Dig If You Will a Picture
Blurred Visions From a Quarter Century Ago
I’d forgotten the song. Strange, because it was played so much back when it was a hit. I heard Prince’s voice pop out those distinctive lyrics on the local “Lake City Rock” station and was immediately transformed into a nostalgic fog. “Dig if you will a picture, of you and I engaged in a kiss”…Animals strike curious poses, can you picture this?”… “Maybe I’m just too demanding, alone in a world so cold,” and all the rest from his mega-hit, “When Doves Cry.” It took me straight back, as only songs can do, to the era when it was initially popular as the feature song to the movie “Purple Rain.” It took me straight back to the summer of 1984, twenty-five years ago.
George Orwell’s “1984” was possibly less strange than the one I inhabited. We were punks, plain and simple. Suburban punks, but still. Surly, snarling, grimacing, disaffected youth with all the associated poses, props and practices. Self-anointed outcasts with mohawks, earrings when males with earrings were still rare in provincial towns like Indianapolis, combat boots, and the ubiquitous safety pins holding our fashionably shabby apparel together. We spoke often and in glowing terms of anarchy. Prince, Michael Jackson, Duran Duran and the other mainstream pop icons of the day drew only our scorn. Instead, we idolized the Dead Kennedys, Butthole Surfers, and Fear. We absolutely worshipped the Sex Pistols and the Clash as the initial purveyors of Punk. To us, Michael Jackson was a heavily packaged product, very slick and talented yet devoid of the kind of passion our music held.
My circle of friends was colorful in an “only a mother could love that” sort of way. There was Chunk, so named for his girth and sloth; Dead Julie, so named for her depressive demeanor and black garb; Creature, a less than completely feminine female who enjoyed brawling; Satan Crowder, so named for no good reason at all. He was actually about as satanic as Pat Sajak, but “Satan” had more punk credibility than his given name of Michael. Others in our camp included Tall Gary, Bubba Gardner, a drummer named Clay, and sundry others whose names now escape me. Dead Julie held cachet as a starving art student living in some downtown ghetto apartment. She was paying her punk dues. Dead Julie had recently presented me with a gift of some repute: a huge painting of a mummy bleeding black blood through its gauze while walking aimlessly in mist. “This sums up my feelings about the human existence,” she explained to me in a flat, detached tone through her black lipstick. Very uplifting.
Our unseemly ensemble cast, all 21 of us, got arrested at Paul Baker Park one memorable Sunday evening for basically being idiots. Somehow we came to the conclusion that drinking generous amounts of Southern Comfort whisky mixed with cherry Kool-Aid at a public park was a good idea. The consumption of this strange brew resulted in an even stranger pursuit that we called “Satan Crowder Tag,” in which twenty erratic drunks attempted to chase down one terrified and only slightly less drunk, Michael “Satan” Crowder. We made the Manson Family look sedate. We screamed, staggered, fell, chased, and lunged while a frantic Crowder ran madly in all directions searching vainly for respite. Meanwhile, various cars pulled in and out of the park. Apparently offended by our incoherent antics, someone left to call the police, which was harder to do in those pre-cell phone days. (There was no pay phone at Paul Baker Park or we would have likely destroyed it earlier that night.)
Before the police arrived, I spotted an El Camino that had just pulled into the park conspicuously slowly, with its headlights off. A boy and a girl out on a cheap date apparently, coming to Paul Baker Park to kill an evening. The boy removed a futon from the passenger part of his vehicle and began to flatten it out in the truck bed portion. (El Caminos seemed to have an identity crisis as to whether they were a mutated car or a castrated truck.) This young squire clearly seemed to have libidinous intentions, completely inappropriate for a public park. (Yes, I missed the irony of that thought at the time, given our own boorish behavior and my blood-alcohol level.) Satan Crowder Tag having become tedious, I put my hands behind my back, strolled over to the car, peered my spiky head into the passenger side window and asked ever so innocently, “Whatcha doin’?” The girl stammered in embarrassment, while boy became furious. Talk about coitus interruptus. Clearly, I’d killed the mood as the “gentleman suitor” called me several foul names before leaving tire tracks and exiting Paul Baker Park, unlucky for the moment in love.
About that time, the police arrived with red lights flashing. (Back then, no white or blue, just red lights.) The cops had dispatched a sole, inexperienced officer to deal with us. Dead Julie was barfing. Chunk was prone on the grass. Creature was swearing a blue streak. Satan Crowder was panting heavily, sitting next to the hill that dominates the park. The young officer looked around in disbelief. The scene resembled the Tet Offensive. He asked if we’d been drinking. We pointed at the ersatz bar we’d amassed from two ragged card tables that held multiple bottles of Southern Comfort and half-emptied pitchers of cherry Kool-Aid. The officer looked perplexed and we began laughing. Quickly, the officer got angry and told us to form a “straight line.” Twenty-one punks hammered on gasoline-quality bourbon and red belly-wash were never likely to execute such symmetry. We laughed some more and formed a wobbly, curvy line. The cop screamed. Satan Crowder looked at him gratefully, as a potential savior. I actually think it was this officer’s very first night on the job. He was about as old as we were and he didn’t know what to do with such an unruly bunch of misfits juiced to the gills on a drink he couldn’t even begin to fathom. The police academy had likely never provided a Paul Baker Park training simulation involving 21 disagreeable morons on a Sunday night.
Young officer yelled at us to shut up. Tall Gary snarled back, “You shut up!” Tall Gary was not what you’d call a fun drunk. The cop finally quelled the uproar enough to inform us that we were all under arrest. Group hysterics ensued. Somebody kicked Chunk to tell him we were going to jail. We actually seemed happy about it, like it was a field trip for the school of the anti-social. Then the cop, nervous but not to a Barney Fife-parody level, radioed in to the station and they undoubtedly told him to just let us go. And so he did, with the following stipulations: He explained that the only reason we weren’t going to jail was that the police didn’t want to deal with such a large group of idiots on a Sunday night. Then he explained that the park had actually closed three hours earlier at sunset and we were trespassing as well as violating public intoxication statutes. He held up two fingers to indicate the two criminal offenses we had committed. Tall Gary held up a middle finger to express his disdain for law and order. You could sense that this rookie cop was seriously questioning his career choice by this point. In a tentative tone, the officer next asked a very dangerous question.
“Is anybody here sober enough to drive?”
Howling laughter. Screams. Heads shaking no from side to side. Dead Julie sprawled on the grass. It was like an AA meeting where they asked if anyone had been good lately right after the group had descended into a three-day bender. No one could answer the question affirmatively. One look at our card table of shame should have told this clown that we didn’t have much in terms of designated driver material. He then got mad.
“None of you can drive! Great. Let me call the station again.” Meanwhile some of our party moved toward the card tables to get a drink to deal with this new reality. Tall Gary wax miffed at the entire spectacle. Creature couldn’t even talk about it, lest anger consume her.
The cop said, “They’re sending two police vans and they’ll be here in ten minutes. They’ll take you anywhere you want to go from here.” A very reasonable offer, I thought. But this only led to a heated argument among my comrades as to where we should go. Some wanted a bar, some home, some to eat, some to hear live music. It was a fiasco. The cop quieted the hoard once again and made us take a vote. With our current level of judgment and reason, a vote was bound to be enlightening. It took several ballots – as several inebriants voted twice– but we finally agreed to go to Al Green’s, which was then a car diner on the eastside of Indianapolis with great fried foods. They only served cars a la the 1950s drive-in restaurants, yet we had no cars at all. The police vans were just dropping us off.
The staff at Al Green’s asked us to leave. Predictably, they didn’t like the looks of us. Tall Gary and Creature yelled unintelligibly at them and they decided it was easier just to feed us in order to get rid of us. An hour and a half later, we finished our greasy food and milkshakes, picked ourselves off the curb and staggered our separate ways home by thumb, foot, taxi or city bus, thus ending our misguided outing to the park.
A couple of years ago, I was hurrying downtown on my way to a graduate class. It was windy, I was late, and had blocks to walk yet, when I spotted a tallish gangly man in a loosely fitting suit. He had reddish hair, although now conservatively cut- a redhead, just like Tall Gary. Tall? Redheaded? Might this be? I walked up to him and introduced myself by my punk nickname of yore and lo and behold, it was in fact Tall Gary. Our suburban anarchy phase long behind us, I told Tall Gary I was a high school teacher and asked him what he was doing these days.
“I’m an accountant,” he said. “I mainly do taxes.”
I had to laugh. And maybe Dead Julie is now an affable Walmart greeter.
I’m proposing a 25-year-reunion to the group. I think we ought to meet at Paul Baker Park and see where it goes from there.