Tampa Bay once suffered a massive influx of racist, neo-nazi skinheads. And within our punk scene was where they converged. Here, fights were inevitable. Though never any that were race related. Collisions were between a bunch of pissed off, middle class white kids suffering the stale, suburban sprawl of Tampa. A city surrounded by a no-where-mans-land of pine forests, swamps, venomous snakes, and death rolling gators. Here, kids suffered what Kierkegaard defined as the human fallacy: Boredom.
And boredom being the root of all evil.
Beyond any personal politics, it was much more about a struggle. A struggle to defend whatever absurd belief system you attached yourself to when young.
Beyond even that, skins, en masse, were imbued with the brute force to whip anyone’s ass.
And there were infamous skins.
‘The Medical Skin’ was one of the crowd favorites. He wore medical scrubs to every show. And it was tradition for anyone (and sometimes everyone) to take a preemptive strike. Before any racial slurs, any puerile, ungrounded propaganda came out of his mouth, he was batted around like a beach ball. Eventually he got tossed out the threshold of the venue. And the next weekend, like clock work, he’d return.
There was the ‘Ear Biting Skin.’ A massive dude rumored to have bitten off someone’s ear in a brawl. His size was off limits: a bull always seeing red. There were instances of him pounding people into the ground: like a sledge, hammering a railroad tie. You steered clear. Always.
And there was the ‘Deaf Skin.’ Solid middle class. Clean cut. Always dressed in finely pressed neo third-reich attire. We thought him ironic considering the disabled were first to go during Hitler’s purges. For the most part, he was physically harmless.
Regardless of who you were, or what side you took in a stand-off, absolutely no one was exempt from getting their ass kicked by the skins. Not even other skins. After all, the ‘mosh’ pit was perpetuated by chaos. If, by chance, you got sucked in, no one was immune.
A swung fist, a stomping boot: once thrown, it stops when it connects.
The skin threat peaked when ‘Skinhead Island’ formed. What seemed like 10 heads wide by ten broad shoulders deep, the column of skins stood static in the middle of the dance floor. With shirts off, arms crossed, and ‘braces’ pulled up over their shoulders, the formation existed to inflict pain. The only virtue was, like an island, it stood still. And like an island, it was surrounded by a sand bar. And that sand bar, a void, was devoid of us punks. We dwelled in the shadows, a giant morphing jellyfish of thrashing kids. En masse, on the periphery, we changed shape to the speed of the music. And away from us, away from our safety in numbers, a drunk kid would often break from the depths. Stumbling inward, he’d spiral towards the island. If he got close, he got punched. And if he beached himself, there was an inevitable boot to the stomach, a brass knuckle to the skull. Sometimes he’d stumble away. Sometimes he’d lay on the floor, knocked into oblivion, with a pool of blood exiting his head.
Like the natural ebb of events, of counter cultures, of political movements, there is reciprocal flow.
In the summer of my junior year of high school was the most massive of fights.
Being the pacifist, I held back near the exit. From there I watched the silouettes of moving bodies. Of kicking. Of elbowing. Of head-butting.
Then the crowd parted.
A skin walked slowly through the isle of idle bodies. His arms folded over his stomach. His hands pressed near his belt line. I could see the blood seeping through the cracks in his fingers. Each finger holding in a bit of tissue. He brushed up against me, uttering a guttural ‘sigh’ to direct me out of his way.
Descending from chaos, the venue, with hundreds of people inside, became complete and utter silence.
And that night, as if the tectonic plates shifted within our punk scene, ‘Skinhead Island’ sunk into the many, forgotten, subcultural histories of Tampa Bay.