Smoke swirling off the tip of Jay’s Marlboro Light coats the plywood on the floor. It soaks into the leather couch and blankets the walls of the studio, mingling with rows of framed concert posters, oil paintings, one-shot cutouts. Jay takes a long drag then a heavy step towards the palette on his left. He mixes the flesh tones with his paintbrush, exhales and adds broad strokes to the skate deck canvas. Inhale, step, exhale, mix, paint, repeat.
Each 185-pound step causes a ripple in the unfinished flooring; each ripple causes the needle of the record player to skip. I was born with a bottle in my mouth. Skip. Six Pack. Now I got a six so I’ll never run out. Skip. Six Pack. Jay sings along, obviously not annoyed enough by the skipping to step lighter in the garage-apartment-turned-art-studio. I’m annoyed, but not annoyed enough to pick up my magazine proof spread across the couch and relocate from the studio back to our house.
“Oi, red or black background on this one?” Jay turns toward me and asks, the long ash from his cigarette drifting to the floor without even a flick of his wrist.
His nod turns into head-banging, his unspiked mohawk and worn leather jacket syncing in movement to the inflections in Henry Rollins’s voice.
I continue watching the rhythm of the smoke, the painting, Jay’s movements, before going back to looking for the rhythm in the fine art and design magazine I’m editing: Local Hotspots, Global Reach, Traveling Exhibits. Inhale, step. Exhale, mix. Paint, repeat.
“Should the text be larger on this page?” I ask Jay, who shakes his head no while singing: I know it will be okay. I get a six pack in me, all right.
This song was easily Jay’s anthem when we first met in fifth-hour freshmen biology thirteen years ago. My earliest memory of him: a drunken cheek-piercing episode during class that led to a punctured facial artery. As I watched him run out of the classroom bleeding that day, I had no idea that five years later, we’d begin dating or that thirteen years after that, we’d still be together, living in a house long made a home. He ran out of the classroom that day yelling, “Everything’s fine.” He had a six pack in him, and he was all right.
Jay doesn’t have a six pack in him now as he stomps to the back of the studio to grab black paint—the needle skipping, skip, then gliding through the grooves to bring about a fast, heavy, melodic bass line from Chuck Dukowski. These days, Jay only drinks a fraction of what he used to. The drumbeat mirrors the bass’s established rhythm and leads to a guitar build up. This feeling haunts me. Behind these eyes, the shell seems so empty. Though I wonder if anything lives inside. I finish making my edits to the Hot Spots layout.
Just as “Six Pack” commemorates a fair portion of Jay’s youth-to-earlier-adulthood experiences, the song “What I See” represents a fair portion of my hormone-filled teenage years spent flipping through pages and pages of journaled emotions of self-angst. Now, I simply flip through pages and pages of magazines, newsletters, and other publications for which I write and edit.
In one month Jay will be featured in his fifth art show (he sold out at two of his last four), I will be finalizing edits with the design team for the second issue of the magazine I oversee, and Henry Rollins will continue to write articles for LA Weekly, speak out in regards to the 2016 presidential race, record podcasts, tour internationally, and star in a new movie. Thirteen years ago Jay was constantly drunk and doing reckless things. Thirteen years ago I was self-destructive and looking for an outlet. Twenty years prior to that Henry Rollins was loud, aggressive, combative, and recording the album Damaged. Fifteen-year-old punk rockers don’t recognize that they will one day get older, possibly even grow up. Fifteen-year-old punk rockers just think they’ll be dead by twenty-seven. Then one day they turn twenty-eight.
I move on from editing Local Hotspot to Global Reach. From Global Reach to Traveling Exhibits. Jay moves on from painting the background to clear-coating the skate deck. The needle moves on from “TV Party” to “Thirsty and Miserable.” From “Thirsty and Miserable” to “Police Story.” From “Police Story” to “Gimme, Gimme, Gimme.” Jay and I both look at each other when we hear the drum hit it off with a one, two, one, one, two. One, two, one, one, two. Jay burned this song on a CD for me right before we started dating. We used to drive around fast, the music turned all the way up, seeking out a liquor store that would sell to us even though we were underage. We used to sneak into abandoned buildings and discuss conformity. We used to scale fire escapes and the rooftops of vacant buildings and share the things that bothered us. We needed an angry yet empathetic voice.
A lot of punk icons died before they hit Jay’s and my current age. Darby Crash: suicide. Sid Vicious: drug overdose, possibly intentional. I’m sure that’s the route a lot of family members thought Jay and I were going when we were fifteen. I know a handful of people from when I was fifteen that went that route.
Jay steps back from his painting, two-thirds of the way through “Gimme, Gimme, Gimme,” where the guitar and bass halt and leave just the drums and Henry Rollins’s voice. “I think I’m calling it,” Jay says, looking at his finished piece.
“It looks really good,” I say, honestly, nearing a stopping point in my evening’s project. The needle glides to the end of side A before the arm of the record player automatically picks the needle up and moves it to the side of the vinyl. Jay signs the bottom of the painting. We both decide to head back to the house. We have more work to do tomorrow. We’ve watched throughout our years as Henry Rollins has continued to do more and more work. We turn the light out behind us before locking the studio, not flipping the record to side B because we’re already there.