His head was cue-ball bald and covered with thick, dark blue tattoos.  It looked like an overturned Wedgwood blue willow soup tureen.  His teeth were brown and crooked, or missing.  The name of his favorite football team, Arsenal, was tattooed on his lower lip.  He was wearing a bright blue jacket over a bright green shirt, chestnut-brown American jeans, and red “Paki-bashers”–high-topped, steel-toed boots to be used for kicking immigrants.  He had a compact, stumpy body, a large head, a massive and long nose, and he bobbed up and down when he talked.  Overall, he reminded me of a parrot on a perch.

A lot of people might have thought “Uh-oh, a punk.  This can’t be good.”  But I had been to the rough-and-tumble back-alley clubs and the late night Underground, and I had learned the distinction:  He wasn’t a punk.  He was a skinhead.  I had seen them saluting like Nazis at Trafalgar Square–at Admiral Nelson’s feet–sporting rebel flags and inflammatory lapel buttons.  Lawrence’s said “The Wogs Begin at Dover” and “Stop the Race Bill Now.”  These sentiments were common among London youth, especially during times of economic trials–which was pretty much always.

Punks were bored and harmless kids bound by fashion.  They liked to get attention with flashy clothes, unconventional haircuts, and loud music.  I had sat next to one on a train once.  When he took his Walkman headphones off, an old woman sharing our compartment offered him half of her Kit-Kat bar.  He accepted politely and smiled in a shy way.  The following conversation revealed that he was a design student at Cressex Polytechnic in High Wycombe and was going to London to spend the weekend with his girlfriend, a silk-screen artist named Joan.

Skinheads, on the other hand, are bound by an ideology.  It’s an ugly, vague, and violent ideology, based on white supremacy, nihilism, and reactionary behavior.  It manifests itself mainly in acts of ignorance, meanness, xenophobia, and random destruction.  Unlike punk, it’s fueled by frustration and the fuming resentment that comes from the fear of anything foreign.  Punks are design students; skinheads are bullies.

I had seen skinheads out and around, up to their efforts to get attention and raise eyebrows, and I had come to my own conclusions about them.  Still, though, I was open to the possibility of getting a closer look.  I asked Lawrence a few simple questions about himself, and he was more than happy to talk.  Like most skinheads, he said, he amused himself by engaging in such things as “tipping the lion”–crushing the noses of foreigners on the street and poking them in the eyes (luckily, I didn’t seem to qualify as a foreigner)–exposing himself to passing girls, who sometimes exposed themselves in return, and rolling homosexuals in alleyways.  He bobbed up and down there in the café, smiling and chanting the skinhead homophobic mantra for my edification:  “Tell me, tell me, hobble-de-hoy, are you girl or are you boy?”  If he had had his eyes closed, it wouldn’t have been so bad, but his eyes were wide open and he was looking right at me.  It’s creepy either way, but with him staring at me, it was like watching Clockwork Orange.

Lawrence lived with his brother, Andrew, in a converted customs house on the Thames, but his voice immediately revealed that he wasn’t from London.  His words tumbled out in a torrent of Northern English.  “Thug” sounded like “thag.”

I was intrigued by this character, and strangely happy to have the opportunity to pick his brain.  He was more than willing to talk, so I asked him why skinheads felt compelled to cultivate pessimism and be sheer vandals.  That’s when I got my lecture on Skinhead Ideology101.

Lions and tigers and bears, he said, don’t know themselves from a hole in the ground.  They don’t have self-awareness; they only know what they see, and it’s not like they go around looking in mirrors, now, is it?  The fact that they exist is evidence of a higher order, which created only the species and is therefore not responsible for the individuals.  The individual is on his own, fair game for every other individual.  This distiction, however, does not apply to human beings–at least not those of us who are in The Know, meaning skinheads.  We know there’s a higher order and praise it, so we’re tops and every other species is up for grabs and has “victim” written all over him.  Any consciousness other than pure human–whether it’s lion, tiger, bear, or impure, adulterated, tainted, twisted, bent, distorted human consciousness–is fair game, 100% fair, and that consciousness praises the higher order by being testimony to it.  “Punch some rubbish in the throat and you reestablish universal order, yeah?  I am what you see me do,” he said, grinning and bobbing.  “That’s why I’m here.”