The first time I met Josh Hastert was at his apartment above Seven Dead. He was handing me a 40oz of King Cobra Malt Liquor and telling me and the guys who would become known as the 40oz Kids that we could smoke and drink in the apartment as long as we cleaned the apartment. The booze was payment. The cigarettes we brought with us. We were all fifteen.
A year later I was the only one still working for Josh, still getting paid in booze, but I wasn’t cleaning the apartment anymore. The basement at Seven Dead was a large concrete floor with a back door to an alley, a stage Josh and Porno Jim built, and a storeroom that was used as a backstage during shows and home to the 40oz Kids. At first, I was the door guy for basement shows and would be at the top of the stairs taking money and stamping hands. When the shows started I’d be given a 40 of King Cobra, or whiskey, and I’d head downstairs. I saw The Tossers play without clothes because T Duggins decided it was “rock out with your cock out” night. Josh told me to never tell T Duggins he could crash at the store, or my house, or anywhere anyone valued.
Then I ran the soundboard. I can’t remember all the bands I did sound for but I remember doing sound for The Tossers. It was my second show running the board and I was -- ---- and Porno Jim knew that because I told him. Fifteen minutes into the set, I knew something was wrong and was alone in the basement at the board surrounded by gutter punks and skins wondering what the fuck was happening until Porno Jim delivered me a pint glass full of whiskey, fixed the levels, told me to calm down and just watch the colors. That worked. The band played Buckets of Beer after the fix. I chain-smoked Camels. I watched the colors. I didn’t look up.
These two skins claiming SHARP were down from Chicago for some weeks and the 40oz Kids had to share the backstage with them. G----- was big in the way some skins are big. C----- was slight but sinewy and tough. One afternoon G-----, myself, and one or two other 40oz Kids were drinking Guiness backstage and he misplaced his switchblade. He swore he brought it in with him. Swore he always had it on him. Swore he wouldn’t have left it anywhere. Drunk, we all looked. But we did not find the switchblade and things got menacing. There was yelling and threats. The three of us probably couldn’t take one of him but it was looking like it was heading that way until C----- brought the switchblade in with him from the car, where G----- had left it. About a year later C----- and G----- held me down at a house party and shaved the spikes off my head. They said they did it because they liked me. I think they wanted me to feel like I belonged somewhere. Then they put a Johnny Reb tape in the boombox and I knew I didn’t belong with them. But they were right: my spikes looked stupid.
By the time Seven Dead closed for keeps, I was the only one still hanging out. Josh, Porno Jim, the weird heroin addict guy Josh was letting crash so he could kick, Chris the straight-laced, the punk rock chick veterinarian who stitched my eyebrow after I walked straight into a lamppost, the guy who showed me how to bend a Camel in half, cherry to butt, and then unfold it again and have it still smoke to win bar bets. They let me be around on my terms, never told me I was too much. It was fucked up but it worked and what I needed at that point in my life.
Some kids need to be unhinged, to get drunk like vikings and invade the next storefront over, to fist fight your best friend, to have someone slightly older than yourself tell you your impulses are valid. I’ll tell you if I die now, I’m as happy as a fool.
Scott is the author of the short story collection DeKalb Illinois is a Paradise What Eats Its Own (Alien Buddha '22), the novels Breakneck: Or It Happened Once in America (Anxiety Press '23) and Awful People (Death of Print Feb '24), and the novelette All Burn Down (Emerge Press Oct '23). His short stories and essays have appeared in many magazines across the internet. Find him @smitchelmay on Twitter