Monday, April 26, 2010

The Punk Mother

Clay Burke's family is every bit as interesting in its own way. In fact, if you were to ask him to talk about his life, he'd just chuckle and shake his disbelief. His family tree has more twists and gnarls in it than it would appear on the surface. But there's been one constant in his life: His mother Lenora Jean Collins-Burke-Haskins...aka: Punk Mother.

Her journey was a long, strange trip. She was bored out of her skull in Missoula, Montana when she first layed eyes on Henry Burke...who was himself a motorcycle rebel. Throughout the late 60's and early 70's the two of them travelled cross country, taking lots of LSD, smoking pot, and just looking for America. Then when they couldn't find America, they married and settled for awhile at a commune in San Rafael. It was there that her son Clay was born.

Soon after that, a lovely lady bearing a striking resemblance to Michelle Phillips caught Henry's eye. There was still the spirit of freelove at the commune, and both Lenore and Henry agreed to just enjoy the company of others and leave potentially oppressive emotional fetters like jealousy and possessiveness out of the picture. But Lenore, or "Dandelion" as she was called then, really wasn't terribly interested in the other members of the commune, nor were they interested in her. Additionally, she came to feel that her marriage to Henry was nothing more or less than a joke they played on each other, and that the whole communal lifestyle was every bit as indifferent to her needs and feelings as the family she left behind in Missoula.

So she and Henry divorced by the time Clay was 3. It was an amicable split; no alimony, he could pay child support whenever he could afford it (don't hold your breath waiting, Lenore, eh?). As for child custody, she'd considered leaving the boy at the commune, but realized there was no interest in child rearing there. So she took what money she had and somehow made it across country with her son to New York City. She raised Clay living on welfare and food stamps, and the two of them lived with a roommate who had dreams of getting married and raising a family. She often left the boy with her roommate, who doted on him as if he were her own.

It was on an occasion such as this that she met Milo Haskins at a Stooges concert at CBGB's. The two of them attended many punk rock jams together, saw and met members of Blondie, The Ramones, Talking Heads, The Runaways, and The New York Dolls.

Milo Haskins was originally from Scotland. He'd come to America to make it big in the U.S. as a musician. When his grandmother, who had passed on from kidney failure, left him a substantial inheritance, he took his stratocaster with him to the States and moved to the Lower East Side, working as a fry cook in a Greek diner during the day and writing songs on his own time. Then his father Roger passed away as well, leaving him an additional inheritance. At the same time the Sex Pistols were exploding in London. Milo was itching to be a part of that, and cajoled Lenora to come with him to London. By then Clay became fast friends with Milo, and Lenora decided she could trust him and felt Clay needed something resembling a father in his life. So the three of them moved in to a flat in South London with Milo's friend Theodore Winston ("Teddyboy") Churchill.

It was a whirlwind. Milo married Lenora and formed a punk/industrial band called Smegma with Teddyboy and three other musicians; Cheetah Bikini, who was Teddy's girlfriend at the time and who was not at all shabby on the keyboards. Her brother John Thomas played drums for the band and some guy named Merlin Elliot played the bass guitar.

For a few years this motley crew had played around London Town and impressed more than a few of the more famous post-punk bands. Eventually, Smegma found themselves touring with and opening for the likes of The Cure, Joy Division, Bauhaus, Killing Joke, Siouxsie & The Banshees, and Caberet Voltaire. Punk Mother, as Lenore came to be called, often went along on these tours taking Clay with her. And while the bands played, she'd be backstage reading bedtime stories to her son as even the members of some of headlining bands listened along with Clay. Admittedly part of the attention was not that she read him The Three Bears or The Tortoise & The Hare, but she read classic authors like Jack Keroac, Henry Miller, William Burroughs, Anaiis Nin, Erica Jong, Alan Watts, etc., etc., instead.

Somewhere along the line Lenora had to stop touring with the band. She was enduring 2 of the main symptoms of diabetes well before being diagnosed as a type 2, and the need for rest stops -- mostly for her -- interfered with the drive to the town where the band was to play.

For example....

Backstage at The Northamptom Opera House -- Northampton said to be the birthplace of Bauhaus (The band, not the school of Art & Architecture). Smegma finally arrived after what felt like the longest drive ever -- extended by numerous pit stops to accommodate Lenora. The band had barely begun unloading their equipment and already she was off to the loo. Milo could only shake his head in disbelief, "Cor bloimey, guvner! At this roit, 'ee'd 'ave t' bould a flippin' ark!"

At this Teddyboy raised an index finger to beckon him backstage where they could chat in private. Clay was with them both. Teddy didn't seem to mind, as he felt what he had to say was of importance to her son. "Oi went through th' same toipe o 'ell that she's gerin' through and in turn puttin' oos through when Oi were younger than 'ee --" gesturing to Clay -- "is roight noo, see. Oonless Oi'm mistaken, and Oi 'ope t'God that Oi am, it could be the onset o'doiabeters."

"Oh, fuck off! It's coz she drinks loik a fookin' fish, innit!"

"Well, then, Whoy is she drinken loik a fookin' fishie? Whot then is makin' 'er so fookin' thirsty all the toim? Can yer exployn ‘at one, boyo?"

"Yer fookin' kiddin me, man? Why didn't she fookin' tell me this?"

"Most likely is she probably don't know if she 'as it or no...A fookin' sneaky fooker it is, doiabeters." Milo shook his head as Teddy continued, "Look, Oi fookin 'ate doctors, me; Oi 'ate 'em witha passion. 'Aving admitted to all that, she's got to see a doctor and 'ave a blood draw done to 'er; it's the only way to foint oot fe sure if me suspicions are on the mark."

He turned to young Clay Haskins and said, "Yer understand, yer mum moight be very sick."

Milo turned to his stepson and added, "Oi doan know about ye, lad, but all this is fookin' scaring the livin' shit outta me."

Clay had become a little bit familiar with the dynamics of living with diabetes having lived in Teddyboy's flat, watching him inject his insulin and hearing Teddy explain it all after he'd flat out asked Teddy if he was a junkie and if not, what's with all the needles.

"So what do we do?" Milo asked. "She's no friendlier with the bleedin' doc's either."

"Oi've got an idear," Teddy offerred as Lenora came out of the girls room grumbling, "God, I hate this!!!" Then the two of them took her aside to talk.

"What's all this then?"

"Look 'ere, missuz," Teddyboy began, "We need t'settle a score for us 'ere, doan we. Your 'usband (he winks at Milo as he says this) thinks yer moight 'ave doiabeters and Oi t'ink he's fulla shite, innhe."

"Ignore him, Ted; he's pulling yer leg!"

"Am oi, then?"


"Am Oi rilly, then, Mizzus Haskins?!?"

"Just drop it, Milo. It's all a big joke to you anyway!"

"Are ye willin' then, to see a doctor and get tested and settle this score once and fer all toime, then? Well?"

Lenore began to see that he was not joking this time, that he really was concerned about this, and began to freak out a little bit, but not so much that it was obvious to him that she's freaked. She just acted all pissed off and riled and she said, "You're fucking well right, I am, y'asshole! C'mon, Clay!"

Clay shrugged his shoulders has he followed his mother to where the bands' manager was hanging out.

"Not staying for the show, then, Lenny?"

"Naw, fuck off! Y'bastards done pissed me off now!" With that she found the manager Nick Jones...who took one look at her and asked, "Alroight?"

"Fucking cunts...betting on me having diabetes!!"

"'Ave they? Fucking crass, that is, poking fun at doiabetic folks like that an all! Oi've seen family die from it. It's not a fucking joke."

"That scares me and I'm not having it, Nick! I'm outta here. I want a train ticket back to London!"

"Look, if it'll make yer 'appy, missuz, and fancy sticking 'round, Oi'll 'ave moy boys beat the living shit out o'them."

"Man, before your boys lay a finger on those boys, they'll have to peel my fingers from around their throats!!! That's how sickened I am by this! Just get me and my son the fuck home!!!"

With that and a "fair enough," Nick bought Lenore and Clay a ride back to London on the Britrail. The train ride was much more comfortable. As dingy as the toilets were,at least they were there and you didn't have to stop the train every time you needed a piss.

Riding home on the train, Lenore apologized to Clay for not letting him stick around long enough to see Killing Joke after Smegma's set.

"S'okay Ma. I was getting bored with hearing the same set night after night anyway. So are ya gonna see a doctor, Ma?"

"What if I decide I don't want to?"

"Then I"ll nag you like the fascist pig that I am! I won't stand for being dragged away from a Killing Joke concert for nothing!!!"

So a trip to the clinic and a blood draw later, Lenora got the bad news. She didn't have to say much to Clay; the bloodcurdling scream after she'd hung up the phone told him all he needed to know.

Milo phoned the flat and Clay answered. Punk Mother locked herself in Teddy's room playing Caberet Voltaire albums. Clay summoned her, and she decided to talk to Milo. He'd braced himself for the worst.

"Here's what I don't get..." Lenora began, "The doctors tell me I've definetly got diabetes, but instead of doing injections, I'm given these pills to take."

"Well, Oi'm no bleedin' doctor, luv, but there moight be some mutant stroin of doiabeters floatin' about and ye just 'appen t' 'ave ‘at toiype insteed of the toype that needs the injections.

Then Milo continued, "Oi reckon all these bloody nuclear reactors 'ave been fartin' out all this fookin' plutonium and roydiation all oova the land, an' that moight joost have more than a ding or tae tee dee with that. After all, 'eeve been droivin' boy a great lot of 'em during the course of th' tour, 'aven't we."

"What, are you trying to depress me or something?"

"Well, it's not meant to be smoiley, 'appy news, is it! It's a fookin' dangerous deisease yer've got there. So if yer don't start taking control, it'll kill yer!"

Ted walked up to Milo in time to hear those last two sentences, and realized he had been right about his hunches. Milo informed him that she has the non-insulin dependent type of diabetes, saying "she's all confused-like an' depressed and scared loik."

"Of course she is, " Teddy retorted as he took the receiver from Milo. "Roight, Lenny, It's pills yer on, so in that regard yer looky as ye won't be taken fer a joonkie loik Oi've been fer so long. New, yer should be allroight if yer take the pills with some food as these lower yer blood sugar. So much so that yer've got t' watch it don't get too low or else y'e'll be feelin' loik crap froom that!"

"Now I'm really confused." Lenora stated, rolling her eyes. "First I'm told if my blood sugar is too high, it could kill me and now you tell me if it's too low it'll kill me??? Sounds like I'm screwed either fucking way!!"

"Well, loov, there's an old saying Oi jes made oop; Extremes o' blood sugar is noo liberty. Noo, Whot's the doctor been tellin' yer?"

She felt like she was reading from a shopping list, "Let's see, take one every day with meal, check blood sugar by peeing on one of these clinistix and hope it doesn't turn red, eat some glucose tablets when I start feeling all shakey and sweaty, or something kinda sweet, God, what else? Three good meals, take exercise, don't get drunk, blah, blah, blah, etc., etc."

"Sounds par fer th' course, donnit."

"Sounds like a lot of fucking work to me, Ted."

"Doan' Oi knowit! Believe me when Oi tell yer that this disease has oppressed me more than anyone in authority ever has, and believe me yer'd ‘ave to rilly aetdee the flippin authorities in oppressin' people!"

Lenora laughed in spite of herself. "Geez, well you can just rock me to sleep with that one tonight." With that she hung up the phone, forgetting about Milo...who called right back when Ted went around the corner for a pissup. He needed one after a phone call like that.

"Sorry, luv, I thought you were through already"

"Well, Oi ‘ope ‘ee was abit o'elp to yer, isall."

"Look, I got to thinking what's been said about all those atomic plants earlier." Lenore began, and as it happened, Clay had entered the room in time to hear every last word. "If there's something to your theory, about it being triggered from all the atomic waste, I mean, coz Clay's been exposed to the same level of radiation to some extent...touring with us right up until we got to Northampton. He's probably more vulnerable to it, being he's just a kid and all."

"Scary thought, that one luv." was all Milo could add before they hung up for the last time that night.

It was enough to plant a seed of fear into Clay's head. How he even got to sleep that night was a bit of a mystery. That night he had a strange and sad dream. In the nightmare he saw himself lying with his mother in a hospital, both of them hooked up to a kidney dialysis machine. That vision changed to his entire field of vision being immersed in clear yellow bubbly fluid -- presumably urine -- and then back to lying with his mother on the gurney. It looked like the pee was boiling, like there was an evervescent quality to it.

So anyway, she and Clay were stuck in South London for awhile.

Luckily for her and for Clay, Smegma soon split afterwards. The usual bickering over differences in musical direction were taking their toll, as was living in a van for weeks on end. Additionally, Milo felt bad about leaving a wife and stepson on their own.

The news devastated her and Milo. Milo was at a loss: he felt he should take his family to the states for the sake of her health, but lacked the funds to do so. Then Milo's mum passed, leaving him the property his parents owned in Aberdeen (He was an only child, evidently). Milo sold the property and "just basically took the money and ran," as he put it, back to the States.

The Haskins ended up in Missoula. While not as cold as London often was, it was still every bit as boring as Punk Mother remembered. They stayed with her mother until she'd passed from a severe stroke. Having inherited property once again, the Haskins sold that and moved to a small town on the Central Coast of California -- Magmaville. They leased a studio apartment on the north end of town and what money was left over was set aside in a joint account. Lenore began working as a waitress at the Chat & Chew diner on Main St., while Milo found work as an auto mechanic. Soon they were befriended by Janet and Richard Yossarian.

Milo remembers the scariest moment when Punk Mother went through a really bad hypo. It was the early 80’s and they were all living in London at the time. He and Teddy and the other members of their band Smegma were in the process of debating the future of their band when…

“Soodinlay, she starts breekin’ inter coold sweat loik, and then she starts tae trimble a bit. And Oi’m loik th’ oonlay woon takin’ anneh nootiss ofitt. Oll th’oothehs wus joost standin round arguin’ a load o’roobish!

“Oi’m seen th’ tremblin an sweatin getting worse oll th’ toim an she looks t’be getting oll panicked, roight? Saen she’s flappin’ er arms loik they’s goin oll noomb on ‘er. She looked a right ole mess. And Oi’m thinkin, Croikey, soompin’s terribly wrong wif moy woif, as woon minnit she’s rantin along wifuss oll and th’ next she’s becaem a roight troyn reck.

“Sae Teddy turns ‘round, sees oll dis gerinon, and ‘ee starts orderin’ oll of oos abayt. Ee turns tae me and sez, ‘Ye there, gerrus soom jayce an crakeys!! Ye lot, gerrout!! Oi mean it, OUT!!’

“Sae Oi’m in th’ kitchen, Oi’m thinkin’ moybe Oi otteh ring oop an ambulance er soompin, an ‘ee’s fooking wid th’ ootheh mates. Theyz oll, ‘Whot’s oll dis den?’

“Oi coom bek t’me woif, wid the jayce n’oll, an boy dis toim she’s madly teerin off ‘er clothes!!! Sae Oi sez tae ‘er, as Oi’m in complete shock, y’see, Oi sez tae ‘er, ‘Cor blimey, woman!!! Whot dee yer think ye doin?’

“She lakes at me oll scared-loik an sez tae me, ‘I’m gonna fucking explode!!!’ She’s gotten ‘er shirt ooff an den she sez, ‘Oh God…I need air!!! Get me out of here!!!’ She laeked loik she wus gooner ‘ave a seizure roight then & there. Oi wuz getting roight terrifoyd boy th’ soit oofitt m’self!!

“Sae Teddy cooms back ayn, and den ‘ee toikes th’ jayce oot of me ‘and, gaes over tae ‘er. And ‘ee sez tae ‘er, tookin oll gentle-loik tae ‘er. ‘Ee giz ‘er th’ jayce sayin’ ‘Ere, loov, disell cool ye off.’ Sae ‘ee’s troyin tae git ‘er t’droink, an den ‘ee tells me, ‘Look ‘ere, guvner; theesa dangah froom ‘avin tae loo a blood shuggah. Oi’ve goon thrae dis tae many a toim. Oll she nayd’s izza bit o’soompin swayt loik tae giz oll th’ eggsess insulin soompin tae feedon.’

“Oi then point aet, ‘Boot she’s nate oon insulin, isshe. She’s takin pills fait.’

“Boot den ‘ee sez, ‘Sae? Doan make nae bit o’difference, daeit. Serves th’ same poorpoose, donnit.’

“Anywoy, it took a bit o’toim, berrees gotten ‘er calmed daen, an’ she’s droinkin’ th’ jayce, an she’s nae loonger spazzin oot ennehmoor. Boot den she starts bawlin loik a little boybee. Teddy joost gets ‘er moor jayce an ‘ee ‘as ‘is arm ‘round ‘er bare sweaty shoulders, been oll comfortin’ loik, sayin, ‘There, there, loove.’ an kissin th’ soid o’er ‘ead an joos ‘oldin ‘er, strookin ‘er shoulders roight in froont o’ me; ‘er ‘oosband. And Oi’m standin’ there oll shocked an feelin loik a roight bloody fool.

“Oi swear tae ye, Oi doan noo ‘oo’s th’ moost traemertoized…’er or me! In any cayce, Oi swoor Oi’d neveh let ‘er gae three that again. Oi dessoided tae get ‘er soomwhere that she caen get better care.”

This Milo confided to Richard soon after he and Punk Mother and Clay made the move to Magmaville, got his work visa, and scored a job at Magma Cycles, a motorcycle repair shop where Richard worked back in the days before the Bauhaus Café opened and before Richard and Janet had their own TV show.

“ ‘At worrent ev’n th’ woorst offit, man!” Teddy added. Milo had repeated the story again to Richard and Janet soon after Stella had died. “Also, woon noight, Milo & Oi thought we’d ‘ave a ménage á trois wif Lenoora jes fe a giggle. Oll throy offoos wuz at it till we wuz spent and full asleep. They wuz dis ootheh lodger ‘oo turned aet tae be a fookin joonkee. That noight ‘ee gets th’ staepid oideer tae shaet oop moy insulin, thinkin’ aet moight gerrim oye. Oll ooveh sooden Oi ‘eers dis bangin’ abayt, th’ dinn damn neeh scares th’ piss oota me. Oi gerrup oota bed, an Oi sees Noah, that’s th’ staypid joonkee bastard, ‘ee’s oon th’ floor oll sweaty and shakin’ real terrible, and ‘ere’s dis woydoyd laek eenis oys. Seroim dinkin’ ‘Bloody ‘Ell!!’ Sickened Oi wuz boy th’ orrible realization dat dis staypid fooker shat oop me insulin!!!

“Wull, fookit!!’ Oi thot. Sae Oi coll 999 an ‘ee’s saen off tae ‘ospital. Lenoora, she wus roight pissed oof at ‘im! She loy roight at ‘im when she faend ayt…”

The memory continues to play in Teddy’s mind as he spoke. He can still see Punk Mother standing over Noah’s hospital bed with her hands on her hips looking him dead in the eye and shouting…

“You Asshole!!!”

“Oi wus sick, Lenny! Oi needed a hit!!”

“That wasn’t heroin, you idiot!! That was insulin!!”

Teddy continued regaling, “’Eee sed ‘ee wus soory ‘n oll, but She dinn give a fook. She stoormed aet o’th’ room and we oll went ‘aem. When we got back, we fained ‘er little bollock Cloy blooberin een froont o’owr staep, rully croyin’ loik. Sae den Milo gaes o’er tae ‘im askin’ ‘Whot’s oll dis den?’ An Cloy sez, ‘The door’s locked!! I need the loo…bad!’ Poor little barstid.”

“Roight.” Milo interjected. “Sae Oi let ther pair bairn insoid. Oi joost fell me ‘art gae oot tae ‘im. Sae ‘ee r’lives ‘imsell, fell a little betteh boot stael oopset. Taens aet been ‘roun dese joonkees iz fookin ‘im oop insoide. ‘Ee ‘ad dis noosheen thinkin’ ‘is mummy’s gaenneh doy on ‘im coz she’s got dis daezeez mookin’ ‘er oop. We ‘ad tae get awoy froom oll th’ bloody joonkees…ollwoys robbein oos bloind an ‘oll!”

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