For the last number of months I’ve been working on new volumes. Tales From Truman Park. These volumes are perhaps my best work to date. Often bizarre, absurd, hilarious and even a bit disturbing; Tales is an action packed romp through the long lost age of 1990’s romanticism.
Tales from Truman Park – volume one
I was 15 years old. I was riding back to my inner city sector on a transit bus…good old number 7, headed for Truman Park—the roughest part of town. I was sitting in a graffiti covered seat listening to my Walkman and staring out the window at the passing shop fronts—I didn’t know any better…none of us did. Many of the shops were boarded over or vacant and up for lease. An old paint store, a flower shop, a card shop, a mechanic, an X rated video store…a gas station. Further on, my window passed the whores who stood out in the cold with miniskirts and high heels every night, looking stoned and broken down.
The only other passenger on the bus pulled the cord, illuminating the ‘next stop’ light with a soft friendly ding of the bell. When he rose, turned my way and made his way toward the door, a shot of adrenaline chilled my gut. I knew the face…I’d never forget such a homely mug, and certainly I’d not forgotten the shit kicking I’d endured the afternoon he and his brother had cornered me in a shipping yard, punched me up and subsequently stomped me with the treads of their sneakers. Indeed, Harvey and Christopher Hastings hadn’t fought fair—they’d ganged up.
The recollection of our run-in flashed back at me through a series of slides, each depicting the tread marks their sneakers had left on my t-shirt—a bloody design stained into my shirt and one I wouldn’t soon forget. Though my stop wasn’t for another six blocks, I exited the bus from its rear door and followed the Hastings kid up the avenue. I knew where he lived and knew we were getting closer to his house so I caught up with Christopher Hastings; the kid who’d stomped me all those years ago.
“Hastings.” I said.
He turned casually with his head tilted back to one side—his signature posture. I always felt he did it in order to look down his nose at you; it was either that or a perpetual kink in his neck. He held a large bag of Doritos in one hand and fed himself one, crunching the chip loudly as he squinted at me on the darkened street.
“Who’s that?” he asked under the sound of the cars rolling by.
“Don’t you recognize me?” I said taking off my Descendents ball cap and replacing it on my head backward.
“Drawing a blank.” said Hastings, shrugging and turning back toward the direction of his house—one which contained his drunken, wife beating father, his blown out mother and his derelict siblings.
“You know me.” I said, following behind him as he crossed the street, “You and your brother beat the shit out of me a while back…for no apparent reason I might add…very curious, wouldn’t you say?”
“You better get lost if you know what’s good for you.” Hastings said over this shoulder.
“I know what’s good for me.” I said.
Feeling this required a reaction, Hastings turned, again casual and with his head held on a tilt, “Well, make your move bitch.” he said dryly through a mouth full of Doritos.
I didn’t need a formal invitation. I lunged quickly, grabbing the lapels of his jacket and using the momentum of my weight, I swung him—catapulting him into a nearby mailbox. The impact was hard and tipped the mailbox, sending it to the sidewalk with a loud and hollow metallic thud. Hastings toppled over it and landed hard on his right shoulder. He was hurt and didn’t mind letting the sleeping neighbors know about it—however, the sleeping neighbors had heard it before…they heard it every night; and a damn sight worse. He was on his own—and he knew it.
“What the fuck was that for?” he moaned, rising to his knees and holding his arm against himself like a broken wing.
“I already said…” I told him and felt the adrenaline build as I readied myself to even the score for what he and his brother had done to me, for no apparent reason. I saw it all so cinematically at that moment. I wanted my revenge to be grizzly—a mess he’d remember every time he looked at his ugly mug in the mirror. It’s what I wanted…but it wasn’t what I was going to do. Instead, I realized, then and there that by exacting revenge on Hastings, I’d be no better than he and his hell bent albino siblings. It was a club I didn’t wish to be part of—it was an action I didn’t care to own. Instead, I resorted to informative dialogue:
“You’ll get yours one day you degenerate inbred.” I said, stepping around him carefully in case he should lunge at me.
However, Hastings didn’t lunge; he only held his shoulder, wincing in pain which may have been fabricated for all I knew. Either way, he’d tell his brothers and they’d come after me again—even though I’d not given Hastings what he so dearly deserved. They wouldn’t comprehend my decision not to, they wouldn’t fathom the insight. For there was a code in place and tit was most definitely for tat in Truman Park.
That was our neighborhood—or at least that’s what it had become. Certainly it hadn’t begun as grim, but indeed had become systematically worse over the years; it was a district known simply as ‘the hood’. It was a damn sight worse than that however. Of this I can assure you. Though I was fascinated by the old broken down Victorians that housed historical relevance and the abandoned buildings along Central Ave. that had once been booming factories, and the old graveyard with tombstones dating back to the 1800’s which sparked existential ponderings; Truman Park was for the most part forgotten by city council and therefore the rest of the inhabitants—nightly blurbs on the evening news acted more as side-show updates…dinner time entertainment…a train wreck nobody could stop looking at. How bad could it get in Truman Park? The question kept them from turning the channel.
For us residents of Truman Park, we had gotten used to the routine; to spot blood stains on the sidewalks, to pass by knife fights and acts of vandalism in progress during a casual stroll to the corner store…to see paramedics removing a murdered body from an alleyway dumpster or the firemen extinguishing a car engulfed in flames—then just leaving the melted remnants there next to the curb—for weeks; nobody cleaned up around Truman Park. Though there were few rules in Truman Park—no one wanted to know about them.
The routine also included random altercations. Truman Park was full of vendettas and brawls and gang-ups–most of which occurred at random. Avoiding these was always in the back of one’s mind–and so one became street smart whether one wanted to or not. There was also the art of being on good terms with one’s guardian angels. Sometimes a little luck would pull you out of a tight spot. If you were intelligent, this all illustrated one main concept—no matter how tough you thought you were—there was always someone tougher and they were usually around the next corner; so, you kept a low profile around Truman Park…I tried to at least–but the residue of danger was everywhere.
One afternoon while trudging through the snow on my way to Truman Park high school, I came across a vast red pool of blood, soaked into the snow…giving it the color and texture of a Mac’s cherry slush. I studied it as the cars wetly swooshed by and the wild dogs ran about malnourished and collarless. It was hard to believe someone had bled out that much blood and survived—I had a bad feeling about it.
Sure enough, later on the news, we learned what had happened. An unnamed prostitute had been ‘slain’ in the early morning hours. Slain indeed…a word used intentionally to communicate to the viewers in the suburbs that the murder had indeed been grizzly; perhaps to keep them tuned in. But the viewers in the burbs could never really contemplate it beyond a moment of thought, turning the word ‘slain’ over in their minds a few times before returning to their prime rib and Shiraz. To them, Truman Park was a wasteland…an unfortunate story of a neighborhood that became in ten short years, a dumping ground and a quagmire of gangland activity; a twisted version of dinner theater featured on the nightly news at 6.
To us, the Richie Rich preppies who inhabited the suburbs lived in a non-reality; they lacked true awareness. Perhaps if our own awareness was as stunted, my brother and I would have tried to reason with the kid who robbed us at knife point one day while we were rounding the last leg of my brother’s paper route. I often kept him company during his route…especially on collection days when he was prone to giving me a cut which I’d use for cigarettes and the arcade. Indeed, had we been so sheltered as our south side counterparts; perhaps we would have tried to talk the degenerate kid-criminal out of taking our collection money…perhaps we would have offered a few tips on etiquette and perhaps the number of a good social worker—perhaps we would have tried to understand the prick-cocksucker. In the presence of the knife however, we smartly handed over the envelope of collection money and watched the delinquent run off down an alleyway…feeling lucky we’d not wound up as just another vast pool of cherry slush; survival was the game.
By the time I was pulling my second year at Truman Park high school I’d become so obsessed with the craft of songwriting that I’d spend hours in my room, listening to the best albums ever made—the best songs ever written. Nothing meant more—nobody needed music the way I did. Though there was somewhat of a music program at Truman High, there were always too many beefs–someone with a beef…someone starting a beef, or someone reacting to one. There were a lot of hallway fights, some including weapons and hospital visits. Expulsions were commonplace. Parent teacher interview nights were non-existence. Pep rallies only sparsely attended (it didn’t help that our basketball team blew sack). Beyond that, no one could afford school spirit. It made sense; the majority of parents were alcoholics, drug addicts or general sad sack absentees who couldn’t have given a squirt of piss for their child’s school spirit. As a result, there were a lot of beefs and to counter this trend, traditional discipline wasn’t employed; rather, physical and verbal abuse was the preferred alternative to some of the Truman High faculty.
One day in particular I’d shown up for class late. I’d been at the arcade with Huntington and Beatty on our lunch break…the two were degenerate classmates of mine and indeed, the type of kids who’d fight anybody at any time for basically no reason at all; it was the way they’d come to survive in Truman Park. They were lone wolves with a pack mentality and on this afternoon I’d wound up with them. We’d been walking back to the school blowing of cherry bombs when Beatty had words with a passing kid on the opposite side of the street. Soon enough a small crowd had gathered. Then it was on; Beatty getting in a few good shots before being hauled to the cement where the fat kid bared down on him from above, raining down heavy haymakers onto Beatty’s face, busting him up pretty good and opening old scar tissue. It was hard to watch Beatty’s face oozing blood, but it was understood—unless you wanted an all-out riot; nobody interfered.
In the midst of the commotion, Beatty somehow swept the fat kid, gaining top position through sheer rage. His bloody face dripped down onto the fat kid’s white t-shirt and in seconds, the favor was returned, haymakers rained down on the fat kid who bled easier than Beatty. It was a bloody mess and eventually broken up by two employees from the drugstore across the street who’d rushed over in a display of valiance. They’d called the police, in response to which, Beatty bid them a blood dripping ‘go fuck yourselves’ grin, and darted off, over a brown picket fence, through a yard and down an alleyway. Beatty knew all the cops on patrol in Truman Park and didn’t wish to stick around.
When I finally made it back to Truman High, I recall walking down the hallway toward my class, unable to remove the mental snapshot in my mind of the fat kid who Beatty had beaten up, eating an orange popsicle under the brilliant sun afterward and slobbering blood all over it as his friends commended him for getting his ass kicked so suddenly. I was thinking of Beatty and what a jackass he was as I entered Mr. Grant’s class. Grant, who was, beyond being an unconscionable ball breaker, a perpetual cunt; didn’t deviate from his usual lecture on prickology. Rather he stood there, savoring the opportunity to shred me up before the entire class of misfits and degenerates I’d come to despise in two short years.
“Mr. Nero—I can’t imagine why you’d bother to waste your time even showing up. We’re halfway through the class and I’m not going to tolerate interruptions from shit heads who don’t care to learn. We’re here to learn—you are not. So leave shit head.”
“Leave?” I asked, slightly baffled that I didn’t have to spend a long winded spell, listening to Grant’s monotone pontificating.
“Go!” Grant hollered, causing mousey Melinda Warren to jump in her front row desk.
“Fine.” I said, backing away toward the doorway. “Who wants to hear watered down commentary on Ray Bradbury anyway? Any real English teacher would incorporate Salinger into his curriculum. Guess that’s above your pay grade?”
“Pardon me?” demanded Grant, rising from his leaning position against the desk.
“Don’t get up, I’ll show myself out.” I told him.
Storming toward me suddenly, Grant wrapped his steel mill grip around my bicep and slung me out into the hallway so my binder fell to the floor and exploded in a heap of loose papers. After issuing me a sneer, he strode back into his classroom, slamming the door behind him hard, so the crack echoed down the long polished corridors. He said something inaudible and muffled behind the heavy door, to which my fellow students broke out in a roar of laughter; cunts all around, I thought, picking up and organizing my papers.
As if it was planned, as if was far too perfect to be a coincidence; Principal Nelson rounded the corner exactly then, as I was on my knees, gathering my scattered papers and fitting them back into the binder. He stopped abruptly, pushed his spectacles up the bridge of his nose and cast an intense glare of loathing directly at me.
“Nero! What in the fuck are you doing out here?” he snapped, storming toward me and looming in close proximity as I collected the last scraps of useless notes and fit them into my binder.
“Grant threw me out of his class…literally.” I told him as I rose to my feet. Nelson was my height. 5’11, his age made him look shorter though.
“It’s the first time.” I said in slight protest.
“You’re a liar too! Last month you were dismissed from Mr. Grant’s class.” snarled Nelson.
“That was Mrs. Weaton’s class actually—get with the program man.” I specified.
“Nothing but trouble huh Nero?”
“You guys make the trouble around here; you and your minions…you’re all drama queens. You say I’m a liar too…what else do you want to call me?” I asked.
“Well,” said Nelson, looking at me eye to eye now. His eyes were deep blue and the whites were slightly yellowed, his bushy salt and pepper brows were furrowed as he spoke, “you’re a piece of fucking shit as far as I can see.” he said before storming off down the hallway, his Chaplin-like strides striking me as comical.
“Yeah, well, why don’t you just come right out and say what’s on your mind asshole.” I chuckled, pitching with all my might, the binder into the air, so it opened and came apart again, the pages flying where they may; fuck this place.
It became my mantra during the last semester I spent at Truman High. Fuck that place indeed. There was nothing for me at Truman—no extracurricular activities available—what’s worse, there was virtually no music program or creative writing class-there was Grant’s half assed English class, which was compulsory.
You see, I’d studied music at the conservatory as a child…I’d played in the children’s orchestra and chamber groups and by the age of 15 I was ready to throw away the text book. The text book bored me silly. One must learn the text book however before one throws it away—and perhaps it’s the biggest mistake child prodigies make by coloring inside the lines and becoming boring and predictable. Likewise, by that point, I’d read nearly everything under the sun. At 15, I was well on my way to enlightenment; mainly because of my mother—a new age intellectual from Vancouver who, though she worked as a paralegal, wound up a struggling single mother, thousands of miles away, in Truman Park after kicking my abusive navy seal father out on his ass. Needless to say, the old man didn’t complain about my mother taking full custody. He had a few children already from a previous relationship and we assumed he didn’t care much for us—he never paid child support and my mother never made him—though she could have. Her logic I assume was no child-support = no visitations and she didn’t wish him ill, she only wished him gone.
Being militantly independent and stubborn as she was—my mother realized Truman Park wasn’t the ideal place to raise kids…but that didn’t mean she was going to let ‘The Park’ win. Indeed not. This meant violin and piano lessons at the conservatory while my friends were having a great time throwing rocks through abandoned windows, this meant calligraphy and photography courses, while my friends were at the arcade pinching chick’s asses, smoking grass and getting high scores on Battle Zone. This meant, creative writing classes and a formal introduction to our local library branch which my mother explained to me was a universal wealth of knowledge…meanwhile my friends were hopping the fence to the fairgrounds and meeting up with neighborhood girls like Melanie Townsend, Clara Fisher, Sarah Chatsworth, Celia Selkirk—damsels who’d undress; how I envied my friends on those nights when I couldn’t join them.
That is until I discovered Charles Bukowski, Louis Ferdinand Celine, Henry Miller, Albert Camus, Hemingway, John Updike, Norman Mailer, Kafka, Carver…and of course Salinger. These men were my male role models…my missing father figures. Nobody needed literature like I did back then. I could spend hours alone reading. To me, their books were portals to other worlds—long lost times. Give a kid a library card and you’ll tell a lot about him by the authors toward whom he gravitates.
I’d become such a connoisseur by that point that I couldn’t tolerate reading anything sub-par. I felt reading mediocre talents was a complete waste of my young, insatiable mind; an insult. Obviously Bradbury was a talent, just not, in my opinion, worthy of changing a student’s worldly perception. Perhaps I shouldn’t have shared my opinion with English teacher Grant that afternoon or any afternoon or any of the times previous.
You see dear reader…let me briefly backtrack; I’d been previously expelled from Grant’s class for questioning where he’d attained his English degree. I’d questioned this in an essay. He’d given me a D minus on the essay on grounds of meandering and skirting the subject of the subject novel, which I should add was Ray Bradbury’s ‘Something Wicked This Way Comes’. I’d not only questioned Grant’s educational authenticity but postulated that indeed, his literary knowledge was limited to the mainstream for one main reason; he lacked passion for literature. Perhaps this was what had driven him to have me expelled from his class. However, after submitting a very detailed and sincere letter I’d written to the School Board which illustrated Grant’s short comings as an educator as well as a human being; my enrollment in his class was mysteriously reinstated and I was allowed to return to his class under a few specific conditions—one of them being punctuality, which was often a hard promise to keep in Truman Park.
As I say, there were many things that could delay one in Truman Park. Also, our teachers were more boring than televised golf—if such a feat is possible. I felt as if most of our teachers were tired, broken sad sacks who’d failed at every other school in the city and so had earned, through professional failure and social rejection, a one way ticket to Truman Park High; the end of the line…where old teachers went to die. Indeed, we got the rejects, the defectives, or the just-didn’t-give-a-fucks who, after a short span of time, would eventually fall into the ‘way of things’ and realize, through the examples set forth by veteran teachers, how little anything mattered at TPH.
To illustrate my point, I cite Martha Sedgwick—the school nutritionist. Indeed, Ms. Sedgwick perhaps meant well, but exuded the appearance of a Romero film cast member. Chain smoking, drug addiction and I’m assuming a perpetual diet of pork rinds and Pabst Blue Ribbon, seemed to have taken its toll on Ms. Sedgwick, who skulked around the hallways in her white smock in between cafeteria feedings, peering off into the distance with a doomed and quite ominous gaze—a lit cigarette dangling from her cracked lips.
Sedgwick was an innocent however—an ironic figure yes, but an innocent. However, if I am to illustrate with perfect accuracy the sort of teachers that were helping mold the minds of impressionable adolescents; I would have to narrow it down to a few. There was Mr. Phillips for instance, who’d wear a perpetual rodent-like grin as he explained (to anyone he caught disengaged from his monotonous regurgitation) exactly why they wouldn’t go anywhere in life. He’d not fail to cite stupidity and the lack of parental support as contributing factors. He took pleasure in the fact that most of us at Truman High would amount to a bit less than zero and rubbing that fact in, seemed to make his day, which I suppose said more about him than it did about any of us kids who specialized in jackassery.
I wouldn’t want to leave out Mr. Gillespie…a teacher I will never forget. For Mr. Gillespie once caught me in a second floor washroom rolling up a pinner on the flat surface of the sink. I was on my spare and had an hour to kill. I figured I’d lean up against the window sill until he left. Indeed, I leaned there with the pinner dangling from between my lips watching Gillespie case the place. I acted casual as Gillespie sauntered in, checked the stalls one by one and stepped over to the urinal into which he’d splashed a heavy piss. After shaking off, he walked over to the sink, rinsed his chubby, hairy-knuckled hands with cold water and ran them through his thinning, greying hair. He then turned and looked at me for a moment. I looked back…straight through him to the wall…Gillespie then sauntered over to me and cuffed me with an open fist across the face, so the pinner—my only pinner—flew out of my mouth and onto the floor where it rolled forth, losing momentum just below the urinals, where the tiles were sticky with piss drippings.
The sudden throb of pain building in the side of my face didn’t quite irritate me as much, however, as losing the pinner to the piss drippings so early in the afternoon, after looking forward to lighting it up all morning. “Fuck with me—I dare you.” Gillespie had said, waiting for a retaliation. Gillespie was twice my size though and possessed a golden word, to match his gold wedding ring. He was a respected family man among the degenerate faculty; a biology teacher from hell, who evidently liked physically abusing students. I wondered after that what else Gillespie was capable of.
There was an up side to this however. That is to say that there seemed to be a complete lack of superficiality. There were words—that was for certain; words without gauge, strong or other. Words were words and words were always had in a direct sort of fashion. If you hated someone, you’d let them know it—usually with words…and if someone hated you, you’d be made aware of it one way or another, and I was made aware of it a lot. It seemed I was perhaps the one of the most hated kid at a school full of cunts, douchebags and fuck heads. But at least I knew where I stood with most everyone, teachers included. What they hated most about me however was my perspective—one they couldn’t understand and so were afraid of. One kid in particular, Jenson Henley hated my perspective so vividly, he’d one day started chipping away at me, using a small chisel at first. Over the course of a semester I watched the chisel become larger and sharper; or at least as sharp as Henley could ever get.
You see dear reader, Henley had a disadvantage in life; he’d been descended from a family of albino hillbillies who, I was most positive, had been at some point in time, inbred on not only his father’s side, but his mother’s side as well. The gene-pool was shallow as a tea-spoon in the Henley family and indeed, the first time Henley had shoulder checked me on passing in the hallway; I’d taken him for a genetically botched pregnancy that had come to fruition. Indeed, because Henley was of course and without any shadow of doubt, a load that his mother should have swallowed; I’d not wanted to get involved. I assumed going through life with heavy metal half-shirts and rotting buck teeth was punishment enough for him. However, the chiseling continued.
It came to a head one afternoon during gym class when the red shirts played the yellow shirts. I was a red shirt that afternoon and tending goal during an exceptionally rough game of floor hockey. Playing goalie was something I did well—I liked that it was 30% foresight and 70% reflex; it allowed me to get into a certain zone…to be the ball—or orange plastic puck in our case. Henley, the acting captain of the yellow shirts was, by the middle of the first period, already barking orders and losing his cool. A giveaway goal for the red shirts at the halfway mark prompted Henley to lumberjack his stick down onto the gymnasium floor as if it was an axe, breaking it into a number of pieces and hollering ‘FUCK’ so loud it resonated in the rafters and in the ears of his own teammates; it was a loathsome display of base male competitiveness.
From the center-gymnasium faceoff, Henley was passed the small orange puck and maneuvered his way into a dangerous break away. Handling the puck with too much zeal though, he faltered and made it all too easy for me to poke-check the puck away. In the process however, I managed to get my goal stick in between his runners, causing him to bail hard and skid across the glossy finished gymnasium hardwood with a series of skin burning squeaks and toppling thuds.
Of course, one can easily see the outcome—what transpired immediately after he’d clambered back to his feet. He attacked with his new stick…attempting to break it over me as he’d broke his previous stick against the floor. Seeing him raise the stick high above his head with a glint of sheer madness in his albino eyes, I lunged, plowing into his abdomen with my shoulder and toppling him back down to the hardwood floor where I next felt the weight of perhaps a dozen kids piling on us perhaps for no other reason than that they’d seen it happen on TV. Really, one couldn’t move at the bottom of such a scrum; in fact one could barely breathe and it seemed like forever before everyone was finally untangled and pulled loose of the pile and I was being yanked up by the back of my shirt. When we were finally standing, facing each other again, two teachers separating us; Henley with a bloody nose and yellow mesh shirt torn at the neck, he pointed at me, issuing a vendetta. “I’m going to fucking waste you.” he promised, pointing a crooked club-finger at me.
“Yeah, yeah…get in line asshole.” is all I said I as I walked back to my net that had been knocked over in all the commotion, realizing how close I’d come to getting head-chopped by Henley’s stick. I’m not sure what it was about the exchange that was different from any of the other exchanges that I’d experienced in Truman Park. Certainly there had been worse; however, Henley sparked a certain form of disdain…one I couldn’t readily explain, though I’d pondered it afterward.
Perhaps we really do exist to the universe, as inconsequential as we all are—perhaps there are reasons beyond our scope of understanding, perhaps there is ESP, as my mother’s many books on the subject suggested. Perhaps the Law of Attraction was a perfectly viable concept; perhaps science only understood .1% of all things and only quantum physics held the seeds to answers our descendants would eventually uncover—for better or for worse. I can’t explain how or why, but I can tell you dear reader, the answer I’d been looking for occurred to me—or rather was handed to me a few weeks later.
Allow me to elaborate. I wasn’t the greatest skateboarder—for I didn’t aspire to be the greatest skateboarder in town. However, I relished the momentum of cruising downhill on my board, or hopping a few stairs, or riding the odd railing when I was feeling fearless and invinsible. Also I adored the girls—the “Bettys” as we called them. Girls who were exceptionally pretty, who didn’t often skate, but loved the Descendants and Vision Street Wear and loved to hang out at the “Backyard”; a skate park just south of the downtown core. They were girls from the suburbs who dressed hip, talked cool, and acted like ladies…they read books and didn’t cake their face in too much make-up. They wore Vans and tight ass jeans torn at the knees and still managed to look classy. They wore Smiths t-shirts and adored the idea, no matter how false, that the greatest loves always contained a certain degree of darkness. Indeed, I adored the Bettys immediately, particularly one; Eleanor Dressler. I could go on and on about Eleanor Dressler, but if my intent is to recreate the dumbstruck rush of gazing upon Eleanor for the first time; words just will not do. If I was to attempt to explain what Eleanor did to me on first glance–I would say that the sight of her instilled within me a very sudden and profound understanding of Beatles songs.
I didn’t go to the Backyard to see Eleanor Dressler though. Rather she was there most of the time and I would ride the half-pipe and glance over at her once in a while—marveling silently at how beautiful she was. Mainly the live bands were the draw. Often it was a bill of 5 or 6 punk bands who, though sucking profusely, managed to evoke the raw energy we all craved to help placate our teenage angst. Some of us needed it more than others. I’d originally started frequenting the Backyard as an innocent escape from the jagged realities of Truman Park, which I should specify was surprisingly, a subject of curiosity and near fascination for some of the south-side kids who drove their parents Porches and Jags to the Backyard and parked them haphazardly, with the windows open and their father’s golf clubs in the back seat; I never understood what those south-side kids were so angsty about.
The idea was to skate the half-pipes and to buy a dime bag of dirt weed, catch some bands, absorb some collective rage and maybe crowd surf a few times. The idea was to forget about Truman Park for a few hours. However, once the word got around that I resided in ‘The Park’…I was often bombarded by questions about TP, to which I’d offer elusive answers to their fascinated need for confirmation; confirmation of whether or not the district was really that much of a horror show. I didn’t wish to engage…for it was known to me, even at a young age, that my suburban counterparts who’d grown up in sheltered upper class communities and large triple decker mansions only wished a glimpse of the real thing—unsheltered life in the inner city jungle. Indeed, they couldn’t conceive of attending a school with checkpoint metal detectors. Their perceptions and projected curiosities about Truman Park were based solely on their ability to view it from the outside…from a proximity of safety—from the soft cushion of their lavish, sheltered existences. They liked the idea of uptown slumming as long as they could return to the safety of their privileged lives, where neighbors waved and said hello, where doors were left unlocked and where one could walk around alone after dark safely.
One night, after a great lineup of bands, I was offered a ride home by Wes Milton III. Indeed, he was actually the third male in his family to carry the name Wes Milton, thus the III and thus his accompanying introduction which I found amusing. We’d become friends over the course of a few short months and it was mainly due to the fact that Wes, in spite of his family crest, was a delinquent at heart. In fact, in many ways he was more delinquent than many of the kids in my sector and perhaps Wes loved hearing it when I’d admitted it to him one evening; perhaps the observation offered Wes something he could finally call his own.
He’d been offering, since I made his acquaintance, to purchase my Public Image Ltd. T-shirt; an offer I perpetually declined, though he raised his offer a few dollars each time I saw him. By the time we’d become good chums, the value of my PIL shirt was up to $57. I told him to check back with me when the price hit $70. After all, the shirt, which displayed John Lydon’s psychotic silk-screened face on the front and the PIL logo on the back, was indeed one of my prize possessions—and one I’d waited a month for on order.
We were again discussing this potential transaction on the way out to his father’s Audi when I noticed Wes’ girl April leaning up against the driver’s side door. She was chatting with a girlfriend and the two were sharing a cigarette. As Wes rambled on, I walked along with him, haphazardly listening. April, Wes’ girl, turned to us when we were finally upon them and she smiled before taking a deep drag of the cigarette.
“Lacey, you’ve met Frank?” Wes asked April’s friend who shook her head thoughtfully and extended her hand. I shook her hand lightly, feeling that it was very soft and smooth.
“I’ve seen him around.” said Lacey, as if not addressing me directly.
“We’re going to drop him first, he’s just up in Truman Park.” said Wes after which the girls shrugged in agreement and slid down into the back seat, leaving Wes and I up front.
I didn’t realize it then, but a chance encounter with April’s friend Lacey would actually redirect the course of my life. I might add that it wasn’t Lacey’s intention to do so either—she’d only initiated a conversation that would have otherwise not taken place—or perhaps it would have, but the elementary of which may have been lost, unorganized or misdirected.
We’d been cruising up Remington Ave and Wes and I were talking about the bands; which ones we liked best and which one had the best drummer, which one had the best singer or guitar player…which one had the best songs—which one we hoped played again soon at the Backyard. The conversation was inevitably open to my usual complaint—that I had a catalogue of songs I’d written and it caused me great frustration that I could not, in my current situation, find adequate band mates who were a) interested in playing original songs and b) could dedicate themselves to a project long enough to gain enough momentum to play at the Backyard; or anywhere. Out of the gate—I knew what I wanted…knowing wasn’t the issue; acquiring it seemed to be.
Inevitably I started to complain about Truman High and how they lacked a music program. I pondered what came first—the lack of a viable music program, or the lack of aspiring musicians in Truman Park. Of course, I felt I was onto something—some grand realization that would shed some light…however I usually wound up with a blank…an impasse, beyond which my logic could not venture. For it made no sense to me how anyone couldn’t love music and if they could not play it then they certainly couldn’t live without hearing it; a self-projection I realize but nonetheless a mystery. I’d sighed, shaking my head, wondering aloud how I would stand it at Truman High for another two years.
“Why do you have to?” Lacey had asked from her place in the shadowy back seat.
“Have to what?” I asked, glancing back at her pretty little nut of a face bouncing slightly with the dips and bumps in the road.
“Why do you have to stay at Truman for another two years? You could easily transfer to another school—with a way better music program.”
“The girl speaks sense.” Wes piped in, nodding with some surprise.
“It’s more than sense.” assured Lacey, “You seem like you’re really passionate about music and starting a band. You have to go after your dreams—you have to…otherwise, what’s life?”
I nodded, not wanting to break her stride, “Continue…I need to hear this.” I told her.
“I mean, it sounds like you’re really wasting talent on a school like Truman and it sounds like the school isn’t really behind their students.” said Lacey, “Someone like you needs to be at Coronation High.”
“Coronation?” I asked, having heard the name but never the back story. I knew Coronation High was far out of my district. It was a south-side school for the privileged and one I’d never given much thought to. To me, I assumed the kids from Coronation high who once in a while played against the Truman high basketball team, were a group of moody, whining, bedwetting pussies with tampons stuck up their asses; it was the general opinion.
“Well yeah…Coronation is like the hub for punk bands in town. Everyone in that school is in a band and if they’re not in a band they’re trying to get into one.” added April, perhaps feeling outshined by her clever friend.
“You know The Brady’s? The band last week that did those ALL and Big Drill Car covers?” offered Lacey, “They all go to Coronation. It’s like this big scene going on over there where everyone plays in everyone else’s band.”
“Really…” I said, slightly stunned, for to me, I liked the local punk bands who reminded me of SNFU, the Doughboys, Down By Law, the Chemical People, etc; however, I didn’t know where they came from. I assumed somewhere in town, but didn’t realize they were all coming out of the same high school. One could say I was immediately intrigued.
I wanted to hear more, however, the conversation was abruptly interrupted when out of left field a brick broke the calm enclosed silence with a popping smash that shattered the rear windshield of Wes’ father’s Audi. As the brick bounced down onto the back seat, April screamed loud, covering her head with her forearms, while Lacey flinched and squinted out of the now gaping rear window, scanning for a fleeing assailant—tough cookie. Wes hit the brakes so the car screeched to a halt in the middle of the intersection.
He jumped out of the car dramatically and scanned the street corners and cracked sidewalks for the vandal responsible. When he found no one beyond some kids lingering in the shadows out in front of a darkened and boarded up shop front, Wes took inventory of the shattered window. As he inspected the damage, I noticed a few figures approaching from across the intersection. They were hooded and had a certain walk…one I’d come to recognize in Truman Park.
“Wes, we better get the fuck out of here.” I told him and didn’t have to tell him twice. Within a few seconds, he was back in the driver’s seat, shifting into drive and peeling away, leaving the intersection in a squeal of rubber, extending one raised middle finger to the approaching gang of kids who in response hurled a beer bottle high and wide, the sound of the shatter drown out by the roar of the car’s engine.
“What the fuck was that?” April exclaimed; her words flooded with adrenaline.
“That was on purpose.” concluded Lacey.
“My dad’s not going to be happy about this shit—and that rock could have hit someone.” said Wes.
“It wasn’t a rock, it was this.” said April, picking up the brick and holding it between Wes and I so we could see what had broken the window.
We were in Truman Park now and the rules were different—in fact there were no rules…only instinct void of intelligence. I felt somehow responsible, and felt the rest of them shared this opinion. I imagined Wes would regret offering to drive me home. I imagined they all regretted venturing across the train tracks for the sake of giving me a lift. As if sending me a loud and clear message, The Park had spoken and had spoken harshly, sending a tremor of terror through my new friends who doubtlessly blamed me. Oh well, I thought—they’ll have something to tell their parents at the dinner table tomorrow.
I was resigning to this notion when suddenly an explosion of laughter volleyed from the back seat, shrill in its hilarity and begging to speak suddenly. “Oh my god…I nearly peed.” chuckled April.
“I was like—what the fuck just hit us?” Lacey chuckled back, “I was wondering if it was a bird.”
“A bird?!” gasped April, breaking down in a fit of chuckles, “How the hell does a bird break out and entire windshield?!”
As the two lost themselves in laughter, Wes glanced at me with a wry grin, “They don’t get out much. Meanwhile what if it started to rain?” Wes chuckled, “Guess you ladies would be tits out of luck.”
“Hey, don’t talk about my tits in front of your girlfriend.” laughed Lacey.
“Bitch!” April exclaimed, falling into another wave of laughter.
I sat there, puzzled, unsure of how to gauge this reaction—it was as if they were high from the thrill of being brushed so closely by a random crime. Perhaps Wes wasn’t speaking with sarcasm; perhaps none of them got out much. Got out, being the operative words—perhaps it was all relative. I just stared forward, looking blankly into the oncoming street that was riddled with pot-holes and litter. Coronation High; curious indeed.
The school year was nearly through. Summer was approaching and with it, the usual angst in Truman Park. Summer meant the streets would be crawling even more so with dregs and crime and vandalism. After a series of pleading conversations with my mom, I finally convinced her to sign on the dotted line. Because I surprisingly maintained a high grade point average at Truman, transferring was an easy task—provided my mom signed the release. Eventually she realized that my persistence wouldn’t relent and that if I was begging for her ‘ok’ to attend school—perhaps it was a good idea to grant me the go ahead to follow through on my promises of straight A’s, which I knew I could easily maintain as school for the most part is only regurgitation and a fair amount of sharply articulated bullshitting. Eventually my mom signed the release, citing that if I was ok waking up ultra-early to make the 8pm call time at Coronation high; I could switch schools.
Now, I should add here that I hadn’t told anyone about my plans to transfer. In fact, after filing the transfer I’d kept it quiet. For it was known to me that there were a lot of people at Truman High who wanted to take a shot at me and I didn’t want them suddenly lining up once they realized they might miss their last chance. Somehow though, the word got around; which, I assumed, meant that the faculty and student body alike hated me with the same degree of maliciousness–nobody every transferred out of Truman, especially for a school like Coronation high. It simply wasn’t heard of. Teachers, substitutes, maintenance men, cafeteria staff, sure…but a student transferring out on grounds of his own personal whimsy was indeed a rarity.
Questions started making it back to me through cohorts and enemies alike…the concept seemed to go beyond their scope of understanding–that I would not only want to attend school somewhere else but that I would have the balls to do so with such exacting diligence. I believe overall, the douchebags had the audacity to take it personally; insulted at the notion that I didn’t wish to suffer through another semester with them. One afternoon I was approached by Vice Principal Warren. He asked me to follow him back to his office, where I sat across from him in a hard wooden chair. He peered at me for a few moments, biting on the end of his pencil before leaning forward and speaking thoughtfully.
“You know, Frank. I think you’ve got the wrong idea of us here at Truman High. I think you have the wrong idea about a lot of things. You can run from your school, your friends, your neighborhood…your history. But you can’t run from yourself. Whatever issues you have with us here at Truman High are certainly a projection of issues you have with yourself. You following me?” he asked, his red, hypertensive face, peering back at me with a swollen fake smile that exposed his yellow teeth.
“Not really sir. But I can assure you—you don’t know jack shit about Truman Park.” I assured.
“Why wouldn’t I? I spend every day here. 60 hours a week sometimes.” said Warren.
“You don’t live here.”
“What’s your point Nero?” asked Warren.
“I already said—you don’t know jack-shit about Truman Park. Why don’t your kids go here?” I asked, pulling the rug from beneath his patience.
Warren was up suddenly, storming around from behind his desk, kicking a metal wastebasket over and sending the contents flying across the office floor. He stepped up to me and loomed above me with his face very close. His breath was rancid with hatred, black coffee and stale tuna fish…his face turned a deeper shade of red and his eyes were glassy and dead beyond the anger blazing within him.
“You don’t mention my kids again how about?!” he roared, “You little fucker…how dare you! How dare you sit in my office and pass judgment on my life. You think you’re going to have a better life over at Coronation? Fat chance—you’ll always be a fuck up Nero…the fuck ups are fuck ups coming out of the gate. Trust me, you’ll always be a piece of dog shit. Coronation doesn’t realize what a little shit disturber they’re getting! I could have told them…you think I couldn’t have screwed up your little plan? Huh? I didn’t want to mention what a fuck up you are though because if going to Coronation means that we never have to see your ugly face again; hallelujah!”
“Well, vice principal Warren,” I said, to remind him of who and where he was, “You’re entitled to your opinion—which happens to be wrong.”
Warren gazed at me for a moment, unable to fathom the sincerity. He let me go, turning his back in a huff. “I don’t want to see you in here over the next few weeks…if I do…” he said, shaking his head, “it’s not going to go good for you.”
I said nothing and left. I told nobody afterward—this is in fact the first time I’ve spoken about the instance. I think I felt the situation was valuable on some level and so better left unsaid; as if in some sick way it was a blessing–a declaration of hatred from one of my so-called educators; the smoking gun. I’d hoped it would be the last instance of backlash before the school year ended. However, not surprisingly, it wasn’t.
Indeed, there were a few more instances of shitheadery and the same old line of discouragement; a general assurance that I would be kicked out of Coronation in under a month and that I’d be back at Truman High by fall. There were some suggestions that I should keep my locker at Truman assigned. There were those things that rolled off of me easily. However, aside from the many well wishers, there were a few beefs that were still pending and I walked head long into one the following weekend.
It was a beautiful day in the projects. High twenties…not a cloud in the sky…there was a football game at the stadium, which was in our district and so the streets were crawling with home town fans, vagrants, ticket scalpers and pretty girls in short skirts. As the game roared on a few blocks away, Beatty, Huntington and I sat poolside at O’leary Pool; an outdoor pool in O’leary Park that we hung around at each summer. It was a dollar to get in and Beatty and Huntington smuggled in a flask of vodka. We were stretched out on the lawn with Jenny Farnsworth, Rita Cook and Kate Wallace, shooting the shit and drinking spiked Slush Cats from Mac’s. Indeed, Beatty was as usual causing a spectacle by whistling at girls walking by in bikinis.
“That’s really juvenile.” said Rita.
“Duh, I’m a juvenile.” said Beatty.
“So it doesn’t mean you have to act like a jerk.” insisted Rita.
“Maybe you’re just jealous. Maybe you wished you looked as good at Selena…maybe you’re jealous of her bouncy ass.” said Beatty, noticing Selena Mills wagging by. Blowing an ear deafening whistle her way, Beatty hollered over some heads, “Looking good Selena!” to which Selena only grinned and kept wagging on by.
“It’s also very rude to whistle at other girls when you’re out with me.” said Rita, “You dumb fuck.”
“Yeah, well, wear a bikini next time instead of those granny trunks.” scoffed Beatty, conjuring a gasp of offense from Rita’s cohorts and a chuckled from Huntington.
“Granny trunks.” Huntington repeated.
“Don’t even get on his train you son of a bitch or you’ll be beating your meat for the rest of the weekend.” sneered Kate, squinting across the expanse at Selena Mills who was climbing the diving board sensually.
“Look at that silly bitch—she’s climbing that ladder like it’s a giant dick.” said Kate, drawing a laugh from her friends.
“That’s how she’d climb up on me.” said Beatty.
“Trust me, you ain’t got nothing she’s looking for.” said Rita dismissively.
As they discussed this, I looked around the pool. The water was sparkling and the smell of bleach and coconut suntan lotion wafted in the air. The vodka had left a nice burn in my chest and I thought about Coronation High. I thought about what it was going to be like to recruit some band mates, to rehearse, to put together the set and to eventually play the Backyard. Now that I’d been accepted and enrolled and had been sent the pertinent info in a manila envelope baring official Truman High School letter head; an anxiousness was setting in—the feeling one got before attempting a board slide down a handrail, only the feeling was cut with more elation.
“What’s up with you Frank?” asked Jenny Farnsworth, my apparent date on this afternoon, “You’ve been acting lost all day. Are you fucking high or something?”
“I’m just enjoying the great weather Jen.” I said, leaning back against the trunk of a tree with my hands behind my head, grinning back at her puzzled expression.
I wasn’t sure if Jenny believed me; she was the suspicious sort and as she studied my expression for an inkling, I noticed over her shoulder, Jensen Henley approaching our group. He was flanked by a couple of his goons—rejects from metal shop who believed Henley’s hype…so much so Henley had begun to believe it too. So there was a certain blind arrogance among his crew; which only accentuated their satirical presence.
“Well, well…if it isn’t the shittiest goalie in Truman Park.” said Jensen, stepping up and lighting a cigarette.
“Funny how you haven’t scored on me yet asshole.” I said.
“Hey Kate.” Henley nodded, “If you and your girlfriends want to hang out with some actually cool guys—let me know.”
“You mean you can introduce us to some? Because all I see is shwag.” Kate retorted without missing a beat; Kate hated Henley perhaps more than any of us did and she had her reasons.
“Funny…” winced Henley, turning his attention back to me, “We still have unfinished business shit head.”
“Henley,” I said, sitting up and looking him square, “do you really think there’s unfinished business between us? The only one perpetuating anything is you. Do you really think you’re on my radar when you’re not in my face with your half-shirt and your rotting buck teeth? Do you really fucking think you matter at all to me?” I inquired before putting a cigarette in my mouth and lighting it.
Henley stood there…not knowing what to say. I knew he was a moron but I had no idea he was that easy to stymie. Had I known that before, I’d have employed the same tactical articulation during our previous run-ins and perhaps saved myself the effort of ignoring him.
“Why don’t you take your retarded sidekicks and go get yourselves some fucking milk and cookies?” grinned Beatty—his crazy eyes ready for anything. Even Henley knew better than to fuck with Beatty.
“I’ll be seeing you fuck-o.” said Henley, pointing a finger of conviction my way, to which I offered a two finger salute.
I spent perhaps another hour at the pool, smoking cigarettes, sipping on vodka and bobbing around in the shallow end with the old ladies and tots. I did the back stroke and watched a plane high above move through the deep blue abyss, nearly motionlessly; leaving behind it an expanding jet trail. I was half drunk and it felt like my farewell party was coming to a close. There were no more tests…no more lessons…no more essays; no more vodka. The last week of school was rather anticlimactic and like everything else, it would pass and open up a new chapter—the great unknown. I thought about time and its relentless and perfectly steady pace; we are pressed between infinity—endless time behind us as well as ahead of us…yet we don’t implode under the pressure, we carry on, oblivious to the fact that we gaze upon the same moon Caesar did, Moses did…the same moon Neil Armstrong had walked upon…the same moon that hung there in the sky during the ice age…the bronze age…the new age. Though it was mid-afternoon, the moon hung there in the endless blue like a faint watermark. Who was I but another ant? Indeed, it was time to go and go I did, leaving my cohorts sitting on the lawn with their constant banter and careless vices.
I got changed and didn’t bother to rinse the chlorine from my hair. I was tired, bogged down by cheap vodka and feeling introspective enough to make sense of something if I really tried hard enough. What I needed was an epic bike ride to some far off point in the city where I’d never been—some change of perspective to think things through, to comprehend what it was we all thought we were doing here?
I decided it would be a novel plan to pedal my way out of Truman Park, over the train tracks, through the tunnel and over the highway, all the way out to Windom Heights—where the old, gothic graveyard was situated, immersed in darkness and low creeping mist that wafted over from the dank bog. I felt it would be a good idea to visit the WWII monument in its center, for a bit of perspective.
Outside, I dumped some change into the vending machine and selected a bottle of pop. I used the built in opener to crack the cap and relished the ice cold bite of the carbonation as I sipped casually. I was heading across the parking lot toward the communal bike racks where my ten speed awaited when I heard a voice calling out from behind. When I spun to see who it was, I wasn’t quite surprised to find Henley with his two minions in tow. He had what appeared to be a sock wrapped around the knuckles of his right hand and he’d removed his shirt. He had a few DIY tattoos and what appeared to be cigarette burn shaped scars on his chest.
“Said I’d be seeing you around fuck-o.” said Henley.
“This looks fair.” I said.
“You know something Nero—you’ve had this coming all year.” said Henley.
“So have you.” I said, putting the bottle to my mouth and tipping it back so I could swill down the rest of the pop.
“Yeah, like that even makes sense.” scoffed Henley, blubbering out a pathetic forced chuckle.
I backed away as they approached. I peered toward the eastern horizon that was turning a bludgeoned orange from the dying sunset and thought about my options; there were three. I saw Henley just then as a true enemy; one doesn’t encounter many ‘true’ enemies in life. It occurred to me just then that Henley hated me so much that he was willing to stomp me into the asphalt—he actually wanted to do that, for the sheer hell of it.
“How about we even up the odds a bit?” I said, smashing the bottle against the blue bar of the metal bicycle rack. It didn’t break on first attempt—a simple twist of comedy. I swung it again, this time breaking the bottle so it was all sharp jagged edges. The green glass of the bottle glimmered nicely in the bludgeoned orange rays of sunset, bursting through a cumulonimbus moving across the horizon. Then I focused on Henley.
“What, you gonna cut us all?” Henley asked; his voice higher pitched now–he’d stopped approaching, as did his minions.
“Maybe just you, shit for brains.” I said, closing one eye for aim and making a gouging movement with the jagged green glass.
“I ain’t afraid of getting cut.” he assured.
“Yeah, I know…you’re an inbred.” I said, still sizing up a nice cut of Henley.
“What the fuck did you call me?” Henley demanded.
In the distance, over Henley’s left shoulder I made out Beatty and Huntington jogging across the expanse of parking lot. They weren’t high-tailing it, rather they jogged casually. Meanwhile—I was about to get a triple decker shit kicking; great friends—of whose though, I was at a loss. Following my line of sight, Henley peered over his shoulder and back at me with a small grin.
“The cavalry.” he said, shaking his head.
When Beatty and Huntington finally caught up with our unfolding suspense; they were winded and appeared to be confused. Suddenly they were all looking at me funny.
“What’s up?” asked Beatty.
“Your boy is losing it.” Henley told him.
“Kate saw it from the pool.” Huntington told me.
“Yeah.” Beatty tisked, pointing a finger at Henley, “I knew you were a douche bag, but I didn’t think you were a douche bag who likes an unfair fight.”
“Unfair fight? He’s got a fucking knife asshole!” Henley exclaimed.
“Three against one.” Huntington shrugged.
“It’s a bottle shit for brains.” corrected Beatty.
I tossed the broken bottle over my shoulder so it smashed against the asphalt behind me and stepped up to Henley. Eye to eye I realized he was shorter than I, “Ok, now it’s fair.” I said.
There was a long moment of silence as Henley stared back at me. I could sense the wheels moving in his brain; turning it over, unsure of how to proceed. He then seemed to snap out of his circular contemplation and began looking me up and down with disdain.
“Look at you man—you’re a fucking freak. Who dresses like that? You look like a fucking clown man. Who cuts up a shirt and safety pins it back together? Who the fuck does that? Freaks…that’s who. Nice combat boots you fucking freak. God save the queen? We’re not in England you fucking dick.” spat Henley, getting it all out—sharing his feelings as if we were in group therapy.
“Sorry, I guess I lack your array of heavy metal half-shirts.” I laughed.
“Know what—get the fuck out of my face.” said Henley, “Just go. Walk away and take your fellow freaks with you—I wash my hands of you and all your bullshit.”
“Not until this shit is settled.” I said.
“Yeah settled.” I said.
“We’ll settle it next time.” Henley said, backing away now, pulling his shirt back on. Indeed, it was a snug fitting black shirt with long white sleeves. It was a Poison t-shirt upon the front of which, the band was framed in four head-shots, primped and hair sprayed, posing with feminine allure. I spat a small sad chuckle, shaking my head, imagining Henley sitting on his veranda, dueling on the banjo with another of his genetically botched clan, his Poison t-shirt and crimped hair flowing in the breeze. Ah, the hilarity struck me; indeed, Henley it turned out, was a laugh riot, mainly because he didn’t realize it.
“Something funny?” he demanded.
“Yeah, you.” I said.
“You need this. You need this imagined war with me…it somehow defines your ugly ass.” I told him and he didn’t offer a quick reply as was his wont. He merely offered me a sour expression and jerked his head; the signal for his minions to fall into tow, which they did, looking confused as they walked away slowly, glancing back at Beatty, Huntington and me.
So, dear reader, you could say that I was all for not having one last confrontation with Henley. They say pick your battles, but I say only fight the one’s you have to. I didn’t have to fight Henley that day and perhaps I had my broken bottle of Sprite to thank. Or perhaps it was Beatty and Huntington I should have thanked. We didn’t do a lot of thanking in Truman Park though. Thanking suggested a conclusion—and there few conclusions in Truman Park; grudges seemed to be eternal and I’d just crossed a line with Henley.
You see, though Henley was inbred, clad usually in heavy-metal half-shirts and his teeth were perpetually mossy; Henley believed in himself. He felt a great and constant need to protect his street cred, which, though worth only a buck O’ five, was all he had…and I’d challenged it and caught him off guard. There was no way a kid like Henley was going to let this one go; he had the entire summer to even the score.
Indeed, as I prepared for my departure and my new life at Truman High and started closing doors around Truman Park, I expected Henley to wage war. I expected him to be waiting for me outside of the market, the gas station, the library, the arcade. I expected him to make his move in a public fashion. However…no move came. In fact, the occurrence in the parking lot was the last time I would see Henley. Perhaps he’d transferred out of Truman Park as well. Perhaps he’d been lynched, kidnapped, drowned, given up for adoption. Whatever the case was, I never again saw Henley’s inbred mono-brow twitching with stupidity and soaking with perspiration. I was never again granted the uncomfortable sight of his sick looking pushed-out belly button, the view of which was made possible by the short cut of his heavy-metal half shirt. Indeed, I was never again forced to glance, with great disdain, at his mossy buck teeth and tired eyes. Transferring to Coronation High made that entirely possible.
However, an unfortunate encounter one night while walking home from my friend Blake’s house in east Truman Park would help make my first impression at Coronation High a lasting one. I’d been walking home down Stark St. a few nights before my first day at Coronation. The summer was winding down and it could be felt in the brisk breeze that cooled my face as I made my way home, passing under the dim pools of light cast by streetlamps. I was thinking of Coronation High and what it was going to be like when I was surrounded by musicians and bands and artistic whimsy. It felt unimaginable actually; as if a crack would open in the earth and suck me down, into the depths of tarry hell, to decompose forever, soaking in the oil of prehistoric remains. Coronation High and what it really offered a kid like me seemed like a mirage on a murky horizon; I expected it to evaporate when I drew upon it.
I was lost in this thought when the screech of tires pulled me from my contemplation and back into the hard reality of Truman Park. I spun around to find a black car idling at the curb, the headlights blazing and the incidental boom of muffled rap music coming from inside. Usually, the right play was to casually turn around and keep walking, plan an escape route, size up fences that would make an easy vault; be ready to bolt. However, my instincts to me to skip the former and cut to bolting through a yard and over a fence into an alleyway.
As I sprinted down the pitch dark alley way, praying I didn’t catch my foot in a pot hole, the car screeched around the corner behind me and the blazing headlights cast my sprinting form in a long shadow that reached halfway down the alley. I hung a hard left into a backyard and found myself running through a freshly watered garden. My foot dug in deep on a down step, tripping me up and causing me to roll into a raspberry bush, sending a thousand and one small needles through my shirt and into my back. The fall knocked the wind out of me and as I sat there sucking in air, I saw the black car pull up slowly, stopping at the mouth of the back yard. It pulled into the yard slightly so the headlights flooded the yard. All I saw was a silhouette approaching me, then I felt some punches. They were hard punches, but they weren’t full force which gave me the idea that he wasn’t aiming to hurt me so much as impress his friends who egged him on from the car. Perhaps he felt bad about doing it. Their voices I didn’t recognize. One of the shots hit me in the eye and I put up a guard which absorbed a few more. I expected a kick next or more punches, but the barrage ended suddenly and the man walked back to the car without saying anything.
I sat there until the car pulled away and then unrolled myself carefully. Strangely, I wasn’t badly hurt…in fact I wasn’t really hurt at all. As I say, the punches were perhaps 40%, or perhaps they were harder but my adrenaline made them seem weaker—in any case, the assailant had gone easy on me and I wondered why. I wasn’t concussed; I wasn’t broken in any capacity. In fact, by the time I made it home, I felt virtually fine. The problem I noticed once in the bathroom mirror under the lights however was a bruise forming around my left eye. Though the shot had lacked conviction and force; it had connected in exactly the right way, and indeed, I sighed with disappointment when realizing that I would have to take my first day of classes at Coronation with a nasty looking shiner.
Indeed, if you’re imagining my first day as a scene akin to 80’s era teen angst dramas, complete with an ascending shot of a typical American high school on day one of a new semester—bustling with book toting teens moving in schools of cliques and coteries; you’ll have to strike that image from your mind. For my first day at Coronation was plagued by a series of ill-fated events. Firstly my alarm clock, which had failed to go off, followed by my bus out of Truman Park being delayed by ten minutes, in turn causing me to miss the connecting bus to Coronation—one which I missed only by seconds. It wasn’t as if I was a master of punctuality by any stretch of the imagination, however on this day, I’d planned to be early—and early I was definitely not. As I approached Coronation high, I found the grounds were empty, as if it were a ghost school. Only the sound of a metal bolt fastened to the flag rope clinking against its pole greeted me as I made my way up the abandoned sidewalk; I was perhaps 35 minutes late. Not a great first impression.
Inside, class was already in session. The halls were empty and remarkably clean. Pressed looking banners lined the walls with school spirit and the lockers weren’t dented or covered in graffiti. When I eventually found the office which was strangely located on the second floor, I stated my name and purpose and didn’t bother to elaborate on my lack of punctuality.
Following the direction of the receptionist with a sheep-dog perm, I took a seat in one of the cushioned chairs and waited my turn. Across from me sat two girls who I ignored easily from behind my sunglasses. I turned my head and gazed out the window at the fluffy cumulonimbus clouds moving across the brilliantly blue sky. In my peripheral I noticed one of the girls nudge the other with her elbow and gesture toward me with her head after which they shared a giggle. I turned and stared back at them through my black shades, causing them to clam up suddenly, as if they’d been caught stealing. I grinned and shook my head; girls—they’re the same all over.
Though the girls were already waiting when I arrived, my name was called next and I was escorted into principal Gavin’s office. Gavin was a short pudgy woman with a man’s haircut, a toothy grin and a flamboyant air about her. Gesturing grandly, she offered me a chair across the desk from her.
“So, you’re our new student from…” she said, thumbing through my dossier, “Truman Park…wow, you’ve come a long way today.” She tilted her head, looking at me thoughtfully, taking inventory of my attire.
“My bus was late…missed the connection by seconds. It won’t be a habit.” I assured.
Gavin tilted her head even further now, so it was nearly sideways, before shaking out of her trance of contemplation a moment later, “Oh, I didn’t even realize you were late.” Gavin chuckled, “It appears however that your records from Truman High didn’t make it to us yet. In fact I did speak with a Mr. Warren…I believe he’s the vice principal over at Truman—and though he did assure me that he would send your records; they haven’t made it here yet.” said Gavin, raising her brows with a mockingly ominous expression.
“Does that mean I can’t start class today?” I asked, slightly alarmed.
“Heavens no; it just means that you haven’t yet made it into our database. However, I will get you a printout of your classes, teachers and home-room and any other pertinent information. Deal?”
“Deal.” I said.
“Just two things before we get into that.” said Gavin.
“Sure.” I said.
“We don’t wear sunglasses indoors I’m afraid. Also, you’ll need to either turn that t-shirt inside out, or change it if you have a spare. We don’t condone that sort of language and imagery here at Coronation High.” Principal Gavin said, eyeing me up and down once more. Strangely her gaze was void of judgment and disapproval; rather her comments were matter of fact and nearly indifferent.
Indeed, the t-shirt I was wearing was one of my most comfortable. It had turned from black to dark grey from wear and the center design was that of a red circle with a diagonal line through it, crossing out a swastika. Indeed, it was a shirt I’d waited a month for on order; Dead Kennedy’s ‘Nazi Punks Fuck Off’. Though most DK songs lacked true musical innovation; I liked their raw energy and found Jello Biafra to be a spectacle of unapologetic hilarity who at least attempted to add some intellectualism to an otherwise self-deprecating movement. I’d worn the shirt around the hallways at Truman High for an entire year and had never been once reprimanded for it. Still, I understood Gavin’s concerns as an educator.
“No problem, I won’t wear it here again. In fact, I only wear this shirt because it was a gift from my grandmother.” I joked and received a small professional grin from Gavin. When I removed my sunglasses and exposed the ugly swollen bruise around my eye however, Gavin’s grin disappeared. Her look morphed into a tightly drawn expression of concern, as if she’d never seen a kid with a black eye before; it seemed a bit theatrical and I couldn’t help but sit there with a suspended grin on my face.
“You should see the other guy. His fist is a mess.” I chuckled, shaking my head at the impossible situation with Gavin.
“Have you been looked at? By a doctor I mean?” asked Gavin.
“No…” I said, raising my brows, “should I have been?”
“Ok,” she sighed deeply, switching gear back into drive, “You’ll go downstairs and see Nurse Holloway. She should be in by now. After which, you can report back to Janice, the lady just outside, and she will give you an itinerary as well as a locker number. Did you happen to bring a lock?”
“Yep.” I said, lifting my back pack slightly.
“Ok then…welcome to Coronation High.” she smiled wide and with a phoniness so obvious I found it comical. Still, Gavin seemed like a nice enough principal…she hadn’t kicked over her trash can and threatened me; so I thanked her for welcoming me, rose from my chair and headed for the nearest bathroom, where I could turn my shirt inside out and mess up my hair a little so it would hopefully hang over my black eye.
That week was like a strange, soft-focus dream, complete with slow motion sequences and 1970’s love songs—though it was the 90’s. Of course, on every given break I was ducking out onto the vacant football field to have a few puffs of the good old stuff. I would lean against a railing and take in the distant line of houses across the expanse of green. They were massive houses with massive lawns, sculpted hedges, garden gnomes and windmills. One house displayed an enormous four tier renaissance fountain in the center of its horseshoe driveway. Old ladies were out walking their dogs on a leash, the mailman smiled and waved at neighbors, sprinkler systems showered lawns brilliantly under the afternoon sunshine; suburbia—it was a like something out of a movie.
At Coronation, the students travelled in friendly schools and it seemed the prettiest girls in the city all went to Coronation High. The place was crawling with ‘Betties’ clad in plaid hip-hugging shorts, exotically designed Vans and band t-shirts; a lot of Smiths, Cure, Stone Roses, Sundays and Sex Pistols–bands I loved. Others wore vintage clothing with vintage hairstyles and heavy vintage 1960’s style make-up. One afternoon I was utterly shocked to spot Eleanor Dressler roaming the halls in her 1950’s women’s apparel. Sometimes she wore horn-rim glasses, white gloves and a pillbox hat; it was hard to believe they made girls like her. Indeed, Eleanor was the prettiest girl at Coronation High…what’s more, she was new.
I learned later that she was an early discard from St. Mary’s Catholic school for girls; a school that was slated for demolition the following year, so its all-girl student body was now transferring out into the public school system—if you could call Coronation a public school. It was public yes, but there were many private things going on there. Private clubs, private parties, private affairs, private vendettas; these rich kids had learned from their parents how to be discreet about their disdain for one another it seemed. News was relayed in tabloid fashion during lunch breaks and spares. The latest bulletins on who was having the best weekend party, who was now dating, who was now single, who’s parents were in debt, who’s mother was cheating on who’s father, who’s father was an alcoholic, who’d been reprimanded, who’d been expelled, who’d cheated on a quiz, who’d passed with flying colors, who fucked who and who got cheated on—also, who was infatuated with who and who had been horribly rejected. It amazed me that they possessed the care and attention span to give a flying fuck what anyone else did, but the students of Coronation kept very close tabs on one another—in their protected privacy; there were no secrets.
I would sit with Wes and his girl on a shady spot on the front lawn, smoking cigarettes and listening to them gossip among their friends about everyone who walked by; they could be cruel, judgmental—socially sadistic, as if everything was a cutthroat game of winning, in which losing was the worst thing one could ever do; they weren’t used to losing, mainly because no one ever told them ‘no’. Whereas I, for the most part, was entirely relaxed, feeling very separated and very far from the violence of Truman Park; marinating in a warm bath of contentedness. So of course I failed to see why Hanna Farnsworth was such a ‘cunt’ for being the only member of student council who’d voted against Wes’ bid to start a school lacrosse team. Who cared; aside from Wes and Hanna that is? In any case, Wes swore the gloves were off and indeed, it was now war.
“I’m going to eat her for breakfast…at some point—mark my words, I will eat little Hanna Farnsworth for breakfast. You know why she did it don’t you?” Wes asked Rene, one of the girls who would sit with us during breaks.
“Well, babe…she said publically that she didn’t approve of contact sports, she was even quoted in the student news paper. She used to date Jip Rockwell and he was knocked unconscious a few times on the football field—she said he was never the same after one really bad concussion.” said Rene, gazing at her manicured nails, admiring their perfectly smooth, cherry red texture.
“Jip…” I chuckled…wondering who’d stick their kid with a name like that.
“That is a steaming pile of cow-shit Rene. I will tell you why—and it has nothing to do with Jip.” chuckled Wes, tossing a dandelion he’d been twisting, over his shoulder, “She voted against me because my father out-bid her father on that Camden deal a few years back. Ever since then, she’s been an awful cunt to me—just awful.”
“She hates her father though.” informed Rene.
“If she hates her father so much, why is she at every charity event beside him, hugging him like he’s a fucking prince? I’ll tell you why—because she’s false…and she’s a terrible actress. Did you guys see her terrible acting in the last play?” demanded Wes, shaking his head, looking at me, “You’ve met Hanna correct?” he asked me.
“I think I’ve seen her around.” I shrugged, vaguely remembering her face.
“Every guy thinks she’s super pretty.” said Rene, with a flip of her bangs, “And super smart.”
“I can’t see why.” said Wes, glancing at April, his pretty girlfriend who was for the most part aloof, dragging on her cigarette and looking straight ahead through her large oval sunglasses, “By the way, when are you going to sell me that shirt?” Wes prodded again, eyeing my PIL shirt with slight amazement that I’d held out so long.
“Never probably.” I grinned.
“Come on Franky; everyone has their price. What’s it at now, $60?”
“Just for being so presumptuous; the price has now been raised to $100.” I grinned, offering April a small wink, though I couldn’t tell if she was looking back at me through her sunglasses, though she smiled.
“Don’t be so sure I won’t pay that.” Wes warned, sitting up from his leaning position on the lawn, “Is that final?”
“Don’t be ridiculous. You could order 5 shirts for that price.” said Graham, Rene’s fun-killing, perpetual stick-in-the-mud boyfriend who always wore a painter’s cap and a dry expression.
“I realize that Graham. I want that shirt though.” said Wes, his tone of annoyance causing Graham to retreat.
“Why this one?” I asked.
“Because you don’t want to sell it, of course.” he said, as if it was the most obvious notion to grasp.
Just then, I noticed Eleanor Dressler exiting the front doors of the school, looking lost and awkward as usual. I followed her with my gaze, admiring her stunning face…and the way her round ass cheeks pressed against the fabric of her skirt with each step. I admired her black knee-high socks, her Oxford shoes, her vest bearing a St. Mary’s school crest and her vintage bouffant hair style. There was something special around her; something I recognized—perhaps from a former life. It wasn’t anything semantic; more mahogany surfaces, classic novels, velvet wingback chairs, summer love, emerald lanes…a promise—a suicide. Was it the darkness in her calling to me? I tilted my head, watching her walk to the edge of the property and light a long thin cigarette.
“Do you know her?” I asked Wes.
“Who?” he asked, scanning the grounds.
“Jackie Kennedy over there…school girl outfit…European cigarette.” I said, squinting in her direction.
“She’s new…” said April, as Wes raised his brows, at a loss to place the new girl.
“And she’s a total freak.” giggled Rene.
“She doesn’t look like a freak.” I said absently.
“She’s another St. Mary’s girl. God, they’re all going to start going here now that it’s closing.” sighed Rene, as if it bothered her somehow. I peered at her wondering why it would bother her. Her eyes held no hint, just a lascivious little grin.
“Her name is Eleanor.” said April, “I have chem with her.”
“And is Eleanor, as Rene here so articulately put it—freaky?” I asked.
“She’s really quiet.” said April
“It’s the quiet ones who are the craziest in bed.” Wes chimed in.
“Don’t be crude Wes…Mrs. Fletcher asked her to remove her vest, the one she’s wearing, the one with the St. Mary’s patch—chick wouldn’t do it though. She said because Coronation is a public school, there is no rule against wearing emblems from other schools; I guess she had a point.” April said before taking another drag of her cigarette.
“Like I said.” grinned Rene, “Freaky-deeky.”
“Interesting—they told me I couldn’t wear my Dead Kennedys shirt.” I said as I rose from my spot on the lawn and brushed off the dry blades of grass.
“Where you going?” asked Wes, offering me a slanted grin of comical uncertainty.
“I’m going to talk to her.” I said, taking a last drag and flicking the cigarette butt into a nearby bush, hoping in the back of my mind the bush wouldn’t catch fire and speak to me.
As I made my way toward Eleanor, I heard Wes calling after me over my shoulder, ok—we get the joke man, he chuckled. It wasn’t a joke though. Eleanor looked great; she’d been given allure years beyond her age and though the steady gaze in her eyes appeared mature; her youth was too strong and kept a wrinkle from forming between her brows.
“Hey.” I said to her.
“Hi.” she said, squinting the sun from her eyes. One arm was crossed beneath her pert breasts and propped up the elbow of her other arm; at the end of which her fingers held her long thin cigarette so it hovered there beside her face.
“I heard Fletcher gave you a hard time about your vest.” I said.
“I don’t know if she gave me a hard time. She just asked me to remove it.”
“And you didn’t.” I said, with intrigue.
“Can I ask why?”
“It’s a public school.”
“I mean the real reason.” I said.
“That is the real reason.”
“I doubt that.” I said, looking at her a bit deeper. She had a large scar on the side of her forehead which only added to her allure.
“Oh,” she smiled, “well, do tell—you seem to have a better understanding of the situation than I.”
“Maybe you loved it at St. Mary’s and maybe that crest is the only bit of St. Mary’s you have left.” I said.
“Bravo.” she said, flashing me a sour grin before dragging again on her cigarette.
“Low-tar?” I asked of the cigarette.
“They’re Italian. What happened to your eye?”
“I walked in to a door.” I grinned.
“Oh boy.” she said, shaking her head a bit, “You’re all kinds of trouble aren’t you?”
“You’re all kinds of beautiful.” I admitted.
“And?” she said.
“And all kinds of mystery.”
“You’ll never solve me so why bother?” she asked me.
She had me there, and I stood for a moment looking at her. After a few moments of silently staring at each other, I realized Eleanor was grinning slightly so her teeth showed slightly through her sexy lips. She was poised and ready for more—cocky and offering me a raise of one brow that stated what else you got? Now that I was up-close and enveloped somewhat in her energy, there was no doubt in my mind that Eleanor was slightly crazy and it drove me wild.
She wasn’t a freak though as Rene had so eloquently suggested—she was however the type of girl who had hyper-vision and monsters in her closet; perhaps angels in her dresser drawer as well. Perhaps it was an intensity of perception she possessed, one instilled by luxurious surroundings that were haunted in just the right way—perhaps it was this that I immediately recognized as an ability I’d lost out on having to match my coarse surroundings. It intrigued me, mainly because I’d never understand it and in essence would never understand her. How had she known it? This concoction created the perfect conditions for a fascination to develop; even if founded on jackassery and self-indulgent shitkickery.
Indeed, as I’d planned to—I spent my first semester at Coronation dedicated to artistic pursuits, social development and attempting to spellbind Eleanor Dressler. For reasons seemingly unknown to me, I felt the basis of my general motivation was having Eleanor Dressler fall madly in love with me; perhaps because if it were to come about in such a way, I’d surely experience something close to bliss, nirvana—happiness, for the very first time; an elusive concept. Also, I was certain there was something in me that could fix something in Eleanor–quell that sadness deep in her soul, the one she carried around like a heavy weight; the one you felt when conversing with her. I turned the question over and over in my head–what had happened to her? But could draw no answer.
The kids of Coronation taught me one thing during that first semester; the pursuit of happiness was most definitely a thing—what’s more it was not a crime. Also it was often attainable, if only temporarily. In Truman Park, one didn’t think much about pursuing happiness as much as one thought about staying safe, sizing up danger and not over-contemplating the reality. It occurred to me once this realization became clear, that in setting in motion my not so elaborate departure from Truman Park; I was in fact pursuing my own happiness on some level—even if my perception read it only as an escape. Indeed, for a few weeks at Coronation, everything seemed pretty tranquil. The peaceful, friendly atmosphere at Coronation was like hazy pills which filled my head with 35mm pans in soft focus—it was Fantasy Island. Even the readings, sermons and lessons the teachers repeated for the thousandth time in their lives, acted as lulling illustrations as the sunrays flooded their mid-afternoon classes, promising a big vibrant world full of color and possibility and endless isles of worlds printed in library books. Indeed, Coronation life relaxed me enough to fall into a deep, warm slumber. So this was south side life, I thought. So this is what is was to exist on the other side of town. Indeed, it was nearly too relaxing, soft, slow-mo. It made sense why the kids of Coronation were so sensitive and entitled; they’d been excessively pampered and encouraged to subscribe to a very self-indulgent narcissism. I found it amusing and viewed them as cartoon characters, moving in Technicolor with anecdotal facades. I marinated in this new normal life like a panther relaxing in a spot of warm shade. However, things were about to get weird.
Firstly, my natural state, which I wasn’t interested in shedding, struck many of my classmates as foreign and therefore interesting on some level. They were a bit fascinated by the world I’d fled and would frequently offer me rides back to Truman Park in hopes of witnessing a real-time happening. Some of my new acquaintances, such as a few Coronation girls hoping to have their pristine virtue assaulted, drove me home and came up to my room, where I bid them their wish with great appreciation and wonder. Coronation girls were different from the girls I was used to. They preferred a romantic approach; hand holding, deep kissing, cuddling afterward…giggling. One in particular would lie on my bed with me afterward, pushing back my cuticles with the edge of her manicured thumb-nail, softly lecturing me on why pushing back cuticles was so important. It was mildly irritating…still, I loved the way she sat there, swaying to Mazzy Star and telling me how she would one day move to New York and attend the Lee Strasberg School of theater.
With Coronation girls, I always had basically an hour. School let out at 3:30, the drive back to my house was about half an hour, so we would make it to my bedroom by 4:00—allowing us basically an hour to do whatever we wanted until my mother got home from the law office at which she worked by 5:15. 5:oo was usually the cut-off, which would allow the girl I was with ten minutes to comb the knots out of her hair, pull her clothing back on and reapply her makeup.
We might sit with my mother for a while, discussing topics and watching the news. My mother could discuss anything and everything under the sun, in great detail, hearing all points and drawing fair conclusions; I never understood how fascinating my mother was because in fact, I lacked the intelligence to grasp her revolutionary ways of thinking. However, many of the girls I brought home from Coronation commented aloud, speculating half jokingly how it was possible for such an intriguing and intelligent woman to have had such a jack ass son. I blamed it on my absentee father with a chuckle and a shrug.
I would usually catch a ride back to Hillcrest Village with my new friends, the neighborhood in which Coronation High was located and most of its students lived. I did this in the evening because in the evening, anybody who was anybody in the Coronation music scene hung out at the local gathering spot–Prime Ribs; a rib house on the south side of town that was situated in the business district.
Indeed, Hillcrest Village was a world unto itself, nestled in an upscale section of town where everyone seemed to know each other and everyone’s mother was an ex-beauty queen gold digger and everyone’s father was a big shot business man—where trellises were trends and landscapers maintained the perfectly sculpted hedges…where there was a grand piano nobody ever played in every Elizabethan sun room easily viewable from the street. Somehow Hillcrest Village evaded my understanding. Something as simplistic as one of my classmates being given a brand new sports car for his 16th birthday and then having the audacity to criticize the color evaded my understanding in such a way I felt nothing either way about it—I simply had nothing to do with their world aside from existing in it as a distant observer.
However, along with receiving cars and scooters and skiing trips—these Coronation kids also received musical instruments and high end accessories. Though many were still learning their instrument; they’d started with top line gear. Many kids were starting bands, or were in multiple bands or were forming side-projects with other musicians from alternate genres. It seemed every kid had been granted the go ahead to turn one of the spare rooms in their parent’s house, into a sound proofed rehearsal space fully equipped with a full sound system and in some cases recording equipment. It was hard to believe and to me it was like a colorful dream filled with whispers of elation; this shit was actually going to happen.
I realized this one afternoon when after school I’d met with a drummer and a bass player at their home in west Hillcrest. They were brothers and having grown up together they’d developed an uncanny ability to lock into each other’s rhythm—which I believed would make for a bulletproof rhythm section. I believed correctly and indeed, after only two hours we’d put together one of my songs in perfect likeness of its abstract state…we’d taken the imagined and birthed into tangibility through heavy guitar chords, a driving beat and a sprinting bass line. Indeed, we achieved the desired effect—to sound as close to ALL as possible without actually being ALL. In the coming weeks we would build 8 more of my songs, creating a high energy set of songs that could stop on a dime and then leap into space the next second. We had a secret weapon and we’d kept it very secret. We rehearsed in utmost privacy in a sound proofed room in the Decker Brothers’ basement. We’d lose track of hours and emerge very late from the rehearsal room, finding the evening had passed and the hours were getting wee. I would listen to the recordings on my headphones as I rode the bus back to Truman Park, mesmerized by what we were creating in the Decker brothers’ basement. As I listened and felt the bus taking the dips and potholes in the Truman Park roads, I was gripped by a macabre notion that perhaps it was only a glimpse of what might have been and what could never actually be…that I might die before this labor of love could come to fruition or at the very least get myself expelled from Coronation and never finish what I’d started. It was a chilling notion and one I’d willed away with a solemn pledge to go all the way if given the chance…to become the very best songwriter I could be; no matter where it led me—the mission is what mattered.
Getting off the bus I noticed the blue and red flicker of police lights against a row of tenement facades at a nearby intersection. With the volume of my Walkman maxed, I strolled toward the lights, feeling slightly invincible with my new band blaring through my headphones. As I rounded the corner, Luther Street opened up, coming into view from behind a tall wooden fence.
Amidst a sea of spectators clad haphazardly in hot summer clothing were strewn, as haphazardly, perhaps a half dozen squad cars, a few of which were still alive with flashing lights. A few feet away an ambulance idled loudly, pulled halfway up onto the curb, its rear doors open and it’s cabin full of emergency apparatus illuminated by the florescent glow of the interior lights. I wondered distantly how many people had died in that ambulance; the long panels of florescent lights the last thing they’d ever see.
Milling around the front yard of a familiar looking house were police, paramedics and a few men in plain clothes. They mingled and compared notes as if discussing the stock market. A few minutes later a giant fire truck rounded the corner, it’s lights adding to the red flashing. Firemen soon joined the commotion, making their way up the stairs and into the house which I definitely recognized.
As I craned my neck to see around the emergency responders crowding the front yard, I made out a body lying lifelessly on the floor just inside the front door, which at that point was fully ajar. The house itself was illuminated as if every light in every room had been turned on. The snap of a camera flashed against the interior curtains which were beige and drawn casually.
I knew the house because I used to deliver papers to the address years before. On collection nights I would stand impatiently waiting for Mr. Whateverthehellhisnamewas to make the proper change. The place where I’d stood waiting for the collection money was now occupied by a dead body. I wondered if it was the same old man. And what of his wife? Had one killed the other? Was it instead a home invasion—which you heard about happening now and then in Truman Park? Gang related activity? Drug overdose? Suicide? As the possibilities swirled in my head, a sudden hand clasping down on my shoulder spooked me enough to spin around swiftly—ready for anything, or anyone.
“Hey asshole…you don’t call…you don’t write.” grinned Sarah Chatsworth; an old classmate who I’d not seen since my grand exit from Truman High a number of months previous.
“Sarah Mascara how the hell are ya?” I said, taking her hug sideways so it became a half hug.
“I heard Warren freaked on you then threw your ass out of school.” said Sarah with wide eyes, the lids caked with mascara—her trademark style.
“Is that the rumor?” I said, shaking my head, “Don’t believe the hype…I transferred to another school—Warren took it personally. I feel sorry for his wife and kids—imagine it; they have to live with his bullshit every day. You really have to feel extra bad for his mistress—she’s got to go down on the old fuck.”
“Gross.” said Sarah, smacking the back of her hand against my arm.
“Hey, what the hell happened in that house?” I asked Sarah who looked prettier than I remembered. She’d put on a bit of weight in the right spots and had started wearing much more lipstick. Her hair was short and wild and died peroxide blonde. Her tan was a nice contrast and as she stood there looking at me with a curious grin, her cigarette, held by her left hand, hovered steadily beside her face, poised and waiting for her to drag on it.
“It’s been a notorious drug house for years. Where the hell you been?” said Sarah.
“I used to deliver papers there—years and years ago. I used to stand right there where that body is now—I used to stand there waiting for this old guy to make the right change and he always took forever.” I told her.
“I remember that old guy. Mr. Schwartz.”
“Yeah, that’s the guy.”
“He sold the house years ago and it’s been a drug pad ever since. Get with it Nero.” said Sarah with a small sad smile—it was understood.
We stood there for a while taking inventory of the taped off crime scene until eventually a body on a gurney, covered in a grey sheet was carted out into the street and fit into what appeared to be a coroner’s van. We heard a nearby news anchor tell her one man camera crew, in her syndicated television news voice, that there had been a drug related homicide in the house and that the authorities were searching for the assailants who’d fled the scene in a grey, four-door sedan. She repeated the last bit with an ominous tone, “a grey, four-door sedan…back to you Walter.” As she gave her report, the crowd of by standers thinned. The paramedic’s resuscitation efforts had failed and the show was over. The home team had lost. Another murder had gone down in Truman Park and again, city council would do nothing to clean up the neighborhood.
As if having seen what they’d been waiting for, the crowd dispersed as the blue van silently pulled away slowly…carrying the body of a Truman Park resident who might warrant dishonorable mentioned in the local paper, but would be otherwise anonymous and unmentioned; another statistic. For nobody wanted to dwell on what was going on in our sector; it was better not to dwell on it—it was indeed better to view it as macabre entertainment. We didn’t have barbecues or block parties or street festivals in Truman Park; we had crime scenes and arson based infernos. Other than that there wasn’t a lot of socializing going on.
In spite of her parent’s house being in the opposite direction of mine, I walked Sarah Mascara home. As we passed the darkened, mostly vacant houses of Luther Street, Sarah told me about the most recent happenings at Truman High—none of which I cared much to hear about but listened anyway. As we walked we passed a loosely rolled joint back and forth and by the time we were at her house, I realized that the weed we’d been smoking was dirt and the buzz it gave was synthetic—as if it had been laced with a chemical manufactured in a lab.
It was the 90’s and we hadn’t felt that the 80’s belonged to us. We were smarter than that and perhaps the last of the keen kids and perhaps we knew it in some way. We didn’t intend to be an impossible generation to follow—we never set out to be legendary; we were just wired a certain way…we knew we were at the center of something new…something big…we were the last of the big time senders—telepathy was huge with 90’s teens…our brains weren’t dependent on tablets linked through satellite transmissions—rather we were the exclamation point of a sentence our great grandparents had started decades before—we were the culmination and nearly psychic.
We’d mastered the craft and our transmissions were subtly obvious…and there was a smirk of absurdity to our sunny disposition—a devil-may-care nonchalance regarding the rose colored future we knew we’d be eventually left in alone, as everyone always is. We turned to the underground, the misfit writers, the tragic poets, the edgy film-noir directors, intellectualism, garage rock, the abstract alternative—it was us who demanded to spotlight it all…it was us who’d hung the DJ and we hung him in style.
Still, the 90’s would officially die many years later…along with thousands of innocent bystanders at Ground Zero; nothing but a tragedy. Things would never be the same again. At the time we didn’t know when, or why, or exactly how, but we knew the 90’s would end and that things would change forever; there was a collective intuition in the 90’s and it told us a dark cloud was on its way, and perhaps that’s what made it all so important—the last age of enlightenment.
Inside Sarah’s father was sitting deeply on the couch watching TV, drinking a can of beer and petting their lazy old dog who whipped his tail a bit at our sudden presence but didn’t bother to stir. Sarah’s step mother Julie was in the kitchen painting a bird house, one I assumed she either bought or constructed herself.
“The Juice is loose.” said Sarah’s father as we walked across the dimly lit living room.
“That jury would have acquitted even if there was a video tape of him doing the killing.” agreed Julie from the kitchen, not able yet to pull her attention away from the fine work she was doing on the bird house.
“The Juice is loose.” sighed Sarah’s father, as if being deflated.
“They acquitted him?” asked Sarah, turning now to the TV flickering in the corner of the room. News reel footage showed the moment the verdict was read earlier in the day.
We sat for perhaps a half hour, transfixed by more news reel footage that illustrated the highlights of the case, the gloves that didn’t seem to fit, Fuhrman pleading the 5th with his immaculately feathered half-mullet, Scheck laying into a speechless Fung with theatrical appeal, Kato and his shameless comic relief, a determined Lang laying down the letter of the law, poor Marcia Clark up against a gang of sharp shooters and school yard bullies, hell bent on freeing a man who either did it or was one of the most unluckiest bastards on the face of the earth to encounter so many consecutive coincidences that tied him directly to a double homicide.
“The Juice is on the loose.” said Sarah’s father again, shaking his head.
“Why do you keep saying that?” demanded Sarah.
“Because they just acquitted him.” said the old man, gesturing with his hand toward the TV.
“If he could kill once—he could kill again.” declared Sarah’s stepmother from the kitchen, her tone comically ominous.
“Thanks Julie…” said Sarah with a sarcastic roll of her eyes, “Did it ever occur to you that he got acquitted because the prosecution had no case?”
“No case?!” exclaimed Sarah’s father with astonishment, “The blood evidence leads from Bundy, into the Bronco, up the driveway at Rockingham…into the house, even into the maid’s half bath…the socks covered in blood. How about the glove they found behind Kato’s room…the blood soaked glove that matched the one they found at Bundy. No case…”
“You know as well as I do that there was something fishy going on…Lee said it himself. I think there’s a great chance that the glove could have been planted by that hunky cop guy.” said Sarah.
“Hunky?” I asked, recalling the perfectly feathered half-mullet.
“That theory is absurd. There was only one glove found at Bundy.” said the man of the house.
“According to who?”
“Everyone who was there before Fuhrman; he was like the 10th cop to respond to Bundy.”
“But dad, you saw the cross-examinations…that crime scene was contaminated from the start. Fung was literally leaning up against a railing with the bottom of his foot against it. He wasn’t wearing gloves. On top of that, he left the blood samples in the van all afternoon…in the middle of an LA summer. It was probably 110 degrees in that van. Plus, there were splatters of blood across poor Nicole’s back that may have given us the identity of her killer…but they were washed off before being tested. With all the chaos that went on during that investigation; I doubt anyone would have noticed Fuhrman finding the other glove in the bushes.”
“And I guess you probably think Fuhrman put on a pair of Bruno Mali shoes and made those foot prints too?” said Sarah’s father, waving her off with a chuckle.
“There’s no proof OJ ever owned a pair of those shoes.” Sarah said gently, creating a vast cavern of silence that was filled easily by the headlines surrounding the verdict.
When Sarah was through arguing with her father she motioned for me to follow her. We went upstairs to her room and continued watching the news coverage on the small TV sitting on her dresser. I pulled her close and ran my lips over her neck a little. Her entire biology was geared toward forming a baby in her womb and though I hated the idea of unplanned parenthood; I felt like doing it with her then and there, unprotected and bareback, while her stepmother painted a birdhouse a floor below.
“What do you think?” she asked as I fumbled with her complex belt buckle.
“I think I want you naked.”
“I mean about the trial.”
“I think it’s over.” I said, snapping the latch and unhooking the buckle.
“Do you think he did it?” asked Sarah, moving away slightly to turn to me on the bed. She wore a serious expression, as if this question was important or had some impact on our lives.
“Who knows? Maybe he didn’t do it. But who really knows?” I said and moved in for some of her lips.
“I know. The jurors obviously knew. So many people know.”
“How do they really know though?” I asked, surrendering to the fact that Sarah was going to make me endure the discussion, “I don’t think anyone will ever really know for sure.”
“There has to be evidence…there was a lack of evidence.”
“There was so much evidence.” I pointed out.
“A lot of it was tainted evidence.”
“Tainted.” I laughed.
“Yes, tainted…and that glove—it’s too perfect. What they expect us to believe is that OJ killed his ex-wife and her ‘friend’ with a knife only a couple hours before he’s supposed to board a plane to Chicago. They expect us to believe that he would not only leave a trail of footprints, but also a trail of his own blood…not to mention that he would lose one glove at Bundy and the other at Rockingham—I mean what are the odds?”
“So you’re saying that Fuhrman, a guy who wore his half-mullet immaculately feathered, was privy to all of this—that he possessed such keen foresight to steal a glove from the scene at Bundy, then drive it over to Rockingham, then plant it there? As Marcia Clark said in her closing argument—he didn’t know at that point if OJ had an airtight alibi…or when his plane had taken off…he didn’t know at that point. By the way, I could listen to Marcia Clark talk all day long.”
“Why?” asked Sarah, screwing up her face, “Anyway, it’s funny that Fuhrman didn’t answer the question about whether or not he’d ever planted evidence before. Rather he took the 5th.”
“Well, I guess that was kind of fucked up.” I said, agreeing with Sarah, if for no other reason, to get her out of her clothing. However, Sarah wasn’t through debating the trial of the century.
“Tell me…what do you think happened that night at 875 Bundy Drive?” Sarah asked in an ominous tone, turning to me and listening intently.
“How the hell should I know?”
“What do you think really happened?” she insisted, apparently not willing to let it go.
“Well, based on what we’ve all seen, I think their relationship was toxic and poisonous by that point…he may or may not have hid in the bushes outside watching her screw other men—that’s emotional masochism if you ask me. I think when things get that fucked up—no contact is the best policy.”
“They were divorced—and that wasn’t the question.” Sarah reminded me.
“I think whatever they had between then was real unhealthy. Whatever the case; he finally snapped.” I shrugged.
“You really think that OJ, the football player, the actor…sliced so deep into his ex-wife’s neck he cut into her vertebrae? It just doesn’t fit…on a human level, something in me just doesn’t believe he would do that—especially with his kids sleeping upstairs.”
“So who the fuck did it then?” I demanded.
“Ok, forget about having any faith in humanity whatsoever…a jury found him not guilty—that must mean something.”
“They say the DNA proved that the blood trail leaving the scene was OJ’s.” I said, not knowing what else to say. I leaned in. As we kissed, I started sliding down her jeans. I made it to her knees before Sarah pushed me away again. She looked good with her cheeks flushed, her lipstick smeared slightly and her short blonde hair tussled. “And by the way, if evidence was tainted, then it can’t be said that the blood trail was OJ’s.”
“Okay.” I said, trying to pull the jeans lower. However, her knees suddenly widened, tightening the jeans and making them impossible to pull down any further.
“Excuse me?” asked Sarah.
“Sure…makes sense…” I said, leaning in and sinking into her dark red lips again, “Your guy got off…what’s the worry.”
“My guy?” Sarah snapped at me, this time pushing me away fully, her expression poised for battle, “What the fuck does that mean Nero?”
“Then why did you say it?”
“I just meant…”
“Yeah, I know what the fuck you meant.” said Sarah, rolling over, turning her back on me and burying her face in her pillow. “I think you should just leave.” she said. I admired the full stack of her ass cheeks tucked tightly in her panties and reached out to grab a handful; hoping to keep the flame alive…however, she clenched up and wriggled further away from me across the bed sheet like a chubby white worm.
Her lack of enthusiasm immediately bored me and I got up and left without bidding her farewell. Sarah Mascara was an only child and I remembered that every only child I’d ever known was impossibly difficult. As I bid her father a good evening, I realized that Sarah hated him…for leaving her mother…for changing jobs…for being a high functioning alcoholic and evidently for siding with the prosecution. Indeed, the OJ case had caused a nation to take sides; like so many others, the Chatsworth household was no exception.
The verdict sparked debates in the classrooms and hallways of Coronation High as well, but I felt that the trial and its social implications were a million miles away; it may as well have happened on the moon as far as I was concerned. Also, my band, Technicolor had been offered a gig at the Emerald City…an all ages venue downtown that hosted epic seven band bills 3 nights a week. We’d managed to snag a Thursday night by sheer chance…it had been a friend of a friend of a friend kind of thing, and though after all we were the first band on, we didn’t take it lightly. Rather we saw it as a sign, the first stroke of paint on a flickering cave wall; we were going to make history.
The weeks leading up to the show, as I recall, were governed by a preoccupation with the nuances of the songs themselves. Because I was a young songwriter, I was still mastering the art of melodic magic—the painstaking craft of sharpening songs to a fine point with no hint of thought—as if they’d been written spontaneously from beginning to end, rather than in carefully dissected and rearranged sections and pieces. Though the spontaneity of following a line of precognitive melodicism was innately intact; I was only beginning to understand at that point, the coherence of melody objectively and the application of which…a craft many fathoms deep with key changes, tension release, tension build, bridging, choruses and their connecting prefixes and suffixes…Indeed, what was already and obsession became an all-consuming compulsion; to write the perfect song—if there was such a thing.
Of course, such an elusive and undoubtedly challenging if not entirely impossible endeavor could, if allowed, possess a person to the point where the world around them became a blurry peripheral, inconsequential charade. It was during those weeks that I paid attention to very little outside the scope of our upcoming set at Emerald City. Through the duration of my classes at Coronation High, I would, instead of absorbing the monotone relayed academia, replay the songs in my head, hearing them as if on a hi-fi stereo in my mind.
During those otherwise wasted hours sitting in social studies class, or algebra class, or computer science class; I would pen lyrics, listen to variations of song arrangements, make note of accents, stops and drum fills as well as chart vocal melodies I’d discovered in the process. These tidbits of construct translated nicely at the end of each day when our band met in the rehearsal space. In essence, the Emerald City show, if nothing else, acted as incentive to perfect the songs, which may have taken weeks longer otherwise.
By the day of the show, I felt confident that whatever we hadn’t fixed until then—couldn’t be fixed; at least not in any near future. What we had was a strong set of songs—surprisingly strong and what we’d kept under a shroud of secrecy for months, was about to be unveiled and the word had gone around. Though nobody had heard us live—there weren’t many who hadn’t heard our demo cassette, which was a compilation of 4 songs, recorded on the music room 4 track recorder, available to any students who booked the time with Mr. Bradshaw—Coronation High’s enigmatic music teacher; for beyond despising rock music, folk music, jazz music and world music, Bradshaw loved more than anything, the sound of a tuba; and who, might I pose the question, digs the fucking tuba?
Still, he’d let us alone with the equipment on a Sunday afternoon, during which we’d tracked the instruments for the four songs live off the floor, recording the vocals afterward. Indeed, the demo, Technicolor’s first and last, would have us facing for our first show, a dedicated regime of friends and supporters, front row and center—all waiting to be impressed. However, there was the case of Eleanor Dressler, whom I’d invited to the show for the purpose of spellbinding her and who had shown up with Gregory Locksmith; Coronation’s ex star-quarterback.
Not that Locksmith would matter at all in this story, outside of the fact that Eleanor Dressler had shown up with him. But I should state here that Locksmith was infamous at Coronation…for besides having led the home team to victory 2 years in a row, he’d been the only survivor of boating accident that had killed his two best friends the previous summer—after which he’d given up playing football. He’d been at the wheel and had hit a reef which had, at such high velocity, shredded the hull of the boat, ejecting all three of them; Locksmith had landed in the water and it had been the only thing that had saved him. His friends had landed on the reef and died on impact.
The infamy that now surrounded Locksmith gained a certain tragic appeal among several lovely Coronation vixens from all cliques and coteries. What’s worse was Locksmith’s father was a well-known politician…a senator; a man delegated by the people to lead, to make the hard decisions they didn’t want to shoulder and to tell witty anecdotes at charity dinners and press events. It seemed, in spite of my success of landing a slot at Emerald City—I was outclassed by kid who’d doubtlessly been handed everything in life and what’s worse, was now used to it. He was given whatever he wanted…and unfortunately a relationship with Eleanor Dressler was something he obviously wanted. I knew instinctively that Locksmith would never see in her what I did. It was written all over him; he wouldn’t know what to do with a girl like Eleanor and the fact that she preferred him made me question if Eleanor was really as fascinating as I perceived.
I’d sat in a booth beside the stage with my band and a number of our closest friends…watching Eleanor stand close beside Locksmith, who was tall, lean, barbered and clad in designer clothing. You’d have expected one of his pearly white teeth to twinkle when he grinned his signature grin…one that he’d perfected over the years in his bedroom mirror no doubt. I sighed, feeling a deep hollow invade my elation—my elation of finally getting to play my songs in front of an audience; I regretted inviting her.
As we took the stage and I plugged my guitar in, setting my volume controls higher than the soundman had originally allowed; the distant and hollow realization that Eleanor was sending me a message, nagged at me. Her message was simple; she’d shown up at Emerald City to illustrate how off the mark I was—how presumptuous I’d been to invite her. She wasn’t flattered by my affections. She’d obviously wanted me to take stock of the sort of guys she was capable and perhaps used to entertaining. Guys like Locksmith. She wanted me to see who she rolled with and how she rolled with them. She wanted me to see this in order to explain in a passive aggressive fashion that I simply wasn’t good enough for her. So be it then, I thought, turning to the crowd which I couldn’t see through the bright spotlights now pointed at us. The room was silent and there was some anticipation; I was expected to say something.
“We’re Technicolor…buckle up.” was all I said before we powered into our first song; a five lane pile up of heavy riffs, harmonics, smashing crashes and summer of love melodies. Indeed, blatantly inspired by ALL, but all the same ours…my ode to the present got the crowd going.
We played through the set, dodging stage divers and keeping on point with all our clever accents and stops. I felt the passion deep and let it flow into my guitar and out through my voice; it was as if anything could happen. Well, almost anything. During our last song, I noticed Eleanor leaving, with Locksmith in tow—his hand pressed gently against the small of her back. Good riddance I thought, unsnapping my guitar and setting it down atop my amp, leaving the volume turned to ten so a harsh feedback rang out under the applause that begged us back for an encore.
There wasn’t time for an encore however and the stage lights went dead and the house music came on. I turned off my amp, killing the feedback and hopped off stage and made my way across the dispersing dance floor toward the exit. Outside on the street there were groups of Coronation kids standing around smoking cigarettes and playing Hacky-sack. It was the 90’s and as far as we knew, the future was remarkably bright. It didn’t feel that way just then though. The fact that Eleanor had left with Locksmith depressed me a bit. The sensation ebbed however when I felt a light shot in my arm.
“Holy fuck man.” said Wes, “That was fucking amazing man!”
“We worked really hard on the set.” I said.
Wes was flanked by his main squeeze April Vincent and she was lighting up a pinner with a wooden match. Her eyes were slightly crossed from focusing carefully at the flame. We passed it around and chatted for a while as passing people bid me congratulations on our first show. It was bitter sweet; no Eleanor. And I suppose dear reader; one could say that it was then that I’d officially surrendered to my anger, disappointment and hollow heart break.
“Did you see Eleanor?” I asked April.
“Yeah.” she said, sensing what I was feeling.
“That guy would never love her like I would.” I said.
“Dude…no offense but I don’t see what the fuck you’re on about here. Firstly Eleanor Dressler is a freak…I mean I get that you like her 1950’s attire but man—she’s really not that great looking. In fact she’s got a lot of problems.”
“Like?” I asked.
“Well, firstly she’s got ass problems man. That ass is only like cottage cheese and also she’s got no breasts to speak of.”
“That’s preposterous.” I said, a chuckle finally returning to my core, “She has a great ass.”
“Uh, no…she really doesn’t.” corrected Wes.
“Wes, don’t be mean.” said April, checking her man—however, he ignored her.
“Look, my sister is on the water polo team with her and I had to pick her up from practice last week. I got there early so I could check out some of the girls in their swimsuits…” said Wes, absently defending his arm from a sudden swat from April who dropped an expression of disbelief, “and I will tell you my friend; Eleanor Dressler had a cottage in the south of France and no breasts to speak of…like none. Like minus breasts, if that’s possible. Not only that, she has nicotine stains on her front teeth…dude…you need to get a hold of the reality.”
“Gee, I wonder what you say about me when I’m not around.” said April, clearly insulted.
“I say you’re my lovely April…whose lips I love to French kiss.” said Wes, squeezing her close, causing April to turn red and peer up at me, wondering if I’d understood the implication—which I had.
“You can’t understand. It’s not just the way she looks; it’s her whole thing…her whole style…her story—her ambience.” I said.
“That’s a flimsy foundation to base anything on.” Wes pointed out, “And anyway, you just played a major rock show. You could have any of these girls tonight I’m sure.”
“They’re not Eleanor though.” I sighed, causing April to twist up her face in sympathy, as if she might cry.
“Look, if you dig St. Mary’s girls so much; there’s a group of Lisa’s right over there and as far as I can tell, they’re a damn site prettier than Eleanor fucking Dressler.”
I followed Wes’ line of sight to a group of four girls, standing beside a mailbox smoking cigarettes and speaking to each other in animated gestures. Indeed, Wes was correct—they were St. Mary’s girls and in fact must have come straight from school as they were still clad in their school-girl uniforms baring the St. Mary’s crest. They wore 1960’s jewelry and hair styles and dark make-up. There was something very different about them; dark even, one might say.
“Why do you call them the Lisa’s?” I inquired.
“Because like three of them are named Lisa.”
“My friend Carla who goes to St. Mary’s said that the Lisa’s are crazy. The one with the blonde beehive apparently slit her wrists last year—they found her floating face up in the pool…the pool turned red. She has a major fixation with Sylvia Plath, but that’s taking it a bit far…actually slitting your wrists. Apparently two of them were caught high on coke and making out with each other in a bathroom stall at The Attic. I don’t know, they’re kind of creepy—I’ve heard they get together and do magic too. Some people think they’re witches.”
“Hocus pocus.” chuckled Wes, waving off the notion as absurd, “Maybe one can take a ride on your broomstick.”
“Maybe.” I said, before strolling over to the girls from St. Mary’s.
As I approached, they glanced at me but didn’t greet me when I was standing beside them. They merely continued their discussion—laughing hysterically, dragging on their cigarettes and glancing at me out of the corner of their pretty, painted eyes. They were chastising one girl in their group, a short girl with short black hair and heavy dark make-up. They were chuckling about her sex life with her boyfriend who apparently couldn’t get it up for her after a year of dating. They were making suggestions as to what she might do to improve this predicament—moves she might try, antidotes she might concoct. The blonde who’d slit her wrists suggested she tie her boyfriend up and gag him…after which they all broke out laughing, including the girl with the short black hair and heavy dark makeup.
“No guy is going to like that.” I interjected.
“How would you know? You’ve tried it?” the suicidal blonde asked me, drawing a chuckle from her friends.
“No I haven’t and wouldn’t.”
“Well, you’re a handful of fun.” squeaked the girl with short black hair, drawing another collective chuckle.
“Maybe he doesn’t love you.” I said. This created a silence that stole the smile from her crazy dark eyes.
“I’m not looking for love,” she finally said, “I’m looking for orgasms.”
As they all laughed I nodded, “That’s the easy part.”
“Really?” asked the suicidal blonde.
“I would say.”
“Based on what?”
“My track record.” I said, turning to her finally and realizing she was gorgeous.
“Hmmm,” she mused, “you…fucking…wish.”
Her girls giggled, with a bit less volume this time. It was then that the one who bared a striking resemblance to Mia Farrow in Rosemary’s Baby weighed in, “You’re drummer looks like he wears Velcro shoes.” she said.
“Huh?” I asked, not understanding her statement.
“You’re a little magical aren’t you?” she asked me.
“Me? Listen, you ladies are the ones everyone around here thinks are witchy.”
“Yeah well, all you Coronation kids are brats.” said the blonde.
“Brats with sports cars.” added Mia Farrow.
“Well…as long as we’re not being judgmental here.” I chuckled.
“You see that vintage Jaguar over there?” asked Mia.
I followed her motioning hand to a car parked close against the curb. It was clearly from a long lost era. Emerald green, four headlights, chrome bumpers…the real thing. I dragged from my cigarette, admiring the sleek line of the car. It was the sort of car one never spotted around Truman Park…it suggested things that were perhaps lost on these wise cracking trollops. I didn’t bother telling them how the car spoke to me, I just admired it for a while.
“Hello?” asked Mia Farrow.
“I’m here.” I said, feeling the grass and turning to look her in her pretty eyes.
“That’s my car.” she said, “That’s what a real car looks like.”
“Looks not bad.” I nodded.
“You want to take a ride in it boy?” she asked, jingling the keys.
“Sure.” I shrugged.
I walked with Mia Farrow toward the vintage Jaguar, realizing that I’d never been in a Jaguar and probably would never be again; this would be fun. When we were inside the car I realized that the rest of her gang of Lisa’s were still standing on the sidewalk beside the mailbox, immersed again in their conversation and smoking their cigarettes.
“They’re not coming?” I asked.
“What do we need them for?” asked Lisa #2, sparking the engine and shifting into drive.
As she peeled away with a loud squeal, the sudden momentum caused the back of my head to hit the cushioned rest. She took the street fast and the corners hard, nearly fishtailing when turning right onto Malcolm Avenue. One on Malcolm Lisa #2 stamped down on the gas pedal, so the trees and cars and lampposts went by in a fantastic blur. It seemed like warp speed in my inebriated state; what had April been smoking?
“Uh, I think you’re driving a tad rapidly.” I said.
“Don’t be a front seat driver.” said Lisa turning to me with a psychotic grin.
Holding onto the door handle, I planted my feet against the floor firmly and buckled my seatbelt, wondering distantly, as Lisa floored the gas, if this would be my end; the price of having gotten booked at Emerald City. Secondly I wondered if it was all worth it. Strangely, my thoughts, in what I perceived to possibly be my last moments, turned to Eleanor and Locksmith—what would Eleanor think if Lisa and I bought it in a high speed car crash? I was suddenly haunted by the realization that she wouldn’t care.
“Listen, this isn’t impressing me.” I told Lisa finally. Lisa merely glanced at me with a grin, and finding I was serious she removed her small foot from the gas, so we coasted in a slowing speed through the underpass that led into Walsh Greens.
Lisa slowed the car even more when we reached the 800 block of Sherman Street. She turned the radio down and squinted across the dashboard at the passing yards. When she found what she was looking for, Lisa pulled the car into a dark concave beside a partition of hedges and killed the engine. In the near pitch dark that enveloped the interior, she spoke quietly and closely, as if someone might hear.
“I need you to help me with something.” she said, leaning very close to my face.
“I’m all about helping.” I said, expecting her to kiss me next. However, a kiss never came. Instead, Lisa kept leaning, toward the glove box from which she produced a compact flashlight which she clicked on momentarily as a test.
“Ok, let’s go.”
“Go? Where?” I asked.
“You said you’d help me.”
“I said I was all about helping.” I corrected.
“Are you going to help me or not? If not you can wait in the car.” she said, her tone irritated.
“Why so clandestine? Just tell me.”
“My ex-lives here; last week I found out he was cheating on me with two different girls.” she said, her voice stony and cold.
“Who were the girls?” I asked.
“Does it fucking matter?”
“Guess not.” I said.
“You going to help me?”
“Help you what?”
“His mother, the raging bitch—his ultimate enabler, loves landscaping the yard. I’m going to take all of her garden gnomes and throw them off a bridge.” said Lisa.
“That’s evil.” I chuckled.
“Guess that makes me eveeeel.” she said, placing the flashlight under her chin and turning it on so her face was illuminated like a ghostly apparition, “Are you coming or are you going to pussy out?” she asked.
“Ok…sure…I’ll join you on your PG-13 vendetta.” I grinned, finding it all a bit cute.
Indeed, Lisa moved swiftly, like a stealth operative, issuing me hand gestures to stop, move slowly and eventually, to follow her around the hedges up the walk and into the yard which was, I noticed populated by a small community of creepy garden gnomes. There were other trinkets as well…a miniature windmill…miniature ponies…a miniature well…indeed, it seemed her ex-boyfriend’s mother had nothing better to do with her day. I stood there scratching my head, still trying to contemplate how exactly this action was supposed to translate into pay-back for her cheating ex. I was glancing up at the darkened bay window of the house when Lisa hissed at me to grab the windmill, which I uprooted and walked back to the car.
Once it was sitting safely in the backseat of her father’s vintage Jag, I headed back and found that Lisa had built a small pile of garden gnomes near the mouth of the yard. She instructed me to move them to the car, which I did. This took two trips. As I walked, clutching the cool plastic gnomes, on my second trip, Lisa came tearing out from around the corner, not bothering to conceal her voice this time, “Go, go, go!” she hollered, “They’re coming!”
Kicking it into high gear, we made it to the car in seconds. As I dumped the remainder of gnomes into the back seat, I noticed that Lisa had with her a rolled up garden hose on the end of which hung a large, high tech looking sprinkler. She too dumped it into the back seat and we both got into the car again. Sparking the engine with a heavy rev, Lisa didn’t wait for the engine to level before she shifted into reverse and so we jerked hard back down onto the street, where she floored the gas, sending us off in the opposite direction with a loud squeal of the tires.
Once we were a safe distance away, Lisa stopped at an intersection to change cassettes from the Smiths to Soul Asylum’s ‘And the Horse They Rode In On’, a great album, which made it easy to enjoy the casual drive back to Emerald City; a drive during which, Lisa said nothing and only peered ahead with intense conviction. When we pulled up, her band of Lisa’s weren’t outside beside the mailbox as we’d left them. In fact, the street was empty; everyone was inside watching Mars Control—another Coronation band that played the circuit.
Once back inside, Lisa and I parted ways, she to join her band of Lisa’s on the dance floor as I joined my friends who had taken up a table near the side of the stage. When I sat down, Wes looked at me crooking his head. A grin formed on his face as he slung his arm around my shoulders.
“So?” he chuckled, “You do her?”
“It wasn’t that kind of drive.” I said.
“So what did you do then?”
“We stole some fucking garden gnomes.” I chuckled.
“Really…sounds like a first date to me.” Wes assured, patting me on the shoulder, “And that Lisa you left with—she’s a looker. Much better than Eleanor Dressler; trust me.”
I nodded, glancing toward Lisa #2 who was now standing with her friends and grooving to the band under the flashing lights. Wes was right; she was naturally beautiful and looked beyond sexy standing there in her school uniform and her 1960’s make-up job, with her short blonde hair and her mysterious dance moves. There was a little bit of Mia Farrow in her and that intrigued me. She wasn’t Eleanor Dressler but she would, I could tell, be plenty of fun and games.
As I sipped at a bottle of seltzer, I felt a hand touch my shoulder. Looking up I found I didn’t recognize the guy. It was dark, yet he wore sunglasses. He was clad in a tight button up shirt and torn jeans. He wore a studded wrist band and held an unlit cigarette in his hand.
“I’m Walt.” he said.
“Hey.” I said, shaking his other hand.
“Let’s talk.” he said, motioning to the band room beside the stage.
When we were backstage, Walt lit his cigarette, sprawled out on the couch, put his hands behind his head and crossed his legs at the ankles, as if he was soaking up sunrays. He grinned wide and raised his brows at me.
“Guess what.” he said.
“What?” I shrugged.
“We’re going to turn the music scene in this town on its head.” said Walt, volleying into a psychotic chuckle.
“Who is?” I asked, assuming he was talking about a project he was already in.
“You and me…and of course my drummer ‘the Goblin’…ever hear of him?” asked Walt.
“No…I can’t say that I have…what’s you plan?” I said, taking a seat on a nearby table top, lighting my own cigarette and squinting back at him through an exhale of smoke.
“What I saw you do out there earlier tonight…was totally fucking real man. And you see, me and The Goblin have been looking for a guitar player and a singer—you’re two in one…and you’re the real deal—exactly what we’ve been looking for. You know I wasn’t even going to come here tonight…but something told me…” he said, clicking his finger at me as if it were a small revolver.
“I don’t know if I have time…I’ve got Technicolor now…and we spend a lot of time in the jam room.” I told him.
“Dude…” said Walt, vaulting up from his spot on the couch and was standing robustly a second later, gesturing with his hands, “Fuck Technicolor…what you, me and the Goblin can do will turn this fucking town on its head man! Look out there…you got these Coronation bands weeping all over the stage because they’re too rich and too pretty. Where’s the party? Where’s the fun in that? Where’s the all out, over the top freak show? Where’s the controversy? Where’s the fucking romance?” demanded Walt, pausing to drag deeply on his cigarette.
“What kind of music?” I asked.
Walt grinned, took a couple steps forward and showed his palms to me, panning them to either side as he spoke the words, presenting them with clear, mystical diction, “Sex Funk”, he said, grinning widely again.
“I’m not really a funk guy though.” I said.
“That’s ok, because the Goblin and I are…we play in the jazz combo at Carter High…we’ve toured Asia dude…but fuck touring Asia with a jazz combo band—we funk shit up…that’s what we do best; we’ll bring the funk, you bring the sex—we got a great name too.”
“Yeah, what’s that?” I asked.
Again, Walt panned his palms, presenting the name with the same mystical diction, “Sassy Sister Sadie”, he said, grinning wide.
Indeed, I was forced to share his grin…for his demeanor suggested more than his words and presentation could. It suggested that he was slightly psychotic and willing to do whatever it took to turn Raylene’s music scene on its head.
“Think about it.” he said, handing me his card, which read, Walter Mayer – bassist extraordinaire.
He left me there in the room by myself as the band on stage banged away at their weepy post-punk power-pop. I’d have thrown the card away had there not been something exciting about the notion of turning the music scene on its head. I knew what Walt meant somehow and it wasn’t a bad thing…or a cynical thing. Perhaps Walt was the devil incarnate. Perhaps; but he had a great band name and I perceived a few visions…a distant glimpse into the future—I saw a few possibilities, one being limitless.
However, all the same, I’d never been a funk player or really a funk fan at all. Funk wasn’t in my musical vocab. In fact, I’d always found funk non-eventful on account of its lack of emotionally lush melody. Of course funk had its own melody scheme but like blues; hopeful minors and sad glad majors didn’t usually apply. So, dear reader, the challenge—more importantly—the winnable challenge of injecting such melody into a funk project, or sex funk project as Walt had articulated, was tantalizing.
As I was contemplating this alone in the band room, a knock appeared on the door, one which I ignored. The knock came again a moment later and was followed by a creak of the door. It was April, Wes’ squeeze and she had with her Eleanor Dressler. More importantly, Eleanor was alone, aside from April. I looked at Eleanor, with a stony expression…curbing my resentment with a wry grin.
Perhaps sensing this, her smile faded and she played nervously with a bottle cap between her blood red fingernails. She was dressed as usual in what appeared to be women’s 1950’s apparel, which drove me half mad and made resenting her much harder. She’d cut her hair short since I’d seen her the previous week and it looked ultra-sexy; she’d taken on an Audrey Horne allure and it drove me absolutely mad. Mostly though, there was a pull deep within my chest…a foreign sensation—a pleading somewhere inside of me that I hadn’t felt before; a pleading I didn’t constitutionally agree with. Certainly it was beyond my understanding but I’m certain Eleanor felt it—how could she not?
“I’m leaving now—just wanted to congratulate you on the show. It was very good. I was very surprised.” said Eleanor, nervous now for some reason, her usual biting sarcasm nowhere in sight.
“I thought you already left.” I said, sliding off the table and standing.
“I did, but came back. We just went for a bite down the street.” said Eleanor.
“Aw, how romantic.” I said, unable to conceal what I was feeling.
“Sorry?” she asked.
“You should be.” I said, cuing April to make an awkward face and quietly exit the band room, leaving Eleanor and I alone.
“Why, because I got a cheeseburger? Are you vegetarian or something?” she grinned shyly, looking lovely and flushed.
“Why didn’t you let me buy you a cheeseburger?” I asked.
“You never asked.”
“I invited you here tonight.” I reminder her, “And you killed it by showing up with that tumbling dick-weed.”
“Are we talking about Gregory?” she asked, as if baffled.
“Well, we’re not talking about Robert Kardashian.” I said.
“I’ve been dating Gregory for two months now.” she said, twisting her face up as if I was insane.
“And you showed up here to what…rub that in my face?”
“That’s real cute.” I told her.
“I thought you were being friendly by inviting me.” said Eleanor, placing a hand against her chest; a play at sincerity.
“Then you’re blind.”
“I thought you were just being friendly.” she repeated, quieter now.
“Friendly? We’ll never be friends.” I promised her.
“Why not?” she asked, looking hurt.
“Because we have two options; strangers or lovers.” I told her with a shrug, “I’ve got it too badly for you for it to be anything else…I’ve had it badly for you since the first time I saw you months ago at the Backyard…I knew right away.”
“Why are you being so intense suddenly? You’ve never mentioned this before to me.”
“Aren’t you supposed to have like…woman’s intuition?” I said, shaking my head.
“Don’t look at me like that—it makes me feel bad.” she said.
“If you think he’ll ever be as fascinated by you as I am—you’re mad.” I confessed.
“What?” she asked.
I said nothing; I merely looked at her, having stated the truth. There wasn’t much more I could do. For the kids of Coronation it seemed emotional bluntness was taboo, something one shouldn’t entertain, as if fanning my cards out across the table was somehow less honest than acting out a charade—I didn’t play charades. For my declaration, I was willing to pay a certain price; I was willing to lose Eleanor completely…but in my heart I knew that if I couldn’t have Eleanor Dressler the way I needed to; I’d rather not have her at all, in any capacity—the rest was incidental meanderings.
“So, I guess I should go.” said Eleanor, hugging herself and squinting at me, as if she didn’t recognize who I was…
“It’s your call…it’s the wrong call, but it’s yours to make.” I said.
“What do you mean the wrong call? You drop this shit on me all of a sudden. What do you want me to say? I need time to process it all.” demanded Eleanor.
“What is your heart telling you?” I asked.
“My heart was shattered long ago. I don’t listen to my heart…I listen to my head…my common sense.” said Eleanor, placing a hand over her forehead dramatically, “I have to go.” she finally said, turning and exiting through the creaky door.
I stood there for a few moments in the room alone, listening to Mars Control power through another of their weepy songs. I thought of Eleanor and how I’d not said enough…that there was more I could say to her. That she didn’t fully understand that I’d not been able to rid her from my thoughts for months. It seemed that if I came clean and confessed the utterly shameless details to her; then I could go on…purged of the not so secret infatuation that haunted me.
I moved fast, bolting through the door and jogging through the crowded room, nearly taking a waitress down in the process—a lucky miss. When I got outside Eleanor was getting into Locksmith’s parent’s car. She glanced at me…and though I should have said it all there…though I should have entertained my impulse and confessed it all to her; I clammed up…it was too late—she’d made her decision. Though she paused, as if in anticipation of my planned speech, my silence prompted her to close the passenger door and buckle her seatbelt, after which she looked at me again, a nearly angry expression tightening her face.
As the car pulled away, I stood on the sidewalk in my torn jeans, leather jacket and scuffed Vans. I lit a cigarette as I watched the taillights drive away, getting smaller and smaller. Indeed, I searched for a sense of closure and surprisingly felt one growing slowly, like a bubble of magma that would eventually burst and turn to rock…forging my young emotional landscape; a scar that would always be…the lovely Eleanor Dressler. I dragged deeply on the cigarette watching the car fade away, taking Eleanor into the night and far away from me.
However…just then, the universe illustrated that it had other plans. The brake lights illuminated and the car stopped perhaps a block and a half away. It idled there in the middle of the street for a few moments before the passenger door opened and I saw Eleanor’s form step out, a long coat slung over her forearm. It seemed there was some debate between her and Locksmith who was undoubtedly begging her to stay with him—to placate his ego no doubt. When she finally closed the door and the car pulled away rapidly, Eleanor turned and started walking back toward me. My stomach froze…my cigarette dangled from my mouth and I looked up at the sky that was a dome of stars; a million points of light twinkling back at me. How the fuck? I didn’t bother contemplating it…rather I stepped off of the sidewalk and started walking toward her…to meet Eleanor halfway. We met in the middle of the street and I could see there were tears in her eyes; she looked lovelier than I could comprehend just then and I grinned, wrapping my arms around her and pulling her in close. I squeezed her tight…more importantly, she squeezed back.
“I can’t believe it.” I whispered to her.
“Neither could he.” chuckled Eleanor through her sniffles.
I didn’t realize it then, but I would go on to date Eleanor Dressler for three and a half years until college took us away from each other. It was the 90’s–such were the notions, such were the times.
End of volume 1
*as creative works, these pieces do not represent any residences, facilities, locations or persons either living or deceased — any similarity is purely coincidental.