The storefront on Mission Street was beat, badly in need of repairs, paint chipping off wooden slats in the front, windows speckled with dirt and dead flies pressed against old newspaper taped over the windows. The view within was covered, and the faded sign above was for a shoe repairs.
The front door was protected by a mountain of trash piled waist-high. A leaky spigot under the front window had a splash of green moss growing out of the sidewalk. It was one of those storefronts that was so worn out to death that it was invisible to anyone walking by it.
The little shoe repair store could be entered from the rear with a credit card along with a good jimmying from a pen knife. There was no heating inside, but a few tables and chairs kept the squat alive. A few lamps pulled in from the trash supplied indoor light needed to produce a punk rock fanzine. This was the headquarters or more appropriately the "deadquarters" of Ripoff Magazine.
Warren Arrest gently placed a few photographs from the previous night's show around some quickly typed copy, moving the photos around the page in a semi-circle. He analyzed the layout, deciding which looked more intense for the Live Reviews Section. Sitting a few feet away cutting out captions with a rusty pair of scissors was Just Plain Sally, looking industrious with her cutting.
The back door frame shook a little with a knob jiggle. The squatters inside tensed a mite and relaxed when they saw Dante creeping inside.
"Hey, why didn't you get the door for me?" he asked, slightly hurt.
"Doorman's on vacation", Arrest drawled. "We're kind of busy here, as you can see".
"Yeah", Sally chimed in.
Dante walked over, peeking over everyone's shoulders, perusing their work. "No, the guitar player jumping in the air should be on top. The singer getting flipped the finger isn't news. You see that shit every night".
"You think I should move it down?"
"I was thinking the same thing".
Dante walked over to Sally's corner and watched her fight the paper with her rusty tools.
"Hey, Sally, I have a decent pair of paper scissors you can borrow. I mean, Jesus".
Sally looked up with her customary blank look.
"No, these are my tools". She proudly held the rusty scissors up like Lady Liberty.
Dante snorted and walked back to Arrest.
"So, here to help out?"
"Noooooooo", Dante crooned. "I'm just coming by to let you know that the next column's going to get done earlier than usual. I got some pretty hot info the other night and I'm dying to blast it in the zine".
"Um, like what? More high school photos?"
"No, better, much better. Why, it's almost too good for this rag, but I'll give it to you 'cause I'm a pretty cool guy".
"Are you going to tell me?"
Dante held out, walking over to a bunch of snacks and drinks sitting atop a scarred wooden table. He reached into a bag of ridged potato chips and jammed them into his maw, crunching loudly. He picked up a styrofoam cup of coffee and took a pull, puffed his cheeks up and spat it all over the floor.
"Ugh! That fuckin' coffee's cold! And it's black, too! It tastes like piss! BYAKKKK!" Dante coughed up coffee grounds, spitting them out from his purple face.
"Ask before you guzzle, dick head".
Dante continued his coughing and spitting as Warren stared at him. "So, dumbass, are you going to tell me about this hot item you're just dying to burst...or what?"
Dante finally caught his breath after several tries. Without a word, he pulled out the paper he typed at home and handed it to his editor.
Arrest grabbed the copy and read it slowly.
As he scanned the paper a low moan giving way to a low growl rose higher and higher in volume.
His face turned several shades of white and gray and he handed the paper back to Dante.
"Where...did you...get this...stuff...from?"
Dante hemmed and hawed, eventually just wordlessly staring at his editor.
“This is all bullshit, isn’t it?”
“No, honest. It’s all real, I just don’t want to start narking my sources out, heh heh”.
Warren walked over to Dante and threw his arm around his shoulders conspiratorially. He turned his head just to check to see if Sally was watching and then around.
“I’ll publish this if it’s true, but honestly, guy, take a tip from me. Let’s have a little less scandal and a lot more positive energy. Make more friends. Don’t try so hard to piss everybody off, know what I mean?”
“Play it slower, like what?”
“We need money, see? Money will get us a cool little office space, not some bullshit squat. I mean I’m all for living humble, but let’s get what every other zine like Creem and Circus get, y’know?”
“I still don’t get you”.
“Dante, it’s like this. If you write up twenty bands per issue, that comes to twenty bands with five members each in every band and you sell a hundred copies alone just so these fuckers can see their stupid names in print, see? At three dollars an issue that’s three hundred dollars profit right there”.
“So I go find ten bands to write about? Is that it?”
“No, just make nice with these bands and get them to want to be put in the zine, like we’re doing them a big favor. They get their mention and we make our money. Leave me this item and go get these boobs interested in us. Oh, and here”.
Arrest discreetly pulled out a tiny folded piece of paper. “That’s for you. Enjoy. Put it away so Sally doesn’t see it”.
Dante pocketed it as quickly as he could.
“It’ll make you a lot nicer to everybody. Right now we need that. Go!”
Dante walked by the corner drug store with its floppy awning and wooden slatted sides. He saw a flip-top box of cigarettes by the phone booth and swiped them. Opening the box, instead of expecting a cockroach to come racing out, he saw three fresh unsmoked cigarettes in the pack. Since he always carried matches with him he lit one up and took a deep drag on the smoke.
He walked further down the street with the sky in a gray patina, puffing smoke signals, adding more gray palette into the ozone. He walked a few feet ahead and then slowed down his pace. At the next block was a dented Ford Econoline van with the band name The Double Crossers spray painted over a vomitous splash of colors.
Dante tossed his cig into the curb and leaned against an empty storefront wall. A nervous, twitchy scarecrow of a young man in soiled tee, army pants and boots got out of the van. Looking around nervously, he opened up the rear van doors and pulled out a PA sound board with speakers.
“No way”, Dante grinned. “This is great”.
What made it great was that the store the van parked by had three round bulbs, the sign of a pawn shop. The young man pulled out a dolly and carted them into the pawn shop. Dante chuckled with glee.
“Wonder if the boys in the band know about this”, he mumbled to himself with no shortage of amusement.
He walked slowly and cautiously to get a closer look at the shop window. Most bands on the scene knew who he was so walking in there might be a bad idea. He found a nice sideways angle to the window without being seen head-on.
“Look at him twitch”, Dante chuckled again. “Scratching himself….”
The young man could be seen haggling with the pawnbroker inside the store.
“That’s Spider….shit. Never let a junkie handle your stage gear for you. Well, I never thought those guys in The Double Crossers were very bright”.
After much gesturing and nervous looks out the window (once Dante had to jump back a few feet) Spider finally managed to unload the sound board. He could be seen signing something and then taking a thin wad of cash and jamming in the back of his combat pants.
“How are you gonna explain that one, junkie?” Dante sniggered.
Spider then quickly jammed out of the pawn shop with two big 32” speakers on the dolly, quickly throwing them back into the van. Dante ran back to his original post.
“No takers on the speakers, asshole. I could have told him that”.
The van tore out from the curb. Dante slowly emerged from the corner and walked back to the sidewalk.
“Well, thanks for the item. That’s one band that isn’t going to be happy tonight. One missing sound board and one overdosed roadie. Wish I had my fuckin’ camera”.
Animal led Dante around a club called Kiki’s Deluxe at The Stockade, a gay bar that was having one of their drag nights. The club was packed with men looking for love, looking for entertainment and probably a load of party drugs.
Although Dante wore his usual punk uniform of leather jacket, jeans, tee and sneakers, Animal was dolled for Discoland, wearing a feather boa, violet satin tube top, black vinyl miniskirt and old platform wedgies. She even had some glitter glued to her cheeks.
“Come on”, Animal pulled Dante’s arm, dragging him around the club. “The dressing room’s around here somewhere!”
Dante yawned, wondering why he was even there.
Animal spotted a fat man in makeup but not in female dress.
“Hey!” she yelled. “Which way to the dressing room?”
The fat man appraised her sourly. “Well, doll, that’s for me to know and for you to find out!”
“I work with Mabel at Picasso’s Art Supplies. Is she back stage?”
“Mabel Mildew? Why didn’t you say so, girl?” The portly man stared at Dante in his tight leather jacket. “Back of the room to the left”.
“Can we go home now?” Dante groaned.
“No! I want to see Mabel!” Animal yelled over the bad dance music. It was Disco Tex and The Sex-O-Lettes doing their hoary classic “Get Dancin’”.
Dante wished he was home listening to The Ramones. Animal continued fighting the crowd, struggling to get towards the dressing room. Strobe lights and sirens were going off in the club and a DJ was screaming over the music – “GET DANCIN'……..KIKI'S DELUXE!!! STOMP YOUR FEET STICK UP YOUR ASSES OUT PUT YOUR HANDS UP IN THE AIR LIKE YOU GOSH DARN IT JUST DON’T CARE!”
They finally reached a black door which kept getting thrown open and then slamming shut, over and over again like some demented puppet show. The smell of beer and poppers filled the air.
Animal tried the door knob. “Shit! It’s locked!”
Suddenly the door flew open again, and a eight-foot tall black queen towered over the brightly lit room. Steam and body sweat emanated from the tiny dressing room.
“Yeeeeessssssssss?” the giant queen imperially asked.
“Is Mabel there? Tell her Animal’s here!”
“Oh, well…..Miss Mabel, you have company!”
Animal leaned over the large queen. “Mabel, Mabel, Mabel, it’s me! Animal!”
Mabel shrieked from the back of the dressing room. “Oh darling I’ll be out in a minute!”
The giant stared at Dante. “Well, he’s welcome to enter, but you‘ll have to wait, sweetheart”. Animal frowned.
The door slammed shut again. People shoved against them. “That bum, hustling my boyfriend in front of me. Well! Mabel’s going to hear about it!”
Dante just looked around nervously.
The door flew open and a dark figure fronted by a large bouncer raced out quickly towards the stage. Mable Mildew approached the stage resplendent in a gold liquid satin dress, her reed hair piled high in an upsweep with heavily rouged cheek, offsetting a short black goatee. She resembled a Milan runway model in crossfire with a Roman gladiator.
“KIKI’S DELUXE PRESENTS AND PREVENTS AT NO GREAT EXPENSE, THE WONDERFUL MABEL MILDEW!” Everybody screamed and applauded wildly.
“Mabel! Mabel! Mabel!” Animal yelled while jerking Dante around in a demented dance. Dante behaved like a surly puppet having its strings yanked wildly. Mabel lip-synced to Diana Ross singing “Over The Rainbow”. Shirtless men were bumping wildly, sweat flying around and splashing on Dante. Animal was in bliss, dancing like crazy.
The disco music pounded loudly while Mabel Mildew lip-synced her heavily padded heart out. Dante smelled more than a few asses in the fragrant darkness. Animal jumped up and down happily.
“Yaaaayyyyy Mabel! THAT’S MY GIRL!”