Tackle Box Boys: Honoring those who don’t make it out

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February 1997 San Francisco
Pic from 1997 of the author and her guardian angel, John Thomas Bigley IV.

In January 1997, I hosted a housewarming at my new place in San Francisco’s Lower Haight neighborhood. It was a particularly debaucherous weekend.

The house filled with glamorous and skanky people, skateboards lining the long Victorian hall downstairs. One roommate asked me if I would tell my friends to move their boards, and I reported that only one friend had his skateboard there (my semi-boyfriend, John, visiting from Seattle).

John Bigley February 1997 San Francisco

My roomies and I had a shared moment of realizing the house was full of people we didn’t know. Shortly afterward, someone started smoking crack in the kitchen.

All my raver friends were in attendance of course, including a guy named Rick who was a friend of a friend. He brought his turntables in a big fancy coffin (for the uninitiated, that’s what portable turntables are stored in: a coffin), and was playing jungle in the living room.

Eventually we decided that we had to kick everyone out, and the easiest way to do that was to GO out, so I went into the late night with my pack of motley ravers, headed to some party that had the word “heart” in the title. We were on raver time, though, and showed up at 6am just as the party was shutting down. No matter: to the after-party!

Rick rode in my tiny car with John and me, and before we got out he informed us that he had his tackle box of drugs with him and offered us some. John, who had a whole tackle box of his own back in Seattle, was impressed by Rick’s collection and generosity, and so we took Rick up on his offer before heading into the after-party.

At this point, two sheets to the wind would probably be a pleasant euphemism for the state I was in. I was like laundry out on the line, flapping around the dance floor and talking to some nice girl I met about how she’d just moved to San Francisco (“ME TOO!” I squealed through my clenched jaw). We held hands and sat down leaning against a wall, and she told me about how she’d just started stripping (“Oh — I work at a law firm,” I apologized.)

One morning in 1997

The morning wore on, and things only got bleaker. The only people left on a dance floor at 11am on a Sunday are pretty much wrong in every sense of the word, and there I was: totally wrong with the rest of them.

I left around noon with John and Rick, and we went back to my house to retrieve Rick’s turntables. I was starting to crash pretty hard, hours of sleep dep and chemical abuse catching up with me, but out came the tackle box and then John and Rick and I were up for another round.

It was at this point that even in my dulled, confused, heading up and down simultaneously state I started to realize that these two tackle box boys were sparring over me.

John and I were casual (he lived out of town, we both saw other people), but he was always looking out for me, and Rick picked up on it. The two of them were subtly testing each other and prodding one-another to see what the deal was and who got what piece of the sorry-ass cracked-out 21-year-old raver girl with inverted bob and the glazed over eyes. What a sorry prize.

Tragic crack-out

The two tackle box boys compared tackle box contents. Who had the windowpane? Who had the glass? Who had the orange microdots and who had the darker dank? Who had the benzos and who had the liquid?

The two tackle box boys compared musical tastes and petty crime records. They laughed at each other’s jokes in that hard way that people do when they’re trying to size each other up.

At some point, I snuck downstairs and called my best friend in Seattle sobbing. My head was caving in, the boys were sparring, I’m so tired, but my heart’s pounding really hard, but I haven’t slept since Friday and I’m supposed to go to work in 16 hours and god knows what else I said.

For years my friend wouldn’t talk to me about the conversation, but eventually she finally admitted it was mostly just me sobbing and her being really, really scared for me.

I couldn’t have known it then, but maybe I was crying over the fact that within a few years, one of the tackle box boys would be dead from drug-induced heart failure, and the other would be dying of AIDS somewhere after several stints in jail and years of IV drug use.

Maybe I was crying over the fact that on a certain level I knew that the party lifestyle was only temporary for me, but some of us would never find our way back out.

Some guardian angels walk with us through the darkness, and don’t find their way back to the light.

Maybe I was crying because I realized that I wouldn’t always be 21, and at a certain point time would catch up to me and my futuristic, synthetic-loving friends and we’d all be hitting 30 and suddenly the party girls who passed out on the toilet are in jail for breaking probation, and the younger brothers who always seemed so wacky and wild would be on major rehabilitative medication after long stints in treatment, and all those little bad habits, too — those would catch up with us. The bad eating, the bitchy attitudes, the fake tanning, the cigarettes, the running of red lights.

The first decade of adulthood comes to a close and things get reckoned with and some of us just don’t make it.

The tackle box boys didn’t make it.

And they should have.

Comments on Tackle Box Boys: Honoring those who don’t make it out

  1. It sounds like you and I had very similar rave-life experiences. (Only you were 21, and I was 16)

    I grew up from my party rave life by about 21. Now, almost 26, I look back at some of my old friends and am amazed by how many of them are still at the after party every weekend. Addiction induced suicide claimed one of my best friends in 2008 and it was a huge hit to our community. Many of us are still deeply effect by his passing. While I gained so much from my rave years (a few friends I’ve had now for 10 years, a sense of self, a whole ton of life experiences and more good memories then I could ask for) I would trade them all to have Sean back in our lives.

    • Oh Cherisse, it’s like you took the words right out of my mouth. I’m 33 now, but all of my raver/party kid days were from 16-21 as well. Some of us came out the other side in one piece, but not all that’s for sure 🙁

    • Yep. I’ve kept a diary since 1985.

      Also, my life was extreeeeemely sheltered (like, “living in the woods going to 10-kid schools” sheltered) until I decided in my early 20s that I needed to self-educate and develop some street smarts. Autodidactic learning is hard and scary, but sure was worth it…

  2. I would love more stories like this. While many people come here to get pretty and unusual holiday décor ideas, to learn how to grow mad fucking basil, paint their fridge and other pretty home and life things I think that these stories help us be more open as a community.

    One of the reasons I love Offbeat Home and Life is because you aren’t afraid of telling these stories. I have always felt that an open and inclusive community is open and inclusive because everyone’s experiences no matter how similar or different are expressed and shared. A community can’t really be open to everyone until everyone is able to share openly and truthfully right?!

    I grew up with an entirely different set of sheltered experiences and know that others out there have had another totally different set of experiences. I definitely have a sheltered life experience compared to what exists out there in the world. I would love to hear of more of these experiences because I know that at the moment, I dont really know about them.

    • Yes, thank you for sharing. Part of this story made me feel uncomfortable (zomg tackle boxes full of drugs – an ingenious way of organizing your shit and yet so innocuous looking) and then I realized it was because it was talking about experiences outside my own sheltered upbringing. I would love to read more stories like this, stories that push beyond what it’s “okay” to talk about.

      I’m so sorry for the loss of your friends, Ariel.

  3. Yes, the only difference is that I was an art-punk and a few years older than you. At 42 I’m trying to make up the mistakes I made. The song Crazy really hits the nail on the head for me.

  4. I can relate to this on sooooooo many levels. I married a tackle box boy, we had two kids, I grew up he didn’t. He’s almost 40, lives with his parents and sees his kids twice a month. In 18 years nothing has changed for him. We had a lot of mutual friends, many of them didn’t make it. As we all move toward our late 30’s those who grew up and those who didn’t are finding less common ground. Our little group is splitting.

  5. I have grown up surrounded by the likes of your friends, some hardcore and some, like my parents, who moved on from the assorted tackle box but who never got off drugs. You know I always felt these people were my never brave enough to build real, honest relationships with others or with themselves and were the epitome of selfishness. I mean they were either euphoric, and ignored everything that did not contribute or were so low that they craved support without ever returning any of it. Essentially they were eternal teenagers, as some of them told me they wanted to be.
    I am glad my parents were able to sober up enough to parent me, some of their kids were not so lucky. And when they inevitably died, I felt it was no big loss, because they only lived in themselves.
    Not that I am not sorry for your loss, your story just evoked weird memories in me.

    • I am glad my parents were able to sober up enough to parent me, some of their kids were not so lucky. And when they inevitably died, I felt it was no big loss, because they only lived in themselves.

      One of the things not included in this post (because it’s not my story to tell) is that when John died in 1998, he left behind two young daughters, who are now in their 20s. If he were still alive, he’d be a grandfather twice-over at age 43.

  6. Thank you for sharing this story. I inhabited a different, but perhaps adjacent, “scene” for almost a decade. I’ve attended too many funerals, but I’ve also been to a couple of baby showers and weddings. There are people who have moved on, moved up, and there are those who are not ready yet, or may never leave of their own free will.

    To me, this is “Behind the curtain,” this is why my friend had a goth-lolita-hello kitty themed baby shower instead of a “normal” one, this is a flashback and a forecast. Please let there be more stories like this one. Hell, I’ll write one.

  7. I can’t get over the irony of in image ads on this post being from the “finish it” campaign to stop smoking in our generation. I have screen shots if you want ’em.

  8. Gosh this hit a little close to home, but I really appreciate it.
    When I made the conscious choice to grow up and get sober, I had just moved cities. I found a group of very sheltered friends, who have turned ‘Stories from Fran’s Past’ into a bit of a joke. It’s hard for them to fathom that it’s how I lived, because it’s not a lifestyle they had ever encountered, and now I seem to have it all together. And the throwaway lines hurt. I understand that they just don’t know why someone would make those choices, but if someone has grown from their experiences, who are they to ridicule them?
    I’ve been home too many times for funerals lately, and knowing that I got out before the culture consumed me is what keeps me going through the heartache of losing my friends.
    I’m not proud of the decisions I made, but I am so proud of myself for learning from them.

    • *people with weird backstories fist-bump of solidarity*

      I so hear you on this one. Sometimes I feel like I have 3 parallel lives (let’s not even get into the life I lead around people I’m not out to yet) corresponding to 3 different states I lived in for significant portions of my life. People from Statesota can’t believe half of the stories from back in New State, and when it comes to South State, I don’t even try.

  9. Thank you for posting this. I think as those of us who managed to pull ourselves together get older it is even more painful to think about “what if”, what it would be like to have some of those friends with us, and how sad (and stupid) it is when they are gone for reasons like this.

    I avoided the rave scene because the drug use reminded me too much of watching my older brother spiral into addiction, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t indulge in completely dumb ass behavior of my own. Luckily he’s still with us, though there has been a definite lack of growing up on his part (and in turn it’s affected his kids).

    I distinctly remember a point in my mid-twenties where I thought, “Ok, you have to cut this shit out and get on with your life.” I could see that even my not-too-crazy behavior was going to lead to something stupid.

    • I avoided the rave scene because the drug use…

      I so completely respect this, but for some reason I feel the need to defend my old scene by pointing out that despite the drug use… it really truly wasn’t all about the drugs.

      The rave scene birthed my publishing career (I got my start as an event reviewer, and then editor of a rave magazine).

      The rave scene introduced me to my husband (we met making out at a party New Years Eve 1997).

      The rave scene deepened my understanding of dance, meditation, and community.

      Yes, we also did drugs (and some of us, WAY too many)… but ultimately my time in the community informed some of the things in my life that I value the most like my career and my spouse. (Microsoft gave me my baby, but that’s a story for a different time. ;))

      • Oh, believe me I’m not judging! I definitely did my share though I was more a punk/goth kid and my time came in college. Watching friends get really into the rave scene in high school for the music/dancing and then unfortunately getting totally wrapped up in the associated drug culture was what made me steer clear. I did the same for the Deadhead/hippie scene, which was where my brother was hanging out. I, and friends, have had benefits from all our different experiences, and some people have thrived within their respective social cultures, but I sadly associated some of them more with personal negative things than the good that was there, too.

  10. Thank you, a thousand times. While it was never my scene, I had tackle box boys too. I loved them, and I still do. Nine years later, and I still wait for those rocks on my window, and the empty promises.

    I have a sister as well, by blood. She’s also still alive, though I have no doubt that they’ll all be claimed by it. I cut ties long ago, but you can only cut so deep before the knife hurts you too.

    It’s interesting looking at this from the other side- I can never forget, and it’s hard to forgive myself. Eventually I had to let go and stop trying to help them, before they pulled me in with them.

  11. The interruptions of the in image advertisements make this a surreal and jarring piece. It’s “See these tragic pictures of my dead druggie friends they DRINK MILK! DOES A BODY GOOD!should have survived their reckless irresponsible TOMA LECHE! MILK IS HEALTHY! choices.” The tone is getting warped.

  12. So many feels. There just are no words to how close to home this hits. I’ve been thinking of those party times with an unexpected move to live on my own again. It has had me thinking about all the things that have changed since the last time I moved out to live on my own and the different circumstances. I have no idea what has happened to many of my party friends as I lost touch, but that doesn’t mean I don’t think about them.

  13. Great piece, thanks for sharing this!
    Especially the last paragraph really reminded me of me in my late teens – although I was in the punk/goth scene, but the feelings were the same.

    Do you sometimes fell lonely with your experiences? After I left the scene (or rather, matured into a different direction while most of my friends didn’t), I went to college, got a PhD and work in a research institute now. My co-workers are mostly of the type “I never liked to drink or party much”, always had their straight As, etc etc.

    I feel that my experiences are so different from theirs, that my personality and opinions were shaped by events that do not have a place in their history and their view on the world. And sometimes that makes me feel like an outsider, as if I had a stain on myself that would best not be discovered.

    • I used to feel the same way. I used to be a big part of the rave scene in my late teens / early 20’s. It was a big part of my life (and actually is a part of my life to some degree now – I still go to raves, still love the music, just now it’s 2 weekends a year, not 30). My scene these days is much more “serious”. I just got my PhD in computer engineering. I work for one of the giant web companies. My friends are engineers and academics. Serious people for a Serious world.

      I used to think they were these button-down people. But actually, in many cases, I was seeing a facade of my own construction. I was expecting button-down people and that’s what I found. But actually, a lot of the people I like the most in my “new” life have the same kind of past I do. I saw what I was expecting to see, but actually, some of the most interesting people are people with a past. It’s just not always visible on the surface.

  14. So many feels, I’m still in my 20s and nearing the end of them. There came a time in my early/mid 20s when I could no longer identify the highs my friends were riding and I’m just not OK with being around hard drug use so I quietly cut ties and kept my distance. While most of my old art school friends are still alive and enjoying the lifestyle I worry that one by one they’ll start to not be and it always makes me sad to consider that some people just don’t make it.

  15. I’m going to totally botch my effort to articulate this here, but… The rave scene was tangentially my scene for two-ish years, about 1997-8. There were those of us who knew it was temporary — we still managed to stay in school, hold down legit jobs, not get arrested too often — and those who were fully *in it*. And many in the scene cast us temporary-types as poseurs, because we weren’t *really* living the lifestyle. At the time, I felt that adolescent yearning to belong, which meant I was always consciously trying to get more entrenched in it all. Like… maybe the bitchy raver girls would finally talk to me if I was sleeping with their smack dealer. Or maybe the promoter would use my flier designs if I’d carry his stash across state lines for him. I was courting disaster for the *dumbest* reasons.

    With the benefit of time and Facebook, I have a sense of who got out and who didn’t. The trend seems to be that the more I worshiped a person back then, the more likely they are to be dead or stuck in the lifestyle today. It spooks the shit out of me. I feel like being perpetually uncool kinda saved my life.

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