CARDIFF — In 1982 and '83 during my son Bob's two years at Earl Warren Junior High, I found myself in the reluctant role of "mother of a punk rocker."
Friends had warned me that their once-sweet little 11- and 12-year-old boys, at 13, with the onset of puberty, turned into Neanderthals. A Neanderthal I could have handled. A punk rock musician was another matter.
When I first bought Bob that cheap acoustic guitar in the fourth grade for music lessons, my naive fantasy was that he would sit on the couch quietly playing "Puff the Magic Dragon."
My fantasy was exceeded only by my naivete. By sixth grade Bob was taking private lessons on an electric guitar and playing rock and roll. From there it was ony a short step to lead guitar in his own band, "Goon Squad," playing raucous music with original lyrics that told of social injustice, of how intensely he disapproved of Ronald Reagan, and of the trials of being young and misunderstood. Admired punk rock musical groups were the Sex Pistols, the Dead Kennedys, the Cramps, the Germs and Black Flag.
Even the family dog did not escape the influence of punk rock. A perfectly harmless long-haired dachshund, which we had acquired from Rancho Coastal Humane Society was named "Sid Vicious" in memory of the "Sex Pistols" singer who exited this life by his own hand in a haze of illegal drugs.
There was also the matter of hair. No longer was it fashionable to wear it long. Among the punk boys it had to be a "Mohawk" (as in Indian), or a "skinhead" (as in Telly Savales), or "spiked" (as in crew cut). Wild, unlikely hair color was important too--pink, orange, green, blue, red, yellow, jet black. Bob steeled for a natty blond, then later jet black spiked "do." At one point, between dye jobs, he had an interesting tri-color look--brown (his natural color), blond and jet black.
And the Clothes . . .
One virtue of punk rock was the low-cost clothing. We bought shirts at the Salvation Army store for 50 cents apiece and trousers from "Thrifty Threads" for no more than $2 a pair. However, the black leather jacket, standard punk outerwear, was expensive unless you went shopping in Tijuana, and even then it was costly. One boy's father objected to the aluminum studs that his son added to his leather jacket because, after all, "How could he wear the jacket later on, when he was 30, with those studs all over it."
Also popular were silver-studded leather bracelets, and heavy chains worn around the neck, waist or wrists. Safety-pin earrings were in, but Bob never went for this. I think he was disinclined to face the pain of ear-piercing.
During this dark time I was momentarily cheered when one day, while waiting in my car for Bob at the junior high, a female school bus driver approached me and queried, "Are you Bob Laws' mother?" I reluctantly answered "yes," whereupon she fell to praising Bob and said, "When I first saw him I was afraid he would knife me, but actually he is such a nice boy."
Kudos for Mom
Then there was the Friday evening that Bob and I went to dinner at the Kardiff Kitchen, an Encinitas cafeteria popular with the senior citizen crowd. Bob was wearing mottled blue jeans, an effect achieved by haphazardly pouring straight bleach on them. Bleach-eaten holes added yet another dimension to the rattiness of these jeans. His silk-screened T-shirt was dedicated to the memory of "Sid Vicious," he clunked about in heavy, black lace-up work boots, and his turned-up painter's hat said, "Suicidal Tendencies," the name of another favorite punk rock band.
I was quite sure I heard a few gasps as we strolled in, but we went unself-consciously through the cafeteria line. By then I was pretty accustomed to Bob's weird get-ups and hardly noticed them. But during dinner a short man with a mane of white hair kept glancing at us.
Finally, he said to me, "You must be a good mother to let your son dress like that. He is obviously having a good time."
Well, "Bad Bob" (as we took to calling him) is now 16, a high school sophomore. Change is manifesting itself, though slowly. The hair color is his own--dark brown--and the hair-style can be seen in the pages of Gentlemen's Quarterly. The clothes are getting more conservative. He and some friends crashed the senior prom recently. Bob left the house wearing black dress shoes, white Calvin Klein trousers, a gray "Moosehead Beer" T-shirt, and a blue wool suit jacket.
And the band's music is still too loud, but the name has been changed to "Farenheit 451."
Maybe someday they will play cool jazz, or even break up.