His pixelated face leaned back into the frame on my computer monitor with a refreshed grin, the music having changed from Death Metal to Wagner. "For a while I played in a band that did metal covers of Wagner and Verdi at raver clubs." His stories always seemed to be part tall-tale, part drug-induced hallucination, and part artistic license, but what made him so fascinating was that I believed every word he said. His articulate speech laced with uninhibited profanities, the only name he would give was Baal when we met in an Internet chat room, and with blonde hair and blue eyes he was a bizarre twist on the ideal American boy. Baal is the self-proclaimed "Pack Leader" of between five and fifteen street punks somewhere in California. Apparently living in a loft above an abandoned warehouse they jokingly call Neverland, Baal was anxious to tell me about his adventures when I propositioned him online to meet me for a series of webcam interviews.
Baal's earliest memories are of a life on the streets, where he was actually quite lovingly raised by a group of people that apparently did not include any biological relatives. His "Mommy" was a (male) ex-body builder who stood over six and a half feet tall and had taken a vow of silence; his "Reverand" was a seminary school dropout that now based his religious teachings on ancient pantheons including the Egyptian and Greek gods; his "Brother" was a boy that a six-year-old Baal had helped birth in a back alley. "When I tell people I was raised on the streets, they always respond with sympathy. I don't want anyone's f***ing sympathy. Children being forced into a mindless mold of apathy, completely void of independent thought, never knowing a d*** thing about the real world outside the sterility of their suburban home... these children need our sympathy." Baal speaks frequently and passionately of children's rights and Peter Pan as if they are part of his personal religious doctrine. Baal claims not to remember a time before losing his virginity. I asked him if he was molested as a child, and he responded that while he may have been raped at various points in his life, he would not claim that he had lost his virginity to a pedophile. "I was very sexual as a child, and very outgoing. Sometimes that got me into trouble. But I would never trade the positive experiences I had in order to erase the negative ones. I'll keep my battle scars."
The way in which Baal was raised most definitely influenced his current lifestyle. He has vowed to live in a state of self-induced poverty, remaining homeless in spirit even if he has a roof over his head. According to Baal, it is important to never become materialistic or to let "Corporate America and its puppet government own your soul with their blood money and social security licenses to breathe."
Baal has never had any sort of professional job, and in fact his sources of income seem a little shady, rebuilding motorcycles from "remainder" parts, and earning his keep through "favors." Baal's outgoing sexuality has also remained from his younger days, and he very freely talks about his non-monogomous alternative sex life, referring to himself with names most people would consider to be blatant insults, but that he seems to wear like a badge of honor... literally. "This was my second brand," Baal explained with pride as he revealed a section of pale skin on his backside with strange faded lines that formed the letters F, A, and G. Baal did, however, walk away from his childhood with some very important values that are often forgotten by more conservative people. He very strongly believes in helping those less fortunate.
Over the course of several days, Baal introduced me to his numerous loft-mates, although several of his friends refused to appear in front of the webcam for various reasons that seem to teeter on the brink of paranoia. One of his loft-mates was very beautiful with multicolored hair and costume-like attire. This turned out to be a boy who went by the name of Fagg, and he would often ask Baal to hand over use of the webcam. Baal also proudly introduced his Brother, a boy named Nathanyl with bright red hair and a coarse voice, who had apparently been well on his way to a serious comic book artist career before sustaining a serious injury to his hands. Next was a boy with a mowhawk and scars on his face, and then an asian boy with long hair.
Most of Baal's friends had been living on the streets before coming to the loft, and many of them had been in very dangerous situations before finding support in this unconventional family. One boy told me a heartbreaking story about living in an abusive home where he felt completely trapped, and he had met Baal on the night he intended to kill himself. "Baal saved my life, he gave me hope," the boy said. Fagg, on the other hand, was very seriously into masochistic activities, and Baal stood as a sort of guard to help him know when to stop so as not to get seriously injured.
The more interesting loft-mates however, were not any of the boys in leather and spikes, but those in fur and scales. "I don't turn anyone away who needs help if I can offer it," Baal says, and that apparently applies not only to people, but also to animals. Throughout our meetings, Baal would be nursing orphaned puppies, or changing bandages on an injured cat, or even doing physical therapy with a recovering pigeon. Baal is an avid animal rights activist who lives by what he calls "street-vegan" code. "I will never buy chicken or beef or pork or eggs. But if I find leftovers in a dumpster, I don't ask for an ingredients list, I just give thanks." Motioning to his painted leather jacket, Baal further explained that he doesn't pay for his leather either. In the past year, Baal has rescued more than 40 dogs, 25 cats, numerous squirrels and raccoons, several birds, a couple reptiles, and one potbellied pig. It may not seem like the ideal setting for an animal rescue program, but Baal seems to have an undeniable bond with the animals who respond to his respect and love with the same. "I try to find good homes for most of them, or rerelease the birds and wildlife, but as you can see," he says, pointing the webcam at the zoo-like apartment behind him, "it doesn't always work out that way." Many of the animals Baal has rescued have sustained serious injuries or have chronic illnesses which prevent them from being adopted out to new homes, and many of the wildlife animals return to the loft after being released. "The animals are Pack to us. Even when we don't have money for food, the animals are well-fed and cared for."
Baal is also a dedicated artist, being a songwriter and performer. He has apparently run several theater troupes that have performed everything from Shakespeare and Greek Tragedies to modern theatre-in-the-round, giving free performances in parks and schools. He also plays guitar and sings in clubs, both solo and in various bands. Baal also dances. "Whether it is ballet or erotic, dance is very religious to me. To me, dance is a form of prayer, and it is very sacred." Apparently, Baal never asks for payment for any of his art or performance, but instead puts out a donation jar. "If people are touched by my work and feel compelled to help support what we're doing with the animals, I welcome them to give tips. But I will not prostitute my work, my art is never for sale. Art is something you do because you love it, not because you want to get paid for it. That would be like taking a piss in the communion cup at a Catholic church, it's simply sacrilegious to mix money with art." Baal also encourages others to pursue their artistic visions despite any forces working against them, and several of his boys have become quite successful in the arts and the underground music scene.
Baal is certainly a fascinating character. He smiles like Peter Pan when he tells stories, but handles injured animals like a trained surgeon. He is wild and unpredictable, but extremely faithful to those he loves. While Baal may be quite unconventional, and outright offensive to most people, he is actually one of the only people I have met who is living his life exactly the way he wants to. "I feel good about my life, and whenever anyone questions my lifestyle, I tell them to take a look at themselves and figure out why they're not happy. It's because they're not actually doing what they feel is right. Once you figure out how to get rid of any…