Words Dave Carnie. Photos courtesy of Spanky and the internet.
Spanky got burned. Spanky got burned bad. Spanky got burned so bad he had to be admitted to a burn unit. It happened about a month ago. I spoke to Kevin “Spanky” Long as he rode a train with his girlfriend to central California to visit his dad for a St. Patrick’s Day party.
“So do you drink the Jameson or the Bushmills?” I asked. I really don’t care, but I wasn’t sure what the conventions are in regards to talking to burn victims about their injuries?
“I don’t really like Bushmills that much,” Kevin said. “I’m strictly Jameson.”
The argument between the two, in a nutshell, is that Bushmills = Protestant/Loyalist whiskey, while Jameson = Catholic/Nationalist whiskey. I prefer Jameson myself. I think that was largely shaped by James Joyce’s constant inclusion of it in his writings, rather than by any socio-political factors, which I have nothing to do with anyway. But, I would say if you’re going to drink whiskey on St. Patrick’s Day, a Catholic holiday, it seems to make more sense to go with the Catholic whiskey, yeah?
“Anyway,” I said, “can we talk about the burns?” Fuck it.
“Yeah, yeah,” he said. He didn’t sound crispy or anything.
“Well, all I’ve heard is that Neck Face lit you on fire. What happened?”
“Well, it was one of those days where we just fucked off and we were being idiots,” Kevin explained. “Admittedly the memory is a little blurry, but I was just kind of like laying on the ground and he was just trying to fuck with me, like light my shirt and then put it out real quick, because I was just so out of it. I guess after a couple tries of him doing it without me noticing it, it just went up real quick. I tried to roll around, and they tried to put me out, but it all happened so fast that it fucked me up pretty bad.”
Kevin was wearing a flannel shirt, and the fluffier nature of the fabric makes it more flammable. Therefore Neck Face’s fire on the fabulously fantastic flammable fluffy flannel fabric was found to be far from fucking funny.
“We eventually got it out,” Kevin said, “but it kind of went from, ‘Oh shit,’ to like, ‘OH FUCKING SHIT!’ I didn’t realize how bad it was because I was kind of in shock a little bit. It turned out that I had really bad third degree burns in my armpit, and on my chest, and on my back. The worst one being in the armpit. It blistered up super craze. My girlfriend had to pop the blisters that night because I probably would have popped them in my sleep or something. I didn’t think it was that bad, but I didn’t realize that burns get worse as they go. It takes like four days for it to get real bad. Especially third degree burns, because they burn past the nerves.”
Not realizing the extent of his injuries, Kevin went to an urgent care the next day. The urgent care staff also didn’t accurately assess his burns and simply gave him a shot and some pills for the pain, bandaged him up, and sent him on his way. Kevin thought he was still going to Australia on tour the next day. But as the burn kept getting worse, he decided to visit a burn center the following day where he learned it was way more serious than he had thought.
“It was weird,” he said, “because I went in there thinking they would maybe be able to bandage me better. And then I’d be able to go to Australia. But instead they were like, ‘Alright you gotta get in a bed and you have to have surgery tomorrow.’ The first surgery they put cadaver skin on me. They scraped into the burns and put cadaver skin on them. And I ended up with black dude’s skin.”
“What?” I said surprised. “That’s awesome. Can you rap now?”
“No,” he said. “But I can dance, like a motherfucker.”
Kevin said “motherfucker” so smooth and so cool that I had no doubt he does indeed dance like a motherfucker. But this issue of using other people’s skin was very curious to me. “Did they ask permission or anything?”
“No, man, they just did it,” he said, “but I was stoked. The nurse who was changing my bandages was like, ‘Dude, you got black guy skin!’ He was like, ‘Sick. It’s tougher. It’s stronger.’”
“I want black guy skin,” I said excitedly. “And it’s stronger?”
“I guess,” Kevin said. “He said it’s better.”
“That’s so bizarre.”
“I know. It was sick.”
“Is that a medical fact that black people’s skin is better?”
“I don’t know if it’s a fact,” Kevin said, “because it came from the nurse who was just like, ‘Oh yeah, good job.’ He didn’t break it down or anything, it was almost like he was telling me a rumor. It was only in the worst parts, the rest was white people.”
“So how many patches of dead people do you have on you?” I asked. “Do they sew it on, or does it grow on you?”
“I don’t know how it works,” he admitted. “But there were four or five different patches on my chest and ribs and under my arm and toward the back. All the front stuff that I could see was white, and that’s why he informed me.”
I called a southern California burn unit to find out what the deal was. The lady who answered the phone cheerfully told me that all the doctors were out at the moment but that she was an RN and could probably assist me. She almost immediately regretted offering to help.
“So the subject I’m interviewing got black cadaver skin on his burns,” I told her, “and the nurse told him that black guy skin is stronger. Is that true?”
“Yeah, I don’t know about that,” she said hesitantly. “The skin is pretty homogenized, and broke down, and gone through graters and all kinds of things. I’ve never seen that.”
I further wondered if this had ever been a racial or religious issue in her burn unit? “Surely some white racist would object to black guy skin, or a Jewish person would object to non-kosher skin? Has that ever happened?” I asked.
“No,” she said growing even more uncomfortable. “That’s never been an issue. [The cadaver skin’s] not staying. And so you don’t need a match. You’re just trying to trick the skin into thinking there’s something over it. You get a match with the patient’s skin itself.”
At that point she wanted to know who I was and what this was for. I told her who I was and what this was for, and then I asked her who she was and what she was for. But she refused to give me her name. She said she was uncomfortable being quoted. I told her I understood, and thanked her for her time. I hadn’t really gotten an answer, but I learned that calling burn units with weird questions is fun.
“Did Neck Face do this as a study for one of his paintings?” I asked Kevin.
“I don’t think so,” Kevin said laughing. “It was something that was really innocent, especially because it’s Neck Face, he’s so mischievous, I feel like it’s gotten—I mean, granted, the dude did set me on fire. But it got totally blown out of proportion I think.
“I don’t know if you can use the word ‘innocent’ when talking about lighting someone on fire.”
“Yeah,” he said, “but you know what I’m trying to say, right?”
I did know what he was saying. Because I also lit a friend on fire when I was in high school. And my friend was also wearing a flannel shirt. I just kind of waved a lighter under his sleeve without really thinking about it, and his whole arm went up in flames in a split second. We put it out, and he was uninjured, but my “innocent” little prank wasn’t very funny. And in my “OH SHIT!” moment, I saw Death. If no one has told you this before, this is a good lesson to learn: don’t light people on fire.
“You know how friends sometimes offer, by way of apology, to allow you to punch them?” I asked. “Did Neck Face offer to let you light him on fire as restitution?”
“No,” Kevin said, “but after the second surgery, and they had to take some skin from my head, he offered to give me some of his hair. But I didn’t want it because he’s got a lot of dandruff.”
“Now I know how Joan of Arc felt, as the flame rose to her Roman nose ….”
Once the cadaver skin has done its job regenerating the cells beneath, they perform a second surgery in which they remove the cadaver skin and replace it with the patient’s own skin. The transplanted skin typically comes from either the patient’s head or the legs. Kevin opted for his head. Which, of course, requires a shave.
“Wow,” I said, “you went from being a black person to a skinhead in a matter of hours.”
“Yeah,” Kevin said. “And they left my sideburn part so it’s kind of like a skinhead chick hair cut. I went for the head because it heals quicker. And at that point I was like whatever heals quicker.”
While the skin grafts are taking, patients are more or less quarantined to the burn unit to try and minimize the risk of infection. Kevin was in the burn unit for 12 days.
“It was pretty fucking bananas man,” he said. “It sucked. People are fucking bummed when they’re in that much pain. There’s screaming all night. Little kids crying. The doctors and nurses were all super cool and it’s a really professional place. People come from all over to go to that place because they specialize in burns. But just the pain from that kind of shit is so different from anything that I can do on a skateboard. For some reason it was the most uncomfortable thing. And I didn’t even have it that bad compared to a lot of the people in there. You’re kind of quarantined in there on the sixth floor of this hospital. So for like two weeks you don’t see outside of this little fucking unit.”
But Kevin is free now and says that he’s been healing quickly. He said the wound didn’t heal like anything he’s ever seen before. The scabs just kind of flaked off and there was brand new pink skin beneath that doesn’t hurt at all. He’s rolled around a little, but hasn’t properly skated due to the rash guard he has to wear for a couple of months to protect the affected areas.
“Well I’m glad you’re okay,” I said. “That’s a pretty gnarly story. But I’m still wondering, are you part black now? Or is the black part gone?”
“Well, they took that off,” he said, “but once you go black, you never go back.”