"I wanted something manly," Karnahan explains.
Because of the prizes contained within the slippery goo of each container, Karnahan's American Greaser Supply products have attained cult status in Southern California, where the company is most successful.
And even though painting houses in the August sun and running a punk-product company are enough to keep a man busy, Karnahan's also been planning the third annual Kowtown Custom Greaserama -- a custom-car extravaganza with a full weekend lineup of cowpunk and rockabilly bands. Some of the bands are local (Chubby Smith, the Von Hodads, the Grand Marquis), and some are national acts (Honeybees, Bloodshot Bill, Boothill).
Karnahan has seen similar shows in other cities. "We gotta do this here. There's no excuse for us not to," he says.
But what are we to make of the phenomenon? Why does the custom-car thing always seem to go hand in hand with punk and rockabilly music? "Custom culture cross-pollinates with so much stuff -- biker culture, surf culture, lowrider stuff and, in the old days, beat culture," Karnahan says. "The big thing is the do-it-yourself ethic and not caring what people think."
It helped that Karnahan and his ilk were desperate for an alternative to the more traditional brand of car show. "People got real disenchanted with car shows where there are oldies being played and people sitting around on lawn chairs," he says. "We get a lot of people who are sick of people trying to outdo each other with money. I kind of derisively call them 'fifties reenactment conventions.' At our show, it's nothing high-dollar, just people being creative with what they have."
Besides, he says, "Some of these cars are really scary. They're all homemade."
Getting from one painting job to another, Karnahan drives a '63 Mercury Meteor, slightly customized. He also has a mid-'60s truck at home -- he just recently started working on that. "I've got this old car that's forty years old, and it's doing fine," he says. "Some people buy a new car every three years."
His message is partly a conservationist one. "How would you like to wake up with every car you ever consumed on your front lawn?" he asks. "It's ridiculous." He has a point. These old cars are plentifully available, and anyone who knows how to keep them running is in luck; cars nowadays aren't made to last, and they're not all that attractive, either. In fact, the way they're making cars these days, one model is hardly distinct from another.
Ultimately, though, Karnahan's in it for the fun. He enjoys hanging out with the other members of the Punk Rods and working on his Mercury.
"I'm a punker," he says. "I'm just a greasy punker."