The Last King of the Skinheads

The Last King of the Skinheads

Fucked off in the gutter for the last time, for the first time he thinks about his life. Whiskey and speed, he picks up his teeth off the sidewalk shimmering with shattered glass in the summer haze of the streetlamps. Neon signs from the liquor store window glow beacons for mosquitos and gnats and moths and horseflies and beetles and earwigs. He groans and flops back, shoulders on the curb, and knows that it’s his last rodeo. Yeehaw… he mutters through a split lip seeing a blur of four men run away from him in the place of the two that actually cracked him upside the head.

Northwest side days seem so far away from the Douglass Park boulevard raging with ancient potholes, rotting storefronts boarded up with nails, and bursts of blown out spray paint looking like incomprehensible cursive in the shadow of the barren streets sounding out with revving tires and cooing ambulances in the distance.

He used to play a lefty guitar. The Toy Doll’s logo was tattooed on the back palm of his strumming hand. When The Special’s or Fishbone or The Aggrolites came into town, he would join them on stage for old two-tone covers and then dive off recklessly into the crowd, like the one time at The Metro when he was only in his twenties that he hurled himself off the high balcony in the rafters and splattered four college students into the floor with his steel toes and elbows during Cock Sparrer’s set, getting thrown out by security, banned for life, and then snuck back in just to have his ass beat by the back dumpsters.

Spirit of 69 is tattooed across his shaved forehead. He’s sick of explaining what it means. When his band played London for the first time, he got it inked in a street shop on the east end. The second time the band went out they couldn’t bring him with. His crew affiliations were listed as a gang by the FBI. He could never leave the country again.

But he didn’t want to.

He fell in love with a girl.

On their first date, he brought along a stripper to test the waters. To see how much shit she could handle. Her, at the end of her rope, lights out, heat shut off, no running water, showering at Planet Fitness for the 10 dollars a month membership, was open to anything. She had nothing left to care about.

She spent her young life on the run from her father. Her mother took her from the ranch in northern Mexico, to Texas, and Chicago, where she worked in a factory out by Rosemont and kept them in a cramped roach infested apartment in a lot down the street from the casino. Her mother and her brother were her only joy. It was the day after she got her dead tooth that her father found them and brought her to Washington State. She was hoola-hooping in the parking lot when a car roared out of its parking spot, the hoop connected to the bumper, snagged her, and dragged her onto the black top, and her front tooth was black forever. When she woke up, she was in her father’s arms.

And when she made it to Washington, he put her to work in the fields picking greens for the Jolly Green Giant corporation for peanuts worth of cash and was homeschooled at night in her spare time.

Her childhood was stolen from her.

One night she ran away, through a bad part of town, with just a bag of some snacks, some changes of clothes, and what little money she had. She knew the dangers of her expedition. So, she smeared her face with dirt and tipped down a baseball cap over her brow, stuffing her hair up in it to appear more like a man. She had a screwdriver tucked into her back pocket that she stole from her old man for protection. She spent the night under a bridge next to flowing waters. In the morning she bathed in its brown pollution, dressed, and applied for a job at a local grocery store.

The old man who owned it saw her and took pity. “My daughter is away at college,” he told her, “You can stay in her room while she’s gone,” and for two months she lived in the plush pink bedroom of a McMansion eating hot meals and drinking soda pop and fresh juices, making more money and living more comfortably than she ever did in the fields. But when the daughter came home for spring break, the old man kicked her out, and she ran away again, back to her mother. When she returned, her brother was gone, having procured a job as an intermodal truck driver. She never saw him again, but sometimes late at night if she was sober enough to answer the phone, he’d tell her about places he’d been, like Cincinnati or Hartford or Charlotte or Santa Monica. The cities sounded like a fairy tale and his voice sounded like it was already a ghost.

She moved to Pilsen and rented an apartment with the roof caving in and cracks in the walls which would later worsen when a future ex punched the dry wall in with his fists. The first weeks she slept on her jacket on the dusty floor, no furniture, no running water. She pawned everything she owned to secure her place. She got a job at the candy factory on Fullerton next to the Vienna Beef, and one of her male coworkers would always try to follow her home.

She found a stray cat, or rather one of the stray cats of Pilsen found her, smoking under the California pink line tracks, and she took it in and never gave it a name. It ate the mice and bugs and snuggled her face laying on her neck for warmth in the night, pawing her eyes open for a tin of preserved tuna in the mornings.

She felt older than she was. It wasn’t often that she smiled. When she met her first boyfriend, he was the spitting image of her father. Police eventually intervened and he was to never return. Now there was no one to protect her from the harassment of the Satan’s Disciples gangbangers posted up on the corner. So, she told them she was a bruja.

She would spend Christmases in Chinatown drinking tiki drinks and chewing dumplings. Some years her mother would drop by with tamales for her to reheat. Some years she didn’t see her at all.

It was no surprise when he showed up on her doorstep for the first date with a stripper that she had no reactions left inside of her. She took their hands and went off into the night, slugging Old Style cans and blasting Articles of Faith in the stripper’s car.

He moved in with her within a month and he got the lights turned on. The heat was stuffy and burned the nostrils with its rank smell but she didn’t care. She lay naked above her sheets sweating through the winter nights, smiling… smiling in her sleep. He would be passed out on the couch with his straightlaced oxblood boots still tied behind his ankles, shirt off, braces hanging by his hips, snoring the shuffle of bowing saws churning through the felled wood of a great tree.

He told her all the stories of his life. Chicago in the 80’s. Fighting Hammerskin Nazi’s and CMS fence-walkers at shows at the Congress with Rob, his black skinhead friend who grew up in Cabrini Green. He told her of the bands he had met. The shows he had played. The crazy times he had working as a stage hand for the Aragon Ballroom. He told her he knew people pitied him when they wouldn’t fire him from their jobs. He knew they knew he was too crazy. He would have nowhere else to go.

He impressed her with his confidence when he showed up to the dive bars, flashing his balled fist in front of the bouncer’s face, “Hey, you ever see one of these?” before rotating it back around in a loop and sucker punching him in the gut. She was laughing hard all the time for the first time in her life.

When money was tight, they would gather DVD’s and computer wires and speakers and busted acoustic guitars and hock them at the pawn shop on Western and Cermak. It paid the rent and got them a fifth of Red Stag and a six-pack of beer. One night it was storming. They ran draped in cutup trash bags through the rain to the nearest liquor store. She remembered walking through the streets of her childhood with dirt on her face sleeping by the river, and she was grateful. She was grateful for what her lot had become.

They drank to the good times, and then drank the good times away. It wasn’t two years in until she stabbed him in the gut in the middle of the night after catching him messaging multiple other girls on his burner phone. He bled out in their shower, brown red streams running thin into the hair clogged in the drain. That was probably the first time his jaw clenched tight. From there on out he talked through his yellow teeth in broken raspy grumbles. Marble mouth. People began to laugh at him because his annunciation was border line incomprehensible.

When they made up, he took her to the Liar’s Club. A punk band sporting Mohicans and spiky leathers sung gang chants on the stage and he jumped up on the bar and air guitared in his bomber jacket sewn up with patches and the insignia of his crew across his chest, kicking people’s bottles and mixed drinks into their faces. No one dared retaliate. He was a wildcard. And there were a bunch of other skinhead goons there to back him up.

He was getting older. He couldn’t party as hard anymore but he still took speed, snorted things up his nose in bathroom stalls, taking shot after shot with all the new-bloods who looked up to him, thought of him as a legend. He’d whisper stories in their ear below the blasting speakers hissing through his broken teeth which they could barely comprehend, nodding their heads and laughing when they thought he might be telling a joke, only to be elbowed rough in the shoulder and spit at when their intuition proved them wrong.

He never changed his ways. SFFS he had tattooed on his left set of knuckles.

Skinhead Forever. Forever Skinhead.

He never stopped messaging other girls either. Younger women in the music scene who liked him because he was tough and had a once handsome face that was now rough around the edges in an endearing way. His girl had loved him for a long while. But when she found out, her heart sunk back into the coldness of her youth. Where she used to sing to him and stroke his eyebrows when he was faded drunk and needed help dozing off to sleep, she now sung him a brass knuckle lullaby, splitting his chin and lips with her metal grip as he grasped desperately at his face, and guffawed, “You bitch!” while blood streamed through the cracks in his wretched crooked fingers.

When she kicked him out, he moved to the squat in Douglass Park around a bunch of other people his age. So many from his youth had hung up their boots, gotten sober, gone straight, gone to school, picked up “real” jobs, started families, moved to the suburbs, forgotten what their chanted anthems and fast times were really all about.

He went on various week-long benders. Sometimes ending up in the hospital. Sometimes ending up in a random basement or even face down in the snow. In the squat visual artists displayed movies on projectors or painted abstract images on the walls. A man raised a chicken from an egg to adulthood and then one day cut off its head while high on methamphetamines.

He regained consciousness one night pissing into the toilet, only to realize he was pissing on his friend’s cat. This was his friend who had first hand witnessed both her parents’ murders as a child and never processed it through therapy and now would be angry and violent over seemingly superficial things. She kicked him down the back stairs and threw his belongings down into the street, and even some of the other residents joined in throwing beer and liquor bottles at him in a mix of humor and veiled resentment towards his inability to be a considerate roommate.

He hissed through his teeth and flipped his two fingers at them in a crooked “V” stumbling away into the alleys and avenues of the neighborhood. He entered a liquor store which also happened to fry up catfish til 4 AM and waited in line for a fifth of Red Stag because it reminded him of her. He wasn’t aware that his tattoo reading the word “SKINHEAD” on the back of his neck was peaking up above the collar of his Fred Perry twin tipped track jacket.

A white stranger in an all black neighborhood, he was dragged out of the liquor store by his taut red braces and beaten into a pulp on the sidewalk, his bottle of Red Stag smashed against his teeth. He didn’t have time to explain to them what the Spirit of 69 meant. Or what two-tone meant. Or that with the help of his crew he stomped the Nazi’s out of Chicago in the mid to late 90’s. Or that he met Laurel Aitken and Desmond Dekker. And he knew no one would believe him anyway.

He sits to the last moments of his life, hissing through his teeth, laughing, or maybe choking, like a stray dog straddling the boulevards of pale heaven and a flaring orange hell. He speaks but it’s just muttered garbage. He thinks of his life, but mostly in flashes of images. The only words or emotions he can connect to these frames of memories is a deep apologetic sadness. He wishes she were here. He doesn’t know why he did it. But he wants to tell her that he’s sorry.

Not so far away at Rush Hospital, she sits on a gurney in a floral gown, plastic bracelet around her wrist and IV plugged into a vein from a monitor gently beeping as carts roll by and nurses speak in muted chatter. Her eyes open weakly. Limbs heavy. A nurse enters and she smiles for the first time in so long. She doesn’t know how she will make it but there is no choice. She will.

Right now, it doesn’t matter. Into her arms is handed a newborn baby boy. She rocks him cradled tightly and feels the soothing softness of his skin as he whimpers and reaches out to her with pudgy fingers.

She hopes this softness will last forever.


About the Author

Adam J. Galanski-De León is the author of the novella, The Magpie Funeral (Querencia Press), and the forthcoming novel, Szarotka (American Buffalo Books). His work has apeared in Farside Review, Masks, Penumbra, and other journals. Adam lives in Chicago, IL with his wife and four cats. He maintains a website at


Photo by Libertinus Yomango, originally posted to Flickr as Campino Out-Stage Diving II