Wot, fisticuffs?!

I have been debating posting this story (below) that I read recently at a livestream benefit for The Wild Project. I have all these tales from the past that people love, but that are most definitely not coming from a 2021 kinda woke place. Which is part of the reason that my friends love them, but sometimes I’m afraid to stir up certain old energies publicly, especially after a devastating break-up promptly followed by an unwarranted series off attacks I received in 2019 and 2020, starting with the laptop dummies, an ex’s impossible-to-placate girlfriend, a pissed off junkie I barely know, and a misogynist fool who is inexplicably angry at me because Sam doesn’t want to have anything to do with him. It was a parade of meanness, to the point that I have had so much vicious and erroneous shit said about me and to me via the internet that the attention is almost flattering.

Happily all of that misdirected hatred being flung like monkey poo seems to be in the rearview mirror. I’m sure they still hate me, but if I am not put in a position where I have to respond, they can feel however they want. The upside to all of that is a shiny new, much thicker skin and the lightness of emotional freedom.

in the good old summertime i dont care GIF

I was trained from an early age to mistrust my intuition and instinct, to say yes when I wanted to say no, to feel constant shame about my very being, my body, my thoughts, and to hide away my true self and true feelings or risk being punished or mocked. I have spent much of my adult life trying to understand what happened, how it unconsciously directed so many bad choices, and to clear out that baggage. I am only now becoming able to forgive myself for all of my shortcomings, and to at least contemplate the idea that I am not a bad person. Maybe even a good one? The mind boggles at the possibility.

I know that I have been given certain gifts this lifetime in order to speak for and to like-minded people who have similar experiences and feelings, and to allow a window into a life that some people would like to experience. I feel that connection and obligation when I write and I always try to be as true and honest as I can be within the confines of not outing or harming the people in my orbit. The attacks left me fearful and somewhat voiceless, but I’m ready to get back to what the Universe keeps nudging me to do, which is simply write it down when it circles my brain.

Okay, so with all of that in mind, here’s the story I read. I thought the theater would have the livestream up for viewing after the event, but it’s just as well that they didn’t because it was so effing cold in there that my nose ran and I shook so hard that it appeared I might have some substance issues of my own. If they ever do post it I’ll add the link. This is edited for a live situation, meaning some details are cut out for brevity’s sake.

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Betsy was going to get it.

I was Queen Vixen of the Cycle Sluts from Hell goddamnit. You did not fuck my man and walk away unscathed. I did not operate that way. I was a powder keg of emotion on a good day, and this was definitely not a good day. Or week. Or month.

I lost countless hours of sleep festering over the details: imagining her and my faithless boyfriend in bed together, smiling at each other over their clever deception. Then in order to keep my heart from exploding in agony I would imagine all the ways that I would make them suffer. I pictured tearing her throat out with my teeth or pushing my long fingernails into her eyes, blood spraying everywhere as she screamed in pain and terror.

This did bring some brief comfort.

She knew she was in trouble and laid low for months. I went everywhere with an army of loyal mean girls and we had a strict code about right and wrong, meaning mostly that we got to do whatever we wanted while less locked-in females did not. We brooked no disrespect in our scene.

I kept an eye out constantly but by the time she finally showed up at a Manowar concert at the Ritz, I had almost forgotten to scan the crowd for her basic brown bob. So it was a surprise when she passed me in the fray of people, distracted and smiling with friends.

The audacity. I felt myself go hot; red flashed behind my eyes and flooded through my body and my vibrating arm shot out of its own accord before anyone could register what was happening. Cycle Slut sisters Dolly Dagger and Nyquil Nancy slammed into my back as I stopped short and lunged.

I snatched Betsy by the front of her shirt and yanked her face close to mine. I held my lit cigarette an inch from her cheek while tall, scary Nancy and always-up-for-a-scuffle Dolly glared backup behind me. We were dressed in our uniform of short leather jackets, cut off denim shorts and thigh high leather boots, looking (intentionally) like something out of a 70’s B-grade biker film.

Time slowed and stretched. Betsy stood very still, her two friends frozen wide-eyed behind her. Her eyes flicked down to the cigarette and back to me.

I said, “You fucking bitch. You whore. You think you can just show up and hang out now? You think you still have that right? I’m going to fucking kill you, you know that? I’m going to kick your fucking ass.”

Still glancing at the cigarette millimeters from her cheek, she replied in a shaky voice, “There’s nothing to fight over. I don’t want to fight with you. I don’t want Curt. You can have him.”

I smiled grimly and hissed, “Oh, but I don’t want him. I want YOU.”

I shoved her away from me and she stumbled backward into her friends. A long-haired dude watching nearby said, “Hey, that last line was pretty good! Did you make that up on the spot?” I ignored him and stomped away to try to get my pals working security to throw her out of the club.

After that, it was only a matter of time. She continued to avoid venues and parties that I might venture into, which was pretty much anything rock and roll based on any night. She would show up here and there, never staying if she spotted me. And I always made sure that she spotted me. I reached out through the crowd and slapped her hard on the back of the head as she walked through the Scrap Bar. I shoved her at the Cat Club. She had a friend with her, a seat-filler who looked a bit like me and considered herself my competition. She got in my face and shouted, “Leave her alone, Raff!”

I said, “You’re gonna get it too, you fucking cunt.” I snatched her bondage cap off her head and threw it into the crowd. It sailed over the dance floor like a Frisbee.

“Go get your hat, twat. You look like shit without it.”

Eventually though, Betsy tired of life underground. There was a lot of fun to be had back then and she was too young to stay home.

Raging Slab headlined a gig at a club called Downtown, and it was one of those nights where everyone and their bass player showed up. My band, my unfaithful boyfriend’s band Blitzspeer, Joey Ramone, Circus of Power, White Zombie, the Hells Angels… Everyone attended this show, including her.

I was primed for it, and when she walked a little too closely to me as I took a swig of beer, I chose the opportunity to spit a mouthful of liquid directly into her face. It was harsh; I shocked even myself with the crassness of it. She looked stunned for a moment as beer and spit dripped down her face, and then her expression shifted awake and she jumped on me, grabbing for my hair. Her sister pounced on Nancy. Other girls jumped in and within seconds there was a full on girl brawl on the dance floor: hair pulling, screaming, bystanders getting knocked out of the way. I’ve never seen anything like it, before or since.

I had been counting down to this moment. Betsy was not a person to me anymore, she was simply the Enemy, capital E. She embodied all the pain and betrayal, real or imagined, that I’d experienced up until then: the self-esteem obliteration that comes with being raised Catholic, daddy issues and abandonment of death, the diabolical behavior of high school girls, date rape, Curt’s incessant lies and verbal cuts, myriad major and minor heartbreaks, real or imagined. I was drowning in sadness and anger was the only thing that kept me afloat. I had managed to climb out of the Midwest and recreate myself as a big fish in the rock and roll pond of New York City, and I should have enjoyed it, but sadly I never did. Instead I lived like there was a war on. All I ever thought about was defense. Better to burn than to feel burning tears.

I exploded outwardly, tight fists swinging at her face. Betsy continued to pull my hair trying to hold my head down. I flung my purse off my arm and grabbed at her hands with one hand and punched upward with the other, where I knew my fist could connect. She was no match for me but she held onto my hair with a deathgrip. I kicked her off her feet and shoved us both to the ground.

I wore a Zack ring, which was very popular at the time, solid pewter with heavy jagged edges pointing straight upward. It was a small but evil weapon. I slammed my fist into her as she crouched on her knees, now just trying to protect her face with her hands and the ground. I could only make contact with her forehead, but I hit it with full force. It felt good to hit her, hit something firm and real for a change. I couldn’t feel the ring cutting into my hand.

The fight was broken up quickly enough; the boys grabbed their flailing girlfriends and dragged them apart. Betsy and friends left or were ejected and our side retired victorious to the bathroom for clean-up. My bag had been stolen. I had a bleeding scratch over my lip and my hand ached from so much pounding, the ring finger cut and bruised. We fixed our faces; I wiped away the blood on mine. Nancy and I hugged and I said, “I fucking love you man!”

I could not have been happier. We went back to the bar where Butch, the president of the Hell’s Angels, had a celebratory kamikaze shot waiting for me. But as he handed me the glass his eyes widened and he said, “Cops are here, you gotta hide.”

Someone shoved us into a back room, but it was too late. Seconds later the door flew open to reveal two cops with Betsy behind them with a swollen, bloody forehead. It looked like raw meat. Nancy and I were handcuffed in front of all of our friends and led wild-eyed out of the club.

I was stunned. This possibility had never occurred to me. No one ever called the cops in New York in the 80’s. You just duked it out and then went back on about your business. Sometimes you’d buy each other a drink afterward and become best friends.

I was held in the 9th precinct, then chained hands and feet to a group of other female arrestees, then hauled in a van to the Tombs, where I spent the better part of a weekend laying on cold concrete, learning the intricacies of crack use and street prostitution. It was the longest 30 hours of my life. Curt called my mom to tell on me and she laughed and said, “Well, she’s your problem now!”

I was lucky. Nancy went to jail too, so I had a friend along for the dry bologna sandwiches and wailing junkies writhing around us on the floor. Our arresting officers liked us and gave us candy bars and helped me pass off the ring surreptitiously to Curt before going in. Otherwise it would have been considered a weapon and brought with it a felony assault charge. Rock writer Lisa Robinson wrote about the arrest in the Post, and Bob Gruen photographed me leaning on the cop car, so the band got some press out of it. Eventually Betsy dropped the charges in exchange for my promise to stop tormenting her, which set me on the road to some of the deeper lessons in my life: humility, compassion, forgiveness… impulse control. She went on to get a black belt in karate, I’m assuming, just in case. We are friendlier now and I promised that I wouldn’t make her look too bad. She’s a mom now and I changed her name here.

Decades later Betsy told me that after the fight she went to a friend’s house to get a knife, to wait in front of my apartment and kill me when I came home. The wannabe in the bondage cap talked her into calling the police. I should have beat her up instead, I discovered later that she was calling Curt late at night behind both our backs; Betsy just managed to get there first. In any case, I think I probably would have preferred the early morning knife fight back then. I thought I was going to die young and that kind of end could have made me a legend. Curt would be sorry, she’d go to prison, my friends would hold a big memorial, it would have been glorious. But life sometimes has other, more mundane plans in mind. Still, I get a good giggle out of thinking about it. So much passion! Like West Side Story but with sluttier outfits.

A few years ago, a much better boyfriend than Curt, upon hearing this story, rolled his eyes and said, “You can’t just beat everyone up, Mary.” To which I replied, “Well, I know that…NOW.”

It is certainly easier to be 50 than it is to be 20. It’s taken me a long time to understand that when we operate defensively we are often at our most offensive. But that which does not kill us, makes us friends on facebook, and that’s kind of okay.

Golden Girls Thank You GIF by TV Land

Shooting Star

I try to avoid eulogizing NYC too much any more. We all know that the flavor has been priced and railroaded out of town by developers and that our version of the city disappeared as we changed and grew older. But change is the only constant, nothing stays the same and even if there was some kind of underground scene now, we would hate it because it’s not ours. There probably is, all those young guys with waxed old-timey mustaches must be hanging out with those droopy, skinny young girls with weird mullet cuts and no makeup somewhere, listening to something, I guess drinking craft beer and talking about getting DJ gigs “just for fun”. We see them and we think, “Yech.” They see us and they think, “Dinosaurs.”

It’s fine. I don’t hate all of them. My boyfriend Sam is a millennial too, albeit a strange one who loves my heyday more than his own. My friend overheard two girls his age talking, one said, “Yeah, he’s cute but don’t bother. He likes old ladies.” That made us chuckle. But it’s somewhat true, and he reminds me of what it is to be that young and to still be sorting out exactly who you are and who you want to be. It’s not easy and I too have liked and worn some stupid things along the way. Circle of life and all that crap.

So after years of emotional struggle, I accept where we’re at, at least culturally. I know I probably have a few more years in the city and then I’ll retire on a farm with Storm somewhere, where we will collect too many animals, sleep alone in our bedrooms, get drunk on the porch while reminiscing, and casually ogle the younger neighbors when we go into town for groceries.

But I digress…

Rock shows are sparsely attended for the most part, bands go on much earlier because the fans are older, people have day jobs and/or kids to attend. Many of my peers, often the ones who complain the most, won’t go to a show even if they do have the time. They wear it like a badge of geriatric honor, “Oh, I don’t go out anymore…” I do, though in a different, less frenetic manner. I still like the hand I have in it; my jobs allow me to work on the back end of the music world and I still get to see some of my old friends and hear live music. That’s enough every couple of weeks or so, and I’m usually home by 1 am no matter who is playing. I need my rest.

On Friday I was honored to be able to host the Elyse Steinman memorial gig at Wham Bam Raff and Sam, our weekly happy hour party. Greg Stryzempka flew in from Washington, he and Alec Morton put a ton of work and love into making it happen, and we got a bona fide Raging Slab gig, with Alec at his bass post, Greg playing guitar and Elyse’s slide guitar, Mark Middleton on guitar, Bob Pantanella and Paul Sheehan switching off on drums, with special guests on songs Daniel Rey, Tom Five (who flew in from LA for it), Liza Colby, and Pamela Grande.

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I remember the first time I saw Raging Slab at Danceteria in the mid-80’s. I was setting up the bar before opening and Greg was soundchecking onstage with his super long hair and tan/brown clothes. This wasn’t fully the norm yet, we were all still looking pretty goth at that point. He laughed and joked into the mic and then Elyse got up with him and they played with an ease and talent that caused me to pause what I was doing. Again, different than what we were listening to at the time, a portent of what was to come.

And then things blew up in the best way possible and our army of leather took over the East Village and there were amazing shows every night and we all got record deals and rock and roll was king and/or queen. Those were the days my friend, we thought they’d never end.

Joey Ramone Tour Bus

All these years later I walked into another soundcheck and saw Greg and Alec onstage and immediately burst into tears. I wasn’t expecting such a visceral reaction; I had to leave the room to pull myself together. I thought I’d become immune. But it felt so good to see Greg up there, and so poignant that Elyse wasn’t next to him that I felt overwhelmed with both joy and sadness. My heart swelled with the ache of it.

I had to rush around to set up the bar and was busy with customers and friends as soon as I opened for business. I am taking a break from alcohol for a few weeks and I felt anxious and crabby because there wasn’t time or space to fully process the emotions running through me or alternatively anesthetize with a shot or two. I am glad I weathered it sober though, because it allowed me to be present and to take it all in.

Once Slab hit the stage I couldn’t stay behind the bar. I tried, but it was too hard to focus on anything but the music. I pushed my way through the small crowd in the small room to the front of the small stage, and my old CSFH bandmate Vas Kallas (Venus P. Crusher), along with all of our friends, headbanged and danced and shouted the choruses. I had tears in my eyes the entire time and we hugged each other and screamed as if we were in an arena instead of a bar.

The songs sounded so good, SO good. Not just because they are the songs of our youth, but because our youth was full of really, really great songs and performers. I haven’t forgotten my past, I spend a lot of time answering Sam’s questions and telling him inside stories about what happened “back then”. But I’ve also had to put it in the back of my mind. It was like seeing someone years later that you were madly in love with who broke your heart. You put them behind you because you have to, but your cells never forget.

What a force we were: an army of talented idiots in hair dye and rock and roll gear, even with our inner skirmishes and ego-battles, infidelities and competitions, always united in our otherness and our music. We were all gonna be rock stars. And we were, even if most of the world doesn’t know or remember. We were all beautiful, that time was magical, and although we look like ordinary middle aged people to the rest of the world, we still have that magic within us. So I cried for the loss of a comrade, for the loss of my youth, and for the sheer joy of being able to step back into it for a moment with some of the people who experienced it too.

The last song of the set was a cover of Bad Company’s “Shooting Star”. Everyone sang along and it filled up the room with its beauty and we all felt Elyse dancing with us, her photos taped to the walls smiling and encouraging, the song so perfectly for her. At the end of it we all put our hands in the air and looked to the ceiling, to the sky, to her and shouted, “We love you, Elyse!”

Thank you for bringing us together one more time, Darling. You are very much loved and missed.

Elyse

Slab