It was Christmas Eve in Seattle in 1992, I had pneumonia, and I invited Boner and Rat Boy over to my apartment to drink Jack Daniels. The sun had sunk hours before, but you could still see the city lights reflecting off the thick clouds that hung low over the Emerald City.
MTV flickered in the background on silent and we loudly listened to Soundgarden’s Badmotorfinger as Rat Boy cut up the last remaining lines of cocaine. We each snorted our line, downed the last of the whiskey bottle, and looked at each other like lost boys in a shadowy Neverland.
It was nearly midnight and the evening was just getting started.
Boner was an Italian-looking rocker, with long black hair down his back, wearing a beat-up green overcoat, and he spoke with a stoner slur, “Sooo, bros…whatcha wanna do now?”
Moving his face from the mirror, Rat Boy looked up. Long, blond hair framed his face and he gnawed his square jaw. The buckle on his leather biker jacket jangled when he stood up suddenly and said, “The Vogue. Let’s go there, man.”
My pasty face lit up. I fiddled with my goatee, which resembled the twin blades of a satanic fork, then tied my long, shoulder-length hair into a ponytail. Tired, wired, bone skinny, sick as a dog, and inebriated, I yearned for more of this night.
I was barely out of my teens and wanted to push every limit beyond the edge. Music, art, intoxicants, naked bodies, gothic women with Bettie Page bangs, darkness, and moonlight motivated my movements.
The three of us were a part of Seattle’s music scene and looked the part. Like cliches torn from an article on grunge. The “g-word” was one I despised but I loved the music.
We were all musicians. Boner was a bartender at RKCNDY and Rat Boy was a sound man at the same club. I worked across the street, under the overpass, as a bartender at the Off Ramp.
It was an incestuous scene. All of us had multiple girlfriends and our girlfriends had multiple boyfriends. Boner and I were seeing the same woman: a tomboy riot grrrl named Dana who wore a spider ring filled with pills. She had dated numerous musicians who were now touring the world. Seattle and other Northwest bands were washing over the world in a tidal wave of alterna-rock.
Waking up at 2:00 pm was normal for me then. I lived on lattes, veggie burgers, hash browns, and booze. But it was free entrance and backstage passes to shows that truly sustained me.
We were all broken and beautiful. A pack of faux and real rock stars, hipsters, scenesters, strippers, and junkies. A crew of misfits and orphans who loved each other and worshipped music like a religion in the great cathedrals where we prayed: music venues. One of those venues was The Vogue.
Rat Boy, Boner, and I emerged into the night and decided to walk the rainy streets from my apartment in the Regrade, through Belltown, and make our way downtown to 1st Avenue. Getting closer to The Vogue, we heard Ministry’s dark, industrial music blasting out of the club’s open front door.
We walked into a nearly empty club room. Diehard Christmas Eve clubsters with nowhere to go. Behind the long bar, a man and a woman were dressed alike in matching black BDSM corsets, miniskirts, and fishnet stockings.
“Hey Monny, what’s up? We’d like a pitcher of hefeweizen,” Boner said to the male bartender.
Pints were poured and we all sat quietly listening to burning electric guitars scrape over pounding drums bleeding together with distortion and feedback. A few cars slid by outside the open door, slopping against the wet streets. Then, an old four-door sedan slowed and threw something inside the club. Immediately, the showroom filled with a strange gas, and everyone inside began gagging and coughing, eyes watering.
“What the fuck?” I choked.
“Tear gas, bro!” Boner spit. “We’ve been tear-gased!”
We stumbled from our bar stools out onto the sidewalk and the bartenders and other clubsters followed. Coughing and wiping our eyes under the smear of rain.
Rat Boy looked up with crimson eyes and grinned. He had an idea. “Let’s go to Cheryl’s on Capitol Hill.”
Cheryl was Rat Boy’s sometime girlfriend and coke dealer. The need for cocaine superseded my need to rest and get over my illness. We flagged a yellow cab and made our way up the hill.
We buzzed the intercom on the street outside and were let in by a man with a deep and gravelly voice, then we climbed up to the third floor apartment and entered a rock ’n’ roll coke den. Music celebrities intermingled with groupies, all strung out on blow and booze and bong hits, gazing at us.
Rat Boy disappeared into a back bedroom with Cheryl, and Boner and I waited patiently for our white rails to appear. We nursed bottles of Henry’s while sitting on a couch in a haze of smoke. Mudhoney played on a low hum and a few scenesters groped each other in the dim light. Tattooed arms in a tangle of bodies lay on the floor. Bodies covered in leather jackets, vintage clothes, and Doc Martens.
My head was floating with sick, fever, white drugs, whiskey, beer, mucus, and derision. I was in a heavenly hell.
Rat Boy emerged from the bedroom and we finally got our drugs. Then, the hours moved quickly to sunrise. When the sun began slipping through the blinds, I realized I had to work the happy hour shift later that day and thought I should try to get some sleep.
Boner and I watched the morning sun try to burn through the clouds as we walked down the hill to Dana’s empty apartment. She was at her family’s for the Holidays. Boner and I never brought up the fact that we were both sleeping with her. We went inside, turned on the TV, watched John Goodman in Arachnophobia, and waited for the drugs to wear off.
I don’t recall sleeping but I do remember looking at the clock to see that it was 2:30 in the afternoon on Christmas Day and I needed to start bartending at 3:00. Boner was dead asleep on the floor, so I rose off the couch where I’d been fitfully resting, pulled my black leather jacket and stocking cap on, and began the wet trudge to the Off Ramp at the base of Capitol Hill a few blocks away.
When I got inside, the heat of the club hit my pneumonia-ridden body and I broke out into a sweat. Lee, the large, bearded, gray, and gay owner of the club greeted me and said, “Let me know when it’s time to get ice. I want a Christmas kiss.”
I liked Lee, but he regularly sexually harassed me and asked for kisses on the top of his bald head. To keep my job, I usually acquiesced.
I prepared the bar, laid out ashtrays, gathered ice, placed my pursed and sickly lips to Lee’s head, and then Roger materialized.
Roger was a scrawny, older gay man with a salt and pepper mustache, missing teeth, and an effeminate way of moving and speaking. I always enjoyed seeing him. He sat down at the end of the bar waiting for his first drink of the day.
Roger greeted me, “Hiiii, baby! Merry Cunt Ass! What’s for drinks?”
Lee crawled around the corner into a seat at the bar near Ronald and said in his usual droll and dry way, “Hello, Roger. I’ll buy a round of kamikazes. Gentry, make us three. It’s Christmas after all.”
I shook up the kamikazes, cheered with the men, threw mine back, and thought I could now settle into a day that would be an easy mirage. Coming down from cocaine, hungover, drinking again, and my head filled with a balloon of pneumonia, I hoped to put some Tom Waits on and just get through the day.
Roger said, “You look tired, honey. You want a Polish French kiss?”
“What’s that, Roger?” I questioned.
“Don’t ask,” Lee said.
“Oh, come on! Let us give you one,” Roger pleaded.
I brought my face close to his, leaning over the bar, and he grabbed my cheeks with both hands, then shoved his tongue up my right nostril. The inside of my nose was now covered in Roger’s saliva and his tongue was covered in my sick.
“Oh, my god! Fuck me!” I yelled and pulled back.
“In the 70s, if you picked the right nostril, you’d get a good buzz!” Roger exclaimed.
I didn’t have time to tell him he would get a good Christmas buzz from my nose and that he’d probably also get a nasty fever. Moments after Roger’s tongue assault, a dozen metalheads walked into the bar.
Disgruntled after their family holidays and hungry for booze, the metalheads demanded beers and shots, and then the meanest-looking one called out, “Play Motörhead really fucking loud, man!”
I didn’t have the energy to protest and soon, Lemmy was singing Ace of Spades, my bar was full, and I was keeping myself from collapsing through sheer will.
At 9:00 pm, my Holiday happy hour shift was ending. As the hour approached, the club filled more and more with revelers. I was in a haze and my voice squawked through the cigarette smoke filling the club. I just wanted to go home.
At five minutes to nine, Chet, the bassist in one of my bands appeared. He was a tall, lanky, dreadlocked, and acne-faced Bostonian, and his head seemed to float without a body over the Christmas Night partiers. He had just finished his shift at Carl’s Jr. and was very happy to see me.
Chet had brought a large bag of psychedelic mushrooms and was ready for the Bugs Bunny Animation Festival in the U District. I had forgotten that I promised him I’d go with him to the festival and eat shrooms that night.
I was not going home yet.
At that young age, I didn’t know how to say ‘no’. It wasn’t in my lexicon. Boundaries were not in my toolbox.
Barely able to stand, Chet and I took a bus across the city to the Neptune Theater, split the entire bag of shrooms, and watched two hours of Looney Tunes cartoons. I recall occasional vignettes of Wile E. Coyote falling from a red desert cliffside into a puff of smoke, but very little else. By then, my mind and body had reached a point where they both shut off.
When we got back to my apartment, the hands of the clock were back teetering at the edge of midnight. Almost December 26th.
I put on Talk Talk’s Laughing Stock and watched the shadows play on the walls as the atmosphere filled with calm. Music washed over me. Sleep didn’t come for a few hours as the shrooms wore off, but I was already dreaming. Alive and breathing in the Northwest.