Why you should care
Cautionary tales are legion. Heeded cautionary tales? Not so much.
There was no decision-making process. The singer of my sludge metal band said some shit about my mom on the mic. With her in the audience.
Next thing I knew, I was off my drum stool and punching him in the face.
Then the guitarist and I almost got in a fight onstage. I got my drums packed into my truck and peeled off just as two police cruisers pulled into the parking lot. Of course, the police put out a warrant for my arrest. Also, of course, I found that out a year later when a cop pulled my sister over because of the warrant.
Thing is, I’d punch Paul again if he said that shit about my mom again. What I would change, though, is the psychological warfare he and I had been engaging in. I would stomp that out long before it got to the point it did.
The funny, and stupid, part of our beef is that it started with an honest misunderstanding and then escalated into us wanting to destroy each other. After practice one day, I told Paul about watching Super High Me.
My mom attended a few of our other shows as well. Paul … did not think that was cool.
“I thought it would be funnier,” I said, likely with a smirk. “But there are parts where Doug Benson talks about needing to get high to deal with his anxiety, and he completely denies that he has a problem.”
Not long before, Paul had told me that he smoked weed to deal with anxiety, so I can see why he would take my words as a personal attack. Considering my tendency to be a smartass, that might’ve been the most logical conclusion to make.
He didn’t say anything at that practice but came prepared to the next one. As our guitarist and bassist set up their rigs, Paul said, “This new kid at work is so annoying. His parents pay for his school, and he thinks he’s better than everyone.”
“That sucks,” I said, not realizing where Paul was going.
“He just watches documentaries, thinks he knows everything and then lectures people about how they should live.” He chuckled. “Stupid-ass rich kids.”
It wasn’t until later that I realized he was talking about me. My parents were paying for my school, and I could be a self-righteous prick.
My immediate response: I have to get him back. I started spending as much time thinking about ways to fuck with Paul as I did about the music. And he did the same. Our interactions became exercises in sarcasm and mockery.
A few anxiety-provoking months later, I realized that I had to quit the band. It’s not easy to meet people who are good at playing caustic sludge laced with power-violence, and Dysdera was the first good band I was in. That said, I didn’t even consider talking things out with Paul. We had a show coming up at the Aggie Theatre in Fort Collins, Colorado, and I decided it would be my last.
I also decided that I had to say something cutting to Paul one last time. I can’t even remember what I said to him, only that I did it as we were loading gear onstage.
Maybe I should’ve picked a different show to pull that shit, considering that my family came to this one. My mom attended a few of our other shows as well. Paul, being the true punk rocker he was, did not think that was cool, which he made clear when he met her by talking like an embarrassed and irritated teenager.
We started our set as always, blazing through the first few songs. During the first break, Paul said, “I want to dedicate this next song to J.J.’s mom, because she’s so cool.” He grinned as he said the last part. Red clouded my vision. I beat the living hell out of my drums.
Right before we launched into our most violent track, Paul said something about “sucking on your mother’s titties.”
I can’t remember the rest of what he said, but I do remember getting up from my stool and punching Paul in the face.
Seeing his surprise transform into a terrified grimace as my fist connected with his face felt really good. He tumbled offstage and sheltered behind his friends.
Sam, our guitarist and Paul’s best friend, threw down his guitar, got up in my face and screamed, “What the fuck is wrong with you?”
My dad jumped onstage to stop me and Sam from getting in a fight.
“Who the fuck are you, Hawaiian shirt?” Sam yelled at my dad, who, as you might’ve guessed, was wearing a Hawaiian shirt. Sam shoved him. My dad clenched his fists. I grabbed him by the shoulders and told him to help me get my shit offstage. Before I got my drums packed, though, Sam and I almost got in a fight, again — and Sam and my dad almost got in a fight, again.
Paul kept saying, “What the fuck, J.J.? I wasn’t talking about your mom,” which only made me want to punch him again. As I drove out of the parking lot, I felt a stupid sense of triumph watching the cops pull in. Ha-ha, fuckers, I win.
A year later, though, I felt like a moron as I stood in front of the judge.
And during my three-week stint in work release, that feeling was suffocating. I’d just graduated with my bachelor’s in English, yet there I was, sitting at a worn-out cafeteria table with a bunch of dudes who loved to talk about beating people’s asses and how many women they’d banged. I wanted to pretend I was better than them. But I wasn’t. And I knew it.
While in work release, I had to take a court-ordered anger management class, which I dismissed as dime-store psychology before it even started. During the second session, the instructor told me, “You’re the type of person who gets mad and holds it in for so long that it explodes.”
Fuck, I thought. Am I that easy to read? Apparently.