I can’t tell if the neighborhood punks are my age or a little bit younger, but they dress the way I did half a lifetime ago: plaid pants, vests with studs and back-patches, hair dyed to neon colors and done up in mohawks and spikes. Every day, they look like they’re on their way to a Casualties concert or a malt liquor-fueled hang on St. Marks Place. But there are no more Casualties, St. Marks Place is all tchotchke stands, and in any case, we live in upstate New York.
When I drive past them, I get excited. “My punks!” I exlaim, the windows always rolled up.
“That’s a lot of Jell-O in their hair,” my boyfriend says. “Why do you think they do it up just to walk around here?”
“It’s not Jell-O. I used Rave #4 hair spray. And it really doesn’t take that long.”
In the maelstrom of youth, I bought fishnets and Docs, loose studs, and countless black band tees that I cut at the necks, or sometimes all the way down the sides before stitching them back together. Everything had to be ripped and broken and defaced and not-quite-fixed. My garments could barely survive a wash. I wrote “Punk4Lyfe” on my binders, on the soles of my All-Stars.
“You’ll grow out of it,” my parents told me.
They were right. My junior year, I ran out of laundry and wore a baby blue pajama shirt to school on top of my camo skirt. “It’s so nice to see you in color,” my crush said. That was the beginning of the end.
I want to know if my punks failed to grow out of it or they’ve just started to dress like this.
For weeks, I roll past them slow. Now I understand why I see them so much—they live three blocks away in a blue Victorian. The punks: they’re just like us.
I still listen to the Dead Boys and Black Flag. I still believe in anarchy and hate the government; I want to pogo and scream until my throat goes raw and my head feels light and I’m ready to fall asleep whenever the night takes me—a cemetery, an abandoned train station, someone’s lawn. But instead I put on my yoga pants and drive to the garden center, carting home flowers to trap aphids and brighten the yard. I want to let our lawn go native, but I’m concerned about what the neighbors might think.
The punks’ landscaping looks very conventional. Still, they make their discontent known every day as they walk down the street. They don’t care what people think.
“Do you want to make friends?” My boyfriend asks when we see them at the local bar. But what would that mean? Walking from their house to ours to sample cocktails garnished with rosemary from the plant next to their steps? If we talked about our youths and the concerts we went to, the way we kept padlocks on handkerchiefs in our back pockets so we were always ready for a fight, we’d only be minutes away from discussing what life is like now: which home security systems we’ve installed and how much we think our property values will go up.
Instead, I sneak out into the night to seed bomb their yard. Then, I wait for milkweed and foxglove and feverfew to pop up. I walk by each day in my flip-flops and pastels, waiting to see what my punks will do: weed, or let it all go wild.