It’s 90 degrees in the offices of KNON, the Voice of the People. On a barstool outside the broadcast booth, a fifteen-year-old boy with a blond mohawk and black leather jacket looks as if he might start crying any second. His parents don’t understand him—they think that because he’s a punk he must be on drugs, breaking the law, and maybe becoming suicidal like all those kids in Plano. Last week, as he stood in the hall outside his parents’ room, he heard them talking about putting him away in some kind of hospital. So tonight, Saturday night, he has come to the ramshackle KNON studio just east of downtown Dallas to be near someone he knows will understand him: Shaggy. Shaggy is older—she’s seventeen—and she picks up stray kids like him all the time. She’s a disc jockey at the community-supported station; her show, The Pajama Party, runs Saturday nights from midnight to 4 a.m., sending out new wave and punk music to people who never hear it anywhere else. Right now Shaggy is on the air, and the kid with the mohawk is waiting to talk to her. So are three people blinking on hold, a couple of guys with the Tokyo dogs in the broadcast booth, and three sweltering punks banging on the locked door downstairs. Midway through The Pajama Party‘s “Un-cool Hour,” Shaggy punches line one.
“Hello, you’re on the air,” she says.
“Um, yeah,” says a girl with a North Dallas Val twang, “I just wanted to say that I think it’s really uncool for your mom to like make you change channels because Suicidal Tendencies is on.”
“Whoa!” Shaggy says. “Somebody wouldn’t let you watch a Suicidal Tendencies video, right?”
“Whoa! Uncool! What could be so terrible about Suicidal Tendencies?”
“I know,” the girl says. “I feel the same way. Totally.”
“Hey, what does your mom think about the new band U2?”
“She hates ‘em.”
“She hates U2. Hey, Charlie,” Shaggy says to a guy who keeps track of her albums, “bring me those lyrics. Hey, go get your mom. I want her to hear this.”
“Are you serious?”
“Yeah. Turn up the radio real loud, okay?”
“Hey, Mom, are you listening?”
“Yeah, she’s listening.”
“Okay. Mom, this is a quote from a band that was inspired by other European bands. This is evil punk rock we’re talking about here. And this is a line from one of their songs: ‘And it’s true we are immune,/When fact is fiction and TV is reality,/And today the millions cry,/We eat and drink while tomorrow they die./The real battle just begun./To claim the victory Jesus won,/On a Sunday, bloody Sunday.’ And that’s one of these terrible bands, right? Seriously, that’s something I’m kind of into, so if she has any more questions she can call me, and I’d be more than happy to talk to her.”
“Oh, wow,” the girls says. “Coo-ool!”
“Okay. And I’ll play some Suicidal Tendencies for you sometime.”
Shaggy’s real name is Nancy Moore; her nickname comes from British slang, as in, “I’m all shagged out, tired, bummed out.” She has been doing The Pajama Party on KNON since she volunteered to be a DJ at the station in January 1984, when she was only sixteen.
A year ago this month, just after her seventeenth birthday, Shaggy moved out of her parents’ house in North Dallas, where she’d lived all her life, and into an old Oak Lawn rent house called the Bill House with a bunch of teenage punks. She was becoming a minicelebrity of sorts, but she had a lot in common with her roommates: an exotic, razor-clipped haircut (hers had a dyed-blond mohawk streak down the middle), a passion for loud punk rock, and a thrilling sense of freedom at being on her own, in an all-night carnival where everyone around her was her dearest, closest friend. One of her roommates had moved from Wichita Falls, not known as a mecca for punks, and one was up from her wealthy parents’ home in New Orleans, slumming for kicks with her Audi parked out front. Nearly all of them had had trouble with their parents.
In a way, Shaggy had started her move to the Bill House years before, when she became a punk at age fourteen. Those last three years had been terribly unhappy ones for her; she felt alienated and alone at school (she was one of only two punks at Hillcrest High), and things were worse at home. Her father had Alzheimer’s disease and hadn’t worked since Shaggy was thirteen; her mother suffered from high blood pressure and arthritis and also couldn’t work. The family lived on Social Security and disability checks. Shaggy got her first job when she was just twelve, taking phone orders at Marco’s Pizza at Preston and Royal Lane. She’d worked ever since then and used her own money to buy whatever she needed. Hanging out with other punks—going to new wave concerts, dancing in the parking lot of the Hot Klüb when she was too young to fake her way inside, feeling that she was around interesting people who accepted her—was about the only thing that kept her going during those years. Shaggy, the youngest of four children and the only girl (her brothers were all grown and gone), was growing up in a crumbling, unhappy house with parents who were both in their sixties and who didn’t understand her, who misinterpreted her punk lifestyle as something dangerous and obscene. She had to get out or she’d explode. The month before she left, she was so nervous and tense from trouble at school and home and worrying about her parents that she had to go to a hospital for a stress-related nerve disorder. But once she was in the Bill House, carrying in her stuff and picking out her room, she felt safe. For the first time in years she was in a place that felt like home.
If you listened to The Pajama Party, you’d learn a lot about Shaggy. For one thing, you’d know about something else that has kept her going—religion. She’s not boringly, obnoxiously religious; she just believes in it and wears crucifix earrings not merely as jewelry, like a lot of punks do. Sometimes she reads Scripture from the Bible during her show to startle people, keep them awake, and maybe inspire somebody. But she sticks to the coolest chapters, like in Revelation.
You’ll hear her do that if you’re in Dallas on a Saturday night, tuning into the far left end of the FM dial, looking for something different. You’ll hear the staticky murmur of a sweet, excited girl’s voice: “You’re tuned to ninety-point-nine KNON, the Voice of the People. I’m Shaggy, and this is The Pajama Party. So listen up. Get a move on. Crawl out from under that rock! Now, only by request, here’s Wall of Voodoo. Or is that Doodoo? Whoops! Sorry! Voodoo!”
Shaggy spins Wall of Voodoo, the Pretenders, the Cure, the Psychedelic Furs, Depeche Mode, Midnight Oil, Gang of Four—bands that have almost never been heard on Dallas radio. Between cuts, she interviews local punk bands (“Yeah, like, um, we were going to bring in a tape with some of our stuff on it, but Danny forgot it”), she reads public service announcements that reflect her station’s leftist sympathies (“We need whatever you can send to help those poor Nicaraguan children—blankets, toys, clothing, shoes, amplifiers, air-to-air missiles”), and she opens her mike to an assortment of oddball punks and misguided youths who happen by KNON on their way to the Twilite Room or On the Air.
If you listened to The Pajama Party all the time, you would swear that you almost knew her. While she was seventeen, Shaggy grew up in the world and on the air.
It’s a hot Saturday morning a week after the troubled kid with the mohawk came to Shaggy for advice. It turns out he really was on drugs, and his parents really are sending him to a hospital someplace. So it goes. Shaggy is supposed to be ready for breakfast at 11 a.m., but the Bill House looks awfully quiet. A tire swing sways gently from an oak tree in the front yard, and Mexican American children are playing soccer in the quiet distance behind the high school across the street.
Shaggy comes to the door, rubbing her eyes and squinting at the blazing sunlight shooting at her unmercifully through the glass. She holds a finger to her lips. She’s had as many as seven roommates the past couple of months, but right now she has just three—and one of them, Jennifer, who has the Audi and the only checkbook in the house, is moving out. Royce, whom Shaggy met at a Clash concert in Wichita Falls a year ago, and Diana, a friend of Shaggy’s from Hillcrest, are asleep. So are four or five kids, the dregs of a punk band from out of town that played the Twilite Room last night. Punks can seem intimidating—though they rarely are, especially the mild Texas variety—but when they’re asleep they can’t scowl or pose; even with their leather wrist bands and spiky, razor-chopped haircuts, they look terribly innocent and undernourished, babies with made-up faces.
Shaggy steps quietly toward her room near the back of the house. The walls are covered with posters of British punk bands like U2 and Gang of Four. The furniture is a mélange of whatever the roommates have been able to wrangle from garage sales or their parents: a scratched end table here, a turquoise vinyl dining room chair there. In Shaggy’s room there are posters tacked on posters. Beside her bed is a nightstand bearing a Bible, pictures of her father and grandmother, and a photo of a punk band called Lords of the New Church. Shaggy has to be quiet even in her room because Royce sleeps in a big walk-in closet off the foot of her bed. He’s always coming home a couple of hours after Shaggy goes to sleep, jumping up and down on her bed to wake her up, giving her the latest gossip about what’s happening at the Twilite Room and on the street. Last night he came in, drunk, to relate his latest adventure. After a long night out, he and a Mesquite cowgirl-punk named Daze robbed a flagpole and divided the booty: she got the Texas flag, he got the Stars and Striped. He’s sleeping underneath them now, while Shaggy pulls on a pair of hightop basketball shoes that were autographed by the UK Subs. They’re men’s size tens. Shaggy has a trim figure, but she has enormous feet and stands nearly six feet tall. Her hair varies. It’s usually dark blond, and sometimes she makes it stand on end, as if by static electricity. Other times, she combs is neatly and flat to the side, like a boy’s. Today it just looks slept on.
“Do you know why we named this the Bill House?” she half-whispers, sitting at her vanity to run a brush experimentally through her hair. “One day we were all sitting out on the front porch, which we do a lot because it’s a nice porch to sit on, and someone said, ‘This house needs a name!’ And this boy named Ernie said, out of nowhere, ‘Bill!’ And it stuck.” She stands up, ties a black bandanna around her ankle, and slaps the thighs of her jeans, as if she expects dust to fly from them. She has to be at work at Sound Warehouse Records and Video by twelve-thirty, so a quick decision is made about breakfast: Chinese.
“My home life was kind of difficult,” she says a few minutes later, wrapping a spongy Chinese pancake around some mooshi pork at the New Big Wong. “More difficult than most people my age have to go through. My dad’s disabled, you know, and so basically I’m more independent than most people. It just made more sense for me to go ahead and get out and get started early, because I’m going to have to do it anyway.”
When Shaggy moved out of her parents’ house in May, a drama played itself out on the front lawn. Tensions had been boiling between them for weeks; at one point her mother threatened to put her in a mental institution. As Shaggy carried armloads of her things out to Diana’s yellow Datsun, her mother screamed, “You’re not taking that out of this house!” And Shaggy screamed back, “Fine! I don’t want any of it! I don’t ever want to set foot in this house again! I hate you!” For her first two weeks in the Bill House, Shaggy slept on a lawn chair, until she saved enough money to buy a bed at a garage sale for $40.
Ever since Shaggy had become a punk, her mother had worried that she was on drugs, getting in trouble, turning out bad. That worry turned into fear and then into anger. Over the next three years things got worse and worse between them. Shaggy had found something in the punk scene—a sense of camaraderie, of freedom, of belonging—that she had never felt before and desperately needed. When she was out till two in the morning with Diana or her friend Naneen, trying to get into the Hot Klüb, standing around with her friends all punked out and talking, she was happy. Her mother saw something else, though. To her the punk stuff seemed violent, jarring, and she imagined the worst about the world her daughter had embraced.
“All three of her sons hadn’t turned out like, you know, perfect kids,” Shaggy says. “ I was her only hope at perfection, at the cheerleader and the straight-A student. But that just wasn’t me.”
Her parents’ house was suffocating her. It had fallen into disrepair and neglect; the kitchen stove stopped working and never got fixed, so everybody ate fast food out. And the house was jammed with years’ worth of stuff Shaggy’s parents refused to throw away: newspapers, coupons, receipts, trash, clutter. Each room had paths you had to walk through. Shaggy’s friends—the few she ever allowed to see the inside of her house—were appalled and couldn’t believe she could live like that. One told her she would have given up if it had been her.
“My mother and I went up and down, back and forth, vicious, vicious, vicious,” Shaggy says. “ I tried to make her understand. I would literally sit down and say, ‘Mother, I want to talk to you. I don’t want to fight with you anymore. I want to tell you the absolute truth about where I’m coming from.’ And she’d just be like, ‘Nyah nyah nyah nyah nyah!’
“But for the whole time, I never lost respect for my mother. I got angry with her. I thought I’d never be able to forgive her. But I did. I’ve always felt like she and I had a lot in common. She used to run around with musicians and stuff when she was young. I think that’s what scared her most, is she saw that in me. She was just afraid for me. Things are a lot better now. She came to the Bill House one day, and she started bringing me things. She was the first parental unit out of all those people to come to the house. I think she started to miss me.”
Talking about her parents so much is starting to depress her, so she moves on to other things, to Royce and Diana, her “absolute favorite people in the world,” and to the different kinds of punks in Dallas. They have a whole breakdown of classes: the skate punks, who like hard-core punk music and skull tattoos and big, wide skateboards; the posers, kids who like the fashion and affect British accents but don’t have a clue about anything; the new wavers, friendly kids who hang out at On the Air and are pretty cool but not really political; original punks, who were around when it all started in the seventies and should have outgrown it but haven’t, even though some of them are in their thirties now; the peace punks, who, like Shaggy, listen to positive bands like U2 and the Alarm and try to get along with everybody; and then there’s the Pinky’s crowd. They’re the punk equivalent of high school socialites. They get their name from Pinky’s, a ritzy, chic boutique across the street from On the Air that sells stylish new wave designs at absurdly high prices. The Pinky’s crowd shops there, whipping out their fathers’ Visa cards whenever they see something in the window they like. “I definitely don’t dig that kind of crowd,” Shaggy says. Otherwise, Shaggy doesn’t align herself with any one group; she wants to speak to them all. As she says that, she realizes she is almost late for work. There are people wandering the streets who need to buy some records.
The GOP convention is coming to Dallas in one week, and everybody’s talking about it. During the Democratic one in San Francisco, police arrested scores of rampaging punks on TV every day, so the hard-core punks in Dallas feel almost obligated to cause trouble. They always think they’re behind what’s going on in the punk scenes out in California anyway. In 1984, being a punk against Reagan is extremely fashionable.
KNON, which is plastered with bumper stickers and posters that say things like “Reagan-Bush ‘84, Nuclear-War ‘85,” is coordinating communications for some of the protest groups banding together in the August heat, and meanwhile Shaggy has had the owner of the Twilite Room on The Pajama Party, urging the Dallas punks not to get talked into doing anything dumb. A Rock Against Reagan punk concert is scheduled for next weekend; there’s talk that the Dead Kennedys will be coming down from New York to do the show.
Things are happening at the Bill House too. After Jennifer drove off for good, taking her Audi and the only checkbook in the house with her, a twenty-year-old skate punk named Jenny moved in to share a room with Diana. Jenny and Diana were like best friends at first, but that went downhill fast when it turned out that Jenny liked to live in a clean house. Diana isn’t that concerned about housekeeping, and besides, she bridles at any form of discipline or authority. So since the morning when Jenny woke Diana up at eight demanding that she sweep the floor, roommate relations have soured. Shaggy and Jenny get along great, though. After so many scrungy, irresponsible roommates, it’s nice to have one who enjoys a living room that’s free of spilled beer. Shaggy is changing. She’s not as tense and tough as she was when she moved in a few months ago, and she’s looking a lot straighter too. She cooks meat loaf, she mops the floors, she shakes out the welcome mat. More and more, she’s getting into turning the Bill House into a home.
On this particular Sunday night, though, Shaggy is tipsy. She’s leaning against a pillar at the 8.0. Bar, after drinking exactly one and one-third Tom Collinses. Since she rarely drinks, the small amount of gin has a dramatic effect on her. Her eyes seem in soft focus, like the eyes of models in Penthouse. If you knew Shaggy only over the radio, you’d never guess this was her: she looks like . . . a woman. Her short hair is neatly styled, brushed carefully to one side. Her lips have lipstick on them. She’s wearing a conservatively cut, gray, knee-length dress, panty hose, and high heels. She looks more like 25 than 17, which is how she got in without being asked for her ID.
The 8.0. is crowded; it’s Sunday Night A-Go-Go, and people are dancing to a band called the Fact. The lead singer, a thin, blond, brown-eyed guy named Steve Powell, is singing “A Hard Day’s Night.” Shaggy is in love with him. She decides that she always has, and always will, love him. As she decides that, she sways slightly. She leans against her pillar, points her index finger to her heart, and says, “Ouch,” just like ET. The sad part is that Powell’s girlfriend is only ten feet away, running the band’s sound board. Shaggy thinks they may be getting married, which arouses in her a resigned, bittersweet melancholy, complicated by the fact that she has barely even met Steve Powell. He’s her only real local-band crush. She gets hysterically melancholy when Mike Peters of the Alarm comes to Dallas, or Bono of U2.
A guy Shaggy know weaves his way through the 8.0. crowd and stops by her side, relating his latest woes concerning his girlfriend. Shaggy, who has been drifting just a little, suddenly gets crystal clear.
“Don’t give up!” she says passionately. “You never know. There was this guy that I thought I’d never see again—he stole my heart. And he stole my bass too. No, really! He really stole my bass. We were going out, and he like gave me his class ring and everything, and then I heard he was seeing this girl. And after a while he had this girl, his new girlfriend, call me up and ask for the ring back. Can you believe the unbelievable gall? So that was it. I said I’m never seeing or talking to this jerko guy again.”
As if troubled by the memory, she sips one of the remaining thirds of her Tom Collins through a skinny red straw and looks up to glance at the Fact.
“And anyway, one day, out of the blue, I called him. And I’ve talked to him since then, and today he came by Sound Warehouse and filled out an application, and now we might be working together. So you see? You never know.”
Apparently convinced, her lovesick friend heads back to the bar. Steve Powell is singing, “There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for a girl like you.”
“I’ve never really had a real boyfriend that really added up to anything,” Shaggy says, filling in the details about the guy who broke her heart. He was a senior from Mesquite High School when she met him in line at the Rocky Horror Picture Show; she was a freshman at Hillcrest. Her parents wouldn’t let her date back then, so all they managed in the two months they saw each other were some stolen kisses by the Asteroids machine at a Preston Royal video arcade. Since then, the closest thing she’s had to a boyfriend is two sort-of dates with a British guitarist named Rob, who came through Dallas twice with a San Francisco band named Toxic Reasons. There are also a few guys who call her all the time at her show. One, an Italian kid named John Valenti, sent money off to someplace so a star could officially be named after Shaggy. So far, though, the Italian boy is just a voice on the phone.
“Sometimes I’ll wonder, gaw, I’ve never really had like a boyfriend, and I wonder why,” Shaggy says. “And then I remember, hey, I’m only seventeen.”
An hour later she catches a ride back to the Bill House. As she gets out of the car, she’s a little unsteady on her heels. It may be because of the Bill House spectacle. At two-fifteen on a Monday morning, it’s lit up like the World’s Fair. Punk music is blaring from Shaggy’s ancient component stereo, and the living room, which can be seen from the street, is a mass of gesturing, yelling punks. A skater, meanwhile, is riding up and down the sidewalk along the relative quiet of Cole Avenue, his tennis shoes flat against his oversized skateboard. He’s one of the kids from the skate pad down the street. They keep to themselves a lot. Some skaters wear combat boots and shave their heads and read Thrasher magazine and climb on speakers at the Twilite Room so they can jump on the heads of unsuspecting, dancing Pinky’s types. But you’d never suspect that of this kid. He surfs along above the concrete, gliding in and out of the shadows the trees throw against the ground and back into the electric-blue haze of the city streetlights. He looks spooky, thoughtful, phantomlike. Shaggy thinks his name is Ari.
Someone comes out of the Bill House and clues Shaggy in on a controversy brewing inside. Ernie, a New Orleans kid who once actually lived in England, has painted a sign that reads, “No Skate Punks Allowed,” and taped it to the Bill House door. He was mad because he went to a skater party last week and the skaters had hung up their own sign, which read something like “No New Wavers” or “ No Posers.” Since the Bill House is overwhelmingly pro-skate, it’s an argument between Ernie and everybody else. Everyone expects Shaggy to come in and referee.
Even though she’s the youngest of the roommates, younger than almost everybody that hangs around, her stature as a radio star, along with her maturity and her solidity, has made her something of a den mother at the Bill House. She’s not really in the mood to fulfill the role tonight, though; she’s a little bit drunk, and she’s still feeling deliciously tragic about the singer at the 8.0. She feels happy because things are going right for her.
For one, she’s getting along better with her mother than she has in her whole life. They went out for barbecue at the Easy Way a couple of weeks ago and had a nice, long talk. They told each other they never meant those things they said last spring. It was a mother-to-daughter talk, but it also felt like they were both grown-ups. They talked about their problems, what they could do to help each other. The next time Shaggy’s mother came over, she was carrying a sack of groceries. She also brought Shaggy a desk, even though she keeps trying to talk her into moving back home. But there’s no way—Shaggy is having the best summer or her life. She never realized how miserable she was at home until she moved out.
Diana, who has been getting more and more hard-core these days and becoming more and more like the skaters, storms out of the house, furious. “I hate everybody in there, Nancy,” she says to Shaggy. “Except you, and sometimes Royce.” After a couple of fruitless protests, Shaggy agrees to go inside. But she’s not happy about it. Shaggy loves Diana as a friend, but Diana is beginning to drive her nuts as a roommate. That wild, careless, impetuous streak that makes Diana so fun to hang out with can be a severe pain when it comes to cleaning up the kitchen. And besides, some of the skaters Diana has been bringing into the Bill House just don’t get along well with people.
Almost as soon as Shaggy gets in the door, the noise level from the house goes down. It gets so calm, you can hear the sounds Ari’s skateboard makes as he takes another pass down the sidewalk out front. He keeps his eyes on the sidewalk, watching the oncoming cracks, and the wheels of his skateboard go ka-chunk, ka-chunk, ka-CHUNK, ka-CHUNK, ka-chunk, ka-chunk.
Diana is unbelievable. Like a lot of hard-core Dallas skaters, she got herself arrested during the GOP convention. Fed up with four days of boredom in 109-degree heat, fenced off from the action hundreds of yards away, and with almost no attention from TV camera crews, the punks took a frolicking rampage through downtown the day before everything ended. Their chief offense: playing with people’s food at a ritzy Plaza of the Americas restaurant.
During the protest, Diana met some peace punks from Austin. After she got out of the Lew Sterrett Justice Center, she decided Austin was the place for her, and she asked a friend to help her move down there so she could go to Austin Community College and be with her new friends. Just like that. Now she’s living with about a dozen other punks in something called the Twelfth Street House, two hundred miles south of Bill.
While Diana was getting arrested, Shaggy was taking a different approach to protesting. She was standing on some steps outside the convention center, reading out loud from her Bible, mainly anti-materialistic verses from the New Testament. The Republicans were pretty cool about it; some of them even stopped and listened for a while. Shaggy and Diana had been growing apart practically from the day they moved in together. It was great early on; once, at the drop of a hat they took a bus to Austin to see a show by the UK Subs. After four days of drinking beer and getting no sleep at all, they were driving back to Oak Cliff at dawn in Diana’s Datsun on a Sunday morning, with the sun bright and yellow through the buildings downtown and not a living thing in sight. They looked awful, with makeup all over them, their eyes red and puffy, and yet it felt like a perfect moment in life. They agreed that it was the funnest thing they’d ever done and that they were each other’s best friends in the whole world.
But more and more these days, Shaggy is cooling out, calming down from the days last spring when she had beat her fist against the lockers at Hillcrest if someone looked at her funny. Now that Diana is gone and Shaggy has started classes in the predominantly minority North Dallas High School across the street, the Bill House is running more smoothly. It may stay that way if Royce doesn’t do the wrong thing. He’s been thinking about moving into an apartment with Jennifer, the girl from New Orleans, so he can save some money. That would bum Shaggy out—just too many changes at once. Royce has been hanging out these days at the Starck Club downtown; it’s an icy-cool disco with valet parking and a $10 cover, and it makes the Twilite Room look like a Texaco men’s room. You can get in free if you know someone, and Royce is becoming the kind of person who knows someone in places like that.
Just after nine on a warm Saturday night in September, Shaggy calls me.
“What are you doing exactly right at this moment?” she demands. “What? A TV dinner? But I have baked chicken! I have baked potatoes! Open the oven, take it out, open your kitchen door, throw it on the lawn, and come over, okay?”
Twenty minutes later at the Bill House, there’s a surprise on the living room floor. It’s Diana, sorting through some record albums, looking for any that might be hers. She’s up from Austin for a pretrial hearing about the protest and is staying in her old room with Jenny. Since she’s been in Austin, she’s gotten a radical haircut. Not one of those $50 cuts some Pinky’s kids get at sleek Oak Lawn salons—hers looks like somebody did it with a crude pair of shears, in an alcoholic stupor. It’s shaved so close to her skull on both sides and around the back that you can make out the marks of the teeth from the shears. “I think Nancy is in the kitchen,” Diana says.
It’s not Shaggy in the kitchen; it’s Daze, the punk from Mesquite who helped Royce steal those flags. She’s blond, rather stoutly built, with a ragged, wide mohawk and a black leather jacket dripping chains and bright buttons slung over her shoulder. She’s holding a can of Old Milwaukee in one hand and stirring a pot on the stove with another.
“Hi,” she says. “Want a taste? It’s a Bill House feast. I came in, and Nancy just said, ‘Daze, c’mere, make sure this doesn’t burn while I go and take a shower.’” She goes back to her task, rolling the spoon around and around with what seems to be tremendous concentration. Daze is wearing a pair of painted Converse All Star tennis shoes; one of them has a spur attached. “I left the other one in a cowboy,” she says.
Royce strolls in wearing a courageous mismatch of Salvation Army store plaids and polyesters. It’s one of his looks. A twisted ribbon of blond hair sprays down into his face like freesia, but he makes no effort to brush it away.
“Hey, Royce,” Daze says, “has the cat been fed?”
“The cat’s dead,” Royce says cryptically, seconds before a furry gray kitten skittles up and nuzzles innocently against his shoe.
Out in the living room, Jenny is looking through records and grinding her teeth at the prissy-pop Depeche Mode album someone has put on. She’s pretty, with striking blue eyes and movie-star lips. When she walks into the kitchen, something more appropriately hard-core is blasting from the stereo. She pulls a fork from the drawer and, dodging Daze’s proprietary spoon, spikes a chunk of potato. “Oh!” she yells, waving at her half-open mouth and rushing to check the oven. Two layers of an angel food cake are inside; it’s for two friends of hers due in by car tonight from Meridian, Mississippi. Since Jenny works weekdays as a secretary, Saturdays are like holidays to her, and she’s in a good mood. She’s wearing a tight white tank top and faded-away jeans that are slit across the back of the left thigh. White cotton strings dangle from the split like angel hair, fluttering with every step she takes.
“Nancy, come eat your chicken!” Jenny yells down the hall. “We’ve already eaten your potatoes!”
The bathroom door down the hall opens, and Shaggy bounds out, wrapped in a beach towel. “Hi!” she says, slapping her forehead to say, yeah, I’m stupid, I’m late, I’m running behind, people are stealing my potatoes. She looks lanky and awkward, walking on the balls of her bare feet and pushing her wet hair back off her forehead. It doesn’t help matters when Royce runs after her, whooping and nipping at her towel with his fingertips, chasing her into her bedroom. From the kitchen you can hear them laughing and screaming and then talking in their language, in which they drop their jaws, expose their bottom rows of teeth, and talk with a British accent, so that everything comes out like “finnah-finnah.”
“You know what I love?” Diana is saying in the living room. “I love coming into town and taking the house over.” She changes the record and puts on ultimate hard core by the Vandals—a punk version of the theme to The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. It’s an instant hit. Everybody runs into the living room and starts slam-square dancing. Jenny’s wearing a pair of bright red cowboy boots she bought this morning at a garage sale for $1.50, and she’s stomping them joyfully on the hardwood floor, in time to the music.
After a while, when things calm down and a relatively sedate Meat Joy album is playing, everybody sits around listening to Diana talk about Austin. The punks are real divided there, she says, compared with the friendly partyers in Dallas. “Sometimes I’d rather be at a small scene,” she says, “like in Dallas, where everybody has more fun.” She tugs distractedly at her oversized T-shirt, which bears the warning, “Cause for Alarm.”
Shaggy comes in from her room, wearing jeans and a T-shirt, her hair still wet and spiky. She switches the subject to something depressing: school. She’s been going to North Dallas High right across the street for three weeks now, and though it’s cooler in some ways than Hillcrest was, in others it’s the same old boring waste of time. And now Shaggy can just sleep in if she feels like it on school mornings, since there’s no mother around to kick her butt out of bed. She’s been doing that a lot. She’s also been asking people’s advice about whether she should drop out, get a GED, and go to college later. With school, Sound Warehouse, and The Pajama Party, she barely has time to eat anymore, an she’s always run-down and tired.
A little while later, Shaggy sets up dinner for two on a round table out on the porch, under a bare hundred-watt bulb. There’s a tablecloth, a fresh stick of butter on a dish, mismatched silverware, plastic Chanello’s Pizza cups, and paper towels folded up carefully beneath the knives and spoons. It’s an oddly domestic scene; the punks who skate by forty feet away regard it as if it’s a mirage or some kind of elaborate joke. Shaggy sits down and tries to start eating but keeps getting interrupted by phone calls.
“That was Mr. John Spath,” she says, rushing back to the table after her third call. “He’s like a kid who brings me records to play on the show, and he’s real cool, ‘cause he’s nothing but just a kid at heart.”
She sits down, forks up a chunk of potato, and draws it toward her mouth. Before it gets there, Diana swoops out on the porch, stopping a few inches from Shaggy’s raised fork. “Wait!” she screams. “What’s that?”
Diana looks at the laden fork, her mouth open, and stares at the potatoes, willing them into her mouth. When Shaggy gives her the bite, she says, “Where’s the chicken?”
“You want chicken?”
Diana nods, her mouth wide open.
“A simple ‘Arf’ will do,” Shaggy says, sending the bit of chicken home.
“You’re a god, Nancy,” Diana says, bounding back inside.
There’s a breeze on the porch, a yellow moon is coming up over the soccer field across the street, and the chicken and potatoes are delicious. Diana goes off on an errand, and Jenny strolls out to test her boots; they make gratifying clunks on the porch and look like bright red lipsticks against the weathered boards. “A lot has happened out here in front of the house,” Shaggy says.
“One day,” she recalls, thinking back on the blasé destructo attitude of past Bill House regulars, “I went out on the porch, and I saw that all of these glasses I had bought when we first moved in were all over the porch, and people were just sitting there looking at them, and they’d been there for like two days. And I go, ‘You know, it would be really nice if, when everybody goes back inside, you would just pick up one glass and take it to the kitchen.’ And they all looked at me like I was crazy. They had this impression that I was being their mother or something, scolding them, and I just got really fed up. And all of a sudden—the straw that broke the camel’s back—I saw that one of my glasses had been tipped over and was broken. And I flew into a rage and started picking up the glasses and throwing them on the sidewalk, going, ‘Okay, we’ll see how many glasses we can break. Let’s break all of them, and then nobody can drink anything!’ And they were like, ‘Nancy, what’s your problem? If you wouldn’t gripe at us so much about keeping the house clean, then maybe we’d do it.’ And I’m like, ‘Naa, don’t give me that.’ And at that moment, I realized that this was like my subconscious saying all those things, and I was really saying them to my parents. Which is almost psychotic, you know?”
She sips her milk and gets quiet for a while, like she always does when she talks about her parents. Then she dabs at her lips with a paper towel and smiles. “It just goes to show,” she says, “that no matter how bad things get, they can always get better.”
Things don’t stay quiet for long. People are starting to come by with records for The Pajama Party. A party’s going on at the skate pad down the street, and now and then it overflows and spills into the Bill House. In the kitchen Jenny is wailing with despair because her angel food cake looks like an old mattress. Shaggy gets keyed up and frantic, pitching albums into a white laundry basket, tossing boring ‘45’s away through the house, as if they were Frisbees. In less than half an hour, Shaggy will be live.
Royce is gone. He moved into Jennifer’s place, and it looks like they may be moving together to her old hometown, New Orleans. Royce is tired of his job driving a Slush Puppies truck and dreams of becoming a famous hairstylist on the Bayou. It didn’t bother Shaggy too much when Diana moved away, but Royce is her last connection with the early days of the Bill House, with the best summer and happiest time of her life. And anyway, Royce has been running around with a real trendy crowd this last month or so, going to the Starck Club all the time. His new friends are the ultrahip, ultrafashion-conscious, recreational-drug-oriented crowd that Shaggy has never taken to, just a shade or two away from the unbearable, squealing Pinky’s punks. Shaggy and Royce hardly ever go out like they used to, when they’d ramble around town from Tango to the Twilite Room, acting like outrageous twins.
Now Jenny and Shaggy have a new roommate, a girl who works at a vintage clothing store on Lower Greenville and has a pet rat that she dyed pink. She takes her rat everywhere, slipping it into her purse when she goes into clubs or goes to work. In the Bill House she walks around with the rat on her shoulder, following Shaggy and Diana from room to room, talking nonstop in a soft, distracted drone. She comes from a large family, and Shaggy thinks she has never gotten much attention. It’s really kind of sad.
Tonight—the first cool Saturday of October—Shaggy is an hour into The Pajama Party. Since she quit school last week—something she’d been leading up to for a long time—she has become a full-time music person. There’s her job at Sound Warehouse, and there’s the station. It’s a couple of miles due east of downtown Dallas, behind a bunch of used-car lots on Ross Avenue (“¡Se Habla Español!”). KNON shares a two-story clapboard house with Acorn, a left-leaning community activist group, in a neighborhood where the front lawns of apartment houses are dotted with pay phones and Coke machines. To get inside late at night, you have to push a button that makes a light blink in the broadcast booth upstairs. Then you hope the DJ notices it and sends someone down to let you in.
Elicia, one of Shaggy’s informal assistants, unlocks the front door just after 1 a.m. Her job is answering the phone lines and, more important, letting as few people in as possible. She’s a big blond girl with wild, suggestive eyes and messy, spaghettilike stalks of hair. Elicia leads the way up a winding staircase, passing a sign that reads, “No Beer Beyond This Point.—KNON Board.” The walls of the studio are speckled with flyers and posters reflecting the station’s mishmash of playlists—bluegrass, gospel, Latin, Celtic, American Indian, Cajun, Vietnamese, Indian, and punk. Leftist bumper stickers (“No Euroshima: Stop the Missiles”) fill in the blank spaces on the walls. Everywhere on the floor there are cardboard boxes jammed with record albums donated by KNON listeners.
“Here’s something I haven’t played in a long time,” Shaggy is saying into her mike. She flicks a switch, and one of the two turntables to her right spins into “Doesn’t Somebody Want To Be Wanted” by the Partridge Family. Instantly, the station’s three phone lines light up. Elicia goes through them at her desk outside the booth, then sticks her head in the door.
“Negative calls on the Partridge Family, Shag,” she says. “One guy said, ‘Keep playing that and you’ll go out of business,’ and another one said, ‘Maybe you should wait just as long to play it again.’”
“Well, too bad,” Shaggy says, twirling around in an ancient office chair held together by duct tape. “It’s on my promo, so I’ll play it when I want.” To get even, the next song she plays is by the Monkees.
The floor space in Shaggy’s booth is about four by eight feet; her white basket of albums is in the middle, and a guy named Charlie is perched against the wall on a stool. He writes down every song Shaggy plays on a playlist stuck to a clipboard. John Spath, Shaggy’s cool-kid friend, has brought records by once again. He has curly black hair, and an enormous black T-shirt hangs on his thin body. Almost every guy Shaggy knows looks like he could use a good, hot meal. John Spath is hanging around the studio with two other guys who play in his psychedelic band, the Mel Coolies (“You know, just like on Dick Van Dyke“).
“Okay,” Shaggy says, “the current cabin pressure is twenty-three point five and one-third per cent per square inch.” Her voice is in fine form tonight. Most of the time it sounds like it’s about to break into laughter. She gives it her ultimate test, dropping into a deep, blaring FM style: “Coming up, a double shot of Psychedelic Furs! Only on Niiiienty Point Nine, the rawwwwwk of Dallas!” She settles back in her chair, opens up a notebook, and practices the promo she’ll read on the air in a minute. The first one that interests her is about a shelter for battered women. “A woman is battered every eighteen seconds in America,” she reads, “then fried.” She is straying from the text. “Every eighteen seconds, a woman is battered and deep-fried to a crackly crunch. A special this week only at Long John Silver’s: a battered women platter with shrimp and hush-puppies. Only three ninety-nine!” When she reads the public service announcement on the air, she does it straight.
Elicia sticks her head in. “‘Kill the Poor’ by the Dead Kennedys,” she says. “A fifteen-year-old girl in North Dallas would really like to hear it.” Before playing the Dead Kennedys, Shaggy interrupts the show for a sermonette.
“Earlier tonight,” she says to Pajama Partygoers everywhere, “I was standing in line at Burger King, waiting to get a burger. It was taking a long time. And then I heard this man behind me talking about the ethnic qualities of the Burger King employees. And I thought, you know, how terrible! I am so sick of prejudice, but then it occurred to me that it’s easy for us to say it’s bad when other people are wrong. But when do we consider ourselves? And when do we think about the bad things we do? Think about it.” She puts on a record and turns to face everybody in the booth. She’s a little embarrassed. “Hey,” she says, wiping her face clean of any expression and holding her hands up in peace signs. “Peace! Love!”
The Mel Coolies are having fun, which means they’re causing trouble. They’re all racing around Elicia’s desk, answering the phones and saying dumb things, tapping on Shaggy’s window and making faces through the glass while she’s live.
“Could y’all shut that door, please?” Shaggy asks impatiently. The guys’ voices keep carrying into her mike. Shaggy tries to pick up a call on hold, but there’s just static on the line. “Elicia!” she screams, “will you please answer the phones?”
“That’s what I’m trying to get them to let me do.”
“Well, tell them to stop, okay?”
Elicia walks out to the guys and says, “You’ve been disbarred.”
A few new stragglers are wandering around in the office when someone says a guy named Ward is on the line for Shaggy. “Oh, great!” she says. “Hey, everybody, shh, shh, okay? Really. I’ve got to have quiet.” She picks up the phone, purses her lips, and says, “Ward? I’m worried about the Beaver.”
Ward is a friend of hers. The last time they talked, Shaggy was kind of depressed. Since then, she has dropped out of school, which has chilled her out and calmed her down. “No, I gave up being grim,” she tells him now. “I was grim for my whole life. Hold on—this record’s freaking out. Shit! Okay. What? No! Of course not! Do you think I’d put that on the radio?” When they finish talking, Shaggy has agreed to play something else for him. “Okay, well, ten-four, Ward. Till then, may the Force be with you. And don’t be grim, okay?”
Shaggy takes another call, leaning forward with her hand over her ear to hear better. After a long time, she hangs up. “She called me last week and was going, ‘Oh, no, I think I’m pregnant,’” Shaggy explains. “And I basically gave her the scoop on what to do, gave her a little moral support, told her to get some professional advice. It turns out she wasn’t, though, so I told her some things maybe to think about in the future.” Sometimes Shaggy is a punk teen Ann Landers; last week a girl called who had taken some drugs and was freaking out. Shaggy talked to her, tried to calm her down, played a couple of songs for her. “I like it when they do that,” she says. “Sometimes kids treat me like some kind of star, but I’d rather they just treat me as just a friend.”
One of the Mel Coolies nudges John Spath. “John Spath,” he says, “we have to go. If there’s a party to go back to.”
People keep calling in with requests and calling back fifteen minutes later wanting to know what happened to them. “KNON,” Shaggy says, when Elicia is busy with two other lines. “Yeah. Hi. Yeah, just keep it in your pants a minute, dude. Okay. Bye.” She slams down the receiver. “That guy needs to calm down!”
At 3:16 in the morning, after a series of calamities involving skipping records, badly timed intros, and jerko callers, Shaggy sits back in her chair, pulls her knees up to her chin, and sighs. “Patheticness,” she says.
After a while the light from downstairs blinks. It’s close to four, the show is nearly over, and Brother Joe Norvell has already arrived in a blue suit, with a box of gospel records and what seems like the weight of the world on his shoulders. Elicia goes down to see who’s at the door. It’s Royce and his friend Keith. They’re wearing their customary mismatched vintage plaids and polyesters, several shirttails out each. Shaggy is real glad to see Royce; she misses him, even though Jenny is furious that he hasn’t squared his share of the bills yet. Jenny is another reason Shaggy doesn’t see Royce so much these days. Here, away from the Bill House, they’re back on neutral ground. Friendly ground.
Royce spots Shaggy’s sermonette burger to the left of the controls. The ketchup on the wrapper has clotted to a deep, dark red. “Hey,” he says, “are you going to eat the rest of that burger?”
“No,” Shaggy says, “you can have it. Do you really want it?”
“Yes, I’m starving. So what are you doing after the show?”
Shaggy hands him the quarter-moon-shaped burger. “Well, raising hell, of course, with you.”
Christmas is coming, the end of 1984. For the first time since she was fourteen and singing lead for the Spuratics—a group that split up after its third gig—Shaggy has a band. They don’t have a name yet, but things are rolling. She’s been practicing her bass a lot, and the Niteman, a DJ at KNON whose show runs just before Shaggy’s, plays harmonica and guitar and does vocals. He’s a 27-year-old Harvard M.B.A. who got bored with business a year ago and showed up at KNON with a good record collection and an uncanny voice: he can imitate Bing Crosby one second and Joe Strummer of the Clash the next and have them both doing “White Christmas.” He’s also blond, blue-eyed, and smoothly handsome, nice assets for a lead singer. On lead guitar is a guy they call the Mighty Quinn; the Niteman met him while they were camping out for Bruce Springsteen tickets. Quinn is 31, divorced, has a kid. Nowadays the three of them hang out together all the time. They jam old sixties rock-and-roll songs in the Niteman’s Lower Greenville house, sometimes with a bunch of gawky Harvard M.B.A.’s hanging around wearing slacks and trying to seem loose. The Niteman’s M.B.A. is behind him—now he wears leather jackets, black hightops, and pink-and-black bandannas. But he still has all these Ivy League pals. What he needs is a drummer.
Back at the Bill House—well, Royce moved to New Orleans. Jenny had to move back in with her parents so she could save money to go to UT. The roommate with the pink rat shaved her head almost completely bald and began telling everyone that Sid Vicious was actually Jesus Christ. She moved out in November for parts unknown. Shaggy’s only roommate now is a 24-year-old drummer named Fish, who plays for Unterwasser and works as a manager at the 8.0. He and Shaggy have to split the Bill House’s entire $475-a-month rent, plus bills.
After The Pajama Party tonight, Shaggy is going to Lucas B&B, an all-night diner in Oak Lawn. A little before 5 a.m., she is jammed into a corner booth with Elicia, the Niteman, and four other guys, who all look pretty normal. The coming of cold weather has delighted Shaggy because it means she can wear her most prized possession: a weather-beaten white leather jacket with six-inch-long fringe spilling out from the sleeves and back. She bought it years ago on layaway at a vintage clothing store and loves to run down the street with her arms out to the side, like wings.
The only other customers at Lucas B&B are a smattering of gays fresh from the clubs on Cedar Springs, a couple of cops, and a few newspaper route drivers. On the air tonight, Shaggy said the apocalypse was coming because the earth is getting hotter every year. But now she’s concerned only about her waffles. Lucas B&B is famous for its waffles, and Shaggy is starving.
“Hey,” says the Niteman, slouching in the corner of the booth next to Shaggy, “how come you cats ain’t got anything to munch on?”
“No money,” says Jerry, a guy with a motorcycle cap near the end of the booth. “I’ve got five bucks to last me till Tuesday.” Most of the others are similarly strapped, except for a scrawny kid who is almost getting squeezed out of the end of the booth; he has ordered a cheeseburger, a salad, and fries, which seems spectacularly extravagant at a time when all the others are feeling the Christmas budget crunch.
Shaggy is eating her waffles, and the Niteman entertains the table by doing imitations of Joe Strummer, who sings like he’s got gravel in his mouth and isn’t happy about it. The Niteman sucks in his cheeks, bulges out his eyes, and growls his way through “Silent Night” and “My Way.”
“Next,” says Jerry, “here’s the new one by the Waffles.” Everybody laughs. Jerry has given in to temptation and ordered some waffles with his remaining five bucks, and now everybody else is giving in too. Shaggy’s disappearing order, swimming in butter and syrup, is impossible to resist.
“Here’s the extended, remixed, EP dance mix of the Waffles’ latest hit,” says Shaggy, laughing.
“Boy, I’d like to make the Waffle video,” Elicia says.
“Our children are growing up without valuable training as to how they can protect themselves against waffles,” Shaggy intones in a Cockney-accented PSA voice. “Three thousand people die from waffles every day—that’s nineteen thousand every year. These waffles are devastating our children. They eat them every night at four-thirty a.m. Ladies and gentlemen, it’s not too late. Our children can be saved. Join Waffle Stompers of America.”
The scrawny, starved-looking kid at the edge of the booth has finished his burger and fries. He’s now unwrapping packages of Premium Saltines and eating them too.
When Shaggy gets home, it’s nearly six in the morning. Sometimes, a long time ago, the Bill House would still be all lit up, and an Alarm album would be pumping from the stereo. But tonight the house is absolutely black and quiet—nobody is home. No music, not even a skate punk gliding by outside. Shaggy unlocks the door and walks inside. It’s strange, like entering the house of a murder victim, looking for clues. On nights like this, when Fish doesn’t come home, Shaggy can’t sleep. She keeps a baseball bat in bed with her.
“It’s so good to hear nothing,” Shaggy says as she plugs in the blinking Christmas tree lights to give the place some life. “I go to work, and I listen to music all day. I get home, on goes the stereo. And at twelve o’clock, I go to KNON—more music.”
In her new room, the one that used to be Jenny’s and Diana’s and a few other people’s, Shaggy shows where she has put all her stuff. Her posters are more spread out on the walls, and her vanity has come out of the closet, just like Royce did when he inherited Jennifer’s room last summer. On a cork bulletin board near her bed, Shaggy has found room to pin up more photographs. One is a picture of her dad holding her by her arms when she was just a baby, taking tiny, tentative steps across her parents’ front lawn.
“You know, I look at that picture,” Shaggy says, sitting on the edge of her bed, “and sometimes I think that my dad’s really messed up a lot. He didn’t save any money or buy much insurance, didn’t plan in case something happened, and so he can’t put me through college. But I look at that picture, and I know he taught me how to walk, you know? It means a lot to me.”
She’s coming down from the buzz of the show, from the buzz of the sugary waffles. It’s her pattern on Sunday mornings. She’ll be reeling off something amazingly important one second, talking about going somewhere and doing something, and the next second she’ll just crash.
“Did I tell you yet,” she says after a while, “that I’ve decided to move back and live with my parents again? Maybe as soon as New Year’s. From day one, you know, my mother has wanted me to move back home. She’d be a lot cooler about things now—she’d have to be. I’ve proved that I can make it out on my own.” She reaches down as if to untie her shoelaces, then realizes she’s wearing her black boots. She’s too tired to pull them off.
“I just realized I can’t afford it here anymore,” she says. “And I really need to save money and get a car and get some other things. Then I started thinking about their house, and how in a few years I may be inheriting it. There’s so much that needs to be done first. My parents say that if I come home and take over the house payment, which is about a hundred and ten dollars, when the mortgage is paid off in a few years they’ll put the house in my name. Just being back there will help a lot, making it so that my mother doesn’t have to worry about how she’s going to pay the bills and not have to worry about watching after my dad all the time. You just have to see it to understand. They’ve been miserable for a really long time. Just for the sake of ironing things out, I’d like to see my parents happy there, just once.”
Shaggy pulls her legs and boots up onto her bed and talks about how much she misses Royce and Diana. She knows these are her last days in the Bill House, so when she walks through it she keeps bursting into tears: at the bathroom sink, where Diana did all her weird hair coloring; outside her closet, where Royce used to crash after waking her up with some wild tale; at the kitchen counter, where Jenny mourned over her mattress cake. She misses everybody who used to live here, who would be making noise and messes and trouble if this were a Saturday night in July.
“We used to do this thing with safety pins,” she says out of the blue. “They were a real hoot back then. We’d rig it up to make it look like the safety pin was going through our cheeks. But, I grew out of that. Not ‘grow’ in the sense of getting older, but ‘grow’ in the sense of finding yourself, knowing exactly what you want to do so you don’t have to be anxious all the time. It’s still fun—I still get in the mood to do that stuff once in a while. Like you’re down at the Twilite Room and you just feel like being tough all of a sudden, so you’re in the parking lot and you break a bottle or something, you know, to get that old feeling back.
She doesn’t want to be alone yet, to go to sleep yet, even though she’s tired. “I’m sleepy, but I’m restless,” she says. “I feel like there’s still something to do. You know, I can remember when I’d stay up forty-eight hours at a time. Now, I don’t know, sometimes I feel really old. No, I don’t. Not really. Even though I really do. As old as the hills.”