Freak Kingdom

Just another Freak
Living in the Freak Kingdom

6/10/2022. I arrive at Tony’s venue, scouring where I can place myself to be able to achieve the shots I had come to collect, and preparing my notebook to take heed of the band I had come to make right by. I had previously made a mistake in my planning and punctuality of a previous show, leaving me without any solid pictures and notes of a band I believed deserved more attention. Setting up the correct lens, polishing the outsides of my screens, and bracing myself to meet a new selection of people I would try to become friendly with, I started taking notes.
It felt quiet, which is sometimes missed in the midst of a concert such as this. The calmness before a show. In contrast to the excitement and energy that is generated as the surge of noise attracts the late attendees, the patience that preludes a punk show is tranquil. The vendors are setting up, the first band is carrying in gear, and the people present are giddy with anticipation.
It needs to be mentioned that the crowd you see at 6:00 is different then the crowd you see later in the night. The crowd at 6:00 knows the show doesn't really start at 6:00. They know the bands will hold off for a bit before their set, waiting for an influx of people to trickle in from the streets and the corners where the denizens roam.
The crowd at 6:00 knows this, but still makes the choice to arrive on time according to the flier, late according to reality. The choice is made because the crowd wants to enjoy this show; they want to set up their camera, they want to support their friends, and they want to make sure they get to see the first band perform. They want to meet the specific person listed on the flier, the birthday receiver and the members who are hard to come by later in the night. The sun hasn't fully set, the night hasn't won. The heat is still swampy, slimey and uncomfortable. But the men and women who arrive before the show still arrive. They offer to carry gear, take selfies or help set up.
These are the people Wastefuk is made of. The people who arrived early to shows, who took time off work to help support the opening act, and to make the night special.
Upon first glance, the member which catches the eye first is the guitarist. Donning what appears to be a white Jackson Flying V, and a make up style accredited to early 2000’s scene and emo culture, the solemn (and may I say quite popular on social media) lead guitarist is the visual most spectators will remember when they go home in their stupor.
The character I recognized second had streaks of green and black streaming down the cranium, and had patches and cobweb patterned clothing adorned with spiked wrists and what appeared to be a plush of some kind. Wielding a Squier PJ bass colored blue and red, throughout the show, I noted when they switched between plain footed standing on solid ground and the elevated top of a sizable combo amp. I had most likely met them before that date, either in the midst of a pit or throughout the night at another show for another band. But when I saw them perform, I could only remember them through the brief conversations we had on social media. Those conversations only really consisted of me responding to some story they had posted, and wondering what the response would be. I made note at the concert that they had very bright eyes, accentuated by the bright colors of their hair and the haze of dust, watering and straining vision.
Sequentially, the lead singer commands attention as well. I mostly remembered him from his affinity for “goth hoez” and the support he had given towards a band I will write about in the future, Happy In Hemet. From what I know, he has been involved with the creation of Wastefuk from the beginning, and he has been a prominent figure in the Hemet punk scene for a good deal of time before I stumbled into it. He’s a figurehead of Hemet punk for many of the freaks I have talked to about Hemet, and because of that, I respect him.
But perhaps the most important member I have neglected to mention so far has been the other guitarist in the band. From what I have gathered, he and the vocalist started Wastefuk together, intent on making their own hardcore punk band in the vein of Circle Jerks, Descendants and Subhumans. The most I could remember of the co-founder before I started doing my own research was his very handsome cat. During the show, he performed shirtless, singing and belting with aggression and power, commanding the attention of the crowd.
Lastly, the member who I unfortunately know the least about, the drummer. From what I’ve gathered, he seems to fit well within the collective, having a fun and laid back sense of humor.
Wastefuk is the band I would've made if I wasn't so socially inept. Wastefuk is the crew of friends I wish I made when I was younger. Wastefuk is the band I read about in articles, documentaries and history books; but for once, I'm not viewing them behind a screen. I'm viewing them from the sidelines. I get to watch them make their first album. When they make their first music video, I'll be watching them. When they first get gigged at an event outside our usual nest, I'll be there; silently observing their trajectory, wishing and regretting that I never had the confidence or skill to be a part of that life. I'll be in the corner, supporting them however I can, buying merchandise, attending shows and providing pictures; but the truth is, I know deep down, I wish I could have done what they are doing.

7/2/2022. I arrive at Toni’s venue. I see the usual contenders, early goers and freaks. I spot a pink suit adorned lead vocalist of Crack Torch, a buzzed-cut friend of his, and a bell-bottomed compatriot. In another corner, I see a red-wearing bassist, a vocalist with an adoration with kittens, and a man holding a mannequin head. Off in the distance, far from my couch, there stands an intelligent ginger who I spoke to briefly about movies and art with, and beside them sits a green haired photographer with a Sony A6000. Beside a mound of free cannabis, available to anyone who wishes to partake, stands Toni, The owner of the venue.I have not talked to Toni much, only a couple high fives and smiles; but I respect this man a great deal. I assume the mechanics of organizing a venue which holds up to 200 people a night must have been difficult. The amps along the back wall must have cost an arm and a leg alone. The extension cords running along the rafters and amongst the drum kit must have taken time to configure. And the upkeep needed to organize a gathering of this size, which must generate a long deal of waste, is evident in the venue. While talking to others in between the hardore sets of Braineater and Philosopher Death, I see a division of the outdoor seating area dedicated solely towards housing plastic trash bags holding scrap-glass and miscellaneous waste.Seeing the ignored bottles and discarded junk, I wonder to myself, “After every show, how much work goes into cleaning up? Does Toni pick up every bottle by hand? Does every piece of broken glass, unrolled rolling paper, and unwrapped wrapper have to be cleaned by hand after the fun has died down? Is the morning after always a hangover for Toni, having to drag himself to do the same kind of work I dreaded doing for 2 years of my life? How much goes into maintenance? How frequently can the show go on for him and his family?”Looking along the streets adjacent to the 79 highway, there are cones, dividers and signs that state “No Parking” and the more forceful “Don’t Fucking Park Here!” Along the porches neighboring the venue, sits the residents of this street corner, observing as the freaks spill into the backyard of freak kingdom. Every show there is an announcement to the tune of, “If you are the owner of the Honda Accord outside, move your vehicle! The tow truck is on the way!” I can imagine disgruntled neighbors phoning the police over the volume of the show, shouting “Come and do something now!” Every show, there seems to be a scare concerning pigs arriving. Perhaps it’s the paranoia caused by intoxicants. Maybe it’s further paranoia of intoxicants which are Class-A. But tracking this all in mind, you must ask yourself; how long will the spot be a spot? How long until the neighbors rally together to squeeze the life out of our community? How many noise complaints will the blue receive until they decide to make some kind of action? Will there come an end to the party? And when this party ends, what hangover will be left behind?Maybe that hangover is something that everyone feels. The morning after a show. Cleaning the drool, vomit and used condoms after a party is over. How many of these punks wake up the next morning and say "where am I?" How many drug infused nights and sober mornings do these punks contend with? There have been many times where I arrive home late into the morning, at 3, 4 or 5 am after these shows. And the feeling of dread that comes down after staying up and crashing is taxing. Waking up in the late afternoon, asking myself, "what happened the night before", "What did I take", and the worst, "how much did I take"? After becoming for the most part clean for a year, I get these feelings less often. But I wonder, for those who keep their red, water parched eyes open until late into the night, when they finally close them and go to sleep, what do they feel? And if the feelings they feel are terrible or taxing, what is the draw? Can a great show make up for a terrible morning? Earlier I asked, “How frequently can the show go on for him and his family?” But a more important question I have to ask is “How frequently can the show go on for everyone?”One thing I am happy to be proud of so far is this; I have many regrets in my life, but currently, I do not regret meeting anyone at these shows. For the most part, I stay alone in my life, but meeting others here has helped me achieve a new perspective. I am grateful that I do not have an ex here. I am grateful that I haven’t done anything which has hurt or wronged someone here. However, I believe I am an outlier when it comes to that.When I talk and listen to the conversations at these places, the topic of shame is brought up. Like a hangover after a night on the town. The heartbreak after a relationship. The anger over trusting someone and having that trust broken. I hear these topics discussed between everyone and amongst the people I meet. Manipulative and vile exes. Terrible trips. Physical pain and stress that leads to physical pain. People you shouldn’t have been friends with. People you miss. People that started on a path towards their future, but now don’t have anything but other people. I see these people, their faces and these crowds and I see myself in them. I remember the people that I spent so long learning to forget. As a man who has lived with this shame, I have to wonder, 2, 3 or 10 years from now, will I be able to handle the hangover that’s coming? When these people are gone, will I regret meeting them, or will I regret not meeting more of them? When the spot ceases to be a spot, where will I be? Will I go back to my habits? And most importantly, would I rather be hungover or alone?Every time I come to this venue, I think to myself "what should I have brought in order to give back to Toni?"
Option 1: Seating. I always notice the lack of chairs and seating at these shows. This isn't too bad of a problem during the commencement of music, however, in the downtime between sets and the calm before the show, I find myself sitting by myself. And others would be sitting as well, if there were more seats. I wouldn't like anyone to be sitting during the music, (that would defeat the purpose of punk), but to be able to let everyone around have a seat or lay down in case they were unable to stand would be helpful. I think about all the useful chairs I have demolished or destroyed in the past in my career, and how if I had just saved them, I could've brought them here and found a use for them. I believe every venue should have a couch, where the lonely people can go to lie. Last show I saw a man no younger than I was when I first blacked out, hunched over their unsupportive friend. Unable to stand and laying on the floor, I wanted to place him at a place to rest, but I couldn’t find a place more comfortable than the ground he was lying on.
Option 2: Lighting. As a photographer and musician, I find Toni's base lighting set up impressive. Extension cords connecting and running through the appliances, weaving in and out of amplifiers until it can find its mark looming over the tungsten lamps. I'm happy that there is any sort of lighting, since most lighting at punk shows is sorely lacking. But from the pictures I take and finding the best angles to illuminate the musicians, I find that I have to use an external flash for 80% of a show. Ideally, I could forgo the flash in lieu of natural light sources and the tungsten bulbs at the show, and then my pictures could look the same as if you were at the show. But unfortunately, to illuminate the faces of these musicians, a flash is needed to capture their form. A remedy for this could be additional stage lights. I think about bringing my own personal lights that I use in my studio pictures to help shine the members. I think about letting Toni use these lights during the sets as a way of helping him.Option 3: Junk Disposal. My occupation for two years, I was skilled in both demolition and the handling of cumbersome chemicals, furniture and trash. From my experience, I can see the amount of trash in the corners and infer the cubic feet of all the piles, and the amount would cost a stingy company close to $650 to remove, on account of the volume of the materials and the distance from the Beaumont landfill. If I just had a flatbed or full sized pickup, 3 hours of time, eight 5-gallon trash bags, and $100 for dumping fees, I could help. I could help clean the venue, rid it of the dangerous broken glass and give back to this community. I remember how quickly the city park in Corona was trashed on 5/27/2022. I remember feeling the need to clean every tiny crevice of that spot, fearful that improper care would lead to the city’s vendetta against the punks to reach a boiling point. This is a skill set I have. I feel this conscious urge to clean, and for once, I could do this and help someone else. If for just one day after a show, to help Toni’s family by removing this chore, I would do it.
This backyard was my introduction. The way I came here is a strange tale, but I still love this place. Like how a boy will always love his first car, or how a child will always remember her first best friend, I suspect people will see this backyard the same way. For many here without a home to go back to, perhaps this venue is their home. And the day when the venue finally is shut down, the closure will leave everyone without a place to rest. Some come here just for the stimulants. Some come here just for the music. Some come with others and some come lonely. But when this place is gone, everyone here will miss it. And that nostalgia will stick with them. For the time being, this backyard is The Freak Kingdom.

“A Terrible Night in Moreno Valley”

This article is divided into 2 sections. The first section will be about my first experience at a local show on October 9th, 2021, featuring Paranoise, Happy In Hemet, The Sex Skeletons, Abominate, and After Party Fight Club.

1:00am. October 10th, 2021. The End of the Night.
I’m sitting in a strange hybrid vehicle, with my ears ringing and my head pounding. I search this machine’s glove compartment for some sort of Tylenol, painkiller, or other kind of brain adhesive, but I did not know before tonight that a remedy was something I needed to bring. I am extremely tired. I have this putrid black mucus congested in my nostrils, and my skin is caked with a muggy brown coat of dust. I don’t know where I am. Somewhere in the corners of Moreno Valley, as far as I can remember, but my memory can’t be trusted now. I need to get home. I fumble for my keys in my pocket for too long, and then I stop and ask myself; can I even make the drive back home? 40 minutes away from where I feel comfortable, and another 1,616 miles from where my true home lies, I feel a wave of dread come over me. What was I doing here? Is this the famed “music scene” I was missing out on? I feel like shit, and what’s worse, I know I will feel like shit in the morning, and I’ll probably still feel like shit the week after that. Tonight was filled with strange waves of paranoia, uncomfortability and stress. I sit in this car and try to recount the details of the night, but I can not form any form of coherence. Uncanny creatures and unknown faces. Bizarre occurrences and grotesque kids. Strange music and stranger people. I need to drive, and I don’t know if I’m able to. I am confused and disoriented, unable to recount everything I took and everything I refused. I need to leave this place.

12:00am. October 10th, 2021. After Party Fight Club.
I believe that was the first time I have “greened out”. My friend told me that’s what happens when you ingest too much, and I would say that description is appropriate. I can’t remember most of what happened, mostly just blurs of lights and colors. I believe all these people are confusing. I’m happy I met up with a few that I recognized, like that green-haired guy I met at the other show at Tommy’s. And their friend too, the one with a short haircut and a Hawaiian shirt. I didn’t see that shirtless guy at this one, which is unfortunate. I don’t really know that guy with the shaved head who said “hi” to me, but it seems like he enjoyed my pictures. That’s nice. From the back here, I think I want to try to take a more “fancy” picture. I’m going to try and line up this guy’s bass with the lights flowing from the ceiling. If the band that played before was Abominable or Abominate, then these guys are probably After Party Night Club. Honestly, this bassist is pretty good. I should try to talk to one of these men after the show, you know, just say hi or something. Nah, I’m too fucked up. Why did I smoke so much? I finished the whole joint by myself. I tried offering it to the green haired guy, but they said they didn’t smoke that much. So why did I? I’ve tasted a dab pen a couple of times, but I know my tolerance is poor. Tonight’s been a mess. I like this music, but I need to go back in my car. Rest up a bit before I have to head on the freeway again. Hopefully the pile I made on the other side of the street isn’t going to inconvenience anyone.

11:00pm. October 9th, 2021. Abominate.
I feel as if I might be coming down now. I’m still hit with strange sensibilities and uncomfortable urges, but it feels less constricting. I suspect it might have been Sativa. That would explain why I’m currently climbing a shaky, unstable ladder unto this shed. There is no one below me or supporting me, nor does anyone know who I am in this place. I know if I fall, I’ll not only be embarrassed, but no one will help me out. I suppose I should’ve thought of that before I climbed up here.
Wait. How long have I been sitting up here? Have all these freaks in this crowd just been watching this weird monster awkwardly sit up here? I should do something. I don’t know what this aperture or this shutter speed or this ISO or whatever-the-fuck this is, I’m just going to push the button. This one’s good. Wait, wait, it came out too dark. Scroll the wheel. That’s a good one. That’s really fucking good. Wow, I’m really good at this. I think if I fell down now, it might be okay, because I have this cool picture. I don’t feel like keeping my balance. Heh, but if I fall, I think everyone here will bounce in the air, like those bounce houses. I believe these guys are named Abominable or something, I couldn’t tell. They’re pretty good. I don’t understand what they’re saying, but they look cool. I should get down now. This shed is probably 7 feet tall, I don’t need the ladder. Just jump, and enjoy the fall.
I think that girl said “what the fuck” when I stumbled down. Now my legs are aching. Heh, I bet she won’t be saying “what the fuck” when I post these pictures, boy I tell you what. I should talk like Foghorn Leghorn from now on. Let everyone know I grew up in Arkansas. I think if they knew that, they wouldn’t be staring at me so much. Right now, I count about 15 people staring at me, all of their sharp glances stabbing at me like knives. I wonder if they know I’m a poser. Last time I checked my watch it was around 11:00, so I suppose it’s about 11:30 right now. I might dance like they are someday, all bumping into each other and such. I think I danced like that to a Pixies’s song before. That’s probably the most similar thing to these guys I have heard. There’s a Modest Mouse song that made me dance like this before, something from their early stuff. Well, they’re not punk. Is this what punk is? I can tell these Abominable guys are, but what about those bands at the beginning? Those freaks that looked like DEVO. Or those crazy guys from Hemet. I hope they go up again so I can see their set this time. Those chicks earlier were punk I think. Like those bands my friends told me about, Jack Off Jill and Bikini Kill. I hope they have a YouTube or a Spotify, I might be able to listen to their stuff better on there. And these guys playing right now, I remember they were very popular on Instagram. I think they’re pretty good. I wouldn’t be able to tell good from bad in this state, but they’re making me smile a bit. Either they are or my habit is.

10:00pm. October 9th, 2021. The Sex Skeletons.
I’ve come back from the car. Must’ve missed the rest of the Hemet guys, those weird men with the dreads and the scary baby. I must admit, this place is getting to me. I woke up too early for this nightlife, I am tired and I am only pushing through for the sake of dignity. I had completely missed out on taking pictures of those Happy men, and now I don’t know how to take pictures of this new band. They’re probably the Sexy Skeletons from the flier.
I believe I saw that man in the corner try to flirt with one of these girls earlier. God, I hope he wasn’t a creep. Maybe he had too much to drink, and his faculties are making him commit ignorant actions. Or, maybe I’ll just hope that he was a lover to the band member. Yeah. Try to imagine a better scenario, one that doesn’t involve unwanted advances. I see so many people flirting here at shows, and that does make sense. Bud for some is a sedative, but for others it can act as an aphrodisiac. Luckily, for me it’s neither, and it only makes me irrationally paranoid. The scene should have more marijuana lightweights. I would rather the scene have more screwballs than creeps.
I wonder, how many creeps are out here? Alcohol, bud and whatever those balloons are for must make this place a pervert’s playground. I’m assuming all of the young people out here at this show have support from friends and others to help them guide them home safely, but with the smell of haze and clouded judgment, I have to also assume that every woman here can tell a story of an asshole or a pig. Worse yet, how many people have come out here expecting a safe haven, only to be greeted by some mouth-breather unable to take a hint? I’ve heard stories of all kinds by others, but I haven’t seen it first hand. Is this the night where I see something like this? An interaction which must be scarring to see happen to others at such an early age, no doubt. Jesus, look at this crowd. There must be thousands of instances of this sort. The likelihood that everybody here at this moment could share a first hand story of that experience is frightening. Gross animals being too forward and touchy while dancing. Unwanted advances and disgusting actions. People waking up in the morning to find out what last night’s escapades entailed, and realizing the horror that you were unable to consent. The idea that you will not realize it until it’s too late, that you have been taken advantage of, and your memory is too foggy or too hazy to keep a recollection of what happened. It’s no wonder so many of these monsters get away with it. So many of them are well-liked and supported in the community, band members and figureheads, already established. People who use their status as a shield from accusations, and expert manipulators who use their position to sow doubt in truthful stories. And I’m only a bystander. What a horrifying thought, the idea that somewhere, someone today, someone you just met, might have one of the most traumatic things in their life happen to them tonight. And then tomorrow, when you wake up out of your hangover and drool, you will check your phone to see them call out the perpetrator.
Or even worse, somewhere, someone today, someone you just met, might have one of the most traumatic things in their life happen to them tonight. And then tomorrow, there is no whistle blown. The perpetrator will go on with their life as if nothing happened, free to do it again as they please. And worse yet, that probably already has happened, and you are right now dancing with that demon.These intrusive thoughts keep echoing. I can’t be thinking about this, these invasive reminders that someone might not be safe. I need a respite, a way to distract myself. I need a diversion, something that will quell my unstable mind. All this time, you have been thinking about hideous crimes instead of focusing on living in the moment. Camera in hand, you have been staring at a wall, experiencing empathy for the first time. Take out your camera and shoot. Try to find the perfect moment, the timing where the lightbulbs in the back line up with her head. Take the shot. Ignore these horrible crimes. Move your feet, become swept up in the music. The bassist missed a note. Wait wait, no the grooves back. They have melded together the sounds. The combination can almost divert your attention from the gruesome reality. Almost.

9:00pm. October 9th, 2021. Happy in Hemet.
Strange noises reverberate through my mind. Strange music and even stranger people. I can’t pay attention. No sense of time or control. An uncomfortable combination of coherence and obtuse dysfunction. Am I truly high? Or do I merely pretend to be high to impress the creatures around me? Do I write for myself, or to observe myself in an abstract sense that only these freaks can comprehend? I am alone today, and I am unable to rely on myself. Loss of basic coordination. Unbearable rhythms pulsate throughout my chest. The band has not arrived, and the disregard for consistent timing has confused my circadian pulse. I was so paranoid before I came here. Rapid fire mania and the consistent hum of tension has hit me. I finally realize, perhaps for the first time this night, that everyone feels the same as I feel right now. In this exact time and location, I can finally understand the attitude and disposition of the tweakers and junkies I could only observe from afar in my milquetoast suburban household. For so long I felt as if I was amiss, some obtuse example of a creature who can not understand why I am so paranoid. For once, I now understand. The people here have these feelings too. I am not alone in my discomfort. And that deciding factor is the reason I have come out here. These freaks have set forth in their journey of enlightenment, experiencing a similar concoction of drugs, alcohol, uppers and downers until someone breaks. Junkie mutants and manic addicts. People who love the experience and love the discomfort. Perhaps I am one of them, rocking slowly to myself a comforting tune of slow burn melodies. Rub your cranium, and remove the sweat from your brow. There is a life you have to experience.
The dreaded purple man is here. I have to head to the back, collect myself. Better yet, let me take this picture. Just a quick shot before I stumble out of here. If I can walk, let my legs take me back to my car. Carry me there and let me rest. If I come back, who is to say but whatever God there might be. This music scares me too much. These people frighten me. Worst of all, I have started to frighten myself. Let me take shelter in my vehicle until I can reason together a sentence.Is that the green-haired soul who was present at the last show? The one who had a birthday that day. Yes, there it is, in its glasses and spiked attire. I shouldn’t say anything, not while I’m like this. I have no idea what words will string together, out of my control.“Hey man! How you doing?”
“I’m doing pretty good.”
I don’t have the ability to think about what I am saying, I could only repeat the phrases ingrained into me. I didn’t even process the question, I just replied with that on impulse.“Do you know any of these bands?”
“Yeah, I wanted to check out these guys. I heard that Happy in Hemet is pretty good.”
“Yeah, they’re really popular. Do you think that you’re gonna mosh tonight?”
“If I ever moshed, I would end up killing someone, probably.”
“Well, don’t do anything like that.”
Fuck, I made a mistake. Why did I say that? There are an infinite number of combinations of vocabulary you could have said, and you say the phrase that makes you sound like a jackass.“Nah I’m just joking”
Before I could begin my process of cooling myself with more reasoned conversation, a tall character with a shaved head comes up to me.
“Hey! You’re that photographer guy!”
“I am?”
“Yeah! I saw your pictures on Instagram, they’re really dope!”
“Ah, thanks man.”
“Dude I’m so happy, we need more people who focus on the Hemet scene and not just LA and Orange County.”
“Alright man, you have a good night bro!”
I have absolutely no idea what just happened. Did he see my stuff on instagram? I only posted 1 picture, and now he knows who I am? That is interesting, but now I have gotten side-tracked twice in my goal. Rest up in your car. These people are scaring you, and now they are making conversation? This does not bode well.Oh god. Another person I recognized. Last show they were blonde and wore a Hawaiian shirt. But there they are, plain as day. Nonono, they caught me staring. Was I staring long? I used to have problems with eye contact, but in this state, I can’t help but make others uncomfortable with my bloodshot eyes. Fuck they’re waving, just wave back and nod. Or maybe you should speak? You managed to work your way through 2 conversations, how badly could the 3rd go? No, no, no no, not now. They are too cool to act strange in front of. Walk to your car. Get back and rest up. You are not your usual self, and it will take hours to get back to him. Only 2 hours into the night, and the night has already won. Goodbye terrifying venue, and goodbye evil music. I would love to stay and enjoy you, but I am a mess. Goodbye man with the shaved head, goodbye green-haired rat, goodbye Hawaiian shirt creature. If all goes well, I will sit in my car for another 2 hours until I am okay again, and then I will leave this place forever, and pretend as if everything that has happened tonight was just a bad dream. No more struggling or trying to capture anything, just take the two pictures you got and go home. Keep those pictures of the light bulbs and let them be a reminder of a terrible night in Moreno Valley.Stumble out of the backyard and into the street, rubbing your arms as if they were cold. Pass by that group of teenagers, who possibly have someone just as inebriated as me in their circle. Ignore their sharp eyes and muted sneers. Make it back to your car, Sleep this toxin away. The 12-step program could perhaps be a 1-step program. Step 1 is to remember the worst night you ever had while dazed.Past the sidewalk and into the street. Was it necessary to park so far? You arrived at the show on time, which is an hour earlier than everyone else; the least you could have done was park in a 2 block radius. Nevertheless, keep walking. Another group of people my age. We may be akin, but I have never felt so different to other humans as I do now. Duck your head and turn away. Allow yourself to be intimidated, don't mind their nosy eyeballs. Keep walking to your car.Finally in the beast. This must be where a man peaks. My eyelids are glued together, unable to let in more than Bokeh effects without discernible shape. I have no water. I have no one else besides this car. My devices are too bright for my pupils, can't use my phone to call for help. Who thought giving the schizoid a joint was a good idea?That in-between time situated in the downtime between Paranoise and Happy In Hemet. I understood that I was awkward, so I forked over $5 in cash to a couple vending herb. Hell, I have never even used a lighter before. I had to ask the man vending to light it for me. And he did that. $5 so an uptight prep kid could light up for his 2nd time. And this wasn't no miniscule dab pen, this was the real OG shit. So when I didn't feel the effects kick in after about 20 seconds, why did I feel it necessary to purchase those cookies?"How high does 1 milligram get you?"
"1 milligram won't even affect you."
"How much do you take a night?"
"At least 50."
"I'll take 100."
"That will be $8."
"I have to relax somehow…"
I should have just let myself be. Waited patiently another hour for Happy, taken my pictures, and enjoyed being alone for the show. But no, I felt it necessary to ingest something to meld with the crowd. Being so alone in your life that for just tonight, for this night alone, you'll do something which makes you similar to the others. No amount of THC or LSD will ever make you truly connect with people in the way that matters to you. And then you will end up like me in my vehicle, waiting for yourself to return to your old self, and realizing that the only thing you have in common with others is that you are a junkie; a waster of yourself, and a waster of perfectly good THC that more experienced users could have used.

7:30pm. October 9th. Paranoise.
I arrived at the show at 7:00. This will be the second backyard show I have attended. I know I missed out on a couple previous shows, and seeing others' posts of their experiences made me motivated to travel 40 minutes in a baby blue Toyota to investigate if every experience I have will be the same as the previous.
For the most part, at the birthday celebration taking place on June 12th, my first concert experience, I made a fool of myself. Enticed by a request for local musicians to help fill out a setlist, I offered my services in exchange for exposure. Hell, I hadn’t even created a logo yet. I had to explain the style of font I would like to represent myself to the creator of the flier. I arrived on time - which is an hour too early - with a recently purchased acoustic guitar, flannel, and jean jacket. I waltzed into that backyard with the swagger of an experienced performer and bombed in front of all to see. At this time I was a heavy drinker, downing 90-proof nectar like sweet, sweet charity. So of course, before the set I downed a Modelo to blend in with the crowd, and then proceeded to subject others to a Modest Mouse cover, a rendition of “Psycho Killer” with the French being more or less improvised on the spot, and a Violent Femmes song that I didn’t learn before attempting to perform. I hurried off stage after bumping into the microphone too many times, and proceeded to drink more and more while watching the rest of the musicians. Were they good or not? I’m not quite sure, but I nevertheless had a good time. Drinking of course, but also putting to test a newly acquired Canon Rebel T7. Don’t bother looking at those pictures, just pretend as if they were good.
In case blue and red lights start flashing, I choose to park my car a considerable distance away from the spot. I’d rather walk for longer than be unable to escape. But I’m not too worried, I don’t plan on doing anything anyways. I don’t plan on getting wasted at these shows like others do, I’m just here to try to find a band I like and to take pictures.
The first band up is this set of men adorned in white suits named "Paranoise". At first I'm reminded of DEVO, the experimental rock band from the 70's who also wore matching costumes. Once the music has commenced, the speed is quick and strong. The bassist frequently hops on top of his amp, blasting white noise through his amp. The vocalist uses a distorted microphone with a phone receiver as a makeshift pedal, creating a strange soundscape that constricts his tone of voice. The music is off kilter, disjointed from other forms of basic punk I’ve heard. They focus less on pure aggression and exist more so to find grooves and timing they others haven’t quite explored. For the first band I have ever seen while sober in Moreno Valley, I enjoy them.

6:00pm. October 9th, 2022. Before the show starts.
When I asked my friend what the local music in the Inland Empire is like, he told me this;
“The Inland Empire is not Los Angeles. The Inland Empire is not San Diego either. In LA, you’ll find remnants of a generation of hardcore tweakers. You’ll see bands imitate Black Flag, X, Circle Jerks and Bad Religion. And all those bands are good and all, but you need to understand. Hemet is weird. You’ll find some bands who mostly try to copy those huge, commercial hardcore bands, but people get bored of them quickly. Some of these towns are seen as backwater-shitholes. Most of them are the scraps of another more affluent city. Hemet is in the armpit of Temecula, Moreno Valley is in the ass of Riverside and San Bernardino, and don’t even get me started on Perris. But that’s why we make the best music.”
That is what I have to look forward to tonight. I have to go into this night expecting to be surprised, and having to understand that I may be uncomfortable. This isn’t the regular milque-toast bourgeois cover bands, this is the real shit. And I may not be prepared for what happens. I’m not here to get intoxicated no more, I must go out there and just try to enjoy myself. And that’s all anyone in this town can ever do.

Noz; Uses, Abuses, and its Effect on the Punk Community

Nitrous Oxide, more commonly known as “laughing gas” or “noz”, has become a customary fixture within the punk scene in the Inland Empire. While the ravers have ecstasy, the tweakers have cocaine, and the most annoying people you will ever meet have DMT, colorful shaped balloons created by rustic tanks filled with something different to helium have littered the dust covered backyards of venues and the hands of goons. A quick thrill for five bucks has made groups of friends scrounging around asking others for cash a common sight, and even more common sight to see those same scroungers sitting together on the floor, giggling to themselves with glazed over eyes. Their high is a fleeting one, lasting hardly a few minutes, and requiring them to continue pursuing their euphoria with rapid fire hits and drags. The consumers of this mist are not quite sure of the true science behind the effects, nor are they concerned about the lasting latter effects. They are more concerned with assimilating with their friends and quenching their urges.If you are someone who is unaware of the taste and reactions behind Noz, many questions should be answered concerning these balloons. Matters of abuse, how they function and how to remedy adverse conditions should be in ready circulation. No matter your beliefs or what judgements you hold towards these junkies, harm reduction techniques are important to the community and should be well known for yours and your friend’s sake. Furthermore, the history and culture behind Noz has always been very clandestine, lurking beneath the underbellies of parties, gatherings and celebrations. Records of its use in recreation dates as far back as 1799. And yet, unlike marijuana, alcohol, speed or any other sort of drug, there has never been a discernible culture taken from its use. Its use in paraphernalia and art is unknown, and the most famous users of the drug have been dismissive of their use of it.The goal of this article is to inform the reader of what Nitrous Oxide is, its history, its uses, and its effect on our scene. It is not a PSA or an argument for its use. The article will reflect the writer’s feelings towards the drug, but will avoid casting aspersions onto the users themselves. At the bottom of the page, there will be a link to 3 recovery centers in Temecula, Hemet, and Moreno Valley. The article will briefly divulge into the territory of fiction as the writer speculates on Nitrous Oxides' uses in art and ideas the writer had for interpretations of the phenomenon surrounding the drug.

The History of Noz and Edgar Allen Poe’s Cousin

In the 18th century, polymath Joseph Priestley was given an extraordinary amount of leisure to experiment while serving under Lord Shelburne. At this time, oxygen had not been discovered, and all forms of gas in the atmosphere were simply referred to as “air”. Scientists believed there to only be four elements, earth, water, fire and air. Presumably, whilst being bored out of his mind waiting for a letter back from his muse Benjamin Franklin, Joseph decided to focus on the last element, to understand its components, how it is formed and how to deconstruct it. He chose to prove there were different kinds of “air” and that the four element model of understanding the world was outdated, believing that different kinds of air could be used to prove a more specific composition behind the matter in which we live. His work, titled Experiments and Observations on Different Kinds of Air, is a six-volume manuscript that hasn’t been fully classified. It is a mix of chemistry, physics, and natural philosophy centered around his experiments and observations, discerning different vapors into categories unique to themselves. Through this, his “dephlogisticated nitrous air” was created by heating iron filings dampened with nitric acid. Twenty years later, a duo of two chemists, Thomas Beddoes and James Watt, published Considerations on the Medical Use and on the Production of Factitious Airs. This piece included a machine which could create "factitious airs" (such as nitrous oxide) and a device in which to inhale these fumes. Thomas Beddoes proposed the idea that lung diseases could be treated by ingesting these toxins. A prodigy of Beddoe, Humphry Davy was encouraged to experiment on patients with the drug. In his nonchalant and very imaginative testing, Davy found use of the fumes as an anesthetic, and he coined the colloquial term “laughing gas”.
Before Davy could publish his work, “laughing gas” became a commonality among high class parties in England. The nobility of Britain found the drug before the doctors, dentists, or orthodontists started using it, and it was birthed for recreation. Keep that in mind; it was in 1844 that dentist Horace Wells first used the gas to sedate his patients, and it was in 1799 that the junkie royalty got their hands on it. While nitrous oxide can be found naturally in the ozone, created by bacteria in soil and water, the recreational wasn’t something that people happened upon. Nitrous oxide was designed as a drug first, then as a propellant, and then as a medical device. This places Nos not in the category of natural drugs, such as blue agave, mushrooms, opium, marijuana or my personal favorite datura, but instead with synthesized drugs, such as heroin, bath salts, methamphetamine and my arch nemesis; ecstasy.
One of the first and most important users and producers of nitrous oxide was George Poe, cousin of Edgar Allen Poe. Unlike his poet relative, George Poe created a nitrous oxide production plant after his time in the civil war. Discovering he could liquify his product and ship in bulk, Poe began supplying over 5,000 dentists across the country with his love. Interestingly, one of his clients from Cleveland requested 4,000 gallons. Most likely using it and selling it for reasons less than medical.
In his spare time, George began experimenting with other uses of the chemical. With a set of tools scattered around his factory, mostly tubing and oxygen cylinders, he discovered he could resuscitate rats and rabbits he had found suffocated. Must’ve been strange, seeing a dead animal and having your first instinct be to pump it full of laughing gas. But he did, and now we can speculate that all members of the Poe family had an interest in the macabre. He embarked on a tour across the United States, showcasing his idea to anyone willing to listen. Impressed physicians were astounded, even more so when Poe increased his wagers. On one stage, he smothered a dog in front of a bewildered audience. He then revived it; granted, thereafter the dog had a bit of a wobble. He presented this finding to crowds of doctors, medical professionals, and what you have to assume are people interested in the smothering of small animals. He argued that his finding could be used to rescue humans who had drowned or were poisoned with gas lamps.
Perhaps if there is someone who becomes suffocated while at a local show, we could resuscitate them with our delicious balloons. Maybe we should leave that discovery to greater minds. Stoner ingenuity is a very well-documented phenomenon, but I’d trust a narcan much more than a balloon.

Effects on the Body; Briefly Good, Many Negatives

When nitrous oxide travels through your esophagus and makes way into your lungs, an immediate sense of sedation manifests in the body. A numbness of muscles, loss of basic motor functions and a strange dreariness inhibits the user’s dexterity. Many times this relaxation comes with the fits; temporary moments of giddiness and laughter. Some people have reported having distortions in perception; hallucinations. Hearing or seeing people untrue. Odd sequences and timings reverberating around oneself. The European aristocracy which fancied the drug reported the effects as feeling as “like returning from a walk in the snow into a warm room."
There are few documentations of the side effects of mixing the drugs with others. It seems that many sedatives, such as cannabis, ketamine, LSD, magic mushroom and salvia can cause intense dissociation when mixed with nitrous oxide. The one instance that I found more interesting was the interactions nitrous has with alcohol, as one of the main dangers of using nitrous is falling due to loss of motor functions. It is very easy to become confused and delirious when experimenting with alcohol and nitrous, and movements while being infected by the two become imprudent. If you plan on crossfading, just know there is a tried and true method for doing so that doesn’t involve nitrous. I recommend doing that as opposed to experimenting with something as fleeting as Noz.
Vitamin B12 deficiency is the reason the drug is considered neurotoxic. When nitrous oxide inactivates the vitamin needed by the body, a process called peripheral and central demyelination occurs. The mechanisms of how this affects your body is complex, involving the damage of the myelin sheath of your neurons, altering the conduction of affected nerves . This leads to a host of effects such as Diplopia (blurred double vision), Ataxia (lack of coordination of movements), fatigue, Clonus (Muscle Spasm), Paresthesias (strange sensations on the skin), and perhaps the most alarming to you readers - Genital Anesthesia (No feeling in the genitals.)
There have been deaths from nitrous oxide abuse, mostly from asphyxiation. Most recently, a 15 year old Irish boy died after using, resulting in Ireland classing nitrous as a dangerous narcotic. From 2010 to 2016, there have been 24 deaths reported in England that mentioned nitrous oxide.

Harm Reduction

(The part of the article that actually matters)

Whilst I recommend against it, I know others will continue to use Noz. Here are ways to ensure you do so safely and with the least amount of damage to yourself.- Sit down while using Noz. Noz weakens the muscles and stutters motor skills, making it very likely to fall while standing. This is the simplest measure you can take, so don’t be stupid.- Never inhale directly from the tank. The gas inside a tank is compressed and frigid, freezing your gums if you were to try to put your mouth anywhere inside it. Frostbite along the lips is perhaps one of the most painful deaths you can ever be struck with.- Symptoms most often highlighted by Noz specifically are anemia, neuropathy, tinnitus, and numbness.- Vitamin B supplements are not going to prevent you from damaging your brain cells, however, these supplements are used along with abstinence when treating Vitamin B12 deficiency and are the best options to safely withdraw from the drug.- Industrial nitrous oxide, such as that used in automobiles, is very impure and should not be inhaled. These impurities damage lungs, the esophagus, and places harmful chemicals within the body.- Do not use nitrous without oxygen mixed in. The reason the Noz used by dentists is safer to inhale than other forms of the drug is because the nitrous is diluted more with oxygen, allowing O2 to travel to the brain. Using Noz without oxygen can lead to loss of blood pressure, fainting and heart attacks.- Do not use a strap-on mask or hold your breath excessively when using Noz. Remember, the most common death relating to nitrous oxide is asphyxiation. Holding your breath and refusing yourself fresh air will not lead to a more intense high or stronger sensation; it will only damage yourself more.- If you are already Vitamin B12 deficient, nitrous oxide will harm you even more so than others. If you do not know if you are Vitamin B deficient, but you feel sleepy often, have poor motor skills, or sometimes have trouble controlling your bowels, get yourself tested. And if you are anemic or are iron-deficient, DO NOT USE NOZ. Funny that, because I’m sure half of you readers fall into that category.

The Culture Surrounding Noz

When examining any sort of subculture, one can often point towards the great forefathers of that community to learn about that particular perception. When researching recreational drugs, there are plenty of characters you naturally associate with the substances. For example, if I were to ask you about famous weed smokers, it is easy to imagine your answers; Snoop Dogg, Willie Nelson, Cheech & Chong, Seth Rogan, Whoopi Goldberg, Rihanna and Bob Marley are all fantastic and interesting people who have advocated and altered how society views marijuana.
What about a less socially accepted drug, such as cocaine? Certain characters still appear in the mind; Scarface, John Belushi, David Bowie, and in an instance that is both strange while making complete sense, Sigmund Freud. DMT has Joe Rogan, Mescaline has Hunter S. Thompson, LSD has the Merry Pranksters and almost every musician in the 60’s. But when I say “nitrous oxide”, who appears in your head? From the few people who I felt comfortable enough to admit this strange interest and thought experiment to, not many answers were given. They mostly spoke of local punks and users, but not of anyone who we traditionally refer to as “famous”. It was even difficult to name fictional nitrous abusers, apart from one man; The Dentist.
The Dentist from the play and musical Little Shop Of Horrors is one of the few examples of onscreen nitrous abusers. His classic song, in which he describes his sadistic impulses and joys in torturing animals and people, culminates into a suggestion from his mother to become a dentist; a profession in which his tendencies are sought after and encouraged. In order to enjoy the pain he is excited to inflict upon the main character, the Dentist chooses to affix himself with a gas mask that allows him to inhale copious amounts of nitrous. After breathing in an absurd dosage, all while howling manically, the mask breaks, smothering his breath and disallowing oxygen into his lungs. His last lines within the Broadway production of the play are;
“Are you dumb or hard of hearing?
Or relieved my end is nearing...
Are you satisfied?
I laughed myself to… Death?.”
Demi Moore, a lead actress in A Few Good Men and G. I. Jane, was sent to the emergency room after suffering the symptoms of a seizure triggered by Noz.
Tony Hsieh, chief executive of the online shoe store Zappos, was found dead from a house fire, November 2020. Firefighters reported that Mr. Hsieh may have been intoxicated when the fire started, noting that he was found in the presence of “several Whip-It brand nitrous oxide chargers” and a “whipping cream dispenser.”
Perhaps the most interesting user I learned about while researching this drug is Steve-O from Jackass. The legend of Steve-O is one of a party-animal; Human shark bait, scrotum stapling, alligator acrobatics, jellyfish fedoras, prostate pyrotechnics and porta-potty propellers are different stunts which Steve-O made famous. And many of the films he has appeared in are placed along my DVD shelf along with such choice cinema such as The Godfather, Raging Bull, and Barry Lyndon. But his struggles with addiction due to his fraternity-like exploration of human sensations has created one of the most interesting and horrifying accounts of nitrous Oxide abuse ever recorded. From the New York Times;“I had tactile hallucinations, visual hallucinations, audio hallucinations” — some of them so strong that “it sounded exactly like I had an earpiece in my ear,” he said. He described voices compelling him to keep consuming the drug.“I was being instructed to kill myself, and I considered that demon spirits,” he said. He recalled “writhing on the floor, pounding on the floor, trying to not breathe” in between hits of nitrous. “A lot of times I just failed, I’d end up breathing,” he said, and his demons would berate him.Steve-O has now been sober for fourteen years. In comparison to other founding members of Jackass, namely Bam Margera, Steve-O is doing amazing. Ever since going cold-turkey, Steve-O has released a book, released multiple new movies, a documentary and is now on tour.

Artistic Interpretations and Musings on the Drug

Here is a set of disconnected musings and strange connections the drug possesses;- Many users of the drug in the punk scene wear gothic and victorian era fashion. Similar to the European aristocracy, I’ll see people in dresses, corsets and gowns huffing balloons like their ancestors may have some 200 years ago.- I have observed the resurgence of jester and clown style makeup and attire introducing itself back into the underground scene. I remember seeing Juggalos and very foul smelling fans of The Garden painting their faces white, with black, raccoon-like circles around the eyelids and marionette-style facial structures. A recent fascination with the Fool tarot card, clown emojis, puppetry and “Clussy” (don’t ask me how I know about this) has swept a large majority of my friends and colleagues. Despite how attractive the makeup style may be, I instead imagine one of these characters using whimsical balloons for recreation. Like a junkie Pennywise. Singing songs and dancing for the court whilst sipping sweet laughing gas and giggling past the pain of being the clown. Smile, though your heart is aching, do the song and your silly dance, with your happy-colored marbles that roll within your head. Send in the clown, and laugh at your absurdism. The concept of getting high off balloons is wild, much more when you realize that it might be a child doing so.- Nitrous oxide is the single biggest contributor to Ozone Layer depletion. Not only that, nitrous oxide has the potential to become the world’s leading cause of global warming. Because of the gas’s density and molecular structure, nitrous oxide has 265 times the atmospheric heat-trapping ability of carbon dioxide. Thankfully, the low concentration of N2O in the atmosphere makes it contribute less than 1/3rd of the greenhouse effect in comparison to CO2. It isn’t as threatening as water vapor and Methane either, however it is still one of the main gasses being combated in the fight against global pollution. The total amount of nitrous oxide released that is of human origins is about 40 percent. Of course, the cause of human emissions isn’t junkies, it is the synthesizing of nitric acid and use of nitrous fertilizers in agriculture. However, there is an interesting parallel between a gas which damages the planet and how the recreational drug damages brain cells. Most addicts I have met are in some form motivated in their ailments by the nihilism and pessimism towards the future of the world; the logic goes, “We only have a little bit of time left on this Earth. We should enjoy it while we can. Ergo, give me some Noz.”- Balloons are most often seen in parties, especially those of young children. Birthdays, corporate functions, and school events often feature balloons which appease the minds of infants everywhere. I myself like them too, especially seeing the artistry needed to be able to manipulate and contort the latex into cute shapes. A small, childlike part of me likes seeing a dachshund being formulated by a craftsman referred to by others as a “clown”. It’s a strange thing to admit, as I normally carry myself very professionally and enjoy speaking with a sense of authority and sternness. But I love balloon animals, balloon sculptures and decorations. And after I observe one of these fiends try some sweet vapor, I see them feel the jollyness I have. I see them play with the balloons, tossing them up in the air in their euphoria and chortling like little babies. Deep down, everyone loves how fun it is to play with balloons, and the use of nitrous reverts staunch hoodlums back into that childlike sense of whimsy.- I found in some of my readings the idea proposed to fill condoms with nitrous instead of balloons. I refer to this as an idea as opposed to the reality because I refuse to believe other people are doing that. If you know of anyone or you yourself have taken nitrous with a device usually reserved for sheathing a phallic johnson, feel free to keep that information to yourself.- There’s a video on Youtube titled “LA Punk Show”. In the video, at around 0:19, there is a very large man who appears with a balloon in hand. While answering an interviewer’s question, the portly force of nature takes an enormous drag of his balloon. If there has to be a figurehead for all the young Noz junkies, please make it this man.- Call it Nos, Noz or nitrous oxide, please don’t call them “Nangs”. That’s the name the Brits and the Aussies have started calling Noz containers. The name “Noz” is already very stupid, don’t make it worse.

Noz is strange. It's a low-quality drug that hits you as fast as it leaves you, making you chase after the taste more and more as it departs your body. It is not a drug which will expand your horizons or reshape your thought process. It is not one of those drugs which make normally stubborn and tense men feel empathy. It is not one of those drugs which you can use and be productive. There is no earthly connection in it, it provides no spiritual guidance. It is simply junk food for your brain. So the question, which I created this piece to answer, still remains. Why?A part of me doesn't want to admit it, but the answer to that is very simple. Nitrous Oxide is a cheap drug. It is cheaply produced, cheaply bought, cheaply stored and cheaply used. It is what you get when you do not have enough money for a cart and do not have a good hiding place for alcohol. It is cheap, no matter what history it has in upper-class European ballrooms, or in the mansions of affluent dentists. There is no greater answer or piece of knowledge to be gained in the taking or the researching of Nitrous Oxide, and ultimately, no matter how fascinating the look or aesthetics of it may be, there is nothing to be gained in the understanding of the science in which the drug was created. It is just an inexpensive thrill younger generations are partaking in, one which will inevitably lead to consequences later in their lifetime. Que sera, sera. What will be, will be. And I hope for the generations younger than I who are already feeling the adverse consequences of a world which generally, and predominately, does not care about the junkie, nor never will.- For Hemet readers looking for rehab,
- For Temecula readers looking for rehab,
-For Moreno Valley readers looking for rehab,
- Joseph King, The 9th of December, 2022.