Punk Rock, Shmoopiness, and “Mercy”

by Dommie Darko.

Shmoopy. A sickening-sweet term of endearment, as used back-and-forth by Jerry Seinfeld and his girlfriend. Usage of this sugar-laden nickname can bring ones friends near to the point of vomit. See “cloying.”

In high school, my punk rock friends and I owned and wore bondage bracelets. We had very little idea what bondage was. We knew it peripherally related to sex. We wore them because The Sex Pistols wore them. At least we thought they did. It might have been Siouxsie Sioux or Generation X. But we were pretty sure early punks wore bondage bracelets, so we would too.

When I was 14, I fell in love with a girl in my French class. She was a half-Chinese, purple-haired punk rock girl with heavy black eyeshadow and 20-holed Doc Martens. Like me, she wore a bondage bracelet. Hers had a little clip on the side and sometimes, rather than holding my hand, she would clip our bondage bracelets together as we walked down the hallway to our next class. People stared. It was weird, but it felt right. We were connected. It felt like love.

Punk rock was, and is, more than a style of music. There’s a culture surrounding it. And in this culture, people have a different way of expressing love.Sometimes you spat on your favorite band, and if you were lucky, they spat back. Want to show your favorite band how much you like them? Stick your middle finger in their faces and hurl insults (and objects) at them. In the late 90s, the punk band NOFX became famous for being the band that had shoes thrown at them. So famous, in fact, that they named one of their albums “So Long, and Thanks for All the Shoes.”

My friends and I gleefully embraced this bizarre practice of displaying affection. We regularly spat on each other, stuck safety pins through each others ears, punched each other in the face, and gave each other stick-and-poke tattoos. Our propensity for inflicting and enduring each other’s pain brought us closer together. This felt right. I grew up a latchkey kid with absent, alcoholic/drug-addicted parents. I wasn’t accustomed to the traditional ways of expressing love. So I improvised. My ethos: you hurt the ones you love, but you also love the ones you hurt.

Amidst the moshing and verbal belligerence, there was also hugging and embracing. But somehow, these conventional means of affection didn’t feel like they belonged to me. As a teenager, the shmoopy, cloying gestures you heard about in pop songs and saw in romantic comedies were not something I felt comfortable deploying. Further, they didn’t entail the real depths of intimacy that I desperately longed for, and had been deprived of throughout my childhood. The intimacy I desired was an extreme exercise of trust. I had to like and trust you quite a bit if I was willing to let you punch me in the face or spit in my mouth. If you trusted me enough to let me knock you down, then I loved you enough to help you get back up.

Now I’m okay with shmoopiness. Well, I’m understating that a bit. I like shmoopiness. In fact, I love it. The little kisses on the neck and chest. When I say something sweet and a partner looks me in the eyes or squeezes my hand. Still, my favorite time to be shmoopy with a person is after I’ve made them say “mercy.”

“Mercy” is the agreed-upon safeword that means “stop for a minute, I need to catch my breath–then you may begin again.” The word “mercy” has a kind of beauty to it. Last night, I flogged someone. I flogged her tits pretty savagely, and on multiple occasions, she deployed the word “mercy.” She said it breathily, quietly, and when she said it, I would stop flogging and go over to her and let her collapse into my arms and stroke her. And as the night progressed, I heard her say it more. Every time, softly. Hearing her say it like this, my heart melted and I started to become more and more cloyingly affectionate with her. I was compelled toward this because the word “mercy,” coming out of her mouth, did not sound to me like “no more”—it sounded like “I’m ready to surrender to you.” And when I hear that, it breaks down all the hardness in me. It feels intimate. And then I get all shmoopy.

“She tied you to a kitchen chair
She broke your throne, and she cut your hair
And from your lips she drew the hallelujah”
– Leonard Cohen

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