Monday, June 30, 2014


 In 1979, if you were an unskilled, unemployed pyromaniac you were always assured of work at one of the many Red Devil Fireworks stands that sprung up around LA County in the weeks before Independence Day. The only job qualifications necessary were a moron’s grasp of arithmetic ,and being crazy or desperate enough to work twelve-hour shifts at the height of summer in a screened-in, corrugated aluminum shack surrounded by roughly three tons of explosives.

 I didn’t have to fill out a job application. At the beginning of every summer, my roommates and I threw wild all-night punk rock parties that went on non-stop for days on end. When one of the drunken revelers asked me how I could possibly manage  do this and still hold down a job, I explained that I was unemployed. Back then it was tough to get work if you had pink hair. He said he could help me out, scrawling an address on the side of a Coor’s carton. I reported there the next morning, bleary eyed and hung over, along with five other guests who’d spent the night and were in the same condition. We were hired on the spot.

The firework stand was located on  a vacant lot at  the intersection of Venice Boulevard and Robertson in Culver City. Though we were a motley crew with our unevenly cropped and dyed hair, Blondie and Clash T-shirts, stiletto heels and motorcycle boots, our co-workers all appeared to be fresh from the county correctional facilities. There was a cholo who showed up every day-no matter how hot it was- in corduroy house slippers and a plaid wool Pendleton buttoned all the way up. He had his girlfriend’s initials in gold  pierced into his ears, an 18th street tattoo on his neck, a jailhouse tear in the corner of his left eye, and a crude cross with C/S for “Con Safos” inked into the web of skin between his thumb and index finger. There was a trailer trash woman of indeterminate age who was never without bubblegum pink rollers in her hair. She must’ve weighed an easy two hundred and seventy-five pounds, and complained constantly in a whiny South Carolina accent about how her feet hurt. And then there was Roger, a genial septegenarian who did nothing but guzzle beer all day in the corner while he pulled apart dozens of Piccolo Petes and Sonic Screamers, added new fuses, and with the precision of a skilled surgeon, joined them all together to make bootleg Roman Candles. He turned out to be the boss of the operation.

The six of underage punks, artists, alcoholics fit in perfectly. We soon learned the difference between Ground Bloom Flowers and a Cave Of Pearls, Serpent Charmers or Witches Cauldron fountains, Smoke Pots and Magic Rainbow Snakes. It took me under two days to get on a beer-sharing basis with Roger, and soon there was an industrial sized cooler full of booze on ice, available to anyone who wanted some. We knew from the many posted signs that it was illegal to smoke within three hundred feet of the stand, so cigarette breaks became a frequent group affair, and we took them even more often once we discovered that Julio, the 18th Street guy, was never without killer buds.

 One of the girls I brought in made long, lovelorn calls on the stand’s payphone to her rock star boyfriend in England, charging them on a hot credit card. She shared the number with me and I got in on the action too, also calling the UK to talk to my English Teddy Boy flame plus  the famous punk star I was having a simultaneous affair with.  I shared the  bogus credit card with Julio, who  started calling a homie who was incarcerated. Since nobody else but us ever used the payphone, after a half pint of Jack Daniels, Roger just looked the other way.

The day I decided to show up for work in a skimpy halter top, Roger singled me out as a protégée, carefully teaching me his secret to make Bottle Rockets. Occasionally, a sleek, ominous looking black sedan would pull up to the side of the stand. A swarthy man in a crisp white shirt and Rayban Wayfarers would step out of the car, open the trunk, and all the employees and most of the customers would cluster around, waving money.

Naively, I asked Roger what was going on.

 “Oh,” he said, taking a long swig of his beer and wiping his mouth on his sleeve,

“He goes down to Mexico and gets real fireworks…none of this candy ass shit we sell!”

 You could buy a quarter stick of dynamite from the guy for thirty cents. Next time the sedan showed up, I was there, cash in hand.

We’d come home every night drunk out of our minds, exhausted, blackened from head to toe in gunpowder, flash powder, sawdust and shredded  strips of Asian newspaper, our under-the-table pay  stuffed into our pockets in big gangster rolls. By the end of the first week, I knew that while Chinese fireworks had the most amazing colors, American fireworks were much louder.  I also learned that a Boilermaker was bourbon and beer mixed together, how many strategically placed M80’s it took to blow up a two-story house, and whom the 18th Street gang was going to hit next.  I discovered that a Cherry Bomb wasn’t just a Runaways song, but a highly potent illegal explosive that had been banned in the USA under the 1966 Child Safety Act. My bootleg Bottle Rockets were starting to look pretty damn professional, too.

One of the guys I’d brought in found out how to fudge the inventory and was bringing home a case each of Ground Bloom Flowers and Sparklers every day. He told Roger he was moving and needed the boxes. I’d sit  bored at the cash register, my hands coated with a  thick, scaly, shiny mixture of dried Elmer’s Glue mixed with Bonne Bell lip gloss in grotesque  peeling layers. When an innocent customer would ask if the fireworks were safe, I’d reply, “Safe And Sane!” before pushing the change through the cashiers grate with my mangled looking paw, delighting at the look of shock and horror registering on their faces. Inside the stand, my friends and I would bend down over stacks of Family Pack Displays and whistle descending notes long and low through our teeth, watching  the rest of the staff frantically scramble on top of one another trying to get through the lone exit before the place blew sky high. As Independence Day approached, we pulled a string of all nighters, blasting The Sex Pistols and The Ramones, which almost- but not quite- drowned out the Southern woman’s bitching about her aching feet.

 The Fourth of July was an anticlimax.

 We spent it on the beach in Santa Monica, but now, being insiders, we just couldn’t really get into the  city-sanctioned display…we wanted volume, we wanted fire power, we wanted Total Destruction. Besides, Roger had passed out inside the stand, and we were all  a little too chicken to blow up all the  gigantic illegal Roman Candles and Bottle Rockets he’d so lovingly prepared.  Instead, we dropped a trail of lit up stolen Ground Bloom Flowers out the back window of our battered Honda, all the way from the beach to Hollywood. We stayed up all night drinking at my place Disgraceland, lighting fireworks in the bathtub and on our porch, throwing them out the windows at random to startle the  late night revelers passing by.

The next morning, we returned to the firework stand, but like Brigadoon, it had vanished. The site had been returned to its original state: an abandoned lot. It was completely desolate and sad, with nothing left but a few shreds of red, white and blue bunting blowing in the wind, empty beer bottles and a couple of dud Lady Fingers scattered among the weeds in the sandy dirt.

Later that week, I received a final check  for overtime and a handwritten note asking if I’d like to work at a Christmas tree lot in December.

 I declined.


The story you’ve just read is from my forthcoming book, Good Girls Go To Heaven, Bad Girls Go Everywhere, slated for publication on Punk Hostage Press in January, 2015.

 You can purchase a  signed copy of my latest book, Showgirl Confidential: My Life Onstage, Backstage And On The Road

Photo by Maharet Cristina Hughes, GraphicVibeLA

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Saturday, June 21, 2014


I’ve worked as the “house dancer” at Moun Of Tunis Restaurant in Hollywood for well over twenty years. In fact, it was my very first professional belly dance job.  “Moun”, as the staff and patrons affectionately refer to it, is a family place. Customers with children are welcomed and doted on in a way they wouldn’t ordinarily be in another establishment- kids are encouraged to have the run of the place while their parents dine. The owner keeps crayons and toys on hand to entertain the youngsters. Frequently, patrons that I performed for when they were toddlers celebrate milestones like  graduations or marriages at the restaurant, and any of them bring their  own  young children  to  dine and see me dance.

In keeping with the family feeling, the entire staff has been there for years, and in some cases, like my own, for a couple of decades. This is an anomaly in the restaurant business, where servers and cooks come and go, but even more irregular in terms of dance jobs.

 Like me, most of the regular belly dancers have also been there for an awfully long time. Because of this, the staff itself functions as an extended family, and we are often more relaxed and informal with each other than would normally be expected in a similar situation. Everyone who works there stops by on their nights off, we all know each other’s business, and the use of nicknames, in-jokes and even pranks abound. Hence, my communications with the dancers I schedule for work are often pretty casual, if not downright personal.

A few years back when I’d gotten got a new cell phone, it really drove home to me just how offhanded and loose my communications with the other dancers had become.

Because of a glitch in the transference of my old phone’s address book, not all of the numbers came through in the memory. I was about to send a text message to one of my regular dancers, but her number wasn’t listed in my phone’s address book.

 Instead of looking her number up in the restaurant’s files, I figured I knew her number by heart, so I typed the digits in manually, and sent the following message:

(My Message)

Hey babe,

How the hell are ya?

Miss U!! Been waaay too long since I’ve seen U.

I really REALLY need U 2 dance for me tomorrow nite- can U do it?  PRETTY PLEASE?

Also have TONS of dates for you next month if U R down with it.

Let me know ASAP!

(The Reply)


Mystified by this response, upon checking, I realized that the number I thought belonged to one of my dancers was one digit off- a wrong number. Oopsie!

Re-reading my message, which had seemed utterly innocent in terms of asking a dancer to sub a shift, I immediately realized how it could be completely misconstrued by a total stranger.

Context, as they say, is everything…


Get an autographed copy of my new book “Showgirl Confidential: My Life Onstage, Backstage And On The Road” here:

I will be reading from “Showgirl Confidential”  on Sunday, June 29 at the Punk Hostage Press Barbeque  Anniversary Party!

Beyond Baroque
681 Venice Blvd.
 Venice, CA 90291