Thursday, July 16, 2015

THE GERBER BABY'S TECHNICOLOR YAWN: A PUNK ROCK PRACTICAL JOKE GONE DELIGHTFULLY WRONG


Kid and me at our infamous Lobotomy Magazine  punk crash pad, 909 Palm in 1977  Photo by TheresaKerakes

 In 1976, when I was seventeen, I came up with an ingenious way of buying booze. The idea was that I’d disguise myself as a practical, somewhat harried young mom who just happened to be picking up a fifth of vodka… along with the rest of her weekly household supplies.  

 I’d go to the supermarket- never a liquor store; that was an obvious bust- dressed up in what I hoped looked like   “straight lady” clothes: taupe pantyhose and a conservative beige vinyl pocketbook that had all been dumpster-dived from a Salvation Army Donation Box.  In keeping with what I imagined a Normal Housewife would look like, I’d pull my hair back in a tortoise shell Goody barrette, and apply frosty turquoise eye shadow as opposed to my customary winged Ronnettes-like tough rock’n’roll chick winged eyeliner. Then I’d put my glasses on- I’m so blind that I   need them to see more than two feet in front of me- but they were so ugly and dorky I never wore them to gigs or anywhere important.  However, they were perfect for the character I was creating!

 Somehow, I always passed. I like to think that my superlative dramatic skills were what conveyed my Young Mom Realness to the staff at the many stores where I pulled this scam.  It wasn’t until I hit my late thirties that I stopped I looking like a baby-faced pre-teen.  Hell, maybe it was the glasses after all!  So I’d   get all dressed up in my costume and collect money from my three roomies whenever we needed a drink- and that was often- before trotting off to the supermarket to score.

 The four of us lived in a non-descript 1950’s apartment building at 909 Palm in West Hollywood. Our lifestyle   was similar to a hippie commune, though our aesthetic was strictly Post Glitter Rock, informed more by John Waters and The Rocky Horror Show than The Merry Pranksters.  The lease on our place was signed by Ann McLean, a party girl whose Hammer Films Scream Queen looks belied her eternally sweet nature, and Bing Crosby’s grandson Dennis, a witty, louche bon vivant who’d spent his years at Beverly High tottering around on platform sneakers doing amyl nitrate in the hallways while he cut class.  Ann and Dennis had been fast friends ever since they’d met at Rodney’s English Disco. Tiny but legendary, Rodney’s was the ne plus ultra of Glam, where The New York Dolls, Alice Cooper and Led Zeppelin would get cozy with the scads of scantily-clad fourteen year-old-groupies while Rodney himself spinned Bowie and The Sweet. None of us living in the apartment were gainfully employed-or working at all- except our fourth roomie, Kid Congo, who, in his life before The Cramps and The Gun Club, took the long bus ride from our apartment to his part-time job as a clerk at Bomp! Records in North Hollywood.  At the rate we all drank, I had to pull the Young Mom stunt so often that it was absolutely necessary to rotate between the many markets in Hollywood so as not to arouse suspicion.

Once I arrived at the store, wary of any grocery clerk’s watchful gaze and with the craft of a highly trained Method actor, I’d stroll down the aisles at a leisurely pace,  acting out “comparison shopping”  on stuff like sponges, Tupperware and cooking utensils.  Since my roomies and I were on an extremely limited budget, literally scraping up pennies from the carpet to buy our hooch, the concept was to keep up the ruse while at the same time spending as little money as possible  on non-alcoholic things.  In addition to the all-important vodka, my regular checkout haul included three or four jars of baby food, a roll or two of toilet paper, and a package Kraft Macaroni and Cheese or Top Ramen.

 The booze was consumed instantly, the food got wolfed down in short order, and we were never without bathroom tissue.  But after a few months, the jars of baby food became a problem; they began to take over our kitchen.  We were all so poor we were loathe to waste food, so once in a while someone would wind up eating a jar of Gerber’s mashed plums or add some Toddler Chicken Bits to their Top Ramen, but even that never made a dent in our supply.

At one point, in a moment of practicality, Ann suggested we simply return the baby food to the stores and get the cash, but I nixed the idea. First of all, it was impossible to tell which store all the jars came from, and it wasn’t like I saved the receipts! More importantly, I was afraid that it would blow the entire scam if I suddenly showed up at some market with, like, twenty or so full jars of strained spinach… what would I say, that my quintuplets died suddenly?

So the ruse continued, and started to spread. Once I explained the concept to my close friend Theresa Kereakes, a talented photographer who worked with me on my punk rock fanzine, Lobotomy: The Brainless Magazine, she took to the idea like a duck to water. Soon, her cabinets were chock-full o’ baby food jars too.

 When Blondie first played The Whisky in February 1977, we held a party for them at Theresa’s pad. Amidst the Quaalude and Burgie Beer-drenched mayhem, we locked ourselves in the bathroom with the band to conduct an interview for Lobotomy.  The resulting cassette was uproarious, with standard interview questions interspersed with Clem Burke and Jimmy Destri yelling about The Bay City Rollers, Debbie giggling uncontrollably, and Chris Stein singing an off-key rendition of “Gary Gilmore’s Eyes” with lyrics changed to reference the roadie they shared with The Dead Boys, Michael Sticca.

Outside of the tiny bathroom, the party was in full swing, with pretty much all of Hollywood’s nascent punk scene in attendance.  All of the Go-Go’s were  there, of course, as well as Joan Jett, The Screamers and  The Plungers- Helen, Trudy, and Mary Rat. Members of The Germs, X, The Berlin Brats, The Bags, and pretty much Everyone Who Was Anyone made the scene, too.

That particular soiree was so wild, it was an absolute miracle the cops weren’t called -as they had been so many times before. It took a really long time to clear the apartment, and when it was finally empty, the place was more of a wreck than it had ever been...and that was saying something! Beer bottles and empty half-pints of booze covered every available inch of surface, as well as most of the floor. In the midst of the debris, we noticed that poor Kid was passed out cold on the kitchen floor.  He was a stalwart drinker who was like The Energizer Bunny- he was usually among the last standing at any particular event; tonight, incongruously, he was out cold. After numerous attempts to wake him up and help him move to a more comfortable spot to sleep it off, Theresa and I finally gave up…until I was struck with a lighting bolt of an idea for a practical joke.

 I opened the cabinet and grabbed an armful of the baby food jars.

“We’re gonna spread this shit all over the floor and around Kid’s mouth,” I yelled, laughing hysterically, 

“When he wakes up, he’s gonna think he puked all over the place!”

Theresa and I opened up all the jars and began to mix the strained peas and carrots with the chunky beef stuff to affect the appearance of a huge pile of Jack Daniel’s puke on the floor, directly adjacent to Kid’s face. With the precision and artistry of Michelangelo painting the Sistine Chapel ceiling, we daubed a bit of the disgusting stuff around Kid’s mouth and on his chin. In punk rock homage to Jackson Pollack, Theresa stepped back and flung some onto Kid’s arm as well. Satisfied that our endeavor was Puke Perfection, we decided to leave the horrendous mess of bottles and cans for the morning, took some aspirin and went to bed.

We awoke to the delicious scent of cooking bacon, which was almost-but not quite- enough to ease our hangovers, which were brutal. With the hunger that can only come after a night of binge drinking, we both enviously assumed that the smell was drifting in from a neighbor’s window.  Stepping into the living room, we were astounded to see that all the dead soldier beers, paper cups and booze bottles were piled into three huge trash bags sitting by the front door. As if that wasn’t enough, the dishes were done, the floors had actually been mopped, and Kid was standing at the stove, frying eggs to go along with the bacon he’d just finished preparing.  It also sunk in that Kid had to have gone to the store to get the food, too, cause it wasn’t like there was ever anything to eat in either apartment.

Theresa and I were speechless with shock- shit like this never happened.

 Seeing our stunned expressions, Kid ducked his head sheepishly as he handed us plates of breakfast.

“You guys….” he began tentatively,

 “I have a confession.  Last night, I…uh… kind of made a mess…so I cleaned the house.”

Theresa and I shared a sidelong glance, and  then just started chowing down.  We hadn’t anticipated the house cleaning or the breakfast,  but weren’t about to look a gift horse in the mouth!

 We were so consumed with guilt that it took us years-make that decades- for us to  ‘fess up and tell him the truth.



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 For more scary punk rock memoirs, purchase an autographed copy of  my book  Showgirl Confidential , here:  http://pleasantgehman.com/writing.html



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