Monday, February 06, 2006

Irving The Punk Rocker

I used to get to school really early in the 5th grade, but that was because we were being bussed from Westchester to Westminster Elementary School in Venice. I learned later that it was all part of this odd plan of integration, in which kids from the upper crust and lower crust would trade places, just to see what it was like on the other side. Back then, I just thought we were being bussed for no reason.

In comparison to the sheltered, well-organized institution of Loyola Elementary in Westchester, Venice's Westminster Elementary sure was a change of pace. There were fights every day, kids talked back to teachers, security seemed to be a distant hope, and we were all pretty much on our own. It was kinda bleak.

There was one classmate, though, who definitely added some interest to an otherwise monotonous existence.


The first punk I knewIrving was definitely not your average 5th grader. Instead of the all-too-common bowl cut or basic disheveled freeness of Westchester's surfer/BMX pre-teens, he sported a liberty-spiked mohawk. In place of the cool Lightning Bolt®, Op® or Body Glove® gear, he donned an oversized olive drab army coat, torn t-shirts, jeans and combat boots, accessorized with spike bracelets and chains.

In essence, he was the first punk I ever knew.

What the hell kinda kid is this?What made him interesting was not necessarily his mode of dress nor his foot-high spikes. It was more his character and his way of being. He always came up with the most random, intellectual garble that hardly any of us could keep up with. He always had this mischievous smile on his face like he was either thinking of some playful wrongdoing, or cynically analyzing those who sat around him. Yet, as different and outrageous as he appeared, he never got into any fights or confrontations. He could've easily been picked on. He was a tiny guy, barely my height (and I was a shrimp), and had the mousiest, high-pitched accent-tinged voice (Irish? Not sure.). But, I guess even potential 5th grade bullies were dumbfounded by his abstract, random self, and didn't know what to make of him.

Ant Music?I used to run into him in the local public library. Now that's where he really caused a stir amongst the grown-ups. He ignored the stares, but every interaction with the adults automatically got him some confused looks and head-scratching. Then he'd randomly open up to me about Adam And The Ants, or how Johnny Rotten was cooler than Sid Vicious, or how The Exploited was better than Crass, and how anarchy wasn't such a bad idea. These all sounded like the most exotic, outlandish names to a budding Top-40 New Waver like myself, who'd finally memorized the lyrics to Blondie's Rapture and could imitate Hancock's Rockit's scratching to a tee.

The most memorable performance of his, though, was once during class. We were all quietly busy doing an assignment, when out of nowhere I see Irving put his hands to his nose, withdrawing them and seeing that his nose was bleeding.

"Oooh ...I have a nosebleed!
He said, half-surprised and half-fascinated.

The rest of the class heard him and everyone turned. The teacher delegated some students to grab some paper towels and hand them to Irving, whose nose had begun to trickle a consistent rivulet of blood. The brown elementary school towels soaked it up easily, and there he sat, a punker with a nosebleed. The teacher grabbed the chair next to him and told him gently to tilt his head back and pinch his nose, in order to stop the bleeding. Everyone saw this as an opportunity to delay our boring assignment, so all pencils dropped and we all sat, beholding the two.

We heard Irving mutter something underneath all those paper towels.

"What did you say?" The teacher asked.

"I said somphbphb bphbh arr!" Irving requested squeakily.

"I don't understand you, Irving. You'll have to move some of these towels."

And so he did. His little mouth showed, and he spoke clearly.

"Could someone get me a jar? I could really use one," He politely asked.

"A jar? What for," The teacher responded.

"I need a jar, so I could save the blood! I think it'd be cool," He giggled.

"No Irving, I am not going to go get you a jar. Stop thinking of such silly things and hold your nose. A jar. Geez."

Just shut up and bleed"Oh come on? There's got to be a jar around here somewhere," he playfully insisted. "This is a lot of blood! It'd be a shame to waste, wouldn't it?" A perfect, genuine Irvingism. Challenging authority, but not rudely. Rather, testing the teacher's limits with a completely innocent idea.

Yet, the teacher ignored his rambling, and he continued, his requests now sing-song, sometimes muffled under the paper towels, which he couldn't keep still.

"A jar...a jar. Could someone please, please get me a jar? I could use a jar..."

I looked at him curiously, while other students shook their heads and went back to work. Someone said, "What a weirdo. He wants a jar to save his blood?" Another one said, "You're gross. Shut up!" All I could picture was him holding a jar up to his nose and letting the blood flow into it. How much of it would he fill if he did that? I could see it all. What a great thing to bring back home on the bus. Some would bring half-finished lunches. Others, a candy bar for the trip home. But Irving? A jar of coagulating blood.

After 5th grade, I saw him in 7th grade, where we had print shop together. The class was fun and productive, but the teacher was someone Irving did not get along with. At all. They were the quintessential John Hughes rivals. Punk, rebellious, yet insightful kid with a mohawk. Older, tough, hard-ass and uncompromising teacher who tried to make scholastic examples out of the punker.

See, Irving wasn't the kind to back down to authority. He wasn't big nor threatening, but his trademark way of challenging authority and pushing teacher's limits really pissed our print shop professor off. So much so, that one day the teacher cracked and called him "a goddamn faggot."

Day of ReckoningGoddamn faggot? The class went dead silent; even the ancient printing presses seemed to suddenly halt it's gears. I don't think anyone in the class had heard any teacher use that word before. Sure, we'd hear it on the P.E. field, but we knew it was a bad word. So when the teacher said it? We were shocked. And Irving? We all looked at him to see what he would do. In that oversized army coat and imposing spiked accoutrements, he looked like he would raise hell like Taxi Driver. Instead, he smiled and took his stuff with him as the teacher ordered him out. Despite the preconceived notion that punkers were pissed off at society, Irving never scowled, never whined. In fact, he always seemed to be either happy, daydreaming, or with something up his sleeve. That day, he left, smiling but speechless.

And not too long after that, our print shop teacher was gone.

No more teach!Apparently, his words cut like a knife, yet they couldn't cut the noose that admin put on him as soon as they found out. That's what they say, anyways. It was all over the school, and many students rejoiced, telling "I remember when" tales like WWII veterans. Irving was some kinda hero.

Yet, he always kept that low-pro, high-pro mohawk character, and eventually just faded away, like many of the memorable kids that I met in my youth.

Ah, those were the days.

Man. I feel like that Stand By Me dood. And I'm on a computer, too. Weird. I'll see you guys later.


Blogger Alina Chau said...

soo cute!! Cool little drawings!! Love your comic style!

6:12 PM  

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