Tales From Truman Park
It was the 1990’s and I was 17 and riding back to my inner city sector on a transit bus at 3am…good old number 7, headed for Truman Park—the roughest part of town infamous nationally for having achieved perhaps the highest crime rate in the country. Clock Magazine had dubbed it as so and the moniker had stuck, forever cloaking Truman Park in dark infamy. To some of us living in Truman however…there was no infamy about it—there was only the absurd reality of living in a disaster zone rife with imbecilic douchery and the criminally insane.
At 3am, you never knew who you’d find riding Truman Park Number 7. Dopers, dealers, gangbangers, serial rapists, serial vandals, hookers, bums, armed felons with a mile long rap sheet. I was sitting in a graffiti covered seat listening to Never Mind the Bullocks on my yellow Sports Walkman and staring out the window at the passing shop fronts. Of the shops that had closed in recent years, many were boarded over, vacant or up for lease. Mainly they were gang-tagged with spray paint; an alternate language. It often made me wonder how it was that these gangbangers—many of which I’d shared classrooms with throughout my academic life—could flunk out of school so hopelessly, yet had come to master the arcane nuances of gang-tag hieroglyphs.
The shops passed by my window; an old paint store, a flower shop, a card shop, a mechanic, an X rated video store…a gas station. Further on, the prostitutes went by. They stood out on the muggy street corners with miniskirts, unbalanced in stiletto heels looking stoned and seductive. It was my stop.
I got off the bus and walked through the gangs of prostitutes and pimps toward Jim’s Confectionary store. I felt like a pop and was debating between Coke and Pepsi when I recognized a kid rolling up to Jim’s on a sleek chrome BMX. I knew the face…I’d never forget such an ugly face, and certainly I’d not forgotten the shit kicking I’d endured the afternoon he and his brother had chased me down on their stolen Kuwahara Chrome BMX’s.
What can I say about the attack? It was something that happened in Truman Park…a code of douchery divorced entirely from reason and logic. What’s worse, most didn’t realize how ridiculous they appeared when willingly participating in acts of douchery. The Michaels brothers were no exception. That day, they’d cornered me in a shipping yard I’d been certain had an alleyway exit. However, I was wrong and the chase abruptly came to an end…worse off was the fact that it was a Sunday and there had been nobody in the shipping yard…it was just the Michaels brothers and I. They were older and bigger than I was and I knew how it was going to end. Evidently, it was payback for pushing their brother Tommy to the asphalt…who’d been douching-out on random people outside of Jim’s Confectionary one evening when he’d drunk too much of his father’s homebrewed moonshine. He’d grabbed me drunkenly and I’d pushed him away—he’d fallen flat on his ass and had subsequently rolled, pressing a hand against his ass as if he’d burst a hemorrhoid; perhaps he had. In any case, the incident didn’t register as much to me beyond the usual Truman Park antics.
Though Tommy and I had made our peace after the brief altercation; his creepy albino brothers obviously hadn’t gotten the memo. They wasted no time jumping from their stolen Kuwaharas and rushing me. When I was thrown to the gravel, the brothers went to work, punching me up and subsequently stomping me with the treads of their sneakers. Indeed Harvey and Christopher Michaels left me lying there on the shipping yard gravel with a dire warning; next time they wouldn’t go so easy on me.
The recollection of our run-in flashed back at me just then as I stood there watching Christopher Michaels carefully turn his bike and stand it on the handlebars and seat—as if that might make it harder to steal. It came to me through a series of slides, each depicting the tread marks their sneakers had left on my t-shirt—a bloody design stained into my shirt and one I wouldn’t soon forget.
“Michaels.” I said.
Christopher Michaels turned casually with his head tilted back to one side—his signature posture that most people assumed was arrogance. I however always felt he was genetically compromised and this tilted head was part of the larger issue of inbreeding.
“Who’s that?” he asked under the sound of the cars rolling by.
“Don’t you recognize me?” I said taking off my Descendents ball cap and replacing it on my head backward.
“Drawing a blank.” said Michaels, shrugging and turning back toward the direction of his house—one which contained his drunken, wife beating father, his blown out mother and his derelict, inbred siblings.
“You don’t remember me? I’m offended.” I grinned, “You and your brother beat the shit out of me a few years back…for no apparent reason I might add…I guess it meant more to me than it did to you guys.”
“Listen asshole…my house is just around the corner and my dad has a Bren Ten. You better just get the fuck lost if you don’t want a cap in your ass.” Michaels said over this shoulder.
Though he deserved a soccer kick to the curve of his jaw-line, I wasn’t going to be the one to give it to him—certainly though, by way of karma, someone else in Truman Park would in time. It was a club I didn’t wish to be part of—it was an action I didn’t care to own. Instead, I resorted to informative dialogue:
“You know something Michaels…you’re a weird looking fucker…there’s something definitely nuclear test-site about you and your brothers…and I’m pretty sure it’s because your parent’s are siblings.” I said.
“Whatever man.” he said before turning and entering the store.
I stood there for a moment, watching his thin, stringy blonde mane disappear behind a shade-drawn entrance of the store. I then looked to his stolen Kuwahara Chrome. I stepped over to it and flipped it right side up easily and pedaled down the incline of the parking lot. As God Save the Queen blasted on my headphones, I pedaled north, toward the downtown skyscrapers. Indeed, Michael’s stolen Kuwahara was a comfortable ride—so comfortable I rode it all the way to the baseball stadium and stopped for a smoke break on a bench outside the sprawling promenade.
It was only then that I noticed a small zippered bag fastened snugly beneath the back seat of the bike. I tore away the Velcro straps and removed the bag from the seat. Inside the bag was a roll of twenty dollar bills and what looked like oregano wrapped in a ziplock freezer bag. So that’s what Michaels was up to in Truman Park—I wasn’t surprised.
When I was through with my cigarette I walked the bike over to a group of homeless men drinking window cleaner directly from the bottle. I tossed them the roll of twenties and the bag of oregano and walked on. There was a sprawling parkade across the street and I rode it to the top, each level getting dirtier and dirtier. Near the top level of the parkade I started noticing more homeless tents. When I reached the top of the parkade the view was spectacular which I hadn’t been expecting having been ground level for weeks. The sunset had left a faint residue itself, coloring the sky a dim shade of violet. Scanning a panoramic view of the city…I admired the twinkling northern hills and the high reaching palm trees that ran along with the grids of city lights all the way to the Pacific Ocean.
I leaned over the ledge and found a perfectly barren parking lot ten floors below. I lifted the Kuwahara and balanced it on the ledge for a moment before letting it free fall. I watched it descend as if in slow motion. When it hit the cement the forks broke, sending the front tire bouncing off toward the foundation wall of the parkade. I looked at the broken form of the bike before taking another panoramic scan of the city.
I knew it wasn’t an existence of normality, but that was Truman Park life—or at least that’s what it had become. Certainly it hadn’t begun as grim—it had once been a booming sector full of good family values and lemonade verandas but indeed had become systematically worse over the decades; it was a district known simply as ‘The Park’.
It was one of the oldest sectors in the city and though I was fascinated by the old broken down Victorians which, aside from presently housing feral families, gangbangers and drug dealers, also housed historical relevance that dated back through the generations to the pioneers; pioneers who’d carved the city out of the desert and who—aside from their haunting names hidden beneath the spray-painted street signs—were now largely forgotten. Likewise the abandoned buildings along Centaur Ave. that had once been booming factories and were now used as storage units or warehouse space, bared witness to a long lost golden age, which tourist sought in droves and open-top tour buses. If I stared at those old buildings long enough, I could nearly conceive the consciousness of their time—I could nearly hear the whispers of those old ghosts.
Like the old pioneers, Truman Park was for the most part forgotten by city council and therefore the rest of the city—except for nightly blurbs on the evening news that acted more as side-show updates…dinner time entertainment for the wealthy West side folks…a train wreck they somehow enjoyed looking at—perhaps as a viable reason to not be miserable and unfulfilled…perhaps solely for distraction. How bad could it get in Truman Park? The question kept them from turning the channel which was a great ratings boost for most local news stations. And it was a common occurrence to see news crews with lights, cameras and pretty blinking female reporters, frequently congregated on corners, in alleyways, parking lots, in front of houses…covering the latest double homicide or drug bust. It was bad PR and didn’t get any better.
Though it was on some level fascinating for the rest of the city to tune into the latest sensationalist broadcast; residents of Truman Park had become desensitized to the reality…to the point where it became routine to spot blood stains on the sidewalks, to pass by knife fights and acts of vandalism in progress during a casual stroll to the corner store…to see paramedics removing covered bodies from houses or firemen extinguishing cars engulfed in flames—then just leaving the melted remnants there next to the curb—for weeks; it seemed nobody cleaned up around Truman Park.
It was quite educational. Among other things, one learned quite quickly in Truman Park that no matter how tough you thought you were—there was always someone tougher and they were usually around the next corner. We’d seen it happen on a regular basis; rich-kid wannabe gangsters from the suburbs who felt driving through Truman Park on a Friday night with old school Public Enemy booming through their 5 grand stereos afforded them some modicum of street cred…however, it only ever got their custom windows smashed.
Indeed, Truman Park wasn’t a syndicated crime drama on channel 13…the danger was real in The Park and the black and white police helicopters constantly circling high above the palms with their spot lights illuminated was a constant reminder. Another reminder was the systemic evidence of crime.
One morning while walking to Truman Park High, I came across a vast red pool of blood, soaked into the sidewalk…it had run down into the gutter and coagulated into the leaves and rubble around a sewer cover—it was a lot of blood. I studied it as the cars went by. It was hard to believe someone had bled out that much and survived—there is only so much blood in a body after all. I had a bad feeling about standing on the site of a fresh homicide; as if I was standing on someone’s grave.
Later on the late night news, I learned what had happened. An unnamed gangbanger had been ‘slain’ on that sidewalk. Slain indeed…a word used intentionally to communicate to the viewers in the suburbs that the murder had indeed been grizzly; perhaps to keep them tuned in—perhaps to sell buttered popcorn and jujubes; a demented midnight matinee. But the viewers in the burbs could never really contemplate it beyond a moment of thought, turning the word ‘slain’ over in their minds a few times before returning to their late night glass of Shiraz. To them and pretty much everyone else in the country, Truman Park was a wasteland…a lost cause…an unfortunate story of a neighborhood that had become a dumping ground for the destitute and a quagmire of gangland activity.
Indeed there was no misconception about it. Yet surprisingly we’d encounter misconceptions about the potential of real change in Truman Park and it was usually perpetuated by a dutiful sense of moral charity on the part of outsiders who believe they understood the underlying issues. One afternoon the vice principal of Truman Park high called an assembly, during which he and his wife, a child-psychologist, spoke to us all about a peer counseling group they were starting…a life-line for victims of domestic abuse, substance abuse and unplanned parenthood. They also explained the importance of extracurricular activities such as the student’s representative council and the newly launched chess club. They reiterated the importance of peer counseling and the benefits of reasoning a way through disagreements and heated altercations.
It was sound council and made me think that perhaps my brother and I should have tried to reason with the kid who’d robbed us at knife point a few years before. Perhaps we could have diligently reasoned our way around him taking our money at knife point…perhaps we would have offered a few tips on etiquette and perhaps the number of a good social worker and certainly a barber that might have erased the mullet from his scalp.
Though he perpetually failed to conjure a modicum of school spirit, at least Schooner tried. Strangely, though vice principal Schooner tried to make Truman High more like the suburban schools he’d been removed from over the years; there was still a very weak music program at Truman High…and dear reader, nobody needed music like I did.
The official trajectory was a scholarship, but unofficially—it was a love affair with melody that kept me in the Truman High music room after hours sitting at the only piano in the school working on my own compositions, until the janitor eventually kicked me out.
It was never a question otherwise because the music room wasn’t on anyone’s radar…there were never any Truman Park students lined up to book time in the music room after class. It was that easy for me to simply walk in, close the door and let the piano fill the room as I voyaged through soundscapes of melody.
The piano seemed even more of a sanctuary being that during a regular school day at Truman, the hallways were wrought with beefs and vendettas, hallway fights, weapons that had made it somehow through the entrance metal detectors, expulsions and sometimes the ambulance or a black and white squad car would be pulled up out front. Parent teacher interview nights were non-existent. Pep rallies were only sparsely attended (it didn’t help that our basketball team’s games usually ended in bench clearing brawls). School spirit was at an all-time low and though it wasn’t his fault, Schooner was powerless to resuscitate it. Principal Nelson didn’t even try—he’d made his mind up about Truman Park.
He saw the majority of parents in The Park as alcoholics, drug addicts or general sad sack absentees…if they weren’t any of the above, they were too busy working three jobs to care about their children’s curriculum or their mistreatment. Whatever the case, there were many rebellious delinquents enrolled and to counter this trend, traditional discipline was often abandoned at Truman High; rather the faculty would use any means possible to gain control of their students.
It didn’t help that the teachers who were sent to Truman Park High were usually degenerate outcasts of the school board who’d failed in some way at every other school in town and had been sent to Truman High as either a punishment or a last chance. They weren’t happy about it either and their resentments were often taken out on students for trivial matters—such as being late.
Case in point; I’d been at the arcade with Huntington and Beatty on our lunch break one afternoon…the two were degenerate classmates of mine and indeed, the type of kids who’d fight anybody at any time for basically no reason at all; douching-out was the way they’d learned to exist in Truman Park. They were lone wolves with a pack mentality and on this afternoon I’d wound up with them—mainly because Huntington’s old man grew plants in his basement and Huntington always managed to palm enough to roll one up.
We’d been walking back to Truman High passing one back and forth as Beatty amused himself by throwing cherry bombs at passing cars…each time he’d stare back at us with insane green eyes while laughing psychotically. At some point Beatty and a passing kid on the opposite side of the street had some words. Evidently, Beatty knew the kid, with whom he’d had a past issue. I’d never seen the kid before. He was big and red…that is to say that he was obese and aside from being covered in red freckles, his head was topped with a head of wildly curled red hair. He wore an Iron Maiden shirt with white sleeves that was too small on his chubby frame and accentuated his flabby tits. From what I could gather from their debate, the kid went to Carter High, in a neighboring district—one not quite as bad as Truman but bad all the same. I reached over and took hold of Beatty’s arm, trying to lead him away from imminent douchery—he wasn’t budging however.
They squared off, hurling insults, Beatty getting the better of the exchanges by shifting the focus of his tirade onto the kid’s exceptional weight problem. Soon enough a small crowd had gathered. It went on back and forth for a while until Beatty brought the fat kid’s mother into it, speculating random items one might find in her womb…such as a can opener, an old shoe, a telephone—a moment later it was on. Beatty was a tough kid…we all knew that…what none of us could quite gauge however was his level of insanity, which was certainly high.
He got in a few good shots, but the kid from Carter high was just too big and hauled Beatty to the cement with ease. The fat kid mounted Beatty by sitting on his chest before raining down haymakers from above, busting Beatty up pretty good and opening old scar tissue. It was hard to watch Beatty’s face oozing blood, but it was understood—unless you wanted an all-out riot; nobody interfered…another guideline in the douchery code.
In the midst of the commotion and hollering of the crowd I could make out Huntington hollering at Beatty.
“He’s got tits man…you’re not gonna let a guy with tits beat you are you?! Sweep him!” Huntington hollered at Beatty, who though seemingly completely preoccupied with weathering the barrage of fists raining down on him, seemed to acknowledge the question.
Beatty, with perhaps a fair amount of insanity strength, somehow swept the fat kid, gaining top position through sheer rage and of course the determination not to be beaten by a kid with flabby tits. Beatty’s bloody nose dripped down onto the fat kid’s face and t-shirt, as he hammered down his own haymakers on the titted kid from Carter High.
“Alright Beatty…you proved your point—we’re going to be fucking late man.” I told him…but he kept raining fists down onto the kids face, each making a wet sounding thud…as if he was punching a a marinated side of beef.
A cut opened up on the kid’s eyebrow, which gushed red like a small fountain and pooled in the concave of his eye. It was a bloody mess and eventually broken up by two employees from the drugstore across the street who’d rushed over in a display of valiance. They’d called the police, in response to which, Beatty broke free and bid them a blood dripping ‘go fuck yourselves’ grin before he darted off, hurdling over a brown picket fence, through a yard and down an alleyway. Though he was a complete moron, Beatty knew better than to stick around.
When I finally made it back to Truman High, I was thinking of Beatty and Huntington and what a disaster they actually were and how I should stop spending lunch breaks with the two of them, in spite of Huntington’s dad’s stash…I was coming to this realization as I entered Mr. Grant’s class. Grant, being an unconscionable ball breaker and perfectly perpetual cunt, didn’t deviate from his usual lecture on fuckallogy. Rather he stood there, savoring the opportunity to shred me up before the entire class of misfits and degenerates I’d come to despise in two short years.
“Mr. Holden—I can’t imagine why you’d even bother to waste your time even showing up. We’re halfway through the class and I’m not going to tolerate interruptions from poo-poo heads who don’t care to learn.”
“Poo-poo?” I said with a wry drawl, tilting my head at him as if he were a small, mean garden gnome.
“We’re here to learn—you are not. So leave shit head.” he said with his usually prickish grin.
“Learn?” I laughed, “Learn what? To have vanilla literary taste?”
“Pardon me?” he asked, turning to face me now…his usual rage building.
“You know damn well that we should be reading Updike and Mailer…at least Salinger. I mean give these kids a fighting chance man. Meanwhile you’ve got them reading Bradbury.”
“Get the hell out of here now!” Grant hollered, causing mousey Melinda Buckley to jump in her front row desk.
“Fine.” I said, backing away toward the doorway. “I’ll go to the library and read some interesting prose.”
Storming toward me suddenly, Grant wrapped his steel-mill grip around my bicep and slung me out into the hallway so my binder fell to the floor and exploded in a heap of loose papers. After issuing me a disgusted head to toe once-over and a sneer, he strode back into his classroom, slamming the door behind him hard, so the crack echoed down the long polished corridors.
As if it was planned by a higher power as a perfect coincidence; Principal Nelson rounded the corner exactly then, as I was down on one knee, gathering my scattered papers and fitting them back into the binder that was heavily stickered with skateboard brands. He stopped abruptly, pushed his spectacles up the bridge of his nose and cast an intense glare of loathing directly at me…it was too perfect and I had to laugh.
“Holden! What in the fuck are you doing out here?” he snapped, storming toward me and looming in close proximity as I collected the last scraps of useless notes and fit them into my binder.
“Well…Mr. Asshole threw me out of his class…literally—beyond that, it’s just another day in paradise.” I told him as I rose to my feet. Nelson was my height. 5’11, his age and gauntness made him look shorter and smaller though.
“It’s the first time sir.” I assured.
“You’re a liar too Holden! Just last month you were kicked out of Mr. Grant’s class.” snarled Nelson.
“That was Mrs. Weaton’s class actually—get with the program sir.” I said, shaking my head and offering him an expression of preposterousness.
“You’re nothing but a pain in the ass of this school Holden.” Nelson informed.
“Your derelict and incompetent faculty is the only thorn in the side of this school sir. You think that’s not plain to see?” I asked.
“Well,” said Nelson, looking at me eye to eye now. His eyes were deep blue and the whites were slightly yellowed, his bushy salt and pepper brows were furrowed and hanging slightly over his droopy lids as he spoke, “what’s plain to see is what a piece of dog-shit you are.” he snarled before storming off down the hallway. He wasn’t wearing his usual blazer and I noticed that aside from possessing child-bearing hips…principal Nelson also possessed, for lack of a more articulate description—male booty; the man had a booty. Beyond being baffling it led to ominous explanations. Perhaps more disconcerting is that he wore extra tight dress pants that rode up said booty, creating a thoroughly macabre and grotesque sight…the likes of which no Truman kid, no matter how derelict, should have needed to witness.
“Yeah, well, at least I don’t wear booty pants you creepy fucker!” I chuckled, pitching with all my might, the binder into the air, so it opened and came apart again, the pages flying where they may. Nelson only walked on…wagging his macabre booty with each stride. Piss on this school—I thought.
It became my mantra during the last semester I spent at Truman High. The school itself wasn’t the issue. The school itself was old, full of character and the ghosts of school spirit past one could find in the trophies and medals our predecessors had won in the name of Truman High and now sat behind Plexiglas in a display case beside the main office. Indeed the school itself was a monument. However, the faculty and students which inhabited it saw none of the tradition.
Certainly there were many last straws, but perhaps the last of the last came later that month when the theater group insisted the upright piano in the music room, the only one in the school, be permanently moved to the auditorium, for the purpose of their rehearsals—rehearsals which evidently didn’t do their botched and untalented theater troop a damn of good. This meant, among other things, dear reader, that I wouldn’t have access to the piano—which at that point, was my only salvation. To make matters worse, the auditorium was off limits outside of theater events or assemblies. Not having an actual piano at home—this put a major kink in my flourishing piano rock compositions and was the first time in years that I’d not had readily available access to a piano. One way or another, a piano had always been there.
As a child I’d studied music at the conservatory…I’d played in the children’s orchestra and chamber groups and by the age of 13, after becoming thoroughly bored of playing other people’s music, I was inclined to throw away the text book. I’d been making excellent progress on my compositions after hours in the secluded Truman High music room, exploring the deep underwater worlds of piano melody and taking cues from the likes of Billy Joel and Paul McCartney albums…I’d relentlessly sit perched on the piano stool totally lost in composition until Ethan the night janitor would eventually kick me out of the music room.
I explained to my mother how impossible it was going to be for me to exist in Truman Park without access to a piano. My mother wasn’t originally from Truman Park however…she was a quite unpredictable philosophical eccentric from an upper class family who’d moved us to the city for a government job after a scorched-earth divorce from my father—a man who’d brought his demons back home after two tours in the war—on the front lines with his platoon as he’d put it.
Though my mother understood my issue with Truman Park and how losing access to the school piano could unravel my world, there was little she could do about it. To her, raising two kids on her own was much easier to do in Truman Park, which hadn’t quite blossomed into the quagmire of gangland activity it eventually became. When she’d bought the house at a reasonable price years before, there was little infamy surrounding the neighborhood. However, the 1980’s had brought in a crime wave, the likes of which the city had never seen and by the 1990’s…there were constantly police and news helicopters circling the palm trees of Truman Park with their spotlights.
Certainly my mother realized Truman Park wasn’t the ideal place to raise kids…but that didn’t mean she was going to let ‘The Park’ win. Indeed not. This meant calligraphy and photography courses, while my friends were at the arcade pinching chick’s asses, smoking grass and getting high scores on Battle Zone. This meant creative writing classes and a formal introduction to our local library branch which my mother explained to me was a universal wealth of knowledge; give a kid a library card and you’ll tell a lot about him by the authors toward whom he gravitates. And of course this meant piano lessons at the conservatory while my friends were hopping the fence to the fairgrounds and meeting up with easy Truman High girls like Melanie Townsend, Clara Fisher, Sarah Chatsworth, Celia Selkirk—damsels who’d undress. However, when I’d gotten into a very heated dispute with organizers at the conservatory, suggesting that they were a scam and wasting our parents money by forcing us to play other people’s music rather than encouraging us to write our own—my mom decided to halt my conservatory enrollment fees. After that it was all about the Truman Park high piano. Having suddenly no access to the piano at school was going to change everything and I knew it immediately.
It didn’t take long for things to become increasingly unbearable at Truman Park High. I started to notice more the grade of human which the school board sent to our school in order to technically up hold their mandate to ‘make a difference for the inner city kids’. Here I might cite Martha Sedgwick—the school nutritionist. Indeed, Ms. Sedgwick perhaps meant well, but indeed exuded the appearance of a George A. Romero film extra. Chain smoking, substance abuse and I’m assuming a perpetual diet of pork rinds and Pabst Blue Ribbon, seemed to have taken its toll on Ms. Sedgwick, who skulked around the hallways in a zombie like trance, clad in her red wig, white smock and stiletto heels in between cafeteria feedings, peering off into the distance with a doomed and quite ominous gaze—a lit cigarette dangling from her cracked lips.
Sedgwick was an innocent however—an ironic figure yes, but an innocent all the same…mainly because she was only in charge of the cafeteria food that was served at breakfast and lunch. If I am to illustrate with perfect accuracy the sort of teachers that were helping actually mold the minds of impressionable Truman Park adolescents; I would cite dear Mr. Phillips for instance, who’d wear a perpetual rodent-like grin as he explained exactly why no Truman Park students would go anywhere in life, citing that if a few managed to; then it was only the law of averages. He’d not fail to cite poor genetics and the lack of parental support as contributing factors. Though he’d apologetically insist that it was okay for us to accept our grim destinies, he took pleasure in stating the supporting points of his argument.
There was also Mrs. Gooding who seemed to loathe most students in her class. Beyond harsh critiques on ‘intelligence capacity’, she’d also provide irrelevant commentary on likely careers Truman High student might choose. Rather than shooting for doctors or lawyers or scientists…it was her opinion that Truman Park kids would do better to choose more basic careers, as not to be overwhelmed and subsequently disappointed when they failed to achieve their sky high goals. I’d once seen her throw a lime slush in the face of a student before hollering in his face the rule about outside beverages in the halls after which she’d stormed off with her face reddened by rage and her hair a tight frizzy ball worn bunched on top of her beady head. The student meanwhile had stood there in utter shock, the slush dripping down onto his shirt and to the floor.
There was also Mr. Gillespie who’d once caught me in a second floor washroom rolling one up on the flat surface of the sink. I’d planned to spend my spare class on the sunny lawn, sitting with Natasha Gucci who’d I’d been spending time with. We had an hour to kill and the deal was that I’d roll one up and we’d find a place. I acted casual as Gillespie sauntered in. He checked the stalls one by one and stepped over to the urinal into which he’d splashed a heavy piss. After shaking off, he walked over to the sink, rinsed his chubby, hairy-knuckled hands with cold water and ran them through his thin, greying hair. He then turned and looked at me for a moment, standing there with a pinner dangling from my mouth. He walked over to me snatched the pinner from my mouth and tossed it over his shoulder. The pinner fell onto the floor where it rolled forth, losing momentum just below the urinals, where the tiles were sticky with jellified piss drippings. He’d dared me to take a swing at him; not an ideal relationship to have with your Social Studies teacher.
There was an upside to this however. That is to say that there seemed to be a complete lack of superficiality around Truman Park. There were words—that was for certain; words without gauge, strong or other. Words were words and words were always had in a direct sort of fashion. If you hated someone, you’d let them know it—usually with words…and if someone hated you, you’d be made aware of it one way or another, and I was made aware of it a lot. It seemed I was perhaps one of the most hated kids at a school full of shitheads, douchebags and fuck wits; no small feat. But at least I knew where I stood with most everyone, especially among fellow students.
One in particular, Jenson Henley had become a hater after I’d taken his already graduated sister to the Pier. It had been her idea and so I couldn’t understand her brother’s animosity. Indeed, he started chiseling away at my patience seemingly out of the blue…being that it had been quite some time since I’d seen his sister. Over the course of a semester I watched the chisel become larger and sharper; or at least as sharp as Henley could ever get.
You see dear reader, Henley had a disadvantage in life; he’d been descended from a family of albino hillbillies who, I was most positive, had been at some point in time, inbred on not only his father’s side, but his mother’s side as well. The gene-pool was shallow as a tea-spoon in the Henley family and indeed, the first time Henley had shoulder checked me on passing in the hallway; I’d taken him for a botched caesarian. Indeed, because Henley was of course and without any shadow of doubt, a load that his mother should have swallowed; I’d not wanted to get involved. I assumed going through life with heavy metal half-shirts and rotting buck teeth was punishment enough for him. I told him this nonchalantly one afternoon during a candid conversation outside the library…however, the chiseling continued.
After a few more weeks it all came to a head one afternoon during gym class when the red shirts played the yellow shirts. I was a red shirt that afternoon and tending goal during an exceptionally rough game of floor hockey. Playing goalie was something I did well—I liked that it was 30% foresight and 70% reflex; it allowed me to get into a certain zone…to be the ball—or orange plastic puck in our case.
Henley, the acting captain of the yellow shirts was, by the middle of the first period, already barking grave orders at his lackluster team and losing his cool rapidly. A giveaway goal for the red shirts at the halfway mark prompted Henley to lumberjack his stick down onto the gymnasium floor as if it was an axe, breaking it into a number of pieces. His face turned a deep shade of red, which was quite a sight in contrast to his white albino hair and reptilian clear eye color…the lizard Henley.
From the center-gymnasium faceoff, Henley was passed the small orange puck and maneuvered his way into a dangerous break away. Handling the puck with too much zeal though, he faltered and made it all too easy for me to poke-check the puck away. In the process however, I managed to get my goal stick in between his runners, causing him to bail hard and skid across the glossy varnished gymnasium hardwood with a series of skin burning squeaks and toppling thuds.
Of course, one can easily see the outcome—what transpired immediately after he’d clambered back to his feet. He accused me of tripping him up deliberately and my irritated denial only invited an attack. He wound up to swing his new stick at me…attempting to break it over me as he’d broke his previous stick against the floor. Seeing him raise the stick high above his head with a glint of sheer madness in his albino eyes, I pushed him backwards, so he toppled against the floor again. After which I was tackled to the hardwood floor where I next felt the weight of perhaps a dozen kids piling on us perhaps for no other reason than that they’d seen it happen on TV. Really, one couldn’t move at the bottom of such a scrum; in fact one could barely breathe and it seemed like forever before everyone was finally untangled and pulled loose of the pile and I was being yanked up by the back of my shirt by Falco, our PE teacher who bared striking resemblance to a 1980’s Frank Stallone. When we were finally standing, facing each other again, with Falco between us; Henley glared at me with a bloody nose and yellow mesh shirt torn at the neck…he pointed at me, issuing an icy promise. “I’m going to fucking get you Holden—when you least expect it man…I’m going to be there. You better be looking over your shoulder.” he said, pointing a crooked looking club-finger at me.
“Drink some goat milk.” is all I said I as I walked back to my net that had been knocked over in all the commotion, realizing how close I’d come to getting head-chopped by Henley’s stick. I’m not sure what it was about the exchange that was different from any of the other exchanges that I’d experienced in Truman Park. Certainly there had been worse; however, Henley sparked a certain form of disdain…one I couldn’t readily explain, though I’d pondered it afterward. As well I pondered his discolored finger nails, crooked looking club fingers and rotten teeth, concluding that due to inbreeding he must have been plagued by a plethora of genetic defects…the rotten buck teeth and strange fingers seemed to point toward a lack of calcium. Perhaps all poor Henley needed was a few gallons of goat milk…was it really that simple a solve?
It only re-enforced my desire to leave Truman Park High…for a school with perhaps a better music program…but exactly which school that might be was beyond my scope of understanding. It seemed like an issue that might warrant a certain degree of investigation and what personal time I had I spent searching for access to a new piano. Of course there were pianos in every hotel lobby in town…however I needed a secluded piano upon which I could continue my compositions…which I’d hoped to eventually become an album of original songs. Though I’d studied guitar as well—the album was being written on piano; and it was a piano that I required. However, I could find no secluded piano anywhere in town, aside from the music piano store, which wasn’t an ideal place for composition. Certainly the music store wasn’t an ideal place for serious songwriters. For the music store was wrought with nerdery, geekery, elitism and disconcerting feathered mullets. There was also the prospect of renting a keyboard…perhaps a high level Roland…however, there was no keyboard on the market that could imitate in an exact way, the perfectly mystical resonance of an actual piano…it could not imitate the resonating shades of a real piano. After some time I gave up and I inquired, perhaps unconsciously, why the universe had taken my piano away.
Perhaps we really do exist to the universe, as inconsequential as we all are—perhaps there are reasons beyond our scope of understanding, perhaps there is ESP, as my mother’s collection of books on the subject suggested. Perhaps the Law of Attraction was a perfectly viable concept; perhaps science only understood .1% of all things and only quantum physics held the seeds to answers our descendants would eventually uncover—for better or for worse. I can’t explain how or why, but I can tell you dear reader, the much larger answer I’d been looking for occurred to me—or rather was handed to me a few weeks later.
If I’m to explain the great epiphany, I should start by mentioning that I wasn’t the greatest skateboarder in town—for I didn’t aspire to be the greatest skateboarder in town. However, I relished the momentum of cruising downhill on my board, or hopping a few stairs, or doing a board slide down a handrail when I was feeling fearless and invincible. I just loved to skate. I also adored the girls—the “Bettys” as we called them. Girls who were exceptionally pretty, who didn’t often skate, but loved the Descendents and Vision Street Wear and loved to hang out at the “Backyard”—the biggest skate park in the city which happened to be located on the edge of Truman Park.
There were many great things about the Backyard, but the live bands were what drew me to the place. Often it was a bill of 5 or 6 punk bands who, though sucking profusely, managed to evoke the raw energy we all craved to help placate our teenage angst. Some of us needed it more than others. I’d originally started frequenting the Backyard as an innocent escape from the jagged realities of Truman Park, which I should specify was surprisingly, a subject of curiosity and near fascination for some of the west-side kids who drove their parents Porsches and Jags to the Backyard and parked them haphazardly, with the windows open and their father’s golf clubs in the back seat; I never understood what those west-side kids were so angsty about.
The idea was to skate the half-pipes and to buy a dime bag, catch some bands, absorb some collective chaos and maybe crowd surf a few times. The idea was to forget about Truman Park for a few hours. However, once the word got around that I resided in ‘The Park’…I was often bombarded by questions about it, to which I’d offer elusive answers to their fascinated need for confirmation; confirmation of whether or not the district was really that much of a horror show. Their perceptions and projected curiosities about Truman Park were based solely on rap albums. They liked the idea of uptown slumming as long as they could return to the safety of the suburbs.
One night, after a great lineup of bands, I was offered a ride home by Wes Milton the third. Indeed, he was actually the third male in his family to carry the name Wes Milton, thus the III and thus his accompanying introduction which I’d found amusing. We’d become friends over the course of a few short months and it was mainly due to the fact that Wes, in spite of his family crest, was a delinquent at heart. In fact, in many ways he was more delinquent than many of the kids in my sector and perhaps Wes loved hearing it when I’d admitted it to him one evening; perhaps the observation offered Wes something he could finally call his own.
On one particular night, after the last band had played, and we were all clearing out of the Backyard in droves Wes and I lit one up and passed it back and forth. As we approached his father’s Audi I noticed Wes’ girl April leaning up against the driver’s side door. She was chatting with a girlfriend and the two were sharing a cigarette. As Wes rambled on, I walked along with him, haphazardly listening—he was complaining about the new policy at his school, Coronation High, which prohibited smoking on school property. April, Wes’ girl, turned to us when we were finally upon them and she smiled before taking a deep drag of the cigarette.
“Lacey, you’ve met Jack ?” Wes asked April’s friend who shook her head thoughtfully and extended her hand. I shook her hand lightly, feeling that it was very soft and warm and moist—I retracted my hand with an uneasy grin.
“I’ve seen him around.” said Lacey, as if not addressing me directly.
“We’re going to drop him first, he lives here in Truman Park—so it’s on the way out.” said Wes after which the girls shrugged in agreement and slid down into the back seat, leaving Wes and I up front.
Now dear reader, when an epiphany is handed to one by the universe at large—there is usually no prelude…at least it’s been my experience that such strokes of brilliant realization happen when you least expect them to. I might add that it wasn’t Lacey’s intention to offer me an epiphany—she’d only initiated a conversation that would have otherwise not taken place—or perhaps it would have, but the connotation of which may have been lost, unorganized or misdirected; such is the mystery of our coexistence with the universe—to which we don’t seem to matter, but perhaps must.
We’d been cruising up Remington Ave and Wes and I were talking about the bands; which ones we liked best and which one had the best drummer, which one had the best singer or guitar player…which one had the best songs—which one we hoped played again soon at the Backyard. The conversation was inevitably open to my usual complaint—that I had a catalogue of songs I’d written and it caused me great frustration that I could not, in my current situation, find adequate band mates who were a) interested in playing original songs and b) could dedicate themselves to a project long enough to gain enough momentum to play at the Backyard; or anywhere at all. Out of the gate—I knew what I wanted…knowing wasn’t the issue; acquiring it seemed to be.
Inevitably I started to complain about Truman High and the school’s lack of a viable music program. I pondered what came first—the lack of a viable music program, or the lack of aspiring musicians in Truman Park. I went into it further, citing loosing access to the piano as a major problem for me and one that created a sense of incompleteness and I pondered aloud whether madness was worse than incompleteness. Of course, I felt I was onto something—some grand realization that would shed some light. I’d sighed, shaking my head, wondering aloud how I would stand it at Truman High for another year.
“Why do you have to stand it there for another year?” Lacey had asked from her place in the shadowy back seat.
“It’s in my district.” I said glancing back at her pretty little nut of a face bouncing slightly with the dips and bumps in the road.
“You could easily transfer to another school—with a way better music program.”
“She speaks the truth.” Wes piped in, nodding in agreeance.
“It’s more than sense.” assured Lacey, “You have to go after your dreams—you have to…otherwise, what’s life?”
I nodded, not wanting to break her stride, “Continue…I need to hear this.” I told her.
“I mean, it sounds like you’re really wasting talent on a school like Truman and it sounds like the school isn’t really behind their students on a creative level.” said Lacey, “Someone like you needs to be at Coronation High.”
“Coronation?” I asked. I knew Coronation High was far out of my district. It was a west-side school for the privileged and beautiful. I was neither, though I did have searing passion. With the exception of Wes, I assumed the guys from Coronation high who once in a while played against the Truman high basketball team, were a group of persnickety, whining, bedwetting princesses; it was the general opinion around Truman Park.
“Well yeah…Coronation is like the hub for garage bands in town. Everyone in that school is in a band and if they’re not in a band they’re trying to get into one.” added April, perhaps feeling outshined by her clever friend, “It’s like a mini Seattle.”
“So many bands come out of Coronation high. You know The Brady’s? The band last week that played all those Smiths covers?” offered Lacey, “They all go to Coronation. It’s like this big scene going on over there where everyone plays in everyone else’s band—really if you’re looking for a band, Coronation is the place.”
“Yeah, they did a great version of The Boy With the Thorn In His Side.” I said, slightly stunned, for I’d not realized that most of the bands who played the Backyard all went to Coronation High.
As the realization formed in my mind like an ever brightening dawn, I knew I needed to hear more about this. I grilled Lacey and April for more info and found that in fact, the city wide annual battle of the bands that was hosted by the Backyard each year had been won by Coronation High bands four years in a row. The prize money was 8 thousand dollars on top of free studio time to record a broadcast level EP with producer Malcolm Kincaid. The previous year the prize had been won by the Flux Capacitors—another Coronation High band. It was hard to believe and I turned back to face the pot holed street leading into Truman park.
Once into central Truman Park, the potholes only got worse…the streets were littered with garbage…abandoned cars sat on stilts, without wheels and in some cases without windows. The streets were darker and the branches of trees were overgrown and hung hauntingly, only a few feet above the passing car tops. In one front yard a couch burned haphazardly in a grassless front yard. Down the street a number of black and white squad cars had congregated, one having pulled up onto the curb in haste. The silent flicker of lights strobed against the interior of Wes’ father’s Audi as we slowly passed a parked ambulance. Yellow police tape…a body lying on the sidewalk under the cover of a white sheet—the real deal. We drove on in silence for a while, with a Cure’s Disintegration cassette playing on the stereo.
After a while Wes speculated about the body, wondering if we’d hear about it on the news.
“It was probably a drive by shooting.” I said, “News crews don’t care about a drive by unless the body count is higher than one person.”
“That’s terrible.” said April from the back seat.
“It’s the reality of sensationalism in our media.” said Lacey.
“I don’t know if I agree with that Lace,” said Wes, “If the news was called out to every drive by in Truman Park, they’d run out of reporters.” he laughed.
The conversation was abruptly interrupted when a brick broke through the calm enclosed silence with a popping smash that shattered the rear windshield of Wes’ father’s Audi. As the brick bounced down onto the back seat, April screamed loud, covering her head with her forearms, while Lacey flinched and squinted out of the now gaping rear window, scanning for a fleeing assailant—tough cookie. Wes hit the brakes so the car screeched to a halt in the middle of the intersection. On instinct he jumped out of the car dramatically and scanned the street corners and cracked sidewalks for the vandal responsible. When he found no one beyond some kids lingering in the shadows out in front of a darkened and boarded up shop front down the street, Wes took closer inventory of the shattered window. As he inspected the damage, I noticed a few figures approaching from across the intersection. They were hooded and had a certain walk…one I’d come to recognize in Truman Park; gangbangers.
“Wes, we better get the fuck out of here.” I told him and didn’t have to tell him twice. Within a few seconds, he was back in the driver’s seat, shifting into drive and peeling away, leaving the intersection in a squeal of rubber, extending one raised middle finger to the approaching gang of kids who in response hurled a beer bottle high and wide, the sound of its shatter drown out by the roar of the car’s accelerating engine.
“What the fuck was that?” April exclaimed; her words flooded with adrenaline.
“Seems like a warning.” concluded Lacey.
“My dad’s not going to be happy about this shit—and what if that rock would have hit one of the girls? What kind of savages would throw a rock at a passing car window?” demanded Wes.
“It wasn’t a rock, it was this.” said April, picking up the brick and holding it between Wes and I so we could see what had broken the window.
We were in Truman Park now and the rules were different—in fact there were no rules…only instinct void of consequence. I imagined they all regretted venturing across the train tracks into Truman Park. Oh well, I thought—they’ll have something to tell their parents at the dinner table tomorrow.
I was resigning to this notion when suddenly an explosion of laughter volleyed from the back seat, shrill in its hilarity and begging to speak suddenly. “Oh my god…I nearly peed.” chuckled April.
“That got my heart going. I thought it was a bird at first.” Lacey chuckled back.
“A bird?!” gasped April, breaking out in a fit of laughter, “How the hell does a bird break out and entire windshield?!”
As the two lost themselves in laughter, Wes glanced at me with a wry grin, “They don’t get out much. Meanwhile what if it started to rain?” Wes chuckled, “Guess you ladies would be tits out of luck.”
“Hey, don’t talk about my tits in front of your girlfriend.” laughed Lacey.
“What tits?!” April exclaimed, falling into another wave of laughter.
“Fuck you…my tits are just fine…a pert handful.” she laughed.
Then Wes was laughing uncontrollably, “A pert handful…that’s rich.”
I sat there, puzzled, unsure of how to gauge this reaction—it was as if they were high from the thrill of being brushed so closely by a random crime. Perhaps they were adrenaline junky thrill seekers or perhaps Wes wasn’t speaking with sarcasm; perhaps none of them got out much. Got out, being the operative words—perhaps it was all relative. I just stared forward, looking blankly into the oncoming street that was riddled with pot-holes and litter as my thoughts returned to the notion of Coronation High and that city-wide battle of the bands competition at the Backyard; for the first time, I saw that it was attainable—and that dear reader, was enough to light a fire under me.
The school year was nearly through. Summer was approaching and with it, the usual angst in Truman Park. Summer meant the streets would be crawling even more so with murder and crime and vandalism. It all made the prospect of transferring to Coronation High even more tantalizing. However, there was my mother’s iron resolve to contend with and on first mention of possibly transferring to Coronation, she’d looked at me curiously, seeing something in me she’d never quite seen before…something curious and perhaps an indication of the early onset of mental illness. Indeed, she’d thought the notion preposterous at first and the more I brought the subject up, the more preposterous she found the idea. My grade point average at Truman was quite high and so there was perhaps some concern that it might decline when considering the new challenges of transferring to a new school. There was also the commute to consider, which meant a succession of bus connections.
The catch was that I needed her signature of approval on the Coronation High application form. There was no way around the fact that she’d have to sign on the dotted line if I was going to transfer to Coronation and it seemed there was no way she was going to approve of me leaving our district every day to attend a school on the other side of town.
Indeed, it seemed that for lack of a better word—I was fucked. I realized I had nothing left to lose and one evening after getting home from the skate park I found my mother sitting in her chair, smoking a cigarette and watching the nightly news with two women from her Tia Chi class. They were sipping chardonnay and gasping at the grizzly details of the double homicide on South Bundy drive as they were revealed by Marcia Clarke in the dismal fluorescently lit courtroom.
“Mom…we need to talk.” I said.
“So talk.” she said looking at me as if I was crazy.
“You seem a bit preoccupied.” I said.
“Talk kiddo.” she said.
She and her two guests sat in anticipation, waiting for the reason I’d interrupted the nightly news. I walked to the fridge and cracked open a can of Cherry soda. I sat down in the only chair available and went into it—how I hated the fact that there was no music…no bands, no art, no creative outlet at Truman High. I broadened my explanation, citing the vibrant music scene at Coronation High…the excess of musicians…the strong music program…the arts and culture. I topped it finally with the prospect of winning the Backyard battle of the bands and the studio time with Malcolm Kincaid. I explained to her that I believed it was my destiny and that I’d never been more sure of anything in my entire life. I also managed to imply that remaining at Truman Park high would never allow me to reach my full potential as an artist.
My mom took a drag of her cigarette and gazed out the window. She looked at me and spoke in a tone I didn’t recognize…there was some finality to her tone, “And you’ll make it there every day on time?”
“Of course.” I said.
“You realize that means waking up probably two hours early every morning.” she warned, “And we know how much you love waking up early.” she added with a sarcastic grin, that drew a laugh from her friends.
“Whatever it takes.” I nodded.
“And you’ll maintain the A’s?” she asked.
“A’s are easy.” I said.
Perhaps she realized that my persistence wouldn’t relent and that if I was begging for her ‘ok’ to attend school—perhaps it was a good idea to grant me the go ahead to follow through on my promises of straight A’s, which I knew I could easily maintain as school for the most part is only the regurgitation of common sense and a fair amount of sharply articulated bullshitting. Eventually my mom signed the application form and I mailed it the next day.
Now, I should add here dear reader, that outside of Wes, April and her friend Lacey and of course my mother; I hadn’t told anyone about my plans to transfer. In fact, after filing the transfer I’d kept it very quiet, especially around Truman Park high. For it was known to me that there were a lot of people at Truman High who wanted to take a shot at me and I didn’t want them suddenly lining up once they realized they might miss their last chance. Somehow though, the word got around; which, I assumed, meant that the information had been leaked somehow by a member of the faculty—most likely Mr. Grant, who hated me with a white-hot ferocity.
Beyond that, nobody ever transferred out of Truman High, especially to a school like Coronation. It simply wasn’t heard of. Teachers, substitutes, maintenance men, cafeteria staff, many had tried to transfer out, but were never granted their wish by the school board. Truman High was a dead end for them and the board knew it and they knew it. A student transferring out on grounds of his own personal whimsy was indeed a rarity and doubtlessly envious to many.
In the weeks following the submission of my application at Coronation High, interrogations started making it back to me through cohorts and enemies alike…none of which could understand my rationale of wanting to attend school somewhere else. I believe overall, the douchebags had the audacity to take it personally; insulted at the notion that I didn’t wish to suffer through another semester with them.
This didn’t come as a surprise to me. After all, it seemed a natural reaction for them to lack understanding. For them Truman Park High was as good as it was going to get and they were satisfied with that…they made the best of a bleak situation.
What did surprise me to a disconcerting degree however, was the reaction of principal Nelson, who’d always been a cruel and perpetually no fun figurehead. One afternoon during my spare class, he approached me in a sunlit hallway and told me to follow him back to his office, where I sat across from him in a hard wooden chair; the hot seat. He closed the door and took off his blazer revealing dark wet rings of perspiration in the underarms of his pinstriped shirt. He walked over to the small window and peered out of it for a few moments, as if looking for someone. He then abruptly turned and peered at me for a few moments, biting on the end of his pencil before leaning forward and speaking thoughtfully.
“You know, Jack . I think you’ve got the wrong idea of us here at Truman High. I think you have the wrong idea about a lot of things. You can run from your school, your friends, your neighborhood. But you can’t run from yourself. Whatever issues you have with us here at Truman High are certainly a projection of issues you have with yourself. You following me?” he asked, his red, hypertensive face, peering back at me with a swollen fake smile that exposed his yellow teeth.
“I’m certain you wouldn’t understand.” I assured.
“Why wouldn’t I? I spend every day here. 60 hours a week sometimes.” said Nelson.
“You don’t live here.”
“What’s your point Holden?” he demanded.
“You have kids?” I asked.
“As a matter of fact I have two wonderful daughters just about your age.” he admitted.
“Yeah? So why don’t they go here? In fact why don’t ya’ll move here and be our neighbors if you love Truman Park so much?” I asked, pulling the rug from beneath his patience.
Nelson was red suddenly, storming around from behind his desk, kicking a metal wastebasket over and sending the contents flying across the office floor. He stepped up to me and loomed above me with his face very close. His breath was rancid with hatred, black coffee and stale tuna fish…his face turned a deeper shade of red and his eyes were glassy and dead beyond the anger blazing within him. He grabbed the neck-line of my sweater so it bunched in his fist and he pulled me forward to meet his glare.
“You don’t mention my kids again how about?!” he roared, “You little fucker…how dare you! How dare you sit in my office and pass judgment on the way I raise my family—when I’m trying to talk some sense into you. You think you’re going to have a better life over at Coronation? Fat chance—you’ll always be a fuck up Holden…the fuck ups are fuck ups coming out of the gate. Coronation doesn’t realize what a little piece of dog-shit they’re getting! But I happen to know principal Jeffries over at Coronation High and I’m going to place an informative phone call to him today…and I’m going to tell him all about you…” he grinned widely now, loosening his grip on my sweater as the hatred and rage caused his eyes to gleam with diabolical madness.
“Well, principal Nelson,” I said, to remind him of who and where he was, “Do what you gotta.” I said getting up out of the chair so we were eye to eye, “And by the way, you ever touch me again—and you’ll be leaving this fucking school on a stretcher.” He glared back at me and the icy calm in my eyes cooled his inferno; he backed away giving me a once over.
“Get the fuck out of my sight.” he said with a disgusted twist on his lips.
I said nothing and left. I told nobody afterward. I think I felt the situation was valuable on some level and so better left unsaid; as if in some sick sense it was a blessing—a declaration of hatred from one of my so-called educators; the smoking gun. I’d hoped it would be the last instance of backlash before the school year ended. However, somehow I knew Truman Park wasn’t going to let me go that easily.
Indeed, there were a few more instances of shitheadery and the same old line of discouragement; a general assurance from classmates that I would be kicked out of Coronation in under a month and that I’d be back at Truman High by the end of fall. There were some suggestions that I should keep my locker at Truman assigned. There were those things that rolled off of me easily. However, aside from the many well wishers, there were a few beefs that were still pending and I walked head long into one the following weekend. As I suspected—there were those who wanted to take a shot at me before they missed their last chance to do so.
It was a beautiful day in The Park. High twenties…not a cloud in the sky…there was a baseball game at the stadium, which was located in our district and so the streets were crawling with home town fans, vagrants, ticket scalpers and pretty girls in short skirts. As the game roared on a few blocks away, Beatty, Huntington and I sat poolside at Angus Pool; an outdoor pool in Angus Park that we hung around at each summer, drinking booze, smoking it up and doing splashy dives. It was a dollar to get in and Beatty and Huntington smuggled in a flask of vodka. We were stretched out on the lawn with Jenny Farnsworth, Rita Cook and Kate Wallace, who were shooting the shit and drinking spiked cherry slush. Indeed, Beatty was as usual causing a spectacle by whistling at girls walking by in bikinis.
“That’s really juvenile.” said Rita.
“Duh, I’m a juvenile.” said Beatty.
“So it doesn’t mean you have to act like a jerk—you’re going to be in the twelfth grade next semester.” insisted Rita.
“Maybe you’re just jealous.” said Beatty, noticing Selena Mills wagging by. Blowing an ear deafening whistle her way, Beatty hollered over some heads, “Looking good Selena!” to which Selena only grinned and kept wagging on by.
“It’s also very rude to whistle at other girls when you’re out with me.” said Rita, “You dumb fuck.”
“Yeah, well, wear a bikini next time instead of those granny trunks.” scoffed Beatty, conjuring a gasp of offense from Rita’s cohorts and a chuckle from Huntington.
“Granny trunks.” Huntington dumbly repeated.
“Don’t even get on his train you son of a bitch or you’ll be hugging your pillow for the rest of the summer.” sneered Kate, squinting across the expanse at Selena Mills who was climbing the diving board very sensually.
“Look at that silly bitch—she’s climbing that ladder like it’s beauty pageant.” said Kate, drawing a laugh from her friends.
“She could win one.” said Beatty.
“Trust me, you ain’t got nothing she’s looking for…god you’re a dope.” said Rita dismissively.
“I’m not a dope.” said Beatty, offended somehow.
“Yes you are.” assured Rita, “And half the time I’m worried I’m going to get a visit from the police telling me you’ve been killed.”
“Trust me…heaven ain’t going to take me and I’m too bad ass for hell…guess that means I’m going to live forever.” laughed Beatty.
“Exactly my point—only a dope would say something like that.” said Rita, shaking her head.
“Hey Jack…what you think—am I a dope or what?” he said, directing his question at me.
“Yeah…you’re a total dumbass.” I laughed.
“No seriously man.” he said, dragging deep on his cigarette. I couldn’t understand why my opinion on the subject meant anything at all to Beatty.
“For real—I think you’re very reckless and that’s a dangerous thing in Truman Park.” I told him.
“Reckless how?” he asked.
“If I have to point out how—then it’s worse than I thought.” I laughed.
As Rita explained this to Beatty, I looked around the pool. The water was sparkling and the smell of chlorine and coconut suntan lotion wafted in the air. The vodka had left a nice burn in my chest and I thought about Coronation High. I thought about what it was going to be like to recruit some band mates, to rehearse, to put together the set and to eventually play the Backyard. I’d been sent a letter to inform me that Coronation High had received my transfer request and was processing it. They sent me a glossy brochure which detailed the school’s brightest points. It had all come in a manila envelope baring official Coronation High School letter head and an anxiousness was setting in—the feeling one got before attempting a board slide down a handrail, only the feeling was cut with more elation.
“What’s up with you Jack ?” asked Jenny Farnsworth, my apparent date on this afternoon, “You’ve been acting lost all day. Are you fucking high or something?”
“I’m just enjoying the great weather Jen.” I said, leaning back against the trunk of a tree with my hands behind my head, grinning back at her puzzled expression.
I wasn’t sure if Jenny believed me; she was the suspicious sort and as she studied my expression for an inkling, I noticed over her shoulder, Jensen Henley approaching our group. He was clad in Bermuda shorts and his usual heavy metal half shirt…his mullet as always immaculately feathered and his strut was comical in its deliberateness. He was flanked by a couple of his goons—rejects from metal shop class who believed Henley’s hype…so much so Henley had begun to believe it too. So there was a certain blind arrogance among his crew; which only accentuated their satirical presence.
“Well, well…if it isn’t the shittiest goalie in Truman Park.” said Jensen, stepping up and lighting a cigarette.
“Funny how you haven’t scored on me yet asshole.” I said.
“Hey Kate.” Henley nodded, “If you and your girlfriends want to hang out with some real men—let me know.”
“You mean you can introduce us to some? Because all I see is shwag.” Kate retorted without missing a beat; Kate hated Henley perhaps more than any of us did and she had her reasons.
“Funny…” winced Henley, turning his attention back to me, “We still have unfinished business shit head.”
“Henley,” I said, sitting up and looking him square, “do you really think there’s unfinished business between us? The only one perpetuating anything is you. Do you really think you’re on my radar when you’re not in my face with your half-shirt and your rotting buck teeth? Do you really fucking think you matter at all to me?” I inquired before putting a cigarette in my mouth and lighting it.
Henley stood there…not knowing what to say. I knew he was a moron but I had no idea he was that easy to stymie. Had I known that before, I’d have employed the same tactical aversion during our previous run-ins and perhaps saved myself the effort of mocking him.
“Why don’t you take your sidekicks and go get yourselves some fucking milk and cookies?” grinned Beatty—his crazy eyes ready for anything. Even Henley knew better than to fuck with Beatty.
“I’ll be seeing you fuck-o.” said Henley, pointing a finger of conviction my way, to which I offered a two finger salute.
I spent perhaps another hour at the pool, smoking cigarettes, sipping on vodka and bobbing around in the shallow end with the old ladies and tots. I did the back stroke and watched a plane high above move through the deep blue abyss, nearly motionlessly; leaving behind it an expanding jet trail. I was half drunk and it felt like my farewell party was coming to a close. There were no more tests…no more lessons…no more essays; no more vodka. The last week of school was rather anticlimactic and like everything else, it would pass and open up a new chapter—the great unknown. I thought about time and its relentless and perfectly steady pace; we are pressed between infinity—endless time behind us as well as ahead of us…yet we don’t implode under the pressure, we carry on, oblivious to the fact that we gaze upon the same moon Caesar did, Moses did…the same moon Neil Armstrong had walked upon…the same moon that hung there in the lonely sky during the ice age…the bronze age…dark age. Though it was mid-afternoon, the moon hung there in the endless blue like a faint watermark—completely oblivious. Who was I but another ant? Indeed, it was time to go and go I did, leaving my cohorts sitting on the lawn with their constant banter and careless vices.
I got changed and didn’t bother to rinse the chlorine from my hair. I was tired, bogged down by cheap vodka and feeling introspective enough to make sense of something if I really tried hard enough. What I needed was an epic bike ride to some far off point in the city where I’d never been—some change of perspective to think things through, to comprehend what it was we all thought we were doing here?
I decided it would be a novel plan to spend the evening in the gothic old graveyard in north east Truman Park, listening to the Twin Peaks soundtrack on my Walkman and writing lyrics for my new compositions—immersed in darkness and low creeping mist that wafted over from the dank bog. I felt it would be a good idea to visit the WWII monument in its center, for a bit of perspective and to venerate our grandfathers who’d changed the course of history at Normandy all those years ago—indeed, though the future was bright…I felt immersed in a certain darkness that evening.
Outside the pool, I dumped some change into the vending machine and selected a bottle of pop. I used the built in opener to crack the cap and relished the ice cold bite of the carbonation as I sipped casually. I was heading across the parking lot toward the communal bike racks where my mountain bike awaited when I heard a voice calling to me from behind. When I turned to see who it was, I wasn’t quite surprised to find Henley with his two minions in tow. He had what appeared to be a sock wrapped around the knuckles of his right hand and he’d removed his heavy metal half shirt. He had a few DIY tattoos and what appeared to be cigarette-burn shaped scars on his chest and arms.
“Said I’d be seeing you around fuck-o.” said Henley.
“This looks fair.” I said.
“You know something Holden—you’ve had this coming all year.” said Henley.
“Why are you so obsessed with me man? It’s fucking creepy.” I said, putting the bottle to my mouth and tipping it back so I could swill down the rest of the pop.
“Obsessed with kicking your ass.” scoffed Henley, blubbering out a pathetic forced chuckle.
I backed away as they approached. I peered toward the eastern horizon that was turning a bludgeoned orange from the dying sunset and thought about my options.
“You guys are really going to do this?” I asked.
“Seems like a good day for it.” nodded Henley.
“I really don’t want to get emotionally involved in this conversation.” I said.
“My fist is about to get emotionally involved with your face asshole.” Spat Henley, squaring off.
“Fine.” I said, smashing the bottle against the blue bar of the metal bicycle rack. It didn’t break on first attempt—a simple twist of comedy. I swung it again, this time breaking the bottle so it was all sharp jagged edges. The green glass of the bottle glimmered nicely in the bludgeoned orange rays of sunset, bursting through a cumulonimbus moving across the horizon. I focused intensely on the jagged edges…then I focused on Henley.
“What, you gonna cut us all?” Henley asked; his voice higher pitched now–he’d stopped approaching, as did his minions. They weren’t quite sure how far I’d go and perhaps I wasn’t either. The broken bottle was a deterrent as far as I was concerned…an unloaded pistol…an insult hurled without emotion behind it. It was true, I had no desire to carve Henley up—but at that moment, it seemed it was either him or me and it was three against one.
“Nobody has to get cut here…you can just walk away.” I said, closing one eye for aim and making a gouging movement with the jagged green glass.
“I ain’t afraid of getting cut.” he assured.
“Yeah, I know…you’re an inbred.” I said, still sizing up a nice cut of Henley’s face.
“What the fuck did you call me?” Henley demanded.
In the distance, over Henley’s left shoulder I made out Beatty and Huntington jogging across the expanse of parking lot. They weren’t high-tailing it, rather they jogged casually. Meanwhile—I was about to get a triple decker shit kicking; great friends—of whose though, I was at a loss. Following my line of sight, Henley peered over his shoulder and back at me with a small grin.
“The cavalry.” he said, shaking his head.
When Beatty and Huntington finally caught up with our unfolding suspense; they were slightly winded and appeared to be confused. Suddenly they were all looking at me funny—the entire group as well as a few passersby.
“What’s up?” asked Beatty.
“Your boy is losing it man.” Henley told him.
“Kate saw it from the pool.” Huntington told me.
“Yeah.” Beatty tisked, pointing a finger at Henley, “I knew you were a douche bag Henley, but I didn’t think you were a douche bag who would gang up on a motherfucker.”
“Gang up? He’s the one looking to carve us up!” Henley exclaimed.
“Three against one.” Huntington shrugged.
I tossed the broken bottle over my shoulder so it smashed against the asphalt behind me and stepped up to Henley. Eye to eye I realized he was shorter than I and there was something in his eyes I hadn’t quite seen before…it looked like fear but I couldn’t be sure.
“How about we end this shit right now?” I said.
There was a long moment of silence as Henley stared back at me. I could sense the wheels moving in his brain; turning it over, unsure of how to proceed. He then seemed to snap out of his circular contemplation and began looking me up and down with disdain.
“Nice shirt loser…Anarchy in the UK? We’re not in England you fucking dick.” spat Henley, getting it all out—sharing his feelings as if we were in group therapy.
“Sorry, I guess I lack your array of heavy metal half-shirts.” I laughed.
“Know what—get the fuck out of my face.” said Henley, “And take your fellow freaks with you.”
“Not until this shit is settled.” I said.
“Yeah settled.” I said, “This shit has to end man.”
“We’ll settle it next time.” Henley said, backing away now, pulling his shirt back on. Indeed, it was a snug fitting black shirt with long white sleeves. It was a Poison t-shirt upon the front of which, the band was framed in four head-shots, primped and hair sprayed, posing with feminine allure. I spat a small sad chuckle, shaking my head, imagining Henley sitting on his veranda, dueling on the banjo with another of his albino clan, his Poison t-shirt and crimped mullet flowing in the breeze. The hilarity struck me.
“There won’t be a next time jerk-off.” I told him with a chuckle.
“Oh, right…you still actually think that you’re transferring to the west side.” said Henley with a strange grin.
“The fuck you know about it?” I said.
“Me? Oh, just what everyone else knows…that principal Nelson talked to the principal over at Coronation and told him what a fuck-up you are…now you’re never going to get in.” Henley chuckled.
I peered at Beatty and Huntington who only stared back at me blankly.
“Is this true?” I asked them.
“I heard something like that but, you can’t believe everything you hear…you can’t even believe most of what you hear.” shrugged Huntington.
“It’s true.” assured Henley. “You ain’t going nowhere.”
“Drink some goat milk.” I told him and he didn’t offer a quick reply as was his wont. He merely offered me a sour expression and jerked his head; the signal for his minions to fall into tow, which they did, looking confused as they walked away slowly, glancing back at Beatty, Huntington and me.
So, dear reader, you could say that I was all for not having one last confrontation with Henley. I didn’t have to deal with Henley’s bullshit that day and perhaps I had my broken bottle of pop to thank. Or perhaps it was Beatty and Huntington I should have thanked. Something told me however that Henley hadn’t really wanted to fight…what he’d wanted more than anything was to get in my head. He’d never be able to penetrate my fortified resolve…however, since Nelson had threatened me, I realized that it was entirely possible that he did make that phone call to principal Jeffries over at Coronation High. It was exactly the type of petty douchery Nelson was prone to.
Because transferring to Coronation meant so much to me, I began to ponder the situation in a series of worst case scenarios…each time recalling the ominous oath Nelson had made in his office that ill-fated afternoon; the oath that he would call principal Jeffries and shit-talk your diligent narrator.
It added up. After all, it was highly possible that Nelson knew principal Jefferies and there was a code between adults and perhaps an even stronger code between school board employees. It became less and less inconceivable that Nelson had acted in bad faith…for he excelled at acting in bad faith…and as my concerns elevated, so did the likelihood that I’d be spending another year at Truman Park High. It seemed everyday the disappointment became worse when I would find no acceptance letter from Coronation High in the mail. Their initial letter had stated that an official acceptance letter would be forwarded, and when none came, the panic systematically built, until I was awoken one night from a sweat soaked nightmare—that I’d returned to Truman Park High and sentenced to a full year of detention in principal Nelson’s office for attempting to transfer out. The dream had been so vivid that I could make out the scent of the cleaner they used on the floors at Truman High…I could make out the swirling shapes in Nelson’s mahogany desk as the caged clock in the hallway ticked by with Ingmar Bergman-esque melodrama…counting the hours out in seconds.
The next morning I woke up underslept, overwrought and I subsequently surrendered easily to the notion that I needed to know either way what my fate would be in the fall. The school year had ended the previous Friday but I was certain administration would still be on the job at Coronation. It was a Monday and I rode the bus to the west side with some smoke in my brain and some Replacements on my Walkman. Through the smudged graffiti window I watched the metamorphosis.
Eventually the hard and broken streets and dilapidated housing projects turned to sprawling lawns and rustic Victorian houses, complete with stained glass wind chimes and model windmills in the front yards…the hedges were perfectly trimmed and the gutters were impeccably clean.
As the bus drew closer to Coronation High, the houses got larger, the lawns got wider and somehow greener, the foliage became more pristine…vines climbed trellises, rock fountains and circular driveways became more prevalent. Flags in front yards billowed in the ocean breeze and fancy cars dotted the streets and driveways with sparkling chrome lines. We were officially in Emerald Heights—home of Coronation High…which to me looked like a movie set version of quintessential suburbia.
There was a bus stop directly out in front of the school and I stepped out onto the sidewalk and looked up at Coronation High. It was just a school…perhaps not even as large as Truman High and definitely not as old. It was hard to imagine students crawling the grounds and hallways…for it was silent and stoic, back-dropped by the morning blue of the sky which was floating with several cumulonimbus clouds that looked like fluffy tufts of cotton; evidently I’d smoked too much before getting on the bus. I’d come too far to back out however…and there was the mental anguish to think of…certainly I had to know…and so I walked on, trudging up the stone steps toward the large glass entrance doors which I found with a pull, were still open for business.
Mainly the halls were completely barren, except for a few students who were removing banners from the hallway walls. Following the signs that labeled the way to the office, I found it on the second floor…pushing through the heavy wooden door, I emerged on the other side under a wash of florescent lights that brilliantly illuminated the surfaces.
“Can I help you?” asked the secretary whose spectacles hung low on the bridge of her nose as she looked up at me from some papers she was reading.
“Yes, is principal Jeffries in?” I asked.
“He certainly is…may I ask what it’s about?” asked the secretary, now sitting up straight and pushing her spectacles back up with her middle finger…a curious gesture—a single middle finger pushing up her wire spectacles as if she were flipping me an inadvertent bird.
“It’s sort of a sensitive matter.” I admitted.
“We’re all sensitive here.” she smiled, “I don’t recognize you…are you a student here?” she asked.
“I applied to be.” I said.
“You’re a new transfer?”
“Not sure…I haven’t received an official acceptance letter.” I said.
“Let me have a look…” said the secretary rising from her chair and striding over to a large filing cabinet in the far corner of the office. She rolled out a drawer and asked for my last name as she fingered her way through the various folders.
“I don’t see it here.” she confessed, turning back to me with an apologetic smile.
“So does that mean I’m not enrolled?” I asked.
“Have you filled out the transfer paperwork?” she asked.
“Well…then there should be at least some record of it here.” said the secretary, wagging her way back to her desk upon which sat a large phone with many colored buttons. She pressed one and spoke into the receiver in a low confiding tone after which she smiled back up at me and gestured with a palm toward a frosted glass door in the opposite corner of the office labeled in vintage font only the word ‘Principal’.
“Go right in…the principal will see you now.” said the secretary with a chipper giggle. I wondered if she was high.
Inside the office Jeffries sat behind his large desk scanning through the contents of a folder. He acknowledged me absently as he scanned some fine print at the bottom of one page. I took a seat in one of two comfortable looking loungers on the opposite side of his desk and waited for him to finish reading. When he did, Jeffries closed the folder and looked up at me.
“I’m Mr. Jeffries.” he said, not bothering to extend his hand for a shake.
“I’m Jack Holden…I applied for enrollment, but haven’t yet received an official acceptance letter.” I informed.
“Yet strangely we don’t have your records on file.” he smiled awkwardly.
“Strangely.” I nodded.
“It’s not so strange actually…or much of a mystery I’m afraid. What’s happened is Gary hasn’t sent over your records.” said Jeffries leaning back now in his chair resting his elbows on the arm rests and touching the tips of his fingers together.
“Irving?” I asked.
“I believe you know him as principal Nelson.”
“He hasn’t sent my records yet?” I asked.
“Not as of yet.” he said, looking back at me with some intensity.
“But isn’t he supposed to?” I asked.
“Well yes, if your application for enrollment is approved.”
“That’s what I’m here to find out—whether it’s been approved or not.” I specified.
“Well, aside from my lengthy conversation with principal Nelson, I’m not sure Coronation High is the best place for you. It’s quite a commute from Truman Park.” said Jeffries.
“I’m good with the commute.” I said.
“There’s also the fact that we’re nearly at capacity attendance here. I’m not sure we’d have room for another student and if we did it would likely be a student from here in Emerald Heights.” he said.
“I get it.” I said with a nod.
“I hope this makes sense to you.”
“Yeah, fully. You don’t want a Truman Park kid at this school. That’s crystal clear.” I said.
“It’s not that.”
“Then it’s what Nelson told you—I’m sure it was juicy…but let me ask you this Mr. Jeffries…do you realize what sort of man Nelson is? Maybe you think you know him…but you don’t know him like I do.” I assured.
“This has nothing to do with my conversation with principal Nelson…I can attest to that.” he said, flashing a grin of absurdity.
“Sure…” I said, rising from my chair. Jeffries rose as well and escorted me out into the reception area.
“We’re just at enrollment capacity I’m afraid.” he shrugged apologetically.
I glanced from him to the women organizing paperwork behind their desks.
“You know something—I thought Coronation High would be able to offer me an academic challenge. But—I guess we’ll never know, because you don’t want a kid from Truman Park at your school.”
“It’s not that.” Jeffries smiled uneasily, glancing at his secretaries who were quiet and severe looking suddenly—as if Jeffries and I were having a major confrontation; clearly they’d never witnessed a major confrontation.
“You should be ashamed of yourself.” I said. Fearing I’d say something I’d regret, I stormed out of the office and down the hallway, where the girls were still removing banners from the walls…their expressions were also severe.
“Have a nice day.” said one of the girls.
When I got back to Truman Park I felt awful…the sky had clouded over and for the first time, I wondered if I’d ever form a band. Perhaps it wasn’t in the cards. Perhaps I was shooting for the stars in asking the universe to grant me a simple wish. I thought of the kids at Coronation High and how ironic it was that they probably saw absolutely no value or opportunity in being enrolled. I then thought about Truman High and the grimness of returning in the fall…most disconcerting was the notion that I might never start a band…that I may never get an opportunity to play my songs in a live setting—that I might be forever doomed to play guitar in the confines of my room…serenading shadows on the walls.
I called Wes and told him what had transpired in Jeffries office.
“What a clown,” he said, “that guy has only been principal at Coronation for one year…and he’s been a disaster. He insulted one student for being overweight and he expelled another because she missed a bunch of classes when her dad got sick. Guy’s a fucking tool.”
“Well, he just fucked me over…but really it was Nelson who fucked me over.” I said.
“Principal at Truman.”
“We ought to lynch that bastard.” suggested Wes.
“He actually went through with it—he actually called Jeffries up and shit talked me.” I said, the astonishment setting in. I could hear Wes reiterating the development to April, who then made a suggestion.
“April’s right, there’s got to be a law against that. You should write a letter to the school board—see if this guy has the right to reject your application based on what another principal said.” said Wes.
“It’s going to be too hard to prove. Today…I got fucked by over Nelson…really it’s Nelson.” I said.
“He’s got to pay.” said Wes.
“I guess he pays every day when he looks in the fucking mirror.” I chuckled.
Indeed I was slightly crushed and the feeling was profound…and I wondered what was worse; coming so close to transferring, or transferring and then being subsequently expelled from Coronation High only to return to Truman after a number of months living the Coronation dream. Perhaps it was better this way. After two weeks sitting around at Angus Pool with Beatty and Huntingon, sipping vodka and smoking it up, things started to take on the hazy shade of complacency. The vivid dreamscape that had almost opened up for me now seemed like exactly that…a fleeting image seen during REM sleep.
We’d stayed late at the pool one Friday evening. Beatty had been working on Stacey Keller; a tough nut to crack and I’d been drunk diving off the second tower. I had chlorine in my eyes and my nose and my ears and I just didn’t give a fuck…I cannonballed deep and made it nearly to the pool floor, where I stayed for a while…wondering how long I could hold my breath and thinking of how easy it would be to drown myself. Certainly the ancient lifeguard would never make it to me in time. I floated there peacefully for a few more moments before swimming to the surface. It was time to go. As the three of us were walking down Ronstadt street having a few of the good old puffs, a sleek black car pulled up beside us. I didn’t recognize the people in the car but I saw they were older…perhaps men in their twenties. Before I could get a more detailed look however, the car was peeling away from the curb. I realized they were pursuing Beatty who’d broken into a sudden sprint down a darkened alleyway.
Huntington and I glanced at each other before sprinting after the tail lights of the black car that made it to the end of the block before screeching it’s brakes when Beatty’s dark form scaled a tall fence. The car reversed and stopped…a door opened and a figure got out and scaled the same fence Beatty had. Huntington and I kept running, though a stitch was forming in my side.
The car peeled away and hung a hard right, leaving Huntington and I in the darkened alley. We heard the tires of the car squealing down the street on the opposite side of the darkened row of houses. Finding a passage between two of the houses, Huntington and I bolted toward the front street…toward the sound of the squealing tires that seemed to be always moving away from us. By the time we emerged in the darkened front yard of a seemingly vacant house, the car had circled the corner and we could hear it squealing it’s tires a block over. As we jumped a small fence, Huntington’s pant leg caught the point of one of the sharp pickets and he toppled face first into the lawn. The bottom roll of his pant leg had somehow caught and been skewered by the picket and like a snared animal, he squirmed on the lawn in the darkness trying to free himself. I backtracked and yanked hard on his jeans, tearing them free of the picket. It was understood and as he rose to his feet we heard three loud cracks…echoing out from the next block. Directly after, a loud squeal of the car tires and the roar of a v6 engine. Huntington and I stood there looking at each other under the dim glow cast by the archaic street lamp above listening to the roaring engine that dissipated eventually until it faded into the distance.
“Were those backfires?” asked Huntington.
“Didn’t sound like backfires.” I said as we moved cautiously through a dark passage way between to tenement buildings.
When we reached the street we found that a small crowd had gathered near the end of the street. Perhaps a gang we wanted to avoid. Through the wind that was picking up, we heard a statement carried on a rustle of leaves, “Call 911 fast.”
As Huntington and I drew closer, moving cautiously on the sidewalk, we noticed adults in the crowd; Truman Park parents congregated near the metal mailboxes discussing something. When we were upon them, the subject of their discussion became clear; lying in a large oil stain beside the curb was Beatty. He didn’t move though his eyes were open. He wasn’t breathing and I noticed his black shirt was glistening wet…and it occurred to me only then that the oil stain wasn’t oil, rather it was blood and I could see the fingers of the puddle creeping toward the curb with gravity.
There was some discussion of what to do…did anyone know CPR? Did anyone have any medical training? Had anyone ever been shot or dealt with a gunshot wound? A resounding no prevailed and we all stood there watching Beatty’s corpse, hoping that he’d reanimate, blinking his eyes, sit up and crack another terrible joke with his signature psychotic grin. However, the body stayed perfectly still staring off lifelessly at a fixed point in the distance; he was gone.
Eventually responders from the civilization outside of Truman park arrived. Ambulance first, then police, then a fire truck that pulled up momentarily before heading back to the station—no fire, just another call for the murder squad probably thought the firefighters.
The paramedics checked Beatty for vitals before realizing resuscitation would be a futile effort. They packed up their boxes and left, pulling away from the scene quietly, with their lights still flickering along with the additional squad cars that had arrived; it was now a police matter.
They were preoccupied with one of the parents…a mother who’d not only seen the assailants at close range and the shooting itself—she’d also remembered the license plate of the car they’d been driving and she kept repeating it, as if it were a mantra—even after the cop had written it down in his pad.
That night I walked home carefully, looking over my shoulder with each passing car, ready to sprint off into the darkness if the car re-emerged…for at that point, the who and the why were question marks. There was of course an assumption that it was a targeted shooting…after all Beatty was known not just to police. However, the specifics were unknown.
It seemed our entire neighborhood was on edge after the incident. Though it certainly wasn’t the first incident of it’s kind in Truman Park, the shooting sparked controversy, especially once the details emerged that the shooter had been the older brother of a kid Beatty had fought and hospitalized the previous month. The older brother was a gang member for whom there were a number of arrest warrants; a felon who had remained at large. There was talk among parents of vigilante justice and a house to house search for the kid.
Later that week the family held a funeral for Beatty at Golden Meadows Funeral home in Truman Park. I didn’t go. As far as I was concerned, the last thing I needed to see was a waxy replica of Beatty’s form lying stone-still in a padded casket. There was however the fact that I didn’t wish my last memory of Beatty to be the mental snapshot I’d inevitably taken of him lying on his back with his eyes open, staring off at a fix point in the distance as his blood drained away into a dirty sewer grating. Instead I rode my bike to the graveyard where he was scheduled to be buried. After inquiring where Beatty was going to be buried I found the open grave and waited nearby, smoking a cigarette and sipping on a cold beer. Eventually, after I’d finished three cans, the procession arrived and everyone got out of their cars. Mostly dressed formally or in black, the funeral attendees gathered around the grave for the traditional burial ceremony. I wondered about Beatty and what he’d have thought of the ceremony. Perhaps he’d have teared up seeing his mother in such a broken state or the surprising number of people who’d shown up for such an asshole’s funeral. However, I had a suspicion that Beatty would have shook his head, claimed the entire thing was a drag and blown off a few cherry bombs; Beatty after all lived by an utterly dangerous and foolish code of douchery and being suddenly dead didn’t exemplify the facts.
Tales From Truman Park Episode 2
The following week I was invited to meet Wes and April at a restaurant in Truman Park. They for some reason enjoyed hanging around in Truman Park and they particularly liked eating at greasy restaurants and had chosen Triple Happiness Bowl…a place that had been closed down earlier in the year because of an e-coli outbreak. As I reiterated the night we’d lost Beatty to the streets of Truman Park, April listened with a knot of concern between her perfectly plucked brows while Wes perused the menu.
Seemingly oblivious to the tragic account, Wes interjected, “Listen, forget about all of that gloom…today I have some extra great news for you pal.” he said, “Remember principal Jeffries?”
“How could I forget that cunt?” I shrugged.
“Well. I wanted to tell you this in person…as soon as I heard about it, I told April that we had to tell you about this in person.” said Wes as April nodded enthusiastically.
“What’s that?” I said.
“You’re not going to believe this, but your friend and mine, principal Jeffries has been issued his walking papers at Coronation High.” Wes said with a wide grin.
“Say what?” I asked.
“He’s been fired…he’s no longer the principal there…in fact, given the circumstances—I’m guessing he’s going to be standing on the unemployment line for some time to come.” said Wes.
I looked at April who nodded enthusiastically.
“Why?” I asked.
“My father plays golf with Mr. Barlow, whose wife is the physics teacher at Coronation—and the word is that Jeffries was having an affair with one of the other teachers…they’re keeping it pretty hush-hush, but they think it’s the Physics teacher Mrs. Wallace. They’re both married and so it’s pretty scandalous…and it doesn’t help that Wallace’s husband is a big shot with the school board.”
“Come on Wes.” I grinned, “I’m not buying any of this.”
“Dude…I shit you not.” said Wes.
“He’s not kidding. Jeffries is gone from Coronation High.” said April, her tone becoming suddenly ominous.
“I can’t believe it.” I said, the realization of what it might mean forming in my head, “but even so—the asshole rejected my application—it’s a done deal wouldn’t you say?”
“Do you really think there’s any official record of that?” said Wes, “He just didn’t file it. I say you give them another call and inquire—say you’re still waiting for the official acceptance letter…the new principal doesn’t know any different. What have you got to lose.”
“Not much.” I said.
The following day I’d planned to wake up early and ride the bus down to Coronation high and pay them an in-person visit. However, it seemed a long way to go to get an answer I felt I already knew. You see dear reader, it was my impression that Jeffries wasn’t the issue—the issue was Emerald Heights itself…I believed there was an unofficial campaign underway among parents and faculty alike to protect the neighborhood against riff-raff from infiltrating their Utopian bliss. Perhaps the first line of defense was high school faculties. I believed, dear reader, that no matter who the principal was at Coronation—there was no way the school was going to accept a kid from Truman Park—especially one who’d come with a doubtlessly searing condemnation from another principal.
Instead of visiting Coronation in person, I dialed their office and sat on hold for perhaps five minutes before the new principal Mrs. Gavin, took the call.
“Principal Gavin.” she answered suddenly, interrupting the elevator music.
“Hi,” I said, “I’m calling about an application for enrollment I submitted. I haven’t yet received an official acceptance letter yet though…being that the school year is just around the corner, I figured I’d double check.”
“Oh…that’s curious. What’s your name?”
“Hmmm…I was just browsing our new applications earlier this week and that name doesn’t ring a bell.” she said, “Did you speak with the previous principal?”
“I heard he’d been fired for a grand display of douchery…so I haven’t talked to anyone yet.” I said.
“Where are you transferring in from?”
“Truman Park High.” I said.
“Truman…” she said rolling the name off of her tongue curiously as if she’d never heard it before, “You’ll have to forgive me—I’ve recently moved here from Oregon. Truman High is in the Valley?” she asked.
“It’s downtown.” I said.
“I see. If you don’t mind my asking; why do you want to attend a school so far from your district?” asked Gavin.
“Well Mrs. Gavin…there are metal detectors at Truman High for a reason. Plus there are basically no arts programs at Truman High. Coronation has great arts programs.”
“It’s true, Coronation has some of the best arts programs in the city.” said Gavin, sighing deeply and pausing for a long moment, “Well Jack, I appreciate your sincerity. However, I don’t recall seeing your name in the registry. I will double check though.” said Gavin.
“What if it’s not there?” I asked.
“Well then, I would ask that you resubmit your application pronto. If you do it within the next few days I can’t see why we couldn’t make room for you here. I will have one of the ladies check for it and contact you either way.”
“Sorry for the bother.” I said.
“Listen, I’m new here too…and so organizing my predecessor’s scatter brained system has been challenging—we’re on the same page Jack. Expect a call later this afternoon.” she said.
So it was true…I thought once I hung up; Jeffries had buried my application—on advice from Nelson. Now Jeffries had been fired. What a stroke of luck…one which seemed too precisely cut to be just sheer luck. Perhaps if I was a student of metaphysical philosophy I might have believed that the universe, in it’s infinite, indifferent expanse, had actually intervened. Certainly something about the entire chain of events seemed curious. I wasn’t sure if I should be relieved or suspicious…for at least a second the dilemma lingered, until I realized the gravity…the pivotal significance. For once it had lined up that I’d gotten what I wanted as well as what I needed; a rarity in life.
Sure enough, later that afternoon I did receive a call from a secretary at Coronation verifying that indeed, my application was nowhere to be found. As the secretary spoke, explaining the information I needed to re-submit, I imagined Jeffries sitting behind his boxy desk, holding the flame of a zippo lighter to one corner of my application before dropping it into his wastebasket and watching it burn…cackling with demonic glee as the flames rose toward the ceiling.
“…so, if you can deliver that to us as soon as possible we can process your new application.” said the secretary.
“I will indeed.” I said.
So, in the end, it turned out that transferring to Coronation high wasn’t the summer’s largest challenge after all…transferring had been made suddenly possible by a twist of remarkable fate. Indeed, resubmitting my enrollment application was easy enough. What arose as a challenge was getting out of Truman Park unscathed. Indeed I’d hoped to escape, but The Park had other plans. The night before my first day as a Coronation High student, an unfortunate encounter occurred while I was walking home from Sarah Mascara’s house in east Truman Park.
It was late and I’d been having a few of the good old puffs, walking home down State St. The summer was winding down and it could be felt in the night breeze that cooled my face as I made my way home, passing under the dim pools of light cast by streetlamps. I was thinking of Coronation High and what it was going to be like when I was surrounded by endless possibilities. I wondered if the universe would actually allow it to happen or if a crack would open in the earth and suck me down, into the depths of tarry hell, to decompose forever, soaking in the oil of fossil fuels. Like a mirage on a murky desolate horizon; I expected it to evaporate when I drew upon it.
I was lost in this thought when the screech of tires pulled me from my contemplation and back into the hard reality of Truman Park. I spun around to find a red car idling at the curb, the headlights blazing and the incidental boom of muffled rap music coming from inside the tinted windows. Aside from thinking how unoriginal they were, I was contemplating the right play. Usually the right play was to casually turn around and keep walking, plan an escape route, size up fences that would make an easy vault; be ready to bolt or throw down. However, my instincts told me I was out numbered and suggested I skip the former and cut to the bolting.
I offered the guys in the car a simple salute before ducking down a pitch dark alley way, careful not to catch my foot in a pot hole. The car screeched around the corner behind me a moment later and the blazing headlights cast my sprinting form in a long shadow that reached halfway down the alley. I hung a hard left into a backyard and found myself running through a freshly watered garden; mud. My foot dug in deep on a down step, tripping me up and causing me to roll into a raspberry bush, sending a thousand and one small needles through my shirt and into my back. The fall knocked the wind out of me and as I sat there sucking in air, I saw the car pull up slowly, stopping at the mouth of the back yard into which I’d run. It pulled into the yard slightly so the headlights flooded the yard and everything in it. I made out a slender silhouette approaching me through the glare of the headlights, then I felt some punches rain down. One of the shots caught me in the eye and I vaulted forth, wrapping my arms around the man’s knees and hauling forward…he stumbled backward and fell to the moist soil and the fall had stunned him for a moment—a moment I used to spring back to my feet and hurdle a fence before sprinting my way down a passage between two tenement buildings; it was anyone’s guess what could have transpired had I not cleared out of the backyard.
Once I was clear and two blocks over, slipping through another darkened passage, I realized that I wasn’t concussed; I wasn’t broken in any capacity. In fact, by the time I made it home, I felt virtually fine—except for my ankle feeling stiff from the fall. The problem I noticed once in the bathroom mirror under the lights however was a bruise forming around my left eye…lending me a brutish appearance.
Indeed, if you’re imagining my first day at Coronation as a scene akin to 80’s era teen angst dramas, complete with an ascending shot of a typical American high school on day one of a new school year—bustling with book toting teens moving around the grounds in schools of cliques and coteries; you’ll have to strike that image from your mind. My first day at Coronation was plagued by a series of ill-fated events. Firstly my alarm clock had failed to go off…secondly; already running late I noticed the bruise around my eye was still there. I wouldn’t have cared otherwise, but it was the last thing I wanted Principal Gavin to see, especially after the scathing review Nelson had doubtlessly given me—she would probably only give me the benefit of the doubt once…twice if I was lucky. This was all followed by my bus out of Truman Park being delayed by fifteen minutes due to an onboard assault, in turn causing me to miss the connecting bus to Coronation—one which I missed only by seconds.
It wasn’t as if I was a master of punctuality by any stretch of the imagination, however on this day, I’d planned to be early—and early I was definitely not. As I approached Coronation high, I found the grounds were empty, as if it were a ghost school. Only the sound of a metal bolt fastened to the flag rope clinking against its pole greeted me as I made my way up the abandoned sidewalk; I was perhaps 35 minutes late. Not a great first impression.
Inside, class was already in session. The halls were empty and remarkably clean. Pressed looking banners lined the walls with school spirit and strangely the lockers weren’t dented or covered in graffiti. I went directly to the office to pick up my itinerary. I stated my name and purpose and didn’t bother to elaborate on my lack of punctuality. Rather than hand over my itinerary, the secretary informed me that Mrs. Gavin wanted to speak with me about something before I started classes. Oh shit.
The secretary who wore a sheep-dog perm led me into principal Gavin’s office. Gavin was a short woman with spiky blonde hair, a toothy grin and a very sarcastic air about her. Gesturing grandly, she offered me a chair across the desk from her.
“So, you’re our new student from…” she said, thumbing through my folder, “Truman Park…wow, you’ve come a long way today.” she tilted her head, looking at me thoughtfully, taking inventory of my attire.
“Listen, I think I ought to mention that I was at the bus stop on time today…but the bus was late…evidently there was an assault on the bus…because of that I missed the connecting bus by seconds. Trial and error…but it won’t be a habit.” I assured.
Gavin tilted her head even further now peering at me with an almost fascinated intensity, before shaking out of her trance of contemplation a moment later, “Oh, I didn’t even realize you were late.” Gavin chuckled, “It appears however that your records from Truman High didn’t make it to us yet. In fact I did speak with a Mr. Nelson…I believe he’s the principal over at Truman—and he assured me that he’d sent your records…yet somehow they’ve mysteriously disappeared.” said Gavin, raising her brows with a mockingly ominous expression, “He also basically told me that you were a demon seed.”
“Does that mean I can’t start class today?” I asked, ready for the punch line.
“Heavens no; it just means that your records haven’t been physically transferred—it also means that your ex-principal Nelson is going to get a lump of coal in his stocking next Christmas. We’ll work it out though. Deal?”
“Deal.” I said.
“Just one thing before we get into that.” said Gavin.
“Sure.” I said.
“You’ll need to either turn that t-shirt inside out, or change it if you have a spare. Although the Dead Kennedys are quite…um—interesting; we’re not supposed to condone that sort of language and imagery here at Coronation High—we’re all very prim and proper folk here.” Principal Gavin said offering a coy grin.
Indeed, the t-shirt I was wearing was one of my most comfortable. It had turned from black to dark grey from wear…Dead Kennedy’s ‘Nazi Punks Fuck Off’. I’d worn the shirt at Truman High for an entire year and had never been once reprimanded for it.
“No problemo.” I nodded.
“What happened to your eye by the way?” she asked.
“Some guy punched me.” I said.
“Why did he do that?” she asked.
“Probably an inbred.” I shrugged.
“I see,” she sighed deeply, switching gear back into drive, “ok…you’ll go downstairs and see Nurse Holloway first. She should be in by now. After which, you can report back to Janice, the lady just outside, and she will give you an itinerary as well as a locker number. Did you happen to bring a lock?”
“Yep.” I said, lifting my back pack slightly.
“Ok then…welcome to Coronation High.” she shrugged, looking utterly unenthused and overworked in her office that was cluttered with stacks of papers, folders, binders and large manila envelopes…indeed, it seemed Jeffries had left her nothing but a mess.
And that dear reader was that; my induction into the most musically illustrious school in the city. As I recall it, that first week at Coronation was like a strange, soft-focus dream, complete with slow motion sequences and grainy, abstract footage left over from the 1960’s…it seemed the school had been overhauled during that decade and had sufficed ever since—venerating the era in all of its wonderful 1960’s decor which offered an ever present ambiance…as if the Zombies ‘Time of the Season’ was looping on hifi vinyl in my head.
Above all it was culture shock at Coronation…and it wasn’t just the funky vintage décor; it was the collective energy the faculty and student body projected. There was an air of over-politeness I wasn’t sure was real. Indeed they seemed a bit spacey and laughed a lot. They wore expensive runners and custom t-shirts through which they embraced counter culture icons and underground bands. They traveled in friendly schools in the hallways, laughing, snickering, joking and playfully bantering—a far cry from Truman High, where altercations were the norm and expulsions for paraphernalia and weapons commonplace. What I noticed most however was the over-abundance of musicians, many of which stored guitar cases in their lockers for after school rehearsals. It was hard to believe.
Also, it seemed the most mysterious girls in the city all went to Coronation High and they loved nothing more than to discuss…they could talk about anything and everything and they particularly liked to talk existentialism in the morning…before class even started—as if they hadn’t just woken up. I was all for the existentialism, but I took my existentialism with the majesty of moonlight.
During those first weeks, I’d stand there, puffing on one and nodding as Coronation girls chirped with each other, wondering how it was that they could be so chatty so early in the day. Each sunny morning at Coronation, an onslaught of socializing preceded the first bell that would start each day of classes which entailed above all, long group discussions.
Still in Truman High mode; I was usually smoked-out by 8am and by 830am ready to absorb a lecture on the emergence of Europe or the phylum of earthworms or Einstein’s theory of relativity which never became more conceivable each time I was lectured on the subject. I was surprised to find that the teachers of Coronation weren’t much different from Truman teachers. They relayed information in much the same monotone manner as Truman High faculty, however, they taught for perhaps one third of the class and for the remainder, sat on their boxy desks bullshitting with students who all seemed to be bucking for approval.
Indeed the students of Coronation were for the most part well-behaved and adhered to a natural state of order as well as a well-defined social hierarchy. Though they were friendly enough and their quirks had perhaps been encouraged by their parents from an early age—Coronation kids seemed to exist without any real grasp on reality. As a spider naturally knows to spin a web…the Coronation kids seemed innately attuned to the nuances of passive aggressive social politics. It was a training ground for the aristocracy they’d all eventually join. Many were the offspring of prominent city leaders or business moguls or studio heads. The stakes for them were high, mainly because the expectations were high and accordingly—many took their public image far too seriously.
Because of this, gossip, rumor spreading and the forming of secret alliances were rife in the hallways and classrooms of Coronation High. Gossip was relayed in tabloid fashion during lunch breaks and spares. It was a commodity for most to be up to date with the latest bulletins on who was throwing the best weekend parties, who was now dating, who was now single, who’d gotten a car for their birthday, whose father had a new trophy mistress, whose mother had been prescribed stronger antidepressants, who’d been reprimanded by a teacher, who’d been suspended for cheating, who’d passed with flying colors, who fucked who and who dumped who. It all flooded in blow by blow as if Coronation high was a tabloid paper with full color spreads.
To me it was a hell of a lot of bullshit and loose talk and it bored me in a painful way to have to hear about it all on a daily basis…to have to absorb random and pointless tidbits about other people’s personal business. But it was what the Coronation kids were preoccupied with. Mostly it amazed me that any of them possessed the diligence and attention span to give a flying fuck about what so many other people were doing…however, the students of Coronation kept very close tabs on their friends and even closer tabs on their enemies and perhaps in some cases didn’t quite know the difference between the two—in their protected privacy; there were no secrets among them and nothing but passive aggressive cut-throat competition.
Because of this, it was easy to attain immediate and rather personal information about virtually anyone at Coronation as most had attended elementary school together…everyone’s parents knew everyone else’s parents and everyone knew everyone else’s life story and scandalous tidbits and if they didn’t know, they made it their primary goal to find out. I wondered if the kids of Coronation used it all as a distraction from the harsh realities of the cold hard world that existed just beyond the borders of their privilege. Indeed, the gossip bored me because I had no use for it. I was at Coronation for one reason and one reason only—to start a band and bring my compositions to fiery, vibrant life. I was consciously aware that distraction was something to avoid at Coronation. As my focus had been crystalline up until that point, I’d not foreseen the possibility of distraction. I’d not seen it as a viable and perhaps rather likely possibility. There had been no way I could have foreseen it either and therefore was struck dumb…or dumber as it were when I’d first laid eyes on Eleanor Price.
She was exiting the front doors of the school one afternoon during lunch break, looking lost and inquisitive, placing a long thing cigarette between her thick red lips. From across the crowded front lawn of the school, I followed her with my gaze, admiring her stunning face…and the way her round ass pressed against the fabric of her snug skirt with each step. I admired her black knee-high socks, her Oxford shoes, her vest bearing a Southridge Academy school crest and her vintage bouffant hair style. There was something else to her…way else; something I recognized perhaps from a former life, yet couldn’t readily explain. It wasn’t anything semantic; more mahogany surfaces, classic novels, velvet wingback chairs, summer love, emerald lanes…a promise—a suicide…perhaps it was that she embodied the time and place perfectly. I knew this all immediately as I watched her walk to the edge of the property and light a long thin cigarette.
“Who the hell is that girl?” I asked Wes.
“Who?” he asked, scanning the grounds that were swarming with Coronation girls.
“Audrey Hepburn over there on the side walk…school girl outfit…European cigarette, deep eyes.” I said, squinting in her direction.
“She’s basically new…she started halfway through last semester…sort of bizarre…” said April, as Wes raised his brows, at a loss to place the new girl.
“And she’s a total freak.” giggled Lacey.
“She’s stunning.” I said absently.
“She’s another Southridge Academy discard.” said April.
“What’s Southridge Academy?” I asked.
“It’s a private school in Palisade Point…it’s co-ed…but they all wear uniforms like some kind of androgynous cult. God, they’re all going to start going here now that it’s closing.” sighed April’s friend Lacey, as if it bothered her somehow. Her eyes held no hint, just a malicious little grin.
“Her name is Eleanor.” said April, “I have chem class with her.”
“And is Eleanor, as Lacey here so eloquently put it—freaky?” asked Wes.
“I don’t know if I’d call her freaky. She’s a bit quiet and a bit bizarre.” said April
“It’s the quiet ones who are the craziest in bed.” Wes assured, “That uniform says it all doesn’t it?”
“The uniform is incidental.” I said, “That girl’s got something else…something way else.”
“Perhaps she’s mental and that uniform is her security blanket. Mental problems are everywhere. I saw a documentary once about seemingly normal people who eat dry wall and rocks and drink their own piss.” laughed Wes.
“Don’t be crude Wes…Mrs. Fletcher asked her to remove her vest, the one she’s wearing, the one with the Southridge Academy patch—chick wouldn’t do it though. She said because Coronation is a public school, there is no rule against wearing emblems from other schools; I guess she had a point.” April said before taking another drag of her cigarette.
“Like I said.” grinned Lacey, “Freaky-deeky.”
“Interesting—they told me I couldn’t wear my Dead Kennedys shirt in the halls.” I said as I rose from my spot on the lawn and brushed off the dry blades of grass.
“Where you going?” asked Wes, offering me a slanted grin of comical uncertainty.
“I’m going to say hi.” I said, taking a last drag and flicking the cigarette butt into a nearby bush.
Eleanor was even more stunning up close; she’d been given allure years beyond her age and though the steady gaze in her eyes appeared mature—her youth was too strong and kept a wrinkle from forming between her brows.
“Hey.” I said to her.
“Hi.” she said, squinting the sun from her eyes. One arm was crossed beneath her pert breasts and propped up the elbow of her other arm; at the end of which her fingers held her long thin cigarette so it hovered there beside her face.
“I heard Fletcher gave you a hard time about your vest.” I said.
“I don’t know if she gave me a hard time. She just asked me to remove it.” shrugged Eleanor.
“And you didn’t.” I said, with intrigue.
“Why do you want to know?” she asked.
“Because I think I’m going to be fascinated.” I shrugged.
“No big elaborate reason…Coronation is a public school—I can wear whatever I want…and I think Fletcher is out of line asking me to remove my vest.” she said, looking away bashfully and trying to suppress a grin of her own.
“I mean the real reason.” I said.
“That is the real reason.”
“I doubt that.” I said, looking at her a bit deeper. She had a large scar on the side of her forehead which only added to her allure, “I’m guessing nothing about you is that simple.”
“Oh,” she smiled, “well, do tell—you seem to have a better understanding of the situation than I.”
“Maybe you loved it at Southridge Academy so much…more than words can readily articulate…maybe you kind of hate it here at Coronation and maybe you wonder why things ever had to change…and maybe that crest is the only bit of Southridge Academy you have left.” I said.
She looked at me very intensely for a moment…a look of surprise on her face that a moment later faded into a wry grin before she dragged again on her cigarette, “Bravo…maybe you should open a palm reading stand.”
“Low-tar?” I asked of the cigarette.
I stood for a moment looking at her. After a few moments of silently staring at each other, I realized Eleanor was grinning so her teeth showed slightly through her sexy lips. She was poised and ready for more—she seemed surprisingly cocky and offered me a raise of one brow that stated what else you got?
“Southridge has a real cool crest.” I said, taking note of the crest patched to her vest, “What was it like going to a private school?”
“It’s privatized—so the curriculum is higher grade—smarter people. I’m not sure what to make of this place yet…these kids all seem like space cadets…maybe I’m just out of touch.” said Eleanor.
“No, you’re pretty much accurate…they sort of are space cadets…but at least there aren’t metal detectors here like at my previous school.” I shrugged.
“Where did you go previously?” she asked.
“I transferred in from Truman High.” I said.
“Really? But why? That’s a hell of a commute.” she asked.
“I’m here to start a band.” I said.
“That’s really cool…that you’re willing to travel so far each day to be close to your dream—I think you’ll do it.” said Eleanor, looking at me and squinting the sun out of her eyes.
My extrasensory powers told me that Eleanor wasn’t a freak as Lacey had so eloquently suggested—she was however the type of girl who may have had hyper-vision and monsters in her closet; perhaps angels in her dresser drawer as well. Perhaps it was an intensity of perception she possessed, one instilled by luxurious surroundings that were haunted in just the right way. It intrigued me, mainly because I’d never understand it and in essence would never understand her.
Indeed, for a few weeks at Coronation, everything seemed pretty tranquil. The cosmic atmosphere at Coronation was like hazy pills which filled my head with 35mm pans in soft focus. Even the readings, sermons and lessons the teachers repeated for the thousandth time in their lives, acted as lulling illustrations as the sun rays flooded their mid-afternoon classes, promising a big vibrant world full of color and possibility and corporate cocktail parties.
Indeed, Coronation life relaxed me enough to fall into a deep, warm blanket of contentedness. So this was west side life, I thought. So this is what it was to exist on the other side of town. Indeed, it was nearly too relaxing, too soft, too slow-mo. I marinated in this new normal like a panther relaxing in a spot of warm shade. However, all wasn’t what it seemed…and the perpetual summer-slack hid beneath it very real channels of complexity and I found early on that an outsider could be unwittingly pulled into it quite easily.
It seemed to start in my history class, which was perhaps my favorite. The teacher, Mr. Holland, wasn’t quite removed, however, he was eccentric enough to exist nearly entirely in his own mind, the dimensions of which spilled out into his immediate vicinity, such as his desk, upon which stood a plaster bust of John. F. Kennedy. On the white plaster head of the JFK bust, Holland had drawn in red dotted marker the entry and exit wound of the fatal bullet, which he insisted had been fired from the grassy knoll rather than the book depository. In fact, Holland would on a regular basis, include evidence of which in the curriculum, as he felt a keen sense of civic and professional obligation to teach us what he believed had actually transpired in Dealey Plaza.
Indeed, he’d frequently cite large segments of the Warren Report, blowing them up on the overhead projector and sifting through fine nuances that he’d underlined, circled and labeled for the purpose of pointing out holes and discrepancies. He’d been in the midst of debunking the magic bullet theory when I felt a hand on my shoulder. It was Abigail Wax and she was handing me a paper folded into a swan. I looked at the swan for a moment before she shook it slightly, raising her brows, insisting I take it.
“Unfold it.” she said as Holland droned on.
I took the swan in hand and unfolded it. When the swan, which was rather well done, was fully unfolded back into the small square of lined loose leaf it had started as, I made out Abigail’s loopy handwriting. It read simply, “He needs to accept it”
I set the paper on my desk and wrote a reply, “Accept what?” I handed the paper back and a moment later she tapped my arm, handing back another message, this one read, “That nobody will ever really know about JFK”
I’d never spoken with Abigail Wax—however the origami note and it’s statement resonated with me—she’d done the right thing if she was trying to intrigue me. I’d seen her in the halls with members of the football team and other likeminded girls who wore tight jeans, halter tops and too much make-up. Specifically, my best recollection was often seeing her leaving school in a Jeep with Brandon Silver, a non-descript sportsman in his senior year at Coronation—for the second time, having been held back a year on account of either having too much fun or having eaten one too many moron sandwiches.
Each afternoon, Abigail would pass me a note in the form of origami and each afternoon, I’d unfold it…hoping she’d write something lewd—however, her notes were always sparsely worded and framed with multi-angled allusions.
After asking Wes and April about Abigail, I was told that she was a major player with the soap star crew…which, as April had explained was compiled mainly of Young Democrats League members who most aspired to emulate the dramatics and incidental fashion sense of Beverly Hills 90210 cast members. Still, Abigail was extremely easy on the eyes and possessed perhaps the most immaculately shaped ass I’d every laid eyes on—and that dear reader always seemed to intrigue me. Indeed, this all seemed a bit curious.
After a couple weeks of the origami notes, Abigail finally approached me at my locker before our only shared class…our first face to face conversation. She was an uncanny spitting image of 1990’s Suzanne Vega and when I told her this, she nodded and stated that she was always told that—as if it was an annoyance. Like 1990’s Vega, Abigail was alluring in a mysterious sort of way. She held her books close to her chest as she explained how she’d just dry heaved in Mrs. Mancini’s class after partially dissecting a frog.
“Barbaric.” I nodded.
As we walked to Holland’s class room on the third floor, I listened as Abigail told me about the teachers she hated and the ones that gave her special treatment. She explained the entire Coronation aristocracy to me in great detail as we made our way through the hordes of students bustling for their next class and I did my best not to grin…for it was hard to believe that such a well-defined aristocracy could exist among a society of plaid shirt wearing stoners who’d been spoiled spacey.
When we were finally at Holland’s room, Abigail asked me if I wanted to ‘go for an ice cream sandwich’ with her after class. I said sure and wondered as I sat in my desk during another of Holland’s commentaries on the significance of Jack Ruby, wondering if ‘ice cream sandwich’ was indeed code for something else; the possibilities of which intrigued me. Certainly if analyzed deeply enough, anything and everything could be construed as code for something—a pondering of futility.
Indeed, I’d been chatting up Eleanor on a daily basis—to very little avail. Though she’d chat with me for long periods wherever I ran into her, be it in the school library, the front lawn, the cafeteria or the hallways in between classes—Eleanor was always a greatly focused conversationalist. However, she seemed to have a very high wall built around her. Because of this dismal fact, I decided to join Abigail for an ice cream sandwich after class that day…and it was just that—a boring ice cream sandwich at a nearby diner that served ice cream sandwiches in a bowl and with any three of their various toppings. I took mine plain while Abigail took hers with strawberry, crushed walnuts and whipped cream. I watched her spoon it into her pretty mouth as she told me about her recent split from Brandon Silver, claiming that she’d broken it off with him because he wanted to spend too much time with his friends and too much time playing video games in his bedroom. I asked her what the real reason was and she finally admitted that it had been his extensive collection of fetish porno mags that had tipped the scales…she’d specified that the mags were ‘not normal’.
“What are we talking about here?” I’d asked with an amused grin and Abigail had ominously explained an evening in which she’d caught Brandon smelling her sweaty, musty jogging socks and had subsequently linked the incident with a number of her unclean socks having gone missing from her bedroom hamper. I laughed…however, Abigail only pushed her half eaten ice cream sandwich away, citing that the discovery of Brandon’s dirty little secret had soiled her glimmering image of him. Indeed, as she explained the entire, drawn out and seemingly made for TV drama that was her relationship with Brandon Silver, I assumed Abigail would get back together with Brandon Silver eventually and so took it all with a grain of salt. After all, Silver had quarterbacked the Coronation Coyotes to a number of golden trophies—she’d also explained to me how their parent’s had pushed for their pairing, perhaps feeling hard-line breeding was key to successful grand-kids.
After many lengthy late night phone calls during which Abigail repeatedly asked me to explain my room, my mother’s house and the immediate neighborhood; it came to pass that Abigail invited me to her parent’s home in Emerald Lagoon—a sprawling gated compound on the water. Indeed, as I sat with her on her back patio which overlooked the Pacific Ocean that crashed against the sandy beach with immeasurable might, it felt more like we were sitting on a country club deck, waiting for our waiter to arrive. In the place of a waiter however was her father, a tall and lanky man who was entirely grey and perpetually smiling in a childlike way…muttering to himself unheard anecdotes. He’d been sitting on the patio eating chocolate chip cookies with milk and giggling to himself when we’d arrived.
Upon seeing us, he’d jumped up with a laugh and greeted Abigail with a deep warm hug and to me he’d offered his hand. When I’d extended mine, he’d playfully batted it away and pulled me in for a hug as well, creating an awkward moment that he weathered well, rubbing his hands together and asking if we were thirsty.
He brought us two glasses of pink lemonade and sat with us at the round glass table for a while, mugging and giggling in a childlike fashion and telling us an anecdote about an ill-fated visit to the neighborhood shoe store. He held up his foot so we could take note of his shoe…which was a sparkly women’s slipper he’d insisted on buying as it was the most comfortable and best fitting in their entire stock.
Soon after, a squirrel appeared on the deck, one which Abigail’s father had named Sonny…it moved over to Abigail’s dad’s feet and stood up, clicking it’s teeth and flicking it’s tail…looking up at the old man expectantly. After clucking his tongue at the squirrel, Abigail’s father leaned forward, reaching his hand into his breast pocket from which he produced a few seeds which he then held to the squirrel’s mouth. Surprisingly the squirrel nibbled from his palm as the old man took hold of the squirrel and set it on his lap, petting it’s back as it continued to eat out of his palm. He muttered to the squirrel, or perhaps himself unintelligibly, looking up at us periodically with a strange glee in his eyes, chuckling and attempting to rub foreheads with the squirrel who wasn’t quite willing to cross that line for mere seeds. As I sipped the lemonade, I surmised that the old man was either high or he’d been mildly touched by mental illness.
On the other hand, perhaps it was a state of mind he’d been driven into from consistently having to weather the whirlwind of estrogen that came along with living among a half dozen hyperactive women who, Abigail had admitted to me with a chuckle—were all in psychoanalysis. Residing in the gated compound on the beach was not only his wife and two daughters, but his sister in law and her two daughters as well…who were Abigail’s age.
The women residing at Abigail’s house, though a friendly bunch, were indeed a spastic cast of anxious energy and attention deficit disorder, fluttering around the dining room and kitchen before dinner like a pack of whinnying hyenas. It was entirely possible for all six women to carry on various conversations with each other simultaneously, sifting through arcane points, inside jokes, vague insinuations and an ever present passive aggressive competitiveness which they’d curb now and then by collectively descending on a moment of hilarity in which they’d burst out in explosions of laughter that could last for several minutes at a time. They sang, they chirped, they whooped, they cackled…and Chip, the old man sat at the head of the table with a flowing white head of hair, gently loving every moment of it from behind his mad, psychotic giggles, chuckling to me every once in a while, “Don’t ask, just agree.”
I wasn’t sure if the scene had been a curious portrait of acceptance or simply dark comedic genius, but all in all, they were nice folk and didn’t pretend to understand me…I was simply another guest in their house of mirrors.
Later, when dinner and the drawn out conversations subsided, Abigail offered to give me a ride back to Truman Park in her mother’s car. She played the Titanic soundtrack as we drove, asking if I didn’t think it was utterly the most romantic music I’d ever heard. I asked her if she’d ever heard Double Fantasy to which she only shrugged and smiled back at me…blinking in her contentedness. We sat in front of my mother’s house chatting, or rather I listened to her explain why she’d quit the cheer leading squad the previous year—I had no idea cheer leading could be so scandalous. As she went on my mind started to wander…mainly it was wandering up her thigh and in a long sigh I asked her if she was coming up to my room.
My mother was out at one class or another, or out with friends and the house was darkened and empty. I poured us each a gin and tonic. She looked uncannily like Suzanne Vega in her Liverpool video…that was who she looked just like just then…standing barefoot in my kitchen sipping a tall chilled glass of gin, lime juice and tonic on heavy ice. I led Abigail upstairs to my room which she explored with some wonder, running her fingers over the strings of my guitars that were set against one wall in stands.
“This is where you sleep…” she said, running her painted fingernails over the massive and glossy Psychocandy poster on the wall after which she walked to the dresser and opened a drawer, playfully rummaging through it. It was clear to me how she’d found Silver’s sweaty foot mags—she was a curious kitty.
When she joined me on the bed she asked me a question, “Have you ever just held a girl?”
“None of the girls I’ve been with have ever asked me to do that.” I admitted.
“I’m asking you.” she smiled.
Though I assumed she was taking the piss, she wasn’t and we spent the next half hour lying on my bed, Abigail wrapped up in my arms as the Cure’s ‘Standing On a Beach’ rolled on the cassette player and the incense smoked on the window sill and the black light lit up the planets stickered to the ceiling tiles; it was new and quite nice.
“What are you thinking about?” Abigail asked me after a while.
“The night.” I said, however, I was really thinking of Eleanor Price…wondering where she was and who she was with and what it was about her that devoured me.
“I find that sound so relaxing.” Said Abigail, snuggling in a bit closer.
“The music?” I asked.
“No, the police helicopters.” she said lazily, “I never hear them in Emerald Lagoon.”
“I like them too.” I said as we both dozed off.
We woke up perhaps a half hour later, when the cassette clicked off, leaving a dark silence all around us that was filled with the distant sounds of police helicopters, sirens and the freeway coursing with endless traffic a block away.
I walked Abigail to her car and she flung her arms around me, giving me a deep warm hug and a deep wet kiss on the lips—something to keep me enthused perhaps. I stood there curbside as she buckled in, reset the volume level of her Titanic soundtrack, fixed her lips in the rear view before starting the engine and pulling away…blowing me a smiling kiss through the windshield.
I lit one up and stood there, staring up at the moon that was veiled slightly by a thin sheet of air pollution. A moment later a jeep pulled up to the curb, stopping so the passenger window was exactly aligned. The guy inside wore a ball cap and Letterman’s jacket baring two large C’s on the chest; Coronation Coyotes.
Looking closer I realized that I recognized the face looking back at me from under the ball cap visor. It was Brandon Silver and he put it in park as he rolled the electric windows down.
“Really?” I said.
“Hey…I’m just looking out for Abigail.” he said.
“You just missed her.” I said, turning and making my way back up the walk of my mother’s house.
“Hey, I’m not done.” he said.
“I am.” I said, turning back to him once I was at the stairs.
“Well I’m not.” he said, unbuckling and getting out of the jeep which he left running with the fog lights ablaze. He strode up my mother’s walk and met me at the bottom of the stairs.
“Did you do her?” he demanded.
“You should really go.” I told him.
“Did you do her?” he asked, this time his tone less angry and more desperate…the poor bastard was in pieces over Abigail and perhaps Abigail had wanted it that way. As he continued to interrogate me, I wondered if Abigail knew that we’d been followed. Had she come up to my room just to spite the bastard?
“Pull yourself together.” I said.
“Pull myself together?” he demanded.
“Whatever you think happened—didn’t…not that it’s any of your fucking business but I wouldn’t want you to break down and cry on my front fucking lawn. Now, why don’t you get back in your car and get the fuck out of here.” I said.
“We can play this game—but you know who is going to win.” he said.
“You should go.” I said, noticing a group passing by under the street lights. I knew the type…like most in Truman Park who wandered the streets after dark.
I’d tried to warn him, however by the time Brandon Silver realized them, the street kids were congregating around his still-running jeep. They toyed with Brandon a bit, gauging his reaction. For a moment Brandon just stood there watching the guys admire his Jeep, running their hands along it’s sleek lines.
“If you scratch my car it’s going to be a police matter. My father is close friends with the police chief of Emerald Heights.” informed Brandon, nervously moving back to his Jeep. He got inside and immediately rolled up the windows and locked the doors. He jerked the Jeep into drive a second later and squealed away, leaving the kids standing on the street laughing and blowing hoots at this tail lights. One of the kids threw a pop bottle which missed Brandon’s Jeep and landed on the asphalt, exploding out in a V of shards of broken glass some unfortunate Truman resident would inevitably puncture their tires on; real nice, I thought heading back into the house.
The entire situation was uninvited and I wondered how it had come to pass that I’d been pulled into a drama I should have never been involved with in the first place. It had followed me back to Truman Park somehow. I realized I was an escape for Abigail who wanted to be someone else…but indeed, I felt there was some cosmic reasoning behind it all and I wondered what the significance of Abigail’s rather sudden appearance in my existence was. Certainly I’d gone out with Abigail in hopes of getting past my building fascination with Eleanor Price. So, in a strange way, the contemplation always led back to Eleanor…and though Abigail could partially eclipse thoughts of Eleanor—Eleanor was another matter altogether and had become in a few short months the 8th wonder of the world.
Eleanor and I had no classes together and she kept mainly to herself yet strangely was quite friendly with Heidi Lane, who ran the most pretentious, fashion-centric, clique at Coronation. Indeed it was this group that had campaigned to bring a live cellist into study hall for a couple hours every Wednesday and following Monday—I suppose when Heidi Lane and her crew felt the students needed it most. They organized bottle drives for charity, were in the midst of funding negotiations for a cricket team start-up and were also pushing for a vegetarian selection in the school cafeteria; all noble pursuits perhaps, but none that I found very interesting. I did however find Eleanor interesting.
Stories of Eleanor came to me on the laughter of friends who’d heard or witnessed Eleanor incidents which in spite of her low profile, seemed to be numerous and highly publicized.
On one hand, Eleanor’s composure was refined…and to hear her speak one would easily surmise that she had a great appreciation for the finer elements of existence. She’d penned an impassioned open letter in the Coronation Gazette, which lobbied for students to band together and involve their influential parents to intervene in the planned redesigning of the auditorium, which, in her view would forever desecrate the spirit of theater at Coronation.
She cited theater events from decades past as well as a colorful tradition of performance which was indeed synonymous with the old rows of padded French theater seats, the red velvety stage curtains and the Proscenium stage—all which had been part of the original 1942 design. She’d gone as far as designing flyers and handing them out to students in the hallways, lobbying for the preservation she deemed the most important decision the students could make for their school. It seemed odd for a girl who still wore her Southridge Academy crest and what’s more wore it religiously.
However, for all of her refined taste and collected composure; there was more inside of her than she could readily contain. She’d had a few emotional break downs during school hours that had been widely reported yet narrowly explained. She’d simply get up and leave a class and not return. Or not show up for class at all. Then the following week sit upon a student council board helping decide which extracurricular body would be funded and which would be dismantled. It didn’t quite make sense.
One day I’d been told that during pizza day, a cultural phenomenon around Coronation, she’d shown up in a state of distress and upon being given an appeasing slice of Vegetarian pizza—she’d frisbeed it onto the roof of the gymnasium before breaking down in a fit of sobbing—only to emerge later the same day to read a poem about the forgotten plight of the American Indians during an auditorium assembly. She’d subsequently banged a small drum and chanted for an audience of students and faculty who sat in the darkened auditorium in uncomfortable silence. Indeed, it seemed Eleanor was a book with too many pages—either that or a disaster of poetics. Either way, I was bound to find out.
As we got deeper into the school year and autumn was beginning to drain into winter, I learned more about Eleanor through random conversations that were always held with her in passing, as she was always on the move—on her way to one meeting or another. One afternoon I saw she was wearing a poppy and when I’d inquired if her grandfather had served, she explained that he had stormed the beaches at Normandy, won a chest full of medals and now sat sadly in a care home whispering to shadows on the wall—succumbing systematically to dementia.
She explained that it was tough to look at, especially because she was mostly alone when she visited Sunnycrest care home. I’d offered to accompany her to the care home during her next visit. I wrote my phone number on a tear of lined loose leaf and handed it to her. She’d stared at it with a concerned expression for a moment before turning and walking away. She was a curious study indeed.
Her story, though spotty, was nonetheless full of intriguing tidbits. Her family had moved to the city from New Hampshire after her mother left her father for another woman. She lived with her father, an airline pilot, and his new wife in East Emerald Heights. It was widely reported among students of Coronation High that Eleanor had been spotted sitting in the passenger seat of her stepmother’s car one morning, staring stoically forward as her father’s new wife hysterically scolded Eleanor over something. As it was told to me, Eleanor had gotten out of the car and lit a cigarette. She’d stood there smoking for some time before approaching a homeless man across the street who was digging through a nearby trash can for recyclable bottles. She’d handed the homeless man a hundred dollar bill before stepping onto a bus…only moments before first bell.
It was a curious occurrence indeed and I wondered about that morning…what her stepmother had been hollering at her about and exactly why she’d decided to slip the homeless man a hundred, as if he were a five diamond maître d’. I wondered why she’d decided at the last minute to board a bus and cut class. Mostly however, I wondered where she’d gone on the bus…she fascinated me.
As for Abigail Wax…I never mentioned Silver showing up at my house. I figured he’d get home and pull himself together and perhaps feel some shame about having followed his ex-girlfriend and I back to Truman Park and what’s worse, accosting me on the street with accusations. Indeed, I’d heard in the following weeks that she’d gotten back together with Silver and as if she’d never lied with me on my bed in my room and made a small confession—the origami notes stopped. It was as if the entire experience never happened…as if it were just a foggy and faded dream. By the end of the month, we were complete strangers again and I was once again able to concentrate in my favorite class at Truman High without any outside distraction.
The instance brought me to a grand realization one Friday afternoon…for all of the intrigue, it occurred to me that Coronation was full of distractions and I’d somehow fallen into the rabbit hole without noticing. Indeed, I made a conscious decision to expel all distractions and focus solely on getting my band started, which was after all the reason I’d shown up at Coronation to begin with; the mission is what mattered most.
I had been correct to transfer to Coronation high as I found a world of rich kids who all had nothing better to do than get into a band. Along with receiving cars and scooters and skiing trips in Aspen as birthday gifts—these Coronation kids also received musical instruments and accompanying high end accessories. Though many were still learning their instrument; they’d started with top line gear. Many kids were starting bands, or were in multiple bands or were forming side-projects with other musicians from alternate genres. It seemed every kid had been granted the go ahead to turn one of the spare rooms in their parent’s house, into a sound proofed rehearsal space fully equipped with a full sound system and in some cases recording equipment. The challenge it seemed was finding not kids with instruments and rehearsal rooms—the challenge seemed to be finding well-school musicians to play with.
There were kids who looked the part, talked the part…had the best instruments and an immaculate rehearsal space…yet couldn’t play worth a damn. For a number of weeks I sifted through the pool of readily available musicians at Coronation only to find that a large percentage were simply posing the part…which beyond being disappointing was also impeding my mission and immensely slowing the progress. That is until I met the Decker brothers.
Having grown up playing music together they’d developed an uncanny ability to lock into each other’s rhythm—which I believed would make for a bulletproof rhythm section. I believed correctly and indeed, after only two hours we’d put together one of my songs in a rough likeness of its abstract state…we’d taken the imagined and birthed it into tangibility through heavy guitar chords, a driving beat and a sprinting bass line. Indeed, we achieved the desired effect—a colorfast of sound. In the coming weeks we would build 8 more of my songs, creating a high energy set of songs that could stop on a dime and then leap into space the next second. We had a secret weapon and we’d kept it mainly secret—however, the kids that did sit in at our rehearsals started spreading the word. We rehearsed in great privacy in a sound proofed room in the Decker Brothers’ basement. We’d lose track of hours and emerge very late from the rehearsal room, finding the evening had passed and the hours were getting wee. I would listen to the recordings on my headphones as I rode the bus back to Truman Park, mesmerized by what we were creating in the Decker brothers’ basement. As I listened and felt the bus taking the dips and potholes in the Truman Park roads, I was gripped by a macabre notion that perhaps it was only a glimpse of what might have been and what could never actually be…that I might get myself expelled from Coronation High before this labor of love could come to fruition. It was a chilling notion and one I’d willed away with a solemn pledge to go all the way if given the chance…to become the very best songwriter I could be; no matter where it led me—the mission is what mattered.
One such night when getting off the bus in Truman Park, I noticed the blue and red flicker of police lights against a row of tenement facades at a nearby intersection. With the volume of my Walkman maxed, I strolled toward the lights, feeling slightly invincible with my new band blaring through my headphones. As I rounded the corner, Luther Street opened up, coming into view from behind a tall wooden fence.
Amidst a sea of spectators clad haphazardly in hot summer clothing were strewn, as haphazardly, perhaps a half dozen squad cars, a few of which were still alive with flashing lights. A few feet away an ambulance idled loudly, pulled halfway up onto the curb, its rear doors open and it’s cabin full of emergency apparatus illuminated by the florescent glow of the interior lights. I wondered distantly how many people had died in that ambulance; the long panels of florescent lights the last thing they’d ever see. Beatty hadn’t died in an ambulance…he’d died on the street, staring off at a far off point.
Milling around the front yard of a familiar looking house were police, paramedics and a few men in plain clothes. They mingled and compared notes as if discussing an algebra equation. A few minutes later a giant fire truck rounded the corner, it’s lights adding to the red flashing. Firemen soon joined the commotion, making their way into the front yard…however, after it was explained that there was indeed no fire to be put out—the firemen eased up, removed their helmets and watched the Friday night movie unfold in real time.
As I craned my neck to see around the emergency responders crowding the front yard, I made out a body lying lifelessly on the floor just inside the front door, which at that point was fully ajar. The house itself was illuminated as if every light in every room had been turned on. The snap of a camera flashed against the interior curtains which were beige and drawn casually.
I knew the house because I used to deliver papers to the address years before. On collection nights I would stand impatiently waiting for the resident to make the proper change. The place where I’d stood waiting for the collection money was now occupied by a lifeless body. I wondered if it was the same old man. And what of his wife? Had one killed the other? Was it instead a home invasion—which you heard about happening now and then in Truman Park? Gang related activity? Drug overdose? Suicide? As the possibilities swirled in my head, a sudden hand clasping down on my shoulder spooked me enough to spin around swiftly—ready for anything, or anyone.
“Hey asshole…you don’t call…you don’t write.” grinned Sarah Chatsworth; an old classmate who I’d not seen since my grand exit from Truman High a number of months previous.
“Sarah Mascara how the hell are ya?” I said, taking her hug sideways so it became a half hug; she’d never hugged me before.
“How the hell am I? How the hell are you? It’s been a total rumor mill around Truman. Some people said you got shot with Beatty. Then we heard that you moved up to Seattle. Then it was going around that Nelson freaked on you then threw your ass out of school. It’s crazy.” said Sarah with wide eyes, the lids caked with mascara—her trademark style.
“Is that what Nelson is telling everyone?” I said, shaking my head, “Don’t believe the hype…that bastard tried to sabotage my transfer to Coronation. He almost succeeded…but the universe had other plans.” I told her.
“Really.” said Sarah, smacking the back of her hand against my arm.
“Hey, what the hell happened in that house?” I asked Sarah who looked prettier than I remembered. She’d put on a bit of weight in the right spots and had started wearing much more lipstick. Her hair was short and wild and died peroxide blonde. Her tan was a nice contrast and she stood there looking at me as if I was insane.
“It’s been a notorious drug house for years. Where the hell you been Holden?” said Sarah.
“I used to deliver papers there—years and years ago. I used to stand right there where that body is now—I used to stand there waiting for this old guy to make the right change and he always took forever.” I told her.
“I remember that old guy. Mr. Schwartz.”
“Yeah, that’s the guy.”
“He sold the house years ago and it’s been a drug pad ever since. Get with it Holden.” said Sarah with a small sad smile—it was understood.
We stood there for a while taking inventory of the taped off crime scene until eventually a body on a gurney, covered in a grey sheet was carted out into the street and fit into what appeared to be a coroner’s van. We heard a nearby news anchor tell her one man camera crew, in her syndicated television news voice, that there had been a drug related homicide in the house—the third one at said address in a year—and that the authorities were searching for the assailants who’d fled the scene in a grey, four-door sedan. She repeated the last bit with an ominous tone, “a grey, four-door sedan…back to you Walter.”
As she gave her report, the crowd of by standers thinned. The paramedic’s resuscitation efforts had failed and the show was over. The home team had lost. Another murder had gone down in Truman Park and again, city council would do nothing to clean up the neighborhood.
As if having seen what they’d been waiting for, the crowd dispersed as the dark blue van silently pulled away slowly…carrying the body of a Truman Park resident who might warrant dishonorable mentioned in the local paper, but would be otherwise anonymous and unmentioned; another statistic. For nobody wanted to dwell on what was going on in our sector; it was better not to dwell on it—it was indeed better to view it as forgotten tragedy. We didn’t have barbecues or block parties or street festivals in Truman Park; we had crime scenes and arson based infernos. Other than that there wasn’t a lot of socializing going on.
In spite of her parent’s house being in the opposite direction of mine, I walked Sarah Mascara home. As we passed the darkened, mostly vacant houses of Luther Street, Sarah told me about the most recent happenings at Truman High—none of which I cared much to hear about but listened anyway. As we walked we passed one back and forth and by the time we were at her house, I realized that I was too high to go in.
We talked about the decade we were living in…our decade. It was the 90’s and it belonged to us. We were perhaps the last of the keen kids and perhaps we knew it in some way. We didn’t intend to be an impossible generation to follow—we never set out to be unfollowable; we were just wired a certain way…we knew we were at the center of something new…something big…we were the last of the big time senders—telepathy was huge with 90’s teens—we manifested bizarre coincidences because our brains weren’t dependent on tablets linked through satellite transmissions—rather we were the exclamation point of a sentence our great grandparents had started decades before—we were the culmination of psychic phenomena.
We’d mastered the craft and our transmissions were subtly obvious…and there was a smirk of absurdity to our sunny disposition—a devil-may-care nonchalance regarding the rose colored future we knew we’d be eventually left in alone, as everyone always is. We turned to the underground, the misfit writers, the tragic poets, the edgy film-noir directors, existential escapism, garage rock, the abstract alternative—it was us who demanded to spotlight it all…The Smiths had asked for it in the 80’s, but it was us 90’s kids who’d hung the DJ and replaced him with original indie rock.
At the time we didn’t know when, or why, or exactly how, but we knew the 90’s would end and that things would change forever; there was a collective intuition in the 90’s and it told us a general fog was on it’s way, and perhaps that’s what made it all so important—the last age of enlightenment.
We stood out in front of her parent’s house for a while chatting and after perhaps 20minutes Sarah noticed someone approaching in the distance. I followed her line of sight and recognized the heavy metal half shirt…the long stringy hair, the Metroid walk. As he approached up the sidewalk, Sarah explained the tragedy Henley had suffered the previous month; his father had been killed in a hit and run as he was crossing an intersection at the end of their street…evidently eye witness accounts specified that Henley’s father had been drunk and hadn’t bothered to check for cars before striding out into the intersection…he’d gone onto the hood and over the roof of the car before landing on the asphalt where it’s said he died on impact. The car had subsequently peeled off, fleeing the scene and no bystanders had the presence of mind to remember the license plate number; a tragedy indeed.
As Henley came into clear view and into the pool of glow cast from an overhead street lamp, I recognized Henley’s rotten buck teeth and perpetual sneer—a sneer that tightened even further when he took note of me.
“Well if it isn’t the worst goalie in Truman Park.” he snarled.
“Ain’t scored on me yet dick wad.” I grinned.
“Yeah well, cowards run…and you ran…all the way to Emerald Heights…didn’t you?” he asked, crossing his arms as if interrogating me.
“I didn’t run…I left.” I said.
“Cowards run…and as I recall, we have some unfinished business don’t we?” he said, “Yeah, as I recall, I owe you an ass kicking Holden.”
“Really? You’re still on about that shit? Besides, I thought it was I who owed you the ass kicking.” I pondered running my hands through my hair.
“Guys…really? You’re going to do this in front of my parent’s house?” asked Sarah with a frustrated sigh.
“Jack Holden with Sarah Mascara…why am I not surprised…guess douchebags attract each other.” said Henley.
“Go fuck yourself Henley…nobody else would.” snarled Sarah.
“I wouldn’t fuck a chubby bitch like you anyway.” said Henley, turning his nose up at her.
“Feelings mutual, buck teeth.” said Sarah.
“Well? You still feel tough? You still wanna dance?” asked Henley turning his attention back to me.
“Get a life…and while you’re at it get an orthodontist.” I told him, “By the way, sorry to hear about your dad man…that’s a hard situation.”
“What? Are you fucking with me?” demanded Henley.
“Fucking with you? No…I’m just saying…it’s a tough break…Sarah just told me about it now…a hit and run—that’s some fucked up shit. The absurdity of reality often evades understanding.” I said.
“Absurdity? What’s your fucking angle Holden?” demanded Henley.
“What the fuck is wrong with this guy?” Henley asked, turning to Sarah, who only shrugged, as well looking confused, “What did you guys take?”
“What the fuck is wrong with you?” he asked turning to face me.
“What the fuck is wrong with you?” I counter asked.
“You’ve gone soft…” he said, nodding slowly, his eyes widening intensely as the realization formed in his twisted up brain.
“Get a fucking life Henley…and as I say, a good orthodontist…and maybe some goat milk…I think a large part of your problem is a lack of calcium.” I said, unable to suppress a chuckle.
“I think I see what happened here. That cushy Coronation School has turned you into a soft little pussy-boy—that’s what’s happened to you—I can see it.” said Henley.
“Why because I offered you condolences? Are you really that much of a douche?” I asked.
“No, because the Jack I knew would have never showed such softness. Fuck…I at least had a bit of respect for the old Jack…you’re just a little bitch-boy now.” said Henley punctuating his statement with a chuckle of absurdity, “Your ass ain’t even worth wiping the floor with.”
“You’re a godam genius Henley.” I said with a wry grin.
“Maybe,” he replied, nodding at me with a slight squint of victory, “but at least I didn’t go soft…like you did.” he lifted a fist and pounded his chest a few times very hard, “Bullets bounce off of this motherfucker.” he said.
Henley walked on, shaking his head, leaving Sarah and I standing there in front of her house under the dim glow of the street lamp in an awkward silence. Rather the silence was hers and I was only observing it. We both watched Henley disappear into the shadows and round the corner of the next block. When he was gone, I turned back to Sarah.
“I think that boy ought to run for city council.” I said.
“You know he hated his old man—you realize that right? His father burned him with cigarettes and beat him with a 2×4.” said Sarah, “Maybe Henley was right…maybe that Coronation school messed up your head a bit.”
“I think his dad also beat him with an ugly stick.” I said, causing a wide grin to form across Sarah’s lips that were thick and shiny with horror show red lipstick.
It took a month and a half of hard rehearsing four nights a week to perfect the nuances of the set…however, once we were ready to play—it only took three days to land a gig. Indeed, my band with the Decker brothers called Technicolor had been offered a gig at Terminal City on short notice. Terminal City was a run-down, piss stained all ages venue downtown that hosted epic seven band bills 3 nights a week for skate punk bands. During the day it operated as a chinese food restaurant but at night—it was all about the rock n’ roll. We’d managed to snag a Thursday night by sheer chance—Terminal’s hottest showcase night…it had been our bass player’s sister’s boyfriend’s cousin’s girlfriend who’d happened to hear our wildfire demo and she just happened to know the headlining band who’d found themselves without a proper opening band after the opener they’d initially booked broke up the week of the gig perhaps due to nerves.
Though the show was slated to be our first and we were the first band on, which meant that our allotted set-time was only 5 songs; we didn’t take it lightly. Rather we saw it as a sign, the first stroke of paint on a flickering cave wall; as we saw it—we were going to make history and spread the word accordingly.
It was during that week that I paid attention to very little outside the scope of our upcoming set at Terminal City. Through the duration of my classes at Coronation High, I would, instead of absorbing the monotone relayed academia, replay the songs in my head, hearing them as if on a hi-fi stereo in my mind…meditating on them.
By the day of the show, I knew we had achieved magic in the same way an animal can sense an earthquake approaching. I knew the large crowd at Terminal City wouldn’t know what hit them and once they heard us—they’d become addicted—like IV drug users. We were about to unveil what we’d kept under a shroud of secrecy for two months. Though few had heard us live—there weren’t many who hadn’t heard our demo cassette, which was a compilation of 4 songs, recorded on the Coronation music room 16 track recorder that was conveniently available to any students who booked the time with Mr. Bradshaw—Coronation High’s enigmatic music teacher.
Indeed, the demo, Technicolor’s first and last, would have us facing for our first show, a dedicated regime of friends and supporters, front row and center; all waiting to be impressed. However, there was the case of Eleanor Price, whom I’d invited to the show for the purpose of spellbinding her and who had shown up with Gregory Locksmith; Coronation’s star debater who was always clad in a cardigan, colorful tie and a pompadour.
Not that Locksmith would matter at all in this story, outside of the fact that Eleanor Price had shown up with him. But I should state here that Locksmith was infamous at Coronation…for besides having led the debating team to three consecutive regional debating championships, he’d been the survivor of a boating accident that had killed his best friend the previous summer—after which he’d given up boating. He’d been at the wheel and had hit a reef which had, at such high velocity, shredded the hull of the boat, ejecting both of them; Locksmith had landed in the water and it had been the only thing that had saved him. His friend had landed on the reef and died on impact.
The infamy that subsequently surrounded Locksmith gained a certain tragic appeal among several lovely Coronation vixens from all cliques and coteries. The special treatment from faculty had been there all along evidently being that Locksmith’s father was a well-known politician…an alderman; a man delegated by the people to lead, to make the hard decisions they didn’t want to shoulder and to tell witty anecdotes at charity dinners and press events. It seemed, in spite of my success of landing a slot at Emerald City—I was outclassed by kid who’d never been told no and was now used to it. I wondered if he’d have offered to accompany Eleanor next time she visited her war hero grandfather with dementia; I doubted it.
I’d sat in a booth beside the stage with the Decker brothers, Wes and April, watching Eleanor stand close beside Locksmith holding his hand. I sighed, feeling a deep hollow invade my elation—my elation of finally getting to play my songs in front of an audience and the moment had been ruined by a girl; I regretted inviting her and wondered if Henley and Sarah had been right—perhaps Coronation had made me a softer version of my previous self.
“I can’t believe Eleanor showed up with that punk ass bitch.” I said.
“Locksmith? I guess he is something of a punk ass bitch.” nodded Wes, squeezing April in tight.
“I can’t believe the audacity of that bastard to show up here tonight with Eleanor…especially when Lacey was supposed to be here.” said April looking genuinely disgusted.
“Say what?” I asked April.
“Never mind, I shouldn’t say.” said April.
Wes answered for her, “Locksmith has been banging Lacey Silver for weeks and for weeks has told her that he’s broken up with Eleanor—yet he’s still with Eleanor. It’s bizarre.”
“Its sick.” corrected April.
“Is that a fact?” I said, squinting across the room toward Locksmith. It figured—he seemed the douchebag type.
Before we went on, I decided it would be a good time to piss. As I made my way to the bathroom, Eleanor smiled and waved at me as I walked by—perhaps a gesture of thanks for putting her plus one on the Terminal City guest list. I stopped and gave her a long look. Feeling it, she tilted her head and returned to me a look of her own, which suggested something…what exactly I wasn’t quite sure, but it seemed to reside in the realm of none of it being her doing…as if she were a cork floating in a sea of whateverness. I nodded and walked on, leaving her standing on the fringes of a group of Locksmith’s followers.
As we took the stage and I plugged my guitar in, setting my volume controls higher than the soundman had originally allowed, I realized that Eleanor was sending a simple message to me; she’d shown up at Terminal City to illustrate how off the mark I was—how presumptuous I’d been to invite her. So be it then, I thought, turning to the crowd which I couldn’t see through the bright spotlights now pointed at us. The room was silent and there was some anticipation; I was expected to say something.
“We’re Technicolor…buckle up.” was all I said before we powered into our first song; a six lane pile up of heavy riffs, harmonics, smashing crashes and summer of love melodies. My ode to the 90’s in which we were immaculately existing.
We played through the set, dodging stage divers and keeping on point with all our clever accents and stops. I felt the passion deep and let it flow into my guitar and out through my voice; it was as if anything could happen. Well, almost anything.
After our last song, I noticed Eleanor holding hands with Locksmith as he led her to a booth on the other side of the room. Unsnapping my guitar and setting it down atop my amp, I left the volume turned to ten so a harsh feedback rang out under the applause that begged us back for an encore. I stood there watching Eleanor with Locksmith, shaking my head with a small grin of disbelief…my finest moment yet had been marred by a girl—how the fuck had that happened? More importantly how had I allowed it to happen?
As the calls for an encore grew louder the sound man dimmed the stage lights and the house music came on—our five songs were up and it was changeover time. I turned off my amp, killing the feedback and hopped off stage and made my way to the band room, from which the next band up was exiting. They left the room empty and humid and smelling like cologne, beer and smoke. I stretched out on the band room couch, experiencing the monumental moment, breathing it in…knowing I’d done it and knowing that nobody could take it away from me…knowing also that there might be an infestation of bed bugs in the ratty and dank couch, but not quite caring. In such moments a man becomes indestructible.
“That was intense.” said a voice, shaking me from my deep state of existence.
I looked toward the doorway and found a head leaning in through the ajar door.
“Glad you liked it.” I nodded.
The guy stepped into the band room, closing the door behind him. He wore sunglasses and was clad in a Mother’s Milk t-shirt and black torn jeans which he wore tucked into his combat boots. A studded wrist band rounded his wrist and he held a matte golden flask in his hand.
“You guys fucking slayed.” he said, “I mean you could have it all…but the question is; how bad do you want it?”
“Have all what?” I inquired, sitting up now and lighting one up.
“Your wildest fucking dreams.” he said removing his sunglasses and revealing his crazy eyes.
“I just want to rock out man.” I sighed in a long smoky exhale.
“I can see that…but destiny wants so much more for you.”
“Destiny?” I asked, the word piquing my interest; recent events had interested me in destiny.
“I’ve had a vision and I know things. I’ve always known things—and guess what?” he said.
“What?” I shrugged.
“We’re going to turn the music scene in this town on its head.” he said, volleying into a psychotic chuckle.
“Who is?” I asked, assuming he was talking about a project he was already in.
“You and me…and of course my drummer ‘the Goblin’. I’m Walt by the way.” said Walt.
“Is that so?” I asked, squinting back at him through another exhale of smoke.
“I wasn’t even going to come here tonight…but something told me…” he said, clicking his finger at me as if it were a small revolver.
“I don’t know if I have time…I’ve got Technicolor now…and we spend a lot of time in the jam room.” I told him.
“Dude…fuck Technicolor…the Decker brothers are weekend guys…they don’t live it…not like you and I do.”
“How do I know that you live it?” I asked him.
“Come meet me and the Goblin for a rehearsal next week and you’ll see.” he grinned, “Give us one hour…I guarantee—you’ll drop those creepy Decker twins in a fucking instant.”
“Why would I drop what we’ve spent weeks and weeks perfecting?” I asked, “Come on man…doesn’t even make sense.”
“Look out there man,” said Walt with a surge of passion, “Look out there…you got these Coronation bands weeping all over the stage because they’re too rich and too pretty. Where’s the party? Where’s the fun in that? Where’s the all out, over the top freak show? Where’s the controversy? Where’s the fire?” demanded Walt, pausing to drag deeply on his cigarette.
“A lot of these bands are great.” I said.
“Sure, but are you going to remember seeing any of them in twenty years?” Walt asked.
“The world might not even be here in twenty years.” I laughed.
“Listen, you, me and the Goblin are going to turn this scene upside down…and we’re going to get that eight thousand dollars at the Backyard’s battle of the bands. We’re going to get that studio time and with that studio time, we’re going to record a landmark album that’s going to put us in the motherfucking books. I saw it all unfold in my mind already. Alls you gotta do is say yes—I’ll take care of the details.” Walt grinned, took a couple steps forward and showed his palms to me, panning them to either side as he spoke the word ‘details’, presenting it with mystical diction.
Indeed, I was compelled to share his grin…for his demeanor suggested more than his words and presentation could. It suggested that he was slightly psychotic and willing to do whatever it took to turn the city’s music scene on its head—he was willing to take it to the wall.
“Think about it.” he said, handing me his card, which read, Walter Mayer – bassist extraordinaire.
He left me there in the room by myself as the band on stage banged away at their weepy post-punk power-pop. I’d have thrown the card away had he not mentioned the grand prize at the Backyard’s annual battle of the bands. Also there was something exciting about the notion of turning the music scene on its head. I knew what Walt meant somehow and it wasn’t a bad thing…or a cynical thing. Perhaps Walt was the devil incarnate. Perhaps; but he had a fire beneath him.
As I was contemplating this alone in the band room, a knock appeared on the door, one which I ignored. The knock came again a moment later and was followed by a creak of the door. It was Eleanor and I looked up at her from my place on the ratty couch with a stony expression…curbing my resentment with a wry grin and a casual salute.
Perhaps sensing this, her smile faded and she played nervously with a bottle cap between her blood red fingernails. She was dressed as usual in what appeared to be women’s 1960’s corporate apparel, which drove me half mad and made resenting her just a little easier for showing up with her Tucker Carlson knock-off. She’d cut her hair short since I’d seen her the previous week and it looked ultra-sexy; she’d taken on the dimensions of a broader allure and I wondered why she’d bothered to visit me backstage.
“I’m leaving now—but I just wanted to congratulate you on the show. It was very good. I was very surprised.” said Eleanor, nervous now for some reason, her usual biting sarcasm nowhere in sight.
“Yeah…leaving with cardigan boy?” I asked rising from the couch.
“Well yeah, I came here with him.” said Eleanor.
“Aw, how romantic.” I said.
“Sorry?” she asked.
“You should be.” I said.
“Why?” she asked, twisting her face into an expression of absurdity.
“You really blew it.” I told her.
“You know damn well what.” I told her.
“Are we talking about bringing Gregory?” she asked, as if baffled.
“Well, we’re not talking about Kato fucking Kaelin.” I said.
“I’ve been dating Gregory for four months now—I didn’t even know you four months ago.” she said, twisting her face up as if I was insane.
“And you showed up here to what…rub that in my face?”
“That’s not true.”
“That’s real cute.” I told her.
“I thought you were being friendly by inviting me.” said Eleanor, placing a hand against her chest; a play at sincerity.
“Friendly.” I laughed, “We’ll never be friends Eleanor.”
“Why?” she asked, looking hurt.
“Because we have only two options; strangers or lovers.” I told her.
“Since when?” she demanded.
“Since the first moment I saw you.” I said.
“Why are you being so intense suddenly? You’ve never mentioned this before to me.”
“Aren’t you supposed to have like…women’s intuition or something for crissake?” I asked.
“Don’t look at me like that—it makes me feel bad.” she said.
“If you think that jackass is going to rock your world—you’re senseless, out of it, gone down the road, wacko.” I confessed.
“What?” she asked.
I said nothing; I merely looked at her, having stated the truth. There wasn’t much more I could say. To these west side kids it seemed emotional bluntness was taboo, something one shouldn’t entertain, as if fanning my cards out across the table was somehow less honest than acting out a charade—I didn’t play charades…I was for real. For my declaration, I was willing to pay a certain price; I was willing to lose Eleanor completely…but in my heart I knew that if I couldn’t have Eleanor Price the way I needed to—I’d rather not have her at all, in any capacity—the rest was incidental meanderings. Strangers or lovers…those were the only two options with Eleanor.
“So, I guess I should go.” said Eleanor, hugging herself and squinting at me, as if she didn’t recognize who I was…
“It’s your call…it’s the wrong call, but it’s yours to make.” I shrugged.
“What do you mean the wrong call? You drop this shit on me all of a sudden. What do you want me to say? I need time to process it all.” demanded Eleanor stamping the heel of her shoe against the floor.
“What does your godam heart tell you?” I asked.
“I don’t listen to my godam heart…I listen to my godam head…my common sense.” said Eleanor, placing a hand over her forehead dramatically.
“You can’t understand.” I said.
“Maybe I do understand all too well. Maybe Abigail Wax broke off your affair and now you’re lonely.”
“An affair with Abigail? Where did you hear that?” I asked.
“Gregory told me.” said Eleanor.
“Yeah—and where did he hear it?”
“He’s friends with Brandon Silver and Brandon told him all about you and Abigail.” said Eleanor, as if the words were ammunition.
“Brandon Silver is an unstable person.” I said.
“He told Gregory that he followed you and Abigail to your house one evening and that you two were in there for an awful long time.” said Eleanor in a tisk-tisk tone.
“Nothing happened—we hung out in my room listening to music and smoking it up.” I said.
“Right…you had a very single and very pretty Abigail Wax in your room and nothing happened.” grinned Eleanor, rolling her eyes.
“I wanted something to happen but she only wanted to be held.” I said.
“Held?” laughed Eleanor, “Wow…it’s worse than I thought.”
“She’s an emotional girl.” I shrugged.
“So you held her tight did you?” asked Eleanor, a shade of jealousy in her words, “How sweet.”
“Yeah, I held her…and I imagined she was you the whole fucking time…that’s my sick reality since I met you.” I said; my expression saying it all.
Eleanor fell still suddenly, her smile fading and her gaze becoming intense. Her eyes searched my face, perhaps looking for a lie…finding no lie, Eleanor bit the inside of her lip, as if she were contemplating her words.
“I have to go.” she said a moment later before leaving me alone in the room. I stood there for a few moments listening to Mars Control power through another of their weepy songs.
I realized then and there that Eleanor was entirely worth making a fool out of myself for and I followed after her. I pushed through the door and made my way across the crowded room, nearly taking a waitress down in the process—a lucky miss. When I got outside Eleanor was getting into Locksmith’s car.
“Eleanor…” I called after her.
Eleanor paused for a moment before straightening up and stepping toward me, leaving the passenger door open through which I could see Locksmith buckling his seat belt.
“You shouldn’t go.” I told her.
“What do you expect me to do?” she asked nearly in protest.
“Leave with me.” I said.
Eleanor sighed in frustration…I didn’t see the reason for frustration; to me it was a simple decision.
“I need some time to absorb this all…it’s all very intense.” she said.
“If you leave with that clown, you’ll never know—but you’ll always wonder.” I assured, “For the rest of your life.”
“Excuse me but what the bloody hell is this all about?” demanded Locksmith from the car.
I leaned slightly to look around Eleanor’s shoulder toward Locksmith who was sitting comically in his car, one wrist draped over the steering wheel…a twist of disbelief in his face.
“You wouldn’t understand cardigan boy.” I told him.
“No?” he said, unbuckling and rising from the car. He sauntered over in his cardigan, tie and shiny pompadour. I noticed his tapered jeans were rolled up slightly above his shoes, exposing argyle socks. He looked like a 1950’s fraternity brother who’d definitely drunk the shit-head cool aid.
“You wanna say that again to my face?” he said.
“Sure,” I shrugged, “I said, you wouldn’t understand cardigan boy.” I told him, “I guess I should have told you to blow me though.”
“And you are?” he asked, as if genuinely perplexed.
“None of this is any of your business.” I told him.
“This most definitely is my business.” he assured.
“Really? I thought being a low-life two-timing douchebag was your business.” I said.
“I’m not sure who you are…or who you think you are…but if you were smart you’d walk away.” said Locksmith. I noticed to my left, two of his friends approaching. Within seconds they were shouldering Locksmith, looking me over suspiciously. It made me laugh.
“You guys are terrifying.” I said.
“Maybe you’re psychologically cracked?” asked Locksmith, enveloping me in an intense contemplative stare of analysis.
“Maybe.” I laughed, looking from him to his henchmen, who furrowed their brows, contemplating the implication.
“I’ll ask again—what’s this all about? Why are you harassing my girlfriend?” asked locksmith.
“Listen…hairdo.” I said, “Why don’t you do yourself a huge favor and take your posse for some jello shots or whatever it is you princesses do? I’m trying to talk to Eleanor.”
“And with such a choice vocabulary I might add.” said Locksmith, crossing an arm across his chest and propping up his other arm so that he could stroke his chin, “I mean, I can see you’re a very eloquent individual.”
“Oh…you prefer to debate?” I asked.
“Trust me…you don’t want to debate with me.” he said.
“I think I might.” I said.
“You really don’t.” grinned Locksmith.
“Maybe we can debate Lacey Silver and what you’ve been doing with her in the back of your car.” I suggested, gesturing toward his idling car.
Locksmith’s grin didn’t fade, rather it stuck there, awkwardly, as his brain grappled for a way out. I lit a cigarette and blew a puff of blue smoke into his face.
“You’ve been misinformed,” he finally said, waving the smoke away with one hand, “and I’m not giving you any more of my time.” he winced, his synthetic smile fading. Shaking his head he took Eleanor by the hand and led her back to the car.
“You’ll always wonder…” I called after Eleanor who didn’t look back over her shoulder…even after I’d played dirty and broke the guy-code like emergency glass…even though I sold out her star debater; it seemed she’d made her decision and was going to stick with it.
As Locksmith’s car pulled away, I stood on the sidewalk in my torn jeans, leather jacket and scuffed Vans knowing that for the rest of my time at Coronation High, other girls would be mainly a distraction from Eleanor’s haunting presence. I took a drag of my cigarette as I watched the taillights drive away, getting smaller and smaller as the car accelerated down the bumpy downtown street. Indeed, I searched for a sense of closure and surprisingly felt one growing slowly, like a bubble of magma that would eventually burst and turn to rock…forging a small concave that would always be the shape and form of the mysterious Eleanor Price. Oh well…such is life.
I dragged deeply on the cigarette watching the car fade away, taking Eleanor into the night and far away from me. She’d go home with Locksmith and probably listen to him relive his debating championship heroics, perhaps he kept all of his trophies behind fireproof glass, she’d sleep with him and wake up the next morning and have breakfast with his senator father and trophy wife mother…the maid would make them blueberry pancakes and orange juice and they’d discuss the NAFTA, the ACLU, bi-partisan politics and perhaps even the fall of apartheid; another day in boring paradise. But all in all—it was her loss I realized; for Locksmith could never rock her world like I could. Some birds just didn’t get it, I thought to myself.
It was the 90’s and strangely I knew at the time that we’d never again see such extraordinary times. Though watching Eleanor drive away with Locksmith stung hard, I felt that warm 90’s assurance that always hung in the air around us…an assurance that anything was possible and everything would most definitely be alright. I took a last drag and flicked the cigarette into the gutter. I was about to turn and walk back into Terminal City when something strange happened. The universe illustrated that it had other plans.
The brake lights of Locksmith’s car illuminated and the car stopped perhaps a block and a half away. It idled there in the middle of the street for a few moments before the passenger door opened and I saw Eleanor’s form step out, a long coat slung over her forearm. It seemed there was some debate between her and Locksmith who was undoubtedly going to win, being the debating champion he was. When she finally closed the door and the car pulled away rapidly, Eleanor turned and started walking back toward me. I looked up at the sky that was a dome of stars; a million points of light twinkling back at me. How the fuck?
I didn’t bother contemplating it…rather I stepped off of the sidewalk and started walking toward her…to meet Eleanor halfway. We met in the middle of the street and she wrapped me in a deep, hard hug and didn’t let go for perhaps a full minute.
“You ok?” I asked.
“I’m fine.” said Eleanor, “I’m emotional I guess. I don’t want to go back in there—everyone was watching.” she said looking at the crowds of kids gathered around the entrance of Terminal City who were completely oblivious to the drama that had just unfolded.
“What do you feel like doing?” I asked.
“I feel like just walking…walking all night.” she said.
“Ok.” I said.
“Will you walk me home?” she asked.
“Of course.” I said, knowing it was a hell of a long walk back to Emerald Heights from downtown but also knowing I could do anything with Eleanor.
“You came back…I can’t fucking believe it.” I whispered to her, taken completely off guard.
“Gregory couldn’t either.” laughed Eleanor.
It was the 90’s, such were the notions, such were the times.
Tales From Truman Park Episode 3
At first, I thought the universe had made a mistake…that the good luck had missed someone else and hit me by accident…that there had been a minor glitch in the system that had allowed for Eleanor Price to demonstrate to me the meaning of true romance. My suspicions didn’t exactly plague me, because it’s hard to be plagued when you’re being enveloped by a woman like Eleanor Price…for she was femininity condensed; the reason prehistoric man started painting on flickering cave walls. She was the embodiment of poetry…and she moved fluidly, full of nostalgic allure and soft curves…suggestive eyes and matching rouge lips…deep warmth that emanated from her core, which was quietly and calmly bubbling with passion and arcane notions…the likes of which never failed to inspire my curiosity.
Indeed, dear reader, there was all of that about Eleanor Price, and if looked at from a distance, that is to say from an objective proximity—one might easily surmise that I’d used love potion to lure Eleanor into my complex existence…that she’d perhaps gone temporarily insane to fall for me. However, once the dopamine ebbed and the honeymoon mist cleared—the intricacies of our magnetic pairing became clearer—yet no less intriguing or miraculous…but not exactly what most people in Coronation gossip circles believed.
You see, they all assumed that Eleanor had a thing for rock singers. There was of course the other side of the political spectrum who believed that Eleanor was simply a social climber who saw me as a potential ticket to entry level popularity—which I myself didn’t even possess. The Coronation kids, who were so avidly preoccupied with popularity and social politics, once again couldn’t quite grasp the reality of things. The simple truth was that Eleanor was a sharp cookie…she knew how ferociously I’d lover her and what’s more she’d felt it so obviously that night on the street when I’d nearly gone head to head with her debating star. Something in her recognized something in me and as corny as it might appear to sound—it’s the way it had started—everything else was incidental. What helped keep us together was perhaps another thing.
The truth was that Eleanor had a lot in her head…which I assumed came naturally with her genius IQ. I didn’t have a genius IQ and my mind was a perpetual clutter of ideas and creative concepts—so I could only imagine how busy it could get in Eleanor’s mind. Though she’d grown up under an umbrella of privilege in the lap of specifically refined luxury her mother’s old-money provided; it seemed her perception of life went far deeper than exotically designed surfaces and the accompanying culture. She often spoke of the difference between old money and new money and balked at her parent’s separated existence, claiming that they lived in a bubble of unawareness and employed a plethora of props to safeguard their fortress of oblivion. She saw herself as another prop in their fortress…or perhaps a play piece her parent’s used to get back at each other from time to time when resentments ran high.
Though she, perhaps by way of obligation to tradition, belonged to various extracurricular clubs and causes—she carried with her at all times a proverbial can of spray paint with which she’d graffiti the walls of said clubs and causes…for there was a delinquent in Eleanor, one which hid deeply and cleverly…and on any given day, if you caught her at the right moment, might observe this delinquent rear it’s head and usually in the most abstract and darkly comic ways. The prism through which she viewed the world created the perfect atmosphere for the blackest of humor.
The way she’d hold a cigarette…drop her keys in the doorway when trying to unlock it…the way she’d taken a bite of a display muffin at a school bake sale and replaced it back in the display case to me was nothing short of hilarious. Perhaps I just loved her and so saw the light in everything she did, no matter how peculiar. Really however, I suspected that Eleanor felt that my darkness eclipsed her darkness the perfect chemistry of camouflage and shadow.
She loved driving around town in her mother’s black Miata, listening to Burt Bacharach, clad in mirrored heart-shaped sunglasses and a polka dot head scarf, smoking thin European cigarettes as the palm trees and gardeners went by; a living breathing portrait. One evening, she’d stopped by Truman Park to pick me up, citing on the phone that she had something special planned. Intrigued, I waited on the stairs, knowing it was somewhat hazardous for a beautiful damsel in her mother’s sleek black Miata to wait around at night in Truman Park with the top down. I hopped in over the closed door as I usually did and as usual Eleanor smiled, pulled me in for a deep kiss and we drove off as Burt Bacharach piped on the stereo. The moon was full…it was the 90’s and we knew we owned the night.
“What do you feel like doing?” I asked as we drove along the coast line with the moon sparkling against the endless Pacific Ocean.
“Maybe we can walk along the pier?” she shrugged, “It’s so beautiful out tonight.”
“Yes, it is.” I said, turning to her.
I lit one up and we passed it back and forth until we were riding high above the shoreline, heading toward the sky and winding up a long ascending bend that took us into Huntington Point…a lookout neighborhood near the international airport built along the jutting edge of a cliff drop off. Eleanor wound the car around the smooth bends in the smooth road as the quaint houses went by and the Bacharach piped dreamily on the stereo.
“Thought you wanted to go walk the pier.” I said.
“I do…but I have something special planned.” said Eleanor, glancing sideways at me, “…and I might need your help.” she said with a peculiar grin.
“Sure.” I smiled, looking at her with a shade of suspicion, wondering what she was up to.
Eleanor slowed the car once we reached a darkened expanse where there were very few street lamps. She turned the radio down and squinted across the dashboard at the darkened passing yards. When she found the house she was looking for, Eleanor pulled the car into a dark concave beside a partition of hedges, switched the top up and killed the engine. In the near pitch dark that enveloped the interior, she spoke quietly and closely, as if someone might hear.
“Ok…we need to be very stealthy.” she said, leaning very close to me and rubbing her lips against my cheek.
“Stealthy?” I asked as Eleanor leaned over and opened the glove box from which she produced a compact flashlight which she clicked on momentarily as a test.
“Ok, let’s go.”
“Go? Where?” I asked.
“You see that yellow house?” she said, pointing a finger toward a boxy looking house with a perfectly barbered lawn which was decorated meticulously with figurines and ornaments.”
“Yeah.” I said, peering at the house.
“Well baby…that’s Irving Nelson’s house.” she sighed.
“Who the hell is Irving Nelson?” I said the name, trailing off into thought and drawing a blank.
“The principal of Truman High…that’s his house.” said Eleanor, her grin widening.
“What?” I chuckled, “Are you mentally nuts?”
“He’s listed in the phone book…imagine that.” Eleanor grinned.
“Well I hope you’re not planning on pulling off some Manson clan type shit here because I just ain’t that sort of chap…I don’t care how beautiful you are.” I said.
“But we have to kill him now.” said Eleanor very seriously before clicking on the flashlight a moment later which she held directly below her chin. She made a witchy face before breaking into a chuckle, “Look…I propose we kidnap his garden gnomes…that’s all.”
“That’s evil.” I said.
“Guess that makes me eveeeel.” Eleanor whispered, placing the flashlight under her chin again and turning it on so her face was illuminated like a ghostly apparition, “Are you coming or are you going to pussy out?” she asked.
“Ok…sure…I’ll join you on your PG-13 vendetta.” I grinned, finding it all a bit cute.
“Hey, I’m doing this for you.” she said suddenly serious.
“I know—you’re hot.” I said, leaning in and kissing her deeply.
Indeed, Eleanor moved swiftly, like a stealth operative, issuing me hand gestures to stop, move slowly and eventually, to follow her around the hedges up the walk and into the yard which was populated by a small community of creepy garden gnomes. There were other trinkets as well…a miniature windmill…miniature ponies…a miniature well…indeed, it seemed Nelson’s wife was touched by a mild bit of insanity. I stood there scratching my head, still trying to contemplate how exactly this action was supposed to translate into pay-back. I was glancing up at the darkened bay window of the house when Eleanor hissed at me to grab the windmill, which I uprooted and walked back to the car.
Once it was sitting safely in the trunk of Eleanor’s mother’s Miata, I headed back and found that Eleanor had built a small pile of garden gnomes near the mouth of the yard. She instructed me to move them to the car, which I did. This took two trips. As I walked, clutching the cool plastic gnomes, on my second trip, Eleanor came tearing out from around the corner, not bothering to conceal her voice this time, “Let’s jet…they’re coming!”
Kicking it into high gear, we made it to the car in seconds. As I dumped the remainder of gnomes into the trunk, I noticed that Eleanor had with her a rolled up garden hose on the end of which hung a large, high tech looking sprinkler. She dumped it in the narrow space behind the seats and we both got into the car. Sparking the engine with a heavy rev, Eleanor didn’t wait for the engine to level before she shifted into reverse and so we jerked forward as she backed into a neighboring drive way, where she cranked the wheel and floored the gas, sending us off in the opposite direction with a loud squeal of the tires.
Once we were a safe distance away and in the clear, Eleanor slowed to the speed limit and merged onto a freeway and we joined the anonymity of traffic.
“I mean baby; that was the most romantic thing I think anyone has ever done for me.” I said.
“Nothing is too good for my man.” she said, placing her palm under my chin. Eleanor had perfect hands and I kissed her palm, mildly milling the notion in the back of my mind if her palm contained remnants of dog shit from handling the dirty looking garden hose and immediately after decided that kissing her warm palm was worth it. That’s how it was with Eleanor and I—true romance.
Now, I should explain here that though Eleanor Price had become in one simple pivot, the first great love of my life…somehow, her presence in my life wasn’t distracting and perhaps that was because she inherently understood the needs and absurdities of an artist. Indeed, if anything, Eleanor aided my creative endeavors with a purity of understanding, often offering the shades cast through the prism of her unique perspective.
Of course, this only elevated my musical compositions with the Decker brothers and our band Technicolor, which was gaining a substantial following at each gig we played. Indeed, the gigs, though exciting in an extreme sort of way, were mainly at all-ages dive venues…which meant the concert promoters who organized the shows would host them wherever they could wedge a foot in the door. For the Decker brothers and I however, it didn’t matter where we played…we would have played at the city morgue if there was a living audience. Our approach was rogue and beyond that our live performance was tightening up to a degree where I was starting to feel a certain connection with the Decker brothers…as if I was slowly but surely becoming an honorary member of their brotherhood telepathy—it was as if we could anticipate randomness during collective improvisation.
With the help of Bruce Decker’s girlfriend Penny Alto, who seemed to have a knack for persuasiveness, we’d managed to get booked at a late night café downtown near skid row, a library auditorium, a bonfire, beer keg barn party in the countryside, a mushroom tea house party, a sweltering street festival for the arts in Antadena, we played a show at Remington Pool—a public pool in Emerald Heights that hosted bands on Friday nights…we played a rummage sale at Holy Cross Cathedral in Vinewood, which was perhaps our greatest sounding show to that point. Most infamously however, and a show that would prove pivotal was at an illegally operated indoor skate park, fully equipped with ramps and half-pipes…which during our set was raided by the police, who’d busted the organizer as we continued to play.
Something of a protest had ensued with several kids refusing to leave and others refusing to stop moshing, the officers began to chase kids, most of which were on skateboards, which made for an arduous task. Finally however the house lights came up and an officer had stepped up to the side of the stage giving the cut signal with his gloved hand.
Indeed, it hadn’t really been much…certainly compared to the chaos that regularly unfolded in Truman Park, the Cat Cave being shut down was, in my view, quite anti-climactic…what prevailed is what one would expect to prevail when a bunch of rich kids congregated in an illegally run skate operation are asked to leave by police. There was a fair amount of attitude giving and pouty remarks.
Though it hadn’t been monumental to me, the students of Coronation turned the ill-fated incident into headline news…and as fate would have it…Technicolor had been at the forefront, providing the soundtrack for a moment perhaps none of them would ever forget. The students at Coronation saw it as a claim of rebellion…and if nothing else, something that was finally their own, something they could own with cries of rebellion, which I assumed most of them needed so very badly after a lifetime of cordially buttoning up. I understood the significance…I just couldn’t participate in the victory laps that went on for perhaps two weeks after.
Indeed, I was too busy with the Decker brothers in their rehearsal room, constructing two new songs we were determined to have ready for our next show…which was at a mid-sized skate-park in Woodfield Hills called ‘Gorilla’. Gorilla wasn’t as big as the Backyard, which I saw as the holy chalice of skate park shows. However, Gorilla was the only park in its district and so always over crowded with head boppers and stage divers.
We were slated to play third on a bill of five bands…which was a massive jump up being that we were, up to that point, usually the first or second band up on a bill of six or seven bands. To play just before the co-headliner was something new and something to see as an achievement. Indeed, friends attributed it to the sheer chance of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Having provided the soundtrack for the most scandalous night in recent Coronation High memory; we’d solidified our relevance not only at Coronation, but also at Westcott High and Seymour Secondary—west side schools which, though weren’t as vibrantly musical as Coronation, housed scads of live music fans.
Though it hadn’t seemed like much to me at the time…the Cat Cave incident had become a thing of folklore—which I found quite lame when my classmates would carry on about it, remembering it frame by frame…trying to piece together on an exact timeline, where everyone in the building had been when the fuzz burst in, who had been 86’d first, who’d been chased the longest…who’d managed to ride the half pipe while being chased. I’d hoped to be part of a different sort of folklore—the folklore attributed to legendary Coronation bands who’d earned it through talent, craftsmanship and melodic charisma. Instead, my first mark was being on stage during a skate-park raid.
Needless to say, once you’re marked, you’re marked…you never get a second chance to make your mark. However, you can always aim for a bigger mark that will eclipse the initial, if the initial is in fact as lackluster as a skate-park raid. Indeed, I set my focus on the approaching battle of the bands at the Backyard as a viable infamy eclipser and acting accordingly I submitted Technicolor’s demo to the board of judges and critics who were made up of a bunch of yuppies who didn’t play music at all—which I found odd. The battle was organized by a group of sponsors and boards and an arts council panel made up of more yuppies…indeed, where there is funding, there are boards of scavengers. One could only hope the pecking order of ass-kissers allowed for at least a few of the judges to be somewhat music savvy.
To prepare, in case we were selected as finalists, I met with the Deckers after class each day in their rehearsal room for very involved jams, during which we spent hours perfecting the slightest nuances of the songs; we didn’t just want to be great—we wanted to be mind-blowing. We were gaining great momentum toward that trajectory as well when the Christmas break suddenly arrived and put a hold on everything. The Decker brothers informed me that they were flying to Arizona to spend the holidays with their in-laws…however they didn’t seem quite thrilled about having to attend a monster truck jam on boxing day. They broke the news to me after our last rehearsal before their reluctant decampment. Indeed it seemed the two twins didn’t wish to spend the holidays in Arizona any less than I wanted them to—for we were making tremendous progress on the two new songs we were hell bent on playing at Gorilla the following month. I’d left Emerald Heights that evening feeling as if something bad had either just happened or was just about to happen.
I’d run into Sarah Mascara on the number 7 heading back into Truman Park and she’d been sitting sideways in her graffiti covered seat, listening to her Walkman and bopping her head. I took a seat near the front and looked back at her…waiting for her to notice me. When she did, her face lit up and she rose from her seat, pointing at me and speaking very loud because of the music blasting in her ears.
“Hey asshole! You don’t call you don’t write.” she laughed as she approached, causing an old lady in a nearby seat to clutch her bag closer and uneasily slide further toward the window.
“Sarah Mascara.” I said.
Sarah removed her headphones and slid down into a seat. I sat sideways with my legs across my seat as she faced forward in the seat behind me.
“Man, your hair is getting so long.” she said, “Don’t you have to keep primped up for that prissy west side school?”
“It’s all smoke and mirrors over there.” I said.
“You travel an awful long way each day for smoke and mirrors.” she smiled with her big red lips and stark white teeth.
“I went there to start a band.” I said.
“So have you?” she inquired.
I slipped Technicolor’s wild-fire demo into my Walkman and handed her the headphones. Sarah listened closely, with her hands over the foamy headphones, raising her eyes up at me a few moments later with a wide smile. Again she spoke too loudly, “Wow…it’s good…who are the guys playing with you?”
“It’s me and these crazy twins from Coronation—the Decker brothers.” I said.
“I’m impressed Holden…and to think Principal Nelson said that you were bound to resurface again in Truman Park, flipping burgers at the Burger Bank.”
“He said that?” I grinned, seeing the bloated redness of his face in my mind and imagining my fist colliding with his jaw in slow motion—like a TV boxing replay where the sweat and Vaseline spray out in all directions when the glove connects. Recalling Eleanor sprinting out of Nelson’s yard carrying his rolled up garden hose and it’s high tech sprinkler head, I had to chuckle to myself.
“He better hope that’s not the case because I truly would dip my balls in his ketchup.” I said, at which Sarah leaned back and laughed…however, as if remembering something important, she stopped abruptly and touched my arm that was slung across the back of the seat.
“Did you hear that they’re going to close Truman at the end of the school year?” she asked.
“I mean, ‘close’ as in wrecking balls and bulldozers.”
“The school is super old…it was built in the 1890’s. So it’s in pretty bad shape after a hundred years. Plus the city ain’t doing shit to renovate it. The fucking pipes keep exploding and the foundation is cracking pretty bad after that last earthquake too.”
“What last earthquake?” I asked, trying to recall.
“Like, the one last year.”
“That’s ridiculous…that school should be made a historic landmark—not torn down.” I said.
“I thought you hated Truman High.” Sarah said, shooting me a curious glance.
“I couldn’t stand the students, the faculty and the sub-par curriculum…but the school itself is a time capsule…the antiquity always amazed me…it’s a part of the history around here…I can’t believe those fuckwits are going to tear it down.” I said, floored slightly by the ignorance of demolishing iconic heritage landmarks just because they hadn’t been voted legendary by some board of cheese-eaters. However, I simultaneously realized that the school board didn’t share my sentiment and certainly didn’t see Truman High as a historical landmark. To them it was a money pit…a hundred year old school with rotten entrails; they felt it was perhaps more humane to put Truman out of its misery. As most things usually are—disappointingly the demolishing of Truman High was about money and nothing else.
When it was my stop Sarah and I bid each other farewell and a merry Christmas. As I walked along State Street I contemplated the closure of Truman High…which led to much contemplation about Truman Park. Residents were used to their parks being neglected and eventually turned into parking lots or more housing projects while the oldest houses in Truman were condemned and eventually demolished. The empty lots grew over with brush and weeds and would remain empty, like missing teeth in the spotty rows of houses which all seemed doomed to a similar fate. Truman High would become another statistic as well as a symbolic gesture. When I came to my street, I decided to detour and stroll by my old high school.
It was perhaps 11:30pm when I came upon the old structure which was swathed in darkness except for the florescent lights in the second floor hallway which cast a glow through the intricately designed iron window grills which spread out across the expanse of lawn in front of the school. I lit one up and sat on the front steps, looking up at the old red brick façade, trying to conceive the volume of its age…and exactly how long a hundred years actually was; what one hundred years felt like. Being only 17, it was a difficult figure to conceive.
I looked up at the hallway lights glowing through the second floor window grills and puffed quietly, watching the wisps of smoke move through the light like the dancing of ghosts. Hearing someone approaching from behind, I turned and found an elderly man walking slowly across the moonlit lawn. There was a fluffy white cat at his feet which walked in pace with the old man. The ember of his cigarette glowed as he inhaled on it, illuminating his face with a dim orange glow. He glanced at me and nodded.
“You a student here?” asked the old man when his cat stopped to nibble at some jutting weeds.
“I was.” I said, taking a puff of my own.
“Graduated…” he said with an understanding nod.
“No, I transferred to a different school.” I said.
“I see.” he nodded.
“A friend told me tonight that they’re going to tear this place down next year.” I said.
“That they are…that they are.” sighed the old man.
“Shame really…place should be a historic landmark.” I said.
“It is…” he nodded, “Maybe not officially, but to all of us who graduated from Truman—it’s definitely a landmark.”
“You graduated from Truman?” I asked the old man whose cat decided to flop down and rest. The man stepped over and leaned against the hand rail, flicking his cigarette and making a kissing sound at his cat who only flicked its tail.
“Yep…I was class of 45…that’s 1945.” he laughed.
“Wow.” I said, “What was the neighborhood like back then? I mean you can almost see what it might have looked like with the church and the fire hall and all the old houses.”
“Oh, the neighborhood has changed alright…but it will always be the same. Just like this old school has always been the same…she hasn’t changed much since I went here. You see that house there across the street…the white one?” he said pointing to a three level house across the street, complete with a lemonade veranda and a widow’s peak.
“Yeah…it’s a cool one.” I said.
“I was born in that house.” he said.
“You mean actually born in the house?”
“The doctor delivered me in that house on the second floor. My granddad passed the house down to my father when he died…and my dad passed it down to me—three generations of the Arbuckle family in that house…but I’m afraid that trend ends with me and Snowball.” he said, kissing at the cat again.
“No kids?” I asked.
“I have four kids and they all went here!” chuckled the man, gesturing toward Truman High that towered above us from a strangely different perspective, “But you know…my daughters won’t live here…and my son is now overseas. They all worry about me still living here in Truman Park.”
“I can see why.” I said.
“I know…I know…the neighborhood has gone to shit…but it wasn’t always like that. This place was built on great values…it used to be quite something…people socialized…your neighbors said hello back then…I mean, I don’t want to explain it in a glorified way—of course there were always crabby folks…I could tell you about old man Schmidt who used to live in that house right there…boy he was a tough old bird…if he caught you cutting through his yard he’d get you with a ruler stick in the seat of your pants. There were the Bakers who lived in that house on the corner…they mostly kept to themselves after WWII…their son Daniel went off to fight in Europe with the allied forces. He never made it back…caught one in the back somewhere in France. Their daughter Anastasia…let me tell you—you’ve never seen a girl as pretty as her. But we all knew each other…there was a sense of community.” he said, passionately, squinting his eyes at me and smiling the sort of smile only wise old men can smile, “It was about your neighbors…everyone looked out for each other. Now, they shoot each other up.” he shook his head and dragged again deep on his cigarette, “The parade route used to come right down this front street…every family in Truman Park would line up on either side of the street to watch the parades…but no parades come through Truman Park anymore…not for a long time.”
“You’re lucky to have seen it for what it was.” I told him.
“I know it. Well…we better get moving…I’ve got my soaps on the VCR to watch.” said the old man, pushing up off the rail and nudging Snowball gently with the side of his shoe. The fat cat climbed to his paws and gave a wide yawn before they continued across the lawn. Just before they reached the sidewalk the old man turned and pointed toward me with his cane, “Good luck with the new school.” he smiled.
I nodded and offered him a salute.
Looking across the street I studied the old tenements made of red brick and the towering old houses that had once seen their heyday long before my grandparents were even born. The fire hall down the block—the oldest in the city perhaps, stood robust in its turn of the century design. St. Vincent’s church on the corner of State and 5th avenue was also gothic and old, roofed by a large black shingles and a steeple topped by a sharp copper spire turned light blue with age.
Under the dim glaze of moonlight, a black and white photo surfaced—a postcard from a long dead generation. They’d built Truman Park with horses and buggies…they’d carved it out of the desert…they’d paved the streets and sculpted the sidewalks…they’d built a church and a school and a community around the two. Deeply with great mental projection, I imagined a daily scene and it was as if I could hear the whisper of their existences through the static of time. Perhaps their ghosts remained, not realizing they were now buried in uneven plots in the graveyard down the road. A hundred years was indeed an inconceivable measure.
Though it had started as the municipal city hall, Truman High had been present for it all—great evolution. Two world wars, a global pandemic, the first man on the moon…the very one that still shone a dim glow down over Truman’s brick façade. The very slab of rock I was sitting on, the top most step had been placed on a particular day in the 1890’s and hadn’t moved since. The men that laid it were now dead…long dead; an exhale of smoke in the wind. I puffed one last time and snuffed it out with the tread of my runner as I rose from the steps and made my way toward the sidewalk that would lead me back to my mother’s house.
As I walked I wondered if anyone else in Truman Park cared that their greatest historical landmark was going to be demolished in a matter of months…I wondered what it would take to get residents involved. I wondered if maybe all it would take was a simple push in the form of words, which were as I knew, louder than bombs. As I made my way home down the darkened street as the helicopters circled the skies with their spotlights illuminated searching for suspects, I imagined what a poster campaign to save Truman High might look like and exactly what it would entail. Could it really be that simple? Could putting up hundreds of posters around Truman Park really inspire anyone to make a difference? I decided it all depended on what the poster stated; that much would have to be decided.
I was off from school because of the Christmas break and the following afternoon Eleanor dropped by. We sat in my room smoking it up and lying on my bed talking and listening to a Billy Bragg cassette Eleanor had picked up from an import shop. As afternoon was draining from the sky it was decided that blueberry pancakes were in order. Eleanor was impulsive that way and half the fun to her was the drive.
As Eleanor drove north up Avocado lane with the top of her mother’s black Miata down, I reclined the seat and watched the blowing tops of the glistening palm trees pass by. I’d been grappling with the notion all morning and having come to no real decision on the matter, I decided I hadn’t anything to lose and asked Eleanor to pull over at the next phone booth. She did so and I got out of her car.
Indeed I was surprised to find that the phone book was still bolted to its metal clamp, Of course I thought, Who the hell would steal a phone book? I thumbed through the unconscionably thick book until I found the listing in bold black print. I tore the entire page out in case I forgot the address. When I returned to Eleanor who was waiting in her idling car, smoking one of her thin European cigarettes, she turned to me with her mirrored, heart shaped sunglasses, “What’s up?” she asked.
“Can we make a stop before the pancakes?” I asked, holding up the page that was roughly torn across diagonally.
The school board wasn’t hard to find…however, parking was nearly non-existent and we drove around the downtown sky scrapers looking for a spot until we finally found one several blocks away. Once the car top was up, Eleanor and I made our way toward the building which housed the school board, which was old and sculpted immaculately with turn of the century architecture; the evidence of dead generations was everywhere. As we walked, I explained to Eleanor about Truman High and how it was my plan to at least lobby for some sort of re-evaluation of the school board’s plan to demolish the old historic building, which in my view was thoroughly unfair, unthought and in no way, shape or form in the best interests of the districts historical standing—which was pretty all Truman Park had going for it at that point. I wasn’t sure exactly what I planned to say, but I knew I wouldn’t need a prepared speech as I’d be speaking with sincerity and so the words would come naturally.
Inside, we spoke with a receptionist who listened to my request with a stoic gaze…her eyes darkened in their sockets by too much coffee and spending too much time under the florescent lights of the office. Perhaps she needed a good sling of turkey neck…or perhaps a few puffs of the Champagne Supernova I had rolled up in my breast pocket. Unenthused and unamused the receptionist directed Eleanor and I to a waiting area with uncomfortable, hard leather seats and department store catalogue décor. After a few minutes a man in a baggy turtle neck sweater and flood pants appeared behind the reception desk. He was sipping what I assumed was coffee and he seemed to be flirting with the receptionist a bit. They shared a few chuckles before he casually sauntered out to meet Eleanor and I.
“Hello, I’m James…what can I do you for?” he asked.
“I was hoping to speak with someone about Truman Park high school.” I said.
“Ok…what exactly did you wish to discuss?” he asked.
“I want to know why the school board is going to demolish a structure that should technically be a historic landmark—the landmarks are the only thing that neighborhood has left.” I said.
The man named James looked at me for a moment, his expression misconstrued and his forehead growing a knot, “Well…that’s not really my department…but from what I’ve been told, it’s a very old school and the building has many structural issues. From what I understand, the board has maintained that school as well as it possibly could—given the annual budget.”
“I’d like to write a letter to the person who’s in charge of that decision.” I said.
“It’s probably a board more like…but I’m telling you kid—you’re wasting your time…that school is ready for the wrecking ball and that property is worth more as housing projects anyway.” offered James, using his thumb and forefinger to wipe the balls of coagulated saliva from the corners of his mouth, which made Eleanor shiver with disgust.
“I live in Truman Park and can sincerely say that you have no idea what you’re talking about. Why is it that all of you pencil pushing administrators are always the last to get it?” I asked.
James just furrowed his brows at me, sifting for an implication before backing away, raising his palms innocently, “All the power to you…I’ll get you the contact info if you can give me another few moments.” he said before disappearing behind a wooden door.
After five minutes James returned with a small folder piece of paper upon which was scribbled the name and corporate address of the person in charge of such decisions. As we made our way back to the car Eleanor critiqued James and his general jittery manner, postulating that he was indeed probably addicted to amphetamines. Be that as it may I was glad he’d given up the address of his superiors…for they were going to receive a very informative letter from one Jack W. Holden about a certain school the board was so readily willing to forget about.
As we drove toward imminent pancakes, Eleanor and I discussed the letter I’d write. She suggested that I carefully word it with editorial diplomacy as the move veered dangerously close to politics and in that regard veered dangerously close to sanctimonious semantics. She seemed to understand the adult world on an innate level…as if she’d gone once around already and was beck on her second swing…citing the wisdom of ages and a smirk of defiance.
By that point, I’d still not processed my turn of good luck with Eleanor—it seemed the more I contemplated it all the less it made sense…for Eleanor was a classy bird and sharp as a tack…and that was aside from being gorgeous…and me—well I was just me. I simply came to accept that every dog gets his day in the sun. The alternative seemed close to unbearable—that I could have gone through and entire year, sharing a high school with Eleanor Price, never being able to be truly close to her. When I’d first laid eyes on Eleanor, I had many ideas…but I had no idea how supportive she could be…how understanding she could be about the creative madness in my head that kept me up all night—she enabled it perfectly and in essence made me a better artist. Though she did love our Technicolor demo and listened to it frequently in her mother’s car, it seemed Eleanor saw more importance in the striving rather than the finished product. To her, the process is what needed the nurturing and nurture it she did.
After the Christmas break, which I’d spent mainly with Eleanor in my room watching classic videos from Blockbuster and taking late night drives up the coast highway—the Decker brothers informed of their return, citing that it might be a novel plan to arrange a jam being that the show at Gorilla was just around the corner. However, as it had transpired—I’d landed an after school job taking diction from a professor in South Bank and I was offered the job because I was the only candidate she’d interviewed who could type as fast as she spoke with the least amount of mistakes. Though the job wasn’t at all mentally or physically taxing it was a rather arduous freeway commute there and back which made me unavailable for rehearsal for all 5 of the days we had left before the Gorilla show. Because the Decker brothers were unavailable the following Saturday, it seemed that we would have to play the show cold—that is to say after at least three weeks without a rehearsal.
I wasn’t too concerned however as the Deckers were well versed enough to play the songs in their sleep…we were that locked in and we were only getting better with each show. Certainly I was curious to know how it would all go at Gorilla being that our last show had been at the Cat Cave and since then, word had spread of the incident, etching it into the historical annals of the west side skate rock scene…there was an air about the show—a tangible controversy-spiked anticipation and not just because of Technicolor…I’d been told that all of the bands on the bill had been stirring things up on some level…and perhaps it’s why we’d been booked—to perpetuate the mythology.
I had no idea then that the Gorilla show would be my last with Technicolor. To come to that point, I would offer this short set-up to explain the evening of the Gorilla show…large crowd, warm night, 5 bands, me heavily smoked out—sitting with my infamous rhythm section, the Decker brothers beside the concession stand. As I was wondering when Eleanor and her friend Samantha would arrive; the second band was halfway through 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.
“Cool cab.” 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; Titty-Funk…and the Shipwrecks. Titty-Funk? I wondered…of course; Walter was a funk man as was his Goblin, a towering mammoth of a kid—perhaps 6’4, full of muscles with his hair hanging over his face. The others in his band were jazzy looking 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 mysterious though, short hair, thick lips, curvy hips and a Drew Barrymore cuteness she definitely knew she possessed. She was no Eleanor Price, but she had something to her. One of her cheeks was swollen with a lollipop and she 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 from a flask and puffed away at a cigar, calling out directions to his band mates who were placing something massive in the center of the stage. The something was tall, perhaps ten feet and it was covered completely by a white billowing sheet. Indeed, it looked like a ghost hovering there in the middle of the stage as Walter gave the thumbs up, “Perfect.” he chuckled devilishly. When they’d moved their gear into a far corner behind the stage Walter emerged with his Goblin and what appeared to be their girlfriends. He saw me a moment later and started pointing a scolding finger at me.
“You never called me.” he said. He extended his hand and I shook it. His hand was very dry and calloused.
“I lost your card man.” I said, realizing it was true.
“Look, we’re going to be sitting right over there at that table.” said Walter, pointing with his smoking cigar toward one of the nearby plastic tables, “I’m going to be watching you Holden…I don’t want you to impress us—I want you to blow our fucking minds!” he exclaimed, “Show me what we’re going to be getting when you join forces with the Goblin and me…when you finally drop these creepy twins—no offence boys…” Walter added toward the Decker twins who only furrowed their brows in a misconstrued way, “…and realize that it’s our destiny to turn this music scene on its head.”
“Hey…I give a hundred and fifty percent at each show I play—no matter who’s in the audience man.” I assured.
It was about then that the band on stage finished and the soundman was beckoning the Decker twins and I to the stage. I bid Walter farewell and went to work setting up our gear with the twins. When we were through setting and I turned around, I saw the floor in front of the stage was swarmed with kids, hungry for a good hard mosh and some ass-kicking skate rock. I was more than happy to give them what they wanted. The house lights went down, the stage lights warmed my face and I looked out into a deafening racket of whistles, cheers and applause as the MC introduced us…the infamous Technicolor who’d been playing the night the Cat Cave was raided; indeed the word had gotten around and though it was hard for me to wrap my mind around who it was that this had all worked out the way it had; 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…kids who’d gotten a hold of our wildfire demo that had been recorded on the music-room 16 track at Coronation. As the crowd pogoed and kids climbed up on stage to dive back off again onto a lake 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 at Gorilla. 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 were sharing 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, we balanced a set of china on our heads as we pedaled backward on a unicycle—atop a tight rope—without a safety net; such was performing the intricacies of our songs…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, it seemed the Decker brothers 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 there making faces and shaking your heads and looking like you were miserable.”
“Can you blame us?” demanded Bruce Decker, “I think this is all moving a bit too fast.” he said 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 when I’m playing video games.” said Bruce’s brother, “I just wanted to play bass in a garage band…not be a rock star.”
“Rock star? Are you on fucking acid? We’re not rock stars dude…we’re a killer band with the rawest energy Coronation has ever seen.” I pointed out.
“It’s getting too serious.” sighed Bruce.
“That’s preposterous.” I said.
“Well, we were thinking and we talked about this over Christmas in Arizona…we figured we’d do this last show with you because playing the Gorilla was always 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 Gorilla, or Terminal City or Jewel Café…in fact, most stuck to playing in their garages or house parties at best—either that or they mutated into DJ’s. Not every band got to take it to the wall…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? Maybe you’ll get a free Slush out of it or you’ll finally get blown.”
“We’re not late night people—we get up very early.” said Bruce.
“We’re private folk.” said Phil, piping in suddenly.
“Private folk…we get up early?” 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 Beacon. What were you thinking man?”
“What interview?” I asked, drawing a blank.
“The night of the Cat Cave show you spoke with a guy who writes for the Beacon…I mean you did that without even consulting us first.” said Phil.
I paused and thought back, sifting through my memory for the moment in question. I’d smoked a lot and drank some gin that evening and so it was hazy—but through the curtains of fog eventually emerged a bloated face that was attached to a bloated throaty voice, which was indeed attached to a blubbery neck and below it a Pearl Jam t-shirt. Indeed, my memory beckoned me with a jolt as a reverberation sounded back at me through the catacombs of recollection; he’d introduced himself as Ezra Collins, ‘music journalist’. However, there had been no officially staged interview…rather we’d shot the shit for a few moments in between bands as we smoked our cigarettes in the alleyway, surrounded by perhaps a dozen other people who were also smoking in the alley during the band break—of course, I realized; because the night had spawned a raid—our casual conversation had become—in Collins’ retrospect, a handy coincidence and reason enough to transcribe our conversation in the rag he wrote for.
“We chatted for a few minutes in passing—it wasn’t as if I gave a fucking interview…why would anyone want to interview me?” I said.
“Yet you just thought you’d incriminate us?” asked Bruce.
“I don’t remember what I said exactly.” I said.
“Yeah, well…he quoted everything you said, directly.”
I thought back, trying to remember the conversation—trying to recall anything I’d said that might be taken the wrong way; anything misconstruing, scandalous or self-implicating. 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 briefly with Collins.
“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 rock bassist would actually heed such stodgy parental advice, “And anyway, we’re a rock band—we’re supposed to be bad ass.”
“Here…” said Phil, reaching down and unlatching the bass case he was leaning on. From it he fished a rolled up copy of the Beacon—a third rate entertainment rag run by ultra-nerds.
“Read it…” he said handing me the paper.
As I unfolded it, I saw that Helmsley chocolate bars were 50% off at Rightway, that Radio Hut had a Walkman sale, that there was a new installment from the Halloween franchise in the theatres and indeed more coverage of the ongoing OJ Simpson trial. On the last page I saw the blurb…the short article in the bottom right hand corner entitled Local band Technicolor ‘kill’ it at Cat Cave.
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 Jack, what’s the secret ingredient to Technicolor’s music?
Me: Well Ezra, it’s the Deckers…you see, though the Decker brothers look like serial killers—they f****** shred.
Ezra: What is it like playing in a band with two serial killers like the Decker brothers?
Me: They show up ready to kill it every jam.
I was stunned, for it had been a side note comment…something he’d asked at the end of our conversation I assumed as a joke—I’d answered accordingly.
“Come on guys, these things are 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 weeks that article has become a major issue around Emerald Heights.” 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…Jack —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….you called us serial killers. I mean, aren’t you feeling the backlash yet? Hasn’t anyone mentioned anything about this to you?” said Phil, swerving dangerously close to sounding sanctimonious.
“I don’t have a network of handlers like you guys do. Plus you guys do look like serial killers.” I said, realizing it was futile…I was going to lose the Decker brothers and might not have an easy time finding replacements.
Indeed, the brothers had cleared out shortly after that. Bidding me farewell as Titty-funk was taking the stage. It was around then that Eleanor appeared looking luscious and good enough to eat. I explained what had happened with the Decker brothers and Eleanor suggested we go back to my place where we could be alone in the safety of intimacy. I concurred but first wanted to check out Titty-funk’s first two songs. Walter Mayer – bassist extraordinaire talked the talk—but did he walk the walk? That was my question.
I stood there with Eleanor watching Walter’s band play their first song, focusing on the Goblin and Walter and their rhythm section chemistry. The band was a mishmash of genres, as if Blondie, Bad Brains and Fishbone had been musically infused into a blender with wheat germ and amphetamines. Immediately I saw the possibilities; for The Goblin was a drummer of technical prowess, incorporating jazz, funk and hardcore beats—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 lunatic on speed at one point actually turning and falling backward into the crowd of kids that passed him around on their hands for half a song as he slapped away at his five string bass. The next song they opened with a ridiculously technical bass and drum solo…one which seemed to defy all theory sensibility. There was no way they hadn’t been formally trained—I could spot it a mile away and it was no wonder Walt had been so cocky; his talent earned him some cockiness. Being well-schooled was one thing; participating in utter lunacy on stage was something entirely different—and something that couldn’t be faked. They weren’t actors—they were the real thing and before I realized it—I’d stood slightly mesmerized for their entire set. For their last song Walt and his spiky redhead singer unveiled what had been underneath the towering white sheet which had stood center stage through our set and most of theirs. Indeed, I was perplexed to find a giant cardboard effigy of a guy I didn’t recognize underneath the white sheet which was carefully pulled away. The guy was lanky and frail looking, making a disconcertingly ridiculous cum-face as he stood in a girlish pose, twanging at a vintage electric guitar…his hair was long and a large cowlick hung over one of his eyes.
“Who’s that jack-ass supposed to be?” I asked, as a wave of laughter and cheers moved through the crowd around us.
“That’s Trent Humbucker…he sings for the Magnolias.” said Eleanor, “He’s Cartwright High’s star shoe gazer turned socialite.”
“Cartwright High?” I said, having heard the name but nothing more about it.
“I think that’s where this band is from.” said Eleanor.
Recognizing the Magnolias t-shirt I nodded…having seen the band before. As I recalled they were a pack of anorexic bed-wetters who wore women’s skinny pants and were more about choreographed moves and poses than shredding shit up. Though the Magnolias were lame as fuck could really be—it seemed too minor a reason to unveil a rather large cardboard cut-out effigy of their lead glamor boy—there must have been some bad blood over at Cartwright High.
Grabbing the microphone Walt rested a foot on one of the monitors and leaned forward, staring out into the audience as if he was looking for someone…as he scanned the crowd the Goblin started in with a punchy beat, “Are you out there tonight Trent Humbucker?” Walt growled with a devilish, psychotic grin, “Well if you are out there, shaking in your skinny jeans…I just got one thing to say to you…real boys don’t play pussy rock!” hollered Walt into the microphone so loud it distorted and came out in a fiery roar which sent the crowd into hysterics—the guy really knew how to rile up a mob.
Handing the mic back to the singer with the spiky red hair, Walter fell into step with the Goblin who’d been beating out a particularly heavy beat…what ensued was utter chaos dear reader. As soon as the rest of the band kicked in they volleyed into a half-time groove to which they all banged their heads deeply and in psychotic rhythm. As they did this, their sassy girl-singer volleyed herself in the air off of the kick drum and started stomping around the stage as she spat colorful lyrics of pure unbridled mockery…directed at Trent Humbucker evidently. During an organ solo, she pulled a plastic bottle of lighter fluid from her back pocket and held it up to for the crowd to see…she raised her brows and spread her lips wide apart with a wide and utterly psychotic smile…after which she turned and crept slowly toward the effigy of Humbucker…as if she were the big bad wolf.
When she was standing at the base of the effigy she held the bottle of lighter fluid out in front of her and squeezed so a thin stream of the clear liquid splashed over the cardboard likeness and this garnered another massive roar from the crowd. As the effigy dripped with lighter fluid, Titty-Funk’s sassy red head singer produced a book of matches innocently from her hip pocket and held them up to the crowd as she placed a naughty palm over her mouth, causing the crowd to roar even louder…they wanted a riot…they wanted anarchy…they wanted Armageddon…mostly though—they wanted to see a giant cardboard effigy of Humbucker go up in flames.
As I stood there with my arm slung around Eleanor’s shoulders, I watched with an amused grin as Walt’s singer folded one of the matches over the top of the book with one hand before using just her thumb to strike it against the flint so it ignited with a small orange flare. Indeed, at this point, the crowd of kids was roaring so ferociously I felt we’d all spontaneously combust—however, only the effigy went up in flames and it did so with a sudden burst of fire that engulfed it within seconds…as the yellow flames danced high into the night like a ceremonial bonfire, the band broke into a sprinting hardcore beat which set off an enormous mosh pit and I looked to Walt who stood at the edge of the stage with his foot upon a monitor, slapping his bass and staring out at us all with a sinister chuckle and madness in his eyes as the effigy burned to an extraordinary height behind him. In that moment it wasn’t clear to me if Walt was the devil incarnate or just a great gimmick man—there seemed to be a fine line.
When the song was over, Walt and the Goblin produced two small red fire extinguishers and smothered the flames which dissipated into a billowing cloud of smoke that rose toward the tops of the palm trees and blew over the roof tops of houses across the street; a neighborhood spectacle indeed.
As Eleanor pulled me gently by the hand away from the stage and toward the exit; I knew that Walt the Goblin and I were bound by perhaps destiny to shake it all up and turn it on its head which instilled within me some quiet exhilaration as we made our way through the rivers of kids. It had been a strange evening and I felt that the entire evening, or perhaps month, had been culminating toward the events that had unfolded to determine the course of Technicolor’s sudden disbanding and the subsequent realization that Walt the Goblin and I were perhaps destined to assault the pristine virtue of all competitors and win the grand prize at the Backyard’s notorious battle of the bands. The moon sat gigantic in the sky and brilliantly illuminated. Perhaps it was full and perhaps it pulled at me, calling on me to howl at it with 1990’s bloodlust and the insatiable hunger of wild youth.
In the parking lot that was also crawling with kids; I realized there was an issue. Still packed haphazardly into the trunk of Eleanor’s mother’s Miata were Principal Nelson’s lawn ornaments. I laughed clicking the trunk open and being met with a half dozen creepy garden gnomes staring back at me with frozen smiles.
“You still have this shit in here?” I chuckled toward Eleanor who lit up a cigarette and nodded.
“I forgot about it.” she admitted in a long exhale of European smoke.
“Well, maybe we can give these away.” I said, handing one of the chubby belted gnomes to a passing girl who took it in her arms and cradled it as if it was an infant.
“Hold on…don’t give any more away…I have an idea.” grinned Eleanor.
We wedged my guitar behind the seats, where Nelson’s garden hose and high tech sprinkler still sat coiled up as it had been the night Eleanor had dumped it there.
On the way back to my place, Eleanor took a scenic route, merging up onto Sunholland Drive which boasted a sparkling view of the valley which sprawled out toward the northern mountains in colorful grids. She took the bends in the road nicely and the breeze blew through our hair as a Dinasaur Jr.’s Green Mind piped over the speakers.
“Sorry I missed the beginning of your set. Samantha had some boy trouble…and need to talk.” said Eleanor.
“Come to any conclusions?” I asked.
“Not really—he cheated on her. What else can you really say about that?”
“Not a whole lot.” I said.
“You wouldn’t ever cheat on me would you?” she asked.
“Babe…you can rest assured—there’s no other woman in the godam world that’s going to do to me what you do.”
“How about Abigail Wax?”
“You’re still on about Abigail Wax huh?”
“How about Sandra Lawrence?” she asked, bringing my mind around suddenly to Sandra who I shared a third period social studies class with.
“Never.” I said.
“Jane Westcott?” asked Eleanor.
“Not a chance.”
“Please…” I scoffed.
“How about Wendy Silverman?”
“She’s ok, but I’m not really into mono-brows.” “
“How about Winona Ryder?”
“Well, I’ll never meet her so you don’t have to worry.” I said, causing Eleanor to drop her jaw with an expression of amused disbelief as she batted the back of her hand against my arm.
Coming back into Truman Park, Eleanor detoured at Weston Ave and followed it to Truman Blvd, where she turned right. As we drove I took note of the streets on such a Sunday night. There were gangs of youth littered around street corners and store fronts. They gawked at us as we coasted by, some commenting that maybe we were lost…some just giving us a thousand yard stare—assuming we were suburban kids on the quest for inner city thrills. Perhaps Eleanor was, for she rolled up to the curb in front of Truman High and cut the engine. It was perhaps midnight and the moon high above, stoically glazed over us in a soft blue glow.
“What’s going on?” I asked her.
“That lawn looks really bare.” sighed Eleanor, unbuckling her seatbelt and getting out of the car. I got out as well and met her at the trunk of the car, which she clicked open.
She leaned in a picked up two of the gnomes, holding each under an arm and walking across the sidewalk and onto the Truman High lawn. I stood there at the open trunk watching as Eleanor placed the gnomes a few feet apart, “Bring the windmill and put it between them.” Eleanor called out to me, beckoning me with a waving hand.
After placing two more of the gnomes under an arm, I grabbed the windmill and set it down between the gnomes Eleanor had placed. I then took the other two gnomes and handed them to Eleanor who seemed to have a better idea of where to set them. When she was through placing them, she moved onto the other ornaments we’d managed to commandeer from Nelson’s front lawn; a white pony, a large plastic mushroom as well as two giant lady bugs. To top off her work of lawn décor mastery; Eleanor set the high tech sprinkler head in the center of it all, running the hose around one gnome’s neck, lying the gnome on its side as if it had been strangled by the hose—a meticulously malicious touch.
“Nelson is going to shit when he sees this tomorrow morning.” I noted as we both stood back for a moment admiring Eleanor’s handiwork.
“Well…he shouldn’t have messed with you. Had he succeeded in sabotaging your transfer—we’d never have met…none of this would be happening…we’d have gone on existing without ever realizing the other existed.” she said as we made our way back to the car.
“You don’t think we were destined to meet?” I asked her.
“Maybe…but how many people who are meant for each other never meet? I’m sure it happens all the time and the people never know any better.” she said slipping the car into drive.
When we got back to my place it was late…the house was darkened…my brother was out alley-catting with his college buddies and my mom was in bed early, resting up for her Monday at the government facility where she worked. In the dark, we quietly crept up to my room—our private sanctuary in the attic of my mother’s house. Eleanor frequently spent the night with me in my room, falling asleep to dreamy Manchester guitar rock. She kept an overnight bag in my closet and as she readied herself for a proper night of sleep, I rolled one up and sat down at the boxy computer, starting on the poster text. I condensed all of my thoughts into a paragraph—which I hoped would catch the eye of passersby and hopefully wouldn’t outlast their attention span. When Eleanor was out of the shower and clad in a pair of shorts and a tank top, her makeup missing and her hair worn up in a bun, I admired her natural beauty. She sat in my lap and read the paragraph, offering her editorial input which helped meld the paragraph into an inspiring public service announcement…the general idea of which stated simply that without a sense of history, a community could have no sense of identity.
Though it was a school night, Eleanor and I stayed up well past 2am working on the poster, mainly because the dial-up internet connection took nearly 20 minutes to download a single photo. However, Eleanor had managed to find on a city archive site, two remarkable photos taken nearly from the same angle, 85 years apart…so the lengthy wait seemed well worth it.
Having picked up some savvy from an extra credit computer class during her 2nd period spare, Eleanor clicked away at the keyboard, scrolling and moving the bulky mouse, fitting the photos onto the poster and centering the text, experimenting with fonts as well as including at the bottom of the poster the direct line of School Board headquarters as well as the direct line of councilman Robinson, who had a long history of fighting the good fight for Truman Park, no matter how uphill the battles were.
As we lay on my bed, with the black light blazing up the planets stickered to the ceiling and the incense smoking on the window sill and the helicopters outside circling Truman Park, I dozed off with Eleanor wrapped around me. I was nearly beyond the threshold of consciousness when the phone, like a fire drill bell sounded, shattering the still silence of my darkened room. Not wanting the phone to wake my mother, I rolled to it immediately and answered in a croaky half-asleep voice. There was silence, but the silence was suspended in the static of a live call; someone was on the other end but not speaking.
Indeed, as Eleanor stirred momentarily, rolled onto her side and drifted off back into slumber, I heard a voice on the other end, but didn’t recognize it…because I was trying to place it, the words were of secondary importance.
“You think you’re pretty fucking cool huh?” slurred the drunken voice with eerie intent before breaking out into a theatrically evil cackle, I recognized it immediately as Locksmith.
“Locksmith?” I asked.
“You’re nothing but a fucking Truman Park skid Holden….your band sucks as well…sure you might play at some skate parks…but people are only nice to you because they feel bad for you…because you’re just a hood rat…and just so you know–just so you know,” the voice slurred on, drunk and angry, “Eleanor is only hanging around with you to get back at me and to get back at her parents. Enjoy it while it lasts because it’s all going to come crashing down on you very soon…”
“What’s a matter princess—you drink too many jello shots tonight? Sober the fuck up…and don’t call here again.” I said and hung up. I turned the ringer off just to be sure.
“Who was that?” asked Eleanor, half asleep.
“Wrong number.” I said, but Eleanor was floating off toward deep dreams on a cloud of slumber. I rolled over, slid my arm up under hers and pulling her in close, I closed my eyes and floated off with her toward my own deep dreams.
Tales From Truman Park episode 4
I could have understood if Locksmith loved Eleanor like I did…if he saw in her the grainy 1960’s 8mm film noir…the rock facades and brilliant Southern Californian sunsets that made one wonder how there was that much color in the world and how it all seemed so effortless. Dear reader, that would be one understandable thing…for which a man might be entitled to at least a few disgustingly shameless exhibits of late night drunken despair…however, it was an entirely different thing to be so invested in one’s political reputation and social standing among gossip circles, cliques and coteries which, at the end of the day, meant jack shit. I saw the truth and it was this simple; Locksmith hated losing Eleanor because he’d lost her to me…someone he viewed as a lesser person…though ironically this view was fueled by a certain inferiority I instilled within him…which hadn’t been intended.
The following week I’d seen him a few times in the hallways of Coronation, moving through the schools of students with his crew of debaters and student representative council nerds. As usual, Locksmith had been clad in a colorful tie, a pompadour and his rolled up pants which displayed his ongoing collection of argyle socks that always disappeared down into black and white oxfords. He was skinny, frail and soft and stood perfectly straight as if he was perpetually attentive and waiting to be picked for a debating round. He also sat like this in class…perfectly straight backed and bouncing his knee with nervous eagerness.
Though he had, in a drunken bout of desperation, dialed my land line and attempted to slice and dice me with harsh words; around the hallways of Coronation he was timid and averted his eyes when we passed each other…indeed, I assumed he’d come into contact with a certain degree of shame and was above taking things any further down the rabbit hole of douchery…that is at least what I’d hoped for.
However, perhaps a week later, I was approached in a third floor hallway one morning by April. Her expression was dire in some way and as I took in hand the roll of paper she held out to me, I noticed she was biting her bottom lip and looking quite perturbed.
“What’s this?” I asked as I unrolled the papers, which I saw were pages from a copy of the Coronation Gazette, the school news rag that I was convinced nobody ever read. The Gazette was heavy on hard-left political agendas, which the hard-right students at Coronation resented…and because the hard-right students and the hard-left students didn’t see eye to eye, the right-wing students started their own sub-publication called the Right World Herald, which was printed at the chief editor’s father’s print shop, and in essence looked much more sleek than the Coronation Gazette, which was essentially Xeroxed on site and stapled into a booklet and distributed at an outlet shelf in the library and cafeteria. It was all foreign to me, for at Truman High, students weren’t generally concerned with a left view or right view…scrounging up beer and weed money to out weighed most political discussions and I was fine with that…for politics didn’t interest me and so I wasn’t familiar with the ideals of either side…I was only concerned with starting a band. Still bother sides existed at Coronation and what’s more casting a watchful eye on the goings on.
The papers April handed me were only a portion of the Gazette and I unrolled them to find an article written by your friend and mine, Gregory Locksmith, detailing the show at Gorilla. So…the bastard had been there that night. I hadn’t seen him or is argyle socks anywhere at Gorilla that night. In fact, he’d ceased to exist on my radar until his drunken phone call had come in.
I scanned the article, which was in essence, a review…however, the musical review was only perhaps 20 percent review…the remaining 80 percent was a scathing attack on the counter culture of bands that played at venues like Gorilla and the dangerous ideals they inspired.
…Which brings me to the subject of Coronation band Technicolor, a band fronted by socially challenged Truman Park resident Jack Holden. The band has somehow gained a certain degree of notoriety for being on stage during a bust at the Cat Club, an illegally operated music venue which had been raided for drugs and alcohol late last year. Technicolor was all too eager to capitalize on the controversy by partaking in a assembly at Gorilla skate park last weekend in which an effigy of Trent Humbucker was set aflame. We need to ask how far these bands are willing to go to create their own self-propelled notoriety. It’s been reported that the flames of the burning effigy at the Gorilla skate park reached so high, residents a block away had called the fire department—not only an obvious hazard to public safety but an obscene misallocation of our emergency responders. When will city council recognize that these gatherings are harmful to the youth of Emerald Heights?
“Total fucking shit-bird.” said April, shaking her head…her nurturing warmth ever-present.
“Do you think anyone even reads this shit though?” I laughed.
“Someone must.” shrugged April.
“It’s not like he’s a columnist for Rolling Stone…” I said.
“No, but his father has a lot of pull in this town.” said April, “He’s an alderman.”
“And?” I grinned.
“And I’m worried about you.” April said, pouting her lips.
“Don’t be, nobody is even going to read this drivel.” I assured as I walked her to her next class.
Indeed though I was positive very few students were interested in reading the school publication, I did wonder how far Locksmith would go to smear my name now that it was evident that Eleanor wasn’t going to come to her senses and return to him; it seemed even the article was a fair amount of effort to expend over a woman he didn’t feel anything for outside of his rep having been perhaps slightly tarnished once everyone learned about him and Lacey Silver.
Indeed, I had broken the guy code like emergency glass to sell Locksmith up the river and I’d done so because I had no other choice; I had to be with Eleanor and though it had been a long shot, I’d taken my chances and aimed accordingly. Though I felt zero shame about breaking the guy code to be with Eleanor, I was prepared to shoulder at least some amount of revenge from Locksmith. I saw the article as just that…a scathing revenge attack on my character, talent and hard work ethic, of which I had absolute confidence in…so in essence, Locksmith’s article only came across to me as vaguely creepy and most certainly a passing insult that would evaporate by the end of the week.
Indeed I found otherwise by the time my last period rolled around. I’d spent my spare at the Pier, smoking one up and watching the tourists wander around the boardwalk. When I’d returned to Coronation for my last period class I was approached by Eleanor who looked extra sexy…I asked her if she wanted to cut class and head back to my place…however, she had other notions on her mind, the first of which was the sensationalist article her ex had written in the Gazette, the second was damage control. As she implored me not to do anything silly to Locksmith, who she warned was trying to bait me into a knucklehead reaction, Wes was suddenly upon us, shaking his head and looking at me intensely.
“This is crazy…the whole school is on about Locksmith’s article.” said Wes, “Evidently there was 20 minute debate about it in Miss Spellman’s class.”
“Really?” I laughed, “This has to be a joke.”
“No joke buddy…Locksmith is out for blood…and when Locksmith is out for blood, he sinks the fangs in deep.” assured Wes.
“Yeah, I’m terrified of that clown. The guy wears flood pants…enough said.” I grinned, shrugging it off.
“I can’t help but feel like this is all my fault.” said Eleanor with some concern wrinkling between her brows.
Wrapping my arm around Eleanor’s slender waist, I pulled her close and whispered in her ear, “I carved your name in my bedroom wall.”
“I know…” she said dreamily, resting a warm palm against my cheek.
“Anyway, I read the article and beyond being didactic, it’s not accurate…he made it sound as if it was I who burned the effigy of the cheesy guy in the photo…”
“Trent Humbucker.” said Eleanor.
“He made it sound as if Technicolor was behind it all…which just isn’t accurate.” I said.
“It didn’t bother you that he called you socially challenged and for some reason felt compelled to mention that you’re a Truman Park resident? As if that actually matters.” asked Wes.
“But I am a Truman Park resident and have been known on occasion to be socially challenged.” I laughed.
“You’re a bigger man that I…I’d probably kick his ass.” said Wes.
“And then what? He’d still be an asshole and you’d have an assault charge…” I said.
As we were discussing this April joined our group and her expression told us that she had news.
“Word is that Locksmith is lobbying to have Principal Gavin put you and the Decker brothers on ‘probation’ for burning a life sized effigy of Trent Humbucker.” said April, her eyes wide with disbelief and being caught up in a controversial wave of Coronation drama which, though somehow included me, I felt strangely detached from.
“What’s Locksmith’s deal with this Humbucker clown? Are they special friends?” I laughed finding the entire issue rife with absurdity.
“Humbucker’s father is Alderman Locksmith’s attorney.” said Eleanor, “Gregory and Trent are in the same youth action group…that’s all I really know.”
“Anyway, Gavin can’t put anyone on probation based on anything that happens off school property.” April assured, “It’s ludicrous to think that Gregory thinks that’s even a possibility.”
“He knows it’s not a possibility…it’s all part of a smear campaign…he’s been watching his old man do it for so many years, he probably can’t help himself—monkey see, monkey do.” said Wes.
“Well anyway…” I sighed, “I guess there’s no such thing as bad press.”
So there it was dear reader, your diligent narrator in the throes of a smear campaign, which if I’m to be perfectly honest seemed systemically lame and limited in it’s effectiveness. However, as the days wore on at Coronation, perhaps because of the spectacle of Locksmith acting out in such an rarely seen and rather public fashion…word began to circulate and the word evolved into grandiose threads of fiction that draped like streamers from the angles of a larger statement—it seemed in the following days, Locksmith’s resentment was focused not only on me personally but also on the entire movement of Coronation bands which he chastised one by one in written tirades.
It really seemed I’d developed a nasty habit of wandering into Coronation controversy—a school which I’d jumped hurdles to attend for the purpose of making a musical contribution. Indeed, it seemed once again I was on the map for an occurrence that had absolutely nothing to do with me. For it was a fact—Walt’s girl-singer had lit up the effigy and if Locksmith had been there, he’d have known it. This all might have mattered to me had I cared much about my personal reputation and standing among the both left and right sided students of Coronation high and so I’d be remiss if I didn’t emphatically state here and now that I didn’t at all give a single squirt of piss about what Locksmith or any of his student council minions thought or wrote about me; I only cared about contributing the best music I could to the legendary musical lineage that had arisen from Coronation high.
However, to the Coronation kids it certainly seemed Locksmith’s article was a grand topic of discussion and indeed, players from each side of the discussion started to come out of the woodwork, suddenly appearing though they’d been there all along…kids I’d taken for basket cases or mutes or psychotics…they suddenly stepped forward and spoke their piece, either in support or in opposition to Locksmith’s campaign against Coronation’s skater culture…including a recommendation that school administrators crack down on the skate boarding that went on in the parking lot, or the back lot beside the football field, or in the gymnasium, hallways…wherever it was happening…Locksmith wanted it eradicated, to the degree of printing along side of his articles, photos of the damage skate boards were causing in stair structures, on railings, walls, floor tiles, etc., citing it as ‘recreational vandalism’.
When the photos were such a hit and earned the Gazette perhaps it’s most read, or at least browsed edition, Locksmith and company followed it up the next issue with photos of actual Coronation students skating the property, the piece was called ‘Caught In the Act’ and was, as one can imagine even more popular with Locksmith’s base of followers which made up at least one quarter of enrolled students.
As I’ve said, there was an opposing side, far to the right…the rogue ladies and gentlemen of the Right World Herald, which I was informed had started issuing their own home-grown responses to the Gazette’s ‘Killjoyism’ as they so eloquently titled one such article.
The burning of the Humbucker effigy had certainly seemed to kick up some well needed controversy—perhaps to distract from the fact that though we had the power of youthful invincibility on our side—we’d one day grow old, whither and wind up as ashes on a mantle piece or pushing up daisies in a deserted cemetery with only the crows as company. And it seemed at Coronation, controversies were a full student body issue, which I’d found odd being that I was still in many regards on Truman High time…which is to say that I’d been conditioned over the course of several years to possess an entirely different disposition and so dear reader, my reactions to the controversy, which I didn’t quite see as a controversy were subtle.
This subtlety, which I believed only smothered the flames of social speculation, in fact acted as a combustible agent…not unlike the lighter fluid Walt’s singer had sprayed over the effigy before lighting it up. The instance arose as I sat in the Coronation library with Eleanor, who loved to be surrounded by books. She’d been sketching lewd depictions of certain of our teachers engaged in certain acts of lewdness. We’d been laughing our asses off when we were approached by Malcolm Curtis.
Malcolm was one of many kids who’d founded the Right World Herald, which as I’ve said was printed sleekly and distributed by hand to a select market at Coronation High, which I was told was a larger contingency than was admitted.
Perhaps reasons for this clandestine fanship was in part the fact that the Right World Herald sought to expose the hard truths and inner workings of school policy, reaching far beyond the borders of school administration. Indeed, the Right World Herald frequently sought interviews with city council members and local politicians as well as business owners and students who attended other west-side schools. Malcolm Curtis was the mastermind behind this approach, and it made sense as his father was Winston Curtis; the popular local news anchor on the Vinewood 5 News channel. Beyond what people told me about him, I knew nothing about Malcolm Curtis.
Still, there he was suddenly, sitting across the table from Eleanor and I, smiling and offering his hand for a shake, which I shook and Eleanor didn’t. After a long awkward pause, he ventured into a lengthy explanation of his next article in the Right World times which, from what I could read between the lines, was yet another retaliatory piece in response to a recent article in the Gazette in which Locksmith had published a number of new photos in his ‘Caught in the Act’ section. Evidently I was one of the many students featured in the photo collage, rolling on my skateboard up the Coronation sidewalk, a bottle of iced tea in one hand and a pinner hanging from my lips. With my other hand I was flipping the photographer the fuck-you finger, which the editors had blurred just barely, enough that one could still plainly identify my hand gesture. I recalled the moment the photo had been taken now that Malcolm was showing me the photo.
“I’ve been talking with many of the other students that were pictured in that photo-shaming…I want to know how you all feel about that. How does it make you feel that your freedom as well as your privacy was infringed upon by certain factions of school media?” he finally asked, “How does it make you feel to be chastised for merely arriving at school?”
“I didn’t feel like my freedom or privacy was infringed upon.” I said, “I just felt like giving the photographer the finger–guy was standing in my way with a fucking camera.”
“But do you feel that this sort of ‘policing’ is a form of bullying?” asked Malcolm, tilting his head as if he were conducting a primetime interview.
“I think Locksmith is just jealous because he can’t skate. Maybe he tried it once and fell on his bony ass.” I said.
“So you’d say the correlation between Locksmith and this form of bullying is obvious?” asked Malcolm, again perplexed and holding his head on a tilt.
“He’s the guy who’s been so adamant about compiling a list of our shortcomings.” I said.
“The word ‘our’ meaning…” he prodded.
“The skateboarders and the bands and pretty much anyone else who frequents the skate parks—he’s got a real issue with us.” I said.
“I’m not sure if you realize, but he’s called you a ‘socially challenged Truman Park resident’. Do you feel that’s a statement of socio-economical prejudice?”
“That’s nothing man…I won’t even bother getting into what he said when he called me drunk on jello-shots at 2am.” I said.
“Really?” exclaimed Malcolm, as if thrilled to hear about it, “Why do you think he did that?”
“Who knows?” I shrugged, “The guy wears flood pants and I don’t know why…maybe his mother was drinking alcohol during the crucial trimesters of her pregnancy…of course I can only speculate.” I capped it with a chuckle that sounded psychotic, even to me.
Malcolm only looked back at me, his eyes beaming with gratitude that I’d just given him the best quote he was ever going to get around Coronation high, “Can I quote you on any of that?” he asked.
“I guess.” I shrugged.
I read neither the Coronation Gazette nor the Right World Times. I read dead existential authors and all else I felt didn’t quite apply to me. Certainly I was surprised to find that this type of publicized mud-slinging existed at Coronation as I’d been so immersed in my project with the Decker brothers that I’d not noticed a great divide in plain sight before me among the Coronation students I’d taken for mostly spoiled silly space cadets. Certainly I’d not realized that these students were building at Coronation, their future reputations with resume lists of overachievements that they’d one day take to Ivy League institutions.
I’d tossed the words to Malcolm as if incidentally, knowing my quote would wind up in Right World print, but somehow I lacked concern enough to care about the inevitable repercussions. Say what you mean and let the chips fall where they may…that was my motto and I lived by it easily. If you call it as it is, you can never be wrong and calling it as it is requires true objectivity, which requires a certain humility or existential disposition. Mainly, because I wasn’t building a mysterious identity to sell me in the hallways of Ivy League institutions—I had little to lose. In the end, no matter what I did, no matter if I moved a million units, I’d always be the boy from the other side of town, and kids like Locksmith would always be kids like Locksmith.
I called Walt the following week, having been eager to get back into the rehearsal room for some long involved sessions of melodic alchemy. Indeed, the Decker brothers had buttoned down and fled the life, but I lived the life and had dedicated myself fully to it…there was no leaving artistic endeavor. I wondered if Walt actually ‘lived it’ as he’d specified the night he’d introduced himself to me in the band room at Terminal City.
He hadn’t been surprised to hear from me when I dialed him at this parent’s house which he specified during our lengthy conversation was located in Antedena…a northwestern suburb of Vinewood. As Eleanor had suspected, Walt and the Goblin went to Cartwright high, which seemed a world away from Coronation High but not so far away from Truman Park. Though Antedena was distanced by many miles from Truman Park, the freeway commute was much easier going which made it feel closer.
The two rehearsed at the Goblin’s place in Antedena. 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…the nickname had stuck hard. From my conversation with Walt, I was informed that he and the Goblin had been playing together for 7 years by that point. Not only did they play in the Cartwright high school band together, they also played in the school jazz ensemble and a pit orchestra for a local theater group. Beyond that they’d also been formally schooled at the same conservatory and so had matured as musicians together from a young age. You’d
I drove my mother’s Grand Marquis 5 to the first rehearsal with Walt and the Goblin. I was told by Walt to bring some ‘killer songs’. I had a few ideas I’d been working on with Walt and the Goblin in mind and so I wasn’t going to show up empty handed. I was met out on the street by Walt who’d been lying sprawled out on the hood of his car, the windows of which were rolled down and from them blared a Sugarcubes cassette. 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 an ivory 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 amidst a theme of rustic ancestral tapestries.
The Goblin’s 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 tisk-tisk 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 heard the Deckers quit that band because of the interview you did with Collins…I read that interview.”
“What’s the big? They do look like fucking serial killers…and they might not if at least one of them adopted a different style from the other, but the twin thing, with the 1950’s brush cuts and shirts buttoned up all the way to the neck…fuck man…we’re talking double homicide bro.” said Walt.
“They really took offense.” I shrugged.
“See…that’s what I’m talking about,” said Walter, “It’s like every band in town is trying so hard to be so proper…like upright citizens…how fucking boring. I mean when people go to a rock show they want fire balls and fake blood and vampire fangs.”
“Well…that stunt you guys pulled torching the effigy still has people at Coronation talking. In fact it inspired a huge war between the ruling classes at that school.” I laughed.
“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 Walt.
“Well if it ain’t, we’re going to fucking die.” Walt chuckled, lighting a cigarette.
It was then that the Goblin was upon us with his 1960’s mop top hair-cut and his steroid muscles bulging from behind his Cramps 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 arranged according to necessity, the Goblin’s living quarters; bed, sofa, night stand, TV, mini fridge, lava lamps, stereo…weights. Sitting on the sofa watching a skateboard video were two girls, whom I didn’t recognize. They glanced at me and kept smoking the pinner 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. 90’s women; they had something more—a defining charisma. When I looked back to Walt, I noticed that the entire grill of his cabinet was covered in photos of bikini clad asses which he’d cut out of sports illustrated mags. It was perhaps the collage to end all collages—and indeed a versatile one at that. He opened 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.
“Jack 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, didn’t get up…they only waved from the couch where they puffed away at the pinner.
“They’re leaving soon.” Walt assured under his breath.
“Who’s leaving?” asked one of the girls.
“You guys.” he said.
“Why?” they both demanded.
“Listen, ladies, this is a very important jam…it’s our first…and what we’re going to do here is make history…so, we have to be a circle…an unbreakable circle…ceremonial type stuff babe.”
“So…” said Walter’s girl, “you’re saying we have to go?”
“Baby, I love ya—but you gotta go.” Walter said very seriously before breaking out a moment later in hysterical laughter, “Come on baby, I know it sounds bad, but 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 wine coolers.” suggested Walter, handing her his keys.
“Wine coolers? What are we from Truman Park or something?” said Walt’s girl and they all started laughing.
“Get whatever you want,” he said, setting a crisp 50 dollar bill into her small hand, “…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 before pulling her in for a deep, slobbery tongue kiss.
“You’re such a fucking dick.” she whined.
“I know.” said Walter, grabbing her and pulling her close again, “You can spank me later.”
“I just might.” she said, hooking his keys up with a long nail polished finger.
When the girls where gone Walter sauntered over to the TV and turned it off. It was talk time.
“Ok boys…this is it…this is what we’ve been working toward our entire lives. This moment now…mark it on your calendars because it’s the day everything started.” said Walt, “We are going to make a little pledge here…to venture out into the furthest reaches of sanity…we might even slip beyond the vortex…we might probe the void…but as long as we deliver the music—we’re going to be golden.”
“Let me ask you something.” I said, “What’s happening with Titty-Funk? I mean, you guys were wild the other night…that shit was a spectacle…even if the music was a bit melodically challenged…the stage show was amazing.”
“Well, firstly Charlotte, our singer is moving back to Texas to live with her mother and go to college. Beyond that, our horn section has signed on to accompany a party band on a cruise ship and they’re going to be gone for probably two years—great pay for monkey work. Titty-Funk was great—that’s true…and could have been greater…but we just didn’t have the songs…with you I think we’ll have the songs.”
“Well…let’s see what happens.” I said, strapping on my guitar, “You guys got something you’ve been working on?”
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 we were 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 timeless about throwing in a hardcore riff in the midst of a slap-funk jungle…what we were edging the corner 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 a beer and the Goblin hauled on the bong again. They discussed where the girls might be joy riding in Walter’s parent’s Beemer and then how they planned to organize a performance at the beach on which Walter’s parents owned a cabin. As they pondered aloud, I landed on a page of lyrics that seemed to fit the phrases almost perfectly.
“Hey, this one works well.” I said. The song was about Walt’s home room teacher’s pussycat; it was called, Mrs. Moffat’s Pussycat—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…and what had already been an amazing blend of chest thumping drums, heavy slapping bass and heavily distorted guitar became a wash of vividly infectious melody…what I saw as the point of any great song…indeed, it was poetry in motion once the lyrics about Walt’s home room teacher’s pubic sculpt were added. 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; the Goblin sang the third harmony and 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 and we knew what it meant. We stood there afterward, strapped with our instruments and chuckling with what I can only describe as sheer glee, realizing that whether any of the campus radio stations played the song—it would be a live hit; indeed, a prelude to magic to come.
“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!” he rasped in his best David Lee Roth and the Goblin kicked out the legendary intro fills on the toms…then Walter did a few Karate kicks and judo chops before falling back into pace with the Goblin, I jumped in with a very simplified grungy version of the ‘Hot For Teacher’ guitar line and a moment later we were kicking it in full, realizing suddenly that because both Hot For Teacher and Mrs. Moffat’s Pussycat were in similar time signatures—we could indeed, open Mrs. Moffat’s Pussycat with a few heavy bars of the 1980’s Halen anthem—certainly it was only one of the many ways our set was going to wallop them kids in the head.
“Ok, fine,” I said, killing the volume, “but I’ll only sing this if at our first show, you personally dedicate the song, from the bottom of your black heart, to dear Mrs. Moffat.” I dared him.
“Deal.” said Walter without hesitation, 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.
The next morning was a Saturday and I woke up late and smoked a heavy session in my room before heading out with my mom. She had something planned and I sat complacently in the passenger seat of her car as she drove, singing along to a Rolling Stones cassette. We drove through the sun baked streets casually as the palm trees passed by and the helicopters chopped through the sky high above. We followed Vinewood blvd for a while and I watched the tourists go by my window in droves. Eventually we merged onto a freeway and we followed it for a while, her Grand Marquis 5 taking the bumps and dips smoothly as if we were riding on a luxurious couch. Eventually she merged off of the freeway and we coasted down the grade into North Vinewood, which was mostly a run-down sector with an emphasis on industrial buildings, warehouse space and used car lots.
As we drove east, the residential blocks became towering brick warehouses and fenced off shipping yards that housed industrial machinery. The road became cracked and potholed, more than the usual Vinewood streets. Eventually the cracked and bumpy road led us to a dead end; a yellow and black checkerboard sign bolted to a telephone pole marking the end of the street. My mom pulled to the side and cut the engine, “Let me do the talking.” said my mom as we both got out of the car.
“Sure.” I shrugged, still entirely unsure of where we were and what we were doing there. However, once through a large gate covered with aluminum siding, I realized where we were; it was a government vehicle auction and the lot was filled with cars…but not just cars…there were cargo trucks, vans, jeeps and even a small passenger bus. Mostly there were unmarked cars of a nondescript design however and as we slowly browsed the cars, I noticed the men wandering the lot checking my mom out. Though my mom dressed with a bit of flash and composed herself a certain way, she seemed completely oblivious to the men. Her main objective was to find me a spaciously sized van for my musical ventures, citing that I would need a van to carry my band equipment—after all, what kind of asshole took the bus with a Marshall Stack and two guitars and bag of effects pedals and cords? She also suspected that road trips might come into play and relayed to me her collected thoughts on the subject, citing the logic behind her decision to buy me a Van and the responsibilities of owning a vehicle.
I was a bit dumbfounded…after all, I’d been fully resigned to the dismal prospect of having to work for two more years, typing diction for Professor Norman in order to save enough to buy a vehicle. However, as simple as a Saturday afternoon car ride; owning my very own mystery machine was a sudden reality.
As we took closer study of a black mini-van, a lot employee approached us. He carried a clipboard and wore a faded Lakers jersey. His name tag read “Trav” and he wore a golden watch. He stood nearby smacking his gum as we inspected the van. As my mom gave the tires a light kick with her shoe, Trav stepped over to her.
“She’s got some good rubber on her.” he said.
“How many miles?” asked my mom.
“about a 100k…but these ones can last for 300k if they’re maintained properly.” he said.
“Original transmission?” she asked.
“I’m not sure…but I can find out.”
“I think I want this van.” she said.
“It’s a good little van.” he said.
“It’s for my son…he needs it to move musical equipment. He’s in a band.” she said.
“Well this is the perfect vehicle for that.” said Trav.
“Can you pull some strings for us?” my mom asked, half seriously.
“Well…it’s supposed to be an auction.” said Trav, making quotations with his fingers over the word auction, “But if you give me your phone number, I’d love to buy you a drink sometime.” Trav smiled.
“Keep dreaming.” said my mom, rolling her eyes slightly as she inspected a small crack in the windshield.
There were several vans on the lot and some were in better shape than others. Some were rusted, some were chipped, some were dented…I thought of the sheer number of dirty and possibly leaking asses that had sat in each driver’s seats over the years and found the notion disconcerting. Perhaps people had died in a few of the vans. Still, but all had been maintained to a certain degree having been used as government vehicles. It seemed no matter which one was bid for, the vehicles were all in basically the same condition and mileage range. My mother bid on four vans to play the odds, all of which I felt great about—I’d have felt great about a van with no windshield or headlights at that point.
Though my top pick had been a white utility van with closet space and cupboards, I wound up with my third pick, a grey nondescript minivan with tinted windows and no hubcaps…it looked like an undercover cop van and I liked it right away. And so it was dear reader, that by the end of the day, I was the proud and rather disbelief-stricken owner of a used and stealthy black minivan. As we waited for the paper work I told my mom that I’d pay her back in full for the van.
“Look, keep your money—you’ll need it. Just look after this van.” said my mom, not one for emotional displays.
Certainly by the time Monday morning rolled around and Eleanor and I were rolling down Sunshine Blvd. toward Coronation High, listening to PIL’s Happy cassette and smoking it up as the rising sun beamed brilliantly through the rearview mirror; I’d all but forgotten about Locksmith and his publicized crackdown on the skate culture at Coronation.
However, I was reminded quite immediately once I parked my van and Eleanor and I made our way across the student parking lot toward the entrance doors around which was, as usual, congregated a mass of students, smoking, chattering and guffawing.
I was side stepping them all when Wes was upon me…throwing his arm over my shoulder and falling into step with me, “Some big news today dude. I heard some rumblings this morning about an article in the Right World Times. Evidently, Malcolm Curtis skewered Locksmith in this article. He interviewed a bunch of students who all basically said that they thought Locksmith’s photo-shaming campaign is bogus…apparently you said some pretty funny stuff and it’s got Locksmith in a tumult.” said Wes.
“A tummult?” I asked as we strolled through the entrance doors—I’d still not quite adapted to there being no metal detector check points to pass through as there was at Truman High, “Who uses that word anymore?” I laughed.
“Who said sound English was a dead language? Anyway dude…whatever you guys talked about, evidently he’s published it all in full…some say what you said is an plain act of war against Locksmith.” chuckled Wes, stopping at his locker.
“Act of war?” I laughed as Eleanor, looking quite drawn, hugged me goodbye and left Wes and I standing in the anonymity of hordes of passing kids.
“Yeah man…I heard Locksmith shit when he read it…he’s definitely going to hit back at everyone who commented in that article…especially you.” said Wes, reaching deep into the highest level of his locker, eventually producing a folded piece of tin foil. He carefully unfolded it and pressed his finger down into the center…lifting his finger, I saw a small white square attached to his finger tip and a moment later he placed it on the center of his tongue, “It’s called Napalm Dreams.”
“It’s fucking 8am.” I laughed.
“Best time to strobe baby.” said Wes, retrieving his binder and a couple textbooks from his locker, “I haven’t read the article yet…what exactly did you say in that interview?” Wes asked as we walked on, toward our only shared class of the day.
“I can’t even remember.” I said, “That’s how much I fucking cared…it wasn’t even an interview…it was like him talking to me in the library…the drama around here is absurd.”
“Well, evidently Locksmith is furious.”
“Well…he can kiss my mother fucking grits.” I shrugged.
“I’m just saying, be prepared for some pay-back…Locksmith can be a real bitchy cunt.” Wes warned.
“Locksmith is a load that his mother should have swallowed.” I said as we stepped into Mr. Forrester’s English class.
We sat at the back of the class as usual—a sound strategy for getting picked last during Q&A and settled in as Forrester started in on another bland lecture. Indeed, Mr. Forrester gave some of the most bland lectures at Coronation High and it wasn’t his monotone as much as it was his plodding exploration of subjects that were boring to begin with. We all sat rapt in our desks as Forrester read a rather lengthy excerpt from To Kill a Mockingbird. He read like old people fuck.
When he was finally through, he closed the book and walked to the chalkboard. He wrote a name across the black board in huge block lettering, punctuating the name with a stab of the chalk which created a small chalk explosion.
“Who was Atticus Finch?” he asked, turning back to us all with his hands behind his back and his spectacles fogged or just smudged badly with grease.
Of course, there were the obligatory try-hards who shot their hands up, all too eager to please. Try hards like Vanessa Schultz, Amy Brendan and Thomas Bell one by one offered their critique of Finch’s cultural significance, citing not only lines from Mockingbird, but analogies as well. Meanwhile Forrester listened intently; standing firm with his chin held high as his tongue probed his dentures with ravenous zeal. When Thomas Bell was through spewing his utterly contrived and textbook recited explanation, Forrester closed his eyes and nodded…then, strangely said my name.
“Jack…who was Atticus Finch?” he asked.
Forrester had always seemed utterly oblivious to my presence and so it took me rather off guard when he’d suddenly reached out to me over the sea of heads belonging to students who could have easily given him a satisfactory answer.
“Well sir…he’s a lawyer.” I said.
“Of course…any idiot with a quarter of a brain could tell me that…but who was he really?” asked Forrester.
His words were swallowed up by a deep, penetrating silence under which only the florescent buzz of the overhead lights could be heard. My classmates sat facing forward, waiting for me to stammer over a clinically phrased, text-book recited definition. Instead, I sighed deeply…knowing where this was now going to go, and pausing, realizing I had a choice to turn back…to recite what he wanted to hear…the expected answer that would make its way into the percentage of my overall grade in his class—however, I didn’t feel like turning back that morning; sometimes you just don’t feel like turning back.
“You really wanna know?” I asked.
“I’d have not asked you otherwise Mr. Holden.” said Forrester in what I assumed he saw as his signature brand of drollness.
“I have no idea.” I said, drawing a collective guffaw from my classmates who stifled it quickly once they realized Forrester didn’t share their amused sentiment.
“And why not? I’m assuming you’ve read the work.” he said, “Or is it just that you haven’t read the work Mr. Holden?” he added, drawing his own guffaw from the students.
“I don’t want to get emotionally involved in this conversation.” I told him.
“The theater of life is all about emotional involvement Mr. Holden…one might argue that Atticus Finch walks a fine line on one side of which is emotional involvement…and now that I’d given you a rather large hint—I expect you can now articulate the answer to the question I’ve asked.”
“It’s the wrong question.” I said.
“Pardon me?” demanded Forrester.
“It’s the wrong question.”
“Then what is the question?” he said, tightening his expression and dropping his head in slight disbelief.
“You have what…18 of us in here today? Young impressionable minds…some of which might really develop a taste for brilliant novels, if they’re exposed to it…and what have you got us all reading? To Kill a Mockingbird.”
Having read the book in great detail the previous semester at Truman High, I read through the book again when Forrester had cited it as part of his class at the beginning of the semester. I’d read through it searching for something in it that might interest me, however, I just couldn’t get into the groove…and so I assumed it had little groove.
“I’ve already read this book twice. I’m not feeling it.” I admitted.
“Not feeling it…” said Forrester, leaning back against his boxy wooden desk 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 this statement.
Sitting forward Forrester came to life a little…stirring somewhere on the inside—where I’d thought there had only been a monotonous drone of boredom and a dark sucking void, “You’re not moved at all by Pulitzer Prize literature? Why doesn’t that surprise me?” he asked, garnering a pattering of chuckles.
I peered around the room; a few students were looking at me with curious grins—wondering where I was going with all of this. Forrester as well sat, still hugging himself in the sunlight, offering a curious grin of his own.
“Perhaps you’d like to read us an excerpt from the pulpy post-adolescent trash novel you’re reading now.” suggested Forrester, raising his brows and shrugging.
“Why do you want to turn this into that?” I laughed.
“Turn it into what? Young man, when you criticize Harper Lee you better damn well be ready to back it up.”
“I’m not criticizing it, I’m saying it’s not going to really work on 1990’s kids…we’re that last great generation…after us it’s all going to be schwag.” I told him.
“That’s a preposterous allegation.” he said wrinkling his brows.
“As for the pulpy post-adolescent trash novel…sure…I’ll read a bit,” I said as I produced the tattered novel from my backpack. I 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…who wrote that—it’s really interesting.” asked Christie Shields—a member of the student representative council who I’d always thought possessed a certain vacancy, all smiles and social fluttering, glazed with a blank Stepford Wife stare.
“It’s true what he wrote—depressing but true.” said another kid who I didn’t know.
“Celine is an author you might find in an existentialism class in university Todd…certainly not something appropriate for grade twelve students to be studying…perhaps it might not be a great idea for anyone to read such novels…you can’t unread what you’ve read and perhaps some of the ideas are better left unread.” said Forrester who released his self-hug and sighed a very long sigh.
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 good old Louis Ferdinand.
“How did you find this writer?” asked Christie.
“The novel called out to me from a library shelf.” I shrugged; there was no more mystery to it.
“I bet you’d be fun to read books with.” she snickered.
“I bet you’d look hot in black lipstick.” I told her with a wink.
It was then that all hell broke loose as if the planets suddenly shifted, or a tectonic plate moved beneath us. All of a sudden, Wes, who was sitting in a desk directly beside me started convulsing with uncontrollable laughter, pounding on the top of his desk evidently and completely overcome with hilarity…his face red, his eyes watering, his lungs gasping for air between chuckles…and dear reader, it failed to stop. I tilted my head, studying the veins bulging in his forehead that was covered in a sheen of perspiration.
“What’s up dude?” I asked him, however, my words only heightened his laughter which had now drawn all eyes, including Forrester’s; indeed, the tab of Napalm Dreams had kicked in quicker that he’d thought.
I thought the laughter might subside, and perhaps there was a moment when it nearly did…however, Wes only caught his breath with a determined gulp and dove headlong into the onslaught. His laughter became so severe that he actually gyrated out of his desk and to the floor where he landed on his ass, the impact of which only made him laugh harder; the old boy had lost it completely.
As Forrester approached Wes with a look of absurdity etched into his face, a secretary’s voice crackled through the intercom speaker, “Mr. Forrester?”
“Yes Penny.” Forrester called back without missing a beat.
“Can you send Jack Holden to Principal Gavin’s office please?” the voice crackled.
“I shall.” Forrester said absently, scratching his head and peering down at Wes who was still possessed with mad laughter…hearing the intercom message, Wes widened his eyes at me and made a scary face before volleying into another bout of uncontrollable laughter. The rest of the students sat in silence, amusement brightening their faces as they glanced at one another in disbelief.
I collected my books, rose from my desk and gave Wes a last look before heading for the office. Now, such an ominous intercom call, at such an ominous moment may have seemed entirely okay to some people, however, I saw it as an important omen…rather I felt it…it was either the beginning or the end of something…and as I made my way down the main hallway that was lit up with bright orange rays of morning sunlight cascading in through the many French windows; the purgatory ebbed into a foreboding sensation. Indeed, I wondered if it would be my last trip down that hallway.
In the office I found Gavin perched behind her desk, her short blonde hair spiked and her designer frames balancing on the end of her nose as she squinted at a dossier. Her chest was red from sunburn and wrinkled with age…I wondered if she tanned topless as she looked up at me and pleasantly offered me a seat. I sat and waited for her to finish scanning the dossier. When she was through she closed it and set it gently on a stack of others.
“Hi Jack…how ya doing?” she asked.
“You tell me…” I said.
“Well, I’m a little concerned…it’s been brought to my attention that you spoke with Malcolm Curtis, who’s been circulating an unauthorized publication in our hallways…one which I’ve been told faculty has been turning a blind eye to for the better part of two years. Still, we have our official school newspaper, the Coronation Gazette…it’s printed and distributed here on school grounds. The publication Malcolm Curtis has been circulating is not an official publication of this school. That may be a grey area, but what is definitely not a grey area is our code of conduct…we’re expected to treat our fellow colleagues in this school with respect.” Gavin said, letting her words settle in the air like thick black smoke.
“I try to be cool to everyone.” I said.
“Look, I’m an empath…I know you have a good heart…and that’s why I was quite surprised when I was made aware of your comments about Gregory Locksmith.”
I thought back, sifting again for the exact words, however, they were a wash of vagueness being that I hadn’t been paying much attention, “What did I say exactly?” I inquired.
“You don’t remember?” Gavin asked, her expression amused and surprised all at once. She knocked her head back and let out a loud guffaw toward the ceiling before pushing the designer frames up the bridge of her nose and looking at me intensely, “I like you…you’re a funny kid…but really, you’ve put me in a difficult position here and I have no real choice but to suspend you…I don’t want to do it…I’m not some uptight puritan who can’t take a joke; I see what you were going for with your statement…but I can tell you—Alderman Locksmith didn’t quite see the humor in you suggesting that his wife had been drinking during her pregnancy with their son…and said son now suffers from fetal alcohol syndrome! I mean, come on Jack…what did you think was going to happen when that got printed?”
“These things are taken out of context.” I sighed.
“I’ve spoken with Malcolm about that possibility but he assures me that he’d recorded it all on a hand held he uses to record class lectures.”
“What a dick.” I sighed.
“I mean, we can review the tape if you request…but if I was you, I’d just take the suspension and avoid a shit storm with the Locksmith family…it’s only 5 days.” said Gavin.
“The Locksmith family…” I said, “I should have known that guy wouldn’t fight his own battles.”
“That may be true, but you should pick your battles more carefully–especially in this environment.” suggested Gavin.
“He picked it with me.” I said.
“And you fell for it…take my advice…it’s better to ignore kids like Locksmith.”
“So you’re suspending me because Locksmith’s dad put pressure on you to do so?” I asked.
“Incorrect…I’m suspending you because I have to…it’s what the school board will inevitably ask me to do if the Alderman contacts them—which he very well might. But that’s all I’m obligated to do. You know—he asked me to expel you outright…but firstly, what you did doesn’t warrant expulsion and secondly, I have an idea of what you went through to transfer here and I think you deserve a second chance.”
“So basically take the suspension and shut the hell up.” I said with a nod.
“Pretty much.” Gavin said returning the nod, “Take the days off…do your homework and we’ll see you next week.”
I sat there looking at her shaking my head, in slight disbelief…knowing there wasn’t anything I could do about it. Locksmith and his old man ran the school and I was just some punk-ass kid from Truman Park who’d gotten enrolled at Coronation by the seat of my pants. So be it.
I strolled down the hallway, admiring the orange rays of morning sun flooding the hallways through the tall French windows, relieved that it wouldn’t be my last walk down the hall…I’d be back after what seemed more like a public shaming than a suspension.
I stopped at my locker and collected the textbooks I needed to study and my stash of Champagne Supernova I kept in a film canister in the top shelf of my locker. I dumped it all into my back pack, slung it over my shoulder and headed toward the north exit. When I rounded the corner into the stairwell I noticed Locksmith ascending the stairs…it was too perfect…and in no way a coincidence. The universe was offering me an opportunity or a perhaps a test. I wouldn’t know which until the smoke cleared.
As he climbed the stairs his lips curled into a grin, “Leaving us?” he smiled.
“Blow me jerk-off.” I offered over my shoulder as I descended the stairs, not taking the bait.
Once outside, I made my way to my van. The sun had disappeared behind a mixture of heavy smog and an overcast sky, causing the streets to lose their luster and the palm trees to lose their sparkle. As I pulled out of the parking lot the wind picked up, blowing leaves and random bits of litter—a byproduct of the massive student body, none of which cared that my ass had just been suspended…well—perhaps one or two cared.
I lit one up and turned the volume nearly to full—it was Eleanor’s PIL cassette and John Lydon’s voice was pleasantly shrieking:
The ordinary will ignore whatever they cannot explain, as if nothing ever happened and everything remains the same again…what in the world?
Eleanor was the first girl I’d met who liked the same things I did…and I dug her like fireworks…as I drove I wondered what she’d think once the news traveled back to her—perhaps through Locksmith himself; he seemed like the sort of bastard who’d love telling her in person that I’d been suspended…face to face…so that he might gauge her reaction and in turn gauge his chances of slithering his way back into her heart. I saw it all unfold before me as I drove east on Vinewood Blvd. which at that hour was gridlocked and sweltering. Luckily I had Eleanor’s PIL and some Champagne Supernova swimming in my head.
At home the house was empty…my mom was still at work and I sat down at my keyboard, choosing the concert grand option. I played through some piano compositions I’d hoped to record one day…in the future when all was well. Though the compositions were coming to me through a digital keyboard, the waves of melody were still lulling and meditative. Hearing the complexity of the work and the sophistication of the piano lines I’d achieved the real magic in making it all sound simplistic and instant, as if one’s heart might spontaneously combust if they’d only let it. I needed more however…I need a real piano just then…a lightning rod…a sapphire scepter baring the head of a lion…I needed a Steinway to lead me through the colorfast of notes and shades; the electric keyboard was very one dimensional.
As I sat still on the flat bench, contemplating where I might best acquire the solitary presence of a piano—the cordless phone rang, shattering my contemplation with a nudge back into the immediate reality.
“Yeah.” I answered.
“Jacky boy!” sang Walt through a bad connection.
“Walter Mayer—bass player extraordinaire.” I said.
“You know it man…hey, you live in Truman Park right?” he asked.
“I sure do.” I said.
“Where abouts? The Goblin and I are at a payphone on Flamingo and 2nd Ave. Is your place close by?” he asked.
“I’m actually only a few minutes from that intersection.” I said.
“This place is crazy—it’s like a movie. What’s your address…we’re going to drop by and see you—I got some news and I want to tell you in person.”
I gave Walt the address and clicked off, returning to the silent contemplation my bedroom offered. I sat there for a few minutes, blowing some smoke rings wondering if in my case, all work and no play made Jack a dull boy. After a few more minutes, I head downstairs and waited on the front steps, taking the cordless phone with me in case Walt and the Goblin forgot the address.
As I waited for them I watched the dregs of Truman Park wander and stagger up and down the sidewalks. Gangbangers drove by, many of them packed into the same car…perhaps looking for a drive by opportunity or a lemonade stand. The prostitutes stood out on the corner in plain view, the bottom of their ass cheeks hanging out of their miniskirts…a group of city workers stood around in high visibility vests, chewing gum and cat calling pretty passing women…a police helicopter circled the palms in the distance…a fire truck rushed through the intersection with its lights ablaze and it’s siren bleating, drawing the attention of the prostitutes and city personnel alike. The engine turned hard in the intersection, looking as if the momentum might roll it over…however, the wheels remained planted and it moved on, slowing gradually until it came to a stop before a house mid-way down the next block. As always, sirens begot sirens and soon enough a squad car and an ambulance pulled up outside the house on the next block. I watched from my place on the front steps as people started wandering their way out of their houses and congregating on the street in hopes of spectating a mishap of social order…or perhaps a body covered in a sheet.
I had no interest in seeing a covered body wheeled from another Truman Park residence and looked back to the street, where I noticed Walt and the Goblin pulling up into an oil-blotted spot directly in front of my mom’s house. As they strolled casually across the street, they peered down the lane at the gathering spectacle on the next block.
“Wonder what’s going on down there?” said Walt, lighting one up and peering down the street.
“I don’t.” I said, “What’s up? Lay this news on me.”
As the Goblin remained entranced by all the flickering responder lights, a smile spread across Walt’s face as he swigged from his flask offering me a haul.
“I’m good.” I said.
“Well, well, well…if it ain’t your lucky day today Jack Holden.” said Walt.
“You have no idea what my fucking day has been like.” I laughed.
“Well…whatever the case…it’s about to get whole lot better. I was talking to Carson Brier today…”
“Who’s Carson Brier?” I asked.
“Carson Brier is the man behind the man behind the fucking man…he’s part owner of the Backyard and he also happens to be overseeing the board that makes the decision on which bands get picked to play at the Backyard’s battle of the bands.”
“And?” I shrugged.
“And he’s heard our demo recording.” said Walt.
“What demo recording? We don’t have one.”
“Oh but we do…the Goblin and I record every rehearsal…the song we put together on the weekend, Mrs. Moffat’s Pussycat went down on tape…several times. Out of the 50 takes we did, actually the 44th was the best. We did a bit of mixing, isolated it, converted it to cassette and the Goblin’s sister showed it to Brier…last night. She’s known the guy for years.” laughed Walt.
The two broke out laughing and I scratched my head, trying to understand better the magnitude of what I was hearing, “Hold on, you’re telling me what?”
“I’m saying that all we have to do is fill out an application form and we’re in…it’s that simple.” said Walt.
“What did he say about the song?” I asked.
“Who cares?” exclaimed Walt.
“I do…I want to be chosen based on talent…not based on a favor.” I said.
“The entire industry is based on favors man…and besides, he said he’s had the song on repeat in his car stereo.” said Walt.
“He said that?” I asked.
“He said it plain as I’m telling you.”
“Wow…then we gotta get some more songs in the bag…” I said, the clouds clearing in my heart, giving way to a cracking dawn of brilliantly orange sunlight.
“You ain’t shitting man…we gotta get after it tonight!” exclaimed Walt, “We figured we’d pick you up and talk about all of this on the way over to the Goblin’s den.”
“I’ve got a van now.” I said, gesturing to my van sitting pretty and sleek and black against the curb.
“That’s a sweet ride brotha.” said Walt, shaking his head and taking another puff.
“You’re telling me.” I said.
“Alright, we’ll give you a funkadelic escort across town.” said Walt.
I was rising from my place on the front steps and taking a last swill of my Dr. Pepper when a familiar car pulled up behind Walt’s car. I recognized the car as Wes’ father’s and sure enough, April was behind the wheel. Behind her in the back seat was Wes and he was gazing out the open window with childlike wonder…a lollipop in his mouth and a grin on his face…he clearly had no idea where he was, or perhaps who he was…the Napalm Dream that had absorbed into his tongue had taken him far off, into an extrasensory land of chemical dreams and penrose staircases. Beside April in the passenger seat sat Eleanor who was trying to hand Wes a bottle of water, to which he was totally oblivious.
I walked over to meet Eleanor and Walt and the Goblin followed suit, strolling across the cracked asphalt nearly in step with each other. Once at the car, I realized Wes was in worse shape than I’d originally thought…he was muttering to himself as he rose from the back seat, looking very intensely at his hand…he looked up at me suddenly, “Is my hand wet?”
I looked at his hand, which was bone dry and shook my head…to which Wes only smiled and gave himself a shake, as if amazed by the mind fuck he was currently weathering.
“What the fuck happened to him? What did he do?” demanded April.
“He called it Napalm Dreams.” I told her.
“What a fucktard.” April snapped, pushing her palms surprisingly hard against Wes’ chest so he stumbled back slightly, still wearing his wondrous smile.
“And you just let him?” demanded Eleanor.
“He kind of just did it. What was I supposed to do?” I shrugged.
“It’s really bad…they sent him to the nurse who sent him home. I think she knows what up.” said April, slightly panicked, “I should take him home…but I don’t want his parent’s to see him like this.”
“I’m Walter Mayer, bass player extraordinaire.” Walt said to April, extending a hand which she shook absently before steadying Wes who was following an imaginary fly.
“I heard about the suspension.” said Eleanor, moving in for a hug, “I was so mad at Gregory today…I don’t think I’ve ever been that mad at anyone.”
“Oh yeah?” I asked.
“She clocked him one good.” said April.
“Clocked him?” I asked Eleanor.
“I bitch slapped him in front of everyone…Mr. Grady then sent me to Gavin’s office and she suspended me too.” said Eleanor, “I don’t regret it though…”
“Well, the guy did deserve a bitch slap.” I nodded.
As Eleanor explained her discussion with Principal Gavin and Walt chatted up April and the Goblin tore away at a large stick of beef jerky with his teeth; the fire truck down the street started up and moved back toward us…it’s lights suddenly dormant and it’s siren off. Finding no fire, the truck was heading back to the old fire station—leaving the crime scene for the murder squad most likely. As the massive red truck carefully rounded its way onto Truman Park Blvd…careful not to mow down any of the congregated spectators milling around the street; Wes darted off down the street suddenly, sprinting at full speed, surprising us all that he could indeed move that fast after been accosted by the ever potent Napalm Dreams.
“Shit Wes…” she called after him and shot me a panicked look.
We all stood there watching Wes sprinting down the street toward the intersection…indeed, I wasn’t certain at that point why Wes wasn’t on the track team…for his velocity was great and he didn’t seem to tire easily. In a suspended state of disbelief, April set a palm over her mouth when Wes made it to the intersection and grabbed hold of a bar on the rear of the fire truck and hoisted himself up onto the back of the rig, climbing to the top, where the base of the extendable ladder was fastened to the truck itself. As the truck revved and pulled away from the intersection, taking Wes with it—April frantically got back into Wes’ father’s car and sparked the engine…surprisingly Walt and the Goblin joined her in the car. Walt hung halfway out of the window as the three pulled away from the curb with a loud squeal of which burned black treads into the cracked asphalt, leaving Eleanor and I standing in the street with the smell of burned rubber and a feeling that it was the 90’s and it was our world and we could do what we wanted with it.
“Your stepmom is going to shit.” I said.
“I know…I don’t think my dad is going to join her, but know what—I don’t care…Gregory really had that coming.”
“Well…if it gets too intense over there…you’re welcome to stay here with me as long as you want. You know my mom is cool with that.” I said.
“Your mom is one cool lady.” nodded Eleanor, “Wish my step mom was cool like that.”
“What about your actual mom?” I asked.
“She’ll lecture me—then advise me to go on a shopping spree with her credit card.” Eleanor laughed.
It was understood and we walked back across the street to my front steps where we would wait for April, Walt and the Goblin to return, presumably with a very discombobulated Wes.
*As a creative work of fiction, this series does not represent any residences, facilities, locations or persons either living or deceased — any similarity is purely coincidental and not in any way intended by the author.