Published by John King in Verbal Issue 7
ONE IS NOT BORN BUT BECOMES by Marianne Peyronnet
Bonjour. Let me introduce myself. My name is Charles. Please, don’t laugh. It’s not funny. My name is definitely Charles. Yes, I know… Blame my mother. She had this great idea. When I was born she asked herself: ‘What can I do to make his life miserable? I know, let’s call him Charles!’ My father certainly did what he does best, he looked the other way. I’ve tried different solutions, so as not to be considered a snob petty-bourgeois, which I am certainly not. I was very proud, for a while, of the nickname I chose: King Charles. I thought it was ironic, for a Frenchman, to be a king. I thought it sounded so English too, so classy, until I realised it was a breed of dog. I am not a kind of dog, although I have been a kind of a loser since the beginning of my short existence.
But that will change, because I am becoming a punk. Yes, my name is Charles. Yes, I am fourteen years old. Yes, I am French… Yet soon I will hug and kiss the girl of my dreams. Looking at myself in the bathroom mirror this morning, it was obvious to me, and it will be obvious to her too. I will soon be completely, absolutely, fully a punk. For the moment, I am still becoming one. Yes, becoming. What do you think? That one is born a punk? That Johnny Rotten was born with orange hair and decayed teeth? No. It is a slow process. It is a choice, a thought that develops and changes you forever.
The first time I saw punks was on TV. On the eight o’clock news. First channel. In London, young men and women with strange haircuts were wearing strange clothes. The background music was weird. They laughed and shouted and one of them showed his buttocks to the camera.
It was a fleeting glimpse that my father interrupted, ordering me to change the channel: ‘We’re trying to eat, man! Do they think there aren’t enough horrors in the world, these Rosbif guys? Always showing off!’ Then he relaxed and finished his potatoes quietly, captivated by reassuring images of black children with nothing on, except flies on their faces, and nothing in their deformed stomachs. It wasn’t at this specific moment that I decided to become a punk. I was too young. It was 1977 and I was only ten. But when I saw that girl in the school courtyard, with her shaggy hair and sooty eyes, I remembered the guys on the screen. There was no doubt, I would be one of them: (1) To express my own singular personality, (2) to upset my parents, and (3) to please her.
It has been a few months since my transformation began. Soon the pathetic worm I once was will become a terrible insect (not a butterfly though, butterflies suck). Watch out, good people. Here I come.
I reckon I am already halfway through the process.
It takes a long time. Do you think it’s easy? That it doesn’t require hard work? No, it is like the kung-fu movies, when the nice little lad is fed up with being beaten by bullies and becomes a kung-fu expert, and his vengeance is terrific. It is the same as far as my metamorphosis is concerned. In fact, it is harder, because in the movies there is always a master to help the nice little guy, and I have to handle this on my own. There is no chance of my brother being my guide. He is five years older than me and could have helped, but no… Of course, he loves music. But he’s stuck in a disgusting past – Genesis, Led Zeppelin… Everything I hate. Boring ten-minute guitar solos and embarrassing skin-tight trousers.
I had to launch myself on the rising road of my cultural revolution. And I started at the beginning. I went to the record shop and bought the Sex Pistols album. The yellow one. I was not completely stupid; I knew the Sex Pistols were the beginning. It was a slap in the face, my friends. Where was I before? Rotten was screaming for me. He woke me from a coma. Set me on edge. And not only me. As I sensed, I could fulfill my second reason for becoming a punk very easily: my parents were upset. They still are. They are upset when I come back from school and listen to ‘God Save The Queen’ very loud, they are upset in the evening when they watch TV, and on Sunday morning too.
I am growing up.
After the Pistols, my education has been easy. The Clash, The Damned, Siouxsie And The Banshees, Buzzcocks, 999, Dead Kennedys, The Ramones… The record dealer is very nice. He lets me listen to what I want, when there aren’t too many people in his shop. He is friendly, even though I spend so much time and so little money there. My pocket money can’t match my desires, so I have to be cautious when I buy an LP. The vinyl crepe goes round and round in circles till it feels dizzy. And the sleeve is examined in every detail. Pictures of the bands are what I love best. Appearance matters. And I look like those boys. Not too handsome. Not too burly. Rather thin and crumbly, like a cracker. I’ve bought a second-hand pair of Doc Martens. They are too big for me, so my feet look huge and my calves seem skinny. I like that. It allows me to achieve my first aim inexpensively.
Two weeks ago I cut my hair and that second reason jumped to the top of the list. I took scissors and cut strands off the top of my head. My mother didn’t like that. She grabbed me by the arm and shook me as if I was five years old. ‘What the hell goes on inside your head?’ she said. ‘On my head,’ I replied. She didn’t burst out laughing. She didn’t like my Billy Idol grin either. A smack was close, but what could she do? Glue the hair back on? My father just said that he would never walk next to me in the street again. Won’t you, Dad?
They have nothing to really complain about. My grades have improved significantly, especially in English. I have learnt a lot of words through trying to understand what the bands are saying in their songs, and my accent has become good since I started screaming their lyrics, at least those that are written out and come with the record. When they are not, I try to decipher them and I write them in a notebook. I am very good. Sheena is a punk rocker, Sheena is a punk rocker, Sheena is a punk rocker now… Punk punk punk rocker, punk punk punk rocker, punk punk punk rocker… Just kidding. Most of the time, I leave holes in the sentences and it sounds like this: White riot, I want a riot, White riot, A riot na na na, or like this: Neat Neat Neat na na na na na na Neat Neat Neat na na na na na na… at all.
Please, don’t make fun of me. I deserve to be respected for my bilingual dictionary, and at least I know what Neat means. And I started reading books. Yes, I did. No choice. If someone asks me questions about what the bands say in interviews, I should be able to answer. Punks are so clever. Now I know everything about anarchy, si-tu-a-tio-nism, rebellion, and bollocks.
On the other hand, girls are not a subject that I am mastering.
Nevertheless I progressed significantly last Saturday when I kissed Fat Fifine. My evil plan worked like a charm. Here’s the thing: I am fourteen and had never kissed a girl. Shame on me! And if I wanted to achieve my third aim, I didn’t feel comfortable seducing the most beautiful girl in the world with no experience. So I decided to experiment with what I had to hand, that is to say, Fat Fifine. Delphine, that’s her name. The daughter of my parents’ friends. I only call her Fat Fifine in my head. I am a gentleman. Our parents are friends and they have dinner together every weekend. Last Saturday, they came to my home. And as usual, as they were about to have their pre-dinner drinks, my mother asked me: ‘Why don’t you take Delphine to your room. You could listen to your records. You are really not very smart. Look at her! How gorgeous she is!’ And my father added: ‘If I was your age…’ And her parents laughed: ‘Behave yourselves.’
What else were we supposed to do? We couldn’t just stay in the living room and watch them get drunk and listen to their bullshit, so I brought Fat Fifine to my room. Usually we sit on the floor, I put some music on until my mum calls us for dinner. When Fat Fifine talks, I turn the volume up, so that I don’t know what she’s thinking about. I guess she loves me. She keeps staring at me and pretends to like The Clash. Even if she is rather ugly, I said to myself: ‘What could go wrong?’ After all, she seemed to be consenting, and as we are not in the same school, she was not going to brag to people I knew.
I knocked her over on the bed before she could start to open her mouth. As I expected she let me kiss her and touch her breast a little. It was as I thought it would be, more or less. Wet. Soft. But at least I could teach myself to French kiss a girl. Then I stopped, put ‘Fresh Food For Rotting Vegetables’ on, and said: ‘Thank you’. You see, I am well-mannered. When we came back into the living room she was just a little redder than usual and she had lost a barrette. Her father was speaking loud and my mother was giggling like a guinea pig. Saturday night fever…
Well, it has allowed me to loosen up. I am ready. I can feel it. I am ready to become the happiest man on earth. I am about to go out with the most fascinating girl in the history of mankind. I’ve got it covered. I’ve been spying on her for weeks. I’ve been standing at the corner of the street she takes alone every morning. To get her used to seeing me, I’ve been there every day for a month, trying to look smart and mysterious, pretending not to be interested, casually lighting a cigarette and looking at her through the plumes of smoke. I can see that she pretends not be interested either. She never looks at me. Cheeky girl.
Today is the day. I woke up early. I have polished my look: black trousers, favourite shoes, scruffy hair. I have walked the streets with the classy gait I have rehearsed: my back straight, shoulders rearward, taking great steps, staring at the horizon. I know exactly what I am going to say to her: ‘I have noticed that you like Siouxsie,’ and she will reply: ‘Yes, I do’. Something like that. Then I will say: ‘You look just like her,’ and after I will confess to having been attracted to her for a long time. I will tell her we have a lot in common, that I love punk bands too, that I think she’s very pretty with her kilt and ripped tights, that I love her more than anything, that we could be Sid and Nancy, that I could lend her my records…
Here she comes. She has five steps to take and I will never be lonely again. 5, 4, 3… I can hardly count. I feel as if the veins in my neck are going to explode. I clear my throat. The last thing I want is a falsetto voice. 2… I slide forward slightly to stand in her way. She must not miss me. Go, go, go. I take the plunge. 1…
‘Hi. I have noticed that you like Siouxsie…’
‘Get out of my way, moron.’
‘ ––––––– ’
I guess it’s going to take longer than I expected.