It's mother's day and I thought I'd share one of my all time favorite stories about an unconventional bonding experience I had with my mom.
When I became a teenager I went through some experiences that pretty much made me insufferable for a good period of time until I moved away and found out what real life was like. My mom, however, took it in stride and did the very best she absolutely could. As a single mother with 3 kids, a full time business, and all odds against her, she will forever be the person I admire most in all this world.
I was around 13 years old when my immediate environment began to have an adverse effect on me. It was also about this time that my best friend Mike introduced me to all kinds of new music, one of them being the Alternative Punk genre. I still remember the first time he came over and played Smash, by The Offspring at my house one night. We played it downstairs in the living room after my mom had gone to sleep but I was sure my mom was going to overhear all the F bombs and we'd both be grounded. I was completely consumed with the fast guitars, the profanity (of course), but most of all with the message that I was getting from the music. The message screamed everything that I'd been feeling, everything that I was tired of, and it told me that I didn't have to put up with any of it. That I could, in fact, if I wanted to, do whatever the hell I wanted and no one had a right to tell me different. It was OK to be different, go my own way, I could be Hispanic and skateboard, I didn't have to be a gangster just because I was Latino, I didn't have to do whatever everyone else was doing just to gain acceptance, and to hell with anyone that disagreed.
Well, not long after my best friend had introduced me to the world of screeching guitars and double-bass drums, I heard on the radio that The Offspring were coming to town to play an outdoor show. I was first in line the day tickets went on sale. My mom agreed to let me go only if Mike's mom let him go and because for some reason we didn't go get tickets together I was tasked with picking up tickets for the both of us at a local grocery store. I remember rushing home, golden tickets in hand, to get on the phone and let him know we'd be going to the show. Turns out, for another reason I can't remember, he wasn't able to go after all. There was no chance on earth she was going to let me go by myself.
I wasn't going to miss my favorite band and my first real concert ever. The only shows I'd seen before that were The Ninja Turtles on tour at the Thomas and Mac Center when I was like 9 and a Weird Al concert I went to with Mike at The Aladdin Casino. My mom made us take one of her work walkie-talkies so we could check in (the O.G. cell phone). I told my mom the situation expecting her to tell me if Mike wasn't going then I couldn't go but instead she said I could still go. It was like that scene in the movie where something unbelievable happens and the record comes to a horribly nasty halt after an ear-piercing scratch. I could still go? Yup, I heard her right. At least the first half of what she said anyway. I could still go.... with her.
Yeah right! Imagine that? I was already as far away from cool as you could possibly get and now my mom was going to chaperon me at my first punk rock show? Did she secretly have a death wish for her first born baby boy? Death was of little concern to me after a second of deliberation. I was going to see that show. Plus I thought once my mom got there she would hate the scene and maybe she'd want to leave and just come back and pick me up after the show was over. Fine, it was settled, we were both going to the show.
On the day of the concert I threw open the door to our apartment crashing into everything rushing to change into the most alternative clothes I could find (jeans and a shirt) and went to see if my mom was ready. Looking back now, nearly 23 years later as I recall this story, is how I remember my mom being the best mom she could possibly be to me and my siblings. Turns out my mom didn't want to embarrass me at all. She wanted me to have a really good time and it was not lost on her that going to a "cool" concert with her teenage son was probably not the most popular thing that could happen to me at the moment. So, she went out and got a special t shirt that she thought would more or less blend in with the crowd (it had a big gangster low-rider on switches, but what did she now), a cool pair of black jeans, she rolled up the sleeves on her shirt, and put on a black baseball cap with some kind of bedazzled broach pinned above the bill. You couldn't get further from punk rock but you couldn't get closer to my heart if you'd reached into my chest and touched it yourself.
When we got in line for the show, absolutely nothing from that point on went as I'd imagined. My mom was excited to be there. She was curious about everything and had endless questions to which I had only half the answers for like did that little kid's parents know he died his hair apple green? And how'd people manage to sneak marijuana past security? And why did security open up all water bottles and smell them first? She wasn't mad, or disgusted, or even scared. She was just taking it all in and trying her best to understand this never before seen piece of American culture and we were having a good time together. I felt more like I'd come to a show with an older friend.
The opening band was halfway into their set. My mom did not approve of that tattooed girl band on stage. The Lunachicks were rocking out to fast punk and using blow up rock guitars to make obscene phallic gestures but still, my mom wasn't pissed, just kind of in shock. The band wrapped up their set and we watched roadies wheel things on and off stage. I stared hard at all their tattoos and couldn't wait to be old enough to get my own. We experienced our first sound check and before too long, just before dusk, The Vandals took the stage.
I'll never forget how they quietly assembled together front and center. They didn't greet the crowd. They didn't look at each other. The lead singer approached the mike, band members took to there instruments and in the blink of an eye, vocals, guitars, and drums all started at full blast in perfect punk synchronization at double time tempo. It felt as if everyone but us knew what was happening, and what was happening was an enormous mosh pit and my mom and I were square in the middle of the human tornado. I remember I saw my mom's eyes go as big as headlights and before she could scream out in a panic I wrapped my twiggy arms around her in a bear hug, picked her up, and backed us out to the perimeter. She could not understand how such a huge fight could break out for no reason and I had to explain to her that the tornado of knees, elbows, tattoos, and bald heads wasn't a brawl, it was a pit and this is what happened at punk shows. I was pretty much ready for her to take me by the hand and start leading me towards the entrance of the field, far away from all this American madness, never to let me attend another concert as long as I lived. Instead we just stood there half-listening to the music and watching the spectacle of pushing and shoving and dust-kicking that was happening in front of us. She did not want to leave. My mom was having an incredible time.
After the set was over it was dark. The main act was taking the stage next and we could feel the charge in the atmosphere. The outdoor arena was now packed with hundreds of people. Sound check took a long time rolling out all the equipment and my eyes were glued to the stage so I wouldn't miss a single opportunity to spot the band. I was temporarily unaware of anything (even my mom) except for the stage and then? Pitch black. All the lights went out and the crowd went into a deafening roar of whoops and hollers, hand-claps and whistles. The band would be taking the stage any second now and I was going to get to watch them. Suddenly, my arm shot out in front of me and I was being dragged by the wrist parting the crowd and leaving a wake of people as I went. My mom had a firm grip on my wrist and she wash pushing her way through the crowd until we made our way to the very front of the stage. She put me in front of her to protect me from the weight of the hundreds of bodies slowly pushing against us like a human tide. There we were pressed up against the guard rail just a few feet away from the enormous stage when the lights popped back on flooding the arena with light. I just about turned inside out when The Offspring took the stage. As excited as I was I couldn't believe that my own mom had gotten us to the front of the stage, that she actually wanted to be this close to see the main act, and that we were about to go through this once-in-a-lifetime experience together. I'd never felt so close to my mom, even after all the things (for better or worse) that we'd been through as a family, as I did at that moment in time, seconds before the band took the stage. I felt so cared for, so loved and understood in those precious few seconds that I couldn't tell which feeling was more overwhelming, the anticipation of the show or that I was going to share it with her.
We stayed at the front of the crowd for the entire set. We yelled; we hollered; we pushed; we shoved; we threw crowd surfers over the guard rail at security guards and we enjoyed every second of every note of the entire set. From that moment on, no matter how much we fought, no matter what else was going on in our lives, if The Offspring came to town we would go to the show together. The concert became a place where, for a few hours, we were equals. We were more like friends almost and we could understand each other despite our often colliding differences. When I moved away to Portland, The Offspring toured through Seattle and I flew my mom up to watch the show. We shared hot dogs and beers; it was the first time I had a drink with my mom. Recently in 2014, 20 years after the release of the album Smash, they did a special tour in which they played the entire album. I bought tickets for my mom, my sister, and myself and we had a hell of a time watching the band play in Las Vegas at The Joint. I remember walking up the stairs to the balcony seats so we could get a good view of the set. I looked back down the stairs to make sure she was behind me and her eyes were welled up with huge tears and a sort of half-smile on her face. I knew what she was going to say before she said it. We couldn't believe how fast the time had gone by but here we were once again, full circle, watching a tornado of knees, elbows, tattoos, and bald heads as our favorite band blinded and deafened us with a spectacular punk show of lights and guitars.
For Maricela with love, Happy Mother's day