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 two
It took a number of months to process my turn of good luck with Eleanor—it seemed the more I contemplated how and why I’d finally, for once in my life, gotten what I truly wanted—or rather what I truly needed…it all made less and less sense and eventually, I simply came to accept that sometimes amazing things can happen.
The alternative was unimaginable—that I could have gone through the remaining two years, sharing a high school with Eleanor Dressler and never being able to be truly close to her; it was her closeness that I’d needed…her intoxicating essence…her utmost intimacy. And intimate it definitely was—aside from the creative spaces we sought out for the purpose of sex, like for instance her car, donut shop bathrooms, the back row of a near empty all night movie theater, a friend’s parent’s RV, under the bleachers on Coronation’s football green, as well as various other spontaneous and daring locations…aside from all the rampant sex, there was I realized, much more to love than intellectual fascination and sexual obsession.
Eleanor had begun my education on the subject by kicking holes in my fortified walls with soft words, declarations of understanding and unconditional affection and in turn I found there was a spot on the side of her neck, just below her earring that was the closest thing to heaven on earth and in it, I would hide, for hours sometimes; confessing things to her and listening to her confess things to me—something I’d never conceived possible or useful.
It was in this lovely dopamine haze that I navigated through the rest of the semester; gaining popularity with Technicolor through a number of performances at house parties, all ages venues like Emerald City and if you can believe it, The Backyard skate park. By the time we actually played the Backyard however, the dream had lost something in its transition to reality. Or rather it had changed dimensions—its focal point also changing like the bull’s eye of a moving target. Rather than the Backyard show being about finally getting to join the illustrious history of the 19 x 7 foot stage upon which I’d seen so many great local and touring bands; the show now meant having the set dialed in with such articulation—we’d be bulletproof.
My perfectionism had taken on a shape of its own and I would often spend hours dialing in the chop of a climbing bass line with the timing of a perfect chord and the shots of a tom fill. To me, there was no reason to not have things perfect and what’s more—coherent…and so, dear reader, I dived overboard into deep leagues of music theory—referencing texts from my mental data base of orchestral training and piano lessons…mixing the solutions like alchemy with the utter abstract shades of a post punk composition; to me a fascinating medium. To say I’d become OCD about the songs would be an understatement. So of course, in reality—I owed the dream some heavy responsibility now that it had come to me.
Now, the reason I bring up The Backyard show is to twine together the events of the evening with the seemingly inevitable and rather unforeseen twist that would make the Backyard show my last with Technicolor. To come to the point, I would offer this short set-up to explain the evening…large crowd, warm night, 5 bands, me serious as a stone—sitting with my famous rhythm section, the Decker brothers beside the concession stand. I was wondering when Eleanor and her friend Samantha would arrive. The second band was into their set and we were next up.
Peering up from my watch, I saw a familiar form wheeling a massive bass cabinet through the gate, across the asphalt and toward the stage. It was Walter Mayer—bassist extraordinaire.
“I know that silly ass fool.” I said to Bruce Decker—my drummer.
“Cool.” he said, taking note of the massive bass cabinet.
Indeed, it took Walter and two of his band mates to hoist the amp onto the three foot high stage. I checked the itinerary sheet for the two remaining bands that would take the stage after Technicolor. The itinerary listed two names in chronological order; The Shipwrecks and Titty-Funk…titty-funk? I wondered…of course. Walter was a funk man as was his Goblin, a towering mammoth of a kid—perhaps 6’4 and full of muscles. The others in his band were jazzy looking kids with sharp cone-like beards, berets and John Lennon spectacles; the horn section. Their singer arrived last. I’d seen her before but I couldn’t figure out where. She was lovely though, short hair, thick lips, curvy hips and a Drew Barrymore cuteness to her. She was no Eleanor Dressler, but she had something to her. She sucked a lollipop and had spiked her red hair so it stuck out in all directions as if she were holding an electricity ball. As she tuned her guitar Walter sipped what looked like scotch from a snifter and smoked a cigarillo.
It was during change over that I spoke with Walter. He extended his hand and I shook it. His hand was very dry and calloused.
“Dude, your hand is all dry and calloused.” I chuckled.
“Yeah, I jerk off a lot.” Chuckled Walter.
“Why—don’t you ever get laid Mr. Titty-funk?” I chuckled, pulling my hand away rapidly.
“Of course—I’m a slap bassist. Hey you never got back to me about that project—Sassy Sister Sadie.” he said.
“I lost your card man.” I said, realizing it was true.
“Look, I’m going to be sitting right over there at that table.” said Walter, pointing with his smoking cigarillo at one of the nearby plastic tables, “I’m going to be watching you Nero…I don’t want you to impress me—I want you to blow me the fuck away!” he exclaimed, “Show me what we’re going to be getting when you join forces with the Goblin and me…when you finally realize that it’s our destiny to turn this music scene on its head.”
“Listen man, I give 150 percent every time…no exceptions.” I assured.
“We’re on last…we’ve switched slots with the Shipwrecks; apparently Vox their drummer has to leave for a family camping trip at 6am tomorrow morning.” informed Walter.
“What a pussy.” I chuckled.
“Total pussy.” Walter chuckled back.
It was about then that the sound man was beckoning me to the stage, as the change over was complete and the only other order of business left was to line-check my guitar, voice and Phil Decker’s bass. I bid Walter farewell and took the stage, walking out into a deafening racket of whistles, cheers and applause. I scanned the stage to see who they were all cheering at and found it was only the three of us—the Decker brothers and I. Word had definitely spread about Technicolor; the reality of the moment washed over me in an awesome wave of elation…knowing at that moment that I’d set out to do exactly what I’d intended and had not weathered an ounce of boredom in the process.
We did our best and within two songs we were locked into a tight, heavy groove, keeping our eyes on the prize with tunnel vision and the perfect momentum of the music. In between songs, the crowd erupted with cheers, each break more enthusiastic than the last. We’d planned the set this way, to work toward the strongest song and it worked nicely, building everything up to the last song; the hit from our cassette demo that had circulated through Coronation High, addictive as hard drugs.
The song, which I called Anais wasn’t lost on my fellow 1990’s brat back. As we played it…I noticed many kids mouthing the words—kids I’d never seen before. As the crowd pogoed and kids climbed up on stage to dive back off again onto a sea of bouncing heads; I chuckled…unable to contain the elation of actually fucking doing it—it was every bit as awesome as I thought it would be—playing the Backyard. I looked over to the Decker brothers at that point—the only other assholes on the face of the earth at that moment who could relate…who shared the moment with me. However, the Decker brothers were I found quite uninvolved…looking bored, irritated and persnickety. Bored…irritated—I would be at a lost to find no empathetic understanding of…however, persnickety; that was a whole other dimension…one I’d never ventured into—perhaps one I couldn’t.
You see dear reader, the type of persnickety to which I’m referring was, I found, systemic among many of the Coronation kids that I’d become friends with. It was a passive aggressive, pouty, bitchiness that would rear its head at the most inopportune times—killing the joy and usually poisoning the atmosphere of devil-may-care fun. I wasn’t sure what spawned it, but it seemed it was in some way related to getting too much of what one wanted in life; perhaps it was just being spoiled rotten. It was hard for me to directly pinpoint the cause and futile as well, given the fact that whether or not I understood what caused such spontaneous spells of persnicketiness; they were bound to occur and usually when I was having fun.
In this case, my band mates were lethargic and disappointed looking and when we’d exited the stage to chants of ‘one more song’, the Decker brothers, who’d been on point with their shared telepathy in the jam room—were now on point with a persnickety pout…looking at me dryly back stage when I inquired why in the mother fuck they’d been acting as if their dog had died when we should have been shooting off a canon of spitfire into the full moon sky…after all, I balanced a china set on my head as I pedaled backward on a unicycle—atop a tight rope—without a safety net; such was the craft of singing intricate melodies over intricate guitar lines…likewise the brothers had mastered their own parts so their rhythm was like a skin tight glove over an iron fist. However, after only 7 shows, the boys were in a tumult.
“Seriously…it was like your dog just died…” I said, peering at them both seriously—casting my penetrating gaze between their disapproving faces.
“Did you expect us to jump up and down and freak out on stage like coke heads?” Bruce asked.
“Well…pretty much.” I said, “At least seem like you’re into it…but you guys were standing there making faces and shaking your heads and looking like you were miserable.”
“I think this is all moving a bit too fast.” said Bruce finally, after glancing at his brother who usually remained a silent partner.
“Say what?” I asked.
“Well, we got into this for fun…just to play some music in our rehearsal room…play some cool songs—just for fun.”
“And its fun, is it not?” I asked.
“It’s getting too crazy. Shows every weekend, a lot of late nights…people are starting to recognize me on the bus and at the 7-11 on Hill Street.” said Bruce’s brother, “I just wanted to play bass in a garage band…not be a rock star.”
“We’re not rock stars dude…we’re a fucking great band.” I pointed out.
“The band is mostly you anyway.”
“That’s preposterous.” I said.
“Well, we were thinking and we talked about this last week…we figured we’d do this last show with you because we know that playing the Backyard was our goal.”
“Last show?” I asked dumbfounded by what I was hearing.
Indeed, there was no shortage of bands in Hillcrest village—indeed not. In fact there were scads of bands…bands with cool hooks, cool looks and invocation appeal. There were many bands that could set sail into a bludgeoned orange sunset and somehow capture that snapshot with chord structures and cleverly placed melodies. There were bands that could evoke private school rebellion, book burning and car tipping with heavy drum beats and crunchy I-don’t-give-a-fuck chords of riotous melancholy. However, not all got to play at the Backyard, or Emerald City or Jewel Café…in fact, most stuck to playing in their garages or house parties at best. Not every band got to do it in style like we were doing…and I was dumbfounded by the Decker brothers’ sudden disenchantment with the project.
“So what?” I asked them, “I mean so what if people recognize you at the 7-11?”
“We’re private folk.” said Phil, piping in suddenly.
“Private folk…” I said, uttering his words so that we might all examine them with sensibility, “What are you guys—Quakers? Come the fuck on—we put weeks into getting these songs just perfect and now you want to turn that time invested into time wasted? Wake up at the crack of dawn?”
“It was fun…but this is getting crazy.” said Bruce, “Especially after that interview you did in the paper the other day…in the arts & entertainment section. What were you thinking?”
“Did you set that up?” asked Phil.
“Set what up? Some guy from the Beacon chatted with me for a few minutes outside at the last gig. He said he’d call us for a formal interview at some point. What’s the big?”
“And you just thought you’d incriminate us?” asked Bruce.
“I chatted with him outside for a few minutes—he asked a lot of questions.”
“Yeah, well…he quoted everything you said, directly.”
“Say what?” I asked.
“He quoted everything you said.”
I thought back, trying to remember the conversation—trying to recall anything I’d said that might be taken the wrong way; anything misconstruing. I drew a blank though, for the night had been a great line up and I hadn’t wanted to miss any of the other bands and so had chatted quickly with Ezra Collins—the journalist in question. I’d answered a few of his questions while finishing the tail end of a joint but hadn’t felt that our conversation firstly, meant anything and secondly I hadn’t felt that he’d asked any questions that could be turned into informative journalism.
“So you’re leaving the band?” I asked them—I needed definite confirmation, “Because of some silly interview?”
“Yes.” said Bruce.
“Truth is our parents don’t want us playing music with you after they read that interview.” said Phil, with an apologetic tone.
“And you guys are going to listen to them?” I asked, a bit blown away that any self-respecting kid would actually heed such stodgy parental advice.
“Here…” said Phil, reaching down and unlatching the bass case he was leaning on. From it he fished a folded up news paper; the Beacon, “Read it…” he said handing me the paper.
As I unfolded it, I saw that Hershey chocolate bars were 50% off at Safeway, that Radio Shack had a Walkman sale, that there was a new installment from the Halloween franchise in the theatres and indeed, the shockwaves hadn’t settled from OJ’s acquittal; though it simply hadn’t fit. On the neighboring page, I saw the blurb…the short article in the bottom right hand corner entitled Local band ‘Technicolor’ Hashes Things Out.
As the Shipwrecks powered through their Swerve Driver influenced set; I read through the so called interview. It read as follows dear reader:
Ezra: So Frank, how would you describe your creative process? How do you come together as a band and create those magic musical moments?
Me: Well Ezra, we buy a large brick of Hash, put it in a bowl in the center of the jam room and then we light the b*** on fire. We then send smoke signals into the night, where they drift into the forest and evoke the ancient spirits that dwell there…the spirits that were there before man…before beast…when it was just spores bubbling up through the f****** slime.
Ezra: …and the spirits do exactly what?
Me: They tell us to f*** s*** up, but in a good way
I was stunned, for I had forgotten about this tidbit. I’d somehow struck it from the annals of my recollection; yet there it was in print. It had been a side note comment…something he’d asked at the end of our conversation…a cheesy question framed with a corny grin; magical music moments? How could he, as a journalist not only publish the excerpts from the last minute of our conversation, but possess the audacity to frame such a cheesy question with such a shamelessly corny grin? Magical music moments? Maybe a better phrase would have made it all forgivable, maybe had he worded the question differently, maybe had he asked ‘Frank…what entails the process of creating melodic portraits in broad melancholic brush strokes?’ Had he dug a bit deeper and offered something more poetic, perhaps then I’d have been inclined to answer him seriously—instead of the obviously joking answer I’d offered…the subsequent jack-assery I’d applied to curb his obvious lack of inner poetry.
“Firstly, clearly I was kidding—I mean this was taken out of context.” I said in my defense, as the Decker brothers stood shoulder to shoulder, sharing a slightly apologetic expression.
“Kidding or not—in two days that article has become a major issue with a lot of people.” Bruce said, “Where have you been—on Mars?”
“I’ve been in Truman Park man. Anyway, like who has it become a major issue with?” I asked.
“Teachers, neighbors, family, friends…Frank—they’re all telling us that you’re crazy to say something like that in the local newspaper. It’s incriminating to us when you say things like that. I mean, aren’t you feeling the backlash yet? Hasn’t anyone mentioned anything about this to you? If they haven’t—they will. Everyone is away for the long weekend, but come Tuesday…you’ll hear all about it.” said Phil, swerving dangerously close to sounding sanctimonious.
“I don’t have a network of handlers like you guys do. The bottom line is that I was kidding with the fucking guy. He was way out of line to publish an obvious joke. I thought it was off the record.” I said, realizing it was futile…I was going to lose the Decker brothers and might not have an easy time finding replacements.
“Nothing is off the record with the media.” said Bruce.
“I guess not.” I said with a shrug.
Indeed, the brothers had cleared out shortly after that. Bidding me farewell as Titty-funk was taking the stage. It was around then that my lovely Eleanor appeared looking much like Audrey Horne, attire and all. I explained what had happened with the Decker brothers and Eleanor suggested we go back to her house immediately for some very involved sex. I concurred but first wanted to check out Titty-funks first two songs.
I stood there with Eleanor watching Walter’s band, focusing on The Goblin and Walter and their rhythm section chemistry. The band was satisfactory and likeable and were a mishmash of genres, as if Blondie, Bad Brains and Fishbone had been musically infused and then covered by a high school garage band. Immediately I saw the possibilities; for The Goblin was a drummer of technical prowess, incorporating jazz, funk and hardcore and tying them all together with an impressive array of hard hitting fills and cunning backbeats and accents. Walter was as technical, slapping the hell out of his bass in complex runs and rhythms reminiscent of Les Claypool. He was also a showman who did indeed jump around on stage like a coke head, as the Decker brothers had put it so eloquently in their persnickety protest. As Eleanor pulled me gently by the hand away from the music and toward the exit; I knew Walter, the Goblin and I would, if nothing else…turn the local music scene on its head—for the sheer sake of doing so.
I won’t venture into a detailed account of exactly how and why the interview gained me both positive and negative press among the circle of people in which I ran—I will say though that it afforded me a certain infamy which I seemed to wear with a certain and curious indifference. Infamy was something I’d never experienced before and so had no idea how to maneuver within it. If you lived in Truman Park, you were already predisposed to infamy anywhere else in town. Truman Park alone was enough on its own to mark you with a certain infamy—for TP was infamous. However, infamy was only a social condition. It simply meant that you’d done or said something that had warranted the harsh social judgment of your peers and colleagues. Coming out of Truman Park—infamy seemed like a minor set-back.
Over the next two weeks it seemed I couldn’t get away from being asked about the interview…friends, colleagues and teachers alike had at one point in that two week span, inquired about the why more so than the if. It seemed whether or not we’d actually burned a brick of hash in the center of the Decker brother’s jam room, wasn’t the real issue…the real issue was that I’d linked a number of words together…consonants and vowels, on my own accord. I’d formed them into sentences which designed a number of implications—implications which, though they’d been obviously preposterous and spoken in jest, were indeed taken seriously among the Coronation parents and students alike—on grounds of implication. Simply put—I’d not been on the map before; now I most definitely was…and not for no good reason.
However, there was an upside to all of this, which there usually is if one examines the angles close enough. The break-up of Technicolor, coupled with the reasons why it had all ended so abruptly and the dramatic fashion in which it had occurred—at the Backyard in front of a large faction of the music community—this all created a storyline…an epicenter of hot gossip; a basis for infamy. Indeed, it now seemed that speculation was being carried on the whispers of my contemporaries, changing form with each exchange. What would I do next? Quit? Make a publicized apology? Go back to Truman Park High? Hang my head in shame for willingly stepping into such a tremendously vulgar social death? How would I salvage my reputation? How would I face my peers around the halls of Coronation High? Would Eleanor leave me now? I heard all sorts of speculation and rumors circulating about me and found the occurrence interesting…and so peered at it from a distance, in a rather clinical way…as if it was a chem lab experiment…and subsequently, entertained none of the above as possibilities. I did however meet with Walter Mayer Bassist Extraordinaire and his Goblin.
The two rehearsed at the Goblin’s place…or rather the Goblin’s parent’s mansion in the east end of town—the Goblin by the way had been given an actual name at birth, which was, though quite unfitting, all the same the one he was stuck with; Bernard Nestor Sullivan. Goblin had come about, I learned, after Bernard had gone to a Halloween gig dressed as a Goblin and had played the entire set with his Goblin head-mask on. He and Walter had been playing together for 4 years by that point. They knew each other well, much like the Decker brothers…and though I was sure Walter and the Goblin didn’t share a tether of telepathy—they would, after having gotten so familiar musically over the years, at the very least be cinched with one another rhythmically.
As I say, the Goblin lived in what appeared to be a castle, surrounded halfway by a shallow, leaf speckled moat, over which one crossed by way of a small arching bridge. The front yard was a green, landscaped expanse boasting a gazebo, flower gardens and a gold bird bath that sat empty and waterless. The house itself was massive, boasting sprawling marble floors and an imperial staircase that led up to a second level. The house was furnished lavishly with many velvet and mahogany surfaces and plenty of crystal and gold appeal. The Sullivan’s lived well and I wondered, as Walter and I removed our shoes in the foyer of the house, what playing in a skate punk band could possibly mean to a kid like the Goblin.
His mother, who was a tussle of French curls, manicured nails and sassy make up called to the Goblin and asked us if we wanted anything…lemonade perhaps? I declined, while Walter asked Mrs. Sullivan if she might pour him a scotch and soda. Her grin was tisking and her half pirouette a fine exit from an in appropriate question. She left us there in the foyer for a few moments as the Goblin made his way upstairs.
“Listen,” said Walter, “I think your interview was brilliant.”
“Really? I’m being told it’s going to ruin me.” I said.
“See…that’s what I’m talking about,” said Walter, “It’s like everyone around here is trying so hard to be…proper. You threw a wrench into all of that with that interview. I think it was brilliant.”
“Really I was just kidding with the guy.” I said, “There was no deeper meaning.”
“Did your parents see it?” asked Walter.
“I showed it to my mom.” I said, “She nodded her head and grinned…then asked me if Collins was a real journalist…she wondered why kind of journalist would publish such a load of jack-assery.”
“Ha!” chuckled Walter toward the chandelier hanging above us. I thought about the chandelier as Walter caught his breath, wondering how it was that we spend so much time standing beneath light fixtures that might kill us if they were to fall…we stand there underneath them trusting that someone has bolted them into place correctly; never knowing for certain.
“Say…do you think that chandelier is bolted in properly?” I asked Walter.
“Well if it ain’t, we’re going to fucking die.” Walter chuckled, lighting a cigarette.
It was then that the Goblin was upon us with his 1960’s mop top hair-cut and his muscles bulging from behind his t-shirt which was, for some odd reason, three sizes too small. We followed him out to the garage, where he’d made his lair. There were amps, drums, a sound system and a 16 track recorder. Or at least this is what I noticed first; the essentials. As I peered around the garage turned bedroom, I noticed that the windows were painted black and in the far corner of the room was the Goblin’s living quarters; bed, sofa, night stand, TV, mini fridge, lava lamps, stereo…weights. Sitting on the sofa watching Scarface were two girls, whom I didn’t recognize. They glanced at me and kept smoking the joint they were sharing.
The walls I realized were covered in spreads and ads cut from magazines. The faces of models advertising perfume and clothing and the promise of extraordinary romance looked back at me as I scanned the room. Sherilyn Fenn, Drew Barrymore, Winona Ryder, Sharon Stone…the likes of. 90’s chicks; they had something more—they had defining charisma. When I looked back to Walter, I noticed that the entire grill of his cabinet was covered in photos of pussies which he’d cut out of porno magazines. It was perhaps the collage to end all collages—and indeed a versatile one at that. He was opening his bass case and producing a half bottle of dark amber rum. He popped the cork with one hand and swilled down a long haul, sighing with satisfaction.
“Franky m’boy, welcome to the Goblin’s den!” he declared, “Girls…get your sweet asses over her and say hello to the guy who’s helping the Goblin and I set this town on fire.”
The girls, who I still didn’t recognize, got up from the couch and sauntered over lazily. Introductions went around—they were the girl friends and I can assure you—though they were cute; there were no Eleanor Dressler. They were however excited to hear what we were going to come up with and voiced that fact with enthusiasm. Indeed I suppose the idea was that they would sit on the couch in the corner of the rehearsal space—which is what it was at that moment—and smoke a water bong while watching classic films, listening absently to us bang away at songs, perhaps blowing us periodically; one could never be certain. I could see no real reason to keep them around during what were to be very involved sessions of song construction.
“We’re going to need privacy in here.” I told Walter who at that moment was sucking on the flimsy looking joint one of the girls had handed him; they all looked at me with an amused expression; as if I was kidding.
“You’re serious?” grinned Walter.
“We need total concentration…total privacy. Once we get the set lined up, I don’t care who watches us jam—but until then, while we’re building it up—it’s gotta be just us in here.” I said, realizing then that this was my only condition.
Walter tilted his head, as if weighing out the fairness of it all…after a moment he nodded slowly, “I hear what you’re saying brother…we have to be a circle…an unbreakable circle…ceremonial type stuff—dude, I knew you weren’t fucking around…I knew you were serious as fuck when I first saw you play at Emerald City.”
“Yeah…I hear you man.” agreed the Goblin with a squint, nodding as if the notion was becoming clear to him as well.
“So…” said Walter’s girl, “you’re saying we have to go?”
“Baby, I love ya—but you gotta get the fuck out of here.” Walter said very seriously before breaking out a moment later in hysterical laughter, “Come on baby, I know it sounds bad…Frank is right—the force field must not be broken.”
“What force field?” asked the Goblin’s blonde who was determined to have an attitude about it, “What kind of lame shit is that?”
“Where are we supposed to go anyway?” asked Walter’s girl.
“Take my car and go get yourselves some ice cream.” suggested Walter, handing her his keys.
“Or whatever…but you’re going to have to get the fuck out of here.” chuckled Walter, slapping his girl’s ass hard enough to cause her to jump.
“Ouch…that fucking hurt.” she whined.
“I know.” said Walter, grabbing her and pulling her close, “You can tie me up later and shock my balls.”
“I just might.” said Walter’s girl, hooking his keys up with a long nail polished finger.
When the girls where gone and we were all at our instruments, Walter and the Goblin showed me the latest piece they’d been working on. It was heavy as fuck, fast as lightening and all slap bass and technical pounding on the drums…there was an intense groove to it and I got the feeling that these blokes had been circling each other rhythmically for years; one got that feeling. This wasn’t a case of a secluded songwriter toiling away by himself in a darkened candle-lit room…constructing meditative melody; this was a case of jumping aboard a runaway bulldozer, aiming for roadside attractions to plow through; I could see, Sassy Sister Sadie was going to be a wrecking ball.
We spent perhaps three hours coordinating accents, pushes, shots, stops, intertwining scales and figuring out where best to punk it up. Indeed, there was something endless suddenly about throwing in a hardcore riff in the midst of a slap-funk jungle…what we were edging up on was monumental as far as we were concerned and the concoction was marvelously infectious.
As we’d been constructing the song, vocal melodies were becoming apparent to me…and I’d hummed them in my head each time we ran the song…by the 50th time we’d run it; I had the lead vocal worked out—minus lyrics of course. Trying the melodies through the heavily reverberated microphone, it was apparent to me that the music fit the melodies like a glove; it was nearly effortless, save for the hours of effort.
“What are the words?” asked Walter.
“I don’t know…I’m just singing gibberish at this point.” I admitted.
“I have some lyrics.” said Walter, producing a small, tattered note book from his case.
As I flipped through the pages, scanning the lyrics for phrases that might fit the measures; Walter swilled from his bourbon and the Goblin lit another joint. They discussed where the girls might be joy riding in Walter’s parent’s Subaru and how they planned to organize a performance at the beach on which Walter’s parents owned a cabin. It was then that I found lyrics that fit the phrases almost perfectly.
“Hey, this one works.” I said. The song was about his 11th grade home room teacher’s pussycat; it was called, Mrs. Moffat’s Pussycat.
Of course, and by absolutely all means—it was an obvious innuendo and the contemplation of which—the focus being the question of Mrs. Moffat’s pubic sculpt and the subsequent preference of which. Indeed, dear reader, though the subject was of no interest or consequence as far as I was concerned, the words fit swimmingly and I began to sing them along with the music…poetry in motion. When we came to the chorus, I held the word pussycat, accenting the prefix in baritone which Walter instinctively joined in on in tenor…when we ran it again; I heard a bass in my head and asked the Goblin to hold down the lowest note. The harmonies struck gold, immediately adding a shade of XTC to our little garage jam…our epic depiction of what possible shapes Walter’s home room teacher’s bush was trimmed into beneath the short leather skirts she always wore to class—an instant hit.
“Are we really going to use these lyrics though? We might clean them up a bit.” I suggested.
“Fuck that!” Walter spat with amazement, “No fucking way dude…listen—I’m calling her out…and she will be mine before grad.” he promised with his signature psychotic grin, “I’m hot for teacher.”
“Ok, fine, but I’ll only sing this if at our first show, you personally dedicate it, from the bottom of your heart, to dear Mrs. Moffat.” I dared him.
“Deal.” said Walter, stepping up and offering his hand which I shook. Little did he know that I had a royal flush up inside my shirt sleeve—and there’s nothing like a landslide victory.
We played the song a few times over before the Goblin’s mother buzzed from the main house; it was dinner time and time for me to get gone. It had been a slice…sheer exhilaration…an apprenticeship of a life-long commitment. It felt good to be involved. However, Eleanor would be waiting outside in her mother’s sleek red Miata in a matter of minutes and having not seen her all day, I was deeply yearning to press my lips against hers and feel her start to shudder. Eleanor, I thought…loving the sound of her name, the peaches and cream flesh of her neck, her dangling earring and her sweet voice moaning in my ear.
Indeed, Eleanor was waiting for me in the idling Miata when I finally made it through the invitations to stay for dinner and some pleasant goodbyes. She had the top down and she sat casually in the driver’s seat, smoking a cigarette and listening to 10,000 Maniacs’ Hey Jack Kerouac. I tossed my guitar between the seats and hopped in, feeling suddenly at complete ease next to her—my Eleanor.
“How did it go?” she asked.
“Swell.” I said, leaning in and kissing her deeply, feeling the rush in the center of my chest radiating outward—still, after so many months a fascinating occurrence; the first of its kind.
I don’t remember what Eleanor and I did that night…or the night after…but I recall the moment like it had happened yesterday. I remember next giving her my good luck charm—the one I’d worn around my neck for years…I remember turning to her as 10,000 Maniacs played on the cassette…I remember seeing her under the sun and knowing that we were young…but not really realizing that the world belonged to us…that it was ours—it was the 1990’s and we knew what it meant somehow—though we really didn’t. I’d put the charm in her palm and she’d looked at it with a small grin.
“It’s yours.” I told her.
“But it’s your good luck charm.”
“You’re better than good luck.” I’d said. That was how it was with Eleanor and me—true emotion.
As I’ve said, anyone who was anyone in the south side music scene was, on any given week night or weekend, bound to wind up at some point in the evening at Prime Ribs. In fact anyone who wanted to be anyone wound up at Prime Ribs at some point in their evening. You see, there was a tangible electricity buzzing at Prime Ribs. It was where deals were made, alliances were formed, hooks up were imminent and where bands hung out before and after rehearsals or shows. To us, at our particular place in our particular time—Prime Ribs was our own version of Elaine’s Restaurant. Of course many hangers on and wannabes frequented PR, many people made sure they were in the eye of the Hillcrest social scene, perhaps to gain popularity, to ward off premature neurosis about death and the darkness that reaches out from the darkness, to get laid, to be part of the ‘it’ crowd…to escape the confines of their parents museum like mansions and the accompanying boredom.
Indeed, you could find all such types at Prime Ribs…however, if you were like me, you hung around at Prime Ribs for the industry contacts and the sweet girls; being that I’d found the sweetest of them all…my focus shifted to primarily industry contacts. It was common for me to arrive at PR with Eleanor or a friend, and sit in one chair at one table all evening, sipping Pellegrino and lime…not moving but still managing to talk to nearly everyone who’d shown up. One didn’t have to move—the crowd moved…people went from table to table, chatting, confiding, spreading gossip. It was possible to hear about band break-ups before they actually happened, social deaths and romantic mishaps before they were ever made public. Indeed, Prime Ribs was the perfect place for teen age misfits like us. We didn’t do the roller rink, we didn’t go to Rock Village—an all ages dance club in the warehouse district that served pop and chips and played Rick Astley and those fruity New Kids. We didn’t hang out in front of the capital building with the hoods of our cars open, exposing our horse power. We never got invited to heavy metal house parties where group sex and teen pregnancy often transpired. For some reason, we chose to hang out in a rib house, smoke copious amounts and contribute what we could to a flourishing creative scene.
I made many friends at Prime Ribs. It is where I’d been introduced to Lopez…perhaps a character I might make mention of here and now. At the time we didn’t know if we’d even make it beyond the age of 25 and we behaved as such. Lopez you could say had acquired somewhat of a reputation in Hillcrest Village. He was a cunning concoction of Richard Lewis, Richard Belzer and Hunter S. His appetite for drugs and alcohol was nearly as insatiable as his eagerness to publicly shred anyone who got in his way. Stories of his parties were infamous—like the time a girl had gotten herself stuck in the bathroom at his father’s house and after repeated failed attempts to free her, Lopez had retrieved his father’s pistol and shot out the door knob…or the time he’d challenged Tanya Turnbull and Elizabeth Gold (two husky debutantes from south Hillcrest) to a WWF wrestling match and subsequently won by way of sheer force and determination, out on his front lawn as the horrified neighbors looked on. Though a complete and total comedy of errors, Lopez was a laugh riot you didn’t want to miss out on and so, we became fine friends.
Lopez had been dating Shoshanna Rubenstein, who everyone called Anna, for 3 years by that point. Though he couldn’t live without her, Lopez despised her on levels even he couldn’t quite comprehend. She was a loner, who kept to herself in the confines of study hall—a prerequisite of reaching her academic goal of becoming a biochemist. When she wasn’t studying she was drinking Ethyl alcohol and smoking copious amounts of hash. Beyond having had a heavily medicated affair with a fellow resident of Sherwood Mental institution when she’d been committed temporarily and put on suicide watch–she’d also attempted to fuck every one of his friends, myself included. She’d been successful enough to slide her hand down the front of my pants and commence what appeared to be an in-the-pants hand-job before I’d stopped her, citing her dangerously sharp fingernails as well as my friendship with her boyfriend of 3 years. When I’d told Lopez about it, he’d merely sunk his face into his palms and shook his head, asking God above why Anna was indeed such a blithering retard.
This was Lopez and on any given night, he would parade into your world wielding a bicycle chain and a lot of post-modern comedy. One night in particular, the one I will share with you because it offers a certain frame of 1990’s reference, Lopez insisted I meet him alone at Prime Ribs. It was my understanding that he didn’t wish me to be accompanied by Eleanor or any of my usual friends. I’d obliged and after rehearsal with Walter and the Goblin, I’d driven my mother’s plush interior Grand Marquis IV down to PR. I’d rolled up and sat in the parking lot for a while, smoking and chatting at my window with Patty Ballantine…who we all called Patty Hearst because of her remarkable resemblance and the militant garb she perpetually wore.
She’d been telling me about her mother’s cat when Lopez had pulled up. He was pressed and dapper looking somehow—a grand departure from his signature plaid shirt, boxy torn jeans and black and white Vans. On this night he was clad in a turtle neck sweater crested with a designer monogram, beige golf pants and yacht shoes; I laughed.
“Crissake man, you look like James Spader—if Spader ate a dozen retard sandwiches.” I noted.
“He’s dressed like Ted fucking Bundy.” corrected Patty.
To this Lopez just smiled his wide jovial smile.
“What’s this chick’s sob story?” he chuckled, gesturing to Patty with his hand.
“My name is Patty.”
“Well Patty…enough chit-chat.” said Lopez, making a talking mouth with his hand, before addressing me, “Franky, we gotta talk buddy.” he said.
“Ok, talk.” I said.
“This is guy talk…why don’t you run along and go play in traffic.” Lopez said to Patty who sneered at him with disgust and walked away in a huff, once again having been socially wronged—something she often complained about.
“Hey man, Patty is cool.” I said.
“So what is it?” I asked Lopez as I got out of the Grand Marquis.
“You’re going to be my wing man tonight.” said Lopez, placing a hand on my shoulder.
“You need more than a wing man dude.” I chuckled.
“Listen; remember that Jessica chick I was telling you about—the one who wears the tit shirts?”
“No.” I said, trying to recall.
“She called me tonight.” said Lopez.
“Ok…so what’s the plan?” I asked.
“She has a friend…a very cute friend, who is also named Jessica.”
“Two Jessica’s…” I said, “So which one are you interested in?” I asked.
“I want her friend…Jessica number two—who also wears tit shirts…but she won’t come along unless I bring a friend—she doesn’t want to be a third wheel.” said Lopez, running a finger under the neck of his turtle sweater that was too tight—his brother’s no doubt.
“So why didn’t just the two of you go out?” I asked.
“Dude, they’re new age—they were crystals between their cleavage; they have their own way of doing things.”
“Sounds like trouble to me.” I laughed.
“Look, she didn’t want to come out with me alone the first time…maybe she’s scared of me—she’s heard some stories probably.” Lopez said with a wince.
“Well…you showing up dressed like Ted fucking Bundy isn’t going to help.” I chuckled and this one was a long, deep chuckle…Lopez had that coming to him.
We were still chatting in the parking lot by the time the two Jessicas arrived. Indeed both one and two were hitting on all 8 cylinders; tit shirts of course—as Lopez had promised. Beyond that, they’d dressed up…for us or perhaps every other guy they would encounter. In any case, they looked nice and Lopez was at a loss for words immediately—you see dear reader, Lopez was more comfortable and skilled when it came to debating—or rather arguing; casual conversation made him skittish. After some chit chat and a long curious silence, it was Jessica 1 who suggested we enter Prime Ribs…and so we did, 1 falling in step beside me while Jessica 2 fell in step with Lopez—the guy she was apprehensive about seeing alone—bloody hell.
Inside, the restaurant was full…to the point of zero seating. It was standing room only and that was, for the most part, already taken; Prime Ribs was a madhouse even on a Wednesday. Evidently, Lopez hadn’t realized that when asking the Jessica’s to meet us there.
It was decided by Lopez that we would venture back outside, board my mom’s luxurious Grand Marquis IV and cruise the main boulevard looking for another place to eat, being that Ribs was packed beyond fire-code capacity and the girls had shown up hungry. And so we did…riding along in the luxuriously plush smoothness, listening to the Fire Walk With Me soundtrack on cassette. I lit one up and passed it to Lopez who puffed it very rapidly and with a fair amount of tongue so it’s end became wet and visibly slobbery. When he handed it back to me, I refused…not wishing to infect myself with whatever strains he was harboring. He gave me a look and passed it into the back seat. Jessica 1 took a haul but 2 wasn’t game; strike one for Lopez. After a while, Lopez stopped the cassette and turned around in his seat to address 2.
“This music is depressing the hell out of me. Ok, so where do you guys want to eat?” he asked.
“We’re vegetarian.” said Jessica 1.
“Vegetarian?” grinned Lopez.
“I liked that music and by the way—what’s your problem with vegetarians?” asked 2.
“Then why are you mocking us?”
“Uhhh,” laughed Lopez, as if 2 was being preposterous, “I didn’t realize that I was.”
“You know…you know what you do.” insisted 2.
“Do I really though?” Lopez chuckled, looking more like Richard Lewis now, punctuating his guffaw with a shrug.
“I think you do. I think you have little daggers in your socks and you like to throw them.” said 2, thoughtfully, as if she’d just discovered something disappointing about Lopez.
“Daggers in my socks?” laughed Lopez, “Ok…”
Lopez found another cassette, one we could all dig—Allroy’s Revenge. It went nicely with the momentum of our high times ride…the windows were open, the breeze was hopeful, the night was young and we owned the world—it was the 90’s and we knew it.
By the time we arrived at Nell’s…a vegetarian restaurant (one of the few that existed back then) Lopez and Jessica 2 were into it again. It seemed Lopez had walked headlong into a social blunder…a moral conundrum; you see dear reader, Jessica had made the mistake of mentioning that she’d not only read the Celestine Prophecy but also decided to base her life upon it’s teachings. Lopez argued that the book was a crash and burn—a complete and total fallacy. Though he’d never read it, he’d familiarized himself with it in an instant, hearing each one of Jessica’s points and dismantling them with cutting malice infused with biting mockery. As we stood in the lobby of Nell’s waiting for the waitress to find us a seat, Lopez and Jessica 2 raged on, gaining volume and theatrical appeal.
“It’s ludicrous…you realize that right? I mean you’re smarter than that right?” asked Lopez.
“How would you know anything about it? Firstly you didn’t read it…secondly I’m fairly certain that someone like you couldn’t comprehend the Celestine Prophecy even if you did read it.”
“I couldn’t comprehend the Celestine Prophecy? What?” Lopez chuckled uncontrollably now, nearly foaming at the mouth with hilarity; he was loving this.
“Obviously you couldn’t.”
“Why not?” he asked.
“Because you’re a level 4.”
“A level 4? What the fuck does that even mean?”
“According to the Celestine Prophecy, someone like you is a level 4.” said Jessica, in a delicate, news breaking tone…as if telling Lopez that his dog had just died.
“Ok, and what level are you?” inquired Lopez.
“I’m a level 44.”
It was now a spectacle at which I too had to chuckle; poor level 4 Lopez. It was nearly too much for the old boy and when he’d emerged from his fit of hilarity, he spared no expense in going for Jessica’s proverbial jugular.
“Wow…so you really aren’t as smart as I initially thought. You know something–you really shouldn’t share this shit with people—it makes you look very gullible and flaky.” he pointed out, wiping the tears of laughter from the corners of his eyes.
“It’s ok…you’re out of touch with your vibration. Most people are.”
“My vibration? Are you mentally nuts?” he asked.
“You don’t understand…everything has vibrations. The trees, the sky…the rocks; everything breathes. Rocks breathe.”
“Uh…actually, in reality though—rocks don’t breathe.” chuckled Lopez.
“Everything breathes…because everything is everything…it’s all connected…when you rise above level 4—you’ll realize this.” said Jessica, tilting her head thoughtfully, as if offering sound advice to a less fortunate soul.
“Sorry guys, no tables for four available…and the waiting list is probably 25 minutes. Best to make reservations next time.” said the hostess with an apologetic wince suddenly appearing from behind a crowd of other people waiting for a seat.
“Reservations here?” asked Lopez.
“Yes. It’s best that way.”
“But you guys serve bird food and seaweed.” Lopez said, as if he was baffled.
“I don’t like him at all.” said Jessica 2 to her flustered colleague Jessica 1.
This all was commonplace during a night out with Lopez…certainly everyone expected certain things from the old chap—he was prone to social spectacles and the spelling of cold hard truths…he loved the chaos it inspired. Once back in the car, Lopez swilled back another beer from the pack of six he’d brought with him into the Grand Marquis. I grabbed the remaining five from the center console and opened one for myself, after which I handed the rest back to the Jessica’s. It seemed Jessica 1 was willing game; she cracked her foamy beer and slurped it up greedily as we softly bounced down the road.
“There’s another vegetarian restaurant on Milton St.” she offered.
“Oh, the Venetian House…that’s a good one.” said Jessica 2.
Eventually Jessica 2 obliged and opened a beer of her own, perhaps feeling there was little else to do, being trapped in a car with Lopez as she was. It struck me as odd that Jessica took him so literally and failed to see his comedic genius—comedic genius that was about to prove once again that Lopez was in the wrong business…looking back on it, Lopez should have moved to the comedy circuit of LA, or Vegas or NYC after high school, rather than taking a chicken shit path and becoming an alcoholic med school drop-out as he most definitely did some years later; dreams are meant to be followed after all.
I say all of this because though Lopez worked at a warehouse moving boxes part time, he was perhaps a comedy savant…a master of timing…using only his immediate surroundings to apply his God-given talent…and he was about to out-do himself—allow me to explain dear reader:
So, there we were, cruising down Milton Street with two blondes in the back seat of my mom’s Grand Marquis IV…the future was bright and we were in touch with that. It was the 1990’s and we were destined for greatness. We were on our way, at the request of the girls, to a vegetarian restaurant in east Hillcrest Village—the Venetian House. I’d never eaten there before but was certain there was fecal matter in the spinach salad and pubic hairs in the sprout soup, which the girls swore were simply magical. I myself wasn’t planning on eating. Lopez certainly wasn’t, at least not at the Venetian House. He was hungry however and insisted he grab a quick bite before we arrived at the restaurant—on grounds of his appetite not being whetted by bird food and seaweed.
It was his instruction that I take him through a fast food drive thru. Indeed, as you can imagine, there was a gasp from the backseat and a subsequent and quite inevitable lecture on the horrors behind drive thru food. First point being that the meat wasn’t actually meat, but a mystery meat concoction made of spare animal parts—snouts, entrails, lips, assholes, claws and hooves mainly. There was however a plethora of other unsightly ingredients including beef fat ice cream, cow rectum burgers and chicken beak nuggets. It read like a Fear Factor menu and I eventually forfeited, allowing my appetite to dissipate into a grotesque fascination; how could a bacon double cheeseburger taste so good in spite of all the grotesqueness? A mystery of this life.
Lopez wasn’t faltering however and insisted it would only take a minute and that he would order light, perhaps leaving some room for any items on the Venetian House menu that caught his eye. As if it was perfectly placed, for the purpose of our ill-fated adventure; we passed a drive thru advertising cheeseburgers for 35 cents each. Lopez insisted I double back—and in spite of the protestation of our backseat guests; I U-turned and whisked Lopez back to the drive thru window, at which he ordered 6 cheeseburgers, large fries, a chocolate milk shake and a small order of chicken beak nuggets—in case the girl’s changed their minds.
The food came in a large brown bag…and within seconds we were back on the road—as if we hadn’t stopped at all. As we drove on toward the Venetian House, Lopez started in with the cheeseburgers, taking large bites and smacking his chops with a slobbery zeal. He threw a pickle out the window and asked me if it was indeed considered littering. There were bigger concerns however, like 2’s voiced soliloquy explaining how she’d not been exactly sure before if she’d want to kiss Lopez, but was utterly sure now—for she could never kiss a guy who ate 35 cent grease burgers and subsequently washed them down with a beef-fat milkshake. In spite of this Lopez ate on…cramming the remainder of one cheeseburger into his mouth before unwrapping another—as if he was ravenously famished. As he smacked away, shrugging and speaking intelligibly through his full mouth, Jessica 1 jumped on board, citing his behavior as ‘acting out’ and ‘hostile’.
“I’m not being hostile.” said Lopez, his words mumbled through the half cheeseburger he held between his teeth as he opened the wax paper wrapping of a fresh cheeseburger.
Indeed dear reader, it was in that moment, as the ladies gasped in pure vegetarian horror, that Lopez lifted the thin, sesame seed sprinkled bun from the fresh burger so the exposed melted cheese, pickles and condiments covering the patty were exposed. He next took the half eaten burger from his mouth and placed it carefully atop the patty of the fresh burger before capping the stacked mess of greasy mystery meat, condiments and limp pickles with the sesame bun…creating in effect, a monster double decker Cyclops burger that oozed orange when he bit into it innocently.
“Classic dude.” I laughed, unable to contain it.
“I’ve never done that before.” Lopez admitted as the Jessica’s moaned in disgust.
Needless to say, the Jessica’s would never go out with us again, and though this fact had no impact on me—Lopez would frequently return to the ill-fated events of the evening, citing his Celestine Level of 4, reiterating the experience to other women he’d meet, perhaps hoping they’d sympathize and elevate his level to a 7 or 8. However, none ever did—as Jessica 2 had been the only girl he’d ever met who’d read the Celestine Prophecy; poor level 4 Lopez.
This experience, though perhaps an asinine account of teenage angst as well as a fair illustration of the defiant nature of 90’s masculinity—was a state of mind that would become lost on subsequent generations…rendering them gender confused and suckling at a proverbial mother’s proverbial teat in hopes of filling a void in their souls where genuine character should have sat. We hadn’t been neutered…we hadn’t been babied and coddled by our parents into timidity. At the time, in the mid 1990’s, we were never encouraged to apologize for being male…we were never encouraged to sit down when we pissed…likewise, we didn’t pressure our female counterparts with demands that they abandon their femininity for to us, femininity was an extraordinary and wonderful mystery we never tired of trying to solve; we loved them just the way they were…and likewise—gender orientation wasn’t the subject in those days; it was only a side note. To us the question was, “What’s the big?”
Indeed, though the experience with Lopez may have been an intricate illustration of all these things; overall, to me, it seemed a great basis for a song…and so I’d written a song about the night and entitled it Level 4. As I say, the lyrics detailed the night in question with many comical catch phrases…the music however was a shredding mash-up of power funk, jagged punk riffs and head banging grooves that bounded up and down our fret boards with killer intent…and we killed it every time we played Level 4. Level 4 would wind up being included on a four song demo we recorded in the Goblin’s garage—a demo we conveniently entitled Level 4…a demo that would change the course of our high school existences in the coming months.
Though Sassy Sister Sadie would only play a dozen shows in one short year—SSS would become notorious for on and off stage antics and fulfill Walter’s wildest dreams of turning the local scene on its head. You see dear reader, Walter saw our local scene as a driveling mess of Avante-Emo crooners who, though concocting some of the most original bands in town, were, in his opinion—glamor boys who colored inside the lines. I shared this opinion on some level, as it was easily observed. However, I didn’t share Walter’s deep seeded loathing for the majority of his suburban counterparts. I subscribed to the ideology of Sassy Sister Sadie because of one hard fact; in those days, I was always game for a good spot of mindless chaos.
It didn’t start as chaos though. The chaos would surely come—but in fact; it seemed to start with the Level 4 demo, as I’ve said. Let me take you to the week we noticed this. We’d been in the jam room at the Goblin’s place…working through a new composition when the Goblin’s girl had shown up with a few of her friends. The Goblin’s girl was in a state of frenzy over a chance occurrence that had transpired while she was visiting one of her friends in her dorm room at the University. They’d been water bonging themselves into a comatose state to the theme of Jane’s Addiction when a ravenous hunger had driven them out into the dorm halls in search of a vending machine.
As the story goes, they were winding through the labyrinth of hallways when they’d heard a familiar song piping over the unseen speakers. It was as you may have guessed, a track taken from our Level 4 demo—the title track, Level 4 itself. Because they were high as kites, they found it surreal and assumed they must have been hallucinating. However when the heavily sedated voice of the RCCR Radio DJ introduced Sassy Sister Sadie to the college masses after the song had played; the girls were left ecstatic—dumbfounded that we were doing actual work in the privacy of our jam room.
I gazed curiously at Walter as the girls went on, explaining again how it had impacted them in such an intense fashion after a full afternoon of water bonging. How the atmosphere was charged with excitement and the feeling that anything could happen—it was the 90’s and we often felt that anything could happen, it was a self-perpetuating prophecy…it was faith in God…an entity we weren’t fanatical nor cynical about.
“How the hell did they get our demo?” I wondered aloud.
“Well…” Walter said, lighting up a cigarillo, “I hand delivered it to Tori Wells last week…and I think she felt my animal hunger for her sweet round ass.”
“Nice move.” said the Goblin before going back to sucking face with his girl.
“Nice move indeed Walter—so you really do have your uses.” I grinned, as if giving him a light shot in the arm.
“Alternate Waves is probably the most popular show on campus radio—anyone who ever becomes anyone in this town gets played on Alternate Waves.” said one of the other girls.
“What song did they play?” I asked.
“Level 4.” cooed the girl, “Love that song.”
“Lopez is going to get a kick out of this.” I said, chuckling, thinking of Lopez, looking like a disheveled Christian Brando with his greasy hair parted down the middle, biting into his double decker Cyclops burger.
It wasn’t long before RCCR was playing other tracks from our demo and these reports came to us through our various friends who listened to the station. I didn’t listen to the station however…it seemed impossible to acquire a playlist and so the notion of religiously listening to the station in the event that SSS may get a spin defied my logic. I would much rather listen to the array of cassettes I traveled with in my mother’s luxurious Grand Marquis IV, picking what I wanted, when I wanted to hear it.
However, whether I listened to RCCR or not, reports of SSS plays accumulated until we were not only in regular rotation but were also fielding calls from various promoters affiliated with the college music scene. I illustrate this because it was assumed we were college kids—of drinking age and legally entitled to play such venues; we didn’t specify otherwise and wound up booking our first show at a cabaret, hosted by the RCC’s rugby team.
The cabaret was to take place at Diamond Hall…an antique dance hall downtown which, during the Second World War, was responsible for hosting variously themed socials and dances at which many grandparent teams had been united. I’d been to the hall once as a kid, while playing with the children’s orchestra. I recall bright stage lights…our ass-tight conductor/teacher waving his wand around with embellished passion and being shamelessly sweet to all of us kids while in the public eye but a complete and total prick after the performance, scolding us for minute mistakes we may or may not have made. mostly I recall visiting the refreshment booth for a second glass of punch and having some Indeed, it seemed fitting that I would return to Diamond Hall years later, to shred it with my original band of outsiders.
There was one issue however; the Diamond Hall gig wasn’t an all ages show and it became apparent to us soon after agreeing to the show that getting our fans into DH would be most challenging if not altogether impossible. To Walter and the Goblin and pretty much everyone else who was looking forward to the show; the no minors clause loomed like an approaching storm cloud. To me however, it seemed of little consequence as in this case, we’d be playing our first show to a cold room—that is to say a room full of strangers who didn’t know anything about Technicolor or Tittyfunk. These college kids didn’t know about the backyard, or Emerald City or any of the other all ages venues in town at which we’d been sharpening our swords…to which our supporters flocked in stoned droves…no dear reader—the Diamond Hall show would be a test of grand proportions; a test of our diligence, our resolve and our spirit.
I suppose also, the no minors clause created a certain mystique among our all ages scene. Few ever did it; few were ever invited—few ever got in. The Diamond Hall show grew in proportions we could have never imagined, for it seemed all of a sudden that the most coveted gig that year was going to be ours…partly because of the notoriety surrounding my ill-fated interview, the subsequent break up of Technicolor and the secrecy of the new project Sassy Sister Sadie…and partly because the Diamond Hall show created huge hurdles for fans of the band…as if DH was the lodge of an elite secret society that only very few were allowed access too. Indeed, dear reader, if you can imagine what it means to nearly graduated kids to succeed in sneaking into a no minors concert downtown on a Saturday night; you can then imagine how many tickets we managed to sell the week the Diamond Hall promoter had handed us two large stacks of them and urged us to sell our asses off; we’d unloaded nearly three hundred within the first few days.
After having been busted for selling tickets on school property, Walter, the Goblin and I took to Prime Ribs for three nights in a row, occupying a table in the far corner and using it as a ticket booth. The tickets were ten dollars…pricey for the 90’s, but all the same professionally printed. They had a glossy finish and advertised in slightly raised lettering the Diamond Hall logo, beneath which the three bands were listed in jet black…SSS stuck smack dab in the middle—the perfect slot as far as I was concerned.
Though it seemed to me only fair to remind these ticket buyers that they stood little chance of actually getting into the show—they didn’t seem at all phased when I mentioned it…it was as if acquiring the ticket itself was more important than attending the actual show—as the ticket became an authentication of social status that month. I’d never encountered a phenomenon quite like it—certainly the kids of Truman Park high school would have never fallen for it…they’d have never seen the ticket as anything other than a waste of money. However, to Coronation kids, the ticket was it. If you had a ticket to the Diamond Hall show—you were hip…if not, you were thought have planned instead, a nice quite night at home with your parent’s, listening to Lawrence Welk albums and playing Parcheesi. Coronation kids hated to be out of the loop…to them coolness was a fashion accessory rather than a state of mind.
Indeed, it seemed our show was the talk of the town during the weeks leading up to the gig…and not all of it good I can assure you. Of course there were our friends, who were many and loyal perhaps to a fault—friends who offered to paste show posters on the lamp posts and vacant walls of Hillcrest—which I might add, we advocated, if for nothing else, to get the name Sassy Sister Sadie out there. There were those who didn’t know us personally but kept the ball rolling in the fringes; igniting small fires around Hillcrest as they spread the news of our Diamond Hall date.
In the weeks leading up to the show, I encountered a few of these fires, smoldering quietly in far corners and threatening to burn me when I passed by. You see, not everyone was an advocate of SSS; many kids were jealous, socially awkward rejects who placed far too much importance in the bullshit credibility and cut-throat hierarchy that existed in Hillcrest Village with a vengeance. Some were members of other bands who I found were secretly our rivals, some were kids that had, beyond my scope of realization, decided they hated me, Walter and the Goblin for deep seeded reasons of their own, some were just jealous watchers who loathed my ambition and complete lack of sewing-circle subscription.
Though for me, not liking someone usually translated into icing them down with casual indifference, until they became an apparition, floating about the watery fringes of my existence—some bastards played a sneaky diabolical game…embarking on a quiet campaign of passive aggressive maliciousness, usually concealed behind social etiquette and proper, polite diction. Being from Truman Park, I’d been accustomed to all out confrontation rather than quietly vicious politeness. It could be said that because of this, I preferred to be hated rather than fake-liked. Fake-liked was the in thing though it seemed and perhaps my absolute disregard for it heightened even further the smoldering hatred of my unsung enemies.
Case in point: one fine afternoon I’d been participating in a mass reading—23 students all silently scanning through a lengthy chapter in English class. The book—To Kill a Mockingbird…of course a classic novel, chock-full of archaic social commentary and redneck morality…however as boring as televised golf to me. Having read the book in great detail the previous semester at Truman Park, I read through it again when Mr. Prescott, the beady eyed English teacher at Coronation had introduced it. I’d read through it again searching for something in it that might fascinate me and make writing an essay about the book effortless and intensely insightful. However again, I’d found very little I could relate to and dismissed the book as another boring read—though a truly classic one.
When Prescott saw me peering out of the window in the close silence of the group reading; he threw his voice, shrill and sudden from behind his desk, atop which was cluttered plants, stacks of books and bizarre looking clay figures his daughters made for him in their pottery class. When I peered at him from my desk situated in the back of the room, I saw that his face was puckered with disdain—great…another defender; defending what? I wondered.
“You know Mr. Frank…daydreaming isn’t going to get you an A in this class.” he said, a small malicious smirk cornering his lips.
“But daydreams are what made this country great.” I offered, not wishing to break the innovative thoughts galloping across the vast plains of my imagination.
“You’re here to read.” said Prescott.
“I’ve already read this book twice. I’m not feeling it.” I admitted.
“Not feeling it…” said Prescott, leaning back in his chair and hugging himself against the sunlight cascading in through the enormous French windows, “Not…feeling…it.” he repeated louder, as if to say, let’s look closer at that statement.
Sitting forward Prescott came to life a little…stirring somewhere on the inside—where I’d thought there had only been a monotonous drone of boredom and intellectual listlessness, “You’re not moved at all by Pulitzer Prize literature? Why doesn’t that surprise me?” he asked, garnering a pattering of chuckles from some of my bereft classmates.
“I doubt you’re surprised by much anymore Mr. Prescott.” I said, knowing that in saying so, I was waging war. Needless to say, my fellow classmates missed the dig and a deep silence prevailed, one charged by static electricity; I wasn’t sure if Prescott would explode or break out in tears, for his face turned a shade of red as he stared back at me, perhaps wishing he could take a swing at me.
“Oh, I’ve been teaching for almost 20 years and I’ll tell you…some things never cease to amaze me.” he retorted, tilting his head with a creepy grin.
“In twenty years not one student ever told you they couldn’t relate to the characters in this book?” I asked.
“Not a one.”
I peered around the room; a few students were looking at me with curious grins—wondering where I was going with all of this. Prescott as well sat, still hugging himself in the sunlight, offering a curious grin of his own.
“What’s the average grade of this class?” I asked.
“A, B, C, D…D minus?”
“You don’t expect me to divulge privileged information do you?” asked Prescott.
“I’m guessing it’s a C.” I said, studying his face for a crack in its puckered composure.
“You see your classmates and yourself as C average students?” offered Prescott with a forced chuckle.
“No…I see the level of interest in your lessons as a C average.” I specified.
“And you would suggest we read what?” asked Prescott, “Harlequin Romance?”
“Yeah man…that’s exactly what I was going to propose. By the way, citing Harlequin Romance only further illustrates my point.”
“You have a point?” Prescott asked…his forced smile widening.
“Yes, my point is that you’re boring us to death with these compulsory titles—they’re no fun…they may be great works of literature but they fail to inspire great essays. Rather than splashing a Technicolor rainbow across the canvas of our young minds—you’re giving us a black and white courtroom drama—huge fun there…come on man. Screw the Pulitzer Prize—how about something raw and exciting and full of life? Something like Celine’s Journey to the End of the Night?”
“What’s that about?” asked Christie Shields—a member of the student representative council and a good cookie, all smiles and social fluttering…a curious pussy cat if I’d ever seen one. I’d heard stories of her fucking football jocks in the back seat of cars at parties.
“Well Christie, because you ask; it’s an epic adventure that takes you from the trenches of World War one, to misty cobblestone lanes of post war France, then onto a floating madhouse, to the sweltering jungles of Africa, across the Atlantic to America and back again to Europe…all the while uncovering huge revelations about the shit that really doesn’t matter at all in the end.”
“Like what?” Christie asked.
“Read the book…change your perspective.” I said, not speaking directly to her…but rather addressing anyone listening.
“Who is this Celine guy?” asked another kid who I didn’t know. He directed his question toward Prescott who released his self-hug and sighed a very long sigh.
“Celine is an author you might find in an existentialism class in university Todd…certainly not something appropriate for grade eleven English.” scoffed Prescott and without realizing it—he’d said the magic words.
Suddenly, the class was abuzz with an open discussion about good old Louis Ferdinand…they’d abandoned their Mockingbird manuscripts and were suddenly eager to hear more about Celine and quieted down when I’d produced the tattered novel from my backpack and started reading from a random spot:
“You can lose your way groping among the shadows of the past. It’s frightening how many people and things there are in a man’s past that have stopped moving. The living people we’ve lost in the crypts of time sleep so soundly side by side with the dead that the same darkness envelops them all. As we grow older, we no longer know whom to awaken; the living or the dead.”
“Wow,” said Christie Shields, “such dark insight.”
“Most deep insight is dark.” I said, “The universe tends toward it.”
“If that were true there wouldn’t be any stars at all…stars are suns—the universe’s light bulbs. If the universe tends toward darkness, how are there stars everywhere.” noted a girl I didn’t know, sitting close to the back of the class. She was pretty and quite buxom…I took inventory of her gigantic breasts protruding through her sweater, a locket resting on the fabric between them as if on a trampoline.
“Stars die.” I said, “Just as our sun will eventually die…supernova baby.” I winked back at her.
“What’s the point in dwelling on it then?” she asked with a grin, exposing her pretty teeth; who the hell was this girl? I asked myself and was locked in a stare with her when Prescott broke our gaze with his killjoy sentiment.
“Well…I’m afraid you’ll all have to wait at least a few years to debate this topic in existentialism 101…this is grade 11 English and the task at hand is Harper Lee.” he said, rising from his desk.
We all watched Prescott step over to the black board and pick up a piece of chalk with which he wrote the following: “To Kill a Mockingbird essay due next Tuesday…” He punctuated the sentence with a sharp point that splintered the chalk slightly, causing small white shards to fall to the floor. In the collective groan of distaste that moved through the class, Prescott stood proudly grinning…it was perfectly timed as the bell sounded just then, giving way to a mass rummaging of students gathering up their materials and rising from their desks. As I made my way out of the class, Prescott halted me.
“Mr. Nero…a word if you don’t mind.” he said.
When the class was empty, leaving only Prescott and I in an awkward silence, he stepped over to the thick oak door with the square frosted glass window and closed it quietly. “Have a seat.” he said, gesturing to a desk in the front row. Rather than sit in the desk, I half sat on the top of it, holding my books in one hand, my other hand slinging my backpack over my shoulder; I just looked at him.
“What’s on your mind Prescott?” I asked him as he stepped up and peered intensely at me through his filmy spectacles.
“That’s Mr. Prescott…I would warn against you disrespecting me again.”
I nodded, assuming where this was going to go, “Again?” I asked.
“…this is my class…I’m the teacher—you’re the student. When you come in here and criticize my lessons and my choice of literature; essentially what you’re doing is criticizing a system of which you have no understanding. I won’t have it. Not in this class…and especially not by a reject from Truman Park High.”
“So that’s how it is huh? The gloves are off already? Ok…” I pondered aloud, “Listen Prescott, you’re out of touch—you’re methods are tired and your choice of literature is contrived. The most interesting philosophical conversation that ever took place in your presence probably happened today.”
“This isn’t a philosophy class…nor a class in existentialism! Do you understand me?” he said, stepping up and grabbing my arm, giving me a small shake, as if to wake me.
I batted his arm away with my forearm and jumped up from the top of the desk. Prescott stood there gazing at me with an amazed expression of surprise.
“Touch me again man.” I said.
“Why would I touch you again? What the hell is the matter with you?” he spat, perplexed suddenly, “I’m not sure what you’re used to—but that’s not what we do here.” assured Prescott.
“Try that shit again.” I said, “See what happens.”
We stood there for a long moment under the buzz of the florescent overheads. Finally, Prescott spoke in a softer tone.
“Look Frank, I’m trying to teach several dozens of kids every day…it’s challenging enough without someone sidetracking me and throwing a wrench into the gears. I can see plainly that you’re reading beyond your peers, but that doesn’t mean you’re exempt from the lessons I teach in this class. You understand? It doesn’t matter if the entire school is excited about your little cabaret show; you have to suck it up and read the stuff you don’t want to read just like the rest of the students.” Prescott said, his eyes beady and looking me over a few times.
“Hold on…what?” I asked, flashing him a glare that demanded his shame, “What does my cabaret show have to do with any of this? It shouldn’t have anything to do with this discussion.”
“I’m merely saying…”
“Yeah, I know what you’re saying.” I nodded.
“I’m merely saying that if you focused on this class as much as you focus on your rock band; you’d have an A.”
“I don’t have an A because you keep giving me shitty marks for personal reasons.” I said, realizing it was true as I said it.
“That’s absurd.” said Prescott with the gentleness of a man who’s been figured out.
“Now I realize why you’ve been giving me shitty grades.”
“I’m sorry you feel that way.” he said, tilting his head and peering at me intensely—his classic stance.
“I doubt it. But I’m delivering gold every week. I don’t write them only as essays, I write them as informative pieces…investigative journalism…I leave no stone unturned man—and you shit all over my works…B minus—what the hell is that? You should be swinging from a fucking tree for giving me a grade like that.”
“It’s the mark you deserved.” grinned Prescott.
“I see…well, though it may be technically legal for you to give me that grade; it’s a crime of morality…I can assure you and you know what I’m going to do…I’m going to write John Updike a letter…a very informative letter and I’m going to tell him all about Mr. Treat Prescott; the English teacher at Coronation High who is an enemy of the craft—an enemy of the natural born writer.” I said with a searing promise in my eyes, “If he replies, Zack Stein is going to get a copy.” I said—it was widely known that Zack Stein, editor in chief of the school’s official newspaper, loved to stick it to the faculty whenever the chance arose.
“Well, I wish you luck with that.” said Prescott, “Don’t forget—the Mockingbird essay is due on Tuesday.”
“Yeah, well…” I said, tilting my head and peering back at him, holding him in the sites of an edgy glare, “Guess, I’ll C-U-Next-Tuesday.”
I left Prescott standing there with a puzzled look in his eyes. It was hard to believe that he’d taken issue with the fact that I was pursuing a creative goal musically as well as prose-wise. I wondered which he resented more; my writing or my music…I assumed it must have been the songs—for my essays were too articulate to conjure an anticlimactic B minus. Perhaps he’d heard our demo and hated it for more reasons that he’d rightfully admit; after all, his daughter was Angelica Prescott—who, though a grade ahead of me, knew many of my friends—too close for comfort. I’d seen her around Hillcrest, particularly at Prime Ribs. What had she heard about me? I wondered and realized I didn’t actually give a fuck.
In spite of the bizarre and indirect protest of many around us, Sassy Sister Sadie was unphased—holed up in our jam room as we were, perfecting the set to a meticulous degree. We were young artists and sought after creative perfection; however we were also young men and were coursing with testosterone and perhaps a slight bit of madness; our edges were sharper than the average kid…as if we’d existed for longer than we had, and perhaps we had. At that point, things were up in the air, up for debate; science hadn’t taken precedence over spirituality. Cell phones hadn’t taken the place of one on one telepathy; at some point, Walter, the Goblin and I realized that there was nothing to fear…not even fear itself…for our era would pass, and in it we had a choice to etch what we wanted…a chiseled history that would perhaps out-live us. Such notions come into play when one realizes that they are only a passing shape in this strange and beautiful world.
Perhaps it was this collective realization that spurred Walter to call a meeting one evening out in the desert plain…a region of rock cliffs and scorpion sand dunes…rattle snake whispers and ancient aboriginal ghosts—badlands valleys where time ceased to exist. Walter had been adamant that we meet at 730pm sharp at Monument Rock…a massive stone jutting from the earth which had been marked with a large bronze plaque that stated the history of the region.
Eleanor and I were early and we sat in the car, watching the sun sink slowly toward the eastern horizon as the Cure’s Disintegration played on the cassette deck. It had been a nice drive and we’d driven it in my mother’s Grand Marquis IV. The horizon was starting to turn a deep pastel violet, reflecting against the bottom of cottony Cumulus clouds that moved slowly across the deepening sky. It was the 90’s and colors meant more. Such moments would be locked in memory with certain soundtracks…on this evening it was the Cure’s Disintegration.
“What are you thinking?” Eleanor asked me as I peered out at the expanse of desert beyond the dashboard of the Grand Marquis.
“That I wish time could stand still.” I told her and she understood what I meant.
“It can’t.” she smiled.
Being that there wasn’t anyone around and we were in a remote location, Eleanor reclined the seat and invited me with her signature smile…we had sex, or rather we made love. Sometimes I thought that she could see into the core of my being and I felt absolutely at ease with it. I thought this because I saw into hers. Though I knew it would all come to an end, as everything eventually does, I tried to hold on to each moment with her as it passed—and though I couldn’t…though such a thing is a simple impossibility, I tried—as if loving her and squeezing her close and absorbing her secret confessions was a small sanctuary of immortality; perhaps that’s why we love—to probe the void, however impossibly, for a sense of immortality.
When Walter arrived in his father’s blue bronco. The boom from his stereo could be heard as he approached. When he was pulled up alongside us, I noticed that there were people in the backseat and the cargo hold. As they all piled out of the bronco one by one, Eleanor and I took inventory of them. There was Walter and his girl Rachel of course, and the Goblin and his girl Shannon…they were accompanied by Ben Gottlieb and his sister Sharon and Sharon’s best friend Susan—who was an import from Manchester England.
We stood beside Monument Rock as Walter slung himself with gear…bags, packs, a suitcase on wheels and his father’s high powered rifle. He set a safari had atop his head and through his smoking cigarillo declared that we head westward; toward the dying sunset that stained the horizon a bludgeoned orange. We followed suit and started the trek which would last perhaps a half hour and take us deep into the desert valleys where darkened caves and sandy critters lurked. The sun was nearly drowned by night when we finally arrived at our destination—a smooth sandy plateau that overlooked a sprawling valley below…the drop off was perhaps 200 feet and Walter stood dangerously close to its edge for a moment with his back turned to us all, gazing out into the valley and smoking his cigarillo.
“So, are we waiting for the mother ship?” inquired Ben, causing Manchester Susan to laugh.
Turning to us, Walter spoke in a coy tone, “Oh, you’ll see more than that tonight…tonight is going to change our lives.”
With a small shovel that was attached to his backpack, Walter dug a shallow hole in the sand and from the backpack he removed a number of artificial firelogs in their plastic wrapping. He stacked them neatly in the center of the hole and doused them with a small squeeze bottle of lighter fluid. We stood there in silence and watched him swipe a wooden match against its box…it came to life with a small hiss. After looking at it for a moment, Walter threw the match down onto the artificial logs which went up nicely, igniting suddenly with a small mushroom of flame.
The sudden fire illuminated not only our faces, but the shapes beyond, the climbing rock walls against which, our shadows danced with the movement of the fire. The dunes spread out, their peaks casting flickering shadows toward the horizon that was now but a layer of after burn, rapidly fading under the volume of night. I looked up at the sky which was a perfectly black dome, holding in it a billion points of light…the moon a perfect circle of light, like a hole punched in the majesty of night. I didn’t need the thermos of tea Walter uncapped and passed around; I could feel the spirits immediately, speaking to me in long dead whispers.
Still, when the thermos came to me, I guzzled down my share, puckering my face at the soapy sourness.
“You’d have been better not to try covering the taste with lemon dish detergent old sport.” I squinted with a chuckle.
“Is it really that bad?” asked Eleanor, hesitating to sip from the thermos when I passed it to her.
“Yeah baby.” I said with sincerity.
“It’s Lemon Lavender tea.” Walter assured, “How bad can it be?”
Eleanor sipped small; prolonging the experience…fighting off the dry heaves until she’d finally drank her share. Passing the thermos to Ben so it hit him in the chest, Eleanor looked at me with an exhausted expression, “I really must love you.” she declared, drawing a chuckle from the other girls.
When the thermos had gone around, Walter, the ringmaster suggested we all sit down. When we did, he passed around some snacks from another of his bags…chocolate covered peanuts, wine gums, oatmeal cookies, ripple chips, trail mix and a bag of large marshmallows. The marshmallows were accompanied by long wicker skewers for the purpose of roasting. As we sat there listening to Walter explain to us what the particular area was used for by the ancient Indians; I watched Eleanor fit one of the large marshmallows onto the end of a skewer and hold it close to the fire.
“Are you sure about that?” I asked her, she looked at me with a smile glazed across her beautiful, smooth face.
“I’m not sure of any of this—but we do our best.” she said.
“I mean, those are artificial logs…the smoke might be toxic.” I suggested.
“So then why would they sell it baby?”
“Maybe it’s ok to breathe…but maybe it’s not ok to roast a marshmallow over.” I said.
Her face crumbled into an affectionate yearning expression and she placed a hand on my cheek, “You’re worried that I’ll get poisoned by the fake fire logs? That’s so sweet. But baby—drinking whatever was in that thermos was probably ten times worse.”
Her word ‘worse’ seemed to echo…as if in a state of delay, tapering off into a realization that I could feel the effects of the tea creeping up on me…and I was ok with it; there was safety in the circle and I felt it enveloping us, linking us together with collective telepathy, however altered. It was the 90’s and we weren’t fucking around. I leaned in and kissed Eleanor deeply, whispering a promise into her ear…one which she took with a nod and a small welling of tears; evidently she was also feeling the effects.
As Walter claimed, the lookout upon which we were situated was used by the ancient tribes, for the purpose of warding off bad spirits, conjuring powerful magic and initiating young braves into the warrior’s circle. He said it was a sacred place. One must understand dear reader; Walter was white as a sheet…there was no lineage of ancient tribesmen in him. Yet there he sat, shirtless and pale faced, smoking a cigarillo and tripping on the orange flames that licked upward into the night sky.
Even in my disoriented state, I realized that Walter was talking out of his ass…which he often did. However, I also realized that a ceremony, official or not, is still ceremonial and whether or not his stated facts were historically sound—our collective energy within the circle centered by fire was indeed enough to trip wires in our evolved consciousness…opening, with the aid of psychedelic meanderings, channels of thought otherwise uncharted.
The conversations ranging from the Rommel Myth, to extraterrestrials depicted in hieroglyphs, to Centralia Pennsylvania, to the Bay of Pigs Invasion and Kennedy’s subsequent blockade…we discussed Marcia Clark’s closing argument, acid rain and weather Ted Hughes was really to blame for Sylvia’s downward spiral…indeed, these conversations became mind-bending with intricacies and shot out into the space on a catapult of existentialism, weaving in and out of esoteric constellations, at times, evading all gravity. Eventually, inevitably, perhaps as he’d planned, Walter brought us all back to our spot on the outlook…to the present which seemed strangely historic in its own way…we realized it then, that we were the last of something…and in arriving late, we were no less a part of a soon to die era.
“Frank, Goblin…I want to show you guys something.” said Walter, rising from his place on the dunes. He threw a few more artificial logs on the fire as the Goblin and I reluctantly rose from our comfortable places beside our significant other’s.
“Can I come?” asked Eleanor, not letting go of my hand.
I glanced at Walter who stood in a robust way, his arms crossed across his chest and his gaze intense as he shook his head.
“Sorry, it’s between your man, the Goblin and Me. We won’t be long.” he said with an apologetic but all the same firm tone.
“I guess it’s between the band.” I said.
“I don’t like the sound of that.” said Eleanor, “What are you guys going to do? Where are you going to go? Its pitch dark and dangerous out here…you could fall down a ravine. Baby, this doesn’t sound so smart…please don’t leave the group…its safe here.”
“Yeah, I agree. What the hell are you guys thinking?” agreed Walter’s girl.
“Look…” said Walter, addressing Rachel, who sat, petite and worried looking, her cute little nut of a face blinking up at him, “Men go off into the wilderness…that’s what we do…we’ve been doing it for centuries.”
“Well, then I should come too.” said Ben, feeling slightly excluded from the testosterone fueled atmosphere.
“No…you’re not going anywhere.” said his sister Shannon.
“Normally we’d love to have you join us, but this is about the band.” said the Goblin.
“I don’t see what the big bloody hell is,” said Manchester Susan, “if the boys are fool enough to go out there in the dark, let them…boys will be boys no matter what we say.”
“I couldn’t have said it better.” Walter grinned, motioning with his head for us to move out.
Armed with his father’s rifle, a back pack and a heavy duty flash light, Walter led the way through a rocky pass and after a while veered off down a steep grade, into a labyrinth of channels perhaps carved out of the stone by the last glaciers. Flashing the light upward, the beam caught the peaks high above, letting us know how deep we were in the valley. As the pathway continued to descend, we worked our way deeper into the channels that became narrow so we had to walk single file. As fireworks went off in my peripheral and the most minute sounds pricked my ears with crispness, I wondered absently about a rock falling on one of us and chose to ignore the thought…for such thoughts could be of no service in such a situation; the danger inspired a coldly building indifference in my chest…a letting go that felt exquisite. We were returning to our prehistoric state…feeling the primitive spirit swelling within us like elation.
When Walter finally stopped, I noticed he was flashing the dusty beam into the gaping mouth of a cave. I didn’t know if a mountain lion or a wolf would jump out at us…I didn’t quite care—I was ready to attack it, skin it and bring its silky hide back to the ladies as an offering; we were charged with that brand of intensity.
“Moment of truth gentlemen.” said Walter, turning to the Goblin and I.
“Who’s going in first?” asked the Goblin.
“I’ll do it.” I said, holding out my hand for the flashlight, which Walter didn’t surrender.
“No, this was all my idea, I’ll go first.” he insisted.
We followed Walter into the cave and after ten feet I thought we’d stop, then after twenty feet I was certain we’d stop…however, we kept walking until the smell of moist earth was all around us and the silence was thick as magma. Walter stopped and shone the beam of the flashlight over the walls, which were covered in the faintest painted designs. Bodies which seemed to be swimming, walking, hunting…there were some animals…buffalos, a beaver…birds. There was no telling how old the paintings were.
“Incredible…” I said…awestruck by the figures painted in various shades all over the cave walls.
“Me and the Goblin found this place hiking last year. Nobody knows about it.” said Walter, setting the flashlight down with the end up, so it shone against the shallow ceiling of the cave. From his pocket he produced a small aluminum tube and held it up with a grin, “Ok guys, shirts off.” he said before pulling his shirt off, rolling it up into a ball and fast balling it against the cave wall…breaking out into a psychotic chuckle that fell dead against the close silence that suddenly became eerie with his intense gaze. When the Goblin pulled off his shirt and they were both standing there with their shirts off, staring at me in anticipation, I was seized by a surge of hilarity, a tremor of the macabre twisting through the dark chambers of my humor.
“For real? We’re going to stand in here in the dark with our shirts off?” I chuckled.
“Yeah, it’s got the makings of a gay porn doesn’t it?” grinned Walter before breaking out into his signature psychotic chuckle.
“I guess you must know.” I laughed, causing the Goblin to double over with a chuckle of his own.
“Fuck yourself Nero.” Walter laughed, ecstatic about his planned ritual, “Come on man…trust me!” he assured
“Fine.” I said pulling my own shirt off and feeling the chill in the deep cavern air cool against my back.
Walter produced a candle from his hip sack and lit it with his gold zippo. When it was going nicely, he placed it in the center of our triangular positioning so our faces flickered with warm orange glow. Walter then began an incantation of sorts, drawing from his most abstract thoughts a small speech; a warrior battle prayer. As he spoke, we could hear the bats flapping by and hissing. I wondered distantly if one would bit me on my exposed flesh and infect me with rabbis. As Walter went on, I recalled what I’d read about rabbis after having been bitten by a Truman Park stray and had subsequently neglected to visit a hospital. However, the bats knew better than to fuck with me just then.
Snapping me out of my trance, Walter instructed us to watch him as he squeezed a blob of red paint from the small aluminum tube into his palm. He dabbed his finger in it and drew a symbol across his chest…it was triangular and if I must be honest, it looked quite badass. The Goblin and I followed suit, painting the same symbol on our chests as Walter explained the symbol—it was the symbol of an ancient warrior…a sign of virility, ferociousness and victory. We wore it well and as we waited for the paint to dry, I filled the silence with flowing words that sounded carefully chosen. I reviewed the objective of our mission and instructed a motto, uttered in Latin, which spelled out our three main points of character. When I was through, Walter took the floor and pledged from that moment on to suppress nothing…to paint the warrior symbol on his chest every day and to venerate long dead legends through means more powerful than bravery and valor; with utter indifference.
When the painted symbols on our chests were dry, we shirted up and left the cave, leaving the candle burning. When we made the trek back and I was once again sitting beside my lovely Eleanor, basking in the essence of her faint perfume and an evening worth of her womanly sweat, I sunk my face into that spot on her neck under her earring which to me was a slice of heaven on earth.
“What did you guys do?” she whispered.
“A bit of finger painting.” I said, running my lips over her soft earlobe so she shivered with goose bumps.
“I was worried.” she cooed.
“Thank you for worrying.” I said, fully meaning it.
End of volume two
*as creative works, these pieces do not represent any residences, facilities, locations or persons either living or deceased — any similarity is purely coincidental.