Sometimes we’d join up with another of our friends, Cameron Crowe, the former rock critic for Rolling Stone who is now a famous director. He was back in San Diego, attending high school, undercover, for a book and movie that would be called Fast Times at Ridgemont High. The three of us would often wind up in the parking lot, looking at the stars, talking about life and how the music would lift us up and make us feel part of something big, something we couldn’t quite describe. The Skull Club, the Spirit, later the Zebra Club, also downtown — these were great clubs, ground zeroes for San Diego’s burgeoning “new wave” scene. All my life an outsider, I felt at home here; I still didn’t blend into the scene, but at least I was there, with Kicks as my safety blanket and you as my sidekick, my friend, the rock critic despised by many musicians and fans but adored and worshipped by others — including me.
You were short and fat and dressed all in black, and you had this ridiculous-looking fake-leather jacket that you loved and wore night and day. It had come from the thrift store where your mother worked, as had so many of your garments. You had terrible hair, even by the standards of the time, a coarse mop of black and gray swept over from one side of your head to the other, like a sideways pompadour toupée. You were funny looking; we jokingly called you “Yoda,” after the Star Wars character. And yet, you had a cherubic, almost beautiful face and the neatest expression when you recounted your background — Mexican mother, Filipino father, with an older half brother and two half sisters and a wild niece, Monique, beautiful and lost. I wonder whatever became of her? I wonder if she knows you are dead.
I don’t know how we became such close, fast friends. We were young, watching and chronicling and longing to be a part of this new music scene that, to me, still marks the moment of San Diego’s rebirth, long before Horton Plaza and the Gaslamp and the trolley and North City West and the cruise ship terminal and all the other symbols of “San Diego becoming a true metropolis” that came later. The punk scene was New San Diego’s first angry cry, a rite of passage that never got the recognition it deserves.
You and I were late bloomers who spent much of our time lamenting unrequited loves — both for girls with the same first name — and trying to get laid. Or going out and “pulling,” as you would call it, with a sparkle in your eye, equal parts imp and lech. We were like awkward puppies, trying to be cool, striving for acceptance, and in the end the only people who truly accepted us, it seems, were each other. I admired you for your talent, and you looked up to me — or at least you told me you did — because I went out and started my own magazine and for a while there made it work. You’d call me “My liege” or “The King,” and that fed my developing ego; I’m sure you knew it, or maybe you really felt that way. Or maybe it was just your way of expressing gratitude for my admiration, which I’m sure you felt as well. Regardless, we filled a mutual need. Does that make any sense? It does to me, looking back, and I’m sure you would say the same thing.
However it was we first met, I wanted you to write for Kicks. You were a marquee name, and I wanted to make this magazine work. So you did some reviews, and they were so much better than anything else we were running, but you seemed to have a little problem meeting deadlines, didn’t you? I would call you to ask where your story was, and you’d say, “Just about done,” and then I wouldn’t hear from you for a few days. I’d drive down to your apartment in the Wilson Apartments, storm up the stairs, my anger building, and hammer away at your door with my fist. You’d let me in, and I’d be screaming and yelling, but you’d be nonplussed as always — you were a human shrug, Steve, a shrug and a sigh, that’s how you went through life — and then you’d sit down behind your old typewriter in your smelly, dark living room and bang out the rest of your story. That was our formula; I don’t think you could have written something otherwise.
That was when I got in. Sometimes you weren’t home, or at least you pretended you weren’t. Once I was so mad after pounding on your door and getting no response that I ripped back to my car and came back with a pen. I still see myself writing, “Esmo, where’s my fucking story!?” on your whitewashed door in blue ink. You never bothered to erase it; maybe you saw it as underscoring your lethargic defiance.
One time you were really late, and I had been drinking somewhere with Mullin. Apparently you owed him a story for the Reader as well; we began knocking on your door — it was nighttime — and got no response. We went back into Mullin’s apartment, beneath yours, and began pounding on the ceiling with a broom handle. Again, no response.
I don’t recall who was the first to suggest it, and looking back I still don’t see how it could have come to this. But somehow, our anger transmogrified into concern, and we convinced ourselves that you were dead. Mullin was always a bit of an alarmist — back then, he used to estimate the number of weekends he had left in his life before he would be too old to party and bemoan the steadily dwindling supply — and he was flitting about like a moth around a light bulb. We began casing your apartment, looking for a way in — which wasn’t easy, since you were on the second floor. Finally — and I still don’t know how he did it — Mullin found an open window, got to it, and crawled in. I was outside on the sidewalk, keeping watch. I heard a scream, and then you and Jim emerged from your front door. Mullin was still hopping around excitedly, but he had a sheepish look on his pointy face; you were as calm as always. Then Mullin got mad and I got mad, and we both stood behind you and your little typewriter, watching you type until finally Mullin had had enough and went downstairs to bed. You and I each had a beer — one of the few times you had anything digestible in your apartment — and I remember saying over and over, “We thought you were dead. We really thought you were dead.” “Well, I’m not,” you shot back.