PUNK: Lonesome American Memoirs

2: Leave Home

I left my suburban home one afternoon in June of 1979. I’d been grounded for four months because I robbed the neighbor’s house. My parents took away my stereo, removed all the posters from the walls of my room, and required that I come home immediately after school. I was not allowed to go anywhere unless they were with me.

While this seemed like the most severe punishment imaginable, especially considering my accomplice received a stern talking too, but wasn’t punished in any tangible way. But the neighbors were actually cool about it, and didn’t involve the police.

The scheme was pretty simple, we swiped the house keys out of the neighbor kid’s locker, left school early, headed straight to the sleepy little house at the bottom of the hill, rang the door bell, and when no one answered, switched off the alarm, unlocked the door, went straight to the kid’s bedroom, opened up his box of EC comics, took them out, split them up right there in his room, and put everything back the way we’d found it, and took off to our separate homes.

There was a moment between my companion and myself, right in the middle of the robbery, where I suggested that we take everything.

Everything?” I was asked.

“Well, at least these Fantastic Fours” I said.

Prudence intervened, and we agreed that that would mean we’d have to probably go through the entire house in search of valuables. And then we’d probably get busted. So we decided to stick to the plan and just take the valuable comics.
I looked at the magazines; they looked old, and kind of lackluster in their stiff mylar bags. I stacked them into my guitar case and forgot about them.

A week later I got a call from the neighbor kid.

“Are any of your comics missing?” he asked.

“Nope.” I said quickly.

“Have you looked recently?”

“Let me check.”

I put the phone down and actually went and looked through my entire comic book collection. I had been collecting comics for years. I was in love with Jean Grey, and felt quite personally for the X-Men and almost anything drawn by John Byrne. Everything was there. I could her dogs barking in the distance. I looked out of my window; down the pastoral hillside we used to have to pay someone to Rotatill every spring, the sleepy oak tree and the street below. It was a sunny, windless day. I hated this town and everyone in it.

I picked up the phone and said “Hello?”

“I’m here.” Said the neighbor kid in his pimple faced, smarty pants way.

“Nothing.” I said.



Oh my God, so your comic books are gone too?

“No, no. I meant that nothing was missing.”


“Are you positive?


I should have asked him why he was asking. What was up. Feigned some sort of concern. Gotten seriously involved and lead the charge to locate the criminals that had so cruelly robbed this guy of his precious vintage comic book collection. But what I said was “Are you gonna be down at the basket ball courts later?”


“Cool, maybe I’ll see you there.”


I softly hung up the phone, and sat there a while looking at my guitar case.

A few days went by. I avoided the neighbor kid. Every time I saw him he would look at me, and I would just kind of look away without saying anything.

At the end of a hot day, I was riding the bus home. Just sitting there thinking about how I didn’t even really want those comic books. EC comics were valuable, but they weren’t any fun to read, and the drawing was weird. There weren’t any real super heroes in them either. So when I got home I was resolved to consider a plan to return them to him. He was a miserable kid, like me. And there was no reason to keep his stupid comics anyway. But when I arrived in my room the plan suddenly changed. My guitar case, which was always propped against the wall of my room, was gone.

My heart sank, and the drone of panic began to accelerate through my body. I looked under the bed, nothing. Out in the hallway, nothing. I went upstairs, nothing. No one was home. There was no note. I went back down to my room and sat on the bed.

All I could think was “fuck!” over and over in my head. “Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck.” Then I opened my closet door. I didn’t usually look in there because I stowed my old life’s relics on the shelves, and hangars. A down jacket I’d been beaten up in one too many times, a pair of tennis shoes I refused to wear, several unfinished wood shop projects, an Angel’s Flight suit which was never going to touch my skin again, some space themed disco shirts, a pair of after ski boots (moon boots really,) and there, between my rain coat and the wall was my guitar case. I dragged it out into my room, unlatched it, and flung open the case. The comics were there, neatly stacked in the three compartments, right where I’d left them.

Still, I felt without thinking, something needed to be done. So, absolutely convinced that my mother (who could smell smoke from four blocks away, and mysteriously read my mind) had discovered them and knew all about the whole debacle, I picked up the phone and dialed my neighbor’s number.

As soon as it began to ring I hung up.

I needed a better plan. I collected the comics and walked halfway down the hill without really knowing why. Was I going to his house to confess? Fuck no. So I stood there a little while searching my brain for a better plan than this… when nothing came, I simply spread the comics out in the middle of the grass, walked back to the road, climbed the steps to my house and went inside as if I were arriving home for the first time that day.

I made a snack, and went to my room to eat it. Then I picked up the phone and re dialed the neighbor kid’s number.

“Hello?” He answered.

“Scott?” I said, my voice cracking.

“Yes?” He answered.

And with a voice from a hundred miles away I said, “I found your stupid comic books.”

Where?” He cried into the phone.

“On the hill in front of my house.”

What?” He shouted down the phone.

“Yeah, right there on the hill. I spotted them on my way home. You can come and get them if you want to.”

“Are they at your house?” He asked.

“No, I just left them there.”

“On the hill? Outside?


“I’ll be right over.”

The phone line went dead. I hung up. I watched from my window as this pimple faced, greasy haired kid and his mother came tromping up the hillside. They came to the spot where I’d spread out the magazines and knelt down. The mother stood up quickly, and put her hands on her son’s shoulders. They smiled at each other, collected the comics and walked back down the hill out of sight.

And that, I imagined, was that.

The sun had begun to set, and it was dark in my room. My parents would begin to arrive home soon. The phone would ring before dinner; a long conversation would begin between my parents and the people next door. Eventually I would be asked to meet with them, to apologize, and explain myself. At eight o’clock, the doorbell rang a couple of times. I heard the clomping of feet upstairs, the scooching of chairs across the slate floors. At eight forty five I would be asked to come upstairs.

The neighbors, my mother and stepfather, and the parents of my accomplice were all sitting in a circle of chairs in my living room. The only thing I was thinking was “How did they know that Alan was in on this with me?” I hadn’t said a word. I was also thinking about Nan Van Depole and Beth Ridgeway. They were friends of Alan’s and there was no way I was going to get to kiss either one of them again. Not after getting into this kind of trouble. Not after getting their friend busted.

I thought about Beth’s lips. How no matter what I did to persuade her, she would not part her teeth. She was tall. I really liked that.

My stepfather cleared his throat in the uncomfortable, but attention getting way he always did before taking charge, and said, “Well, we might as well get started.” Everyone agreed.

“We’re here together because we believe that you have committed a serious crime.” He said, all eyes upon me. “We have determined that you and Alan broke into Ermgaard and Bruce’s home and made off with their property.”

I looked at Alan’s parents, they were every bit as stern and serious at the Neighbors. “Where’s Alan?” I asked.

“He was on a date tonight.” His father looked me right in the eyes. “And we saw no reason to interrupt that activity to bring him here for this meeting.”

“I believe that our neighbors have a few questions for you.” Interrupted my stepfather.

My mother was sitting quietly, watching me. I was careful not to look directly at her while the neighbors asked me about how I had gotten in to their home.

“We took the keys, turned off your alarm, and took the comics.” I explained.

“Yes, but why?” Asked the mother. She was upset. She was shaking. Her anger disturbed me. I hated them, but here was some kind of fear. Some kind of pity. How could I hate them and be afraid of them at the same time? This really sucked.

“I don’t know…” Was all I could offer. But it sounded more like “Ai-uh-know” and was said with a half rolled upper lip, collected tongue, and a single move of the jaw.
Why did I do that? I really don’t know. Was it greed? Was it really such a crime that this string bean of a neighbor had such a vast collection of comics from the past? No. No way. A lot of people had far better collections than I had. I didn’t really care about the comics.

In our town, there was an order of things. The rich kids had it all. They were given cars when they turned fifteen and a half, they never rode the busses, they went to the Caribbean in the winter, and skiing in the spring. In our town you were either one of them, or you weren’t. The violence that accompanied this order was merciless. If you liked a girl you weren’t supposed to like, you got the shit beat out of you. If you said something smart in class, you got the shit beat out of you. If you said something stupid in class, you got the shit beat out of you. The only recourse for someone outside the world of feathered hair, rugby shirts and athletic and academic excellence was to keep quiet and do everything possible not to come to the attention of those who would firmly remind you that you were a maimer, and most likely a faggot, and needed to stay down.

So this was a lashing out against someone whom I perceived as being somewhat less than I was. A way of doing to those who were beneath me, precisely what had been done to me. A kind of fulfilling of my very own density. The best I could come up with as an effort to climb the very steep social ladder. I realize that this doesn’t really explain it. And it certainly doesn’t make it all right. But that’s what it was about. That’s why.

More than unjust, this kind of thinking was ineffective. Danny Bocceck, another string bean of a kid, was at one time a friend of mine. But as I struggled for some kind of place to fit, for room to breathe, I turned on him. I would pick on him, verbally almost daily. Until one day in PE, we were practicing wrestling, and I got paired up with him. I was peering at him with squinted eyes whispering “Bocceck… Bocceck…” over an over. His blank expression mirroring my own without the anger, he had nothing to lose, and there I was putting it all on the line.

The whistle blew, and we went at each other.

If you don’t know about wrestling as an intramural activity, the idea is that two people grapple with each other in an effort to get one or the other pinned down on the floor until the coach counts to three. It’s a hideous sport.

I wrapped my arms around Bocceck and tried to slap him down onto the mat quickly. He was long, and springy. He wouldn’t go down. I tried to pull back, and give him another run, but I couldn’t get away from him. I felt myself being lifted into the air. My feet out from under me, I was placed firmly onto the mat against my will.

While the instructor was counting me out with a hearty “One… Two… Three!” I was totally stunned. I didn’t even fight back. It was unbelievable to me that Danny Bocceck, the long, gangly, pale, braniac, dork had bested my in a physical confrontation. “No way…” My brain reported. “No Way!” But it was true. I was down. It was over. I was out.
In my first year of middle school I was involved in twenty-one fights. I won most of them. Not because I was strong, or fast, or smart, I won because I had a knife, and a roll of quarters in my pocket. Bob, from Chicago (is everyone from Chicago named Bob?) befriended me for a few days until I got sick of hearing about how rough and tough Chicago was. I called him a ‘weenis‘ which, as you know, is in the top fifty most insulting things you can call a fellow seventh grader, and we were at each other. I ducked a few punches, and took a few in the face (the face! always in the fucking face!) and I pulled out my roll of quarters and gave him a good one in the mouth. He went for my mid section, wrapping his arms around me, so I began pounding his back with my reinforced fist. I knocked the wind out of him, and dropped him on the ground. The crowd was disappointed. It was clear they were rooting for Bob. I scowled at everyone and said, “Who’s next? C’mon!”

Ok, that’s not true. What really happened was that as I started to pound on his back the fight was broken up. Bob started calling me a cheater, and already demanding a rematch. I ignored him. There was no rematch. What was the point? The best either one of us could hope for was to arrive at the interstellar position of 3rd place. Bronze. Nothing really worth going for. Me, knifing him, or he, re-breaking my nose would never be the tanned skin or Alpha Romeo we really wanted. It would never win Beth Ridgeway’s heart.

The pathetic insults exchanged between us, between all of us, would be the proof that there was really no point. And Beth Ridgeway was never going to embrace me, kiss me, or even so much as look at me again.

Back in the living room, the adults were still talking. It was decided that I would be confined to my room. School and my room for not less than four months. No guitar, no music, no radio, no stereo, no hair spray, no dog chains, no stuff in my hair, no boots, no friends, no going anywhere without my parents beside me.

“Would you be satisfied with that?” My mother asked the neighbors.

“Yes, that sounds appropriate to me.” Replied Ermgaard. Bruce agreed calmly.

Alan’s father said that his son would be similarly punished when he returned home from his date. But I knew the score. Alan was going to get a slap on the wrist. I was taking the heat for this, and it was pretty clear that I was the bad influence here. And I was going to be shut down, so that would solve the real problem.

Truth is the whole thing was Alan’s idea. I went along with it because he was handsome. He was moderately popular. He was friends with Beth Ridgeway. I couldn’t breathe when she was near me. I would have jumped off the roof of the gymnasium if He’d asked me to. But I didn’t say that. I didn’t really even know that. So I scowled and stared at these stupid adults and they murmured, collecting their things and shaking hands, offering apologies.
As soon as everyone was gone, the dead bolt was turned on the front door of the house, and my stereo, guitar, posters, records, magazines, comic books, boots, jacket, and C.B. radio were swiftly removed from my room. One by one my identifying items were carried up the stairs and into a closet somewhere.

I sat on my bed and cried for a long time. My dog licking my tears. I explained it to him. He seemed to understand. No one else did. Not even me.

The four months passed slowly. Like a summer in prison slow. I was sent to a Christian youth camp where I smoked a lot of pot, inhaled a cigarette for the first time, told everyone I was English, that my father and brother were dead (‘Nam,) and had sex with two Canadian girls and nurtured a deep and festering crush on another girl from Walla Walla Washington. On the last night some youth minister named Don asked me if I was ready to “give my soul to God?” I just stared at him. So he grabbed hold of my wrist and raised my hand in the air for me and made the announcement on my behalf. The hall full of blonde haired, blue eyed, white toothed smiling young people cheered. I was passed through a line of huggers and congratulators.

I wandered off into the mist of the night and smoked hash with a Native American guy, one of the “outreach” kids from West Vancouver, and we talked about Jesus until the sun came up. We both sounded as if we’d been Lutheran youth pastors all our lives. The hash was pretty good.

In the morning we went back to our rooms, and boarded separate trains that afternoon. What happened to him I’ll never know, but I was faced with riding in a small compartment full of the people from my town who had watched me fake an English accent, smoke cigarettes, show up late and stoned for a week.

They were not as impressed with me as the girls from Vancouver, and Washington were. They didn’t say anything. They just looked at me softly, and then looked away.

When the day arrived that I finally got my guitar and stereo back some “ground rules” were set down about how I was to behave form here on out. The following four months were to be a probationary period where I would be expected to call home regularly, no more mysterious weeks away, no more late night outings, no more punk rock outfits, and no more disobedience. It was time for me to “pull my own weight” around the house.

Naturally, that afternoon I packed my chains, belts, and records into a duffle bag, grabbed my guitar, and all the cash in the house I could find and walked down the hill to the Bart station. I bought a single fare ticket, and got off at the Rockridge station, rode the escalator down to the street and waited for the 51A to take me in to Berkeley.

I met my friend Mike (who’s birth certificate I’d stolen the year before) on the bus, and told him I’d been thrown out of my house. He commiserated, and offered to buy me some beer. By the time we got off the bus at Durant Avenue we were laughing.

On the walk down from College to Telegraph we passed a couple walking up the street. Michael jumped and shouted at them, scaring the shit out of them. I lunged at the girl’s throat and stuck my face into the guy’s face and growled. They ran off. We laughed.

As the sun started to set into the bay, and the sky went all pink and purple, I was beginning to feel like I’d made the right move. That this was the freedom I needed. People like Michael understood me; the street was home to me. The only place I felt comfortable.

Then I took a look over my shoulder.

My stepfather was walking about two steps behind me. My vision went blurry and my heart started racing. I told Michael I’d see him later. He looked pretty confused. I pointed at my stepfather, and he raised his hands innocently and said, “See ya.”

I turned toward my mother’s husband and said, “How did you find me?”

He didn’t answer right away, pulled his hands out of his pockets and gestured toward the Durant Avenue post office.

“Can I talk to you for a second?”

I went with him into the doorway.

“How did you find me?” I repeated.

“It was just chance really.” He said calmly. “I had been driving around looking for you, and saw you on the bus. So I followed you here.”

I thought that was pretty smart. So I didn’t say anything.

“Look.” He began. “This isn’t going to take long.” He seemed kind, his face resigned. None of the anger or frustration that I’d come to expect between us was present. “You are a survivor. You know how to make it out here in the street. But I wanted to give you one last chance.”

“One last chance for what?”

“Let me finish.”


“You are a survivor. You don’t need us. But I wanted to give you a choice.” He looked so sad. Withered. This athletic man who always looked the same seemed to shrivel before my very eyes. In the twilight, as the stars began to sparkle above our heads, my stepfather’s skin seemed red, His eyes sunken. I hated him.

“You can come with me now, home, and live by our rules. Or you can stay here and do whatever it is you do here. It doesn’t matter to me what you do. But you have to decide now.”

“Right now?”

Right now.” He said, and then looked down. “I am asking you to make a decision.”

My head went quiet. People I knew began to pass behind us, I was facing the street and I could see the people coming to life as the sun set, and the night life of Berkeley in the late seventies began to awaken. Bailey and Tamyara walked by. A group of punks stopped to watch for a few minutes, and then straggled up the street. A homeless guy asked my stepfather for change.

“I’m staying.”

You’re staying.” He repeated. Looking at me carefully.

“There’s nothing for me there. All my friends are here. This is my family. I’ve got no reason to go home with you.” My eyes filled with tears, but I was not going to cry. My knees started to shake, and I had no idea what to do.

“Then I am going to go now.”


“You know you can’t come back. You can’t just come in and out of our lives whenever you want to. You can’t do that to your mother. I am asking you to make a decision.”

“I already made my decision.”

“Ok, then I am going to go now.”


I stood there a long time after he left. Recovering from being so close to tears. The ease of the evening had begun to return, and I was hungry. I needed a place to stash my shit. I needed to figure out where I was going to sleep. Awh fuck it. I needed to get high. I was free. It was over. This was my home now.

I went off looking for Michael, and was going to take him up on buying me those beers he said he’d spot me.

The Ramones ‘Judy is a Punk’


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