Punk Rock Maggie

With snowflakes slipping off my hat and dripping onto my glasses, I impatiently poked Derrick and asked, “Can we go in yet?”

Cousin Derrick stood triumphantly in front of me in a ragged denim jacket, held together by only safety pins and stitched-on patches of punk bands. The Misfits. The Dead Kennedys. The Ramones. It looked like he had re-thrifted a thrift-store outfit.

“I like your boots, Maggie. You’ve got kind of a Joan Jett vibe going on.”

“Yeah, of course,” I said, smearing the Carolina eight-inch work boots in the muddy snow.

   Joan who? I didn’t have a clue who Joan Jett was, but Derrick seemed to approve of her. Nice.

Truthfully, the boots weren’t my idea. Mom made me wear them, worried about me getting cold. I’d wanted to wear my knockoff Betsey Johnson platformers this morning (they have spikes!), but Mom said my socks would soak in the snow before I made it to Cleveland Avenue. She triumphantly handed me her old tan work boots, determined to make me look like a huge turd.

Derrick reached into his pocket to pull out a cigarette and continued to ignore my request to go inside. Even in his hole-pocked jeans and Doc Martins, Derrick never seemed to get cold. Flick. Suck. Inhale. Smoke puffed out of his nose. My eyes watered. I’d never been that close to a smoker before—not on purpose, anyway.

It was Mom’s idea to start hanging out with Derrick. He was graduating the same high school that I was entering in the fall. “You’ll have a built-in friend!” She insisted, blonde hair bobbing. She doesn’t get that blood isn’t thicker than the social economics of Hutch Tech.

Finally, Derrick put out his cigarette on the snow and opened the door for me. He motioned for me to follow him to the “Upcoming Concerts” bulletin board. A sea of crumpled, out-of-date advertisements climbing over each other for our attention. Derrick flipped through, taking a grayed leaflet from the middle of the pile. “Against Me, Mohawk Place, February 18th. Have you ever been to a concert before?”

My parents once took me to see Riders on the Storm, a Doors cover band. We left early once they started smelling all the pot smoke. Derrick didn’t need to know that detail. “Yeah, I’ve been to a few,” I casually replied, “But that show’s on a Wednesday, and I’ve got school the next day.”

He huffed a bit, looked at the flyer, and then looked back at me: Maggie, the nervous, incoming freshman whose gray-knit sweater, steel-toe work boots, and dark eye liner were a total accident. “Do you know what Joey Ramone said about school? ‘What they teach you in school doesn't prepare you for life. Textbooks don't compare to living in the real world. Rock and roll teaches you how to live.’ Do you want to live in your textbook world or the real world?” he said.

I shrugged with shoulders high, a move I picked up from Derrick when he didn’t want to engage with a stupid question. Derrick nodded, as if to understand.

As my cousin made his way through the aisles, he’d pick up different albums, lift them towards the ceiling as if he was checking for fake money, and then put them down with a “hmmph.” Each time he did that, I tried to analyze what was so wrong with these records. After he set down  I stopped and said, “Why do you keep picking up all of these records, what’s wrong with them?”

“You wouldn’t get it, Mags. What music do you even like?” My mind raced, only capable of Spotify’s latest recommendation to listen to Hamilton. He held his hand up to my face. “Don’t answer. I remember being your age, listening to mainstream music, the radio. One day you’ll break free. I’ll show you at some point.”

Derrick moved on to the next aisle, leaving me unsure of if I was upset or excited that he’d be my musical guide. Instead of following, I made my way over to the classic rock section. I scanned through. The Doors. I sort of remember them. The album cover looked like an embarrassing family photo shoot all the way down to the disappointing looks the three fatherly figures are giving to a longer-haired guy.

“The Doors. Good choice,” said the record store salesman. I hadn’t heard him walk up next to me. The scrawny salesmen pulled his hand through the sleeve of his oversized Buffalo State College hoodie to pick up the album delicately. “I don’t think this is a legit original copy though, it might be some bootlegged version our owner decided to pick up.”

I nodded my head. “I actually saw Riders on the Storm a few years back, at the Lockport Concert series.”

“No way, you saw Ray Manzerak and Robby Krieger live? Man, that’s amazing. I wish I had good taste in music like that when I was your age.” Really? What? Why?

I looked over to Derrick to see if he was witnessing all of this. The record store clerk thinks I’m cool. Derrick continued his cycle of picking up and putting back down records. “Hey, Derrick, come here for a second.” I figured I could maybe show-off a bit in front of him.

“What’s up?”

“The Misfits,” the clerk said, scanning my cousin. “I remember the first time my friend Chris played ‘Astro Zombies’ for me by them. It blew my mind. What’s your favorite song?” Derrick froze. It was like every second he waited to reply, another thread from his jean jacket was being pulled apart.

“The old stuff mostly. I don’t know. They’re a bit played out now.” All day I had watched Derrick talk about music, and bands, and the punk lifestyle. Why didn’t he want to talk about it with someone as knowledgeable as him?

“Yeah, they’ve gone pretty mainstream now,” the clerk agreed. When he nodded, his ear gage waved side to side. “Still, that doesn’t mean their great stuff isn’t still great. I like The Lawrence Arms. You?”

Derrick shoved his hands into his pockets, hard. He looked at me with pointed intensity. “Mags,” he whispered, “This place is lame. Let’s get out of here.” I paused, then decided cousin Derrick could wait for me. I picked up the copy of The Doors and handed it to the clerk. “Can you ring me out for this?” The bell jingled as Derrick slunk outside.

“An excellent choice for your musical journey,” the skinny clerk said.

I gave the clerk a crumpled $20, got my change, and walked out to Derrick. “I think my mom’s boots are starting to leak,” I said, “I’m going to go home.”

Derrick pulled another cigarette from his pocket, and offered it to me. “You can take a drag before leaving if you want,” he said.

I shook my head. I watched Derrick struggle with his lighter, and realized that while I might be in a “textbook world,” he wasn’t really living in the rock and roll world either.

Garrett CarlsonComment