and watching them rise into the night sky.

After one really good lift off, two cops walked into the alley.

“Uh oh.” Damien said.


“Looks like you boys have been having fun in here.”


“You two get your kicks from lighting things on fire do ya?”

Not a peep from either one of us.

“Ok, how about you both turn and face the wall.”

We turned and faced the wall.

“Let’s see what we’ve got here.”

The cops began to search out pockets, and drop all our things on the ground. There wasn’t anything to find, so we weren’t freaking out.

“You’re a tough guy” My cop whispers into my ear.

He reaches around to my front pockets and slips his hands into them. I flinch as he starts to fondle my scrotum. He laughs softly. I can’t tell what he’s doing with his other hand, but I hear his keys jangle.

“You like that don’t you punk?”


He grabs my nuts and pulls on them hard.

“You like that, don’t you punk?” Through gritted teeth.


He massages me until I have a hard on, and laughs softly in my ear.

“Get out of here before I arrest you for curfew violation.”

We run.

They laugh.

For a while it seemed like I could do anything I wanted. Break the glass of a video game, steal from the grocery store and the corner market, throw shit at people, get into fights, and nothing would happen. Once in a while some cop would take my fake name, and get frustrated that I didn’t have any ID. But nothing would happen. No hand cuffs.

Our friend Joe got a motorcycle. He drove it up in the sidewalk to impress us. We were thrilled. Joe was usually holding, so we were impressed by almost anything he did. The party didn’t last too long. Three cops walked up and asked whose bike it was. Joe says it’s a friend of his. They start running the plates and searching Joe for ID.

“Officer…” says Josh in his annoying little voice. His voice wasn’t usually annoying, but it could be sharp and completely nasal when he wanted it to be.


The cop stops searching Joe, turns and looks at Josh and says “What?

Josh pulls out a cigarette and pops it into his mouth and asks, “How old do you have to be to smoke?”

The cop sputters a little; the second cop is beside him now too.

“Sixteen, how old are you?”

Josh lights up the cigarette, takes a drag and blows the smoke out at the cops.

“Fourteen, why?”

The two cops just about lose it. They look like a pair of light bulbs about to blow. The first cop is speechless and the second one is grasping at his holster.

“Let me see your ID young man.”

While Josh is saying “Don’t have any, sorry.” Joe has casually walked away. By the time the cops realize what’s going on, they’re pissed. They look at me and josh and say, “Stay right here.” And they run off in two directions. Neither of which is the direction Joe took. We leave and stay away for a couple hours.

Somehow I found myself at the first Depeche Mode concert in the United States. Don’t ask me how or why I ended up there. My friend Lisa J. worked for BGP and gave me free passes to see them. I brought Damien with me, and we dropped acid before the show.

The club was weird. Everyone there was fluffy, and wearing scarves. They danced together, like couples dancing. It was funny. Depeche Mode stood perfectly still while they performed. I thought the guy on the left was looking at me the whole time. At the end of the show the singer introduced the tape deck at the back of the stage as their drummer. They’d had a spotlight on it all night. I liked watching the reels go around. I didn’t tell Damien this, but I really liked them.

After the show we spend a few minutes with Lisa, and she complained about how boring the band was. She liked their music, but they’d sat backstage for hours playing with some foam core crescent shapes, pretending they were really big ears. Lisa thought that was stupid. I thought Lisa was pretty, so did Damien.

Then we walked to the bus terminal. It was a long walk and we got lost. We walked around the parking lot at 3rd and Harrison about six times before we realized that we had passed this huge yellow Park’n’Pay machine before. We walked around one more time to be sure. When we rounded the corner for the seventh time and saw the slim, but tall device smiling at as in the middle of the block was were completely blown away. We stopped in front of it for a while and discussed the possibility of the machine following us, and not being lost at all. We agreed that that would be weird, but it was not very likely.

I loved the little metal slots on the face of the Park’n’Pay sign. It was totally mind blowing to me. The idea, as I so clearly understood it in that moment, was that people folded their money really, really small… maybe they had to tear it up, or shrink it somehow, and then slipped it into these little slots.

“Yeah, but how do they get it out?” Damien asked.

Heavy question. We laughed and pondered the answers. I started to look into the holes. There was something inside this thing. It was moving. Damien kicked the sign, and it gave off a sound like a hollow aluminum ball. The sound seemed to go on forever. I kicked the device. That was the most amazing sound either of us had ever heard. I looked up into the slots again to see what was inside of there…

“Put your hands over your head and back away from the sign” Said the very loud voice.

“Woah…” Damien and I looked at each other in total disbelief. “What the hell was that?” There was someone inside this thing. That was amazing!

“Put your hands over your head and back away from the sign” Said the very loud voice again.

“Um… I think we better get out of here.” Damien said.

“Why?” I asked him calmly.


Three SFPD Card had arrived, and the doors of the cars were open. A police officer was resting on each door with his arms on top. In each of their hands was a gun. They were pointing the guns at us.

“Get away from the sign and keep walking.” Said the voice.

I understood. One of the police officers was saying that stuff.

“C’mon…” said Damien. His voice sounded like he had a lot of snot in his nose.

I looked at his nose and said, “Yeah, let’s get out of here.”

Damien and I seemed to be meeting the police a lot together. So I sorta stopped hanging around with him. He was getting cocky and kind of no fun anyway. There was only enough room in my friendships for me. So I thought I’d put some distance there.

The last time I enjoyed the company of the police some time had passed. Things were starting to look up for me. Everyone had quit the record store I handed out dollar off coupons for. They had been fired because they had a sale while the owner was gone. He was pissed. Since I was still there, it looked like I had a shot at getting to work inside the store. It was looking like I might be able to sleep in the office more often. Things were looking good.

I was on Broadway at some show. I wasn’t going in. I was outside fucking around. Cindy was there. Cindy had freckles, these sleepy green eyes and the prettiest voice. I was into Cindy. If I could keep track of her, I followed that girl wherever she went.

There had been a night a few years earlier that she and her boyfriend let me come back to Cindy’s dad’s house to sleep. I didn’t sleep. I laid on one side of her, her boyfriend on the other. Cindy was wearing a T-shirt and clean white panties. She was laying on her back. I could feel my heart beating in my ears. I caressed her arm, and her stomach, her thigh and even her knee. I didn’t go any further because her man was laying there in the bed next to us. Also I controlled myself because I really liked Cindy. It felt like love to me. She made me want to take a shower. My heart beat faster whenever she came around.

So I was laughing it up with some guys. We were talking about how we hated “peace punks,” and pantomiming what we’d like to do to them if they came around here.

“I’d be all… Blaam!


“Fucking hippies.”

I felt a tug at my wrist, but I was doing something so I didn’t turn around. I felt it again, a little harder. I had to remember that I was on Broadway. I owed a lot of people money, and had fucked over a lot of people. Being out in the open like this was dangerous. When the tug came the third time, it definitely felt like someone grabbing my wristband. So I just turned around, shouting at the top of my lungs, and slammed into whoever it was.

It was a cop.

I was so busted. I was face down on the sidewalk in about three seconds. I’d slugged the cop pretty hard in the face, and now he was going to have to make an example out of me.

“Anybody know this clown?” Asked the cop I’d punched rubbing his jaw.

“I do.” Said Cindy. She called the cop by name, and they talked a while. What the fuck was this all about? I head Cindy describe me as harmless, and really nice. I really liked that. The handcuffs were tight. They hurt. Soon the cop I’d punched helped me get up to my feet and we talked things over.

“My cousin here says you’re a really nice guy. You don’t look like a really nice guy to me.”

“Who’s your cousin?”

“Don’t you know Cindy here? She says you two are friends.”

“Yeah, I know Cindy.” We nodded courteously like two associates being introduced at a business meeting. Ms. Stroys, have you met Mr. Dumbass? Mr. Dumbass, meet Ms. Stroys.

“Well striking a police officer isn’t a very nice thing to do.”

“I didn’t know who you were.”


“I didn’t know…”

“I’m sorry officer.”

“That’s better.”

I looked like a fucking idiot out there on the sidewalk in front of everyone. This pin dick cop humiliating me, making me apologize. The cops talked it over and they agreed that I was a scumbag and that they were going to take me in. Cindy came over to her cousin and asked him not to beat me up.

“We’re going to have to teach him a lesson.” He said softly to her.

She came over to me and said that everything was going to be ok.

I hoped so, but I didn’t think so.

They stuffed me into the back seat of the police car and we drove around the block a couple times. The cops were talking about punk rockers, and criminals. The radio was announcing things in code.

“You’re not too bright are you kid?”


“I said you’re not very smart, are you?”

“No, I guess not.”

“What are you wearing those wristbands for anyway?”


“Those spikes. What are they for?”

“I don’t know.”

“Is it a sex thing?”


“What are they for?”

“I don’t know.”

“Do they make you feel tough? Are you a tough guy?”


“I’ll say. That was a pretty lousy punch you threw.”

“I said I was sorry.”

“I know. I heard you.”

The other cop chimed in “You know son, it’s not all right to go around punching police officers.”

“I know.”

“Then why did you do it?”

“I thought you were someone else.”

“Who did you think we were?”

“I didn’t know you were cops.”

“You do now, don’t you?”


We drove up to Telegraph hill and parked in the parking lot of Coit Tower. They talked to me some more, trying to find some way to get angry with me. I just played stupid and they got frustrated. When we got out of the car, I thought they were going to let me go. I was calm, and only shaking a little bit. When Cindy’s cousin punched me in the face everything flashed white. It hadn’t even started to hurt yet when another punch landed in my abdomen. I was down. They hit me a few more times. I held my breath. I wasn’t going to cry, but I felt like it. I could feel the blood pulse out of my lips, and the swelling already beginning on my face.

I woke up in the holding tank reserved for drunks in the Broadway police station. I was sitting in a dirty yellow room with a gate in front of me. Bars, just like on TV. There was a heavy door next to me with a little window in the middle. All the glass was blueish, and thick with what looked like chicken wire in the middle of it. My wristbands and chains were gone. So were my belts and boots. My wallet was gone too. I wasn’t wearing my jacket. Sitting there, my face swollen, tight handcuffs keeping my hands behind my back, it felt strange to be wearing only a t-shirt and jeans. I never took my boots off. The bottoms of my socks were eaten away. My feet rested on the cold cement floor. I felt like shit.

“Are you awake in there?” Asked an officer I didn’t remember seeing before.



“I wanted to let you know that you have not been arrested. You have been detained. We’re keeping you to see if your story checks out.”

“My story?”

“Son, you assaulted a police officer. That’s a serious offense.”


“You’re getting a break, we’re going to let you go after we run your information.”


“Don’t mention it.”

It’s a very strange feeling when your whole face is swollen up, and you’ve been bleeding, but your hands are restrained and you can’t reach up and touch the wounds. The urge to dab at them is irresistible. I sat there for a long time. People came and went. Drunks were brought in and put into the dark room inside the cell I was sitting in. The cops didn’t look at me. No one else spoke to me.

The cop came back with Cindy’s cousin.

“Tell me about your whole get up here.”


“Your little outfit.” He was holding my belts. “What’s all this about?”

“I don’t know.”

“Didn’t your daddy love you enough?”

“Fuck you!”

“Settle down son.” They snickered.

“What was it? Did he beat you?”

I glared at them.

“Maybe one of those ‘Stop crying or I’ll give you something to cry about”‘ guys?”

I broke. I started to cry. My father had said exactly those words to me. I remember my brother would always get spanked first. I could hear the crack of my dad’s hand, and the silent pause before my brother started to wail. I was next. I was always next. Even if I hadn’t done anything wrong, or didn’t understand what was happening. My father would come into the room, sit on the foot of my bed and ask me to climb onto his lap. This is going to hurt me more than it’s going to hurt you. All the air in the room would rush upwards as he raised his arm.

The cops liked that they’d made me cry. I think that’s really what I was there so long for. They wanted to break me. They needed revenge. I was good at getting beaten up. It didn’t mean shit to me. But tears, real stinging tears seeping out of my swollen slits for eyes were proof that they’d gotten through to me.

“You are going to need to figure out something else to do with your life. You can’t just go around in your little clown suit striking police officers. That’s not going fly.”

“We are going to let you go.”

“We are going to give some of your things back to you, and you will be presented with a Bart ticket. My partner and I strongly suggest that you leave San Francisco and don’t come back until you’ve found another lifestyle.”

The cop unlocked the door, and slid back the gate. It wasn’t loud. Not like in the movies. There was no roar of freedom. No reverb. Just a click as the door locked into the open position.

“Stand up.”

I stood up. They removed the handcuffs. The blood returned to my hands, and I immediately reached up and touched my face.

“You look like shit.”


“Are you getting smart with me again?”
“No sir.”

They gave me back my jacket, one of my belts and my boots. They kept my wallet, three wristbands, all my chains and whatever had been in my front pockets. I didn’t ask for them back. I just got out of there.

I walked through North Beach, the neighborhood I had once lived in, as fast as I could. The smell of roasting coffee, and pastries baking nagged at me. The cool afternoon was crisp against my face, which throbbed and ached now that I was up on my feet. I tried to gage what sort of shape I was in by the faces of people who passed me. I couldn’t tell. I stopped and looked into a shop window at myself. The reflection didn’t look familiar, but it was hard to make out details. My eyes were swollen shut, and my lips looks impossibly huge. I couldn’t really tell. I sold my Bart ticket on Market Street, and walked to the bus station. In the bathroom I washed my face and checked out the damage. I was fucked up. Fuck, I was fucked up. Stupid cops.

Depeche Mode ‘Photographic’


Table of contents
Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, Chapter 4, Chapter 5, Chapter 6, Chapter 7, Chapter 8, Chapter 9, Chapter 10, Chapter 11, Chapter 12, Chapter 13, Chapter 14, Chapter 15, Chapter 16, Chapter 17, Chapter 18, Chapter 19, Chapter 20, Chapter 21, Chapter 22, Chapter 23, Chapter 24
Musicology, Errata