It was as if I had crawled through a desert. I'm dying. With all of the shit I've done in my life, I am going to end up dying of dehydration in the goddamn van. No stores accepted credit cards. We had no Ukrainian money. Waters were brought to the cash register, then back to the coolers. Tap water wasn't safe to drink, something about stomach bugs. My mouth went from dry, to sticky, to just-ate-a-spoonful-of-flour, can't-breath, terra-cotta-pot-baking-in-the-sun. We were under the impression that Cernihiv was close, yet as we drove on and on and on and I began to think the idea of the city was a mirage. An idea mirage, who's ever heard of that? But that's exactly how desperate our situation had become. My hair stuck to my skin in dirty ringlets. I felt like someone had poured baby oil on my head. How the hell am I so greasy? Sweat poured off every bit of every one. Why do I even do this? I'm over it, I'm never doing another tour again. This was the most miserable I have ever been. I slunk down in my seat, wallowing in self and group pity.
My Mom almost drown once when she was a kid. While swimming deep in a lake she became tangled in some weeds. At first she fought to free herself, thrashing and kicking. Then realism overcame panic: she was trapped, nothing could be done. Then desperation overcame realism: she screamed for help, but her scream went unheard and her wasted air was swallowed up by the unforgiving water. It was terrible. The fear. Seeing the surface just inches away but being unable to reach it. Knowing that people were close but totally oblivious to her plight. The helplessness. Soon she floated limply, suspended in the water, gazing toward the surface, watching her last breaths escape her and rise toward the sun. The fear was finally gone. "The last thing I thought was, 'What beautiful bubbles...'"
She told me that it would have been a nice way to die. That it was almost euphoric. Lucky for both of us, my uncle grabbed her out and she lived. But I've always found that story interesting. It illustrates, more or less, the entire human condition. The way we all struggle against things we can't change. How malleable emotion can be. How in a matter of minutes a situation can go from terrifying to magical. Obviously, when your life is at stake everything you have inside of you is called forward to help you either protect yourself or cope with what you can't change- but my Mom's day at the lake could easily represent situations that aren't life and death, even things mundane. Fear of trying a new food. Getting fired. Losing your favorite shoes in Upsala, Sweden. (Ok, I'm talking about myself on that one...) I reference her experience often in my own life. Whether doctors tell me I may die in 2 days, or pasta salad with cucumbers is what's served for dinner- I try to see the beauty in the bubbles, since life, and even death, is all in how you choose to view it.
Point being, for the first time that I can recall, I saw nothing in this day. From the border to van, the speeding ticket to this death drive, life had become, depressing, irredeemable Crowbar-song-turned-reality.
The van slowed. Out the window I saw a town. Holy shit... is this... Cernihiv? We parked. I felt weak. My lips had become little dry iguanas, my entire body felt as if it were made of sand and held together by hot bacon fat. "Are we... there?" "No, we're waiting for the promoter, then we'll go to a house to eat." My lizards cracked into a slight smile, then, exhausted, fell back into melting misery.
Waiting for 20 minutes has never taken so long. The promoter came, and we were led to an entirely blue apartment. Blue couches, blue walls, blue curtains. The place was the promoter's second home, or he and his wife were selling it, or... no one was really sure. The promoter was a short, gruff Ukrainian with piercing blue eyes. His wife was thin and very tan with long, pointy acrylic nails and made her look like she had witch hands. The only thing in the room was a TV and the couple's wedding video was playing. There was a small table by the kitchen and on it some cups and soda. From here it's a blur of guzzling and stuffing face. Fried zucchini, stew with mock meat, bread, and cookies- cookies which we found out later were not vegan, and also that Ukrainians have a fairly slim grasp of what vegan actually is. Luckily no one got sick. The food was enough for maybe 4 people and we were a starving 9. The drinks ran out, and tap water wasn't safe. God damn it.
As we ate the promoter and his wife wiped up around us, taking our dishes the second we had eaten the last bite off of them, cleaning and re-cleaning the table. It felt like we weren't supposed to be there, or like we were horrible slobs, or like we were in a tremendous hurry. The promoter spoke little English, but I didn't realize this at first so I thought he was an asshole. He would just snap orders at us "Eat now" "You READY?" "We go now."
This marked the first day of the eastern European "We go now." "Now" has an absolutely different meaning in eastern Europe as it does everywhere else in the world. It doesn't mean "this instant", but rather something more like, "eventually, when I feel like leaving, or remember that it's time to go." But we didn't know that yet, so when the promoter snapped that "we go now", we busted ass back to the van. Then, we waited. And waited. More hot van, more thirst. I had to pee when we left but I was told to "go now! GO!" so I ran down the stairs.
The venue was a garage in the middle of nowhere. On one side of it was a prison, the other a convent. There was no room for unloading, or setting up merch, or even standing. Outside, the mosquitoes were terrible. I had swamp ass and wanted nothing more than a shower. And fuck did I have to pee. "Excuse me, where's the bathroom?" I asked the promoter. He laughed at me, the pointed at the overgrown lot surrounding us, "It is... everywhere." God DAMN IT!!!
This was the worst day of my fucking life.
Dave after trying and failing to tape merch to the wall:
I went to the van to change out of my dirty clothes into some less dirty clothes. I am never doing this again. This is the last goddamn tour. Outside the van a little kid had wrecked his bike and was crying and holding his knee. Hardcore and punk kids milled around smoking cigs and talking in little circles. Same shit no matter where you go. A dude in a plaid sleeveless came over to me. Now what.
"Dah-vin?" He pulled out a bouquet of flowers from behind him. "These are for you! From the men of Ukraine." Behind him everyone at the show was looking at us, smiling warmly. I was flabbergasted. Flowers? For ME? I've never been given flowers in my life, and that was just... just... so god damn sweet.
I accepted the flowers and people clapped. Dudes behind him nodded in approval. I blushed. "Thank you SO much!!!!" I was so embarrassed and flattered and weirded out. I'm not usually much for chivalry, and I really hate my gender being made into any sort of deal, but this was the right bouquet from the right people at the most perfect time. I laughed until my cheeks hurt. Suddenly being tangled in the weeds of this day wasn't so awful. I sniffed the daisies. Before leaving me to my flowers, Sleeveless added one last thing about my gift, "There is cannabis in it!" Sure enough, I looked down and saw what appeared and smelled to be some kind of marijuana.
I looked around at the show with fresh eyes. So many Xed up hands. Dave and I cleared off a bench for merch. I noticed a kid in a home-made Minor Threat shirt. There were a few other sharpie-and-white-tee shirts. Ukraine is a very poor country. We dropped our shirt prices and still hardly sold any. Kids tried to haggle with us over everything. I "guest listed" two kids who couldn't afford to come in. A girl came over to me and announced that Casey Jones was her favorite band and she wanted to see us very badly but had no money. I was out of "spots" and couldn't get her in, but I think she managed anyway. I talked to the Minor Threat kid about his shirt. "It is my first DIY project!"
Once my camera was out everyone wanted me to take their picture. They all told me something about themselves. One kid was 14 years old and straight edge. Another was celebrating his 3rd anniversary of straight edge the next day. They told us that we were the first American straight edge band to come to the Ukraine (though I think we were only the first to come to their area.)
UKRAINIAN STRAIGHT EDGE:
me and Casey Jones girl:
I've always been sad that I wasn't old enough in the 80's to go to shows. I have always wondered what it felt like when hardcore was new, unself conscious, real. Before "hype", before sneakers, before know-it-all holier-than-thou douchebags. On this night, I felt it.
We got on stage and the garage was packed so full you could not move. An ocean of excited kids- mohawks spiked or heads freshly shaved- swayed in anticipation. "We're Kingdom, from..." applause and cheering drowned me out. We started our set and the place fucking EXPLODED. I have never seen anything like it. Stage dives, circle pits, crowd crawling, pile ons, pushing, flailing, moshing... everyone moved, everyone raged, everyone smiled and cheered and sang along. We were Gorilla Biscuits. We were Black Flag. I high fived kids while we played. The 14 year old floated around on people's heads for an entire song. Young and old, punk and hardcore, drunk and straight edge, boys and girls, it was all there, together, losing total control.
This was the greatest night of my entire life.