My brother Mark had moved into a small house with a friend shortly after the house fire. He had just graduated high school and was cooking at a hotel restaurant. People thought the hotel was kind of fancy because it was on a piece of land that jutted out into the Columbia River. It was called Clover Island.
Some people still believed he had something to do with the house fire but nothing was ever proven.
Every time I went to the new house that he lived in, it smelled of thick pot smoke and thin beer. Mark was also becoming more interested in motorcycles at this time. I thought this combination of things added up to being a Hells Angel or something. Dad didn’t like me going over there because he probably knew what was going on.
One night though, I made up some kind of story and went over there to watch a KISS concert on HBO. There were other people there, most of them sitting on the floor as Mark and his roommate tried to figure out how to hook up the stereo speakers to the TV. About halfway through the concert, Gene Simmons began an ominous bass refrain between songs and then started spitting fake blood out of his mouth. But he wasn’t really spitting. It was more like he was just letting it gurgle out of his lips and down his chin. When he was done, he stuck his long tongue out and gave a devious look as the band started into “God of Thunder.” Everyone watching the concert totally loved this, except me. I thought it went too far and I was afraid I might have nightmares about the bloody face. Someone said it was a trick, that Gene kept a packet of goat’s blood in the back of his mouth until it was time to bite down on it. The person who explained this said it was easy to hide stuff in your mouth. He pulled at the corner of his mouth with a finger and showed us a wad of gum stuck to one of his stained wisdom teeth.
I always liked Paul Stanley, the star-eyed guitar player and singer, better than Gene. I liked the pucker of his lips, the androgynous superhero quality that he had. Plus he owned a certain cool quality the rest of the band lacked. He would never stoop to spewing blood.
Later on, when Peter Criss stepped out from behind the mammoth cluster of drums and sat at the edge of the stage to sweetly serenade the fans with their unlikely hit “Beth,” one of the floor sitters nodded at me and said something to Mark. “He’s cool,” Mark said. Then suddenly there was a joint being passed around.
Being “cool,” I wasn’t sure what was expected of me. I was maybe eleven or twelve and I hadn’t even puffed a cigarette yet. When the joint was offered to me I simply passed it on to the next person. By the end of the ballad, it was so small that someone had put a tiny clamp on the thing. I started to think that the whole getting stoned thing was looking pretty desperate.
Dad never found out that I went over there to watch the concert but he did give me a disappointed shake of the head a few months later when I got a t-shirt with a KISS picture ironed on it. We were out at Skipper’s for our Friday night fish dinner and he said, “Do you know what that means? It means Kids in Satan’s Service.”
Fried fish was the only food I liked with ketchup. I squirted the thick red goo into the little paper cups and thought about the bloody face as we waited for our dinner.